For my muse and my amusement

When is the last time you did something you felt was so praise-worthy that you asked for the praise outright? My mom and I share this trait: After making what we feel is an above average meal, we can be heard saying, "This tastes pretty good. If I do say so myself." Yes. Well, we do say so ourselves because we are certain no one else is going to be heaping on the praise.

As well-documented here, my family gives me much to ponder- serving as my muse more often than not, as well as old-fashioned, live entertainment. This morning, as if it were some major culinary feat, the Big Man made slow oatmeal --you know--not in the microwave. For everyone and not just himself. Personally, I think this was the bigger cause for any celebration if there was going to be any celebrating. Over oatmeal. For whatever reason, he seemed to want something from the rest of us regarding this task. I heard him mutter, " I can't give my oatmeal away," as one child opted for toast. The coffee was poured and steaming in front of me, and I had yet to take a drink because I was enjoying slow oatmeal. He'd also made the coffee and was waiting for my reaction. So it made me this over-praised kid's world creeping into the under-praised adult world? Are we all becoming needy? Looking to others for validation for the simplest tasks? Ok. I am the first to admit that I am not of those stoic quiet midwesterners just flinging out one good deed after the other without expecting something in return. I am a midwesterner. I like doing good deeds. I probably differ in that I don't mind if people know I have done something good. Plus, I just think it's good manners to say 'thank you' when someone does something for you. While I wanted to just, you know, let him stew in my reality for a bit, I did say thank you to the Big Man. Occasionally, we just have to put it out there. There can't be too much harm in asking for what we need and in turn, practicing good manners. Good manners are under-rated. As is the Big Man's slow oatmeal.

Sometimes, You Get More Than You Bargained For

I was taken back to 1983 recently when I took my nine year old daugher and some friends to a place called High Roller for her birthday. No...we weren't going to gamble, we were going to skate. The impetice was a party that was low-stress for me, but lots of fun for all. This was the suggestion that seemed most appealing and the price was right. It was refreshing to see that as much as things change, some things stay the same. Oh, there were in-line skates to be sure, but the skates available to rent had four wheels, they were an ugly tan color, and the laces were too long- -you either had to triple-knot them or tie them around your ankles twice. As soon as the lights dimmed for a couple's skate, the disco ball started to twirl and Journey came on, I knew history could indeed repeat itself. However, this time, I took matters into my own hands so as not to be left on the sidelines waiting for an offer. After my own daughter dissed me half way through, "I'm Forever Yours, Faithfully" I headed for my hubby. His natural grace on land doesn't transfer well to the roller world, but we made it through the end of the song without falling and gracelessly clunked into the cement side wall in order to declare ourselves done. But only for that song. After getting our bearings (pun intended), we all went back for more. Brain scientists and life coaches would say it's good to do something different, to get your mind and body working on patterns it's not comfortable with-- it keeps your body guessing and I guess that is a good thing. I just think it's the laughter that really makes it worth the while. I know my knees and ankles weren't exactly shouting praise. I hadn't actually considered that I would have fun at this party. I am all about the execution of the party. With nothing for me to do but have fun, I was able to I step out of my box, roll back to my childhood, and skate into a new year with my daughter. Life is constantly surprising me. I don't always get what I think I want--sometimes I get more and for that, I am grateful.

