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. 


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.


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


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.)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Seinfeld Post

Don't know if this is a little mind game I'm playing on myself - if so, hello Mind? We have to take turns! - but I just now figured out that I'm almost halfway through this NaNaBooBooMoFo thing.  And then my mind promptly went blank.  Not a single blessed thing to write about.

This could, in part, be due to spending the day in a posh part of town selling very expensive furniture and accessories to people who (and I'm guessing here) probably don't worry so much about like, forgetting to pay your water bill so often that the water company sends you a $700 bill just to get your attention.  I'm just guessing that doesn't happen to them.  Selling silk flowers to old ladies who want to know if the fake roses 'come in light blue?'  has a very deleterious sort of effect on my brain - 'why yes, that IS grey matter you see dripping out of my ears.  My apologies, madam.'

This could, in part, be due to a teensy bit of overindulging in the beverage part of last night's celebrations.  Strictly for refreshment, you understand - it was so warm in the kitchen.  One was obliged to quench one's thirst.  Often.

This could, in part, be due to staying awake until at least midnight every night, s-l-a-v-i-n-g away to meet a deadline. (Anyone catch that I posted late TWICE this week??)  You know, I'm not a melodramatic girl.  I am almost never inclined to embellish the truth to make it more scintillating.  I may have mentioned this before, but I'll just go ahead and claim the exhaustion that comes of being an artiste.  What?  Wake up early to post before the kids wake up yelling about how you hid their favorite underpants?  Where's the art in that?   And really.  Am I supposed to just generate these miles and miles of handcrafted prose AND fold laundry/make food/work on general fabulousness?

Tomorrow I do believe we shall return to our regularly scheduled programming of thoughtful insight, leavened by faint touches of humor.  Tonight, you have been part of The Seinfold Post:  A Post About Absolutely Nothing.


Communion: aka Pomegranate Chicken

Food is never just food. It's also a way of getting at something else: who we are, who we have been, and who we want to be. (Molly Wizenberg, from A Homemade Life)

We were saying goodbye to good friends tonight.  We had good friends here to help.   There was a sense of occasion:  of wanting somehow to mark the transition, but not be too dramatic about it.  How does one bid a fond adieu anymore?

Pomegranate Chicken was the only answer.

It was an odd recipe, handed to me by a colleague, with the endorsement "only you would make a recipe this weird." Indeed I would.  I made it first for a newlywed husband, who was appropriately enthusiastic.  I made it next for friends of ours, known to appreciate their fair share of odd recipes (shout out to Paulo and Maria!!)  Made it next for the closest friends I would ever have (shout out to the Berkshire Massive!) and we all raved over it.  Made it the following year as a way of marking the year's passing, and as a way of trying to reclaim the territory dominated by the previous month's arrival of Gorgeous Firstborn. Ended up nursing said firstborn on a stepstool in the kitchen, directing Doting Grandma and Best Friend who were making the recipe in my stead.

When we moved to the States, Pomegranate Chicken was left dormant.  No kitchen to call our own.  The communion meal laid dormant.    November 2003, November 2004, November 2005, November 2006, November 2007.  All passed without the merest mention of pomegranates.   

And then came November 2008.  Gradually I began to see life re-forming into something I recognized.  I was slowly, tentatively sending my roots out into my community, finding friends who were My People all over again.  My People mentioned they might like to do a photo shoot - of people making food, Real Food, to share with each other. I knew what recipe would work.  At that meal, I raised a toast:  "this meal, this food?  It is food I only want to share with those I love.  So here's to those friends: the friends in the past, the present, and future that I love."

And now it is 2009.  A season of pomegranates, a season of goodbyes.   This November we are toasting friends that, last year, were part of the toast's future - and friends that I love nonetheless.  This meal is about communion:  a meal shared together that becomes so much more than the sum of its parts.  The meal reaches all of your senses - when people enter your home they will say "everything smells so fantastic!"  When they take a bite of carrot, of onion, of chicken, they will say "this is amazing - what is IN this?"  If they are any kind of artist, they will exclaim over the glow of the ruby pomegranate seeds on the amber carrots, over the pinky-purple onions,  over the gingery tinge of autumn that radiates from the dish. 

