Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Spotting the fakes

On Saturday mornings, I used to ride around in the car with my Dad while he ran errands here and there. He would always smile and wave at people while he drove. He seemed so eagerly excited and friendly, that I just had to ask, "Who was that?"

"Nobody, I know," he'd say. Just being friendly. And he was. Sincerely, I think my Dad felt happy to be part of a small village, where people took the time to smile and wave.

Heather's post on manners has had me thinking all week. While bad manners are awful, fake niceness is worse. Those fake smiles are the messy things of life that I like to shake off me like a dog shakes off water when he jumps out of a lake. Now that I live in a bigger Midwest town, I'm becoming especially adept at spotting the fakes. I'm sure that the "fake nice people" existed in my small town, but it was easier to ferret out sincerity when there were less people to study.

The underlying issue I have with "the fakes," is not in the difficulty in spotting them, but rather, why? Why bother to go out of your way to make someone feel important, cared for, and well-liked, if you don't really mean it? Who, in this short life, has time for that? And more importantly, why not care? Who are you not to care, I want to ask.

There's a neat little test you can take over at BBC Science that rates your ability to spot a fake smile. I got 11 out of 20 right. Out of the 9 I missed, I thought 7 of them were fake smiles, when they were genuinely real.

Without giving away the clues of what to look for, I'll just say that fake smiles are created consciously by the brain, engaging specific muscles. Genuine smiles are created by the unconscious part of the brain, in a spontaneous, effortless movement that engages a different set of muscles. You don't even know you're doing it. It just happens.

Today, my wish for you is that your days be filled with so much joy that you find yourself unconsciously smiling, without an ounce of effort on your part. As Moms, we need much of our day to be effortless anyway.

If you take the test, post your scores! It would be fun to compare.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Show Us You're Whirled

What? That's not the theme? It's Show Us Your World??!? Cripes. I always mess these things up.

KU Parade

Just joshing you. I had my post ready, all wrapped up with a bow, and it ate itself this morning. So, I will need to get back to you on that, later this evening.

In the meantime, lurkers, why haven't you Shown Us Your World yet?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Where Have all the Manners Gone?

Here in the Midwest, perhaps in Minnesota particularly, we’re known for being “nice.” Part of being nice, in my opinion, includes having good manners though.

I don’t know what’s happened to having good, old-fashioned, manners but they are certainly lacking in my city.

Since when is it okay to let a very obviously pregnant woman with one or two kids in tow hold the door open for multiple people who don’t bother to even look at her, let alone say “thank you?”

It is also common for me to say “thank you” to the store clerk who rings up my purchases, to which he or she will often reply “you’re welcome” if he or she says anything at all.

Have you been in a restaurant and the man at the next table is using less-than polite language? I have. And I have yet to figure out what the profanity adds to the story. I admit this bothers me more when I have my kids with me, but honestly, it’s not pleasant to listen to any time.

I can’t even count all the times that I’ve been at a stop sign and waiting patiently for a pedestrian to cross the street when someone behind me honks. Really? Apparently I’m to run down another human being so that the person in the car behind me doesn’t have to sit at a stop sign for more than a minute.

Just think how much more pleasant life would be if people were expected to act civilly again. There have been many great things that have happened over the years, like electricity and cars and the right for the minority vote but there has also been a moral decline in society. It’s just not seen as necessary to be a nice person anymore. If you’re nice, you’re weak.
But really those who are still nice are the truly strong ones.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Another Phase...for Mother and Child

Motherhood, I have found, is not unlike childhood.  We start off not knowing much, really, about what lies ahead.  We learn on the job, sometimes from parents, sometimes from experts, often from friends.  We make mistakes.  We misspeak.  We learn the meaning of mercy and grace.

With my eldest entering the tween years, I’ve entered a new phase of motherhood (and yes, it takes a lot of mercy and grace, on both of our parts).  In doing so, I’ve come to realize that motherhood, like childhood, is just that: a series of phases.  Some we relish, others we endure, but each phase comes and then—poof—it goes.  It vanishes and we are onto the next.

Before I even had children, I experienced a phase where I thought I knew a few things about motherhood.  I certainly knew what I wouldn’t do.  Ha! 

