Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 in Review: Life

It's strange how we view each year as a totally separate entity. We celebrate New Year's as if it's some big deal, but in actuality December 31 and January 1 are exactly as far apart as any other two consecutive days. And I know this seems like a totally obvious fact, but it's weird to think about how we separate chunks of time when life is, in fact, totally continuous.

But you have to draw the line somewhere, and so I, like everybody else, become reflective as one year ends and another begins. When I sat down to reflect on December 31, 2009, it occurred to me that 2009 had been the first year in a very long time that I didn't experience some major life change. I talked in my 2009 wrap-up post about how I enjoyed the calmness and stability that the year had brought. The 2009 Shannon seemed so calm and sure of herself, and even said, "I also feel that in 2009 ... Well, I can't think of any nicer way to say it than that 2009 was the year I got my shit together."

I hate to say it, but in 2010 my shit fell apart a little. Let me say that I have a very, very blessed life, and I'm lucky enough to say that no major tragedy happened directly to me in 2010 (knock on wood). When I speak of things falling apart, I'm simply talking about struggles with my mental health or my attitudes toward life.

I had a few setbacks with my depression this year. Nothing totally tragic, but every setback is scary. You ask yourself, What if I'm back there again? What if I lose control?

Why can't I just continue to float on that cloud of calmness and predictability from 2009?

I also think 2010 was challenging for me as a parent. As stupid as it sounds, Nathan's giving up of his naps totally threw me. Not only was I used to a little daily nap for myself, but I also got used to the nice way that a nap broke up the day. Suddenly it was just the two of us, exhausting one another all day long, for 12 hours straight. Nathan wasn't quite sure how to handle himself being up all day long, and the late afternoon/evening hours because frustrating. We had to rearrange our lives, like for example I had to stop going to the gym in the evenings in order to accommodate the boy's new 6:30 bedtime.

And so I sometimes became an exhausted, frustrated, depressed person who resented the world around me. Even though, as I said, I occupy a very fortunate position in the world.

But you need struggles in order to grow. As I said in this post, "sometimes it takes being smacked to your very core to realize that you need to make some changes in your life." And while I wasn't smacked to my very core in 2010, I was challenged enough to decide I needed to make some changes.

I think I learned how to better take care of myself and also take care of others. I got rid of just a teeny-tiny bit of my jealous streak. I realized that we all occupy our own little niches in the world, and that I should celebrate the niche I occupy and not continually wish I could occupy somebody else's. I learned that nobody else has his/her shit together either, and I should view every interaction in light of the fact that we're all struggling with something.

As I re-read that last paragraph, I realize that I made some pretty awesome growth in 2010.

So now it becomes 2011. And although I started this post by saying that the concept of a new year is kind of silly, it is also very refreshing. A new year brings new hope and new promise. As my dad wrote in one of his children's books, "It's nice to start again."

I'd be lying if I said that I am looking ahead to 2011 with pure optimism. Part of me is terrified for what 2011 might bring. Cautiously optimistic doesn't really seem to sum it up. It's more like hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

Except I feel like I can't prepare. Nobody knows what life holds for them up ahead. All we can be guaranteed is this one moment, this one itty bitty space in time. And in a way, there's something kind of powerful in that.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 in Review: Television

I didn't really add any new shows to my TV-viewing repertoire this year. As I said in this post from October, I did start watching the show Outsourced, but I thought it was dumb and I didn't stick with it. So no new shows for me this year, which means I'll just be writing about the same old shows I've always watched.

First up, staying at the top of my list for 5 years in a row now, 30 Rock! That show just gets better and better! And at this point, when people ask which living celebrity I'd like to have lunch with, it's no surprise that I say Tina Fey. In the past I would have picked some attractive male celebrity (hello, Joel McHale), but at this point, wouldn't an attractive male celebrity just take pity on a boring, out-of-shape suburban housewife?

Anyway, 30 Rock continues to be awesome, and the live show was really bold and daring, and plus Julia Louis-Dreyfus guest-starred on it, and I love a 30 Rock-Seinfeld connection.

Another show I like is Community, largely because of the afore-mentioned extreme hotness that is Joel McHale. I'm a little concerned about Community, though, because they have just gotten too weird this year. Like the Halloween episode, where everybody was infected with some deadly virus? And it wasn't even a dream or anything? And then the holiday episode was all Claymation, and that was a little too gimmick-y. They do enough normal shows in between the weird ones that I'm still watching the show, but it's too early in the run of the show to get so weird.

Speaking of shows that are going downhill too quickly, Glee. Last year I loved Glee because there was finally a music show with a high production value. I liked that we could all sort of relate to the outcasts in the glee club, because I think most of us felt like outcasts in some way or another. (Which is a weird irony, because most people go through high school thinking everybody else besides them has it all figured out, when in reality, nobody does.)

Anyway, Glee was good last year, but this year it's making me mad. Mr. Schuester is just dumb and inappropriate, like where he put on those little skimpy shorts and sang a Brittney Spears song at a school assembly. Also the timeline of that show is never realistic, like how did Kurt plan that entire elaborate wedding in the span of one episode? And if the glee club is so broke that they can't afford a handicapped-accessible bus, how did they afford that expensive onstage rain effect during the Gwenyth Paltrow episode? It's getting to the point that watching Glee is becoming a chore for me, so I wouldn't be surprised if it doesn't show up in my 2011 year-end TV review.

I also can't forget to include Mad Men on my list of TV shows for 2010, even though I tend to forget it exists because it's only on like 15 weeks a year. HELLO?! What are you people at AMC doing the rest of the year? Is Jon Hamm just too busy with his jam-packed schedule of looking hot all the time? Anyway, I will not discuss specific plot points on Mad Men, partially because I already forgot half of them, but mostly because I know a lot of people watch that show on DVD and I don't want to spoil anything for them. But let me just say that Mad Men is the true definition of a train wreck (in the figurative sense): everything is just a giant mess all the time, and it's painful to watch, but you just can't look away. But as an aside, the clothes are often very glamorous, as are the lifestyles in general (who wouldn't want to drink at work?), but then you feel bad for even admiring such a life because that era was generally kind of messed up.

The only other show I watched regularly this year was Modern Family, which I don't have much to say about. It's funny. I mean it won the Emmy for Best Comedy, so of course it's funny. And I do like that it has a gay family, and that, as I also said about The Kids are All Right, the gayness is not constantly mentioned or dwelt upon.

Well, that's it for the shows I watched this year. Of course I also watched a lot of crap cable (Hoarders and I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant) and a lot of good cable (Martha Stewart and The Daily Show), but I don't want to write a paragraph about every single show I watched, or I'd be writing this post until 2011.

As a personal aside here, I am admitting that I'm back-dating this post. I did start writing it on the 30th when I was at my dad and stepmom's house in SoCal, but I didn't have time to finish it before Bill had to pack up the computer so we could go to the airport. I tried to finish it on the iPad at the airport, but it was hard to navigate the post-editing function and I was in no mood to deal with it. We got home after midnight last night, and so I'm finishing this post up around noon on the 31st. Anyway, all of this is to say that I'm back home in Illinois, and to some pretty decent winter weather, I must say.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010 in Review: Books

My goal for 2010 was to read 52 books.

I started a total of 58 books, but I quit reading 15 of them somewhere in the middle.

So that means I completed 43 books.

I'll take it. I didn't want to cram in a bunch of books at the last minute, or read books just for the sake of adding them to my list. Nor did I want to intentionally read super-easy, quick reads and/or add children's picture books to my list. The whole point is to read for pleasure, not to achieve some dumb goal.

Anyway, I'll start by talking about the books I liked best, and then talk about the books I liked least. I'm declaring my favorite book of 2010 to be:

Room by Emma Donoghue! It's the story of a woman and her son who are imprisoned in an 11x11 shed by a creepy captor/rapist, until they make a daring escape and then try to adjust to the outside world. This book transcends any genre; it's a bit of a horror story, but also an interesting look at how children are raised. The book is narrated by the boy, Jack, who is 5 years old and therefore not privy to some of the graphic details that would make this book too heavy.

