Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The lighter side of ...

I don't have anything new to write about, but I left my blog on such a sad note that I wanted to cover my last post up. So I thought I'd write a little bit of this and that to create a lighter post.

First up, BOOKS! If you really want to have an excuse to sit around and read A LOT, check out a really long book for a really short period of time from the library. This was the case with Bill Bryson's At Home, which I wrote about in this post. (Also in that post, I wrote about Women Food and God by Geneen Roth, which was an altogether waste of my time and I didn't finish.) So, I've been reading and reading and reading, and it has been awesome!

Next up, I have the following books:
Obviously the last two are the only books that really require reading every word, so the book list is not as overwhelming as it looks. I was overwhelmed with books in the last few weeks, when I had put several on hold at the library and they all came in at once. I ended up giving a couple back without reading them, so nobody tell me that Fly Away Home or The Forgotten Garden was a life-changing book.

Also has anybody read Room? I'm thinking about getting that for my Kindle. The Kindle is cool by the way, because you know how I complain a lot about books with tiny print and single spacing? With the Kindle you can change the font/size/spacing however you want. (The funny thing is that I don't dislike the tiny font and single-spacing because my vision is bad. I just feel more accomplished when I can turn the pages more quickly.)

In other news, I have a new strategy with my running. I'm going to just run until I'm tired, then walk until I catch my breath, then run some more ... and repeat until I get to 5K. That's my philosophy based on my extensive knowledge of exercise science. The 5K is November 6, and that will be the beginning and end of my competitive running career. (Is competitive even the right word for it? I mean, it's not as though I'm competing against anybody else, at least not in the sense that I would actually win. Maybe timed is a better word.)

Also I got a heart-rate monitor strap that you wear under your shirt, and it projects your heart rate onto the treadmills, bikes, and ellipticals at my gym. I really like this because even when I'm not feeling like I'm living up to the exercise standards of the class instructor, the Internet, or society in general, I can see that I'm keeping my heart rate in the target range for a prolonged period of time. So you can nag me all you want, Ms. Sandi You-Must-Never-Go-Below-65 RPMs, but I'm sending a signal direct from my heart that says I'm doing just fine. (P.S. Your musical choices for spin leave something to be desired.)

Three other bits of news:
  1. I have a new blog in the works, but I can't unveil it until the banner is done. And then you all better go to it a million times a day, because otherwise I won't get paid. It hasn't been assigned a URL yet, or otherwise I'd be linking profusely.
  2. I can't make a decent sourdough in my bread maker to save my life, though I enjoy eating all the failed attempts.
  3. My completely sedentary, indoor cat caught a mouse in the basement! She is 7 years old, and it was her very first kill. I screamed a lot, and not because I was proud of her.
I'm looking forward to Halloween, especially the mini Snickers. I don't have a good picture of Nathan in his costume yet, but here's a picture of me as Raggedy-Ann when I was Nathan's age:

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Background: So, I have this one kid, right? And sometimes people ask me when I'm going to have another kid. The short answer is, "I don't know. Possibly never."

The longer answer is as follows: Nathan's babyhood was very, very hard for me. In addition to the usual trials of raising babies (the interrupted sleep, the endless laundry, the breastfeeding), I just felt this overwhelming grief about the loss of my independence. (Truth be told, I occasionally still feel pangs of that loss. Like when I work out at the gym in the evening and I see the young, childless people heading home to an evening of zoning out on the couch, and all I can think about is how I have to drag my tired ass home and make dinner, clean up after dinner, do the whole bedtime routine, and then try to get my kid to fall asleep.) Furthermore, my husband and I had a lot of new roles to work out in terms of how to divide up the parenting, which is something I know all new parents have to deal with, except that we had the additional issue of my husband's extreme night-owlness, which resulted in a lot of resentment on my part when I was always the one getting up with the baby early in the morning. Oh, and after Nathan was born I had a problem with my thyroid, which resulted in extreme fatigue and depression. And just when I figured that had been straightened out for good, I had some real, stand-alone depression, which led me down a very bad path of trying to find the right meds and pull myself out of it all. And I really didn't feel like I had truly beaten depression until Nathan turned 2, and at that point I had also had made some serious career choices (namely, quitting). And I just thought, if it took me two years to finally feel like something of a human again, and to work out all these issues with my marriage, health, and career, then why in the hell would I even think of throwing a wrench in things by having another baby?

And honestly, that's the attitude I still take now. I have finally reached a point where I feel like my family is cruising along pretty well (knock on wood). Bill and I have our roles figured out, and I've made my peace with being a single parent before 10:00 a.m. Nathan is becoming less and less of a baby. No longer do I have to worry about timing my life around naptime, or feel like I'm trapped in my house with a baby. I feel like I have enough freedom to shower and go to the bathroom without freaking out about my child's safety. He isn't eating food that comes straight out of my body anymore. He can talk and tell me what he wants. He's almost reliably potty-trained.

I know, I just know, that the time isn't right for us to have another baby. And if the time is never right, so be it. I've made my peace with it.

Until somebody calls and tells me she's pregnant.

And then it just guts me. I know this person's pregnancy has nothing to do with me. The very fact that my mind turns somebody's pregnancy announcement around to make it about me just makes me feel awful. Nobody says, "Hey, let's get pregnant to make Shannon look bad." And yet, if I'm being totally honest, my first thought after everybody's pregnancy announcement is, "If they can do it, why can't we?"

