Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Growly: def; being irritated at every little thing, like a bear growling at everything.

Yes, this is a term in my house, used to refer to individuals with a bad case of "gumpyitous". Lately, that has been me. I am irritated at every little thing.


Oh, pick a thing! 

Life is sometimes smooth sailing, and sometimes choppy, but other times, it isn't as bad as we think it is. I think this is one of those times for me. I had a rough patch a few weeks ago where it really felt like a lot was closing in around me and I am still having a hard time shaking the feeling of the angry two-year-old stomping her feet.

My internal toddler is quite the lip-pouting, grudge-holding, feet-stomping, taking-my-ball-and-going-home type. We all have them, but they are as unique as the individual. I know some people who have the sad, broken hearted internal toddler, while others have the overly excited toddler. They appear when the most primal of our emotions get stirred, whether deep sadness, hurt or happiness. The strong emotion causes a facet of you to appear on the surface, a coping mechanism that helps process the situation.

For me, anger usually brings out that terrible toddler, the one who has to have everything her way or she won't play with you anymore. Happiness brings out the carefree college girl, silly and fun-loving. And sadness brings out the hurt little grade-school girl who just wants to sit alone and cry.

We all have multiple personality disorder to some extent - the different stages in our lives imprint the most primitive of emotions and those are the ones that come out when the emotions get strong. It is important to understand and embrace them, as they are all a part of the complex person I am. I don't always like them, for the sad school girl often rejects the one thing she needs (comfort), while the tantruming toddler often says things she doesn't mean or can seek vindication.

I can step back and see when one of these parts of me has come to the surface. I have examine what I did to create the situation I was in, whether lack of sleep, hormones, or the weather. It doesn't excuse the behavior, but it allows me to take possession of what I did wrong in the situation and try to repair any damage that I might have caused.

It isn't always bad though. That toddler can often say things that my normal frame of mind would never dare say, while the college girl enjoys just being carefree. I have had times when I have said or done things while in this mode that have been brilliant or empowering. I look back later and shake my head at what possessed me at that moment and chuckle.

So if you take the time to break down your own self, which part of you comes out when? Is this a good thing for you? Share with me - I'd love to hear!

Right now, it is time for the grumpy toddler to go to bed though - she gets REALLY grumpy when she doesn't get enough sleep!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Saturday Mornings

Thinking about Saturday mornings at my Grandparent's house when I was little still makes me smile. Their bedroom was never closed to us, and when I was little, I would sneak in to bed with them early in the morning. It was a special time, when I got snuggles from my Grandmother, soaking in the warmth of her bed and the safety that her embrace gave. I remember feeling like the world was good, that nothing could touch me.

I remember helping my Grandmother make applesauce pancakes and smelling the rich aroma of peculating coffee. There was a special stool I got to stand on to help, a white one with steps that folded underneath the seat. I remember it being so heavy that my Grandfather always carried it for me. My job was to stir the batter to get the flour all mixed in. Grandma always added her fresh applesauce, made from the apples picked from the backyard trees. It wasn't like the applesauce you got in the grocery stores - it was slightly tart with huge chunk of apple pieces throughout.

She always cooked on an iron skillet, with had a unique smell to it. She used butter on the skillet, not oil, and when the batter was pour onto the hot surface, I remember that it made a loud sizzling noise and Grandma always hugged me so I didn't get splattered. She would let me turn them, using her special pancake turner that had the wooden handle her father had made years ago. It had a huge surface, so it easily flipped even the biggest pancake. As it cooked, the smell would fill the small galley kitchen with potent fragrance.

We all would sit at the table and eat, never rushing. It was a time that we talked about anything and everything. We watching the squirrels and blue jays through the huge front window in the dining room, joking about their antics and yelling at them when they buried acorns on the lawn. We would pass around the comics, which always came on Saturday with our newspaper. My Grandfather would lament about his favorite sports teams, how the managers need a wake-up call and how the players are overpaid. Grandmother would always look in the section with the recipes, hoping to find something new to try. She also looked a the community section, commenting about how her friend Minnie or Bambi (yes, these were their actual names) were doing such and such in the community or were seen with so-and-so at some event. She liked the local gossip, and always seemed surprised at marriages and babies born in the area.

