Brave Little Heart

Sitting cross-legged in my bed tonight, I’m staring at my computer screen while my 7 year old is sleeps right next to me.  This last week he’s had trouble sleeping in his own bed, which is on the other side of our apartment.  I’m not sure what’s causing his dis-ease, I just know I’m doing my best to help him find peaceful rest and security.  If I had to guess, I’d say there are two things on his mind:

  1. A scary cartoon he watched without permission last week.  This I take full responsibility for, I was distracted and didn’t realize he had floated from something authorized to something that might frighten him.
  2. Loneliness.  He was an only child for 6 years before Kid 2 came along, and it’s tough being the Big Brother.  There are times he feels (and is) brushed aside a bit because baby screams are priority.  He misses his time with his Daddy and me.  Exacerbating this, his room is clear on the other side of the apartment from ours, so I’d imagine it feels a little uncomfortable for him to make the long trek over there, be tucked in and kissed goodnight, and then watch the rest of the family go back to the other side of the living space.

I am not an expert Mommy.  I do not always get it right. In fact, I screw up on the daily.  It does not feel good, but I do the best I can to keep moving forward. To be totally honest most of the time I feel like a trapeze artist who is working without a net.  My parents didn’t teach me how to parent (which is a blog series for another day).  Basically what I say, how I act, what I’m aware of, it’s all guesswork.  Every bit of it of every decision I make comes down to equal parts research (thanks, internet and Mom Bloggers), what I imagine I would want or need emotionally if I were in the situation as a 7 year old, and blindly attempting to calculate the most logical answer to whatever scenario we are currently knee-deep in.

All of that said, I do have compassion in spades and with a sensitive child like mine, it’s basically my super power.  In this tender moment between my son and I, a question formed in my mind:  What is courage?

The word courage brings to mind many different images, from soldiers fighting in battle, to patients who battle diseases like cancer, all the way to Mel Gibson’s blue-painted face in the movie Braveheart, in which he portrayed the great warrior and freedom fighter William Wallace, who was willing to give his life for his ideals and his people.

What if courage manifests in other ways?  I mean, what does courage look like to a 7 year old?  Well, for a child this age, courage might look something like jumping off the monkey bars, or standing up to a friend who is being a bully.  Maybe, though courage is having the guts to verbalize fear and ask for help when you can’t sleep and you’ve tried thinking positive thoughts and now you really don’t know what to do.  Maybe courage is walking out of the room and risking chastisement in order to escape a yucky situation.

Yep, I think for my boy to pour out his heart to us and then ask to not be left alone tonight took some serious guts.  I mean, let’s be honest, many of us adults have trouble doing this!  I’m proud of him for speaking up.

So on nights like tonight, when it’s been a long day and we all just want rest and the dishes can wait because my hip is hurting and I still have an article to write, when my husband texts me from the living room to say “he is out of bed again and refusing to go back”, I have to get this right.  I have to match this courage with benevolence.

This consideration – the idea that kids are people, too – is something I think about fairly often in my job as Mommy, mainly because it’s not something I was given as a child.  On one hand, I don’t want my son to think he’s too delicate to face minor challenges.  On the other hand, I refuse to invalidate his feelings just because he’s 7.  They’re his feelings, and they are real to him.

I walk quietly into the living room, around the sleeping baby, and take my oldest boy’s hand.  We walk to his bed, where I plop down cross-legged and begin to investigate (as moms do).  He is in tears before I can ask the first question, so I change tactics and just hold him for a while.  A few moments later, I try again.  He says he’s not sure what’s wrong, but he doesn’t want to sleep by himself tonight.  “That’s ok”, I say without hesitation, “you don’t have to”.  I continue to speak life to his little spirit, saying what I believe are helpful statements like, “it’s alright to feel afraid” and “you are safe here”.  I don’t know if this is right, but I’m trying my best, against the loud sighs coming from my husband, who has been working to keep his annoyance hidden while we get this sorted out.

((Side note: My husband is not a man who thinks guys have to be “macho”.  Thank goodness, he doesn’t say things like “boys don’t cry”.  He is, however, a man who works very long hours at a demanding job and greatly values his rest time, so the quicker this gets resolved, the better.))

We arrive at the bed that my son and I will now share this evening, him promptly crawling beneath the covers and me grappling with the idea of being kicked, punched, and snored at all night.  I know this is right, I tell my husband.  I know that when I was a child and I was afraid, all I wanted was for someone to tell me I was safe.  I wanted someone to say “you don’t have to be alone”, someone to validate my feelings and not force me to lie in bed, terrified of whatever thought was tormenting me at the time.  Being a kid is tough enough without having your protectors leave you feeling exposed and vulnerable.

When my son thinks back over his life, and when he remembers our relationship and what kind of mom I was, so much of it won’t matter.  It won’t matter what we had for dinner tonight, but it will matter that I cooked and we all sat at the table and talked and laughed and connected.  It won’t matter what kind of car I drove, as much as it will matter that I was there every afternoon after school, happy to see him.  It won’t matter one bit that this apartment is not always clean and sometimes (ok, at ALL times) there are clothes and toys strewn about, but it will matter that this place felt like home to him.  It will matter that he felt safe here. It will matter that he had (and for as long as I’m living, he will have) a place he can go and just shake the world off.  A place where he doesn’t have to live up to anything, he never needs to feel embarrassed, a place where he’s not pressured to fit into someone else’s idea of who he should be or what he should think or feel.  It will matter that he didn’t have to question whether he was part of our tribe.

