Friday, April 29, 2011

7 Quick Takes Friday: Fun, Fun, Think About Fun Edition

Want more quick takes?  Go see Jen!
Friday, Friday, gotta get down on Friday.  I decided to dedicate this week's quick takes post to seven of my favorite funny things, because laughing is awesome!  So, in no particular order, I present some fun, fun, fun, fun.  Weez so excited!

1. Gotta have my bowl
I've already posted about Rebecca Black's Friday.  Yes, there are a ton of parodies of it, but my favorite Friday-derived bit is this cover by Stephen Colbert, featured on the Jimmy Fallon show.  It's just hilarious.  Further amusement: as soon as my husband showed it to me, I knew I had to share it with my friend Lindsy, who also enjoys Stephen Colbert.  But then I kept forgetting, because I'm lame...and eventually, she emailed me about it.  So thank you, Lindsy! (The YouTube video below is a mirror-image upload because of copyright.  Your best bet is to click the "cover" link above for the original version.)

2. STEOTCH, beotch!
I will be forever indebted to my friend Maren for introducing me to her friend Emily's fine needleart.  Who would have thought that needlework could make you laugh so hard it hurts?  I highly recommend a thorough perusal of her fantastic, insanely clever work!  (Beware: some of the stitches contain coarse language, so if you're not into that kinda thing, just stick to enjoying the one I've included here.)

3. Clean all the things?
Hyperbole and a Half is one of the most ridiculously hysterical creations I have ever seen.  I am deeply grateful to my friend Adrienne for linking to it on Facebook.  It's sort of a blog-comic hybrid.  Every entry is worth a gander, but my favorite is the first one I ever read, "This is Why I'll Never be an Adult."  (Beware: more strong language!)

4.  It's 2 am: still time to make one more bad decision
I don't find most stand-up comedians to be that funny, but man oh man, I enjoy me some Jim Gaffigan.  A lot of his dialogue involves food, which probably explains a lot about why I find him so humorous.  Also, no swearing, hooray!  (I don't care for his bits that deal with Catholicism.  They aren't horrible, but they make me wince.)  I had a hard time picking just one clip -- make sure to check out some of his other stuff on YouTube if you enjoy this one!

5. The Yellow Dart
Cherished college memories time: I love the Homestar Runner cartoons, especially the Strong Bad emails.  For me, they were an acquired taste, but I'm so glad I made the effort to acquire it!  The site isn't updated all that often anymore, sadly, but there are many hours' worth of fun in the archives.  This email has been one of my favorites since I first saw it, and now that I've worked as a teacher, I only love it more.  Enjoy!  (Again, I'm only embedding the YT video to make it easy -- go to the actual site for the real deal and TONS more!)

6. You got an ATM on that torso Lite-Brite?
Most of the Robot Chicken material I've seen didn't really strike my funny bone -- either it wasn't my kind of humor, or it made pop culture references with which I'm not familiar.  The Robot Chicken Star Wars shorts, however, are some of the most side-achingly hilarious cartoons I have ever watched.  I doubt they would be all that humorous to someone who hasn't seen the Star Wars films, but if you have, and you don't mind some semi-bleeped off-color language, you are in for a treat!  (My favorite clip is "The Emperor's Phone Call," which sadly cannot be embedded.)  Here is a brief trailer:

7. What say you, Jefferson
My husband introduced me to Kate Beaton's Hark! A Vagrant web comic a while ago, and I've grown to be very fond of it.  The illustrations, particularly the characters' facial expressions, are unique and absolutely fantastic.  She generally focuses on literary and historical characters, although she touches on pop culture too.   This one about Pope John Paul II (he was the "real deal") always makes me smile, and I've gotten extra laughs over this baby one since having one of my own.  Again, some comics feature strong language (I feel like a broken record), so be advised!  Here's a cute one about one of Ben Franklin's favorite pastimes:

Happy Friday!  We gonna have a ball today!

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Years of personal experience have suggested to me that women rock at comparing.  From the time we're little, we're constantly stacking ourselves up against other people, especially other girls.  Who has cuter clothes?  Who has more My Little Ponies?  Who got the better grade on the science quiz?  I'm in the audition-only choir, she's in symphonic band, she runs varsity track, she's class president, she's got ten trophies from speech tournaments -- so who's best?

We grow up, become mothers, and nothing changes.  In fact, in my own experience, motherhood creates such a sensitivity within us that we compare ourselves to others more than ever.  The gravity of the job is so monumental, we can barely grasp it, and we know we'll never be equal to the task.  A few years ago we were worried about boosting our class rank or reducing our 100-meter dash time or making sure our blouse was as cute as our crush's girlfriend's.  Now we're worried about raising children.  Making sure that they're fed, clothed, clean, happy, healthy, and not messed up forever because of our influence.  Oy!

We feel pressured to be like our moms, our friends, even people we don't like but happen to have on our Facebook friends list.  Uh oh, that girl who made a nasty remark about my outfit sophomore year just posted that her child is walking, and mine can barely crawl!  What have I done wrong?  And, oh no, another girl linked to an article on how disposable diapers are toxic pieces of garbage that will give my baby chemical burns and destroy the planet.  Good grief, I'm worthless!  Of course, it can go the other way too: whoa, she's feeding her baby pieces of hot dog?  Hellooooooooo choking hazard!  Let me give myself a hearty pat on the back for avoiding that one!

