Ride the Coaster

Like a lot of adults over 30, I did not get to choose how I spent my birthday this year. So, there I was, celebrating at Valleyfair in Shakopee, Minnesota, home of Wild Thing, a rollercoaster that goes as high in the air as it can without interfering with incoming aircraft, reaching speeds higher than most states allow on any interstate freeway.

I am not even remotely an adrenaline junkie. In fact, my idea of a rush is not wearing my life jacket on a pontoon ride. But instead of fighting against the tide of my family’s excitement, I tried to make the best of it while setting very clear boundaries.

More than once, I declared, “It’s my birthday, and I will not be bullied into doing anything I don’t want to do.”

A strong backbone only goes so far in the face of a begging 8 year old, so luckily, I had an even better excuse to refuse to ride – my 5 year old. She is the perfect size for the Planet Snoopy rides but just a couple inches shy of the minimum for the more intense rides.

“You guys go,” I said to my husband and oldest daughter. “I’ll stay with her.”

It made me feel like a good mom. The little one was happy I was with her. Dad and big sister got to ride all the rides they wanted. I didn’t have to do anything that scared me. It was a win-win-win-win. Or so I thought.

Every so often, they circled back with us, eyes lit up like matching blue fireworks, smiles plastered across their faces.

“Steel Venom is the best!”

“That’s my favorite so far too! Should we do the Rip Cord?”

“Yeah! But let’s not do the Starship again. That was boring.”

“We should definitely go on Delirious though, and the Corkscrew again for sure.”

The two of them were speaking a language I didn’t understand. I started to feel like I was missing out as they took off for more adventures.

I waved to the little one as she rode up and down on the Kite-Eating Tree, but my eyes kept wandering over to the coasters.

I used to like this stuff. Maybe I should just do it.

My heart fluttered. Butterflies started dancing in my stomach. I could hear my heartbeat as my breath quickened ever so slightly.

Nah, forget it.

How often do we as moms do this? We “opt out” to watch the little ones. We use our motherly duties as an excuse to not take risks, or do scary things, or get out of our comfort zones. And, many times, we do so happily, convinced we are doing what is right, what is expected, and something no one can argue with.

I’m calling B.S.

Not on sitting out at Valleyfair – on sitting out at life. We have to stop using our kids as scape-goats.

Of course, there are legitimate times we need to tag out. Nobody wants to see you run a marathon with a newborn strapped to your chest. But if you are beyond that mentally and physically consuming stage of motherhood, step back and ask yourself if you are using your kids as an excuse not to try.

Being a mom takes a ton of time and energy, but it also builds invaluable skills that are needed in every aspect of our world. If you are a mom, you are a peacemaker, a rule-maker, an educator, a caretaker, a quick-thinking problem solver, and a hell of a strategist. If you weren’t, there is no way you could hold your head up long enough to read this. We need moms – like you and me – to be out there following our callings, building bridges, uniting communities.

If we “opt out” and use motherhood as an excuse, what is that saying to our kids, especially our daughters? Be a mom OR… something else. You can’t do both. I don’t know about you, but this is not the message I want my daughters to receive.

I want my daughters to know you can be an awesome mom AND…

…have a career.

…compete in sports.

…volunteer in your community.

….advocate for something you believe in.

…do something for no other reason than you love it and it’s fun.

So how do you ensure they are receiving the right message? It’s not by reigning them in and never letting them leave your sight. It’s by doing. By setting an example. By showing them that you can be a mom, this magical person who cures all ills, AND.

We cannot afford to have moms sitting on the sidelines. We have to play the game. We have to ride the Wild Thing.

And I did, literally. I screamed…a lot. I giggled…a lot. I thought I was going to throw up for a few seconds. But I know I made my daughter proud, and that was worth every terrifying second.

The Lazy Composter

Do you ever put something off because you think it is going to be really hard, but then when you finally do it, it was actually not that bad? Maybe it’s working out, finishing a work project, giving birth (okay, that really is THAT BAD). Recently for me, it was composting.

