Seven Things: Update from a Long Weekend

1. Dan started three home projects over the long weekend, and finished two. First, at my request, he cleaned out and reorganized our pantry.

2. At his own whim, we went shopping for an entertainment center. He put it together, with Flora, and put it in place. 

3. I should have taken some “before” photos, because we had a lot of work on our hands with toy purges and the like. Monday I worked for three hours on sorting through toys. We are donating all the Littlest Pet Shop toys. And I straight up threw away two bags of accumulated junk.

4. Dan also started to install the microwave he bought as a house gift for Christmas. Unfortunately, he was unable to finish this project. Not only do we not yet have a working microwave, but now we have a bit of a hole in one of the kitchen walls.

5. I have lost my phone calling mojo. I apologize, citizens. I have letters in the works, primarily about impeachment. One month, and it’s been horrible. 

6. I wish I could say it was a great three-day weekend. Certainly, the weather was excellent. I went for a walk (after fighting with Michael about his desire to carry a chair). I took Flora and Michael to the park (Kate went to the zoo with a friend). The house got more organized. But by Monday, I was suffering from my own lack of plans and structure, and everyone was irritable. The children and I bickered all Monday afternoon, leading to a re-tightening of tablet boundaries. 

7. The book, working title Lone Wolf, is with two beta readers. They have already provided me with valuable feedback. Once all their comments are in, I will do a third draft. Then I will start shopping it to agents and small publishers. My plan is to do that for at least one year.

Do you buy house gifts at Christmas?

Seven Things: A Quick Update

1. School started! Flora and Kate have re-acclimated quickly, for which I am entirely grateful.

Flora in car.
This is the best picture I got on Flora’s first day of school.
K and M, day 2.
A very blurry picture from Dan of these two on their second day of school.

2. Flora is definitely becoming more mature and responsible. She comes home and does her homework. She helps Michael if he has homework. She seldom complains about cleaning the kitchen. She remembers to empty the dishwasher more often than not.

3. Kate is not on the same page as Flora — and as I am often reminded, she is two years younger. She is one of the reasons I have adopted my mother-in-law’s phrase, “Do it right or do it twice.” Let’s just say that Kate’s strengths are elsewhere (making friends, primarily; also, doing handstands). She is very sweet. She asks Dan and me almost every day how our days were, and she really listens to our answers. She values interaction over just doing stuff.

4. Michael… *sigh*. Michael has already lost a backpack and a lunch box. We are already dealing with another boy who is bullying him on the bus (OH NO, HONEY. THAT WILL NOT STAND.) If asked directly about school, it’s “boring,” but if given space, he’ll cheerfully chatter away about his day. He tells me about Go Noodle, computer games (that are sneakily teaching him the location of letters on the keyboard), and other little events about his day. So, a little uneven.

5. Taking the tablets away was definitely the right move. It forces them to focus on what needs to be done; it sparks their creativity in play. Now if I could get them to *read books* I would feel even better. Kate and Michael will play together sometimes; they will also do gymnastics in my living room, which isn’t awesome. Flora will draw. And draw. And draw. She wrote a short story recently (I haven’t read it yet), so maybe I can encourage more of that.

How do I encourage them to read actual novel-like books? The girls, I mean. M and I do his sight words every now and again; I could get better at doing this. But the girls seldom crack a book at home.

6. (I am an actual paid blogger. My job is going gangbusters. You can check out some of my stuff here.) (I’m whispering because I don’t want to jinx anything.)

7. Dan and I need date nights. Like, not just social nights out as a couple. We did a lot of seeing people over the summer, attending events and get-togethers. But we stopped spending time together as just a couple. The dinner date thing isn’t really doing it for us either. I’m trying to find other stuff for us to do, not too expensive. I’m thinking one month (or even every six weeks) he’ll pick and plan our date, and the next time, I will. For the record, I am thinking this may be fun. We like exercise, booze, and music, basically.

What’s going on with YOU? Oh, and if you have ideas about getting my girls to read, that would be great.

Copyright for image: markusgann / 123RF Stock Photo

Why I Take Selfies

I missed National Selfie Day (yes, it’s actually a thing), and I’m a little disappointed.

In my cursory research for this post, I learned that taking selfies is good for teens and tweens. But moms should absolutely not take selfies, especially if their children are in them. (Go ahead, google “moms taking selfies.” NSFW, in case you couldn’t figure it out.)

I take selfies.

I take selfies with friends.

selfie with friends
With OC (original cast) members of Pittsburgh’s LTYM show, taken at this year’s show.

