Monday, November 1, 2010

The pleasures of fall

Wow - it has been awhile since I posted. Too long.

In the spirit of celebrating life's little things, I just want to stop and remember some of the simple pleasures of fall:

* Homemade caramel apples
* Mashed squash that is almost as sweet as candy even without adding brown sugar (carnival squash - yum!)
* Toasted pumpkin seeds
* Crunching through fallen leaves (at 35, I still veer toward leaves rather than away from them, because I love the sound)
* The first fireplace fire of the season
* Red wine
* Good books and curling up inside while the wind rages outside
* Sweaters
* Jeans
* Indian Summer days when the sunshine feels so good
* More sleep because it's darker (morning and night) and you just can't keep your eyes open

* Decorating the house with crafty, pretty things
* More time to spend inside, cuddled on the couch with your partner

Here's hoping that fall brings many wonderful things to your family.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Music appreciation - start young

C. and I attended a three-day folk music festival this past weekend. It's the same festival where we officially fell in love two years ago (it rained on us for eight hours that year -- it was sunny and perfect this year), so it will always be something special for us -- and something that is just ours.

Many people in attendance brought their children. C. and I discussed it, and we decided there are a few windows of childhood when that works -- infancy up to about a year (maybe age 2) and then again after about age 12. This conclusion was based mostly on observation of the children in the 3-11 range. The younger set were hot and tired -- and whiny as a result (who can blame them? Twelve hours in the sun is a long, long time!). The older ones just couldn't keep still or quiet -- and many of them made endless demands for food, face painting and treats.

There were a few notable exceptions. A family near us had two boys -- I'd guess they were about 8 and 10 -- and they were delightful. They listened quietly. They played board games with the adults. They read their books. I noticed one of them wearing a science fair t-shirt, and it made me wonder if children who are drawn to science are better able to cope with adult events like a music festival. Is it because their minds are more easily occupied with ideas and observation?

I think it's wonderful to expose children to music. I wish parents did more of that, but a lot of these children didn't even listen to the music. Most of them were off chasing friends or playing in the nearby creek. (At $35+ per ticket, that's some expensive play time.) It made me wish the parents would make them just sit - and just listen - even for a little while. I really think children are more capable of appreciating culture than their parents expect. They are also more capable of being respectful and polite than anyone seems to demand anymore.

In any case, C. and I won't be bringing his kids or our future children to this particular festival. This one is ours.

However, it did inspire me to expose the kids to  more art, music and culture and help them appreciate the beauty of observation and quiet enjoyment -- as a nice contrast and balance to their much-needed noisy playtime.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Nothing really compares to experiencing something for the first time. There's a feeling of stepping outside yourself, of growing, of starting new adventures.

We often think of firsts in terms of childhood: First smile, first solid food, first steps, first day of school...

Or even adolescence and early adulthood: First kiss, first love, first day of college, first roommate...

Whenever I experience a first as an adult, I am always pleasantly reminded that "new" is not reserved for the young. Life can be new every day when we step outside our comfort zones to learn something new, try something new, see something new.

For me, this week, I went fishing for the first time. I grew up in a state known for its outdoor beauty and where fishing is old hat for many people, but I had never dropped a line in the water. Not once. Not even in a stocked pond as a little kid.

So, at 35, I donned a pair of waders (what fun to wade through the water and not get a bit wet or cold!) in full Gorton Fisherman glory. C. and I hired a (very patient) guide to take us fly fishing, and we had a wonderful time enjoying the scenery, the breezes and the challenge of casting and presenting the fly in just the right way to attract the picky trout. I actually reeled in two fish and snagged another that got away.

I held one of the slimy, writhing fish in my hands for the first time before releasing it back into the water. I felt about 12 years old - and what a good feeling that was.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Post-Father's Day Thoughts

Father's Day is one of those bittersweet days around our house. C. lost his dad two years ago, so of course Father's Day is a reminder of that loss. C. also doesn't get to see his kids as often as he would like, so that's a bit bittersweet as well. I am guessing here, but I think it's also hard for him to feel good about being a good parent -- one who sets boundaries and disciplines his kids -- because he doesn't want that to be the only thing his kids know and remember about him.

Because his kids are not my kids, I have a unique perspective on his parenting, though. I think I see things that he doesn't even realize. I think C. is a wonderful father -- especially because he does offer them boundaries and consequences. I think they are learning some excellent life skills from him because of that. I think there are far too many parents out there these days who are not willing to say "no" to their children for fear of being the bad guy. Really, it's just good parenting that helps shape children into self-sufficient, functioning adults.

