Friday, September 30, 2011

September of Self-Improvement RECAP

Well, I know what you were thinking: Hey, it's the end of September, and I wonder if that random stranger Shannon achieved her incredibly boring September goals?

Fear not!  I am here to provide a full goal-by-goal report:

1. Exercise in some form or another 20 times. At least 8 must be swimming. At least 3 must be outdoor bike rides.

Uhh, mixed bag here.  I did not succeed on the swimming or the outdoor biking goals.  I did each activity once.  The swimming ... well, I like to swim, but the pool schedule at my gym is a little bit complicated, and it's a challenge to schedule swimming around exercise activities and other life obligations.  I concluded that complicated scheduling issues would make me less likely to work out (I know, astute conclusion there), so I only swam once.  As for biking, I rode my bike once at the forest preserve and a I fell off my bike.  I was fine, but, you know, once bitten and all that. 

BUT, I did log a total of 23 workouts this month: 1 swim, 1 bike, 9 weight-lifting, 5 elliptical, 4 Zumba, 2 Step, 1 Spin.  The big surprise this month was that I started liking Zumba, and that I'm back to liking classes in general.  So, overall I feel pretty good about my fitness endeavors in September, even if I didn't meet my goals to the letter. 

2. Only have 4 Weight Watchers cheat days MAXIMUM.

Unequivocal FAIL.  I think I have about 4 WW cheat days per week.  This is a really big problem and I don't know how to solve it, except by continuing to live and learn by my mistakes.  

3. Finish reading 2 books.

Yes!  A quick glance at my Goodreads list reveals that I logged 3 completed books this month, including my favorite of the year so far, The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.  

4. Get at least one more freelance assignment.

Sigh, no. 

5. Have a date night.

Yes!  Bill and I went to Glenwood Oaks Rib and Chop House for dinner when my dad and stepmom were here. 

6. Take a deep breath.

I mean, yeah, I guess literally I breathed, or otherwise I would be dead right now.  As for taking a deep breath in the figurative sense, as in pausing to give myself a break, I think I did okay.  If I hate to rate myself on this one, I'd say I would get maybe a 6 out of 10.  I did take time to stop and forgive myself, but I still found myself feeling anxious more often than not. 

7. Buy these shoes. (This is actually a bribe. I have to apply for at least 35 jobs before I can get the shoes.)

Well, as I said yesterday, I discovered we spent too much money in September, so no shoes for me.  Maybe if one of those 35 job applications had resulted in paid employment, I could have bought shoes.  Oh well, now I have goals for the future.  

8. Finish my murder mystery script.

Why did I use the word "finish"?  I'm basically devoting 2 months to this project, and September was Month #1, so I really think finishing half would have been a more reasonable goal.  And, although these things are a little bit hard to quantify, I do get the sense that I've finished half of the script.  So, success.  #changingrulesmidgame

9. Let it go.

Umm, no, never.  I have been on this planet for 404 months now, and never once in any of those months did I let anything go, so why would I have thought that September 2011 would be the one month where I would just do a complete 180?  Why just today during Zumba class, I found myself fretting about something that happened at work in September 2008.  No, I'm not letting things go.  I'm not letting anything go.  But I think this goal is good to keep in mind, even if it's the kind of area where you sort of gradually improve rather than being instantly perfect.  (Also, all things of which you could possibly let go are not created equal.  It's much easier to let it go when somebody at the grocery store has 11 items in the express lane, than it is to let go of, say, a person's death.) 

10. Give myself a break.

Maybe.  Some.  Again, this isn't the kind of personality change you can make overnight.  But I do think I've made some progress on this front with my "Do One Thing" philosophy.  

Hey, thanks for joining me on my journey to minor self-improvement.  Join me tomorrow when I introduce a new monthly theme, October of Opportunity! 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

And Then We Made Pies

Yesterday I decided to finalize my monthly budget spreadsheet for September. When all was said and done, we did end up with a net gain, but we wouldn't have if I hadn't gotten a paycheck for the freelance work I did all summer.

The obvious conclusion: I need more work.

Unfortunately, the solution was not quite as obvious.  I love the whole freelance thing, but it can be so unpredictable.  You never know when you might get work.

So, I decided to maximize my chances of getting work by applying for more work.  I also planned to reach out and contact various people from my old work.  And that woman I emailed before about freelance?  I would email her again!  I would stick my neck out, dammit!

Instead, I spent yesterday afternoon making pies.

They're apple, made from the apples we picked last week.  

The crust recipe I use is Never Fail Pie Crust from Allrecipes.  It's very flaky, although too crumbly to use for fancy tricks like a lattice top.  I find the crusts that are the best-tasting are often the hardest to manipulate.  But I'll take a good-tasting pie over a good-looking one any day.  It's as Frank Lloyd Wright said, "Form follows function." 

Sometimes I fill my pie with raw apples, as in this recipe.  But America's Test Kitchen advocates using pre-cooked apples, because raw apples will shrink down when cooked, resulting in a giant gap between the crust and the apples.  According to America's Test Kitchen, a gap between the crust and apples is like the worst thing that could happen to you, ever.

Now I personally think that anytime you mix crust, apples, cinnamon, and sugar, it's going to be delicious, gaps or no gaps.  But I do find it easier to apply the top crust when the apples are cooked, because raw apples are hard and pokey and tend to create breaks in the top crust. 

The filling recipe I use when making cooked filling is from America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book.  I scoured the Internet for a full three minutes and couldn't find the recipe online, and rather than wasting any more time looking further, I just figured it would be easier to type it out myself.

Blue-Ribbon Apple Pie Filling
2 ½ pounds (5 to 7) firm, tart apples, peeled, cored, and sliced ¼ inch thick
2 ½ pounds (5 to 7) firm sweet apples, peeled, cored, and sliced ¼ thick
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
½ teaspoon grated fresh lemon zest
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 egg white, beaten lightly

1.      Toss the apples, ½ cup of the granulated sugar, brown sugar, zest, salt, and cinnamon together in a large bowl.  Transfer the apples to a Dutch oven, cover, and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the apples are tender when poked with a fork but still hold their shape, 15 to 20 minutes.  Transfer the apples and their juice to a rimmed baking sheet and let cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.    

2.      Adjust your oven rack to the lowest position, place a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet in the oven, and preheat to 425 degrees.
3.       Roll out a bottom crust for the pie and put it in the bottom of a pie plate, with about an inch of extra dough hanging over the edge.

4.      Drain the cooled apples thoroughly through a colander, reserving ¼ cup of the juice.  Stir the lemon juice into the reserved ¼ cup of apple juice.  

5.      Spread the apples into the dough-lined pie plate, mounding them slightly in the middle, and drizzle with the lemon juice mixture.  Cover apples with rolled-out top crust, then trim, fold, and crimp the edges.  Cut 4 vent holes into the top.  Brush the crust with the egg white and sprinkle with the remaining one tablespoon sugar.  

6.       Place pie on the heated baking sheet and bake until the crust is golden, about 25 minutes.  Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees, rotate the baking sheet, and continue to bake until the juices are bubbling and the crust is deep golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes longer.  Let the pie cool on a wire rack until the filling has set, about 2 hours. 


My notes:
  • I assume that if you don't have a Dutch oven, a regular pot is fine.
  • My method for crust placement, which comes courtesy of my mother-in-law, is as follows: Sprinkle your work surface with water, using the water to stick down a piece of wax paper.  Sprinkle flour on the wax paper, dough, and rolling pin.  Roll out crust and trim, if necessary.  Then lift up the wax paper to transfer the crust into your pan.  Press dough down and peel off wax paper. 
  • Although the recipe says to sprinkle the top with 1 tablespoon of sugar, I always sprinkle apple pie with a cinnamon/sugar mixture.  
  • If you want to use America's Test Kitchen's Foolproof Pie Dough, it's here.  Intriguingly, it uses vodka in place of some of the water, because vodka evaporates while cooking, leaving a flakier crust.    

