Thursday, May 27, 2010

I recommend the Hawaiian Catfish Platter

We spend as many free weekends as we can at the lake.  Since there are a staggering 6736 lakes in the great state of Texas, I can see why you might wonder, Which lake, Sarah?  I'm talking about the lake, my lake.  Lake Cypress Springs.  East Texas, y'all.  We have a small cabin out there that we like to escape to whenever possible. At Lake Cypress Springs, there are tall pine trees, lapping waters, wildflowers, birds aplenty, and the serene sounds of nature. I can see Chris’ shoulders visibly relax in the car when we get within twenty miles of our little idyllic retreat.

It's a small little lake house and is pretty remote by Dallas standards. You could even say we are roughing it:  no, I repeat, no internet or cell phone service. Chris and I like to say we are off the grid when we go out there, and it really feels like it.  I mean, I got five bars of cell reception 1600 feet below sea level in Israel at the Dead Sea, and I can’t get it 100 miles outside of Dallas.

Because of that, it's an admittedly slower paced lifestyle out there.  One of these days, I'm going to write a travel guide to Lake Cypress Springs.  This is how it might read: 

On a map, the lake is in the town of Scroggins.  (When I say "town", you really need to use your imagination.  It consists of:  a post office, railroad tracks, and a Texaco.  That is not a typo - that's the end of the sentence.  A post office and a gas station.  Period.  Straight out of a Thornton Wilder play, people).  It has a population of 125, give or take the occasional farming equipment casualty, known in East Texas as, "natural causes".  It was established in 1850 and named after a local sawmill operator named Milt Scroggins. 

Here is an average Friday night out in Scroggins.  (For your information, Friday nights in Scroggins are a big deal).  There is a bluegrass band that plays at one of the local hotspots.  Hotspots, you ask?  When you have a choice between a gas station and a post office, which one is "hotter"?  Duh.  That's easy.  The Texaco, of course.  Note:  this is not to be missed! Whatever your Friday night plans are in E-Tex or western Louisiana, cancel them immediately and head on over to the Scroggins Texaco to immerse yourself in the local culture. It is an experience like no other.

So, Bluegrass band.  All the excitement begins about 5:30 pm.  They clear the bags of feed out of one corner (oh, did I mention that the gas station doubles as a feed-n-seed?) and the ensemble tunes up their instruments, which consist of:  a banjo, a guitar (please pronounce GIT-ar when you are in East Texas), a washboard (nope, not kidding), a keyboard, and a guitjo -  which, news to me, is the byproduct of the marriage between a banjo and a guitar.  Really. 

The live music begins.  One of the bandmembers - I kid you not - keeps his lit cigarette wedged in one of the gaps between his teeth.  However, as we all know, appearances aren't everything, and this band actually plays excellent music.  After awhile, you stop being distracted by the inch of ash on the fire hazard tar stick dangling from his lips which could ignite the multiple poorly packaged bags of feed at any second and we all might have to perish in a gas station, and you really get into the great music.   There's even dancing.  In a Texaco.  You do-si-do clockwise in circles around the cash register counter in the center of the store.  Beware the errant discount pocketknife, lotto card, can of potted meat, or prepackaged cherry pie, lest you lose your footing on the dance floor.  Mayhem.

Hungry?  Well, lucky for you, the people running this joint are known for their fried catfish platter.  It is served with sliced onions, tomatoes, and cornbread.  The catfish, I assume, are locally obtained from the nearby lake, but as a person who frolics frequently in said lake, I prefer to imagine the catfish do not inhabit our waters and are instead imported from far distant places, say, Hawaii.  Yeah, Hawaiian catfish.  Yum.  For dessert, choose from a number of fresh homemade pies.  I'll even let you in on a secret:  the coconut cream pie is da bomb.

If you play your cards right, the local celebrity, Miss Wooly Worm Festival 2009 will be your server and will take pictures with you to commemorate your visit.

Now, my description of the happening nightlife at the Texaco in Scroggins may sound somewhat satirical in its content.  But I promise, I promise, I am not mocking.  No mocking.  I do not mock.  In fact, I am very proud of the East Texas culture, and would recommend to anyone to please, please visit this place and bite off a slice of this Americana.  Experience for yourself a living, breathing, chain-smoking, guitjo-playing John Cougar Mellencamp song.  You will not regret it. 

Truly, though, what I want my take-home message in my hypothetical travel guide to be is, when you turn to the ScrogginsSlashLake Cypress Springs chapter (page, paragraph, blurb, sentence), I want you to read this:  It is a place  with some eccentricities, yes.  But also a place where my daughter can run barefoot through the grass and collect fireflies. She can look at minnows in a jar, get butterflies in her stomach swinging from the tree swing, swim with her cousins, jump off the dock with the dogs, run through the sprinklers, catch tadpoles in her net, nap in the hammock, rake leaves with her Mimi, pick wildflowers for the table, eat picnic lunches on the porch and kick what drops on the floor and doesn't get gobbled up by Cooper between the floorboards, sleep with the windows open, make s’mores by the bonfire, grow fresh tomatoes, sing songs with her beloved grandfather as he strums his banjo, and squaredance with her daddy across the dusty floor of a Texaco.

And all of this in one day. 

No wonder the kids sleep so well here.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Buddha Jerry was right

The way I see it, the world is divided into two kinds of people:  those who love dogs, and the crazies.  My husband falls into the second category (No disrespect, Honey, but really?  Do I lie?).  People either love those sweet, loyal, lovable, cuddly, entertaining companions, or they don't, the latter of which I regard to be, quite possibly, a considerable character flaw. 

When Chris and I first met, I felt like there were some very important things he needed to know about me.  Number One, I love Jesus.  Number Two, I love my family.  Number Three, I am totally devoted to, I mean I absolutely adore, we're talking I would do anything for... Cooper.  My dog.

Chris was really happy about the God and family revelations.

He was not so jazzed about my allegiance to the dog. 

