Just so you know

All right. I have ideas. I think about stuff. So here is the spot for stuff I'm thinking about and want to be able to share more broadly and possibly promote. Like I have time for this.

Everything is provisional at this point and subject to change in the future - as far as the blog is concerned. In real life some things will remain unchanged.

Also, our children are not really named Lenny and Linus. We are not that cool.

Feel free to share, rant, disagree, but please remember that I'm an actual person who tries to be respectful. I'd love it if you are and do to.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

So I Married an Astrophysicist: Dispelling Myths About Scientists

I wanted to post this on Earth Day but I didn't get it done.  I didn't actually seen that much about Earth Day on social media.  It was kind of a relief actually, because it seems like I'm just as likely to see "the earth is doing fine and anyone who says otherwise is selling something" as "lets all be responsible and take care of this our home since for now it's the only one we have."

Somehow I can hardly ever resist getting into discussions about whether or not the earth - specifically the climate - is in trouble and whether or not we should do something about it.  Without fail those discussions eventually get to the question of whether or not we can trust the people who are telling us that climate change is a problem - scientists.  It makes sense.  If you want to discount an idea a good strategy is to question the motives and qualifications of the people who are advocating it.

Except that few people really seem to question the qualifications.  We all rely on science and technology every day.  Our western world view is a "materialistic" one - we are interested in stuff and we accept that it can be studied and understood.  Most people accept that science has its uses and can be trusted in certain situations.  But it's done by people, and so is only as "pure" as the motives and methods those people use.  So the question of whether or not we should take global climate change seriously often comes down to whether or not we should trust the motives of the scientific community.

I notice this because I'm married to a scientist.  He's not a climate scientist - he's an astronomer, which means that he's well qualified to read the research done by climate scientists and he believes it's valid.  (This note from the resident scientist:  Specifically since Venus is thought to have undergone a runaway greenhouse effect in its past, astronomers need to have a basic understanding of planetary atmospheres and climate to teach planetary astronomy.)  Most of the rest of the scientific community thinks it's valid too, actually, which is pretty amazing.  But when people discount the science because they don't trust the scientists I sometimes take it a little personally.  I think that if they actually knew scientists the way I do they might think differently about the science.

I don't see "scientists" as guys in white coats with taped glasses and pocket protectors.  I don't think of them as "Dr. Jekyll" types trying to attain immortality by creating something never before achieved.  I don't see them as pawns of any particular political agenda or as money-hungry individuals who will make wild claims in order to get the next grant.  I definitely don't see them as people who are willing to engage in and promote a vast conspiracy for the purpose of controlling the public.

When I think of scientists I think of the man who sits across the table from me at supper time. He's the one who's been with me through years of illness.  The one who gingerly held that first tiny baby of ours, who loads the dishwasher after I'm in bed and takes the boy - now a great big five-year-old - to music class on Tuesdays.  "My" scientist is this guy who reads Tolkien and Game of Thrones, and is a member of the local curling league.  He's the one with the beautiful bass voice sitting beside me in church.

Sure, you say, sounds like a nice guy.  But that's just one example.  It doesn't really tell us about scientists as a class.  We all know that in general they have to make a living, so whatever research they do is tainted by the need for money.  Plus, they are politically liberal, and likely to be atheists or at least humanists.  Right?

Well... I wanted to put lots of links in this post to stats showing just how many scientists have the characteristics listed above, but they were harder to find during nap time than I had hoped.  (Links later dug up by the local astronomer :) )  But the Dr. looked them up, so I hope you take a look if you think I'm just... wrong.  So here are a few observations about what I have learned about science during my ten plus years of hanging around with a scientist.  For what it's worth.

  • When I talk about scientists I'm talking about people with Ph.D.s.  It takes a long time to get a Ph.D. This study found an average of almost eight years for those seeking a degree in the physical sciences.  Plus, jobs that provide tenure usually require prior completion of one or two "post doctorate" position(s) which are 2-3 year stints of primarily doing research, or 4-6 years of work after the Ph.D. to become eligible for most positions.  It then normally takes another 6 years to get tenure, then at least another 6 years to promote to full professor.  
  • Most scientists teach at universities.  They may or may not have tenure - or even a job that offers tenure.  Many universities are hiring very few tenure-track professors these days, instead mainly hiring non-tenure-track instructors on (often) fixed-length contracts of 1-3 years.
  • Scientists do research that is published in "peer-reviewed" journals. The review process involves other scientists of note in the specific field of the submitted work looking over the paper and evaluating the scientific merit of the work (in particular ensuring that proper scientific methodology was used in drawing the conclusions of the work). 
  • Research is funded by grants which are provided either by the U.S. government or private corporations or groups.  But the groups that provide the funding do not determine whether or not the findings get published.  For a discussion of how National Science Foundation
    (NSF) grants are handled click here.  Note that (at least in the case of the NSF) the decisions of who gets the grants are not made by government bureaucrats but by a panel of scientists in the field brought in to rank the proposals for funding priority.
  • Scientists working at universities are, in general, not getting rich.  Considering the number of years they spend getting their education... lets just say if money were their main concern they would be doing something else.  Case in point (from the late 1990s): Wall Street firms were targeting new physics Ph.D. recipients to do complex analysis of business deals, and paying considerably more than your typical university.  But you can't do fundamental physics research on Wall Street...
  • Scientists do have egos.  They are generally extremely invested in finding truth.  They would most likely enjoy being the first to make a discovery, but they are also very interested in finding out whether a claim made by another scientist is true. So the idea of "consensus" is important.  There's at least as much to be gained by disagreeing with other scientists as by disagreeing with them.
  • Scientists are aware that their assumptions and biases affect the work they do.  They often try to spell those ideas out so that they can get the clearest view possible of what they are researching.
  •  I have observed that, at least in the "physical sciences" (as opposed to the "humanities") scientists tend to have a variety of religious/philosophical beliefs.  They share a passion for the truth and many (if not most) believe that the natural and the supernatural are different realms that should be addressed separately.  This study shows that scientists tend to participate in faith communities at close to the same rate as the general population.
  • It's true, scientists do tend to be politically liberal, although that's not always the case.  And on topics like global warming they are sometimes providing information to people who make policy changes or recommendations.  But data does not belong to political parties.  In my experience scientists are primarily interested in finding truth.  Politics getting involved is about as annoying for them as it is for the rest of us.
My take-home is this:  Scientists work very hard to become qualified to research a particular topic.  They work within a framework designed to drive them to use good methods and challenge their findings.   Money is involved, but it's not the main factor motivating most scientists.  Also the government doesn't decide who gets money for research or how it's used.  Scientists come from a variety of faith backgrounds.  They have a variety of political views.

