Monday, December 22, 2008

Giving into the madness

I did something last week that I never expected to do: I bought something organic.

Here's the tale of what happened that dark and stormy night. (Or day. Probably day). The stars were mal-aligned. Aurelia was switching to whole milk. And the forbidden thought snuck into my brain: she's going to be drinking a LOT of this...should I buy organic??

I believe that "natural" is not necessarily better than "synthetic", and sometimes it's actually a good deal worse. I'm quite certain that genetically modified foods are not of the devil. All of our food is genetically modified, but now we can modify it in a single generation instead of over centuries. But the fear of excessive hormones made me give in on the organic milk front.

There's a nagging suspicion in the back of my brain that I made this decision based on hype rather than scientific understanding. Did the massive propaganda campaign for going "green and organic" finally get through to me? Or are my fears founded in reality?

I'm not sure yet. I haven't actually done any research on the differences in chemical composition of organic vs. conventional milk. It's on my list.

But for now, we're a two-milk family. Organic whole for Aurelia and Standard 1% for the rest of us. There goes my mocha budget.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Negative = Real, Positive = Facade?

My best friend used to get the use of the phrase "real world", as in "welcome to it". Her response: "What? Have I been living in a fake world this whole time?" (roughly paraphrased).

A variation on this troublesome saying has recently made its way under my skin. I've noticed in several of my favorite "mom" blogs and podcasts that it is common to refer to meltdowns and breakdowns and generally anything negative as "real life", or revealing the "real me". Why is it that women believe only their failures are "real", and anything positive about themselves is truly a facade??

I'll use myself as an example. As you may have judged from my recent posts, I had what might be called a stress breakdown last week. I felt like I couldn't do anything right, the house became a disaster, and I really wasn't of much use to anyone.

The week before that, I was obviously happy, pretty much stayed on top of the housecleaning, and felt like I did a good job supporting my husband and nurturing my daughter. Does my subsequent meltdown mean that everything that came before was just a show to deceive the viewing public?

I don't believe so. The "appears to have everything under control" part of me is just as real as the "I desperately need a break" part of me. If anything, the negative side was a failing of the real me, not the revealing of a truth beneath a facade.

Fitness Friday: Easy Edition

1.This Christmas I am going to indulge in (meaning enjoy, without guilt, a reasonable amount of) hot chocolate with marshmallows and whipped cream. And endless hours of the Bing Crosby Christmas station on Sirius.

2. It is my goal to stay away from fudge. It's not my favorite thing anyway, so I should be able to meet this goal.

3. Over the holiday, I am changing my exercise goals to walking in the snow at least once a day, preferably towing Aurelia on a sled.

4. The way I will remind myself to make good choices over the holiday is keeping my husband close by, with instruction to gently remind me.

5. My favorite ornament on my tree is... Well, I'm not putting up a tree this year. But I love the Willow Tree nativity set I have out.

6. Of the progress I have made so far, my favorite thing is just having a plan, and feeling like I have some control over my fitness future.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of the ladies participating in Fitness Friday!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Secrets and Stress

Dealing with secrets is something that I'm not great at. Don't misunderstand me - I can keep a secret, and I appreciate having friends and family trust me enough to confide in me. I'm happy to offer an ear and a shoulder if you need it. But secrets that effect other people, especially people that I also interact with regularly, bring a huge amount of stress into my life.

I seriously dislike the dynamic of "You didn't hear it from me, but...". Especially when the news is something that I'd like to help with, even if it is only by offering a shoulder to cry on. Instead, I have to pretend that I don't know about what's going on in a friend/family member's life or risk losing another relationship that I care about.

Or the family secret that everyone guesses at but can't talk about because nobody's supposed to know. Then if it does get out, an "innocent bystander" often takes the blame. As in "me" this past week. Oh, but I still can't talk about that.

So what can I do? Well, crying and talking to my husband about it seems to have helped. Dodgeball is a good outlet (if only they didn't make us use soft "nerf"-style balls! Haha.). I really need to pray and journal. It's funny how both of those things can reduce the size of "the problem" - prayer because God holds you in His arms, and journaling because proper perspective is easier to grasp on paper. What's not funny is how hard it is to make those a priority.

Rationally, I know I need to do these things, but even thinking about fitting in dedicated time makes my "stress-alert" beacon turn red and start flashing. Kind of like the one night I took off for myself last week. I needed it. I know that I needed it. But it also added stress to my week.

So, let me know - how do you deal with secrets and stress?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Fitness Friday: Struggles with Stress

Well, it fits in quite well with the rest of my week that Fitness Friday isn't happening until Saturday. This has been a week I absolutely don't want to repeat. If I learned anything (or had previous lessons enforced), it's that my husband and I do not do well if we aren't working together. I've always cherished our commute together, and we both make a deliberate effort to protect our evenings. But due to the "Perfect Storm" (and I don't mean the movie or the near-blizzard that's going on outside my window), we had to take two cars every day and saw each other for about 15 minutes.

Monday night I was gone for dodgeball (my one true bit of exercise this week...again). Tuesday night we had friends over until well past our usual bedtime. Wednesday night Jon was running a teen group fundraiser, and Thursday night was a church board meeting. All of this was nicely wrapped up by a huge cry fest from me when Jon asked what was stressing me out. And for a bow on top, I've got a nasty cold (yes, I know there's no other kind...but saying just "cold" doesn't convey my feelings about the buggerly little virus).

So I would have to say that my fitness this week, whether spiritual, physical, or emotional, ranks about a 4 on a 1-10 scale where 10 is "stellar!". I really feel like saying 1, but I know it could be a lot worse. It is just a cold after all. My eating habits were quite good. Social marks are probably up from usual, as we spent more time with friends. And after our long, tearful, discussion I feel a huge burden off my shoulders.

I'll talk more about what was going on with stress in a later post. Now I'm going to go cuddle up with a cup of Moroccan Mint Green tea, a blanket and my family and watch A White Christmas.

Thanks again to Brenda at The Family Revised for hosting Fitness Friday!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Keep singing - A Lesson from Ella Fitzgerald

In celebration of our anniversary, my Superhero and I had a night on the town yesterday. After Jon finished playing movie star (due to an impromptu casting in the role of Phil the male store clerk) at the first shop we stopped at, we braved the crowds at Costco and later strolled around Fred Meyers. We know how to have a good time!

At Freddy's we magically transformed into our evening wear before heading to a sumptuous dinner followed by a Count Basie Christmas Concert. The special guest soloist was Carmen Bradford, who has a lovely "big band" voice. She should, because she was the last soloist hired by Count Basie himself to sing with his band - and her mother is currently touring with the Basie band!

Shortly after coming on stage, Carmen admitted that she was terribly nervous, especially because the audience was so "close and comfy! Is everything where it belongs?". Then she shared a story that I just love and knew immediately I had to pass along:
Some years ago, she was with the great Ella Fitzgerald before a concert at Carnegie Hall. Ella was wearing a glamorous white dress with bugle sequins and a matching pair of new shoes with 4-inch heels, as she was fond of wearing. The shoes kept slipping on the floor backstage, so Carmen offered to take the shoes out to the parking lot to scuff up the bottoms so Ella wouldn't fall. Ella's response? "Oh don't worry about that. I just hope they like me! Do you think they'll like me?"
So she headed out on stage, and got to singing and swingin'. In the middle of a song, swoosh she went down on stage, flat on her back with her dress up around her ears -- "the peekaboo of the night", as Carmen put it. And what did Ella do? She didn't miss a note and kept right on singing as she lay on the floor and flipped her dress back down.
Don't you just love that? There's a gutsy lady. I hope I remember that even someone who has "made it", by any standards, has to deal with self-doubt. Even more, I hope I can keep on singing when I hit the ground!

