For Valentine’s Day, Instead of Flowers Give Me Light

Ah, Valentine’s Day. That over-hyped holiday that sends more people to grocery stores on February 13 than just about any other day of the year. I know because I was just there picking up a fruit tray for my daughter’s class party. And I have to go back in the morning because I forgot the napkins for my son’s class party. I wonder how many last-minute flower and chocolate seekers I will find at 8 a.m. tomorrow.

I don’t hate Valentine’s Day but it’s definitely on my meh holiday list. I love flowers and I am a sucker for dark chocolate (especially Green and Black), but a national day of show-your love-by-spending-a-lot-of-money doesn’t really appeal to me. It might have when I was younger, but now that my days are a mad dash of kids, work, kids, husband, food, occasional exercise (please!), there are other ways I’d rather give and receive love with that cherished, amazing person in my life. Here are just a few of those things.

  1. Instead of flowers, next year, just leave the light on in my home office when I’m working. Even if I walk down the hall for another cup of coffee. Does anyone else live with an energy conserver? I’m a child of the seventies. I get it. I remember President Carter’s save energy campaign. And I’m not an energy whore. So when I’m typing away on my laptop that’s perched on the counter in my makeshift office/laundry room (which has no windows), resist the urge to slip your hand slyly into the room as you walk past and flip the light switch off. Just for one day. Please. It would be cheaper, probably conserve more energy, and mean more to me that roses. Just saying.
  2. Offer to help me with the kid’s Valentine’s Day cards and gifts for teachers. When it’s 10 pm on February 13 and I’m doing a really bad job of tearing cards printed on cheap paper and securing the tattoo (that I bought because the candy gluttony has to stop with someone and this year I decided it would be us but the dye in the tattoo is probably worse for kids than the sugar), instead of flowers, tell me to go to bed and do the kid stuff for me. Please.
  3. And in return for those small but big gestures, I promise to give you an entire day in which I don’t question anything you do and tell you repeatedly how wonderful you are and how much I love you. Deal?

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Not Gonna Teach My Kids Charity with Conditions Anymore

I have struggled with how to handle street corner panhandlers for years. I think a lot of people struggle with the same thing. You see someone clearly in need. You want to do something. Your heart hurts for that person. Yet you don’t know what the right answer is, so you do nothing.

The holidays are here, the year is drawing to a close, and it’s a time for gratitude and reflection. I have had a lot to reflect on lately. One of those things is this: by ignoring those in need right in front of my face I am justifying and teaching my kids charity with conditions. One of my resolutions for the new year is to break that cycle.

You can read more about what’s driving this quest in my blog post for Scary Mommy.

Bringing Back the Thankful Jar

America, the past few weeks have been anxiety-producing and downright tough. I’m not going into politics today and in this space. Instead, I’m telling you about the Thankful Jar (again) and why I’m bringing it back.

In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving last year, I got an idea via an NPR story and Pinterest to make a Thankful Jar. It’s a simple project. You cut up pieces of paper, make your family write down what they’re thankful for daily, and toss them into a mason jar. You can pick any time to read them. We read ours on Thanksgiving last year.

This year, I feel like we need a little extra thankfulness, so we’re going to keep the Thankful Jar going through the end of the year, reading what we’ve written sporadically (read: on the rare night that we’re not stuffing food in our faces and running off to sports or music class).

Why am I bringing back the Thankful Jar? Because we have so much to be thankful for, and it’s easy to lose sight of that. Practicing daily gratitude has many benefits–both physical and mental. And it’s contagious. My go-to website lately for mindfulness and practicing gratitude is Berkeley’s Greater Good in Action.

But back to the Thankful Jar. This year, more than others, America, let’s spend the week before Thanksgiving (one week from today) being thankful. If you want more details about it, you can check out my blog from last year here.

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yet one more way to use a mason jar

 

 

A Plea for No More Supersized Birthday Parties

The money. The drama. The time spent planning. But so-and-so had his party at DartWarz. Why can’t I? Because it costs $600 and that’s crazy for a kid’s party. The oh-crap-I-forgot-someone guilt that wakes you up in the middle of the night.

The chaos. The anxiety. Please, God, don’t let anyone clip into the rope swing harness wrong. Does Junglequest have enough liability insurance and would our umbrella policy cover us if anything happened?