Too Much, Not Enough, Just Right

This world is crazy. This morning my son said, "I wish we were rich." I started to launch into starving, abandoned children from Haiti and then I stopped. He came to it himself when he said, "But you don't have to put me up for adoption 'cuz we have food." True dat, is what we like to say. But here is the constant crux of life-being more than content but happy with what you have. One of the latest reads in my book group was called "Stumbling On To Happiness" and it attempts to make scientific the idea of happiness and the main conclusion is that really, we all have some sort of set-point. Barring major catasrophies and even then, people seem to just re-calibrate themselves to the point at which they naturally are. They asked people who had become paralyzed or quadraplegic to rate their happiness, and especially if they knew no different, they weren't any less happy than people with fully functioning bodies. How weird, right? So this makes that quest for...whatever...that longing or whining for something different just seem so...silly. And this makes me even more committed to just encouraging not just my kids, but everyone to do what makes them happy. Why would we spend our time doing anything but? Of course,there is that money thing and here is where our culture in particular gets it wrong in a big way. We need money to live, but how much? Really- how much do we need? Yeah, I can hear the groans from the peanut gallery since I am the spouse of a physician. But it's no secret that most of our doctors would be much happier and more effective if they worked less. If I rate my life between my twenties and now I will admit to being happier, but much of it comes from learning lessons in the school of hard knocks and finally having the courage to just listen to myself. I am paying attention and this is what makes me happy--hearing my kids laugh, listening to their reasonings about the ways of the world (recent advice from Ben: when you feel or see something coming toward your face, scrunch up your head skin), cookbooks, the book store in which I work, living in a community where I daily run in to people I know, reading, connecting with old friends, making new friends, planning a party, helping someone, listening to storytellers, preserving food with a group of friends, and walks in the sunshine either alone or with friends. Perhaps I am just a slow learner- how could I reach 41 and just start to realize that the best way to live is to seek and find those things which bring you joy? Some would say life gets in the way. But I am going to argue that perhaps we have it backwards- we are getting in the way of our life by denying ourselves the experiences that bring us the most joy. Who knows? I am not a philospopher, but I am feeling that what I have is just right.

In my version of hell...

there are two hundred socks floating around. None of them match. Yesterday, I picked up sixteen socks lying about the house. Three were found outside the house- in places like the yard, the sand box, or under patio furniture. I also found three shoes. How does this happen? One might assume that all items were of child-sized proportions, but you know that adage about assuming...

Why didn't I think of this?

Every once in a while you come across something that seems to have been born of your mind--only someone else got to it first. Well, here is something my husband stumbled across and it just made me laugh and then wonder--why did this never occur to me? Check out this link and you will understand. Excuse the crass language in the title, but we all know it's perfect.

A few things I could have contributed:
1) A nice glossy photo of a then new Honda mini-van with equally fresh inscriptions made by the sharpest rock EVER. Lucy, at age 4, was practicing her newly acquired writing skills. If you look closely (and you still can because it is still there), the words look like L ucy devil.

2) Same child, different year. Picture a stone fireplace. It's a place of warmth and apparently happiness due to the blue smiley face that will never fade-- permanent blue sharpie script never does.

3) The creme de la creme would be a picture of our newest television. It's a flat screen with a dent off to the side and rainbow etched lines shooting forth from said dent in a star burst pattern. This was caused by our son in a story I am not yet ready to tell.

I say none of these things with pride. Only that stuff happens despite your best intentions and in the end, children are independent creatures with minds of their own. I would be much more worried about myself if I couldn't now laugh at much of it. The tv bit still stings, but pass no judgement dear friends. If you are childless, you may never understand and that's ok by me. If you aren't and you still don't get it, you should not waste one more second reading my blog and probably not invite me for coffee. I feel the conversation might be stilted.

In the future, I see Shit The Dog Has Ruined. I am working on getting my photos together this weekend.

