Monday, September 27, 2010

Things that make you go urgh . . .

* The woman in the Costco parking lot who chooses to hover and wait for your parking spot. You turn to her and say, "I'm just warning you, it's going to be awhile." She does not respond, just keeps waiting. You begin unloading, thinking, "What about three kids, many groceries, and a mini van makes you think I'm going to be speedy? Would you rather sit here for at least five minutes or move to another open spot that might mean walking, gasp, twenty-five extra yards?" When you are almost done with the food and ready to start on the car seat buckling times three (or times two, Bub buckles himself, praise Jesus), she speeds away in a huff.

* As discussed previously here at NTB, the business casual designation is the absolute worst dress code scenario for a mom who does not work outside the home and has few opportunities to shop at stores that are not Gap, Old Navy, and Target. Choosing "business casual" outfits is even more challenging when you were pregnant the previous fall/winter and still post-partum plump the one before that. And, by the way, are still post-partum plump now.

* When it's 10:15 and you face the fact that you're not going to stretch out on the couch and read your book tonight. Didn't quite work out last night either. Hmm, or the night before that.

* NFL night games invading your television and prompting hubby to question your multiple DVR commitments.

That is all. I promise a positive post soon. What are the things that make you go urgh?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

He Gets It. We Get Him. Everybody Wins.

A long post for a long-in-the-tooth guy!

Woot Woot! Happy Birthday Dad -- an oldie, but a goody (referencing the man and the photo)

If you have some five-and-unders in your home, you may be familiar with a DVD called Talking Words Factory. The video follows its protagonist, a frog named Tad, as he learns to combine letters to make words so that he can nominate his dad for an awesome dad award. As I thought about how I wanted to start this post about my own dad, all I could think of was Tad sounding out the words in this sentence: My dad is the best dad in the world. Although I'm a more seasoned speller, reader, and writer than young Tad, NTB, my message is the same as his: My dad is the best dad in the world.

Today my dad is 60 and in honor of this milestone birthday, I want to share some of the things I love most about and learn best from my dad.
Do you ever mean to send someone a note to say thanks, congratulations, or I'm thinking of you? Maybe a kid your son played baseball with growing up is in the paper for a recent graduation or other success. Maybe a neighbor down the street has recently retired. Maybe the guy who helped you at the cell phone store was especially helpful and friendly. Maybe a wedding you recently attended was fantastic and you want to let the parents of the couple know it. Maybe your family is facing a challenge or suffering a loss. My dad is the guy who takes the time to write those notes, to let people know that their triumphs are noted, their joys shared, and their difficulties sympathized with. He's that guy.
My dad is the guy who, without even being on Facebook, has nurtured and maintained friendships from all stages of his life. He is in regular communication with some friends he has known for forty, even fifty years or more. If he's thinking of someone, he'll pick up the phone and call. He makes plans for people to play golf, eat lunch, watch the Reds, and take trips. He does not wait for invitations or fun to fall in his lap. He makes things happen in the best possible way.
My dad is a go-getter and by that I don't just mean that he is a motivated guy who makes lists and gets things done. I mean that he will literally go get the things you want or need and do it with a great attitude. If my mom forgets something at Kroger, my dad is out the door to get it with nary an eye roll or sigh. If someone's in the mood for a fountain pop or a pizza needs to be picked up, he's ready to oblige. He even humors me by double-checking my special sauce needs at Papa Johns (pizza and cheese sauce in addition to the garlic butter). When my kids are visiting my parents, Bub already knows he can place a donut order the night before and that as long as he says please and thank you, his Pop will find him that glazed twist with chocolate and sprinkles but no filling in the middle. My sisters and I have good husbands, but we agree that none measure up to our dad in the go getting category.
My hubby recently heard Lou Holtz give a talk in which the coach talked about how important it is for children to see that their parents love each other. My dad's love and admiration for my mom (the greatest mom in the world, by the way) is clear as day and a constant source of inspiration for all five of their children.
I'm 35 and I still love my dad's pep talks. His faith in the people he loves is enormous. When he tells me I can do it, I don't need to worry, it's going to be okay, and, famously, "don't load your drawers," he's not trying to make light of my concerns but to highlight my reserves and to help me keep what really matters in perspective. Years ago when Life's Little Instruction Books were popular, one of the instructions that always inspired me was: Become the most positive and enthusiastic person you know. My dad, a man of many exclamation points, is the most positive and enthusiastic person I know. And the most genuine.
Some of my dad's roles are obvious--husband, father, friend, salesman, brother/brother-in-law, uncle, cousin, fan, golfer. Whether or not he considers himself one, my dad is also a teacher. When he turned fifty, I made a list of fifty lessons I've learned from him. I'll share just a few of the most important right here: put yourself out there, be curious, be passionate about things, find a job you love, don't be afraid to ask, love without measure, you can't bullshit a bullshitter, money doesn't grow on trees, stage before you move, trust that your good intentions are clear, if you like it buy it in every color, don't nap just "rest your eyes," have a little faith, hustle, show up, don't be afraid to make pit stops when you're on the road, appreciate and nurture creativity, and try to be someone who gets it. That's one of my dad's highest compliments, saying that someone "gets it."
When I was a little girl, I loved having the chance to ride in the car with my dad. With his Neil Diamond or Kenny Rogers tapes playing in the background, he'd tell stories and I'd just love to listen to them. My chances to sit with my dad in a car and listen to stories are less frequent now, but still treasured, even if my kids are squawking in the back of the van as we drive. He tells stories about long past and recent events, asks questions about my life, and, always, always circles back to his sense of just how fast it all goes and how lucky he is to have the life he does with all the many people he loves.
"We are so lucky, Meg," my dad always says. And he is so right. We are so lucky to have him for a dad.
Happy 60th Birthday to my dad. Sorry, Tad, but my dad is the best dad in the world! Not to brag!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, September 20, 2010

