Thursday, April 28, 2011

An ode to balance (or lack thereof)...

In my office, there are weekly lunchtime yoga classes. I love yoga, but don't love the idea of doing it at work, so I don't participate. Still, I occasionally run into the teacher when I have a meeting in the conference room immediately following the class.

One day, another coworker was chatting with the teacher when I wandered into the room. They were talking about yoga (shocker!!), and asked me if I practiced.

Ever looking for a moment of amused self-degradation, I laughed and said, "Yep, most days. But I tend to fall over a lot."

The teacher laughed, too, which made me feel good, but then she said, "You know, that's probably a good thing. I mean, with yoga, if you play it safe, you'll never fall down. But if you push yourself to the next level, to go just a little further with a pose... well, sometimes you fall, but you almost always get better."

I kept laughing...but I also thought about what she said afterwards, because it had the ring of a Major Life Lesson. Because...well...she was right...

I mean, look at me. I have a reasonably full plate even at my baseline daily routine. I am mother to an almost-three-year-old, super-active girl. I am a wife to a man who loves to talk about music and books and, this week, trees. I work near-full-time hours, and I have a house and dogs and cats to take care of. Lots of laundry, lots of ball throwing, lots of cooking, lots of dirty dishes.

But I can balance it. No problem.

But it's not quite enough for me.

So last year I started working on my "writing career" (in quotes because I've yet to publish anything other than this blog)...and my that every night, after dinner was eaten and baths were given and the dogs were fed and the child was in bed, I had a full night's work ahead of me. A thirty minute workout and at least an hour of writing were added to my daily routine. Because I had to push my limits to see what would happen.

And...I definitely fall down sometimes, there's no doubt about it. Sometimes the pressure of daily life builds up until I'm ready to explode, or punch someone. The guilt over never quite doing any ONE THING to the best of my ability, including parenting Zoe, sometimes makes me cry.

But sometimes...I feel better. I get better. In the past year, I've lost about 5 pounds, gained a bunch of muscle and flexibility, and I've written a whole novel. And Zoe hasn't fallen apart. She knows I love her, and she gets as many hugs and kisses as she can handle on any given day. Charles and I still get along great (most days) and have fun times on random date nights or just hanging out on our couch together, watching TV.

So I think, most days, that I've gotten better. But then, sometimes something throws me off balance. And then I fall back down again.

Like tonight. Tonight we got home super-late. I had a haircut appointment that I desperately wanted to keep, and instead of taking two cars to work, which would have allowed Charles and Zoe to get home on time, we took one car since the weather was supposed to be terrible. Quentin, my dog, was inside our laundry room instead of in his outside dog run, again due to weather. By the time we got home, he'd pooped and yakked all over the crate in his room (probably due to fear of thunderstorms), and it smelled like death. So I cleaned that up (he is my dog). Then I made dinner. Then Zoe was wired and didn't want to go to bed. Then even when she was in bed, she kept needing just one more thing. Then I couldn't do a silly yoga pose I've been working hard to master. Then I procrastinated working on my book by writing this post. Then I realized I'm just all-around tired from a few nights of interrupted sleep.

Yep, tonight, I'm falling down.

But tomorrow, I'll get back up. And maybe I'll get even better.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Easter Weekend - the good, the bad, the chocolatey

So. Easter Weekend was about as technically perfect a weekend as my life can ever provide. I thought it would be fun to share it here, along with the various ways my stupid moods tried to mess it all up.

It's all in good fun, though. You know me - I'm not happy if I'm not being snarky.


I start my weekends on Fridays, which is how I like it. About nine months ago, I cut my work hours back to "part time," which in this case still means a good 32 hours on any given week. But I have my Fridays off, which is basically priceless.

Friday was a STORMY day (it actually hailed here the night before!!), so Zoe and I had time to kill at home, inside, which is typically not my favorite thing. I like being outside. But luckily, we had to prepare for a class Easter egg hunt the next day, so we spent our day making chocolate muffins, eating chocolate chips, stuffing plastic eggs, eating candy corn, and watching Monsters, Inc. A movie on a weekday morning? Score!! Actually, Zoe called Monsters, Inc. "Monsters Hank," I think in honor of my cubemate at work. It made me laugh.

