Thursday, March 31, 2011

Do You Love Your Neighbor?

Going back to some of my deeper thoughts of the last month, I often struggle to find a healthy level of self-esteem. Maybe it ties into my hang-ups with mommy stereotypes, but I often fall into feeling like I need to be perfect or AMAZING or at least really great at something. I have a terrible habit of being really hard on myself, even if I am honestly trying my best.

I have recently pondered the scriptural admonition to "Love thy neighbor as thyself." I think I have always unconsciously twisted that scripture into "Love thy neighbor MORE THAN thyself," which-- at least at first glance-- sounds like it would be more noble and less selfish than loving yourself and neighbors equally. But loving yourself isn't always as simple as it looks.

Most of the time I think I am a reasonable "neighbor" or friend to the people I come in contact with. Let's picture a friend coming up to me and saying, "I'm having a really hard day today. I feel awful about myself because still haven't lost my baby weight. My house is a mess and I feel like a terrible mother. My kids fight and I am never on time." How would I respond? I would probably tell her, "Don't be so hard on yourself! It's totally not reasonable to expect to look like a supermodel when you have a baby and multiple other kids to take care of. Your kids will remember the time you spent with them, not how your house looked. You're a great mother! Everyone's kids fight sometimes and being late sometimes is not the end of the world!" At least I hope that I would say something like that. I know I would at least say, "You know, you are trying your best and that's all we can do. You don't need to be perfect. Just don't give up!" And I expect that most decent friends would say something along these same lines.

Let's change this up a bit now. Let's say that I am having a hard day and think to myself this same thing: "I'm having a really hard day today. I feel awful about myself because still haven't lost my baby weight. My house is a mess and I feel like a terrible mother. My kids fight and I am never on time." How do I respond to myself? I tell myself (as any *reasonable* person would): "But you ARE a terrible mother. That's why you are having such a hard time. And you are SO FAT. Your kids fight because you are such a terrible mother. Maybe if you weren't so lazy and didn't let them watch so much TV they wouldn't fight so much. And if you just got off your duff and exercised or put down that box of cookies your baby weight would have been gone months ago! And anyone can keep their house clean. It's not rocket science. Sheesh."

Because I wouldn't want to be one of those selfish, self-absorbed, self-loving people, right? And I'm just being honest with myself about my shortcomings, right? That's a *virtue*. So if I'm following the biblical injunction to "love my neighbor as thyself," does that mean that I should tell all of my friends that they are fatties, bad mothers, pathetic for not keeping their house cleaner and at fault for all of their kids' tantrums? Um, yeah.

The funny thing is that I've found that when I'm in that negative place of hating and being hard on myself I don't have much charity or goodwill left to extend to other people. And frankly, I don't think that I'm being very honest with myself in the above example either. Somehow it seems okay to equate being negative with being honest-- at least concerning yourself-- rather than really aiming for a balanced analysis. Does losing your temper occasionally or letting your kids watch TV when you need a break really make you a BAD mother? Really, Karen?

So how do you "love" yourself without becoming selfish or self-absorbed? Maybe the answer comes from that scripture: loving myself as I love my neighbor. Seeing myself as just another person, no more or less important than any others, no more or less perfect than any other bumbling human being trying to make their way through life as best they can. So the next time I have that bad day and start to rag on myself because it's noon and I haven't showered, my kids are watching TV and I'm writing a blog post instead of doing my dishes (I plead the fifth-- although I am dressed and the TV is off-- at least for the moment), I'm going to respond differently: "You're just having a hard day, Karen. You may not look like a supermodel (who does?) but you look really good-- especially for having had four kids. You totally wiped the counters today-- that counts doesn't it? You sanitize your bathrooms at least every other month. (Germs are good for kids' immune systems, right?)  And a kid like Jackson could put any person in the loony bin!" (Hmmmm, I may need some practice at this....)