To sleep, perchance to dream

People who get enough sleep are happier, thinner, smarter, and more energetic. To start you on your way to getting enough sleep, I offer, out of the goodness of my heart, some tips for getting 5-6 (non-consecutive) total hours of (semi) restful sleep each night.

You are welcome.

MEP’s Tips for Getting 5-6 Total Hours of Sleep Per Night

1. Invite three children under age five into your home.

2. Have the oldest two children share a room so that there is always the possibility that one will wake up the other.

3. The baby should share a room with you, her parents. Make sure this bedroom is adjacent to that of the older children so that there is also a possibility that baby can wake up big brothers and vice versa. Also, the added bonus of sharing a room with your baby is that you don’t have to miss a single squirm, cry, or disturbance.

4. Transition two year-old out of crib and into a toddler bed. Even if you take the precaution of penning him into his bedroom with a sturdy gate, be prepared for him to delay his own sleep (which helps to ensure that you get those 5-6 total hours) with innovative tactics such as clearing clothes out of closets and strewing them about the room, emptying books from shelves, repeatedly opening and shutting the closet door, wrestling with the camera portion of the video monitor, and, best of all, disassembling a blackout shade and then using its rod to forge divots in the drywall. Please note that all of the above behaviors can be done loudly so as to awake baby in adjacent room.

5. Transition baby from pack-and-play into crib. Heed the warnings against crib bumpers so that from time to time your baby can get her foot stuck in the crib’s slats. If she fusses or squirms at all, don’t let her work it out on her own. Assume her foot is stuck again and jump up to check.

6. It’s luck of the draw on this one, but try to have a child (preschool age, in our case) who occasionally awakes moaning and thrashing about in a trance-like state. In this state, he cannot tell you why he is upset, is immune to any comforts you offer him, and remains deaf to your pleas for him to quiet down please so as not to wake his siblings. Such disruptions can help you get those 5-6 total hours of sleep.

7. If your older children start crying, moaning, or yelling your name, take the easy road by just bringing them into your bed. That way, each can use his own techniques for helping you get those 5-6 hours: stealing covers, kicking, lying horizontally, sharing your pillow, breathing in your face, picking your nose.

8. Forget to knock on wood all those months when you proudly tell people that your baby is going to bed somewhere between 7-9 p.m. and waking up once in the 4:00 a.m. hour. NTB. If you forgot to knock on wood, you may just find yourself waking up 2-3 times per night—or more!! It will take a couple weeks of denial before it sinks in that your good sleeper has moved into an exciting new stage so keep staying up late as if you won’t be awaking often at night.

