Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Teach Our Children Well

Day 14's prompt from Kassie at :
Is volunteering something you do regularly? If yes where do you volunteer? If not, why not?
I volunteer twice a week at my son's elementary school.  I've been volunteering at this school since my daughter was in kindergarten five years ago.  On Monday mornings I help the first graders with their language arts activities - reading out loud and writing.  Teachers now have about 25 kids in their class, which is a lot to keep a handle on, even when you aren't trying to get them to do schoolwork.  They do a fabulous job, but parent volunteers help them give a little extra attention to the students.   On Wednesday afternoons, I work with selected fourth graders who need extra help improving their reading fluency.  Our school district has a great program for supplementing the curriculum for kids who need extra help with math and reading, and I'm proud to be a part of that.  I also volunteer from time to time at my daughter's intermediate school, PTO events and choir or band activities.

I volunteer for a few reasons, I guess.  One is that it's a good way to get this introvert out of the house.  Two is that I like getting to know the teachers and children that my kids spend their days with.  Three is that I want to be helpful.  I don't have a job outside of the home, and while I know that taking care of my kids and the house is important, it just isn't enough for me.  I'm trying to get involved with more things, but it's hard putting myself out there.  I don't volunteer elsewhere because it's hard for me to get to know new people and find my place within an existing group.  I suppose it is for everyone, but it's pretty bad for me.  I'm working on it, and my next step will be to add an hour per week at the public library.  I'm already familiar with most of the librarians from being a frequent user, so it shouldn't be too hard, right?  I think I've got my New Year's resolution figured out.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Is That Lady Meditating in the Check-out Aisle?

Reverb Broads prompt for 12/13: What are three things you are better at than most people?
Well it sure isn't talking about myself.  But thanks for making this easy.  Yeesh.  It's hard enough to find one thing you do better than most people, but three?  I've been thinking about this all day, while walking my dog, doing a little cross-stitch, and it's not getting easier.  Best I can come up with is something very situation-specific.  Like I am more patient than other shoppers when I'm waiting in line at the grocery store.  There's an ego-builder for you.   Or, I am the best mother for Lauren and Alex.  While very important, it's not like there's a lot of competition in the field either.  And I really loathe comparing parenting styles and/or techniques.  Every child is different, and no one gets his/her child better than the parent.  And when you see that frustrated mom in the department store, just ask yourself, "have I ever had a moment like that?"  If you can answer no, go ahead and judge her, but most of us mortals have done things we aren't proud of.

It's not that I'm unhappy with myself.  Most days, I'm very satisfied with who I am and what I can do.  I have very personal goals, and being better at them than another person isn't really relevant.  I want to improve my meditation, but there's not exactly a meditation Olympic team to try out for.  I'm a very competitive person in some ways, but the thing is I don't enjoy competing.  My husband, who is very competitive and naturally athletic, will tease me and say that I don't enjoy it because I don't win.  And I'm not saying he's wrong, but I don't think that's the whole story.  I'm pretty good at tennis, but I really enjoy hitting the groundstrokes.  That's what is fun for me.  When you play a match, you need to serve and it helps if you can to volley too.  Those aren't my strong skills in tennis, because I don't enjoy practicing them as much.  So if I'm going to play for recreation, I like to just hit balls back and forth and not even bother with scoring (unless I am playing with Jon, who would probably invent a scoring system for just hitting groundstrokes).

Other things I really enjoy?  Reading, but once you are above a 10th grade reading level, what's the point in keeping track?  I used to be pretty good at trivia games, but my memory is going to shit.  I'll know I know the answer, but I also know that the neuron pathway to retrieving that specific information is about a day's journey, so might as well take a guess.  Besides, if I tell you I'm smarter than you, you'll just think I'm an asshole.

So maybe what I'm really good at is just accepting myself.  Or I'm just lazy.  That's pretty likely, too.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Tone-Deaf Birds of a Feather

Today's Reverb Broads prompt: How are you like your mother? And if you're a mother, how is/are your kid(s) like you?

I have had the good fortune to have been raised by an incredible woman.  Pretty much everything I like about myself are things that resemble her.  Some of the ways I'm not like my mom: I'm not short, I'm can't tan, I procrastinate terribly, I don't like to clean, and I'm socially introverted.  But here are the fabulous traits I've been blessed to inherit: intelligence, kindness, sensitivity, feisty attitude, Irish temper, crooked mouth, and the tendency to talk too much.  But you'll get no blarney from us, we tell it like it is.