Let's try this again: "Karen, you are a good mom. You are not a perfect mom and probably never will be, but you are good enough. You love your kids, spend time with them and do your best. You look just fine. Your house is just fine. It isn't perfectly clean but it is clean enough. You are doing what matters -- not perfectly-- but well enough. So give yourself a break. You know, you are trying your best and that's all we can do. You don't need to be perfect. Just don't give up!"

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wildwood Valentines

Since I was gone on Valentine's Day this year, Dave and I celebrated a little bit late with a Friday-night dinner at Wildwood. I've been wanting to try Wildwood for a while but this was my first time. The problem with waiting to blog about something until 6 weeks after the fact is that it is really hard to remember what you ordered. And since Wildwood is a typical Portland restaurant with a menu that is seasonal and so frequently changes, I can't even cheat by looking at their menu online to see what it was that I ordered. (Dangit!) So I'll just have to do my best.

The meal was a really great balance of unique and approachable. Portland is an amazing city for restaurants. There is an abundance of fresh, seasonal, local ingredients and chefs using those ingredients at their best. The creativity at some of the restaurants here is tremendous, but sometimes that creativity can be a little bit overwhelming or more "interesting" than delicious. This meal found that happy medium of giving the ingredients a creative spark without overwhelming their natural flavor. (Basically, it was just plain delicious.)

We began with a pair of starters: Shaved Fennel Salad with Toasted Almonds and Wild Mushroom Gnocchi. The shaved fennel salad had a light, springy flavor to it. The shaved fennel was crisp with a piquant twist while the cheese shavings and almonds added a nice contrast of flavor and texture. It was good, but edging a little bit more toward the "interesting" than outright delicious (probably because I was comparing it to the AMAZING shaved asparagus salad I had at Nostrana last spring). But as one piece of an entire meal, it was a satisfying contrast to the other dishes.
Shaved Fennel Salad with toasted almonds and grana padano
Dave and I both noted that whenever we hear the word "gnocchi," we think of our second "date" ("date" is in quotes because Dave didn't really ask me out or I him). Our second quasi-date was going to the opera in Salt Lake to see Tosca. It was a group with me, my brother, my roommate, her brother and Dave. We went out for dinner beforehand at an Italian restaurant called Dal Fornello. My roommate's brother and I had an extended conversation on how much we liked gnocchi. Dave couldn't tell if I liked this roommate's brother or not, so he had a prejudice against gnocchi ever after.

This gnocchi was enough to break even Dave's prejudice. The Wild Mushroom Gnocchi was one of the best dishes I have eaten in Portland. So. incredibly. good. Gnocchi is a pasta-like dumpling that is made with potatoes. The mushrooms gave it a rich meaty flavor. Dave is not big on mushrooms, but he still LOVED this dish.

The gnocchi to end all gnocchi....
We ordered our main courses based on the waiter's recommendation (and here is where my memory gets foggy). We got lamb with a side of pureed root vegetables (think parsnips) and grouper with almonds. (How's that for great food writing? They were really delicious but it was almost two months ago....)

Hazelnut Creme Brulee with Hazelnut Macaroons
For dessert we had a Hazelnut Creme Brulee (complete with hazelnut macaroons filled with chocolate buttercream) and Apple Almond Frangipane Tart (with Brown Butter Ice Cream, Candied Almonds and "Apple Cider Gastrique", oh my!). The creme brulee concept was intriguing, but in execution it didn't push my buttons-- I prefer simple unadulterated vanilla and cream. But I have a weakness for macaroons and thoroughly enjoyed those. The Apple Almond Frangipane Tart, on the other hand, was absolutely amazing. The almond filling set off the apple and pastry, while the brown butter ice cream and candied almonds filled out the equation. Wow.

