Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bulk

I find inspiration for the blog in the strangest places sometimes. There are days where I'm just subconsciously struggling with a topic and one appears from an item I see every day. There are days when I am prompted by something that has recently happened. There are days when I revisit an old memory and that starts it. And then there are days like today, when I'm probably just a little bit out of my senses. And I find humor in things that I shouldn't really.

Though there is no way for me to know for sure, I have H1N1. That unwelcome little cross-species virus I tried to warn my readers about months ago has come into my home. And, lucky me - I got it. Partially because it's a new virus that I have no immunity to, and partially because as a mother I have no choice but to take care of my kids whenever they are sick, I got it. At this point, it seems that half the residents of our city have it. The clinics are out of tests, the pharmacies are holding back the antivirals for the sickest, new kids are absent from school every day. It's just a good time to be had by all. Are you sensing my sarcasm?

Mostly because I feel horrible, I am trying not to prepare too much food for anyone else right now. I also am trying to prevent sharing whatever I have with the other members of my family if I can help it. And, right now, my head hurts too much to listen to whining. So, when I picked Ally up from school and she asked me three times in a row if we could go to McDonalds, I just said yes. I'm too tired to fight.

We got home and I set her up with her happy meal at the table. She asked for some ketchup and I obliged. As I sat there trying to ignore the fact that my head hurt so much it was making me nauseous just at the smell of her food, I read the back of the ketchup label. And then I laughed. Best used by date on cap. I looked at the date, and it was 12/10/10. Like we would ever have a single bottle of ketchup for over a year.

There are many, many things that a family of six can buy in bulk without fear of spoilage. And, trust me, ketchup is one of them. Especially in this house. The kids can certainly go through the condiments quickly, but at least they aren't as bad about it as their Uncle Gary. His use of ketchup should be elevated to an art form, really. Things you would never imagine putting ketchup on get a healthy dose when he's around. And though it often turns the stomach of those around him, he thoroughly enjoys it. Macaroni and cheese. Just the thought is disgusting. But the most abhorrent thing he puts it on is tacos. Who does that???

I told you I'm a bit out of it today. I laughed for a good while. Best used by...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Month

It takes about this long every year. Generally by the time the end of September rolls around, it's in full swing. The return to school means many things in our household. The lunches, the backpacks, the homework. New clothes, new teachers. The daily list of after school activities and weekends filled with soccer games and birthday parties.

Though I certainly have learned to love the coming of the school year for reasons obvious to any parent, not everything about it is good. The stress of getting everything done and turned in to wherever it needs to be on time. The juggling of those precious hours after school and wondering how we are going to get to all the places we need to. School politics and drama. Nagging about homework.

School brings some even more unwelcome things. Germs. Lots and lots of germs. By the time the kids have been in school for four or five weeks, our house is saturated with them. In the last week alone, we've had to contend with coughs, fevers, pink eye and an apparent case of H1N1. I can't be certain as to the last one though, since the clinics in town here are out of the tests for it. It seems many other families here are fighting germs too.

We do teach kids to share. I just wish they didn't always listen.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Cave

It didn't take me long to realize why Tom didn't complain too much. Why he didn't put up the fight that I anticipated. Changing the kids rooms was a huge undertaking, one which we aren't entirely done with. Knowing that it would be a lot of work to move around all the furniture, including moving much of it up or down the stairs, he just started helping.

I figured that he would whine more. I figured that he'd start asking me why we were doing all this. Want to know what the point was. I fully anticipated long, leisurely breaks to be taken. I waited for the protests to begin. The refusal to move something. Never happened. And then I figured out why. The TV.

Back in San Diego, we got a big screen TV. Clearly it was not a purchase I was involved with. After the giant TV came along, we had to get a new entertainment center. Of course we needed to. It only made sense. He spent a ridiculous amount of time and energy working on the man cave, to get it just right.

When we moved to Colorado, the new house had a built-in entertainment center in the family room, and the nook for the TV was intended for a normal sized TV. There wasn't room to put the big screen in there, and I refused to let him take up an entire corner of the room just for the TV.

Begrudgingly, he agreed to put the TV upstairs in the bonus room. The movers weren't real happy with that decision since they had to haul it up there. The entertainment center was put in the office and turned into bookcases for the desk. And Tom was a little sad.

The room upstairs, over time, became multi-purpose. It was the guest room, the play room and the room with the big TV. Fast forward to this summer and the obvious need to separate the girls. And the need for that bonus room to be converted into a bedroom. The TV had to come out. And it had to go somewhere.

Tom tried to get me to agree to put it in the family room, in the place I had always been opposed to. He knew that it wasn't a battle worth fighting because he would inevitably lose, so he gave up pretty quickly. I started measuring furniture and wall space and then I did it. I told him what my plan was. I asked him if he could move the cable. His eyes lit up. The formal living room. It was a wasted space, since we never really used it anyway. And it would work.

The entertainment center that had been converted into something else was moved and transformed, magically, back into an entertainment center. The big TV was escorted down the stairs, and cables were fished through the floor. The crowing jewel, the cushy recliner, completed the move. And it was back. The man cave had been reconstructed.

And I realized why my husband was so willing to help me. He was getting something out of the deal too. 42 inches of high definition happiness, to be fully enjoyed only while reclining with a beer. The kids got their own rooms again, and Tom got his happy place back. All that work ended with a handsome reward for him. Now if he could just find that remote...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Neighbors

One of the inevitable truths in life is that you will, at some point, have neighbors. Unless you live somewhere on a deserted island, other people, people who you don't choose, will live nearby. We have had some interesting experiences with neighbors to say the least.

When we first got married, we lived in an apartment. And apartment dwellers, by and large, are a transient population. People don't stay in one place for long. And with good reason. Our first apartment was terrible. It was about 600 square feet, had mold problems and no air conditioning. We were pretty happy when we moved out of there. We hadn't really formed any bonds with the people around us, mostly we just passed them in the hall and said hi.

In the condo, things were a little different. Being on the middle floor of a three story building, we got to know a lot about the people living above and below us. Sometimes a little too much. The gay couple above us was awesome. They were quiet and kind, they indulged us when we brought a five month old Aidan out trick or treating for the first time and were grateful for cookies at Christmas. Next door to them was a young military family. We spent hours talking about the challenges of having a new baby. We shared meals and playtime. It was nice. Until one day he got orders, and they were gone.

The condo downstairs from us was occupied by two families in the time that we lived there. If I could give one word of advice regarding neighbors, it is this: don't wish for people that bother you to move out, someone worse could move in next. That's what happened. The first family there was loud. Incredibly loud. They had two young boys, and everything that family did was high pitched and loud. They cooked on their balcony late at night, and the scent of some of the food was horrendous. When they decided to sell, we were glad. Until the new people moved in. Then we suddenly missed the previous owners.

The second family was worse. Much worse. It was a married couple with a teenage son. They smoked, and the smoke came right in our windows. Since we didn't have air conditioning, we had no choice but to leave them open. They fought. They slammed doors. They threw things. They left trash everywhere. And they had a large dog on their patio, and they never ever cleaned up after him. We cringed when it came time to sell our place. We were very much afraid that potential buyers would be scared off if they happened to be home during a showing. The condo fell out of escrow twice, and I can't help but wonder if that might have had something to do with it. Finally, the third buyer closed and we left. We did feel pretty bad about the situation, leaving the new buyers to deal with them. But we were glad that we didn't have to anymore.

When we bought our house, we bought it for a few reasons. It was a complete fixer upper if ever there was one, but it had a certain charm about it. And it was three houses from a fantastic park and around the block from an elementary school. Shortly after moving in, we realized that it had even more to offer. We had some amazing neighbors. The kind of neighbors that set up huge Halloween displays. The kind of neighbors that you can sit in a garage with and talk about nothing for hours. The kind of neighbors that always had a cold beer waiting for you. The kind of neighbors that you wouldn't hesitate to ask for things. The kind of neighbors that you still talk to years after leaving. The woman who lovingly hand stitched a quilt when Ally was born. The elderly woman who always invited us in for a chat, and never winced at the kids touching her things. The kind of people that make you never want to leave. Those were some great neighbors. Whenever there is a house up for sale there, we get a phone call. When are we coming back?