There was never anything deep discussed at Breakfast - Grandma insisted it that way. She said it was bad on your digestion to start the day talking about "bad" things. She was funny that way. We would talk about what we were going to do in the garden, who was going to visit that day, or when was the right time to take the boat up to the lake. We would talk about places we wanted to visit or people we wanted to see. We would talk about so and so's new hair color (and how it really looked pink, not the red she claimed it was) and the new song the choir director was trying to get them to master even though it was in German.

We talked, and laughed.

When ever I smell pancakes cooking today, I get the same feeling of warmth and comfort - it was what I call a comfort smell now. Many times I have longed for those days again, the simplicity of it all. I have even tried to duplicate it at home, but found it to just not be the same. With one teenager, one pre-teen, and a husband with a demanding job, we are always rushing to get somewhere on Saturday, our precious "day off". Whether it is work, sports, scouts, or what, it is a rare occasion when we can stop and eat a breakfast together. And when that rare occasion does occur, it seems like we have nothing to talk about. Someone is reading the paper, while someone has their nose in a book. Someone else is looking at their cell phone waiting for a call, while another is texting someone back. We are together at the table, but really we are alone. 

I will still keep trying. Maybe when I have grandkids of my own, then they will look forward to apple pancake Saturdays too.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Being a teacher

Back when I was younger, I didn't want to be a teacher. I couldn't stand the thought of spending day after day in a classroom with rowdy, bratty kids. I viewed it as going to college just to be a baby-sitter. Even when I got my first teaching job in 1989, I still was in the same mind-set. That was until I worked a day with my teaching mentor, Esther.

Esther was a quiet, sweet tempered woman. At the time, she told me she had been teaching for 16 years, and I was floored. I couldn't imagine doing this for 6 months, let alone a decade and a half! We were required to shadow the teachers for 12 weeks to complete the program and I thought this was going to be such a disaster. How could this woman ever control a classroom?

It didn't take long for me to see that this woman was amazing. Her style of teaching was as equally gentle as her manner. The kids loved her, and best yet, they respected her. She showed them respect in return, actually, she showed them respect first. A lot of the kids she was working with were from tough situations - single moms, teen moms, nasty divorces, unemployment, poverty. You name it, and there was at least one kid in the room that fit the bill.

It didn't matter to Esther though. She saw where these kids were from and she understood it, but she told me that it didn't define who they are. She also told me that this was precisely what affected these children most: being defined by what their circumstances were, not who they are.

It was so amazing to me. At this point in my young adult life, I didn't even make that distinction in myself, let alone seeing that distinction in these young children. I always had equated the who with the what when it came to people. I thought no matter how fast you ran, the past always catches you. I realized at that moment that even with the book learning I had about being a teacher, I had so much more to learn and Esther was just the one to teach me.

Needless to say, by the time I finished the 12 week program, I signed on to finish the rest of the year. Every day I worked in her classroom, I learned a little more. I learned how to open myself up, to find the child that was inside me (though buried very deep). I learned to hug (a skill I did not have - honest....ask my Aunt Jan) and be okay with getting giant hugs in return (you would be amazed at how big of a hug you can get from a 2 year old!), I also learned that it was okay to be silly, and to sing, and to dance. Young children don't judge like adults do - they live each moment to it's fullest. We as adults have so much filling our heads that often we can't even get out of our own way, but young children live on pure spontaneity. I couldn't remember being like this as a child, but I was slowly learning how to do it as an adult.

Looking back, I realize if it weren't for Esther, I would have never spent 21 years as a teacher. I don't know what I would have done, but it wouldn't have been that. Because of this amazing woman, a teacher was born.

I realize now that even though I don't teach at a school anymore, I am still a teacher. I can't help it. When I see teachable moments, I slip into that teaching skin faster than I can put on a pair of socks. It is like an automatic gear I shift into. I realize that like those kids, I am not defined by my circumstances, but by who I am.

I am a teacher. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Angel kisses

While in church Sunday, a reference about a proverb about a dog came up in the sermon. Curious, I started reading through the Proverbs - though I didn't realize there was so many!! I never did find one about a dog, but instead I found one that caught my eye:

The glory of the young is their strength; the gray hair of experience is the splendor of the old. 
Proverb 20:29 NLT

This made me think of a discussion I had with my children the other day. My overly observant 10 year old son was standing next me while I was making dinner, and he suddenly says;

"Oh look Mom, a grey hair".