There are a million reasons we can berate ourselves and a million reasons we can self-congratulate.  Today, I'd like to focus on just one of them:
I breastfeed my daughter.  It is easy now.  It didn't start out that way.  She did okay the first day, but after enjoying a pacifier that night (with my exhausted, barely-conscious blessing), she wouldn't latch right anymore.  The nurses gave me a shield, which barely helped, and meant I got to experience the joy of needing to pump after many of her feedings to establish my milk supply.  I thought the hospital pump was going to rip me to shreds.  After a labor that included the delights of Pitocin contractions and four hours of pushing,  the searing pain of the hospital pump was the last thing I wanted to face.

The shield-and-(thankfully NOT hospital-grade)-pump cycle continued for a week.  I went to a lactation consultant, once.  She gave me a different shield and suggested some different positions, but I was too exhausted, too frustrated, and too sticky (my daughter was born in late June during one of the hottest, most humid summers I can remember, and we have no air conditioning) to give them more than a couple days' effort.  I decided to exclusively pump.

It worked.  I had to do it six times a day, sometimes while my daughter lay on her blanket complaining bitterly.  But my milk supply was awesome.  Ten minutes per pumping and I was done, and I had plenty of milk to spare.  Bag after bag went in the freezer.  I never had to supplement.

I figured on doing it that way for the duration.  A year of daily pumping didn't seem that bad.  Bottles gave me the freedom to go out without worrying, let my husband take care of some of the night feedings, and drink a couple glasses of wine in the evening if I felt like it.

During my pregnancy, I had gone to a couple La Leche League meetings to gear-up for breastfeeding, but I was embarrassed to go once I started on the exclusive pumping routine.  I was happy and satisfied that my daughter was getting breastmilk, but delivering it all through bottles made me feel like a nursing fraud.

One day, when my daughter was maybe 2 1/2 months old, I decided to try nursing her directly again.  I don't know why I did it.  In all likelihood, she was hungry and I felt lazy.  So try it we did, and to my shock, she latched just fine and nursed like a champ.  

So I dropped the pumping schedule immediately, right?  Ha!  No.  I didn't know what to do.  I had grown fond of the routine, to be honest.  I prayed the Liturgy of the Hours while I pumped.  I carefully measured every pumping and feeding like I was back in chem lab.  I liked the freedom of bottles.  I was attached to my steadily growing oversupply and feared that, somehow, switching to regular nursing would cause it to crash and become an undersupply.  

I proceeded slowly.  For a while, I only nursed her at night.  When she started sleeping through the night (oh, how I long for those days!), I nursed her first thing in the morning and stuck with bottles the rest of the day.  After a few weeks of doing this, I decided to take the plunge and nurse exclusively.  Within a couple days, my daughter refused bottles, and she hasn't had one since.  She loves, loves, LOVES to nurse.  

Do I miss the freedom?  The daddy feedings?  The vino?  Heck yes I do.  Like I said, my daughter loves to nurse, and even at a day less than 10 months old, she still demands it frequently.  It can be exhausting.  But, truth be told, I love it.  It is warm, cuddly, relaxing, cozy, and wonderful.  God knew what he was doing when He created oxytocin!  I try to remember to thank Him every day that I am able to nurse my daughter, because He is the only reason that I can.

I am not the most tenacious person in the world.  I am easily overwhelmed and find many of life's "challenges" to be very stressful and frustrating.  I've received a decent amount of praise for going the exclusive-pumping route for as long as I did, but really, it wasn't heroic.  What really happened was: my daughter was a poor nurser, and when she was a week and a half old I threw in the towel because I was mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted.  The blessing of my amazing milk supply was the only reason I never had to use formula.  Even our switch back to regular nursing was nothing to rave about -- as I mentioned, it started on a lazy day.  Most of the reason I pursued it was my weariness of cleaning and filling bottles.  I'm a slacker who just so happens to lactate.

I'm excited about breastfeeding.  (I almost said I was pumped about it, but as I just described, that's not really accurate anymore.  Oh, har, har!)  I think it's natural and healthy and beautiful and fabulous.  Not surprisingly, I would highly recommend it to any new mom, and I very much hope that it becomes more common, prominent and normal in everyday society (but that's a topic for another post).  So I guess you could call me a lactivist, sure.

But I'm not gonna be all up in your face about it.

Let's face it: if I hadn't had an awesome milk supply, breastfeeding never would have happened for us.  When Baby Girl was two weeks old, we met up with another mom (whom I didn't know, it was a blind mom-date) and her newborn son at a nearby park.  That mom was also having nursing troubles.  I told her that I was pretty sure I was just going to pump (at that point I had really already made the decision, but still felt a little awkward about it).  She said that she was going to stick it out.  "I'm pretty stubborn," she said.  And she said it nicely, just matter-of-factly; I didn't detect a dig.  But I still felt bad.  I still felt like I should have been more stubborn.  Her stubbornness made her outshine me more than any higher score or cuter outfit ever had.  Who cared about grades or clothes or achievements -- she was a better mom!

