Saturday, August 27, 2011


Wegmans, sans batard, sans baguette :-(
We are in pre-storm mode here at Casa Poppet. I've been trying for hours to clean the kitchen and cook in it simultaneously. Every few hours I stop when I've stepped on another fragment of broken glass from a dish that C accidentally smashed yesterday. I've never seen such a small object shatter so impressively! I've vacuumed multiple times - and decided it isn't worth it to put the vacuum away because I'm likely to need it in a few hours if the wind really starts howling.

The kids keep asking "when is the hurricane coming". C thinks it's all overblown media nonsense. Let's hope she's right. We do have a very hyped up media and after the "earthquake" that scared a lot of people in New Jersey but caused no noticeable damage, there is a reason to believe it's "crying wolf."
If you have yeast, water, flour and salt, and time you can make bread

Clearly other people are heeding the warnings and hoarding EVERYTHING. We are not hamsters (let's hope we're not without water for a long period of time, because we will be SOL). I have what I need for a few days, except lots of extra water. If need be we can cook what's in the freezer as it thaws. It is supposed to be nice tomorrow evening again, if I need to grill (should we lose power over a long period of time). And then there is always plan B: my Dad's house. Nothing would make him happier than if we take refuge with him.

What's left on the agenda:

  • The bird's in the oven.
  • The cell phones are charged (and we have batteries)
  • The dough is shaped into 2 bagettes and rising.
  • I'm going to move the pictures upstairs
  • And then I'll be ready for a little break. 

Not sure if I will have power tomorrow, but I'm sure we'll survive. If you are thinking of us from across the country (or the globe) thank you! If you are worrying about us: don't. We will be fine. There are plenty of people who are much more vulnerable than we are....

Ready to feed our little army, for days if needed
Ready, set, rain!

Friday, August 26, 2011


For years my cousin has said "you should come to the Thousand Islands" to her house. Out of seven siblings only a couple didn't have houses at the Thousand Islands. My grandparents were among them. Not sure if it was the distance or the money, or that my grandfather died young (in his 50s), but there you have it.

This weekend we were supposed to go to LH's cottage. She shares a cottage with her two sisters, and all of their kids/grandkids, and visitors require a bit of scheduling.

This weekend was supposed to be our weekend. But cheer got in the way when just 2 weeks ago we were alerted that we had to be in town for a breakfast on Saturday and a game on Sunday. It made me so sad to call LH to cancel....

Since then LH fell and broke her hip which required a hip replacement! So clearly if we hadn't canceled she would have.

And if the game and her fall hadn't done us in, now there is a hurricane coming. Believe it or not the Cheer Gods still haven't canceled Sunday's game! The Governor has called a State of Emergency (ie. emergency vehicles only on the roads - don't think they will consider cheer an emergency when Bridgewater police stop me but you never know), but the organization still wants us to be prepared to play, even if we get a bit wet! Can't common sense triumph over delusions of grandeur?

Better get my day started.... I should probably prioritize the grocery store run - before everyone takes the last morsel of food off of Wegman's shelves!


Update: They postponed the game until next week. I wonder if someone read my nasty post first? Should we pack for the 1000 Isles? Hardly. We need to be here ready to soak up the basement.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

One statement says it all...

As you know I've been worried about the culture in C's new cheer team (especially after what we experienced last year, which I blogged about multiple times). Specifically I'm concerned about a rift between the girls who have been on this nationally recognized team (her new team) for years, and the new girls who, um, aren't as, um... accomplished, meaning C's former team. I was worried the new girls (including C) would be bullied by their teammates who would see they aren't be up to snuff and may cost them their winning record.

And while I might have expected this, somehow I wasn't prepared for the plain truth to come out of my daughter's mouth today:

"It's not the girls. They are fine. In fact, they are being really nice to us. It's the adults, the coaches, that hate us and don't hide it."  One coach, C admitted, is somewhat nicer, but C feels that main coach hates her. Even if she doesn't it's not fun to hear.

Yesterday when I dropped C off, one of the coaches actually sneered at her - but smiled at me first! Are you kidding me? SNEER AT ME! Smile at her, at a minimum in front of me! Why?

But C still wants to go. More than ever. A flier keeps falling on her face. She's had a bloody mouth several times already, but the coaches didn't even notice! Another girl has been nicknamed "Harry Potter" because of a cut she got in the middle of her forehead. Cheer is not for the meek.

