Friday, August 24, 2012

M is for Meal Planning

 I thought I was going to write about young marriage today, but I've gotten a few special requests on unlocking the mysteries of meal planning. I think this is a worthy topic, so here are some tips on planning meals before you're hungrily roaming the aisles of Walmart in the late evening, buying frozen pizzas and bacon and nacho cheese sauce for no good reason.


There are so many reasons to plan your meals. It's more economical and healthy for you and your family. You get more variety in your meal rotations and can try new and exciting dishes. You don't have to stress over what's for dinner. Food doesn't get forgotten in the far corners of the fridge (what did I get that bell pepper for and why is it still in the fridge 3 months later? gross.) and the ingredients you need are always there for you. And my number one reason? It keeps sticking to a budget WAY easier. I can feed my family of three (plus a couple daycare kiddos) for $85- $115 per week, and that includes baking tasty treats and bringing home the always necessary bottle of wine.

It took me a while to get this whole meal planning thing down, but it has been so worthwhile. Especially when our months are tight on cash, which are most months, because I'd rather sack away that money than spend it on unused bell peppers in the fridge. I tried a few different systems but this one works for me. A different style might work for you, but the most important thing is to have a plan. Here are some tips for making your meal planning a success.

Write it Down
I use an excel spreadsheet to plan out my meals, making sure to write down both main dishes and sides for breakfast, lunch and dinner for each day of the week. You can also use one of these nifty planners from budget101.com, but the excel spreadsheet works great for me. Once you have your meals planned, having a visual - like the blackboard pictured above - is a great way to remind yourself (and family) what's cooking tonight and what needs to be taken out of the freezer for upcoming meals.

Stretch your ingredients, not your budget. 
When planning your meals to fit within a budget, try to choose meals that use the same ingredients. For example, if I'm making black bean quinoa burgers for dinner one night, I might put poached eggs with quinoa cakes in a breakfast or lunch slot in one of the following days. If there are carrots in a stew I really want to make, I'll get a big bag and also make carrot cake muffins for breakfast and maybe do a buttered carrot side dish with another meal.

Find Inspiration
There are some sites which offer great examples of $25 or $50 grocery lists like Budget 101 and my new personal favorite Poor Girl Eats Well. But if the food on those menus doesn't sound good, go with the kinds of foods you want to make. When planning your menu, take cravings and family favorites into account. Check out FoodGawker or your favorite food blogs. Scour cookbooks and food magazines. One of my favorite things about planning meals is that it encourages me to try new recipes all the time to spice things up!

Make a List
Once you are done with the planning and have your menu finalized, make your grocery shopping list. I always look in my pantry, refrigerator and freezer first so I know what I already have on hand. Then I go through each recipe and make sure I write down everything I need. Then I add on snacks and drinks and anything else I know we'll need in the upcoming week. Then it's time to shop. I cross off the items on my list as I shop so I don't forget anything. I always strive for one grocery trip a week (two weeks and my fresh produce started going bad), with no extra trips here and there for forgotten or unnecessary items. Get in, get out, and stick to the list.

Meal planning takes a little getting used to, but stick to it and adjust as necessary. Make it work for you. It may not be easy at first, but it is totally worth it. It saves you time and money and so much more. If you have any other questions about planning your meals, just ask. I'm always more than happy to help!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

L is for Lucas

Licking the camera in 3...2...1...

I really regret not writing down more about Lucas' first year. I didn't realize how easy it would be to forget all those little baby things that are so fleeting. I want to remember his obsessions and funny phases as he grows. So here's what my Lucas is loving these days:

This lightsaber, totally awesome.
Light up my Life -He loves lights. All lights. All the time. On walks he needs to point to every streetlamp and every head light and tail light on every car. He points to lights on ceiling fans, lamps, vacuum cleaners, the stove, the oven, the webcam, the printer, the computer power button, the phone. Do you know how many lights you encounter in a given day? I do; it's a lot. I could take him to the light section in Home Depot, and he'd be entertained for hours. I, however, would pull my hair out after listening to him say "Light, light, light, light, lightlightlightlight" after all of two minutes.  
 
