Showing posts with label From Left to Write. Show all posts
Showing posts with label From Left to Write. Show all posts

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Expats

I traveled quite a bit for work last year, at least in comparison to years past. I always love to travel, even though my business trips are less adventures to exotic locales than doing the same work in a new location, with the perks of gourmet meals, maid service and happy hours. Actually less happy hours than late night meetings in bars (I am in marketing, after all).

What I dream about is actually moving to a foreign city, exposing my kids to a new culture and embracing the challenges and excitement of a different place. When I lived in Japan for a summer one of my favorite activities was browsing the produce and seafood sections of the grocery store. As we become more global the stores and restaurants seem to look the same, but there are still plenty of fruits and vegetables I rarely see outside of my trips to China: dragon fruit, mangostinos (except canned), ginko nuts and lotus root, to name a few. 

In Frankfurt last year I ate three kinds of sausages in one afternoon, finally seeing why currywurst is so popular - yummy. I still love to talk about my adventure with a Japanese friend, as we searched out the best (according to google, at least) soup dumplings in Shanghai. What a joy to get to do that everyday, especially if I got to take some time off work.

Until my husband becomes a mastermind computer security expert engaged in white collar crime, I guess I'll just continue to dream.

This post was inspired by mystery thriller novel The Expats by Chris Pavone. Kate Moore sheds her old life to become a stay at home mom when her husband takes a job in Europe. As she attempts to reinvent herself, she ends up chasing her evasive husband's secrets. Join From Left to Write on January 22 as we discuss The Expats As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

It Could Be So Much Worse

Yikes! Seven months since my last post. Well, I'm easing in again, with a committment to not only read, but actually write the posts for the From Left to Write book club. It's not that I need more in my life, but I think adding more variety will make my life a little more interesting.

School just started and this certainly seems like the easiest transition to day. My wiggly young son who likes school, but has spent his share of days in the principles office, has certainly calmed down. Of course his awesome teacher doesn't hurt. He's got the same teacher as last year (he was in a 2/3 combo then) and she is truly awesome - easy going, extraordinarily smart and dedicated, and creative. Last year she actually let him have his own desk, to prevent him from getting too distracted by the other kids. A few others then asked for their own desks.

We're having other issues now, one of which is when his knee, foot, arm, etc. hurts, which always seems to occur when he's aked to help with something low on the fun spectrum I guess is how we might put it. He plays a hard game of soccer, gets hurt and can't help with the equipment. He spent all weekend with no knee pain, only to have it spring up when it was time to unload the camping gear. I admit I was not as sympathetic as my husband. The guy has been through a lot - with knee surgery for a bone infection, when he was really in a lot of pain for a long time. But he manages to get well enough to play baseball after his brother has unloaded the dishwasher. I have no doubt the pain is real in his mind, but my husband has finally jumped on the frustration bandwagon, not letting him get away with avoiding work every time. It's hard to know what the right decision is, though. Of course I don't want my baby to suffer, but I want him to be more responsible.

Keegan started 5th grade this year, and as much as he complains it's boring, it's the easiest start yet to the year. I've promised to look into the math situation (a later post), but otherwise he's on his own. They swap between three teachers - math, english (where she uses sign language and acronyms instead of English :) and spanish. Bad part is they don't get their own desks, good part is Keegan now has his backpack for biking in and one for driving. He is sooo excited about learning the sax too. I feel, though, as they kids get older, the worries will get larger. Is he living up to his potential, is he striving to please everyone versus finding his own passion, learning what he loves, likes, tolerates, hates? is he going to find that one or two friends to spend all his time with? Is my working and traveling going to have a negative impact? I frankly don't care that much what others think of my parenting, and try not to judge others. Sometimes, though, when you realize your main interaction with the kids was asking them where their lunch bags are, whether they brushed their teeth and have any homework, you just might be missing something.
I am very lucky, though, and I know it, to have healthy kids who are happy most of the time. The book we read for the book club was about a family who had to overcome serious obstacles, one of which was a denial his daughter's condition was even real.