I love the Earth. I know, we all do, right? But I’ve really been making an effort to be more green in lots of small ways. I try not to use one-time use plastic. I’ve quit buying disposable water bottles. I’m trying to push a green agenda at the office. And for several years now, I’ve wanted to start composting. We eat fresh fruits and vegetables like they are going out of style. Throwing away all those carrot peels and apple cores makes me feel sick. All that biodegradable stuff is just stuck in a plastic bag to go fill up the landfills.

So this year for Mother’s Day, my gift was a composter! I was so excited to have the whole family on board, especially my husband because (let’s be real) a lot of the work was going to fall on him. I’m the house spouse. He’s the yard spouse. It works for us.

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We ended up ordering this bad boy from Costco online. If you get this one, be sure to summon all your patience before putting it together. It’s a bit of a bugger at first. It’s 100% recycled plastic with two different bins so you can let one pile do its thing and still have a place to put your stuff. It spins, so there is no need to stir the compost once you put it in the bin. It looks like it would smell bad, but it really doesn’t. I mean, I didn’t stick my head in there or anything, but when you open up a bin of hot garbage, you would expect an odor. But, nope! It’s not bad at all.

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This one comes with two separate sides, so you can add to one side and leave the other side to “brew.”

For the house, we got this cute one gallon pail with a charcoal filter. Looks cute, works well, and most importantly – no smell and hence, no fruit flies. The inner black bucket comes out, so it’s easy to carry it out to the composter (or that’s what the hubby tells me). I’m kind of kidding. I have taken the bucket out there myself several times, and I certainly could do it every time. It’s just that he always seems to be going out there to do something anyway, so it just makes sense, right?

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The gallon size is big, but I find it the right size for us with all the veggie prep we do.

So, what do we put in it? Coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable peels and cores, egg shells, grass clippings (some), and sawdust. No meat, no dairy, no salad dressing, no fats like oil and butter. That stuff makes the bin smell bad and attracts critters. Our bin came with a really handy yes/no sheet, which we looked at 5,000 times the first day and not even once since then.

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Smell has not been a factor, but I also think coffee grounds help with that.

 

We decided to get a compost starter to get things moving a little faster. We just added a couple tablespoons of the microbes to the bin and gave it a few spins.

Composting is so much easier than I ever thought it would be. I am sad I waited so long to start, but I’m really glad I finally jumped in and did it. You could do it too!

The Tightrope of Parenting

I participate in a group at church in which parents get together to discuss random life challenges while our kids attend Sunday School. Even though I can’t tell you the names of half the people in the group (and it’s like 5 people), I truly look forward to the conversations each week. I always end up learning something.

One week, a mom relayed a story about her preteen son getting into a fight. Or, rather, getting punched. Her reaction was very different from that of her husband. She was horrified by the fact that this happened at all and wanted to talk it out with the aggressor’s family. Her husband thought their son needed to stand up for himself and was disappointed he didn’t return the punch. As a group, none of us knew which one was right, and the mom herself had mixed feelings. Initially, I chalked this up as one more reason I’m happy I have two girls – less likelihood for physical confrontation. But that’s a stereotype, and even if it’s statistically true, having daughters does not make me immune from being faced with tough parenting choices.

Parenting is like walking a tightrope without a net. It’s a constant balance between being a confidant and a disciplinarian. The one who calms fears and the one who commands respect. The arms that hold you and the arms that push you forward. Should we shelter them from the storm or push them out into the rain? My philosophy sounds something like this – let them watch the rain from indoors while you teach them to build their own umbrella.

We can’t stop the rain from falling or the punches from being thrown. All we can do is build up our children so they are able to decide for themselves how to handle it when it happens. We may or may not agree with how it turns out, but at least the situation was theirs to own. They’ll never learn from our mistakes the way they will learn from their own. Our job is to help them process it all. Teach them to breathe. Help them discover who they are.

Kids are not a demonstration of our successful parenting techniques. They are people with personalities, tendencies, and genetic intricacies we will never fully understand. To think we can form them like balls of clay is absurd, and if you try, you will be constantly frustrated. Instead, let us treat them like the individuals they are, leading them down the wide path of human decency, making room for the millions of ways there are to walk it.

