Thursday, August 20, 2009

Random Thoughts about SeaWorld

About three months ago, I took Spark to SeaWorld for the first time. He loves all things associated with the sea from sharks to whales to dolphins to sting rays, so SeaWorld seemed like a logical place to take him. Buzz, who had injured a foot, would stay home with Flower (who I wasn't sure would enjoy the sea life as much as Spark).

It was my first trip, too, so I was actually kind of excited about maneuvering myself and a 4 year old through a jam-packed theme park in the middle of one of the hottest summers on record. Yeah. Fun.

I happened to take this trip with Spark about 3 weeks before my last day of work at my job. I had also just finished weaning my daughter from nursing. To put it lightly, June was turning out to be just a tad emotional...just a tad.

The day went pretty simply. On the advice of a friend who frequents SeaWorld, we hit up the water park first so that as we toured the huge inferno we could stay cool by dripping dry. Before I knew it, we had spent about an hour jumping waves in the wave pool and about three hours floating down the river in plastic tubes. Thinking we should at least justify the outrageous entrance fees by seeing at least one show, I convinced him to come along with me to see the sea lion show The Cannery Row Caper. We both laughed as we watched the crazy sea lions try to figure out who was eating all the fish at the cannery. (SPOILER: it was the walrus.)

We then spent some time (sweet, glorious air-conditioned time) looking at the tanks filled with sharks, sting rays, eels, and jellyfish. After that, we visited the penguin encounter (again glorious air conditioning!) and made plans to feed the dolphins. Although Spark wouldn't touch the dolphins, he picked up the dead fish and fed it to the playful sea mammals.

We decided to end our day with the summer show Shamu Rocks Texas, which turned out to be a lot of killer whale antics set to music, including some AC/DC. As we waited on Shamu to appear, I succumbed to buying a $6 light sword that I had to remind Spark was just for show, not for actually whacking people with.

Finally, to the tune of AC/DC's Thunderstruck, the DJ for the evening chanted "Shamu" in place of the "Thunder" and really had the crowd into it. The arena was completely packed; at least 50 people stood in the back of our section alone, wanting for Shamu.

Then, Shamu burst through the gates, sleekly gliding through the tank of saltwater. The trainer stood on the other end of the saltwater pool and suddenly dove into the water. A few moments passed, all was silent except some Toby Keith song. Then, Shamu leapt from the water, threw the trainer into the air, and they synchronized an Olympic figure-skating triple axel kind of move above the water before diving back into the pool. Applause exploded as Shamu rose just above the water with the trainer riding her. It was magic.

Spark was completely beside himself. To be honest, so was I. I hadn't seen anything like this ever in my life. I tried to wipe my tears off my face, but they just kept coming in torrents, running hot down my cheeks. It was so loud that I couldn't explain to Spark why I was crying. And how does one explain the emotional piles adults take on until final there is a proverbial straw? Shamu was my straw. She allowed me to release all that I felt inside about leaving work, weaning my daughter, spending a day in the hot sun with this wonderful 4 year old.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Why I Left One of the Best Jobs in the Country

For 5.5 years, I worked at a one of the best jobs in the country. No, for real. Fortune Magazine has ranked this company as one of the Top 100 Employers to Work for at least for the past 10 years straight.

I took this job straight of grad school and enjoyed (nearly) every single minute of it. The culture there is great. The flexibility offered to me as I became a mother to first one, then two kids was beyond compare. My coworkers were wonderful, and I've never known a better manager. But, a couple years ago something started nagging me.

The first tug came when we decided to look for preschool for Spark (who was then 2 years ago). For a brief weekend, we considered me keeping him home instead of looking for preschool. But, after research and prayer and heart decisions, we decided on a great preschool for him.

The second tug came when I realized that I needed to write more, and not just technical documents. But, I dismissed these tugs in favor of financial security at one of the best jobs in the country.

After we had Flower, I reduced my work hours and started working about 50% of my time from home so that I could be with her. Soon, it became obvious that working from home with an increasingly mobile baby was adding more stress to my life. Buzz had taken on some additional responsibility at his job. Our lives were getting more and more hectic. I'm a reader and researcher, so I researched this issue.

My findings? Frenetic paces are expected these days. Two income families pay more for daycare, housekeeping, and convenience foods than the second income typically provides. A lot of folks with adult kids who had two-income families used daycare, preschools, nanny care and NOW regret those decisions. They wish they had taken life more slowly and enjoyed the path more. More and more kids are being diagnosed with learning disabilities and attention disabilities; studies link this to group care and hurried lives and insufficient cuddle/bonding time with parents.

