Tuesday, November 23, 2010

In Praise of the Family Meal

This time of year, I fall in love with my kitchen. It's a basic kitchen with none of the fancy appliances so many have taken for granted. But despite the fact that my oven runs too hot or too cold and the electric coils have to be forced back in with the end of a stainless steel spoon every time I turn them on, somehow I manage to cook up some pretty yummy dishes.

The weather has turned cold, the leaves are off the trees and the chill makes me want to bake, cook, saute and stew. Banana chocolate chip muffins, care of Cat Can Cook, have barely made their way into the girls' lunchboxes after being gobbled right out of the oven. I hope that Cat Can Cook won't mind, but I've just substituted pumpkin for the banana in honor of this time of year when opening a can of pumpkin can send me into a suspended state of ecstasy.

But I recently made a dish for dinner that summoned up all my childhood dinners. It had been a long week in which we were dragging ourselves towards the Thanksgiving break. I'd opened and closed the refrigerator at least a dozen times without any idea of what to make.

I went back to my desk to finish up some the day's projects. After working out of the house for the last few years, I'm now happily operating my PR consulting business out of our home. As I closed up my computer dinner inspiration hit me. Tuna patties. Why tuna patties? Well, I was in the mood for something shaped like a burger, but since turkey burgers had recently democratically voted off our menu and we've cut down on our meat intake, I was seeking something tasty and economical. I ran to the pantry. Bingo - four cans of fresh Crown Prince Natural Tongol Tuna.

Every Monday for countless Mondays, my mother made Salmon Patties. In my freewheeling, anti-establishment twenties and thirties, I used to make fun of my mom for the weekday menu she adhered to, but now, as a parent, I completely bow to her culinary organization and strive to do the same. As a child, I relied on that menu for a way of framing my week and my memory has enshrined this menu in the following way:
  • Monday: Salmon Patties
  • Tuesday: Meat Loaf with a hard boiled egg in the middle
  • Wednesday: Chicken and Rice with cream of mushroom soup
  • Thursday: Baked Halibut
  • Friday: Roasted Chicken
I loved all these meals, with the exception of the Baked Halibut. Thursdays I would beg my friends to rescue me from the inedible Baked Halibut cooked in tomato soup with canned green beans. But the rest of the week, I looked forward to them the predetermined meals and gobbled them up. The food was hearty and heart-felt and every night of the week (except for the nights I was able to escape the Baked Halibut), our family ate together. My father would arrive home by 6:30 p.m. and after he'd changed out of his work clothes and washed his hands, we'd sit down together and share our day.

But back to the Tuna Patties. One of my recent goals has been to limit the number of unneccessary trips to the market, a carryover from years in New York City and spontaneous meals. I go to the market once a week and try to make our meals out of that week's shopping, which requires meal planning (back to Mom's weekly meal menu) and limiting the whim-based eating habits of my single days. Sometimes we'll give in to something we really want to have, but I was so damn tired that I couldn't bear the idea of going to the market and besides, I liked the challenge of creating from what I already have. I looked around the kitchen to see what else I had and spotted an acorn squash, rice and garden mix salad greens.

Having never made Tuna Patties, I was a bit lost as to how to begin, so I looked online for Salmon Patties. All the recipes I read online called for fresh salmon and that wasn't going to happen. They also were so busy being something other than the simple fish patties of my youth that I closed my computer and opened up our much used copy of the "Joy of Cooking," page 267. The recipe was refreshingly simple in ingredients and steps. Wanting to keep the simplicity of JofC's salmon cakes, I added a few items to it to account for the substitution of tuna, which tends to be milder in taste. I also needed to make it gluten free, since that is my dietary necessity. Below is my version of Tuna Patties, which will probably change again as my mood and pantry changes:

  • Four cans of low sodium Tongol Tuna, drained and flaked
  • 1/2 - 2/3 cup crushed cornflakes
  • 2 slightly beaten eggs
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Juice of one lemon
  • Dash of wheat-free soy sauce
  • 1/8 tsp paprika
  • Dash of dill
  • 1/4 tsp curry
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
I drained the tuna, reserving the juice for our three cats, who scurried into the kitchen at the sound of the opening cans. With the juice being lapped up by them, I flaked the tuna and added the crushed corn flakes, eggs, salt, paprika, pepper. I added fresh lemon juice, a dash of wheat-free soy sauce, dill and a touch of curry powder and cumin. It took a little bit more of this and that before the mixture was the right consistency to be formed into patties that would hold. On the electric griddle, I placed the patties and let them brown gently on each side and then popped them into the oven to stay warm.

The acorn squash, cooking away in butter, maple syrup and cinnamon, welcomed the tuna patties into the oven, which today seemed to be cooking a bit on the low side. I tossed the salad with some tomatoes, red onion, avocado, olive oil and balsamic vinegar and made a light tartar sauce. I poured myself and Jack a glass of red wine.

The kids finished their homework and help set the table.

We sat down and before I knew it, all eight patties were gone. Happy customers, as we used to say in the restaurant business.
Don't get me wrong. I don't mean to present our dinner time as some paradise of calm, or of philosophical conversations on the meaning of life. Most of the time, our family meals are loud, silly, full of not so great table manners, eaten too quickly and with too many requests for dessert. But on this particular night, the dinner stars aligned for a simple meal that all of us enjoyed together. And there was much peace in that simple fact.

Perhaps because I'm doing more writing (and editing) these days, I tend to see the day in terms of punctuation. I look at breakfast as a colon, opening up to the demands of school, work, music lessons, and homework. Lunch is the day's semi-colon; a pause in the action, hopefully done at the table and not at my desk. Dinner? Sometimes dinner is a question mark and the accompanying anxiety that occurs at not having an answer.

But this particular night, with four cans of tuna, dinner became a period, a time to take a full stop. This particular night, a simple tuna patty was our period, allowing us to stop and join together for a little while before the day was done. Before we finish our last chores of the day and collapse together in our separate sleeps. One more chance to connect through sustenance. I cherish our family meals and will insist on them as long as I can.

The family meal doesn't need to be an exclamation point, although once in a while that is a terrific thing to do. The family meal just needs to be a period, that's all.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Talking about the Laundry on Sears Blog!

Happy to post a link to my pithy washer and dryer love tale - How Bikram Yoga gives our washer and dryer a workout! Enjoy! And while you're at it, if you live in Longmont and always wanted to try Bikram, come and enjoy a free day of classes at Bikram Colorado/Longmont!


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ode to Chipped Bowls and other Stoneware

Ode to A (chipped) Blue Bowl
I know this might seem really silly, in these days of economic uncertainty, political fighting and out of control stress. But today, in the midst of all this, I'm spending a lot of brain space on my stoneware, or more specifically on my chipped stoneware. Am I alone in having a really difficult time in letting go of a chipped cup, plate or bowl? I do.

