Tuesday, October 21, 2014

PostHeaderIcon Jenn: Happy

If you had asked me a year ago what made me happy I would have told you the health of my family.  If you had asked me what made me really happy - you know the kind - giggling, jumping for joy type of happy I may have said a new pair of boots or a great handbag, jeans that make me look skinny - you know the material things in life - I mean who doesn't love a great pair of jeans?

If you ask me today what makes me happy - I may tell you a new recipe, hearing my daughter laugh out loud or a chicken salad sandwich. It's definitely the little things these days.

In March my ballerina was diagnosed with Chronic Daily Migraines.  She literally has a headache 24/7.  She has sensitivity to light & sound & smells. She is constant pain. She is tired all the time.  She doesn't sleep.  It didn't start off as chronic but by the time we got a diagnosis thats where it was.  She was home schooled  for the spring semester.  She gave up ballet. She spent most of the summer in bed or on the couch.  We went from specialist to specialist and medication to medication - none of it helping much.  Every day is a struggle for her.  She is so unbelievably brave and stoic.  She has returned to school and ballet and does what she can.  She has missed a lot of school so far this year but she makes up all the work.  She just keeps moving forward ready to try the next thing.  She makes me proud - and she makes me believe that every day is a new day.  I wake up hopeful each day that this will be the day she tells me her head has stopped hurting and I have my ballerina back.  Hope is my happy these days.  I feel helpless and sad and sorry that I can't take her pain away but I keep trying.

One of her doctors suggested she give up gluten to see if that helped.  It didn't stop the migraines but now if she does eat something with gluten, the reaction is immediate.  Her head explodes, her body wants to sleep, she feels worse than before she ate.  She has a gluten intolerance.  I have been learning to remake all my recipes to be gluten free - easier said than done.  I didn't realize that flour is in basically everything I cook - from stews and soups to pasta & bread it's there. I am slowly remaking each of our favorite family recipes to be gluten free.  Today I mastered chicken pot pie and that makes me happy!  Here is the recipe:

2  t butter
4 chicken breasts - cooked and shredded
2 cups chicken stock
1 bag steam fresh corn (cooked)
1 bag steam fresh peas (cooked)
3/4 cup milk (I used lactose free)
3T corn starch

In a large pot, melt the butter - add the chicken and sauté for a minute.  Add peas & corn (& any other veggies you like - I used to add carrots until I realized everyone was picking them out!) Add chicken stock, a sprinkle of nutmeg & salt.  Simmer for 5 minutes.  Dissolve the corn starch in the milk and slowly add to the chicken mixture.  Simmer until thickened.  Serve over rice or with Gluten Free bisquick bisquits.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

PostHeaderIcon Cara:100 happy days #100happydays

Be happy for 100 days? Hmmm...impossible? Well maybe..but do I have to be happy for the entire 24 hours? I seem to find ideas like this (or do they find me??) just when I need to hear about them most. Sometimes the toxicity around you can really get to you and you need something to push you past it. 

When I heard about this first I thought of someone dancing around for 24 hours acting/being happy...yeah that's not going to happen. After reading about this 100 day thing I realized it's about finding something to be happy about everyday take a picture and hashtag it on social media. And it's not about acting happy either. It's not about one-upping happiness to be more happy that the next guy. It's truly finding things to be happy about. 

I am gung ho. I am down with the whole grateful thing. My favorite book ever "Simple Adundance" literally without sounding too weird, changed my life. But I am human, I get caught up in the noise and can go for days, weeks without remembering to be grateful each day. Until something kicks my ass and I remember... "oh yeah I am forgetting that...that's why I am off". 

I am only on Day 6. Only 94 more days to go. It's going to bring me into late October if I stay on course. As with anything I am determined in the beginning and whether I make it through to the other side always remains to be seen. 

It has made me slow down the past 6 days and look for reasons to be happy. One day was easier than the next perhaps, but the days that it's harder are the days that I think I need to do it even more. And so far the lazy days of summer have not brought me super duper amazing things to be happy about. But those don't happen everyday right? Then they wouldn't be super duper amazing. But there's lots of little things to be happy about. Truly, everyday. A few of mine were really simple like:

My silly one-eyed cat that is my shadow every morning as I take my coffee outside and check on my gardens

Or finding the first ripe tomato in the garden

Cats and tomatoes not super duper amazing right? I know. But in that moment, on that day it made me happy. 

