Random Thoughts: The But I’m Still Stressed Edition

Thanksgiving was so, so nice. Dan, the children, and I drove up to my parents’ house Thanksgiving Day. It was 60 degrees and sunny. While M napped (or, more accurately, chatted to himself in the pack-n-play), my parents took the girls to the park. Dan and I read and napped, respectively. For dinner it was just the seven of us. Kate had turkey.

My mom had spent time earlier in the week preparing and baking, so the actual day was not spent in the kitchen. God bless her. I roasted some beets. Which Kate also ate.

That night, after all the kids were in bed, we adults played a game and drank wine. It was really low-key and lovely, and my mom got up with the kids the next morning, so going to bed at midnight wasn’t that painful for me. (I’m telling you, if my parents are any indication, not only do you need less sleep as you age, but you can also drink more — not like get trashed, but have more than two glasses of wine — and still rise with the sun and/or the grandchildren at 7:30 a.m. It amazes me. Maybe they get to nap, more, too though. That’s a possibility.)

We drove back to Pittsburgh on Friday, and spent two days cleaning and otherwise preparing for the kids’ birthday party on Saturday.

This is the first year we combined the kids’ birthday parties. Between the holidays and birthdays, November through January are crazy with gifts and parties and travel. In order to cut down on travel and expense, I threw one party the Saturday after Thanksgiving. It went swimmingly — more than swimmingly. (I, personally, feel it was a stroke of genius. My husband has reservations still. It was a shitload of work for nearly three days, I’ll give him that. And, as happens when we clean the whole house, our office, once more, is trashed.)

The other thing that is sticking with me (aside from the loveliness of a small gathering on a holiday, and the success of the party) is that my mom worries about me and my stress. She made the point a couple of times: So much stress is bound to have physical consequences. I agree with her, but I’m not really sure what else to do.

I see a chiropractor once or twice a month to help with back and neck issues (she’s *awesome*).

My biggest stress reliever used to be exercise. And I don’t get exercise any more. I’m in terrible shape. (We’ve been over this.) I would love my workplace to install a gym. I wonder if I can make that happen. Believe me, it’s the only way I would get regular exercise. I cannot get up any earlier, and the thought of trying to add a workout to the end of my day — stresses me out.

I still read, about 20 to 30 minutes a night. That helps me wind down a lot. Sometimes I catch some TV. I usually have a beer or a glass of wine.

I also, almost daily, have a cigarette. (Outside.) (This is not going to help my mother’s peace of mind.) I’m not proud of this fact. I’m struggling with it (as with so many other things.) But it’s something I do to destress. (I know, ironic.)

I’m not really sure what’s next, what else to try to change, what I’m going to do in the long run for my health.

This is where I am.


I am thankful for the little physical beings of my children in the world. Their clear brows and bright eyes and shiny hair. I am thankful for good health. (Knock on wood.)


I am thankful for the man I share all these riches with.


I am thankful for sane families. We’re not perfect, but we are all perfectly fine. I don’t have to dread anything except bad traveling weather at the holidays.


I would like to be thankful for my new bathroom, but in the meantime, I will be thankful that I have to cross a few feet of grass in the mornings to get a shower.


I am thankful for in-laws who clean my kitchen floor, and parents who come down to help me get ready for parties.


I am thankful for blog readers and commenters and Twitter friends. I am thankful for all my friends IRL, too. I hope we all get to raise a glass together over the holiday season, even if it’s just at the same time and not necessarily the same place.


And I am thankful for conversations like this:

Kate: That’s Liam. He was Batman. We didn’t actually kiss, no, no.
Me: You know you’re not allowed to kiss anyone not in your family, right?
Kate: Right. For now. I can when I’m older. When people have boyfriends and girlfriends.
Me: Sure. When you’re older.
Kate: Like 10.
Me: Like 16.


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Stay safe, stay sane, and give thanks for the little things.

Boundaries, People.