Our typical day had become harried. I was getting crankier because I have "stuff" in me to write, but I'm not writing it because there is no time. I wanted more time with my kids and not divided time where I am sitting at a computer trying to fix typos in my documents and appease a needy 11-month old. I wanted to read Spark four bedtime stories and not worry that it was getting so late that I'd surely get behind if I didn't clean up the kitchen RIGHT NOW. I hated feeling rushed in the evenings, spending Saturdays catching up, and dreading the 5:00 bell on Sunday night. I had proven that I could do "it"--whatever "it" is goes something like "be a full-time working mom with a happy marriage and relatively clean home, homecooked meals, healthy kids," and do it all again tomorrow. I had done it; we were doing it. But, I didn't like where we were going. I felt a desire to slow the pace down to concentrate more on this all-important thing called family.

So, Buzz and I saw a financial advisor. We figured it would be impossible to maintain our current lifestyle AND knock off several grand a year. Surprisingly, when the advisor showed us a couple areas we could tweak, the difference turned out to be very little financially. (We haven't noticed the "tweaked" changes.)

Here I am, just two months after my final day at work. The view couldn't be better:

Monday, June 29, 2009

Time for a Vacation

The other day I decided to clean out my pantry. You know, go through the whole thing, get rid of the expired stuff, make a plan for the soon to expire stuff, and clean up. 

I started cleaning out some canisters, making piles, swirling stuff down my garbage disposal. Somehow, I became sidetracked. After about 20 minutes of doing whatever sidetracked me (Facebook, no doubt), I was thinking to myself that I couldn't believe some of those groceries had already expired. Then, I realized that I had forgotten what date it was. I had gotten it in my head that it is 2010 instead of 2009 and had wasted a whole lot of grains, cereals, and what not. (At least, I was sidetracked for a time or I might have relieved us of all our pantry items in a matter of minutes.)

That's when I realized that it's really time for me to take a vacation. Well, that and this image persistently appearing on the weather forecast:

Tomorrow, I'm flying to Denver with Spark and Flower. Buzz has a foot injury that will prevent him from going on this trip. We're sad he can't come with us, but I'm also happy that he'll have some quiet, "recharge" time to himself. And, hey, maybe HE will take the kids somewhere for three weeks one day and leave me at home or at a spa or a condo in Hawaii. Just maybe.

In Denver, my mom--Nana to those who matter--will meet us at the airport, and we'll load up to head off to Casper, Wyoming, to spend 3 weeks with Nana and Papa from camping in Yellowstone to seeing the wonders of that region. It's bound to be an adventure none of us (except maybe little Flower) will ever forget. To make sure, I've started a blog to chronicle our journey. I hope you will join me there some during the next three weeks. 

Monday, May 11, 2009

Six Snippets about Mother's Day

This past week, I spent a few minutes helping a coworker brainstorm some ideas of possible gifts to get his wife, the mother of his two sons, for Mother's Day. This guy is a good guy, nice and hardworking, and a great dad to his boys.

I don't know his wife very well, so it was hard to suggest something, but I could see that even though this guy doesn't think Mother's Day, and all those other "Hallmark" holidays are very important, the woman who carried, labored, delivered, nursed, and is raising his sons is very important, perhaps the most important thing in the universe to him.

While we talked about lotions and gadgets and man-friendly stores, I realized how much he loves his wife. What gift can speak of that kind of love?

Buzz always wants to spend a lot of money and lavishly spoil me on Mother's Day. I have a nice watch courtesy of "Mother's Day" and other beautiful jewelry, too. So, I'm not totally knocking Mother's Day, that's for sure. But, I always tell him, "Please don't."

This year, I asked for a new clothesline in my backyard, something I can hang the linens on when we have a week like we did this past week: 4 nighttime "accidents" and two days of sickness in our house. Accidents that, with help from Buzz some mornings, I clean up. Sickness that leaves me useless for two days: the first, holding onto my sick boy; the second, sick myself.

Last night, I played with Flower in the front yard to keep her away from the "men" as they worked on my clothesline in the backyard. I could hear Spark's voice, filled with excitement, as he "worked" with Daddy.

The first year that Buzz got me anything for Mother's Day was 2002. I was a senior in college, we were barely married, and I was pregnant. The gift was maternity clothes and one of the sweetest cards I have ever received.

The next day, a Monday, I heard the words, "I'm sorry, but there's no heartbeat," as the ultrasound sonographer held a "tampon-sized" wand inside me.

