Friday, February 28, 2014

Better Already

Sis is feeling much better this evening.  I'm sure it has a lot to do with rest, but perhaps even more to do with her brother.

They have missed each other these last two days that Sis was home sick (though they aren't even in the same class anymore, only seeing each other on the bus and in passing.) Yesterday, she made him apple pie to welcome him home after school!  For his part, he opted to stay at our house with the babysitter instead of going to the babysitter's house, so that Sis, whom I said had to stay here, could play, too.  Today, Sis bought candy for him at the store and hid it for him to find. Now they're downstairs with their heads together playing Minion Rush or something.  So sweet.  I hardly feel like enforcing screen time limits with such camaraderie and so they are well over their daily limit.

Witnessing (and at times fostering) their close relationship has been one of the greatest joys of being their mom.

Sick Day

Still no fever, but Sis still feels under the weather, so she is home resting.  With lots of screen time.

Bud was so jealous.  Sis offered to share her germs and, with his encouragement, breathed heavily onto his face.  He immediately came to me to check for fever.

Poor, Bud, it just doesn't work that way.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Not a Full Week

We aren't having a full week of school here in the Hungry household.  First, Sis got out early for an eye doctor's appointment on Monday.  And on Friday, Bud has his first orthodontist appointment (heaven help us!)

And today, Sis is home sick.  No fever--which as you know she used to get at the drop of a hat--but she looks and seems sick.  Croupy cough, headache, listless, lack of appetite; oddly enough, she's sleeping.  I sent her to school yesterday and she went to the nurse, who probably would have sent her home if it hadn't been the end of the day.  She looked awful when she got home.  So today, home, even without a fever.

It probably won't be a whole week next week either, with some kind of big snowstorm on Monday in the forecast.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

How I Visit a Friend in a Nursing Home

I went to see my dear Miss S at the nursing home earlier this week.  She was thrilled with my surprise visit. (I have stopped calling in advance because she gets garbled on her dates and times.)  We chatted for more than an hour, mostly about news of people we know and also the NYTimes, which she reads cover to cover everyday.  I'm sure her memory is slipping, but it wasn't very obvious; though, I wasn't testing her either.  She says "that" and "it" for nouns and pronouns for people she can't remember.  And she nods and says, "I know," a lot, even if she probably doesn't.  Still, she knew me on sight and that is still better than I thought it would be.

