Friday, December 31, 2010

What a year.

I had to squeeze one last blog post in for 2010.

I'll bet you thought I had shut my yap for good this year, but no such luck.

My last post of the year is inspired by a similar one written by Nichole on her blog, in these small moments. I have mentioned her blog before and how wonderful it is, but if you haven't had a chance to read Nichole's endearing perspective on life and motherhood, then head on over there to check it out.

Go on. Git.

Wait. You can stay and finish reading my blog entry first, of course.

It has been a wonderful year for our family, but it has not been without challenges and struggles. Such, as they say, is life. And life is good, and precious and wonderful, and so very, very fleeting, so we take the good with the bad and keep plowing forward. Thankfully, I have this blog as an outlet to record the trials, tribulations, and lessons learned along the way.

Because these children are the four greatest teachers I have ever known.

I have been blogging since April 2009, but this is my first full year of writing, month after month, and I initially wondered if it was possible. Would I be able to find the time? Would I find enough topics on which to wax poetic? Would people read? Would the things I write about my beloved children force them to seek expensive therapy one day in the distant future?

I come in peace. I strive to keep it real, while granting my shorties a modicum of privacy.

But y'all? If they do something gross and hilarious, I promise I will tell you about it.

At the risk of sounding a bit narcissistic, I have compiled a "Best of" list of a few of my favorite blog entries of the past year. I know, I know. Only superstars, athletes, and top-rated sitcoms are allowed to compile, "Best of" moments, but this mommy blogger from the Midwest wants to do the same.

And it's my blog, so bear with me.

In January, I fell in love, and much like Beyonce, I had a message for all the single ladies of the world. Luckily, Bill did not get jealous once he met the object of my affections. Also in January, I wrote a love letter to my husband about toilet paper. Yes, toilet paper. I challenge you to read it and NOT be able to relate. I'm sure you will.

In February, I learned that I am not Duff Goldman. Duff Goldman is talented and one-of-a-kind, and I am not him, nor will I ever attempt to imitate his talents in the future. If I do? I will seriously lower my expectations.

In March, I ran into a couple of young ladies at Target who reminded me that Babies are like so totally awesome. Like totally. Ahhhh....to be young and naive once again.

In April, BlogHer took notice of one of my entries, Dear Facebook, and syndicated it. In case you were wondering? Syndicated mommies still have to do the laundry, make lunches, and clean up vomit. It's an awesome feeling, but trying to shout to your kids, "LISTEN UP! I'M SYNDICATED NOW AND YOU BEST DO AS I SAY!!!" doesn't get you very far. Believe me, I have tried.

In May, Mother's Day brought out my sappy side, and I gave you a sneak peek of my relationship with my mother-in-law.

In June, a pair of dirty, disgusting tennis shoes made me cry. In a really good way.

In July, I described how I am sometimes overwhelmed by "mom guilt". But really, what mother isn't at times?

In August, we attended a family wedding, and a particular situation with my husband had me evaluating my own marriage, and what it means to me. As expected, I received quite a bit of response from you, my readers, on the Facebook page for this blog. I also included a rare photo of Bill and I.

In September, I realized that with parenting, you do your best, try your hardest, and hope for outstanding results. But you never really know how the whole thing will turn out, do you?

In October, I lost a beloved member of my family. I will never forget her.

In November, I discovered that one of my sons has a sweet tooth. Of course, I already knew this, but this sweet tooth? Is much worse than I thought.

In December, we gained a new member of the family. Kind of. Whatever you want to call him, call him adorable. And mischievous.

Onward to 2011. Wishing all good things to you!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Resolutions, schmesolutions.

Bah Humbug to you if you are one of those people that has your Christmas tree sitting on your curb, waiting for garbage pickup day.

Because I? Am still heavily ensconced in Christmas bliss.

The celebrations continue for us with family this week, and we are soaking up the joy of the season.

Then, there is the little matter of the new year that is barreling toward us at full speed. Traditionally, I have never been a huge fan of New Year's Eve or New Year's Day. Oh yes, they are fun holidays, and I know the calendar must march forward and continue on its never-ending journey into perpetuity. I get that. I'm cool with that. But thinking about it too much hurts my brain and causes huge bouts of self-reflection. Sometimes I like what I see. Sometimes I don't. Regardless, the new year is that huge reminder blaring in your ear of, “YO! IT'S 2011 NOW! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE? WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?”

And I'm all, “Well, thanks for asking New Year. I've done a lot.”

But New Year is all, “Yeah, but you didn't do this and you didn't do that, and last year you said you would."

And I'm all, “Whatever, New Year. I accomplished many things over the last year.”