Cooper, you have to understand, is no average dog.  He is a massive, beautiful, big-hearted, easygoing, demonstrative, enormous, and very (at times inappropriately, I admit) affectionate yellow lab.  By demonstrative and affectionate, I mean he really likes to show you how much he cares.  By massive and enormous, I mean at his peak weight, he was 120 pounds.  Huge.  And loving.  And huge. 

For years, my parents called Cooper my guardian angel.  He protected me on my long runs early in the morning.  He scared away would-be intruders with a mere growl from his considerable throat.  He made me laugh.  He laid his abundant head in my lap while I cried.  He joyfully welcomed me home at the end of a long day by charging around the perimeter of my house, again and again.  And honestly, he gave me a reason to get out of bed on those days when I'd rather pull the covers over my head and retreat from the world. 

As perfect as Chris was when we met (and still is!  Awww...), he was unable to hide his distaste for all things canine, causing me countless hours of heartbreaking indecision.  (He couldn't be The One if he didn't love my dog, right?  Cooper and I , we're a package deal!  I've been in a longer relationship with the dog than the boy.  A soul mate would love my dog!)  I weighed out Risk versus Reward in both cases, and some days, Man won.  Other days, Dog won.  You can see my conundrum.  My thoughts, oh, how they roiled.  Roiled. 

Now, I will freely admit, the line between master and dog became a little blurred for me sometimes. Did I let him sleep on my bed?  Yes.  Yes, I did.  Did I make him wear bunny ears and pose for Easter pictures with a basket?  Umm, I think so.  Did I let him curl up on the couch with me?  Yeah, that too.  Did I have birthday parties for him every year and make him wear hats and invite the neighborhood dog friends?  Possibly.  Did I make him dress up for Halloween to answer the door?  I might have, once or twice.  Did I put Ranch dressing on his dogfood so it would taste better?  I can neither confirm nor deny.  (Wouldn't I make a good politician?).  It is for these reasons that I am certain Cooper was T-H-R-I-L-L-E-D when Aria and Caroline came along, to whom I could finally redirect my predilection for costumes and holiday attire.

But, for Chris, I think the worst offense was a case of existential badminton.  It took place on a glowing, 107-degree summer day when he was over at my place graciously mowing my lawn while I was at work.  Wiping sweat from his brow, he looked longingly into my air-conditioned home, hoping for some relief by proxy.  Instead, there was Cooper, lying on the couch in the cool living room, watching Chris push the mower back and forth in the sweltering sun, with the unruffled detachment of one watching a tennis match on TV, vascillating that big head, back and forth, back and forth, as he watched.  Yawn.  Watch.  Yawn.  Watch.

Well, that did it!  Chris had had it.  No more of that durn dog.  With all that yawning and watching, Cooper had inadvertently drawn a proverbial line in the sand.  Somebody was going to go.  And now, my husband-to-be was going to issue the most terrible of all ultimatums:   Him or The Dog. 

Unbeknownst to either of us at the time, both Chris' parents and my own parents had decided to take our plight to upper management. 

Yep, you got it.  We made the Prayer Chain. 

From devout souls across the country, God was hearing appeals on behalf of the weak, the forlorn, the sick, the lost, and the... dog?

By the time the dog/man acrimony had reached this point, Chris and I were engaged, and had graduated to our requisite premarital counseling.  I remember meeting with Martha Thorson, the wonderful pastor who married us, and she asked us, "So what do you think is the biggest problem in your relationship?"  Without hesitation, we both cry out, "The dog!"  We then proceeded to each fervently share with her our side of the story.  She listened without judgment, studied us for a moment - probably trying to guage whether or not this was some type of a bizarre preacher practical joke - and then said calmly, "Sarah.  Chris.  If the dog is the worst problem you have with each other, you two are going to be just fine".

From your lips to God's ears, Martha.

Fortunately for me, the Prayer Chain actually worked.  I never had to choose between the love of my life and Chris.  (Kidding!)  I never had to choose between man or dog.  We did, however, have to make a few changes at our house.  Chris agreed to tolerate Cooper, so long as I didn't rub his nose in it.  (Can you blame me?  The dog metaphors are just too easy.)  That meant no more dog sleeping on the furniture, much more time for Cooper spent outside, and no more ranch dressing (sorry buddy, I tried).  Gradually, I began to notice a more congenial relationship developing between husband and dog.  In fact, Chris was even beginning to like him!  Which is a good thing, because we've since adopted Cooper's understudy, Lexi. 

To this day, people will come up to me occasionally in the halls of the church and ask me how Cooper is.  People who prayed for our marriage to survive the dog.  I'm telling y'all, the Prayer Chain works.  Never doubt the power of the Prayer Chain.  Never.  The two main men in my life, Cooper and Chris, can both attest to it.

Cooper is now twelve. Which is 84 in dog years. Age has dulled his vigorous doggie jubilance a bit. We can't go on long runs like we used to. He wouldn't know a would-be intruder if it yanked on his tail. Yes, he's mostly deaf by now. He couldn't jump up onto the furniture these days to save his own life. And, he did lose some weight once I removed the ranch dressing from his diet. But he still has the same big, beautiful, loyal heart I've adored since the first moment I met him. And he is still my guardian angel.

A very wise man - (a man who would probably be my Buddha if I believed in Buddhas, which I do not) - Jerry Seinfeld,  once said, if there was life on other planets, and they studied the culture of our earth to learn about humans, this is what they would discover:  dogs rule our planet.  They stay home and sleep 23 hours a day while we go to work to pay their bills.  We provide their meals, their water, their housing.  They get to potty wherever they want.  And they get to lead us around on leashes three (or more, like in Winnie's case) times a day. 

I agree with you, Buddha Jerry, dogs rule.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Big M

You don't have to tell me.  I know I've been looking a little peaked lately.  The bags under my eyes have grown significantly larger and more obvious.  The crow's feet have grown into dinosaur footprints.  And the two lines on my forehead between my eyes - the ones my yoga teacher tried to convince me represented my wisdom - well, honey, I must be one of the smartest people in Texas, 'cause they are now cavernous folds.

