Everyday Life

Election Day 2016

November 8, 2016

Seal by Alec Weir

All I can say is, I don’t think I have enough alcohol in the house today.

Image: Alec Weir at unsplash

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Monday Musings

September 26, 2016

Orioles vs. Red Sox at Camden Yards

Who says Fridays are the only day for publishing random musings? Let’s start the week out with a few things floating around my brain…

First, the exciting news: I have a new niece! Alexandra Claire was born last week in Portland, Maine, the first for my younger sister, Erica. “Alexandra” is my middle name so that’s pretty neat. She’s a total doll and my daughters are thrilled about another girl cousin in the family!

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The girls went to their first baseball game — Orioles vs. Red Sox — last Thursday evening at Camden Yards. We live close to the stadium, but B and I aren’t big baseball fans so we never go, but when neighbors offered us tickets we thought it would be a fun experience for the kids. The seats were up high so at first S and H were a little anxious but they settled in, enjoyed hotdogs and peanuts, and otherwise had a fun time. (The Red Sox won, of course — my New England family would have been happy.)

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My household has a virus making its way around at the moment. S came down with a cold Friday morning and still has it. B came down with a sore throat yesterday and feels lousy. (A man cold, in other words, which are never fun for anyone.) H is okay apart from a few sniffles. And I feel like I’ve been keeping something at bay for the past four or five days and I’m hoping to keep it that way, but this afternoon I’m feeling a bit worse. Getting called in the night because a little girl can’t breathe well or has lost her tissues or is coughing loudly and waking up her sister means I’m not getting the rest I need to kick it to the curb.

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We’re finally getting some fall weather. It’s my favorite time of year around here so I hope it keeps up for a while.

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If you’re in the U.S. are you watching the debate tonight? Part of me doesn’t want to, but most of me does because, well, have we ever had an election quite like this? Ugh. (I don’t get political on this site, but for the record, I’m not a fan of either candidate in the least.)

Alright, your turn. What’s going on as your week begins?

 

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

 

 

 

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Let Your Kids Get Dirty

September 20, 2016

NS Beach

It seems that all those years growing up in the country pulling carrots from the ground and eating them with the dirt still on had its merits: Here’s yet another article — this time in the Wall Street Journal — about how important it is to let our kids get dirty how microbes are essential to good health and help us avoid a range of diseases:

From the moment we are born, we begin getting colonized by bacteria, which kick-start a series of fundamental biological processes, including the development of our immune system. Before birth, the lining of our gut is full of immature immune cells. When bacteria move in, the immune cells react to them, changing and multiplying. They even move to other parts of the body to train other cells with the information they have acquired from these intruders. If deprived of this interaction, the immune system remains sloppy and immature, unable to fight off diseases properly.

And:

Inflammatory diseases (such as asthma, allergies and inflammatory bowel disease) and metabolic diseases (such as obesity and diabetes) are characterized by alterations in our immune system and our metabolic regulation. Knowing what we do now about the role of the microbiota, it is not surprising that these diseases are being diagnosed in more children. They are, to a great extent, a consequence of relatively recent changes in our lifestyle—modern diet, oversanitization, excessive use of antibiotics—that have altered the specific microbes that affect our metabolism early on. We urgently need to find ways to modify our behavior so that our microbes can function properly.

So what’s a parent to do?

Let your kids play in the dirt and mud and don’t be so anal about keeping them clean. Give babies and children a wider variety of foods. Cut out processed foods from the family diet. Be more restrictive about giving antibiotics to kids (and give probiotics supplements when you do). And stay away from anti-bacterial soaps. There’s more, but that’s what this article focuses on.

Does it freak you out to imagine your baby sucking on something she found on the ground? Or letting your kids go without a bath for a week?

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Dad and son

Most parenting advice is worthless. So here’s some parenting advice.

I laughed when I read that headline. And I like the article, too. Well, not the f-word and cussing. Call me old fashioned, but I don’t like when writers use curse words, unless it’s in a novel or they’re blowing off steam on their social media accounts. I’ve noticed that many people under 35 don’t hesitate to use the f-word in their published writing these days. I guess I’m just old.

Anyway, I think the gist of the piece is right on. You know when things start coming your way so often that you know you’re supposed to pay attention? This is part of that for me. I’ve been coming across articles and having conversations lately about how out-of-control the parenting industry has become and how we need to focus more on just being parents, rather than treating our children like projects to manage in order to make them into successful adults.

