Friday, October 23, 2009

Breaking the rules

I really don't know what I am going to write about today. I guess I can start with a confession. I already bought the Uniball pens. We stopped by the random Halloweeen store in a nearby strip mall to get the final piece for E's costume and the Office Maxx was right there. Sooooo, I popped inside and bought not one, but two sets of Uniball pens! Then I couldn't resist. I came home and journaled with a fresh, wonderfully smooth new pen.

Technically, this should be my last post in the week of 15 minute writing. The pens should've stayed hidden away until this posted. But what the heck! I am a crazy lady throwing caution to the wind!

There is a poster hanging in my room. It has hung in every room or home I've lived in since my freshmen year at the University of Illinois. The poster pictures four African American women picking apples off a tree. Two are standing with their backs to me, reaching both of their muscled arms to the pink sky to pluck apples from the tree. The other two at directly in front of the standing women, yet they are bending over to pick apples off the ground. All of the women are wearing simple dresses, and their hair hangs down in braids. The artist's name is Anthony J. Smith. I loved this poster from the moment I first laid eyes on it at the Krannert Center, on the U of I campus. This is the same place I went to see James Galway from my previous post.

Somehow, I feel as if these solid women protect and guide me. It is like they are standing in that field, watching me sleep at night and saying to each other, "Well, that was quite a day huh? I don't know just what she was thinking by doing that, but I am not at all surprised." The huff and roll their eyes, but still look upon me lovingly. I imagine them whispering their favorite Maya Angelou poems in my ear, their dry lips brushing up against my check allowing their voices to rise and fall deep into the night. I know it's just a poster, not even an original piece of work, but I feel a strange connection to it all the same. Some objects seem to take on a life of their own.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

I need to prep for my presentation tonight for class, but while the main computer is restarting, I will sit and type out my 15 minutes. The kids argue back and forth upstairs, yelling from room to room while they get dressed. “Do you have your PANTS on?!!!” Kai yells, always with the endless questioning. “NO!” Elizabeth responds, annoyed. Now, both are howling, “No” in different octaves, playing with their voices as instruments. I am wondering, “When is fall break over?”
James Galway and The Chieftains are playing on my kitchen stereo. I went to see James Galway and his golden flute in 1994 at The University of Illinois. I bought myself a front row ticket. I believe this was my first performance I attended by myself. It turned into a habit I continued throughout my college careers. I attended many wonderful shows completely by myself and felt not one ounce of sadness or isolation about that fact. If anything, I still consider it a badge of pride that I did what I wanted regardless of company.
Having played for a few years, James Galway served as my inspiration. I listened to his version of Flight of the Bumblebee over and over. When my flute teacher, Mr. Porth, as me what piece I would like to learn, I immediately knew that was the one. I was delighted and somewhat disappointed to learn that the song, an impressive rush of notes rising and falling with rapid speed, was essentially just a series of scales. This meant it was much easier than I thought to master. It never failed to impress my fellow band members though. Quickly memorizing the piece, I zipped through it upon request and then basked in the admiration that undoubtedly followed.
Marching band forced me to quit playing the flute. In our high school, one did not separate the marching band from the regular band. If you wanted to be in band, you HAD to participate in the marching band as well. Marching band practiced at the same time as the fall sports. Tennis was a fall sport. I was dying to try out for the team. Reluctantly, my parents allowed me to drop the flute and pick up a racket instead. While I loved playing tennis, my guess is that I would’ve had more success with the flute than with just about any sport.
Sitting in the front row, watching Mr. Galway caress his flute, I wondered if I could pick it up again. Yet, by then, college stretched out before me. The other day, I pulled my flute out and played a few notes for my kids. Both of them watched wide-eyed. They took their turns, puckering up their soft pink lips to force weak streams of air through the small hole.
Once again taking it apart, I remembered my teacher, Mr. Porth. I took classes from around age 12 until 15. What I liked the most about my private lessons were the conversations we had. Mr. Porth stood at about 5’ 10” tall. He sported more of a honey pot than a beer belly. He wore glasses that were often slightly smeared and his beard and mustache were mostly white. We spent most of the class time talking. I asked me about performing in the Chicago Symphony. He explained how all the musicians perform behind a screen, to ensure that only their musical ability was being judged. I looked forward to our conversations more than the actual playing. I cried the day I told him that I was stopping lessons to play tennis. I wish I had seen him perform just once, to hear him not just play alone in that tiny room, but in tandem with the entire orchestra of players that were chosen by skill alone.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I still...

