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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What I love about me!

I've been doing a hefty amount of self-examination lately - largely of the "I used to not be okay with this, but now I am --- and here's why" variety.

So I was intrigued by a challenge I got yesterday. This came to me via Straight Talk Jess, who got it from The Adventures of Daddy Runs a Lot

The challenge: Name 5 things you love about yourself. 

Right now? Not things I'm working on or getting better at? At first I thought I'd have a hard time. But after giving it a moment's thought, I actually had to narrow my list down! 


So, here we go --- the top 5 things I love about myself now:

1. I am Childlike. This is not to say childish, although sometimes I'm sure that I am that too. 
What I mean is that I daily look at the world with new eyes and take delight in small things.
This was true even before I became a mother, but has certainly increased in the past year & a half!

2. I am Polly Anna. Without even meaning to, I always find the silver lining. 
Sometimes it takes me longer than other times. 
Sometimes the silver lining is simply - I can learn from this crappy experience. 
But often, my mind jumps immediately to what is okay about an undesirable situation.

3. I am Smiling. That joy I feel? 
I like to share it. I make a point of smiling at others as I pass them in the halls or on the streets. It costs absolutely nothing. 
Very often, you see a sad or indifferent face light up at that unexpected smile. 
Other times, the face ignores you --- and those times, you stick your tongue out at them once they've passed. (Childish? or Childlike?)

4. I am a Body in Motion. I can hardly help but multi-task. 
When I'm driving alone, I'm either listening to the news, talking on the phone (using my hands-free!), eating breakfast or planning menus. 
At work, I use the time while my lunch microwaves to check Twitter or do calf-raises. 
When I'm with others, especially my family, it's no struggle to turn off the multi-tasker .. thankfully!

5. I am a Body with Purpose. I love my body. I don't mean this physically, although I'm quite pleased with it, particularly my gams & backside, if you must know. 
What I really mean is: I love what my body is capable of. 
I love that it doesn't seem to require too much of me to do it. I am in excellent health. I am reminded of my incredible good fortune daily. Going to work at a hospital does amazing things for your gratitude. I take good care of myself, but look more like I take great care.
But most of all, I love what my body did in the past 2 years. (With some help) it made a baby! It nourished her for 9 months inside, then another year outside. My arms get stronger ever day in response to her growing. I can pick her up and cradle her, just as I did when she was first born.
I never really appreciated how amazing my body was until I became a mother.

Spread the love! What do you love about you?

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Art of the Selective No

No.

Not only is it one of my daughter's new favorite words, it's also one of mine. 

(Mine is another favorite new word.)



I used to be a real "Yes Man." 
  • Need someone to bake a cake for someone's birthday? I'll do it!
  • Putting together a committee for new project? Pick me!
  • Concert tonight? Wine tasting tomorrow? Happy Hour Friday? Here I come!
2 years ago, back when I was having my dreamy pregnancy, I had big plans to be the perfectly balanced woman - able to be a fully present mom & continue to be the social butterfly.

Well, guess what. I turned down 2 happy hours last week. Oh, I grant you - I had an actual conflict for the first. But the other? I just didn't feel like it. No, not like I was too tired from working-mom stress. I just wanted to come home and play play-do with my kid. I wanted to make her a nice dinner, sit down with her & my husband, eat & talk about our days.

I used to try to be everything at once. Motherhood has blessed me in many ways. Among them: an intense slowdown. I enjoy my career, and I'm good at it. When I'm not at work - I want to be my daughter's mom & my husband's wife. This is not to say that I don't ever want to do anything with friends. I do. I also like doing things by myself. I'm pretty good company, actually! I just no longer feel the pressure to show the world how balanced I am. 

I've heard chatter lately about "just say yes" as a philosophy. I do this too. I do it when it comes to friends' kids' fundraisers, when it comes to smiling at a stranger or paying a compliment to an acquaintance or friend. I do it when it comes to calling up a friend or my Grandpa on my way home, sending a random text or email when I'm thinking of you. I don't do it with the most precious commodity I have - my time.



I have to tell you - it's been quite freeing. I feel much more at peace. I certainly have more on my plate than I am always comfortable with, but it's so much better than it once was. 

So, my advice - for what it's worth - is this:

If your life feels crowded, start saying no. Finish your commitments to others, but jettison what you can. Don't take on new things that you're not passionate about.

Try it. You might like it.

PS - "Giraffe" & "Ocean" are other words we know & love. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Expecting Perfection: Pregnancy, Birth & Beyond

My mom used to drive me crazy. (Yes, she reads the blog. Don't worry; she's well aware. In fact, she's probably reading this saying - used to?)

When something wasn't going the way I wanted it to, or thought it should/would/could, I'd get very frustrated. Very often, it wasn't pretty.

