Monday, July 5, 2010

Creating Memories

We've had our cabin - known as "Pinewood" for a little under a year.  We saw it on Father's Day weekend last year, and signed the papers on July 22.  We had been discussing buying a vacation home for years, but more seriously for the immediate 3-4 months prior.  Mostly because the Washington rat race had (and still does to some extent, but not nearly has much) gotten to my husband and he would not have lasted there too much longer.  I, on the other hand, could see myself growing old with him and our children in our house in the 'burbs.  So...a weekend house seemed like good compromise.

I don't think either of us realized at the time the memories we would create here.  Sure, we theorized about it:  "the kids will love the outdoors... rafting/canoeing/kayaking on the river.... we'll go fishing... sit around the fire and make s'mores.... have good times with friends here" but until things actually happen, you don't think in concrete terms.

One thing we theorize about, hope for, dream about is that our kids will be close friends when they get older.  I fully don't expect them to be hanging out together in high school (that's probably too much to ask!), but because of the family time we spend here where they are often their each others only playmate, I can see a bond developing between them that can only strengthen later on.

At the river yesterday, they at first were playing separately (Katie of course found a group of kids and went to hang with them; Ryan was playing alone in the river and with us).  Later on, they started playing with each other.  And they were laughing and enjoying each other's company like I rarely see.  Typically they are arguing over something...anything...everything.... and I have to decree "no talking" for 5 minutes just to end it.  But yesterday they were playing for a good 45 minutes, laughing, thinking of things to do together on the rafts, swimming, and just having fun.  Those are the moments I cherish - carefree fun.  No arguing.  Laughing.  Enjoying each other.  And that is what I think will last throughout the sullen teenage high school years.

I truly don't see this at home - we are all so involved in our routines at home: work, school, homework, laundry, what's for dinner, more work.  We don't get much carefree time there.  But here at Pinewood, that's all there is.  Sure they argue.  It is not sibling bliss 24/7 as much as I'd like it to be.  But it's far less sibling rivalry than at home.

Well... a year later, we've created a lot of memories.  Specific things may not be remembered, but the general feeling of being a family, doing things together and unplugging, relaxing will be long lasting.

The most exciting thing is that it's only been a year - what more can the future hold???  I can't wait to find out.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Raising confident, independent children

I am a fan of Lenore Skenazy, creator of Free Range Kids.  She is a little controversial - but I embrace her general philosphy - to let kids be kids.  Lenore encourages us to let our children be children like we were - she started her blog (which has since turned into speaking engagements and books among other things) because she wrote an article on why she let her son ride the NYC subway alone.  He was 9.  Her philosophy is that we can raise "safe, self-reliant children without going nuts with worry."

Like Lenore, I believe that we cannot - I repeat - can NOT - coddle our children like the current generation of 20-30 somethings were as children.   Our children have to learn to be kids like we learned to be kids - we rode our bikes for hours around the neighborhood;  sold Girl Scout cookies door to door in the whole neighborhood, not just at the houses of the people we knew; and walked to elementary school - not uphill, both ways like our grandparents, but alone or with our friends.  Not one of these with adult supervision.  

In addition to the safety risks that we try to protect our children from, I think we often over-protect our children from the emotional risks of being children as well.   We try to protect them from emotional lows, disappointment in themselves, failed friendships - all of which they will experience at some point in their lives.  I think we do them a disservice when we don't let them experience these emotions earlier in life.  

Let's take friendships for example:  it's so hard for us to let our kids manage their own friendships.  We want our kids to have a lot of friends, and - dare I say it - be "popular" (especially if we were NOT).  And we feel that somehow we have failed if they aren't.  I had tremendous guilt as a working mom when my son had so very few playdates in preschool.  I thought for sure he would be a loner with no friends by the time he was in 2nd grade.  Boy, was I wrong.  Turns out my lack of over-managing his social life then has had no effect on his current one.