Following Room, my top 5 runners-up, in no particular order, are:

1. At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson
2. I'll Mature When I'm Dead: Dave Barry's Amazing Tales of Adulthood by Dave Barry
3. It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
4. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
5. Roses by Laila Meacham

Now onto the books I didn't like. Keeping in mind that there were 15 books that I hated so much that I didn't finish them, here are the ones I completed but liked the least:

1. A Soft Place to Land by Susan Rebecca White
2. Brava, Valentine by Adriana Trigiani
3. The Carrie Diaries by Candace Bushnell
4. The Icing on the Cupcake by Jennifer Ross
5. Last Night at Chateau Marmont by Lauren Weisberger

And then there are 32 books in between. In all, I think I had a good year, reading-wise. (Though I will say that my book completion rate slowed down in November and December when I was writing on this blog every single day.) I read a nice variety in terms of genre, and also a variety in terms of medium. What I mean is, I read some in e-book form, some in paper form, some from the library, and some that I purchased. I have friends who are exclusively library users, and others who never use the library, but I myself like to mix it up. I figure every book I get from the library saves me money, and everything I get from the library or in e-book form is good for the environment, but I also can't wait patiently for certain books. Or maybe I'm going to be in a situation where I think a library book might get lost/damaged. And some books work great in e-book form, and e-books are especially good for travel because they don't take up as much space. But I also have a quirk wherein if I read two out of three books in a trilogy in hard copy form, I have to read the third one in hard copy and not on the Kindle. That was the case with Mockingjay, where I wanted it in book form and I wanted to go to Borders on the release day and be part of the excitement.

Anyway, sorry to disappoint all 5 of my loyal readers, but I will not be doing NaBloPoMo in January. I have posted for almost 61 days straight, and I can't do it every single day anymore. I love writing this blog, but, much like the situation with the 52-books goal, when you do something out of obligation it ceases to be fun. I'm sure I will still write most days, just not every day. All of this is to say that I might have more reading time in 2011. But I'm not setting any kind of numerical goal for books I want to read in 2011. That takes all the fun out of it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010 in Review: Movies

I am the last person who should be rating movies. I suck at movies. I rarely see them in the theater, and I've never considered myself a movie buff. But I did see a few movies this year, and this is my blog, so dammit, I'm gonna write about the movies I saw in 2010.

Except I can't remember any of the movies I saw on DVD. I thought there was something you could click on Netflix to show your viewing history, but now I can't find it. Anyway, I only remember a few of the DVDs I saw.

The first one I can remember watching was The Hangover. I thought it was going to be one of those crass, cheap-shot comedies that only appeals to frat boys, but I was pleasantly surprised. Funny.

I also saw Date Night on DVD. Of course, since it stars Tina Fey, I loved it. The funniest line of the movie was the very first line, when Tina Fey and Steve Carrell are sleeping and the two kids come and jump on their bed, demanding breakfast. "Ugh, you have so many needs," says a sleepy Tina Fey. I quote that so often. Also, I liked how right in the middle of being pursued by some bad guys who want to kill them, Tina and Steve have an argument about household chores. And Tina says all she dreams about is going to a hotel, by herself, and eating a sandwich. Although this movie was cheesy and unrealistic, there were some parts that I could relate to.

The most recent movie I saw was Babies, a documentary about babies growing up in different parts of the world. It was interesting to see the American parents take their baby to ridiculous baby enrichment classes while the Namibian baby is just crawling in a stream eating a rock. But I would have liked a little bit of narration and dialogue, because the raw footage got old about an hour into the movie. (Fortunately it was only an hour and 18 minutes.)

I saw three kid movies in the theater: How to Train Your Dragon, Despicable Me, and Toy Story 3. Dragon was cute, but Vikings aren't really my thing. Nathan liked it. He told me he was scared during Despicable Me, so we walked out, which was fine with me because I wasn't enjoying it. We all loved Toy Story 3, which I think was the best movie I saw all year, even though I technically only went to it because of my kid.

The only non-kid movie I saw in the theater was The Kids are All Right, which wasn't the movie I most wanted to see or anything, but was the only chick-flick movie being shown in the theater one time when I wanted to go to the movies with my mom. I liked the movie, and it was thought-provoking, although not so much the feel-good movie of the year. I did like how it was about a gay couple raising children, but that the whole gay issue wasn't mentioned 112 times. Because I'd like to think we have moved past gay families as being abnormal and a big Issue.

So, those are the movies I can remember seeing in 2010. Clearly I don't have a future as a movie critic. Tomorrow I'll talk about books, which I think I can say a teeny-tiny bit more about than movies.

Monday, December 27, 2010

She's a brick and I'm drowning slowly

Am I the only one who always has that Ben Folds song stuck in my head all day on December 26? You know, the one that starts with, "Six a.m., day after Christmas"?

Thankfully, I was not up at 6 a.m. the day after Christmas, though I guess in California that would have technically been 8 a.m. in the time zone I'm used to. Except, I don't know how long you can argue the whole, "Well, it's x o'clock here, so it's (x + 2) o'clock where I'm from." Eventually it just looks like a pathetic excuse for why you're lazy and wanting to go to bed at 8:00 p.m. But hey, give me a break. That's 10:00 p.m. where I'm from.

Anyway. Yesterday began with a special behind-the-scenes tour of a local fire station, which my mom's friend's son (who is a firefighter) arranged for Nathan. Unfortunately Nathan was so overwhelmed with excitement that he stood in total silence, making us look like a bunch of ingrates.

Most interesting fact I learned: firefighters' turnout gear is machine washable!

After that we had our annual day-after-Christmas breakfast outing with my grandparents. December 26 is actually their wedding anniversary. By modern standards, having a wedding on December 26 seems sort of logistically challenging, because how do you prepare for a wedding and for Christmas at the same time. But I guess during WWII, weddings were much simpler affairs.

Anyway, my grandparents have been married 68 years, and they are the cutest couple ever. My grandpa got my grandma a necklace that came in one of those little jewelry boxes that is held by a stuffed bear, and ... OMG, a bear! Cutest thing ever! And my grandpa was so excited about it. Oh you guys, I would go on, but I'm melting in a puddle of my own sentimental tears right now.

Oh wait. Must ... maintain ... image of ... unflappable cynicism.

But seriously, my grandparents have got to be on the of the all-time great love stories. Did you know they kiss every single time they're in an elevator?

I'm never going to be part of a great love story. I'm much too cynical for that.

Anyway, we celebrated with my grandparents.

Then I took a nap. And it was the best, most awesome nap, the kind where you wake up all sweaty and feel like you probably sweat out whatever was bothering you before the nap.

Then I didn't even shower off before my husband and I went out on a no-kid date while my parents babysat. We ended up at chain Mexican restaurant El Torito, which many people wouldn't think was exciting, but those people don't live in the south suburbs of Chicago, where the most authentic Mexican food is at Taco Bell. (Locals know I am kidding here, because we also have Cilantro, but it is so gross.)

Also, I'm adding the El Torito corn cake thing to my list of things that I will eat when I find out I have a month to live. (Copycat recipe! But where do you buy masa in the south Chicago suburbs? Seriously, somebody tell me.)

Anyway, after El Torito, we got home and put Nathan to bed, and then I stayed up too late reading a book. I feel like I need to finish it before 2010 ends so I can add it to my 2010 book list. But then it got really good, and I will probably easily finish it before 2010 is over. That will leave me to question whether or not it would be fair to start another book before year's end and then put it on my 2011 list. Oh, the problems I have! Also, oh the delusions I have, thinking I'll have so much reading time in the coming days.

So, today is the 27th, and I started my day at 6 a.m. hiking up a mountain with my parents. Because people in California do stuff like that. They get up and hike up mountains at the crack of dawn, and then they get together for vegan breakfasts afterward. In Chicago, it seems like all people do is stay indoors and eat (although not Mexican food).

Speaking of eating, and Mexican food, we got to go to Baja Fresh for lunch, which is just a big ball of awesomeness because all the Chicago-area Baja Fresh establishments have closed. And oh, oh, they had cranberry salsa for the chips.

And we took Nathan to the park, and now we're packing up our stuff for Leg 3 of the trip, which is at my dad and stepmom's house. And how the hell do three people make such a mess in two days that it takes over an hour to clean up?

So, tomorrow is Christmas Part 3, which is going to be kind of a problem because I explained to my kid that Christmas was over, and wouldn't come again until next year. Think he'll believe tomorrow that a year has actually passed since Christmas?