The next day was the Easter egg hunt for Zoe's little class at school, and I woke up...on the wrong side of the say the least. I was feeling rough, and everything Charles and Zoe said was rubbing me the wrong way. It was hot. And muggy. My hair was out of control. I was pissy.
But there was lots of fun to be had at the hunt anyway (when I wasn't whining about the heat or my hair, anyway). Zoe "found" lots of eggs - they were just scattered all over the ground, so it wasn't that hard to find them - and insisted on opening every one of them. And then insisted on arguing with me over whether or not she should be allowed to eat all that candy. And the arguing...pissed me off.

But I won.

The outing wasn't improved for me by a trip to Earth Fare on the Saturday before Easter. It was busy, crowded, and generally annoying. But we persevered and came away with all we needed for our Easter Feast the next day.

Zoe didn't take a nap, and I went on a cleaning spree, then went on a run at 3:00 on a hot, sweaty day. Not my best idea, but I made it without passing out, so that was good. And I felt better. So I was therefore MUCH nicer for the rest of the day. (I think.)

Which included Zoe playing in the sprinkler in the back yard while Charles and I sat on lawn chairs and listened to Jimmy Buffet. He drank beer; I was still re-hydrating after my ill-advised run. When "Margaritaville" came on, I was finally happy - I associate that song with a trip my family took when I was about Zoe's age, and was thrilled to think that we're passing that music on to her. Sweet, right?

Anyway, Zoe was super-pumped for the Easter Bunny's annual visit, and she was tired from no nap and lots of sprinkler-time, so she passed out early for once. We set up her Easter treats (the child got WAY more than is necessary for any almost-three-year-old, but I have no one but myself to blame for that one!), watched Harry Potter 7.1, then went to bed. I was really happy the day had turned around for me...I hate feeling so icky. It's unpleasant for all three of us.

Easter Sunday included a family run/walk, LOTS more outside time with Zoe's new sprinkler and jump rope (that jump rope is the best $0.99 I ever spent!), a kite, bubbles and more Easter egg hunts. It was a fairly traditional Easter Sunday in my book...and that's coming from a Jew! Ha!

One of the highlights of my day, though, was watching Zoe curl up on the couch next to my dad (her Pops!) to watch The Wizard of Oz. It reminded me of all the hours I spent as a child in that exact same spot, and it made me SO happy to see. In case you can't tell, I love traditions, and I'm happy to pass them on.

And then....well...I ate WAY too much chocolate and had a stomach ache for the rest of the night....the one tradition I could have lived without. Leave it to me, right? Ouch!

So...mood swings and stomach aches aside, it really was a lovely time for my family, and I'm glad of it. People need all the lovely times they can get!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

I am a girl. And a fan of fantasy. You got a problem with that?

I am almost at a loss for words.

A responsible writer would step away from the computer. Think. Percolate.

But I am not a responsible writer. And I am mighty pissed off.

So. Hi, I'm Leah. I'm a girl. I've been a girl my whole life. I like being a girl. I like dresses and tall shoes and I wear makeup and jewelry.

I also read. A lot. Some of my favorite books are classics. To Kill a Mockingbird. Pride and Prejudice. I read Anne Frank's diary annually. I can practically recite passages of it. I read tons of nonfiction as well.

But much of my taste in literature runs...elsewhere. I read the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy while laid up after having my wisdom teeth yanked. Ray Bradbury and Stephen King feel like old friends to me.

It was probably close to ten years ago that someone handed me a tattered, paperback copy of George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones, and from that moment on I've been a devoted fan of Martin's seven-part, not-yet-completed series. So much so, in fact, that I've cursed him many times for NOT WRITING FASTER, because I just want to see what's going to happen by the end of the story! I've forced my brothers to read his novels. I got Charles hooked. We've been waiting with baited breath for the upcoming HBO adaptation of the first book in the series, watching every single "making of" special that HBO has posted on its On Demand Channel. In fact, now that I think of it, we RE-ORDERED HBO simply to be able to watch this damn show!

I am a devoted fan-girl, to say the least.

