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    January 03, 2016

    In which I am eaten alive

    So the first thing you should know about my week in downtown St. Louis during which I volunteered at Urbana 15 is that I got BED BUGS. That's right, folks! Bed bugs. For real. Actual factual bed bugs. Me. A thing that happened. To me. 

    THE STORY IS: 

    Our first night in the hotel was not really much of a night, seeing as how we didn't get out of our orientation meeting until nine something and our first shift began at 1am. 

    [QUICK DIGRESSION: I was volunteering on the Intercession Team, the folks who pray for the conference around the clock. We were divided into teams of 6-8 people and assigned three-hour shifts. My team's first shift was from 1 to 4am the very first night. HOW NICE FOR US.]

    Okay, so between jet lag and knowing we'd just have to get up ANYWAY, my friend Ellen and I didn't bother sleeping. I have always used a cute little pseudonym for my friend Ellen whenever I've mentioned her on this here blog, but NO MORE! and the rest of the story will reveal WHY!

    We stayed up, headed to our shift, and when we came back at 4am we fell directly into bed and did not move until about noon. Upon waking Ellen told me a funny little story about how she'd seen a bug on her pillow sometime during the night and flicked it onto the floor. Bugs and spiders and things don't really squick me out so I didn't think too much about it. Ellen went off to some meeting and I stayed in bed, my preferred place for snacks and reading library books about Vichy France. But not long after Ellen left, I noticed a bug on MY pillow. A fat-ish black bug. I took a picture of it, texted it to Ellen with the caption, "Apparently you brushed him into my BED". Calmly, because I am Calm about these things, I picked up my pillow, brought it to the bathroom, flicked the bug into the sink, and washed it down the drain. 

    Of course, the NEXT morning I woke up and was covered in bites. They were all over my forearms, my hands, and my neck. When I went into the bathroom I could see a few faint bites around my hairline, one by my eyebrow, and one by my lip. And then there were a few in the little slice of skin where my t-shirt met my pajama pants. 

    "WE HAVE BED BUGS!" Ellen yelped. 

    I... did not believe we had bed bugs. Because. I don't know. Denial? Plus I thought bed bugs were insidious little transparent creatures, like lice, and that there would be trillions of them creeping through the sheets. Not one big fat black bug I'd washed down the sink hours earlier. I tore all the covers off the bed and didn't see any other bugs. 

    Ellen declared that bites could take hours to show up. Even if it wasn't a bed bug, there was no way I could sleep in that bed again, right? 

    So before our next shift I calmly CALMLY walked to the reception desk and hissed, "I GOT A FEW BITES LAST NIGHT" and showed him the super attractive splotchy red bumps on my neck. I did not hiss BED BUGS or, you know, freak out on this guy, because I am Calm and I don't make scenes and, per my usual meek mousyness, I didn't want HIM to feel bad. Thankfully my brand new revolting skin disease spoke for itself and the hotel staff quickly sprang to action, assigning us another room, not charging me for that night, offering laundry service. We also had dinner that night with friends who were bed bug-educated, saw the picture on my phone and decreed Yes, That's A Bed Bug. 

    The next room was fine. I didn't get any more bites. But they were tremendously itchy and also ugly and embarrassing - ON MY NECK. ON MY FACE. - and my dear old wonderful longtime friend Ellen couldn't help telling all and sundry that we had BED BUGS wasn't it HORRIFYING, but they only bit MAGGIE poor MAGGIE can you BELIEVE we had BED BUGS?! poor MAAAAAGGIEEEEEE. After the fifteenth time she declared that the bug must have bitten her too, but her skin just didn't REACT like mine, I beat her silly with my Vichy France book. No, I martyred up and made sure everyone knew the bed bug ate ME because SHE DIDN'T KILL THE STUPID BUG WHEN SHE SAW IT FTLOG.

    AHEM!

    The second thing you should know about my trip is that I did not sleep. After a few days Ellen and I referred to our schedule as "prayer shifts surrounded by naps". Even though we really only "worked" three hours a day, those three hours were often in the early morning and were themselves often mentally and emotionally exhausting. Plus the conference itself was kinda intense. Racial justice, the persecuted church, getting emergency deployed to the prayer ministry room to help out the prayer ministers because even though there were 50 of them, the line to get one-on-one prayer was OVER AN HOUR LONG. 

    That said. It was also kinda amazing. I've been too tired to process it all which is why you got a post about bed bugs. You're welcome.

    December 14, 2015

    In which Maggie needs to remember what she's good at. Again.

     

     

    I just wrote this massive blog post in which I reached the conclusion: some things are not my jam, and that's okay. 

    I guess sometimes you just really have to write a massive blog post! But I won't put you through the misery of reading it. How nice of me. 

    This stems from a tiny bit of Mom Insecurity which appears to be leftover from when my big kids were babies and toddlers, the time when Mom Insecurity ran high. I wasn't insecure about being a MOM, more like there were a lot of things I thought I was supposed to do or enjoy or be as a Public Mom that I... didn't want to do. Like be in a PEPS group. Seattle people know what this is. PEPS is an organization that groups new parents by neighborhood and their babies' age, so I ended up in a group of women who lived near me and whose kids were all born within a few weeks of mine. They were great! I know people who found their best friends in PEPS! But I still didn't like being in the organized group, for a number of reasons, and I felt guilty and what-is-wrong-with-me when I slowly and unofficially stopped going. 

    Or things like outings. I hate outings. All of my friends were constantly going to the zoo and the aquarium and big parks and I kept wondering why we couldn't all just visit each other in our houses and drink mimosas while the kids entertained each other. 