I am sure that part of it is due to the box I now have to check at the doctor's office, the 35-40 box, representing the downhill age slope I am on, my uncooperative body barrelling without permission toward that big birthday everyone tells me is "the new 20" but I don't believe them.  In neonatal nursing, I'm not kidding about this, one of the diagnosis criteria that puts a baby at risk for problems is when the mother is "AMA", or Advanced Maternal Age.  I now realize why there are so many warnings attached to the AMA label:  I actually groan now when I get up off the floor after playing with the kids. 

Some of it is likely due to the jolt my body got after going from thirty-sumpin' years of ten hours of sleep a night and napping at leisure to now having to set my alarm to get up before my kids at an hour only college students and Starbucks employees are awake so I can run, check email, clean the house, and spend time with my Lord in some peace and stinkin' quiet, thank you very much.

Yeah, I get it.  I'm tired.  I look tired.  I feel tired.  I'm TARD. 

The other day, I was shopping for some Mother's Day gifts with Caroline.  We were zipping through Neiman's (really, I was just cutting through to get to the other stores, I swear).  It was one of those Pop In/Grab Something/Pop Back Out kind of shopping trips - not the kind I like at all, I like to browse -but Caroline was having none of it.  She was hollering at the top of her lungs.  I don't know if you have ever spent any time in  Neiman Marcus, but let me tell you, it's not the type of place that has a lot of screaming, hollering children.  It's more of the hushed tones kind of store -- sshhh... keep your voice down... you mustn't upset the couture.  Seven-month-olds, I have since learned, don't really care much about couture.  Or the angry stares of the well-adorned women trying to procure the couture.  I was so mortified and so exhausted by that time, I just wanted to lay down and take a big ol' nap.  As it was, I was trying unsuccessfully to maneuver my stroller through the serenity that is Neiman's as carefully and as discreetly as is possible with a very vocal child as its passenger, when out of nowhere this wonderful woman appeared and offered me... nectar of the gods.  "Honey.  You look like you could use some champagne", the angel of mercy whispered knowingly. 

Now, before the Two, I tell you I would have accepted her offer without reservation, and I would have slurped that champagne down before that saint could have even blinked her kindly eyes.  But, since things have changed and I am not in that champagne-slurping-at-the-mall place in my life anymore, this is what I said.  "Yes!  I would love some!  But no, really, I'm going to pick up my daughter at preschool.  I can't.  I mean, I shouldn't."  Angel smiled at me, a bright, radiant, pious smile, and said, "No worries, hon.  It's in a can.  You can take it with you and drink it later", nodding to the baby, "but I sure do think you need some".  And then she pressed it into my hand.  Nirvana in a can.  Who knew they made champagne, in a can?  It even has an attached straw for convenience!  Could I love it any more? 

Incidentally, I didn't drink it.  It's sitting in a place of honor in my fridge like the Holy Grail, waiting for just the right moment, a time when I might really need it.

But maybe I should have chugged it on the spot and asked Angel for some back-up.  Because later that week, my husband gave me the mother of all insults.

Chris asked me if I was going through menopause.

See, I'd been having some, um, temperature changes lately.  Hot flashes.  The Oh Mercy, sweltering, sizzling, oppressive, wake me, and therefore Chris, up in the middle of the night as I fumble in the dark for the fan/thermostat/water because ohmagosh-I'm-on-fire kind of hot flashes.  Uh-huh.  Fun times at our house after dark. 

Hence the menopause question from my husband. 

MEN-O-PAUSE.  The Big M.  Excuse me?  As in, the thing that happens to grannies?  I can't be going through menopause.  Aren't I too young?  My parents still do Santa Clause for me.  Doesn't that mean anything?  It can't be.  No.  No, no, noooooooooooooooooo.  Unless?  Could it be?

I decided to do a little research on it and consult my doctor.  I'm using my finger quotes when I say, "My Doctor".  Paging Doctor Google.  Oh, come on!  Like you've never done it?  You know Google's the first place you go when you have a medical question.  I admit it.  I consult Dr. Google regularly, probably three times a week at the very least.  If you look up the history on my computer, here is a sampling of the medical issues I've googled in the last six months:

Tylenol recall
How much should my baby be eating?
Why does my dog stink?
Home remedies for poison ivy
Signs and symptoms of tuberculosis (see the above-referenced hot flashes)
What does a spider bite look like?
When do my baby's teeth come in?
Dallas-area plastic surgeons (that was a weak moment after examining my wrinkles in a close-up mirror)
Signs of a stroke

And these are just the medical questions.  I can't even list the number of inane things I've queried Dr Google about since we were introduced.  So it was only natural that I'd consult Dr. Google about Chris' insulting yet curiously thought-provoking question. 

Dr. Google, thorough as he undoubtedly is, provided me with a very meticulous questionnaire about my symptoms.  This, the good doctor informed me, will accurately diagnose the problem.  All I had to do was check yes or no in the little box to the right of the statement.  If I answer yes to any of these questions, well then, I need to get myself to my approved healthcare provider post haste:

I feel very tired, especially in the afternoons (yes)
I have trouble sleeping - falling asleep, staying asleep  (yes)
I have hot flashes or night sweats  (yes)
I am forgetful or absentminded  (yes, I think?)
I experience bloating, gas, or bouts of diarhea  (do I have to answer this one on my blog?)
I crave sweets, carbs, or alcohol  (um... see champagne story above)
I sometimes feel overwhelmed, confused or just not myself  (duh)
I feel stiff or achy in my joints, especially in the morning  (yes)

After completing my questionnaire, Dr. Google told me I had a SEVERE case - he actually used that word - of menopause. 