Read Read Read

It is not possible to be a part of any community and not hear this battle cry: Read to your kids! Every day! Seriously, did you know that they are going to add "Do you like to read?" and "Does anyone read to you?" as part of the well-child exam? It's THAT big. It seems just crazy to me-- another fine example of what for years just seemed to be common sense is now pushed, pushed, and pushed some more. I can only lament about it because...well...I read. I don't remember my parents ever pushing me. My parents were always readers, though. We still have stacks of every Louis L'Amour book ever written. Sadly, I admit to a pile of Sweet Valley High and Danielle Steele paperbacks that used to crowd my room. They did nothing for my ACT scores, but I quickly became the consultant in sorting out love triangles so it wasn't a total loss. I remember always reading yet still getting stuck in the average reading group. Back then, life was color-coded so you knew who the smart people were by how quickly they acended to purple and gray. Slackers like myself hung out in the orange area a bit too long. If there were just a few more passages that read more like Are You There God, It's Me Margaret? or Wifey and less like an encyclopedia, I would have been more motivated. At any rate, my point is that it wasn't pushed so much, but I lived in a house of readers. The statistics about poor readers and the long-term effects are frightening. I have to keep reminding myself that in this lovely little literate cacoon I live in, it's not so lovely for others. My house is full of books and compulsive readers yet clearly we aren't the norm. With the library throwing what really amounts to a pep fest for summer reading and the schools throwing pajama parties to encourage parents and kids to read- well, the problem is bigger in scope than I thought. Which leads me to how much we all take things for granted. I did not grow up in the most sophisticated of families, but who knew Louis and Danielle would be resposible for leading me and my family into the realm of above average--at least as far as reading is concerned? Mom and dad, thanks.

Tea....for 18!

Recently, my daughter and I decided to have tea for her friends and their moms. It all started because my own mom gave me twelve tea cups from my grandmother. I almost didn't take them because I really don't like stuff. But my daughter was drawn to them just as I was as a little girl. They don't match and that has always been part of the charm. For as long as I can remember my grandmother, I remember staring at these tea cups trying to decide which one was my favorite. Many are delicate and bone thin. Lots have flowers and gold rims and matching plates. A few are chipped and I am certain none are worth much in monetary value. But tea cups bring out the girl in even the die-hard tomboys. My daughter wanted to use them so why not have a few friends over with their moms for a sit-down tea? The daughter is almost nine and already signs of tween-ness are creeping in so I can see my days of her willingly spending time with me are numbered.

I am not good at keeping things simple when it comes to entertaining and food. Blame my mother. Blame the need to make sure there is not one chance that anyone will leave less than stuffed to the gills. If people don't feel bloated, I won't feel happy. At any rate, the daughter and I tackled most things together and had fun, though her attention wandered toward the end. This was a good reminder that entertaining people you care about aren't going to be critical. They come looking for fun and the big deal is that you have chosen your friends wisely, which is the real cause for celebration. It was a little moment of moms and daughters all laughing and giggling and loving together. The scene could be re-played anywhere, but this scene happened in my home just as it happened in my mother's home and my grandmother's home. It was sweet and silly and real and perfectly imperfect. So while I am not a collector of things, I am most certainly willing to store another box if what it brings to me is a moment of joy with my daughter. That's worth some space on the shelf, don't you think?

Check out my new post on Family Fodder!

It's all about mom! Check it out, and don't forget your mom this weekend! Happy Mother's Day to everyone who is a mom or acts like one for a day or an hour. It takes a village,'tis true. There is a bit of mom in all of us-we mother our plants, our pets, and even our art so it is a day worth celebrating.

I have a book!

Ok, ok, ok. Don't get too excited. But about six weeks ago, I was walking around the valley with Fairy Godmother and we were talking about her work. What keeps her going, what "brings me to my knees" she said, were the struggling moms, the depressed mom and their kids. It just gets her-she wants to build a community for these women, a safe place filled with resources and people that will be a place for them to go when the big waves hit. So...she wondered out loud to me ( how convenient) if there was a book out there for kids about living with a parent who is suffering from depression. Hmm....Two weeks after that, my sister-in-law asked if I could write a children's book. "No!" was my immediate response. I have access to Wiki-pedia like everyone else and after the fascinating turns through arachnids, dinosours, and all marine life I am confindent I could cut and paste myway through some mean non-fiction. But why? I wouldn't want to read it. I already have. As for fiction, well, how daunting! The best of the best has already been written and ...nothing has occurred to me as of yet. So...three weeks after this, I am lying in a bed in Madison, Wi and I can sleep in. Bob is off to a conference and I am on my own. I want to sleep. But at 6:30 a.m. I get this line in my head and it won't go away so I mutter, "Screw it!" to myself and pull out the lap top and two hours later I have the rough draft of a book.

