Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Put Your Resolution Where The Sun Shines

It has been three years since I made a New Year's Resolution. I have sworn off them. There are several reasons for this, the most practical one being that they don't work.

Before I made my resolution not to do resolutions, each year I would studiously make a list: exercise at least three days a week, cut out sweets, be more patient, wear matching socks, accessorize better. And the biggie: drink less.

You will note that I didn't say 'quit drinking'. I couldn't quit drinking, not for anything. Instead I tried everything I could think of to drink like a normal person. One year I swore off hard liquor, thinking that must be the reason I couldn't seem to control how much I drank. The next year I swore I would only drink on the weekends. Or at a restaurant. Or when my husband had a glass of wine with dinner. One year I told myself I wouldn't have any more than three glasses of wine in one night - even on big drinking holidays like Christmas, St. Patrick's Day or New Year's Eve. I even stuck with this one for a while - if a medieval sized goblet that holds half a bottle of wine counts as a glass.

As things got worse, my resolutions got more dire. I decided I wouldn't hide it anymore - only alcoholics hide alcohol, right? So if I could stop hiding it, I couldn't possibly be an alcoholic. This resolution lasted about six weeks.

And why don't resolutions work? A nasty little thing called Denial. Our brains are powerful, and they are good at fooling us. Everyone knows what denial feels like -those quiet little rationalizations we make to ourselves to justify less-than-desirable behavior.

Let's say, for example, you resolve to cut out sugar. January 1st you wake up invigorated and determined. "Day One of No Sugar" you think to yourself proudly. You shuffle downstairs for your morning coffee, and stop yourself seconds before emptying those two little sugar packets into your cup. "I'll learn to like it black," you think smugly. You look up healthy recipes in your cookbooks, skip the cookie aisle at the supermarket, and stock up on cut vegetables and fruit. You are kicking sugar's butt.

A few days later you just can't face one more cup of black coffee, and dump in one sugar packet, thinking it won't hurt. Neither will one cookie here or there, or the odd dessert. I mean it's inhuman to live completely without sugar, right? And that is how it starts. When you deviate from your promise to yourself, you find a nice little rationalization to justify your actions, and then promptly forget about your slip. By April you are snarfing down the Easter candy, your resolution long forgotten. "There's always next year," you tell yourself.

For me, it went the same way with alcohol. Because I was trying so hard not to face my fear that I may be an alcoholic, I made promise after promise to myself in my attempt to avoid the hard truth. I would be "good" for a while, and then wake up on July 5th hungover and embarrassed, and wondering how the heck I ended up getting drunk again? When I was trying to be so careful? The answer is simple: denial. It is July 4th AND my birthday, I had told myself the night before. I'll go back to being good tomorrow. I can handle myself for one night.

One of the most meaningful things I have learned in recovery is all the promises and resolutions in the world won't help if I'm not being honest with myself. I would focus my resolutions on the simpler stuff, like cutting out sweets, instead of facing my own hard truths.

So instead of resolutions, I take a hard look at myself and ask some honest questions. What is it about myself I don't want to face? What am I trying not to know about myself?

I don't do this to beat myself up; Lord knows I don't need more reasons to poke at my flaws. I do this to care for myself, to stay in touch with my heart. I spent many years drinking away my own sense of self-worth, putting myself last on the list. I was comfortable there, on the bottom rung. My disease tells me that is where I belong, and my disease is wrong. So I speak to myself honestly, but gently. I try to tell myself the truth; I deserve that much. When I am caring for myself, I can care for others. When I am honest with myself, I can be honest with others. I can give of myself without giving myself away.

Instead of making resolutions only to break them down the road and take my self-worth down another notch, I try to love myself enough, every day, to make the next right choice.

So I won't wish you a Happy New Year. How about a happy tomorrow?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

I Believe

I'm seven years old, and I wake up with a jolt. I never thought I'd fall asleep, but I did, and now it's Christmas morning. The sun is just peeking over the horizon. Butterflies of excitement swirl in my belly. The house is quiet, my sister is still sleeping. I tiptoe down the hall, one thought racing through my head. Did he come? Did he come? Did he come?

I sneak into my parents' room, and nudge my Mom awake. "Mom! It's time to wake up! Let's go see!" She smiles, her eyes closed. "Wait at the top of the stairs," she murmurs. "I'll get your sister."

We have a tradition - we all go downstairs together. My Mom, dressed in her robe and carrying my little sister, sits next to me at the top of the stairs. We wait there together while my Dad, as he does every year, dresses and shaves. It feels like it takes about a million years, but finally he is ready. We walk down together, and I dash into the living room, breathless. The stockings my Mom made for us all, each with our name on it, are bursting with loot. A dollhouse sits proudly in the middle of the room, topped with a bright red bow.