So here's to 100 happy days. #100happydays (100happydays.com)

Then maybe even 100 happy more.....

Friday, June 13, 2014

PostHeaderIcon Cara: My Lucky Charm

Today is Friday the 13th. (cue scary music and hockey mask)

Today's one of my lucky days. It's my "baby's" birthday. He's 12 (when did THAT happen) but will always be the baby.

When I was pregnant with him people would (literally) say to me things like "You're crazy...you have a boy and a girl why would you want another one?" "This was an accident huh?" "Are you gonna find out the sex? You have one of each so who cares what this one is." Then when they found out I was going to pick Michael for a boy, I got "Oh don't do that Michaels are bad" "You will be sorry if you do that" 

Anyone who knows me knows, that the more you tell me I shouldn't the more I want to. So I would tactfully (read...not) put them in their place. I could get away with my replies then because I was "hormonal".

The only person besides those closest to me who either didn't agree about bad Michaels or were smart enough to keep it to themselves, who said something nice was a nurse who came in to my hospital room in the middle of the night the day he was born. 

It was about 3 a.m., the room was dark and quiet except for the TV. I was giving him a bottle ("you should breast feed=don't tell me what to do I this is my third kid give me a bottle"). I was thinking "OK St. Michael Archangel..boss of the angels...you better be on my side here and not let this kid be a maniac." Truly that's how me and St. Michael roll, I talk to him like that. Then she came in to check on us. 

He was happily eating and sleeping at the same time. She asked what his name was and I thought here we go. I said "Michael and please don't tell me I shouldn't have named him that." She laughed. She said "People have been saying that to you huh?" I said "Yep!" She said "Let me tell you something... I am married to a Michael and my oldest son is a Michael. My husband is the best husband in the world..and my son is the light of my life. They drive me nuts sometimes but they love me like no other, they fill my heart everyday and my little Michael makes me proud to be his mom. So don't let anyone tell you otherwise. It take a special mom to be a Mike mom. You will see." And with that she left. I looked down at Michael he had stopped eating and his eyes were wide open. (I believe that's when the nosy busy-body character trait began) and I said "Did you hear that?" He blinked. I said to him "See I knew it!!" He closed his eyes and went back into eat/sleep mode.  I never saw her again while I was in the hospital. I don't know her name. I asked about her but since I didn't have a name they weren't sure who I was talking about. So...nurse? Or nurse angel? I like to think the latter. So, today people may be worrying about walking under ladders or breaking mirrors. I know it's my lucky day. 

This boy who snuck in under the wire of "OK we will give it a year and if we don't get pregnant then so be it", can be the bane of my existence and the joy of my life at the same time, brings light, laughter and noise into our home. He gave me one more shot at Santa, The Tooth Fairy, first day of school and hand print Valentines. He's brought the torture and fun of being "sports parents" into our life. (that is a good thing right??) He's happy, outgoing and smart. (a smart ass too if I am keeping it real) He is the "5" that makes us "The Fab 5".
He still thinks I am the best thing since sliced bread and remembers to tell me that often. 

So happy birthday to my "Lucky Charm". Can't imagine my life without him. Lucky me.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

PostHeaderIcon Cara: A work in progress

This Sunday I celebrated my 22nd Mother's Day (how did THAT happen). Mother's Day, for me has changed over the years. It has gone from gifts and cards "from" the baby or kids that Dad had to buy, to Mother's Day Tea at preschool and handmade cards covered with splotchy paint hand prints, to "World's Greatest Mom" this and that bought at the school boutique, to thoughtful meaningful cards they bought themselves to this Mother's Day where I sat around most of the day being waited on by grown children. 

I would have thought on that first Mother's Day when I was a 20something mom with a two month old baby, by my 22nd I would have it going on. I would know everything and mistakes would be a thing of the past. Not so much.

Mistakes are still made. "Should I let him do that or should I say no?" "Oh, that didn't work out too good maybe I shouldn't have."

