Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What's The Point Of All This Fun?

I have the honor to be a stay at home parent. Whenever and wherever I can, I make sure people understand what a complete blessing this occupation is. Daily are the gifts that make every single sacrifice and hardship worth it, ten times over.

But oh, not for the faint of heart are the struggles that tag along (sometimes daily); unwanted passengers, freeloading along for the ride. Some are serious. Like the magic act that stretches a single income delicately (like a spider's web) across all areas of domestic domain; one penny spent out of place and the entire web collapses.

Others are more light (thankfully), but (always) completely annoying. Like the daily woe of meal planning. Sure, every parent out there faces this dilemma. We've all got to eat. People are funny that way. It doesn't matter how crunched for time, hurried, or late we are, dinner in some shape or form must present itself on the table. Lunches must be tossed into bags or boxes and readied to be scuttled off to school. Even breakfast must appear, sugar coated and happy every morning.
But the catch for me, and the stay at home parent is, I'm home all day (according to society at large), and doing "Nothing" of any "Real" consequence. Three square meals shouldn't make no never mind to me at all, given my apparent life of pure leisure. Right?

Let me tell you this; the moment that idea becomes reality will be a truly beautiful thing indeed. I await it eagerly. Please let me know when it arrives.

In the meantime, I toil away smack dab in the middle of domestic bliss, often coming up devoid of ideas or the willpower to make "Yet Another Dinner". So I like to get creative with meal planning, meeting the dual requirements of Economical and Easy On Me.

One favorite we've come to enjoy is the Scatter Picnic. A blanket is set up in another room, outside the normal eating area. We've held these in hallways, doorways, and upstairs. Scatter Picnic food can be best described as "Clean Out The Fridge" or "Empty The Freezer" cuisine, made more fun by the change in venue. And perhaps the occasional frozen pizza.

Last night we plopped our Scatter Picnic blanket down in front of the fireplace in the living room. I reheated leftovers and baked an array of breaded "not good for you" delights: mozzarella sticks, chicken nuggets, corn dogs, egg rolls and onion rings. To up the health quotient, I added applesauce to the spread.

We sat together around the blanket, our little family of 4, chatting and sharing ideas and thoughts back and forth. At one point, Dan and I were talking about how nice it was to just sit and talk together as a family. How much fun it was.

Ashlyn looked up from her cheese stick and said, "But what is the point of all this fun?"

Uncertain as how to answer, I said, "So we can get to know you better. While you still like us. And will sit still long enough to talk to us."

She pondered this, glaring deep into the oozing depth of the cheese stick she'd been peeling. (She only eats the cheese part of a cheese stick.) "Oh. Okay. That is a good purpose."

We passed the rest of dinner happily. We cleaned up. We went on our way with the evening. Another dinner down: easy on me, easy on the budget.

And apparently, according the Ashlyn, with the added bonus of having great purpose.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

This Year. A promise to myself.

It's official. Christmas is on it's way---

                   which also means the Angry People are out.  In full force.

Today I found myself at Target. As I was checking out after my leisurely (half hour) stroll through the entire store to buy a pack of cold cuts, I saw the first Angry Person in front of me. She was yelling at the cashier for giving her the wrong change. Apparently the cashier had dropped a dime and couldn't find it. The transaction was over, so she couldn't pull another dime out of the register. The customer was angry for being short by that dime. She yelled. She called the manager over. He was confused. (In all fairness, this was a lot of noise over a dime). He took the time to listen to her. (We all listened, as she was explaining it quite loudly and with anger.)
He took a dime out of his pocket and handed it to her. She stared at him.

"You think this makes it right?" she demanded.
"It makes up for the dropped dime," he explained, "and the amount of change you'd be short."
Unsatisfied, the customer looked at him narrowly, "SHE dropped it. Not me." She went on a tangent about how adding and subtracting isn't hard, holding money should be easy, and she should be given back more than a dime for her considerable trouble in losing the first one.

Those of us uncomfortable enough to be near to this spectacle just stared. Silently suspended in unified disbelief.

The lady left. The manager left. Suspended reality reactivated once more. It was my turn to check out. (Finally.)
Only, now it was the cashier's turn to be Angry.

"Can you believe her?" she asked me.
"Um...." I began, reluctant to comment without knowing the lady in question or her situation. "This time of year can be stressful......"
 (Please just ring me out).
"Whatever. I don't do the change--the register does."
(Well, if we're going to put a fine point on it, the register calculates the change but it takes the hands of a human to dole it out. Just saying.)

She mumbled through my time with her, tossing my items in a bag, and handing me a receipt with a gruff, "Whatever" by way of departing greeting.

Meanwhile the lady in the lane next to me felt the 2-people-ahead-of-her line was too much. She shoved her full cart forward (blocking the lane) and left.

"This is ridiculous!" she declared, storming out. 2 people ahead of her. Just two. Each of whom had a small handful of items.

What the smack, people? Come on.

Look, I know this can be a stressful time of year. November comes and suddenly, we're all certain we're in a hurry. And that no one else is. And they're all out to get us. 

I know.

But wouldn't it be great if this year we all just calmed down a bit? Tamed that inner rage that tells us we cannot be patient when something doesn't go our way? Take a deep breath when we have to wait in line at a store? Smile and treat others with respect instead of spilling our own frustrations out on them?

Wouldn't that just be dandy?

Believe me, I'm not judging anyone, not even these three Angry People. I have enough inner grumbles going on of my own when I go into stores this time of year. We all do.

