Saturday, March 28, 2009

Happy Birthday J-Ro



Because you of all people understand the quandary of wanting to mail a birthday card compared to the actuality of mailing it, please consider this our warm, loving birthday greeting. All of us in our humble mouse house hope your birthday is simply *grand*.



little things

I had never heard the expression, " The devil is in the details" until I watched the 2003 remake of The Italian Job. I love this movie. Anyone who knows me, knows this is an anomaly. I am not an action movie kinda girl.




Love it.

This expression is a favorite of Donald Sutherland's character, John Bridger. The viewer is lead to make the conclusion that this was one of John Bridger's personal memes... wisdom he has imparted to those closest to him. When the viewer hears Bridger's daughter utter it later in the movie, you know her goose is cooked. The insight is that failure is contingent on the details.

Details are what sets things apart. I love details, almost to the point of being fixated. Any domestic unbliss I have experienced has generally caused by my family's lack of attention to details, hence, the devil is in the details. They manage to hobble through doing the dishes, folding the clothes, fill-in
-the-blank, but only in the widest sense of accomplishing the task. Details are so ingrained in my makeup that I can't begin to understand neglecting them. Discord ensues. (On a related note, this is something I am working on, in the most Serenity Now fashion.)

As someone who lives for minutia, when I consider that there are days that I be-bop through life in a cloud, I am disconcerted. Well, let me qualify that. I know there's stuff I miss all the time. I only have so many brain cells to devote to any one element, and some days it isn't near enough. It's not the details that I am concerned about missing; it's noticing the little things.

When we step back from the daily grind that is our lives, we see that all the sparkling gems in life are the little things. If our lives are balanced, little things are something we give and receive. It's via the little things that we are able to express and appreciate our love and care for each other. Sometimes we do little things for the important mice in our lives and sometimes they are for total strangers. The funny thing about doing little things is that it feels good on both ends.

The little things are just that... little. They are things like having (Lipton) onion dip when your sister visits, never running out of vodka or listening to your loved one's stories for the 67th time and acting like it's the first time. They aren't hard things, but they are the things that are important to the other person. It tells them you care.

The tricky part is appreciating these things. If a stranger holds a door for you, you are thankful. Are you thankful when the door holder is your husband? Maybe not as much. We have certain expectations from those closest to us. It's part of the give-and-take that makes up our relationships. That shouldn't preclude us from noticing these things.

One of nicest things Countrymouse does for me is to bring me my morning coffee. We have a tacit understanding. I set up the coffee to grind and brew the night before (because I have an awesome coffee maker that will do that) and he brings a cup upstairs for each of us in the morning. I don't know if I have ever told him how much I appreciate this. Sure, I could get my own coffee easy enough, but it's the fact that I don't have to that makes it that much better. This simple act is a little thing, for sure. What makes it a little thing and not just something that gets done is that Countrymouse knows coffee is the nectar of the gods for me and he indulges me by expediting my lovefest every morning. He does it because it's special to me. Very likely, this would not be special to you. That's okay... that's the beauty of little things.

When we let all the craziness life can bring get in our way, we forget to notice the little things or at least appreciate them. This is what I find disheartening. I don't want to be *that person* but sometimes I am. I have a friend that lives her life with an "Attitude of Gratitude". I think the central sagacity wrapped up in this maxim covers every aspect of life. Viewing things with a filter of gratitude is liberating. It frees us from all the fiery darts society tries to hurl at us and the ones we hurl at ourselves. For most of us, this is easier said than done. It can be done, however. The best place to start is with a thank you.

(The video below doesn't have anything to do with the good little things I am talking about, but I can't pass up the opportunity to share it because it is such a great song. This is from the movie, Wanted, which, ironically, is another action movie I loved. Hmmm... maybe it's time to reassess the types of movies I really do like...)



Thursday, March 26, 2009

courage

Courage is one of those words that means different things to different people. What is courage? When you are small and faced with sleeping alone in the dark, you are told you are courageous. Standing up to the neighborhood bully takes courage. So does starting your life all over again.

My take on what courage is has changed over the years, much as my take on life in general. I was the *big sister* growing up, but I never felt like anyone looked to me for courage or support. My two brothers are closest to me in age and, frankly, I think they were always tougher than I was. My two youngest siblings are my sisters. I was way too old to really give them any strength when it was needed. I think I have been strong for my own children, but a mother's courage is a breed of its own. I remember jacking up some kid on a playground when pup #1 was about 1 1/2 years old. After it was all over, I felt a strange combination of feelings. I was almost euphoric that I actually stood up to the kid (even though he was about 12) and yet, I was slightly embarrassed that I had exercised my *adulthood* over him. The other part of this story was that it took place on a playground in Baltimore City and I was dealing with a would-be thug; but that is besides the point. I think mothers, willing or not, brave all sorts of dilemmas for their offspring.