After almost 10 years in my recipe box, tonight I want to share Pomegranate Chicken with you.  Make it - share communion with Your People, whomever they may be.  Those whom you love will gather around your table, and affirm the fellowship that values "who we are, who we have been, and who we want to be."

Pomegranate Chicken

4 chicken breast fillets, skin on
3 Tbsp sesame oil
grated zest & juice of 2 lemons
2 Tbsp honey
2 lg carrots, shredded  (I like to make long ribbons with a mandoline/peeler, but either way really)
2 lg red onions, finely sliced
1.5  Tbsp fresh grated ginger
2 pomegranates, peeled & seeds removed
4 Tbsp chopped coriander/cilantro (depends on your side of The Pond)
Salt & Pepper

Marinate chicken with 1 Tbsp sesame oil, zest & juice of one lemon, cinnamon and honey.  Stir well, marinate at least 20 mins.

Preheat oven to 375 F, 190 C

Heat 1 Tbsp sesame oil in a pan, add carrots, onion, and ginger and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Stir in remaining  juice and zest and seasoning to taste, cook another 2-3 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Heat remaining oil in pan, add chicken and cook over high heat 2-3 minutes for each side of the breast.

Transfer chicken to roasting tray, skin side up.  Add a little water (say, a half cup? Less?) to the frying pan.  Stir to remove sediment.  Pour over chicken with half the pomegranate seeds and bake 15-20 mins. (Until meat thermometer indicates between 160 and 170 F. )

Stir the coriander into the vegetable mix and heat through.  Serve the chicken on top of the vegetables, with the juices and remaining pomegranate seeds poured over.


Me?  I like to serve this with a roasted beet salad topped with goats cheese, flat leaf parsley and a balsamic vinaigrette.  But you could pair it with a nice rice pilaf and green salad and be just as happy, or maybe some couscous made up with sliced almonds and currants.  However you serve it, make sure you do so with friends  - friends with whom you are happy to toast and say 'to the past, the present, and future.'

This, this - this is the meaning of food.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Suburban Camouflage

Since we're still in the military mood around here, thought I'd share how us moms are doing our part.

You've heard of Urban Camouflage, yes? Provided for the service men and women fighting in cities, in the concrete jungles around the world:

Well my dear readers, I present you with Suburban Camouflage:

They will never find you amongst all the minivans, ladies of Suburbia!  Let's suit up.

This is a Veteran

When I think about my brother Jon, this is who I think of:

[He's the goof on the left.]

Growing up, Jon always marched to a different drummer.  He generally resisted the harassment gentle suggestions of his older brother and sister, preferring instead to follow his pre-determined plan.  The only time he wavered from this was when threatened with physical harm.  And once he hit 6'4", that wasn't so much of an issue.

When my kids think of their Uncle Jon, this is who they think of:

Jon is the father of two gorgeous boys, with another due early next week.  Jon is a fantastic dad - willing to take the time to study animal prints in the dirt, willing to hold a sad little boy until he falls asleep, willing to listen to his niece's long dramatic narratives with only a few snarky interjections.  We joke that he is Uncle No - always telling the kids they have to follow the rules, listen to their parents, not swing upside down on the rope swing.

The part of my brother's life that I don't know much about is this:

This is my little brother,  Major Jonathan L Schneider USMC. He is a helicopter pilot of a CH-53, and has served three deployments in Iraq.   If you can't hear the pride d.r.i.p.p.i.n.g. from the previous statements, maybe I'll have to find a way to write it in bubble letters, with extra shading on the sides.

Funny.  I've covered some rough territory in recent posts, but it isn't until tonight's post that I've found myself short for words.

When he signed up, I can't honestly say that I understood Jon's determination to become a Marine.  I can't say that knew what a commitment the Marines would ask of him.  I can't even say I understood what it is in a person that brings them to make that commitment of service to their country.    

