Thursday, December 31, 2009

Transformed: More than meets the Eye

The decade between 26 and 36 is not overly obvious in the changes it wreaks.  Most definitely there are few bits & pieces headed south that weren't, ten years ago, but it's not like there is puberty or even a graduation to mark the passing of the years.

But on the last day of The Aughts when we review such things, the transformations of my life in this decade couldn't be more profound.


I added the title of Mother to my resume.  And have been sure that I'll be fired, every day since.

I started the decade loving good food.  I end the decade with a love of honest food.

I moved house, I moved continents, and I created Home.  (Even after leaving the place I call home.)

I consciously voted for less snark in my life. (Less is a moving target, of course.)  For those that knew me in the years before, you will grasp just how groundbreaking this shift was.

I went from believing that marriage is easy to knowing that marriage is hard, but absolutely worth any and all work required.

I went from thinking friends were just lovely to believing that friends belong in the same category as water, food, and oxygen.

I went from traveling to seven different countries in one year (2001) to traveling to seven different preschools in 2009.  (Really only one preschool and one elementary, but it feels like more.)  I also haven't traveled further than the next state over for two years.

I became an excellent cook.  And in the last six, I've cooked spaghetti, black bean chili, and macaroni and cheese at least once a week.

I found a community of faith that, literally, surprised me with its joy, and its depth.  Here is a sermon that left my jaw hanging open.

I realized I am a writer.  I spent so many years believing that my unique skill laid in appreciating what others wrote, never understanding that my time would come.

I fulfilled almost every childhood dream, and then learned that even a Dream Come True is complicated.

I became more educated than I ever imagined.  And I finish the decade aware of just how little I do know.


Somehow, all that I have learned in the last ten years seems to have 'settled' in 2009.  More and more I find myself feeling that finally I am glimpsing the Big Picture:   that all of the disparate elements listed above have come together to show me the way forward.  Is this all a bit mystical for you?  I'd say that's something new to me in recent years too.

I am willing to believe there is a great deal out there we don't know, or understand. I know that we must show love, and kindness, to make anything work. So there's my Super Duper Schmooper Big Idea:  be kind, show love, and don't ask Kirsten, because she's just figured out she doesn't know all that much.

Happy 2010 to all of you.  May it bring you great joy. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

"Harmonica" plays the TWOs

I do believe that a post reflecting on Annika's first two years is in order. I could give her that at least. Given that she wasn't blessed with a mother of great discipline, she may have to wait a bit. Say, another 15 years or so.

Failing that, perhaps I may offer some photos of her celebrations, lest we arrive at her third birthday with the pictures of this year unposted, and my memories of her at two undocumented.


Annika turned two this week, and did she get herself a Hello Kitty cake?  Oh yes she did.


Annika's buddies & cousins were here to sing a birthday tune on her behalf.


With no birthday cake candles in the house, we used advent candles to pinch-hit. I don't think she'll hold it against us, do you?  Having a Christmastime birthday does have its downsides.


Annika's birthday present: a 'wheeee!'   (And all the other kids in the neighborhood think it's spelled Wii. Pah!)  She also got a beautiful handmade blanket from her Farfar, and a Duplo zoo.  At two she is a happy little camper, who, when asked whose birthday is it? will shoot her hand up in the air and exclaim MEEEEEEE!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Worst Christmas Ever

For the record, today was not it.  The Worst Christmas, I mean.  I see I left a few of you with that impression.

Nope: for the record, the Official Worst Christmas Ever was December 2005. 

You see, in July that year we'd bought a house.  Built in 1920, a yellow house, with a front porch wide enough for rockers, with old wood floors, and a long, full-of-promised-adventures backyard.  Inside, there was much renovation required, but we were full of confidence that having redone a small cottage in England we could take on a large single family home.  We were so full of confidence, in fact, that we invited my husband's entire family for Christmas.  Invited them to share Christmas with us in our new home.

You are probably already shaking your head knowingly.  You and our parents.

November arrived with cold winds blowing, the heating and hot water turned off in the house and funds rapidly dwindling.  My self-employed husband was taking time off from our business, trying desperately to refinish the floors so we could install the kitchen so we could re-connect the plumbing so we could move in the furniture and and and.... then our pediatrician raised the red flag about the lead.  The lead in the paint on the woodwork  that we were trying to refinish. We needed to replace the windows so that our children, our very small & vulnerable-to-lead-poisoning children (3 and 9 mos at the time) would be safe in our home.

Told that the windows couldn't go in before the new year, we knew the jig was up.  We locked up the charming old yellow house, drove away, and intended never to return  (at least Never Until The Spring).

This meant Christmas in my parents' home, where we were living with our 2 small children, container-full of furniture and our small business.  Imagine breaking the news to your parents that not only will you not be moving out (O Long Awaited Day), but that they would be sharing Christmas with a house full of Norwegians.  Only, it turns out it was just news to us.  They'd seen the writing on the woodwork (as it were) and booked last-minute tickets to San Francisco to stay with my brother in his studio apartment.  With his 11 month old baby daughter.

My husband's parents, sister, her two boys, his brother and his daughter all arrived about a week before Christmas.  I'd gone back to work - a horrible retail job, but a job where they would have me back at a moment's notice to fund new windows - and was working long hours in the heart of DC.  

On the 22nd, I arrived home from work and heard a strange barking cough from my infant son.  Hmm, said I.  Hmm, said my father. (Did I mention he's our pediatrician??)  By 10pm I was told we needed to head to the ER:  bad case of croup.  I spent the night at Howard County General, trying to console a baby boy who'd weaned to a bottle only 3 weeks before (therefore no mommy+boob=comforting.)

I had a rare day off the next day, and took my in-laws' rental car to pick up a Christmas present from the store. And got towed.  So in a month where I was working retail to pay for a floor, I got to pay $200 to get the rental out of the tow-lot so that I could return it to the airport.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day actually passed without much drama.  They are a lovely family, my in-laws, and beautifully skilled at carrying on as if nothing was seriously amiss.  This is not one of my skills.  My father in law actually looked up at me that night and said "Kirsten!  Why are you walking around with your shoulders up at your ears?  Are you freezing?"  No.  Turns out that's how I look when things are falling apart around me.

That Christmas week was also the week when my sister in law had to tell her family that she would be divorcing her husband, father to her two boys.  That was a really fun night too.

It was not an unmitigated disaster.  There was much accomplished, much wine drunk, many conversations held late into the night. The Norwegians even managed to find the right shade of paint for the interior and paint all the rooms in the house.

Looking back at that fateful holiday, I can scarcely believe we're here again, actually doing Christmas with the Norwegians.  Doing it right this time, with sanded floors, furniture installed, and running hot water.


What I notice most of all in looking back was that no one counseled us on what a mess we were making of our lives.  Neither set of parents chose that Christmas to tell us that we'd screwed up big time.  Both families, especially our parents, worked hard that Christmas to let us know that we were loved unconditionally, and that no matter what train wrecks happened in our own lives, it would never keep us from the love that a family offers.  That our families offer.

This Christmas, I am deeply grateful to our parents, both sets of them.  Without them, we wouldn't have the life, and all of its blessings, that I can be thankful for today. 

Yesterday I posted about choosing joy.  Amidst the pain that year, amidst the disappointment of so much, we chose joy.   I don't in any way discount all the heartache that traveled along with it, but we chose the joy.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

I had big plans for a post tonight - the celebrations were happening early and I thought I'd get a few hours free to tell you a great story with a moral at the end. 

Then as the day progressed I had a very interesting exchange on Facebook that got me thinking about the paradoxes of Christmas:  the warm house made warmer by the cold outdoors, the happy made happier by the sad, the sacrifice made harder but the joy made greater. 

So, as usual, big ideas, but here is the sad fact:  I need to sleep. 

I hope I will be able to share stories of the Worst Christmas Ever, and thoughts on the dark side of Christmas with you through this week.  I actually miss posting every day - it was lovely to chat with all of you.