Sunday, December 26, 2010


Can we all just breathe a collective sigh of relief that Christmas is over? Let me just go on record as saying that I don't actively dislike Christmas. It's just that stores set up Christmas displays at Halloween, and Christmas ends up lasting two months. That means we end up spending 1/6 of our lives in Christmas Mode. And Christmas Mode is exhausting, with the shopping and the travel and the being nice. Just the cookie-eating alone might do you in.

So now it's December 26, and Christmas Mode is winding down. Oh sure, there's that whole "Christmas season" bit where people think Christmas lasts until New Year's, which I don't get because it's not like we're still celebrating Halloween on November 1 or something. Christmas ends on Christmas, in my opinion. And what about people who celebrate until Three Kings Day on January 6? Who are these three kings, and why are they making me eat so many cookies?

Anyway, my Christmas was good. We started out the day at my in-laws', where Nathan got some gifts to enhance his fighting hamster collection. I got some Star Wars pancake molds and a special pancake batter-squirter so I can finally make pancake letters! This will be a big improvement in my pancake-shaping, as up until now I have barely been able to master amorphous pancake blobs.

Next we went to my mom's, where Nathan got a Buzz Lightyear and a toy fireboat that was harder to assemble than a real fireboat. My mom had shipped some of our gifts before we left, so I should note that I am also the proud owner of a new set of Plum Fiesta dishes, as well as a santoku knife!

We actually aren't having Christmas at my dad's house until tomorrow, which I find very relaxing in spite of the fact that I said I didn't get into all that Christmas season stuff.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010

Right down Santa Claus Lane

Today is Christmas Eve, and I feel like I need to post something heart-warming or inspirational, but I'm just not feeling it. Yes, I am loving tracking Santa on the official NORAD Santa Tracker, and I especially like watching the little movies of Santa at some of his destinations. Here's a video of Santa in Florence, Italy.

And speaking of Santa, my mother-in-law and I are in the middle of making these cute Santa cookies using Nutter Butter cookies dipped in white chocolate. We're only halfway through, because we have dipped the hat side and we're waiting for that to dry before we dip the beard side. So I don't have a picture of our cookies, but I have this one that I stole from a website:

But in spite of the whimsical websites and the cute cookies, I'm not feeling it this Christmas. It just feels like too much, not just with the shopping and the wrapping and the travel, but with the pressure to be so jolly and happy all the time. And sometimes the pressure to be jolly and happy is, ironically, what does you in and makes you the opposite of jolly and happy. Am I making a magical enough Christmas for my child? Am I being helpful and cheerful with my relatives?

And this year I'm feeling a lot of pressure and sadness on behalf of others. So many people who are saying, This is the first Christmas since my [insert close relative here] passed away. Or even people who have endured many Christmases since a loved one's passing, and it just never gets any easier. It's always hard at Christmas. And I'm sad for Katie, whose friend just died in a car accident, and sad for his family who I don't even know.

And then I have friends in situations where their extended family gets together and there's some kind of drama that doesn't even involve them, but involves two other relatives who have some long-standing beef with each other, and somehow everybody is uncomfortable.

And it all just seems like too much this year.

But I don't want to be a Grinch. And so I want to come back to Santa here. This is embarrassing to admit, but I believe in Santa. No, I don't believe there's a million-year-old guy in the North Pole with a team of elves and some flying reindeer that somehow help him deliver toys to all the children of the world in one night. But I do believe in the spirit of Santa. I'm not sure how the whole legend of Santa got started, but there must have once been some old man who gave toys to random children at Christmas. And I think that guy's spirit is still alive. I think after all the people who get in screaming matches over cutting in line at Toys 'R Us, and all the return trips to the grocery store because you forgot to get thus-and-so, on Christmas Eve somehow everything slows down and the magic comes out. And I think that magic is, somehow, a manifestation of the spirit of Santa. So I'm hoping for a little Ho, Ho, Ho to come into my life tonight, and I'm hoping the same happens for you.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Hmm, Interesting

I decided to go with another NaBloPoMo prompt today. Today's prompt:

What makes you interesting?

Oh good, I need this ego boost today. Except I'm not very good about bragging about myself. Like in job interviews, when I'm asked to talk about my strengths, I feel like I need to qualify everything I say with something like, "Oh, but I'm not all conceited or anything." So dumb. That's why I don't usually get the job.

But okay, here goes: What makes me interesting?

I like to think what makes me interesting is my sense of humor. I have always had sort of a smart-ass sense of humor, because I come from two funny families where you have to cultivate a razor-sharp wit just to keep up. I like that I can use my sense of humor to entertain myself throughout my otherwise boring, housewife schlub existence. I also like to think I can bring a little levity to the boring housewife schlub existences of the other moms around me.

I think I'm funnier in print than I am in real life. I have always enjoyed writing, and I think the ability to construct sentences is the only skill that comes easily to me. Well, that and my mad typing skillz, but typing is kind of a sister skill to writing.

I also have a pretty good memory, but that probably makes me more annoying than interesting, especially in arguments with my husband.

I only have one interesting trick-type skill, and that is that I can say the alphabet backward. My mom claims that I learned the alphabet backward because my kindergarten teacher told our class that she expected us to know the alphabet "backward and forward" and I interpreted this quite literally. I actually recall that I just thought it was pretty cool that my teacher could say the alphabet backward (though she was probably reading off an alphabet strip that was tacked up on the wall behind us), and so I memorized the alphabet backward using an alphabet placemat I ate my breakfast on. Whatever the reason, I learned the alphabet backward, and I learned it for life.

I think I have a few interesting hobbies. I am a fairly competent swimmer, which makes me different from a lot of people. A lot of people are good runners, but struggle to swim very far. I am the opposite.

Another interesting hobby I have is flower-arranging. The woman who teaches me flower-arranging tells me that I have a good sense of balance in terms of how to put flowers together. She also says I have poor floral knife skills, so until I can hire minions to do all my cutting, I probably can't arrange flowers professionally.

I also really like cats, which isn't so much interesting, but ... okay, I don't know where I'm going with this. A lot of people like cats. A love of cats doesn't make me interesting.

In thinking about this particular prompt, I realize that all of us kind of have this need to feel unique, to stand out among all other human beings. I want to think that I am the only person you know who does x or likes y or is good at z. I have not distinguished myself to the point in any area of my life. But I hope I'm just a little bit interesting.

What makes you interesting?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Looks like we made it

Well, my family and I survived a 45-hour train ride across the American Southwest. We successfully de-trained in Fullerton, CA, got our luggage, and headed to my in-laws' house.

And speaking of Southwest, we're flying home.

We got the plane tickets as soon as we hit stable ground.

It's not that the train was altogether awful, it's just that the thought of doing the return trip filled me with absolute terror.

If I don't post tomorrow, it's because I'm sleeping until Friday.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The post from the train

Yesterday, while I was in the middle of a stress-induced headache and the tail end of some winter depression, my family and I boarded the Amtrack Southwest Chief at Chicago's Union Station.

I need to pause and note that in the last few years, I have developed sort of a medium-grade tendency toward claustrophobia. It's not the worst case of claustrophobia, but one time at the Illinois Railway Museum during Day Out With Thomas, I almost mowed down a long line of people to get out of a burlap-lined narrow hallway inside a 50s-era train.

So as we boarded the train yesterday and the conductor informed us that our room was up a narrow stairway and down a narrow corridor, I started to panic. And by the time we got into our little closet of a room, I was in a full-blown panic attack. Like seriously, on-the-verge-of-tears panic mode. I was wondering if maybe I should get off the train while there was still time to take a cab to the airport. I'm serious.

The entire room is the same size as my closet at home, and it's not like I have a giant closet or something. The toilet/shower combo is like the size of an airplane bathroom. And my bed was going to have to fold out so that I was gonna be surrounded by walls on all sides, oh my God walls on all sides. How could I sleep when surrounded by walls?

But since the logistics of making flight arrangements for myself seemed daunting, I figured I would have to find a way to tolerate the train. So I coped by doing what any modern-day woman in the middle of a panic attack would do: I updated my Facebook status. And I sent some texts. Soon the words of encouragement poured in on my phone. I was able to take a deep breath, and an Advil, and calm down.