Deep in the depths of my soul, I want that.  As a mother, it is what I strive for above anything else.

Again, I ask: What is courage?  Courage is the soldier, the cancer patient, and William Wallace.  Yes, all those people are brave, possibly beyond measure.  But in MY life, in MY circumstance, what is courage?  For a mom like me, courage is the willingness to give my boy what his soul thirsts for, even if no one else understands it.  Courage is parenting him and him only, without stopping to think about what other moms (or even my own) might think.  Courage is stepping away from traditional beliefs and from how I was raised in order to do it better, in order to raise a whole individual, fully functional and free from emotional baggage.

So tonight, clacking away at my old laptop with my firstborn snoring next to me, I rejoice in this budding courage – his and mine – and in the knowing that this time, I got it right.

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My Gentle Warrior
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Up, Up and Away!

Nosh –  Red meat.  Lots of ground beef with A1 (what makes me love A1 so much? I think it’s the Raisin Paste.)  For Labor Day, Dad cooked ribs and barbecue and then after that we had leftovers with A1.  It’s seriously delicious.

Tunes – I hate the new Taylor Swift song.  I don’t meant that ironically.  I don’t love it so much I hate it, or hate it so much I love it.  I just hate it.  At work I’ve been switching the Pandora station from Smooth Jazz to Beethoven for Studying.  I love Beethoven.  The channel features a variety of talented composers, and many selections remind me of attending the symphony with my grandparents.  A favorite for me this time of year is, as I’ve mentioned on the blog before, Moonlight Sonata.  For some reason it always makes me think of Christmas.

Wanderlust –  We surprised my Dad with a trip to the Sky High Hot Air Balloon Festival for his birthday. It’s an annual event hosted by Callaway Gardens, but none of us had ever been.  Riding in a balloon was a “bucket list” item for my dad, and I have always wanted to see the balloons up close.  A fun time was had by all, though I will say that I definitely prefer having my feet firmly on the ground.  Aside from the balloon rides, they also had Disney’s Up! playing in one of the auditoriums, live music and fair food, stilt walkers, and a huge Classic Car Show.  It was great fun!

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Fitness – Yoga, particularly head and handstands.  I have a great fear of anything upside down, so this week I’ve been practicing kicking up to headstands and just being at peace with the feeling.  I’m hoping to get much better at it and progress to the next yogi level.  Whatever that means. I basically just made it up.

Spiritual – Christie Marie Sheldon has some great videos on YouTube on energy clearing and raising vibration.  I’ve been vibrating lower and lower, as the universe has kicked me in the teeth a few times this week, so I googled and found these gems.  They are insightful and inspiring, and I highly recommend.

Dreams – UPDATE ON LAST WEEK’S DREAM::: MR. DECKER IS MY FRIEND ON FACEBOOK!  He was one of my favorite teachers ever and I’m so happy to be connected with him again.  Also I had a dream last night that I was in some old town in Prague or perhaps Croatia.  Some Eastern European city with rich history and beautiful buildings.  Nikolaj Coster-Waldau was there, and he asked me to dance in the street.  We also had some inside joke going about me wearing a tiara, but I can’t remember why it was funny.  Anyway he wasn’t Jaime from GoT, just Nikolaj and it felt very real but then I woke up.  I wonder if it was one of those dreams where your spirit and someone else’s spirit meet up (astral projection) and you get to hang out for a while, and then you go home.  I’m going to let myself believe this, anyway.

Photos – Balloons! Obviously.  Also, my eldest son, The Dragon, just passed his High Blue Belt test at karate so like the proud and slightly overbearing mom that I am, I took about 1,000 photos of that.

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TV and Film – Beautiful Creatures on NETFLIX.  If you love the idea of an eccentric Jeremy Irons in a cream floor-length coat and a thick Southern accent, who may also be a warlock of some kind, you will like this movie.  The film isn’t centered around his character, but he sure makes it watchable.

Between the Pages – On a recommendation, I’ve started (today!) reading a new book called The Disappearing Spoon (And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements).  Available on Amazon here  So far, I’d give it a 5/10 but I’m only about 17 pages in.  I’m hoping the promised mischief, intrigue and charm are just around the corner.

Tech – Debating this week the iPhone vs. the Android.  My dad got an iPhone and he hates it.  I like my iPhone, though at first I thought I’d never learn everything or get used to it.  My husband has an Android phone, though, and swears by it.  So which is better?  Livewire breaks it down.

Sticky Fingers, Sting Rays, and Strides

[Chattanooga Recap]

My family and I (minus the tiniest guy) went to Chattanooga for the weekend, not knowing what to expect, but full of excitement.  We all enjoy an adventure and I have a serious inexplicable need to see and touch every part of this country and other countries.  I would like to put my two (bare) feet on the ground in every city in every country on Earth, if I could.  I am comfortable at home, but I have a nomad’s heart.

Word to the wise: A trip to the mountains – any mountains – is refreshing to the spirit.  If you’ve ever felt like your soul needs to take a good, long, tingly fresh breath, the mountains are the place for you.  If you don’t believe in that mumbo jumbo, well quite frankly, Chattanooga may still be the place for you.  After all, some things are true whether you believe them or not.  *wink, wink*

The drive from our house to the Noog (as some of the locals call it) was an easy, painless, traffic-free 5 hours.  I love a good road trip and I always like driving through Atlanta and daydreaming about the people who live and work in the beautiful buildings there.  (I see you, Tyler Perry.)  We arrived and met up with my step-dad, and then promptly drove over to see Mom at her wordplace.  Now, I’m going to keep this place anonymous in order to protect her, but we have this running joke that she actually works at a CIA Front Operation (ala Sydney Bristow in Alias) because there is no way any workplace can be this wonderful.  It’s a beautiful glass building that sits on a cliff overlooking the river, complete with coffee shop and neatly manicured courtyard including infinity waterfalls, where she’s encouraged to take yoga classes ON THE CLOCK because wellness matters.  I mean… WHAT?!  This alone is reason to move to Chattanooga.  We took a tour of the building and I tried to get the elevator to go to the “bottom” floor, but it wouldn’t. Probably because I don’t have the security clearance and wasn’t willing to do a retina scan.

