The LOOK (aka: Journeymom)

appreciation

2-4-6-8! Who do we appreciate?

Moms, that’s who!

Well, only since 1914, when President Woodrow Wilson declared the second Sunday in May to be a day to honor mothers. Before then, I guess mothers had to appreciate themselves. But now, we get to spend one dedicated day every year taking our mothers out for waffles and coffee, surprising them with bouquets of fresh flowers, and showing them how much we love and appreciate them.

Mother’s Day is not an easy day for everyone to celebrate. Many people no longer have their mothers in their lives. Some of us have tense, rocky relationships with our mothers, and finding things to appreciate about them is, well, a struggle. But even those of us who are lacking can use this holiday to be grateful for what positive lessons we once learned from our mothers, and to reflect on our own parenting choices.

As a mom to three teens, I kind of feel like I’ve reached the journeyman — er, journeymom phase of mothering. Instead of washing sticky handprints from the walls, or singing the Barney clean-up song to get them to put away their toys, I have mastered the LOOK. All moms know the LOOK. Just the right tilt of the head, just the right narrowing of the eyes, and those teenagers drop their cell phones and start scrubbing the house.

Okay fine, not really. But they’re supposed to.

Maybe I should go back to singing the Barney clean-up song. It would probably be more effective, since they hate the song so much and will do anything to get me to stop singing.

At this phase of mothering, I have to strike just the right balance between being my kids’ friend, one they’ll want to talk to and hang out with, and being the enforcer. The one who has to make sure they get their homework done, and stop tossing his dirty laundry on his brother’s bed, and finish all of the dishes, or else I’ll give them the LOOK. (Seriously, I need to come up with a better tool).

The other thing about this phase of parenting is this growing sensation that we are running out of time together. My baby birds have grown so big. They are testing their wings, finding their own worms. In four years, an alarm clock will ring, and my nest will be empty. I can only hope that they will return from time to time, to bring me flowers and take me out for waffles and coffee. I would really appreciate that.

Mothers Day Flowers

 

 

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Eat for your Life! (aka: Our Flexitarian Family)

When I was a kid, food was all about three square meals per day. One food from each of the four crucial food groups: meat and eggs, bread & cereal, fruits & veggies, and, of course, milk, to do a body good. The food pyramid was pretty straight forward, too. Stuff yourself with bread and grains, add five servings of plants, then top it off with a little protein.

Vintage American meals

Back in those days, vegetarians were almost unheard of, too. Since I lived in the Bay Area, we always had one or two in each group, and the only choices they had for lunch were cheese sandwiches or PB&J. Everyone else ate pretty much the same thing — Oscar Mayer bologna sandwiches on Wonder bread, with a fruit roll-up on the side. The only thing that varied was the flavor of fruit roll-up, and the occasional novelty of Hostess treats or Capri Suns someone’s mom tossed into the lunchbox.

1980s kids lunch

My family’s diet was typically American, too. Spaghetti, chicken casseroles, sloppy joes. Meatloaf with a side of mashed potatoes. Plenty of salt, sugar, and simplex carbs for all. None of us dared to complain, or to request something healthier. After all, we were eating three square, all-American meals per day, provided by hard-working parents.

Fast forward several decades.

A few years ago, I lost a lot of weight. Around 60 pounds, total. Now I will admit that the final 20 pounds or so were likely due to an eating disorder. But the first 40 were due to a change in daily diet. I scrapped the nostalgic all-American diet, for the most part, and opened my mind to a global variety of healthy, whole foods. I cut way back on meat. I also began to exercise regularly, around 3-4 days per week.

Then came a startling health discovery. My doctor found that my blood sugar was slightly elevated; a somewhat common state known as prediabetes. Unchecked, this condition can spiral into full-blown Type 2 diabetes.

I was shocked. But my daily habits were so healthy! And my BMI was in the ideal range. How could this be? Answer: genetics. Sometimes, no matter what we do, our bodies are prone to develop unfortunate conditions, like diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

Luckily for me, I was able to make some more effective changes. I further reduced my intake of animal proteins. Switched out simplex carbs for complex carbs (aka whole grains). Cut out most sugar, except for the occasional treat. And I began to work out every single day, with few exceptions. And, yay! My blood sugar levels dropped back down to normal, healthy levels.

chickpea curry

With my own kids, I abolished the idea that everyone has to eat the exact same foods. After all, everyone is different. We have different tastes, different nutritional needs, different health challenges. My 13yo son can’t stand cooked vegetables. So he has permission to switch them out for fresh veggies or salad. My 16yo daughter has decided that she is now a pescatarian, and has begun a zero-sugar diet challenge with her friends. Luckily, I usually prepare a vegetarian option for family meals (not just PB&J, haha). Zero added sugar is a lot harder than it sounds, but I’ve been cheering her on, and being sensitive to her goals while grocery shopping. My 18yo? Well, he still hasn’t jumped into the health nut boat with the rest of us, so it’s still all-American junk food for him.