Nathan and I then explored the dining car, and the lounge car, and I realized I wasn't just trapped in a tiny colony of hell. Then I took out some toys for Nathan, and then a coloring book, and then some snacks.

This was all in the first hour of the trip.

Nathan was already bouncing off the walls, though of course there wasn't too far to bounce. Somehow we made it to dinner with some combination of candy, movies, and looking at the bathroom several times.

The dining car is kind of nice. They have (paper) tablecloths and flowers and stuff. I ordered the holiday special turkey dinner. It was okay. Also, to maximize space in the dining room, they make you sit with strangers if you don't have four people in your party. So we had to sit with a random college student named Ernest, who was perfectly nice and all, but I was struggling enough just to make it through dinner without having to make pleasant small talk.

At least they had Haagen-Daaz chocolate-chocolate chip ice cream for dessert.

The evening hours, well ... You know those little plastic puzzles where you slide the tiles around to make a picture? That is how it is trying to shuffle stuff around to get all the stuff you need to get your family ready for bed on a train. There's all kinds of "where's my toiletry bag?" and snapping at your spouse. At times certain members of your family actually have to walk out of the car just so you can get to something.

The sleeping was not quite as soothing and relaxing as I had imagined sleeping on a train would be. We have this CD at home called "Sleep on a Train," and nowhere on there is there loud clanging and ridiculous bumps. We couldn't get the temperature quite right, and so I was up at least ten times.

Nathan, of course, slept well and was raring to go as the sun rose over eastern Colorado. I braved the shower, which I clogged with toilet paper, because, as I said, the shower and toilet are a combo. Nathan and I shared a breakfast table with a sweet old lady who had just lost her husband six weeks ago. The breakfast potatoes were really good.

After breakfast Nathan and I made several trips back and forth to the lounge car, because one of us doesn't really understand the meaning of the word "lounge". Our challenge today is going to be to keep him entertained. Right now he is watching a movie, and then I think he is going to enjoy some father-son time.

As I wrap up this post, it is approximately 10:00 a.m. Mountain time, and we are approaching Trinidad, Colorado. We have about 20 hours to go before we reach our destination.

So far I would rate this as not the best experience of my life, but not the worst. The question remains: will we get a refund on our return tickets and fly back home?

Monday, December 20, 2010

'Tis a gift to be simple

We're off later today on the Amtrack. Hopefully tomorrow I'll have something interesting to tell you guys about the Amtrack.

Today I'd like to write about how pleased I am with the way I've simplified the holiday season this year.

The biggest thing I did was give up sending the Christmas cards. As I stated in this post, I saw no need to provide pictures and updates to every single person I've ever known, because I do that on a daily basis with Facebook and on this blog. And I eliminated so much stress by skipping those damn cards. No worrying about getting the perfect photo, no making address labels, no spending $50 on stamps.

Also this year I did not bake anything, save for the stuff I made for Nathan's school bake sale. (Which, note to the powers-that-be, you do not need to do in December.) And even for the bake sale, I made the cheapest, simplest thing you could possibly make (Toll House cookies), save just buying a package of Oreos. The thing is, I like to bake. But at the holidays, it feels like a chore. You aren't just throwing together a nice little batch of cookies. It's like a hard-core, factory-style assembly line wherein you make several batches. And then package them in some cute container. And go out like an angry soldier on a mission, frantically trying to deliver all those little containers the day before Christmas.

As for the gifts, my in-laws and my mom's side of the family decided to go with a sort of game-style gift exchange, where everybody brings in a wrapped gift and we play some kind of exchange game to open them. So, that cut out a lot of gifts I had to buy. And since I have to get all the stuff out to California, these alternative gift arrangements cut out a lot of the gifts I had to ship. (My very worst year, postage-wise, I was spending over $100 just to ship everybody's gift to the west coast.)

Which brings me to online shopping. Like everybody, I think online shopping is a beautiful thing. What's not to love? The traditional store shopping involves getting yourself and your family dressed in coats/hats/scarves/gloves, heading out in the cold, driving all over town, dealing with the in-and-out of the carseat, braving crowded stores, standing in line, wrapping gifts, and then still having to go to the post office to ship them. Or, you could sit in your pajamas, click a few buttons, and have a gift purchased and shipped by some website.

However, online shopping kind of doesn't appeal to my slightly anal side. I like my gifts to be wrapped in a cute paper I personally selected, with tags that clearly indicate the giver and the sender. If I get somebody a few different gifts, I like those gifts to be wrapped in matching paper, stacked, and tied together with a bow. Online shopping is kind of a crapshoot in the gift-presentation department. Sometimes you order a person a few different items that arrive at different times, which seems kind of weird and disjointed. Sometimes there is nothing, anywhere, to indicate who the gift is from. Even when there is a gift message, it's a sad little thing printed in tiny font with weird spacing. Like:

Dear Suzy, Merry
Christmas! Hope you like
your gift. Love Bob and

It all feels very sterile and impersonal. But this year, I just got. over. that. You're getting my stupid sterile box with my stupid message, and you're going to appreciate the hell out of it.

Another thing I got over was the "add-on" concept. I often buy a gift and think that I should just add on some little accessory, or some cute packaging. Inevitably, the purchasing of the add-on necessitates a separate errand that often ends up being more time-consuming and/or expensive than the purchase of the original gift. Also, as I previously mentioned, with online shopping the add-on accessory might come before the main gift, leaving the recipient confused. Like, "Why did Shannon get me batter for a doughnut maker, when I don't have a doughnut maker?"

(Note to my family: I didn't get any of you a doughnut maker.)

A case-in-point where I gave up on the add-ons was with the gifts for Nathan's teachers. I got them Starbucks gift cards and cute little Hallmark "for my teacher" cards to put them in. Originally I thought it might be fun to make each teacher a little vase of flowers to attach the card to. I do like to arrange flowers, and everybody likes to get flowers, right? Except, then I thought about how I would have to drive to Michael's, which takes about 15-20 minutes, because that's the only place I can think of where I would have access to a cute collection of affordable vases. I figured I could maybe spend about $5 total on the two vases. But then I would go to Costco (another 15 minutes past Michael's) and spend $15 on a big bouquet that I could divide up between the two teachers. That's a total of $20, not to mention a lot of time and effort. And would anybody ever say, "This gift card would have been a lot better if you attached it to some flowers"? No.

Let me note that as a former teacher and a person who comes from a family of teachers, I am absolutely 100% in favor of giving gifts to your children's teachers. Nobody deserves a gift more than a teacher. I'm just opposed to any gift that involves a stupid add-on, when the gift itself would have been sufficient.

So, in conclusion, while this holiday season has been by no means simple, it has been simpler. I don't think there's any way to make the holidays totally stress-free, at least not within the confines of your current personality and circumstances. But I am proud of the steps I have taken to simplify Christmas this year.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Where's my rectangle?

Well, obviously, Jerry Seinfeld was hilarious. He did a bit about Pop-Tarts (parts of which I have heard him do before), in which he talked about how Pop-Tarts are in the shape of the box and have the same nutritional content as the box. And he talked about how there are two Pop-Tarts because there are two slots in a toaster, and they are the exact same shape as the toaster slots, so there is no thinking involved. "Thinking is the opposite of Pop-Tarts," he said. Best line of the night!

Also, it would seem that cell phones are the new airline peanuts when it comes to fodder for stand-up comics. Both the opening comic, Mario Joiner, and Seinfeld talked about how ridiculous people are getting about cell phones. Part of Seinfeld's bit was about the times you go out and think you forgot your cell phone, and you're frantically patting all your pockets saying, "WHERE'S my RECTANGLE?!" Rectangle, hahahahaha. But you probably had to be there for that one, because he did it in his trademark Seinfeld comedic tone. (What's the deal with cell phones?)

Anyway it was an overall good night, and the babysitter worked out fine. And Nathan went to bed in his own bed, no problem, by himself. I'm starting to think that the whole need to have somebody lie next to him while he falls asleep is mother-specific, because he goes to bed just fine by himself when Bill tells him to.

So when we got home the house was clean and my kid was sleeping, and this morning when Nathan woke me up at 6:30 with his trademark, "Get up! It's DAY!" I was a little less resentful than usual.