The bowl in the above picture has been sitting on our kitchen counter for two weeks, ever since I noticed that the chip was now growing into a crack. The chip has been there for quite some time and despite what my domestic goddess-wannabee side tells me, I just haven't been able to part with it. I love this bowl, which has held countless delicious meals, such as my beloved partner's killer Putanesca sauce long adapted from a friend, or a steaming bowl of chicken soup. It's the kind of bowl you hold in your hand because it stays warm, with a perfect shape and concavity. It's the kind of bowl to display because the color is the deepest shade of blue I've ever dreamt of swimming in.

The bowl is a simple one, with no brand stamped on the underside. In fact, I don't even remember buying it. The bowl probably belongs to a friend from a long ago dinner party from when we used to have dinner parties that lasted until early morning. It might have held a fig and olive tampenade, since it is not big enough to hold a full meal.

I've let go of my favorite coffee mugs, which my family will tell you I'm very particular about. They must be large, wide mouth and able to go into the microwave without burning my hand. I let go of the black, blue and white geometric cup that was part of a stunning set of dishes bought for a Valentine's Day when money was low. I still get to enjoy the pattern with the plates, so the letting go was easier with that one. I've lost track of how many chipped cups that now sit in the garage, neither of us able to part with them. How many of them soothed sleepless nights with teething babies? How many of them represented warmth and home on early winter mornings when I pull myself out of bed while the rest of the house stays asleep?

Much is made these days of the food we eat. Local, organic, seasonal, artisan. Yes, it is all important, but until today, I've thought little on the role our stoneware plays in bringing it all together to represent home, family, warmth and love.

I love this bowl and while I know it can't hold food any longer, I just can't part with it. The wishful craftsperson says to me, smash it and use it for that much thought about mosaic backsplash! But I'm not ready to shatter the perfect circle-ness of it, not just yet.

So to honor this perfect blue bowl, I'd like to offer up that Puttanesca sauce recipe that filled it (and my stomach) to the brim so many lovely nights. Pair it with a good glass of red wine and simple salad of arugula, tomatoes, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Jack's Putanesca Sauce (which he is WAY overdue to make)
Adapted from our dear friend, Joseph Calderone

Anchovies, lots of them, chopped
One sweet yellow onion
Three cloves of garlic, mashed
One cup pitted Kalamita olives
Two large cans of chopped tomatoes (we love Muir Glens Organic Fire Roasted)
Fresh oregano and one bay leaf
Dash of whatever red wine you'll be drinking while making this sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the anchovies with chopped olives, mashed garlic and sweet onions in plenty of olive oil. Rest your forearm on the overhead stove because you'll be stirring this a long time. Let the anchovies, olives and onions cook until they all turn a nice purply brown, but make sure you don't brown them. The consistency should be silky. Add two large cans of chopped tomatoes, fresh oregano, bay leaf, dash of red wine, salt and pepper. Stir until all the flavors are married and turn the heat down to simmer, cover 3/4 of the way and cook for as long as possible. When you're ready to serve, boil up some linguine - we use gluten free - and serve in your favorite bowl, topped with fresh parmesan reggiano. Enjoy!

I do have plans this winter break to finally make that backsplash, with my beloved blue blue holding the center and which will made up of all the chipped cups and dishes, bowls and plates we haven't been able to part with.

Until then, the blue bowl will stay intact, atop our kitchen counter, as a daily reminder of our daily comforts and that which give us sustenance. Buon appetito!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My Beautiful (Non-Mathematical) Mind

I volunteer in all three of my kids classes and am thrilled that my work schedule is flexible enough for me to spend this precious time with them in their world. For some unknown reason and despite the fact that I've told all their teachers that math is definitely not my thing, much of my time has been spent doing math. After a few months in the classroom, my multiplication skills are better than they've ever been, which is a good thing because when the multiplication mania took over my house this year with the twins zooming through 'rocket math' and I was getting glazey eyed at the numbers, my kids were beginning to look at me like I was...stupid.

Last week I sat in awe as Maedee's third grade teachers explained 'across and up, up and across' for double digit multiplication. WOW, my brain was literally exploding. No one had ever explained it like that to me before. Later that day, I introduced this concept to Julea who had been flying through packs of flash cards and who I wanted to get beyond recognition and memorization to actually knowing how to multiply any combination of numbers. After a bit of resistance, she took to it so well, she proudly brought in her home worksheet and showed it to her teacher. Before I knew it I was in front of six of her classmates teaching them 'up and across, across and up.'

You have no idea what a huge deal this is. I left that classroom feeling like I had conquered my Sisysphus, my personal math demon, the math monkey that has been riding on my back for the past 30 years.

But then I went to Mila's class and the coordinates arrived and bam, back in the land of the...stupid. It started innocently enough. I'd finished my Thursday folder duties and was heading over to the copy bin, but Mila's teacher asked me to take a group of kids to work on coordinates. I froze. Coordinates. I looked around at the room to see if I could ask Mila what they were, but I knew she would be humiliated, so I listened as her teacher ran through the directions, called the students I was to work with and we were off.

We settled into the conference room and I passed out the papers. I stared at the paper and tried to suppress a hot flash that was stirring, hoping that sweat would not start dripping on the graph paper. I was screwed. One girl took a leadership role and began orchestrating a well intended, but what would eventually turn out to be a complete math disaster. None of us had a clue as to what was going on. I remembered hearing their teacher talk about the benefits of good noise, group sharing and tried to take some small comfort that maybe some of that was happening. But coordinates? No way.

After about 10 minutes of this, I said, "We've done some great collaboration, but I have no idea how to help you with this. We need a professional and we should go back to class." The four faces stared at me with disbelief. How could Mila's mom NOT be a math whiz, considering that she was off the charts with anything related to numbers?

I wiped my glistening upper lip and stood up. I led them back to the classroom and wrote the following on the packet of papers:

"Dear Mrs. G: I have failed miserably to teach the students anything about coordinates. Ask Mila, I suffer from serious math trauma. I'm sorry."

Mila looked at me when I got back to the classroom and knew something was up. 

"Mrs. G gave me coordinates."

A guffaw would have been gentle. A snort would have been kind. But we're talking about a ten year old girl, here. 

"She gave you coordinates? Mrs. G, you gave my mom coordinates? My mom is HOPELESS at math."

Thankfully, the bell rang and my time in coordinate hell was over.

It wasn't always that way. I was an above average math student in elementary school, and loved Algebra and made solid Bs through junior high, aka middle school. But then I hit 10th grade entered Mr. Sternovsky's geometry class. 

Mr. Sternovsky, Sterno, was legendary. He was ornery, volatile, had had a series of heart attacks and in case that wasn't scary enough, my second oldest brother had not only aced his class, but was simultaneously taking calculus classes at U.C.L.A. He;d graduated at the top of his class and gone to Yale.

