Friday, October 23, 2009

In the middle of...taking stock

So, it is so easy for us to notice when things aren't going our way. We complain when we don't like our haircuts, our coffee is too weak, our bosses are unappreciative, our spouses don't pick up on our subtle hints.

We gather over glasses of wine with friends to rehash the trials of the past week. We text, e-mail or leave messages for family members that have overlooked some obligation (Did U pik up cleaning???)

Rarely do we put the same time and effort into noticing and appreciating all the things that go so right.

What if we all tried to find one positive thing to focus on each time we brought up a negative one? The simple act of noticing how many good things we actually experience each and every day could turn the day around!

Give it a try! The next time you clench your jaw because no one else ever takes out the trash, force yourself to spend as much energy thinking about the fact that your son called you from college, just to say hi!

I'm going to try, if it doesn't work I'll complain about it next time!!!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

In the Middle of...Learning through Living

Relocating to a different area of the country, even temporarily, opens up many opportunities for learning. Some of these we seek out and others seek us out. Recently Murphy and I were exposed to some things I would have preferred not to learn about, but such is life.
Prior to our month long adjournment to South Carolina, I took some precautionary measures. Murphy went to the groomer for an extra short cut to keep him comfortable in the heat and humidity. To protect him against the possibility of fleas and ticks (bugs are bigger and badder in the south) I treated him with Frontline Plus.

Mistake #1: Flea and Tick products are not created equal. I would later learn that Merial, the company that distributes Frontline, is only supposed to distribute through veterinarians. So how did Costco end up with pallets full of the stuff?

Murphy experienced a negative reaction to this “black market” treatment which included foaming and drooling at the mouth and several hours of agitated behavior. The reaction was minimal enough that I didn’t associate it with the flea treatment until my friend Ruth mentioned her dog’s reaction to a different over-the-counter flea killer. While her pup’s symptoms were much more severe, they did include the panting, drooling and agitation I had seen in Murphy. I left for South Carolina feeling guilty that Murphy had suffered a few hours of discomfort but secure in the knowledge that he would have a flea-free month.

Two weeks of daily visits to the Myrtle Beach dog park, two weeks of frolicking in the pond, rolling in the dirt and sharing slobber with doggy friends and Murphy was ready for a good bath. I booked him at Bubbles and Fluff our favorite southern groomer. I associated his increased itchiness to the heat and dropped him off with a request for an oatmeal bath to soothe his skin.

The groomer called. Fleas.

How could this be? I treated him with Frontline. “When used monthly, Frontline Plus For Dogs completely breaks the flea life cycle”. And, “Research demonstrates that Frontline Plus kills adult fleas, flea eggs and flea larvae for up to three months.”

Concerned about the possibility that the Frontline treatment had in fact caused the previously mentioned side effects, I called my vet’s office back in New Jersey.

Mistake #2: Speak directly to the vet, not the nice young girl that answers the phone.

After explaining the situation, and my concerns, in detail I was told my only recourse was to, “try another topical flea treatment. They all contain different active ingredients that affect each animal differently”. I went out and purchased Sergeant’s Gold.

Mistake #3: Never, ever, ever buy or use these over-the-counter products unless you like to watch your pet suffer and want to spend several hundred dollars at the vet!
Murphy reacted immediately to this second treatment. His skin swelled up and became inflamed. He began biting and rubbing at the treatment area. Having read the “precautionary statements” before applying I tried to wash the toxin off of him. He began to drool and pace. He tried to sleep but began to have involuntary muscle contractions. And…he still had fleas!

Another call to the vet, this time, “take him to a vet, he may be having seizures”.

The Murrells Inlet Veterinary Hospital was incredible! They bathed and detoxed Murphy. They prescribed a medication to calm his neurological symptoms. They administered an oral medication to control the fleas. I was warned that the side effects could last up to two weeks.

Lesson learned.

Despite the cute little dogs and happy people in the advertisements these companies care very little about the well being of your pet. Nowhere in the ads or literature do they claim “no animals were harmed in the development of this product”. Always research products on your own prior to use. A subsequent search revealed many other pets poisoned by this same flea treatment!

And... southern fleas have attitude!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

In the Middle of...Learning to live the life of a Beach Bum

I first knew I wanted to live by the beach when I was 16 years old. Robert Kirby's promises of a life running a dock in Ocean City, Maryland sounded so romantic then. Luckily my father ran Robert off and I waited for another opportunity.
I know that some of you may be worried about me spending alone time here in the Palmetto State. Would I be bored? Lonely? (ha!) Let me attempt to put your minds at rest.

In order to preserve my sanity during these many weeks, I mean days, of alone time I have come up with the following daily schedule. Mind you, this schedule is only a general frame of reference, I don't really subscribe to the whole "routine" thing!

7am"ish"-wake up and walk Murph
7:30- 3 mile walk/run, 5 mile bike ride or 4 mile walk on the beach
8:15ish quick dip in the pool to cool off
8:30ish-coffee,breakfast (on the porch, overlooking the ocean)
9:00ish-dog park
10:30-2pm "ish"-exploration time- this could include kayaking, photographing or exploring the many surrounding waterways, parks, towns or shops.

2pm-lunch (I have found some amazing little markets!)
2:30-4ish-work time-writing/reading (several "works in process" and professional reading)
4-6ish-beach time-napping and pleasure reading by the waves
6ish-outdoor shower, dinner, dogwalking

So, as you can see, I have managed to figure out how to fill up my days, no need to fret.