Oh, and here's some pictures of our "transformation" for the nightlife:

Friday, December 5, 2008

Fitness Friday: Love Your Body edition

Time for Fitness Friday (graciously hosted by Brenda at The Family Revised)! This week we're supposed to share one thing we really like about our bodies. I thought about this for a while today, and my answer is...*dundundun* back. Wierd, right? But I like the curve of my back. I think there's something uniquely feminine about a gracefully curved back. I'm reminded of a scene from one of my favorite movies: As Good As It Gets, where the artist is re-inspired by seeing Helen Hunt's back as she's getting ready to bathe. 

I also like my feet, but I'm a sock girl so nobody ever sees them. As Robert Jordan would put it in his Wheel of Time series, I have a "well-turned ankle". Don't ask me what that means.

To summarize my "fitness" week...hmm...not so great. Not terrible, but hardly stellar. I only made it to the gym once. I'm not entirely sure why, which makes it even worse. It probably has something to do with why I haven't blogged all week: my intense concentration on a submission for RPG Superstar 2009. (By the way, wish me luck! I'm submitting my entry tonight.)

Have a wonderful weekend! I'll be back on Monday with some fun pictures and a summary of my anniversary out on the town.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Fitness Friday: Holiday Edition and Balanced Life Index

Today is a free-for-all Fitness Friday, so I'm going to discuss two things. First, a recap of my fitness week: Monday I was all jazzed up, refilling my gym bag with workout clothes and filling my mp3 with fresh material. I arrived at the Rec Center at 9am sharp -- only to find out that due to Thanksgiving Break, the gym didn't open until 11am. *sigh*

So, no workout on Monday. But Tuesday I was able to plan ahead and walked in the gym doors as soon as they opened. I was pleased to discover that I had not, in fact, gained any weight during my hiatus from planned exercise. Now, for reshaping the weight and getting my energy levels up...To the elliptical!! I'm starting out with my old routine of 40 minutes on the elliptical and 20 minutes rowing. Mondays I'm going to add in playing racquetball with Jon, which is always challenging since he seems to stay a level ahead of me. So that will help with cardio.

Wednesday was full of cleaning and cooking. Foodwise, I kept things small and simple all week in preparation for the Thanksgiving feast on Thursday. I'm pretty happy with my choices at Thanksgiving -- of course, keeping my little one entertained was a good distraction from eating! I did indulge with dessert, but I did so deliberately so I don't really feel bad about it.

Okay, enough recap. On to topic #2. Listening to an episode of MommyCast from their archives, I learned about this website: Start Making Choices. I highly recommend that you check it out! The Balanced Life index is a nice tool to track how you are doing with overall "life fitness", and there are useful articles and a lot of good ideas on how to add in exercise and good eating to a busy life. Also, for those of you on facebook, you can track your friends' Balanced Life scores for encouragement (and a little fun competition?).

Thanks again to Brenda at The Family Revised for hosting Fitness Friday!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wifey Wednesday: I'll be happy when... husband stays home to help his sore back recuperate and spends half the day cleaning the house for me so I'll have less to do in preparation for Thanksgiving. He even placed the couch pillows artfully. And cleaned the blades on the ceiling fan. Really!! A wife's dream come true. Surely it made me happy.

I would have been genuinely and ecstatically happy about all of this. If a deer hadn't been standing in the middle of the road on the way home. And hadn't decided to rearrange the hood of my car. It does make it more difficult to show appreciation for the loving gift of unexpected housework.

Still, I'm proud of the fact that no four-letter words were uttered. I'm glad that we sold our 2002 Passat earlier this year and I was driving a 1992 Subaru -- our "Dave Ramsey" car. Oh, and I'm relieved (but not surprised) that my husband was completely understanding and told me out loud that there was nothing I could have done differently. Eventually I was even able to fully appreciate everything he had done around the house.

Here's the thing. We can't control things like deer hitting the car (or vice versa, depending on how you want to phrase it...which depends on how recently you've been in a deer-car accident). Neither can we really control the circumstances that would supposedly "make me happy when...", since they generally involve someone else's actions and free will can be a bummer in that case.

As Sheila Wray Gregoire puts it, if we say we'll be happen "when...", we're really refusing to be happy now. We might even find that when the happy circumstances finally arrive, they've been negated by something else. So if you have a virtual deer in your headlights (or on your hood) right now, I encourage you to look past it and find something in this moment, this precious "present" time, to be happy about.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Head over to Sheila's blog To Love, Honor and Vacuum for more Wifey Wednesday goodness.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Loose threads

I promised Birthday pictures earlier in the week, and then forget to put them up! So here you go.

First, proof that my daughter now has shoes (Yes, I am a good Mom!):

Of course, now I've learned that soft-soled shoes like Robeez are best for this age. I figure she only wears them to keep her socks on while traveling anyway, so I'm not losing too much sleep over her foot apparel.

Next up: Birthday cake!

The bakery did an amazing job, don't you think? I wasn't expecting anything near this lovely. I just handed them the card I used as an invitation and asked if they could try to make the cake to match. (By the way....$16!!! And there was a matching 8" round that had the Happy Birthday message on it.) 

The birthday girl:
"What? Do I have something on my face?" We went with Daddy's favorite flavor, carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. Yum!

And, finally, a treat at the mall on the actual "Big Day":

Aurelia's great-grandma specifically asked us to buy her a treat and let her know who it was from. So we took a picture of "Bama" along for our birthday stroll and bought Aurelia's first chocolate chip cookie and a Strawberry Julius. She seemed to enjoy it!

Life out of the freezer

I'd like to draw your attention to this amazing post: Embryo adoption. Wow. This has changed my viewpoint drastically. I've spent a considerable amount of time debating with myself about what should be done with leftover embryos from IVF. If IVF didn't exist, I would be 100% absolutely against any research using embryos, but the issue becomes more muddled by the existence of unused embryos that are either put in the deep-freeze or thrown out with the garbage. Wouldn't it be better, in that case, for something good to come out of their creation? It is very easy to view these leftovers with a "scientific" mindset and not see them as people. I will never be guilty of this again. I'd like you to meet one of the few who made it out of the freezer:

Thank you, Elisha. I'm so glad the world got to meet you.

Fitness Friday: Jumping on board

I've been watching Brenda's Fitness Friday progress over at The Family Revised, and debating whether or not to join in. Well, this week is "The Excuses Edition", so it's only appropriate that I share why I hadn't jumped on board immediately! 