Easier said than done, I know…

Easy Roasted Sweet Potatoes for Lunch

I never liked sweet potatoes growing up. They were weird and mushy, and people would always try to cloak them in marshmallows. I wasn’t going to fall for it. Then one day, I met the rustic, vibrant, self-assured tuber that is the roasted sweet potato. Allow me to introduce you as well.

How to make them:

Preheat over to 425.

Peel, then dice 2-3 sweet potatoes into relatively similarly-sized pieces*.

Put potatoes on oiled cookie sheet.

Drizzle or spray oil over potatoes.

Add salt and pepper.

Mix by hand until evenly coated.

Roast in oven for 20-30 minutes or until fork tender and slightly browned.

*If you scrub the skin well, you don’t have to peel them, but most people prefer them without skin.

Once you have roasted the sweet potatoes, your options are endless. They last a week in the fridge and can be reheated as a simple side. They also add great body to chili (recipe to come). One of my favorite combinations, though, is roasted sweet potato and a runny egg yolk. Mmmmmm. So good. So healthy.

Want to add a little extra? Roast up some diced bell pepper with the sweet potato. Add avocado on top of the egg. Use some hot sauce.

Lunch is served.

I’m Done with Perfection-Induced Hatred

Hello there, mom with a baby on your hip, hair cut stylishly to your chin with bangs sweeping gently across your perfectly threaded eyebrows. You patiently smile at your toddler, crawling around your platform booties, reaching up toward your new Kate Spade bag. The wide windows of your recently built home backlight your silhouette, curved in every spot it should be and nowhere that it shouldn’t.

Today, I make you this promise. I will not hate you for being perfect. I will not tear you down for waking up early to go out for a run or to make a green smoothie. I will not judge you for paying attention to fashion trends or question you for being able to live on less sleep than a giraffe. I will not envy you for being able to work full-time or stay home more than full-time with the grace of Dutchess Kate. And I will not resent you for being better at social media photography than I will ever be.

I’m done with perfection-induced hatred. It’s hurtful for you and me personally, and for women in general. Henceforth, I shall respect the game you bring to Insta, learn from the organic treats you provide at Girl Scouts, and engage with you like the human being you are. I will not measure myself against you anymore. This world needs us both.

Get a Massage – 3 Things You Should Know

I am an expert at receiving massages. My qualifications include receiving many massages, talking about receiving massages, and now, writing about receiving massages. Recently, I was directed my a medical professional to get a massage every other week. It was by and large the most welcomed medical advice I have ever received.

Assuming you are not one of those people who doesn’t like to get massages (Note: the only reason I know these unicorns exist is because I’m related to one  – not by blood though, and I think that matters), receiving a professional massage is something you MUST do. If you have never had a professional massage, there are three things you should know.

  1. You will be almost completely naked with a stranger.

Don’t worry! You get undressed by yourself (most people keep their undies on) and you are under the warm sheets before the massage therapist comes back into the room. The sheet will cover your entire body except for the part that is currently being massaged. Most massage therapists are really great about maintaining your modesty and even look the other way when you roll over onto your stomach, which they typically direct you to do halfway through. And don’t worry about being cold, the table warmer is delightful.

  1. There will be good ones and bad ones.

Take recommendations from people you trust to find a good one. You will have your fair share of bad massages. They typically involve chasing some sort of groupon deal and ending up at an abandoned strip mall in a room where the music cuts in and out, the sheets are scratchy, and flannel blankets are nailed over the windows as curtains. You will be fairly certain you entered a serial killer’s den and instead of relaxing, you will spend the entire massage gauging exactly how loud you would have to scream for anyone to hear you. It’s not just the atmosphere though. The massage therapist is a heavy nose breather. It will be like his nostrils are too small, but he doesn’t want to breath through his mouth, so the velocity and overall force of the nose-breathing is out of control. *Shudder* This is the last time you buy a groupon massage.