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Allow me to inquire about your health insurance.

Since our trip was just for the weekend, we had to try and squeeze a lot of activity into just a few hours.  We were up to the challenge, and we started with Rock City on Friday Night.  I have been to Rock City once, but it doesn’t count, because it was the middle of winter and I didn’t get out of the car.  My 7 year old son has been once before, so he was my official guide.  Rock City is one of the most well-known attractions in Chattanooga, and I recommend it.  Because we arrived somewhat late in the evening, we pretty much had the place to ourselves, which was great because we could wander and chat and it felt very relaxed.  There’s a lot of walking through beautiful foliage and ancient rock formations,  and at the top of Lookout Mountain, you can “See 7 States”, which is really rad.  There are garden gnomes all over the place and a rickety bridge that unfortunately doesn’t come with an alternate route.  I felt a little like Indiana Jones, if Indiana Jones was a complete coward.

(At the end there’s a small gift shop that has some really kitschy gifts.  I chose an agate slice to use as a coaster on my writing desk, and some small vials of blood stone and citrine, which I’m very excited about.)

Saturday morning started early with a 6:30 am wake-up to run in the city.  I had planned to go alone and use my MapMyRun app, but Mom wanted to run too, so my step-dad drove us over to the Walnut Street Bridge and off we went.  Firstly, the weather was fantastic!  We started just before sunrise, and I tried to take some photos of what I was seeing but the photos don’t do it justice at all.  It was cool, not humid at all (a big change from home), clouds hovered around the mountains and there was a nice breeze.  Ideal running conditions.  Walnut Bridge itself is fun to run, it’s made of wood and forgiving on the joints and it’s over half a mile long.  My legs felt fresh and breathing was easy.  Excellent way to start the day, and running is a wonderful and underrated way to explore a new city.  We ran through the Bluff View Art District and Coolidge Park, saw several interesting works of art, and smelled tons of baked goods being prepared for the day.  The run was so good, we repeated it on Sunday morning!

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Panorama at Sunrise, Walnut Street Bridge, Chattanooga (photo: me)
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Sunrise at Bluff View Art District (photo:me)

That brings me to two other great things about Chattanooga:  The food and the architecture!  The amount of coffee shops and bakeries here is mind-blowing and extremely pleasing to the fat girl inside me.  I’m sure I could eat my weight in delectables at Rembrandt’s Coffee. (If you’re ever there, try the Nutella Macaroons!) Many of the buildings in C-town have a German feel to them. I lovingly refer to them as gingerbread houses.  My husband lived in Germany for several years as a kid, so I was particularly excited for him to have the opportunity to see something familiar and tied to happy memories.

Beyond patisseries, there are LOTS of places to eat in Downtown Chattanooga (we mostly stayed around the downtown area for this trip).  We chose to eat at Sticky Fingers BBQ, and it was a magnificent choice, if I do say so myself.  Here in Georgia we use Sticky Fingers sauce and until we drove past the building, I didn’t realize they even had restaurants.  I chose a sampler plate that included a pulled pork sandwich, ribs with sauce (you can also choose them dry), veggies, and sweet potato soufflé that will make you say Hallelujah.  The food was satisfying, the ribs in particular were very well cooked – tender and flavorful – and the sweet potatoes were some of the best I’ve ever had (which is saying a lot, given my affection for my aunt’s Senator Russell potatoes) and our server was very friendly.  I can’t wait to go back and have more ribs.

After our exhilarating run, we headed over to the Tennessee Aquarium.  For my son, the Otter Whisperer, this is a big deal.  We arrived to see that the Saturday Market was going on right outside, so that was fun.  We shopped and met local artisans and crafters and I was reminded that we humans are creative.  We are wildly imaginative and talented, and I’m proud of us.  High five, homo sapiens!  Inside, the aquarium was a little crowded but the place is huge so the crowd moved freely.  There are escalators to the different floors, which is nice, and the air was on “Arctic” setting, which after standing outside in the sun for a while was a welcome break.  Sadly, the otters didn’t feel like playing, but we did see penguins and the gator feeding show, and I pet something!  I honestly do not remember WHAT it was, probably because I was terrified, but on coaching from my son I put my fingers in the water and touched some kind of gross fish!  Check that off my bucket list!  It was softer than I expected, and kept swimming back for more loving.  It acted like a cat, but was definitely not a catfish.  I learned some new things while there, which I love doing, about jellyfish – the Sea Walnut (which reminded me a lot of a flux capacitor) and the Upside Down jelly, in particular.  I also was a magnet for the Sea Horses, which just reaffirms my belief that I am Snow White.  Even though it wasn’t an outside activity, this aquarium was one of the highlights of Chattanooga for me.  If you get a chance to go, please do!

That night we went by Publix, ate at Mom’s and watched Jurassic Park.  It was lovely to get a rest and some family time just relaxing.  Everyone slept early, which was also nice.

