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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

hot lava

Ella had a science day at school last week. She came home saying things like, "We could do an experiment and find out" and walking around looking at everything under a magnifying glass.  I was incredibly proud.

Somewhere in the recesses of my brain, I remembered how fun it was to make a volcano as a kid.  I was always concocting my own "experiments" as an unattended child and it is a wonder I didn't wind up combining any unstable compounds and frying my eyebrows off my face.

Since Sandi spent Thursday night working a call shift at the hospital, she came home early Friday.  By Friday afternoon we were in volcano making mode. 

(I love it when Sandi is in the house.  I love it when Sandi is in the house doing things with the kids. I love when I am not too busy to photograph Sandi doing these two things.)

I would have just made the volcano out of an old bottle. Not surprisingly, Sandi was more of the diorama persuasion. She found a box, cut all but one side out and made a hole in the bottom to fit a water bottle in. Then she made a cardboard cylinder to circle the bottle and function as the framework on which to build the actual volcano out of playdough. (The cardboard is there so that you can slip the bottle out from underneath and empty it for future volcanic eruptions.)
Then we set to making playdough.  Here is the recipe we used: mix 6 cups flour, 2 cups salt, 4 tablespoons vegetable oil and 2 cups water.  We added food coloring to this mixture which was fun but very hard to mix.  We ended up making a second batch and found that it was way easier to mix the food coloring with the water before adding to the flour (plus as an added bonus it looks super cool to drop food coloring in water.)

Our volcano was obviously a piece of art, made only more beautiful by the eruption itself.  To make an eruption (in case your brain doesn't recall the recipe from 5th grade) here's how you do it:  combine 1/4 cup water, 1/4 cup vinegar, a few drops of dish detergent and a few drops of food coloring (for fun) to the bottle.  Slip the bottle into the hole under the volcano.  In a small square of tissue, place about 2 tablespoons of baking soda.  Fold the tissue and drop it into the bottle from the mouth of the volcano.  Then stand back.

Look what these simple kitchen staples can do for a pair of kids.

All of this reminds me of when Maya said to me once, "Did it hurt when you and Mommy fell in hot lava?" from the back seat of the car.  I said, "WHAT?" before realizing that she meant and asking, "Do you mean did it hurt when we fell in love?"  She answered, "Yes, did it hurt?  Because you fell..."
Anyone know of any other easy science experiments?  Because to be honest this one sort of tapped out my repertoire.

in the cold of the north

January has been a blessedly more quiet and introspective month. We have just come from an extensive cold snap with below zero temperatures leaving me wanting to not leave the house and curl up like a comma around our wood stove.

I have taken a break from most things online, including the blog, and have been cultivating an "I don't have to rush right now" frame of mind.  My formerly anemic, spread-too-thin, existence is slowly being fortified by living and breathing in each moment (both the awesome and utterly infuriating, child screaming at me ones) and spending a lot of time inside myself.  I am getting up with Sandi at 4:15 most mornings and going to bed with her at 8.  This way I get a few quiet hours to myself, get to feel a little more in sync with Sandi and have erased the opportunity to be on a mindless search for snacks after the house has grown silent.

The process of being mindful and present, of reshaping myself and my life is not easy,and is in fact often very uncomfortable, but I am finding my way.

Here are some snapshots of our last few weeks. 

Ella worked very hard at school to make this "computer" for Maya.  Can you tell what brand our family is loyal to?
When Maya wants to "work" on her computer, she "presses" the various keys and then swiftly determines her emotional mood in the lower bottom boxes: angry, sad or happy.  It is like an early introduction to Facebook because if her mood changes over the course of the day, she will pull out the computer and "update" her status.  If you make her mad, she will go in search of her computer.
Ella and Makenna doing three-legged dog in their combined yoga practice.
Maya getting ready for bed in style.

The girls during our first attempt at the entire loop at the City Forest.  This was before they started to cry and complain that punctuated the second half of the walk (even though I pushed the jogger stroller the whole way for the weary to rest).  We often fall into the classic parenting pitfall and forget to stop doing an activity while everyone is happy instead of waiting for signs of discontentment.  In our defense, it is hard to stop when something is still fun.