But this year I'm going to try to put silver linings on it. All of it. The crowds, the busy-ness, the rudeness--I can't control any of that. I can, however, control me.

I will wait with patience.
I will smile with grace.
I will slow down with peace.
I will open my eyes and really see others--
with respect
with kindness
with consideration.
(And I will repeat this mantra as necessary until it happens).
This year.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Pancake Shortcut.

As I get older, I think I'm becoming more lazy in certain things about our daily routine.
It just seems so much easier to take little shortcuts here and there to make the day smoother, and make me feel less incredibly stressed out.
Breakfast, in particular, has become a daily challenge at our address. My normally non-picky girls have taken it upon themselves to make this our trickiest meal of the day. They will not eat cereal (too crunchy); or oatmeal (weird texture); no toast for them (too much like cardboard); or scrambled eggs (though I haven't a clue why). The perennial fav is PopTarts and pancakes. Sometimes I make pancakes or waffles the night before and just reheat them in the morning. This is a fine solution...when I remember to do it. Most of the time I'm scrambling in the morning, desperately debating with them what will be for breakfast, and handing out toaster pastries in an act of too-tired-to-fight submission.

But now I have a new shortcut. And this one is great. Genius, really.

Did you know you can pour pancake batter into a pan and bake it all at once? (If you already know that then you are superior to me, who has only recently discovered this nifty little trick). It works with any batter, homemade or made from a mix. You simply pour the batter into the pan and bake it at 350 for about 10 minutes. It. Is. Awesome. (And now I know what's for breakfast).

                       Spray a 10 1/2 x 15 (Jelly Roll) pan with non stick spray.

             Pour the batter on in and spread. Doesn't matter what type of batter you use. I used a "regular sized" recipe; it made 12-14 pancakes. Larger batches may need a larger pan.

 You can make different types of pancakes in the same pan! Yay! I made    one side chocolate chip and the other side blueberry-lemon. Yum.

 Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes. The pancake won't brown as much as it might when you cook on a griddle, but our family isn't offended by it.

You can cut the pancake into nifty little dipping sticks, or (and this is genius too), you can use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes. It's completely up to you.

This is the only way I make pancakes now. It's quick and easy. And keeps me away from the griddle cooking endless batches  of cakes. If you want to make a larger batch of pancakes, use more batter and a larger 1/2 sheet pan.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Certain in Uncertainty

Today my little girls turn 9.

Nine years. I have to stop and think about that number. Like, really think about it.

So much has happened in these nine years, which have at once gone by in a blur and yet been slow. How is that possible?

Today we celebrated with our traditional birthday breakfast of homemade cinnamon rolls. Lunch will be a treat of getting take out and having a picnic on the family room floor. Dinner will be a family affair with grandparents joining us.

It's all set. All certain.

But I cannot help but remember back to this day, 9 years ago, when things were not so certain.

These two little crazies were meant to be Almost Thanksgiving Babies, but decided to make their arrival 6 weeks early. I had already been in the hospital for some time thanks to premature labor. I was toxic; sick in body and sick with worry. Our ears were filled daily with a long list of concerns for my health and concerns for the health of those two unborn lives. Our much awaited for "Family" was hanging dangerously on the precipice of ever becoming one.

I remember feeling at a complete loss for direction on how to feel in that strange expanse of time during which I was pregnant, but that pregnancy was killing me. On the one hand, I was desperately sick and getting sicker with each passing moment--a danger to me. On the other hand, our little girls still had 6 weeks of growing to do--6 weeks of development yet undone. They were safer inside me, but I wasn't safe with them inside. It was the ultimate irony.

They did arrive 6 weeks early, ushering in a new line up of concerns to be dealt with in turn. It's hard to see your long awaited infants being rushed away from you without being able to hold them in their first moments of life. Harder still for me to be wheeled away, unable to even see them due to my own health at that moment. My husband and I spent our first days bonding with our sweethearts in the Special Care Nursery: scrubbing in and donning gowns & hats to see them; only being able to hold them for a few minutes at time before having to put them back into their isolette; achingly watching a team of (amazing) nurses care for them more than we were able to due to these restrictions. Waiting with baited breath for that announcement that meant everything was going to be okay. Waiting for it all to be more.....certain. (You know, like we had hoped and planned for).

We were lucky; the girls only stayed in the hospital for 5 days. We all went home together. Family of Four. Truth be told, I like falling into these little reveries. I'm nostalgic that way. It gives me a greater perspective on the journey we've traveled thus far, and a hope for the road yet unknown.

It also gives me the ability to celebrate today, thankful for each and every precious moment.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

They (Sleep)Walk Among Us.

Identical twinning is a true marvel of science.

It really is.

Sometimes I find myself staring at them in wonderment at the completely random things about them that are exactly the same, or opposite since they are known as Mirror Twins.

The list can be almost daunting to reflect on, seriously.

Even though their shared genetic makeup is always and ever at the back of my mind, there are still times when some little quirk, multiplied from one to the other, will throw me for a loop.

Like, sleepwalking, for example.

I can honestly never say I thought we'd have to deal with times two. But apparently...I was mistaken in my ignorance.

Last week Caedance had fitful nights of sleepwalking. Her first ever. The first time she ran out of her bedroom at midnight, heading for the stairwell and towards the stairs.

For what? To where? Who knows.

The second time she was in a sleeping bag, sound asleep. At 2am she bolted up, grabbed her sleeping bag, pillow, and blanket, and headed off upstairs.

Each time, I gently shepherded my sleeping lamb back to her correct coral, tucking her back in once more.