Number 1 Reaso...Excuse: Nursing. This actually entails a few "sub-reasons". First, the time spent expressing milk led me to drop my usual exercise routine: a half-hour on the elliptical and a half-hour on the rowing machine at least 3 days a week. Even into my last month of pregnancy I had consistently kept up this schedule, usually going 5 days a week. But I simply wasn't making sufficient progress with my research and something had to go. Secondly, the energy. Making milk takes energy. Exercise burns calories. I do not have an infinite amount of energy. Thirdly (and this one feels most like an excuse), you're not supposed to diet while nursing. Err...yep, I know exercising and dieting are not the same thing... And, finally, I was losing extra pregnancy pounds just by eating well and nursing. 9 months after giving birth, I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight. Unfortunately, that weight is not exactly distributed as nicely as it was before.

Number 2: Like Brenda, I find myself using the excuse that "it's not that bad". Sure, I'd look and feel better if I shaped up a bit and dropped about 9 lbs, but I'm not trying to be a model or anything. Whose counting 9 lbs? The point I need to remember is, if I don't make a habit out of getting and staying fit now, it's going to get a lot worse and a lot harder down the road.  

Number 3: I'm really stressed out and a glazed croissant with chocolate milk would make me happier. This is my biggest excuse in the food department. I never had a problem with a sweet tooth until I became a mom. It took me a while to figure out why I suddenly started craving treats....alll the time. I think I know: once you become a mom, about the only thing you have time to do just for yourself is eat something sweet! At least, that's what is going on in my case. I'd like to add here that I think we really should enjoy food. But a glazed croissant once a week is not the same as having a calorie-heavy treat every single day. And it's entirely possible to enjoy food that is good for you!

On the positive side, I just got the thumbs-up from our pediatrician to stop expressing milk and to cut back on nursing. So a lot of my excuses just evaporated! Monday morning, it's back to the gym.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Thankful Thursday: Unlikely thanks

There are a lot of things in life that I take for granted that I should be thankful for. But there are also things that I'm simply surprised to be thankful for. Here are some of them from this past year:

1) Barney. Yes, the purple dinosaur. When Aurelia was sick last week, I learned to love the big guy, because he made her happy. You just wouldn't believe the look on her face when she sees the dvd cover with Barney on it.

2) AAA Plus membership. Particularly the towing service. I'm thankful that we didn't have to use the service at all this year, and thankful that we had the service when we used all 8 tows the previous year.

3) Cheerios. Like Barney, they make my little one happy.

4) Nutella and banana crepes. Had them the first time in Paris, and now I often make the quick and dirty version -- nutella and banana on wheat toast.

5) A husband who can fix the toilet using string from the weed whacker.

6) Facebook. I held out for a long time, but I'm glad that I finally decided to give it a look-see. I have reconnected with so many wonderful friends!

7) Tony Romo and Frank Gore. Without them, my poor fantasy football team wouldn't stand a chance. (By the way, ladies, I find that having a fantasy football team is a good way to connect with my husband during the NFL season!)

8) My vacuum cleaner. This almost falls into the category of "taken for granted", but not quite. I splurged and bought a Roomba last year. My back thanks me, my carpet thanks me, my crawling baby...will thank me someday...

9) The Diaper Genie. Yes, I mean the odor-controlling contraption in the nursery...but I also mean the wonderful man in my life who empties it for me!

That's all for now...have a wonderful day!

Choices: The Holiday edition

I seem to be stuck on my recent post about choices ("When Yes means No"). But if you're getting bored, don't worry. I'll be moving on to new topics soon. Or going back to old ones, like budgeting...

Anyway, as the holiday season approaches (What's that you say? Thanksgiving is only a week away?!?), I've been thinking about the painful process of deciding who to spend the holidays with every year. When my husband and I were first married, we lived close to both sets of parents. At first we thought this was a boon, and in some ways it really was. But it also meant that we felt like we had to spend holidays with both of our families, which led to some pretty crazy days of running around in a mad dash to see everyone...and very little time to actually enjoy being with our loved ones. Saying "yes" to everyone really isn't the greatest idea.

Things changed when we moved 6 hours away. My in-laws also moved, putting them an hour away from us. Strangely enough, this freed us by forcing us to choose more decisively. In an effort at fairness, we decided to alternate holidays. Thanksgiving with one family, Christmas with the other, and then switch the next year. I think this has worked well, although I don't know if anyone is ever fully satisfied with holiday visits. It seems like they're always too short or rushed. 

For example, our trips to visit my family still suffer from the strain of trying to spend time with too many people. I've tried going schedule-free to reduce the stress, and just go with the flow. That worked out about as poorly as you can imagine. I've tried scheduling precisely when I will visit with each person, but that wasn't much better. I'm really at a loss as to how to fully enjoy the experience of these trips home. Occasionally, I even agonize over what we're missing out on once we've made a choice. I think this is where the flip side of "yes means no" comes into play...once you do say yes to something, you have to stop thinking about what or who it is you've said "no" to and throw yourself wholly into whatever it is you're doing. 

I was better at doing this in college, when I lived by my personal mantra of "Never be afraid. Never be ashamed. Never be in a hurry." Now...not so much. Of course, now that we're a family of three, holidays are probably going to be changing again. This is a new year, with a new chance to embrace the joy of the season, and new choices to make. Time to look forward.

EDIT: I just have to add that Sheila over at To Love, Honor and Vacuum has a great post up on gift giving. Check it out!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Softball, chat and Captivating

(Not to be confused with Captivating softball chat, which is a common mistake). I seem to be in the mood for (asides) today, so I thought I'd start right off with one. On to the post...

In high school (oh so many years ago now), I was captain of the softball team. Before you start feeling impressed, I must point out that I went to a very small school and I literally forced the team into creation in the first place. I still think my greatest diplomatic achievement in life was getting my best friend Molly to join the team. Despite the fact that she "couldn't see the point in throwing oneself into the dirt" during sliding practice, in a desperate moment during a game she even slid into base. Once. She's a trooper. I digress.

My senior year, we ran into trouble with some cliques forming on the team. I struggled trying to break up the annoying little groups. We had never had issues like this in previous years, and no matter how much effort I put into "team building" exercises, we just couldn't gel as a group. Finally I realized that the best approach was to get the girls to refocus on God, and I instituted a team devotional before every practice. (Again, resist any lingering urges to be impressed...this was a private Christian school, so I wasn't exactly rocking the boat). I can't say that everything went smoothly after that, but it definitely helped. Getting my teammates to look "out" at God was the best way to help them get over their inner insecurities (the basis of most cliques, in my opinion). Or at least to forget about them long enough to pay attention to playing softball.

So what brings up my streak of nostalgia? There's been a lot of chatter lately on my favorite blogs (see my blogroll in the sidebar...I'm on dial-up at the moment and am consequently too lazy to link them up here) about unrealistic expectations in the blog world vs. the real world. It is terribly easy on a blog to 1) make it sound like you have everything figured out for everyone, and 2) come across as judgemental concerning anyone who makes different choices than you. Sadly, sometimes this is intentional. I've read blog posts that made it sound like you were going to the hot place if you used birth control. Or let your kids go to public school. Or died your hair red. You get the idea. But I don't think I'm being overly optimistic in believing that most of the time it's a side effect of the medium used to communicate. Regardless, we Christian women need to remember that we stand on the same ground in loving God and striving to do His will. Let's not beat each other up when that looks different in someone else's journey than it does in ours.

