Monday, February 28, 2011

Some Weekend Views from the Lens of CMB

Here's my favorite time-capsuled moment from the weekend:

This kid - I'm all about him.

And he always smells so dang good.

Why does he always smell so dang good??

If you hadn't noticed, I am still entirely incapable of dismantling my Love love.

Oh, and one more thing...

Uh - nevermind.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother - Amy Chua

Back before Calvin even arrived, when I was gearing up to be his Mama, I found myself intrigued by the stereotype that Asian kids are "so smart".

I didn't want to be the one to break it to you, but adoption will do this to a person. It'll loop a slippery length of rope around you and reel you into a brand-new pot of things to stew over. You'll be immune to resist the pull. I dare you to try.

I hadn't even locked eyes with my almond-eyed boy and there I was, flipping my pillow over and over, hoping that the cool side would carry my worries away on a crystalline exhale. Would people have unfair expectations for my boy? Would he feel the weight? Would he shrug it right off? Would we play into the whole darn thing?

The reality is, many of us have this perception of Asian children. Fair or unfounded - that's not really the point. The point for me has always been, what is the seed from which this stereotype germinated in the first place? Where did it come from? Who started the rumor?

I know enough about the world to know that smart people hail from here and from there and from everywhere in between. I was never comfortable with the idea that Asians are simply smarter.

It should be clear by now why Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua, appealed to me. This memoir recounts her upbringing and the manner in which she set out to raise her two daughters.

She takes great pains in recounting the Chinese approach to mothering - filled with vinegar, lit by kerosene, mean as a snake.

OK, so those aren't her words, and she might even dispute them, but the point is, she really, really wants the reader to know just how awful she was. Two chapters in, I was muttering, "I get it! Enough!" But I sure didn't put the book down.

I understand her main premise: Chinese mothers (and fathers) simply expect more from their children than do Western parents. Mediocrity is not an option. Don't waste our time being "pretty good" at something - anything.

If a Chinese child gets a B - which would never happen - there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion. The devastated mother would then get dozens, maybe hundreds of practice tests and work through them with her child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to an A. Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them....That's why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child. The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and to improve from it.
I'm a big, big believer in setting the bar up in the clouds. I have seen many children flounder under the shy curse of low expectations. I can look back on my own successes and see someone pushing me from behind. I can look back at my failures, my mediocrity, and I'm there alone, bored to tears, praying for piano lessons to just drive off a cliff, already.

I think it's possible that if I had been pushed in every area of my life, I may have been more successful. And the same goes for you.

As it turns out, I just wasn't meant to be a piano virtuoso. I quit after a year, and I can't remember a single note. I tried it, gave up, and moved on to things I was passionate about, things I was really, really good at.

But my Big question is a little one: How are we defining success?

Does performing at Carnegie Hall trump family relationships laced with encouragement, support and - gasp! - fun? Does success feel different when you arrived kicking and screaming, slung like a sack of potatoes across your mother's back, exhausted and angry? Do you ever learn to carve your own groove? Do you learn to know what makes your own heart beat faster? Doesn't a grade-school Summer spent on a nylon lounge-chair with a stack of library books and a bowlful of cherries have its merits?

I also wonder about her propensity for pigeon-holing Western families and children as weak and broken. Chua clearly views the world in which she lives - the world she chose to marry into - through a lens of superiority. Her Western world - or the one in which she stands - is upper-class, highly-educated, refined to the nines. It's Upper East-side. And that's fine, but that's not "The Western World". I want to know more about the role faith does or doesn't play in her life. I want to embark in an all-out sociological case study.

But dinner's in the oven, so that will have to wait.

Amy Chua wrote her book candidly, and she was brave to do so. I have to believe that she understood the firestorm that would ensue. It was a fascinating, well-written read, with a quick-clipping pace and true glimpses of vulnerability and growth stirred into the self-indulgences.

The book is already selling in droves. Restated - it's a smash success. At least in the way that some define success.

Read the book. Tell me what you think.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Give Me Bok Choy - Change My Life

It's Saturday night.

I've got food on the brain.

Here's something you might as well know about me: For a very large portion of my waking hours, I'm thinking about food, in some form. Sometimes I take a break and think about flowers. Sometimes the condition of my home.

recipe here

Cory and the kids are my autopilot - so don't go worrying that I'm neglecting my family while I dream up two thick slices of cinnamon bread dredged in eggs with cinnamon and nutmeg, fried just-so, drizzled in syrup.