May, 2005. I have a 6-month old son by the time Mother's Day rolls around. Life is crazy, but good. I'm finally learning what everyone meant by the words, "Having kids will change your life forever, but one day you'll forget what life was like before you had them."

Last year I cried on Mother's Day because I had to clean the bathrooms. They were nasty, needed cleaning, and I was the only one around to clean them.  And, I had myself a little pity party over the fact that I was the one doing the cleaning and not some magic fairy on Mother's Day of all days. I cried alone like I always do when I cry.

Yesterday, I spent the day being my kids' mom all day. Buzz had to work, and that was ok. I fed our kids, clothed them, fed them again, took them to church, fed them again, bathed them, clothed them again. But, I also played with them, purposefully, something that I'm sad that I don't do more often.

I took Spark and Flower both into my arms, and we had an honest-to-goodness, all-out ticklefest. We all laughed and laughed. I cried as I watched them laugh. Spark looked at my tears for a second. I saw him looking at the tears, but he didn't say anything. Then, I realized that I was crying but I was not alone.

Friday, April 3, 2009

April 3

Dear Flower,

Last night, I went for a walk. You were content in Daddy's lap, watching your favorite YouTube videos. I put Spark in the bath and told him to be sure to scrub behind his ears. I couldn't quite figure out why, but I felt drawn to the road and the air of the early evening. The sky rumbled a bit with some distant thunder, and I felt the clouds might release rain at any moment.

I walked and felt a few sprinkles of rain on my face. Something nagged at me, but I couldn't quite figure it out. There's a bookstore about a half mile from our house, and I decided to walk in that direction.

Suddenly as I made the final turn to head to the bookstore, I realized what was bothering me. Exactly a year ago, almost to the minute, I had done the exact same thing except I wasn't alone. Spark and you (in utero) were with me.

The night before you were born a year ago was a similar night. Some threatening sprinklings of rain, some distant thunder, and an umbrella accompanied Spark and me as we walked to the bookstore. I watched him trot ahead of me for a minute, and I thought about how soon we were going to met you, his baby sister. He dropped back some, reached for my hand, and looked at the sky. "It's raining, Mommy," he said. I realized it was raining, so I opened our umbrella and held it over our heads. As we kept walking in the rain towards the bookstore, I felt the first, smallest pains in my uterus.

Through the night, I slept fairly well, knowing I was in the earliest stages of labor, wishing that you would come on already and get out. By early the next morning, we were at the hospital, and I stripped down to the vaguely familiar, tie-in-the-back gown. A few hours later, you slithered into this world and onto my belly, into my arms, into my heart forever.

Happy first birthday, baby girl.



Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Two Bathrooms

My family of five had one small bathroom. Well, "small" doesn't really do our bathroom justice. It was tiny. Itsy bitsy. Teeny weeny. I have closets bigger than that bathroom.

I remember many mornings waiting on my dad to finish his morning "business" while I paced in the living room. My brother had it easy. We lived in the country, and he could relieve himself on our rose bushes.

Our closet-sized bathroom had a microscopic closet. The closet was so small that my mom developed a new way of folding towels to get them to stack in there. To this day, I still fold my towels that way. They are compact, tight, and you can stack of lot of towels!

It's a grave injustice for a family to have only one bathroom for so many reasons. And for so many reasons, I'm so glad our curent home has two bathrooms.

Reason One: Defying all logic, it never fails that Spark has to use the facilities at the same time that someone else does. Buzz goes into bathroom. About 15 seconds pass. Then, Spark whines, "Mommy, I have to go poopy." To avoid a possibly nasty scenario or law-breaking deposit, I lead him to the grand place known as the "other bathroom."

Reason Two why I am so glad we have two bathrooms: an extra tub for cleaning up messes. If you're a parent or you've ever worked with young kids, you know the complete terror of having one poop in the tub. Flower, our almost one-year old has taken quite nicely to pooping in the tub. She's at the messy age where she requires at least one bath a day, and she's also at the age where most of those baths result in a pile of steaming turds in the water. It's even worse when the kids are sharing the tub.

Take two nights ago, for instance. Buzz is giving the kids a bath. We're on high alert with Flower, but she was having such a good time splashing with Spark in the tub that we let the bath go on a little too long. About two seconds before Buzz lifted her out of the tub, she squatted. And, well, that's the end of the toy bath. But, we quickly composed ourselves, taking the kids to the "other bathroom" for a quick hose down in the tub. How did we clean the poop out of the tub? Well, that's another story.