I take selfies with Dan.

Dan and I selfie
Me and my boo.

I take selfies with the children.

Golf cart selfie with Kate.
Golf cart selfie with Kate.
Michael selfie
Michael and I on his “graduation” day.

And they are some of my favorite pictures. Of me, of me and Dan, of me and the children.

The selfie serves another purpose, as well.

If you haven’t yet, look through a portfolio of victims from the Orlando shooting.

Notice how many of those pictures are selfies.

God forbid I am ever the victim of a violent crime that ends up on the national news (or any violent crime). I pray every day that my husband and children return to me safely.

But if they don’t, I have this.

Arts Fest Selfie
Arts Fest selfie.
I have us smiling and laughing and being silly.

I have us loving one another.

Cook Forest kitchen selfie.
Cook Forest kitchen selfie.

I could be next. Any of us could be.

How will the world remember you?

The Girl Who Loved Stephen King, Part II

Stephen King, who talked about his books as his children, was asked if he had any books out there that he would take back. He said there were three works that he had less than happy feelings about. Two novels — Tommyknockers and Dreamcatcher — were written when he was stoned out of his gourd. He’s not exactly proud of those puppies (Tommyknockers was written in the middle of a cocaine binge, and Dreamcatcher was created when he was on painkillers are his near-fatal accident).

The third work he talked about was a slim little book called Rage. He wrote a first draft of Rage in high school in 1965; later as a successful novelist, he rewrote it, and submitted it to his publisher under the name Richard Bachmann. In 1997, he asked his publisher to pull the book. It had been found in the possession of a number of school shooters. He says he feels it was the right thing to do, while still admitting to having mixed feelings.

In a small essay (available on Amazon), Guns, King writes the following:

“My book did not break Cox, Pierce, Carneal, or Loukaitis [the four high school shooters found to have read Rage], or turn them into killers; they found something in my book that spoke to them because they were already broken. Yet I did see Rage as a possible accelerant, which is why I pulled it from sale. You don’t leave a can of gasoline where a boy with firebug tendencies can lay hands on it.”

The essay is worth a read: measured, funny in parts, serious in others. King articulates a not-uncommon perspective in America: that of a responsible gun owner, who disavows the NRA, and advocates for common-sense gun control laws. He outlines a few proposals at the end of the essay that we could see enacted pretty soon — because of the horror show in Orlando, and because a Democratic filibuster that took place to force a vote on said proposals. He’ll need another prologue.

Someday, anyway. One day.

Important Lessons for Boys: Girls Play Sports

I became an accidental soccer coach this spring, volunteering to help out on the sidelines at Flora’s soccer games. Turns out I was making decisions about where the girls were playing, when and who to sub, and calling out actual coaching instructions, including, for the defense, “To the outside!” and for offense, “Talk to each other!”

Saturday the girls had a tournament, and despite all expectations that it would be canceled – the weather was chilly and rainy, and by 2 p.m. when our first game was scheduled to start, the field was a mud pit – the tournament carried on. Apparently, it was the last weekend the youth referees were due to work, so the tournament had to go on.

Girls and parents stood under umbrellas and a small tent canopy complaining about the conditions. “Can you believe it?” we asked each other. “I can’t believe they didn’t cancel. The field is getting destroyed!” The soccer leagues in my area are usually quite fussy about their fields.

And then we split the girls into two teams, and they went out and played. And even with their complaining, mostly about how cold it was, they played well.

They fell in the mud, and got back up. They ran, they kicked, they scored goals (our girls teams came in first and second in their round of the tournament). They adjusted to the conditions, quickly realizing the soccer ball was going to bog down in the large puddles that dotted thefield. Staying clean and dry was not an option, so they embraced the mud.

Flora in mud.
Is there mud on my face?

Among the girls I coached on Saturday, a couple of them had their best game of the season. I was floored by the defensive work of Emily. It turns out Madi is a leader, instructing and encouraging her teammates. Ariel was all in as a wing, and then held off the other team in goal. Flora’s team has amazing goalies, girls who love the position and the adrenaline and challenge it brings. And Taylor, who was playing her first year of soccer, proved herself unafraid to get down and dirty. She showed more tenacity on Saturday than I had seen to date, and her reward was a goal. Rea was hesitant — she was cold and didn’t like the mud at all — but she dug deep and found her spirit. Cassidy kept her foot on the ball, kept trying to score, and eventually got the goal that had been eluding her. Sophie, too, had to push past the ick factor, and then played extraordinarily well on both offense and defense.

