Thursday, September 30, 2010

I'm BACK!!!!!

Today is a big day for me: I DROVE!!!!

That's right. I got into the car and took myself somewhere!!!!! All by myself.

Even though it was pouring rain.

Even though it still bothers me to sit for any real length of time.

But how could I miss a good book sale?

So I drove to school, spent the morning with the kids, bought myself a cookbook (of course), and then got a chai on the way home.

It was just like old times.

But totally different because it all seemed so new after so long.

Now, let's just see if I can still move tomorrow!

But for today, I'm so happy that I actually burst into tears when I got home successfully!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Thank You: Closer to Fine

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain
There's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine.

Indigo Girls, "Closer to Fine"

Mama has played that song for me for more than 16 years, and I think I only now really get it. Maybe it's because I am turning 40. Maybe it's having children. Maybe it's having a spiritual practice. Maybe it's just that I'm not a lyrics person. But last night, watching an Indigo Girls' concert on DVD (on our new, gigantic 32" tv--our 15 year old 15" with picture tube tv just couldn't keep up with technology anymore!) and hearing that song, and really listening to it, I got it. I don't know what I used to think it meant, though it was always one of my favorites. But now I know.

It's questions without answers, different paths on the same journey, a desire to seek and search and know. Except I now believe you can't know. And by not seeking, not believing I can know, I am enjoying the journey more.

At least, that's what it means to me now. Who knows what I will think 16 years from now.

Thanks, Mama, for sharing the music of the Indigo Girls (and the journey) with me all these years: "I took us for better and I took us for worse/And don't you ever forget it."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Thank You: They Liked It!

My kids inhaled last night's dinner, a chicken and broccoli pasta. Not just liked, as they have the others, but gorged themselves on something like 2 lbs of pasta! And they looked for the broccoli . . . to eat it!

And so of course I wrote the friend who brought it, desperately needing to add this one to my repertoire. Because it made us all happy.

She obliged, and so I quote:

I am so glad to hear that the you like the dinner, especially the kids. It is actually a very easy dinner. The chicken was the Perdue short cuts and the broccoli was frozen....now the meal does not sound very glamorous. The sauce is just a quick Alfredo sauce I make. I do not have an exact recipe for it. I just melt butter (approx 1/2 stick) then add about 2 heaping tablespoons of flour. It is just a simple rue...then I pour in milk (try to keep low calorie). This is where I just eye how much I want and how thick it gets. Once it gets to the consistency I like to add Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste. I really just go on how it tastes to see how much seasoning to add.
I know that is not very exact, but just play with it and you can figure it out.

Miss K
Thank you, Miss K!

(Fund) Raisin' Hell

The kids have been in school, what, three and a bit weeks?

And there have been that many fundraisers.

Flowers.
Walk-a-thon.
Wrapping paper, candles, chocolates.

Maybe four, if you count the book fair that will be coming later this month.

We believe in supporting the school, of course, (which is, remember, a public school and thus already supported by our taxes) but are opting for a flat-out donation instead of junk we don't want. At least that way, the school gets 100% of the money instead of just 40%. Though, Sis has her eyes on the gradated star cookie cutters so we could make a stacked cookie tree. That's actually useful. Otherwise, not so much.

We actually had the kids call family members to ask for money for the walk-a-thon, just so they participate somewhat. Beyond the actual 30 minutes of walking in circles. If they raise a certain sum each, they get a t-shirt. So, that's our goal.

Besides, all the funds go to support arts and supplies, programs and such.

It is, of course, too bad that the school isn't fully supported by public funds, but that's a pipe dream these days, and so we help.

And will probably be helping quite often from the pattern thus far established.

Here We Go A-Waffling

It was a waffle morning here on Sunday. Usually, we're a pancake family, but about two months ago, Mama Teacher got to talking about chocolate-chip waffles. Sis was entranced. And so I made them one afternoon for lunch, using the Trader Joe's multigrain baking mix waffle recipe. Chocolate chips added later.

And so we had them again this weekend. And Bud, an aficionado of both fruit and maple syrup, though usually not together, added them to Sis's chocolate chips and inhaled a fair share of the batch. Mama, Sis, and I stuck with chocolate chips--each one in a little square, slowly and gently melting in the crispy heat of the waffles.

At least that's more fun than pancakes . . . .

Thank You: Touched Beyond Words

This morning I have had quite a surprise and am touched beyond words.

But, as a blogger, that doesn't mean I won't try!

Check this out at Sew And Sow Life.

The internet, and social networking particularly, receive a lot of criticism in the press and I have done my fair share of laughing at some iterations of virtual life on the net. But sometimes it is all very real. I know the creative creator behind Sew and Sow Life only through her blog which I found through a mutual friend. I have been inspired by her posts and her pictures, her choice way with few words compared with my, let's call it this morning, voluptuousness. We've exchanged a few emails but never met in person, though I feel an affinity with her through the ether.

And now this. She posted some fabric. I thought it would make a great apron. And now it is. And she's sending it to me! I'm so surprised and amazed and impressed (with the sewing skill) and touched and humbled. And because it's an apron, I'm excited. I have been out of the kitchen for seven weeks tomorrow and am yearning, aching to get back to it.

And now, when I do, I'll have something pretty to wear. It will be a reminder always of the kindness of strangers, so to speak, even though I think of her more as a friend.

Thank you, Karen.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Meditation Pledge: Sunday Sounds




When I walk, I focus on the sights, sounds, and sensations of being outdoors. I had tried to concentrate on the feeling of walking, to make it a true walking meditation, but I find that walking is so challenging for me--I can feel the way I wobble along, with my muscles and bones just not working in concert to move me along, and know that I've always found walking a challenge. That's not to say it always hurts, though sometimes it does, but that I don't walk smoothly or easily. Not only trained doctors and physical therapists notice it right away, but people have asked me why I limp all my life. Now I know why. And if I concentrate on my movement--the feel of my left foot dragging, my right hip pulling, my upper back tightening, my knees slipping backwards, and the way I can never walk straight and can easily stumble on twigs--I start to get stressful, depressed, self-critical. That is not meditative or mindful.

And so I watch and listen. And today I noticed that walking on a Sunday is so different from my weekday walks, when children are being ferried to school and houses being emptied of inhabitants heading off to work; there are lots of waves and quick hellos, maybe a longer conversation with the few stay-at-homers. But otherwise, the neighborhood is still and quiet. Well, of people. Because there are squirrels scurrying around preparing for winter, water flowing in our creek, wind blowing down the leaves. By myself, I notice these things. And how one day it was so muggy that the air was almost visible, and on another how the wind came in refreshing spurts making it almost cold in the shadows of the trees despite the warmth of the sun. And then there's that tree that is gradually turning a wonderful red, and a yellow tree right behind it now. But also a tree--I'm not sure what it is--with it's almost spring-like pink balls of flowers.

But on Sundays, I don't notice nature as much. I see people in their yards, fewer cars going back and forth, kids wandering looking for other kids to play with, adults doing household chores in the garage, families preparing to go out for the day. There was even a chorus of various dogs singing to one another because they are happy to be out in the yards. And then all these disembodied voices coming from open windows--the sound of a mom yelling at her child to get ready, the theme song of a tv show starting, a couple searching around the house trying to find some lost thing, a general murmur from kitchen windows as the breakfast dishes are cleaned.
I like hearing the neighborhood alive.

But I like being alone too. And I'll miss it this week because it looks like it's going to rain for five days straight.

But, who knows, that'll be something new and I might enjoy walking in the rain. I wonder how that will change the neighborhood?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Our Sympathies

Our friend, Mrs. Director, has had three losses in her family this week. Our love, thoughts, and prayers go out to her and her family during this very sorrowful time.

TWWWWWWWWIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNNNNNSSSSSSSSSSSS IIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNNNNNNN SSSSSSSSSSSCCCCCCCCCCCCHHHHHHHHHHHOOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(Read the title thinking "The Muppet Show!")