This recent set of discussions reminds me of why I can't stand most "How to be a good Christian woman"-type books. Like Stasi Eldredge, author of Captivating, one of the Three Books that Changed My Life (besides the Bible), I feel like throwing them out the window on about the second sentence. There is no one picture of what a good Christian woman looks like. And if we try to fit into a single mold, all we'll get is frustration and guilt and shame at having failed.

Well, that was my version of mental Stone Soup. Now I'm off to relax with my husband, ignore the pile of laundry, and remember that a year ago today I first held our daughter in my arms. Birthday pictures tomorrow!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Girl Talk: Milking machine of doom

Men, you've been warned. Your brain may not be able to process some of the following information. Turn back now. (Sorry Dad).

Last Friday I talked about the fact that good choices sometimes get in the way of great choices...or at the very least, other good choices. I'm trying to decide if I'm facing one of those situations in my life right now, and what I should do about it.

It was important to me from the beginning to give my daughter breastmilk. I couldn't stay home with her, but I could at least make sure she had "nature's best food for babies". (I don't want this to devolve into a breastfeeding vs. formula debate...I have no issue with anyone who chooses to use formula or must use formula. When I went on vacation, my daughter drank formula for over a week, and she was just fine when I got back. It is not evil. There, that's out of the way). Personal preferences aside, have you seen the price of formula lately??? I'm a grad student, for crying out loud, not a corporate executive. 

After I got past the whole "mastitis" incident, nursing has truly been a joy. Pumping, on the other hand...oh my, am I ready to be done with that. I am very fortunate that pumping has been physically easy for me. A fellow researcher I trade off with in the dark corner of a bathroom that is allotted to breastpumping mothers has to pump for an hour to get 4 oz. of milk. In comparison, I could win a blue ribbon at the county fair for "prodigious producer". As long as I've been drinking enough water and leave out the mint tea, I can get 12+ oz. in about 45 minutes. I have a decent pump -- the Medela pump-in-style double electric model. If assembling a breastpump were a timed Olympic event, I could probably win gold. But I'd rather borrow a rifle from the sharp-shooting event and blow the thing to pieces. 

I have to spend anywhere from 2 to 3 hours pumping on weekdays, and on weekends I still have to pump before going to bed. Granted, I get to read a lot of books while I pump, but that's a huge chunk of my time. Recently I had to stop going to the gym every day. I just can't get enough done with my research if I pump and exercise. And frankly, after pumping at night I am not even remotely interested in getting cozy with my husband. As the ever-wise Sheila Wray Gregoire points out,this puts a strain on the marital relationship, but I can't help it. It takes a lot of energy (500 extra calories a day to maintain milk production) and I feel less than beautiful after disconnecting from the Machine. Nursing bras don't help. (Yes, I know you can get pretty ones, but they're quite expensive and I can't see how they'd hold up against milk stains). I'm beginning to think I should reconsider what I'm saying "no" to in order to provide breastmilk for my daughter. 

Of course, Aurelia's first birthday is tomorrow, and her 12-month checkup is on Thursday. Hopefully her pediatrician will tell me I'm off the hook now. And give me a gold medal and a million dollars...haha. So this may soon be a non-issue. In the meantime, here's a clip of another Machine of Doom. Westley knows exactly how I feel.

Friday, November 14, 2008

When Yes means No

I'm sure we all know that "No means no!" But did you know that sometimes "Yes" means "no"? I learned this when I was listening to a podcast I recently discovered (Mommycast - check it out here). The specific episode was about Mommy Meltdowns, and how to avoid them. There was one bit of advice that jumped out at me so much that I had to immediately pull over and scrounge through my purse so I could write it down. It basically went like this: "Everytime you say 'yes' to doing something this week, stop and ask yourself what you're saying 'no' to."


If we did every good thing that came our way, we'd miss out on a lot of great things. Not to mention be exhausted, irritable, and spread too thin. Trust me, I know! Our family schedule gets packed so quickly that sometimes I have to look out several months ahead to find an empty weekend. Some weeks my husband is so busy doing good things in the evenings that he's hardly home. Fortunately, we've both come to realize this is a problem and we're working together to make sure it doesn't happen as often. I bought a big calendar for next year, and the first thing I did was mark out one "family" weekend a month -- it is absolutely, completely, non-negotiably off limits. Jon is learning that he doesn't have to be at every church board meeting, and the teens will know that he loves them even if he isn't at every fundraiser -- or even if he misses a regular teen group every once in a while to be at home with us.

Okay, that's all I'm going to say on the matter for now. I don't want the point to get lost in details. Just remember: every yes means a "no", to something or someone.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wifey Wednesday: Untamed men and Conquered mountains

Yesterday Sheila Wray Gregoire was wondering who will take up the torch to fight for what is right. At the same time, Mrs. Anna T asked her readers if women want to be treated badly, because many seem to not want "nice" men. I agree that it is unhealthy to want or to continue a relationship with someone who has a "destructive" personality. When choosing a mate, it is important both to seek someone with a loving heart and to acknowledge that it is highly improbable that you will make someone change -- so choose carefully and choose practically. However, I believe the two problems Sheila and Anna bring up are related. On the one hand, we cry out for strong leaders, and on the other we ask for our men to be "nice." I think in many cases, the root of the often detrimental desire for men who aren't nice is born from a twisting of a deep and good longing for real men, men with backbone and untamed hearts. Men who, like the great lion Aslan, are dangerous.

"Then he isn't safe?" asked Lucy.

"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good."

It is not easy to forget that men are not like us, right ladies? It is easy to forget that they aren't supposed to be like us. Sometimes we have to quell our instincts and fears and let our men be men. We have to let them take risks and spend time doing things we don't necessarily understand. In my favorite version of the King Arthur legend (the Pendragon Cycle by Stephen Lawhead), the boy Arthur is riding with his guardian and entourage and remarks on a huge, majestic mountain they are passing by. When he learns that no one has ever climbed the mountain, he immediately decides that he must try. Ectorius, who raised him from a babe, is obviously quite hesitant to allow Arthur and his lame cousin to try such a dangerous feat alone. Merlin, the wise bard and adviser, talks him into letting the boys try. 

"No," replied Merlin, "it is foolishness itself to let them go."
"Then why?"
Merlin smiled, lifting a hand to the mountain. "Because if we prevent them now, they would never again risk the impossible with a whole and open heart."
"Is that so important?"
"For ordinary men, no." Merlin shook his head, watching the boys ride away. "But, Ector, we are not about making ordinary men."
"...This is a needless hazard." Ectorius showed his contempt for such an idea.
"...Better to have lived while alive, yes? Besides, if they achieve this they will have conquered a giant; they will be invincible!"
"If they do not?"
"Then they will learn something about the limitations of men."
"A costly lesson, it seems to me," muttered Ectorius.
"Then it will be valued all the more. Come, be of good cheer, my friend," coaxed Merlin. "If God and his angels stand ready to uphold them, can we do less?"

Another book that helped me understand this concept is Wild at Heart, by Jon Eldredge. I highly recommend that every wife (or lady who would like to become a wife) take the time to read this. Even better, read it with your husband. As my husband put it, this book helped him realize that "Christian men don't have to be Ned Flanders." (And there's my Simpsons reference for the day).

