Sometimes Being a Cob-Rolling Gluttonous Pig is the Best Way to Say I Love You

After the holidays most of us are familiar with the post-celebratory letdown.  The saying goodbye to the  getting together, the laughing, the gaming, the feasting.  The saying hello to the unpacking, the de-tagging, the washing-drying-folding-and-putting-awaying.  The uncomfortable realization that our pants are now one size too tight (or in my case, TWO sizes too tight, since I went into December already a size overboard).

Most people are ready to buckle down, clean up the house and along with it, their diet.  Most people are ready to unfreeze the gym membership, and otherwise pull themselves together.

Not us.  Not this year.

Instead, we’re veering in the opposite direction.  We’re taking a sharp left from the territory of overindulgence to the province of gluttony.  After this trip, I’m confident I will not be able to sausage-stuff myself into my jeans at all.  My thighs may soon each possess a gravitational pull that rivals a small planet.

So, what are we doing?  We’re going to begin taste-testing the 10 best pizzas in Michigan, hitting up three of them in three days, on the first leg of our pizza tour.

pizzapassport

We planned this tour last year based on MLive’s 2013 Top 10 Pizzas’s in Michigan.  Unfortunately, due to health issues I was dealing with  (extreme fatigue, blood sugar issues associated with PCOS), almost exactly one year ago I ended up drastically cutting out wheat from my diet.

In the past year I’ve eaten exactly zero pretzels, cookies, breads or cakes. I’ve eaten pizza three times and have had probably literally a handful of bites of other wheat-flour laden foods.  (I have had a few beers, I will admit – but overall I’m mostly a wine gal these days).  While I haven’t lost any weight, I have noticed a significant improvement in energy and decrease in blood pressure.

When I told my sister, who happens to be a nutritionist, about our 3-day pizza bingeing plan she told me,

“You’re going to feel like shit for, like, a month”.

“Yep,” I nodded, confirming I understood exactly what I was getting myself into.

I am prepared.  Sometimes married couples need to get away and have some fun  – energy levels, thigh circumferences and blood sugar levels be damned.

So we begin.  Let’s go have some married fun, damn it.  We can detox later.

12/28:

“What music do you want to fall asleep to?”

My husband drives, I sleep.

“The White Buffalo”. Our current favorite band. And we were off.

Zzzzzz.

Michigan is in the midst of an ice storm, which we knew was coming, so we picked a location we could get to just before the ice hit.  Our timing was true, about 5 minutes from the hotel the sleet started.  We made a quick trip to Meijer before checking in to get supplies since we knew the only time we would be leaving the hotel was when we braved the storm for the sake of pizza.

supplies

 

ciffee

The coffee pot is for my house, but it was such a good deal, I couldn’t pass it up.  Since I’m a suburban-mom-of-two, I was pretty stoked about this exciting start to our trip. Coffee! Coffee!

We checked into the hotel and hit the pool.  I ran laps through the water, while Mr. Grouch swam his.

“Are you just going to run the whole time?”

“Are you just going to swim?”

Mr. Grouch and I discussed how much it would cost to put in addition and an indoor pool in our house because we like to talk in depth about scenarios that have no chance of actually happening.

A mom and two kids, a boy probably around eight and the girl around six, walked into the pool area.  My eyes were drawn immediately to the six year old.  Her eyes were very wide-set.  Her teeth were widely spaced apart. Her ankles were hyper-mobile and her feet splayed slightly outward.

I smiled at her.

“Hi”.

She waved, took off her cover up and put on her goggles.  She stepped to the edge of the pool.

“Jump out!” her mom reminded her.

The girl looked at me and asked, “Ready?” as she gave me the thumbs up signal.

“Ready!” I yelled, giving her a thumbs up in return.

Her brother dove for coins in the deep end while I ran and she swam and we kept going through our thumbs up routine every time she decided it was time to make a leap into the warm water.

“Brianne!” her brother called out, smiling as he showed her that he had captured all of the coins.

Brianne.

I thought of how Brianne looked happy, looked proud of herself for jumping in the pool and doing twists in the water.  I thought of how she confidently asked me, “Ready?”  I hoped that we as society don’t beat those traits out of her.

Because at some point, if it hasn’t started happening already, Brianne will be segregated from the group.  She’ll be separated from her peers and instead of thumbs up and “Ready!” responses from strangers, she’ll likely experience looks of derision.  Looks of pity.  Or worse, people will just look away.

It’s not right.

Brianne deserves to be a part of the group.  She deserves to be confident, happy, proud of who she is.  And we deserve to be graced with the gifts she brings.  Not just as a six year old.  But also as a teen.  As an adult.  The only way this can happen is if people choose to include. Include. Include. Include. Include.  How many of us include people with disabilities in our lives?  Not enough.  I know, it’s hard, because how does that begin?  We need to do a better job connecting those with disabilities with the communities they live in.

Whoa.  The pool wasn’t even that deep.  Time for some wine before dinner.

————————————

Our first stop on our tour was Fricano’s Pizza Tavern in Grand Haven.

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Fricano’s claims to be the oldest pizzeria in Michigan.  Fricano’s is housed in an old home that had been converted into a restaurant and tavern.  It’s the kind of place that has only one menu item, a thin crust 12 inch pizza, that can be topped with up to 6 toppings. It’s the kind of place that only takes cash or check.  It’s the kind of place where the waitresses are women in their fifties and sixties, wearing white sweater sets and sitting at a table in front of the ovens drinking tea in between serving customers. It’s the kind of place that has many regulars, like the 5 year old who sat at the bar with his dad, and before anyone said anything, the bartender apologized to the kid for being out of apple juice.  It’s the kind of place with an unpretentious entrance that looks like this:

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and side-orders that hang from the walls in columns like this:

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The original flair is that Fricano’s cuts all of their pizzas with large scissors instead of pizza cutters. We watched the cook snip, snip, snip, before handing the pie off to our waitress.