Don't you love the dried apple "flare" in the middle? :)
Valentine's Day has never been one of my favorite holidays... It has always ended up filed under either "Single's Awareness Day," "Marketing Scheme to Get You to Spend Money by Buying Random Gifts that Your Spouse Won't Like" or "Just one more reason for your kids to get mounds of candy and junk food at school." This is even when weighed against the compelling fact that See's Candies sells "Hot Hearts" just for this holiday (think giant, chewy red hots, but better...). But after a meal like this, I might reconsider.... Not that I need an excuse for an amazing meal, but it's always nice to have one, nonetheless.

Uno: Jackson Style

A few weeks ago we discovered a new card game: "Uno: Jackson Style." We used to always play a house-rules take on Uno that we called "Super Uno" or "Match." In this version you can can throw down an exact match of the card facing up at any time- even out of turn. It makes for a fun twist just when you least expect it.
In an attempt to have a game night involving all of the kids, we developed a new version that you might dub "Super-Jackson-Uno." You play Uno with the normal rules, except that Jackson can lay any card at any time and it counts. So you have a fun twist just when you least expect it. And it kind worked.
Meanwhile Addy discovered that she loves popcorn.

Sunday game night with popcorn for dinner was a de facto tradition in my house growing up. We used to tease my mom because if we ever asked what we she felt like for dinner, the answer would be "popcorn." I guess we know where Addy inherited it from. ;)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

What's Your Mommy Stereotype?

Recently I have had a lot on my mind, not much of which has made it to my blog. My blog has been mostly relegated to "travel catch-up" and hasn't really been a sounding board for my thoughts recently.

For a while now, I have been mentally wrestling with the idea of what it means to be a good person, specifically what it means to be a good mother. It's easy to feel pressure to conform to some of the mommy stereotypes out there, regardless of which school of thought you subscribe to, and believe me, there are lots to choose from:
  • Susie Homemaker (An oldie but goodie--"Do YOU make your own bread?")
  • Working Mom Who Has and Does it All (Another classic)
  • Completely-Organized-and-Together-and-Always-Prompt-With-a-Perfectly-Clean-House Mom ("I'm SO embarrassed that you dropped by and there's a single toy in my entryway!")
  • Super-Involved Soccer-Mom/School Room-Mother who Volunteers for Every School Event
  • Baby-Wearing Attachment-Parenting Creative Home-Schooling Mommy ("I-wear-my-child-in-a-sling-on-my-hip-until-they-are-three-so-they-will-grow-up-to-be-more-well-adjusted-than-yours")
  • Spiritual Mommy (The one whose seven children sit completely reverently with perfectly combed hair and arms quietly folded at church each Sunday-- whose children LOVE their daily family devotional/scripture time.)
  • Urban Hip Mommy (Looks effortlessly cool as she pushes her designer stroller, sips her Starbucks skinny steamer and fiddles with her iphone while her kids--dressed to the nines in Baby Gap--play at the Children's Museum.)
  • The Hot Momma (A perfect size 4 with flat abs that look like they've never been acquainted with maternity clothes. Wakes up with her make-up done and hair styled. LOVES the gym.)
  • Pillar of the Community Mom (Makes dinner for anyone who has a baby, president of the women's organization at church, serves on the school board or PTA, first to sign up on any service project volunteer list)
  • Mary Poppins Nanny Mother ("Takes them on outings, gives them treats, sings songs, brings sweets. Never is cross or cruel, never gives them castor oil or gruel...")
  • Achievement/Extra-Curricular-Oriented Super-Mommy with AMAZING Children ("Ryder has been so busy preparing again for the engineering competition that he won last year that he hardly has any time left for his cello practice!")
  • Enviro-Conscious Diapers-with-Cloth While Preparing Locavore Meals with Organic Produce Delivered from the Local CSA Mom (Okay, maybe that one is unique to Portland)

I am not saying that any or all of these stereotypes are bad. Most- if not all- of them have some worthy elements to them. But most of the "good mother" stereotypes have one thing in common: they are all equally unattainable for a normal woman who has normal children. I frequently fall prey to feeling like I have to fit one of these stereotypes-- perfectly, no less-- in order to be a "good" mother. Heck, if I'm being completely honest, I think I have at least wanted to be every single one of these stereotypes ALL AT ONCE (some are more out of reach for me than others...).

