All I Want for Christmas Is… Me?

Are we cloning people yet? Because that’s what I need. A clone. Or a personal assistant.

I want someone to leave at home to do the cleaning – and I mean all the cleaning: clean and reorganize my daughters’ room; clean our bedroom; run all the donations to Goodwill; do a toy purge.

I didn’t get to a toy purge this year, and we are about to get a bunch of stuff. Allegedly. Maybe we weren’t very good this year.

I want someone to do all the running around I need to do, but I’m kind of out of time to do, because full-time job (that I love). So now I have to do it in the evenings, as well as help my children finish buying presents, then wrap them. As well as a Christmas chorus concert (Kate) and gymnastics practice (Kate again) and baking for my job (that I love) and for Flora’s social study class. (Last night’s announcement went like this: “Mom, mom! I need a traditional Irish Christmas dessert! I need to make it and bring it to school on Wednesday!”)

And, you know, regular life: job (that I love), children to send to school (through Thursday), children to feed. Cleaning, constant cleaning.

I am going to have to sit down with these children and impress on them the absolute need for cleanliness this week. That should be fun.

It might be easier to tell them to play in their rooms.

Anyhoo! It’s fine, it’s good. This is normal. Mostly.

I feel like I’m usually a little closer to done by now. But maybe not.

And money. More of it. Or less debt.

++

Alternatively, my husband could come home from his full-time job (which he loves and at which he is *very* good), fix the kitchen sink with his oldest daughter, then proceed to participate in the cleaning of the kitchen and the front room. We can plan the rest of the week to the best of our abilities — I made a list; it is very long — decide how we are going to divide and conquer (I have most of the children stuff, and all of the baking and cooking). And then he could stay up, clean both bathrooms, and put plastic up on the bathroom window. Somehow or another, he ruined my toothbrush he told me. I declined to ask for details.

Somehow or another, even though 2016 hasn’t been awesome, and, frankly, 2017 isn’t looking like anything to look forward to, we are going to make this a good Christmas for us. There will be grief, no doubt. But more importantly, there will be love, and family, and the birth of Jesus, and church, and food, and gifts.

Maybe that is all I want for Christmas: a tiny island of love and faith in a mad world. The cleanliness of the island could be less important than who is on it.

Copyright for feature image: alexmaster / 123RF Stock Photo We don’t even have a fireplace, but that looks heavenly.

I Am Thankful…

… that my husband is doing the work he needs to be doing to work through his grief. It’s hard work, people. Make no mistake.

…that my children are 12, almost 10, and almost 6, healthy and smart. They are a pleasure, truly.

…for having a job that I like, and that I am good at, and where I am appreciated. Working in an environment where you are heard, where your expertise is recognized and where your opinion on the work matters, means so much. If you’ve had a job like that, you know. If you don’t or haven’t, I cannot encourage you enough to keep learning and keep looking to find that kind of employment. It’s aces.

…that I can cloak myself in my skin and my faith and my straightness to do the work that needs to be done for those who do not have the cloak.

..for internet friends, especially on Twitter. I had to pull back from Facebook, I really did. Maybe I’ll get back there someday outside of the groups I am in. For now, though, I have to put myself out there IRL, and not fight the battles online.

…for IRL friends, who I do not see enough, but who still reach out to me to see if I can come out and play. (I can, sometimes. Thanks so much for your patience, IRL friends.)

…that we did not have to travel this year for the holiday. While I love my parents and extended family very much on that side, it’s nice to not have to do more than walk across the yard for food and drink.

…for words and music, and writing and music, and all the various ways I can find and give voice to what is inside of me.

…for you, for listening.

What are you thankful for?
Copyright: wernerimages / 123RF Stock Photo

#NotNormal

I emailed the electoral college Monday. This is what I wrote.

Dear Elector,

My name is [Red Pen Mama] from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I am writing on behalf of myself and my husband.

We are concerned about many issues that the country will face with a Trump/Pence administration. The GOP candidates ran on an incredibly divisive platform, and their campaign was marred by violence, racist and misogynist language, and promises that the administration cannot possibly hope to keep because they are unconstitutional. In the days since the election, more than 400 acts of racist violence have taken place, and the administration has only addressed them once. Donald Trump has appointed white nationalists to his cabinet, and seeks to install more in some of the highest positions in the land (for example, Jeff Sessions to Attorney General). The alt-right and other neo-Nazi organizations are reveling in the election of Trump and in his unconstitutional policies.

I hope when it comes time, you will find the will and the support to vote for the person who also received the most popular votes in the 2016 election. A Clinton administration would give us the checks we need in Washington to stop a dangerous demagogue and those who support him. We do not need to give these people unlimited access and power. It would be a grave danger to the American democracy.