Quick thinking, I quickly say "No, those are Angel kisses. It means I am blessed."

My 12 (almost 13) year old chimed in at this point and adds "No Mom, you are just old."

Gee, thanks! In all honestly, having passed the "check if you are 40+" birthday a couple of years back, I understand that to my children, I am old. While I may not like it, I realize it.  

The irony of this is that I don't see myself as old. I see my own parents as older, and my Grandfather as old. But when I look in the mirror, I don't see old. 

So we ever see ourselves that way? I look at pictures taken 20 years ago, and I still see me in them. I might see someone who was (a lot) thinner, but it is still me. Self-perception is a funny thing. While I might see a lot of flaws like a double chin, thick waist and auburn instead of copper hair, I don't see someone who is 40-something. 

The popular saying "You are only as old as you think you are" comes to mind. If I think I am younger, than I see someone looking back at me in the mirror who is younger. I don't see the teen acne and the thick glasses, but I also don't see the difference between me and someone who is 20 years younger. 

Of course, when they are standing right next to you, then it can become like a slap in the face. I remember one wedding I went to a few years ago, and all the Bridesmaids were in their VERY yearly 20's or younger. They were all strikingly beautiful girls. When I went into the ladies room to touch up my lipstick, several were standing next to me fixing their hair. Their reflections were right next to mine, and I was horror struck at how old I suddenly looked. Before I had entered the bathroom, age hadn't even entered my mind, but with the comparison glaring back at me in that brightly lit room, I saw how looser my skin was, how my eyes had deep lines around them, how my makeup looked like make-up versus the younger girls glowing skin. 

My husband commented later that he didn't remember when I had drank so much so quickly.

So how does this all go back to the Proverb in the begining of this blog. Well, what I have found is that no matter what we believe about our age, each passing year cannot be escaped. The reality that we are all born and we all die is inescapable. Yet their are gifts that come with age. Gifts that the young cannot have, no matter how book learned they are.

It is the gift of wisdom. 
With each gray hair I get, it is a sign that I have earned by wisdom the hard way - through life experience. I have listened and I have learned and now, it is my turn to teach. I am old enough that I have learned much from life's ups and down's, but young enough to know that I still have a lot to learn. 

The gray hairs remind me that time is moving on, whether I like it or not. The remind me that someday, my youngest son won't need a stool to stand next to me and help me cook - he will be cooking on his own. 

The gray hair remind me that someday, I will be sitting on the couch with my grandchildren while my sons and their wives cook for me. 

The gray hair reminds me that someday, my house will be quiet except for the occasional phone calls when my sons want to update me about their jobs. 

The gray hair also reminds me that I have made it this far, with many more blessings in my life than I thought possible. 

And there are so many more to come. 
Blessings I meant, not gray hairs!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Walking my cats

Yes, I did say cats, not dogs. 
I am a certified dog trainer, but I own cats. 
5 of them actually. 
I didn't set out to be the crazy cat lady with 5 cats - it just seem to happen.

They are all rescues with sad stories, and I am a sucker for sad stories. Mace, the 4 year old with the crooked tail, showed up in our driveway in the late winter of '08, starving, his leg broken and his skin hanging from his bones. He had a microchip - but the Humane Society (who had originally placed him) said that the house was empty and looked like it had been that way for a while. They also said Mace was only 9 months old. Okay, he melted our hearts with his high energy, toddler-like antics, his handsome tuxedo coat and his piercing golden eyes.

Then last year, after the tragic passing of both my beloved 16-year old cat Tad and my son's 15 year-old cat Lily, we added Domino (pictured above) also known as Dom, and his "sister" Spring. They were found together with two other kittens in a dumpster downtown, only 3-4 weeks old. They were so matted with stuff that they had to be shaved after 4 baths didn't get everything off. The vet and people in the cat show world we know have told us that Dom is part Maine Coon, given his 20 lbs body and his 40 inch length. He also has the classic long tail, "snow shoe" paw pads and high pitched squeak of a meow. Unfortunately, God only felt that good looks was all Dom needed - he is by far the dumbest cat I have ever owned.