So back to the question at hand... what makes a good mother? Is it how smart or talented your kids are? How much you volunteer? How clean your house is? I often get stuck on these things. How do you know when "good" is "good enough"? I'm still working on the answers to all of this and when I figure it out I will let you all know-- heck, I'll publish a best-selling book and use the proceeds to hire a personal chef, get daily housecleaning, force my way onto "What Not to Wear" for a wardrobe makeover and spend a couple of months traveling to "discover myself".

But for now I've realized one thing that-- at least for me-- is true. I've been trying to "do" a good mother rather than "be" a good mother. As if somehow doing enough things or fitting a certain stereotype will suddenly make me feel like I have arrived. Motherhood is all about uncertainty. You are raising real people: they have their own free will and make their own choices. There's no way to know if you are doing the right thing or if you responded the right way or were too mean or too lenient or just right. There's no validation fairy that jumps in and says, "Great job! You were really firm in that situation and that's going to make all the difference in your child's life even though now he thinks you're the worst mom ever." Furthermore, you can't control your children or predict what life will throw at you or at them. You can only love them, teach them and do your best. And right now "doing my best" is about being: being loving, being kind, being firm, being "mean" (at least sometimes), being available, and just being there. Being a mother.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Ode to an Empty House (My Mom's Response to My Poem)

My mom wrote the following response to my poem, "Ode to My Messy House." After raising 6 kids who are now all grown and on their own, here is her perspective.

Ode to an Empty House       by Laurel (Karen's mom)
It’s amazing to see a whole house stay so clean
When not one single child all month it has seen.
The dishes are few and the spills don’t exist.
There are many less cleaning chores down on my list.
The bathrooms are tidy, the laundry stays done.
I find I am forced to make messes for fun.
The carpets stay fluffy, the floors keep their shine.
There’s barely a clean-up whenever we dine.
I have so many more hours of free time to spend.
Those years of hard work suddenly came to an end.
The house stays so quiet, each room is so still.
There are so many hours of time I must fill.
And though I am grateful for this stage of ease
And I have to admit that life now is a breeze,
I find that I miss all that chaos and mess
Between lonely and chaos, I like lonely less!
And so I accept the life changes that come.
After thirty plus years my parenting’s done.
But I would gladly take back all the stress and the clutter
Just to have one child ask me for bread and some butter.

For Spring Break...Some Winter!

The kids are on spring break this week. On Tuesday I took the three older kids and two of their friends for a day of tubing on Mt. Hood. In the four years we have lived in Oregon, I have never been to Mt. Hood yet. We went to the Tubing Adventure Park at Mt. Hood Skibowl. They have a tubing hill that is served by a tow lift. It was AWESOME. I loved sledding as a kid, but as a grown-up, having to trudge your way up a hill through knee-deep snow somehow takes the thrill out of it. But if you have a lift-- now that is the way to tube!

As soon as we got there, the kids immediately jumped in the snow and started playing.

Can't wait to get in the snow.
Camryn just can't get enough!

Sliding down the hill, no tubes required.
 Then we got tubes and took got towed to the top of the tubing hill.
Jackson and I spent the day tubing together on a double tube.

The tubing hill.
Looking up the tubing hill from the bottom.

Jackson was in heaven!
Connie after a tubing run.
Riding the tubes up the towing lift.

Jackson riding his tube up the lift.
They even had one tubing run that was carved out into curves so you would go up the sides of the ice walls.
Jared heading down a tubing run.
Connie and Camryn ready to head down the hill.
After our two-hour tubing pass ran out, the kids spent another hour and a half playing in the snow and playing in the indoor kids play area.
Jared and Connie working on a snow fort.
Connie piling up the snow.
Camryn building her defenses for the snowball fight.