Nice pressure build up for the younger sister.  

I tried hard. In fact, I tried harder at geometry than anything I had done before or since. And  no matter how hard I tried, how many tutors my parents got me, how many hours after school I stayed and stared at those bloody proofs, I just couldn't get it.

Sterno was lovely about it and appreciated just how hard I was trying. He also knew I wanted to pursue a life in the theater and I think he had some unsatisfied theatrical leanings himself. He listed me in the class roster as Sarah Bernhardt and I normally signed my papers with some silent stars name. He wrote kind words on my C and D papers such as, "Ah but what does geometry mean to the theatre?" He told me my proofs were the most creative he'd ever seen, even if they didn't make one bit of mathematical sense. He was kind and funny and was the only person to ever tell me, when so many were trying to dissuade me from following my dream, that I didn't have to get into an Ivy League school and that being an actress was absolutely fine. I will never forget his 'seeing' me and I hope I properly thanked him for his kindness and guidance. At the end of the year, I think I passed with a B- and never took another math class again.

But the funny thing about being a parent is that it makes us want to be smart at all things, at least I do. And today, as I walked into my oldest daughter's class today at 2pm, right on schedule for my weekly volunteering, right there on the smart cart projector, was my 10th grade nemisis. Geometry. I settled into the back while Mrs. G. discussed variables and measuring the interior space of a obtuse rhomboid and my menopausal flop sweat started to form, like Albert Brooks in Broadcast News. When she finished, I headed over to the Thursday folder bin. Empty. She said something about my taking a group of kids out to work on the math, but must have caught the look that flew back and forth between Mila and I. Mila's was a look of disbelieving disgust, a look I'm beginning to get very used to. Mine must have been sheer panic because Mrs. G. kindly directed me to the overflowing copy bin which I scooped up in my arms and scurried off to the copy room.

There was a line. I did everything I could to not have to go back and face my geometric demons, so I finagled my way into getting a few of my big load done. I relished the copying, the collating, the sorting and stapling. I took comfort in the ease at which a machine knew which corner to staple, or punch holes. The whole thing was like a John Cage composition, until my packets started jamming the machines and the other mother volunteers waiting silently let me know that my time in the copy room was done. I took my pile of copies and slowly made my way back to the classroom.

The damn proof was still on the smart board. I stacked the papers three or four times and prayed that Mrs. G. wouldn't ask me to work with anyone. I grabbed another pile of papers to copy and headed back to the copy room, hoping the line was gone and I could escape back into my rhythmical world of paper and machine.

I finished up my copy duties. It was two minutes to 3pm. I sauntered back to class, slid the papers onto Mrs. G's desk. Mila came over to me and gave me a big, end of the day, I'm tired and do you have a snack in the car hug. We gathered her things and went to meet her two sisters. When we got to Julea, she came bounding out her class and exclaimed, "I passed W plus! I'm going on to division!"

After 30 years, I still carry the unfinished business of my creative, yet mathematically-challenged proofs with me. I will never get the Nobel Prize in mathematics and may never get the world's version of 'geometry.' But that's okay. I kind of like that I created my own personal geometry and chances are, that kind of creative thinking has gotten me through a number of life challenges.

As for division? I'm all over it. Except if there's a zero involved.

But that's another story.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

One Week after Halloween

Two years and a few days ago, my dear Dad passed away.  I sat down a dozen times to write about this 24 month landmark, but the words just didn't sit right. That same week also two birthdays - October 21, which  would have been my dear mother-in-law, Lila Greene's, 78th birthday, and October 22, the day my father would have turned 99 years old. An intense week, to say the least.

And before I knew it, Halloween week was looming. Maedee had chosen a very lovely Cleopatra ensemble. Mila had changed her mind from a renaissance princess to Pippi Longstocking (including spraying her hair red) and had finally settled on a black flapper dress. Two down, one to go, and that one was not going to be easy, by a long shot.

Julea is a very specific child. She had a detailed idea of her costume in her mind and her much desired Halloween costume? Mary Poppins. Seems simple enough, right? If she had decided on the familiar Mary Poppins' outfit of blue dress, overcoat, hat and umbrella, we were at the finish line. Nope. She had in mind the dress from the "Jolly Holiday" scene, aka "Supercalifragiliciousexpialidocious." Exhaustive searches only came up with costumes that cost much more than our limited budget could afford. I tried to get her to switch gears, but despite searching through countless websites, she was determined to have her "Jolly Holiday" dress.

During this same time, I was finishing up a two week beginning sewing class. At my ripe age, I decided I finally needed to learn some basic skills and came home showing off a machine sewed pumpkin pot holder and scissors pouch, like a proud kindergartner. My kids decided that after two weeks of sewing class, I was able to sew anything, including Julea's "Jolly Holiday" dress. I have to admit, I believed  I could do it too.

We found a simple white dress online and ordered it. Red satin, thread, ruffles and red ribbons picked up and ready to put my new sewing skills into action. I picked up the dress a few days later and was off to the getting ready for Halloween races. I cut the red satin, measured it around Julea's waist and turned my den into a regular sweatshop. I sewed my fingers to the bones for two days and two nights. Even if I did prick them, I wouldn't have felt it anyway. Thanks to a local dinner theater, I scored a white hat and umbrella that they were willing to part with for five bucks. Halloween was still five days to go, but the school's Halloween parade was just a mere 48 hours away, which was almost a bigger deal than Halloween since the kids got to see all of each other's costumes and show them to the parents and teachers.

I was tired and my fingers hurt. But I kept on sewing through the night and turned the den into a lower east side sweatshop. I sewed blinking lights onto Mila's black flapper dress so she could shine and be seen in the night. I also secured Maedee's Cleopatra's neckpiece and sewed flannel into the arm pieces to soften the itchy fabric. The needle pricks into my fingertips didn't mean a thing.

Friday morning came and Julea tried on her dress. I tied the sash and watched as she put on the hat and lifted the umbrella. We gasped in unison. By George, we'd done it. She hurried into her school clothes and I promised them I'd be there in time to change for the parade.

I arrived at school and headed straight to her class. We gathered the girls and ushered them to the bathroom, where they changed amidst giggles and shyness. Julea beamed as her classmates' jaws dropped. Questions about where she got it were answered proudly with, "We got the dress, but my mama made the costume." I kissed her on the forehead and rushed off to Maedee's class to help her into her costume, thankfully much simpler to put on. Then to Mila's group, where she had already gotten into her flapper mode and stood eye to eye with me wearing a pair of my heels. Her teacher secured the lighting box with duct tape and Mila turned on the blinking lights. Adorable and very 5th grade.