My kids have a wide variety of friends - some closer than others.  I try not to interfere with these relationships.  My daughter has a new "best" friend every month.  I don't forbid her to have a "best" friend because then others will be excluded (which is the topic of the blog I read today that inspired this one).  She has to learn what having and being a "best" friend means - I can't simply tell her that having a true best friend can be one of he most valued relationships in your life.  She has to learn this on her own.

My son still plays with some kids he met when he was 5, but also with ones he met more recently.   He let a relationship "fade" over this past year with a boy who he had been quite close with the year prior.  This "friend" wasn't acting so much like a friend this year - playground hitting, saying nasty things - and my son realized that his energy was better spent on others who treated him better.

I think that they need to learn how to navigate human relationships now, so for the most part, I stay out of them.  I believe this is equipping them to be able to better navigate friendships, and all relationships, in the future.  Yes I want them to have a lot of friends.  And yes, I will step in (and I have) when a relationship turns more toxic (like when my daughter was being a bully, and later being bullied herself.)  But it is up to them to decide who their friends are, and until they need or request my help, I will step back and let them happen.  But no matter what happens, I will certainly stop short of hiring a "friendship coach." (No lie - apparently these coaches "teach kids how to be friends the RIGHT WAY."  Seriously? No, seriously??)

Yes, we need to keep our kids safe.  But we also MUST let go - it's the only way they will learn how to be successful adults.   So even if you can't imagine letting your 9 year old ride the subway alone, or even walk around the neighborhood by herself, try letting her navigate her friendships with no interference from you.  It may be hard, but I hope you realize it will be worth it.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

West Virginia stereotypes

Most of you who know me know that we have a weekend cabin outside of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia.   Anyone from the DC area knows all the jokes about West Virginia - mostly involving a lack of intelligence, missing teeth, hillbillies, marrying your cousin, or something to do with the movie "Deliverance."  I've heard most of them, and am sure to keep hearing them more and more as time goes on.

I had many of those stereotypes in my mind as well when we bought Pinewood.  I soon found out that some people are some of these things - the people in and around Berkeley Springs are not the best educated or most worldly; they do not have the best dental hygiene.  But they are some of the nicest people I've ever met - the "locals" really have a small town mentality and embrace new people.  They start conversations with you in diners; drivers stop at walkways to let pedestrians cross; and the waitress at Betty Lou's asks where your kids are because they aren't with you when they have been the last 20 times you went there.

But I was deeply disturbed when one stereotype was really in my face yesterday.  I've always heard that West Virginians are overweight and unhealthy.  And a lot of them are.  Most live below the poverty level - WV is the third lowest state in per capita income, and as of January 2010, the unemployment level was 9.3%.  So I'm guessing that eating healthy food is not high on the priority list.  But while grocery shopping yesterday, I observed a large woman with two overweight pre-teen girls, and one average size elementary school daughter doing their shopping.  What caught my attention was not the size of the woman or her children, but rather, what was in her grocery cart.  She had 8 3-liter bottles of soda - orange, root beer, mountain dew, and coke, and not one of them diet; two huge bottles of Hawaiian Punch; and no less than 8 frozen pizzas.  At that point, I had to walk away.

I am trying to figure out why this bothered me so much.  I am overweight, and have been since my children were born (my oldest is 9 and my youngest just turned 7).  Most of my siblings and parents are and always have been overweight.  I did not learn healthy eating habits growing up, and still am not the healthiest eater.  I drink at least one soda almost every day - usually Diet Coke or Diet Dr. Pepper.  And my day is not complete unless I've had at least one sweet treat, probably two, and sometimes more.  So who am I to judge what other people eat?  Actually - I don't think I was judging her, but rather observing her and wondering what makes us different.  I think it is that, thanks to Weight Watchers, I have learned to try to make some healthy choices as part of my overall food intake.  I eat a salad with my lunch most days of the week, try to eat more vegetables with dinner, and try to eat fruit as a sweet treat instead of ice cream or cookies.  "All things in moderation" works really well with the Weight Watchers plan.

