The Shoe Assignment

A few weeks back, our now ten year old Aidan had an art assignment due. And even though this is a subject in which he is quite talented and actually enjoys, he still resisted having to sketch "any pair of shoes" in his sketchbook. Because apparently he is half donkey, and not the strong work ethic half.

Solomon's Sneakers
After helping him choose Solomon's velcro laden toddler sneakers so that he could avoid the unbearable labor of drawing shoestrings, he continued to plead his case:

"Mom, I can't draw the shoes," he complained.

"Sure you can," I assured him.

"No, I can't! How do you even draw shoes?" he asked, stubbornly.

"You just look at them and draw what you see, the way you do any other drawing," I said, my patience fading.

"But these are more complicated," he complained.....and on and on and on...until finally I'd had enough.

"Look, it's not rocket science, it's art. You do your best, you move on," I said, taking a piece of paper and pencil and attempting to draw the shoe. I am no artist. It was pretty terrible. No, no. It was down right pathetic.

Karen's Pathetic Shoe Drawing

"Mom, that's, well, um, that doesn't really look much like it," he said, trying to be respectfully honest.

"No, it really doesn't. So why don't you show me how to do it?" And I stormed off....far, far off.

No more than five minutes later he came downstairs with this:

Aidan's Shoe Sketch
Why that little.....donkey!

But seriously, the kid can draw.....when he wants to anyway.


January Book Update

January flew by in what seemed like record time and looky here, we are already over half way through February! While there has been very little opportunity to read, I stayed up late a few nights (and failed at housekeeping a few days) in order to finish up several books. (I also added a few more to the queue.....sheesh, you'd think I'd let good enough alone!)

The Memory Keeper's Daughter - I had heard only neutral reviews on this one and now I know why. This book's best attribute is that it takes place, in part, in Pittsburgh, PA. (Kurt was born there and the majority of his family is still there as well.) Other than that, I thought it was kind of boring and much too slow. While Kim Edwards seems to be a decent writer, I think she tried to fit in too much and, in doing so, failed to do a stellar job on any of it. It was much too predictable, offering very few twists and turns and quite honestly, I almost put it down midway. But what do you expect for a book based in Pittsburgh. Just kidding, family! That was the only redeeming aspect in my opinion. But then, maybe some of you loved it and I am just too picky....

If the Church Were Christian: Rediscovering the Values of Jesus -- This book, by Quaker minister Philip Gulley, was a pretty fantastic look at today's church and how we could improve it to be more like what Jesus might envision for the church. He was fairly insightful in his examination and I found it thought provoking (a great treadmill read) and challenging. This would be great for any congregation looking to improve their ministry and fellowship.

More than a Carpenter -- Written by Josh and Scott McDowell, graduates of Talbot Theological Seminary (a fairly conservative, evangelical seminary in CA), this book is an attempt to "prove" that Jesus is who Christians say he is; that the resurrection is real and that the Bible is 100% accurate. I read this at the suggestion of a friend and had to grin and bear my way through it. I found the often flawed and quite circular logic to be off-putting and although it is a tiny book, I had a hard time finishing it. This book was a goner for me from the start though as I believe faithful witness of how lives are changed by God is far more powerful than an attempt to "prove" the truth or inerrancy of the Bible (most often using the Bible as evidence that the Bible is true......in other words, because the Bible says so it must be so. For skeptics however, that argument just might not have the impact these writers are hoping to attain....just sayin'.)

The Time Traveler's Wife -- I will admit, I am a sucker for a book that so completely engages me that I fail to change diapers, clothe children, clean bathrooms or do laundry. (My family is not as excited when I find such a book!) This book by Audrey Niffenegger was engaging, perhaps not to THAT extent, but I really found it entertaining and enjoyable. If you can suspend reality as we know it and like an unconventional, Sci-Fi love story, this book is worth the read.

Traveling Mercies -- This was the first Anne Lamott book I have read and she may just be my new hero. She is witty, brutally honest, deeply spiritual in a down-to earth sort of way, inspirational yet relatable (even if your life is nothing like hers, you read her stories and nod your head as if you were by her side the entire ride), and down-right funny. This book tells of her faith journey from her childhood to her days as an alcoholic and drug addict to various deaths of loved ones and the birth of her son, how she found the right church to help her along the path and how she got herself turned around through it all. I loved this book so much that I immediately purchased her book on writing called Bird by Bird, and am almost done reading it for the second time! (Yay iPad on my runs!)