When she slept fully through the third night, I thought the cycle had been broken and we could rest well at last.

Until the fifth night, when Ashlyn started to sleepwalk.

Her foray into the world of nocturnal travelling also began with a midnight trip to the top of the stairs. Where she sat, for no apparent reason, and with little desire to be led back into her own bed.

Her second journey brought her downstairs while Dan and I were finishing up a Prime Time show. (I'm only slightly ashamed to say that it was Pretty Little Liars; a guilty pleasure for us.) I heard a noise, looked over, and there she came, skipping (literally) into the family room. And towards the door leading to the garage. And outside. Alone.

Another two nights spent gently ushering a sleeping child back into the safety of her bedroom and tucked back into her bed. Safe.

Another two nights of what cannot be called restful sleep for the mama in our little family. How am I supposed to sleep when I know that one of them may be off exploring somewhere, completely unaware that she's even doing it? I challenge any parent to really sleep through that questionable thought.

We've been Sleepwalk Free for several nights now, and I'm cautiously hopeful that their strange little cycle was just a short phase, and is over now. Passed through. Done.

I hope.

The inner workings of their minds remain very unknown to me, but this was one episode that I can most certainly do without. Adventures In Twin Parenting needs to take a rest at night, you know? Our days are filled with enough adventure; let's keep night-time a little more calm.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Grandpa Bill

Early this morning Dan's grandfather, Grandpa Bill, passed away. It was around this time last year that we lost his other grandfather, Grandpa Joe. Now I find myself sitting here, another turn around the sun and an August later, thinking once again of just how precious the people in our lives truly are. If we are lucky, we can be utterly blessed by them.

The roles they play;

The example they offer;

The leadership they show;

The virtues and qualities they fill our lives with;

These are the gifts that they can bestow on those they leave behind.

Grandpa Bill was without any doubt, the kindest and most gentle man I've ever had the privilege of knowing. I remember my first few meetings with him. I had been dating Dan for a little while and our relationship was deemed permanent enough to take it to the next level of appearing at Family Gatherings. From our first introduction, Grandpa Bill showed grace and kindness in welcoming into the family. That was his way: welcoming. Since the day Dan and I were married, 15 years ago, I always felt like I was Grandpa Bill's granddaughter. Not by the title of "in law", but just truly a member of his family.

Whether the gathering was big or small, I knew that if I wanted, there was a chair next to him for me. We would sit and talk. About nothing, or everything. He was one of those rare people who was genuinely interested in whatever you had to say, and he listened attentively, and participated in the conversation eagerly. In his presence, you knew you were the center of his attention. I cannot tell you what a golden gift that is, his focus and consideration, and I will carry that memory in my heart forever. I will remember him recounting stories from his youth, his time serving our country, and the trips he and Grandma took over the years.

Like many, his life traversed both good times and bad; adventures and misadventures; times of ease and times of burden. Yet no matter where the journey of his life had taken him, he remained steadfast and humble; his heart focused securely on the truth to life's happiness: family.

He loved being surrounded by his family. Just last year we had the joy of spending time together as one large group. He and Grandma were surrounded by their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. It was loud. It was busy. It was (at times) chaotic with kids and an assortment of toys ever underfoot. And he adored every single minute of it. I observed him at one point just sitting in a chair and watching; taking in everything around him, and smiling. True to himself, he was completely in that moment, enjoying the precious gift of family.

His absence leaves a hole, but in the space of that gap there is an abundance of memories--gifts--that he's left us. His gentle spirit, his kind words and humble attitude, his gracious demeanor, and his open and loving heart. He was more than words on any screen could ever encompass and will be missed more than any words could accurately convey. But I'm grateful for the legacy he leaves behind for his family; thankful for the millions of ways he touched and blessed us all.

Thank you, Grandpa Bill, for being a shining example of family, love, kindness, gentleness, compassion, humility, and grace. Till we meet again.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Little Women

     Maybe I missed something somewhere along the way, but when did it become okay for kids to be so downright rude and disrespectful to their parents and other adults?  It seems like every time I go into a store I will see at least one example of this new Parent=Pal trend that seems so fashionable right now.

    Little kids, cute as buttons, calling their parents "Stupid" or responding to questions with "Duh" and "Whatever". One mother was discouraging her daughter's choice in shirts in what seemed like a reasonable manner, only to have the pre-teen answer back with, "Please. Like you know anything." Another time, a little boy was playing a video game in a waiting room. The mother asked him to please turn the video game's volume down. The little boy looked at her and said, "Be quiet. Can't you see I'm working here?"

  When did that become okay?

  I know many times, the parent is equally to blame, modeling the snarky attitude prominently at home. Children are mirrors that reflect some of our most blaring faults.

 Sometimes it's the older siblings who teach the bad habits. And of course every Little wants to be just exactly like the Big in their life.

  We can also point the long finger of blame at schools, and media, and video games, television.

  But I wonder if it really helps to blame anyone or put the burden of fault on anything. Can't we just agree that it's wrong. Is it erroneous to assume that disrespectful children run the very high risk of becoming a very dangerous thing: disrespectful and possibly un-empathetic adults?

