Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Year of Better Update - Beauty and the Beets

It was my intention to post an update at the beginning of each month, but if my goal is to write coherent sentences with proper punctuation, I have to wait until after Blue goes to bed. And by that point, I prefer to burrow on the couch with a cup of hot chocolate and watch Victoria (which I love, now that I realize it's more like Downton Abbey and less like The Queen). But I've been getting questions from my Facebook friends about recipes and how the more natural approaches to skin care, health and home-making have been working out.

In short, it's freaking awesome and I can't believe I waited so long to switch over.

So, I'm going to share what I've done so far, breaking it down to health and beauty in this post and cleaning/cooking in the next one.

If you are truly interested in reducing the amount of chemicals in your home, I suggest you download the Think Dirty app and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) app. Think Dirty evaluates health and beauty products (it has a scan's tempting to scan everything in your bathroom...don't do it - especially if your husband just bought you a year-long subscription to Birch Box. Just pick a few things to start with because you are going to want to throw it all in the trash.) while EWG focuses on cosmetics, sunscreen and food. They also list some cleaning products, which is how I discovered that I can keep my Seventh Generation dish soap, but I need to ditch the Aveeno baby soap and anything from Mrs. Meyers (I know...sad trombones on that one). So, armed with these 2 apps, I started with the basics: deodorant and hair care.

1. I switched to "Sensitive" Dove deodorant when I kept breaking out in my arm pits (yeah, it's just as unsightly as it sounds). But even after I switched, I kept breaking out. I decided it was the fate of my skin and resigned myself to sleeves. But my deodorant scored a NINE on the Think Dirty app (mostly for fragrance - which is counter-intuitive to sensitive skin but whatever...). I then got on the EWG app and browsed their list of "approved" deodorants. Kiss My Face scored well for most of their products and when I happened to find it at Wegman's, it felt like stars aligning. Surprise, surprise...after a month of using Kiss My Face, my underarms are almost completely blemish-free! (Fair warning, though: if it wears off overnight and then you sweat through a Muscle Pump class the next morning, you will stink. I moved away from the fans to keep from spreading the stench, but I'm not sure it helped.)

2. Again, when I scanned my shampoo and conditioner in the Think Dirty app, they scored 9's and 10's for perfumes and formaldehyde. I hate it when my beauty products contain formaldehyde. I would prefer not to be embalmed on a daily basis. After washing my hair with Dr. Bronner's soap for about a week (and contending with increasingly crispy hair), I decided I needed to find another option. I found the Acure line at Target (yay!) and it is highly rated on both apps (double yay!). It contains a lot of food-type ingredients, like pomegranate juice and something derived from sugar beets. They also have a seaweed exfoliating scrub that I use about 3 times a week. Yes, it's green, but it makes my face feel so not like it's almost 40.

3. I know. Sorry. If you're a guy or no longer have to face this battle every month, just skip to #4. But, it is what it is. So, I've been using Tampax almost since day one, when I was super confused about the applicator needing to come back out. And they've been fine. They did the job and I never thought much about it. Although every now and then I would convince myself that I had contracted Toxic Shock Syndrome until I realized it was a head cold or the flu. But a few months ago I started noticing more of my "level-headed and reasonable" crunchy granola Facebook friends "liking" the Lola brand of tampons and pads. And since you get a great deal as a first-time customer, I ordered 2 boxes to give them a try. I will say, they do the job and I don't think much about it. However, I feel much more comfortable knowing it's 100% cotton going up there instead of propylene glycol, adhesives, artificial fragrances and polyester. I've already ordered the matching pads for this month.

4. remover. It's a necessary evil and I pretty much do as little as I can get away with and still have clear skin. The Neutrogena wipes have been my go-to for so long that I just started buying them at Costco. However, they scored a...wait for it...NINE in the Think Dirty app (this is why you don't scan your entire bathroom at once, friends. You've been warned.) and while some things I waited until I ran out of to replace, this was not one of them. I know this is shocking but it scored the highest for "fragrance". There are almost 3000 fragrance ingredients added to personal care products, usually to mask an odor (eww...nothing says "fresh" like the smell of chemicals in the morning) or to add a pleasant scent, but they can also disrupt hormones. I like my hormones to be regulated and, well, not disrupted. So, the makeup remover is a little trickier because it's a concoction using ingredients around the house and a few essential oils from Young Living. (This is where I do a quick plug for Young Living and say that if you are interested in using essential oils for more than just making things smell nice, YL should be your only source. I will explain in a later post, but trust the Virgo who researched it for weeks before ever putting a drop on my skin - and continues to research it still.)

Makeup Remover Recipe:
1. 2 Tb jojoba oil or grapeseed oil (these are my 2 "face oils" because they don't clog the pores like coconut oil can)
2. 1 Tb of alcohol-free witch hazel (I also get this at Target. It will say "alcohol-free" on the bottle.)
3. 4 drops of lavender
4. 4 drops of frankincense (yes, like the Three Wise Men)
5. Optional: 4 drops of lemon or tea tree or myrrh (again, Wise Men). I've seen it with a combination of any of these. I didn't have any tea tree or myrrh when I made this batch and lemon keeps me awake at night so I just used #3 and #4. You can also add Vitamin E but, again, I didn't have any on hand when I made this.
*Add to a glass spray bottle. Yes, if the essential oils are in there it has to be glass.
*Give a little swirl before using each time and spray one cotton round generously. Apply to face. Hear the angels sing.