The Hanson's Marathon Method -- Easily the best book on marathon running that I have read (in all fairness, it is the only book on marathon running I have ever fully read.) Luke does a great job of explaining the science behind the various running workouts and the plan itself (although at times this makes for fairly dull reading). Full of charts and graphs, he lays out workout-specific paces and how to set your marathon goal pace as well as intensities for various runs. He covers basic nutrition/hydration for runners, different types of running specific stretches and strength routines, pre- and post-race plans, (had I read this book BEFORE I ran the last marathon I might have saved myself seven months of Physical Therapy and pain by NOT running for two full weeks post-race! Live and learn....), race-day fueling and strategies, basically everything you possibly need to complete a good race. I highly recommend this book, especially if you have run a marathon or two and are eager to tweak your training or take it to a new level.

Grace for the Good Girl-- I have to admit I was disappointed by this book. As a blogger, Emily is terrific. She is inspirational, calming, simplistic. Her writing is everything mine is not, how I would want to write if I weren't me, and I love her for it. Her book, however, took on a very different voice. She is trying to be vulnerable but it comes off as almost pitiful or immature. You want to just tell her to suck it up, this is life, move on. (Kurt says I need to work on my empathy skills....perhaps he is on to something.) But, but....I can relate to a lot of it and have had fairly good discussions with my mom's group and another friend about it. So, all is not lost. I have come to realize though that perhaps this a book that would have been great for the former me, the me of yesteryear who hadn't gotten to the place of letting good enough alone. Since I recently reached perfection however, I no longer need the reminders of our utter need for God's grace..... (JUST KIDDING!) I don't think I will be recommending it, however, her blog, Chatting at the Sky, is well worth a peek!

That's it. I am still working on the others and am fairly certain they will be read by Christmas.....2015.

Have a great weekend, friends!


On Aging

It's an interesting thing, this aging business. It reminds me of this little one-armed girl in my preschool class. I struggled between wanting to be as close to her as possible (yet recoiling if I brushed up against her highly contagious prosthetic) and wanting to watch from afar, perhaps hidden behind a teacher or a tree, secretly observing her because I was told it wasn't polite to stare. I wondered how I could become her best friend without being awkward around her, constantly fighting off the urge to ask: "So how does it feel to be missing an arm?" and "You know that one isn't real, right?" And oddly, part of me was envious of her. Our teachers were the untrained pitt bulls of the preschool world; mean, aggressive, snarling; yet this girl seemed impervious to them, up on her one-armed pedestal. She was at once someone for whom I felt both envy and pity.

Aging is like that for me: simultaneously filling me with dread and wonder; revulsion and hope; fear and longing. I want to be its best friend while keeping it at arms length. I want to tell it to ignore the ignorance out there but be honest about how that skin-toned plastic really doesn't make it look anymore like a real appendage than say bright pink might. And I want it to respond kindly, as if it hadn't thought of that before and now everything will be much better because my honesty and I exist. And secretly, I want to be impervious to it, watch it happen to other people but perhaps have it go easy on me because, hey look, I eat right and exercise and am nice, sometimes..... Or perhaps I'll just take my mom's approach and be too busy to get old.

I overheard a couple of guys at the gym the other day talking about their basketball team:

One guy said to the sympathetically nodding other guy: "Yeah, it's all old guys playing this year. Other than a couple of us, they're all like 34 and 35. I mean, for sure the majority of them are over 30."

I know, right? Just thinking about those elderly 30-somethings trying to do anything other than rock in their rockers with their knitting and crochet needles nearby makes me cringe, too.

I almost stopped in my tracks. Should I offer to take them for a spin on my treadmill or make them attempt the craziness that is my Ashtanga class first? Initially, I felt a defensive disgust. I am 35 but I am certainly not old by any standards, well, except perhaps those of my five-year old or Hugh Hefner's (which would explain why I have never been asked to the mansion....that and um, other more notable issues....) But then.....but then, I had to pause. I remember, not too long ago, wondering how it felt to be 30, 40, 45. You know, older. Numerous times, I have asked my own parents: "Can you grasp the fact that you are the age you are?" and "How does it feel knowing I am now beyond the age you were when I was born? Isn't it surreal?" I am curious because I know that they were in my shoes not too long ago. And before that, just teenagers, courting each other in the moonlight on a soft mid-summer's eve. Or something ancient like that. And this year, they will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. I can recall when my grandma and grandpa had their 50th anniversary, not so long ago really.

