Thursday, August 28, 2008

Theme Thursday - Summer Round Up

It's hard to choose just a few favorite pictures to summarize this summer for Theme Thursday. Sure, I have a lot of pictures of the kids but nothing that really stands out as portrait quality. But when I think of what has been important to my family this summer, I think of our garden. It was a whole family endeavor that took over a significant portion of our front yard. We had many volunteer pumpkins that thrived despite our not having planted them ourselves- they were simply gifts from the compost we laid down. We had numerous tomatoes, a few eggplant, some pickling cucumbers, chard, cantaloupe, peppers and some acorn squash (another gift from the compost). As a whole family, we planted, watered, nurtured, harvested, shared, cooked, canned and pickled. In our garden this summer, we grew more than just magnificent sunflowers and ample produce, we grew some family memories. Those, you can't buy in the store.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Yes We Can - Susie on Politics

You know how when you were a little kid, you always believed what your parents told you? Well, growing up, I was always told that I could be whatever I wanted. A doctor, a lawyer, a ballerina… Well, maybe not a ballerina but you get the idea. The point is, my parents never once talked to us about barriers to our dreams. Whatever is was that we wanted to do, we could do, if we tried hard enough.

And for their part, they worked hard at jobs they disliked, to make sure that my sisters and I got all the things in life that they did not. We went to private schools and then on to college. Where they couldn’t support with cash, they supported with food and other basic necessities. They always supported with encouragement. The message was always the same: “You can do it. Whatever you set your mind to, it can be done.”

While growing up, I think I believed this - at least mostly. I know I believed it when I gave my first solo performance. I know I believed it when I took my driver’s exam. I know I believed it when I sent in my graduate school application. And I believed it when I packed my car and drove off to a new life in North Carolina. But by my teen years, I only believed it to a certain extent. I believed I could do anything I wanted to do, as long as it was within my means.

In high school, I knew I could go to college. I knew that I could go to my state university, but not Yale or Harvard. In college, I knew that I could get good grades, but not maintain a 4.0. I knew I could be stellar, but in my own average way. In laying out my life’s path, I chose attainable goals – goals that I could meet (sometimes without too much work because I am lazy that way). I knew that I couldn’t change the world but that I could make at least some moments of it better for the kids with whom I worked. I’m not putting myself down - I just understood the simple fact that you can only aim so high based on your life circumstances. I understood the sad truth that there are barriers for people who are not born into money. My life’s opportunities have been vastly different from those of George Bush. For working class people, dreams and goals are two different things.

Now if my parents had the same understanding, I do not know. Sometimes I think they just said those things because they wanted them to be true for their children. If they truly believed them, then they would probably call me cynical. I think I have been realistic. Over the years, I stopped believing that this idea could be true for anyone - until I listened to Michelle Obama’s convention speech.

If you haven’t already, go and listen. It doesn’t matter what side of the political railroad tracks you live on, her words will make you believe that we can do whatever we want to do, if we try hard enough. This is the message that I heard while growing up and what I want my children to hear too. And she makes me believe it’s true, once again.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tomato Fest

There is a hint in the air, a signal that the end of summer is coming. Even though there is still a calendar month to go before the Equinox, and even though it will be warm here long after that, summer is still ending. How do I know? What makes me so sure? The garden, of course. The majestic sunflowers are drooping and drying on their twelve foot stalks. Only the birds can appreciate their current state. The pumpkin vines are dying and shrinking back into the ground now that their work is done. The tomato plants have stopped producing and are mere shadows of their former selves. And so, the end of summer means the end of all this bounty:

And what does one do with all this home-grown goodness at one time? Well, for a couple of weeks, it was all tomato, all the time. I made A LOT of gazpacho, eggplant parmigiana, tomato basil pasta and pizza... We also gave away many tomatoes to friends and neighbors.

And what to do with the leftovers? Well, not much makes you feel closer to your homesteading roots like canning. Behold...

Did you have a garden this summer? How did you enjoy the fruits of your labor?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Come Visit Me

My inaugural post is up at Triangle Mamas. I hope you stop by to visit me and meet my new friends.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Theme Thursday - Wonder

I wonder what the bees would do if our garden didn't have this:

I wonder what other wondrous entries there are today over at Stacy's.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Later Rory

Have I told you about my niece Rory? (And yes, that‘s a blogonym.) Last week, Rory turned eighteen years old. Today, she leaves for college. This morning, I suddenly felt like I had run out of time.