Thank you for your time and consideration, I appreciate and respect the role you serve in our electoral process.

Sincerely,
{RPM}

++

I got a bunch of automated replies. The EC is being inundated with emails like my own — and for good reason. Some of the emails were rather snippy, especially the one from Texas. Clearly, the electors are not non-partisan. Oh, and I was reminded we live in a republic, not a democracy.

But this is what I am doing now. Signing and promoting online petitions (see Audit the Vote), having conversations about what more I can do, deciding where to donate money. Checking in daily with my children to make sure everything is okay at school, that their friends aren’t getting picked on.

Do I expect the electoral college to NOT install the T*ump/Pence administration? No, no I do not. However, this whole election season has been one unprecedented act after another. Hillary Clinton got nearly 1.7 million more votes than The Great Orange One. And since the election, his actions have been the least presidential ever. I don’t need to run them down for you, but if you don’t know what I’m talking about, wake up.

Oh, and there’s this:

not-normal

If you are okay with that kind of language, or with a major news networking asking, “Are Jews people?” then I don’t know what to say to you. The guy’s not even officially in office yet. This is not my America, and I will not let it be my America.

And no one is doing anything. One of my senators did release a statement condemning the appointment of Bannon, but in general, the Democrats have been awfully quiet. Major media outlets can’t find it in themselves to challenge the administration.

It’s not time for silence. Nothing about the in-coming administration is business as usual. It’s time to find your voice, and to speak up.

Find a group to join, whether virtually or IRL. I know that as a white woman, I will be doing more listening than talking. I will be doing more learning than teaching. I know that I will be doing something.

My Fitness Journey

When I was a child, I didn’t think about getting exercise. I wouldn’t say that I was an incredibly active child, although I wasn’t a slug, either. I ran around the neighborhood and played outdoors a lot. I rode my bike every where. I even, occasionally, walked home from school (totally unsupervised! I lived to tell the tale!).

In grade school, I started playing soccer, and I played a year of school basketball.

In my teens, I was less active, I will admit. By the time I was 16, I was way more interested in the school newspaper, writing poetry, photography, and (outside of school) smoking cigarettes. None of which are active extra curricular activities. Also: I got a car (that I had to share with the family business and with my brother).

In college, I had to be in some kind of shape to walk the hills of my college campus. But I still wasn’t exercising. I took the occasional aerobics class, but played no team sports. I was involved in campus theater, which did require short bursts of physical work, which were in turn quickly outdone by beer and cigarette consumption at the cast party.

In my early 20s, I walked a lot, I guess. I lived on the South Side and walked to and from campus. When I started working, I walked to downtown, or Oakland, depending. I didn’t have a car, so I either hoofed it or took buses, and I walked everywhere in the South Side: grocery shopping, library, bars.

At some point in my mid-20s I discovered running. Before then, I never would have considered running for me, and today, I couldn’t tell you what inspired me to pick it up. I never raced or ran competitively. I couldn’t tell you how many minutes a mile took me (a lot, I’m sure). I ran about four miles, two or three times a week, plus exercised with some light weights. The year before I got married in 2001, I was probably in the best shape of my life. I continued that exercise routine on and off until I got pregnant with Gabriel.

When I was pregnant, I continued to exercise, although I did stop running. I was plagued with sciatica in that pregnancy. After I lost Gabriel, I did go back to running. When I found out I was pregnant with Flora, I cut WAY back. Some walking and stretching (I wouldn’t go so far as to call it yoga), but losing my first pregnancy made me leery about pushing myself too hard physically. None of my healthcare providers suggested I stop exercising altogether, for the record.

Fast forward to when Michael was two years old. I hadn’t gotten back to a regular exercise routine since Flora’s birth. Dan had finally committed to working out three times a week, and he was getting noticeably stronger and healthier. I sat on the edge of our bed and looked down at my out-of-shape body, and knew something had to change.

Exercise shoes
New shoes!

I was never fat. Neither weight nor food were issues for me. But it’s possible to be skinny and unhealthy.

So I started exercising again. That was three years ago, and I took it pretty easy, starting with short bursts of intense exercise. But I worked my way up to the 30-Day Shred, and I was pretty proud of myself. I never got back to running, though. Four babies and 40s have taken care of that.

Now, in September of 2016, I am getting formal, regular exercise between three and six days a week. Thirty-minute strength or cardio workouts, or a combo of both; yoga once or twice a week, walking, and soccer with Michael or Flora. My workplace has an employee gym, and it’s right across the hall from me. I belong to a FB group of like-minded women who encourage me daily.

