Friday, December 30, 2011

Best Christmas Card...

"You are one of our 50"

That's all that H wrote on her holiday card to us. Otherwise it was similar to most of the other cards adorning our railing, and probably your home too. Pictures of their two-year-old son and themselves with a heart that reads "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from  H, T and M." (with their full names)

Many years ago we had a family stay with us for two weeks. We brought them EVERYWHERE. They didn't rent a car, so every time they left their house, I took them. I did all the shopping, most of the cooking and all of the planning for their 15 day vacation. When we saw them at Christmas, I commented on a clearly professionally taken picture of their two kids.

"Oh yes, that picture was taken by Fame (a company). Their Christmas cards were very expensive, and we only got 50, so we couldn't send you one."

The comment still gets my goat. But the night it happened, I went home and CRIED. I felt so unappreciated. How many of the other fifty on their list had hosted them for 14 days?

This year I see Hanna's handwriting and smile. They visited us for an afternoon in April. I have it hanging on the fridge. Whenever I need an instant pick-me-up I can enjoy it.

"You are one of our 50"


Thursday, December 29, 2011

A few hours of paradise

Spent a few hours with N at Camelback. After the whining that the ski boots don't fit etc, (If you've ever skied or taken a kid sledding, you know), we finally hit the slopes. Just Mom and her 11 year old son. He's my cuddling kid. More likely to cry, but more likely to show happiness and affection.

And on the slopes today, he was so proud of his speed. He was proud of (and a bit surprised by) his mom too.

I kept up! No matter how fast he went, I managed to stick with him!

It's also a metaphor. Soon his "speed" will beat me as he becomes more daring and I fall behind.

I'm holding on while it lasts. C has already transgressed to the point of no return. A teenager, like it or not, she's moved beyond my control (but still, hopefully, within my influence). If she wants to she can "outrun" me at any time.

I'm going to keep running, skiing and doing whatever I can to keep up. I guess I'm not ready to let my kids hit a double black diamond without me. Or I'll break a leg trying to keep up. I want them to be independent and ski the highest mountains... just not yet.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Six for me, and one for whom?

Lessons from breaking out in 2011: 

If I had to make a theme for 2011 it would have been stepping outside of my comfort zone. Last year I ran a 10K race in an hour flat, and I started a business in an industry about which I knew essentially nothing. I also ran for an election, which taught me lots of things. I met many interesting people, and I learned that some of the people who are in my life actually weren't there for me when I needed them most. (A good lesson, albeit a hard one, to learn). Others came out from nowhere and rocked my world.
I'm importing fine jewelry
In running a 10K I realized that its OK to do something for myself only. The confidence I gained from making it all 10 kilometers and not giving up (or breaking anything, although I needed a couple of weeks for my sore tendons to heal) was more than any life coach could teach me. 

Starting a new business (which began in 2011 but will go much farther in 2012) gives me the opportunity to take the lessons of the 10K and mold them in new directions. My neighbor gave me helpful words to remember, "you're smart, I'm sure you'll figure it out!" I am and I can.

Six for me in 2012:

What I received from SOAB
I'm part of a Social Networking knitting group called "Ravelry". Although I've been a member for quite some time, this is the first time I feel like part of a community. I just finished a great swap called Swap On a Budget (SOAB). The woman who was my "spoilee" is monitoring a new group for 2012 called "six for me, one for you". We each pledge to knit six things FOR OURSELVES in 2012, plus a 7th thing that we will swap with another member in the group. (I'll send a "care package" to someone I don't know, and  will receive something from someone else). 

As many of you know I often feel like I spend the majority of my time doing things for others. Most of the time I am proud and pleased. Some days, however, I wonder why. 

So in 2012, I pledge to do six "things" for myself. That's one every other month. Some of these things I do already, some are new ideas. Starting a business in this economy is, of course, selfish. It could fail easily, but if it doesn't, and it grows into a financial success, my entire family benefits. So I didn't count it toward this list. But here are the others:

1) Go into NYC once a month. Showing tourist/visitors around the city doesn't count!

