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Read all about the adventures of the Tsao Family during the summer of 2012

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

 

I'm creme de la creme'ing all over the place

I got all dressed up this morning and rushed around the house while shouting things to the kids like, "Are your shoes on? Where are your shoes?? Turn off that TV! C'mon, c'mon, mommy's going to be LATE!!" I felt like a working mom all over again.

What the heck was my rush?

Well, I had a hot date with Andrew Shue. (You might remember him as hunky Billy from good 'ol Melrose Place.)

And I gotta say, that guy hasn't aged a bit since the 90s, when we made sure we were home on Wednesday nights to hear dialogue like this:

Billy Campbell: I'm a writer.
Alison Parker Armstrong: Writer? What kind of writer?
Billy Campbell: A novelist.
Alison Parker Armstrong: You mean like Jackie Collins?
Billy Campbell: No, I mean like Norman Mailer.

Monday, January 30, 2006

 

Dream until your dreams come true

Dream On came on the radio tonight when I was driving home from the BlogHer meet-up in San Francisco. I felt compelled to sit in the driveway until the song played out. I even busted out some air drums.

Every time I look in the mirror
All these lines on my face getting clearer
The past is gone
It goes by, like dusk to dawn
Isn't that the way
Everybody's got their dues in life to pay


Damn. I don't know about you, but Aerosmith played a huge role in the soundtrack of my adolescence. The only thing missing from tonight's rock out in the driveway was a mirror won at the carnival with a couple of rails on it.

Maybe that's telling you more than you wanted to know.

Yeah, I know nobody knows
where it comes and where it goes
I know it's everybody's sin
You got to lose to know how to win


Nowadays I get intense feelings of euphoria--similar to feelings I got when doing illicit drugs in previous lifetimes--from doing things like talking to women about blogging.

Half my life
is in books' written pages
Lived and learned from fools and
from sages
You know it's true
All the things come back to you


I'm feeling very positive about my life right now. I'm happy about what is and what is ahead.

Sing with me, sing for the year
Sing for the laughter, sing for the tears
Sing with me, if it's just for today
Maybe tomorrow, the good lord will take you away


Dream On.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

 

Chinese New Year and some thoughts on raising Eurasian children

Update: If you have elementary age children, you'll enjoy Beth Kanter's lesson plan on Chinese New Year. Oh and by the way, it's the Year of the Dog!

Today is Chinese New Year. If you spoke Mandarin, you would say,"Xin Nian Kuai Le!" which means "Happy New Year!"

The Chinese measure time using a twelve month lunar calendar. Chinese New Year is the celebration of the lunar new year and is typically celebrated starting the first day of the first month of the Chinese calendar. Wikipedia has a good description of this event.

My sister-in-law Jennie is visiting Shanghai right now and yesterday she wrote a great entry about celebrating the new year in China:

"Most every doorway in the city is festooned by red lanterns and two mandarin orange trees on either side, the trees decorated with red envelopes hanging on them like Christmas ornaments. Everyone is wishing each other happy new year (Xin Nian Kuai Le in Mandarin) and restaurants and shops all have bowls of oranges displayed prominently. Most businesses will be closed for the next five days. It's just like the Christmas holiday week--it's a time for families to come together, so many people have left the city to visit their hometowns, while (likely) just as many have returned to their family homes here. And given how dark and cold it's been here, I can also see the parallels in the timing of the holidays--red lanterns and fireworks shining brightly at the gloomiest time of the year."

Read about the rest of her experience on her blog Mental Hijinks.

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area where there is a large Chinese and Chinese American population, there are many events to celebrate Chinese New Year although they pale in comparison to the celebrations in China.

Because the new year is the opportunity to get together with family members, my father-in-law came over yesterday to spend some time with us. He brought with him Chinese food from two different restaurants. He made a special trip to a restaurant in the East Bay that makes good Chow Fun, which the kids really love.

He also brought with him little red envelopes (Lai-See envelopes). It is tradition on Chinese New Year that lucky money is given to the children and the young adults. If you are Chinese or are a part of a Chinese family, you receive little red envelopes on most special occassions, for example, the birth of a child or a wedding. For Chinese New Year, my kids also got Lai-See envelopes from our Realtor, who is Chinese.

***


My husband is one half Chinese. My children are one quarter Chinese and can be referred to as Eurasian--a mix of European and Asian ancestries. I find that I use this phrase most often with other moms who are either Asian (Chinese, Korean, Phillipino) or married to an Asian man. We tend to discuss the qualities of looking Eurasian: dark hair, eyes with an epicanthal fold, ornamental (Oriental) noses. My children don't look very Eurasian. Their blond hair and Thomas's blue eyes confuse people who recognize their last name is Chinese.

I don't spend much time explaining my children's name or ethnic makeup to strangers. Around here, there are many families of mixed Asian and European races. I was struck by this fact last year when I was looking at some pictures from a group outing we went on with my Mothers Club. Of the seven families photographed, four were of mixed race.