I'm in awe. He came.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Greta pokes me awake, her eyes are huge. "Mom!" she whispers. "Mom! Wake up! It's time!"

Finn, curled beside me, awakes with a start. "Did he camed? Did Santa camed?" he says, rubbing his eyes.

"I don't know yet," says Greta. "We all go down together, remember?"

Steve and I quickly dress and brush our teeth. The kids stand at the top of the stairs, giggling and fidgeting. "Come ON!" they squeal. "I hope he camed," Finn says again and again. "I was mostly good this year. He camed, right?"

"Let's go see," Steve says. We scurry down the stairs, and the kids race around the corner.

"COME SEE! COME SEE!" Greta shouts.

"He was heeah! He was heeah!" says Finn.


The kids' eyes are shining, their smiles wide. "MOM! LOOK! He remembered the Chihuahua Webkinz! They were on our lists!" A Webkinz peeks out of the top of each of the stockings my Mom made for them the year they were born.















Finn giggles from the kitchen. "He did it again! Just like last yeeah," he cries. "He eated the cookies, and dwank the milk, and he left some of his beeyahd on da glass again!"



Greta proudly reads the note Santa left them:


We all stand for a moment and soak it in. The kids don't race to open their presents - they stand, in awe, of all the gleaming gifts.

And I feel it - the sense of anticipation. The butterflies swirl in my stomach. It doesn't matter that it's my turn to be the Mom. We are surrounded by magic, by possibility.



After the presents are opened, the gift wrapping picked up and thrown away, the kids settle in to play with their new toys. They chatter with each other: I knew he would come. I heard reindeer hooves on the roof. I can't believe he knew we would want beanbag chairs.

After a spell Greta looks up at me, smiling. "Did you get what you wanted from Santa this year, Mom?" she asks.

I look down at my happy kids, nestled together by the roaring fire.

"Yes I did, honey. Yes, I did."


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Grateful

We're heading in to the home stretch for the holidays, and there is a lot going on. My To Do list gets longer every day: food shopping, cleaning, last minute gifts to buy. I'm swamped with holiday jewelry orders. Yesterday I got that overwhelmed panicky feeling - oh my God, I thought, I can't get it all done.

I was running around all day; I didn't sit down for one second. By the end of the day my head was swirling, and I decided to go to bed early, catch up on some rest and tackle the list the next day. It took me a long while to fall asleep; my brain wouldn't stop circling around and around, trying to make it all fit. I finally nodded off, and I had a dream.

I haven't had one of these in a while - a drinking dream. In my dream it is Christmas Morning. The kids are ripping open presents and squealing in delight. My husband has the video camera rolling, recording their happiness. I am curled on the couch, feeling awful. I'm hungover, my head hurts, my mouth is dry. All I can think about is whether I have enough alcohol hidden in the house to get me through Christmas - all the liquor stores are closed. I duck into the bathroom and search frantically under the folded towels for a bottle, my heart pounding. I take a pull off the bottle and sink to the floor, full of anguish and despair.

I wake up in a cold sweat, frantic. Did I really drink? It takes me a good minute or two to orient myself, to realize it was only a dream.

As my heart rate slows, I breathe a sigh of relief. I get out of bed and tiptoe into the kids' room - they are sound asleep, curled up together in Finn's bed. In the quiet predawn darkness, I get down on my knees and say a prayer of thanks. Thank you for my family, I think. Thank you for my rich, full, busy life. Thank you for the freedom from addiction.

Today my To Do list doesn't seem so long, or so daunting. Three years ago, Christmas was awful. I still had seven more months of drinking left, but I didn't know it then. All I felt was stuck. Unimaginably, irretrievably, stuck. There was no To Do list - it took all of my energy to get up in the morning and get the kids to school. Days were spent in a haze of anxiety and guilt. I managed to get gifts, barely, but when my husband and I settled in to wrap everything Christmas Eve, there was no wrapping paper, no tape. He was furious with me, and I hated myself. Three years ago the dream I had last night was my living nightmare.

So instead of adding to my To Do list, today I made a list of things I am grateful for:

Greta's big toothless smile.

The weight of Finn in my lap as we settle in to watch a movie.

The kids' squeals of delight when we lit the star on the top of the tree.

Finn belting out his version of 'Santa Claus is Coming To Town': "you bettah not pount, you bettah not cwy, be goodness for goodness sake!!"

Stashing gifts for my family, not bottles of wine, in the back of the closet.

