Friday, July 31, 2009

Burning Man... and so it begins

Although we've been planning this for some time now, it really hasn't hit me that we are actually going to go to Burning Man this August until today. Perhaps that is due to the uncertainty over how we would handle Ethan's care during that time; I kept a fairly large doubt in the back of my mind that we would even be able to get something nailed down in time, and considered the option of trying to sell our tickets if nothing came through. But like I noticed earlier, we have some wonderful friends out there. When I mentioned that we needed help, BOOM! They jumped at the chance. I actually had more offers than I could use, believe it or not! At this point, he will be staying with friends up north for the first half of the trip, then with a friend here in town for the second half of the trip. If I don't go crazy from missing him, I will be surprized. This will be the first time we've been away from him for more than 12 hours... and it will be TEN DAYS!!! Ugh. I can't really spend too much time thinking about it, or I'll convince myself not to go.

This Saturday, we'll be heading out to San Francisco for the Burning Man season opener Prepare for the Playa. They'll be having workshops about how to have a great Burn experience, fashion shows with tons of fur, LED costumes, steampunk, etc., and lots more. I can't wait! After meeting with our new camp-mates earlier this week, I've really started to feel the adrenalin pumping about this trip... pictures will be posted, never fear, with identities blurred to save the not-so-innocent.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Hostess With the Mostest

Today I was lucky enough to travel with my mother, my sister, my niece, and my son to go visit family in Fresno. I say "lucky" not only because the company was great, but because my aunt is one of the best hostesses I know. She's amazing! She always has more than enough food for everyone, and it's always delicious. She has a mix of company varied enough that there is always movement, conversation, snippets of laughter, and interesting discussions going on in various parts of the house. And the best part of it all is that there is always a sense of love and warmth at her parties. It just feels so inviting and comfortable to spend time with her; it is the aura that I would think every hostess would strive for when having guests over. It's my goal to be like that, too, instead of what I usually am-- stressing over some minutiae that hardly matter, or worrying that there isn't enough fill-in-the-blank (beverage, food, seating, guests, etc. ad nauseum).

I'm thinking about starting up a mom's group in my city. There don't seem to be many options for those of us who stay at home but don't want to join one of those "Buy my product!" groups, where they get together ostensibly for fun but really to try to sell their energy bars or vitamins or whatever. I'd also *love* to get a ladies' game night going, one where we could play Mah Jongg or May I? or Scrabble, eat some cute finger foods, and maybe have a mojito or two. Maybe the reason why I'm taking so long to get either one of those going is because I'm too self-conscious about my hosting skills... I need some training, stat!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


A close friend just reminded me that, when you need something, a true friend won't have to be asked-- they offer their help and support, because that's what friends do for each other. It really hit me somewhere vulnerable, somewhere my feelings and fears are hidden, somewhere I try to pretend I don't need other people and I am as independent as they come. It was as if someone just reached out and took the heavy grocery bag out of my hands, or started doing the sink full of dishes after a dinner party, or picked up the baby before I could even get to him when he started crying. It was a sort of unspoken willingness to be there and be a "partner in crime" that really got to me; it's what I've been lucky enough to have very few times in my life, and now I've got two amazing women in my life who are happy to be that kind of friend.

It's not so much that I didn't know that friends do those sorts of things; it's more that it is very easy to forget, and I need to be reminded every so often. It is so difficult for me to ask for help in the first place. It's like I have this driving need to appear completely capable and self-reliant at all times. Well, guess what? It's not so easy once you have a child around who is completely relying on you to be there for him 24 hours a day. Sometimes, you need a break, or some help, or a babysitter, or more than that-- sometimes (as is the case with Burning Man) you need an entire network of supporters who can tag team each other in and out of the babysitting ring, and god willing you have some loving, supportive, trustworthy people out there you can rely on for this most precious, special gig. And guess what? I do. Thank you to each of them for being that most cherished of people-- a friend.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Freezer Meals

My favorite book for the past couple of weeks:
Don't Panic - Dinner's in the Freezer: Great-Tasting Meals You Can Make Ahead I don't typically use cookbooks, as I'm usually on instead, but this one really works for me. The author gives recipes that work beautifully for freezing in bulk and either reheating and serving, or doing just a little bit of prep and cooking on the day you serve it.

Some of the recipes I'll be using for camping (ahem, Burning Man) because they are simply reheated on the day you serve them include:
* Meatballs
* Cottage Pie
* French Steak
* Rocky Mountain Beef Brisket with Barbecue Sauce
Can you tell I'm having a red meat fixation right now? YUM!