I have some preliminary observations and experiences with twins in separate classes at school, albeit classes that see each other sometimes, including recess.
  • Sis is completely jealous that Bud got homework the second week! And even though she got homework (or "home fun," a non-required packet of activities, usually on the letter of the week) by the third week . . . .
  • She is now upset that he's one letter ahead! "He's going to know more things than me!"
  • Competition: they have the same teachers for "specials" on the same day, but it's not always the same. This week, the art teacher showed Harold and the Purple Crayon videos (don't get me started) to the class before having them draw what Harold draws (sigh). And what did the kids have to say? One saw 3 videos, one only 2.
  • And he got to do the computers first!
  • And be line leader!
  • But her class has a "pet" monkey and a frog to dress up depending on the weather.
  • And she got to be "helper" with the morning meeting.
  • And you should see them doing that homework together--looking at the other's worksheets, giving the answers uninvited, wanting to switch assignments.
  • But they do like it when they find out they read the same book or played the same game. And trip over each other to talk about it.
  • Or find out that one teacher uses bells and the other has hand signs.
  • Not so great when one class did something the other didn't, like recess.
  • Because recess presents a whole other problem--they simultaneously do and don't want to play together. "She's playing the 'monster' game. She won't swing. And I won't play monster." "He only swings! He should play monster. Because I'm not going to swing."
  • But they love waving to each other as they pass in the hall on the way to and from specials.
  • And get this: one wants me to come shop during the book fair, the other wants to do it all alone. Guess who!
So, what it boils down to is that twins at school are just like twins at home, jealous and competitive if they aren't the same and different simultaneously. It is challenging enough to accomplish "separate but equal" at home; it's impossible at school.

But there is a good part: listening to them discuss and compare their days, especially when they delight, instead of disagree, in the retelling.

Games We Play

Now that I can stand for long periods of time, we've been playing some new games:
  • Revolutionary War: We had been looking at a book on the Met with its Washington Crossing the Delaware and Bud decided he wanted to play. I was in charge of paddling, while Bud looked presidential. "Is this when he was president?" Bud asked. And so I explained all about the war of independence. And how there were battles very near here, with Washington passing nearby on the King's Road several times. "Can we find arrowheads?" he wanted to know. And I explained they used bullets and cannons, which didn't interest him much since swords and bows are his favorite weapons. Which is just fine with me. So we rowed--though he noted it was daylight and not snowing, just like in the picture, which we had read was historically inaccurate--then set up camp under our pine, where Sis, who is our chef, set up a campfire and made chocolate. Then the General discovered that sometimes the foot soldiers weren't fed well so he wanted snack and didn't want to share. He was overruled. We made a map of the area, with the Delaware River and Trenton, NJ, then set up our defenses at our rock wall, where Bud did build a cannon to fire at our redcoat neighbors. He was very happy to learn that Washington was "on our team" and won the war. Just when you think your precocious children have a grasp on the finer points of history, you realize they're just five years old.
  • Han Gan: Han Gan was a real painter who lived in China centuries ago and was famous for the realistic horses he created. There is a story book, The Horses of Han Gan, which delights us with its tale of the horse in the painting that came to life but then chose to return to a painting. Bud loves this book, with both the Chinese and artistic themes. And so this afternoon, we played "magic paint brush" with the kids as sibling artists in China who could paint pictures that came to life (Bud drew, Sis painted). But instead of being a warrior requesting a valiant steed for battle, as in the book, I was a Silk Road traveler who would benefit from a magical horse that didn't need food, water, or rest. Then we all road magic horses around.
  • Jackson Pollock: We also saw some action painting in that Met book and the kids concluded our outdoor period today with splatter painting all over the deck, the patio door, the deck furniture, each other, and, yes, some paper.
  • Wizard Battle: I am a wizard who lives on the deck; they are wizards who live in the little house. Using our stick wands, we hurl spells at each other, like "Ickle, Tickle, You're a Pickle" or "Ala-ka-zam, Ala-ka-bam, I'm going to turn you into a ham." Then after several spells, we become friends.
  • Doctor: Yay, my favorite game these days. Sis was my mom and Bud was the doctor, who tested every bit of me, including my sense of smell. "Mom" read a catalog and then filled out a form for the doctor and promised me a book when it was over, though she did think the appointment took too long.
  • Escaped Zoo: An old favorite, where the kids--this time as a penguin and a bear--live in a zoo and I'm the keeper. Every night while I sleep, they escape, a la Goodnight Gorilla, and it's my job to round them up. They thought it was hysterical that I kept capturing them right outside their door. Then morning comes, I feed them and give them a check up, visitors come and go, and we start all over.
  • Penguins on the Ice Floe: This developed out of the zoo game, as I finally succumbed and decided to lie down on the bed. The bed became an ice floe and I was the mother penguin. Soon my children penguins and all of our cousin and friend stuffed penguins came to join us. While I rested, Bud and Sis Penguin gathered up all the cat toys and decided they were fish for us, so they would throw them off the floe, feed them to us, and then throw them back in the water. Later, they gathered them in socks and determined they could sell the fish packets to other penguins, $1 a fish. They had a blast calculating how much each sock was worth--mine were the most.
  • And, just now, Tooth Fairy: I was the kid and my "mom" and "dad" created a room for me, complete with nightstand for my glasses, bookcase, and hat rack (?!). Then, a cat toy stood in for my tooth and the Tooth Fairy gave me a strawberry coin. When I got up, I was fed soup from the cauldron for breakfast and now I'm at school . . . on the computers!
Those, in addition to a lot of drawing, frequent puzzle-piecing, some game-playing, and a bit of reading, are what we do these days. Not bad for not sitting or leaning or lifting.

Mea Culpa

We can't find Sis's library book.

And today is library day.

If you don't bring your book back, you don't get to take a book home.

Of course.

Of course, devastating, stressful, anger-producing, guilt-inducing.

And that's for the parents.

Because we feel it's our fault that we couldn't find that book.

I mean, life is kinda chaotic these days and we're not totally on top of things yet.

Which filters down.

That's the hard part.

We even have a place for library books. But at some point, it didn't get there. Because of Sis? Us? All of the visitors who have kindly helped us straighten the house each day?

Who knows.

And it doesn't really matter right now, at least for that book.

And I think we're all kinda suffering from it today.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thought for the Day

From Tuck Everlasting, a book by Natalie Babbitt, which I just saw as the 2002 Disney film:

"Don't be afraid of death; be afraid of an unlived life. You don't have to live forever, you just have to live."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Thank You: Charmed

As in, three's a charm:
  • Thank you, Miss S, for the delicious white bean lasagna but especially for the sugar cookies which delighted all the neighbor kids who came to play.
  • Thank you, Miss K, for the meal you brought, even though you kept apologizing. The quiche was tasty!
  • Thank you, Miss B, even though we haven't even eaten your meal yet--but I love how you used TJ's eggplant rounds to make a pasta dish. And those palmiers look great!
The blessings and treats continue, for which we are very grateful.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Problem with Being Home Alone

I love to listen to LOUD music.

And so when the kids are gone, I do.

The stuff I can't play when they're here, like Gwen Stefani's unexpurgated "Hollaback Girl."

The problem right now?

I also like to dance.

And I REALLY shouldn't be wiggling my butt these days.

Meditation Pledge: Falling for Fall

As I try to spend more time moving, most of my meditation these days takes the form of walking medtiation--I have had enough of lying down and just can't yet sit. This morning was beautiful, cool at 61F with a breeze wiggling the green leaves in the maples that form a tunnel through which I walk. But there is one tree in our neighborhood that is already turning colors, just a little bit, at the top, where the tree faces east. It's always the first tree, probably because it is the tallest and first to greet the morning light and thus first to realize that the days are growing shorter.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Thank You: IOU

Mama turned to me last night as we were discussing our plans for today, "You know, I did all that stuff when you were hurt. Got your meds, got your food, got you dressed. And I didn't mind. But now, you're making me take the kids to church for the Sunday-school kick-off with community-building activities and get-to-know-you games. For three hours. Now you owe me."

And it's true, I do. And, as she said, probably the most for this last one. Because if there is anything our poor shy and introverted (she's all the way "I" on Myers-Briggs) Mama really doesn't like is forced or contrived sociability.

Thank you, Mama. For all of it.

And I promise, Mama, I walked and meditated while you were gone so I can get back in the pew as soon as possible, which is where I'll be glad to be.

Because I'm an "E."

The Puzzlers


Mama and the kids have started another puzzle. No, not the 100-piecers that Ma and Gong bought them yesterday.

A 500-piecer. Of our favorite "map" of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Luckily, Mama bought a puzzle mat.

'Cos I don't think they're going to finish it before church this morning.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Not Taking a Plunge

I was supposed to be somewhere today that I had wanted to be for months, if not longer: a mother's retreat with Karen Maezen Miller. But healing didn't happen fast enough, though healing I've been doing. And so I have marked today with a walking meditation in the beautiful, crisp, fall morning, stopping and interrupting my meditation to talk to all the neighbors who were similarly enjoying the morning. Ma and Gong are here visiting with the kids, going to kung fu and to lunch, which means great fun for them, a bit of a rest for me. Not a bad day to spend the day, even if it isn't at all what I had planned. But I'm practicing being okay with that and with everything else.