I criticize and complain that my daughter is the most spoiled girl in the state of New Jersey. That may be true, but she does have one trait that helps her these days:


When I write on the game day program, "Proud of you, C" It's her eagerness to continue despite feeling that the head coach despises her, that makes me proud of C. Can she throw a girl into the air and then catch her? Sure, but I'm not as impressed with that. Who would have thought being on cheer would teach C the most important lesson for young women?  It seems to be teaching her to believe in herself, and work hard to accomplish what she wants to do, even when the leaders of her world (me, the coaches, etc.) don't want her to! I'd never have thought she'd learn such a meaningful lesson from such "meaningless fluff".

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Just checking in with my fearless readers to say that it's been a very busy week. I have so many thoughts to blog about, but life keeps getting in the way.

I spent two nights away this weekend. First with the MCM and SM family at their already-overcrowded hotel room in Wildwood and then with my sister and her family in their much roomer digs a few miles up the beach. It was lovely to be so warmly welcomed to join in other peoples' vacations! It was just N and me. Nothing like some time with my boy.

I also went on a little road trip to Carlstadt, New Jersey, where Lion Brand Yarn has opened a factory outlet. I don't associate Lion Brand with fancy yarn, although I have knit one wedding gift in their organic cotton. I made a bear too, but that was with leftover stashed yarn.  The outlet included the requisite acrylic yarns (including one gold fringe yarn that I bought), but it had several goodies from their "LB Collection" yarn that is clearly higher in quality and in price. The outlet was nice, yet there were a few things I would have changed. All yarn was pre-bagged in groups of 3 skeins per package. That's probably (as my knitting-guro, friend Pam explained) because it comes pre-packed in groups of three, but they should have a sample handy so people can feel the goods. I did treat myself 3 skeins of 100% cashmere yarn, but might have bought more if I could either feel the yarn or see a pre-knit swatch. The black cashmere should turn into a nice hat for my Dad. I hope it will please him when he gets a cashmere hat for a surprise gift. (I knit him a GORGEOUS hat already 2 years ago that someone lucky walked off with). It will keep his bald head soft and warm. Mom LOVED cashmere, and taught me how special cashmere is, so hopefully he will feel her influence as well.

It's going to feel good to make something special for my Dad because I've spent the week doing something he wouldn't like at all. I'll leave it at that, but going against his wishes doesn't come easily to me, and is really weighing on my conscious. (Don't worry, I'm not doing anything illegal, immoral or illogical).

Sometimes I'm the parent. Sometimes I'm the kid. Time to morph from defiant child to doting parent. N is sick and I should go and cuddle. Hopefully it will take my mind off things.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The road taken...

Finland is MUCH more than Marimekko
Twenty five years ago today (August 16th, 1985, this was written a few days ago, published on the 18th) my life completely changed course. It was a turn I would never undo. I traveled with AFS International Programs to Finland to be a foreign exchange student for a year. Everything I am, everything I have experienced came out of the choice I made to get out of my seemingly broken life and begin anew in a country I'd barely heard of, with a family so different from my own. It was worth every tear I shed and every bit of effort.

Many kids travel "on exchanges." They board airplanes, and take tours. They see the sights in Rome or Paris, maybe staying with a family for a week for a small taste of life, and then they return with a suitcase of over-priced souvenirs and some new buddies. A year is a different kind of commitment. You build a life in a new culture, immerse yourself in it, learn a new language and miss home in a very visceral way. You return with a few prized possessions that you collected over the year, but in your baggage you bring newly formed opinions, a new way of seeing and doing things, and hundreds of pictures - real and in your memory.

Who was I before I left? A skinny, insecure teen with bad skin and frizzy hair. Already at the orientation I found a new me forming. I was the loud one - the secure one. The one who was first in line for every adventure. Naked in the sauna, and then jump into a freezing lake? (*it was girls only, but still a shock for us Americans*) No problem! It's part of the culture... and when I jumped into the cold lake from the steaming wooden house in nothing but my birthday suit, I truly felt alive. This was a special treat - as part of the orientation. Every single-family home has a sauna, but my host family lived in an apartment building, so we shared the sauna with other apartments (everyone has to reserve a time in advance) and there was certainly no jumping into a lake in the middle of downtown Lahti!

A few days into the orientation we had to repel down a small area of a mountain (probably a hill about the length of a 2-story house) as part of a team-building activity. I completely panicked. A fear of heights came over me and my insecure self, the one who was hiding inside me, came out full force. Tears of panic, tears of angst overtook my body. I was shaking, convinced I was going to die in the Finnish forest, six hours north of Helsinki. I exposed myself to the others. I guess looking back now, becoming vulnerable with one another was part of the program, to build us up to deal with challenges that lay ahead after the orientation. None of the others knew I was so vulnerable, but I did.