It makes me feel good to know that when my children go to school, they won't be ridiculed for their name even if they can "pass" for being Caucasian because of their diluted Asian features. If you don't believe that this type of prejudice exists, read this interview in the Mercury News with Phladelphia Phantoms goalie Jamie Storr, who is half Japanese. Storr says,
"It was difficult for me to fit into any particular group since there weren't any students who were half Japanese and half Canadian. When you're young, you always want to fit in with your peers. So that was difficult.

"Things would happen that would remind me that I was different. I heard a teacher once say that if it weren't for me and another girl, her classroom would be all white. Things like that would stand out."

Around here, the fact that my children's father looks Chinese doesn't raise many eyebrows. And as the wife of a Chinese American man who bears his last name, I rarely have to explain my situation to new acquaintances. Once in awhile--usually after somebody has known me for awhile and feels comfortable discussing it with me--I might hear the comment, "You really surprised me when I first met you. From your name, I thought you were Chinese!" But the comment is made without malice or prejudice; my friend is merely stating a fact. I have a Chinese name yet I am not Chinese.

My challenge as the mother to Eurasian children is that I want to make sure we keep their heritage alive, but I'm not always sure how to do that. I believe communication, education, positive relationships with family members, and travel are key. We talk to our children about our family, we keep in touch through websites and pictures and letters, and I anticipate going with my kids to China when they're old enough to understand that it's the country where their grandfather was born and raised.

When I moved to the Bay Area in 1982 with my mom and stepdad, I didn't have a say in the decision. My stepdad got a new job and we moved; it was that simple. But now--as an adult--I have chosen to remain in this area even after my parents have left. Although I did not set out to fall in love with and marry a man of Chinese descent, I did. And I feel lucky to be living in an area where my kids might only know racial prejudice by reading about it or through a conscious effort to understand it.

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Saturday, January 28, 2006

 

Blog at the moon

Something new to add to my previous post! I just signed up for WoolfCamp, a do-it-yourself literary/writing/blogging retreat over President's Day weekend. WoolfCamp is being hosted by fellow Mommy Blogger and BlogHer and all around lovely woman, Grace Davis. Here's a link to Grace's post on the subject.

Grace also will be part of the "Us and Them: A Blog Conversation Survival Guide" panel at the 2006 SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas. I can't attend this year, but maybe you can.

Exciting things to look forward to...

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Friday, January 27, 2006

 

Blog entry from the edge

Mommy Bloggers emailed me and asked me to tell them what I have been up to since they featured me.

Um, putting away Christmas Holiday decorations and masturbating?

Oh wait, I'm a mommy. How about putting away Holiday decorations and reading about another mom masturbating? There, that's more like it.

The truth is that I've got lots of things on the burner and I'm hoping that counts for being up to something. I'd like to think it does, but right now it's all in the speculation stage. Here's the rundown.

1. A random publicist (random to me, that is) found my blog and asked me if I would like to review a book she is helping to promote. I told her that I'm a busy person who in no way could commit to a deadline and besides I haven't sold my soul for rock-n-roll-n-blogging, yada, yada, yada, but who am I kidding? I'm flattered she found me and asked me, and since it's a book I might have bought anyway, what do I have to lose? It's not like I've got a portrait of my pre-blogging self in my attic or something. Anyway, I got my copy of Woman First, family always in the mail today and I'm actually not hating the book although I would love to hate the author since she's birthed ten children and yet she has hips like a little boy's. But I digress. Anyway, look for my review soon. I think I can learn something from this woman and maybe you can, too.

2. I'm currently writing a review of a certain other book which I cannot tell you about because I'm hoping (fingers crossed!) that my review will be published on a certain online literary magazine's website. I'm putting myself and my writing out there. It's a scary step but a necessary one, and it's one of the things I resolved to do more of in 2006. Wish me luck!

3. I've been invited to attend a mommy blogging focus group thingie in Menlo Park. I wasn't going to mention this, but other people have blogged that they will be there so I figured I might as well chime in that I will be, too. What's it all about? I'm not entirely sure, but one of us mommy bloggers in this here blogosphere will undoubtedly live to blog about it. The revolution will be blogged, people.

I guess that's it for "what's new with Mary Tsao" chit chat. I'm going to try and blog this weekend about some things that are important to me, namely, why I want to raise my Eurasian kids in the Bay Area (January 29 is Chinese New Year!) as well as a review of You'll Never Nanny In This Town Again, a book that made me chuckle, cry, and cringe, sometimes simultaneously. Also, Monday night is a meet up for BlogHers in the Bay Area. If you're anywhere near San Francisco, check out this post and meet me at the Thirsty Bear!

Happy blogging, friends.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

 

The calm instead of the storm

As proof that a weekend away will do wonders for your mothering mood...

Yesterday Emily, Thomas, and I met some friends at the park for a playgroup. We hung out for a couple of hours in the morning, the ideal timing for a playgroup. When the kids get tired out in the morning they usually fall asleep either before lunch or right after, and I get a good couple of quiet hours to write.

We had an enjoyable time at playgroup. Nobody fell down, got into a fight, or cried over a toy. The moms and I chatted about this and that and two hours went by fast.

When we got home I started making lunch and Emily turned on the TV. I turned it off. "Sorry, honey, let's eat lunch first and then you can watch a movie while T naps."

