Tuesday, September 25, 2012

On Running and Judging

I’ve started running. I saw that everyone was doing the couch to 5K program and I thought it might be a good idea to do it myself. I’m into week six and I love it. Not only do I feel as though I’m getting physically stronger, I also get half an hour to myself in which I can clear my mind.
On some days, like today, I have great moments of clarity. While I was walking and was breathing heavily because I had just stopped running I met someone on the street. Being very self-conscious, I felt as though I needed to justify why I was breathing heavily. I felt like telling that person that I had in fact been running and I wasn’t that terribly out of shape, it just looked like it then.
Suddenly, I had a realization: We encounter so many people in our lives and even though we often only see little snippets of their existence, we pass judgment. We don’t know what has brought a person to that particular point in their lives. We don’t know how hard he/she has worked to achieve what they have at that moment. We don’t know at what point they are in their life's processes.
More importantly, it’s ok to be breathless. We should never feel as though we have to justify who we are.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Effects of Staying Home with My Kids on My Career

When I found out I was pregnant with my daughter in 2008, my husband and I decided that I would stay home with her for at least the first year. Even though I had never even met my little one, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to stand being separated from her. Honestly, I never thought twice about this decision and how it might later affect my career.
It has been three and a half years since I have worked full-time. Unfortunately, now I am in a position where I need to get back into the workforce in order to financially support our family. It is proving incredibly difficult. As one lady told me: “It doesn’t matter if you’ve been staying home with your kids. With the high unemployment rate, companies are looking to hire those who were employed most recently.” I’m just another unemployed person.
Now, probably every reader is going to feel offended by something. To clear some things up: I think working mothers are incredible. I was very fortunate to be able to stay home and I know that a lot of families don’t have that option. Some women have the option and just don’t want to, which is absolutely fine. For me, I couldn’t picture any other way. I know for a fact that I would have been a complete mess. I wouldn’t have breastfed as long as I did if I had to feed every hour at night and then be at work the next morning. All of you working mothers are incredible!
Also: I am not trying to judge unemployed people. Unfortunately, situations like that happen in life and they can happen to anyone. I am the last person to say anything negative about people who are unable to find work.
All of that being said, I was a full time mother. I wasn’t unemployed- quite the contrary, I was employed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (and still am) To imply that my time has been spent in an idle way is such an insult to the extremely hard work I have done and that stay-at-home-parents everywhere do.
I went to an interview several weeks ago where I was asked a list of questions regarding my judgment in certain professional situations. I was asked to describe a situation in which I had been faced with many issues at the same time and how I handled it. The interviewer stressed that they wanted a recent example, within the past year. I answered honestly- I told him about the shopping trip that morning that required me to purchase every item on the list, while entertaining two children, meeting their constant needs, staying within the budget, etc. when it started raining and I had to come up with a plan that allowed the family as well as the groceries to make it into the car safely and as dryly as possible. I saw by the look on his face that he thought my answer was less than satisfactory.
The truth is, being a mother is the hardest job I have ever had. And I’ve had some pretty shitty jobs in my working life… Any other job ends- you have a break, you get to go to the bathroom. You can eat a meal. You can sit in the car or on the train and gather yourself. You get to clock out and do your own thing for a while. As a stay at home parent, you get nothing. You’re on your own, responsible for another life (or more than one) without any pointers and without any breaks. It’s rough. It has taken me to stress levels I never knew before; getting an airplane ready to take off at the given slot time so the company doesn’t lose any money while one passenger is missing is a joke compared to a rough day with kids.
I’m not mad that I’m having a hard time finding a job. I have lots of qualifications, lots of experience and I am confident something will come along. Also, I haven’t ‘just’ been a SAHM- I have had two contracting jobs and two volunteer positions during my time at home. What really upsets me is the way society sees mothers and fathers. What we do- all of us parents, whether working or not- is THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT JOB in the world! We are making the next generation of people. We are making and shaping new human beings. And here, it counts for nothing. Just another unemployed person.
I guess I might not be as upset if I didn’t know the alternative. Unfortunately, I am well familiar with societies in which parents are protected and encouraged. I grew up in Germany where I (or my husband) would have been able to take a full year of paid maternity leave. In addition to that, I could have stayed home two more years (for a total of three) unpaid, with my job being preserved for me until my return.
I don’t regret the road I chose to take. I worked very hard in corporate jobs until I was 30 and felt as though my child needed me more. Had someone told me that it would negatively affect my career later on, I would have chosen the exact same path. However, I feel that society is doing mothers and fathers wrong- we don’t do nothing. We are not unemployed.