2) Make Soccer-Mom focused travel plans: Visit my friends and my brother. (I do that almost every year, so continue). This year I should do it without feeling guilty about the money or time away.


My current $30 pair
3) Train for and run the Rutgers 1/2 marathon. A friend gave me the idea at a Christmas party and I laughed it off. I've been thinking about it every day since. It will require taking time to train- much more time than I am spending now. This may require better running shoes than the $30 that I generally budget for my feet.

4) Make dishes from my mom's book of recipes called "From Mother to Daughter". (She compiled all of her recipes about 15 years ago and my cousin made copies). I need to scan it and make it a pdf file first to preserve it. I currently make a few things, but there are so many riches in those recipes. Ribbons... quiches, caponatina, "daddy's eggplant". There's a lot of stuff in there that my family wouldn't touch.... so that's why this is selfish.

5) Go to a "woman's peace and body weekend" at Camp Cory. Doesn't this sound heavenly?

Women's Body Peace Weekend 
| June 1-3 and September 7-9, 2012
"Escape from your everyday stresses and enjoy the splendor of the Keuka Lake(...)  
relax, rejuvenate and revive(...) 
Activities may include yoga, nutritional seminars, and exercise classes 
as well as all our great outdoor activities including swimming, sailing, 
kayaking, climbing and more. (...)
If you wish to be pampered don't forget that massage therapy, 
manicures and pedicures are all offered by licensed professionals."

Sick of knitting things they won't wear
6) Knitting six things for myself in a year will take up time and should be sixth item**. But I will generalize it - make things for myself.  I can sew curtains for my new office. Who knows where my creativity will take me?

Finally - a seventh: as much for my husband as for me. Spend quality time with my husband. Use the kayak more than once, take more roadtrips together as we did pre-kids.

I know I'll learn something from each of these things. I'll blog about my progress from time to time. 

So here is my challenge for you, my readers. What things are you going to do for yourself in 2012?

*******
**Here are the six things I pledged to make for myself in 2012 from Six for me, one for you. I'm not sure if you have to have a Ravelry account to see the images. 

In general my goal for 2012 is to knit down my stash and not buy new yarn, or patterns. I have tons of books that I’ve never actually knit anything from and a shamefully large stash.
2012 Bucket List:
1) Attend Vogue Knitting Live (http://www.vogueknittinglive.com/shows/ny12/home) on January 14th and pick one project To Me From Me that I find there. (Yarn, technique, pattern or both).
3) Frog my Antoinette by Sublime Yarns, but use the Mulberry Merino that I purchased for this pattern for a different TBA pullover
4) Knit a Christmas stocking for myself
5) Mezquita Shawl from the yarn I received from HR, with The Alpaca Yarn Co. Swizzle and something to go with it, if I run out of yarn.
Bonus 1: I started a beautiful Dale of Norway sweater in 1991. heilo vm91 I should knit that… since it’s been more than 20 years since I cast on, on an Icelandair flight from Oslo to Rekjavik. I remember being 20 and the woman sitting next to me asking me if I was knitting for my baby. My baby??? Nope! Now I have a 14 yo daughter and an 11 yo son.
Bonus 2: Knit yarn I got from my boss’ wife for a blanket 3 years ago. Gjestal ullteppegarn. After all, I have 15 skeins, and I think I got it in August 2007!
This list is subject to change. :-) In general I need to knit down some of my stash. It’s really silly that I have this much yarn in my closet. :-)
So much yarn, so little time.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A long walk is never bad with a good friend

It's the day after Christmas - Boxing Day - and it is very quiet at my in-laws' house. My son is out for the day with his little cousins. First they are going to a playland where he and the girls will bounce to their hearts' content. My sister-in-law invited me to go with her, but seflish me... I chose to go for a long walk with my old friend.

After they are done with the "hopping place" my brother-in-law is going to take them ice-skating. I wonder how my 11 year old son will take being shown up by his 7 year old niece. She plays hockey! (And does ballet - very well rounded, I'd say!) I decided that he'll do better without me there too.