She turned on the TV.

I turned off the TV.

She turned on the TV.

I turned off the TV, patiently repeating my earlier message.

She turned on the TV, threw herself on the couch, and starting sobbing.

I did not give in.

I turned off the TV and asked her if she wanted parmesan cheese on her noodles.

"No!"

I did not get angry. I did not scream.

I asked her if she would like to take a nap, if she was tired from playgroup. I carried her into her room, took off her shoes, and gave her Blanket and Bear. "Honey, I think you are tired and you would benefit from a nap."

I remained calm. I did not demand she take a nap.

I returned to the kitchen and finished serving Thomas his green beans and pasta. I made Emily a plate and put it on the table.

She came back into the room and turned on the TV.

I turned off the TV.

She picked up Blanket and Bear and ran crying into her room.

Several minutes later I tiptoed down the hallway and saw her tossing and turning on her little bed. Emily doesn't nap regularly anymore but I assumed she was tired from the weekend with daddy and from the fun of the morning.

I returned to the kitchen to eat my lunch with Thomas.

About two minutes later Emily entered the kitchen with her shoes in hand. She was no longer crying and she came and stood close to me, prodding me with her small pink and white gym shoes.

I did not get mad at her for interrupting my lunch or for getting dirt on my pants.

"Do you want your shoes on?" I asked.

She nodded.

I brought her to the couch and up onto my lap and put on her shoes. When I was done, I asked again, "Do you want parmesan cheese on your noodles?"

This time she said, "Yes!" And she smiled at me.

I helped her into her chair and sprinkled parmesan cheese on her noodles. "Mama, you parmesan cheese, too?" she suggested.

"Okay, good idea." And I sprinkled some on my soup.

"Mama, Thomas parmesan cheese, too?"

"Another good idea, sweetie." And I sprinkled some on T's noodles.

And then we all ate our lunch in peace while enjoying each other's company.

Monday, January 23, 2006

 

What one does when one is on vacation

What would you do if you had an entire weekend all to yourself? No kids. No husband. No housework. This past weekend, Mike sent me on a mini retreat, a spa weekend in Sonoma. What does one do on a weekend away all by herself? Let me tell you...

Mike got home a little early on Friday and I put him on kid duty and left as soon as he got home. Sonoma is roughly ninety minutes away from us but I didn't want to hit rush hour traffic. Ya, that's my story. And I'm sticking to it. When I got to San Francisco I heard on the radio that traffic in Marin was bad so I stopped at a local mall and enjoyed a sushi dinner followed by some light shopping. I knew I was in vacation mode because I bought a pair of low-rise white jeans. People who call themselves moms usually don't wear either low-rise jeans or white jeans and definitely not jeans that are both. As I handed the clerk my credit card, I could feel the shedding of my mommy self and it felt pretty good.

After hanging out at the mall for a couple of hours, I got back in the car and made good time to Sonoma, pulling into the parking lot of the hotel a little before nine o'clock. Upon my arrival, I immediately noticed two things: nobody was crying or whining and people were being nice to me. I started to relax, really relax. All of the relaxing made me hungry so before I parked my car for the night I headed over to McD's for two cheeseburgers and a chocolate shake. I snuck my food into the hotel in my handbag. This was a wine and cheese and golf kind of crowd, not a happy meal kind of crowd. I tried to look casual as I sauntered through the hotel lobby on the way to my room, hoping nobody knew that the smell of cheeseburger in the air was coming from my bulging purse.

As I munched on my cheeseburgers and slurped down my shake, I planned out my Saturday. I decided I would sleep in, then work out at the spa's gym, then enjoy breakfast at the hotel restaurant before showering and returning to the spa for a facial, a pedicure, and a manicure. After that I would drive to downtown Sonoma and check out the shops. I would play dinner by ear, stopping if I saw a restaurant that I couldn't pass up. And that's exactly what I did.

My Saturday morning and afternoon went exactly as planned. There were no hitches, no glitches, no last-minute poopy diaper changes. It was amazing how smoothly life rolls along when you have nobody to please but yourself. As if to verify that I definitely had shed the mommy side of me, I was astounded when my waiter at breakfast offered to buy me a mimosa. Light flirting! Within five feet of me and possibly even directed at me! I declined, of course. I didn't want to show up drunk to my facial, ya know?

The spa stuff was wonderful. Getting a facial is a pleasant experience. I liked mine so much I bought every product the kind woman recommended. I'm positive my life has changed for the better now that I've had a facial. And I will continue to tell myself that until I've paid off the credit card I used to buy all of those products.

When I was done with my day at the spa, I changed into my new non-mom jeans and other childfree garb: a long flowing poncho, high heeled boots, and lipstick. Then I marched out to my car and ran into a friend of mine from playgroup. When I saw her, my first thought was run! but I did the right thing and stopped to say hi.