Merry Christmas, everyone.  Please, on this one day, choose to embrace joy.  There are so many reasons it is hard, but therefore so many reasons why we should.  Choose JOY.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Waldorf Advent


I came across this poem in a blog last week, and although it appears to be pretty well-known in the 'crunchier' parenting circles, it's new to me. Interesting to me was the willingness of many people embracing a Waldorfian parenting philosophy to let the centrality of nature in their beliefs co-exist with the centrality of Christ's birth.

In that spirit, I give you the Rudolf Steiner version of Advent. Purely food for thought:

The first light of Advent is the light of stones.
Stones that live in crystals, seashells, and bones.

The second light of Advent is the light of plants.
Roots, stem, leaf, flower and fruit by whom we live and grow.

The third light of Advent is the light of beasts.
Animals of farm, field, forest, air and sea.
All await the birth in greatest and in least.

The fourth light of Advent is the light of humankind.
The light of love, the light of thought, to give and to understand.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Simplicity, the Holiday Version

One of my favorite blogs recently is SimpleKids, which is an offshoot of SimpleMom. Both are awesome, but SimpleKids has so much that's relevant to my life right now.

Recently SimpleKids posted on something relevant to my life at this very moment. Who among us is not struggling with feeling that there should be just one more gift, that there is one more sweet decoration that, if bought, would bring the whole theme together. Honestly? I'm still stressing about a present for my husband - and yes, now you mention it it is getting a bit late in the day.



Anyway. Head on over and read their post on keeping your holiday simple, no matter how close to Christmas, no matter how (un)prepared things might be. There is also a great link in their post to Zen Habits, which I've linked to before. Another great site for keeping things focused on what's important.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Snow Day


If you live anywhere east of the Mississippi, you've heard about the snow blanketing us in the mid-Atlantic region. And those of you west of the Mississippi can't have missed all the chatter on Facebook. Twenty and one-half inches was the final total in Catonsville, according to my meteorologist friend.

I am one of those people who has historically thrilled to the whispered words Snow Day. I rarely complain about not being able to get out on the roads or not getting on with my previously-scheduled well, schedule.

However, snow days for the mom in the house mean something unique.

"Snow day" means staying up late the night before the forecast storm, tracking down errant snowboots, snowpants, hats-that-don't-itch, and mittens-that-will-stay-dry. It means waking extra early to someone's excited cry "Mommy! It SNOWED! Get up get up QUICK, it SNOWED!" It means explaining for the 46th time that no, we won't be going out in the snow before breakfast because Mommy HAS NOT HAD COFFEE. Once breakfast is finally dispensed with, it means a mad dash for the snowclothes, with Mommy being asked to address stuck boots, tricky mitten closures, and slippery door handles as well as sitting on the two-year-old to get her into her snowsuit. (Truly.) Once everyone is suited up, shoved out the front door, and the door slammed shut, the mom rests her head against the wall and considers mainlining the next shot of java.

She begins searching for her own warm clothes, having neglected to do this in last night's preparations. The high-tech polypropylene long underwear is packed in some long-lost box, so a pair of Donna Karan opaque tights and a crappy pair of jeans will suffice for the bottom half. For the top, she digs out a summer-weight tank, a maternity turtleneck and a too-short fleece vest to wear under her warm-enough-for-most-weather winter jacket. Twice in the course of this habillement she is interrupted by Dear Husband who wants the camera, and then wants to hand the camera back inside. Oh, and could he have a tissue for Annika's nose?

Finally finally Mommy is ready for some real snow play - having been fully preoccupied with Christmas preparations and all manner of other boring tasks in the preceding week. She ties the gum-soled Bean Boots that have worked for every snow storm since sophomore year of high school, and steps out the front door, only to greet a grumpy, pink-cheeked toddler who is incensed over the face full of snow she got when she tried to take off the snow boots that she hates so very much and fell over into a drift. She is shrieking MommeeeeeeMommmeeeeeeeMommmeeeeee and the husband gives the wife this look that says 'I could take her but you know she'd keep screaming for you.'

So the mom takes off her boots, her mittens and her hat, and struggles with the baby to get all the protective gear off, including, apparently, her underpants. (The kid's, not the mom's.) She warms up, once in dry clothes, and just as the mom thinks about getting suited up again, and asking the dad to come in and supervise 24 Month Tyrant, the big kids come trooping in, also pink-cheeked and wondering hopefully about hot chocolate, with "two marshmallows in and three marshmallows out?"

With chocolate warm in their bellies, and wet socks exchanged for dry, they watch Mommy wipe up melted snow from the hardwood with the umpteenth rag of the day, and decide it looks a little bit too much like work. "You wanna go back outside Lars?" The suggestion is met with hoots of approval, and the search for dry, non-itchy, correctly-gendered snow gear is on again. Guess who leads the search party?

And the cycle continues through the day. Happily the kids drift off to sleep, having had "the most awesome day EVER, Mommy! Isn't the snow just the BEST SNOW EVER?", and the mom drinks her mulled wine and wonders just when she became the mom who didn't exactly 'thrill' to the suggestion of a snowday.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Housekeeping

A few minor updates, none of them bloggable in and of themselves.

First, I have been alerted to the fact that I needn't have tracked down a roaring grizzly bear photo for my MamaBear post - I had my very own:



No?  Not scary enough?  How 'bout this one?

 

No wonder those dumb boys ran off crying.

And finally, a cartoon that was meant to go with the post on Misanthropy, or Glass Half Fullness:

 

And that would be NilsenLife.  In a glass fully empty.  But a life so full.


Home

Where is home for you?

I'm not talking about 'where your house is,' not even thinking about home being 'where your heart is'. I'm talking about the place that speaks to your heart every time you see it, even in pictures.  The place that calls you in your dreams, the place that fills your photo albums, the place where, when you place foot on its soil, you breathe a sigh of relief because you are finally where you belong.

I never believed there was such a place.  I grew up knowing that home was where I was loved, home was where my family was, home was wherever 'we' were.

And then came the fateful January morning.

I'd arrived in England the afternoon before, exhausted and new to school.  I'd collapsed on the bed in my dorm room, into the foggy black sleep of jet lag.  I woke early that morning, and peered out of the window to this view:  an English garden covered in a carpet of frost, a field stretching out beyond it, with a giant oak tree in the middle.


[this is the picture I took that morning]

I pressed my cheek to the glass, and I knew, knew with certainty:  finally, I was where I belonged.


[This is the outside of my dorm - my room is the top row of those windows in the middle sticking out]


There was much to complain about - don't get me wrong.  Terrible weather, tiny houses,  poor dental care.   The grocery stores didn't carry pretzels, at first.  And there was no Target!  But oh, what there was:  bluebell forests, old stone houses, ancient pubs, country gardens, London - LONDON!, seas of daffodils, regular football matches, the British Library, cream teas, the River Thames, a little village called Sonning, and, before I left, a sweet little cottage to call my own.


[This is the view of the Thames Cecilie and I saw on our walks through the village every day]

Eleven years later, with tears streaming down my face in the middle of Heathrow airport, I boarded the final Washington-bound airplane.  We'd made a decision to take our little family Stateside permanently.

After six autumns here in the States, you would think I'd be over it. But I miss England every single day - I miss it so much that my heart hurts when I see pictures like the ones above.  When I hear these words in the Simon & Garfunkel song, my throat tightens, and I physically feel the call over the ocean:  And from the the shelter of my mind/ Through the window of my eyes/ I gaze beyond the rain-drenched streets/ To England where my heart lies.


It was a moment of grace - that instant when I knew I was home.  It was continued grace that I was able to make a life there for eleven years.  Yet this is what I know for sure:  although I found the place my heart calls home, I have learned in the six years since that my heart can stretch bigger than it ever knew.  I have learned that although I miss England so deeply, I wouldn't trade my life there for my life with my kids, with my husband, here in our little home - not for all the tea in Fortnum & Mason. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Professional Complainer

Lamentations.

Maybe that particular bit of the Bible might get more hits if they called it Big Fat Complaints.   Long Whiny Complaints.  Something along those lines.

I am what you might call an Expert Complainer.  I love a good complaint.  Or - let me clarify - I love to complain.  Now, I'm not the type who will ask for a manager at the first insult, or who will scream out my car window at someone whose driving has been uniquely egregious.   I am more the long-suffering complainer, who will lie in wait for a good audience and then just vent:  I hold forth on any and all thoughts I may have on the subject, until my dissatisfaction is thoroughly registered.




