Sunday, November 14, 2010

Time Flies...

...when you're busy.

Good news: I started a part-time teaching position last month and it has been a lot of fun even though it has taken up quite a lot of my free time. I still have yet to see a paycheck from it, too. Hmm. I continue looking for full-time employment, but as you know, it's rough out there. Add to this the fact that we're closing in on finally making this divorce final, and all I can say is that I have been stressed to the max. Just in time for the Hellidays, no less.

The one saving grace is that I have been cooking up a storm, as you can see in my other blog. One of my favorites so far has been this Pumpkin Gingerbread.






 Now my cooking as therapy routine may not be the best thing for my waistline, but it is fun and I get immediate gratification for myself and others out of it.

My main goal is to keep my shit together over the next few months as the chaos of the holidays and the turmoil of the divorce collide with my general life insecurities.

Daunting, but I have little choice. This is what it is. This is where my life is at the moment.

Give me strength, someone, please.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"I am on a horse."

"Moo."

"Cow."


If you haven't seen this yet, you must.




I'll wait.









I love Grover!





Of course, now I need to see the video which inspired it:









In response to the flurry of Tweets and posts as this video went viral on the internet, OldSpiceGuy created a series of short video responses to everyone from well-known celebrities like Alyssa Milano and Ellen DeGeneres, to random folk, stormyweather21 and PingChat.

The following video response to George Stephanopolous ranks among my favorite.

The current political campaign could use a wee bit of a pleasant-smelling lift. old Spice might be just the thing.












Back to Grover, the skits where he was the waiter were always my favorite!






Monday, October 11, 2010

Happy Columbus Day!




To his dying day, Columbus refused to believe he'd landed anywhere but Asia. To honor his memory this Columbus Day, if you know someone who is so wholly focused on his beliefs, so arrogantly stubborn in his refusal to entertain the notion that he *might* be wrong, despite all odds and even pesky FACTS that state otherwise, go up to that person and give him a dope-slap right on the back of his head.

Henceforth, I shall call Columbus Day Dope-slap an Asshat Day.

Spread the word. :)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Peanut Butter, Vegemite and Nutella

In my travels, I've had the opportunity to try out all sorts of new foods, which I think is a wonderful habit to adopt. I am always in favor of people expanding their culinary horizons. Sampling local and exotic fare like verivorst (blood sausage) and samgyetang (chicken and ginseng soup) was always exciting, but at times I really missed some of my old standbys.

For instance, I recall when I was in Estonia how much I missed peanut butter. I hadn't realized quite how ubiquitous it was in the US until I left the country. In my long, rambling, somewhat homesick letters home, I may have mentioned my longing for peanut butter once or twice.

Well, my parents must have said something to my aunt and uncle when they talked, because that next week, I got a care package stuffed with typical American foodstuffs, most of which had a disturbingly long shelf life. Some of the things, like the big 5-pound block of Velveeta, were something of a curiosity in Estonia, where for the most part, people still cooked with and ate things that were recognizable as food - with the exception of s├╝lt. Other items, like summer sausage, cookies and a pizza mix, were distributed and devoured quickly. One item in particular made my heart beat a little faster.

You got it, my aunt sent me the largest jar of peanut butter I have ever seen in my life. It was so large that I think it almost qualified as a bucket. That first whiff of peanutty goodness that wafted out after I unscrewed the jar was as indescribable a sensation as I've ever had: reminders of home, childhood, a warm-fuzzy sensation of comfort, not to mention how it stoked my hunger.

Although my love of peanut butter is well-documented, not everyone feels the same way. My buddy Tony, another English teacher, was an Aussie, and as such, not a big fan of the sticky brown, earthy heaven-in-a-jar that is peanut butter. Instead, he grew up on Vegemite on toast. I'd first heard of Vegemite years before when I was on an exchange program in the USSR. A few floors above us in the dorm was a rowdy, rolicking bunch of students from Perth, DownUnder. They'd prepared for the deprivations in the USSR of that era by filling their suitcases with rolls of toilet paper and jars of Vegemite, whereas we Yanks had filled ours with rolls of toilet paper and jars of peanut butter.

After one evening of cross-cultural exchange with the Aussies and some of the Russians in our dorm, punctuated by many bottles of authentic Russian vodka and too many renditions of poorly-sung Russian folk songs, we each brought out the culinary treasures from our hoard for the others to try. I was the only American in our group who did not find Vegemite abhorrent. I rather liked the salty yeastiness. What's not to love about something called Concentrated Autolyzed Yeast Extract? Mmmm...