I have shared this book with a few people including my Fairy Godmother. She genuinely loves it. One (my husband) said it was kind of a downer. Hmm.... depression really rocks! Seriously, he's a light-hearted guy and you know, emotions beyond "Cool!" are troubling so I let that go. He gave me some good tips on language that might be too strong for little ones ( you can tell I have trouble editing in my own life- at least my kids have a good vocabulary!) and every person has the same vision I have for illustrations so... this is my quest. I am looking for an illustrater. If you have any ideas...let me know. Sister-in-law Leslie is an artist. Uncle Alan is an artist. I am sure there are lots of artists in my circle of whom I am not aware.

This whole thing led Fairy Godmother to introducing me as Lisa, her friend, the writer. Hmm...I like that.

It wasn't exactly the cat's meow.

It should be well-documented by now that I grew up in rural northwest Iowa on a small farm between two tiny towns, Correctionville and Cushing. I have many great memories of living on the farm, but a farm girl I wasn't. Stuck on the farm, I was. As a young kid, getting together with a friend meant walking or riding our bikes around the country mile to meet somewhere in the middle and the ditches or the dirt road. It was scintillating stuff.

In the thick of my high school years, I sought the freedom that only a 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme could give me (it was baby blue with two doors and electric windows). The best reason, as far as my parents could see, for me to drive it anywhere was to work. So quickly I saught outside employment that took me to the big city of Correctionville and away from critters and other farm-like life.

One particularly memorable summer was spent working three jobs: detassling corn-- a certain kind of hell many will never know, working with the school janitor as her assistant (i.e. gum scraper-offer), and preparing tasty ice cream and fried treats at the local Valley Drive Inn. I was never and continue to NOT be a night owl. I loved getting up and heading to work to detassle in the early morning. I could then catch my janitor shift by late morning and work to mid-afternoon, and then do the closing shift at the drive-in. I felt good having spent the whole day making money and missing out on farm fun. But the end of the week made me tired, and you know, teenage girls can be a bit dramatic.

It must have been a Saturday because the drive-in was open until 11:00 p.m. A closer would usually remain until 11:30 p.m. I had a week filled with early mornings and glamorous work and I was tired. I tumbled in the door of our house close to midnight. Evidently one of my sister's cats was thrilled to see me and lept toward me as I was trying to close the door. I say trying because the door got stuck. The cat's tail was in the way. The cat did not like this. The cat lurched for my leg. The cat attached itself to my leg. The cat did not let go of my leg. Wearing my pretty polyester purple shirt and shorts provided no protection from a ticked-off kitty who was clawing her way down my legs. It was truly one of the only times I was happy to have short legs. I screamed. The cat howled. I fell and proceeded to roll across the floor hoping to unstick the cat.I screamed some more. The lights flew on and the people started coming. Mom, dad, sister, and brothers were all wondering what the hell was happening. As was I. Why was I on the floor with a cat attached to my leg? Why? Why? Why? All I wanted was sleep. I wanted no cat attached to my limbs, no blood pouring down my legs, and no fur stuck to my skin. I woke up ready to take on the world away from the farm and all it's critters. I lamely ended the day wailing and rolling on two-tone brown shag carpet with a messed-up kitty's claws piercing my skin. The scars would fade long before I stopped hearing that cat's meow.

Click your heels!

Over the weekend I clicked my heels twice- once for some coffee so good I wanted to yodel and once because Grandma Gray reported that my kids used their manners. Wow-wee! I am not a total failure as a mom. Occasionally lessons taught stick. Of course, two hours after my return they were back to fighting at a decibel level that even I deemed loud. Oh well. It's the moments, right? Just the moments.

When's the last time something made you want to click your heels?