So, such was the situation I found myself in this evening when I got a call right before dinner. The dinner was a gourmet meal of pancakes, which is a fact that becomes relevant later in this story. Anyway, while I was making the pancakes I was on the phone with my brother, because it was his birthday, and my cell phone rang. I let it go to voicemail, but checked the voicemail right after hanging up with my brother. "I have news!" said the friend in a sing-songy voice.

Well, we all know what that means.

So, I called back, offered my congratulations, and apologized that I had to go eat dinner right then.

What followed was one of those situations that occurs frequently in a marriage, wherein Person A is angry about something, but Person B has no possible way of knowing this, such that Person B is stunned when person A totally snaps in response to some minor, mundane request or comment.

So, Person A had just gotten off the phone, and was plunging into an emotional spiral where she was questioning every facet of her very existence. Why did I decide not to have another baby? If everyone else can have two (or three, or four, or seven), what's wrong with us? Why am I so weak and pathetic? My life doesn't amount to anything. I'm kind of sucking at raising this one child. What's wrong with me? I am fat. No wonder I suck at running.

Person B, meanwhile, was looking for pancake syrup.

And so the conversation went like this:

B: Hey Shannon, have you seen that pancake syrup I bought?
B: I mean, seriously, I bought this syrup, and I don't know where it went.
A: Why don't you use this other syrup [points to syrup on table]?
B: But I bought this other syrup so I could have two kinds of syrup.
A: Yes, that sucks. I am truly sorry that when you pictured your life, you always imagined that you would have two syrups, and then circumstances didn't work out as you planned, and now you only have one syrup. And then your friend called to say that she and her husband were getting another syrup, and you want to be happy for them, but really you're just sad that you can't have two syrups.

And then I shoved approximately 75 pancakes down my throat, in a pit of carb-fueled despair. Because I missed the point of Women Food and God.

I want to be happy with the miraculous child I have. I want to feel secure with what I have chosen, and to be happy for other people's choices, too. I want to stop mourning for the second child I always pictured myself having, even though that child was never wanted or conceived, and to stop feeling sorry for myself because there are actual people out there who have lost children who were wanted and conceived, and sometimes even born. I want to stop being angry at depression for what it took from me. I want to love myself.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

I was in high school once

Yesterday my friend Sarah posed an interesting question:

Do you think who you were in high school defines you for the rest of your life?

My first, knee-jerk reaction was, "I sure hope not." For many people, high school was an awkward time they would just as soon forget, if not an out-and-out horror that they need years of therapy to recover from. I would certainly hope that such an experience wouldn't define you for the rest of your life.

But, maybe there is something to Sarah's theory. See, prior to the point in our conversation when she posed that question, I had discussed with her some issues of social insecurity that I have been having recently. These were the same kinds of issues I had in high school.

Now, it's impossible to determine the effect that high school has on your future personality, because a lot of the unique characteristics/strengths/insecurities/flaws you had in high school were not, in fact, caused by high school. You're going to go into adulthood with many of these same personality traits. Simply put, you're the same person in high school as you are for the rest of your life. True, we all grow and change, and some people may actually utter the words, "I'm not the same person I was in high school," but actually, technically you are, of course. There's always bound to be some part of your high school self left.

But back to me and my personal insecurities. As I see it, back in high school I was sort of a socially-accepted nerd. The popular kids knew me and would talk to me, but I was never invited to their functions outside of school. I was more the nerdy kid who was tolerable enough to be picked as a partner for a group project, or to invite along when you needed help using the library.

High school was fine for me, but, like most people, I spent most of the four years knowing that I would put many of the people and events behind me after graduation. I didn't out-and-out hate any of the people, I just knew high school wasn't real life.

So, I was as surprised as anyone when, after college when we a lot of us returned home, I began hanging out with people from high school again. Now I was going to bars and parties with these people, and ... I still wasn't invited to all their events. One occasion stands out from my mid-20s, when I was at some kind of gathering with high school people, and they said, "Hey, let's watch the slide show of the cruise!" Cruise?! What cruise?! Well, after watching the slides, I learned that the cruise was a cruise that everybody else at the party besides me (and a couple of other people) had recently set sail on. It was just like high school. You guys have your fun and don't mind me, I'll be over here waiting if you need help using the library.

[cue world's tiniest violins]

So, anyway, I sort of geographically blew off that crowd by moving to the midwest, and of course now we're all 30-something Facebook friends with kids and mortgages, and I've made my peace with the high school crowd. Now I have a new crowd, the rich and complex social world comprised of suburban moms.

In some ways, the insecurities of the high school social world are gone. Having a kid along with you is like having a couple of margaritas: it wears down your social armor and gets you to a point where you can admit that, yes, I do need other people. In high school everyone was all like yeah, whatever, maybe I can hang out with you, no big deal one way or the other, I don't really need anybody else. But you have this little person, this person who is sucking the life out of your already unstable self, and it's like, pleaseohpleaseohplease let's hang out together with our little life-suckers, I'll bring chips.

And so, armed with my little wingman, I met a lot of friends. I felt more secure about my social life than I ever had before. Except lately, I have begun to feel insecure again. A lot of this is my fault. See, the attitude among new moms is that anybody who recently gestated a child in her uterus will automatically get along with any other recent-gestater. And in some ways, it is easy for new moms to get along, because all they do is talk about eating, sleeping, and pooping. Until somebody starts in with the, "Well, So-and-So has already [insert pointless baby milestone here], has your child?" And the compare-a-thon begins.