Now I realize that's bunkum.  Women who bottle-feed, whether it's breastmilk or formula, are just as much mothers, and wonderful mothers, as women who nurse.  There are many reasons why women don't breastfeed exclusively or at all; it isn't always a lack of knowledge or a lack of desire.  I can think of several among my friends.  One was a mom who struggled with issues similar to mine with her preemie, pumped around the clock for weeks, yet could never build up anywhere close to a sufficient supply, and finally grew exhausted of the practice.  Another had had gastric bypass surgery a few years before having her son (and a botched one at that, which significantly complicated her pregnancy), so she must eat very slowly and has a hard time absorbing the nutrients she would very much need to breastfeed.  Another mom had already nursed two older children with no problem and thought her third was doing fine too, but then learned that her baby was a poor nurser and wasn't gaining enough weight.  Breast pumps just don't work for her, so she decided upon (and still uses) a hybrid model of nursing and formula supplementing.

I've been going to La Leche League again the past few months.  At our last meeting, a mom came who was pregnant with her third child.  She formula-fed her first two, but was interested in breastfeeding the new baby.  Everybody was very encouraging and kind.  Then one of the leaders said, "It's so much more than a nutrition choice!  I just see it on so many levels...if every baby in the world was breastfed..." she trailed off.  Oh dears, I thought: those woman's other two babies weren't.  I'm not sure how she wanted to finish that thought.  If every baby in the world was breastfed...the world would be a better place?  Maybe.  But wasn't every baby breastfed since the beginning of babies?  Formula's a really new thing in the history of the planet, but illness and strife and suffering aren't.  Oh well.  I shouldn't put words in her mouth.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is this: breastfeeding is fantastic.  Utterly, utterly fantastic, and I shall sing its praises to the ends of the earth.  But it can be really, really hard.  And formula isn't poison (or I'd be dead).  So let's mothers be kind and understanding of each other when it comes to milk.

I leave you with this hilarity: both Almond Breeze and Silk Pure Almond apparently have a need to include this disclaimer on their products.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I Need More Cowbell

I hope everyone had a glorious Easter Sunday, and continues to enjoy a beautiful Easter season!

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post detailing 10 juicy facts about my husband and me.  One of them was:
At one point during our courtship, the song "My Boo" by Usher and Alicia Keys became popular.  Even though neither of us ever particularly cared for it, we adopted the term and some variations of it in our own vernacular.  Ergo, he was my boo, I was his goo; during our engagement, we were both foos; now I'm the woo to his hoo.
Tonight, I went into our daughter's room, where she was playing in her crib and her daddy was watching her.  I greeted him with "Hey, Hoo," and her with "Hey, Doo."  It was then that I realized that, in keeping with this theme, I am her moo.  Could anything be more true (troo)?!?
[I don't own the rights.  Hehe!]

In other milk-related news, tragedy strikes: it appears that our local grocery story has stopped stocking Dark Chocolate Silk PureAlmond.  I am heartbroken.  How could you do this to me, Giant?  I love the vanilla flavor and I'll happily buy it, so long as I can keep finding coupons.  But the chocolate was just so...amazing.  So wonderful.  So lovely at the end of a long, tiring day.  Sigh.  I haven't checked the other grocery stores in our area to see if they have it, so some hope remains.  Still, I am deeply saddened by this development. 

Stay tuned for another milk-related post!  (Hopefully saying so will force me to finish it!)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Disney Princesses: Enjoyable Movies, Eschewable Merchandise

Today I'm participating in a blog carnival on Disney Princesses, hosted by Kendra.  Head over to her blog to read her take and get some insights from other bloggers.  I've decided to split my take into two parts -- my reflections and current thoughts on the movies, and my thoughts on the Disney Princess franchise.  Here we go!

The Movies, Then and Now  

Back in the dark ages (read: 1990s) when I was a young lass, there were no "Disney Princesses."  There were Disney movies, many of which featured female protagonists who ended up marrying princes and, as all the stories go, lived happily ever after -- as princesses.  We owned a few of the princess-featuring films on, of course, VHS: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast.  I've seen some of the others (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and -- yes, I realize Nala's not an official DP -- The Lion King), but since we didn't have them at home, I didn't have a whole lot of exposure to them.  I never much took to Snow White, so I'll limit my reminiscing to Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast.

We had Cinderella on video from the time I was very young, probably three or four years old, and I did most of my Cinderella watching around those ages.  The idea of a virtuous, sweet, self-sacrificing young woman "winning" in the end appealed to me.  It seemed fitting and right, as I gathered it was safe to assume that life as the bride of Prince Charming would be a good one.  However, the idea that this guy
beget this fellow
never sat right with me, gotta be honest.  Also, my heart broke every time I watched the movie and saw this gorgeous labor-of-love frock that her little friends so meticulously created for her
get ripped to shreds by those skanky step-sisters, only to be replaced by this fancy-shmancy number,

created by the Fairy Godmother (hey, where ya been the rest of Cinderella's mostly-miserable life?) with an effortless wave of her wand.  Thanks for playing, birds and mice who have been Cinderella's steadfast companions for years!

Moving on!  I first saw Beauty and the Beast the year after it came out.  I was seven years old, and I had long brown hair and brown eyes just like Belle!  And her name meant "beautiful"!  I identified heavily with this character -- her love of reading, her yearning for "adventure" in her life, her disdain for the jerky (and, turns out, completely wicked) Gaston, her devotion to her father.  I thought of myself as being like her -- but not as the princess Belle from the last minute or so of the movie.  That Belle barely even registered with me.  I certainly didn't want to share her fate.  I mean, look at her prince:
Um, sorry, but no thanks.  Frankly, I thought he was far more dashing as the Beast:
Although, of course, we all know who the real hottie is in this film:
(In candelabra form, of course!  His human form was also a grave disappointment, not worthy of being included here.)