Thursdays, however, I may just have to make room for this new group of like-minded friends!

Next year we're going to work on Steve extending his time in the south, I miss his company (and he's great at loading the kayaks!)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

So You Think You Can Run...Week 1

Those of you that know me should be aware of 1 thing: I hate to run!
However, I do like to walk, alot. I also enjoy watching the little numbers on the scale go down and not up. So I've always wanted to like running.

Last weekend I participated in the 10 mile "Blessing of the Fleet" run in Narragansett, Rhode Island (the walking race, Steve and our friend Sam did the run). I did fairly well for someone who had never participated in an organized race, 129th out of 716 total walkers. 95th out 570 women. That's top 16% for those of you, like me, that don't do math. I averaged 13.33 minutes per mile. Well, all the hooplah got me just slightly more motivated to try running again.

I found 2 web-sites that laid out plans for beginning runners: and,7120,s6-238-261--9397-1-1X5-3,00.html

The week 1&2 routines didn't look so scary, so this morning I gave it a shot. Being slightly more fit than a "couch potato" and not being able to read the hands on my watch while I ran, I modified the day 1 routine a little bit. I ran 1/4 mile then walked 1/4 mile around the marked course at our local park. I completed 2 laps in this manner for a total of 2.66 miles in about 30 minutes. Not bad for day 1, we'll just have to see if this running stuff begins to win me over!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Dr. House are you listening?

It never fails, somewhere around minute 42, when the patient is about to die, before House has had the revelation that will lead to the diagnosis, one of the residents will yell out questioningly, "Sarcoidosis?"

This is never the accurate diagnosis mind you, one begins to wonder why they keep trying it, Dr. House never even acknowledges the guess.

So imagine my surprise when, after visiting my own doctor with my mystery ailment, I looked up her possible explanation (shingles) and was given the "related search" option of...SARCOIDOSIS!

So, Dr. House here are the symptoms:
6 days and counting
scratchy, burning skin
no rash
limited to the chest and back on the right side only

In addition:
itchy, burning, watery eyes
occasional blurry vision
poor memory (I just burned the fruit crisp!)

I will await your miraculous diagnosis, if you need to come check my home for contaminents please call first, this ailment makes it hard to wear a bra!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

In the Middle of...Turning Back Time

Turning 50 is certainly a milestone, one that most people complain about. The truth of the matter is, 50 doesn't feel that much different to me than 30. I've been wondering then, why do we resent the numbers as they grow? I believe it may be that what we really resent is giving up the things that make our youth so exciting; taking risks, acting crazy, being irresponsible. It is true that as the years, jobs, marriages and children accumulate, we give up the spontaneity that we surrendered ourselves up to in our teens and twenties.

So this past weekend, I gave myself over to that spirit once again. I'll admit I was hesitant and almost talked myself out of it several times, but in the end I took the leap.

Several weeks ago I received a "friend" inquiry on my "Facebook" page (sometimes you need the kids to help keep you young at heart). A high school friend I had not seen or heard from in 32 years had come across my name. I was put on an e-mail list that included many names that I remembered fondly but had left in the past. This group was organizing a "Class of'77"- 50th birthday party and hoped I would attend.

My first reaction? "I haven't seen these people in over 30 years, I can't imagine I would have anything in common with them. Thanks, but no thanks." However, as I read the responses and thought about past friendships, I reconsidered and tentatively accepted.

The date drew closer, my objections continued to surface; 4 hour drive? camping out? feeling out of place? My internal debate continued up until the day before departure. That was when I agreed to pick up a fellow attendee at the airport in Philly on my way to the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I was locked in.

The weekend was amazing, reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones. I'm glad I let a little of that youthful spirit guide me!

The only downside is how much harder the ground seems when you are 50. The next adventure? A few of the AHS girls are hoping to visit me this fall and do a little NY sightseeing, I can't wait! (And we'll all have beds)

Friday, June 26, 2009

In the Middle of...overwhelming Deja Vu

Many of you know that my own #2 (our affectionate name for Matilda prior to her birth), Dani, has recently returned from 10 months in New Zealand. She referred to her trip home as time travel since she traveled over 30 hours and arrived here a mere 6 hours after her departure time. Not being a math person, this completely confuses me! She came home changed in many ways, not the least of which is her engagement to Nelson. We are all so excited and a little wary. Given Danielle and Nelson's enthusiasm for protecting the earth will we be wearing and eating things that should be part of the next "Survivor" series? Never mind, wherever and whatever, we'll be there!!!

Well, Dani's return was the start of "Camp Dani 2009" for Annie and Matilda who have travelled through several states, spent hours and hours in the car and slept in a variety of cribs in order to visit the friends and relatives that have been missing their Aunt Dani. God bless Joe and his infinite patience.

Meanwhile, school has ended for me and I have embarked on one of my many summer projects. My goal is to scan and save all of the family photos. Seeing Annie and Tilda just before their summer birthdays made me choose 1982 as the 1st album to attack. That was the year Dani was born and Kristen was Annie's age, hence the Deja Vu. I began at 10 AM and finished around 3PM. Whoa...I'm going to need a longer summer!
Here is a little taste of Past meets Present:Kristen and Danielle 1982

Danielle with nieces Annabelle and Matilda 2009

If you love these, and just must have more, you can see all 107 at


Sunday, June 21, 2009


The Path of a Boy (should be read "Man")

From diapers and bottles
Baby powder wars
Naked swings
And throwing rocks in the creek
(for hours and hours)

Around block parties and lemonade stands
Rain boots in the gutters
And horseshoes at the pool
Colanders that became helmets
(if you wear them on your head)

Past “Star Wars” and “007”
Super soaker wars
Cell phones
And ever changing video game systems
(no mom it’s not a violent game)

Through man hunt in the woods
Your first kiss
And the heartbreak that followed
Show me how to tie my tie
(I need your help even when I pretend not to!)