Baby 'R Y'all

Today is Aunt Banana's baby shower, for little Cousin Hungry who should be here around Thanksgiving. It sounds like it's going to be great fun and everyone is excited. Have a great time!

Drama Denoument

The drama that was went nowhere.

School was fine for Sis yesterday and she even rode home with one of the friends in her class.

Said same friend, whose mom I know, even came over for a playdate midday.

Crisis averted.

For now.

Thank You: Stop!

Mama Teacher is tired of my saying thank you all the time. "Stoooop," she declares, as I thank her for:
  • organizing meals from our playgroup
  • visiting several times when I was stuck in bed
  • bringing muffins and cookies and lunch for the family
  • checking in via calls and emails
  • and, just last night, coming for a playdate, entertaining the kiddos, fetching pizza dinner, and then cleaning the kitchen and straightening the house
  • plus, she still says she's going to cook us a dinner
Okay, I'll stop saying thank you.

I'll just start buying presents! ,)

But seriously: thank you, Mama Teacher.

Friday, September 17, 2010

I Love Goodbyes

We have a new family ritual.

Because I am not taking the kids to school in the morning for now, I have the unique experience of saying goodbye to them as they drive away, something that has only happened very rarely in the last 5 years. When I have left them, it's usually with my leaving and their staying, like at home with their favorite Babysitter or at preschool. And that kind of face-to-face leave-taking involves our traditional ET-like finger "beep" with the "honk" response. Don't ask, I don't know.
But now we have a whole hand-waving system. There are, at first, lots of open palm waves that would exhaust any member of the royal family quickly (no "elbow-elbow-wrist-wrist-wrist" here). Then we start waving our "I love you" sign, just as I've always waved goodbye to my Aunt P who taught me sign language. Except the kids sometimes have trouble with that. There are lots of "Hook'em Horns," which is fine because Aunt Banana is an alumna (sorry, no . . . whatever the OU sign is, Uncle Soccer). And today, Bud shot me the bird.

Neighbors must wonder if we're waving goodbye for eternity because this whole scenario lasts for long minutes as they get buckled in, Mama gets settled, and they finally back out and drive away. But I love seeing their smiling faces as they head off to school and their exuberant waves as we say goodbye.

As the Bus Rolls

We've had our first bit of school drama.

Involving Sis and two girls at school.

Apparently, they're all friends. Sis has played with both and even both together, I gather. But yesterday, the other two didn't play with Sis, wouldn't sit with Sis on the bus. And she came home distraught, unable even to say what was wrong. It was over lunch that the hurt and sadness came spilling out.

And then what can you say?

Ask to play. Keep trying. Be friendly to them, even if they aren't to you. It's not you. There are other people to play with. You can be friends with more than one person. We love you. It's going to be okay.

It all sounds so lame. Even to her 5-year old ears.

So I checked in with my teacher friend and another friend with a first-grade girl. The latter said, and I quote, "Girls can be such bitches." (And, heaven help me, that's not what I'm saying these two girls at school are!) She said her daughter went through about 8 months of such friend drama, almost the whole kindergarten year, but that it has lessened somewhat. Mama Teacher, while not quite as colorful, said the same thing: in her first grade classes, inevitably, the girls start having these social issues but it never touches the boys. She recommended talking about how words and actions can hurt and to encourage Sis to tell them that they hurt her feelings when they wouldn't play with her (which Mama Teacher acknowledged is very, very hard for a child--hell, even for adults--to do). If it persists, she suggested to at least alert the teacher who could then be able to step in or redirect or encourage or advise. I hadn't wanted to be that helicoptering but if Sis comes home crying again I might just give the teacher a heads up. Not to force those other girls to play--that is both counter-intuitive and counter-productive--but to guide Sis in coping, to help her perhaps find someone else. Because that was Mama Teacher's last word, though she acknowledged that you can't really say it, and I paraphrase, "If they don't want to be your friend, screw 'em. You don't want to be their friend."

I'm actually friends with one of the moms and wouldn't know how to broach the subject, even if I thought that was a good idea, which I don't. Especially because, no doubt, the tables will be turned soon, if not today, then next week. It's just how such playground things go, if memory serves (though, I also don't remember the pain lasting longer than a day or so--at least until junior high, when it seemed to last forever!). I'm not even convinced that at this age it's personal. They're just trying out roles, learning how to be friends, figuring out what to do.

It's just a really steep learning curve.

Especially when it's your daughter at the bottom.

(Though, I might even bet it's worse if your daughter is at the so-called "top.")

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Shirt, Explained

About leaving him home: "I don't have time to sniff him during the day anyway."

Reflecting on leaving him home: "It feels good to be a big girl."

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Birth Dad

The little girl turned to Sis and Bud, "Where is your daddy?"

And they just stared at her.

It's not that we haven't discussed their parentage as a family before. Over and over again, we've explained that there was "a nice man who helped us have a baby. But we never met him." And that they have two mommies. And that some kids have two daddies. And some kids live with one parent or even someone else like a grandparent or guardian. But most kids have a mommy and a daddy. And it's all okay.

But that's a pretty long-winded answer for one kindergartener to give another.

Enter Jamie Lee Curtis and her book Tell Me about the Night I was Born, about a girl who likes to hear how her adoptive parents brought her home. And in the back is a picture of the girl's family tree, with her mom and dad on the same line with her birth mom and birth dad.

Birth dad.

That's it. An easier, simpler answer about the anonymous sperm donor whom we only know by number who helped us have the kids. Birth parents are common concepts in adoption circles. And while I usually think of terms like mom or dad as familial and not purely biological concepts, I think it could work. And then the kids can answer any questions about dads with "Yes, I do have a birth dad. But I live with my two moms," or "My Mama and my birth dad are Chinese." All without having to go into sperm. For now.

So, we tried it out on the kids last night when we re-read Curtis's book. And they liked it just fine.

Now to help them cope when other people don't understand or like that answer . . . .

Thank You: Hey, Now, You're A Rock Star!

One of the biggest superstars in my kids' lives came to our house today. No, no, not the Imagination Movers or Chewbacca or Gommie.

Their preschool director.

For two years when they were in preschool, the kids raved about her everyday. Sis was so proud and pleased that they both shared a love of chocolate. Bud loved to tell her stories. And so when they found out that she was coming to help with drop off and lunch, they were beside themselves: they stayed up until almost 9 p.m. talking about what they would do, what they would show her, even trying to guess what she'd be wearing! And Sis, 2 hours passed bedtime, begged to be able to eat chocolate with her.

And so, there she was when the kids got off the bus today. And they could barely talk as they basked in her glory. But that didn't last long as show and tell and "let's play" kicked in. Mrs. Director even got them to talk about their day, details I hadn't heard, about table toys like blocks and Legos which they play with after announcements and then activity centers like the art table that they go to after that. Then they wanted to play school. As if, having just retired, she would want to be teacher. But they think that's the best game in the world--and they've been playing it--even playing you, Mrs. Director--for the last two years! And I know that is in large part thanks to her. I credit her and her school with encouraging their love of learning and inquiry. And for making so much of the academic work fun. That, and--alert, parental vanity--I think they are pretty well-versed in letters and sounds and numbers and counting etc etc etc. And I believe much of that has to do with her.

Mrs. Director also brought goodies--delicious oatmeal apple cookies which we have already polished off completely during snack time!!!! (yep, I'll be emailing her for that recipe tonight!)--and a yummy looking pasta primavera for dinner. And helped with lunch, which they wolfed down in order to have a chocolate bar with her.

That's okay because a visit from your favorite teacher at your house doesn't happen everyday.

Thank you, Mrs. Director.

(Because even though you're retired, that's how we'll think of you first!)

Thank You: Southern Charm from a Yankee Girl

Who could say no to slow cooker macaroni and cheese from Paula Deen? Not me!

So Monday's dinner was a delight--creamy, gooey, cheesy goodness. Perfect because I've been craving those kinds of foods--chocolate mousse, rice pudding, mashed potatoes, anything mushy.

We also had a productive playdate. Because, see, this particular friend and I are hoping to organize a Girl Scout troop--Daisies, that is--for our kindergarteners. Lots of forms and handouts and things to plan, like crafts and field trips. Right down my alley.

And I'm really looking forward to the year.

Almost as much as that mac and cheese!