The book is very easy to read and the instructions are clear and simple. She gives you the original recipe (6-10 servings), then what the proportions would be if it was x2, x4, or x6. I'm finding it comes in handy to buy meat or veggies in bulk when they go on sale, because then I can chop, prep, and put them into a meal rather than just freeze them uncooked in multiple packages, putting off the preparation until later. It has also been allowing me to have more time with my family at night, instead of being stuck in the kitchen, because all I have to do is defrost and reheat most of the meals. And they're still delicious! Anyway, *love* the book.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Family Traditions: Weekly and Monthly Rituals

More thoughts inspired by reading The Book of New Family Traditions: How to Create Great Rituals for Holidays & Everydays
I'd like to start some regular family traditions that have nothing to do with holidays or birthdays. I am really drawn to the idea of holding weekly family meetings, where we can go over our upcoming appointments and other calendar issues, talk about problems/challenges and brainstorm solutions, make long-term plans, and celebrate good things that happened that week. It would really go far to helping teach kids about communication, conflict resolution, goal-setting, and besides all that would be a great place to keep connected no matter how busy we get over the years.

I also like the idea of hosting a monthly pot-luck/BBQ/pizza party where we invite a different family each time... eventually, as the kids get older, they could be in charge of the menu, invitations, hosting duties, etc. What a fun way to teach responsibility, and how to deal with entertaining guests, and so much more.

A special father-focused ritual that the author of the book discussed was about dad spending time with one child, alone, at a specific time each month or week. One dad made time each week for "dates with dad" where his son chose the activity (bowling, going to the hobby store, riding bikes together). Another dad had "Full Moon Walks" with each child when they turned 10 years old; he would take them out once a month during the full moon, and they would head out to a more forested area and just walk and talk and hang out at night, just the child and their father. How special is that! Now I just have to convince Joel...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Family Traditions: Coming of Age

I really, really, really want to incorporate some coming-of-age rituals for our kid(s). There are several that I've read about for girls; some get a new ring (possibly a ruby, for the red connection) to celebration the onset of adulthood, some get to meet with a circle of women from the extended family/friends who share about womanhood and give advice and support; some get a new book about body changes and a special dinner. One that I read about and loved involved taking the girl to the beach at night. They set up a circle of sparklers, and the girl walked into the center of the circle. A woman would get up and join her in the circle, and speak about what the girl meant to her, what she was like as a girl and what she hoped for her as a woman, and so on. It sounded so special and spiritual and very sweet; I'm wondering about setting one up like that for my favorite niece in the world...

For boys, there are other suggestions for honoring their transition into adolescence and adulthood. In one family, the weekend that a son turned 13, he would go on a long camping trip alone with his dad. Along the way, they would read and talk about manhood rituals, engage in a physical challenge (kayak, etc.), and so on. I like that a bit, but I actually prefer ones I've read about where a group of boys went with their dads for this trip; at a bonfire, the fathers would stand and talk about why they were proud of their son, what manhood meant to them, and what they hoped for the future. It seems more like the sparkler ceremony that the girls have... I like the incorporation of fire, and the idea of involving other boys and their dads. I also like the idea of getting other men in his life together to pledge their support for him as he enters adolescence. He needs adult male mentors around him as he grows; that'll be a challenge for us, as we live near so few of Joel's male friends.

For both girls and boys, I think they need a special day where they sit down and talk with mom and dad about the body, sex, hormones, love, etc.-- "The Talk"-- and I think that it needs to happen before age 13, when it's already been discussed by classmates and seen all over TV and the internet. I think we'll plan it for age 10 or age 11... get 'em early!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Family Traditions: Thanksgiving

Growing up, Thanksgiving was full of ritual-- the same foods every year, pretty much, the table set with the nicest dishes (usually china), and the family wearing our best clothes. We also had guests over many times, which was nice because it kept everyone on their best behavior. (Usually.) As a kid, I remember loving Thanksgiving the most out of every holiday, even birthdays; or maybe that's because my birthday was right around Thanksgiving, and every few years fell right on it. Either way, I loved the smell of the food cooking, the bustling around the kitchen, the chatter of guests and the dressing up and using our "special" dishes and table settings... We had turkey, stuffing, jellied cranberry sauce, olives (for the fingertips, of course), corn, mashed potatoes with my mom's famous gravy, dinner rolls, candied sweet potatoes-- the kind with the marshmallow topping-- and of course, dessert. We had pumpkin pie, mincemeat pie, and sometimes apple pie. It was a crazy huge feast, and we would have leftovers for days, which was probably the best part of the meal. :)