The author says research shows that genes, friends, and socio-economic status are the greatest determinants of successful adulthood, but I don’t buy that entirely. First, it depends how you define “successful adulthood.” He doesn’t say. Second, if I think about my own childhood, the environment my parents created for me, as well as what they taught and modeled, has made an enormous difference to who I’ve become. (Not that I’d be considered a successful adult by some peoples’ standards — probably not!)

But the author’s point dovetails with a recent conversation I had with my mother, a woman who’s gleaned a thing or two from raising 10 kids to adulthood and was never particularly good at going along with the status quo or following cultural trends that struck her as irrational, unnatural, or just plain ridiculous. She was complaining about how the “cult of the expert” reigns supreme today, and how it has eroded parents’ confidence and undervalued the wisdom of older generations.

This is true, and I think there are many reasons for it. I think one reason we don’t glean much from parents, grandparents, relatives, and more experienced friends these days is that they’re not around much. So many of us live far away from these relationships; it’s a very transient culture. Additionally, many of today’s parents grew up in small families and didn’t help with childcare. When you don’t have your own experiences to draw from, or that of your elders, you turn to other resources to help you figure it out. I had all of the above myself, but then I became an adoptive parent and that added an entirely foreign dimension to my parenting. I’ve not only leaned on others’ advice and experience, I’ve turned to authors, writers, and therapists — all of which are certainly considered “experts” — and I’m grateful for them.

So I don’t think it has to be an either/or, but I totally agree we’ve lost something important in our culture and it’s resulted in a lack of confidence to march to the beat of our own drum as parents. Like the author of the Vox article, I think we’ve become obsessed with getting parenting “right” and agree with his point that “childhood is life, not preparation for life,” which I take to mean that everything we do now shouldn’t simply be to ensure a certain future for our kids, but that childhood should be a wonderful thing in its own right. Our children are not just adults-in-waiting; they are people, living their lives in the here and now.

As parents, we’re often anxious and fearful, calculating so many decisions we make. We all want what’s best for our kids, of course, but what if half the things we do and worry about aren’t going to matter much to their future success one way or another? I suppose we don’t want to take the chance, right? But we’d probably do well to realize that too often what we’re doing is more about us, and that we’re approaching parenting as project managers rather than as loving parents who enjoy our kids’ childhoods and who trust that it’s a whole host of factors — many of which are out of our control — that will determine our kids’ futures.

What do you think?

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

 

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It’s August!

August 1, 2016

Photo by Olivier Miche

When August arrives I begin to feel that familiar pressure to cram all the summertime stuff into my schedule that hasn’t happened yet, before it’s too late. But I also find myself eager to be done with the sauna-like weather that greets me every time I step outside the door these days, and there are so many things I love about fall, I don’t mind that it’s around the corner.

On my agenda this month is: vacation! And a couple special gatherings with friends, a lot of preparation for a new school year, and getting our house ready for some renovations this fall.

How’s your summer going, friends? (Or winter, for that matter, if you’re Down Under, which I know some of you are!) Any plans for August? Any items on your to-do list you are determined to check off before Labor Day arrives?

Image: Olivier Miche at unsplash

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Finding the Light

July 27, 2016

Brian Erickson photo

I’m finding it hard to write about lighter subjects this week. It’s getting to the point where one of the first thoughts I  have in the morning is: “What terrorist attack happened while I was asleep? Who died?”

The fact is, a lot of people over the years have died tragically while I was sleeping — I just didn’t know or hear about it. Some people get annoyed when they see others throw up a European flag whenever there’s a terrorist attack there, but not when it happens in Sudan, or Pakistan, or Burma, or Iraq. Certainly, no one is more or less human than anyone else — every unjust, violent death matters. Every life matters.

But it’s also true that it’s very human to be more affected by what feels closer to home. There are many reasons we don’t easily identify with certain places in the world — cultural and religious differences, geography, lack of familiarity, cognitive biases, what the media shows us, etc. (Did I feel as affected by what happens in Ethiopia before our adoption? No. Now what happens there is much more personal to me and I pay attention.) We need to work on being in more heart-felt solidarity with everyone, but as with so much in life, what moves us, scares us, motivates us, is the stuff we feel emotionally connected to.