The thing is, I am naturally very competitive. So I knew going into motherhood that it would be best for me to avoid conversations where we all compare our children to one another. I preferred a playdate approach where the moms talked about, oh, I don't know, anything else besides their children. I mean, obviously the kids will come up in conversation. They're a huge part of our lives. But can we just please avoid the whole my kid is so much more advanced than your kid because she can bat an object with closed fists conversation? (That, actually, is a paraphrase of a real conversation I had circa 2007.)

So, I sort of purposely cut off any mom who couldn't do anything but brag about her kid all day. I had a nice group of friends going, but lately it just feels like we're all starting to move on. Obviously, this is natural as our children get older. People are either having more children or getting paid employment, and we're all busier as our kids get involved with more activities. And it's less like the baby days when we were just like, "Yes, please, let's get together so I have somebody to actually talk to. Anytime, anywhere. Just call. I'd hang out with a monkey if it would give me a glass of wine." Now it's like, "Oh, I don't know. I have work. Jimmy has soccer. The baby has to take a nap. We're all so tired from school/Gymboree/storyhour that we just want to skip it and stay home."

I tend to take these blow-offs personally. I know we're all busy, and it's not all about me. I know that I, too, am tired sometimes and don't feel like doing anything. I have my own problems, and so does everybody else. And I know that friends drifting apart and coming back together is just life. But sometimes, I feel lonely and stuck. I feel afraid to reach out to people and tell them that I need them. I feel like nobody would ever want to hang out with me.

Just like in high school.

Which brings me to my final, not-all-about-me point. Thinking about the insecurities of high school students, I can't help but think of the recent suicides of homosexual teens. Yesterday was the day to wear purple to show support for gay teens, which is why I have turned the font for this paragraph purple. I absolutely cannot comprehend how awful it must be for teens struggling with their sexuality in high school. I found high school to be an awkward and insecure time as it was, and that was without having to keep a major secret about who I truly was. I'm disgusted by the fact that there are people bullying gay teens, and that these bullies learned this kind of hate and intolerance from their parents or from society at large. Truth be told, I don't get the whole anti-gay thing. Please, just get over it. I don't understand what gay people are doing to hurt the rest of us, but some people think that they are somehow a major threat to us all. And the worst part of this line of thinking is that the end result is sometimes gay teenagers hurting themselves. I feel very powerless as to how to solve this issue. I will raise my own child to understand that families come in all different forms, and that the most important element to making a family is love. But, he is just one child. I am just one person. I don't know what more I can do.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Run for your life!

Some of you may be asking, "So, Shannon, how's the running going?"

Well, no, you probably aren't asking that, but I'm going to tell you anyway.

Six weeks ago I started the Couch to 5K running program, which is a workout plan that guides you through a series of walk/run intervals. You do the prescribed workouts three times a week, and each week the running gets longer and the walking gets shorter, so that in 9 weeks you are supposed to be able to run a 30-minute 5K.

The first few weeks I could totally keep up with the workouts. But around Week 4, I kind of started to fall apart. Run for 5 minutes straight?! But then I went and watched the marathon, and after seeing 38,000 people who are vastly superior to me, I was motivated to stay on track and at least finish a 5K.

Providing further motivation, my friend Farrah lovingly nudged me toward registering for the Hot Chocolate 5K, which takes place on November 6. Let me tell you about this race. You run a 5K, and then you get a gift bag consisting of chocolate, chocolate, more chocolate, and a windbreaker. The goody bag was rated the best goody bag in the country by Runner's World magazine, which is something I know because I obviously subscribe to and read Runner's World regularly, and not because I read about the goody bag on the Hot Chocolate race's website.

So, now I'm in this race, and I'm determined to keep training, except there's one drawback:

I kind of suck at running.

I think running is one of those things, like driving or mothering, that you just assume you would automatically be good at. Everybody else can do it, right? I mean, my Facebook feed is filled every day with people talking about how far they ran. And it's like, at least 6 miles every time for these people. With a double jogging stroller. And a broken leg. (Okay, I made up the part about the broken leg, but the jogging stroller part is true.)

And I'm like, what's wrong with me? Why can these people run so far when I can't?

Here's the answer to that question. Listen carefully, because this is a very shocking revelation:

People are different.

I may not be what you would call a "natural runner." I may "get tired when I run 50 feet." I may "be better suited for sedentary, indoor activities like typing." Perhaps my ancestors weren't running away from warring nomadic tribes, and instead were doing things like hiding out in basements distilling bootleg alcohol and making witty observations.

And so, I'm not a very good runner. Of course, there are also two other explanations for my running challenges, and these are not to be discounted. These explanations are (1) I haven't practiced that much, and (2) I really need to lose some weight.

Reason (2), I admit, is the reason I keep running. I know it burns a lot of calories, and I know focusing on a goal (like a 5K) is a really good way to stay on track, exercise-wise. In actuality, I am really a lot better at swimming, and I enjoy it more. But in my limited knowledge of exercise sciences, I have concluded that my body has gotten too efficient at swimming, and therefore it takes a lot longer to burn the same number of calories as I would running in a short period of time. Also, the last few times I've gone swimming (for exercise, I mean), I have gotten so hungry, and I mean hungry on the level of "I may not be able to walk to the locker room unless I eat a snack on the way" hungry. It's very unpleasant, and last time it led me to going to the McDonald's drive-thru on the way home because it was the fastest way I could get lunch into me. (Though, admittedly, the gym has a vending machine, but I mean, that stuff is bad for you.)

So, until November 6 at least, I will be running. After that I'd like to keep running on the treadmill at the gym, because that's a short, convenient workout that can be easily worked into my scheduled, and because I need to make sure I have indoor-based exercise in the upcoming dreaded season that starts with a "w" and rhymes with "splinter."