These ideas are important to me because I believe that we should take care of the planet we live on.  We aren't going to be able to make good decisions about how to do that unless we have good information about the situation we're in at the moment.  But if we have good information and we ignore it because we don't trust the people who gave it to us.... we just can't afford to do that.

Note: 5/1/14 Just wanted to add (thanks to a reader who commented on FB) that medical research, which is often funded privately and performed outside of academia, and may involve a group of scientist with a different demographic profile.

    Monday, April 28, 2014

    The Pain Monster: The Person I Become When I am in Pain

    I might as well try to write a blog post.  The baby is awake anyway.  I was going to try to sleep off this migraine, but then I tried to roll over and lay with my back to the baby and that, I guess, woke him up.  Or maybe he needs to poop or hates me or something.  When he takes naps with his dad he sleeps for two hours.

    No, I am not planning to write about sleep.  I am planning to write about pain.  Happy Monday.  Write what you know, they say.  So here it is.  I know about pain.

    I don't get migraines as often as I used to.  I've actually only gotten a couple since Linus' birth, which is good, because when I have a migraine and I have to deal with the baby and the five year old I turn into a.... person who uses a not-so-nice voice to request that said five-year-old use the potty - for the third time.  I mean seriously.  Today I apparently used a voice I had "never used before."

    So here it is:  what I know about pain.  Maybe you know someone who deals with chronic or even occasional pain.  Here are some thoughts that might help you understand what they're dealing with.  And if you deal with pain maybe it will be helpful to know that you aren't alone.  I'm using short paragraphs because that's all I can manage at the moment.

    Pain changes people.  Here's a nice short article about how the way the brain works changes when we are in pain, but changes back when the pain is relieved.  Objectively scientists can see that parts of the brain work harder when we are in pain.  It's harder to pay attention.

    Subjectively I can tell you that it's harder to do everything.  Including avoid being a jerk.  When we were getting ready to take Lenny to school today I got his raincoat out for him.  He said, "Well it might not be raining now, but it will be when it's time to come home."

    I said, "It is raining now."  I knew because I could see outside.  There was even more discussion about rain, I think.

    He didn't really believe me because when we (finally) got outside he said, "Oh, it is raining."

    I said, "I'm not crazy, or stupid.  I can tell when it's raining."

    He said, "I guess I'm not so good at figuring it out."

    I'm a jerk.  I apologized, but I'm still a jerk.

    Pain feels like punishment.  That doesn't require a lot of analysis or support, does it?  Pain, or the threat of pain is an effective deterrent for unwanted behavior.   But with something like a migraine I can't figure out what I did wrong or who is trying to get me to change what I'm doing.  I know some of my migraine triggers, but I don't know why these things, which are harmless to most people, are pain inducing for me.  I am inclined to analyze everything I ate and everywhere I've been to try to find the source of the pain and avoid it in the future.  Was it the three hours I spent in the high school auditorium yesterday surrounded by overly perfumed people?  Is it the pressure system that's going through?  Hormones?

    Being in pain seems worse when I don't know what to do about it.  Sometimes some pain killers and sleep will get rid of a migraine.  But other times it lasts for days and all I can do is wait.    Helplessness is frustrating.  Negative emotions and physical pain feed into each other in a cycle of misery. I hate it. I hate other parts of life I can't control like the needs of my children that I can only ever meet partially at best.

    In fact, when I am in pain I can hardly cope with another person's pain.  I become very self-centered.  Maybe it's because I'm just trying to survive.  I just need everyone to help me. 

    Thankfully when we are not in pain we do not have a physical sensation associated with the memory of pain.  I mean when you think back to the worse headache you ever had or that time that your thumb got smashed in the car door you do not actually feel pain.  I think this is how women are able to give birth more than once.  It also means that it can be hard to have sympathy for someone who is behaving in a less than ideal way because he or she is in pain.

