Alone Again, Naturally

Well, Carl has been at a conference in Dallas for the last few days, leaving me in a tailspin of tuna fish salad and Harry Potter video games. I swear I usually have more internal resources, garden of the soul, etc. Not so much this time.

My lovely neighbor popped by yesterday to drop off some homemade cookies for Carl and I… Haha. They were delicious.

Perhaps I will bake him something tomorrow?

Maybe.

Yes, probably. The guilt would be too much.

In the meantime, I keep having food dreams. Food and sex. I’m not going to say these are the things I’ve been missing most—we do talk a good quasi-companionate marriage game, Carl and I—but yes, the last two nights my dreams have been following a strict mashed potato-the steamy/lovely-bacon sandwich storyline. It’s pretty awesome.

And yes, technically I understand that as the primary cook of the household, there really shouldn’t be anything stopping me from whipping up some mashed potatoes when the urge strikes. But… for one person? ALL those dishes for ONE meal?

Cabinet diving, I call it. Haven’t run out of chicken noodle soup yet.

In other news, I’ve taken a job. Sort of. Just one day a week, doing clerical and writing odd-jobs for my brother’s nonprofit. It’s kind of exciting, and I’m looking forward to, you know, getting paid for working on short-term projects that other people will actually see! I don’t know if you were counting, but that’s three major wins in one sentence.

I’m happy about it. Hoping it helps give some structure to my week.

Although since my brother lives almost exactly two thousand miles away, today’s three hour training meeting will be conducted via Skype. Meaning I probably should shower some time soon. I thought about also doing the dishes, but I think I’m going to just sit on the other side of the table so the lap top points away from the kitchen.

I’m clever like that.

Happy Friday, everybody! May your favorite people be home tonight and your work be rewarding!

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5 Things Not To Say

You could write this post about any topic, I’m sure. But I’ve read a lot of posts and status updates lately by mothers who are sick and tired of hearing snarky-rude comments from strangers about their family size. And I get it. Honestly I have no idea what makes a total stranger feel it’s acceptable to sail up to somebody and make a joke about their family. That sort of blows my mind.

You can have opinions about family size—everyone does. There are even settings where it’s appropriate to discuss the pros and cons of different sizes—as long as the conversation is theoretical and non mud-slingy. And there are maybe a few, rare situations where you might be close enough to a person (say when you’re MARRIED to them) when it’s ok to express concern over their family size.

But it’s never ok to be snarky to strangers about their children. Ever.

So far so good, right?

Here’s the thing: people are rude.

And if you’re a mom of 3 or 6 then I’m going to go out on a limb and say you probably started your family fairly young. People probably fussed and cooed over your first-born because you had him or her at exactly the right time. On schedule. When you were supposed to. So you might not have had a chance to notice the prevailing human principle that, when it comes to reproduction, people are rude.

I know this because I’m married, almost 29, and don’t have children.

And while I’m pretty sure that first fact isn’t going to change, the middle one seems to every year, and the last one hopefully will at some point, so I’m writing this now.

While the comments are still fresh.

So here it is:

5 General Principles for Talking to Young Women without Children.

1. It seems obvious, but a great question to avoid is “Are you pregnant??” There are a couple of possible outcomes, and none of them are especially pleasant for the woman under your microscope. For example, if she doesn’t want to be pregnant right now, you are reminding her that social pressure is always ready to question her decisions. On the other hand, she may be one of the many women who would LOVE to be pregnant but hasn’t been able to conceive yet—in which case, good work reminding her of all her worst insecurities. Then again, maybe she really is pregnant! Score, right? Wrong! If she IS pregnant and she wants you to know she would have told you already. If she hasn’t told you, then chances are good she’s not ready for you to know. Unless you know the woman really well, and you know she’s been trying to conceive ,and she comes up to you with a big grin and says “GUESS WHAT’S IN MY UTERUS?!?!” asking whether a woman is pregnant is almost always a bad idea. And I didn’t even mention the whole insecurities about being fat thing. Well, I guess I just did, but you know what I mean