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Creamy Macaroni and Cheese

2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni (an 8-ounce box isn't quite 2 cups)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stuck) butter, cut into pieces
2 1/2 cups (about 10 ounces) grated sharp Cheddar cheese
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup sour cream
1 (10 3/4-ounce) can condensed Cheddar cheese soup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Directions
Boil the macaroni in a 2 quart saucepan in plenty of water until tender, about 7 minutes. Drain. In a medium saucepan, mix butter and cheese. Stir until the cheese melts. In a slow cooker, combine cheese/butter mixture and add the eggs, sour cream, soup, salt, milk, mustard and pepper and stir well. Then add drained macaroni and stir again. Set the slow cooker on low setting and cook for 3 hours, stirring occasionally.

Paula Deen, Food Network

Thank You: Your Turn is Next!

Vegan black bean soup. Banana bread with no nuts. A crusty baguette. Dinner has arrived! And it smells so good that the kiddos took banana bread with them to kung fu class.

All from a woman, who in just a few short weeks, will be on our list to receive meals--she's having a baby! I'll be cooking by then, for her, for sure.

Thanks, Miss J!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Thank You: Fresh Perspectives

One of my playgroup friends came by with dinner on Monday and stay for a playdate. I hadn't seen her in awhile so it was good to catch up, particularly since she'd had a rough summer herself. Familiar with back pain, she brought me a book on the mind-body connection, one that certainly interests me because of my meditation practice; she says it changed her life. And while I really like my doctor, and his own book on back pain (which has a lot on mind-body), I'm glad for new ideas and viewpoints.

And as we always do, talk veered to child-rearing, school and educational choices, Freudian analysis (she's a social worker into psychoanalysis--and I'd always thought she'd be a behaviorialist!), current political events, playgroup gossip (but not about any of you, of course!). I love how her mind works and hearing everything she's thinking of. And because her field is far away from mine, I learn something new each time (yesterday is was all about enmeshed or disentangled--that wasn't the precise word--family relationships).

And she brought some amazing food. Sure, you'd think baked penne would be, well, fairly predictable (which is fine--mine is predictable AND good!) but not this one. It had this bright marinara with real slices of fresh mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil. Changed my whole way of thinking about baked pasta. I'm going to have to try it myself (alas, no recipe because she bought it--but no shame in that, I say. It was delicious! And I can figure out how to combine such fresh, simple ingredients, I think). And crunchy French bread which they oddly insisted calling "croissant." And then there was salad with edible flowers which completely bowled over the kids. As did the white chocolate cheesecake.

Thanks, Miss J! You're the fresh princess of Fairfield.

Thank You: Manna from Debby

There's a woman at church who has twin granddaughters who reads my blog. I hadn't figured she kept up with it daily, just occasionally, maybe when twin stuff appears (ever so infrequently, though I have a post on twins in school kicking about).

But she must. Because today she called, fully briefed on all the goings-on with my back.

And said she'd made me a treat and could she bring it by this afternoon?

Wow.

And what a treat it was! Double. Like with twins. Because not only did she bring this delicious "oatmeal pudding" with sunflower seeds and craisins (recipe to follow when I can get it typed in), but she stayed for a nice visit.

Thanks so much for the visit and the delicious pudding (which is also good with cream!!!! Which I tried first, before the yogurt), Miss D. Both were a much-appreciated delight.

See you in church soon!

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Breakfast Oatmeal Pudding

2 1/4 cup quick cooking oats or 2 3/4 old-fashioned oats, uncooked
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 cup raisins or dried cranberries
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
3 1/2 cups skim milk
4 egg whites, lightly beaten, or 1/2 cup egg substitute (or 3 whole eggs)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla
3/4 cup sunflower seeds or nuts (walnuts, pecans, etc) optional
skim milk or nonfat yogurt and fruit (optional)

Heat oven to 350F. Spray 8" square pan with non-stick cooking spray. In a large bowl combine oats, brown sugar, raisins/cranberries, nuts, cinnamon, and salt. Mix well.

In a medium bowl, combine milk, egg whites, oil and vanilla; mix well. Add to dry ingredients and mix well. Pour into prepared baking dish. Bake in preheated 350F oven for 45-60 minutes or until center is set and firm to the touch.

Cool slightly. Serve with milk or yogurt and fruit, if desired. Store leftover pudding covered in fridge.

Note: To reheat, place single serving in microwave-safe bowl and cook on high for about 30 seconds. Great warmed and then with yogurt on top!

Miss D

Rise Up: Asked And I Did Receive

Remember my post yesterday about how much I missed baking?

Well, a friend of mine who doesn't read this blog and thus didn't even know I'd sent that wish out into the universe, came over today to help with lunch. She mentioned that she wanted to learn how to make no-knead bread and could I teach her someday? No time like the present. So she and Sis did most of the work, while I gave hints and suggestions. And now I have bread dough to bake for dinner!!!!!! Thanks, Miss B!!!!

P.S. Actually, I gave the bread dough away. I think it was enough just to make it.

My Problem with Gratitude

I'm having the wonderful experience of being able to say, "Thank you. That was so appreciated. I am grateful," a lot these days.

Problem is, it just doesn't feel like enough.

I know I've had this discussion on this blog before, though I can't recall when or why. I had said that I feel the need to return acts of kindness in kind to the giver, that I wanted a tangible way to express how grateful I was, through a gift or a similar action, and not "just" a note. At least two people told me that expressed, heartfelt gratitude is enough; any attempt at payback or renumeration or the like missed the point and made me not a gracious recipient.

Which I totally understand and embrace when I'm the one performing the act of kindness.

But I'm receiving so much from so many these days, being engulfed in kindness and gratitude, that I'm looking for a big way to say thank you to everyone. For instance, yesterday, Mommy Goose came over to help with bus drop off and lunch, with both her kids in tow, even though Bud was threatening a cold (which seems, blessedly, to have passed). And even though I had said I had lunch makings, she came with a huge bag of goodies from TJs--"la ruse to catch meddlers" (the first word, pronounced by my maternal grandmother from Louisiana, is "lay rose" but the French seems to be la ruse, for trick or ruse; it appears in Brer Rabbit as "larroes")--and proceeded to produce all manner of fried rice and pizza, plus ginger noodles and wraps and pad thai, and cookies! All of which she left here for later use. And then she cleaned the kitchen and wiped down the stove!!!!

How do you say thank you enough? She and I talked about it. And came to the above conclusion. Again. That thank you said and meant sincerely suffices.

Thank you, Mommy Goose.

But you know, I think a blog post helps too. And so, as with the post about and for my parents, I will thank people here in addition to in person and by note, because it's one of the biggest ways I know to say thanks!!!

It's Good to be Pharaoh

If you'd looked in our backyard today, this was the scenes: the kids were doing menial tasks like scrub down the slide and little playhouse while I yelled that they need to work faster or be forced to eat worms for dinner and sleep on rocks.

A reason to call DCFS?

No. It's our new game.

I'm pharaoh and they're my slaves.

PC? No. (And no, I wouldn't be caught dead playing antebellum South this way. Medieval serfs and lord of the manor, surely). Anti-semitic? Not the way we're playing (they aren't Jewish slaves. Just random Egyptian slaves. And the Egyptians had slaves from all over).

Though, they did get the idea from the Bible.

But only because they confused Passover with Rosh Hashanah in our discussion today.

Blue-and-Yellow Letter Day


"I don't think I need him," she said.

And she took a big sniff of her beloved Shirt and handed him to me.

To stay home today.

The first time she's ever intentionally left him behind.

My little girl got a lot bigger today.

Looking Up

Mostly.

Bud's cold seems to have dissipated. And for the first night in weeks, he didn't have a nightmare.

And Sis, who is our little Miss Fever, didn't catch the cold and develop an ear infection. First time in a long time.

I'm walking and standing without much difficulty, as long as I don't try to lean or bend or sit.

Only Mama is having a tough time. She's just increasingly congested and tired and sore-throated. She'll be staying home in bed today.

So it's mostly all good here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Rise Up: I Dream of Baking

There are several things I miss right now, from sitting down to eat to being able to pick up things I drop on the floor. But one of the most affecting lacks in my life right now is my inability to bake. From making sweets with Sis to baking the family's daily bread, I long to pull out my flour, sugar, and butter to make something delectable. Sis misses it too. She made monkey bread with Gommie, but that was weeks ago. What has she baked lately?

