Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 2.11.27 PMSometimes I feel like I must have unsubscribed from at least a thousand email lists in the last year. How do I get on them all? Sometimes I get subscribed because I buy something. Usually I remember to uncheck the “subscribe to our email list” box, but apparently that unchecked box is just a sick joke, because I get the emails anyway. Sometimes it’s a company I’ve never heard of, so some other company must have sold them a list with me on it. Once in a while, it’s something I’ve actually signed up for, but usually they send me so many emails that I end up wishing I hadn’t signed up. Less is more is a concept lost on email marketers.

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Life Is Like Enchiladas

red-cheese-enchiladas-2I recently mentioned to someone that I had made enchiladas, and they asked if it was hard. My initial thought was no, it isn’t, but then I amended that: it isn’t hard now. It used to be. I remember a time when I rarely made enchiladas, when it seemed like a huge hassle to prepare the filling, grate the cheese, fry the tortillas and then drain them, dip them in sauce, roll the filling up in the tortillas, position the enchiladas in the pan, pour the rest of the sauce over them, sprinkle grated cheese over the whole mess, and finally bake them.

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The Human Operating System

maslows-hierarchy-of-needsA friend who is a life coach often asks on social media, what are you doing to practice self-care? My answer is usually, “More than you could possibly imagine.”

There are so many moving parts in my self-care repertoire that sometimes it feels a self-indulgent. But I’ve learned the hard way that if I neglect any aspect of it, not only do I pay the price, but the people who depend on me do as well.

Self-care is like an operating system that allows me to function, and if I don’t maintain it, the whole system could crash. I think of it in terms of the Hierarchy of Needs framework developed by psychologist Abraham Maslow more than half a century ago. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is organized as a 5-level pyramid, with the most basic needs (the kind we share with animals) at the base, and those that make us fully human (creativity, self-actualization) at the apex.

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The U-Curve of Happiness

hammocks at ojo calienteToday I turn 53, and it’s one of the happiest birthdays of my life. Last year, 52 was wonderful, too. My worst birthdays? 47 and 50.  I’m sure part of the explanation is what I was doing (or not doing), and with (or without) whom, on those birthdays. But part of it might have been that birthdays 47 and 50 fell near the bottom of what some economists call the U-curve, while 52 and 53 came as I was on its upward curve..

Nearly three years ago (not long after my godawful Big 5-0, though I didn’t read it until today), an article called The Real Roots of Midlife Crisis in The Atlantic summarized some of the research, which suggests that life satisfaction declines from early adulthood through middle age, hitting a low point around the late 40s.

The trough in my own U came right on schedule, starting not long after I turned 46, with the worst of it behind me by the time I was 51. I even wrote a blog post called Welcome to my midlife crisis when I was 50.

Jonathan Rauch, author of the Atlantic article, who pulled out of the trough around age 54, wrote, Continue Reading »

7 Leadership Lessons from the Game of Thrones

GOTWhen you play the game of thrones, Cersei Lannister tells Ned Stark, you win or you die. The stakes are lower as we navigate the shoals of modern career-building, but the moves and counter-moves of the Starks, Lannisters, and Targaryens shed light on what makes an effective leader in any walk of life. What follows is a spoiler-filled list of lessons culled from seven seasons of clashes over who will rule the seven kingdoms. Continue Reading »

The Magic Ratio

5 to 1 Magic RatioOne of the most useful concepts in my professional and personal toolbox is one I stumbled upon nearly 15 years ago when I was trying to save my troubled marriage. Today, it forms one of the foundations of the school improvement program I help administer, and serves as a core practice that has improved every aspect of my life. Continue Reading »

We are what we repeatedly do

3282635-we-are-what-we-repeatedly-do-aristotle-quoteIf we say we are a writer, but we do not write every day, we are not a writer.

If we say we are kind, but we treat people thoughtlessly and commit a thousand small, unintentional cruelties, we are not kind.

If we say we are open and honest, but present a glittering facade on social media while we are dying inside, we are not open and honest.

“We are what we repeatedly do,” said Aristotle nearly 2,400 years ago. “Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” Continue Reading »

Are you happy?

Happy-SadThe other day I was talking with a friend about the problem of happiness. Not that being happy is a problem. But so many people I know aren’t happy, and that (to them, at least) is a problem. Whether it’s a problem for me, too, depends on whether I choose to make it one. I know it’s co-depedent, but when those we love are unhappy, it’s hard not to let it affect us. Continue Reading »

The Joy of Pivot Tables

Ah, January. When I have all the previous year’s personal finance data and can spend untold hours allowing my OCD nature to run wild through endless spreadsheets, pivot tables, pie charts and other instruments of analytical torture.

For someone with an income as modest as mine, and as many children as I have, I’m actually pretty proud of the job I do managing money. I spent more than planned in a few categories, but less than planned in others, so that my balance of cash on hand is slightly higher than it was a year ago. Continue Reading »

Snow Day

The concept of the snow day was foreign to me for the first four decades of my life. Snow was, as a coworker from the Philippines said yesterday at the office, something on Christmas cards.

I moved from Los Angeles to Santa Fe in 2006, after years of mild New Mexico winters. The winter of 2006-07 was the first of five with heavy snowfall, winters when my car got stuck in snowdrifts and my kids got to sled down hills in Glorieta.

The kids have the day off school today, but I have to go to work. Snow days make things…interesting, for working parents.

Snow days are one of the many things that reinforce for us, again and again, that life is not predictable, and we are not in control. On the contrary. Life will always throw us curveballs – or snowballs.


When I heard people talk about Timehop, I thought they meant when Facebook greets you with these “x years ago today” memories. Apparently that’s just called Facebook Memories, and Timehop is an app — which I don’t need, since I have Facebook, right?

This “7 years ago today” picture was in my Facebook feed the other day. The baby in the picture is 8 now, and the 8-year-old holding her is 15. My eldest and my youngest are exactly 7 years apart, to the day, so a “7 years ago” picture of the two of them is especially poignant. Continue Reading »

Once upon a time, I wrote a book

Once upon a time, I wrote a book. Two books, actually. Three, if you count my dissertation, but it’s full of Greek and academese so I probably shouldn’t. Oh, and several screenplays.

By “a book,” I meant a novel, because I’ve only written (finished) one of those. I dusted it off (metaphorically; it only exists electronically) and read it a week or so ago. I did so with trepidation, because I wrote it 20-odd years ago (how can I be old enough to say that?) and who knew what purple prose might lie within? Continue Reading »

The Highlight Reel

Yesterday, my wise friend Shelli posted this on Facebook:

[My Facebook] life is my highlight reel. It shows my amazing life. It doesn’t show much of my boring life because, really, who’d want to see that? It shows vacation pics, not because I take grand vacations, but because that’s a highlight. It shows pics when I look good…because who wants to share their awful pics? It tells of successes, but I don’t tend to share my failures with 500 people….The same is true for just about everyone else you follow. Don’t compare your day to day with others’ highlights. They aren’t comparable.

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The Riddle of the Sphinx

I’m not talking about the riddle Oedipus solved, thereby fulfilling the prophecy he was trying to avoid and giving Freud something to write about. Now everyone knows what walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three in the evening. There’s probably an Instagram meme. I mean who built the ancient limestone creature that has sat placidly before the pyramids at Giza for at least 4,500 years. Continue Reading »

The Tea Ceremony

screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-9-53-47-pmSince I stopped blogging regularly five or six years ago, I’ve written a few posts, but it’s been in fits and starts. Every time I think about starting again, I think, why? Do I have anything of significance to say? I no longer have any interest in writing about politics (though once in a while a fit of madness may seize me and I won’t able to help myself). Are my random musings about life in general worth the bandwidth they take up? Continue Reading »

Can you ever go home again?

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 4.42.26 PMThe Greek philosopher Heraclitus said you could never step into the same river twice, since the river ever flowed, and was never the same at any moment as it was at any other. Cities are like that. They grow and decay, decline and gentrify. Their character changes subtly or dramatically as an ever-changing river of humanity flows into, through, and out of them.

I left my home town (town just seems so wrong when applied to the megalopolis that is Los Angeles) nine years ago, after living there for 39 of the previous 41 years of my life. I learned to drive on these freeways, but now, accustomed to the slower pace of Santa Fe, I’m white knuckling it on these interchanges. Continue Reading »

Road Trip: Part Deux

IMG_0383You’d think the Grand Canyon would be hard to top, but it turned out to be third on Tessie’s list of awesome things on the northern Arizona leg of our road trip.