We ordered the “Everything But” – all the toppings they offer minus anchovies.  The locals call this the E.B.A.  Even though we were in the middle of a sleet storm, the restaurant continued to fill up while we were there and many stacks of to-go orders were carried out the door.  One guy left with a tall stack that totaled 118.78.

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The pizza was delicious.  The flavor of the sauce and the cheese was phenomenal (the ingredients are a highly-guarded secret), the toppings were fresh.  We scarfed that bad boy down pretty quickly.

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Staring at the empty pan, Mr. Grouch said, “You should time-stamped those photos.  I think it’s only been about 6 minutes”.

“That was delicious”.

“Should we order another one?”

“…”

The waitress walked over, “Can I get you anything else?”

“Yes. Another pizza.  This time well-done”.

As we were waiting we both acknowledged that the half of the pizza we ate had left us pretty satisfied, without feeling overly full.  We were still very excited about the second pizza.

This is why we aren’t skinny.

Note the nice black edges.  The extra-crispy was extra-tasty.

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Fricano’s Verdict:  What they lack in apostrophe, they make up for in flavor.

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This luscious evening ended with a full belly and a book – I read 46% of a book that’s been waiting for me in my Kindle for months. Left Neglected. A friend of mine said the main character reminded her of me, but so far all I’ve gathered that means is that I’m a workaholic who doesn’t spend enough time with her kids or husband whose brain doesn’t work correctly. Hm. It’s a good read though, hoping to finish before going home.

12/29:  

When we planned this trip we assumed we’d be eating leftover pizza for breakfast. However we neglected to consider how truly gluttonous we are that we might not actually have leftovers.  So this morning we had to go get MORE food.  We have a favorite breakfast joint in Grand Haven called Morning Star Cafe. This place is amazing.  They’re known for their delicious cinnamon rolls (which we can vouch from previous experience ARE delish) but we opted out of that this year since we’ve got pizza on the agenda for later.  What you see below is what the not-so-skinny-but-happily-married-couple considers to be a light breakfast:

breakfast

Two of the best things this place offers is 1) a full carafe of coffee at the table when you order a cup of joe. They also ask if you’d like a to go coffee when you leave.

coffee

And 2) the best damn hot sauce I’ve tasted.  The food was fantastic without it, but this sauce really put it over the edge. I’m already on the hunt to purchase a case or so of this stuff.  My husband buys his favorite hot sauce in half gallon jugs which I’ve made fun of, until now, since I’m going to start doing the same. We’ll need to clear out some space in order to devote an entire section of the pantry to hot sauce.

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After breakfast I read more of my book (I’m reading a book!  This is vacation indeed!) – and am glad to discover that this workaholic woman is turning into a grateful, open-minded spirit who basically says, “Screw Normal”.

Cheers to that.

clink

After breakfast we went back to the hotel for more vacation time.  Which pretty much looked like this:

image

image

And consisted of conversation like this:

“Why isn’t Hellen a word?”

“Because Helen is a name?”

“It’s not a name.  It’s a group of people”.

“Oh. Isn’t Hellenic is the word you’re thinking of”.

“No. It’s like American”.

“Yeah…you’d say I’m an American.  So you’re Hellenic”.

“Except I’m not A Hellenic.  I’m A Hellen”.

“I think nowadays you just say you’re Greek”.

“That’s stupid”.

A couple minutes later, “Why isn’t Elven a word?”

“Because elves aren’t real?”

“I’m pretty sure if I put elf, it would take it.  Or unicorn.  Unicorns aren’t real, and I can still play that’.

“That’s true”.

“Thank you!”

“This game is racist”.

“Against Hellenics and Elves?”

Hellens and Elves”.

“Elven should be a word.  I’m pretty sure they use it in Lord of the Rings about a million times”.

After deep conversations like these we hit the pool for a bit before heading to our next pizza joint, Bernie O’s.  Bernie O’s kind of looks like a dump from the outside (which is usually my sort of place) and it looks kind of like a freshly painted neat-ish dump on the inside.  The atmosphere doesn’t have a whole lot of character.  You order at the counter and sit down.  It’s the kind of place that has this vibe:

bernieo

So, a touch like a hospital cafeteria vibe.  And then they were a little showy-offey about winning awards the last couple of years, unlike Fricano’s, who let the pizza speak for itself.

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However, the food was nothing at all like hospital food.  We ordered their signature pizza, The Twist, which has apparently launched them into semi-pizza fame of late.  It’s an odd combination of toppings – chicken, bacon, jalapenos, banana peppers, pineapple and ranch dressing.

We took a bite and looked at each other’s reaction.

“Huh,” I said, with a small smile.  I am usually not a fan of pineapple on pizza, but the combination of ingredients surprised me by being much tastier than I anticipated.

“Huh”.

“…huh,” he grinned back.

“Huh,” I stared at the pizza as I chewed.

“It’s good.  Weird, but good”.

“I think that’s the best way to describe this.  Oddly good”.

The couple of pieces were great, but the overall tone of the pizza was a little sweeter than I go for.  However, this place had one huge saving grace – and that is their pizza crust.  Their pizza crust was by far one of the best crusts we’ve ever eaten, it had the perfect crunch to it.

Bernie O’s verdict:  If you love pineapple, this is absolutely the pizza for you.  If not, still go to Bernie O’s for the crust, but get your favorite toppings.  And maybe take it to go.