Friday, September 21, 2012

I Suck at Photography!

I’ve been trying to get the hang of my DSLR camera for ages now. I feel like I’m getting nowhere and it’s soooooooo frustrating! To be honest, if something frustrates me too much I usually just quit. However, I love photography so much that I am determined to get better at it.
I especially suck at getting the shutter speed right. My pictures are almost always underexposed, which makes them look dull and dark. It’s a special kind of disappointment when you pull up photos that you thought would be fantastic only to find that they are all too dark…
I will keep working at it, though. I have received some wonderful advice, especially from the fabulous Veronica Armstrong, on how to improve my shots. I will keep reading and practicing until I hopefully some day produce pictures that I actually like. I want vibrancy you can’t look away from.
What are your tips for achieving the ideal exposure?

Here are some pictures I took yesterday at a beautiful location in Orlando, the Harry P. Leu Gardens. I have lightened them up as much as possible without washing them out.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

BlogHer Book Club: Daring Greatly Review and Giveaway

Admittedly, I am not a big fan of non-fiction books. I wouldn’t usually seek out a self-help kind of book for myself to read. However, I am so grateful that I read Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown, Ph.D. It came at exactly the right moment in my life and has taught me so much about myself.
Dr. Brown is a researcher of vulnerability, courage, shame, and worthiness at the University of Houston, TX. However, the book is written in such a light and unintimidating way that it can truly be understood by anyone. Brown doesn’t teach the reader lessons in form of lectures, but rather takes the reader on a journey she herself has undertaken.
In essence, the book shows us how accepting and embracing our own vulnerability rather than viewing it as weakness is the true way to achieving greater goals. Shame, fear, etc. cause us to underestimate our worth and hinders creativity and innovation. Brown doesn’t offer these realizations as universal truths, but rather shows the reader how the information can be applied to better one’s own life. In fact, Brown mentions her personal therapy sessions frequently throughout the book, which demonstrates her own imperfections as well as the fact that even with great theoretical knowledge, our lives are still less than perfect.
Not only are readers introduced to concepts that can improve their own sense of worth, they are also given guidelines on how to apply these ideas in the most important areas of their lives, including the workforce and parenting.
As someone who never views herself as good enough, these words were important and healing to read. It took me quite a while to get through the book, as I had to pause every so often to ponder the ideas that were being presented to me. I hope that I can be more fearless in the future and let myself be more vulnerable. I really do want to dare greatly. You will want to, too. Just read the book!
My favorite quote: “What’s worth doing even if I fail?” p.42 Daring Greatly. Especially when it comes to creativity, people risk being vulnerable. But aren’t those risks worth taking? I now believe they are.
If you would like to win a copy of this book, please visit my Facebook page, become a fan and leave me a comment telling me what you think of when you hear the word ‘vulnerability’.
Please check out the BlogHer Book Club pages for a great discussion of this book.

This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club, but the opinions expressed are my own.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Gluten Free No-Boil Lasagna

