3.31.2009

Cohousing fools

Remember when I was bitching about a crew? And when I was complaining about being isolated? Well, enter cohousing ! Holy shit!! Who knew that this even existed! I didn't even know I could research something like this! I thought it was all "commune" hippie shit and that's soooo not me. But this? I could do this!!

What is cohousing?

Cohousing is a type of collaborative housing in which residents actively participate in the design and operation of their own neighborhoods.

Cohousing residents are consciously committed to living as a community. The physical design encourages both social contact and individual space. Private homes contain all the features of conventional homes, but residents also have access to extensive common facilities such as open space, courtyards, a playground and a common house.
When I first saw the article on cohousing in Mothering I thought it meant multi-family, multi-generational living all under one roof. I've been hoping beyond all hope that my sister and her man will cohabitate with us when we finally move back to California. And not just because I love Gabrielle and Maurice, but because I want my kids to really know their family. I want Gabby to know my kids, I want Maury to be that awesome uncle, I want to be a support for them when they start a family, I want to raise the cousins like siblings, and I want to join forces in cooking, expenses, and all the expenditures (the space, materials, etc.).

I've even wanted to do this with Mom and Terry, although they have steadfastly insisted that they want their own space. They'd consider living in our backyard in a guesthouse, for instance, but they claim to want the freedom to have Naked Senior Sundays whenever they want - ok, you got it. We won't live together.

I can't believe that I'm the one who wants so badly to live with my family. I'm the one who accepted entrance into a university based (almost entirely) on its extreme distance from home. When I left California in 1995 I was crazy unhappy, had a very contentious/angry relationship with my mother, and my sister hated me. I felt like I was drowing in our very sad, needy family system and distance from them both (and them from me) saved our relationships from completely imploding. I had to get away.

Thirteen and a half years later and I am all about the fam. I've figured out what went wrong between the three of us and I've learned how to deal with my cohorts in this life in a healthy way. I adore my mom and my sister and I don't think I could get any closer to either of them. I'm big fans of each of them and really think they're incredible people. Hence, my desire to reconvene as a family unit again.

But cohousing isn't anything like that. And I guess that's good for me since neither my mother or my sister really seem to want to live that close to me again (ha!). It's about a community of people who want just that: a community. A place where their kids can play, people get together, and you can borrow sugar from a neighbor, have BBQs, know everyone's name, and do communal things like parties, dinners, and volunteering. There are dues, organizations, and meetings. You share extra space, beds, garages. Guests don't have to suffer the air mattress anymore because there's a guest house for the whole community.
... cohousing looks less like a haven for misplaced hippies and more like a traditional swatch of townhouses or a gated community with plenty of shared space. Residents typically do not share a specific religion, political view, or sexual orientation with one another and tend to work in white-collar careers, have young children, and are looking to escape the alienation of traditional suburbs. Cohousers don't pick their neighborhood based on the size of the home or the bonus of a private yard, but to intentionally interact with neighbors and embrace community living.
- Mothering Magazine
This is definitely something to look forward to. Now, if I could find one with an equestrian center I will most certainly die from the sheer bliss of it all.

Update: My sister and I were chatting (via instant messenger) and she was concerned about my portrayal of our relationship when I left California. She wrote, "and, by the way, i DID NOT HATE YOU. ever," and she's right. I just FELT like she did, knowing that she of course loved me. She didn't like that I wrote that she hated me and so I am clearing things up. I think she sums it up when she says, "i was a kid." I was, too; so firmly entrenched in my role as the "one who shows it's not working." I'm so very happy that she and I have grown up together and that we're deliberate about our relationship and feelings for one another. For the record, Gabby did NOT hate me. Ever. She has always loved me and I her. We are lucky, lucky gals.

3.30.2009

Menu Plan: Week of March 30th

We're out of money again (sorta), which means I'm back to pantry-diving for this week's meals.

Mon: Garlic shrimp with spaghetti squash
Tues: Quinoa pasta with tomato and herbs
Weds: Sweet potato mash with green beans Update: Quinoa caprese
Thurs: Quinoa caprese Update: E/O - Mom and Terry's treat
Fri: E/O Update: Fish tacos with chutney salsa sauce and wild rice and lentil pilaf.
Sat: Rosemary Tuscan chicken (it WILL happen this week, I swear!! Don't look here or here) Update: Steak, Swiss chard, oven-roasted potatoes
Sun: Steak, Swiss chard, oven-roasted potatoes Update: Mom's spaghetti (care of Mom)

Money goal is $50 or less. I have to get some basics for Hollis, some chicken breasts and a steak, Swiss chard and sweet potatoes. Let's see if I hit it. Wish me luck!

Update: I spent about $98 at the grocery store filling in my supplies. GRR.

Update #2: Apparently, Rosemary Tuscan chicken is still eluding me...

3.26.2009

Quickie

I love my husband, but...


... he's a fucking BEAR when he's sick.

Last week I caught something that gave me a sore throat, fuzzy head, headache, and a bad attitude. It wasn't horrible, but it wasn't fun. Anthony came home early on Wednesday night and made dinner and cleaned up and washed and put down Hollis that night. The next day, I was 10x worse, but I decided I could handle it and sent Anthony to work. I was miserable chasing after Hollis and trying to keep up the house, but I did it. Feeling sorry for myself and all. I got over it by Saturday and life went on with nary a blip in the functioning of the household. Then Anthony got it.

Since Anthony's option of calling in sick is a lot more feasible than it is for me, he chose to stay home from work on Monday and Tuesday to rest and do a little work from home.

The problem?

He expected, to actually be able to lay around anywhere in the house and not be disturbed and just "be sick."

Late in the afternoon on Tuesday, while Hollis was fighting his afternoon nap with intermittent, pissed crying, Anthony comes stomping out to the living room from our bedroom where he'd been on a conference call. I could tell something wasn't right because he was shooting me down with Death Rays from his eyes. I knew I was in trouble somehow.

With mouth snarling, hair sticking out every which way, and a foreboding five o'clock shadow he grumbles, "This is the worst 2 days I've ever had being sick," as if it were my fault.

Of course, I didn't take to this very kindly since I thought I'd been doing a fine job of taking care of his don't-make-me-take-pills-until-I'm-damn-good-and-ready ass, plus, I'd been ignoring him per our agreement for when he works from home (I'm not allowed to ask him to do anything or watch Hollis, which I find to be perfectly fair. He is working, after all). But, no. I had asked him to "sorta" keep an eye on Hollis as he ran around the house and I was trying to catch up on some work on the computer. I had also given Hollis to him while he attempted to nap on the living room couch because Hollis was so excited to discover him there. And - gasp - I was "letting" Hollis cry, unattended in his room and, Anthony claimed, that this crying was the direct cause of his unbearable headache and why didn't I "just let him run around for a while?"

In any case, I was not doing a good job of taking care of my husband. According to Anthony, anyway.

I started to say about 8 different things at once. I wanted to smack him, tell him to stop being such a big baby, and to suck it up because that's what I had to do. I did manage to say something about "letting Hollis cry," because that really pushed a hot button for me, but it was useless. Anthony was a goner. He didn't want to hear me say, "I know Hollis is exhausted and he'll be asleep very soon. If I let him run around he'll never nap." Nor did he want to hear, "I do this all the time, Anthony, with you gone. Why would I suddenly change my style just because you're here?? I KNOW he'll be asleep soon and just needs to be left alone for 5 minutes." The fact that Hollis was dead asleep in exactly 5 minutes spoke loud enough in the end.