————————————————————–

On the way back to the hotel, Mr. Grouch says, “Only took an hour, start to finish”.

“That’s because we eat like pigs,” I reminded him.  “We’re a good match,” I added.

“We complement each other.  My awesomeness cancels out your annoyingness,” he chuckled.

“Oh my God,” I rolled my eyes.

“I keep losing weight and you keep gaining weight,” he adds, touching on a sore spot at the moment.

“That’s true”.

“Pretty soon we’re going to be able to share jeans”.

“Oh, shut up!” I admonish him, before reconsidering, “Well, actually, my parents can share jeans,” proving my point about us being as good a match as they are.

“I think we pretty much feel the opposite about everything”.

“We do.  Except the important things.  Like pizza tours”.

 

12/30:  

For our final day of this leg of the pizza tour we woke up and hit the pool one last time before checking out of the hotel.

“Coffee,” I said, as we hopped in the car.

“I know!  We talked about this four times yesterday, about getting coffee on the way”.

I just looked at him.

This is one of those you-have-to-be-married-to-get-this type of conversation.  When something benign like the word “coffee” drives the other person nuts.  After a while, the couples that make it figure out not to take that kind of overreaction personally.

I know we probably did talk about it four times, because my mother and my grandmother do the same thing, so it’s basically in my DNA to repeat the same exact information multiple times, which I completely understand IS annoying.  So I ignore the mini-rant and then he ignores my mini-rant later about how getting road rage is so ridiculous.

“Jesus Christ.  Is he really not going to let me in?  What a dick. I’m going to let in this red truck in too, just to piss him off”.

“Seriously?  How can you get worked up about driving?”

“I don’t get worked up about driving.  I get worked up when people are assholes”.

“People will always be assholes.  It doesn’t do you any good to get all pissed off, just plan on them being assholes and be okay with it”.

“Ah, the red truck turned the other way.  He got lucky”.

This is what a successful marriage looks like folks, getting pissy about coffee and driving and just moving on and leaving the piss behind.

We continued our drive and headed to Harmony Brewing Company for a late beer-and-pizza brunch.

The brewing co. was a small place, pretty cozy and cute.  Our waitress was a lovely little delight who chatted with us about the mlive pizza ranking process (apparently the guys tried pepperoni pizzas at each place they visited, to compare apples to apples, so to speak, along with whatever specialty pizza the staff recommended), and the movie Amelie (she thought I looked like her, and told me I missed out on “a gem of a movie” since I hadn’t seen it).  We talked about dyeing our hair to hide our grays (she was the same age as me) and how we were both Hop Heads, (people who love the hoppiest of beers.  She recommended their Crossroads IPA, and it was fabulous.  It was strong and hoppy, but had a much smoother finish and none of the bitter aftertaste compared to most of the hoppy beers I’ve tried.

harmony

We got The Crispy Pig and a Margherita pizza

harmony2.jpg

Both were delicious, we both loved the sauce and the toppings.  The meat on the Crispy Pig was spectacular, particularly the prosciutto.  Mr. Grouch really liked the crust, but I didn’t think it was really anything special, it was a thin-crust, not super crunchy, and pretty floury tasting.

We listened to more White Buffalo on the way home and the vacation was over.  Immediately the girls were in our arms (Uppie!), demanding bananas and cups of water and wiping dripping noses on our shirts.  It’s a good thing they are so darn cute and their heads inexplicably smell like cinnamon.  Sniiiiiiiiiiiif. Ahhhhhh.

I managed to unpack the new coffee maker and make a fresh pot of coffee all with one hand, because my arms were full of cute (and highly needy) baby and Pegasus (or Peg-sis).

hugs

Cheers to gluttonous vacations with fantastic husbands.

A few days away is long enough.  After that we start missing the demands for attention and the weight in our arms and the cinnamon-smelling heads.

Cheers to being home.

cheers

 

 

 

 

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When Everything Goes to Shit

Some of us have got a lot of shit going on right now.

All of us have experienced that feeling of Everything-Going-to-Shit.  I guess the good news is that things usually doesn’t go to shit for everyone at once.  Our collective shit ebbs and flows.  Sometimes we’re shitless and we feel fresh and clean and spunky.  But other times we’ve got piles of shit collecting all around us.  Sometimes we’ve got a it’ll-be-funny-later shitshow, and then there are occasional horrific shitstorms.  We’ve all been through shit in the past, and some of us are going through shit right now, and we are certainly not getting out of dealing with shit later.

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So instead of being surprised when shit hits the fan, I suppose we should instead remember that it is just our time.

Sometimes we compare our own shit to other people’s shit.  This usually happens when we think our shit stinks so much worse than everyone else’s.  We get all woe-is-me and shit.  We usually need something to smack us out of our self-absorbed mental slumber that reminds us that compared to so many other people’s shit, ours is almost beautiful. Smooth, little round pebbles that pile up nicely in the bottom of the commode.  Nothing like the explosive platters that can run down our legs, far away from the safety of a toilet.

Sometimes we need to take a deep breath and remember that our shit really isn’t so bad.

But, even if we are the most grateful of gratefuls, even if we generally have a happy and optimistic perspective, shit is still shit.  None of it is any good. And sometimes we just need to sit ourselves right down there, right in the shit itself, and let ourselves simmer in our own stink.  So long as eventually we get ourselves together and clean ourselves up.

We have to make ourselves remember that it is in-between the moments of shit that we need to grab on to.   We need to bask in every non-shitty scenario we find ourselves in.  We need to embrace each shitless moment. We have to.  It’s all we’ve got.