Into practice sessions
Guitar and Retro men
And music tours and marathons
Axis and Allies
(Will the World ever be the same?)

The paths that have conspired
To draw you away
And into yourself
Away from family and friends
(But always bringing you back again!)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

In the Middle of...Questioning the effectiveness

We often complain in our school that the students are the way they are because of the lack of parenting in our district. Many parents seem to be more comfortable assuming the role of friend and equal to their children, allowing the school to take on the task of teaching manners, morals and more. Schools serve to educate beyond the academic and the definition of what they must address is ever changing; this I accept.

Facing the threats of air raids during WWII, teachers instructed students in the art of staying safe (did anyone really believe a wooden desk would stand up under a dropped bomb?) When the dangers of tobacco became evident, smoking and cancer became a part of the health curriculum and the "smoking court" at my high school was officially shut down. Sexually transmitted diseases and Aids led to instruction in safer sex practices ( abstinence the "wooden desk" of our generation?)

So my colleagues and I willingly accept that we may be the only hope many of our students have of learning simple human decency. Saying,"Please, Thank you, excuse me, and I'm sorry" have become part of their formal education because it is not expected or required by those outside our walls.

However, we are increasingly guilty of the very sins we accuse the parents of. Guidelines, rules and repercussions are established and then inconsistently enforced. Students are learning that they are not held accountable for their behavior. Skinner proved long ago that inconsistent reinforcement led to the greatest repetition of a target behavior, why don't we know better. Pick rules that are important and reinforce them consistently.

Take something simple, like gum chewing for instance. We have a rule, I'm not sure I agree with the necessity of said rule, but it is a rule. However, at any given time probably 2/3 of the students can be observed chomping, chewing and blowing bubbles as they walk through the halls. This may not seem important to you, unless you are the one who happens to step in the wad discarded on the floor, but the message is clear; the rules are not important, so why follow them?

A more serious example? One student, who has been in "in school suspension" more than any other 8th grader in recorded history, actually missed his 1st period class for 2 months (yeah, my class!) and has failed every core subject this year, will be joining us on the end of the year picnic and moving on to the high school!! This after he was given several "just 1 more chance" warnings. Again, the message is the same, follow the rules if you want because no one really cares. Where is the line that can not be crossed? When is one held accountable for the choices they make?

If we are in the business of preparing kids to be responsible, committed and compassionate members of society, I'm worried.

Friday, May 29, 2009

In the middle of...swine flu and oven fires

While the school year is winding down there seems to be an exponentially equal surge in hormones amongst the middle school set. Thankfully, we have thus far been blessed with relatively mild days, which has cut down on the musky odor of 12-14 year old boys that normally builds up over the course of the day, suffocating most of us by 9th period. I challenge the makers of "Axe" to stand there between classes and decide if they are really doing pubescent males a favor by adding to the already pungent aroma, "Febreeze" would be the wiser choice.

We experienced our very own "Pandemic" with the H1N1 virus this week. Exactly 1 student has tested positive. But in the wisdom that is epidemic in Livingston, that child went on a church retreat while sick because kids here get what they want, regardless of how it affects others. The many other students who he/she possibly infected showed up for school on Tuesday only to be sent home and "quarantined" for 72 hours. This also helped to cut down on the odor issue, fewer bodies = less B.O. The scare led to increased warnings to staff and students; wash hands more often and avoid close contact with others who may be ill. Apparently the 7th graders I caught mugging it up in the stairwell misinterpreted the close contact message, the kids appear to hear only half of what any adult might say to them.

The kids, however, are not the only ones whose judgement seems to be impaired by the approaching summer season. I was in a meeting today, discussing the progress of a special ed student and his impending move to the high school. Several other extremely well educated professionals and the students parents were also in attendance. During the course of our discussion, the fire alarm rang. Students filed quickly out of the building, as they have been trained by us for years to do. The group I was with decided to shut off the lights, close the door and continue our meeting, basically ignoring every safety lesson we've ever been taught, after all the dad had to get back to work! Well, as is usually the case, we quickly realized the folly of our action. The fire alarm droned on and on and on, well beyond the normal 10 minutes it normally takes to evacuate 800 kids and 100 adults. We all surmised this was no ordinary fire drill. As we nervously awaited the "all clear", we started weighing our options. Should we file out and risk being caught in the act or possibly interfering with firefighters? Wait it out and climb out onto the adjacent roof when necessary? Luckily we did not have to act on our plan B's; the call to return to the building was made. The fire had been in the oven in the "foods" classroom and was extinguished quickly and without further incident. Let this be a lesson to us all-Never ignore a fire alarm!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Spring = Assessment

In education Spring is a time of stress. According to my Yoga instructor the same is true for our spiritual energy. Apparently growth and renewal are hard work in any venue. Spiritually, the hard work of discipline and self assessment will result in a stronger, more centered life. Educationally, does this mean we can expect to experience gains proportionately equal to the pressure we've been experiencing? Will the result of all this tension be a better environment in which to teach and learn? Well...I'll keep an open mind.