And then, instead of following that mean little rabbit down its argument-laden trail it all at once it hit me like a ton of bricks that maybe for Anthony the past two days really had sucked beyond compare. That this was another life adjustment to our new family dynamics and he was being caught off guard. Had he felt better, I bet he'd had more patience with both me and Hollis. Obviously, there wouldn't have been a problem then, but I could extend him the benefit of the doubt that he was feeling like shit and therefore had about *this* much extra energy to tell himself I wasn't out to get him or run him into the ground with parenting demands.

True to his nature, he apologized later. And it's never a weenie, please don't be mad at me apology, either. It's genuine. He's the first person who's EVER apologized to me and really meant it and I can say it's one of the reasons I married him. If he ever acts poorly he always reflects on it and says, "Jess, I'm sorry for being a dick. I don't know why I said/did that." Bad behavior from him is rare in the first place, but it's consoling during a rough interaction to know that he'll be aware of his actions at some point in the future and we can talk about them.

And I want to be very clear here: I am not perfect. But this is mainly my blog, so, you know. He's more than welcome to post about me being ridiculous any time. I can take it!

I just found it funny in a stunned, sort-of-humorous way, that Anthony would make such a big deal out of his cold. I don't want to throw him under the bus, but come on! - Oops, that sorta is throwing him under the bus. - I'm sorry, I really am. Anthony is awesome, wonderful, sweet, thoughtful, dead sexy, handsome, and wicked smart. But his kryptonite happens to be his new life when all he wants to do is rest and sleep as if he were single and blissfully alone again. What I wouldn't have given to have those three days last week to just lay in bed and watch TV instead of cooking, cleaning, running errands, and taking care of Hollis.

Isn't that the crux of all of this?? He complained about what I didn't complain about and I'm disgruntled that he thought he had the right to complain in the first place. Of course the man has a right to complain! I did, too. It's my fault that I didn't and it's a good place to give more attention to because the last thing I want to become is a martyr and a "mom can do anything anytime under any circumstances" kind of mom. I want everyone around me to rely on me and be confident in my abilities, but to also lend a hand when I need it (even if I don't come right out and ask for it every time).

Having kids changes everything. Even things you might not expect. Like staying home from work sick. I hope Anthony doesn't opt to go into the office next time, hoping for a cozy, quiet spot under his desk instead of the dull roar of chaos at our house. I promise to be a little more sensitive to a sick man's need for solitude and a soft pillow. I promise!

3.25.2009

Senior love (my mom's gonna kill me for calling it that)

To my knowledge my mom doesn't read this blog. Not because she doesn't want to, but I don't think I've ever mentioned it to her. However, if she ever does read it and get to this entry, she'll kill me that I ever called her and Terry "seniors." Ah, the laughter bubbles up even writing that!

To be fair, my mom is definitely NOT a senior. She's only 57. Terry, now he's a little closer to seniordom (he's 65) and he's recognized by AARP, Social Security, and the general public as "an old guy," so I can safely call him a senior, albeit with slight tongue in cheek.

This all started when my mom was watching some TV show and someone said something about "seniors: people in their 50s and 60s." And woo, boy! Was she pissed! "I'm not a senior!" she emphatically laughed to us later that day. It all made me realize that no matter how old we are we're constantly trying to fit in to the newest phase of our life. Mom is definitely leaving middle age and it's been a rough transition for her.

Most recently, she and Terry went to a Joan Biaz concert. Mom came back dumbstruck by, "all the short-haired women there." I wondered if she was talking about lesbians (mom's been known to generalize in that area), but she wasn't. "No, they were my age," she stressed. I still wasn't getting it.

Mom explained that apparently, at a certain age typically later on in life, women cut their hair off. Like, almost all of it. And it horrified her that she might look like one of these "older women." She vowed then and there to grow her hair long and wear it in a bun for the rest of her life.

She said the concert was depressing over all. Joan looked ancient and stiff and the crowd was a huddle of old hippies with silver streaks in their hair. I'm not gonna judge her reaction; I actually feel immense empathy for her since I've been trying to fit into my own "new niche" for the past several years (that of a responsible wife - and now mother).

One thing that I think my mom really enjoys about her new position in our lives, though, is that of grandmother. And she wouldn't be able to enjoy it without all those wrinkles and grey hairs. I've never known grandparent love. I should capitalize that: Grandparent Love. I had grandparents that I loved and that dug me back, but I don't remember their faces lighting up at seeing me or my heart beating faster because I was going to get to spend time with them.

Hollis and Mom and Terry have this beautiful thing together. Hollis becomes ecstatic when he recognizes our drive to their house and he even gets excited whenever he sees a car pull up in front of our house or the doorbell rings. You practically see little hearts floating around in the air whenever they're together.

With Terry, Hollis can count on a boombox strategically placed at toddler-level loaded with either a) Swedish techno or b) polka music, and then a willing dance partner to snap and groove with. He looks for cookies in Papa's pocket and listens intently while his silver-haired buddy masacres Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star on a shiny recorder just for his enjoyment. He can also always rely on Terry to repeat any fun thing over and over and over again with a kind of stamina only a grandparent can muster.

With Mom, Hollis gets Jim Carey-like faces, uncommon household objects as toys, and marathon bath times. He gets his hands massaged with lotion and his hair combed over like any respectable, shiny clean baby. He pats her face and she "eats" his arm and he giggles and squeals. He trusts her implicitly, somehow sensing she knows what she's doing even if she's putting him buckets and cabinets, on stacks of paper and dog beds, and putting metal bowls on his head just for her own enjoyment.

I'm jealous.

Not of my parents, but of Hollis. I'd heard about grandparent love, but until now I'd never really known what it looked like.

With 57 and 65 years behind them, Mom and Terry have a lifetime of experience to help them enjoy this new person in their family in a way they couldn't as front-line parents. That's the beauty of grandparent love: the wisdom to ENJOY what you've got. So if my mom's considered a "senior" I'm gonna call this "senior love" and I'm gonna look forward to it.

I'm also going to imprint on my brain the sheer joy these three people feel whenever they're together. For them, being together is the most precious, wonderful part of their day. It's good to feel that way and it's something to try to prioritize in my life. I want to always feel joy and excitement whenever I see someone I care about... to love like a senior.

Grandma strikes again:

3.24.2009

Cleaning with a Twist [Euro Sponge #10]



I'm always up for trying new, "green" products, so when I spotted these Twist cloths and sponge at Newflower Farmers Market today, I had to grab them.

The big cloth (which boasts that it does the work of 17 rolls of paper towels) was under $2. The sponges a buck-something, and the smaller cloth was also under $2. Ok, so I'm liking them already.

They're also 100% biodegradable and made from products safe for the home (i.e., no toxins, plastics, etc.)

I'll let you guys know if they're any good.

But, seriously. The marketing lingo on the back says, "Here's a twist. The package you're holding can be converted into a fiesty little bird feeder. Satisfy your crafty side and try a little hands-on recycling."

Say, wha-?? Do these things scream "bird feeder" to you??


Update: I've been using the big cloth for about a week now and I love it! I put it in the dishwasher (as per the packaging) when I thought it needed to be spruced up and it came out perfect! No fraying or flaking. My only concern is how do I know I've used it to the equivalent of 17 rolls of paper towels? The loofah sponge is also rocking my world. Just as good as any industrial, synthetic sponge I've ever used. I'll keep updating if things change.

