Friday, August 29, 2008

Mommy Bloggers

What do REM and Sesame Street have in common?  About as much as Heather Armstrong and I do.  But sometimes kids are enough.

I started reading Heather Armstrong's blog, dooce, when my daughter was about 18 months old.  I liked her writing and was intrigued by her references to postpartum depression, so I started reading her archives, beginning with the birth of her daughter, Leta, who is now four years old.  How I wish I had been reading dooce when Samantha was born!  I was floored by the similarity in our experiences, and the popularity of her blog indicates I'm not the only one who feels that way.

It's almost a cliché that new moms need to know that they are "not alone" - that other moms have been through the same things, and that we all get through it.  Since I have so few friends with kids, I read dozens of crappy magazines and internet articles looking for that kind of support, but they all left me cold.  I didn't need to read about why I should make play dates or what to ask the pediatrician at the 3 month checkup. Reading other moms whine about their problems just increased my tendency to think of myself as a martyr. I needed more data and fewer conclusions.  I needed to read about the minutia of day-to-day life.  One article could never capture the essence of it: the frustration, the uncertainty, and the helplessness you feel while simultaneously experiencing a level of joy, love, and attachment you never thought possible.  The whole experience is shattering, but it happens a bit at a time.  Reading a blog like Heather's, where you get one day at a time, would have given me what I craved.

In my reading, Leta is now 23 months old, just like Sam.  There is a photo of Leta in the shopping cart with the little car on the front, just like Sam rides in now.  There are stories of food battles and, yes, there is still the occasional poop post.  The thread that means the most to me, though, is Leta's struggle and ultimate success with walking.  Sam doesn't have any specific problems, but she is a late bloomer and some of the concerns are the same.  I can't count the number of places I've read about how kids develop at different rates, and how one shouldn't get too caught up in milestones, etc., etc.  But nothing helps me cope more than observing Heather do it day by day.  The difference between a book and a blog is that the author of the blog doesn't know the ending yet.  And isn't that exactly what we're dealing with as parents?  The uncertainty, the flailing about, the learning as we go.  There is just no substitute for watching someone else do it right along with you.

Sometimes I read Heather's current stuff, but I can't relate.  I can't even imagine Sam at four.  But I know she'll get there, and I know I'll be reading dooce and other mommy bloggers out there who are laying it all out there for us.  Thank you, ladies!

(By the way, that photo is not a set up.  I was reading dooce while Sam was watching Sesame Street.  I was only about three entries past that post when REM showed up on my TV too.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Mr. Deity

Calling all atheists!  If you haven’t yet seen this hilarious series of videos, set aside an hour or so today and take an aspirin to prepare for the side-splitting and cheek-aching that will ensue. 

(If, like me, you have trouble navagating the Crackle video site, try .  It's a bit easier.  Some episodes are still available on YouTube, but at some point the creators must have sold exclusive rights to Crackle.)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

I Swear, I Never Taught Her That

What part of your body do you use to see?

She points to her eye.

What do you use to hear?

She points to her ear.

What do you use to smell?

She points to her nose.

What do you use to taste?

She points to her tongue.

What do you use to feel?

She points to her heart.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Original Sin

Michelle Mitchell of Scribbit wrote today of her embarrassment over the lack of humility of the Olympic athletes, most notably those from the U.S.  Her essay is interesting because it sheds light on our national schizophrenia in regard to sports.  On one hand, we idolize athletes and we cheer their victories.  On the other, we cringe to see the arrogance that athletes seem to display more and more each year. 

The examples Mitchell gives of shameful behavior include such disparate things as:

  • Valeri Liukin missing his daughter's medal ceremony because he was busy arguing with the judges.

  • Track and field stars "strutting their stuff in an ostentatious display."

  • Track and Field winners taking a victory lap.

  • Track and field winners draping their country's flag over their shoulders "as if it were a towel because they're just too busy thinking about how good it is to be them."

  • 200 meter dash victor (and record breaker) Usain Bolt shouting, "I'm number one!"

  • Track and Field athlete Wallace Spearmon protesting his disqualification for stepping on the lane lines.

  • Gymnast Paul Hamm (in the 2004 games) keeping his gold medal even though he did not earn it. (There was a scoring error which could not be reversed according to the rules, but there was no question that he did not deserve the gold medal.)

All of these examples fall, for her, into some broad category defined loosely as "lack of humility," or "arrogance."  I submit that the reason we see so much arrogance in sports is precisely because we have made genuine pride taboo in every other area of life.