I am a huge fan of cooking once, eating two nights in a row. Lasagna is definitely one of my favorites- not exactly simple, but well worth it.
When I first found out I had Celiac Disease, giving up pasta was the hardest part for me. I love pasta in all shapes and sizes and my new diet had me depressed. Naturally, I quickly learned how to replicate most recipes I loved. One thing that gave me a hard time was making lasagna. All noodles I was able to find required pre-boiling, which took a crazy amount of time and never really worked out the way I wanted (picture me trying to separate big lumps of pasta that formed because I was too lazy to cook the noodles separately; it was not pretty…)
And then, one fine day, I stumbled upon a gluten free no-boil lasagna noodle. I was so happy! However, knowing that gluten free noodles don’t act the same as their wheaty counterparts, I had to find a recipe that was relatively simple and delicious. I think I was able to do just that by experimenting.
You do not have to make this recipe gluten free- it works just as well with semolina pasta. I sometimes make it as a meat lasagna and sometimes a veggie one, depending on my mood and what’s available. I will mostly be referencing the meat in this recipe- just replace it with whatever veggies you prefer. I’ve tried making gluten free béchamel sauce, which I will post the recipe for in the near future, but I also like this simpler method of adding creaminess to the dish.

The ingredients:
1 box of no boil lasagna noodles (I used the De Boles brand ones)
1 lb ground beef and/or veggies of your choice (I like zucchini, bell pepper, mushrooms, and tomatoes)
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ an onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic
1 1/2 – 2 jars of pasta sauce of your choice, depending on how saucy you like it
½ cup water
1 15oz container of ricotta
2-3 cups of shredded Italian cheese blend
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
1 egg
Salt & pepper (and any other herbs you like) to taste

The instructions:
·         Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C)
·         In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat
·         When hot, add the onion and garlic until they soften
·         Add the meat and brown thoroughly (or add veggies and sauté), adding salt and pepper to taste (in the lasagna I took the pictures of, I used meat and mushrooms- delish!)
·         Drain any excess fat, then add pasta sauce and water; let simmer
·         In a bowl, combine ricotta, egg, 1 cup of the Italian cheese and parmesan; if the mixture seems too thick to spread, add a little of the sauce and stir it in
·         Take the sauce off the heat; in a 13x9x2 dish, spread ¼ of the sauce
·         Make one noodle layer with the uncooked noodles ( I usually do three next to each other- they expand when they cook)
·         Spread ½ of the ricotta mixture onto the pasta
·         Add ¼ of the sauce
·         Make another noodle layer
·         Spread the remainder of the ricotta mixture
·         Add ¼ of the sauce
·         Make the final pasta layer
·         Add the remaining sauce; be sure to cover all of the pasta so that it cooks evenly
·         Top with 1 – 2 cups of Italian cheese, depending on how cheesy you like it (I like it very cheesy)
·         Cover the dish with aluminum foil and cook for 50 minutes
·         Remove the foil; turn on the broiler and cook until cheese is golden brown

I hope you enjoy! Please excuse my terrible attempts at taking nice pictures of the food- I still have lots to learn…

Monday, September 17, 2012

Feminist Fairytales: Little Red Riding Hood

Fairytales irritate me terribly. Most of the classics portray women as naïve idiots, not worth mentioning unless they are beautiful or evil. I would love my daughter to grow up with stories that feature powerful, intelligent women, so she can have role models that have actually achieved something besides looking pretty.
My goal is to re-write some of the classics and change the story around to what it would be if the heroines were smart and strong. Unfortunately, a lot of the stories would be incredibly short, but I’ll do my best to make them a little humorous. And if you feel like writing your own little feminist fairytale, please join me for my Monthly Writing Challenge!