 

 

 

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Overwhelmingness at the Grocery Store

I remember wanting to make an Asian recipe once that required a few ingredients not found at my local supermarket.  I went in to this tiny Asian-Mart and even though I only needed a couple of ingredients, I was instantly overwhelmed.  What seemed like an easy task was suddenly daunting.  I went down each aisle, one by one, searching for a picture or a word that looked remotely like the items I needed.  I walked down each aisle, several times, back and forth, back and forth.  It took me forever.  By the end I was sweating through my clothes and my brain was burning out of frustration and anger.  I knew that anyone who saw me could guess that I might need help, but no one offered to help me.  I found what I was looking for, but I left with a sweat-stained shirt, a red face and a tired mind.

It was humbling.

I have not forgotten that experience, that ONE time I went searching for TWO items in a teeny, tiny Asian mart.

Today I was walking through the aisles at my local huge supermarket, as I always do, as methodically as possible.  We were crunched for time, because my husband and I brought our two kids with us.  Because we were shopping during dinner time, I passed them their supper – a single cold tortellini at a time – out of Tupperware that I had shoved in my purse on my way out the door.

We had made it all the way to the end of the store and collected our eggs, milk and cottage cheese from the dairy case and were making our way back up the main aisle towards the checkout, with a few items we missed on our list to pick up on the way out.

That’s when I saw her, out of the corner of my eye.

Her cart was at an odd angle.  Her eyes were slightly bulging, searching. She was gripping the handles of her shopping cart tightly.  I saw her head turn as she watched a few people before me pass her down the aisle ahead of me.

As I neared her our eyes made contact.  She lunged.

She cut me off with her cart all askew and thrust a pamphlet towards me.  It had a picture of infant formula on it.  I looked closer as she pointed, and in broken English, she asked me if I knew where she could find this.

I looked more closely at this woman who had violently cut me off with her cart.  She didn’t look scary.  She looked like she needed some help.

I could see the baby aisle from where I was, but even on the way she kept asking where to find the “milk”.  I remembered how hard it was to find anything in a supermarket stocked full of items, especially through eyes fatigued from anxiety on top of the harsh glare of the fluorescent lights.

I led her to the aisle and helped her pick out the exact formula she had pointed to.  Together we compared the labels, double-checking the words, the pictures, the shape of the carton.

I was no longer in a rush.  I put a finger up as my husband walked by and said, “I’m helping someone” and he just nodded and waited.

I asked her if she needed help finding anything else.  She pantomimed, she faltered, she tried to describe a diaper, without saying the word diaper, or privates, or anything closely related to urination or bowel movements.  It took us a minute, but we figured it out.  I took her an aisle over to the diapers and showed her which diapers I used, and based on the weight of the baby she was buying for, what size to buy.

She pulled out a few samples of lotion.  I did not recognize the lotion so suggested that maybe we look in the bath section, so I walked around the corner and started inspecting the options.  I turned around and she had not followed. I went back and she was still standing there, looking at her papers, papers which would not give her any useful information about lotion.  She saw me return and I heard an audible sigh of relief.  She let me guide her to the aisle with the lotion.  I explained that I didn’t see the lotion that she needed, I asked if the lotion was for the face, or for the diaper area, and since it was for the face, I picked what I thought was probably best, Cetaphil, and told her it wasn’t what she showed me but I thought it was likely a good choice.  She pulled out a paper, scribbled on and torn from a doctor’s prescription pad, with the words, “Cetaphil” on them and when she compared the text on the bottle I was holding with the words on the prescription pad she smiled brightly and nodded and thanked me again. Several times.

The grocery trip was a good reminder.  If we’re able to look up above our carts, and make eye contact with those around us, to notice what other people need, it usually makes helps us put our own insignificant worries and issues in perspective.  Like feeding your kids cold tortellini out of Tupperware for dinner. Eh.  They’re fine.

 

 

 

 

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Depression Lies

There is no coming out of it.
There is no getting over it.
There is just IT.

It ebbs and it flows and it morphs.
It hides.
It does not ever disappear.

It teases, at times.
It seems long gone.
But, it is never really is.

It always returns.
With a vengeance.
With a downward pull.

It distorts.
It deceives.
It consumes.

It tells you that it is all for naught.
That you will never be enough.
That you’re better off not here.

If you’re in a good place, you’ll recognize the tone.
You’ll recognize the facade.
You’ll recognize the weakness in the argument.

So you counter the exchange with self-talk.
With meditation. Deep breaths.
With exercise and proper nutrition.

You will look like you’ve got it all under control.
And sometimes you do.  But sometimes you don’t.
Sometimes you are out quietly out of control.

Sometimes, you are low.
Sometimes you are sinking deeper.
Sometimes, you’re just tired.  Oh, so very tired.

It tells you it’s easier to let go, that there is no use fighting back.
It tells you things will never be good.
Even if things are already so much better than good.

Depression lies.
Assuredly.
Convincingly.

Sometimes we need to etch this in our skin
To make us remember, to make sure we get the message,
when we can’t hear anything but the deceit.

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5 Reasons Your Thirties Are Your Best Decade

My little sister turns thirty today.  THIRTY!  I’m pretty sure that even though we used to be seven years apart, she’s catching up to me and we’re getting closer and closer to converging at the same age.  That’s possible, right?

I remember waking up on my 30th birthday and startling myself by starting to cry.  I wasn’t even sure why, but for some reason turning thirty hit me much harder than I thought it would.  Maybe it was because I didn’t know what the next decade would bring and the unknown can be scary.  Maybe it was because I wasn’t measuring up to the expectations I had set for myself by this milestone.  Maybe I was panicking about the fact that I could no longer deny that I was actually an adult, so I knew I had to start acting like one.