Eighteen years ago, I held her newborn self in my arms. It was a sunny, breezy morning, just like we are having today. She was wearing an infant-sized sweat suit with my college insignia on it that I had purchased for her. It was too big for her, of course, but she was wearing it for my send-off. I gave her one last kiss on top of her head and held back my tears as I handed her back to my sister. “There’ll be lots of time to hold you later, “ I promised. And then I drove off to college.

And I did get to see a lot of her those first two years. I was often home on weekends and I’d care for her on school breaks. But it never seemed like enough. I looked forward to being out of school and having a job so I could spoil her properly. I wanted to be the kind of aunt that would always buy her things, the things that her parents might not want to get her. I wanted to be the kind of aunt who would always take her places that no one else wanted to take her. I was ready to buy prom dresses and brave coliseum concerts. Remember the Friends character Monica, when she held her newborn nephew Ben for the first time and said, “I’ll always have gum”? That was the kind of aunt I wanted to be, the cool one.

The same summer I graduated from college and moved back home, my sister and her family moved out of state. I went with them to help out for the first few weeks but I eventually had to go back home and get a job and figure my own life out. So I said “Goodbye” to Rory once again and vowed to spend more time together, later.

Then there were the jobs, graduate school, a fiancĂ© that lived two hours away, the wedding to plan… Then it was my turn to move far away and start my own family. That “later time” kept getting pushed later and later. I missed birthday parties and first days of school. I missed Christmas mornings and beloved pet funerals. I missed school plays, concerts, and graduations. I missed her leaving for her first date and leaving for her prom. And now I’m missing her leaving for college.

There was one auntie gut-wrenching phone call where I had to explain to the then six year old Rory why I was missing her birthday party twelve hours away. “Maybe you can take an airplane ride,” she helpfully suggested in her sad little voice. But there was work and it wasn’t a good time to make the trip and we just bought a new house so, I missed it. I hated that I missed it, but I missed it. I’d make it up to her, later.

Eventually, the missing out part got a little easier, as I became even more absorbed in my own life. The distance was incorporated into our daily life expectations. We made the most out of every visit and still do. We make those visits as often as possible. I know I’ve had an impact. I know I have a relationship with Rory and her sister. In some ways, I am the aunt I’ve wanted to be. But I feel like I missed so much. And the missing part got hard again this year as Rory had her last school concert, when she graduated from high school, and today, as she packs her stuff for college.

On our last visit to her house, we spent a whole afternoon together. She took me to her favorite coffee house, her favorite clothing boutique. I met her (then) boyfriend. And we watched a lot of Gilmore Girls. I was struck by how much she is not a kid anymore and how much our relationship is about to change. We will email each other. I’ll hope to visit her at school. I’ll send her care packages of the little things no one else will think to send her. I'll visit her My Space page to see who and what are new in her life. I know I’ll be a part of it in some way. Only now, she’ll be the one saying, “later.”

Monday, August 18, 2008

Saturday, August 16, 2008

It's An Honor Just To Be Nominated...

To blog is to hold dear the belief that each person has a unique story and a voice to be heard. To read blogs is to hear those stories, those voices. Every now and then, you might find one that you are drawn to - a familiar story, or perhaps a riveting one, a story that is well-crafted, or sometimes a story that is told in one long sentence without punctuation – it doesn’t matter really. What matters is that the voice comes through and is heard. And for the blogger, it is nice to know when you have been heard.

I want to sincerely thank Melissa at Green Girl in Wisconsin for awarding me the Arte Y Pico. Not only am I touched that she thought to give this to me but also because she called me “insightful.” Aw shucks, Green Girl, that is quite the compliment.

She explains that the award is " a token of one's style and substance as a blogger." Winners of the Arte Y Pico award must:

1) Choose five blogs that you consider deserve this award for creativity, design, interesting material, and contribution to the blogging community, regardless of language.

2) Publish the name of each award-winning author as well as a link to his or her blog.

3) Each award-winner must post a picture of the award and link back to the blog that has given the award.

4) Both the giver and the recipient of the award must link to the Arte y Pico blog, so everyone will know the origin of this award.

5) You must post these rules.

So in the spirit the Arte Y Pico, I pass the award on to the following fellow bloggers:

To Elena at Stay at Home Mom Quickly Going Insane – When I first started blogging, Elena was welcoming and encouraging. She brought over all her own readers to my "house" to welcome me to the blogging neighborhood. Her writing is honest and witty, raw and charming – and funny as hell. For a good example, read her "Fuck Fear" post. She is going to publish a book one day.

