Tag Archives: family

Nothing More Than Feelings

24 Feb

This animal is expressing some feelings about my camera.

We are still talking about guns. The discussion on guns misses the point entirely, in my opinion.

I read about murders and assaults in the news nearly every day. Outside of war, most of them involve only one or two people. The police always check out family, friends, and business partners first. What does that tell you?

Why do people kill each other? Why do they assault each other?

There are a few reasons — including greed — but mostly it comes down to strong feelings that people don’t know how to handle.

I have been reading the stories for as long as I can remember…

A young woman was killed because she turned down a marriage proposal.

A girl’s hair was set on fire by a peer who was not invited to a party.

A man set his son on fire because of a divorce/custody dispute.

The stories are different but they are all the same.

People who cannot accept emotional pain. People who cannot live with having been wronged. People who judge others, who blame others, who want to punish others.

These are the people who commit violence on a daily basis.

Gun regulation is easier to accomplish than emotional regulation.

But…emotional regulation is the only solution.

Teach your children how to process their feelings. Teach them that they are stronger than they think. Show them examples of those who have overcome adversity, those who are happy in spite of all that has gone wrong with their lives, those who are loved when they thought they were unloveable.

Teach them the meaning of the word NO.

Teach them to work through their disappointment, shame, or humiliation.

Teach them that pain is temporary, just like joy.

Teach them that others are vulnerable, just as they are.

Teach them that anger can be productive or destructive.

Teach them that negative emotions are part of life and must be recognized and managed.

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I Need Advance Notice About Spontaneity

18 Nov

It has recently come to my attention that I am not the most spontaneous person in the world.

I thought I was spontaneous, but then my husband suggested an activity in the afternoon and I had to ask questions before considering the activity. He gave up fairly quickly.

I felt guilty when I saw how easily he gave up. Obviously he had been down that road before and knew it wouldn’t lead anywhere.

I thought to myself, ‘I want to be spontaneous…I just need advance notice first — you know, so I can plan ahead.’

I noticed the contradiction. Plan ahead to be spontaneous?

I know I used to be more spontaneous when I was younger. When I was eighteen, a guy told me he liked the fact that he could call me up and invite me out and I would be ready in ten minutes. Now I need to know what is going on, how long it is going to take, and what the weather will be like.

Is it maturity? Is it anxiety? Am I just no fun any more?

I blame children. I see the results of their spontaneity. Chaos, everywhere I look.

Once, a neighbor boy pulled the fire alarm in my apartment building. I think it was the loudest thing I have ever heard in my life, aside from monster trucks driven indoors. We all milled around outside at sundown, children without coats, a woman with a towel wrapped around her hair, waiting for someone to end the horrifying noise.

Another time, a different boy in our apartment complex found a large sheet of glass and broke it. I don’t know where the glass came from, but I know where it ended up: everywhere. In the parking lot where all the kids play Nerf gun wars. In the grassy area where people walk their dogs. Endless shards and shards and shards of glass.

I called out to the boy, ” Don’t you know any better than to play with broken glass?” and he dropped what was left and ran off. I spent the next hour or so sweeping up, filling half a bucket with glass fragments, abandoning the unfinished load of laundry and the boneless chicken breasts baking in the oven. My husband had to come out and ask me what all the timers were for.

Hey, maybe I am spontaneous after all.

Just not in a fun way.

I’ll have work on it.

Surprise! I Moved Halfway Across the Country

21 Jan

This week, my husband and I and our two children moved from the West Coast to the middle of the country. Goodbye California coastline, hello cows and corn!

We packed in one day.

We drove our two vehicle caravan through California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and Nebraska for the next four days.

On the first day of driving, we made an unscheduled restroom stop at a gas station in the Truckee area. My husband climbed out of the 16 foot truck and noticed this:

This is NOT the way you want your tires to look when you are driving thousands of miles through freezing temperatures and mountain roads.

Unfortunately, the nearest roadside assistance was over an hour away.

However, our long delay actually turned out better than we could have expected.

"Where the Hell is Truckee?"

We were lucky, not only because we noticed the tire problem before we had a blowout on the road, but also because there was a restaurant next to the gas station. Donner Pass Pizza, owned and operated by a native of our home area, kept us warm and made us feel at home while we waited nearly two hours for our tire to be changed.

The owner's sports memorabilia. There was a 49ers game playing as we ate.