When we got back to Williams, home base for the Grand Canyon expedition, I got off the freeway one exit too soon, which took us through the main part of town instead of right to our hotel on the outskirts. And what did we pass but a zipline. Daredevil that she is, Tess wanted us to do it. Coward that I am, I refused to do it with her, but didn’t let my squeamishness stand in her way. It looked horrifying, but I’ve seen her ride worse, so I knew she’d be fine. Continue Reading »

Road Trip

IMG_0302My 10-year-old daughter and I spent the day at the Grand Canyon, her first trip there and my first time since I was her age. I was a little disappointed when I went as a child, because I expected it to look like it did in all the professional photographs I’d seen, the colors more vibrant and rich than midday summer natural lighting ever produces.

This morning, my expectations were much lower, and I was careful not to build up any for Tessie. Consequently, both of us thought the canyon more impressive than we had expected. Continue Reading »

Slacker Mom’s assault on moral decency and good nutrition

Fall Out BoyThe other night I took my two eldest daughters, 14 and almost 12, to their first concert. Fall Out Boy seemed a safe enough choice. I actually like some of their songs. People my age without kids apparently have never heard of them, though, because a couple of friends who asked who was playing responded when blank stares when I told them. I’m the wrong person to ask about just how famous or not famous a band is. Just because I haven’t heard of them (and I hadn’t heard of Fall Out Boy until about 6 months ago when Cordelia played “Centuries” for me on You Tube) doesn’t mean they’re not über-famous, and just because I have doesn’t mean they are. Continue Reading »

Reflections on New York

I was in New York last week for the BlogHer conference, the first time I’d been to New York in 20 years. It was exactly 20 years ago, July 1995. I remember because I went with my best friend and we flew there on her birthday. Enraptured by the Greek and Roman collections at the Metropolitan Museum, I canceled my sightseeing plans for the following day to go back and meander amid the broken marble.

This time, I avoided the siren song of the antiquities I can’t find in New Mexico, but there was a giant Venus de Milo across the street from the hotel. Continue Reading »

Welcome to my midlife crisis

midlife-crisisWhat I now recognize as my midlife crisis began about five years ago. I was a stay at home mom, married, a practicing Catholic. I was putting the finishing touches on a book that a publisher had expressed interest in after seeing a chapter and outline. Life was good, or so it seemed.

I never sent the book to the publisher, first because I took on another project which sucked up all my free time, and later because my midlife crisis so changed me that what I had written in it was no longer what I believed.

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What am I afraid of?

Pale green pantsI must have read What Was I Scared Of? a thousand times over the years as one after another of my children passed in and then out of that stage when they wanted to hear the same book again and again. When it was Dr. Seuss, I didn’t mind so much, in part because of his charming pentameter (or is it tetrameter?) and in part because they taught my children about things like pride (The Zax) and prejudice (The Sneetches) without preaching.

What Was I Scared Of? is about fear. Crippling, paralyzing, irrational terror. In this case, the dread of the protagonist (a creature of uncertain genus and species) for a pair of spooky, empty pale green pants with nobody inside.

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Why I Hate Valentine’s Day

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 5.54.32 AMDon’t happy people in love have enough days to celebrate? Their anniversary, the day they met, his birthday, her birthday, random romantic vacations… So many days to post pictures of the roses he sent, or the ocean view from the balcony of the hotel room they can’t tear themselves away from, even with the beach or the Louvre beckoning.

Do we really need a special Love Holiday to torture the not-cool kids in high school? The fat girls, the closeted gay guys, the legions of kids with normal teen angst who have to walk past the homecoming queen making out with her boyfriend on the way to their locker?

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When life and comedy and scripture collide

Morgan Freeman GodThe last couple of weeks have felt kind of like a test. So many things have gone awry, so many little and medium-sized challenges and annoyances and unexpected expenses and repairs and things not working as they should.  I have taken some of them in stride, and others, not so much.

By coincidence, the movie that made its way to the top of my Netflix queue recently was Bruce Almighty, in which I watched Jim Carrey make an ungrateful ass of himself railing at God about all the things that were going wrong in his life before the predictable, but still moving, character arc.

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Happy New Year

New Years Eve 2013

Two years ago, on New Year’s Day 2012, I wrote this post.  The photo on the post was of a woman’s hand holding a champagne glass.  It wasn’t my hand, just some random picture I had found on the internet.  The woman’s hands were lovely, as hand models’ hands are, and her long nails were painted dark red.  At the time, my nails were short and unpainted.  Now, after more than a decade of being too serious and practical for such things, I’m back to the long painted nails of my youth, today even adorned with flowers.

In the two years since writing that post, I’ve learned a few lessons, among them that we need to enjoy life more.  We need to have fun with our kids.  We need to spend time with our friends.  We need to watch movies that make us laugh.  We need to get hot pink manicures.  We need to drink the champagne.

The champagne to which I refer is a bottle of Dom Perignon that a friend of mine has kept in the refrigerator for something like 15 years, waiting for the right occasion to drink it.  The champagne glass in the picture reminded me of it, and it struck me as a fitting metaphor for the way we so often live our lives. We don’t drink that champagne or use that gift certificate or wear that dress because we’re saving it for a special occasion…until the champagne goes bad, the gift certificate expires, and the dress doesn’t fit or goes out of style.

On New Year’s we make resolutions, mainly of the variety that require a great deal of self-discipline and bring us little enjoyment.  I used to make them, too, but not anymore.  Not this year, not last year.  The year before, I made two, about which I wrote on this blog:

For 2012, I have only two resolutions.  The first is to try to respond to the failings of others – my children, family, friends, acquaintances, coworkers, and strangers – with empathy rather than anger…. My second resolution is to respond to my own failings in the same way.  This one will be harder to keep, because I have always been a perfectionist, demanding of myself standards that no one could meet, and which I would never dream of demanding of others.

I was right; the second one was harder.   I have made progress on both of these, and continue to work on them.   They were, upon reflection, the best resolutions I ever made, and the only ones that ever made a real difference in my life.

So I offer a toast to freedom from gratuitous, oppressive New Year’s resolutions.  The dawn of a new year is a time to celebrate what we have achieved (including the lessons learned from what we have failed to achieve) and look forward to that which we hope to achieve.


Back when I used to be a blogger

Hyperbole and a HalfBack when I used to be a blogger — a real blogger, who posted at least 3 or 4 times a week, sometimes more — there is no way on earth I would have not heard of a blog that had 395,975 likes on Facebook, a blog that was turned into a book that, only 18 days after being published, is #8 on Amazon, with 316 reviews already and an average of 5 stars.  No way.  No.  [Unladylike expletive deleted].  Way.

But here I sit, procrastinating from doing the things on my To Do List by browsing Amazon’s biographies and memoirs category, and I see this crudely drawn, brightly colored cover of the #2 selection.  In part because hyperbole is one of my favorite words and you don’t often see it printed in childlike all caps above a cartoon drawing of a dog and a….human (?) with a yellow cone on its head, but mostly because I wasn’t ready to stop procrastinating, I clicked on the book, and then visited the blog. internet forever

The newest post was about a four-year-old (presumably the author, Allie Brosh, at four?) and a dinosaur costume that caused untold mayhem when worn.  It was entertaining.  Not enough to get me to buy the book, but enough to check out the favorite posts links on the sidebar, where I found This isWhy I’ll Never be an Adult, to which I could relate all too well.  Imagine:  stumbling onto a blog post about cyber-procrastination while you are cyber-procrastinating.  Oh, the exquisite irony!

In the post, Ms. Brosh (or should I say Allie, since she will never be an adult?) describes how she periodically decides she is going to be mature and efficient and starts doing everything she is supposed to do, but then gets burned out and ends up melting down and then back on the internet wasting time again, all illustrated with her crudely (intentionally crudely, and skillfully) drawn illustrations.  I particularly liked the chart showing the interrelationship of productivity and responsibility:


Yeah.  I totally get that.  I know that when I try to do too many things, I don’t do any of them well.  I know I need to prioritize,  fight the tendency to perfectionism, stop trying to be Supermom.  Maybe making that chart my desktop background will help.

I’m starting to get those Amazon numbers now.  Some of her posts are cute and un-serious, like the dinosaur costume one, some are funny but also perceptive and insightful, like the procrastination one, while others really cut to the bone, like Adventures in Depression, in which she writes:

Slowly, my feelings started to shrivel up. The few that managed to survive the constant beatings staggered around like wounded baby deer, just biding their time until they could die and join all the other carcasses strewn across the wasteland of my soul.