When we first moved to Colorado, we rented a house on the other end of town for a few months. Knowing that it was a temporary place, we didn't form many bonds there. We were overwhelmed with moving, three kids, new schools and a new area. And the people around us, for the most part, weren't really the people you would want to hang out with. We had one neighbor with a little boy a year older than Aidan, but we only talked to them occasionally. It was fine though, that wasn't where we were planning to stay for any length of time anyway.

When we moved into the house we have now, it was different. A new neighborhood. New people. New families. Over the years, more and more families have moved in. And thankfully, some have moved out. The ones that you aren't sad to see go. I joke that our neighbors must hate us. Between having four kids, two dogs and enough outdoor toys to outfit a daycare center, we are just loud. And the vast majority of homeowners in this neighborhood don't have young kids. I hope that we don't drive them too crazy.

Though it is far different from the neighborhood we lived in back in San Diego, there are some similarities. We have those friends now that we can sit and drink beer with, talking about nothing for hours. We have unspoken competitions for who has the best holiday decorations, and who can get them up sooner. We have had bags of backyard vegetables given to us by neighbors, those who are better gardeners than I am. We are surrounded by kids that our kids love to play with.

It's not all good here in the neighborhood though. Not everyone is nice. Not all the neighbors are understanding. There have been conflicts. And there are the houses that make me cringe. The cars that I hate to see driving past. There are even some that we don't make eye contact with and have forbidden the kids from talking to. They are the neighbors that I wish would just leave, though I know better than to think that the next buyer would be better. We've made that mistake before.

Neighbors are just part of life. Love them or hate them, you don't get to choose them. Try to play nice, everyone.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

9

As you may have noticed if you've ever scrolled down enough, I have tickers on my home page here. Each of the kids has one, and they all chose their background and character. All of them but AJ, that is. He doesn't yet care about things like that. A few days after I posted the tickers for the kids, I decided to add one for me. Not for my birthday, but for something else. Something that I started keeping track of a few years ago. Something I started keeping track of when someone asked me about it. Until then, I hadn't thought much about it.

My ticker keeps a running tab on the time I have spent fully enthralled in the physical joy of motherhood. The time I have spent either pregnant or nursing. And the time I have spent doing both. Minus about 3 weeks in 2007, it's been a constant in my life for the past 9 years. I hit that milestone yesterday. It's been a long time since I was the only person in my body.

When you start to do the math for things like this, it's a bit shocking. 9 years. That is a long time. A really long time. I think of all the times I have been unable to go somewhere or do something because a baby needed me. All the baseball and football games I missed. The concerts I had a ticket to but never saw. The trips canceled. The drinks skipped.

Sure, I would have liked to have seen that U2 concert. I would have loved to see the last Padres opening day we lived in San Diego for. The Broncos made the playoffs and I spent hours on the computer and on the phone to get tickets. We ended up selling my ticket, since I didn't get to use it. The baby at home back then wouldn't take a bottle.

I have spent endless nights lying on one side whether out of necessity from a pregnant belly or out of convenience to nurse a baby. My arms have fallen asleep, my neck has been sore more times than I could count from lying in the same position for too long.

9 years is a long time. I've missed out on a lot over the years. But what I have been doing instead is better. Much better. I have nourished and loved and rocked and fed. I have cuddled and snuggled. I have watched my babies grow. I have helped my babies grow. I have smelled the sweet scent of a baby's breath. I have cherished the knees and elbows of a child, whether they were nudging me from the inside or beside me.

Motherhood isn't about what you don't get to do. It isn't about the sacrifices that you make. The things you give up. The places you don't get to go. Motherhood is about what you are doing. It's the growing and nurturing of a miracle. Nothing else could ever top that. I've been doing it for 9 years and counting...

Friday, September 25, 2009

Easy & Fancy

At this point, I figure I might as well end the week with a recipe or two, since that's what I've been doing so far. Last night I got to make dinner twice. The first one was dinner for a dear friend and her family. Recovering from surgery and unable to stand at the moment, I helped her out. As I was making her dinner, I was secretly wishing that I could keep it for myself since it's one of my favorites. But, I did the right thing and took it over there. Too bad my whole house smelled like it already. And too bad I had already promised the kids I would make them something else. They wanted fancy macaroni.

So, for today, I'll give you two recipes. The first was the one that I made for that friend of mine, the one who only needs me to do just this one thing. And the one that would always do just this one thing for me. And I love her for that. The second recipe is for the second dinner I made last night, the one the kids requested. Both are good, both are easy, and both are perfect dinners for those cool Fall nights.

Italian Crockpot Chicken
  • 1 1/2 pound of boneless, skinless chicken
  • 1 container of fresh mushrooms, washed and sliced
  • 2 cans stewed tomatoes (do not drain)
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • corn starch
  • oregano
  • clove of garlic, chopped
  • basil
  • salt
  • pepper

Put the mushrooms and chicken in the crockpot. In a bowl, combine the tomatoes and tomato paste with 1 tsp corn starch, 1/2 tsp oregano, 1/2 tsp basil, garlic, and a pinch of salt and pepper. (You can substitute an italian seasoning blend - if you do, use about 2 tsp) Pour mixture over chicken and set crockpot to high for 4 hours or low for 8. Don't open the lid until ready, so you don't lose the moisture.

Serve with cooked pasta and garlic bread.

Fancy Macaroni & Cheese

  • Box of elbow macaroni, cooked and drained
  • 1/2 small onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 12 slices american cheese, cut into pieces
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • bread crumbs

Saute onion in butter until clear. Add milk and cheese a little at a time. Reduce heat and melt all cheese together. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix cheese sauce with pasta, pour into 9x13 casserole dish. Sprinkle top with bread crumbs and extra shredded cheese. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes. This is the dinner the kids request on their birthdays.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Simmer

As anyone who knows me is already well aware, I have loved the weather this week. It's been cold and rainy. The mountains have been dusted with the first snow of the year. The kids have been wearing their raincoats to school. As for me, well, I've been in my kitchen. This week's posts have been reflecting that for sure.

Last night, Tom's brother Tim was here. He is in the Air Force and stationed in Nevada, when he's not deployed, that is. He came in for a very brief visit, and we really only had a few hours with him last night. All the big boys are going to the Great American Beer Festival tonight, and I'm sure they are going to have a good time. They don't get together nearly often enough, the four of them. I'm hoping that it becomes an annual ritual.

Since Tim was only here one night, I took a bit of a risk with a new recipe. I knew I wanted to make something warm and filling, something that screamed fall and offered him a welcoming hug. I decided to make beef stew, but I had to change it up a little. This isn't the beef stew you might be accustomed to. The ingredients aren't the ones traditionally found in it. No carrots. No potatoes. Not even beef stock. And when you see the recipe, be prepared to make a face. It doesn't really sound like the flavors would go together well. You're just going to have to trust me on this one.

It takes some time, but it's well worth the effort.

Strange Brew Beef Stew

Ingredients List

  • 3 pounds beef stew meat
  • 32 oz chicken stock
  • Large can of pears (29 oz), chopped, juice reserved
  • vegetable oil
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • half a stick of butter
  • lemon zest
  • bay leaf
  • ketchup
  • salt
  • pepper
  • cinnamon
  • ground cloves
  • dried thyme

Instructions - takes approximately 2 1/2 hours start to finish

  • In a large pot, brown beef stew meat in a little vegetable oil. I recommend doing it in a couple batches. Set aside.
  • Add butter to the pot and onions. Saute until onions are clear.
  • Remove from heat and add the following: 1 tbsp ketchup, 2 tsp salt, 1 tsp lemon zest, 1/2 tsp thyme, 1/2 tsp pepper, 1/4 tsp cinnamon and a pinch of ground cloves. Stir together, then add 1/3 cup flour.
  • Add chicken broth, a little at a time and stir to combine. Add pear juice.
  • Add one bay leaf and beef to pot, bring to a boil. Reduce, cover and simmer for one hour.
  • Add sweet potatoes, cover and simmer for 45 minutes.
  • Add chopped pears and golden raisins.
  • Heat through. Remove bay leaf and serve.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Divine

Keeping with this week's apparent theme, I am writing up another recipe today. This one is a new one, and even though I've never used it before yesterday, it is an instant favorite. I saw something very similar in a cookbook and had to try it. Of course, I had to change it up a little from what the original recipe called for. I seem to have trouble following directions fully. :)

This one is for cookies. But not just any cookies. These are little orange clouds of joy. They are soft and melt in your mouth. They are just simply delicious. Ashley asked me last night if we can make these for Santa this year. I'm guessing that means she likes them too.

