Though I definitely share recipes, reviews, and the occasional household tip around here, at the heart of it, I am a story-telling blogger. This is evidenced by the joy I get from writing the “My Story…” series and the incredible response I get. Even when I’m not in story-telling mode around here, I’m still sharing these tid-bits, tales, and memoirs. If you enjoy that sort of thing and you’re not already hanging out with me on Facebook, you really should head over there– I share a ton of stories and experiences over on that page and we have fun talking about them.
Anyway, as I already said, I share a lot of stories here on the blog and also on Facebook. (I’m sure I share other places, too, but those two get the lion’s share.) Several people have made remarks like the following:
- “Man, you are surrounded by the crazies, JL!”
- “What the heck is going on in CT? Where do you find these nutjobs?”
- “You are a magnet to some weirdos!”
- “Wow, I wish I would see more of that.”
- “You live in such an inspirational place.”
- “I wish more people here were like the people you see.”
Soooo… what’s up with that? How is it that I am surrounded by both the incredibly strange (e.g. the lady who gave me a look of near-disgust as she asked “Why is your son so TALL?”) and the wildly inspirational (e.g. the child who gave up his sweatshirt without a word when he saw a kindergartener shivering)? Is Connecticut really just a bizarre dumping ground of all that is great and all that is strange?
He IS tall. What of it? ;)
The obvious answer is– no. Connecticut is not some alternate realm with exceptionally good and bad things.
What then? Am I just a magnet for the weird? Do I attract the completely crazy comments? I don’t really think so, to be honest.
Why, then, am I the one who hears and witnesses all these things?
I’ve thought long and hard about this now and I’ve come up with a few explanations.
I have exceptionally good hearing.
That might sound funny, but it’s true. It could be because I’ve never been to a rock concert or mowed a lawn even once in my life. It could be genetic. It could be luck of the draw. Who knows? Whatever the cause, I can hear things that a lot of people can’t. While my vision isn’t quite what it used to be– I actually use very weak reading glasses to thread needles now– my hearing remains remarkably sharp. There’s a good chance that I hear some stuff that others simply do not.
I might be a wee bit nosy.
You know how some people just love “people-watching”? They have an absolute blast just watching others’ lives unfold, visually, before them. Well, I’m kind of in love with “people-hearing.” I wouldn’t go quite so far as to say I’m activitely eaves-dropping, and I really do try to avoid listening in on private, intimate exchanges, but I do love to hear the conversations in the world around me. I’m willing to bet that I pay more attention to what everyone around me is saying than the average person. Whether this is a positive or a negative trait could be up for debate, but it’s the truth for whatever that’s worth.
I’m not a big multi-tasker.
I will just admit to you now– you know those people who are taking notes on their phone, paying a bill, reading on a Kindle, and checking out their groceries all at the same time? I am not one of those people. The odds are good that I have my phone, yes. And it’s fairly likely that I’ll check for emails, texts, and Facebook updates once I get in the car in the parking lot. But it would be a rare event to see me with my phone in hand while shopping, eating, or carrying on some other task. I honestly don’t have any problem with people on their phones in lines (as long as they’re not ignoring a cashier, waitress, teller, etc.), but it’s just not something I do. As a result, I’m guessing it’s easier for me to notice all the craziness and inspiration around me. After all, I don’t have much else to look at or listen to!
I’m highly sensitive and an overthinker.
Finally, I am very sensitive to tone, intent, and implication. I have almost no coping skills in the “shrug it off” department and, so, I replay experiences in my mind approximately 863 times. I have lots of opportunity to mull things over. This deep recollection, fixation, and analysis means that I don’t miss much. It also means that I very likely overthink some things and waste valuable time fretting or feeling bad. Nonetheless, this inability to avoid replaying events and conversations in my head makes me able to share very nuanced things– sometimes the most inspirational stories are very subtle and easy to miss. I’m not likely to miss them.