I told C. this weekend that I don't remember all of my childhood, but there are some very specific and strong memories that I have about each parent. Since we're talking about dads, I'll focus on my memories about my dad from my childhood:

He was/is the king of road trips -- he could drive straight through for 21 hours. Some of my best memories from childhood are of those road trips. He organized all the family bike rides. He made really thick hamburgers and pots of spaghetti sauce with nine cloves of garlic. He loved to cook for us. He loved/loves to read and I think my love of reading came from his example. When I got a little older - 10 or 11 - he would talk to me about philosophy and religion, and he listened to my opinion and my persepctive.

As for C., I think his kids will remember his blueberry and chocolate chip pancakes. Annie* will remember him teaching her to ride her bike. They will remember long hours swimming and diving and playing with Daddy at the pool. His funny faces and voices. His bedtime reminders to them that they are "smart, strong, handsome/beautiful and funny."

Dads have amazing gifts to give their children that are different from moms' gifts. I hope all you dads out there realize that you have a unique role in the lives of your children. You matter -- a lot.

I also just want to stop to remember the people who have lost their fathers, as well as those men who would like to be fathers but can't be for whatever reason (infertility doesn't just affect women physically and emotionally - the men feel it, too). Father's Day is hard for them, so be gentle.
* Names have been changed.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Family Tree

On Sunday, C. and I took the kids out to C.'s grandmother's property on the state line (a two-hour drive). She passed away a little more than a month ago and we missed the funeral because we were out of the country. She was 91 and lived a long, eventful life.

We planted some flowers under a tree on her property and then visited her grave and placed flowers there. She is buried next to her husband who passed away in 1971. Her parents are buried next to them - they passed away in the mid 60s. After we left the grave, we talked to C.'s aunt and uncle for awhile - and his uncle was telling stories about his dad (C.'s grandpa) from WWII and after. It was pretty amazing stuff.

C. has been doing some research on his dad's side of the family -- this grandmother was his dad's mom. He has managed to trace one branch back to before the Revolution in Virginia.

I love that C. is so interested in family history. It has always been an interest and passion of mine - to know where I came from and what makes our family tick. Both my mom's and dad's families are traced back to at least the mid 1700s, if not earlier. I like being able to look back at those colonial Americans, those Germans and those Swedes and feel a sense of our personal history.

However, C.'s family tree research is leaving me feeling a touch melancholy. You see, we are married, but we don't yet have children together. We have a small little branch on the family tree - just the two of us. Yet, his kids' mother will always be on his family tree (with a dotted line for the divorce, I suppose) because of my stepchildren. That branch will go on, assuming my stepkids have children of their own, no matter what.

Because we never know what the future will hold, I can't be certain that our little branch will go on. I am happy that, for now, it's just us two -- but I do think I'd like to see what a combination of his family and my family creates. 

Related to that, my dad is the last in our family with our family name. My parents had all girls. I think there are some distant cousins carrying on the family name, but it's the end of it on our branch of the tree. I kept my maiden name as a second middle name for that reason. I don't want my parents' family histories to disappear just because I got married and took my husband's name. Not only am I part of C.'s family tree, but he is part of mine. 

Just musing. I guess it is a lot more important to me than I ever knew before.  

Monday, May 10, 2010

Post-Mother's Day thoughts

Yesterday was Mother's Day. I was fortunate to be able to see my own mom yesterday, and I thank her for her many years of love, wisdom, patience and guidance. I also saw my two sisters (also moms), my brothers-in-law and my four nephews. They are all amazing. C. and his kids joined us, and we had a great time.

I am not a mom. I am a stepmom. I am the first to tell you that those are two different things -- and that is not a bad thing. I will not get into all the differences here.

I do not feel "less than" by not being a mom. I might have my own children someday, and I will be proud to be a mom if I do. I also know that my life is valuable and worthwhile even if I don't.

I am a woman. I am a human. Both of those titles carry great meaning for me, and I believe that each human being has a special gift to share, and unique lessons to learn, regardless of his or her family status.

On Father's Day, I will post something similar for the guys, but today I honor all the girls and women I know: Thank you for just being you; thank you for being a gift to the people whose lives you touch - your family, your neighbors, your coworkers...; remember that your life has meaning and never let anyone take that from you by their words or actions; you are worth it.

I also want to stop and remember the people who have lost their mothers, as well as the women who would love to be mothers, but who can't be for whatever reason. Mother's Day is especially hard for them, and my heart goes out to them.

To everyone: Bottom line, be aware that the people around you are, for the most part, doing the best they can. Honor who they are and where they are in life. Remember to thank them, not just on one day of the year, but every day. Be kind.

We are all in this thing together and we are all different, but equal.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A break from it all...