But I will tell you this.  I have stood under a pole on the training grounds in Quantico knowing with great certainty that I would not have made it to the top. Ever.  I have been inside a CH-53 helicopter, stared at the cockpit with its million switches levers and sticks and known with absolute clarity that I do not have it in me to pilot a giant steel bus through the sky.  I have been on the phone with my brother as he prepared for deployments and agreed to care for his children should anything happen to he and his wife - because his endangerment was a real possibility.  I have heard the story, told the story, of a father asked to listen to his wife deliver their first child whilst he sat at the end of a phone line in the deserts of Iraq.    I have heard the story, told the story, of an 18-month old little boy weeping and yelling for his Daddy as his father boarded the carrier ship for another deployment.  I have held the stuffed animals that have Daddy's recorded voice for the guys to hear when Daddy is away, and wept my own tears for the days weeks and months that that family didn't have together.

I am proud - so proud - to say that my brother is a veteran.   I have not a seconds' hesitation in walking up to a Marine in the library to say Thank You for your service.  Because finally - having seen the sacrifices that my brother has made, and his family along with him - I only begin to understand what it means to serve your country.  I have my brother, and his fellow veterans, to thank for that example.

(Oh, and this is just an extra photo of gratuitous gorgeousness. Luckily for the world, these two have procreated.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Seasons Change

There is an oak tree, maybe 40 feet tall, that is framed in the nursery window.   As Baby Girl and I played Jumping before her nap this afternoon ( I know, I really can settle 'em down!), I watched the last of the leaves fall from the uppermost branches. I was seized, suddenly, by a vivid memory of folding newborn pajamas in this room, watching the leaves fall, more than two years ago as I entered my 9th month of pregnancy.  I have a scrap of paper floating around here on my desk,  a jotted note from last October: "watched the oak leaves fall again. It's one year later, and autumn is when my life flies away the fastest."

She is almost two.  I have watched the leaves fall, the buds reappear, the sprouting of new leaves and watched them fall again.  The seasons shift, month in and month out, measuring our days.

I came across this quote in a lovely little novel I'm reading -
It is in the nature of things to change.  Nothing can last beyond its given time.  And I think that instinctively we know what that time is.  What is it that makes us know when the summer turns?  The smallest shift in the light? The slightest hint of chill in the morning air?  A certain rustling of the leaves of the birches?  That is how it is -  suddenly, in the midst of the summer heat, you are overcome by a tightening of your heart.  The realization that it will all come to an end.  And that brings a new intensity to everything:  the colors, the smells, the feeling of sunshine on your arm.  [p. 72, Astrid & Veronika, Linda Olsson]
Sensing the shift, be that in the natural world or the human world, is nothing less than the key to peaceful change, and powerful growth. In my growth as a parent, very few things have been as helpful as understanding that connection.


I am feeling more reflective than usual today, for a happy reason.  This is NilsenLife's 500th post!  Talk about change and growth! What started as a way to post photos for friends and family around the globe turned into a place for this parent to document her way through the miasma of mothering.  It has turned into the place where I can stretch my brain, tell about the best and worst parts of our days, and somehow map out a space that includes a little bit of mom, a little bit of the Big Picture, and a little bit of silly.

Is this maybe what all of us are looking for?  Not so much Having It All, not so much the mythical beast called 'Work Life Balance', but more like.....a place where all the divergent parts of us can be comfortable - a place that accepts where and who we are, whilst at the same time asking us to look at where and who we want to be.  Some days we achieve all that we hope for our day - our life! Other days, we can only sigh and wait for the morning.

Anyway.  Thanks to all of you for coming along for the ride.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The World's Worst Nurse

Recently I was mulling over possible career options, and raised the idea of getting a nursing degree (flexible hours/shifts, great pay, etc.)  Torbjorn snorted a [very unflattering] sort of guffaw, and looked up to see if I was serious.  Unfortunately for him, I was.

He looked long and hard at me, and then said with uncharacteristic firmness "Kirsten. You would be a terrible nurse."

And I would.

I've got such minimal levels of sympathy for even the weepiest of small children.  I'm a huge believer in the 'ignore the bump and maybe they won't cry' school of thought.  I have even been known to sigh heavily and exclaim seriously? when presented with a self-inflected gardening wound dripping with blood.  Sarcasm plays a heavy role in my bedside manner.