Pumpkin Divine Cookies
  • 8 oz softened cream cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder

Beat cream cheese and sugars, add eggs one at a time, then the pumpkin and vanilla. Combine dry ingredients, then add and mix thoroughly. Drop by rounded teaspoonfulls and bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes.

Frosting

  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3-4 tbsp boiling water

Combine, adding water a little at a time until desired consistency. Frosting will set fairly quickly as it cools. Frost cooled cookies. Then try not to eat all of them. Happy Baking!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Comfort

I could write all day about the things I love about the Fall. I love the weather. I love the fact that it can be 80 degrees one day and snowing the next. I love the first time the girls get to put on their tights and boots for school. I love sweaters. I love the smell of the air in the Fall. I love the leaves changing. I love the autumn breezes. I love the holidays that come with the season. I love the magic in the eyes of the kids when we are picking out costumes. I love staying up late making stuffing. I love, love, love pumpkin spice lattes.

Perhaps one of the things I love the most about the Fall is the food. I love to make it. Comfort food. Crock pots. Soups. Chili. Warmth. Love.

Here is one of my most time-tested recipes. If you're ever in need of something that warms you from within, that fills your belly with comfort, this is it. Enjoy. Share. Repeat.

Corn Chowder

  • Cut 4-6 pieces of bacon into small pieces and cook in a large pot until browned. Remove and put aside for later.
  • In the bacon grease, cook one diced green or yellow pepper and one diced onion until the onion is transparent (but don't let it brown)
  • Add 32 oz. chicken stock and two small-medium potatoes, peeled and diced. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Add 6 cups corn (I use thawed frozen white corn and I put about half of it through a blender or food processor first)
  • Bring back to a boil, then reduce and simmer until potatoes are tender
  • In a separate bowl, combine two cups milk, 2 tbsp flour and salt and pepper. Add this mixture to the pot and heat thoroughly.
  • Add crumbled bacon pieces and combine

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bam

AJ is all boy. He's dirty and messy. He's strong and feisty. He's adventurous and daring. It's a good thing he's also adorable, it helps to temper my responses to his other attributes. It's been a long time since I had a toddler boy in the house, and I'm still not entirely used to it again. The girls trained me to deal with other things. Fits about clothes. Whining. Those things I am used to. He's different.

He's little but mighty. And he's smart enough to figure out ways to work around his small stature. He learned pretty quickly that there is more than one way to get up on the couch. He pushes anything he can over to the couch and climbs up. And he's quite proud of himself when he does.

He has taken to giving high fives to everyone, which is charming most of the time. It isn't so fun when he decides to high five your unsuspecting forehead. The high fives have morphed into constant smacking. I tell him no, and he giggles at me.

He loves to hit things. He carried a hammer around with him almost constantly when he started walking. Since then he has graduated to a plastic baseball bat. It's just about as big as he is, but he can swing it like a pro. Between the giant yellow bat and his hair, he is a spitting image of Bam Bam from the Flintstones.

When he is full, he can't just stop eating like a normal person. He has to spit out the last bite of whatever it is he is eating into his hands. Then he needs to mash it into his hair. Every single time. As if his hair didn't stick up enough on it's own.

Just this morning, I gave him some goldfish on his highchair tray. Ashley is home sick, and we are working on her schoolwork. I needed a few minutes to concentrate with her. AJ kept himself busy, alright. Rather than eating the goldfish, he pulverized them into millions of tiny pieces, then threw them off the tray. Laughing with joy the entire time, he threw and he threw. Right on to the floor that I mopped last night.

He has a runny nose, and he will fight me like you wouldn't believe when I try to wipe it. He'd rather blow snot bubbles, then smear it all over his face.

So if you happen to see us out and about today, and you are thinking to yourself that I must be a horrible mother for letting this kid exist with food mashed into his hair and snot crusted all over his face, cut me a break. I try, really I do. But he's a boy. They get out of the bathtub dirty. I'm starting to remember these things.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Reform

Much has been said in the media over the past few months about health care in this country. Every so often, our nation faces a crisis, and this one is serious. The reality is that our current health care system is so incredibly messed up, there really is no single solution. It took generations for it to get to where it is now, and to think that it can be fixed in a matter of months is naive to say the least.

Over the course of my education, I spent much of it focused on our health care system. Beginning in college, through law school and into the public health program, I learned more and more about our system. And most importantly, I learned about how it developed. How we got ourselves into the mess we are in. I don't think that anyone can fully appreciate the current situation without at least a basic understanding of why it is the way it is.

You have to go back years, to the turn of the century before this one, to really see how it all began. Western medicine as we know it today really took off about then. Proclaiming scientific superiority, all other ways to heal people were discounted and proclaimed inferior. Midwives were forced almost entirely out of practice. Men replaced women as the experts on childbirth, when women had been looked to for thousands of years as the experts for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, those changes weren't always for the better. And they were almost never based on any proof. The so-called science was in large part untested and unproven. And more and more women started dying in childbirth. In the so-called safer, more sanitary hospital environment, more of them died. Was it really better? I'd argue it was not, and that change was a harbinger of doom for the future of the health care system in our country.

The general population started to believe that just because physicians said they were better, that they were. Hospitals flourished. Instead of treating sick people at home, we now were bringing them to a central location. One where the germs could multiply and spread easier. And hospitals were expensive. And physicians wanted to make money.

The invention of health insurance is another critical development in our country's health care system. It grew up in a fee for service regime, intended to trust that patients and doctors would only utilize it when they needed to, and that the insurance was there the reimburse for the costs. It was a good time to be a doctor. To be a hospital. You could perform all kinds of tests and procedures, and someone just wrote you a check. Life was good. It was good, that is, until the system started to fail. When the costs got too high. When pooling the risks didn't work anymore.

At some point, the insurance companies realized that maybe this wasn't the way to go. Maybe they were paying out too much for services. Maybe all these patients didn't really need all the care they were receiving. Utilization reviews started. Prior authorization was invented. The term in-network developed. Insurance companies started to reign in payments. The problem was that the system was already set up the other way. People wanted their health care the way they were accustomed to receiving it. Physicians liked making money. And by now an entire industry was blossoming, creating technologies, pharmaceuticals and devices, and convincing people that they needed them.

Essentially what happened is that a completely for-profit system developed. We put the motivation for care in terms of the almighty dollar. Then we tried to change it to non-profit. And it is a miserable failure. We are at a point now of a disconnect between what we can provide and what we do. We have the technology to have the best health care system in the world. But out infant mortality rates paint another picture. A large portion of our population is uninsured. Some are uninsured partially by choice, not because it isn't offered, but because they can't afford the coverage offered. And there are even more people out there with abysmal coverage. People like us.

In my opinion, I think that something radical must be done. The CEOs of the insurance companies are making multi million dollar salaries, the CEOs of the supposedly non-profit entities. Nothing non-profit about those numbers. Someone is indeed profiting from the condition of our system. And they are using that money to buy influence in the government. To buy commercial time on tv and use scare tactics to convince the general population that reform is bad. They like to make people believe that things will be so much worse when the government has a role in decisions about their care. They want people to believe that their health care decisions aren't already being shaped by someone else. By them. Someone else is very much indeed already making decisions about your health care my friends, and they are doing it with their own pockets in mind. It's earning them millions of dollars.

Throw in there the mess that is Medicare and you have yourself a quandary. Medicare was set up as an entitlement system. Reach a certain age, and you get benefits. For free. There was never a means test. There was never a requirement that those eligible on the basis of age had to also be unable to pay for it. It worked great when people died at younger ages, and the ratio of working people to retirees was different. But we can keep people alive for years and years longer than we used to, thanks in large part to the hugely expensive medications. Not only are they living longer, but they are living longer with chronic medical conditions. Ones which we, as a society, pay for. Medicare needs to be overhauled. It needs to be means tested. And the age of eligibility needs to be raised. Or the entire system will fail. It is failing.