A typical trip to the grocery store:
We had a really balmy day before the cold set in and the girls took their wheels for a spin.
As a side note, do other, non-lesbian households of girls, ever have this sort of fraternizing going on?
Other things going on right now: Sandi is getting ready to leave a week from Saturday to go on a medical mission trip to Ecuador for a week (gulp).  She will be providing anesthesia services to people who would otherwise be unable to have necessary medical procedures done.  She has fundraised the entire $2,200 she needed to pay for her trip. 
Last night when we went to bed, we could hear Maya barking some.  This is without a real cold and just some slight sniffles and sneezing in the last few days.  I can manage without Sandi for a week but I am terrified of a medical emergency.  I am going to request that all my nearby friends sleep with their phones on loud.
Sandi leaves on the same day as the day of the PTO Valetine's Dance (which I am in charge of) at Ella's school.  The good news is she will be around Friday afternoon to help with the extensive set-up. The bad news is she will miss the dance.  Luckily, this year being my second year doing it, I am much less stressed and find the whole thing much more fun and gratifying than last year when I feel into an exhausted heap on the couch when it was over.
Ella has found a new favorite show on Netflix that she thinks she can't live without.  "Jesse" is supposed to be geared toward her age group, yet somehow, the rating administration clearly doesn't understand how we are trying to raise our eight-year-old.  We are likely going to have to nix the sassy show with made-up girls and smart-mouthed boys and I am wishing someone else would do this part of parenting for me and I could go drink coffee and read a book somewhere while Ella cries over the injustice of it.

As a Maya update, all I can say is that she almost broke my heart the other day when she said, "I miss you and Mommy when I'm at school.  I don't cry really, but my eyes get wet."

And there you have it.

Monday, January 14, 2013

the war is over

Something very cool, transformative and uncharacteristic is happening to me.

In December I could feel the need for change about  how and what I eat coming.   I knew that whatever would come of the force growing in me it wouldn't be a new diet or a new exercise plan, but that an entire shift in how I think about my body and food was needed.

The past month has taught me some things. 

First off,  I cannot do to myself what I did to myself this holiday season. There has got to be a more enjoyable way to celebrate the holidays that don't make you feel swollen and bloated and make your jeans too tight.  Social occasions, baking, the reciprocal baking we received and all the heavier foods and regular wine intake was more than my body could handle. 

In every way, overindulgence like the kind I participated in, is the opposite of enjoyable. I'm finally getting that.  For this reason, I have (and you can hold me to this!) sworn off next year's holiday baking.

Figuring out the best way to be eating for me is a multifaceted process. I know it is not in my best interest to live by rules because I just use them to rebel against.  I don't want to be a slave to calories. I want to eat in ways that make me feel vital and healthy, energized and happy.  I don't want to gain and lose the same 10 pounds over and over.  I don't want to crave or need certain foods.  But I also don't want food I can't eat or am afraid of.  I want to be able to eat anything in moderation and feel fulfilled and satisfied by what I eat.

Yet, healthy eating can't just be about the food I actually consume.  It must be about the manner in which I consume it.  I must cultivate an appreciation for small servings or simply a taste of something.   I must learn to have food and eating be enjoyable without turning to it for enjoyment.  I've spent so much time either restricting myself from foods or counteracting deprivation with excess that part of finding balance is to not be so strict.  I need to slow down and be mindful and appreciative of the food I am eating so that one of something is enough. 

For me this means I have to pay exquisite attention to my body. I have to not only to pay attention to what it wants (I am going with the idea that my body has the wisdom to know what will best suit it to be healthy), but to reestablish signals of satiety and fulfillment. I need to know the moment that I am reaching to eat something for the wrong reason or the moment that I become full.  Sometimes this means stopping mid way to my mouth or putting back something I just grabbed out of the cupboard.

I'm talking, of course, about being present.  Very, very present.