It's not that we're lacking in treats. Friends bringing dinner or visiting have showered us with delicious muffins, cheesecake, and cookies, which have sustained us through our baking drought. (So, please don't stop!) I don't think Sis and I have gone 5 weeks without baking since she was old enough to stand on a chair and hold a spoon. Mama has done all she can. She even made a loaf of bread in my machine which was like manna from heaven, only lasting a day or so. She has also made several trips to the store to make sure we have enough ready-made meals and snacks (we're rather embarrassed by our reversion to, or in some cases, introduction to, prepackaged foods--like ramen or "Ponyo noodles" and even those little fake cheese packets with crackers! The kids love them--it'll be a hard habit to break when we go back to healthier, fresh, homemade foods). And when she shops with the kids, she comes home with more than she bargained.

But it's not the same. First, homemade beats store bought almost any day (well, except perhaps where cheesecake is concerned!). I almost can't bear sliced store bread. Second, I do like eating my friends' baked goods (and getting their recipes!) but I miss making things myself--combining the ingredients, smelling the baking, checking on the increasingly golden crusts. One friend brought a baguette and the kids loved eating what they referred to as "croissant"--and all I could think of is, wait, we have a baguette pan and I know how to make French bread!!! Alas . . . . And then this morning I had to feed my sourdough starter which has been sorely neglected but not quite yet to the point of dying. Just measuring and mixing in the water and flour was a siren call that was hard to resist. And while I'm not nearly ready for making my beloved sourdough biscuits, with all that assembly of ingredients, mixing, kneading, rolling, cutting, and putting them in the oven, I briefly toyed with no-knead bread. I mean, Sis could help me pull out flour and water and yeast and salt. She could stir. And then by the time we needed to shape and bake, Mama would be home to help. Like she has nothing else to do. Then I had this crazy idea of roping in one of my baking friends to come over with a box mix and make brownies or cupcakes with Sis. We'd both love it.

I wonder what we'll make first. Sourdough biscuits? A loaf of bread? Sis's favorite chocolate crinkle cookies? Our favorite Swedish apple pie? Sis has also started asking for pumpkin pie. And then there are cupcakes, which we love to admire in our various cookbooks.

But, it'll wait a week or two or three. And taste even better because we waited so long.

(I'm just hoping that the wait has ruined all sense of moderation!)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

It's a Puzzlement



The kids are moving up in the world and it's not just kindergarten: they're doing 100-piece puzzles! Mama, who did puzzles with her parents as a child, had purchased them 60-piece puzzles earlier this month, something for them to do independently when I couldn't play. And they quickly breezed through four of them--space, chocolate, horses, and dinosaurs. So today, during an outing to the grocery store, Mama picked up two bigger puzzles at the toy store, one on dinosaurs and one with a fairy princess. And they are currently getting the borders in, with minimal help from Mama. What's nice about the puzzles they're doing, by German company Ravensburger, is that the pieces are developmentally appropriate. In other words, the pieces are bigger than average even though there are a lot of them; typical small puzzle pieces, even if only 60 or 100 of them, would probably be much harder to manipulate with their burgeoning fine motor skills. The kids are so proud, particularly because they can complete the puzzles by themselves but most of all because they can tell that they are labeled "6 and up." Sis declared, "I feel just like a six-year old!"

Insult to Injury

Mama and Bud are sick. Probably colds because there is no fever. Fairly uncomfortable and unhappy, particularly Mama, who has been hit hard and yet has so much to do at home and work. No fun.

Get well soon!


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Parenting through Sept. 11

A parent with older children told me of a living nightmare she'd had. Her daughter was just 4 years old when the World Trade Center towers fell on September 11. And, hoping to preempt any questions or fears, she explained to the child that there had been a tragedy and several people were hurt and killed. Thinking that was enough, she sent the girl to school the next day.

But the child came home angry. "Mommy, you didn't tell me that mean men flew planes into those buildings on purpose," the devastated child accused. "They wanted to kill all those people."

Never again, the mom pledged, would her daughter get such important information from another source.

It is not an isolated parenting problem in these post-September 11th days. In fact, I imagine, it's not particularly unique--how did parents explain to little children the Blitz? Pearl Harbor? the Holocaust? the atomic bomb? Still, it is the problem parents now face, as described by a mom in an essay on Salon.com. That mom, who had apparently been able to tell her 7 year old son all about sex and such botched their initial conversations on terrorism.

And so I began to wonder how I would address the question. Not that I think they'll talk about it in kindergarten, of course; or even that our kids would see it on tv or in the papers (we rarely watch one; we don't get the other). But I needed to give it some thought. We're in NYC a lot and you can't pass any place tourists gather without seeing images of the Twin Towers, either before or during their destruction. And I wanted them to know that Mama and I consider today a special family day to spend together because so many families were wrenched apart. But I wanted to avoid too much discussion of terrorism, Islamophobia, and the innocent American loss of a feeling of safety. I didn't want to scare them, just inform them, prepare them, even protect them, just as when we briefly discussed the earthquake in Haiti. And I wanted to be the one to do it.

The kids went to kung fu, did some grocery shopping, played at home, visited with Babysitter who is back from college for the weekend, played with a neighbor girl while we grilled dinner, and put together two new 60-piece puzzles (one on space; the other, chocolate. Guess which was which). It was while we were doing the puzzles that I put on some music, music I always listen to on this day: Cher's "Song for the Lonely," Carly Simon's "Let the River Run," and Mariah Carey's "Hero." I must have gotten sniffly.

"Why do you sound sad, Mom?" Sis inquired.

Having already talked to Mama about my idea and approach, I took a deep breath. "Well, Sis. I do get sad today. Because a long time ago, something bad happened: mean men made buildings fall down in New York and lots of people died. And I'm sad for them and for their families. But also really glad that we are together. And so today is an important family day for us. We call it September 11th."

Bud was immediately alarmed. Who were these mean men? Where were they now? Why did they do it? Far away (gulp), not here (gulp again), it was a long time ago and nothing else has happened since then (gulp), they were angry at us and wanted to hurt us. Remember how our soldiers are overseas fighting to keep us safe? That's why. And that was it. Only a mild curiosity from Sis of what the towers looked like before and after. That, I said, would have to wait.

Okay, simplistic. Maybe a little scary. Somewhat untrue.

But there's time for that. And when I've explained it more, when they can understand more fully--if that's even possible for any of us--we'll go down to Ground Zero. And we'll look at the 416 trees they're planting, the wall of names they're erecting, the reflecting pools in the footprints of the Twin Towers they're intending. And I'll tell them about that sad and tragic day.
But also about other, happier days there . . . when Gommie (and Banana--did you go? Or was that the Empire State Building? I hated being up in those tall buildings) and I went to the observation deck, when I took my college roommate there for the best grilled hot dog food cart in the plaza, when I took my high school friend on the Staten Island ferry and got the best photograph I ever took of the towers with the Statue of Liberty in the foreground (which I'll scan in one of these days; that was the pre-digital era), when Mama and I walked the Winter Garden on our tour of the tip of Manhattan along with Fraunces Tavern and St. Paul's Chapel.

Because, paraphrasing the child of one of the victims talking about her parent during the memorial ceremony today, let us not just focus on the destruction of the towers, but on what they were all the days before that.

Adventures in Cooking Our CSA Share: Keeping Up

I haven't blogged about our CSA share much recently, mainly because I have had absolutely nothing to do with its cooking. Gommie and Pop did an admirable job working their way through our box for 3 weeks. Pop diligently picked up the box each week, purchasing extra green beans because he enjoyed them so. He also ate his weight in large tomatoes from the farm and grape tomatoes from our Topsy-Turvy plant, which is good because neither I nor the kids like them.
And Gommie dutifully cooked everything else--boiling sweet corn, baking summer squash with onions, helping Pop with the green beans, slicing those tomatoes with salt and pepper, boiling/scrambling/frying dozens of eggs.

Gommie and Pop also helped with our own garden, picking the last summer squash before we yanked the rotting plants out of the dry soil and supervising the kids in the picking and shelling of our Dragon Eye beans, producing about a 1/4 cup. They made sure all of our surviving herbs, including basil, parsley, lemon balm, and mint, were watered and weeded, with the remnants of the pansies and petunias (petuniae?) and marigolds removed. Then Pop was on a tear. He cut down a tree, trimmed hedges, shaped boxwoods, pulled even more weeds, watered everything else. I think it reminded him of playing in the woods of his cabin . . . except cooler.

So, not a lost month by a long shot, especially since Gommie and Pop did a better job of eating through our box than we sometimes do (but then, there were 4 adults eating instead of 2!). And they got our garden ready for the winter.