We enjoyed pizza, minestrone soup, sourdough bread sticks, and some of the most delicious homemade french fries I have ever tasted. I would have taken a photograph of the fries but they disappeared pretty quickly and I didn’t get nearly enough of them.

There was a pool table, which saved our children from getting too bored. We even saw some of our first snow there.

There may have been some cheating...

STAY OFF

Thank you, Donner Pass Pizza!

Gingerbread House 101, For Those Who Have Experienced Gingerbread House Collapse

17 Dec

Candy decorations courtesy of my eleven year old.

There is one absolutely crucial fact you need to know to prevent structural collapse in your gingerbread home.

It is all about the icing.

If you want your walls and roof to stay where you want them, you MUST get the consistency of the icing right.

Sometimes the directions on the kit will tell you the icing should have the consistency of toothpaste.

Please note: Either they are deliberately lying to you, or else they are brushing with some seriously thick toothpaste! Don’t listen to them.

First of all, don’t even think of it as icing. Think of it as mortar. This will give you a more accurate idea of how thick it should be.

Be very stingy with your water. Make the icing so thick it will bend a spoon. Make it so thick it is like dough, and almost rolls into a ball. Use plenty of it. If you get it thick enough, there is virtually no “drying time”. This best if you have children. Kids like gingerbread houses but they do not like waiting. Waiting is boring. Ask any kid.

Remember that the roof sections of the house will need to fight gravity, unlike the walls. You may need to hold the roof for a few moments, until it sets, to prevent sliding.

When your house is firmly together, you can add very miniscule amounts of water to the remaining icing until it is thickly spreadable, but not at all drippy. Decorate the sides of the house before icing the roof, because it adds weight. The softened icing will allow you to do a little piping (with the bag and nozzle) and ice the roof.

A few other tips:

If your roof has a gap at the top, use more thick frosting and then cover with large gumdrops. No problem.

If you are piping (squeezing with the bag and nozzle) and your icing gets too soft from the warmth of your hands, pop the piping bag into the freezer for a few moments and it will harden up. Just don’t forget it is in there.

To make your house stick to the base, add icing to the undersides of the walls or just add some icing along the bottom edge after it is assembled to prevent slipping. If it looks messy, just slap some candy over it.

Remember, this is supposed to be fun. If it were a job, someone would be paying you. Don’t get upset. It is only gingerbread, not your actual home. If all else fails, just break it apart, frost it, and call it cookies!

Back to Pencils, Books, and Dirty Looks

17 Aug

If you are a parent, or an experienced student, you know that paperwork is a key part of the back to school process.

Fortunately, most schools have the important information online, so if you misplace those important papers (or never receive them in the first place), you can still have access to much of the information you need. Later, you can even check your students’ grades online.

We never received the promised back-to-school information packet in the mail, but thanks to the internet, it all worked out.

I spent an entire morning at a middle school orientation, and it was no more pleasant for me than it was for my children. This is saying a lot, because I made them wear their uniforms for orientation day, only to find that virtually all of the other students wore their street clothes. There is nothing like standing out on your first day at a new school district where you don’t know anyone. Bless their hearts for not complaining about my error.

I made my way through crowds. Why am I waiting in line while others inexplicably step ahead?

I became flustered. What do you mean you don’t have my son’s schedule in the stack?

I ignored the standard fundraising promotions. No, I don’t want to join the PTA, can I go home now?

Frankly, I think being a middle school parent is nearly as bad as being a middle school student!

Be Yourself, But Be Reasonable

23 Apr

After reading a thought provoking blog post from Backstage Spotlight, called “Be Yourself, But Don’t Disagree with Me” regarding that elusive balance of honest expression and conversational harmony, I was inspired to extend the topic in my own way.

My idea is that you should Be Yourself, But Be Reasonable.  I honestly don’t care if you disagree with me or not, just be tactful and make some sense, for pity’s sake!

Last night I had a conversation with one of my kids that made me want to bang my head against a wall.

I saw a game controller tipped at the edge of the counter, like a car with one wheel over a cliff, and when I alerted him to the problem, the conversation went something like this…

That controller looks like it’s going to fall.

No, it didn’t.

What?

No, it didn’t.

I didn’t say that it did, I said it looked like it was going to.

Yeah, I know.

What?

What?

I don’t understand.

It didn’t fall.

(Pause) I heard you.  I am saying that I don’t understand, because your response didn’t make sense.

Yes, it did.  I said it didn’t fall.

No, what I mean is that I was talking about the future, but you were talking about the past, so it didn’t make sense.