Photo by jkettn, stock.xchng

Once upon a time, there was a sweet little girl who lived with her mother on the edge of a forest. Her name was Little Red Riding Hood. Hood’s grandmother was very ill, so she and her mother decided to bake a cake for the poor granny. After they finished the cake, they gathered some other treats together- wine, chocolate, and some sandwiches- so Hood could deliver them to her granny who lived a couple of miles away in the woods.
“Now, sweetie, don’t forget to stay on the path. You never want to get off the path when you’re in the forest! And watch out for the Big Bad Wolf. Remember what I told you about him- he’s a tricky one with big ears and a big nose, etc. Just overall big with lots of hair. If he bothers you, you know what to do.”
“Mother, I wish you didn’t worry so much. I will go straight to granny’s house.”
Off went Little Hood into the deep, dark forest. She was enjoying the exercise, singing to herself and admiring the scenery. Suddenly, she saw the shape of someone up ahead on the path. She prepared herself.
“Hello, little girl! Where are you going to all by yourself?”
“I am going to visit my grandmother to bring her some goodies. She hasn’t been feeling well.”
“Ah, how interesting. Where exactly does your grandmother live?”
“She lives right down this path in the clearing.”
“Little girl, I think you should take your time on this beautiful day and enjoy the forest. Look down there, off the path: there are so many beautiful flowers to pick. Maybe you could even make a bouquet for your grandmother”, suggested the wolf, who was coming up with a plan that would allow him to eat the grandmother as well as Little Hood.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Wolf, but I have no time to lose. I do not wish to go off the path and really must continue my journey now.”
The wolf sneered at her: “Well, in that case, I’m just going to have to gobble you up!”
Little Red Riding Hood, without batting an eye, put down the basket of goodies, pulled out her sword and chopped the wolf’s head off. Hood’s mother had taught her how to defend herself from an early age.
She continued down the path to her granny’s house, who was overjoyed to see her lovely granddaughter. They enjoyed cake together while they chatted. After granny had had some wine and chocolate, she felt much better and went out to find the wolf’s corpse. She skinned him and made a nice rug for her sitting room.
And they all lived happily ever after.
The End.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What Would You Do if You Had One Month to Live?

I’ve been visiting an Episcopal church lately and I just love the priest! (sorry, I’m Catholic and I have no idea if that is the correct term; Protestantism tends to confuse me…) He’s funny and entertaining and genuine. This past Sunday, he started a four week series called ‘One Month to Live’. He asked all of us what we would do if we knew we only had one more month to live.
It has kept me thinking ever since. What would I do? Honestly, I don’t have too many classic bucket list items. I’ve done pretty much everything I’ve wanted to, except maybe some travel that I haven’t gotten around to yet. Things like bungee jumping or climbing mountains don’t really interest me.
I think the first thing I would do is buy some cigarettes and start smoking again. I quit four years ago, but I would definitely not have quit if there weren’t bad consequences to my health. If I only had a month left, it wouldn’t matter whether smoking is bad for me or not.
On my very last day, I would try heroin. You’re probably all shocked now, but I hear that it’s the best drug-induced feeling you can have and I would give it a try if I knew it was my last day on earth.
I would write a book. Something I have always wanted to do, something that I have many ideas for, but have so far not been able to get myself to start. It would be hand-written because I actually much prefer that.
I would sleep in just one more time. I wouldn’t want to waste much of my numbered hours sleeping, but since I haven’t really slept a full night in about three and a half years, I would just love the luxury of one night of fantastically restful sleep.
Every last day would be spent with my children. I would take them with me and travel around the world to visit every single person I love so I could say my good-byes. Of course, my priority would be to see all my family.
Most importantly, I would be completely honest about who I am. No more social anxieties, no more holding back my beliefs or emotions. I would spend my last energy on loving everyone with all my might and to make sure that they knew how much they were loved. Nobody would have any doubts about who I really was or how I felt about them.
The priest didn’t ask his congregation to do this little exercise just for fun. Life is short. We should all be living life as if we only had one month left. Because none of us know how much time we still have here- it could be a century, a decade, a year, a month, a day, or even just one more minute. We so easily get distracted by every day life that we lose sight of what is really important.
Naturally, I can’t go nuts and start smoking and doing heroin because I might *possibly* die soon. And I can’t afford to fly around the world with the kids just in case. Those kinds of things are reserved for true end of life scenarios. However, what is stopping me from being who I really am? Why can’t I be the most loving I can possibly be right now? The answer is simple: nothing is stopping me but myself.
“Time doesn’t fly, but it steadily ticks away.”
What would you do if you had only one more month to live?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

How to Get Gum out of Hair

My daughter (who is three and a half) chews her nails. Bites them right off to the flesh. It’s horrible and today I thought ‘Maybe if I give her some gum to chew on, her mouth will be occupied enough and she’ll leave her nails alone’. So, I gave her half a stick of sugar free strawberry gum to experiment with. She didn’t like it and threw it in the trash.
I didn’t think any more about it until I went to brush her hair. In the bottom layers I just couldn’t get the brush through. I checked for what I thought was one horrifically huge knot only to find this:

I panicked a little bit. I remember from childhood that girls who got gum stuck in their hair got huge chunks cut off. I separated as many strands of hair as I could from the gooey mass, but the big clump wouldn’t budge. Then a faint memory popped into my head- my mother-in-law once told me that you can get gum out of hair with peanut butter. Since I had peanut butter in my fridge, I figured I’d give it a go. I took a glob of it on my finger and rubbed it into the hair right around the gum. Like so (yes, I am aware that it looks like diarrhea in her hair):

Then I carefully pulled the gum out- it slid right down! I was really excited at how easily it came off. Here is her peanut-buttery hair:

And here the remains of the evil-doer gum:

I wet a cloth and wiped the peanut butter off, then dried and brushed the strand. The gum is completely out and I am so happy!
After reading up on it a little, I discovered that the oil in the peanut butter is what does the magic with the gum. Therefore I recommend using all natural peanut butter that doesn’t contain any sugar, etc.- just peanuts.
(Please excuse the poor picture quality- I had peanut butter all over my hands. Also, I’m not putting the gum back in her hair to take better photos…)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

BlogHer Book Club: Trust Your Eyes Review and Giveaway

I was really excited to be reviewing Trust Your Eyes by Linwood Barclay. The premise of this thriller sounded like it was right up my alley- a man with schizophrenia sees what he believes to be a murder online and his brother starts to investigate for him. Definitely not a story I had read before.
This book will have you hooked in no time! It’s the kind of novel that makes you turn on the TV to distract the kids so you can keep reading for just a bit longer. The characters are likeable and appealing; the story is addicting, always leaving you hungry for more information. There are several twists and turns- some of the book’s mysteries aren’t solved until the very last page. It is exciting and thrilling, with lots of murders along the way to keep things moving for the crime lovers amongst us.
I finished Trust Your Eyes in two days. Despite all mysteries being solved by the end of the book, I still couldn’t get it out of my head. The role the Internet plays in this novel has had me thinking about our Big Brother society in which we have all become so transparent.
Trust Your Eyes is a compelling read. Despite already knowing the story, I would read it again. I highly recommend checking it out!
If you would like to win a copy of the book, please visit my Facebook page, become a fan and leave me a comment about why you like thrillers. Submissions close at noon EST on 09/14/2012.
Please check out the BlogHer Book Club pages for a great discussion of this novel.

This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club, but the opinions expressed are my own.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Potty Training Success!

I never thought the day would come. My daughter is three and a half years old and has never shown any interest whatsoever in potty training. It even went so far that she flat out refused to even try on any underwear. We decided to take her lead in this process and just wait till she was ready. Secretly, I was terrified she would still be in diapers by the time she was ready for college. However, a week ago, she suddenly announced she was ready to wear big girl panties and that was that.
The first couple of days were a little rocky, as she was still discovering the need to control her bladder, and I cleaned up a few accidents. After that, it went swimmingly. I don’t want to jinx us here, but she has been doing fantastic- no accidents and even doing her bigger business in the toilet.
I was never in a hurry to have my children out of diapers- I find them so convenient. Now I see why parents are so eager to say good-bye to changing soiled pants. This is great!
Of course, we’ve had some comical instances in the process and I am soooo grateful to have tile floors, but overall there was really no “training” involved. She decided she was ready and now she uses the toilet (not a little potty that needs emptying and cleaning, but the actual toilet) like a big girl. I’m very happy that we chose to go this route, especially with our spirited daughter. Everything else would have involved a battle I had no interest in fighting.
So, if you’re like me and don’t want to bother with the agony that is potty training, try the relaxed approach. It may take a little longer, but it will be a lot easier on your nerves.
(Just to test things out, we let our son, who is 22 months, try pottying; he did well a few times. He also just splashed around in a pee puddle with his feet and then sat in it. Not quite ready yet…)

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Writing Challenge 1/12: Something Green

Tiffany Clutter's submission:

When I was a child I walked through a park with an older cousin in NJ. I don't remember where this park was. All I remember is being surrounded by dense green plant life. I have never experienced anything like it before or since. The vegetation smelled green and damp. It was so strong I could barely breathe. I find this very ironic. We breathe out CO2 that the plants breathe in to create oxygen for us to breathe. Was I being smothered by oxygen? A green child's fantasy.