There are so many facets of our health care system that are flawed. So many misguided places for motivation. I could write about this all day, obviously. It's something I am passionate about. And it is something that we should all be passionate about. It's your life, and your children's lives at stake here. Pay attention.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Swarm

Fall soccer season is officially under way. This is the first season that we have had to contend with two different teams, two sets of players, two coaches and two different fields. Aidan and Ashley both played one season, but they were on the same team, so we didn't have the problems with overlapping schedules and needing to be in two places at once. This time around, though, both the girls are playing.

I asked Aidan if he wanted to play, and the answer was a resounding no. He's not a fan of soccer. To be honest, I can't say that I blame him. I hated playing it as a kid too. Running, running and more running. Not too appealing, at least not to him. Even the fact that both his little sisters wanted to play didn't change his mind. No thanks, he's good.

The girls both had their first games this morning. Ashley's was first, and she's old enough now that her team bears a faint resemblance to a team. It isn't just a mass of ponytails swarmed around the ball anymore. They are learning positions, and they actually are learning to work together. A few of the girls attempt to pass the ball to the other players, but usually get caught up in over analyzing where they should kick it and wait too long, only to have the ball stolen out from under them.

Ashley needs to learn that girls fight dirty. There were an awful lot of elbows being thrown this morning, and the scowls coming from a few of the players on the other team were scary. Those girls were downright vicious. Don't dare fall by the ball, they will kick you when you're down. Watching this morning was interesting to say the least. The blatant aggression from some of the girls was a little disturbing. The fact that it was encouraged by the parents even more so. They are, after all, only six years old. And it's supposed to be fun.

Ashley's team also has more kids than most. Her coach is a good friend of ours, and we requested him. That's how most of the girls ended up on this team. We'd rather her have to sit out a little more often if she's being taught a little better. He's by far the best kid's soccer coach we've ever dealt with, and he loves the game. Even more important, he understands the girls. And he understands that having an awesome cheer is just as necessary as having skills on the field.

Ally's game was very different, as one can imagine. She plays in the under five coed division. This is her first season playing, though she's been dribbling the ball around the backyard since the time she started walking. She's incredibly competitive, and managed to touch the ball more times in her first game than her older two siblings did in their entire first seasons, combined. And unlike her big sis, she isn't afraid to throw some elbows.

Of course, it helps to know which direction you are supposed to be going. Details like that escape them. Mostly, it's one big herd of kids moving slowly around the field. The great thing about the little kids is that a goal scored in your own team's net is just as awesome as one put in the right end of the field. They are just happy to be out there.

One frenzied Saturday morning down, seven to go.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Growing

It's an inescapable part of parenthood. An unavoidable certainty. There is, sadly, no way to stop the inevitable. As much time as we might spend as mothers complaining about our children, we don't ever want it to happen. We don't ever want them to grow up.

Motherhood is not an easy task. It's not for the faint hearted. I always laugh when new parents, overwhelmed with the needs of their infant, express joy at the future. How things will be so much easier in a few months. A few years. Ah, the naivete of first timers. I was like that once. I mistakenly believed that it would get easier. It doesn't. Babies are a piece of cake. Truth is, it only gets more and more complicated. It only gets harder.

Part of the reason it gets harder is that as children age, they spend more and more time out in the real world. The world away from you. And they spend less and less time in your world. Things happen, things that you can't see with your own eyes. You can't run interference. You can't solve all their problems. You don't even know what all their problems are. They develop friendships, ones that you aren't a part of. They struggle with bullies. They have to make choices, and sometimes they choose poorly.

And then, one day, it sneaks up on you. You start to realize that this child, your baby, is growing up. You try to give them the tools that they will need to go through this life. You try to help them be a good person, to make good choices. But at the end of the day, they spend more time away from you than with you. And you have to trust that you have done a good job. At least you hope so anyway.

This year seems to be a transitional one for my oldest. My little boy is no longer a little boy. He's not even a big kid really anymore. He's turning into a young man, and I didn't give him permission to do that. This week, I have taught him how to put on deodorant, and how to wash his face properly. The first signs of puberty are just starting to make an appearance, and I'm not entirely okay with that.

So when my oldest asks me to read him a story, I will. When he asks to sit with me and snuggle on the couch, I will. When he asks me to tuck him in, I will. When he asks me if I can magically transform him back into a little boy, I will tell him that I wish I could. But I can't. He won't be a little boy much longer. But he will always, always be my little boy.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Java

Is there anything about it not to love, really? Not only is it seemingly a necessity in my life these days, it is a welcome friend. Something I look forward to every morning. I love the cheap stuff. I love the expensive stuff. Daytime, nighttime, anytime. We should all celebrate the person who decided to brew it for the first time. Who saw those beans on a plant and thought they could be made into something better. Coffee. Mmmmmmm...

It certainly is an acquired taste. When the girls have tried my coffee, they scrunch their face up at the flavor. Aidan, though, has learned already that it's something worth learning to love. He was given his first cup of coffee about a year ago. Well, the first cup that actually belonged to him, that is. He had tried sips here and there for years. Grandma Kathi let him have some over breakfast at their house after he had spent the night one weekend. He got his very own cup. He picked out his flavored creamer. He got an ice cube put in it so it wasn't too hot. And he fell in love. Warm coffee. He knew on some level that he wasn't really supposed to be drinking it, and tried in vain to hide it from me. At some point, though, he let the beans spill and told me. Every so often he asks if he can have a cup.

I didn't start drinking coffee on a regular basis until college. When I started my freshman year, I made the mistake of signing up for early morning classes. There really was no way I was going to make it to Biology three days a week at 8:00am without help. There was a coffee shop on campus, next to the dorms. And I was hooked. We had a meal plan on our student cards, and I probably spent most of my discretionary money on coffee over that year.

There was a point in my junior year where I had to cut out the caffeine, cold turkey. Looking back now, I have no idea how I got everything done. I was taking 18 units, working 20 hours a week, volunteering at two places, going to the gym at least 4 or 5 times a week and spending almost every weekend either with Tom in LA or driving to San Diego. No wonder I needed a lot of coffee. I realized one day that I was just drinking way too much. I was sitting in one of my classes, when a friend looked over at me and asked what was wrong with me. I was shaking, and so was the entire desk I was sitting at. I was so jittery I couldn't sit still. I told her I just needed to go outside and run on the track, and I'd be fine. There is such a thing as too much caffeine.

The hiatus didn't last long, especially since the break was done out of necessity and not by choice. I kept on chugging coffee through the first few years of law school. Once my journey with trying to get pregnant and becoming that way began, I switched to decaf. I pretended that the psychological effect was good enough. The smell, the taste, pretty much the same. It was just as good. I could fake myself out, right? Not so much.

I didn't switch back to the full octane stuff for years. But when I did, it was a beautiful thing. The kids are keenly aware of the fact that mommy needs her coffee. It wakes me up. It makes me forget the fact that I am sleep deprived. It gets me ready for the craziness that is my life. It's sanity, nicely packaged. This is my cup. Go get your own.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Manual

Kids don't come with an instruction manual. When they send you home from the hospital, there's no book. There's no guide. Sure, there are a million books out there written by so-called experts. There are books that tell you how to do everything. There are books that tell you how to get your kids to sleep. There are books that tell you what to feed them. And there are books that contradict everything those books say. But there aren't any books for this kid. There is no help for figuring out what will work for this kid.

There are times in the lives of all parents that push you to the edge. That you start to wonder if you are doing the right thing. Where you feel like a complete and total failure. When you wonder if you are irreversibly screwing up your children.

The hardest part of parenting is that you never really know what is coming next. Just when you think that you are starting to figure it all out, you get broadsided by something new and unexpected. Some new phase. Some new drama. Some new challenge. And it never ends.

Just for a little while, I'd settle for boring and dull and predictable. Just for a little while.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Fester

It's not a pleasant sounding word, but then I suppose it isn't intended to be. It doesn't define or describe anything good, so the word shouldn't really convey anything positive. Festering. You don't want to have anything festering.

That word has plenty of applications in the physical realm, like when I learned yesterday that the fluid behind Ally's eardrums had festered enough to stir up a raging ear infection. Or the time that a hangnail on her hand festered until it eventually became a nasty infected wound. Festering is never good.

Though it certainly can be used to describe the physical things, those with actual visible proof of it, I think the word is more dangerous in the mind. Once a bad thought creeps into your head, it can do no good. Especially once it starts to fester.