Hmmm.... unconvinced, I gave my husband the same survey.  Guess what?  He has menopause too!  An even worse case than mine.  Can you believe it?  What are the odds?  My twelve-year-old dog has it as well.  And sometimes even my three-year-old daughter too.  Who would have thought?  Oh, and Dr. Google?  You also just described every parent of young children in America, male and female. 

The moral of this story:  Don't believe everything you read on google.

Those night sweats?  Hormonal, yes, but not menopause.  Dr. Google, you've finally failed me.  But all is forgiven.  After all, I've got Nirvana in a can with a straw in my fridge.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sunday, May 16, 2010

I'm a Martha

My conscience has been assaulted lately by a terrible case of WMG:  Working Mom's Guilt.  It's never been this bad before, but now that Aria is old enough to process my absence and Caroline is changing by the minute, it's beginning to really get to me. 

For instance, this is how our phone conversation went today:

Aria:  "Hi Mommy!"
Me:  "Hi Baby!"
Aria:  "Are you at work, Mommy?"
Me:  "I am, honey.  What are you doing?" 
Aria:  "Did you eat your salad, Mommy?" 
Me:  "Not yet.  I'm having it for dinner.  Are you having a good day?"
Aria:  "Mommy, are you taking care of babies?"
Me:  "Yes, I am."
Aria:  "But you have babies at home.  Why you go to work to take care of other babies?" 
Me:  Argh.  "Well, they are sick, honey, and they need special people who know how to take care of them".
Aria:  "Okay, Mommy.  Ima go in my car to see you and your babies".
Me:  "Honey, you can't see my babies at work, they are too sick".
Aria:  "Oh.  Okay.  Ima go play bubbles now". 

(For my Carolina kin, I'd like to point out a couple of things here about my daughter that give me great pride:  She pronounces the word baby as "bye-bee".  And when she says milk, it comes out as two syllables, "mee-yulk".  Just so you know.  I am making sure to raise her with a proper southern accent, so I can do y'all proud).

So back to the guilt. 

Don't feel too sorry for me.  I really don't have a whole lot to complain about.  I work one day a week, and my wonderful Chris stays home on the day I have to be gone so our girls never have to darken the doors of a daycare.  We know we have it good. 

So why do I feel so bad?

I guess I want it both ways.  The best of both worlds.  I want to be home with my babies, but I also want an identity.  I want to be smart and independent and show them what it means to be a woman in a predominantly man's world, while still always being nearby to wipe a nose or kiss a boo-boo. 

This is what happened recently.  Caroline started crawling.  At six months old.  Lemmetellya, I was oh-so-not-prepared for the crawling.  Where did my baby go?  My little bitty sack o' sugar?  She's beginning to turn into a real little person and I am so terrified of missing a mili-second of one of those milestones. 

I tearfully confessed my feelings to Chris late the other  night, and he gently reminded me of the whole year 2009.  Right.  How could I forget 2009?  The year my life changed so drastically and inalterably, I began wearing my heart on the outside of my body.  The year I became a mom.  Twice. 

Yes that, he reminded me, but also, the collective 160 days I spent at home last year.  You see, last year in 2009, I was actually blessed with 5 months of maternity leave.  I had two months when Aria came home and three months when Caroline came home, which meant I worked, like, half a year last year.  And when I finally did go back to work, while my heart squeezed so tight at the thought of missing my babies all day, I found, much to my surprise, that I actually liked the feeling it gave me to be back doing something I love.  I enjoyed being needed by someone other than my eight pound ball of rage - oops, I mean, Caroline.  I felt empowered, vital, significant.

Then there's the other thing.  In this same teary conversation where I debated both sides of the WMG coin very equitably, Chris pointed out that what's probably really at the root of all this guilt I profess to be feeling is my No-one-can-do-it-as-well-as-I-can complex.  My what?  Moi?? 

Admittedly, yes, I might have a touch of that. 

Oh, who are we kidding here?  I have a raging case of it!  I have somehow internally convinced myself that my family as we know it would simply cease to exist were it not for me obsessively: cleaning the kitchen, dressing my girls in matching oh-so-cute outfits (with bows!), picking out teacher gifts, spraying on bug repellent, making their pediatrician appointments, preparing their meals, addressing birthday invitations, laundering and ironing said oh-so-cute outfits, fixing lunches and bottles, diapering their little behinds, wiping their hands with antibacterial soap, lathering on the sunscreen, and shall I go on?  Who, I mean, who is going to scour the floors for the errant grape/penny/raisin/goldfish that has suddenly, in the last two weeks, become a choking-hazard death trap spelling almost certain doom for my now-mobile seven-month-old?  Who?  And who will be there to extricate said threat from her very small but very curious mouth?  Who?  And the sharp edges?  Who is going to protect my perfect little daughters from all the sharp edges in life?  Don't even get me started on the sharp edges. 

In other words, I'm a Martha. 

Get thee to a Bible and read Luke 10.  I, friends, am not a Mary.  I want to be a Mary.  I admire Mary.  I want to relax at the feet of Jesus and enjoy the party, but then?  Who would take care of the guests?  Martha, that's who.  Mary's sister.  Can't you just see her?  Bustling around after all those disciples, wringing her dishtowel, picking up their fish bones and olive pits, and tsk-tsk'ing them under her breath while, the whole time, she's missing out on The Lord Jesus Himself, sitting right there in her parlor telling one of His parables, and probably even a joke or two.  Sad but true, I am a Martha.

So, anyway, back to the conversation with Chris. My husband, my dear, dear husband, shakes his head and suggests to me, as kindly as one can make something like this sound, "Sarah, honey. Maybe you need to go to work more often. You put more pressure on yourself at home being a mom than you do at work saving babies".

Ouch.  Could he be right?  Is my Martha-ness usurping my ability to enjoy life with my family?  And did my husband just suggest that I be gone... more?  Is this really guilt I'm feeling, or just fear because I'm away from them, that I can't control their environment and protect them from sharp edges of life?   
As is obvious to everyone, but most especially to me, my husband does a tremendously excellent job taking care of our daughters.  To date, no one has choked on a penny, they always look cute even if they aren't wearing their bows, and everyone in our family appears to be clean, bug-free and well-fed. 