The effect of such lyrical prose, juxtaposed with the childlike cartoon images, is powerful.  Her succinct analogy of the impotence of shame as a motivating force, or force of will in the face of something stronger than will, is apt:

But trying to use willpower to overcome the apathetic sort of sadness that accompanies depression is like a person with no arms trying to punch themselves until their hands grow back.

I have never suffered clinical depression myself, but someone close to me has, and this analogy seemed to capture the powerlessness of it pretty well.  The “Come on, suck it up” approach isn’t really effective with genuine depression, as opposed to garden variety sadness or self-pity, but most of us who have not suffered it or watched someone else suffer it do not fully comprehend the difference, and it doesn’t help that we overuse the term, saying “I’m so depressed” when we mean “I am sad,” just as we overuse the term addiction.  The post ends rather abruptly, not with therapy or medication, but with the implication that she was suddenly okay again.

Only she wasn’t, as a post from more than six months later makes manifest.  This one describes her struggle with suicidal thoughts, the difficulty of trying to make a terrible situation less terrible for those who loved her, how she finally went to a doctor and got on medication, and the light at the end of the tunnel.

I think I’ll buy the book.



The Test of Time


You never know how long things will last.  These four daisies, for instance.  They were part of an arrangement I got more than a month ago, and as I picked the others out one by one as they withered and died, these somehow kept their youthful vigor – if youthful vigor is the appropriate term for plants.

The longevity of flowers led me to ponder the longevity of relationships.  I think about the friends to whom I was closest when I was 19, 29, 39, and now 49.   I think of how bleak my life would have been without the close friendships I have enjoyed over the years, how bleak it would be now.  I would have my children, yes, and they are more precious to me than any other person could ever be, and yet there is a lack of reciprocity in the parent-child relationship.  The parent always loves more, and the child always moves on, grows up, stakes out an independent place in the world of adults.

Friends stay with us.  Not all of them, and not always.  But the ones who do are pearls without price, and we ought never to take them for granted, whether they are with us only a short time, like the hibiscus, for longer, like the daisies, or for a lifetime, like the redwoods of the California coast.  For all of the varieties of friends I have had in this very rich life of mine, I am grateful.


Carnival MaskThe other day, I was talking on the phone with a friend I hadn’t spoken to for a while and she said, you are always so positive on Facebook. She meant it as a compliment, because she was telling me about another of her friends is  negative on Facebook and she finds it demoralizing. I told her that my Facebook persona is not an accurate reflection of my life. I share the positive things because I realize that people don’t go on Facebook to hear other people complain.  On Facebook or in the rest of life, people don’t generally like to hear other people complain.

But that is only part of it. The other part is that I don’t want to show people the negative parts of my life because, well, don’t we all want to appear better than we are to others? Don’t we all want to put on a good show? Don’t we all want to appear that we have it all together?

Over the past month, three of my friends told me about terrible problems they are enduring. To look at their Facebook pages or their Twitter feeds, you would never know their lives were not perfect. They all seem to have things together.  All happily married, apparently.  All with successful and impressive careers. All with beautiful, intelligent and talented children. And all living with pain I can only imagine.

The problems these three friends are dealing with are all different.  They are male and female, different ages, living in different regions of the country.  But they are alike in that they keep their struggles private. Keep the circle of those who know small. I do the same thing with my problems.

I did the same thing during the final months of my marriage. I never mentioned anything about my impending divorce to most of the people I knew, and certainly never mentioned it on Facebook. After the divorce was final, I did not change my relationship status on Facebook; I just removed that section from my page entirely. Because I did not change my name back to my maiden name, a lot of people didn’t know for months that I had gotten divorced. I remember the first time one of my status posts contained something that people could read between the lines and figure it out; I got emails and texts from old friends I had not spoken with in a while who had seen it and realized only then.

Maskbook.  That is what Facebook is. You read about your friends’ exotic vacations and gourmet meals and the cute things their kids do. You think their lives are wonderful. Maybe they are and maybe they aren’t.  I do not write this to hint that there is some great tragedy in my life. I have problems, but they are not fodder for Greek tragedy.  I write it because I do not want those of you do have some terrible tragedy in your life, one that you are hiding from the rest of the world, to feel as though you are the only one. To feel as though everyone else has it together and you’re the only one doesn’t.

They don’t. We don’t. I don’t.

We put on our masks update our status posts to suggest that we do. We tell ourselves that we do it because we want to be upbeat and positive and not bum our friends and family out by complaining on Facebook. And that’s true. But we also don’t want to show people what lies behind our masks.

Recently, a friend send me a link to a blog post about the masks we wear, and seeing behind them.  The blogger shares my first  name, but with the D everyone keeps putting in mine despite the fact it doesn’t belong there.   I’ve read a number of her other posts, and I admire her for being able to be real and honest about her feelings in a way I can’t.  Reading her blog reminded me how much I miss reading blogs, how I used to follow links from one to another, discovering hidden treasures and random pearls of wisdom.  I miss reading other people’s blogs, and miss writing my own.  So here’s my first post in 10 months.


The Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time: A Comedy in Three Acts

Setting:  The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, in the City of the Holy Faith.

Act I

Portia, Cordelia and Tess and Mom wait for mass to begin.  Tess sits with arms crossed in stone-faced silence as her ploy to skip mass by faking sick has failed.  Elizabeth is in the ladies room to minimize the time she will have to sit at the far end of the pew pretending she’s never seen these people before.

Portia (loud):  I want to go to the restaurant!

Cordelia:  [giggles]

Mom:  Ssshhh.

Portia (whispers):  I want to go to the restaurant.

Cordelia (whispers):  I want to go to the restaurant, too.

Tess:  [silence, still mad]

Mom (under breath):  I want to go to the bar.

Portia (loud):  I want to go to the bar, too!

Cordelia:  [giggles]

People in nearby pews:  [some stone-faced stares and some smiles]

Entrance procession starts.

Tess (no longer mad):  How long till it’s over?

Mom:  [sighs]

Act II

The reading, gratias deo, is about blind Bartimeus being restored to sight rather than “wives be submissive” or “if a woman divorces her husband and takes another, she commits adultery” or others of that ilk that have been featured lately.  Portia has stopped asking to go to the restaurant but is pretending to poke Tess in the eye.

Mom (whispers):  Please don’t blind Tess.  Jesus used to restore people’s sight in the old days, but lately, not so much.

Cordelia:  [rolls eyes and giggles]

Tess:  [giggles uncontrollably]

Elizabeth:  [moves even farther toward the end of the pew in vain attempt to appear never to have laid eyes on any of these people]

Priest:  What did Jesus do for Bartimaeus?

Mom (whispers to Cordelia):  Restored his sight so he could find the restaurant.

Cordelia:  [smiles]


Light at the end of the tunnel.  Mass is almost over, and Portia appears to have forgotten about both the restaurant and blinding Tess, but is fidgeting.  Mom has not forgotten about the bar.

Mom (whispers):  You’re being really good, Portia.  It’s almost over.

Deacon:  The mass is ended.  Let us go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

Congregation:  Thanks be to God.

Mom:  Thanks be to God indeed!  Portia, you did it!  You made it all the way through a whole mass!

Sisters:  Good job, Portia!

Mom (awestruck):  She actually sat through A WHOLE MASS!  Not one trip to the bathroom.  Not one excursion to the maze.  She sat through the whole hour and fifteen minutes.

Cordelia:  I did that when I was two.

Elizabeth and Tess (long since weary of tales of Cordelia’s precocity):  [roll eyes]

Mom:  Better late than never, baby.  Better late than never.

Angels play harps and trumpets and sing alleluia.


New Years Resolutions

I’ve always been ambivalent about New Year’s resolutions.  Some years I’ve made them, some years not.  Rarely do people keep them.  In tongue in cheek recognition of this, my friend Bob Cornelius wrote on Facebook last night:

1st Resolution: Go to the gym every day. 2nd: Feel guilty for not going. 3rd: Pie & ice cream!

Denial of food and imposition of exercise are probably the most commonly made – and broken – resolutions in our society, given that two thirds of Americans are overweight, and half of those are morbidly obese.  I used to make those diet and exercise resolutions when I was young and vain.  Now that I’m middle aged and vain, I no longer do, because I already eat well, exercise often, and wear the size I want to wear.

For 2012, I have only two resolutions.  The first is to try to respond to the failings of others – my children, family, friends, acquaintances, coworkers, and strangers – with empathy rather than anger.  When I snap at my daughters, they’re not the only ones who feel bad; it makes me feel terrible afterward.  When, on the other hand, I handle a difficult situation with patience, common sense and compassion, the feeling of satisfaction and well-being persists long after.  It is easy to be annoyed at people when they cause us inconvenience or embarrassment or pain, but we all fail, again and again, as we  stumble through the obstacle course that is life.

