Friday, March 16, 2018

Five on Friday: In Defense of No

I feel like there's a lot of pressure to say YES. Say yes to your kids more, they're only young once! Say yes to helping with the bakesale-protest-schooldance-candlelightvigil-cleanupday! Yes yes yes!

I'd been starting to feel overwhelmed by scheduling and realized I was just spacing out on too many things. I was already trying to scale back when the nor'easter hit and we had 5+ days of no power, school or work (for me).  It was slow, and it was nice.

I combined my desire to scale back with lessons learned from the power outage to realize there were plenty of good reasons to stand in defense of NO.

1. Power outage lesson: No screen time. I don't think we have a ton of screen time to start with but over the winter we certainly rely on it more. Without power the kids were finding all sorts of fun ways to stay occupied and there was even, somehow, less bickering. So I'm saying no to screen time with more frequency, but not as a punishment, as an encouragement for other creative play. (I'm also following up with, "Do you want to play a game with me?" more frequently.)

2. Power outage lesson: I know I already touched on this in last week's list but it bears repeating: there are no excuses for not getting together with local family more often. We had so much fun visiting, eating dinner with and playing games with family when the power was out. We need cut back the scheduling craziness and do that more.

3. Ah, the scheduling craziness: start saying no to more commitments. Birthday parties for classmates that we don't ever hang with, performances with my theatre troupe (hard for me to do so I'm focusing my energy on a bigger show and exhibit we're doing next month).

4. Not attending every argument I'm invited to--online version. No more arguing with strangers. Oh, there's been so much infuriating ignorance lately. I'm refusing to engage with people who clearly aren't willing to have an actual conversation--so much so that I'm not even going to give examples! (Go me!)

5. Balancing the last two with saying no to what is completely unacceptable and responding accordingly.  This has really been driven home by that big project I mentioned in #3--we at The Meta Theatre Company are assembling a Survivor Art installation for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. We've gathered stories from survivors of power-based personal violence about what they were wearing at the time of their assaults. When they said "no," they were ignored. So I am saying no to inaction. I am saying no to accepting or ignoring this. I am saying yes to cutting back in other areas in my life so I can create, assemble, advertise for, set up and perform in this show.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Five on Friday: No Power, No Problem

We'd been without power for about 48 hours when I figured it was time to cook up some of the food that was in the fridge before it went bad. We have a gas stove so no power is no problem for cooking. (We're also lucky enough to have a pond so we were  filling buckets with water to warm up for washing dishes.) "It's almost like you were made for this," observed my husband.

"It's all that playing house I did." I said it as a joke but I think it's at least partially true. Countless hours of my youth were spent in my backyard playhouse, crafting meals from scavenged wild onion grass and collected rain water.

We hadn't resorted to eating wild onion grass yet but I did horrify my children by saying I think I could capture one of the bigger birds that come to our deck for birdseed and cook it if we were desperate.

Besides just being in my element this week with fire stoking and water collecting, I have to say I've actually really enjoyed not having power. I like feeling self-sufficient and spending a lot of technology-free time with my family. It wasn't terribly cold, work and school were canceled, nearby family still had power for when we needed to shower or recharge, we had firewood, water and each other (oh, Mom, you're so corny!).

Here are some of the best things about the five days without power:

1. The fireplace! Great for warmth, ambience, drying snow boots, and using that pie iron we forgot we had! The first night without power we all ate dinner on the floor by the hearth and my 11-year-old said, "If the power came back on now it would kind of ruin everything."

2. Finding a creative way to brew a pot of coffee . . .

3.  Remembering one of my best parenting hacks: glow sticks! While the fireplace, candles and a big flashlight were sufficient for seeing each other and playing games at night, bedtime can be scary when there's no light coming from clocks, appliances and hallways. That's why I try to always keep glow sticks on hand, to give to the kids to take to bed when the electricity has gone out. This  go 'round they also discovered the joys of a battery-operated transistor radio that used to belong to their Pop-Pop and the glow sticks were great for in-the-dark dance parties.

4. Chalkboard observations from my oldest son that made me laugh: Games News Other I miss the internet :(

The power is BACK--and this time it's personal. Electricity 2: Regular Boogaloo.

5.  We played together so much. Card games, board games, silly games. My 11-year-old may now be a Rummy 500 card shark. We had dinner with Grandma, Aunts, Uncles . . . it was really nice. We need to remember that there doesn't have to be a nor'easter for us to do these things. I may institute no-power nights in the future . . .