Hypothetically bad scenarios can morph into full blown worst case ones. A single word spoken by someone can be analyzed and overanalyzed until it spells certain doom. The mind has a way of taking something and running with it. And it doesn't always run in the right direction.

I suppose the moral of the story is that you don't want things to have the chance to fester. If there is something you need to say, then say it. Don't sit back and hold it in. If you need a question answered, ask it. Don't conjure up all kinds of possible ways it could play out. Don't invent answers to the unasked. And please, if you have a cut, clean and bandage it properly. You wouldn't want it to fester.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Better

I can honestly say that I don't know where it comes from. I've seen it many times, that's for sure. In people I know personally, and in those I see in the media. In children and adults. It's a pervasive problem in our society, and one which seems to be becoming more widespread. Parents pass the delusion down to their kids. And it perpetuates. It's the idea that they are somehow better than everyone else.

You know who I am talking about. The people who just assume that you know the deal. The ones that figure you should just understand. The people who are always smarter than you. The people who are always richer than you. Who are always thinner than you. The people who have the newest and best of everything. The people who see nothing wrong with parking in the fire lanes, in the handicapped spots. They are special. The people who beg for compliments, feel compelled to show off their latest and greatest thing. The people who's kids are better than yours.

I don't know where this sense of entitlement comes from. I've never been one to be like this, and I've always been amused by those who fall victim to it. Even more amusing are the people who try in vain to compete with it. The people who look up to those who believe they are better. Those who aspire to be better than the rest of us. To embrace the illusion.

The truth is that people are just people. No one is better than anyone else. Life isn't a competition. People have intrinsic value, which has nothing to do with their bank accounts, the diplomas that hang on their wall, or the size of their waistlines. Attaching more value to someone because of those is a fallacy. And attaching it to yourself borders on ridiculous.

To all those who believe that they are better than the rest of us, get over yourself. If you knew how silly you look, trying to raise yourself up on that pedestal, maybe, just maybe, you would be humbled. And maybe you would realize that it's time to knock it off.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Rock

I'm not a gamer. I don't play video games, and I don't understand the appeal of them. Tom, on the other hand, would totally be a gamer if our life situation was different. If we didn't have kids, and if he had lots of free time on his hands, I can virtually guarantee that he would spend a lot of time in front of a tv, controller in hand.

Every once in a while a new game will come out, one that he just has to have. Most of the time, it's the adventure games that he gets really into. When the newest Legend of Zelda came out, he was pretty routinely up until 2am playing until he beat the game. He can get still get sucked in, for sure.

As much as I don't understand his love of the games, I try to leave him alone so he can play. I know he loves it. When we got married, we got each other gifts. He bought me diamond stud earrings, I bought him a Playstation 2. The Playstation was good enough for him for many years, even with the release of newer, better gaming systems. It was good enough, that is, until the Wii came out.

I didn't see what the huge appeal of the Wii was, mostly because of the fact that I don't play video games to begin with. But for whatever reason, he really, really, really wanted it. It was released a few years ago, and the demand was so high that stores sold out immediately and you couldn't find them online. I set out to get him one. Don't ask me why.

It took weeks of getting up at the crack of dawn on weekend mornings, perusing the ads to see which store was getting in a new shipment, standing in line before doors opened and waiting. Lots of waiting. The morning I finally got one, it was 10 degrees, and I had to wait outside Target for 45 minutes. I must love him.

The Wii is different. I'm more likely to play it because it isn't like most other video games. It's interactive, and we can play some of the games with the kids. As I sit here typing this, Tom is playing Guitar Hero with the kids. There is nothing in the world like hearing your six year old screaming the lyrics to Beastie Boys songs.

Though I am not generally a video game player, I love Guitar Hero. When we first got it, I was pregnant with AJ. And I was up for days, late into the night until I beat the game. Tom was a little mystified. He'd never seen me like that. He got tired of playing long before I did. And for a few days at least, he knew how I feel when he spends hours and hours playing.

There is a new Beatles version that just came out. Grandma Kathi has already started talking about it. Maybe we can get her to grab a guitar and join the band. Rock on, my friends. Rock on.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Overwhelmed

We all have a breaking point. We all reach the time where we just want to utter "uncle" and make it all stop. And that point is different for each person. Some people really and truly are at the end of their rope with things that wouldn't even phase me. But that's the thing. It's all relative.

There is a much overused saying that God only hands you as much as you can handle. And that you never know how much you can handle until you are tested. That only through being tested can you fully see the extent of your abilities, the limits of your patience, the strength of your resolve. I've told people these things plenty of times in an attempt to help, and others have said them to me when I needed to hear them. When you are in the thick of it, when you feel like things are spiraling out of control, you never believe them.

It's been a hard few weeks around here. But I will persevere. I will do what needs to be done. And, yes, I will be stronger in the end. We all will be.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Fear

The people of our generation did not live in fear when we were children. We didn't routinely have air raid sirens tested, we didn't have to learn how to hide under our desks. We didn't spend time in bomb shelters. We didn't lose family members to war. It never occurred to us that we could be victims of foreign animosity. That our land could be invaded, infiltrated. We were safe here. All that changed eight years ago today.

I was laying in bed, just about to shut my eyes and try to get some more rest. Next to me, a three and a half month old Aidan was sleeping. The morning sunlight streaming in through a gap in the curtains, the cats curled up at my feet. Pretty close to perfect. The phone rang and Aidan stirred a little. I reached around him to grab it before it could ring again, and it was Tom. No hello. No how is the baby. All he asked was if I had turned on the tv yet. No, why?

I fumbled for the remote and turned it on. And just then, the first tower fell. Oh my God. At that point, no one really knew what was happening. The only information available was that planes had hit the buildings, and they collapsed. The Pentagon. A plane down in Pennsylvania. Chaos. Terror. Who? Why?

I begged him to come home. At the time, we were living in San Diego and he worked in the tallest building in the flight path to the airport. The FAA was in the process of grounding all planes, but they weren't all down yet. And, really, no one knew if this was part of a larger attack. Was there anything else planned? Where else would be hit? He said he'd be home when he could get out.

In the course of that phone conversation, in the mere minutes it took for me to absorb what was going on, everything changed. I looked over at my son, my baby boy, and suddenly I was afraid. I was afraid for him. For us. For all of us. I was afraid for the world that he would grow up in. For the dangers out there, the known and the unknown.

A knock at the door. My neighbor. He husband was in the Navy, and had been called in to defend the Port. No one knew what was going on, but they had to protect the base. Her son was a few months older than Aidan. And we sat on the floor for hours. Practically silent with our babies, we sat and we cried.

In one day, our generation learned what fear was. We felt vulnerable. We watched the sky with apprehension when the planes started flying again. We were hesitant to walk back into stadiums and amusement parks.

It has been long enough now that people have started to forget. Just going through the motions of a regular life, there will be people who don't remember today. My kids are old enough now to ask me why the flag is at half mast. They live in the post 9/11 world, the one where we are not always safe here at home. The one where buildings can come crashing down. The one where danger lurks, hiding among us. Waiting.

Never forget what happened eight years ago. And never again think that it can't happen here. We must do what we can to prevent it without sacrificing our freedoms in the process. We can't live in fear, even if we are afraid. For if we do, we have already lost.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Breathe

Inhale. Exhale. It's simple enough, right? Breathing is something so basic and necessary to our daily lives, yet something that can complicate our lives terribly if it isn't working the way it is supposed to. But our lungs can betray us, like many things in our bodies can do. They don't always function the way they are supposed to. And when you can't breathe, you can't do much else.

Asthma. It's not like I shouldn't have seen it coming. Chances are that at least one of my kids would fall victim to it. It runs in families, and it runs in mine. My dad and my brother have struggled with it. Aidan had a touch of it when he was younger, but seems to have outgrown it. I probably have it too, though it's never been diagnosed. In my entire life, I've never been able to run a mile. Even when I worked out every day and was at my healthiest, I couldn't do it. I always chalked it up to my knees, saying that they hurt too bad. The truth is that I couldn't do it. My knees were an excuse. I couldn't breathe.

