Purging the files

Last weekend, I purged my recipe file. I have this big green file folder that I use to store recipes. For the past 5 years or so (okay, maybe 10), I have been collecting recipes that looked good. And stuffing them into the file folder (organized into categories, of course. Sort of.) And I thought about it recently and realized that if I were hit by a bus tomorrow, Emma would go through that file and instead of thinking fondly about the great family dinners we had, she would think, “Look at all these recipes that don’t even sound familiar.” So I decided to purge. This requires getting honest with yourself about what you’re never going to do. Kind of like going through your closet and getting red of anything you haven’t worn in a year. And here’s what I purged:

1. Any recipe for sorbet, ice cream, granita, sherbet, popsicles, or anything found in the frozen treats section. Easier to buy it. And probably better.

2. Anything that requires pounding something with a mallet.

3. Crock pot recipes for anything that is not intended to be served mushy. Because it always ends up mushy.

4. Anything that contains both chocolate and noodles.

5. Anything that has more than 10 ingredients. (Unless a) it’s for a special occasion and b) I’ve already made it so I know that it’s worth it.)

6. Anything that contains both fruit and meat. (I make an exception for apples and pork. Yum.)

7. Anything that has a jello-like consistency and isn’t jello. Like aspic.

8. Cold soup. (I know that some people like them. I don’t.)

9. 10 recipes for variations on “chicken in peanut sauce”. Because I have one that we all love and who needs more than one way to cook chicken in peanut sauce? Ditto for chicken enchiladas.

10. Candy. There are lots of professional candy makers who can make it better than I can. And that whole candy thermometer thing is a pain.

I got rid of about half of my recipes. In all honesty, I probably could have gotten rid of 3/4. But it’s a start.


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Decisions, decisions

My heart is breaking over the situation at Penn State, which seems to get worse by the minute. As a native Pennsylvanian and lifelong Penn State fan in a family of Penn State fans, I cannot believe the horror of it all.

Joe Paterno made a really bad decision. Or more likely, a series of really bad decisions. And he deserved to be fired over it, and I’m glad the Board did what it did.

But I feel very sorry for him. And I think it’s okay to feel both those things at once.

Think about a time in your life when you made a bad decision. (You’ve made them. We all have. It’s part of the human condition.) Did you say to yourself, “Wow. This seems like a really bad decision. I’m going to do it anyway”? Probably not. If you’re like me, you made that decision thinking that, based on everything you knew at the time, it was the best decision to make. My bad decisions are always clearly bad in the rearview mirror. And so are yours. But in the moment, they seemed like the right thing to do.

Fortunately, most of us are not in situations where our bad decisions will harm a lot of people. Usually it’s just ourselves and those we love who are lucky enough to deal with the fallout of our bad decisions.

I don’t know the circumstances around Joe Paterno’s decision not to go to the police. Maybe he was afraid. Maybe his good friend Jerry Sandusky tearfully begged him not to go to the police…and swore that he would never do it again. Maybe he was afraid that the whole Penn State football empire would crumble. (Which it now has.) I don’t know, and you don’t know, and we’ll probably never understand it. But I believe that he made the decision believing that it was the best decision to make at the time.

He’s 84 years old. He has spent 46 years building something that has now been ruined overnight. He will never recover – he simply doesn’t have enough time left.

So maybe just a little compassion is in order?


Filed under Current Events, Uncategorized

My 9/11

I flew to London the evening of Sept. 10. I had business meetings that week, and decided to spend a few extra days in one of my favorite cities. Tim, who would become my husband (but wasn’t yet) decided to come with me. I was always somewhat anxious about being far away from Emma, who was 8 at the time, but by that time I had done enough international travel that I didn’t think about it a lot.

We landed early in the morning, took the train and then the tube to our hotel in Leicester Square, and took a nap for a few hours. When we woke up, we went to a coffee shop to get some caffeine. The radio was on in the coffee shop, and I could hear W. talking about a bombing in the World Trade Center. At first I assumed it had something to do with the 1993 bombing – maybe someone was coming up for trial or something – but as I listened, I realized that something was happening in real time.

Tim and I quickly headed back to our hotel, and I stopped at a pay phone along the way to try to call Emma’s dad to make sure they were ok. But I couldn’t get through. When we got to the hotel, I tried again on the hotel phone, while Tim turned on CNN. Again, the lines were busy. I contacted the hotel operator to tell her I was having trouble getting through to the U.S., and she said something like, “You and everyone else, honey.” (I’m sure that it was a more polite British way of saying it, but that was the meaning.) As I sat down on the bed to watch TV, Tim handed me a glass of Jack Daniels from the mini-bar, with a look on his face that said, “You’re probably going to need this.”

At this point, it was probably 11:30 a.m. New York time. Both towers had fallen, but Flight 93 was still missing. I remember that it was impossible to understand what was going on – what had happened, the sequence of events – because there was so much going on, and so much confusion, that CNN wasn’t really reporting as much as showing images. Images of people holding up pictures of their loved ones, images (over and over and over) of the towers falling, images of people covered in white dust. Eventually I got through to Emma’s dad and my mom, so I knew that everyone was safe.

That evening, we gathered in a bar with all of the American ex-pats who were working for Unilever in London, and those of us who had traveled there for meetings that week. We just wanted to be together and laugh and cry.

For the next several days, I was in a state of constant anxiety. I didn’t know when we would get home…at times I wondered if we would get home at all. I wondered if World War III was about to break out. It was unclear if or when international flights were going to start again.

I kept praying over and over, “Please, God, send me a sign that everything is going to be ok.”

On Thursday, we went to the American Airlines office, because…actually, in retrospect, I have no idea why we went. It just seemed like the right thing to do. And while I was there, I saw the mom of one of Emma’s grade school classmates. Someone from home. Someone I recognized. And I had my sign.