2. Most women have made plans and are acting in accordance with them. This one seems especially difficult for folks to grasp, but whether you have 8 children or 2 children or no children chances are VERY good that you planned it that way. Even if you “left it in God’s hands,” you probably had a good guess that you were going to end up with a lot of kids. And you were probably really happy about that. Good for you! Chances are really good, though, that the family with 2 kids and the young couple with no kids also made plans. Chances are good they also looked at the same information, weighed the same pros and cons, and made some decisions about what they thought would be best for their situation. You may disagree with the decision, but please don’t assume they’re blindly marching in lock-step with whatever social evil you most despise. The truth is we all face conflicting social pressures. The mega family with 12 kids might be getting a lot of support from their church, but they probably hear a lot of snarkiness at the grocery store. The woman with 1 kid might not hear it at the grocery store, but she probably gets an earful from her mother who expected more grandchildren. Again, you may not agree with the woman’s conclusion, but I don’t know any women my age who haven’t given serious thought to issues of family size, when they would like to start having children, and how close or far apart they would like them to be. Women aren’t mindless automatons. Even women whose families don’t look like yours.

3. Even married women with no children get sick now and then. A couple of months ago, I sent Carl off to a family gathering without me. I wasn’t feeling well, but mostly because I was in an emotionally raw place, and I just didn’t feel like being around people and making light conversation. When he came home that night, I asked him how his evening had been. “People asked if you were pregnant,” he said, looking somewhat confused. Oh, yeah, I thought. I forgot to warn you about that. See, as a woman you can’t ever say you don’t feel well and expect to leave it at that. You have to give titles and symptoms. Never: I’m not feeling well. Always: I have the flu with a temp of 101 and a doctor’s slip to prove it. Otherwise rumors start. So be nice to women. If they give evasive reasons for missing an event, don’t assume they’re pregnant. Maybe they just had a rough day. Maybe they’re emotionally fragile right now. Maybe they can’t stand being around you right now. Just… cool it with the pregnancy rumors.

4. Most women are sentient beings, able to read, and moderately intelligent. It’s difficult to be a woman in this country and fail to be aware that the rate of birth defects starts climbing around age 35. Or that women in their mid to late 30s have more difficulty conceiving. Or that younger bodies recover more quickly from childbirth. Trust us, we’re aware that we’re not going to be young forever. We can read, and we have OB/GYNs. There’s no need to sidle up to us and remind us of these facts. I’ve been told that (at 28) I’m starting to be “old” for conceiving. I’ve been told that I need to “get cracking” before it’s too late. I’ve been told people in my generation seem to have an awful lot of miscarriages because we wait too long to get married. I’ve been told that my risks for breast cancer are much higher than normal because I haven’t given birth and used my breasts as God intended. For real. By actual people. If you want to stay off the voodoo hex list, practice the golden rule of information: try to imagine that other women are about as informed as you are… especially when it comes to their own bodies. (And if you really CANNOT imagine that other people know as much as you about reproductive health, try to imagine instead that if they really wanted your opinion, they would ask).

5. Not everyone gets to be fertile. Similarly, Every woman has the right to share or conceal her own heartbreaks. Don’t get me wrong, “so, do you have any kids?” is a totally appropriate getting-to-know-you question and isn’t likely to offend 99.9% of the inhabitants of planet Earth. I’m not talking about that. And some women are very open and matter-of-fact about their fertility issues. You’ll know this because when you meet them and the conversation gets around to children and whether or not they have any they will tell you they have fertility issues. I find that’s generally the best indicator whether or not they’re comfortable with people knowing. The rest of the time,  it may be wise before blithely questioning a woman about her reproductive plans to mentally count to five and remind yourself that she may be unable to have children, she may have experienced a traumatic string of miscarriages, or she may have already spent $10,000 in failed fertility treatments. I will never forget an experience I had when I was in college, chatting with a friend and walking by a pair of pregnant women. Someday that will be us! I said. She smiled limply but didn’t really say anything. At the time, I hardly noticed. Later, I found out she couldn’t have children. Her body basically went through menopause while the rest of ours were hitting puberty. I’ve never forgotten that, or gotten over how painful my words must have been to her. Remember: It’s NEVER the duty of the hurting to educate others about their wounds. It’s our duty as human beings to educate ourselves about reality.

So there you have it. My crabby, curmudgeonly list.

Go forth, people.

Be kind.

And remember: whatever your situation is, you’re not the only one being picked on.

