Monday, November 25, 2013

Favorite Things: Domestic Gift

Another favorite things post!  Read the first one and why I'm doing these posts here.

My Kitchen Aid stand mixer is the focus this week.  It is one of my favorite things, but there's a story that goes along with it.
A thing of beauty is a joy forever.

I love my beautiful mixer.  I love to bake.  I've done posts about it that you can find here and here.  This tool makes a big difference in the way things come together.  My kids will usually come running if they hear it fire up. It's like cats and the electric can opener effect.

The year my husband and I got engaged was the year we spent our first Christmas together.  We met in January, got engaged in July, and married in June.  Fast?  Yes.  When you know, you know.  We've been married eleven years, and I've never been happier.  Anyway, Christmas was a big deal that year for us because it was our first.  One day while we were talking about gifts for each other, I warned him - no domestic presents.  I saw his face fall.  He confessed he had already bought me a Kitchen Aid mixer.  He knew I loved to bake and wanted one.  I felt about an inch tall and was ashamed of being such a brat.  It was a wonderful, thoughtful gift, and I had ruined the surprise.  He offered to take it back, but I wouldn't let him.  I really did want it.  It just never occurred to me he would think to go out and buy me one.  I guess I didn't realize how close he was paying attention.

He ended up giving it to me that night.  This worked out wonderfully since I had yet to make any Christmas cookies.  I had only had a hand me down hand mixer before this.  I couldn't believe how much easier and better this worked.  Professional quality is worth the money, it seems.  Since then I've used it for cakes, both cheese and carrot, mashed potatoes, bread, and countless batches of cookies. 

It seems silly to me now that I didn't want something domestic from him that first Christmas.  Part of what I loved about him was that he was so family and home oriented.  I guess I just wasn't quite ready for him to think of me that way.  Or maybe for me to think of myself that way?  Twelve years later and I'm completely comfortable with both him seeing me this way and seeing myself this way.

Incidentally, he did go out and buy me another present.  Diamond stud earrings and a diamond necklace.  I love those too, but the Kitchen Aid has had a lot more use.  I think of my mixer on the rare occasions I wear the jewelry.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Favorite Things: Come To The Table

This time of year makes me think about The Sound of Music.  I guess that's because it is usually on T.V. at some point during the holiday season. I love a good musical, and although I like The Sound of Music, it's not on my top 5 musical list.  But I do love the song "My Favorite Things" which pops up on the radio quite often during this time of year.  It's not so much the uplifting melody or the imagery the lyrics paint or the clever rhythmic rhyming that I love about this song.  I love that it is so specific, "Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens...brown paper packages tied up with string."  I once read an interview with J.K. Rowling in which she talked about the importance of details in her writing.  She explained that she included things like butter beer, chocolate frogs, and pumpkin pasties in her books because when she was a child reading books, those were the kinds of things she wanted to know.  Details are important.  Specific details are better in my opinion.

With that in mind, I'm going to throw out a few posts called "Favorite Things". No, not like Oprah's list of decadent items that everyone goes ape shit for on her show.  I've seen lots of people on Facebook who are participating in the gratitude challenge and are listing things they are thankful for each day.  I applaud them for that.  I wrote about the necessity of appreciating little specific things in order to be happy in this post.  My idea for these posts, however, is to really get focused on specific items.  Oh, I know we're not supposed to focus on material things.  I understand why.  I get it.   To me, though, tangible things are a veritable roadmap to the intangible. It's easy to forget the intangible which is why symbols are an important part of life. Stay with me here.

So - my dining room table.  What?  Yes, that's right.  My dining room table is one of my favorite things.

My parents purchased this Amish made oak table with two leaves that can be taken in or out and six matching chairs for us when my husband and I bought our first home together.  I owned a house by myself before we were married.  There was no room for a table and chairs in my first house.  There was a breakfast bar you could eat at which worked fine for a single gal who usually ate a bowl of cereal for dinner.  When I got married, we moved the two person K-Mart table I was using as a desk in the second bedroom into what was really the living room and ate there.  Then my daughter was born and we scooted a high chair up to that.