So there you go. I am neither a “crazy magnet” nor in a den of inspiring people. I’m just a nosy, sensitive, keen-eared lady who doesn’t really multi-task.
And the result is a whole lot of stories about nutjobs and awesome everyday people.
You know what makes me giddy and little-kid-excited? Getting packages in the mail. Fun mail is the best, isn’t it??? Kids adore getting mail too, but, especially when you’re a grown-up, it’s such a pleasure to receive something that’s not a bill or a solicitation!
So, as you can imagine, I was excited to see those goodies waiting for me.
Continue reading Easy Oven Nachos, featuring Progresso Chili
It’s not easy.
I guess that’s what I really want you all to know. It’s just not as simple as it sounds. But let me back up a bit…
When I tell C’s birth story, I can typically tell it in under two minutes. To be honest, as much as I adore hearing and reading birth stories, it always kind of amazes me just how wordy women usually get with them, even when everything goes smoothly. C’s story is wild and long and full of twists, but I still wrote it in under 800 words. Maybe it’s the fact that it WAS so intense that I’m able to dial it down and tell it in a pretty straight-forward way. I don’t really know.
Admittedly, though, I typically leave things out when I tell her tale. I don’t consider them to be major details and, truly, I don’t actually think most people are that interested in me that they need to know all the nitty gritty specifics.
One thing I mention to very few people?
That moment when they asked us if we’d rather let her pass in arms. (“Passing in arms” is the medical community’s polite way of referring to not employing– or discontinuing– most support and intervention, excluding comfort care. The baby is then allowed to naturally let go in as peaceful a manner as possible. This is how cases are usually handled when there is deemed no chance of survival or quality of life.)
When I do tell people about that decision, they usually have the same response– they glance at C., look at me, and widen their eyes with horror. “How could they even ask? I mean, who wouldn’t do just what you did? I can’t believe they even said that.”
And what I want you all to know is this– as hard as it may be to stomach, it’s not that easy.
When I tell the story now, you see a happy, healthy eight-year-old girl. You see a happy, healthy mother of three. You see a family that is intact and doing well.
That may not have been what you saw on Christmas Eve back in 2005.
The doctors saw a healthy, 29-year-old woman who had a ten-month-old to care for. They saw a woman who had had no health issues whatsoever in the pregnancy and would likely bounce back (physically) from a vaginal delivery of a one pound baby rather easily. They saw a young mother who could likely get pregnant again without much difficulty and whose body was, as yet, not traumatized by surgery.
They saw a woman who had lost three units of blood already and the prospect of cutting her open was incredibly dangerous.
They also saw a not-quite 24-week gestation baby whose chances of survival weren’t great. Were she to survive, the odds of evading long-term significant repercussions were slim to none. The road to discharge would be difficult, painful, and long, should she make it. She would endure spinal taps, heel sticks, blood draws, IVs through her scalp, and more on a daily basis.
“Would you rather let her peacefully pass in arms?” they ask.
They don’t ask to be cruel. They aren’t trying to be heartless. They are not saying this baby counts for nothing.
You have to see what they see to grasp it.
They see the risks of putting a healthy young mother through a surgery that carried major risks of complications– it was not a straight-forward, average c-section. Cutting someone open, both vertically and horizontally, following so much blood loss is dangerous. Administering anesthesia in those conditions without time to prepare is tricky. Trying to maximize a tiny baby’s chances of survival means placing more risk on the mother– and they couldn’t even guarantee she’d survive the birth.
So, yes, when you see me now, obviously here and obviously healed… when you see a smiling, bounding third grader… I understand that it’s easy to say, “How could they even ASK that?”
But I want you to know that they did the right thing in asking. And I will never hold that against them.
It’s not as easy a choice to make as you might think.
School started back up yesterday!
As I said yesterday, I was not thrilled about this. Nonetheless, change happens whether we’re ready for it or not and, when all was said and done, we all had great days. I was so, so excited to see their smiling faces climbing off the buses! Today is our first FULL day, so I can’t promise I won’t sniffle a bit again.