I took a seat in the back row of the gym. The kindergartners stumbled in wearing dogs, cats, princesses and super heroes. First graders were a mish-mash of vampires, sports figures, more princesses and even an Iron Chef. Second graders became more ghoulish. Finally the third graders. First Maedee's class came in and I pushed to the front to take the first of many out of focus shots on my phone. She smiled right at me and looked wonderful. Julea's class came in next and she strolled across the gym floor with her umbrella jaunty against her shoulder. I don't think I've ever see her smile that big. My heart burst wide open.

Mila's class sauntered in as only 5th graders can do and she tried hard to look comfortable in my heels.

They all went off to their pre-Halloween parties, handing me their dresses after returning to their more comfortable school clothes. Halloween night came and they put them on again, this time with less flair and flash, but we managed to make it to three neighborhoods in 2.5 hours, with a caramel apple finish.

Halloween was over. October was over and the anniversary of my dad's passing had, well, passed without my writing a thing. But that seemed to be all right because I'd honored him with Halloween. For my dad, celebrating Halloween was proof that he was an American and he loved it. He carved pumpkins, took us trick or treating and when I was stuck for a costume in 5th grade, it was his idea to transform a round lamp box into a 7up can. He spray painted it and put on the shoulder straps and carved out the diamond-shaped cut out for me to hold my pillow case filled with candy.

As I sat up that week, cutting and sewing, cutting and sewing, I kept thinking about my dad and Halloween. When I just wanted to veg out on the couch, the memory of my Halloween's growing up got me up out my seat and carving three pumpkins. When my fingers felt like they were going to fall off my hands, I remembered my dad spray painting my 7up can in the garage after a full day at the store and I finished Julea's dress.

Remembering, like grief, surprises us. It happens in unlikely times and places, in line at the grocery store, or driving down a particular street at a certain time of day. Or it happens threading a needle with red thread and making an eight year old girl's Halloween wish come true. This year, grief's memory was transformed into acts of parental giving and joy. And into a great Halloween.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Guest Post on Chiseled in Rock

A recent conversation on handling rejection as a writer got me thinking back to my days of being a performer and how my many years of handling rejection prepared me for life as a writer. Here's my guest post for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' terrific blog, Chiseled in Rock, entitled "Rejection Wears Plaid" - Enjoy!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

In honor of my beloved dad

Leonard Trank
October 22, 1911 - October 19, 2008

This essay originated as a post on this blog and today, I received it in print, published in the University of Denver Magazine, Fall 2010.  Please read, share and enjoy:

"What We Wear in This Life," dedicated to my father, Leonard Trank

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Our Real Cost of Health Care

Like most Americans, and all parents, I've been keeping close tabs on the fight for health care reform. Every night, I tune into my MSNBC trio: KeithRachel and Chris. I rely on them to distill and disdain and listen with care as they navigate these murky waters. With a vote on health care reform looking like it just might happen on Sunday, and just might pass, I had my own personal experience this week that drove the basic issue, accessible and affordable health care for as many people as possible, very close to home. 

Monday night our oldest began to complain about her ear hurting. She'd just come off a bug the week before, so I took a look at it and it looked red. I gave her a mild pain reliever, but it didn't work. An hour later, she was seriously uncomfortable. I called the after hours number for our insurance carrier, who took my number and had a night nurse call me. She suggested a different pain reliever, which I gave her and which worked. Our daughter fell asleep and I thought we were all right. 

At 12:30, she woke up in severe pain. It was too early to give her more pain relievers, so I called the after hours number back. This time the person on the other line advised us to head to the local ER. I gulped and thought about the hard to pay bills other trips to the ER had cost us. I asked the person the uncomfortable question about whether we were covered for this. She said yes, we were covered. My whole body relaxed. I called to my husband and asked him to warm up the car, bundled up our daughter and headed out into the early morning. 

We were treated quickly and very well by a caring ER staff, given some numbing ear drops and an antibiotic and we were back in bed by three in the morning. 

This could have been a very different picture. Our kids are covered on a plan through the state of Colorado for middle and lower income families called CHP+ which provides quality health insurance for uninsured children and pregnant women. The reality is that without this program we could not afford health insurance. My part-time job offers no benefits, nor does my husband's adjunct faculty position and with the ups and downs of our employment and financial status this past year, as well as working more than full time when you add up all the freelance work we do, making a monthly premium that would be over $1000, and that's with a high deductible, is just out of reach. 

A number of years ago when we were covered by a more traditional employee-based plan, I made a similar trip to the ER after one of the twins tripped and knocked her forehead on the stone fireplace mantel. Despite a good chunk of my paycheck getting taken out each twice a month, the cut in her forehead which didn't need stitches, but a $500 purple liquid bandaid. I let her keep it on an extra week just to get our money's worth. 

I'm extremely grateful for this program which allows accessible, respectful and affordable health care for our children. I'm also extremely aware of how different the other night could have gone, from the decision to not seek appropriate care because we're terrified of walking out with an outrageous bill, or dealing with the stress of the debt that would come from not having any other choice at 1:30 in the morning when your child is sick and needing medical attention.

The medicine has worked and our daughter's ear is feeling better. 

I don't want to imagine the alternative. Nor should anyone. 

Pass this damn bill and let's make this country a place where caring for one another is just what we do. Because we can. Because we must. 

Sunday, February 28, 2010

As One Series Ends, Another Begins

30 days ago, I sat in the local Longmont Ice Pavilion and watched my three girls skate. While they skated, I read from Richard Russo's Bridge of Sighs and was deeply changed by what I read. So changed that I set out to write as honestly as I could for 30 days about where I am in my life and to explore the life or lives, I've dreamed about living, but which have not happened, or not happened to the full extent of my dreams.

I've come to the end of this particular project and am exceptionally grateful for the kindness and support and kinship I've experienced from friends and strangers. I've learned a huge amount about myself and through this process, I've gained a bit more understanding about how I got here and  few ideas as to how to make some significant changes.

One thing I've realized is the importance of a daily practice and I'm about to embark on a new and slightly more ambitious project, which I will be sharing on this blog. I'm hooked on the idea that a daily, simple practice can have significant changes and this past month has given me the experience and the support to take the jump into a new venture - drum roll, please -

One Dream A Month: Turning Dreams into Actions

Over the course of this year, I'll be going through the catalog of my dreams and taking them out of the closet, from under the mattress and unearthing them from wherever the dog buried them in the yard. I'll be choosing a few that I believe I can commit to and on a daily basis, I'm going to breathe some life into them. Day by day, I'm going to apply one action toward turning a clearly defined dream into active reality.

Some of the dreams will be simple, like learning to change the oil in the car. Others will be more ambitious. All of them will be based in three principles:

1. Mission-based purpose
2. Kindness
3. Creative

The first dream I'll be breathing life into for March's One Dream a Month is a new business venture based in my love for reading, children and history. That's all I'll say about it for now, except I'm very excited about taking it out of my head, where I've been burying it, and into the world.

