Archive for the ‘My life’ category

unsure, unhappy, unwell? act “as if” everything is ok

May 24th, 2010
There are worse places to be sick than overlooking Vancouver's harbor

There are worse places to be sick than Vancouver

Act “as if.” This is great advice for working women, which I first heard from Jo Miller, a crackerjack executive leadership coach. For instance, if you act as if you’re a leader and see yourself in that role, in turn, colleagues will treat you accordingly.

The ubiquitous “how to be happy” articles always offer a variation of this strategy: Act happy, even if you don’t feel happy, and soon you will be happy.

The Friday before we left for vacation, Carter came home sniffling a little. A four-hour nap on Saturday cured him. Only five kids made it to daycare that Monday, the same day my throat started to get sore. Tuesday, I was home sick. Wednesday, we left for six days in Vancouver.

My strategy: Act as if I weren’t miserably sick.

It’s day 5 in Vancouver, and I wish I could report that I psyched myself into feeling better. I didn’t. I’ve gotten sicker every day. But I’d like to think that I complained less than usual. And despite being sick, I’ve had a great time away with my boys. (I don’t have to act as if I were happy, because I am—except about being sick.) Now, I’ll just have to act as if I’m not guilty of giving the daycare virus back to Carter as I dole out some more children’s ibuprofen.

my mother’s day: trauma! drama! and lack thereof, so do you care?

May 15th, 2010

cardsagainOutside of school assignments decades ago, I rarely wrote about my own life until I took a personal essay class from Adair Lara back in 2001. The biggest “aha!”—realizing that readers get bored if everything is going well. Conflict keeps their attention. You also have to show how your experience illustrates some universal truth without it being a cliché. It’s way harder to do than I imagined. I didn’t even attempt it again for years.

Now, I’m writing a blog, where the whole point is to share something personal that I hope will be of value and interest to other people. While I’ve been microblogging on Twitter (bakingwithc) lately, this is the longest I’ve gone without updating the blog. Part of it is I’m a perfectionist when it comes to writing. I just can’t dash out a blog and hit “publish.” To me, blogs are personal essays, so I hesitate to write unless I can deliver a fully-formed essay. (I’ve also been trading writing time for sleeping, but that’s a different day’s topic.)

Which is a very long way to get around to talking about Mothers’ Day, because mine was so nice.

Carter, who was supposedly going to let me sleep in, woke me up around 6 am, because he couldn’t wait to give me my cards. The only problem was he wanted to know where they were. I realize I’m his early-morning go-to guy, but this was one question I could not answer. Jeff got a rare wake-up call, followed by whispering.

The card that Carter made for me at daycare had his handprint on one side and flowers he drew on the other side. He also got me a baby pink Hallmark card pink decorated with chiffon ribbons and a gold seal. “Mommy, I know the bad guys took your jewelry and made you sad, so I got you this card that has jewelry on it to help you feel better.” Put that together with hand-drawn hearts and a signature with both his first and last name on the inside and who wouldn’t melt? (See it’s just not tension-filled essay material.)

Then miracle of miracles, Carter let me sleep some until Jeff brought me breakfast in bed: Mickey Mouse pancakes, grapefruit, cheesy scrambled eggs, and Whitman’s dark chocolate sampler. No complaints there.

And that’s not all! I went to yoga, and my shoulder didn’t hurt! (Thank you, thank you, Dr. George Thabit for ending my year and a half of pain with one shot.)

That’s still not all. I went to hear Anna Quindlen speak. I’m so in love, that’s whole other blog topic.

And to top it off, Carter insisted we go to Dave and Busters because that’s where we went last year. Not my scene, but after dinner, we stopped by Forever 21, a new store to me. Carter picked out an adorable, albeit short, blue polka-dot dress for me. I wore it with skinny jeans to work on Monday and got an unusual number of compliments. (This reminded me of Anna’s comment about how this is the first generation of mothers to dress so much like their daughters.)

So no drama, just a really nice day.

If stuck with me this far, despite the lack of conflict, thank you. I owe you a pithy wrap-up that ties my Mother’s Day to a universally understood experience. But I’m not coming up with it. So, instead, I’ll simply sign off by sending my best wishes to all mothers out there. I hope you, too, had a wonderful day.

first time at the ballet: skipped death by hanging, Sinatra gets rave reviews

March 1st, 2010

“Well, there’s death by hanging—depends on how you feel about that.”

At will-call, the guy handed me my half-price tickets (thank you again, Google) and answered by question about whether “Medea,” one of the three Smuin Ballet dances, would be scary.