When I shared a house with two Turkish graduate students when I was teaching ages ago, I encountered another person whose love of peanut butter did not match my own. My housemate Tolga, told me that he thought that peanut butter was a vile substance with the taste and consistency of shit and that even the smell of it made him want to vomit.

Strong words, Tolga.

Instead, he liked a nice piece of toast with Nutella. What is this Nutella? I asked him. When he'd recovered from the shock, he brought out his jar of Nutella and changed my life. Sounds melodramatic, I know, but before that point, I had had no idea that hazelnuts and chocolate could be married so harmoniously and, dare I say it, orgasmically. I always came back to my beloved peanut butter, though I'd cheat on it occasionally with that dreamy chocolate spread. Last Christmas I rediscovered Nutella while I was baking up a bunch of sweet treats to give to the kids' teachers. I had found a recipe for Chocolate hazelnut sticks which called for Nutella.

Divine. To-die-for. You won't want to share them with anyone.

I still have a significant amount of the Nutella left, and I ended up shoving the jar to the back of the cabinet until recently. Lucy saw a commercial for Nutella and said, eyes huge, "Mommy, we have to get that at the store!" When I told her that I thought I still had a jar of it in the kitchen, she ran in there, shouting, "Where, where? I want to try it! Please, please... PLEASE?!"

She got her wish, and Nutella on whole wheat toast is now her preferred breakfast, and Natalie's and perhaps even mine. It is also tremendous on sliced fruit, crackers and, as my kids and I have discovered, straight out of the jar.

Isn't it great when kids try out new foods? ;-)

Friday, October 1, 2010

"I Hate You, Mommy."


"...I don't want to live with you. I want to live with Daddy."


Those were the words of my 7 year-old daughter the other night.

This was no temper tantrum-fueled parting shot screamed from the doorway of her room, punctuated by the sharp crack of a slammed door. No. This was a calm comment with a follow-up list in response to my question, "What's wrong, honey?"

With those carefully enunciated words, "I hate you, Mommy," I saw my world fall apart for a second. I saw all the work I had done to limit the most negative effects of this separation and divorce on my children count for nothing. I saw a world turn against me and label me a Bad Mom. I saw my worst fears come true, that somehow, I would lose my children, that I would lose the love of my children.

After taking a deep breath, I asked her why she didn't want to live here with Mommy and why she hated Mommy. Here is her list of grievances:
  1. She doesn't have a bunk bed like they have at their dad's house.
  2. Her mattress springs hurt her back a little bit.
  3. Things in the house are ripped up, like the couch.
  4. I don't have a big tv like their dad does.
  5. We have a lot of spiders here.
  6. I don't let them play on my laptop.
  7. I yell when I scold them.
I had written down her list and divided the complaints into two columns House and Mommy. Then we sat down and very calmly addressed them together. I explained why certain things were unlikely to change, and which ones we could both work on together to change.

1. The bunk bed situation is not likely to change since I really do not have the spare cash to buy her a new bedroom set. Of course, if I bought her a new bedroom set, wouldn't I then be obligated to buy her sister one too?

2. Yesterday when I switched over to the warm flannel sheets, I flipped the mattress over and covered it with a thick mattress pad. When she tried it out at bedtime last night, she said it was wonderful. There. Problem solved.

3. Ok, we have a cat, a cat named Cheetah. Cheetah still has all of his claws, because I didn't have the heart to de-claw him. As a result, some of the furniture has taken quite a beating from him, specifically the sides of the couch.

Now, eventually, it would be nice to have nice stuff, but what parent of small children reasonably expects her house to look like an interior designer's showcase? Kids wreck things, intentionally and unintentionally. I've been waiting to replace the couch, (and the area rug, and the recliner, and the coffee table...) after the cat has "moved on to a better place." What's the point of getting a brand-new couch only to have the cat treat it like a brand-new scratching post? Also, with money the way it is, I can not afford a new couch right now.

4. Apparently their dad just bought a huge HD television, while mine is just a measly 27 incher or something. It works just fine, so I don't need a new one. I really resent the idea that there needs to be some game of "Who's Got All the Cool Stuff" between the parents, because really I am losing there. They have an XBox, a playstation and satellite radio at Daddy's house. When they go to the girlfriend's house, she has full cable, a Wii, and two kids there.

