Monday, March 19, 2018

The Year of Living More With Less: Winter Becomes Me

When spring finally sprung in PA last year, Neal and I looked at each other and breathed a sigh of relief. Well, that wasn't so bad. But many a native Pennsylvanian was quick to point out that the winter of 2017 was mild...a little too mild. So, when double-lined ski pants, 32 Degree Heat silks and touch-sensitive gloves went on sale at Costco last October, I stocked up. They also sold this quilted coat with a fur hood that is, without a doubt, the warmest piece of outwear I've ever had on my body. The CC brand beanies are, it would seem, everywhere this year, but with good reason. Maybe it's the knitted style or just the simple fact that the noggin is now covered, but it has made a big difference in how warm I stay. I also picked up a knitted wool/fleece neck wrap from TJ Maxx and finished off my winter shopping with some $5 snow bibs for Blue at one of the fall consignment sales. We were ready for the arctic winds to blow. 

I've been mocked ruthlessly (mostly by Neal) for my layering technique, but it has allowed me to enjoy...
Christmas caroling in the town square in Lititz (I very Christmas Hallmark movie of us!)
taking in the Christmas windows in NYC 
watching the groundhog emerge at sunrise on Gobbler's Knob (which has a weather all its own. 24 degrees and 20 mph winds. If there's ever a cold day in Hell, I'm sure that is what it will feel like.)
riding to the top of Pittsburgh on the Duquesne Incline at the beginning of February
having a cup of coffee at the world's largest coffee pot 
watching the snow geese migration at sunrise 
and visiting the Philly Zoo before the most recent snow had a chance to melt. 

Occasionally, I've been overdressed, as was the case last month when I layered up to make a snowman after the storm. Except it was 42 degrees and even in just my ski pants and hoodie I was still sweating. 
(This is Edna. She arrived on Sunday, lost her hat on Monday morning, her celery ears on Monday afternoon and was just a wet spot by Monday night.)

Alfred Wainwright, a British author and illustrator of nature guides, is credited as saying, "There's no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing." I have taken this quote to heart over the past 4 months. And it has allowed me to balk at the wind, snow and ice. Although it continues to try, even at this moment, Old Man Winter can't keep me from enjoying all that Pennsylvania has to offer. It has been brutal and we are all anxiously awaiting warmer weather, but until then, all we have to do is dress for it. More year-round outdoor adventures, less cabin fever.


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Wednesday Review: Happy Birthday, Honey. Have Some Flowers

I am not known for my green thumb. I have killed at least 3 pots of basil every year since Neal and I got married. And my best friend finally convinced me to trash the crispy orchid I had forgotten about in the guest room. I've managed to keep one shoot of bamboo from IKEA alive through 2 moves, but I don't know that it's living its best life under my care. I love to look at flowers and, someday, I hope to learn how to keep them alive for more than 3 weeks. Until then, there's the Philadelphia Flower Show.

One of Blue's preschool teachers offered us tickets last year but it always falls around Neal's birthday and by that point, we already had plans. But I had made myself a note so when it rolled around this year, I was ready. Unfortunately, it fell directly on Neal's 50th birthday this year. And if there's one thing he hates more than war, it's crowds of people in a convention hall. So, naturally I bought our tickets and then asked him to "run" into Reading Market Terminal for cheesesteaks afterward. He came back out, cheesesteaks in hands...45 minutes later. Clearly I owe him a do-over for this birthday that involves a deserted brewery in the middle of a Monday and a matinee showing of some historical fiction flick. But we both agreed...this was not your average flower show.

Once you get over the sticker shock of $35/person (with other "experiences" like the butterfly exhibit and preview days costing extra), plus parking in Chinatown, it is easier to appreciate the scale of work that goes into a production of this magnitude. Just the entrance alone felt like being dropped in the middle of the Amazon, complete with bird call sound effects.
The theme this year was Wonders of Water and while some exhibits simply used water to keep the flowers alive in their vases, some of them incorporated full-on waterfalls. But my favorite was this example of reusing rainwater for the garden.
Even the front of this landscape was breathtaking. Not only did the designers work with the theme, but they paid more attention to color than many other exhibitors.
If this was in my backyard, I would probably never leave the house.

One of my other favorites was the interior/exterior display. One side of the partition featured interior rooms (like a study or an office) decorated with plants and flowers. On the opposite side was a series of stoops, much like what you see in the Philadelphia area, landscaped by various groups. One was designed by the Orchid Society while the porch "next door" was constructed by a collection of high school students.

