Thursday, June 30, 2011

Gratitude #46: Constructive Criticism

Some people will cut you if you voice any criticism of them, their lives, their work, whatever. I am not one of those people. Maybe it's to do with confidence? Thing is, if you criticize something ridiculous, like saying I should tether my seven-year-old and four-year-old play to the wall when they are playing on the deck unsupervised, I will just smile and nod and pull a face when your back is turned. But if you have something of substance to offer, especially about my writing, I will eagerly listen and take it all in. I may not apply some of it, but I'm deeply appreciative either way.

So, yay for constructive criticism! And thank you to Playwright and to a friend of Super Ninja's for their recent efforts in this regard. They reviewed the thingamajig referenced here. After some rewrites, I'm submitting it for some fictiion contests. I'll let you know when the awards and the accolades start rolling in.

(From Tuesday, June 28)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Gratitude #45: Finished Basement

Best friend came over for dinner tonight. We hid in the basement, away from my children, playing video games. Okay, fine, I puttered around tidying up the explosion of toys while she played video games. (Did I mention my children have some diifficulty with putting toys away? No? It's like they just drip PlaySkool figures wherever they go.) Still, though, it was nice to retreat from the fray.

(from Monday, June 27)

Gratitude #44: Hydrocortisone

I don't know what attacked me at my brother's house yesterday, but I have a welt the size of a silver dollar pancake on my left collarbone. I normally don't react badly reactions to bug bites, so I'm more fascinated than irritated. Whatever irritation I have is mitigated by hydrocortisone.

Know what you shouldn't do when you have an unidentified bug bite? Google, "reactions to bug bites." Yeesh. The first thing that came up was a picture of a tick buried up to its shoulders in some delicious flesh. I quickly clicked off of it.

Double yeesh. I didn't wince that much as I was giving birth sans epidural.

(from Sunday, June 26)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


I've been feeling off the past couple of days. Not like me. Glum. Ever feel like that? Like you know that you are not the version of you that you are accustomed to being, and not really being able to find your way out of that?

I'm pretty sure that this will dissipate in the next couple of weeks. See, we're slouching toward the anniversary of the start of the hardest year of my life, and the post-traumatic stress, it is rearing itself. Ugh. I shouldn't use terminology coined during Viet Nam to explain my flashbacks to this time last year, because it's not like I saw anyone's face get blown off in a rice paddy.

It was just about a year ago that Big Sister called to say that our mother was not well. The whole story is here. I don't know if I'll be feeling this... messy for the next six months, 'til we hit the anniversary of her death. I think it more likely that it will pass soon, and that maybe it's just that this particular couple of weeks is triggering it. The wild contrast of the benign sameness of this time of year -- big deadlines at work, visit to Cleveland for the 4th, birthday party planning of the Boy -- with the awful gaping absence of my mother is hurting my head.

It could also be that I'm feeling guilty that I don't have much of myself to give to anyone besides my husband and little ones. I bring this up because my other sister -- Special Sister -- needs some nurturing right now. I call her Special Sister because she is mentally challenged. Basically, she is an eight-year-old in an adult body. She's very sweet, incredibly thoughtful, somewhat devious, doesn't like chores, and needs attention. So, yeah, an eight-year-old.

I see Special Sister at least once a week, chat with her, try to give her a chance to open up a little. So, I do keep tabs on her, but it's not like I'm taking her to a social worker to determine what kinds of programs she has access to, I'm not signing her up for personal trainer appointments, I'm not getting her involved in classes. That'd be almost a full time job in and of itself.

Anyway, my parents have a wonderfully lovely next-door-neighbor who spends loads of time with Special Sister, taking her to church events, shopping, and things like that. This neighbor will send me and Big Sister e-mails every once in awhile when she is concerned for Special Sister. And I just... I can't right now. I'm not feeling up to it, which then makes me feel like I'm failing her. Clearly, I am a masochist.

You might wonder where my Dad is in this? Well, first, he's eighty. So, I kind of give him a pass, because, Christ, he's EIGHTY. Second, frankly, he's not really built for this kind of thing. He's not gruff, and is certainly affectionate. But oh my God, is he laissez-faire. And Special Sister needs structure, and lots of it. I already feel responsible for her, so to get an e-mail from the neighbor makes me think that other people feel like I am responsible for her too, which adds a layer of guilt to all of this.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Gratitude #43: My Kids are Still Little

That title seems like such an obvious thing. I mean, they are seven, four, and one. Of COURSE my kids are little. Although I'm wondering how little they think they are. The seven-year-old and the four-year-old like to pretend that they are teenagers.