And New Year is all, “But you didn't organize the basement like you said you would. Didn't you dub 2010, 'The Year of Organization'? What makes you think this year will be any different?”

And I'm all, “Well, New Year, I did organize the office the office last year. The shredder and I became homies. So there's that.”

And New Year is all, “But you said you would work out more. You worked out maybe 25 times over the whole year. Also, the last time I checked, those upper arms of yours are barely strong enough to open a pickle jar, and you promised yourself you'd get some cute little arm muscles. But those? Are embarrassing.”

And I'm all, “NUH-UH, New Year! Vacuuming and loading the dishwasher totally count as working out! By that count, it means I worked out about eleventy kajillion times this year. Aaand if you squint and tilt your head sideways, you can totally see the muscles in my upper arms!”

And New Year is all, “Well, your resolutions last year were laughable. LAUGH. A. BLE. Resolutions, schmesolutions. Good luck this year, chump!”

And I'm all, “Dude. New Year. You talk way too much. Shut it. Enough with your tooting horns and your confetti, and your huge lighted ball drops. Can't you just begin quietly and not slap us all in the face with the reminder that time marches on and we have this one life to accomplish it all?”

2011 is coming. This year my resolutions will be different.

I have precisely two of them.

  1. To keep on keeping on. I love my family and friends and I love my life. It is full and fun and wonderful. Why rock the boat? Sure, I can always better myself, and I do. But I am NEVER going to be that person that works out 365 days a year, so I need to stop pretending that I am her and she is me. It's all about realistic expectations, and not beating myself up when I don't meet them.

  2. To finally start writing the book I have dreamed of writing for years.

    I know! How cliché! A blogger who wants to write a book! Shocking!

    Knocked you over with a feather on that one, huh?

    I majored in Elementary Education in college, and in my former life, I was a grade school teacher.  One of my college classes was on how to teach language arts in the elementary classroom. This particular class was taught by a professor who was dynamic and energetic and kind. She possessed all the qualities that you look for in a person that must stand in front of you two days a week and lecture you for a few hours. She was a dream teacher. Her lectures were riveting and interesting; therefore, winning her respect and approval was essential to me. When she assigned us the task of writing a book for children on any topic, I took on the challenge with fervor. To this day, it was my favorite and my most memorable assignment of all my years of schooling. Ever. I wrote a small children's book, and although I am not an artist or drawer in any way, shape or form, I drew simple pictures to go along with it. Happy with the results, I couldn't to see what the good Doctor, my professor, would think.

    A few weeks passed, and she finally had them graded and ready to return to us. I waited in anticipation as she called my name. Nervous to see what she thought of it, I flipped to the back page, where she had attached a note with her assessment. I will never forget what she wrote. "This is EXCELLENT. You should look into getting this published!"

    With those few words, my heart soared. 

    Her street cred puffed my ego. After all, this woman has a doctorate, and in particular, she studied children's literature. Her judgment meant the world to me.

    Did I get it published?

    No.

    Did I even try to get it published?

    No.

    I graduated from college, taught grade school, got married, started having babies, and the book still sits in its Rubbermaid container down in my basement, untouched for the last 15 years.

    In 2011, I will start to write a book again. Because I promised myself. Because I owe it to myself to at least try. Because even if I fail, and my book never sees a single bookshelf in a single store in the whole country, at the very least, I can say to my family, "See this book? I wrote it."

    My resolution is to start writing that book. I never said I would finish it this year. I will try, but I can't make that kind of promise to myself. After all, I am kind of busy with the tasks that go along with my real job title, "Queen of The Land of My Four Shorties".

    But I will try.

    Realistic expectations, y'all.

    Wishing you a wonderful, happy 2011. I am beyond grateful to each and every one of you that come to this page and read my words and comment on my posts. I am humbled and amazed by this wonderful community of bloggers and readers that I discovered when I started writing a blog.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Celebrate what you are.

I was about twelve when I first heard a Polish joke.

I have no idea what the joke was, nor do I care to remember. Undoubtedly, it was a crass joke about the purported intelligence (or lack thereof) of Polish people.

Ha.

Ha.

I recall being instantly offended. But at that age, I did not have the courage to speak up. The idiots who told the joke were classmates of mine, and they did not direct the joke at me. Not that that matters. Dumb, offensive jokes, no matter who they are making fun of, should not be told. Period. The boys did not know that I am of Polish heritage, and really, there was no way for them to know, without me telling them. I am half Polish, on my mother's side, and my father's side of the family is German, Scottish, and Irish. Therefore, my maiden name is German. However, the heritage and traditions that are most familiar to me, the ones my family has always embraced, have been Polish.