Recently, as I was sitting on the floor of the women's locker room, having just completed one of many tough workouts in my marathon training (which I am fairly confident young basketball boy would struggle with), an elderly lady looked over and, smiling kindly, told me I looked like a ballerina. Although deeply flattered, I had to laugh. I assured her I was not a ballerina, that although I learned the basic steps in childhood, my gracefulness, or lack there of, had made sure to keep me off the dance floor. She chuckled.

"Well, you are at least sitting like one," she declared.

I tried to picture what she saw: my hair, tightly pulled up in a high bun; my sharp jawline, now tense and angular, perhaps from too many stressful, sleepless nights of nurturing children; high-ish cheekbones slightly flushed from exercise, color that perhaps hides the laugh lines beginning to etch near my eyes; a long, slender neck cradled by tediously sculpted shoulders; and one leg casually bent as I slowly pulled up a compression sock onto the other leg extended before me. (Because apparently we old ladies need compression socks!)

"Hee hee, sure....just like a present-day Degas," I joked. She laughed as she carefully turned and started toward the pool. I watched her go: her body, withered and worn; the arching hump up one side of her back barely concealed by a thinning black swimsuit that couldn't quite hold her all inside; her legs, splotched and dimpled, one twisted and unstable, left her unsteady, painfully slow and dependent on a walking stick. Her ankles ballooned over her feet which had been carefully tucked into simple, ballet-pink slippers. And oh, that unruly mess of wispy charcoal hair that was plastered to her wrinkling head. Yet, she smiled warmth, and her good humor was welcoming and full of grace.

I wonder about her, about her life, who she was and is, what she sees when she looks in the mirror; what she feels. Her eyes and smile twinkle with fullness. Her body doesn't seem to be playing along. But like the rest of us, she is much more than a body, as the person we are is certainly not determined by the condition of the vessel. And while I don't know her, I can tell you I'd much rather spend an hour with her tattered and used-up self than with that trim and muscular basketball baby. She could teach me a thing or two about life I am certain. Her trophies, as my grandmother likes to refer to her wrinkles, were as grand and numerous as the stars. I can't say the same of that poor ball-playing child.

But, I can say, if it is true that you are only as old as you feel, sometimes that makes me like 17....or 12. But mostly, I try not to think about these things. Because my mom might say the same thing. And my spritely, 94 year old grandma, still living on her own, well, she too might say the same thing. The waning body begins the process of decline, but if you are lucky, your mind remains fresh and your feelings of who you are, well, it's as if you could still run and cartwheel your way through dew topped grass in the crisp morning air.....if it weren't for that darn cane getting in the way.

Yes, it is an interesting thing, this aging business. It's a tough act indeed, balancing our desire for vitality, and our resolve to have fun while living fully and well. And if we are fortunate, we have plenty of time to struggle with it and plenty of time to realize how very little time we truly have. (Which is why I plan on going for the hot pink hip replacement next year.....you might not be able to see it, but its very existence will surely make this old gal merry and bright! And who knows, maybe I'll even take up basketball now that I am over the hill....)


Karma's a Relentless Bit..

The girls want to make these bracelets. They require what looks like key rings on one end, only they are about a quarter the size of a normal key ring. Michaels did not have them so I told the girls we could go to the hardware store. We first stopped at Menards, which is the upscale, foofy version of a hardware store around here, complete with a baby grand piano (and live music on the weekends) smack dab in the middle, next to the conveyor belt escalator thing that locks your cart into place as you move safely up the ramp to the second floor (while your six year old licks the black hand rail on the way up because, well, that's how she rolls...or perhaps because she is hungry from not eating breakfast since I sometimes like to starve her in the morning). 

At any rate, they didn't have what we were looking for so we headed to Home Depot, which is where I like to shop anyway. I like the barebones-warehouse atmosphere with the real, live construction people shopping nearby, the rows of parts and tools and extra high everything, the concrete floors, the orange-ness. It seems more rough and tumble. And people don't notice as much when an occasional scream erupts from a certain cart full of kids because the noise travels straight up and out and on over to construction zone heaven where I am pretty sure they use it as energy for their heavenly power tools. Win-win.