To Marty at Don’t Take the Repeats - Marty (the blogger previously known as Canape) is as classy in person as she is on her blog. I have been reading Don’t Take the Repeats for about a year now and have always loved the sincerity in her writing. She is insightful, authentic and you will feel like you are reading the blog of a dear old friend. Marty has also just launched Triangle Mamas, a community blog that will unite and organize us mommy bloggers here in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill.

To Stacy at Land of K.A. – Here’s a woman who does it all. Her blog is an inspiring mix of creativity including photography, cooking and sewing. She is the hostess of the photography-oriented Theme Thursday. I am learning a lot from her and I would truly like to be her when I grow up.

To Jenn at I Serve the Queens, for her beautifully written, poetic posts about parenthood, pain and hope. Read this post and tell me it doesn’t make you cry – I dare you. Here’s to all the dimes in our lives…

And right back at ‘cha Green Girl. I know giving back the award is probably not done, but I feel we might be kindred spirits, you and I. Green Girl is captain to the northern Team Testosterone (she has three boys of her own) so she totally understands why it is not advisable to use the “boys” bathroom in my house and why I can’t have anything nice.

Enjoy and thanks for hearing me.

*And you should definitely click on the link and take a look at it because it is really beautiful but for the life of me, I can't make it appear here. Someone please advise?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Theme Thursday - Antique

I am learning so much about photography from Stacy's website. I have always been reluctant to do too much with my photos as far as processing ( I don't even know how to use Photoshop) and I hate to lose what I had originally captured with the camera. But today, with Stacy's "Antique" theme in mind, I took these pictures with the specific intention of processing them and exploring some of my computer's previously untouched features.

This week, my husband and I celebrate our 14th wedding anniversary. In observance of Theme Thursday and our special day, I present to you, my wedding gown. It seems like a lifetime ago that I fit into this dress, purchased at a vintage clothing shop in Boston. I doubt the dress was very old, but it was quite reminiscent of an Edwardian-style tea party dress. And while lace wasn't and isn't really my style, this dress fit me perfectly the first time I ever tried it on - and it was the first one I did try. So, it was meant to be. I loved how the dress fell close to my body and was so easy to wear on a hot, August day. I especially loved the detail of all this embroidery. I saved the dress all these years hoping that someone else will wear it one day - perhaps a niece or daughter-in-law. Stay tuned because no doubt I'll blog that when the day comes.

The macro setting with my finger holding down the flash brings out all it's antique-y glory. I switched the pictures to black and white, leaving one and using the antique setting for the others. I also blurred the edges.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

What's the Breast Story?

I think it would be fair to say that women have been breastfeeding their babies since the dawn of time. Forgive me if I don’t cite a reference on that one. And I think it is also safe to say that besides using car seats and putting babies to sleep on their backs, breastfeeding is the big parenting “must do” of our generation. (And luckily, if we choose not to breastfeed or simply can’t make it work, we have better alternatives to utilize than our mothers ever did.) But from the pamphlets in the OB’s office to even the commercials for heavily marketed formula, the message is that “Breast is Best.”

This hasn’t always been the case. My mother did not breastfeed her children. In the mid to late 60’s, formula was still considered to be the “scientific” way to feed babies. No one ever educated her on the benefits of nursing or even offered it as a choice. My mother-in-law told me that it was basically the same for her. Bottles and disposable diapers were symbols of status and convenience while breastfeeding was for the hippies on the commune. Even though La Leche League was organized since the mid-fifties, bottle-feeding was the norm from the Baby Boomers to Generation X. So when did that change? Probably about the same time that parents fought to have fathers in the delivery room. By the early 90’s, breastfeeding was back in fashion.

I remember this being a big deal for my sister when my niece was born. But she had to fight for it, begging for her baby to be brought to her and not be given a bottle in the hospital nursery. The women in my family couldn’t understand why she would even want to breastfeed. But almost a decade later, that attitude changed. By the time I gave birth for the first time in 1999, the hospital nurses simply assumed that I would be breastfeeding. Dean never once was offered a bottle or pacifier in the hospital and a lactation consultant checked in on me even though each of my nurses “helped” me with my technique. In fact, if I had ever made any other choice, I might have been made to feel like less of a mother. I left the hospital armed with a pump, nipple cream and a bag of formula (just in case). I also left with a baby that had gained weight before we were discharged to prove that I was doing it right. Breastfeeding for my peer group is not just the fashion, but also the expectation.

So why, in a society where it is understood that about 70 percent of mothers do indeed breastfeed their infants, do we still hear stories like this? Did we suddenly time warp back to 1967? Where does such discomfort with the most timeless, natural process come from? Could it be that we still consider baring one’s breasts an offensive act, like mooning? But Catherine Connors wasn’t mooning anyone – she was trying to feed her baby. And for most, a quietly suckling child is more socially acceptable than a hungry squalling one. So we are expected to breastfeed our babies, just not in front of anyone else?