As I was talking to her, indeed through many of my nursing facility visits with her and my hospice patients, I've made up a mental list of advice.  So here are some informal tips for visiting a nursing home or assisted living facility (for lists aimed specifically at families, see here and here for examples):
  • Dress in layers--many facilities are overheated for the comfort of their cold-sensitive residents.
  • There's almost always a sign-in folder, sometimes a tag to wear.  The receptionist can point you in the right direction, especially because there is something confusingly labyrinthine about even the most straightforward-looking of these facilities.  I always get lost going in and coming out the first few times.
  • Yes, it stinks.  Oftentimes of cleaners, sometimes of soiled diapers and illness.  Take a deep breath before you enter the space and then try not to think on it.
  • And yes, it can be depressing.  People's bodies and minds are in various states of deterioration, which we don't often see because they are in facilities like this.  It can be overwhelming.  It can also seem callous, with numerous residents lined up in hallways, staring off listlessly or moaning or talking to thin air.  The staff is always overworked, shorthanded, and probably underpaid and undertrained, which is just as depressing.  With our current state of medicine, which allows people to live longer lives, even with illness, past the point of when they can remotely care for themselves or be cared for by non-professionals, and our cultural norms that hide away illness and death as well as our societal structure that is dominated by two-person working families (also, there are older parents with younger children who have young children--the sandwich generation!) who can't (and don't have the skills) to care for people at home, these places are a(n oftentimes unpleasant) necessity.  But by visiting, I'm taking a little bit of light and happiness to one person.
  • Locate the public restrooms because it can be awkward or even difficult to use the restroom in the resident's room (rooms are often shared and there is usually medical equipment inside.)  Sometimes the public restrooms are locked and you need to get the key from reception or the nurse's station.
  • Take something to discuss or share--books, magazines, photographs (I find my smartphone is good for that--we can look at several photos together.  I also read or sing from it with patients.) 
  • **Take a small gift--a magazine, hand lotion, snacks (but only if you know that's ok--some residents have restrictions or are on thickeners to avoid choking), seasonal decoration, homemade artwork/pictures for the wall.  I avoid flowers because they need to be cared for/watered and they can die so quickly.   And I always ask at the end of the visit if there is something particular I can bring the next time.  (**This is mainly for my friend, not my hospice patients, though hospice has lotions and blankets and such for us to distribute.)
  • Knock on the door, even if it's open.  And announce yourself.  So, (knock-knock) "Hi friend, it's Jamie!"  If there is a roommate, say hi.  
  • I never wake a sleeping patient (regardless of what Jessica Tandy says in Fried Green Tomatoes!)  I will wait in a common area for awhile, or even sit next to them (good chairs are SO hard to find, just like parking spaces--WHY do they build these beautiful new facilities WITHOUT enough parking???), but often that means I'll leave without a visit.
  • I always ask if it's ok before I sit on the edge of the bed.
  • If a nurse needs to attend to the resident, step outside while assuring them you'll be right back.  Note: don't go too early in the morning--that's get up, breakfasted, and dressed time.  I usually aim for after 11 ish, which gives them time to rest from the morning's brouhaha.  Oftentimes, depending on the health of the patient, after lunch or afternoons are hard because they're tired.  I try not to go at mealtime, though, at my friend's current place, if I'm there anywhere near lunch, they bring me a tray, too, without charge (this is not standard; and I never eat during hospice visits.)
  • It might just be me, but I never hesitate to turn down a missing roommate's tv (which are always on when the roommates are out of the room!!!)  Nursing homes are noisy enough.
  • If possible, get them out of their room--go for a walk, go sit in the common areas, attend an activity together.  Sometimes this takes a little coaxing.  It's also ok just to stay in the comfort and safety of their rooms (especially if you are unsure about their mobility.)
  •  If you run out of ideas for chatting (my friend loves to gossip, but I only ever have so much news!), talk about their pictures or knick-knacks, items on their bulletin board (most rooms have them), community calendar, what they had for their previous meal, what I did last weekend, what the weather is like outside, the last holiday, etc etc etc.  Of course, sitting in companionable silence or even watching tv together as a last resort is just fine.  I don't correct or argue, especially if they misremember or are misinformed about something; I want the visit to be pleasant.  And I just nod and smile when a story is repeated  . . . again and again.
  • I usually aim to stay about an hour (which is too long for many, and too short for some!), always giving a 10-15 minute warning.  Of course, I'm prepared to leave if they're not up for a visit.  Goodbyes are hard and I always feel guilty about leaving them alone again.  My friend is especially lonely and always walks me all the way to the door.
  • BTW, some doors especially on dementia floors have security codes to leave--ask at the nurse's station.
  • I find it's easier to greet with words or a smile everybody I pass, especially other residents--so few of them get outside visitors.  Sometimes they want a quick chat, which is fine.  If they seem confused or won't stop talking, sometimes I have to excuse myself.  If I can't completely understand them, I just smile.
  • If in doubt about anything, ask the staff.  Nicely.  Unless you are the legal guardian, they won't be able to give you privacy-protected medical information for the patient.  But, you can always ask the staff how the resident is doing that day or alert them to any (really pressing) concerns you have. Otherwise, unless it's really important (or falls under my hospice work parameters), I try not to interfere with the care.
  • Go.  When in doubt, go.  Time passes so slowly . . . and so lonely . . . at nursing homes that most residents welcome company and attention.
  • Unless you are sick--meaning any symptoms, not just confirmed fever or flu--gastro and respiratory illnesses spread like wildfire in these places.  Sanitize with alcohol rub or handwashing on the way in and the way out.