My weekly goal has gone from three times a week to 150 minutes of exercise a week. “Functional fitness” such as housecleaning and carrying laundry up and down stairs is bonus time. I’ll never be in the shape I was in my 20s, but I am strong and toned. I can kick a soccer ball around with my children. I can do a stress reducing yoga routine.

It feels good to be getting regular exercise. I think that’s the thing I like the most. I am sore most days, but not crippled; I have to see my chiropractor on the regular to keep everything aligned. But I am stronger and less stressed, and happier as a result.

And, my husband thinks I’m still hot. That’s a bonus.

Do you have fitness goals? What does it take to meet them?

4th of July Fireworks

99 Days of Summer

Between Memorial Day and Labor Day (and including those days), summer is 99 days long.

Melissa Firman, a fellow Pittsburgh blogger, has developed this project, and I have decided to join her (and others). We have all been inspired as well by Emily Levenson, who blogged for 100 days recently.

My biggest reason for deciding to do this is to get better at developing content ideas and plans. I need to sit down with a calendar, my book of 300 writing prompts, and a pencil, and start planning some things out.

Right now, I am struggling with this post, and I’ll tell you why. Because we were gone this past weekend, and this house needs some tending. I need to do some meal prep for our Memorial Day dinner. We have mice AGAIN, and I need to get under sinks and into cabinets to clean them out and clean them up. The children are supposed to be joining me in this endeavor, but they are outside instead, and since they are not on their tablets, I am considering that a victory. I am hungry, and don’t feel like making myself anything to eat.

These are the small daily things that get in the way of writing in general. But if I make a plan, and read some other blogs, and look at some writing prompts, this is doable. Sure, summer is busy, which is why I shouldn’t wait until the last minute to sit down and crank out a post — kind of like I’m doing right now.

I have a post is draft that I will finish and schedule for tomorrow.

And that will be two days down. Already, only 97 more to go!

Image by Melissa Firman.
Image by Melissa Firman.

#PghGBE: The Doing Is The Thing

Today’s post comes Rosanna Paterra of Secrets in the Wall and is part of a special day of shenanigans from other Pittsburgh Bloggers. Secrets in the Wall is a songwriting blog exploring what Rosanna finds to be the fascinating components of being a modern day musician. You can see my post over on Feedback Soup, where I talk about what I value about live music. It’s a musical blogging extravaganza!

“You do it because the doing of it is the thing. The doing is the thing. The talking and worrying and thinking is not the thing.”
—Amy Poehler, Yes Please

My fiancé and I formed our acoustic duo, Scott and Rosanna, in 2012 after we met in our college jazz band and quickly started dating. Our passion for music and to spread happiness to others through our songwriting has deeply shaped our souls as musicians and a couple. Our journey towards becoming “real musicians” has been unbelievably rich in experience, love, intense joy, doubt, and challenges we never imagined we would face. Working through our fears gave us inner peace and working through our uncertainty gave us the ability to trust in our work. Most importantly, working through our frustrations developed an appreciation for the act of creating.

Scott & Rosanna live

The actual act of creating is so incredibly crucial to the outcome of the work; but it can be the most challenging part. It is so tempting to take shortcuts with writing music; so many artists today take the simplest four-chord progression, slap some generic heartbreak lyrics overtop, and call it a day. That’s how they can crank out so much material.

But when Scott and I fixate on merely finishing a song we lose the magic of the process. Allowing ourselves to let go, stop thinking, and just play with developing ideas may take more time and effort, but the end result has so much more truth and meaning. I like to compare it to cooking: Taking the shortcut is like removing the soup from the burner just because everything is cooked and you are hungry. Leaving it on for that extra hour will add richness and depth of flavor, and make the wait much more satisfying.

I was inspired by Dawn’s blog and her declaring 2016 as being the year of creation. As a musician, writer, teacher, home cook, and DIY enthusiast, I do my fair share of creating; however the creating I have been focusing on for the past few months is within myself. Scott and I recently moved back home to Pittsburgh after living in Brooklyn, New York, for the past two years, and I have been reflecting on our time spent in that beautifully manic city. I concocted the plan to move to New York because I knew we had the talent to make our mark there, but my naïve brain (freshly hatched from my safely incubated college egg) was not quite able to rationalize the actual reality of a modern day musician, especially not one living in New York City. A montage of movies, Patti Smith songs, and our perfectly imagined future floated in my head, and I was drawn to the illusion of New York with eyes beaming. After moving home, I realized that New York was the one that actually left its mark on me, and time we spent there changed my life, igniting a powerful shift in my attitude.