Now, as an adult and mother, I don't get quite the same thrill out of watching these movies as I did as a youngster.  For example, my husband and I borrowed  Beauty and the Beast from the library right before our daughter was born; we were both disappointed with how quickly it moved (which, of course, is necessary for a children's movie), and we kept murmuring about Stockholm Syndrome.   BUT, I'd be lying if I said we didn't enjoy the experience as a whole.  I, in particular, love the music in this film and many of the other Disney productions.  I could listen to "Be Our Guest" over and over and over again, along with "Under the Sea," "A Whole New World," and many others.  Ridiculously clever stuff.

Yes, I have a few beefs with the movies.  I dislike that parents are often depicted negatively (Ariel's father Triton is largely ignorant about humans, and he angrily destroys all of Ariel's prized possessions she has collected from the surface when he discovers she has had an encounter with one; Jasmine's father, the Sultan, is easily manipulated by the evil Jafar and acts like a bumbling fool; Maurice, Belle's father, while lovable and quite possibly the genius she considers him to be, is shown to be clumsy, foolish, and naive).  There are some intense scenes (the Lion King stampede, Gaston's lynch mob, Ursula's insta-grow wrath) that I know from personal experience can be very frightening for young children.  And, let's face it, Disney's adaptations of fairy tales can leave a lot to be desired when compared with the originals

All things considered, however, I like the movies, and I wouldn't mind letting my daughter see them when she gets older.  I'm sure I'll be selfish about it and encourage the viewing of my own personal favorites, but what mom doesn't?  Here's to hoping that she's also Team Pink Dress and Team Beast!

The Disney Princess Franchise

My last year of college, my roommate had a Disney Princess calendar.  Until then, it hadn't really registered with me that these characters were now being marketed as a group, although by then the franchise had been in place for a few years.  I didn't think much of it.  I think my roommate and I agreed that our favorite princess was Belle, and I expressed half-serious disappointment that Nala wasn't included on the calendar.  In the ensuing years, I noticed more and more Disney Princess paraphernalia in the stores.  I also became aware that some parents weren't happy with the franchise and tried to steer their children away from it.  Again, I didn't give it much thought, because it wasn't really relevant to me. 

Now I'm a mother -- to a daughter to boot -- and, suddenly, the Disney Princess franchise is something that I'm going to have to think about if I don't want it to just "happen" to me.  The stuff is everywhere!  You can get Princess dolls, books, music, clothes, shoes, and Yahtzee, and that is only the tiniest tip of the Disney machine's bloated, nearly-inescapable royal iceburg.  Yikes! 

The children's marketplace is utterly entrenched with images of these icons, and the subtext of every last branded item is these princesses are kind, loving, and wholesome, and everything a girl could want to be!  But a growing faction is calling foul.  Many feminists consider the princesses to be poor role models who send little girls the message that looking perfect and having lots of possessions are the keys to happiness.   Fair enough.

So where do I stand?

I'm not a fan of this franchise, and I don't plan to buy my daughter Disney Princess merchandise.  I don't appreciate the semi-provocative poses and attire (even as a seven-year-old I wondered about Belle's cleavage, and don't even get me started on Jasmine).  I suspect that the merchandise inspires some little girls to think of themselves as little "princesses" who ought to be spoiled.  That's not a message I want to send to my daughter -- frankly, even at her tender age of nine months, she's already exhibiting signs that she considers herself the queen bee, and those aren't flames I want to stoke.  However, I'm not going to be a fanatic about it.  If she receives a DP item as a gift, I'm not going to hide it away or burn it in my backyard.   I don't think the franchise is evil, I just don't think it's great, and I'd rather concentrate on cultivating my daughter's own sense of who she is and what she likes instead of encouraging her to adopt the princess persona.  Call me crazy, but if she ends up with a DP shirt or book somewhere along the way, I don't think that's going to completely derail her upbringing.

Honestly, I look at the Disney Princesses and all I can think is, "I'm bored of you."  They're depicted in their "happily-ever-after" phase, which I know nothing about whatsoever, except that it apparently entails a whole lot of standing around in uncomfortable gowns smiling about the fact that their perfect little mugs are on everything from rotating lamps to Power Wheels Tot Rods.  They're not the characters from the movies I enjoyed, people with virtues and personalities and dreams, they're just plastic.  Cold, hard, shiny plastic.  And now that I think of it, wait -- haven't I seen these girls...
somewhere before...?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Embracing My Inner Square

When I was a freshman in high school, I took a Myers-Briggs personality test in my psychology class.  What a perfect way to indulge my characteristically self-centered, ultra-introspective fourteen-year-old self!  The results indicated that I was an ENFP ("The Inspirer").  According to the ENFP description, I was a "people person" who was exciting, fun, and socially intuitive.  I was passionate, warm, and easily able to envision possibilities.  I liked that label and wore it as a badge of honor throughout high school.