This level of presence is not something I have been incredibly comfortable with.   Certainly there are many of aspects of meditation and any mindfulness practice that appeal to a deep need in me for connection.  Yet, as life has gotten busier since I became a mom and I am on the go so much, I have fallen soundly out of the practice of being present or having any sort of mindful practice.  This means that I am on the ball 99% of the time, I get a lot done, I'm easily excitable and I am the go-to person for a lot of people. It also means life is passing me by way too quickly, I'm always thinking about what is coming next and I am on the edge of cranky and restless a lot of the time.

I have come to terms with the fact that I actually create a lot of the "busyness" in my life. For those of us who don't sit still well, a busy life can become something to hide behind, something legitimate that holds us apart from being present.   If there aren't things that need my immediate attention, I will go find or create things.  (This is tricky of course because I am also someone that thrives on a certain amount of stimulation and creative energy to funnel into projects but I am talking more about the spinning my wheels variety of busyness.)  I've  realized recently how much of the time I hold my breath as I swiftly check off my to-do list, how much of the time I am just trying to get through a mountain of stuff so I can enjoy the other side.

But busyness, like anything else, becomes its own habit and, once on the side of completion, it is hard to actually put my feet up and stop. 

I have operated this way for a long time now.  Yet, within the last few months my body has become intolerant of this state of being. I can see how I was turning to food to smooth my rough edges, to calm me down, to take me away, to minimize the internal conflict.  My insides are screaming for change, for stillness, for breathing room and the in-control, dominant parts of my functioning are trying to maintain the status quo.

And alas, and I know you saw this coming, there was much more to the story than me just eating too many almond cookies over the holidays.

I've needed to be brave and look inside.   There are truths that are bubbling to the surface like a pot of water on the verge of a boil.  There are storms in me that are breeding unhappiness like bacteria colonizing in a petri dish. 

Have you ever had that panicky feeling when you know you need to look within and afraid of what you might find?  What if what you discover means major change for you or your life circumstance?  What if something that was previously tolerable is suddenly, profoundly no longer okay?  What if you face these new awarenesses and are left with truths that require action you feel ill prepared to carry out?

Thankfully, it turns out nothing too scary lives beneath.   Yet, there are things about the way I live that are making me unhappy.  And my unattended unhappiness had become larger than life. 

I've figured out that I don't like how overwhelmed and short-tempered I am. I don't like the burdens I feel on my shoulders.

I  don't like a few our family dynamics and how member's needs are met. 

I don't like the pace I keep or the feelings of stress I have as I manage, shuffle and spin the plates that keep our lives going. I am aching for quiet and presence and gentleness.

I don't like feeling like Sandi is doing big and important things and my life has become a string of days that bleed into each other of laundry, cleaning, getting food on the table and to-do lists.

In this task-oriented life, I am missing so much. I am missing getting on the floor and playing with my kids (the ones that are growing alarmingly fast, creating an added state of panic in me). I am missing appreciation and finding pleasure in the labor-intensive meals I make. I have lost the sense of value and purpose to my living, to my spinning, and in so, am left feeling spiritually bankrupt.

Here are the revolutionary things I am doing in the face of these realizations:  I am doing less. I am resting more.  I am meditating.  I am sometimes choosing to forgo the intense environment of the gym in favor of an outside run (or even a walk) or yoga.  I am talking to Sandi and figuring out how we can do things differently. I'm reinforcing my own value and contribution. I am trying to eat slower, take less and be appreciative.  I've put the scale to the back of the closet, and am working hard to not think about the pants that don't fit and trying to be extra kind to myself when I get dressed in the morning. 

I might even go so far here as to say that I am almost grateful that my weight is a barometer of my internal world.  Irritability and a chronic state of stress I will apparently dismiss, but tight pants will get my attention every time.  (Plus I feel grateful that it wasn't illness that had to grab me.) I am using it as the indicator it is rather than trying to muscle my way back into my size 6's.   I am grateful that I am not exactly where I want to be right now in my body because it forces me to practice self-love in the face of something that is less than I want.  It is much harder to extend love when what is isn't what you want. 