Anyway, it’s also the end of the month and my refrigerator and freezer were already looking shockingly bare last Friday. The grocery budget was running on fumes and I was wringing my hands over HOW MUCH THESE LITTLE PEOPLE EAT. It’s crazy. They’re really not snackers– we don’t burn through crackers, yogurt cups, cheese sticks, etc. We burn through meat. Veggies. Pasta. Milk. Eggs. And, yes, cheese. But that’s in large part my fault.
Anyway, I made a plan and ran to ALDI and I’m going to go ahead and combine my menu plan and my shopping trip in one for you here. First up, here’s what we’re eating:
B–Cheerios, Apples, Milk ( before 7:30AM Mass)
Brunch–Bacon & Egg Sandwiches, Bananas, OJ
D–Sunday Supper at Bama & Papa’s
Monday: (first day of school)
B–English Muffins w/ Heart Shaped Eggs & Cheese, Clementines, Milk
D–Penne w/ Red Sauce, Green Beans, Garlic Bread w/ Cheese
B–Oatmeal, Yogurt, Milk
D–Ham & Cheese Pockets, Broccoli
B–Chocolate Cream Donuts, Eggs, Apples (I’m going to loosely follow this, but sub chocolate pudding.)
D–Cheesy Beans & Rice
B–Cereal, Apples, Milk
D–Rotini w/ Broccoli & Cheese Sauce
B–Egg Wraps, Clementines, Milk
D–Lg. Ham Pizza, Med. Garlic Pizza
B–Pancakes, Mixed Fruit
D–Roast Chicken, Carrots, Baked Brown Rice
Now, to make that happen, I needed some reinforcements around here. Here’s what I bought at ALDI:
- 4 rolls TP (.99)
- 2 cans French cut green beans (.98)
- 8 oz. mozzarella (1.99)
- 8 oz. sharp cheddar (1.99)
- 1 gallon milk (2.99)
- 1 whole chicken (4.14) <–I got a small one, but it’ll get us through!
- 2# carrots (1.29)
- 1 pack burger buns (.89)
- 2 bags frozen broccoli florets (1.98)
- 1 dozen eggs (1.85)
- 1 can chicken soup (.59)
Total spent: $19.74
I already had some pasta and rice in the pantry and some ham in the fridge. Just under twenty dollars spent, and we should be in decent shape for suppers this week– whew!
… and I won’t lie to you all.
You should know that I cry a lot, though. I mean, I usually cry when they go back. I’m just not one of those, “Oh, HOORAY, it’s back to school!!!” sorts of moms. And that’s okay. I can’t change how I’m wired, even if I do find some of those videos you all share hysterical. I’m just not that lady dancing through Target because I’m finally without kids. Instead, I’m the lady whose red eyes were spotted by one of the regular cashiers at ALDI who gently asked me, “Did my little buddy start school?” and I cried anew, probably making this poor 20-something year old guy sorry he asked.
Anyway, despite my sniffles, I am forced to admit:
They were all READY for school today.
A. is heading off to the intermediate school and, I have to admit, the more I learn about it? The cooler I think this school is. They have a cross country club, a stellar band, a before-school chorus, an outdoor classroom, amazing technology, a trout-raising program that is phenomenal, and so much more. Arguably the most exciting thing to the fourth graders is that they have LOCKERS! (This is because the intermediate school used to be a high school– MY high school, as a matter of fact.)
C’s teacher is wonderful. She is a perfect fit for our precious middle child. On top of that, I am totally delighted with the class make-up and was thrilled to see her classmates’ names. This year, she’ll get to join chorus and learn to play recorder. She’ll continue to work with the same special ed teacher and that’s just all kinds of wonderful since she’s fantastic. I foresee a great last year in primary school for C.
