Friday, December 31, 2010

Review, Resolve, Repeat

It's New Year's Eve! One year ago at this very moment, I was in an airplane on my way to Hawaii. Oh, Hawaii...I am dangerously close to booking a trip for next New Year's Eve right now because starting the new year somewhere fantastic is just so much better than trying to figure out what you're doing on New Year's Eve. (However, I do actually have fun plans tonight so I shouldn't complain.)

Anthony Bourdain made a nice year-end list that made me want to make my own list, except I don't know that I've seen enough good movies or read enough books this year to make a worthwhile list of that sort, so instead, allow me to simply recap the reasons 2010 was actually pretty great:

1. I traveled...a lot. I got to experience Hawaii, D.C., and New York with my husband and boys, which was amazing. I made a very snowy trip to New York with one of my BFFs. I got to do Vegas with the hubby and another two of my BFFs (and make new friends along the way!). And, of course, there was the work travel (see no. 2), which wasn't always fun, but it did allow me to befriend one of my new co-workers and fall in love with the Ritz Philadelphia lobby (and Monica's cupcakes).

2. I got a job. Yes, after four years of freelancing and contracting, I got myself a real full-time job. It's been quite an adjustment, but I don't mind saying that I kind of hit the jackpot in the employment area. My boss is awesome, my co-workers are awesome, the work is interesting, and even though sometimes I have to put on a suit and present things to people, I can often spend the whole day in my slippers (I work from home).

3. The teenager graduated from high school. There were times that I wasn't sure it would really happen, so the fact that he graduated is an accomplishment, but more importantly, it's a sign of the progress he's made and keeps making. He's healthy, he's safe, and he makes for pretty good company these days. As long as those three things remain true, everything else is just a bonus.

4. I made progress on the 40 by 40 list. I don't know if I knew when I made the list that it would provide such an ongoing source of challenge and opportunity. Things I've just been wanting to do take on new meaning and purpose when executed against the list. Things I could have said, "Yeah, maybe I'll get to that" are now must-do's because they are the list, and that's pretty great. In 2010, I completed five items on the list:
  1. As already mentioned twice in this post, I visited Hawaii (#4)
  2. I sang karaoke (#15)
  3. I scrapbooked my boys' childhoods (#23)
  4. I learned to do smoky eyes (#28)
  5. I participated in a treasure hunt/scavenger hunt in another state (#29)
That's a lot of stuff. Plus, I may also have completed numbers 18, 19 and 21 but I'm not ready to call them yet. I've let the holidays derail the exercise a bit and as for the job, I don't know, it feels like I'd be jinxing something to call it already, so we'll come back to that one at a later date.

I should also mention that my husband realized his dream of opening an improv theater this year, which is pretty fantastic, but I'll leave it up to him to expand upon in his own year-end recap (which I'll link to here if he writes one).

So with 2010 being so good, I'm entering 2011 with a mix of high expectations and fear of disappointment (what else is new?). I haven't yet come up with any resolutions, but I do know that I'm hoping for another year of new experiences, good food, and great friends. And donuts. This year I'm going to learn to make donuts. Dream big, kids.

Happy New Year!!!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Of Mice and Karaoke

So it was Christmas...we had pie and presents and hosted our first Wii bowling tournament and then yesterday we took the boys to Tangled, which I liked a lot. Loved the horse. Loved the lantern scene. I think Disney must be funneling all the crap into its television channel so as not to distract the talented people.

I haven't been baking much this holiday season, which I'm going to have to see about rectifying now that I have a WHOLE WEEK OFF! My fabulous employer decided to close up shop for the week. I don't believe I've ever had an entire week off from work where I didn't take a trip...I'm not exactly sure what to do. I will probably attempt to cram all of the fun stuff I haven't had time for lately into one week...that will be exhausting, but hopefully fun too. (Full disclosure: I scoured the last-minute travel deals but could not find anything that was actually enough of a deal.)

But before I get sidetracked on all of the things I might do with my week off, I should tell you what I've been doing all of this time that I've haven't been blogging! Two very important things have happened:

1. I completed #15 on my 40 by 40 list by singing karaoke at my friend's bachelorette party last weekend! (yes, the photo is teeny tiny) As I had always wanted, it was "Pour Some Sugar on Me" by Def Leppard. Very fun. I think I will do it again. And since everyone always asks me this: Yes, really, I had never sung karaoke before. I used to sing for real when I was younger (I once sang a Debbie Gibson song in the atrium of a mall!) but something about getting up to sing in front of friends and strangers as an adult is intimidating. But like I said, it was really fun. I actually think we could have a lot of fun with a karaoke set-up at home...perhaps I will start scouring the after-Christmas sales.

2. We got a pet!
Actually, three pets! Three itty bitty mice. After 7.5 years of not really wanting to be responsible for any additional lives, I finally started missing having a fuzzy pet. This led me to the Animal Humane Society website, which I don't recommend browsing unless you're prepared to drop everything and adopt a pet (trust me, you'll fall in love with one of them).

My reason for going to the web site was to get ideas for a pet that wasn't a dog or cat (Aidan and I are both allergic, plus I'm not ready for a dog). I had hamsters and rats growing up, but never a mouse. However, I fell in love with Cumin, this tiny little mouse with the cutest face. After much convincing, my husband relaxed his anti-rodent stance and I merrily jaunted off to the Humane Society, where I discovered that my little Cumin had been at the shelter for months and that she had two sisters, from whom she had never been separated. So I took them all home, changed their names to Lola, Latte and Boots, and we are now living happily ever after. Even my husband likes them. A Christmas miracle, indeed.

I hope you've all been having a very Merry Christmas season, too.

Now it's on to New Year's Eve, the holiday I dread every year because I simultaneously want to curl up in my bed and want to have the most fabulous, sparkly plans in the land. Neither of these things ever happens. Well, except last year when I was asleep in my hotel bed in Hawaii...that was a good way to spend New Year's Eve. I might have to resurrect the New Year's vacation next year. As for this year...I plan to spend the week uncovering all of the fabulous things I could be doing had I planned more than 6 days ahead of time. But it will all work out in the end. Maybe I will make party hats for my mice...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Downhill

I always kind of brace myself for the emotional kick in the chest that often comes when introducing Owen to new people and experiences. I should be used to it after 4 1/2 years (crazy that it's been that long since he was diagnosed), but expecting it isn't the same as being used to it. It still knocks the wind out of me. I'm writing this while still catching my breath.

We enrolled the boys in snow sports. Aidan's been asking to snowboard since he was 5, so this year we finally signed him up for a local team where he can learn and hang out with other kids and eventually compete if he wants to. He tends to make friends easily and we don't have to worry about whether people know what's on his mind (he never stops talking), so signing him up for activities isn't a source of anxiety for me.

Owen, on the other hand, tends to meltdown when he's scared or frustrated or overwhelmed. Learning new things - physical things - can be really hard for him, so I was a little relieved when he said he wasn't interested in snowboarding. But he surprised us by saying he wanted to learn to ski. We live next to a ski hill, so we signed him up for lessons.

I had a knot in my stomach the whole first lesson, knowing he was up on that hill with strangers and having no idea how he would do. But when I picked him up, he was beaming. He didn't just love it, he felt like he was actually good at it. He told us that he was the best in the class at turning. He talked about it the whole afternoon.

I sent him off again last week feeling great, knowing he was excited and that he was learning to do something that he might actually use the rest of his life. Again, he came back chattering away about how much he liked skiing and how next week they were going to go up the big hill, which would include riding the chairlift! He was so excited.

So when we dropped him off today and the teacher asked us to stay for a minute, I guess I was a little caught off guard. I thought we were in the clear and that somehow, someway, skiing had turned out to be an activity that he could learn and enjoy just like all the other kids.

Alas, Owen's group scooted off to the bunny hill and the head of the program came over with a furrowed brow to tell us that she didn't think Owen was going to be able to stay with his ski group. "He's getting really frustrated," she explained, "and the instructor is having to spend all of her time on him." Bam. That was the kick. She went on to tell us that it could be a real problem to take him on the chairlift, so he might be put with another instructor so he could spend more time on the bunny hill. Kick #2.

Owen, of course, wasn't there to hear this - the adults always talk about these things behind the kids' backs. I know they think it's kinder that way, but all I could think about was how upset he was going to be if all the other kids went off to ride the chairlift and he was suddenly left with a stranger on the bunny hill. He was so excited. He thought he was doing so well.