I think there’s also something to be said for ingrained expectations. Westerners grow up assuming that, for the most part, we can count on being safe in our own homes, in our own cities and towns. We believe in our political systems (well, that might be a little debatable right now!); we live in societies that are based on the rule of law and freedom. So when churches and schools and restaurants and malls and holiday celebrations in the countries we live in and visit no longer seem safe, our personal world no longer feels the same.

There’s also something different about terrorism, about mass shootings in public places, and radical ideologies and prejudices that compel violence. The causes of, and the solutions for, what we see in the news today are complicated and not easy to comprehend or fix by simply saying, “Enough already!” There is real darkness out there. There is hate and ignorance that only wants to destroy and dominate.

But we are always left with the questions: How do I respond? What can I do ? And the one simple thing all of us can do in our busyness right now, today, is to be the light where we are. In our homes, on our streets, in our offices, at our churches. We have light we can bring. And we can look for it around us, because it’s there — in abundance, really. We can celebrate what is true and good and beautiful where ever we find it, and we can share it with others, point it out, keep it before us. It makes me think of a quote from the New Testament, John 1:5:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 

It’s true; the darkness will never overcome the light.

Image: Brian Erickson at unsplash

 

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The 6 Hour Work Day?

May 25, 2016

Anthony Delanoix

Here’s an interesting experiment: A nursing home in Sweden (predictably!) was selected for a study about work hours. Researchers wanted to see what would change if employees worked a six-hour day instead of eight hours — for the same pay. After one year, the program “had sharply reduced absenteeism, and improved productivity and worker health.”

Sweden is already home to many businesses that allow flexible work hours and liberal parental leave policies, but it seems to me that this is a worthwhile conversation for other places to have. Is the “8 hour work day” ideal for every kind of business and employee? And if not, should we change it?

When I began working from home, I noticed that despite its challenges, I got a lot more done in far less time than I did in an office. That’s because in the average work place there’s a lot of time spent on things that aren’t directly task-related — such as casual conversations, coffee breaks, dilly-dallying, and unproductive meeting time. People are often more efficient when they have less time. (This is one reason why busy moms get so much done!)

The same can be said of school. The time children spend at school actually doing academics is far less than the hours spent there. Of course, education is not just academics — and this goes for the work environment, too. Many employees enjoy chit-chatting around the water cooler, and spending time that they’re not “on task.” But with only 24 hours in a day, is that more important than having more time for family at home, for the outdoors or exercising, for making healthy meals, for being involved with your community or church, for learning something?

Of course, it’s necessarily the case that six-hour work days are best. There are probably businesses and professions that it doesn’t and wouldn’t work for. But maybe this isn’t a one-size fits all approach. Truth it, we don’t even have a eight-hour work day so much anymore — it’s more like nine or 10 hours, at least when I look around at the kind of time the average person spends at his or her work place.

Would you welcome a 6 hour work day? Do you think it would be make you more more or less efficient?

Image: Anthony Delanoix at unsplash

 

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Are You A Superfan?

March 21, 2016

Springsteen with fans

I have six sisters, and one of them is a self-proclaimed super-fan. From the time she was a young teenager, she has loved Bruce Springsteen. Lots of people love the Boss, of course, but if you were to meet my sister, you’d never peg her for the “super fan” type. Truth to be told, she’s way too balanced and sensible to be completely irrational in her love for Bruce, but the evidence is still there: She has most of the albums he’s ever put out, managed to appear (via audio) in the recent movie made about his life, and has sacrificed a lot to be at his concerts — I’m talking flights, hotels, and babysitters. In fact, for a recent birthday, her dedicated husband worked some connections and they managed to get front row pit seats in Boston. To say that made my sister’s entire decade is probably an understatement.

Springsteen in Bean Town

I told you they got very close.

While I’m a fan of various artists, actors, and musicians, I can’t say I’m a super fan of anyone in particular. Not to that kind of degree, anyway. But I find it fascinating and I’d love to hear if you can relate. Would you consider yourself a super fan of anyone, or do you know anyone like that?

While you’re thinking about that, I need to share this video the Huff Post ran. If you’re a Springsteen fan, you’re especially going to dig it. Guess who sent it to me?