She was in Sonoma with her two kids and her husband, who was there on business. I had known she would be there but I was half hoping I wouldn't run into her. I mean, I truly wanted to be alone and childfree for two days, not hanging out with a family. The horror! I told her as much (but in a nice way) and she completely understood. As I drove away from the parking lot, I saw her walking bent over, holding the hand of her two-year-old. Her newborn baby was in a sling around her neck and she was carrying a backpack and some random toys in her free hand. My rejuvenated self--the one that flirts with waiters and gets facials and wears white jeans--felt as though I were looking at my mommy self--the self that has two kids and schleps them around every day of her life. I shivered.

But then a good song came on the radio and I was on the road, childfree and ready to shop. After buying souvenirs for Emily, Thomas, Mike, and myself, I was starving. I took stock of my options and realized that what I really wanted to do was buy a bunch of picnic items at Sonoma Cheese Company and have a picnic in my hotel room while watching a pay-per-view movie. I consulted me and we agreed on the following kid-unfriendly picnic items: one bottle cabernet sauvignon, one wedge garlic jack cheese, one bag sliced spicy salami, one container garlic marinated mushrooms, one box Carr's crackers, one piece cheesecake. Yum.

I ate my fancy dinner in my pajamas while watching Mark Wahlberg in John Singleton's "Four Brothers." It was a good movie; I recommend it. The characters were believable, the acting was good, the storyline plausible, and there wasn't an overt amount of violence. It's especially good with a bottle of 1999 Geyser Peak Cabernet Sauvignon.

I woke up at seven on Sunday morning, determined not to sleep away my last morning in paradise. A knock on the door was my wake up call; It was the delivery of the oatmeal and fresh fruit I had ordered the previous night while drunk and feeling virtuous. After breakfast I made the eight o'clock yoga class. After yoga I worked out in the gym and then did this thing they called the bathing ritual. Basically, you alternate between a warm pool, a hot tub, a wet sauna, and a dry sauna until you're pink as a lobster and all of the horrible wine country toxins are washed out of you. It's especially good after a bottle of 1999 Geyser Peak Cabernet Sauvignon.

I checked out of the hotel at the stroke of noon and hit the Napa Outlet Stores on my way out of the area. I wasn't impressed with the selection in the stores and my shopping mojo was dwindling. I was ready to go home; my mommy self was back and she was missing her kids.

All of a sudden there was no place I wanted to be except in my own home with my own family and I hightailed it home on Highways 37 and 101, across the Golden Gate Bridge, down 19th Ave., and finally 280. Hurry up, mama! I was greeted at the door by a rousing chorus of, "Mama's home!" I missed my babies so much! They missed me, too, and both simultaneously pooped in their diapers just to prove it. Mama was home, allright.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

 

Three hundred sixty five days of the year

I was trying to explain something to Mike last night and he only vaguely understood what I was talking about. Let me unload explain this phenomenon to you wonderful people out there in Interspace. Send me a confirmation if you know what I'm talking about.

The year is filling up.

There's this thing that happens when you are involved in activities, whether they are work, volunteering, or kid related. Events get scheduled, sometimes many months in advance. You are bombarded with pieces of paper and emails that contain important information and DATES YOU MUST NOT FORGET. You realize that you no longer can live without a calendar. Wait, make that a calendaring system.

So you pick out a calendaring system the next time you're at Target buying two jumbo packs of size 5 diapers and you are amazed at how many blank little boxes the calendar contains. It's so new! So pretty! So unused!

Then you start filling in all of the little boxes. First, you neatly fill them in using color-coordinated pens, but eventually you end up sloppily filling them in using the wand from an old mascara. The pieces of paper, the emails, and the IMPORTANT DATES are coming at you fast and furious. You make no promises without first consulting your calendar.

Once in awhile you imagine losing your calendaring system and the thought throws you into a panic. You know that if you were smart, you would make a back-up calendar but you don't have time to be smart. Instead, you take a large Sharpie and write on the outside "Property of Mary Tsao. Reward if found!" At least, that's what I wrote. You should write your own name.

This year I again made the rewarding-yet-foolish decision to be the newsletter editor for my Mothers Club. I have an unpaid army of nine women who work on this newsletter with me. We produce the newsletter according to a strict schedule. Just like a real magazine! My gosh, it's fun to have deadline pressure when you've got one toddler hanging on one leg and another toddler hanging on the other. Lucky for me, I can type with my hands. And I've put duct tape over the button on my hard drive, which, if pressed by a sticky little finger, could mean the loss of hours of edits (although I've learned to be a compulsive saver, truly OCD about it) as well as the chance that one more child is leaving the warmth of a suburban home for the chill of an orphanage. But I'm kidding. Maybe.

So the other day I got out my calendar and filled in the various monthly deadlines for the newsletter. While I was at it, I added important birthdays (mine, of course) as well as anniversaries and other important events for which I've already booked hotel rooms (BlogHer '06! It's time to get your room!). My weekends are filling up fast, but since most of my weekend events are childfree, I'm certainly not complaining. About that.

But then there's Emily's 3rd birthday in June, which means I want her to start preschool in September. Which means I need to start looking for a preschool, like, NOW. In our neck of the woods, preschools fill up fast and there are ridiculous hoops like interviews and waiting lists and the signing of your name in blood. It's insane, but the alternative is *gasp!* no preschool, and we all know that if she doesn't attend preschool we may as well spend her college money now on coke and whores because she won't be needing it.