My serious boogie down face.
 Tiny Dancer - This kid can move. He's got dance moves like you've never seen. We have dance parties, regularly, in the living room. His music of choice? Elvis, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, Dion and any rendition of If You're Happy and You Know It.  He's a pretty awesome singer too. Doot doot doot, whooooooaaaaa.
 
Mom, you missed a spot.
Cleaning Buddy - Lucas really loves to clean. I hope it is a love that stays with him into his teenage years. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. He loves cleaning so much that he has to kiss the vacuum goodnight when we put it away, and will not allow me to wipe down the counters unless he can have a paper towel to wipe down the cupboards as well. We had to get him a fully functioning mini vacuum which he rolls around the house pretty much all day every day. The only downside to this cleaning obsession is that he has very high standards for cleaning. His new thing? Pointing at a dirty spot on the floor and exclaiming "Oh no, it's dirty." That's fine, kid, as long as you're the one cleaning.

The baker's apprentice.
My Big Baking Helper - Lucas loves being in the kitchen with me. He finally at the age where he can "help" me with baking, and though it may take a little longer and get a little messier, there is nothing better than cooking with Lucas. He pours in ingredients and helps stir and whisk. He also loves to take out all the pots and pans a pretend to cook. I'll often find him on the kitchen floor with every pot and pan in the house, slurping from each empty pot and saying "mmmm, good."

Uncle John's car, please ignore all the cigarette cartons.
Vroom Vroom - Lucas has a thing for driving cars. He likes it best if he can turn the radio on and sing while intermittently making vroom vroom car noises. If people are over, he'll choose various family members to sit in the passenger seat and drive with him. It's pretty darn cute. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

K is for Knock


That's why they taught you, you should always knock. . .

Seriously, I've just been waiting for an excuse to share this commercial with you. I could not stop laughing. Oh my.

Monday, August 20, 2012

J is for Jokester


Confession time. I'm going to tell you something I've never told my husband, or my parents, or my diary. Seriously, not a soul in the world knows this about me, and I'm about to broadcast it on the internet. Because, you know, that seems like a legitimate life choice. Let's call it honesty, and pretend everyone's laughing with me.

Ever since around the time I entered college and went to my first live comedy show, I have wanted to do stand-up. I find myself writing material in my head at night when I can't go to sleep. I've even thought about sneaking out and just going for it at an open mic night (but, seeing how I've told no one about my embarrassing ambition, that would involve a web of lies I'm not quite ready to commit to). Sometimes I imagine what it might be like: the dark room, the bright light in my eyes, a smoky casino, everyone laughing because they're drunk and don't know any better. Then I imagine how it would really be: eye-twitching from extreme nerves, stammering, talking too loudly, booing, me throwing up into a microphone I'll have to pay for.

My ambition for comedy is laughable (both literally and figuratively), but I felt emboldened to share this with you after reading this blog post, in which my old friend Miriam is going for it with strange ambitions and learning to play the cello like a boss. Her realization about "putting thoughts and ideas 'out there'" struck some sort of chord that made me think this was a good idea.

It wasn't.

But I'll put it out there anyway.

Friday, August 17, 2012

I is for Investing

Sorry for the lack of make-up, and that really awkward face.
I talk a lot about how I'm investing in Lucas' future by trying to teach him to be a good person. I am constantly trying to nurture his positive attributes so he can reap the benefits of being a nice, productive member of society someday. But I'm also investing in his future in a tangible way. That's right. Let's talk money, baby.

Allow me to introduce you to the man who changed my life: Dave Ramsey. I'm one of those people who listens to his talk radio show for inspiration and has read this book at least ten times. Seriously, listen to that radio show on a Friday afternoon and tell me you don't want to jump on his awesome bandwagon and work towards doing the debt free scream someday.

Dave's been rocking my world for just about a year now, and we're debt free except for the house and have a $10,000 emergency fund (well, $9,000 but that last $1,000 is going in this month!). Our next step is some serious retirement investing then setting up a solid college fund for Lucas. Then paying off the house, and being rich as hell. Boom, done (you know, in like ten years or so).