C. and I just returned from a most amazing trip to the Canary Islands (part of Spain, but off the western coast of Africa). We stayed on Tenerife and had one night in Madrid on the return trip.

I truly enjoyed the European atmosphere combined with a low-key island lifestyle. We didn't see one other American until the night in Madrid, but we met several Brits and Germans. It was so refreshing to hear people speaking multiple languages and to experience life from a different perspective for several days.

After an incredibly stressful six months related to blended family issues, I can't even tell you how amazing it was to be away - far away - as just the two of us. Couples can reconnect on vacation in such a deep and meaningful way.

I don't have time to post a full trip report now, but I will share a few photos...

Friday, April 23, 2010

'It's pouring rain, and he's still singing'

Our house: 5 a.m.

Cheep...  cheep ... cheep ... CHEEP.

Cheep... cheep ... cheep ... CHEEP.

For the past several days, a persistent bird has started his (mating?) song well before the sun comes up -- and well before C. or I would like to be awake. Today, it is dumping rain, but he was still out there cheeping. I imagine a little, puffed up bird trying to hide under whatever leafless branch he can find at this time of year...

Well, C. jokingly threatened to shoot it with a BB gun. (I love birds, there's no way I would let him.)

I just said, "It's pouring rain, and he's still singing."

C.'s Facebook status this morning told me that he got it. A quote: "Some birds sing when the sun shines bright. My praise is not for them but the one who sings in the dead of night. I raise my cup to him. Some flowers bloom when the green grass grows. My praise is not for them but the one who blooms in the bitter snow. I raise my cup to him." - Anais Mitchell

Indeed. Here's to all the birds singing in the rain.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


I LOVE spring. Love it.

I get childishly excited when I see a tulip about to bloom and notice new buds on the trees. For every new flower that comes up in our yard, I run inside to tell C. "Guess what? We have grape hyacinth!" (We have lived in our current house for less than a year, and the previous owner planted a variety of bulbs. Every new flower is like a little surprise gift she left just for me.)

I return from walks with my dog to report on the latest builds of the muskrats in the canal (muskrats! I had never seen them before); the current mating phase of the mallards (they have all paired off and found their own nesting sites -- no more hanging out as a flock for awhile); the butterfly cocoons that are about to hatch; the neighborhood cats on the hunt; and the beautiful animals I have seen. (This week, a great blue heron and a pelican. Beautiful!)

C. patiently puts up with my giddy reports and responds with a disinterested "uh-huh."

I don't care. (Where's my sticking-my-tongue-out icon?) This trait is something that has not left me since childhood. I love nature. I love animals. I love watching for little changes and reporting on animal sociology.

I rarely invite anyone else on these walks because I know they wouldn't appreciate them. I would also miss out on the details of my surroundings because I would be talking to my husband or a stepkid (or listening to one of the kids' monologues, more likely). These walks are a gift I give myself several times a week - and I hope to continue the practice for many years to come.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Random brain break

I am taking a moment to give my brain a break. So, just a few random thoughts on my mind:

~ Ham. I ate a full piece of ham yesterday for the first time in at least 16 years. I ate it because my husband made it, it's what we were serving for Easter and I was hungry, and I am a little tired of not eating the things that everyone else eats. C. made two kinds - smoked and glazed - and they were both wonderful. (I made scalloped potatoes and glazed pineapples, for anyone who thinks I am a holiday kitchen slacker. I also made a roasted veggie quiche for C. for breakfast.)

~ Sisters. I really, really miss my sisters. They live in the same metro area, but they are 1.5 hours and 45 minutes away, respetively, and I just don't see them as often as I would like. I wonder if this is a byproduct of marriage? Being a newlywed, I'm not sure.

~ Friends. Ditto the above for my closest girlfriends.

~ I need to find a way to see people more often. Maybe we'll make another ham and some scalloped potatoes and have everyone over.

~ I have never considered myself a great hostess, but I think I do OK as C.'s backup. Maybe we should host more dinner parties in general?

~ I had a really nice weekend with the stepkids. It was a perfect balance. They spent Easter morning with their mom and it gave C. and me some quiet time, but it was also nice to color eggs with them the night before and to have them for our late afternoon Easter dinner.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Building thanks

I am starting week two of a 30-day challenge to say only positive things to and about my husband.

The challenge encourages vocalizing thanks and praise for all the good things your spouse does - large and small - every day.

I have always believed in focusing on the bright side. When life is particularly challenging, the bright side for me is often found in the smallest pleasures of everyday life. However, it is still far too easy to fall into the trap of negative thinking.