His "sister" Spring is this tiny 5 pound cat with Cleopatra eyes. She is my baby, and won't let anyone else touch her but me. She had to climb on my chest and make biscuits (knead) and sit behind me in what ever chair I am in (including the toilet - I gave up on privacy with my first cat!). She loves to play fetch with me, bringing her toy mice to me, dropping them on my lap and waiting for me to throw them (see, I don't REALLY need a dog!).

Then there is the brother and sister, Taffy and Tuffy. They are 13 year old Tonkinese cats, a breed that is a cross between Burmese and Siamese. Yes, in case you are wondering, they are LOUD. They were originally owned by a gentleman at the church I attend. He got them as kitten from a breeder to complement to two Burmese he had, Bogie and Bacall. When the man became overwhelmed by his cancer, I was asked to come in and take care of the cats (along with his other 4!). It was only a few weeks before cancer won the battle, and my task then became to find homes for all the cats. All the cats BUT these two find home quickly, but no one wanted to take two elderly cats, especially with the fact that the female, Taffy, is completely deaf. I found a wonderful rescue group to foster them, but that quickly went south when both cats developed pneumonia.
So, needing a place to foster them while on antibiotics, they came to my house.

And this is how I got 5 cats.

Now that you have that info, you might want to know about the title - walking my cats. Yes, I do walk my cats. We live in a beautiful neighborhood surrounded by the Sierras - which are populated by coyotes. People that live around here refer to free roaming cats as "Coyote Bait". It is sad to drive through our area and see all the "Cat Missing" posters. I choose not to have to put one of those up for any of mine, so I let them out for supervised strolls in my backyard.

Three out of the five cats could care less about leaving my backyard - it is just Spring and Mace that are the fence hoppers. So, every morning I put on my shoes, open the back door and out they go! It is usually around 6am that I do this - not by choice, mind you. I would rather it be 7:30 or so.

Dom and Tuffy have different ideas. They start howling like the coyotes themselves and in an act of self preservation, I usher them outside so everyone else can sleep. I know they plan this - they flip a piece of cat kibble to decide who is going to climb on my face and meow the loudest.

I've tried to ignore them, but then they wake up everyone else, and I am the one that has to suffer with the grumpy-growly guys all day, not the cats. So, I trudge bleary eyed outside, with 5 sets of feet following behind me. We usually only spend about 30-45 minutes out there, enough time to chase a few birds, ambush a few crickets, and roll in the dirt.

Not a bad way to greet the morning. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

I love my kids...honest I do!

I love being a parent. Having been born with von Willebrand disease, I was told I could never have children. So, the fact that I have two healthy boys is an immense blessing. I know my life would be incomplete with out them. 

With that being said...sometimes I want to dig up the receipt and trade them in for a refund!!!! 

In my last post, I vented about homework. Well, this is sort of related. Yesterday, when the one child was struggling to get his pounds of homework done, the other son, who is way into Nerf guns, decides that the way to "help" his brother study was to open fire on him with not one, but two Nerf guns (on in each hand - he is very skilled!). Before I could blink, the homework-laden son is chasing his brother through the house, screaming at the top of his lungs, threatening great bodily harm. The Nerf-toting son is laughing hysterically, keeping just out of the reach of his little brother. I hear slamming of doors, followed by banging of doors. More yelling, more laughing, followed by the proverbial "Stop it". Then I hear a crash, then more laughing and more yelling, but this time, the roles are reversed. Now I hear "You are so dead", followed by another crashing noise, followed by the howling of the cats as the duck and cover. 

What I am doing, you might ask? Well, I am yelling at the both of them to stop, but they are 10x louder and can't hear me. Realizing that the testosterone is flowing to thick to  allow their hearing to work properly, I decide I am going to stand in their way down the stairs like a brick wall to get their attention. Okay, well, I needed to hire a union brick-layer I guess, because the two of them flew through me like tissue paper!

Now they are outside, with the older one in full pursuit of the younger one, threatening to remove his sibling from existence, yet again. He seems to have forgotten that he started it all. At this point, I yell at the top of my lungs that they have until the count of 5 to get back here or the Nerf guns, the Wii and the coveted baseball card collection was all going on Ebay and I was using the money for a pedicure. 

Hmmmm....interestingly enough, I didn't even get to 3 before they were back in the house. By the time I got to 5, the younger one was back in his homework cave and the older one was taking out the trash with out me even asking. 