Don't Forget the Coffee Cake

I promised this recipe way back at Christmas, but instead of posting it there, I post it here so you know I finally did it.

I actually messed it up completely the first time, putting in a cup of sour cream without realizing it.  It was extremely moist yet still quite edible, even tasty.  But I won't do that again (even if the kids will be surprised that it's not so "mooshy.")

The recipe is printed on the embossed Christmas dish, which is impossible to really get clean.  And I don't think it will just be for Christmas anymore . . . .


Christmas Morning Coffee Cake
1 1/2 cups flour
2 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
walnuts or pecans, optional

Mix first three cake ingredients and set aside. In separate bowl, beat egg until frothy.  Beat in sugar and butter.  Add milk, sour cream, and vanilla. Add dry ingredients and mix on low.  Do not over mix.  Combine streusel ingredients and set aside.

Grease 9" round cake pan or 8 x 8" baking dish.  Put 1/2 batter in dish and spread evenly.  Cover with 1/2 streusel topping.  Repeat and top with chopped nuts if desired.  Bake in preheated 350F oven for 35-45 minutes.

my coffee cake dish

Drop Everything

Sometimes, the kids kinda have to be bribed, indirectly, to eat leftovers.  Especially if they didn't like the meal in the first place.  I find warm bread usually helps.  Fresh cornbread, a warm loaf of beer bread, and, last night, hot drop biscuits to make the leftover broccoli cheddar soup more palatable.

And, as usual, it worked.  The leftovers are gone . . . as were all of the extra biscuits by morning!

Drop Biscuits
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
1 cup milk

Preheat to 450F.

Combine dry ingredients.  But in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Add milk and stir just until dough clings together.  Drop by tablespoon onto baking sheet.  Bake until golden, approximately 10-12 minutes.

Makes 10-12 biscuits.

Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


I had a wonderful time at RE class (Unitarian Universalist Sunday school) this weekend, where we discussed the story of Joseph.  And it was so funny how UU the kids were, because

  • they all knew Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat; 
  • they were more interested in the fact that the story we read lists all of Joseph's brothers' names and then leaves the sister unnamed, which really got the kids riled up (it's Dinah, actually.)

Monday, February 24, 2014

Sign of Three

I probably read it in Hands-Free Mama, the idea of a family sign and someone used three taps, one each for "I love you."  (I've read elsewhere of secret phrases--my own family used "love you like a rock!")  And so I suggested it, knowing that pretty soon the hand-holding and cuddles and "I love yous" might wane a bit as we head into the tween/teen years.  And it's catching on, especially with Sis who had given up the hand-holding awhile back.  She likes the 1-2-3 and will do taps or squeezes or pokes.  Tonight, she even came back down the stairs to tap Mama three times.  It's subtle yet significant--a symbol of the bond between the four of us.

Let the Sun Shine

It's another beautiful day here in Connecticut--the sun is shining, the temperature is rising above freezing, and the birds are chirping (very much upsetting our cats!)  We've even had the windows open!  Even better, I can finally see all of our driveway as the snow recedes.  The yard is still entirely covered, but the rock wall and benches are finally peeking through.

I'll embrace it while it lasts, knowing there is snow in the forecast for up to four of the next seven days!  (Which means this probably won't be the week the kids go for a full five days, the first full week since Thanksgiving!)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Opposites Attract

My current favorite cat image

Mama's current favorite cat image

A Big Bang!

There's a major change here:  I cut my hair 6"+ and got some bangs!

Yes, not earth-shattering or life-altering, but interesting and new.  (Though, I think it is shorter than I wanted--but it will grow.)

That's all the news to report on this drippy, gray day.

