Friday, November 30, 2012

There's a Day for That


I realize that I’ve blogged on this topic in the past, but since I saw that today is “National Mousse Day,” I decided it is time to revisit the topic. I understand that with 365 days to fill, the National Day determiners (who are they, anyway? Hallmark employees, I suppose) must get a bit desperate once they pass Day 300. But I find it hard to believe that they can’t come up with anything better than National Bavarian Cream Pie Day (November 27), National Cognac Day (June 4 and I can’t believe my husband didn’t know about that one), National Worship of Tools Day (March 11 and I can’t help wondering if that’s Tim Allen’s birthday), and National Dice Day (December 4). I may not be a highly-paid Hallmark employee, but I came up with a list of a few suggestions that I think would be better “Days” than some of the ones currently on the calendar.

National Admit Your Real Size Day
This day is pretty women-oriented, I will admit. What woman out there over the age of 30 doesn’t have a bunch of clothes in her closet that don’t fit anymore but that she can’t bring herself to give away? One day a year, we should all admit to reality and donate those too-small clothes. There are certainly enough women around – especially in this economy – who could use them.

National Cook Like Your Mother Day
Some moms may not be great cooks, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a mom out there who can’t make at least one decent meal. And chances are, she passed her recipe along to her kids. So flash back to your childhood and make that tuna casserole or meatloaf or baked mac and cheese. And thank your mom that you always had food on the table as a child. And if you didn’t always have food on the table, be thankful that you do now. And if you can, drop off some of the ingredients at a food pantry for those who don’t right now.

National Cut Your Toenails Day
This Day would have to be scheduled in the early summer, when we all start to break out the sandals and run around barefoot. Which of us hasn’t been grossed out by someone’s horribly neglected toenails at this time of year? We could all use a little reminder that a decent pedicure is in order when the warm weather rolls around.

National Learn Something New Day
It doesn’t matter what you learn about, but I think we should have one day a year when everyone comes up with some topic to research and learn a bit about. It could be anything from how to build a model rocket to the history of the Olympics to how to make tiramisu to what makes a Slinky work. It should be a topic that you find interesting but that you wouldn’t ever learn about otherwise.

National This is Not a “Day” Day
Having some kind of National “Day” on every single day, 365 days a year, is simply exhausting. So once a year, we need a break from days when we just have a non-day Day. If that seems like too much, maybe we can make this Day on February 29th, so it’s only every four years. With apologies to Sadie Hawkins, of course.

 
But until these days get instituted on the calendar, I guess I’d better go make some mousse. It is National Mousse Day, after all.


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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Same Time Next Year


Five years ago, I performed in the Reagle Players’ annual production of “It’s ChristmasTime” for the first time. I was newly in love with the man who would soon become my husband, and that new love was imprinted on every scene that we did together. And every year since, re-staging those same numbers brings back the thrill and excitement of falling in love, truly in love, for the very first time.

I’ve often said that because we were older when we got married (I was 39; he was 45), we cherish our relationship more than some. People who marry young and who have been in the same relationship for basically all of their adult lives must find it so easy to take that relationship for granted. And as the often-exhausted parent of two small children, I can see that it is also easy to let the husband-wife relationship fall to the bottom of the priority list once you’re busy playing mom and dad all the time. So I am thankful that I have this event every single year that brings back to my mind everything that made me fall in love with my husband.

This show is really the perfect venue to sum up our relationship. Since it’s a similar production from year to year, it’s put together very quickly with a minimal rehearsal schedule. Which is great for the veterans, but it means that the newbies get a LOT of stuff thrown at them in a very short time. Those of you who know me personally know that I don’t do well with last-minute information, and any of you who have ever performed in a show with me know that I totally stress out about last-minute changes to blocking and choreography. So to get music one month before the show, learn choreography a week before the show, and see a costume plot two days before the show was incredibly stressful for me. Not to mention not knowing the order of the show until dress rehearsal. Most men would have been ready to wring my neck with my constant questions and anxiety, but my sweetheart was patient and understanding, and constantly reassured me that I would be just fine – and, more importantly, assured me that he would be by my side to make sure nothing went wrong. During that first production, I learned that I could trust and rely on him. And he learned that I was willing to step out of my comfort zone to make him happy. Interestingly enough, we now have several scenes where I arrive on stage first and look around for him, then he comes from behind and takes my hand or puts his arm around me. That, too, is a good symbol of our relationship: I was right where I was supposed be, but I was alone and looking for someone, and as soon as he appeared I felt happier and had more of a purpose.