    So there you have it.  The baby is still awake, obviously tired, but I can't figure out how to get him back to sleep and soon it will be time to pick Lenny up from school and he will mostly likely be unhappy because he knows that life is not very fun with a grouchy mommy.  I guess it builds character.

    I should have a take-away here.  All I can say is that if you have someone in your life who frequently deals with pain please be patient.  And if you are dealing with pain try to be gentle with yourself and other people.  Maybe I can too.

    Saturday, April 26, 2014

    Week in Tweets: Not for the Weak

    Hey! I figured out how to do this!  My hubby thinks it sounds dumb, but I'm going to do it anyway because other people do it and I feel like being a lemming.  Besides, there's more to most of these than could really be expressed in 140 characters.  And maybe you've been missing the Tweets I send over to my Facebook page or maybe you're curious about Twitter or maybe you're just humoring me.  Anyways, here it is:

    Lots of tweets about sleep this week.  The baby is not doing it and I need it more than I can even fathom.  I could probably have an entire blog just about sleep, but I'm pretty sure no one would want to read it.

    Lenny said so many fun and funny things this week, but not many of them made it onto social media.  I'm still thinking about how to protect his privacy and feeling like I should err on the side of caution.  I feel like I should provide a context for this, but I can't remember what it is.

    Thankfully it's still socially acceptable to just let Earth Day happen and not need to provide an over-the-top, memory-making experience.  But I did want to share this cool picture Lenny made at school.  It might be a little bit of a "humblebrag" moment.  Also, I've been playing with making graphics which is both fun and frustrating.

    See, sleeping.  Linus' sleep schedule is so out of whack that he fell asleep with his daytime clothes and dirty diaper on.  Cloth diaper.  It had already started leaking by the time I managed to change it.  

    So after my blog about being depressed my psychiatrist's office called to say I had an appointment.  That was handy.  I was surprised that she didn't go for meds right away.  She also thinks I should get more sleep.  Everybody has an idea of how to do that.  Just a heads up, not looking for advice on that one.

    See? Sleeeeeep.

    Still, he's beautiful and makes me smile.  I managed to get through the worst days and have actually gotten a little more sleep the past couple of nights.  I even took Lenny and a friend from school to the library for a play date yesterday.  Mommy points.

    Wednesday, April 23, 2014

    Almost a Recipe: Quinoa Chicken and Broccoli Salad

    I haven't tried making quinoa since before Lenny was born.  I had a bag sitting in the cabinet, though and the other day since the rice cooker was dirty and I was in a hurry I gave it a try.  Turned out to be easy to cook and a big hit with the five-year-old.  He mostly liked it because it reminded him of rice.

    What I made turned out to be pretty tasty in my opinion too.  Basically I just threw together what came to hand.  Quinoa is a pretty neutral ingredient - I think this could be modified so many ways.

    All measurements are approximate.  The only measuring I did was the quinoa and water.

    1 C quinoa
    2 C water
    1 cooked chicken breast chopped (I used rotisserie)
    1 package chopped frozen broccoli cooked in the microwave until tender-crisp
    1/2 C grated Parmesan cheese
    1/2 C salad dressing (I used roasted red pepper dressing, but Italian would work well also)
    Salt and pepper to taste
    More salad dressing for the table

    1. Cook quinoa according to package directions - my package said to put the water and quinoa in a saucepan and bring to a boil, then simmer for about 15 minutes.  
    2. Combine remaining ingredients in order given.
    3. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.  We ate it all these ways.  It was good after it had sat in the fridge for a day and the flavors intensified.
    Possible modifications:
    Vegetarian: Add about two cups of chick peas instead of chicken
    Mediterranean: Use feta cheese instead of Parmesan.  Add some dried or fresh basil.
    After Easter: Add ham instead of chicken.  Serve with pickles.
    Summer: Use whatever fresh veggies are on hand instead of frozen.

    Monday, April 21, 2014

    Horton Hears a Depressed Mommy

    I feel like my inner monologue has betrayed me.  That voice that keeps me company as a swing between the wordless world of Linus and the constant chatter of Lenny.  That voice that helps me make sense of the world and keep some order in my mind when fatigue threatens to throw me into complete chaos.  That voice that says, "I am still here" and prompted me to start blogging.  That voice, it seems, has betrayed me.

    When I wrote my last post I was speaking from that inner voice.  But once I put some of those thoughts into words and saw them on the screen I could not put them back into some dark corner and look away.  The pain and the tears welled up while I was writing.  They keep welling up as I remember the words, as I try to come to some conclusion that will bring me peace, as I keep dealing with issues of faith over and over again.

    It didn't help that the event that brought the thoughts to the forefront - Easter - had to be gotten through.  With all my emotional turbulence making me distrustful of my desires I pushed through and tried to find ways to make the time fun and meaningful for Lenny.  On Saturday I took the boys to a local church that was having an outreach with a "walk" designed to tell the resurrection story as well as games, a bouncy house and egg hunt.  Then I went shopping for Easter day food and even items for an Easter basket.  Not candy.  We already have enough of that.  Oranges, balls and sidewalk chalk.  Fake grass even because that has for some reason caught Lenny's imagination.