And now, here I am, feeling once again like it's my fault for trying to pass my kid off as "normal." I feel bad. Because maybe I should have called out that he has autism when we signed him up. But what would they have done with the information? They don't offer special classes for kids with autism - and even if they did, he likely wouldn't fit in there, either, because he's so high functioning. He doesn't qualify for adaptive phys-ed, which means he participates in athletic activities at school right alongside the rest of the kids. He's not physically unable to participate and so far, I haven't found any type of special instruction for kids who are easily frustrated.

Naturally, following that guilt comes the guilt that I should be thankful that he can participate in the first place. That I have the option of sending him off to ski class at all. That he is so high-functioning. That somehow, despite the fact that he's apparently been having meltdowns out on the ski hill, he's still been coming back in with a smile on his face. And of course I am thankful, but I still want him to have the same opportunities as everyone else. If he wants to learn to ski, I want to make that happen. It sounds so simple.

I keep thinking that not everything has to be harder for him. Maybe I'm still in denial. Maybe I just don't know what else to do. Am I being unfair by throwing him into these situations designed for typical kids and hoping that he'll adapt, or am I helping him learn to function in life? I don't know. What I do know is that I'll put up with endless kicks in the chest if it means he can grow up knowing he can do anything he puts his mind to...I'm just hoping that I get the brunt of those kicks and not him.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Fun Yummy Drama


It's Wednesday! That means that it's Top Chef All-Stars night!

Unfortunately, it's now just minutes away from tonight's episode...I wish I'd been organized enough to start blogging about it back when it started two weeks ago, but you know, better late than never, right? Plus, two weeks ago I only knew that I thought it was going to be awesome to see so many of our favorite Cheftestants all in one place. And now I know that it is awesome.

Fabio! Spike! Richard! Tre! You may be wondering if I like any of the women chefs...well, I thought I really liked Jamie until she turned out to have become some crazy diva chef since last we saw her. And I'm a big fan of Jennifer Carroll's food at 10 Arts, but well, I can't say I'm a big fan of hers...especially after last week.

Then you add Anthony Bourdain into the mix and it's culinary competition nirvana! I love this season so much that I wish every episode was 2 hours. Actually, if they did a 24-hour Top Chef channel, I'd just watch that. Well, that is unless my other dream of the 24-hour Amazing Race channel was realized, in which case I'd need to switch back and forth.

Yeah, so this blog as no point other than to say: I love this show! It's exactly what I need on a Wednesday night. Fun yummy drama. FYD.

Who will pack their knives this week? Let's hear it for Antonia! (I'm sure she's a lovely person and all, but was she really even all All-Star?)

Friday, December 10, 2010

We'll Make It Anywhere

How much time can pass after a vacation before it's just plain too late to write a blog post about it? Well, my answer is more than 14 days because today it's only been 13 days since we returned from New York and seeing as I am on a plane (returning from my last trip to Philly for the year), enjoying free Wifi (thank you, Delta and Google), I am going to take this opportunity to tell you about one of our best family vacations ever.

At some point a few years back I'd decided it would be fun to go to NYC over Thanksgiving and watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. It's not like I've ever been obsessed with the parade, it just seemed like a cool family thing to do in NYC. This summer, we decided this would be the year.

A bit of research revealed that it was possible to book hotel rooms on the parade route, thus eliminating both the staking-out-sidewalk-space-at-6 a.m. problem and the freezing-child-who-has-to-pee-in-the-middle-of-Times-Square problem. This appealed to me, so I set to work finding a hotel room that did not cost as much as a small car.

The answer was the Doubletree Times Square, but I'm going to come out and tell you that although it cost less than some of the other options I found, it was way more than I would normally pay for a hotel room...especially a Doubletree. That being said, it was nice and it was another one-bedroom set-up where the kids got the "magic bed" (the pull-out couch) and we had our own room and therefore were not forced to go to bed at 9 p.m. when they did...although walking around Manhattan with two seven-year-olds in the winter is exhausting enough that there were nights when I may have fallen asleep before my boys.

Despite the physical exhaustion, the trip was awesome.

Some highlights:
Taking the boys through Times Square the first time
Owen's comment: "This is kind of like the State Fair." An interesting and relevant connection made by someone who is 4-feet tall and doesn't spend a lot of time pushing through masses of people in a place full of strange smells.

The parade
We watched the parade in our pajamas while eating room service. Sure, it would be a totally different experience on the street, but it was hard to feel like I was missing anything as I stared down at the crowds smushed onto every corner, while I sipped my mimosa in heated comfort. And by the way, the acoustics were amazing.

Touring the Statue of Liberty
This was a highlight in that it's pretty cool to see a national icon right up close. It would have been a lot cooler if I had planned 6-9 months in advance and reserved tickets for the crown. As it was, we went up to the pedestal. With all of the security and lines, it more closely resembled a long, cold trip to the airport than a fun family outing, but I'm glad I did it once.

Blue Man Group
It turns out that seven-year-old boys are just about the perfect audience for Blue Man Group. Owen laughed so loud and so often that I had to shush him. I know the boys don't really understand what performance art is, but they know that weirdos doing cool stuff is awesome, and that's good enough for me.

Thanksgiving in Brooklyn
I didn't end up crossing #16 off my 40 by 40 list, as I'd originally planned, because we got a better offer: Thanksgiving with friends who were celebrating their very first Thanksgiving in their very first house! It was so warm and homey and delicious and nice. So much better than dragging tired kids to a fancy restaurant. (We'll save that for another year.) Plus, Aidan karate-kicked a centipede, smushing it all over a white wall...which was totally disgusting, but retelling the story makes me laugh everytime, so I consider it a fond memory.

Cold Spring
Another friend of ours went and got married last year and moved upstate to Cold Spring. I'd never been out to visit, so we hopped on the train at Grand Central (try explaining the saying "It's like Grand Central Station in here!" to small children who have never heard the phrase...they will be unimpressed), took a beautiful ride up the Hudson River -- completely failed to get off the train fast enough, missed our stop -- and then eventually made it to Cold Spring. Imagine a quaint little town out of a Norman Rockwell painting (did he paint towns? I don't know.) and that is Cold Spring. It is the definition of picturesque. Plus, we got a VIP tour of the fire station and a firetruck thanks to our friend's firefighting husband. Awesome. Plus, we got to stay there overnight and it was the exact opposite of Manhattan (quiet, cozy) and I was worried that would seem anticlimactic after three nights in Times Square, but it turns out it was exactly the right thing. So nice.

There was more. I didn't even mention the food. Mac Bar, Otto Enoteca Pizzeria, Norma's. We ate well.

We did a lot of fun stuff, but my greatest joy came from getting to see my boys experience so many things for the first time. There was also the wonderful hospitality our friends showed us, which was not just kind and generous, but also provided a unique counterbalance to our otherwise very touristy vacation. Thank you, Heather, Rolla, Maggie and Danny for taking us in and for giving my kids the perspective thatyes, people actually live here.

I've ♥ 'd NY for many years, but now my boys ♥ it, too, and that makes me happy.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

IOU

Whoa. After I posted my last blog entry I seem to have slipped into some kind of work-induced coma because I have only vague recollections of the rest of November...well, with the exception of taking one of the best family vacations EVER to NYC over Thanksgiving, which I will merrily post about very soon. Promise. I just needed to do a check-in blog to prove to myself that I haven't actually forgotten how to blog.

So think of this as a placeholder of sorts. An IOU.

I have many things to blather on about - my fantabulous trip being one. My love and appreciation of the new Top Chef All-Stars being another. Oh, and the whole Christmas spirit thing...I suppose I have some thoughts to share on the way that taking a trip over Thanksgiving kind of compresses the whole Christmas season down to a matter of weeks...I haven't decided if that's good or bad yet. What I can say with certainty is that I liked it better last year when I spent the Christmas season eagerly anticipating our New Year's trip to Hawaii. Now that was good timing.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I can't go into detail about anything right now because I'm supposed to be getting ready to host a house of 40-50 people this evening. I am fighting my party anxiety by blogging...I realize that it's counterproductive. Has anyone written a book for people who don't like throwing parties on how to throw parties? I need that book...because for some reason I have accepted throwing parties as some kind of unavoidable part of life.

Yeah, so anyway...be back soon. Cheers!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

You've Got Mail

My boys have email. After initially thinking it was a ridiculous request, we came around and locked them down to their contact list (programmed by us), so it feels pretty harmless. And at least they weren't asking about Facebook accounts.

