Monday, January 31, 2011

What to Do? Evening Edition

It's definitely winter here in Cleveland. The days are short, and the nights are long and bitterly cold. There's been snow on the ground for weeks, and more predicted soon.

All of this frigid winter weather exacerbates a problem that all parents face: what do you do when you're home in the evenings? Not only can we not go somewhere while Eleanor's in bed; we don't even want to go within 1 foot of any winter, for fear of feeling the cold air seep in around the edges.

For us, of course, catching up on our favorite shows on Hulu is the default choice. It's easy and entertaining and we don't have to think about anything. But I'm perpetually trying to watch less TV (the jury's still out on whether I actually make any progress), so we've also been trying to come up with some other ways to stay entertained—G-rated ways, that is! (And that's all I'll say about that.)

Here's some of the options so far:
  • Play Nancy Drew computer games. It's true! We like to pretend that we, as a team, are a sixteen-year-old super sleuth, traveling around the world, solving mysteries. It may be a game meant for tween girls, but we like it.
  • Work out. It's probably been a year since we did this, but we were doing a plyometrics workout together once a week. There's not too much talking, so it's a good option for those days when nothing really happened and you don't have anything to say. And of course, neither one of us wanted to be the one to suggest sitting on the couch and watching [TV and eating] ice cream instead, so it was motivational. It only lasted for a little while though, because Keith got seriously into marathon training and I .... did not.
  • Play board games. Or not really board games so much as word games. Bananagrams is our current favorite for a quick evening game, although there's some other options, too. What's nice about the board games, as opposed to the workout, is that we can talk while we're playing. So if it's been a day where a lot has happened (so rare!) we can keep the conversation going while I kick his butt. If he kicks my butt, I stop talking to him.
  • Watch a movie on Netflix. You may consider this cheating on the "less TV" but I put movies in a different category from TV shows. There's more going on, and it feels like more of an "event." If we watch TV and it's suddenly 11 o'clock, I think, Where did the evening go? But if I watched a movie, it feels like I've actually done something with my time. Or at least it's clear that I meant to spend 2 hours in front of the TV.
  • The worst option is that we both end up working. I always have teaching-related tasks that I could work on, and lately we've also had some side jobs to work on. Sometimes, we end up side-by-side on the couch, both intently typing away. It's like we're physically in the same space, but mentally miles away. Then we go to bed and talk for a half-hour because we realize we haven't said anything all night.
  • Work on a jigsaw puzzle. I know! Is this 1850 or what? But I like them. I freely admit, I do get a sense of accomplishment when I find that one piece that has been eluding me for days. Oftentimes, we'll half work on a jigsaw puzzle and half be watching a TV show. Is this any better than just sitting down and watching TV? Or is it even worse to be trying to multitask?
So anyway, there's a few of the activities that we partake in, of an evening when we're staying in. What do you do to keep entertained at home?

Friday, January 28, 2011

I'm Working on Six-Pack Legs

Ha! I do recognize the ab wheel, and am familiar with its tortures!

Since I started this Bootcamp, I have used all different kinds of workout equipment that, until this point, I had only seen on The Biggest Loser. The ab wheel is one. Those huge ropes that they fling around with such abandon? Yeah, those are really heavy.

The most challenging piece of equipment, I don't even know what to call it. Suspended something or others? They have hard handles for you to grip and do pull-ups or suspended push-ups and more (so much more!) or soft handles that hang down from the hard handles for you to shove the front half of your feet in there and perform various excruciating moves, all from a suspended plank position. Here's something close to what I'm talking about:
Finally, I can also tell you that I know that this thing is called a Prowler Sled, and it makes my thighs burn while pushing and pulling it. Then I can barely walk for a day after a workout involving the Prowler Sled.

I had no idea Bootcamp would be such an educational experience. And I thought I was just going for the workout!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

MY WTF Moment and the Idea of Margin

I finally got around to telling you all about my new 5:30am workouts because I really wanted to tell this story and it's important to know that it takes place before the sun has even considered touching the horizon.

Last Thursday, I got up at 4:50am (okay, 4:56) and got dressed and drove to bootcamp. I didn't take my phone or my wallet because, really, who was I going to call? What was I going to buy? I suppose Starbucks would be open ... but who needs caffeine after an invigorating workout?

In case you can't tell where this is heading, I was only halfway to the workout place when the empty light on the gas gauge pinged on. I can't stand driving with the gas light on. No matter how many times Keith tells me that I still have a good 20-30 miles to go, and it's only 5 miles to the workout place .... I don't really believe. I may logically understand it's true, but I spend the entire time in the car gripping the steering wheel, imagining all the horrible things that will happen when I run out of gas and get stranded.