The Orchid Society took a more minimalist approach, but everyone around us stopped to admire the fish-shaped rain chain next to the door. What an unexpected way to move rainwater from the roof to the ground!

The Philadelphia Convention Center is massive and not only did they fit a full-size shipwreck in there
but also multiple landscaped gardens and courtyards,

a life-sized elephant decked out in moss and umbrellas,

several dedicated spaces for individual competitions (like this "fairy garden" area)

and an entire art gallery with works created using pressed flowers and plants.
By this point, we had gotten our $35 worth. On the other side of the convention hall, vendors from all over the country were selling everything from seeds to entire outdoor spaces. We did some window shopping and made some notes for handcrafted goods we want to buy in a few years when we come back and settle down. Just this past year alone I've already added an incredibly fragile piece of art that is about 20 layers of fused glass, plus a vintage clear hobnail punch bowl and platter - all of which will be hand carried 2600 miles to California. (That doesn't include my Derby mint julep glass collection, the hand-painted portrait from our wedding day done by a Kuwaiti artist in 2008 and everything from Blue's birth that is, literally, priceless.) So this exquisite blue heron bell from Old Town Wind Bells?
Will have to wait a few years. But we'll be back for you, my pretty.

At the exit of the flower show was a photo op
(clearly this was non-negotiable as it was a chance for me to finally be the fragile flower I've always felt I was AND it was sponsored by the AARP on Neal's 50th birthday) and...
a place to purchase that Hobbit Hole we've had our eye on. I'm not sure this could ever be more than a place to take a nap in the sun but if we had a few acres of land in the woods, I would just hand over my credit card, no questions asked. I feel like I could write the next great American novel in a place like a hobbit hole. That's obviously the only thing holding me back.

I'm not sure I would make the Philly Flower Show an annual affair, unless I was unconstrained by time or school bus schedule. Their target market, the AARP crowd, had the entire day to stroll down the aisles, stopping often to chat about what they liked, didn't like and would completely re-design. It is not a place that is easily navigable if you need to be in and out in 120 minutes. But we hit the highlights and I'm glad we went. It certainly gave me a new appreciation for the many ways people view flowers and how they should be displayed most creatively. And when we came out, we walked right into Chinatown, which tempted us with its smells and its sale on strawberries. 2 for $1.00 in March? Who has ever heard of such a thing?

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Wednesday Review: Pick a Peck of Pretzels

Blogging is such a perilous endeavor sometimes, especially if you are blogging for income (which I am not). If you are attentive to how it is perceived (which I am), you find yourself scooting along the fine line between pigeon-holing your blog (even if it is temporary and the result of current events) and risking the abandonment of important topics at hand. Make no mistake, I am still engulfed by the flame of anger after yet another school shooting and feel myself burning even hotter after reading pieces by students like Emma Gonzalez. I have joined local chapters of Moms Demand Action and I'm sharing insightful articles from Parkland students, as well as teachers nationwide. But using my blog to voice the opinions I have formed regarding gun legislation would not only echo more well-written pieces already published, but is a little dangerous as I don't yet feel like I have all the information. And the last thing I want to be is a box fan, blowing misinformation around the room. I take pride in the fact that my blog is seen as an authentic, genuine and informed voice. I may have been quick to pass my assumptions along as fact in my younger days, but I hope that as I round the corner to 40, I'm outgrowing such carelessness. So, until I have something educated to say about gun regulation, military life, Supreme Court decisions, a woman's right to choose, sexual harassment or any other topic that floats to the top of a news cycle, I am reserving this space for discussing more mundane matters: book and travel reviews, going chemical-free and, of course, living more with less. I'm always happy to discuss the other with you on Facebook or email, but I will not use my platform for that until I feel like a fresh voice and not just another echo chamber.

The first time we drove through Lititz (pronounced LIT-its, not Le-TITS...the city is named after a castle in Bohemia after all, not a sticky, French night club with dancers named Dees Leeps), we were on our way to Target. We meant to go to the store in Harrisburg but Waze took me to the closest Target. Thirty minutes later we were barreling down Broad St., marveling at a town that must have been the basis for Mayberry. Six months later we joined a church in Lititz, stumbled upon the best consignment store and toured Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery. 