I seriously love this recipe and I can't wait to play with the ingredients as I build my collection of oils. Also, my age spots are beginning to fade and the worry wrinkle between my eyebrows is less pronounced. And my face feels re-hydrated without leaving an oil slick on the pillow.

5. "Stretch Mark Cream"...aka Why Didn't I Discover This Stuff About 4 Years Ago cream. OK I vaguely remember some people telling me that coconut oil was nectar from the gods and that if I cared about my epidermis at all, I would slather it everywhere every day. Well, coconut oil is nectar from the gods, y'all. And while I still keep a jar of Cetaphil in my car for dry, lizard hands (the Cetaphil products scored a 5 on Think Dirty, except for Baby Cetaphil which scored a 9...what is wrong with THAT picture?), I whipped up this batch for daily slathering.

Stretch Mark Cream Recipe:
1. Jar of unrefined, organic (or virgin, cold-pressed or raw) coconut oil
2. 12-15 drops of Gentle Baby Young Living oil
Fun fact: If you dump a jar of coconut oil in a bowl and whip it with an electric beater, it will stay, more or less, whipped in the jar. Add some Gentle Baby oil and voila. I've also known people who add Vitamin E oil and/or Frankincense and Myrrh to this, as well. (I have some bars of local beeswax that I'm going to melt but I think I'm going to put that in my first batch of lip balm.)

6. Soap. We started using the Dove Shea Butter soap when I was trying to address the armpit acne issue and we've just stuck with it. Most of the Dove soaps score a 9 on Think Dirty but the sensitive skin version scored a 3, so if making your own body soap is too tree huggy for you, there are other options. But this couldn't possibly be easier.

Body Soap Recipe
 1. Dr. Bronner's Baby Mild Liquid soap (I started with Peppermint first. It was awesome until I washed the lady parts. And I was tingly for at least 5 minutes, regardless of how well I rinsed. That is not really for me but if you like a little sensation in the shower, may I suggest Dr. Bronner's Peppermint) + water in a foaming soap dispenser.

That's it. Dr. Bronner's is an awesome company that I should have been buying all along. It only has 8 ingredients and 4 of them are water and oils.

7. Ah, shaving cream. There's no before product because honestly I just used whatever was laying around...shampoo...soap...water. But this recipe from Modern Hippy Housewife (I love that she's modern and hippy) is probably the best I've found so far. A lot of recipes call for coconut oil but as great as it is for stretchmarks, it will clog a razor just as fast as it will clog a pore. This uses grapeseed or olive oil instead. I also added this to a foaming soap dispenser because...well...why not? I use this recipe in the guest bathrooms as hand soap as well because the honey and the oil leave the hands feeling so soft and nourished. Please don't judge my razor. That's next month's project.

8. Lastly, my new face regiment. There are a lot of people who use their essential oils for cleaning or body wash, but personally, I feel that's kind of a waste of expensive oil. If it's only on my skin for 15 seconds or it's being applied to my kitchen floor, that's not as good as it going directly on my skin or in my diffuser or in my mouth (more on that next month) so I reserve most of my oils for application or inhalation or ingestion. Right now, since it's winter in Pennsylvania and the sun comes out between the hours of 8 AM and 9 AM, I use 1-2 drops of lemon oil with a little jojoba oil on my face in the morning. But the citrus oils are tricky. It's like Retin-A. Hey high school friends, remember that time I put Retin-A all over my face and then went out and played a softball game? It's like that. Lemon can increase photosensitivity so I use it on rainy, cloudy days, which are in great abundance at the moment. It's great for clarifying and brightening. And then a little "Frank" in the evening for generally healing and skin health.

I also switched Blue's Aveeno Baby Wash (Neal texted me the Think Dirty score one night during bathtime and I demanded he throw out that Baby Cancer Wash immediately) to Weleda Calendula Baby Shampoo (from Amazon). It gets the highest score of "O" on Think Dirty and its most suspicious ingredient is probably Disodium Cocoyl Glutamate, which is similar in structure to MSG but without any of the toxic effects. The rest is water, oils, flower extracts and naturally occurring essential oils.

And that's where we are so far. As I mentioned, Neal gave me a Birch Box subscription for Christmas so, while the Mighty Nest subscription would probably have been better for The Year of Better, I asked for it back in November. And I will keep using the samples they send. At the end of this year I will probably start looking to replace my makeup with cleaner, less chemical-laden options (and that's no easy or cheap feat either).

I love sharing recipes so if you have a body wash or shaving cream or deodorant roll-on, etc. that you love, please post it in the comments! And if you try one of these, let me know how it goes! Next up will be my new arsenal of cleaning sprays, scrubs, tabs and, of course, the wool dryer balls I finished last Sunday.

Monday, January 30, 2017

No Matter Where You Are From

I posted on Facebook yesterday that I have started noticing these signs around central Pennsylvania. It started with Hershey but I've since seen them in Lebanon, Harrisburg, Lititz and Lancaster. As it turns out, it all began with Lancaster (which I still pronounce as LAN-caster instead of Len-cas-TER. My cover is blown about 30 seconds after the locals meet me but they keep inviting me to stuff anyway). Lancaster has been dubbed "America's Refugee Capital" for its role in accepting and assisting more refugees per capita than any other city in the US. To date, citizens of Lancaster have welcomed over 1300 refugees into their city and their homes.