pescatarian meals fish

Our household of four has four different food pyramids. Some of us are more likely to nibble six small meals than three square meals per day. One of us prefers veggie dogs and veggie burgers to the meaty versions. Three of us are happy to munch on nuts, seeds, and roasted edamame for snacks. All four of us adore sweet, sugary treats more than we probably should — perhaps another genetic tendency. But we are learning and growing as we explore new yummy recipes and exercise together. Hopefully these healthy habits will stick with my kids as they head off into the world, and help them to live long lives, free of those killer diseases that plague so many us.

Healthy Choices

It’s not easy to change your diet for the better. It’s not easy to give up old favorites that remind us of childhood, like smoky grilled meats and big bowls of chocolate ice cream. It’s not easy to make yourself get up and move for 30 minutes every day. But the ability to enjoy a long, good life makes those changes worthwhile. Life is sweet. Live healthy.

This is NOT Only a Test (aka: College Admissions, pt. 1)

So my daughter, a junior in high school, just took the SAT exam last week, because she heard that some universities out there think it’s “important” that high schoolers have test scores to prove they’re “capable” of being successful students, or something. As if they couldn’t prove that by their Instagram feeds.

Anyways, she says it was pretty easy, for the most part. I hope that doesn’t mean she just randomly filled in a bunch of scantron bubbles. Because yeah, that’s pretty easy to do. I may or may not know this from experience. Lots of people have taken the SAT, but most of them don’t use the word easy to describe how it went. Those are probably the people who actually read the questions and did their best to answer them. Well, we will find out how my daughter did in another week or two. Hopefully well, because those exams aren’t free.

Standardized test scantron

Speaking of exams that aren’t free, in a couple of months, she will get to take even more exams. Only this time, they will be super-hard ones called International Baccalaureate exams. Which are a lot like Advanced Placement exams, but harder to spell. And possibly more expensive. IB exams cost about the same as buying a used car. A really bad used car that probably doesn’t run, but still. Not free.

student overwhelmed studying exams

I actually do get why colleges insist on SAT scores for the admissions process. With a nation full of overscheduled super-brains raised by a generation of Tiger Moms, the schools have to have some way to separate the chaff from the wheat, so I guess it might as well be by test result.

Tiger Moms

Well then, why don’t we take that a little further? I mean, lots of jobs (including mine) require potential candidates to pass an exam before they can be hired, right? Well, why don’t we apply this concept to other important things in life? Like, you should have to pass some sort of basic test just to get a gym membership. The questions might look something like:

You’ve just finished an intense, sweaty, 40-minute workout on one of the exercise bikes. Do you:

  1. Rub on the readout screen with your forearm to try and clean it up a little.
  2. Wipe down the equipment with anti-microbial solution, because ew, germs.
  3. Wipe down the equipment with anti-microbial solution and wash your hands, because ew, germs.
  4. Go home.

Or a test before you’re allowed to cook anything, ever:

You’ve just finished cooking a pot full of yummy spaghetti (Congrats!). Do you:

  1. Turn off the stove.
  2. Turn off the stove.
  3. Turn off the stove.
  4. Leave the stove on and walk away.

An exam for people trying to lose a few pounds:

Which of the following choices may assist you in your weight loss goals?

  1. Spending all of your free time Netflix bingeing and eating pizza.
  2. Drinking a 300 calorie smoothie in addition to your meals each day.
  3. Eating a low-calorie diet consisting mainly of plant sources.
  4. Adopting a Hobbit-style diet. (Second breakfast, anyone?)

Want to become a parent? Get a high score on this exam, first!

Your baby is crying. You:

  1. Pick her up and try to figure out what will soothe her.
  2. Put him in a bouncy seat and tell Alexa to entertain him with jokes.
  3. Ignore her and keep playing Overwatch/Roblox/The Sims.
  4. Give him away to the neighbors.

Of course, these exams wouldn’t be free. You’d have to pay the government to test you, so that we could use your money to come up with newer, shinier exams for more subjects. And the test-takers with high scores would flourish in the brave new world! And the lower classes would subsist of all the people who refused to study and failed the tests. And…what’s that? Oh, you’re wondering if these exams are part of my super-secret INTJ plan to take over the world? Nah. I was just testing you to see how you’d respond.

Disneyland Tessering (and other Magical Things)

I know. There is bug splat all over my car. It’s pretty grody to look at, and I’m sure the next-door neighbors are frowning at my carport. But I’m not ready to wash it off. Not yet.