No, really, they play a game called, "Teenagers," and they dress in what they think are their most teenagerish clothing. For the Boy, this is usually his Tony Hawk jeans & plaid shirt, and his 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid' cap. So close. For the Girl, it is often a jean skirt and a tank top. Hmmm... I have got to review the shows she watches if skimpy = teenager. Oh, wait. That's ALL OF THEM. All of the shows. Well, all of the shows featuring teenage girls. Where's 'Blossom' when you need it?

Anyway, even though they playact at being teenagers, they are still so innocent and gentle. And they mispronounce things, which I am hesitant to correct them, because calling a two-piece bathing suit a "bookini" makes me smile.

(from Saturday, June 25)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Gratitude #42: Pixar

Right now I am enjoying a quiet evening at home, surrounded by laundry (whites) and Shiraz (red). This may not be a good combo, but we'll see how it goes.

Why the quiet evening? Because Super Ninja took the Boy and the Girl to see Cars 2. His circle of Dad friends coordinated a group movie date, but Little Guy is too young for the cinema*, so yours truly elected to sit this one out. Yay Pixar, for delivering consistently good, aesthetically pleasing films.

Now, here is where you all start to hate me.

The other reason I elected to sit this one out is because I don't love Pixar feature films. I think of them as solid B+ stuff. (And I know when I say solid B+, some people interpret that to mean that I think they suck, but I really don't.) Who am I, right? Answer: nobody. I'm not a movie critic, or a cinephile, or Harry Knowles. I've just seen the movies.

But I'm sticking to my guns on the grade. Oops. I'm referencing guns and kids' movies in the same sentence. Steven Spielberg would have something to say about that, I think.


Here's my rationale for the summa cum laude rating: I find them kind of dark. Toy Story 3: abandonment, group acceptance of death. UP: Miscarriage, infertility, and death of a spouse. Wall-E: loneliness, wasteland, and outrageously chubby people. Ratatouille: infidelity, illegitimate children. The Incredibles: crushed aspirations. Finding Nemo: murdered mother, broken, overprotective father.

You might argue that kids can handle it, that we don't have to dumb down a story. That good stories have to have some sad stuff, some dangerous stuff. I agree. But do we have to get to know Nemo's mother before she eats it (or rather, is eaten)? At least earlier Disney flicks had the decency to kill off princesses' parents before we're introduced.

Some of my friends complain that Dreamworks films work too hard to offer something for parents as well as kids. Where Dreamworks is wink wink, nudge nudge, though, Pixar goes in the opposite direction and offers doom and gloom for the adults in the audience. When I dish that out, those same friends argue that Pixar movies aren't just kids movies. They happen to be films that just happen to be animated. That is a load of bull. Toys 'R Us and their shelves stocked with Pixar merch tell me so.

*I guess technically he's not too young, but I am not a jerk, and choose not to subject other people to my toddler's restlessness.

Gratitude #41: Booze

Hello, my name is Mary, and I am not an alcoholic. But I really do enjoy a glass or two of red wine. According to Officer Friendly from D.A.R.E., I guess I'm an alkie because I drink more than 4 units of alcohol per week. Oh yes, that was the 1988 definition of an alcoholic.

Anyway, Shiraz is my drink of choice. How much of a yuppie D.I.K.* am I? I can't just say I like wine, or red wine. NO. I have to specify Shiraz. I will throw you some serious shade if you try to serve me some Cabernet. Jerk.

Not sure where I'm going with that, so I'll call this one done.

*Double Income, with Kids.

(from Thursday, June 23)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Gratitude Explanation

Hello there, tens of readers! If you're new to the blog OR if you missed critical post back in May, I wanted to explain all of this gratitude I'm throwing out into the blogosphere. Basically, I'm making an effort to pinpoint things large and small for which I am grateful (not greatful, as an astounding number of people mistakenly write).

There are a couple of reasons I'm doing this. In no particular order:

1.) Many of my pals only post about things that anger or annoy them. I don't wanna be that guy, because those kinds of posts are depressing when they are sustained. Wow, that's insensitive, huh? "Quit yer complaining! You're bringing me down!"

That's not my intent, though. I'm pretty certain the sad posts are just digital venting, but it's really challenging to figure out how to engage when a friend posts at 1:00 a.m., "Birthday was nice. Time to go back to feeling like a piece of shit.," What am I supposed to do there? Comment "{{HUGS}}"? Powerlessness supreme.