    My kids are older now which means I have to do less stuff with them and therefore have to spend less time with other women I don't know very well and their children. So the insecurity opportunities are less. But recently I wonder if the opportunities are just DIFFERENT. Like the PTA. I am doing the one thing I am half decent at for the PTA (newsletters and social media, heh), but I still feel lame because I don't know enough people, don't volunteer at school for anything, and DON'T WANT TO. Aren't I at stay at home mom with tons of time?! 

    There's an extra level of Church Mom Insecurity. Am I involved in the right way? Am I participating in the right things? Are my kids sufficiently holy? Am I demonstrating to the people with influence that I am worthy of friendship? (Oh wait, is my Three showing?)

    Chatting with the preschool moms? PLEASE DON'T MAKE ME. They are all great, they really are, but I have other friends and I want to use up every last drop of preschool time to do stuff FOR ME. As soon as my kid walks in the door I RUN to the car for ME TIME.

    Crafting costumes for the Christmas play? IF I MUST. But I will suck at it and also get really annoyed and frustrated with the disorganization and mess, EVEN THOUGH we get it done in half the time and with tons of help. 

    Girl Scouts? That's not something I can just drop her off at, right? 

    Co-op preschool? SNORT.

    And possibly worst of all, I have yet to sign my kids up for a sports team. There is no soccer every Saturday morning for the Cheung kids, no gymnastics, no martial arts at night, no dance recitals. They take piano, because Chinese grandparents (also half-musical parents) and swimming in the summers because their mom is deathly afraid of water. But otherwise... honestly, just the day when I do preschool and piano is exhausting. 

    I guess you can just read this as LAZY. LAZY MOM. But you guys, I am not lazy. I may flee in the face of the volunteer form and have the housekeeping abilities of a frat boy, but you should see me work on my stupid little business. You should see the hours I put in tying stupid perfect bows on those cookie boxes. The time I devote to making sure the people in whom I'm already invested are well loved. The work I do to keep our family on track. The weeknights I give to the church ministry where my gifts are best used and most welcome - which has nothing to do with children or families specifically. The time I will put in this week to give my friends a kick ass time at our holiday party on Saturday. 

    That stuff isn't Public Mom stuff, so sometimes I feel like it doesn't count. You know? I think I'm have a stretch of Public Mom Failure. (All brought on by myself, of course. AS PER USUAL.)

    It's made me think: maybe I shouldn't BE a stay at home mom! SAHMs are supposed to be a certain way! Crafty, creative, whizzes at time management! The truth is that I AM all those things, just not when it comes to my KIDS. I can think of one single time that I pulled it together and was SAHM Awesome and that's when I instituted Homeschool Art Class. But that was born of desperation, folks. My public schoolers didn't know about impressionism. UNACCEPTABLE. 

    But... I already wrote a blog post about this, I don't need to write another one. (TOO LATE.) I think it's time for another round of...

    THINGS MAGGIE IS AMAZING AT

    • Avoiding phone calls for the bakery. Email me, people! EMAIL IS BEAUTIFUL.
    • Planning vacations. You guys, I booked us a Hawaii vacation in one night, using frequent flyer miles from 2 different airlines, in coordination with out of state friends. BOOM.
    • Holding bakery customer hands. It doesn't seem like it would be a thing, but you'd be surprised.
    • Having a filing cabinet. 
    • Making cookies that TASTE good, even if they are not necessarily good-looking.
    • Making my kids laugh. Right now I have two phrases that make them bust up every time. This won't last forever, but I am MILKING IT.
    • Knowing when to put a war book down. 
    • Eyeshadow. Okay, maybe not AMAZING, but I'm getting better. 
    • Initiating time with friends without kids. 
    • Making it possible for my husband to have friends-with-no-kids time. 

    I MEAN, THOSE ARE SOME PRETTY AMAZING THINGS RIGHT THERE. And now it is time for me to make dinner, which is something I am decidedly un-awesome at, but the whole point of this post was up there at the top: I just wasn't MADE to be an amazing dinner maker.

     

    October 06, 2015

    Career counseling

    I don't know how many years ago now I was pointlessly tweaking the blog and somehow deleted the chunk of code that collected visitor numbers and referral sites and all that good stat stuff. Good and bad came from this screw up. On the good side, I am 1) no longer obsessed with who and how many people are reading this drivel and 2) no longer disappointed when I discover the only who and how many is my mother. On the bad side, I DON'T KNOW WHO IS READING. Not many people are reading blogs anymore, so it seems a silly thing to fret over. But people are just WAY more google-able than they were when I started this thing. Hardly anyone knew what blogs WERE! There was safety in that! I continue to be more or less okay with being embarrassingly open book about my entire life, but I feel like maybe I should, you know, mentally prepare myself for the day when a super rad teacher I don't know at my kid's school is introduced to me and says, "Oh, you're the one with the blog!"

    (That day was Friday.)

    SO ANYWAY! This is why, even though I am dyyyying to write about The School Boundary Situation Happening In My Neighborhood, I'm not going to. Yet. Especially since I seem to be the only person who thinks the school district might NOT be a Nefarious Mustache-Twirling Villain in this whole mess. I'm hoping for Merely Clueless? Understandably Doesn't Like To Admit They Made A Mistake But Will Quietly Make It Right? I'm sure I'm being naive, but I'd rather be naive (for now) than publicly lambaste anyone. Besides, people were throwing around the phrase "media strategy" at the meeting I went to this afternoon, so I'll get to participate in a whole PLAN for that. I do enjoy a good plan. 

