Sunday, January 29, 2012

Do You Remember the Carpool?

It always went something like this when I was in school: "Mom, B and I are going to hang out at D's house Saturday. B's mom can take us if you can pick us up."

Why does it not happen this way anymore??? Does it happen in your little world, but not mine?

After a year of driving Amanda to her twice-monthly junior high girls' Bible study and then returning an hour and a half later to pick her up, a month or so ago, I said to a friend, "Your daughter goes to Bible study, right? Would you mind taking Amanda on your way, and I'll bring your daughter home after?"


Because of this amazing deal, I am sitting home writing this blog post, not dropping Amanda off. It's only 10 minutes away (if that), so it's not  a huge deal, but my friend drove right past our neighborhood on the way to drop her daughter off. I have to pass our neighborhood to take her daughter home, but it's only a few minutes up the road and not an inconvenience at all.

Why are we this way? This generation of parents just once removed from our own for whom this was normal? I have contemporaries whose parents loved them very much, I'm quite sure, but who were only allowed to sign up for extra-curriculars if they could catch a ride. Shocking, no? No, not really. This particular friend had 5 or 6 or 7 siblings, and if a parent shuttled them each around to every activity, they would never get out of the car.

I actually have some theories as to why we don't team up like this anymore. Let me know if you see yourself or your crowd in one of these. Or perhaps there's another reason. Or maybe this is all just me and everyone else is carpooling around (Nope -- it's not just me. The absurdity of it all hits me every time I would see 10 or 12 cars waiting for their tweens and teens outside of the house where the Bible study meets. Also, seeing the cars lined up to pick up their children after school or after an event. and seeing one child get in. Don't even get me started on school pickups. . . . ).

  1. Our children are so dear and precious to us that we can't stand being away for them for any longer than we have to. Also we don't really trust someone else with our children.
  2. Our kids are so used to being the center of attention that it doesn't occur to them that us driving them around might be an inconvenience and that they could ease it by arranging transportation. Yes, we're parents, and I don't mind doing it, but it IS inconvenient.
  3. We want everyone to think we are all Supermoms. Ask for help? No can do. I can do it all myself.
  4. We are more insulated than our parents were, so we don't consider asking. Then we might owe someone, and they might ask us for something.
Agree? Disagree? Have something to add? I want to know. This has been on my mind a while.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Wet Horses

When they moved some employees of my husband's company from Houston to Portland, Oregon, they tried to make the infamously rainy Pacific Northwest more appealing by relaying the true fact that it rains more in Houston than in Portland.

Moving to Portland in the middle of the very long rainy season and expecting the worst was actually a good thing. That first winter/spring, there were sunbreaks almost every day, and though it truly does rain more often than not between October and June, it's a fine drizzle that doesn't really impede people's activities. Everyone just slaps on a a rainjacket with a hood and goes about their business.

Houston rain is another issue entirely. When we have thunderstorms, we get inches of rain in a matter of hours. It's the kind of rain that defies the use of an umbrella and a rainjacket.  After a year of the biggest drought in hundreds of years, we've had our typical rainfall this fall and winter. Remembering the drought and the fires makes it a little harder to complain about the inconvenience of the rain.

Driving home from Bible study (past the empty shopping center parking lots, since a really bad thunderstorm is about the only thing that keeps the busy suburbanites home), I drove past this pasture (right in the midst of the suburban sprawl -- yet another unique and interesting Houston fact of life).

These horses were wet. Noticeably really wet.  They had been standing in the rain for 3 hours. But they continued on -- eating, waiting to air dry, enjoying little horsie fellowship. There are times that my plans get interrupted. Lunch dates have to be rescheduled, leisure time takes a back seat to work or meeting others' needs or something. But rain is good. The Maker of man, horses, rain, and even droughts knows this.  I'm trying to learn to be flexible -- to go with the flow. Maybe the next time my fur is ruffled, I'll think of the complacent wet horses, moving on with their life's work after the downpour.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What's on My Nightstand -- January

I made some reading goals along with my other 2012 goals this year: read 12 books "just for me" this year, and keep accurate records of what I'm reading.  I'm doing okay on both of those, having read one book "just for me" (in addition to another one I read in December, pre-goal!). 