My New Year's resolution is to stop being so resentful, but that's a story for another post.

Anyway, so today we are switching over from babysitter-prep mode to trip-prep mode. Why is it that preparing to go on a trip feels like you were just told you have a week to live? I have to get my affairs in order! We can't leave for a trip if the laundry room is a mess! I have to get through this stack of mail before we leave! Have I made amends with all my enemies before leaving for this trip?

And that's on top of all the things you have to do to prepare for the trip specifically, such as doing laundry, buying timers for your lights, and going to Target approximately 57 times because you forgot something important the last time you went to Target. Trips generate the need for such stupid stuff, such as the purchase of a brand-new activity book and box of crayons for Nathan, despite the fact that he already owns more crayons than will fit in his designated crayon box. If it weren't for trips, would anybody be buying these dumb coloring and activity books? If anybody should be upset about the new TSA security measures, it's the Children's Activity Book Lobby. If airport security scares off all the potential travelers, who will buy Santa's Jumbo Book of Fun?

Oh and BTW, I suck at these activity books designed for children. I'm terrible at "Spot the differences between the two elves." I'm also bad at the activities where you have to unscramble words. I have always loved words, but only when they are spelled in the correct order. What the hell are ANATS and OLEIMSTET? And forget those logic puzzles that go like this:
Red, Ned, Ted, and Fred each have a different-colored ornament and a different flavor of Christmas cookie. Use the clues to match each person with the right ornament and cookie. Red doesn't like chocolate. Ned's ornament is green. Ted is from Ohio. Fred secretly likes to wear women's undergarments.
Thankfully my kid isn't old enough for these kinds of puzzles, because the last thing any three-year-old has is logic. When he is old enough to do these kinds of puzzles, I'm turning him over to his father, who actually enjoys these kinds of things.

Anyway, for now my kid enjoys haphazardly scribbling over Santa's face in purple. So we have to go get a coloring book, along with little bottles of shampoo, new earbuds for my iPod, vodka, etc.

Thankfully I have already taken care of the most illogical-and-yet-necessary errand, the pre-trip eyebrow wax. I always have to have my eyebrows perfectly up-to-date before leaving, because the length of the trip always seems to be the exact length of time that it takes my eyebrows to grow out. This eyebrow rule somehow seems to hold true even when my trip lasts only a weekend.

So I have already done the eyebrow wax, as you can see it this dorky "stick out your hand" photo from last night on the train. Lest you think I'm so self-centered as to only photograph myself, I will say that Bill was in the photo too, but I think he would be mad if I showed him. So I cropped him out for purposes of this blog post.

So, at least I have my eyebrows under control. Everything else will come.

Until tomorrow, everyone.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Date Night

Ght.Let's flash back about 4 years to when I was pregnant with Nathan. I was terrified. Not so much terrified of the birth part, which is what a normal person would be terrified about, but about the whole part after the birth where I'd have to parent another human being for 18+ years.

I'm still a little bit terrified, but that's beside the point.

Anyway, I think the scariest part back then was the fact that, for Bill and me, it would be the end of just us. You know what I mean? Like, for the rest of time, it wouldn't be just the two of us day in and day out, but instead there would be another (very needy) human being coming between us.

People professed to us, ad nauseum, that the remedy to the loss of post-baby couple time was to schedule regular date nights. Let's just get it out of the way that I think date night is a stupid term. Why are you going out on dates when you're already married?

But I guess the concept of the date night is appealing. What's not to love? It's a fun time with delicious food that you don't have to cook, and no demanding little person interrupting you. YES! said the 2006 me. I would make sure that Bill and I had regular date nights after the baby was born!


The first thing that happened was that the tiny person came into our lives, and we realized that we trusted no one to watch him. (I mean we would have trusted our relatives, but let's recall that they all live 1,800 miles away.) Before the baby is born, you swear you won't be those parents who think there isn't a single person smart and/or responsible enough to care for your precious genius of a child. But then the kid comes into your lives and you are overcome by the absolute unspeakable terror of anything bad ever happening to that kid. And all it would take would be one irresponsible act by a teenage babysitter, some innocent move like putting your newborn infant to bed with a blanket, and tragedy would strike.

We would never leave the house again.

People suggested that we do the whole date night thing after baby Nathan went to bed, and then we could just pay a babysitter to sit in our house and watch TV and eat our food. Why the hell would I pay money to somebody to do that? After Nathan was in bed, we could just hang out together at home. Plus, I was exhausted back then, and the idea of going out after 6:30 p.m., when it was dark, was just not appealing.

So we never went out when Nathan was a baby, which was actually not that big of a deal because when he was just a nonverbal blob, we could mostly carry on normal conversations in his presence anyway.

But now Nathan is 3 1/2 years old, and he's a bit of an interrupter. And normal family dinners at home consist largely of us trying to get Nathan to stay in his seat.

Plus I have to say that Nathan giving up his naps has added another challenge in our marriage. It used to be that Nathan napped away the afternoon, which meant I got a break, during which I usually took a nap myself. And when Bill got home from work around 7:00, we were all relatively chipper. Now the kid and I are awake, and together, for 12 excruciating hours, the last two of which are often really frustrating. And so by 7:00 (or later) when Bill walks in the door, I'm totally frazzled and exhausted and just begging to be alone. I can sometimes muster up enough energy to sit in front of the TV with him, although that assumes we can agree on what to watch, which doesn't always happen because some people want to watch Martha Stewart make adorable holiday wreaths with B-list celebrities, while some people want to watch some weird-ass show about characters called Frak-tons on the Sci-Fi network.

So, the husband and I haven't spent as much time together lately. For quite some time, I have known that I need to go ahead and schedule some of those date night thingies.

But ... Warning: Here comes some whining. Date nights seem like yet another thing on my to-do list. Like, it's not enough that I'm expected to raise this child and instill in him all the appropriate behavior, academic preparedness, and moral values (when all he really wants to do is throw fruit snacks behind the couch). I'm also expected to keep my house clean, my body fit, and keep my family well-fed with economically-priced healthy meals. It would be nice, says society, if I could also be running some sort of lucrative business or working at a fulfilling part-time career on the side. And on top of all that, I'm supposed to schedule date nights, too?

Now, obviously, if your children have grandparents in the area who can just pop over and babysit, for free, whenever you feel the need to go out, date nights might be a little bit simpler. But for some of us (cue world's tiniest violins), finding childcare is a task involving a little bit more hassle. There is no obvious babysitter choice in the form of a responsible teenage neighbor. I'm told that the teenage babysitter is kind of a myth from days of old anyway, because today's teens are too busy studying for their 57 AP exams or texting or something.

I have had some recommendations for babysitters over the years, but I have just been too lazy and/or scared to ever contact them. As I have said before, I don't feel comfortable being somebody's employer. I don't know how to convey the proper amount of seriousness (because, hello, I'm entrusting this person with my child), without sounding like a total bitch. And instead I come across as OMG I totally want to be your BFF, oh by the way would you mind not locking him in the bathroom for two hours like that? Thanksies!

(Let me note, for the sake of the poor girl coming to babysit for us, that she did not and would not lock Nathan in the bathroom for two hours. I don't mean to incriminate her. It was just a hypothetical situation mentioned for comedic effect. In case that wasn't totally obvious.)

So, now I'm looking at a situation where I, by myself, have to interview potential babysitters, which is both scary and awkward for me, not to mention another thing to do in my already busy day of surfing the Internet for several hours.

And then there's the not-so-small issue of the financial aspect of hiring a babysitter. At the going rate, your standard dinner-and-a-movie date night is going to run you about $40 in babysitting fees. There's no movie that's worth that much to me, and I don't so much want to spend dinner on edge because hello we've got a babysitter on the clock and you took 6 minutes to bring me my Diet Coke refill and that's $1 in babysitting time!

Plus I have to clean my house to a reasonably-sanitary state before this babysitter comes. And I have to feed my kid and the babysitter. When I was babysitting, the standard meal was pizza, which seems like an especially good idea when you're leaving for a trip soon and the only thing you have in your refrigerator is generic Kraft singles and some expired sushi.

More money, more effort.