In 2012, they created the Lancaster County Refugee Coalition, whose motto is Thriving in Lancaster, Enriching Us All. This association of over 40 community organizations support and optimize refugee resettlement in Lancaster County by "empowering the community to incorporate refugees into social services and community systems." They do this by enlisting the help of organizations like the Lancaster/Lebanon Literacy Council (and their ESL services), Franklin & Marshall College, the Ware Institute for Civic Engagement and Church World Service of Lancaster. In fact, Church World Service and Lutheran Refugee Services are the 2 agencies that resettle refugees in Lancaster County. They have 90 days, per an agreement with the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, to get refugees resettled with the basic necessities (i.e. housing) but Lancaster County wanted to do more than simply get a roof over their heads and some food in their mouths. They wanted to make the resettlement process as seamless and painless as possible. During a conference of the coalition, the members realized that communication between the agencies was breaking down and there was no coordinated or streamlined process for resettlement. The coalition received two grants totaling $35,000, which funded a refugee focus group and a coalition coordinator, who works to bring new agencies on board who can contribute to one of the 4 areas of need identified (English as a second language - especially for adults in the workplace, refugee adjustment assistance, refugee youth and the community/cultural center-which is actually a Rotary Club project). The ultimate goal is to help these refugees become productive members of the community, not just dependents on the system. And they have been doing just that. In 2014, Lancaster welcomed 90 Somalis; 67 Burmese; 36 Iraqis; 32 Bhutanese; 31 Cubans; 25 Democratic Republic Congolese; 11 Ethiopians; 8 Sudanese; 2 Nepalis; 2 South Sudanese, and 1 Kenyan. 

But why is any of this surprising? Lancaster became home to the Amish and the Mennonites who were fleeing persecution long before the Iraqis arrived. And unlike many Americans, who often forget their European ancestry, these 2 religious groups remember what it was like to find a land of freedom. So, of course they would welcome them and try to ease their transition. Lancaster County is truly a melting pot of diversity. 

I will admit, when we first moved here, I made some Breaking Amish jokes. I tried to Instagram every horse and buggy we passed. I mocked the Mennonites for flocking to Hobby Lobby (What? Don't you make your own twine from horse hair or something?). But living among them (and joining the Moravian Church, whose motto is "In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, love"), I began to appreciate their unconditional love for their fellow humans. Not just other Mennonites. Not just other Amish. Not just other Moravians. All humans. Equally. In all things, love. They are doing God's work. They are living like Jesus. Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me

Refugees are, by their very definition, fleeing some unspeakable horror. They never wanted to leave their homeland. They never wanted to uproot their lives and move thousands of miles away, to a country that would tolerate them, at best, or falsely accuse and execute them at worst. I have a friend who lives in Pakistan. One day, on messenger, I asked her why she didn't just leave? Why not move to the U.K., where she had studied? And she simply said, "Because Pakistan is my home. I cannot leave." And, knowing about the political climate of Pakistan, I believe that says a lot. She posts pictures of her friends at the beach on holiday and at family celebrations and you would never know that her country is falling apart. But it is her home and it would take something unspeakable to make her leave. The only thing we should do is welcome them, hug them and help them find a home here, however temporary or permanent it may be.

I have, as I am wont to do, thrown myself into the activities of our new church. I spent last Saturday morning with other Moravians, hand-dipping pretzels that were sold to benefit the church's mission work in Jamaica. And I am on the nature garden committee. And we will be participating in the Little Lambs ministry, a program created to give children an opportunity to serve their community. This month, we will be collecting and delivering donations of breakfast food items to the Water Street Mission, which provides assistance for the homeless, as well as health screens and immunizations to refugees. 

But first...a sign. For our yard. For our neighbors. For anyone who happens to wander by. No matter where you are from, we are glad you're our neighbor. These signs are being sold by, wonder of all wonders, the Community Mennonite Church in Lancaster. But if you would like your own and you live far, the Immanuel Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia created a PDF that can be sent to your local sign maker (or shirt maker, or billboard maker). You can find that free PDF file here. While the signs springing up in this area are predominantly Arabic/English/Spanish, the link above will also give you language options for French, Somali, Armenian, Hindi, German, Japanese and Chinese. 

In all

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2017: The Year of Better

As I write this, all three of us are sick. It started with a stomach virus before the winter break that began and ended with Blue and then a vicious head cold, bordering on sinus infection, that started with Neal around Thanksgiving. He finally went to the doctor and came home with a nasal saline spray, ear drops and orders to consume a teaspoon of honey three times per day. So, although I know that if I went to my own civilian doctor, she would probably drop an antibiotic on me faster than I can say Z-Pack, I also now know that there are doctors in this world who believe we can kick this with some saline and a spoonful of bee juice. And so that is what we are doing. Or trying to do. And every day is just a little bit better.

This renewed determination to fight illness with something other than a prescription is partially due to an NPR story we heard coming back from Kentucky after Christmas. There is some concern that because we are in such a hurry to get better when we are sick, we are taking antibiotics at an alarming rate and, someday, that is going to create a whole new problem: superbugs that are impervious to anything we have on the shelves right now. I would prefer not to be a Superbug statistic. It has taken a week + to kick this and that seems like a lifetime to be sick, especially when the little person in the house is sick, too. And if we (especially Blue) weren't improving each day, I would have gone to the doctor a long time ago. So, please don't send me hate mail addressed to Dear Crunchy Mama Who Is Killing Her Child With Snot and Honey...