9. As touched upon in the previous tip, do stay up late. Check Facebook and your email. Create space in your DVR. Eat snacks you are not particularly hungry for. Putter around trying to make a dent in the house cleaning and laundry. Make lists of the projects you are going to do once you finally catch up on your sleep and have more energy. Read and comment on blogs. Write your blog posts. Do whatever you need to do to keep from going up to your bed. You cannot get 5-6 total hours of sleep without this kind of effort.

10. Arrange for one of your children to get an ear infection. This feat may be a bit tricky if that child already has ear tubes, but rest assured, those little tubes can get blocked. Along those lines, encouraging your children to cough and become congested is another good way to ensure that you get those 5-6 total hours of sleep.

11. Choose a partner whose job involves regular out-of-town travel. After getting all three children to bed on your own (check back later for a set of tips entitled “How To Make the Bedtime Process As Long As Humanly Possible”), you can then follow through with the above tips all on your own.

12. With your co-parent out of town, you may inadvertently awake your two year-old when getting up to feed the baby. You will for sure get your 5-6 total hours of sleep if you have to stop feeding the baby to follow your toddler downstairs and convince him that it is not morning and not time to watch “Melmo.”

13. In line with the previous tip, do what you can to accidentally awake your children. You can trip on one of the shoes, books, or toys on the floor. You can make a lot of noise searching for clean pajama pants in dresser drawers before giving up and sleeping in whatever you are wearing. Alternately, you can throw caution to the wind and brush your teeth in the upstairs bathroom instead of doing it downstairs. (Note: make sure to only have one bathroom upstairs and make sure it is located right between both bedrooms). You might even attempt to read a book in bed and forget to turn pages silently. You and your partner can attempt to have a conversation. And, of course, you’ll need to make sure that the door to your room has the squeakiest hinges possible.

Okay then, there's your Baker's Dozen. I could go on and on, but I think I’ve been generous enough with my wisdom. I hope my tips help you to get five or six total hours of sleep each night. Do you have any tips to add? What other categories of helpful tips would you like me to offer in future posts? English majors, can you identify the snippet in the title?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Immersion Blender, Cemetery, Cosby

Recently, I blogged about My Notebook -- a composition book that I've been filling with things I want to remember, consider, create, purchase or otherwise return to later: quotations, recipes, consumer products, gifts, project ideas. It's not a to-do list and not a bucket list, just a collection of good (or potentially good) stuff.

Since I'm struggling to find the time and mental resources to blog these days, I thought I'd share some items from My Notebook.
"Don't settle for food when you need conversation, rest, appreciation, or fun." -- a tweet from @michellemay, author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat
"I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody." -- wise words from Bill Cosby but brought to my attention by a facebook status update of a childhood friend of a college friend
"Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible." -- Francis of Assisi, courtesy of my high school religion teacher in response to one of my facebook status updates
Can I just mention for the umpteenth time that I love facebook?
Of late, I've been making entries in My Notebook about gifts I would not mind receiving, such as an immersion blender, the box set of The Hunger Games Trilogy (just finished listening to audiobook of Mockingjay), and the As Seen on TV perfect brownie pan.
City Living
Since our move to the 'burbs is not happening this school year, I've also added some items to My Notebook that have to do with making the most of our current city location.
Movie and popcorn at the iconic Music Box Theatre. Ashamed to report that I've never been inside after five plus years living here, and it's only three blocks away. One of these days . . .
Empanadas from El Mercado Food Mart for dinner. This little store that's even closer than the movie theatre sells empanadas out of a hot, glass case. I always say to myself, "You should buy some of those for lunch or dinner sometime." And so I should and shall.
Check out tombstones in Graceland Cemetery. I love a good cemetery walking tour and this nearby one is the final resting place for many famous Chicagoans.
New Ventures
I think I mentioned that I have also come up with a few ideas for "businesses" since beginning My Notebook. One of them is particularly exciting to me so I am starting to lay the foundation and figure out what it would take to get it started. Hubby is asking for a business plan before any additional household capital is committed to the endeavor, but he seems fairly intrigued by the prospect. No details for now (Hubby says the business term for that is "stealth mode"), but it's fun to have a project. Plus, the next time someone asks me if I work outside the home, I am going to try to say, with a straight face, "Well, I work from home and am raising capital for a new business venture right now." NTB.
So, there you have it, some tidbits from My Notebook. What's in yours? Any good quotations for me to add to mine? Spanish speakers, am I correct in suspecting that El Mercado Food Mart is redundant? That's what the sign says.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Free FALLing!