Most of the time when I reach out to see how a friend's doing, they say, "Oh, yeah, I was just having a bad minute."

2.) The bad in life is perceived as more entertaining than the good. I want to see if I can make good seem interesting. Story is in conflict, but conflict doesn't have to mean that someone murdered a kitten in my yard, you know?

3) I am viscerally anti-sincerity. I want to work on that. I want to be able to give my husband one of those lovey-dovey cards on our anniversary WITHOUT joking that it was the only one the had left.

4) Life has dealt me some disgustingly harsh blows in the past year, and sometimes I struggle with them. I will punch people in the face if they try to point out the silver linings of those traumas. THERE ARE NONE. But that doesn't mean that I have to search through each current moment in time to find the speck of heartache in it. The unexamined life is not worth living, but jeez, your don't need to perform a rectal exam on it either.

5) I write for pleasure. And, apparently, tens of dollars in self-published royalties. So, yeah, mostly for pleasure. I haven't been writing, though. Newborn babies, moving, and my mother's terminal illness and subsequent death all in the span of about a year? Well, it siphoned out my desire to create anything. Seemed a little trite to write about other worlds when I was busy taking notes at my mother's oncologist appointments. I thought committing myself to write about something for which I'm grateful each day might get the writerly juices flowing enough that it would spill over into some of my other ideas.

So, there you are. I am not someone trying to create some kind of Hummelverse out of the world in which we live. If I were, I would use more! exclamation! points!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Gratitude #40: Summer Camp

The Boy started summer camp today. Oh, how I love summer camp. It's a (mostly) outdoor camp, meaning that he's not sitting there watching movies and playing board games the whole time. Result? A tired boy who goes to bed happily and is asleep pretty much as soon as his head hits the pillow.

The thing that I really love about it, though, is that I know he is safe, happy, and engaged there because it's all about the active.

His end-of-year report card showed that he was consistently demonstrating all of the skills he should have learned through 1st grade, so he is a smarty pants. But the thing that caught my eye was the evaluation of effort: 1 for excellent, 2 for satisfactory, and 3 for needs work. My boy? Straight 2's for all of his academics. Which tells me that he thinks, "I GOT this," and doesn't need to work at it.

There were a couple of 1s on there, though, which is why I started down this completely tangential path. Guess where? GYM and Health Sciences. These are the two areas that actually involve runnng around for most of the class time.

Yeah, so, he's all signed up for soccer in the Fall.

(from Monday, June 20)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Gratitude #39: Picking the Right Partner

Happy Father's Day!

This day is both about celebrating my own Daddio, and helping my children realize just how incredibly lucky they are to have my husband for their father. Occasional, ahem, spirited moments aside, they are clearly smitten with him.

Thus, it wasn't tough to get them to accompany me to pick out presents for their Dad. That's the first time we've done that -- shopped for him together -- because I really wanted them to pick out the gifts to him. Prior to this age, our excursion likely would have meant me picking out a golf shirt and convincing them that NO, they couldn't get four hundred action figures and a new pair of ballet shoes while we were specifically out shopping for DAD.

Some of my friends are avoiding this whole gift struggle thing by having the kids perform a parent-like chore on the day of honor so that their kids get a small taste of what the job of Mother and Father is all about. Totally valid. Totally powerful. But me? I like presents. So, off to the Dollar Store we went! Not that I'm saying that Super Ninja rates only Dollar Store gifts, but I envisioned a scenario in which one of the children would see a $4,000 flat-panel 3D HDTV and decide that was what Daddy really wanted. They would be spot-on correct, BUT, I do not have $4,000 to spend on a TV.

The Boy, ever practical, selected socks. As he put it, "That way, these don't have holes in them." The Girl chose a neon pink twirling baton that lights up, and glowstick batttle axe. As she explained, "That way if any robbers come in the night, Dad can fight them."

Stellar picks, kids.

Anyway, I couldn't have picked a better man to be the father of my kids. That's the hardest part when you decide you want couplehood and kids, and if you do that right, the rest is cake.

Gratitude #38: Friends, New and Old

One's silver and the other's gold, right? Saturday was chock full of milestone events for folks near and dear to me, and I couldn't make them all. I showed up for two of them, and that was only made possible by some very good, very dear friends.

The first event was a baby shower for a college roommate, and I carpooled with one of our other former roommates, gabbing* for many hours to and from. The second event was a wedding , and my travelling partner tag-teamed with Best Friend to watch my three babes while I slathered on some makeup and hopped into some heels. Super Ninja was in the wedding, so he hightailed it out of there before anyone could spill milk on his tux, leaving me to run down the bedtime to-do list with my pal. Why friends and not a babysitter, since we got the invitation two months ago and probably could have pinned that down earlier? We DID. I am the WORST procrastinator, but we actually called our usual sitter many moons ago, and she said she was free. And then SHE forgot.