Friday, November 7, 2008

My week in pictures (and incomplete sentences)

This week has been a rollercoaster, with Time laughing in the face of any attempts at scheduling...or accomplishing anything beyond reflexive reactions. At least I had a full bottle of Ibuprofen in my purse. To start with.

Friday: Jon's sister brings Aurelia home from grandma-care, and we have a lazy night of eating pizza and brownies and watching old movies. Ahhh...this is the life.

Saturday: Jon heads over to his parent's house first thing in the morning to help work on building a barn before Old Man Winter comes to visit. Aurelia and I pile into the car with all of our baby gear to go to a class reunion. A Childbirth class reunion, that is:

This is the first time Aurelia has been around other babies her age. Turns out she's the toy thief and class clown of the group. Do you notice her pointing at her bare feet?? "Mom!! Everyone else has adorable clothes on, including socks and shoes! Don't you love me?" In my defense, the boogie monster stole all of her clothes sometime last week, and this was the only outfit I had in the house for her.

Sunday: After church, the three of us head to the mall for some strolling and family-time. Oh, and to get some shoes...

Monday: Game time!! After Aurelia goes to sleep, I head back into town to play some dodgeball on an intramural team. (I'm the second from the left). Turns out that using an elliptical at the gym does not prepare you for ducking and weaving... But I think that we might have set a record for shortest time to lose three games in a row. How could we rickety old grad students hope to stand up to the Tri-Delta sorority girls?

Tuesday: Migraine time. 5-hour nap. Let's not dwell.

Wednesday: Experiments a bust. I might have said recently that everything that could go wrong with my Western blots had gone wrong. I would have been wrong.

Spend three hours editing a friend's novel. Forty more pages down. 460 left to go. Next time I'm charging for this.
On the bright side, I had an epiphany when it came to cooking mashed potatoes. Slow cooker!! Lots of leftovers this week.

Thursday: Another hodge-podge of a day, in and out of the lab, running errands, working on Mark's book. I tell Jon that if Mark ever asks him how he can compensate me for the work, Starbucks gift cards (for some reason I can only do editing work in a coffee shop) and Housecleaning services are at the top of the list. The highlight of the day: lunch at Wingers with Jon, and sitting drinking coffee together while working on our various projects. This I can handle.

Friday: Morning miscommunication completely overthrows planned schedule. Friends coming over tonight, house less than organized, Jon flying out at dawn tomorrow. Time to go take a shower and turn into superwoman!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Fairness - not the best goal

Every spring for the past five or six years, I've faced the same dilemma. One of my husband's high school buddies has gotten married each summer, and it became a tradition for the guys to get together for a 4-day long bachelor's vacation. Since they're all married now, the trip has morphed into a "spring retreat". I'm glad that they've managed to stay so close despite the different paths they've taken and being spread out across two states. The problem is that this vacation always falls very close to my birthday. In the past this has resulted in my husband not being around on my birthday. To give credit where it's due, last year he persuaded everyone to change the date so there won't be any direct conflict. But every year I've been rather jealous, wondering when I'll get my turn.

Last week I decided, and even told Jon, that this year I want to commit to renting a place for myself for a couple of nights and inviting a few friends. He agreed completely that it was a good idea. Here's the rub: regardless of what's fair, our finances and budgeting needs haven't changed. On top of that, it is absolutely a must that we make a trip down South to see my grandmother this year. I want her to meet our little one and visit with her while we still have the opportunity. It's going to take every little bit we can save up of what's left over from our "debt snowball" to manage the airplane tickets. So the only way left to be "fair" this spring is for Jon to miss out on the spring retreat. I don't want him to miss out on that, and even if I did, I think it could lead to resentment. But how do I protect myself from feeling resentful when the spring trip rolls around?

I have a similar problem with everyday "division of the housework". We're both full time graduate students, so it seems like splitting housework 50/50 when we get home is an obvious and fair answer (factoring in, of course, the non-housework things that Jon does for our family, like changing the oil in the car and splitting wood). But it just doesn't work out that way. Fair or no, things simply have to get done around the house. With youth group events and board meetings and helping out around his parents' place, a lot of it gets left on my plate. Again, he has my full blessing for all of these things. They're important, and I believe God has called him to each of them.

So I think I really have to let this whole idea of "fairness" go. I do what I can, he does what he can, and we'll get around to the rest when we get there. Aiming for fairness is bound to lead to frustration and resentment. If, on the other hand, I remember that we're working as a team toward the same goals, I don't have to feel so alone or overwhelmed.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

"Don't talk like that in public"

(No, I'm not referring to foul language or teaching children courteous communication.)

Jon and I were discussing politics and talk radio the other night at the dinner table. We agreed that while there can be some useful information on talk radio shows, as well as some very interesting interviews, sometimes it's not worth gleaning. And sometimes, it's even embarrassing to listen.

Personally, while I enjoy listening to a certain extent, I can't stand having it on in my house (with very few exceptions) -- if I were to take my daughter into a room where men were yelling angrily at each other, I'd quickly leave. It makes it pretty hard to maintain a "sanctuary"-like home. Fortunately, my husband also came to that conclusion recently and now tunes in music in the morning instead. (The evenings still belong to the Dave Ramsey show, of course!)

Here's how Jon came to change his perspective a bit. He does a good deal of his research in a "tank room" in the basement of his work building. For a while, he was listening to talk radio while he set up the experiments, and he had to turn it up rather loudly to hear it over the hum of the water tanks. With the door propped open to the hallway, he realized anyone walking by could hear what he was listening to. And he caught himself thinking to the talk show host, "Don't talk like that in public!"

I had to laugh when he confessed this to me. Don't worry, he was laughing with me. We still listen in on a few shows, but we're a bit pickier than we were before. With tempers rising higher as the election approaches, we'll probably cut it out completely until things settle down again. What I would truly enjoy, however, is for someone (with more time than I have) to thoroughly research current political issues and events and then sit back with a cup of coffee and calmly lay out the details for me on air, with some good interviews to break things up. I almost wrote "cup of tea", but that brings up images of NPR, which is a topic for another day.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

My blind date

What you would have heard if you'd listened to my phone conversation earlier this week: "I had a great morning, thanks! I had a blind date at Starbucks... Actually, I did meet this person online...They listed something for sale, it wasn't a chat room or anything...No, don't worry, it was perfectly safe...We met in a public space, and I suggested the meeting...Don't be silly, we just had some coffee...Mom, she had her one-year old son, "Mr. Wriggles", with her for Pete's sake."

Yes, it's true. I finally found a local mom willing to take me up on one of my frequent invitations to take a coffee break together. And when we found time to meet up at the itsy-bitsy local mall for Starbucks, it really did feel like a first date! Many of the same thoughts went through my head - "What should I wear? What if she doesn't like me? Should I bring [fill in the blank] up, or should that wait until we know each other better?" Silly, but there you have it.