My focus for too long had been on the outcome of our “success” of becoming “real musicians.” What is “success”? What is a “real musician”? I allowed idealistic images and ridiculous comparisons cloud my ability to see any accomplishments we made with our music because nothing seemed to be enough, which made me sad. I don’t know if it was just the added pressure of living in New York City or my own extreme expectations of what we should be accomplishing there, but I was always striving for the next thing and was never focused on the thing itself. If only Amy Poehler had been in my life sooner! We became exhausted working so hard only to realize we were treading water. After we decided wholeheartedly to move back home, I knew we needed to sit down and define what being a musician meant to us and what it means to be successful for us, not anyone else.

Musician: One who creates music with their heart and belongs to a collaborative community who support each other
Success: Taking part in the things you love every day

Scott & Rosanna, posed

Our personalized definitions launched a turning point in our aspiring musical career. Now we have a greater understanding of our true desires. We don’t want to aim for great fame or fortune; our goals are set with the humblest of intentions, always aiming to just be a working part of a community of people who share and support each other. And our definition of success is not only rooted in music, but in doing all things that bring us joy because every creative outlet fosters inspiration. Now when I spend an afternoon cooking my favorite meal or crocheting a hat, I don’t have to feel guilty that I’m not working on music. This new attitude has planted a seed of inner peace in my soul that is blossoming into a richer, more positive outlook on the future. Doing the thing is now the focus, whatever thing it may be.


“Nothin’ to Do — Live”

To listen to more of our music, click HERE
We would love for you to connect with us!
Website: http://www.scottandrosanna.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ScottAndRosanna
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/scottandrosanna

Read more about Rosanna and Scott over at Secrets in the Wall. Rosanna also writes about songwriting tips, musician style, and the stories behind her own music. Thanks, Rosanna! And I’m glad I could inspire your thinking about creation. It’s very much a part of my daily writing life as well!

Follow along with the rest of PghGBE here, and thanks to Alex (@AlexanderFIV) for organizing the madness!

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International Women’s Day

Flora has been a perfectionist since… well, since I don’t know when. At some point, maybe when she started pre-school, she took a lot of cajoling to even try things.

She wanted to be good at them right away. I suspect it’s a first child trait. She’s a rule follower. I also suspect this is at the root of her antipathy toward homework as well. She resents the idea that she needs to practice.

Kate, as you may be aware, has no such standards for herself. She will try *just about* anything. But if she gets hurt or embarrassed, she’s done. It took a long time to talk her into going back to gymnastics — she was afraid of the uneven bars for a bit.

Michael is good at everything, and I am not exaggerating. He’s good at every video game he tries; he’s good at cleaning up; he’s good at sight reading — the list goes on. He has no doubt that whatever he is doing, he’s good at it.

So far, I have done my best to encourage my girls to be brave, to try new things. I don’t push, I encourage. And I’ve let them try almost anything they’ve been interested in. They have both done soccer and gymnastics, with Flora sticking with one and Kate going back to the other.

I haven’t had to encourage Michael to try anything; as a matter of fact, he bugs me to try everything: soccer, hockey, football, drums — you name it. (He’s signed up for spring soccer.)

Maybe I need to take Reshma Sujani’s advice, and be more brave myself. I’ve cast myself so much as a writer — but I’m also a fast learner. I CAN do more than write; I’ve learned how to do other things in design and marketing and social media. Maybe I just need to be brave, and go for every job I want to.

Maybe I need to be brave enough to recreate myself.

What can you do to be less perfect and more brave? Or encourage a girl in your life to be more brave?

Random Thoughts: The More Creation Edition

1. I wrote a book.

I finished the novel I started for NaNoWriMo. In Microsoft Word, it’s 213 pages and 63,968 words.

It’s a first draft, which means I need to put it away for awhile and come back to it with fresh eyes, maybe in May or June, to create a second draft.

I don’t know what comes after that.

But I know I can write a book now.

2. I am also writing some other things, freelance articles for an online publication, which I am enjoying. Hoping to see one later today or tomorrow that I turned around in two days.

It was a busy weekend.

3. Dan and I are trying to create good habits in our children. Since we got them tablets, things have been falling apart here at home, and it finally reached an unacceptable level.

I’m working on a story about that too.

Pile of Kindle Fires.
Not intrinsically evil.

So we took the tablets away, and started cleaning. Resumed homework. We’ll see what happens when they get the tablets back again.

4. Yoga! Still doing it. Of course, I’m on Day 28 of 30 days of yoga, so it takes me two months to get through a 30-day practice. I can live with it.