Congratulations! You’re a woman! Of childbearing years!

Ah, politics…

Anyone else weary of the debt crisis debate?

I don’t know about you, but for me listening to political speeches is a lot like listening to random strangers complain about their marriages. First because the problems are never actually the problems. Sure, the United States has problems. Everybody has problems. But like any dysfunctional marriage, the debt and spending problems aren’t really the problems. The real problems are the attitudes and the foolish, foolish rhetoric.

Obama’s “inherited” problems in the Middle East? Sorry, every President inherits bad stuff. Boehner’s “blank check” nonsense? Sorry, that’s just patently false.

Of course, I might feel more kindly if they didn’t keep interrupting my life and TV programming to give me all these dramatic and passive aggressive updates on their relationship woes. But The Bachelorette was especially compelling last night. And you know how I feel about that.

And for those of you not yet sick of hearing about the brawl over the national debt, my favorite article on the subject is written by James Fallows and simply called The Chart That Should Accompany All Discussions of the Debt Ceiling. Check it out. And do read it all the way to the end of the “UPDATE” section before sending me huffy comments. Or better still, direct any huffy comments to Fallows. He wrote the article and actually has some sort of mild political clout. I continue to have opinions but so far none of them have succeeded in changing anything, so I wouldn’t say arguing with me really needs to be anybody’s top priority.

Sigh.

On the other hand, I did find this sort of awesome Josh Groban clip today.

It made my day better.

Maybe instead of arguing over the debt ceiling we could get together around a campfire and sing some of Groban’s new compositions? Ponies and rainbows, people. That’s what we need.

Oh, and fur pillows.

Beating the Heat

Don’t know about you, but the heat is driving me crazy around here.

I’ve been skulking indoors all week, doing the things that need doing and spending most of my free time stretched out on the couch reading Harry Potter. Apparently so much so that when the alarm went off this morning (at 4:10am, but more on that later) I realized I was already awake, concentrating hard on what it means to really be a Hufflepuff.

Let me tell you, Rowling may not be all that interested in the Hufflepuffs, but my subconscious is going to get to the bottom of those characters stat. It’s that important.

When I woke up for the second time (much closer to my usual 9:45) I was thinking about Angelina Johnson of Gryffindor, a player on one of the Hogwarts Quidditch teams. Apparently the subtleties of that character also require intense plumbing.

I am ON this thing.

Anyway, 4:10am.

Joel had to catch an insanely early flight this morning in Detroit, so he jaunted over to our place last night for the evening. We had a nice, laid back kind of evening. Double solitaire until Carl came home followed up by some Plants vs. Zombies, brownies, and the old arcade X-Men. You know, quality bonding.

Besides the laundry and other housey jobs, the writing continues in fragmented bits—a smattering of those random moments where you think oh, she’s a WIDOW, that makes it so much more interesting or I really kind of like the name Angus Finchey-Phelps; it’s so WODEHOUSE and grabbing a 3×5 card in order to scribble it down properly.

Speaking of 3×5 cards, did you know that Nabokov wrote most of his novels on them? Not “used them to contain pieces of research he consulted while writing” but drafted the actual text on a huge series of notecards? According to Wikipedia:

Index cards were like his laptop and text editor: portable, in that he could write in the car while his wife drove him across the Western US on butterfly expeditions, and easily editable, because their order could be reshuffled.

In case you missed it, my favorite part of that sentence is the bit where he wrote “in the car while his wife drove him across the Western US on butterfly expeditions.” Not on vacations. Butterfly expeditions. Of course.

If you like index cards or hipsters, you’ve probably seen this website, but it’s worth the link anyway. Especially enjoyable for those of you whose loved ones are addicted to their Blackberries and iPhones.

All I’ve got for now. The laundry calls.

Something Unpopular

Kids come up with the strangest games. When I was really tiny, I remember playing a game called “Truant Officer” with my older brothers. Someone would yell “TRUANT OFFICER” and we would all have to hide.

That’s it. That was the game.

We used to play it a lot on car trips. Somebody would spot a car edging up in the passing lane, decide it was probably a truant officer and sound the alert, and we would all have to hide until the car had safely passed by.

A truant officer, my older brothers explained, was somebody who found little homeschool children like us and made them go to public school. And maybe took them away from their parents. We knew it was just a game. But there was always that little tang of fear to keep the game interesting.