The five of us arrived at Home Depot, and no sooner had I gotten the two little ones strapped into the oversized cart when a nice older gentleman stopped us and asked if the kids would like a balloon.....orange helium filled balloons to be exact. Because they hate us. 

We turned right around and headed out the door. No balloons here Mister Nice Guy!

No, no, that is not what happened. I saw the flicker of excitement in the children's faces and politely accepted the offer, because apparently I am an incredibly slow learner. And that is when I saw Karma's sly little face grinning at me as she tilted her head back to let out her most evil laugh. Within moments, one boy child was hitting the other on the head with his balloon. The second boy child immediately started hitting back, with his fists, but stopped paying attention to his balloon string that got caught under foot and snapped in two. Luckily, I was able to catch the balloon and tie the washer back on but that is when younger girl child decided she should confiscate aforementioned balloons from all the other children. Older girl child saw the opportunity to help and within the time it took us to get from point A (entry) to point B (key rings), the whole cart had imploded and all that was left was the sound of four young children wildly screeching as I stood back in a corner, drinking cocktails from some random flask I found making comments about the nerve of these irresponsible parents allowing such a scene to unfold here in the quiet, calm hardware store. Well, in my head I did that. What really happened was, I quickly found out that Home Depot did not have what we were looking for and so the only part of the trip worth salvaging were the free balloons that were now completely tangled in younger girl child's fist. 

When we got home, she sweetly asked if I would untangle them for her. 

"Not a chance," I said as nicely as possible. And then added, "Good luck with that."



How to Ruin Valentine's Day for Someone Else's Kids With a Handful of Squirmy Noodles.....

Well, at least it felt like a handful of squirmy noodles, or maybe worms, but, I am getting ahead of myself here.

Liam goes to two preschools, back to back, three days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. So it goes without saying that this year, they had to celebrate Valentine's Day on a day other than today. And of course, both classes chose to do so the day BEFORE Valentine's. Well, actually, it shouldn't go without saying because even when told ahead of time (repeatedly) that this will be the case, some parents, naming no names, forget about it completely because it is just that kind of holiday....the kind that you can forget.....because it is fiscally irresponsible stupid. And because by February, I am completely out of celebration stamina, what with Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Solly's birthday and Liam's birthday, all running together like festive diarrhea, the kind that you know isn't quite over but no amount of Imodium can stop it because Valentine's day is right around the corner and then Aidan's birthday and then Kurt's and then......it is a never ending celebration around here. I sometimes wonder how we aren't all like 300 pounds by Easter Sunday.  It's probably the diarrhea.

Anyway, as I was saying, after his 5-year well-visit, where he so very bravely took a shot in each arm without so much as flinching, Liam went happily off to school where they handed out their Valentines and Liam had nothing to give out. Nada. Niente. Nichts. Nihil. Zilch. Why? Because I forgot. Because apparently I am that kind of parent...Not the kind I thought I would be, you know, the one who enthusiastically stays on top of all things and has all her kids proficient at two different instruments and at least one foreign language by the time they are five. No, not that kind. Apparently I am the kind that, even with five working calendars, forgets things, like feeding their kids breakfast (which happened earlier in the week.....all the kids got ready for school while I packed lunches and put out breakfast for everyone but as I was dropping them off Lily informed me that she hadn't eaten. Like any good parent, I deflected the accountability back onto her and told her that everyone else managed to eat, why didn't she come to the table and so on and so forth and 'you'll just have to go to school hungry'.....that worked great until she felt so bad she went to the nurse's office where she proceeded to tell them that her mom didn't give her breakfast that morning. I think the kids secretly want to have weekly meetings with protective services.)

But, back to my story: Never fear, I had a second chance, a chance to redeem myself, to make it better, to go from Mommy Dearest to Mother of the Year, or at least Mom of the day....or perhaps just the hour but I'll take what I can get.

The next class was going to have a Valentine exchange complete with a parent-interactive party. I asked Liam what he wanted to give his friends and he decided on heart pencils. Cool. No problem. Except for the fact that the dollar store was all out of pencils because apparently other parents don't forget to stay on top of their kids' needs, like Valentines....and breakfast. And that is when I saw the solution: Balloons! If I walked into the party with 14 Valentines Balloons, surely that would make up for my failure as a parent!

But, I also still had a training run to fit in before the party and so instead of taking the time of getting specific balloons, I grabbed whatever blown up Valentines balloons I could find. Had Liam's class been a group of normal little girls, the mess of pink butterflies would have been totally fine.