Then came the infant phase, which knocked me right into “how will I ever survive this” land.  I know that there are lots of you out there who ooohhh and aaahhhh over infants, and today I do, too.  But when I was seriously sleep-deprived, a thousand miles from anyone I knew, and lonely, I wondered if I would ever see the light of day again. 

But then he started to laugh.  And crawl.  And I loved that phase.  I loved it when he made a mess, threw a tantrum, and sat on my lap for hours reading picture books.  I loved it right up until he turned three.

The three-year old phase was a bit more challenging, but still fun.  All in all, we were good, and I knew what I was doing, and then he turned eleven.

And that’s where I find myself now, lost again, struggling to figure out what’s up, what’s down.  My sweet boy is still sweet, but suddenly prone to outbursts (you’re ruining my life!) and comparisons (every other person in my class has video games!) that have previously been absent.  Hormones (his, not mine), independence, and the quest for self-identity—we are here, suddenly, dramatically, here.

Way back in the day when I was still thinking about having children, a friend of mine, Cindy (already a mother of three), was a great encourager.  I couldn’t start having kids soon enough for her.  One day, she gave me a re-print of an article written by Dale Hanson Bourke that speaks about motherhood as truthfully and eloquently as I’ve ever seen it. (Click here to read it.)  It touches me as much to read it today as it did over a decade ago.  And as we make our way though yet another phase, of motherhood and childhood, I have to concur:  It’s changed my life and I’ll never regret it.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Show us your world #4

As I was trying to decide what I should share for the latest show us your world post, I started thinking that my hometown looks like many of the other posts that we've already seen. Sure, we have things that make it different from any other small town and unique to our family (who loves to be outside and enjoy the many woods, creeks, and parks in our area). But overall, we see alot of the same things that have already been posted.

That being said, I decided to go a different route. Instead, I am going to show you my world inside my house.

Like most mothers, my world revolves around the four little people that I gave birth to. They fill my days (and my house) full of all things "kid" and those things are a HUGE part of my life. My house is overflowing with pictures of my kids, things the kids have made, photo albums, and scrapbooks (and piles of things they bring home from school). I have lost any sense of organization now that I am a mother of four, so my kid's "stuff" is covering every spot it can in our house. You really can not look anywhere and not see that there are KIDS here, and I love that (when I am not tripping on cars...but that is another post) about our house.

Here are a few of the places in our house that show you just what I am talking about...

Our house is not the biggest or the best. There are days that I wish it were bigger, or that the walls were painted a different color, or that we had new furniture here or there. But then I look around, and my whole perspective can change in an instant.

This is my world, and I love it here.

It is full of all of the little things that make me smile. Reminders that I am important in the lives of these little ones, and reminders to them that they are just as important to me!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Soybeans: A Kid's Delicacy

There must have been a time in my toddler years when I looked out at the fields growing around our small Midwestern town and said, "What are they growing?" Soon, I'm sure I tired of hearing the same thing, "field corn," and "soy beans," and stopped asking. The fields around my town were never growing something fun like "Popcorn," or the kind of corn you used for Corn Flakes. I couldn't point to a single item in the grocery store and say, "this came from where I live!"

The plants that grew in the fertile soils were primarily used to make something else. Field corn was used to fatten pigs and livestock. Soybeans were processed by extracting the oil, and the de-fatted soy was used for animal feed. A bit of this was also used for filler in processed food; probably the same food that was served in my school's cafeteria.

As I sat in the backseat of the car, there was never a field more boring to look at than one full of soybeans. Short little plants that didn't even get tall enough to make a maze.

Still, the farmers around my town grew a lot of soybeans. They dotted almost every field across our landscape. And not once did one of my aunts pick a pile of soybeans and boil them for dinner. Sure, they harvested plenty of tomatoes, cabbages, green beans and "sweet corn," but not once would they eat the lowly soy bean. Perhaps because it was fed to the pigs, the soy bean had little respect to the Midwestern farmhouse wife. Still the soybean was revered for other reasons; primarily because of the cash the crop generated.