Yesterday was the perfect afternoon for making apple pies.  It was cold and rainy, but I still had the windows open to hear the rain.  Nathan helped me dump in the ingredients, and he also pressed dough into a small pan to make a personal pie for himself.  

Now, you might be thinking, Shannon, but aren't you on Weight Watchers?  Yes, yes I am, astute (albeit nagging) reader.  But don't worry, I gave the pies away to Carolyn and Sarah.  Here's a cool Instagram photo Carolyn took of the pie with a slice cut out:

As you can see, the advantage of using a pre-cooked filling is that you can pack a lot more apples into a pie.  I used about twice as many apples as I would have used if I had been using raw apples. 

Happy Baking!  Happy Fall!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Last week my dad and stepmom visited, and so it was time for our annual fall trek to County Line Orchard for apple-picking.

First stop: The Children's Farm. There was some minor disappointment when we learned that Nathan's favorite attraction, Peter the Pumpkin-Eating Dinosaur, was closed that day:

But the child rallied when it was time to climb on the tractor.  In typical kid fashion, the various children (Nathan included) had to climb all over the thing even when it wasn't their turn in the driver's seat:

No, we cannot wait patiently in line!  We must be in physical contact with the tractor at all times!

Then, over at the hay-ground:

Children love hay!

Nathan's turn on the mini-tractor.  Notice that other kid is hovering in the wings in eager anticipation of his turn.  

This next picture is kind of bad, but it's the only picture I have to show the hay maze from far away:

Takin' a break among the hay bales:

Next up: the petting zoo.  Nathan is interested in animals, but too afraid to feed them, leaving me with a $3 bag of animal feed and goat saliva on my hands.

Okay, so this next part is totally adorbs.  They built three houses for the pigs: one of straw, one of sticks, and one of bricks:

And the three little pigs picked the brick house:

This is a photo inside the packing house:

Here we see Nathan displaying the cheesy kid picture grin among the pumpkin display:

And inside the giant cornucopia photo op:

Next we took the trractor ride to the apple orchards.  As you can see, Nathan was very seriously pondering a plan of action for his apple-picking:

But as this next photo demonstrates, he was excited:

This is my dad and stepmom on the tractor in front of the sunflower fields:

I'm pretty sure I take this same picture every year.

Here are a few orchard shots:

Three-generation photo:

My stepmom picking my favorite variety of apples:

Mother/son moment:

During which I apparently felt the need to perform a Shakespearean soliloquy:

Aaand what trip to County Line would be complete without a taste of their famous doughnuts?  Here's Nathan enjoying cider and a pumpkin doughnut:

This shot is blurry because it's an action shot.  He's devouring that doughnut:

Yay apples!

(Photo credits: Assume that if it's a crappy, blurry photo, I took it with my cell phone.  All good-quality photos copyright my dad.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Soccer, Week 3

"People go to a children's dance recital expecting a certain level of professionalism."
 --Lisa Simpson's dance teacher, The Simpsons


Nathan's first week of soccer, he was more or less oblivious to what was going on.  Which, as I've said before, is totally fine and expected.  He's only four years old, and I have to imagine that being thrown out in the middle of a soccer field with a bunch of people watching and yelling at you is very overwhelming for a four-year-old.  As I also said, I was disappointed that he didn't burn off a little more energy out on the soccer field, but I figured things would improve in time. 

But the second week of soccer, Nathan's attitude went from complete indifference to active dislike.  As in, I hate soccer!  Soccer's the worst!  Bill and I had to carry him onto the field and plant him over the line, and then he did that classic kid trick where he refused to stiffen his legs when we plopped him down, so he wouldn't stand up.  And then when it was time to leave the soccer field, he was so oblivious that we had to go and prod him off the field, too. 

At that point my natural maternal instinct to compare my kid to all the other kids kicked in.  What was wrong with him?  I understood that the general spaciness on the soccer field was age-appropriate, but it didn't seem that any of the other kids were actually hating the soccer experience the way Nathan was. 

Another mom, who has three children, tried to reassure me that it was fine, he's only four, stop worrying, etc.  I inferred that I was coming across as a crazy, pushy, helicopter parent, doing the kind of obsessive worrying that mothers of only children are thought to do.  Which, honestly, I mean the excessive worrying part is true, but in general I think my standards for children's extracurricular activities are pretty low.  I generally believe an activity to be a success if Nathan:

1. Has fun
2. Interacts with other children
3. Burns off energy/gets tired out

That's it, honestly.  I'm not expecting that he will master every activity he tries.  In fact, I more or less assume he won't master anything at age four.  I realize that activities for young children are going to involve some amount of chaos, and that little kids aren't always going to cooperate perfectly with the plans adults have for them.  Again, I really only have the three above goals for Nathan's activities.  But in Week 2 of soccer, it was pretty clear that we weren't achieving any of them. 

My hopes were pretty low for Week 3's double-header, which was  disappointing because my dad and stepmom were coming to watch.  

But maybe it was third time's a charm, or just dumb luck, but Nathan rocked the soccer field his third week out.  I mean, he's not the team's star player, and again, I don't care, because clearly he achieved my three goals for youth activities. 

He had fun:

He burned off energy:

He interacted with other kids:

 Seriously, this was the first time he even participated in the post-game high-fiving.

Here he is throwing the ball back in after an out-of-bounds:

And a shot of him actually kicking the ball:

At the end of the double-header, he was exhausted and his socks were filthy.  I've never been so excited to wash a load of laundry with bleach in my life. 

What will Week 4 bring? 

(All photos taken by my dad, who has a really awesome camera.)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Average Mom Sunday Check-In

So, the original SuperIma Leigh Ann has decided to put the SuperIma Sunday Check-In on hiatus.  I do like the idea of a weekly check-in, but since I'm neither Super nor Hebrew-speaking, I decided to change it into an Average Mom Sunday Check-In.

Oh, and I'm not saying it's A Thing.  I might never do it again.  I'm non-committal like that.  And I'm not saying I'm turning it into a carnival with a Mr. Linky or anything like that.  I'm too insecure, and I'd take it personally if nobody participated.

Also, in the case that I do decide to make it a regular thing, I am not establishing any kind of format for it.  It's just a sort of random, this and that, updatey sort of thing.

Oh and also, it's now Monday.  I started this post on Sunday.  So I'm all kinds of win here.

So, brief life updates on me:

We enjoyed a brief visit from my dad and stepmom last week.  They arrived Wednesday afternoon.  Thursday Nathan had school.  My parents came with me to pick him up, and, for the first time this school year, Nathan got a bad report.  The report wasn't that bad, just that Nathan had to be separated from the other kids because he was kicking his legs around under the table.  But still, can you give me a break, kid?  Why is it that your worst school reports have to come when third parties are with me picking you up?  I realize this is some kind of issue where the routine of your life gets upset when visitors come, and that translates into unpleasant school behavior, but come on.

Later that same day, Nathan had a meltdown at the mall because he refused to say thank you for the toy my parents bought him, and so he couldn't have it, but I want that toy, but I can't say thank you ... and repeat about 75 times until we just had to go home. 

Friday was better.  We all went apple-picking.  I have a lot of pictures, so I'll just write a separate post.