But they are not. So, in I walk (ten minutes late) with 14 helium filled balloons disrupting the entire class which had been happily working away at various crafts and games. I sat on the floor so that I could tie a candy on the end of each string and another mom kindly came over to help as half a dozen boys congregated to watch. Pretty soon, it was time for the children to sing their songs, after which they were told they could come get a balloon.

This is where it gets a little dicey. You see, if you have ever bunched together more than two or three balloons, you know how entangled they can become. It's like trying to untangle a pot full of unbuttered pasta. Sort of. As soon as you think you have freed one, it just gets wrapped up with another and pretty soon you fling your hands in the air and go about looking for something to use to put yourself out of your misery instead.

At any rate, there I was, trying to untangle the balloons. One kid wanted a red one and after ten minutes, I finally freed it and off he went. One of the two girls in the class asked for the only green frog (seriously, why not the pink butterfly? Why?) Another five tongue biting minutes of untangling and I was able to give her the frog. It went on like that until I was down to two bears and six butterflies. And there were four little boys. (And as many toe-tapping, half irritated, half amused parents.) The teacher came over to help me at this point and within maybe four minutes, amidst the hollering, pointing, whining and tugging of 4 year olds, I was able to give one of the bears away. Then, that boy's little brother came up wanting a bear balloon just like his brother. But there were two little boys from the class who also wanted the last bear balloon. I gently told the baby brother that he could have a butterfly which sent him into an absolute fit. He went crying back to his glaring mom as if I had just stolen his favorite stuffed animal and fed it to the rabbit and then pinched him. Twice. I apologized profusely and tried to give him a butterfly balloon, which apparently was demonic because he wouldn't even look at it and he proceeded to throw salt over his shoulder. Meanwhile, his older brother came in screaming and crying because he had managed to pop his bear balloon and he now wanted the other one. Again, I apologized and told him only one bear balloon per family, but here, have a butterfly. Their mother dragged her two screaming, balloon-less sons from the room as the teacher and I wrestled with balloon strings for another five minutes. At which point I just popped them all with a pasta fork and sent the rest of the kids home crying.

No, not really. Although I felt like it. So, twenty-five of the most chaotic minutes later, all the kids had balloons and were gone. And the teachers and I just had to laugh because, what the hell just happened?

I ruined Valentine's Day, that's what. And you know what else? Frankly, my dear, I don't give a.........because my kids are totally stoked to have a beautiful pink butterfly balloon to torture until it pops. At which point, I will never buy another balloon again. Ever.

Happy Valentine's Day.


The Editorial Board

Back in December, while Kurt was out of town and I was reading the local paper over a hard-earned glass of cheap red wine, I saw a blip from a local magazine seeking a few women to sit on a new editorial board they were creating. Having just come off the high of being in another local magazine, and because it sounded particularly interesting that evening as I was resolving to be more than "just a mom", I wrote the editor of Savvy.MN and applied for a position on the board.

Now, those of you who faithfully read this blog and remember last year's Red Dress incident or my fashion statement at my sister's NYC wedding the year before, you are already laughing because you are thinking what I apparently wasn't thinking after two glasses of wine: how does someone without any care for fashion, who is not the least bit "savvy" per say, sit on an editorial board of a magazine that is all about such things?!

My thought was that I would be the voice of the athletic, stay-at-home mom who, although is not the most up-to-date when it comes to such things as fashion and shopping, does care about good journalism, writing and how it all comes together. Plus, we oddball marathon-running moms of five or more kids must be represented.....all three of us.....

At any rate, they chose nine women to sit on the board and surprisingly, I was chosen to participate. (I think the editor must have felt some sort of pity on me and decided to take a leap of faith that I would have an occasional good idea. I will be forever thankful.)

Today was the first meeting, and while I can't tell you anything about it because then I would have to kill you and that is apparently bad for readership, I will tell you that I was thrilled to be out of the house sans kids, enjoying lunch and brainstorming with a bunch of women I would never have met otherwise. Of course, it occurred to me afterwards that everyone else had actually thrown on something nicer than jeans and a sporty shirt, and that they were, for the most part, fully accessorized (and no, Self, the rubber band around your wrist does not count!) But, having just come back from the gym where I had done a crazy seven miles of intervals and hills, all I can say is, hey, at least I showered! This is progress.