The kid-sized snowmobile track (we didn't do this, but it looked fun).
They had an indoor jungle gym with a ball pit. The kids had a fun time burning off whatever energy they had left after tubing.
The indoor jungle gym

A slide and crawling tube.

Okay, so maybe the building for the jungle gym isn't the most posh ever.

Jackson loved digging in the snow.
Camryn in the ball pit.

Obstacle course
There was another "advanced" tubing hill, further up the mountain (right past the play area). However, this hill was not served by a tow lift, so we didn't try it out.
The "advanced" tubing hill
The lodge
Before we could get back into the car the kids had to take one last dive in the snow bank next to our parked car.

One last dive in the snow.
Just to prove I was there too....
P.S. You would think that with a lift I would avoid soreness, but pulling Jackson in his tube across the snow at the bottom of the hill and the top gave my arms a workout!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

An Ode to My Messy House

Rather than diligently using my spring "break" (ha, ha, ha-- to all mothers with kids home from school) for spring cleaning, I thought I might more profitably use my time to complete a poem that's been unfinished for a while (like so many other things in my life.)

An Ode to My Messy House

Oh here’s to the virtues of cooking and cleaning!
To rooms that are tidy and kids that aren’t screaming,
To organized living with style and grace,
a place for each thing and each thing in its place.

Just because these high standards feel out of my reach
doesn’t mean I don’t value the merits of each.
But while cleanliness, neatness and order are nice,
for now other virtues will have to suffice:

Oh here’s to the calmness of quietly sitting!
To resting, enjoying and conscious omitting.
To lingering, laughing, adventures and fun:
All the things that can’t wait till the housework is done.

So while organized living is still “on my list”
I don’t need a spotless house just to exist.
There are virtues enough simply living with zest.
Sometimes a disorganized house can be best.

by Karen, 3/24/2011

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Lake Las Vegas (As Long As I'm Stuck in Last October)

As long as I'm writing about something that happened last October, I'm going to add one more late post into the mix. Actually, when I was looking at pictures for the last Paris post, I found these pictures from the final leg of my October trip. The entire family flew to California for my brother's wedding. Then I flew to London/Paris via New York (where I met up with my friend and travel companion, Ranell). Dave, on the other hand, went to Lake Las Vegas, where he had a two-week training conference for work (the whole reason he couldn't go to Europe with me in the first place).

One of the perks of being required to go to this mandatory training was that at the end of the training, as "compensation" for taking employees from their families for two whole weeks, they flew the entire family out to Lake Las Vegas for the remainder of the weekend, paying for our airfare, hotel and meals. Suh-weet! (Wait a second--- since when is Dave's company interested in "compensating" for time away from the family? I used to keep track of days that Dave had off but worked anyway but lost count after five....) But regardless of past grievances, I wasn't going to turn down the opportunity for a free vacation, even if that free vacation meant braving a two-hour flight alone with four children.

My mom and sister drove me to the San Jose airport to drop me, four kids and bazillion suitcases (full of all of the kids' stuff from two weeks in CA) off.  When we pulled in there was a firetruck blocking the Southwest skycap, so we parked as close as we could and my sister waited in the car with the kids while my mom and I started shuttling all of our bags to the skycap.
I never noticed before that the sign says "For security reasons." Come on! We all know it's so you don't get those people who arrive 30 minutes early to pick up their Aunt Betty and sit blocking the terminal the entire time.
As my mom and I were transporting ten large suitcases to the skycap as quickly as we could, one of the parking police came up to my sister, who was sitting in the car with the bags and children, and asked her to move the car because she had been parked there too long. She tried to explain to him that she was waiting with the children that belonged to her sister who was traveling and active unloading suitcases to check for the flight. She told him that she needed to stay there and wasn't going to move, so the policeman wrote her a ticket.
Parked, as you can see, one sign- or one fire truck's length- away from the Southwest skycap.