I am constantly amazed when reading advice columns that people seem to have no boundaries, or they suffer people violating their boundaries willy-nilly. “My SIL’s conservative family comes to our Thanksgiving dinner uninvited, and calls my gay brother a sinner.” Close the door in their faces! Tell SIL that her family’s not welcome this year! “My very liberal family is ashamed that I voted for Mitt Romney. And they won’t let me forget that he lost the election!” Tell them politics is off-limits as a topic. Propose cards or a board game. Go watch football. The election is over, and it’s none of their business who you voted for anyway. “My fiance’s family thinks I’m lucky to be marrying their son. They never let me forget that my family is not as upstanding or rich as they are.” RUN! RUN FAR AWAY! They won’t change. If your future husband doesn’t have your back and tell his parents that he’s not going to stand for their behavior, it will only get worse.

1. Set your boundaries.

Obviously, everyone has different boundaries. Some people go online and share *everything*. Some people will tell you about their bladder surgery while you’re waiting in line at Target. Some people, on the other hand, wouldn’t even say shit if they had a mouthful.

Know your boundaries. Communicate your boundaries to those who need to know. Spouses, family members, close friends, Internet friends, people on line in Target with you.

Setting boundaries can be especially difficult if you are a) female and/or b) pregnant. Don’t give up. A favorite come back of mine is, “Why do you want to know?” This is a polite way of saying, “It’s none of your business.”

Practice it. It helps.

“Have you always been so thin?”
“Yes, I have. Why do you want to know?”

“Do you know what you are having?”
“A panda I hope!” (Okay, I stole that one. But it’s hilarious. h/t @katrinaravioli)

“Do you know what you are having?”
“We didn’t find out, no. Why do you need to know?”

For more Pregnancy Etiquette, see my post here. And God bless you pregnant women. People are unbelievably nebby and rude. Walking away or bursting into tears are two perfectly feasible options as well.

1a. Set boundaries *for* your children. They need you to. Leave a public space if they won’t comply with you. Don’t let them ruin other people’s meals or shopping experiences. Teach them appropriate behavior. It’s a lifetime of work. (Okay, probably about a decade or so of work if you’re doing it right; it seems like a lifetime, though.)

2. Make people respect your boundaries.

This is harder, for everyone. You really can’t control how people behave, you can only control your own actions/reactions.

If you don’t want to talk about religion or politics, be upfront about those topics being off-limits. Seriously, when did it become de riguer to use the holidays as an excuse to be offensive? Because you’re all family? Don’t buy it.

If the topic is making you uncomfortable, be direct. “I don’t like talking about this. How about those Steelers? Do you think Ben will be okay?” Or TV! Talk about TV!

If your boundaries are not being respected, you can leave. I know, it’s family. But, honestly. Change rooms. Disappear for a walk.

2a. Your spouse should have your back. On the way to Thanksgiving dinner, tell your partner, “If Aunt Edna goes off on a racist rant, I’m leaving the table.” Your partner doesn’t have to leave the table with you, but he/she also shouldn’t talk you out of having or taking a stand with Aunt Edna.

3. Respect other people’s boundaries. This should be self-evident, but, well, “never assume,” my daddy always told me. Do unto others.

Good luck. Let’s all make it through the holidays with little drama. Starting with Thanksgiving! (Still, my favorite holiday.) Happy Turkey Day!

What did I miss?

Random Thoughts: The Focus on the Positive Edition

For the record, I’ve been staring at that headline for over an hour.

1. My kitchen floor is clean! Clean *and* waxed. And I didn’t do it.

2. I have a new over-the-stove-top microwave. It’s very shiny and quite large inside. This means I get to reclaim some countertop space.

Currently, that space is being taken up by what usually goes in my cupboards, because we are dealing with yet another mouse problem. I think it’s annual, and I should get used to it, but I still find it upsetting and inconvenient and disgusting every year.

3. I sorted my jewelry (and got rid of things I don’t wear, including all the single earrings in my collection. Honestly, how do I manage to lose so many earrings?), my sock and underwear drawer (threw out all the thongs; those days are over); and my t-shirt drawer.

4. The trunk of my car is full of clothes for donation. Now I just have to make the time to donate them.


Here’s why I’m trying to focus on the positive: Not because my life is so hard. It’s certainly not. I could (and I still might) bitch and moan about the state of my house (CATTY-WAMPUS); the fact that the children (okay, the girls) did nothing to help me out this weekend, despite repeated requests/orders/threats; I’m stressed about all of this because we are having the kids’ birthday party for our families on Saturday; and we will be out of town most of the day Thursday and some of the day Friday.