What really surprised me about Her Bad Mother’s story is that another mother was the one giving the disapproving glare. I would never consider another parent to be someone I wouldn’t lift my shirt in front of to feed my child. In fact, after three kids, I doubt there is anyone who has met me that hasn’t seen me nurse a baby. Parks, museums, school, soccer practice and even the library – I’ve bared my breast almost everywhere I have been in the last nine years. And if I have gone to a private location to nurse, it has probably been for my own comfort rather than yours. I have even nursed in front of my own father (gasp) and if he can handle it, so can you.

This is not to say that I go topless just anywhere. I do carefully choose locations, again based on my own comfort and sometimes the comfort of those around me. I don’t nurse in front of the adolescent boys at the pool. I don’t nurse in the mall food court in front of the old men. I haven’t always breastfed in front of my dad – I usually leave the room and if he chooses to sit next to me on the couch while I’m nursing, then that is his choice. It’s taken him awhile to get to that point. And if I don’t know you well, I may ask you if you would be uncomfortable with my nursing in front of you. But I’d never think to ask a mom of young children who had probably breastfed as well.

No one has ever asked me to stop nursing. I have never been instructed to take my nursing child into a public restroom – a place regaled for bodily fluids coming out of the body rather than going in. Would you want to eat in there? Even if I weren’t pro-lactation, I would never make another woman feel like she had just done something unspeakable in front of me. While my almost nine-year-old son can’t stand to see me undressed, he is never uncomfortable seeing me breastfeed his brother – whatever the location. He understands the difference between nudity and nursing. One makes him uncomfortable while the other is natural process.

So at the close of World Breastfeeding Week, I offer up these challenges. Next time you see a young mom nursing a baby – give her a smile. Reminisce with your children about how they were fed – bottle, breast or both. And if you are currently lactating, take your child to a public location and proudly bare your breast – for moms like Catherine and for your baby.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Theme Thursday - Friday Night Eyes

What would Thursday (or Friday morning for that matter) be without a Theme Thursday contribution? Now when Stacy called the challenge this week "Eyes," I'm guessing she probably meant human eyes but by now you know that Susie doesn't usually take the theme literally. So I offer you this: Hit Bull, Win Steak. Intrigued?

Last Friday evening, we participated in that summer rite of passage that is attending a baseball game. And if you live in the Triangle area of North Carolina or have ever seen the movie Bull Durham, then you understand what a full sensory experience it is to go see the Durham Bulls play. Besides the actual game action on the field, there is the loud organ music playing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and the vendors walking around with steaming sweet-smelling funnel cakes. And there is so much to do!

For one thing, you get to share snow cones.

And perhaps contemplate your next career?

(Here is where the eyes come in) And feel safely watched over by this guy -

When the home team makes a home run, he really does do this (just like in the movie) -

The Bulls won, by the way. Those eyes were glowing red a lot that night.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Growing Up and Letting Go

In these last few weeks, we have been coping with a big transition – the start of Kindergarten. It would be difficult to say whether this is a bigger change for Jess or for us, his parents. He was excited the first day, maybe a little nervous of how different it would be, but thrilled to be starting “big kid” school. We went to the open house where he walked around the classroom, wide-eyed and absorbing every detail. He let everyone who would listen know that he was indeed, ready.

But a new school equals new rules, new ways of doing things. Jess’ preschool was a very child-led environment, rich in hands-on activities and meaningful projects. To now be in a traditional, “sit-in-your-seat” style school is a huge change. Just after the first few days, Jess made it clear that this difference was “no fun” and in fact, boring. Also, the tight teacher-directed schedule leaves little time for making friends. Add to his disappointment the fact that he now is in school until 3:30 when he is used to going only half-day and you have a recipe for exhausted daily meltdowns. Sometimes these are on the way to school and sometimes for some random reason later in the day.

Obviously, this is not unexpected. Starting school is one of childhood’s biggest milestones and Jess is not well known for keeping his emotions in check during the best of times. With all the changes, he is left with few resources with which to cope. But my heart breaks a little every morning when I drop him off. I walk him (sometimes drag him) to his class and stand at the door while he goes through the motions of his morning routine. The first few days, I’d leave and come back to peek through the window to see how he was doing but had to stop that because it made me too sad. He would just be sitting in his seat looking lost. Jess is the type of spirit who always fits in – never having trouble making friends and finding something to do to make him happy. So to see him each day, looking sad and out of place was just too much for this mommy to handle and I’d walk back to my car wiping away tears. I feel like I’m leaving a piece of myself behind at that desk each day and I wonder if there will be anything left of me by Labor Day.