(I didn’t know this woman well, and I can’t even remember her name. But after the fact, when I told the story to people, I referred to her as my angel. I ran into her years later, and started to cry when she told me, unprompted, that I was her angel that day. She had been praying for the same thing I had.)

After days of uncertainty, we were able to fly back to Chicago on Sunday, with our original tickets, as American had started flying to the U.S. again on Saturday.

Because all I felt that first week was anxiety, it wasn’t until I was back in Chicago that I was able to grieve. Able to feel like the work I was doing was pointless and futile. (When I expressed this to some others at work, they said, “Oh, yeah, we felt that last week. You’re a week behind.”) I remember that for a long time, the sound of sirens caused me tremendous anxiety. My heart would pound and I would start to sweat.

To this day, I feel like I missed something by not being here when it happened. I missed the opportunity to grieve with my family, friends, neighbors, and church community. I missed news stories. I missed being part of this collective outpouring of grief. The people of London were tremendously understanding and supportive. But it wasn’t the same.

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The world according to Bob Maue

My dad would be 94 years old today. In honor of his birthday, I’m remembering some of my favorite Bob Maue quotes:

1. If you keep watching Batman, you’re going to turn into a moron.

2. Why don’t you play it slowly until you learn it, and then you can play it fast?

3. Take the spoon out of that glass, or you’re going to put your eye out.

4. (In “sympathy” for my falling down the stairs): If you didn’t wear such dumb shoes, that wouldn’t happen.

5. (Also in “sympathy” for my falling down the stairs): If you wouldn’t come down the stairs in your stocking feet, that wouldn’t happen.

6. The sun is over the yard-arm. (Meaning it’s past 5:00, and therefore, cocktail time.)

7. If that guy had a propeller on his head, he could fly. (Said about a certain former pastor of our church, who will remain nameless out of respect.)

8. In response to my mom’s question, “If Ann-Margret came to the front door and asked you to run away with her, would you go?”: I’d have to think about it.

9. Jesus Christ, why can’t you let the clutch out slowly? (After about 5 stalls in a row, as I was learning to drive a stick shift in the Knoebel’s parking lot.)

10. While you’re up, get me a beer, would you?

I miss you, Daddy.


Filed under Family, Funny Things, Gratitude

The blame game

I’ve noticed a common theme running through my life this week, woven through the books I’ve been reading and real-life events.  The theme of trying to assign blame for tragic events…a school bus accident (fiction), a teenager’s death from cancer (fiction), a shooting in Arizona (real life.) As humans, we have a need for someone to be at fault for things that happen. Because something inside us believes that if we know who’s at fault, we can figure out why it happened, and then we can figure out what we need to do to keep it from happening again. And then when we figure that all out, then no one we love – or anyone, for that matter (well, the good people anyway) – will have anything bad happen to them anymore.

But the fact is that not everything we want to know is knowable, and not everything we want to prevent is preventable.

There is risk that comes with living. Each morning when we walk out the door, we take a risk that we could be in the wrong place at the right time (or is it vice versa? I can never figure that out.)

I’ve heard the following causes this week for the shooting in Tucson: lax gun laws, lax state reporting of gun ownership, political rhetoric (aka vitriolic speech), parents who didn’t do enough, community college faculty and staff who didn’t do enough, state police who didn’t do enough. And it’s likely that all of those things were contributing factors to the events of last Saturday.

But there is no one cause. No one to blame. It’s complicated. And random. People suffer from mental illness and don’t get help, because they can’t afford it, are ashamed of it, or don’t recognize it in themselves. Parents do the best they can. The police do the best they can. Reporting agencies do the best they can. We all do the best we can.

Each of us makes choices every day. Hundreds or thousands of choices. As adults, we have the God-given right to make our own choices. We can drink, smoke, take drugs (or not take drugs), drive under the influence, drive over the speed limit, keep our vehicles in good working order or not. We can walk outside the crosswalk, wait longer than we should to investigate that cough/lump/headache, and put off until tomorrow the difficult conversations we should have today.

And we all have to live with the consequences of the choices that we make. Other people have to live with the consequences of the choices that we make. The part we don’t like is that we have to live with the consequences of the choices that other people make.  But that’s the way it works. You can’t have one without the other.

And the part that we really don’t like is that we can do everything exactly right and bad things will still happen.

It’s just the way it is.

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Undecking the halls

Is there a sadder annual chore than taking down the Christmas tree?

When we trim the tree, there’s such hope. Not only “hope” in the traditional Advent kind of way. But hope for the season. That all the presents will be perfect. That all the children will be happy all the time, even on long car rides. That everyone will get along. That all of the food will be ready at the same time. That you will take advantage of the long university break and work out every day and clean closets and figure out how to use an iPod. That your sister will make apple pie for New Year’s dinner. (Never mind.)

Actually, I usually start the holiday season with fairly realistic expectations. I know that, like most things, there will be good and there will be not-so-good. That nothing is perfect. That much of how it all turns out will be out of my control. (Imagine that, something being out of my control.)  But somewhere along the way, I get sucked into the Christmas vortex. My expectations rise.

And, as usually happens in life, there was good and there was so-so and there was not so good.

Not every gift was a delight. Some will never be played with and will be taken to Goodwill as part of next year’s pre-Christmas toy purge.  (And one or two didn’t even make it through Christmas morning without a tiny-but-important piece being lost.)

Feelings were hurt.

Situations were uncomfortable.

People got tired and cranky.  (Mostly me.)

Kids got bored and crabby and threw french fries at each other in the car.

But there was lots of good as well. Laughter with family and good friends. Long days with no plans and no goals. Cookies and carrots that magically disappeared after Christmas-eve bedtime, much to a 4-year-old’s amazement. Presents that delighted. Reconnections with people I don’t see very often.

And now it is over. The tree comes down and the decorations go back into storage. Until they come out again, bringing with them the hope of next holiday season.