Now, my "blind date" might seem a little desperate for those of you have a full quiver of mom friends, but out here in the rolling wheat fields finding someone close to your age with similar interests and young children is like finding a needle in know the rest. I think it's safe to say that most of my graduate student colleagues still think I'm insane to not only be married, but to have had a child. There are some wonderful ladies in my church, but none close to my age or with a baby in the house. We don't have anything like "stroller striders" or "Mommy and me" playgroups around here (although after seeing how much they cost - yikes! - I'm not sure I'd join anyway). So I'll just about pass out my phone number or e-mail address to anyone wearing jeans or sweats, with hair hastily tied back, and lugging an overflowing diaperbag. Or in this case, a nice, normal-sounding mother who listed some toddler clothes on Craigslist. Let's hope it's the start of a beautiful thing. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Letting go of expectations

My dear friend Ruth at a messy life wrote last week about being unhappy. She had recently come to a place where she realized, as we SG-1 fans might put it, that she is never going to be Colonel Samantha Carter. I think we all reach a point (perhaps several times) in life when acceptance dawns us, willing or no, that this may be as good as it gets, and we have to let go of some of the dreams we had for a time. Fortunately, God generally has better things planned for us than we did. As Ruth discovered in a moment of epiphany, she is the most important person in the world to her beautiful children -- in her family's eyes, Colonel Carter could never come close to filling her shoes! 

In considering Ruth's words and reflecting on my own periods of unhappiness, I've come to believe that a large portion of the unhappiness we run into in life is due to expectations we embrace that we perhaps shouldn't have. I can spend so much time trying to figure out what life is about or what I'm "supposed" to be doing (scientist, stay-at-homemaker, editor, writer, entrepeneur???) that I lose sight of the fact that God loves me just because I am His daughter. There's nothing I can do to make Him love me more or less. As Dave Ramsey put it on his radio show the other day (when questioned by a new Christian about tithing), God lays out what we should do to have a good life, but even if we completely mess up He still loves us just as much as his other children -- we're just one of the "dumb" ones! I like that. It's liberating. 

There's a blog I recently discovered that has some wonderful homemaking advice. Skimming through the topics that interested me, I ran across one of many posts encouraging wives to stay at home. Well, that's putting it mildly and politely. You can read the full post here, but all I could think of after reading it was, "Oh my! God's going to pop down here for a surprise visit and discover that my secondary bathroom is sorely neglected and my bedroom is a disaster! How disappointed He'll be that I wasn't a better caretaker of my home!" You know what? We (humans, women, mothers, Christians) need to stop being so hard on each other, and especially stop being so hard on ourselves, as if life is some great big test. 

Oswald Chambers had something to say along these lines in Tuesday's "My Utmost for His Highest":
The impregnable safety of justification and sanctification is God Himself. We have not to work out these things ourselves; they have been worked out by the Atonement. The supernatural becomes natural by the miracle of God; there is a realization of what Jesus Christ has already done -- "It is finished."
Just rest in your Daddy's arms and enjoy the beauty He's given us (trusting He will take care of us through the ugly). 

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Get out the novocaine - it's election time

Without further ado, here it is: my first political post. I am extremely hesitant about bringing politics into this blog, because there are so many things that are more important to me than a person's political beliefs or affiliations, and I don't want anyone to close their ears to what I have to say just because we disagree on politics. But the election is only a week away, and I find myself compelled to write this post. I will do my utmost to keep my statements simple, civil and friendly.

I am not a huge supporter of either of the two big presidential candidates. I do, however, have great respect, admiration, and (perhaps most importantly) trust for Sarah Palin. Senator McCain's choice of Sarah as VP secured my vote, despite my many disagreements with the Senator's policies. In her personal life and as governor of Alaska, she has demonstrated good judgment, a strong spine, and tremendous respect for the sanctity of individual life. I can relate to her in a way I've never been able to relate to a politician, man or woman. So that's what I have on the positive side.

Now here is why I cannot vote for Senator Obama, and there is one reason that trumps all other considerations. I won't need to go into his economic plan, foreign policy, or social values, because they don't matter in comparison. I could agree with him on all other points and still not be able to vote for him. The reason is simple: it is clear from his actions and words that he does not value the sanctity of life. I was first troubled along these lines when he uttered the (in)famous statement that he would not want his daughters "punished" with a baby if they were to make a mistake. Yet I will not judge someone based on a single statement, which can be so easily taken out of context or may represent poor communication of an idea. So I kept listening and watching.

When I read about his statements on the floor of the Illinois senate, I was even more troubled. SB1095 stated that a baby alive after “complete expulsion or extraction from its mother” would be considered a "person, human being, child and individual." In other words, it would be not only wrong but illegal to leave such an entity in a linen closet until it finished dying. Here is what Senator Obama had to say about the bill (March 31, 2001):

"...whenever we define a pre-viable fetus as a person that is protected by the equal protection clause or other elements of the Constitution, what we’re really saying is, in fact, that they are persons that are entitled to the kinds of protections that would be provided to a—a child, a nine-month-old—child that was delivered to term.”

In other words, a delivered 22-week term child would have the same rights as a full 40-week term child.

“I mean, it—it would essentially bar abortions,” said Obama, “because the equal protection clause does not allow somebody to kill a child, and if this is a child, then this would be an antiabortion statute.”

This statement unambiguously demonstrates that Senator Obama is willing to ignore the moral logic of any bill that might oppose abortion statutes. It doesn't matter to him whether or not a baby surviving an abortion deserves the rights due any person, accorded by our Constitution. What matters to him is whether or not the right to "choice" is violated by such a baby's right to life. Or, from another angle, he didn't care whether or not "this" is a child, because if it was an antiabortion statute he wouldn't vote for it.

One commentator summed this up elegantly:
For Senator Obama, whether or not a temporarily-alive-outside-the-womb little girl is a “person” entitled to constitutional rights is not determined by her humanity, her age or even her place in space relative to her mother’s uterus. It is determined by a whether a doctor has been trying to kill her.

I cannot in good conscience vote for someone who holds such a blatant disregard for human life.

Okay, that's all for politics. We'll be returning to my regular blog shortly...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

More on budgeting

Let me start out with a sidenote. Yesterday I posted a little bit about how we started having monthly budget meetings in my household. I want to stress the importance of doing this on a monthly (or more frequently!) basis. One of the reasons a budget never really worked for us before is that we couldn't account for the usual variations in spending needs using just a general budget outline. By spending every dollar on paper, on purpose, before the month begins, we've done a much better job of sticking to the plan. Now on to the main event...

I recently read a "Moneywise" article in Real Simple magazine, which I normally enjoy and has some wonderful tips, offering advice to a lady on how to trim her monthly budget. This woman's household is very similar to mine: two adults and one young child. They bring home approximately $4000/month. The financial adviser recommended that 1) they get rid of their storage unit ($88), Tivo ($12), and Netflix ($15), 2) swap babysitting duties to lower child-care costs ($610, Mom works part-time), and 3) apply for a credit card so they can build a solid credit history to get a mortgage (they just finished paying off all of their credit card debt). 

Here's why I freaked out over the article. Cutting back unnecessary expenses is clearly a good idea if you're running a tight budget, so #1 should be acceptable to me. However...the adviser did not even mention the $600 monthly budget for groceries (for 2 adults!), or the $220 for "self care and incidentals" or the $150 for "Gifts". Maybe I've adopted a miserly mindset, but that seems over the top. I feed our family for $250 a month, and that includes cooking once a week for a needy family at church and trying to make sure we have a lot of fresh veggies and fruit. And if I had student loans to pay off and childcare expenses, I would slash that gift category back a bit until we were totally debt-free with a full emergency fund. 