Julius Sturgis prides itself on being "America's first commercial pretzel bakery", founded in 1861.
And, as luck would have it, you can tour the original pretzel factory (although I need to manage your expectations here a bit - it's essentially one room and the pretzels are now made off-site). I've toured the factory three times (it's a popular place to bring our out-of-town guests) and I've had three different tour guides give three very different tours. They were all interesting and informative, although one was given by a college-aged gentleman whose delivery was a little rougher than the rest. It begins with some history about the family and how they shifted from making bread to making pretzels. It's followed by a hands-on demonstration using something resembling play-doh to roll out and shape a pretzel. (Someone once told me that when the ovens were still in use, visitors used actual dough and staff would bake the pretzels as the tour finished. Then guests could eat their creations. I'm not sure how true that is as I can't find anything online that corroborates that comment.)
The first time Blue rolled a pretzel, the dough clung to his sweaty little palms so badly that I ended up having to duck out of the tour so we could scrub his hands in the bathroom. I paid very little attention to the proper pretzel-making technique and thus ended up with a twisted wad, which in no way resembled children in prayer. Fortunately, I was able to redeem myself a couple of days later at the children's museum.
After everyone learns the trick behind twisting pretzels and what each twist signifies, guests are awarded an Official Pretzel Twister Certificate.
I made that pretzel. I am the World's Okayest Mom but I'm a pretty great pretzel twister. 
After the awards are handed out, the tour moves on to the heart of the bakery. The ovens are cold but visitors can get an idea of what it sounded like when the guide turns on the pretzel twisting machine that was in use for many years.
Suddenly Hansel and Gretel doesn't seem like such a leap of the imagination. 

The tour concludes with any questions visitors may have and a chance to purchase a fresh-out-of-the-oven soft pretzel in the gift shop. You can also pick up bags of Julius Sturgis or Tom Sturgis pretzels (they sell horse-and-buggy shaped pretzels...I'm not even kidding), t-shirts, magnets and books. Before leaving, make sure you stop to snap a selfie in front of the life-sized pretzel. Don't lean on it, though. It wobbles and I thought for a hot second that I was going down.
Those two in the middle are my nieces and as spunky as they were as kids, they are flat out hysterical as teens. Dry witted and sarcastic...I'm proud to call them family. 

Up until about a month ago, I assumed that touring the pretzel factory was simply a bucket list item to be checked off since we were attending church right across the street. But then I was dipping Julius Sturgis pretzels in Wilbur chocolate (more on that nectar of the gods later) for a church fundraiser when our group started talking about the pretzel factory. Come to find out, Mr. Rogers toured the factory during an episode (in which he later talks about how Prince Tuesday thinks his parents might get a divorce because they are fighting - admittedly an awkward finish to the pretzel factory show). Besides gaining a little history about the pretzel baking process, perhaps the best reason for watching this clip is to see the baker (who may or may not be a Sturgis...they never say) casually mention how much weight Fred has gained while sliding in a comment about how pretzels are fat-free. Mr. Rogers was obviously Teflon because had it been anyone else, Mr. Baker would have found himself shoved full of dough where the sun don't shine. 
If you are going to find yourself in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country soon or simply want to know more about the Julius Sturgis family history, check out their website for tour times and prices. Their online store also has a wider variety of pretzels and paraphernalia than the on-site gift shop, including these by the case:
Perfect for your next baby shower or Easter brunch!

Pennsylvania has truly cornered the market in snack foods. Hershey kisses, Wilbur buds, sweet bologna, shoefly pie, Utz/Herr's/Dieffenbach's/Martin's potato chips and pretzels by the Philly Pretzel Factory. But Julius Sturgis is my favorite. And Mr. Rogers agrees!

Monday, February 26, 2018

For the Love of the Games

 Centennial Park in Atlanta. Being stationed in Macon had its silver lining. 

Neal spent the weekend working at Fort Lee and although Blue and I were supposed to accompany him (who doesn't love a mini-vacation to Richmond? They have the best Goodwill on Cary Street.), I decided at the 11th hour on Friday morning that we would stay home. It was so last minute that the school called at 3 PM because Blue was convinced he was supposed to be parent pick-up. As it turns out, I had some sort of maternal premonition because Blue woke up Saturday morning filled with snot and surliness and I had a flare-up that only copious amount of Cypress essential oil would resolve. So, we ate popcorn, had a disastrous juicing incident that resulted in pear dripping from the ceiling and watched the Olympics.