Making a conscious effort to be grateful and vocalize thanks to your spouse every single day forces you to seek out the positive. Some days, it's a bit of a stretch; but I have found something positive to say every day to C. or to my friends and family about C. The result is an overall increased feeling of goodwill, love and affection for my husband.

I believe this practice can be applied to every aspect of life, and I plan to challenge myself to do just that. Work. Stepmotherhood. Commuting. Even the kids' mom (yikes, that will be a challenge; but it will be worth it if it will help me let go of some anger related to her).

Here's a little jazz positivity break to get you in the mood:


The Sunny Side Of The Street Lyrics


Friday, March 12, 2010

Counting by fives

I have reached an age where I have begun to count my life in five-year blocks.

Today, I am 35 years old. I was born in a blizzard and arrived at precisely 9 a.m. (my mom and dad called precisely at 9 a.m. today, as they always do) -- smack dab in the middle of a decade my parents describe as one of the most depressing (on a national scale) in their memories. Maybe my arrival was a bit of a bright spot (I'd like to think so).

Thirty-five once sounded so old to me. I am trying not to think of the societal pressure placed on women my age. That's a challenge, when even friends I haven't seen in ages find it acceptable to ask me if I am pregnant yet, seeing as I got married seven months ago and I am "of a certain age."

All of that aside, I thought it might be a fun exercise to look back at the big lessons learned in each phase of my life.

My life lessons from seven blocks of five:

* I learned how to breathe, crawl, see, grab, yell. I discovered the joy of music and I danced before I walked.

* I learned about love and family, mom and dad, and sisters.
* I learned self-expression and lived in my imagination.

* I felt my first big heartache when my best friend Jennifer moved away after Kindergarten. I cried for days.
* I learned that people laugh at you when you express too much emotion when I read an essay about my new best friend, Eryn, aloud to my second grade class.
* I learned what it meant to be physically hurt when I split my chin open at 8 (used my chin as brakes after flying over my bike handlebars); and again when a girl jumped on my head from the rainbow monkey bars in fourth grade (four broken teeth and I bit through my tongue).

* I experienced the first death of a loved one, our family dog Chinook, when we had to put her down. The second loss came five years later when our next dog was poisoned by the neighbor and died in our family room.

(Trust me, there were happy moments, too -- but these stand out very clearly. I suppose this is the half-decade when I learned that life isn't always fun and games and sometimes hurts.)

* I learned the joy of travel and experiencing new places on many long road trips with my family. The journey has often been as interesting as the destination.

* I learned that books could take me anywhere I ever dreamed of going.
* I learned how to follow my own path when my sisters went away to college, and I found my own voice (which was sometimes counter to everyone else's opinion, and often still is).
* I began to think about the idea of God and started to form my philosophy of life.
* I broke a boy's heart for the first time, and another boy broke my heart for the first time.
* I developed one of the best and most enduring friendships that has been a huge gift in my life (thanks, Cathy). Our entire group of friends at that age helped me feel wanted and accepted and they each taught me something different.

* I learned the various ways cars crunch and crinkle when hit. (Five accidents between age 17 and 21 - two were my fault).
* I learned what failure felt like; as well as redemption (thanks to four hours per day of summer school; Algebra 2 and Trig - joy)
* I fell in love for the first time.
* I developed another wonderful and enduring friendship that is still so important to me today (thanks, Kari).
* I learned how to sprout wings and explore the world and my own mind when I went away to college.
* I discovered (first at 13, actually, and again at 18) the wonder of international travel -- and how big the world is, but small at the same time.


* I entered the real world and learned the value of hard work.
* I learned how to take care of myself from cooking to rent to student loans.
* I learned that it's best to keep a healthy line between business and my personal life.
* I learned how to travel alone and relish it.
* My first nephew was born and I began to experience the joy of children in my life.


* Two more nephews were born and my heart grew even bigger.
* I experienced two of my biggest heartbreaks during this time period (same guy both times). The amount of learning and growth that stemmed from that unhealthy relationship sometimes still astounds me.
* I experienced the loss of a close family member for the first time when my grandpa died. My other grandpa passed a year after that and one grandma passed last year. The other grandma is still going strong at 94. I learned the value of history and family, and coming from somewhere from all four of them.
* I followed a winding road both personally and professionally, and I began to learn to value the experience and care less about my "status" (in all senses of the word).
* I grew up so much during that phase and became the most true version of myself yet.


* I became a homeowner at 31 and learned the value of doing it on my own. It was one of the proudest moments of my life.
* I experienced the deep love and affection of my dear family and friends and realized how much they have all been cheering me on all along.
* My fourth nephew was born, and my heart grew even bigger.