So now I'm looking at hassle, hassle, hassle and money, money, money. And yes, I know date nights are cheaper/easier/more fun than marriage counseling and/or a divorce, so it's worth it to have couple time in the form of date nights.

Random Holiday Photos

So yeah, I got my cat a Santa hat and beard:

I can see the headline: Housewife, 32, Mauled to Death by Angry Housecat

Then today was Nathan's preschool party. The invitation said, We're expecting a special surprise guest! Sarcastically, I said to Bill, "Hmm, who could it be?!" To which Nathan nonchalantly replied, "I think it's Santa." This generation is so jaded.

There was a whole-class group shot with Santa, but of course my kid wouldn't participate in it. So I'm not going to show that one. Here he is with his party snacks:

I signed up to bring an appetizer, which I interpreted as "Goldfish." And it's not just because it was a party for preschoolers. I'd totally serve Goldfish as an appetizer at a party for adults, too!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

You Capture: Outside

Occasionally native Californians tell me that they're jealous of the weather we have in Illinois. I'd call them crazy, but growing up in California I just thought snow was the coolest thing ever. It was so exciting when your parents took you to "the snow." And when I was a kid, I heard that in places where it snowed, you could wake up in the morning and find out that they had actually canceled school.

Now that I live in a snowy climate, there are things I like about snow (namely, it's pretty), but there are also a lot of weather-related hassles that I didn't know about before we moved here. There's the shoveling. And the gigantic, time-consuming drag it is to locate and put on approximately 17 pieces of snow gear on yourself and your kid before going out. And because of the shoveling and the gear, you often just decide you're better off staying home. This is a phenomenon I call snowflaking, as in, "I was gonna go to the mall, but I totally snowflaked."

Snowflaking is responsible for a lot of poor mental health. And when you've been in your house all day and you feel like the walls are caving in, and your kid is so stir-crazy he's actually throwing handfuls of flour on the carpet (true story), it's time to get out. Good thing this week's You Capture challenge at I Should be Folding Laundry was "Outside." So I could grab my flour-covered kid and be all, "We have to go outside. Mommy needs pictures for a blog post."

The first thing that happened was that we slid on our asses on some sidewalk ice. So I decided to put down some salt. (Note to Californians: You buy big bags of salt because it makes the ice melt, and then you aren't The Jerk Who Tripped the Mailman.) The only receptacle I could find for the salt was this dump truck we used for sand at the beach. I feel like it's our own personal version of the city salt trucks that drive down the streets, which I call the Salt Spitters.

Nathan with our personal salt spitter.

And then some more pictures:

Do you like my snow boots? They're totally utilitarian, but with the cute feminine touch of a ribbon. And no, those aren't the Pajama Jeans peeking out from underneath.

My kid chucks a snowball at me.

Speaking of snowballs, Nathan demonstrates our cool snowball maker. Only suckers roll their own snowballs by hand.

Look how beautiful and uniform they are!

The residents of this house were smart enough to relocate to their southern house for the winter.

This poor snowman. Not only was he decapitated and dismembered, but then a dog peed on his lifeless body.

And speaking of winter misfortune ... glove loss! Every single year I lose several gloves, so that by February I'm wearing two different gloves (if I'm lucky enough to have a right and a left glove by then). But this poor person lost both gloves, and look how pretty they are:

I almost picked them up and took them home.

And then, not ten feet away, another double-glove loss:

The story of the black gloves has a happy ending, however, as it appeared that the gloves and their owner were reunited by the time I came back to that same spot.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I would be the sunshine in your universe

Jack: Lemon, if you were about to say that you don’t get any respect, you’re right. I mean, in a post-apocalyptic world, how would society even use you?

Liz: Traveling bard.

Jack: Radiation canary.
--From 30 Rock, Season 5, Episode 3, "Let's Stay Together"

I spend a lot of time questioning my worth to society. I mean, it's not like I go to bed at night and literally ask myself How did I contribute to society today? But I realize that at the back of my mind I'm always feeling sort of useless, and that a lot of the guilt and pressure I put on myself is a result of this feeling of uselessness.

I feel like I should be giving back to society because I have been given so many advantages in this society. First off, I was born into a first-world country, where certain measures of safety and security are taken for granted. And I was pretty much born with every possible advantage anybody could have. I mean, sure, my family was neither rich nor well-connected, but they were educated and financially stable. I had parents who were selfless and devoted, and who made their children's education their first priority. I went to good schools (public schools, BTW), and had good teachers. It was a given that I would go to college, and my family made that happen financially. And when I got married, I married a man who came from the same sort of advantageous background. And now we have a home in the suburbs, insurance, and enough money to afford the things we need. We have a son who is growing up with the same advantages we did. And should anything ever go wrong, we have a giant support system to fall back on.

We are so, so lucky.

I think one of the advantages of being educated in a very diverse public school system was that I was aware, from a very young age, that there were people who weren't as lucky as I was. I remember the PTA had to take this one kid to get a haircut, and another girl to get glasses. I found out later that some kids even had to be taken to the nearby high school to take showers in the gym locker room. And while my selfish little elementary school brain couldn't process concepts like privilege and gratitude, I think I have always known that I came into this world in a pretty lucky place.

But I always feel like I should be using the advantages I've been given in order to give back. And I think I more or less fail at giving back on a daily basis.

Obviously, it's hard for most of us to give back on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes it feels like it's all you can do to get yourself and your dependents through the day. Sure, you're making a difference each day to your family and/or your employer, but can you really say you're changing the world?

Now, we all know that there are very, very few people who can exact large-scale change in the world. Unless you're the president or Bill Gates or Mother Teresa, you probably aren't making large-scale, global change. For the rest of us, all we can hope is that we can make a tiny difference to somebody, somewhere.

But I feel like I usually fail at even making small-scale change. Sure, I give people money for their charity walk-a-thons. And I try to say and do little things to make improvements in people's days, like when I complimented the worker at the Wendy's drive-thru on her eyeshadow last week. I try to be a patient driver on the road. I offer to babysit. I make pies. I use reusable canvas grocery bags.

Still, most of the time I feel like a useless waste of space. I wonder, how am I giving back to the world?

All of this is a really long introduction to tell you about how I think I made a difference this week.

See, on Monday I wrote this blog post about depression. I wasn't planning on writing it, and I sure as hell wasn't planning on sharing it on Facebook. It felt too personal. It's weird how you have no problem putting your innermost thoughts and feelings out there for a nameless, Faceless Internet, but the idea of sharing it with 200 of your closest family and friends seems scary.

But I felt like I had to share. I know I have Facebook friends who struggle with depression, some of which I know about and some of which I'm sure I don't. I needed to share for their sake, so people would know that they're not alone. So people would know it's not their faults.

I got two really special e-mails in response to that post. I'm not going to go into detail about them because I don't want to give identifying information about the senders, but both made me cry. Both said thank you for posting this. One said It was meant to be for you to post that today.

Others on Facebook just said thank you. And I like to think that there were more people who were touched by that post, some I know and some I don't.

Now, I don't want to make it seem like I have delusions about my level of influence in the world. I know this is the 23,654th most popular blog on the Technorati list. I'm not reaching the whole world.

But that day, I reached a few people. And I like to think that those people will now have a little bit more courage to share their feelings with a few more people. (And no, I don't expect them to share their feelings on Facebook and/or the Internet. There's a certain level of crazy involved in wanting to be that public with your thoughts and feelings.) And if each person can reach just one more person, we'll eventually create a sort of pyramid scheme (the good kind) to bring more acceptance to mental illness.

So, on Monday, I made a difference. I didn't cure cancer or provide humanitarian aid to Darfur. (I don't actually know where Darfur is, or what exactly is going on there.) But I reached a few people. And in this giant, complicated world, making a small difference is sometimes all you can do.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Nathan goes to the dentist

I have been writing a lot about mental health lately, so today I turn my attention to oral health. Oral health is very important.

(Must suppress inner 12-year-old boy's desire to laugh at the word oral.)

When it comes to my own oral hygiene, I think I'm doing a fairly adequate job. I brush twice a day and floss every night. I go to my twice-a-year dental checkups. (Sad reality: Now that I'm a mom, I kind of find dentist appointments relaxing. I get to be by myself, lying down and watching the Food Network.) And, I mean, not to toot my own very pathetic horn or anything, but the hygienist rated my brushing skills "good."