My husband and daughter are sleeping the day away. T LOVES to sleep, especially during the day. C doesn't usually sleep all day, but she has been running a fever (it seems, I haven't actually taken her temperature) since Thursday. I have to wake them for dinner soon. It's break...

I just got back from a 90 minute walk with my dear friend IH. I actually came back pink-cheeked and sweating - and it's in the 40s and breezy outside. We walked a little under 6 miles. Our kids were babies together, so we've shared some very important times. We could have talked for 2 more hours. Next visit.

It's strange for me to have NOTHING that I have to do. No housework, no shopping, no laundry (well, I could do laundry, but my in-laws are washing the towels we got them for Christmas), and no cooking. I'll make up for it next year when I'll be hosting. My in-laws AND my dad will stay with us.

If I only knew how to just sit and relax....

Addendum:
It's now nearly midnight here. I've been holding with the airline for nearly half an hour. A problem with our reservation. We nearly didn't get here. Now there are issues getting home. I am lucky that we have friends and family that we are so happy to see, because my current state of anger at the airlines is outweight slightly by my love for the people we get to see every year.

Please excuse spelling and grammar mistakes - I can change them tomorrow. For now it's time to pack to come home!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Holiday thoughts

Merry Christmas to my family who are reading and happy-whatever-you-celebrate to everyone else.

As I write this I can smell Christmas vegetables slow-cooking in the kitchen and mixed with the smell of a beautiful fresh tree, Christmas sensations fill the senses. Christmas carols are in the background (Feliz Navidad, right now).

It's a time for generosity and memories. Let me share a few examples:

When I checked out a Wegmans a couple of days ago, the lady at the counter told me a story. A man bought four $100 Wegmans gift cards. He paid for them, then gave them to them to the check out lady and said that he wanted her to distribute them to four families, with kids, who seem to need the money. He paid cash and refused to give his name.

Later that day she gave one of the gift cards to a Dad who was buying very basic items. He CRIED when she gave him the gift card and explained that it came from an anonymous donor. She said that he could use the gift card for anything in the store. He said, he needed the money for food and would buy that!

***

This week a 16 year old student from Germany was trying to get home. He missed his flight and the airlines said that he couldn't fly until the next day. The problem was he is only 16 and didn't have anywhere to go - he might have had to sleep in Newark Airport alone! A different airline took mercy on him, honored his ticket and sent him home. "What if he'd been my kid?" the agent from Lufthansa told me, "I couldn't do anything BUT send him home."

***

Growing up we had Korean neighbors, the Chuns. Very sweet people. Every year they would bring home made egg rolls as a neighborly gift. We'd open them up Christmas morning, and even though my Mom said we had to wait, we couldn't resist. We ate them right then and there, in our PJs, for breakfast on Christmas morning. Eventually my Mom learned how to make them and for the rest of our childhood, we had homemade eggrolls with champagne for breakfast Christmas morning. (Yes, even as little kids, my parents gave us champagne when we celebrated something... we even had special teeny glasses!).

***

My kids have their own (eggroll-free and champagne-free) memories. In Scandinavian tradition, after opening gifts on Christmas Eve (we open gifts Christmas eve if we celebrate in Norway, we open them Christmas morning if we celebrate in the US), we dance in a circle around the Christmas tree and sing Christmas carols in English and Norwegian. A memory I hope my children my children will remember - and traditions they will follow.

I wish you all very happy holidays, whether you celebrate by following tradition or by breaking the mold.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tuesday's plan

1) Do homework with N from 6:30am-9am (check)

2) Take Nicolas to School (very late....) (check)

3) Work (see separate to do list)

4) Call for HVAC quote

5) Have lunch or coffee or take a walk with MR (optional, but hopeful)

6) Return gift to Wegmans, get food and make dinner

7) Drive C to tumbling, then N to TKD

8) ATTEND BOE MEETING. It's the presentation of next year's budget and an update (let's hope) on the negotiations.


Be there or be unaware!


*************************************************************************


Update: Forgot some important must dos - must get winter coat for N. If his grandmother sees that he doesn't have one, I'll get coal in my stocking.