Greta curled up in front of the tree, admiring the ornaments and asking questions about each one.

Finn dressed as Santa - a getup the two of them put together all on their own, including the taped-on beard.

A loving glance from my husband.

Feeling at peace with myself.


Have a joyful holiday season, everyone. I'm grateful for you, too.

-Ellie

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Wrinkle Cream Named Denial

"I think I'm using the wrong facial moisturizer, or wrinkle cream, or whatever," I whisper to my friend. "These women all look at least five years younger than me."

I'm at a playgroup run by a local organization - a way for Moms to get together one morning a week, bring their kids, have a cup of coffee and do a little socializing in between breaking up toddler fights. When Greta was small, we went every single week without fail. We were new in town, and it was a great way to meet other Moms with preschool aged kids. Greta always wore cute little seasonally appropriate outfits -- her socks even matched her hair ribbons. I would be showered, dressed to the nines and well accessorized before we left the house, ready to make small talk with the best of them.

"Wow, that's a head scratcher," my friend whispers back, rolling her eyes. "Maybe that is because they ARE at least five years younger than you."

I look around and realize she's right. When did this happen? Most of the Moms there have one preschooler and a toddler or a baby, or maybe they are pregnant with their second child. They are talking about teething, immunizations, and when to wean. Their dewy complexions taunt me.

I haven't been to this playgroup since Greta was three and Finn was an infant. Today, along with my friend's son, Finn is the oldest kid in the room. My friend and I are sitting off to the side, silently sipping our lattes and grateful for a few moments of peace. We have no interest in small talk; silence is golden in our lives. We are the oldest people in the room.

I have become, without noticing it, that harried Mom of school aged kids I used to see in the supermarket. I would be primly pushing my adorable 19 month old along in the cart -carrying a bag full of snacks and drinks for her in case she got hungry or thirsty, along with an educationally enriching toy or two - and wondering what in the heck those other Moms are so stressed about.

Now I know. They are stressed because their 1st grader decided she is a descendant of polar bears and won't wear her coat even in 20 degree weather. Their 4 year old, who didn't have to go to the bathroom when they left the house, is whining that he has to go potty. There is no food in the fridge, and they have to bring cheese and crackers (no peanut products, please!) to the classroom open house the next morning. They have already carted their kids to the library, soccer and CCD, and have to get back to get homework done, dinner on the table and complete the entire week's reading log in one night.

I am lucky if my kids are even wearing socks when we leave the house, let alone matching ones. My daughter won't let me anywhere near her hair with a brush, and prefers to pick out her own outfits - even if it is a tee shirt and flowy skirt in December. Now, instead of obsessing about cute accessories, I find myself saying, "no, you can NOT wear socks with flip flops. It's snowing."

And me? Long gone are the days of showering and doing my hair before I'll step foot outside my house. In a bitter twist of irony, I used to get all dolled up because I wanted to be presentable and put together so I could meet new people. Now I know a lot of people in town, and they are all shopping at Target on the morning I go there hoping my pajama bottoms can pass for sweatpants, my hair sticking out crazily under the baseball cap I crammed on my head as I ran out the door.

I should stop worrying about playgroups and facial moisturizers and have some Moms of pre-teens over for coffee.

I have a lot to learn.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Twice Monthly Giveaway - New Items!

Congratulations to Sara (sajesr) who won the last giveaway! Thank you to all who entered!

The next giveaway will be for a jewelry set - necklace, earrings and a ring! A $56 value!

The Black Raspberry Pearl Set:


Click on any picture to view more pictures in my Etsy shop. Made from black raspberry swarovski pearls and sterling silver wire, this set is great for everyday wear! The necklace is on an 18" sterling silver box chain, the earrings hang from nickel-free lever backs, and the ring is custom made to any size!

To enter, please comment below indicating you would like to be entered in the giveaway - please also include your email so I can contact you if you are the winner. If you are more comfortable emailing me directly, please do so at ellieandsteve@verizon.net.

The winner will be chosen at random on January 1st - my daughter picks a name from a hat!

Thanks so much!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

CSI: Suburbia

I have several opportunities, during an average week, to wonder if I've lost it completely, but never more so than yesterday afternoon.

It was an average Monday, up until about 4:20pm when my friend Kerri arrived to pick up Greta for CCD class. As Greta scrambles into Kerri's car, a large unmarked truck pulls up on the side of road at the end of the driveway. I'm giving Greta a kiss and thanking Kerri for driving, and a burly man with a large box hoisted on his shoulder walks up the driveway. As Kerri drives away the burly man looks at me and says, "are you Ellie?"