BONUS:  My husband may have said one of the best things he's ever said about me when he said, "She's like a funny, sexy Ma Ingalls. It's weird." That might be what I want on my gravestone. Or at least, I don't know, my resume.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Five on Friday: Playlist for Parkland

Mighty Parkland warriors, you don't know me but I've been thinking of your community all day. I'm starting to write this list on the day when you are headed back into your school. Today my kids had a half day--I'm not sure why but it worked out well as it turned out to be an unseasonably warm February day in New Jersey. They're all outside playing with kids from the neighborhood. My kids went to school today and then they came home again, safe. All of them. All of the neighborhood kids, too. Apparently that's something I shouldn't take for granted anymore.

All week I've been hearing songs that seem to lend themselves to the powerful movement you've created.  My daughter will be headed to a March for Our Lives in a large city in a few weeks, we'll be seeing what other protests are happening locally.  Walk-Outs and protests are planned here in our schools and my children of varying ages will be participating in various ways. I'll be supporting them and still thinking of you . . . and listening to my Playlist for Parkland. (There are more that keep occurring to me to be included but these were the first five.)

1.  Tori Amos' God. This is for all those "thoughts and prayers" from previous shootings that did nothing to protect you.  

                                             God, sometimes you just don't come through
Do you need a woman Parkland Teenager to look after you?

2. Tom Petty & the Heartbreaker's I Won't Back Down 

You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won't back down . . .  
                                                and pretty much every lyric in this song.

3.  Tears for Fears' Sewing the Seeds of Love  Lots of good stuff  in here, too, like:

High time we made a stand and shook up the views of the common man
Sowing the seeds of love . . . sowing the seeds, and end to need the politics of greed 

4. Vampire Weekend's Giving Up the Gun Not sure what they're actually referring to with these lyrics, but I generally think that lyrics are open to interpretation to how they apply to the listener's life. This one's for all the 2nd amendment defenders turning in their weapons.

 And though it's been a long time, you're right back where you started from.
I see it in your eyes, that now you're giving up the gun

5. David Bowie's Heroes 

I, I can remember
(I remember)
Standing by the wall
(By the wall)
And the guns, shot above our heads
(Over our heads)
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall
(Nothing could fall)
And the shame, was on the other side
Oh, we can beat them, forever and ever
Then we could be heroes just for one day

Except, of course, your heroism endures. History has its eyes on you.* Thank you for your bravery.

If this playlist was a CD, I'd want my daughter's original artwork to be the cover.

*Bonus Hamil-Track, natch.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Five On Friday: Are You an Activist, Too?

So many ideas for a Five on Friday post this week, but nothing felt right.

The shooting last week was bad enough but the reactions this week--mocking teen activists, claiming they are crisis actors (if that were really a thing, how would I apply?), suggesting more guns are the solution--made all of my ideas for a list seem pointless.

I kept finding inspiration in the teenagers that are speaking out. Maybe I could do a post of the top five quotes, tweets or video clips? Perhaps a playlist of five kick-ass songs to encourage and support them? What about my opinion on guns as a human, as a feminist, as the survivor of a violent crime and/or as the mother of children of color in public school?

No, no, no. Nothing was right or complete.

I took a walk in the rain yesterday morning, considering all this when I got a text from my teenager. She and I had talked about the pros and cons of a student walk-out protest, what some alternatives could be and what organizations or individuals at school might want to team up on this project. Her text message let me know that a fellow student had already scheduled a meeting with the High School Principal and she and some other friends were going to work with them.

I wasn't surprised to hear which young woman initiated the meeting--her mother and I have worked on a few social justice initiatives together. I texted Mom saying, "Mom activists=kid activists!"

She admitted that she's still getting used to referring to herself as one. This is a person who, among other things, has recently worked to pass an Anti-Hate Resolutions in her town and is helping bring it to my neighboring township. But I get it, I struggled with calling myself as an Activist for a long time, too.

I think most of my friends would feel the same but when I look at the various ways they let their voices be heard, I consider them all to be Activists right along with me.

Are you an Activist too? Maybe you can't organize a March or speak in front of hundreds of people, but I'm willing to argue that if you have done any of these things, you're right here with us:

1. Marched. Donated time or money to a cause your believe in. Joined a community of like-minded individuals. Signed a petition. Volunteered.