I hadn’t thought about that game in years until the other day I overheard someone joking about Child Protective Services—you know, one of the many, “don’t let CPS know you let your kids do that fun and slightly dangerous activity!” things.

And I thought, hmmm.

Fascinating.

What are we really teaching our kids about our government? And for those of us who don’t have kids yet, what attitudes toward government and authority do we have that might need reevaluating?

Don’t get me wrong. My parents never sat me down and said, “Ok, Jane, here’s an important fact of life: be afraid of people in government! The government is out to destroy homeschoolers and Christians and everything you are.”

And yet some amount of that vibe was always present in my family, my church, our social communities.

I’m pretty sure that’s not a value I want to pass along to my kids.

Most importantly because it isn’t true. To be honest, I really haven’t spent a lot of time as an adult thinking about CPS. And I probably wouldn’t know anything about it now—except that one of my best friends went into social work and now works with an agency who comes alongside families with open CPS cases, helping them work their situations out so they can (hopefully) keep their kids. It’s heartbreaking, frustrating, thankless work, and I am constantly baiting her for stories because I find it all intensely impressive and interesting.

I’ve also learned something.

CPS isn’t the bad guy. Most of the time, parents get to keep their kids. Over the last year or so, here’s a random sampling of the parents who didn’t get to keep their kids: the one where the single mom repeatedly failed her many drug tests; the one where the kid went to the ER 3 times (in about a month) for broken bones with sketchy stories; the one where the parents got in repeated knife fights in front of their toddler.

Of course, we all have our favorite CPS horror story too, the one where the innocent parents are put in prison while the terrified child is shipped off to foster care. Unfortunately, that’s happened before too (although in the above stories, all of the kids went to grandparents or other relatives). CPS is run by humans, and humans make mistakes—sometimes with terrible consequences. But my point is this: can you really say you know the full story if the only story you know is that one doozy?

Trust me, I get that CPS or the government or whatever agency you don’t like has problems. The world isn’t black or white, and sometimes parents are in a hurry and don’t have time for a full treatise on the gray nature of human endeavors when your kid asks what foster care is or who Mickey Mouse is or why you have whatever TV rules you have in your house.

I get it. I do.

But for every ten times you say “Mickey Mouse is a fun cartoon character” (or “Mickey Mouse is the god of American consumerism,” or whatever you typically say), do you ever back the truck up to explain that there are two sides to most coins?

And when you reference CPS in front of your kids, do they understand that CPS exists to help keep them safe? We all make snide comments about the government’s latest bungles, but do you ever make a point of telling your kids about the laws designed to protect their rights and safety?

It’s not about raising kids to blindly fear or blindly follow. Neither extreme is healthy. Probably most of the time we don’t mean to be teaching our kids anything in particular—we’re just expressing anxiety or fear or anger at some perceived threat to our parenting philosophy or faith practices or whatever.

I guess I’m just saying sometimes you don’t know what you learned until you’re nearly thirty, reflecting on a weird game you played as a kid and realizing you picked up a lot of odd ideas about government and authority and people in uniforms that probably hasn’t been hugely helpful.

And deciding you don’t want to pass it on to the next generation.

Harry Potter and the Weekend Illness

Well, first of all, the butterbeer was delicious. We used this recipe and were mostly pleased. With a few important caveats: namely if you follow the recipe you will not be able to finish even a moderately sized mug of the brew before the sweetness overpowers.

I think the recipe calls for a quarter cup of syrup to each mug, but I’d start with something more along the lines of 2 tablespoons and adjust from there. I don’t remember the butterbeer at Universal tasting nearly this tooth-aching sweet, and I’m pretty sure Hogwarts would be a diabetes factory if it was.

My opinion anyway.

My dear friend Em came over for dinner and the butterbeer experience. Here she is looking all cute in Slytherin green.

I hadn’t been thinking ahead or I would have gone all themey with dinner and done a roast chicken feast or something along those lines. We tried really hard to come up with some connection between Harry Potter and soft tacos, but the best we could do was Sirius Black Bean Burritos, and I’m not sure that counts since they weren’t burritos and the black beans were actually in the rice. But it’s something, yes?

We decided yes.

It made us happy.