Dr. T. Barry Brazelton, the grandfatherly developmental pediatrician, calls these transitions “Touchpoints.” These are the steps backwards we take before we grow and make a leap forward. Children often regress in one area while they are working on another – like the toddler learning to walk who suddenly stops sleeping through the night. Touchpoints are phases, signs of growth and ultimately, they pass. And while Jess suffers through this touchpoint, I feel like I am having one of my own. I am holding on tighter before I can let go.

It would be easier to let go a little if I felt that Jess would be landing into a fabulous kindergarten experience. But as his parents, we are coping with our own disappointment. From the moment we entered the classroom during open house, I felt doubt washing over me. It’s not that there was anything specifically wrong with the classroom, there was just nothing very right with it. There was nothing outwardly creative or outstanding in the set-up but I also understand that some teachers start off the year with a clean and almost empty classroom and add to it as the curriculum progresses. And then Jess started to bring home the coloring sheets he has been completing at school for his “work” and my stomach turned over and my eyes rolled back in my head. Worksheets, especially those where you color in the lines, go against the very grain of my child-development trained philosophy.

Now I should also explain that I look at school from a consumer standpoint. The school offers a product and I if I don’t like it, I can theoretically choose another school. And because of my educational background, I am one choosy customer. In our area, we have the illusion of a lot of choice. We have our district public schools, our magnet schools, charter schools and private schools. Our first school experience was a charter school that we chose for Dean. In the beginning, it was a seamless transition from our preschool with small class size and a project-based curriculum. The school as a whole was not perfect but we had a great teacher and good first year in kindergarten. First grade, however, was a very different story. We had an awful teacher, unsupportive administration, and a child with emerging learning issues that were not being addressed at school. That began our adventure in home-schooling and a story for another long post. After many school visits, much soul-searching and number crunching, we settled on this school – our district school. A school with a great reputation and one of the reasons we bought a house in this neighborhood. And it has been great for Dean. He is on his way to having his second great year and our faith has been restored in the public school system.

So for Jess, the choice field was narrowed down considerably because who wants their kids separated into different schools, on different school calendars? And even if we were willing to do that, I burned the bridge back to the charter school. And even if I had the money for private school (a mere $12000 per child), it’s too late to apply and enroll for kindergarten. And while I certainly know people who try a new school each year for their child, I don’t want to be one of them. I like this school and am looking forward to Jess getting the same experience as Dean – but I fear he won’t get it this year in kindergarten.

And nothing irritates a mom more than not being able to “fix” a problem. There is no way to talk to the teacher about my concerns without making the problem worse. No teacher likes to be told how to do her job and there is no way not to have hurt feelings trickle down to my son. I could talk to the principle but I doubt, despite his being as fabulous as he is, that my concerns will lead to any change. My asking nicely for a more creative approach to teaching will not stop the flow of worksheets in my child’s direction. I might as well ask for more adequate parking at the same time. In fact, I have to be very careful whom I speak to about this. Of the few friends I have in this school, one of them is friendly with the teacher in question and neither of them understands why I even have a problem with the curriculum. And while I believe strongly in my stance on this issue, I can see where these other moms think I am being a pretentious ass and why don’t I just enroll him in the over-priced private school already.

My husband is ready to pull Jess out and have me home-school him for this year. He has absolute faith in my ability to put my money where my mouth is and do a better job teaching Jess than his current situation will. But I’m not sure home-schooling will meet all of Jess’ needs either. Home-schooling takes discipline and organization – not my strongest suits. And I’m not sure my little extrovert would be happy alone with his mom and his baby brother for most of the day. Our five-week summer did not go very well in that regard. I don’t want to pull him out of school in knee-jerk haste. I also don’t want to have to contemplate any more change than necessary.

There just doesn’t seem to be any clear solution here. I want to do what is best for Jess, but it also has to work for the whole family. I want him to be happy in school. I want him to love learning. I want him to get more from school than just doing what he needs to do to make the teacher happy. But part of letting your kids grow up is accepting that as a parent, you can’t fix everything. And I may not be able to fix this. This may be a year that he just has to get through – I just hate that it has to happen this early in his education.

So for now, I’ll keep watching to make sure that Jess’ creative spirit doesn’t get lost in the worksheet shuffle. I’ll proudly keep displaying his class work on the refrigerator like it’s a lovely piece of art. And I’ll keep reminding him that he doesn’t always have to color in the lines. And I’ll try to let go, just a bit.