Random picture from Fall 2008 -- dissertation defense looming
As it is for many other Midwesterners, Fall has always been my favorite season. Changing leaves. Football Saturdays. Pumpkin scented candles. New jeans. Caramel apples. School supplies. Long walks that don't involve snow or humidity. Most of all, the hopeful, fresh start that the back-to-school season offers.
As much as I love Fall, I also associate the season with stress: homework to do, papers to grade, lessons to plan, college applications to write (Fall 1992 only), a dissertation with a deadline, test prep and writing students to tutor. These various academic tasks of student and teacher have always loomed large for me, ever threatening to be the proverbial rain on my fall parade.
Fall 2003 or maybe 2004 -- I look stressed out about something, right?
Sure, I've enjoyed watching Notre Dame play on many a Saturday, but in the back of my mind, there have always been the papers waiting to be written or graded to awake to on Sunday morning. Yes, I've gone to watch friends and family run the Chicago marathon on gorgeous fall mornings . . . but not without that slightly sick feeling in my stomach about what still needed to get done before Monday. Ditto the family outing to the pumpkin patch, the weekend trip to visit friends and family, the novels read in autumnal sunshine, the time spent testing out "fall" recipes in the kitchen. I have seldom succeeded in savoring the pleasures of the season without feelings of guilt or anxiety over the work not yet done.
It's sad but true and my fault. As a student, I'm a hard worker, a worrier, and a perfectionist. As a teacher, I have consistently failed to strike a satisfying work-life balance, to learn to work efficiently, to make lasting peace with doing "the best I can in the situation" versus the best I know I could do if there were world enough and time. For all that angst, I'm not a great teacher, just a woman who believes she could or should be a great one. In academic situations, I am sort of a worrywart freak who cannot let "it" go.
In the spring (semester), these shortcomings of mine matter less, for some reason. The school year is a known quantity by that point. The weather mix of snow, rain, and inconsistent sun doesn't lend itself to high expectations.
But in the Fall, I want it all. I want to do it all well, to enjoy it all, to take the fresh start that the new school year offers and turn it into something beautiful. I never quite manage.
This Fall marks the first season since 1978 when I will not be a student or a teacher. I no longer have any papers that I have to write. I have no lessons to plan. There are no student papers to grade. I'm free. Free FALLing.
This feeling of freedom is particularly intoxicating after last Fall when newly (and exhaustingly, nauseatingly) pregnant, I started teaching again for the first time since 2001. A new and out-of-my-comfort zone course. A new grade level. Two kids at home. Not quite enough child care and yet a paycheck that covered little beyond child care. While it felt good to be teaching again, when I look back on the semester even now, I feel physically tired and slightly sick to my stomach.
I'm probably never going to be a student again (except one of life) as I've pretty much exhausted the patience, good will, and resources of the MEP & Hubby Family Scholarship Foundation. I'm not done with teaching forever, not by a long shot, but I don't think I can swing it this school year.
But this Fall, this Fall is my gift, my reward, my time to enjoy the season's pleasures with my family and friends in a way that I've never been able to do in the past. I'm going to take walks, eat hot pretzels and cheese dip, make applesauce in the crock pot, visit the pumpkin patch and photograph the hell out of my lil pumpkins, tailgate at Notre Dame, carve pumpkins, crack open my cookbooks, and enjoy all the "free time" that comes my way.
Sure, there are things to miss about being a student or a teacher in the Fall, but I am so very excited to just be a mom this Fall (and a wife, daughter, sister, friend, blogger, reader, and cook) that I doubt I'll miss them.
What does this Fall have in store for you? What gives you that free FALLing feeling? What's your favorite season?

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