Tomorrow will be spent creating some tools for One Dream a Month, which will include a new blog, as well as Facebook and Twitter pages, to help create a larger community around One Dream a Month, as well as a basic outline of how I'll proceed with each project.

This blog, "Boobies and Other Bodily Functions," will return to its original intent, which is to explore life as an older mother, or as my oldest likes to remind me - "the oldest mother at her school."

The day will also be spent gathering my various notes on my business dream and getting them into one location - this computer. I'll be sharing how that messy process unfolds, as well as how to find the One Dream  Month resources, in case you'd like to breathe some life into some dreams that have been deferred.

Hope you'll join me.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Small Victory and One Piece of the Big Puzzle

This might seem really small, but the accomplishment of it has made a big difference. I successfully set and carried through on a weekly food budget for our family. I set the amount on Sunday, made the list, made the food plan for the week, organized the coupons and headed to the store with the girls, each with their own job of list carrier,  coupon holder and bargain finder. After I wrote the check for the food, I then wrote a check to myself for the amount we'd saved and I deposited it into a household savings account. I even made Jack pay me back for the amount he'd gone over, which he did with a certain amusement at my insistence that we adhere to the budget. We made it through the week and spent, almost to the penny, exactly what I set out to do and which included wine, chocolate and some really good meals.

A first step, one that has taken me a number of decades and the better part of this month to make happen. And which represents the most hopeful part of all of this because of its' smallness.

I've been described as a big person. Not in physicality, but in my energy. I think big, can usher in a big energetic wave that I recognize can be overwhelming to some, especially employers. I don't believe it's completely an issue of ego, but more how I feel about this life. How much I love this life and how much I want to live in and make the most of it for as long as I can.

So for me to do something as small as follow through on one week of our family's food budget, is no small thing. It is probably one of the biggest things I've done in a very long time, other than becoming a mother three times over.

The small victory of sticking to a modest weekly food budget that reflects our income and expenses is that I realized the bigness in a small and simple act in my own life. So often, the bigness of our world sets the bar for just how much we expect of ourselves in terms of out put, energy and accomplishments, when as Margaret Mead wrote:

"A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Our family is a small group of thoughtful people and I believe we can change the world. Our world, to begin with and hopefully, the larger world through the daily act of our living.

And the small act for my family that changed our world this week is that I proved we could set a limit and live within it. I taught my children that frugality is a positive way to live, as is planning and following through. They've watched their father and me go through this struggle, they've experienced the stress of it themselves in reduced activities, postponed necessary and wanted purchases, not to mention living with a high degree of stress. But as we rolled the shopping cart down the aisle and then they watched me write a check to our family, and the look on their faces when we figured out how much we'd save in one year if we put just this modest amount away every week, I knew I'd started a little revolution in our home. And in our life.

One small change showed up in the way of a shopping cart moving slowing down a grocery stores aisles.

Tomorrow morning, as I sip my coffee and read the paper, I'll cut the coupons and plan the meals. The grocery list is already made.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Dreams Into Actions

Normally, on Shabbat, I take a break from the computer. I unplug for a little more than 24 hours and try to bring that portion of myself, the self who is out there in the world, back to myself and my family. I've made an exception to this practice during this time of every day writing.

Shabbat is a time of renewal, punctuated by a deadline with the sunset, bringing the light inside, raising a glass of wine and breaking bread. A ritualized closing of the work-oriented week; a break from what Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi calls "commodity time." And quite honestly, I've never felt more intensely ingrained in commodity time, the time of money-making energy, or in the case of the past couple of months, sheer financial survival.

Each Friday morning, as I head off to work, I'm happy in the knowledge that when I see them again, Shabbat is close at hand. The furrow between my brows is just a little less indented because I know the permission for taking a break is almost here.

Each Friday night, I close my eyes and draw the light of the candles toward me. I hold my hands close to my face and feel the warmth and glow and recite a simple prayer. A prayer of thanks, of blessing our family, friends and the world. A prayer of peace.

Shabbat is also the one time during the week when I feel I have time to think about the life I'm, the life I'm creating for my kids and the kind of person I've become. Some Shabbats are a time of joy and relief. Others I find it incredibly difficult to leave the week behind and make the transition. But every week I try. 

Tonight, my Shabbat intention is to make the internal space so I can begin to seek out the dreams I want to turn into action. A committed set of actions that I will make visible and public, as I did with this series, on a monthly basis. 

My tendency is to rush and make a list, but instead, I'm going to slow down and think. Think about what are the dreams that are flowing below my surface that I want to bubble up and bring into this realm. Even as I begin to think about this, the dreams start talking to me and each one has a story to tell, but they all can't be told and I have to make some choices. One by one. One month at a time. 

March starts on Monday, which means that we're already into the third month of 2010. January was spent in a state of shock, but I'm close to the end of February and completing the first month of a dream turned into action. 

My goal for Shabbat is to get some rest and by sundown tomorrow, to have the next two months figured out. I'll have a few other things to discuss about this as well and hope that some folks reading this might want to join in. My hope is that by the end of this year, I'll have developed the discipline and experienced the satisfaction of returning the favor to a few of my dreams, which have kept me company below the surface all these years, and breathing some life into them.  

My dreams deserve it and so do I. And so do we all. 

I hope you'll be able to bring some light into your house with those you love and find the space you need. 

Good Shabbos. 

Thursday, February 25, 2010

When All I Want is Sleep

I'm tired. Really tired. I've been pushing hard the past two weeks and I'm feeling it. Feeling it so much that I'm not sure I have anything to say, or write, except that I need to write about working hard. Working too hard.

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of helping to promote a wonderful film, "Peaceful Warrior," and an even deeper pleasure of being able to engage with Dan Millman, the author and visionary whose inspiring books, inspired the film. After the film project had finished, I contacted Dan regarding a professional matter, but really one that was based in my quest to continue doing work I find meaningful and with people dedicated to making positive change. I was seeking to change the way I work and how I work, which has always been at a high level of effort and energy and often exhausting.

Dan's message back to me was generous and authentic. He stressed doing work I love and working in a smarter, more efficient and gentler way. Seemed at the time like a pretty simple work methodology to follow, but four or five years later, I'm far from figuring it out.

Let me make something clear. I'm not interested in not working. I love to work, to have a purpose and take pride in the work I've committed myself to. What I'm interested in is finding a way to work better, to work in a way that makes a larger sense.

Did I lose track of the criteria I set for myself this past few weeks? I challenged myself to look at any job or project I would agree to take according to its' impact on my kids, my marriage, my health and my finances. The past two weeks have tested the criteria and I'm not sure of the answer. I know my finances have benefited from this time, which has taken a bit of stress off - a good thing for one' relationship. But my yoga practice is down and I've had much less time with my kids, including a small crisis today with my oldest. Thankfully, we have a wonderful support system and I know that I can't be there for every moment, good and bad, but it capped two weeks of feeling the pangs of separation.