So every year, as we once again step on that stage, my heart goes back to the place where it was all those years ago seeing my husband through the eyes of love, fresh and unspoiled. It’s good for me, and it’s good for US, to be able to remember so clearly what our love was like before it was clouded with the cares of children and money and jobs and reality. And so every year, I look forward to that magic reset button. What do you say, sweetheart? Same time next year?
In 2007, we were newly in love

In 2008, we were newlyweds
[In 2009 I didn’t perform because I was busing having a baby the day of the first rehearsal]
In 2010, we found out on opening night that we were expecting baby #2
In 2011, we were officially "married with children"
And in 2012, we will be happily continuing the tradition in a few short weeks!

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Something New’s in the Kitchen with Dinah

The week before Thanksgiving, I started my dishwasher and noticed that it sounded louder than usual, so after a few minutes I opened it to see if something was wrong and was greeted by a large puff of acrid smoke. Considering that the unit was at least 14 years old and probably 24 (it came with the house and we’re pretty sure it was installed when the house was originally built), it certainly didn’t owe us anything. And since the broiler on our stove hasn’t worked in years, we figured we’d take advantage of the Black Friday deals and replace both units at once.

Being the Queen of Research that I am, I immediately made myself a spreadsheet of all the features I wanted (or wanted to avoid) on each appliance, and began collecting information. I read consumer reviews on store sites as well as independent reviewing webpages. I compared prices, I compared availability, I asked friends for recommendations, I went to the store and kicked some figurative tires. And after much deliberation, I am now the proud (and satisfied!) owner of a new LG gas range and a Maytag JetClean Plus dishwasher.

For those of you wanting specifics, the range is an LG Electronics 5.4 cu. ft. 30 in. freestanding gas self-cleaning convection range in stainless steel (single oven), model #LRG3095ST, from Home Depot.

 
In the ad and in my kitchen

It has five burners, including a “Superboil” burner which boiled a large pot of pasta water in less than 5 minutes, and a small simmer burner for sauces or warming. The center burner is an oval burner with a built-in (but removable) griddle. Since we constantly kept a griddle on our old stove, I knew I’d get lots of use out of the griddle. The main drawback to the griddle is that it doesn’t run especially hot. The highest setting is about equivalent to the medium setting on my old stove. It’s hot enough for pancakes and grilled cheese, but I wouldn’t use it to sear meat like the manufacturer suggests. The burners all light on the first click of the igniter, and I haven’t had a problem with any of them going out accidentally when set to the lowest setting, which was sometimes a problem with my old stove. But even if that were a problem, there is an adjustment on each burner to tweak the flame, which is a nice feature.

Moving on from the stovetop to the oven, let me start by saying how spacious this oven is. Most standard ovens are 5.0 cubic feet, and you wouldn’t think that 0.4 cubic feet would make a difference, but this oven does feel really roomy. My old oven could handle a large turkey but this one seems like there’s much more room for air to circulate, and I could even tuck in an extra pan of stuffing or another side for warming. There are 7 different rack heights, which gives a lot of flexibility for fitting in different dishes. The oven comes with two racks, but with all this room it might be nice to have had a third. The racks slide in and out easily. The included broiler pan is a bit small for a large turkey, but plenty big enough for most uses. It also fits nicely into the roomy storage drawer, still leaving space for several cookie sheets and cooling racks. Another nice feature of the oven is that the light comes on automatically when the door is opened but it can also be turned on manually with the door closed so you can check on your meal (through the beautifully oversized window) without opening the oven door. And the girly-girl in me loves the cheery bright blue interior. The practical advantage of the blue interior – although some might disagree – is that it will shows spills better than a standard black interior, so you can scrub them off before they get charred on. Even during the self-cleaning cycle, the exterior of the oven stays relatively cool, which is a great feature for users with small children. And it pre-heats so quickly – only about 10 minutes to get up to 350! It even shows the actual temperature on the readout, so you know exactly how close it is to being ready.

The control panel is nicely designed and well-organized. The digital readout is large and bright enough to read at a glance from across the room. The oven can be set for standard bake, broil (high or low), convection bake, convection roast (not sure what the difference between those two is), or proof (for raising bread dough). There is a thermostat adjustment if the temperature seems to run high or low, but my oven seems to be consistently spot on. I haven’t tried the convection modes yet, but if they cook as evenly and consistently as the standard bake, I’ll be thrilled. And the sound of the controls is very pleasant – instead of an annoying, shrill beep like most stoves, the LG plays a pretty melody when it’s pre-heated, which has the added advantage of being several seconds long so you have a better chance of hearing it. And the entire range, including the control panel, is modern and sleek-looking.