But sick kids are different.  Small people with the flu have a way of melting my heart like nothing else:  the hot pink cheeks, the weary achy bodies, the sad half-hearted coughs - it is an affliction they didn't ask for and don't understand.  The only thing they know for sure is that their mom understands.

Here is the secret that many moms won't cop to:  a sick kid means the chance to hold and hold and hold.  A sick kid means you get to get in all of the loving that they are so quickly growing out of.   A sick kid, no matter how long the legs or strong the arms, is willing to curl up on your lap and have their hair stroked.  A sick kid will take the cool cloth on the forehead, and from the most true place in their heart say "I love you Mommy."

I spent much of my day holding, today. I got cups of water, found tissues, helped change sweat-dampened pajamas. I smoothed his straight dark hair over and over, and he closed his eyes and didn't protest.  I thought to myself, I may be the worst nurse in the world.  But right here, right now?  I am the world's very best mom.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Ordinary People Parenting the Extraordinary

I'm pretty.... ordinary.  I've known this for some time.  I'm cool with it.

I didn't do anything particularly outrageous as a teenager.  I didn't develop any alarming habits, didn't bring home any unsavory boyfriends (in fact I was so wholesome I never did attract much of the unsavory sort.)  I didn't stop washing my hair/start dyeing my hair,  and I didn't even slam doors very often.

My music tastes run toward the pedestrian, despite the huge number of music geek friends who have introduced me to any number of esoteric artists.  My home is attractive, but not remarkable.  My clothes are....perfectly acceptable.  

I was ready to be an ordinary parent.  The kind who would drive to ballet lessons and soccer games, who would let kids have lollipops on occasion, who make sure that we all eat our 5 fruits and veggies a day, the kind who reminded kids to brush teeth and put their socks in the hamper.  And I am all those things.

The night my first child arrived, however,  I became acutely aware that I would have to be so much more than ordinary, for I had given birth to the most extraordinary being.

At 5 weeks early she was just a tiny slip of a thing: she fit into my two hands much as a brand new puppy would, and she fixed those two very dark brown eyes on me.   I was immediately certain of two things:  1) this child had a deep, intuitive knowledge beyond anything I could come up with and 2) I now had proof of reincarnation.  She is an old soul, one of the 'cloud of saints, above us and below us.'

Cecilie at 5 months

Every single day since then, she has confounded us, confused us, surprised us, astounded us.  She began talking early - so early - and hasn't ever stopped.  Her perspective on the world has a laser-sharp acuity, and she doesn't miss a blessed detail. She is funny - so funny - with a quirky sense of humor that always arrives at a slightly oblique angle. She is articulate, and brave, and responsible, and quixotic.

She comes by these qualities almost in spite of me:  at every turn, when I try and guide her to the conventional, she shows me the extraordinary.  When I struggle with decisions about her future, invariably she knows the path to choose, and guides me towards it.

She exhausts me:  if ever you felt you were gaining in confidence as a parent, a child like this will regularly demonstrate that you have so very much more to learn.  If ever you felt that all that was required was to stand firm, a child like this presents you with endless logic that finally convinces you that your resistance is futile.

I read the poem that I posted last night with new eyes, realizing that it absolutely can be read as the claims of a lover to his beloved.  But perhaps we can look at it as the child petitioning the parent:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams. 

I pray daily for the ability to tread softly. To see her gifts for all that they are, and to tread softly enough to let her grow.

I am an ordinary person and I have been called to the realm of the extraordinary.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Writer's Almanac: Saturday Night Edition

There is no special W.B. Yeats anniversary, to my knowledge, nor any relevance whatsoever that would prompt me to share this poem with you. There is a glass of wine on my desk that is almost empty, and I believe that leads me to the - shall we say - more emotional responses to literature.

In my senior year of college I dove way deeper into the rabbit hole of Yeats' poetry than most 22 year olds ever have cause to do, and this poem, these eight small lines may be the only souvenir from that particular trip that I can pull out regularly and sigh over.

So this evening, I give you a small corner of my heart. This poem took residence many years ago, and I can't believe that you could read it and resist its charms.