So I did manage to make myself drive to the bootcamp and deal with it afterwards. But I wasn't sure how I was going to deal with it, exactly. I had no wallet and no phone. What are my options? Am I brave enough to risk driving all the way home? Even if I were, Eleanor had a check-up at 9:10am and then I needed to leave for work at 10:45am. Lately, getting Eleanor out the door has been difficult, to say the least. If I didn't get gas on the way home, what were the chances that we would be late to her appointment or I'd be late to work?

My brain couldn't handle it. I had to get gas ASAP or my head was going to explode from the anxiety and fear. I remembered I had a few bucks in the glove compartment. So after bootcamp I hurried out to the car and checked.

I had $3 in bills and one more dollar in quarters. So that would be enough for just over a gallon of gas. I'd feel stupid buying $4 of gas with change, but it was better than not getting any gas at all.

I went out of my way to go to the gas station closest to the bootcamp. I pulled up to a pump wit a sigh of relief. I had made it! The world wasn't going to end!

I went inside to pay my measly $4 to get the pump turned on. Some irate woman was leaving as I was entering and she said something about having difficulties paying. I said I had cash instead of a card, and figured it wasn't a problem. I went in, paid my cash, and went back out to the pump.

And then.

It didn't work.

The cashier came out and yelled something to me that I couldn't hear so I went back in. He handed me back my cash and said the pumps weren't working. I stared at him.

"BUT I NEED GAS." I stated, slowly and clearly. "This is all of the money I have and I'm out of gas."

The young man shrugged apathetically. "All I can tell you is that I'm pressing the buttons and they're not working."

I walked out, my $4 in hand. What now? Surely the car was going to run out of gas now; it seemed destined. I just kept thinking, "What the F#@k?!?"

(Digression: Keith and I don't swear much at all. Honest! Which is especially important now that Eleanor repeats everything we say. Like that time we were in the car and Eleanor kept telling us to "Strap Up!" instead of "Buckle up!" or "Strap in!" and I told Keith, "It sounds like we're a bunch of trannies!" and Eleanor happily chatted about being trannies all the way to the Botanical Gardens. So I'd never drop the F-bomb at home, but it seemed warranted in this situation.)

I mean, really. How does this happen? The gas station DOESN'T WORK?!? Who does this happen to? It was one of those moments when it feels like the entire world is part of a conspiracy to drive me insane.

But, no matter how much I overreacted, the world didn't end. I drove to another gas station and got gas there. I was nervous when I pulled up because the car at the pump ahead of me was running, its owner was standing by the pump. Just standing—not pumping gas or doing much of anything. I paid my $4 (again) and went back out to the pump to hear him talking to a woman who had just pulled up, explaining how his keys got locked inside. Whew! Not my problem.

My $4 got me to a quarter tank of gas, and the rest of the day passed uneventfully.

Once I calmed down, I kept thinking more and more about how the morning only became such a disaster because I was unprepared. I had known for the past week that I needed to get gas, but I kept putting it off because I felt like I really didn't have enough time to stop. I consciously decided to leave the house that morning with neither cell phone nor wallet, because I thought I wouldn't need them. My WTF moment was completely of my own making.

And it reminded me again of an article I had read almost 3 years ago over at a personal finance website called The Simple Dollar. The article was actually a book review about Margin by Richard Swenson. I had even blogged about it in "3 Jobs Too Many" when I first read it.

At that time, I said:
My understanding of the concept is that people function best when they have margin in their lives—space and time that is unaccounted for. This way, when something takes more of your time and effort than you had expected, you have some leeway in which to deal with it. Minor catastrophes and time-sucks can be dealt with.

On the other hand, many people today schedule their lives without any margin at all. (Can you see me raising my hand?) No margin in time, so I'm always racing from one activity to the next. And no margin in mental tasks, so I get worn down because I'm constantly thinking and evaluating and planning something else. When you're living with no margin, the smallest glitch can cause a ripple effect and suddenly it feels like you've completely lost control.
It drives me crazy that I still feel the same way. I absolutely think that I would be calmer and happier if I had margin, but it is still a foreign notion to me. I'd like to blame it on being the parent of a toddler, but the reality check is that I originally wrote it in March 2008—several months before Eleanor was even born.

What's it going to take to get a little bit of breathing room in my life? So I'm not stuck at the gas station at 6:30am with $4 in my hand, no gas in the tank, and a rock of anxiety and fear in my chest?