The true answer to the Working Mom's Guilt riddle is, it's a personal choice.  What makes you happy?  Because we all know, a happy mother is the best mother.  Motherhood gets better and better the more confident we are with the choices we make.  For now, what makes me happy is working one day a week and spending the remaining six with my precious family, taking deep breaths, and trying to purge myself of my high-strung Martha-ness.  If it ever gets to a point that I need to work more or less to maintain that balance, well then, we'll deal with it. 

I think I will wait, however, to start channelling my inner Mary until after I've babyproofed the house.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Budget Cuts

So, I've gone and cheated on Drew.  I've been faithful to him for the past ten years, but today, I cheated on him.  Before Drew it was William, for seven years.  Good ol' William.  But when I moved to Dallas, William and I found ourselves separated by 1200 miles, and our relationship couldn't survive.  Shortly thereafter, I met Drew here in Dallas and fell for him immediately.

Simmer down, everybody.  Drew is my Hair Guy.  As was William.  As is now Jordan.  Except Jordan is my hair girl.  It's in lowercase letters because I'm not in a committed relationship with her yet. 

I've nothing against Drew.  In fact, we had a very stable, caring relationship for the last decade.  We're talking, real dedication.  If you are a woman and you are reading this, you can probably understand my heartbreak.  We get really, and I mean really, attached to our Hair People.  Drew knew me.  He knew my hair.  He knew not to make it too brassy or too platinum.  He knew lowlights and highlights.  He could do Golden Ash Blonde just perfectly.  He would never let me make impulsive hair decisions.  He protected my hair, he loved my hair. 

The reason I left definitely wasn't him.  And, it wasn't even me.  It was Chris

It was economic.  I've always been of the opinion that you can't put a price on beauty.  But apparently, you can.  And the price for my beauty was too high.  As in, Drew cost too stinkin' much.  So I had to go find a new, cheaper version of Drew.  And let me tell you, newer cheaper Drews are not easy to come by. 

We've made a collective decision in our household to cut back on spending.  The years of infertility treatments, coupled with adoption expenses, added to the gi-normous expense of diapers and this exorbitantly expensive designer formula Caroline's delicate system requires have forced us to make some sacrifices.  First to go, much to my chagrin, was Drew.

Let me explain how it happens at our house.  About once a month, one or both of us will get the willies.  There will be just one too many battery-operated noise-producing toys (who invented these things?) blaring in the background, and either he, or I, or both, will just decide it's time to begin reducing the clutter and sometimes earsplitting chaos that comes with having Two under three.  We will go through the house, disposing of ancillary things disordering our previously well-controlled environment, chanting, "Simplify!  Simplify!"  Eventually, I'll get involved in some probably as yet to be finished project, such as going through the girls' clothes with the intention of giving some away (but I can't!  Every single item is attached to a memory!  Can't you see I have a problem?), and Chris will retire to his office to review our finances and decide what needs to go, so as to reduce the muddled confusion that is our bank account.  Ergo, bye-bye Drew.  Sniff, sniff.

To his credit, Chris comes by it honestly.  His father has been known to go five miles out of his way to avoid paying a 50-cent toll.  He refused power windows or door locks in his car because of the added expense and the risk of failure and repair.  So it did not surprise me in the least the other day, when Chris came to me and asked me to try using only three squares of toilet paper each time I go.

I lie.  I was appalled.  And I laughed hysterically.  And then I was appalled again.  And then I laughed again. 

I decided to offer him a compromise.  I would find an alternative, less expensive Drew, but I would not, I repeat, would not, compromise my hygiene to save a few extra rolls of toilet paper a month.  (And just so we're clear, it's not me who is using all the TP in our house.  It's Aria Grace, who gets a kick out of flushing paper down the toilet to watch it go). 

I realize it's not about toilet paper or highlights.  It's about being aware of our spending.  I'm honesly trying to think before I buy:  need or want, need or want?  After all, we have two colleges, two medical schools, two weddings, and hopefully, one more adoption, to save for.  But that's a post for another day... 

Incidentally, Jordan did a really good job on my hair, which I liked.  And she was half the price of Drew, which Chris liked.  She might become my uppercase Hair Girl very soon.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Welcome to Liechtenstein!

Chris and I have made no secret of the fact that we one day, any day, want to move to the mountains.  Not the hills - sorry South Carolina, North Carolina or Arkansas - but the mountains.  The bigger, the better.  We're talking, Rockies, Tetons, Alps, Himalayas.  Every time some urban-related fiasco unsettles us, we threaten to pack up and move.  Stuck in traffic?  Not in Vail!  Recent neighborhood home invasions?  Never in Telluride!  Shady politicians?  Less likely in Jackson Hole!  Government bail-out?  Not a problem in Liechtenstein!

What?  Where? 

That's right.  Liechtenstein.

Our love affair with Liechtenstein all started when we took a magical trip to Europe a few summers ago to explore some countries we'd always wanted to visit together.  Him:  Germany, Austria, Switzerland.  Me:  Italia, mi amore!  We had both been when we were younger versions of ourselves, but this was different.  It wasn't chaperoned by adults and it wasn't a tour.  It was the two of us renting a car and navigating ourselves along a course charted by yours truly.  And oh, let me tell you, did we ever have a ball.

We hiked the Swiss Alps (yodeleheehoo), we went paragliding in Interlaken (gulp), we spent the night in an ancient palace in the Chianti region of Italy (mamma mia), we celebrated a World Cup semi-final win for Austria on the streets of Innsbruck (go whoever-you-are, you cute guys wearing red), we hiked Neuschwanstein in Germany (the original Magic Kingdom castle, ya'll!).  We did everything we could possibly cram into ten days, and we enjoyed every second of it. 