I can't remember the first time a steaming bowl of soybeans was served to me in a white-linen-tablecloth restaurant, but I do remember instantly falling in love with the taste of this delectable vegetable. There, it was not called a soybean, of course. It was the oriental vegetable served in sushi restaurants, Edamame, (beans on branches). As I ran the shell of each pod along my teeth, and pushed out the beans, I kept thinking that this amazing delicious bean had been growing outside in the fields for as long as I can remember, and it had been completely ignored all my life. Still, I later learned, that the farmers around my home were growing field soybeans, much different than Edamame; Edamame, of course, is sweeter.

Still, fields full of Edamame are somewhat of a rarity in the Midwest. Because of the vegetable's evolving popularity, this is slowing changing. Soybeans are a complete protein, also full of calcium, magnesium and potassium. This could be the answer to my kid's finicky-eating problem. Thankfully, when I served a bowl of these green beans, to the boys, they ate up the soybeans like it was popcorn.

The first time I fixed them for my Mom, I was nursing a baby, and she ended up taking over in the kitchen. My Mom had mastered the fine art of cooking a green bean to perfection. As a child, I used to eat serving after serving of her green beans. Yet, I didn't have a chance to stop her before she boiled the soybeans until they were too gray (like green beans) and covered them with butter (no no). I explained, "Mom, you don't eat the shell.. they just need salt."

By far my funniest moment with soybeans was when I announced our new-found dietary delicacy to an Uncle who has been growing them for most of his life: "We put a bowl of soy beans on the table at least twice a week." His mouth dropped, and he just looked at me, waiting for me to finish. "They're really good," I said. "You should try 'em some time."

So, to any of you who have driven past fields of soy beans (although it was likely the "field variety"), and have yet to taste them, here's how to cook them. They could be the answer to the problem of getting your kids to eat their vegetables:
  • If no field of soybeans is close by, you can buy a frozen bag of Edamame at the grocery store. (Check the organic section.)
  • Place the soybeans in a pan of boiling water for about 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Drain, and sprinkle with dashes of salt.
  • Shell with your teeth and pop into your mouth.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Destruction in the Land of Plenty

Both of my kids have special nicknames that I’ve listed in my profile on my blog, in addition to their simple initial “names” that I use to try to give them an illusion of privacy and safety on the Internet. M is, and always will be my “Turkey.” K is “Accident-Prone Man Jr.” and “Destructo-Boy.”

K, as of late however, has been leaning more toward the “Destructo-Boy” label rather than the “Accident Prone.” This is both good and bad. I’m thankful that he’s not hurting himself quite as regularly as he once did, but the destroying things is really grating on my nerves (and, in some cases, my wallet).

K, I say, watching him as he swings his new yo-yo around in circles and knocking it into various objects around the room, you’re going to break it. Rinse, repeat, 10 more times until suddenly the yo-yo breaks in half after a particularly hard crack against the floor.

It broke Mommy! K cries, utterly distraught and completely oblivious to the fact that I’d warned him 10 times to NOT swing it around or it would break.

We have to get a new one! He wails. Uh. No, we don’t.

I have gone to buy a new whateveritis only twice when he has broken things. Both instances were when he broke something of his sister’s. I didn’t think it would be fair to punish her for his destructive behavior.

I remember watching an episode of Super Nanny where there were two boys who loved to destroy their toys. Jo said it was because they had so many toys they didn’t really care if some were broken. I’ve already written that I know this is the case with my son.

I don’t know how to get him to respect his sister’s things however. If he breaks his own toys, well, that’s his problem. If he breaks his sister’s things? Well, that’s just not fair to her.

Mostly my solutions are to make M keep most of her toys in her room, then tell K he’s not allowed in her room unless she invites him in to play with her. At the same time that I’m telling her this, I think that she should be able to leave a few of her things out in the common area of the house without fear that it will be broken in her absence.

I’m hoping that K will outgrow this destructive habit (probably just in time for the baby to take over destroying things) but sometimes I wonder if that’s ever going to happen.

What do you think? Is this a phase that he’s going through? (A phase that’s lasting years?) Or is there something else going on here that I’m missing out on teaching him?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Other Story of Stuff

If you haven't seen The Story of Stuff before, I highly recommend you take 20 minutes out of your day and check it out.