  I am the first to admit that my parenting style has flaws. I'm not perfect. But I will absolutely say that I speak to my daughters with respect and expect them to speak respectfully back to me. I expect them to. As in, I have expectations for them. In my opinion, encouraging children to reach expectations is a learning experience. Teaching. (As many of you know, I like teaching). When they hear a new phrase or learn a new behavior and want to try it out on me at home, we will discuss it if it doesn't meet our Expectations. There was a time, not so long ago, when it seemed every request I made of them was answered with a slightly sassy, "Oh, I Don't Think So"...complete with the eye rolling.  I could have let that slide. Sure. But if it bothers me to have that said when they are 8, I really don't want to hear it when they're teenagers,  full of raging hormones and battling every single thing I say. How tiring would that be? So we sat down and talked about it. How it made me feel. How it made them feel. What it meant. We talked about our Family Pact to keep our words respectful towards one another, and considered if that phrase fit into that plan; we decided that it really didn't mesh too well. And you know what? That was the end of it. Case closed. There was no yelling. No aggressive behaviors or stomping of feet. It wasn't needed.

   I consider it my daughters' job to "push the buttons"; that's how they grow and learn. The trial and error is how they become the unique individuals they are destined to be one day. My job, as a parent, is to give them the opportunities to thrive and learn from their mistakes, and to help them find their own voice in whether something fits in with our Family Expectations or not. It's also my job to model the behavior I expect from them to them. They are with me every day, seeing my own trials and triumphs on a daily basis. I'd like to hope my actions cast a glowing reflection. Like I said, I'm not perfect by any means, so it's as much an on-going lesson for me as it is for them.

   Maybe this seeming trend in kids being disrespectful will fade away. There is always that hope, after all. But in the mean time, I am aspiring to rear two respectful daughters who will be (I hope) tomorrow's respectful and empathetic women. It may seem that the  morals and ethics of the world are spiraling out of control, but what I can do is be watchful of my own actions and attitudes, knowing that the two blessings entrusted to me are present, ever watchful, and (hopefully) picking up on them.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Dance Recital

The girls have their ballet recital this weekend. Probably one of the most advertised, reminder-filled events in their young lives right now.

And naturally, I'm completely off the mark on all of it.

Yesterday evening, I was checking out my camera, making sure I was good to go on the settings I would need for the darkened theater where we'd be attending the rehearsal. Did you know that dropping a camera, even on accident, and even the night before you really-really-really need it, will still (absolutely) break the camera? It sure will. Okay, so it's not totally broken. Just the LCD screen. Picture a little TV screen in a 4-square layout. Now take 3 of those 4 squares and color them white, leaving just one little old square properly showing the picture. That's my screen right now. I can center everything on the right brilliantly; sorry for the poor subjects on the left or in the middle though.

After what seemed like hours of despair over this bit of unluckiness, and woeing our pitiful lack of finances to deal with the stupid camera with the blocked out LCD screen, it occurred to us that we had 2 working cameras from our daughters. The girls have their own cameras, so it shall be one of theirs that captures all the magic moments this weekend.

Camera catastrophes solved, it was on to the rehearsal. And getting ourselves in costume.

We've had their costumes since before Spring Break. Sent home in carefully packaged plastic zip-bags, we were instructed to remove the costume and hang them upside down. Our bags made it as far as the entry way closet and they have hung ever since. Right side up. (Sigh)

Today was the rehearsal for this grand event. Naturally, it took a moment for me to even remember where the bags had been stored, and another to allow for the momentary Freak Out I had whilst searching frantically for the bag of "essential" accessories that was included. That I lost. But then found again. And then quickly dumped all over the floor. (Sigh)

Putting each young lady into her lovely costume,(and already running late), I came across a great many safety pins lining the outer sides of each. It was at this prestigious moment that I very vaguely recalled being told that I would need to do some hand stitching along the sides where each costume was just "this" much too big. Right. Yes. That. Lovely.

I am very pleased to reassure you that neither child was in anyway injured (or needle-jabbed) as I so elegantly hand stitched her costume. As she wore it. Standing extremely still. And looking more nervous than I felt was warranted. Maybe.

We pulled our act together and marched into the rehearsal a mere 10 minutes late, thank you very much. We sat down in our assigned seats, waiting for the girls' dance class to be called up to rehearse. And then I wondered......and then I knew.

My little ballerinas had arrived at their rehearsal without their ballet slippers. Seriously, could I get any more "together" here? Was it even possible? We were saved by the other classes' rehearsals running over, and the fact that my Hero of a Hubby was at home (just 2 blocks away) and able to speed said footwear down to me, tossing the bag out the van's window as he cruised by the theater, thus extinguishing the need to park.

Sitting in the darkened theater, watching all the dancers do their thing, I couldn't help but wonder at my own escapades of the last hour. I used to be more on top of things. Now I feel like I'm getting run over nearly every single day. I was the Planner. The Get-It-Done Gal who always got things done. Most days I feel like a winner if I manage to actually make it through the day without forgetting something or another. (Though it's hard to know when I should celebrate because I'm not entirely sure if I'd remember that I forgot something).

There was a time when this new me would have sent the creepy crawlies up my spine. But now I just go with it. Eh, it's all good. Today for example, sure I broke my camera, but now I get to borrow my daughter's. That's okay. And yes, I may have momentarily lost their costumes and accessories, but I found them. Eventually. And had a jolly good time on the hunt, mind you. And so what we were 10 minutes late with  no shoes; someone else is always later. And I got to play catch with my husband as he threw a bag out of a moving vehicle. AND I caught it! On the first try.

The ability to achieve or to fail is absolutely in your perception.

And they look entirely too cute to think of today as anything other than a complete success.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Stay At Home Parent.

You know, sometimes Stay At Home Moms are treated like second class citizens. Whether or not you personally agree with that, it's true. It really is.
If I am told one more time that "I don't actually work", or "Imagine how hard your life would be if you had a real job!" I might have to pop someone in the nose. I just might.