Sunday after the run, we packed up and went to Shoney’s.  Step-dad wanted us to go and Emmett is nearly dumbfounded at the idea that you don’t have to wait for your food, you can just go get it!  The breakfast bar was delicious, and I ate way too much.  For our last stop before driving home, we hit up Build-a-Bear at the Northgate Mall.  We don’t have a Build-a-Bear Workshop near us, so this is a special treat that Emmett gets each time he travels to a place that has one.  After some deliberation, he chose a Pokemon outfit for his bear, and we hit the road.

The Noog was fun, refreshing, and educational.  I really have nothing negative to say.  Some things were a tad bit expensive, though someone pointed out that it might have been due to large crowds traveling up to view the eclipse.  We didn’t get to see Ruby Falls because of an enormous crowd, and I’ll also blame that on the eclipse.  The great news is, the tickets we purchased are good for a whole year!  So we’ll be back to Chattanooga in the Fall to see Ruby Falls and Christmas lights.  There was a LOT of art and friendly people (and dogs!) and we walked 4-5 miles each day.  We saw the Trail of Tears and a handful of other historical places, and I got a hug from local radio DJ Joe Cook, my mom’s friend who I’ve known and loved since I was around 5 years old.  Shops like All Things Groovy have a special place in my heart, and while I didn’t photograph them I did shop them.  Highly recommend the Chattanooga experience to anyone who wants to feel a mix of down home and big city, shore town and mountain hideaway, hipster-friendly with an appreciation for history.

Let’s Kick It

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There can be only one.

Eats:  Fluids!  No, it’s not a new diet.  It’s the stomach flu!  No kidding, everyone in the house was sick this week so I indulged in such delicacies as Lemon Lime Gatorade, Canada Dry Ginger Ale, and Fruit Punch Gatorade.

Pandora:  Celtic music is my jam.  This week I’ve been listening to a lot of it.  This is possibly because I watched Braveheart a few times while I was sick (as one does), but I’ve always had an affinity for the fiddles and bawdy lyrics.  If you haven’t before, search “Celtic” in Pandora, choose “Station” and give it a listen. I bet you’ll be doing an Irish jig in no time.

Michael Flatley – Irish Jigger Extraordinaire

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Wanderlust:  Nothing new to report, sadly.  It’s a dream of mine to go to a film festival, though, and I might be close to making that happen.  Fingers crossed!

Workouts:  Because of the sickness, all I managed were Gatorade curls and sleep.  I will say, though, that the sleep was glorious.  Also, my older son is a blue belt in karate right now and I get a “kick” out of watching him practice!

Spiritual: Lots of talk about magic going on in our house this week, thanks to the Harry Potter books and Hogwarts at Universal Studios.  My son and I had an interesting discussion about magic, in which he stated he didn’t realize that “real” magic existed.  “Of course it does!”, I told him, hand to chest in faux dramatic fashion.  I let him know the secret, as I understand it:  The less a person believes in magic, the less one sees it.  The more a person believes in magic, the more he or she will be able to recognize it in the world around him.  He was delighted in this truth, and I was delighted to share it with him.

Dreams:  Animals!  I’ve had dreams about baby pandas and an avalanche of black sheep this week.  I am SURE they mean something but also sure that I probably don’t want to know.

Photographing:  Lots of screen shots of quotes this week.  I’ve been kinda grumpy and stressed, so I keep things to help me remember nice thoughts and encouraging words.

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Movies and TV: I’ve been waiting to write this portion of the blog all week!  Rumor has it (and rumor actually confirmed by Vanity Fair ) that the original cast of The Karate Kid will be reuniting for a TV special!  Words cannot express (at least, not any words in my limited vocabulary) the elation I experienced when I heard his news.  For many reasons these films (ahem, the originals only) hold a special place in my heart.  Of course, there will be a gigantic Pat Morita – sized hole in the special, but I’m hopeful that his character will be treated with honor and respect.  Ralph Macchio is by all accounts quite a nice guy, and I hope this is a hit for him and Billy Zabka.  I will definitely be watching!

Library:  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  Seriously, I’m only 2 pages in.  This week I’m taking sabbatical from work (don’t worry, they know about it) so I will try and sink my teeth in and share with you guys if I catch feelings.  Or start speaking Parseltongue.

Tech:  Words With Friends, mis amigos.  I’ve been challenged this week by friends, former English teachers, and total strangers.  I’ve won, I’ve lost, I’ve pitched my fists into the air in frustration.  It’s a great way to keep the mind sharp, or to get upset about how dull your mind is.  It’s one or the other.  Also, check out the Robin Hood App.  It’s a FREE stock trading app, and it is quite user-friendly.  Aptly named after the legendary outlaw who “robbed from the rich to give to the poor”, this app promises to help the “little guy” who isn’t educated on trading to build his portfolio.  Does it work?  I have no idea.  Right now they have a promotion going and if you sign up RIGHT OVER HERE you will receive one free share of mystery stock.  You can also receive free stock for any person who signs up using your link.  Free stock is free money, so go get some!

One last serious note: Rest in Peace, dear Robin Williams. It’s been three years already. Your life touched me.  Your death shook me.  Your legacy inspires me.  **If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or considering suicide, please get help.  You are not alone and you are worth fighting for.  You are unrepeatable.  There is a magic inside you that is all your own. (D.M.Dellinger)

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A La Carte:  Let’s see… A lot of my focus has been on cutting out snacks and sugars.  Pure Protein bars are an “old school” favorite of mine, and I’ve had one with a piece of fruit or some cherries every day this week.  Also EAS AdvantEdge shakes are great.  As far as ACTUAL food, sweet potatoes are life right now.  Any way I can get them, especially fries.