    (If you are interested enough to email me, I will happily share the details. If you're local and don't know what I'm talking about, then especially you.)

    Sigh. 

    I've thrown myself into researching all this school stuff (in my district and others), which is new and good, but with Emma even more independent in preschool, I'm sort of wondering what to do with myself. Yes, I do remember that little boutique online bakery, but with Katie moving and us streamlining what we do, there's not a whole lot to work on. I do have a pile of paperworky things I need to finish and we continue to get orders on a fairly regular basis (without advertising! kind of amazing), but Thumbprints has sort of lost its luster for me as a PROJECT. Which I think is the part I liked best. We can't grow it right now so I've lost that feeling of having something to work on.

    I realize now that I LIKED having something to work on. I'm remembering things I did before I had kids, like teaching myself Access to build databases at work (which was not my job, and actual tech people are putting their noses in the air, but this was huge for me). I taught myself HTML and CSS. For a while I was revamping the blog all the time, just for fun. I LIKE building and creating things, I like getting something going out of nothing. I think I'm probably more skilled at the part where you KEEP it going, but that part is definitely not as fun. (Oh, poor those of us with the spiritual gift of administration!) 

    So I don't know. Maybe this thought process will actually take me somewhere, maybe I will shove it to the side and sit in front of the TV with a bag of chocolate chips. (Let's take bets!)

    July 14, 2015

    A little late thirties mulling

    I turn 36 on Saturday. This is the first birthday I've felt uneasy about. I had absolutely no problems with turning 30, having looked forward to Actual For Real Grown Upness since about age fourteen. But now that I finally feel like a grown up, am taken seriously by other grown ups, have acquired some confidence and self-assurance, and, most importantly, FINALLY LIKE MYSELF, I am not terribly pleased about turning 36. 36 is the other side of 35. The "Late Thirties" side of 35. The downward slope to Middle Age. It doesn't seem OLD old, but it feels an awful lot closer. 

    We're going to Leavenworth for the weekend. Leavenworth is this cute little town in the mountains, a Fake Bavaria. I love Fake Stuff (see: Disneyland, Vegas) so I expect to be delighted. We plan to do a bit of outdoorsing, which is not my bag, but seems like something We Ought To Do.  If all else fails, the hotel has a pretty outdoor pool. The big kids have become swimming junkies this summer, so I feel good about our chances for a half decent time. 

    (Even though I just found out that Harry Connick Jr. is playing at the Chateau St. Michelle winery Saturday night and that would have been the PERRRRFECT birthday outing for Phillip and me, ALAS. People who do not like Harry Connick Jr. can exit the blog quietly, I'll wait.)

    Other things about 36:

    Is 36 when they start saying you're of Advanced Maternal Age? NOT PREGNANT. I am just SAYING. It seems unlikely we will have another baby (a nervewracking thing to put out there when you are hovering on the outskirts of Catholic Blogdom, but there it is), but just in case I WASN'T nervous about more babies, I have Advanced Maternal Age to consider. 

    (Somewhat relatedly: Have you seen 'Catastrophe' on Amazon Prime? It is not for people who are squeamish about squeamishy things and/or enthusiastic swearing, but SO FUNNY. Also Phillip likes it. Also a lot about being of Advanced Maternal Age. Heh.)

    At age practically-36 I still have not figured out what I will do when I grow up. I continue to be awed and cowed by ladies with careers. 

    Tonight we meet with another engaged couple to do some extremely amateur pre-marital counseling type stuff. If there is anything that makes me aware that I'm on the Late Thirties side, it's chatting with 20-something couples. 

    I have started thinking about writing again, but it seems the older I get, the younger I want to write for. I keep imagining stories my 8-year-old boy would want to read. 

    Practically-36-year-old me makes friends so much easier than 16- or 26-year-old me. 

    Oh God, 16 was 20 years ago. I mean, I don't MISS 16, but for the amount of thinking I still do about What Stuff Messed Me Up When I Was A Teenager, it seems like I should be, you know, over it by now. 

    One one hand I feel so Desperate Housewivesy - we're interviewing kitchen/bath remodel companies, my kids drive me crazy, I'm overweight, the best thing that's happened in weeks is hiring a lawn service to clean up my jungle yard. And on the other hand I spent two hours with my best friends talking about what it would be like if we created some sort of retreats/trainings/spiritual direction type place HOW COOL IS THAT. (SO COOL.)

    Inactivity, crazy pills, and a lifetime devotion to baked goods have me at my possibly highest weight (I stopped checking, ha), but hey, there's always Hot By Forty. Right? Right. 

    Aaaand, just like that I see it's 5:12 pm and I have yet to figure out what we're eating for dinner. Do we think 36 will be the year I learn to love cooking? I don't think so either, internet. 

     

    March 10, 2015

    SAHM, Entrepreneur, Official-Macaron-Taster, and now Art Teacher

    Tomorrow I'm starting something completely out of character which is Teaching Small Children. Never in my LIFE have I EVER wanted to be a teacher of small children, work with small children, or supervise small children. Even as a teenager, babysitting was my least favorite (though often only) way to earn money. BUT TOMORROW I'M GONNA DO IT. 

    See, my kids are poor, deprived, public school students and our particular school seems particularly deficient in art and music. They do art projects in class and I think 4th and 5th graders get to do band, but it bums me out that these aren't subjects that are taught anymore. Or should I say, that there isn't enough money for these subjects to be taught at OUR school. It's why I spent a not insignificant amount of time mooning over and hoping to send our kids to the Catholic school. THAT SAID, I really truly super duper stinking love our little neighborhood public school. I will just have to teach them art at home. 