I have tried to play on my strengths and give the girls other things to do. We have books, a lot of books - an obscene amount of books, actually. Plus I have a fully-stocked art studio, including plenty of kid-friendly art supplies. The girls frequently ask me to break out the clay or the paints or the poster board and glue and have a big Mommy-Daughters Art Project Day, and I am always willing to oblige.

5. Spiders. *sigh* These kids and spiders, I tell you. I don't have some $800/year to pay exterminators to treat the house for spiders like my sister does. So for now, we ignore them or kill them and remember that spiders kill all the other bugs out in the world.

6. My laptop is almost sacrosanct to me, so her complaint is true. I have a lot of important stuff on here (like the novels I am slogging through, not to mention all of my finances) and I don't want anything happening to it, sorry. They use the desktop computer upstairs, though I guess we need to create a better-defined schedule for sharing the computer up there so that they both get equal time.

7. I do yell sometimes, but I try not to blow my top. I count to 10 before yelling, sometimes counting to 10 in as many languages as I can when I am really mad, but for Pete's sake, sometimes I get angry and I yell. But, when I yell, I don't scream, I don't get abusive with the language or the body language.

Honestly, am I the only parent who ever blows her top and raises her voice? I sure as fuck recall my parents, both of them, yelling when they got angry with us.

My calm thoughts:

I know that the kid is only 7. I also know that kids can read a situation and see their parents' fears and guilt, especially in a divorce situation. I know that sometimes children will manipulate these feelings to get what they want.

I have encouraged the girls to share their feelings with me openly and I do not punish them for their feelings. I want them to come to me whenever they need to and know that I am not going to come down on them for their feelings. The problem is that her use of the word "hate" is unacceptable. I have to find some way of dealing with this without having her think that I am punishing her for the substance of her thoughts, but she needs to learn that expressing feelings in a hateful way is 100% unacceptable.


Ok, so that's the rational part of this argument, time for the melty part:

I am crushed that she would say something like this to me.

Throughout this heart-wrenching situation, I have clung desperately to the knowledge that at least my babies love me. Sure, they may not appreciate all that I do, because kids rarely do, but they love me, even though their father did not love me anymore.

Yet again, I am being punished. I did not ask for this divorce, I did not ask for this disruption to the family. No, but I am the one to bear the brunt of the meltdowns and the outbursts.
I've had both kids beg me through tears, "Take it back, Mommy! Tell Daddy you're sorry! Make him come home!" No, I did not want this divorce but I still have to deal with it.

They see that one day Daddy lived here, and then the next day he moved out. They see that Daddy has new furniture and expensive toys and Mommy still has the same old crappy shit that she always had. Some days it feels as though they regard Mommy nights as a punishment.

Despite all that, until the other night, I rested safe in the assumption that I was Mommy, and children love their Mommies. When they are sick, they want me to take care of them, fetch them ginger ale and saltines and make my homemade Sickie Soup, which is just the standard chicken noodle soup made with lots of love... and homemade stock. When Lucy wakes from a nightmare in the middle of the night, she comes and crawls into bed with me and burrows into my side, knowing that she is safe there.

Never did I expect to hear the words "I hate you, Mommy, I don't want to live with you. I want to live with Daddy" from the mouth of my baby. The rational part of my brain can explain it all reasonably well. I understand that it's enmeshed with the allure of "things" and prompted by her anger at the family's being ripped apart. It makes sense.

Nevertheless, I am reeling and hurt.

Friday, June 18, 2010

It Never Gets Easier


Today should be my son's 9th birthday.

Instead of a party with cake, candles and joyous children, I have a trip to the cemetery to plan.

I should be used to it by now, after all, I know the drill, but it really never gets any easier. I am stuck living my life counting the days all through the year as each year passes; still, there is this hole inside me which has not healed, which almost seems to refuse to heal. I worry that if I let go of his memory, then it will be as if he was never important, that he did not matter. As it is, he is merely a shadow of a thought to most people who have heard of him, and as each year passes, that shadow fades.

To me, he was more than a nebulous idea. He was my son, and he did matter. This family mattered to me; in fact, I still cling to that idealized image of that family, which now drifts about me in shreds and tatters.

I can not let go of any of it, the pain of his death, the anger over my husband leaving me, the unjustness of it all. Because I can not let go, I have not been able to move on.