Reading breakdown for the month: Read: 1 1/2 adult fiction, 2 YA fiction, 2 1/4 nonfiction. Audiobooks: 1 YA and 1 Nonfiction.

Recently reviewed:
Goals for this month:
New on the list -- all for review: Maybe (but probably not!) Audiobooks (getting behind on these as well!)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Words I Never Thought I'd Hear

The view from my room
I stepped into the elevator ready to hit the Santa Monica pier promenade. A hotel employee was in the elevator as well (in a good hotel, the hotel employees are everywhere, and the Casa Del Mar is an amazing hotel). I got off before him, and as I exited he said, "Enjoy your run!"

Proof -- After!
Who me?  Yes, me. I had my ipod, my hair was in a ponytail, and I was appropriately dressed in my running shoes and capris!  What's even weirder than being pegged as a runner was my mental response to his exhortation: "Yes, I am looking forward to it."

Here I was on vacation a business trip and I was choosing to take up part of my morning with a run. And I was looking forward to it. Yes, I've stayed on track with one of my 2012 goals to start running. I've increased my speed and endurance fairly slowly, but I'm up to running 3 minutes and then walking 3 minutes (which I do 5 times in one session). Next week I'll officially be running more than I'm walking. After starting and failing a few times, I'm amazed (and proud).

The weather in Houston is okay for year-round running, but in Southern California, it's perfect. After I got to the hotel Friday, I did my first exploration of the area. Walking down to the beach, I saw a dude getting out of his BMW wearing a wetsuit (stripped to the waist of course) and unpacking his surfboard. On the boardwalk, people biked, skated, walked, ran -- you name it.

In fact, I found out that this site was the original "Muscle Beach." And indeed there were people using the rings and other stationary equipment to tone up (or show off). A grassy square invited stretching and yoga (and on one occasion when I passed by -- hand-walking).

I did enjoy my run, and I look forward to more runs, in my boring neighborhood, and hopefully in other places as vibrant as Santa Monica. I love New York, but LA has a laid-back comfortable vibe that's growing on me.


I posted some more pictures of this beautiful hotel and told why I think that the Casa Del Mar is a great Readers' Hotel over at 5 Minutes for Books in the On Reading column today. Please check it out.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Lunch for/with the New Mother

A dear friend of mine recently had her second child. Last week I went over to her house (making it easy for her -- keeping her baby and toddler in their own setting), but I brought the lunch and I also brought her dinner for that night.

It was all a big hit, and I got all the recipes off the Hidden Valley Ranch Recipes page. I'm really proud to be on the parent panel again (changed from the "mom panel," since we have two dads contributing this year!), and one of the things I hope to do is to try out some of the recipes and share the ones I like.

Double Onion Quiche, Hidden Valley Ranch recipe

For lunch I made the Double Onion Quiche. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Angela and I both loved this dish. I'll definitely make it again, and she thought it was the kind of thing she could make and serve on a mom-friend playdate.  On the side, I served the veggie-filled Crunchy Pea Salad, another total keeper. Her two-year-old enjoyed this as well.  This made a great ladies' salad lunch, but I think it would be a good side salad for any meal.

Hidden Valley Ranch Smoked Sausage Mac and Cheese

The dinner I left her was the Smoked Sausage Macaroni and Cheese. I had also made this for my kids the weekend before when my husband and I went out to dinner. I'll be honest -- it's very very Ranch-y. If you don't like Ranch, you won't like this**. When I made it for Angela (after verifying that she and her husband did indeed like Ranch dressing), I used slightly less than the cup called for, and I increased the milk.  I also used half Bacon Ranch and half Hidden Valley Ranch Light. I think that this made it a much better dish because the flavors were more complex.