Yikes, I think my blood sugar just plummeted.

Anyway, when I got to December I felt as though I had just lived the entire year. My head hurt and I was hungover from celebrating one-too-many birthdays and anniversaries and from soothing a crying little girl who didn't want to go to preschool. BlogHer '06 was fun, though.

If you can relate to this pain, let me know. When my husband told me last night that he didn't get it because he "just didn't live his life that way," I wanted to throw my calendar at him. Except that I can't risk hurting this thing. My calendar, that is.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

 

The pied piper of babysitters

Last week a letter came in the mail for my daughter, who is two and a half years old. A child had addressed the envelope; I could tell by the block letters and the fact that it was written in pencil. Only children write in pencil.

The envelope contained a single piece of paper with an advertisement for the babysitting services of two neighborhood girls. I was touched. I also knew we probably were the only family they had solicited. The letter didn't strike me as being part of a mass mailing.

I know the girls who sent it; they live in a court behind us. I met them when they accidentally threw their shoes over our fence last year. They showed up with one of the girl's mother to retrieve their shoes and immediately fell in love with Emily. This was last June, a few days before Emily's birthday, and the next day they were back with a present for my kid. I knew then that I should be recruiting these girls for babysitting but I thought they were a bit young and that their moms wouldn't approve and I don't know; I was lazy, I guess.

Well that was six months ago and now these girls are knocking on my door looking for work. I can't believe my good fortune. For if you know anything about teenage babysitters, you know that you have to get them early, while they're still in middle school or even grade school, and before they are busy every night of the week with extracurricular activities designed to get them out of high school and into one of those prestigious universities that don't necessarily count "babysitting" as a life-enriching experience.

Excuse me while I gloat for a minute: I have babysitters coming to me. You read right. I don't have to befriend young girls at the playground in hopes that they'll soon be available for Saturday night employment. I don't have to beg mom friends for the names and phone numbers of the babysitters they use, only to have them avoid my gaze while pretending they don't have the babysitter's phone number memorized when I know for a fact that they do. I don't have to post an advertisement on craigslist and interview insane numbers of babysitters who seem to care nothing about kids and charge $16 an hour to watch TV and text message their boyfriends. Because if you didn't hate me already, let me tell you what my sweet neighborhood babysitters want to charge me for watching my kids.

$1.00 an hour.

Oh, mama, I am so gloating right now.

P.S. In case you think I'm a horrible person, please know that I will pay these wonderful girls more than $1/hour because anything less than $5 is just plain wrong. I'll probably pay them each $5/hour the first time and if it works out, bump it up to $10/hour. Heck, if it works out I'll probably consider setting up a college fund for each of them. Except that I'd rather they not go to college. Who will babysit my kids when they do?!

Monday, January 16, 2006

 

The power of having a dream

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. If you have school age children, check out Agnostic Mom's suggestions for teaching them about this courageous man and the work that he did to push for true racial equality in this country.



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Saturday, January 14, 2006

 

As mothers, we talked

Last night MotherTalk--a salon started by writers Miriam Peskowitz and Andi Buchanan--came to San Francisco, and I had the pleasure of attending this empowering event. I met, listened to, and conversed with a group of amazing women: some writers, all mothers.

Miriam writes about MotherTalk on the MotherTalk blog. Here's an excerpt:
What I love about MotherTalk is that we get to talk about real issues. There's something about talking at night, when mothers revert to grownup time, that's very special. Yes, there's a theme here, about reclaiming our evenings for inspired talk and vision. Moms get together. After the last one, in which Faulkner (Fox, author of Dispatches from a Not-So-Perfect Life) envisioned the end of mothers judging each other, and the start of feminist revolution, I wondered how many such gatherings would be necessary to really start the buzz, to start a cultural shift in which we know our issues as moms, and we have more strength to shoulder the confusing political and cultural times in which we live (front page NYTimes, anyone?)

For the San Francisco MotherTalk event, Andi was joined by Literary Mama Creative Nonfiction Editor Jennifer Margulis, editor of Toddler: Real-life Stories of Those Fickle, Irrational, Urgent, Tiny People We Love and author of Why Babies Do That: Baffling Baby Behavior Explained. Literary Mama Reviews Editors Rebecca Kaminsky and Sybil Lockhart were in attendance as well as about fifteen other Bay Area mothers who gathered to discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of being a mother.

As mothers, we talked about being writers and how therapeutic it is to put our thoughts and feelings about mothering into words, how important it is to share our words with others.

As mothers, we talked about having sons and Andi read an essay she wrote which can be found in the recently released Literary Mama anthology Literary Mama : Reading for the Maternally Inclined.

As mothers, we talked about having daughters, about having easy babies and having hard babies, about having one baby, about having two babies, about having three babies.

As mothers, we talked about the politics of the playground, about other mothers, about comparing ourselves to others, about judging ourselves and others.

As mothers, we talked about our fears and our strengths, our love for our children.

As mothers, we talked about fathers, about lack of adequate paternity leave, about division of labor, about our striving to remember which of our feminist ideals brought us to this place in our lives.