You will likely also run into the Feather Duster, the Punisher, the Yogi, and the Jabberbox. You can tell the Feather Duster you like deep pressure, but she’ll never touch your knots. You might as well have your six year old niece give you a massage. It’s cheaper. The Punisher does the opposite. She will take out all of her aggression on you, tempting your reflex to punch her in the gut, but if you breathe through it, you will feel so good afterwards.

The Yogi spends more time stretching your limbs than massaging them, which can be nice, but maybe not what you paid for, and the Jabberbox is, well, chatty. The good thing about the Jabberbox is that you can usually shut that down pretty easily by just not responding or politely saying, “this feels so good, I just can’t even talk.” (Only 1 out of 10 times will that backfire and cause him to quit doing such a good job in favor of a conversation.)

A lot of massages will be Chicken Salad. Good, but not memorable. The memorable ones will probably be the Free Spirit and the Hobbyist. The Free Spirit believes massage is her calling, and she’ll treat you like the spiritual being you are. Aromatherapy concoctions chosen specifically for your aura, a complementary psychic reading, and she might even walk on your back as she practices the ancient art of ashiatsu massage. Oh, and she’ll think you are weird for leaving your underwear on.

Now, the Hobbyist. Don’t fault the Hobbyists. Being a massage therapist is usually an entrepreneurial situation, and the Hobbyists need to maintain a separate full-time job to pay the bills. The good news is the Hobbyist is usually very talented and passionate about massage. The problem is that she doesn’t have the time to work on the business aspect. So you arrive, maybe at her home massage studio, and she is not there. Your body is now shaking with disappointment, which makes you feel like an indulgent princess, sending you through the McDonald’s drive through for a conciliatory ice cream. Halfway through your McFlurry, she calls, saying she got hung up at her job and could you come back over. You do, of course, and she cuts your massage short since it’s now time to get supper on the table.

  1. It is worth it.

Someday, you will find the Perfect Professional massage therapist. He will talk just enough at the beginning to make you feel comfortable, then shut up. She will make you breathe through deep pressure when it benefits you, but ensure you walk out feeling relaxed instead of beat up. He will use the right amount of oil, leaving you feeling moisturized but not slimy. She will ensure the music is relaxing, continuous, and not interrupted by Pandora commercials. He will focus on your problem areas, but always make time for your feet. She will send you out the door with a bottle of water. Most importantly, you will feel amazing.

 

Read These 10 Books in 2019

I have always loved to read. I love the smell of books, and I would have a library in my house if we had the space for it. As it is, I encouraged my husband (i.e. demanded) that we install a “book nook” under the staircase of our basement when we finished it, which we did a few months ago. It is the coziest, most peaceful area of our house now, and I only wish I had a couple free hours to spend in it every day.

As much as I love to read, I’m not in a book club (I like to pick my out my own), and I can’t say I finish 52 books a year like some people I know. I’m also not one of those people who, once I start a book, will finish it no matter what. With so many great books out there, why waste your time reading a book you aren’t getting anything out of? Life’s too short.

Below is a list of books I got a lot out of in 2018. You should read them too.

1. Girl Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

If you are an adult female, chances are you have already read this. Rachel Hollis has gotten a ton of hype in 2018, and I think she deserves every bit of it. She’s authentic and encourages others to be the same. This book is relatable and energizing. I blasted through it on a long weekend vacation and would gladly read it again.

2. Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

If you have never read or listened to Brene (rhymes with Renae) Brown before, get ready for your outlook on life to change. As a researcher and storyteller, Brene makes the topics of shame and vulnerability approachable in everyday life. I actually listened to this book rather than read it, and then I listened to everything else in the Brene Brown universe I could get my hands on. Absolutely captivating and insightful. I can’t wait to read her new book, Dare to Lead.

3. Speed of Trust by Stephen R. Covey

I read this one with a group at work over the course of the year. It is an old book, rich with quotes and observations on the power of trust in all types of relationships. It was good fodder for work-related discussions, as it became apparent that any relationship building must start with building and maintaining trust.

4. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F$ck

I have found that some books use swear words in their titles or text to draw your attention, and then have nothing real to say. Not so with this one. My husband bought it based on a recommendation, then I stole it and read it before he noticed it was gone. I can’t say I agreed with everything in it, but there were a lot of observations in it that made me pause and think about things a little differently than I would have before.

5. Quiet by Susan Cain

The subtitle of this one is The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, but it is less of a “self help for introverts” and more of a research book told in first person narrative. It’s readable, but it’s dense with research, so I have taken my time with it. Honestly, I’m still reading it, but as an introvert, I have found it so interesting that I thought it was worth putting on the list.

6. Anything by Dr. Seuss

Just take the time to read anything by Dr. Seuss, whether or not you have kids. Read it out loud. It is so much fun and guaranteed to bring you joy.

7. What is the Bible? by Rob Bell

Rob Bell is a pastor with a somewhat unique view of Christianity and the Bible. In this book, he brings together history and Biblical text in an easily understandable, awe-inspiring way. If you want to learn more about the Bible in a non-preachy, contemporary way, check this out.

8. Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander

Another religious one, Dr. Alexander, a Neurosurgeon, wrote a book about his near-death experience. He talks about visiting different levels of the spiritual realm and discusses how his experiences changed him from being an atheist to a believer. It will give you weird dreams, but it’s fascinating.

9. I Was Told to Come Alone by Souad Mekhennet

This book, written by an experienced international journalist, is subtitled My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad. It is not a quick read, especially because there are a lot of names to keep straight, but it is worth every minute if you want to understand more about the Middle East and the role of the US there now and in the past. Ms. Mekhennet takes you behind the scenes into dangerous scenarios and shows the guts it takes to be a journalist in today’s world.

10. Becoming by Michelle Obama

I LOVE Michelle Obama, so I was ecstatic when she came out with an autobiography. After an internal debate, I opted to listen to the audiobook rather than read it since she narrates it herself. It is phenomenally well-written, and it’s easy candor makes you forget that knowing this level of detail about a presidential family’s life is unprecedented. Michelle continues to be as authentic and clear-headed as she always seemed in the White House. This book has brought me to tears, made me laugh, and made me realize that Michelle and I would be really great friends, which came as no surprise, of course.

It is strange to me that the only fiction I am recommending is Dr. Seuss. I always say that fiction is my favorite, but the only fiction I seem to read these days is children’s fiction. It’s possible that I am at a point in my life where it feels overly indulgent to slip into a fantasy world when there is so much to learn about the world we all inhabit and about what makes us all tick.

What about you? What kinds of books did you read in 2018? What do you recommend?

Adventures in Potty Training

I’d read all the books and had tricks up my sleeve
I knew she would do it if we’d all just believe.

The neighbor boy was trained starting at 1.
His mom told me, straight-faced, “Don’t worry, it’s fun!

And you have a girl? Oh yeah, what a snap!”
But I’ll tell you one thing – She was so full of crap.

We started with “boot camp,” then stickers and charts
Bribing with candy – each one a false start.

Pull-ups, bare bottom, or fancy underwear,
She went where she wanted, she just didn’t care.

“What’s wrong with you?” I’d scream. “You’re almost 3!”
“Seriously, Mom, who cares where I pee?”

(Ok, this isn’t word for word
But basically, that’s what I heard.)

Then one day, I’m inspecting a wrinkle
When from behind me, I hear it – a tinkle!

“Baby! You did it! This is more than sublime.”
“Yeah, like I said, Mom, all in due time.”

Should I Have More Kids?

I can’t tell you how many hours, days, and even years I have spent brain wrestling myself over this one. But finally, I found my answer. Not with the flip of a switch, but gradually, like waiting in the half-darkness of a neighborhood bonfire, moving my lawn chair around as I squinted through the smoke, finally seeing the white hot embers of a fire in ideal marshmallow-roasting condition.

That’s how I found my answer. Spoiler alert: I didn’t find yours. If you are looking for someone to answer this question for you, let me send you a coupon for a magic 8-ball. While I don’t have answers for you, I can relate, and I will give you advice. I know what these brain-wrestling matches look like, and maybe the questions that helped me the most can help you too.