    So yes, I did a bit of research and bought an actual factual Art Curriculum. It's called Meet The Masters and will do just dandy for not just my kids but the handful of my friends' kids I've invited to do it with us. (Because my kids are going to be more sold on this extracurricular if OTHER kids come and it's MORE like a REAL THING. You know? Instead of mom beating them over the head with a copy of The Starry Night?) 

    Tomorrow we're going to do a little introductory lesson where we make a portfolio to hold our masterpieces. But then it's 5 weeks of learning about a particular artist's life, learning a technique, and then trying it out on our own. I know nothing about art, which is not IDEAL, and I cannot draw or paint to save my life, but oh well. The thing is, absolutely everything I know about art I learned in 3rd and 4th grade when I was in a program called 'Challenge' and we did a similar art curriculum. Seriously. This is the only reason why I know any famous painters at all. I can APPRECIATE art - I absolutely love art museums, to the detriment of my poor husband - but I was too busy filling my schedule with poetry classes in college to take a single Art History course. (Art History, History, and Philosophy WHY DIDN'T I TAKE ANY OF THESE?) 

    Anyway. I am hopeful that my kids will come out of it at least being able to recognize a famous painting or two, maybe even know what the world "pointilism" means. We'll see. I mean, there are a million things I'd love to expose them to - dead European painters is just the beginning, yes? 

    I was telling Molly's teacher about it today and she said, "Oh, and then you can do it as an after school program here!" and I said, "YOU ARE TAKING THINGS TOO FAR, WOMAN!" 

    Groups of small children and art supplies - it can only be awesome, right? 

    January 09, 2015

    In the tired place

    In about an hour and a half Phillip will get home from work and I will FLEEEEE this house. My real life friends and I have booked a fawncy hotel room right across the street from Bell Square (which is a fawncy mall in the fawncy Seattle suburb) for two nights and honestly, I don't care if I spend two days in my pajamas reading and sleeping. Actually I think I would PREFER to spend the next two days in my pajamas reading and sleeping. 

    I feel terrible because THIS IS JUST NORMAL LIFE, YOU KNOW, but Macaron Madness, Christmas, Winter Break, starting school again, helping my brother and sister-in-law with their move (baaaabysitting), taking Christmas down, getting life back on track - I kind of feel like I've got everyone's life back on track except mine. I am SO TIRED. I have been tired forever, but I feel like I'm reaching new heights of tired. So Christmas is put away, kids are settled back in routine, things are moving on the trip planning front, I earned some family brownie points, even the BAKERY is refocused, tightened up, strategized. But ME... I'm an overweight tired mess with straggly bottle blond hair and nails bitten to the quick and mountains of laundry following me around. 

    We booked this weekend a loooong time ago. One of us is super big on Friend Weekends Away and the other two of us are happy to make them happen. One of us is a super strong believer in taking breaks and resting and relaxing and taking care of yourself and the other two of us are grateful for her because otherwise we probably never would. We were supposed to go this summer and then I, uh, booked the bakery for the street fair. Oops. 

    The kitchen is cleaned and I stocked the fridge with fruit and cheese, the freezer with pizza, and the cupboard with bread and peanut butter. Phillip should be just fine. And there's a big football game tomorrow night and while I do enjoy a house full of people all excited about something and drinking adult beverages, I find this football stuff stressful and it'll be nice to be hidden away with friends who probably have no idea this football game exists. 

    I sort of hate the book I'm reading, so if you read this this evening and have a book rec, let me know. I'm finding I don't love a lot of the books Twitter loves, but I'm not sure why. I have this "no disturbing movie" policy that has now crept into what books I read. Except I still read heaps of war books? And fiction set during war? So I don't know what that's about. I kinda set you up to fail there, didn't I. Maybe don't recommend books to me. 

    I am just so tired. But even when I'm dead tired I still wake up during the night, so I'm bringing my trusty bottle of Target brand sleep aid. I'm not sure if I officially announced that my brain medicine is working. They told me "sometimes it takes up to 12 weeks". It got worse at 12 weeks. Like, a lot worse, and I was working myself into a place where I could go BACK to the brain doctor and say I have to try something else, do this whole thing ALL OVER AGAIN NOOOOOO, except things clicked into place around the 15 week mark. Which is crazy to me. When I went back on meds after Emma and they didn't work and I got on the massive hamster wheel of SSRI experimentation - I wonder if I'd just stayed on them a little longer, if it would have worked out like this one. Not that it matters NOW. Now I am feeling pretty un-anxious and just like myself. I have tons of weight I want to lose and I'm not sure I can - due to the medicine and my own lazy self. I want to cut my hair off, but I can't afford haircuts every 5 weeks AND bleach. I have a simple wardrobe of stretchy pants and slouchy tops that I attempt to improve with many scarves and expensive eyeshadow. I am close enough to the miserable anxiety place that I would not hesitate for a split second if I had to choose between Chubby and Anxious. So I feel thankful for that. And thankful I feel well. It took so long! and then I can't believe that it's gone! (For now.) (Always have to add that "for now".) 

    I should go pack. I should probably think of something other than pajamas to pack. Like I think I might be expected to go out to eat. Or shop. Or be in public. 

    I have such good friends. Here and in "real life". In the throes of planning another friend weekend (though that one's more the type to close down bars while wearing heels. So. I'm lucky to have both, aren't I.)