But as we dragged ourselves to bed at 12:01 last night (and, admittedly, I had to beg Neal to not go to bed at 11:53), I vowed to make 2017 the Year of Better...better health, better living, better eating, better sleeping, better choices. I would be a liar, liar, pants on fire if I said none of these changes stemmed from the election. They do. In hindsight, I feel like I could have done a lot of things differently between June and November. And what's the point of retrospection if you aren't going to apply it to the future? This will require me to read more, research more, listen to opinions that I will certainly find disagreeable. I will have to be more open-minded, consider others' experiences and perspectives in a more engaging way and just try to be a better person.

However, as we have been sick for almost a month, trying to be a better person can't be my only improvement in 2017. Starting today, the focus of this blog for the coming year will be learning to live a healthier, less chemical-laden, more holistic life. Aside from my 400 Wakeups blog I wrote while Neal was deployed, I've never had a defined purpose for my blog. It has kind of just been the thoughts and ramblings of my daily (or, ahem, monthly, every 6 months...whatever) life. And while that worked for awhile, there are some things I can't write about (our Commander-in-Chief, AKA Neal's boss, for example), things I won't write about (Blue's bathroom-related escapades and Mommy judging/shaming) and things that are just not that interesting (now my hair is long enough to highlight). The result has been the noticeable lack of posts, followed by the sound of crickets. And, really, in this age that's OK because what is the world with one less blogger? But I don't write for you, I write for my head doesn't explode, so I don't start imagining parallel universes where Neal has a complete family in Baghdad that he gets to see during deployments (I probably should have gone on Paxil a long time ago). I need to write and it's just a sunshine-and-rainbows bonus that y'all read and comment and follow along. So, this is where we're going...

We need less chemicals, less processed food, more sleep and less sugar. Items of convenience are disrupting our sleep patterns and our hormones. Industrial strength cleaners are toxic to all of us, especially the smallest in our family. We need to throw it all out and start over. Over the next year, I'm making a commitment to dramatically reduce the amount of chemicals we clean with, put on our bodies and in our mouths and, in general, come into contact with daily. I am also implementing a Whole 30-ish weekly menu with limited eating out and no fast food. And we will be weening ourselves from the sugar (because I went cold turkey last spring and not only did I go back to eating sugar, but Blue watched an unprecedented amount of Netflix while I sprawled on the couch for 2 days, detoxing).

On the whole, we do better than a lot of families. I cook 5-6 times a week and we always have fruit and healthy snacks on hand, but sometimes my menu includes 3 meals of pasta, enough dairy to drown a cow and pre-packaged ingredients. I only drink 1-2 cups of coffee per day but my teaspoon of flavored creamer sometimes turns into a heaping tablespoon, which then becomes "would you like some coffee with your creamer?" (I'm looking at you, peppermint mocha.) I only eat dessert after meals, but I try to eat 5-6 meals a day. Yes, I've been known to eat dessert after breakfast. I get 7 hours of sleep per night, but really I function best at 8. And I could get 8 if I would just get the hell off Pinterest. I use white vinegar with orange peels for wiping counters and spot-cleaning, but reach for harsh, toxic cleaners to scrub toilets, floors and showers. I need to stop buying dryer sheets at Costco. I need to stop buying them at all. And I only take medicine when I need it but lately it's been a steady diet of Mucinex, Vicks, Aleve and my rescue inhaler.

So, this is my game plan for our family and our house for 2017: 
  • Write a Whole 30 menu for each week and limit processed foods to snacks, like pretzels, flavored Greek yogurt, string cheese and graham crackers. I resolve to make my own waffle/pancake mix, taco seasoning and salad dressings.
  • Buy organic as much as possible. (Yes, I completely buy into the health benefits of eating organic food and have since we used Door to Door Organics in Kansas.) 
  • Purchase meat from our local Mennonite meat market, which comes from local farms and is fresh everyday. 
  • Eliminate the toxic cleaners from the house. I love my Swiffer jet but for starters, I'm not entirely sure it's getting the floors clean. When I look at the bottom of the mop, it's alarming how much dirt and grime I'm redistributing all over the floor. Secondly, if I worry about the cat walking across a wet floor, it shouldn't be because of the cleanser she may lick off her paws later. I also read some horrifying statistics about dryer sheets over the weekend. My goal is to replace every cleaner I use with a safer, homemade version.
  • Blue and I are going to aim for 30 minutes of outside time everyday, even in the dead of Pennsylvania winter. Did you see that video about the Danish children who play in the water everyday, even in the winter? They splash in their bathing suits and then come in to warm up with some tea and a few minutes in the sauna, or something. That's never going to be us. But the fresh, cold air has to at least knock some of the indoor germs off for a little bit. And if we end up going to Alaska next, we'll be at least a tiny bit acclimated. 
  • Lastly, but certainly not least, we are becoming a Young Living essential oils household. My starter kit and diffuser will be here this week but I'm already familiar with tea tree, peppermint, eucalyptus and lavender oils from when I was a massage therapist. And I always believed in their healing and cleansing properties but after Blue was born, additional research felt like a luxury and time was best spent on sleeping. Now, ignorance is keeping us in a toxic holding pattern and Blue is finally sleeping through the night (although I hear there's an oil for that). 
These seem like lofty goals, but in 2016, Neal graduated, we lived in our RV for the entire summer, visited 8 National Parks, Monuments and Battlefields, moved to the east and started a whole new life. Compared to that frenetic pace, spending the next year implementing a healthier lifestyle seems like a chemical-free cake walk. I hope you will join us!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Magic of Christmas

Like many families with a young child in the house, we have an elf. His name is Jingles and he's a kindness elf...meaning that each day he brings a suggestion for something kind we can do for someone else. It also means that he does not leave messes for Mommy to clean up. That's probably the most important part. The only member of this household who is allowed to make a mess and not clean up after herself has 4 legs, sleeps 23 hours a day and only has about 3 lives left, if we're being honest.