Our childhoods could not have been more different.  She had 11 siblings, I had one.  She went to catholic school, I didn't even go to Sunday School.   She was overweight, I was rail thin.  She has overcome so much more in her life than I have had to.  After high school, I knew I was going to college, and my parents were giving me the money to do so.  She had pretty much two options.  Become a nun or get married.  It probably says a lot about the eligible young men in her small Iowa town that she chose the former.  Thankfully, after a couple of years in the convent, she decided that wasn't her path.  I have enormous respect for the strength it took for her to leave the convent, move to Milwaukee and get a job as a secretary.  Eventually, she went to college.  Then she got married.  Both of my parents were still in college when my brother was born.  My mom had to wake up at four in the morning to find time to study.  Pretty impressive for an Iowa farm girl in the early sixties.

It is as I grow older that I notice more and more how similar we are.  It's in those moments when I suddenly burst out loud singing the song that was inside my head.  When I do a silly dance, and my kids yell "Mahh-Ahhm!"  Falling asleep on the couch.

Maybe it's too soon then to see how my children are like me.  When I was a kid, I loved school and had an unhealthy disrespect for authority.  My kids are well-behaved, but dislike school in a way that just baffles me.  Lauren shares my love of reading, Alex my fear that something bad might happen at any time.  But I'm pretty sure they get their silliness from their dad, and if one thing defines my kids, it's their silliness.  It doesn't bother me though.  I feel as though I was fated or destined to become like my mom.  And my kids have as close and loving a relationship with me as I did with my mom, so I'm sure to get my footprint on them in one way or other.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Time keeps on tickin', tickin', tickin'...

Reverb Broads Prompt of the Day via Dana at What is the best and/or worst thing about your life right now?

The best thing about my life, without question, is my family.  These cuties.  They are so awesome, that it's unfair to everything else in my life.  So, for this once, I'll exempt them from the competition.

The best and the worst thing about my life right now is being unemployed.  I love having time to give to myself (now that Alex is in school).  I can do yoga, take walks in the forest with my dog, have coffee with my friend Lisa, volunteer at the schools, and spend time writing.  Obviously that is the best part.  The worst part isn't the lack of income, although I'd prefer to have more savings for college and retirement.  The worst part is the time to myself.  Huh?  Did I say that right?  Well, yes, I did.  You see, when I have a lot of time I don't tend to use it well.  I keep thinking there is time to do things later, time for one more cup of coffee, and everything gets procrastinated. Then I end up not doing what I wanted to get done, and I get upset with myself.  What am I doing with my life?  Did I really spend the whole day watching Law & Order SVU?  Plus, if I skip my walks or my yoga, my depression starts to creep back.  The combination of self-doubt, low self-esteem, AND depression is not a good one.  Depression keeps me from seeing what is good in my life, the good things I do, and what positive impact I am making.  Not every day is spent watching TV.   And I did manage to get all that laundry folded and put away while watching it.

But I can't keep procrastinating those activities that keep me sane.  Yes, it's butt-cold outside, but the fresh air will do me good, and no one wants dog poop on the carpet anyway, so bundle up.  I'm really not looking forward to doing camel pose, but remember how awesome it feels when I finally get to do savasana.  And afterward I can treat myself to a cup of tea and a few minutes in my rocking chair watching the birds outside the window.

As long as I can justify my time spent not working, and as long as Jon keeps rolling in the clients, I will get to live the good life.  I'm sure in a couple years, when the kids are capable of being on their own after school, I'll go back to work.  By then, maybe the economy will have rebounded and there will actually be a job out there.  But whether it's working in a research lab at UW or working for Kwik Trip down the street, I hope to have developed some strong healthy habits that stick with me even when I don't have a lot of free time.

Friday, December 9, 2011

My Other Car is a Pencil

Reverb Broad's 12/09/11 prompt: What was your favorite children's book?

My mother will NEVER be on the television show, Hoarders.   Bless her, she truly knows that things are just things, and it's our relationships that matter and are what we need to hold on to.  If you ever met my parents, you would be shocked that their house is not stuffed with books.  They are prolific readers.  My mom was even a reading specialist in one of the area high schools.  But they were always very frugal with money, and we spent a lot of time at our public library.  We even checked out artwork, something apparently not all public libraries let you do according to my friends who grew up in other towns.  When I was a kid, Whitewater's Public Library felt like this huge, imposing building with big steps and tall ceilings.  I suppose the actual shelving area was quite small, which is why they built a new library, with all the modern touches a "library of today" needs.  But I was sad to say goodbye to that big old building where I spent much of my childhood.

