Friday, August 28, 2015

End of a Big Week

Monumental week this week. If it weren’t for the coffee shop I love so dearly, I might be wandering aimlessly somewhere talking to myself. Prayer has helped, too. Let’s be honest, it takes more than coffee to keep me going. But it’s Friday and my four kids and my husband and I got through the first five big days of public school life after six years of homeschooling. Additionally, we have a high school freshman - it might take months for me to acclimate to that. There have been victories (out the door every morning on time! good teachers! time at the coffee shop! homework done! lunches packed by a miracle of Jesus!) and defeats (slight bullying incident! tears and nausea on the way to school! lamenting early wake-up! why am I putting exclamation marks on the defeats?) But we did it. One down, thirty-something to go. Let’s not think about that right now.

The experiences of this week have been peppered by those of our friends. We know four families who just took their eldest kids to college. One navigating the world of college sports for her hopeful high-school senior. Some with new Kindergarteners, a couple marveling over full-day first-graders. A few in the earliest stages of motherhood with newborns. Plenty, like me, looking wide-eyed at their high-school freshmen and wondering when they got so tall… so opinionated… so old. 

The variations in parenting circumstances from newborn to college are staggering. But the similarities are undeniable and poignant. My mom-of-a-middle-schooler friend was buying school shoes and teared up when she realized her daughter’s feet were suddenly only one size smaller than her own. At the same time, our neighbor “forgot” she’d just dropped off her daughter at a campus hundreds of miles away and went ahead and got out a dinner plate for her, too. When her husband pointed it out… tears. The tears are a result of similar goings-on in our hearts - this parenting thing is never-ending change! Why does it hurt so much? I’m not prepared to delve into that question. What I do know is how it stood out to me this week all that we have in common. Weird how Katie’s Kindergarten boy posing next to his new teacher looks remarkably similar to Annette’s son in his just-set-up dorm room. Maybe only in a mother’s eyes, I’m not sure. All I know right now is that the coffee and the prayer are helping, and thank God for friends.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The End of Our Homeschool Era

Tonight we are going to a homeschool yearbook-signing party. My kids will see friends, sign yearbooks, and play in the park. My husband and I will see friends, eat potluck dinner, and cry into our hankies as we mark the end of an era - our homeschooling years. Okay, that’s not totally accurate. Kevin hardly ever cries in public. And I’m feeling nostalgic, but not really emotional. 

It has been a mostly-all-good six years. I’ve managed to teach the kids to read, do math, and feel comfortable doing science in pajamas. These kids are socialized, thriving, fun young people that I’ve been happy to have home with me all this time. But as a result of the occasional fear that I’m botching it, coupled with bouts of depression and loneliness, I think a change will be beneficial. I need the help and support of other teachers. I need more schedule, structure, and accountability than I currently have. Therefore, next year Joseph starts public high school and the other three will be attending a charter school. 

When I dropped off Joe at the high school the other day, where he was assisting in the set-up of a summer robotics camp, I was elated. He had something good to do that I didn’t orchestrate, wasn’t supervising, and could appreciate from a bit of a distance. For some, I realize, the desire to avoid such “letting go” is the exact reason they homeschool. For me, I’m grateful for the opportunities presenting themselves in the public school world. I may even hug their teachers every morning and bake cookies for them once a week. 

My life is going to change, big time. It hit me oddly a few days ago when I began to “unfollow” homeschool bloggers and companies on Facebook and Twitter. My identity is changing. I’m trying to imagine how it will feel to buy uniforms, review someone else’s curriculum choices, drop the kids off every weekday, and come home to a quiet house for the first time in fourteen years. (I’ve only homeschooled for six years but I’ve been a mom for over fourteen.)

What now? Do I get a job? Focus on the baseboards I haven’t cleaned? Volunteer somewhere? Stay in bed til noon, eat Bon-Bons til my pedicure then shop til I drop? The truth is, I don’t know. I’ve never had such quantities of time to myself. Before homeschooling, I had four babies in a row so all my time was spent pregnant, breastfeeding, potty-training, and getting pregnant again. This is a WHOLE NEW ERA, friends. And to be honest, it’s a little overwhelming. Maybe not as overwhelming as that whole breastfeeding and potty-training time, but still…

Kevin suggested I take at least one semester off before I begin a job hunt. I like that suggestion. Truthfully, most of my days will likely be filled with kid transport, helping in their classrooms, writing, cleaning those baseboards (just kidding, maybe), homework facilitation, and perhaps an exercise DVD minus the elementary-aged audience watching and telling me I’m doing it wrong.

Thankfully, summer break isn’t even half over. I have more time to dream about next year and relish my kids. I also have to teach them study skills, test-taking, and how to get out of their pajamas for science. Here's how it's going so far. See how riveted he is?