But I didn't die. I didn't even break an arm. The beginning of a hundred learning experiences, some were easy, others hard. It was all part of a year where I would feel so alone. Not speaking the language or knowing the culture is a very humbling experience.

Maybe I was subconsciously reinventing myself as a strategy to have a great year. Maybe I became outgoing to hide my insecurities? Either way, my new attitude served me well most of the time, and stuck with me when I got home.

I often wonder what my life would have been had I not boarded that plane. But I did. Through that year I made some bad choices (never try koskenkorva- it's pure evil) and some fantastic ones (my many new friends, the closest are still part of my life!).  I actually chose picking the interesting girls who wanted to share with me "all things Finnish" over the popular girls who spoke good English, and wore trendy clothes... Perhaps I ruined my only chance to be part of the in-crowd, but the artsy kids were clearly a much better choice. Partially it was a choice made for me. The popular girls partied with older boys in rich people's homes, even on weeknights. My host-family were extremely religious, and this would have never worked. It wasn't that I stopped drinking (which would have been the smart thing to do), even at age 16, but my goal was no longer to be the party girl with popular girls. I wanted to make friends. Not the superficial kind. And I did. They are still part of my life. Five years ago I visited Julia, Maarit, Piia, Paula and Sari, of course my host sister and her husband Pia and Krisse. I still love my host parents Seija and Pertti - and I still call them Mom and Dad.

Even before the internet we kept in touch through letters and visits. Thanks to Facebook and e-mail I am in contact with all of the people or at least the families (except a few) who were closest to me then. Surely the best part of my exchange year was making the friendships, and learning a new language with which we communicated.

I made mistakes. I did things I still regret to this day. I was cruel to one girl. I got into trouble for drinking and I helped my friend host a party that became a free-for-all the likes of which I'd never seen before or since. I might have broken a boy's heart. I had my heart broken. I fell in (what at 16 seemed like) love. I got lost a million times. I skipped school. I hitchhiked home when I got stuck somewhere (twice, and it is an offence that gets you kicked off the AFS program). I got thrown out of a cafe (with the other kids) for not buying enough and then taking up tables for hours at a time. I listened to music. I missed home. And after I came home, I missed Finland even more.

I worked hard to learn the language one word at a time. Puhun suomea. Melkein sujuvasti. (I speak finnish. Nearly fluently). It is the hardest language with our alphabet! I lived with a family where my host father was kind, but spoke no English. I taught my host sisters and host mother lots of English, but not as much as they taught me.

The winters were cold. A cold I'd never known could exist. From experience I learned that -40F = -40 C. Who knew? It got down to -42 Celsius when I was in Rautalampi. The car froze on the way home from a "Friday night disco" (a restaurant that let teenagers dance until 11pm) in the middle of the farmland. Of course there were no cell phones, but it was miles from the closest house. On that freezing January night I remember Paula's Mom's strong presence. I felt safe with her. She died about 10 years ago but I will never forget her or that night. 

At Easter one of my best friend from the US came to see me in Finland. She met my friends and family and visited my school. I even brought her to see my "2nd family" (we did a 2-week exchange with a family in rural Finland). She summed it up something like this: you built a new life for yourself and it was fantastic. 

One of my favorite songs is called "Double Life" (you can hear Kaksoiselämää By Juice Leskinen).
The words to refrain are:
Kunpa sinut tuntisin paremmin
Silloin ehk oppisin itsenikin
Vaikken koskaan luotasi poistunutkaan
Tulen uudestaan

I'd like to get to know you better,
Then maybe I'll get to know myself better
and if I ever leave, which I won't
I'll come back

Far beyond my expectations, far harder than I ever thought, far more influential than you'd think. Twenty-five years ago today my life changed.  If my experience could be summed up by two poems, going to Finland would have been akin to Stopping by the woods in a snowy evening and taking the road less traveled. Without doubt I was the better for it.  Finland's with me for the rest of my life... I haven't shaken it yet!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Shifting gears too soon?

Maybe it's because our class placements seem so early this year... More likely, it's because C's cheer leading practices started on August 1st... Maybe it's because I spent part of the day at the 4H-Fair, but it seems like school is just around the corner. Luckily, someone was kind enough to remind me, that we have almost a month left before September 8th comes.

My mind is shifting towards all things BRRSD. Driving past the Verizon parking lot on RT 28 I saw workers striking. I couldn't help but worry that maybe OUR TEACHERS will strike, since they are about to start the year without a contract. I know it may seem reactionary, but have you seen the poor rapport between the Union President and the BOE Negotiators? It's like War of the Roses. Except in the final scene the BRRSD's kids will be swinging from the chandelier. And they might like that! Since that means no school.