And now on to the dishwasher: the Maytag JetClean Plus top control dishwasher in stainless steel with stainless steel tub and steam cleaning, model #MDB8959SAS, from Home Depot.

In the ad and in my kitchen
 
We were originally looking at the next model down in this series, but this higher-end model was on a special sale that made it even cheaper than that model, and I’m very pleased that we ended up with this one.
The first thing I noticed about this dishwasher the first time we used it was how incredibly quiet it is. With as little noise in the room as a radio on at a normal level, I had to check twice to even be sure it was running. The adjustable/removable top rack is a nice feature if you need to wash large items like serving dishes, cutting boards, or vases, although if you lower it slightly, even dinner plates are too tall for the lower rack. You need to be careful to pull the upper rack out evenly, as it comes off the track easily, but it's very easy to pop it back into place. The silverware holders have removable covers, which is nice because the slots are really too small for standard silverware. The cup racks are handy, and the cup racks in the lower rack have holders for stemware – no more washing wineglasses by hand, hooray! I love that feature. The first load that we ran did leave some residue on the glassware, but since then we’re used the autosensor feature that determines how much scrubbing a particular load needs, and everything has come out sparkling clean since. I’ve even washed some baking dishes with baked-on crud that I scraped and rinsed only minimally, and even they came out perfect. The organization of the racks and tines works well for combinations of plates, pots and pans, and serving dishes. Unlike our old dishwasher, which always seemed to have one rack full and the other empty, this unit can accommodate enough items in either the top or bottom rack that it seems to fill more evenly and therefore needs to be run less often. The cycle takes more time than our old unit (about 2-1/2 hours), but it is supposedly more energy-efficient, and if you’re in a hurry there is a quick wash cycle that takes about an hour.
The controls are tucked on top of the unit and are partly hidden under the counter when the door is closed, but I consider that a good thing for avoiding curious little hands. Some reviewers complained that they couldn’t see the buttons at all with the door closed, but our unit has just enough clearance under the standard-height counters that I can still see them. They are also designed so you can push Start, for example, with the door open and as long as you close it within three seconds the cycle will start as soon as the door is closed. There is a control lock in case the kids do manage to find and push the buttons, but unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a door lock. Even when the unit is running a wash cycle, you can open the door. Handy when you find one more spoon that needs to be thrown in, but kind of a pain if you discover one of the kids has opened it a crack and it’s stopped mid-cycle. The unit itself is very sleek and nice-looking, and the brushed finish cleans off nicely with just a quick wipe with a damp rag.
The bottom line is that our kitchen now looks beautiful and unified. Even though all three major appliances (refrigerator, dishwasher, and stove) are from different manufacturers, they’re all stainless steel and have similar styling that makes them look uniform and coordinated. It’s such a pleasure cooking a meal on a stove that heats quickly, cooks evenly, and cleans up like a dream, and then tossing the dishes into the dishwasher without having to scrub them first, knowing they’ll still come out clean and sparkling. I love my new kitchen!
 

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Tradition and Technology


I started to title this blog entry “Tradition Vs. Technology,” but then I realized that it isn’t really a case of one against the other; it’s a case of combining the two. Let me back up a bit and explain.

Tomorrow, of course, is Thanksgiving Day. Since we are hosting dinner this year, this means that I get to make a full-scale, turkey-and-all-the-fixins dinner. This is not said with this slightest bit of sarcasm; I honestly love making Thanksgiving dinner, and I often wish we had a larger family to share it with. We have five adults and two kids for dinner and I’m thrilled to death that my sister-in-law and her family (who are usually out of town on Thanksgiving) will be joining us for dessert, for a total of 11 people.

I’m just old-fashioned enough that feeding people a fresh, home-cooked meal satisfies my desire to be hospitable. I made a pumpkin pie from the recipe my mom and grandmother used to use. I cut in the Crisco with a pair of butter knives, just like they used to, and just like my mom taught me when I still needed a stepstool to reach the kitchen table. The dishes on the menu are exactly the same dishes that my mom made for Thanksgiving dinner throughout my childhood: turkey, real mashed potatoes, gravy from a powdered mix, squash with butter and brown sugar melted into it, a giant bowl of green peas with a big pat of butter melting on top, creamed onions in a simple white sauce, bread stuffing made from the family’s recipe.

But I’m not too old-fashioned to take advantage of some modern technology to make my life easier. I made the onions in advance and will be warming them up in the microwave. Instead of squinting to read recipes written by hand on index cards now splattered with turkey grease and squash, I read them from my Kindle Fire. I kept my kids busy and out of my hair while I cooked by putting a Disney movie in the DVD player. My mom kept lists of her annual menu along with cooking notes in a faded wire-bound notebook; I keep mine on my computer.