I generally let things slide, although I try to keep my house fairly orderly (if not spic’n’span clean). The case in point, of course (cases in point, actually): my kitchen floor and dusting.

The kitchen floor got done because my father-in-law decided he was going to do it. He came over Saturday morning with his floor scrubber (yeah, an electric floor scrubber, my FIL collects gadgets like this) and proceeded to spend nearly five hours cleaning, scrubbing, and waxing my floor (and scrubbing the crud off my walls too — he went crazy). This put a lot of stuff in my front room, preventing me from cleaning it.

Which, that’s fine. That’s how I managed to sort my dresser. I dusted it too. We (Dan and I) also went to Lowes that evening (after feeding the ILs dinner — pizza, since I didn’t have a kitchen in which to cook) and we are *almost* finished shopping for our bathroom (we need to buy a mirror, a door, and a shower curtain bar. And shower curtain).

This is also what happens with the girls’ room. Every Saturday I tell them to make their beds and pick up all the stuff off the floor. Books have a home; their stuffies have a home. Their clothes have a home. Getting all these things back in their homes seems to be insurmountable to my children. Plus they make a mess each week, largely with paper. The notes and drawings and bookmarks, and, for some reason, pieces of nature (leaves, sticks, acorns) that accumulate!

Flora finally went upstairs at some point on Sunday; Kate followed soon thereafter — and when I went to follow up, I found so much crap stuffed under Kate’s bed (Flora’s bed has a mattress under it) and the night side table AND Flora’s clothes dresser. I couldn’t even be that upset; I just stuffed everything in a garbage bag and threw it out. *SIGH*

Oh, and here’s the part that if I got paid to blog, I would blog the shit out of the fact that Swiffer products may be the best things in the whole world for cleaning EVER. This is really a revelation to me. Like, their dusters are so easy to use I finally dusted the window blinds in the front room, and the bookshelf, and the electronics. And I swept (regular broom) and mopped (Swiffered) my kitchen floor.

As God as my witness, my kitchen floor will *never* get that crusty in my lifetime again.

They are so easy, the children can use them.

Which gives me an idea…

I’m out of words (and positive thoughts). How was your weekend, and what’s ahead for you?

Weekend Update and Why I’m So Damn Tired, In Pictures

Friday night, our fancy pants affair, 6 p.m. to 1 a.m.


Saturday: OUTSIDE!


Sunday: Birthday, party, Children’s Museum all the day.

Thank goodness my MIL cooked dinner. And in the interest of accomplishing something (anything!), I cleaned our kitchen (well, did the dishes) and cleaned the little bathroom. I needed to feel that I got something around the house done.

And now, I would like to nap, please. Until Wednesday. (Nothing is happening Wednesday, it’s just that two days of sleep should about catch me up.)

Eight: The Age of Graciousness

My dear Flora, my eldest child, my mini-me,

Today you turn 8 years old. Your father and I stand amazed, and happy, and proud.

You are beginning to show a rare grace — I don’t know if I think it’s rare because it’s new for you, my little drama queen; rare for your age; or it’s rare to think of a child of mine, your ever clumsy and tactless mom, as having an emotional grace that I don’t think I ever displayed. Must get that from your dad.

You are a reader and a day dreamer. You still ask questions about everything, and the questions are starting to show more than simple curiosity about the world. Your questions have a sophistication to them, they are starting to reveal a quest for understanding the relationships between things and people and events.

You have such enthusiasm for learning. It’s more than just good grades in school. You pick out books about animals and science. You take a workbook and pencil to bed with you at night — which, I shouldn’t let you do that, you should be *sleeping*, but I don’t fight it.

You also love poetry, which pleases your father and I to no end. You devour Shel Silverstein, every line, every drawing. You’ve decided that the answer to “What’s In The Sack” is ‘people’, which shows insight, and possibly some morbidity. I’m cool with that, after all, I am into dead body shows on TV. I know where it’s coming from, is what I’m saying.