Sure, they're now learning to use a form a technology that will no doubt be dead by the time they really have people they need to communicate with, but on the plus side, they can practice their correspondence skills (no, I don't think greetings or closings should be cast aside just because we're all in such a damn hurry). Plus, it's fun to get emails from them - especially when I'm traveling, as I was last week for work...

So I got online up in the sky on my way out to Philly (Delta's one redeeming feature) and emailed my children to tell them so...thinking they would find this as amazing as I did. Of course, I also asked about their days at school, told them I miss them, love them, etc.

Owen's response (in its entirety):
"You accidentally spelled the instead of they."

Yep. Nothing says love like proofreading. Email has unlocked his inner grammar robot. I think this might be an overlooked skill set for those with high-functioning autism. Who knew?

And P.S., our kids don't find it amazing that we can email from the sky. They assume we can email from the sky. Welcome to the future.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

I am the clown with the tear-away face

It's Halloweekend and I'm having trouble mustering much holiday spirit. Maybe I'm feeling guilty about letting my kids buy their costumes off the rack rather than making them myself (they're going as a vampire and a zombie, so it's not like they would have been super complicated costumes to make...then again, I don't sew, nor do I possess a single crafty gene). Or maybe I'm mentally exhausted from thinking about those Reese's Peanut Butter Pumpkins, which I cannot, under any circumstances, buy, for fear that I will consume the entire package on the way home. Or maybe I'm just not that into Halloween...

What I am into are the free things that having kids in costume will get you. So far our itinerary includes free lunch at the restaurant down the street, free slices of pie at Baker's Square, and possibly free hot chocolate at Caribou. The free dinner offers are kind of a trick because in order to get there and eat dinner at a child-friendly hour, you have to cut the trick-or-treating short...trust me, I know.

I'm also into seeing how excited my kids get when they put their costumes on. However, experience has taught me that the excitement dissolves rather quickly into discomfort of some variety (either costume- or weather-related, possibly both), which then makes them even more easily aggravated. This manifests itself in the form of dozens of mini-races between houses, with one screaming about being first and the other crying about not being first, with the 500% increase in sugar consumption only making the whole thing more fraught with irrationality. Good times.

I'm not actually as pessimistic about it as that all sounds. I mean, there's a decent chance that someone on our street is handing out peanut butter pumpkins, and we all know that candy you steal from your children contains zero calories. Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Silver Lining

One of the blessings and curses of autism is that the kids who have it tend to be oblivious to what others think of them. I generally tell myself that this is a good thing for Owen, because really, how much of what people think of us actually matters anyway? Yes, of course there's something to be said for self-awareness, but I suppose it makes me feel better to imagine that one day he will emerge unscathed from adolescence, never once doubting who he was or whether he was good enough. As if he is insecurity-proof.

Yeah, well, that illusion was shaken yesterday when we hosted the boys' very first sleepover. A friend from school (Aidan's BFF since kindergarten) and her younger brother, to whom Owen seems to relate pretty well. (Is this common? Kids with high-functioning autism socializing better with younger kids? I don't know.) Both boys were soooooo excited.

But just before their friends arrived, Owen's anticipation proved overwhelming and resulted in a meltdown that found him screaming things along the lines of, "They are more interested in Aidan!" and "They're all going to play without me!" And it hit me that even though he seems pretty much oblivious to social dynamics, he's not. In fact, he's been thinking about being left out and about what people think of him. Thinking, but never expressing these things until now. (Neither of his above statements proved true, by the way - the sleepover was a smashing success.)

So as it turns out, he is not insecurity-proof. I mean, of course he's not...I guess I just wish he was. If he has to struggle with social interactions, it seems only fair that rejection shouldn't bother him.

But, as hard as it is to see him struggling with relationships (already, at age 7), I'd like to think that if he's picking up on the bad, he'll also be able to take in the good...that he will build deep connections in his life and get to enjoy all that comes from finding people who really understand him. I think he will.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Hither and Thither

Despite this having been a lovely and leisurely weekend with my husband and kids, I'm feeling a bit whirlwindy and like I can't quite relax. I spent 3 days in Philly last week and am headed to Chicago for a truly whirlwindy 12-hour stint on Tuesday. It's all for good reason (work), but it's also a bit anxiety-producing for me.

I don't like to be away from my kids. I mean, I like to get babysitters for the night or whatever, but I don't like missing the everyday stuff - seeing their little faces first thing in the morning or kissing them goodnight, especially. Those moments are like my reference points for everything else.

At the same time, there's something sort of nice about traveling for work in that I'm able to focus only on that certain project for a certain period of time. It can be a relief not to feel pulled in quite so many directions for a day or two, even though it means having no one to kiss good morning or goodnight.

It's the going back and forth that I find discombobulating...that familiar feeling that I'm not really meeting expectations (mine, mostly) in work or family life really messes with my head. The anxious side of my brain loves it though, as it gives me plenty of opportunities to overthink and second-guess and imagine worst case scenarios. Sigh.

Sometimes I wish I'd been born an overachiever (with the metabolism of a hummingbird) rather than an overthinker. Someone whose determination to succeed overshadows her fear of failure. I'm working on striking some kind of balance, though, because as I get older, I'm realizing that setting goals and achieving them can be pretty fun...and also, failure isn't generally quite as dramatic as it sounds.

Which is to say that I'm also trying (trying!) to settle the fuck down about being good enough on a day-to-day basis and instead trust that when the imaginary scorecards are totaled, I'll come out okay...probably even more than okay. And that's pretty good.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Morals of Despair

I’ve been driving around in the unseasonably warm fall weather we’re having here in Minneapolis, listening to “Every Grain of Sand” (well, listening to Dylan's “Biograph Disc 2”) and my thoughts are filled with some combination of longing and memories…sort of a nostalgic pondering.

There’s always been something about fall that makes me nostalgic. The yellows and oranges remind me of old photographs…as if the entire world actually appeared in muted, yellowish tones once. It’s not even all nostalgia for my own memories, I suppose, I’m more imagining the past in all of its convenient simplicity. What was the same, what was different?

But some of my own memories are in there; I have grainy images in my mind of a tractor that used to sit in our yard when I was young – it sat on what is now the boundary between my mom’s yard and ours. I don’t remember it ever running, so I suppose at some point someone hauled it away. I used to play on it when I was maybe 3 or 4. It shouldn’t mean anything to me, but I think that it represents a time when my dad was still here. Here, in this space, in our house. When he had actual belongings marking his territory.

But lately, I’ve been pondering my childhood more than usual I suppose thanks to reading Meredith Hall’s memoir “Without a Map”. I read it because it came recommended by one of my favorite mama-writers Catherine Newman, but I was startled at the parallels I felt between Hall's life and mine. Ok, not the actual events in her life: I didn’t grow up in the 60’s, get pregnant as a teenager, or give a baby up for adoption, but…

The emotions she experienced – the isolation, detachment, loneliness and confusion – were surprisingly familiar. I suppose it’s possible that no matter what form parental neglect or rejection or even just carelessness takes, it creates a kind of universal scar in children.

So yeah, if you think you might be recovering from abandonment issues or have a complex relationship with your parents, this might be the book for you. (I’m starting a side business writing quotes for book jackets.) Actually, I’d recommend it to anyone who appreciates a well-written memoir. Along the lines of “Lit” or even “The Glass Castle,” only with less alcoholism and mental illness.

And now I realize that I sound like a member of a book club for traumatic childhood memoirs. Now there's a club I'd join...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Makeup and muscles

Can you guess which 40 by 40 item I completed last night?

Yep, I learned how to smoky my eyes.

My makeup enthusiast friend, Michele, and I took a trip to Sephora last night where Smoky Eye Expert A.J. (they should really give her a badge) helped me accomplish #28, which involved 4 colors of eye shadow, 2 kinds of eyeliner, some mascara, brow filler(?) and even some lipstick at the end. Phew.

It was all very glamorous, but it would be have been smarter for me to combine this item with #27 (wear a ball gown), as I felt a little funny walking around the Mall of America in jeans, wearing what felt like stage makeup...or chic zombie makeup. There was a whole lot of black circling my eyes.

Still, the whole process was very informative since I was raised by a makeup-less hippie and have thus far proven to be totally inept at the application of eyeliner. And let's face it, it's fun to be sparkly sometimes.