And I love the way tradition and technology work together. By saving family recipes on my computer and my Kindle Fire, I am preserving my family traditions for my children and my children’s children. They might not have the experience of cooking a meal from recipe cards stained with physical evidence of Thanksgivings past, but they will have the experience of enjoying the same meal that their forebears did. The more that technology worms its way into every facet of our lives, the more important it is to find ways to use that technology to preserve history, both general history and our own personal histories. My children may not have had the opportunity to know my mother personally, but they do have the opportunity to know her through the legacy that she has passed along through her recipes, her traditions, and her hospitality. And I can’t wait until I can teach both of them how to make pie crust by cutting in the Crisco using two butter knives.
 

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Monday, November 19, 2012

The 2012 AMAs: Fashion Review


Let me begin with the disclaimer that I did not actually watch the American Music Awards last night. However, since I know that my fashion reviews are appreciated by some of my blog readers, I took one for the team and perused some online photos of the stars in their red carpet couture. Here is my review of some of the notable fashions. And since I’ve been immersed in 5-star ratings of late, I have given each performer a fashion score out of 5 stars.

Justin Bieber
This ensemble isn’t especially offensive. The pants aren’t overly baggy or hanging halfway down his butt, and all-black is (almost) always classy, but the low scoop neck showing a peep of tattoo is a bit tacky and what is up with the string of pearls? If he weighed more than 120 pounds he might have been able to pull it off, but since that baby-face still makes him look like he’s 14, it just wasn’t working for him. Final score: 2.5 stars.
Carrie Underwood
Carrie would look adorable wearing a sack, so it’s hard for her to make too severe of a fashion misstep. The royal blue of this dress looks smashing on her, and the zig-zag cut is interesting without being too wacky or distracting. I’m not a big fan of the Sharpie eyeliner and nude lips, but her mega-watt smile makes it work for her. Small deduction for the clunky shoes. Final score: 4 stars.
Carly Rae Jepsen
I’m not sure how old Carly Rae is, but I’m guessing well under 18, so kudos to her (or her stylist) for dressing her in a stylish, age-appropriate dress that manages to flatter a figure that hasn’t quite developed yet. It’s sparkly yet subtle, plunging without being inappropriately sexy, and feminine pink without being too girly. Not loving the mussed-up ‘do, but the subtle eye makeup and bright pink lips pull the whole look together in a fresh, innocent but not na├»ve look. 4.5 stars.
Brandy
In theory, this black-and-gold salute to ancient Egypt should have worked. But instead, it comes off as grandma’s old shawl tucked into a belt over a boring black sweater-dress. It’s lumpy and bulky in all the wrong places, and the weirdly finished neckline and zigzag gold hem make it look like mom didn’t have a chance to finish sewing it in time. Final score: 1.5 stars.
Linkin Park
I’m not sure if grunge is finally out or if these guys cleaned up for the show, but either way, they’re looking pretty good. Their facial hair is neatly trimmed, their hair looks like it’s been washed within the past couple of days, and they all seem to be wearing some semblance of a jacket. The guy on the right looks a bit like he just wandering in from changing a tire on the tour bus, but on the whole they’re looking stylish and appropriate. Final score: 3 stars.
MC Hammer
Crisp black and white is always a good choice for the red carpet. The snow-white suit, relieved by black cuffs and a single black lapel, impeccably shined shoes, and a modified version of the star’s signature parachute pants are the perfect mix of classic formality and personal style. Final score: 5 stars.
Luke Bryan
I have no idea who this guy is, but I like his style. Classic black tux with a long black tie over a crisp, deep navy shirt, just a hint of casualness in the turned-back cuffs, a bit of a scruffy beard, and the requisite big pearly grin. Bonus points for bringing back the tie clip. Final score: 5 stars.
Cyndi Lauper
If Cyndi Lauper isn’t dressed a bit wackily, she’s not Cyndi Lauper. However, she’s got a little too much disconnected wacky going on here for my taste. It looks like she let a 3-year-old cut her bangs - and her leggings - with safety scissors. I love the flared black leather jacket with the attached tartan drape, but the lack of pants is a bit disturbing. The bright red lips are as adorable as they’ve been for the past 30 years, though. Final score: 3.5 stars.
Tyler Glenn
This look came sooo close to being a big hit, but he should have taken Coco Chanel’s advice and, after he got dressed, taken one thing off. And that thing should have been the jacket. I love the bold purple shirt contrasting with his white hair and dark brows, and the studded collar adds the right level of bling. I’m not sure why, but I even really like the skinny, shiny, just-a-hair-too-short pants, and the black shoes with studs echoing the shirt collar. But the girl-cut silver jacket is a bit too early Elton John and spoils the effect. Final score: 4 stars.
Nicky Minaj
This dress makes my eyes hurt. The color is just painful. Plus, it’s too long and too bulky for her, and although the chunky, contrasting jewelry is the perfect proportion, I can hardly tear my eyes away from the dress to look at it. She manages to make the heavy eye makeup and cotton-candy pink lips work, but the painfully platinum, giant hair is all out of proportion. Final score: 1 star.
Lance Bass
Not many men could pull off a skinny, shiny, cobalt blue tux, but Lance does it with style and ease. From the casually open color of the black shirt to the artfully tamed fauxhawk, Lance oozes style and class while still being funky and unique. Final score: 5 stars.
Jordin Sparks
Jordin is a beautiful, young girl with a lovely figure, but you’d never know it to see her in this dress. It looks like her grandmother’s afghan, with angular stripes that do not flatter her hips, a plunging neckline with a modesty panel that’s a little TOO modest, and severe, slicked-back hair and minimal makeup. Her beautiful smile saved her from a complete failure, though. Final score: 1 star.
Will.i.am
As my mother would have said, “He’s just a mess.” Leather pants are hot; baggy leather pants are not. His droopy, zipper-front jacket looks like the lining of the jacket he was supposed to wear. Although the fanged hat is the absolute envy of my 3-year-old, it’s not particularly appropriate for the red carpet. And I’m not sure what the red stripes at his ankles are, but I think they might be the remnants of the restraints from when he broke out of the crazy farm. Final score: 1 star.
Karmin (Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan)
Ladies first: Amy Heidemann’s dress is a beautiful shiny print fabric with just a hint of peplum, a big keyhole cutout that shows off a cute figure without being too cleavage-y, and a vintage 40s starlet hairdo that complements her retro red lips and catseye makeup perfectly. The coordinating cobalt nail polish and clutch are the ideal finishing touch. Final score: 5 stars.
And now the gentleman: Nick Noonan wears a coordinating deep blue tux made a bit more casual by a white cotton shirt (it's a pity the lapels weren’t just a bit crisper), and grey-blue suede shoes adding a retro touch. The hair and beard could have been a bit neater, as could the lumpy pocket square. Final score: 4 stars.
 