My mom would say, "It's all in your expectations."

This infuriated me. I jumped to the conclusion that she was suggesting I lower my expectations. I found that shocking & insulting.

Poor mom. I'm certain she did not want me to settle. I'm certain she wanted (and wants) me to be happy. I'm certain she still thinks I could use some work in this department.

She's right. But I've come a long way.

For one thing, I understand that you can change your expectations without lowering them. For another, I've gained a bit (just a wee bit) of patience. I understand that my expectations may {*gasp*} take time to come about. Finally, I understand that you have to make choices. You can't be in even 2 places at once, let alone 12. You can't be all things to all people.

For whatever reason, this was a lesson I had to relearn as a parent.

The following statements may make many other mothers want to murder me, or at the very least, never read my blog or speak to me again:

  • My pregnancy was wholly without complication. I loved it.
  • My birth experience was absolutely perfect. I loved it.



My whole perinatal experience was wonderful, and I certainly wouldn't trade it. However, I honestly think it warped my thinking a bit. (Along with all those insane hormones! ... and my natural proclivities for insanity.) I thought since the birth had gone even better than I'd imagined, so too would I be an even more perfect mother than I'd imagined.



I was a good mom. But it wasn't good enough for me. I spent many of my daughter's sleeping hours berating myself for what I didn't know & what I wasn't doing right. Finally, somewhere around 6 months, I got more comfortable as a mom & accepted my imperfections - that parenting, just like life in general -- is a journey.

You guessed it, fellow guilt-lovers! Then I felt guilty for not enjoying the early days enough! And around & around we go!

Recently though, I feel like I've gotten off the merry-go-round. My old hang-ups have not magically disappeared. Fixing them seems more imperative now that I am a mother. (I truly do not want her to inherit this!) Her cognitive development has accelerated so much, it seems exponential. It's made me realize that we are all moving forward. It's made me realize that she won't remember whether I was perfectly well-adjusted when she was 2 months or 2 years old, but she will when she's 6 or 12 years old.

So, I'm working on me. (Mom's gonna love this.) My number one priority has been to redefine my expectations. Expectations of myself, certainly. But also of my daughter & my husband. And of my mom & dad ... Co-workers, cashiers, other drivers, .... you get the idea. There will be more on this to come!

I have loved every day of my daughter's life. Early on, I may not have enjoyed as much as I should have or as another mother could have - but a lot and as much as I could.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Re: 9/11 -- What Will You Tell Your Daughter?

Nothing like big anniversaries and having a child to make you stop and ponder things you haven’t for some time, and would prefer not to consider.

Why did 9/11 happen? What does it mean? How did it change the world? How did it change me?

I don’t like to talk about it. I don’t like to think about it. My parents started asking me a couple nights ago about being in DC when it happened. I cut them short. I try to act like it didn’t affect me.  For one thing, I feel like being in DC wasn’t the same as being in NYC. I don’t feel like I really was there, in a way. When people say “I was there,” they mean NYC.  For another, I did not lose anyone in the attacks or the ensuing wars. I consider myself lucky on both counts, and I want to state at the outset my sincere sympathy for those who have suffered greater loss. In no way do I intend to diminish their grief with my philosophical pondering.

With the approach of the 10th anniversary, a panicked voice got increasingly shrill in my head: “What will you tell your daughter?”

I suppose I will tell her about my day on 9/11/01 and the following weeks & months:

I’d started a new job just a week earlier, after about a year on the Hill. It was a really small office, just the boss, me & 2 others. I remember one of them calling out from his office that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. It sounded like a really bad joke. But it wasn’t a joke; it was just really bad. We found a TV and started watching the news. We stayed inside the office building, just a few blocks from the White House, not sure what we should do. Finally, sometime before lunch, we decided we should close the office for the day. I remember my boss driving me home to my apartment. We could see the smoke from the Pentagon, and I remember being scared but feeling like it was over.  I sat at home with my cat and watched CNN. I talked on the phone with my Senate friends, who were mostly together at one girl’s house on the other side of town from me. I missed them. I wanted to go over there, but thought getting on the Metro seemed mildly nuts. I talked to my family and wondered whether I should have left Nebraska at all. Later, I did go out & go to Safeway or something lame – just to get away from the TV for a spell. That evening I got together with my friend Jane who lived nearer by. Honestly, I cannot remember what we did. Maybe she can tell me. I remember walking to work past tanks at least through December.

I don’t know whether I’ll tell her one of my early thoughts:

“I wish Al Gore was president.” By no means, did it take 9/11 for me to think that. I had worked on the Gore campaign and been a fervent supporter. I loved the man. As the post-9/11 rhetoric began to take its turn, I wondered what Gore would have done differently. I still wonder.