One of the aspects of starting a new job or project is inevitably the period of trying oneself out, of fitting in, of trying on new clothes that may or may not fit. Today, I wasn't sure that the new set of clothes I put on two weeks ago now fit. It may be that I was too quick to buy the clothes without trying them on and making sure the fit was right, as well as not necessarily being my style of clothing.

Another realization that has come to me in my exhaustion is I'm a very adaptable person and while that is a good skill to develop, I need to reign that aspect of myself in because it can cause me to react instead of act.

Work smarter. Adapt less and create more. Get more sleep and spend time with myself and my family. Work is just one part of the picture I'm creating and I can't allow it to take over.

Time to get back to that criteria and really commit to holding up any new project to it. And to be willing to step back or away from anything that doesn't meet all four. Not one, not two, not three. All four.

I guess I needed to be reminded of that. Again, and as many times as it takes.

Good night, all. I'm going to sleep.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What My Dreams Have to Say

I came across a great quote today that I'd like to share:

"Some people dream of great accomplishments, while others stay awake and do them." - Anonymous

I've always been a great dreamer. Not when I'm sleeping, but when I'm wide awake. In fact, I like to talk my dreams out loud as I go about my day, mostly in the car on the way to and from work. With the ever present cell phone as part of our driving experience, I no longer get the looks I used to get, especially in warmer weather when the windows might be rolled down. My parents told me that when I was a little girl, they would hear me talking to myself, making up stories with me as the central character. 

My favorite place to talk my dreams out loud was New York City. I was right at home there, walking along busy avenues chatting to myself and never once did anyone ever look at me sideways. This was above the ground behavior only, never on the subway or a bus. Only once did I get caught and it was by my then partner, now husband, Jack. He'd been walking behind me a few steps without my knowing he was there and he noticed I was carrying on a conversation with myself. He caught up with me at a curb and asked me, "Do you always talk to yourself like this?" I answered yes. He shrugged his shoulders. He knows of my capacity for chattiness and accepted without question that sometimes, when there isn't anyone to talk to, that I'd just turn to myself. 

But what does my talking to myself have to do with the quote? A great deal. Most of what I talk to myself about has to do with things I want to happen. Like the house I briefly dreamed about last month. About any of the many jobs I've come close to getting. Mostly I talk to myself about dreams that are within my reach and step into a conversation with a part of myself that is already there. 

Some of the dreams have come true. Sadly, others have been talked away. 

But I also think there is something to my dream talking that might just be useful in moving away from the front end of the quote - some people dream of great accomplishment - and toward the daily actualization of the second part - while others stay awake and do them. And something that is missing. 


What I've come to realize is that I'm not listening to either part of myself I'm giving voice to, the dreamer and the dreamed. If I can begin to listen to what my dreamer self is saying, what dreams I'm talking out loud and perhaps start asking questions of both parts of that voice, instead of just posing possible situations that might happen, then that could be the way to continue this conversation with myself. 

If I listen to myself in this funny little dance I do with myself, the very act of listening will change the conversation. Instead of driving along within the alternate dream life I've created for myself commuting to and from my "real" life, if I begin to ask questions of myself, I'll actually have to come up with some answers. And answers mean action. 

Asking questions of myself will take me out of what has been a tendency to be present in my own life and will plant me squarely back into my life, my blessed and slightly messy life. Asking questions will force me to investigate the difference between a dream, a fantasy and just a temporary escape from my life. 

And just as I'm beginning to ask financial questions of myself, and expecting answers, I need to do the same with my dreams. I better spend some time thinking about the questions I want to ask of my dreams. 

I think I'll start with asking - are these dreams I speak out loud part of the under current I began to explore in this series 25 days ago - the turns in the other direction, the dreams left on the curb, the life I haven't lived? 

I believe this would be a very good place to start. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Joannie Rochette: A Personal Best

I write this through tears, having just watched the heart-breakingly stunning skating performance by Joannie Rochette, who tragically and suddenly lost her mother two days ago. To watch her move across the ice, with her grief held so tightly against her heart and to share it with her country, the audience, her father sitting in the stands, makes me understand how extraordinary the human spirit is.

Rabbi Akiva, who I studied about this evening, left a legacy: our present circumstances might be negative, might be more than we think we can take, and for many of us they have been and continue to be, but the purpose of the circumstance is something else. An initiation, a part of an outcome that is larger than we might understand as it is unfolding.

How can I say that in the face of a young woman who just lost her mother, two days before the biggest moment of her life and one her mother no doubt supported and worked to help her achieve? How can I say this six weeks after the devastation of the earthquake in Haiti? Because I've heard the stories of a father coming forward to pick up a broom and sweep a hospital floor because his children had been spared by the death of his mother-in-law, whose body created enough space for them to breathe. Because I've heard the story of a young law student who appeared at the only hospital to serve as the translator for families dealing with the injuries and deaths of their loved ones. Because my father taught me that no matter how bad things are, no matter how much loss you suffer, being alive and being able to feel the grief is the way through and the way to survive.

Because I know it.

It's been a challenging time for me and for so many people I know. I've felt the deep and seemingly eternal sadness of losing my beloved dad, a job and then the loss of whatever material or professional security I might have still felt.

As Ms. Rochette awaited her scores, she touched her chest and spoke in French to her mother, the words, Maman, Maman, being offered to the sky. Her score was announced - her personal best.

Tonight I received two lessons. The first came from the historical perspective of a great Jewish and world wisdom sage, who led with dedication, belief and optimism. The second from a young woman on a thin pair of blades, wrapped her grief in love and skated with grace and an open heart. Both of these, one ancient and one so much in this world, reminded me - on a day of being pulled in many directions and questioning what this time in my life is all about - to take a deep breath and trust.

Tonight I learned that every day can be my personal best, if I remember that best is not really about getting what I want, but about learning what I need.

This time in my life is my personal best.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Necklace for Purim

A wonderful thing has happened to our little town. Four years ago, a young Rabbi, his wife and two young children, moved from Brooklyn to Longmont to open a Chabad Jewish Center. I grew up as a very Reform Jew, but one with an equally strong identity. I went to a Jewish summer camp, was Bat Mitvah'd and when it came to raising our children, even after years of not really participating in a Jewish community, there was no choice. I wanted our children to grow up with the same positive self-identity I'd enjoyed and which I especially helped me grow into a strong minded and spirited Jewish woman.

Longmont is a lot like where I grew up, with a small Jewish community. Unlike where I grew up, there is no regular synagogue in Longmont and the kids have often been the only Jewish kids in their class at school.

To be honest, I was more than a little hesitant to go to the Longmont Chabad. I had many pre-conceived ideas of the Chabad culture and many of them stereotypical, a hard thing for me to admit about a segment of my own tradition and faith.