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Books! But My Pants Are Falling Apart

I bought a pair of yoga pants many months ago and they are ready to be replaced. They have shrunk a tad so when they're freshly laundered I have to hold them in front of me and place my foot on the bottom hem of each leg and then pull, pull, pull up as far as I can, stretching the fabric so they're not too short when I put them on. Often I hear a stitch pop, so I have to inspect the seams along the outside of the leg or sometimes the crotch. God forbid I walk out in public with a hole in my pants.

Last night, I wore the yoga pants, briefly, for dinner at a friend's. When I came home, I draped them over a bin in my closet. This draping action indicates they're not dirty enough to warrant laundering, but not clean enough to re-hang. I can wear them again the next day provided they're spot-free by morning light.

Today I shower and dress anticipating my "Mom's Day Out." Once a month, I plan a day away from my usual responsibilities to relax, meet with friends, sit in my favorite coffee shop, maybe write. It occurs to me that perhaps this time my plans should include a little shopping. I could use that dwindling Christmas money, tucked in the back of my wallet, to buy a new pair of pants! On the forefront of my day's plan, though, is a visit to a bookstore that recently opened downtown. It's an independently-owned shop that looks enticing in online photos. A regular, old bookstore would be appealing enough - THIS one promises an antique printing press; cool in-store events; and ---put on a quirky hat --- an artificial bird sanctuary! The more I look forward to investigating this new place, the less I think about pants shopping.

I make the drive to the store with friends. It's called The Writer's Block, and when we're parked and walking in, my heart is singing. This is such a cool place! The books! The decor! Birds and t-shirts and vintage board-games and friendly employees!  In under twenty minutes, I have selected several hundred dollars' worth of books. I want to buy them all. I want to carry them home and read them and be changed by them and then place them on my bookshelves to be cherished. But I'm wearing the yoga pants. The ones with almost-holes in them. The ones I wore yesterday, too, and will try to wear tomorrow, after church. The ones that would cost much less to replace than the hard cover autobiography I'm holding and yearning for. In my mind, I hear advice from my more frugal friends: "You can get that at the library." "Put some of those back." But the Christmas money! I do put several books back on the shelf, and appease myself by entering the desired titles into my "To Read" shelf on Goodreads. I buy a book on birding (better to own than borrow because it's a reference) and a practical paperback and a little bunny figurine for my daughter who is turning ten in a few days. And I hope these pants will hold up a while longer.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Tarnished Silver Cup

I like to throw things away. People often give me a hard time about it, but I can honestly say I've never regretted getting rid of anything. I'm not cold-hearted, I do keep a few meaningful things. I have my photo albums. I have my Smurf collection. I have my baby blanket stowed in a box in my closet. And I have this silver, engraved cup from Neiman Marcus that my parents' friends gave me when I was a newborn. It sits fairly prominently on a shelf in my bedroom, and I stopped and held it the other day while I was dusting. It reminds me of so many things.

We weren't Neiman Marcus kind of people; we lived in a pink aluminum-siding house and wore handmade clothes. But my mom sure liked that cup. I got the impression that she would have liked more things from fancy stores. It's weird how hopes and disappointments can sit on a shelf in the form of a small silver cup. As I grew up, I admit that things from fancy stores became appealing to me, too, though you wouldn't know it from the choices I made.

At nineteen, I had a boyfriend in a punk rock band, a secretarial job, two roommates, and a lot of freedom. To obtain this freedom, I had packed up my clothes in trash bags and moved out of my parents' house a year before. I had dropped out of college because it got in the way of the lifestyle I was enjoying. This lifestyle consisted mostly of spending time with the boyfriend, drinking, and dancing. I did afford a few fancy pieces of clothing thanks to my trusty credit cards, but those were pretty much maxed out.

One November weekend, at my boyfriend's parents' house, I took a pregnancy test. It was positive. I hadn't considered my goals recently, but nevertheless I was pretty sure that having a baby wasn't going to help my circumstances. I was nowhere near a Neiman Marcus life.

A marriage proposal came haphazardly while strolling the upper level of the mall hours after the pregnancy test. There was no diamond ring, just a Coke from the food court. And no mention of true love and devotion, or any of the stuff that might be forefront in a proposal I would have liked.

I tried to bring up adoption - I was adopted - but he didn't like the idea. He wanted to get married like his parents got married in high school when they were pregnant with him. I'm not sure why his desires prevailed... maybe I couldn't imagine giving away my baby.

If this was really happening - and it seemed to be - my parents weren't going to be happy. I needed to tell them as soon as possible so they could get acquainted with the idea in time to help pay for a wedding. I couldn't fund it on my own, I was having a hard enough time affording cereal.