I still worry. I don't want them driving at night upstate on winding roads at 12:00 a.m. I know he thinks he's big enough to stay home alone all the time, cook dinner and and have guests over (not happening), but I won't go too far once the sun goes down. I put one on ship to sail literally to the other side of the world (that one was HUGE...not sure if I will ever get over that)...what the HELL was I thinking??? Ugh.

The heartache never goes away. When they are done wrong or their heart is broken, mine goes to a million pieces. It's amazing how it puts itself back together and I even think it's gonna be less breakable next time. But it's not. No matter how old they are, if they are done wrong by someone that person better keep their neck from my reach because I will choke the ever loving life out of them. Hmm...sorry emotions running high today. 

I want it to be easy dammit. I want them to sail through life (in my case literally and figuratively) without people hurting them, without being beaten down and disappointed. I know, I know not going to happen. 

All I can do is guide. Even though I think in my heart of hearts I am doing the right thing, sometimes I think I don't know what the hell I am doing. 

So this worry, heartache, joy, pride will go on forever. It will never get easier, but at the same time it will never fade. I am just as proud when I see my girl sing on stage with her college friends as I was when that 6th grader sang the National Anthem at school and I thought I would fall over and die from pride (and the knot in my stomach). I have to still push my shy, man-boy to step out of the box and realize his potential. I have to fight the fight for my tween, as he battles through the hard knocks growing up can give him, even though I have been there, done that twice, to honest I am too old for this shit. Even when I want to give up, (I am tired dammit) I can't. I have to pick him up, dust him off and help him learn from things that happen. I find that I am still learning too, surprised by people in good and bad ways. 

Lots of times I tell him, that I am still trying to figure it out along with you. Why do people do what they do? Why isn't it fair? Why do I have to do the right thing when Tom,Dick and Harry don't? I wish I knew what the real answers were. But in the meantime I do the best I can every day. Some days are better than others. And on the days that aren't I get up the next morning and start all over again. (no wonder why I'm tired!!) 
Sunday, May 4, 2014

PostHeaderIcon Grateful Sunday

Feeling grateful...

For a long needed "miracle"

For the kindness of others

For our small town connection

For laughing until I cried 

For hearing my ballerina laugh until she cried

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

PostHeaderIcon Cara: Perfect Imperfection – "My Messy Beautiful Life..."

I heard lyrics in a song that said “perfect imperfections”. I had thought about that for days afterwards. I have been reading and thinking lately about our need for perfection. I know, and you know perfection is unattainable. But yet, we reach for it more times than not.  Mostly though, all we are really doing is comparing ourselves. That can be just as big a “stealer of joy” as is striving for perfection.

It could be in the mirror in the morning as we get ready for the day, or the million times we compare ourselves, our “stuff”, to someone else’s during the day. If you decide to take notice how many times you do it, it will surprise you.

Last week, I walked into the supermarket on a rainy week day morning. I just needed a few things and well, I hadn't washed my hair that day. OK, actually it was day 3 of not washing my hair. My friends say they go that long and their hair looks fine. (Mine, I know does not, but if theirs does maybe mine can too. Comparing.) So, somewhat self-conscious of my gross unwashed hair I immediately spotted a woman who I knew looked worse than how I was feeling that morning (comparing). This immediately made me feel better, for the moment. When I got back from food shopping and although, after checking in the mirror, I guess I didn’t look as bad as the picture in my head, I washed my hair. Good for my friends if theirs looks great after three days. Mine does not. In the scheme of life does that matter? Umm….not so much.

That’s a goofy example of what I mean by comparing. I saw it in myself that day over and over and in other people too. It’s interesting to me how I can be easy with someone else who is comparing themselves but not as easy on myself. 

Later that day (after I had washed my hair) as I got out of my car at religion class drop off, the woman parked next to me got out of her car the same time I did.

Her: ”I like white better.”
Me: “Huh?”
Her: “Your car…we have the same car, but I like it in white better.”
I immediately went into recovery mode.
Me: “Why? Yours is a great color I love that color! White does look dirtier faster…blah blah blah”
She could feel the love. She walked away happy.