I might need to actually read the book.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Photo Challenge: Colorful

Does stopping for 5 minutes on the way to my parents' house count as a photo field trip? Because if so, we did make it out this week!

For Christmas, Keith took a really great picture outside the Cleveland Museum of Art and gave it to my Mom. My Mom loves nature, and Keith and I both liked having a Cleveland landmark in the background. It may not look like much to non-Clevelanders, but if you've been there you can recognize it. Sort of like a hidden image.
The colors of the berries in that picture were so vibrant that Keith immediately remembered that photo shoot when the topic of "colorful" became this week's photo challenge. We talked about something else around the house; with a two-year-old, there's no shortage of garishly bright toys around here! But Keith kept returning to that earlier shot, and he also liked the idea of a splash of color against the copious amounts of snow currently piled up.

So, as mentioned, we stopped by the Museum of Art on the way to my parents' house on Saturday. Eleanor, Beckett, and I didn't even get out of the car because Keith knew exactly what shot he wanted. He jogged over to the tree, snapped a few shots, and we were on our way.

It's interested how a nature shot changes over just one winter month. We don't think of trees changing much in the winter, but the berries in the second shot are so much more red, instead of yellow. Same tree, just a few weeks later, with a different angle. But to me the tone of the picture feels totally different!

I'm Ready for Bed by 7:00am

Okay, I really have been slacking on the blog. I can't believe I haven't written about this yet! A little before Christmas, I got an email from our pediatrician's office saying that, as a gift to the parents, they were offering a two-week free trial at Cleveland Fitness Bootcamp. After a few weeks of dithering, I signed up. For 5:30-6:30am, two days a week.

This appeals to me for a lot of reasons. I've finally come to accept that I MUST workout before Eleanor is awake; otherwise, it won't happen. There's too many other things going on, either legitimate needs or convenient excuses. I was actually doing well last winter, working out, but then in May Eleanor started getting up at 6:00 or 6:30am and I couldn't work out before that (okay, I refused to) so my workouts slid. Next thing I know, it's Christmas and I'm like a lump of sugar cookie dough waiting to be formed, all jiggly and, well, lumpy.

I also do like working out in the morning. Getting up at 4:50am to work out at 5:30 is a little early, even for me, but I love getting home by 6:45 and getting a shower and being done by 7:30. Keith hates to see me in the kitchen after I get back.

"Hi!" I beam. "Isn't it a wonderful morning?"

He grunts and avoids eye contact, like any normal human being would.

Days like today, however, can be rough. It was a tough workout this morning, and I have a hard time getting to sleep early enough the nights before. So it's nice to be done and showered by 7:30am ..... except when I'm already dragging and I open the bathroom door and Eleanor is already awake. Most days I have at least a half-hour of downtime so I can recuperate before starting my full-time Mom gig. Today was not one of those days.

But! I have made it to every workout so far, which is a good thing. I haven't lost any weight (mostly because of my diet, I'm sure). My usual daily workout of picking up/putting down Eleanor 50+ times and carrying her the equivalent of 6 miles or so throughout the day has gotten a bit easier. In the end I signed up for 3 months, so I can keep doing this until the weather warms up and Beckett and I can start running in the mornings again. Hopefully I can make it that long!

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Comfort of a Pillow Pet

Eleanor's friend down the street gave her a pillow pet for Christmas.

(Short digression: I really haven't written about Christmas, and I'm not really sure why. It was wonderful, we had a great time, we all got many lovely gifts. So I'm not sure why I've just not felt like writing about it. Maybe because it's over and I just need to accept that? But anyway, maybe I'll get around to Christmas in February or something.)

The pillow pet was one of the first gifts that Eleanor got, and is one of her favorites. We love how much she loves to sit on it and read. When Keith took this picture, she had gotten herself all situated. She carefully placed the pillow pet on the floor in the dining room. Then she went and grabbed a pile of books and laid them out in a tidy row. Then she proceeded to go down the row, picking up one book and "reading" it (she has them all memorized, including our tone and inflections in dialogue), and then moving on to the next one.

We had a good 15 minutes of time to cook dinner together and talk about the day! This ability to entertain herself has been happening more and more lately. It's amazing and wonderful and also makes me a little sad. I'm absolutely certain that her overwhelming need for me is going to drive me crazy .... until the day that it's gone. Until the day where she gets dressed, goes to school, comes home from school and goes straight to her room to read or whatever, or—even worse—doesn't even come home after school, because she's at a friend's house or some activity. So I go the whole day without seeing her.