To be fair, I have no complaints with the second bit of advice. I'm fortunate to have "Grandma care" for our little one while I'm at work. I have no idea how anyone affords childcare.

#3 makes my blood boil and constitutes a challenge to my communication makeover. Let me take a deep breath so I can try to explain my position with grace and thoughtfulness. This couple just recently dug themselves out of credit card debt, and apparently closed all of their accounts and cut up the cards. This was wise. Aside from student loan debt ($350/month), they are financially free. Why would they give that up? Or even tempt themselves by having another card around? On top of that, did you know that studies have shown that people spend 20% more on average when they use "plastic" instead of cash? The financial adviser, as well intentioned as she seems to be, simply could not be more wrong on this account. If a person has zero debt and a steady income with a solid history of work, he/she does not need a good credit score to get a good mortgage. All they need to do is ask for "manual underwriting" when they go to the bank or credit union. There is absolutely no reason to have a credit card, and a multitude of reasons to refuse to touch one even if with a ten foot pole. 

Okay, my freak out is now over. Here's a humorous "plasectomy" for your enjoyment:

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Budget Meeting - Oh my!

Six months ago my husband asked me when I'd like to get together and have a "budget meeting". You can guess what my response was... "Say what?! Are we a corporation now?". That's not what I said out loud, of course. Or maybe it was. I don't remember. Anyway, I was quick to agree when he told me that he would take me out to lunch once a month to a place of my choosing. In fact, my hesitation instantly evaporated. 

Curious as to why we were suddenly having formal meetings to plan our spending, I decided to check out the book that kicked it all off: The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. In less than a day I finished it, and my eyes were opened. How could we have been so blind about our personal finances? We had used budgets before, and neither of us would even remotely be considered big spenders. For the first few years of our marriage we had been entirely debt free without really thinking about it. It was just natural to pay off our credit cards every month. Somehow, when we moved to our current home, we started carrying a balance here and a balance there, until we took stock last April and realized things had gotten out of control. By normal standards, we were doing fine -- we had a nice house, a nice car, and we could make all of our payments every month. We could make all of our payments every month?! What kind of standard is that?? Ridiculous. 

Since that fateful day last spring, when we wholeheartedly accepted the idea that we should tell our money where to go (and we didn't want all of it to keep going to Bank of America or AmEx or Citibank or Wachovia...), we've met on the 25th of each month to write a monthly cash flow plan. We sold the car that we had purchased on the grounds that we could afford the monthly payments (regardless of the total price tag), even though we were considerably "upside down" on it, and scraped together the cash for a 1992 Subaru wagon with 200,000 miles on it. We will never get another car loan. I'm giddy at the thought that in 6 months we've kept faithfully to our budget, and when emergencies arose we could use our "emergency fund" to take care of it. So far, we've paid off over $16,000 in debt. We bring home $3000/month. We have a long way to go, but we're excited about living like no one else today, so later we can live like no one else. And I don't mean just having nice, fancy things. Neither of us really cares much about that. But we'll be able to make decisions for our family without worrying about whether or not we can pay our creditors or afford food. Just think of the good we can do with the money that's currently going towards debt! 

An unanticipated side effect of getting our rears in gear financially is that our marriage is stronger than ever. We have a goal we can work towards together, and there are no fights, regrets, secrets, or fears about money in our house. Read that last line again. When I pull cash out of one of my marked envelopes to pay for something, I know it's okay to spend the money. That's what it's been designated for. We have enough. 

Oh, and lunch is good too.

Daily acts of kindness

Terry at Ornaments of Grace has a wonderful post up today about being thankful for husbands instead of counting up things they should be doing. You can read the post here: Tales of a Stay At Home Feminist

I have a different perspective than Terry, since my husband and I both work outside the home. Nevertheless, I agree completely that, as a wife, I need to spend more time concentrating on how to show my husband love and support than I do making mental notes of what he owes me. As much as it pains me to admit it, I find myself actually using that phrase ("he owes...") both in my head and out loud. And it's true. Really. Why should my husband get to spend one weekend hanging out with his brother and the next weekend with friends visiting from out of town, while I'm at home desperately trying to keep my house in order and wondering if I'll ever have time to even make a friend in the area, much less go do something fun with her? By any definition, he owes me a day "off". 

What's wrong with this thinking? Am I selfish to want a day to myself? No. In fact, for the sake of my marriage and my daughter, I need to have a break, and not just every once in a while. Sheila has some great insight into this in her post today at To Love, Honor and Vacuum . What's wrong is that the thought is envious and thus, unloving. Jon was just discussing envy with me the other day. He read recently that the difference between jealousy and envy is that jealousy means you want what someone else has, while envy means you don't think you can have what someone else has so you don't want them to have it either. I know I need a break when I feel envy that my husband goes to the bathroom whenever he feels the urge (only moms understand what I'm talking about here!). 

If I step back and consider for a minute, I realize that I want my husband to have time to enjoy being with friends, time to have a leisurely bath in the evening, without feeling like he is stealing some precious treasure from me. And I know that he wants me to feel loved and refreshed and rested. I have to trust that if I give him my full support and love, he's going to do the same for me. I also have to be careful to recognize that I'm running on fumes and ask, with kindness and love, for a break. 

To help me keep this perspective, I've made a list of specific things I can do to show my husband I love him. Little things that serve not only to remind him of my love, but also to remind me that I want the best for him. Yesterday I gave him a pack of gum. This was a special pack of gum. I unwrapped each piece and wrapped a note around it, then replaced all the sticks in the package, so he would have 14 "Reasons you're my hero". While I was doing this, I couldn't help but smile as I chose which memories to use. Now I can't wait until he opens each piece (even though his gum chewing usually bugs me).

I hesitated to share this, because it was a special gift and memory. I'm not trying to pat myself on the back here. I just thought the example might help someone else out with ideas, so there it is. I plan on including a "daily act of kindness" to try out at home in each of my posts. Let's see what happens when we stop carefully measuring the love we hand out to make sure it's in proportion to the love we receive (as beloved Lottie from Enchanted April puts it).

Monday, October 20, 2008

Golden Silence: an update on my communication makeover

A few weeks ago I posted about some changes I wanted to make in how I communicate (you can read that post here). I'm doing a lot better with saying what I mean, but I've found that sarcasm has deep roots and puts out a lot of "suckers". Every time I think I've eradicated it, somehow it pops up again. So the struggle continues.

In the meantime, I've discovered a new tool in my quest to make over my speech: silence. Simply holding my tongue, although definitely not easy, has proven extremely useful. Sometimes I just need to stay silent until I've sorted out my feelings -- in place of my previous non-strategy of spilling out whatever I'm thinking and then sorting it out later, usually after tears have been involved. If I stop first and put myself in the other person's shoes, or give the other person a chance to clarify what they really mean, a lot of unnecessary hurt and tension can be avoided. I've found that if I give it enough time, the other person may realize their own mistake and come to me to resolve it, without my saying anything about how they've hurt me. Even if they don't, a little bit of time and distance are a wonderful aid to gaining perspective and regaining calm. I just need to be sure that I'm not choosing to be silent as a means of punishment, or cutting myself off.