To spare myself the tantrum my step-dad was sure to throw, I called my mom during work hours and asked her to meet me for lunch. We chose the Jack-in-the-Box between her office and mine. I had never asked my mom to lunch before, and our relationship had been considerably strained since I moved out, so I can only imagine what she anticipated.

Did I look out the window when I told her? Stare at the table? I have no memory. What did I wear on the day I told my mom I was pregnant and marrying a guy she barely knew?

I got the words out. A baby was on the way, there would be a wedding. There wasn't more to say. She said she'd tell my cranky step-dad. And I went back to work.

I have no recollection why I told my coworkers about that Neiman Marcus cup, but I did. Maybe I was being wry about it - lamenting how this baby wouldn't have a silver cup. In any case, a day or two later, one of the women I worked with appeared at my desk carrying a shopping bag. She said it was for the baby and held it out to me. It was a plastic baby cup from Pic-n-Save.

Would my baby have had different standards with that cheap, plastic cup on a shelf in our house, rather than the silver one? Would she be less disappointed in herself over her mistakes? Would it have mattered? I still haven't achieved a Neiman Marcus level in my life. How have my expectations for my children been shaped by what I went through as a young adult? These are all the questions I think about when I dust that cup. And still I keep it. I don't bother polishing it, though. And the plastic one? I confess --- I threw it away.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Teri's Bulletproof-Lite Coffee

I have no desire to make this a nutritional post, nor am I qualified to do so. But when I try geeky, gimmicky things, I tend to want to share the experience so here goes.

Bulletproof Coffee

I heard about it only a week ago from my trendy friend who keeps me apprised of all things coffee.

True Bulletproof Coffee was originated by a guy who likes his coffee, his nourishment, and his elevated brain function. I will not link to his page, but you can find him online by searching Bulletproof Coffee. I don't want him to find me through a link back (if I really even understand how THAT works) because he will publicly shame me for drastically profaning his recipe. But you can see on his website that he truly believes in the superpower of this coffee drink. It's a meal supplement. Drinking this coffee properly prepared will leave you satisfied until lunch, improve your thinking, aid digestion, rejuvenate your cells, decrease wrinkles, add shine and bounce to your hair, aid sleep, reverse erectile dysfunction, improve your driving, and make people like you.

There are a few ways to tweak the recipe, but the essentials are good coffee, grass-fed butter, and a healthy oil such as MCT or coconut. If you are an inferior human, and MUST sweeten it - at least have the decency to NOT use that horrid white granulated sugar. That's like eating cancer fire. I recommend this:
I think Agave is related to sugar cane. Agave is like sugar cane's rich and highbrow cousin from a nicer neighborhood.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Start with this:
Brew coffee like you normally would. Unless you pay under $20./pound for coffee, then the purists will tell you to buy better coffee. I used my mid-grade.

Add this:
Ha ha! Just kidding. Aren't I a riot? That was my dinner at the buffet the other night. I can't understand WHY I have high cholesterol!

Once you've brewed your coffee, you pour it into a blender with one tablespoon per cup of coffee of this:

and another tablespoon of this:

This is good stuff. If you don't end up liking the super-coffee, you can spread this on your bread and it will be heavenly. I have another friend who loves this butter to such a degree that she once bought me a vat of it. How often does a friend buy you butter? Not often enough, I say! In fact, as you can see in this picture, I broke into the Kerrygold early to enhance some Challah I had in the house. Talk about cultural diversity! Irish butter on Jewish bread! The key here is the butter comes from grass-fed cows. That may not mean much to you, but your brain will delight in it, according to the experts.

Once you've blended everything, it will take on the appearance of a professional-looking latte. Look!
But it will not TASTE like a professional-looking latte. I drank about half. It wasn't as bad as poisoned broccoli, but I couldn't make it through the whole cup. Instead, I had this:
Regular coffee brewed strong with sweetened creamer, made more impressive in a stainless-steel cup. Not bulletproof, but at least somewhat imposing.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Feelings about Ferguson

Twitter tells me that bad things are happening in Ferguson even right this minute, even though it's hours later there, even though Mike Brown was killed over a week ago.

I'm sad. Sad for Mike Brown, sorry for his parents, and so, so sad for the state of our country where racism is alive and well and still cutting people down left and right every minute of every day. It's tempting to throw up my hands and say "there's no hope!" Can anything be accomplished this side of Heaven? God, I really doubt it. But shouldn't we try?

I had dinner at our friends' house tonight and brought up the subject because I want to talk about it. I want some wisdom! My friend asked what was bugging me the most and I gathered my thoughts and said that what bugs me the most is how bad racism is and how little anybody in my world wants to talk about it. And I'm disturbed because I don't know what to do.

On Sunday I wanted to go to Mass and have my priest speak about this. There was a visiting bishop asking for money for his very vital ministry among the poor in the Caribbean, but no talk about what happened to Mike Brown or what is continuing to happen in Ferguson.