After dinner we watched some Harry Potter specials on TV, and then it was time for Em to dash home and us to get to the theater for our midnight showing. Which was really good, a great finish to the story.

Other than that, our long weekend has been extremely low key. I’ve been feeling dizzy and flu-ish, mostly propped up on the couch reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone because it never ceased to amaze (and unsettle) my friends that I could LOVE to read, deeply enjoy the Harry Potter movies, and NEVER have read a single one of the books.

So I’m reading them now. And it’s really fun.

I don’t tend to read a lot of kid lit, but I have to say it’s definitely a nice change of pace after the heavy novels I seem to keep picking up. It’s also encouraging to see that while Rowling is a sturdy, fun, consistent writer, the magic really is in her world. It would be too incredibly discouraging to think that a writer has to have every good quality in the book in order to sell well—though obviously only one writer in a billion is going to hit the jackpot like she did. Rowling is an ideas writer, and probably one of the best in the business, but her prose doesn’t bowl me over.

I find that oddly relieving.

Also oddly relieving: lying back down. Shall go finish The Sorcerer’s Stone now…

Things I Haven’t Written

“You haven’t written on your blog in a long time,” Carl said the other day.

“I know,” I said. “I don’t have anything to say.”

Which hasn’t been an insurmountable barrier in the past, I know, but there seemed something—not mournful, exactly, because I’ve been having fun—personal, is maybe a better word, for the last two months. Time for working on projects and not trying to convince myself or anybody else that said projects are useful or full of meaning. Just stuff I felt like doing.

Stuff I felt like thinking about.

And all the little pieces of life that come together in the mean while. Lots of holidays and birthdays and cook outs. Some fantastic books (Little Bee is the best book I’ve read in ages, if you want to know). Homemade lemonade. Homemade butterbeer—well, that’s tonight’s adventure, actually, in preparation for tonight’s midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part 2.

Yes. Carl bought our tickets last week. And we might possibly have seen large chunks of all previous 7 over the last week or so. I’m not exactly sure, to tell the truth, because I keep falling asleep after 20 minutes. A bad brush with insomnia last week has left me playing catch-up for DAYS. Egh. Not my favorite.

Carl was also the one to track down the butterbeer recipe, though I suspect the making of them will be a joint venture. The recipe reviewers gave it an 8.5 out of 10 for similarity to the taste of the theme park brand, so we’re optimistic. Will let you know how it turns out.

Assuming I don’t take another 2 month hiatus.

No, here’s the thing. The real thing, I mean:

My problem is that I don’t really want to do the next thing. I see my next thing, I see it sitting there waiting for me to tug on my boots and go do it. But I don’t want to. I make plans to do it. I think about how it might work. I break it into concrete steps and reasonable chunks and put together a detailed deadline for accomplishing everything I have in me. And then I go make a lasagna. Because lasagna is easy. Nobody ever gets mad at you for making a pan of lasagna.

That’s my problem.

It would be hard to write the blog I want to write, just like it would be hard to write the book I want to write.I would make mistakes, and I generally beat myself up for mistakes because where I come from that’s just what you do. Also people would be mean. (People are often mean, I’ve discovered, when you talk about something besides the weather. Or lasagna, I suppose).

The funny thing is that I’ve also lost my old sense of guilt over it. The more I think about it, the more I realize it’s ok to avoid things. I mean, it could be a problem if you avoid everything in the world, but the number of people actually doing that is pretty low and probably mostly confined to hospice. Most of us are doing the best we can. Yet we’ve made such a religion out of doing the hard thing—whatever is the most difficult and extreme and stressful is probably EXACTLY WHAT YOU SHOULD GO DO RIGHT NOW.

Kind of ridiculous when you think about it.

And I’m kind of over the notion that God or the cosmos is personally offended when I don’t valiantly storm whatever gates I imagine I’m supposed to be storming on that particular Thursday. To tell you the truth, I haven’t found storming to be an especially useful occupation in the main.

So, yes, that’s what I’ve been doing for, oh, probably for the last six months. I’ve been boring myself into greater authenticity. There are probably faster or more lofty ways to do it.

But boredom seems to work just fine.

And no, I didn’t know any of that before I sat down to write this post. I thought this was going to be about butterbeer. Maybe next time.