Now: I need to work on creating nice spaces in my home and new professional skills. It’s always an adventure!

What are you creating in your life?

Know Thyself

It didn’t take long for me to realize something about me and alcohol.

I think I felt the first inkling around 8:30 on Thursday night, when I was being pulled in four directions. Should I finish decorating M’s Valentine’s box? Should I bathe Michael and get him into bed? Should I answer this email from work (yes, at 8:30 p.m.)? Should I help Kate with her homework?

I’m not going to lie — when M whined at me that he didn’t want to take a bath, I cried a little tiny bit.

By the time Friday night dinner rolled around, and I was on the verge of an acute anxiety attack, it hit home.

I KNOW WHY I DRINK ALCOHOL, Y’ALL!

I am an anxious person. I have jagged edges and a short temper. Relaxing is not easy for me, and neither is being chill when I am placing a host of demands upon myself.

A drink — and I mean A SINGLE DRINK, even a single sip of a single drink — rounds my edges. It makes me feel smoother internally. It slows me down enough to give me space to not lose my shit in anger.

A beer, a glass of wine, help me relax. (Admittedly, the cocktail after the children go to bed is more ritual and something for me to share with Dan.)

I am not going to lie: I have been struggling since Thursday. To relax. To be patient.

It’s not really going well.

I am concentrating on some other things to help me: meditation; yoga; writing. These rituals and practices do help — they do. But they also take time. I cannot do a 10-15 minute guided meditation while I am cooking dinner.

My practice during Lent has always been to go the whole time from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday making the sacrifice (or adding the practice — I have added a daily rosary, meditation, etc., in other years). As in the past, it has been pointed out to me that Sunday, technically, one does not have to make the Lenten sacrifice (h/t to my Uncle Ron for pointing out this article).

I am seriously considering for the first time indulging in my voluntary sacrifice on Sunday. I am thinking about a big glass of red wine today. Just one. Probably with dinner. Or soon after dinner.

(FTR: Dan bathed Michael, and I put M to bed. Kate finished M’s Valentine’s day box. I did answer that email, and I helped Kate with her homework.)

I have never made it a secret that I am dependent on alcohol — I knew that going into Lent. I did not realize HOW dependent. Like, seriously a-nicer-person-with-that-daily-dose dependent.

And I have to work through that. In a big way.

Starting again tomorrow.

Glass of wine
I miss this, not gonna lie.

Ever give something up and realize it was a big fat mistake?

Forewarned Is Forearmed

I am giving up alcohol for Lent.

Yup. The one thing I said I’d never do. I’m doing it.

I always asserted that I’d never give up alcohol for Lent because I have already given up alcohol for long stretches of time (i.e. the majority of four pregnancies).

But I gave up alcohol then because I was other-motivated. I gave up alcohol not as a sacrifice, or in order to evaluate my relationship to alcohol, but because I was pregnant, and too much alcohol when you are pregnant is not good for the baby. (In each pregnancy, I had the occasional glass of wine in my third trimester.)

This time I am giving up alcohol as a sacrifice.

Good-bye, Chicago craft beer! Until we meet again!
Good-bye, Chicago craft beer! Until we meet again!

I am giving up alcohol for forty nights — it’s really the nights that are important here — in order to evaluate my relationship with alcohol. Why do I drink it? Will it be difficult to not drink it? How will I deal with temptation? What will I use as motivation to get me to Easter? How will giving up alcohol affect my health, my sleeping, my writing, my relationships?

I told my children I was giving up alcohol for Lent.

“Why?” Flora asked. “You’re going to die,” she predicted.

I’m not going to DIE!

I mean, I don’t think so. I don’t drink that much.

An honest account of my alcohol intake is two drinks a night. Occasionally on a Saturday, three, but usually not.

And I look forward to it. And I like it.

And I’m sure I will miss it. It’s a ritual, it’s a rite.

But it’s gotta go for forty days*. (*I reserve the right to have a cocktail at Acacia for Dan’s birthday, and a beer at a concert I am going to in March. But then again, I may get that far and decide not to drink as well.)

So if you see me out and about, and notice I’m not imbibing, please do not ask if I am pregnant (I AM NOT PREGNANT). Do not take it personally if I do not have a beer with you. Heck, be encouraging! (Even if you aren’t a Lent-type person.) Isn’t taking stock good for a body?

I will try not to complain too much — although that would be illuminating in itself, would it not?

Troublemaker Red Wine
Not for 40 days, I’m not.

Wish me luck!

When’s the last time you had to give up something? When’s the last time you choose to give up something?