Like many American families, our Saturday was consumed by soccer.  Nathan's team had a double-header.  That's right, a double-header for a pre-K/K soccer league where they don't even keep score.  Apparently there are an odd number of teams, and in order to give the kids the maximum playing opportunity, they just assigned each team a week to have a double-header.  This was our lucky week, and it was made doubly-lucky by the fact that it was also soccer picture day.  Oh, and I had to bring snack.  Soccer, soccer, soccer, soccer, soccer.

Except, guess what?  Nathan actually ran around the field, throughout his entire playing time, for both games.  I was actually able to grumble about his having dirty socks for the team picture, whereas I assumed Nathan's socks would still be pristine white after two hours on the field. 

Later that day, Bill and I went out to dinner while my parents babysat.  We went to our usual date night place.  There was a live singer with a keyboard there.  I lip-synched along with him to Lionel Richie's "Easy Like Sunday Morning."  Good times, I tell you, good times.

My parents left Sunday morning.  And now a new week begins.  And guess what?  I still don't !@$% have any freelance work.  On the bright side, I have more time to work on my my murder mystery script for the park district, and I think it's coming along well.  I guess.  I mean, I don't know.  The story takes place in 1977, in a bed and breakfast in a fictional remote Wisconsin town.  I mention this because there are virtually no alibis that I can concoct for these characters as to what they might have been doing at the time the murder took place.  I keep coming back to the idea one's Internet browsing history could be used as an alibi, except ... 1977.  On the plus side, it's going to have a kick-ass soundtrack.  And macrame wall hangings.  And really, those are more important than a solid plotline anyway.

Speaking of stories, does anybody have any good book recommendations?  I finished The Language of Flowers a few weeks ago, and I loved it, but I always struggle to find a good book after finishing a book I really like.  You know, a tough act to follow and all that.  Anyway, I like historical fiction a lot, mostly about women because I like to learn about the average lives of women in other times. 

Oh and that reminds me, did you guys watch Pan Am?  I really liked it.  It's obviously intended as an attempt to capitalize on the whole 60's craze popularized by Mad Men, and, like Mad Men, it sort of plays on the appalling nature of human behavior in that era, while at the same time making everything look so glamorous.  Because, yeah, a Pan Am stewardess gets a demerit for coming to work without a girdle, and there are weight checks, and generally a stewardess of that era is sort of projecting the idea that she's another amenity to be had when you fly Pan Am.  But look how fancy and posh those planes are!  And the way they're all trained to walk the same way!  And I want one of those Pan Am bags. 

Okay, on to another week of my life.  Have a good one, everybody!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Crazy Camp, The Reunion

NOTE: If you don't know anything about the time I spent in the outpatient depression program I affectionately call "Crazy Camp," go here.  Or, just know that in March 2008 I spent a week in an outpatient program in the psychiatric unit of my local hospital. 

The thing about Crazy Camp was, people were always coming and going.  It wasn't like everyone started Monday and finished Friday.  People started when they were either released from inpatient psychiatric care, or when they dragged themselves through the door.  So everybody at Crazy Camp was at a different stage of recovering from depression. 

I was in the second-to-last day of my time at Crazy Camp when "Sue" started.  Sue had just been released from the inpatient psychiatric unit.  The way Sue got to the unit was that she had been depressed, had plans for a suicide attempt, and told her regular doctor about those plans.  Soon she was being whisked off to the hospital and held against her will.  A few days later, she arrived at Crazy Camp.

Sue and I discovered that we lived very near one another, and so we kind of became buddies.  During lunch, I tried to strike up a conversation about local pizza places.  Sue was so out of it, she couldn't really focus on the conversation.  And in the group therapy sessions, every conversation seemed to be me trying to convince Sue not to end her life. 

Sue's second day in the program was my last, and I had to accept that I was going to leave the program and never find out what happened to Sue.  It was like seeing the first episode of a two-part "to be continued" TV show and never seeing the conclusion.  (You have to imagine that it is pre-Hulu/DVDs for this analogy to work.) 

The point is, I never knew what became of Sue.  But I thought about her often.  She had mentioned that she lived near the Wendy's closest to my house, and I could never pass that Wendy's without thinking about Sue. 

Well, you probably know where this is going.  A few days ago, I saw Sue. 

I didn't recognize her right away, but she was wearing a work ID with her name and workplace, and both of those matched Sue's description.  As we got to talking, she revealed more and more information that confirmed she was, in fact, Sue. 

When nobody else was around I brought up the subject of Crazy Camp.  Yes, she said, she had been there. 

I told her I always wondered about her.  I asked how she was doing.  She said she was doing well. 

We reminisced a little.  Oh, that Crazy Camp!  Those times were, well, Crazy!  Remember that time late at night when we raided the other cabin and switched their antidepressants with Pez?  Hahahahahaha!  Remember in the Mess Hall when we had that food fight because nobody wanted to eat their food anyway, because lack of appetite is a symptom of depression? 

Okay, obviously none of that happened.  We sat in a room and talked.  And cried.  And sometimes we filled out little workbooks.  Then we went home. 

Anyway.  Sue asked how I was doing, and I said I was doing well, too.  Which is the truth, overall. 

It was a weirdly heavy conversation to be having, given the venue. 

Shortly thereafter I had to leave to take Nathan to the library and then the gym.  It's hard for me, though, to just go about my day when I'm reminded of a life-changing experience like Crazy Camp.  And seeing Sue, and finally finding out that she's okay, and I'm okay, after that time when we were obviously both such the opposite of okay, it filled me with such a strong sense of hope that I was almost too stunned to move on with my daily activities. 

And if you are at a place where you're not okay, please get help.  Tell a doctor, and if that doctor blows you off, tell another doctor.  Or tell me.  (Click the big envelope in the sidebar to email me.)  There is so much hope for you. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Happy Birthday Leia! Charity Drive!

It's Leia's birthday! 

Well, I mean it's the birthday I made up for Leia.  I got her March 23, 2004, and the shelter estimated that she was 6 months old.  So I decided her birthday was September 23, 2003. 

She is 8 years old today!

Leia is the best cat.  She's friendly to everyone, and she loves to snuggle.  And sure there's that whole excessive vomiting thing, but ... okay, she's mostly the best cat. 

I always take the opportunity on Leia's birthday to promote pet adoption.  There are way too many pets born in the world, and I encourage you to please give one of them a home.  Otherwise ... well, you know what the shelters do with unwanted animals. 

I got Leia from the Pasadena Humane Society in Pasadena, California.  She was from humble beginnings, crouched in the corner of a cage while her brother meowed at the world.  I asked to see her in the "meet and greet" area, which was like a little closed cubicle where you could get to know your potential kitty. 

She was shy at first and didn't want to be held.  I respected her wishes and let her jump down and wander around the cubicle. 

"Please don't let the cat walk around in here," said the shelter employee. 

I wasn't sure about Leia at first, because I didn't want a "run-away kitty" as Bill and I call them. 

I told the lady I wasn't sure, but, well, yeah, I'll take this one. 

And then on the way out, I looked into Leia's eyes and I just felt a bond.  I know that's silly to say, but I did.  I think we bonded over getting in trouble together with the stupid humane society lady.  

Leia had to get fixed the next day, so I couldn't pick her up until two days later.  When I got her, she had greasy fur and, umm, possibly some of her own excrement stuck to her leg.  She required no fewer than 7 medications to repair her shelter-based ailments, and she had to wear one of those head cones. 

Eight years later, Leia lives all the way across the country, and is the fattest, softest, silkiest, most spoiled kitty ever. 

She's come a long way since her shelter days. 

In honor of Leia's birthday, I'd like to help other shelter pets at my local humane society. 