    P.S. I will tell you about the bakery next week. Please prepare your commenting fingers.

     

    January 06, 2015

    On budgeting, SAHMing, and Purpose In Life-ing

    Money talk is SO AWKWARD, isn't it?*

    Budgeting has not been a strong point in the Cheung Household (UNDERSTATEMENT), but we are giving it another go in 2015. For a long while Phillip paid all the bills and did all the money stuff and I was a proper 1950s housewife who knew nothing about nothing. Then he went back to school and taking over the money stuff was something I could help with - and shoot, I kept myself afloat through college, working and paying my own bills and whatnot, I'm not TOTALLY useless. And I developed my own "budgeting" system (mostly a very neurotic Excel spreadsheet and stacks of receipts), but I'd say that all of the budgeting we've ever done has been more of a "Oh, huh, look at all the categories we overspent in THIS month!" rather than a "Oh, huh, look at that category, we should probably not go out to dinner tonight." You know? I was SUPER GOOD at tracking what big spenders we were, basically. 

    Earlier this year when the bakery started taking over my life, Phillip went back to doing the money stuff. And he started using Mint, which I absolutely positively cannot stand. For unidentifiable reasons. I just do. Also Phillip's mode of budgeting was basically the same as mine (excellent tracking! not so much with the cutting!), except he added an element of OHHHH NOOOO and this is where everything went to pot. Many many MANY discussions this year re: our differing approaches to money, our differing views on what is enough money, our differing views on what to do with the money. I should say that we are in full agreement on the big questions; it's the small nitty gritty questions where we butt heads. 

    We had another of these painful conversations last night, and a lot of OTHER stuff plays into these conversations too, right? How you grew up, expectations, general levels of stress, how you cope, all sorts of really complicated things that you just have to accept and put aside and deal. We manage to do that by having a fight first, then having a productive conversation. Is there a better way to do this? Probably! We just haven't figured out how yet. 

    ANYWAY. For a multitude of reasons, not least because I never understood Mint, we downloaded the free trial of You Need A Budget and set the whole thing up. We are hopeful! I already understand the system better than I ever understood Mint, and Phillip appreciates having everything accessible and uploadable and not color coded in aqua and pink and yellow with circular reference errors all over the place (I didn't say I was GOOD at Excel). 

    But we did decide that we couldn't send EJ to preschool like I hoped. It's not a HUGE deal and we WILL find a way to make it work next year when she's four, but stuff like Europe Trips and house maintenance are the big deals currently. And preschool's expensive, even the cheap ones. I cut the housecleaner because they were honestly causing me more stress than helping, but I know that will be annoying as soon as it's time to clean a toilet. We made up good-sounding amounts for groceries and dining out and clothing, but have we ever adhered to those amounts before? This feels a bit like a new year's resolution to lose weight that's bound to crap out by February. I have a definite "oh, everything works out!" personality which drives my poor husband around the bend, so it's in the interest of our marriage that I stay engaged and concerned. And I plan to. I'd like to learn how to SAVE money and go to Europe AGAIN! (Phillip: hanging head)

    Any discussion of money, though, takes me into the Is It Okay That I'm A SAHM frets and I feel kinda insecure tonight. Especially reading everyone's tweets about their kick ass working moms today. I know Phillip would have preferred I stay working, though it wasn't a choice I made so much as my job sort of disappeared after I left it and I wasn't sure how to "go back" to work. And also we were making it work on one income. And I never liked my job. Or working in an office. And I really loved staying home. And yes, I have ALWAYS felt like someone was going to TELL ON ME or something, that's how much I loved (love) staying home. 

    I don't think I'm especially GOOD at it or anything. I am not SuperMom. I do as little housework and cooking as I can get away with. When they were babies I hung out with my friends with babies as much as humanly possible. I've done a lot of shopping and coffee drinking and napping. For a while I did a lot of exercising. My kids are clean and fed and taken care of, but am I teaching them to read or doing art projects or playing games? Um, SOMEtimes? Not REALLY? They know their families really well. They know about being kind. They are forced to eat vegetables every couple of days. ???

    I think one thing I feel confident about, but also mixed-feelings about, is that because I stayed home with the kids, Phillip has been able to pursue everything he's wanted to pursue. Grad school, business travel, switching jobs several times, without ever worrying about how to manage things at home. I have always taken care of that and I for sure don't know how he would have earned that Master's degree without me holding down the fort. (I suppose there's an argument to be made re: "but YOU'RE the one who wanted to have kids", but that's a dark mental pit that doesn't actually exist in the real world and I try to stay away from it.) 

    THAT SAID. I'm not sure what that gets me as a woman in the 21st century. I have family members and friends for whom it's VERY IMPORTANT to be able to earn your own living. And I... can't do that. Something happens to Phillip? Not sure what I'd do. I have nothing to fall back on. And I never found The Thing I Like Doing. Although... I think I HAVE, actually, but no one pays you to be a professional pray-er. (This is my problem, Phillip says. Everything I work hard at is not paid work. ALAS.)

    In that respect I feel failure-ish. It's all on my husband to support our family. Even if I WANTED to help, childcare would cost more than whatever I would take home. (At least now, while we still have one at home.) Perhaps I have let myself down? I have not been All I Could Be? Am not fabulous career woman, famous writer, rich business lady, cannot even buy my own lip gloss.