3.23.2009

Menu Plan: Week of March 23rd

Last week I totally fell off my menu plan wagon. I got sick on Tuesday, had guests, went out on Friday night, blah, blah, blah. I did make the portobello goat cheese panini (I'll post that recipe later) and it was fabu.

This week I'm back on my 21 Day fitness diet (day 9). Here's what we've got going (some are repeats from last week since I never got around to cooking them):

Mon: Rosemary Tuscan chicken with couscous pilaf Crap
Tues: Shrimp scampi with salad More crap
Weds: WTFE (what the fuck ever - Anthony's doing day travel and won't be back until late)
Thurs: Grilled salmon with asparagus
Fri: Warm steak & potato salad
Sat: Firehouse hot chicken sausage chili (I made this a week ago or so and it was fucking delicious. Recipe is below)
Sun: L/O

We hosted brunch yesterday and spent $100 on food (and here, I thought by hosting we'd save money! Why am I always SO wrong about this stuff??). And earlier in the week I spent about $100. I guess $200 for the week isn't too bad, although that doesn't include a $120 dinner out on Friday night.

- As a quick aside, if money were no object I wouldn't buy diamonds, a new car, or get plastic surgery. I would buy whatever food item I wanted, whenever I wanted. I would never feel guilty for getting the expensive cheeses or wines, the organic oatmeal instead of the super cheap regular, the organic, lactose-free milk or the $5 natural organic butter. I would purchase the best ingredients for me and my peeps and we would live a rich and diverse food life full of nutrients and color GUILT FREE. Because as it stands now, I think we eat pretty damn well, but it's not guilt free. At least not on my part. I read articles all the time about how to hit $100 a week on groceries and quite frankly, I don't want to eat meat and potatoes every day, or forego nice tea, but because of this decision I feel guilty because our food expenses is the one place we can actually cut back. -

Firehouse Hot Chicken Sausage Chili
Serves: 4
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 23 minutes

Ingredients
1 T olive oil
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 cup chopped scallions, divided
1 lb hot chicken sausage, removed from casing
2 T chili powder
1/2 tsp cayenne powder
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 15 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 cup carrot, diced
1/2 T brown sugar
Pinch of salt

Directions
In a large sauce pan, heat oil over med-high heat until hot, but not smoking. Toss in garlic and all but 2 T scallions and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute.

Add chicken and conitue to cook, breaking up meat with a wooden spoon, for 2-3 minutes or until browned.

Stir in chili and cayenned powders and cook for 1 minute more.

Add tomates, kidney beans, bell pepper, carrot, brown sugar, and salt.

Bring to a boil over hight heat. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until slightly thickened (you don't want soup).

Divide among 4 bowls and garnish with remaining 2 T scallions. Top with a dollop of sour cream.

Firehouse hot chicken sausage chili

Firehouse Hot Chicken Sausage Chili
Serves: 4
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 23 minutes

Ingredients
1 T olive oil
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 cup chopped scallions, divided
1 lb hot chicken sausage, removed from casing
2 T chili powder
1/2 tsp cayenne powder
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 15 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 cup carrot, diced
1/2 T brown sugar
Pinch of salt

Directions
In a large sauce pan, heat oil over med-high heat until hot, but not smoking. Toss in garlic and all but 2 T scallions and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute.

Add chicken and conitue to cook, breaking up meat with a wooden spoon, for 2-3 minutes or until browned.

Stir in chili and cayenned powders and cook for 1 minute more.

Add tomates, kidney beans, bell pepper, carrot, brown sugar, and salt.

Bring to a boil over hight heat. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until slightly thickened (you don't want soup).

Divide among 4 bowls and garnish with remaining 2 T scallions. Top with a dollop of sour cream.

3.21.2009

Full steam ahead

Hollis is on the verge of that thing experts call the "word explosion." In addition to "mama," he's also added better enunciation of his old words (there is a definite difference between "duck" and "dog" now, for example) and he's learning a word about every other day this week.

Last week, the new word was "fish," (pronounced "bah" for those of you who don't know Hollisese) and of course, "MAMA!" This week it's "star" (like those we find in Goodnight Moon and on his Chucks), "Lola," "more," "milk" (both signed and spoken), and "car."

I've loved every moment of his silent trek through our lives, but I'm really looking forward to what he has to say, what he's thinking, etc. By and large I spend a great amount of my time filling in the blanks regarding what's going on in his big head. It helps immensely, of course, that every fleeting emotion, need, or desire is physically expressed, but talking will add another element of understanding between us. Yay!

In addition to the language stuff, he's also anticipating more things. He gets excited earlier and earlier on our drives over to my mom and Terry's. He used to start squawking in excitement as we parked in their driveway, then it was the last turn to their street, then it was at the last stop light, and now it's a good 5 minutes before we pull up in front of their house and he's freaking out with sheer joy. I feel terrible when we go straight instead of turning left and he ends up at the grocery store with me. Oh well, good to get him used to a little disappointment, right?

When I ask him if he's hungry I know he is when he runs screaming to his high chair grabs at the straps and tres to clamor up.

When I tell him to get a book he grabs one then runs to the rocker in his room and pats the seat waiting for me to sit down and pull him on my lap.

When I ask him if he wants a cookie he immediately drops whatever it is he's doing and runs to his kitchen zone and shuts the door and spazzes out until a cookie is in his chubby little hands because his zone used to be the only place I'd give him a cookie.

I've taken him to the grocery store right around snack time so many times that as soon as he sees a shopping cart, regardless of whether he's just eaten or not, he starts making the "hungry" sign and I gotta make it happen with whatever I can dig out of my purse, usually a handy banana.

He's also applying what he's seen. He's obsessed with toilet paper and will interchange sniffing his nose and patting it with a wad of tissue and using the same wad to "wash" the windows and any flat surface he can find.

And just today, he discovered the intense satisfaction a wee one can get from flushing random objects down the toilet. In his virgin expedition into this new form of entertainment it was an innocuous leaf, but I expect many more creative voyages in the future lest Anthony and I return the Lid-Loks to their rightful places.

It is a wide world of firsts and wonderment. He's getting to that age where he'll appreciate seeing a real cow up close, or a tractor. It is fucking beautiful, this wonderment in him. It's inspiring, consoling, reassuring, and humbling. It's a reminder to me to keep striving to be the best me I can muster, to never stop learning, to lead by example, and to be kind to myself and others.

I'll leave it at that.

3.20.2009

Reach out and tweet someone


I have discovered Twitter and it is glorious. I mean, hundreds, thousands, millions of people sending out random information every minute of every day. It is a dream come true for a gal whose daily universe is her 1300 square foot house, a couple of parks and a dreamy 18 month old. For real.

Blogging has been an enormous help in my endeavors to "get out there," because, as I've mentioned before, I'm so freakin' shy and scared of other mothers, blah blah blah. The internet is so safe, so secure, so friendly. I know that those three things sound like complete bullshit and like I'm a moron, but I'm internet savvy. Super internet savvy, really, so I feel like I got this thing figured out. Remember I met Anthony on MySpace in 2003, after all. Blogging allows me to put myself out there as if I were chatting over coffee with a friend (yep, this blog must be really boring for all my real life friends because it's everything I'd normally say in a "real life" day).

I'm building my blogging relationships (I even got my very first listing in a blog roll from Noelle, a total stranger who does Baby in Broad - that was a great day when I noticed that!!) and I'm slowly, but surely developing a style and a theme. Enter Twitter.