What message do we send our children about pride?  If you are truly religious, pride is an outright sin.  One must never feel a sense of importance or greatness of the self.  But since it is impossible to live without a positive sense of self, we've changed the terminology and begun to herald the importance of self-esteem.  We've left both of these concepts fuzzy, though, and children receive such mixed messages as, "always think of others before yourself," "you are great because you are not like anybody else," "you are no better than anybody else," and "you are good and I'll help you feel it by telling you so over and over."  Note that all of these messages involve the child's relationship with other people, but none address the true source of pride and self-esteem: achievement. 

Since pride in achievement (which never denigrates others) has been lumped into the same category as conceit (an unearned, false pride), and arrogance (the feeling of superiority over others), children try to suppress it all in the name of being good.  But the one area where pride is not considered completely out of bounds is in sports.  In our culture, physical accomplishment is considered worthy of a respect not granted to any other achievement.  Athletes are exempted from being labeled sinners for their pride.  In sports, we are still allowed to WIN, to TRIUMPH, to SUCCEED, and for the most part, to feel good about it. 

But the kids who have become the athletes of today were never taught the difference between an honest feeling of pride and the petty need to feel superior to others.  They have not been taught to cherish and protect the sacred feeling of their own self-worth, which would make conceit and arrogance abhorrent.  In many cases, they do not have real self-esteem or pride, but are indeed arrogant.  In most other fields, people shut this feeling down because it is considered immoral.  Athletes have been granted license to strut.

What saddens me is that the pathetic displays of arrogance I've seen in sports over the years, and even outright dishonesty can be equated with highly moral and beautiful moments.  I watched Usain Bolt win the 200 meter dash and was thrilled with his performance and his obvious pride in his achievement.  I was not offended by his chant of "I'm number one!" or even his childish victory dance.  I saw a man who had earned it, celebrating his victory.  I especially enjoyed the shot of Michael Johnson, watching from above as "Lightning" Bolt broke his world record.  He was clearly excited to see it.  Bolt's achievement did nothing to take away Johnson's.  Later, Bolt described his feelings by saying, "I'm just proud of myself," and "I just try to enjoy myself."  He never spoke of others, either as having beaten them, or even to thank them, as Mitchell would have him do in the name of humility.  His achievement was his own and his pride was earned, and it was a great thing to watch. 

We need to reclaim pride as a virtue - as the crown of the virtues - and we need to apply it to all areas of life, not just sports.

Word Quiz

This quiz is fun!  You have to try to guess the 100 most common English words in 5 minutes.  I scored a pathetic 39.  I wish I hadn't looked at the answers so that I could try again.  (Hat tip to Paul Hsieh at NoodleFood and Rational Jenn.)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Four Years

The Olympics are a bit like New Years times four.  I've been watching, thinking of all that I have done since the Athens games.  Exactly four years ago, Adam and I were in the middle of making the decision to have a child.  Here are our family milestones since then:

  • I quit smoking

  • We got a dog

  • Our older cat died

  • We had a child

  • I graduated from college

  • Adam got his dream job at George Mason University

  • I began my career as a writer by starting this blog

  • We lived in three new places: San Diego, CA, Lexington, VA, and Burke, VA

  • We traveled to:  Buffalo, NY, New Orleans, LA, San Francisco, CA, Pasadena, CA, the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Vancouver, BC, Canada, Tucson, AZ*, Playa del Carmen, Mexico*, Chicago, IL (numerous times)*, Richmond, VA (numerous times)*, St. Louis, MO (numerous times)*, Orange County, CA (numerous times)*, Ridgway, CO*, Telluride, CO*, Durango, CO*, Meteor Crater, AZ*, Temecula, CA*, Pacific Palisades, CA*, Orlando, FL*, St. Petersburg, FL*, Philadelpia, PA*

*Post-baby trips

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


I haven't been able to post much lately because life maintenance has again taken over.  I hate to use this blog to bitch about things that bother me but if you bear with me there might be a point, and some good news, at the end.

We have now lived in our new home for three months and I'm still catching up.  To give you an idea of the things that happen when you move three times in a year, I'll tell you about my current project: catching up with my filing.  When we left Michigan, we needed to take some files with us because we would be on the move for a full year.  We couldn't go without our tax files or bank records or auto maintenance files for that long.  But we certainly couldn't take all six drawers of files we had in our office.  I pulled out what I thought would be necessary, and that meant splitting up some of the files and just bringing the newer, more important papers.  So we now have two "pet" files, two "credit card" files, two "owner's manuals" files, etc.  I managed to get the volume of files down to one plastic filing drawer with a bit of extra space for new papers. 