Recently, I tripped over one of those obstacles and took a pretty bad fall, one that pulled a friend down with me.  Instead of being angry and making me feel worse than I already did (which was really, really awful) she responded with compassion and forgiveness – not the “Oh, it’s all right, forget it,” said with a martyred sigh and rolled eyes kind of feigned forgiveness we see so often, but the real deal.  That is how I want to treat others – the way my friend treated me, the way we all want to be treated, the way that would make the world a better place if more of us did it more often.

My second resolution  is to respond to my own failings in the same way.  This one will be harder to keep, because I have always been a perfectionist, demanding of myself standards that no one could meet, and which I would never dream of demanding of others.  Since earliest childhood, whenever I did something wrong, I would relive the moment again and again, mortified, thinking of all the ways I could have avoided doing it, what I should have done instead, demanding of myself how I could have possibly done such a stupid thing, and vowing never to make a mistake like that again.

None of this ever helped me to avoid making more mistakes, of course.  I will go on making them, just as we all do.  We usually think of vanity in relation to physical attractiveness, but thinking that one can live an error-free life is the ultimate vanity.  And just as people who make unrealistic resolutions about eating 800 calories a day and going to the gym 7 days a week set themselves up for failure, so do people who demand perfection of themselves.  It amazes me that it took until this late in life for me to realize that.  I learned to put aside perfectionism and unrealistic demands about food and exercise many years ago, which is probably why I’m not part of the overweight two thirds who make and break diet resolutions every January 1, then make a bee-line for the pie and ice cream on January 15.

If I can make progress – not triumph, not resounding success, but real progress – this year toward putting aside perfectionism and unrealistic demands about myself and others, then it will be a year well spent.


Today I read a New York Times column that made my blood run cold. It was from two days ago, written by Emily Rapp, a woman who happens to live in Santa Fe, New Mexico, as I do. A woman who is a mother, as I am. A woman who has faced pain I cannot even begin to imagine.

She writes:

MY son, Ronan, looks at me and raises one eyebrow. His eyes are bright and focused. Ronan means “little seal” in Irish and it suits him.

I want to stop here, before the dreadful hitch: my son is 18 months old and will likely die before his third birthday. Ronan was born with Tay-Sachs, a rare genetic disorder. He is slowly regressing into a vegetative state. He’ll become paralyzed, experience seizures, lose all of his senses before he dies. There is no treatment and no cure.

How do you parent without a net, without a future, knowing that you will lose your child, bit by torturous bit?

I stopped cold when I read those words. I have four healthy daughters, and I can still find things in my life to complain about? I have four daughters who are beautiful, intelligent and above all alive, and I, ungrateful wretch that I am, can still think that any of the petty troubles of my life can be called pain?

When my eldest daughter was an infant, I used to have nightmares that she was dying or had died, and I would wake, gasping for breath, choked with tears, and rush to her bassinet to make sure she was still alive.  Having my first child at an age where I had given up hope of having one, having miscarried two, I never took Elizabeth for granted, and counted my blessings every day.   As time passed, and despite my age I had three more children, I stopped being so fearful, so grateful, and began to take my blessings for granted, as human beings are wont to do.

Even if Emily Rapp has three more children, she will never take them quite as much for granted as I take mine.   When I Googled Emily Rapp, I learned on her website that her life of pain did not begin with her son’s fatal illness.  Kirkus Reviews writes of Rapp’s book, Poster Child:

Born with a congenital bone and tissue disorder, the author had her left foot amputated when she was four and was fitted with an expensive, ugly prosthesis; at eight, after several operations, her entire left leg was removed. Rapp devoted her childhood to excelling, to being brave and smart…She loved being told that she was an “inspiration.” But as she entered adolescence, Rapp became more self-conscious. In particular, she worried that she would never catch a man. (She writes with elegance of losing her virginity.) Granted, she had good material to work with. Most people just have to grapple with getting the condom packet open; she had to decide whether or not to remove her leg. During college, her stoicism began to fray, and she wavered under the burden of her own attempts at perfection.

My attempts at perfection involve petty things things like trying to regain six-pack abs after four c-sections. I am humbled and ashamed by my own shallowness as I contemplate what Rapp has endured. And yet, despite the knowledge that others have suffered so much more than I, that I ought to be grateful for my two legs and four children, I am still capable of feeling my own insignificant troubles as tragedies.

For that is the way of mankind. We can tell ourselves that we are fortunate, that we ought to be grateful not to be amputees or terminally ill with cancer or political prisoners tortured by third-world tyrants. We can tell ourselves that our problems are small ones, that we should be grateful not to have real problems like Emily Rapp and the soldiers getting body parts blown off in Iraq and Afghanistan, but somehow those traffic jams and home repairs and bratty kids annoy us anyway. Even with the thought of Emily Rapp fresh in my mind, I could still get irritated today when my daughter Tess threw her ponytail holder out the car window and her ballet teacher wouldn’t let her come to lesson with hair down. My wasted money on Tessie’s ballet lesson was so trivial, in the larger scheme of things, and yet it still rankled.

Pain is integral to the human condition, and when we don’t have the real deal, we manufacture it, from the Penitentes of northern New Mexico to young people covering their bodies in tattoos to women who love the wrong kind of man, time after time.

Love and pain walk hand in hand, for Emily Rapp would feel no pain over her son if she did not love him.  Without the risk of pain, there can be no love.  If I had not loved Elizabeth, I would not have wept at the thought of losing her.  Whether a parent’s or a lover’s, there is no love without risk of pain.

For a mother, is it better to have felt the suffocating, all-consuming love for a child that I felt for my infant daughters and Emily Rapp feels for her infant son, and then to suffer the heart-wrenching loss I have known only in nightmares, than to have never known the joy of motherhood?  For a lover, is it, as Alfred Lord Tennyson said, better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?  Or is it better never to have felt that exquisite ecstasy than to have felt and then lost it, feeling as though your heart has been torn out of your chest still beating?

It has been more than half a year since I’ve written a blog post, for both professional and personal reasons.  Professionally and politically, I cannot imagine that anyone could object to this one.  Personally, I have been reluctant to write anything at all since my divorce earlier this year.   When you’re a church-going, Roman Catholic, conservative Republican, you’re expected to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.  I have felt as though my divorce made me a hypocrite, unworthy of talking the talk, or blogging the blog.

Emily Rapp gave me the courage to break my silence.  If she can bear the pain of losing a leg and losing her son, surely I can bear the shame of failing to live up to my ideals.

Youngest blogger in Santa Fe?

My 7-year-old daughter wants to start a blog. Yes, really.  She writes long stories for her sisters and friends already (she’s the one who started reading when she was 3) so I know she’s serious.

She’s has had a g-mail account for a long time, so setting up a blog for her on Blogger will be easy. I’m just not sure about safety issues. I think they have a feature where the blog can be kept private, so friends and family can read it but not the entire population of the World Wide Web, but I’ll have to check.

I knew I wouldn’t be the only writer and blogger in the family forever.  I just didn’t think it would happen so soon.

Thoroughly modern me

The other day I mentioned we’d been to Old Salem to see how the Moravians lived, but that day we would be hanging out at the pool.  Well, we’ve done a lot of hanging out at the pool since then.  Normally, I like to do a lot of culturally enriching type sightseeing when I travel, but this time I’ve been a very indulgent mother, and when the kids want to go to the pool, to the pool we go.  We did drag them off to Durham to see the magnificent Gothic Duke Chapel, but then it was back to the pool again toute de suite.

I don’t know what other people think about when they are in the pool (how nice the water feels? am I getting too much sun? do I look fat? is that cute guy looking at me?) but I’m too old for the cute guys to look at, and am a historian, so I was thinking about the Moravians.

Look at the clothes those people wore.  The old Moravian buildings have been restored and are staffed by people who wear completely authentic Moravian clothing, made in the old Moravian manner in authentic Moravian workshops.  We watched a tailor punch buttonholes with an awl (with which Elizabeth cut her finger because “Don’t touch the tools” means “Go ahead, I double-dog dare you” in kid-language) and sew the edges with linen thread that had been spun from flax on a bona fide 18th-century spinning wheel.

The lady in the long Moravian dress said linen is very cool, but still, that was a long dress with long sleeves and there was an apron and a cap and I don’t care how cool linen is, I still say my sleeveless cotton sundress and sandals are a whole lot cooler.