But when it comes to oral hygiene for my kid, I have failed on many counts. First there was the part where it didn't occur to me until he was well over one year old that I should be brushing his teeth. And even then, I didn't brush his teeth every single day. I remember leaving for a week-long trip when he was about 16 months old, and I questioned whether I should even pack the kid's toothbrush.

And nowadays, I do make him brush daily, but I usually just let him do it himself without supervision. Which is awesome, because three-year-olds are super great at all personal grooming tasks, especially those requiring fine motor skills. I always have really high aspirations of helping him brush his teeth, but toothbrushing occurs at a time when his stubbornness level is high and my patience level is low. And so if he comes to me with a smear of toothpaste on his face and tells me he brushed his teeth, I just call it good.

Plus it doesn't even matter because I'm still letting him drink a cup of milk after he brushes his teeth anyway.

Perhaps out of fear of being judged by dental professionals, I put off my kid's first dental visit. I remember at my regular checkup in November 2009, the hygienist told me that Nathan was ready for his first visit.

We had his first visit yesterday, December 13, 2010.

The cocked head makes him look angry and/or dubious, but really he was just watching Dinosaur Train on the TV. Good timing.

Anyway, we got to the office early, because I thought it would be a good idea to let him play with the toys in the waiting room first. I warned him that when his name was called, he would have to put the toys away.

And then his name was called, and here is what happened: He actually put the toys away. All of them. Without a battle. And he made sure the lid was closed on the toy box.

I knew right then that Dentist Nathan was a totally different kid.

And he cooperated with every single request to say Awwwwww and turn his head for Mr. Thirsty. He let the woman stick that pick in his mouth and didn't complain, which clearly must mean that they weren't doing it as hard as they do on me, because Mother of God that thing is a bitch. It totally ruins an otherwise relaxing trip to the dentist.

After he got his teeth painted with fluoride and picked out a toy, I took him to McDonald's. This was allegedly a reward for going to the dentist, because I like to create a new generation of people who reward themselves with food. In actuality, I took him to McDonald's because they have an indoor playground, and I thought the boy needed to run around a little after all that dental chair time. Much as I hate to admit it, McDonald's is kind of a major winter hangout for us, especially in December when the mall playground is so crowded.

So, even though it was like 2:00 and we had already eaten lunch, Nathan wanted a Happy Meal. I suspect he wanted it chiefly for the Transformers toy, which is the boy-oriented toy they are giving out right now. The girl-oriented toy is a Hello Kitty watch, which I told him he should get because I likes me the H.K. He said I could get that toy in my Happy Meal. I said I wasn't going to order a Happy Meal. "Fine," he said, "You can get a Sad Meal." No, no thanks, I'm trying to quit eating Sad Meals. I got a hot-fudge sundae instead.

And I brushed my teeth afterward.

Monday, December 13, 2010

For Today

I wasn't going to write another depression post. You guys are tired of reading about depression. And I don't want to make everybody think I'm in some kind of horribly low place where I can't function at all and I want to kill myself. That is not the case. Not at all.

But yesterday I was experiencing several of the hallmarks of The Lowest of the Low, even though, as Katie pointed out, I am not anywhere near as bad as I was that one time in 2008. But it's hard to qualitatively rank the lowness of moods, even in the most rational of minds, which was not the mind I was in yesterday. I had the whole How am I going to make it through the day? syndrome, as well as, Why are you trying to ruin my life by making such awful requests as 'please give me some milk'? And I had this really bad moment in the produce department of Target where I went into full worst-case scenario/racing thought mode, not so much a panic attack as just a sudden strike of inability to carry on. It felt like all the people around me were swirling around, in some other world, carrying on about their better, healthier lives. I felt like I was paralyzed by my own thoughts. And then my kid was trying to hang off the side of the cart and knock off whatever items were on the endcaps of each aisle, including pasta sauce in glass jars.

I took a deep breath and moved on. I made it through the day.

But today I knew, just knew, that I better get my depressed ass to the gym and generate some endorphins. Which, let me say, in the lowest of the low, you do not know anything you need to do to pull yourself out. I think that's something people don't understand about depression. When you are so far down, you can't figure out how to claw your way out. Nowadays, I can figure out how, most of the time, although I had to call myself out on my bullshit brain yesterday when it was doing the whole, "No, there's no point in doing [insert fun, life-affirming activity], I will still be sad, I hate doing that, blah, blah, blah." That bullshit is totally depression's BFF.

So today I was just a teeny-tiny hair better and I knew I had to drag myself to the gym. But my kid was all coughing and Bill said he shouldn't go to the gym daycare. I was like, "I'm sorry, I have to go," and left Nathan home with Bill.

Let me say that in that Spin class, I felt like I rode to hell and back, which is saying something when it's a stationary bicycle. About halfway through, I felt physically and emotionally awful. I was seriously going through those same racing thoughts as I had at Target yesterday. I couldn't focus on the class because I was so worked up about my stupid, screwed-up brain.

But I kept on riding because what the hell else was I supposed to do? And somewhere in the middle of that class, I managed to ride back out of all of it. We ended the class with an extra-long, pummel-all-of-it-out-of-you stretching session. At the end of class, I wasn't magically cured of my depression. In fact, I felt so drained that I didn't even want to take a shower.

Don't worry, I still did. And while I was in the shower, I applauded myself for doing a tiny little something to make it better. And the thought occurred to me:

I will do what I need to do to make myself right.

And maybe that doesn't sound like much to you. But to me, it was such an eye-opening thought that I felt like I was freakin' Confucius. As I said, the acknowledgment that I have coping skills that I know I can use to make myself better is a big sign of an upward trend in my mental health. It doesn't mean I'm all better. It means I know there are things I can do to make myself better.

And when I say I will do what I need to do, I'm acknowledging that I have to think about myself right now. I know that sounds selfish. I also know that this entire blog consists of my pathetic navel-gazing, so if you read this you might think all I do is sit around and focus on my feelings all day long. But, like most moms, like most women in general, I spend most of my day taking care of other people. And especially during the holidays, you are extra busy trying to get it all done.

But today I am saying, so what if I don't feel up to buying some Christmas gifts? I can buy them tomorrow. So what if my floor is covered with toys and clutter? I will clean that up tomorrow. Today I will do what I need to do to make myself right.

And I will take my kid to the dentist, which doesn't feel like the horrible affront to my sanity that it would have felt like yesterday or the day before.

Another depression sufferer and I once talked about the gifts of depression. When you are in the thick of it, it does not seem like something you can ever feel grateful for. But as you start to come out of it, you realize that sometimes it takes being smacked to your very core to realize that you need to make some changes in your life. You need to stop playing the martyr who does everything for everybody else all the time.

You need to say, No, I will not get you some milk, because you just asked for water 2 minutes ago, and water is the drink you'll be drinking.

When I went to the outpatient depression program I affectionately refer to as Crazy Camp, the leader told us that depression was like the common cold of mental illness. So to play on this cold analogy, I will say that the worst of depression feels like that bad cold where no matter what you do, you are so stuffed up you can't blow out any snot. And all you can do is ride it out, which, believe me, feels like the hardest thing ever. But, as with a cold, you don't just go from "plugged up with snot" to instantly better overnight. There's an intermediate stage, and today I'm in that intermediate stage with my depression. I can start getting the snot out. And I can see that someday it will be right.

I will do what I need to do to make myself right.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Let's be prompt!

It's a dark, snowy day, and I'm snuggled under a blanket listening to sad music. I'm still struggling with a mental health downturn, but I am hoping I'm at the tail end of it. Anyway, this doesn't feel like the day to be funny.

Rather than bring you down with some pathetic attempt at introspection, I decided to turn to the NaBloPoMo prompts page for inspiration. You are supposed to write a whole post about each prompt, but since I'm sort of behind, I thought I would cover a number of prompts in one post. I'll just stop when I get bored and/or interrupted. I'll list each prompt with the day it was presented on the NaBloPoMo site.

12/10: Name three things you're grateful for, and three things you want in your life.
Grateful: (1) My family, (2) Health, (3) The ability to express my emotions. Want: (1) Better control over my mental health, (2) Better willpower when it comes to food, (3) Fewer friends struggling with financial problems next Christmas (though I don't know if that counts as being in my life).