But when my daughter was about nine months old, we bought another house.  We moved in early December.  There was actually a big old space for a dining room table in the new house.  The K-Mart table looked quite out of place and pathetic there, but we had just moved and were not financially able to go out and drop a load of cash on a nice dining room set.  We knew we'd just get by with what we had.  Besides, the new house had an even nicer and larger breakfast bar and my daughter was still in her high chair.  But my parents generously offered to buy us a dining room set as a housewarming gift.  I was working, we still had boxes to unpack, my husband was working second shift, and we had a baby at home.  I did not have time to go out and browse furniture stores.  My mom asked me what kind of finish, shape, and wood we would like.  I told her.  She picked it out.  My mother and I are both fairly decisive people, and this is the way we work best together.  It took over the space of our sad, little K-Mart table with authority.  But we still ate at the breakfast bar most days with my daughter in her high chair at the end of it.

And then Christmas Eve came nearer.  The thought occurred to me that we might actually be able to have Christmas Eve dinner at our house because everyone would have a place to sit down!  I was 33 years old and had never lived in a place where I could do that.  We put in the two leaves and it was like a banquet hall - for us, anyway.  My parents, brother, sister-in-law, and aunt were able to eat at our table with us.  We became the hosts.  Becoming the host of your extended family is an unsung rite of passage these days, I think.  Hmmm... that's a good thought for another series of posts.  But back to my point...

We're now in yet a different house and have two kids who have been old enough to sit at the table for quite some time.  This table houses all kinds of memories now.



Every one of my children's birthday parties has been at this table.

Coloring Easter eggs...

Family Game Night...

Carving pumpkins...

And making Christmas cookies...

Not to mention decorating it for every season like...

The Fourth of July...


Back to school...

And of course, Christmas...

I also love the craftsmanship of this table.  Someone's hard work and skill went into making it.  I cannot build anything.  I have no aptitude for putting things together, so I'm very impressed when someone can.  I'm amazed how the gears turn perfectly against each other to let the table out and how the leaves fit perfectly underneath it.  It will last us a lifetime, God willing.

This table cuts right to the heart of our family.  A lot of what is important in our home happens at this table.  It's probably not the table I'd choose today since we've had it over ten years.  It has some indentations in it (from my son's toddler days when he got hold of an adult sized piece of silverware)and couple of small paint stains from when the kids were little and painted on it.  (Never believe it when kid paint says it washable.) There have been times I've been tempted to go looking for a nice updated, rectangular table in cherry or maybe maple to match the cabinets in the house we're in now.  But I haven't.   And if our house were leveled by a tornado as some people's were today in Illinois, we'd go on without it and buy a new one and thank God that everyone was safe and nothing really important was lost.  But I would be sad at least for a moment about the loss. This table reminds me every day.  I know material things are not the most important things.  They are symbols that remind of us of what is important.  I'm all for something that keeps me aware of that.


Monday, November 4, 2013

Before and After Books: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

I read Quiet by Susan Cain two summers ago.  As an introvert, it was like boarding The Mother Ship.  Many of the things I suspected over the years about introverts and extroverts were validated in this amazing book.  Research was discussed.  Scenarios were given that I was only too familiar with, but new questions were raised for me as well.  There are far too many parts of this book I could expand upon but will just give a few for fear of writing another book in this simple blog post.

 I loved the parts that discussed society's bias against introverts.  We tend to hold the outgoing, gregarious person up as successful, popular and therefore, happy.  How many times growing up did I hear from adults, "She needs to come out of her shell," or "She's just so shy!" or "She's such a quiet little thing.".  I never felt bad about my demeanor as a child unless those things were brought up (and they were, many times, to answer my own question). The implication was that it was bad to be this way.  That came through loud and clear to me even as a small child.  The message I received (and still do at times) was that what felt natural and good to me was not the "right" way to be.  I think the intentions of the adults who said these things were well-meaning.  They didn't want me to get trampled on or overlooked.  But they needn't have worried.  As Quiet explains, being introverted does not mean you don't have strength or will never be recognized.  Quite the opposite actually.

by Simply Allison on Tumblr

  Cain writes, "Don't think of introversion as something that needs to be cured."  I've rarely been trampled or overlooked when something has mattered to me.  That's not because I'm the most outgoing or verbose person in the room.  It's the quiet that's powerful.  I think that sometimes people view the quiet as hostility, being "stuck-up", or attitude.  It's not.  It's strength.  Strength looks different on an introvert. You don't need to speak on some things because you already know your own mind.  And sometimes as an introvert you know that extroverts aren't going to listen anyway because they are too busy verbalizing their own thoughts.  My ability to reflect and ruminate on my own inner voice has saved me many times in my life.