Sex, VD, and Porn*

Or, the topics of three conversations I've had with the kids in three days!

That's the blessing and curse of being an ask-me-anything parent.

First it was the mating penguins at the aquarium.  Then it was a t-shirt in Boston that said, "I got crabs in Boston."  Finally, it was an unfortunate internet search.

At least, since we've been having such conversations for years (and here and here and see "THE TALK" below), so a.)  I almost never blink anymore before launching into the information, managing (almost) to keep it age-appropriate and not talk too much, and b.) they don't flinch at hearing whatever and soon grow rather disinterested.

Besides, we've realized that whatever they ask, it's just better to answer--they'll find out one way or another and we'd rather give them correct information and our family values upfront.

Which included, this time, always wear protection!

(*Can you imagine the hits I'm going to get with that title?!?)


I can't believe I never blogged this--maybe because it happened the day before we left for Disney World last year.  I did put it on FB though, and here's what I said:

OMG, I just had THE talk with the kiddos, over lunch, completely inadvertently (you know how I talk and get on tangents--but they asked directly and there was nowhere to go but through it!). I'm not sure I can look at fries and onion rings the same again--and I didn't even use them as props. (No worries, classmates' parents, I told them not to share their new knowledge. And they're pretty good about that.) Though, in truth, I'd rather have this talk than the Santa Claus one.

Continued in comments . . . .
 I guess time will tell how it went. It's promising, though, for now: Bud said "ewh!" Otherwise, I did probably talk too much, as I often do--just after the talk, when they asked about the athlete Pistorius on tv, I ended up talking about apartheid and violence in South Africa! But how it started: we were talking about our "mom" calendar and how it excluded 2-dad families, then we moved on to birth dads, and thus birth. And they asked directly how women get pregnant, both in our case (easy--doctor's office!) and usually. So I launched into the explanation--sex, egg, semen, sperm, vagina, penis. They very pointedly wanted to know how the sperm got to the egg (previously, when discussing this, we'd mentioned "ingredients" coming together generally to make a baby--like cooking! Easier. But kinda silly.) I also made some references to safe touches (via the program at school), safe sex and disease, menstruation (they do have 2 moms, after all), and even pleasure--but only for loving and consenting ADULTS!  I told them we'd be talking about this again and again as they got older as it was important, that they could ask us or their uncle anything, and had a right to privacy and to talk about it alone without their twin around. They had no more questions and ran off to play "Phantom of the Opera." Whew. Truthfully, it was easier than talking about cancer or Newtown.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Oh, What a Beautiful Day!

The sun is shining, the temperatures, rising--some of the snow is melting and I even went out without a coat!  The birds are chirping as happily as I feel and there was even a robin sitting on the leafless branch of our Japanese maple outside my window.

It will be awhile before we see the ground again, much less greenery, but warmth is in the air today.  And it is lovely.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Phone Curse

As you know, I lost my phone last November.

I think I forgot to tell you that I found it.

About a week after Mama bought a new one and gave me her old one, six weeks after I lost mine, I found the lost one.  Remember that I had the horrible stomach flu over Christmas?  Well, one of those days in bed, I dropped my "new" phone (Mama's old) by the side of the bed and reached for it, pulling it up.  But it wouldn't turn on.  It was then I realized it was my old phone in my purple case--it wouldn't come on because it hadn't been charged for a month and a half!!!  Of course, I was thrilled because it meant I had all my old pictures.  I don't know how we missed it, right there beside the bed and nightstand where we'd looked.  We even changed the bed several times.  But I think it was camouflaged in the corner of the bedframe, blending in with the bit at the corner, which we didn't notice in the shady light.  I think I forgot to mention it because I was sick.

But I kept using my "new" phone since it was all set up.  Until last week, when it fell out of my sweater pocket onto the tile floor and shattered the screen.  It still worked but the screen was flaking.  So, Mama switched out the card with my "old" one, which I used.