Bottom line? A few stars need to find a new stylist, including 1-star-ers Nicky Minaj, Jordin Sparks, and will.i.am. The perfect 5-star winners of the night were MC Hammer, Luke Bryan, Lance Bass, and Amy Heidemann, with Carly Rae Jepsen a very respectable runner-up with 4.5 stars. It’s not often that the men are the fashion stars at an awards show, but the men did themselves very proud last night.

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thanks. Giving.


My pastor opened her sermon today by recalling a Thanksgiving season a few years ago when she was idly reading magazine headlines in line at the grocery store. The giant banner headline on one of the magazines proudly proclaimed: “Happy Thanksgetting!” The associated article encouraged readers to splurge on themselves as a way to celebrate the holiday. Our society, which is so focused on getting things for ourselves, and on getting more and more things, has one day in the year when we focus on being thankful for what we have and on sharing our bounty with others, especially those less fortunate than ourselves, and this magazine was attempting to turn it into yet another day of self-centeredness, consumerism, and greed.

Instead of changing the holiday from Thanksgiving to Thanksgetting, the pastor went on, we as Christians should change the day from Thanksgiving to “Thanks. Giving.” We should not only be giving thanks for what we have, but we should be sharing what we have with others. After all, the first Thanksgiving was a meal where the Pilgrims shared the bounty of their harvest with those who had helped them attain that bounty, and also where the native Americans shared the bounty of their own hunting and agricultural skills. They were thankful for what they had, and they were sharing what they had with others.

There is nothing wrong with spending the Thanksgiving season being grateful for our health, our family, our jobs, our homes, and our clothes. But how much richer the holiday is when we also share what we have. This Thanksgiving, as I think of how thankful I am that my children are healthy, I will take a few dollars that I might have spent on buying them yet another toy or another outfit that they really don’t need, and give it to a cause that will help other children stay or get healthy. As I buy all the fixings for our Thanksgiving dinner, I will buy some extra for those families who struggle to put even a simple meal on the table. As I enjoy having my husband home from work for the holiday, I will remember all those who are home every day because they can’t find jobs, and I will search through my closet for my “work clothes” that I no longer need and give them to someone who doesn’t have appropriate clothes for a job interview.

I will be thankful, and I will give. Because that’s a wonderful and meaningful way for me to celebrate this holiday: Thanks. Giving.


