Sunday, July 31, 2011

Good Things, July 2011




Thursday, July 28, 2011

Read Elsewhere: Stuff

"My brain does a serious push-pull when it comes to larger questions of how to be in the world.  Specifically, stuff.  There are things I want.  I want a remodeled kitchen, with an extremely kick-ass stove.  I want to put a skylight in our stairway.  I want to make over the upstairs bathroom with an extremely expensive shower.  I want lots of new shoes, an upgraded iPhone, new pots and pans, an Xbox with Kinect (embarrassing, but true), a few sessions of personal training.  I want a long interesting vacation to a foreign country.

Then I start to freak out about the cost.  And not just the cost as in our personal budget, but about whether remodeling the bathroom or buying an Xbox is more or less the same as kicking a poor person in the face.  There are people in the world who will watch their children die of hunger, and I am thinking about dropping fifty bucks on an All-Clad saucepan?  Really?

And sure, I could send fifty bucks to a hunger relief agency, and I do that periodically, although the charity budget has to be split several ways because everything matters!

It does not change the fact that I still want the saucepan."

-read (long ago, and remembered) on mimismartypants.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

These Things Happened

Annie has started taking piano lessons this summer, and she is supposed to practice every day.  So far she really enjoys her lessons, her teacher, and noodling around carefully and happily on the keyboard upstairs for fifteen minutes every day - except when I am up there to hear her.  Then, it is a totally different story.  She plays the songs quickly and messily, and when I tell her to slow down and play well, she collapses in a pile on the keys and cries about how she's no good at the piano.  Does she do this for Jason?  No.


The girls spent last night at my parents' house, both to do some fun activities (see a play, swim in the lake) and so that I could spend three hours at the allergist's office first thing this morning.  (More on that later.)  For this overnight, I forgot to pack 1.  Annie's underwear, and 2.  Jemma's bathing suit.  It's just not summer around here if I don't forget to pack a bathing suit and/or underwear at least once!


The reason I spent three hours at the allergist's office this morning was because I have had "seasonal allergies" ever since the minute I became pregnant with Jemma.  (Thanks, pregnancy hormones!)  In the last couple of years, however, "seasonal" has come to mean "sneezing my head off every single morning of the year and gouging my eyes out while trying to itch my ear canals," and I decided it was high time to do something about it, Jemma going on five years old this winter and all.  So I got a recommendation, called the office, and made an appointment for what people like to call a "scratch test."

I've talked to enough people who have had this scratch test (or whose children have had this test) to have had a pretty solid idea going in about what would happen.  I pictured wearing a gown, lying on my stomach on a table, and a getting a bunch of very minor pricks (scratches, if you will) to the skin on my back.  And this morning, that did indeed happen - 38 pricks, to be specific.  And it really did feel like a quick scratch, and it did not hurt, and it was No Big Deal.

But then.

THEN, there was a part two of the allergy test, which nobody has ever spoken of to me, and which should not be lumped in with the scratch test but should instead be called the "Insert a tiny needle full of allergen subcutaneously under the skin of your inner forearm and jiggle it around until a bubble of blood comes out" Test.  IT DID NOT FEEL GOOD.  I got to experience 13 jabs/jiggles on my right arm and five on my left, and now I have neat rows of red hives marked with ballpoint pen decorating my arms, because it turns out I am allergic to everything.  The good news is that I did not pass out from the needles even though my blood pressure continues to be 98 over fifty-something on the regular.


Jemma has a friend, MC, with whom she has semi-regular playdates.  They usually play every other week or so, alternating houses, and Jemma has been there at least five times.  I had this conversation at the pool yesterday afternoon with MC's mom.

MC's mom:  Jemma, we'll have to figure out a day next week when you can come to our house and play.

Me:  Jemma, that sounds fun, huh?

Jemma:  Yeah, I've never even seen MC's house before!


Jason noticed Annie carrying a dollar around the house the other day and asked her where she had gotten it.  She told him that Jemma had promised to give her a dollar if she would both taste and smell Jemma's finger.  She did.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Who They Are Right Now

Right now:

:: they are both still sleeping.