I actually heard it first from my friend, Lax. We had been talking about the power of social media and who really liked it (of course, I love it) and who didn't (my friend, Shad, has stuck by his guns of preferring face-to-face interactions, for example). I had started with Friendster, then graduated to MySpace and had just recently discovered Facebook when Lax told me about Twitter. I was so happy with what I already had going I decided to not look into it too closely.

Then, my favorite morning show (JB & Sandy) had Lance Armstrong yakking away with them and he kept saying, "I tweeted this," and "I went to my Twitter that," and I got more interested. Lance Armstrong is tweeting??

So, about a month ago, I got an account and stepped into this new, uncharted world of social interaction and I'm hooked. It actually replaced my solitaire last night. WTF? And then I got shut out because my iPhone Twitter app (Twitter Fon) won't allow more than 100 requests in an hour. A hundred? In an hour? I really am starved for interaction!

I've been sick the past couple of days and haven't had the energy to blog, but I've been tweeting and it's fascinating to me how much it helps me feel connected. That sounds like a big, dumb, "DUH" thing to say since its whole reason is to connect people. Well, I guess I can attest that it's working.

Staying at home to raise children is such a precious thing. I feel spectacularly lucky that a) I want to do it, deep down in my bones, b) we can financially support it, and c) I'm having relative success in this traditional role. However, with this traditional role comes traditional isolation. In these new life and times of the internet I can throw open my shutters and let the sun shine in and still give all that I have to give to my son AND still stay connected, open, and honest with the world.

If you're not already on Twitter, join. It's easy, fun, and really an experiment in a new way of interacting (follow me @tisworthwhile). If you read my blog, comment. It's like getting an unexpected present and it makes my day.

Today is beeyootiful in Austin and I'm feeling a smidgen better. It's a damned good day.

3.16.2009

Menu Plan: Week of March 16th

Here we go again.

My friend, Bob, is coming to Austin tonight via Winnipeg for SXSW (yay, Bob!!). He's a vegetarian so I have a couple of veggie dishes planned for the nights he's with us. I'm still doing that 21 Day workout thing and am using their menu suggestions (it's going ok so far - today is Day 8 - and the recipes are actually quite good).

I'm still shooting for a grand total of $200 on groceries this week; hoping for $100, including any random household items.

Mon: Portobello panino with herbed goat cheese
Tues: Quinoa caprese Update: Domino's pizza
Weds: Almond-crusted fish and chips
Thurs: Shrimp scampi with salad Update: L/O
Fri: E/O
Sat: Rosemary Tuscan chicken with couscous pilaf Update: L/O
Sun: Gingered carrot soup with Macademia nuts Update: L/O

(By the way, I'm not ready to do my Great Experiment with my diet, yet. I need to work up to it.)

3.12.2009

Penecillium and Aspergillus and Rhizopus! Oh my!

Penicillium sp. (stained, under the microscope). Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday I went to my allergist (thanks for the referral, Lainey!) for a food and inhalant skin test. It wasn't the most fun I've ever had, but it was bearable. After 2 hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic for what should have been a 45 minute commute having my skin plucked and bitten 131 times and my arm pricked by a needle 20 didn't seem all that bad.

The results came up almost immediately with the back scratch test (the 131 plucks on my tender skin): I have no food allergies.

They double-check the positive results from the scratch test by injecting small amounts of the offending inhalant under the skin on your arm. If the injection site ends up looking like a mosquito bite, then you're allergic. The scale is measured in hash marks. One "+" means mildly allergic, "++++" means maximum allergic reaction. Turns out I'm allergic to a whole mess of inhalants:
++ Cockroach
++ House Dust Mite F
++ House Dust Mite P
+++ Alternaria
+++ Caldosporium
++++ Helminthosporium

++++ Penicillium
++++ Aspergillus
++++ Epicoccum
+++ Aureobasidium
++ Fusarium
++++ Curvularia
+++ Rhizopus
+++ Stemphylium
+++ Phoma
++ Mucor

++++ Candida
++++ Maple
++ American Elm

++ Pecan
++++ Mountain Cedar
++++ Red Berry Juniper
+++ Bermuda
++ Bahia
++ Johnson
++++ Timothy
+++ Kentucky Blue Grass

++ Common Sage
++ Pigweed/Careless
After reading me my results Dr. Vaughn said, "This is not good news." And it wasn't. Not because I had all these allergies to inhalants, but because the whole reason I'd gone in was to see what foods I was allergic to and might be causing my eczema. He said that dust mites could be exacerbating my skin issues and gave me some good tips on how to control for those (mattress and pillow covers, washing bedding in HOT water every 2 weeks, filters in bedroom vents, etc.).

I left feeling defeated and confused. I studied my dry, raw hands on the steering wheel and thought that at that very moment my eczema wasn't that bad. I didn't have any blisters, no itching. Just mild redness. I've been gluten-free for about three weeks with one blip of a Taco Bell bean burrito last Saturday. Within 20 minutes my hands were bright red and stinging like a bunch of ant bites. I figured it was the flour in the burrito. But this test just proved I wasn't allergic to wheat and I've been tested for Celiac Disease and I'm negative. So what is it??

I'm not ruling out a gluten sensitivity, however, but I think that my allergy list might also shed some light on my symptoms.

After some "light" research on Google last night I came up with some really interesting facts about some of the fungi I'm allergic to. Most notably about Penicillium, Aspergillus, Rhizopus, Candida and maple.

Penicillium is a fungus most famously known for its use in the antibiotic penicillin. And guess what? I'm allergic to penicillin (I'm a big pain in a doctor's ass when they're trying to find me an antibiotic not related to any "-cillin"). I get hives. That's not so different from my eczema in my mind.

Penicillium is also used in making some cheeses, most notably the "wet" ones, such as Camembert, Brie, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Danish Blue Cheese, Danablue, Stilton, Coulommiers, and some French goat cheeses.

Aspergillus is another fungus that seems to be everywhere. It's used in the fermentation process to make sake (a Japanese rice wine). Now, I don't drink a ton of sake, but I've certainly never avoided it. In fact, it's all I drink if we ever go to a Japanese restaurant since I've lost my taste for beer since I got pregnant two years ago. It's also used to ferment miso, tamari sauce and soy sauce.

The most important thing that I discovered about Aspergillus is that it's used to make 99% of the world's supply of citric acid. It's too costly and wasteful to use real citrus fruit, so we hatch it in a lab and then throw it into a LOT of our foods. Almost all colas use Aspergillus niger-based citric acid.

And according to one website I found, Aspergillus niger,
"... or its extracts may be used in the food industry as a non-declared additive. The principal products affected are: bread, beer, cheese, chocolate, fruit juices, and especially precooked meals."

Rhizopus, another fungus, is used in the fermentation process of tempeh and some alcoholic beverages in Asia and Africa

Candidia is a tricky one. It's a yeast, but not one used in making foods (that I can figure out as of yet, anyway). However, it can survive, and thrive, in a human body. Natural, homeopathic doctors use the term "candida" to describe a slew of symptoms ranging from weight gain to - yes, you guessed it - eczema caused by an excess of yeast in the system. It's treated by prescribing a diet low in yeasts and refined sugars, otherwise known as a Candida diet, so as to re-balance the body's normal levels of yeast. It's important to note that a "candida" ailment is not medically recognized by Western medicine.