Tunes:  Elvis!  That’s right, I’m tuned in to the King this week.  My 7-year-old saw a book at the store and said, “Who is Elvis?”, and I knew I had done him a great disservice.  So this week we’re blasting favorites like “Teddy Bear”, “Blue Christmas”, “All Shook Up”, “Viva Las Vegas”, and “Hound Dog”.   I have fond memories of dancing around to Elvis in my mom’s room, and we’ve had a fun time re-creating it at our house.

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Where I’m Going:  I want to go somewhere new for Christmas.  Well, maybe not ON the day, but for Winter.  It doesn’t snow here.  I’m fantasizing about somewhere white and romantic.  New York?  Paris?  Heck, I’d even consider somewhere out west.  I like to ski!  Maybe Aspen?  I could ski with Tom Cruise and we could discuss our mutual disdain for vitamins and how we both do our own stunts.

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Image courtesy Pinterest.

Flesh:  Elliptical cross-training!  I forgot how much fun the elliptical can be.  The ones at my gym have a setting called “X Train Backwards”, and on this setting you go 4 minutes forward, or regular, and 4 minutes back.  It’s great for working quads and hamstrings, and it’s FUN.  If you know me, you know fun is a necessary component in fitness.  Life is too short to have it otherwise!  So if there’s an elliptical at your gym and you’ve never tried it, please do!  Challenge yourself with the settings, too.  I like to go to the very highest level for a minute, then turn it way back down and get high reps, and repeat.  (It’s a lot like doing intervals in spin class.)  Another bonus:  The elliptical simulates skiing motions, so you’ll be prepared for that ski date with Tom!

Here’s a short article on some of the benefits of elliptical training.

Soul: I did a blog post the other day about the small eclipse this month, and already I have seen a few eery things happen (ALL good) in my life.  I’m reading about the BIG eclipse that’s coming and doing my best to prepare, without stressing or planning everything.  I like for things to happen organically and naturally, and not be forced.

Dreams:  Both dreams I remember this week took place in my grandmother’s home.  She is heavily on my mind this week, and I am supposed to go and visit her, so this is probably why.  I’ve also been researching our family tree and thinking about getting some oral histories from her.  One final explanation is that I miss her and her home, and the time I lived there, terribly some days.

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Image from Business Insider

Photographing:  SCHOOL IS IN!  My phone is full of photos of my big 2nd Grader.

Movies and TV: I have discovered a show for children called Pocoyo.  It is available on Netflix and it is adorable.  Very simply animated, and narrated by a man whose voice is quite similar to the guy from Winnie the Pooh (from the 80s), it’s the only thing my toddler will pay any attention to.  Before this, he would not watch TV at all.

Library:  My own book.  Two years ago I wrote a book to honor my grandfather and to process some of my own grief.  The end result has been sitting on my computer since, and I’ve been inspired by some writer friends to go ahead and self-publish on Amazon.  The issue I’m having is that it’s full of religious/spiritual references that I’ve moved on from, and I don’t want to be a phony.  I’ve attempted several different edits, but none of them feels authentic to who my grandfather was.  So… I’m stuck.  I’m sure it’s only temporary.  The next step will be figuring out how to format from Word to e-reader, and so far I can’t even get a successful download (thanks, Firefox!)

Tech: Duolingo is my best friend.  I’ve been sitting up at night becoming fluent in French, in preparation for our inevitable Paris take-over.  If you want to learn a language, consider using the Duolingo App.  It’s fun, free, and easy to learn.  Duolingo offers a variety of languages, and the lessons are short and fun.  You can track your progress, earn rewards, and share Fluency percentage with friends or even have it posted on your LinkedIn profile.

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On the Menu:  Pork chops in A1 marinade.  This was a happy accident, as the A1 bottle fell out of the fridge and busted, and, having been raised by my grandmother, I know better than to waste food.  Baked sweet potatoes, steamed broccoli and yellow squash FTW.

Lyrical:  No new music this week, looking for something fun and uplifting.

Walkabout:  Chatta and Disney are on deck.  Found some RT tickets to Rome for around $500/pp, so we might be saying “Ciao, Bella!” before my birthday!  So exciting!

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Image from Google
Temple:  I took a much-needed rest week.  This was completely unplanned.  I had several symptoms of stress and over-training:

  1. Fatigue – I was so tired, I could barely keep my eyes open, and even “accidentally” fell asleep a couple of times.
  2. Weight Gain – Suddenly my weight was up 3-4 lbs, though my diet hadn’t changed.
  3. Muscle Soreness – My legs were hurting, big time.  It wasn’t just superficial pain, it was DEEP down.  When I laid down, they would throb and ache.
  4. Irritability – Emotionally, I felt so drained, and I started lashing out at people for no reason.

So, I made a decision for my health, against the advice of my ego, and I. SAT. DOWN. Difficult (and sometimes it can feel shameful) in #MomLife, but very, very necessary.

Ethereal:  Listening to my August forecast on YouTube, and as always, taking lots of notes and excited to see what this month will bring.  Check out my favorite reader, Kayleigh Jean, at Falcons and Pentacles.

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Best Card Ever.
Dreams:  The only thing I remember from this week is a dream about a former teacher.  Mr. Mustache was my English teacher in 8th grade, and was quite a character.  I dreamed he had died, which according to this link can have several different meanings.