Speaking of cooler, the old Moravian buildings are air-conditioned now, because not only would tourists like me not set foot in them in July otherwise, but the museum would have a devil of a time getting employees to work in them.  Throw in the long dresses and breeches and that would be the end of it.  So, the place is authentic except for the air conditioning, which is a pretty big “except.”

So that’s what I was thinking about when I was swimming slowly on my back in the pool just before sunset, feeling cool and comfortable and lucky to be alive at a time when I could float around in cool water in a very modest one-piece swimsuit that the old-time Moravians would have called me a shameless whore for wearing.

As a historian, I love history.  But I don’t romanticize it.  The world was a very hard place before the 20th century.  Even in places where you could wear cool clothes and swim to your heart’s content, like Hawaii before Captain Cook found it and the sugar-planters and the missionaries came, life wasn’t as easy as it is for us today.  Besides having as their staple carbohydrate poi, which I think is just awful, those carefree Hawaiians practiced human sacrifice.

The Moravians didn’t have to deal with the specter of being an offering to Pele, but they didn’t get to swim naked in the ocean either.  As Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say, it’s always something; if it’s not one thing, it’s another.  Either you’re stuck in a long dress in a sweltering house or you have to eat poi and worry about ending up under the cornerstone of a heiau.

But not me.  I’m a 21st-century woman, and for that I am very, very thankful.

The kids, the pool and the Moravians

No post yesterday because I was at Old Salem seeing how the Moravians lived in the olden days.  My daughter Elizabeth is having a wondeful time with her friend Jane, enjoying being one of a pair of big girls instead of the eldest of four little ones.  I am still getting over the fact that Jane’s brother Thomas, my godson, is not a little kid anymore, and often ends up being part of the adult conversation instead of playing with Elizabeth and Jane.

No historical excursion today, just walking to the community pool with the kids.  Again.  I think it will be our fourth trip there.   And maybe a blog post later.  Or maybe not.  This is the life, really.

Oh, and I’m glad I’m not an 18th century Moravian.

Facebook is killing my blog

Seriously. I have wasted more time on Facebook the past few days than I can believe. Maybe wasted isn’t the right word, because certainly it’s nice being able to keep up with what your friends and family are doing, but still, I really did blog a lot more before I started spending so much time there.

I never did write the Gosselin post I started last week. Or the post I’ve been mentally writing about the mass psychosis that seemed to afflict millions of people after Michael Jackson died, leading them into paroxysms of public mourning the likes of which I haven’t seen since Princess Di, and even that wasn’t this extreme. Or all the other posts I think of when I’m folding laundry or unloading the dishwasher or putting on make-up, then never get around to writing.

I was going to write a blog post using this quote

In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet, and say to us, “Make us your slaves, but feed us.” They will understand themselves, at last, that freedom and bread enough for all are inconceivable together, for never, never will they be able to share between them!

— Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Grand Inquisitor from The Brothers Karamazov

as a jumping off point, but I posted it on Facebook instead.

Is Facebook evil, or am I just weak? The latter, I know. Alcohol, tobacco and sex aren’t intrinsically evil, but sometimes the things weak humans do with them are.

And now we’re off to Madrid, NM, which people here pronounce MAD-rid rather than ma-DRID for some reason I haven’t yet figured out. That means that tonight, the post I won’t find the time to write will be about MAD-rid.

Drat. I just Googled “facebook killing blog” and found this. And I thought I was being original. Nowadays, it’s nearly impossible to be original. As it says under my Facebook profile picture,

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

Better by the dozen

What’s kept me from the computer lately is that one of my friends and her children are visiting from out of town this week. This means we now have six children in the house, but the other night we had two other friends over, who also have six children between them, for a total of twelve — all of them age seven and under.

The same four moms and dozen kids got together again today at someone else’s house, which was more fun for them than my house, because that house has chickens. I’ve contemplated chickens, but I have enough trouble feeding the dog and watering the apple trees. I think chickens will have to wait at least until Portia is no longer crawling and trying to eat things off the floor.

Poultry or no poultry, I can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoy having so many children around. My kids have so much fun when there’s a houseful of children. I’ve written before about how people who dislike children, or believe people shouldn’t have them for the sake of the environment, and also about the bad advice women of my generation got to defer childbearing until it was, in all too many cases, too late.

I was thinking about this again recently because while Portia was in the hospital, I spoke with two women nearing forty, one a nurse and the other a nurse practitioner, who both told me they desperately wanted children, but couldn’t find a husband and thought it was probably too late.

It probably is. And that makes me angry. It makes me downright furious how many women have been robbed of the indescribable joy I’ve felt for nearly eight years.

Yes, it’s hard sometimes. Yes, they can wreak havoc with your figure. Yes, I have to face my darkest fears for their benefit. Yes, I often can’t blog because of them. And yes, I do like to get away from them once in a while.

But it all pales in comparison to they joy they bring me in a thousand indescribable little ways. Nothing worth having comes without effort, and children are no exception. They are the best thing that ever happened to me, and I thank God for them every day.

Peanut butter and cabbage

I kid you not. And I thought chocolate covered bacon and corned beef and cabbage ravioli were weird.

I saw the PB&C on the blog of Michael Ruhlman, whose book, The Making of a Chef, I enjoyed immensely. The sandwich, hmm, I think I would enjoy less. In comparison, I’m thinking that bacon chocolate bar isn’t sounding too bad. I’ll still pass on the St. Patrick’s Day ravioli though.

I’ll make you famous

When my husband and I were on our honeymoon in 1991, the hotel where we stayed kept showing the same movies on cable over and over. One of those movies was Young Guns II (1990), starring Emilio Estevez as New Mexico outlaw Billy the Kid. Several times in the movie, when Billy pulled a gun on someone, as a way of warning them to do as he said, and not to try any funny business, he’d say, “I’ll make you famous.” Because, of course, getting shot by Billy the Kid was one way, albeit an unattractive one, of obtaining what people didn’t yet call one’s fifteen minutes of fame.

When I was a little girl, I thought I wanted to be famous when I grew up. Most little kids do, I suppose. By the time I was in my twenties, I didn’t think much about fame one way or the other, and by my thirties, I was pretty sure I was better off being a private person. Then, in my forties, I started a blog. I didn’t do it to become famous. I mainly did it because all the insanity in the news was burning a hole in my brain and I had to let it out someplace. I decided to use my name, but not my picture, on the blog. A compromise with anonymity, if you will. I would take credit for my political pontificating, but some things I would keep private, including what I looked like.

Then came the offer to write a weekly column for the New Mexico Independent. The editor was a reader of my blog, and after reading enough to decide I was what they needed to provide “balance” on their left-leaning editorial staff. Readers think otherwise. “The things we endure in the name of balance,” observed one. Another wanted to know “who let this right wing nut job back into the building?” The right wing nut job being yours truly, naturally.

My blog gets hundreds of hits a day, but the New Mexico Independent gets thousands, and most of those seem to be from people who think I’m a thoroughly contemptible human being. The Independent also runs a photo of their columnists along with each column, and so readers of my blog and column now know not only my name, but my face as well. I could be shopping at Albertson’s or watching my kids play at the park and someone could see and recognize me, could potentially know all about me (or at least as much as I’ve seen fit to reveal on this blog) and I’d have no idea.

My uncle and aunt and cousin whom I rarely see read my blog and know what’s going on in my life so that often when I’ll tell my dad something (he’s not online) he’ll say, oh yeah, my brother told me; he read it on your blog. When my youngest daughter was born, I e-mailed a friend who lives in Colorado to tell her, and she said, oh yeah, my husband told me; he read it on your blog. I suppose in the age of Facebook, this kind of thing is no big deal. But for the vast majority of my adult life, Facebook and MySpace and Twitter and all the rest weren’t even a twinkle in some technogeek’s eye.

Does being a blogger and a columnist make me a public figure? I suppose so. Certainly, running for public office makes one a public figure, which is why I’ve always felt free to write about politicians and candidates for political office without worrying about infringing on anyone’s privacy. Imagine my surprise, then, when I received an e-mail some months ago from a former candidate whom I briefly mentioned in a post about something or someone else. It was just an offhand remark, for nothing more than a cheap laugh, to tell the truth, and it obviously really upset this guy, because he wrote me a long e-mail complaining about my mentioning him in a less than flattering way, and telling me I should have called or e-mailed him before doing so to get his permission. I replied, explaining that since he had run for public office, that made him a public figure, and bloggers write about public figures all the time without looking up their phone numbers in the White Pages and calling them for permission. After all, I never rang up Barack Obama to get his permission to blog about him, figuring he was a bit too busy to take calls from random bloggers. I thought that pretty much covered things with this guy (whom I won’t name here, since he’s obviously very sensitive, and I’ve caused him enough pain already) but no, he contacted me again and expressed his displeasure again that I haven’t excised all mention of him from my blog. I wondered just what part of “public figure” he didn’t understand, but decided not to reply anymore since, really, what was the point.