This is an entirely new approach for me: to not be at war with myself, but instead to lend myself some of the compassion and love that I so freely give to others.  It is making me strong.  Each small progress toward kindness, towards doing things differently,  I applaud myself.   Each time I stop and set everything down and play with the kids, or pick up a book in the middle of the afternoon, to put down food I don't need that will make me awful later, I acknowledge the olive branch I am passing to myself.

In turn I am asking questions of myself that I have never asked before:  What do I want to do?  What will feel best in this moment?  What do I need?  What can I take out of this day so I can breathe?  What will lend meaning to my life in this very moment?  Where can I find joy right now?

For most of my life my body has been a boxing ring where I've work out my internal issues.  It is like my scapegoat, my punching bag.    I'm trying to change it more to the environment of a U.N. peace-talk but I have a long history of fighting with myself on some of these deeply entrenched issues.  But I seem to have broken along my own fault lines and I'm peeking over the canyon's edge.  I get it now: my body is me and how I treat it is how I treat myself.  

I might not be at "my body is a temple" but I am, with turtle-like speed, working my way there.  I am not even close to graduation, but more like a toddler looking forward at the daunting task of kindergarten. 

It's okay with me that this will take time. I am cultivating patience.  All I care about at this point is that I am progressing, away from self-blame and judgement and into peace, care and understanding.  I almost have to do a double take at myself these days that is how profoundly this change has taken root in me. 

Last week I took myself snowshoeing.  All by myself and just because I knew it would make me happy. The snow was literally sparkling.

In an act of great parental humility I told Ella a few weeks ago that I was working hard to be more patient and less frustrated.  I can feel in my kids a need for me to be calmer, less quick to jump at them, for me to live in a more forgiving way so that they may also live that way. 
Remember how I said that it feels like life is passing by too fast and I'm missing it?  I see my kids growing up and remembering me as the person who did laundry, made food, cleaned the house and drove them around, getting everywhere on time.
Let's be honest. I'm also afraid of them growing up and me remembering myself only in this way.  
This in and of itself is a powerful impetus to seek presence.
Then a couple of days ago, Ella came up and gave me a big hug and said, "I just want you to know that I notice all the hard work you're doing.  You are doing a great job being more patient and less frustrated." 
I wanted to cry while my heart beamed from the compliment from one of the two it matters most from.
I'm very clear that my kids are also going to benefit from this process.  They don't need a mother in an ongoing state of existential crisis.  They also don't need a rigid task master.  The biggest gift I can give them is to find the softer spots inside myself and make room for them to come in.  Additionally, modeling self-love to two girls is no small gift to give.
Maybe food is your barometer too.  Maybe it's something else.  (Or maybe you are totally zen and can email me some of your tricks.) Whatever your personal equation, I share this all with you because I know so many people (women especially) who also hold themselves to too high a standard, give themselves no breathing room and are, to some degree, at war with themselves. 
Here is what I know:  I deserve my own kindness.  I deserve wiggle room.  My life has total meaning and value just by that fact that I me, even if I don't have a reputable career or make a lot of money.  I can step off the treadmill, out of the rat race just because I want to.  I don't owe anyone any explanations - I can just say no. I can put myself first.  Finding a new, more self-grounded way of existing in the world and inside myself will reflect in what and how I eat.   I don't need rules or fear to be my guides.  My body will show the results of my mindful practice. 
I am worthy of my own own kindness and love.
And so are you.

Friday, January 11, 2013

winter fun

I am working hard to fully embrace January for all it offers.  Lots of snow, lots of cold to make the snow stick and the chance to wear my faux-fur lined jacket with attitude (the coat's attitude, not mine). 

But last night, seeing pictures of Schoodic scrolling by on the girls' digital photo frame in their room I had one resounding insight: post-Christmas means we are halfway to Schoodic. 

The week after Christmas we had two installments of snow which stuck around thanks to a week of temps that struggled to rise above 10 degrees.  When it's that cold out, you really just have to stay in, load up the wood stove and keep your tea mug full. 