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Saturday, November 17, 2012

You Say It's Your Birthday


Today is my birthday. I am now 44 years old. A nice, symmetrical number. Half a lifetime ago, I was 22. Another lifetime from now, I’ll be 88 (God willin’ and the crick don’t rise). I spent my 44th birthday with my grandmother, my sister, my husband, and my kids. For presents, I got earrings and a CD.

The way we celebrate birthdays changes through the years. When you’re age 1 or 2, there’s cake and balloons and your immediate family and that’s kind of fun but you don’t really get the significance of it. Once you hit age 3, you’ve very aware that the day is all about you and that there will be cake and presents and balloons. At age 6 or so, the party changes from family to school friends and the presents are really all that matters to you. Once you hit age 13, birthdays become not about the presents but all about the money that comes inside the birthday cards. That lasts until about age 21, when you start getting mostly dull, practical presents like clothes and stuff for your apartment, and the most exciting thing about your birthday is going drinking with your friends.

And then you turn 30 and birthdays begin to remind you that time is passing. And it’s passing faster and faster every year. You have enough of the basics that the presents turn from practical to fun again – instead of the sweater you got from your girlfriend and the lamp you got from your folks when you were 23, you get concert tickets from your wife and a night of free babysitting from your mom. And the fun stuff kind of makes up for the rapidly advancing numbers on the calendar.

And then you hit 40 and maybe you’re not so excited about birthdays. Eh, it’s just another day on the calendar. Nothing to be upset about, but nothing to make a big deal about, either. It’s much more fun celebrating your kids’ birthdays. Or, if you’re fortunate enough to have living parents and grandparents, celebrating their birthdays and the fact that you ARE fortunate that they’re still around to celebrate birthdays.

And it stays this way until you’re 70 or so. And at that point, birthdays become something to celebrate and be excited about again, because you are aware that each one is a gift, and that you never know which one will be your last. And because birthdays are a reason for your kids and your grandkids to come and visit. The cake is nice, and the presents are nice, but the family is really what makes your birthday happy at that point.

So half a lifetime ago, I probably had a party with my parents and my sister at my folks’ house, and maybe I went out to dinner with some friends, and I likely got presents like a slipcover for my couch and a bag of potting soil for my window boxes. And a lifetime from now, I’ll probably have a party with my children and my grandchildren in the private dining room at Shady Pines and my presents will be things like the good brand of denture cream and a box of designer Depends.

But I’m glad to know that I’m in the very happy middle right now, where I can enjoy spending time with the generation ahead of me and the generation coming up behind me, and that the presents I get are purely for my enjoyment, and that time is passing but that there’s still lots of time left that hopefully I will use as successfully as I’ve used the time gone by. In the words of Dr. Pangloss, this is the best of all possible worlds.

Happy birthday to me!
 

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Monday, November 12, 2012

Angel Kisses


One tradition I love to do with my son is what I call “angel kisses.” Just before I go to bed at night, after he’s been asleep for quite a while, I tiptoe into his room and give him a kiss on the forehead. He’s a pretty heavy sleeper so he rarely even stirs, but he knows that I do it. If my husband and I are going out for the night and a babysitter will be putting him to bed, I can often quash his protests by reminding him that I will come in and give him an angel kiss when I get home, while he’s asleep. So even if he doesn’t wake up to feel it, he knows I’ll check on him before morning.

One of the reasons I love angel kisses is that they give me the chance to see my son when he is quiet and peaceful. At the age of three, he is often rebellious and petulant and disobedient and frustrating to be around. But seeing him asleep lets me imagine him as his most perfect self: calm, unresisting, and sweet. It reminds me of his potential, and it reassures me that he has that calm, sweet boy inside him who someday will once again emerge from the rebellious tot. After a particularly frustrating day, I look at his sleeping face and think, “Why aren’t you like this all the time? Why can’t you stop fighting against me and obey? Why can’t you trust that I’m doing what’s best for you? Why can’t you just submit your stubborn little will to my greater wisdom?”

And then I realize that God must look at me and think the same thing. But then I also remember that He always sees me through the blood of Christ as that peaceful, obedient servant that I could – and should – be. And I forgive my son for his stubborn spirit, just as God forgives me for mine. And I thank my Father above that He loves me infinitely more than I am humanly capable of loving my own dear children.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" (Matthew 7:9-11)

 

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Church Hunting


Looking for a church is a lot like online dating. Think about it: You start off with a list of requirements. With dating, it’s often things like, “Must be within 5 years of my age; must have similar political views; must like the same hobbies as me; must live within 20 miles of me; must be gainfully employed; etc.” With a church, it’s things like, “Must be within 10 miles of my house; must have theologically sound preaching; must be one of these three denominations; must have a good music program; must have children the same age as my kids; etc.” If you find someone whose profile seems to meet those basic requirements, you meet them to see if that profile description really fits. With a church, you go to a service and listen to the sermon and the choir, you check out the nursery and the Sunday School programs, and you chat with the people in the congregation. In both cases, you eagerly wait to see if you feel that magic “click.”