When everything will be perfect.



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Molasses and salsa

September makes me want to get organized. To throw things out. To find out how many jars of molasses I have in my cupboard and put them all together. (4. I have 4 jars of molasses in my cupboard. All of them open. And I have 4 bottles of Worcestershire sauce, 8 jars of salsa, 4 large containers of Crisco and more bottles of vinegar than I can even count. And cumin. Man, do I have cumin.)

But I digress. (Maybe it’s been a few Septembers since I organized the kitchen cabinets.)

September makes me want to go through closets and get rid of things that don’t fit anymore. (Don’t fit the kids anymore, I mean. Of course, everything still fits me.) To get rid of the mountain of papers in the office. To organize and fold. To clean that utility closet that still sort of smells like the cat died in it  bad.

I’ve long thought that the Jewish calendar, with the New Year in September, made so much more sense than the random January 1 date in the middle of winter. (Of course, I realize that it’s not winter everywhere in January. Typical American-centeredness, I know.)

September, with its cool (er) nights and low (er) humidity (okay, on some days), gives me energy. The start of school makes me feel like it’s a new beginning. Like the world is full of possibilities. Like anything is possible. Like this is the year that I will get organized and stay organized. Like this is the year I will write songs, and write in my journal every day, and talk to all the people I care about on a regular basis.

Yep, this is going to be that year.

And in the meantime, just let me know if you need any molasses.

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The way things are supposed to be

I recently heard a remark. One that I’ve heard many times before. One that’s difficult to disagree with. Someone was praising a young woman who called off her engagement, saying, “At least she called it off before they got married and brought children into the world.”

Now it’s possible that I’m a tad bit sensitive on this topic, having had two marriages that produced children and then ended in divorce. I do feel the sting of such comments. And I’m so grateful for the exact people that my children are, that I can’t imagine a world without them. And I don’t regret the choices I’ve made.

And when I hear people make comments like, “At least the person didn’t do ____”,  “Thank goodness she didn’t do ____”, I realize how my philosophy of all of that has changed in the past several years.

I’ve come to believe that things play out the way they’re supposed to. The way they’re meant to. The way they just do. Not good or bad. That young woman called off her wedding because it was supposed to play out that way.  Because millions of years ago, for whatever reason, things were set in motion. And each generation shaped the next generation. And as a result of all of that history, each of us came to be who were meant to be. To behave the way we behave because of the forces – parents, friends, circumstances – that shaped our lives. That our parents acted the way they acted because of the forces that shaped their lives. And so on. Back through the generations.

I stop short of calling it predestination. Short of believing in some grand being who knows in advance how everything will play out and watches it all happen. Because then you get into the whole, “how could a loving God allow all those bad things to happen” discussion, and I don’t have good answers, and then it gets icky.

And it’s not to say that we’re just puppets in some big “Kukla, Fran and Ollie” episode (sorry, I’m showing my age here), unable to make our own choices. We are able to make choices. And we do. It’s just that there are reasons why we make the choices we do.

I don’t second-guess the past (much, anyway.) I try to learn from it and move on. I try to inflict as little damage as possible (sometimes unsuccessfully.) But I don’t wish that things had been different. Because they were what they were.

And they are what they are.


Filed under Gratitude, Uncategorized

The one where David learns to swim

When Emma was a baby, I threw away all the parenting books. Because I decided that many people who were a lot stupider than me had successfully raised children, and if I trusted my gut, I would probably be okay. (I actually did think those exact thoughts. This was obviously before I learned humility and became the compassionate person I am today.)

And usually when I trust my gut, I’m okay. (And when I talk myself out of what my gut is telling me, I get into all kinds of trouble. But that’s a topic for another day.)

But sticking to what my gut tells me to do is still scary, painful and very unpleasant at times.

David has learned to swim. Not that he has a beautiful stroke or anything. But swim as in “if he falls into deep water he can get himself out without drowning.” Which when you get down to it is really the most important thing when it comes to swimming.

In four weeks, he has gone from crying every night on the way to swim lessons to telling me how much he can’t wait to go to swim lessons and wanting to practice his swimming every chance he gets.  In four weeks, he’s gone from saying, “Why does Margaret get to stay in Level 1 and I have to go to Level 2?” to saying, “Don’t worry, Margaret. Someday you’ll get to be in Level 2.” (Not that she looked worried.)

In four weeks, he is like a different kid.

Many of you know that I almost relented. I was thisclose to telling him he didn’t have to do it. Thisclose to not being able to stand the breathless sobbing all the way from camp to the pool. Four nights a week. For four weeks. And when he wasn’t crying, he was complaining.

But something told me that if I stayed calm, and told him overandoverandover that he could do it, told him to think about how good he’d feel after he proved to himself he could do it, that it would be okay.

I will be eternally grateful to Derek – the patient, kind – yet firm – college student who helped David overcome his fear. (Not that Derek was too thrilled about it in the beginning. He told one of Emma’s friends that he specifically signed up for Level 2 so he wouldn’t have any criers, and he was not too happy that he had a crier.)

Now if I could just get Derek to come to my house and convince David to take the training wheels off his bike.

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Summer fantasies

Ah, the fantasies of summer.

Each year (round about April) I have this fantasy of the way summer is going to be. Long, lazy days with no homework, no 8 a.m. school arrival times, no cross-country practice, no ACTs to prepare for. No food-service cards to recharge online. No keeping track of when pajama day is. (Or when show-and-tell day is. Or what the show-and-tell theme is.) No identifying 15 things in the house that start with the letter Y.

Nothing to do, nowhere to be. Late dinners of simple, grilled food. Trips to the pool after dinner. Relaxed bedtimes. Relaxed wake times. Low stress.

And I count the days until the end of school.

At which point reality sets in.