* I learned what real love looks like (finally) and married my best friend and the best man I know. He has shown me a new world and has taught me so much about myself, love and the world. He is the best gift I have ever received.

* I became an integral figure in the lives of two children who are teaching me new things each and every day (and my heart has grown even bigger).

I cannot begin to express the level of gratitude I feel for the important people in my life (love to all of you). Each one -- from my parents, sisters and nephews to my wonderful husband to my friends at all stages of life -- has brought something unique and special to the world and to my life personally.

I am so happy to be alive. I am so happy to be in the now. I look forward to the next half of this decade of my life -- and more counting by fives as I go.

By random coincidence, this is also my 35th blog post.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Stepmom little thing meditation

I have to start this post by saying how wonderful I think Sandra Bullock is. She is a stepmom to three children (who have two separate moms). One of those moms is an ex-porn star who was recently jailed for tax evasion. Nice.

It was a nice "little thing" for me to see Sandra Bullock win her Oscar this week and to silently celebrate that we stepmoms have a role model and advocate in the celebrity world. Maybe she can help throw some chinks into the armor of the wicked stepmother myth. (Although a quick Google search that pulled up articles about "Stepkids think Bullock is a monster" proves the media-razzi sure aren't helping the fight.)

The life of a stepmom is rarely simple. It can be thankless and full of pressure. Pressure to do right by children in spite of their mother's best efforts to turn them against you (and often your husband); pressure to be sweet and perfect in order to dispel the wicked stepmother myth. You can give and give, only to receive scraps in return.

In my own life as a stepmom, those everyday "little things" often save me. They are what keep me going.

The stepmom little things that come to mind:

~ A handmade card I received from my stepdaughter that said, "I Love You"
~ My stepson saying at piano practice Monday night, "I'm glad A.J. is here"
~ Both kids yelling "A.J.!" when I come downstairs in the morning; they are actually glad to see me
~ Knowing in my heart that I am serving as a different kind of role model for them; teaching them self-sufficiency and responsibility
~ Knowing that I will always treat the kids with respect and authenticity and will never play with their emotions (as some others in their life do), and that they will appreciate that someday
~ Giving my stepson a time-out last night while C. was at the store -- and it worked, and he apologized for his behavior. It was a victory moment for me - turns out, I am an authoritative parent. (I took a quiz.)
~ Watching my stepdaughter ride her bike alone for the first time -- sharing a 'first' in her life.
~ Watching the kids thrive with the new goal-setting system C. and I implemented at our house.
~ Hearing my stepdaughter read her first book (with just a little help from me) last week. (The edge-of-your seat story of The Red Hen.)

~ Getting a good report from my stepson's new school that he is behaving well and doing well! (Curses to the old school for giving up on him or any child as a lost cause.)

There are a lot more, and I hope I will always stop to remember those moments and small victories.

There are a lot of challenging moments as a stepmom. I have already been through moments of great despair as a stepmom. It is way harder than anyone tells you it will be (and I think most biological parents would agree with that statement, as well). Yet, this past year has been the biggest year of growth in my life. Those two little ones are, in part, responsible for that -- and I thank them for that.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Special (needs) kid

I haven't posted on this topic before because it is a difficult subject for me to put into words. I doubt this post will be all that coherent, but I really feel the need to write about it.

Different. I have a stepson who is different.

As a young child (well before I knew him), he was verbally delayed and had some motor issues. Now, as a nine-year-old, he is behind at school -- mostly because he is a different kind of learner, but also because his behavior and lack of typical social skills gets in the way of his success. I could write pages and pages about the tests and so-called "diagnoses" (from autism to anxiety -- but none of them really fit) the professionals have subjected him to. I won't, because I truly believe all the tests in the world won't help him. 

What will help him is a teacher who cares, as well as parents (including me) who reinforce the academic and behavioral work the school is doing. 

He starts at a new school today, and there is some real hope. I have not yet met the teacher, but I plan to. A teacher friend of mine told me, "A.J., you are a parent. The school and teacher don't care if you are a bioparent or a stepparent. You might not even want the title, but you are a parent." She's right - I am one of four responsible adults in my stepson's life and I can have a genuine impact on his life. I want the school and teacher to know who I am and to know that I care. (Whoa! Tears in my eyes as I type that.)

C., my husband, has met the regular classroom teacher, special ed director, principal and others at the school who seem to be on board with treating each child as an individual. What works for one won't necessarily work for another. They don't believe in forcing a square peg into a round hole. With the right support and encouragement, I believe my stepson can succeed. He is bright. He is special. He shouldn't be written off just because he is different.