Plus, I had no idea smoky eyes could be done with any color you want - word on the street is that they can even made "day appropriate." We'll see if that's true...well, maybe...if I find myself feeling super ambitious some morning.

I will be attempting a variation of the eye you see above the next time I have occasion to get dressed up. I mean, I have to after spending a small fortune on pretty purple eye shadow and a puffy-yet-firm contour brush. Plus, I've got to put my new learnings into practice lest I forget the whole lesson.

In other 40 by 40 updates, I'm still going to Bars class. In fact, I've been going to Bars class for more than 3 months now! And I still like it, which sort of means I've completed #18...but I kind of think it's only fair to cross #18 and #19 off at the same time since I could tell you that I like learning the trapeze, but what does it matter if I'm not actually doing it? (I don't know if I like the trapeze, I haven't done it, but it seems like it would be a good form of exercise.)

I hadn't really considered at what point it would be okay to declare that exercise is actually "part of my life." Since I have quitter tendencies, it feels like I should give it at least 6 months...so more on that to come. However, after recently being complimented on the definition of my arms (!), I can see why people get into this working out thing. Oh, and the whole being healthier part, that's good, too.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Waiting for the Words

I've been wanting to write something about the recent teen suicides and the sudden call to action against bullying and the amazing surge of support for GLBT teenagers. It's been on my mind a lot, but I've been putting off posting anything about it because I generally like to be articulate when talking about such serious matters and I just haven't been able to figure out what to say...

I think the It Gets Better Project is brilliant and if it touches even one teenager who is contemplating suicide, then it will have been a success. (If you haven't yet read about/seen it, go now.)

But here's what I'm struggling with: I want to do more. I want more to be done. I want what gets done to be bigger.

Bullying isn't new. Teenage suicide isn't new. (We all loved "Heathers," right?) But did you know that 11 kids commit suicide every day?

I don't know how to reconcile the idea that today, 11 children will come to the conclusion that there is nothing left to live for. That it's not worth seeing tomorrow. Some of them might be gay. Many of them might be victims of bullying. All of them will die.

I am overwhelmed. Why does childhood have to be so traumatic? I joke about never wanting my kids to leave the house so that no one can ever hurt them, but sometimes I'm not really joking. I don't want anyone to hurt them. I don't want them to hurt anyone else.

Now if we could just get the rest of the world onboard with this plan, we'd be all set.

Yeah, so I'm still waiting for the words on this one. Luckily, Patti Digh (of 37 Days) has been much more articulate on the subject, so please allow me to quote her:

Perhaps I can't change the world. But I can damn sure raise two children who will know what it means to consider every person they meet to be as fully, beautifully human as they are.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Fanciest Tasting Menu Race

"It's not death, it's just cake" is my new motto.

If you haven't been watching "Top Chef: Just Desserts," you've been missing out. Probably lots of people say it's not as interesting as the original Top Chef because it's all one general idea (Make a fantastic dessert...GO!), but those people must not have enough cake, ice cream, or salted caramel in their lives. I love it. Plus, it's fun to see how weird pastry chefs apparently are...I mean, Seth is making Marcel look almost suave. (P.S. Am I going to have to wait for the reunion to find out how Heather gashed her forehead open?)

If you've missed Just Desserts until now, the good news is that you've still got lots of season left. The same is not true if you missed "The Great Food Truck Race," which I really think was the most under-publicized and under-rated food show of the summer. (I say that having no idea how it was publicized or received by critics.)

With the premise being simply that six food trucks were going to drive around the country trying to outsell each other - and with the host being everyone's favorite Applebee's chef Tyler Florence - there was a high risk of failure for The Food Truck Race. But fail, it did not.

Sure, it might have been even more fun if they'd made the teams solve clues to figure out where to go and what to do, but as it was, the way they'd make them drive to some new city and then set them loose to figure out how to get their ingredients and where to park their trucks and how to make the most money, was awesome. The lack of strict rules was pretty refreshing, as most reality shows pretty much control everything so tightly that contestants rarely have room to show how they got good at what they do in the first place. But alas, it's over. All I can do is hope for a season 2...and watch "The Amazing Race," which finally started its new season on Sunday!

I love treasure hunts. I love clues. I love travel. The Amazing Race is all of that, plus reality television drama. And I'm happy to see that they're bringing back the requirement that contestants have a tiny bit of common sense in order to solve some of their clues. If you've ever watched the early seasons (they are now in season 17!), they used to make the clues kinda hard. Then it got dumbed down to the point that no one really had to figure anything out, they just went where the next card told them to go...which, I should add, did not stop me from watching the show, but I like it better when there's more room for error.

While I don't particularly fantasize about being a contestant on The Amazing Race due to all of the surprise bungee-jumping and bug eating, I do fantasize about running around the world solving clues and traveling for free...maybe with more happiness and fun and less fear and injury.

But as soon as the Top Chef producers get together with The Amazing Race producers to create some sort of competition involving racing around the world to eat gourmet food, I'm totally in.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sick

We are all sick here. Actually, my husband is not sick, but I attribute that to him rarely being here now that he is actually opening his improv theater.

I, on the other hand, estimate that I spend an average of 23 hours per day in my house, which gives me ample opportunity to soak up all the germs that my children thoughtfully bring home with them from school. Ew. Really, I'm not that sick. I'm more an annoying type of sick - the kind where your nose runs and you feel generally worn out and somewhat light-headed when you talk too much. I think Owen is there with me. Aidan, on the other hand, has an upper respiratory infection.

We kept him home all week and then today I really thought he could go back to school (and he wanted to), but, of course, I got the dreaded call from the school nurse where she makes you feel like you should be ashamed of yourself for even considering sending your child to school in his condition. The cherry on top was the way that, on our way out, she reminded me that he couldn't come back to school tomorrow, either, due to his fever (which I SWEAR he didn't have when sent him to school). Ah well...it probably sucks to be a school nurse.

I suppose it all worked out because thanks to the nurse's insistence that we should really bring him to the doctor because he could be developing pneumonia (due to my negligence, I'm sure), we found out he doesn't actually have the flu (or pneumonia), but an upper respiratory infection, which can be treated with antibiotics.

Cross your fingers that we're all recovered enough to walk the Walk Now for Autism Speaks on Saturday because not only do we have the cutest shirts in all the land, but Team Owen met its $1000 goal! Many thanks to everyone who contributed!

I'm going to let you in on a little secret: I started this post intending to talk to you about television because I am so thrilled with the onslaught of season premieres. My brain went another direction (which part of my body was thinking about TV?). That means I will have to save my praise for Just Desserts and anticipation for The Amazing Race for another post...get excited.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Support Team Owen!

Although I've neglected to mention it here until now, I'm raising money for the Minneapolis Walk Now for Autism Speaks. We're walking as Team Owen.

I've participated in the virtual walk and also raised money for one of the walks in previous years, but never actually walked it, so I'm excited to get out and physically show my support.

Plus, I'd like to think that it could be enlightening for my boys to get a feel for how many people have or are affected by autism. Probably Aidan, especially, would be happy to know that there are legions of siblings who are equally annoyed by their brother or sister's insistence on rigidity and tendency to space out.

I'm hoping that we'll meet our goal of raising $1000 by Saturday. I know that it's a drop in the bucket when it comes to all the research that needs to be done and all the kids who need help, but it feels like a good solid contribution at least. Autism Speaks is important for a lot of reasons, but there are two big ones that makes me grateful for them.

First, they have been instrumental in raising awareness of autism and of spreading the truth about this disorder in the face of so many lies and misrepresentations. As the mother of a little boy who will probably have to deal with this disorder for his entire life, it's important to me that more people - that everyone - understand what autism is and what it isn't, and that he receives the support and the understanding he deserves.

Second, Autism Speaks funds research. Let's all remember that we don't even know where this disorder comes from. Why Owen? He deserves to know. I'm not a scientist, but it seems to me that once we can figure out what the hell is causing it, we'd have a much better chance of figuring out how to treat it. That's not to say that we haven't come a long way in developing treatments (we have), but we haven't cured it. We haven't even slowed it down. That's not okay with me. I want the scientists to have as much money as they need to figure this thing out.

And so, we will be walking next weekend in support of our Owen and the amazing work that Autism Speaks does on behalf of people with autism. If you can spare $20 (or more), please consider supporting us. Thank you.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Race Day!

I competed in my third annual Great Urban Race Minneapolis yesterday! As you might recall, this was my second GUR this year - my husband and I took on Chicago just two short months ago.