Thanks to "No Child Left Behind" (more accurately as No Child Can Be an Individual) school districts are under a mandate to show an increase in test scores each year (Adequate Yearly Progress). Fail to meet the mark and you are branded a "Failing District"; within the failing district there are specific "Failing Schools"; within the failing schools there are specific "Failing Subject Areas". When this happens in a district like mine (affluent, priveleged) the result is a melee similar to Chicken Little screaming "THE SKY IS FALLING!" So for the past several weeks pressure has been applied by the superintendent to the principals, from the principals to the teachers and from the teachers to the students to make sure this doesn't happen again. Yes, we have been branded a "Failing District". Hmmm...the results of all this seem to be counterintuitive. I was under the impression that as a teacher, it was my goal to promote student growth in a positive environment. Apparently that's all well and good as long as it doesn't interfere with the test scores!

Coinciding with all the "Happy Happy Joy Joy" feeling we've been getting as a district we also get to take part in the annual "Formal Observation" ritual. This process allows the supervisor to observe a teacher for 40 minutes and based on this "snapshot" assign a value to multiple skills the district feels a "Distinguished Teacher" should possess. Can you say "Dog and Pony show"? My observation was last Thursday, I feel it went well, students actively engaged, working together, demonstrating "higher level thinking skills". Stay tuned, Monday I find out how I measure up on the teacher ranking scale.

Thanks to tenure, and having never lost control and physically abused a student, neither of these "Spring Assessments" will really impact my job. In 2 weeks tests will be over, my formal observation written, and I can go back to doing what's best for my students, teaching. Until next year, that is!

Meanwhile, I took my Yoga instructor's advice and did a little "spiritual" reflection and self-assessment. What turmoil am I going through that will allow me to emerge a stronger, more grounded individual? My thoughts turned to the birthdays of my 2 youngest children, affectionately known for years as "The little guys". Yes, we were a house divided, but not in the sense you might think. Being a "blended family", our offspring were grouped; The Big Girls and The Little Guys. "Guys" in this case being gender neutral, since one of the little guys is Emily! Having this division, made it somewhat easier to let the big girls leave the nest, we still had the little guys.

Well, in the past month Steven turned 18 and Emily turned 20. No more "Little Guys"! This is a difficult transition for me as it signals a move into the next phase of adulthood, one which I'm not sure I'm really ready to admit I belong to. However, reflecting on getting to this point did give me a sense of pride in my accomplishments.

The "Little Guys" have become people I am proud to know. Emily is a sensitive, intelligent young woman who is driven to succeed without compromising compassion. Steven has a wonderful sense of humor, creative spirit and an ability to connect and appreciate the best in people. If I were able to develop an assessment that measured the qualities of character, they would both be "Distinguished". So, my personal turmoil translates into a gift to the world. I feel good about that!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Shave and a haircut...too far?

Inspired by Dani and Nelson who both are sporting new Spring looks, I went in for haircut. I may have gone a bit too far. Feeling somewhat adventurous, I told the stylist I was torn between going short and just a "touch-up". She looked at the picture I had brought with me and excitedly replied, "Do it! You'll be so happy you did!" Encouraged by her enthusiasm I said (with a considerable amount of trepidation) "OK, let's do it". Well, I left feeling less than thrilled, the cut looks much shorter than the picture I had proffered. As my son-in-law wisely said, "It will 'grow' on you". One way or another.

Please, no comments. The positive ones will come across as disingenuous flattery. The negative ones might make me cry!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

In the middle of ...watching them grow (then go)!

I am so proud of my son! After years of watching his beautiful spirit, mind and soul grow and standing by as he struggled to find a way to express himself; he has arrived. Pride and melancholy, because now he's making plans to head off to college. I guess that is the true paradox of parenting; if you do your job well, they don't need your guidance anymore. However, if you're truly lucky, they continue to want it. Looking forward to the next stage with my beautiful boy!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

In the middle of dog parks and middle school plays

What ever happened to civility?

I know I'm getting old, but have we really stopped seeing the need to teach our children manners? Is that an old fashioned idea whose time has come to pass into the archives of "I remember when" stories? Tales told by elderly aunts and uncles around the holiday table as the next generation rolls their eyes?

Watching my middle school students perform "Damn Yankees!" this weekend was excruciating, but not for the reasons you might think.

Any flub of the lines, note sung out of key or misplaced prop was more than compensated for by the passion of the cast and crew. Students that consistently forget to write down their homework reciting line after line of dialogue. Amazing! Others that carry around binders that defy organization, moving sets and props at the precise moment. Incredible! These up-and-coming SAG members worked hard, and it showed!

No, what made the performance unbearable was the behavior of the audience!

Pre's, Tweens and Teens texting, unwrapping, munching, conversing and laughing as if they were sitting in their own living rooms rather than in front of their peers toiling on stage. These behaviors might have been overlooked if the adults accompanying these junior audience members had stepped in to correct and guide their charges, but NO! And so it was left to us off-duty teachers to step in, despite the curled lips and rolled eyes of the offenders as well as the quizzical looks of their parents (What is your problem? Why are you picking on my kid?) and try to instill some sense of decorum.

Things work better in the dog park.

As each new guest arrives, they are surrounded and greeted by the other attendees. Through a nudge of the nose, a sniff of the butt and a little posturing, the rules are made evident. Forget the rules and there is always someone nearby to growl, bite or slam you into the dirt as a gentle reminder. Then life goes on, no hard feelings. Follow the rules and everyone has a good time.

Just a thought, it might work, other than the sniffing of butts that is!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Snow Day!