* * *

This weekend, C. and I watched the HBO movie "Temple Grandin." If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it.

Dr. Temple Grandin was diagnosed with autism in 1950. She didn't speak until she was four years old. "Professionals" told her mother she never would speak and that she should live in an institution.

Her mother refused to give up on her. She DID speak. She went to school. She learned. She loved science.

In high school, a science teacher became her mentor and she began to thrive. Someone believed in her and showed her that she could do it. She went on to college, earned a master's and eventually her Ph.D. in animal science. She now teaches at Colorado State University and lectures on autism. 

She says she thinks in pictures -- and her autism is one of the reasons she is able to relate to and work with animals.

C. and I had tears streaming down our faces because it hit so close to home -- but also because it showed us so much hope. 

The professionals can tell you, until they are blue in the face, to prepare for boarding school and group homes for a child, because he's different and won't be able to take care of himself later in life. They convince you - yes, even in this highly advanced age - that there is nothing to be done. Why? Because THEY don't know what to do.

Since I met my stepson, I have always believed that he would grow up, learn and succeed. I believe he can be self-sufficient. I believe he can have a career and be happy. I refuse to believe that we all should give up on him having dreams because he doesn't fit the norm.

I will post more on this later, I am sure. For now, I just want to put out into the universe my best wishes for my stepson, Jonah*. Today is a new beginning for him, and it is a day filled with much hope. Your daddy and I believe in you, kid.

* Names have been changed.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Snow dog

I was home sick yesterday (and the day before), but I started to feel better in the late afternoon. So, I decided to take my dog for a walk. It had started to snow, but wasn't coming down that hard yet -- so I decided to take a chance at walking the long path around the lake in the adjacent neighborhood. By the time we circled half the lake, the snow was really coming down and blowing sideways. My little brown dog was all white and my jeans were soaked through. I felt bad that I had taken her out in that, but really, we both enjoyed it. It was a stunningly beautiful scene and nobody was out...

Save for a little boy (about 8, I would guess) who had stopped at the stream on his way home from school. He was building some elaborate structure using the ice he had broken off the banks of the stream. He said hello, and went on about his serious business -- completely unfazed by the storm. Watching him made me smile. I remember being that intent as a child -- fully engaged in the moment despite the weather or anything else.

I try so hard in my daily life to have those Zen moments -- those moments of truly being in the here and now. The trouble is, adults have to try. Kids just do.

Once in awhile, like yesterday's walk with my pup, I have a brief interlude of being fully present -- and it feels amazing. If I can find a way to culitvate that, I truly believe I would be more at peace and more content.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Girl power

One of my biggest frustrations with my stepdaughter, Annie*, is her tendency to give up on herself and say "I can't do it!"

She is a smart and capable 5-year-old girl. Most of the time, she CAN do it, but doesn't give herself enough time or have enough confidence to try.

This weekend, she proved me right. She rode a bike without training wheels, solo, for the first time. C. and I gave Jonah* a new bike for his birthday, so Annie was trying out his old one. Turns out, the bigger sized bike was all she needed. C. helped her at first, but then let go and she took off -- balanced perfectly!

I was so excited for her. I remember the first time I rode my bike alone -- when dad let go (ha! yes, figurative and literal in a lot of ways). I was so proud.

Watching her say, "Yes, I can" rather than "No, I can't" was huge. I know she was really proud of herself.

Also, it's a big first that I got to share with her as her stepmom. It didn't happen on mom's time -- it happened on C's and my time with the kids. It was truly a good family moment, with C., Jonah and me all cheering her on.

*names have been changed.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Creativity (part 2)

Society quashes creativity early.

My drawing instructor made a comment that children don't have to use their imaginations anymore -- everything is already done for them in video games and movies. That made me sad -- because we always think of childhood as this immensely creative and imaginative time. It was for me -- I was always putting on "plays" in the backyard, dressing up like a pioneer girl, writing poetry and making up stories for my dolls.

I really hope children haven't lost that ability entirely.

When he made that comment, it reminded me of sitting at the table with my stepkids a couple of weeks ago. C. had bought them these amazing "doodle books." They are not your average coloring books. Each page has a small drawing or two in the corner and a question that "starts" a story: What is the dog laughing at? Why is the dinosaur scared? Most of each page is a big, empty space where the kid can draw something from his or her own imagination.

Annie*, who is five, turned to a page that featured a stage outline. It was her job to create her own characters and play on the stage. She promptly drew a boy and a girl and said, "This is the prince and princess."


Anyone who knows me well knows that I hate the princess myth. (I also hate pink and buying shoes -- I missed a female gene somewhere.)