Note to reader: I am giving myself props for writing today. I am feeling pretty sick. But I want those Uniball pens! So here goes:

Today while riding the spin bike, I reflected upon how much I am enjoying riding more, but I still really miss running. I remain determined to just let it go for the fall and winter, but it got me to thinking about the phrase, " I still..." I thought it would be a good prompt for today. Things change so much, so quickly, and yet I find a lot of comfort in what stays the same.

I still...
* have my teddy bear Cuddles. He is stuffed under my bed. I cannot seem to stuff him in a box and send him up to the attic.
* know most of the words to all the older Indigo Girls songs.
* don't put the lids back on containers very well.
* prefer to wear tennis shoes.
* lay in the grass and stare up through the trees.
* love to dance by myself.
* have the ruby ring my high school boyfriend gave to me before he broke up with me.
* think eating dessert before dinner is the ultimate adult prerogative.
* wonder if we will be foster parents someday
* think shaving my head would be incredibly liberating
* don't have one eighth of the courage to shave my head!
* wish I would've traveled to Europe after college.
* think John Travolta is amazing.
* love French Silk pie, but don't often eat it, which is really a pity.
* don't like New Year's Eve
* want to kick some guy's ass who is around my age, in some, heck, in ANY, sporting event.
* daydream about having a room that is all my own and painting the walls a soft lavendar.
* think its a shame that dandelions are considered weeds.
* am probably too sensitive.
* love the Pippi Longstocking movies
* enjoy spinning in skirts.
* hear "The Rocking Chair Song" every night.
* hate to brush my teeth at night.
* love to read almost more than anything else.
* wonder what life would've been like if I had a little brother or sister.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

An Adoptive Mother's To-Do List

I just finished watching a YouTube video about the Chinese Summer Culture Camp held here at IUPUI. The camp is for ages 5-12 years old. I watched the video of children of all races dong morning exercises to the counts of Mandarin 1, 2, 3. The kids learn calligraphy, dance, Mandarin and as well as Chinese games and crafts. This sounds perfect for any child to learn more about the Chinese culture. It would seem especially wonderful for a child like Kai, who was adopted from China. Perfect, with one exception, Kai has a hard time sitting still for any extended period of time. He is at times more than just a “wiggle worm”. Right now, we are trying to figure out if this is just part of his development or if it is more of an issue than just some catching up. It’s been a tough process trying to figure it all out.
To compound the issue, I acknowledged the importance of raising Kai with an understanding of his Chinese culture and heritage. With extreme guilt, I must confess, we’ve done little to nothing in this regard so far. This is not because I haven’t looked into programs for Kai. I have.
When I first researched the Families with Children from China group, known as the FCC, we were in the process of completing the adoption paperwork. The group seemed ideal. The FCC fosters a positive self-identification for adoptees from China. It allows the parents and children to relate and interact with each other as well as provide a system of support. I had every intention of hauling our new little family to each and every meeting of this group. Then reality set in, we brought Kai home. We were exhausted. Imagine bringing home a 2 and a half year old boy who speaks minimal Cantonese and is suddenly thrown into a new family of people who do not look like him, smell differently, talk differently and eat totally different foods. While we were thrilled to have Kai home, it was a huge adjustment accompanied by various follow-up doctor appointments that were a relief each time to clear.
Tests were done to make sure he didn’t have several different diseases, infections or parasites. The likelihood of him having any of these things was minimal, but to be sure, the medical professionals had him screened for just about everything. I lived in a not so subtle state of panic that the next test would come back affirming that he did in fact carry some lethal disease that would need to be addressed. Meanwhile, Josh and I assured friends and family that he was progressing well. Which he was, but Josh and I continued to support each other through the intense stress of the transition.
I share this to explain why we weren’t jumping on the FCC bandwagon right away. Our plate felt full. While many well meaning acquaintances gently scolded us for not taking him to a Cantonese tutor or signing him up for the next Chinese Moon Festival, we knew we were doing the best we could at the time. Still, at times, I fight the nagging feeling that maybe it isn’t enough.
And so today, with the understanding that he is getting old enough to participate in more activities. I got back on the FCC site, watched the Summer Camp video, and once again felt distressed. How do I navigate Kai’s cultural needs vs. his developmental needs? How do I reconcile the guilt I feel for essentially NOT being Chinese. There are times that I feel like an evil white conquistador, that Josh and I somehow swooped in and stole part of Kai’s identity. I wonder if other adoptive parents struggle with this issue. How do they resolve it? How much of it depends on the child’s personality as far as the timeline of events goes?
Right now, we are addressing more of Kai’s developmental needs. I remain a determined mom. I’ve gorged myself on various topics and am finding some answers. My personal research, coupled with the views of various professionals, has been draining, intimidating, enlightening, thrilling and exhausting. Kai will be fine. While some issues exist, so far, they seem to be fairly minor. I remain a determined mom. I’ve gorged myself on various topics and am finding some answers. To balance my zeal for information and the desire to formulate a “plan”, Josh remains calm and level headed.
I know we’ll get to the cultural piece. I am planning on going to the next FCC event with some fellow friends who have adopted from China. Yet, the fact that as of today, we haven’t done so , reminds me that while I may need to put Chinese Culture Camp on the backburner for the time being, the issue of ethnicity and cultural heritage cannot be forgotten.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Kneifel Meal Planning