An unexpected day off is an opportunity to play. While I was not interested in bundling up to play in the snow I took the opportunity to explore a photo web site and try some shots using natural light. Here are a few of my favorites, let me know which (if any) you like. I'm going to post 1 to their site for feedback.

Now I'll go grade the papers that I should have worked on over the weekend!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

My own personal "Blue Zone"

We were in South Carolina last week, a result of luck and timing had my 50th birthday and the school's winter break overlap perfectly. While I was recuperating from the 2nd set of nasty germs and week long illnesses passed along by my middle schoolers and the weather was less than balmy, it was very relaxing!

We watched a lot of television, read a lot and I overdosed on nasal spray and Aleve-D. By Wednesday, however, the weather was warming and I was drug free! During our lock-in, we caught an ABC News report on Blue Zones, explaining why people in certain regions live longer than others. Riding horseback at 94? Walking 6 miles a day to deliver hand made tortillas at age 88? Really? Apparently a combination of hard work that you love, a healthy diet and a lot of laughter are the keys to longevity. Cell phones, HD television, internet, stock reports and the like were noticeably absent from the list of requirements.

Mitchell and Spence were at their house in Isle of Palms and had planned to spend the day with us Thursday. Luckily the fog of nasal congestion and over medication had completely cleared at that point and I looked forward to a day of shopping with my good friend, while our men folk went golfing. Not quite "Blue Zone" material, but close.

Unbeknownst to me, Steve had arranged a birthday weekend extravaganza. As Spence and I exited Ann Taylor, on our way to P.F. Chang's to meet the guys for lunch, I notice Mitchell's car rounding the corner. Those of you who have ever passed me on the street know how ironic this is as I have often failed to notice my own husband or children as they drive past me on our own block. Nevertheless, I see the car and there are 2 people in the back seat! Peter and Randi! We're getting closer to feeling "Blue Zonish" now!

It was a perfect birthday weekend! Spa day for the girls, golf for the guys, great meals and conversation. About as close to "Blue Zone" as I can probably get right now. My daughter Dani, however, may be in her own "Blue Zone" already, check out her Eco builings! But it got me thinking about what my own "Blue Zone" might consist of.

Living at the beach, reading, writing, baking and photography. Don't worry, I'll keep a cell phone or computer tucked away so you can let me know when you'll be coming to visit me, after all I'll be there until I'm about 104!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

In the middle of...Middle School

I swear we never leave! Think about it, middle school was hell, but it was good training for adult life.

As a 7th & 8th grade teacher I am reminded daily of the struggle adolescents go through to define themselves; and the people around them that suffer the consequences.

Independence is not the driving force among the 12-13 year-old population, they do not yet see the value in that. Status and fitting in are the keys to survival.

Those possessing the stronger egos strategize, organize and manipulate with war room skill that would make Patton proud. They surround themselves with followers that are unquestioning loyalists whose main function is to reinforce the greatness of their leader.

The others play the roles that will allow them to survive this war and possibly advance up the chain of peer popularity.

There are the proverbial "brown-nosers" who choose a leader to emulate in dress, speech and actions. They become the "inner-circle", confidants to the General. However, their position carries inherent risks. Should they begin to develop their own popularity or express independent views they are often cruelly attacked and ostracized by the General. Peer pariah.

The infantry is made up of many who just want to be liked. They want to sit at a "good" lunch table and be invited to the best parties. They do not realize how much the General and the "inner-circle" need them to survive. Acceptance is valued and they fail to demand the benefits that friendship should provide them in return.

There are the outcasts. The kids that are so socially awkward or immature that they do not even aspire to join the ranks of the game; they know there is not a place for them.

There are a few who stand out simply because they refuse to partake in the game. Independent, thoughtful, respected.

I look back and realize that I have held many of these roles through my life and finally feel that I am at a point where I am "opting out" of the game. Having people like you evolves from liking yourself. How I envy the kids that have this figured out by middle school!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

In the middle of babies, bottles and...UH-OH!

Kristen and Joe are off for a well deserved "grown-ups only" 6 days. We split the babysitting duty with Joe's parents. 3 days each, with them taking the first 3 days.

Reports from the Poulas grandparents were inspiring. The girls were sleeping 12 hours through the night. Good as gold. Perfect angels. Our anticipation grew with every glowing report. The weather forecast was equally inspiring, an unseasonable 60 degree February weekend awaited us. Thoughts of long neighborhood walks and a trip to the National Zoo filled our heads as we drove the 4 hours from NJ to MD.

We arrived about 8PM and after a quick review of schedules and emergency phone numbers, and a report on Tilda's runny (but clear) nose the Poulas GPs hit the road.

All was good for the initial 3 hours of our tour of duty. We got ready for bed around 11PM. That's when the real fun began.

Annie woke up crying with a diaper full of, well let's just say it was unpleasant. Tilda needed to be re-bobbed (pacifier inserted). Well, that really wasn't too bad, we slept through the night. Actually until 2:30ish. Annie and I repeated the disgusting diaper removal routine. Back to sleep. Uh-Oh!

Babies awoke around 7AM, breakfast went by the book. Annie and Tilda ate then played. Tilda napped well although the emission from the nose was changing from clear and runny to green and crusty. Uh-Oh!

Annie played with her toys and pointed out all of the potential problems around the house with a point of the finger and "Uh Oh!" Lint on the floor, overturned bottle, opened cabinet door, "Uh Oh." Dog food spill, outlet uncovered, toilet lid up, "Uh Oh!"