Photographing:  Kids, Snapchat selfies, the usual.

Movies and TV: Mostly Law & Order: SVU.  It’s definitely a guilty pleasure show for me.  I miss Stabler, but like the new characters, too.  Check it out on Netflix, or check USA channel, it’s normally running there around mid-day and afternoon.

Words on Pages:  No books this week.

Tech: Looking for a new laptop, one that is versatile and user-friendly, but also will last a long time.  I currently have a DELL, but I’m looking at the Chromebook too.  Also loving my GIF keyboard by GIPHY, it’s fun and silly and easy to use.

Han and Leia and Vader, Oh My!

I just wrapped up my posts on Disney this morning, and today I found this drawing in my son’s end-of-year folder from school.  I believe it speaks for itself.

 

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In other news, it looks like instead of purchasing a new vehicle, we will be visiting Disney again this fall.

Nuun, Ruuns, and Fuun

Hi Guys!

I’ve been absent for a while, I know.  Here’s a quick update:

I’m now a Brand Ambassador for Nuun Hydration and I LOVE it.  I’m currently training for fitness only and varying my running surfaces more.  Treadmill, road, and trail.  I am also using the stair machine a few times a week to gain strength in my hamstrings and glutes.  I can tell a difference after a couple of months of consistently doing this.  My legs are more powerful and I can run a bit faster.

In addition to working full-time, I have a 7 year-old scientist and a 1 year-old bulldozer who share my space (and most of my food).  Life in our home is CRAZY.  With Summer fast approaching, I hardly have 2 minutes to myself, let alone time to write.  PLEASE STAY TUNED ANYWAY!  I will be launching a series of book reviews soon, so you won’t want to miss it! (And thanks for your support.)

Also on the way: A recipe series starring my son, who is an aspiring chef/astronaut/storm trooper.

Music for the day: Anything from the Revivalists Pandora station. SO good.

Book I’m reading: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness.

Thought for the week:  Let the fire inside you burn brighter than the fire around you.

MAKE TODAY GREAT!  LEAVE ME SOME LOVE IF YOU FEEL SO INCLINED.

 

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The Most Congested Place on Earth

Are you, dear reader, familiar with the scene in the film 300 that references the strategic funneling of enemy soldiers in order to lead them to slaughter?  The area the 300 Spartans want to siphon the opposition through is referred to as “The Hot Gates”.  I think that name gives an appropriate visual without me explaining any further.  We lived in a house once that had a narrow hallway we called “The Hot Gates”.  We had birthday parties and holidays in that house and I swear to you, guests would have to walk single file down that hallway.

This week, at several different times while visiting Walt Disney World, I was reminded of that scene and that hallway.  Disney, though, does everything on a much larger scale.  Disney felt like The Hot Gates almost everywhere we walked, not just while standing in line for rides, although a few of those were psychologically tough to handle.  There were so many people at our resort, so many people on the buses to the parks, so so so so so many people inside the actual parks, that a good portion of my subconscious was anticipating being attacked or trampled by Leonidas and this legendary troops.  It was like having flashbacks to a historical event you didn’t actually attend.

So, in short: Disney, man. It’s crowded.  Moving on to my review of our stay…

We (my husband, myself, and our 7-year-old son Emmett) set out on our adventure on a Sunday morning, after checking and re-checking that we had packed all the clothes and gift cards and the plants had been watered and the appliances were turned off and most importantly, there was nothing in the apartment that would cause it to smell like an animal had burrowed under the sofa and died while we were out.  I know it sounds strange, but my dad always had us take out all the trash and do all the laundry in the house before vacation, and I have adopted that habit and now inflict it on my own children.  Seriously, though, what’s worse than coming home to some strange odor?  Anyway, we loaded up in my VW Passat, and settled in for the 6-7 hour drive to Walt Disney World.

***Be warned now: This is not going to be a short blog post.  Not at all.  There’s a lot to cover and I tend to ramble.  Consider yourself warned. Continue at your own risk.***

The drive to Disney was relatively uneventful. I’m blessed with a husband who drives well and a little boy who is content to draw, read, or watch a movie in the car without complaint.  It was a nice drive on a beautiful Fall day, and thankfully we arrived safely at our destination, Disney’s All Star Music resort.

We have stayed at the Art of Animation resort before, so we chose All Star Music to try something different that was still in our price range.  Listed as one of Disney’s “Value” resorts, it is a little bit like a motel with doors outside and little extras.  We knew this before we arrived and personally we are fine with it, as we spend a total of 30 minutes a day in the hotel and the rest of the time at the parks.  It’s a good option if your main focus is the parks.  We don’t use the pools because we typically travel to Disney in the cooler months.  It’s fine for what it is.

At check-in, Stephen was polite and smiley, as Disney Cast Members tend to be.  He offered my son a “Celebrate” button, wrote his name and drew some balloons on it.  This is something Disney does for special occasions. They have buttons for First Time visitors, Birthdays, Honeymoons, and I’m not sure what else.  It’s a great and cheap way for them to make guests feel special, and I love it.  If you have young kids, you know that they love stickers and buttons and my son is no exception.  I appreciated the effort to make him smile upon arrival.

After a few minutes of typing on his keyboard, Stephen told us our room was in the Country Music section.  This was not music to my ears – not because I have something against Johnny Cash – but because Country is located WAY out in the back of the resort.  In the woods.  We’re already talking about a bare-bones resort, and now we’re talking about a half-mile trek from the front desk out into the woods on the back of the property.  I wanted to change this immediately, but nothing else was available.  (I thought booking our trip for a Sunday-Wednesday in November was a smart move, but apparently no one else worries about their kids’ education because the place was jam-packed.)