But all that changed when I met Rabbi Borenstein and his wife, Shayna. Their ease and warmth instantly put us at ease and we started going to events where we were amazed to see large groups of other Jewish families from Longmont. I could see that they were committed to creating an open and welcoming center for the small, but growing Jewish community in Longmont to be together as families, with our children, and throughout the elegant unfolding of the calendar celebrations that mark our lives in such strong ways.

One of those ways is a monthly women's circle. It's a mish-mash of old, young, in-between and we gather for a gentle evening of study, and also to engage in a fun activity where there is always lots of delicious food and plenty of laughter, all led by Shayna, the rebbetzen, the Rabbi's wife.

This month, we came together for an evening of jewelry making in honor of Purim and Esther. We met at The Bead Lounge, a lovely local business. We sipped wine and ate cheese and chocolate. The tables were filled with shiny beads and we were told we could make either a necklace, earrings or a bracelet. I chose to make a necklace.

I looked through the colors and shapes and settled on a color palette I'm recently very drawn to. Metalics in bronze, copper with opaque round beads. And then I saw them. Stone hearts, maroon and smooth. I chose three of them and felt them get warm in my hand as I poured some more wine and settled in to make my necklace.

I'm a fairly deliberate person and usually like to plan things out in advance. But I let the three hearts lead me and before long, I was putting together a delicate strand of beads and stones as Shayna talked about Esther's open hearted strength and simple path toward significant bravery.

As I listened, I found myself counting out two sets of 18 small copper beads to frame each side of the necklace. 18 is the Kabbalistic number for life, for chai, and 36 minutes was also the time between our first and second twin's birth. Two lives, the night before they were about to turn 8 years old.

The gentle ladies helped me with the heart stones, so that they would hang downward. I added gold-toned spacers, five on each side, one for each member of our little family.

Before I knew it, the necklace was finished. The ladies agreed it was indeed beautiful.And simple. To me, the necklace looked like a dream, like the dream that is my family, my husband and my girls, my three hearts. To me, the delicacy of the necklace represents the fragile nature of it all, how quickly it can be taken and how quickly it goes. The simplicity represents the way in which I choose to live my life and raise our girls.

I haven't worn the necklace yet. I'm waiting to put in on for the annual Purim party, where we'll gather again, as we did last year, a little older and knowing each other that much more, as communities do when we come together to signify our lives with meaning and ritual.

I'll look forward to the glass stones and beads warming themselves against my skin. They'll be reflecting how I feel inside, from the kindness, joy and burgeoning community of kindred folks.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Embracing Expectations

Last year, Jim Tracy, in his first Spring Training as the Colorado Rockies' manager, spoke about about wanting the team to embrace expectations. I hear a great deal in the business world about the phrase, '"exceed expectations" and quite frankly, I've always viewed those two words with the same skepticism as I view most of the business jargon that comes my way. What I appreciate about Jim Tracy's take on that overused phrase is talks about presence, a gentle, grace-filled presence that runs too short for me and most folks I know. 

I've got a big week ahead of me and Jim Tracy's stated, and then implemented, desire for his team will help to propel me into mine, which will take a certain kind of focus that is about bringing what I've got to a certain situation with the potential of transforming my self and our life. What does it mean to me to embrace my expectations for myself? 

1. Be honest with what I'm able to do and then do it.
2. Ask a lot of questions. As far as I'm concerned, there are no bad questions, just the ones that don't get asked.
3. Rely on outstanding mono-tasking skills and leave the multi-tasking to those who have something to prove.
4. Drink lots of water instead of coffee. 
5. Keep up my yoga practice. 
6. Be proud of my skills. I've worked my butt off to get them as good as they are. 
7. Make good mistakes that show I'm willing to try and to learn.
8. Trust. If it's the right fit and situation, the rest will fall into place. 
9. Breathe. When all else fails, hopefully we still have that. 
10. And as Dory, my favorite Pixar character and which my kids are sure is based on me, says: "Keep Swimming."

To end tonight, I'd like to honor the life and poetry of Lucille Clifton, who died at the age of 73 year old on February 13, 2010. A friend said of Ms. Clifton's passing: "A passage that means less grace in the world..."

blessing the boats 
by Lucille Clifton

(at St. Mary's)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back    may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

From Quilting: Poems 1987-1990 by Lucille Clifton

Have a good start to the week. 

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Poem, a Look, a Life

The eight year olds' birthday sleepover is now over and as expected, we're all exhausted. Face it, birthdays are exhausting. For me, the mother, it is like some still remaining body memory comes back every year and I wonder, do all mothers feel this way for their whole life as a mother?

But despite the labor echoes, the sleepover was sweet, as they are supposed to be. The girls did face painting, ate too much sugar and went to sleep too late. I cooked up my sleepover special pancakes and turkey bacon and the morning rolled by as the parents picked up their daughters and our house came back to some sort of order.

The afternoon unfolded with them exploring their new gifts, mostly furry ones that they'd already embraced into their already too large stuffed animal collection.

But one gift stood out for me and I think, for them. A simple gift the twins received from their grandma Lila. A poem she wrote in honor of their birthday. In honor of their birth.

It's a wonderful thing having a writer for a MIL, especially one as talented and artistically generous as Lila. Not a birthday or anniversary goes by that she doesn't offer a poem in celebration of the event. At 77 years old, she's published a number of books, most recently "Pages, A Memoir: Musings of a 75-year-old Woman," a true love poem to life in book form.

The poem she wrote for the twins birthday stands out as one of her most lovely and I wish I had a video camera on the girls face as they read it, out loud from my computer monitor. The look on each of their faces as they came upon a particular line will stay with me forever:

Life has been better since the twins have arrived

The only way I can describe the look on their face is one of deep contentment, of the peace that comes from knowing not only that you are loved, but that your life is part of a larger good. In this case, the larger good is that of our collective family, but hopefully, with knowing this at this early age, they will have this understanding throughout their life as their life continues to extend beyond our little clan. What more could we want from this life? What more could we want in a gift?

What compels Lila to write every day is the same that is taking hold in me - just as in the movie, "Up," where we see the fast slide show of a life shared in love, there is so little time with each other. Lila's great gift has gone far beyond the twins' and into my heart, to honor my life as a writer and a mother, and as another kindred soul working to bring the water that flows underground just a little, every day, to the surface.