This chalkboard makes me feel very happy and accomplished. Sometimes it displays really well-thought out meal plans, and other weeks it is filled with grilled cheese and spaghetti. I spent probably 45 minutes last night, searching through cookbooks trying to find some new recipes that I wanted to try.

Looking at this particular menu, you might wonder if my kids will eat most of these meals. I am pretty lucky in that, I do not mind if my kids don't eat. Yup, that's what I said. What I mean is, I am more than willing to try new foods and meals. If the kids don't eat them, my stomach does not turn in knots in fear that they will starve or that I am abusing them by refusing to make them a different meal. I know people who have a really hard time with this, letting their kids not eat. I suppose I am just selfish about food. Yet, in my defense, my kids have grown into pretty good eaters.

In addition to my harsh nature, I do try to include the kids in the meal planning. This seems to take care of many possible food issues. Elizabeth especially likes having the meals posted up on the board. This saves both of us from the endless question, "What are we having for dinner tonight?"

Since I started my masters program, our meal planning and grocery shopping has taken a beautiful turn for the better. Josh is now doing the grocery shopping! I cannot tell you what a huge blessing this is. I don't need to explain any further if you are a young mother or father who is accustomed to hauling your children to the grocery store each week. Simply going to the store by yourself is a luxury of the grandest proportions.

Here's our new plan. On Sunday, I type the list into our Grocery List template on Word. The list is broken down according to the store layout. So, since our grocery starts with the produce, that is the first section on the list, then frozen foods, etc. The template includes all of the items we need each week, like milk, eggs, cereal, etc. I put a star next to the items that need to be organic. Then I add the specific items needed for the meals I chose for the week.

After compiling the list, I save the document and send it to Josh's blackberry. He retrieves teh list and stops by the store on the way home from work. He gets to do the shopping blissfully by himself. Finally, he brings the bounty home, my true knight in shining armor! Men, take note: You need not worry about diamonds or flowers. Learn to grocery shop and even cook and you will reap the rewards! (This may not be true for some women, but I would argue it is true for most!)

Once all of the goods are safely in the house, I set out to prep the week's meals. This means chopping all the veggies that need to be chopped as well as cooking up any grains that will save. I like to make a big batch of brown rice in my rice cooker to use for quick stir-frys or to add to soup.

If all of this is NOT done, I get pretty cranky. I believe I've confessed my food obsession before, so this is nothing new. But for this week at least, we're all set.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Dancing in the locker room against my will