Now somehow, with this unique passion of mine, I still managed to convince someone to marry me, and stay with me, through both long and short complaints.  This evening, for example, I've got Mr Man hanging shelves in the kitchen.  They are free-standing shelves, and hanging them correctly required a bit of math to get them to mirror the shelves on the opposite wall.  He called me into the kitchen for a consult, and quietly - dare I say hesitantly - showed me how these new shelves wouldn't match by a quarter inch.  And then he waited.  There was a long yawning silence in which he fully expected me to launch into complaint and demands for perfect shelf hanging.   

I told him they were great.  Really, just fine.  Go ahead and hang them like that.

Another long silence, and I could literally feel him waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Are you sure? Really?   I just thought you'd...... have more to say.

For let me say this: I am not proud of this inclination.  In fact, once a British friend of mine, after one of my longer rants about - I don't know, maybe the English weather, or BBC news presenters' teeth - enthusiastically proclaimed "Kirsten, you are the best complainer I know!"  And he genuinely intended it as a compliment.

I was mortified.  After - ahem - too many years of higher education, and a chunk of change in student loans, this is my top skill?!?!

That was maybe... eight years ago?  And I have to say I've been so conscious ever since, about the fact that complaint - even lamentation - comes so easily to me.  I consciously try to avoid it if I can, and sometimes even [shh, don't tell] cut my husband a break.

And then the meditation for Advent today asked me to write my own lament!  The instructions said explicitly  "make sure.... it expresses your frustration or anger sufficiently."  The idea is that through this exercise, through consciously getting the complaint out of your system, you have cleared the way for focus.  In this specific context, focus on The Event ahead.

This phrase is what jumped out at me:  "... move us past anger into a greater understanding of your love."  Phew.  If that isn't motivation to get the complaints out of my system, I don't know what is.  It is not until we let go of anger, let go of resentment, let go of the need for perceived 'justice' that we can move on to a place where we can offer love.

There's something to think about the next time someone with a "Choose Civility" bumper sticker cuts you off.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Peace out

Alright people.  Let's talk peacemaking.

The world itself is loaded - fraught, you might even say - with meaning, and conflicted/conflicting rhetoric. In fact, my spirit is really d r a g g i n g it's feet about getting into discussing this, in a two-year-old-forced-into-snowpants sort of way.

Yikes, even the handing out of the Nobel Peace Prize is not without its controversy.

But yet - can consideration of peace ever be separate from this season?   Really, actually...no.


Has anyone else noticed in the shops that the 'on-trend' Christmas ornament this year is a peace sign?  The ones in Pottery Barn are glittery silver, but I've seen rustic ones, disco ones, and pink ones.  I guess the idea of co-opting the peace sign into commercial settings is nothing new, but somehow this season it's really rubbing me the wrong way.



But hey - let me not judge those GenXers plonking the peace sign on their tree for a nice touch of subtle glitter.

Tonight, as I reflect on peace (and the lack thereof) in the world, I am grateful for all the different versions of peacemakers. Certainly there are the servicemen far from their families, serving a vision of peace that must feel elusive as they go about their duties. Certainly there are the statesmen who must, at heart, still believe in some version of peace.  (I need to believe that some of them do, anyway.)   Certainly there are those working amongst the poor, amongst the broken-spirited, who strive to bring any measure of peace or comfort to people not given the luxury of symbolic glittery ornaments on their tree.

The question that's been niggling around in my head all day is this: what am I doing to bring peace in the world?  Yep, that's right.  What am I doing?  (I don't get any breaks around here.  The inner dialogue is very hard on Me.  Merely claiming "but I don't get enough sleep!" holds no truck with that inner voice.)

Here is what I am doing to bring peace to my little corner of the world.  I am taking my kids to the playground to "jump their jiggles out," so that tired bodies want nothing more than to rest quietly on the floor coloring until dinner time.  I am fixing simple, nutritious food so that the sugar and the stimulation of the season need not fight with the rest of their stomach contents.   I am watching Jul i Skomakergata every evening, that has a sweet story for each day of Advent, and taking the time to sit with my small people and translate for them.



Most importantly, I am making peace with myself.  I am allowing myself to forgive, I am disciplining myself to be gentle.  I pursue a path of kindness in a small small effort to bring peace to those around me, and then by extension, bring peace to those I connect with only momentarily.  If I can bring peace to our small home, then surely that is a start to bringing peace elsewhere. (And Yes, Torbjorn, that does mean I'm choosing not to pick a fight.

This season, the message that "He shall be the one of peace" is my inspiration, and my guide.  May all of us find that path of peace in these hectic days.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Dinner Tonight

Just hypothetically, let's say you are incredibly busy this time of year.

Maybe you're frantically trying to mop up your flooded basement before your in-laws arrive for a long Christmas visit.  Maybe you're researching a cookie recipe that is simple, quick, and yields SIX DOZEN for the church Christmas Cookie Walk on Sunday, as you just remembered that you'd volunteered to bake them (it's raising money for Heifer International!  And it's cookies!  Genius.)  Maybe you're trying to figure out just how the 98 different appointments you've made between now and Sunday are going to happen, all at the same time.

Now, if you were like a certain friend of mine, you would cheerfully announce that it's Breakfast for Supper Night!!! and you would proceed to serve up the Yellow Meal of pancakes, eggs, and baked bananas.  And your kids and their playmates would go to bed exclaiming over the Most Fun Supper Ever.  OR, maybe your kids are camped out in front of Charlie Brown's Christmas movie, eating giant bowls-ful of Goldfish because you just couldn't come up with anything to make for dinner.  (And, as my friend pointed out, it's cheese and wheat in a bowl.  That's almost like pasta dinner, right?)



Well, friends,  I've got the solution for the nights in between Inspiration and Goldfish. And I'm hoping that it isn't just me who might need solutions like this.

Here's whatcha need for Pasta and Beans with Rosemary & Olive Oil

1 lg. can cannellini beans (or other white beans)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp butter
abt a cup of chicken stock (or veg, whatever you've got)
a Tbsp chopped rosemary
squeeze of lemon juice
***
1 lb. cooked short pasta, e,g, penne (I use whole wheat generally, and it was great w/ this sauce)

Warm up the oil/butter, throw in the garlic. Before it even starts to brown, throw in the drained & rinsed can of beans.  Stir around a bit, mashing a little with a wooden spoon.  Throw in the chopped rosemary, simmer a bit more, and keep adding small amounts of stock to keep things sauce-like.  (Saucy?!?)  At the end, add the squeeze of lemon juice.  Use a light hand with this - you just want to 'brighten' the sauce, not make a lemon gravy.

Then serve this up on top of the pasta, and if you're feeling fancy, grate parmesan on top.

It is a bit of a bland looking dish, so you'll want to some nice colorful veggies alongside.  I think a green salad would be perfect - maybe a winter salad w/ pears walnuts & goats cheese.  But I had none of these things, so just did steamed carrots with chopped parsley & a bit of olive oil. 

Oh, and for the record, this would not be one of my Advent journaling insights.  In case you're wondering.  Once I get the basement dried out we'll be back on track.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The gift of waiting

We agreed that a third kid would be good.  A third kid could work for us.  This was March, and I told the Nilsen Dad that I was absolutely cool with going for #3, I just didn't want a Christmas baby.

Neither of us are great scientists;  neither are we gifted at math.  Next thing I know, I'm in stirrups being told we're due December 31st.

I spent December 2007 very great with child.  Both of the older kids arrived early, and I fully expected that Nilsen #3 would do the same.  As such, this dyed-in-the-wool procrastinator got Christmas ready way ahead of time.  (And by way ahead of time, I mean in November; my standard 'way ahead of time' means the week before Christmas, instead of Christmas Eve.  God bless UPS Overnight Shipping.)

We spent that last month quietly doing crafts, making cookies, wrapping gifts, and counting down days with no less than five Advent calendars.   Every day, as my belly stretched bigger and wider, and my cheeks threatened to take over my face, I wondered if that day would be the day.