The sugar hangover that makes your kids alternatively giddy, mean, and weepy, accusing you of being the worst parent ever between fits of laughing so hard they snort and crying so hard they can’t breathe. The massive pile of plastic stuff that you have to figure out how to transport home and then make room for it in your already-too-full-of-plastic-stuff home.

The clean up. The lack of gratitude from your child that makes you cringe as you hear yourself saying things your parents said to you like, “You have no idea how lucky you are!”

The thank you cards that take you two months to get out and make you feel guilty and slightly hostile every time you run into the mom who gets her cards out the very next day.

Remember when a kids’ birthday party was just an ugly cake your mom made, your family, one or two kids from the cul-de-sac, and dollar store party hats? Let’s go back in time. Please.

Three More Reasons Not to Supersize:

  1. We’re creating expectations that are unrealistic, and our children are going to be disappointed when they realize that they are not the center of the world and their friends, boss, spouse, pretty much any adult, isn’t going to spend weeks and hundreds of dollars planning a party for them. Do your future daughter or son-in-law a favor and don’t supersize your kids’ birthday parties.
  2.  Think of all the kiddos whose hurt feelings you will save. I will never forget the tears streaming down my son’s blotchy, tender cheeks one day when I picked him up from school. One of his friends was having a birthday party and had invited all the boys in his class except him. The part that sucks is that we’ve been on the other side of that fence. We have had parties that did not include every child in the class.
  3. At the end of the day, your child doesn’t really care if the birthday party is big or small. Children want to feel loved and cared for, and as long as you do something special for them on their birthday, they will know you love them.

 

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my fourth birthday party-note the ugly cake and cheap party hats

 

 

 

Shouting Schmouting

I have a confession. I yell at my kids a lot more than I want to or should. My Mom was a yeller. She was a cheerleader in the 50’s when cheerleaders weren’t scantily clad, insanely flexible gymnasts. Her voice was loud and booming, which is why she was probably the captain of her cheer squad.

Flash forward fifteen years, add four bratty kids born in six years and she probably thought her loud voice was an asset. I honestly can’t blame her, but I hated her yelling, and, I hate that I’m doing it to my kids.

 

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one of my mom’s favorite flowers–smelling one was probably one of her only kumbaya moments

 

I didn’t yell when my kids were babies, or toddlers, or even pre-schoolers. It didn’t start until my son started second grade. I had been careful to use a happy, positive, loving mommy voice when they were good and a stern but still supportive mommy voice when they were naughty. If I slipped up and yelled, I was mad at myself and vowed not to let it happen again. I was pretty good at turning things around.

As my kids grew older, they faced new challenges that I didn’t anticipate. As a result, their behavior became more complex, and, sadly, I was totally unprepared to deal. So, I yelled more, and I found ways to justify it in my mind.

He punched his little sister and thought I wasn’t looking. That surely deserves a, “What are you doing?!” She snuck a can of sprinkles into her bedroom, chugged it like she was shotgunning a beer, then tossed the sticky mess under her bed for me to clean up. That easily justifies, “You need to clean up this mess that you’ve made!”

Two weeks ago, we were in the mountains, skiing, having quality family time, interspersed with occasional melt-down moments. I needed a short family-time break, said I’ll catch you on the next run, and sat in the lodge, checking e-mail. I almost deleted an e-mail from a blog I follow, but something stopped me. The e-mail talked of a peaceful home life complete with smiling, happy, well-adjusted kids. I’m a skeptic so Ponzi scheme crossed my mind.

I was sorta desperate, so I signed up for the twelve-week online course with other peace-seeking parents. The course is based on the book, Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting and there are three main goals:

  1. Regulating your emotions
  2. Fostering connection with your kids
  3. Coaching your kids instead of controlling them

Wish me luck! I will be updating y’all from time to time on how it’s going–the challenges (getting my husband on board, changing my behavior, it’s a long list), the wins, what I’ve learned, and, hopefully, how those three things bring peace into my home. When I told a friend about it, she said peaceful parenting sounded boring. I’m about ready for boring right now.

For a Laugh: My kids love this video–goats yelling like humans.

 

Dishwasher Games

The dishwasher games start when you shop for the newest member of your kitchen family. Pulling a hangnail is more fun than this. So many world-changing questions like, what’s the decibel rating? Is it quiet enough that you can still hear the TV? Does it have a towel bar? How many place settings does it hold? And, at least, fifteen more similar questions. Less thought goes into deciding to have children.