So I'm not sure if we didn't own a copy of my favorite book, or if it was donated or given away.  I knew for sure, though, when I was Christmas shopping at a Waldenbooks one winter break from college, that we no longer had Richard Scarry's "Best Storybook Ever."  So I bought it for myself (likely with my parents' money they had so frugally saved so they could send me to college).  Ironically, it's still at my parents' house.  I guess my mom either figured out that it was very special, or she just thought it would be something the grandchildren could enjoy.

I still love going through those stories:  Chipmunk getting ready for his birthday party, Daddy Bear pretending he doesn't see Little Bear on top of his shoulders, Nicholas the bunny curling up in his hollow tree to dream about the spring.  And I love all the cars made out of weird objects: pencils, pickles, ketchup bottles.  It was such a joy to finally get to share them with my own children.

Now, I did not inherit my mother's ability to let go of clutter.  I'm hardly a hoarder, but we do have a house stuffed with books, toys, and (too often) baskets of unfolded laundry.  My children don't go to the library as frequently as we did, but we also have fun trips to Barnes and Noble and Westfield Comics.  I will eventually donate most of the books they have outgrown, but my sentimentality will force me to hold onto a few (let's face it, dozens) of our favorites:  Goodnight Moon, The Runaway Bunny, all Dr. Suess, all Eric Carle, Leo Lionni, Curious George, Mo Willems, Winnie-the-Pooh, Harold and the Purple Crayon....  Hmmm, maybe Hoarders will be paying me a visit someday after all.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Writing assignments

Reverb Broads 12/8/11 prompt, courtesy of Kristen: Why blog? Why do you or why do you like to blog (recognizing that these are not always the same thing)?

 Just over three years ago, I left a 15-year career in biotechnology.  I didn't leave to be a stay-at-home mom, although that is what I ended up doing.  I left because I burned myself out.  I was crumbling at work, yelling at people, crying in meetings.  It didn't help that my husband just had been seriously ill and was recovering from surgery, but frankly I started to unwind even before then.  So I left, and I have absolutely no regrets.  It was the right decision hands-down.

But now my youngest is in school, and I'm here by myself (plus high-maintenance dog and 2 cats) in the house.  I enjoy volunteering in my kids' schools, but I needed another outlet.  I was bored and unmotivated, and my self-esteem was plunging.  A few friends had suggested that I write a blog.  I had started one almost a couple years ago, but didn't keep it up.  So this fall, I decided to get back into it.

I battle depression.  Although I take medication, I still struggle.  I really dread structure and control in my life, but I need it to keep me from sliding down into the dark pit.  So I've started giving myself "assignments."  If folding the laundry isn't an assignment, it won't get done.  But, as stimulating as folding laundry is, I need to use my brain more.  And less, actually.  Meditation and yoga are other "assignments."  

It's not that I don't enjoy writing, but when getting out of bed seems like an huge feat, writing a blog entry is feels impossible.  And when you feel that way, you don't willingly start brainstorming ideas.  You turn on the games and just go into autoplay.  So, writing the blog has become another assignment.  It is fun, and it is good for my soul, but I do it because it's due today.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

How to Waste an Entire Day on You Tube

Reverb Broads prompt, for Wed. December 7- courtesy of Kassie Stallings Sands:

Who or what makes you laugh so hard that milk shoots out of your nose and why? Slapstick, dry witty comedy, your kids, Monty Python?

