Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Smugness of Cooking

I love to cook.  Good food, sweet treats and fresh bread  The staples and comfort foods for my family give me pleasure.  Not everybody feels that way and I respect that lack of desire to cook, especially when it comes time for the cleanup after a particularly involved meal.

 Cooking is something that speaks of home.  No matter where you originated from, what religion you practice or don't practice, you probably learned to cook from a relative.  Our family teaches us their traditions beginning in the kitchen.  The holiday baking, the seasonal foods of passage, the splurges or economizing of the household.  They are our culture, our history and our pride.  My parents both cook and have shared their history with me through food as my husband and I do now with our children.  They taught me that cooking saves money, is healthier and if done with forethought, can save time. 

There is one thing they never told me.  Something your family probably withheld also.  Cooking creates smugness.  Think about it awhile.  Do you remember a glint in your grandmother's eye, a self-satisfied smirk on your father's lips, a sly smile as your mother accepted your effusive complements on your favorite dish made just for you?  Ahhh, you see it now, smugness!  Of course, being well brought up they would never admit to such a rude and base emotion.  But I experienced it again today.

It happened just ten minutes after I walked into the door.  In that short amount of time I had gotten the meat cooking for New Orleans Po Boys and the dough mixed and rising for my Baguettes.  Both of these are easy but time intensive dishes that come together for a hearty and satisfying meal that my family loves.  Twenty years ago it would have taken much longer to get to that stage in the process and there would have been flour over half the kitchen and on me.  Not anymore.  I am not a novice, scared cook.  I am a confident mom who knows where everything in my kitchen is and just how much I have of all my ingredients.  After the dough went into the bowl to rise on my dryer (thanks Annamarie) I caught myself smirking.  Smugness just oozed out of my pores knowing that this meal, although not done, will come together looking much more difficult than it was and with happy recipients.  In just ten minutes I had accomplished an everyday miracle.  Me, an ordinary stay-at-home mom, the miracle worker.  Smugness, yet another reason to cook. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

A New Beginning

How many times have we vowed to turn over a new leaf?  Sometimes we succeed and and all to often we slide back into the habit we are trying to rid ourselves of so desperately.  I am in the middle of such an effort.  My life has been an ode to procrastination.  Born two weeks late and consistently late ever since.  In college my roommates would diligently begin their papers soon after the topic was assigned.  I however, would begin the night before, or shall I say morning that it was due. A twelve page paper with bibliography and footnotes?  No problem.  Midnight was early enough for that 8 a.m. paper to begin.   A nasty habit to say the least.  Not one that I want my children to emulate. 

The change of my behavior began when the eldest was struggling in private school.  Because he had learning disabilities we could not wait until the last minute to complete assignments.  Things that should have taken 15 minutes could take hours depending on the day he was having.  Those habits were repeated with the twins.  As soon as something is assigned we begin the work.  My children are learning that breaking things down into daily steps makes for less stress the day before.  They already have better study habits than I did. 

With all those improvements you would think some of those good habits I instilled in my children would have worn off on me.  No. Such. Luck.  Procrastination was still my way of life.  But this school year is starting off differently.  It began with lesson plans for the first two weeks completed before the first day of school.  I am planning menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner a week in advance.  I have even put the menus, shopping lists and the family's calendar on a online program that everyone in the family can access.  Today the eldest and I finished school early because he had chosen to complete a couple of assignments ahead of schedule.  So instead of spending the afternoon in my abandoned craft room, I planned next week's menu and wrote up the shopping list.  After picking up the twins from school we headed off to the grocery stores.  Then home to put away groceries, and make tonight's dinner/tomorrow's lunch as well as breakfast.  I have a meeting tomorrow morning so I hope that by spending today doing the necessary things I will be able to enjoy a lazy Saturday afternoon.  Hopefully all will work as planned. 