It turns out, I can multi-think.

And sometimes it's easier to talk about food.

Other times, there's just no escaping the other stuff. Sometimes it follows me around relentlessly until I share it. That other stuff can be a little greedy. Not only does it want my undivided attention, it apparently wants yours, too.

So I'll warn you now: I've got some other stuff on my mind.

recipe here

But tonight? I'm a little sleepy and I'm nutrient deprived due to an entire week without a trip to the grocery store. The photos herein do not, in any way, represent our dining experiences for the past seven days. They are here simply for inspirational purposes and as reminders of fonder, more nutritional moments in our household.

We cleaned the pantry, ya'lls. We ate peaches I canned in August and applesauce I froze in September. I was so thankful for the abundance, but after a while, a girl just wants a bite of something that will bite back a little, you know?

(My mom is probably twirling her hair right now, thinking I'm denouncing canning. No worries, Mama. It hasn't come to that.)

I froze this marinara last Summer and it was de-vine.

Thursday night I couldn't take it any longer. I needed something green. So we broke down and...went to Subway.

Friday night Cory and I landed a very last-minute date. I ordered a gigantic salad with red beets, avocados and goat cheese, Baby. I shoulda gotten two.

I've been scouring my binders for the past several days. I've made my list. We'll be eating well this week. I'll be shopping on Monday morning, and my Mojo is at the very top of the list, along with thirty kilos of produce.

recipe here

Exactly how much is 30 kilos?

I'm hoping it's a lot, man.

PS - I'll be posting more info on the African dresses soon!


Friday, February 25, 2011

Guest Post at Imperfect Prose - On Writing

Come and visit me today at my beautiful friend Emily's place. I'm talking about my book and finding the time to write.

Click here to find me. And be sure to tell Emily hello! You will love her.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Africa Dresses

I got my sew on tonight.

I was all different kinds of jittery.

Every anxiety I had regarding that blasted, double-crossing bobbin was realized, but I pressed on.

With a little bit of help.

A little, a lot, whatevs.

I was the problem student in the class, and I'm ok with that if you are.

My fun friends Lindsay and Jess organized this rendezvous.

They gathered a group of crafty cats and wannabes (I can attest that there was at least one wannabe in the crowd...) for the event - Crafting Hope.

We each brought a pillowcase and the necessary supplies to stitch up a dress for a little girl in Africa.

As such, my propensity for buying vintage pillowcases at thrift-stores is officially legitimized.

We chatted and stitched.

Some of us became friendly with the seam-ripper.

It turns out that while I was prepared in the pillowcase area, I did not bring pins. Or a tape measure. Or elastic. Or seam binding. My homey Brooke totally hooked me up. Thanks, B.

I did have scissors in my basket, so I'm not totally lame.

I also happened upon a few crayon hearts, a random burlap bag, two vintage hankies and a sequined number 6. Bonus points, anyone?


This is what a finished dress looks like - courtesy of Lindsay - Sewing Maven Extraordinaire.

She also has the patience of a Saint, or so I've been told.

In the end, everyone finished a dress.

With one notable exception.

But I'm not naming any names.

To be continued...


Click here for a link to full instructions.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Let's Pause for a Moment of Silas

Well-worn is the path between Silas and...

The time-out chair.

He sits right down (sometimes with help) and makes himself comfortable.

He'll start crying, "Sorry, Mama! Sorry, Mama!"

I ignore it.

Then he moves on to, "Sorry, Daddy! Sorry, Daddy!"
(Even though Daddy usually isn't even here.)

Again - he gets nothing.

In a final, desperate plea, he shouts, "Sorry, People! Sorry, People!"

Then he just gets mad.

Then he gets stinking cute.

Incidentally, how are you feeling about the effectiveness of photographing your kid's cuteness whilst in time-out?

Yeah, I'm feeling pretty good about it, too.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Hope on a February Day

God bless the world that gives me cantaloupe in February.
Cantaloupe has never been my favorite.
And it isn't exactly at its best in February.
Then again, neither am I.

Today, I will dine on sunshine while the snow falls.
And falls.
And falls.

It never. stops. falling.

But at least there's cantaloupe.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


While in Ohio, I had the rare opportunity to reconnect with two of my grandest friends.

We met back in 1994, decked out in red polyester smocks in the shoe department of Meijer.

Sarah and Mollie were already best friends, then I waltzed in. (Story of my life.)