After dropping our bags off in the room, we came back to the desk to talk to a manager about the room and one other big disappointment.  We learned that the Main Street Electrical Parade (one of the things on our list of “MUST SEE” items this trip) was no longer running.  Not only that, but there would be no parades at night at all because we were unlucky enough to have booked our trip during the “Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party” time.  This was news to me, and a bit distressing for two reasons:  1)I really wanted Emmett to see a parade, as we didn’t see one last trip and 2) I had never even heard of the Christmas party, and we would have enjoyed going to that.  Now, standing at the desk sniffing back tears, I’m told the admission to the Christmas party costs as much as one day of park admission.  So there’s no way we can attend.

I’m a big believer in addressing issues as they arise, and not letting them fester.  Disney has a reputation for pleasing its guests and making things right, so I knew it wouldn’t hurt to ask.  That said, it had been a long day of travel.  I was tired and all my balloons were being popped before our actual vacation even got started.  What gives, Disney?  Big, hot tears were welling up in my eyes, mostly about the Christmas Party situation and about 10 percent about not wanting to be murdered in the back of the hotel property by some insane woods-dweller and never ever being found because not even the maintenance guy goes back there.

Nick, the manager, politely apologized about the room and said he would be happy to move us to the Broadway area (one building closer to civilization) the next day.  We made arrangements to do that.  I tucked my tears back in and resolved to make the best of the rest of what Disney had to offer.  We had 2 1/2 days of fun in the park to look forward to! Chin up! Let’s go to the gift shop!  [Note: The next day we inquired at the desk about our room change, and there was no room change noted or listed for us.  Nick was off that day, because of course he was.  We waited quite a while to get it moved, but at least something else was available.]

So we looked around the resort gift shop for a while.  My son decided that first night that he wanted to spend his $25 gift card on a Stitch doll.  We persuaded him to at least wait until we were in the Magic Kingdom to make up his mind, and he acquiesced.  I noticed that the resort gift shop carried baby clothes for girls, but nothing for baby boys.  I inquired about this, because we also have a 6 month old who stayed home with the grandparents, and the attendant told me she wasn’t sure why that is, they used to have boy stuff and now they just don’t.  Um… ok.  At this point I decided to start taking notes.  Positive and negative, I would record this trip for posterity and for Disney’s, and other travelers, information.  We went to Publix to grab a few snacks for the park the next day.  I’m no penny-pincher, but I’m not going to pay $75/day for meals and snacks.  Okaaaaaaaay?

OFFICIAL DISNEY DAY 1: THE MAGIC KINGDOM (part 1)

We awoke on Monday morning and walked (and walked and walked) to the resort dining hall for breakfast.  The prices give me a headache, so I tried to coach myself that this would be the only ‘paid for’ meal today so at least there was that.  I got the Bounty Platter, which is eggs (I believe this is actually egg product scrambled to look like eggs, but I digress…), 2 strips of bacon, one sausage, one biscuit, potato squares with onions (strangest thing on the plate) and a waffle shaped like Mickey’s face.  Emmett ate the waffle and biscuit, I ate the eggs and bacon.  No one ate the potatoes, and I can’t really figure out why they’re there.  The platter costs $11 so I was half-expecting some Mickey Mouse – shaped lobster chunks, but no such luck.  My husband ordered the biscuits and gravy and a coffee and said it was fine. I don’t know how much it cost. Part of me doesn’t want to know.

While eating breakfast, we were approached by Cast Member Joshua.  He told Emmett “Happy Birthday” – something that happened over and over and over again during our stay thanks to the marvelous button on his shirt – and inquired about our stay and where we were from.  He gave a few suggestions of his favorite things in the Magic Kingdom and wished us well.  This, I like.  This, I expect.  I hope that Disney encourages this kind of behavior in cast members and from what I can tell, they do.  Every time a cast member went above and beyond, whether in attitude or in service, I made a note.  They’ll all be mentioned by the time I’m done writing.

After breakfast, we boarded the bus, which was pretty standard and uneventful.  We arrived at the Magic Kingdom full of hope and expensive egg substitute, feeling excited for our day of magic.  (Last year, Emmett’s review of the Kingdom was that it was “too girly” so we tried to be more aware of ‘boy’ things in the park, like Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion.)

[Note: I LOVE the Magic Bands, they make everything so simple and organized, connect reservations, photos, fast passes, practically all the info about the trip is on them. we just scanned our bands and went right on in.]

Right inside the park, before walking down Main Street, we entered the Town Square Theater, where Magician Mickey was doing a Meet and Greet.  We wanted to get this most important meeting done early, so we went inside and stood in line.  It was about a 25 minute wait.  Meet and greet wait times don’t bother me as much as waiting for rides, because the character cast members genuinely take time with each visitor, hugging and joking with them, signing autographs, and posing for several photos.  The Disney photographers take PhotoPass photos and will also take photos with a guest’s smart phone.  Finally, we got up to the front of the line to meet Mickey.  Emmett was so nervous, his little clammy hand was pressing into mine.  Mickey is his guy, y’all.  He met him last year at Epcot but this time, Mickey was talking. This Mickey talks!  Right away, Emmett’s “Happy Birthday” button was noticed.  Mickey said, “This calls for the birthday song!”  My heart skipped.  What’s this?  THE Mickey Mouse is going to SING to my Emmett?  Oh boy!  And he did.  Y’all.  I was like a child in that moment, too, just soaking it all in.  Unfortunately all the basking meant that I completely blanked on taking video of the moment, but it was incredible.  From what I understand it is somewhat rare, as well.  Emmett hugged Mickey and left that meeting knowing that they were BFFs.  This, Disney.  This right here.  This is why you are successful and drowning in other people’s dollars.  Please never forget it.  Please never stop doing it.