So, when I read the first few words of Ginia Bellafante's snarky, dismissive review of the series, I was just sort of frustrated. At first. People are entitled to their opinions, and I know that, and just because I love something doesn't mean other people have to. I've even forgiven my father (finally!) for refusing to watch the LOTR movies because, in his words, "Elijah Wood just isn't a hobbit."

But then I read on. And on. And I got progressively angrier, near the point of fury, I think. Here's the thing.

Bellafante's argument boils down to this: she doesn't like the series because she thinks the books, and the show, are designed for men, with some pretty/sexy scenes thrown in to grab the female partners of the male fans. My favorite part has to be this:

"The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise. While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half."

Oh, where to begin....I mean, seriously?

In the first place, "illicitness" tends to make me consider tuning out of a show, rather than in, when I feel it's gratuitous. Sex for sex sake bores me, and I find it annoying in many contemporary shows.

In the second place, like I mentioned earlier, I am a girl, I read a TON, and I don't belong to a book club. And the main reason I don't is because book clubs DO tend to focus on so-called "chick-lit" (apologies to Lorrie Moore - you were unfairly used above, and I know you're better than that), without branching into the horror/sci-fi/fantasy genres that I love. I could probably find a club that DOES focus on those genres, but why bother? I'd already be proving the exact opposite of Ms. Bellafante's point above. But then, to be fair, she doesn't know me.

What I think kills me most of all, though, is that inherent in Bellafante's "review" is the assumption that women who DO read fantasy, who DO love Martin's works (as I do), are this other, when compared to the more traditional female reading populace. It's the stereo-type of the nerd-girl - you know the one. Need I spell it out? Insecure, overweight, acne-ridden. I don't think I'm making this up, and I don't think reading that into Bellafante's piece is that far of a stretch. And it's a stereotype that makes me ANGRY. Because really, we women need to be more supportive of each other than that, and with her words above, Ms. Bellafante slapped in the face those women who DO deign to read literature that she clearly does not. And it was a slap most undeserved.

So, to recap. I am a woman. (Hear me roar, bitch!) I am also a reasonable-looking one - check out my picture on this blog - I'm the blondie. And I LOVE George R. R. Martin's fantasy series - it's on my list of favorites. And I will watch the HBO adaptation with enjoyment and excitement, and not just because the producers threw in some hot, sexy scenes.

I'm not that base.

Oh, and finally...I'm also a woman writer. And my first book? It's about zombies. You hear that? ZOMBIES!!!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Mah mah mah mah poker face...or lack thereof...

I. Am. Dramatic.

Always have been. Probably always will be. I wear my emotions on my sleeve, and most thoughts on my face.

Back in high school, when I was a freshman, a senior girl signed my yearbook and told me that I had a "fun, child-like quality about me" and that I should always keep it. I think I maybe took it too much to heart. My moods today are very much the same as they were back then. Quick, fierce and like that of a three-year-old.

I'm not good at hiding much of anything.

Which is fine, usually. Most of my friends and family are used to it. Typically, Charles deals with it like a champ.

But there's a new little person in my world, one who is VERY affected by just about anything I do. Can you guess who it is?

Yep. My Zoe.

I've been working hard on keeping my moods to myself lately, with minimal success. No matter how hard I try, I can't seem to get through putting Zoe to bed without snapping at least once. It's true that bedtime is currently frustrating, with multiple requests for the potty and for water and for Just One More Kiss...but I also know that it hurts her feelings when I snap. And all too often, that is the last thing she sees of me before she goes to sleep.

So, I'm trying. I'm aware of the problem and I'm trying SO HARD to correct it. I promise.

Of course, being an open book like me has other issues as well. For one, I tend to giggle a lot. Yesterday in the car on the way to school, Zoe wasn't behaving, so I took away her favorite car-toy, a Magna-doddle shaped like Elmo. She got SO MAD that she screamed at the top of her lungs for as long as she possibly could. It was so high-pitched, so shrill, that I think I felt like I was shot in the head. Have you ever seen Aliens? You know how Newt screamed? Same thing.

I know I should have behaved myself, kept quiet, even said a stern word or was not ok behavior.

Instead, I cracked up. I couldn't help it. I found it so utterly hilarious that she'd screamed like that, that she's ruptured all our eardrums over a piece of red plastic, that I just laughed and laughed. Poor Charles had to dole out the discipline that time, and I think that's a trend in our house.