So far, Jingles has asked us to donate books and winter clothes, compliment someone, hold the door for someone, purchase supplies from the school's giving tree and fill a box for a Marine who is deployed. I love these acts of service that help us keep the focus on others instead of ourselves during this very busy and sometimes stressful season. But I hate moving the elf. Inevitably, I forget until right before I'm heading upstairs for bed and I have to stop, sit down and write a note with the suggestion for the next day and then stick him somewhere silly. (Blue just wandered into the living room, bleary-eyed and confused after 3 hours of sleep. Thankfully, I was writing this or I would have been right in the middle of Operation Move the Damn Elf.) Jingles even went with us to Virginia last week and it took a couple of days for me to remember to get him out of the car. Fortunately, Blue is pretty oblivious to what I'm doing most of the time and I managed to move Jingles around in the car without him noticing.

Blue is also terrified of touching Jingles. There's something about the idea of him losing his magic and possibly not delivering treats from Santa that has kept Elf Jingles safe for 2 weeks now. Any time Blue has a friend over, he warns them (emphatically) not to touch the elf. And he springs out of bed every morning, ready to find Jingles, that silly elf. I wonder where he is today? (Last week he was hidden in the beer on the second shelf of the fridge. At least I'm keeping myself amused by all of this.)

We certainly have friends who have chosen not to have an elf in their home, for any number of reasons. One of Neal's co-workers explained that his 4-year old son is completely freaked the hell out by a creature moving around the house while everyone slept. Understandable. And some families don't want the hassle of keeping up with an elf. Others just choose not to make that part of their Christmas tradition. I respect all of that. I also appreciate it when families without an elf agree to play along with Blue as he recounts the nighttime antics of our Jingles. Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year.

For the most part, I'm able to act just as excited as Blue when he finds Jingles every morning and I re-read the note that I had just scribbled 8 short hours before. I'm fairly certain that he has no idea this is me bringing some magic into the house via a $5 doll from Michael's. So imagine the dumbfounded look on my face this afternoon when we came home to find Jingles had actually moved without any human help.

Let me back up. Jingles asked us to donate some of Blue's old books to our local library yesterday. Well, yesterday I felt like death on a snot cracker so we didn't do much of anything except what was required of us. Last night, Jingles moved but failed to leave a note. Blue was somewhat disappointed by this so I said, "I think he's waiting for us to fulfill the task from yesterday before he leaves any more notes." Jingles, who was perched on top of the "JOY" sign ("J" was leaning to one side under the weight of the elf) on the mantle seemed to nod in full agreement. I mentioned that Jingles may leave us a treat for completing our task but we wouldn't get it until we got back from swim lessons. I then dashed upstairs, tossed a new book I had picked up at the Kentucky Book Fair on Blue's chair in his room, ran back downstairs and we left.

Two hours later, we returned home, hungry and tired. I was getting ready to fix lunch when Blue started with, "I wonder where the treat is? I wonder if he left it? Where do you think it is? Have you seen it?" (Whatever the average number of questions a 4-year old asks in a day is, I'm sure it's multiplied by 100 at Christmas.) And then..."MOMMY! JINGLES MOVED!"

He did? 

OMG. He did! 

I stood there in profound and genuine shock, trying to remember if I did that in some kind of Mucinex haze. I decided if that was me, I probably shouldn't be operating heavy machinery or driving. It was definitely not me. I snuck upstairs and called Neal. Did you come home at lunch? No. Why? So you didn't come home and move Jingles to the sled? Um. No. Are you feeling OK? No. He moved. He totally moved. How did he move?? Huh. Interesting.

In the end, we decided that he had somehow slipped from his perch on the mantle and performed a perfect somersault before landing in the sled in front of the fireplace, in a most chillaxed position. We thought about buying a lottery ticket. We bought Nyquil instead, which is now kicking in. But seriously...what are the chances? It's a Christmas miracle. It's the magic of Christmas. Ya better not pout, ya better not cry...Jingles is watching.

Jingles was sitting on the J, which tilted it slightly to the right. When he fell, the J fell right back into if he had never been there at all.
I award you a perfect 10 for style, grace and doing it all while we were gone and making it look like you had gotten up to deliver a new book for Blue. Thanks for being a team-player, Jingles.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Drinking After Dark

It's 8:30 PM on a Wednesday night and I've had 3 shots of bourbon and a peanut butter cup made by the Mennonites at the market where we buy our meat every week. I haven't written in something like a month. Blog post ideas come to me while I'm on the elliptical watching Kathie Lee and Hoda drink wine at 10:15 on a Monday or when Blue is watching a Very Mickey Christmas for the 23rd time. These are not times when I can stop everything, break out the laptop and type out my thoughts. So I wait for him to go to bed and then I stare at an empty screen and think "What the hell do I have to say?"

I want to say that last Thursday I wrote a very sober, completely coherent post about the collective sin of mainstream media and how I feel duped by all of it. I wrote that what I most regret about the last month is how much I listened to Rachel Maddow and how much I ignored the pregnant pauses many friends gave me when I asked them who they were voting for. But none of it is all that earth-shattering. Mike Rowe, host of Dirty Jobs, wrote a compelling article for Variety about why our neighbors on the corner hung a Trump/Pence flag over their teenage son's basketball goal. And why the poorest of the poor in our tiny town in a swing county of a swing state are flying American flags with Trump's face in place of the stars over their front stoops. And Trent Lipinksi (who is no relation to Tara...I know...I Googled it) wrote a fair piece for about how we got to this place. And then there's this post on The Guardian about how the primary source of information for most of us, Facebook, contributed to polarizing this election even more. They call it a Facebook bubble. I call it effing ironic. And probably something we should have all seen coming.