And, being the (obsessive, compulsive) strategist that I am, I planned every darn detail of that trip, even down to the amount of tolls we would have to pay in each country.  This was before GPS became so popular, so we used Old Faithful, our SPS:  Sarah Positioning System.  I'm telling you, I had every minute of our days planned, literally.  To those who know me, this is not uncharacteristic of my personality.  I like to be prepared, I am perpetually prepared.

Therefore, it was all the more bewildering when, on some winding mountain road between Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Austria, Chris and I found ourselves to be quite - oh, I sure hate to admit this one - lost

Yep, the SPS had failed us, and before we knew it, our little rented 2-door diesel Ford Focus was hurtling towards parts of Europe unknown, unanticipated, and uncharted by ME.  Now, the control-freak part of my brain didn't handle this too well.  I mean, all this hard work I had put into planning the perfect itinerary was suddenly derailed by roadsigns pointing us to locales with far too many consonants to be considered satisfactory destinations.  And then!  To top it all off, Chris informs me we are running out of gas.  Breathe, Sarah, breathe.

We finally come upon this tiny little gas station in the middle of nowhere.  A beautiful nowhwere, to be sure, but nowhere, nonetheless.  We pump in however many liters of fuel it takes to get our tiny car to go, and head in to the gas station to pay and to - ahem - ask directions.  It just so happened that an exceptionally happy man was behind the counter, and he agreeably pointed us in the proper direction back to civilization.  As we are thanking him, and heading out the door, Chris turns to him and, as if almost as an afterthought says, "Oh, by the way, where are we?"  The realization suddenly dawns on this nice man that the couple standing in front of him is completely and utterly geographically challenged.  He throws his arms wide with a flourish and joyfully announces, "My friends!  Welcome to Liechtenstein!"

So?  Huh.  Yeah, Liechtenstein?  Is that, like, a town?   In Germany?  Austria, maybe?   Are we anywhere near the Swarovski factory? 

Not to be undone by my ignorance, he happily says, "No, no!  We are country!  We are country of Liechtenstein!"

I was mortified.  The SPS failed me so miserably that we ended up in a country that was not only NOT on my very thorough itinerary, but until this very minute, I didn't even know existed.  Silly, stupid, good-for-nothing SPS. 

In the future, in case you ever find yourself in the lovely Alps, and happen to be crossing the border from Switzerland into Austria, and need to stop for fuel, here are some things to know so as not to offend the very kind gas station attendant:

  -Liechtenstein is 61.8 sq miles, and is the 4th smallest country in Europe
  -There are no border controls between Switzerland and Liechtenstein (clearly)
  -It is the only country to lie entirely within the Alps
  -The capital is Vaduz, and it has been identified as a tax haven (hellooooo?)
  -The primary language is German
  -It is a constitutional monarchy, and they have a Prince (attention, my single girlfriends, a PRINCE)
  -The last murder in Liechtenstein took place 10 years ago
  -The average life expectancy is 80 years

Since Chris and I will someday move to some mountains somewhere, I can assure you that thanks to the statistics listed above, Liechtenstein is rapidly moving up on our list.  I realize we probably glamorize it somewhat, when we silently curse urban living through gritted teeth, and maybe life in Liechtenstein would come with its own set of problems (no, I don't speak German, yes, I know there will be no SuperTarget on every corner, of course I would miss my family, and definitely I would have to give up my beloved Taco Bueno) but it's more the concept we are in love with.  Tiny little monarchy perched high in the Alps, fresh air, 17th century farmhouses, sheep dotting the hillsides. 

Who knows, maybe one day, I'll be happily manning my gas station, and I can announce to weary, travel-unwise visitors, "My friends!  Welcome to Liechtenstein!"

Saturday, May 8, 2010

To Some Mommies I Love

This post is dedicated to just a sampling of the many mommies who have touched and changed my life.  Hopefully, you know who you are. 

-Mommy H, who lost your own mother before your first child was born.  I've seen you navigate all types of motherhood storms on your own, without the advice, love and support of your beloved mom, and I can't imagine how you do it.  I admire you and honor you, my sweet friend.

-Mommy S, who lost your beautiful infant daughter at birth.  I've watched you pick your life back up after this unfathomable loss and make a conscious choice to live life and love again, in honor of your precious child.  Not only that, but you make mothering five children, including twin boys, look easy!  You are my hero. 

-Mommy J, who in the ten years I've known you, seven of which have been as my wonderful sister-in-law, I have never once heard you raise your voice to your children.  You approach parenting as you approach life, with the serene calm of the Lord.  My goal is to be a mother like you.

-Mommy P, who is the ultimate personification of the spiritual gift of Mercy.  You spend every waking hour of your day serving others.  I have only to sneeze and you are at my door, meal in hand, ready to help.  You also have excellent taste and have helped me overcome the disability resulting from my missing Interior Design gene.  And did I mention you happen to be the best mother-in-law any girl could ever wish for?

-Mommy L, who made me the ultimate sacrifice of a year of your life so that Chris and I could experience the delight of parenthood.  I am beholden to you always.  Your indescribable, incomprehensible gift has completed me.  Thank you.

-Mommy K, whose grace, passion, and love for your children have surpassed this earthly life.  Because of you, Chris and I were able to know true joy.  I will forever be indebted to you.  Your work here on earth enabled us to become a family.  You are an angel.

-Mommy M, who always knows the right thing to say at the right time.  Because of you, I always ask myself, What Would M Do?  I am one road rage short of wearing a WWMD bracelet.  Thank you for silently encouraging me to be the best Good Person I can be. 

-Mommy F, whom I have watched perservere through some of life's toughest challenges.  You always, always have a smile on your face and a song in your heart.  You have been such an inspiration to me over the years, and I hope you know how much I love and respect you.  I am honored to be your niece.