My two youngest teens and I just got back from a week-long vacation. It started as a plan to spend Ski Week (aka Presidents’ Week) in Southern California, touring colleges. Yes, it’s true. Teen #2, my 16yo former gymnast, is a junior in high school already. Sensing our time together at home slipping away, I suggested we make this college tour trip super-fun. “How about we spend a day at Disneyland?” I said. *Insert shrieks of enthusiasm from the kids*. In the end, our plans included one of my daughter’s friends, and extended to two days on our favorite sunny SoCal beach, followed by two days in the Happiest Place on Earth.

So off we went, road-tripping through our state, plugging our noses as we passed “Cow-alinga,” admiring the miles of golden hills and farms, and even being surprised by a snowstorm as we drove through the Grapevine. Seriously. Snow, in Southern Cali. So cool, right? That was the beginning of the magic.

The next big Magical Thing was the beach. The amazing blueness of the sky and surf, and the empty golden sands, like the beach was open just for us. (Okay fine, it was freezing cold, an the other beachgoers were probably gathered indoors somewhere with a heater. But still).

Magical Thing #3 was the poke restaurant we discovered, which had macaron ice cream sandwiches. They exist, guys. They exist. And you have not lived until you have tasted one.

Then came the biggest Magical Thing of all. No, it wasn’t getting pictures with both Mickey and Minne Mouse without even waiting in line (though that was pretty rad, too). No, it wasn’t the part where Star Tours was better than ever, and Soarin’ Around the World was better than ever, and Radiator Springs Racers was our favorite new ride and well worth the wait. Nor was it seeing the Black Panther drive by, or meeting Captain America, who was fresh out of lectures, but had a funny story to share about his friend, Thor.

No, the most Magical Thing happened when we just happened to be strolling past the castle on Thursday afternoon. A woman tapped me on the shoulder and asked if our family would like to participate in a photo shoot to advertise the new A Wrinkle in Time film, which is coming out next month.

Would we! My son and I had already read the book and can’t wait until the movie is released. So naturally, we said yes. I signed a couple of wavers, then they handed us free t-shirts and directed us to a roped-off area, where we waited with about one hundred other Disneygoers. “Have your phones ready,” the woman advised me. I wondered why.

And then…it happened. The crowd around us erupted into huge cheers. Then they stepped up onto a podium a few feet in front of me — Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Storm Reid, and the Queen herself, Oprah Winfrey. *Insert Screams*

Ohmigod! I was so starstruck, I forgot about the cameras snapping photos of us. Only the top of my head, and my hand, holding up my cell phone made it into the official shot (just to the right of Reese Witherspoon). But who cares? My kids and I got to be part of a very cool, very magical movie promotion along with some of the most talented and famous actresses ever. Eeeeeek! The entire experience took our level of Disney magic to a whole new level. In fact, I think we may have tessered right out of the park and straight to Neverland for a while. I’m still kind of floating there, as the pixie dust hasn’t yet worn off. How did we get so incredibly lucky?

Somehow, we managed to return home safely, though still in a daze of wonder, high on Disney Magic. There are still suitcases to be unpacked. And there’s my car, covered in road trip bug splat, in need of a wash. But that doesn’t even bug me right now. I want to savor this magic, as all magic moments in life are meant to be savored, treasured, and remembered during the times when life seems to have lost its shine. We all need a little magic, sometimes, to remind us why this wonderful, beautiful life we have is so very worth living. May you have your next magic moment soon.

One Small Thing (aka: Life-Changing Baby Steps)

Big things start with small steps.

It isn’t a new concept. From the moment we were born, we learned and grew in small increments. Before we could talk, we babbled. Before we could run, we had to crawl. Then stand, Then take our first wobbly steps forward. But at last, we could do it — we could run! After that, we mastered running. Owned it. Our childhood motto was: Why walk, when you can run? Some of us still run.

But first, we had to crawl.

Change requires baby steps. It is astounding how much we berate ourselves for not being able to reach our personal potential. Why can’t my body be fit and toned? Why can’t I lose twenty pounds? Why can’t I save enough money to do the things I really want to do? What’s wrong with me?

We blame it on our lack of willpower. Our genetic inheritance. Our own laziness. Or, we try — really, really try. We follow the latest fad diet and exercise like crazy until we tear a muscle, or gain back the weight. We start hoarding money, only to realize that we’ve forgotten to budget enough cash to pay the bills, or buy enough groceries for the family.

Instead of growing, we grow discouraged.

But we’ve forgotten that every positive change starts with small steps. Teeny tiny movements in the right direction. Like learning the sounds of each letter of the alphabet before we are ready to learn to read.

MSNBC’s news website has a lifestyle segment that I often enjoy reading, called Better. Each day, it features tips for one small change that we can take in order to improve in some area of our lives. Sleep better. Eat better. Have better relationships. Be better in the workplace. Manage our finances better. Each time I read one of the articles posted, there, I walk away with new ideas for one small thing to try. One tiny change that may lead me to better habits, and assist me as I strive for excellence.