Must send a few cards more - I think I forgot a few people, and now have addresses that I didn't have last week.


Must call my niece to wish her a Happy Birthday


Must get flowers for a special someone who is having oral surgery today.  (From my daughter)




Work:


Hit library - make a plan - follow it.... 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Reflection

These veggies became a soup soup for a sick friend
(NB: I started this blog on Friday, but published it Saturday at 9am - not sure why it says Friday). 

I've spent some time thinking about yesterday's blog.

Rachel comments are spot on - and I've blogged about this very point before - we ALL need to support one another. Women are so harsh on one another. Whether it's directly or indirectly, we all have our own position from which we can help others.

Maybe I'm not building orphanages, toppling Mid-East dictatorships or joining the Peace Corps but we all have our own way to assist others.

I do serve others in my own way. I ran in a local election for an unpaid position on our school board. While I didn't win, I believed that as a BOE member I would have filled a deficiency of representatives who come from and focus on the "middle of the road kid", without an agenda of external backing. Later, I "paid it forward" by helping candidates with their political campaigns - because I believed in they would improve things for Bridgewater.

Finally, it's not the quantity of people's lives we touch, it's the quality. In this capacity I know I've made a difference, and I still do. And I try to be a good mother, wife and friend. I hope that intent counts for something...

Goodness comes in many forms (evil does too). I'm sure you too, my readers, do small things every day, that inspire and assist. You may not even be aware of your impact. Embrace these acts and celebrate them. It's OK to want to do more. We all do. We all can do more. But sometimes you have to reflect on what you are doing to see things clearly. Every positive contribution to society counts.

As I've said many times: mothering isn't a competitive sport (even though it feels like it sometimes!). Neither is philanthropy. "Women in public service" is a broad title and gives a lot of opportunity to help others.  Buying a hand-made item at a fair, helping a friend with her resume or a neighbor with a college application, listening to a stranger's troubles and offering advice could be making a much bigger impact than you know. How many times have you thought "she made my day"? We all can contribute to a better world. Sometimes we do without knowing it.

Last night a friend who is a runner made me feel like I could do manage a half marathon. Without knowing it, she inspired me to make a goal for myself.  Another friend read yesterday's blog and suggested a great way that I could help needy women. More random inspiration. I hope Rachel found affirmation in yesterday's blog. We all are linked with each other's lives. This may sound simplistic. But it's also true.

Sunny and chilly here in Bridgewater today. Don't get caught up in the hustle and bustle. Take some time for reflection too.

A woman in public service... and one who's not

I knit "Beary Bear" for children in Africa
Yesterday morning SDB and I took Diego for a walk through her neighborhood. It was a beautiful day. Except for the leafless trees, it felt much more like September than December. We spoke about the state of the schools, ourselves and the world. We talked about our kids - our hopes and our worries. And a little about ourselves. Not exactly serving others.

I came home, turned on Facebook and saw several posts about the Women in Public Service Colloquium. What do I do to mentor young women or serve the public? Yes, I'm on a few committees through the school district, and I chair a book fair here and there, and I donate knitted items very occasionally.  But true public service? Am I serving others outside my immediate family in a meaningful way? Not really. Do I inspire anyone? (Yesterday I met a saleswoman at Guess at Bridgewater Commons. She said she was studying industrial engineering at Rutgers - I told her to share that with my daughter and her friends the next time they come in to inspire them (she said she knew my daughter because she stops there so often!!!!). Is pushing engineering to my teenage daughter service to women?) As a stay-at-home Mom, or even as a small business owner, does my position give anything to others? Not really. 

We all chose our lives' paths every day. Some are easy decisions: staying informed of local and world news, taking public transportation over personal cars (not really possible here in bus-less Bridgewater, so I don't), writing letters to the editor or a congress person, donating money or time. And even if I do these things, they largely support our upper-middle class Bridgewater community and not the needy in greater Newark or Africa. My disappointment/outrage at Victoria Secret's using African child labor is short lived, and I will undoubtedly shop there again, quickly forgetting this outrage... and my self-promise to boycott VS.