Little sister, if you’re having any of those anxieties, don’t fret.  Your thirties are going to be the best decade.  Here’s why:

1. The panicky “What am I going to do with my life?” self-questioning ends. At least sort of.  Resume creation turns into resume updating and job interviews become easier because you actually have relevant experience you can expound upon (much better than having to make up bullshit about how your job waiting tables has prepared you to be an excellent project manager). After your first “real” job or two you have a trajectory to follow, a sense of where your current job could lead to, something you couldn’t fathom when you first graduated from college.  Each piece of training, each gain in proficiency is a unique little snowflake, and you continue to build your repertoire of involvement and competencies, creating a gusty little success storm.  Before you know it, your self-assurance and your expertise snowball into an avalanche of amazingness.

2. You stop renting with roommates.  Finally you escape the financial need for roommates and you get out on your own, or you start living with someone because you actually like them and you want to, not because you found them through a desperate newspaper ad because you had to.  Now you only have to deal with your own dust, your own dishes, your own pile of hair stuck in the drain at the bottom of the tub.  (Why is your own pile of hair so much less disgusting than your roommate’s?)  It’s true that home ownership can be a huge pain in the ass at times, but it’s worth not having to split the cable bill with a potential psychopath.

3. You decide whether or not you want to have kids. For some of us that decision can be hard, agonizing even, trying to weigh the pros and cons of maintaining freedoms like endless traveling, drinking margaritas at the bar until 11:00 pm every Thursday night, and comfortably retiring at an early age, versus bearing the great responsibility of having little mini-yous running around the house, ruining your furniture and obliterating any chance you might have had at staying up past 9 pm (even on the weekend) or buying that yacht when you’re in your fifties.  It’s an important decision.  A defining one.  So, it’s a relief when you figure out where you stand.

4. You become comfortable in your own skin.  You’re in good shape (quite possibly the best shape of your life) and you finally figure out what kind of clothes flatter your figure, which is no longer changing as wildly as it did in your teens and early twenties. You’re fit and you’re cute, and to top that off you begin to understand that looks don’t actually matter all that much, so you stop wasting time meticulously anointing yourself with eyeliner and foundation, or applying, taking off and reapplying mascara, or trying on a million outfits before deciding what to wear when you go out.  You free up a lot of valuable time and you master the art of the messy bun. This combination of physical strength and mental confidence make you the sexiest you’ve ever been.

5. You figure out how to prioritize your time. This is the decade when you acknowledge that having a steady paycheck and a job with benefits is important.  But you’re also beginning to notice how nutrition affects your energy levels, how good friends and work-life balance affect your well-being, how spending time with loved ones and how exercise and books and yoga (or whatever your hobbies of choice may be) are what enable you to fully inhale. And after you notice, you start planning and scheduling those things in. In other words, you finally figure out how to take care of yourself. This is the decade where you begin mastering the art of adulting.

The Thirties might be intimidating to the youngins who are worried about being over the hill, but those of us who have already crossed that hump know how awesome this decade really is.

Happy 30th, little sees.  Welcome to your best decade yet.

5 Reasons Your Thirties Are Your Best Decade

5 Reasons Your Thirties Are Your Best Decade

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Writing is Racing

Right now, I’m a fish out of water.  I’m floundering.

I’m gasping for breath even though I’m hardly moving at all.

Too much stillness allows thoughts to zoom through my head.   Thoughts that have no business being there. Thoughts that do more harm than good.  Too much sitting is not relaxing, is not calming, is not restful.  Too much sitting is anxiety-provoking, is unsettling, is infuriating.  It’s the paradox of movement creating calmness.  Of stillness cultivating chaos.

I’m a runner who can’t run.  And it sucks.

Yes, I’m trying to compensate. I’m doing strength training right now – something needed, something I had been neglecting.  It’s fine.  It is toning my triceps.  It is the band-aid on the wound.

It is not enough.

Nothing feels the same, nothing give me the same rush as running does. No other type of exercise even comes close.  Yes, I can work out, but I don’t get the head-clearing release. I don’t get the skin-tingly euphoria.

My orthopedic surgeon told me that he can repair tendons, ligaments, cartilage, but he “can’t fix runners”.  Runners are broken people, before they get injured.  Runners need running for self-repair, even if it destroys their bodies in the process.

I’ve been dreaming about it, lately.  Dreaming about running pain-free.  Night after night after night. I’m running and I’m strong and I’m happy.  And then I wake up and I remember. I mourn. I miss it. Nothing feels the same.

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Except.

Writing sort of does.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Photo credit: Wikipedia

It’s the closest thing I’ve found.  Way closer than strength training.  I don’t know how it works, but I get the same feeling in my head, the same tingling on my skin.

Maybe it’s because just like my legs move back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, on the pavement, my fingers are performing the same action across the keyboard. Over and over and over and over and over. For hours.

Maybe it’s like when I make my two fingers crawl across the table and then use them to tickle my daughter under her chin – my fingers race, mimicking the action of running, my fingers find that sweet spot, making my daughter erupt in giggles, mimicking the euphoria at the end.

With either activity, the writing or the running, there’s always a time goal, a publishing goal, an endurance goal, a self-preservation goal.  Some kind of goal.  There’s always the elusive search for a personal record.

With writing, or racing, sometimes I hate it, more than I could ever hate anything, and sometimes it feels better than I could imagine, leaving me high for days after.  I never really know going into it how a session will pan out.

Either way, both are always hard.  Both make me scream out loud.  Both make me cry. Both make me laugh.  Both help me breathe more deeply.  Both make me frolic and jump out of my skin with excitement.  Both wring out my body and wring out my soul.  Both are energy depleting, but are exhilarating in the process.