The funny thing was, the label didn't fit me at all.  I enjoy being with people, but I find most social situations to be enervating, not energizing, and I'm very awkward with people I don't know.  I enjoy a good time -- but my idea of fun is playing Catch Phrase or watching She's the Man with some close friends, nothing too adventurous.  Even when I am deeply committed to an idea or cause, I have a very difficult time exhibiting enthusiasm for it.  Although I dearly love my family, I am not especially gushy or demonstrative about it.  And I'm the last human being in the world that you'd call an "idea person."  How in the world could I be an ENFP?  Years later, I realized that I had only scored that type because I'd wanted to -- I desired to be comfortable in social situations, attuned to my own emotions and those of others, warm, enthusiastic, a beacon of joy!  I answered those questions as the girl I wanted to be, not the girl I really was.

I recently took another Myers-Briggs test online (I'm pretty sure it was the same one), being brutally honest with myself.  My result?  ISTJ, the exact opposite of what I scored all those years back.  The ISTJ is (according to the only site I've read so far) known as "The Duty Fulfiller."  Good grief, how boring!  No wonder I wanted to be the exact opposite.  Who wants to be known as the drab, dull, dependable duty-fulfiller?  Who wants to be introverted, quiet, legalistic, and conventional?  Who wants to be predictable and boring?

It turns out that Myers-Briggs has been found to be unreliable and mostly invalid (only the extroversion/introversion portion seems to hold water).  So it seems that I need not feel constrained by the ISTJ label.  Rightfully so, I'd say: it's fairly accurate, but there are some significant discrepancies (I'm not all that organized, I'm not that emotionless, etc.).  However, I'm still willing to embrace the idea of myself as a duty-fulfiller. Yes, it may conjure up images of lil' weez just plugging away, cooking, cleaning, tending to Baby Girl, putting away laundry, getting into the kitchen to make my husband a sandwich*, being the ultimate square.  But that's just fine.  I love my duties as a wife and mother.  Of course, they aren't all of what I do, they don't completely define me...but frankly, they're most of who I am, and who I want to be.

Please don't think that I'm suggesting that only my four-sided personality type is capable of being a duty-fulfiller (or that wife/mother duties are the only ones out there)!  That would be as ridiculous as saying that I, as a decided non-ENFP, was incapable of inspiring people.
The shirt reads "Bringing Trash Back."
Clearly false.  We all can inspire, we can all do our duty.  Even when my duty is my daughter's doody.

And, reigning in the silliness for just a second, I'd like to conclude with one of my favorite parts of the Universal Prayer:
I want to do what you ask of me:
In the way you ask,
For as long as you ask,
Because you ask it.

*jk lol...not that I wouldn't, but in fact I couldn't, as we have no bread.

Friday, April 15, 2011

7 Quick Takes Friday

Head over to Jen's blog for more action!

1.  Baby Girl says "mom" now, which is music to my ears.  She's been saying "da" for a couple months, but nary a "ma" until the past week.  Very exciting. :D

2. Have you ever felt drawn to a particular saint?  I must confess that, over the years, I have not been as diligent as I could (and should) have been in learning about the lives of the saints and cultivating relationships with them.  However, a couple years ago when I was going through a very dark time, I felt a sudden calling to pray for the intercession of St. Alphonsus.  I could not remember having ever heard of this saint before (although I most likely had and tucked it away in my subconscious).  Two days later, my husband and I were in the Pittsburgh area for a taekwondo tournament he was judging, and we passed a Catholic church named for St. Alphonsus.  I was really taken aback!  To experience such an obvious nudging, if you will, is quite rare for me.

I'm ashamed to say that as time went on, many a day would go by that I did not even think of this special saint.  Recently, however, I have renewed my reflection on his life, particularly one part of his biography that resonated strongly with me the first time I read it: "In 1723, he lost a [legal] case, and God made use of his disappointment to wean his heart from the world."  At the time, I was experiencing multiple significant disappointments in my life, but it had never occurred to me that God might use that disappointment to better me.

I think I'll stop there and save the rest of my reflection for a stand-alone post. :)

3. I'm happy to say that our phone arrangement is still working out well for us.  A couple days ago, we received a bill from AT&T in the mail.  That's not right, I grumbled to myself as I ripped it open, we don't owe them anything anymore!  Right on: the bill was for $0.00.  The outside of the envelope included an advertisement for their paperless billing program.  Yes, AT&T, I'd love to go paperless, and it should be very easy at this point since we should also be bill-less.  I hope that's the last one we get. :P (I just realized I ended my first two takes with emoticons, so let the trend continue!)

4. Despite my general distaste for texting, fancy phones and the like, I was somehow smitten with this smartphone toy and decided it would make a good Easter gift for my daughter.  Yeah, I'm silly like that.  In my defense, she loves remotes and anything with buttons, so I can't imagine how this wouldn't be a hit.  ;)

5. It has been a particularly rough week for Baby Girl.  She has been quite the unhappy camper, poor lass.  I think she is probably teething (she's between the ages of 6 and 36 months, so budding choppers can be blamed for pretty much everything).  In other news, chocolate pudding tastes very nice when mixed with a little ChocoVine.  :O

6. My husband received a teaching service award from his department at Penn State yesterday.  When I asked him (over Gmail chat) how the awards ceremony went, his response was:
Weez's husband: excellent
Weez's husband: I was accused of earning a Masters in sleep deprivation in front of everyone
Weez's husband: and then my FB picture was revealed
said FB picture :-*