How far would you go to advocate for your child? In January First, father Michael Shofield and his family struggle to find the right treatment for his daughter Jani, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at six years old. Join From Left to Write on September as we discuss the Shofield's memoir January First. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Animals and Vegetables, it's what's for dinner

I have to confess one of our family pasttimes is to laugh at some of my mom's antics. She's been known to exagerate, something that drove my ex-husband bonkers, and now the new generation is finding her amusing in a whole different way. It started with my friends and I though. I always saw her and my dad as jumping on the health nut bandwagon - from making us take Tai-Chi to making separate trips for cereral and bread, not to mention fresh tofu (health food store), meat, fish and finally produce. We also grew tons of vegetables and my mom made yogurt, whole grain cookies with carob chips, and frozen chocolate covered pineapples. What a couple of freaks. A favorite game was "guess what Nikki has for lunch?" (eggplant pizza, sushi, tofu burgers?). They drew that line at organic lettuce, that stuff wilts within hours.

She had this firm belief that it was critical to mimimize all refined flour, sugar, rice and completely avoid preservatives, at least until you were 12, then all bets are off. This might explain the Carl's Jr. wrappers we'd often find in our trash cans first thing in the morning. As annoying as this could be, and as begrudgingly as we ate our brown rice and non-instant oatmeal and made jokes about our dried fruits (want a date?), I knew deep down she was doing something right.
 I'm now making my own way with my own family, and I definately appreciate a solid background in pretentious hippy food. I am avoiding the later low cal fads she jumped on, based on my brief perusal of some of the latest books, and my go-to blog for all things healthy, I ply my kids with smoothies and grass-fed beef, lots of cheese and 5 ingredient ice cream. I've taught them to be scared of HFCS, although they can't get enough sugar and prefer in-n-out to my burgers, but I hope I'm giving them the foundation to someday enjoy these as much as I do.
Roasted CSA Turnips, yummy
If you want a better picture of my life, though, check this out.

Could you live an entire year eating locally or the food from your garden? Barbara Kingsolver transplanted her family from the deserts of Arizona to the mountains of Virginia for their endeavor. Join From Left to Write on February 21 as we discuss Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. As a member of From Left to Write, I received a copy of the book. All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A New Old Kind of Education

The latest book in the From Left to Write book club is Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Shiff. Unfortunately there is not a whole lot of history written about the powerful queen, and much of it is dramatized, but she still managed to write a long enough book that I've barely gotten into it. In this club, though, we just write posts inspired by the book.

I've just finished the section on how she was educated. While we don't have specifics on her education, the author can surmise based on the typical education for royals the rich and intense education she received. There were no breaks, really, except for the monthly holidays, and they crammed in a lot of learning. The "classics" (which of course weren't yet), nine languages plus speech and argument "made with particular and exact choreography", geometry, physiology, learning that helped make her the leader she became.

Education has been on my mind since my brilliant little boy cried the first three weeks of kindergarten. Fourth grade finally brings the serious homework woes which I've, I mean he, has managed to avoid up until now. He's always hated school, and I am not one to counter with "well, school is boring." Frankly I loved the worksheets and math tests, it was the long writing projects which brought me to tears. Yesterday he was moaning about some science homework, could not understand why he had to do it. First he complained about having to do "review" and then he whined they never taught him the stuff. The final straw was a worksheet where you could only answer the questions if you liked the assigned book.

I can't feel bad for him, there are so many kids with worse issues. On the other hand, what I'd really like to do is rip up the worksheet and make him read Watership Down, Metamorphosis and Brave New World, followed by free-form book reports of at least 500 words, something I had to do, although it was probably not until 5th grade. Some boredom can lead to creativity, I'm afraid the boredom in our testing focused schools will just lead to hatred of learning. With the right teachers, the worlds biggest library and Euclid, perhaps my boys could get an education like Cleopatra. I'll avoid the rest of her traumatic life, though.

In Cleopatra: A Life, Stacy Schiff digs into the history books to share with us who the true Cleopatra was. As a member of From Left to Write book club, I received a copy of this book for review. You can read other members posts inspired by Cleopatra: A Life on book club day, September 27 at From Left to Write.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

That's Some Big House

Over the summer we headed up to Canada for a rare family gathering. My aunt and uncle own a huge old farmhouse up there and the original plan was for them to get up their early and fix it up for my Aunt's 70th birthday party. My cousins were coming, and sister and brother's family, all the relatives who weren't working or, sadly, in the hospital. Unfortunately the wack-a-doodle tenants refused to move out until ordered to by the court, finally leaving one day before the sheriffs were due to arrive, but we all came anyway. We don't need no fancy house to party.