Well, in the year we were "on the road" we sold a house, rented three homes, Sam had minor surgery, I developed a medical problem, Adam had three different jobs, and of course there were the three moves.  The final move to northern Virginia required two moving companies, a separate unpacking service, and one trip back to Michigan.  All of this generated more paperwork than I anticipated and after the plastic drawer was full, I filled a huge plastic bin with important papers.

Right now I have my six drawers back and after throwing away two trash bags full of papers we no longer need, I was able to dump most of the unfiled stuff into one drawer and to pile the rest on top.  I estimate that it will take about five more hours to clean it all up.

The childless people out there are probably wondering what the big deal is.  I'm sure the stay at home moms get it.  Any project that takes longer than a nap or the brief window between the kid's bedtime and your own is daunting.  This one is stumping me more than usual because I need to use the basement floor space to spread out all the papers, and that is Sam's main play area.  If I try to do it while she is awake, she will want to "help" by taking each paper and putting it somewhere for me.  Like under the couch.  Or on the dog's head.  Or in her mouth.  If I start working on it during a nap, I'll have to clean it up and put everything away before she wakes up or else just give up the use of the basement for the duration of the project.  Again, the childless might say, "so what?" but I'm sure all the parents out there get it.  (I have a post planned about how important our "playroom" is and how I almost went insane in the month that it was out of commission due to flooding, but it's the kind of post that takes more than an hour, so I haven't gotten to it yet.)

I suspect that this inability to do focused projects is the biggest problem of professional parents.  All the usual complaints from moms are true: a lot of the work is tedious, it takes more than eight hours a day, and you are on call 24/7 every single day of your life.  But are those things really that difficult compared to other professions?  Doctors work long hours, are on call much of the time, and just like moms, have that constant responsibility for others' lives.  Lawyers and many entrepreneurs work much longer hours than any professional mom.  Many factory workers (and computer programmers!) have to do endless, tedious work.  But none of them have fractured time.

Fractured time is my term for the inability to stick with a certain type of task long enough to get it done.  When you first have a baby, your time is so fractured that you might be unable to shower or cook or even eat a sandwich.  You just don't have a block of time big enough for such things.  It's a challenge just to keep yourself and your baby fed, warm, and clean.  I've found that my time has become less and less fractured as Sam gets older.  Instead of five naps, seven diaper changes, and six feedings a day, there is one nap, about five diaper changes, and five feedings a day.  There is still a daily routine that needs to happen or things get ugly, but we don't repeat the same exact cycle every two and a half hours.

But anything that requires me to focus for longer than an hour is still difficult.  I do have about four hours every night after Sam goes to sleep, but I'm usually too tired to take on anything challenging by that time so I use it to pay bills, read, or maybe post A Little Thing.

When most people claim they "don't have time" to accomplish something, what they mean is that they choose to do other things with their time instead.  When a stay at home mom says this, she doesn't mean that she is busy every minute of every day; she means that there is no available block of time big enough to get it done.

Those childless people (aren't they annoying?) might now be thinking that this is just a lot of whining about the need to multitask, and in a sense that is true.  Moms are the ultimate multitaskers.  (This is my third sitting for work on this blog post, and probably not my last.)  But certain things just can't be done, at least without great pain, in blocks of an hour or two.  Imagine trying to write a novel, create a sculpture, or write a complex computer program in blocks of one hour at a time.  I suppose it can be done, but it is such a waste of time to get your mind into the project and then have to quit after such a short time.  And it is spiritually frustrating.

I used to think that this spiritual frustration came from having too many short-term goals and no long-term goals.  But raising a child is an extremely fulfilling long-term goal that can be accomplished alongside the tedious day-to-day tasks.  It's the mid-range things that frustrate me.  Like filing.  Like loading up my new MP3 phone with my favorite tunes.  Like writing a blog post more challenging than linking to a funny video.

So how did I write this post, anyway?  It's called daycare, people.  For the past month I've spent most of Sam's daycare hours in physical therapy, but I finished up last week.  From now on, three whole times each week, I should have five hour blocks of time to use however I want. 

I'm back!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Little Thing

How I can just see the rise of my daughter's cheek from above when she is sitting on my lap and we get to a part of the book that makes her smile.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Rush on The Colbert Report

Rush is my favorite band of all time.  I named my cat Geddy after the singer, Geddy Lee.  My cat died two years ago at the age of 17, so you have an idea of how long I've been a fan.  I met Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee a long time ago at a music and tennis festival in California.  Of course, Neil Peart did not attend - he rarely gives interviews or does publicity appearances.  That is one reason these videos are so special.  (via: List of the Day)

Rush Failing to Play Rush on Guitar Hero: 


Rush Interview and Performance on The Colbert Report:

Friday, August 8, 2008

Quick Teriyaki Beef Noodles

You can find just about any kind of recipe you want on the Internet so I don't plan to start posting every recipe I like here, but I do like to share my own creations.  This is one of my standard "in a pinch" meals since it is so easy to keep all the ingredients on hand.  It's also quick, cheap, and really tasty if you don't mind MSG.