Even in my discomfort, I was grateful for the time and the mental space to reflect on Waiting.  One aspect of that reflection turned into a post which to this day is one of my favorites.  You can find it here.

Looking back though, at that last month of quiet (and yes, it was the last month: I'm told there might be another in 14 years or so), I am aware that it took me until then to fully grasp the meaning of Advent, and the Advent season.

It's a word that gets tossed around pretty frequently, at least for those of us who are semi-regular churchgoers.  Certainly even non-religious families do advent calendars to count down the days to Christmas. For most of my life, I didn't spend much time in thinking on how the advent experience could add to my Christmas season:  I just wanted Christmas Day to come faster!

Finally, as an extremely pregnant thirty-something, I became intensely aware that the expectation, hope, preparation and longing that are part and parcel of a Christmas baby are exactly what I need to focus on when remembering the birth of the Christmas Baby.   This realization has made all the difference in finding ways to make the season meaningful not only for me, but for my family.  We all can remember the time of anxious expectation, and therefore celebrate with heartfelt joy when celebrating the day of birth.



****

Editor's Note:  I've been journaling - privately - about Advent this season.  There are a few ideas that I've reflected on that feel big enough, broad enough, to share with all of you.  The next few posts will - hopefully - bring a few thoughts on these things.  

Monday, December 7, 2009

Special kind of kindness

So I've been focusing on kindness in recent months - not just the idea of kindness, but really the practice of kindness.  In fact, I went as far as to make it my specific goal for this Christmas season - to find ways to extend kindness at a time when people are so, well, unkind.  (Imagine the parking lot at the mall, and you get the picture.)

This was my Facebook update yesterday afternoon: "who can explain to me why kindness is such a hard concept for people to embrace?"

Not three minutes after I posted this query, my four year old came banging in the front door.  His cheeks were bright pink, and he blurted out Mommy, the reason I had to come inside is that there are bullies - two big boys - outside throwing snowballs, an' one hit me in my face! 

A half-second later I was out on my front porch scanning the street for suspects.  I saw two pre-teen boys ambling up the path next to our house, and I demanded if those were the boys.  When Lars confirmed that yes, 'dose are the guys',  I tore down my front steps and out to the street without taking the time to change out of slippers.



HEY!  I shouted.  Are you the guys throwing snowballs at four year olds? [cue vague grunts & mumbling denials.]  I SAID, are you the guys who were down the hill there throwing snowballs at little kids?  Because I want to know IN WHAT WORLD is it ok for kids as old as you to throw snowballs in kindergarteners faces?  How OLD are you anyway? [uh, 13.]  AND HOW ABOUT YOU? [uh, I'm 11.]  SO REALLY?  YOU THOUGHT IT WOULD BE COOL TO THROW ICY SNOWBALLS IN MY  KIDS FACE?!?!?!  

At this point they tried to argue it wasn't them throwing the snowballs.  They tried - weakly - to suggest that my kid had thrown snowballs at them.  Both tacks, whilst perhaps inspired defenses in the 'tween mind, served only to fuel my indignation and wrath.

So I dropped my voice down low (an old cheerleading trick, much handier in parenting than it ever was on the sidelines.)  And here is what I said:

Listen - and listen good:  If I EVER see you NEAR my child, or my home, or if I EVER even HEAR about either one of you coming near my child, I will PERSONALLY make sure that you are VERY VERY SORRY.   Do you get that?  Get away from my house, and get away from the kids in this neighborhood. NOW.

Now, not only have I been 'choosing' kindness this year, not only have I been pursuing ways to be gentler with those around me, I also fancy myself as a bit of a cool customer when it comes to parenting.  I do my best not to freak out when there are injuries (real or imagined), I work hard at accepting all the outrageous things kids do without judging them, and I certainly never planned on screaming at preteen boys in my fake fur slippers.

If you'd asked me, maybe presented the above scene as a 'theoretical' to me, in the days before I became a parent, I would say maybe that the kids needed to figure it out.  I would say that maybe the four year old instigated it.  I would say that overreacting would only make the incident worse. 

Oh, but the white-hot fury.  The absolute primal reaction of a parent protecting a child - of wanting anyone, be they thirteen or ninety,  to know just how wrong hurting little people is?  Well I took myself by surprise. 

Seems I'm not quite as evolved as I'd imagined.  But with 24 hours to look back at the scenario, I still have the same reaction.  I will be as kind as I am able - just don't touch my cubs.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Marriage is Easy! Part II

What is it all the cool kids used to say?  PsychSike?  Anyway.

You knew I'd be back tonight, didn't you?

I just had to finish up with this whole Happy Marriage concept that Oprah is putting out there.  It's been  bouncing around in my brain, buzzing like an unfulfilled honey bee.

Here's the thing.  I'm no scientist - but really?   SEVENTEEN individuals who claim they're in a happy relationship?  In my view, seventeen does not a study make.  An interesting observation, but really? A study?  Next, did they look at all at the brain activity of people claiming to be in unhappy relationships?  Maybe they were also in a state of super-calm, they just happened to be in toxic relationships too.  Hmmm.

So it got me thinking about a conversation Torbjorn and I had regarding the month-end post.  Torbjorn's observation was that we had spent much less 'face time' - normal chatting, tv watching, sock folding face time - but yet he felt that he'd gotten to know me in new ways, which he sort of liked.

Really?  After fifteen years together, a little month-long blogging exercise gave him access to parts my head that he didn't know about before?  That may be a little bit discouraging (ahem - must do more date nights), but also positive:  there is still so much for us to know - and like! - about each other. [Editors Note:  He would like to clarify that the depth was in the drafts that none of you got to see.  Sorry suckaz.]

I have to say, disappointing though it may be, that the key to long-term romantic happiness just can't be 'sustaining positive illusions.'  Because really, what they're saying, is that by just pretending that there isn't anything wrong with your partner - although the evidence of twenty one long years may point to the contrary - you will "make romantic love last."



I think the idea itself is huge.  I do.  I have seen it work in my husband - he is able to gaze at me looking like the Gates of Hell spewed me out on Recycling Day, and tell me that I'm beautiful.  And mean it.  But given the work - the sheer volume of days where you tell yourself I. Will. Get. Through. This. - of a good marriage, it is almost a discount to say that your success is down to focusing on your partner's good bits.

Yes? No?  There was a whole lot of positive response to the first post, and a lot of folks willing to say 'yeah!  I'll buy that!'  So I don't want to be the Scrooge who says nope, no such thing.

 I think that the headiness of those first months of Deeply In Love is almost scary.  I remember those early days of romance, and remember vividly thinking to myself "What am I going to feel after this is over?  Because I know I can't stay this high for fifty years!"   Here's the thing:  the days of thinking everything he said was deep, every gesture he made was romantic, every letter he wrote was profound?  Yep. Done. (Sorry sweetie.) But I do know that the love found after the years of hard work has so much more quality to it.  There is a great deal more meaning in 'loving you for who you are' after 15 years together than when you're both young and charming. 

So, no.  Sorry Oprah.  You gotta give me more than this to go on:  surely you & Steadman are past that.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Crock Pot Blogging

Here's the the thing about blogging every day:  sometimes, your ideas come out half cooked.  Sometimes, you end up serving up a meal of empty calories, instead of something people can really sink their teeth into.

My favorite posts last month were those that have been simmering in the back of my mind for a good long time.   The WWJD post was written back in June, just waiting for the time when all the seasonings were just right, and the ideas were ready for serving;  the ideas in What Is  spent their fair share of time in the mental Crock-Pot as well.

We have a friend who is a 'real' writer  (published by Cambridge University Press, natch!), and years ago over a few drinks we hashed over the idea of 'what to publish first' - your very best idea?  Then you run the risk of being the Rick Astley of the publishing world:  a great big nothing for your sophomore effort.  Maybe, we decided, it was smarter to keep your best idea in your back pocket, and market your 2nd or 3rd best concept in the hopes that'll get people hooked enough to buy the Great American Blog. (Or Novel, whatever.)

This is all to say that, whilst there is a whole books' worth of ideas waiting in my Drafts folder,  methinks they need a little more simmer time.  (Having hooked you with my 2nd and 3rd best ideas. ha.)