For the Minneapolis race, I reunited with BFF Gretchen for our second run as "Communication Breakdown." Along with help from BFF Rachel, who played the role of Google lifeline, we rocked it.

We had every clue solved within the first 20 minutes....unfortunately, none of the clues were especially difficult. Now, I could say that the Minneapolis race probably just seemed easy in comparison to the Chicago race, which was a challenge given that we don't live there and the city is huge. Except, Gretchen wasn't with me in Chicago and she thought it was easy, too. I'd be surprised if anyone who spends even a little time in downtown or Uptown Minneapolis would say that the clues were hard.

So now you're thinking, Well, if it was so easy, you won then, right? Um...no. Solving the clues is a relatively small portion of the race. Then you have to go to all 11 locations, perform whatever task is demanded of you, and get yourself back to the finish line, all using public transportation. None of the tasks were hard, but we did travel a good 10+ miles, much it on foot.

We got off to a really strong start, knocking out the first five locations in under an hour - and I think we actually sprinted from place to place. Then the tedious bus ride to Uptown slowed us down a bit and, after completing two more tasks, we made a pit stop. There was a moment where I think we considered pressing on minus a cool, refreshing adult beverage, but then we remembered that 1) that wouldn't be as fun and 2) we still weren't going to win.

And so, drinks were had. I think we made a good choice. If the GUR ever turns into being all about the competition for me, I don't think I want to do it anymore. (But, side note: the winners came in at 1 hour 55 minutes, so we actually probably had a fighting change to make the top 25 were it not for that pit stop. As it stands, we're crossing our fingers that we finally made the top 100.)

Anyway, it was very fun day. I recommend the race to anyone (assuming you like to have fun). And even though I think the clues could have been harder, I'm definitely still in again for next year, because, you know what they say...

A day spent solving clues and running around like an idiot is a day well spent, indeed.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Circle of Weird

When I reminisce about my first concert, I like to say that it was Alice in Chains, playing at First Avenue on my very first day of high school. After all, that was what I consider my first "real" concert, which is to say that it was a real band, in a real club, without a parental figure present.

But really, I could say that it was New Kids on the Block, who I saw (for the first time) when I was 12 at Target Center. My mom didn't actually enter the arena, but she did wait in the parent area for me and my BFF to return, hoarse from having screamed at the top of our lungs through every song.

Or, I suppose it would be cooler to reference the time (also in middle school), when I saw Bob Dylan play at the Minnesota State Fair with my mom and the guys in front of us smoked a joint, which I wouldn't have known, except my mom felt the need to point it out as both an educational moment and a warning, I guess.

But really...really, really...my first concert memory is of going to Valley Fair with my friend Jackie and her mom when I was seven years old to see Weird Al Yankovic. I remember it was late and we fell asleep, but Jackie's mom woke us up in time to hear the only song of his we probably knew at the time: "Eat It." We talked about that for weeks (or decades, as it turns out).

So how crazy is it that tomorrow I am bringing things full circle by taking my boys to see Weird Al, too?! (and did you know that Weird Al is 51?)

Honestly, once I got over my childhood fascination, I hadn't thought much about Weird Al, but then just the other week Owen mentioned hearing Chamillionaire's "Riding Dirty" (did I mention they discovered the radio?) and informed me that it was "trying to be like 'White and Nerdy'." And then, as fate would have it, I found out Weird Al was coming to the State Fair. And so it goes.

I have to say that I'm kind of excited to see what they think, even though, just as I once only wanted to hear "Eat It," they are mostly just waiting for "White and Nerdy." And it will be late, so they might fall asleep, but I'll be sure to wake them up for it.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

In the time it took me to write this blog post, I could have folded the laundry

School is approaching. Today I made the boys try on all of their long pants and discovered that Owen just barely fits into two pairs, while Aidan now has 9 pairs to himself, thanks to the 1.5 inch height difference.

It drives me crazy that all the pants still fit their skinny little waists, but they always end up too short. Even the ones that still fit Aidan probably won't make it through the winter. I think I'm going to open a store called "Beanpole" that will sell pants that are adjustable in the width and length...yes, those will be very stylish pants. My mom has suggested we take the hippie route and just add fabric onto the bottoms of the pant legs...again, very stylish. *Sigh*

Am I the only one who fantasizes every year about letting them have approximately three pairs of pants and three shirts and just letting them rotate through them until they wear out? It just feels like then we'd really be getting our money's worth.

I don't think my kids would be bothered by wearing the same thing day after day - although Aidan is a bit of a budding clothes horse - but the obstacle to this plan is really the simple fact that I don't, or more accurately, won't do laundry every two days.

Nope, apparently I'd prefer that they always own enough clothing to create equally towering piles of both dirty and clean laundry. Sometimes I think they don't even really need dressers since they are nearly always having to dig through the basket of clean laundry to find some component of their outfit. I mean really, if they didn't even have dressers, I couldn't feel bad about not getting around to folding the laundry, right?

Hmmm...three outfits, no dresser. That could be the name of my new simple living movement. It will focus on simplifying your life purely to decrease household chores and the guilt associated with not keeping up with those chores.

It's gonna be huge.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

24 Hours in Philly

I got to visit a new city this week: Philadelphia!

Unfortunately, I didn't eat any cream cheese or cheesesteaks or pretzels. Nor did I visit Constitution Hall or the Liberty Bell. To be fair, I was only there for 24 hours and it was for work, so, you know, I was working most of the time.

However, I did get to visit two Food Network-approved locales:

First, I picked up a box of brownies for the boys at Flying Monkey in Reading Terminal Market. Ok, they weren't just for the boys - I did include a couple of the Boozer brownies that were recently featured "Kid in a Candy Store." (My kids love Adam Gertler.) They are just as good as the looked on TV, but I need to give a special shout out to the orange brownies because they are so strangely delicious.

And then for dinner, my gracious coworker/tour guide/Philly resident took me to Iron Chef Jose Garces' Distrito. It was love at first sight. Not only is the entire place pink, but we got to eat in a modified VW beetle parked in the front window...it was a little like being a a piece of performance art. Oh, and the food is good, too. Spicy. Honestly, I was content with the pineapple margarita and guacamole, but the Atun ceviche was also ridiculously good. Highly recommended if you're in the area.

The other thing I did on my trip was stay at the Aloft chain of hotels. Have you been? I can't quite figure it out. It's designed as if the reason you stay in hotel is to hang out in the lobby. The lobby is really welcoming, but like a cross between a hip bar and your friend's rec room, and the staff is very casual, like "Hey, what's up?" when you check in. The rooms are very modern and sparse...a little like sleeping in a pod or a nicely decorated dorm room. The dorm room vibe is especially apparent in the middle of the night when all the people who have been hanging out in the lobby come stumbling up to their rooms (it seems like they just didn't bother soundproofing the walls that face the hallway).

I feel conflicted about Aloft. I want to like it for its appearance, but I feel like it's not very nice on the inside. I guess that makes me shallow when it comes to hotels.

So anyway, while this trip to Philly was woefully short on time and historical appreciation, it looks like I'll be back a few times in the coming months, so I feel pretty certain I'll be able to tackle the touristy stuff bit by bit. And probably stay in a different hotel.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Dot to Dot

It's so fitting that today feels like fall in Minneapolis because fall always reminds me of the excitement of back-to-school and today, I helped the teenager register for college! (Can you believe he's been graduated for two entire months now?)

It's a trial run, of sorts: He'll start at community college before heading off to the big university he's decided he wants to attend. It's not the classic sending the kid off to college scenario that I once imagined, but in light of the difficulties and general waywardness of the last few years, it's the step he needs to get to that point. An important step. A major step.

The fact that the sending the kid off to college scenario is now something that I might really get to experience in the not-so-distant future is beyond exciting. He has come a tremendous way in a pretty short amount of time and I am so proud of him for that.

I'm not fooling myself into believing that there won't be more setbacks, or that he's suddenly morphed into a responsible adult (my unscientific research tells me that doesn't happen for boys until they are at least 25 and even then there's usually a responsible woman involved), but he's figuring it out. On his own. He's getting his shit together. And he's got a lot more shit than a kid his age should have, so that's a pretty big accomplishment.

Slowly but surely, he's going to find his way. Every hardship and wrong turn and close call will be like dots that are finally connected, revealing a portrait of who and what he's always been meant to be. I'm letting myself believe it.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Living Simple/Traveling Complex

I have travel on the brain today. Coincidentally, I also just read this New York Times article, which backs up my long-held theory that travel is a good way to spend money. Now I just need to make some more progress on the whole spending-less-in-other-areas thing so that I can actually afford all of the travel I want to do.