I don’t know whether I’ll tell her the awful truth:

I stopped believing that I, or anyone else, could bring about big changes in the world. It didn’t happen instantly on 9/11. It took months, if not years.

In my inaugural blog post, I wrote that I used to want to change the world in some big flashy way, and now I’m content to impact those close to me in a positive way. I wrote that I do small things to try to make my life and their lives a little better. And, by doing so, to make the world a slightly better place.

In a way, I believe that is how you make the world a better place. The whole “pay it forward” notion. Good little deeds to one, passed on to the next. A smile, a kind word, ad infinitum. But even as I wrote it, I realized it might come off as a little – well – small.

But the voice is still asking: “What will you tell your daughter?”

My husband & I talked this morning. He suggested, and I agree, that we present her with the full gamut of information on what actually happened. But what will I tell her about how it made me feel? Will I tell her that the event & its aftermath made me numb? Will I tell her that I used to believe I could make the world a better place and that I’m sorry I quit trying? Will I even be able to answer myself on how I actually do feel?

I want the very best for my daughter, especially emotionally. I want her to be open to new experiences and unafraid. How can I teach that if I’m afraid to feel my own feelings when something is difficult?

My daughter is only 1 and a half. I would think I have a few years to figure this all out. Maybe I can’t make the world a better place, but does that mean I shouldn’t try? If only for her sake?

Well, I told her all that this evening while putting her to bed. I stroked her head and told her how much I love her & how sorry I am. I know she didn’t understand. I thought it would be good practice for the day she does ask me: “Where were you? What did you do afterward?”

I think she knew something was up this morning, when I bawled while reading her The Fox & The Hound. The rest of the day was just a normal Sunday for her. And, yes, until I can figure out what I want to do about the big bad world, I will remain perfectly content to make our little world a safe, healthy & happy one for my daughter.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Cinderella Redux

So, since my previous post on princesses, I've had ample opportunity for further reflections regarding Cinderella. And, upon further reflection, I want a new role model.

I still like that she teaches patience, kindness, and hard work.

I do not like that she stays in a bad situation waiting for something to change.

Earlier today, I found myself on the receiving end of some resentment. I have real sympathy for people who aren't happy. I also have little patience for people who have it in their power to change their lives and simply don't. I've been unhappy. I found I had the power to change my life, and I've changed it.

As a friend once put it: follow your happy. Your happy might not look like mine. I may not get it at all! But if it's yours, follow it.

Cinderella should follow her happy. Aren't there shops or restaurants or laundries in that tiny kingdom? Wouldn't any good business owner be happy to have her? Here's my proposed revision:

Cinderella leaves her stepmother's house. She goes to work in a glass shop. The proprietor probably looks like Gepetto. When the invitation to the ball arrives, he makes Cinderella the glass slippers. Maybe we can find room for the fairy godmother. (I'm not totally without feeling!) For drama we can find some reason she has to be back at midnight. More drama: the step family could kidnap her out of jealousy; then we still get our heart-tugging moment with the mice, the key, and the run down the stairs after the Duke.

She still lives happily ever after. She's still a princess, just one with the guts to follow her happy.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Fun Fall Food, Colorful Chicken Chili

1st off - Yes, I love alliteration. 
I also love numbers. For example, my husband & I selected 06/07/08 as our wedding day --- time: 5 o'clock! However, I resisted pre-determining how many parts there will be to this series, as I did for Simple Summer Suppers. I imagine it will be somewhere around 10, but I don't need pressure - nor do I want limitations!


2nd - Expect more chili in this series. Lots. more. chili.
I love chili. My husband & I have been together for just under 5 years, but earlier this year we celebrated our 5th annual "Super Bowl of Chili" - which has evolved into a cook-off. Occasionally, I have abstained from competition & just provided appetizers. This past Super Bowl, though, {gulp} I entered & didn't win. So ... with football season upon us, it's time to start recipe development!



Voilà - my first chili of the season. Colorful Chicken Chili - Why colorful? Isn't chicken chili supposed to be white? I mentioned to the Hubben that I wanted to make chicken chili for my first of the season, then listed off white ingredients I needed. He said: "it's kind of creepy when it's all white." It's like the world is my oyster now. Chicken chili can be anything I want it to be! 




Ingredients:

  • 2 leftover Caesar chicken breasts, thinly sliced & chopped
  • 1 can light red kidney beans
  • 1 can pinto beans
  • 1 green pepper
  • 2 small yellow onions
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 tbsp EVOO
  • pinch cayenne
  • pinch cumin
  • 1 tbsp chili powder


Method:

  • Add olive oil to a pot, heated over medium high
  • Add chopped onion & pepper; saute a few minutes
  • Sprinkle with flour; continue to stir a few minutes
  • Add the chicken broth in approximately 1/2 cup intervals, stirring in between to incorporate flour mixture completely
  • Add the seasonings, chicken & beans
  • Simmer for a long as you like!