2. Watched a movie that taught you something about a marginalized community. Bonus points if you discussed it with someone afterwards.

3. Ever gone out of your way to be nice to stand up for someone else. Smiled or been extra friendly to someone that you suspect other people aren't always nice to.

4. Had a discussion with someone who disagreed with you politically, even if you walked away from it feeling frustrated.
5. Talked to any children in your life about biases, why people might exhibit them, what we can do about them. Involved them in rally or supported them in protest.

So have you?

Welcome to the Resistance.

My daughter's poster from the Woman's March '17 on display in an art exhibit

Friday, February 16, 2018

Five on Friday: The Optimist Gives it a Shot

I’ve had a little bit of a rough week.

It started with several dumb little annoyances and worked its way up to an upsetting incident affecting one my children at school (and it’s killing my oversharing self to not share but it’s not time yet, maybe won’t ever be).  

And all of that was before the news of yet another school shooting. It's no surprise that my heart’s heavy and feeling a little bruised. 

But if you know me at all, you know I'm an optimist who loves to look around for the things I am grateful for, particularly in times when I'm feeling low.  Aren't I lucky* that I can find more than fit on this list? Here are the top five:

1. My 12-year-old car broke down three weeks ago and ended up costing way too much to justify fixing. It basically just stopped driving on the highway--but luckily my permitted daughter wasn't driving, I wasn't hurt, and I had Overkill Jones to use in the meantime.  On Monday I was very happy to get a new car! It's an 11-year-old car and it’s a hybrid with a sunroof and a CASSETTE PLAYER. I love it. I named it John Stamos (Maybe he's been around the block a few times, so to speak, but my baby still look gooood)

The resemblance is uncanny.

2.  My oldest daughter got her driving license! Of course there was nothing for her to drive at first but now John Stamos has saved the day. I'm happy she now has the freedom to take silly little jaunts like a run to the new supermarket with her brother just because they can. But what I'm really excited about is the fact that I can have some help in shuffling younger kids to or from activities. Woo-hoo!!

3. Homemade Valentines---this year's top two. The top one was made by my youngest for her biggest brother.  The bottom one was made by my son's friend who makes the very best cards every year.

Good thing I didn't say "beautiful fairy" because that is Gandalf.

Outside of the card
Inside . . . ball humor. I can't.
      4. Even though I'm really upset about what happened to my child at school this week, the staff's response has been above and beyond my expectations. I'm very grateful.

    5. Some very good news that some children in my community will be reunited with their siblings as they should have been over a year ago. This one made me cry tears of joy. 

      I hope you're able to find some joy this week, too. It's been a rough one for all of us.

  *there I go being an optimist again

Friday, February 9, 2018

Five On Friday: What I'll Miss

I have long been steadfast in my belief that I will not miss the things older parents insist that I will one day--oh you know, things like the dirt and noise of children. I know what they are telling me, that the lack of muddy sneakers means the lack of children in the house and they miss their little kids.

While some sorts of filth (like finger smudges on the walls) are a thousand times more charming than other sorts (unflushed poop in the toilet),  I firmly maintain I won't miss any sort of grime.

Lest you think I'm just being totally stubborn, I assure you I already sometimes miss my kids and they still live here. But I find sometimes I miss the babies and toddlers they used to be. I miss the actual children and the nice things like their chubby hands caressing my face. I do not miss the dirty diapers and being woken up repeatedly overnight. At. All.

I do know there are things about these days that I will miss, too, and these are some of them that I will surely miss tremendously:

1. Yard full of kids. After school, five is never enough. Most days it's seven but can be up to eleven. I adore being the house the kids come to.

2. Dress for dinner nights . . . randomly selected evenings where we come to the dinner table in disguise. Last time we did this was in the fall--I liked the bearded lady costume I came up with so much, I might use it next Halloween.

3. Making up and playing games together. On Monday, our 7-year-old made this one completely on her own: she took twenty squares of paper and wrote instructions on them. She then placed them all around the house. The rest of us had 5 minutes to find them and complete the tasks. My favorite was "take a short rest."

4.  Steady supply of original artwork:

5. Together time in so many forms: all of us at the dinner table and the ridiculous conversations we have, snuggle time in Mommy and Daddy's bed on Sunday mornings, family movie nights, countless card games, road trips . . .  I've got to stop now as this list is starting to make me really depressed. I think I'm going to go grab a kid and play a game of Uno.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Five on Friday: One Month Done!