8 a.m. school arrival times (to the elementary and preschools 6 short blocks from our house) are replaced by 8 a.m. (ok, “-ish”) arrivals at the day camp program (a 20-minute round-trip from home). And the same trip in the evening.  Homework is replaced by swim lessons four nights a week. The camp also has pajama day. And super hero day. (Which I forgot have no memory of ever knowing about.)

Grilled food is actually a rotating selection of pizza/macaroni and cheese/scrambled eggs after swim lessons. Relaxed bedtimes are actually hurry-up-it’s-late-and-you-have-to-get-up-for-camp. Post-dinner trips to the pool are replaced by I don’t even know what.  Relaxed wake times are not possible because…oh yeah, I still have to go to work in the summer.

High humidities eliminate any hope of low stress. (Stop touching me.)

So here I sit on August 3, fantasizing about the start of school and the start of Fall. Counting the days (or at least the weeks) until we are back in our regular routine. Dreaming of cool nights and cool mornings. Of school shoes and new backpacks. Of hot dinners in the crock pot. Of seeing the other school moms on a regular basis.

And in my Fall fantasies… it will be perfect.

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Evidence of a Benevolent God

I recently had a conversation with a friend who stated that it’s not that he doesn’t believe in God…it’s just that he’s not sure he believes in a benevolent God.

Hmmm…that was a new one for me. No God? Possible. God who wants bad for people? Much harder for me to grasp. (It’s the devil’s job to be bad, and God’s job to be good, right?)

So of course that started me thinking about the reasons I believe in a benevolent God. Not a God who steps in to fix things. Not a God who prevents evil. But a God who wants good things for me, even if I manage to muck it up much of the time.

I could list lots of things – snuggly children. (Could be preservation of the species. If they’re snuggly, you’re less likely to kill them.) A day with low humidity after a summer of 70+ dewpoints.  (Could be just random weather. Or more preservation of the species. If the humidity is down, I’m less likely to kill people.)

But the best I can come up with is my experience that there are no coincidences in life. That experience of the exact right person with the exact right experience, or the exact right wisdom, or the exact right piece of knowledge, showing up in my life at exactly the right time.

Like the time I was at a conference (at the ripe old age of 23) and confided to a man that I’d just met that I was thinking about going to business school but that I was scared to quit my job. And he said, “My firm just conducted a survey of the best business schools in the country and Kellogg came out at the top of the list. My daughter just graduated from there. You can go stay with her for a weekend in New York and learn more about it.” And then I did. (I’m sure she must have been ready to kill him for sticking him with a stranger in her apartment for a weekend.)  No coincidence.

Or the many times I’ve been searching for information…the times I was considering job changes and came upon just the right person with just the right angle on the situation. The times I was struggling with a kid issue and came upon someone who had faced exactly the same thing.

But the best example was on Sept. 11. 2o01, when we were stranded in London and I was so scared that I’d never get home, and I prayed for God to send me a sign that everything would be fine, and then I walked into the American Airlines office and standing in line ahead of me was the mom of one of Emma’s classmates who was stuck in London too. Emma changed schools soon afterward, so I only saw that mom one more time, several years later, when she explained to me that she too had prayed for a sign that everything was going to be ok, and then SHE saw ME standing in that line. No coincidence.

In most cases these people disappeared from my life immediately (or soon after) after our encounter. We didn’t stay in touch, or even pretend that we would. We just had a moment. Or a few moments. Or a few days.

Now, I know that I played my own part in these experiences. I opened up to the people in question. Shared with them what was going on in my life or in my mind at that moment. Invited them in to my life.

Do I believe that God picked them up and put them there? No. I don’t know how it happened. But I just can’t believe that it was random. For me, it was evidence.

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Filed under Gratitude, On Being Episcopalian

Today is my day

Earlier this year, I became aware of a blogging project called the 3six5, in which two self-described media geeks, Len Kendall and Dan Honigman, set out to create a 365-day blog, with a different author each day, writing about whatever struck them that day. When I became aware of it, there were still days available, so I signed up for a date. Which got changed at pretty much the last minute. So today was my day. Which happens to be my mom’s 85th birthday.

I was so nervous that I’d have writer’s block that I hardly slept last night. Technically, I had until 8:00 this evening to submit my post, but I knew that I would obsess about it all day until I got it done. So, fueled by coffee, I wrote and submitted my post. It’s not my best work, by any means. But it’s heartfelt and true, and represents what I’m thinking about today. On my mom’s 85th birthday.

Happy Birthday, Mom. Thanks to you and Dad for giving me a strong sense of what home should be, so that I could create a home here in Chicago.

I’m honored to have been part of this project. If you have time to read some of the posts, I think you’ll find it worth your time. There are many wonderful stories. Most better than mine. But for what it’s worth, here’s mine:

Deb Maue – the 3six5

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Risking it

As I’ve been thinking about and praying for Abby Sunderland over the last 24 hours, I’ve been thinking about the parental “risk spectrum.”

On one end are parents who don’t let their 16-year old daughter drive around the block alone. On the other end are parents who let their 16-year-old daughter sail around the world alone.

Note that the purpose of this post is not to bash the parents who let their daughter sail around the world alone. While I don’t understand it, I don’t know them, their daughter, or any of the circumstances, so it’s not my place to comment on it.

Making decisions about what’s an acceptable level of risk is hard. It’s sometimes agonizing for me.

I will never forget the day I put Emma on a plane by herself for the first time and then cried the whole way home. (She was 10.) Or the day I let her go on the el by herself for the first time (which was actually scarier than the plane, because there was no el employee to hand her off to, and no one waiting for her on the other end.)

I probably have a higher level of risk tolerance than many parents. In general, I don’t think the world is a more dangerous place than it used to be, as I’ve written about here. I did let Emma go on a plane by herself, and I did let her ride the el by herself. I didn’t put those plastic bumpers on the edges of the coffee table, and my kids had the bruises to show for it. I hate to admit it, but I don’t make my kids wear bike helmets when they’re riding up and down the sidewalk (when they ride in the street, yes). And we now have a trampoline in the back yard.

But regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, I think making daily decisions about how much risk you can tolerate is one of the hardest tasks of parenting.

I wish I could just have my set of rules to refer to. That would make it neat and tidy. This is ok. This is not ok. But the fact is that the decisions are situational and based on the individual kid. What I’m ok with for Emma, I may not be ok with for Margaret when the time comes. (No, let me restate that. What I’m ok with for Emma, I can say with absolute certainty I will not be ok with for Margaret.)

I guess we all just do the best we can. And then close our eyes and pray.

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We’re completing another school year today.  David’s first year of “real” school. Margaret’s first year of pre-school. Emma’s junior year of high school. (Okay, for Emma, it doesn’t completely end until Wednesday, but work with me here.)

And again, I’m struck by how fast it went.  School started. I blinked and it was Halloween. I blinked again and it was Christmas. I blinked again and it was Easter. I blinked again and school was ending.  Another year gone.

I have proof that time has passed.  David’s hair (more) and teeth (less) are evidence.

I know I’m not alone. I’m amazed by how many conversations include a reference to how quickly time passes. So forgive me if I’m stating the obvious.

I’ve had twelve years of start of school/blink/Halloween/blink/Christmas/blink/Easter/blink/end of school with Emma. I have one more and then she will be gone. On to the next phase of her life.  But I won’t think about that now.

I will think about today, as we enter the lazy, hazy, hot, humid, sweat-running-down-my-back-and-front-why-do-we-live-here (sorry, that’s a topic for another post) days of summer.  Of relaxed bedtimes and relaxed dinner times and what-the-heck-it’s-hot-let’s-eat-dinner-at-the-pool evenings.  Of sunscreen (I know that you’re supposed to use it year-round but I don’t, okay?) and damp beach towels and block parties and where’s my other flip flop?

Today it stretches in front of me.

If only I didn’t have to blink.

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Don’t just do something, sit there

Since this is one of my favorite slogans, you’d think I’d do a better job remembering and living it.  And yet, as I sit here in my living room with sweat running down my back from goingtoJewelrunningtothehardwarestorechangingthecatlitterloadingthedishwasherandmarinatingthesteak, I’m reminded that I did it again.

Yet again, I’ve entered the weekend with list in hand, ready to GET THINGS DONE.  As if the goal of the weekend (or life, for that matter) was to see how much can be accomplished in a limited amount of time. Even though I know from the experience of hundreds of weekends that when I treat the weekend as a race to the finish line, I spend Monday tired and irritable.

I come from a family where efficiency was important. If you had suggested to my dad that perhaps doing something (mowing the lawn, running errands, getting to the cottage) as efficiently as possible wasn’t the main objective, he would have looked at you as if you had two heads.  With my dad (and with his dad) there wasn’t a lot of stopping to smell the roses.  Taking a different route just to get a different perspective.  Worrying about how the paneling actually looked vs. how quickly it could be done. (Guess what? The paneling didn’t look very good.)

So I come by it honestly. But that makes the habit that much harder to break.

To my credit, I’m making progress. Yesterday, I played Chutes and Ladders with the kids and it wasn’t even on the list. (Not that it was relaxing though, since I REALLY hate playing Chutes and Ladders. Maybe it’s because all that back-sliding down the chutes is so inefficient.) I had a lovely impromptu dinner outside with my friends.

So now I’m done for the weekend. As soon as I fold the laundry. And grill the steak. Okay, maybe I’m not completely done, but I’m definitely resting until 5:00.

And yes, “write a blog post” was on the list.

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Filed under Gratitude, Uncategorized

Things I learned from my kids on Mother’s Day weekend

1. If you misplace your lost tooth, if you write a letter to the tooth fairy, she’ll come anyway. (Actually, I guess David’s the one who learned this, not me.)

2. There’s nothing wrong with you that a Band-Aid won’t make feel better.

3. If one Band-Aid is good, two is better.

4. I make the best pancakes in the world. (From David’s Mother’s Day letter to me.)

5. I look prettiest when I get married. (From the same letter. I’m flattered, but let’s not say any more about that one.)

6. A yellow plastic flower in a painted plastic goblet makes for a wonderful Mother’s Day gift. (There was real soil in it. Not sure why that was necessary, but whatever.)

7. Even 16-year-olds want their mom when they don’t feel well.

8.  It’s possible for a 4-year-old to ride a bicycle around Walmart and not hit anyone. (A few people had fear in their eyes, however.)

9. Even teenagers think Betty White is cool. Which is cool. Because she is.

10. I’m the luckiest Mom in the world. Which I already knew. But it’s good to be reminded once a year.

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Drug-induced ranting

I just successfully purchased a box of cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine, after being finger-printed and DNA-sampled.  Well, not quite. But close.

I guess I hadn’t bought anything containing pseudoephedrine in a long time. (I’m one of those people who prefers to groan about my symptoms to anyone within earshot, rather than actually taking something that would alleviate them.)  But having worked as a consultant for a major drug chain for several years, I was tangentially involved in the whole “move the pseudoephedrine behind the counter because teenagers are using it to make meth” initiative. But I guess I assumed that you just had to show your driver’s license to prove to the teenager behind the counter that you were 18 (as if anyone REALLY has to look at my driver’s license to be convinced that I’m 18, but whatever) and then you paid your money and left.

But no, I not only had to show my driver’s license, but the pharmacy assistant had to scan the back of it, then key in a bunch of info from the front of my driver’s license. Then I had to sign a statement that I didn’t really read, but was about some fine or something, which assume was the penalty for re-selling the pseudoephedrine-containing product to a teenager.  Which I’m not going to do, whether or not I sign the statement.