So, I am not a ninny. What I am, though, is blessed with friends who say, "Hey, sure, I can watch the kids. I'll just leave a picnic thing early. No big deal." I am grateful for that, and I am grateful that I leave near all of these willing-to-be-Plan B kinda people.

*I'm sorry. I made a promise to myself never to use words popular with 1950's housewives, yet there it is. The exceptions to this rule were supposed to be awesome cocktail names. But I went and ruined all of that.

(from Saturday, June 18)

Gratitude #37: Last Day of School

Little known fact: the last day of school is almost as awesome for parents as it is for kids. Why? Well, time management is a bit of a hurdle for me. My biggest challenge throughout the school year is, by 8:15 a.m., getting the lunches packed, the homework reviewed, the hair and teeth brushed, both shoes FOUND and triple-knotted onto wiggling feet, and tidily debating the merits of a coat in twenty-eight degree weather.

Some of that can be done the night before. But I can't make my kids sleep in their shoes, now can I? Wait. I can?

Anyway, we toss all of that out the window during the summer, because (a) summer camp doesn't assign homework, and (b) they don't care if you are tardy for the awesomeness of camp.

(from Friday, June 17)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Gratitude #36: Little Guy and I Have Our Own Thing

Little Guy is 17 months old(ish). He is full of dimples, sparkly eyes, teeth, and mischief. So, basically, he has met my criteria for Wonderful Child.

Also classifying him as a Wonderful Child? He also has wicked tantrums when he doesn't get his way (stay with me, here). Nine times out of ten, 'not getting his way' means that we have just taken his empty sippy cup away so we can fill it with more milk. He does NOT trust us that we will give it back. What's that about?

Here's why, even in a tantrum state, he is wonderful. He doesn't do that scary headbanging, flailing stuff. His is what I would call a "civil disobedience" style tantrum. He very gently, carefully, lies down, and cries. That's it.

Anyway! This post is about how he and I have a thing. Before they were verbal, I am convinced that our children thought (or, in Little Guy's case, think) of us as Milk Lady and Diaper Man. He has a few words in his vocabulary (ball, wow, uh-oh, Wiggle, this, Bob), but NONE of them is 'Mama' or 'Dada.' I know that he knows who we are. He runs to us when he's hurt, or when he needs something, and he squeals in delight when we walk through the door. Since he doesn't call us by different names, though, I'm not convinced that he really distinguishes between the two of us. We are there to serve him, people! He doesn't have time to be concerned with individualism.

Here's the thing, though: whenever I change his diaper, I play with his feet. There's a song my mother taught me that I sing to him that seems to catch his attention so that he doesn't try to wriggle away from me and smear poo all over his room. I usually finish by smooching his baby feet, and maybe (most likely) tickling him. Now, whenever I change his diaper or his clothes, he always shoots one foot up at me, prompting a smooch or a tickle. I just found that he doesn't do this to Super Ninja. So, look at that! We have a thing.

Gratitude #35: Getting to Spend Time with My Oldest, One-on-One

The Boy's elementary school holds a grade-level picnic every year. Last year, Super Ninja went, so we traded off this year. I want both of us to be on equally comfortable footing with his teachers, school leadership, and the parents of the other kids in the classroom. If only one of us consistently shows up to school events, that parent is seen as the captain, and the less-present parent is considered the first officer. I want them to see us as co-pilots*, but not in that creepy, we-attend-everything-together kind of way. In the, you-don't-have-to-talk-down-to-me-because-I-know-what's-going-on-in-the-classroom kind of way.

Also? The Boy loves both of us, and takes pride in our being there for him. I didn't have a lot of that as a kid. The being there of parents, I mean. Both of mine worked jobs where if they didn't show, they didn't earn, and if they didn't earn, I didn't get cereal. But I have the incredible luxury of blowing off work for two hours, sitting atop an Incredible Hulk blanket shaded by an elm , and watching my kid play a game of pick-up soccer with eight other little boys. I don't fault other parents who weren't able to be there, but I am very grateful that I can be.

At his age, a quarter of parenting is keeping them from doing Stupid Shit, like leaping from the deck to the yard below. Another quarter is giving them the instruction manual to life, such as, "You should say 'hello' back to someone who says 'hello' to you, because they think you didn't hear them otherwise." The other half? BEING THERE. Don't delude yourself that if you ask the other parent about how the day went, you are totally plugged into who your kid is. Doesn't work that way.