Both times I used regular smoked sausage instead of the mini smoked sausages called for. With these online college classes you can get a Culinary Arts Degree and take your cooking to the next level. I used small shells one time and rotini pasta another.  It's a very kid-friendly meal, so I think it's a perfect meal to give to a new mom with other young kids at home.  My 13-year-old daughter really liked it, and asked me to make it again soon. My 7-year-old son, who probably eats more Ranch than the rest of us, wouldn't really try it, because "You know I don't like macaroni and cheese," and he was reading the recipe on the computer as I was making it, so once he read the title, he decided against it. I told him it was more of a Ranch sauce, not mac-and cheese (and that's true -- it doesn't have the consistency of a mac-n-cheese dish either homemade baked, or out of the box), but no go. I'm hoping that he might try it the next time.

I'm excited about mixing up our mealtime over the next couple of months.

**My husband doesn't like that creamy Ranch taste, so recipes using the bottled dressing aren't probably going to go over well with him. The recipes that use the dry seasoning are fine, but I'll have to be cautious with ones using a large amount of the bottled dressing, such as the mac and cheese.

Monday, January 16, 2012

What Friendship Means to Me

"I got it for you with extra pickles, because that's how I like it. I hope you like it with extra pickles."

My second pregnancy ended early in my second trimester. I had to go through labor and delivery, which I wasn't looking forward to. I was in a drug-induced haze much of that morning, but I remember things very clearly from that day over 9 years ago: Terry's concerned face, nearby the whole day, our pastor and his wife and my Sunday School director there praying with us before the procedure started, my best friend holding the tray when the drugs made me sick, and Allie's sandwich. She brought Terry and me some Chick-Fil-A for dinner, infinitely better than hospital food, which was nice enough in itself, but what struck me was that she wanted us to have the best chicken sandwich that she could order.

That was obviously a low point in our lives, but the outpouring of love and concern -- the way people went out of their way to come alongside us, the phone calls and notes I received from others who had gone through similar ordeals -- all of that sweetness made the bitterness much easier to swallow.

In How to Be a Best Friend Forever, Dr. John Townsend explores friendship, and one of the things he opens with is friendship in crisis. Yes, I like to laugh with my friends, I like to travel with them, to celebrate with them, but knowing that my friends are there for me when times are hard bonds us together in a way that a good time never could.

When there's conflict in my marriage, when my kids disappoint me or I blow it as a mom, I have friends I can turn to. I know that they'll listen, I know they'll understand, and they'll support me -- or if necessary, tell me that I need to modify my thinking.

One of the qualities of a best friend is being there. Last week, one of my best friends told me that she had committed to spend significant time last week to figure out a direction she should go. I called her towards the end of the week and asked her about it.

"I was hoping you'd call," she said as she shared what decisions she had made.

Was she testing me? Not really.  By telling me her plans and asking me to pray for her, she showed her trust and expectation for me to follow-through. She was expressing her need that I as a friend express my care by remembering.

GIVEAWAY: I really enjoyed this slim volume that reinforced what I know I do right in friendship and challenged me to go even deeper. If you read my full review of How to Be a Best Friend Forever at 5 Minutes for Mom, you can leave a comment and enter to win (U.S. and Canadian shipping addresses are eligible). You can also leave a comment here for an extra entry (but you must leave a comment on the review post).

You can also get an additional entry by reading and commenting the Five Friendship Rules to Live By excerpt from the book on 5 Minutes for Books.

I'd love to hear about a special friendship memory you have.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

In the morning and in the evening

Last night Kyle and I dropped Amanda off at a friend's house (because that's what parents of teenagers do). We came home and had about half an hour before Terry would be home for our "night out as a family of 3" dinner.  I cranked up the gas logs, and we both did this:

Twelve hours later, as the early birds in the house, we were both doing this:

His beverage was hot chocolate, mine was coffee, but we both had our blankies and our books.