And, finally, little G? Well, she’s all set. She is emotionally, academically, and socially ready for kindergarten. “I’ll MISS you, Mama, but you’ll have fun at home– I know you will!” she reassured me, as she boarded the bus. I will miss that little sparkler more than I can say, but I am so very, very happy for her. She is ready. Totally ready. And I literally jumped up and down when I saw her teacher assignment. This kindergarten teacher is calm, nurturing, and structured. She doesn’t buck the system in a rebellious way, but she continues to teach kindergarten the way she knows is best for the children– and that means lots of play, lots of exploration, lots of nurturing, and lots of encouragement. There is a time for first grade– and this isn’t it.
In short? They’re more ready than I am. But that’s okay. We’re ALL going to be okay.
p.s. They’re still little. Anyone who thinks a kindergartener isn’t still little is flat crazy. Even my fourth grader still needs him mama plenty. And I’m not rushing things.
Yesterday, I received a teary phone call from the mom of one of A’s classmates.
“Is everything okay?” I asked, concerned.
“Do you know what A. wrote in E’s card?” she asked back.
My mind raced. No, no I did not know. Because, honestly? I’m to the point where I say things like, “You need to make a card for your friend and attach it to the gift.” And then I consider my job done.
“Um, no…” I replied. I heard her breatch catch on a little sob. “Um, is something wrong? Did he…?” I trailed off.
“Oh, no. Everything’s okay. I’m going to email you. I can’t even read what he wrote over the phone.” She hung up.
* * * * *
And, so, I waited for the email to arrive. It felt like forever, but it was probably less than five minutes. I opened it, and read…
“Nine Reasons You’re Awesome For Your Ninth Birthday
1. You’re tall, like me.
2. You’re good at soccer.
3. You’re good at, and like, math.
4. You go to the same church as me!
5. You’re smart, but you don’t make others feel bad if they don’t know the stuff you know.
6. You like different sports and games from me, but you’re good at compromising.
7. You like to talk, but you’re also good at listening.
8. You never, ever forget me.
9. You know the second four things up there are way more important than the first four and that’s what makes you such a great friend.”
I may have cried a little bit, too.
So, I’ve been doing this motherhood thing for coming up on ten years now. That does not make me an expert. It does, however, mean I’ve been around the block a few times and I’ve learned a thing or two.
One thing I have to say is that my children are rarely bored. Please know that this does not mean that they never nag, pester, or harrass me about playing a video game or watching TV. They do. Still, for the most part, I can just leave them to their own devices and they’ll concoct some sort of great imaginative play adventure.
Toys can and should help facilate wonderful play. That said, I don’t believe most people need even half as many toys as they have in their homes. (I speak for myself here, too.)
Watching my children’s adventures unfold over the summer, I really watched which toys got used over and over and over again. I came to some rather cool conclusions:
1. They are toys we’ve had for 5+ years, without exception.
2. Not a single one requires batteries.
3. Not a single one costs more than $20.
So, with that info gleaned, I’ve set out to make a list for the rest of you. Here are five toys that truly go the distance– these are toys that can be enjoyed by the tiny set, but that do not lose their appeal over the years.
Ready? Here we go:
1. Building Blocks
Building blocks come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and materials. My children are all old enough now to handle the smaller, “choking hazard”-sized blocks, but, I’ll be honest– these big chunky ones? Still get plenty of play. It doesn’t really matter what color or size you choose, so long as it allows for lots of open-ended building. Very structured sets have their place, but they won’t go the distance like a more general collection of pieces.
2. Musical Instruments
What baby/toddler ISN’T given this toy xylophone to pound on? I swear I see these in just about every home I visit. They’re tried and true for a reason. The thing is, there’s really no need to retire it when your youngest heads off to preschool. Notice the numbers I’ve marked on it? Well, those correspond with “sheet music” I’ve made up, allowing the children to play actual, recognizable songs. They take great pride in playing “Twinkle, Twinkle”, “Jingle Bells”, “Amazing Grace”, and the like. Study after study shows that playing an instrument is wonderful for a child’s development– the simple xylophone can definitely be a starting point.