As mothers, we talked about working and about staying at home, about striving to find a balance, about sharing our experiences with other new mothers.

As mothers, we talked; as friends, we listened.



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Friday, January 13, 2006

 

Links to de-lurk by

Paper Napkin writes that it's De-lurking Week.

In honor of De-lurking Week, I'm giving out some link love. What can you do? You can de-lurk, comment, and leave a link to your blog or to a blog you think I should be reading.

And when you're surfing the Interweb this afternoon, check out one or all of my reads:

Agnostic Mom
Ann's Attitude
Ariel Gore
Artsy-crafty Babe

Bitch. Ph.D.
Blogging Baby

Chookooloonks
Crib Ceiling

DadCentric
The Daily Writer
Dooce
DotMoms

Faster Than Kudzu
Finslippy
Friday Playdate
FroggieMom
Fruitful

Geeky Mom
Goosie, Mousie, Daddy and Me

Half Changed World

I'm ablogging

Jenandtonic

Karianna

Laid-Off Dad
Lisa's Room

Mandajuice
Meanderings
Melanie Lynne Hauser
Mental Hijinks
Mom in the Mirror
Mommy Bloggers
Mommy Needs Coffee
Mommy Writer
Morphing into Mama
Mother in Chief
Mother Shock

Paperback Writer
Play Is The Work

Raising WEG
Rust Belt Ramblings

Sandblower
Socal Mom
Sowbug
Suburban Bliss
Suburban Misfit
Sweatpants Mom

Table For Five
This woman's work
Three Kid Circus

Wonder Mom

The Yellow Wallpaper

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

 

Butterflies mean life

We celebrated my grandmother's life yesterday in Woodstock, Illinois. I flew out of town for less than 48 hours and spend an emotional--but good--couple of days with family and family friends. Over 300 people attended her funeral and many tears were shed for this wonderful woman, my grandmother. I would be lying if I wrote that saying goodbye was easy, but I know that it was necessary, and I do feel better now. Now I can say, "My grandmother passed away last Sunday," without bursting into tears and making the poor grocery store clerk feel like crap when all he asked me was, "How's it going?"

The night before I left for Chicago, I sifted through a couple of boxes of photos, cried my eyes out, and made a photo collage for my gramie. I found a letter she had written me where she had embellished the inside of the notecard with the words "Butterflies mean life." I made her words the theme of the collage, which you can see below. The piece of paper with her note on it is in the lower right hand corner although it's hard to read it in this photo. Another photo in the collage has the caption "It's a Celebration," and it was; both her life and her death was a celebration. We displayed the collage on an easel at her funeral along with other pictures, collages, and flower arrangements that various family members had put together.


What a week... I'm making a promise to both myself and you that tomorrow I will return to my regularly scheduled programming, my rants and raves about mothering, books, writing, and the occasional organizing frenzy.

Monday, January 09, 2006

 

In flight

My grandmother passed away Sunday night. She was 92. I called her Ma and I lived with her from the time I was born until third grade, when my mom, my sister, and I moved to Texas. When I left Illinois and my grandma's house, I wrote her this letter, which she returned to me when I graduated college. When she returned it she also thanked me for all of the love I had given her since I was born.

It's amazingly painful to say goodbye to somebody you've loved your entire life.

December 18, 1976
In flight

Dear Ma,
This is the second or third time I've written to you. Now I'll always have to write to you. I am up in the air very high boy is it fun! To bad I had to move to Texas. WOW wer flying over a cloud boy is it fun! It looks like it's snowing out. it's neat. Davida just told us what were going to do in our diary like on one page we write about Uncle Henry Aunt Jeanne you or anybody. We tell what we feel about them and what we've learned about them. I don't have much to write about some peaple but I have alout to say about you cause I love you the most. By by Gramie.

I love you.
By by.

Love Mary Pat
P.S. Write to me


Bye Bye Gramie.
I love you.
P.S. Write to me.

Friday, January 06, 2006

 

Book Review: Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

Finally, one just has to shut up, sit down, and write.
- Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

Writing Down the Bones (Shambhala Publications, 1986) is not a new book. Written in 1986 by Natalie Goldberg, it has sold over one million copies and been translated into nine languages. It is an undisputed classic among books on the art and practice of writing, and it was written by a rock star of writers. What I mean by that is Goldberg has been featured on The Oprah Show, the Mecca for literary figures who understand the value of public exposure.

What I liked about this book is how easy it was to digest. It's not long, and it's broken up into many small chapters, each one dealing with one main point on the topics of writing and being a writer. The process Goldberg writes about and teaches both in this book and in workshops is simple: Put your pen to paper and write. "Keep your hand moving," Goldberg tells us. She refers to it as "writing practice," and advises that a writer should strive to do it daily, without expectation and without self-critique. Once I stopped cursing her and complaining about how I didn't have time to write every day, I realized that of course, she's absolutely right.

I appreciated Goldberg's friendly and open prose. I was encouraged by what she was telling me even though I have never met her. She writes from the heart and to the heart; her writing flows like a conversation between old friends in a coffee shop. Her advice is sometimes flowery but always solid. She writes from her own writing, from her own analysis of what it has meant to her to be a writer. And she's funny in a way that's honest and self-knowing yet not self-deprecating. I enjoyed her advice in the chapter entitled "We are not the poem." She writes:

"It is important to remember we are not the poem. People will react however they want; and if you write poetry, get used to no reaction at all."


