Monday, January 19, 2009

Those We Didn't Know

We got a phone call this morning. Buzz's maternal grandmother is dying. She's 99 and has had Alzheimer's for many years, so in a way this is a blessing. She will finally get to rest and enjoy a perfect body and mind again. But, it's difficult to say goodbye. We'll be making a trip back home to rural Alabama soon.

I'm sad that I never really knew Buzz's grandmother, Gann. By the time I joined the family, she already had full-blown Alzheimer's. So, she never really knew me either. But, she taught school in the area for nearly four decades. One of her students was my father, so I like to that the she passed on something, even some tiny character lesson, that he in turn passed on to me. Legacy.

My great-grandmother, Mama, died in 1999, the same year I met Buzz. She died with full mental clarity at the age of 83. I miss her dearly. She was a very special person to my family, having raised my mother. Rarely a week went by that we didn't drive the few miles to her house to see her and spend time with her. This month is the ten-year anniversary of her death. But, still, sometimes things will happen or I'll see a news story, and I'll think, "I need to tell Mama about that." But, then, I remember.

I wish that Buzz could have known her. She would have loved him, and his extroverted ways, his kindness and generosity. All things I love about him, too. She would have been so proud that I married such a wonderful man. Buzz and I named our daughter Flower after Mama. I think of how tickled she would have been and how she would have laughed and said, "Oh, sister, couldn't find a better name than that?" And, we would have laughed together. One day, I will tell Flower all about her namesake, and I hope we'll laugh together about some of the stories I have to share about Mama. Legacy.

I'm happy that Spark and Flower have wonderful grandparents who love them. But, I am sad that they never knew these remarkable women, Gann and Mama, and I want to somehow pass on even more of their legacy, something that years from now, when the kids are old enough to understand, will make the stories of these women come alive for them.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Foodie Friday: Favorite Frozen Pizzas

My family loves pizza. It's one thing that everyone will eat. It might very well be the only thing that everyone will eat. I try to keep some frozen pizzas in the freezer for quick lunches and for times when I am not around to cook dinner for the family. Buzz, even in his limited culinary skills, can definitely cook up a great frozen pizza.

So, the convenience is great, but I don't love all the bad ingredients found in a lot of frozen pizzas, such as preservatives, hydrogenated oils, and high fat meats, such as extra-greasy sausage and pepperoni. I also prefer to use as many all-natural and organic ingredients as possible.

I'm also experimenting with ways I can cook pizzas myself, thus having total control of the ingredients, and freeze them. Doing so should also shave some serious bucks off the cost of the pizza because most of the organic pizzas are around $5 each, even for the store brands. But, meanwhile, we have been testing several brands that offer healthier options. The verdict:

Whole Foods Market makes a great cheese pizza. It's about $5, and it would definitely take two of those to feed the entire family.

Amy's Kitchen has some tasty options as well. Their plain cheese pizzas are great, but I especially like the spinach pizza for the added "green" element. The spinach is not overwhelming, but it gives the pizza a little more depth. Amy's also makes a margherita pizza that is pretty good, too. It's a little slim on the cheese, but the basil was very flavorful. All the Amy's pizzas are about $5 each, too. Several of them are made with a whole wheat crust, for added grains and fiber. (One other note: It might be because I do not like soy "cheese," but their vegan pizzas with soy cheese don't do much for me. )

Finally, California Pizza Kitchen, while not "organic," has mostly decent ingredients on a lot of their pizzas. Particularly tasty is the white pizza. It also has a crust that is very flaky and crispy, which I love.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Who's Your Best Friend?

I grew up in a small town. In elementary school, I spent hours with my best friend Rebecca. We slept over at each other's homes on a regular basis. She moved far away to Texas in sixth grade. Although we had started to grow apart some as we had gotten older, I'll never forget sitting in sixth grade English when Rebecca walked into the room on her last day of school in that small town in Alabama. She gave me a hug, and we said goodbye. I haven't seen her since. Oh, we said we'd write, and we did send a letter or two for the first year after she moved. But we lost touch. Heck, we were only 11 years old!

In fifth grade, I had become closer to Lauren, who I had known since we were 4 year olds at the Baptist Church Vacation Bible School. We had always played well together, but in fifth grade, we really connected. I didn't know then but she would become my "bosom buddy," the one I would share laughs, tears, dreams, and antics with forever. We were BFFs through some of the toughest days of life: high school. Simply saying the words "Crooked Oak" can leave both of us in hysterical tears; it can also bring an eyeroll. No one understands that but us. It's sacred. She still lives in rural Alabama, and the one thing I miss most about "home" is her company. We keep in touch through email and occasional phone calls, but I wish I could see her and share more with her. Would someone please build a high-speed train from my house to hers?