Actually, the most immediate reason travel is on my mind is that I'm leaving in the morning for Denver. My first business trip since 2005. I'm feeling both excited and not so excited. I'm almost overwhelmed at the prospect of having an entire hotel room to myself for two nights...think of all the quiet! And the space! And the leaving of items in a place, only to find them still there when I return! But, of course, I always miss the good night kisses and the little boy pitter-patter (which is really now more of a stampede) in the mornings.

I'm going to be doing a bit of business travel over the next few months, which, again, is kind of exciting and kind of not. I wouldn't go so far as to say that my husband and I are doing a full-on role-reversal because my travel won't be nearly as frequent as his once was, and we'll be able to plan around it, but there is a definite sense of flip-flopping with me being the one getting dropped off at the airport. It's weird. But good. Or rather, I'm determined to make it a positive thing. (and to rack up lots of airmiles)

As for fun travel, we are plotting our next great family adventure. This time we're taking on the Big Apple...at Thanksgiving...because we are crazy. However, I will get to check off #16 on my 40 by 40 list, although I don't think it will be at Per Se unless they're running a kids-eat-free special (I believe Thomas Keller just felt a shudder down his spine).

My kids already have a running list of places they want to go in NYC (thank you, Food Network) so once we lay that over my list, subtract all the non-kid-friendly things, and add in the parade to end all parades, we should have ourselves a pretty fantastic little family vacation.

Yes, nailing this simple living business in our real lives would really help with my travel complex.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Karmatunity

My husband is making his dreams come true! (I mean, the ones separate from our positively dreamy life together, of course.) He -- along with two partners and a whole hell of a lot of supporters -- is opening an improv theater.

People seem pretty interested so far. (Side note: Where have all the copyeditors gone?) But as you can imagine, a lot goes into such a venture. Namely, money.

Construction begins in September with the hope of opening the doors in November. Our fabulous architect friends have generously donated their design assistance, but unfortunately Home Depot does not accept pretty ideas or even blueprints in exchange for wood. Which brings us back to the money. Got some? Want to support the enrichment of the Twin Cities theater scene? Or maybe just want to help show my kids that you can do anything you set your mind to? Please donate. Or ask your rich friends/relatives/employer to donate.

Here, let this video convince you:



As if the good karma weren't enough, it's also tax deductible.

And hey, while I'm asking for things, don't forget to vote for my essay in the Bourdain contest! Winning $10k could go a long way in relieving the anxiety I feel about my husband being a starving artist. Many thanks.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Cross off #29!

On Saturday I crossed yet another 40 by 40 item off the list! (Can you guess which number it was?)

Yes, Team 29 (my husband and me) ran, rode, and sweated its way through the Great Urban Race Chicago. We partnered up with Team Awesome, which included a friend who lives in Chicago. I'm sure you don't have to have a local, but I'm not sure we would have finished in time if we hadn't.

I wouldn't say that the clues in Chicago were drastically harder than what I've experienced in Minneapolis (except for the fact that I didn't know where anything was), but being in a bigger city means covering more ground, which made the whole thing a little more intense and interesting.

Official rankings haven't been posted yet, but I can tell you that it took us roughly 4 hours and 30 minutes (the winners finished in 2 hours and 4 minutes). And although we definitely weren't sprinting from clue to clue, we were moving almost constantly for that entire time - save for the one and only pitstop we made to enjoy margaritas - so it was a big race.

One thing that was cool was that no matter where we went, we found other teams. In Minneapolis, you tend to run into lots of other teams for the first hour or so, but then things thin out and you start to wonder if everyone else already finished. Not so in Chicago.

This photo is from our final bus, which we took back to the finish line. When it stopped for us, we didn't think we'd be able to get on because it was so full, but the jovial bus driver (notice her smile) just told everyone to move back and make room. And when we boarded, we realized it was about 75% racers on the bus...and I was pleased to overhear some of the teams discussing that they still had two or three clues left to complete in the remaining 30 minutes. I mean, I never expect to be first, but it's nice not to be last.

We flipped pancakes. We wrote haikus. We ate ice cream made with liquid nitrogen. We did pilates. It was a fun day. And an awesome way to experience the city...makes me want to run away with the Great Urban Race.

Friends living in other major cities, get ready: I may be hitting you up to accompany me on the Great Urban Race next year. For now, I'm still looking forward to the Minneapolis race in September!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Momentum

I have two exciting things to tell you:

1. Thanks to my fabulous friends and their fabulous friends, my essay is climbing the ranks. I was pretty happy about breaking the top 100, but now that I'm reaching the top 50, it's really getting exciting. If you haven't voted today, go ahead - I'll wait. And THANK YOU!

2. I'm going to Chicago this weekend to cross #29 off my 40 by 40 list! I'll be competing in the Great Urban Race! I use the term "compete" very loosely. You may recall that I've competed in the Minneapolis GUR before - twice, actually - and I've never come even close to winning. Let's just say my quest for fun outweighs my competitive spirit. Luckily, we're talking about a scavenger hunt, not a marathon. It will be interesting to see if the clues will seem a lot harder in a new city.

Look forward to a full report when I return. In the meantime, please keep voting!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Your Votes, Please

Hey, so I wrote an essay...this is a bit of an accomplishment for me since I talk about writing a lot more than I write (blog excluded).

I knew I'd have to write eventually if I was ever going to accomplish #5 on the 40 by 40 list, but I've been a little slow getting started...

But wouldn't you know that it would be Anthony Bourdain who could motivate me to put that proverbial pen to paper?

You see, despite the fact that I fantasize about spending my days lost in the fictional realms of my best-selling novels, I do better with structure. In this case, there was a topic supplied and a clear incentive to write ($10k and the chance to be published in Anthony Bourdain's book...in his book!).

But here's why I'm telling you all of this: I need you to vote for me.

Because, like every contest in the age of Facebook, this is really a popularity contest. A popularity contest that collects your information (sorry - but c'mon, you don't mind if Anthony Bourdain has your personal info, right?). The essays that get the most votes will be read by Mr. Bourdain and he will then choose the winner.

I'm not going to tell you this is the best thing ever written, but I'm still proud that I wrote it. And...it would be really cool if he read it.

But even if that doesn't happen, I'd like to make a decent showing, I suppose just for personal pride. And yes, I realize this method of soliciting votes negates any implication that the essay with the most votes is actually the best, but, well...I didn't make the rules.

So please vote for me. Like, daily. Reassure me that it wasn't totally stupid to try to get back into writing by entering a public contest. Even if you think it was. Much appreciated.

Monday, July 19, 2010

That Grass is So Green...

I need to tell you something: School starts in 7 weeks.

7 weeks?! One of the things I hate about getting older is that time really does speed up. You start to see how everything is cyclical. It's perpetually almost Christmas or almost summer...the beginning and then the end of another school year.

It was more fun when time went slow.

Maybe I'm just lamenting that this is my first summer in four years that I'm not staying home at least most of the time with my boys. Ironically, I am home, but I'm up in my office working. I like my job and all, but I miss having all that time with my kids...even the times when I was bored out of my mind, or being driven mad by the whining...I miss when they were my focus for the day. I miss when my days weren't shaped by conference calls.

I'd like to think that I'm just in the end-phase of my readjustment period. When I started this job just 2 1/2 months ago, it sort of felt like I jumped back into full-time work suddenly, but in reality, I had been working 20-30 hours/week for an entire year before that...maybe I'm adjusting to working full-time and working from home...during the summer...when my kids and my husband are also home. Maybe it's not a matter of adjustment, it's just hard.

It's hard to work because my kids are here and it's hard to not work because my office is here. But I love, love, love not having a commute and not having to get dressed up for work and being able to go downstairs if somebody really needs me (or if I really need them)...so I'm not complaining. I'm just saying I miss having all of that time...

And I'm also kinda looking forward to school starting.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Jazzercise Experiment: Day 14 (Class 7)

I am 7/9 of the way through the Jazzercise Experiment and have learned that there is a Murphy's Law of sorts when it comes to gym shorts.

If you choose to wear those slightly-too-short-shorts that you find in the back of your drawer, then it is guaranteed that the class you're attending that day will consist nearly entirely of stretches that require you to lay spread-eagle, probably facing the window that points into the hallway where people are gathering for the next class. It's like Britney's Law...yep. Time to invest in some lycra.