People, the time has come to stop thinking that just because a parent chooses to be at home raising their family, they are not, in fact, waving the white flag of surrender and retiring from the working class world. Note that I am saying Parent here because I know there are a lot of Stay At Home Fathers now too. And good for them, I might add.

In a perfect world, when people find out that I have chosen to be at home with my kids they would say, "My goodness, you are wonderful. What a hard, thankless, tiresome task that is. You should be commended on your ability to sacrifice that extra money for what you feel is best for your family." In a perfect world, there would be a national Stay At Home Parent Celebratory Day wherein all Stay At Home Parents would get a day off. Completely to themselves. And free ice cream. All day.

Yes dear nay-sayers, the Stay At Home Parent works. Very hard. Everyday. When my dear husband leaves for his job in the morning--away from chattering children and in a controlled, quiet environment (I might add), my day is only just picking up from yesterday. The To Do list from the day before never seems to be fully completed and my mornings are spent trying to magically merge that list with the list for the new day.

I have kids to get up and get ready. I know what you're thinking. I do. You're thinking, "But Amanda, the girls are older now. They take care of themselves. You have no work here. Stop whining." I will concede that their getting older has certainly lessened some of the load. Now if only children would magically jump out of bed ready to bound into the bathroom and get ready for the day. And if only they managed to do this without getting half a tube of toothpaste all over the sink. And the counter soaking wet from their noble attempts at washing their face. And without leaving piles of clothing (more than I knew they were even wearing, apparently) all over the floor. It would be like absolutely no work at all.

After feeding them breakfast (and I'll skip over the mess that is everyday; suffice it to say we go through multiple choices which they completely veto before landing on Pop Tarts), it's on to a day of school. Now here's where my day differs slightly from other Stay At Home Parents; I have elected to school my girls at home using an online e-academy. Having taught in an actual brick and mortar school in the past, I can say that the amount of work I put into my daily lessons for this e-school is very similar. There is daily planning to be done, and then prepping for lessons, and then preparing each lesson before teaching it, and then evaluating if they understood it or if I need to switch gears to try again. Looking at the week in advance and asking myself, "How can I make this better? What can I pull in to bring it off the page and make it more interactive? Library books? Experiments? Activities? Crafts? All the while looking ahead in the curriculum to find ways to link certain subjects to one another or to activities we happen to be doing. In short: I'm teaching. And teaching without the benefit of knowing next year will be "better" in that my lesson plans are set. Nope, next year will be a new grade level with new lessons. Back to square one. Again.

After my time directly teaching the girls wraps up, I pull free to do that most pressing of all Stay At Home tasks: Clean. People who think you can't possibly need to clean everyday are very, very wrong. Either that or they haven't seen my house. When you are in your house all day everyday, messes are made. Lots of them. Everyday. So you do the best you can to keep things in check and caught up. But dang it, that laundry things throws a complete wrench in the plans. I have figured out (finally) that if I do two loads everyday, I will keep just ahead of the week. Now as soon as I put that sage advice into practice, we'll be golden. (And maybe it will be a lot like having "No Work" everyday).

Of course, in between loads of laundry, picking up, cleaning, dusting, vacuuming, sweeping, and checking in from time to time with the girls on their independent school work, I have to plan meals. Apparently, no matter how busy the day gets, the family still has to eat. Sometimes I feel like there is pressure on me to make grand and amazing lunches and dinners every single day. You know, because I'm home and I "don't work". Surely I must have time, right? Meals around here have to be fully planned in advance, so I can shop for the stuff and make sure it's in my house before I get stuck in the middle of a recipe without it. (That happens often.) And since we're on a budget (my non-paying, non-working job doesn't add much to the old bank account), what I make needs to be economical. In short, I am tasked with the daily challenge to prepare meals that are fabulously amazing and completely and utterly cheap. No last minute pizza runs here. Or Chinese.

After dinner is in the books and a memory, I have to close up the day. What still needs done that can't wait until tomorrow? What does tomorrow look like? Can I even add to that list? Meanwhile, naturally, there are two girls to pull together for bed: baths and nightly reading first. Finally, an hour or two for just me and the dear husband. Day over. Sort of---there is that on-going list from today that rolls over into tomorrow.

Don't get me wrong, I love what I do. And like most Stay At Home Parents, I have chosen to do this. But I feel like society should stop making me (making US) feel bad about it. Staying at home is not a cop out, people. It's a hard choice that means you're on the front line every single day. Rain or shine. Sick or healthy. It's you. All you. Only you.

So please, when I say that I stay home with my kids, don't respond with, "So you don't work then?" Because I do work, thank you. It's also not comforting to hear, "My gosh, I would LOVE to stay home all day. But some of us have to work, you know." Again, I work. At home. For no pay. My day is not filled with bon-bons and books read on the couch, or catching up on My Stories on television. And even though you think it makes it better, asking "Do you work outside the home" isn't especially helpful either. I get it, you're implying I work...just not "outside" the house. But honestly, that makes me feel like I'm in a cage.

It is, however, okay to say, "Thank you for your hard work." That's always nice to hear (and I've heard it a few times). It's also nice to hear, "I hope you're able to get time for yourself sometimes." It's pleasant when people keep in mind that some days are real sanity-busters. And it's always okay to say, "I wish I could have done that." I know what a privilege my being home is. It's a sacrifice on our family finances, but it's a blessing. I know many people who would love to stay home but can't.