Once that happens, I'll remember these days with longing. Like today, where she offered her hand and said, "Mama, I'll help you up so you can come play dollhouse with me." These days where I'm her favorite playmate and my boring, repetitive stories delight and entertain her.

Of course, once she moves on, we still have some pets that will need us. I've been meaning to write this post for ages, but since that first picture with the pillow pet, we've found someone else in the house who loves it just as much, if not more.

Gomez is laying on the pillow pet constantly. Wherever it has landed, she seeks it out. Except, at the moment, she's curled up in my lap. It's good to know that the cat thinks I'm better than the pillow pet!

I do want Eleanor to learn to entertain herself and be independent. The best-case scenario is that tonight she pulls out the pillow pet for a solitary reading session .... and then comes and takes my hand to help me up, so I can play with her.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Photo Challenge: Control

Yup, that's right. I haven't posted since last week's photo challenge! I got sick Thursday night and it was a rough couple of days. Plus, once I felt a little better, I had to finish getting ready for this semester, which started yesterday. Which essentially means that, ready or not, the semester is started and hopefully things will soon fall into a nice, easy, manageable rhythm. Right? Right????

Keith had a hard time being inspired by the word "control." Everything we thought of seemed too obvious. And, what with the sickness and frantic lesson preparation, we didn't really make it out for a photo field trip.

Last night after I put Eleanor to bed, I came downstairs to see Keith taking some photos of computer innards. He said, "I had another idea for control that has to do with yoga ...."

I said, "Do you want me to pose?"

Keith said, "Sure!"


And there you have it. My masterful yoga-ness. On the negative side, I think I'd like the picture more if it had more context. Like if I were actually wearing something I'd wear to yoga class, and not jeans and a sweatshirt. But on the plus side, I'm pretty proud of myself for holding that pose. He took a lot of pictures! So maybe I haven't been doing much yoga lately, but apparently I haven't forgotten it all!

The rest of the Control pictures from the group are here.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Photo Challenge: Joy

Keith's photo challenge this week was Joy. Shutterboo had warned that the prompts this time around would be more abstract, and so far that seems to be true.

What is joy? There's so many different variations of it. My joy (reading Shakespeare, sipping a glass of red wine) may be your torture!

We talked about something very abstract, like just bright lights or colors. But in the end, the first idea is the one Keith went with: an Eleanor picture. Because really, what is more joyful than a happy, well-loved child? She's happy, and she is our joy.

He tried a few different "photo shoots" (I use the term very loosely). Most of them, somewhat oddly, revolved around eating. Sometimes she eats well, sometimes not, so it's not like mealtime is a definite bet for a joyful picture It is, however, the time when she's most still. So that probably accounts for the prevalence of eating shots.

Here's a shot of hot chocolate joy:

Some peanut butter cookie not-joy (even though she did like the cookie):

This is the reason most of the shots are of her sitting and eating:

And this one, too. I like it—the kind of joy only a good tickling can provoke—but it's just a bit too out of focus:

She also loves to read, so Keith was trying to get pictures of her reading. But she's always so resistant to putting her hair back that the cutest shot was ruined by her hair falling across her face.

On the other hand, another negative of taking so many shots of Eleanor eating is that her face is often covered in food. There was a bit of Photoshop trickeration in the final, edited photo to get rid of some stray food particles. But I have to say, looking at her gorgeous, foody face does bring me joy. And make me think that she's growing up too fast!


Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Keith's 2011 Photo Challenge

I used to write New Year's Resolution posts, but that pretty much stopped after Eleanor was born. The first year of her life would have been things like, "Read a book," and "Once a week, wear something other than pajamas before 4pm," not very exciting stuff.

I still like the idea of resolutions, though. I feel like it's taking a few minutes, before we get into the regular routine of the new year, to think about the big picture and what do I really want to do, instead of just letting the year happen. So it's not that I'm against resolutions, but it's just hard for me to make commitments to many different things right now. I would make resolutions about reading and career and hobbies and exercise .... and my fear is, at this point in time, making all those resolutions would just be setting myself up for failure and disappointment. I accept that having a toddler is a full-time job and someday in the future, I intend to start making many resolutions again.

HOWEVER, having said that, we're now getting to the point of today's post: Keith's resolution! Okay, it's not really a "resolution" per say, but a year-long photo challenge. On Wednesdays, shutterboo posts a weekly word for the Photo Challenge and then any interested participants post their picture related to that word.