I would seriously love for each and every person I know to pick up this book or do his program online, because it really is life changing. It has given me serious peace of mind about my financial future and, more importantly, Lucas' future. Investing is going to help us retire with dignity. We won't be a financial burden on our child(ren). It will allow us to pay for college. It will help us teach our child(ren) how to be responsible with money. It will give us peace of mind and take the stress of money out of our marriage (it has actually done this already, and let me tell you, it is an amazing blessing). Seriously, when you look at the benefits, there is no other option. Investing in your future is a necessity.

Since I know not all of you are going to run off and buy Dave's book (though I hope at least some of you will), let me share some money tips that have really helped me in getting and staying out of debt. Because you all should know by now, I can't resist a good list.

  1. Set up a monthly budget - I can't stress this enough. I have been doing budget spreadsheets for myself since the day I moved out of my parents house. I used to live on less than $700 a month, and still found $100 a month to put into savings. Once you look at every item you're spending money on, you'll be amazed at how much fat there is to trim. (Friends, if you need help with this, I would love to help you. Just ask.)
  2. Plan your meals - I plan my meals a couple weeks in advance so I don't end up wasting money on groceries. I write out all the meals I want to make for the upcoming week, go through the recipes to see what ingredients I need, and shop according to a very strict list. It keeps costs way down and ensures that I'm not letting food go bad in the fridge. I find we eat healthier this way too.
  3. Savings First - If you wait to set aside money for savings/investing until the end of the month, there won't be anything left. Trust me. Set aside that money at the beginning of your month and stick to your budget. You can do it. 
  4. If you can't afford it, don't buy it - If you have to put something on a credit card, you do not need it. Seriously, no, you don't. I don't care if it's clothes, or out of budget food, or a night out with friends that's going to be too pricey. Unless you are paying for something you will literally die without (ER care or the like), the answer is no. Sticking to a budget isn't easy, but it's worth it.
  5. Get on the same page - If you are married or living with a partner, you need to agree on a budget together. If you can't come to a mutual agreement on managing money, it's going to be bad news. You can't move forward toward your financial future unless you're both on the same page.
*And seriously, I would love to help anyone who needs help setting up a budget or being held accountable. Ask and you shall receive. Let's get financially fit together!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

H is for Home

I don't know if it's my change of perspective, or the fact that we got an air conditioning unit for the kitchen, but I am totally in love with our home. More than I ever have been before. It's finally feeling like its ours. It's got that really "lived in" feel, and all our stuff seems to have sunk into the right place. We've made most of the changes we wanted to make when we first moved in (you know, aside from the incredibly expensive french doors we'd like to have or redoing the entire yard in nice green sod). It feels like home in a way I haven't felt since I was fifteen and living in the only house I'd ever known. It's a house I know I'll be homesick for someday.

Whenever we talk about moving (even though we're talking someday way off in the future), I feel this pang in my heart. Even the thought of leaving this house makes me homesick. I wish there were a way to take it all with me when I leave someday, because the memories fade with time and pictures don't quite capture it the way it is. There's just an emptiness you have to work around until the homesickness subsides, I suppose. Sigh.

I don't know how I'll cope with leaving someday (poorly, I assume). How do you leave your first home together, the place where you spent your pregnancy and brought home your baby, where first steps were taken and first words were spoken? The first place where you got to paint the walls and decorate a nursery and host a grown-up Thanksgiving? Where you planted a garden and strung up Christmas lights and brought home a puppy? Where you celebrated birthdays and anniversaries and holidays for years? How does anyone do it without falling to pieces?

I think I'd like to start writing out things I don't want to forget about our home, about our time here; make some sort of photobook for us to remember it by when we're gone. Because it holds so much that I can't bear to think about it not being ours anymore. Here's a few snapshots so you can see what I'm so choked up about.
We moved in exactly one year before Lucas was born. It was in the middle of a terrible snow storm. The cat did not cope well. We brought a Christmas tree and no furniture except our mattress. One of our best days ever.
This big fabulous kitchen is the reason we bought this house, no lies.

When we move, we'll probably buy a larger bookcase, but I sort of love the books piling all over the place.