Staying at home isn't for everyone. And just like any job, there are lots of 'Bad Examples' out there that give it a bad name. But there are also the diligent among us. The daily laborers who toil tirelessly, (often thanklessly) away, for a greater good. So when I say "I'm a stay at home Mom", please try something encouraging rather than the cut downs. Thank you muchly.

Monday, May 27, 2013

It's Music Time. For now.

The truth known to all parents is simple: every child comes complete with his or her own set of unique quirks. Each child is simply their own little self, just waiting to be fully discovered and realized.

The really fun part of having identical twins is seeing where those quirks line up together.

Our ladies are 8 years old, slowly beginning the turn into the big N-I-N-E. Their biggest shared "quirk" is that in all their years, they've never been fully committed to any particular hobby or interest. They'll love something for a brief time and then change suddenly into a new love. With little or no notice. Honestly, I was hoping that after a certain age, they'd cool it with that and start getting into some interest or another. But, alas.

Ashlyn described it to me as an invisible Wheel inside their heads. The wheel turns, as most circular things are want to do. And much like the wheel on The Price Is Right, this one spins and then slowly clicks to a stop; each area marked out with a Interest or an Idea. Sometimes it's My Little Pony. Sometimes it's Littlest Pet Shop. It could be raccoons and squirrels. It may even be Coloring. One time, it was Running. Apparently the wheel is very large and split into very small wedges. Lots and lots of them. Specific and vague, alike.

After several years, I confess, it was getting difficult to conceal my annoyance. Why can't they just pick something to work with. Let us nurture a growing interest and help become the leaders and talents of tomorrow. Right??

Recently the "Wheel" has spun around to a new wedge. (Apparently new ones get added, it would seem). Music.

Now this one I can deal with. Yes, indeed. Being a music teacher in my former (pre-parent) life, my heart sang a little tune of joyous contentment. Digging through my Music Teacher gear, I resurrected my recorder and several score books. Thanks to the wonder of online buying, I was able to find 2 inexpensive recorders to begin with. The past week has been spent learning beginning notes and working on reading music.

They've done well. They've been happy. I've been happy. Music will do that, you know. Today, as a matter of fact, they even "allowed" me to move their craft table up to their bedroom so that the full-size Casio keyboard can grace our family room. They're poking at the keys. "What note is this?" "Where is the A? The B?"

And best of all: "Can you teach me?"

Yes. Yes. Yes. I can. I will.

I don't know how long the Wheel will stay on this particular interest, but I hope it's enough to at least spark some sort of hobby for them. Maybe.

When I really think about it though, really look at how it all plays out, I'm glad they've got that mental Wheel thing going on. Because of that unique quirk, they've gotten an in depth look at astronomy, writing, history, cooking, nature, physics, and dance. All their interests have been built and studied on their own terms, in their own ways. Little Renaissance Ladies; bundles of talents that extend beyond the boundaries of "now" and "later".

Yes, I think I can be proud of that. Indeed.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Not Just A Cat

It's been almost nearly forever since my last post. But I'm writing one tonight. Tonight I needed to put words to screen. To think.

Today we said goodbye to our oldest cat, Anna. I know, I know. It's "just a cat". I know.

Only, see..she wasn't. Not completely. Not really. Not to me. She was the first cat that my husband and I got together. She was really our first "child" in those early years when we didn't have any actual babies to fulfill that role.

She did a splendid job, I might add. She was just the right amount "Lap Cat" and "Playful Cat"; she always knew when you needed to cuddle something soft and and purring, or when you were up to a round or two of "Throw The Mouse" or "Play With The Tinsel Ball". She knew. She was good like that. 

She had some annoying habits that my husband and I are realizing we're going to miss. She licked plastic constantly. We could never leave a bag on the floor, or line our bedroom trashcans with bags; she'd lick them. All night long.  She was also disinclined to appreciate what she considered being ignored. If, say at 2:30am, she was ready for some attention and we were (annoyingly) sound asleep, she knew that pawing up our bedroom door, which then knocked loudly against the wall, would absolutely get the job done. Tonight, out of sheer habit, Dan put the 2 throw pillows on the floor, one behind the door, one in front. To stop the pawing. She also loved to climb into the bottom shelves of our armoire, dig through MY side, tossing out many of my folded pairs of pants so that she could make a nest and fall fast asleep. (She never bothered Dan's side. Just mine.) And we always had to double check our bottom cupboards in the kitchen. She was fond of spying an open one and sneaking right in. She would have a blast running back and forth behind the closed cabinet doors, and then fall asleep.

She was also an absolute slob, I don't mind telling you; and she knew it. She insisted on chewing up her kibble to break it up into small pieces, which she then spit all over the floor around her bowl, and then proceed to eat some of those.  We had to keep a stick vac near her bowl. She also had an army of "Babies" that she carried around nightly, making a mothering call. All through the night that call would echo. Upstairs and downstairs. And you knew, Anna was out and about somewhere with one of her babies. Some nights it was one of the absurdly large Rat-Babies (gray or white, she would pick one); other times it was Yanni (the small pound puppy she'd had since she was a kitten and stole it from me); or perhaps it would be one or both of the beanie-baby cats that she had (again) stolen from me. In any case, every morning we'd find her collection of babies in various locations around the house; here and there, wherever she'd put them during the night before wondering off to find another one. Anywhere and everywhere. These items too were evidence of her messiness. We used to have a toy basket for her, with everything gathered up and put away every evening. But by morning the basket would be tipped over and ransacked, whether she played with the toys or not. So we eventually gave up on the basket and just let her make her toy piles throughout the house. When our daughters grew old enough to think that pound puppies and bean-bag cats might be fun for them to play with too....Anna took to hiding them in more out-of-direct-sight sorts of places.