Cheryl over at Special Sauce has an intriguing reflection today on whether size matters (blog size, you understand).  I am definitely the long-winded variety of blogger.  Which really means, if you're going to go on for that long, you better have something pretty freaking good to say.  I'm taking some time, folks, to make it worth saying.

Seasoned with sleep, leavened with laughter - good cooking, be it metaphorical or just plain yummy, is worth waiting for.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Back to school

Pop Quiz:  who can read the syllabus listed below?  (Extra credit if you know what 'TWW' is code for) Answers below.

(oh, and you elementary ed folks can just keep quiet until everyone gets a chance to guess)


Interpreting first-grade phonetic spelling requires a massive leap in imagination, and is not for the faint of heart.  (She got Grandma to write the first lines, but 'metacognition' is straight from the first grade classroom.  These are NOT your mother's elementary years.)


We spent Thanksgiving weekend in my grandparents's one-room schoolhouse, renovated long ago to use for weekends in the country.

Needless to say, the original blackboard seriously captured the imagination of my little schoolgirl, and she happily spent hours and hours schooling her cousin and brother. This was the syllabus on the last day.

Oh, and here are the answers:

READING
1) Today We Will use metacognition to summarize our Weekly Readers [promise, she dictated this to Grandma]
2) MATH: TWW [use] easy ways to count on
3) SCIENCE:  TWW make our models
4) WRITING:  TWW use crayons or markers to underline the important words

The thing about this girls is, you are never. EVER. bored.  Driven to distraction, yes.  Bored, no.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Month End Review (with kegger afterwards)

You hear that??  THAT, my friends, is the sound of a cork popping and me doing my little happy dance that I actually Finished. Something.  

It's the LAST DAY OF NOVEMBER, and yes in fact I DID blog every day.  It's cool,  you don't have to be impressed.  I'll just sit here and be impressed with my own bad self.

Here's a few things I noticed along the way.

1) Apparently, I had a fair bit on my mind.  Astoundingly, there seems to be no end in sight.  (Indications to the contrary, i.e. the Wayne's World Haiku post notwithstanding.)

2) There seems to be a very ineffectual self-edit mechanism on my stream of consciousness.  As such, most of the time I am in mortal danger of seriously over-sharing.  Luckily, the lice outbreak at preschool happened last fall, and I have an incredible editor over there at the end of the kitchen table who is willing to say, in the nicest of ways,  um, Kirsten?  D'ya think that might be a little.... too much information?

3) While we're on the subject of that lovely Editor Man o' Mine, this month really wouldn't have happened without him.  Well, it might have, but we would have spent the month eating off paper plates, the kids would be comatose from too much Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving, and well, basically our lives would be falling around our ears. Torbjorn was there to do the dishes almost every night, was there to proofread and bounce ideas around, and was always willing to hide out in the basement scanning, for example, random J Crew catalog pages, without even the slightest amount of snark.

4) At this point, I might as well go ahead and admit the kids watched waaaaaaaaaaay too much TV this month.  And us with no cable!  Luckily for them they don't mind watching certain DVDs 486 times in a row, and as such I am now able to recite whole monologues from Little Bear, Caillou, and Sid the Science Kid.  In fact, we've watched so much Sid that Annika screams in protest the minute she hears the theme tune.

5) Since we're talking bad habits, or maybe the lack of good habits, let's just reflect for a moment on how my backside is now the shape of my kitchen chairs - lovely proportions for dining, not so lovely for cramming into jeans.  In October I was slowly working my way back into shape, getting to the gym every other day or so, and feeling a little bit chuffed that I might look like a human again sometime in this decade.  And then I decided to blog.   So:  many hours thinking in front of laptop + many hours typing in front of laptop + many hours surfing the web for trashy gossip inspiration = ass the size of Texas. And not just the panhandle.  Keep that equation in mind, aspiring bloggers.

6) Another note to aspiring bloggers:  go ahead and cancel that Netflix subscription now.  YOU WILL NEVER WATCH WHOLE MOVIES if you try to blog every day. Although strangely, you will find time to watch the dance show that makes your husband bonkers with boredom.

7) Coffee.  I will simply say that coffee is what bore me upon wings of eagles on the mornings where I was using both pointer fingers to hold up both left and right eyelids after staying up until midnight or later to sort out a post, crawling into bed at 1am, peeling a preschooler off me at 3 am, and then rolling out to the shouts of a toddler at 6.30 am. 

So.


Kegger at the Yellow House!!!!!! We're done, baby, we're d.o.n.e with this NaNoFamMoDingDongDo palaver. 

Except of course, we're not. Not done.

There are...... twenty one drafts still in my folder, waiting for their day in the sun.  These would be the bloggie equivalent of notes 'scribbled on the back of the fag packet' (as they so quaintly put it in the UK.)  But rest assured, there are those scribbled notes all over the house too - I've got 3 different Moleskine books on the go at any one time, and all of them have ink-scratched pages with BLOG circled at the top.  My little kitchen notebook where I keep track of my personal three-ring circus has notes scribbled in the margins - "?? The Gift of Nothing??" .. "Schedule Moms - i always thought i'd be the mom whose kid could sleep anywhere"... "the goal of storytelling is to create storytellers"... "how should a reformed Spender 'treat' herself?"

Here's the funny thing that happened this month.  I think I got my voice back.  You know the one, the one that used to stretch around multi-syllabic words, that used to utter quirky little in-jokes that made you snort, the one that I used to take for granted.  And the funniest thing of all?  That voice sounds different than I remembered it - softer on the edges, a little more forgiving of all the frailty that is out there - gentler.  Yep, that's the word I like best.  Gentler.

I've got no illusions.  I'm not on the cusp of Dooce-dom.  But I love that I can write, and that my people, be they the peeps up the street or the peeps Down Under, can check in with me and know what's in my head today.  I will change no lives with this little endeavor, but I will change minutes:  minutes we have for hanging out together.  In the struggle to reconcile the life I have with the life I'd imagined, I love that the friends I have ARE the friends I've imagined, and that so many of you are along for the ride.

I came across this quote today from another blogger, and realized this online community, as faceless and LOL-filled as it is, is a new way to be friends:   We open ourselves up to strangers. We show our vulnerabilities, our faults, our strength and our passions. We share, without really ever knowing with whom, or how a little piece of us has touched another.

As I listen to the first Christmas tunes of the season, I really can't tell you what December will bring.  I do know that I will be reclaiming my Saturday nights, and will be obliged to do a little bit of this whole Holiday nonsense the TV keeps going on about. But I also know, that having found that voice, I'm damned if I'll let it slip under the minivan carpets like so many Goldfish crumbs.

See you tomorrow then.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Who Knew it was that easy?

If I've learned anything in this month of blogging, it is that great posts do not get started at 11.36pm.  Deep thoughts do not come to fruition in....24 minutes.  However, I have also learned that the posts generating the greatest number of cyber-tumbleweeds are those where I fail to make a serious effort.  Hmm.  Is that a haiku?

A paradox, at least.

Regardless.

Tonight, I have the beginnings of a Big Idea, but given that there are now...21 minutes until the deadline, I will merely introduce to my Big Idea, and leave the Big Idea Posting for another day.  (Not tomorrow.  Tomorrow's the End of Term Review Post.  Woo hoo!!)

Sorry.  Back to the Big Idea.

Oprah (source of so many Big Ideas) has in her magazine a small - I mean really small - piece on "the truth about what keeps marriages together." Helen Fisher, the article's author, undertook research to discover what makes romantic love last.  They were searching for "people who said they were still wild about their longtime spouse."  Eventually they found 17 people who were willing to have their brains scanned whilst they looked at photos of their sweetheart.  "Most were in their 50s and married an average of 21 years."

Now, we all have been told that romantic love doesn't last - that marriages are built on "good communication, shared values, a sturdy support system of friends and relatives, happy stable childhoods fair quarreling, and dogged determination."  But the results of this study stopped the scientists short:
...the brains of these middle-aged men and women showed much the same activity as those of young lovers, individuals who had been intensely in love an average of only seven months.  Indeed, there was just one important difference between the two groups:  Among the older lovers, brain regions associated with anxiety were no longer active; instead, there was activity in the areas associated with calmness.