Some silly things in our house:

Maya is We are struggling to keep Maya's curls on her head.  The last many weeks it seems they are growing out and the new hair coming in aims to be straight.  Short of desperately taking the curling iron to her, we are trying to preserve the curls by keeping it shorter and using some product.  We have ceased combing and are only "finger combing" her hair now.  We understand that we can't stop the process if it meant to happen, but it is harder to let go of the course of her hair than you might imagine.

(She will probably read this post when she is older with unmanageably curly hair and say, "Why didn't you just let it be so I wouldn't have this curly mop!")
Any old day of the week, you never know who might be taking up a seat on the couch.  We are officially outnumbered and if they decide to start an army, we are in real trouble. (Mother's note: only two of these are bonafide American Girls with their hefty price tag.  The other's are $15 Target girls with the tanning-bed sort of complexions.)
When the thermometer has allowed, we've embraced January by hitting the snow. Uncle Brock plowed for us after the last storm (we usually snow blow).  I came inside when he was done and said to the girls, "We have SNOWBANKS!" and they just looked at me like yeah, big whoop.   Then we went outside and made a tunnel through one and the snowbank rose a few notches on the fun meter.
(Ummm... the Christmas cookies/wine/random indulgence of December meant I almost didn't fit through my own tunnel which is why I'm okay with only being half-way to Schoodic right now.)
Ella wouldn't go through it but Maya was all over that tunnel.
But perhaps the most fun of all came when Sandi's parents took us all snow tubing at Hermon Mountain.  There were 11 of us in all (Brock was still sick from the awful respiratory bug going around) and Makenna just made the age 3 cut-off so it was fun for everyone. Tubing is done is 3 hour blocks ($12 per person)and we made it almost the whole time.  We went down the hill in various conglomerations (with Maya and Brevan going alone a few times!) but the most fun was when we all hooked up and went down backwards at top speed.  We took a ton a of video (I'm sure a movie will follow) but there was one picture. 
What fun when a family can play like this together.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

snow girls

We gave the girls snowshoes for Christmas.

There was a tad bit of parenting debate that went into this. Are they really ready? Will it bring tears or laughter?  Are we being smart and challenging our able bodied girls or are we kidding ourselves that we are ready for this level of reentry into the world in which we once lived?

In the end we decided that, at $35 a piece, it was worth a shot.

Ella was over the moon.  She opened them and dove at us for hugs shouting, "SNOWSHOES!!!  I've always wanted them!!  This is better than anything American Doll!"

Maya was like what are these giant shoes for?  Have my parents taken my height into account here?
Ella promptly marched to the door to put on her snow pants.  Maya looked longingly at the gifts still under the tree, shrugged and followed her sister.   
Maya thought the initial trekking was all exciting.  So she decided to go in the deep snow around the back of the garage until she needed rescue from Tia.

Then, of course, the fun became all about falling into the deeply piled snow.
A white Christmas.  It was sparkly and magical and downright stunning.
Then, because we only know how to live by constantly pushing the envelope, we decided to go up to Tia and Uncle Brock's land (a quarter of a mile up the road) to hit the woods.  But first I had to blow a thick layer of dust off of our snowshoes from their child-induced hiatus.
We were actually in the woods, all four of us up on our feet, going of our own steam, no mom with a child on her back, no one crying.  At least for a solid 10 minutes.
Maya thought is was way more fun to be in the snow than atop it. 
This meant that she constantly fell behind Ella which angered her in grand fashion.  Soon she was yelling and screaming in the previously peaceful wood: "I AM THE LEADER!!! I WANT TO BE IN FRONT!!" as part of the same competitive thread we've seen from her of late. ("I slept the longest. I peed the longest.  I ate the most carrots.  I got here before Ella. I did a headstand and Ella can't. And on and on and on.)  Soon our idyllic woods walk had unraveled into snot and tears from both children (Ella was devastated that we had to turn around) and we were left shaking our heads and questioning the moment in the store when we had agreed on our boldness and put the snowshoes in the cart.
We got out of the woods and left the girls consoling each other on a snowbank and wailing over what awful parents we are.  We decided not to let them get us down and began sledding down the slopped driveway.  After a few minutes of us hooting and laughing, they couldn't help themselves and had to join in.  Although Maya did point her finger at me and say, "You cannot go first this time.  I am going first."  Ey yi yi.
 Embracing the get-back-on-the-horse mentality, we did attempt another snowshoe this weekend with great success.  The kids did stop to "rest" about 50 yards in making me nervous for our fate but then we made a game of them tracking us through our footprints which they thought was awesome.  By the time we finished the 12 minute loop, Maya was whining about how hard it was (whilst walking in the deepest snow and not in the cut trail before her) but we got her back for sledding before she could dissolve.  
So the snowshoe verdict?  A hard-won success.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Because we are lucky enough to have so much family!