Lucas likes to steal our honeymoon album off this table and look at all the pretty pictures of Hawaii.

Our room after its remodel is one of my favorite places to relax.

Our front yard is lined with petunias, my Mother's Day gift from Lucas and Rob.

Rob ripped up the carpet in the hallway claiming there was beautiful wood flooring underneath. Paint stained and in horrible condition, we're still trying to get together a plan to remove/redo the hallway. But in the meantime, Lucas loves to clean up and down the hallway, and I love to watch him.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

G is for Goofy


In the interest of being honest, I've told you all just how hard motherhood has been for me. I know it isn't like that for everyone, and thank goodness for that. But regardless of where you land on the spectrum, being a parent is hard. Period. It's physically and emotionally draining. It's a huge responsibility and the weight of it is something you constantly tow around. You worry about eating habits and sleeping habits and whether or not they'll turn out all right (since it's your job to make sure they become decent human beings). You get covered in vomit and poop and let them wipe their grimy hands and mouths all over your clean clothes. You take care of them when they are sick, when their feverish cheeks against your shoulder are breaking your heart. Oh my, it is hard.

But the good outweighs the bad. Every. Single. Time. Even if Lucas and I have had a rough day, even if he is sick as a dog, I know that I'll have at least one redemptive moment that will make it all worthwhile. Because not even illness can hold him back from being his goofy self for at least a minute or two. That picture up there was taken while he was having an allergic reaction to penicillin, after being sick for weeks already. Total goofball.

And on normal days, the goofiness happens all the time. It's one of my favorite things about being a parent. I get to play and be silly and it just makes the stress melt away. His goofiness makes me be goofy. I dance and make funny noises and crazy faces. I play pretend. I sing to Elvis and Chuck Barry and Johnny Cash. I chase him around and tickle him. I pop out from behind furniture waving my arms like a lunatic. It makes him laugh and, boy I'll tell you, his laugh could be the only sound I heard for the rest of my life and that would be okay.

My life outside of playtime with him is, for the most part, a lot of bills and serious responsibilities and housekeeping. That ability to let loose with him is absolutely priceless. It's what keeps me going every day. Getting down and goofy with my baby.

Is there anything better?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

F is for Future


My last pregnant picture, one week before delivery.
Pregnancy was not a joy for me. I know some women love it, but those nine months were the longest and most uncomfortable of my life. I had really bad morning (and noon and night) sickness that lasted all the way through my pregnancy, I had acne worse than a teenage boy and my ribcage took a beating so severe that it's still a bit displaced.

But I think the worst part of pregnancy for me was the lack of control I felt. I was always the girl with a plan for the future. I'd make one year, five year and ten years plans on a regular basis. I took comfort in having a rough idea of how things were going to go, what my next step was going to be. But as my due date got closer and closer, I found I could no longer imagine what my future would look like. I felt like the ground was being taken from beneath my feet and I was stumbling blindly towards the unknown.

Needless to say, it was not a feeling I relished.

But I thought it would all come together after Lucas was born. I thought I would have a brief period of adjustment and be back on track. I figured a clear plan for the future would soon reveal itself to me. We would find our groove with this new little member of the family and everything would fall into place.

Needless to say, it did not.

Once Lucas was born, I found myself floundering in a sea of horrific hormones and way more uncertainty than I ever thought I would encounter in my well-planned life. Suddenly I wasn't in school anymore, I didn't have the same old job to go to and I couldn't seem to get the hang of this whole parenting thing. Contrary to my "it will all come together" theory, everything felt like it was falling apart. I couldn't bring myself to imagine next week, let alone next year. I couldn't even decide whether or not I was going back to work.

By the time Lucas was six months things started turning around. I had the daycare going and Rob had steady hours again. I was starting to get the hang of things and had given up on the notion of perfection. It was still difficult (and still is at times) but it was a marked change from the flailing, crying, frozen-cheeseburger-eating version of myself. I decided to sit down and start making plans for the future again.