Check it out over there, 26 rooms including 5 bathrooms and 3 kitchens (it had been turned into apartments). Their plan is to restore it to its Victorian glory and run a bed-and-breakfast. They've started on a few rooms, but the place looked cool to me, even the spooky attic, which instead of being full of priceless antiques contains old computers and printers, of course.
The best thing about this place, though, are the two gorgeous decks and a front yard the size of a soccer field. Except when we left the house, or they were exploring the many many rooms, the kids pretty much never stopped playing on this grass.

As cool as this house was, and how fun to have enough space to have an entire party outide, but enough rooms to sleep 20, I'm not aiming to buy a house this big. The idea of redoing a house, furninishing it, redoing the kitchen and bathrooms then inviting (paying) guests over really appeals to me. It's pretty much my husband's worst nightmare so a B&B is not in the cards. I hope at least to visit again. I also can't end this without a few photos of my adorable neice and nephew, who I got to meet for the first time this summer.


That's uncle court, aka my dad, aka world's best grandpa, holding the baby there.

This post was inspired by the latest book in the Left to Write book club. Carry Yourself Back To Me is about singer-songwriter who's going through some tough times and starts out holed up in her house in Florida, snuggling with her dog and sanding down every piece of furniture in the place. A lot of the first of the book is spent describing parts of the house. Although I found it a bit too chock-full of metaphors or similes, by the end of the book I was in tears and rooting for this chick to reconnect with her family, her past love and mostly her music.

Deborah Reed's debut novel Carry Yourself Back to Me follows heartbroken singer-songwriter Annie Walsh as she digs into the past to exonerate her brother from murder. As a member of From Left to Write book club, I received a copy of this book for review. You can read other members posts inspired by Carry Yourself Back to Me on book club day, September 22 at From Left to Write.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Ultrasound in the Glove Compartment

Before trading my car in a few months ago I cleaned out the glove compartment, and there was my first ultrasound of the little bun. I figured it was as safe a place as any, and it’s not the kind of photo I wanted in my baby book, even if I were planning to create one. I did enjoy taking a fond glance whenever I happened to lookin there, but ultrasounds were not exactly a joyous occasion for me after the first. I'm not talking about the fact that, to  be honest, I found some a tad creepy, is that wrong?  When you do IVF, you get very early ultrasounds, weekly for a while so first it stops being exciting, then it becomes a bit scary when you no longer get that comfort of having them. 

Ultrasounds brought too much bad news as well.  With our first baby we lost a twin, called a "vanishing twin" as it was very early on, and probably would not even have known except for the early ultrasounds.  As it was we'd already a few people we were having twins.  When my doctor told me that the fact that one fetus had stopped growing had no impact on the other, I thought he was lying.  I was convinced I would lose the other and he was just making me feel better, but I did get over that.  Then at 15 weeks an ultrasound showed an enlarged kidney, and they recommended a amnio.  Once again I was thrown into a panic, worried I'd lose my baby due to miscarriage.  It had been such a long road, was it worth the risk? I had about 30 minutes to decide.  I decided them to find out the sex, even though I'd have to keep it from my husband as he didn't want to know. I just felt like it would bring me closer, easier to talk to and bond with in case he didn't make it. I lost two others before I'd hardly felt pregnant and I wanted to know this little guy.

Everything came out fine (badum bum), but my coping mechinisms might seem a bit pessimistic or dark to some. After years of infertility the fact that I could get pregnant gave me hope I'd have a baby.  I loved being pregnant, loved the attention to be honest, but until I held that little miracle in my hands I didn't exactly worry I'd lose the baby, more prepared myself for the loss. The ultrasound photo in the car, the preparation for bad news, even the desire to work in my pregnancy in conversations, I was reminded of all this when I read our most recent From Left to Write book club pick, "Exploiting My Baby," a hilarous recount of Teresa Stasser's pregnancy.