I hate the myth because: a) How many princesses have you ever met in real life? b) Gee, great aspiration; grow up to be pretty and sweet and wait for a man to rescue you.

(Did I mention that Annie's mom sent her to Princess Camp last summer? Gah!)

It occurs to me now, though, that I hate it for an even bigger reason. These pervasive stories that we tell our children (princesses for girls and superheroes for boys) are sending a message that these characters are the prototypes on which to base your dreams. The stories are all the same: Pretty girl gets the guy; Strong good guy beats the bad guys. There's little deviation from the original and our children start to regurgitate these stories, rather than creating their own.

C., bless him, drew a cactus on Annie's stage and said, "You know, you don't just have to repeat a story you saw in a movie. You can make your own story; maybe it's a prince, a princess and a cactus."

I said, "Ooh, and if there's a cactus, maybe they are not even a prince and princess. Maybe they are a cowboy and cowgirl."

She's a smart girl -- you could see her wheels turning after that. I hope that we can help teach both kids that they are allowed to have their own dreams, tell their own stories, create what they want to create because it comes from inside them and expresses who they are. 

Also, I hope to convey that being an average human being is much cooler than being some storybook princess or comic book hero. Average, everyday people are doing amazing things. Life is cool. Let's teach children to see that and enjoy that early.  

* Names have been changed.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Art and Creativity

I am four weeks into a drawing class. (I haven't taken a true drawing or painting class since 8th grade. I thought it would be a good way to recharge my brain.)

Each week, we have homework. We are learning to tell a story with our drawings, vary perspective and be more keen observers of the world and its details. I did last week's homework on my lunch break the other day, while sitting in Starbuck's; and I felt something I haven't felt in a long, long time -- my creative streak "surged," for lack of a better word.

It felt wonderful! I reconnected with a part of myself that I thought was long gone. I have the ability to see the world in a unique way and express it creatively.

I am not a great artist, by any means; but it gives me something to aspire to. I can practice -- and that "practice" time can also serve as time to get to know myself again.

Only two of us showed up to class this week, and we were discussing this idea of creativity and making space and time in our lives for art and our passions.

The other lady was lamenting the fact that she feels guilty taking time away from her kids to work on her art. The teacher and I both agreed that she needs to take that time -- not only does it enrich her own life because she's doing something with passion, but it will ultimately enrich her children's lives. They will benefit from seeing mom excited about something, and they will learn that it is important for all people, even parents, to take time for themselves. At the same time, they will learn to entertain themselves for a bit, while mom is working on her art -- also an incredibly valuable life skill for all humans.

My heart really went out to her (as it does to all moms I know). She gave up her job to stay home with her kids, and she says she feels like she lost herself. Now, she needs to give herself permission to find herself again -- and not feel guilty about it in the least.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Six months

Today is the two-year anniversary of my first date with C. I remember how I felt when he laughed at a joke I made -- I will always remember the way he smiled and his eyes lit up.

Last week was the six-month anniversary of our marriage. I remember telling my dad before we went down the aisle, "This is my wedding." I beamed as C. shared his beautiful self-written vows with me.
I am so lucky.

I have learned so much more from C. than any other romantic partner I have had. He has shown me that:

- love is not reserved for the very young; people with a little more wear on the tread and a little history can find true love together (and I think in a lot of ways, we cherish it a bit more).
- love survives disagreements and different perspectives.
- honesty is truly the best policy; I don't have to hold back, I can say what I feel and show who I really am.
- that a hug or simple touch can smooth over even the worst day.
- I can trust someone - he has my back and I have his.
- being partners sometimes means helping the other person face the uncomfortable in the name of growth.
- dreams are better when shared.
- there is so much more to life than work; we have more to accomplish in this life together than earning kudos from the boss.

- there is nobody else I would rather wake up to each day.
- I am beautiful, even in the morning when I have matted hair and raccoon eyes. :)
- I can let someone take care of me; it feels good.
- respect is the most important ingredient in any relationship.
- guy humor is actually funny sometimes.
- ok, bacon is good. (So much for my vegetarian leanings.)

There's so much more. I just wanted to mark this day.

Love is the thing...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Little thing meditation

It has been a rough couple of weeks, and I am in the midst of a mild depression. I know I will snap out of it, but I'm not quite there yet.

In the meantime, reminding myself of the little things for which I am grateful or just the little things that make me smile, helps.

Here are my little things from the past several days:

-- I had a blissful massage and chocolate body wrap on Friday (a gift from C.). During the body wrap, the girl left me alone for about 30 minutes. My mind literally went blank. It was amazing.