I think that is what struck me - there was not one piece of produce in that woman's cart.  Had there been any kind of fruit or vegetable, I would have thought that they are part of what she and her family eat.  But the fact that all that was in there was processed food and a LOT of drinks loaded with sugar and chemicals just hit me hard.   It makes me sad to think that her children will probably be overweight for most of their lives, and will never learn healthy eating habits.  And unfortunately, it will probably be a trait passed on for generations.

I'm hoping that I learn a lesson from this woman - or actually just reinforce lessons that I already know.  And that I teach them to my children as well.  The choices you make in what you eat have a direct result on your quality of life - maintaining a healthy weight by eating healthy food makes you live longer, and lessens your chance of getting most cancers, diabetes, and high cholesterol.  Living a healthy life can raise your life expectancy, and make the quality of that long life even better.  It's not always easy or convenient, but the best things in life never are.

And you can - and should - have the candy bar or birthday cake every once in a while.  Because they are yummy - and everyone should have something yummy - in moderation of course.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Just for fun

A friend answered these questions in her blog, so I will too.  She is SO GOOD about blogging every day.  I wish I had the motivation to do that too.  Maybe she will inspire me...

We've all answered those "getting to know you" emails or notes on facebook; this is a slightly different twist to those.  Hope you learn something about me.  Happy Reading.

1. The last thing I procrastinated about and why?
I procrastinate about nearly everything.  I have projects at work that have been "ongoing" for far too long.  I know if I hunker down and just do it, it will get done. I just don't know why I don't hunker down and do it.  At home, I still need to switch me, my daughter and son from the winter wardrobe to the summer one.

2. How fast do you fall asleep? Do you sleep all night?
It takes a while to fall asleep unless I am absolutely exhausted.  I fall asleep around 11 and wake up btw. 6:30 - 7:00.

3. What decade would you choose to exemplify your favorite fashion styles?
Classic - late 50's/early 60's (pre-hippie!).  I guess the TV show Mad Men has classic professional women's styles that I love. 

4. What is your personal best dish for feeding a crowd?
Baked ziti or lasagna.

5. Are you an impulse shopper? What was the last thing you bought on impulse?
TOTALLY!  If there is extra $$ in my pocket, I'll spend it.  I recently impulse purchased quite a few necklaces and earrings.

6. What is one wish you have for your own funeral?
Laughter - through tears if need be, but more laughing than crying.

7. Is it true that joy is formed in simple things? What joy did you have today?
Yes - absolutely.  Snuggling with my kids is so simply joyful.  Today what brought me joy:  enjoying a latte while hearing one of my favorite songs while driving to work in the sunshine; and the smell of spring in the air. 

8.What is your favorite type of bread?
Flavored bread - olive, rosemary, sourdough - my new favorite is pretzel bread.  Too bad it is empty calories.   Because of course I don't like the mulitgrain, high fiber bread. 

9. What trait do you fear you could develop?
Hmmm... not sure.

10. What trait would you like to develop?
Decluttering.  Being able to get rid of things sooner.  Having a place for everything, and putting it there.

11. What room in your house best reflects your personality?
Kitchen.  It's the center of the house, so it's where I spend a lot of time.  It's bright, cluttered, and decorated in a fun whimsical way.  Like me.

12. How do you balance your life, work, family, obligations, church and blogging?
Sometimes well and other times not so much.  Luckily work allows for some personal time when I need it (like leaving early or taking a day off for kids school events).  Sometimes, regrettably, my marriage doesn't get the attention it deserves because of school, work, volunteering at church, house cleaning/errands, spending time with friends, or other activities.  But I have made a concerted effort recently to change that.  Blogging usually happens when something strikes me that I need to express my thoughts on.  It is FAR down on the list of priorities.  Like at the bottom.