I remember considering that Mollie might be too perky for me. (She was wearing a high ponytail and I rushed to judgment. What can I say?)

Sarah seemed oddly familiar and we soon remembered that we had taken Drivers' Ed together. I thought she was flirty with the boys and that she may have been Mennonite or Apostolic or something (I could have sworn she wore long skirts!)

She thought I was snobby.

Guess what?

Mollie wasn't too perky. As it turns out, one of her most endearing qualities is her snarky, dry sense of humor.

Sarah was not a flirt. (No more than the rest of us.) And she wasn't Mennonite or Apostolic (not that it would have mattered) and I don't think I've ever seen her in a long skirt to this day. (They both had some really big, wild hair, back then, (I was SO jealous!) but that's a whole 'nother story...)

And I wasn't a snob. I was my typical, shy-until-I-know-you self.

But this is what girls do, right? We size people up. It's second nature.

Over the years, Sarah and Mollie have remained plastered to my heart. We're all spread out now - we don't see one another nearly often enough. We have husbands and children. The whole nine yards.

We go months without talking, years without a face-to-face, but I can't remember a single moment in my life where I have felt unloved or unsupported by them. There's no competition, no judging. (Oh, it shouldn't be so rare...) These girls are huge-hearted and hearty-of-laugh. They tell me the truth and listen close. They cover me up after I've bared my soul. They make me feel normal, and I'll take all the normal I can get.

We look at the world with the same tilt of our heads. And sometimes, we stand there looking like twins, but what we actually see is quite different.

When we were young, we would stay up late talking about boys, sleep on the floor, eat lots of junk food and go shopping...and stock the shoe department at Meijer. We thought we knew for sure where our life was taking us, back then. We anticipated no big surprises.

Now, we snatch up two hours in a McDonald's play area and believe that we have found the very top of the world.

Because we have.

Life has surprised each of us, over and over, in ways that warm us up and in ways that make us cry. Of course, back then, we didn't know the half of it.

I remember some of you saying that you don't have close girlfriends, and you wish you did. I think about that from time-to-time, because I have known that lonely feeling. I still feel it, sometimes. Here's what I want to say to you: Go find one. Refuse to size her up and pray that she takes the same view. Be willing to be surprised. Take a risk. Ask someone new out on a date. Welcome the new girl into your circle.

Because we're all just out here, looking for mostly the very same things. I'm thinking we could kill two birds with one stone if we'd all just take that leap and team up.

Girl-Powerishly Yours,

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Random. Acts. Kindness.

I had no idea it was National Random Acts of Kindness week until my friend Layla told me. But, as you have probably gathered, I'm all over Random. Throw a little Kindness in there and I'm sold.

One of life's greatest pleasures is doing something unexpected for someone. If it can be pulled off off anonymously? Even better.

When El and I talked about teaming up to spread a bit of RAOK love, my mind immediately went to two people in my life, only neither person is actually in my life. They flitted past like glossy hummingbirds. Captivating. Fleeting.

Had I mis-timed my blinks, I may have missed them altogether.

But here's the thing about offering unexpected kindness to a stranger: They'll always blink at just the right time.

These moments really can change a person. It's true. Because when you are clawing at the sky, desperate for some sunshine to seep through the scratch-marks and distract you from the rain that blows sideways in your face, you will see the world differently when Sun reaches down, warm and sure, and pulls you out. You'll not forget. You'll be changed.

The first person I thought of was the lady in the airline uniform. She spilled out compassion for me, the kind that cuts to the chase and takes action. I regret to this day that I didn't get her name. I want to write a letter to her supervisor. I want to hug her on the Oprah show and tell her how much she changed me, in that moment.

The second person I thought of buzzed past several years earlier.

I had been married for less than a year. I was at a week-long training for a horrific job (little did I know) selling insurance. I was cooped up all week long in a room with older men who actually cared about things like annuities and Long Term Care plans.

In the midst of my week, my Dad suddenly became very ill and was hospitalized, a state away. I remember the phone calls, "Should I come?" and the reassurance that I should stay, should finish what I needed to do.

It was believed, at that time, that my Dad might have MS.

It was scary and uncertain and I felt like a little girl, too far from home.

At some point during the week, I received a call. Word got out, to a very small extent.

Later that afternoon a man several places to my left passed me a note.

He was around my Dad's age, a police officer in a nearby town. That's all I knew about him.

Now, I know this: He wrote a note, folded it up, and passed it down the line, Junior-High-School-style.