While Tilda napped we offered Annie a snack, one of her favorites, a fruit cup. It went largely untouched, with a shake of her head signaling "no" but she seemed happy and we thought little of it.

Tilda woke up, happy and smiling and we took both girls and Murphy for a long walk around the neighborhood stopping at the pet store and farmers market for a few items.

Weather and girls-beautifully behaved!

This babysitting stuff is nothing!

After the walk it was lunch time, cheese, strawberries and yogurt for Annie. She waved them off, shaking her head no and staring questioningly into my eyes. And that's when it happened. "Uh Oh!"

Stomach virus. Puking. Non-stop for the next 6 hours.

Christina had planned to come spend the afternoon and then have dinner with us, we warned her about the medical alert in the house. She is brave, however, and was not to be deterred.

Annie would sleep for a few miutes, wake up asking for juice (water in Annie speak), take a few tentative sips, scream unconsolably, puke, scream again and fall back to sleep.

Each of us got drenched at least twice, which was problematic since we had packed sparsely. We did laundry between pukes. Uh-Oh!

I swear Tilda was laughing at all of this!

Once Tilda was bathed and down for the night, Steve and Christina went to pick up pizza for us and the prerequisite foods for toddlers in tummy trouble (pedialyte and jello).

The fun continued, they had called the pizza in to the wrong branch of Vace (best pizza ever) and now had to drive an extra 20 minutes to pick up our food. On the way Christina was nabbed by the infamous Chevy Chase, Connecticut Ave. mounted traffic camera, ticket to be delivered later! Uh-Oh!

At 6:45 Annie gave in to the fatigue that follows a day full of no eating and lots of puking. "You ready for bed?" I asked her and she nodded yes. 2 squirts of Tylenol and a pacifier (Bob) in her mouth, she went down without a sound.

This babysitting stuff is exhausting!

The pizza finally arrived, the wine went down easily and we were ready for bed. We fully expected that we would be woken at least once for a booger clean out and once for a puke clean up, which of course would require a full changing of the sheets and pajamas. But no! They slept!

Well mostly. Annie woke about 2:30 crying for juice, I gave her about 5 ounces of water and a redose of Tylenol and she was back asleep. Tilda woke about 4:30. Steve gave her a quick bottle and she went right back too.

They both woke around 7:30 and we started all over again. Annie ate a light breakfast and kept it down so things were looking up. Nose and belly cramps continued throughout the day but we seemed to have weathered the worst of it.

We spent most of day 2 walking around the block and watching Disney Channel.
So much for our plans for the perfect weekend!

This babysitting stuff is unpredictable!

What time tomorrow does that flight land? And...someone remind me to pack extra clothes next time!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

In the Middle of...being optimistic

Optimismop⋅ti⋅mism  [op-tuh-miz-uhm] –noun
1.a disposition or tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions and to expect the most favorable outcome.
2.the belief that good ultimately predominates over evil in the world.

I admit it, I'm optimistic. What's more I like the feeling that comes with optimism, you know, the anticipation of waiting for something good to come your way.

Furthermore I believe that when you focus on the positive you are more aware and open to the good that is going on around you. No, I'm not quite a believer in The Secret, I don't think that just wishing makes it so; but the choice to acknowledge the positive is certainly within reach.

I believe that goodwill is infectious, but so is negativity, and my attitude affects those that I interact with.

Thanks to my daughter Kristen I had the priveledge of attending the inauguration of our 44th President on January 20th. The feeling of optimism was rampant in the city. But, as Kristen intuitively pointed out, this was primarily a self-selected crowd of Obama supporters so the level of good cheer was to be expected. I drove out of the city and back to New Jersey with a renewed sense of pride in my country, the democratic process, my fellow Americans and in the future of our nation. (The uncharacteristically traffic free drive helped!)

This leaves me wondering however; what are the nay-sayers getting out of their attitude? What is the harm in hoping?

Our country took a huge step in the right direction with this election and I for one choose to hope that we will continue to make improvements. If you feel otherwise, please, keep it to yourself and remember;
“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”
Maria Robinson

Saturday, January 24, 2009

In the Middle of...Phrases out of context

Well the "Pack" reunited for a girl's dinner out, (minus our friend Cockapoo; but that's a story for another day!) and it goes without saying that we had a great time. Good food, good friends, a few cocktails and a lot of laughs.
Since grades are due this weekend and I need to devote a significant amount of time to that process, I am just going to give you a few tid-bits from the night and let you construct your own adventure! So here goes:
"I can't ride like this, my knees are up to my chin!"
"There has to be a way to make it work."
"I'll be crushed!"
"Uh-Oh there's a cop, we better move."
"Let's text Clara"
"13 pounds"
"Bucket list"
"Runway Show"
"Lunch in the city"
"I only had it once, after drinking in the afternoon"
"Only at night for me"
"Maybe once or twice but I'm not even sure"
"Randi needs a new cell phone"
"I never get texts"
"Oh My God! I do?"
"March 14th, Maria's in charge"

Friday, January 16, 2009

In the Middle of...refeathering my (almost) empty nest

Did you know that some birds use feathers, little pieces of themselves, to build warm, comfortable, protective nests for their offspring?

It occurs to me that this is very similar to many women I know.

We enter into our marriages as well-rounded, multi-faceted individuals. Many of us have careers, hobbies, talents, interests, passions that fill up the hours of our days. We spend the evenings of our early married lives in lively discussions of world events, personal philosophies and idealistic goals with our spouses and a like-minded circle of friends.