It isn't like I grew up watching the Olympics. In fact, I think as a Wee Ally I found them pretty boring. Summer, winter, it didn't matter. It didn't involve ponies with wings or a girl in rainbow colored socks. Who had time for that? But in 2012 I went into labor with Blue at the beginning of the Summer Olympics. Not having any other children or a j-o-b, I spent a lot of time horizontal on the couch, watching Michael Phelps grin his way to gold and Aly Raisman's parents pitch, roll and yaw throughout every routine. (And now I can't look at an Olympic gymnast without wanting to hug her while we sing a few stanzas of Earl's Gotta Die.) I came to love the spirit of international competition, how we were all cheering for Team USA but if the Germans or the French took first, it was OK because they had earned it. (This opens up a whole other discussion regarding how low the Russians will stoop but let's not go there...not today.) How often does the whole world (or most of it, anyway) come together for 2 weeks? Well, every 2 years. But most people tend to tune it out.

One of my favorite books is Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. Not so much for the murderous plot but because it is set in Chicago during the World's Fair. The last time the United States hosted the World's Fair was 1984. I just barely remember this as I was 6 and more interested in Barbie than technological progress. But why is that? Why has it been held largely in European and Asian countries for the past 3 decades? We fight to host the Olympics but not the World's Fair. Has the World's Fair lost favor with Americans? And are the Olympics close behind? It feels like even though the Internet can link someone in Kansas with someone in Kazakhstan in less than 5 seconds, we are losing the desire to connect, face-to-face, with the rest of the world. Is our spirit of competition superceding our spirit of cooperation? When we come together internationally we learn so much more than when we sequester ourselves to one tiny corner of the world. But I fear those who are leading us don't feel the same. It is so easy to judge an entire country when you don't have to look into the eyes of her people. The Olympics bring our American athletes eye-to-eye with Germans, French, Chinese, Russians and, this time, North Koreans. Neal always says that what happens in the Army will eventually happen in society because the military is such a cross-section of America. The military is the great predictor of the future, the Magic 8 Ball. But sometimes I think sport is, too.

I will be the first to admit that I went a little MIA over the last 2 weeks. I am hopeful that events in Parkland have created a space for more lasting conversation over gun regulation, even if the victims themselves are the ones standing in that space. I've been part of and read through many threads on Facebook that discussed the NRA, their money, what constitutes a violation of the 2nd amendment and what is reasonable and common sense legislation. Sometimes I've had to walk away from someone whose argument was based on a hypothesis and sometimes I was the one who was proven ill-informed. All of it is good stuff and I hesitate to step away from it because I don't want to contribute to extinguishing the flame of conversation. There is a meme floating around on Facebook that shows the cyclical nature of a traumatic event,  followed by outrage and grief, Facebook debates, everyone moves on, no change is made, next traumatic event. I have been ensnared in Facebook debates for over a week. I needed to take a break. I needed to watch the Olympics.

Last night after I got Blue to bed I caught the last 90 minutes of the closing ceremony. Two weeks earlier I had seen the first 90 minutes of the opening ceremony before conking out on the couch and although I saw every. single. nation. march in, I missed the shape-shifting drones. Neal slept through the nations entering but woke up in time to see the drones, which he talked about so much I finally got on YouTube because it was beginning to feel like waking up after the rapture only to realize you missed the coolest part. I will take some time today to watch what I missed last night but stopping to experience and appreciate some of Korean culture, including the music, is just part of what shapes the Olympic spirit. When it was Beijing's turn to receive the Olympic flag and show its presentation, which was intended to prepare us for the 2022 Olympics, I cried. I can't wait...4 years is too long. What will the world look like in 4 years? Will Korea be united? Will Russia be allowed to return? Will Nathan Chen, the Quad King win gold? Will anyone care that the Olympics are on? As much as I've enjoyed watching the highlights during prime time each night, I miss the 24-7 coverage of years past, which were even more feasible this year considering the time difference. But we don't have cable and adding the special "Olympic" channel wasn't a concession I was willing to make during a year when all of our excess money will go toward moving expenses. I wonder though, is relegating Olympic coverage to 3 hours each night indicative of a shift in attitude? We only want to see the highlights and only after dinner? That makes me sad. So much work by each and every athlete all over the world and we only want to see the ones who win it all. But what a perfect euphemism for our distracted, 140-character attention span culture.

If you missed the last 2 weeks, you missed a lot. But here are 18 things I've learned over the 2018 Winter Olympics:

1. Sometimes you can do everything right and still get third place.

2. Sometimes you can do almost everything right, end disastrously and still get first place.

3. US women hockey players should be on every box of Wheaties from now until 2022.

4. Bode Miller is a bit of a sexist egomaniac and I wouldn't be surprised if he and Shaun White were big buds with Ryan Lochte.