But I also think I need to go back to swimming, too. It makes me happy, and it's very peaceful and calm, at least when there isn't some kind of turf war going on at the pool between old people who take aquacize and old people who do water-walking.

So, I'd like to somehow work out a schedule where I run twice a week, swim twice a week, and go to my spinning classes twice a week, and then somehow fit in some weight-training in there too. And ... hahahaha, like I'm really going to be going to the gym 6 times a week!

It's a goal to strive for, at least.

Monday, October 18, 2010

It's Totally True

Today's topic: Non-fiction.

Let me start by saying that I'm writing about books today because I just recently added my Goodreads widgit to my sidebar on the right. If you don't know, Goodreads is like a social network about books, kind of the book version of the Netflix friend list. You keep a list of books you have read/are reading/want to read, and you can rate and review them, and then the updates are sent to anybody you've added as a friend. If you like to read but don't have an account, go here to get one. And then add me as a friend.

Anyway, I decided to join Goodreads at the start of 2010, with the intent of finally keeping a list of all the books I read in a given year. So, I started adding books in January 2010. My goal is to read 52 books by the end of the year. So far I am not on track to achieve that goal. We are in the 41st week of 2010, something I learned when I Googled "2010 week numbers" and got a site called the World Budgerigar Organisation, which then led to me wondering what the hell a budgerigar is, which led me to Wikipedia, where I found out that a budgerigar is a kind of parakeet. (It's amazing I get through the day.)

As I was saying, my parakeet-loving friends informed me that we are in the 41st week of 2010. Given my goal to read a book a week, I would need to have read 41 books at this point. I have read 37. I'm about a month behind.

But here's the thing. I don't like thinking of books in terms of quotas I have to meet. That makes my books feel too much like required reading, which is something I'm no longer contending with. You always like something less when you feel like you have to to do it. Additionally, some people have suggested that maybe I should slum it with some really easy books, perhaps of the children's nature, to pad my list. That doesn't seem right either. I want to read the books I like, finish the ones I want to finish, and enjoy them without feeling like they are a homework assignment. But yet, somehow I want to also keep a comprehensive list of the books I've read.

As I said, I don't finish every book I start. I know there are some people who have a fundamental problem with giving up on books. Something in these people's nature compels them to finish every book they start. And that's great. I admire that sort of perseverance. But, I quit some books. When I start to get angry at a book for wasting my time, it's time to quit reading that book.

In an attempt to formally give myself permission to quit reading some books, I added a separate category (or "shelf") on my Goodreads account for "didn't finish." A book goes on the "didn't finish" shelf if I cracked the spine of the book (or electronically cracked it, in the case of books I read on my Kindle) but didn't see it through to the end.

I admit that having the "didn't finish" shelf has forced/shamed me into finishing some books that I might not otherwise finish, which is mostly a good thing. I don't want the unfinished books to take up too big of a percentage of my overall book list. I'm averaging just about a 75% book completion rate, which I think would be more like 50% if I didn't have the Goodreads list. And, as I said, forcing myself to finish a book with a marginal start is mostly a good thing, because a lot of books pick up in the end and I wind up being glad I saw them through to their conclusions.

However, the previous sentence refers only to novels. I am wondering, in the case of non-fiction books, whether it's totally important to read the entire book in order to benefit from the information contained therein. Because, here's the thing: a lot of non-fiction books are padded. Say an author has a great idea, a really interesting idea, for a non-fiction book. However, the author really only has enough information to fill a magazine article or 20/20 segment. Sure, that article or segment would be interesting. I'd totally be into it. I'd tell all my friends about it.

But when the author stretches this one idea into the length of a book, it ends up being repetitive and padded with dumb buzzwords. Sure, it starts out great. Wow, you think as you read the first chapter, this is so interesting. These are some great ideas.

By Chapter 4, you are ready to kill this author. He or she is just repeating the same ideas from the first chapter. Really?! you ask, So you're saying that [insert salient point here]? I loved that idea when it was called Chapter 1!

I think a lot of parenting books fall victim to this padding phenomenon. Obviously, if you can come up with one good idea, just one idea for how to tame the completely baffling phenomenon known as children, you're gonna run with it and turn it into a book. But one idea does not equal 289 pages. Take, for example, Marc Weissbluth's Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. Weissbluth's main point is that "sleep begets sleep." Throughout the chapters of this book, Weisbluth finds several different ways to make this same point, saying things like:
  • The more a child sleeps, the more he or she will want to sleep.
  • Putting your kid to bed earlier will actually cause him or her to sleep longer.
  • If your kid takes a nap, he or she will sleep better at night.
  • You might think your child will sleep less at night if he or she takes a nap, but actually the opposite is true.
  • Sleep begets sleep when your child is a baby sleeping in a crib.
  • Sleep begets sleep when your child is a preschooler sleeping in a bed.
  • For crying out loud, sleep begets sleep!
Oh, and Weissbluth's other important point: You are a terrible failure as a parent if your child does not display these healthy sleep habits that have been demonstrated by successful, fictional book children.

Like parenting books, self-help books are also very padded. Like, for example, Women Food and God, the comma-free title of the book I am currently attempting to read. The author of this book, Geneen Roth, makes the point that we engage in compulsive eating because we hate ourselves. She makes this point over and over and over again, and throws in a bunch of buzzwords like "awareness" and "meditation" and "liposuction." Roth says a lot of your self-hatred is your mother's fault, especially when you have a cruel mother who would give you an alternatively-spelled name like "Geneen." (I hate alternative spellings. Either give your kid a common name, or give your kid an unusual name, but do not give your kid a common name spelled unusually. This dooms your child to a lifetime of saying things like, "No, it's 'Geneen,' with a 'G.' A 'G,' dammit, and two 'e's! Come on, spell it right! Oh for crying out loud, where are those damn double-fudge brownies?!")