From third grade through college, being a dancer was a huge part of my identity. I quit before I went to grad school. This was the right decision at the time, but I’ve missed dancing ever since.

I continued to attend a lot of dance performances, though. Pre-motherhood, I used to go to dance concerts around the Bay Area all the time. I had an Oakland Ballet subscription and a partial San Francisco Ballet one. I’d even go over to Berkeley to see Mark Morris. Part of my strategy to remain sane post-motherhood involves cutting way back on anything extra, including seeing live performances.

Now that Carter is more independent, I’m starting (just starting) to get over my guilt of not being with him during awake, nonwork hours. Of course, he doesn’t care. When I saw that Smuin Ballet was performing its winter program in Mountain View this weekend. I decided to try to go, as long as I could get cheap seats. (Michael Smuin was the former artistic director of the SF Ballet and a true showman. I remember seeing his “To the Beatles,” complete with motorcycle on stage, when I was a kid.) The only snag now: I didn’t know who would go with me.

“I’ll go with you, Mommy,” Carter said when he heard that. He’s been to one kid’s play and one kid’s dance performance and had decidedly mixed success sitting still and being quiet. Needless to say, I was hesitant to take him to a real ballet performance. I got tickets on the farthest side of the front row in the balcony, so we could scoot out immediately and unobtrusively at any sign on trouble.

He was an angel.

He was just as entranced as I was with the first piece, “Soon These Two Worlds,” a contemporary ballet with colorful costumes, from resident choreographer, Amy Seiwert.

We skipped Medea and its accompanying hangings, which gave Carter first intermission + 20 minutes + second intermission outside. He mostly danced around a fountain, for an hour before we went back in to see Smuin’s “Fly Me to the Moon.” (My parents introduced us six kids to the symphony with half of a concert, followed by ice cream out. Going was a pretty big deal: one parent would take one child at a time.)

“When Sinatra sings, you naturally want to dance,” Smuin said. Apparently Carter is also a fan of Frank’s: he said he liked this ballet better than the first, which was my favorite, “because it had funner music.” He also sat still and quietly watched from lights down to lights up—happy as could be.

Maybe Carter will follow in my footsteps. He wants me to find him a dance class. If nothing else, I have a new companion as I stick my toes back into the dance world.

“I’m doing the best I can”—excuse or survival tactic?

February 14th, 2010

Is saying “I’m doing the best I can”:

A) Giving up
B) Coping
C) My 2009 mantra
D) All of the above

Does the answer depend on whether I say it aloud or just to myself? I confess it was my silent mantra last year, but I’ve found myself saying it lately with some frequency.

Excuse or survival tactic? Discuss among yourself.

anxiously awaiting Christmas cupcakes part 2, or just anxious?

January 23rd, 2010

xmas 1xmas 2Sorry for the weeks-long break between part 1 and part 2 of Christmas cupcakes. No doubt you’ve been anxiously awaiting what now sounds like old news. Anxious just happens to be how I’ve been feeling too much since the break-in. And it really annoys me that not only did the thieves take things dear to me but they’ve also taken away my peace of mind—along with too much of my ability to get things done, like blogging.

My New Year’s strategy was to combat this. “Just show up,” I told myself. So where have I been? Apparently a little lost. No GPS. No Google Map directions. Dead cell-phone battery. Not even a paper map. (Remember those—you can still get them free from AAA.) I know friends and family are nearby, and I have to start somewhere. So here I am. We’ll have to see how well my own sense of direction serves me.

Back to Christmas dinner: Remember that we have pumpkin–chocolate chip cupcakes (really muffins, but let’s not quibble about details). We’ll pick up with making cream cheese frosting and Carter’s reminding me “I can do it myself, Mommy” (no doubt thinking “Thank you very much”). Jeff is much better than I am about encouraging Carter to do things for himself. It’s something I need to think of and do more often, so I handed over the electric handheld mixer. And Carter mixed the frosting.

Now comes Carter’s favorite part: red sprinkles. He did real-time decorating, taking the bowl of frosting and assorted red and green sprinkling options to the table, and custom topping a cupcake for each of us: Grandpa, Aunt Janet, Daddy, and Mommy.

I hope your holidays were as sweet and thoughtful as was my cupcake, and I will be showing up here again. No need to wait anxiously.

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 ounces cream cheese (1 package), room temperature
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Add powdered sugar and vanilla, and beat to blend.

sweets post-holiday questions

January 6th, 2010

1) Why did Santa stuff my stocking up with every variation of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (I highly recommend the new Select Clusters) and bring me a Wii Fit, which that says I should lose 5 pounds? Not that I don’t want and appreciate all of the above.