I've also been thinking a lot about gossip. I'm not really a gossiper by nature, and I've always tried to be very careful about watching my tongue in this department. But it's not always clear what the difference is between gossip and simply "catching up" or sharing news about friends. Strangely enough, a comment by Dave Ramsey (the financial adviser) helped clarify this for me. In his company, the employees are told "Postive Up, Negative Down" when it comes to communication at work. For example, if an employee doesn't like how the network functions, they are only allowed to tell someone who can actually do something about it -- otherwise it's just negative gossip. If they're talking to someone below them in the hierarchy of authority, they need to use positive comments and praises. So I'm trying to apply a similar policy to my life: before I pass on anything negative, I ask myself if the person I'm talking to can help the situation at all. If they can't, I'd better not pass it along. On the flip side, when I am with my officemates, who have strong negative tendencies, I only talk about positive things -- like our dodgeball tournament that's coming up!

I've already felt the strain of not sharing burdens of "negative" knowledge. Generally, the one exception I make to the rule is my husband. We both strongly agree that spouses should openly share everything together, being "one flesh". But there are occasions where knowledge given in confidence can't even be shared with a spouse, at least for a period of time. In this case, the only place to send the burden is "up" -- to God. Learning to leave it there...that's going to take more practice.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Leaving the nest (more college musings)

Yesterday I wrote a little bit about why fresh, brand-new adults shouldn't just rush off to college because that's what they're expected to do. Today I'm going to take a different tack and discuss why young adults should leave home and go far, far away for a time (even if it's not to college). My departure from home to head across the country was once described by someone who had no idea what they were talking about as "getting away as soon as she could." It's true that I was eager to head off to college, but I was running towards something new, not away from what I had known. And while I am very glad that I live closer to my family again (and hope to be much closer someday), I cherish the time I had to find myself, away from anyone with preconceived notions about me.

Please forgive me for being cliche, but I belive I gained much from leaving the nest that would have been difficult to achieve if I had remained in my comfort zone, surrounded by my beloved friends and family. My abilities, my confidence, and my beliefs were tested -- and held true. Of course, support was only a phone call or IM away (remember when you learned how to IM, Mom? You were a pro!). But I knew that how I responded to "life tests" truly reflected me and my choices, because nobody around me had any idea what to expect. So I learned a lot about myself, my strengths and my weaknesses. I learned that sometimes it was better to skip a movie and study my notes, and sometimes it was better to skip class and sit with my back to a tree, thinking. There was a level of freedom from expectations and outside obligations that is somewhat unique to that phase of life, and should be embraced. Any dream was possible, and no one would crush it simply because they thought they knew who I was.

Maybe a lot of these lessons could be learned just as easily from moving somewhere not quite so "far, far" away. I have friends who remained closer to home and I don't think they have an identity crisis or anything like that. I can only relate my experience, and I know that I will encourage my children to test their wings somewhere "new" for at least a year when their time comes -- all the while fervently hoping they will return and stay close for the rest of their lives!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Unnecessary college

I am coming to believe that far too many people go to college. I almost feel like I was lied to as I finished high school and college (I am sure it was unintentional). I remember getting the message from many sources that if you just finish high school, you can get a better job...and then, if you just finish college, you can get the job of your dreams... You know what, I'm now on the other side of high school, college, and hopefully before long, graduate school -- and it's not true.

Don't get me wrong. I think a college education can be a valuable and wonderful thing. I do not even remotely regret the years I've spent in "higher" education. But I believe you should absolutely not go unless 1) you can do it debt-free, and 2) it can help you fulfill your passionate purpose in life in a direct and deliberate manner. I no longer believe that an "undeclared" major is acceptable, and while I must concede that I was undeclared for the first year, it was only because I couldn't choose between Physics and Biology. If you don't know what you're doing in college, get a job where you can meet people (preferably related to something you enjoy doing) and read, read, read until you find out what makes you come alive. If you can't stand reading, then get out and learn everything you can, hands-on, about something you love doing (and find a way to enjoy reading, while you're at it, but that's a post for another day).

Do you know what I did for the first year after obtaining my 3.99 GPA B.Sc. in Biology? I managed a Subway. This was a, shall we say, character-building experience, but it was hardly the dream job I had been promised if only I did well in college. The problem was, I didn't need a piece of paper that proved I could store and regurgitate a massive amount of information about immunology, ecology, evolution, microbiology, and molecular and cellular biology. I needed to know what I wanted to do with that information. A vision for your life is vastly more important than a college education, and cannot be replaced by a degree, no matter how fancy the scrollwork or heavy the paper. Some goals in life do require a college-level understanding and vocabulary, but it is a mistake to expect that simply having the degree will get you anywhere.

Tune in later this week for more college thoughts and reflections...(if my cold doesn't continue to beat me into a pulp, that is!)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Problem? Or Adventure?

Last night Aurelia had her first candlelit dinner at the table. Now, at 10 months and 2 weeks of age, I'm not sure how much she appreciated the experience. But considering the electricity was out when we walked in the door at 6:15, we didn't have many options! Fortunately I had cooked some hearty chicken and rice soup the night before, and my husband's quick thinking made it possible for us to heat up leftovers on our campstove. I chopped up some frozen avocado slices for Aurelia, warmed them in my hands, and we were ready to dine in style! We even lit the candle sconces on the wall that I haven't done anything with in ages (except dust them).

Shortly before baby's bedtime, the lights came back on -- so Jon and I were able to wind down and eat some brownies while watching an episode of Stargate: Atlantis on dvd instead of breaking out the cards. But it reminded me of the excitement of electricity going out when I was a child -- everyone getting together to play games around candles and oil lamps, wondering how long the dark would last, turning it all into a grand adventure. Or even in college, sitting in the dorm watching an unexpected snowstorm coming down outside the windows and hoping for an unplanned day of freedom from classes. Of course, in that last instance, my roommates and I ended up staying up until the wee hours eating delivered pepperoni pizza paid for with $5 of scrounged up laundry change and watching the news to see if campus was closed...only to fall asleep of exhaustion during Calculus 3 the next morning (okay, that last part was just me).

One of the greatest joys of my marriage is that Jon and I still turn "problems" into adventures. I trust that when our trailer tire blows out in the middle of nowhere (and trust me, Kahlotus is the middle of nowhere) and our 5-hour drive turns into a 24-hour journey involving an old gentleman who has had 5 heart attacks, his blind wife, an angle grinder, a second near-blow-out, and sleeping under the stars in the back of our 1974 truck...I trust that my husband can find a solution. I know that together, working as a team, we'll make it through whatever Murphy throws our way. And won't it be more interesting to tell this story to our grandchildren than if we had just had a simple drive to my parent's house? Of course! (Although we always check our tires diligently before heading out on the road now). 

The point is, all of our "adventures" together as husband and wife could have been horrible memories. But mutual trust and respect allowed us to meet each problem head-on as a team, and now we cherish those times together. Were we frustrated? You betcha. But we were frustrated together and could lean on each other and say "well, what are we going to do about it?". So next time you find yourself facing a curveball from Mister Murphy, stop for a moment and take a deep breath and know you're going to make it through -- and it may even turn into a fond recollection. You have a choice: allow the problem to tear down your relationship, or allow the adventure to build your marriage up.