Ally started coughing about a week ago, and it got progressively worse. Nights were horrible. She coughed so hard that she fell out of bed once. She couldn't sleep. At some point I heard the bark. I thought that it was just croup. Maybe I just was hoping that was all it was. I took her in to the doctor. No fever, no runny nose. No sore throat, no swollen glands. And deep in her lungs, heard only through the stethoscope, was a wheeze. Asthma.

I went and got her an inhaler and aerochamber, those things I got so familiar with all those years ago with Gary. Tom was skeptical, but I told him that if it helped, it was indeed asthma. If it didn't, then it wasn't. It helped. Which is not really what he was hoping for I know. Her asthma appears to be triggered by allergies, so we are hopeful that she won't have trouble with it year round. And we hope that she will outgrow it.

Don't take anything from granted, not even the air you breathe.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Droopey

There is an upside to having my entire house in shambles. One thing the kids have really had fun with are the old photo albums. They love looking at old pictures of us, from high school and college. They've asked who everyone in our wedding photos are at least three times each. I have unearthed all kinds of memories from the piles in the office. Tom's high school diploma. My property outline from law school. A book of Latin with notes in the margins. And a dog collar.

Every time I see that collar, it makes me a little sad. It belonged to Droopey. And Droopey belonged to Tom. When we first started dating, Tom mentioned that he really wanted a dog. By Thanksgiving of that year, I had built up the nerve to ask his parents if it would be okay for me to get one for him. They reluctantly agreed. I'm pretty sure that the didn't really want a dog. But Tom did, so they said yes.

I spent weeks looking for a puppy. As I found out quickly, trying to find a dog in December is no easy task. I couldn't afford the pet store prices. I finally started combing the newspaper classifieds, hoping. After a couple weeks, I found one. It was a Springer Spaniel, a male, and not exactly a puppy. He wasn't little and tiny anymore, he was already about 3 1/2 months old. Out of desperation, I agreed to it. It was a dog at least, and there were only a few days left until Christmas. I didn't even get to see the dog until I had to go and pick him up.

He was bigger than I expected, but he was still very much a puppy. He was white and brown with random spots and long, soft curly ears. And from the moment I laid eyes on him, I knew. He was the one. He might have been the only dog in a 20 mile radius that I could find the week before Christmas, but it didn't matter. He was the one.

His eyes were big and brown, and they looked up at me with hope. Of course I was taking him. In less than 48 hours, he would have a new owner. On Christmas morning, I went and dropped him off. Tom had already been told about the dog, so it wasn't a total surprise. But he was still pretty excited. This was his dog. It didn't take long for this big, giant puppy to have a name. Droopey. He just looked like a Droopey.

He was the sweetest, most mellow, most obedient dog ever. He had a few moments of puppyhood, the most memorable of which was the time he got into the dog food tin and ate and ate and ate until he was perfectly round. He didn't stop eating until someone got home. He didn't have an off switch. Couldn't help it. It took a few days for his digestive system to get back to normal after that.

Though he was Tom's dog, dogs don't go to college. While his owner went off to experience the life of a student far away from home, Droopey stayed behind. And he waited. The dog, so we were told, spent a lot of time sitting by the door. And he transformed right back into a puppy anytime Tom was home. He knew who his master was. By the time we were able to buy a house where we could have a dog his size, he was old. Too old to move, and too attached to TJ's new dog. Though we really wanted to bring him with us, we thought it was best to leave him.

He was also a fragile dog. He had many things trouble him during his time on this earth. He had a hernia as a puppy. He had so many ear infections that I couldn't even venture a guess as to how many. He had problems with his paws. And finally, he got sick and withered away. He wasn't very old when my in-laws had no choice but to put him down. And I will forever be grateful that I wasn't living there at the time. I don't think I could have done it. I don't think Tom could have. Someday I will have to take a dog on that last walk, someday I won't be able to escape that part of pet ownership.

I think in this life you are either a dog person or you aren't. And a dog like Droopey could make you a dog lover even if you weren't one before. Dogs never ask questions. They never judge. They don't ask you where you've been or why. They are just glad that you are home. And they just want to be there with you. If you happen to toss a ball or share a treat, even better.

All we have left of Droopey now are some pictures, memories and this collar. If you shake it just right, it sounds the same way it did when he wore it. Rest in peace, my furry friend. You were the best dog I could have found. There was a reason you were the only one.

"You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us." ~Robert Louis Stevenson

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Intervention

I staged an intervention yesterday. Not for an addiction to alcohol or drugs or anything like that, mind you. This intervention was for stuff. And it was for Aidan. Trust me when I say that the kid needed it. He comes from a long line of pack rats. Almost like it's out of his hands, there must be some genetic component to it.

Since we began the process of moving all the kid's rooms around, I've discovered time and time again that they just have a lot of stuff. Aidan in particular likes his stuff. The girls have had to pare it down for a while now, since they were sharing a room up until yesterday. Less room equals less stuff. Not so for Aidan. He always had his own room. And he has a loft style bed, which means that there is even room for a lot of stuff underneath. Stuff, stuff, stuff.

The problem is compounded by his creativity. He makes. He paints. He sculpts. He saves. He saves anything and everything he deems worthy of saving. I've lived through this before, since my brother was the same way. But it doesn't make it any less exhausting.

I moved most of his stuff out of his room Friday while the kids were at school. There were treasures to be found in every nook and cranny. Such amazing and glorious treasures. I threw most of it into boxes and put it in his new room, figuring I would go through it when we got all the furniture moved. Mostly, I just needed the room cleared.

By yesterday afternoon, almost all the furniture had been moved and we could begin the long and arduous process of putting away all of the stuff. His room is about twice the size it was before, and the thought of how much more stuff he could cram in there practically made the kid giddy. That is, until I reminded him that we had boxes and boxes of stuff to go through already. I gave him a trash bag and told him to get to it. Anything that was broken, missing pieces, outgrown or unwanted had to go. I left the room to help the girls get settled.

I can't even tell you how many times I'd have to remind him what he was supposed to be doing. He'd take something downstairs to put it away and the tv would call his name, drawing him into the viewing trance. He'd find something in a box he hadn't seen in a while and absolutely have to play with it. He found a yo yo that lights up, and had to disassemble it to see how it worked. It wasn't until I gave up helping the girls and sat on the floor with him that he realized I meant business. A lot of the stuff had to go, plain and simple.

Though I cleaned out his room less than two months ago, I carried out two very large, very full and very heavy trash bags last night. We still aren't done. And I fear that I will never be done making that kid clean his room. He likes his stuff. It's good stuff. Just ask him.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Permission

President Obama is giving a speech to the students of our schools tomorrow. He wants to talk to them about education. To encourage them to do their best, to take ownership of their own education. For many school districts around the country, it will be the first day of school, though ours went back weeks ago, so it seems to be a good time to talk to the kids about their future.

I have been asked a few times by different people what my opinion about this upcoming speech is. My knee jerk reaction is that I didn't really have one. I obviously had not seen the speech, or read the text of it, since it had not happened yet. He's the President, and if he feels the need to talk to kids, so be it. Clearly, I was in the minority. Everyone else, it seems, has an opinion.

The right wing media picked up on the plan and ran with it. They are pretty good at that. And they are even better at stirring up unnecessary drama at every possible opportunity. Never mind the fact that the past Presidents who have done this exact same thing have been Republicans. George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan both spoke to children at school. And though I was a child at the time, I remember those speeches. What I don't remember is any drama surrounding them. The "liberal" media must not have thought it was worth making an issue of. But times are different now. He's a Democrat.

Like it or not, he is the President. Though not everyone may have voted for him, he did win. And the office of the President is the most important in our nation, one that must be respected regardless of who holds it and whether you agree with everything they happen to be doing at the time. I did vote for him. Do I agree with everything he has done thus far? Of course not. But he is the President.

I have many conservative friends who have expressed not just displeasure, but bold faced outrage about the speech. Words like brainwashing and stumping have been mentioned. It's not an election year. He's not running for office. Just because he is a politician doesn't mean that everything he has to say is, as a result, political. Why is it so objectionable for him to talk to kids? Do people honestly believe that he would use that platform to manipulate children for political purposes? If the answer is yes, as I know for some it is, it's a shame.