What I didn't like about this book is how outdated it seemed. Goldberg's all about writing in notebooks, and I don't mean the kind that comes with power cords; I do mean the kind that comes with spiral binding. She also writes a lot about poetry, which is nice but which I don't necessarily aspire to create. And sometimes I got annoyed at the constant Zen-speak; although to be fair to Goldberg, I have always been a little biased against Zen Buddhism ever since my "Zen and Literature" professor in college assigned journal writing in a class and then asked me why I was so angry after he had read what I wrote. I'll show him!

I showed him alright. I dropped out of that class long before I had to read Writing Down the Bones, which he had assigned as required reading. Unresolved anger issues might be why I dropped out of his class, and then dropped out of college twice before finally obtaining my degree at the ripe old age of 29. And why I waited until I was in my thirties to admit that I was a writer and to finally read this great book. But I'm not angry at all when I write this. Not a bit.

Whatever you do, don't do as I did. Go find yourself a college bookstore and buy a barely read, used copy of Goldberg's classic book. You'll be glad you did, writer.

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

 

When constipation became glamourous

I just picked up the January issue of Glamour magazine to check out famous blogger Heather Armstrong, aka Dooce; and I've got to say, if constipation is what makes that woman look as hot as she does, than I'd be happy never doing #2* again.

Way to go, Heather! By the way, are your parents even allowed in temple (or church or whatever Mormons call it) anymore?

*When I was growing up, we called it #1 and #2. I always thought this was normal, but maybe it wasn't. What did you call it?

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

 

Shoes: before and elfa

Last week my sister-in-law tried to tell me about this great closet organization system she was thinking about getting. Elfa, elfa, elfa. I couldn't believe she had the name of the stupid closet system memorized. I couldn't believe the stupid closet system had a name. What the hell is this world coming to? Why do things that already have names now have new names? Why are shelves that live in a closet now called elfas? IKEA, you're to blame!

It took falling down on my way to the bathroom this morning for me to realize that I needed this elfa thing in a bad way. When your shoe pile starts becoming hazardous to your health, you need to do something about it. And when I write "you" I mean "me." This morning I faced the fact that I was drowning in shoes. Also, I needed to go vertical. That's a design term, people. I needed to move my lake of shoes off the floor and onto the wall; it was that simple.

Buoyed by the great time I had sheparding the kids around yesterday, I decided that an outing to San Francisco was in order. We'd park at the Fifth and Mission Street Garage, eat lunch at a nearby bistro (that's what we call Jack in the Box when we're in The City), and check out the store that sold these elfa systems. The store is appropriately named The Container Store. And let me tell you, it's an anal retentive perfectionist uber-organized mother of two's dream store, it is.

When I entered the store I was greeted by a friendly greeter person. "Can I help you find something?" she asked me. "Um, err..." I mumbled. For some reason I wasn't prepared to go straight to the area of the store that contained what I went there to check out, the elfa organizational systems. I needed to get my bearings first, needed to gather the courage necessary to commit to a made-to-order shelving unit. "Shoe racks," I mumbled. "Great!" she shouted. "They're five aisles down on your left. We have an entire aisle of shoe racks."

As I made my way to the aisle that contained the ready made solutions to the world's shoe storage problems, I felt drawn to the center of the store. As I perused the crappy, un-sturdy, unsuitable, and not exactly inexpensive out-of-the-box shoe racks, I could feel the energy of the elfa area beckoning me like a platinum shelf with birch fascia drug.

I casually rolled my double stroller over to the elfa area. There was a salesperson at the ready.

"Can I help you?" The look on her face was smug yet friendly. Her smile was confident; I could tell she had organized closets of her own.

"I'm thinking about putting one of these in my home," I ventured.

She looked me up and down

"This is my first elfa system," I confessed.

She licked her lips. "They're addicting."

She could have been talking about pumpkin spice lattes; or pints of Ben and Jerry's; or guys who ride motorcycles and call you at 1 AM just to see what you're doing; but no, she was talking about closet organization systems.

I completely understood.

Her questions started coming fast and furious:
"Do you have standard eight foot ceilings?"
"Uh, yes?"
"How deep do you want the shelves?"
"Uh, 10 inches?"
"They come in 8,12, or 20."
"Uh, 12?"
"How many shelves did you need? What are you going to store on them?"

For some reason, I was embarrassed to admit that I wanted to build an 8 ft. high shelving system to house my shoes. But when I told her, "shoes," her only reply was, "I recommend six shelves." This wonderful woman understood my needs! I started to relax and then watched mesmerized as she used her super Container Store computer to create a nifty little diagram of what I wanted. "Exactly!" I exclaimed.

At that moment, Emily and Thomas--who had been sitting quietly in their double stroller--decided that they had had enough with this store, this elfa system crap, my lame purse that had nothing good in it, and everything else in their little world at that point in the space-time continuum. I knew I had to hurry if I was going to make my dream of organized shoes a reality.