I still have some time with our CSA as we enter the fall season of winter squash, root vegetables, and another round of leafy greens. I'll just have to save all my summer squash recipes. And I have ideas for improving our garden for next year (I think of it as a learning garden): herbs up front; two beds in back--one with the squash, the other with the beans. Less of the former, more of the latter; flowers only in the rock wall. Because, you see, I've had a lot of time to think about it . . . .

Meditation Pledge: Walking on Sunshine

I'm supposed to walk 30 minutes everyday. That's my main exercise and only physical therapy right now. I had been doing some of it in the house, out of convenience but also nervousness to be too far from where I could lay down.

But I've been feeling stronger, even sans brace, and it is such a gorgeous day. So, while the kids played outside with Babysitter, who is visiting from college and came by to say hi (so exciting!!), I walked back and forth on the sidewalk beside our house.

It's a glorious spot, shaded by two maples and a dogwood tree, with a straight and flat sidewalk. I can see our house and yard, our neighbors down the street, and cars going down our streets. So, with my R2-D2 in my pocket, I slowly, deliberately, somewhat timidly, began my walk, going back and forth about 50 feet, concentrating on each step, my balance, my posture.

Then I started to notice the light--the still green leaves haloed with bright yellow light, the sidewalk dappled with light and dark spots. I was reminded of a Gothic cathedral, of the light glowing through the stained glass casting prismatic patterns on the marbled floors. I thought of the Cathedral of St John the Divine, the philosopher of light Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis, even Pillars of the Earth.

My spiritual path only leads through Gothic cathedrals aesthetically; instead, I realized I was practicing a Buddhist walking meditation: going back and forth over a short distance, concentrating on my body's movement, clearing my mind to focus on the present.

Mind, body, soul. The boundaries of the traditional Western duality (trinity, I guess) broken down in one short walk. And it feels so good.

And it's good for me, too.

Healing in more ways than one . . . .

Remembering

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Next Food Network Show

After weeks of watching a lot of cooking shows on both Food Network and the new Cooking Channel, I have decided that any new cooking show host must:
  • showcase a particular ethnic food--Indian, Italian, French, Chinese--instead of general techniques or specific ingredients or a diversity of cuisines (with the exception of Jamie Oliver's current exploration of ingredients and Rachel Allen's show on baking).
  • title the show something like "Easy Indian Food At Home Everyday with Me!"
  • use ingredients that have been, for lack of a better word, decanted. Gone are sly shots of name-brand ingredients. Every show has salt or ketchup or cinnamon or flour in fancy or earthy matching, labeled containers.
  • do things by hand. No one seems to use mixers anymore. Even cream is whipped with a whisk instead of a Kitchen Aid. And they all seem to make their own pasta!
  • make obligatory comments about fresh, local, organic ingredients, eating less meat, healthy choices (olive oil and whole wheat flour), and trying something new (which always seems to be fish or spices or quinoa).
  • be accompanied by unidentifiable Euro-muzak.
  • include lots of local shots, particularly of the host shopping or eating with friends, so it seems like we're hanging out together.
  • provide some kind of overarching narrative to the cooking, like a party or holiday or even just a mood. David Rocco and Giada DeLaurentiis take this to new heights.
Regardless of the obvious formats and similarities, these shows do accomplish what they set out to: they make me want to cook their food.

Tidbits

On the morning after I hurt my back, Bud said, "Mommy, did you break a muscle?"

Since then he's been very curious about my recovery. Once Gommie arrived, with her broken foot in a boot, he had other questions, "Is it worse to hurt your back or break your foot?"

Well, I know which I'd choose.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Mama's Magic Trunk has been busy recently, especially the first five days I was injured, before we had reinforcements. And one morning, when I said something about buying a present for Mama Teacher and for Gommie and Pop, "Presents for everyone!"

Sis squealed, "Yay!!!!"

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Sis has been proudly wandering around helping with everything, doing things independently, "I'm a kindergartener now!"

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Sometimes Sis and Gommie have trouble understanding each other, to humorous effect. Gommie thought Sis said, "My shoes are last in autumn," when she said, "My shoes are icky on the bottom." When talking about the movie Kiki's Delivery Service, Gommie thought Sis said, "Kitty's Slippery Surface." Sis thinks this is hilarious and has told everybody.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

We've been doing a lot of things upstairs on my big bed. Beyond the usual tv-watching at rest time, we've played with knights and castles, drawn all sorts of pictures, cut out snowflakes and paper dolls, and even eaten dinner. Yep, we've been picnicking upstairs. And Sis, with her amazing memory, recalled that the last time we ate upstairs, we had cookies while watching the inauguration of President Obama!

Bud calls all of this "life on a bed."

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

One day, entertaining themselves in the living room, Sis and Bud invented "goosh," an imaginary, sticky, muddy, stinky-like-a-skunk substance that kids could get stuck in if they didn't spread blankets and pillows all over the floor to hop from spot to spot. The carpet was the goosh in "Gooshytown." Cats and adults were immune. Then there was a Gooshymonster, Gommie or me, who could spray goosh at kids as they ran by; only velvet capes could protect them. I'd say they spent two hours jumping around the house. Goosh is even better than mud!

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

When I told Sis and Bud that a friend was coming over today to help with bus drop-off and lunch, Bud astutely inquired, "Is she here to talk to you or to play with us?"

Touche.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Meeting the kids at the bus stop, I saw how hot they were. "Did the bus make you hot?"

"No, Mom," Bud replied, "the weather did."

On My Own

I keep hearing the song from Les Miserables even though I'm listening to Sugarland.

I'm alone in the house today. First time in a really long time. My parents are safely back in Houston. Mama has just piled the kiddos into the car so they can all head off to their day. And I'm in an empty house.

Well, the cats are here somewhere. But they are tired of me.

I'm exhilarated and a little nervous: it obviously means I'm getting better but, after, 4 weeks of near immobility, independence is a little daunting. I mean, I just dropped something on the floor--a bottle to be recycled--and it's going to stay there until someone else picks it up; yesterday, that happened to my breakfast bar! (We can't find our metal trash-picker-upper, which would be enormously useful now). I can't bend to reach into the fridge so I've got my water and snacks all laid out for the day. I carry my cellphone in my pocket just in case I drop or lose the house phones (so if I don't pick up, don't worry. Just wait, I'll probably call you back on a different number). The kids' snacks, play clothes, bribes, are all laid within easy reach. The logistics are daunting. Though, apparently studies do show that people who live alone recover from back pain faster than those living with people; they have to.

But it's not exactly true that I'm really by myself, either. I have friends lined up to be here for bus drop-off and lunch, to be sure at least that the kids get in the house and get fed. Maybe today's friend will help pick up that bottle. And then every other day, friends are generously bringing meals. Some, like today, are even staying for a visit. And then there are the friends who are visiting just to say hi, like Mama Teacher, who has been by several times in the last four weeks; it helps so much. And the people who call and email and send cards and offer to do anything we need . . . .

I wrote yesterday about the gift my parents had given me. I have received several similar gifts this last month, for which I am deeply grateful, like the meals and offers and calls and visits: from my sister who has calls regularly to check in and get a medical report; my cousin who reads, comments, and emails about my blog (thanks for yesterday's letter, Cousin S); Lambeth, who has called from England twice and sent cheerful notes; the neighbors, who are sending their kids to play with mine in the afternoons so Sis and Bud don't get bored; blog friends who have never met me in person but who check in.

The kids are helping too: from adapting their play to a horizontal mom (who has mastered drawing on a clipboard in the air and playing games on her chest) to doing more things on their own, from keeping pathways on the floor clear to not jumping on or near me. Plus all the hugs and pictures and reassurances and general un-fazed-ness. Only sometimes does the worry creep in, "Mom, are you ever going to bend again?"

And then there's Mama. I haven't written about Mama. No loving posts full of gratitude. I feel it. I just haven't gotten it into the right post yet; I might not. But I've told her.

So, sure, I'm by myself this morning for a few hours. But I'm not really on my own.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Gift

It didn't come for my birthday or Christmas or Mother's Day or as a reward or treat.

It wasn't wrapped or bagged or accompanied by a card or gift receipt.

It was an experience, a lesson, a feeling.

For 23 days, my parents have been in Connecticut helping me recover by looking after me, the kids, the house, even Mama. It is the longest amount of time I have spent with them since I left home to pursue my Ph.D. in 1995.

And it was a gift.

To all of us.