I am enjoying the feeling of knowing what is on the schedule.  I almost feel "together".  And yes, I just knocked on wood after that statement.  Will this new found organization last?  I hope so.  But like I tell the boys, if we mess up today then we just start from the beginning tomorrow. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Risking Our Hearts

We had an eventful weekend, full of wonderful moments and sad endings.  Sounds like a metaphor for life doesn't? The little people got their first musical instruments and the ear torturing has begun.  Twin A chose the saxophone and B the oboe.  If you enjoy the melodious sounds of waterfowl and cats being tortured then the dogs want to trade homes with you!  Of course that would deprive us of the crying dog accompaniment in our orchestra.  The music store that rented the instruments from had a free clinic and concert with an amazing musician by the name of Brian "Breeze" Cayolle.  This gentleman from New Orleans plays the sax, clarinet, flute and piccolo.  After the clinic he performed with a band of three others and it was like being transported to New Orleans, one of my favorite places in the world!  The music had me dancing in my seat and Twin A came straight home and started practicing his sax.  Mission accomplished.  I want to expose the boys to what music can be this year.  Not just the computer generated or cleaned up vocals but really talented people who spend years perfecting their instruments  and technique.  People who say everything begins with practice, dedication, determination.  There are no shortcuts in learning an instrument and my boys need to learn that this carries over into life.  The concert made my husband and I remember traveling to New Orleans and listening to concerts before children.  Of course the sour attitude of the the eldest and his proclivity for picking fights with Twin A brought us back to reality before we even got out of the parking lot.  Kids....

Sunday started off on the wrong foot with an odd dream that brought me to full alert at 3:00 am.  That combined with a migraine set the tone for the day.  After attending mass we went to a local park for a mini concert and a Food Truck Rodeo.  It was a lovely break in what is normally one of our busiest days of the week.  Sunday is no rest day at our house unfortunately.  The concert got rained out so off to home we headed.  Darling husband skipped his last soccer game so he could take the short ones to their scout meeting thereby allowing me to stay home and sleep off the migraine.  I love my husband.  While he and the twins were shooting the homemade 2 liter bottle rockets at the scout competition my only job was to take care of Wings, a baby bird we found three days ago.  He had been in really bad shape when we found him and I did not expect him to last 24 hours.  But yesterday we saw a huge difference and Twin B, who discovered the bird, got to name him.  Wings looked like he?she? would become at least a temporary member of the family.  And then while the boys were away the bird died.  A horrible jerking, spasming death.  And so I sat.  Looking at the tiny little body and dreading my children's homecoming.  The eldest was upstairs and I told him first and that was awful.  As expected from a huge animal lover he took it very hard.  Then the boys came home and I broke the news to them.  They cried most of the evening. 

Sometimes being a parent stinks.  Last night was one of those times.  I love the giant hearts of my children.  They have such good intentions and they tried so hard to do everything asked in the care of this bird.  We had long discussions about why they could not hold it, and love on it even though we all wanted to so badly.  We had talked about not imprinting on the baby and preparing it to be released back into the wild when the time was right.  We had discussed the difference between what we wanted and what was the best for a wild bird.  And they had obeyed, putting the needs of Wings before their own.  And then the bird died.  Nothing we did changed the ending that was in sight when we found Wings.  And that is the essence of life.  We risk our hearts and take chances but sometimes it does not end well.  The lesson I want the boys to learn from this is that the risk of heartbreak is always there but we need to take those chances anyway.  For three days this bird was sheltered, fed and loved.  Three days it would not have had if B hadn't found it baking on that sidewalk.  For three days we made a difference.  And in life we need to take risks so that we can make a difference.  Each time we put our heart into a new endeavor we risk loss, but we also risk gaining love, happiness and blessings. 

Just as music requires practice, determination and dedication so does risking our hearts.  We have to practice opening them to the world and all of the potential disappointments so that our capacity for love can grow.  We have to be determined to make a change, however small, in the world around us.  And we have to dedicate ourselves to doing things for others even if it is not always convenient.  For it is through practice, dedication and determination that we hear that joyful music that is life itself.  And the orchestra of life is glorious indeed.