I made a miraculous friend in grad school. I never intended to make a lot of (any?) friends in grad school. A self-professed bookworm/loner/school-geek, I planned foremost to get in, get my education, and get out. But, I met Welby. In the bitter hottest Texas sun, she offered me a ride home from class. I must have had a sign on my forehead that read "I've only lived in Texas for a week, so I thought I could walk the 1.5 miles home from class. In flip flops. In 120 degree weather. With no water." Welby rolled to a stop in a big white Chevy truck. Yes, she had lived in Texas all her life. After that one ride home, another "best friendship" was born into my life. We moved together from West Texas to south-central Texas where we work together and dream up schemes together.

I've had other friends along the way, some very near, close, and dear friends, but none have reached the best friend status (except for my sister, but I discuss her in another post) that Rebecca, Lauren, and Welby hold. Now, I'm watching with interest as my oldest explores friendship. Spark has been in preschool for a couple years now. He has gone through a few "best friends." But, he's still young enough that he doesn't quite understand what a "bosom buddy" is, despite the fact that I have begun indoctrinating him into the ways of Anne.

He has come up with his own system of friendship. The rules are simple:

  1. If the sun is out, Daddy is his best friend.
  2. If the moon is out, Momma is his best friend.
  3. Baby sister can be his friend sometimes.
  4. If he wants to change the rules, he can do so at anytime without any warning.
It's fun to play the game with him. And, he's very persistent about when someone is his best friend, they get to share more things with him and sit next to each other. Dinnertime is especially interesting because often at the beginning of the meal, Daddy is his best friend, but as the sun sinks into the horizon and the moon rises near the end of our meal, Momma becomes his best friend. We play along throughout the day, asking, "Who is your best friend?" Spark points to the sun or moon and informs us of the rules of his game again.

Right now, friendship is just that with him, though: a game. Someday, he'll understand more of what friendship is. As he grows and develops true friends, I hope he is as blessed as I have been, that he finds "bosom friends" to walk through the stages of life with him.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What a Feeling!

It could be that I'm channeling my inner Jennifer Beals through Flower, or it could be that I totally think that leg warmers didn't go out of style two decades ago. At any rate, I've found a great solution for the carpet burns that Flower gets on her legs as she crawls around our house. I bought these adorable strawberry leg warmers from Beany Bling, owned by a stay-at-home Texas mom.

Aside from their obvious fashionista points, other reasons these leg warmers work for me:
  • Easy on/easy off
  • Frugal ($5 a pair) and "green" in the sense that they last a long time (girls can wear them until they are about 10 years old)
  • Keep legs warm under dresses in cold weather
  • No tights to wrangle off and on at diaper changing time

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Naming Conventions

Spark has decided that everyone and everything must have a name. He's become so obssessed with names that I have started to run out of on-the-spot answers. Yes, despite my quick creativeness, I have run dry.

He has named Daddy's truck. Yes, that would be Rex. Mommy's blue van is Tessa. Each member of his huge collection of puppies now has a name, from Brownie to Waterboy to Cutie Girl. As we were digging through a pile of clearance plush items at a local bookstore yesterday, he picked up each one and asked me their names. Fortunately, some had a name on the tag. Others did not. This afternoon as we walked by a Hanes cutout of a life-size 8ish year old boy, Spark wanted to know, "What his name?"

To respond, "I don't know," is not sufficient. Spark demands to know the names of these creatures. So, I feel like I'm constantly pulling names out of a hat.

The other day, though, we're pulling into our driveway where Buzz's truck is parked when Spark screams, "WATCH OUT! WATCH OUT!" I hit the brake, "What, Spark?"

He shakes his head, like I'm crazy (and I very well may be). "I'm not talking to you, Mommy. I'm talking to Tessa. Tessa, be careful. Don't hit Rex."

Monday, January 12, 2009

Favorite Puppy

Soon after Spark was born, he developed a severe case of jaundice. His doctor prescribed a "billi blankie," which basically looks like an electric blanket that glows an eerie shade of flourescent teal. He had to remain wrapped in this blanket for 22 hours a day for about a week. He couldn't sleep in the blanket very well, so my wonderful mother stayed with us for that week, and we took turns rocking him and holding him while he slept.

I know, the experts say you can't spoil a child, but I think that week of being held for 22 hours a day pretty much spoiled any chance of Spark falling asleep on his own or sleeping on his own.

For his first Valentine's Day, I stopped by the grocery store on the way home. I had held out, planning to not submit myself to the commercialization of this "holiday." But, then I caved. I suddenly felt the need to get my three-and-a-half-month old baby boy a Valentine. So, I stopped at the grocery store. It was crowded with all manner of creation. I went straight for the cutesy, candied aisle, weaving my way through countless last-minute men.

I saw some plush animals, picked up a $5 fluffy little gray-and-white puppy with a pink heart embroideried on his ear and took him home for Spark. Spark chewed on it for a second and then the pup was cast aside. I sat it on a shelf in his room, and he was forgotten for about a year.

Then, when Spark was almost 18 months old, I decided it was time for him to try falling asleep on his own in his own bed. So, I tucked him in, we said prayers together, and Spark looked at me with scared little eyes. I reached up on his shelf and said, "Here, hold on to this puppy while you go to sleep."