Until an hour ago, when I dropped it getting out of the car in the rain at a hospice meeting.  The screen shattered like the other phone, but it wouldn't even turn on.

All of which means I guess I'm getting a new "new" phone.

Maybe I shouldn't be trusted with one.

Though, in my defense, I'd say that in twelve years of phone ownership, these are the first two phones I've broken,  but two in a week is as lot.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Best of Boston, for Last

My favorite favorite:  Bud and I walking at the USS Constitution.  He'll still hold my hand every now and again.  Too sweet for words.

Best of Boston, Part 3

I totally forgot to post the last day's pictures!  We had our breakfast buffet and then spent a long afternoon at the Boston Science Museum before heading home in the dark . . . and snow!
Not a great picture, but I loved the roses in the Parker House's lobby for Valentine's weekend.  Even more, I love their rolls!
My favorite part of the Boston Science Museum was its Butterfly Garden.  I love watching butterflies and moths.
This is my favorite picture, with the frozen Charles River and snowy Boston skyline in the background.
Camera phone!
A moth--because it lands and mainly keeps its wings open.

I don't recall all of the names, but this is a Common Morpho, bright blue on the inside.

Bud reclining like a Roman in the "Global Kitchen" show (yes, we saw it in NYC, too.)

Kneeling before Kublai Khan's meal

Our own meal, later that evening, at Rein's NYC-style deli, north of Hartford.  Half sours, matzo ball soup, gefilte fish, a chocolate egg cream, and rye bread.  We also had lattkes, borscht, corned beef sandwich, and kugel, with brisket and stuffed cabbage frozen to take home.  As a friend says, "Jewish soul food."


It's a snow day, though it hasn't started yet. 

I think this is 8 days so far, which means school until practically July.

I like snow days, though I'm a little bummed 'cos Mama and I were going to spend her last vacation day alone together.  Still, I do love snow.  Even still.

Better go put out the ice cream bowls.....

Monday, February 17, 2014

My Hospice Patient

My gentleman hospice patient has died and I am relieved for him, at least, having been so beset by a multitude of serious challenges including cancer, advanced dementia, stroke, and late hearing loss.  May his family be comforted.

I had another hospice patient, for a day, who died just a few hours after my only visit, as we knew she would.  May her family be comforted.

So I'm between patients now, which gives me time to reflect and regroup.  May I and all hospice caregivers be comforted.

"What Is It?"

We have a new favorite game:  guess the animal.

It's like 20-questions, but we don't limit it to yes-no answers.

Sounds basic, except we allow "mythical creatures," which we've defined as any animal-like critter not just from classical or world mythology but any book we've read or movie we've seen.  Which includes Harry Potter, Star Wars, "Pokemon", How to Train Your Dragon, Percy Jackson, etc.

It's wonderfully fun and sometimes quite challenging.  Especially because Bud has read some books we haven't and comes up with critters we don't all know.  Like kelpie, which I know as an Irish mer-like creature (a la Secret of Roan Inish), but not as the water-horse-thing he described.

With all this focus on the unusual, I've stumped them with barnyard creatures!  It took them forever to guess cow and horse last week.

We're pretty creative with questions (plus the more expected fur vs. skin vs. scales vs. feathers):

  • bigger or smaller than you?
  • have you seen a real one?
  • paws or feet or hooves?
  • two legs or four?  (Sis likes to ask if it's only four legs in the morning, a la Oedipus and the Sphinx!)
  • is it a composite, made up of lots of critters?
  • can it speak or understand English?  (for those mythical creatures, like the mice in Cinderella!)

And Bud has started asking outright, "What is it?"--and I've almost been fooled into answering him!