I also enjoyed the words from some well-known introverts.  Steve Wozniak of Apple computers was my favorite example.  Cain writes, "You might decide that Wozniak's achievement was a shining example of the collaborative approach to creativity. You might conclude that people who hope to be innovative should work in highly social workplaces.  And you might be wrong." She goes on to explain how his job at Hewlett-Packard  allowed him to work in the solitude of his cubicle and then go home and work alone until sunrise in order to create the prototype of his machine.  She quotes Wozniak's own memoir in which he writes, "Most inventors and engineers I've met are like me - they're shy and they live in their heads.  They're almost like artists.  In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone where they can control an invention's design without a lot of other people designing it for marketing or some other committee.  I don't believe anything really revolutionary has been invented by committee.  If you're that rare engineer who's an inventor and also an artist, I'm going to give you some advice that might be hard to take  That advice is: Work alone.  You're going to be best able to design revolutionary products and features if you're working on your own.  Not on a committee.  Not on a team."

Amen, brother.  Committee has always been a bad word to me.  You want to make me cringe, tell me I'm required to work with the group you've selected.   I've never been on a productive, assigned committee much less enjoyed my time while sitting on one.  That doesn't mean I can't work with others.  I can if I can choose people I trust and respect and work on things that matter to me.  That's the case with most introverts.

Cain also spends quite a bit of time looking at the physiology of the introvert.  I found it fascinating that introverts are more sensitive to stimuli than extroverts.  There was a long-term study done with infants who were "high reactive" and developed into what was considered an introverted personality.   It actually wears introverts out to be around too many people in highly interactive situations for too long from the time of infancy.   I've experienced this my whole life.  But I've often wondered how I've developed the skills I have that do not come at all naturally to me. I obviously didn't grow up to be a hermit.  I'm married with a family and work at a highly socially interactive job. I have friends that I go out with and enjoy.  Cain explains this phenomena in relationship to the brain, "If you were a high reactive baby, then your amygdala may, for the rest of your life, go a bit wild every time you introduce yourself to a stranger at a cocktail party.  But if you feel relatively skilled in company, that's partly because your frontal cortex is there to tell you to calm down, extend a handshake, and smile."   As an introvert, my first instinct may always be to bolt when faced with a social situation, but I am able to overcome that when it's important to me.

There's also a lot of information about education and introverts which I found very affirming to my own beliefs.  Particularly interesting were the sections about parenting an introverted child.  My daughter is the archetype of an extrovert, but my son is more like me.  He gets along well socially with others but really enjoys and often prefers time alone. One of the funny family stories we have about him is about when he went to preschool for the first time.  The teacher told us how he was playing with the blocks alone.  When she invited him to come to circle time, he said, "No, thanks.  I hate people."  Naturally, we were a little embarrassed, but I have to admit I was a little proud to of his willingness to express his desire to work alone in his own four year old way. This part also  gave me a lot of food for thought about how to parent my daughter because she is such an extrovert.  She and I deal with things very differently.  Good to keep in mind to save a little grief.

I think what hit home for me most was the section about leadership.  All my life I've been somewhat of a reluctant leader.  I can remember the principal of my grade school telling the fifth grade me in her office that I could be such a positive leader if I wanted to be.  The inference was that I was too lazy or negative to do so and she just couldn't understand why. Here's why  - It was because her agenda was not my own.  She also couldn't make her agenda my own no matter how hard she tried which probably frustrated her to no end.  I'll admit that is something frustrating about introverts.  We're stubborn.  It's difficult to get us on board with your ideas because we're often so sure of our own.  I admit freely that this is not always a good way to be and something I struggle with at times.   Flash forward 20 some years later (and too many similar situations to count) to the worst boss I have ever had telling my co-workers (not when I was present of course) that it was my fault no one wanted to get on board with her inane initiatives and that I could just run things since I seemed to think I was in charge anyway.  Wrong.  The last thing I wanted was her job. Reluctant leader, remember?  But once again, she was frustrated I wouldn't adopt her agenda.   There I was again in the same situation I found myself in as a fifth grader.  To quote another book I just finished reading, "Life was a wheel, it's only job was to turn, and it always came back to where it had started."