I'm sorry to say I missed the last two book club postings.  I would recommend those books, Young Mandela and The Swan Thieves, but could not get inspired to write after them.  After thoroughly enjoying and totally relating to this book I was determined to get a post into my poor neglected blog.  I am not a fan of parenting books, mommy guides, even humorous ones all seem to want to give you advice, bring you into some club where I rarely fit. Most of my friends decided to have babies, then had them.  The sleepless nights, the difficult decisions about whether or not to go back to work...I had none of that (thank goodness, or my our finances would have taken a beating).  I was ready for sex well before my husband and never even fretted over whether sleep with my baby or felt guilty about the occasional formula suppliment.  Not to say that everthing was perfect, I just read to escape, not to solve my problems.

Teresa gave us her issues, her troubles, her happy moments with a gigantic dose of humor.  She never tried to give advice and, best of all, totally embraces exploiting her baby. Go mommy!

I received a complimentary copy of this book as part of the From Left to Write book club and was under no obligation to write about it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Cooking with Earthbound Cook

A delicious healthy cookbook, a group of woman and a few bottles of wine, now that's my idea of a party.  From Left to Write and This Week for Dinner, a book and food blog, got together, NOT virtually but in real life, and threw a helluva shindig.  We each made a dish to share, at ate drank and were merry.  The only thing that might have made this better was if we'd all cooked the dishes together.  I love cooking and what makes it even better is cooking with friends, which I got to do the other night.  A friend showed up with her mom and her BFF visiting from LA and found me rushing around, sweaty and most likely covered in soy sauce.  Her mom asked (in Chinese, my friend had to translate) why I was doing this, after a full day of work why make myself so busy. 

My honest answer, I needed guests more appreciative than my kids, who have learned not to complain too loudly when I present them with a new dish, but don't actually eat it either.  Next thing I knew we were sipping wine, blending mango lassis and stirring shitake mushooms and bok choi with plenty of suggestions from mom.  All the recipes were from the new cookbook, by the way (pictured above) including the lassis, aka mango smoothies.  Heaven.

Not that strawberry pie

I just love those events, and really miss them from my Boston days.  I had a number of friends who loved to cook, and my boyfriend/husband/now ex-husband was one of them.  I remember a day when a bunch of us went strawberry picking and arrived to a small apartment with oodles and oodles of berries.  We cooked up some cornstarch and made strawberry pie, macerated some in triple sec and some in grand marnier for crepes to nibble on, cooked up delicious strawberry jam and sliced and sugared the rest for freezing.  A substantial hot pot rounded out the evening, followed by the pie for dessert. 
Micky Mouse Pancake
Now this is not the kind of day that's for adults only, minus the liquor perhaps, but to get my kids excited about cooking, not to mention my husband, and somehow find another family that's free and open to a day of picking, cooking and eating, just seems daunting.  My younger son seems to have inherited my fondness for cookbooks, and has started a collection from grandma, but it's nowhere near my fascination level.  We've made duckie cupcakes, dinosaur cookies and pumpkin tarts and lots and lots of pancakes, and I just love to hear him read the ingredients and directions.  You might notice a trend there, although we did make fish sticks once.  It's hard to keep a 6 year old interested for very long, though, especially when his dad and brother are out playing soccer. 

That's why I'm so excited about this new endeavor, a cookbook club.  I just love cookbooks and trying new recipes, and this was what I hope is a series of evenings where we try new things.   I've told my kids they could pick anything out of my dozens of cookbooks and I'll make it.  So far they have not take me up on this offer, but I'm extending it here and now to anyone who wants to come on over.  Just give me a few days notice to shop, clean, cook and get some matching linens. 

Thai Cabbage Salad

Stuffed chicken,
cauliflower risotto,
roast taters

The full disclosure is I got this book free as part of the From Left to Write Book Club. I was under no obligation to write, or even cook, I don't think :)  I ended up making a whole slew of recipes from the book and every one of them turned out delicious, from the whole wheat pancakes to the Thai Salad.  I even tried my hand at the Cauliflower risotto, but since I'm unable to actually follow a recipe, I used orange cauliflower and skipped the carrots.  It was very tasty.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Following Polly

Humor and amateur sleuthing, it's like a fantasy come true.  Unfortunately it was not my own life, but a book I read recently as part of the From Left To Write book club blog.  I've read a lot of mysteries and detective novels, and my favorites usually have some crazy characters.  Following Polly, by Karen Bergreen, whom I got to meet in New York at BlogHer10, is about a woman with quite the active imaginary life, an awesome group a friends and a great sense of humor.  Karen is a comic and a mom and now obviously a novelist.   I want to read books that take me out of my life, and this one fits the bill.  If I had three wishes I'd love to be a funny writer, and private detective and, well, I'm already a mom, so guess I need to be satisfied with that and thank the writers of the world for allowing me to live vicariously through their stories.