On the way home from Boston, we limited it to animals that we encountered--alive-or in another way--during our weekend.  For two hours, plus dinner, we played, insisting that we guess not only the animal but the location.  We had: the unicorn (crest at the State House), the mouse (in the hands-on game at the State House), a cat (Dusty, a real cat, at the bookstore), ducks (the statue in Boston Common), a horse (horse-drawn carriage in the Common), a deer (crest in the lobby of the Parker House), frogs (statue near Frog Pond ice rink), a grasshopper (huge sculpture at science museum), butterflies (real, also science museum), a goat (play stuffed one at the Constitution museum), Adipose (the white fatty creature from Doctor Who, at the comics store in Quincy Market!), to name but a few.

Not something obvious like the penguins at the aquarium, though!

More Snow?

We're looking at another 2-4" or 3-5" of snow, or snow and sleet, or snow and rain . . . who knows!  It'll be a delay or cancellation, but again, who knows!

So, I'm not sure I'll be posting about Boston or anything else tomorrow . . . . or maybe I'll hideaway with the computer and do some posts and everything else (especially the historic house tour stuff and email) that I feel behind on.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Best of Boston, Part 2

Sometimes potholes are great!  This one was on our walk to the New England Aquarium, with cobblestones (probably not super old) below the asphalt.

Our raison d'etre:  we love penguins!

Nothing like a morning lecture on how penguins have sex.

Though not an expert on naval history or the War of 1812, I was fascinated by the USS Constitution, having read a small booklet we picked up at the used bookstore yesterday.  I knew lots of curious facts about sailing on "Old Ironsides" two hundred years ago.  Did you know that hammocks were only 18" apart, which meant you were always bumping up against your neighbor, two levels down in the dark, with 430+ other men??!!  Also, there was no singing of sea chanteys on naval vessels; only merchant ships allowed singing during working (naval seaman could sing ballads and such at night and were encouraged to do so, for dancing was good exercise.)  Lastly, Marines were the security forces on board, also the ones to fire guns in hand-to-hand combat; the navy seamen fired the cannons, though.  
Mama, Bud, and Sis try their hands at shortening the sails, while standing on a rope, with Mama rocking the mast.  It was a great hands-on museum.
Houses in the Naval Yard looked pretty in the snow.
I saw this and thought immediately of the opening scene of the movie Les Mis; it's the dry dock at the Navy Yard.

Lunch at Durgin Park--Bud and Mama shared a big lobster, clams, and clam chowder.  Sis had shepherd's pie.  And I had some fried fish.  And Indian pudding, which I love warm with ice cream.  It was definitely snowing by midday.
We headed back to the hotel after our late lunch, staying in pretty much for the rest of the very snowy evening (minus one outing when Mama and Sis fetched their favorite Japanese meals at Wagamama.)

Friday, February 14, 2014

Best of Boston, Part I

The sparkling iced trees on the way to Boston

Almost there
"It's Olympus!" the kids decided.
Now for some typical tourist pictures:

Beacon Hill on the Common

Old South Meeting House (I think.)
Old State House (which houses one of our favorite hands-on spaces and a great shop)
Obivously.  Got some candy snacks here and found a public piano . . . .

Bud played "Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?"

Fanueil Hall, with the new NPS space and some shops.  And we FINALLY saw the Great Hall, with Healy's painting of Daniel Webster that plays such a big part in McCollough's Greater Journey.
Best.  Bookstore.  Ever.

And now for 4-8" of snow!!!

Thursday, February 13, 2014


Snow, Beautiful Snow

I love snow, but try as I might, I can't capture the beauty, density, speed, or magic of it, especially with a camera phone.  I even went outside to try-there's so much falling so fast (about 3-4" an hour!) that you can hear it like rain.  And when the wind blows, I was transported back to Chicago fifteen years ago.  It's like being in a snow globe.   At least these pictures capture some of the amounts (see the bench, deck gate, playhouse, etc.)  We had 12" compacted already and I bet we've gotten another 8"+ already (it's almost to my knees.)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Know Myself

I hadn't ever given self-esteem much thought, except as I came across it in articles and books on parenting--boosting kids' self-esteem is essential vs. boosting kids' self-esteem is destructive.  But I'd never thought much about mine.