Borderline pornographic moments aside, however, I'm feeling pretty optimistic about this whole thing. This Behind-the-Bars class might actually be a form of exercise I like enough to stick with it...and hey, maybe I'll find a way to unlock my sense of rhythm and one day be able to participate in one of the dance aerobics classes without feeling like a complete idiot. Or maybe not.

2 free classes left to go. Now LIFT! And LIFT! And LIFT! And LIFT!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

At Least I Know I'm Free

So, every time I go on a trip, I feel compelled to write a blog about it (because I'm completely obsessive when preparing for a trip) and in that blog I pretty much always promise to blog about the trip when I get back.

And then I get back and I don't really feel like blogging.

And then it's been two days and I start to feel like I better get back here and blog about it...like somehow it's an obligation. As if this blog records every important detail of my life (it doesn't, in case you were wondering, although I'm pretty sure it touches on nearly every neurosis).

This brings me to the imaginarily-obligatory travel blog post so we can move on to more pressing matters...like the fact that the post I wrote about Jenny McCarthy back in September of 2008 just got a comment today. (!) I have to say, I think it was a pretty good post, but how is it that a stranger happened to stumble upon it today?

Sorry, I got distracted...travel blog:

D.C. was really fun. Better than my pre-departure post suggested it would be. It was hot and we walked a lot, but I really like that city.

Museums, monuments, cute little brownstones where I can imagine living...so much history, a wealth of cupcakeries (I have to give a shout-out to Georgetown Cupcake, where the peanut butter frosting is magical)...oh, and, just as Aidan said he would, we met former cheftestant Spike! (Whose food is pretty damn delicious.)

The boys found more joy in riding the Metro, going through the multitude of security checkpoints, and getting hot dogs on the Mall than, say, reading about the first moon landing at the Air & Space Museum, but I still think the experience left a good impression on them. The Lincoln Memorial moved them to their knees (a curious inclination given that we are not church-going folk) and the fireworks on the Mall amazed all of us. Really, I didn't think I even liked fireworks all that much, but these...I think these might have actually made me more patriotic.

And if we can get practical for a moment, let me share my newest realization: The Embassy Suites is the place to be if you're traveling with kids. Not only do you get your own bedroom while the kids are thrilled with sleeping on the pull-out couch, but you get a free daily breakfast buffet and a free daily cocktail reception. Did you hear me? Free breakfast and cocktails EVERY DAY! And that concludes my travel tips for today.

I have no profound thoughts about the founding of our country other than to say that it seems like the ratio of smart, determined people to lazy, stupid people was higher back then. If left to our own devices to start a new country today, I'm afraid we'd all just blockade our doors and watch TV until the electricity ran out.

That being said, I actually left feeling a little prouder to be an American...but not necessarily in the Lee Greenwood way.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Getting Fit and Patriotic

Despite my lack of daily reporting, I have not fallen off the Jazzercise wagon! I completed four consecutive days of fitness classes and it went pretty well. I'm sore, but good.

The quitter in me was pretty sure every single day that I wasn't going to make it to class for one reason or another, but somehow I got myself into the car and made it there just in the knick of time.

The last two days were BodyJAM and Shaping class. BodyJAM was more dancing and I was bad at it. Shaping involved weights, which was good. I'd go back to that one. If you're keeping score, this means I'm hating all cardio and liking all strength classes. So I will end up very strong and unable to breathe or something.

Anyway, the Jazzercise Experiment is now on hold while my family goes to D.C. I'm excited, but feeling a little out of my element. I like to be very, very prepared - especially when traveling with my kids - and even though I've been to D.C. a couple times, I haven't really visited as a tourist since I was 12.

I totally missed the opportunity to use our Congressman as our golden ticket. I had no idea you could request all these special tours and such as long as you plan your trip many months ahead of time. Sadly, I actually have been planning this trip for roughly 5 months, but I just somehow missed all of this information until this week. *Sigh* No White House tours for us.

We will, however, tour the U.S. Capitol, visit the Air & Space Museum and the International Spy Museum, and, of course, see 4th of July fireworks on the National Mall. That last bit has me as worked up as well, since it's going to be 92 degrees and the entire fireworks extravaganza sounds like chaos on a level that could only be achieved in our nation's capital. *Sigh*

I swear I'm going to relax...maybe what I'm failing to acknowledge here is that this is our first family vacation that doesn't revolve around a beach or a theme park (unless you count Chicago, which I don't) and there's something about the level of planning involved in this kind of trip that's stressing me out. It's this imaginary quota, of sorts, that says we need to hit X, Y, and Z sites in order to have adequately provided my children with a true Washington, D.C. learning experience. Oh, and did I mention that I don't even enjoy museums?

Ok, I'm done freaking out. The carrot on the end of my stick today is knowing that tonight I'll be eating dinner at Good Stuff Eatery. Aidan is hoping for a photo with Spike. We shall see.

Hope you all have a fun and exceedingly patriotic holiday weekend!


Monday, June 28, 2010

The Jazzercise Experiment: Day Two

I took an exercise class I actually liked! The ballet bar class...bars class...behind-the-bar class, whatever it's officially called, it was great! Yes, that's right, I am describing a form of exercise as "great."

First of all, I found all of the youngish, in-shape people. They are all at bars class.

Second, I don't think I'll be able to walk tomorrow, but it's the good kind of pain where I can tell I was actually doing something good for me.

Third, I didn't completely suck at the class, which I think is important. Maybe some people out there like to do things they are terrible at as some sort of personal challenge, but I prefer to do things that don't make me feel like an idiot.

So hooray! The Jazzercise Experiment might not be the failure I was starting to worry it was going to be. But I have to find out if they'll let me switch any of my already scheduled programming over to bars before I lose my enthusiasm. Stupid enthusiasm, always getting lost.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Jazzercise Experiment: Day One

I attended my first free fitness class today as part of the 21-Day Study, which I am now officially (and so far affectionately) dubbing "The Jazzercise Experiment."

It was a Nia class, which is apparently a combination of dance and martial arts. It sounded pretty cool, but also pretty intense, so I was a little nervous about this being my first class. I was picturing a dozen muscular models performing something reminiscent of an opening number on "So You Think You Can Dance" while I stood among them, panting and confused.

Imagine my surprise when the mean age of the class turned out to be roughly 60 and the fitness level seemed to hover somewhere around "mildly out of shape." I mean, sure, I was relieved at first, but then I started wondering whether I had accidentally joined a subsidiary of the Red Hat Society or something...surely they had noticed my lack of red hat at registration, right?

Everyone was very nice, but it was clear that they were wondering how I had found myself there. I was wondering the same thing.

The class itself was alright...it was a very loose interpretation of both dance and martial arts, but I broke a mild sweat and didn't at any point feel like I would pass out. However, I did get dizzy from the number of times we were asked to spin in a circle. Does spinning in a circle actually count as exercise? It was like "step-step-step spin!" Over and over and over. I think I was supposed to feel joyful (youthful?) while spinning, but I was really just nervous about falling into the person next to me.

And then, at the end, after all the hopping and spinning around, we were asked to lie down on the floor. The floor on which our sweaty feet had been pounding for an hour. And I appeared to be the only one who found this to be remotely gross or uncomfortable. Ew.

So it doesn't look like Nia is going to be my path to fitness, but I've still got plenty more to try. Tomorrow is ballet bar class, which seems like it would attract a younger demographic...I could definitely be wrong, but I don't think red hat ladies do a lot of grand pliés.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Grief

Death is depressing. That is my deep thought for the day.

People are good, people are bad, and ultimately, they all die and people say nice things about them and then go home and eat a sandwich.

I attended the memorial service of the amazing person I mentioned in an earlier blog and I wanted it to provide some sort of happy closing note, like “Here we are, all together, celebrating what a great man he was and let’s all just be happy we knew him.” I left just feeling even sadder that he’s gone.

I’m not religious, but I did think it was nice that the clergyman who led the memorial managed to relate all of his biblical references to adoption (even Jesus was adopted!) – is there a reference book that has an alphabetical list of interests and their appropriate bible passages? Is there one for, like, stamp collecting? Racecar driving?

As cliché as it is, during the service my mind most definitely entertained thoughts of “Am I making the most of my life?” and “What would I regret if I died tomorrow?” It’s too bad that we need tragedy to remind us of these things, but I suppose that’s the silver lining...