2) Can I legitimately call myself a baker if I didn’t bake a single Christmas cookie? I kept (keep) meaning to. I even bought cookie cutters over Thanksgiving weekend.  Considering question #1, though, maybe it’s better that I didn’t…

Carter: “Mommy, We forgot to put out milk and cookies for Santa!” We won’t be skipping baking cookies next year.

remember me? catching up

January 3rd, 2010

treenew cousins

Hello, Blog, My Old Friend. It’s been too long. It’s not that I haven’t thought about writing, just like I think about baking and exercising. Doing, however, is a whole different thing than thinking about. Starting is the hardest part. And, I know, when I show up, the rest takes care of itself. (I’ve been trying to say and—not but—a brainstorming lesson learned at Stanford.)

Whether blogging, baking, or exercising, I resolve to show up more this year. And getting more organized is always on my list. Started out on the right foot (and left) today: yoga class at the Y this morning and Wii Fit (thank you, Santa!) this afternoon. If Wii Yoga classifies me as an “amateur,” what does it call people who haven’t taken a dozen years of yoga classes? At least, I bowled a 181 (Carter had a 183) and lowered my WiiFit age to 33, down from 56 (!) on Christmas. Hope I can keep it up better than all the other people with good intentions who will pack the Y this month.

karateDecember was busy. We went to Charlotte to meet my newest niece and nephew (now 6 months old); Carter and their 5-year-old brother, Conor, adore each other and had a blast. Carter earned his green belt in karate. He picked out a “Carter-size” tree (almost 4 feet tall) at Target and waited to trim it with my father- and sister-in-law, who came for Christmas. A lot of presents for Carter fit under that little tree. Jeff and I want to play with his new toys—Lincoln Logs,  Lego helicopter transporter, etc.

Continuing a bit of an unlucky streak, three UPS packages were stolen from our front porch, so having a Crayola Glow Station from Santa under the tree  required a Christmas Eve dash to Target. Also taken: a smoked turkey from Jeff’s dad, a rocket place mat that says “Daddy,” and another (still a surprise) present for Jeff. Also, unfortunately, Carter came down with pneumonia during a quick post-Christmas trip to visit my family in Illinois. He’s recovering well, and needless to say, it’s good to be home for a quiet weekend before it’s back to the normal weekday commute-work-daycare routine come Monday.

I look forward to 2010 being a better year, and I wish you and yours a happy, healthy new decade.

3 things to do before your house gets broken into

October 27th, 2009

Since having our house broken into, I’ve been evangelizing three things: back up computers offsite, buy replacement-value insurance, and make a household inventory. I hope your home is never broken into, but if it is, too, life will be a little easier if you’ve done these things.

We all know that we should back up our computers, but not all of us do it. I’ve been guilty of it myself more often than not. However, thanks to my husband, I had two backups, using Apple’s Time Capsule and CrashPlan’s family unlimited plan ($5/month)—so I didn’t lose data when my computer was stolen. However, I also got lucky. The people who broke into our house didn’t take the Time Capsule or the Apple Mini with my CrashPlan backup. If they had, I would have been screwed. (My Carbon Copy Cloner backup to an external hard drive, which Jeff gave me for backing up, was months out of date. When the software got wonky, I gave up in frustration. This is what I typically when I have computer problems, much to both our frustration.)

Now I’m preaching offsite backup. My Mozy online backup (2GB free) was incomplete and out of date. I was  also months behind in uploading my photos to SmugMug. (I pay for this service, which retains images at full size. If you want to join, the referral code qq2upFAqbRWVc will give you a $5 discount.) We’ve also bought some 1.5TB SATI drives, so we can take backups to work.

Something else I knew I was supposed to do and never bothered to do: Walk around the house with a digital camera or camcorder and take pictures of everything. Because I never got around to doing a household inventory, I doubt we’ll ever know everything that’s missing.

One thing I got right: We have replacment-value renters’ insurance and had a rider for my wedding and engagement rings (the main policy covers only $1,000 of jewelry) with USAA. If you have a parent who served in the military, you’re eligible to join this financial services organization, and I highly recommend that you do. We also have car insurance through USAA. Over the past eight years, I’ve been in two car accidents and our house has been broken into twice. Each time, USAA has been great. (Because neither accident was my fault, I’ve unfortunately had to deal with other insurance companies, which has not been as pleasant). USAA already paid me for my rings, but as I told the rep, I’ll gladly give the money back if my rings are recovered—about a one in a million chance.