Sometimes I wonder if a day will come when I regret ever hitting “publish” that first fateful time, when I’ll wish I had left well enough alone and remained a completely private person. We’ll see. In the meantime, I’ll be on the lookout for interesting stories for the blog. If you don’t want me to write about you, stay out of the public eye. Otherwise…

I’ll make you famous.

Blood and Watermelon

Santa Fe sits in the foothills of a portion of the Rocky Mountains known as the Sangre de Cristo, which is Spanish for the Blood of Christ. The early Spanish settlers chose that name because the setting sun reflected on the snow-covered mountains and gave them a reddish hue at sunset. For the same reason, the mountains just east of Albuquerque were named the Sandia Mountains, from the Spanish for watermelon. Looking at the pinkish-red peaks of both ranges, I have often pondered the difference of temperament that would make one group of people think of watermelon, and another of the blood of the Savior.

When I was talking about the meaning of the mountains’ Spanish names with the girls, they asked what the “Jimenez” Mountains meant in English. The range is actually the Jemez, but because Elizabeth had a teacher once named Mrs. Jimenez, they always forget and think it’s that. I said I thought it was a proper name, and didn’t mean anything.

“A person’s name?” Cordelia asked, “like Dennis Jimenez?” It took me a minute to realize she meant Dennis the Menace.

So those are the three ranges we can see from Santa Fe: the Blood of Christ Mountains, the Watermelon Mountains, and the Dennis the Menace Mountains.


I use this expression rather often and semi-ironically meaning Before Children rather than Before Christ, so instead of constantly putting (Before Children) in parentheses after I use it, I decide to give it its own post I could just link to in future and save time. Because as a mother of four and borderline OCD type, I am all about saving time, don’t you know.

I divide my life into the epochs BC and OMG (kidding!! well, sort of) because having children Changes Everything.

In the years BC, my mother-in-law used to say, mainly when she was trying to talk me into postponing childbearing, “Once you have children, your life will never be your own again. It’s finished. Over.” My sister-in-law would say, if I ever ventured an opinion on anything child-related (I was a teacher, recall, so had the temerity to think I might actually know something about kids), “You can’t possibly understand. You don’t have children.” Which hurt, since I wanted them so desperately, and was having such a damnably hard time getting them. It was only in the years since having children that I’ve come to understand how right she was. I didn’t understand. I didn’t have children.

My mother-in-law was right, too. It did change everything. My life isn’t my own anymore. But what she didn’t tell me – and what most people who make sarcastic, disparaging remarks about parenthood to the uninitiated don’t tell them – is that it changes everything for the better. Really. It’s much, much harder, but it’s also much, much richer in every way. Think about it: did you ever get anything worth having, anything you really treasured, without effort?

The end of innocence

He was a sweet, golden-haired boy, and his mother had kept him pure. Then I came along. I, with my worldly daughters. We, experienced in the ways of the flesh — the ground and re-formed, battered and deep fried avian flesh — gave a little boy his first bite ever of fast food. And not just any fast food. The worst of the worst. The iconic fast food. He was a McDonald’s virgin no more.

In a world where it is axiomatic that children love McDonald’s, my friend had managed to rear her son to the cusp of his third birthday without his ever having tasted the forbidden fare that beckons from under the Golden Arches, shining with grease and bedecked with Happy Meal toys. But we were in the car and I needed coffee, sick addict that I am, and to my knowledge McDonald’s has the best fast food coffee there is. So in we pulled into the drive-thru.

It wasn’t anywhere near meal time, so I thought I was safe, but alas, Cordelia and Theresa immediately started a chorus of, “We want nuggets!” Elizabeth, bless her, turns up her nose in disdain at this sort of food. She’ll eat Subway, but loathes any other fast food, which warms my heart. Portia has no teeth. But Cordelia and Tess have the McDonald’s monkey on their back, and they have it bad. Now, I fear, so does that sweet, once pure boy.

I hope someday my friend can forgive me.

Got my crack, finally

I’m online.  Oh, thank God.  Haven’t had internet access for over 24 hours and now understand how crack addicts feel when they can’t score.  Moved from one vacation stop to another, and there is no internet where I’m staying.  I have 15 minutes now, but no more until sometime tomorrow, if then. 

It is really hot in LA.  When I was in New Mexico, all I heard from people here was, “Oh, it’s so cold.”  Cold indeed, I’d think, as I shoveled the pathways and the kids tracked snow all over my floors.  So I pack all these long-sleeved clothes for the trip, and it’s sweltering hot and I’m wearing the same sleeveless top (it’s part of a twin set so I brought it) every day.

I have to say good-bye to the computer now.  Oh, the inhumanity!

Return of the native

I’ve been on the road the past few days, so haven’t been able to blog or even read until now the raging battle in the comments section of my last post.  I’m back in LA, sitting by an open window — an open window!  in January! — watching the little savages play under a lemon tree — a lemon tree!  an actual citrus tree! — instead of sitting in my hermetically sealed home outside Santa Fe watching them play in the snow and waiting to clean up the melted snow mess soon to follow.  I’m in short sleeves instead of fleece, and open-toed shoes instead of Uggs.  Maybe I’ve died and gone to heaven.  Except the living out of suitcases part.  And the driving on LA freeways part. 

I have a love-hate relationship with the city of my birth.  I lived here for all but two of my first 41 years, and saw it change from a beautiful place with fabulous weather to a somewhat less beautiful and hideously overcrowded place.  It still has fabulous weather, but that’s part of why it’s so clogged with excess humanity.  Who doesn’t want to live here?  Like all the expatriate Iranians, transplanted New Yorkers, and more illegal aliens from Mexico and Central America than you would believe if you don’t live here.

Unlike all those newcomers, I was that rare breed of Angelino:  the native.  My great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother spent their last years here.  My mother, myself, and my three eldest daughters were all born in the same hospital just a few blocks from the sparkling Pacific Ocean.  I had what most Angelinos never did.  I had roots.  And then I moved to Santa Fe.

In Santa Fe, third generation’s nothing.  There are people here whose families have been in Santa Fe since the conquistadors.  And now I’m the newcomer.  And not just any newcomer.  I’m the worst kind:  a Californian.  There’s a joke in New Mexico that says they used to hate Texans — until the Californians got here.  Happily, it is just a joke, and in reality most of the people I’ve met in Santa Fe have been wonderfully kind and welcoming to my family and me. 

There’s a small town civility to the Santa Feans (or Santa Fesinos, if you prefer the Spanish) that’s lacking in most Angelinos.  Drivers in Santa Fe tend not to give the middle finger or shout insults and obscenities to people who drive too slowly or refuse to block intersections.  In Santa Fe hardly anyone blocks intersections.  Hardly anyone honks their horn while driving either, for that matter.  I think I’ve been honked at more in the last two days than I have in the last two years in Santa Fe.  It’s axiomatic that people become less courteous behind the wheel, and people in LA spend far more time behind the wheel than can possibly be good for anyone.  It’s one of the things that finally pushed us into leaving this glorious land of lemon trees and shorts at Christmas.  I’m not sure what was worse, the hours spent sitting in slow-moving traffic or circling like vultures for parking spaces, or the angry rudeness of other people who had also spent too much time sitting in traffic and searching for parking.  We didn’t want to be around them anymore, and most of all, we didn’t want to become like them.  So we retraced the steps of all those hordes who had clogged the streets of our hometown, and we headed east. 

We’re back for a visit now.  The weather is even more heart-breakingly perfect than I remembered.  It’s a lovely place to visit.  But as much as I never thought I’d say this, I really wouldn’t want to live here again.

Toilet training future adults

Please, please, please, think it through very carefully before you blog about your children’s bowel movements, or post a You Tube video of your child dancing naked and singing about successful defecation, and then zoom in for a close-up of the chef d’oeuvre the little prodigy has produced in the potty. You don’t think people do this? Think again. They do, but there’s a good reason not to. I’m not saying don’t do it because I’m prissy and think it’s gross. There’s a legitimate, non-prissy reason not to do it, and it’s important.

In about a dozen years, that kid who today is singing about his or her excrement is going to be in high school. Do you remember how mean kids can be in high school? If not, did you see Mean Girls? Or better yet, read Odd Girl Out by Rachel Simmons, a horrifying window on the sick little world girls can make of school.