Keith participated in this challenge once before, but I think his interest fizzled out a bit towards the end. Now, however, he's all fired up because 1) we got a new 50mm lens as a Christmas present from us to us and he loves experimenting with it, and 2) he loaded Adobe Photoshop CS3 onto our newer laptop. We've had the program for a few years but never used it because it was on the old desktop that .... works .... at .... about .... this ..... speed. And then it crashes.

So! Keith's new photo challenge means I get to tag along on interesting outings. His plan is to take the pictures by Sunday so he has a couple days to play with things in Photoshop before posting the final version on Wednesday. This past week's word was "electricity" and we were visiting my parents on Sunday, so when Eleanor eagerly opted to go to the grocery store with them, Keith and I went the other direction, to the power plant in their town.

It was a cold but sunny day. I walked Beckett (or Beckett dragged my arm off) while Keith took pictures. Several things struck me as we walked:
  • I had lived in this town for 20+ years of my life, and that was probably the most time I'd ever spent looking at/thinking about the power plant. That's one of the nice things about the photo challenge, getting you to view life a little differently.
  • The "hum of electricity" usually seems like an abstract phrase, but not there. I could hear it and feel it as we walked by these massive transformers.
Anyway, I think this was a long, rambling post to get to the actual explanation behind the pictures. But I plan on posting for most of Keith's photo challenges, so the next post about it should be a little more coherent. Next week's challenge: Joy!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Letters to Eleanor

I'm always hesitant to make a resolution that involves the word "daily." I'm much more likely to stick to something like "average per month." But I've been kicking around an idea that is a daily thing ... we'll see how it goes.

I want to write letters to Eleanor. To the grown Eleanor, explaining a little bit about what it is to be her mother, a mother, a wife, a hopefully useful member of society. How I'm dealing with trying to be a mother and a teacher and find time for myself, too. I would like to think that it won't feel so incredibly difficult by the time she contemplates being a mother, but I would imagine that she'll face many of the same issues in one form or another.

So I've started writing letters. I'm thinking of ending them all with an "I hope" statement about something I've learned/still am learning about life, and something I hope she finds in her own life.

Of course, whenever I write, the idea of publication is always in the back of my mind. I would love to gather together these letters and publication them as a collection for ... anyone, I guess. I figure that mothers of toddlers would be most likely to feel that these issues and thoughts relate directly to them, but I think they could also relate to anyone who is trying to find some balance in life and figure out who they are and where they want to be.

Here's the rough draft from yesterday. Let me know what you think!

January 3, 2011

Dearest Eleanor,

I love you with all my heart, but I honestly don't understand how you, the center of my world, can drive me so crazy in 5 seconds flat.

You and I are having some boundary issues. You don't see why we need any, and get frustrated when I don't immediately cater to your every whim. I, as I always do, feel guilty for all of the many, many, MANY times throughout the day that I tell you "no." Do I really need to wash this dish right now instead of playing dollhouse? Do I really need to finish one more thing rather than cuddling up with you on the couch and reading together?

What I feel most conflicted about is that I need time for myself. I can accept that meals must be made and cleaned up, shopping must be done, etc. But I feel guilty because the more you hold onto me crying, "Mommy! Mommy!" the more I long for my own time to recharge my energy and patience.

It's the worst when there's someone else around who loves you and wants to be with you, like your Daddy after a long day at work, and you refuse, insisting that I read this book for the 12th time or the doll talks in my hand.

What is this overwhelming need for me? Is it love? Or is it something less noble than that? Am I a piece of furniture, a slave who has no rights of her own, who must always be at her master's beck and call? When you cling to me so vehemently, I never know whether to see you as an extension of my own self, to be embraced, or an emotional vampire who would use me up and suck me dry with no remorse? Your father insists that it's because you love me so much, and we have an amazing relationship, and I am a wonderful mother.

In reality, I think it's a little less than pure love and more than mere vampirism, and I'm okay with that. You do love me and we do have a wonderful relationship and I try very hard to be a wonderful mother to you every day. But also, you are a toddler and then world can be a scary place and I am the anchor you cling to. Sometimes I am your beloved Mommy and sometimes I am a familiar object, a comfortable port in a storm of new sights and overwhelming sensations.

This is good because I don't have to feel guilty that my 2-year-old daughter loves me more / better / more purely than I can possibly love her. It's okay that I occasionally need to put down the weight of your entire world, take it off my shoulders and hand it to someone else so I can replenish my strength.

I hope someday you will also find the joy to be had in solitary pursuits, and you'll understand that I needed time to refill my soul so I could continue being the best mother I could be.