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

-He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, W.B. Yeats

What about you? Care to share a poem that owns a bit of your heart's real estate?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Would you be mine, could you be mine? Won't You Be my Neighbor?

It's a beautiful days in this neighborhood/ A beautiful day for a neighbor/ Would you be mine?/ Could you be mine?

**UPDATE:  The Editorial Board decided, based on the sharp eyes of our readers, that we needed to ensure correct lyrics posting.  The Sesame Street song can be its own post someday.

Anyone else spend a good part of their early-70s childhood watching Mr Rogers bounce into his front room and toss his sneakers from one hand to the other?  I looooooooved Mr Rogers - always have, even when it got cool in the 80s to make slurs about his sexual orientation.

I'll admit (and this will definitely out me as the nerd that I am) that the little theme tune runs through my head every time I wander up to the bus stop, and catch up briefly with other parents.  It pops into my head as I watch a dad from up the street play catch with a whole pack of neighborhood boys, and as I watch an elderly neighbor cruise slowly by in her ancient red Volvo and wave at my kids in the front yard.

One of the most unexpected gifts we discovered in moving into this house, in this neighborhood, in this town, was the incredibly diverse community offered right on our front steps.  Our neighborhood has big houses, small houses, and yes, a Yellow House. There are big families and small, young families and retired couples.  Economically, you have a group of households that run the gamut, with all of us feeling the pinch of the recession in our own ways.

We've got police officers, fire fighters, software analysts and woodworkers, doctors and nurses, people working for the city and a good number of parents at home.  There are at least two families with grandparents who live just a few houses away, there are teenagers willing to babysit, and a few 'tweens willing to play with the toddlers while the moms catch up.

My eldest was our Social Director when we first arrived in Paradise.  She would swing from the branches of the cherry tree right by the road and shout greetings at passers-by.  Many people would stop to strike up a conversation, and naturally Cecilie's parents would get sucked into the conversation (because although we like to think of ourselves as low-key, you can't just let your kid stand out on the street talking to strangers.)  In this way our neighbors came to learn a great deal about the Nilsens that no one needed to know that we might not have shared otherwise, and in return we quickly came to know many faces and families that passed by those first months.

One May evening this year Cecilie found us a new family:  a mom and her two little girls, just slightly younger than my kids.  We chatted, the girls dashed off to play in our treehouse, and Lars ran after to see if they'd let him push the swing. (They would.)

And in the blink of an eye, with one shout from the cherry tree we'd found ourselves a new family in the neighborhood.  Clare and Jer, and Eleanor and Rose, joined our neighborhood Happy Hour and became a part of our Friday evenings as we sat around the picnic table in the backyard and watched the kids catch fireflies.  We'd shout over the fence at them if we saw their bikes in the cul-de-sac.  Tonight we had to peel little Rose off of Cecilie's lap because she just couldn't stop giving 'once last hug.'

Sadly sadly, the charms of this little corner of Paradise weren't quite enough to make it a great fit for this great family.  (Somehow, transporting the entire family of 4 into Washington every morning of the week brings an exhaustion that cannot be treated even with the happiest of Happy Hours. Go figure.) Today they delivered the bad news that moving day is next week.  So this Friday night we raised a toast to our lovely new friends, and wished them the very happiest of hours spent in their new home across the street from the National Zoo. 

May the joys of Paradise travel with you, friends!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Planned Obsolescence

You are starting this new job - a new career, really.   

There wasn't exactly an interview process - it was more just trying hard,  going through the motions, a few tests, and eventually you find out you got the job.  It doesn't start, though, for another 9 months or so.  In that time, you will be expected to gather - and retain - as much information about performing your new job as humanly possible.  Any book, any magazine, any website with your job title in the name, you are to read it.

People who currently hold the job give you these wan smiles when you ask for tips on how to do it well.  Some will thoroughly enjoy sitting you down and scaring the crap out of you as they describe just how difficult this job will be.  Some will start sentences that sound promising, but then trail off with ''ll just figure it out as you go along.'

The months of preparation give you a real sense of confidence:  the workplace is ready, the equipment all prepared, and all you have to do is wait for confirmation of your start date. You know for a fact there will be a few weeks of adjustment - every new job has those - but that soon you'll get to know your employer, and that in no time you will show BossMan/Lady how truly good at this you can be.