It was a great way to start the day.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Standing Tall

For the last several months, there's been an ongoing debate about who is taller -- me or Amanda (13).  We frequently assume this pose.

In late November or early December, she went to the doctor and she measured 5 feet 5 1/4 inches, so I knew she was getting really really close, but I was still taller.  However at a recent family gathering, Amanda was measuring up to her 14-year-old cousin (she was taller) and my grandmother who says she's 5' 8," but at 91 years old she's way shorter than me. In fact, the last time I saw her, she asked me if I was still growing!

And so Amanda and I stood back to back, and the overwhelming consensus was that she was taller. I couldn't believe it -- I demanded a picture. And the picture speaks for itself.

What strikes me about this picture is how exactly our hair color and texture matches. I have never ever put anything on my hair -- highlights, dye, etc., and I was beginning to feel a little drab and faded, but look -- I'm lustrous like a teenager!

People say we look just alike. I see a resemblance, and we are to the point where we are confused on the phone by her friends, my friends, and even my husband/her father!

I'm proud that she's like me in some ways, but it seems that week after week, month after month, I see her standing taller and prouder as her own person, and I like that even more.

Monday, January 09, 2012

My Kids' Book Picks

As always, I'm joining in at 5 Minutes for Books and sharing what my kids have enjoyed reading this past month.

Amanda, age 13:

Last month she had just started Twilight. Between now and then she finished that one and then also read the 2nd and 3rd books in the series and has started Breaking Dawn.

I asked for her thoughts on the books for this post:

"They are stupid. They are good enough to keep reading, but they are still stupid."

I think that's her way of saying that the plot is good, but the writing isn't great. Also, I know that she is very annoyed by Bella.

Then I asked her about Crossed, which we both read this month: "I loved Crossed. It was more romance book-ish than Matched" (book 1 in the series which she also liked).

I've linked to my review of Crossed which will be live on 5 Minutes for Books at noon Eastern today. There's a giveaway too, so you should definitely check it out.

Kyle, age 7 1/2:

Kyle is still firmly ensconced in Calvin and Hobbes, but he did like the Peanuts collection I got him at Christmas as well.

As for "real books," he has found out that he enjoys some of the Boxcar Children books (the later, cheesier, more modern ones), but he's still reluctant to try out some books that are on his AR level (4th grade). Since I work in his school library, I always do research for him. The Hank Zipzer and Encyclopedia Brown books are both on his level, and I keep suggesting them, but so far he is resisting. Any real kid endorsements I can pass on to him regarding either of this series??

Christmas in Washington, D.C.

Whenever my kids have had to do school assignments looking at our family culture and tradition, we are sort of left out in the cold. We're American. We don't really have any deep ethnic or cultural roots. From what I can tell that's common in the South, whereas in New England some people were more tied in to their Italian or German or Scandinavian roots (I'd love to know if this is your perspective as well).

When it comes to traditions, ours are fairly traditional. We invite people over for Thanksgiving, and as I've thought back on on the years that we hosted, we often welcome a wide variety of friends and family. We eat traditional dishes unique to our own family. That's tradition, right?

Christmas again involves get togethers with family and specific gift-exchanging traditions. But one thing that I always remind my children of is the tradition of seeing the decorations in Washington D.C.'s President's Park. Since my husband's family lives there, and we spend practically every Christmas there, it's something that we've seen every year.

There are many families who visit there each year. There are many people who visit from different states and countries. But our tradition is all our own. For one thing, though we plan the evening we're going to visit well in advance of a weather forecast, it is often the coldest night of our entire stay. This year, the temperatures were quite mild for December, but the night we went? Cold and in the 40's. And after viewing the big tree and the state tree and watching the trains for a while, there's usually ice cream.  You really can't go wrong with a traditional night out that involves ice cream, can you?