Friday, July 6, 2012


Twin A:  "Mom, is our house a democracy?"
Me:  "No.  You live in a Monarchy, jointly ruled by the king and queen."
Twin A:  "Mom, what is anarchy?"
Darling Husband:  "The absence of a government."
Twin A:  "Can my bedroom be the home of anarchy?"
King and Queen:  "NO!" 
Me:  "However when you desire to live in anarchy you may get a job and move to your own address that you pay for with your money."
Darling Husband:  "You can live in the Kingdom of Far, Far Away when you get ready for anarchy."

And that is why it is good to be the Queen (and King)!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Childhood summers revisited

Summers for children are a magical and all too brief time.  Days spent swimming, bike riding and playing with friends disappear into memory in a fraction of a second.  But with children the chance to revisit those golden days happen every year.  All too often I am busy running the house and fail to take advantage of time with my boys.  Yesterday I really spent time with each child.  It was wonderful.  The highlight of the day was digging through the  pit  playroom and finding my Pente game from high school.  The eldest was not interested in learning the game so I started with Twin A.  Once he mastered the concept I moved on to Twin B and then let them duke it out on the playing board.  They are hooked!  So hooked that they introduced #4 to the game and spent hours playing.  Twin A and I revisited the game for about an hour before bed time.

Teaching my children the game brought back so many memories.  My best friend and I playing Monopoly for days at a time during summer breaks.  Another friend introduced me to Pente during high school and I can remember spending  all our spare time in the band room with a few others battling for supremacy in Pente.  I lost frequently but I was still addicted. In a time before personal computer games we sat down across from each other and played board games.  Sometimes the only conversation was trash talking our opponents but real conversations also occurred.  Conversations that helped us all formulate our dreams into words.  We talked about our lives, classes, parents and challenges with other friends.  We dreamed of who we would become and where we would each live.  We shared our thoughts and feelings and in doing so created friendships that would last over thirty years. 

Children today have so much pressure to succeed in school or sports that these moments to just sit and play are even more precious. They need this time to be unscheduled and unhurried.  And we as grownups need to join in that time as often as we can.  It nourishes our souls, builds memories with our families and reminds us of times we had forgotten about.  Take some time today to do something you haven't tried in 20 or 30 years.  And enjoy the silly grin on your face the rest of the day.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Happy Birthday Mom

Today is my mother's birthday, or because she insists she is still 29, the anniversary of her 29th birthday.  My mom is my rock.  She taught me what it is to be a woman.  Yes she handled the basics such as the horrific memorization of multiplication tables and how to clean a bathroom.  But she also taught me more important life skills.  She taught me to never stop learning.  The mind stays sharp when you learn something new.  Her favorite hobby is sewing and she has never stopped learning new techniques and exploring new ideas.  My mother's sewing helped finance my college education.  My mom taught me about sacrifice.  She and my dad worked full work weeks and then came home and created things to sell at shows on weekends.  Their sacrifice of time and energy meant I had opportunities they could have only dreamed about as children. 

My mother is from a very small town in central Louisiana.  She was raised in a time of segregation.  And yet she always told me to judge people on their behavior, not the color of their skin or the origin of their birth.  Or as she always says, "There is good and bad in all kinds of people".  Because my daddy was in the military we had the opportunity to live over seas twice.  My mom took full advantage of seeing as much of Europe as possible.  My parents exposed me to different cultures, ideas and art at every opportunity.  My mother spent much of my childhood with a travel book in her hands.  From her I learned that our lives are blessed with choices and the quality of our life depends on our choices and actions.  We can mourn changes in our life or we can embrace them and see them as exciting opportunities to learn something new. 

She taught me that not only are children a gift but an immense responsibility.  Giving birth is the easy part, providing an education and teaching them about life is the challenge.  All the money in the world will not raise a child.  Time, attention, love and discipline are required to raise a child.  Giving children your time and attention, giving them rules and consequences, expecting the best and loving them when they are at their worst is more valuable than money.  She has taught me by example and I hope to do the same with my children.  My mother also taught me that motherhood does not end at 18 or 21.  She still mothers me and worries about me and my boys.  I know that I will do the same.  