:: Annie falls asleep listening to her Suzuki piano CD or reading a Magic School Bus book in bed most every night.

:: Jemma has progressed to being able to swim underwater half the length of the indoor pool at the gym.

:: their shoulders are a deep, smooth shade of brown, no matter how diligent I am about the sunscreen.

:: they still fill afternoons playing "dog," "baby," and "school."

:: I sometimes catch Jemma kissing her finger, then pressing her finger to the photo of herself and next-door neighbor J that's on our refrigerator.  (I told his mom.)

:: they love picking the snap peas from the garden and eating them raw before we even come inside.

:: they want to learn about sea anemones, shapes, artists, germs, cooking shows, and music.

:: they can identify a U2 song on the radio within ten seconds, and refer to anything by James Taylor as "Sweet Baby James."

:: they spent a portion of last week's Whitecaps game learning about strikes, balls, and outs from their patient daddy.

:: they have each grown about two inches since Christmas.

:: they are still one another's very best friend.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Food, Glorious Food

About that new food-writing gig:

Who:  My friend Di, who always has a million good ideas along with the savvy to turn them into a reality.  She was the first person to pay me to write things, and even though writing website copy for investment firms, bakeries, and dental offices has been great experience, I'm so happy to be writing about one of my true passions for her newest venture.

What:  Just Vittles, a site that aims to be a resource for busy people of all walks of life who want "clean food for modern families" with a special emphasis on elimination diets, gluten- and allergy-free food, and healthy, organic, local eating.

When:  I'll be posting every Tuesday and Friday for now, and maybe more starting this fall when my schedule is more consistent.

Where:  Just Vittles just launched in Seattle and is going to launch in West Michigan this fall, but you can participate and engage with it wherever you live.

Why:  Good question.  That's what my most recent blog post is about, and I'd love for you to join in the conversation.

How:  Register for Just Vittles (it's free!) or fan it on Facebook and see the updates in your feed daily.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Day to Live in Infamy

Today, after four-and-a-half years of being a practicing vegetarian (making exceptions only for McDonald's chicken nuggets), Jemma willingly and happily ate an entire hot dog.  A Pronto Pup, to be exact.  And I am as proud as someone who just got a new gig writing for a website whose tagline is "Clean food for modern families" can be.

On Being a Grown-Up

I remember being around sixteen years old, thinking that the next ten years or so would almost completely determine the person I would become, feeling nearly overwhelmed by the Big Decisions I would need to make.  I knew I'd have to choose a college, then choose a major, then choose a career.  I knew I'd probably choose the person with whom I'd be spending the rest of my life, choosing a city in which to live, and choosing whether and when to have children.  Then, I thought, all the Big Decisions would be made, and - voila! - I'd be a grown-up, aka A Person Who Has Made All the Big Decisions.

I've made all those decisions now (and am steadfastly happy with the choices I made) but it turns out, at thirty-three, there are still decisions - some big, some small - and daily I wish that I had become the grown-up who knew how to make them.  I have no problem doing the hard thing when I know that it is right, but I do have a problem when it isn't clear what the right thing is.  I've always known that one of my strengths and weaknesses is that I can argue both sides of an issue, which makes it hard to choose one path and stick to it confidently.  The current crop of Life Your Best Life media (Oprah, Life Lists, a plethora of inspirational websites and magazines) inspires me to, well, craft a life that lives up to its potential, to abhor complacency, to figure out what the problem is and find a way to solve it, to innovate, to raise the bar.  Trouble is, it's hard for me to know when I'm taking that too far.  Shouldn't I at some point just be grateful for the life as it is, or should I constantly be using my energy to improve it?  I CAN ARGUE BOTH SIDES.