    But even THAT... I mean, I LIKE my life! I don't feel unfulfilled or unhappy. I DO feel guilty, sometimes, that I am not contributing financially. And that what I AM doing (bakery work, long weekends for churchy conferences) is somewhat hard on my husband without any financial gain for us. Most of the time I feel like I have plenty of time to figure out what I'm going to be when I grow up, though I suspect it doesn't involve an office or more schooling or any sort of financial independence. Gah. Uh... life would be pretty DULL without me?! **

     

    *I have an Asian-American husband, Asian-American in-laws, and two Asian-American best friends and this means I talk about money in public a LOT. The cultural differences here, they are big time. 

    **I KNOOOOOOW. I KNOW I AM WORTHY AND VALUABLE EVEN IF I DON'T HAVE A PAYCHECK. I'm just saying, if I kept writing about that this blog post would be eons long. It's ALREADY eons long. I AM AMAZED YOU GOT THIS FAR. 

    December 30, 2014

    A retrospective, a looking forward, a commitment to unhealthy foods

    Everybody's all "resolutions!" and "goals!" and "no more sugar!" and I'm all WHEN ARE THE KIDS GOING BACK TO SCHOOL. I hate to be that way, I really really do, but I'm having a hard time. It's not that the kids are home and driving me crazy so much as there is no routine and if anyone in this house needs routine it's the 35yo mom. I need Things On Which To Hang My Days, and when there's no school and everyone you know is traveling or sick or too far for the casual afternoon dumping-of-the-children-to-entertain-themselves-in-the-basement, life gets difficult. Plus it's the DARRRRK time of year and I HATE being stuck at home in the long dark afternoon. When Phillip got home tonight I nearly fled the house for the nearest movie theater (dark, but blissfully lacking in people asking for snacks). Instead he found some chocolate in a dresser drawer and I spent the next hour in the bath reading a post-WWII spy novel. THAT was lovely. 

    So yeah, no resolutions or goals for me. Yet. Maybe. Although I typically don't like to do resolutions - my biggest goal in life is to not fail at anything, so NOT making resolutions profoundly helps with that. 

    I think, at the end of 2014, I find myself in a place of looking back over the last couple of months and thinking, "Hmm. I could do THAT better." 

    Case in point: Christmas. Christmas was different this year. We did our own thing on Christmas Eve for the first time ever - the children's Mass (Jack and Molly were in the choir SO CUTE), then coming home, eating pizza and snacks, opening up our family presents. It was low key and easy, but I realized later I was annoyed that we didn't really have a PLAN. And even MORE later I realized that what I wanted was a TRADITION. As in, we ate the things we always eat on Christmas Eve. We opened the presents in the way we always open presents. Except we don't have those traditions. Yet. We have the way my family has always done things, but PHILLIP didn't grow up with that so he didn't KNOW, but then maybe we could mix it up a little ANYWAY... I just sort of wish we'd spent 10 minutes talking about how we wanted Christmas Eve to go. That said, it was lovely and the kids were super fun and it was really nice not having to rush around the next morning with church and getting ready for brunch with Phillip's side of the family. 

    But next year...

    I also want to find a way to make preparing for and celebrating Christmas more about JESUS. SIGH. This was doubly hard this year because of the bakery, aka Macaron Madness Month. I forgot and/or left out a lot of Christmas party things I always do and this was doubly true of Actual Christmas. We didn't even do the chocolate Advent calendar! The absolute laziest thing you can do for Advent! 

    I don't know if we'll still have a bakery next year (lots to discuss this month! STAY TUNED!), but even so, I've been reading a lot about the people who don't put up the tree until Christmas Eve and make the 12 Days of Christmas a THING. Part of this is appealing. We always leave up the decorations until the Epiphany and wouldn't it be nice if Christmas wasn't suddenly slam bam OVER on the 26th? What would it be like to turn our annual Christmas party into a TWELFTH NIGHT party?! (I am seriously digging this idea.) That said, this is a way of being counter-cultural that would be VERY DIFFICULT for all involved... Like, I just don't think I could wait until Christmas Eve to put up our tree. We do our big Christmas shindig ON Christmas Eve! I don't want to explain why it's not the Christmas season YET or get huffy about it in blog posts and you guys I LOVE CHRISTMAS SHOPPING AT THE MALL I JUST DO. And I don't think I could draw out the present opening for 12 days (although is this something everyone does or just the person whose blog post I was reading?) But TALKING about the 12 days of Christmas, maybe planning a thing to do on each day when there's so much more time to observe the season... I don't know. This is definitely something I want to talk to Phillip about in the car, when he's a captive audience. Anyone here do that or considering it? I think if I wasn't spending the week before Christmas planning a party and getting rid of the kids for the weekend and worried about how everything is decorated, I miiiiight have more time to talk about running for your lives and having a baby in a BARN. Etc.

    What else. Oh, I hate my house. It's like now that I'm not bakerying 24/7 I have time to be irritated with my house again. It also doesn't help that one of my friends is planning to put her own house on the market this spring and constantly texts me with Redfin links to new construction. I mean, I love it, but it doesn't help with the fact that I have a poorly designed bathroom and my kitchen countertops are embedded with 25 years of grease. And I SERIOUSLY can't do anything about it because any money we might be able to spend on the house in 2015 has gone towards lodging in London for a week OH DEAR GOD. I swear, London will be the reason my kids don't go to college. 