My mom taught me self reliance and courage.  She is the toughest woman I have ever met.  Mom has never cared what other people thought of her.  She wears what she likes, is friends with people she respects and says what she thinks.  If you mess with her family or friends then God help you because she does not back down until you have been shown the error of your ways.  This woman is solid steel and yet she does not hesitate to offer assistance when needed.  She has shown me that you can love someone and still tell them no if what they want is not in their best interest.  I am blessed to have my mother and I still rely on her for so much in my life.  She is still my moral compass and my inspiration.  Happy birthday Mom and thank you for your guidance and love.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day

I am blessed to have three amazing dads in my life.  My father, my father-in-law and my husband.   Each one of these men illustrate what being a man really means.  They love their families, they work hard to make sure their families are taken care of and they do not run when life becomes challenging. 

My daddy was a feminist before it became an acceptable word.  He never told me that I could not do something just because I was a girl.  At Christmas as a child I got dolls and Hot Wheels cars complete with tracks.  We fished together and at one time even bought a car to restore although I did not see that one through. He recently gave me a scroll saw and a sander to further my hobbies.  Before I could drive away from the house in my first car he made me learn how to change the tires and check the oil and fluids.  He had a steel pipe in the trunk so I could use it to provide more leverage on the lug nuts, or in case of emergency, as a weapon for self protection.  He taught me to "measure twice and cut once".  He taught me "if a thing is worth doing then it is worth doing right".  But what he really taught me was love.  That raising a child takes time, interaction and putting someone else before yourself.  He taught me about marriage by being a faithful and loving husband.  He showed me that that two people can disagree, have different beliefs or ideas and still love each other.  Daddy showed me that marriage is not about one person winning all the time or one person hitting the other.  He lives out his vows with love and respect for my mother.  He set me up for a successful and healthy marriage by example, not just words.  He gave me the foundation for a successful life and what more could any child ask for of their father?

My father-in-law and I met the day before my wedding.  Hampered by his broken English and my non-existent Spanish there was relatively little thought provoking conversation at that meeting.  And yet he still made it clear that I was welcome in his family, that I would be loved and accepted as his only son's choice of life partner.  Never in 18 years of marriage has he ever made me feel like an outsider.  We don't get to spend a great deal of time together due to geography but this gentle man has still taught me so much.  He, like my father, is a man of principle with a strong work ethic.  When it became clear that jobs were leaving his country he left to find better opportunities to provide for his family.  It meant spending months away from his four children but doing so would give them the finances to attend the best schools in the area.  Above all he believed in educating his children so that they could achieve their dreams.  And that meant sending them to a school that could teach them to be bilingual.  He sacrificed precious time with his family and took jobs that were not always representative of his education so his family would have a better life.  He has lived his life with dignity and love of others.  The embodiment of a real father.

My husband and I have three boys.  My husband, like his father and mine, is a hard working man.  He has earned a great deal of respect in his field by being the one who stays past quitting time to fix the problem.  He is showing his boys that a career takes dedication and the willingness to stay even when the job is hard.  He teaches my boys how to respect women by opening doors for me, treating me with kindness and never raising his voice to me.  The boys are learning how to mow the lawn, take care of a family and have a good marriage by example.  My husband tells the children what he expects from people who work with and for him so they can be good employees one day.  He reviews their grades and discusses why they should focus on school.  My boys like getting in the kitchen because on the weekend they see their daddy cooking breakfast and other meals.  They know that everyone should know how to do laundry, cook, clean and take care of the lawn.  When they make a "girls can't do that" comment he corrects them with examples of successful women.  Even though we have a very traditional family my boys know that women can work in any job and that men should do their fair share in the home.  My husband is teaching by example how to be a loving man.