 7. Guilty pleasure time!  On July 21, 2007, two very important events in my life took place:
  • My husband and I got married.
  • I received, as a birthday gift (my birthday is 3 days after our anniversary), a DVD copy of She's the Man.  This modern-day adaptation of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night is...well, to employ a ridiculously overused term, EPIC.  Here's one of my favorite scenes: 

8-) Happy Friday!!!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Less of the Shadow and More of the Sun

A couple weeks ago I posted a story about Kirill, a young Russian boy with Down Syndrome whom an American family is seeking to adopt.  As of now, the adoption process is at a standstill because a Russian judge has rejected their application on the grounds that Kirill is "not socially adaptable."  The judge has no problem with the family and has stated she would approve their adopting a typical child; the rejection is based solely on Kirill's special needs.  The family is appealing the decision.

I was deeply emotional after reading this story.  My brother was diagnosed with autism in 1990.  Even a mere 21 years ago, that diagnosis was much rarer than it is now, and most people had never heard of it.  We ended up moving an hour away from our hometown in northeastern Ohio to western Pennsylvania so that he could attend a special school, because none of the local programs could accommodate him.  When we moved there, my three-year-old brother was nonverbal and barely interacted with us.  He threw frequent and severe tantrums; at least one time, my mom locked herself in the bathroom just to escape for a few minutes.  My dad commuted an hour each way to work in Ohio every day.  My brother's school was 45 minutes away from our house, and his van ride there took twice that amount of time since the driver had to pick up several other children, some of whom were in wheelchairs.  None of our extended family members offered any help to my parents, and many of our family friends slipped away too.  (Almost twenty years later when I was writing my master's thesis on computer-mediated support groups for families of children with disabilities, I discovered that this is a very common, though by no means ubiquitous, experience.)  It was a dark time for my family, to say the least.

The darkness, of course, didn't last forever.  Little by little, through the grace of God, the impenetrable shell that had hidden my brother's personality, thoughts, and feelings began to crack.  He learned to talk and hold a conversation.  He looked us in the eye when we addressed him, and he smiled when he saw us.  He learned to read and write and do basic math.  Five after our initial move, my parents relocated our family back to northeastern Ohio, deliberately choosing a home in the school district with a good reputation for its special education program.  My brother was enrolled in public school and was able to spend part of his day in a mainstream classroom.

Now, my brother is a young man.  Today is his 24th birthday.  He is an extraordinarily loving, jovial and well-adjusted person.  He is able to hold down a part-time job, to which he is steadfastly committed (to illustrate this, he will not permit my parents to visit him at work, lest they distract him from his duties).  The word autism comes from the Greek "autos," meaning self.  People on the autism spectrum exhibit an extremely wide range of traits and abilities, but one unifying characteristic is a tendency to withdraw into oneself, which in turn impairs social interaction.  While it's undeniable that my brother is not able to interact as a typical 24-year-old man, he is remarkably socially adept: he expresses (genuine) great pleasure when seeing someone he knows, he addresses everyone by name, he inquires as to how people are doing, he carefully introduces people who don't know each other, and he makes impressive attempts to empathize with others' joys and sorrows.  He makes people feel good, and they absolutely love it.  Time and time again, people he knows through work, school, and other places have run into my parents at the grocery store or the bank and gushed over him so profusely that it was almost embarrassing.  (Almost.  Every compliment he receives is a shining jewel to my mother, and she graciously and joyfully accepts each one.)

Has it been easy?  Of course not.  Our family life has always been structured to accommodate my brother's needs, a fact which has undoubtedly contributed to his happiness and comfort.  His routine is extremely important to him, so it is hardly ever disrupted.  We still have basically no traffic with our extended family, and my parents' social lives are quite restricted.   My brother still lives at home, and he will never be capable of living independently.  While many couples my parents' age are either looking forward to or enjoying empty nests after raising their children, my parents know that they will be taking care of their son for the rest of their lives, or until they are physically unable to do so.  My mother especially has devoted her entire life to making sure his life is good.

Yes, it has been challenging for my parents to raise a child with special needs, and it has been challenging for me to be the only sibling of someone with autism.  But it has also been incredibly rewarding for all three of us to have my brother in our lives.  He is an amazing blessing.  When he first started exhibiting signs of his disability and was diagnosed, my parents felt like they had lost the child they thought they had.  Now that we know the boy he always was, they cannot imagine a more perfect son, and I cannot imagine a more perfect brother.  We don't have a storybook family, but the difficulties we face are always eclipsed by the joy he brings us.  My brother is an amazing source and inspiration of love, a love that makes the people who know him better for having him as a part of their lives.

When we moved back to Ohio after living in western Pennsylvania, one of my brother's most beloved teachers who had known him that whole five years sent my family a card expressing how much he would miss him.  On the front was a verse that eloquently captured the spirit of those five years and all the ones that were to follow, as we uncovered more and more of the beauty of my bother's soul:

I believe we are here for a reason, 
I believe that as each day unfolds, 
We see less of the shadow and more of the sun, 
Less of the tarnish and more of the gold.

Happy birthday, little brother.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Love Letters to Central Pennsylvania: Blueberry Picking

I've already written a post on our beautiful mountains and a post on some amazing local food, so why not a post that combines the joy of both?!