I love a good joke. I get many different kinds of humor. I like to think I am humorous on many occasions. That said, I have no interest in jokes or generalizations that make fun of any race or nationality. Really? That's the best you can you do? That's all you got? You're going for the cheap laugh?

Racial stereotypes? Are so last century.

Good riddance.

As ashamed as I am to admit it now, I did not speak out against the jokesters, because in my young, awkward mind, I did not want to single myself out from the pack. Twelve is a tough age. It didn't help my confidence any that I had short, naturally curly hair, I was a gawky kind of skinny-in-the-wrong-places, shy, and, as a few boys in my class loved point out frequently, "flat as a board".

If you know what I mean.

I thought, why draw more attention to myself? Why give the idiot-boys more ammunition? "Hey dudes! That's a lame joke! I'm Polish, and Polish people aren't stupid!" is what I said in my head, but what came out of my mouth?

Absolutely nothing.

Yes, I have done many stupid things in my 36 years on this planet. But none of them have to do with the fact that I am Polish. The last time I checked, all people do stupid things once in awhile, regardless of their nationality.

Guess what? The other day I changed a light bulb in my kitchen. All by myself. Without having to call ten other Polish people to come help me.

Fancy that, lame joke tellers with your lame jokes that are not rooted in any kind of truth.

If I could go back and talk to my 12-year old self, I would tell her to speak up, even if it was just a shrug of her shoulders, and a, "Whatever. That joke is so dumb."

Over the years, I have wondered how and why the wonderful people of Poland, the country of my ancestors, got a rep for being less than intelligent. Now, however, I don't care.

Sticks and stones, y'all.

I do know that I am Polish and Catholic and proud, and I want my children to feel the same. I want them to be tolerant of all nationalities, races, and religions, and to respect the traditions that others follow. I hope that my children never hear a joke, or even worse, tell a joke that attacks the essence of a person and what makes a person unique.

My point?

My family celebrates our Polish heritage, with a Wigilia dinner, just as we have every Christmas Eve that I can remember. Wigilia is a Polish feast that takes place on Christmas Eve, after the first star is seen in the sky. The menu is varied in different households, but it is always meatless. We eat fish, potatoes, and pierogi, and occasionally mushroom soup. We set an extra seat at our table for the Baby Jesus.

It is a wonderful tradition that is a cherished part of my childhood memories, and I am now proud to share this tradition with my children. My husband's family is not Polish, but they will be sharing in our Wigilia dinner. We will break the oplatek wafer and share our wishes for health and happiness in the coming year.

In preparation for our upcoming Wigilia dinner, my oldest son and I spent most of last Sunday afternoon making pierogi, which are round circles of dough filled with cheese, berries, or potatoes. We made the dough from scratch, as my grandmother taught me, and filled each circle with farmer's cheese, folded it over, and pinched it tightly closed. Three hundred miles away, my grandmother, or Babcia, ("Ba" as we affectionately call her) was making the same recipe in my mother's kitchen in preparation for their own Wigilia dinner.

The voice of Ba was in my head as I made the dough. "Don't over-knead! You'll get chewy dough!" "Pinch them tightly or the fillings will escape!" "When they float to the top of the water and stay up there, they are done boiling!"

I passed the wisdom on to my sons as she had passed it along to me.

Thank you, Ba.

We froze most of the 5 dozen pierogi that we made, but of course, we had to sample the fruits of our labor, and fried up a few tasty ones in butter.



This is not exactly health food, people. But the taste? Perfectly scrumptious.

Our traditions may have been Americanized over the years, but there is a kinship in knowing that in a village in Poland, on the same night, under the same stars, another family is partaking in their own Wigilia meal, similar to ours. The sameness warms my heart. It makes me feel like I am a part of something bigger. It makes me proud to be Polish, just as I am sure you are proud to be Italian. Or Swedish. Or German. Or African. Or whatever nationalities make up the essence of who you are.

Whatever you are, celebrate it.

Merry Christmas to you and yours. May you have health and happiness all of your days.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Word Up Wednesday - elf style.

Meet Christopher.


He is an elf that sits on our shelf. Hence, his other moniker is, "The Elf on the Shelf".

Christopher came to our home along with the oh-so-adorable-I-wish-I-would-have-thought-of-it-myself book, "The Elf on the Shelf," written by the mother-and-daughter team of Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell.

I think Christopher bears a striking resemblance to Gilly, the mischievous Saturday Night Live character played by Kristen Wiig.


No? Just me? You don't see it with that smile? Not even if you squint a little bit?

Don't let Christopher's innocent smile fool you. He's a total snitch. He watches these kids and then reports back to Santa if they have been naughty or nice. Believe me when I say that he may be less than a foot long, but his watchful eye encourages my kids to walk the straight and narrow.