My sister was ticked and asked to talk to his supervisor. Before long, we had three police officers and a supervisor congregated outside my mom's minivan, all to take care of this "disturbance" of a woman insisting that she needed to stay parked so her sister could retrieve her children for her flight once her bags were checked.
Responding to the "threat" of a woman waiting for her sister to check bags in a "loading" zone.
The supervisor (who I think was just ticked that my sister was ticked at him) refused to rescind the ticket, insisting that we were parked too far away from the skycap, notwithstanding the fact that there had been a firetruck in the way when we started unloading. Yep, with 4 kids and 10 suitcases we just decided it would be MORE FUN to park far away. So instead we just took pictures of all of the officers and circumstances involved in case they were needed to get the ticket revoked in court (they weren't). (Did I mention that my sister's a lawyer and you shouldn't mess with her?)

The happy supervisor who insisted that we were parked too far from the Southwest counter to be unloading.
After finally checking our bags, I braved the security lines with four kids, three carry-ons, two carseats, one stroller and a partridge in a pear tree. (Sheesh! I'm sure having to work for this free vacation....)
At least two children were old enough to carry their own backpacks!

Those pack mules ain't got nothin' on me!
We finally made it onto the plane, survived the flight and made it to Vegas. We met up with our driver who took us to beautiful Lake Las Vegas. We soon found out why Dave's company was willing to pay for a hotel room for family out for the end of his conference. Lake Las Vegas-- a beautiful resort development-- was a product of the real estate bubble. Conceived when Las Vegas real estate was at its peak, now several of the hotels there are in bankruptcy and sit empty and those that remain have some screaming killer deals on rooms. Nonetheless, it's a beautiful, if somewhat deserted, would-be resort.

On Friday night, Dave and I went to a dinner while the kids went to company-provided child care (okay, so maybe it was worth the plane flight with four kids). On Saturday we did some sight-seeing. We drove into Las Vegas and took the kids to the Adventuredome at Circus Circus for a ride on the indoor roller coaster. Dave took a video of his and Jared's ride on the roller coaster on his phone. This is still Jackson's all-time entertain-myself-on-dad's-phone-when-he-gets-tired-of-trying-to-keep-me-quiet video.
Going up the roller coaster.
Waiting for the "bid kids" to get off the roller coaster.
We then went into Circus Circus to see the free Circus shows. We saw some clowns doing a juggling show and a pretty great troupe of acrobats. We also established that Circus Circus is every bit as musty and trashy (with dank-smelling motel carpets) as it was when my family stopped by to go to the buffet once on a drive home from visiting grandparents in St. George.
Juggling clowns!
The acrobats doing their thing.
They made it look so easy and even did it to a reggae soundtrack!
After our quick stint on the roller coaster and the circus show (and deciding that trying to take four kids to see a show wasn't worth the $$/potential for disaster) we decided that we really aren't Vegas people and headed back to our abandoned resort community to swim.
Jared and Cam soaking up what was left of the sun.
Who needs Vegas? I've got a pool!
"Okay. It's not THAT warm."

After the pool, we got cleaned up and headed to one of the resort restaurants for dinner. We got a patio table overlooking the green. Even Jackson behaved reasonably well.

When we finished our dinner we sat out on the grass to enjoy the free jazz performance. I wish I remember the singer's name. She rocked out.

Jared grooving to live jazz.
Yet another self-taken photo.
On Sunday morning we went out to feed the birds in the plaza area of the resort with some free bread we got from the convenience store the night before (the man gave it to us with the suggestion that we could use it to feed the birds). I think this was one of the trip highlights for the kids. (Yep, we flew all the way to Vegas so we could feed some birds.)
Feeding the birds.
Lake Las Vegas
Feeding the ducks
We walked around the grounds of the resort and fed some ducks (in addition to the pigeons we fed at breakfast).
Before long, our weekend jaunt (Can you call any trip with 10 suitcases and four kids a "jaunt"?) was over and it was time to head to the airport. Waiting in line and braving the flight with four kids is much easier with another adult. (Let me just say that Dave was duly impressed that I did it by myself on the way there.)
Headed home.