Flora has been playing soccer since she was about 5. In my experience, third or fourth grade is when the mechanics of the game start clicking for players. They start to understand positions, passing, dribbling, and playing the ball. They start challenging and crashing the box. They learn to play to the whistle. This year has seen her greatest improvement yet. It helped that she played year-round this year: fall and spring are outdoor seasons, and a winter indoor season.

Indoor soccer is a different beast than outdoor. It is faster, for one, and the ball is seldom out of play – there are no sidelines or throw ins. The field is bigger, too, and there are no offsides. It is all running, and if there’s one thing Flora can do, it’s run. She prefers to play defense, and she does not want to get beat. At the Saturday tournament, she even challenged a boy (we mixed boys and girls for the second game because the boys did not have enough players) a whole head taller than she is, and quite often beat him.

One of the fathers on the sidelines remarked, “I liked having the girls and boys play together. I thought the skill level would be unequal, but it was on par.” Another coach and father of one of the daughters on Flora’s team said, “Between the girls and boys?” Like it was the stupidest thing he heard.

It was the stupidest thing I had heard. Flora’s teams this year for the first time were mostly all girl. But she’s been playing with boys since she started, and she also practiced with boys all spring. So I don’t know why this father thought girls’ skills would be underpar when compared to boys. I just gave him a look, and went back to coaching.

There are probably studies out there about how good sports are for girls. That they boost confidence and self esteem, as well as health and possibly body image.

None of the girls I coach care about that. They just want to play hard and do well, do the best they can. Winning is nice, especially when they play well. Losing is hard, especially when they play well. And maybe they are learning from lessons from that, too: perseverance, that life can be disappointing, that win or lose, it really is how you play.

I know Flora had her best year of soccer ever. She was one of the best players on her indoor team; also one of the oldest. Her spring league was 5th and 6th graders, so while she wasn’t the best on her team, she was certainly on a good squad of skilled players, and she totally added to that.

The squad of girls I coached came in first in their four-way tournament. I told each and every one of them they earned their trophy. Taylor was so proud. “Not bad for my first year.”

Indeed.

What do you think of girls in sports?

Lessons for Boys, Part I and Part II.

Fruit and veggie rainbow

Family Dinner is Overrated

By Wednesday, I am burned out on dinner as a family. Well, as a foursome, because Dan usually only joins us for family dinner Friday, Saturday, and/or Sunday.

Flora has super sonic hearing, and it is attuned to Kate. She can probably hear Kate’s heart beating. And it probably bugs her.

Kate squirms, she hums, she sings songs. I don’t even notice the majority of the time.

But Flora notices. “Kate, please stop.” “Kate, please stop.” “Kate! Stop!” “KAAAATTTEEEE!”

In all honesty, I find Flora more annoying than Kate.

Sometimes, to prevent Kate’s aimless humming and singing, I actually play music at dinner. This backfires, too, though. No one can agree on a song or a genre. Classical — of which I’m not a fan either — earns me whines and eye rolls. Rock and roll gets Kate bouncing off the walls, which is the opposite of what I’m going for.

Kate is unable to sit like a regular person at the dinner table (or anywhere, really): butt in chair, knees down, feet on floor, back straight. She eats with her fingers, which drives me right around the bend as well.

And Michael emulates Kate.

Family dinners are chaotic! People jumping up and down to get water and silverware (because whoever forgot to set the table forgot it) and seconds — usually before I’ve even had firsts. Kate and Flora do riffs from YouTube and Vine; I am left utterly clueless as they go on. “Have you seen the one where…?” And they break up into girlish giggles.

And trying to get some assistance in the kitchen unless Dan is home is fruitless. Flora has to be reminded to put away ALL the clean dishes, not just from the dishwasher, but from the drying pad as well. Kate is supposed to set the table; half the time she forgets I’m actually going to eat too, and the table is set for three not four. Michael is supposed to put away the clean silverware and clear his plate from the table.

And once they’ve finished, rinsed their dishes, and put them in the dishwasher — poof. Off to read and play and watch more Vines. I’ve started calling them back to finish clearing the table, put food away, and, since we are in the kitchen anyway, pack their lunches.

To say mileage varies would be putting it mildly.

And half the time — literally, almost half, between soccer practices and gymnastics, and date night (for Dan and me, not the children) — half the time, we don’t actually sit down together for dinner; we bolt it down our gullets and run right back out the door. (I need to figure this out a little better; suggestions welcome.)

family yukking it up at dinner
Ha ha ha! Family dinners are SO delightful! Pass the carrots, please! Copyright: wavebreakmediamicro / 123RF Stock Photo

Not one dinner I have had with my family looks like this.