My brother is someone I consider courageous. While he hasn't always handled himself in ways that I thought were courageous, I think when he was truly tested, he showed his true self. Out of nowhere, in the prime of his life, he had the rug pulled out from under him. He was diagnosed with cancer... you know, that word we all say in whispers, but are secretly glad we're talking about someone else. By the time he found out about it, it was fairly well-advanced. Someone with less fortitude would have thrown in the towel. He didn't. He maintained his *normal* life (if there is such a thing when you have the big *C* on your plate) and really never missed a beat. I know The Love of His Life suffered along with him, in all the obvious ways and then some. I went to visit him before his big surgery. He met me at the airport. I remember being shocked at how good he looked. He faced down his cancer with strength and courage and believing. He didn't get through it totally unscathed, but he did get through it. A lesser man wouldn't be here today. I hope if I am ever faced with something of that magnitude, I can be as courageous.

Countrymouse's brother serves in the US Navy. He has been in the Navy for what seems like forever. I don't think any of the pups remember when he was a civilian. In today's climate, it takes courage to stand for your country. I admire every one of our soldiers, regardless of the motivation that got them there. The bottom line is, if they are called upon, they will serve. It takes courage to lay your head on your pillow every night not knowing what will be required of you come morning.

Countrymouse's brother (a countrymouse in his own right, I might add) has two pups of his own. They are wonderful kids. I wish we saw more of them, but they are West Coast mice and we are East Coast mice. Recently, his daughter entered an essay contest. (That alone gets kudos from me. My pups would rather be sold into slavery than write something for *fun*.) The topic was courage. Her essay won in her age group. Countrymouse's brother, being the proud papa mouse that he is, sent a copy to their mother and it eventually made it's way to me. The essay was the heartfelt writing of a little girl. Reading it aloud to Countrymouse, my voice kept cracking because it stirred me. I know I can be sappy, but I was moved at the simple insight she offered. She writes about her father's courage, but in it she displays her own. (Bravo, little one!)



I woke up knowing that something was gone. It was something funny, kind, crazy and brave. That something was my Dad. My Dad is courageous because he is in the Navy and helps protect our country. He has to do all sorts of things in his job like fighting fires on the ship. If a fire starts, he has to put on his heavy gear and mask and go into small spaces that are filled with flames. Another part of his job is protecting the ship when it is in port. He stands guard duty with a gun to make sure that the ship is secure. I think it takes courage to be on a ship that goes into a war zone. It also take courage to fight a war that some people think the United States shouldn't be doing. Most of all it takes courage to be away from your family for a long time. My Dad had to be really brave when he said goodbye to us and so did I.

Facing the unknown, whether it's the dark or some unspoken evil takes courage. Sometimes the simplest display of courage is just taking action. Eleanor Roosevelt, of whom I generally am not a big fan, said "You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do." Simply put, courage takes place one act at a time.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

clubs




How many clubs do you belong to? I don’t mean clubs like the Moose or the Elks, although they might not like being called a “club”. I think the proper term is a “fraternal organization”. Countrymouse was an Elk for several years when the pups were younger. While the Elks actually embody all the precepts he holds dear (and at the risk of being black-balled from any future membership), we joined so our pups could use the pool. I’m talking about the clubs that we just find ourselves in. Since clubs are technically the formal association of people with similar interests, it’s almost an oxymoron to say we are in clubs we don’t join. Nevertheless, this, in actuality, is what happens.


For instance, as I’ve mentioned, I drive a Wrangler. Without ever signing up for a membership, I am part of the Wrangler club. Some Wrangler drivers really embrace this membership; while others, I’m sure, think it silly. I think these reluctant members drive all the new, fancy Wranglers. You know, like the Wrangler Unlimited, that actually has 4 doors. Sacrilege! (I am a Jeep purist. I won’t let Countrymouse put doors with glass windows on my Jeep because it just wouldn’t be right.) Members of the Wrangler club do “the wave”. We each have our own special take on this. Mine is sorta the “I’m cool” upwards flick of the left wrist on the steering wheel. The really cool ones involve waving from above the windshield when the top is off. I can’t seem to master this. I always feel like I look like I am on a rollercoaster ride. I didn’t know about this club until I started driving the Wrangler. (Notice I say Wrangler and not Jeep. This club is only open to Wrangler drivers. Don’t try waving if you drive a Grand Cherokee or a Liberty. People will just think you are being friendly.) These days if I pass another Wrangler and don’t wave, I feel like I’ve slighted my fellow Wrangler club member. (Makes the whole shifting gears-drinking coffee-talking on my cell phone-thing even trickier.)


I wasn’t totally surprised about the Wrangler Wave, even though I had no idea it existed. Several years before I got the Wrangler I got my motorcycle license. On my first *long* trip (meaning a whopping 50 miles), I passed lots of fellow cyclers (I say cyclers and not bikers because I think there’s a difference). Every last one of them waved at me. This wave is more of an extend your arm all the way out with your hand pointed toward the pavement… maybe like where your arm might be as you start a jumping jack. I mentioned this to Countrymouse when I got home. His reaction was “duh”. He’d been driving a motorcycle for years by this point. Maybe it’s a guy thing, but I am sure even with my helmet on I looked like a girl, so it was no mistake. Needless to say, guy thing or not, I began waving my little citymouse heart out.