The experience of living day-to-day for an extended period with my parents wasn't something I'd thought I'd have again. Sure, we do a week here or there, at the bay in Texas, here for Christmas, a few times a year. But this was different--there was no holiday, no long to-do list, no rush, not even a deadline; no sense of having to squeeze in several months' worth of living into 7 days; no feeling of it being out of the ordinary, a special occasion that had to be recorded, photographed, remembered. This was no vacation. It was just normal. Well, as normal as it could be under the circumstances. Just all of us in our house on our regular schedule, here, with them blending into our routine, our family life. But sure, not normal, or comfortable, or easy for them, who were taken way out of their daily lives. And I just think how special that was for Sis and Bud, to essentially get to live with their grandparents for three weeks. They ate three meals a day together, went shopping, ran errands, went to school, went to kung fu, had rest time, read, played, heard stories. It's as good as we get, living 1700 miles apart. The closest I remember coming to that with any of my grandparents was spending weekends with my great-grandmother by myself, which made me feel very special and very grown up. Of course, the kids are only five years old, but I think they will remember the experiences--of watching Robin Hood with Errol Flynn or Kiki's Delivery Service or My Neighbor Totoro, of playing catch or knights or hide and seek, of drawing, of baking monkey bread, of eating ice cream for my dad's 70th birthday, of playing dolphin in the swimming pool, of grilling in the backyard, of playing in the mud. The nature of the visit and my injury prevented me from spending much time with my parents, but we did have our moments. And while I've long had more of an adult's understanding of my parents, instead of my childhood opinions, there is always something more to discover, to learn. Because, of course, parents can change as much over the lifetime of their children as their children do, I believe, and not just from the child's perspective but in actuality. My mom has become more of a worrier, more contemplative, than I recall. My dad does more housework, is a caretaker, more than he was. In the last few years, they've discovered hiking and become regulars at the National Parks; travel is one of their favorite activities. Dad still loves keeping up with current events and politics, reading histories of the Civil War, WWII, the great Mississippi Flood, you name it; Mom, as always, enjoys books and ideas and experiences and her friends. And they love having grandkids, the two here, the one on the way.

I learned so much from them. Not learned as in "skill," like Mom's recipe for baked squash (like mine but with onions) or Pop's pots of green beans. Life lessons, parenting lessons, those intangible teachable moments when you learn something that they aren't trying actively trying to teach you. The way, I suppose, kids always really learn from their parents. Like how when someone needs you, you go, you do; no hesitations, no questions, no complaints, no expectations. Like love sometimes means sacrifice, of plans, of time, of comfort, of money. Like how it's best to do what is needed--the dishes, the gardening, the cooking--right then and there even if you would rather sit down or play or leave (Mom's "bohemian" work ethic). Like how two partners can grow older together (it's 46 years for them in a month), becoming closer friends than when they began, because they truly love, like, enjoy, and respect one another. Like how to take the grief of loss (the death of my aunt, my dad's sister), the fear and pain of injury and illness (remember that my mom has a broken foot!), the frustration of limitations and changes in plan, in stride with equanimity and calm amid the joy of family, the companionship of friends, and the routine of the everyday. Like how being a parent really never ends because you worry, take care, enjoy, are needed, are loved, regardless of your child's age or circumstances.

There's something about having my parents around that was so comforting. It reminded me of being a little girl. You know the feeling, it's dark or stormy or you have a tummy ache or hear a noise but you know your parents are there so it's okay regardless. In our relationship, Mama has often been of similar comfort to me. But these weeks, with her at work, my parents again fulfilled that traditional role of caretaker which took me back to when I was Sis and Bud's age. And it wasn't even the bringing up of my lunch or my heating pad or my medicine or helping me roll over, stand up, go to the bathroom, just the physical, proximate presence of love, care, support, generosity, loyalty, protection.

I don't know what my parents would say they got out of the last few weeks. What would the tree say she got from the boy in The Giving Tree? (And while this last three weeks has been very one-sided, I don't want our whole relationship to be quite as unbalanced as the boy and the tree). I know what I hope they got: the comfort and satisfaction of knowing that they really provided tangible and effective help by taking care of us all--the kids' daily needs, Mama's need to keep going to work and have help around the house without burning out, my need to get better; a sense of what our lives are like here so that even when we are apart again, they can better picture us; the joy (mostly!) of spending an unprecedented amount of time with their grandkids; the experience of two seasons in New England, almost simultaneously--the end of summer and the beginning of fall; all the wonderful produce, especially the green beans and tomatoes, that they relished from our CSA; oh, and that one day they got to explore the Hudson River Valley, their single "day off."

And how do you say thank you for all of that? How do you express your gratitude? How do you repay them (while at the same time realizing that's not the point at all)? How do you give back to them what they gave you? How do you let them know how much you love them, not just for what they did but for who they are?

I guess, as with all gifts, you start with a smile and say thank you.

And then show how much you appreciated it by giving such a gift to them or to your children or your family or your friends.

Thanks, Mom and Dad. :)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Power of Meditation

Two days before I injured my back I had made a new pledge to meditate everyday. I haven't forgotten that pledge; indeed, it's what's gotten me through the last 4 weeks.

First, I find it both nearly impossible and entirely necessary to meditate through pain. When the spasms were at their worst, I would just breathe, recognizing my in and out breaths, unable even to count. When I did try to count, a spasm would hit and I'd just forget where I was and have to start over. But trying to count and to breathe was essential--it allowed me to recognize and be in the pain, instead of trying to ignore it. In other words, I'd be thinking, "whoa, that spasm really hurt. But I'm meditating here. So back to breathing." It kept me from getting scared--why did it hurt? when was it going to stop? how could I make it stop? will it ever stop? Sure sometimes, I had to keep telling myself to count with every breath. Pain is very diverting sometimes. But meditating seemed to make it less so. Especially after 4 weeks of practicing. Especially because I was practicing several times a day, through and then outside of the pain. There is a parable by the Buddha, mentioned in an article on pain and meditation in this month's BuddhaDharma magazine, about the two arrows: the first arrow is the sensation of pain but the second arrow is the fear, anxiety--the suffering--of pain. If you are mindful, you only need feel that first arrow. And apparently now, scientific studies of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR, that book I'm reading called Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn) which focuses on mindful meditation, particularly a scan of the body, has proven that meditation can actually decrease the pain of that first arrow. In fact, it happened to me today. In the second that I sit before I lie down, I must have compacted that herniated disc and felt a surge of sharp pain very very briefly. So I lay down, acknowledged what I had felt, and then did some breathing. And I realized later that the ensuing "aftershocks," while uncomfortable, were not actually painful. And that even while that first "arrow" hurt, I didn't actually mind.

Second, I've learned that the "how-tos" of meditation aren't that important to me right now. If I'm focusing on the moment, being mindful, I'm meditating. I've let go of all the "shoulds." I'm not meditating sitting up, obviously. I'm not even meditating with my eyes open, especially when I hurt. And yes, sometimes I even meditate myself right to sleep. I am not meditating so my pain will lessen, so I can take fewer drugs, so I'll be relaxed, I'm meditating because I like to meditate. I need to meditate.

One of the most inspiring meditation practices this month was on the couch a few days ago. I was counting my breaths and the sun burst through the clouds through my living room window onto the couch where I lay. Now, up to that point, I hadn't really been in the sun, for weeks. And the warm on my face felt so good. And the light behind my closed eyes was so yellow and beautiful and comforting. And I lay there feeling and seeing and embracing that light. And also hearing the birds, feeling the wind through the window, noticing the cars on the main road and a few neighbors walking by. And I was breathing and counting. And being. I think I understood, in that instance, the power of light.

And of meditation.

What a Day.

You never want to see the school's phone number come up in caller ID.
And it happened today. Twice.

First was before 9 a.m. The nurse called. "No worries, Mommy Hungry, Bud is alright. But he did have to visit my office today. A little girl passed him the scissors and he cut his thumb just a bit and needed a bandaid. I'll send home a note but wanted to call too. He came in, said he cut it a bit, was fine with the bandaid, and then stood and did the pledge with me because the announcements were on. However, the girl in class saw the bandaid, she began to cry. And then he began to cry, a delayed reaction. THEN THE WHOLE CLASS BEGAN TO CRY. 'I guess we learned how not to pass scissors today,' the teacher told them."

The second call came after school. Except I didn't get it. I was outside waiting for the bus. Which was later and later and later. So I finally went in to call the school. And saw the caller ID. Uh-oh. I called the school immediately. The bus was in a little bit of an accident. The kids were alright. But the police had to be called because "a bicycle hit the bus." I haven't gotten any more details. And sincerely hope the bicyclist is okay--when a bus and bicyclist tangle, the bus is going to win. Bud and Sis didn't notice anything or seem to wonder why they were stopped for so long and the police came. That's got to be good. I think they would've noticed blood, an ambulance, or a stretcher.