We were at the beach today, which is really the only place to be when the dashboard weather looks like so:

and I was having a version of this conversation with a smart friend, who agreed that there is a fine line between wanting your life to be as ideal as possible and being the kind of person who always wants more, more, more.  Then, on the way home in the car - after hours of swimming and beach baseball and juice boxes and Doritos and Pronto Pups and ice cream and just one more Pronto Pup - Annie was complaining about the heat.  The air conditioning was going full blast, though it was taking a little while to cool the car down, and she couldn't stop talking about it.  It was so hot!  It was so uncomfortable!  It was so hot that it required a low-grade whine to emanate from the backseat and mingle with the noise of The Princess and the Frog.  At which point I heard my own voice share this bit of wisdom:

"You have a great, lucky life and you just had a super-fun day.  Now stop finding the one small thing that nobody can help, and just be happy."

Even as it was coming out of my mouth, I knew it was advice I needed to hear myself.  We came home, showered, put exhausted children to bed, and sat on the couch drinking a glass of red wine and talking about the never-ending decisions that are part and parcel of life as a grown-up, and I felt more sure that, no matter what we decide to do about this or that, I will be happy, because life is great and we just had a super-fun day.

"This is the thing:  when you start to hit twenty-eight or thirty, everything starts to divide, and you can see very clearly two kinds of people:  one one side, people who have used their twenties to learn and grow, to find God and themselves and their deep dreams, people who know what works and what doesn't, who have pushed through to become real live adults.
And then there's the other kind, who are hanging on to college, or to high school even, with all their might.  They've stayed in jobs they hate because they're too scared to get another one.  They've stayed with men or women who are good but not great because they don't want to be lonely.  They mean to find a church, they mean to develop honest, intimate friendships, they mean to stop drinking like life is one big frat party.  But they don't do those things, so they live in kind of an extended adolescence, no closer to adulthood than they were when they graduated college.
Don't be like that.  Don't get stuck.  Move, travel, take a class, take a risk.  Walk away, try something new.  There is a season for wildness and a season for settledness, and this is neither.  This season is about becoming.  Don't lose yourself at happy hour, but don't lose yourself on the corporate latter either.
Stop every once in a while to go out to coffee or climb in bed with your journal.  Ask yourself some good questions like, Am I proud of the life I'm living?  What have I tried this month?  What have I learned about God this year?  What parts of my childhood faith am I leaving behind, and what parts am I choosing to keep with me for this leg of the journey?  Do the people I'm spending time with give me life, or make me feel small?  Is there any brokenness in my life that's keeping me from moving forward? . . .
Now is your time.  Become, believe, try.  Walk closely with people you love, and with other people who believe that God is very good and life is a grand adventure.  Don't spend time with people who make you feel like less than you are.  Don't get stuck in the past, and don't try to fast-forward yourself into a future you haven't yet earned.  Give today all the love and intensity and courage you can, and keep traveling honestly along life's path."
-Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Updates, Prepositional

On my nightstand:

On my Pandora playlist:  plenty of Amos Lee, The Wailin' Jennys, U2, Adele, Ingrid Michaelson, Sara Bareilles, and Rufus Wainwright.

On the calendar:  piano lessons, tennis lessons, Safety Town, allergy testing, haircuts, beach days, grandparent overnights, tea parties, birthday parties, Whitecaps games, and not all that much unscheduled time, frankly.

On the court:

On my mind:  food, lower-back pain, real estate, sibling rivalry, summer traditions, yoga, friendship, money, church, Being A Grownup.

On my plate:

On my head:  sunglasses; air-dried, messy hair; straw hats.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Read Elsewhere: Pressure

"There is, however, ample evidence that the more mainstream media girls consume, the more importance they place on being pretty and sexy.  And a ream of studies shows that teenage girls and college students who hold conventional beliefs about femininity - especially those that emphasize beauty and pleasing behavior - are less ambitious and more likely to be depressed than their peers . . .