I prefer to have teachers who are happily returning to work WITH a contract. Beginning the year with the same feelings of ill-ease with which they ended the year last June can't be good for the district. As you see from the trailer, bitterness festers with time!

But maybe, there is movement in the negotiations, which may be continuing quietly behind closed doors to which our eyes are not privy?

I hope that just as we are receiving our class placements with happy anticipation, teachers are happily preparing for their upcoming classes, and that this is happening with the same enthusiasm that takes place each August.

We have a month left of summer days. Not to be squandered by worries of what may or may not happen. Whether the teachers strike is beyond my control.

What is in my control?

How much time I spend enjoying summer. I think I'll go outside now, and hope that "Steve and Jeff" (the negotiators from the union and the BOE) have spent their summers negotiating some form of Oslo Accords. Calling all the Gum Shoes at the Courier, Messenger... Patch: can you please give the public an update?

Maybe, for once, no news is good news.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Bridgewater gets practical

It used to come in the middle of the night: the phone call. My husband would come home from work in New Jersey, found the school letter placement and called us while we spend the summers in his parents' home, in Europe. It would have been 7pm in NJ, but was 1am overseas. I'd awake from my slumber, turn on the computer and correspond with our friends. Who would join C, and later N too, in class that year?

As my network grew, we improved the communication. Someone would e-mail their information in the morning to us in Europe, and I'd e-mail my husband to go home at lunch and check our mailbox and call with results.

The past few years we've been home to receive the envelope.

A while back one friend started an e-vite with most parents in our elementary school. Parents RSVPed with the placement info and word spread like wildfire.

BRIDGEWATER goes high-tech:
Yesterday every parent got e-mailed a code to get the information online. Everyone found out at the same time, and although I read it from my laptop at home, I could have been in Norway, Nigeria or the Nepal and still learned the placement information the same day.

C, who is in the middle school, has teachers' names that mean absolutely nothing to me, since I don't know of a single 8th grade teacher. She is devastated because she has gym early in the day... Appearance is important to 8th grade girls.

N has inherited C's 6th grade team. I know all of the teachers well. It's a "go with the devil you know" feeling of reserved confidence. I know what I like about each of them, but also have a few concerns. One common worry: will they compare N to C? Their strengths and weaknesses are so different. Do I let them figure it out on their own, or do I give them a heads up? "Go with the devil you know" works both ways. They already know me, so I would guess an e-mail wouldn't surprise them. (I am relieved we didn't get a certain teacher. She's supposed to be excellent, but she dislikes something she thinks I felt when running for BOE. A good teacher should separate those feelings towards a kid's mom, but why take the risk?)

I have heard several people complain that they couldn't get through on the website, or that the system froze on them when trying to pull up their information. I didn't have that problem, so far. So far, I like the new system... but ask me in three months.

Still, I miss the anticipated envelope...... e-mail can be so... intangible.

Ever nostalgic,


Saturday, August 6, 2011

Middle School Drama

Some dramas are all in my head. I've been worried for weeks about cheer. My daughter joined a new squad and I'm very worried that there will be "us" and "them" cliques (the original group, and the newbies). If they don't win after many winning seasons, what then? Several girls on C's old team were too-cool-for-school and refused to cheer at the games. They stood there in their too-tight uniforms and looked sexy, (not my favorite adjective for a then-12 year old!) and they couldn't be bothered to spell P-A-N-T-H-E-R-S. So there is reason to worry. C's new team has won and moved on to finals in Florida for several years in a row. It would be social suicide if THIS year they don't make it... and then my daughter and the other girls from the old team would be easy targets for the original team's disappointment.

But my daughter isn't worried, so far. In fact, she had a well-planned strategy the first few days. Stay with one or two closer friends and keep away from the cliques. She's keeping her nose to the ground and working on her moves, so she can progress - and she feels she is getting better.

Is she learning what not to do from watching me? This week my life has been all drama (as you might be able to tell from my now-deleted post). Somehow I find myself in the middle of an unstated attack, and spending a lot of time on out-of-state calls. My daughter reprimanded me several times for "gossiping". I don't think she quite got it, and I said so. "NO, Mom, she replied" and as she quoted back to me something that sounded to me very much like gossip.

So I guess I am worrying about cheer unnecessarily. Not only is my daughter much prettier than I ever was, she does better in school AND she is much more adept at social situations. I guess I have no excuse: I should relax and not worry about things that I can't do anything about. In my own life.... or in hers.