-Mommy V, I haven't always appreciated you or respected you the way you deserve, especially and most pointedly during my teenage years.  But I hope I can spend the rest of my days on earth living my life as a tribute to you and the things you have taught me.  If I can impart even a fraction of the wisdom you have given me through the years to my girls, then I will consider my attempt at parenthood a success.  I learned that:  nothing good ever happens after midnight; mom will always find out the truth so go ahead and be honest; horizontal stripes don't work on a petite person; and you should write your thank-you notes within 48 hours.  But most importantly, because of you, I know Christ, and because of Christ's love, I know unconditional love.  You have also taught me invaluable lessons by modeling for me a healthy marriage, a respect for my father, a heart for God, and an inexplicably high tolerance for reptiles and insects.  Thank you for being my role model, my mother and my best friend.   

Happy Mother's Day!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

What would Chanel Mommy think?

We live in what I like to think of as a fairly nice part of the Dallas metroplex.  It's no Highland Park, mind you, which is the Beverly Hills of our city and probably our state, but it's an upscale, tony area referred to mostly by people who live here as "West Plano".  If you are from anywhere other than West Plano, you simply say you live in Plano, but if you are on the west side, well, you let people know you live on the west side. 

Put it this way, when I went to pick up Aria at school the other day, I fell into step behind a girl heading to retrieve her preschooler dressed head to toe in Chanel.  Chanel.  On a Tuesday.  At a preschool.  Me, I was head to toe in sweats accessorized with colorful barf, pureed sweet potatoes in my hair, baby on my hip, flip flops on my unpedicured feet, and girlfriend was in Chanel.  Don't get me wrong, I'm all for having designer pieces.  I've been known to have an obsession or two (can you say Tory Burch?), but really?  Chanel as everyday wear?  Only in Plano.  Make that, West Plano.  You get the point.

Which is why my tony, upscale neighbors were probably somewhat surpised to see my two-year-old drop her drawers and pee on my front lawn yesterday. 

It was five-ish pm, when everyone is getting home from work and school, taking the dogs out for walks, congregating and socializing on the sidewalk.  In other words, the absolute worst time for this to happen.  As for me, I just so happened to be talking on the phone when this occurred to the very same friend from the previous post to whom I had declared a Code Brown.  This time, however, I had to holler we were having a Code Yellow and I've got to go right now.  She probably wonders why we're running so many codes over at our house, but as the parent of a not-yet-two-year-old son, I promise you, dear friend, your days of the multicolored emergencies are on their way. 

So as it went, I decided that this situation was the perfect time to discuss Manners with my preschooler.  Cue the Brady Bunch music.

We sat down eye-to-eye, and I asked her, "Aria, where did you get the idea that it was okay to peepee in the front yard"?  Now, you might think this was a loaded question and I was setting her up to rat out Daddy, to which I could jump up and yell, "A-Ha!" (think Steve Martin in The Pink Panther), and you would be right.  So imagine my total shock when she solemnly answered me, "You, Mommy".

What?  Me?  I would never.  I mean never.  Ever.  Encourage my child to peepee in public, much less on the front yard.  Not when my counterparts are Chanel-wearing-to-pick-your-kid-up-from-school kinds of mommies.  My brain screamed negative thoughts, Bad Mommy!  Bad Mommy!  How could this have happened?  Where did I go wrong?  I was a debutante for goodness sakes.  And I live in West Plano.  Haven't I done everything by the Book?  (The book being the Bless Your Heart, Don't You Want to Raise a Perfect Southern Daughter with Manners Book.  It exists, people, believe me.  So what if its only in the minds and on the tongues of all us mothers trying to cultivate proper comportment in our voiding-in-the-front-yard daughters?  I'm telling you, that book is real, and my child just mocked it).

But then Aria,  responding to my shock with the subtle frustration and eye rolling of an almost-three-year-old who would rather go play than have this discussion right now, said simply,  "Mommy, I go in the potty all day long.  I wanted to go somewhere different".

Oh.  Huh.  So that was it?  It's not about me?  It isn't a Bad Mommy moment?  It's just a kid wanting to try something different.  And, guess what?  I get that. 

Now, I know I'm going to need to work on reconciling her being a child and wanting to try new things, with the Book.  But my deep southern roots, coupled with the fear of the wrath of Chanel Mommy  seeing another child potty in the front yard required me to insist on a compromise:  Aria Grace, if you want to do something out of the ordinary, I want you to feel free, I want you to spread your wings and test new waters.  But please, please next time, do it in the backyard?  :)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Civic Doodies

I just got my second jury duty summons ever.  Just to make sure I understood what I was reading, my county government sent me the summons twice.  Two jury duty summonses.  In one day.  It's like the civic universe is trying to tell me something.  I so wish I had paid attention in Coach Stewart's Government class in tenth grade. 

But guess what?  For the first time, I finally get to tell the government no.  I get to fill in the bubble that reads, "I am primary caretaker of a child/children 14 years or younger and this child would be left alone".  And therefore, I am able to stay home with said child/children and fulfill my parental duties doodies.  When you have two kids two and under, it's doodies.

Speaking of doodies...

My in-laws are going to cringe at this story.  It takes place back when Chris took me to meet his family for the first time.  We are walking up to the front door and he turns to me, all wide-eyed and serious, and says earnestly, "Okay, Sarah, I need to warn you about something". 

Oh, here it comes.  I knew he was too good to be true.  It's about to come crashing down - the other shoe, that is.  What could it be, what could it be?  His family, were they... Skinheads?  Bigamists?  Democrats?  Scientologists?  Or, could it be?  The worst, most unconscionable offense to my southern brain:  Non-thank-you-note-writing, white-after-Labor-Day-wearing yankees??  Turns out, my slightly overactive imagination was in hyperdrive.  Back to the story.

"Sarah, I need to warn you about something".  Gulp.  "Go on".  Here it comes.

"My, um, family, well, we always seem to talk about - er - somehow the conversation always ends up on..."

Out with it, you closeted-white-after-Labor-Day-wearing fool!

"...gas or poop".

Um, what?