There’s the twin club too. Pups #4 and #5 are twins. I remember when they were newborns, I would have absolute strangers walk up to me (interestingly enough, without any pups of their own in tow) and say, “Oh honey, hang in there… it gets easier.” There was some comfort in hearing that, even if it was mixed with my own sleep-deprived cynicism. I found some reassurance in knowing there was this silent sorority cheering me on. I knew that I was a full-fledged member of this club when I myself walked up to a lady in Wal-Mart and uttered those very same words. Seeing her deer-in-the-headlight look made me wonder what my own face had looked like so many years earlier. I knew it would get easier, even if she didn’t. I knew she would remember my words one day… the day she embraced her own membership by welcoming someone new to the club.


My niece belongs to a club. She belongs to the Military Wives club. I only can speak from observation about this club, but I am confident of its existence. When her husband was still in basic training, she immersed herself in this sisterhood. I was astounded that she learned so much about military life without having ever lived on a base or having had to navigate any of its systems. The universal bond among these women brought on by one common choice was enough to join them. Obviously, this club is different from the Wrangler Wave club… screwing up the wave has no impact on my life. Not knowing the ins and outs of military life could be devastating. The women in this club have a deeper motivation than the subtle nod and wink Wrangler drivers share. It’s a kindhearted mission.


Club membership, by choice or tacit affiliation, generally is positive thing. It can be nothing more than a way to say I like your style, like driving a motorcycle or Wrangler, I feel your pain (twin parenthood), or we’re in this together like the military wives. Even if something tragic has prompted your membership in a particular club, the outcome of that membership, optimumly, is one of support and comfort. We all enjoy knowing we’re not alone out there. Even if someone does not appreciate the *whole* you, most of us will still raise our hand for the Wrangler Wave.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

crushing

I have a crush. This isn't new for me. It happens all the time, actually. It's not like the crushes I had in elementary school. (I think I was *in love* with someone from the first day I started kindergarten on up.) I get crushes on musicians. You probably do too but you don't realize it. My sister-in law (the *love of his life* one) will flat out tell you she's got it bad for Michael Bublé. I don't think I even knew who he was until I went to visit them a few years ago. She was almost offended! (In truth, I was scrolling through my iPod and realized I have one of his songs, but it's a Christmas song, so that doesn't count, does it?) She can have compulsive tendencies though, so maybe she's not the best example!

When I am crushing on a band, they are the only group I want to listen to. I can listen to the same CD 678 times and still want to hear it for the 67
9th time. When you listen to the same CD this many times, you develop a favorite song. What happens is that somewhere around the 134th time, your favorite song changes. Before you finally put the CD away (for the time being), each and every song on the CD will have a turn at being your favorite. It's always good to be fair. Sometimes I'm content to just let my *favorite* come up in the natural rotation. Other times, like this morning, I have to hear it back-to-back. I listened to the same song five times in a row this morning. This is the amount of time it takes me to drive from my small rural town to the neighboring even smaller rural town. Thankfully, most mornings I drive to work alone. I drive an old Jeep Wrangler. This is a loud experience in itself, so in order to hear my tunes, I have to play them realllllllly loud. Of course, that means that I have to sing realllllllly loud. (Because, you know, you just have to sing along to your favorite song!) If this isn't what you do on the way to work, you really need to try it. There is something cathartic about it.

When pups #4 and #5 were tiny, maybe about 2 years old, they love
d the song, "Walking on the Sun" by Smash Mouth. They more than loved it... it was their first musical crush. Pup #4, always the clever one, got Countrymouse to record it, over and over and over, on an audiotape. Those two mice went to sleep listening to 60 minutes of "Walking on the Sun" every night that entire summer. (We won't discuss the ramifications of lulling your pups to sleep listening to a song that starts out, "It ain't no joke I'd like to buy the world a toke." Good thing I don't believe in subliminal messages.)

My current crush is on The Guggenheim Grotto. They are a folk/pop duo from Ireland. I stumbled upon them about 3 years ago. I am always "on the lookout" for music I like. I read stuff and link all over the Internet. It's fun actually. I never know what I will stumble upon. I enthusiastically bought their first full-length CD, Waltzing Alone, as soon as I could and almost wore it out. When I saw that they were playing in my area, it was like a dream come true. They were actually coming here... not to the Western Shore or Philly... here. They would be sitting in a room 30 minutes from my house. Only the people who live in the middle of nowhere, like I do, will truly appreciate this. Needless to say, I went. They were awesome. Even Countrymouse (the Nickelback/3 Doors Down fan that he is) enjoyed them. I bought the pre-release of their new CD, Happy the Man (didn't I feel special!). I've almost worn it out.


You cannot begin to imagine my glee when I got an e-mail saying they'd be back less then 12 weeks later. Needless to say, I am going. I've pulled out Waltzing Alone once again, to try and balance the old and new. This is what I'm currently flirting with. My (current) favorite song is "Rosanna". Kevin May sings and writes most of their songs, but I prefer Mick Lynch's voice. (I have to tell you, he could pass for my brother-in-law's brother ... if he had a brother, that is!