Lastly, I'm allergic to maple. I've been scouring the internet looking for some definitive article about a possible link between pollen and syrup allergies; if I'm allergic to the pollen, does that mean I'm allergic to the syrup? The closest I've come is this lukewarm statement,
"The good news: even if you're allergic to maple's pollen, you can probably enjoy maple syrup without problems."

So this is a lot to process. I've thought all I had to do was an elimination diet to figure all this out. The diet eliminates all known allergens for a period of a few weeks, only to slowly add one food at a time back into your system to see if it causes any reactions. It takes months of sleuthing and record taking. Today @eczemasupport told me that I shouldn't do an elimination diet without the support of a health care professional.

Now I think doing an elimination diet would just be me barking up the wrong tree, anyway. It doesn't eliminate everything that these fungi are in because they have fungus in them. They're only eliminated because the food itself is a known allergen. I wouldn't be able to tell if it's the tomatoes I'm allergic to or the Aspergillus niger in that can of tomatoes. So, ostensibly I could eat tomatoes, just not canned ones, but an elimination diet wouldn't tell me that.

I have to do something, though. Just last night I made a really healthy dinner of chicken breast with an orange juice reduction sauce on wild rice and wilted spinach topped with some goat cheese. Within an hour my hands were stinging. The juice box listed ingredients as just orange juice, but if that website I found can be trusted, A. niger isn't required to be listed by the FDA. (That dinner was freaking delish, by the way, and I hate chicken breast.)

Or maybe the goat cheese had some Penicillium in it, even though it typically doesn't?

My body is reacting adversely to SOMETHING and I want to know what!

It boils down to the fact that I'm going to have to do my own experiment. I'll do a modified "elimination diet". Meaning, no cheeses made with Penicillium, no sake, soy sauce, miso, peanut butter, citric acid, sodas, tempeh, yeast, and foods high in sugar. I'll have to cleanse my system for a period of a few weeks and slowly test each one and take diligent notes on how I react.

Oh my God. This scares the crap out of me. I hate change. I mean, I love it and I talk a big game about it, but actually instituting a diet change like this is a big deal. For Christ's sake, I just bought two cans of tomatoes for dinner tonight and there's citric acid in them. *sigh*

To recap what my internet digging turned up:

Penicillium is used to make several different cheeses:
Camembert
Brie
Gorgonzola
Roquefort
Danish Blue Cheese
Danablu
Stilton
Coulommiers
Some French goat cheese

Aspergillus is used in:
the production of 99% of the globe's citric acid supply, which includes foods such as:
colas
bread
beer
chocolate
fruit juices
canned fruits and vegetables
the fermentation process of:
sake
miso
soy sauce
tamari sauce

Rhizopus is used to make:

tempeh
some alcoholic beverages in parts of Asia and Africa

Candida refers to a yeast and is a term used by naturopathic doctors to refer to a group of symptoms caused by a surplus of yeast in the body. Treatment involves cutting ingestion of yeast and high-sugar foods.

Ugh.

I'm spent.

And coke sucks.

(I don't know if this needs saying, but I'm by no means suggesting that a "fungi elimination diet" is what everyone should do, just that it's something I need to do to feel better. So don't go thinking I'm an expert, or anything. But if you're thinking it might help you figure your shit out, send me a line and we can do it together.)

Penpals


Shit.

I just wrote a big, long, boo-hoo, woe-is-me post the other day about how I want a crew. Well, I'm a big, fat baby.

What the hell is wrong with me? Maybe I like to complain, I dunno. The good news is that I've pulled my head (somewhat) out of my ass and I see the wonderful, friend-filled world that I live in.

A few weeks ago I sent out a little beacon of inquiry that simply said, "Would anyone like to be my penpal?" and I was thrilled and delighted to get several responses.

The art of writing by hand is nearly lost. A friend of mine just wrote me (by hand) that she doesn't even know what her new beau's handwriting looks like and they've been dating for several weeks. I'm not sure I know Sheree's handwriting and she's been my best friend for 8 years here in Texas.

I remember being a kid and forced to write thank you notes after Christmas. I hated it. My grandma would call and passive aggressively ask if we liked our gifts and if she'd gotten a note from us she'd have known the answer already. I thought she was a jerk for saying so. As a grown up, I'm humiliated that I was such a jerk at 11. (Although, in my young defense, my parents should have taken a more active role in my thank-you-note-writing and made it a fun, whole-family kind of experience rather than a chore.) Now, I think it's just lovely when a friend shoots me a quickly scrawled thank-you note (thank YOU, Diane!) and I'm very deliberate in sending my own whenever I can. At the very least, I email.

But I'm digressing. Back to the penpal thing. I'm part of the generation that has a foot in "the old days" and a foot in the new. We didn't have any other way, besides the telephone, to correspond with friends and family other than writing a letter when we were growing up. I have dozens and dozens of old letters between me and friends and boyfriends. When I first moved here in 1995 I raced down to the mailbox every day to see if a friend had written me anything. Email came a few months later, but nothing feels like a letter from a friend waiting for you in your box. Nothing.

And I'm determined to bring that back. I've completely forgotten how to correspond, actually have a conversation with someone, via pen and paper. I won't have record of what I sent previously. I won't be able to spell check. I won't really be able to erase what I've written whenever I want,either, lest I waste my stationary.

Writing a real letter involves thought, discipline, and focus. You have to think about the letter you've received and how you want to respond, but you also have to think forward in order to keep your fellow penpal engaged and connected to the process. Or, you could abandon decorum and instead send non-sequiters, which are a theme all on their own and stand alone. I tend to favor the latter since it requires less skill on my part.

Another thrilling aspect of all of this is the stationary. I have such plans!!! I have tons of old crap I'm gonna get through and then it's Creative City!! Woot!

I am so excited about this new endeavor, I can't even tell you!! So far I have six penpals in California, Utah, Iowa, Georgia, and Orgeon (although, the Orgeonian doesn't know it, yet, but I'm just gonna keep sending him random shit until he writes me back).

Would anyone else like to be my penpal?? Do you need help finding a penpal? Lemme know and I'll hook you up.

3.11.2009

Who wants a crew? I do.

My high school crew

I think the whole nuclear family is such a weird thing. I mean, who thought, "Gee, let's live far apart from people who really care about us and who can give us valuable help and mentoring in life"? It's a goal as a young adult to distance yourself from your parents. It's even EXPECTED developmentally. Differentiation between child and adult is a critical step to individualism and independence. White bread, American culture states that to be a fully grown adult, you must be separate from your family. And thus, alone. With babies. All day.

I've talked a lot here about how isolating being a SAHM is (here, here, and here - I know, boring). Because of the nuclear family set up it's incumbent upon me to surround myself with people, an exhausting venture in and of itself beyond just the daily effort of mothering and wifing. Blogging is a big help. Really big. Facebook, too. And I make a really whole hearted effort to reach out to the friends I already know (I called 3 friends yesterday to set up lunches and coffees and I've written two postcards and two letters to penpals). But it feels all so strung out, willy-nilly.

It boils down to the fact that I don't have a crew. I don't have a group of friends that will do everything with me anymore. We are all little nuclear families in our own right and we bump into one another on occasion and keep on going. I love them all dearly, but I want more. I want someone to go hiking with me, shopping with me, do laundry with me. I think I'm completely out of my mind for wanting these things. I really do. I mean, what grown woman (or man) wold want to hang out with another non-family member that much, right?? My friends are perfect and normal. I am definitely odd man out on this matter.