5. When you fall, get right back up again and finish that race. Even though you aren't going to a win a medal. And always hug the winner. It's called sportsmanship and it shouldn't be dismissed.

6. It's OK to cry when you are disappointed, but collapsing from shear despair at the bottom of the half-pipe will get the medical team called. It's OK to say "What the f*ck" on national TV when you've just won a gold at the ripe age of 17 years old. (It's also OK to say "What the f*ck" to yourself when you realize Red Gerard was 1 year old when 9/11 happened.)

7. Wardrobe malfunctions during the Super Bowl can turn us all into 13-year old boys but when it happens during the Olympics it can destroy the chance for a medal.

8. Anyone who decides to take up Skeleton is a lunatic who only has 2 desires in life: to win a gold and die. That song about mamas not letting your babies grow up to be cowboys  is warning against the wrong vice. Nevertheless, I couldn't look away. It's exactly the same instinct that results in rubbernecking.

9. The "Big Air" sports that were added this year are breathtaking to watch. I literally held my breath until each athlete landed. I can't wait to see what they add in 2022.

10. There is a lot of calculated precision that goes into being a curler. It looks like a lot of math and physics but very little possibility of dying by blunt force trauma to the head. This is what I'm going to guide Blue toward should he assume some Olympic aspirations.

11. The easier the sport looks, the better the athlete. I was convinced that I could compete in the 2022 speed skating event until I saw that Alexa commercial where the guy falls backward over the ice skating rink wall. I'm just going to assume that I will always be an athletic supporter.

12. Cross-country skiing uphill has to be the hardest event ever. I thought that even before the commentator mentioned that the TV tends to "flatten" how the hills look to the viewer.

13. I don't love Tara Lipinsky or Johnny Weir, but listening to them commentate ice dancing gave me new appreciation for the nuances of the sport. A tiny error can be costly. Thank goodness ice dancing is not a euphemism for life. (Although as is true in life, I do not need people on TV stating the obvious just to fill up dead air. I would much rather hear them sing Shake If Off or recite The Road Less Traveled.)

14. The Koreans tapped into a universal truth: everyone loves to get a stuffie. Here's your medal...and here's a stuffie. It's probably the only thing our 5-year old will remember about the Olympics this year.

15. Whether it was simply symbolic or the foundation for change, when North and South Korea entered the stadium together and played on the ice together, you would have to be dead inside not to feel the smallest glimmer of hope. Time will tell but they were able to hold it together for 2 weeks. Just maybe...

16. When you run out of money halfway through a major project, the answer is not always "let's just forego the roof."

17. If you can watch bobsledding without thinking of Cool Runnings the entire time, I'm not sure we can be friends.

18. Everyone goes bananas over China's pandas. Dancing, lit-up pandas is probably the best way to build anticipation for 2022.

NBC reports that Olympic viewing, even just the highlights during prime time, was at an all-time low. I know we are now even busier with marching for rights and keeping kids off laundry detergent and monitoring social media for Russian trolls, but this is important, too. We need to stop every couple of years and come together as a world. We need to be reminded that not every Russian wants to hijack our Facebook account, not every North Korean wants to drop a bomb on us, not every Brit still sees us as the colonies. We need to see the good in the world and we need to be a part of it, at least for 2 weeks every 2 years. Thank you, Olympic athletes, for showing up and doing your best and making us all proud, regardless of what corner of the world you call home. We'll see you in 4.

If you want to see a pretty entertaining wrap-up of the 2018 Winter Olympics, I suggest reading this Sports Illustrated piece by someone who is better at this than I am. I didn't even know about Mexico's Alpine Ski Team uniforms. Just don't read it on your laptop because it will lock that mother up faster than Fort Knox. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Growing Up

Even if you don't read the rest of this post, please take a moment to say their names.

Alyssa Alhadeff, 14 years old
Martin Duque Anguiano, 14 years old
Nicholas Dworet, 17 years old
Aaron Feis, 37 years old
Jaime Guttenberg, 14 years old
Christopher Hixon, 49 years old
Luke Hoyer, 15 years old
Cara Loughran, 14 years old
Gina Montalto, 14 years old
Joaquin Oliver, 17 years old
Alaina Petty, 14 years old
Meadow Pollack, 18 years old
Helena Ramsay, 17 years old
Alex Schachter, 14 years old
Carmen Schentrup, 16 years old
Peter Wang, 15 years old

I am emotionally spent. Like I was after Columbine and Sandy Hook and Marshall County, Kentucky. And I'm angry because this happened, after Columbine and Sandy Hook and Marshall County, Kentucky. Honestly, after Sandy Hook I thought we had come to the edge of some sort of precipice. It can't get any worse than Kindergartners being gunned down in their tiny chairs. But, then we tumbled right into the abyss.