Rosanna is a song that he helped write and sings. With it's "uncomplicated bareness", it's a beautiful song on it's own merit but I am intrigued with the lyrics. It's not a long song, so here they are:


Wash your face Rosanna
Tonight we'll go out on this town
Give them dogs a bone and put them down

Shine your shoes Rosanna

Tonight we're walking on those tiles

Give them cats a class in feline style

Have a drink Rosanna

Pour it straight and knock it down

Pull the rug of being up from the ground

Take a seat Rosanna

Soak your sight and suck the sound

Skip the last train home go underground

Have a heart Rosanna
Clubs for fools and spades for clowns

Diamonds only serve to fill your crown

See me in Rosanna

Here's a boy in shining steel
Fighting for a part of something real


I have two tickets to the show. Countrymouse, ever indulgent, said he'd go with me, but I don't think he liked them that much. (I should tell him that their song, "Lifetime in Heat" has a lyric that goes: "Europe's always been real good to me. She's always been forthwith with girls with pretty feet.") I only wish I had two tickets to two different shows. I'd be more than happy to go alone if it meant seeing them two more times.





[citymouse.jpg]

Monday, March 23, 2009

family

Yesterday was my niece, Cece’s, birthday. Happy birthday Cece! Your present really is on the way. (Along with my new found inability to get out of bed, is my new found inability to get anything in the mail on time.)



Cece is my youngest brother’s youngest child. (This is my East Coast brother… not to be confused with my West Coast brother.) She is in the height of her pre-school years. What a wonderful time of life. For most kids her age, every day is joyful. Too bad those memories get fuzzy as we age.

Thinking about and missing my siblings got me thinking about families. I am the oldest of five children.Four of us are married with children; my sister (the East Coast one) is still footloose and fancy free. Collectively, we have 13 children. I know this because I just sat here and added them up. My mother knows this number as well as she knows her name. WC brother holds the honor of making her a grandmouse first, but I came in a close second 7 months later. The latest addition to the mischief is only 6 months old. Thirteen grandchildren in 22 years. My own grandmouse had four children who produced 16 grandchildren in 17 years, whew!

I have five sons, including a set of twins.




While we were raised by the same parents, who are still married almost 50 years later, the make-up of our families is very different. WC brother has 3 daughters from his first marriage and a son with his current wife, the love of his life, I might add. Though young, we were certainly adults, if only by a few years, when we started down the road of parenthood. Both my EC brother and WC sister married later than I did and subsequently started their families later. EC brother became a father long after WC brother and I had finished our run, so to speak. He has two of the cutest little girls you will ever meet. WC sister started her foray after EC brother was done. She has the *classic* family: a son followed by a daughter. Unless EC sister decides to liven things up (which wouldn’t surprise me), this is our family. Il finito. Oh, there will be (and already are) spouses and more babies, but as it stands now, this generation is complete. That in itself is an odd thought, a family milestone.

Now that you understand that part of our family dynamic, what I was mulling over is how our individual families have been and continue to grow and be shaped. As in any category of life, you can only bring to the game the skills you have. Would I be the parent, or even woman, I am if I had been born last instead of first? I think it is generally agreed upon within our family that I am the peacemaker and the nurturer. I don’t mind those labels… it’s who I am. What if I had waited ten years to start my horde? Would I be who I am today? Probably not. We are who we are because we are who we are. (Why do I feel like if I threw in a “duuuude” that could be a line from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure?)

This is where someone with more knowledge of birth order than I have could have a field day. I find birth order fascinating. The theory is challenged by researchers, but I firmly believe it has merit. Countrymouse and I are both firstborns. WC brother, who is sibling #2, married the youngest daughter both times. EC brother, the middle child, married a middle child. WC sister, the youngest in our pack, married a firstborn. Every single union is unique. Does that effect who we are or who we become? What about our roles as parents? My brother-in-law is a firstborn. He had his first child at age 32 and I had mine at 23. Of course, the whole gender thing is another dimension but we are very different parents. This is neither good nor bad… it just is. As parents we do what we think is right. We aspire to be the very best parents we know how to be. The twist is, what we know is influenced by who we are. Who we are is influenced by ??? Birth order? Spouse selection? ???

These are the things that keep me wondering. I don’t pretend that any of this is productive… it’s just the places my mind travels when it’s let loose. Ultimately, my siblings and I are happy… happy in our relationships and with our children. This is the only bit of any importance. It can be amusing to ponder things that cannot be, but only if when you lay your head on your pillow at night you are confident that who you are is what makes you the happiest.










wake up call

I got going this morning at 5:38. Not too bad considering that was without my alarm clock. I have a wonderful alarm clock that was a gift from my parents a few holidays ago. It projects the time on the ceiling, changes time zones and connects with the world clock to keep accurate. Of course, if the clock is not displaying the correct time zone, it really doesn't help me. On more than one occasion, someone (and I honestly don't mean me) has clicked the zone button so I am sleepily dreaming on West Coast time. (It wouldn't be so bad if this were true since I have a brother and sister who live in that time zone.)