Finally, here is a fun game - 5 for 5: answer 5 questions 5 times

Question 1 - Where were you five years ago?
1. At the same job in the same office
2. In the house on Findley Road
3. Raising a then 4 and 2 year old and enjoying it!
4. Planning a big bash for the firm's 40th anniversary
5. Still glowing after taking our first Disney cruise two months prior, and planning the next

Question 2 - Where would you like to be five years from now?
1. Raising a happy and healthy teenager and pre-teen
2. Still happily in love with my husband
3. Taking my 10th Disney Cruise!
4. Blogging far more frequently
5. 40 pounds lighter

Question 3 - What is (was) on your to do list today?
1. Send CLE applications out
2. Pack for weekend in WV
3. Weight Watchers meeting
4. Daughter's laundry
5. Catch up on Dancing with the Stars with daughter

Question 4 - What 5 snacks do you enjoy?
1. Hostess 100 Calorie strawberry cupcakes
2. Anything chocolate
3. Honey Wheat pretzels
4. Ice cream
5. Cinnamon sugar pita chips

Question 5 - What would you do if you were a billionaire?
1. Travel - cruising mostly, and using a private jet anytime I needed to fly.
2. Donate to organizations that build girls' esteem by taking the focus off outward appearance
3. Drive a dream car - don't even know what kind, but probably a convertible
4. Have a house on the beach on a Carribbean island
5. Hire a full time cook and housekeeper.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Moms - it's okay to be "selfish"

I have the word "selfish" in quotes on purpose.  To many, especially to moms, it's a bad word.  Right up there with George Carlin's 7 words you can't say on TV.

So many moms I read about - whose blogs I read, and very few who I personally know -  feel guilty for being "selfish."  Yes, being selfish CAN be a bad thing when it's taken to an unhealthy degree.  But doing something for just you - something you alone enjoy, want to do, get pleasure from - that has NOTHING to do with your children or husband is a critical, sometimes self-preserving, need that I think all humans have.

We were people before we were wives and moms.  We had jobs we enjoyed, we went out with friends and shared a glass of wine and the latest gossip, we did dumb things we hope our kids never find out we did, and we took care of ourselves first, and others second.  And then we had a husband and kids and we adjusted these things to go along with our new lives.  Some of us left our jobs to stay home with our kids.  Some couldn't do that - or didn't want to.  We still went out with our friends, only now we met them at the park and shared a cup of coffee and the latest school rankings.  We got too busy for doing dumb things because we were changing diapers, and doing laundry, and supervising homework, and chauffering to this sport and that dance class, and let's not forget trying to fit in the time to pay attention to our husband.  And we got to the point where we were taking care of others first and ourselves last.  We forgot that person we were before we got married and had little persons that our lives now revolve around. 

See - the thing is that our kids are going to grow up.  And while we will always be their mom, our lives won't revolve around them as much as they do when they are little.  And we will have to know who we are - in addition to being moms.

We moms need to be able to treat ourselves as well as we treat our children. If our children mean everything to us, and I know they do, then we must teach them that taking care of ourselves is okay. Sacrificing all of our own desires so that our children can have everything we think they need or want is not okay. Doing that teaches the wrong message - to girls it says that they must sacrifice their own needs for the good of someone else - children and/or husband. That when you become a mom, you can't do or get what you want if it is at the expense of something your children or husband want.  But the resentment of always putting others' needs before ours can become overwhelming.

We must allow ourselves to be at the top of the priority list sometimes.  Taking care of ourselves is NOT selfish.  Taking care of ourselves IS the priority.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Guns and children

I'm sure so much has been written about this topic - but not by me so here goes.

I just read this article and it made my blood boil:

This poor family.  A 3 year old picks up a LOADED GUN that the stepfather LEFT ON THE END TABLE IN THE LIVING ROOM AND "FORGOT ABOUT IT" - and she accidentally shoots herself in the abdomen, and she dies.  Are you kidding me???  What kind of person leaves a loaded gun in the living room with a toddler in the house?  A stupid, irresponsible one.  I'm sorry - there is NO EXCUSE for this behavior.  I know these parents must feel incredibly guilty in addition to overwhelming grief.  But at the same time, the stepfather should be held accountable for his actions.  That is reckless - and I'm sure there are some laws about child endangerment that this behavior clearly violated.  Yes, he will pay for this careless reckless behavior in his own mind forever (if he is human anyway).  But he also (very likely) violated the law.  If making him legally responsible for his actions saves the life of even ONE toddler from the older brother/father/stepfather/sister/uncle who thinks twice about leaving (and "forgetting") their gun out on the living room end table, then it will have purpose.