    On Sunday we went to church, had the meal, took some pictures.  It was a simple day.  About right really.  But the whole thing hurt.  I tried not to cry but failed so I tried not to cry when people who could understand and remember were looking.  The baby doesn't mind.

    I keep trying to get back to a place where I am at least almost OK.  I try to put this in perspective.  It's a mood.  I'm depressed.  I've been depressed before.  In fact, I've dealt with depression since I was a teenager.  I've taken medication for depression almost all of my adult life.  I'm not taking any now.  I'm trying to avoid it while I breastfeed.  But I know I can take it if I need to.  I have a prescription in my purse.  I took it when Lenny was a baby.

    But it seems crazy to start now that I've almost made it through the dark days of winter.  Now that I can spend time outside and get some real vitamin D.  Now that I don't have to lug the car seat every time I leave the house or brace myself against the cold every time I... ...get out of bed.  It's about to get better, right?

    Maybe, I think, I should make an appointment with my counselor.  I've worked with him for years and I think if I see him it will help.  But it's tricky to make the time and it's expensive.  What I really need, I realize, is to talk to my Chinese friend.  She has this amazing way of helping me see that it's OK to feel the way I do now and also OK not to feel that way.  Her confidence that I can take small steps to care for myself and move away from darkness is contagious.  Just thinking about other conversations we've had leaves me feeling more hopeful.

    But she's working full time and has three kids and the chances that we will be able to have a conversation before this weekend - at the earliest - are slim.  I need to get this sorted out sooner than that.

    Having so much experience with depression is useful because I have tools - strategies for making it through.  But it's also hard because I feel all the previous depressed mes reaching out from the past and trying to pull me back to them.  Hurts I thought were healed, grievances I thought I had forgiven, insecurities I thought I had let go of all crawl out of the shadows and accuse.  They try to become who I am.  They try to deny the existence of a the me who has both good and bad moods.  I am not a person, I am just this throbbing pain that I need to get away from more than anything.

    Because "literature" in my mommy world usually means quality children's books I think of the Dr. Seuss book Horton Hears a Who.   I can picture that extra-tiny boy hidden away in a small room in his speck-world not making a sound because he doesn't think it will make a difference.  I picture the mayor, not waiting to explain the situation to him but physically carrying him to the highest point and telling him to make noise.  I remember what Horton said to the Whos:

    "Don't give up! I believe in you all.
    A person's a person, no matter how small!
    And you very small persons will not have to die
    If you make yourselves heard! So come on, now, and TRY!"

    And I feel just a little bit comforted.  Almost hopeful.  I believe, if just for a few moments, that I am here - somewhere.  I think that I can make myself heard.  And maybe it will save me from boiling Beezlenut oil.  Or the serotonin guzzling synapses of my exhausted brain.  Maybe even the sour kangaroo will acknowledge my existence and I can feel secure for a while.

    Has the winter been hard on you?  Do you need to be heard too?  I'd love to hear from you in the comments or on Twitter or my Facebook page.

    photo credit: Cale Bruckner via photopin cc 
    (text added)

    Thursday, April 17, 2014

    Easter Bunny Problems: Teaching My Children About My Faith When I'm Struggling with Doubt

    photo credit: tinkernoonoo via photopin cc 

    I took Lenny to the library yesterday after school for a program they call "Paws for Reading."  The idea is that the library staff reads some stories and then the kids read out loud to volunteers and/or a therapy dog.  The dog didn't make it this time, but that's beside the point.

    The first story read this week was about a boy who went to his grandma's house for Easter and was afraid the Easter Bunny wouldn't be able to find him.  It was a "chapter book" and each chapter outlined a new strategy the boy and his friend used to try to let the Easter bunny know where he's be.  In the end, even though the door to the building had been painted and was not the color the boy had claimed it would be in his letter, the bunny found him and left a letter saying he was magic and would always be able to find him.

    The librarian who read the story asked lots of questions as she read and Lenny and the two other kids listening participated pretty enthusiastically.  I got nervous.  I realized that we had completely forgotten to have the "some kids really believe in the Easter bunny and we don't want to burst their bubble" discussion.  I kept waiting for him to enlighten the rest of the group.  But he was into the story and willing, as long as the pages were turning, to suspend disbelief.  I thought we were safe.

    When the story was over, however, he piped up, "We know who the Easter Bunny really is.  Our moms and dads."

    Librarian: "No, the Easter bunny's magic and if you believe something different you should talk about it at home."

    Story time moved on.  The other kids didn't seem to have paid much attention.

    Later, as we were making our way through the grocery store (backwards because Lenny forgot to mention while we were in the library that he needed to use the potty) I decided to have the "don't burst their bubble" conversation.  Lenny was more intent on convincing me that he should get an Easter basket, but I finally got the message across.

    Before I go any further I want to say that although the following conversation is not verbatim Lenny really does talk this way.  He's five, but he did use the word "deeply" in this conversation.  In the frozen food aisle.

    So Lenny says, "I'll just say that the Easter Bunny doesn't come to our house."

    This seems kind of problematic for true believers, so I say, "You could say that we are happy at Easter because Jesus is alive."

    He says, "Kids don't really believe in Jesus."

    "Really, why not?"

    "They just don't.  I don't believe deeply in Jesus."

    "You don't?  Why not?"

    "Well I don't really understand most of the things the pastor says."