Allow me to show you how those plans are unfolding:

Right now I'm supposed to be pregnant, and we're supposed to have a lot more money than we do, and I should be working five days a week instead of three, and we're supposed to be preparing for an isolated life in the mountains with our two babies in about a year. I should probably be applying to low residency MFA programs and Rob should be taking welding courses while simultaneously getting ready to graduate with a degree in Mechanical Engineering in one semester. I think we were supposed to buy a new truck too, you know, for mountain living. Did I mention we're going to build our own house, and I'm going to bake cupcakes and sell them at Farmer's Markets for a living? Yes, yes.

To be fair, part of the plan was also to finish our emergency fund - which we are doing this month - so I guess not all is lost. But I think I've come to terms with the fact that this particular vision of the future is probably not coming to fruition any time soon (or, you know, ever). Moreover, I think I'm coming to terms with the fact that no matter how many plans I make, I don't have the sort of control I always thought I did.

I think one of the most important things I've learned so far in this crazy journey of being a parent, is how to let go of that tight hold on the future. I'm always going to be making plans and lists and goals. It's part of my nature. But I'm trying to scale it down. I plan to try new recipes and go new places with Lucas and plan the occasional weekend getaway. I still have ideas about the future, but it's not the well orchestrated five year game plan I'm used to.

I've loosened my expectations for the long term; I've accepted that the future needs to be a lot more malleable than I'd prefer. As Lucas' needs change, so will ours, and I'm okay with that. I'm starting to trust that where I am now is where I am supposed to be. I'm enjoying life and my time with Lucas and not being anxious about the future. And you know what? Once I finally stopped trying to control the future, the present became much, much more beautiful.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

E is for Early


It was so early in life on that late afternoon, packed tightly into that little wood church that had the smell of heavy rains coming. Two decades of stumbling through life and into each others arms, and there we were standing at the altar. You were shaking so bad I was sure you would run and I thought "well that'll teach me."

Were we too young to know for sure?

Are we ever old enough for certainty?
 
Twenty years old, not even old enough to drink, though we drank and danced and laughed and pretended to be grown ups. We made speeches and vows and wrote love letters whose words I can no longer remember. Memories half-remembered in a whirlwind of white dress and pink champagne and all those familiar faces.

I remember I loved you, but I don't remember how. The sort of love that's in between being sixteen - needing to know every last thought in your head, and being here now - not needing you to say a word. It was a love that was young and confident. More passionate and foolhardy. Not yet weathered by small paychecks and parenthood.

But it was love, I remember.

I wonder what love will feel like after fifteen years, when we open that sealed box and read those young love letters we wrote before the wedding. When Lucas is a teenager and babes yet unknown may exist and we live someplace new in some life unimagined. Will we laugh or cry or remember things we'd all but forgotten?

It's still too early to know.


Saturday, August 11, 2012

D is for Developing

This is how I say "cheese" for the camera


That goofy faced kiddo right there; I really want him to morph into a civilized being over the course of the next seventeen years. Right now, I'm totally cool with the running around wearing nothing but shoes and the shoveling ketchup into his mouth using only his fingers and laughing every time someone farts.

But someday, in the future, I'd really like him to listen when I tell him not to do something. I'd like him to eat an entire meal while seated at any form of table, possibly even using utensils. I'd like him to understand that the world at large does not, in fact, revolve around his wants and needs. I'd like him to respect others. I'd like him to learn to empathize with people who aren't exactly the same as him. I'd like him to grow up and develop into a good human being.

And sometimes I feel like I'm failing him. I feel like my example is not good or consistent enough. I feel like the way I'm doing things is detrimental to his development. Some days I'm just too worn down to do the right thing with him. I let a couple things slip, an empty threat or two go unfulfilled. It's a slippery slope that I'm really trying to gain traction on.

For example, that whole sitting at the table thing; I'm worried it might never happen. Because he gets up and down, up and down, up and down and wants to do a million different things while chewing up a mouthful of food. If I make him sit down, he screams and doesn't eat. So I let it slide most days. I think I'll do it tomorrow, but then tomorrow comes, and it's the same old story.