Dr Fisher then quotes a survey by psychologist Marcel Zentner PhD, who in examining 470 different studies on compatibility found "no particular combination of personality traits that leads to sustained romance - with one exception:  the ability to sustain your 'positive illusions.'    Dr Fisher paraphrases - "Men and women who continue to maintain that their partner is attractive, funny, kind and ideal for them in just about every way remain content with each other."

[It's on page 182 in the December '09 issue, I can't seem to find the link right now.]

Really?  It's as simple as focusing on the positive?  Wow.  I think a bunch of divorce attorneys are in BIG trouble if people start believing this malarkey.

So I want to know:  do you guys think this is possible?  I have to say,  it stopped me short.  I live with a man who is able to call out - and believe - the best in me.  I can't profess to being as good at that.

More on this soon, I promise.  It's got those wheels a'turnin.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

In 5, 4, 3, 2...1

Some of you might have spent Thanksgiving evening in a heated discussion over politics. Some of you might have spent the afternoon snoozing on your aunt's shag carpet.

My brother and I spent a good bit of the afternoon debating if Garth's observation in Wayne's World was, in fact, a haiku.

The quote from the movie:
Garth: Does this seem weird to anybody else?  I mean, we're looking down on Wayne's basement....only, that's not Wayne's basement.  Isn't that weird?
Wayne: Garth!  That's a haiku!

Here's the haiku version:
Does this seem weird guys?
We're looking at Wayne's basement
But not his basement.

Ten thirty this evening finds me laughing myself silly at Wayne's World, once again, all in the interests of poetic integrity.  Leaving no stone unturned in the quest for further education, my friends.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Mountain momma

Coming atcha from a one room schoolhouse in the hills above Berkeley Springs,WVA. Typing on a borrowed iPhone. (do I really need to clarify that there is no wifi?)

Do NOT say I am not dedicated.

I will say the lack of IT is refreshing. We have hiked,played school, read books, played Yahtzee, and we're fixin' to make s'mores at the fire pit after supper. If the fates really smile we will get snow tonight.

Not ready to buy a pickup quite yet. But I highly recommend unplugging, if only for 24 hrs with an iPhone for backup.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Tree O' Thanks

What family doesn't wish their children were more grateful for all that they have, for all they've been given?  What adult doesn't spend at least part of Thanksgiving Day reflecting on their blessings, and resolving to be more thankful in the coming year?

We started a new tradition this year: a thankfulness tree.  I'd read about it last year - too late to do it - and resolved that, just as we spend a month preparing for Christmas, I wanted to spend a month preparing for the feast of Thanksgiving, and all the gratefulness that this holiday [ideally] entails.

The tree was cut freehand out of kraft paper, and slapped up on the wall of a Sunday afternoon.  I let the kids cut out the leaf shapes, and each night after dinner we've spent a minute or two trying to figure out what we're grateful for that day.


My favorites?

Annika: "Thankful for 'nack'!" (Snack)
Lars:  "Thankful for Daddy playing with me on the floor"
Cecilie:  "Thangful fr Granmo" [we've been letting her write her own]
Mommy:  "Thankful for red wine and faraway friends"
Daddy:  "Thankful for Friday"

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. Most of all, this year, I am thankful for the wisdom to be thankful. That itself was the gift of 2009.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Day Before, and I'm Thankful Already

I have many memories of Thanskgiving under my belt.  (That would be the belt that is not a part of tomorrow's ensemble, so as not to be forced to unbuckle it right at the table.)

None of them include memories of blogging with a 10 minute deadline staring me in the face.  A half-baked stuffing in the oven, and a bleeding leaky cherry pie waiting for its turn, and I'm sat here in front of the computer ignoring the culinary train wreck.

I am thankful.  This little pack of hilarious, chaotic, loving, genuine people are my whole world (sorry people, they just are), and I am thankful every single blessed day.   Even the days when I swear.






And no, I don't know why I chose this deeply unflattering photo of me. Except that.... this just ain't about me.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Aerogramme

paper tinted the color of high altitude
red and navy hashmarks herald their arrival
heft of onionskin
eternal partner to the fountain pen
how many words per square inch?
small smaller smallest - shrink those thoughts
purview of the grandparent - until your flight is called
Postmark Addis Abeba - Berlin - Penang -  St Petersburg
letter opener mandatory
(teeth will do in a pinch)
love encased by wood pulp




have you kept yours? mine are gone. pitched.  tossed in a fit of new life-itis, sure that the memories would never be required.  wish all of those wishes secrets and conversations had a home, a tangible haven for memory investigations. 

was given one last chance - a friend with knowledge of my passion for paper and pen made a discovery of forgotten treasure. she sent two untravelled aerogrammes.  do they stay? do they get sent? any thoughts?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Jet Age Glamour

My friend Lisa over at PostGrammaticStress wrote a cracking article back in March about how modern travel has lost its glamour. That, combined with some recent thinking about traveling with kids got me thinking about what a big deal airplane travel was as recently (ahem) as when I was a child.

My dad flew on commercial passenger flights in the 1950s, and he still has vivid memories of stewardesses in starched uniforms standing at the bottom of the steps to the plane, bidding my dad & grandfather a warm welcome. He remembers the natty little suit that he wore, and the pocket square his dad sported.




Things hadn't changed much by the time he was shepherding his own children onto an airplane. Much planning went into our 'airplane clothes' - they weren't our very best party threads, but needed to be spiffy nonetheless. The type of outfit my grandmother would call 'second best.' Usually for me that meant a smocked sundress in the summer, and a pinafore sort of dress in the winter. Even the shoes (especially the shoes!) needed to be spotless: rub a little Vaseline on the patent leather to get it gleaming, dig out the cordovan polish to buff up the boys' oxfords. Even in the summer, I remember my dad polishing my white Stride Rite sandals to hide the sandy scuffs.

It gave the whole adventure a sense of importance that makes a huge impression on a small person. As if the pilot and the stewardesses were foreign dignitaries, and we surely wouldn't want to embarrass ourselves in front of them by wearing stained t-shirts or dirty sneakers.  (On a somewhat unrelated note, if you have any interest in checking out insane pictures of stewardesses back in the day, click here.  I will say only this:  hotpants, and laceup knee high boots.)




These days, as Lisa points out, when you walk the concourse of any major airport, you will see miles and miles worth of stretchy Juicy-knockoff tracksuits, all varieties of sports shoes, acres of cottony stretch fabric.  Even the most glamorous celebrities don't often go for much beyond the jeans-tucked-into-boots-with-slouchy-hat configuration. Exhibit A:




It speaks to the whole 'dressing down' of everything - we don't have dining rooms anymore, we have great rooms.  We don't register for fancy china anymore, we just use the everyday stuff.  Men don't wear hats, women don't wear gloves, kids wear flip flops to church.   The kid's stores that sell dresses, flannel pants and kid-sized neckties are few and far between, and let me just say that the retail image of a 'dressed up kid' has more to do with Jon Benet & beauty pageants than with wearing your Sunday Best to the meetin' house. 

This isn't a rant, not really.  More like a wistful yearning for the days when Adventure was capitalized,  and made special with its own uniform.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

WWJD: What Would Joan Do?

Friday evening found me at a loss. There was a parenting challenge looming at The Yellow House, and even as I tried talking it over with distraught 'parentee,' I knew I wasn't saying the right words, the words that would help her believe that things will get better.

I came downstairs from tucking her in and sat, immobile, wondering where wisdom laid. And I found myself wishing I could ask my Grandma Joan about it.

Joan Mead Lintner was born at the start of the last century. As I raise children at the beginning of this one, as I am confronted with parenting crises, more and more frequently I stop and ask myself "what would Joan do here?"

I raise this query when I wonder about what is appropriate, what is necessary, what is important for the lives of my children, for the well-being of my family.

When Joan was raising her children, the world was a much tougher place, and a much simpler place. The memories of The Depression were still vivid, the losses and conservation of World War II a fresh memory. People faced harder lives then: they worked harder, they played less, and there was certainly much less to play with. Children were asked to take important roles within their family: their chores, their odd jobs were not 'nice to have.' They were critical to the functioning of the family.