And yet. I keep doing it. I cook nearly every night, and sit down with my children almost every night. Experts insist it’s important, and I believe them. Because every now and again, we get it right. We manage to have an actual conversation about school, or playing, or the books that are being read. We remember to do our Q&A journals. Dinner time is usually better when Dan is there; the children are better behaved, and I can sit while he directs after dinner clean up.

So while yes, I get tired of the acting up, the bickering, the cleaning cycle, I do love feeding my children, and seeing what is up with them, and just *being there*, all in the same room. I may get exasperated from time to time, but I probably won’t change the routine.

Although it would be nice if the children would start to *cook* the dinners. How do I make that happen?

Do you get to eat dinner as a family?

a 45 record

Age Is Just a Number

One morning a few months ago, I rolled over in bed and stretched my arms over my head. Just like I do every morning. On this day though, a horrible popping crunch and pain in my left shoulder area ensued.

It hurt. A lot.

I was so busy at work that I couldn’t get to my chiropractor right away. By the time I saw her (Dr. Amber Capra — go to her!), about two-three weeks had passed. The pain was less, but hadn’t disappeared yet.

She checked me out, and then informed me that I had actually not “injured” my shoulder, but had popped my ribs out of position and they were misaligned.

“Stretching my arms over my head?” I asked, incredulous.

“Um. Yes.”

God bless Dr. Capra. The poor woman had to tell me — and probably has to break it to many of her patients — that age is a terrible terrible curse that makes the body do stupid things like pop ribs when one stretches her arms over her head.

Those are not the words she used, but that’s what it boiled down to.

So, she put my ribs back in. It hurt.

This has been a cycle since that first time I did this. It seems to be when I reach and then twist my torso, my ribs, where they are connected to my sternum, stretch and pop. It hurts when it happens, and it hurts when Dr. Capra fixes me, and it hurts when it happens again.

++

When I was a teen, maybe 13 or 15, I woke up to the sound of my mother crying in our upstairs hallway. She was rummaging through our upstairs linen closet / medicine pantry. Being the sensitive teen I was, I thought nothing of it and went back to sleep. (Empathetic, I know.)

The next day, I asked her about it.

“Oh, it’s so stupid!” she said angrily. (Sadness and anger in 24 hours was a lot of emotion for my mom. She’s a rather stoic woman, always has been.) “I think I have bursitis in my shoulder. Bursitis! That’s an old person’s disease.”

My mother wasn’t yet 40.

++

Dr. Capra and I have discussed how to keep the rib popping thing from happening, but so far, it hasn’t helped — or only helps until I forget that I’m not supposed to reach and twist at the same time, and I pop shit out of alignment doing something perfectly normal like putting away groceries. I’m doing planks and pushups to try to strengthen the rhomboid and stretch the pectoral, but so far, it hasn’t prevented the ribs from moving.

I have never felt old until now. I feel I am young at heart, that my children keep me young feeling, that even though I’m 45, I feel like a 30-year-old. I am stronger than I’ve been in a long time, and even though I can’t run (I have the left hip of a 72-year-old; I’ve named it Gertrude), I am in good, even great, shape.

But here I am, unable to downward dog because something stupid could happen.

And I need to find a new chiropractor, because Dr. Capra practices in Upper St. Claire and Shadyside, neither of which are convenient to my new office.

++

Another reason I struggle with the concept of being “old” is that I really, really like new music. Like, I am always listening to new stuff, and finding bands — young, newish bands, that excite me.

I’ve become obsessed with twenty one pilots — which if you follow me on Twitter, you already know. It started with “Stressed Out” from their latest album. The obsession really took hold once I started watching their videos.

If you notice, the lead singer’s neck and hands are black — colored with marker or something. I mused about it on Twitter, and one of my young cousins, who loves the band too, tipped me off to the fact that Tyler (the singer) uses the black as an outward expression of his inner anxiety.

I know, I know, two white boys from Columbus, expressing the millennial angst.

But I don’t know. twenty one pilots is, IMO, expressing something, capturing something, that maybe some of us would do well to watch without the usual eye-rolling that an older generation does toward the latest generation. Just give it a pause for these guys.

Also, I can’t stop listening to this song, or watching this video, or singing along to it in the car while chair dancing behind the wheel.

Flora is mortified, so I’m doing my job there.

Copyright for featured image: whitestone / 123RF Stock Photo

My Top 10 Women in Music

(March is Women’s History Month, so starting today until March 31 I’m going to write about women who have influenced me in one way or another, or about feminism and women’s issues in general.)