    BUT I LOVE YOU, LONDON. I have spent the better part of winter break on AirBnB and VRBO.com looking for the perfect vacation rental. (It does not exist.) I have read ninety-seven articles about London With Kids. I have calculated how much it will cost to see a musical (this will be the reason the kids have crooked teeth). I am super excited to go to Italy and I am somewhat excited about our few days of just-us time in Paris, but London OH. I really do love London. I think I can love Paris too - I've only been as a 17-year-old trying to lose the adults who were constantly on my case and as a 21-year-old with her college roommate (and trying to lose her too) (I have since grown as a person). Being there with my One True Love will surely make a difference. And Italy... well, I mean, it's just a GIVEN that Italy is my favorite and everything there will be as spectacular as it always is. London is just the place I always hope I get to go to and LOOK! I DO! WHEE!

    (Prague is my other favorite. And if all the stars aligned I would actually be on a Tour of Important Eastern European Locations In 20th Century History, but we all know no one wants to go on THAT trip with me, amirite?) (WARSAW! I want to go to Warsaw!)

    ANYWAY.

    Things. Needing them done differently.

    2015 may be the year I find a regular babysitter. In 2015 Emma will start going to preschool. I'm trying to find a place to start her in January, though her age (a very young 3) and the never-going-to-happen-potty-training situation are making this task difficult. Maybe this will be the year the business becomes, you know, real. Real-er. Or it becomes the year we decided to put it aside and I get all obsessed about my house again, who knows. We will travel lots. (I have $750 in Alaska Airlines vouchers from my disaster Colorado trip that I need to spend by June!) The Blathering is HERE! Partly in my HOUSE! My kids are getting older which is very much freaking me out. I'll turn 36 which is definitely on the downward slide to 40. Oh, I should probably lose some weight too. NOW we've got ourselves a proper resolutions post! 

    I could take care of my house better. I could be a better wife. I could read better books. I could learn to dress better. I could bite the bullet and do better at being a Good Parishioner instead of hiding in the back. I could definitely be a better keep-in-touch-er. 

    But I think the thing I most want to do is keep moving... I want my heart and brain to keep expanding, you know? New stuff. More people. Bigger world. So more of that, 2015. And if it means I have to let the clean floors and no chocolate vows slide, well, I'll power through. 

     

     

    December 20, 2014

    Christmas Party 2014 Post Mortem

    Except for year my sister got married in December and we did a St. Valentine's Day Massacre party instead, we've thrown a Christmas party every year we've been married. It's been a white elephant party and a collect-canned-food party and one time I tried to create a dance floor (FAIL), but it's always been a invite-pretty-much-every-single-person-we-know-and-eat-and-drink party. And I really love having it. 

    In the last few years - the first year we lived in this house, especially - I have tried to out-Pinterest Pinterest. Which is sad/funny since I'm not much for crafting. Buntings and hot chocolate bars and cute labels for everything. Our house has high ceilings and I would spend DAYS stringing lights and garlands and tinsel, carefully placing mason jars full of cranberries and tealights in the high window sills. I would fret about no one coming, then I would fret about too many people coming, then I would stress about food and make millions of to do lists. 

    The day OF the party, I would clean and decorate and prep food and slump onto the couch, usually about 4pm, and wonder why in the world I do this every year and GOD THIS IS THE WORST IDEA EVER. Then I would pick myself up, put on the dress (which would be the least bad dress out of all the dress options, sigh) and do my makeup and hair and put on tall shoes and THEN I'd find myself kicked into gear. A glass of wine while I'm putting out the last minute stuff, Phillip hunched over a laptop and the TV stuff, trying to get the music to work (WHY DOES THIS TAKE HIM SO LONG, EVERY YEAR, YOU THINK HE'D CREATE A MACRO, DO THEY STILL HAVE THOSE?) and I would start to fa-reak. out. about. everything not getting done and THEN! 

    People would show up. And I would have the best time. Seriously, so much more fun than LAST year. 

    Then: the half hearted late night clean up. An "eh, that's good enough" and passing out with your dress still on, on top of the covers. The next day: did people have fun? Really? Did they like the food? Did they think the people were cool? I'm sure they did, our friends are awesome, but I don't know, what about that one couple who didn't seem to talk to anyone else? Did I ignore them? Oh crap I forgot to put out that decoration! I meant to light those candles! I didn't put embarrassing party prep materials away! I forgot to hide the potty seat! OH NOOOOOOO WORST PARTY EVERRRRRRRR

    So. 

    This year was very much the same. The same Phillip working on a tertiary level of party prep vs. me frantically putting food out and hoping he will notice and HELP ME FTLOG, the same very old friends, the same mix of super new ones, the having of the best time, the same people staying late, the same stuffing of leftovers in the fridge and passing out, the same groggy wakeup and second guessing of every moment. 

    But certain things were different. I did not have TIME to Pinterest this party. In fact, I didn't manage to put up a large chunk of plain old boring stuff I ALWAYS put up. I did start decorating early and I thought I had time to do it all, but it turned out I sort of didn't care and also suspected other people wouldn't even notice. (They didn't.) 

    I did not make punch. No one came up to me and demanded to know where the punch was. No one has emailed me yet to say how disappointed they were I didn't have punch at the party. (Basically, I forgot about punch.)

    I forgot to light the candles. 

    I forgot to put on shoes. I got my shoes OUT. I just... didn't put them on. And when I realized my shoes were in the middle of the floor instead of on my feet, I chose to kick them under the table. I also left on the leggings I wore all day under my party dress. Eh. 