Then the Big Day arrives.  It's all a bit hectic in the beginning, but at the end of that day you have this sort of eye-to-eye catchup with The Boss - quiet sort, that one - and as those dark eyes fix on you,  you begin to get a glimmer of just how complicated this new career might turn out to be.

Your pre-reading will come in handy:  you set long term goals for yourself,  short term goals for the group.  You'll get instant feedback on some projects, zero feedback on others.  The Boss keeps asking you to do new things, requiring you to analyze new information that feels waaaaaaay outside of your comfort zone, asking you to participate in fields that are absolutely not what you were trained in.  After a few years in the job, you may end up with a few employers - all of whom will have their own ideas about what your priorities should be.

As with all careers,  some days (and nights) will feel endless.  There  will be intense weeks, and you will feel that you might never survive this particular project.  And then all of the sudden you will raise your head, look at the calendar, and realize an entire season has passed.

You will start every day in this job thinking today I will be better at this. Today I will try harder.  (Actually, you will start every day thinking COFFEE.  Please God, please just make the coffee be ready FASTER!  And then you will think about doing better and trying harder.) You will end every night of this job reviewing your failures, and praying to whatever Higher Power you may believe in to give you the grace to forgive yourself, and to forgive your tyrant employers.

You will have moments of indescribable joy in this job.  There will almost certainly be moments of miraculousness. You will have moments where your very soul feels like it is being put through the In-Sinkerator.  You will mutter I QUIT to yourself at least once a week (honestly? once a day.)  At certain points you will look at yourself and think I had no idea I would ever be able to pull this off.  At certain other points you will ask yourself How on Earth did I think I would be able to pull this off? Never before have you done a job like this.  You will see the absolute best in you revealed, and the slimy angriest worst in you as well.

After a number of years, you begin to establish a rhythm that will get you through the days, the weeks, and the months.  You gain in confidence, enough to smile knowingly at people just entering the workforce, and say oh..... you'll just figure it out as you go along

But as your confidence grows, so does this niggling idea at the back of your head.  Some of these projects, heck, most parts of the Big Project have very long term objectives.  You'll have some mid-term reviews that will give you an indication of forecasted results, but really?  You won't know if your efforts are successful for at least fifteen, twenty years. 

This niggling idea, this noisome little voice of dissent in the back of your brain starts getting louder.  And here's what it says:  your job, in fact your entire career will only be successful if you make your job obsolete.  If you do your job well enough to make your participation unneccessary.  With every step closer to completed objectives, you are a step closer to working yourself out of a job.  Not only is that an end result, that is the goal.

So even as you adjust daily to this monumental role - the career of a lifetime - you have to keep asking yourself what you will do after this.  You must ask yourself what you are doing to prepare for life after this career - what is your exit strategy? - even whilst you find yourself utterly consumed by the task at hand. 

So that's it:  I'm working, in a glorious, messy and kiss-filled way, towards planned obsolescence.  The rewards of watching the power of language dawn in someone's eyes, of watching a sense of dry humor in action, of hearing tender words that demonstrate deep intuition?  Far greater - so very very much greater - than a severance check. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What Is

Imagine you're a good husband who wants to be supportive of your wife who is clawing her way back from the Edge of Reason by doing something nutty like blogging every day for a month.

Imagine you read your wife's post for the day (because she asked you to, and because you're cool like that), and your comment is "yeah, I think that's great, Imaginary Wife.  This is really what your blog is all about - working your way through that labyrinth of individual vs. mom."  In this imaginary scenario, when you are this awesome husband who is working to understand and offer carefully phrased and useful input, you would probably not imagine your imaginary wife freaking out and being all Noooooooo!  This is the whole POINT!  I don't WANT the blog to be about moms!  Isn't there any way I can write something that reaches BEYOND the whole Mom Paradigm??  Don't I have anything to say to anyone that DOESN'T relate to being a mom?!?!? We are TALKING about the HUMAN CONDITION here!