Yesterday, I showered and got ready at my fitness club. After drying off and lotioning up, I headed out to get dressed. I’d brought jeans and a long sleeved t-shirt. As I pulled the jeans out, I realized that they were freshly washed. This coupled with the fact that I haven’t worked out quite as much lately left me there to do the jeans dance in front of anyone in the locker room.
We all know what the jeans dance looks like. I think it was a Levi’s commercial from years back that made this move famous. If you’re lucky, you don’t do it often. At the very least, you don’t need to perform the ritual of the shimmy, squat, squat, pull and suck to button , in front of anyone but your spouse or significant other. I remember a friend of mine sharing her fitness goal with me. “ I just want to be able to fit into my jeans when they are fresh out of the dryer.” The drier can steal a half a size away from you. It is a known fact. In order to get that real-estate back and your butt comfortable, gotta stretch those suckers out.
I faced two decisions, a. swallow my pride and do the jean dance in front of the tiny teenage who was methodically straightening her hair a few feet away from me or b. put my sweaty bicycle shorts back on and just change at home. While I pondered my choices, the slight smell of burning hair and the swirled under my nose as the girl continued to primp. Suddenly, her phone jangled to the tune of a rap song I’d never heard of in my life. After checking to see who it was, she promptly turned it off. Her parents I bet.
My gross shorts trumped my pride. I opted for the jeans. Trying to be as blasé as possible, I slowly pulled and pranced about, yanking my jeans up in a completely ineffective way. My careful consideration of my pants as I put them on seemed to say, “Oh yeah, these jeans, they fit. They just do this sometimes, shrink that is. No biggie. I’m cool.” Normally this process occurs swiftly, like ripping off a bandaide. I yank them up and fall into three quick squats and bam, you’re done.
The girl looked at me out of the corner of her eye from the mirror on the wall. I could see her thinking, “ I see you know. God, I would never do that in public!” Yeah I know, I thought. You and your skinny butt with your rapping phone and your hair straightener, you do your dance at home or not at all. Next time, I’ll either bring my fat jeans, or only pack these jeans on the second day of wearing them.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

15 minutes

This blog is haunting me. I keep thinking, " I need to sit down and write. Is this quitting? Is that what you are doing? What about the rest of your rejections for the year? What about that? You have time, don't even try the time deal. You are the one who always says, 'You make time for what you want to make time for.' Which is true by the way. So, what's the deal? When are you going to at least make some kind of effort again?"

Today. Now. Fine.

Here's what I am going to try. Note, I say "try" because in the past I've seen just how quickly all of my resolutions swirl down the drain with quiet abandon. The plan is, I will set my microwave timer for 15 minutes. And for 15 minutes, I will type and try to get something out. Note: this all may very well be crap, it may all be crap anyway, but this is beside the point. I just need to feel that I am addressing this somehow. Today, on Saturday night, with my sick daughter up in bed, I start this new plan. If I make a week I will be thrilled. Actually, how about I buy myself a new set of Uniball pens if I make it 7 days in a row? Who wouldn't want a new set of the best pens ever?


Today, I crawled across the floor in the way I remember my mom doing so many times as a kid. I was putting all the pieces of the quilt I've made for Kai together. A quilt is really like a big fabric sandwich. The pieced together colorful part goes on the top, the fluffy batting in the middle and a sheet for the back. I do all my quilting by hand. In order to assure that the pieces don't slide around as you work on getting all the quilting in, you make large basting stitches in black thread in the shape of an X across the top. To to this, you must lay all the pieces out flat on the floor, then crawl across it with a threaded needle, placing all of the basting stitches. Once the quilting is finishes, you simply nip the thread and pull it out.

I haven't worked on a quilt for too long. Sewing calms me in a way I wish meditation would. I've failed at that too many times to count! I come from a long line of quilters. I would have to check with my mom, but I think I am the third of fourth generation of female quilters on my mom's side. My grandma made beautiful quilts. I actually got what I think of as her last beautiful quilt. Everytime I look at it, wrap it around me, I can almost feel her smooth dry hand over mine.

I started Kai's quilt before we brought him home. My mind felt so scattered. I longed for some organization. If I could not stitch my thoughts together into a straight line, well, I would stitch pieces of fabric together instead. After several attempts to produce what I felt I wanted, I gave up. Even sewing cound't calm the storm in my mind.

Today, as I sat in our over-sized blue chair to being the quilting, I felt such a sense of calm come over me. Elizabeth was curled out on our couch, flushed with a fever. She looked over at me and said, "Mommy, can I cut the string for you?" She needed to keep her tousled head on the pillow, so I told her, "How about tomorrow if you are feeling better?"

I taught her how to use the sewing machine this week, just as my mom taught me years ago. There is something so potent about passing on these basic skills to your kids. I felt such a strong tie to my mom, my grandma and the women who I never met in our family who sat before sewing machines, piecing together their next creation, deciding what fabric to use or which pattern to try next.