Because worse than your school on caller ID is your school on the local news.

No Pain, All Gain

I was a bit apprehensive about my appointment with the specialist in NYC yesterday. Not only because it was a long car ride and I can't sit comfortably, but mainly because I haven't had much luck with male doctors in the orthopedic realm recently. Three of them were awful. And, with this one's focus on sports injuries and a published book about needing to exercise through pain to heal pain, I wondered if I wasn't going to get the "you're-fat-I-can't-help-you-you're-going-to-have-pain" speech. I mean, I'm not exactly the elite athletes he usually sees and whose posters are in the office.

But I was absolutely, totally, ashamedly mistaken. He was wonderful. Glancing at my sheet, with an entire list of "I walk more slowly because of my back" and "I have to get people to do things for me because of my back" and "My appetite has decreased because of my back" etc. etc. circled, then performing a few tests while listening to me describe the last three years of pain and discovery, he said it was a classic herniated disc. The MRI results I'd brought with me from Friday immediately confirmed it--even I could see how the disc between L5 and S1 was totally in the wrong place. No wonder it had been the worse pain I'd ever felt.

I think he felt sorry for me. He said that the c-section, ovarectomy, and 2 hernia operations, coupled with all those other "-oses" like scoliosis, lordosis, symphosis separation, etc etc etc, were the perfect storm for this. But he says because of my natural history, which I take it to mean the first 38 years of my life, I am likely to recover fully with no intervention. So, for now, no sitting, bending, or lifting. Continuing to wear my lumbar brace. Only a bit of concentrated walking for about 15-30 minutes each day. Plus new and different drugs (you should see me on Valium. I'm a hoot!) and the three shots (one very close to that disc that hurt like a @#$%) for immediate relief. And I would be much better in 4 weeks. Then, we'll get back to what we were doing, which is the all important core strengthening.

And I feel great. Okay, those shots, at least the first one right to the spot where the disc was (which he located by ultrasound) weren't great, but within half an hour, I could ride in the car without wincing from bumps and turns. And that's fantastic. I'm also much more at ease in my mind, for I had been worried that we didn't know for sure what was wrong or that I would easily re-injure myself while healing. I think he listened, had answers, had reassurances, and gave me palpable physical relief immediately.

But I'm angry too. Angry that I was so patient with the other doctor, angry that I almost had a procedure that I didn't need and that wouldn't have helped, angry that she's gotten the test results and hasn't called to change our course of treatment or even let me know--my appointment with her isn't for 2 more weeks!!!, angry that maybe I suffered longer than I should have because she was slow, angry that maybe I missed out on things I didn't have to miss, angry that my parents had to be here maybe longer than necessary, all in all angry that I trusted her and her staff and didn't get the care I thought I was getting, because she was, truly, so much better than those 3 orthopedists. Just not good enough. So, we're done with her. Even though I'd liked her. I just wouldn't be able to trust her again, would second-guess every diagnosis and treatment. Hindsight is 20-20. Though, even my new doctor said that it's just slow to heal and I'd mainly been doing the right thing--it's not like he would've healed me immediately either. I'm just frustrated. Four weeks seems like such a long time. But I'm trying not to look back. Just stay in the here and now (more on what's become of my meditation pledge soon).

Anyway, in addition to the doctor, we managed two very minor fun things yesterday because we were early and I needed to walk around after all that sitting. And who doesn't like to walk around NYC (okay, my dad, but this is rhetorical . . . )? On the same block was Sotheby's and so we went in and perused their recent catalogues, particularly the spring 19th-century painting sale. And they gave me the glossy book for free, filled with its academic paintings by minor American, Italian, and Polish (I think) artists. Great fun to look at, though. Took me back to my museum days, especially because one of the artists in the catalogue had been featured in an exhibition at my last museum.

We also hit the newsstand next door and got a few magazines, including TimeOut Kids with all the fun fall happenings for children in the city. Puppet shows, good places to eat, family programs, concerts. I love the city . . . . and I should be walking just fine in four weeks! It's on my list of first things I want to do.

Right up there with sitting.




Saturday, September 4, 2010

Better Than Expected

In so many ways . . . .
  • MRI--they have a new machine at "my" radiologist's--it was fast, so fast, that it took half the time I was expecting. With the gentle vibrations, body motionlessness, and warmth, it was almost comfortable. But no, I don't know what they found. I have discs but no report and so I'll let the specialists parse it out.
  • Hurricane Earl--the storm that wasn't. We didn't get enough rain to wet the deck. And the winds today are just gentle fall-like breezes. No complaints, though it would have been nice to have some rain--the garden is just dead.
  • Kindergarten--I expected it to be an emotionally wrenching milestone. Instead it was a joyful reminder of how much I love and admire my kids, who were brave and enthusiastic and curious . . . and a walk down my own elementary school memory lane.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Going Back to School

When I was a student, I loved Open House night. Gommie would go to open house, take notes on my teachers, and come home to tell me all about whom she liked, what she learned, my projects she saw. I really liked the idea of her sitting in my desk, following my schedule, giving her opinion on my teachers. But usually, this night came later in the fall, when my classrooms were full of pictures and book reports and science projects. And the teachers had something concrete to say about me (always good, of course!).

Tonight, I attended my first open house as a parent. And I think it was just as exciting as a parent (not least of which because I made it through the whole thing, percocet-assisted!). My favorite part was perusing the cheerful and cozy classrooms, seeing the drawings they'd already made, exploring the activity centers they'll use, books they'll read, looking at their cubbies, imagining their days. Bud had a photo of himself with his hope for the year "to write books." Sis wants to "write the alphabet in lower case." Which she did right next to the drawing of herself! (Okay, dorky parent alert: we took pictures when no one was looking!!!)

Of course, I liked hearing from the teachers (who I remembered not to corner or press for details about our kids, a la Mama Teacher's post on open houses). I really like both their teachers, Bud's 25-year veteran and Sis's newbie with only a year under her belt. The teachers, presenting together, described all manner of curricula and initiatives, from arrival procedures (put away backpack and deliver folders to the in-box) to rules (care for yourself, your school, and others--sounds like UU principle #1 to me!). There is a "take a break" chair, a non-punitive time-out, based on the logical consequences discipline system. And then all this stuff about academics: math manipulatives and number writing, counting, patterning, measuring, sorting, money, addition and subtraction; the Haskins Literary Initiative, with phonemic awareness, sight words; Writing Workshop, wherein they will be writing sentences by January!!!!; Concepts about Print (CAP) with book awareness, one-on-one correspondence of words; optional homework packets to explore themes outside of school. There will be parent conferences, progress reports, report cards!!! Am I nerdy because all of that sounds so wonderful to me???

We also met the reading specialists, music teachers, art teacher, PE teacher, Spanish teacher, and of course the principal. But didn't have too much time to talk--lots of other parents and really hot inside the un-air-conditioned building, plus I was trying to cram it all in before my back gave out. However, their demeanor, the whole look of the classrooms, the mood of the other parents tells me that this is exactly the place I want the kids to be.

It's where I want to be too. So I signed up to be a classroom reader and literacy volunteer. We joined the PTA and put our names down for several committees. And I've already put all the important upcoming events in our family calendar.

It's great to be back in school!!

I can only hope we encourage and support our kids to love it as much as I did . . . do!

What I've Been Doing in Bed

Now that I'm spending more time downstairs, even if horizontal on the couch, I wanted to let you know what I did in bed for 2+ weeks, mostly with my 'droid "R2D2" and my tv.

And yes, I love to read recipes. Even if I know I'll never cook them.

Thinking about Cooking:
In the Papers (Or on Huffpost, Daily Beast, The Onion, Motherlode, The NYTimes, Karen Maezen Miller, Shambhala Sun, Salon, NPR, KAF blog)

Watching (plus all those cooking shows in the first section!):
  • Ponyo
  • My Neighbor Totoro
  • Avatar
  • Open Range
  • Star Wars
  • Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
  • Land Before Time
  • A League of Their Own
  • "The Big C"
  • "The Real L Word"
  • "Pillars of the Earth"
  • "Spartacus"
  • "The Real Housewives of New Jersey" and "Orange County" (and I saw 10 minutes of "Jersey Shore". Ugh.)
  • "Sherlock Holmes"