I juxtapose my life with my friend who is the Rector at St. Cross by the Sea in Southern California. She just attended the colloquium I mentioned about. More impressively, her life is focused on others. She serves her church and her community daily. She hasn't marred or had children and her life touches so many others each day as she guides people in her community.  Say what you will about religion, but following the path of clergy member requires quite a lot of sacrifice. She directly influences people's lives. 

The Rev Rachel lost her sister suddenly while we were in college (while she was studying abroad) and her mother died of cancer shortly after we graduated a couple of years after her sister's death. For most people that would create bitterness, but Rachel went on to teach, and then became an Episcopalian priest. I'm so impressed by her life's path and wonder why mine became so focused on my family instead. Hers is so much more about giving than my own. Even now, in the busiest weeks before Christmas (high season for Rectors!) she is in Washington to learn about new ways to serve and be influenced by some of the most powerful, extraordinary women in the world. Where was *I* yesterday? Bridgewater Commons (our mall) and Wegmans (the grocery store) after taking a 2 hour walk. Later on I drove N to basketball, made tacos, removed the Christmas paraphernalia so T could paint, and nagged my daughter. 

It's important to be inspired by our friends to be the best people we can be. As I turn off the computer to wash the floors, I hope I can find ways to help others in 2012. Beyond knitting a scarf or a chemo cap. As I grow my business, I hope to increase my philanthropy... not just by offering a kid a carpool or baking to raise funds for already well-off children's sports but with meaning and generous spirit. Do you have any advice on how a single person with limited resources and time can make a difference? I'd love to hear what you do!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Generosity of spirit?

Am I as generous in my love as in my knitting?
I just read an interesting (and short) article, called Is Generosity Better than Sex?

As I read it I accusingly reflected about how my husband relates to me. Then I saw there was a self test. I thought the test would be "does your partner do thus and so?"  Turns out it questions the reader's behavior toward their loved one.

Today I re-read the article. I realized that I could reshape the contents to look at my other important relationships: with my children, my friends, my family. Yes, the kids get the majority of my time and resources, and perhaps even warmth, but do I give these things with a generous spirit? Do I demonstrate willingness over duty? Am I making them feel guilty for things that I see as my a mother's responsibility? (Much as my mother did to me - Italian guilt, she called it).

The article, which is also from the NYT Wellness blog, ends with a study of three-year-olds which discusses the effect by parental behavior. My kids are well past three. I hope that they see enough of the right kind of generosity in the home to bring happiness into their adult lives. 

It's never too late to improve. C already says she doesn't want kids because they are too much work. Am I complaining so much that parenting comes off as a big headache? I want my kids to want love in their lives, not only to get it, but to share of themselves.

And if I give more in all my relationships, hopefully I will receive love in kind.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Happiness is a warm puppy

Diego - a bit warm
I was going to blog today about something completely different. (The unions and the district are starting mediation according to Dick Bergeron's blog and the Patch. I was planning to juxtapose this to teachers who were volunteering their time, but making it a political statement. Suffice to say: if you are volunteering, you should be doing it solely because you want to.)

Instead of a rant, I am posting this (somewhat fuzzy) picture.

My husband made a fire, and Diego and I enjoying quiet time. I'm knitting a hat for N - a replacement hat that he loved, but has grown out of. I'm loving a quiet evening after another busy day.

I need to learn to shut everything down, and just sit for a little while every day. I wonder if I prioritize peaceful moments every day if I could better handle my chaotic life.

So I'm turning off the computer and returning to my moment of silence. No TV on. Not even music. Just Diego and me. He is panting from the heat, but unable to tear himself away from the sofa. He likes it as much as I do. Click click click. It's not my fingers tapping the keyboard. It's my needles creating an object that my son will (hopefully) love.