I want that sense of camaraderie and closeness I felt when we were all young, in school, and couldn't leave the house without a pal in tow. Going to the movies meant rounding up all the usual suspects. Parties were frequent and robust. Dinners meant pushing tables together. These days, it's just so different.

Thank God my mom and Terry are in town. If they weren't I think I'd go crazy. They offer Anthony and I the only breaks from constant vigilance we ever get and they're game for anything. They babysit on a moment's notice, they take care of him in equal parts with us whenever they're with us, essentially sharing the load of responsibility, and they go anywhere with us. Imagine what bliss it would be to have a crew who would swap baby sitting and cook meals with us. Who would organize outings and tag along to ours.

I'd never thought of this before, but hell, I'm basically describing a freakin' commune! Oh, too funny.

I know. I'm complaining about what seems like nothing, but I can't help it. It's my silly malaise. I have such a rich life: a wonderful partner, a devoted family, supportive, loyal friends, my health, financial stability. Is it a good thing that I want more or a bad thing? Should I be happy with what I have or strive for even better? Is there a difference between being content and complacent? Hungry and greedy? There is, but I need to decide where I fall and then set my mind free. My hamster is sweaty and tired. He needs a rest from all the abuse I inflict on him.

Poor hamster.

3.09.2009

Best thing EVER

Rockin' his hat and Clint this morning.

Yesterday, as I had previously promised myself, I went hiking down on the Spyglass trail and I was better prepared: Hollis had a new, bigger hat, I had two sippy cups of water (one with ice in the car, and one with me), and I wore a dark tank top so I wouldn't be so self conscious about my ErgoBaby dunlop (I'll take a picture of it for you some day).

It was hot and muggy yesterday at 3 o'clock, but I was happy to be outside with my baby strapped to my back. I headed down the hill and turned up the trail. I was feeling my legs and back, I felt strong, happy, and motherly. The trail was brown and bare, but there were still bushy-tailed squirrels foraging in leaves and slate-colored lizards pressed against limestone boulders. The creek bed is bone-dry and bright white, and reflected the haze-filtered sun lending a warm stillness to the scene.


We were all alone under the trees when I feel a little "swoosh" on my spiky ponytail and a wiggle followed by a tiny peal of laughter. Then another "swoosh," wiggle, and giggle. And another.

Hollis was tickling me.

And he knows well enough by now that when he tickles, he gets tickled.

My heart about exploded in that moment when I realized he was playing with me. Of course I obliged him and squeezed his chubby knees. He curled forward, his head on my back, and giggled and kicked, caught his breath and "swooshed" me again. KABOOM! My heart went into a million pulsing, happy fragments as he continued to swipe at my hair and chortled his sweet little laugh.

I think that yesterday, that moment, was the most spectacular thing that's ever happened to me.

My heart can hardly stand the love I feel for this little, hilarious, demanding, mercurial, loving, adorable, jiggle-chopped baby. I feel like it's sunshine in my veins, song in my heart, bone-jarring adoration. Feeling this way so openly is akin to being watched naked and vulnerable. I have nothing to protect me other than my devotion. It's liberating. I feel like I could fight a hundred men and win. I feel unstoppable. I am a woman, I am a mother. Do not get between me and my baby or you will lose, and lose sorely. Because I love my baby.

Menu Plan: Week of March 9th

One of my fav quick meals.

I'm starting a new health thing today (again - I'm so boring). I happened to pick up a Shape magazine (with Gabby Reese on the cover) and it has a 21 day program in there. Each page is a day of information has a menu and workout, so I figured I'd give it a shot.

Therefore, my menu plan this week is semi-completed for me already (thanks, Shape!).

Mon: Firehouse turkey hot chicken sausage chili
Tues: Gorgonzola Goat cheese burgers
Weds: Chicken salad with oranges and feta goat cheese
Thurs: Spaghetti with chunky tomato sauce
Fri: E/O
Sat: Noodle soup with baby bok choy and scallops
Sun: Rib-eye with Swiss chard and oyster mushrooms (that's not on the Shape menu, but I like to get these ingredients from the Sunset Valley Farmers' Market)

I've already spent $145 on groceries/household items and I haven't even shopped for the stuff above. I'm thinking I'll spend another $50 to fill in the gaps. *sigh* I can't say enough that I am sooooo frustrated at the cost of eating healthily. I've essentially cut out gluten and gluten-free products are expensive (noodles, bagels, etc.) so I don't buy as much of those as I used to, but still.

Update: I just got back from the grocery store and my "filler" ingredients for the week cost me $90. NINETY DOLLARS! UGH.

I just read this great article by a writer for MSN Money that asked the question, "Can a family eat on $100 a week?" and the answer was yes and no. The writer, with a husband, and two small kids, found that a lot more work went into eating on so little. There was less fresh fruits and nuts, and a whole lot of starchy fillers. She consulted with a nutritionist who said that frozen and canned fruits and veggies were "almost as nutritions [as fresh]." Do I really want to buy canned shit just to save some money?

And here's the kicker. Her rules for this experiment excluded eating out, no paper or cleaning products, major food-chains ONLY, and no coupons. Hell, maybe I really AM spending less on food than I realize because I go through a LOT of paper and cleaning products. I also use coupons, shop the farmers' market, and go to specialty/discount stores on occasion.

I think she summed it up well when she says,
Could we do this again? Probably. But I don't think we would. Saving money is like dieting: You can't cut back too much at once or you'll blow the plan completely. The next week I spent more than ever, to make up for feeling deprived.


I think I'll try to NOT beat myself up this week and just stay focused next week to hit the $200 mark. Then the $175 mark after that. That'd be a reasonable goal, I think, paper and cleaning products included.

Bringing it back to food, here's my recipe for the rib-eye with swiss chard and oyster mushrooms. It's seriously yummy, gluten- and dairy-free and relatively healthy (if you don't eat the fat on that steak).

Rib-eye with red-pepper swiss chard and oyster mushroom with garlic essence (yep, I said, "essence")

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 15 mins

Ingredients:
1 lb rib-eye
1 bunch swiss chard, stems removed and leaves roughly chopped
1/2 lb yellow or grey oyster mushrooms, petals only
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tsp red pepper flakes
olive oil
salt
pepper

Prepare:
Preheat oven to 425. Salt and pepper one side of rib-eye. Set aside. Wash and roughly chop chard. Wipe clean mushrooms, roughly chop. In hot, dry saute pan (NOT a non-stick) sear both sides of steak, one side at a time, 2 minutes each side until dark, golden brown. Place steak, on the skillet, in the hot oven.

For rare steak, meat should register 125 degrees, which could take as little as 4 minutes once you put it in the oven and the steak will also need about 5 minutes to rest out of the oven to seal in the juices. so time the chard and mushrooms accordingly as they take only 5-6 minutes to cook.

Heat two non-stick pans to medium-high and drizzle approximately 2 tbls of olive oil in each. In one pan, add red-pepper flakes and all but 3 slices of garlic. When oil is hot and rippling, add swiss chard. With tongs, toss well and cover. In remaining pan add 3 slices of garlic to oil and add mushrooms. Toss to cover petals with oil and watch closely. Mushrooms will shrink and become very moist when done.

I'm telling you, this is a fucking awesome dinner. The oyster mushrooms are delicate and earthy and are really complimented by the garlic infused oil, the swiss chard has a texture with more bite than spinach and a more robust flavor showcased by the red-pepper, and the steak is juicy and tender due to searing it on both sides. I'm sure I'd pay $35 at a restaurant for something like this, at least.