My point is, do I have to read the entire book just to get a few good ideas? (Idea #1: Emotional eating is bad. Idea #2: Commas are also bad.)

Another non-fiction book I'm reading is Bill Bryson's At Home: A Short History of Private Life. At 450 single-spaced pages, I wouldn't exactly call this book short, but I am actually enjoying it. Bryson endeavors to give a history of every object in his home, which is a topic I find interesting. However, he is also a very thorough researcher, and he goes off on a tangent about everything. He's the kind of guy who, were he to at some point during he research stumble upon a website about parakeets, would then spend a month researching parakeets and put it in his book, despite the fact that he was attempting to give a history of the toaster.

The result is a book that I probably won't be able to finish in the week I have it from the library, no matter how much I like it. (I only get a week because it's from the "Hot Copies," shelf, where you technically can renew the book for one additional week, except that then you are barred from getting any other book from the Hot Copies shelf during that week, and I usually stumble upon something I can't live without on that shelf, something such as 101 Celebrity Cupcake Recipes.)

Now, here I am questioning whether or not I should be able to include a particular unfinished book on my list of books on a literary social networking site, in order to achieve a random goal I created for myself. This is obviously not an earth-shattering issue. But, my question is, do you have to finish a book in order to benefit from it?

Friday, October 15, 2010

10 True Confessions

1. I could not tell you with 100% certainty where my iron is.

2. I don't even own an ironing board.

3. I don't balance my checkbook. I don't actually know what balancing a checkbook even means.

4. I do a little voice for my cat. Leia provides quite the running commentary. When I have something insulting to say to Bill, I do it in Leia's voice. She's kind of a jerk.

5. I really don't understand what exactly is going on in most foreign conflicts. I just know that there are two groups fighting, and it's usually over religion.

6. I'm one of those people who gets most of her news from The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live.

7. I forgot how to make an Excel spreadsheet.

8. My favorite food is brown sugar-cinnamon Pop Tarts.

9. I don't like the following movies that everybody assumes that everybody else loves: Goonies, The Princess Bride, and Grease.

10. I don't separate my darks and lights when I do laundry. I just shove whatever is dirty into one giant, overfilled load.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

You Capture: Animals

One of my daily blog reads is I Should Be Folding Laundry, written by Northwest Indiana resident Beth Fletcher. Beth is a gifted photographer, and she hosts a weekly photography challenge called You Capture. There is a weekly subject matter assigned for your photos, and then each Thursday Beth posts her weekly photos and links back to yours.

I have never participated in the You Capture challenge, because ... well, I don't know why. But this week the theme is "Animals," and you all know I have a soft spot in my heart for cats, especially a certain fat, white cat:

Okay, so she's a little bit orange, too. When I got her, a mere six-month-old kitten with greasy fur and a little bit of her own poop stuck to her leg (yeah), I asked Bill what I should name her. I told him she was orange and white, and he said, "How about Leia?" because orange and white are the two colors Princess Leia wears. Now, I'm not a huge Star Wars fan, but I liked the idea of naming a cat after a princess. Because all cats think they are princesses.

And so, Leia got her name. As I said, she was a mere kitten when I got her. Within the next six months, perhaps due to the stress of her mom marrying a new father for her (Bill) and having to ride in a car from Los Angeles to Chicago, Leia ballooned into a much larger cat. Shoot, our whole family got a little fatter when we moved to the Midwest. Here is what Leia looks like today:
\This is one of Leia's favorite positions to sleep in. She also enjoys sleeping in a more standard curled-up position, sleeping on her stomach, sleeping on newspapers, sleeping on beds, sleeping on the couch, sleeping on people's pillows, sleeping on the chair you want to sit on, etc. See, like most cats, sleeping is Leia's main pastime. I seriously don't get it when, at the end of the day, that cat is curled up on the couch, dead to the world, like she has had the world's longest, hardest day of ... sleeping.

But she doesn't sleep all the time! Sometimes she eats! Or meows incessantly because her food dish isn't filled to the brim, and then when you finally give in and fill it, she doesn't even eat any, she just walks away, relieved that she can check off "meow for food" from her to-do list.

She doesn't like to play with any commercialized cat toy. Instead, her favorite toys are: (1) jigsaw puzzle pieces, and (2) those gel clings you put on your windows to decorate for holidays. It has gotten to the point where I decorate my windows with gel clings for every holiday, just to have the pleasure of waking up in the morning and seeing which gel clings have been felled overnight.

But on a more serious note, she is a sweet, sympathetic ear to listen to you. (Lack of comprehension of human speech is an asset when your owner is blubbering about her petty problems.) Her fur has absorbed my tears on more than one occasion. (This sort of sympathy is very selfless on the part of a cat, because you know how they hate to get wet.) She's the sweetest, least complicated member of our family, and I love her for that.

A few more shots:

This is a photo I took of her with the retro camera app on my phone:

And this is the cake Nathan and I made for her recently on her (estimated) birthday:

And here is a pathetic camera phone shot I just tried to take of her, demonstrating how cats are hard to photograph because as soon as they see you coming, they get all squirmy and cat-like and want you to use those gifted photographer's hands to pet them:

I love my little Leia-Loo! And please adopt pets from shelters!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


I know what you're thinking: Why on earth would Shannon be posting about a marathon? Shannon is too big of a schlub to run in a marathon.