What you just said doesn’t make sense.

Umm…I was…  The future and the past are different.

I know.

~~~

He will be in middle school next year.  Teachers, consider yourself warned!

Seriously, I want my kids to be themselves, and to feel comfortable talking to me — I want everyone to feel that way.  The tricky part is that I want the same in return.

We all have different interests and perspectives and personalities.  We have different opinions, too.  For example, Backstage Spotlight used an example conversation about The Pirates of the Caribbean movies, but I don’t have very strong feelings about those movies, so I am going to use The Sound of Music for my own examples.  I have seen that film more times than I have seen any other film.

You don’t have to agree with me.  You don’t need to like The Sound of Music just because I do.  Go ahead, express yourself.  Just be reasonable and polite about it — and, please, get your verbs straight.

If I say that I like The Sound of Music and you say that you don’t like musicals, I understand your opinion.  If you say it is an endlessly boring and stupid movie, well, then I understand that you are rude, but hey, at least you are honest.

If I say that I like The Sound of Music and you say that you like it too, then you are probably a woman.  If you say that you like doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles, then I know that you have probably seen the film as many times as I have.

If I say that I like The Sound of Music and you say “No, it didn’t“, then I understand that you and my kid should get together and play video games, because neither one of you makes any sense.

One of the biggest arguments I have ever had with anyone started up after I spent time gushing about a college class I was really enjoying at the time, and about all that I was learning from the class.  The person to whom I was speaking responded (essentially) by giving the opinion that classes similar to the one I spoke about were worthless, stupid, and a waste of time.

Now, this was, I thought, a clear and personal insult, given the fact that I had just expressed my enthusiasm for the class.  I took offense.

I would submit that a better response would have been something like, “I wouldn’t be interested in a class like that.  I  just don’t think I would get anything out of it.  I would rather take a class about —–.”  To me, that is still an honest response, just a more polite one; it is a response that supports communication instead of ending it.

In any case, I think we can be ourselves and have our own opinions and still get along.  All we need to do is to be tactful and reasonable, and know the difference between past and future verb tenses.

(with thanks to Backstage Spotlight for the inspiration!)

Lessons From a Life on the Move

2 Mar

I am approaching my tenth move in sixteen years.

Those are my own moves, rather than moves I have helped with, although there have been some of those as well.

What have I learned from all of this moving? I learned to expect to move again, no matter how contented I might feel in a given location. I learned to be prepared.

I realized that the next move was guaranteed to arrive sooner than I would like, and I learned that certain choices made while stationary would have both physical and economic consequences during that next move. I made my furniture choices accordingly.

My furniture purchases were based on how well a given item would fold, stack, disassemble or fit through a doorway, not to mention how easily the item could be lifted. I still have some folding and stacking oak shelves I purchased more than fifteen years ago, while other less manageable items have been left behind or given away. In some sad cases, awkward items were broken during a move. No wonder I became interested in minimalism!

Then, I became a wife and mother. I forgot some of the lessons I had learned in my life. I felt settled. I found a large (and still new-looking!) leather sofa at a secondhand store for $600. It just happened to match the almost-new leather chair and ottoman I had already brought home from another secondhand store for $150. It seemed like fate. I couldn’t resist.

Now, after just a few years, I am forced to consider how exactly we will fit that large leather sofa up the switch back staircase in our future destination…there is another side to fate, you see. You win some, you lose some. Hopefully we won’t need to lose the sofa. That would be a hard lesson.

Something else I learned from my moves is to start packing early. Moving is like going on a trip — one that lasts a very long time (although sometimes not as long as we hope). I never liked packing for trips. I always thought I might forget some crucial item, like pants. Pants are important. Restaurant signs used to say “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service”, but of course, pants (or a reasonable substitute for pants) are also expected. In fact, I am certain that pants are more of a priority than either the shirt or the shoes, despite what the signs used to say. (These days, signs are more likely to say “No Cellphones”.) I have not actually forgotten my pants on any trip, but I worry about these things. I can be a little bit forgetful at times, which is why I try to organize things so deliberately. I need to compensate for my poor memory.