"I'll take it!"

I thought with that I'd be out of there soon, that she'd swipe my card and I would journey on, but instead she made me listen to a lecture on how to install the shelves. The lecture wasn't long--maybe three minutes--but what did I care about installation? Installation is Mike's job. But I dutifully listened and asked intelligent questions and nodded my head appropriately (Does the bracket face up in that case? Oh, I see!), while the kids drew on each other with the pens the nice salesperson gave them.

Driving out of The City with my new purchase--my elfa!--tucked into the back of our SUV like a stack of gold bullions, I got on my cel phone. I was excited; who could I call to tell what I had just done and how my life was about to change, one closet at a time? I figured Mike might care. Actually, I doubted he would care, but I didn't have anybody else to call.

"Hi, honey!"

"What's up? Are they kids okay?"

"Ya, they're fine." Whatever. "I'm calling to tell you I just got my first elfa system! And I need you to put it up for me tonight."

"Okay," he replied, "I'll get out my tools. Hehe, I just said tools."

"Great! Love you! Bye!"

The sun was shining as I drove home and I felt more alive than I had in weeks. I wasn't sure what I was most excited about: my new elfa system, my new organized shoes, what having organized shoes might mean for my future, or the fact that I had something to blog about.

Because THIS is very exciting. Without further ado, I present to you, shoes: before and elfa.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

 

Sorting Kids' Clothes: A Flowchart

Did you know that I used to be a technical writer back in the day? Now you do.

Note: Click on image to view larger.

 

When life gives you kids

[Update: After a mini fiasco at Starbucks (I asked for a grande non-fat peppermint latte, first got a pumpkin spice latte, then ended up with a mocha), the grocery store outing went without a hitch. I did come home with something I didn't expect: Emily put a toothbrush in the cart when I wasn't looking, but given that the item was a toothbrush and not a candy bar or a jar of $100 caviar, I forgave the little lady and let her brush her teeth just to prove how okay with her behavior I was. The rest of the day was uneventful--a very good thing in parenting land--and I even managed to get some stuff done.]

Scratch the hallelujah part of my last post; Rosa called in sick today. Insert string of unhappy faces here. This is just a quick post to let you know that if you don't hear from me again it means that I did not survive my day of running errands with two kids in tow.

Gotta run -- I'm off to drown my sorrows in a grande non-fat (that's skim to you Midwesterners) peppermint latte while trying to push one of those gargantuan shopping carts that looks like a train and turns corners about as easily as one, too. Chooo choo!

[Note to husband: I'm leaving for Mexico the gym the minute you get home.]

Monday, January 02, 2006

 

One of those days

Today I did laundry. But that's not what this post is about.

This post is about what happened after I did laundry, when I tried to put it away and realized that the amount of clothes the kids have exceeds the amount of space we have to store their tiny pants, miniature shirts, and wee little dresses.

This post is about how I bit the bullet, my friends. It's about how I marched into the kitchen, grabbed a handful of garbage bags, and sorted the kids' clothes.

This post is about a nightmare of a day. A day filled with chores, endless chores: sorting through old clothes, cleaning bathrooms, doing laundry, organizing Christmas stuff.

This post is about how tired I am. I'm so tired that I'm going to go do my 25 minutes on the Elliptical, pour myself a nice glass of Two-buck Chuck, and curl up on the couch with Mike. I'm so tired that there's a good chance I won't make it through the first twenty minutes of a movie before announcing I'm too old for this sh*t and calling it a night at 10:00.

On a positive note, Monday's almost over, we ate out every meal today (brunch and dinner), and tomorrow Rosa comes to watch the kids. Hallelujah!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

 

A little bit of heart

So far I am completely in love with 2006.

First, I was able to stay up past midnight last night. I haven't been able to do that in over four years, thanks to pregnanc(ies), small babies, or sleep deprivation issues. Unfortunately, I was alone with my accomplishment; Mike hit the sack around 10:30. When he woke up around 2 AM, he came in the family room to drag me into bed and found me on the couch lying in a pool of drool. The TV was on and I was surrounded by empty Cheetos bags and See's candy wrappers. Ahh, good times.

Today Mike and I continued the good times by taking the kids to the Exploratorium, an interactive, hands-on learning museum in San Francisco. The kids had a blast and we got there early so it wasn't very crowded. Even though I had a teeny weeny headache from last night, it was nothing compared to how I used to feel on any given New Year's Day back when I was footloose and fancy free. It felt good to be out and about today--the first day of 2006--with my husband and my kids, enjoying life without feeling that someone had taken a sledgehammer to my head.

After the museum, we met family and friends for dim sum at the Mayflower Seafood Restaurant on Geary. The wait was incredibly long, especially since I was holding 20+ pound sacks-o-love the entire time. But after fifty minutes, we finally were seated and the excellent pork buns and shrimp dumplings and sticky rice and salt-and-pepper shrimp and taro root dumplings and lots of hot tea took our minds off the fact that we no longer could feel our arms.

But my favorite moment so far in 2006 came when I was reviewing the pictures from our day and found this one. I will never grow tired of how it feels to be loved like this.