Ahem. Before we continue, let's take a moment of silence and appreciate all those partners out there who continue to return home in the evenings, without advance confirmation on whether Crazy or Sane will be in residence when they arrive.

And then let's talk about this whole Identity Crisis issue.  Because although I know I said it is the scariest question a stay at home mom can ask herself, that query - Who am I? - is responsible for the ongoing salaries of many a therapist.  Therapists of parents and non-parents alike, I might add. 

It struck me recently that this stage in our adult lives seems to be the time when we revisit that question, and ask it with renewed intensity.  As a teenager, you truly believe that you can do anything, be anything, succeed at anything.  (Of course to wind up your parents you will shrug, when asked about your goals, and mumble I dunno. Maybe I'll work at The Gap for a while.)  As a young adult, those heady and freedom-filled 20s, you begin to grasp that you won't be able to do 'anything' (for example, I finally accepted I wouldn't be a supermodel. Ha.)  But as a tradeoff, you do start to figure out who you are, and areas where you might succeed.  And you start making your way down that merry path.

Then you hit your thirties, or maybe even your forties, and all of the sudden you poke your head up above the parapet and start wondering if This Is All There Is.  There might be a major event that raises the question to start with -  losing a job, finally getting married, finally getting divorced, having a kid, starting the 12 Steps - or it might just be the day to day disappointment of living a Life Too Ordinary.  Regardless of the prompt, the question starts to follow you around the house as you vacuum, climb in the car with you as you commute to work, fill your ears along with the pool water as you do your laps that day.  Is this all there is?

But here's a crazy idea.  What if, instead of asking if this is 'all' there is, could we try and just accept What Is?   Take your reality - be it SAHM, Divorced Dad, Single White Female - and accept that it IS.  Your reality might not be what you wish it was, not what you are hoping it will be, but try to wrap your head around the peace that comes with accepting that it just IS.

I was recently talking with a friend who is working through a major breakup - she was comparing her own life to what others sitting at the table that night 'had'. But through talking we realized that all of us in the group were working through our own version of the question: What happened to my career? What happened to my dreams? I thought I would be doing 'x' by my age.

Is it so terrible to accept your life for What Is? This requires a great deal of honesty, and that can be painful.  But can we not celebrate, or at least accept, our own choices, and where they have led us?
Instead of complaining about what we wish the situation could be, what we can do today is take a good look at What Is, and what choices can be made today, in the paradigm of our reality today.

Kids are a powerful mechanism to force you to just accept What Is. Whether you hoped you'd have a team of soccer players, or a child genius who would read Bleak House at age 6, or a musician who could hear tonal differences between Brahms and Bach - to quote the old preschool bromide "you get what you get and you don't get upset." Surely a parent can offer experiences/information/opportunities, but the kid is the kid is the kid. And fighting that is only setting yourself up for a world of hurt.

But here's the kicker:  the downside, the huge gaping hole in my theory of accepting What Is is that by accepting it, maybe you stop wondering if there is another path. You might not fight as hard to get out of a bad situation, you might stop imagining a life lived differently. Can anyone offer me wisdom on this? Where is the path of peace, between the What Is, and What Might Be?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Is there an Adult in the House?

So we're on Day 3 of the blogging challenge, and already I'm getting noise from my readers (ahem, reader, you know who you are) that yesterday's post on Halloween festivities was the equivalent of a Little League bunt.

So no happy shiny pictures for you today, my friends.  Instead you get to hear about how I found myself sitting in a teeny tiny chair, with my knees folded up around my ears (aren't there any 6-foot first graders with a chair I could borrow?) in front of an adorably cute, and truly gifted first grade teacher thinking I Guess I'm a Grown Up Now.

The teacher is going on with her happy chatter designed specifically for Parent Teacher Conferences, and all I hear is this thundering voice in my head going I don't feel old enough to be here!   I mean, I remember MY reading books from first grade!

this is um, Not Me.

Those moments, the moments where you think wait, am I the grown up here? are coming thick and fast these days.  There is somehow, somewhere, this odd transition between all the years you spent waiting to be an adult, to the point where you look back and wonder how you got to be the person in charge.