My heart split wide open that he reached out to me, so alone in that room. To this day, I cannot think about that pink highlighter smiley-face without crying.

I have moved four times since then. I've gained three children. I've made some serious progress on a few wrinkles. And still, that note remains folded up, flanneled at the creases, in my Important drawer.

It reminds me of the simple, profound magnitude of taking a tiny risk and reaching out. What is it that so often holds us back? Why do we convince ourselves that to act might be "stupid" or "weird" or "awkward"? This man didn't sweat it. He wrote a few words, then switched pens and added a special touch of kindness that felt like a kiss on the cheek.

Eight years later, my dad was officially diagnosed: He has MS. There are days that seem OK and there are others that make me feel like that same little girl, way too far from home. Very often, when heaviness threatens to creep over, I remember the kindness of a stranger and that cold lurch of fear backs off, at least a little. That man, whoever he was, moved into my fear and left a bright spot of hope, penned in indelible ink.

I will never forget.

*To read Layla's spin on RAOK, go here.

Friday, February 18, 2011

I Promise This is the Last of It

I forgot to show you this extra-special Valentine that was left for me on the Big Day.

Honey Child's got mad scissor skillz.

And an odd sense of humor.

And maybe a wonky love-language.

But I love it all.

We took a "non-edible take-home treat" for the kindergarten festivities.

In all my many school days, I don't recall ever going home with a non-edible take-home treat.

These young whipper-snappers today. I tell ya.

It was challenging to find something for C to take that wasn't too girly or lovey-dovey.

In the end, nothing says "I Love You" like a green Detective badge.

I continue to be deeply troubled over the fact that several of you professed your distaste for My Day, by the way. Deeply, woefully troubled.

Perhaps that explains my compulsion to continue whooping it up.

I plan to win you over by breaking your cold, brittle will.

Here's one part of the day that I didn't particularly enjoy: the junk my kids brought home. Who are these people who send such oddball junk home with small children? Oh wait. That would be me...

In any case, Calvin brought home a bag full of candy and junk. He left it in his backpack, in the mud-room. Later that afternoon, he disappeared for 10 minutes or so (I thought nothing of it) then re-emerged with blue lips, teeth and tongue.

Me: What were you doing out there?
Him: Nothing.
Me: Did you eat anything out there?
Him: No.
Me: Did you eat anything out there?
Him: No?
Me: I will give you one more chance. Did you eat anything out there?
Him: yes.
Me: What did you eat?
Him: Just one piece of chocolate!
Me: (I have failed as a parent!) Try again.
Him: OK, I had one other thing, too.

Please note: I was biting my ever-loving lip the entire time to keep from busting out in hysterics. His entire face was blue! And he didn't know it!

At the time, I drew a parallel with myself and God, but it escapes me now. Ironic, no?

So, I guess that's all I have to say about V-Day.

For now.

Until next year.

Oh wait, I do have one more thing.

This was my very favorite V-day post ever in the history of V-day posts. Please have a read. Heather is my homegirl, she just may not fully know it yet. I'm stalking her a little bit. I have dreams about her and then tell her, and it's always a little disconcerting to be on the receiving end of that.

OK. I'm done.

Fa rillz.

In more timely news, we took Calvin to have his blood draw this a.m. and he was so fantastically brave and our new phlebotomist rules the school and the sun is shining and Siley is napping (clothed!) and we're getting ready to head out to spend a couple of days in Ohio.

Life sure is swoony, today.

Even if I do have the early-makings of a cold.

Even if.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

How We Lunch

Very recently, a reader asked me the trick to having kids who are not picky eaters. Well, I wish I could tell you that I had some big trick up my sleeve, but I don't.

My trick is, that I'm not picky at all.

There used to be three things that I really didn't care for: Sloppy Joes, green olives, and radishes.

Over the years, I've developed a more pleasant relationship with Joe, and I decided a few months ago to go on ahead and like green olives. (Cory's family eats them with wild abandon.)

So now I'm just down to the lonesome radish.

I would like to like them. They sure are pretty.

All of that to say, I like to eat, I like to cook and it was a strange priority to try to grow small people with welcoming palates.

If I serve it, they have to try it. No excuses.

Right now, Ruby is in a phase where she likes to pretend to be picky, but I took a page from my SIL's play-book and if she complains about what I serve, she has to go clean up all the toys by herself. Genius!!

Dinners are when the biggest fun happens.