I need all the help I can get.

Christopher is magic, and if children touch him, his magic vanishes. Forever and ever.

And ever.

Now, who would want to be responsible for making an elf's magic disappear? Not any child of mine, that's for sure. Christopher means business.

Dude, I'm talking biz. ness. Don't mess with Christopher, or what's that you see?

Your name at the top of Santa's naughty list.

While he is busy sitting on our shelf during the day watching the goings-on of our home full of children, at night, it is a different story.

He parties heartily.

As a result, every morning, our children must search all over this house in order to find his elf self. One recent morning, we caught him swinging from our kitchen chandelier.


The next day, upon awakening from their peaceful slumber, my children found that Christopher had knocked over a small tree in our front hall, and was riding it, all horsey-style.


Giddy-yup, my North Pole friend.

Another day, he decided to sneak into our pantry for a snack of Goldfish crackers.


The nerve. It was at that moment that my children decided, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Christopher had to have done this, because would the Mom that they know and love purposely spill crackers and then not clean them up again?

Not likely. As if.

Sometimes he sets a good example, like Tuesday morning, when we found him reading.


In fact, he loves to read. This morning he was reading our Christmas cards.


Stay in school, kids. Read. Reading is good. All the cool kids do it. Christopher does it.

Perhaps his most brilliant moment occurred Sunday night, and we discovered it Monday morning. Monday was the Feast of St. Nicholas, and our children left their shoes out overnight, by the Christmas tree, in hopes that St. Nicholas would fill them with treats, which he did.


Do you see that little speck of red on the floor next to Christopher? He was sitting high up on his shelf when our family went to sleep Sunday night, but somehow he got into the construction paper, scissors, cotton balls and glue and made himself a shoe to put out for St. Nicholas, lest he was left out of the fun.

That's right. HE MADE HIMSELF A SHOE. A dapper little red loafer, I might add, with cotton ball trim.

Christian Louboutain what? Jimmy Choo who?

Crafty little bugger.

Don't believe me? See it for yourself, complete with a chocolate chip that St. Nicholas dropped inside the shoe for him.


Because an elf gets hungry, you know.

The best part about Christopher?

He keeps magic alive, especially in the hearts of a couple of my starting-to-doubt-ers during this most magical time of the year. He adds a piece of joy to an already joyful season.

And for that I thank him.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Beauty on an endcap.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may have noticed that I mention Target every so often.

Like how I love it.

Like how it makes shopping for cereal and Pull-ups and white Hanes socks fun.

But it's not like I'm obsessed. I'm just prone to exaggeration when I say I'm there all the time. Really, I'm only there maybe once a week. Or eleventy thousand. You know, same thing.

It's not like the post office is going to redirect my mail to Target.

Target, there is no need to take out a restraining order. I come in peace. I am just a mom who has many errands to run, and needs a one-stop shop.

It helps that Target has perfect fodder for my blog, because only interesting things happen at the Big Red Bullseye. At the grocery store? Eh. Not so much. But Tar-jay? Never disappoints me.

This morning, while shopping with my 3-year old daughter, I saw a thing of beauty on the bottom shelf of an endcap.

Sure, there are many things of beauty at Target, such as those yellow, "Price Cut!" signs, and those red, "Sale!" signs. But this? It was pure, natural beauty. It was nature at its finest.

Nature? At Target?

Stay with me.

I credit my daughter for finding it first. As usual, she was energetically running ahead of me, and as she reached the end of an aisle, she pointed to an endcap and yelled, "Mom! Look at the pretty flower!"

Not thinking much of what she was pointing at because silk flowers aren't exactly my thing, I absentmindedly nodded and placated her as I said, "Oh. Wow. Yeah. Look at that."

"NO MOM," she said insistently as she put her hands on her hips and made me look at what she was talking about. "LOOK. It's a flower!"

And we saw this.



The simple beauty of this bright red amaryllis growing out of this pot took my breath away. It was a rebel flower. A flower that grew too soon. A flower that shouldn't be.

Yet there it was. In all its bright, red Christmas glory.

About 50 other Smith and Hawken pots sat on the shelf in neat little rows, their cardboard lids secure, following the rules, with no sign of any flower growth. I was struck by the obstacles this beautiful flower faced in its journey to bloom. The cardboard lid. The lack of sunlight. The absence of watering. But somehow, despite all these obstacles, the amaryllis bloomed, bright and red, three gorgeous flowers sprouting from its strong green stem.

Thanks to my daughter, we found beauty today. Amidst the Christmas rush to complete all my errands, we took time to stop and smell the flowers.

At Target.