So, here's all I'm going to say about election night. Neal and I each took Blue with us to vote on Tuesday morning. We both let him push the buttons so he could feel the electrifying rush of being a US citizen, practicing his constitutional right to vote (and yes, it's a constitutional right, the people at USConstitution say so, so it must be true), therefore, technically, Blue voted twice. (Although he's 4 and still pronounces it "bote".  If his account of the day would lead someone to think he had been on the open waters twice, then I'm pretty sure that doesn't count.) Anyone who knows us, knows we are both rule-followers. As in, Neal refuses to drive more than 2 mph over the speed limit and I feel guilty about taking extra plastic forks from the bin at Wendy's to store in the glove box. So, to say that we are who we voted for - someone who is, at best, shady, and at worst, a criminal, would be ridiculous. In the same vein, to say that our friends and family, who have stocked our freezers with casseroles, brought laughter into our home, shared life and coffee and, sometimes, copious amounts of bourbon, are who they voted for...a rich as hell old white man with an embarrassing hairdo, a potty mouth and seriously disturbing beliefs, which gave rise to violence and preposterous. We are not the people we voted for. I honestly believe we all made the best decision we could with the information we were given. We did what we thought was best for our country, for our children, for the future. Hello, buyer's remorse.

But. It is what it is. There's a Daniel Tiger song about this. Stop, think, and choose. 
It's time to make a choice
I don't know what to do
I'll stop, think, and choose
Stop, think, and choose
Stop, think, and choose

I'm assuming that all of us who bothered to vote did this.  
(As a side note, there are all kinds of Daniel Tiger songs that, if played in department stores at Christmas, would make us all better humans.)
Most of us were conflicted. And we stopped, thought, and chose. And now we move forward. We all have to proceed in whichever way we feel best contributes to the good of our nation. Some of my friends unfriended their friends. That's certainly one option...although not one that really promotes two-way communication of ideas that may open your mind. And some of my friends are swearing off mainstream media and other organizations with their own self-interest at heart. Others are beginning to call their Congressmen and Congresswomen to make their voices heard. And some are organizing, others are already marching in the streets.

These are complicated times and, just as is true for raising a child, it's not going to get any easier or simpler. Information is pouring in from all sides at an alarming rate and we don't even have to tune in. When I ran my last iPhone update, all of a sudden, it now gives me a stream of news stories that "might" interest me whenever I touch my home button. Somehow it has deemed me a bleeding heart liberal because it doesn't bother to feed me posts from Fox News or Breitbart...just the latest from NYTimes and the Washington Post. Lucky me. I started watching Fox News on the elliptical just to piss off Apple.

But here's the other thing. I turned 38 this year and in a few short months, Neal will be 49. Politics, government, and the future of the country is no longer something that only concerns our parents. Our parents, the baby boomers, are slowing down, needing more help and, yes, dying. And who is left holding the bag? They stopped, thought and elected Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, the Bush Boys. For better or worse, that's who they chose to govern while they raised their kids. Us. That's who they thought would give us a brighter tomorrow. And y'all know what? Bill leaked all over Monica and everyone else ran a foreign affairs shit show but the country didn't implode. We survived. We peacefully protested, we rioted, we wrote strongly-worded letters to the editor and held town hall meetings. But we found our way through. And that's what we are going to do. We are going to reach across that infamous aisle.

My pastor in Kansas City ends every Sunday service with the congregation holding hands and singing the benediction. It is awkward as hell. Inevitably, my hands were all sweaty from having them tucked in my armpits during the sermon or they were ice cold from trying to not make them all sweaty. And it's no secret that I pick at my cuticles so I'm sure that is appalling to many. But we did it. And they still do it. They literally reach across the aisle to hold the hand of a friend, a loved one, a complete stranger. And it is the best feeling just hold someone's hand for 15 seconds, regardless of their...anything. To just be a human, holding another human's hand. That's what we are going to do. We are going to hold each other's hands for 15 seconds and say "you are me and I am you."

On NPR this morning, there was a story about how alike we are. People, not Americans but people, are 99.99% alike, genetically speaking. I belong to a Facebook page with women from all over the world. Someone just started a thread about peeing. And we all had something to say. I can attest to this...we are 99.99% alike. That .01% difference surely makes us individuals, but it does not have to separate us. It does not have to lead to divorce, abandoned friendships, hate crime and violence. I already know 99.99% about someone. It doesn't seem so hard to find some common ground in that last .01%. Our neighbors are Mormon. That is their .01% So, we can't meet halfway over a fifth of bourbon, but we can over wood-fired pizza. We can laugh over the things our kids say and what the Black Friday sales will be like. And we will listen to each other more than we listen to the talking heads - for the sake of our children and the future of this country.