It's true (and I'll forgive you for calling me a schlub). The only marathons I have participated in are the ones where a channel shows several episodes of the same show back-to-back. (You know, like the KTLA Channel 5 Twilight Zone marathon?)

And those are not fit to be called marathons. Marathons are really, really hard. Sitting there watching an episode of the Twilight Zone is only a little hard. It's sort of like how Holocaust survivors (and rightly so) don't like it when the term "Nazi" is used to describe any person who is slightly strict.

I watched a marathon, the running kind, over the weekend. My awesome friend Katie, who is far more dedicated and hard-working than I will ever be, completed the Chicago marathon. Here is a very cool picture I took of her at the starting gate, made all the cooler by the fact that I took it by sticking my hand up over a fence.
So Katie finished, even though she was hurt, and even though it was an unnatural 85 degrees in October. And I enjoyed marathon spectatorship, because it was a really inspirational event. Watching a marathon, you see the full range of human emotion. Triumph, for sure. But also tragedy, in the form of people having to get into ambulances right before the finish line. (I cried for those people.)

And you see people cheering for total strangers like these strangers were their best friends. It's really cool.

Marathon spectatorship also involves a lot of math. You have to figure out when your friend is going to cross a particular mile marker, given how fast she was going and what time she started. You're armed with some data, such as a website that is updated with the person's location and pace, except that website uses the metric system. So you're frantically trying to do metric conversions in your head and calculating distance = rate x time problems, like the ones in math books that start with, "If a train leaves Chicago at 10 a.m. traveling at 50 mph ..."

And even with my superior math skillz (because I did used to be a math textbook editor), I failed to find Katie at 2 out of the 4 points where I tried to find her. It's kind of a Where's Waldo? situation, and I was very bad at Waldo.

But this is not about me. This is about Katie, who finished the race, and I was swelling with pride, even though all I did was stand there (and, at one point, offend a pregnant woman standing next to me).

Getting up at 5 a.m. and riding on the 6:04 train to cheer for Katie, I remembered something she did for me once. When Nathan was first born, she came down and brought me gummi worms and baby lotion. We ordered pizza and watched a boring DVD (Marie Antoinette starring Kirsten Dunst), and I'm sure she was very bored sitting there watching this dumbass movie while sitting next to somebody with a baby attached to her boobs. But it meant a lot to me that she came, and that she brought ME some gummi worms, for ME, because right after you have a baby, you feel kind of invisible.

Also, while I was pregnant, she said to me, "Wow. YOU. LOOK. AWESOME." So you see, she's a good liar, too.

Anyway, Katie is a good friend, and I'm so proud of her! Congratulations, Katie!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

This village has a few too many idiots

I'm tired of strangers trying to discipline my child. I know it takes a village to raise a child, but I hope that the village idiots can be excused from their child-raising duties.

Here's the thing. I know my child isn't perfect. I know sometimes he's acting like a little shit. Believe me, I know. I'm very insecure about his behavior. I beat myself up about his behavior. So you, Mr. or Ms. Nosy Stranger who doesn't need to get involved, you're making me feel worse.

Let me just say, the following people are allowed to discipline my child:
  • me
  • my husband
  • anybody who is a friend or relative of mine, who I know is just trying to help me out
  • anybody who lives in or works at the area where my child is misbehaving
  • anybody in an official child-raising capacity, such as a teacher or babysitter
  • anybody who sees my child performing an act that would put his life in danger
  • anybody who sees my child performing an act that would put others' lives in danger
  • law enforcement personnel
I think that's a pretty broad list. I think that list encompasses the true spirit of the "it takes a village" adage. All of these people are concerned and involved community members who are doing their part to support me as a parent.

Note that this list does not include meddlesome strangers who just need to mind their own beeswax.

For example:
  • Woman at Target who heard me telling Nathan to stop being a "sass mouth" and, despite walking in the other direction, stopped to tell Nathan to quit talking like that. "Sometimes it helps to have a stranger tell them," she commented to me. Yeah, sometimes it doesn't.
  • Woman at the library who saw Nathan goofing around at the checkout area, where I was just trying to get checked out and get the hell out of Dodge because my kid was goofing around, and heard me telling Nathan to settle down, and added, "Yeah Nathan, cool it."
  • Another woman at the library, on a totally separate occasion when I was also trying to hurry and get books checked out because Nathan and his little friend were acting in a manner inappropriate for the library, who got totally worked up and started yelling "Hey, hey, hey, HEY!" at him. I turned around, alarmed, and she said she was concerned because he was picking up the bowl of stickers in a manner that suggested that he might spill them. As though he was carrying a bowl containing a live bomb instead of 15 or so stickers that could easily have been picked up off the floor.
  • And the big "winner": This woman on a street corner downtown, who heard Nathan protesting when I was trying to quickly yank him across a busy city street where traffic-enforcement cops were yelling their brains out. She bent over to Nathan's level and said, "Hey, do you know who I am? I am Mrs. Claus. And I know you don't want me to tell Santa that you just talked to your mom like that." Confused, Nathan began reporting what he wanted for Christmas. When the light turned and we could cross the second street, therefore allowing us to walk away from this complete lunatic of a woman, Nathan still had no freakin' clue what she was talking about, and she ended with, "Well, it was a good try." NO, no it wasn't. What if we didn't even celebrate Christmas? Or what if we didn't raise our child to believe in Santa Claus? Or what if we did raise our child to believe in the whimsy of Santa Claus, and didn't want him thinking that Santa's beloved wife was some crazy woman in a hospital volunteer outfit who stands on street corners in downtown Chicago? Or, or ... shut up, that's why.
As I said, I beat myself up over my child's behavior. Some people (okay, a lot of people) have told me I need to lower my expectations because he's only three years old. He gets tired and overwhelmed and doesn't know how to handle his feelings, and he acts in a socially-inappropriate manner. And my job is to redirect this behavior, because he's just learning to be a person. And if I'm doing that, I'm doing my job.