But, delving deeper into my experience of pain, I'm learning that a lot of it is connected to self-esteem for me (it's complicated and I won't go into it here.)  For me, a lot of it is body issues that go way back, but it seeps into other realms (like when I let a college roommate walk all over me.)  I'm fascinated by it and the more I consider it and look around, the more I see how prevalent the lack of self-esteem and its effects are for me and so many women I know:  "compare and despair" perfectionism that becomes paralyzing (especially with Pinterest and FB), negative body (and general self) talk, constantly feeling like a "bad mom," feeling responsible or to blame for things that aren't ours and taking everything soooo personally, trying to control things so we'll be okay, looking to friends and/or FB for approval and reassurance, indecision etc for fear of being wrong or a making a misstep, coping unskillfully with eating/shopping/whatever, and so much more, I'm sure, because it's insidious.  My therapist says that she wouldn't have patients if women had self-esteem!

And I feel for us.

In my family, I think it goes back generations, perhaps each one passing it on in a different guise.  My grandmother was an abused woman (who fortunately got out of that marriage, but I imagine the effects lingered.)  My mom taught us "I'm okay; you're okay," but I know she doesn't necessarily feel that way (but I leave that as her own personal story.)  And then there's me.  I'm working on it, but you can't just invent self-esteem.  And is it already too late to spare the kids?  How will I pass it along?  I see the obvious traps--for me, it's about bodies--but what about the ones I don't see?  How do I both support the kids' self esteem while also not distorting it?

At the very least, I'm more self-aware and that has to help, right?

(Yes, I see what I did there.)

From My Valentines

Look what I came home to last night after my historic house board meeting:  the kids made valentines and decorated the downstairs with them!!!!

Sis designed the punny ones--I love "Valentime Lords!!"--and Bud did the drawings; Sis also made the Valentine interactive sculpture at the bottom.

Best.  Valentines. Ever.

Room with a View

The kids have been spotting icicles around's one for them!

"It's Just an Arm!"

My arm with the compressed radial nerve is giving me fits, keeping me up at night, keeping me from doing many things; it's a constant tight ache with sharp shooty pains from elbow to knuckles (yes, it's actually getting worse, was wrist.)  I've had a few PT sessions . . . the joint is out of alignment at the elbow.  Let me tell you, fixing that hurts.  If it were my back, I'd be on painkillers, out of commission.  But, oddly, it's just an arm and, maybe because of all my work on addressing pain in my back, I'm able to isolate and disregard the pain without being overwhelmed or obsessed.    It's good, even when it's bad.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Looking for a Mantra

I've been reading various books--not the 19th-century British novel that I had planned--but Buddhist tomes and hospice essays and parenting inspiration, almost all of them touching on mindfulness.  

And, in them or because of them, I've been looking for a mantra.  You know, a phrase, a touchstone, that bucks me up, keeps me focused, inspires and enlightens me, gets me through the difficult bits.  I probably need more than one.  My mom often mentions, "This too shall pass," which is in its very essence Buddhist--everything passes, not just bad but also good.  But as it is frequently used, it's about the bad passing, which for me is too much of an attachment to pleasure and comfort and satisfaction, a rushing along of bad feelings and experiences.  I don't think life is like that; I learn my lessons more from those times.  And all of my work on chronic pain has taught me not to be too attached to getting rid of the pain.  

She also likes the Serenity prayer:  "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,  The courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference."  I like it, but it's long.  My old favorite was from George Eliot's Middlemarch, "What do we live for unless it is to make life less difficult for others?"  But it's not broad enough for this purpose, perhaps.