Now it's your turn to turn off and wind down with something that makes you happy and relaxed.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

It's OVER!

from earlier this season
I've had some hard times - my mother's funeral tops the list. Moving abroad, then moving back the to US again multiple times, missing everything and everyone I love(d) is also up there. There have been other sources of stress: Lawsuits in which I was a witness and had to "tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but..." only to hear another witness lie straight to the judge's face. I've been on a plane that had a bomb threat. I've had friends and family suffer through, and then die, of cancer. My husband was run over by a truck - and my son had to jump out of it to save himself. Our dog was hit by a car. I've done things that angered my mother for months. I was drunk in front of my grandmother in 198-something and once in front of my kids. I've had heartbreak, and more heartbreak and even more heartbreak. I kissed many a frog before I found a Prince... and even life with Prince Charming sometimes evokes a tear or two. I've gone months without speaking to my siblings (one out of anger, both from busy-ness). There have been multiple family troubles. Friendship breakups - people who I used to speak to daily, and don't even friend on Facebook now. Weight issues. Many Emergency Room Visits.  The list goes on and on.

And then there was cheer. The bane of my existence. 

And now it's over.

Twice I truly thought I was having a heart attack, only to talk myself down from the Pop Warner-induced anxiety. The expectations for perfection from girls and their mothers alike exhausted me. The Us vs. Them mentality. The pressure to conform, and the unstated consequences for not having cheered with this squad since 2005. All my girlhood anxieties about not being accepted by the popular girls were rerouted into "are these girls going to cast out my daughter?" The perpetual fundraising. The no excuses-mentality. My daughter came home from many practices injured, with bloody noses and bruises across her face, but was afraid to tell the coaches. Girls get punished if they are seen as weak. Their coveted positions hastily given to other girls, only too happy to gain from an injured girl's misfortune.

This week they competed in a national championship in Orlando. The week cost more than a mortgage payment. I almost fainted (literally!) in Magic Kingdom when I got a call from the coaches saying that I'd given C the wrong card - not her "hopper pass" but a card to get into a Pop Warner-only party at MGM. She couldn't get in the park. The entire group (34 girls and their families) were stuck waiting, while the coaches (admittedly, very nicely!) sorted it out and got her a new pass.

Competition at the ESPN Wide World of Sports arena didn't go as planned. Our team had a "major infraction" - possibly a safety issue, but we don't know - and the girls lost so many points that they placed in the bottom of their division. Without the "infraction", they would have placed second.

To me, they really are winners anyway.  I was truly amazed by their stunts, their dancing and their styles. I don't care that they didn't place - they looked AWESOME. To most of the other families - as well as the girls themselves - this was an unacceptable failure. The tears lasted more than a half hour and were coming from the deep depths of their broken hearts.

I'm glad those tears are over, too.

Losing is a hard, but necessary, lesson to learn. But I've learned something too. If I let this sort of thing get the best of me, it will. I've never been so angry and so stressed out over so many small details in all of my life.

I'm glad I have my girl back as well as my sanity.

It's good to be home!

Friday, December 2, 2011

competitive edge?

My son hasn't played a team sport for a long time, so when he said he wanted to play basketball I did some homework. The seemingly least tough-competition within basketball was supposed to be the PTO-run program at his school.

But as soon as I saw the PTO league I realized it was hardly the "low competitive environment."  In theory, of course it was. There is one practice and one game per week and everything is run at the school. Its only students at our school and usually PTO-run activities welcome everyone, at any level.

I'm skeptical.... Next week the coaches (mostly Dads and one Mom) will have a coaches' meeting for a "Draft" where they pick their teams.

Not at all the "least competitive environment" I was imagining.

One of N's friends chose this league because N was playing and they could do it together. She did the program last year and liked the coach. He was balanced and fair. A good chance that he'd be a match for N too. So we requested they'd be together on his team.

Afterward Tuesday's try out she called and asked what I thought of another coach (that she named - I've met him but don't "know" him). He saw her son play, and after the try-out asked if he wanted to play for him.

Dad-coaches are actively recruiting players for this PTO-run league-team, so how is this different from rec? The parents are making it more competitive than it needs to be.

Maybe not the right environment for N who just wants to learn to play basketball and have fun.

Just as cheer is ending and I thought my blood pressure had a chance of a break, basketball is starting and a new stress is forming.