Washington, D.C. is a pretty magical place. Anytime you drive in and see all the monuments lit up it almost takes your breath away, but Christmas is an especially awe-inspiring time.


If you like Washington, D.C. as a setting, be sure you click over to 5 Minutes for Books and enter to win a copy of the unique collection of stories Cherry Blossom Capers.

Also, I have to say that I am very irritated with Blogger at the moment. I've spent many hours trying to upload pictures (even downsizing them before I do so), and something is happening where they aren't coming through (the one above is nothing compared to the gobbledygook I've gotten). It reminds me of the old days when Blogger used to take ages when traffic was high, and since I'm trying to blog better -- which I actually did in the old days -- maybe it's okay to tap into that frustration. Since it's been almost 2 weeks since we returned from this trip, it was time to post regardless.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

My 2012 Goals

Yes, I'm intentionally not calling them resolutions. I don't know why. Perhaps it seems trite, and yet, here I am posting a list on my blog, which is just as expected and hackneyed. But somehow I like the idea of setting goals as opposed to making resolutions, though I do like this particular definition: A course of action determined or decided on.

Lately I've been plenty aware of my shortcomings -- how precious my time is, and how I'm wasting much of it -- and that leads me to make tweaks in my habits throughout the year, which is wise, but I can't let the calendar switch over to 2012 without aggregating some of those goals and yes, even dreams:

  • Reading: I posted some reading goals in the "On Reading" column at 5 Minutes for Books today.
  • Writing: Oh, I could say so much here about how I'd like to blog more, but it will fall on empty ears, because it is truly a hackneyed and trite thought. However, I'm setting a goal to write more this year. Learn to entice readers by refining your writing skills with a creative writing mfa degree. I started this blog as a place to write -- not necessarily to journal the trivial events of my life, but as a place to express my thoughts and pull them together in a somewhat organized fashion. Years ago, I think the blog served that purpose, but now it doesn't. So, some of this "writing" might appear on this blog (theoretically and wishfully about 3 to 4 times a week); some of it might be in the "On Reading" columns at 5 Minutes for Books. I might make steps towards a pie-in-the-sky dream of writing fiction by actually writing some fiction.
  • Doing: I am not gifted in the home arts -- cleaning, organizing, home finances.  All of that falls short. I'd like to set a goal of spending 2 hours per week on these activities. That can include meal planning, which I used to love but don't do so much anymore, or reorganizing a closet, or cleaning out a junk drawer. By the time I tackle all the "need to's," it will be time to hit them all again.
  • Running: Last year, I decided to be a runner. I tried. I floundered. I still had the desire, but I was frustrated. I'm going to give it another try, largely thanks to this book, which has given me some additional instruction and inspiration. I want to do this for general fitness, weight control, it's a hobby that Terry and I could share, and it's exercise that I could do pretty much year-round outdoors here in Houston.
  • Connecting: I don't want to use busyness as an excuse to crowd out people. There's no quantitative (or is it qualitative) goal attached here, but I know when I'm doing it and when I'm not. When I follow through with that instinct to call a friend or invite someone to lunch, I'm connecting. When I surf the net, go through a drive-through alone, or watch mindless TV instead of phoning a friend, I'm not.
  • Devoting: This is the word that's been in my mind and on my heart in regards to my spiritual life. I don't want to simply go through the ritual of church and Bible study and prayer. I want my life to be marked by devotion. Again, I'm not exactly sure what this looks like, but I think it involves a conscious effort to feed my mind with Christian teachings and writing, to respond to God when He guides me in a certain direction. I think that Christian music will help keep my focus on Him throughout my day to day life.
  • Accounting: I'd like to evaluate myself monthly or quarterly in these areas. 
Do you set goals? Do you have any words of advice or encouragement for me in any of these areas??
Disclosure: Some links within the post are affiliate or sponsored links.