I’m rambling. What I want to say is that when I die, I want people to have known me. I want people to have really enjoyed being around me. I want to have been surrounded by love. I want to have done something that matters.

Paul had all of that. May we all be so lucky.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Forcing Fitness

I have taken on a new challenge. The hope is that it will contribute to crossing numbers 18 and 19 off my 40 by 40 list, but we'll see.

A fitness studio near me is conducting a 21-Day Study, during which non-exercisers* attend three classes per week for three weeks for FREE. The goal is basically to find out whether forcing people to attend class regularly will help us eventually do it by choice. (And yes, obviously they hope you want to keep exercising and pay them for it after three weeks.)

It's smart on many levels because it gets us exercise-challenged folks there (which we've established has been a challenge), it gets us comfortable with exercise (which we are probably not) and then just when we'll probably be seeing results, asks us to start paying. Fortunately, I'm comfortable being manipulated when it comes with free stuff.

I have to say they're pretty hardcore. I went for orientation today and had to commit to a schedule right then and there. Thanks to the compatibility issues between my Mac, my work schedule in Outlook, and my Blackberry, that meant I arrived with a stack of paper calendars and proceeded to spend a good 30 minutes trying to figure out how to fit all of these classes in between work, kid activities and our upcoming family trip to D.C.

The end result is that I'll be attending four days of classes in a row before we leave for our trip...I'm a little nervous this might actually make me hate exercising more, but, as I was reminded several times today, if we miss a class, we're out and we have to pay $25, and I am determined to get my nine free classes!

Yep, so basically what I'm saying is that losing weight, getting in shape, and feeling better are all fine and good, but if you really want to get me off the couch, you better throw in a coupon.

*I fell off the treadmill wagon months ago

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I'm closing the door..feel free to jump out the window

I became a stepmother at age 20. Ok, technically we didn't get married until I was 24, but my (now) husband and stepson moved in with me when I was 20.

I've come to understand that pretty much every couple that's ever had a baby and then split up has a slightly different experience with the whole "co-parenting" thing. Some manage to be civil - even amicable. Others...not so much. (If you Google "non-custodial parent" you'll get more than half a million results and plenty of them are horror stories.)

My husband spent his senior year of high school in court fighting for custody of his son, which he won despite our family court system being skewed to protect the rights of the mother (I admit this is probably often a good thing, but not always). Without going into all the gory details, let's just say that some people shouldn't have children. And that - omitting the murderous types - his mother is, in my opinion, the worst kind of bad parent because rather than getting out of the picture completely, she shows up just often enough to hurt him, again and again.

As I think probably many stepmoms do, at some point over the last 13 years, I slipped into the role of mediator between my husband and his ex - and even sometimes between my stepson and his mother. I would convey the logistical messages needed to conduct visitation every other weekend, collect on medical bills, and generally keep her informed of her son's well-being when necessary.

I didn't do it because anyone asked me to, I did it in the interest of keeping the peace...and more importantly, because it was something I could do to make things just a little easier for my stepson, who would await her visits with a mix of trepidation and cautious optimism - like maybe this time, she would be the mom he deserved. At her best, she was misguided and neurotic. At her worst, she was negligent and abusive.

As he got older, the teenager evolved his own boundaries with his mother (ending visitation), but we've still been tethered to her by a court order. She's stopped speaking to my husband completely, asking for me even when he answers the phone. I've been more than patient with her, speaking to her for longer than required and even lending a semi-sympathetic ear when she has delusionally attempted to tell me about her drunk husband, deadbeat baby daddies, and financial woes.

I'll admit that I have always approached these conversations with a combination of dread and curiosity. How I would love to figure out what makes her tick...to understand how a mother (of five!) can be so decidedly non-maternal and utterly clueless. This is a woman who would tell you with complete sincerity that she could not possibly have had anything to do with her son's emotional issues because she wasn't really around that much.

The point of all of this is to say that amid all the bittersweetness that surrounds the teenager growing up and graduating from high school, there is a wholly sweet side to it: The end of the non-custodial parent drama.

Sure, her life will always be filled with homemade drama, but no longer does it have to be part of my life!

Yes, when it comes to the teenager's birth mother, I have officially stepped down from my role as mediator, shoulder-to-cry-on and carrier pigeon. This means I also have to resign as amateur psychologist, but with the teenager's budding interest in psychology (for real!), he may end up picking up where I left off one day...she could be the star of his thesis.

But I am not just announcing this fact to you, dear readers. I am proud to say that I took the emotionally healthy step of seeking closure with this woman who has been the source of so much anxiety over the years.

I'll stop short of a full transcript, but the day after graduation, I called her and hit the following key messages:

1. Everything I have ever done for you, was done only because I believed it was in his best interest
2. Now that he is an adult I am officially done playing mediator
3. I hope you two find a way to have a healthy relationship someday because until then, you will continue to hurt him
4. This concludes our business together. The end.

In case you're wondering, her response was mostly one of surprise, though she did say thank you before we hung up. I'm not kidding myself into thinking I will never hear from her again, but the heavy lifting is D-O-N-E.

It would be impossible to sum up the journey I've been on with her here (maybe one day I'll write a book). And I know that my experience is just a sliver of what the teenager has been through with her (maybe he'll write a book), but...

To finally be able to say it's over, case closed (literally), please let's never speak again...it brings me relief beyond words. Relief and happiness and a lightness of being.

Closure is a very, very good thing.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Commencing

He graduated! The teenager is officially done with high school. So proud. So relieved. So excited for him to live life beyond high school. (By the way, that's how little he was when he came into my life.)

It’s funny how you can look back on several entire years and think, "Wow, that went fast," when the reality at the time was that each day seemed never-ending.

Retrospectively, high school feels like a bit of a blip...like a few rough years outta 18 isn't so terrible (even though sometimes it was). Like I could be one of those contented elders who turns to the parent just entering the dark, scary tunnel and sagely pronounces, "This, too, shall pass." (Someone once said that to me and I almost cried.)

How I wish there was a way to shrink each individual event down to its actual size rather than letting it consume our purview...a graph that could have shown us that the leveling off point wasn't as far away as we thought.

There was a time when I thought we would lose him. He seemed so intent to jump off the bridge.

Now it feels like there was a well-hidden bungee cord and he’s bouncing back toward us. Our arms are outstretched, ready.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

With Love

The world lost an amazing person on Friday. Not just amazing in my opinion, but factually amazing – it’s just the truth.

He was going to change the world. He was going to see to it that every single orphan on the planet found a loving home. He left us prematurely and there is nothing fair about that…the only way I can make any sense of it is to think that the person who is going to bring about world peace must have been born on Friday and the universe simply could not sustain so much goodness within it all at once.

Paul was a mentor to me. He showed me that being a corporate executive is not an excuse to be an asshole (and, as I liked to tell him, he ruined me for all other executives). He taught me that passion is contagious. He inspired me to find a purpose in my work. He was brilliant and generous and funny and kind. He knew what mattered. And unlike a lot of people, he did not need a brain tumor to put his life in perspective.

I am grateful that I knew him. I am heartbroken that he is gone. And I am confident that his light will live on in the thousands of lives that he touched while he was here. Thank you, Paul.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Lucky Number Seven

My boys are seven. I have seven-year-olds. In four days, I will have second graders. Second grade is practically middle school, which is practically high school, which is practically moving away to college.

Ok, I'm being dramatic. Although I did cry...on Saturday night...after a looooong day of entertaining more than a dozen seven-year-olds and then a special dinner at Benihana (or, Beni-ha-ha, as they like to call it), we put the boys to bed and I realized that they really ARE big. Really, really big. And that pretty soon they won't want to crawl into our bed and snuggle anymore. And little Aidan won't ask, "Can you come cuddle me on the couch?" anymore. And some days, hopefully many years from now, they probably won't even want to speak to me anymore. And I cried.

When they were little it was so hard and so exhausting and I wished for just a sliver of self-sufficiency on their part. And now they are at that fabulous in-between point where they are still so sweet and cute and innocent and yet they can dress and feed themselves and even remind me when I forget to sign their permission slips...and well, even though I'm sure they will grow into amazing adults, I kind of just want them to stay small. For a little longer.

Anyway, somehow it's been seven entire years since they came into my life and I am grateful everyday that they did. And we all had fabulous birthdays and we're all a year older and some of us are more excited about that fact than others, but that's just the way it is. So here's to another year of adventure and experience and laughter and snuggles...as many snuggles as they'll give me.