Meanwhile . . . girls repeatedly described a paralyzing pressure to be "perfect":  not only to get straight As and be the student body president, editor of the newspaper, and captain of the swim team but also to be "kind and caring," please everyone, be very thin, and dress right."  Rather than living the dream, then, those girls were straddling a contradiction:  struggling to fulfill all the new expectations we have for them without letting go of the old ones.  Instead of feeling greater latitude and choice in how to be female - which is what one would hope - they now feel they must not only "have it all" but be it all:  Cinderella and Supergirl.  Aggressive and agreeable.  Smart and stunning . . .

In her brilliant book Enlightened Sexism, Susan Douglas refers to this as the bargain girls and women strike, the price of success, the way they unconsciously defuse the threat their progress poses to male dominance.  'We can excel in school, play sports, go to college, aspire to - and get - jobs previously reserved for men, be working mothers, and so forth.  But in exchange we must obsess about our faces, weight, breast size, clothing brands, decorating, perfectly calibrated child-rearing, about pleasing men and being envied by other women.'"

-Peggy Orenstein, Cinderella Ate My Daughter

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Fourth of July: Traditions and Innovations

"For instance:  you realize that every summer we do things over and over we did the whole darn summer before?"
"Like what, Doug?"
"Like making dandelion wine, like buying new tennis shoes, like shooting off the first firecracker of the year, like making lemonade, like getting slivers in our feet . . . Every year the same things, same way, no difference.  That's one half of summer, Tom."
"What's the other half?"
"Things we do for the first time ever."
-from Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradbury

Certain things must happen each year for me to feel that it is truly the 4th of July, including but not limited to:  swimming in Walloon Lake and zooming around on the boat at least once; eating brunch at Bay View Inn and taking cousin-pictures on the croquet lawn after; joining the throngs of red-white-and-blue bedecked parade-goers in Harbor Springs; getting Tom's Mom's cookies and lemonade to add to the picnic lunch we eat down by the water; wading in the always-freezing bay; getting balloons for the girls; sitting on the curb in the hot sun to watch the parade; getting squirted by the fire trucks as they bring up the end of the line of floats; watching the two sets of fireworks explode simultaneously over the bay late at night.  And as it has been in years past, it was again this year.

And then there were the things that we did for the first time ever, like

Annie catching her first fish (a small-mouth bass) and eating it later that same day;

all the little girls (with a little help from the moms) making a dessert that they take turns choosing for the occasion;

spending a long, languid afternoon on the family porch with mojitos, ribs, and grocery-store fireworks while waiting for the big show to start;

taking Annie and Jemma tubing on our last afternoon there and watching as they held on for dear life and bounced around with glee;

letting all the cousins have a sleepover at Mimi's while the brothers and wives stayed in town for the night, eating and drinking our way until some people were blatantly asleep on the couch.

Both halves of this very wonderful holiday weekend = so, so good.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

July, So Far

My Saturday afternoon:  dock, beer, book.

Hilly runs first thing in the morning, two days in a row.

Annie catching her first fish (a small-mouth bass), eating it later that same day.

Afternoon all-out water balloon fight with the cousins and the cousin-dog.

Sunday morning:  church, all crammed together in one pew, fighting over the coloring books; brunch at Bay View Inn; photos on the lawn.

Baking Ina Garten's quintessential flag cake and eight chubby hands placing the raspberries Just So.

Walking down the path to the lake, just bathing suits and crocs.

Watching Jemma cast her line.

Dinner on the deck, late.

Baths in the lake with peppermint soap.

Fireworks outside the window as we go to sleep tonight.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Happiness (Hit Her)

"Happiness, hit her
Like a train on a track
Coming towards her
Stuck, still no turning back"

-Florence + The Machine, Dog Days Are Over

Danced to this rousing anthem in the kitchen yesterday morning with the girls.

Jumped to it, really.

Felt deliriously tired and deliciously aware of the moment:  little girls, pajamas, a summer morning, whole day ahead, followed by a whole weekend of sparklers and fireworks, parades and flag cake, lake and woods, family and food.

It's coming, no turning back, and sometimes it's exactly what I need when I feel depleted by vacuuming the floor or settling a squabble for the 45th time that day:  Happiness, hitting me right in my kitchen.