"Within ten minutes, and you can set your watch by this, the conversation will somehow turn into farts or poop.  I just had to warn you".

Farts or poop?  Are you kidding me?  WE ARE MEANT TO BE TOGETHER!  I mean, hello?  I'm a nurse!  We love to talk about farts or poop!  We get paid to talk about farts or poop!  This is perfect.  Get down on your knee right now and save yourself the next two years of our lives.  We are soulmates, baby.

Okay, maybe that's not exactly what I said, but it's what I thought.  And it's what I still maintain to this day. 

Now, we Thomases, we solve all the world's problems around the dinner table, don't get me wrong.  But to lighten the mood, we also throw in the obligatory poop or gas reference.  And when you are potty-training a two-year-old, you will have an abundance of anecdotal experience to draw from.

For instance, recently, I placed Aria Grace on the potty to make her put.  Oh right, time to consult that Thomas Glossary again:

put - verb, to void excrement from the bowels, to have a bowel movement;  - noun, excrement from the bowels, i.e., poop.

We think she got this word from when we used to tell her to "put her poopy in the potty".  She just began saying she had "to put", when it was time to go potty.  Thus, another word added to the Thomas Family Dictionary.

So, Aria Grace was going "put".  As is typical, I got distracted by a phone call, and meandered away from the bathroom, through the family room, through the kitchen, down the hall, through my bedroom, and into my office.  In other words, I was a heckuva long way from my sweet baby as she was going put.  Our custom is for one of us to make sure everything is clean, and by everything, I mean "down there".  I tell her that I need to see her poopy before we tell it bye-bye.  This ensures that she will not climb down off the potty and commence play before being fully and properly sanitized.  However, in this instance, since I was waaaaay far away from that sweet little hiney and could not therefore see the byproduct of her work, she decided she would bring it to me.

Yep, you read that right.  She brought it to me.  Through the family room, through the kitchen, down the hall, through my bedroom and into my office, that sweet little rule-follower proudly brought me two handfuls of her, um, results.  To which I promptly hollered to my friend on the phone, "We have a Code Brown!  I repeat, a Code Brown!  I have to go!  This is not a test!  This is an actual emergency!"  That was followed by Aria's second bath of the day. 

Sorry if all this poop/doodie talk offends anyone's delicate sensibilities.  The way I see it, we all clean it/smell it/make it/hear it/wipe it, we might as well embrace it, right?  It's our civic doodie.  :)  Couldn't resist!

[Incidentally, his our family was and is the perfect southern family, who always write thank you notes and would never, EVAH be caught dead wearing white after Labor Day!]

Sunday, May 2, 2010

No Need to Call the Authorities, Everybody's Fine

There have been two recent minor, minor events in our house of late that deserve a modicum of discussion.  Okay,  not discussion.  Confession.  Bad Mommy Confession.  [Screeeeeeech!  What was that?  A bird in peril?  A car crashing?  No, no.  Only the sound of my mother's right eyebrow raising as she reads the opening paragraph of this post].

The first Bad Mommy event involved the elder of our Two, Aria Grace.  Oh, wait a minute.  Here is where you will need to consult the Thomas Family Glossary: 

Mommocacca [moe-moe-kah-kah]:  -noun, a motor vehicle similar to a bicycle but larger and heavier, chiefly for one rider but sometimes for two.  This word is often used by Thomas Family members to describe any form of noise-producing motorcycles, 4-wheel all-terrain-vehicles, or scooters.

Any reference to a mommocacca used in this text will be in reference to a 4-wheel ATV. 

In other words, Mom, you should just stop reading right now.

Here's how Bad Mommy Event Number One went down.  Aria Grace and I went out on an ATV ride.  We came back, minutes later.  Sounds innocuous, right?  Except that we were accompanied back on our return journey by Aria's newly acquired black eye, now named Shiner (shi-nah).  [Mom, I told you to stop reading!  That eyebrow sound is getting louder!]. 

Maybe I should let Aria tell the story now:

"Mommy and Ari were riding on mommocacca, going like this (insert car sounds).  Big tree lay down in the road.  Mommy and Ari tried to make mommocacca go over tree, but we went like this (insert visual of hands smacking together). We hit tree.  Ari hit mommocacca with she eye.  Mommocacca get stuck.  Mommy has to go like this (visual of Mommy lifting/pushing large item).  Then we go home and Ari have a shi-nah."

Makes perfect sense, right?

She's actually exactly right.  We hit a downed tree in the road.  I mistakenly assumed mommocacca - er, ATV - could mount said tree, but alas, I was wrong.  The ATV stopped, and Mommy and Aria kept going.  Thus, the black eye.  Before you judge, you should know three things:  1)  Yes, I feel bad;  2)   Yes, I feel awful;  and 3)  Yes, I feel terrible.  We hurried back to the house, and my nursing instinct finally kicked in.  I got her some ice to put on the eye to help with the swelling.  Of course, that part was immediately preceded by my hysterics, "Chris!  Chris!  CHRIS!  Ohmagosh, ohmagosh, ohmaGAAWWWSH!  Did you see what I did to our precious baby?  I marred her beautiful face!".  To which, Chris responded (with the calmness that only comes with having a Y chromosome), "Okay, then.  She looks fine.  Why don't you go get her some ice for her eye."  Yah.  Some nursing instinct.

Aria, as you've probably guessed, is perfectly fine.  Sure, she cried for a minute when it first happened, but after that, she seemed pretty jazzed about her shi-nah.  She ran immediately over to the neighbors to show it off, and she's been doing so ever since.  The bruise is gone and she's seems a little disappointed when she looks in the mirror now and doesn't see it. 

Bad Mommy Event Number Two was an unpredictable and unpreventable moment that, nonetheless, has given me some long moments of guilt intermingled with laughter, which then leads to more guilt.  I could tell you about it, or I could just let the video below do the talking.

Please know, however, that there is no need to call the authorities, everybody's fine!