Somehow one month of the new year has already passed . . . so how are those resolutions going? I understand the backlash against resolution-making; too many people choose unrealistic goals and then unsurprisingly give up on them. 

As this sign in front of the High School says, a goal properly set is halfway reached. It also says that if you believe you can you're halfway there! We've been debating if that means all you have to do to realize your dreams is set a proper goal and then believe you can do it.

I tend to set little goals for myself throughout the year as needed. When the year is brand-new and the weeks of holiday craziness are finally over, it always seems like a good time to make a few more. So I guess that makes me a resolution maker.

But then, you know, life gets in the way. We started the month with the kids barely in school (holiday, snow, ice, holiday . . . ) and not having a normal routine seems to make everything harder to maintain.  To combat this, I've been trying to check in with myself to see how I'm doing. I'm going to try to make a monthly Five on Friday list to hold myself accountable to my goals and today's the first one.  I've focused on five areas with "properly set" goals:

1. Health: Meh, last year was annoying for me, health-wise. Nothing serious, just a bunch of time and money spent to more or less conclude that this is me as a middle-aged woman and that I'm going to have to make some adjustments. Weekly goals in this department include meal planning and flossing. It's going pretty well, now I just need to get the kids to floss, too. Oh and I need to make our dentist appointments. That will be February's goal.

2. Relationships: With such a large family and so much keeping us busy all the time, it's hard to get valuable time in with one another. It's idiotic to not prioritize this, life is too short not to. I can't spend one-on-one time with everyone I'd like to every single month (properly set goals!!) but I'm trying to make sure I get on dates with my husband, spend quality family time together, see friends and extended family . . . 

3. Self-Care: Closely tied to 1 & 2. Exercise, naps, seeing friends, doing my nails, etc. I had a massage yesterday and I am sure the masseuse was appalled by the tight and knotty state of my upper back. In February I aim to horrify a nail technician with my rough winter feet.

4. Creativity: I hadn't been writing much recently but something clicked the other day and I was happy to get out an essay I feel good about it. February goals include some more writing and finishing the family video of 2017.

5. Community: January's an easy one in this department because of Martin Luther King Day. Other months won't be such massive undertakings . . . however, because of this year's MLK Day, I've made some new partnerships with other groups and individuals that would like to do more community service events. I'm also planning a Sexual Assault Awareness Month event with my social justice theatre troupe. That won't be held until April but the planning of it might fulfill this goal for February.

Anyone else out there make any resolutions that they're still holding strong to? Remember, believe you can and you're halfway there!

Friday, January 26, 2018

Five on Friday: Good Morning, Sunshine!

Yesterday sure was a day.  You know know the kind of day I mean. The kind that started off with a wet bed and a car breaking down on the highway  . . .


. . .  and ended with me yelling at the kid (the one who had been the least annoying one  of the day, no less) for kick-kick-kicking the counter which resulted in both of us crying.

Just . . . a day.

Today seemed like it was off to a shaky start but I'm trying to turn it around. How about  I'm some visual reminders of things that made me happy recently for today's list? Good idea, here they are:

1. One of my favorite parts of the MLK Day of Community Service is getting to look at all of the cards and letters that the volunteers make. A little girl named Matilda made this card and I just love it so much. "Joy is spreading all around New Jersey" . . . I definitely felt it that day. I'm going to feel it again today.

 2. My teens, without planning, both had polka dot socks on  the other day. Also they posed for me.

3. You may have heard it's been so cold this winter that in some places, waterfalls froze. There just so happens to be a waterfall at the historic mill where I work and I had been keeping my eye on it to see if it'd freeze.

It didn't.

However, the water directly under the logs that are currently stuck at the top did freeze, making the logs seem like they have ice beards.

4. I think I've told you that I've been lucky enough to befriend Ilene Beckerman, author of Love, Loss and What I Wore.  Recently she's also struck up a new friendship--with my 7-year-old. I think they may be pen pals now, we got this yesterday in the mail:

5. This is a lovely picture but its loveliness is only part of the reason it's on the list. The bigger reason is because my husband texted it to me yesterday with "Good morning, Sunshine!" Some people like sexy texts from their spouses, but happy little ones like this go a long way, too.