For our family, I think I'd like to keep the formality of Thanksgiving dinner, but change up the meal a bit every year. Maybe we can keep the turkey the same, but I really have this driving need to have different dishes each Thanksgiving. For instance, I can't stand pumpkin pie-- but I love pumpkin cheesecake and other pumpkin-related dishes. The last few years, I've made pumpkin cheesecake in a gingerbread crust, pumpkin squares, pumpkin cake, and so on. I think I'll keep that tradition going; a new pumpkin-related dessert every year. Or maybe not even pumpkin-related; I'm getting all crazy in here! I also like to try new stuffings every year, and make homemade cranberry sauce-- it's more of a chutney, actually-- and I think I'll stick with that as well. I did find this unbelievably delicious green bean dish that is to die for, and I think that might be a staple for the next several years... is that how this tradition thing gets started?

I'd also like to add some meaningful rituals to our Thanksgiving, to really get the most out of the special day. There were two great ideas in the book. One was the "Thankful Box": Make a cardboard box with a slit in it the week before Thanksgiving; everyone writes down things they're thankful for, then people take turns reading them aloud during the feast. Another idea was "Thank-You Notes": The week before, have everyone write a note or two for special people who won't be joining you for dinner (anyone from Coach to Grandma); at Thanksgiving, have everyone say a few words about who they thanked, and why. I think it's really important that our family remembers to have gratitude and to practice showing it and telling each other how thankful we are for each other. And besides, it feels good-- to hear it, and to say it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Family Traditions: Christmas

I've been really thinking a lot about which family traditions I loved as a child and want to keep for my family, and which new ones I want to make a part of our future with Ethan and whoever else becomes a part of the Joel & Melanie clan. I want to make sure we have certain things that we do every year at the same time to honor and recognize special events, and that we can start doing daily or monthly rituals as well. I know that rituals are important: they help us make memories and connect to our family; they help us get through tough times and help generate a feeling of stability and security; they help us know ourselves better and build a sense of personal and family identity; and they can be silly, special, or sacred depending on the day. And I want them for my family!

Many of the rituals I remember from childhood are connected to holidays. At Christmas, for instance, we had several rituals we went through every year, or else it just wasn't Christmas. First, we lived in a desert and had an artificial tree. It was important to be able to have all of us put the tree parts together; green with green, red with red, and so on. And then we would decorate with all of our old, familiar ornaments, telling stories sometimes when we found our favorites. Then, on Christmas Eve, we would get to open one gift each, and all of the kids would go sleep in the same room. In the early morning when we awoke, we would find full stockings outside the bedroom door. Inside were gum, oranges, small toys, tiny books, snacks or chocolates, and other little gifts, just enough to keep us busy for another hour or two until my parents were ready to wake up and come downstairs. Once they were ready, we were allowed to go downstairs, where suddenly all of these presents appeared under the tree. One person usually ended up the designated "Santa" and brought people's gifts to them. After the flurry of opening presents, we would start preparing for our breakfast/brunch feast.

One thing I didn't like about Christmas was how blase we were about our multitude of gifts. We took so much for granted! In the book I'm reading, one family gives each child only three gifts, because that is how many baby Jesus got in the Bible. Interesting idea... they also make it a treasure hunt, with clues leading to more clues which lead eventually to the hiding place of the gift(s). I like that idea-- but for birthdays, not Christmas. I also liked the idea of getting everyone a new set of pajamas each Christmas. At least then they look good in the photos, right?

This is the book I have been reading:

Monday, July 20, 2009

Primo: The Beginning, Part 1

So, the beginning... the start of it all... the first post on my blog. What to say? How do I grab your attention and keep it for at least the next few minutes? With promises of witty and entertaining banter, or a deep discussion of life's quandaries? Oh, the dilemma... but not really. This isn't meant to be an award-winning, groundbreaking blog that uncovers the mysteries of life. It's just me, talking to you, about stuff that's important to me and that I think you might find interesting or amusing or at least a better waste of time than whatever project you were just working on so intently. So put up your feet, relax, and have a good time!

I don't have much of that right now-- time, that is-- as my son Ethan is sitting on my lap and trying with every ounce of his being to reach the keyboard. Looks like this is going to be a nap-time and late-night project for me. Along with my Burning Man costumes, scrapbooking, and photo archiving. Oh, and DVD creation. But that's just *this* month. ;)