There was a list of online suggestions of things white people could do about the situation in Ferguson other than keep gabbing about it on Twitter. Every one of them spoke to me - and yet as I read them I could imagine the protest I would get from people whose political views don't "line up" with some of the organizations mentioned or with the challenges the writer makes. I don't know the writer, maybe she's full of crap in every other area - but I WANT ADVICE and she's giving it.

It has also been illuminating to follow many more black women and men on Twitter. I want to empathize and this helps. I'm sitting in my white house on my white street in a mostly-white neighborhood in Nevada - how ELSE am I going to hear the viewpoint of a black American on this topic? It's hard to wade through the news and the politics on the major networks, so social media and some print media has to suffice to give me the information I crave.

But what now? I'm not helping anyone and that makes me sad, too.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Interview With a Barista - It's Not Just About the Coffee

The other day I got to interview Vanessa, a barista and supervisor at Grouchy John’s Coffee Shop here in Las Vegas. We sat down together just after she closed the shop for the evening. For me, worshiper of coffee shops and small local businesses in general, this was like being a groupie and getting a backstage pass after a concert. 

I wanted to talk to a barista for the same reason you’d want to talk to a barista. They have a noteworthy position in our culture because we need the drinks they make, and because we’ve come to cherish the world of the coffee shop and they’re the denizens of that world.

Vanessa talked, I listened, and I realized I had fewer questions than I thought about coffee-making and more about her life. Maybe this will be part one in a series of interviews of cool women in my home town doing stuff I admire. Here’s what I learned about Vanessa and her work:

1) She knows how to make your coffee, and she knows your day is better because of it.

Vanessa told me her first barista job was in the airport, of all fast-paced and crazy places. She admits it was stressful, and that even parking was difficult. But she said she had good training and learned the job so well that she moved into management within six months. Her first boss was strict but she appreciated that. “Especially with cappuccino,” she said. “It’s the hardest to make and he could tell by the weight if it was made correctly. It’s supposed to be equal parts milk and foam. It’s too heavy if there’s too much milk.”

So she has this super-knowledge of how to make good coffee, and she pairs that with an awareness of its effect on people. “We deal with mood swings,” she said matter-of-factly. People come in looking not-so-great but get their coffee and “sit here a bit and leave smiling.”

2) Her “spirit animal” is a honey badger, whose characteristics are damn good for customer service.

Owners and employees at Grouchy John’s have been trying to assign a “spirit animal” to everyone who works in the shop. Before our interview, I knew thanks to Facebook that it had been decided that Vanessa’s is the honey badger. When I asked why, she laughed and explained that one of the owners said, “because they don’t give a shit and they get what they want.” This is perfect for a strong woman persona, but how does it play out in a customer service career? From what I could tell, the only thing Vanessa doesn’t give a shit about is trying to be something she’s not. She says, “The corporate thing isn’t for me.” She has stretched ear lobes and once had a mohawk and there are past employers who didn’t appreciate these expressions. When that was the case, she quit and moved on. 

As far as what she wants, and getting it - Vanessa said the most important things to her are her family and her job, being a hard worker, and “doing what it takes to make everybody happy.” Well, hell… if that’s what she wants - any customer, employer, or family member will benefit from her presence.  

3) Her traits make her a valuable coffee-shop employee, but we may need her in national leadership.

Vanessa began and completed cosmetology school several years ago. She got a job as a hair stylist but knew right away it wasn’t for her. “You don’t get to interact with people. If you’re processing or blow drying their hair they can’t hear you.” She quit the job to go back to the coffee biz. She said she realized that working in the food and drink industry is her calling because that is what brings people together. 

Beginning even in high school, that emphasis on bringing people together was strong. She was involved in Key Club, with its values of leadership, character building, caring, and inclusiveness, and won the office of President by her junior year and Lt. Governor in her senior year. This is notable partly because she is Mexican and the club’s demographic was largely Asian. She had a vision to increase the diversity of the club right away and took deliberate action to do so. Her efforts were recognized; she was voted President of the Year for her 840-member division. 

The priorities she exhibited as a high schooler have grown stronger in adulthood. When she had management positions and did hiring she looked for diversity. Her inclusivity and the wisdom she had from an early age naturally influence her working relationships. If only this example in the life of a young barista could be followed by more of our corporate and political leaders! 

You only have to glance at a business publication (or better, step into a coffee shop) to figure out that the coffee business —from bean export to the barista profession— is thriving. And coffee shops serve as community hubs, places where people gather and share ideas and discuss things. So the baristas who are a significant part of this business have a large influence on our culture. In Vanessa’s case, and at Grouchy John’s coffee shop, this is excellent news.