    By now I'm looking for the frozen fruit or something and I don't pursue it any farther.  And I ignore the part of my heart that is breaking while I pick out zucchini get organic milk but forget the yogurt.

    I've mentioned before that I struggle with my faith.  When I was a teenager I knew the "right" answers but wished that I could feel with my heart what I knew with my brain.  In college I found churches that specialized in experiencing God and in involving emotions as well as intellect in the Christian walk.  In my late twenties I was hit by a mysterious illness that robbed me of the career I had just finished preparing for and shook my faith.  Desperate prayers went unanswered.  I was alone - isolated - and God did not meet me in my loneliest times.

    Now, as I approach the end of my thirties, I am healthier and my life is fuller than it was for many years.  I actually crave solitude.  But I'm also able to enjoy times with family and friends.  And we got to church very regularly.  It's one of Lenny's favorite times of the week.  He has meltdowns when we have to leave.

    You could say that in His time and His way God has answered my prayers.  You could tell me that He has given me what I really needed and it's much better than what I could have imagined for myself.  You might be thinking that I am a better person because of what I've been through.  That I can now help and encourage others who are struggling.

    Please don't say those things to me.  It hurts me to even type them.  I know Christianese better than most.  If thinking and saying the "right" things could fix this for me I wouldn't be in this spot in the first place.

    What spot am I in? Questioning.  Reading blogs of agnostics and atheists and "progressive" Christians and finding their questions, their possibilities, their answers which are different from the "right" ones I grew up with to be a balm to a deep ache in my heart.  I am in a place of not knowing where my faith is going next.  I don't know how to talk to God.  I don't know how to teach my children about Him.  I am afraid that I am depriving them of something wonderful.  I am afraid that I am missing an opportunity.

    I know that Lenny and Linus could be learning so much about God from me.  So many times in every day I could be saying, "This is how we know that God loves us... Let's pray about this... God will help us... Jesus loves you so much.... Isn't it amazing what God has done for us?"

    But mostly I don't say those things.  Mostly I let his dad pray with Lenny at night.  We read to him from an illustrated children's Bible.  Around the supper tale his dad and I talk about how people can understand science and still have faith.  We talk about how it's important to take care of the earth.  Every day we tell him we love him.

    And it hurts.  I thought I would be a different kind of mother.  I thought that I would pass my faith on to my children as easily as I pass on information about healthy eating.  Well, maybe I am.  But it's not the kind of faith I thought I would have.

    I tell myself... that people come to faith from all kinds of angles.  That learning that it's OK to ask questions will be a gift to my children.  That God, if Hes really there, can work through my imperfections.

    I know that not everyone believes.  Not everyone who had parents who were sure and taught them every day.  Not everyone who had parents who doubted or who weren't interested in spiritual things believes.  Or doesn't believe.  But people do tend to stick with what they were taught as children. 

    So it hurts.  Still.  Again.  I don't know how to set it aside.  I don't know how to turn down the intensity.  Rest would help.  Sleep would be good.  But that isn't happening.  So.... that's all I've got right now.

    Tuesday, April 15, 2014

    Happiness According to Lenny

    photo credit: Zellaby via photopin cc

    Lenny has a book called Happiness is a Warm Puppy by Charles M. Schulz.  He can read most of it himself now.  Lately he has started coming up with his own versions such as, "Happiness is coming home after a long trip" and "Happiness is having a little brother."

    I'm glad he feels that way.  I know I'm not the first parent to feel guilty because once a second child comes along things change for the first one.  They don't get the attention they used to.  But Lenny says, "If Linus hadn't been born I would be sobbing right now."  Did I mention that he can be a little dramatic sometimes?

    We had snow on the ground when we woke up this morning.  Just an inch or so but really?  In April?  Lenny was even happy to see that.  I was not.  I thought I was done having to schlep the car seat in and out of the van.  Do you know you're not supposed to put coats on babies in car seats because the straps won't be tight enough and they won't be safe?  Some time I need to write a blog post about how we all need to cut helicopter parents some slack because the number of ways that we are told that our kids could be in dire danger is just out of this world.  I'd say "astronomical" but hubby would then point out that that could mean extremely small or extremely large.  You get the point.

    So what is my point?  Happiness for me right now would be being able to carry the baby out to the car without worrying about hypothermia.  Also, happiness would be getting enough sleep.  That did not happen last night - worse than usual.  I know that sentence is extremely awkward, but it makes sense to me.  Here's another gem from Lenny: "You love sleep as much as I love bacon... and ice cream and pizza... and chocolate bars."  It's true.

    I was happy, and a little apprehensive today when I saw that something I wrote has been posted as a guest post on another blog.  The author of the blog is intelligent and takes on tough issues.  She is an excellent writer.  I have a tendency to compare myself to other people and... well I was a little nervous.  But the comments have been positive, so I feel pretty happy about that.

    How would you complete the phrase "Happiness is...."

    Monday, April 14, 2014

    Mommy Tip Monday: 12 Strategies for Coping with Exhaustion

    So spring is finally - sort of - here.  But we could have snow tonight.  Can you believe how long and brutal this winter has been.  It's one of those "if I had known" how many factors would make having this second baby hard I don't know if I would have had the nerve.  Don't get me wrong.  I love him more than words can say.  I'm just so exhausted.  So mind-numbingly, soul-shatteringly exhausted.