My stress level and my mood on the days before leaving on trips were enough to teach my husband a lesson. Now he encourages me to pack a few days early. Sometimes he even brings my suitcase out. It helps. The very first trip we took as a family had a rough beginning. Now that I think about it, the middle and the ending of that trip were kind of rough, too. It started with my husband and the three boys sitting in the car for the better part of an hour. They were waiting for me to meet them after I finished work, trying to be efficient in their readiness.

Unfortunately, lack of communication was a problem that day. I was hungry after work and stopped for something to eat, without knowing they were already sitting in the car. The four of them were hot, fidgety, and cranky from being strapped in a parked car for so long, and I was horrified to find them there when I arrived. We left too late in the day, hitting some heavy traffic on the journey. Further crankiness ensued. I have heard that you don’t really know people well until you have traveled with them. I think it might be true. Lessons were learned on that trip.

At least traffic won’t be an issue in this move, as we will only be a few miles away from our current home. I wanted to start packing boxes as soon as I knew we were moving, although I knew it was unlikely that we would be able to transport anything for another four to six weeks. Starting early is my own version of efficiency. Now the boxes are stacking up, getting in the way, making the place feel a touch claustrophobic…but it is better than the anxiety of packing in a rush. At least, to me it is better — I shouldn’t speak for my family. But really, who wants a stressed out wife or mother? No one. A few stubbed toes might be worth it.

I asked some friends for their own moving tips and I got a few good ones.

My advice would be to label the HECK out of every box. Add the date and ALL the contents… unless you plan on unpacking everything immediately (unlikely, right?). I actually listed all the contents of each box on at least two sides of the box – not only don’t you have to unpack a box to find something, you don’t have to unstack all the boxes to find the right box!  ~J.I.

To move hanging clothes, cover 10-20 items (still on hangers) in a large trash bag and tie the bottom closed.  ~J.L.

Dust everything before you pack it, and always ask yourself, “Shall I pack this or donate it?” I put all small miscellaneous breakables in socks. Socks work better than wrapping in paper.  ~J.F.

I especially like the tip about socks. I have also read that towels and T-shirts are good for packing dishes, and like the sock idea, this helps eliminate paper waste, and allows you two pack two items at once.

Here are some of my other favorite moving ideas:

  • Pack one room at a time.
  • Label boxes “Open First” if you know you will be needing the contents in the first days after arrival.
  • Load the moving truck according to the order in which the large items will be moved into the house.  In other words, the last things into the truck will be the first unloaded, so they should be the ones you want to place first.  Pieces destined for the back rooms of the house are likely candidates for the back of the truck.
  • Pack a suitcase with changes of clothing and toiletries as though you were taking a weekend trip.
  • Take pictures of the wire hook-ups for your electronics to make it easier to reconnect them, and label all cords, wrapping them to avoid tangling in the move.

I already have many of our cords labeled, and I plan to wrap them carefully. No one wants to open a box and release that tangled nest of mysterious black snakes, their threatening metal fangs extended, dripping with the toxic venom of potential frustration. I look forward to more wireless technology in the future.

In the meantime, I will settle for some organization, a positive attitude, and the hope that our leather sofa will make it up that switch back staircase.

(P.S. If you are moving soon, there are some great moving tips to be found at movers-edge.com — 101 Best Moving Tips)

I Laughed – #2

23 Feb

Being very distracted by my upcoming move, I decided on a shortcut to my usual goals of simplifying life and maintaining a positive attitude.  To continue my weekly posts, but save myself some time and stress during the moving process, I have cut back on my writing time and am sharing something that makes me laugh each week.

This week’s laugh is about something I did.  It was pretty foolish, and a little costly, but I can laugh about it now.

My son wears a contact lens in one eye.  He gets a new contact lens every two weeks, and I gave him a fresh one in the morning, on the appropriate day.  I was right on top of things, and I was feeling pleased with myself.  My son opened the package, but hadn’t put the lens in yet, and he told me so.  Just seconds later, in a cleaning frenzy, I whisked away the open package.  Into the trash went my son’s expensive custom order lens.

He looked at me.  “Wha…?  Did you just…?”

“Did I what?”

“That was…”

“You mean that lens package?  It was empty wasn’t it?  Didn’t you just put it in?”

“No, I just told you.”

“Oh…ohhh.  You did tell me!  Whoops!”  I peered into the trash.  “Maybe we can…”

“I’m not putting it in now.”

“Don’t worry, I can’t find it anyway.”

Warning: Don’t Talk to The Chef

29 Dec

My favorite muffin recipe lends itself quite easily to experimentation, which is why it has long been my most oft-used recipe.  I frequently mix and match ingredients, making spontaneous changes to the fruit and nut properties.