Really? Aren’t we going a little bit overboard? I can buy into having it behind the counter and making me show my driver’s license to prove that I’m 18. But scanning my license? Making me sign a statement, as if I don’t know that if I have to be 18 to buy the product I shouldn’t turn around and re-sell it to someone else?

But the bigger question is….is all this bureaucratic nonsense making any difference? Or is it just a huge pain in the ass to retailers and the average consumer. The last I checked, people who wanted to make meth (which just to be clear, doesn’t include me; Emma has a bad cold) were still figuring out how to get the raw materials.

Can’t we focus on more important things, like going around making Hispanic-looking people prove that they belong here? Oh wait, never mind.


Filed under Current Events

What a difference a week makes

How is it possible that one week of Spring Break got us so discombobulated?

It’s not like we went anywhere, or did anything terribly exciting (save for one college visit.)

We mostly went to church (when you sing in the choir in the Episcopal church, Holy Week is pretty much a marathon of rehearsals and services which leave you scratching your head and wondering why you do it each year.) I went to work, the kids went to childcare, Emma slept in. No muss, no fuss.

And yet this morning, we were all crabby and tired. No one wanted to cooperate. (Not even the kids.) David, who loves school, didn’t want to go to school. (“But I already know all my letters. Why does she keep teaching them?”) Margaret clung to me at school (it was pretty much a cling-fest at pre-school, as we were not the only ones in our situation.)

The good news is that we’ll be back in the swing of things by tomorrow.  And into the home stretch, school-wise.  And then on to the glorious days of summer, when the routine will go totally out of the window…

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Becoming Real

I have a love-hate relationship with Holy Week and Easter. (Okay, hate is too strong. I have a difficult, complicated relationship with Holy Week and Easter.)   First, there’s all the hocus-pocus associated with Easter. (Christmas has a lot of hocus-pocus too, but the traditions of Christmas – giving, celebration, family, food) carry me through that one.  Then there’s the fact that for choir members, Holy Week is a long, grueling marathon which starts on Palm Sunday and doesn’t end until about noon on Easter Sunday.

But more and more, I’m able to see Holy Week and Easter in a new light, as not about physical dying and rebirth, but about dying to those things that keep us isolated and in pain, in darkness and suffering.

And instead, becoming Real.

I was reminded of this today as I heard again this passage from the children’s book “The Velveteen Rabbit”, by Margery Williams.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

I suppose you are real?” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.

“The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,” he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.

As was pointed out in today’s sermon, the story of the Velveteen Rabbit, like the story of Easter, is a  Resurrection story. And a recovery story.  About having to go through the pain to find the healing, to go through the discomfort of learning to be honest so that I can be comfortable in my own skin. About being humble enough to recognize that my power is limited but God’s isn’t.  About recognizing that perfection isn’t the goal, but Realness is.

You don’t have to go to church on Easter to become Real. You don’t have to wave palms or wash feet. Those are helpful to me in my path to Realness, as they are a reminder of the journey from darkness to light, from isolation to inclusion and wholeness.  Through the pain to the healing.

But whatever your path to Realness, I wish you traveling mercies.

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Filed under On Being Episcopalian, Recovery

Spin the wheel

As I enter the college search process with my eldest child, I’m struck by how much more complicated the process seems than it did when I was in high school. This is partly because I’m not the one going through it now. It’s partly because, for many people, technology and cheap airfares make the world a lot smaller and therefore the college options more vast. Part of it is because I grew up in a fairly rural area where most of us didn’t know about a lot of the options outside a limited geographic area.

And Harold Thomas, our guidance counselor at Shamokin Area High School, did not help the situation.

Mr. Thomas (rest in peace) was a large man, with a voice that can best be described as “pinched.” (Imitating Mr. Thomas’ voice is still a major activity at our high school reunions.)

Mr. Thomas didn’t exactly see the world as filled with college choices.

In high school, we imagined that Mr. Thomas had a large wheel hidden somewhere in his office. Prior to walking into your meeting with him to discuss college options, Mr. Thomas would spin the wheel to determine where you would go.

If you imagine the wheel separated into 12 sections (think “Wheel of Fortune”), 5 of the sections were marked “Penn State – Hazelton Campus”, 4 were marked “Bloomsburg” (then a state college, now university), 1 was marked “other state colleges in Pennsylvania”, and 1 was marked “Penn State – main campus.”

If you suggested to Mr. Thomas that you might want to go to a school other than those on the wheel – say, Juniata, or Muilenberg, or Lafayette, or the Coast Guard Academy, or God forbid, Princeton – you were met with a quizzical stare that said, “Why would you ever want to do  that?”  And then, of course, if you actually wanted to pursue one of those “other” schools, you were pretty much on your own.

I have to say that, while the experience wasn’t terribly inspiring, it wasn’t terribly stressful either.

I see Emma, who is smart and mature and grounded and wonderful (and I’m, of course, not biased in any way) dealing with the dual pressures of seemingly unlimited choices, and worry that she won’t get into any of the schools on her list. And I know that her friends are going through the same thing too. Over the next year, we will explore options, visit Web sites and campuses, talk to people, look at brochures. Even though I’m “in the business”, I will experience it in a completely different way from the other side. It will be fun and scary. And at the end, she will land someplace where she feels like she is “home”, as I did when I visited Juniata for the first time, and as I did the four years that I was there.

I’m glad she has so many choices.

But maybe it was easier to just spin the wheel.


Filed under Parenting

A mother’s job

Two things have prompted me to think about parenting. Last night, I was watching a new show (one of the Jay Leno NBC replacement shows) called (surpisingly) “Parenthood”, which seems to me to be a fairly accurate representation of the struggles of parenting (with the exception of the character of the patriarch’s youngest son, who I think is not very believable and is also a total ass). Then this morning, I was reading an article in the Trib about a class being offered through some of the suburban high schools that supposedly teaches people to be better parents of teen-agers.