  It has always made me uncomfortable when people want me to be the leader.  I don't volunteer for it.  I'm much more of an on-my-own personality. I feel strongly about what is right and what is wrong for me. I don't want to be responsible for that with others.  But I find myself in situations sometimes when, in spite of myself,  I care about things and will speak my mind.  And once again, I find myself thrust into the role of the reluctant leader.  I've never been shy about saying no, and I realize that this is when people often want me around as the leader.  It's somewhat of a dubious honor.   They aren't comfortable with saying it but know I have the reserves for it.   I will dig my heels in if I feel something's wrong.   That's okay with me.  I'm oddly kind of proud of it.  Women in particular frequently have trouble with saying no, even when they know what is being asked is ridiculous.  Saying no can be powerful.  It's not that we can never say yes.  But no can be just as important especially if you're tenacious.   Think about where we'd be if Rosa Parks hadn't refused.  She didn't give speeches or shout and holler.  She just said no and refused to budge on it.  That's where introverts often have the trump card.  Just no.  No hollering or discussion or committee.  Just no.  This is wrong, so -- no.   And yes, Parks is mentioned in the book as a well-known introvert. 

There was a story shared in Quiet that I had not heard before but was still so familiar somehow.  I will end with this and hope you will check out this insightful book no matter which side of the fence you find yourself of the whole introvert/extrovert issue.

"Mark Twain once told a story about a man who scoured the planet looking for the greatest general who ever lived.  When the man was informed that the person he sought had already died and gone to heaven, he made a trip to the Pearly Gates to look for him.  Saint Peter pointed to a regular-looking Joe.

'That isn't the greatest of all generals,' protested the man. 'I knew that person when he lived on Earth, and he was only a cobbler.'

'I know that,' said Saint Peter, 'but if he had been a general, he would have been the greatest of all of them.'

Cain goes onto say,
"We should all look out for cobblers who might have been great generals.  Which means focusing on introverted children, whose talents are too often stifled, whether at home, at school, or on the playground."


Sunday, November 3, 2013

When October Goes

The title is a rip off from an old Barry Manilow song.  I do love Barry. I always think of this song during October.  If you haven't heard this one, it's Velveeta at its best. 

Anyway, October flew by and I'm not sure how that happened.  It usually seems much longer.  Maybe it was because it was very busy (parent/teacher conferences, report cards, a birthday party, a trip to the pumpkin patch, trick or treating, and a case of bronchitis for three out of the four of us) or maybe it's because the kids are so excited for Halloween to arrive all month.  Then once Halloween is here, October is over.  In any case, here's a recap of my October.


Here's my Jackie Boy next to an orange Halloween blanket at the beginning of the month.  Black and orange are the perfect combo for October.

Bronchitis hit us hard this month - first my son and then my daughter and me.  I am still coughing as I type this several weeks later.  This is what you see when you have a pug, and you are sick in bed.  First this:

And then this:
Awww, all he wants to do is lay down with you and commiserate. 
My daughter and I did some baking for the one of our local animal shelters that was having a bake sale.

We made giant chocolate chip cookies and mini pumpkin loaves.
Of course I had to do a little decorating.
I made these votive holders with some sticky letters from Hobby Lobby and filled them with colorful beads and candles.

Ooooh, so scary!  My ghost pillow that I bought the day after Halloween for 50% off a couple of years ago is a favorite along with these:

Ooops... how did that get in with the decorating pictures?

We waited until the last weekend before Halloween to go to the pumpkin patch this year.  It was a little less crowded plus no matter what the size, no pumpkin was over $15 that weekend.  Except for this one.

My two turkeys...

Both kids are getting way too tall...

We even got a good picture of the two of us.

Dan and the kids carved two very large pumpkins that weekend.  The kids do the dirty work...

...while Dan does the finesse.

The kids each pick out a design for him to carve.  He uses one of the cheap pumpkin carving kits you can pick up at Target or Wal-Mart.

I think the results are pretty impressive.

It rained on Halloween.  I rushed home from work.  We had a Jack o' Lantern pizza from Papa Murphy's - only $7 - and I put these together for dessert. Ghosts in the graveyard!

This year the kids were Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom, and Luigi from Super Mario Brothers.  Note the Ode on a Grecian Urn pose my daughter spontaneously struck.  All the world is her stage.  It always has been.

   We hit the mall to trick or treat first.  While we were there, Luigi met a friend.

The look on his face kills me.

I'm not going to lie.  This October was a tough one physically and professionally.  Makes me grateful we managed to do the fun things now that I look back on the month.  Bring on November!