Once you have your dishwasher, you get to start the long, occasionally rewarding, process of figuring out how it works. What do all the cycles do? Which detergent works best? Why won’t my dishes dry? Oh, wait, there’s a sticker that says it needs Jet Dry for optimal drying. That’s strange. My last dishwasher didn’t need Jet Dry.

Over time, you fall into a comfortable, if not passionate, groove. You learn to ignore the buttons you never learned to use. You get over your angst at Whirlpool for forcing you to buy Jet Dry. You figure out just how many utensils you can stuff into the caddy without peanut butter getting baked onto a knife because you were lazy and didn’t prewash.

You start to look forward to the morning ritual of loading the dishwasher because it allows you to ignore your kids and forces your husband to deal with I don’t want that for breakfast! and He licked his finger and stuck it in my milk! moments.

Then your husband decides he’s going to help. Momentarily stunned, you try to hide your anxiety as you watch him load the dishes wrong. You smile and feign gratitude. The first time, you let it roll off your back. Be like a duck. The second time, you try suggesting the dishes go in largest to smallest, left to right. You get a piercing WTF stare in response.

So you wallow a little and wonder if being anal about loading the dishwasher is part of a bigger neurosis. You decide that, nah, your husband is just lazy, and you arm yourself with all sorts of reputable internet sources, like Martha Stewart.

He still gives you that stare. You think about pushing it, but something in his eyes tells you to stop. You decide that some help is better than no help. Even if there is a right way to load the dishwasher.

 

 

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Found this card on Etsy at JulieAnnArt and gave it to my hubby for Valentine’s Day.  Image: (c) Julie Ann Art

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Colorado Buffalo Chili

Now that the sun sets at 4:35 p.m. and we’re seeing daytime temps in the twenties, I’m thinking about chili. Specifically, I’m thinking about buffalo chili. And I’m thinking about how lucky my kids are to live in Colorado, and to have food choices that didn’t exist for me when I was young. When I was a kid, seeing a buffalo wasn’t even a thought. Forget about eating buffalo meat. When we shopped at Winn-Dixie, it was rare that my Mom bought fresh beef for us kids in spite of the fact that Winn-Dixie’s tagline was “The Beef People.” Beef was a treat for grownups. We tended to stock Vienna sausages and cans of corned beef hash in our pantry for the kids.

When I was a sophomore in college, I took my first trip west of the Mississippi River. Before that, the West was more legend than real in my mind. But Dances with Wolves and the infamous tatonka scene had me thinking about migrating West. It’s twenty plus years since that first trip, and, after stints in Oregon and California, I have been in Colorado more than fourteen years.

I can take my kids to visit buffalo anytime we want because the City of Denver maintains a buffalo herd just outside of town. Visiting the herd gives me an opportunity to talk to my kids about where the food they eat comes from, and a whole host of other important things that I won’t go into here. Buffalo meat is lean, flavorful, and perfect for chili. The recipe below is one of my favorites and makes me think about cozying in for the evening with a bowl of chili and a movie. I hope you have a chance to try the recipe and love it as much as I do!

Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs. Ground Buffalo
  • 2 tbsp. cooking oil (I use avocado or extra virgin olive oil)
  • 4 tbsp. chili powder
  • 2 tbsp. cumin
  • 1 tbsp. dry powdered mustard
  • 1 tbsp. paprika
  • 1 tbsp. parsley (fresh or dry)
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder (or you can use 1 tbsp. fresh pressed)
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • 1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes (I use Muir Glen Fire Roasted)
  • 2 cups chicken stock (I use Pacific Organic Chicken Bone Broth)
  • 1 16 oz. can garbanzo beans
  • 1 16 oz. can kidney beans
  • 1 16 oz. can white beans
  • 1 large zucchini cut into 1-inch cubes (optional but I like to sneak in veggies wherever I can)

Directions:

  1. In a large dutch oven, heat cooking oil on medium.
  2. Add ground buffalo and spices and occasionally stir until meat is cooked (about 8 minutes).
  3. Add tomatoes, chicken stock, beans and zucchini.
  4. Let chili come to a boil, turn down heat to low, cover, and simmer for 60 minutes.
  5. Add salt and pepper to taste.
I keep these guys in my pantry so I can make chili anytime
I keep these guys in my pantry so I can make chili anytime

A New Logo: Rebranding After Eight Years at Home with Kids

I have been on the computer a lot today. I’ve been searching, reading, and taking notes in preparation for my first job in eight years (which happens to start tomorrow). It’s an internship at the Clyfford Still Museum.