The two have been inseparable ever since. I wish I had a before shot of "Favorite Puppy" as we all call this guy, but I don't. He's been to countless doctor appointments with us, across the country and back again, and each night before bed, the question of the hour is "Where is Favorite Puppy?" as everyone searches frantically for the ragged dog.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


I have only made one resolution this year. I planned to make none because I think resolutions are doomed to fail, but then I thought better of it. I needed to put down on paper at least one thing that I am going to do differently.

As a kid, I used to get lost in books all the time. That's not an exaggeration. I spent hours with books. Some nights, I would stay up long past my bedtime, just trying to finish one more chapter until I had read the entire book. Stories captivated me, and I had little interest in stretching a book out over several days. I grew up in a very small town in rural Alabama. Our public library had less square footage than some closets I've had. It took me about half a summer to tear through the library, reading every single age-appropriate book. This was the summer I read the Little House on the Prairie books, the Trixie Belden mystery books, biography after biography (if a First Lady has a biography for kids, I savored it), a lot of historical fiction books, and just about every series ever created. I even read some Westerns meant for adults. Louis Lamour passed my mom's strict requirements (no sexual scenes and no really bad profanity). I would leave with a sack full of books. When the librarian told me the limit was 14 books in as many days, I'd complain to my mother, "But that's only one book a day."

Running out of books scared me. I'd get on my last book and force Momma to schedule a library trip. Then, the inevitable happened. I'd read all the books they had that a young girl could possibly read. So, my mom loaded us (me and my two younger siblings) into our Bonneville one day that summer and headed to a nearby town that had a bigger library. This library was HUGE. It had more books that I even knew existed. I toured the shelves, salivating in particular over the display of young adult historical fiction. Oh how I loved to get completely lost in the Alaskan wilderness, the Kansas prairie, the Oregon trail. These books had strong female main characters, each of them with pioneering hearts. As I read these books, my imagination let me travel to places I'd never been.

Over the years, I have always loved read. That summer, by far, was my biggest reading adventure, though. That's not to say I stopped reading after that summer. I just got busier with the things of life. Junior high brought more sports obligations with volleyball and basketball practice every afternoon in their seasons. I joined the newspaper and yearbook staff in high school and got a job at a local newspaper writing an occasional article. I still played sports and started working at various fast food joints to pay for my car insurance. Maintaining my grades meant a lot of time spent on homework and studying, and I had little time left to read more than the required texts for class. I relished even those, though. In ninth grade, we all complained to our teacher, Mrs. Hayworth, about having to read 13 books in addition to several short story collections, a couple plays, and some poetry in literature class. Secretly, though, I thrilled at the thought of reading these books. I can't remember all the books we read that year but suddenly I entered a world of more "adult" books like The Great Gatsby, The Good Earth, and Romeo and Juliet. We also read The Outsiders and Jacob, Have I Loved, more contemporary books, easier to digest by the "non-readers." But, I loved them all.

Sadly, I have seen my reading decline ever since ninth grade ended. My other literature class required reading, but none as much as ninth grade. Whether that's part of the Alabama school curriculum, or if the rumors are true and Mrs. Hayworth really did take English steroids, I may never know. But, my reading habit declined through high school. Even though, I continued to love reading all the literature we read from Fahrenheit 451 to Jane Eyre to Farewell to Arms to Wuthering Heights to Our Town. (Thornton Wilder, I still LOVE you.) But, I missed the summer days of climbing a tree and reading a book while leaning back on a branch. I missed staying up until I couldn't keep my eyes open to see if the family could recover from a prairie fire. I decided to spend more of the summer time with friends, gallvanting around with my boyfriend.

Then, college came. Then, marriage came. Then, grad school came. Books became almost an enemy as I had to immerse myself in philosophical texts on my quest for higher knowledge. I missed consuming myself with a work of fiction until I had become a character in the novel.

Then, kids came. I read Goodnight Moon so many times that I memorized every line. The Bendon Bear series traveled across the nation with us. But those don't really count. Deep inside, I've longed for books. Reading has always been such a part of my identity, and for the past ten to twelve years, I've slowly cast it aside.

When Flower was born this past April, we had recently decided to make our living room TV free. While at home with the new baby, I spent a lot of time rocking and nursing her. And, I realized it was the perfect time to read a good book. Suddenly, with that first book I read, my cravings surfaced. I leapt at books like a hungry lion devouring an antelope in the African safari. As I read, I wanted to read more and more and more. So I did. And suddenly, I felt that part of myself coming back.

So, I've decided that my resolution for 2009 is to read more books, books that I want to read, books that inspire me, books that I can wrap myself around until I disappear inside them. I'm not making any charts or graphs or big lofty goals (Crime and Punishment one week, War and Peace the next), but I am cataloging the books I am reading this year so that I can easily look back at the end of the year.
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