    I didn't make ANY FOOD. Like, for serious. There has not been ONE YEAR in all the party throwing years when I don't pore over appetizer recipes and STRESS and FRET and WORRY because I need the party food to be SPECIAL and FANCY. No. This year I went to Costco. I bought all the chips and bread and crackers. I bought all the dips. I bought all the fancy Italian meat. I bought all the cheese. I did roast some peppers and I did throw some meatballs (from Costco) in the oven. There was no itemized list of when to cook things in the oven this year AND IT WAS SERIOUSLY THE BEST THING EVER. Also, no one complained or has since called or emailed me to complain or be disappointed. The fact that I think this is a possibility may tell you a little something about me. I know it's weird to be afraid of disappointing people with store bought food when the food I MAKE is often VERY DISAPPOINTING, but no one has ever accused me of being rational.

    We still had the obscene table of booze and mixers (thank you, Duty Free Store!) but it wasn't decorated very nicely, I didn't have time to write up drink recipes in pretty handwriting, and I just sort of threw the bar equipment on the table and hoped for the best. I'm not aware of anyone being disappointed by the haphazard bar layout and/or lack of a second bottle of Maker's Mark. (I had one. Downstairs. Dudes, if I put out ALL the Makers Mark, they won't drink anything else!) 

    The biggest possible disappointment was the severe shrinkage of the dessert table. The morning of the party I made three ridiculously easy bar cookies and brownies, cut them up, threw them on platters, cut up some toblerone and threw some truffles in a dish. Done. I didn't THINK this would be a big deal, because I usually have ten tons of cookies left over after the party anyway, but it was disappointing to ME. There were no Thumbprints sweets on account of every macaron being worth their weight in gold around here, and people at Phillip's work had been asking if they'd get to sample Thumbprints stuff! No, they just got my lame bar cookies. But you know? I don't think people were for REAL disappointed by this either. 

    I didn't do anything new. I didn't try anything different. 

    But, as usual, the people made the party. We have the old friends who come every year. And because Phillip keeps changing jobs and because I'm conning all the school parents into being my friends, we had a lot of new folks too. And I know this sort of thing is not for everyone, but I REALLY REALLY STINKING LOVE gathering all my people. I love introducing them to each other. I love feeding them and plying them with drinks and getting dressed up and not having kids around and meeting peoples' spouses and learning what neat things people are doing and I JUST LOVE IT. I'm an established introvert and like everyone else, I hate small talk too. But you just start asking people about themselves and they have such interesting answers! It's also possible that I am just surrounded by super fabulous people YAY ME. 

    I suppose the one TRULY terrible thing that happened last night is that my blog - oh yes, THIS BLOG RIGHT HERE - was outed, and not even by a BLOG FRIEND. Yeah. HI, FELLOW SCHOOL PARENTS! WELCOME TO MY MANY NEUROSES! I UNDERSTAND IF YOU DON'T WANT TO HAVE THAT PLAYDATE ANYMORE.

    I guess... it was not my favorite party in that I didn't feel super spectacular about how everything LOOKED or TASTED, I would not have given myself an A+, no one is going to pin a picture of my beautiful tablescape. TORTURED SIGH. But you know, I am growing as a person, don't you think? Look at me all "Who cares if I wear shoes! Who cares if the candles aren't lit! Who cares if I just left this plastic tub of spinach dip on the table in the middle of everything after I dumped it into a bowl? C'EST LA VIE!"

     

    November 26, 2014

    It matters to me

    I'm going to say a few things about Ferguson on my blog. Even though I have a POLICY of not saying things about things like Ferguson on my blog. Even though, even beyond the POLICY, no one cares what things I have to say about Ferguson. I'm breaking the POLICY because while it's served me well, I think, in this one instance, it may be hurtful to someone I know, a black woman from St. Louis. 

    This whole time I've been thinking: what can *I* do? What *can* I do? 

    Everywhere I read, the call to white people is: speak up! But I want to say to them: have you met me? I... don't do that. I have a POLICY. 

    And also, I don't LIKE to speak up. I feel like there's a lot of people on the internet who are there ONLY to speak up. About everything. So many opinions and thoughts and stances about so many things. And I feel like there are lots of valid opinions and thoughts and stances about many things and I want to respect yours and I would like to LEARN about yours and maybe, one day, we can get to what I maybe think about things...

    But I am wondering if the only thing I can do is speak up. Not to... I don't know. ENGAGE people, necessarily. Heaven forbid I have to engage with anyone. And not to join a chorus or a conversation and certainly not to start a debate or change a mind. I have negative skills in those areas. Also, quite honestly, it appears that all of my people are on the same wavelength here. Is it even necessary for me to speak up? 

    I have been praying for God to show me what matters in this situation. I mean, what I can AFFECT in what matters, if that makes sense. I felt wrapped up in the rightness or wrongness of the grand jury decision, trying to figure out what I thought about all of that, but praying too, praying that God would take away the things that didn't matter and leave the things that did. Slowly, over the course of this one day, God rendered all of my thoughts about Ferguson unimportant except one: the fact that my black friend from St. Louis is hurting. 

    So I want to sit here, on Thanksgiving Eve, ruminating over my blessings and I want to speak up. I want to shout: ASHLEY! I SEE YOU! IT MATTERS TO ME THAT YOU ARE HURTING! IT MATTERS TO ME. It matters to me.

    I don't need to know how I feel and what I think before I grasp and abhor the fact that someone meaningful to me is hurting. I pray for the ability to sit in the tension, the humility to give up thinking I need what I think I need, the courage to walk alongside my sister in Christ, to pursue a Jesus-focused understanding. I think that's what I need to say out loud. That I'm here, Ashley, and I see you, I see this, I want to see it better.  

     

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