So my question is, why can’t we do that to ourselves? Why couldn’t I just have said to myself “Your hair looks fine, no one knows you didn’t wash it today. And really, no one cares. Just go buy your stuff and go home already.” (OK maybe that’s not the most nurturing self-talk I guess I just have a tough love thing going on in my head!)

Perfectly imperfect. Imperfect perfection. I like it. There’s lots of stuff that needs improving, God knows. But there’s plenty that’s just fine (not perfect) the way they are. I can have a mouth like a truck driver, but I can keep a secret. I can barely sew a button, but I can decorate the sh#% (sorry, truck driver) out of a room. I can fly off the handle and go berserk when I feel there’s something terribly wrong going on, but I can apologize if I was wrong or get a grip on myself and be reasonable after I have had a chance to cool down.

This practice of going a little easier on myself and cutting myself some slack I thought was something I could decide to do and it would be so. But it’s not. It’s a constant work in progress. I am getting better at it, but I find myself sliding down that negative, perfection seeking spiral many times.

I am starting to try to think of how I would talk to my kids if they were feeling this way. Good grief…I would have my Supermom Cape on in a flash! I would tell them to go easy on themselves, it's not that important, how they do A,B & C so well and not to focus on D that maybe is not their best. So don’t I, don’t WE, deserve that talk as well? I think so. It’s hard. I know. But if I am going to put my money where my mouth is then I have to try. Listen, I have finally learned to take a compliment and not come back with some self-deprecating remark. I just say thank you. Baby steps. 

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

PostHeaderIcon Jenn: Test Away

This weeks trending topic on FB seems to be state testing.  Who is in and who is out.  I thought long and hard and weighed my options and talked to my husband before we made our decision.  We didn't include our daughter in the discussion because we didn't base it on any anxiety or issues she might have.  I never even considered refusing the test for my older children - state tests were something you took - no questions asked.  They both scored 4's on every test so it did not effect them at all.  No harm, no foul, test away.

Our decision for our youngest daughter was solely based on what will this test accomplish for my child?  This test was not created with the child taking it in mind.  This test was not created with the teachers administering it in mind.  This test was created by a for-profit company without enough (or any) vetting by the educators in the trenches.  Our teachers are our soldiers - they are the ones in the classroom day in and day out.  They are the champions of our children - some are better than others - but they show up every day and deal with a nightmare we now call education.  I am all for higher standards in the classroom.  I am all for "critical thinking" but I am also "all for" my child.  Asking her to take a test with a prediction that 60% of test takers will not meet standards, as in last years results, is not doing what is best for her.  It is setting her up to fail.  Asking her a question in which 2 or 3 of the answers are correct - but one is "more correct" is not doing what is best for her.  It is setting her up to fail.  My kids are lucky. They have fairly-well educated parents.  We both went to good universities - so we should be able to help them.  We can't.  An ELA sample test was sent home the other day which brought my child to tears. It made my daughter feel bad and "dumb" which in turn made me feel bad too.  It's not that it was too hard for her - it was the way it was written and the way the questions were asked.  It was convoluted.  It felt like you were being asked for answers that just weren't there.  I read it with her, we broke it down, I taught her about inference and assumption and reading between the lines.  She felt better and was able to complete the assignment.  Not all kids have that at home.  The math is a nightmare.  I have learned to teach my child "my" way which is the "wrong" way and then back it out so we can fit it into the common core way and still get the same answer.  My way takes 30 seconds - common core way takes 2 - 3 minutes.  In a world where time is of the essence - whose way is right? 

Last night in a long conversation with my 10th grader she told me all she wants to be a social studies teacher - but every single teacher she has or knows has told her NOT to do it.  To STAY AWAY from education and from teaching that its just not worth it. That common core and state testing removes all the joy and creativity out of being a teacher.  You are a robot in front of a classroom programed to spew out state mandates.   If everyone is warning our children not to teach who will we end up with?  Our schools are in crisis.  

Standing up for your child is a parental right.  It's not jumping on the bandwagon when it is a thought out process that reflects what your educational goals are for your child.  Some parents may refuse for the wrong reasons and some may send their child in to take the test without knowing all the facts.  We made what we feel is the right decision for our child.  That's all anyone can do. 
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