We highly encourage stories, video, photos and other things that might endanger our computer screens with flying milk! Or really any beverage.
Hot diggity dog, this is going to be fun! Beverage-spewing laughter is what I live for. I'm a snorter, and proudly so.  I love my snorts, they are the children of my favorite moments.  The most challenging aspect of this prompt would be choosing one topic, so I'm just not gonna.  This is totally a list-worthy category.  So, in no particular order, here are the people and things that make me snort.
1. Physical comedy.  Jon and I will be watching the most god-forsakenly wretched show or movie, and then someone will slip on a banana peel and I'm in stitches.  People getting hurt just cracks me up.
2.  How awesome is Catherine Tate? I'll rewatch Doctor Who episodes forever, but the window scene (I apologize that I was unable to find the true audio version of this clip) from "Partners In Crime" is true comedy at its best.  I've watched this scene dozens of times.  And another classic Donna and Doctor comic scene, from "The Unicorn and the Wasp," Harvey Wallbanger .  And let's not neglect some great Catherine Tate show skits: offensive translatorGastro Pub - don't ask
 3.  Modern Family, especially Cam.  I just love him.  Love love love.  Pick your favorite.
Soar like eagle  Cam, hands!  Message received
4. Edna Mode from The Incredibles.  This scene is just brill.  Edna deserves her own movie.  No capes!
5.  Justin Timberlake.  The man knows how to bring the funny, and comedy isn't even his first (or second) career.  There really doesn't seem to be anywhere he won't go for the laugh. 
SNL single ladies 
"Bring it on Down to Liquorville."
  6.  Jim Gaffigan's Hot Pocket Routine.  Seriously, this should be required viewing in school, it's so good.    WARNING - do NOT listen to this while operating a moving vehicle.  Convulsive laughter and tears-induced vision impairment will likely cause accident. HOT POCKET
7.  Inappropriate bodily functions.  There's no hope in salvaging your dignity, so you might as well laugh at it.  My dad once accidentally let one rip while we were watching a movie with my brother's high school girlfriend.  I don't think any of them laughed, but I had to run out of the room because I was losing it.
8. Stephen Colbert.   Why did it take so long for someone to realize the comic goldmine of ultraconservatives?  Eat it Fallon! Eat it!!
9.  The Aunt Fanny fart scene in Robots.   Yup.  I admit it.  It cracks me up every time (and since I have kids, I've seen it many times).  I love the chalk outline of the light pole at the end too.
10.  My life.  Lucky for me, I have funny kids, a funny husband, funny friends and family who keep me laughing every day.  I wouldn't have it any other way.   I wrote in my last entry that I would never take myself seriously, and I'm pretty sure I've guaranteed through this blog that no one else will either.  That's fine by me, I suppose.
May the wind at your back always be your own.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

10 Things I Maybe Might Think About Avoiding

Reverb Broads Prompt for 12/06/11:  List 10 things you would never do.  Yes! I mean, no, no, you would never.

I know a LOT of people with strong opinions.  They love the movie or they hate it.  I envy that.  I find myself doubting my judgement.  Why don't I care more?  Oh well, moving on.

So to pick ten things I would NEVER do is pretty challenging.  I think it's safe to say I'll never wear Mork suspenders, but that really doesn't feel list-worthy.   So I'll just go with the highly unlikely list, because as a former scientist, one can never rule out all variables.

1.  Polar Bear Plunge.  I've yet to think of a reason to do this, but perhaps there will be one some day.

2.  Wet t-shirt contest.  Just seems like a bad idea for everyone involved.

3.  Wet t-shirt contest while doing Polar Bear Plunge.  Okay, now I'm cheating....

4.  Party like it's 1999.  Where the hell did this come from? Just popped into my head, I swear.  I am not a night owl.  I'm a homebody who likes to be cozy on her couch in her pjs by 9:00pm.

5.  Anything ever featured on Fear Factor.  I just don't enjoy eating crazy shit.  I don't know why anyone does, but whatever floats your boat.

6.  Keep a tidy house.  Sorry dear, I just don't see that in the cards.

7.  Begin a sentence "I'm not a racist/homophobe...".  Sorry folks, if you have to add a disclaimer to what you're saying, then ya' are.

8.  Give up drinking coffee.  Two words: "my precioussss."

9.  Bikini Wax.  Just, no.

10. Take myself seriously. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Holy Falling Flapdoodles!!

By all rights, my story should be an animation.  Sometimes it seems like my husband and I are more cartoon characters than people.  I've got the squeaky voice, the exaggerated facial expressions, and well, just general ridiculousness.  But that would betray my absolute love affair with physical comedy.  Some of my best laughs have come from trying to introduce my tall, lanky husband to winter sports.  Luckily for me, he falls with true comic finesse.  The time we went ice skating, he spun a full 360 degrees and did the whole futile arm flapping before landing with skates in the air.  Then there was cross-country skiing.  The hill turned right, and Jon went straight.  He ended up just sitting down in the snow, but I was not to be denied my guffaws.  Every time he tried to get up, he kept sliding down hill and falling again.  And again.  I think I peed my pants that day.

So, my movie would totally be physical comedy. I'd love to see Amy Pohler and Will Arnett cast as me and my husband.  We are a couple of goobers, and not a day goes by without cracking each other up.  My husband claims his "talent" for fulminating flatulence is due to the presence of an extra organ in his intestine, which he calls a "flapdoodle."  A few years ago, he got extremely sick, and was taken to the hospital where they discovered a mass in his large intestine.  He went into emergency surgery that same night.  I rushed home to get my kids' stuff, picked up Alex from daycare, and dropped the kids at my in-laws.  I gave Jon's parents the scoop, told them I'd keep them informed.  I barely made it to the hospital before he went into surgery. I held his hand, told him everything was going to be okay, and when the anesthesiologist told me he had to take him away to get prepped, I kissed Jon and said, "ask them to remove your flapdoodle while they're in there."