And then, sometimes my freak-outs can spawn Zoe freak-outs, so I'm working on that, too. Last weekend, when Zoe woke up from her nap, her right ear was filled with rusty, nasty goop. YUCK. I cleaned it out, trying hard not to get too grossed out, and decided to keep an eye on it.

Later that evening, she was not wanting to go to bed. When I checked on her at one point after she'd been fussing, she was rubbing at that ear. I leaned closer to her, and I could just smell something nasty. GROSS.

I called Charles upstairs, trying to keep my voice from shaking. I'm a big girl, I thought. I can handle this, whatever THIS is.

He brought me a q-tip, and I rubbed it around the yucky ear. It came away BRIGHT RED! Blood! Ohmigosh, ohmigosh, my baby's ear is bleeding, was all I could think at that moment in time. An "Ohmigosh" actually escaped my lips, and I know my face must have reflected my momentary panic.

Zoe started, looked scared, and opened her mouth to say something.

FOR ONCE IN MY LIFE, I got myself under control. "Oh, it's nothing baby," I said calmly. <Ohmigosh, ohmigosh, my baby's ear is bleeding...ohmigosh....> "Just an ear infection. We'll clean you up and you can go to sleep."

Calmly, collectedly, I cleaned the rest of her ear, lay her back down and tucked her into bed.


It was just an ear infection. Nothing major. But at least in that moment...for once...I acted like a big girl.

Maybe I'm learning?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

My life, (not) a sitcom

So...did you ever have one of those days?

You know...those super-fun, utterly exhausting days that leave you wondering what the heck happened and where your bed is by, oh, say, eight o'clock? (Embarrassing but true, right??)

Today was one of those days. It felt like we did a little bit of everything; farmer's market downtown in the morning (Yay farmer's market!!! So glad you're open again!!), some errands, then some cleaning in the afternoon, some more errands, and then a big dinner. Any piece of it could have been cut out (Did I really need to experiment with my new Indian cookbook today? Well, the shrimp and chili sauce I made was totally worth it!), but then the day wouldn't have been quite as MUCH, and I liked how MUCH it was.


BUT, fun as it was, by the time dinner was over, and a totally-wound-up Zoe was finally in bed, I was kind of a wreck. I wanted to sit on the couch and groan incoherently, but there were two things standing in my way.

1. Charleston has suddenly reverted to two-shower-a-day weather, where it's so hot and muggy that you have to shower in the morning AND before you go to bed. I was a hot, sticky mess.


2. Charles was watching Bill Maher on our only TV, and as much as I love Bill Maher, he and his panel were all busily, passionately YELLING at each other and I just...wanted...quiet.

So I headed upstairs. And eventually was grateful that my life is not a sitcom...

I will set the scene...

Earlier in the day, I showered, but I didn't wash my's too long to wash every day now...and I did try to straighten it, but after 15 hours of Charleston humidity, it was a wavy, poofy disaster. I'd tried ponytails. Messy buns. A headband. Nothing would tame it. So about an hour ago, I'd had it, and I finally put it into two French braids, my favorite style when I was about six years old. Classy.

Then, after I showered for the SECOND time today, I decided it was time to have a little me-time...Charles was snoozing on the couch, so what ELSE was I going to do with my wild and crazy Saturday night? So I put on my jammies and rummaged around my cabinet to see what nice things I could do.

First, I found my foot lotion, and since my feet make me crazy in the summer (I swear, I must be part leper, partnered with a super-rare strain of dry skin), I decided to take care of them. The lotion I have is really greasy, though, so I have to put socks on after I use it to keep from leaving coconut-scented footprints throughout my house. So now, I am in jammies (a dress), white cotton socks, and my hair is in braids.

Such hotness, I know.

Then I found one of those face-conditioning mask-thingies, and decided to use it to take care of my skin. It's a clear mask, not the ugly purple or green ones you've probably seen on movies, but it makes my face look remarkably like shiny plastic when it's drying, so I typically hide out when applying it. Again, Charles was sleeping; what did I have to lose? So now, jammies, white cotton socks, braids and a shiny, plasticine face.