Reason Three: I can junk up my bathroom without worrying about guests seeing the clutter. I consider myself a pretty low-maintenance gal when it comes to cosmetics, bath products, and hair styling. But, it's amazing how much stuff it takes to keep a low-maintenance profile. It takes a lot of chemicals to look natural these days, indeed! It's so nice to have space to let that stuff pile up where no one who comes to my home can see it. Unless of course, the bathroom is occupied and someone needs to go to the "other bathroom." I'll deal with that when it happens.

I wonder how my family survived all those years with just one bathroom. One day, I might live in a house with one bathroom, and I'm sure that will result in a lengthy talk with my mom about managing counter space and microscopic linen closets. But two work so well for me that I hate to even think of that possibility!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Variations on a Potato

Buzz and I are trying to be more responsible with our money, and my part of that involves saving money on groceries. I've found that making a menu plan saves me money and time. I have been planning our weekly menus on Sunday nights based on what's left in the pantry/fridge/freezer. Buzz had last week off for spring break, and we were still roaming around in a fog of disbelief come last night. 

This afternoon, instead of knowing what I would fix for dinner, I reverted back to my "browse-the-fridge/pantry" stare. I saw a sack of potatoes on the counter that I had bought a few days ago. I peeked in the bag and realized that about 4.5 pounds of the 5-pound bag remained, and while they weren't spoiled, they weren't looking so hot. I decided that the responsible thing to do would be to cook something with potatoes...lots of potatoes.

So, that's what I did. While the kids ran around in their post back-to-the-real-world stupor, I washed, peeled, and cut 4.5 pounds of potatoes, wondering what I might do with them. My mind drifted to memories of potatoes, of how my parents planted a garden early on in their marriage. My mother didn't know that potatoes grew underground and she hoed them all up by accident. 

I thought about how Momma used to stew potatoes for dinner on an all-too-regular basis. I hated most things involving potatoes when I was a kid, but I especially loathed stewed potatoes. Stewed potatoes, for those of you who don't know, are potatoes boiled in water until some of them break down and make kind of a creamy mush for the other pieces to swirl around in. It's kind of like potato soup without the cheese, bacon, and so on. It's just potatoes, stewed.

Potatoes are a poor man's friend, though. They are cheap, filling, easy to cook, and despite the bad rap the Atkins diet gave them, potatoes are fairly nutritious. Because I have had anemia,  I know that potatoes are a great source of iron. One baked potato also has more potassium than a banana. 

The cheap part is why we had so many stewed potatoes growing up, though. We were dirt poor, and potatoes made a hearty meal. Momma made more than just stewed potatoes, though. She fried them, mashed them, and baked them. And, I didn't enjoy any iteration of her potato skills. I found potatoes to be bland and uninteresting unless they were raw, and boy I would eat bites of raw potato as she sliced and diced them for our dinner.  

I've studied the potato some, and one of the grocery stores here in town has an excellent selection of potatoes. They have purple potatoes, blue potatoes, red potatoes, more...All these make the Russet look pretty boring. 

But, it's the Russet potato I was dealing with tonight. As I stood looking at the 4.5 pounds of cut up potatoes, I realized I better find some way to make them interesting enough to eat. 

Tonight's recipe:

Twice-Baked Potato Casserole
Serves 6-12, depending on whether you use it for a side dish or an entree.

  • 4.5 pounds of potatoes (partially peeled, cut up into 2-inch pieces, thoroughly washed)
  • 1/2 cup cream cheese (leftover from breakfast bagels from a couple week's ago)
  • 8 ounces of Colby Jack cheese, shredded
  • 1 medium onion, diced (also found wasting away on my counter)
  • 2/3 cup buttermilk 
  • salt and paprika to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Boil the potatoes until very tender, mushy even.
  3. Drain the potatoes well.
  4. In large bowl, mash potatoes a bit. Mix in the cream cheese, half the Colby Jack cheese, the onion, and the buttermilk until fairly smooth. Do not mix too much A little texture is good.
  5. Then, add some salt and paprika.
  6. Taste.
  7. Add more salt.
  8. Taste.
  9. Add more salt.
  10. Pour the mixture into a deep-dish casserole pan and cover. (I used Pampered Chef's deep covered baker.)
  11. Cook at 350 for about 35 minutes. 
  12. Remove. Uncover. Evenly sprinkle the other half of the shredded cheese on top. 
  13. Cook at 350 for 15 minutes or until cheese is slightly golden brown and bubbly.
Use whatever you've got on hand. No cream cheese or buttermilk? Use sour cream and regular milk. No onion or Colby Jack cheese? Use some green chiles and cheddar. Have some extra garlic cloves? Mash them and add them in the mix.  

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