In any case, this morning I was thrilled when I rolled over and the clock said 2:32. I did a mental high-five and rolled over. Then something (thankfully) cut through my haze of sleepiness... Sure enough, it was 2:32... on the West Coast... meaning I had already overslept. Ugh. My temptation then was to *start* tomorrow, but my conscious got the best of me. That and my dog, Lucy, barking to go out. (I am not sure if it was the disgrace of being a slacker or thought of cleaning up dog poop that was the bigger motivation.)


So I was up and downstairs by 5:38. Dog let out, coffee brewing and I even drank 16 ounces of water. (And ate 4 chocolate chip cookies... I did say baby steps.) Now it is 6:23 and in flagrant disregard of my time constraints, I am listening to Radio Paradise (only the best Internet radio station, ever) and blogging instead of showering. In an effort to not start this morning in any worse form than most of my mornings, I am off to hit the shower and *get a few things done* before I dash out the door. Hope your day goes as planned too!


Sunday, March 22, 2009

9 minutes of paradise



If you didn't watch that video, you need to. I think if this blared from my alarm clock every morning, I'd be more inclined to actually GET UP.

Getting up *early* is something that has interested me my entire adult life. I can't remember a time when I wasn't an early riser. In college I had no problem making 8:00 classes... and I was actually showered. The flip side of getting up early is this propensity to go to sleep at a decent time. It's like I have an automatic shut off switch. My body knows when I have been awake for x number of hours (for me it's usually about 15 or 16) and it shuts off. I'm not kidding. I am okay if I am physically doing something, but reading or watching television or even sitting around talking... it's not gonna happen. All my close friends and family know this about me. Oh, and driving late at night, not a good idea either.

In spite of this having been my modus operandi for so long, I am interested in studies that support waking up early. I think I inherently know this is a good thing... something to aspire to. I think this is why I feel so badly that I can't seem to get up on time any more. I have developed a very intimate relationship with my snooze button. I know that one hit of the snooze button will give me 9 more sublime minutes of nothingness. I am not a lazy person, mind you. I've always thought that it was ironic that my given name is derived from a Hebrew word meaning bee. It's just that in the cool darkness of the early morning I end up waging a battle inside my head and cleaning out the kitty litter pan before I go to work just doesn't seem as important at 5:00am as it does when I am trying to leave for the day at 7:30. Hitting the snooze button has become the number one reason I barely accomplish anything other than the bare minimum in the morning. There was a time that I could wash and dry a couple of loads of clothes, sweep and vacuum the floors and start on dinner all before anyone else in my house even stirred. I loved it! There are days that I try to do a few small tasks as I run out the door and that never seems to work. What I think will take 5 minutes takes longer and, of course, there are 3 or 4 of these tasks and the next thing I know I am leaving the house 20 minutes late.

The whole *gotta get up earlier* thing has been on my mind a good bit lately. Recently, I stumbled across Allen Rinehart's blog. His blog is called The Life Experimenter. It's an interesting concept. His premise is that anyone can change a behavior in 30 days. His inspiration, in part, comes from Steve Pavlina, a personal growth guru and Morgan Spurlock, who is best known for his (30 day) Super Size Me experiment. I thought it was very telling that Rinehart's first experiment dealt with waking up early.

I eagerly bookmarked the site with the intention of investing some time learning how to correct my new found evil ways. Then the faerie princess commented that she could "accomplish anything if she wakes up early enough". The simpleness of her statement struck me. I know it's true... for her, for me, for anyone really. It also was the straw that broke the mouse's back, so to speak.

What I have gleaned from my jaunt across the Internet is most of the tricks to rising early are still things I don't want to do (i.e., won't do): avoid caffeine (you have got to be joking), avoid alcohol (ditto), exercise upon rising, drink water upon rising (okay, this is something I could possibly do while I am waiting for my coffee to brew)... there's others. The one thing I identified that I have been really derelict on (hence, the indentation on my snooze button) is actually getting up when the alarm goes off. Sounds almost too easy, doesn't it? For me, and apparently most people, once your feet hit the floor you're safe. I'm not sure when I started hitting the snoozer, but it's a fairly new addiction. The other area I need to reform is getting ready for the day before I get distracted. I joke that I am the only person I know who can wake up at 5:00am and still be late for an 8:00am appointment. It's a guilty pleasure of mine to lounge around, drinking coffee, waiting for the day to begin. Problem with that is that the day began way before I got out of bed and I am already starting behind the 8 ball.