The consistency, it's hard. The time outs that need to be more than empty threats; they're a lot more draining on me than him. And when I let things fall through the cracks I'm always worried that it's going to have a huge impact on his development.That he's going to become a total terror because I let him push the boundaries an inch too far.

But then there are the other things, the things that are even harder to teach. The consistent kindness with words that I always strive for but often fall short with. A gentle touch with nature and animals and others, a gentleness born from respect. Compassion for the weak and downtrodden. Sympathy and empathy and love. These are the characteristics I really want to see him develop, and they are things that can only be learned from example. It weighs heavy on my heart. At times I feel unprepared to fill such important shoes. But the weight of that responsibility makes me want to be better. Because I have to be. For him.

In a time of frequent tantrums and lots of hitting and throwing of food, it's sometimes difficult to see how he'll ever develop into a fully functioning person. I know these phases are all a part of his development, it's not that. It's the fact that his future is so malleable right now that it's hard to imagine the person he might become. But then I watch him pet the dog and tell him he's a good Odie. I see his face fall when he thinks he has broken something; crying "oh no" until I tell him it's all right. I watch him hand a toy to baby Cora; I see him make faces to get her to laugh. I watch him snuggle his teddy bear and give him a kiss before tucking him beneath a blanket. I see kindness, gentleness, compassion, love.

So maybe I'm not doing everything perfect. Maybe a few things will fall by the wayside. But when I witness those quiet moments with him - when I see the goodness of his heart - a bit of that doubt I feel within myself vanishes. I know he's going to be the kind of man I'll be proud of. Because in some ways, he already is.


Thursday, August 9, 2012

C is for Cat

I swear, this isn't the crazy cat lady post you're expecting.
Since I already introduced you all to Odie, I suppose it's time you met Luscious Lou Volberding II. We just call him Cat most of the time so he's not constantly reminding us of the creepy wood-shop teacher he's named after. It's best if you don't ask questions, trust me.

Now, I don't really have any heartwarming story about Lou and Lucas. This post is more of an in depth look at what living with a cat is like. It's a cautionary tale for those who might someday find themselves being wooed by an adorable kitten at Petsmart, then soon find their house covered in unraveled toilet paper and cat litter that has been maliciously flung from its designated box. 

But he's so gosh darn cute, I'd probably do it again.

Mostly what having a baby around the cat has taught me is that our cat has what I assume is a very low IQ. Lucas pets the cat like he pets the dog, occasionally pulling out whiskers, and the cat won't move because he doesn't want to give up the warm spot on the couch. It's all about priorities, isn't it, Cat?

He'll wander into the living room during daycare hours and just get mauled to death by these little ones. Even when I move him on top of the couch, he'll shimmy back down to his original spot and take the torture of a houseful of excited toddlers in exchange for his preferred location. He's pretty mellow about all the unwanted attention. He doesn't hiss or swat of bite or claw. He just looks real mad, and stands his ground.

So, you know, he's good with kids in this really awkward way. It's pretty much his only redeeming quality. Unless you really want a cat that snuggles with you and needs your constant love and affection in a way that is similar to, but more obnoxious than, a dog.

Here is a list of Cat's favorite pastimes:

1. Slapping the dog in the face and running out of the room
2. Meowing in the hallway at 4am, then hiding when we come to find him
3. Cleaning himself in the center of the living room, bed, or while on top of you
4. Sneaking into the backyard to eat grass, then throwing up on a carpeted area
5. Pissing on large furniture when angry with the dog

He's also incredibly adverse to change, sometimes poops over the edge of his litter-box and enjoys licking cheese that Lucas leaves unattended on his plate. Cats are terrible people.

Don't get a cat.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

B is for Books


I love reading to Lucas. Seeing him light up when he brings me a book is joy beyond words. We have his bookcase filled to the brim and overflowing onto the floor. He just can't get enough. He's starting to say some of the words in the books he knows well; trying to read them to me and flipping the pages himself. I know it's not so out of the ordinary. All kids love books. But I like to think there's a particular passion for words and stories in Lucas' heart. Which is to say, I like to think I can see a part of myself in him.