I have always been a fan of music. Here are a list of my 10 favorite women musicians, in no particular order.

1. Tori Amos
The voice of an angel, and the mind of a whore. She was coy, had a powerful voice and a piano, and a message that said, “You may have fucked with me, boy, but I’m coming out on top.”

2. Liz Phair
A mind just as dirty as Tori’s, minus the tragedy, plus a little wistfulness for a normal boyfriend. Her first album is a masterpiece.

3. Sleater-Kinney
Of all the Pacific Northwest riot grrl bands, they were my favs. I’m so glad they reunited last year. Now, I just need to catch them live.

4. Nina Simone
Confession: I heard OF Nina Simone years before I actually heard Nina Simone. I did not listen to her regularly until Dan started playing her for me. Thank goodness for that gift, in addition to all the others he has given to me over the years.

5. Missy Elliot
I have no idea how I got introduced to Missy Elliot’s music. It was fun and funky hip hop, and I’m sure I’m much to white for it, but Miss E doesn’t mind. She is unabashed in every way. Also, her videos are awesome.

6. M.I.A.
I first hear M.I.A. on World Cafe, and I will confess, my clearest memory is toddler Kate standing transfixed through the song “Paper Planes” — Kate, who stands still for nothing — and then when the song was over, turning to me and saying, “More!” So I checked out Kala and Arular, and made sure we skipped the songs with more adult language when listening. I agreed with Kate: More.

7. Hole
I was a Nirvana fan, and the Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love relationship was the grunge train wreck of the 1990s. Whatever she contributed to his death, she screamed her pain to the world afterwards. I couldn’t turn away.

8. P.J. Harvey
Poetic, brooding, darkly sexual, passionate and raw.

9. Kim Deal
Pixies would not have been what they had been without her, and The Breeders have always been one of my favorites. She was refreshingly, deceptively blunt.

10. Lady Gaga
Whatever you may think of her art pop confections, girl’s got chops. I hope she plumbs her rock depths, and picks up where Born This Way left off.

Who are your favorite women in music?

Random Thoughts: The Friday RPM Rants Saturday Edition

Bodies have been on my mind lately.

I’m still thinking about Coates book The Difference Between the World and Me. In a letter to his son, he talks about the great shame of this nation, that it was built on the backs of black bodies — and that the building continues today. Given the current prison industrial complex, and the sacrifices exemplified in the Flint water crisis, and the number of black boys killed by police, it’s hard to say that he’s wrong.

And I don’t know what to do about it.

++

Of course, one of the most famous bodies in the world is that of Barbie. A recent Time magazine cover asks, “Can We Stop Talking About My Body Now?” and the short answer of course is, No. No we can’t apparently.

20160131_112325

Ultimately, though, it’s not the way we talk about Barbie’s body that is the problem though: it’s the way we talk about women’s bodies in general that is the problem.

It’s about how women talk about their own bodies.
It’s about how we talk about our daughter’s bodies.
It’s the way other people, especially men, talk about women’s bodies.

We have a problem — again, possibly very specific to this nation — about treating women’s bodies like objects, like there aren’t people living inside of them. We can’t seem to stop judging the shapes and sizes and functions of these bodies — our bodies! — as if the size, and shape, and function of these bodies are the end-all-be-all of personhood.

Instead of constructing conversations about strength and health and joy. I am trying to do this with my own daughters, my own children, but man, it’s hard. I’m fighting an uphill battle against dress codes and a shallow lifestyle media and people who talk about dessert as if it’s a crime.

++

Which of course brings me to the CDC guidelines on women and alcohol, and leads me down a path to nearly incoherent rage.

The choice of whether or not to drink alcohol and how much should be left up to each individual woman. For no reason. For any reason.

The idea that a woman has to over think — or think at all — about her alcohol consumption misses the point.

I mean, sure, if you’ve had difficulty conceiving, and your healthcare provider suggests that cutting back on how many drinks you have in a week, it’s probably worth a try.

But to put out a blanket statement that young women who are not on birth control shouldn’t drink or drink very much is just… just unfreakingbelievable.

If you believe the helpful infographic they released to clarify the statement… well, alcohol is responsible for miscarriages, stillbirths, violence, STDs, and unplanned pregnancies.

Wait a… that’s not how that works! To paraphrase this writer, they are missing a step. You should read her article. I can’t write about this without descending into blithering anger. Women aren’t children. We aren’t incubators.

We aren’t just bodies.

We are people.