Carrie Giauque's submission:

As long as Sandra could remember she had one view of the world. It never seemed weird or unusual to her that her whole world was colored green. When she would describe pictures she would describe them down to the most amazing detail because she only saw them in shades of green. It took years for someone to realize her predicament and many more before someone came up with a solution.
Dr. Stance was the Chief Osteopathic Surgeon at Providence Hospital in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Stance specialized in laser surgery and reconstruction of the retinas. When Stance met Sandra, he immediately was drawn to the challenge of reconstructing Sandra’s cones so she could see in full color. Rather than being interested in helping Sandra, Stance saw the opportunity as another piece of research that would lead to yet another award. He was your classic work-aholic physician with no hobbies, no real friends, and whose wife sought the attentions of other men because he never had time for her.
On their first appointment, Dr. Stance conducted the standard eye exam and took detailed photos of Sandra’s eyes. He watched how the pupils dilated and measured the distance between the lens and the cornea. He never noticed the color of Sandra’s eyes, which were emerald green. He never noticed how nervous she was or how uncomfortable she was as he poked one of the most sensitive parts of the body.
Sandra, however, with nowhere else to draw her attention, examined Dr. Stance. She noticed the small scab on his left jaw where he had cut himself shaving that morning. His watch was of some expensive brand that she had never heard of, but she saw his watch was five minutes fast, and surmised he was one of those people who hated to be late. Stance was wearing a pink pinstriped shirt with a thin purple tie with a subtle complimentary pattern. Sandra only saw the clothes in green, but what she noticed was the lack of ironing and the small faded stain on the shirt from a hastily eaten hotdog. Sandra saw the unhappy home life in those clothes. It was obvious to her that while Stance’s wife enjoyed spending his money and had purchased the ensemble, his wife had no intention of doing his laundry or running his clothes to the cleaner. It saddened Sandra to see such unhappiness.
On the day of the surgery everything went smoothly and early indications led Dr. Stance to believe it would be a huge success. Sandra was left to recover alone in a room with her eyes completely bandaged. She thought of all the songs that talked about the colors of the rainbow and wondered what it would be like the first time she saw one. Nervousness was replaced with excitement as the doctors all filed in to see the results of such a pioneering procedure. Dr. Stance removed the bandages and the whole scene seemed so cliché to Sandra. When all the bandages were removed, she opened her eyes, letting them readjust to the light.
“Can you see?” asked Dr. Stance.
Sandra looked around, “Yes.” It was all in brilliant color with rich hues that Sandra had never before seen. It was almost overwhelming to her senses with the bright blue hospital walls, the blinding white curtains and sheets, and the rainbow of colors on the shirts of the physicians. Sandra took it all in and studied each person from head to toe trying to get a reading in the same way she always had. She started to get teary eyed.
Dr. Stance interpreted her moist eyes as pure joy and so asked her, “Describe what you see.”
“I see…nothing.”

Here is my own (a bit morbid):

Green is the color of life.
The symbol of hope.
Beneath the green carpet that covers the earth lies all we fear. We remove the carpet of green to reveal the dark soil. This is where we keep the dead. Every one of us will end up underneath the green some day. Pushing up the daisies from below, the color of life only a distant memory of a different world. Until the parts that made our bodies, the molecules and atoms, rise back up to the surface to become part of the green.
Alive again. Hope once more.

Please link up at the bottom with your take on 'something green'.

Next month's Writing Challenge topic will be: a feminist fairytale. Please send submissions to tellvivien@yahoo.com by 10/01/2012 or link up at the beginning of next month.