But when total strangers intervene, even if they are well-meaning, all I hear is, "Geez, what an awful child! What's wrong with his mother? Clearly she is a complete failure as a parent, so I, a total stranger who is completely uninvolved with this child's life, am forced to intervene and help this pathetic mother out. I can't possibly go on with my day knowing that I stood by and did nothing while evil children like him go on behaving like that."

I might read a little too much into things.

I know that there are more than a few crazies in the world, and that I can't let the turkeys get me down. I know that I take things too personally. I know I'm hard on myself. And I know that these strangers have good intentions, misguided as they are.

But please, could they butt out?

Monday, October 11, 2010

I'm Kind of a Big Deal

Check me out! I wrote this guest post for the Wee Windy City blog on Chicago Now. It's, like, affiliated with a major newspaper and stuff. No biggie.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

What's on the TEE-vee?

Well, the new TV season is upon us, and, with it, my complete inability to finish reading a single book.

Actually, I am not one to try out a lot of new shows. What's the point of devoting time to a show that is likely to get canceled? If the show is a hit, I can just catch up on it via DVD or Hulu. I wonder if a lot of people take this approach to new TV shows, thus causing these shows to have very limited initial viewership, thus causing them to get canceled.

Anyway, each year I end up watching one new TV show. This year's new show is Outsourced. The reasoning behind this choice as my only new show is as follows: It's on before, after, or in-between some other shows I like. Remember when you only watched Caroline in the City because it was on between Friends and Seinfeld? Yeah, it's that principle. Now, of course, in the Caroline days, shows-between-better-shows had a bigger advantage, because people's TV-viewing took place only on TVs, and only in real-time when the shows actually aired. Sure, you could technically tape a show on your VCR, but inevitably you would turn on the tape to realize that your show didn't record due to one of a variety of VCR pitfalls, including, but not limited to: you forgot to rewind the tape before you put it in the machine, somebody taped America's Funniest Home Videos or some other asinine show over the ending of your show, you accidentally set the VCR to tape Channel 7 instead of Channel 4, the beginning didn't record, the ending didn't record, Venus was in Mercury's orbit, etc. So eventually we all gave up on using VCRs in the mid-90s, and we had to actually turn on the TV in real time to watch shows. And since nobody wanted to actually turn off the TV in between two good shows, they ended up sitting there watching crappy shows.

But in the 21st century, we technically have the ability to record a bunch of good shows, then sit down later at our convenience and watch all these good shows back-to-back. Thus we no longer need to watch crappy TV and can focus all our energy on more worthwhile pursuits.

Let me tell you, as a nation, we are failing miserably with these worthwhile, non-TV pursuits. To prove that crap TV is alive and well, I offer two pieces of evidence:

Exhibit A: I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant. While it did give us the memorable quote, "Ma'am, you just had a baby in your pants," this show is proof that people will watch anything. (And let me just note, I am this show's #1 viewer.) We keep tuning into this show, despite the fact that every episode is totally repetitive. It starts out with some woman who is experiencing slight stomach pains. The pains get worse and worse until she has to go to the hospital and thinks she's having some horrible intestinal distress, until the pain hits an all-time high, and (spoiler alert!) she has a baby despite the fact that she didn't know she was pregnant. I gotta hand it to this show's producers, because it seems like it would be impossible to find success with a show where the title of the program gives away the conclusion of every episode. Really, the only unknown in each episode is what sort of horrible, germ-infested surface the unexpected child will begin his or her earthly life on. (Hint: It's almost always a bathroom. Campground bathroom, amusement park bathroom, hospital bathroom in the toilet.) This show is so repetitive, it's like watching laundry in the dryer, with commercials for Kate Plus Eight and 19 Kids and Counting interspersed throughout.

Exhibit B: Hoarders. This show is proof that we enjoy programs that showcase people who are so screwed up that we look normal by comparison. Yeah, my pantry is cluttered and contains baby food that expired two years ago, but at least I don't have several cat carcasses rotting among bags of my own feces. In actuality, we should not be judging and gawking at these poor people, because hoarding is a psychological disorder, no different from the depression or anxiety that so many of us suffer from. But then, these dumbasses actually volunteered to be on a national TV program, so they were kind of asking to be ridiculed. (I think they probably do it for the free cleanup from 1-800-Got-Junk, which has got to be the worst place to work. Let's just say that most jobs do not require you to make the decision as to whether to clean up human poop by hand or using a shovel.) Oh, and when somebody says, "We found a dead possum in a box in your garage," the correct response is not, "Yeah, that doesn't surprise me." The correct response is, "OMG! Just burn it the f**k down already!"