See, just like with your spouse, if you want to keep the relationship strong with your kids, you have to work at it. It doesn't just happen. And the best way to stitch yourselves to each other's lives is having shared experiences. If you're never there, you're not embedding yourselves in their lives.

Dude, I'm cutting this short(er). It got unexpectedly heavy. I really intended on this just being a "Hey! I had a PB & J sandwich outside with my kid and it was great!" post. Instead it because a manifesto on parenting.

*I don't know why I'm using airplane terminology. Everything I know about airplanes I learned from the Zucker brothers.

(from Wednesday, June 15)

Gratitude #34: Big Brothers

I'm not talking about an Orwellian dystopia. Nope, I mean actual big brothers. I've got three of 'em. They aren't your Hollywood-style big brothers who show up at the snap of a little sister's fingers to deliver a beat down to a grabby boy. Nah, mine are the kind that will talk at length about conspiracy theories, oil changes, and whether or not the Raven's head coach made a good decision with that last play. And they won't talk down to you 'cause you're a girl.

Despite the age differences (5, 10, and 11 years) between me and these men, they were all uber cool to me as a kid. They treat me well as an adult too, but the strength of our relationships now is based on the foundation laid back then. We never had one of those, "Man, maybe you're NOT an ass!" epiphanies as adults because we actually liked each other growing up.

What wasn't for me to like? They picked me up from school, played music for me, let me play with their precious and sophisticated Commodore 64, took me to carnivals, parties, all ages shows, movies and parties with them. They never made me feel disincluded, and they would hold me accountable if I did something annoying like use their hair conditioner or TOTALLY shred the top flap of a box of cereal instead of asking for help opening it. I look back now and marvel at the generosity and interest they showed in me. Think about it: when I was learning to tie my shoes, Glasses was playing basketball (and maybe a little Dungeons and Dragons), Mechanic was stripping down minibikes and putting them back together, and Handy Man was officially driving and thisclose to the legal drinking age.

June 14 is Mechanic's birthday, which is why I thought of this, but it didn't seem fair to leave the others out. Especially since I've always rather liked being one of the youngest in the family.

(from Tuesday, June 14)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Gratitude #33: Thinning Traffic Patterns

As the school year winds down 'round these parts, so does the traffic. It is glorious. Now that the minivan brigade no longer wends its way around the beltway, dropping off their precious cargo at outrageously expensive private schools, I can get to work 10 minutes faster, which means leaving 10 minutes sooner.

It doesn't sound like much, but those 10 minutes, man, they are the difference between children who are happily munching on dinner and children who morph into angry puddles of ravenous tantrum.

Lest you get the wrong idea, we are not intentionally starving them. It just takes longer to put their dinner together if you are trying to do that AND keep them from braining themselves. Little Guy has taken to clambering upon furniture, Spidey-style. Seriously, we found him in the middle of the kitchen table last week. And he's mimicking jumping now, and while he's currently not actually getting any air, I'm sweating when he's finally puts two-and-two together and thinks, "Hey, wait! I can climb up THERE, and jump back down HERE!"

So, anyway, I am grateful for the decrease in time spent commuting.

(from Monday, June 13)

Gratitude #32: Husband Who Believes in Time with Kids Parity

Super Ninja had a bachelor party to attend this weekend. Thank God, we have moved past the age when a bachelor party was actually a bachelor weekend (or week) in a remote city, and involved a lot of booze and vanilla-scented, glittery boobs. I KNOW WHAT GOES ON.

Anyway, while this bachelor party was NOT a three-day drunk fest in Vegas, it was still a good eight-hour event. During that time, I solo-parented. No big deal, right? Just eight hours? To that I say: HA! Once you have kids, the math goes like this:

# Kids X # of Hours Alone = # of Hours It Feels Like You Are Alone

So, I was BASICALLY alone with the kids for a whole day. That gets exhausting, yo. So Super Ninja invited me to leave the house and go be by myself somewhere for five hours. AND I TOOK IT. I know, I know, my last post was about how I can feel guilty escaping to the gym for an hour. But I'd paid it forward, so there was no guilt attached to this.

I will say this: it always takes me the first hour to get over the fact that I won't be interrupted often. I swear, when I'm with the kids, I only have a time horizon of five minutes. If I can't plan to get something done within that five minutes, it's a task best left 'til later, because otherwise it will either get completely derailed and end up costing me MORE time to correct, or whatever I'm trying to do will get completely wrecked with sticky hand prints. So, better just to be engaged with the kids while they are up and active and wriggling all over me like delicious little puppies.