Then we have children, and we begin to feather our nests with little pieces of ourselves.

We do this joyously, to create the perfect nests to nurture our growing families. Our passions evolve to support this new role. We give up our careers so we can stay home to nurse our infants. We miss an art class to attend our 1st grader's school play, quit the book club that meets at our 3rd grader's bedtime, never take the 3 credits needed to finish our Master's Degree. We nurture. Our circle of friends now revolves around the children's playmates, we develop strong bonds with women who are at the same stage of nestbuilding as ourselves.

As our little chicks spread their wings, our friendships may dissolve, no longer bound by school volunteering, car pooling, sidelines cheering. We chauffer, make hair and doctor appointments, pass on the "girl's weekend" because it is the same weekend as our 8th grader's junior high dance. Friendships require time, patience and committment and ours are directed towards our fledglings and their nest. If we are very lucky we hang on to 1 or 2 very dear friends.

We may return to work, we make acquaintances. But those deep satisfying friendships are harder to find.

And then we find that our brood no longer needs the nest! They're off, and we are so proud of the nest we created that allowed them to fly. But now what? What do we do with ourselves now that we no longer need to give up all those little pieces of ourselves? What do we do with all those extra feathers?

Some of us, and I admit this is my greatest fear, have given up so much of ourselves that we depend on our husbands to define us. It seems as if there is so little left that we have to work together as 1 person, 1 personality. Some of us may actually begin dressing like our "other half"!

Others of us turn inward, turning the talents we developed while raising children into hobbies. Knitting, cooking, cleaning. Well, how much cooking can you do for 2? And, what will you do with all those scarves? What of the recipients of your products, how long are they obligated to wear and/or display your handiwork? Not wanting to saddle my children and friends with doilies or decorative dish towel angels, this option will not work for me either.

No, I honestly believe that the only way to build a truly strong, post-child nest, is to continue to reinforce it with pieces of yourself, your feathers. With both partners returning to share the bits and pieces of themselves that make them unique, the nest will be once again filled with lively conversation.

So I am looking outward and refeathering my nest through friends.

I am consciously seeking out, and spending time with, people that bring out the side of me that has been in hibernation for a long while. The just for the fun of it, because I want to side. The just because it's funny side. The let loose and let go side.

I recently organized a girls weekend composed of a group of women that make me laugh. We were 7 altogether. I collected them from distinct areas of my life, 2 of them through Steve's friends and business acquaintances. 1 of them through my work. 1 a long time friend from town. 2 had traveled with me and Steve, with their spouses, before. Although they all shared something in common, I worried that the distinct groups would remain fractioned over the course of the 4 days.

I was wrong. After a brief meeting in my driveway, and a few rather awkward quiet moments in the limo, we began to loosen up. Being the day after the election, the 1 "red" member of our group was told to "Shut the F*** up!" when she would not stop trying to convince us of the errors of our ways. It was done with a laugh and a smile, the ice was broken. Ironically when we got our 2 rental cars, one was red the other blue, Maria was only allowed to ride in the red car.

We got cryptic e-mails from our "boys" causing us to search out terms, that led us to "google" a phrase, that led us to a page, that made our mouths drop open in shock. We laughed 'til we cried as "Red" Maria acted out many of the poses on said page to give us a visual. Sometimes we just cried. We shared stories from the past that we are still hurting from. We shared recent hurts that remain to be dealt with. We shared lots of good food and drink. We exchanged birthdates and cell phone numbers. We taught each other how to add picture ID's to our phones and how to fold sheets into perfect little bundles. We styled hair and painted fingernails. It was summer camp for grown-ups!

I value my marriage and the relationship Steve and I have. I returned to it with stories to share, and some to keep private. We laughed. Our nest became stronger because I brought those bits of myself, my feathers, separate and distinct, home to share with him.

Honey, I smell another girl's weekend coming up, but don't worry, it's good for us!

But, beware girls or you might just end up (Gasp!) dressing like your friends!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

In the Middle of...Holding on and letting go

One cold, gray, Monday afternoon 27 years ago, I sat waiting.

Waiting for the last of the moms to pick up the last of their "babes" from my home day care. I didn't mind waiting for Susie, she was like family, we had become friends. Her mother and my grandmother had been friends, she was raised as a younger cousin to my mother and aunts. Susie's daughter Courtney was more like a member of our family than a job.

Susie fought to have Courtney, her husband was happy to be childless and thought it selfish of her to want a child. We often lingered over tea when she came to pick up her daughter and became sounding boards for each others marital complaints. She was forced to return to work when Courtney was 6 weeks old; her husband would not allow her the luxury of even 1 extra day. She was told, "If you insist on indulging your selfish desires, against my wishes, you'll have to figure out a way to carry your share of the expenses". She found a way. She left my house most mornings those first few weeks with tears in her eyes. She pumped milk with the dedication of a training marathon runner, so that she would not have to sacrifice her desire for Courtney to have breast milk. Although I would think how lucky I was to have found a way to be home with Kristen, and pay my fair share, we both felt our solutions imprisoned us somehow.

Eight months later, I am 3 days away from my due date, and waiting. Waiting for Susie to arrive for our now ritualistic cup of tea and daily "decompression". Waiting for baby #2 to make its way into the world. Watching Kristen and Courtney play, like siblings, on the living room floor. I am in full "beached whale" mode on the living room couch that my grandmother insists is "too low and too soft for any adult to get up off of, on their own, with any sense of modesty!"