Anyway, what was I saying? Oh yes, TV viewing begets more TV viewing, which is how I ended up watching Outsourced. For those who don't know, Outsourced is a show about a white guy from the Midwest whose job requires him to relocate to India to run the company's call center. I'm sure NBC thought they had a lock with this one because (1) It plays on the same goofy inter-office dynamics that The Office does, (2) It finally brings some diversity to NBC, and (3) It takes a subtle jab at those India-based call centers we're all having to call at one point or another. Most of the jokes on the show center around some sort of cultural misunderstanding, and these kinds of jokes are hard to keep on the right side of offensive. So far I think they have done a pretty good job, but I still don't really like the show.

I think my main problem is that I don't really have a problem with India-based call centers. I know that outsourcing everything to India takes away jobs from Americans, and that is bad for our economy, which affects us all. However, here is why India-based call centers are more enjoyable to call than America-based call centers: Americans are kind of dicks. Not all of us, but the ones on the phone, yeah. Whenever I used to talk to an American on the other end of some sort of tech-support, customer service, or information hotline, that person spoke in an irritated tone that suggested that I was really infringing on his or her time by calling to request tech support, customer service, or information. But the people on the line in India are so friendly. For example, at one point I was on a call to a credit card company when Nathan decided to come over and just rip the credit card statement in half. I gasped, and the woman on the phone inquired as to my welfare. I said I was fine, but my three-year-old just ripped my credit card statement in half. "Oh, my son is four," she said, "They're so active at this age." And I thought, how nice that this woman, all the way across the ocean on the Sub-Continent, could give me a little dose of maternal solidarity while straightening out my credit card problem.

So, Outsourced kind of sucks. The end. I could say more, but I have to wrap this up quickly because I have to go explain to my American child why fruit snacks are not an appropriate breakfast food. I wonder if this is a problem in India. I must ask the next time I have to call tech support.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Cool People

You guys are so awesome! Thank you all for your help in spreading the word about my blog! In an attempt to pay it back, or pay it forward, or pay it sideways, or whatever, I present to you some of my friends' blogs:

  • Ashley is my former college roommate, former co-worker, and current friend. She's a full-time working mom in Northern California who has a cool Martha Stewart vibe.
  • Claire was a colleague who I worked with back when I had a paying job. She is a fellow writer who has an interesting project happening on her blog: Ever Sunday, she picks a random word from the dictionary and uses this word as the starting point of a blog entry.
  • Farrah is my friend from when we wrote for Chicago Moms Blog. She is a mom, nurse, maker/seller of baby slings, and runner. And so many other things. She's fun.
  • Katie, a.k.a. G-Money, is my friend and former cubicle neighbor. She is running in the marathon this weekend, so visit her blog and wish her good luck!
  • Matt is my friend's boyfriend. He's living my dream of making a go at professional writing. Also they have two adorable tortoiseshell cats, who do not make many appearances on the blog, but should, in my opinion.
  • Nina, who actually has a different name in real life, is a friend who I met through the comments on another blog and realized we live just blocks apart. She writes about digital scrapbooking and general life.
I limited this admittedly short list to people I know in real life. Obviously I read many other blogs written by people I don't know personally, and if you are a writer of one of those, please leave a comment with your link so we can read your blog, too! As I said yesterday, I'm all about bringing the world closer together.

And let me just close by noting that the above list was written in alphabetical order by first name, not in the order in which I like those people, or the order in which I rank their blogs.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The BIG News!

NO. NO, not that big news. If you are 20-40 years old and have a uterus, people just assume that the word news is synonymous with pregnant.

Well, no. But I did give birth, if you will, to a new Internet domain. That's right, is now a real-life domain. No more of this ".blogspot" stuff. I'm legit now.

Apparently before I didn't have ten extra dollars a year.

Anyway, this is all part of my campaign to make my blog a bigger deal. I have always been sort of averse to the all the shameless self-promotion that goes on in the blogosphere. Like, everywhere you go, you're supposed to be promoting your brand, linking to yourself, mentioning your blog. As in, "Hello, random customer at the grocery store. Did you know that you can pick out a cantaloupe based on the smell? Did I mention my blog, Anyway, are you collecting the little stickers so you can get cookware for a penny? Speaking of which, will you visit my blog, Your baby is cute.!"

No, that kind of self-promotion does not come naturally to me. But I realize that I need to push myself a little and advertise myself if I want to have any kind of readership. This revelation came about in the following way: Remember my friend who I sort of simultaneously envied/ridiculed in my last post? She read the post and wrote me the sweetest, most touching, most honest e-mail about it. And I thought, I am doing my part to bring the world closer together. Okay, not the world, per se. More like the ten other moms I know in my community, and members of my own family.

But, I like to write, and that is a way I can make a small difference. And so, I'm going to step out of character and pimp my blog. Buying a domain was the first step. And I'm getting business cards, so if you know me, be prepared for me to shove one in your face.

According to my stats, I had 800 page views last month. I heard awhile back that the going rate for ad space on blogs is $1 per ad for every 1,000 page views you get. So, if I could just increase my readership by 25%, I'd be on my way to earning a dollar!

And that's where you come in! Would you please spread the word about my blog? Like, send an e-mail link to a fellow office drone who has nothing better to do but sit around and read about the details of some stranger's life? Or find a particularly entertaining post of mine and link to it in your Facebook? Or link to me on your own blog?

I feel dirty just asking. But I also know that the truly influential blogs, the ones that lead to book deals and magazine gigs, don't just happen. Those writers had to pimp it up once, too. I know it sounds like a big fat lie, but I really don't care if I never become as famous as those people. That's the honest-to-God truth. I just want to genuinely entertain and inspire people. Though obviously the prospect of getting paid to talk out of my ass on the Internet is appealing.

Okay, so thank you, in advance, for your help.