(from Sunday, June 12)

Gratitude #31: Drop-In Childcare at the Gym

When I drag my twenty-five-pounds-overweight self to the gym (okay, maybe it's just twenty, 'cause hair and boob weight surely doesn't count, right?), I feel a little guilty because I'm leaving Super Ninja with three kids to tend.

How messed up is that? Going to the gym makes me feel guilty because it costs someone else some time, some personal space, whatever. I know that I should be looking at it as something I'm doing for them as much as me. If I'm healthier, my kids are less likely to have to worry about me when I'm older. I could outline additional examples, but I'm already boring myself, so I won't.

Also, you don't have to call the Oprah police on me to convince me that doing good things for myself is not something about which I should truly feel guilty.

BUT! All of this sturm und drang is made moot by the fact that our gym has drop-in childcare for toilet-trained kids (I don't blame them for making the distinction -- people would fling their babies in astounding numbers at the teen aged girls who run the drop-in center). And the hours are good for my schedule. So many things for kids -- story hours, drop-in childcare, pre-schools, Mommy & Me classes, etc., are geared toward schedules that are convenient only to stay-at-home-mothers, which, obviously, is not me.

After discovering this whole drop-in situation, I can at least take the Boy and the Girl, and Super Ninja just needs to chill with the Little Guy. WIN!

(from Saturday, June 11)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Gratitude #30: Friday, Friday

Oh yes, I linked to Rebecca Black's 'Friday, Friday.' I am only, what, two months late to that party? A tastemaker, I am not. Mostly, I prefer to stand in the corner and pretend to be above it all, which makes a most excellent cover for not really knowing what the hell is trendy these days.

Anyway, I loves me a Friday. I think it's something to do with the whole weekend unfolding before me, rife with potential for relaxation and productivity. It's also the eve of my sleep-in morning, which I've mentioned before in this series. So, Friday represents a day when I can just RELAX, already.

(from Friday, June 10)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Gratitude #29: My Nook Color!

Holy frijoles! I cannot BELIEVE it took me this long to express my gratitude for my Nook Color*! Is it cheesy to be grateful for a gadget? Like, doesn't a tiny part of you want to vomit when you hear someone waxing poetic about AppleTV? No? Just me?

Anyway, I really, really like my Nook Color. Between the Kindle and the Nook Color, I can say that the Nook Color wins. I actually have a basis for comparison since I was able to test drive an old skool Kindle last summer and fall. How did I score that sweetness, you ask?

I work for an educational nonprofit, and my department shelled out for one to get a sense of how well they'd jibe with our educational materials. In my estimation, not very well. Kids are primarily tactile learners, and things like highlighting, crossing out, and underlining, are vital to a kid's ability to consume a text. E-readers provide that digitally, but the sense experience isn't there, which is critical for the text to make an impression.

Or, I am just a fogey about all this.

Anyway, for fiction? E-readers = MCV reading sooooooooo much more than I did before. Maybe I'm lazy, but getting myself to the library or the bookstore just doesn't happen as much as I might want. And then you're limited to whatever's on the shelves. WHAT? No opportunity for instant gratification? Nuts to that!

So even though I have thanked them in person, let me reiterate to my brother-in-law (Writer) and my sister-in-law (Playwright) that I'm grateful daily for this Christmas gift.

Gratitude #28: New Recipes that Turn Out Well

Cooking food is really soothing for me. I know, some of you pop that vein in your forehead just THINKING about two burners going at the same time. I am married to one of you. Super Ninja once set an oven aflame with a tater tot. I don't know how tater tots could possibly be so stressful that you rush the process and drop one on the glowing orange element of an electric oven. And so, much of the family cooking defaults to me. I'm happy with that assignment.

(Did I ever tell you that I have a theory that most married couples divide chores by who hates it least? There are a few that each of us really enjoys -- me, cooking, Super Ninja, clearing the DVR list -- but things like cleaning the bathroom are accomplished through dares, bribes, or whomever is there when it hits critical grossness.)

Anyway, I'm a confident cook. Sometimes, when the fridge contents do not call typical pairings to mind, I get all creative up in here. The meal that inspired this post? Sweet Italian sausage, fried in olive oil with a thinly sliced onion, cherry tomatoes and spinach added in 'til wilty, then mixed up with al dente penne, and sprinkled with feta.