I'm probably better than the average person for tracking stuff down on the internet, from my son's elusive lovey to mentions of a company press release.  The closest I've come to true snooping is to occasionally google my ex-husband, whom I finally found on facebook.  I sometimes think about getting a job as an online personal shopper, but to be allowed to really snoop around in someones life, now that would be cool.

Disclosure: I got a free, signed, copy of this book as part of the From Left to Write Book blog.

Monday, September 13, 2010

From Left To Write Book Club: Cowboy and Wills


 That's my little boy Donovan over there, and our new puppy.  We've had dogs the boys' whole lives, but it's such fun to see how they treat one they met before taking home, and especially one small enough to cuddle, although mostly the play is just a bit to rough for my or Tiro's comfort, leaving Keegan, older (but not bigger) brother to attempt to save the puppy.  I'm not a huge fan of dogs I have to admit, and they've caused our share of problems, but both our our "puppies" definitely exhibit that true loyalty, that excitement over seeing us whether we've been gone days or minutes.  Watching Donovan give Tiro a bath is going to be one of the highlights of my time with these guys.  As part of the Left to Write Book Club blog, we recently (although I'm way behind) read a truly wonderful book, "Cowboy and Wills" by Monica Holloway, a story of a boy with autism and the puppy who helped him.  His mom is the author and this heartfelt and honest book made me cry and made me think.  I immediately thought of the book when I saw this little scene, as in the book Wills ends up dressing Cowboy and his other animals and forming a little school at his house.

I've been reading and hearing quite a bit about autism lately and feel like I can learn so much, not to mention  laugh.  Some of my favorite bloggers are moms of kids with autism, and I got to spend some time with them at BlogHer.  Christine of A Mommy Story recently shared some wonderful posts about her daughter starting kindergarten.  I can always count on Jean to document the pet adventures over in Stimeyland, and I had the honor of sitting next to Kari during the autism panel, moderated by Shannon Des Roches Rosa where we heard from the sister and caregiver of an adult with autism, Pamea Merritt, Jean, and Carol, who has Aspergers and a son with autism, and was bright and funny and speaks all over the world about aspergers and autism.  The other night I had to stay up pretty late and got sucked into the Temple Grandin movie, which I heard about during the Emmys.  Make a plan to watch that movie right away, I swear I cried and at one point broke into spontaneous applause, sitting alone on my couch at 3 in the morning.

Sometimes I feel I have no real reason to learn about autism, beyond wanting my family to learn that everyone is different and we all deserve respect, not to mention opportunities to excel.  When I hear about little kids getting expelled from preschool or kindergarten it sickens me.  Learning more about how people with autism learn and process information makes me think we should be able to use that learning to vastly improve our educational system.  As Christine says, "No One Said Special Needs and Smart Can't Go Together" and the Temple Grandin book, "Thinking in Pictures" that the movie is based on clearly illustrates that people with autism can learn and achieve amazing things, their brains just work differently. 

I wrote a blog post a while ago about how our current educational system and testing is not really conducive to inspiring a love of learning, much less excelling, especially in kids who need to move a lot.  My dream is to group kids by their learning styles and by their interests, let them do what they want for as long as they want, whether it's reading or math, building structures or learning everything there is to know about living things, and supporting their learning styles.  In our school the youngest kids are required to do the project, feel the rocks or play in the dirt or race the snails, before reading about the science and physics behind their experiments.  As we get older we are first expected to listen to an explanation, read about the creatures or human body, then finally do a little observing or touching.  I've had a lot of science and engineering classes, and that method may work for some, definately not for me.