It's fair to say I've been wrestling a bit recently with my lot in life.  You know, no sackcloth and ashes, no tearing of the garments wailing Why God, WHY?!?!? - more just your run-of-the-mill existential angst.  I think it was the minivan that tipped me over the edge.

All of the sudden I have become a caricature of Suburban Mom, with my sparkly blue minivan and my worn-out jeans and my preschool pickups, and the scary question, the most scary question of all for a SAHM rears its ugly head:  just who ARE you?

This may be magnified to some extent by contact with old friends - childhood friends - on Facebook.  These people knew me before kids, before jobs, before credit cards.  Heck, some of these people knew me when I could string together sentences coherently enough to get into grad school. When I chat with these old friends I want to be Kirsten: not Mommy, not Torbjorn's wife (ooh, helloooooo Mrs Nilsen!), not (please God no) SoccerMom.**  And more and more I am finding that I want new friends to talk to Kirsten, and not those other versions.   But I'll tell you - trying to figure out who that is is tougher than convincing a two year old that we're not having Halloween candy for breakfast.

The directions these thoughts can go are dark and deep, my friends.  This may end up turning into a number of posts, 1) because if I can't share with you, then really I'll have to go talk about this on the street corner with the neighbor who has LSD flashbacks and 2) the opportunity for several days worth of posts cannot be ignored.

**For clarity:  Through use of this term, I do not impugn those parents, mothers and/or fathers, whose children play soccer.  In fact, I am greatly alarmed at my children's lack of ball handling skills.  I refer simply to the bipartisan shorthand that smug politicians find so useful.

Monday, November 2, 2009

All Hallows Eve

Sir Larsalot, after having been recruited by evil pirates on the high seas

Pirate Larsalot, Coppelia, and Baby Ballerina (aka Miss I-Hate-Costumes)

Getting ready to hit the streets in search of treasure (in the form of high-fructose corn syrup) - pals Ellie the Cheerleader, Robot Jonah, and Snow PrincessEleanor join the search party.
Oh, and Sir Dave.

"Give us caaaaaaaaaaaandyyyyyyyyyy!"

We left friends on our porch to greet the neighbors whilst we hit the streets: Vampire, Grumpy Pumpkin, Princess Pumpkin, and Surprised Baby Ghost.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


This blogging thing is great.  No, really it is.   I've developed this outrageously active inner dialogue:  I spend most of my days having quiet conversations with myself about how I could turn that last idea, that fleeting thought just now into a post.  Every day I log on to Blogger and click 'New Post' and then..... stare at the screen.  I stare at the screen for the 3 minutes that I have free before Small Person #1, 2 or 3 is shouting for assistance.  And this, my readers, is how you end up with forty-two drafts in the Posts folder.

This is deeply irritating to me.  Deeply irritating to have all these posts bouncing around in my head, crashing into each other and just confusing all of us.

So today it's November 1, and as luck would have it, the first day of NaBloPoMo.  What is this silliness of which I write??  Well National Blog Post Month, of course.  What started as a bit of insider riff on NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, wherein you attempt to complete a novel, or at least 50,000 words in November), NaBloPoMo acknowledges that not all of us have enough coherent ideas for a chapter, much less a novel, but that all of us have at least a blog post a day.  Heck, I've got at least 16 posts a day, but herein lies the challenge:  can I get 'em posted??

I've got high school friends who are working the novel angle, and a college friend who actually met the 50,000 word limit and finished the book last year (woo hoo Lisa!!).  Me, I'm going to start small.  I'm going to sit my backside down each morning, and work on just getting something posted.  Something to entertain my TWO Official Followers (yay Heather & Harold!),  maybe a recipe or two on the days I'm feeling less inspired.  If any of you have bright ideas you want to hear about, let me know.  I'm not proud - I'll write about it all.  (Anyone who is happy to share stories of swearing in front of small children and elders, or of assuming deadly allergies were 'just a bad mood' doesn't set her standards that high.)

So join me for the ride, my peeps.  I want to hear from you:  think of yourselves as the virtual waterboys on my little virtual Marine Corps Marathon of Blogging.     See you tomorrow!

[Kid #3, by the end of November.]
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