But that's not really what my (late) post is about. This is another story of stuff.

Bill and Lucille grew up in a small town in Kansas, met and married sometime in the 1930's. He wasn't fit to actually fight in World War II when he and his brother enlisted, so he stayed here in country for his military service. They built their lives around Kansas, and raised their two children. In 1967, they moved into a home on a quiet street on what was then the edge of town. By then the kids were mostly grown. After the kids went off to college, Lucille took signed up for painting classes-- the kind where you paint by the numbers and the outcome can vary. She was good at it. When she ran out of painting classes to take, she moved on to ceramics. And then macrame. Their small house at the edge of town filled up with her efforts, the stuff of life, and the gifts from the infinite number of friends from church, the Kiwanis, and various social groups.
Bill and Lucille lived on their own in their little house for a good long while. As their street was enveloped into town, and wasn't so "on the edge" anymore. Through a double knee replacement for Lucille that preceded a devastating stroke. Bill had problems with his thyroid, and sometimes his medicine would get wonky and he'd pass out. By 2006 he rarely drove. By 2007 Bill couldn't drive at all, and he couldn't get Lucille out of the house at all by himself. They lasted on their own until last month, when Bill had to be taken to the emergency room after he passed out, and no one could help him up off of the floor. And so they moved on. To an assisted living facility.

Bill and Lucille were my next door neighbors.

Their children came two weeks ago to move them into their new, tiny apartment, and to go through the house. And it took the entire two weeks. Forty years of living in a three bedroom ranch left the floors and furniture piled high and stuffed full. Stuff saved for sentimental value, for "just in case," or because their generation rarely threw anything away. Most of these things will go to auction in a few weeks. Their children hauled away one small U-Haul trailer of items, pulled by Bill's trusty Buick. And that was all they took away from the 90-something years of their parents lives, and their 60+ years together.

It's given me a lot to think about, as I look at my garage stacked high with books, furniture, and children's clothes. So much stuff. Some of it we will surely use again. (Especially if I get my way with that third baby.) But some of it we have moved from one storage space to another for the 20-something years we have been out of our parents' homes. (15 years for me. Hubs is old.) Fifty bajillion college t-shirts from when we used to work in residence life. 15 year old textbooks. Handmade items from loved ones that have left us. Most of these things mean something to us. And that's why they are permitted to live on, in the space formerly known as my garage.

But in 40 years, when my children come to move us into our tiny apartment, will any of these things have real value?


That stuff matters to us, and for that reason we hang on to it. But while we are waxing sentimental over that tub of baby onesies, there's someone else who could actually use those things right now. Truthfully, when my mom handed on things from when I was a child to me, there were very few of those things that I truly valued. The handmade christening gown I never wore because I was a fat baby. My daughter was baptised in it. (Noise was too fat at his baptism to wear it, too.) My grandmother's sewing machine. Someday, my great-grandmother's treadle sewing machine will come into my home. My mom learned to sew on that machine when she was a little girl. And then later my mom taught me to sew. Sometimes stuff transcends its stuff-ness and has a life of its own, like the Velveteen rabbit.

But sometimes stuff is just a garage, a house, or a basement full of crap. And if you don't deal with it, someone else will have to someday. In the meantime, people who could actually use those items are going without.

And if your kids are anything like Bill and Lucille's, they're going to rent a 15 foot haul-away trash dumpster and your stuff is going to be gone.

This (along with watching a DVR'd Oprah about hoarders) has inspired us to think more critically about the stuff that fills our lives, corners, and closets. To let go of the things that will never have value to anyone but ourselves. Things that we would never display, or enjoy, again but have been reluctant to let go of. For the cherished things we do want to keep around us, we need to remember to tell these stories, so that their value can be carried on.

Otherwise it's just crap.

What's filling your closets and homes? Is it cherished? Then celebrate it. If not, then why are you holding on? The stuff is not the memory. It's not the person who's passed away or your childhood. Those things live on in you. And just because an item came from that time or that person and you let it go-- that doesn't mean you're letting the person or the memory go.

It's just a macrame pot holder.