On election night, I was in despair. I fell asleep on the couch in my sweaty gym clothes, mascara stuck to the throw pillow, clutching an empty Reese's cup wrapper and a tumbler of Maker's. Oh Country. Thou hast forsaken me. But you wake up, brush the fur off your teeth, pour an extra strong cup of coffee (did you know the new Keurigs can do that? Thank you, movers, for breaking all of our crap), and pull up your big girl panties (mine are bigger than they used to be). We all get to work, however that looks for each of us. Write a letter, phone a friend, start a pay-it-forward coffee train at Starbucks, hold the door, sign a petition, write a check, love your neighbor, hold a hand for 15 seconds. Find some common ground and build a country on that. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

This Is Us

Blue is learning how to write his letters. It feels very all-of-a-sudden for me. Just last week he was eating his boogers. No, wait. That was just last week. But here he is, writing letters with a decent amount of accuracy. It helps that every morning, over coffee and whatever he's having, we practice writing the letters he's learning in school (I should mention he's in preschool...which is the quietest 9 hours of my entire week, but also...I can't believe I'm saying this...the loneliest). Occasionally, he will throw a pencil at my head and, in his best 4 year old exasperated voice, scream Why do I have to practice? No more! Never!  Again, this conversation feels like it's coming at me about 8 years too early, but we moms just have to roll with it. In my equally as exasperated mommy voice,
I calmly respond, "We all practice. Daddy practices being a soldier. And he practices making pizza on the Big Green Egg. And Mommy practices. I practice cooking dinner and making jewelry and blogging."

Oh wait. Lies. It's all lies. I don't practice blogging. But he can't even pronounce blogging. So, I got away with something there. But not with anyone who reads this blog.

The truth is, I lost my tribe and my life kind of feel apart.

I will wait for you to dig out your tiny violins from their tiny cases. Oh poor little Army wife...has to move all the time and have amazing adventures while the government pays for it all. Thank God I'm not her. That must really suck.

I know. It's ridiculous. Let me try to explain.

According to this NYTimes article that I read last year, the typical American lives less than 20 miles from their mom. The pretty pink graph under the headline shows that for Kentucky, it's even less. Six miles. I don't judge this tendency to stay rooted near home. It's actually quite the opposite. Sometimes, I'm overcome with jealousy. Especially as the mom of a young child. The article cites two reasons for this trend: the need to provide care for aging parents and the need for help in raising young children. Fortunately, my parents are healthy and self-sufficient so far (although I've made my mother swear that if she discovers one day that she can no longer smell peanut butter - one of the warning signs of Alzheimer's, according to Hoda and Kathie Lee - she needs to call me immediately). They don't need me to move in next door. And we've managed to raise a healthy and happy boy thus far, but a few more date nights would be fabulous. I remember spending a lot of Friday nights with my grandparents. I never saw it as losing time with my parents, who may have been on a date but may have also been home watching the news and eating TV dinners for all I knew. I saw it as special me-time with my Papa and Granny. I wish Blue had more of those.

And that is why we have our tribe.

I didn't really know we needed one until we arrived in Kansas and were inducted into it faster than I could say bourbon balls. I thought I had this. I thought I would join some museums, maybe a spouse's club, walk the neighborhood and let Blue run on the playground across the street. What I got was a group of ladies with a gaggle of kids who met me exactly where I was and kept me company everyday (literally, every day) for a year. I had the holy grail of neighbors. How do I know? Because this is a list of 10 signs and I had them all. I'm glad that both Neal and I knew what we had while we had it. I don't feel like I missed out on building friendships in Kansas. We simply ran out of time. And then we scattered.

It took awhile for me to be able to look through the pictures taken on Graduation Day, the last day we were all together. Even in photos, you can see the dread and anticipation on our faces. Our kids are sad. They aren't trying to hide it. The older ones know this is goodbye. Blue doesn't get it. But he will. It finally hits, on a sweltering day at the beginning of August.

After we had been in the new house for about a week and Blue was in time-out for the third time for going outside without me, he and I had a come to Jesus. Through genuine tears of sadness and confusion, he asked why he couldn't go outside to play with his friends. Because there is no one out there. Where is everyone? I don't know. When will they come out to play? I don't know. I want to go back to Kansas. So do I, buddy. We had this conversation 4 more times over the next month. I got frustrated and then I was simply heartbroken...for myself and for Blue and even for Neal. We missed our tribe. But we were also having a helluva time establishing a new one. It was like trying to put on a pair of jeans in January that fit like a glove last June. But 6 months and a couple hundred cocktails and platters of BBQ later, you're just busting out and uncomfortable. Nothing was fitting. Nothing was easy. No one showed up and said, "We're going to the park. Want to come with?" Blue was confused and I was lonely. And Neal, being a guy who can have friends or not, he's still the same person, went to work.

So, we joined the Y. Then I put Blue in preschool. Then I went back to work. And ever ever so slowly, we've started finding a niche for ourselves in Pennsylvania. It isn't constant companionship like it was in Kansas. The homeschooled kids played until the public school kids got off the bus. The moms supervised and swapped stories from the day until the husbands got home from school The husbands traded gripes and laughs from class until dinner was ready. We did it all again the next day. I miss that battle rhythm. I don't think I'll ever find another one that fits me so well. But life is change and finding a way to ride the storm until the sun comes out again is paramount.

Everyone always tells me that military kids are the most resilient children they have ever known. I'm sure that's true. But that status is hard-earned. They have learned how to say hello quickly, even though there will be a goodbye. They can pack up a bedroom almost as fast as they can unpack it. They find a way to fit in, over and over and over and over. And that's pretty amazing, considering the typical American lives less than 20 miles from mom.

I don't love Pennsylvania, but we are getting along. We are holding each other at arm's length, which I hear is consistent with the culture. We are using the manners our mothers taught us and showing our best selves. We are hoping that we when the time comes, we will miss each other terribly. Time will tell.