And all you have to do to help me help the animals is leave a comment! 

For every comment on this post, I will donate one item off the shelter's wishlist.  Please answer the following in your comment:

Tell me about a special animal in your life (past or present).  

Thank you for helping me help the South Suburban Humane Society! 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Motherhood in the Media: Up All Night

It seems that the insanity of motherhood is all the rage in the media right now, almost as hip as the overt sexism of the 1960s!  Recently I saw two media depictions of motherhood, the NBC television show Up All Night and the movie I Don't Know How She Does It.  I will devote a separate post to each one.  In this post I will discuss Up All Night.

NBC has been promoting the hell out of this show, which stars Christina Applegate and Will Arnett as brand-new parents forced to give up their partying lifestyle.  He's a stay-at-home dad, she's a TV producer for a daytime talk show with a self-centered host, played by Maya Rudolph.

I had high hopes for this show.  It looked like we would finally be seeing a realistic depiction of new parenthood, which TV up to this point has sorely lacked.  Most shows seem to be about young, hip people, possibly the kind of people the parents on Up All Night used to be.  Even when other shows have added kids, presumably for a ratings boost, the kids are never central to the characters' lives, which I think we can agree is hugely unrealistic.  You saw baby Emma on Friends about once every fifth episode, and the rest of the time she was supposed to be either asleep, with a nanny, visiting her grandparents, or just quietly staring into space in her baby carrier while Rachel and the gang went about their usual antics.  Wow, Emma was like the best baby ever!  Ditto Miranda's son Brady on Sex and the City.  Even as a single mom, Miranda still seemed to have plenty of time to go out with men or hang with the girls.  Both shows did one obligatory episode about the struggles of caring for a newborn, and then presumably the characters solved all their problems and parenting was simple from there on out. 

And I understand why those shows didn't focus on the babies.  For one thing, they weren't really shows about parenting.  For another, it's logistically difficult to have babies on a TV set, because there are so many laws limiting their exposure to lighting and whatnot. 

But with Up All Night, there would finally there will be a show about new parenthood, a show the rest of us could relate to. 

Except, could it be that the trials of new parenthood are too boring to depict on a television show?  I mean, yeah, you're tired.  You're arguing with your spouse about who works harder.  You wonder how you can balance your career and motherhood.

I also wonder if maybe the problems faced by new mothers are kind of too subtle in some cases, too serious in others, for sitcom fare.  I mean, who wouldn't want to watch an entire half-hour episode where Christina Applegate wrestles with a subtle loss of identity and a questioning of how society views her as a mother?  Or maybe they could do the post-partum depression episode.  That would be hilarious! 

(You'd think I would like to see more exposure of PPD in the media, except that TV is always so unrealistic.  Scrubs did a PPD storyline, but it was just ... bam! ... I took some antidepressants and everything is better!)

I didn't altogether hate Up All Night, I just question how much material they have to go on when it comes to the troubles of new parents.  Hopefully they have some more plotlines up their sleeves that don't deal exclusively with parenting.  I'm willing to give the show another chance to see where they're headed, but I think maybe they may have too narrow a niche to be successful. 

Nit-Picky Complaint: Whose idea was it to name the baby on the show Amy?  Now, Amy is a very popular name, and I know a lot of Amys, but not one of them is under 30.  A quick search of the Social Security Administration's baby names database reveals that the name Amy peaked in popularity from 1973 to 1976, when it was the second most popular name.  In 2010, which is the last year for which data is available, Amy hit an all-time low of 135th in popularity.  That means it is really unlikely that parents today would name a child Amy.  Baby girls born today get names like Olivia and Addison.  I realize it's not impossible that a couple would name a baby Amy, it just seems like the kind of thing where nobody at the show did any kind of research, and it distracts me from the rest of the show. 


Sunday, September 18, 2011

SuperIma Sunday Check-In: Do One Thing

It occurs to me that lately I have been overwhelmed by the number of tasks I should be doing.  Now, that is not a new development for me or for anybody else in the world.  What is a recent development, for me at least, is the inability to decide which task to complete next.  And I get so overwhelmed in this state of indecision that I give up altogether and do nothing. 

Now, there are times where the next task is obvious.  If there's some kind of looming deadline on a project, or it's 5:00 and dinner needs to be prepared, or I have some kind of scheduled activity or appointment, the path is clear.  But right now I have no paying gigs, so no deadlines, and there's a little time of day I like to call 1:00 to 5:00 p.m.  Honestly, I think that four-hour period is the source of my undoing most days.

In the mornings, the path is clear.  Get self ready for day, get Nathan ready for day, feed cat, empty dishwasher, yadda, yadda, yadda, out the door by 9:00 a.m.  Crazy scrambling to do some combination of exercise, errands, job applications, and script-writing while Nathan is at school or with the babysitter.  Come home at noon, prepare and eat lunch.

And then ... ??? until 5:00 when the path is, once again, clear.  Dinner and bedtime routines.  Sometimes soccer.  Sometimes the gym.

Here's what I should be doing between 1:00 and 5:00 p.m.:

vacuuming, folding laundry, OMG have you seen the mess in the living room?, job applications, script-writing, meaningful interaction with child, OMG have you seen the mess in the kitchen?, Target, emails, phone calls, cleaning the bathroom, picking up toys, dusting, writing blog posts, paying bills, OMG have you seen the mess in Nathan's room?, grocery shopping, possibly setting some kind of controlled fire in the basement because that's easier than cleaning it out, buying somebody's birthday gift/card, taking out trash, okay I think you get it

And then, overwhelmed by all those tasks and unsure of which one to do first, I usually just end up reading and petting the cat. 

The thing is, nobody could complete all those tasks in four hours.  Well, I'm sure somebody technically could, but maybe not very thoroughly.  Especially because some of the tasks carry some kind of weird emotional weight.  Like, I don't want to write any of the script because I'm afraid it will suck.  Or, Job applications will force me to confront my future, and also my past, and my lack of marketable skills, and question why there aren't more jobs that offer a perfect work/life balance, and aren't the odds totally stacked against working mothers, and !@#%$ society, and frustration, and oh look Goldfish crackers! 

Now, obviously, when I spell this all out on paper, I can see that my feelings are totally irrational.  If, say, I do write some sucky dialogue in my script, the worst-case scenario would be that ... I have to rewrite it.  That's it.  And wouldn't I feel better having poorly-written dialogue than having nothing written at all? 

And as for the job applications, many of these postings are dead ends anyway.  Either nobody ever reads your application, or they already had somebody else in mind to hire when they put up the posting.  Or sometimes the job itself sucks, like it says you're going to be a writer (ooh!), but then you have to write 100 blog posts and if at least a million people read them, you get $2.50.  And whether the rejection comes from my end or the employer's, it's not worth plunging into deep despair about everything from the glass ceiling to my lack of a graduate degree just for a stupid online job posting.  Spend five minutes filling in the required fields, hit "send," and hope one out of fifty applications actually pans out. 

The household chores are overwhelming in a different way, namely that cleaning begets cleaning.  Like, say I go to pick up stuff in the living room and put the items away where they belong in a closet.  But then, oh no!, the closet is messy, too!  And then I find a stack of mail I need to deal with!  And why does my kid have so many toys?  I should really go through purge toys, or store and label them and then systematically rotate them on a schedule.  But really it's because I'm a bad parent and buy him all this stuff.  And why am I the only one who cleans up around here?  Anger!  Resentment!  Martyrdom! 

It's tough when you overthink things. 

I'm so overwhelmed by the tasks in front of me, and by my stupidly over-active mind, that everything seems so daunting and I don't do anything. 