Imagine your potty-dancing daughter of two and a half when she’s fifteen. She’s sweet, pretty, a little shy, easily embarrassed, and has a mad crush on the same boy her school’s Teen Queen of Mean likes. Do you have any idea what it’s going to be like for your beloved and fragile daughter when that teen virago in her class Googles her and finds your blog, in which you wrote at great and loving length about the contents of your daughter’s diapers and what escaped the diapers, and the initial frustrations and ultimate triumphs of toilet training. Maybe there’s even a picture or two of the naked little cherub standing next to a potty filled with her first outside-the-diaper bowel movement. The Teen Queen of Mean chuckles to herself, and hits the “Share this on Facebook” button.

The absolute prize for embarrassing your future teenage child is this. I’m linking, but I’m not naming the child or parent in question, because I don’t want it to turn up on search engines. You’ll understand why if you read the whole thing. The sad thing is, this father has actually turned his baby blog into a book that has been published. There’s a link to the book on Amazon.com if you explore the website, but I’m not posting the link.

The more Mommy Blogs (and Daddy Blogs, but there are far more of the mommy variety) I read, the more I realize that it probably hasn’t even occurred to a lot of parents to think of their babies and toddlers as future adults. They’re so little now that it’s almost inconceivable, I suppose. As evidence for my hypothesis that hardly anyone thinks about this, I submit the case of Jon and Kate Gosselin.

I’ve written well over a hundred posts on this blog, and only two of those (this one and this one) have been about the Gosselin family. Nevertheless, according to my stat program, this is the top ten list of keyword searches that have brought people to my blog:

kate gosselin
hate kate gosselin
moralia blog
i hate kate gosselin
kate gosselin shrew
reasons to oppose obama
kate gosselin tummy tuck
hate the gosselins
kate gosselin is a shrew

Two of them are for my blog name, one for Obama (which makes sense, since I wrote a lot more about him than about the Kate Gosselin), and the other seven – seven! – about the Gosselins, and mainly about Kate Gosselin, whom a lot of people apparently (a) hate, and (b) think is a shrew. Keyword searches for my name (in both correctly and incorrectly spelled versions) didn’t even make the top ten list because of all the permutations of Gosselin hatred clogging it up.

So what does Kate Gosselin have to do with what I’ve been saying about toilet training? Here’s a clip from Jon & Kate Plus 8 that shows one of the sextuplets in training, with all the future-teen-embarrassing elements discussed above.

My point here isn’t to jump on the “I hate Kate” bandwagon, and I don’t make a habit of insulting other mothers. My point is that the Gosselins have allowed their children’s toilet training to occur on national TV, and amid all the choruses of “I hate Kate” there isn’t much said about the public potty training. People (mainly women) criticize Mrs. Gosselin for taking freebies, for being lazy, for nagging her husband, for being too hard on her kids, for being vain, for being this, that and the other, but nobody seems to think anything much of her making the bowel movements of future adults – and, more to the point, perhaps, future teenagers – a public spectacle.

In the video clip, Mrs. Gosselin says she knows some people are offended by the pictures, but insists that it’s part of the children’s history, and that they’re proud of themselves. Now they are, to be sure, but now they’re two or three years old. When they’re fifteen, they’re unlikely to be all that proud of doing what every other civilized member of the human race does as a matter of course. They’re far more likely to be embarrassed because their classmates can watch re-runs of them doing it on cable TV.

I repeat, I do not write this to attack Mrs. Gosselin – or Mr. Gosselin either, since he must approve as well. The point I am trying to make is that no one is talking about the privacy rights of these future adults. Mrs. Gosselin talks about people being offended. I’m not offended by the sight of feces; what mother of four could be? It has nothing to do with being disgusted, and everything to do with respecting individuals’ privacy, even if those individuals are not yet old enough to care about it themselves. I don’t think Kate Gosselin and the army of mommy bloggers bloggging away about their children’s BMs are bad mothers. I think it simply doesn’t occur to a lot of parents that their cute, chubby little cherubs are future adults who will have varying degrees of personal reticence and modesty. Some of them will laugh at the potty dance videos and not care that they were made public. Others will be mortified.

We, as parents, have no way of knowing what kind of teenagers and what kind of adults our toddlers will grow up to be. But grow up they will, and we would do well to remember it.

Cooking with kids

No blog posts for the past few days, since I’ve been busy doing all those things good mothers (the kind who don’t sit on their computers blogging and reading blogs while their kids sit on the other computer doing who knows what) do — taking them on exhausting outings, reading to them, and letting them help me cook.

John Rosemond says that doing all this hands-on kid stuff actually makes me a bad mother, and that good mothers should ignore their kids. Awesome — permission to blog away! Actually, not so fast. Rosemond says (in his condescending, “I know better than you, you stupid Hausfrau” way) that good mothers are supposed to pay attention to their husbands instead of their kids. Yeah, he would. But more on that later; back now to my being a good (bad), attentive (smothering) mother not-ignoring her kids in the kitchen.

Everything you cook with kids takes twice as much organization and prep, twice as much time to complete, and makes at least twice as much mess in the kitchen. But boy do they love it. And they are more inclined to eat the actual lunch or dinner food instead of saying they don’t like it, or that they’re full after three bites and by the way, what’s for dessert?

A blog search turned up a few results for cooking with kids, but not as man as I expected, considering how many blogs on arcane subjects there are out there. I guess it’s because if you’re cooking with your kids, you usually don’t have time to blog about it. What’s Cooking Blog is dedicated to cooking with kids, giving suggestions about what to let the kids do with each recipe. Foodie Mama admits on her blog that she doesn’t really like baking with her kids:

I know, I know, it’s all about the shared experience. But I’d just rather share an experience that doesn’t result in mediocre baked goods. If this is my worst fault as a mom, so be it! Of course I want my kids to learn to love the kitchen as much as I do; I just wish that road weren’t paved with so many rock-like cookies.

So, the bottom line is this: I do invite my kids to bake with me, because I understand that it’s important for many reasons, but I don’t have to like it.

I can relate. Sometimes I enjoy the process, and sometimes I just do it because I know I should, and because the end result — like a three-year-old being able to make pancakes almost entirely on her own. Yes, I know it’s obnoxious for mothers to brag about how wonderful and talented and precocious their children are, but this time I really can’t help it. Yesterday, three-year-old Tess made pancakes practically all by herself. She cracked the eggs without getting any shells in. She mixed it exactly until combined but without overmixing. She poured them on the griddle without too much batter on the non-griddle parts of the stove. She flipped them at the right time without my having to tell her, and without mangling them. She got them on the plate, buttered them and drizzled (as opposed to flooding) them with syrup.

Give a child pancakes and you feed her for a day; teach her to make pancakes and eventually she can feed the family while you take your plate of pancakes to the computer and blog.

Names from the past

A friend from high school, one of only two I’ve kept in touch with, recently joined Facebook and sent me a friends request. She’d been Googling other friends from long ago, and it suddenly occurred to me that if anyone who knew me 20 years ago or more was looking for me, they’d have a hard time finding me, since anything I’ve done Google-worthy is listed under my married name. Because it’s always fun to hear from old friends, I’m listing my maiden name as a tag on this post so it will show up on Google searches. Some of my smarter married friends have Facebook pages that use the “Hillary Rodham Clinton” or “Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy” format so old friends can find them, but that didn’t occur to me when I registered with Facebook. My (very few) academic publications back in the days BC (Before Children) appeared under the three-name format, but I haven’t bothered with that degree of formality for years.

It just dawned on me that I happened to choose two Democrat First Ladies as examples of the three-name format. Is this a left/right thing? I have no idea what Laura Bush’s maiden name was. Or Barbara Bush’s or Pat Nixon’s, for that matter. On the other hand, Michelle Obama only uses two names, and Rosalynn Carter and Bess Truman were just Rosalynn Carter and Bess Truman, so I guess it isn’t. And Eleanor Roosevelt, who seems like the type to have gone the three-name route, didn’t, but that was probably because Eleanor Roosevelt Roosevelt would have sounded odd.

Around ten years ago (in the mists of time BC), I delivered a paper at a conference of the Association of Ancient Historians, and I recall a conversation with several other women there about maiden vs. married names. One of the younger ones (I was still one of the younger ones back then) and most of the older ones had, like me, taken their husbands’ names, but most who were my age and younger had not. Outside academia, it tilts the other way: most of my friends my age, and even most of those who are younger, do use their married names, though a significant minority do not.