My husband and I are both huge berry lovers (and judging from our daughter's delighted reaction in utero whenever I ate them, I think she'll take after us).  Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries -- we could gleefully eat them by the bowlful.  Blueberries are no exception, and occasionally even in the winter we'll pick up a pint at the store to enjoy.  Not even the finest summer grocery store offering, however, can hold a candle to fresh-picked blueberries from Mountainhome Farm.

Mountainhome Farm is located in one of the most gorgeous, serene settings I've ever seen.  It's in a secluded area in the mountains that's a mere 20-25 minute drive from State College.  When I was there, I had a very similar reaction the one I have when I'm near a gentle creek -- one of deep relaxation and peace.  Just looking at these photos from a couple years back has a calming effect on me!

The awesomeness of the experience didn't end there.  Each patron was given a gallon jug with the narrow neck cut off and an old necktie.  We each threaded a necktie through a jug handle, tied them around our waists, and presto! -- we had hands-free carriers for all the delicious blueberries we could pick!

Before we went, my husband was concerned that the task would be messy and our hands would get all blue.  Not so!  The big, beautiful berries come off the bush with ease, and we found nary a stain on your hands upon finishing (which was hard to do -- it's so tempting to keep picking "just a few more").  When we finally did wrap up, the owner (under-)guesstimated how much we'd picked by looking in our jugs, and the prices were beyond reasonable, way less than what you'd pay at a grocery store or farmer's market.  Of course, we'd done the work of picking them, but we both found the experience to be so intoxicatingly fantastic that it could hardly be called work.

The fruits themselves are the most succulent, delectable blueberries I've ever had.  They were amazing by themselves, and I made several pies, sweet breads, and coffee cakes with the extras we froze.  I wish we still had some in our freezer, but we weren't able to go last year, as blueberry season here is generally during July and the first half of August, and our daughter was born June 29.  Believe me, I thought about it, and if we'd gone the sling-carrier route we probably could have done it, but it just wasn't in the cards.

This year, however...I! can't! wait!!!

Friday, April 8, 2011

7 Quick Takes Friday: Adorable Baby Edition

Many thanks to Jen for hosting!

Lately I've seen a lot of heart-meltingly cute baby pictures on the Interwebs (case in point); meanwhile, I've also been taking note of my own baby's irresistible adorableness.  Ergo, I'd like to devote this week's quick takes post to photos of my darling baby girl!

1. One of our most cherished activities is something we call a "bed romp."  My husband (or I, if he's not around, but it's so much better when he is) will swing our girl back and forth a few times and then toss her on our bed.  This is followed up by snuggles, tickles, peek-a-boo, and whatnot.  She loves this.  She gets highly excited as soon as she realizes that a bed romp is imminent.

2. She started pulling up about a month and a half ago.  One of her favorite anchors?  The toilet, of course.  We usually keep the bathroom doors shut, but inevitably she manages to bust in here and there.  She likes to pound on it like a drum.  I especially love it when she attempts to do this while I'm using it.

3. Her most favorite place to pull up is the dishwasher.  When she hears us open it, she will scamper as quickly as she can to get there.  I try to avoid letting her do it unless it's empty.  I wasn't smart enough to realize I needed to do this until the day I looked over and saw her wielding a knife.  (A butter knife.  I'm not that awful, I swear.)
See, it's empty!  I wised up!
4. She also enjoys crawling under the piano and playing with the pedals.  I love how sheepish she looks in this picture.
5. Don't let her facial expression fool you here; she doesn't care for the Pack-N-Play, which is what she's grabbing in this photo.  I think she was smiling at the toy we put in there (and hey, Daddy was holding her, which is always grin-worthy!).

6. I wrote about her new swimsuit last week, and here she is modeling it.  I just love it on her!

7. I can't believe how much she's grown in the last nine months -- or how quickly that time has passed.  Here she was when she was only 40 minutes old!
I love you, baby girl!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Essence of Mother

[photo source]
A while ago I realized that I'm the first woman in a good number of generations along my maternal line to still have my own mother living when I became a mother.  My grandmother passed away two years before I (my mother's first baby) was born, my great-grandmother died three years before my uncle (my grandmother's first) was born, and my great-great-grandmother passed away when my great-grandmother was still a young girl.  When my great-great-great-grandmother passed away, I do not know, because that is as far back as my mom knows the tree.

I am very blessed to have my loving, wonderful mother here, and our family history only magnifies that blessing.  During both my pregnancy and the nine amazing months that have followed my daughter's birth, I have inundated my mom with questions and sought her advice on every baby-related topic under the sun.  She is always willing to talk, willing to listen, and eager to support and encourage me as I bumble through the daily tasks that make up my vocation.  We don't agree on everything and we don't do everything the same way, but what mother and daughter do?

Since becoming a mother myself, I've had endless opportunities to realize how much my mom sacrificed for me, how many things she did for me that I never even noticed.  And when I bothered to reflect upon it before, I know I was able to name some of them: changing my diapers, preparing my meals, cleaning my laundry, driving me places, making me Jello and chicken soup when I was sick.  But one thing she did that I never could have named is the one thing I find most daunting now, something I barely even know what to call -- she created a sense of security.
Every time I read this book to my baby, I marvel at how cozy this picture looks.