-- I took my dog to her favorite dog park yesterday. It is now a 45-minute drive, but so worth it. We have space to actually hike together and she gets to stop and play with the occasional dog. They installed agility equipment since we were last there, and I had fun running her through the course.

-- After that, I took her to my folks' house -- where I talked to my parents and my dog played for hours with their dog.

-- I had a four-day weekend. I didn't think about work once.

-- I had lunch with my sisters on Friday. I am so thrilled we all live in the same state again and can do that now.

-- C. and I went to the local brewery for dinner Friday night. I enjoyed the brown ale I tried and the time with C.

-- Yesterday was a beautiful, warm day.

-- I started my drawing class last week. Tonight is my second class. It feels good to do something new - and something that is just for me.

-- I get the house to myself tonight, because C. is traveling. I always miss him when he goes, but I also enjoy some solitude.

-- I had a delicious Maine lobster roll on Saturday night when we went out with friends. Yum!

-- The office is relatively quiet today and I am letting work stuff roll off my back.


Any good little things in your life this week??

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


I have always longed for a sense of true community. Now that we have moved and life has changed so much, I don't really feel like part of a community at all.

I don't know my neighbors, and I wouldn't have a clue who to call nearby in an emergency.

I am working on new ways to build community that is physically close by. I signed up for a class at an arts organization just down the street. It began last night and there are three other ladies and me. We shall see - it might lead to some new friendships, or even just a closer connection to the organization itself.

C. and I are looking into a new gym. Maybe we can meet a few friends there.

On the flip side, I do have a very strong community of family and friends. Although they don't live close by, they feel close. It makes such a huge difference to know I am connected to them.

I have also found several online communities that have made me feel so welcome. Most recently, I found an online group for other stepmoms. Yay! I really need a group of people who understand the stress and frustrations particular to being a stepmom.

It is a lifelong goal of mine to continue to find and create community. I'm working on it.

If anyone has tried something that has worked, let me know. I'd love some new ideas!

Monday, January 4, 2010

What 2009 taught me

Happy New Year, everyone. Ringing in a new year always excites me and always makes me reflect on the past one.

I had an excellent 2009 -- the economy, the politicians, the media and world chaos be damned. It began with a proposal of marriage from C. at 12:01 on January 1, 2009. It ended with a new year's kiss from my husband (yes, C. -- I did say yes) at 12:00 January 1, 2010.

The year 2009 taught me:

~ Surprises are just as exciting as an adult as they were in childhood. C.'s proposal was the best surprise I have ever received and he is the best gift I have ever been given.

~ There are so many more important things to worry about, so stop stressing about the small things. When I look back to my 2009 freak-outs about save-the-date cards, bridesmaid dresses and refinishing my kitchen cabinets, I just have to shake my head in shame. The year brought many more important events and challenges that were worth my time.

~ Small things matter. Don't stress about them, but enjoy them. Every single day is full of simple, small gifts just waiting to be enjoyed. All it takes is a little patience and attention to notice and savor them.

~ Love is reborn every single day. Don't stop telling your spouse how much you love him/her after the vows have been said. Daily reminders in actions and in words can truly make the difference between a happy marriage and an unhappy one.

~ Time is the best gift. Don't squander it. Use it well. Share it with the people you love first and then carefully choose how to spend the rest.

~ Children are loud. :) They are also full of unfiltered joy, wonder, curiosity, energy and simple wisdom. We have much to learn from them.

~ You can choose who is important in your life. The naysayers, the back-stabbers and everyone who wishes you ill need not occupy your thoughts for a half second. Choose to give your energy to the people who deserve it.

~ Getting older is liberating. On New Year's Eve this year, I was dressed in warm trousers, boots and a long, heavy coat. The 22-year-olds were dressed in barely-there plunging minis and not even a sweater -- let alone a coat. I was thrilled to be the older, warmer one. ;) I wouldn't go back for a minute.

~ Learning new things keeps your heart young. I received my SCUBA certification a couple of weeks before our wedding and went on my first official dive on our honeymoon in Hawaii. I can't even explain the feeling of swimming right by a shark and watching giant green sea turtles sleeping underwater. SCUBA was waaayyyy outside my comfort zone, and I am so glad I stuck it out.

~ You are stronger than you think. You are, trust me.

~ Accept that you don't know everything -- and that you don't have to. Nobody has a secret playbook for life. Enjoy the figuring it out as you go along, accept the mistakes, learn the lessons and keep placing one foot in front of the other.

~ Your heart has room for everyone. Love is not a finite resource. Let yourself connect to new friends and new people. Life grows in proportion to the growth of love in all its forms.

Here's hoping that 2010 brings many good lessons and many gifts for us all. Enjoy it!