And I blame myself. I mostly blame the NRA and Congress. But I also blame myself.

You know that meme that periodically makes the rounds on Facebook reminding us that 2000 wasn't actually 10 years ago? It gets shared a lot because it's true. Many of us routinely forget that this year's seniors in high school were born the same year as 9/11. We keep in touch with friends from high school but forget that high school was more than 15 years ago. We have gotten busy with building careers and raising kids and forgotten to become engaged, informed citizens of this country. On election day, we step into that booth, vote a straight ticket and post our "I voted" stickers on social media. But sometimes, if the kids are sick or it snowed the night before, we don't vote at all. But informed voting is the easy part of the process. And we can't even seem to do that consistently.

This is not a criticism, I'm right there with you. And it's not a generalization. I have several friends who are raising kids and excelling at their careers and have managed to remain politically informed and involved. (You guys can quit reading. Or stick around to show us how you do it.) But it is a wake-up call. We can take on a car payment and a mortgage and even start a college savings plan for the newborn down the hall and that doesn't really require us to start paying more attention to what's going on in the world around us. But losing our parents' generation and becoming the age they were when we were growing up...well, that does. Because as our parents age and die, they no longer write their representatives strongly worded letters or run for office. They don't vote and they aren't active in Mothers Against Drunk Driving. They did all that and then they assumed that their kids would take their place. We are their kids. It's time for us to step up.

The great catch-22 of all of this is that at the very moment when it is most important for us to stay connected to local and world events and be politically involved, we are also the busiest with careers and family. We've been working for 10, maybe 15 years and finally starting to see that top rung of the ladder off in the distance. Sometimes we move. A lot. We have kids who are barely out of diapers, kids who are participating in a different sport every season, kids who require our attention, our discipline, our love. And now we are expected to check for GMOs, limit screen time, get more exercise, teach children about the value of a dollar and the feeling after a hard day's work. Parenting has changed since we were growing up and I would argue that social media has made it increasingly more complex. Our parents had to navigate a world with AIDS and drugs. We must prepare our children for cyber-bullying, active shooters and Tide pods. That's to say nothing of checking senators' voting records, differentiating fake news and remaining immune to the echo chamber of Facebook. How does a 40-year old mom keep up?

This is not to say that our generation hasn't made some incredible contributions. More men and women feel free to love who they want to love. More outrage is shown when minorities and women are treated as less than equals. More demands are being made for people to be held accountable for their actions, whether they sexually assaulted a co-worker or trafficked children.

But this is not enough.

I am not saying we should march every time the westerly winds blow. I'm saying we each need to pick something and fight passionately for it. I have a friend who is an advocate for RESOLVE, a community of individuals who have been affected by infertility. She is fierce and relentless. She goes to DC once a year and fights for legislation that affects this community, but she is a leader and an inspiration every day of the year. If I was faced with the possibility of being infertile, she would be my first call.

I have another friend who takes about an hour each day to check up on her representatives...just to see what they are up to. If she finds out they are due to vote on something in the coming week or 2, she will write an email and make some calls. She is a tiny speck of blue in a sea of red, but she does it anyway.

I have another friend who is a domestic violence survivor and has become an ally to anyone who finds themselves trapped in that situation. She has been very vocal about a topic that our culture still tries to sweep under the rug. Her voice is one of hope for anyone who is simply trying to survive.

I have several friends who are social workers. They fight for the defenseless, they speak for those who are being ignored. They step into the middle of a bad situation just so it doesn't get worse. They follow legislation and plead for signatures on petitions that may someday stop human trafficking. And they do it, day in and day out, even though they get scrolled past the fastest.

It is time for me to be more like them.

And to be honest, right at this moment, I have no idea what that is going to look like. I'm still angry, still heartbroken, but ready to listen. Last night I signed a petition and then posted it on Facebook. It opened up a conversation between two factions: my military-spouse friends who believe banning semi-automatic weapons is part of the answer and those who do not. It included the wives of combat Veterans (one a Veteran herself) and a teacher, all moms. It's personal for us but we were able to hear each other out, even though we are hundreds of miles apart. Some of the comments I agreed with, some I grappled with, but they all helped me see that we are not hopelessly divided on this issue. There is some common ground between us and that's where we have to start. That's where the solution lies. We must keep talking, we must keep engaging, we must keep asking questions and gathering information from sources that don't always mirror our convictions. It is time to grow up, it's time to become our parents.