Thank you, dear Lila, for your loving gift of words in celebration of two little girls who have changed my life and the life of who know them:

February 19th, 2010

The phone rang

It was 3o’clock in the morning

Auntie Deb excitedly said

The twins are coming

I jumped out of bed put on my eyeliner

I wanted to look pretty when the girls arrived

I kissed Zoie and Grandpa goodbye

Ran down the steps-jumped in my car-

I followed our plan and turned onto Venice Street

Deb’s car was there-of course

I remembered the plan –

Debra was taking sweet Mila in her Van

And I was going to Deb’s to help and to wait

It was around ten when the twins came into our world

Two little dolls

Maedee arrived a bit before Julea

We ooed and we ahhed and we cried and we laughed

Mila was hugging her two little sisters

They both fit in one bassinet

Life has been better since the girls have arrived

And the Trank- Greenes have become five

Happy Birthday to you two who are EIGHT

I Love you I Love you

You two are so great!!!!

Happy Birthday Darling Maedee and Julea

With Love From My Heart

Grandma Lila

© 2010 Lila Greene All rights reserved. 

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Last Balloon Bouquet

The pizza has been devoured, the sugar rush from the ice cream cake has passed and ten girls are hunkered down on our couch in front of our little TV watching the movie "Up." It just happens to be my favorite movie of the last decade and one that has helped me enormously survive the last 18 months of loss, uncertainty and stress.

I first saw it in the movie theater (a rarity) last May. I went with my brother-in-law and the kids while his wife (Jack's sister) and Jack were in LA for a family birthday. We gathered our forces to get through the weekend without the spouses and met at the movieplex.

The movie started and I knew I was in for something special. The silent movie that took up the first ten minutes which showed Ellie and Mr. Frederickson's life as quickly as we all know it passes brought a lump to my throat. One of the twins was on my lap and intuitively turned to see if I was all right. I hugged her and kissed the back of her neck to reassure her I was. When the part when Ellie dies happened, I closed my eyes, already full with tears and tried to hold back the sob. My brother-in-law glanced down at me with a little concern, but I shrugged my shoulders, as if to say, "just another emotional member of this family." I got through that moment and enjoyed Ed Asner's grovel-ey voice and delighted in the introduction of Russell, the over eager and tender-hearted scout. I was sure I was out of the woods.

Until a few scenes later.

It comes right after Mr. Frederickson hits the construction guy and it's decided he's a menace and has to move to Shady Oaks retirement home. When the two orderlies come to pick him, Mr. Frederickson tells them he just wants to go back inside one more time, to say good bye to "the old place" one more time.

What happens next is a moment in my film-watching history I will never forget. First it was the sound, a ripping out of the ground and then there they were. The balloons. Thousands of them expanding into the urban  skyline. And with "the old place" tethered to it and rise up with Mr. Frederickson inside.

I actually gasped out loud. Literally, gasped with amazement and delight. Pure delight. And then I couldn't hold it in anymore. I sobbed. Hard. Hard enough to get my kids worried and so pulled it together and tried to smile. I was so happy for Mr. Frederickson. And those balloons.

Balloons are a big deal in our house. The kids love them, I'm all right with them, but my husband? He hates them. Or rather, he hates the craziness they seem to make in the house that at our advanced age of parenting, grinds on his nerves. Every birthday, he dreads the arrival of the dozen balloons, but I still get them.

When we were deep in pre-turning 8 birthday planning mode, the topic of balloons came up, of course. I hemmed and hawed and stated that I thought that they were too old for balloons. I was quickly reminded that their older sister had them at her first sleepover party when she turned eight. Well, that was the end of that discussion. In our house, what is good for the goose, aka, the older sister, is always good for the gander. Chronological democracy in action.

I ordered the balloons this afternoon and emailed Jack asking him to pick them up and assuring him that this, according to our oldest and corroborated by her sisters, would be the last year for balloons. I could almost see him smile through the computer.

The rainbow-colored balloon bouquet sits on our side table. The girls have all claimed their colors for when they go home tomorrow morning. Blue, green, yellow, pink, purple, yellow, pink and two "Happy Birthday" mylar ones for the birthday girls. The last balloon bouquet.

It's almost too much for me to bear. It was hard enough when my phone rang and one of the twins gushed on the other line, , that my mother had sent a gift card to their new favorite clothing store and added, "it's just what I wanted, sounding like a teen ager, not a just eight-year-old.

We move through a constant silent movie of our own lives, rarely taking the time to look up, let alone back. I know I have to let go of the balloons, or the girls wanted to have balloons, just like Mr. Frederickson has to let go of his house in order to find his own adventure.

But in the meantime, I think I'll have to make a note to order up some balloons for my birthday. One for every blessed year. Just might be enough to put my dreams solidly in flight. Just might.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

What Is instead of What If...

It's the night before our twins turn eight years old. To say that birthdays are hard on me would be an understatement. To say that they are hard on the rest of the family is a new definition of understatement. Remember the reference to the Tasmanian Devil from an earlier post? Just put a vacuum cleaner and a dust rag in my hand and spin me off into the distance and you have the picture. But this year, I'm going to try really hard to not become the birthday mother from hell. And to understand why I get this way.

Part of what drives me to the point of no return is that I think that the birthday should be something other what they end up being. I don't really know why, but somewhere between our oldest's first and fourth birthday, I got overly concerned with the what-ifs that can come up around a birthday. And most of those what-if's have to do with money - if I had the money, I would buy this. If I had the money, I would buy that. And the what ifs extended to the house. If I had the money, I'd fix this. If I had the money, I'd replace that.

Inevitably, the what-ifs would do what they usually do and send the house into a pre-birthday frenzy and the birthday would arrive with tension, exhaustion and one of those nasty pendulum swings. Not really the way to spend a birthday, huh?

This morning, as I could feel the pre-birthday what-ifs creeping into my brain, I got ready to leave for the morning. The car needed gas, so I pulled into the nearest one, slid my card into the payment slot and pumped. I pushed the button to print a receipt and the screen told me to see the cashier. I went inside and a large, friendly man greeted me from behind the counter. I looked at his face and smiled.


A large hand extended out to me.

"Lisa, I thought that was you."

Vern was a student of mine from my days at Front Range Community College and one that I remembered with great fondness. An ex-firefighter, Vern was one of my older students and one of my brightest. He led the class with his articulation, writing skills and hard working ethic. He was seeking a new degree as a nurse's assistant, after not being able to keep up with the physical demands of fire work and his age, which when he was my student was already in his 50s. That was 8 years ago.

I asked him how he was and he shrugged his shoulders.

"All right, but going blind. Darned macular degeneration."

We exchanged a few more words and then I had to go onto my day. We shook hands again and I wished him well.

I got to the car and realized I hadn't gotten my receipt. But I'd received so much more.  Instead, as I started back on to my day and the what-ifs were no longer in my brain. What was there was a strong sense of what is.

What is is the fact of two sleeping girls who have graced my life for 8 years. What is is my oldest daughter blossoming before my eyes. What is is the incredible support and love I've received while reading this series. What is is the feel of a firm handshake at 7:15 this morning.

The first birthday present for two eight year olds from their Mama? What is instead of what if.

Happy Birthday, my beloved girls. Happy What Is.