I could clearly go on about this forever, but it's late and I still have another book post.  I want to thank Monica Holloway for her wonderful book about Cowboy and Wills.  She hopes others can learn from the book, I will add it's simply a great read all on its own.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of Cowboy and Wills as part of the From Left to Write blog.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Stuff that Did Happen

When I was 22 I married my first love, the first (okay, only) guy I ever had a serious relationship with.  We dated all through college and it was fun and exciting and we could not keep our hands off each other.  People told us we were too young to get married.  My roommate told me I'd never have the opportunity to have a romantic tryst in Paris.  None of these warnings seemed reasonable.  What nobody told us, until after our divorce, was not to marry the first guy you were ever serious about.  There are plenty of examples where it works out, even my own parents, but it often doesn't.  At one point I did want to break up, as I thought that was a way we could be sure we were right for each other.  He was so upset, told me we'd have to have all new friends, could not talk to each other, that I backed down.  When I did finally leave him, two years after we got married, I held onto that idea to ease my guilt, that if only he'd given us that break then, we'd either be happily married or avoided a divorce by never getting married.

He was a nice guy, a bit arrogant but who isn't when they are getting top grades at MIT?  He had a crazy, sometimes mean, family, but again don't we all?   The second year were were married I stopped visiting his horrible relatives and dropped out of school, but still became clinically depressed.  I stopped being attracted to him and didn't exactly have an affair, but we did dip our toes into an open marriage, I can't even remember why - either it was fun (more and varied sex!) or we were trying to save our marriage.  I did some pretty awful things, probably subconsciously hoping that would make it easier to break up.  I was miserable, stopped eating, drank a lot and cried all the time.  Even after he kicked me out of bed he let me stay on the couch until I found a place to live.  Like I said, he was a very nice guy.  It's what is now termed a "starter marriage" - no house, no kids, no regrets.  As a middle-aged (yuck) married mom, I now know every marriage goes through tough times and it's hard to know if things could have worked out.

There are a lot of things I wish I had done differently, both for that marriage and my current.  If you get married in a church I believe you need to have pre-marital counseling - a grand idea as far as I know, although I can't say from first hand experience.  I probably would have lived together longer, had serious talks about goals and philosophy of child-rearing, career, etc.  Looking back gets you nowhere, though, or does it?

We recently finished our next "From Left to Write" book club book, "The Stuff That Never Happened" by Maddie Dawson, a novel about a woman married to the same man for 28 years but also in love with another man.  We hear about Annabelle's current life, where her husband, Grant, is busy writing a book, her kids are out of the house and she feels neglected.  The chapters alternate between the present and past, which covers meeting her husband in college then dropping out to move across the country to join him, where they live with his academic adviser's family, and he works all the time.  She alludes to infidelities and confesses she fantasize about a past love and, to add to the mix, Annabelle's daughter is convinced her own absent husband is having an affair.

Judging (no pun intended) from the comments on some of the other blog posts inspired by the book, she's selfish, does not have enough to do, and screwing over her sweet husband with a jerk.  I have to confess I sympathize with her.  We are told we are responsible for our own happiness, but aren't the loves of our loves somewhat responsible for keeping us happy? How long do we continue to be miserable, and when an opportunity for happiness is thrown in our face are we supposed to ignore it?  My own uncle told my parents I should have stuck with my vows, but he himself was married to my divorced aunt.  Annabelle took the opportunity she thought would make her happy.  I moved into my own place, which is where Annabelle eventually ended up as well.

People are always surprised when I tell them that I kept the sex of our first child so a secret from my husband (there's a point here, I swear).  I believe I was able to keep it a secret since he really didn't want to know - I thought I gave it away so many times.   In the book there were two other people affected by the affair, who were so wrapped up with their own lives they were literally clueless as to the happenings around them.  They were the "wronged parties" but my take is they had a part here too.

I certainly don't long for my ex-husband, any leftover dreams about him (which usually ended up with me waking in relief we were no longer married) ended about 18 years ago, but I do know I want to be happier in my marriage than I am today.  I think by going back to her past, and talking it out, Annabelle saved her marriage.  I'm still working on my solution.  Then again, I'm living in the real world, Annabelle gets to have a happy ending written for her.

I received a free copy of the book as part of the From Left To Write book club blog.