I am asking that you all join me in choosing one thing to fight for, if you haven't already. Find something that speaks to your heart and then go all in. Ask your politicians where they stand on that issue, share petitions that need to be signed, be informed and help to inform others. We can do this even though there's a family to feed, a dog to walk, a spouse to cuddle on the couch with, a career to nurture, a parent to nurse. We must do this because simply checking out does not show our children how to be all in for a cause. And we need them to take our place someday.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

40 Days and 40 Nights

I should really look at a calendar more often. Although I know that Fat Tuesday always falls on a Tuesday and Ash Wednesday is always on a Wednesday, I never realized that Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine's Day this year. And this is the year I've chosen to give up sugar for Lent. Fortunately, Neal bought me a potted plant so crisis averted there. I'll just save these chocolate-covered marshmallows for Easter.

I was Catholic once, for about 45 minutes (or 6 months, whatever). I was engaged to a Catholic (with a puritanical mother who probably regretted not becoming a nun) and because he wanted our marriage to be recognized by the Catholic Church, off I went to convert from the Southern-Baptist-with-occasional-Buddhist-practices that I had been identifying with since high school. But even in the Baptist churches, the congregation was often encouraged to "give up" something for Lent, in the spirit of honoring the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made for us and all that, I suppose. So, one year when I was particularly destitute I gave up traveling. One year when I was between boyfriends I gave up sex. One year when I was training for a half-marathon I gave up chocolate. The point is, I think I was missing the point - albeit intentionally.

Sacrificing something is hard and I've always been a "treat yo self" kind of girl (a mixed blessing that resulted from spending so much time with my grandparents as a Wee Ally). And I don't think I truly understood sacrifice until Neal went active duty, we lost a child and then had a child. As it turns out, sacrifice is hard, but it has been worth it every. single. time. There has always been a moment, right before I can see just the faintest glimmer of light at the end of that tunnel, that I think FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY, I CANNOT DO THIS ANYMORE. And then, in the darkest moment right before I lose hope, I see a tiny speck of light. And when I emerge on the other side, I have actually grown stronger because it didn't, as they say, kill me.

I not only appreciate intermittent sacrifice now, I actually crave it. And, oddly enough, 40 days is the ideal amount of time to really feel the effect of giving up something. I'm certainly not one to interpret the Bible literally (I don't even believe in Hell as a fire and brimstone kind of joint or the Second Coming as a rapturous moment with angels and trumpets), but I always kind of marvel at how perfectly some of its stories seem to guide and challenge us, eternally. It 's the same bewilderment I feel as when, time and time again, math appears so painstakingly perfect in nature. Like there is no way this is a coincidence or an accident.

My ideas on sacrifice for Lent were challenged during a sermon by my mom's pastor a few years ago. He encouraged us to add something for Lent. Whether we offered grace and forgiveness more freely or gave our time and resources more generously, whatever it was, we were asked to add something to our lives so that, in turn, we may add to the lives of others.

So now Lent is extra complicated. Do I sacrifice or do more? Or both? This year, the Year of Living More With Less, I'm choosing both, ironically. Three goals, 40 days.

I've eaten a lot of sugar in the past 2 months. While we hurry up and wait for orders, we are expected to be patient. I've become significantly more patient since Blue was born but even so, I almost hit my limit last Friday. So I've eaten anything that was covered in chocolate, as well as the dregs from the Halloween bucket. I've only refused one dessert and that was a pan of black bean brownies I made last week (the recipe called them fudgy, I would call them one notch up from pudding). My legs have started to swell, I broke out in hives on my stomach and I have a zit on my lip. I'm basically 20 minutes away from insulin shock. No. more. sugar. I don't know what I'll do instead. Maybe hide in the closet and do yoga instead of stuffing my face with Swedish fish. But I will do this. If only because hives on your stomach is surprisingly uncomfortable.

I will also KonMari the crap out of this house. I haven't read the book but I have read about 10 blogs on what I need to do. Sort by category, hold each item in my hand and ask myself if it's necessary, useful and sparks joy and then thank and purge the joyless stuff, organize what's left. This has taken some people 6-9 months. I don't have that long. So my plan is to complete one sub-category per day. Marie Kondo suggests sorting and purging in silence, so you can hear the item speak to you. Half-day Kindergarten means that each item is going to have to speak a little louder over Blue's new song about the poop emoji and what he loves about each of his stuffed animals. But we'll get through it.