3. Toy Figures
We have knights, we have princesses. We have animals, we have dinosaurs. These small figures run the gamut and you can easily grab a set for less than ten bucks. They take up precious little space and the options for play are seemingly endless. Water? Dirt? Play dough? Next to nothing will damage them, and that’s half the fun. These little figures do not talk, walk, or sing on their own… and that’s a good thing! Every once in a great while, we lose one to a broken arm, wing, or weapon, but the ones above have been rolling around our home for years and years. These are the sort of toy that might get ignored for a month, but then the children rediscover them and create elaborate scenes and adventures that fill their days. Since they take up very little real estate, they are more than worth keeping around.
4. Play Food
That play food set? We’ve had it for almost nine years. We got it along with a play kitchen and, the reality is, the kitchen sees very little action these days. The food, however? My goodness, that play food gets pulled out several times a week. Sometimes they’re pretending to prepare fancy meals. Sometimes they’re feeding stuffed animals. Sometimes they’re imagining they’re on the Oregon Trail and their supplies are dwindling. Seriously– that food is worth its weight in gold. Our set is simple and plastic and it works fine. There are fancier wood and fabric ones that are lovely, too. Play food? Is a toy I wouldn’t want to live without.
5. Cardboard Blocks
My sister bought this set of cardboard blocks for my two older children when they were both young toddlers. They liked them. Mainly, they liked it when we would build structures for them to knock down. As they grew, they were able to do more independently. One might think that school-aged children would balk at these big, clunky blocks– au contraire! These blocks have been used to build entire rooms full of furniture. They’ve been stepped on, skied on, jumped over, and driven around. They have been instrumental in the building of obstacle courses and “cat-trapping walls.” They regularly have contests to see who can construct the tallest/strongest/sturdiest/wildest tower. They are bulky, yes. But, if I actually insist, they also all fit nice and neatly in that cardboard box. I don’t see us getting rid of these blocks any time soon!
I truly believe that toys should add joy to your home and open doors to imagination. Newer and flashier definitely doesn’t mean better. The five toys above have stood the test of time and are ones I whole-heartedly recommend for going the distance.
Is it just me or do kids seem to have an awful lot of activites these days? I swear. My kids don’t even participate in that many different things, but, by time we add in school, a sport, church school, and maybe a club here and there, it feels like we’re running all over God’s green earth.
As a result, I am frequently tossing fruit, nuts, or string cheese at them as we head from one thing to the next, in an effort to just get some sort of food in them. When we can, however, I love to indulge them with a special, sweet treat. Delicious baked goodies make me feel nostalgic for my own mom’s old avocado green ceramic cookie jar from the 80s.
Because we’re so often living the go-go-go lifestyle as the school year kicks off, I don’t mind accepting a little help! This fun treat starts with a boxed mixed, but becomes special with just a few simple added touches.
Let’s get baking!
Continue reading S’mores Treats
It is our last week of summer vacation.
I know many, many people are more than ready for the school year to being. And I know many of you have already started. I have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into every new school year. I love the summer! Even though we have lots of activities still, it just doesn’t feel so pressured and chaotic. Add in the abundance of daylight hours, and I’m just, overall, more content.
Ah, well… all good things must come to an end, they say. And, for now, we’re still on break! I plan to enjoy it.
B–Cheerios, Apples, Milk ( before 7:30AM Mass)
Brunch–Cinnamon Roll Bread, Sausage, OJ
D–Sunday Supper at Bama & Papa’s
B–PB Raisin Toast, Milk
D– Carnitas & Rice Burritos, Carrot Sticks
B–Cereal, Apples, Milk
D–Hot & Sour Peanut Noodles with pork & broccoli (one of my fave combos!!)