There are other parents that just don't want a political figure in the classroom at all. Who feel that it is their job alone to teach their kids about the way our government works. I'm the opposite, obviously. I majored in public policy in college. I went to government leadership programs in high school. I feel pretty strongly about the fact that children need to be taught about our system from a young age. And they need to be taught about it not just by their parents, but by a neutral third party. I would hope that school could be that neutral third party. That it could be somewhere that children are taught about our government without being taught the biases that come with politics. The biases that parents have.

The school the kids go to, already in and of itself a highly political creature, has wavered. The district's policy was a total cop-out. They made a decision not to make a decision about the speech, giving the teachers instead the discretion about allowing children to view the speech. Parents could opt out if they chose. The school was originally going to follow that policy, much to the chagrin of some insanely vocal parents. Upset that their children would be missing out on valuable time that should be spent in the classroom, they basically threw a collective fit. Never mind the fact that the kids were pulled out of class last week for an hour for something even less important to their education. They had an assembly that amounted to little else than a sales pitch lesson for the PTO fundraiser. President's speech = bad. Peddling crap for $ = good. Interesting priorities. Yeah, I said it. Flog me.

Giving in to the demands of a few parents, the school changed the plan. They sent home permission slips Friday, which must be signed and returned if we want our kids to be allowed to watch the speech. Instead of opting out, we now must opt in. Such a seemingly small change will result in a huge difference. And the kids who have parents that are paranoid about politics will be denied the opportunity to see the speech. The ones who will deny their kids the chance to learn something from the leader of the free world in the name of protecting them. Missing out also will be the kids that forgot to have a parent sign the sheet. Or that forgot to give it to their parents in the first place. Or that lost the form on the way to school. Or that weren't at school on Friday and never got one in the first place. You see where I am going with this, right?

Last time I checked, communication wasn't a bad thing. With all the influences that come into our children's lives, whether through tv, the internet, movies, music, friends, parents, or elsewhere, this warrants a permission slip? Surely, commercials on tv are more manipulative, more persuasive, more influential in our children's daily lives than anything Obama could say. Any parent who thinks that they really know everything their kids are absorbing from friends is in terrible denial of reality. But this, a speech from the President of our country, inspires insult slinging debates? An uproar from parents? Permission slips?

There is a saying that you can't please everyone all the time. Not even the President can. It doesn't matter which side of the aisle he aligns himself with. It's impossible. Just make sure your kids don't need a permission slip for school tomorrow. You wouldn't want them brainwashed or anything.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Leche

I never set out to be a long term nursing mother before I had kids. And then I had kids, and all that changed. It's amazing the difference between the type of parent you think you are going to be and the one that you actually turn into.

Not many people around me had ever nursed their kids at all, let alone for extended periods, and the idea held virtually no appeal to me. It bothered me to see mothers nursing toddlers. I judged them, and I shouldn't have. Little did I know that I would become one of them.

When Aidan was born, he was premature. And he was sick. Just about the only thing I could do to help him was pump, and so I did. It was heartbreaking to see him in the NICU, knowing that I had to rely on the nurses and doctors. When he came home, I was completely committed to nursing, since by that point, I had been told about a million times how much better it was for preemies to be breastfed. The only problem was that it was hard. Really hard. He was weak and didn't latch well. Every feeding session lasted over an hour because I had to pump and supplement with pumped milk. By the time we were done, it was almost time to start again. I found a support group, and it made a huge difference for me. Here was a group of women like me, with babies who couldn't figure out how to eat. Finally by the time he was about 6 weeks old, it clicked. He could nurse normally, we stopped the constant pumping and bottle feeding and I relaxed. That support group stopped me from giving up. I set a goal for myself to nurse until he was six months old, we made it to just over a year. I was proud to say he never had formula. When he started walking, he was just too busy. I was sad, but it was time. He decided.

When the girls came along, it was all easier. They latched on great from the beginning, and we never had any issues. The downside to having such a great start to nursing is that neither one of them would ever take a bottle. In some ways, that was even harder. I couldn't leave, they wouldn't eat. My goal with Ashley was a year, she made it almost two. She never touched formula. I aimed for two years with Ally, and I'll just say that we crossed that finish line and then some. She had to have formula one time in the hospital right after she was born because of her blood sugar, but never again.

AJ was different. He was earlier than the rest of them, and he too had low blood sugar at birth. He needed formula to keep it up in the beginning. Though he didn't have other health problems like his big brother, he had the same issues with nursing. The first six weeks were hard, with pumping and bottle feeding after nursing. After a while though, he figured it out. And we were good, or so I thought. I am hoping to get to two years with him too, but I'm not quite sure that it will happen.

Like his brother, his interest in sitting still is gone now that he is walking. He can't stand to miss any excitement, and there is always something more interesting going on. It's not that he isn't hungry, he just doesn't want to be still for long enough to nurse. The obvious problem with nursing is that he can't just carry it around with him. The delivery mechanism isn't detachable.

It wouldn't be such an issue if he could switch to milk like Aidan did. I've tried it, and he doesn't digest it well. I even tried some toddler milk based formula I got as a free sample in the mail and he had the same trouble. He loves soymilk, but the fat content isn't high enough. I can't pump six times a day, I just don't have that kind of free time with four kids.

And so, this week, I did it. I didn't have a choice. After four kids, with my youngest being over a year already, I did it. I went to the store and I bought formula. I had to find a soy toddler formula, and I did. With great reluctance I put the cans on the belt at the register. And I couldn't help but feel like a failure. Like there is something I should be doing differently. My first three never had formula, save the one bottle Ally had in the hospital. I had managed to do it with them. Why couldn't I this time?

The answer is a simple one. I can't. I can't force him to sit and nurse. I can't change the fact that he has digestive problems with milk. I can't pump six times a day. I've never been a fan of formula, in fact I pride myself on the fact I had never bought any. But then I did. Things change. Trust me, I have agonized over it. I am doing the best I can to feed my child what he needs. He still nurses at night, and I am hoping he will keep that up for a while.

You'd think that by now, I would have it all figured out. You'd think that after four kids, I would be able to exclusively breastfeed. You'd think that I'd be able to keep standing on my soapbox, extolling the virtues of nursing. Motherhood is humbling. Sometimes we learn more about ourselves by what we can't do than by what we can. And in the process we learn that being the best mom you can really isn't about being inflexible and rigid. It isn't about sticking to your guns and being perfect. Being a mom is about doing what is best for your children, even if it isn't what you want.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Buzz

There is a special place in my life for bees. Our last name is pronounced "Da-bee", though people can come up with some fascinating variations of it. When we got married, Tom's brother Tim gave us a family crest with the name origin on it. Not surprisingly, the root name traces back to the time when their ancestors were bee keepers. Back then, last names were invented as a way to communicate more than just a personal identity. They helped people know what you did, not just who you were.

Generations later, they couldn't be further from being bee keepers if they tried. Tom is really and truly afraid of bees. For some reason they like to sting him, and watching him in the presence of an incessant and persistent bee is amusing to say the least. A few years ago, he was videotaping the kids in the backyard when Papa threw a bee at him. A dead bee. And my knight in shining armor, my family protector, taped himself screaming like a little girl. We remind him about that with every possible opportunity.

I have always given him a hard time about his bee issues. I love bees. Yes, they make honey. But they do much more than that. Most people have no appreciation for just how important they are for our survival as a species. We need bees a lot more than they need us. It's alarming to me that so many bee colonies seem to be suffering worldwide, the numbers of bees declining. That could spell trouble for the food supply, and life as we know it.

A few years ago, I dressed the girls as bees for Halloween. Besides just being adorable costumes, I was trying to be witty. Only one person got my humor though when we took the kids to school for the Fall ball. But the one person who did see the point of the costumes thought I was hilarious. She just laughed and laughed at the "Da Bees".

I have bees all over my house too. I have plants in my garden that attract them. I found a cute lithograph a few years ago that would be perfect for the kitchen, titled "The Busy Bee Bistro". We have bee coffee mugs, bee vases, bee figurines, bee windchimes and more. Bees, bees, bees.

My love of bees is a little less this morning though. One of them decided to sting me yesterday. Walking back to the car after soccer practice, while I was holding AJ, a giant fluffy bumblebee stung my foot. And trying my best not to scream, I hobbled the rest of the way to the car with the bee sticking out of my foot. I couldn't put AJ down in the middle of the parking lot, I had to walk the rest of the way - knowing that I'd be getting the full dose of venom by doing so.