And then this got me to thinking about my parenting philosophy. Not that my personal parenting philosophy matters to anyone else, or is the right one. Not that my parenting philosophy results in my being a perfect parent. In fact, I have many stories of imperfect parenting. (One of my favorite examples  is standing at Disney’s Animal Kingdom with a then7-year-old Emma, shouting, “I did not pay all this money to have you come here and play with a Gatorade bottle! Now look at the animals!”) While I have never actually left my child at Chuck-E-Cheese, or forgotten to pick up a child from soccer practice, I have had many moments of getting to work and wondering whether I actually dropped the kids off or whether they were still in the van, because I wasn’t really paying attention to what I was doing when I dropped them off.

But while it doesn’t make me the Perfect Parent, my parenting philosophy does act as a filter for me when I’m faced with decisions. So here it is, for what it’s worth:

I believe that my job as a parent is not to make my kids happy. Nor is it to make my kids thrive. My job as a parent is to help my children learn the skills they will need to thrive without me.  Not only has remembering this philosophy been a useful filter for me over the years as I’ve had to make decisions in the heat of the moment.  It’s also given me great strength in overcoming the pull to rescue my kids, or to give in to what they want. To hold on. As a 6-month-old was crying in his crib in the middle of the night because he wanted a bottle, and I knew that if I held on, he would figure out how to get himself back to sleep. As that same child, now 6, had an anxiety attack over his upcoming swimming lesson, and I knew that if I held on, he would get through the lesson and have a tremendous feeling of accomplishment and pride because he overcame his fear. As a different child begged me to bring to school her lunch-forgotten-on-the-kitchen-table, and I knew that if I held on, she would not starve, and maybe she’d be more likely to remember it next time. And as I drag a tantrummy youngest child to time out in her room,  and I know that if I hold (and hold on and hold on and hold on), at some point, maybe she’ll learn some self-control.

Help them learn the skills they will need to thrive without me. And then just love them as hard as I can.

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Uh oh, she’s talking politics

I rarely write about politics, and I probably shouldn’t be writing about it now. All of you people thinking, “Who cares what you think about politics?” have my permission to stop reading right now.  Because I’m quite sure that I don’t know all of the complexities of this issue. And I also have to admit that I don’t have any answers for this particular issue, only questions.

I’m glad that Scott Brown won in Massachusetts, because it likely means putting the brakes on health care reform as it’s currently defined by the House and Senate bills. Because I don’t believe that they get at the root of the health care problems in this country. I often hear people say (about this issue and others), “Well, it’s better than doing nothing.” And I certainly understand that feeling, and in many cases, doing something is better than nothing. But doing the wrong thing is worse than doing nothing.  There. I said it. Throw tomatoes at me if you want.

Yes, I think it’s wrong that children don’t have decent health care in this country. And yes, I think we have a responsibility to take care of sick people who can’t afford to pay for health care.  And yes, I think it sucks that someone with a chronically ill child can’t get health insurance when they get a new job after their old job was eliminated (or “made redundant” as they say in my former world.)

But I think we have not yet grappled with some fundamental questions around this issue. Like, what is Basic Level of Health Care (as in, the thing we all believe everyone is entitled to)? Routine wellness care? Antibiotics when you’re sick? A cast for a broken bone? Hard to argue with those. The best cancer treatment money can buy? Even if that’s the right thing to do, how could we ever afford to give it to everyone for free? I’ve heard people say that these are just details that have to be worked out. But I believe they are fundamental questions that have to be answered before we can get anywhere.

It seems to me that one of the problems with health care in this country is that if you have insurance, you pay next to nothing for health care, and if you don’t have insurance, you pay an exorbitant amount (and the people who don’t have insurance are generally the people who can least afford to pay an exorbitant amount.) Here’s a personal illustration. When Margaret was 7 months old, she was hospitalized for 2 weeks with a respiratory infection. After about a week, they started running tests to see if anything else was going on. Now, we all knew that she didn’t have the diseases she was being tested for (cystic fibrosis being one of them.) But hey, if the doctor thinks we should do the test, then let’s do it. Particularly because it didn’t cost us anything, because we had already reached our out-of-pocket maximum.  The total bill for Margaret’s hospital stay was over $40,000 (which is nothing compared to what it would have been if she had required surgery or intensive care, or both. But it’s still a lot of money.) And of that, we paid about $600, figuring in what we saved in taxes by paying for it with Flexible Spending money. We probably would have paid the same amount if she had been there for 2 days or 2 weeks. Had zero tests or a hundred.

Now I’m not saying that I wanted to pay more money. But I’m saying that I believe in economics, and economics tells us that people act according to incentives – we do what’s in our best interest. And this “all or nothing” system creates incentives for people with insurance to use as much health care as is available, because once we hit the out-of-pocket maximum, it’s free.  Add to that the incentive that doctors have to run unnecessary tests because there’s no limit on what a jury can award in malpractice cases, and you have a lot of incentives to use more health care. And I don’t see any evidence that the bills in the House and Senate address that.  In fact, they don’t appear to address the cost side of the equation at all.

I know I’m biased.  When it comes to health care, I’m one of the “haves” (actually, when it comes to just about anything in life, I’m one of the “haves”.) I have great insurance. When I tell the doctor the name of my insurance company, the relief is evident on his face. And I’m also biased toward free markets and capitalism and all that stuff. I know that I would likely feel differently if I was one of the millions of uninsured in this country.

But it seems to me that there are things we haven’t tried yet that are worth trying before we take this leap into government-run insurance companies. Like allowing insurers to compete nationally, to increase competition. Malpractice tort reform. (Don’t get me started on how everyone else is allowed to make mistakes but doctors are required to be perfect.)  Creating a relationship between the care you get and the care you pay for. Like I said, I don’t have the answers. But the House and Senate don’t either. Slow down.  Bad solutions to big problems lead to bigger problems.