These three men have given me love and support.  They love my boys unconditionally.  Each of these wonderful men show my boys how to be a real man and a loving father through their daily lives.  They embody the spirit of fatherhood and I and my boys are all the richer for having them in our lives. 

Happy Father's Day to my three favorite men.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Social Media

I have a new addiction.  The television series Bones.  I am slowly catching up on the entire series through Netflix.  Yes, I enjoy trying to solve the murder along with the cast and expanding my limited knowledge but what really fascinates me are the main characters themselves.  The incredible differences between them all and how they learn from each other while retaining their unique characteristics that make them all so interesting.  I wish I saw more of this in real life.  For a while now I have been observing some posts, comments and sometimes attacks between some of my facebook friends and they disturb me.

Because my father was in the Air Force I was blessed with the opportunity to live in a foreign country and multiple states.  Even when he retired it was in an area where a lot of my peers were also children of career military and therefore well traveled.  Then I met and married a man from another country. Through all of these experiences I have been blessed with meeting and becoming friends with men and women from all over the world.  They are of different races, religions and cultures and values but they are all basically the same.  Good people wanting to live their lives with dignity and leaving their families and world a little better because they made a difference.  They have all taught me something about themselves, their cultures, religions or why they do not subscribe to religion.  They have expanded my mind and helped me develop a world view.

Between my diverse friends and a love of reading I understand that anyone is capable of great good and great evil, brilliance and stupidity, generosity and selfishness.  And it is possible to have this multiplicity converge in a single person and even in a single sentence.  That sentence aspect is what is bothering me lately.  I have noticed people posting quotes on facebook and then using those quotes to support their opinions about a topic or belief or as an opportunity to ridicule something or someone they do not agree with at all.  Usually these are political or religious in nature.  Naturally this causes great debate and animosity and sometimes hurt feelings and harsh words.  I find it all very sad.

The reality is any famous person or book can be quoted out of context.  History is rife with quotations taken out of context or twisted to serve a person, organization or country's agenda.  All to often this was the start of a war, massacre or an excuse to enslave or subjugate another population.  The fact that we have not learned from this behavior speaks volumes about the human race in general.  In order for us to learn from each other and have true rational discussions, we as humans must learn how to listen with an open mind.  That does not mean attack with quotes or facts until we force our peer into seeing the world as we do.  We have to understand that people will disagree with us even after our "case" has been presented.  Explaining my religious faith to someone from a different faith or no faith will probably not "convert" them.  What it will do is help them understand some of the motivations behind my actions.  Learning the cultural norms of another person does not mean I have to adopt those norms myself.  Instead it teaches me how not to offend a person of that culture and therefore allowing us to develop a relationship of respect.  Attacking another person's belief system with facts and figures will not change their beliefs.  It will create a wall of resentment and distrust.  It will shut down communication.  That is the antithesis of a social network or social media.  Being social requires communication.  Communication requires respectful and open discourse.

We all need to learn from each other while maintaining our unique characteristics and "quirks" that make us so interesting to others.  The next time you post, like or share something on your favorite social media take a moment to think.  Is this really how you want others to view you?  Are you being funny or are you just being offensive on purpose?  Are you just expressing a momentary thought, celebration or frustration or are you attacking another person to "prove a point"?  Are you really being social or are you just pushing your beliefs for your own benefit?  Will we develop a social relationship where we can disagree but still like each other or are we creaitng more resentment and discontentment?  What is your reason for being on that social media and what are you hoping to achieve?  I hope we can all learn to be kinder to each other and social media is an excellent place to begin.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Normal, Sort-of

My eldest turned 14 last week.   How did that happen?  It seems like just yesterday we were all waiting on pins and needles to find out if the blue or pink stuff was going to go back to the store.  My mother who had rabidly prayed for a girl, just melted when she saw my sweet boy.  "I'll just take all that silly pink stuff back."  In one glance he owned her and still does today.