I've never been stung before. The first time sensitizes your immune system to the allergens in the venom, so we'll see how I do when and if I get stung again. My brother is anaphylactic to bee stings, and I could very well be too. My leg swelled up to my knee before the benadryl knocked it down.

I still love bees, just a little bit less now. At least I didn't scream like a little girl.

Friday, September 4, 2009

T-shirt

So I have this friend. Maybe you have one like her. She is someone that reads this almost every day, and someone that I gave ample warning to. She knows I am writing this. The names have been changed to protect the innocent, so to speak. You know who you are. ;)

One of the hardest things for me to deal with when it came to moving here was leaving some fantastic friends behind. I don't make friends easily. I make acquaintances pretty quickly, but real friends take longer. And it's more rare. It was a hard thing for me to leave them. To leave her.

We met many years ago, when Aidan was only just barely two years old. Ashley was just a baby. It was just chance that we both stayed a little later one morning after taking the boys to a class and found one another. We became very good friends with time, and have seen sides of each other that other people rarely get to see. I was fortunate that she allowed me to help her when she gave birth to her second child. Being a doula is a blessing, but it's even more special when it's friend.

A year after we left, we went back for a visit. And I saw her, at about the time in both of our lives where the bottom had dropped out. Or at least it seemed that way. And though we hadn't seen each other in a year, had talked only a few times, we shared. We laughed. We cried. And we talked. We talked about everything. The good, the bad and yes, the ugly. No judgment, no questions, no hesitation. Acceptance. Love. Sympathy. Understanding.

After that trip, we sort of lost contact entirely. Over time, the phone calls lessened. The emails became nonexistent. We were down to the obligatory holiday card communication. No more, no less. Until one day, back in December of last year.

We reconnected through that infamous social networking site, Facebook. I'm not sure who found who. I'd have to venture a guess that she found me, since I am pretty sure she was on there before I was. I was reluctant to get on Facebook. I didn't want another thing I felt like I had to do. There were people from my past that I wondered about certainly, but many I was fine with leaving in the past.

Tom actually got on there before I did. And then I gave in. And within less than a week, we had found one another, this friend and I. And though we had hardly spoken in years, it was almost like nothing had happened. It was like we were right back together. Though our children had aged, our lives had changed, our situations were different, and we had both undergone some serious personal trials and tribulations, it was as though none of that mattered. We picked right back up where we left off.

I think it says something about our friendship that we can be this way with one another. She knows more about me than most people ever will. I can tell her, truthfully, anything. And I hope that she feels the same way. I'm pretty sure she does. There is no pretense with us. No being ashamed. No hiding the things that make us cringe with discomfort. We lean on one another. And we laugh. God, do we laugh.

In our lives, we are blessed with only a handful of people like this. People like her. Not many, and not often. But when you find them, you keep them. Sometimes you have to tuck them away for a while, out of sight and out of mind. But never out of heart. And it's so incredibly comforting to know that they will always, always be there. Anytime. And that when you find one another again, things will be the same. Things will always be the same.

True friendship is rare. Treasure it. That would make an awesome t-shirt, don't you think?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Steam

As if I didn't have anything else to do today, I'll be cleaning my carpets. I am smack dab in the middle of moving every single piece of furniture in my house, since we are in the process of moving the kid's bedrooms. Ally is already designing her new room, begging for me to paint it right now. I have about 6 loads of laundry to wash, and almost as many baskets of clean laundry to put away. That might have to wait until tomorrow. I just have too much else to do today.

I am planning to make a pretty involved dinner tonight, in an effort to kill two birds with one stone. I need to thank the table fairy for the impending return of my dining room table, and I also need to wish him a belated birthday. I have peppers to roast, crab cakes to construct and peach glazes to make. In my craziness, almost all the food I am intending to make is from a new recipe. Because making something in my comfort zone would be too easy. First though, I need to haul out the carpet cleaner. Apparently I needed more to do.

Why the need to shampoo carpets right now, you might ask? Two words. Strawberry milk. Being the nice mom that I am on occasion, I took Aidan and Ashley for donuts yesterday morning after we dropped Ally off at preschool. I didn't realize that late start days would no longer be late starts in my world because preschool still starts at 9. We took Ally then headed to the store. I let the kids pick any one donut they wanted and a container of milk. Aidan of course, heard the biggest, cream filled, chocolate covered donut calling his name. Ashley went for pretty, she got a little heart shaped one. And they both picked strawberry milk.

We came home and they happily ate their treasures. And they drank their milk. Well, they drank most of it, that is. At some point, one of them must have left the milk container within reach of AJ, and he got it. He's already learned to run fast whenever he is holding something he shouldn't. And run he did. And then he did the unthinkable. He shook.

It's one of those moments where time slows down and you can easily anticipate what it coming, but are powerless to stop it. He shook and shook with fury and joy and glee. He even tipped it upside down and shook it. Needless to say, he was of course standing on the carpet at the time. Messes like that simply cannot be confined to anywhere easy to clean. That would be too simple.

I now have a swath of pink goo on the carpet. He did a good job distributing it around a fairly large area. I tried halfheartedly to get it up yesterday, then I just resigned myself to the inevitable. I will be dragging the carpet cleaner out this morning. Because I didn't have anything else to do today.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Shift

I knew from the beginning that it wasn't going to work. I realized from the time we started it, that it really wasn't the best idea. I had a feeling that there would be a tremendous amount of conflict and a serious lack of space. Before AJ was born, we did it though. Done out of necessity, we put the girls in the same room.

The time has come to find another solution. The bedrooms in this house aren't very big to begin with, but with two kids crammed into one, it just isn't working. They need their own space. They need their own places for peace and solitude away from one another. They need their own identities. And lord knows they need their own closets.

The difficulty with moving them is that we are effectively out of bedrooms. We have another room upstairs, but it is open to the family room below and currently serves two purposes - as the play room and as the guest room. Those days are over. That room is being converted to Aidan's new bedroom. I have to find a wire curtain rod system to hang, in the attempts at giving him some privacy from downstairs. Someday we'll close up the wall, but the move can't wait. We also have to build him a closet and get a lot of the stuff that is in there right now out. Much to his dismay, he isn't going to get the big screen tv in his room. That is moving downstairs.

Ally will go into Aidan's room after we figure out a way to move his bed out. He has a huge loft bed with an attached slide. Moving it won't be easy. Ally has already started asking when I am going to paint it. She wants purple, and purple she will get. But it might be a while before that happens. I have a lot of other furniture that needs to be moved first. And a lot of rearranging to do.

The guest room is moving downstairs into the office. The desk currently in there is moving upstairs into Aidan's new room. The rest of the furniture in there is moving out too. Are you starting to get the sense that this is a huge undertaking yet? I'm not really looking forward to all this furniture moving, but it really is for the greater good. Peace in my house is more important.

Wish us luck. Wish us all luck. I think we are going to be needing it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Conquest

About this time of year I start to get really nostalgic. I'm not generally one to look back at my past, wishing I could go back in time. But the beginning of September tends to do it to me. I start to miss the way things used to be. I long for the crisp autumn days spent elsewhere. Man, I had a good time in college.

College football is coming. Four more days until the first kickoff of the season, not that I am counting. Saturdays are devoted to football in my house. I start checking tv schedules weeks ahead of time. I know where to find all the regional coverage maps for major nationwide networks. All other activities are generally put on hold, planned around the games. Occasionally, we have something that we really have to do and can't be there to see the game live. Those games are recorded, and all contact with the outside world is forbidden until we watch it.

As much as I love my football team, as much as I scream at the tv, as much as I still get nervous for them, it is just not the same. Nothing can replace the feeling of being back in that stadium. Words can't describe the feeling in the air you get, following the band down Trousdale Avenue with a huge herd of fans. I don't have a flagpole to kick here. Pom poms aren't waiting for me on the couch. People would look at me funny if I spontaneously started the So Cal spell out.

Though I am far away from LA these days, my heart is still there during football season. One of the few items that gets to sit on the shelf in my family room year round is a USC football. I'll hang my flag. I'll dress my kids in their gear. And I'll change any Saturday plans I can for the next four months. Don't mind me, I'm just a superfan. Football is coming. Bring it.

Fight on!

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