Both expose the real me.

Right now writing is my racing.  Until racing can be my racing.

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Lost and Found

It’s crazy to me that I am so impacted by the moments with my daughters, yet they are unlikely to remember any of them.  I don’t remember much about growing up.  What I do remember may be memories, or may be memories of videotaped and talked about events. I don’t know why I don’t remember the details, but I don’t.  It worries me about remembering things in the future.  That’s partly why I write.

Today Toddler Grouch and I lay in bed, for the second or third night in a row, and practiced thinking up words that started with different letters.

“Buh, buh…banana!  Your turn, Mom”.

“Buh, buh, beach”.

“Buh, buh…box!”

“Buh, buh, baby”.

“Buh, buh…bag!”

“Buh, buh, bee”.

“Buh, buh…poop!  Ahhhhh, I’m teasing you!”

As we played our little letter game, her eyes sparkled and her cheeks flushed.  The getting it excited her.  It might have excited me more to witness it.  We lay in her little toddler bed, me squashed up against the side, knees bent so my feet didn’t hang off the end.  The back of my head rested against the headboard and her head rested on my chest.  We talked for about forty minutes and when I went to leave she said, “Don’t leave, Mom.  I want to talk more”.

It’s just about impossible to not leave when your child says they want to talk to you.  So we talked a little more, and the only thing that made me leave the room was wanting her to be rested in the morning.  Finally I pulled myself away and gave her another smooch, told her I loved her and thanked her for talking with me.

I hopped in the shower and while I washed, I replayed our time in my head.  Every single day I am amazed by the “ordinary”. I am enthralled by the beauty. I am astounded by the growth.  I cannot believe I am fortunate to be a witness, to be involved in the process of helping guide my amazing little beings into amazing adult beings.

Already, when I picture my daughters, I picture a slideshow in my head.  They are not one person, they are all of the versions of themselves they have been: a little newborn baby, a fledgling toddler starting to speak, starting to walk, a full-on almost-potty-trained toddler with a fondness for poop jokes.  She is not one her, she is many hers.  I think this is a pretty common parental feel.

When I was sixteen, my parents threw an enormous surprise party for me.  I was not very grateful.  I was embarrassed by the attention, I was embarrassed by the extravagant party that was thrown for what I felt was a completely insignificant event.  I was embarrassed for the two friends my parents had invited to come celebrate with me, who were stuck hanging out with my family that they hardly knew.  I was embarrassed because now they knew they were the two closest friends I had, even though we weren’t really all that close.

At one point in the party, my dad showed a surprise video.  He had spent countless hours compiling video clips of me from birth to age sixteen, into a fifteen minute presentation. Knowing him, he probably spent hours and hours and hours on this.  This was way before movie-maker existed.  This was the ultimate videographic mix-tape.  Instead of being pleased, I was pissed.  Because I was mortified.  I didn’t recognize myself in any of those images.

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When I was sixteen, I was lost.  I had forgotten who I was.  I did not recognize the chubby infant slobbering all over.  I did not recognize the obnoxious seven-year-old who was flipping out and acting like a complete fool, I did not recognize a self-confident twelve-year-old who danced in the living room and sang off-key while wearing gaudy clothing.  That is not me, I thought.  I don’t know if it was just my age, or my too-coolness, or my depression that sucked me and all of my positive traits down into an abyss, but whatever the reason, I didn’t know who I was. Even when I was seeing myself on tape.  I didn’t connect with anything about that party, or anything in that video.

I think about that now, as I look at my daughters.  How a parent doesn’t see a child only for who they are at that very instant, but they see them for who they’ve always been.  They maybe even project a teensy bit to what their child might be like in the future.  And how crazy it can be that in some ways, at some times, a parent can know their child even better than the child knows themselves.

Finally, as I am encroaching on forty, I think I found myself.  I remember who I am.  I am a slobbery fool.  I am a confident adult.  I dance in the living room and sing off-key.  I still have no fashion sense.  And, even though I have to fight for it now, I’m happy again.

My friends and I were talking today about how this is sort of how the cycle goes.  You’re born with confidence, you’re born knowing who you are, you’re born ready to work your tail off to accomplish anything you set your mind to.  This usually gets beaten out of you for awhile there, and you spend the rest of your life clawing your way out of the depressive, self-conscious, terrified person you somehow became.  Some of us make it out, some of us don’t.

I suppose it doesn’t matter if my daughters remember playing the “buh, buh..B!” game with me or not.  As long as they are able to navigate their way back to found if they ever find themselves lost.

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Don’t Worry, Second Child. I Love You, Too.

Dear Second Child,

Yes, the first child has so many photos.  So many intricate descriptions in the baby book. So many mementos.  So many journal and blog posts oohing and awwing over them.

As the second, you might feel a little neglected.  Where are my eight million photos categorized by month? Where’s my blog post about the first coo or the first “Mama!” or the first taste of a lemon?

My first inclination is to apologize.  However, that would imply we had some sort of choice in the matter.  You want the truth?  Well, kid.  We were just busier after having you.   It’s as simple as that.  And some of the things we wrote about the first time are the same with you.  So, we already wrote about it.  What about all the comparing?  The second is nothing like the first, you might have heard. In some ways that is true, and in some ways it isn’t. We don’t usually feel the need to discuss the ways it isn’t.  We already discussed the parts that are the same the first time.

But, don’t think about it too much.  Don’t over-analyze.  Don’t worry. We love you.  Just as much as your older sibling.  You might think I have to say that to you, but guess what?  I DON’T.  I don’t have to say anything to you. There are trillions of choices of word combinations I could put together and shoot your way every day.