My pledge to myself is to make an effort to get up when the bell tolls. It'll take some baby steps on my part and that's okay. I want this to work, so I know I need to be realistic. Even if I don't do it everyday, as long as I have the desire to do it everyday it's still an obtainable goal. The prize at the end of it all is all the *extra* time I will have. Steve Pavlina points out in one of his essays that "if you oversleep just 30 minutes a day, that’s 180+ hours a year. And if you’re at 60 minutes a day, that’s 365 hours a year, the equivalent of nine 40-hour weeks. That’s a lot of time! Now I don’t know about you, but I can think of more creative things to do with that time than lying in bed longer than I need to." Amen brother!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

pumpkin muffins

Food is a big part of my life. This is why I am not the svelte mouse of my 20's anymore, although when I was in my 20's I had no idea I was svelte! While I can rationalize that birthing almost 45 pounds of pups in 8 years would ruin anyone's figure... the truth is my lifestyle contributes more to this than anything. We've already established that I love wine. Calorically, wine is not my friend. In every other way it is, so it's one I choose to keep. If I only had to concern myself with wine, things might be manageable. It's the one-two punch of wine and food that slows me down. All my best memories include food. A perfect vacation must include wine, food and shopping. Thanks to my father, I have a fearless attitude about food. He always encouraged us to try everything once. Even when I was a little mouse I would try things other pups wouldn't. Growing up I ate kidneys and liver and loved them. I have tried all sorts of organ meat since then and enjoy them all. I've had puffin,whale and alligator. Yummy.

I have a friend from Iceland who brought back Hákarl for us to try. In case you didn't click the link, Hákarl is fermented shark. It is traditionally washed down with an alcoholic beverage called Brennivín. This is basically Icelandic hooch. I think you have to get s**t-faced on the Brennivin to actually enjoy the Hákarl. I've been to Iceland... no one I ran into mentioned either "delicacy". However, in an old Victorian in Preston Maryland, I tried the Icelandic duo. Fishy smell aside, it was the texture that put me off most. The Brennivin wasn't so bad. I've had rail tequila that was worse. After the first few shots, we drank it mixed with Coke. My friend said this is how Icelanders drink it. Somehow I doubt that this is truly the traditional way, but it was more enjoyable. My friend, the Icelander, didn't partake in either treat. Hmmmm... So see, I really will try anything once.

Over the years I have dallied with different approaches to preparing food. This is not the same notion as what I ultimately would choose to eat. Hands down, I like all the nifty, exotic pairings of ingredients you find in gourmet cooking. This is an expensive approach to cooking for seven mice but more importantly, it is usually unappreciated or, even worse, shunned! I have been the make everything from scratch cook, the let's keep it easy cook, the I own 67 cookbooks, what I can cook tonight? cook, the I can sneak a few secret things in here cook, the let's just order pizza cook and lately, the you can combine homemade and pre-made ingredients to get a nice meal cook.

In that vein, I like Anne Byrn, who is better known as The Cake Mix Doctor. I came across a recipe of hers that I made for breakfast this morning. In 30 minutes total we were eating tasty muffins hot out of the oven. Now today is Saturday, so I didn't feel the usual crunch on my time, but if I could get myself out of bed when my alarm went off, this could be a week day breakfast without any trouble. I like the recipe so much, I thought I'd share it here.




Pumpkin Muffins with Chocolate Chips

Makes 12 muffins (2 ½ inches each)
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Baking time: 20 to 22 minutes
Vegetable oil spray for misting the pan
1 package (17.8 ounces) chocolate chip muffin mix
1 cup canned pumpkin
½ cup milk
1 large egg
½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400° F. Mist the bottom of 12 muffin cups with the vegetable oil spray. Set the pan aside
2. Place the muffin mix in a large mixing bowl and make a well in the center. Place the pumpkin, milk, egg, and pumpkin pie spice in the well and stir the wet ingredients together with a wooden spoon just until combined, 20 strokes. The batter will still be a little lumpy. Spoon or scoop 1/3 cup batter into each prepared muffin cup, filling it three quarters of the way full. Place the pan in the oven.
3. Bake the muffins until they just spring back when lightly pressed with your finger, 20 to 22 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and place it on a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes. Run a dinner knife around the edges of the muffins, lift them up from the bottoms of the cups using the end of the knife, and pick them out of the cups carefully with your fingertips. Place them on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. The muffins are ready to serve.
Store these muffins, in a cake saver or under a glass dome, at room temperature for up to 5 days or freeze them, wrapped in aluminum foil or in a cake saver, for up to 6 months. Thaw the muffins overnight in the refrigerator before serving.

Let me know if you try them and if you like them. I have had to restrain pups #3 and #4 from eating them all. This is definitely something I'll make again. Good thing I have plenty of pumpkin left!


Friday, March 20, 2009

hair

Today is a glorious day. After 9 long weeks, I am getting my hair done. Yay! The last time I had my hair done was the day I broke my foot. Boo! The thought of scooting in to the shop on my knee walker (pink cast and all) to get my hair done was too much for me, so I have become the Shaggy DA. Actually, it isn’t that bad. Thankfully, I opted for a shorter-than-I-wanted cut last time in hopes of laying the groundwork for what I really wanted. With any luck, the groundwork has been more than laid in the interim.