I've also considered these, taken from various authors, including Tara Brach, Glennon Melton, and Rachel Macy Stafford (obviously for different moments and, yes, some of them are there for the smile they invoke--"don't worry!"):

  • All people want to be happy/want love.
  • What do I need to be happy right now?
  • What really wants attention?
  • Forgiven, forgiven.  (Or, Not my fault.)
  • This, too.
  • I care about this suffering/feeling.
  • May this suffering serve to awaken compassion.
  • Look/listen for the love.
  • It's not personal.
  • Is it true?  Is it kind?  Is it necessary?
  • Carpe diem.
  • All actions and feelings are the result of needs being met or not.
  • Be the change you wish to see in the world.
  • Be kind for everyone is fighting a hard battle.
  • Just keep swimming.
  • Keep calm and carry on.
  • Don't worry; be happy.
  • Breathe in peace; breathe out love.
  • Breathe.
They each have value, but none of them has the depth of, say, the Eliot, or perhaps enough breadth; or maybe they're not poetic enough.  Though, taken together, they're good.  I guess I'm still searching.

What do you say to yourself?


We're ready for more snow.

Even if it's 4 or 6 or even 10 or more inches.

I have milk (though, there was obviously an early run on it), bread, eggs, yogurt, chocolate, sweetened condensed milk and chocolate syrup for snow ice cream, taco makings, stroganoff makings, curry makings, extra mac and cheese and noodle soup and even Ramen.

We have bubbles and food coloring and DVDs and all of our usual toys, etc., and maybe even Valentines makings.  Then there's snow:  snow forts, snowballs, snowmen, snow angels, even sledding (they went down the BIG hill recently; I couldn't even watch.)  Plenty of stuff we can do.

Sure, it's cold and, sure, they haven't had a full week of school yet this calendar year if I remember correctly; sure, I don't have to go out in it unless I want to (though, my fear of slipping on ice and driving in snow also keeps me stuck at home.)  Frozen and the Winter Olympics have me in the mood for snow.  And just reading this article in the NYTimes about the possible disappearance of snow this century, made me treasure this seasonal miracle.

So I say, bring it!  We're ready and I love it.

Sunday, February 9, 2014


Yep, it's snowing again.  Just a dusting of an inch or two, which will make it all pretty again.  We'll see if school is delayed or not.  Poor Bud, every time the phone rings, he asks if school is canceled.  Not this time, I think.

Gong Xi Ni!!!

It's that time again:  Chinese New Year!  This time, the Year of the Horse.  As always, we prayed, served the ancestors, lit incense, bowed with the food, burned paper money, and ate.  We ate a lot:  fruits and candies from the altar, then chicken, pork, duck, a whole fish (and fish ball soup), a vegetarian Buddhist delight (for me--mushrooms, tofu "skin", noodles, baby corn, etc.), vegetables, homemade fried tofu, and taro with coconut milk for (one) dessert, PLUS more store-bought desserts.  My in-laws shop at about 10 stores in preparation the week before, never knowing exactly what will be best to buy.  This year there were my favorite candied kumquats, sesame puff sticks (ok, yes, these are all my names--it just doesn't translate!), sesame balls, egg custard tarts, peanut "empanadas," almond sesame seed cookies, soy sauce cakes, dried persimmons, etc etc etc.

I described it all in (much better) detail a few years back.

We also played with Goo, practiced some Tai Chi (my in-laws are taking a class; I'm considering it), watched some (awful, high-pitched, too cutesy) Chinese New Year song videos with three little girls (sometimes it's boys and girls), and also watched some Winter Olympics.

And of course, my favorite part:  singing along to the Gong Xi Ni golden light-up turtle!  (The video of which I can't seem to upload here.)

We always watch the latest New Year's video with cutesy singers.

The table is set for the ancestors, with incensed burned three times.
The home altar
Paper money is burned as an offering to the ancestors after the praying is done.
Rice, tea, and liquor served to the ancestors
Burning the money.
SOME of the food
The foods from the altar.  The red dots make it all extra special.
The table from another angle.