This is Grandma Joan at 88, with Baby Cecilie Joan Nilsen at 1 (and Uncle John Lintner)

I spend a lot of time, actually, thinking about how to make my family's life simpler. I wonder just how many toys I could give away before the kids revolted. I wonder if one dresser to contain the clothes of two small-ish girls shouldn't really be enough? I sigh as I listen to the wailing about daily tasks, and wonder if maybe I should be more draconian in these things.

I know that Joan didn't entertain many thoughts of 'all' that her children should have. She remade dresses and coats along with the best of them. She expected that one doll would be "an elegant sufficiency" for one little girl's growing up years, and it was - even when a mean little brother tossed said doll down the basement stairs and gave poor Judy some premature aging. She was thrifty *almost* to the point of cheap - my mom is still resentful over wearing her older brother's sturdy black socks with dresses.

As a parent, I certainly don't pine for harder times. It's not that I want my kids to suffer more. But is the goal of modern life that they should never experience a lack? That they should never go without what this crazy 21st century world deems to be "the basics" - ballet lessons, New Balance shoes, trips to Disney, ski vacations, and math tutors? Should I be working towards a life where I am protecting them from all pain, all genuine struggle?

A great deal of more eloquent and in-depth articles have been published on this shift in parental thinking, from always demanding winners to wondering if those ankle-biters couldn't just feel the pain of loss once in a while. The best one I've read recently is Nancy Gibb's recent piece in Time Magazine: The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting.

As a parent, I've long been uncomfortable with this culture of parenting by fear: fear of danger, fear of failing, fear of saying No to your child. I dislike reading most parenting magazines, primarily because they seem to spend so much time/column space warning us of new dangers, recently discovered 'alerts', and 'recent research' that supports what a scary place this world is for our children.

My grandma knew risk. She knew danger. And yet she pushed her four kids towards adventure, towards growth, and therefore towards maturity - all the while working hard to create a trust-worthy community from which they could tentatively try these things, and then return back to that 'nest'.

The 1940s and 1950s were a harder time, perhaps. A less emotionally evolved time, possibly. But certainly a mother's life was simpler. Quieter. There was more space for her family to think, to create, to breathe. Without romanticizing a time which I know only through warmly-remembered stories, I do want to carve out that space for my family. A quiet place, a simple place, where love and trust reign supreme, and daily we work towards working better.

My grandma died three years ago today. I have so keenly felt her absence. She was full of grace, full of wisdom, full of sass, and full of spirit. She lived fully, but also gracefully, and I am forever in her debt for creating the example of a simple life, but equally a lovely life.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dance It Out

Sometimes there are those moments, the moments where everyone seems to weep and gnash teeth and rend their garments all at the same time (including Mommy.) Sometimes there are slow Saturday mornings when it feels like forever since people stayed in their pjs and laid on the floor driving cars and coloring pictures (including Daddy.) Sometimes, you just gotta dance it out for no reason at all.

Nilsens are known for loving a good dance-a-thon, and this my friends is the way to shake your sillies out. Cue Kirsten's new wave moves, Lars' Funky Dance, Cecilie's Future Star moves, Annika's Booty Shake, and Torbjorn's Mean Electric Slide. We're yelling "Dance It OUT!!!!!!!!"

Dance it out people - this is the tune we use every single time.




And no, there is no good reason at all as to why this is the tune, every time.

Friday, November 20, 2009

I Peaked Early



Back in the day, in college, I had a pair of shorts just like these.  I had a pea coat - mine was Navy-issued genuine article, a find from Camden Market in London.  I had tights with a subtle herringbone rib, just like these.  Even had a fabulous cream-colored ribbed turtleneck to wear under the coat.  (None of these fab accessories, mind you.  That's a whole other post. And let's just pretend the stunning peaches & cream complexion was a given.)

So when I flipped open the JCrew catalog that arrived in the mail today, I just had to share this.

For one glorious shining moment, I had an awesome outfit.  Just.......15 years too early. 

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Chickpea Spinach Pasta

I was given a book for our wedding:  an unassuming citrus green paperback book called Quick Vegetarian Pleasures. (And no, it is not from the Marital Aids section of Barnes & Noble.)



We're not vegetarian.  We even (I'll whisper this) eat bacon.  With gusto.  But I'll tell you:  when you live in a flat where the bathroom is out the door/down the stairs/ and around the corner, you're paying for groceries with funds kindly provided by Sallie Mae Corporation and the Big Treat for the evening is a cup of decaf coffee (you being too skint for wine or even a cheap lager) - vegetarian dining is very economical, and therefore profoundly appealing. 

I seized this cookbook with all the fervor of a newlywed with a kick-ass set of knives and methodically cooked my way through almost every single recipe.  And then cooked them all over again (skipping the one disgusting recipe for Garlic and Herb Tofu Spread, aka Repel All Humans You Speak to the Next Day Spread.)

The one dish that we kept coming back to - in fact, kept making every single week - was Penne with Spinach and Chickpeas in Garlic Sauce.  (See, I'm not a hater on the garlic.  Just a hater of the Garlic Clove Masquerading as Spread.)  By now, the cookbook opens of its own accord to this recipe - the sign of a well-loved page.

I still make this, almost every single week.  It has weathered the pernickety tastes of meat-eaters, of spinach-hating vegetarians, of all 3 of my kids, and even of the more adventurous friend over for a visit.  It's amazing.  Maybe not as amazing as Pomegranate Chicken, but so very much more doable on a rainy Thursday night.

So here you go.  I'm giving away all my best party tricks this month.


Penne with Spinach and Chickpeas in Garlic Sauce

1 10-oz. package loose fresh spinach or 1 10-oz pkg frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1 lb penne
1/3 C olive oil
6 garlic cloves (alarming, but so good)
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 med tomatoes, diced small
1 15-oz can of chickpeas, drained but not rinsed
1/4 tsp salt**
1/4 C grated Parmesan

Clean spinach, discard stems. (Chop it up if largeish leaves.) Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the pasta.  Cook til al dente, 12-15 minutes. [I can't believe I just typed instructions on boiling pasta.]

Now the sauce:  heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook 2 minutes. (Don't let the garlic burn!)  Add the tomatoes and chickpeas and cook 2 minutes more. [A small note on the chickpeas:  I like to open the can, and just drain them by holding the lid on  and turning can upside down.  This leaves a little brine on the chickpeas that make the sauce more....unctuous.]  Then, throw in the chopped spinach, the salt, and 1/3 C of the boiling pasta water, and stir well.  [**note on the salt:  I add a ridiculous amount of salt.  Waaaaay more than the 1/4 tsp it calls for.  But you'll have to make it to your taste.  Just be at the ready with the saltshaker.  I'm just sayin.]  Here's the important bit:  TURN OFF THE HEAT NOW.  IF YOU'RE COOKING ON ELECTRIC [WHY?] TAKE IT OFF THAT BURNER.  The spinach will cook on its own, and be much fresher & bright green if you don't cook the whole schlemeil any more.

When the pasta is done, drain it thoroughly.  Put it back in the pot, or a large serving bowl.  Pour the sauce over it, and toss well.  Sprinkle on the Parmesan, and toss again.  In our house, we skip the bit where you stir the parmesan in, and just add it to our individual plates at the table.

Oh, and put the salt shaker on the table.  It just adds so muuuuuuuuuuuuuch.

The only people who should skip making this are those who literally retch at the thought of spinach in their home. Or are deathly allergic to say, chick peas.  The rest of you?  DINNER.  DINNER TOMORROW.  TRY IT.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

On Becoming a Woman

On September 22, 2002 I had pretty clear ideas about who I was.

On September 23 2002 all of it was turned on its head.  Johnson & Johnson say 'having a baby changes everything', and the phrase is just about the most colossal understatement around.

It took me the longest time to understand that life would never go back to the way it was.  The longest time to figure out that instead of waiting for life to 'get back to normal', I needed to find a new map for the way life would be - the way I wanted my new life to be.

Slowly, uncertainly, with many failures and poor choices along the way, we have worked to chart a course that works for our family.  But through that journey, I pretty much forgot to actually map a course for myself.