Hair can be symbolic of everything we think we are. For me, if I think my hair looks ugly, I feel ugly. A big part of that for me is having clean hair. I have the kind of hair that needs to be washed every single day… no exceptions. There’s that odd day that I’ll think I can “get by”, that my hair looks fine when I wake up. I swear, I think my hair has an expiration date or a timer attached to it. It’s like Cinderella and the clock striking 12. My hair will look great one moment and the very next moment, and I truly mean the very next moment, it looks like the Valdez just sank on my head. This phenomenon leaves my sister speechless. This is the same woman I have seen party like a rock star for 3 days in a row, never hop in the shower, let alone wash her hair, and look like she’s ready to roll for a fourth day. One of her endless talents I admire.

I spend a lot of time trying to find the right pictures to show my stylist. My biggest fear is that I cannot communicate what I want. I usually end up bringing in half a dozen. It’s almost a joke between us. He has assigned me a drawer for all my pictures. More often than not, I want the bangs off one picture and the sides from another, etc. I suppose if I actually found all the elements on the same person, I wouldn’t want that cut! Michael has been doing my hair for years now and he knows that I am always up for a change. I think he takes some comfort in knowing, barring some hair-frying disaster, I will walk out of his shop happy. Having said that, I still want to walk out of there feeling like a new woman.

Every so often, I just wing it. There was the time I brought in a picture of Mary J. Blige that I saw in a magazine that very day and left with this awesome asymmetrical cut. Not so long ago, I had my hair dyed blue. That was fun. I am the youngest of my group of friends at work. I don’t know if it’s an age thing or a personality thing, but I think they enjoy seeing what I am up to next. I secretly enjoy this status among them. I think it makes me feel not so middle-aged.
Another citymouse I know left a facebook comment this morning that she had whacked off all her hair and now regretted it. I responded that it‘d grow back. That’s not much comfort in the long months of waiting, but it is true. My philosophy about hair has always been that it’s just hair. I actually enjoy that it’s so changeable. I’d love to be able to pop in and have a body makeover in 2 hours. Since I can’t, I enjoy the small pleasure that changing my hair brings. And the fabulous part is that I can do it every few weeks!

Pup #1’s girlfriend has the most beautiful hair. It’s long and wavy and because she loves him, she dyes it red. (She was probably a towhead as a child and now, if I remember correctly, her “real” color is more mousy brown.) She looks like a faerie princess. Pup #1 loves her hair.





All this hair talk makes me think about the musical Hair. I am a child of the 60’s and 70’s and even though the movie (which is 30 years old this month… yikes!) came out in 1979, it’s really the musical I remember. Not that I have ever seen the musical or the movie. I just remember all the fuss and buzz about it. And the poster.

And, lest we not forget, the soundtrack. I remember playing the cast album, on vinyl, on my old record player. That looked something like this. My kids would think this was a relic from the Smithsonian! I actually know who the Cowsills are. (Definitely a Trivial Pursuit question, I am sure.) These songs became a soundtrack of the 70’s. If you are anywhere near my age, you have sung Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In. My class actually sang it for a school assembly when it was “hot”. Interestingly enough, these are actually two songs from the musical that The Fifth Dimension turned into a medley. It is by far the most popular version of these songs. I can still belt out all the words to Good Morning Starshine. While not as enduring as the music of James Taylor and Carole King, Oliver gets kudos from me for prompting one of my earliest trips into folk music. Countrymouse actually was a big fan of The Fifth Dimension but loves Three Dog Night, so I am sure his vote would be for Easy to Be Hard. (We actually saw Three Dog Night a couple of summers ago at a local Blues Festival. They are as good as ever and it rekindled his devotion.)

Only 4 hours to go… That gives me about 2 hours to download some pictures and make some kind of decision. Guess we’ll see but I will be leaving there a new me.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

blogging

I suppose this would have been a better topic to write about for my first entry, but then that would have been more planned and we all know my thoughts are random.

While it’s cited that the term *blog* has been in use for 10 years, blogging is still something the average person doesn’t do. (I should qualify that and say, the average person I know.) Oh, I am quite sure many people read blogs. Countrymouse starts and finishes his day reading blogs (with any down time in-between spent reading them as well). I suspect, because there are so many professional blogs out there, you can read a blog and not even know it. It’s just a website or an online article.

The blogs of hobby bloggers, like me, are easy to spot though. Blog publishing systems, like Blogger, are a newbie’s dream. (On a somewhat related tangent, bear with me as I learn all the trade secrets.) Anyone who aspires to blog can. Very few things in life work that way. One day you’re sitting on your couch and you say, I’d like to play the guitar or I’d like to repel mountains. In 30 minutes time, you won’t be doing either of those things… but you can be a blogger extraordinaire. The truth is, I set up my blog while I was waiting for that chicken to bake last night (and drinking my wine). Countrymouse was impressed. (I suppose the cat’s out of the bag now.)

I imagine the real question is why do people blog. Why am I blogging? Everyone has his or her own agenda, but it’s something I’ve toyed with for a good while. When I found myself driving around composing potential blogs in my mind, I knew the idea had definitely grown past the burgeoning stages. For me it’s primarily a creative channel. I love to write. Being the editor of the yearbook and newspaper in high school made me think I wanted to be a print journalist. I started college with that notion. The trouble was I didn’t like journalism. I loved reading Bryon and Keats. I wanted to be Kathy on the moors with Heathcliff. I am still moved by words. (This is probably part of my love affair with music, but I’ll save that for another day.) What I enjoyed about my high school experience was the layout and artistic functions of those activities. Blogging satisfies a desire to be expressive… in words and by design.