The eldest has been a blessing and a challenge.  Well really, that could be said of any child.  He has not followed the usual progression.  There have been medical problems and educational challenges that no parent anticipates when dreaming of a baby.   And if I am honest I have not always  recognized them soon enough or handled them correctly.  But we learned something each step of the way.  This child, who I dreamed of teaching so many things has taught me more than I could have believed. 

My child has taught me to stop planning.  I planned on a healthy baby girl.  I got a boy who along the way had multiple medical problems.  I planned on all the arts and crafts we would do together.  But arts and crafts were not so enjoyable with motor skill and visual spatial problems.  We learned to adapt and have very realistic expectations.  I planned on all the extra curricular activities he would participate in but those go away when the basics are already overwhelming.  We have learned to truly live in the moment.  This is a gift.  Now I recognize and fully enjoy those perfect moments in time that sneak up on us. 

Over the years we have heard a lot of platitudes from people trying to understand and commiserate on our journey with a special needs child.  I have learned to hate most of the expressions of caring while still loving the person saying them.  Some things in life you just do not understand unless you are the one sleepless and worrying in the middle of the night.  But now I can truly understand another parent's pain and uncertainty about the future when a new diagnosis is added to the list.  Now I understand why some parents know more testing needs to be done and refuse to proceed.  It is not out of ambivalence or lack of love.  It is self protection, because even parents need a buffer from the bad news sometime.

I have learned to be an advocate for all my children.  My job as mother is so much more than cooking and cleaning.  It is up to me to make sure that my boys receive the best possible care.  It is okay to question, research and if necessary fire doctors, schools and anyone else coming in contact with my children.  If my goals for the eldest are different from the group he is in I absolutely will ask, push or pull the group  to accept him as he is and not expect him to conform.  Society is full of people who have not only their own drummer but their own band.  Enjoy the music people.

Most importantly I have learned to enjoy normal, our version of normal.  You will never catch me sending out one of those phony Christmas card letters listing all the super human accomplishments of my children/family.  We are average, normal, sort of.  And I like normal.  In the last two years God has granted us two miracles.  The eldest has grown out of two diagnoses and I am incredibly grateful.  Does that stop me from asking for more miracles?  No.  But the good Lord knows that I am a selfish only child at heart and I have a feeling he is not surprised.  I will continue to ask for healing, for positive changes because these things can make his life easier, better as an adult.  But each day I will see him for the amazing young man he is becoming, the loving human being he is each day, and I will be grateful.  Grateful for my three beautiful boys, grateful for their health, their loving hearts and for our family's normal. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!  Okay so I am 13 days late!  If you ask my mom she will tell you I was two weeks overdue.  So really for me, I'm on time.  Yes that is only in my alternate reality but that is the same one that tells me there are no calories in chocolate.  

We ended and started the new year with family.  My parents were here for Christmas and then we spent New Years with two of my three sister-in-laws.  I finally met my niece and nephew and they were adorable.  After the Grinch made his appearance last month all I wanted was a quiet and peaceful holiday and that was achieved.  No emergency room visits, no break down of vehicles on the trip and not even a speeding ticket.  For my crew this was a miracle in action!! 

So now that we have the new year or as the Mayans thought the "end of times", what have you got planned?  Did you make already break any resolutions?  I only made one resolution this year.  To spend more time with people I love.  Being a home school mom in the mornings and then dealing with homework and activities in the afternoons and weekends means I only see my kids on a regular basis.  Now I love my kids but they are not the only people who I care about in my life.  This year I want to do better about seeing family and friends.  This year will mean more trips to visit extended family, more dates with my husband and more girls night out events.  Moms need to spend time away from their children.  We need to hear other points of view, meet people from different cultures and mindsets and just talk to grownups.   We need to go out with our husbands and remember why we married him in the first place.  This restores our spirit and let me tell you mine needs some restoration after last year. 

I hope your resolutions are going well so far and that you are each on the path to achieving your dreams for 2012.  And just in case those crazy Mayans were right and did not just run out of stellas to write on, I am eating extra chocolate this year.  My last meal might as well be a good one!