12/9: What one thing are you often tempted to lie about? When do you think it's okay to lie?
Hmm, I'm a terrible liar, so I usually don't try. I did lie to Nathan's preschool last week when I called and said he was sick and wouldn't come to school, when in actuality I was taking him to the 1800baskets thing. That was just to the random receptionist who answers the phone at the park district though, not to his actual teacher. I copped to my lie later on with his actual teacher, who asked him if he was feeling better. (Stupidly, he just said "yes." He had no idea what she was talking about, because at least I didn't tell the lie in front of him.) But I do think it's okay to lie to kids about Santa. Some parents aren't comfortable with lying about Santa, but I have yet to find an adult who resents his/her parents for lying about Santa. I think believing in Santa is a fun, magical childhood experience that kids should get to have.

12/8: What do you think happens after we die?
You get buried. Or cremated. There is a funeral. People are sad. As for the whole afterlife thing, I haven't really figured out what I believe about that. All I can say is I definitely don't believe in hell.

12/7: Are you a competitive person or not? What helps you refocus and/or work harder when you find yourself slacking off?
Part 1: Am I a competitive person? Hahahahahaha. HA. When I swim at the gym, I can't help but be happy if I swim faster than the person in the lane next to me, even if that person is 75 years old. I can get scary competitive, but for the most part I try to avoid situations where my competitive nature is going to rear its ugly head. That's why I don't like hanging out with moms who always want to compare their kids' milestones to your kid's. Part 2: What helps you refocus and/or work harder when you find yourself slacking off? Why would I want to work harder?

12/6: Which of your senses means the most to you?
I really think the only correct answer here is vision. Loss of vision would be the hardest to overcome. I feel kind of bad saying that because I don't mean to imply that it's easy to be deaf or something like that. The loss of any sense would be hard. I just think not being able to visually comprehend my surroundings would be the hardest for me.

12/3: If you could erase one type of animal from the face of the earth, what would it be?
Insects with a lot of legs. What is it with the multi-legged insects that makes them so creepy?

12/2: What's the most dangerous thing you've ever done?
I don't balance my checkbook.

12/1: If you could stop your body from aging at any point in your life, what age would you want to stay at and why?
Well, obviously I'd want a body in its early 20s. I would want a mind that is much, much older. That's allowed, right?

11/30: If you could call any living person for advice today, who would you call?
Well, I think in actuality, your close friends and relatives would probably give you better advice than some stranger, because they know you better. But since this is a sort of fantasy question, I guess I should pick some famous person who I wouldn't normally have access to. So I pick Tina Fey for comedic advice and Brooke Shields for mental health advice.

11/29: If you could have worked for anyone in history, in your field, who would you choose and why?
What field am I in? I used to be a teacher, but I don't think I'd want to work for any famous teachers. Like, Annie Sullivan? Would that mean I'd have to go live in the olden days? Jaime Escalante? Would he want to work with some dumb white girl who doesn't understand calculus? He'd be all, "Dude, I got these low-income kids from an urban school to pass the A.P. Calculus exam, twice because the first time they were accused of cheating. And you stupid-ass suburban white girl of privilege, you got a 2. Clearly you don't have the ganas! Get out!" No, no famous teachers. And after teaching my field was publishing, and I'm not sure I know any famous people in that industry. William Randolph Hearst? I've toured his house twice, and the indoor pool haunts my dreams. Plus I was in educational publishing, not newspaper publishing. Now I'm a mom, and is that really a field? Who is a famous mom? June Cleaver? Florence Henderson? And I fancy myself a bit of a comedian, but would any famous comedians want me working for them? Okay, Tina Fey. I pick Tina Fey again. That way I wouldn't have to go back in time and live at a time when women were oppressed and a lot of people died of cholera. And she would use some of my jokes in 30 Rock.

11/26: What's the worst joke you've ever heard?
Most of the ones featured on Popsicle sticks.

11/25: Who are you closer to, friends or family?
Family. Family is always going to be there for you.

11/24: What turns you on, excites you, makes life worth living?
Obviously, your family makes life worth living. That's a no-brainer. But I'm excited by other things, most notably writing. Doing my daily blog post is the best part of my day. Sometimes I'm actually sad when I finish it, which probably explains the length of some of the posts.

11/23: What's on your wall: prints, posters, photos, paintings? What makes you want to hang something up?
I think maybe I've reached an age where things on the wall have to be framed. We have two cool reproductions of vintage posters (framed) that are advertisements for California tourist attractions. The picture that occupies the coveted over-the-couch spot is a painting of a train. Obviously we also have many framed family portraits. As for the second part of the question, What makes you want to hang something up?, the answer is, the impending arrival of guests who we don't want to know that we have had pictures sitting on the floor waiting to be hung up for months.

11/22: Tell us about what you're wearing today. Where'd you get your shoes? How long have you had that tie? Is that your grandmother's watch?
Whoa, NaBloPoMo, you are way off. I'm not wearing shoes, a tie, or a watch. I'm wearing my pajamas, and not even cute pajamas, because all of those are in the wash. Right now I'm wearing old pajama bottoms and one of my husband's white t-shirts.

11/19: Write the first paragraph of your autobiography.
Why are you reading my autobiography? What have I done that's remotely interesting? It's laughable that I would think I was worthy of an autobiography, and even more laughable that there would be a publisher actually willing to publish it. But assuming that I did write this autobiography and somebody did publish it, shame on you for wasting money on it. I hope you at least got it from the library, or in e-book form so no trees had to die for this drivel. Please stop wasting your time reading this right now, and instead go do something meaningful like playing with your children or volunteering for a charity.

Link to three posts that you've loved this month written by other people, and tell us why.
1. This hilarious post over at Amalah about the stupid stuff people write on pregnancy message boards, 2. My friend Katie's post about the, umm, different food preferences in other countries, 3. My friend Carolyn's post mocking those annoying Christmas card letters.

Whew! That's 17 prompts! I'm done! Have a good Sunday, everyone!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Under the Artificial Sun

This past week has been rough for me. I think a lot of us have experienced some weather-related depression as of late. But not everybody freaks out about it the way I do. I kid you not, yesterday I was lying on the mat doing something at the gym with the trainer, and I was like, Ohmygod my depression is bad what am I going to do I'm never going to be able to get a job because I'm mentally unstable what is wrong with me what if I lose control and end up spending the second half of my life in a mental hospital?

And then I was like, "Okay, I'm done with my crunches now."

Light therapy is supposed to be good for weather-related depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. What you are supposed to do is buy an expensive lightbox designed for such a purpose, and then sit next to it for 20 minutes a day or something like that.

I'm with my lightbox right now. Hence the title of this post.

Side note, it is the ugliest freakin' thing in the world.

What you should probably not do when you're depressed is imbibe depressant substances, even if those depressant substances are red and pair nicely with a cranberry goat cheese.

Guess what I did last night?

I went over to visit my oft-mentioned, oft-hyperlinked friend Katie, who has a sweet pad with a killer view of Lake Michigan. I had the goat cheese and some crackers in my bag, along with two bottles of wine, which I presented with the statement, "I brought two bottles in case one was gross, and not because I think we should drink one bottle each or anything like that."

Uh huh.

I don't want to make it sound like I'm some kind of lush. In actuality, I'm more addicted to the cheese than the wine. As I always say, I have my demons (see: this blog), but alcoholism isn't one of them.

But it's fun to have some wine sometimes, and especially when it means I get to take the whole night off from my life's responsibilities and engage in such frivolities as lying on the floor, Googling people, and doing metric conversions. Did I mention that Katie and I are like the coolest people ever?

I somehow stayed coherent enough to change from my Pajama Jeans into my actual pajamas, because I was sleeping over at Katie's. I don't really like to take the train home at night, because the Metra commuter train to the suburbs is kind of a buzz-kill.

Then I passed out underneath a quilt made of Katie's Math Team t-shirts from high school. One of the shirts had a horrific calculus equation that normally gives me the shivers, but I'm pretty sure I solved after drinking all that wine.

This morning I put my Pajama Jeans back on (boo, they have salt stains) and rode the 9:35 train back to reality.

And today ... ugh. Because you know what's really awesome when you're hungover?