    So how am I coping.  Not always very well, I will be the first to admit.  But we are all still here and the kids, at least, seem to be thriving.  So maybe I can figure out a few areas where I've been helping myself out and a few others that would be helpful if I could remember to do them.  Ready?  Go!
    1. Get used to "mommy guilt."  Let's just get this one out of the way.  I wish I could tell you a way to just let go of mommy guilt, but I don't find that to be realistic right now.  I would rather be able to do just about everything a little better and when I'm exhausted it hits me even harder.  Instead of feeling guilty that I feel guilty I just try to accept that I'm not always the best at accepting myself right now.  Is that circular?  Sorry.
    2. Cultivate teamwork within the family.  Tell other people what you need and how they can help.  Chances are that hubby is tired too and his mind reading skills are a little shakier than usual.  And don't forget kids.  Even Lenny, who's five, can help in meaningful ways like putting silverware away and sorting laundry.
    3. Accept help from outside the family.  Lenny was invited to a play date Saturday.  I would have liked to stay and visit with his friend's mom (my friend) but the baby needed a nap and I was, yeah, exhausted, so I went home.  A quiet house made for a better nap for both of us.  I don't know when I'll be able to make it up to my friend.  I have to be humble about that a lot these days.
    4. Let people know when they have helped.  Being a parent is not about recognition, but we can all use a little to give us a boost.  So if it's true that we teach people how to treat us then showing appreciation for others will come back to us in the form of thanks from them.  Or at least the people around us will feel a little better, which helps.
    5. Prioritize.  The dishes are piling up, but we still have enough for at least one more meal.  If I don't get a load of laundry started, however, Lenny won't have pants to wear to school tomorrow.  That's my decision-making process.  Are we about to go hungry or be naked?  Preventing that comes first.  I'll work on the other stuff when I can.
    6. Give yourself credit.  This is probably partly the antidote to mommy guilt.  I know I must be doing some stuff right.  Making the time and taking the energy to focus on that will probably pay me back in increased motivation.
    7. Have ways to check out.  Sometimes when I'm super exhausted what my brain wants more than sleep is escape.  If I don't get it then it's even harder to do what I need to do most which is...
    8. Lean in.  Hanging back and resisting involvement with my children, especially, can be more exhausting than just committing to interacting with them.  I won't actually lose my mind if I play that board game or read that book.  And maybe for a while that internal "I'm so tired" track I'm sick of hearing will quiet down.
    9. Focus on beauty.  The baby's impossibly smooth skin.  The bright yellow daffodils that seem overexposed on a grey day. The sound of the wind in the still-bare tree branches.  Use all your senses.  Tune in to pleasure.
    10. Don't forget humor.  Lenny fell down.  He thought it was his dad's fault.  So while he's snuggling up on his dad's lap for comfort he's literally growling at him.  We're not laughing at you, sweetie.  We're laughing with you.  So start laughing.
    11. Get outside.  Fresh air is good for the body and soul.  Moving around, also.  You won't hear me saying you should go to the gym or exercise.  I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and have to be careful about activity levels.  (Plus I hate gyms and exercising for its own sake feels like a punishment.)  But being cooped up inside so much has left us cramped and a little crazy.  Swinging at the park can be just what we need. Plus?  Vitamin D.
    12. Stay hydrated.  I don't know why this is so hard for me to do.  With breastfeeding it's doubly important.  I'm pretty sure my body would function better if it had enough liquids coming in.
    So twelve.  Like the tribes of Israel.  It's a good start.  Do you have any strategies I missed?

    Saturday, April 12, 2014

    Baby Imponderables

     I discovered an author a few years ago who tries to find answers for questions that people consider unanswerable. He calls them "impomderables."  David Feldman has written books like When Did Wild Poodles Roam the Earth?, Do Penguins Have Knees?, and Why do Clocks run Clockwise?.

    I have a few imponderables of my own that I've been wondering about since Lenny was born.  They include:
    1. What do newborn babies dream about?
    2. What's so interesting about ceiling fans, shoes, cables and cords, CD cases and soda cans?
    3. Why are blenders, food processors, and tin foil scary?
    4. Why do babies refuse the food we try to feed them when they're in a high chair, but put every speck they find on the floor in their mouths?
    5. Why are babies soothed so much better by a standing adult than by one who's seated?

    Do you have any baby imponderables?

    Friday, April 11, 2014

    Flashback Friday: 25 Phrases I Said Every Day for Six Months

     This was written when Lenny was about fourteen months old.  The weird thing is that with kids who are almost five years apart my "Mommy script" now makes me sound like someone with a split personality.  Lenny wanted to know recently why I always use my sweet voice when talking to the baby, bot not to him.  When I used it on him he didn't like it at all.

    Repetition with variety is essential to learning." That's one of my dad's favorite quotes. Maybe if I give you a taste of what I've been repeating lately you'll have an idea of what Lenny's learning. Here are some quotes from my "Mommy script" - in no particular order.