There's nothing better than simple, straight forward food.

Enjoy!

Rib-eye with red-pepper swiss chard and oyster mushroom with garlic essence



Rib-eye with red-pepper swiss chard and oyster mushroom with garlic essence (yep, I said, "essence")

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 15 mins

Ingredients:
1 lb rib-eye
1 bunch swiss chard, stems removed and leaves roughly chopped
1/2 lb yellow or grey oyster mushrooms, petals only
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tsp red pepper flakes
olive oil
salt
pepper

Prepare:
Preheat oven to 425. Salt and pepper one side of rib-eye. Set aside. Wash and roughly chop chard. Wipe clean mushrooms, roughly chop. In hot, dry saute pan (NOT a non-stick) sear both sides of steak, one side at a time, 2 minutes each side until dark, golden brown. Place steak, on the skillet, in the hot oven.

For rare steak, meat should register 125 degrees, which could take as little as 4 minutes once you put it in the oven and the steak will also need about 5 minutes to rest out of the oven to seal in the juices. so time the chard and mushrooms accordingly as they take only 5-6 minutes to cook.

Heat two non-stick pans to medium-high and drizzle approximately 2 tbls of olive oil in each. In one pan, add red-pepper flakes and all but 3 slices of garlic. When oil is hot and rippling, add swiss chard. With tongs, toss well and cover. In remaining pan add 3 slices of garlic to oil and add mushrooms. Toss to cover petals with oil and watch closely. Mushrooms will shrink and become very moist when done.

I'm telling you, this is a fucking awesome dinner. The oyster mushrooms are delicate and earthy and are really complimented by the garlic infused oil, the swiss chard has a texture with more bite than spinach and a more robust flavor showcased by the red-pepper, and the steak is juicy and tender due to searing it on both sides. I'm sure I'd pay $35 at a restaurant for something like this, at least.

There's nothing better than simple, straight forward food.

Enjoy!

3.06.2009

He did it!!

He looked at me and said, "Mama"!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yeahhhhhhhhhhhfuckingyeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!

3.05.2009

N - O !!!

February 18, 2009, Barton Creek at the Colorado River.

Attachment parenting is an interesting duck. For me and Anthony it absolutely feels right. The tenets (as I previously wrote about) boil down to treating your tiny person with respect due a new life.

There are a couple of things about the entire philosophy that resonated with me the most.

First, a baby's wants are his needs and his needs are his wants. He is not manipulating you like a whiny 5 year old might or like your shitty ex-boyfriend. He is manipulating you and your emotions in order to survive and thrive. I had to hang my ego, and to a certain degree, my intellect at the door and respond on a primal level to him and his mercurial moods. And you know what? It was enormously rewarding because we were never working against each other. I went with his flow, so life was (all things considered) much easier than if I had been trying to bend him to my flow. Although, to be fair, I never even tried so I'm really just speculating.

And second, my baby is a BABY. He is not a "little adult." I'm not sure that even happens until after adolescence! His brain is not capable of the things mine is. He cannot think things through, understand consequences, or control impulses. It's why everyone hates the "terrible twos" so much. By this age, they're into a full-blown Little Scientist phase which is the start of injuries, broken household items, fingers in sockets, cat tails pulled, deaf ears turned to Mommy yelling, "No, no, no! Don't pull that picture," CRASH!!! "... down."

So now I'm struggling with the word, "NO" because we're entering his Louis & Clark stage. He'll be 15 or 20 feet away and wiggled in between something I was trying to keep him from and he'll be pulling and plucking at it, unplugging it, or pushing it around and it will either be dangerous to him or the object and I say, sternly, "Hollis, no, honey! Stop!" and try to put down whatever it is I'm doing to intervene. He waits, quietly for me to reach him, all the while absentmindedly continuing to do whatever it is I want him to stop.

I will then do one of two things. Either show him a way of interacting with the object that is acceptable to me (like softly touching a picture frame, versus pulling roughly on it) or will give him something else to play with in another part of the house.

The internal tug-of-war I'm having is that my initial reaction is of irritation and a strongly voiced, "NO!" It goes back to the two things I hold most dear to my heart regarding my approach to parenting: he needs to explore, he wants to explore, and he's not trying to be a little jerk by ignoring me, he's a BABY, and he can't help it.

I'm not one of those parents who will let him take a marker to the walls, but I will probably give him a designated wall to draw on covered in butcher paper. I'm not super keen about the idea of him pulling out all of my pots and pans, but I will give him a cabinet all his own he can do whatever he wants with. So, I'm really struggling with a substitute for NO. You should see the look on his face. He doesn't know what my face and tone even mean. He's never been scolded or yelled at, never known fear at my hands, and that's certainly not what I'm going for here, but I AM definitely trying to get through to him on a whole new level of contact from our usual Mommy-is-sunshine-and-puppies-all-the-time.

What if I just end up thwarting his attempts at development? What if I become a harridan, always fighting with the natural learning curve of my child? What if I instill a sense of wrongness in him?? (Oh God, that last one would break my heart.)

I feel as though I'm on the right track. I'm thinking about all of this, I'm not punitive with him, I'm aware of my feelings and the reality of having an almost 17 month old. I have to give myself a little credit. But God DAMN, no one ever tells you about the truck loads of self-doubt and guilt that come with that 8 lb bundle of joy. Sometimes I feel like they're arriving by the fleet every day.

3.04.2009

I'm afraid of other mothers

A train full of moms.

I know it sounds ridiculous, but it's true! I'm deeply shy (yes, I'm SHY) and so I'm intimidated by the prospect of speaking to a total stranger when it's just me and her and our two toddlers. I feel compelled to say something, anything: ask her her kid's age, joke conspiratorially about dirty diapers and lack of sleep, or to become fast friends like *that*.

Obviously I'm putting WAY too much pressure on myself and thus sucking any mom-to-mom pleasure out of my encounters. I go to three or four different parks regularly during the week and I'm still waiting for that special Mom Friend to come up and lick my hands and wag her tail. Isn't that how it works? Oh!!! How I wish!!

What really happens is I take Hollis to the park and follow him around and make sure he doesn't split his head open. Other parents with similarly-aged kids are doing the same. We just follow the little maniacs around, make sure they don't eat or throw pebbles, fall off the big kid jungle gym, or wander off following a "buhhd".

Last week I went down to Zilker (one of our regular parks) and also rode the Zephyr. In the seats ahead of me was a group of moms all with little ones about Hollis' age. I'd noticed them on the playground and had thought, "Hmm, I wonder if they're in a mom's group." Sure enough I was right. I could overhear some of their conversation and it was all "getting to know you" kind of stuff. They were doing what I want to do! Hanging with other moms!

I felt like the kid in the back of the bus watching all the cheerleaders talk about the party they went to last weekend that I missed out on (I know, I know - I was one of those cheerleaders, but you get my drift). These women had found a little tribe of their own and I was glaringly alone.

I wondered if the group was for a specific age group of kids since it couldn't have been just coincidence that they all had only one around 12-18 mos. Could I have fit in? I was so close to asking them about it, but I didn't let the thought really settle in my mind long enough to even reject it. I didn't want to feel like a weenie for being scared of a handful of women (who, by the way, looked incredibly friendly).

I don't know what my deal is other than to say I'm a little odd. I can charm the pants off anyone so long as there's nothing at stake , but I can't introduce myself to someone who has something in common with me like staying at home with a baby.