But here's what my attitude should be:

Pinned by Ashley on Pinterest.  Follow me, won't you?  Username: Shannon Ford

So, here is my goal for the week: Do one thing.  

I can't do everything.  But I can do one thing. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

I'm just gonna bullet-point it

  • I got picked to test an iPad app in exchange for $35.  I won't say the name of the app, because that's just mean, but it was so boring.  It was basically a simulation game, along the lines of Farmville or Frontierville, except the whole thing was based on planting and harvesting flowers/fruit.  I don't enjoy gardening in real life, why would I enjoy doing it on my iPad?  In the questionnaire about the app, it asked who I would recommend the game to, and I felt like writing "people I don't like."  But I was nice and didn't. 
  • But speaking of flowers, I just finished the best book, The Language of Flowers.  It's the story of a former foster child who ages out of the system, and whose only marketable skill is a talent for flower-arranging.  It's the current front-runner for my favorite book of 2011. 
  • I am next supposed to be reading Agatha Christie's Sleeping Murder, because I found out it was on the bestseller list during the week in which my play script is supposed to take place, and I thought I would include some sort of tie-in.  I got it on Kindle, though, so it's sort of a "past meets present" kind of thing.  
  • My car failed the state emissions test for the license plate renewal.  The guy at the testing booth said, "Your car failed because of this code," and he circled a numerical code on a sheet of paper.  I asked him what that code meant, and he said he didn't know.  REALLY?!  Am I the first person to ever ask that question?  They don't have a computer system or a book or something to look it up?  Anyway, I Googled the code, and it said the problem was "fuel system too lean."  Now, this has to be the first problem I've ever had in which something was too lean.  So, I had to take the car to the mechanic twice, first to determine the problem, and then a week later after the part was ordered to have the work done, and it cost $731.  And now I have to drive it for 150 miles, under certain specified conditions (tank half-full, 15 miles on the freeway going 55 mph, etc.), and then I have to have the mechanic retest the car and give me a form saying I passed.  And then I have to go back to the state testing facility and do the test again.  I think it might have been easier if I just pushed the car over a cliff.  Fortunately for the people who make money off these car repairs, Illinois doesn't have a lot of cliffs.  
  • I need another job, like, really badly.  At this point I might even be willing to go sit in a cubicle some days during the week, under florescent light, drinking bad coffee, if it meant I'd be out of this funk where I feel useless and bored.  
  • I went to Zumba again today.  It was pretty good.
  • I got the Martha Stewart Living Halloween edition.  
  • Tomorrow is my town's annual fall fest and chili cook-off. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

This Procrastination is Exhausting

I've been in a bit of a funk.  And yet my anxiety level is so sky-high I can feel my heart beating a thousand miles an hour.  I feel so overwhelmed and stuck. 

I'm supposed to be working on this script for the park district.  I have been procrastinating. 

I'm just so tired. 

The details of everyday life are bringing me down.  Like the other day I discovered I was out of a particular type of vitamin, and I was just like, "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" as if it were the worst crisis of my life. 

Today we had no water due to a broken water main down the street.  That was just the last little kick in the pants toward complete hassle-dom, and eventually I begged Nathan to go on some errands with Bill so I could take a nap.  And then I actually drooled into my pillow.

I'm gonna go.  The words aren't coming right now, which is why I used the term hassle-dom.  I'm sure there's a better word, but I can't think of it right now.  That's all. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Happy Nappers?

First of all, if you have children in your house that you allow to watch television, you probably know the title of this post comes from a stuffed toy that is advertised incessantly during children's television programs.  The commercials feature a catchy jingle, that, if you click on that link, you too can have stuck in your head for the rest of the day.

Happy Nappers are sort of like the coveted Pillow Pet, in that they are stuffed things that convert to other things, and in that they are completely stupid but still have some sort of irresistible quality you can't quite put your finger on.  Look at that, a castle turns into a dragon!  A penguin turns into an igloo!  Let's order one!

Naturally, Nathan has done his fair share of begging for the toy, since his general M.O. is to find a way to spend the largest portion of my money that he possibly can.  (Like, seriously, yesterday at the library I suggested we check out a DVD of Rio, and he said, "Great, and then if we like it we can buy it at Target."  WHAT?!  NO!) 

Now, as I said, I find the Happy Nappers kind of adorable and sort of want one myself, but I had to turn this into an Important Parenting Moment and tell Nathan he could earn the Happy Napper through my favorite tool, the incentive chart.  The deal is that if he can get through a whole day without saying "I hate you!" he gets a sticker.  So far he has 3 stickers, and even those were gained through a bit of charitable rule-bending.  I'm guessing by the time he fills up that chart, he'll be past his teenage years and, I hope, no longer interested in Happy Nappers.

But whether we get the thing or not, here's is what I want to tell the kid:

You can't have a Happy Napper, because you won't take a nap. 

Now, Nathan has not taken a nap since he was three, and although I was initially thrown for a loop, I've mostly come to appreciate the positives of having a non-napper.  We no longer have to plan our whole schedule around naptime.  Nathan usually goes to bed more easily than he did in his nap days, and there's never that issue of, Oh crap, he napped until 5:00 and now we have to find a way to tire him out so he'll go to bed.  Plus I think he sleeps later in the mornings than his napping friends do, and if it comes between sleeping in or getting a nap, I'd probably pick sleeping in. 

And honestly, while I do have some fond memories of the nap era (namely of leisurely naps of my own), I remember spending a huge percentage of his napping years getting stressed out.  First there was the complete lack of predictability of naps during his infancy.  There was the complete sleep snafu that happened when he was switching from one nap to two.  (That transition coincided with the worst of my depression, and let me tell you, getting up with a 12-month-old at 5 a.m. in the dead of winter, and then having that kid take some random nap between 10 and 11:30 a.m. and be done napping for the rest of the day, that doesn't work wonders for your mental health.) 

I'd say the only time Nathan was dependably napping at a set time was from about ages 1 to 2, but then we had the "nap trap" situation.  I knew that 11:00 a.m. on was a danger zone to be in the car, because if the boy fell asleep for even ten minutes, his body would think he was done with his nap and that would be it for the day.  I recall keeping him awake in the car by tapping on his leg, singing, talking, giving him a sucker, letting him drink a soda ... by any means necessary.  Not only did we have to be home from noon to three, we had to be out of the car at any time that the car might put him to sleep.  The mere mention of any activity between the hours of 11 and 4 made me nervous.

Then when his naps became less dependable, that was so stressful, too.  I would put him down at 1:00 and he'd carry on for like two hours, and then finally he'd sleep from about 3 to 5, at which point, !@#%.  This actually is the era where Bangy-Nose Pooh got his name, because Nathan would bang Pooh's nose on the side of his bed in an effort to protest napping.

Oh, and I think we're all familiar with the nap-delaying poopy diaper.

So, for all those reasons, I wasn't altogether sad when Nathan stopped napping.  As I said, there was the initial period where I seriously didn't have any clue what to do all day, because up until every day had been divided into two distinct periods: Pre-Nap and Post-Nap.  What was I supposed to do to entertain Nathan all these extra hours in the middle of the day?  Oh, and also, he didn't know how to handle being up all day.  He wasn't quite tired enough that he needed a nap, but he wasn't energetic enough to make it through the day without getting ridiculously crabby.

Slowly, though, we adjusted to no naps.  Nathan has a mid-day "quiet time," which, I admit, is not altogether quiet in that it involves the TV.  I like the flexibility of the quiet time; it doesn't have to be at a specific time, and nobody is really adversely affected by the skipping of quiet time on some days.  I like that Nathan has the whole day to get tired, and not that I have to tire him out first to take a nap, and then later to go to bed.