Lastly, my addition. I'm going to treat each person as I would want to be treated. This is really hard for an only child. It's hard for our 5 year old but, shockingly, it's hard at 39, too. That means that when I'm on Facebook and I have something to say to someone who believes that immigrants should go back to where they came from, I'm going to stop, take a breath and think about how I would want to be treated before firing off a reply that includes some statistic about how we are all pretty much immigrants. I will still give that statistic, I just won't call them an ill-informed, racist idiot when I do it. But, more mundanely, it means that I will stop and think about how I would want to be greeted after a long day at work, how I want to be treated if I was the cashier at Target, the realtor for our house, our son. It's the Golden Rule for a reason and I think it's the ultimate standard for living. It's embarrassingly simple yet largely ignored. If Mr. Rogers and/or Jesus aren't coming back any time soon, this should be the expectation of ourselves in the meantime.

I'm always interested to know what others are doing in recognition of Lent. And if you aren't Catholic, why do you still participate? We're in this together. And I didn't give up alcohol (at least not red wine, it is heart healthy, after all) so cheers to us! May we see the sunrise on Easter morning and find that we have become slightly better versions of ourselves.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Champagne Friday: When Mama Gets Angry

When I was blogging consistently in 2009 (before baby, before active duty moves, when Neal was deployed and all I had to keep me company was Meredith Grey and a bottle of Barefoot Bubbly), I began a series of posts called Champagne Friday. As the name infers, I blogged while drinking a bottle of champagne every Friday. Some of those posts made sense, so much. But the point was life is too short to only drink champagne on New Year's Eve and even a Friday in the middle of April is an appropriate time to use the champagne glasses from your wedding.

I'm ready to do that again. Minus the day drinking because, as it turns out, drinking anything with alcohol while your child is at school is somewhat frowned upon. Although the French and the Italians do it so it can't be all bad. Look how skinny and fashionable they are. Maybe a little breakfast pinot would convince me to put on a bra before lunch.

Anyway, we're back with Champagne Friday: The Angry Mama edition. And this does not have anything to do with me being angry or a mom (although the next time Blue forces himself to gag on dinner, I'm going to be both of those things). Nope...this is my new favorite cleaning toy. And as Mary Poppins always says, "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down." An Angry Mama microwave cleaner helps you not kill everyone in your family after they microwave their spaghetti without covering it up first.
I just love her because I feel like she's a direct reflection of me after I've asked Blue to get dressed, again. Anyway, you pop off her head (just that action alone is surprisingly cathartic) and fill her to the line with white vinegar. Then fill her to the next line with water. Pop her head (and hair) back on and put her in the microwave for 7 minutes. Just a normal cook setting will do. No need to melt Mama.
Now, I decided to blog about her after I had just cleaned the microwave the day before. So, please don't go away assuming this is what my microwave looks like before I clean it. It really looks more like this.
Even though this is a stock photo from HuffPost, doesn't that make you a little sad for whoever had to clean it afterwards? I mean, just throw it in the trash. Also, I'm just kidding. Our microwave has never looked like that, but it's only because Blue can't reach the buttons yet.

Anyway, Angry Mama has tiny holes in the top of her head (as we tend to do) and the vinegar/steam escapes through the top (I wish there was a Flintstone version where it escaped through her ears) and kind of loosens all the gunk that's cooked on to your microwave. When she's done, just wipe out the microwave with a paper towel (or 20) and you're finished! And regardless of what has exploded, it's just that easy every time.

Now, do you have to have an Angry Mama to get your microwave clean? Not at all. But I have to tell you, I get a certain amount of joy (and possibly cancer) from standing in front of the microwave and watching her head steam as she spins round and round.
This photo was surprisingly difficult to capture as my phone really wanted to zoom in on the grid pattern in the door.

My friend microwaves a wet sponge for 5 minutes and that pretty much does the same thing. Plus, it kills anything breeding in her sponge. And that works, too. But Angry Mama is my spoonful of sugar, which may eventually give me diabetes but is pretty fabulous right now!

I feel like I should point out that my blog is completely sponsor-less. Every museum I write about, every product I feature is simply because I want to write about it. I don't get things in the mail to try out and then blog about. I don't get free tickets to anything. Blue gets more free stuff than I do. And I would like to keep it sponsor-less. Although I'm all for building a fan base. Because when that one post got 110,000 hits in 3 days, I think I floated above my body for a little while.