I’m so giddy about having a job with real (not FB, text or phone) adult interaction that my husband doesn’t even care that it’s only 3 months and unpaid. Yes, I have two graduate degrees, and I’m so deliriously happy about working again after 8 years at home with kids that I don’t care if it’s unpaid and temporary.

Most of my time online today has been spent with Google. I’m a big fan of Google Doodles. I find it hard not to click on the alluring caricatures above the search box (I’ve blogged about them before).  All day today, I’ve stayed on task. I’ve ignored the childish sketch of a hand tracing the Google logo above the search box, erasing it, and drawing again, in favor of discovering more information about the Clyfford Still Museum.

The kids are in bed, I’ve finished what notes I can make for my first day, I’m drinking a glass of wine, and I’m indulging in the Google Doodle that has taunted me since 8 am this morning. Much to my amusement, it’s about rebranding, the very thing I’ve been in the process of doing the past couple weeks. Google is rebranding their logo to match their updated capabilities. I have been rebranding myself to reflect the person I was before kids and the person I am now, 8 years later.

I am the world’s best multitasker (like Google). I am on the job 24-7 (like Google). I have a multitude of miscellaneous (and mostly useless) information available to divulge at any given moment (like Google).

I have wiped more poopy butts than I ever want to think about or remember (not like Google). I have given up the concept of a shower without a little person barging in and crying or asking me to fix something (not like Google). I have had the most challenging and rewarding job of my life that includes moments of the sublime and moments of just plain slime (maybe like Google? Hard to say.).

Suffice it to say, rebranding is both harder and easier than I thought it would be. I wonder what Google thinks?

Vacation Perspective

One of the many reasons I love vacations is that by removing myself from my home environment and day-in-day-out activities, I am reminded of how lucky I am. I have a tendency to get sucked into and stressed out by the daily grind. The experiences and new knowledge gained from a trip always seem to remind me of my blessings in life.

I recently packed my kids and everything but the kitchen sink into our car and drove halfway across the United States from Colorado to Northern Michigan. The kids, minus the expected fights, were good. The car didn’t break down. We visited friends and family along the way to our beachy destination. I had some really great family time and alone time with the kids.

I felt like I had checked everything off my how-to-have-a-great-vacation list, but I hadn’t had any great aha moments yet. It was nice to be out-of-town and having fun, but nothing had happened to drive home that feeling of gratefulness for my life that I look forward to experiencing on vacation.

Enter the bat (quite possibly plural since they nest in colonies). Another one of the joys of vacation is the unpredictability of events. If I had made a list of all the random things that could happen on our trip, I would never have come up with this one.  And if you’ve never had it happen before, let’s just say it’s an eye opener.

The first night I woke up to a flap-flapping sound inches from my head. I panicked. I screamed at my husband and jumped out of bed arms flailing. He was able to get the bat out after what seemed like an hour of us yelling at each other in hushed voices (so we didn’t wake the kids), trying to shepherd it with a tennis racket out the nearest door.

The next night, I knew what the sound was, so I was less panicked. But I still screeched a little every time it swooped near me while we tried to chase it out the door, tennis rackets swinging wildly through the air. The next morning at breakfast, my brother-in-law (who slept through the whole thing), asked if we had heard the cat fight in the woods the night before so I guess I wasn’t as calm as I thought.

After a few days of the bat, and us covering up the fireplace, it stopped visiting us at night. It wasn’t really the aha moment that I expected, but it made me feel grateful that I’m not waking up in the middle of the night anymore with babies. And it made me deeply appreciate of a good nights’ sleep. The next time my six-year-old has a restless night, and I’m up with her, I am going to think about the bat and be more compassionate. As much as I hate having her wake me up, it sucks for her to be awake too, and it beats the heck out of a bat.

our beachy destination. so pretty it was worth the bat saga.
our beachy destination. so pretty it was worth the bat saga.