Today, I don't give a shit whether I am moving on or not. Today, I simply replay the events of Monday, June 18, 2001 in my head again and again. I have as much chance of stopping that as I would have of halting an aneurysm mid-burst.

Today I remember, and regret.






Monday, June 14, 2010

Doctor's Note Required

So, last Friday I took my daughter to the orthopedic surgeon for her follow-up appointment. To my surprise, what had been on her leg was a splint. A heavy, 5-pound splint made of layers of cotton batting and plaster, snugged up tightly with a compression bandage, but still, a splint. The nurse took it off, wheeled my daughter in for some new x-rays and removed the stitches.

Then we waited.

The surgeon came in with the good news: her leg is healing beautifully, and had the nurse come in and apply a bright-green (Natalie's favorite color) cast. The instructions were explicit: for the next two weeks, keep her weight off that leg, stay on crutches, and under no circumstances was she to get it wet. They were so adamant about this point that I was concerned more about how to keep her leg dry for the next four weeks than ask about a written note.

She'd been out of school for 2 and a half weeks, with the school's full knowledge of the circumstances - broken leg, cast, crutches, it just never occurred to me to ask for a note.

Then Monday morning arrived. Natalie was excited about getting back to school and seeing her friends. She had hobbled successfully up the stairs to the main office where the principal told my dumbfounded ex and daughter that she can not come to school on crutches without a doctor's note saying that she needs them.

What the hell? I'd have thought that the cast would have made the idea of crutches a foregone conclusion. How aggravating. Also, they knew I'd need a note for the past 2 1/2 weeks, but no one ever thought to tell me that we would need a note for this? For.... permission to use crutches?!

For God's sake, the kid broke her leg, which is in a freaking CAST. Did they expect the broken leg fairies to bear her aloft and float her through the school?





Also, to add insult to injury (so to speak), the school is in no way easily handicap-accessible. In order to avoid the flights of stairs to get in and out of the school, she will have to go all the way around to the back of the school to go in through another door.

How convenient.

I am seriously aggravated today.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Broken

I can blame my recent lapse in blogging on one word: Broken.






Yes. That is what it appears to be - a broken leg set with a shiny-new pin.

My older daughter snapped her ankle a few weeks ago during a soccer scrimmage while performing a slide-tackle. Unfortunately, her heel caught on the uneven ground of the playing field and she snapped the long bones of her leg right at the growth plate.

Ouch, I mean really... OUCH!

My poor baby. She saw an orthopedic surgeon the next day who took one look at the x-rays and then came in to the exam room and said, "I am going to operate on her tomorrow at noon." So there you have it, my baby's first surgery at age 11.

She's a real trooper and instead of taking it easy and keeping her foot elevated most of the time, per the doctor's orders, she tends to cruise around on her crutches, trying to do things for herself. She is out for 2 weeks of school - again, doctor's orders - and boredom has been the real obstacle, not pain.

We did have a moment of real despair when she realized that this will affect her summertime fun plans a bit, but after some finagling of the schedule, she is still set to go to 2 sleep-away camps and get in plenty of time in the pool at her swimming lessons.

*huzzah*

And there was much rejoicing.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Mantra for a Half-day of School


"I will not kill and eat my young, I will not kill and eat my young..."



Listening to the dulcet tones of my two daughters bickering, nay, screaming at one another, I screwed my eyes tightly shut and silently intoned this mantra, desperately praying for a sense of zen-like calm to settle over me on this half-day in early June.

Yes. School. In June. I know that many kids across the nation have already been loosed from the prison of the public education system, bursting through the double doors, unleashed onto their parents, but we here in central New York still have 2 weeks to go until that happy day arrives.

Yesterday, our elementary schools let the kids go early so that the teaching teams could meet and work on grade assignments for next year, but what that meant for me was my two girls in close proximity, poking each other and pestering me. When we're all seated on the couch, I usually have to shift over to the middle, because it is a tragedy if one of the girls has to... *gasp* sit next to her sister instead of me! Then once we've moved around and divided the cushions and pillows into equal shares, why then, it's time for the physical stake-claiming of Mommy.

They will hug me, squeeze me, climb on me, play with my hair, tickle my feet, and all I am trying to do is read my book, do a crossword puzzle or finish a blog entry. Don't get me wrong, I am still thrilled that they are willing to engage in such overt displays of affection with their mom, but oh my GOD, I am not thrilled at being basically an amusement park ride.