Often I wonder about what Lucas will be like as he gets older. I wonder if he will want to write stories and what those stories will be about. I wonder what kind of books he will like, and if he will always be passionate about books the way he is now. I wonder how the stories I tell him, the stories he tells himself, will shape him as he grows.

Oh, his world is so full of possibilities.

My parents don't read much. We never had a bookshelf that I remember, save for the daycare. A cookbook here a survival for the apocalypse handbook there. No novels, no stories. It always seems so strange to me, looking back, that I grew up in a house without books. I sprouted up out of nowhere, stealing books from the school library and locking myself in my room to write my pretentious novel (tragic teenage Taekwondo love story, let's pretend that didn't happen).

But seeds are planted where we don't always see them. My mother read to me when I was little. She never said no to stories, even at bedtime, even when it was getting late. My father made up adventurous stories, and I started thinking of how stories might go if I told them. My Nana gave me pencils and paper to write down things that happened, helped me to make a hole-punched, pipe-cleaner-bound book of my experiences at the ranch. Then there were friends who introduced me to books in middle school; fantasy books and romantic books and adventurous books. There were good teachers and professors and authors I admired. It's not that strange after all, who I turned out to be.

Now, I have to read. I read for Lucas. I read for myself. I start to get listless and somewhat depressed when I don't read for a week or so. I don't write as well. I can feel the void where the words should be. Reading helps keep me sane and balanced and sharp. A few books in particular have really made an impact on me this year, and even though it may mess up the tone of this post, I'm going to list them.

Because I love lists.

And you need to read these books.

(In order of when I read them)

1. The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht
2. Dogboy by Eva Hornung
3. You Came Back by Christopher Coake
4. Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins
5. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

*This is my second installment of Blogging the ABC's which I stole from blogger friend Stephanie Abeyta. B is also for Blackberry Lime Sorbet which is what's going down at my other blog Sweet Life.





Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A is for Aspirations

Teaching little humans to eat at a table is a feat, I tell you.

There are so many things I want to do in my life. I have aspirations of becoming a writer. I have aspirations of graduate school and maybe even one day teaching. I have aspirations of running marathons. I'd like to learn how to play the piano and swim with dolphins. I have a whole long list of aspirations for my life, but most of it is on hold right now. Right now is all about being a mama. Some people might think of it as a sacrifice, but I honestly don't see it that way. I think being a good mother is something to aspire to as well. It is certainly one of my aspirations, and I'm all in at the moment.

Too often I feel like I come off as apathetic towards motherhood. Even though I see it as my highest priority and quite honestly believe it is the hardest job I could ever have, I tend to belittle its importance in my life when talking to my peers. Because being in your early twenties and having a child is no longer the gold standard of achievement. If I were living in the 1950's I'd be killing it. Husband, check. House, check. Child, check. Awesome cooking and cleaning skills, check and check.

But that is no longer enough. Success for women is no longer measured by a beautiful family and an extensive mastery of home economics. In fact, it is just the opposite, especially as a young college graduate. Success is individual, not collaborative. So although I may get a pat on the back for marrying a good man and having a baby an inevitable question is always lurking close behind the praise: Well what do you do, aside from being a mother, of course? Or the ever popular: What are you going to do?

Because what I'm doing right now, it's not allowed to be enough. Not anymore. And quite frankly, not at this juncture of my life. Your twenties is for seizing your career and pursuing your dreams. It's about chasing those aspirations. It's about being selfish in the name of personal advancement. It's about moving and shaking. Your life can't be stagnant. It's go and go and go some more. It's all about you.

And I'm cool with that, but let's face it, it's not my life. Currently my world revolves around Lucas and my husband and the upkeep of a house that is trashed on a minute by minute basis. Life is busy and crazy and anything but stagnant. It's harder than working 40+ hours a week and taking 18 credits at the university; I know from experience. But it is also more worthwhile. This journey is wild in the best sort of way, and it is something to be excited about. And although I do have other aspirations for my life than staying at home and running a daycare for the rest of my days like my mother, I need this to be enough right now.

And you know what? It is.