So I came across this incredible post, from a favorite blogger of mine, C Jane Enjoy It

"There is a point where a girl becomes a woman." She said. A point where a woman becomes a female warrior. Where her life is no longer a game, it is a genuine battle. Not to survive only, but to survive and be strong.

 The post is all about crossing that threshold:  when that happens - truly happens - and actually, how poorly most of us handle that transition.

... I know I won't always have to fight. At some point it will be in my nature to be a secure, confidant woman without the battle cry. Today though, I like to feel the weapon in my hands, ready to unleash it upon all stupidity.


So Ladies, this post is for you.  C Jane feels her growth is guided by her God - that may not fit for you, but certainly this idea of growth from girl to Warrior is central to that map we're all trying to draw.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Here's Why

Here's why I don't blog every night.  Or at least, here's why I didn't blog every night before November.

There are literally TEN baskets of laundry to fold.  Who knew I had ten baskets to even fill with laundry??  Who knew there was enough laundry to fill ten baskets?  Oh yes, now I remember - there are ten baskets because I skipped doing laundry last week because I was busy blogging my nights away.

There is an article I'm meant to be writing for a real company (yay! Another issue of Classic Play coming up!) - a real magazine with actual deadlines and paying advertisers.

There was a parenting moment that needed to happen tonight, a heart to heart conversation that couldn't wait.  It needed time, it needed focus, and it needed quiet minutes in the dark to allow the ideas to settle.  I'm entering the time of childhood where the hurts of the day begin to be measured in bruised feelings, rather than bruised knees, and that takes more than Band-Aids.

There are all the ingredients for bread pudding in the kitchen, but it needs to happen tonight if I don't want the bread to get moldy.  

There is the standard kitchen full of dishes, plus a few from the cookie baking extravaganza from this afternoon.

Oh, and My Show is on tonight.  Oh yes I DO think I can dance.

Before these NowNoBlam-O shenanigans, I would have thrown in the towel.  (Into one of the ten baskets.)  I would have agreed with the world that my house, my family, my marriage, and my TV addiction would absolutely take priority over existential, meandering meditations.  And recipes for Pomegranate Chicken. 

But honestly?  Having a reason to have a sit down with myself and demand to know what Self has been noodling over in recent weeks is HUGE:  holding yourself accountable, and reportable, is no small thing.    So I'm not sure what output December will bring (have I mentioned I'll have houseguests for almost 4 weeks?) but I do know that as long as Blogger hosts me, the ten baskets might as well keep breeding until there are twenty or so.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Where'd that tune take you?

Cheryl's post over at Special Sauce got me thinking about music recently.  Well, her post and the fact that my free subscription to satellite radio expires in a week.  I've been rocking the 80s station (when I can convince the Babies on the Bus to switch from Kids Place Live), and sometimes the 90s station when David Hasselhoff is on the 80s one. 

You know those tunes, the ones you only have to hear the first 3 bars and you are instantly transported to a very specific time, and a very specific place?  Those are the ones I've been thinking about.

I'm not talking about Our Song-type of tunes.  I mean, how played out is 'Brown Eyed Girl' (although still awesome) or Forever Young?

I'm talking about random moments in your history that are immediately evoked when you hear a song:

- to that random day in 8th grade when you sat on your front steps calling WAVA 105.1 and requesting 'Twist and Shout' because you loved it so very much in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.



-to the apartment you went to with friends for your very first Senior Beach Week (you were a freshman, but whatever) and you watched MTV all morning until it was time to go out in the bikini and get in the peak tanning hours.  All you have to hear now are the drum beats at the beginning, and Aerosmith's 'Rag Doll' takes you right back to debating which bikini hid your stomach pooch best.



-to a high school Community Service Day one October, when knowing all the lyrics to Violent Femme's "Blister In The Sun" became critically important.

- to a car driving through the wilds of the Lake District in the UK, arguing vigorously that Eric Clapton's "You Look Beautiful Tonight"  was not inspired by his irritation with his partner's insecurities, but rather by an altruistic romantic reflection.

-to a deserted apartment complex on Tenerife, dancing with abandon to The Lemonheads "It's A Shame About Ray."



- Hearing someone sing U2s "All I Want Is You" - and changing my mind about that particular singer, forever. (In a really good way.)

-to my small cottage in Sonning, Berkshire, pacing the floor the entire night holding my squalling newborn girl, with Norah Jones' "Come Away With Me" on Repeat, over and over and over and over.

- to my old Ford Explorer, listening to the same little girl, at 14 months, croon "ooooh oooh, oooooh oooh" along with Norah Jones' "Sunrise."

You will note these are not edited for any factor of coolness, and a few are in fact exceedingly lame.  I make no apologies.  I can't help what my memories are.

Here's the thing, the absolute power of music.  Whether you consider yourself a music geek, a music novice, or someone entirely indifferent to tunes, there is this primal instinct in all of us that takes notes bars and chords and turns them into visceral experience.  You may hate the song, you may love the song, but the song will forever own a part of you.

And now ladies and gentlemen, I will go and tunelessly hum 'Rag Doll' for the rest of the evening.  Excellent.   Now it's your turn.  Go ahead, the comment box is right down there.  Let me know your music memory, even if (especially if!) it is completely uncool.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I Didn't Get The Girl Manual

It's been a long exhausting day of girliness.

The day kicked off with a tights drama, moved into a hair drama, continued with an brother-in-the-wrong-carseat drama, a who-sits-with-whom in the church pew drama.  We hit midday with a birthday present drama, a right-clothes-for-the-party drama, another hair drama (extra dramatic this time), and then a riding-with-BFF-to-party drama.

Oooh Mommy, the party was so so so much fun!

Then we cruised into the late afternoon with a pleasepleaseplease-can-BFF-come-play drama, an I-hate-games-including-little-brothers-drama, and then a super-spectacular tiff-to-end-all-tiffs-with-BFF in which we simply could not stop the heaving sobs and the general noise of broken heartedness.   Until we decided we could stop, and go downstairs to play with BFF and little brothers, and even baby sister, all participating in the group-coordinated theatrical presentation of Wedding at the Castle.

I'm exhausted.  Are you?

The night Cecilie was born, the very moment the midwife announced 'it's a girl!', my first thought was are you sure? Because I don't know how to do girls!  Then they handed this tiny mite of a thing to me, we locked eyes, and my second thought was holy beshmeezus.  I am never going to survive thirteen.

Because here's the problem:  I never got the Girl Manual.



You know the one, the one I know a lot of girls get, where they tell you about how to do french braids, when to give a friend a hug and when to tell her to 'stay cool',  how to attract boys in nightclubs and how to choose great shoes.  I am spectacularly ungifted in so many areas of Female Expertise.  

I have especially missed having the Accessories Chapter. Oh, and Friendships.  Some women just seem to navigate the complex territory of both topics effortlessly - just as they know when to wear dangly earrings, they know when to call and check in, how to rally their troops around them in time of crisis, and how to be unconditionally encouraging.   For me, I always feel like the penny drops too late:  too late I realize that a hug would have been well-placed, a phone call would have made all the difference, what a few carefully chosen chocolates might have meant.

(Let's be clear:   I have a number of really amazing women friends, and as I mature I am only more and more aware of the richness these friendships bring to my life.  I'm just saying I've managed this almost in spite of myself and my bumbling efforts.)

I'd always planned on raising a pack of boys.  I know how to address hitting, lying, and poor hygiene. I feel I could even add something useful to the discussion of How to Talk to Girls.  Heck, I'm just going to admit it:  I am deeply grateful that I was given one boy child so that I could feel like an effective parent at least 33% of the time. 

I bring this up only because I find myself increasingly flummoxed when it comes to helping my own girls learn to navigate this territory.  I just feel so profoundly unqualified to help them figure out how to be women.  Someday, probably someday soon, my girls will get together in their bedroom and agree - "Mom is just no good at this."

My theory right now is that I got girls because I needed to learn Girls.  I have my chance for a do-over, to try to find The Manual, to try to find the map that will help my girls do this whole Life thing gracefully, happily, and with meaning.  That is The Manual I want to find.

(If it has a chapter on Accessories, I might have to steal it.)
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