Lunchtime is all about what's easiest. It's nothing fancy, and sometimes, it's not even that tasty, at least not to the over-5 crowd. I sometimes eat what the kids do, and sometimes I eat something a tad more...appetizing. I don't do chicken nuggets. But they do! And there's room for all of us, under this roof.

Here are some recent lunches:

(How I love thee, Pickled Beets!)

Don't let him fool you...

The alphabet noodles mixed with peas is one of his all-time faves.

And it's always a good day when I bust out the cafeteria trays.

These are identical to the trays I ate my lunch on for 12 years!

Thank you, Mrs. Benning.

I'm sorry I forgot my lunch money so often.

And while I've got your ear, serving the syrup from the giant cans of peaches and pears, in styrofoam cups, really can't count as "juice". But hey, we all make mistakes.

More peas! More kiwi!

It should be noted that this is not Siley lunching. This is Siley snacking.

I don't have photos of him lunching, because he is not a very well-managed luncher. He's a food-thrower and a bread-shredder and a sauce-smearer.

Once he starts throwing food, I tell him he's done eating and take him out of his high-chair.

He screams like no body's business.

I ignore him.

And then sometimes, like yesterday, while I'm in the kitchen getting more water, more milk, more turkey, a wash cloth or a moment of peace, he just climbs right back up and into his chair, and we repeat the entire scene.

At long last, after 27 trips to and from the kitchen, it's clean-up time.

Here's a tip, straight from me to you: Leave the crumbs on the floor for a while. Especially sticky stuff like noodles or rice. Just walk away and pretend that you don't notice. Pretend that it doesn't make your skin crawl. Come back an hour or so later and it'll be just dry enough to sweep right into the dust-pan without smearing all over your floors.

Do I sound like a woman who knows that of which I speak?

Well, we eat a lot of rice around here. What can I say.

So lay it on me, what's your go-to lunch?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Inner Bends of My Late-Evening Psyche

Isn't it funny how light changes thing?

I'll be honest. That's the end of that thought. It's not some clever jumping point into a witty post, full of smarts.

I'm feeling a bit discombobulated, if you really must know.

Don't have a single good reason for it.

It's not a sad mood. It's just a...pensive mood.

Incidentally, when Calvin was three years old we were out tooling around in our sweet, red ride and he was staring quite contemplatively out the window. I said to him, "Calvin? Are you sad?" He replied, without hesitating, "No, I'm just...pensive."

He really was pensive.

I couldn't have said it better myself.

And I will never, ever use that word again without thinking of that moment.

The end.

OK no, I'm not done.

Here's a bit of news: We had a showing today! I whipped this house into shape. I've got it down to a science.

Mid-way through cleaning the thought struck me, "These people could actually buy our house!" I had entirely forgotten that the possibility even existed.

And here, all the while, I thought I was just a pit-stop on the Farm-a-Rama tour!

We had chili and root-beer floats tonight with a bunch of kids from Cory's new job.

Have I ever told you about Cory's new job? No?

He works at an alternative high school with 9 campuses statewide. He's the Director of Community Development.

He's loving every single minute. And you know what I love? I love seeing new things about my husband's heart, when I thought I had already seen it all.

This new job is a game-changer. Or maybe the game changed over a year ago and this is a just a smaller part of the whole. All I know is that nearly 2 years ago Cory told me about The Crossing and how impressed he was with the work they were doing. He raved about the leadership. He wanted to send them money. It was his dream job, but it was a far-away dream, because he was already locked down. He was really good at his old job. We were comfortable, in all sorts of ways.

We dreamed about a new thing, but it's hard to say if we would have ever taken the leap.

As you know, we never did leap. We were pushed. And you know? That's not a half-bad thing.

My baby is still sick. He calls medicine "funna-meen", and laughs at me like I'm loony when I say it back to him that way.

Also, I think my forehead might be growing. They tell you it's the nose that keeps growing... Perhaps I'm an anomaly?

To wrap up this day, we watched a Frontline documentary on human trafficking. They showed the little boys, their Mamas long gone, and I had to force myself to keep watching.

The older I get, the harder it is to stomach the brutality in this world.

The older I get, the more I know that it's important to see the truth; not just my cushy, insulated truth, but everyone's.

So I think I've adequately proven my point: My head's all askew tonight. My edges are blurred and faded. It happens with surprising frequency. You might as well know.

It's an hour past the time that I was ready to fall into bed, but here I sit, wondering to myself, "What does it mean to give it up? How exactly do we lay our life down?"

I'm asking. What do you think it means?