Guess I will have to fund my pedicure some other way.    

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Why I hate homework

Okay - so now that we are in the 4th week of school, I can officially say - I HATE HOMEWORK!

What exactly is the purpose of the children spending 6-7 hours in school, then spending another 2-3 hours pouring over homework? I am not talking about high schoolers - no, this is the average for some elementary school kids! And it isn't the teachers struggling with the homework issue - often it is either a credit or a non-credit score; either the child brings it in completed or they don't.

Parents, on the other hand, get to deal with the daily battles of a tired child who wants to decompress from school and run around in the fresh outdoors (since most schools see recess as unnecessary and don't have PE because it is "un-testable" - translation: it isn't important) who is instead having to regurgitate the days' lesson with busy work.

I personally have incountered many times where my children are doing homework on concepts that haven't even been covered, or covered poorly, so then I become the teacher. Granted, I have a degree in education, yet I think about how many parents come home from a long day at their jobs to have to become a teacher. Instead of having some time to reconnect with their children in a meaningful fashion, then end up having to argue and fight with them, sometimes late into the night. I was talking to a parent of a 9 year old the other night that came home from her son having football practice to work until 11 pm helping him with his homework! Another mom of a 2nd grader tells me her 7 year old has up to 2 hours of homework NIGHTLY! That is just madness!!!

A few schools in our area have gone "homework free". One school actually had a teacher who assigned no homework to her students for a whole year, then compared her students' test results with the students in the other grade level classes. Her result - there was no significant difference in the test scores. She felt that it was her job to cover what they needed in class, not the parents.

While the idea appeals to me, I am not 100% sold on the idea. I worry how these kids are going to go from no homework to the truckload that appears in middle school. I have seen some middle-schoolers breaking their backs with the homework books they are carrying home in their backpacks. One poor girl last year went through two good backpacks because the weight of the books ripped the shoulder straps.

I think there is a middle ground. I have heard that the standard rule of thumb is 10 minutes of homework per grade level. So that 2nd grader should have only 30 minutes of homework per night, versus my 7th grader having 80 minutes. That, to me, does seem reasonable.

And, if it hasn't been covered in class, don't send it home.

So as my 10 year old is crying that he doesn't understand how to do a square-root number array, I really trying to keep my blood pressure down enough to help him. Oh goody - he just told me this is only page 1 of 4 of his math homework. Oh, and he had a report due on Monday, and he needs to type it on the computer...and bring it to school on a flash drive.

There goes any hope of a relaxing weekend...

Reflections about coffee

The other day on Facebook, I posted about how oddly better coffee tasted when it was poured from my plastic travel mug into my Grandmother's old Irish ceramic mug. It is a strange phenomenon I have noticed before. Coffee isn't really meant to go in plastic mugs. Coffee is meant to be in a ceramic mug, one that feels heavy in your hand, that dribbles over the side as you walk, and that emits flavorful steamy smells that fill your nose.

Have you ever noticed this difference? When I thought about it, I started thinking about how this small change has so many implications about our lifestyle. When you have your coffee in a travel mug, in implies that you are going somewhere, often in a hurry, so much so that you can't have time to finish your coffee first. Another implication is that you are putting it in a "sippy cup", just like what gave to our toddler children, indicating that you are in such a rush that you anticipate spilling. Hence, the lid on the cup. You are also putting in a plastic cup because it is lighter, so you don't have to balance a heavy coffee mug with your various work bags and laptop cases you are carrying with you. And lastly, you know this cup will fit in your cup holder, once again indicating that you are in a hurry and will be finish that cup while driving.

All of this points to one thing. We need to slow down. Coffee used to be a luxury, a warm beverage to sip while reading the morning paper or sitting out back on a crisp morning. It is meant to be served hot, as it forces you to slow down to drink it. While you are drinking it slowly, the steam vapors carry the fragrance into your nose, making you inhale deeper, relaxing you further. Because the mug is wide rimmed and sans a lid, you must slow down with each sip, or else endure the wrath of burning coffee on parts of the body that should never endure such pain.

So to answer the original question of why the coffee taste better in Grandma's old mug is because I am actually taking the time to enjoy this brief moment of liquid heaven.

Well it helps that it is Grandma's mug too, but that is for a different post.....