I still feel it when I visit home.  I might sleep in (well...not so much anymore, hehe), but as I rouse I can hear my mom shuffling about downstairs, maybe cooking, maybe cleaning.  When I do join the rest of the family, I don't need to have an itinerary made up of what's happening, because Mom is the architect.  Mom knows if there's a sale we might want to check out, or a special exhibit at a museum we'd like to see.  Mom knows what's for dinner and how we might have to schedule our day around when she needs to prepare it.  Mom knows how much and what laundry is waiting to be cleaned and when that will need to be addressed.  Mom knows what the weather will be like that day.  Mom knows if we had a record high or low or rainfall or snow.  Mom just knows these things, and countless others, so my dad and my brother and I don't have to.

I started missing that element of my home life as soon as my husband and I got married and moved away, but not nearly as strongly as I do now that I'm a mom.  Before I had my daughter, I was in graduate school, and then I worked at a career college, and even though I had to fill the shoes of the dependable wife, I could in turn depend on those institutions to give me the security of routine and structure.  Now, as a stay-at-home-mom, our family is my institution, and I am the one who must give it structure and create a sense of comfort and stability within it.  I am the architect.

As the months go on, I am slowly acclimating to this role.  There are still many missteps -- who did I think was going to (at least attempt to) iron my husband's wrinkly khakis?  Who did I think was going to clean the dried-on oatmeal off my baby's highchair tray?  Who did I think was going to look at the weather forecast and realize that my husband would need an umbrella?  Sometimes, at the end of the day as I straighten up my daughter's toys and load stray glasses into the dishwasher, I feel like something is missing -- some soothing background activity, some awareness of our family's needs and how to address them, some plan for what we'll be doing tomorrow and the next day and beyond.  And then I realize that those things aren't missing; I'm just expecting them to come from somewhere else when now they need to come from me.  Me, the homemaker, the wife, the mother!

Undoubtedly, the love and guidance of my own mom have been of invaluable help to me as I grow into my role as a mother.  Realizing that she had to adjust to motherhood after losing her own mother is very humbling.  How did she do it?  We don't live near our families, and I moan that I'm isolated and I lack support.  But if I need my mom, all I have to do is pick up the phone.  I can visit my family and be reminded of the essence of mother that I am trying to create for my daughter.  When my mom needed to create this essence, she could only rely on her memories for inspiration.  Yet, those memories are so bright and filled with love that after all these years of hearing about my Grandma Louise, I can almost remember her myself.

As I look at my sweet daughter's face smiling back at mine, her hair shining in the sunlight streaming through our back windows,  I find that the glow in my heart is warm with gratitude.  Gratitude for motherhood -- for the blessing of being a mom, for knowing the love of my own mom, and for the love of her mom, and her mom, and her mom, all of which have found their way to my own heart as I mother my child.

Friday, April 1, 2011

7 Quick Takes Friday

As always, many thanks to Jen for hosting!

1. A couple months ago I ordered a couple items on mega-clearance with free shipping from Pottery Barn Teen.  'Cause, you know, I'm so young and hip -- you know how in college, undergrads who have been there more than 4 years are sometimes called super-seniors?  Yeah, I'm a super-teen (as in suuuuuuper, at this point).  Anyway, this modest purchase has apparently earned me the opportunity to receive both the Pottery Barn Teen and the regular Pottery Barn catalogs in the mail now.  I was perusing the latter as I ate lunch today and I noticed a page with what I thought was the title "Cheapskate Collection."  That's me!  No, wait...upon second glance, it was actually Chesapeake Collection.  Ah.  Moving on, then.

2. A while ago I wrote a post about Almond Milk, and at the end I said, "I haven't dared to try Silk's chocolate variety yet, but you can rest assured that my curiosity will get the better of me before long and I'll dutifully report back."  Well, I have tried it, and my review is: BUY IT NOW!!!!  It is beyond amazing. (You can get a coupon here!)
[Source][Yes, I edited it]

3. While I'm on the topic of food, I'd like to give a quick plug for cilantro.  I know, many people hate it -- good grief, just google the poor herb and this is the third result!  Evidently, there are chemical and maybe even genetic explanations for why some folks just can't stand the stuff (to the point of vociferously objecting to it), but I'd like the record to show that I love it. 

4. My daughter's favorite toy at the moment is the stereo.  She loves turning the knobs, pressing the buttons, and watching it light up and play music.  Somehow she managed to program it to start up out of nowhere yesterday -- it was off, and she was napping, and I was sitting on the other side of the room, and it turned on and before I knew what was what, I was listening to the beginning of "Agnus Dei" sung by Pavarotti.  I have no idea how she did it.  These tech-savvy kids...

5. I am pleased to announce that I recently purchased a bathing suit, and it is not a monokini.  Instead, I opted for this little number in the "berry" color.  I think it is the first bathing suit I have ever bought that I actually feel pretty (and not mortified) wearing.  

6. Baby girl also got a swimsuit!  I will post a picture of it soon.  Now all we need is a baby pool!  (Oh, and temperatures about 40 degrees warmer.  Sigh.)

7. Guilty pleasure time!  I almost considered not posting this, but if it's that horrifying, consider it an April Fools' Joke.
I enjoy Mean Girls.
So does my husband.
We quote it/reference our favorite lines at least weekly, often daily.
Here's a clip.  (Warning: some coarse language.)

Happy Friday! (Friday, gotta get down on Friday...)