Ok, I’m stepping off my soapbox now.

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7 Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Had a Double Mastectomy

Here’s the short version of my story: a few months ago, I was diagnosed with DCIS, a highly curable, non-invasive form of breast cancer (some people consider it to be pre-cancer, but most health professionals think of it kind of like the not-bad kind of skin cancer…something that has to be dealt with, but it’s not going to kill you.) But because of my family history (dad with breast cancer – big red flag), my breast surgeon recommended that I be tested for the gene mutation that increases the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. On New Year’s Eve, I found out that I have the BRCA2 gene mutation. I spent about 48 hours thinking about my options, and quickly decided that I did not ever want to deal with invasive breast cancer or ovarian cancer, so the best course of treatment for me was to have a double mastectomy and oophorectomy (which I think is a funny word.) I’m sure that to some people, 48 hours doesn’t seem like a long time to think about such a big decision, but I had really started thinking about it a couple of weeks earlier, when I had the blood test. After meeting with the breast surgeon again and a plastic surgeon, I decided that I would have reconstruction with silicone implants, vs. a transfer of my own fat.

I admit, I did not do a lot of research about what to expect from a double mastectomy. Honestly, a lot of people kindly offered to connect me with other breast cancer survivors and people who had mastectomies, but I didn’t feel like I belonged in other group. I was fortunate that I didn’t have invasive cancer. so I didn’t belong in that group. But I did need treatment, so I didn’t feel like I belonged in the purely prophylactic mastectomy group either. But it was probably mostly because I don’t really like to talk on the phone with people I don’t know.

I had spoken with a few friends who had had mastectomies and who told me it really wasn’t that bad (they were right.)

But in hindsight, here are the things I learned that I wish I had known before my surgery:

1. You can make a lanyard and wear your surgical drains around your neck. Once a nurse suggested this, it made living with the drains so much easier. I had been pinning them to the inside of my clothes/nightgown, and I could never get them in a place that was comfortable. At one of my post-surgical visits, the nurse made a lanyard out of a long, thin strip of gauze. And I wanted to kiss her.

2. The days were way easier than I thought they would be and the nights were way more difficult. I’m not used to sleeping on my back, or sleeping in one position all night. I would wake up every couple of hours, feeling really stiff and sore. After a few days, I got a wedge pillow and one of those pillows that you use to sit up and read in bed. Each time I woke up in the night, I would switch to the other pillow. So if I couldn’t roll over, at least I could be at a different elevation. Sleeping with a pillow under my knees helped too.

3. The reconstruction process was more painful than I expected, and I got more uncomfortable with each one. If I had it to do over, I would reduce the amount of saline they injected each time. It would have meant more reconstruction treatments in total, but each one would have been less uncomfortable and debilitating. (I had 100 cc’s put into each breast at each visit. I would split the last two into four of 60-50-50-40 if I had it to do over again.)

4. During the day, I was most comfortable sitting up in a living room chair. I absolutely did not want to be on my back any more than necessary. So I got a neck pillow so that I could nap in my chair.

5. I did not look nearly as bad as I thought I would after the surgery. Mainly, I just looked flatter than before. (I had nipple-sparing surgery,though, which made a difference.) I was really afraid to look at myself after the surgery, but it was really not so bad.

6. I was most comfortable wearing my husband’s button-down shirt after the surgery (while I still had the drains.) It was big enough that I didn’t feel restricted (and it accommodated the drains), and I didn’t have to lift my arms over my head to put it on (which, frankly, I really couldn’t do for a couple of weeks.) I had bought a number of button-down shirts in my size, which I did wear after I got the drains out, but they weren’t large enough at first. I also bought a bathrobe, thinking I would want to wear it, but it was too hot to sleep in, and I didn’t feel like changing my clothes at night for the first week. (Once a day was enough.) So that was a complete waste of money.

7. I was able to shower and wash my hair without help starting two days after surgery. This made me feel so much better. My wonderful sister (who cleaned my drains out for me three times a day, bless her) helped me in and out of the shower the first few days, but after that, I felt well enough to do it on my own.

I am now finished with the reconstruction treatments and will have these rock-hard chest expanders swapped out for nice, squishy silicone implants a month from tomorrow. And then this chapter of my life will be behind me.

But all in all, it was not nearly as painful a chapter as I expected it to be. And for that, I am very grateful.


Filed under Gratitude

Budding Entrepreneurs

“Mom, we decided we want to have a car wash today.”

(Or the popular alternative, “Mom, we want to have a lemonade stand.”)

Words that make my heart sink. Because my first thought is, “That’s going to be so much work for me.”  And then my second thought is, “But I don’t want to dampen their entrepreneurial spirit. They’re trying to make some money, after all, and it’s a good lesson about hard work, and the way goods and services work.” Blah blah blah.. It’s kind of like the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other.

So I hem and haw and say things like, “Well, we have a lot to do today. Let’s see what time it is after we’re done with soccer and cleaning up your room (or insert another chore here)”.

I really hate to disappoint them. But them having a car wash means so much work for me. And it also means that I’m doing most of the work to wash the cars. (And let’s face it, I’m really just washing my own cars, because who would pay a 6 and a 9-year-old to wash their car anyway? So I’d be washing my own cars and then giving my children money for it.)

I hate squelching their ideas. I hate bringing reality into it. I really do. I want to be the mom that drops everything and helps her kids have a car wash. I imagine that Bill Gates had a mom like that. Entrepreneurial Mom. Spontaneous “let’s-drop-our-plans-for-today-and-have-a-carwash” Mom.

No, if my kids had a label for me, it would not be that. Errand Mom, yes. Planning Mom, yes. But not Spontaneous Mom.



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