    1. "Leave your diaper on please."
    2. "Don't bite/scratch/pinch Mommy. It hurts her."
    3. "What are you eating?"
    4. "Who loves you? Say 'Mommy loves me.'"
    5. "What does the doggy say? Woof Woof!"
    6. "Where's the baby? There he is!"
    7. "Are you hungry?"
    8. "Are you sleepy?"
    9. "Do you want a drink?"
    10. "Can I have a kiss?"
    11. "Good job! What a good boy!"
    12. "It's sleepy time."
    13. "Where's your doggy?"
    14. "Do you want to go in your jumpy seat?"
    15. "Do you want to go for a walk?"
    16. "Who's here? Is it Daddy?"
    17. "What do you have?"
    18. "Mommy needs that. Can you give it to Mommy?
    19. "Are you helping Mommy with the laundry?
    20. "Be nice."
    21. "That's very loud."
    22. "You're funny."
    23. "Bonk!"
    24. "Are you having fun?"
    25. "Wow!"
     Some things (hopefully) don't get repeated often. Like, "Why are you bringing groceries into the living room?" Although to tell you the truth, it was clear that the reason he brought them in was, well, that he had a secret mission to perform. Thus the cammo. The can ended up under the magazine stand - briefly.

    Thursday, April 10, 2014

    Twitter and Moving as Emotional Metaphors

    Context.  Not just what you are experiencing at this moment, but what surrounds the moment.  The bigger picture.  Connecting the dots.  Filling in the spaces.

    I got thinking about this because of Twitter.

    I love Facebook.  I have been on it for about five years and it helped me reconnect with friends from all over the world.  People I thought I had lost touch with forever.  People who were part of a life that is sometimes hard to even imagine in my current reality.  I see pictures, read articles, have conversations.  I keep in touch with family members.  I find out who's sick and who has had a baby.  I've even made new friends - people I have something in common with but don't have the chance to spend face to face time with.  We look at pictures of each others children.  We share frustrations and achievements.  It adds context to my life.

    But not Twitter.  I just recently started an account because I am hoping to use it to promote this blog.  But I had one follower.  Someone I know through online interaction and feel a strong connection with, but who is not actually active on Twitter.  So I started "following" people - bloggers I already follow on Facebook, and then people they follow.  Christian bloggers, mommy bloggers, christian mommy bloggers....  I followed a few big pages just to see what they do.  I found a few people I have actually met IRL (in real life.)  I now have eleven followers.  When I post a link to my blog (I think) I get a few hits.

    But when I read the Twitter feed I feel sort of like I'm floating.  Maybe it's the sleep deprivation, which makes me feel a little like that most of the time, but I cannot connect all of those 140 character or less snippets to... ....the rest of the world.  It's like all these people, most of them complete strangers, file in front of a blank screen, talk for thirty seconds, and move on.  I can respond, sure - anything I can say in 140 characters.  But I've never been good at small talk.  I want to go deeper.  I need to know what's going on around that little snippet of thought.

    Maybe it's because I'm an introvert.  I think I've always craved deep, well-filled-in relationships.  I like being with people who know that I was a bald baby who didn't learn to crawl.  Or a sensitive, imaginative preschooler who cried when my meat was cut because I felt sorry for it... ...a school girl who loved stories but not sports.... ....a Midwestern girl who grew up in Asia... idealistic young adult who wanted to help others but got trapped by a body that couldn't cope with the world... ...a mom who wants to be in the moment and raise kids who know that they have been known.

    I tell myself not to read too much into Twitter.  It's just a tool - one type of communication.  It could be combined with other ways of knowing and be part of real, meaningful relationships.  I tell myself to give it time.  That it will probably become something different for me than what it is right now.

    But right now, it is a metaphor for the times and relationships when I was not known - all the times when I was out of context.  Which has been pretty often in my life.  Sometimes it feels like almost always.  When I try to trace back to the time before changes started coming into my life I realize that I don't even know what apartment or house my parents were living in when I was born.  Within a year we were living in a different country  - Canada, but still, pretty far from where I was born.

    My immediate family provided me with context - a sense of who I was.  And where ever I was became part of the scene of my life.  We were in the Philippines, but we were us.  The Philippines became part of us.  But being in boarding school was just me.  Without context or with a context that other people assumed and sometimes got tragically wrong.  I had an urgent (and sometimes probably annoying to other people) need to explain myself.  I sometimes felt like I was on Twitter - throwing out 140 character blurbs and hoping that someone would read it and respond.

    This is not about blame.  It's not about what should have happened or how it could have been different.  It's just about understanding what did happen.  The last time we were preparing to move I went into the basement and started to sort through a stack of musty boxes that had been quickly packed and labeled.  Some of what was inside was literally trash.  It could just be thrown away.  We didn't need to cart it to the next location.  But I ran out of time and energy and some of it just got put back in boxes and tossed in the truck.  Some of the boxes never got opened at all.  They are currently in the attic - making sure the roof doesn't pop off, I guess.

    My emotional life is a little like that.  Sometimes I can stash the boxes in the attic and pretend they aren't there.  But unlike the physical stuff the emotional stuff doesn't stay out of the way like I wish it would.  It shuffles around and ends up in the middle of the hallway - on the way to the bathroom - at two in the morning.  I trip.  I try to unpack the box and get rid of the junk.