I am heartsick for my girls. All of them. My tribe.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

We Have This Magnet

For whatever reason, I can't sleep.

I don't think it has anything to do with the date, really, although today marks the 15th anniversary of a day filled with unimaginable grief. I cannot believe it has been 15 years. It feels like yesterday. And in the most cliched way possible, it feels like a lifetime ago. I was a totally different person living a completely different life, incapable of even imagining myself with a child and a husband. But sitting in the absolute quiet of our house at 2 AM, I'm surrounded by photos and artifacts of our 10 years of marriage...a marriage, it could be argued, that was made possible by 9/11. A terrified 20-something interrupts her sowing of wild oats to return home, to the safety of family and friends and finds a job where she meets a woman who introduces her to a soldier, who is deployed. This marriage brought to you by Operation Iraqi Freedom. This country has been at war for longer than we've been married and for much longer than our son has been alive.

And this brings me to a most troublesome question. How do we, as parents of children who were not there and will never understand the terror we all felt that day (and can still feel acutely if we close our eyes and think about where we were, who we were with), try to explain the importance of this date? The details are gruesome and heartbreaking. The answers are vague and sometimes contradictory. The grief is still hovering, just below the surface. But if we don't talk to our children about this day, then they will read someone else's account of it. It won't be our version and it may even be wildly untrue. Where do we begin and how can we find the words to describe the unspeakable?

When Blue was not quite 2, Neal and I took him to NYC to visit Shana over Memorial Day Weekend. While we were there, we visited the newly opened 9/11 Museum. Neal and I tried to keep Blue quietly entertained in his stroller while still digesting the overwhelming number of heartbreaking stories and first-hand accounts of heroics. Blue didn't know or care what we were doing. He was hungry, thirsty, sleepy, bored. But we wanted to walk the halls and hear the voices because they have shaped our world into what it is today and will continue to do so, even after we are gone. The 9/11 Museum stands as a physical reminder of one of the darkest days in our nation's history. It is there for us to visit, for us to take our kids to, to start the conversation with a generation who feels ambivalent about planes crashing into towers, fields, the Pentagon. And, much to the dismay of many New Yorkers who relive 9/11 on more than one day each year, they also have a gift shop.

As we exited the 9/11 Museum main gallery, Neal said to me, "Let's go into the gift shop." We bought a magnet. Because we always buy a magnet. The refrigerator is a scrapbook of our excursions all over the world. Seeing it everyday is a source of pride for me. We travel, sometimes far, and we have this magnet to remember the trip. Even when the 14,000 pictures of Yellowstone are still floating in the cloud, we have this magnet. On our way out of the museum, we were stopped by a reporter from The Wall Street Journal. In response to the outrage New Yorkers felt about the museum gift shop, she was doing a piece about what items people purchased and why. I gave some long-winded answer about how I didn't take a single picture in the museum out of respect for the deceased but I wanted something to remember the trip. I wanted to have some tangible item to hold and reflect on our visit. My quote got boiled down to "I wanted to have something to remember our trip." As you can imagine, I was skewered in the comments. I don't even read them anymore, although somehow new ones pop up. (I don't know how someone manages to find and then comment on a story from 2 years ago, but...they do.) At the time, Blue was basically fresh from the womb and I knew nothing about raising a child. I assumed, although had trouble visualizing, that someday we would talk about 9/11, even if it was in the most perfunctory manner. He would have questions and I would give him the best and most age-appropriate answers I could. He doesn't have questions yet, which is great because I don't have any answers, age-appropriate or otherwise. I tried looking on Amazon. I searched "Children's Books About 9/11". My search returned several National Geographic kids' magazines about wild animals and one illustrated book called "I Survived." I'm not sure what I was expecting. Maybe just a very basic, highly glossed-over introduction as to why everyone is so damn sad today. Not too scary. Not too complicated. Just enough to teach some empathy for those who find September 11 to be a particularly challenging day of the year.

What I do have is an answer to that reporter. Because I always have the perfect witty remark about 2-3 years after the fact. We bought a magnet to start the conversation. Whenever our son is ready to have it, we can start with this magnet that shows the last World Trade Center beam on it. And we can talk about what happened to the buildings around it and the people in those buildings. We can talk about the firefighters that are surrounding the beam and the flag that is waving from the top of it. There is no greater gift than something that triggers an honest conversation with a child who wants to learn. We have this magnet and someday my son, who was born 11 years after our country was attacked, will ask what it means. It's a reminder of our trip, but also what we've been through. And I will have answers for his questions, I will give him my account of that day.

***For the record, when I searched Amazon for a children's book, it also directed me to the 9/11 Museum Gift Shop, which now hosts an online site where you can view the entire product list. I checked their inventory for a suitable book. Nothing. However, they have expanded their line of 9/11 memorial trinkets to include several woven throws, some imported Italian marble tiles featuring photos from that day (including a "The Muddy Teddy Bear", "The Ghost PATH Train", and a photo of paper confetti...and, let's be honest...ashes, floating through the sky), as well as posters, t-shirts, keychains and bookmarks. At the risk of sounding just as judgemental as the commenters on The WSJ article, I can't imagine setting my sangria down on a coaster with the Ground Zero Bible page on it or curling up to watch "Castle" under a woven throw of the World Trade Center cross. I feel they may be crossing the line of what's appropriate for this generation who is still reeling from the events of that day. I think we should leave the line of memorial housewares to the future generations. It will happen. Our growing collection of battlefield coffee mugs is proof.