I'm happy to report that despite a few GI irritations and a couple scars, my husband came through this whole experience with no signs of cancer and is in good health once again.  Flapdoodle and all.  But heck, my love for physical comedy can overcome the frequent offensive odors in the bedroom.  Because after all, farts are funny.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Square Peg Turns 40

I'm now 40, yeehaw for milestone birthdays.  But I still feel like the class clown whenever I'm in a group of school parents or at one of those home parties that the neighbors host.  I feel both cursed and blessed to be a chronic square peg.  I'm happy with who I am, but it does get lonely.  Especially living in small town/suburbia.  You just don't see a lot of moms having tricycle races down the driveway with their kids.  Their loss, trust me. 

It doesn't help that there are a couple of golf course neighborhoods in my town.  Those moms wear high wedge heels and makeup, and their hair is always styled.  They always look good.  Maybe it's just me, and they aren't judging me by my too-short jeans and stained t-shirt or my bathroom haircut.  But they aren't exactly rushing over to talk to me either. 

I honestly don't know what the hell my "style" is.  My biggest criteria for clothes are comfort and cotton.  I really like cotton.  Lately I've been into leggings, because I like to be able to do yoga whenever I'm in the mood, and I don't want to have to change clothes, so now I have a new criteria - long shirts.  Tunics I guess they are called.  I do NOT have the body to wear leggings without proper butt coverage.  So I guess my style is "practical."  I really wish I could wear the nice fashionable clothes and shoes, but I always feel like a walking Christmas tree when I do.  I feel so obvious

As my daughter gets older, and shows more and more of her mother's lack of conformity, I think about the example I set.  To be true to who we are is very important, but too often we end up in a competition with other personalities.  Are we friends with kindred spirits because of common interests, or is it some weird social sorting system?  Why aren't more jocks friends with band geeks?  They both might listen to the same music, read the same books, laugh at the same jokes.  Maybe they don't.  I sure don't have the answers, and even if I did, no one's asking me the question.

So to jump back to the question: "how have I grown or remained childlike?" I guess I would have to say that I've grown because I keep trying to improve life for myself, my kids, my community.  But you could also say that I've remained childlike because I'm still asking questions, still looking for answers, and I still haven't figured out who I am and where I fit in.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

"If the you of today could go back in time and give advice to any of the previous yous, which age would you visit and what would you tell them?"

Have I learned nothing in my 40-year struggle in this crazy world? What would I say to a younger me that would make life easier? Should we even try to make life easier? I don't know what it is about life that makes us want to keep experiencing it, but something about figuring it out as I go is appealing.

That doesn't mean I've made mistakes, or that I don't regret any of my actions. In fact, if I could go back in time, I think I'd just give myself some practical advice. Imagine the shock of 20 year-old Andrea, innocently studying population genetics in Helen C. White library, as the current me pops into space and says "you REALLY don't want to eat that entire bag of Skittles." I'm sure her first reaction would be (ala Edna E. Mode of "The Incredibles") "my God you've gotten fat."

But come on, we didn't listen to our mothers or our aunts or any other adult who tried to spare us the pains of life, so why would we listen to our own future self? "Screw that, I'm eating the Skittles! Who made you so smart anyway?" I'm not too good at heeding advice. Perhaps I'm self-destructive in a way, because even when it's obvious that the smart thing to do is read "Gods Bits of Wood" because Professor Sheub told you that 30% of the final was going to be on that book, I still don't listen. My husband contends it's my contrary nature. "Tell Andrea to have a good day, and she'll go out of her way to make it bad."

As the Indigo Girls said so perfectly, "the hardest to learn was the least complicated." It doesn't take a future self to tell you what's best for you, it just requires you to pay attention and listen to yourself. And if you can't listen to your present self, the future self will have no more influence. We aren't trying to make our lives miserable, we just can't help ourselves. Today, if I received a visit from 50 year old Andrea (who better frickin' be thin, dammit) and she said "Andrea, stop wasting your time with computer games, you'll really appreciate it if you spend your time doing yoga and meditating," my response would be "no shit." I don't need the advice of thinner, older me to tell me what would make me happier. I already know. What I really need is the older me to come back with a cattle-prod and give me a good zap every time I log onto Steam.

But just in case I could make a difference, I'd go back and tell 35 year old Andrea to put a bra on with the dress she wears to the company Christmas party. She's going have a lot more fun if she's not worrying that people can tell.