Out of all of this, if you do nothing else, please, please back up your computer. Out of all the wonderful things my husband does for me, at the moment when I heard my laptop was gone, I was most grateful that getting me to back up my computer was one of them.

having our house broken into

October 26th, 2009

In broad daylight, on the corner of two busy streets, our house was broken into three weeks ago. The week after the break-in, the other executive editor in my department was mugged at gunpoint outside her house. This is my first blog since.

I wish I could report that I’ve been writing and baking, but instead I’ve been watching too much TV and eating too sugar, in the form of candy and readymade desserts, a la Marie Callendar. Yesterday, I went back to yoga class. Today, I made blueberry pancakes, rode my bike to the park with Carter, took a nap, and now I’m blogging after midnight, so it’s my first more normal weekend.

The break-in happened the first day back at work after vacation.  I knew it was bad news when Jeff called, rather than IM’ing, me: “We’re been robbed,” he said. “Again.” (A guy broke into our house eight years ago. He’s doing 25 to life, but that’s another story.)

Jeff came home for lunch and found a broken window and a ransacked house. The only lucky thing was timing. No one was home, Jeff didn’t walk in on them, and we had the entire afternoon (which we needed) to clean up, so when Carter came home, things looked as normal as possible. We told Carter simply that some bad guys took some of our stuff and the police came to help, and he’s mostly taking it in stride.

They used our tools to take down the big-screen TV, my kitchen stool to pick and chose from what few wine and alcohol bottles we had on top the refrigerator, and our duffle bags, still out from vacation, to cart stuff away.

The electronics, including three laptops and monitors, can be replaced. What can’t: my jewelry, including my engagement and wedding rings, which were home because they needed to be repaired.

I use my grandmother’s sewing cabinet as a bedside table, and I kept the jewelry I wear in the top two drawers, each about a foot square and a few inches deep. They didn’t just take the jewelry—they took the drawers—along with a jewelry box full of childhood keepsakes, like the charms I collected when my family went camping in Europe in 1975.

Aside from my wedding ring set with my grandmother’s diamond, no individual piece of jewelry had any monetary worth to speak of; it was all sentimental: my grandmother’s crystal beads, my mom’s gold heart locket my great aunt gave her for her first communion, the silver bangle bracelets my mom got in Acapulco on her honeymoon, the sapphire earrings Jeff gave me, the earrings our friend made me as a wedding present…most of my jewelry was gifts from friends and family, all with their own stories.

Their loss is also a story now. I just wish it weren’t mine.

More thoughts to come.

“guilty mommy” gets attention

September 19th, 2009

Yesterday’s blog about mommy guilt received the swiftest and most responses (on the blog and on my Facebook page) to anything that I’ve written so far. (I know, I know; baking brownies just doesn’t stir emotions in the same way.)

If you haven’t read the book I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids, I recommend that you do. It’s a super fast read, with lots of insight, humor, and advice packed in. The authors, Trisha Ashworth and Amy Nobile, start by fessing up to how they feel. See if any of these ring true:

-“As mothers, we put way too much pressure on ourselves.” [agree]
-“We have an unrealistic image of what a ‘good’ mom is.” [agree]
-“We secretly compare ourselves to other moms, who seem to have it all together.” [not so much—I admire and depend on lots of moms]
-We think we need to be perfect all the time. [agree]
-We feel alone. [sometimes]
-Our lives feel out of balance.” [sometimes]

Then the authors interviewed a lot of moms who (surprise!) feel the same way.

Spoiler alert! To summarize, for those who don’t read the book, the authors’ advice boils down to: realign your expectations of yourself as a parent. Consider if your expectations make sense and whether they make you and your family happy. Just doing this, they say, is the key to letting go of guilt and judgment—and to loving being a mom as much as you love your kids.

I think an equally important takeaway is their advice for moms to talk honestly to each other and to support each other.

I wouldn’t have survived motherhood thus far if it weren’t for other moms. It was thanks to my friends and sisters that I was eventually able to breastfeed Carter, after doctors and lactation consultants had long given up on me. (Carter was 9 weeks old the first day I was able to exclusively breastfeed him. He then nursed until he weaned himself at 2 1/2 years old.) When Carter was an infant, I would email my weekly new mommies’ group, which still gets together, in the middle of the night and get a response. Carter broke his leg when he was 3, and a mom I’d never met from the Palo Alto Menlo Park Parents’ Club, which has thousands of members, lent me her copy of Jessica’s X-Ray. I could go on and on. Suffice it to say, I am filled with gratitude for all that other moms have done for me.

In the end, I don’t think “realigning expectations” will ever assuage all my guilt. But support from other moms? Now, that gets results.