And there’s no predicting that “click” in either situation. Sometimes things look perfect on paper but there’s just no chemistry in person. Sometimes things don’t look that great on paper but you try a “courtesy date” and you end up feeling a connection when you’re face to face. Sometimes it takes a few meetings before you’re really certain of whether it’s a good fit or not. And sometimes, you just have a really solid feeling of “rightness” on that very first meeting.

When I met my husband, I knew right away that he was the right one for me. Five years later, there’s never been a moment of doubt in my mind. This morning, our family attended a church that gave me that same feeling of “rightness.” As with my husband, I’m not committing myself to anything until we’ve had a few more dates and we delve a bit deeper into what we think and believe, this church and I. But I’m really hoping that five years down the road, I’ll still be with this church, without a doubt in my mind that it’s the right one for our family.
 

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Friday, November 9, 2012

Why We Don't Need a Pet


We recently took care of my sister’s pet rat while she was away for a few weeks, and my kids were delighted to have a pet for a little while. My son told me often, with longing in his voice, “Mama, I just love this fuzzy little guy.” Both kids were remarkably careful and gentle with her, and spent hours just watching her in her cage. So after she went back home, a number of people asked me if we would be getting a pet of our own in the near future. My reply was a resounding NO. As of right now, there are lots of reasons NOT to get a pet (my kids aren’t old enough to help take care of it, for one thing), but most of the reasons people give TO get a pet, our household already has covered. Here are the reasons why we don’t need a pet:

1.      Pets are happy to see you when you get home.

I have two kids who squeal with excitement and practically turn themselves inside out when I walk in the room, whether I’ve been gone for 3 hours, 3 minutes, or 3 seconds. And if even they get so excited that they pee themselves, they're wearing diapers so I don't have to clean up the carpet.

2.      Pets are nice to snuggle up with at the end of the day.

After supper, my kids love to snuggle with me and read a few books. Plus, they don’t shed on the couch.

3.      Nothing makes you feel as special as a pet licking your face.

Except for your kids licking your face. And your kids are less likely to have just drunk out of the toilet. They may have splashed in it, but they probably didn’t actually drink out of it.

4.      Pets are great for finishing up leftovers.

My kids would snack all day long if I’d let them. That last spoonful of mac and cheese or applesauce or those last few wedges of orange are just the right size to make them happy without spoiling their dinner. They even lick the plates clean so I don’t have to rinse them before I put them in the dishwasher.

5.      Pets love you unconditionally.

My kids randomly come up to me and give me big hugs and kisses without warning. My son tells me, “I love you, Mama,” all the time, even right after I’ve punished him. Which is almost never because he's just peed on the rug or eaten my favorite pair of socks.

6.      Having a pet makes sure you get regular exercise.

Anyone who’s met my children knows that they make sure I get plenty of exercise.

7.      Pets help you meet people and make new friends.

Strangers come up to me all the time to talk about my kids. In fact, it’s a rare occasion that I’m out in public with my kids that someone doesn’t approach me with a smile and a pleasant comment about them. My latest babysitter is a result of a stranger commenting on how adorable my kids are. And they have yet to bite a single stranger.

8.      Pets assure that you have a daily routine.

We refer to my kids as the “baby alarm clocks” because they wake up within a 15-minute window like clockwork every morning. Their inner dinner bells chime at the same time for every meal. And they conk out at exactly the same time every night. They make sure I have a daily routine whether I want to or not.

9.      Taking care of another living thing is satisfying.

Yes, yes, it is. Especially when it can tell you, "Thank you" in words.

10.   Having a pet is good protection from burglars.

My kids won’t bark at or bite an intruder, but I guarantee you that any prowler trying to make his way through my truck- and Lego-strewn house in the dark will not make it very far. And if he does, the sounds of breaking plastic and muffled groans of pain will certainly wake us up in time to call the cops.

 Maybe someday we’ll be ready to get a pet, but not right now. So if you’ll excuse me, someone seems to be scratching at the door of my office begging to be let in.
 

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

You Know You're a Mom When...