Now, let me pause and say that I absolutely blame myself for his giving up naps a little on the early end.  During Nathan's napping days, I wasn't one of those parents who insisted that the nap schedule be respected at all costs.  You know like, "Oh, Joel McHale and Tina Fey are coming to town to host the Adorable Kittens and Chocolate Festival?  Sorry, I can't go, my kid has to take a nap."  There were just honestly too many other factors to work around to make sure we were always home for my kid's nap.  For example, my husband is the type to not really be ready to start the day until about 1:00 p.m., so the choice was sometimes between giving up naptime or never being all together as a family.  So I made some choices when it came to naps, and I'm pretty sure his giving up naps was my fault.  (Although, thankfully, this article says it probably isn't my fault.  Maybe.  And it says that when he gave up naps, that was a sign that his brain had matured in a certain way.  Though, you know, not in the way that signals that a complete meltdown in McDonald's is a bad idea.) 

But all issues of blame aside, I've accepted that naps are in the rearview mirror.  And I mostly say good riddance to naps. 

Except lately I've done a complete 180 when it comes to my beliefs on naps. 

I've decided all children should take naps until kindergarten. 

Why?  Because there just isn't enough for them to do all day long during the preschool years. 

Lately we've been operating on a schedule that's pretty busy in the mornings.  I personally get up, get the dishwasher emptied, tidy up in the kitchen, do some laundry, feed Nathan and the cat, get Nathan dressed and ready for the day's activities, work out, run errands, do some sort of professional-ish activity, sometimes transport Nathan to/from activities, and make lunch.  The mornings are usually exhausting and productive, and after lunch we're tired and overstimulated. 

It's not the time to start some big, new activity.  As last week's McDonald's episode illustrated, even something as simple as a fast-food playground might be too much for Nathan in the middle of the day.  We do go to the library or an occasional errand, and we like the park when the weather is nice, but ... there are just so many hours to fill in the day. 

Also, I need Nathan to conserve his energy for the evening hours.  He has soccer practice Wednesdays at 6, and sometimes I have 4:30 obligations at the gym, and I don't want him to be a total meltdown-y wreck by then. 

And sometimes I'd just like him to have enough rational brain cells left to realize that it's a better idea to just eat that one required bite of whatever at dinner than to sit there at the table whining for 45 minutes.  

Plus I often have work-related tasks I need to accomplish in the afternoons, and I feel guilty parking Nathan in front of the TV or computer games.  Wouldn't it be easier to just take a nice nap? 

And, of course, there are days like today, when it's cold and rainy and just perfect for a nap, or days like yesterday, when I worked out so hard at the gym I just wanted to lie in bed, and those are the days when I wish my kid would still nap. 

So, what I'm proposing, children of the world, is that you all take a regular, predictable afternoon nap until the day you start kindergarten.  At that time you will be given the Get Out of Naps Free pass and can proceed to stay awake all day for important learning and extra-curricular activities.  Sound good? 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Bend It Like Nathan, Which Is, You Know, Not At All

Nathan's main strength as a soccer player is that he looks adorably cute in his uniform. Here he is taking the field for his first soccer game on Saturday:

His team is called the Purple Dogs. 

His first position was goalie:

Not one attempted goal came his way the entire time he was goalie, because most of the action was on the other side of the field.  Soon Nathan was relieved of his position and another kid got a chance at goalie.  So now he was out on the field with everybody else.

Well, he was with everybody else until the ball came, and then everybody else ran after it while Nathan stood there and looked the other way:

I'm told a lot of kids are confused like this their first year of soccer.  I myself was intimidated by the ball when I played soccer, and I was ten.  So I can understand why Nathan was a little bit overwhelmed by the end of the game:

He just needed a hug:

I don't care that the child isn't showing an immediate aptitude for soccer ... EXCEPT that I was kind of counting on soccer to give him some exercise and wear him out.  As it is right now, he's the only kid coming off the soccer field brimming with energy. 

But, like I said, at least he looks cute in his uniform. 

SuperIma Sunday Check-In: It's Probably Still Sunday Somewhere, Right?

Yesterday I felt the need to write a post about September 11, and then I did a whole bunch of other chores and activities, and took a brutal spin class at the gym.  So, having been up since 6:00 a.m. for the memorial service, at the end of the day I was too exhausted to write my check-in.

Honestly, the whole week tired me out.

Now, every time I go and complain about my petty problems, I feel the need to add qualifiers and say that I understand that my problems are minor, that there are people in the world who have far worse problems, that I myself have had far worse problems, yadda, yadda, yadda.  But, in terms of Stressors: Petty Mundane Category, this past week was a bit of a challenge.

I was so excited to get back into the routine, and I still am, but I also realized (again) that transitions can be hard.  Transitions are hard on adults, but they're exponentially harder on small children.  Honestly, I think it was all the excitement and newness of school starting and a new babysitter and soccer that led to Nathan's HUGE meltdown on Wednesday.

And I, myself, felt a little meltdown-y at times this week, though of course my meltdowns were tempered by adult maturity.  But still, all this routine and discipline?  All this exercise and peppiness and being good?  That's exhausting.

(Not that I was all that good.  I definitely used food to console myself this week.)

Then on Friday I forced myself to listen to several hours of a local radio station's 36-hour telethon for Children's Hospital.  Family after family coming in to tell their horrific stories of children with cancer, children who died, month after month stuck in the hospital.  One family reported a success story about their son, four years cancer-free, getting to play in his first soccer game.  The DJ talked about how many listeners out there were headed to youth soccer games this weekend, complaining about the hassle of it all, and how much this one family cherished the simple everyday opportunity to see their son play soccer.

It's the kind of thing that definitely gives you perspective, but it also makes you sad.

And I need to stop and mention here a fellow blogger, Anna See, whose 12-year-old son drowned this week in the aftermath of the D.C.-area flooding. The blogging community is coming together to support her and her family, and I'll let you know of any support efforts in the future. 

Then yesterday was Sept. 11, and I felt the need to reflect, and to mourn, and to remember.  It was a hard end to a hard week, although I will say that I experienced a very positive moment last night.  I watched Nathan and a bunch of other kids playing tag in a park, this park that was once an army base, that was named Patriot's Park in honor of 9/11.  And I saw, right there, the ultimate evidence of something good coming out of something bad. 

And so another week begins.  I'm not even going to talk about my goals from last week, because I failed miserably at those.  Sitting down to write this play script, it is so hard.  I am such a procrastinator.  It's easy to buckle down and meet work deadlines, but it's hard to sit down and force myself to write this creative script that's due, I don't know, sometime in October.  I pretty much found every excuse imaginable to avoid doing that thing. 

On top of that, last week was the first week in awhile where I didn't have any freelance work, and I miss work.  When I was busy with work, I didn't get so stressed about stupid stuff like my house being messy, but when I have nothing but idle time--or, more accurately--time when I should be doing something else--I just sit around and feel guilty. 

I want more work.  I don't know how to set a weekly goal for getting more work, because some of this is sort of at the mercy of forces outside my control.  Maybe I will just will it to happen, you know, like The Secret?  That works, right? 

Also this week I'm going to focus all my efforts on being a good Weight Watcher.  I went to the meeting this morning, and the leader asked everybody to rate their daily Weight Watchers score on a scale of 1 to 100.  We all talked about being at a 100 on Mondays after the meeting, and then maybe another 100 for Tuesday, but then the will power diminishes throughout the week so that by Friday we're not even trying.  The leader challenged us to be at an 80 for the whole week.  So, that's where all my energy is going this week, to being at an 80.  Everything else will have to slide. 