I made this Sunday. We ate it for the first time tonight. Munchkin loved it! Though not nearly as much as she loved the corn muffins I served with it - just a Jiffy box, with some leftover corn on the cob chopped in.
We have plenty left over for tomorrow or the next day. I imagine it will be even better the 2nd time - why? Because that's the fabulous thing about chili - it is the ultimate make-ahead meal & just gets better with time. Oh, and PS - whatever the ingredients, bean & pepper colors, seasonings, or accoutrements - I like my chili with a little shredded cheese (or a lot)!

Here's to a fun fall full of food, football & friends! :)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Living (& Parenting) in the Moment


Earlier today I was enjoying building block towers with my Munchkin. At the same time, I was thinking ahead to the things I wanted to do tonight, after she went to bed. I felt a pang of guilt, but it was immediately followed by the realization - "I've never been able to live 100% in the moment. Why would I be any different as a parent?"

There have been 3 discrete experiences in my adult life that I can recall truly being in the moment. By "being in the moment" - I mean not having any thoughts of anything else, not how it relates to the past or how you'll speak of it in the future.


  • 1&2 - snorkeling
  • 3 - birth of my daughter



1&2 lasted only a couple hours. 3, of course, lasted several. In each, I only realized I'd had the experience after it ended. I have tried to replicate the feeling in yoga classes, mediation, and just daily life. I've come close. But I have never had that utter absorption to the point of excluding all else.

That is not to say I don't enjoy my life. Far from it. It's just that worries, plans, and others creep in to my head regardless of the primary task at hand.

Actually, as I've learned more about meditation (if not always successfully practiced it), I've realized that an excellent goal is to be able to just let those other thoughts roll through your mind - not to fight them. 
  • When that pang of guilt hit, I was pleased to note that the closest I come to singular experiences now are when I'm with my family. There's nothing quite like seeing the world through the eyes of a toddler to approximate living in the moment! And getting to do that with my best friend is icing on a yummy cake!
  • Just now I realized that I had simply let the moment wash over me. I did not stop to ponder or kick myself ... or whatever. I just went right back to the tower of blocks.
Once again - here's to the finding the joy in the small stuff & not sweating it. Getting better & better ... one step at a time.


Friday, September 2, 2011

Defining & Defending Cheap Wine (and Moderation)

It occurs to me that I've been throwing around the term "cheap wine" frequently without defining it. Well, it's subjective. But - what it means to me is wine under $15, preferably $10. I don't really trust wine with a regular retail price under $5 ... or really much under $8.

BUT - I don't like drinking crap. In fact, I won't drink crap. If I buy a wine, and it's crap - it goes down the sink. This doesn't feel too bad because it wasn't a huge investment. So that's cheap wine buying tip #1 - No regrets. Obviously, you want to go by word of mouth & friendly recommendations as well. When flying blind, try familiar names, in particular - winemakers that make some good higher-priced wines typically also make some tasty cheap ones.

A couple examples - 

  • R collection by Raymond Vineyards
    • Earlier this summer, my Publix had these BOGO (buy-one-get-one-free). Regular retail for $13. Thus, perfection. A wine toward the upper-end of my cheap wine definition, but I get it for below my lower-end usual purchase price. I got the Chardonnay & the Red Field Blend. Both were great. I'd have been happy to get them for $13. I was ecstatic when they were back on BOGO last week!
  • Penfolds Koonunga Hills Shiraz Cabernet
    • This, along with Monkey's Bay Sauvignon Blanc, were our table wines at our wedding. For whatever reason, we seem to have more occasions to drink the Shiraz Cab - so much so, it's been dubbed our "house wine." The price has gone up the past few years, but this wine still retails for under $15. When it goes on sale, it's worth stocking up! (The Sauv-ey is also a tasty treat btw!)
And here's a wine-drinking tip ... Get thee a vaccum wine saver!


If you live alone or live with someone who can't always partake with you (and you don't want to drink a whole bottle!), this little gadget allows you to have a glass without wasting the rest. So simple, yet totally amazing - cost: $5 ... value: priceless. The longest I've ever stretched a bottle was about 5 days / 3 opens.

And now ... for the possibly bad news.


I also frequently talk about "moderation" - again, this is a subjective term that could stand for a little definition. This is not really subjective. Remember that "glass" I just mentioned? One (5 oz) glass of wine daily is considered moderate alcohol intake for women. Men get 2. Equivalents are 12 oz beer or 1.5 oz spirits. And, no - it doesn't work to average it out & have 7 drinks all on Friday night.

Full disclosure: I probably had 7-8 oz of wine tonight.

Here's to cheap wine, moderation & happy hunting! ... TGIF! :)