I keep telling myself to join a mom's group, but my shyness acts like super glue keeping me stuck to my current pattern. I tell myself something might give just by putting myself out there in the path of other moms, but so far, it hasn't even come close to happening. Today, for instance, Hollis and a little fuzzy-headed girl named Noelle, were gently touching fingers and handing each other rocks. Her mom talked to Hollis, I talked to Noelle. I made an effort to connect with Brielle's mom when I noted the sparkles in Noelle's jeans and how you just don't get the sparkle effect when you dress a boy. She chuckled and moved on following her baby around the play yard. *sigh* So much for that.



Generally, that's how it goes. I say something, make tentative eye contact, help someone's little one out and I get a big fat NOTHIN' in return.

Sometimes I feel so alone doing this job. It's rewarding, beautiful, wonderful, fulfilling, blah blah blah, but it would be nice to have somewhere else to go besides my mom's house for grown-up talk and a little shared child care. I have one friend who lives about 45 minutes away that I see about every 3 or 4 months. I have so much fun when I visit because I love chatting with her while our kids run around. She and I share parenting values, are both educated, put careers on hold, are happily married, and have extended family nearby. It'd be so nice to have friends closer just like that.

But alas, unless I hide mommy treats in my pocket next time I'm at the park, I don't think it's gonna happen until I put down my security blanket of shyness.

Ugh.

Quickie

3.03.2009

Our Digital Lifestyle


Many of you know that I've been drinking the Apple kool-aid for a while now.  Even so, I cringe when Steve Jobs throws out new buzzwords.  One from a long while ago was "Digital Lifestyle."  There were a number of products whose purpose was to enhance my Digital Lifestyle (as long as I purchased them, of course).

Yesterday, I realized that there's some truth behind the buzz.  Like it or not, Apple has created a bunch of products that work really well together.  My mission: to create a nauseatingly sappy ringtone for my iPhone from recordings of Hollis.  Google led me to instructions in about 10 seconds.

I had a copy of Garageband (recording and mixing software) from work, and it took about 30 seconds to figure out how to record Hollis.  Editing and looping took about another minute, and the "Send Ringtone to iTunes" option finished off the process.  Total time was seriously less than 5 minutes.

Now whenever Jessica calls, I get Hollis giggling.  In the wings I've got two other ringtones: one of Hollis going, "blahblahBLAHblahlblah" and another of him saying, "dada....DADA!".

Isn't it cool how easy it is to make your coworkers sick?  I love it!

The Cat's perspective

Jessica's cat 'n mouse analogy got me thinking... There are certainly worse animals to be compared to, even taking our furry freak Lola into account. She also made it clear that it's not really my own actions that cause me to take The Cat role in her head. Still, it's a little disturbing to be saddled with the subtext of control and intimidation that go along with the Cat/Mouse relationship.

(This is the point where Jessica sighs and says I'm taking things far too literally. Maybe so, but it makes for a good starting point for my rambling thoughts.)

I'm not sure what I imagined grown-up family life was going to be like when I was just a kid. It wasn't the best time for me, and I don't think I had the most inspiring examples of good family life. Still, I figured that the traditional family configuration (dad = breadwinner, mom = kiddo wrangler) would be the easiest thing to settle into by default. Whether or not you approve of it, our society was built that way for a long time.

But as Jessica has talked about, settling into the "traditional" roles hasn't been as easy as we expected. She struggles with justifying her SAHM role as legitimate work in a society that has focused on "equality" mainly in the workplace. The progressive woman is encouraged to get out there and pursue her dreams, but isn't necessarily rewarded if her dreams include staying in and raising a family. There's a considerable amount of (great) blog space devoted to the conundrums of mommyhood in the modern world.

But what about us dads? I've dropped into a role that ought to be business-as-usual for a guy, but it really hasn't been quite that easy.

First, there's the whole Provider role. Jessica and I have argued constantly about money. For me, money means security, and having someone else spend it is pretty terrifying. I remember Jessica asking me, "Don't you get some internal reward from providing for your family?" Uh, no. I used to be able to buy pretty much whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I'd accidentally leave paychecks lying around for a few weeks before remembering to deposit them. Now I can't remember the last time I bought some toy just for the fun of it, and we're living paycheck-to-paycheck despite the fact that I make more cash than ever. Nah, the Provider role wasn't easy to get into at all. I'm getting better, though.

(By the way, in case it's not clear, I wouldn't go back to the single life for any amount of money. My awesome wife and kid FAR outweigh the disposable income I used to have.)

Then there was the pregnancy. I won't get much sympathy for this one, but pregnancy is tough on a guy. Your loving wife gets steamrolled by rampaging hormones, and navigating those waters is tricky indeed. While she is being affected by very personal changes, you're trying to figure out how to afford the latest round of nesting. You become disturbingly adept at lying to to the love of your life about any number of topics, from mood swings (what mood swings, dear?) to your attachment to your unborn baby (yep, I totally adore that little pecan in there) to your research into fatherhood (yeah, I'm totally planning on getting to that stack of baby books, really!). Finally, when the magical day comes around, you get to watch your soul mate wracked with pain, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it. Whee!

Well, at least the role of Father is pretty straightforward, right? Again, not so much. Don't get be wrong, the moment Hollis was born was totally magical and I'll never forget it. But once the magic wore off, I was faced with a peculiar situation. This tiny little thing was completely dependent on his mother, and I didn't really feel much attachment. Especially not compared to the mother-baby bond. I freaked out that I was somehow broken, since I'm not the most open person. I mean, you're supposed to love your baby with all your heart, right? You're not supposed to resent it for interrupting your sleep, or co-opting your Jessica time, or making you feel like a totally incompetent parent by crying incessantly, or refusing to poop some days only to have a massive blowout the next. The first 6 months was probably the hardest time of parenthood for me, trying to love a crying, pooping, barfing, momma-loving sack of potatoes that really didn't give much back.

Luckily that all passed, and the little guy managed to wiggle his way firmly into my heart. I can honestly say that I've never felt this way about another human before. I'd do anything for him, and he makes me happy in ways I can't really even describe.

Which presents a whole new array of problems! I now miss Hollis when I'm away. I've never really felt that before. I like being alone. But now as soon as I leave Hollis, I want to be back with him. It's even more powerful than my feelings for Jessica (and yeah, I feel shitty about that). He's the first person in the world that makes me feel that way, and he can't even talk yet. This is the part of being The Provider that I didn't anticipate. I can't count the number of firsts I've missed because I've been away from Hollis. First steps, first words, first time standing up on his own, etc. I'm not a workaholic, even. It's just that things are bound to happen during the daytime when I'm away.

And to come around full circle, setting into The Husband role has been oddly difficult, too. I've got what seems to be the ideal situation. Jessica makes us breakfast and dinner, packs me a lunch, keeps the house clean, baby wrangles during the day, and even does the bills and finances. I don't ask her to do all that, but at the same time I don't ask her not to. Is that bad? I definitely pitch in when I'm at home (though I've been napping a lot on weekends lately). I'm not sure exactly what to do. I hate the idea of the husband who works all day, then comes home and has a beer on the couch while watching TV. At the same time, I've done that on occasion. How do I get the downtime I need without feeling like an ass? I think Jessica and I do a pretty good job of giving each other time off, but I still struggle with feeling guilty about the work she does for me.

Man, we're quite a guilt-ridden couple, eh? I thought this was supposed to be easier.