You are also learning to take disappointment in stride, and to not beat yourself up for mistakes. Only a handful of classmates can make your birthday party (which is my fault — late planning and later notice), and you shrug. A couple of your favorites are coming, plus other children you like. When I asked if you wanted to move it, you said, “No. After all, Sunday is my actual birthday.” Here again, you display your mama’s practicality rather than your daddy’s passion.

The only thing I wish for you at this moment, as you start to exhibit your emotional grace and maturity in small ways, is that you learn to deal with your little sister’s needling. This may be a big wish. Siblings are siblings, and no one is closer to you than Kate, and sometimes that drives you right up the nearest wall. Most times, you two are simply inseparable, and you play together patiently and well. But that small percentage of the time when she seeks to get under your skin, she succeeds in spades. My wish is that you learn the fine art of ignoring her.

On the other hand, most of the time, you and Michael adore each other, and make each other laugh and laugh. “Say Flora, Michael,” you say. “Foe-a,” Michael says. “Say sausage, Michael.” “Soo-age.” “Say butt, Michael.” “BUTT!” *laugher* Michael imitates everything you and your sister do, which leads to some very noisy car rides and dinner times.

You are quieter than you used to be, lost in thought more often than you bubble over with questions. You love Pokemon, television, and reading books. You embrace everyone easily and equally (well, sometimes not Kate). Your attention wanders freely — sometimes too freely — but you are kind-hearted, hard working, smart, and beautiful. I don’t think M and Kate could ask for a better big sister, and I don’t think Daddy or I can ask much more of you, either.

Happy birthday, Flora. Keep growing, my lovely daughter, in knowledge and in grace. That is my wish for you for this year, and for all the many more to come.


An Unsolicited Review of J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy

When I saw The Casual Vacancy for sale at Target, I didn’t think twice. I threw it in my cart on top of the diapers and Halloween candy.

I love the Harry Potter series. I love J.K. Rowling’s writing, as overblown as it can be. I love her characters, even the bad guys. I love her mythology — English welfare single mom scrapes by and writes novel in cafes, is now richer than The Queen.

And, I really liked The Casual Vacancy, Rowling’s quote-unquote adult novel.

In The Casual Vacancy, Rowling creates sympathetic, yet realistic, characters. The Casual Vacancy is chock full of not-so-lovely people, some of whom I found myself rooting for. She tells a story about these people in such a way that I wanted to find out what happened to them.

Our characters, many of whom are teens, are, on the surface, speaking in literary terms, anti-heroes rather than protagonists. The pretentious Fats, the long-suffering Sukhvinder, the trashy Krystal Wheedon, the victimized Andrew. The adults aren’t much more appealing — again, on the surface. As the plot unfolds, and characters develop, they become more (or less) sympathetic, and we start to glimpse the possibility of redemption for some of them.

The thing about the Casual Vacancy that Harry Potter fans may not like is that it’s not a simple story. It’s not good versus evil, love conquers all. At its center is not a poorly-treated orphan boy, The Boy Who Lived. As a matter of fact, at the center of The Casual Vacancy is The Man Who Died, and how his absence reverberates through the small English community of which he was a part.

And that’s the other thing about The Casual Vacancy: It is, to coin a phrase, based in gritty realism. It shows a side of British culture that we, as Americans, may not be accustomed to seeing. Great Britain isn’t all royalty, beefeaters, lovely accents, and Colin Firth. This is the Great Britain that was J.K. Rowling’s world before the success of Harry Potter: poverty and its attendant miseries, small town small-mindedness.

Rowling doesn’t shy away from sex, death, addiction, self-delusion, abuse, pride or prejudice. It’s not sordid gratuitousness; her writing feels, to me, authentic and sincere. Maybe it’s the matter-of-factness of it that keeps it grounded. It reads to me without pretension or exaggeration.

A friend of mine once posited that Rowling needs a ruthless editor. The Casual Vacancy will not disabuse her of that notion. The first time we follow Fats Wall on his stroll through Pagford is ample proof of that.