We’re all on a high from what just happened, walking towards the iconic castle.  We got to the area right in front and while attempting (and failing) to take a family selfie, we were approached by a custodian in all white who offered to take the photo for us.  Sweet!  His name was Richard and he was from Trinidad and Tobago.  His personality was almost effervescent and we thanked him profusely.  This small act, coupled with the Mickey Birthday thing, had me feeling like I was walking on air.  This place really is magical. I was starting to feel it.

***To be continued with Official Disney Day 1: The Magic Kingdom (part 2)

 

 

 

How to be the Best Mom

It’s not a competition.

Wait… is it?  Motherhood is, and should be, a deeply personal and private experience.  How we choose to raise our kids, feed them, discipline them, etc., varies by individual.  We are all different in our beliefs, cultures, and heritage.  So it stands to reason that there is no one “right” way to be a Mom.  In these days of social media and over-sharing, though, it feels much more like a contest.  Those of us “less than” moms – I’ll call us the “non goops” – who don’t always have our shirts neatly pressed or dress our kids in coordinating lobster-print boat shoes for sushi day at the prep school, it can be overwhelming.

There are innumerable blogs, websites, and articles out there on the grand ol’ internet about being a mom.  How to be a better mom.  The things we should be doing, but aren’t.  The things we are doing but stop doing immediately or face ruining our child’s existence forever.  The things we didn’t even know were things, we are so far behind, but we need to buy for our kids, make them by hand or from scratch, avoid doing or our kids might die, continue doing or they might die, things to teach them, tell them, make sure they know, make sure they are aware of, sign them up for, keep them away from, feed them, bathe them in, sing to them, DIY for them, protect them from, and so on…

I have been killing myself the past couple of days trying to keep my son occupied.  He is 5 years old, and not in school yet because he has a late birthday.  So I decided that we would do “projects” every day to learn.  Along with projects, we have meals and snacks and karate (or “ninja school”, he says), lego building and swimming and church activities.  Our routine up to this past week has been more relaxed.  I keep reading articles that make me feel pressured to deliver, so I am trying to step it up.  I don’t want to be the one mom at carpool whose son isn’t already counting in 3 languages and taking Chinese calligraphy lessons from a certified master.  My days have been PACKED.  So much so, that I barely got to eat yesterday, did not work out, and did not nap.  Yes I know naps are not a necessity but I could have really used a nap yesterday.

Today, I took a different approach.  We got up, ate (non gf, non organic, very tasty) breakfast, got dressed, and went to a playground.  The weather was gorgeous.  I sat on a shaded bench, reading a book while he ran around and sang songs to himself.  Do you know what happened??  Nothing.  He did not die.  He did not fall down a black whole of insecurity because I was ignoring him.  Seriously.  He was delighted.  I was at peace.  It was great.

In that moment I was reminded of my own childhood.  I was raised by grandparents, mostly, (mom worked a lot) and I remember thinking that they were the best ever.  Literally.  No kid was as lucky as me and my brother.  We had it all – a house to live in, food to eat, clothes, and on Fridays (grocery day) I got to eat a treat from the grocery store.  WOO HOO!  I was living the high life, and life was GOOD.

The funniest thing about all the best days will those ‘best’ people, is that at no point did they make me feel like I was the center of the universe.  The sun, I was assured, neither rose or set out of my bum.  I did not get brand-new clothes (lots of hand-me downs and hand-sewn dresses), I did not eat fast food, there was not much tv, no video games, no DIY projects to keep me occupied.  It was more like, “go outside until lunchtime.”  So we did.  We are better for it.

After the playground today, I made homemade french fries (method at bottom) and reheated some leftover pork chops and broccoli.  While we ate together, my son  talked about life (5 year olds have deep thoughts!) and then suddenly, out of nowhere, he looked up at me and said “Mommy, you are the BEST Mommy there ever was.”  And you know something?  He meant it.

As adults we don’t remember the outfits we wore (less the tragic, embarrassing ones) but we do remember words of affirmation.  We don’t appreciate eating twinkies as much as we appreciate those days in the sun laughing with people from our own tribe.  Lobster-print boat shoes?  Forget about it.  I had my step-mom’s old high-top Reeboks.  To me, they were beautiful because she was beautiful, and because she loved me.

My point is, competing with other moms is silliness, when we won’t know them in 20 years anyway.  Enriching our kids’ lives has nothing to do with what other moms are doing and EVERYTHING to do with how much of ourselves we pour into them in every moment.  Loving words.  Homemade meals.  Story time.  Making up silly songs.  Praying together (he always spontaneously hugs me).  These are the criteria for “best mom”, and how wonderful that it’s an honor we can all achieve.

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Homemade French Fries (super simple)

prep time: 5 mins cook time: 25 mins  total time: 30 mins

Select 2 medium red potatoes.  Rinse.  Cut into slices or squares.

Place potato pieces in a bowl, drizzle with sesame oil (a little at a time – it goes a long way!)

Add salt as desired (again, a little should do), mix with hands.

Spread out on aluminum foil on baking sheet

Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes (depending on how thick the pieces are) or until tender.

Serve plain or with ketchup.  Pat self on back. Receive hugs.