Daycare may not be what I want to do forever, but it is certainly what I want to do right now. I get to spend every day with Lucas; I don't have to miss a moment (though I'll admit, I wouldn't mind missing some of these tantrums). I don't answer to anyone. I make my own schedule. And I have the sweetest gosh darn kids you could ever imagine. I love my kids, and I love what I do. I can't imagine a better "dream job" for this time in my life.

And being a mother, despite my age, is something I'm proud of. It's something I wanted and something I work hard at. It is a job, often thankless and always without pay, but it's the job I chose and the job I want. It is an achievement. It is something I strive to do well. It is important.

It is a worthy aspiration.

* This post is the first installment of Blogging the ABC's, which I found through my blogger friend Stephanie Abeyta. It seemed like a good challenge and a great way to keep writing consistently. Stay tuned for more!




Monday, August 6, 2012

A Change That's Hard to Believe In

photo via Political Party Pooper

No one wants to talk about compromise unless they know someone else is meeting them halfway, or three-quarters of the way, or how about I don't have to move at all. How about you just see that I'm right and you're wrong, and you come all the way over here where everything is going to be marvelous. Or we agree to disagree and maintain that you are absolutely wrong and ignorant and unequivocally stupid. And we'll both talk longingly about that magical place called middle ground that no one ever sets foot on. Or how about we just stop talking to people who think differently than us, slough them off like the dead weight they are. Let's pigeon-hole them as socialists or homophobes or hippies or misogynists or hate-mongers or communists or feminists or religious nuts and leave them there to rot.

Yes, let's do that.

Because that's how change happens, right?

No?

Then maybe, just maybe, we should rewind and start redefining compromise. Maybe we should look at why no one actually sets foot on middle ground. Maybe we should think about making the trip regardless of whether or not we are met halfway. Maybe we should even reach an arm through the barbed wire fence in the center. Maybe change is going to cost us some comfort. Maybe that's how it should be.

I do not care where you land on the political spectrum, I will confidently state that you are not content with the way things are. No one wants a government that has been spending out of control for decades or a congress that can't agree on anything more important than the nutritional value of pizza. No one is looking at this country and thinking, well that's certainly one well-oiled machine - nothing wrong under the hood there.

Don't get me wrong, I love America, but saying that we have everything under control and running smoothly is an outright lie. Saying that we are incapable of doing better would be an injustice to this country. I'll have no part of selling ourselves short. We have more potential than what we are currently seeing in this broken system. There are things wrong with this country that need fixing. I think most of us can agree on that.

However, that seems to be where the agreement ends. That's where the finger-pointing and pigeon-holing and name-calling starts. We get so nasty with one another that we seem to forget our humanity. Because if we don't blame each other then we would have to turn that finger right around. We would have to take on some personal responsibility and that stuff is heavy. It's uncomfortable. It's humbling. And if you think about it too long, it's probably exactly what we need.

If we start examining our beliefs and scrutinizing where we are going wrong, we're already much closer to the middle than when we started. From there, perhaps we can start to see what we look like from the other side. Maybe we can start to look into the eyes of the "opposition" and see a human being. Maybe we can sympathize with their plight. Perhaps we can belly-crawl all the way to empathy.

Because that is where we need to be if we're really going to see change. Empathy will take us the distance and then some. If we look upon ourselves with their eyes and feel what they feel and understand why, how fast the world will change. How quickly we will change.

When it comes down to it, I don't think what we want is so different. Right or left or anywhere in between, we want a system that works. We want a land of opportunity. We want to see our efforts, individual and combined, flourish. We want to be respected by our fellow man. I don't think either side is particularly malicious or ill-intentioned. I think we're just misunderstanding one another in the extreme because we're yelling across such a vast field.

So let's make that journey across the field. Let's meet them more than halfway. Let's get a little uncomfortable and really learn what it means to be open-minded. Let's find our way to empathy and stand in that mythical middle ground for real. Because only when we find ourselves standing there on solid, unbroken ground we can begin to enact change. Only by reaching a hand across to the other side can we start a conversation that is not for one side to win and one side to lose. A conversation that will propel us towards the sort of America we all want to see. The kind of change that seems impossible, it's sort of up to each and every one of us, isn't it?



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