I knew she couldn't be here forever. I knew it. And when she started to decline last fall, I began gearing myself up for the inevitable outcome to the long, slow crawl. I cherished every day with her, even through moving the litter box and her food and water bowls into my Neat Freak kitchen, so she wouldn't need to deal with steps. And when she could no longer double check that she was all the way inside the box before letting it all loose, I put training pads under the box. I gave up part of my laundry room to make a large, pillowed bed with soft blankets when it became clear that her arthritis made moving painful and, for whatever reason, she felt safest in that room.

I spent the better part of today with her. She had sequestered herself in the basement, despite not being able to get down there for weeks. She wanted to be alone. But I had things to tell her.  I wanted her to know what she was to me. I wanted to thank her for everything. She was our alpha cat every time a new kitten came into the family. She showed the newbie the ropes, keeping the newcomer in line and being mothering at the same time. She watched two of her closest feline siblings get very sick and leave us way too soon. But she was our constant. Our dear Anna.

Perhaps this all amounts to "Just A Cat" to some. And I get that. But for me...she was oh-so-much more. And this night...this first night...when I'm surrounded by all those "Babies" she loved and cared for....I'm finding her absence to be almost its own physical presence.

And so I have done what I always do in moments like these: I write. A written piece about an important (and furry) member of our family who has left us to join her cat family. Reading these words over is a sigh of relief for me; a statement that says "She was here. She was important. She still is important."

Don't worry, my sweet Anna, your "Babies" have all been placed for tonight. We'll watch over for them for you, my sweet furry heart.

Rest well. Rest easy. My dear.

Rest well. Loved and never forgotten.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Dickinson Staycation

I hope you all enjoyed your 3 day President's Day weekend. How did you celebrate the various leaders of our great nation?
Did you let the dancing presidents on TV lead you to a sale on furniture?
Did you follow the dollar signs to the nearest car lot?
We decided to mark this year with a somewhat different approach. We created a new family event wherein we put our credit cards firmly back into our wallets. And stayed home. For 3 entire days.

We started this event with a trip to the library where we loaded up on movies, ensuring that the two main audiences in our household: rom-com watchers & cartoon addicts, had their own stack of Must See TV ready to go. Then we headed home and let the Staycation begin.

I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to spend these days on an abbreviated, individualized schedule. We got up whenever we wanted in the morning, which meant we were the family still in our jammies at 11:30, thank you very much. We ate whatever we wanted for breakfast, even pizza, cause that's just how we roll around here, at least when we're staycationing, that is. And the daylight hours were spent however we pleased: TV shows, movies, reading, writing, playing video games, cooking, baking, or crafting. To each his or her own.

Meals were ad hoc and created from whatever items could be foraged from the pantry, and usually involved one or more cans of things. And mismatched quantities of things long frozen and forgotten in the chest freezer. (We had bagel dogs in there, waaaaayyy down at the bottom. Who knew?)

One afternoon all four of us were in dire need of cinnamon swirl bread. Going out to the store would require putting on Real Pants (non-yoga or sweat pants, to you non-staycationers), which are not allowed on a staycation. (Nor are Real Shoes. That is why God made slippers). So to solve the problem I made a loaf of it myself. Incidentally, this made me feel all Pioneer, and really quite pleased with myself. (Until I somehow managed to eat a full one-forth of said cinnamon bread, thus knocking my self-opinion down a few notches, bringing it closer to shame).

But I digress.

The best part was that we had 3 full days to spend as a family, holed up watching documentaries and science shows in the family room, and having picnic meals wherever we felt like eating around the house. Living Room Luncheon, anyone? But this new family tradition also gave me the chance to spend a lot of time with Dan while the girls were upstairs watching Bambi for the nine-hundredth time. It was truly a remarkable thing, indeed.

Today is our first day back in Real Time, traveling through the day on a set schedule with set protocols. (Real Pants. Real Shoes). But we're already planning the next Dickinson Recluse Staycation in earnest, eager to hide away for a few days and just be a family. It's odd how precious that feels, that desire to cling together sometimes. The world is forever trying to break in and tell us what is important, how to spend our time, how to feel about this, that, and the other; sometimes it essential to huddle in your group and just be together, uninterrupted, for awhile. To get back to the roots of who you are and who you are in your family. These years when the girls are young are fleeting, I know. Dan and I are making the conscious effort to grab every second of their childhoods, hold it close, and savor every millisecond of it. And we're trying our darnedest to make sure we're accomplishing that goal together, as a family.

Saturday, January 19, 2013


This week introduced our family to the wondrous world of The Spelling Bee. I thought it would be fun (or at the least, interesting) to register the girls for this right of passage in the world of the elementary-school-aged-child.

So I did.

And then I thought, (approximately 5 seconds after hitting the send button on the registration form), that perhaps I may have gotten myself into more than I could handle. Maybe. What did I know about studying for a Spelling Bee?

The school sent us the lists from which we were supposed to study. 400 words for them to be "very familiar" with. (Oh my.) First through Fourth grade level words. Words that ranged from "red", "many", and "can" all the way to "wordiness", "receive", and "disassociate".

I loaded the words on the handy-dandy spelling practice site we favor, and let them go at it. 7 lists they worked through on a daily basis. 7 lists filled with words that they knew well, and those they'd never heard of.  For 4 weeks they practiced. We practiced. I double checked that they were completing their on-line practice. We spent hours in "mock" Spelling Bee run-throughs.