I don’t esteem my thoughts as interesting to anyone but myself, so I can honestly say that I am doing this for me. Perhaps I have reached a place in my life that I need to refocus on some of what makes me *me*.

It’s almost cliche, but there have been countless words written about the plight of the middle-aged woman.



We are wives, lovers, mothers, daughters, sisters, friends, caregivers, colleagues. The hats we wear are equally countless. Something I never come away with after reading any of those articles is that we are all those things by choice (usually). Of course, I am not saying that I wouldn’t mind a housekeeper once a week to do my bathrooms and floors (hint hint). There isn’t one hat that I wear that I would like to give up permanently. I like my life. Liking your life doesn’t mean every day is walk through high cotton (trust me). What I think the problem is, is that we are so busy wearing all our hats and trying to figure how to keep them from slipping off our heads that we don’t always recognize the face that is under the hats.

Let’s face it; I am firmly planted in the middle years of my life. My pups are becoming full-grown mice in their own rite. The demands on my life and my time are very different now than they were even 5 years ago. I actually have the time to daydream about blogging. Somewhere under the hats that say chauffeur, housekeeper, cook, cheerleader, there are a few I haven’t seen in a while. Since the demands of motherhood aren’t as frantic as they have been, there is actually time for me to wear some of my other hats.

That’s where I find myself today. This is why I am blogging. It’s so very satisfying to see your thoughts grow on paper (okay, that’s the romantic in me speaking… we all know I’m seeing these words on a screen). So many things in life stir me. Many times, it’s the silly, ubiquitous things. And it’s in the noticing that something sparks inside me. I become thankful that I stopped and paid attention. Putting those thoughts and observations on paper helps me remember them… it humbles me and excites me at the same time. These are the things that make me like my life. These are the things I hope to write about.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

wine




I love wine. I mean it. The countrymouse and I usually have at least one bottle a night... sometimes two. It's almost always red, but I actually enjoy white wine, I just don't routinely grab a white off the rack. Tonight was a two bottle night. Mainly because I was baking chicken that seemed to take forever to bake, so we finished the first bottle way before the chicken was done and opened a second. It was red. I know there are conventions in place that will suggest that white is better with poultry, but I am of a frame of mind that you should drink what you like. And as I said, I like red. I have attended wine classes that pair different wines with the appropriate dishes and I must admit that the *right* wine really does enhance a dish. However, when it is all said and done, I still prefer a good red.

Tonight's bottle number two was Condessa de Leganza Crianza. It was an awesome tempranillo (I wish I could roll my r's) from Spain. Spain is one of the countries I haven't been to yet but really would like to go. I have fantasies about hanging out, eating tapas and drinking killer red wine. Countrymouse can be iffy about traveling abroad, but I think this would be right up his alley.

Our tempranillo tonight was purchased at Hair O'The Dog in Easton. It is absolutely the most wonderful wine/spirit/beer store I have ever shopped in. Check them out. I love that you can find really cool wine there that won't bankrupt you but still is of excellent quality. As I said earlier, with a potentially a 2-bottle a day habit, I love that I can enjoy an outstanding bottle of wine and open that second bottle if the mood strikes. I know that Dave and Joe are business men, but I truly always feel that they (and their posse) wouldn't sell you something they wouldn't drink.

Studies show that red wine is especially good for you. Maybe this is self-serving, maybe not. It is my poison of choice but the truth is I am a party girl. (Vodka is a strong runner up, in the right circumstances.) When things are said and done, wine is woven into so many aspects of life. It is there when we celebrate and when we mourn. It is used to remember our savior's sacrifices and to welcome in the new year. In our family, every major holiday/celebration is ushered in drinking champagne (or at least a good processco). When my sister comes to visit, most Sunday mornings are spent lounging around in our pajamas drinking champagne and snacking. Silly as it sounds, they are some of my most treasured memories.

The countrymouse and I have tried to be realistic and yet maintain some kind of boundaries with our 5 pups. I think we subscribe to a more European thought when it comes to drinking. Basically, we think if it's not a big deal, it's not a big deal. That's not to say that we are carting our 13 year olds off to buy Boones Farm (scary as it seems, I was probably only 3 years older then they are when I myself was drinking Boones Farm). My older 2 pups talk about their experiences and I have the opportunity to comment, good or bad, about them. I am thankful for that relationship and that they do not feel that they have to hide what they are up to (although, I have to admit that pup #1 is certainly legal and can get into all sorts of trouble without the associated fears.)

So to all my fellow wine lovers (for alas, I don't think I'd ever really be classified as an oenophile
) cheers, prost, salute, cin cin. Have a glass for me. Better yet, invite me over to share a glass... I'll even bring a bottle (of red).