Additionally, as I mentioned, many of the characters in this story are teens — just as in the Harry Potter series. Sukhvinder may be the only sympathetic teen. There is a *ton* of teen angst, and not the amusing sort that Harry Potter characters suffer (maybe the angst was just as annoying, but as the HP characters are more sympathetic, it made it more bearable). I sprained my eyeballs rolling them when I read Fats’ thoughts about authenticity and inauthenticity.

If there’s a fault with the book, it’s that it is so very humorless. Humor in the dark is something that Rowling did successfully in the HP series, and I wish she had invested some of that here.

Ultimately, though, I found The Casual Vacancy to be a compelling read, and I would recommend it.

Random Thoughts: The My Head is Going to Explode Soon Edition

Wait, didn’t I write this edition already?

1. I added a task to my calendar on my phone the other day, and found myself on the verge of tears. It was *one more thing* on top of all the other *one more things*, and it really had me teetering.

2. So, what are some of the things? Bathroom renovation (hashtag on Twitter so you can all follow along or join in, #bathroomredo). It seemed to go swimmingly at the start, but then we ran into…

3. …the question of whether or not we needed a new roof (answer: not quite yet).

4. We *do*, however, need new windows, so I am scheduling estimates, and I gotta tell you a) my upstairs is a freaking disaster area, so it’s pretty mortifying to have a stranger walking around in it and b) it adds more stress into a time of my day that is already a little stressful (i.e. the evening sprint). And, you know, that is just more $$ out the … window.

5. We have officially entered the busiest time of the year for me (and my family). We have three birthdays from now until early January, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Christmas shopping (MORE $$!), and traveling for said holidays. There is also the random school stuff (parent teacher conferences! Fundraising! Homework and violin lessons! Classroom parties!). The task I added to my phone (see #1) was to schedule the parent-teacher conferences. (Which I did manage.)

6. M is entering the 2-year-old phase (don’t call it the Terrible Twos — we’ve talked about that, right?). His favorite words and phrases: “MINE!” “HADDAT” (Translation: “Have that.”) “Noooooo.” *top-of-lung screaming* He has discovered what “time out” means, for hitting and/or throwing things.

I’m moving out when he turns 3, mark my words. I’ll take the girls with me, and I promise to come back when he is 4.

7. My oldest daughter has a crush. On a boy. The boy, she reports with all earnestness, “likes her too.” They play pokemon at recess; they hung out at the Boo Bash; she wants to invite him to her birthday party (can’t, he’s in the other second grade class); barring that, she wants to have him over. As a matter of fact, she asked to have a sleep over, to which I responded a little sharply, “NO!”, to which she responded, “It’s not like we’re going to kiss.”

And then I had heart palpitations, and changed the subject.

8. My younger daughter is having some issues. There’s some aggression, there’s some high-running emotions. Dan and I are either the Best! Parents! Ever! or the WORST! She wishes she had a different life (which causes me heart palpitations for another reason). I had to take some things away this week because of the aggression. I’m not sure what’s up, but I am trying to give her some individual attention (which really seems to help) and also to praise her to high heaven for doing good things (which also helps). It’s been tough.

9. We have a dressy event for the school next Friday, and (because I was underdressed last year) I thought I was going to have to buy a little black dress (or like ensemble) and between money and time I JUST CAN’T STAND THE THOUGHT. And then I looked in my closet, and I *think* I have something I can wear. I will need to pair it with a wrap or sweater, and I will also need to polish my toenails (open-toed heels). But at least that one thing I can take off my plate. The initial panic was all too familiar, though. And so, so fun (read sarcastically).

10. I scheduled a party for Flora’ 8th birthday… yesterday. I have to get invitations to the class… Monday. The party is … Sunday (November 11). I hope some classmates show up.

11. Here’s my Saturday: Playdate with neighbor child (I’m helping out her mom), 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.; putting M in for his nap next door; Nephew’s bday party on 2:30 until… let’s say 5. Trick-or-Treat, 6:30 to 8 p.m.

12. Election Day. Gawd, I can’t wait until Wednesday. I will be depressed, anxious, and despondent if Obama doesn’t win, but at least A) I DID MY PART and B) it will be over. Kind of. Maybe more over than I can even bear to think about it.

What’s making your head explode? I’m not alone am I?