In practice, the divide isn’t strictly ideological. I have friends who are staunch Republicans and have kept their maiden names (one of them even has children whose surnames are hyphenated blends of her name and his) and very liberal friends who took their husbands’ names when they married. In theory, however, it tends to be, and the hard line feminist ideologues insist that it ought to be. In a 2004 piece for The Nation called “Sex and the Stepford Wife,” Katha Pollitt wrote:

Women have learned to describe everything they do, no matter how apparently conformist, submissive, self-destructive or humiliating, as a personal choice that cannot be criticized because personal choice is what feminism is all about. Women have become incredibly clever at explaining these choices in ways that barely mention social pressures or male desires. How many bright little essays have I read by young brides who insist that giving up their names is just the sensible, logical, mature, modern, feminist thing to do, the very proof of their marriage’s egalitarianism? Probably they actually believe this. And yet, were it not for those social and masculine pressures, it is difficult to imagine that women would make some of the “personal” choices they now truculently defend.

With words like “truculently” Pollitt depicts the woman who opts for tradition as an intellectual child, someone who doesn’t really understand what is good for her. But is it really outside the realm of possibility to say that changing one’s name upon marriage does have a certain logic, especially if the couple is planning to have children?

Let’s say Mary Anderson marries John Baker, remains Mary Anderson, and insists that her daughter be called Mary Anderson-Baker. Young Ms. Anderson-Baker grows up and marries Tom Carter-Davis, the product of right-thinking feminist parents who gave him both of their names, and they name their daughter Mary Anderson-Baker-Carter-Davis. This young lady marries Fred Evans-Feinstein-Garcia-Hu, and their daughter is Mary Anderson-Baker-Carter-Davis-Evans-Feinstein-Garcia-Hu… Where, in theory, does it end? Doesn’t there have to be some point, an arbitrary point, perhaps, but a point nonetheless, where the name-combining simply cannot go on?

I understand why my friend whose children bear both parents’ names did what she did. As a female only child with a strong sense of history, she did not want to see her family name end with her. I respect her choice, and she in turn didn’t tell me I was a dupe of the patriarchy for taking, and giving my children, my husband’s name. Hyphenated British aristocrats are testimony to the fact that there were quite a few couples even before the advent of feminism who saw fit to join two family names together.

As a teenager, I planned on circumventing the problem altogether by simply marrying Harrison Ford and, like Eleanor Roosevelt, being able to have my cake and eat it too. It didn’t work out that way, of course, and although I lost my last name, at least I don’t have a husband who’s eligible for Social Security.

To brine or not to brine

That is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the belly to have moist, succulent white meat but possibly to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageously oversalted drippings? Or to take arms against a sea of gravy troubles by roasting a dried-out bird unbrined? Either way, there will be tryptophan enough to make us sleep. To sleep? perchance, to dream. Aye, there’s the rub.

The rub – indeed. I’ll rub instead of brine. All the TV and cookbook chefs insist you simply must brine, and a quick blog search suggests a lot of home cooks are doing the same, like this one, this one, and this mother of — are you ready?? — 12.

I did brine the turkey one year, but it didn’t really seem all that much better than the army of unbrined birds I’d cooked in years past, and it was a bit too salty for my taste. And yes, I followed the instructions exactly as to the ratio of salt to water. So I’m going to thumb my nose at all those epicurean experts and cook the bird the way my grandma always did in the days before anybody’d heard of bird-brining. Given a choice between perfect turkey and perfect gravy, I’ll choose perfect gravy. My kids are mad for gravy, and for them, everything else is something to pour gravy over.

This lady is having a “Turk-off” with her husband, cooking hers unbrined while he cooks his brined, and then seeing whose is better. I’ll be checking back to see the results.

Happy birthday, Grandma

My grandmother, Betty Lou Heintz, nee Brown, would have been 87 years old today. She died nearly 18 years ago, when she was only 69. I realize that in the larger scheme of human history, 69 has more often than not been an impressive age to which to live. I, at 44, would in many pre-modern cultures have been a great-grandmother, one of the elders of the community — or more likely dead.

But that’s the historian talking. To the granddaughter, 69 was far too young for my grandmother to have been taken from me. She meant more to me than words can say. I wish my daughters could have known her. That’s one of the terrible things about having children late in life: your children don’t get to know their great-grandparents. And in not knowing my Grandma Betty, my girls really did miss out on something special.

I’m crying as I write this. Nearly two decades later, I’m still crying. I miss her so.

A mother’s love

Before I had children, I had no concept of the power of a mother’s love. Truly, it can overcome almost anything. The example I am about to give is mundane, and many of you will laugh at me, but I’ll risk your ridicule and relate it anyway.

I am not afraid of snakes, or mice, or rats, or spiders. Anything that slithers or crawls is a matter of no concern. But I have a fear of flying insects that is nothing short of pathological. It’s worse if they sting, but I have a horror of even those flying insects that don’t. My phobia is so extreme that I start in horror even when I see a photograph of a wasp or jellow-jacket. When the boys in my grammar school class found this out, they delighted in leaving the science book on my desk, open to the page with the close-up of a bee. When I read that part of 1984 where Winston Smith’s darkest fear, his dread of rats, is used to break him, I broke out in a cold sweat, knowing just how O’Brien could make me love Big Brother in a heartbeat.

Before I had kids, if there was a bee or wasp in the house, I would just trap it in a room that had a door and not open the door, or, failing that, leave the house until my husband could come home and kill it for me. I’m not kidding. But now, with my husband out of town a lot, and four little ones who have only big, cowardly me to protect them from wasps, that isn’t an option.

A couple of weeks ago we started had a wasp infestation in the house. I was killing two or three of them a day. I had cold sweat, felt like Winston with the rat cage on, but my little girls were trusting Mom to fix things, so I had no choice. I had to be like the bug-slaying soldiers in Starship Troopers instead of like Winston Smith melting down in the face of the Beast.

I lit fires in all the fireplaces, thinking they might have a nest in one of the chimneys, and possibly they did, because the enemy in the Great Wasp War retreated. Then yesterday there was another incursion, albeit a small one. And you know what? The fear wasn’t as great. I had that initial stab of panic, that sick feeling, but it wasn’t as strong as it used to be. My heart wasn’t racing quite as fast as before when I killed it, cleaned up the Raid mess, and went on with my day.

It may not sound like a big deal, but to me it was. I still don’t like flying insects, but I feel as though I’ve taken the first step toward conquering my irrational, paralyzing fear of them. And it’s motherhood that did it. Because you know what? When you’re a mom, you really only have one fear, and that fear trumps all other fears of snakes, bugs, rats, high places, whatever. I speak, of course, of the fear that something bad will happen to one of your precious children.

I am the Great Bug-Killing Mother. Hear me roar.

Can’t sleep

When I told people that Portia was sleeping through the night, I had a feeling I might jinx it. Sure enough, she woke up hungry at 3:30 this morning. If that had been the only nocturnal disturbance, it would have been okay, since she’s only three months old, and infants are expected to wake their mothers up at night. Five-year-olds are supposed to be past all that.

But as I’m sitting on the couch watching the news and feeding Portia, Cordelia comes walking into the living room with a stack of books, plops them down on the coffee table and announces, “Can’t sleep.” Moreover, she’s hungry, and wants me to make her breakfast. Fat chance. I tell her to go back to bed. “Not sleepy,” she says. The baby has now been fed, changed and put back down to sleep again, and I’m dying to get back to sleep myself. Stupidly, I offer to let Cordelia come sleep with me, since her dad is out of town.

“Hungry,” she declares just as I’m starting to drift off again. If I ignore her, maybe she’ll go to sleep and stop bothering me. Or maybe not. “Want breakfast.” Although she’s been speaking in full sentences since she was a year and a half old, she has recently developed the annoying habit of truncating her sentences to the bare minimum of words needed to get the point across. Maybe she’s seen too many You Tube clips of The 300 with her dad, and is trying to be Laconic. Maybe she’s practicing for when she gets her own cell phone and will need to keep it short and sweet for text messaging. Maybe she’s just trying to annoy me.

Eventually she went to sleep and let me do the same. I think it was around 5:00. My alarm, of course, was set for 6:30 so I could get up as usual and do half an hour on the elliptical and as many abdominal exercises as possible before Portia wakes up, trying with desperate vanity to un-wreak the havoc wrought by a fourth pregnancy and c-section.

None of this is meant as a complaint, by the way. Having my four daughters has been the most wonderful thing ever to happen to me. They’re worth the lost sleep, the dieting and exercise, the cost of diapers and formula and pediatricians and piano lessons, and the acres of pulverized Cheerios and dessicated Play-Doh I’ve swept up over the years.

If I don’t get to sleep again tonight, well, that’s okay. They’re worth it.