Prepare one package of Nissin Original Chow Mein Noodles, Teriyaki Beef Flavor, according to package directions.  Brown about a half pound of ground beef.  Boil some frozen peas in beef broth and drain.  Combine the noodles, beef, and peas, in whatever proportions you like. Serves 2+.

Tip:  I keep some frozen ground beef in the freezer at all times for quick dinners like this, but if I was able to plan ahead far enough to defrost it properly I'd be cooking a real meal.  To quickly thaw frozen ground beef (or any ground meat), put it on a plate, uncovered, and put in the microwave.  Set the timer for 20 minutes and microwave at 50%.  After about two minutes, check it.  Use your fingers to pull off the thawed part on the outside, and put directly in the pan you'll use to brown it.  Put the remaining frozen meat back in the microwave and continue cooking.  Repeat until all the meat is defrosted.  Be sure to check more often as the amount remaining gets smaller because it will defrost more quickly.  As long as you don't let it get too hot and you don't mind using your fingers, this is the best way to defrost ground meat.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Can I Vote for All of Them?

I can't believe it's almost over.

So who did you vote for?  I voted for Joshua

So You Think You Can Dance.  Best reality show ever.

A Little Thing

The noises people make while eating are disgusting. The noises Sam makes while eating are adorable.

The Sam Update - Twenty Three Months Old

Summer Fun One more month and Samantha will be two years old.  She has been busy this past month.  Just as with walking, the talking seems to have opened up a new world for her, and she has developed greatly both mentally and physically.

I know Sam is developing her physical skills because she has been hurting herself frequently.  Each time she falls or bumps or slips, I take it as a sign that she is trying something new, or just trying to do it faster, bigger or in a new combination.  Early this month she got her first really bad scrape on the knee when she was running fast and fell forward.  A few days ago she fell into the hot tub because she was leaning over just a bit too far. (Of course I was right there supervising that one!)  She seems to always have at least one bruise on her forehead and other battle scars elsewhere on her body.  It doesn't bother her much and both Adam and I are ambivalent; we hate to see her hurt but we love that she is taking risks.  She tends to be shy and cautious so we encourage any assertive or adventurous behavior.


She has also finally started climbing and rolling and jumping and squeezing through tight spaces.  These things did not interest her a couple of months ago.  Today I had to rearrange the living room furniture to make it safer for her.

I was amazed to find that Sam can blow bubbles.  I hold the wand for her, but she can aim and blow with the right amount of force to make some very nice bubbles.  She can also play a plastic flute, varying the force of her breath to make different sounds.

Sam continues to speak new words, but not at the pace of the first week or so.  Quite often she'll try to say something but her vocal muscles just aren't there yet.  It must be pretty frustrating for her.  She does enjoy her favorite words, though:  MORE, UP, NO, and DOGGIE.  Adam and I both think the way she says NO is so cute.  I guess that will change someday, but for now all her words are music to our ears.

We've been having a lot of summer fun lately.  We go swimming in our hot tub or in the pool here at our development, we spend a lot of time examining bugs and sticks and rocks, and we recently went to the Maryland Zoo at Baltimore with my friend Sara from Michigan, who was in town visiting family.  Sam really loves animals and she enjoyed brushing the goats, but I'm not sure she knew they were any different than her dog at home.

Maryland Zoo at Baltimore

Monday, August 4, 2008

A Little Thing

At the mall yesterday we bought Sam a small plastic chair.  She figured out how to slide the chair along the tiled floor, lifting it a bit when she hit the deeper cracks, and then proceeded to push the chair to the food court and then through the entire mall back to our car.  The look of concentration on her face was priceless.

Friday, August 1, 2008

A Fresh Look

As you can see, I've updated the design of this site using a theme I'm already starting to really love, called Tarski.  It is simple, clean, and flexible.  I haven't had to modify any code yet, and I'm hoping I'll never have to.  Also, I'm looking foward to creating a banner using a cool graphics program I found called Gimp (via simplyamusingblog via Scribbit).  I'll be tweaking the design over the coming weeks, so please let me know if you find any bugs.  Enjoy!