Every once in a while, I do, say, or see something that makes me think, “Oy, I am SUCH a mom.” There are certain telltale signs that belong to no-one else except a mom. Here is a list of a few of the things that help me to never forget that I’m a mom. Even when I really, REALLY want to forget.

1.          There are nose and lip prints on every shiny vertical surface in your house about 3 feet up from the floor.
The sliding glass doors, the refrigerator, the dishwasher, the stove, the full-length mirrors. You can make circuits around the house with a bottle of Windex and a roll of paper towels and there will still be fresh prints on every surface by the time you finish a circuit. In my house, these are made by the 3-year-old, who a) is curious as to what’s outside, which makes the prints on the sliding glass doors, and b) likes to make his mother crazy by licking random surfaces, which makes the prints on everything else; and by the one-year-old, who forgets to watch where she’s going and crashes into things. She crashes into every vertical surface, not just the shiny ones; it’s just that only the shiny ones manage to retain the prints.

2.            Your purse contains more items belonging to your children than to you.
My kids are old enough that I don’t need a full diaper bag for short outings like going out to dinner or to the grocery store. But I do need a stash of a few necessary items in case of emergency. So my purse contains my wallet, my cell phone, my keys, and possibly a tube of lipstick, but it also contains two different sizes of diapers, a pack of baby wipes, several Matchbox cars, a small plastic tiger and giraffe, a Ziploc baggie of somewhat crumbled Cheez-its, a small plastic fork and spoon, and a juice box. Yes, my purse is nearly as big as a diaper bag. But it looks slightly classier. At least, it does until I start pulling out all the items mentioned above.
See? I was not exaggerating. This is really what’s in my purse. There is a wallet in there somewhere. I hope.
And I know it’s not just me, because I was recently on a flight with my children and my one-year-old was fussing. The mom in the aisle behind us reached into her purse and wordlessly handed me a slightly sticky board book, and as our eyes met, I could feel her silently telling me, “Courage, sister.”

3.            You narrate yourself all day long.
My 3-year-old son is very verbal and loves to learn new words, so I talk to him a lot. And I explain new, relatively complex words to him on a regular basis. When we go to the grocery store, we talk about the different kinds of fruits and how they grow and why they’re good for you. We discuss why the lobsters in the tank have rubber bands on their claws. We talk about why we have to close the refrigerator and freezer doors right away after we get what we need. We talk about how we have to pay for what we’re buying before we can open it up and eat it (this is a crucial – and difficult - lesson whenever we buy cookies). We learn words like “patience” and “preservatives” and “dozen.” I didn’t realize how automatic this was for me until the whole family was in the car the other day and my husband suddenly burst out laughing because I was explaining to my son some concept like “asphalt” or “curb.” [NB: While I was writing this paragraph, I had to take a break to check on my son and I kid you not, I explained to him the words “outrank” and “trebuchet.” Yes, there was a logical context. No, I am not going to attempt to explain it here.]

4.            You find yourself translating from “child” to “English” whenever someone else is in the room.
My 1-year-old doesn’t speak much yet (her vocabulary consists of “Mama,” “uh-oh,” “wow,” “ow,”and “quack”), but she does have a few sounds that mean something to us although they aren’t actual words. When she points to something, she makes a sound that we have decided means, “What’s that?” so whenever she says it, I repeat, “What’s that?” so anyone listening will know what she means. She also has begun saying “k” to mean both cup and book, so I repeat the appropriate word both to teach her and to fill in anyone nearby.

And although my 3-year-old speaks quite clearly and is generally understandable to strangers, his speech often requires context clues to make any sense. For example, the other day he put on his police helmet with the green visor and informed me, “Mama, you look like a big green potato!” This comes off as a pretty bizarre statement in and of itself, until I ask him, “Oh, just like Quack the duck looked like a big green potato when his friend Chirp the bird looked at him through a green glass bottle?” Strangers probably still think he’s crazy, but at least they know he gets it from his mother.

5.            You can identify the specific object causing a crashing noise from the next room.
Any mother of a toddler can tell you that you very quickly develop a sense of knowing which crashes are ordinary, harmless play and which require motherly intervention and/or medical attention. Dull plastic thwacks are generally toy trucks and do not need to be checked out; sharper wooden clunks could be furniture being damaged and require a quick peek; resounding metallic clangs or the sound of shattering glass are definite immediate response indicators. If the latter category is followed by the sound of a small body hitting the floor and then silence, 9-1-1 should be dialed on the way to the scene.

Obviously, this list is a mere sampling of the signs of motherhood. These are only a few of the more common and recognizable signs. Although I suspect the most common and recognizable is that haggard, exhausted, vaguely unkempt look and vacant expression that is so universal among moms of tots.




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