While originally calling for zucchini and pineapple with raisins, the recipe has also worked with various combinations of bananas, peaches, carrots, applesauce, strawberries, raspberries, pears, and orange juice.  Sometimes, leftover peanut butter, sunflower seeds or wheat bran have been involved.

In spite of all my baking whims, the only time the recipe didn’t turn out well is the time I had altogether forgotten two crucial ingredients… fruit and flour.

Without flour, the end result was more of a brittle than a bread.

What can I say?

I was distracted…very distracted, and not for the first time.

I am a good cook, but I am not a good multi-tasker. I am not able to divide my attention that way.  In fact, I recently hung a small sign over the stove-top reminding my family members not to speak to me (and most especially not to ask me any questions) while I am cooking.  My high susceptibility to distraction has led to various kitchen calamities and this warning must be heeded, for the protection of innocent foods.

The ever-changing muffins are frustrating for one of my boys.  He doesn’t share my appreciation for the element of surprise, at least when it comes to baked goods.  He likes a muffin to taste the way he expects it to taste.  I know this, but I can’t stop playing with the recipe, so it’s almost never what he expects.  The poor kid has to live with disappointment, batch after batch.

I almost accommodated him this week.  I was sticking to my basic banana bread formula, the one he likes.  Suddenly, I was overcome with a strong desire to add plump, frozen blueberries; I succumbed once again to the sweet temptation of recipe tampering.

As I folded in a big gob of the half-thawed berries, the blueberry juice seemed rather…aggressive.  I added another banana to try to balance the color of the batter.  No change.

The batter was such a solid, deep blue-green, I honestly feared that these banana-blueberry babies would come out looking like they had been baked from Play-doh. Worse yet, no one had distracted me, so it would be exclusively my fault.  Uh oh.

To my relief, the muffins came out a perfectly normal color, and were quite delicious, if a little flat on top.

One of these days, I might try adding pumpkin, or lemon, or dried cherries and chocolate…and I’m sure the muffins will be delicious, as long as nobody talks to me while I make them.

First Graders Can’t Handle Tetherball

27 Nov

Did you ever turn something simple into something complicated?

Sounds like a bad idea, doesn’t it?

I am all about keeping things Simple, so to me it sounds like the worst idea ever.  Who would DO that?

Well, first graders seem to do it quite often.  They love artificial complications.  They also get into fierce debates with their friends over the artificial complications.  Sometimes they come to blows.

I’ve been helping at my son’s school during lunch recess.  He’s in fifth grade this year, but I spend more time on the other side of the playground, with the smaller students.  The ones incapable of logic.

One of the things first graders like to complicate is tetherball.  It’s actually a pretty simple game.  You stay on one side and hit the ball without touching the rope, until the rope is wrapped entirely around the pole.

To make it even simpler, my son’s school has many of the tetherball poles divided by grade, eliminating the height and skill discrepancy between different age groups.

Still, the first grade game turns to chaos on a daily basis.  One of the major causes of chaos: new “rules” the kids make up.  I have overheard things like, “He’s OUT, because he did a bubbly!”

Now, I’m no expert.  I didn’t play tetherball as a child, because I was sure it would lead to head trauma — but even I know that bubbly is a word that shouldn’t naturally come up in the game.  I asked a first grader to show me what the term bubbly is supposed to mean.  His demonstration left me more confused than ever.

Later on, I was hit in the head with the tetherball.  My fault, of course.  I should have known better than to turn my back on a bunch of first graders.  Good news: my head is harder than I thought it was!

Kids have the idea that they can change anything they think is boring, and they will take the initiative to do so.  One of my kids used to change the rules of Monopoly when he got bored during a game.  He liked to give out money to the other players if they were short of cash.  Normally, I applaud the idea of helping those in need, but this is a Capitalist’s game.  The whole point is to bankrupt the other players.  If you play Socialist Monopoly, the game will never end.  Ever.

And it’s already a long game — especially when someone, who also served as banker, was hoarding all of the one dollar bills.  He’d give you a big bill for your rent, and want you to make change, so he could get more ones.  But he wouldn’t make change for YOU, because that would require him to give up some singles.  Don’t have exact change?  That’s fine, just skip the rent payment.  Skip ALL the rent payments.  After all, this is Socialist Monopoly where the goal of the game is… to have no goal at all!  (Except to collect every single dollar bill in the game, and then keep playing.)

At least Socialist Monopoly doesn’t involve bubblies.

As it turns out, I can’t handle Monopoly.  I can’t handle tetherball, either.

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