First, I want to acknowledge the privilege of being able to ponder this question. The ability to conceive a child when you want to is a gift that so many people have not been given. I write this post knowing it is a moot question for too many. Truth be told, it was one reason I felt like I should have more kids. For all those moms-in-waiting who can’t have their babies or lose their babies or continue to wait for their babies, why would I not want to have more kids? What greater gift is there than growing life inside your own body? Take advantage of that privilege, dummy! On the other hand, I am one of few women I know who has not had to face the loss of a pregnancy. And why, when I have two healthy children, why would I want to risk that? Be satisfied with what you have, dummy!

As someone who has made this impossible decision, here’s my advice to you.

1. Listen to Your Heart

I remember one mom of three telling me that after she had two, “I looked in the rear view mirror, and I just knew there was an empty seat. Our family wasn’t complete.” How magical is that? I thought for sure I would have that feeling too.
After my first, I said to everyone who would listen, it’s going to be a LONG time before I do that again. But 3 years later when I laid eyes on my second daughter, I felt it so clearly, we are definitely going to do this again. (Apparently, planned C-sections don’t illicit the same snarky exhaustion as a 30 hour labor). But here we are, over four years later, and we haven’t done it again. And we won’t. The heart may be your guide, but it’s fickle.

2. Listen to Your Head

Think about the risks. Do you or your partner have any health issues? How have your other pregnancies been? How old are you?
Let’s be real. Since I’m talking to women who already have a child or two here, please consider that you are needed. If your last pregnancy almost physically killed you or mentally wore you down to the brink of a breakdown, consider that. Your pre-existing kid(s) need you.

3. Listen to Your Wallet

I know, this is so lame. But kids are expensive! Now, if you are one of those families who thrives on minimalism, makes your own clothes, and considers coupon-cutting an exciting Sunday afternoon, kudos to you! I sincerely admire that. But for the rest of you shameful consumers like me, things add up. Sometimes it is not even the things you choose, but it’s things like medical bills or high-priced organic hemp baby formula. The point is, the expenses can be unpredictable, so make sure you are prepared to take it on. Financial stress is toxic and truly is no laughing matter.

4. Listen to Your Family

If your partner in life is adamant about having or not having more kids, you need to listen. What are they truly seeking? Why do they feel so strongly?
And of course, listen to your existing kids. It might not be in their words (if they even have words yet), but you likely have an inkling as to how full your hands are. What will be the effect of another sibling on your existing ones?
Don’t forget about the grandparents if you are lucky enough to have them. Especially if they are heavily involved with the children and/or you depend on them for childcare on a regular basis, the effect on them should probably be considered. The status of your support system (i.e. the proverbial “village” that it takes) is a key factor in raising healthy children.

5. Keep Listening

Sometimes it is hard to hear your own voice over the din of other people’s opinions. Keep trying. Ask yourself, am I making my decision for the wrong reasons? As a lawyer, I fully understand we could argue all day about what the definition of a “wrong” reason is, but as a woman and a mother, might I suggest that the only wrong reason is one that’s not your own.
If you’re not having more kids because you are terrified every time the child you have gets a cold and you know deep down that your heart can’t handle more sleepless nights, then who is to say that’s the wrong reason?
If you want to have four kids because you can’t stand the thought of an odd number, who is to say that’s the wrong reason?
If you’ve always longed for an idyllic holiday season when a big group of adult children comes home to reunite, who can say that’s the wrong reason?

I think all we can do is acknowledge that this decision will be different for each family. In the end, there are just as many pros as cons, but the weight of those pros and cons depends upon who you are, what you believe, and what your circumstances are.
For me, I got comfortable with occasionally doubting my decision not to have another kid. Some days, I can tangibly feel that doubt coursing through me, my arms aching for the weight of a sleeping baby. But eventually, it shakes off of me somehow…
I guess the high-pitched screaming about who hit who first and whose turn it is with the remote kind of helps.

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