The end result of the experiment was three very full adults (Best Friend came over for dinner), and three children with noses wrinkled, nay, TURNED UP at the concoction. Stick with your chicken nuggets, kids. We didn't want to share anyway.

(from Wednesday, June 8)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Gratitude #27: Team Work

Admittedly, a part of me wants you to shoot me now for admitting that I am grateful for team work.

In high school, I was allergic to group work. It made me irritable and sweaty. Why? Well, in my schools, group work boiled down to misapplied cooperative learning techniques, the end result of which was that MARY DID EVERYTHING. (Yes, the M in MCV stands for Mary. Good for you for picking up on that.)

Also? I was so panicky about getting a good grade that I would volunteer to do the heavy lifting. I didn't trust the others in my group enough to believe they'd be able to knock it out equally well. Lest you think I'm a total egomaniac, my faith in my own academic abilities was not unfounded. I was valedictorian.

But now, I find myself needing to rely on the expertise of others. And it ain't easy. Yet there it is. We all get hired for the different skill sets we bring to the table. No one person has it all. Awesome as I may be, I don't know how to program in SQL. It's like those role-playing games -- the whole point is that you need a group to get through the challenges. Can't do it solo. And that would be creepy, yeah? One player traipsing through adventures of a dungeon master's making, likely dying off because the first enemy dishes out some pain that another type of character could have deflect.

Sweet baby jeebus, I think I'm going to have to punch Super Ninja in the shoulder for infecting my go-to list of analogous experiences with Dungeons and Dragons. Yeesh.

(from Tuesday, June 7)

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Gratitude #26: Modern Printers

This is probably the silliest of all of my gratitudes thus far, but I just printed 1,600 pages of materials to distribute at a conference tomorrow, and it only took me 45 minutes, with nary a paper jam or indecipherable error code.

Love it.

I go waaaaaaaay back with printers. All the way to the daisy wheels. Things started getting a little more sophisticated when I hit college, and my roommates had bubble jet printers, and my work-study job had a laser jet. Only problem with the laser jet was the 'PC Load Letter' error. I mean, seriously. Does anyone even know what that means?

And now, the glorious networkable laser workhorse printer, that allows me to procrastinate 'til the day before a conference before printing out my training materials. Huzzah!

Gratitude #25: A Husband Who Takes an Interest in My Work

By 'work', I don't mean my profession. I mean my avocation. Which is writing. Or nattering, I guess, depending on how you feel about my wordsmithing. But Super Ninja always happily reads whatever pages I dump on him, and offers critique. Not namby pamby art school critique where you are REQUIRED to say one good thing and one bad thing. He offers honest, legit points that are not just personal preference. Sometimes they are, and he acknowledges that, but that's what's so clutch: he knows when he would have gone a different way, but that doesn't make it a BETTER way.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Gratitude #24: My Children Weren't the Worst-Behaved Kids in Church

I'm not saying they were angels. I'm not even saying they were nephilim. They just weren't the worst. Sometimes, as a parent, that's the bar you shoot for: not the worst.

So, I am grateful for that one little kid in the cry room who, while not crying, just kept yelling, "MAH! MAH! MAH!" during the homily.

Gratitude #23: Cool Down

Earlier, I mentioned what a swamptastic time we've been having here in Baltimore. On Saturday, it FINALLY broke. No more 95 degree temperatures with 95% humidty. I mean, what the hell is 95% humidity? Isn't that just rain that can't commit?

ANYWAY, it finally cooled off so I didn't break into a sweat when doing non-taxing things. Like walking outside. Glorious!

Gratitude #22: Friends with Skillz

Our air conditioning was scary leaking. I have a policy against messing around problems involving water AND electricity, so I didn't go poking around with a screwdriver in our moist, poorly lit HVAC closet.

Enter Bryan!

He is my friend's husband, and he knows these joints inside and out. They came over last week with their kids. While the little ones ran 'round the house, he grabbed his bundle of equipment (which, sidebar, totally made him look like a Ghostbuster), and headed down to the Den of Damp to check it out. The problem was minor, and he showed me how to prevent it from happening again. Bonus!

All it cost me was a dinner. Who wouldn't be grateful for that?

Gratitude #21: Finishing Something

My writing has gone to pot over the past two years. I've always had something in the hopper that I've been messing around with. You'll recall my most recent endeavour. That was something I worked on, off and on, for something like seven years. Yeesh. I had to go back and count that up, but it's true.