And now go and visit original SuperIma LeighAnn, whose life is on the upswing!  Yay!

The House Budget Committee

There was one goal I didn't talk about in my September of Self-Improvement post.  Honestly, I didn't want to admit to this goal because that would be admitting to my embarrassing shortcomings.

But here it is: I am not on top of my household finances in the way I'd like to be.

I'm not saying that we're in some kind of massive debt.  Well, I mean we're not in any kind of credit card debt.  Obviously we have some debt in the form of student loans and mortgage, but those debts are more just realities of life than major financial blunders.

Let me be clear: We are not irresponsible with our finances.  It's just, up until now, my budgeting strategy has been "Have more money coming in than going out."  Which, you know, is kind of a good financial strategy in its most basic form, but I think we can do better in terms of being aware of where our money goes.

Like, are we putting away as much as we can for retirement?  Are we putting our money in the smartest type of fund possible?  Could we cut back more on the smaller things like groceries and the utility bills?

Answer: Utility bills, yes.  Groceries: probably not, because we have three people in our family and we each like a different type of milk.  Milk, right there, is costing about $20/week.  Additionally, this could be a post in and of itself, but I think everybody has to determine his/her own personal strategy when it comes to grocery frugality, because some people are okay with the level of energy/time expenditure it takes to scour grocery ads, clip coupons, and shop at a variety of stores, while others are not.  I, personally, am not.  I'll clip the occasional coupon for a brand-name item when we insist on getting the brand-name, but otherwise I find you're just better off getting the generic.  And, if given the choice of two similar items, I will pick the one on sale, but I do not scour ads to find out about sales and then draw up some kind of detailed multi-store, coupon-laced shopping battle plan.  

But I digress.  The point is, I want to be more in control of my finances.  I'm not suggesting I can understand the finer points of finance in one month, but I can take the first step and be more aware of how we spend. 

So, I set up an Excel spreadsheet.  The sad thing is, I had forgotten how to set up an Excel spreadsheet.  At first I thought I could get around my lack of Excel skills and download a pre-made budget spreadsheet template.  And while I did find several templates to choose from, all were a bit too complicated for my liking.  They were all broken down into a bazillion categories, things like "electric bill" and "clothing," and then they had a column for the amount budgeted and another column for the amount actually spent. 

Now, first of all, that is like the graduate level of budget spreadsheets, whereas I needed to master Budget Spreadsheets 101. 

Secondly, I am far too over-analytical to ever break a budget down like that.  I get to thinking things like, How can I budget a set amount for electricity each month, when the electric bill is way higher in July than it is in January?  Or, If I buy light bulbs at the grocery store, does that count as groceries?

Instead, I just want one big category called "Credit Card Bill," which, yes, is very vague because it includes everything from car repairs to groceries to Nathan's preschool tuition, but that's about as specific as I want to get right now. 

So, I needed to make a basic In/Out (a.k.a. Credit/Debit) spreadsheet.  Again, I totally forgot how to create such a thing.  I found an online tutorial created by the Microsoft people themselves.  I felt like an older housewife trying to get up to speed before re-entering the workforce after being home with her kids for many years. 

The tutorial went very slowly, starting with "What is a spreadsheet?" and, "Note that spreadsheets have columns and rows denoted by letters and numbers."  So I fast-forwarded, got the information I needed in about 90 seconds, and ... voila! ... my budget spreadsheet was born! 

The spreadsheeting is going okay.  It's hard to remember to put an expense in the spreadsheet and pay it online.  And, really, I'm kind of feeling like the online banking really was sufficient for keeping track of finances, so the spreadsheet might be a little bit overkill.  Which, phew!, I wasn't such a complete failure before, but also I guess it is good to break it down a little more and become more aware of expenditures.  I think awareness is particularly important in these days of direct deposits and withdrawals, when it's very easy to just sort of view your money matters as kind of all just happening outside your control. 

And yes, I know how lucky I am that I'm not living hand-to-mouth with a dwindling wad of cash that we store in a shoebox.  I am aware that a huge percentage of the world lives like that, or even worse.  But as a person whose money moves around electronically, I have responsibilities to keep good track of it and make sure it's being used wisely. 

And I've been meaning to do this financial analysis for quite some time now.  I remember once declaring "October of Financial Improvement."  That was probably October 2009, and unfortunately I was a total flake.  So I'm hoping after September of Self-Improvement's financial spreadsheet-making, I can pave the way for 2011's October of Financial Improvement.

Oh and also, I really need to stop coming up with dopey theme months. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11, 2011

This is a photo I took this morning at 6:15 a.m., during a 9/11 memorial at the park.  The local firefighters raised a new flag.  We learned that the park, formerly an army base, was nearly completed when the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 happened.  It was slated to be named Greenfields park, but after the 9/11 tragedy it was renamed Patriot's Park.  

The best I can say, ten years later, is that I still don't know what to think about 9/11.  I know I have feelings about 9/11, fear and anger and sadness, but I don't know what to think.  It seems to me that on a ten-year anniversary, you should be able to look back with the perspective of time and come up with some answers, some reasons, some sense of a bigger picture.  Yes, that day was horrific, but the fear and grief were still so raw and we didn't know where the world was going from there, or if it was going at all.  But now, ten years later, now we know that ...


Nothing.  We still don't know why, we still don't know what will happen next, we still can't wrap our heads around the horrible and unspeakable tragedy.  We reflect back, because that's what you do on an anniversary, and all we can cling to are memories.  We go over and over them in our minds, as though we can find closure.  Where were you when you heard?  Remember the week after when ... ?

And our minds are immediately plunged back to that horrible time.  I remember when my neighbor called and told me to turn on the news.  I remember collapsing to the floor in agony when the news reported that the Sears Tower was being evacuated, both because Bill was in Chicago, and because Holy Lord, the whole country is being attacked.  But even then I went about the business of the day, not fully aware of the unspeakable tragedy that had just unfolded.  On my way to work the news reported that the first tower collapsed.  I was so numb in shock that I didn't comprehend the magnitude of that.  A tower collapsing.  People crushed.   

It wasn't until that night when I sat, glued to the news like everybody else, that I broke down.  I saw the people who jumped out of the building.  OMG the people who jumped.  I don't think I will ever get over the horror of that.  You saw the pictures of the people flying through the air, the guy with his tie flapping in the wind, and you just couldn't even comprehend, that is a person, about to die. 

I saw all the paper that blew down.  There is just something so everyday about paper, in an office, hundreds of offices doing business, and the everyday-ness of it makes it so much more tragic.  These weren't people on the front lines of a battle.  These were people sitting in cubicles writing memos. 

But the worst of it all, to me, were the fliers.  The hundreds of fliers that families posted, depicting missing loved ones.  Each one with full-color, glossy photos of a person at his or her wedding, or with his or her children.  Please contact us if you have any information, they'd say.  And you'd know, sitting in your living room across the country, that the outlook for these people was grim.  But you also knew that the relatives had to make the fliers so they could do something, because the worst thing to do would be to sit still.

And all over the country you saw people trying to do something, trying not to sit still.  We bought out the entire stock of flags and patriotic goods at our respective local stores.  We came together.  We sang songs.  We gave money.  We worried and we prayed.

But we never found answers for why or how could this happen?  We never will. 

Still, for me, it is important to stop and reflect.  I realize that there are some whose coping strategy is to move on, stop thinking about it, go on with life because otherwise the terrorists win.  I don't think their coping strategy is any better or worse than mine is, just different.  I need to stop and remember.  I need to watch news coverage and go to a memorial service and make September 11 meaningful. 