Susie arrives and makes us tea, inquires worriedly about how I'm feeling. (I can't imagine how I must have looked). "Fine", I assure her, "a few little 'Braxton Hicks' contractions, but otherwise, fine." We chatted about her day before she left with a "See you tomorrow!" and her diaper bag full of, now emtied, breast milk bottles.

Ed, the father of my first 2 amazing children, and my future "ex", called to check in. He was in his 1st year of law school and had a class scheduled that evening. He was leaving his job at "Shoe-Town" and wondered if he should go to class or come home. His tone was clear, he wanted to attend class, but if necessary he would come home and care for 16-month-old Kristen, if I couldn't handle it. I was actually looking forward to some peace and quiet, time alone with Kristen then time to myself. "Nope, go on to class, call when you get there and check in on your break." It was the prehistoric, pre-cell-phone era.

Fifteen minutes later, Ed would have been about half-way to class, my mom (Verda) stopped in to check on me. My sister Leslie had spent the day with me since we had gone to the doctor's that morning, only to be sent home, false alarm. Leslie was about to leave when my "Braxton Hicks" began to evolve into full-blown contractions without allowing for much of a break between them. Suddenly my water broke. After timing 1 or 2 contractions mom suggested we leave for the hospital. "No, I'm sure we have time. Ed will call to check in soon then he can come back to take me so you can stay with Kristen." Seemed like a logical plan. It was 5:30.

5:45 Timing and intensity up, mom's anxiety up, time for waiting...gone. Ed called and was told to come home right away, mom pushed me toward her waiting Vega and the 2 minute trip to Fairfax Hospital.

6:00 Smiling nurse responds, "2 minutes apart? You've got plenty of time!" and proceeds to torture me with idiotic questions. I can not stay seated in the wheel chair. I want to rip her head off! Ed is not back yet.

6:30 Nonchalant orderly transfers me to a guerny, smiling nurse #2 says cheerily, "don't push."

Ed is not back yet, I want to rip all of their heads off.

6:45 Smiling nurse #2 checks my cervix, 9cm. "Would you like an epidural sweetie?" "What the F*** do you think!!" I thought, but instead said "YES!!!" "No time," she says to smiling nurse #3, "The baby's right here!" Smiling nurse #3 stops smiling, "Her doctor's not here yet." (We didn't have Doulas)

6:50 Smiling nurse #2, checks the baby's heartbeat, and stops smiling, shakes her head at no-longer-smiling nurse #3. "What the F***?" I think, but just start to cry. Ed is not back yet.

7:00 Smiling on-call doctor comes in, "Don't push", he says calmly, I need to perform an epesiotomy. Baby #2 says "What the F***", and does the episiotomy herself. The head is born. The smiling loud-speaker voice says cheerily, "Mr. Lejnieks is here, should I send him in?"

7:04 Danielle extracts the rest of herself from my body as Ed rushes in breathlessly.

7:30 Mother and daughter are resting comfortably in a recovery room, Ed is making the requisite phone calls in the father's lounge, it was the prehistoric, pre-birthing room era. Smiling recovery room nurse ushers in Grandma Jo (Verda) who laughs at the pink bundle in my arms, "What did they do, give you a doll to practice with?" And then, as the realization sets in that she almost had to deliver baby #2 in the front seat of her Vega, her face says, "What the F***!" but her faltering voice says, "Isn't she beautiful!" With that, in comes the rest of the cast of characters, "Regular" Grandma, Leslie and Katy (with Big Sis Kristen hidden beneath her coat). "What the F***!", shouts no-longer-smiling recovery room nurse, "Siblings aren't allowed in here!"It was the prehistoric pre-sibling-bonding era.

Danielle Lija Lenieks

January 11, 1982

6lbs. 10 ozs.

19 inches long

Thanks for letting me love you for 27 wonderful years!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

In the Middle of...Dinner with a side of wisdom

Sara, a very "wise", 18-year-old hostess in Myrtle Beach, SC was gracious enough to impart some very valuable knowledge on us recently. We did not ask for this wisdom, it was simply given. In the spirit of giving in its purest sense.

The fact of the matter is, she would not stop giving. We were gracious at first, smiling and nodding at her enthusiastic, and very immature, views on religion, parenting, college, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.... We tried to ignore her when she approached our table and interjected herself into our conversation for about the 17th time. But the need to give us her nuggets of insight was so powerful it was not to be denied. We left laughing about the learning that Sara still had to do; the experiences ahead that would most certainly reshape her nieve, unrealistic views; and the patients she would "heal" after earning the psychology degree she was seeking.

The fact is, I envied her the very innocence we mocked.

Yes, life has taught me many valuable lessons in my almost (gulp) 50 years. Most importantly, what I know to be true today is fluid, and will most certainly be altered by the lessons of tomorrow. Additionally, I may not like what the universe has to teach me and try to fight it. We humans do resist change, don't we? Recently my husband pointed out that I have developed a rather sarcastic way of responding that seems to be reserved expressly for him. After I told him that "maybe it is just your insecure way of interpreting me!" I began to think back on many of our recent conversations. Hmmm...could he have a valid point? No, that couldn't be it.

Well, lesson 1 of the New Year, I need to be more aware of the messages I am sending out. Both the spoken and the implied. Like it or not these messages may be influencing someone else's perception of me, themselves or the world.

Sounds surprisingly similar to what I try to teach my middle-schoolers!

See Sara, none of us has all the answers, but please, leave the philosophizing to us real grown-ups! Your untainted idealism just messes up all of our hard earned cynicism!