We are so incredibly blessed to have so much family and so many Christmases.

For our last Christmas celebration we headed to my sister's house the weekend between Christmas and New Year's to celebrate with my side of the family.

A few things went wrong: my bread dough didn't rise, the second stringer cornbread I baked as a substitute didn't cook all the way through and, most sadly, it started to snow when we'd only been there for 90 minutes. 

Then it began to snow hard.  We checked the weather and it wasn't planning on stopping.  (I'm not sure how we missed this detail before leaving home.)  We live an hour and 15 minutes from my sister.  We enjoyed the snowfall, ate a delicious meal (minus the cornbread) the kids played in the snow and then we did a rush through the presents as it became clear a true snowstorm was in progress.

I love everything about this picture of my mom.  It looks like somebody dumped a bucket of grandchildren on her.

The girls' snowman who looks like he is either melting into or emerging from the snow to be reborn.
 My mom finally bought herself an iphone after threatening to for a few years.  She needed some technical assistance and Sandi was happy to oblige.

Anxiously assessing what awaited them under the tree.
We continued our tradition this year of making gifts for each other, rather than buying them.  This year we made rice packs for the kiddos, my always-freezing-sister and my mom.  We filled them with rice and lavender so they smell amazing when you heat them in the microwave.  Sandi has used the same one for years and our kids had taken a shine to it so we came up with the idea to make them.  We made some for our kids too and they love to fall asleep with them at night. 
My very handsome and photogenic nephew showing off his rice bag.
We did cheat and buy this for my mom. How could we resist?

My mom gave the girls the appropriate amount of excitement when they presented her with their homemade gifts: a mason jar full of the coolest rocks from a beach near Beals that you can only get to by boat.
Maya was very excited when she opened up the gift from her grandmother: a set of pjs for her American Girl who, up until then, had had to sleep in her clothes.  For shame.  
Our girls got travel mugs with a picture of them with their cousin.  So cute. Ella enjoyed her first cup of hot chocolate in the car on the way home.  
Each year we make a calendar for my mom and sister and it is so much fun to have them opened.  (We have one at home as well and it's fun to all share the same calendar.)  Each month is full of pictures from the year before and all the fun things we've done together.   My mom all but told us a few years ago that this is all she expects this foom us at Christmas so now we do it with love, knowing how much it means to her.
Michaela got the only good picture of us this Christmas!
I was very sad to leave after having only been there for 3 1/2 hours. I love to enjoy the homemade gifts and really be able to appreciate the thought that went into them. I got a lovely mug with my name on it and all sorts of pictures of me with my family. We got homemade ornaments and decorated tins with chocolate.   I even got a North Pole sign I can use next Christmas that Braeden decorated for me.
We didn't get a single good picture of my sister and Brian (which is especially a bummer because we need them for next year's calender!) but lots of laughing and fun was had until we realized we had to open gifts in double time because of the snow.   I love these two so much and was so full of appreciation for Brian and all the love and joy he has brought into my sister's life in the last few years.
Having a sister is the very best.  Having someone love your sister the way you think she should be loved is even better.

We hit the road just as it was getting dark and drove 35 mph home on the highway in an all out blizzard, making me feel restless and sad to have been robbed of that special time with my family. We didn't even get to the board games!
We did, however, make a date soon for a sleep over and the vow to do next year's Christmas as an overnight.
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