But I also know that tomorrow I will feel relieved.  I'll still remember September 11, of course, but I won't dwell on the tragedy and the confusion tomorrow.  I'm reminded of a quote from George W. Bush's speech on the one-year anniversary of the attacks:

"Tomorrow is September 12th." 

Now, Lord knows the man said and did a lot of stupid things in his presidency, and I'm fairly certain he didn't write the 9/11 commemoration speech anyway, but there is something so powerful about Tomorrow is September 12th.  There is so much hope in that statement.  Because no matter how horrible the tragedy of September 11, no matter how few answers we'll ever have about the events of that day, we have to have hope.  We have to get to September 12. 

However, I'm fully aware that not everybody has the luxury of September 12.  For the families of those lost that day, or for the people who experienced that horror firsthand, or for those first responders who suffer from medical conditions resulting from the toxic air at Ground Zero, recovery from 9/11 is an almost insurmountable task.  It is those people I keep in mind today.  I it those people will need to support and lift up, to help bring them to their own personal September 12ths.  Because although none of us will ever have the answers, we do have the capacity to respond to tragedy with compassion and hope. 

As for me personally, I'm grabbing hold of a little bit of that hope and commemorating September 11 like a lot of Americans, both remembering the loss and celebrating life.  I'm spending this gorgeous fall day with Nathan, and cooking a big chicken for Sunday dinner with my immediate family. 

And, in this way, I will create a little glimmer of good in the face of unspeakable tragedy.  Because that's what we, as humans, do: We try to find a way to make something positive out of something horrifically negative.  Ultimately, that's all we can do. 

What we can't do, is find answers.  We will never find answers.  But we can remember. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

So I Tried Zumba Again

I'm sure you're all familiar with Zumba, the Latin dance-based exercise phenomenon that has been sweeping the nation for like 5 years now.  Apparently some trends are slow to come to suburban Chicago, though, so the Zumba craze is just starting to heat up at my gym. 

Case in point: There are now two Zumba classes offered at the gym, and there is now a specific Zumba-only instructor teaching one of them. 

But two years ago, Zumba was kind of like a pilot program at the gym.  As such, they held Zumba classes Friday nights in October, to try to gauge the interest level of the gymgoers where Zumba was concerned.  

So, Carolyn and I went to the test Zumba classes back in October of 2009.  I wanted to love Zumba.  I'd heard words like awesome and fun bandied about in relation to Zumba, and I'd hoped it would be one of those exercise classes where it's like you don't even know you're exercising. 

But I just couldn't get into Zumba.  It seemed to require a sort of rhythmic movement of your midsection that I was just not capable of.  I have absolutely zero sense of rhythm, and I hate to dance.  The only way I can get over my self-consciousness while dancing is to drink a lot of alcohol, and I decided at my last dancing-based excursion (Sparklecorn at BlogHer) that I'm just not willing to drink that much anymore. 

And, of course, I don't really make it a practice to drink before going to the gym. 

So I just decided that Zumba wasn't for me.  I added it to my list of Things Other People Love That I Don't Like, which is a list that, as I've said before, includes the movie Goonies and hazelnut coffee. 

I therefore resigned myself to a Zumba-free workout regimen.  And blah, blah, blah, time marched on, and yadda, yadda, yadda I did some other stuff. 

And then last week I got to talking about Zumba with my friends Jessie and Claudine, who have been going to Zumba for awhile now.  Somehow I ended up agreeing to try Zumba again.  I figured, new season, new workout endeavors and all that.  And isn't there something about building new synapses in your brain every time you try something new? 

Unfortunately, the day after I agreed to retry Zumba, the new workout schedule came out at the gym.  Zumba was still there, but a different instructor was taking over.  And that instructor was Darlene.  Darlene is one of those loud, sassy workout instructors who some people love and some people hate. 

I have to admit to falling into the latter camp, and here's why:

A couple of years ago, I took a weight-lifting class with Darlene.  The woman was constantly singling me out in front of the class to criticize my form.  I kept my sense of humor about it, because after all I was new to the class.  That was until Darlene asked me to stand up in front of the class, face everybody else, and practice my squatting technique so that my booty--possibly Darlene's favorite word in the English language--rubbed up against the mirror while I squatted.  I felt like I was dry-humping a wall. 

So, I mostly avoided Dry-Hump Darlene's classes from there on out.  I feel the need to point out that the woman is mostly a nice person, always saying hello to me, and even complimenting me recently on my weight loss.  And my friends swore she was a good Zumba instructor.  And since I do try to keep my word, I went to Zumba this morning as promised.

I am reluctant to admit this, but I really liked it.  Darlene's a little too spirited and loud-mouthed for a weight-lifting class, but Zumba kind of fits her.  Her strength over the other Zumba instructor was that she really kept the class moving, and at a faster speed you don't have time to feel bad that you missed a move because you're already on to the next one. 

I was also pleasantly surprised to see that the Zumba class was a lot larger than it was two years ago, so I could easily hide in the back of the class.  (I know nobody's looking at you in a fitness class anyway, but it's nice to have the reassurance that you're being obscured by the crowd.) 

Another advantage that a Friday-morning class has over a Friday-night class is that most of the participants are retired people and stay-at-home moms (or work-at-home moms or PT work-outside-the-home moms or whatever), and they don't make me feel as bad about my poor salsa-dancing skills like the professional Zumba artists who came to party at the gym Friday nights (presumably before hitting the clubs). 

So, hooray for new experiences.  I can feel those new synapses forming now. 

Oh, and by the way, it was not so fun that I forgot I was exercising.  I'm convinced that nothing is that fun. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


I don't even really want to talk about it. 

My four-year-old had a two-year-old-style tantrum today in McDonald's. 

The morning had started off so well.  After a good night's sleep and a walk through the morning routines as per the schedule, Babysitter Danielle came and watched Nathan.  His little friend Owen came over because Owen's mom had a conference call.  Everyone played nicely.  They went to the park until I got back.  Then the plan was for Owen and his mom to join us at McDonald's.

And somehow the low blood-sugar or the general transitions of the week added up to a complete meltdown when I told Nathan he had to eat two chicken nuggets before playing on the playground.  This is always the policy at McDonald's.  I have very few policies in life, but I do have eat two nuggets before you play.  

Somehow ... OMG ... TWO CHICKEN NUGGETS was like the worst punishment possible! 

You're the worst mom!  I hate you! 

Now, the thing that's so hard with Nathan is that punishments tend to escalate his misbehavior.  So while I did punish him by putting him a time-out, he still yelled I hate you! loudly during the time-out, and when I added more time for that verbal offense, he just got madder and madder. 

Complicating things, we had gotten a ride with our friends, so I couldn't just grab my screaming child and leave.  My very kind friend who drove us did offer to take us home, but I was feeling so terrible for depriving her child of the playground, churubic as he was sitting there eating his meal without complaint. 

I whisked yelling Nathan out of the playground area and into the main part of the restaurant.  A stupid but well- meaning stranger offered to watch him for me while I left.  Umm, yeah, thanks, but even in my advanced state of anger I was not going to let a stranger watch him.  But she just wouldn't let it go.  "No, really, you go.  I'll take him.  I love children," she said. 

"No, thank you, that's okay," I grunted while trying to restrain my child. 

At that point I had no choice but to take my friend up on her offer to take us home.  In anger, Nathan threw his Happy Meal toy in the trash, then proceeded to launch into a full-blown wail about how his toy was in the trash. 

Most irrational child ever.

Worst mother ever.

Because this has to be my fault.  I don't see any other four-year-olds acting like that.  I was so thoroughly embarrassed.  I feel like such a failure.