Images: O & D

 

 

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Pull Up A Chair

March 11, 2016

Tasja Brewis pic

It’s been a whirlwind week and all I have for you today is a little story that might amuse you.

But first, grab one of these classic margaritas from Epicurious… I could really use a refreshing drink right about now. Plus, we’ve had 70 degree temps here all week —  crazy for early March! But a nice break from the cold.

So yesterday morning I was sitting in downtown traffic with one of my daughters trying to get north of the city for a 9 a.m. appointment when I suddenly realized: I need a bathroom and I need one now.

We were driving down a notorious city block called “The Strip” — for reasons that should be clear —  so there was no way I was hauling my child inside any establishment there for a restroom, even at 8 a.m. I can make it another 15-20 minutes — I just won’t think about it, I convinced myself. We could not be late for this appointment . I just had to bite the bullet.

Then we got on the highway and I realized that no, I really wasn’t going to make it, so I took an exit, stopped at a 7-11, and went in with my daughter, “Sorry, no public bathroom,” the cashier said, “You might try McDonalds, half a mile up.” So, we ran back to the car, and as I was about to close the door, a woman (who had been in the 7-11) came out and said, “I know what it’s like to have a kid who needs the potty so you might want to try that breakfast restaurant across the street there with the yellow awning — they’ll probably let you in.”

“Right!” I said, “Thanks!” (Having kids can be so convenient sometimes!) We hopped back out, made out way across the street, and the restaurant was closed. By now we probably could have been at the office where we had our appointment, of course.

We got into the car and once again, I thought, Okay, I think I can make it another 10 min! But two minutes down the road again and I knew that, nope — wasn’t going to happen. By now we were driving through a tony part of town, and I remembered a café in a swanky plaza that would surely be open for breakfast. I drove in like a mad woman and parked. At this point, every second mattered. I grabbed my daughter’s hand and we ran up the stairs to the cafe and I could tell as we approached that it was closed. In desperation, I tried the door anyway and… it was open! We ran in, past the kitchen (where a light was on), and found the bathroom. Once inside, my daughter said, “Mom, are you sure you’re allowed to do this?”

“Mommy sometimes breaks the rules” was probably not the best answer, but I did offer a better explanation when I was calmer. We ran into a busboy on the way out, who — when I said “I’m sorry we’re patrons here sometimes and really had to use your restroom!”  — looked at my daughter with a knowing smile and said, “Oh, sure, no problem!” Did I mention there are advantages to having kids? And also, thank heavens that door was open, as I had very clear visions of myself behind one of the manicured bushes under the balcony of somebody’s fancy condo and my daughter having to watch her mother get taken away in handcuffs for lewd behavior.

Speaking of which, any plans for the weekend? Haha. A few things on my agenda that I’m looking forward to,: including a Lenten event tonight at a friend’s church, a night out tomorrow with a friend, and a gathering with other families at an Ethiopian restaurant on Sunday. All of it will help my feel better about trying to get taxes done over the next few days.

Have a lovely and slow weekend and I’ll see you back here next week!

Image: Tasja Brewis at Life of Pix

 

 

 

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Pull Up A Chair

March 4, 2016

Paul Itkin at Unsplash

Last week I was sitting at lunch with the girls at our homeschool academy and one of their classmates came along with his ding-dong, which he was munching on with great gusto. He held it up to the girls, who have never seen a ding-dong before, and spoke about it for a bit.  Then he left and I said, a little apologetically to the girls, “I’m probably never going to buy you ding-dongs.” To which H responded, “That’s okay, mom, I prefer dark chocolate.”

Heart swell.

Then S said, “Mom, are there any healthy ding-dongs out there?”

I’ll have to make something for that poor girl.

How has your week been? I don’t know what’s been going on the past few weeks, but they’ve been whirlwinds. A total slow mama fraud over here. The one thing I like about winter is it tends to be slower, but I can’t say that this one has been like that and now we’re looking at spring, when everything typically speeds up. I am taking some time away tomorrow for a personal retreat with a friend of mine. I really didn’t want Lent to go by without intentionally taking a day away for prayer and reflection so I’m looking forward to that. What about you — any exciting plans for the weekend?

I don’t have a drink to offer today… how about a cup of warm raspberry tea? My girls have been making that a lot for all of us these days.

I’ll see you back here next week!

Image: Paul Itkin at Unsplash 

 

 

 

 

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