Everything I say to you, I mean.

Remember that.

And you might think, “How is it possible?  How can you love me the same?”

And my answer is, “I have no idea.  It is a biological mystery, how it works, but I swear to you, it just IS”. One moment we look at our oldest and we think, she might be the most beautiful person on the entire planet.  And then we blink and look at you and think, she might be the most beautiful person on the entire planet, even if the two of you physically look absolutely nothing alike and, at least at times, act nothing alike. These thoughts may not always come to us within seconds of each other, or even hours of each other, but believe me, they happen.  In equal amounts.

We don’t always love you in all the same WAYS but we love you the EXACT SAME AMOUNT.

Here are a few examples of how that makes sense in our heads:

Sibling One Sibling Two Our Thoughts
She’s so calm. She’s so energetic. That trait will REALLY benefit her in the future.  (And, wouldn’t you know it, when she wants to be, she’s damn good at being energetic/calm too. Impressive!)
She’s so serious. She’s so goofy. She’s so great.
She hardly complains. She complains loudly! What strength she has!  It’s so hard to not complain/speak your mind. She will use this to her advantage in life.
She giggles. She guffaws. She has a good sense of humor.  She is happy.
She has an innie. She has an outie. She has the cutest belly button.  Poke!
She observes by looking. She observes by touching. She is such a good observer.
She likes to be held. She likes her back rubbed. She’s able to connect with others.
She pauses. She dives right in. She’s wise.
She whispers. She yells. She communicates.
She paddles. She splashes. She swims.
She loves her sister. She loves her sister. May they work together and complement their strengths and create the greatest force ever to be reckoned with.
She knows how to push my buttons. She knows how to push my buttons. She is not a lightweight.  She will be able to hold her own.
She is my first. She is my second. She is my only her. She awakens me, livens me, fills me up.  She is my child.
She surprises me. She surprises me. She is who she makes herself, not who I think she is or will be.  She consistently proves to be a better person than I could ever imagine anyone could possibly be.

Love you, Second Child.  Love you forever.

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Here’s Why You Need to Apologize to Your Kids

The other day I lost it.

My daughter refused to walk down the stairs, to sit on the toilet, to wear pants, to put on her shoes.  She complained about not being allowed to eat a donut for lunch, about having to wash her hands after using the toilet, and about having wet hair (after her long tresses dipped into the toilet water as she leaned in to watch her poop swirl into the abyss).  When I tried to help her put on her shoes, she bucked and thrashed and managed to headbutt me in the face.  I’m in that stage of parenting where it seems like I’m always getting headbutted in the face.

I remember reading somewhere that the supraorbital ridge, that bone beneath your eyebrows, evolved to counter the load put on the facial bones during chewing, and that eyebrows, located above that bone, evolved to stop sweat from pouring into the eyes, directing it down the sides of the face instead.  While I imagine both would be useful for our hunter-gatherer ancestors, I propose a counter-hypothesis, that perhaps both structures evolved because children often headbutt us parents, and without the protruding bony bit they would punch out our eyes with their thick skulls, and without the thick brows, blood would pour into our eyes, preventing us from seeing the next blow coming.  It’s plausible.

I might have been okay if it had ended with the headbutting, but then there was her refusal to stay in her bed, or even in her bedroom for that matter, during nap time.  There was more, but my brain blocked it out to save my own sanity.

I snapped.  I yelled.  LOUDLY.  I was exhausted and hormonal and at my wits’ end.  It was a very ugly sight and it left both of us in tears.  I was a bad mama that day.

So, I apologized.

While it might seem silly for a grown woman to confess to a two-year-old, that’s exactly what I did.  After all was said and done, we ended the day with books, cuddles and kisses, and while I was glad we had smoothed everything over, I was still a bit gutted with guilt, playing over her words in my mind, “It’s okay, Mama.  It was an accident”.  Because it wasn’t an accident.  I should have had more control. There are zero reasons to be a jerk to a two-year-old.

I’m a firm believer that if you have a lapse in judgement you acknowledge the mistake and do your best to prevent it from happening again.  While it’s hard to apologize to anyone, and counter-intuitive to some to apologize to a small child, here’s why I think it’s important to do so:

Sometimes we screw up.  And that’s okay, we’re only human. Learning the hard way that something doesn’t work is generally a precursor to eventually figuring out what does.  Like when I used to look down at my phone every once in a while when my kids were running around the living room like wild bulls.  I quickly learned to check my social media some other time, to keep my head up and my eyes on my little toros,  so I would not get caught looking down as they charged towards me and CRASH! split open my brow.  Again. Live and learn and Ole!

As parents, we strive to become better teachers, better negotiators, and better role models, but that doesn’t mean we achieve perfection on every attempt.   If we acknowledge that we that we make mistakes, we show our children that it is okay for them to make them, too.  Eliminating the myth that people are supposed to be perfect is probably good for all of us.

Providing structure and consequences doesn’t mean we need to resort to authoritarian (read: assholertarian) discipline.  There are many ways to get the attention of your child, to make them comprehend the messages you are trying to get across.  Some are founded upon the principle of routine, some are rooted in consistency, some are just plain old silly  (I know I cannot be the only parent that has a rap routine called “We Brush our Teeth”, complete with horrible beat boxing and “spinning the discs” hand motions). Shock value works too.  Sometimes, the only way we feel heard is if we yell. But there’s a definite distinction between needing to raise a voice every now and again and completely losing your cool. Trust me, even a two-year-old knows the difference.

Kids become who they are because of who we are.  If we want them to become self-aware individuals who take accountability for their actions then we sure as hell better model what that looks like.  Our children will only become bullish adults if we teach them to do so by example, leading only with our horns instead of also with our hearts.