    So today the box had Twitter on the outside and a seven-year-old girl with Australian "dorm parents" who want her to hold her knife and fork a funny way on the inside.  I didn't actually know that when I started this post.  And now I'm sitting at the computer with tears running down my face and Lenny just went from hiding under his desk to hiding under the kitchen table and I probably should check on him.  And the baby is getting tired of bouncing up and down and once again I will probably gather up some scraps and toss them back in the box - trying to shuffle it into a less inconvenient spot.

    But I started this post with an idea about how we really do connect with people.  So maybe tomorrow, or later today, I can use those thoughts to try to redeem the musty bits in the boxes and find out what they are useful for.

    photo credit: swanksalot via photopin cc

    Tuesday, April 8, 2014

    Non-Tip Tuesday: A Non-Exhaustive List of Tips I Will Not Be Giving

    After yesterday's probably-not-so-helpful tips on adjusting to life back at home I got to thinking about subjects I'm not qualified to give tips on.  I will try to remember this when I'm searching for post topics in the future.  I'm sure there are plenty more that I haven't even thought of yet, but here's a start:
    1. Keeping a clean, well-organized house.  Although I might be able to give some tips on surviving in the midst of chaos or enjoying life in the midst of the mess.
    2. Losing baby weight.  Please don't hate me when I say that I have a nine-month-old baby and weigh less now than I did before I got pregnant.  It's just genes or something and I didn't do it on purpose.  I won't pretend to have some secret that will work for you.
    3. Saving money.  Actually, I have one great tip on this, but it doesn't deserve a whole post.  Just shop less.  Any other tips will have to come from someone else.
    4. Having a festive holiday.  I don't care which holiday it is.  I'm pretty much a Grinch on all of them.  Plus, get a Pinterest account.  But don't follow me expecting to get holiday links.
    5. Getting places on time.  We do it pretty often, actually, but I usually get stressed out and Lenny wants to know why I'm using my "mean voice" pretty often.
    6. Caring for both pets and kids.  No pets for us.  Lenny wants to get a fish.  I told him we got a baby brother instead.  For a clue on why we don't have pets see number one.
    7. Raising an athletic kid.  So far we don't have one of those. 
    8. Taking the stress out of bedtime routines.  Anyone who claims to have found a way to do this is selling something.
    9. Getting kids to sleep through the night.  My strategy is to wait until it happens.  Now you know.
    10. Childbirth.  Actually, when I was in labor with Linus the OB nurse said hubby and I should teach a course.  But I don't want to talk/write/think about it any more.  Well... if you are a friend of mine and are actually having a baby and really want to know I will tell you more than you want to know.  But tips?  No.  The internet is full of those.
    11. Marriage after kids.  I checked a book out of the library once about how to have a good marriage after having kids.  I never found time to read it. 
    12. Finding matching socks.  See #1.  This probably doesn't deserve its own entry, but I like 12 better than 11 for the length of a list.
     So after getting part way through this list and taking a break to walk to school and get Lenny I started to wonder if anything would be left to write about on "Mommy Tip Monday."  I did manage to think of a few possible topics.  So before they fly from my mind I'm going to share them here:
    1. Communicating with babies.  
    2. Cooking with kids.
    3. Encouraging literacy.
    4. Developmental stages and discipline.
    5. Choosing a preschool.
    6. Helping a very emotional child deal with the world.
    7. How identity changes with motherhood.
    I could probably come up with a few more, but the baby is fussy and the laundry needs transferred.  
    photo credit: Môsieur J. [version 9.1] via photopin cc

    Monday, April 7, 2014

    Mommy Tip Monday: Adjusting to Being Home After a Week At Grandma's

    So I thought I'd get some blogging done on Spring Break and that didn't work out very well.  It was not helped at all by the fact that the baby started throwing up Friday afternoon and the big kid was puking all night long Saturday night.  My mom got up with him - I didn't even know what had happened until the next morning - the day we were planning to come home.

    And we did come home.  With a bowl next to the big kid for puking.  Which he used a couple of times.  He reports that he has gotten better at throwing up.  He no longer gets it on his clothes.

    As soon as we got in the house he collapsed face down in the living room and "hugged the house."  Within 0.6 seconds he was complaining about how bored he was.  We were still unloading the minivan.  Sigh.  This was a pretty low key trip.  One day our big activity was going to the library.  Mostly we just spent time with family.  Still, coming home feels both chaotic and like a let down.  How can we adjust back to "normal" life?

    Well this is supposed to be "tips" and I'm supposed to live up to what I advertise or people will be frustrated about following the link to my blog.  (See while I didn't actually manage to write much during the break I did a little more reading about how to blog.)  So here's what I've figured out so far:
    • Do not come home with a stomach bug.  Super annoying.
    • Um.  This is not going well.
    • Food.  Thankfully hubby was here all week and went to the grocery store before coming to get us.  In retrospect I probably should have helped him come up with the list, although he's been doing almost all the grocery shopping lately, so he did a good job.
    • Laundry.  Gonna have to do that.  I managed to get all the dirty laundry into one bag, so at least I know where it is.
    • Bed.  Sleeping in our own.  The best thing about being back home.  Maybe.
    • Expectations.  I feel like we should have talked with Lenny about how things would be when we got home.  But he was puking, so we didn't.
    • Seriously.  Transitions are not good for me.  That's all I've got.
    All right.  Probably just about anyone is better at this than me.  What are your best adjusting back tips?