B–Blueberry Muffins, Yogurt, OJ
D–Spanish Rice w/ Beef & Corn
B–Blueberry Muffins, Apples, Cheese
D–Chili Nachos (date night!)
B–Egg Wraps, Grapes
D–Lg. Sausage Pizza, Med. Spinach & Onion Pizza
D–Burgers, Beans, Pickles, Carrot Sticks
And, that’ll do it!
Awhile back, a friend and I were flipping through the scrapbook from A’s first year of life and she landed on this picture and just stopped.
“Wait… how old was A. here?”
“Five weeks,” I answered.
“You looked like THAT five weeks post-partum? Seriously, woman, what is your secret?”
(This, like all photos in this post, is a “pic of a pic” and, thus, is not great. But I think you’ll get the point.)
I’m sharing that exchange not because I want to be all braggy-pants, like, “Heck, yeah, I snapped right back after giving birth! I’m just like those celebs in their post-partum bikinis!” Um, no. That’s not what I’m saying at all. But, I do want want to address what my friend was seeing as she flipped through the early months of A’s life.
For one thing, I was clearly happy. Of course, one would HOPE I’d be happy at the baptism of my child, right? That’s fairly unremarkable. We’ll look a little more closely at what was going on with me in just a moment.
For now, though, let’s talk about something else that became readily apparent as we flipped pages: there were a ton of pictures of A. being snuggled, carried, and transported through everyday life– by Daddy. These weren’t posed shots of family walks on the weekend. They weren’t evening cuddle shots when Daddy finally got home to help with the bath– no, they were simply random candids capturing basic, everyday life– and the father, the breadwinner, is in a whole lot of them.
When our son was born, my husband and I were EACH given eight weeks of paid leave. As it turns out, I never went back and have made my main job keeping the home and caring for our little ones. My husband, however, absolutely did go back– but not before he had two whole months home with his newborn baby.
This meant that he had ample time to connect with this new little person. He didn’t have to settle for the couple of busy hours between supper and bedtime that so many new parents are given– he could sit on the couch and watch a game while holding his baby. He could change him, take him to the grocery store, or juggle him while scarfing lunch– he experienced the whole “newborn” package, if you will, and that was good for so many reasons.
Beyond the abundant bonding between Dad and baby (not to be discounted!), paid paternity leave meant that I had another adult in the home to help– and not just ANY adult: my co-parent.
I had my post-partum check-up after that first baby a mere 4 1/2 weeks after he was born. When my obstetrician walked in, she stopped short–
“You look AMAZING,” she said. “What is your secret???”
And I told her, with perfect honesty, “Eight weeks of paid paternity leave.”
Let’s look at that (kind of blurry) picture one more time, with a few things highlighted.
1. Bright eyes– These were thanks to plenty of rest! That’s much easier to do when you have help!
2.Glowing skin– I didn’t need makeup, though I could maybe have used a dusting of powder on that shiny complexion. I was healthy and nourished and it showed all over my face.
3. Upright posture– Notice the lack of slump? I wasn’t exhausted! I wasn’t weary! I was, truly, good to go and feeling great.
4. Minimal excess weight– At that post-partum check-up, I weighed in at two pounds over my pre-pregnancy weight. I had gained 29 pounds in the pregnancy, so it’s not like I had nothing at all to lose. But, with proper rest and good meals, I honestly didn’t have to work to lose. My body did what it should because I could care for it properly.
*And, hey, see that happy guy? Well, he knew he had three more whole weeks home with that sweet baby boy!
Finally, I think the paternity leave my husband had helped him to better understand “where my days went.” Once he DID go back to work, he had a very good idea of what was going on at home. He never questioned the cleanliness of our home or the state of my dress– he truly knew what it was like to care for a baby and, thus, was better able to relate to my days.
Paternity leave is not the norm in our country. PAID paternity leave is nearly non-existent. But, if my experience is any indication of the many, many benefits, I truly hope to see a shift in that some day.