Because isn’t that what this is all about? Not just trying to grow for the sake of growth, but to strive for excellence. To live our best life possible. To be all that we can be.

I have had a decades-long goal of becoming a better homemaker. I want for my family’s home to be comfortable, aesthetically pleasing, and clean. Even back when I was a full-time SAHM/Homemaker, I was a terrible housekeeper. I could cook well, and sew adorable curtains to hang in the windows. I could paint walls and add special touches to make our house feel like home. But our home was rarely ever clean. I’ve certainly come a long way, as have my kids. But I’m still not where I’d like to be.

I began with baby steps. Start by making your bed. I don’t remember where I once read this advice, but after my ex-husband and I split up, I began to make my bed every day. And know what? I grew to appreciate having a well-made bed to sleep in each night. I also began to keep a very clean bedroom. Uncluttered surfaces, vacuumed floors. Each small change added to my daily happiness, and reduced my stress levels. Soon, I hope that this state of being always tidy spreads to the rest of the house. That’s a little tougher, since those are shared spaces, and my kids, well, they remind me of myself twenty years ago. Some days, I wish that they could just magically become organized teens, with neat bedrooms, and organized school binders.

And know what? Someday, they may get there. They just have to start with one small change. The same is true for you, too.

Cozy Còsagach and Hygge Happiness

Some of us are just better off barefoot.

A coworker of mine didn’t buy this. For Christmas, she gave me not one, but two pairs of warm, fuzzy slipper socks. I love the heck out of slipper socks! So comfy, and that fits well with my philosophy of hygge. (More on that later).

Sadly, it took less than three days before I was down to a single, mate-less slipper sock, its partner and buddies nowhere to be found. I’m sure they wound up in the secret place to which all sockmates vanish, and are drinking and dancing the night away. At a sock-hop, no doubt. My feet, as usual, remain bare.

But no worries. Socks are not required to live the hygge life.

Oh silly Jupiter Girl, says my inner snob. Hygge is soooo 2016. We’re all about còsagach now.

Ok fine. Whatever. Danish hygge, Gaelic còsagach, the idea is the same. Get cozy.

Hygge Defined

I am all about coziness in our family’s home. There is nothing better than to come in after a day in a cold, loud, and hectic world, and be surrounded by warmth, family, and good food. Thick, hearty soups and chowders. Soft sweaters. A crackling blaze in the fireplace (for those of you with fireplaces).

My family loves nothing better on a chill winter’s day than to curl up with soft blankets and throws on the couch and read books, or watch a TV show, or just converse with each other while scented candles glow across the room. Throw in some steaming mugs of earl grey, or perhaps some rich, sweet cocoa, and you have just defined our version of hygge. Or còsagach. No matter what you name it, it means the same thing. Home.

No socks required.

Merry Cookiemas!

I asked my kids if it would be okay if I didn’t do a bunch of cookie baking this Christmas. They were horrified.

“But Mom! It wouldn’t be Christmas without your cookies!”

Naturally, I couldn’t bear to ruin their Christmas. So, as usual, I spent day after day wrapped in an apron, measuring, mixing, shaping, and baking. Then a few more days melting, dipping, drizzling, and sprinkling. And voila! Christmas = made. This year’s cookie menu? The usual iced sugar cookies, some maple-glazed pumpkin cookies, cranberry-orange-white chocolate cookies (the trick is to use fresh cranberries, not dried); chocolate mint-chip cookies, peppermint cookies & cream balls, and as always, the Best Cookie Ever – alfajores. Which, in case you don’t know, are an Argentine specialty consisting of two complex shortbread cookies sandwiched together with sweet dulce de leche, then coated in powdered sugar. *Drool*

The Christmas baking is both my favorite and least favorite baking of the year. Least favorite, because it is soooo time-consuming. Not to mention messy. And exhausting. These are not the easiest cookies to prepare – especially the four-step alfajores. But also my favorite, because I adore giving away my cookies. They are delicious. And festive. Bite after bite of sweet, chewy, homemade Christmas Spirit.

I do wish that I had a few good friends to share my Christmas cookies with. Years ago, I had a fun tradition of leaving containers of cookies on my friends’ doorsteps on Christmas Eve. Of course, they always knew who had delivered them, but it was still fun, in a magical St. Nick sort of way. I miss that, a lot. Instead, I will bring these babies to the office, to share with a couple dozen coworkers who probably still don’t even know my name. And I will distribute some to family members, who rarely acknowledge my existence, but will enjoy the treats anyway. But best of all, I get to share them with my kids, as we enjoy these Christmas days together. And hopefully, one day, they will take on the tradition in their own kitchens.