Beauty personified.

Then I needed to kill a little time while the mask dried. I busted my butt with a yoga workout and some running yesterday, and I've been really sore all day. I decided to try some restorative yoga poses, the first of which involved scooting my butt up to a wall, laying on my back and propping my legs straight up against the wall. If someone was filming and turned the camera, it would have look like I was sitting on the wall with my back leaning on the floor. (Great stretch for the hamstrings and calves, by the way.)

So now, picture this. Jammies. White cotton socks. Braids. Shiny, plasticine face. Laying on the floor with my feet sticking straight up in the air.

Suddenly I imagined my life as a sitcom. My husband (I'll assume it's Ray Romano, only because Charles sometimes says his voice sounds like Ray's when he hears it played back on videos) would walk into the room, wanting to snuggle or talk or something, ANYTHING, and he'd see me on the floor.

Cue double-take. Horrified expression. Cue husband turning on his heel, running away from his bizarrely clad, vaguely terrifying wife.

Cue laugh track.

It was enough to crack me up, and also make me doubly glad Charles was, in reality, still sleeping on the couch. Now he'll only know of that moment by reading about it...tomorrow...once I've taken out the braids and taken off the socks and look MUCH more like the girl I typically am.

Happy Saturday night. Hope it's wild and crazy!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Passover, Easter and me: all served up with a big old slice of double standard

A long time ago, Charles and I agreed to raise Zoe in a multi-cultural, multi-religiously educated house. We agreed not to label her, to let her choose her religious ideals as she grew up and into them.

With that in mind, yesterday I almost posted on the Internets that I was an equal opportunity book buyer - I'd just purchased a Passover and an Easter book for Zoe. Clearly, I'm non-biased and am educating my child equally about multiple religions/traditions at once.

But yeah...tonight I was glad I didn't post that, because really...not so much.

The Passover book was called "Max's Four Questions" and we read it tonight. It told the tale of a little boy named Max as he negotiated a big family Passover Seder. He asked the Four Questions (Why is this night different from any other night: Why do we eat Matzoh? Why do we eat bitter herbs? Why do we dip the bitter herbs in salt water? Why do we eat reclining?), and through the answers to the questions, he learned the basics of the Passover story. Jews were slaves in Egypt; they escaped; their bread didn't have time to rise and baked into crackers in the hot sun; the bitter herbs remind us of both spring and the bitterness of slavery; the salt water is a reminder of tears; we recline because we are free and we can.

It's really a brilliant little book and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn the Passover story in a kid-friendly way. I even learned a bit, or at least got reminders, and this is a story that I've known and embraced since childhood.

So...that was my Passover education for Zoe. I even made a (terrible!) attempt at singing the Four Questions for her in Hebrew. I felt like a good person.

Then, I took a look at the Easter book I'd bought...

Yep. The Easter Beagle Egg Hunt. Snoopy and the gang went on an Easter Egg Hunt...


I honestly did look around the Barnes & Noble for a slightly more educational Easter book, but they all...started with the word Jesus. Sigh.

All the stories from the Old Testament have been a part of me for my whole life; the New Testament? Not so much. I don't know how to frame Jesus and his teachings for my not-yet-three-year-old daughter. I'm not comfortable buying books about Jesus.

And I realize that this is a total double-standard in that I expect Charles to be ok with me teaching Zoe the religious side of the Jewish holidays, while I teach her the secular side of the Christian ones. Zoe knows all about Santa Claus and his reindeer, but she also knows what each letter on the dreidel means. She knows about the Easter Bunny, but also about Jews escaping slavery in Egypt. She knows nothing of Jesus.

This is not balanced, and I get that, but I don't know how to fix it. And I'm sorry about it. I am, really. I wish I had it in me to be more balanced.

But to tell you the truth, I think I'm just all kinds of muddled about what Zoe is and how to raise her. Tonight, right before bed, this happened:

Zoe: Mommy, are you Jewish?
Me: Yep, I am.
Zoe: Am I Jewish?
Me: Um...hmm...ummm...yeah, sort of, technically, but we'll talk about it more as you grow up.

I don't know what to call her, teach her or tell her, but we'll figure it all out as we go...I think? Help?