I started it somewhere in 2002, and then fiddled like a loon for YEARS. To be fair to myself, I did buy two houses, have three children, and change jobs thrice in that time. So, yes, delay. And I queried publishers, got some bites, but ultimately nothing came from it. Result? Self-publishing. I have actually been selling some copies. Nothing that will make the New York Times or anything, but I MAY be able to buy a fancy dinner for my family.

There have been other things I've played with, but nothing I'd call finished. 'Til now. I was kicking an idea around, something I knew that would not be meaty enough for a novel or anything. But that was okay. I was just shooting for a short story. At the end of March, I had a day off, so I got started. And I ended up with sixty pages. Some short story. But I'm whittling away, shaving it down to a reasonable short story size.

Just feels good to (mostly) finish something.

Gratitude #20: Chick-fil-A Kids & Family Night

I SWEAR, this is not a paid advertisement. I mean, SURE, I get tens of readers, most of whom are on my Christmas card list, so it would make sense that a corporation like Chick-fil-A would try and pay for space on my blog. But that's not what this is.

Our local Chick-fil-A hosts a kids and family night on Wednesdays, and I love it. LOVE IT. If an adult buys a meal, you get a kids meal for free. Shweet. All five of us can eat there for less than $20. But that's not the best part. The thing the kids love is the indoor playground. There's apparatus that's appropriate for all three of my kids (okay, fine, the Little Guy likes to try to climb UP the sliding tube and doesn't understand why he keeps failing). When we leave, they are full, and tuckered out, though slightly sweaty.

For those of you who want to beat me down for taking my children to a fast food joint, I foist healthier choices on them. They get the chicken nuggets, milk, and fresh fruit combo. Here's the nutrition info. BLAM. Not awful. Not organic muesli with a side of flax, but not awful.

Gratitude #19: Meeting-Free Work Days

As a project manager, my days are rife with meetings. I like people, but man, I usually leave meetings with more things to do than I came in with. So, meetings don't resolve any issues for me. They just bubble them up like evil and yon Weird Sisters from that Scottish play. So days sans meetings? Glorious.

Gratitude #18: Holidays

When I was in college, holidays were a big HA HA. That was when the papers got written, the research got done, or the body decided to fall apart because it knew you had a spare day or two (hello, sophomore year Thanksgiving!). As a young adult, I usually used the time to catch up on work projects. I've mentioned before that I am a nerd, yes?

But now? Now I have FINALLY realized that the Work Will Never All Be Done. There will always be laundry. There will always be e-mails to which I have not responded. There will always, always, always be a floor that needs sweeping. And since that work will always be there, then it doesn't really have to get done on a national holiday. That time is to be spent lolling about on the deck, playing with Lego, and braiding hair.

Gratitude #17: Relatives with Pools

Memorial Day weekend was HOT in Baltimore. Like, rude hot. Punch you in the face hot. Iron your clothes WHILE YOU ARE STILL WEARING THEM hot. And it is on days like this that I am grateful for relatives with pools.

See, we could pay a bajillion dollars for a pool membership. But, as we are hard up for a bajillion dollars, we need to depend on the kindness of relatives so blessed. Plus, seriously. With a one-year-old, four-year-old, and six-year-old, it is an absolute crap shoot as to whether all three of them will be down with the idea of swimming. Usually, we get two out of three. If we are going to pay for the pleasure of swimming, we actually want to get our money's worth. And I'm pretty sure it would be seen as unreasonable to chuck your kids in a pool simply to recoup the entrance fee.

As of this post, I have three local relatives who have pools, and they are all wildly generous and willing to share. How great is that?

If you're keeping track, this post shoulda been posted on Sunday, May 29th.

Gratitude #16: Living Near the Uncrowded Movie Theater

Editor's Note: I am WAY behind in my gratitude. Not that I'm not feelin' it. Just to busy livin', I guess. OR, I have been immersed in other projects. Like relaxing in the tub. Jealous?


Last Saturday I took my kids to see Kung Fu Panda 2. It was all right. Solid B. But you know what was AWESOME? It took us eight minutes to get to the theater from our house, we parked within a minute, and managed to buy tickets, snacks, and find seats within another five. For those of you who stink at math, that's fourteen minutes from the time we left our driveway to sitting in the theater, munching on popcorn.

How does this miracle come to pass?

It's because I avoid the popular movie theater. You know the one I mean. The one that's situated near a mall and a bevy of chain eateries like P.F. Chang's and the Cheesecake Factory. The one where teenagers loiter and spill over into kiddie movies because their Furious Face Smash with Inexplicably Oiled Bodies sold out.

I am a PROUD codger.