The other thing that makes me crazy is that the 3 year old supposedly mistook the gun for - get this - a Wii remote.  Again - are you kidding me???  First of all, how does the sheriff know that is what happened?  The poor girl is DEAD - how could you know what she was thinking???  Or is this for the parent's benefit - to assuage the guilt that they surely must be feeling for forgetting about leaving the loaded pistol on the end table in the living room???  I'm sorry - there is NO WAY a 3 year old "mistakes" a .380 revolver is a Wii remote.   This is just wrong, wrong, wrong.  Period.

I have nothing against guns.  I am not pro-gun, I am not anti-gun.  This is something that I think each person should decide on their own.  I however, am PRO-teaching-your-children-about-the-difference-between-real-and-fake-guns.  And about teaching your children about the difference between play and real life.  My 9 year old son has been playing with toy guns (water guns, nerf guns, etc.) for a long time. And he also has been playing video games for some time - some like ACME Arsenal that include minor violence - with Wile E. Coyote and Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd; yes, it's about as violent as the Saturday morning cartoons we all watched; and yet didn't grow up to be gun-toting murders.  Hmm...somehting to think about for another blog.  But...I digress.

My point is that while my children play these games, we have REGULAR discussions - at least weekly - that what happens on video games/cartoons/some tv shows is NOT real life.  In real life, when you shoot Super Mario with a real gun, and real bullets, he would really die.  In real life, when you crash a car from driving 150 mph, you don't walk away from it.  There is nothing wrong with children playing age appropriate games, and they are going to play these games whether or not we want them to.  What we CAN do, as responsible parents is teach them, at as early an age as possible, that play guns are okay, and real guns are not.  Early and often.  And more often.  And again.  Especially if we have guns in our house.

I'm so sorry for the family of this girl who shot and killed herself.  I am sure their pain and grief will be deep, and neverending.  Let us all learn a lesson from it.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Two incidents happened this past week that have really gotten under my skin. Granted, we have been dealing with amounts of snow that this city and most of its inhabitants are not accustomed to, and most of us are on edge. But that is no excuse for being rude.

In the grocery store on Tuesday morning (between storms) I was in line when the lady in the line next to me dropped her bottle of vegetable oil, breaking the cap and causing a slow leak.  I watched her pick it up, examine it, saw it leaking, and proceeded to leave it on the display of paper towels, rather than give it to the cashier.   So I picked it up from there, and I gave it to the cashier.  The woman's husband saw me and told me, "No - that one's leaking."  I thank GOD for giving me restraint at that moment.  Rather than throw it at him (which I SO wanted to do and that would have been SO satisfying), I snapped instead, "Yeah, and I'm giving it to the cashier so it doesn't leak all over the place."

Now, I am guilty of leaving unwanted items in the wrong place, but not when something is leaking all over the place, and not when I'm three feet away from a store employee who could do something about it.

Yesterday, a friend and I took our sons to the movies.  At the snack bar, I got pretzel bites that came with a side of cheese sauce.  As I was headed toward the theater, a woman who was paying NO attention to where she was going walked right into me, causing cheese sauce to spill on the floor and down the front of my coat, and sending pretzel nuggets flying.  I was pretty shocked, and she said "oh...sorry..." and kept right on to get in line for whatever she wanted.   As my friend and I bitched (loudly) about her, and were cleaning up the cheese sauce from me and the floor, rude woman came back and offered to buy me another (which I accepted), and my friend mentioned that she could also help us clean up (which she did not).

Then, to top it all off, as I stood waiting for my new order, the server came over to me to let me know my new order would be ready soon, and she'd bring it to me.  The woman who ran into me has disappeared, and didn't even have the courage to bring the replaced order to me herself.  So not only was she rude, but a coward too.

Is it too much to ask for a little more politeness these days?  Not everyone has to smile, or say hello.  Or be nice to everyone all the time.  But to be a little less rude would be nice.