Have you ever seen those nature shows of mommy lions with their cubs? I can really relate to that mommy lion somewhere on the African savannah, TRYING to snooze in the shade of a majestic acacia tree; TRYING to snooze, but she can not, because her numerous cubs are jumping all over her tail, biting her ears, or pouncing on her head in typical cub-like fashion. But them at last, she reaches out and, with a gigantic paw, cuffs them upside the head with a warning growl that signals, "Lion cubs: The other white meat."


Here:








See what I mean? I am her.

We made it through the day yesterday... just barely. Their dad swooped in just in time to take them to soccer practice. Lucky for them.

It seems that the only time my girls can agree with one another is when they gang up on me. That is likely to become less endearing once they become teenagers.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Coupons, Worth it or Not?

Splashed across the header of the front page of yesterday’s newspaper in colorful text, I read “Save $210.78 with today’s coupons.” I knew that tucked deep inside the stack of glossy store flyers, which I hardly ever read, there lay page after page of coupons for brand-name items. They sit there, taunting me, the text screams from the front page, “Save, save, SAVE!”

Then, as added pressure to guilt us into using coupons, we have the self-styled Coupon Queen. Oh yes, you know who I mean. We've all seen her on television. Whenever the economy gets rough and food companies indulge in that ever-popular game of price-gouging, the news networks create the coupon challenge segment. Some reporter tags along at the grocery store with The Coupon Queen, holding an identical shopping list, and on your mark, get set, GO! They speed through the store and shop.

Afterward, at the check-out lane, when all the tallies are in, we “Oooh” and “Ahhh” at how the hapless reporter spent close to $200 on a cart full of groceries while the Coupon Queen spent $0.49 for the exact same name-brand items. “That’s right!” the reporter exclaims, “Only forty-nine cents!” With a smug smile on her face, the Coupon Queen gloats over her economically-purchased bounty packed nicely in environmentally-friendly, reusable shopping bags as I sit, gnashing my teeth, overcome by an urge to take that family-sized tube of Ben-Gay and shove it down her throat.

My question: In the end when we consider all of the costs, do we really save money by obsessively using these coupons?

When I see what they bought with that $200 or $0.49, respectively, I feel obliged to point out that you are not likely to find a single one of those items in my grocery cart. They are all name-brand, pre-packaged products, with rarely a piece of real, unadulterated food in the pile. I see absolutely no fresh produce, no bulk grains, no economical store brands.

What is the point of saving $1.00 on two boxes of Toaster Strudels (regularly $2.29) if I wouldn’t normally buy crap like that for my family? Are the bragging rights on saving money really worth the cost of feeding my kids processed food with no redeemable nutritional quality to it? The way I see it, if I used that coupon for $1.00 off 2 Toaster Strudels, I have actually wasted money. That $3.58 I spent “saving money” on Toaster Strudels could have bought a few apples, a much better food choice. Unfortunately, I can not easily get the same number of servings of a healthy alternative for the amount of money spent on crap food, and that is criminal.

When the newspapers start handing out coupons for $10.00 towards the fresh produce, then we can talk. Until then, I plan on sticking with my store-brand items and planning menus around weekly store specials to save costs.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Parenting Fail (and not my own)


While reading through the Huffington Post this morning, I found a video clip currently on its way to viralness. Normally a video clip showing some oversexed dancers gyrating to Beyonce or Lady Gaga wouldn't raise my eyebrows -much - but this one had me scraping my jaw up off the floor.

A cadre of 7 year-olds dressed up as Dollar Store Hookers managed to bump and grind, twirl and high-kick their way across the stage to "Single Ladies."

My immediate reaction was that I wanted to smack the shit out of the mothers who thought that this was a good idea. Dudes, I've have been pissed off if I were the mother of a 14 year-old daughter doing that dance, but for fuck's sake, 7 year-old girls? I'm equally pissed off at the commentary at Huffington Post which reads:

"Age appropriate or not, there is denying it's one heck of a performance." -Huffington Post


I ask you, if they had taken turns dancing around a pole or dancing on a 44 year-old man's lap, would someone quip, "Well, it may not be age-appropriate, but my goodness look at the technique!"

Wrong.

As an aspiring artist, I am all for the freedom of expression, but I draw the line at the sexualization of children. Make no mistake, that routine turned some adorable 7 year-old girls into caricatures of child prostitutes.

Those mothers ought to be rightly ashamed of themselves. Let's start tying in girls' self-esteem with a false portrayal of sexuality at an earlier age!