Say the word. Spell the word, (SLOWLY). Say the word.
Say the word. Spell the word, (SLOWLY). Say the word.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

As the big day drew near this past week, they were all spelled out, and I had grown weary of forcibly turning every moment into a Spelling Moment around our house. We were f-r-i-e-d. Collectively.

It was with absolutely no expectations that I entered the Bee that day. We signed in and took 3 seats in the front row. Me in the middle; the girls on either side. "Just have fun, sweetie," I encouraged them, answering their questions of worry with smiles.

"But mom, I think all these kids look like better spellers than me," Ashlyn fretted, snuggling deeper into the side-hug she'd burrowed into.

"I think everyone looks excited to be here, sweetie," I soothed, trying to calm. "I think you all look ready to go up there and have fun and spell some words." She nodded; unsure.

On my other side, Caedance looked equally daunted, but ready to go. Get it started. Get it over with.

The Bee got underway and I sent my littlest angels up to do their best. Whatever that would be. I was unsure how they would handle the pressure of being up there, in front of everyone. Unsure if they'd be able to spell the word they were given. Unsure if they'd be still. Be quiet. Stay in line. All the worries that come with first experiences of anything.

I just wanted them to have fun.

I didn't realize I was figuratively "holding my breadth" until the end of the fourth round. They were still in there. Not out yet. They were confident. Clear in their spelling. They were standing in line. They were still.

They were smiling.

I exhaled and smiled too. They were on their own and loving it.

Caedance eventually went out by beginning the word "Last" with an "A". She caught herself right away...more meaning that "A" to be like a filler..."umm". But rules are rules and she was out. Even when being announced as Out, she smiled as she made her way to me.

"Oops!" she laughed as she took her seat.
"Oops," I agreed as I snuggled her close. "Good job, sweetness. I am so proud of you."
"Even though I made a mistake?"
"Oh yes," I held her closer, "Even so."
We continued watching the Bee.

Ashlyn soldiered on up there. Round after round. Until there were just two spellers left; Ashlyn and another little girl. Word after word these two spelled; round after round; another and then another.

And then she misspoke the "W" in "wordiness" as more like "ubYOU" and was out. She spelled it right, but was out for that mispronunciation. She sighed and sat down. Slightly annoyed, but (I think) happy with herself.

She came in second place.
Not too shabby for a first time out, I think.

They each got ribbons for their accomplishments. And a My Little Pony from me.

They had worked hard. And did better than I could have hoped. And they had fun.

And they're already asking about when next year's Spelling Bee is. :)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Raindrop In The Deluge

You know that old saying, "When it rains it pours"? Have you ever wondered why it seems to only apply to mildly to excessively stressful situations and not to happy and exciting things?

You just never hear anyone saying, "Boy oh boy, I just got a new job that pays 10 times my old salary. And guess what? Yesterday I got a phone call that said all my student loans were forgiven. I know right? And then today...TODAY...I won a brand new car."

Listen for it all you want, but generally these are not the sort of events you'll hear strung along under the tag line, "When It Rains It Pours". Though don't I wish they were.

We recently had a deluge of mechanical failures at our house. In the span of 3 short days, our van (our dear family truckster) broke; our microwave caught on fire and expired on us; and our dishwasher decided (mid wash) it could no longer go on. 3 days: 3 separate events.

It started to feel as though our house had caught some appliance/machine disabling disease and everything was at risk. It also felt like we would be better served standing with our wallets open so all the money could fall out.

When it rains, it pours.

But there are bright sides in even the nastiest of storms, aren't there? Moments to be had. Memories to be made. Lessons to be learned. If only you look closely enough. Right? If only you can see each raindrop for what it can be, rather than what it seems like it is.

As we debated the cost and wisdom of getting our van fixed versus replacing it with a New To You sort of vehicle, I realized how much that old red thing meant to me after all; how many memories I have tied to it. It's the vehicle I drove while pregnant. It's the one that rushed me to the hospital in preterm labor. And it brought my babies home safely for that first time. Though it may be categorized as "Just A Car", that great Red Barron in the garage spans the Before & After in our "Family" memories: from picking up cribs, lugging home baby shower gifts, and hauling one tired pregnant lady from one doctor appointment to another; all the way to that first drive home with them---with all those nervous glances in the baby mirror, and that first family vacation, and onwards to today. I didn't appreciate how much that all meant to me, silly though it may seem, until we had to look at perhaps moving on. I can't tell you how happy I was to be able to get it fixed in the hopes of driving it around until it just falls apart.

And the glimmer of happiness in the failure of my kitchen appliances is two fold. Firstly, (and I mean...really, now), who doesn't want new appliances? Shiny and new with scores of buttons with unknown purposes, just waiting to be discovered. (And if you happen to decide to begin the switch over from black to stainless steel, that's all the better, right?) Another lesson gained from my 4 days minus a microwave and 7 days without the dishwasher is that Dan is no danger of my up and deciding to go Pioneer Gal on him. Nope; he can cross that right off his list of worries. Turns out, I'm a modern girl with an extreme love for modern conveniences. (Secretly, I've always suspected this to be the case, but at least now I have the data to back it up).

For the moment we're settled with the new shiny things in the kitchen and the well-running thing out in the garage. The calm between the rainstorms, you might say. And not that I'm asking for it to happen or anything, but if my refrigerator keeps acting up, I think the lesson there might be that a stainless steel fridge with water & ice through the door is the right thing for a happy kitchen. (I'm just saying).