Here's Why You Need to Apologize to Your Kids

Here’s Why You Need to Apologize to Your Kids

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Back to School: A Teacher’s Wish List

It’s back to school time.  And teachers are FREAKING OUT.  Because it is almost Labor Day, and Summer is over.  The to-do lists are out. of. control.  The parents are already calling.  The administration is sending a million memos, some in print, some in digital form, a mixed media medley of messages that are often vague, full of jargon and these many forms of communication do not seem to align with one another.  We are worrying about our students, we are worried about our sanity, before we have even started.

The rest of you?  You are rolling your eyes and saying it’s about time you slackers had to get yourselves back in the working world with the rest of us.  Never mind that teachers generally put in enough overtime during the school year to compensate for all of that unpaid “time off” during the summer.  Or that they work second jobs during the Summer to make ends meet.  Or that even though they work during the Summer,  taking classes or preparing for the new year, they are only paid for nine months.  Ahem.

Regardless of your stance on teacher compensation or hours, I think everyone can appreciate these seemingly simply desires that every teacher wants, but usually does not receive, from September through June.

Time to pee.  Seriously.  There is no time to pee.  In between classes?  We’ve got students popping in, admin popping in, other teachers popping in, and not just to chat, but with some sort of need.  There is often a crisis.  We live by the bell, by the minute, by the semester and EVERY SECOND COUNTS.  We are in a bizarre time warp where things must be done NOW (even though what must be done NOW can realistically hardly be done EVER).  This is a problem for many reasons, but the no-peeing part is especially troublesome for those of us who have birthed children.

A desk that isn’t broken.  One of my students on the autism spectrum took out all of the wheels from several of my desk drawers, and those kind of things just don’t get fixed.  You just, for thirty years, have drawers that go thump thump thump thump, jumping a bit as you pull the drawers out or push them back in.

A chair that isn’t going to cause disc damage.  Okay, if that isn’t possible, at least A CHAIR.  I don’t have a chair, because the one I bought (which happened to be an exercise ball because I don’t want to spend a lot of money on a chair, and I have a relatively weak core) was lost when I moved classrooms.  Poof.  I blame privatization.  Our regular custodians would have made sure my chair made it to my new room.  It’s really not that far away.

Coffee.  No, this doesn’t just exist in any “teacher’s lounge” I’ve ever been in, unless it was in a coffee pot bought by a teacher, made with coffee bought by a teacher and, if it existed, was hopefully cleaned by a teacher.  Who knows when they had time to clean it….it probably wasn’t cleaned.  But, let’s be honest, we really care more about the coffee than the cleaning.

Time to drink coffee.  There is no such thing as a coffee break.  There is really hardly a lunch break. C’mon. I can’t believe more student scaldings don’t happen, to be honest.

Time to work by ourselves without interruption.  Planning period?  Hahahah!  That is filled with meetings and more meetings and, oh yea, STUDENTS.  Do you know, teachers have to plan what they are going to do when they stand in front of their students?  Do you know, teachers have to grade their students work?  Do you know, teachers benefit from collaborating with other teachers?  Time for any of these things is what teachers want.  So much more so than apple-shaped trinkets.

Pens.  Why is it so hard to get pens?  And pencils.  We need a million pencils for the kids. They are incapable of keeping one in their possession for an entire day.  And they are incapable of not stealing our pens.  Don’t get me started on tape.  I got an email from a co-worker last year saying that they would not be providing tape for their students because they were ON THEIR LAST ROLL OF TAPE and would not be providing any more. This is what teachers become at the end of May.  Barbaric tape deniers.

Tissue.  Maybe the kind that doesn’t cause chafing the first time you wipe your nostrils with it.  But, if that isn’t possible, we’ll take the tissue that feels like sandpaper.  I’ll take the sandpaper tissue.   I NEED SANDPAPER TISSUE.  Anything is better than my sleeve. Best case scenario if I don’t have any?  I’m wearing a pattern (that doesn’t show the snot so much).  But, my students?  They don’t even use sleeves.  If they don’t have tissues, they just use my air.  And my desks (which are also your kid’s air and desks, by the way).  Ew.

A cabinet that locks.  And ideally, a key that goes with it. Because if the stars align, maybe I can go pee.  But, I don’t want anyone to steal my wallet when I do.

For anyone making decisions about what happens in classrooms to actually have experience working in a classroom.  We can all have dreams, right?

Time to eat lunch.  At least, sometimes? Pretty please?

Assessments that aren’t arbitrarily changed from year to year. Oh wait, the change isn’t always arbitrary.  It’s usually based on profits for companies and cost-savings for our government…

Assessments that actually measure something of value.  Can anyone give me some proof that anything we assess actually has merit? Hello?  Bueller? I’m all for data.  I love data.  Just not pointless (even if well-intentioned) data.  And hell hath no fury like a teacher who cares about their students seeing them freak the heck out because of assessments that, in the long run, don’t mean anything.

More coffee.  There is never, ever, enough.

An automatic translator that turns what we are actually thinking into polite and professional language. Seriously, how do politicians and admins do this?

Wine.  Coffee only goes so far.

Time to work one on one with students.  We really want to help our students.  All of them.  That’s why we’re here.  We just can’t be everywhere and help everyone at the same time.  Anyone who says class size doesn’t matter has never been in the classroom.

Note that nothing on this wish list pertains to wishing the students were anything but themselves.  The students are the best.  They are why we keep coming back.  Parents, keep sending those lovely students of yours! They keep us going.

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By Malate269 (Own work) [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons

Anything you’d add to the list?

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