I reply that I am, and he says, "well, I've got a television for ya!" I don't really know how to reply to this, as I haven't ordered a television, but I notice it is a beautiful, large, flat screen, and my curiosity is understandably peaked. I ask him to bring it inside.

First, though, I have to run inside and wrestle with our dog, Casper. She is a very large, very loud, white dog - she looks a little like an arctic wolf. When she is agitated - which is pretty much anytime anybody comes to the house - she is a force to be reckoned with, and it takes most of my energy to hang on to her collar and instruct the man to put the box on the floor in our living room.

He's nice, this man, chatty and friendly even though Casper is behaving as though she'd like to rip his throat out. He hands me a sheet of paper with my name on it, and asks me to print and sign my name. Over the din of the barking dog I ask him if he's sure he has the right house, as I didn't order a TV. "Looks like someone's trying to surprise you for Christmas," he replies, "because that is your name and this is your address, right?"

I hand back the signed paper, and he leaves. I am smiling to myself, thinking that Steve has decided to surprise us. I need to get to the post office before it closes at 5pm, so Finn and I don't have time to contemplate it further just now. We rush out the door at 4:45pm and barely make it to the post office by 5pm. We're home again by 5:05pm, and Finn immediately looks up at me and says, "Where's da television, Momma?"

I look down, and realize he's right. Not fifteen minutes ago there was a huge box on the floor of the living room, and now it's gone. I look unhelpfully at the dog - she is lying in her usual spot smack dab in the middle of the floor, looking unperturbed. Deepening the mystery, there is a long box resting outside on our porch: curtains we ordered from Big Department Store two weeks ago have arrived.

I call my husband, who swears up and down he didn't order a TV, and two quick phone calls reveal our parents didn't either. Now the TV we didn't order is gone, without explanation, and I begin to feel like I imagined the whole thing. It hits me that I don't have any receipt from the delivery person, not one scrap of evidence to prove he was ever here at all. I call Kerri and explain what happened. She is as mystified as I am, but at least she can confirm the delivery wasn't a figment of my imagination - she saw him, too.

I decide to call the police. I'm still completely baffled about what happened, but one fact is clear - someone was in our house when we weren't home, and I'm feeling weird about it. So I dial 911, and say to the operator, "Ummm, I need to report a burglary, I think..." I give her a very brief explanation of what happened, and within three minutes there are four cop cars, with lights flashing, pulling into our driveway.

They are very thorough, scanning the yard for foot prints, combing through the entire house to be sure nobody is hiding in a closet, examining the box of curtains outside for evidence. The lead cop scratches his head. "I don't know what happened, here, but we'll get to the bottom of it," he explains. "It seems like too strange a coincidence that the TV disappeared when the curtains arrived, so I guess I'll start at Big Department Store. I gotta admit, though, this is a first for me.. investigating a theft of an item that was never supposed to be here in the first place."

After this it gets all CSI-y. "Please don't touch anything, ma'am," they instruct. "Please leave the box of curtains outside just as it is, as it may contain useful fingerprints." "Would you recognize the delivery man if you saw him again?" "Any distinguishing marks on his vehicle?" "Do a thorough search of your house and let us know if anything is out of place." This last one cracks me up - on a good day our house looks like it has been ransacked, so how the hell would I know?

An idea pops into my head: maybe the delivery guy brought us to the TV in error and came back to switch it for the curtains? I suggest this to the cops, and they think on it. "I hope that is the case, Ma'am," the lead cop says, "it is more desirable than a burglary. But Big Department Store doesn't sell TVs, the curtains weren't brought inside, and how the heck would he get past HER?" He points to the next room where I have put Casper. She is growling and throwing herself against the door. I concede that it's a mystery.

They leave, promising to get back to me tonight. My mind reels, running through scenarios. Credit card fraud? But why bother with the whole delivery charade, when he could have just stolen it? Did I order a TV and then forget about it? No, I'm sober now, and as disorganized as I can be I think I'd remember something like that. I realize how crazy the whole story must have sounded to the police; I'm grateful they took me seriously at all.

At 7:15pm the policeman is back. Big Department Store subcontracts out their deliveries, so it took a while for him to track down the driver. The explanation is simple. The delivery guy brought us the TV in error. When he got to the next residence and tried to give them curtains, instead of a big beautiful flat screen TV, he realized his mistake. He brought the curtains back to us, found the door unlocked, braved the dog and took the TV. He didn't leave a note, because he thought it would be obvious what happened. The cop says we can press charges if we want ... even though the door was unlocked it is still breaking & entering.

We don't want to press charges - what he did involved a lot of really bad judgement, but not criminal intent, and we figure a call from the cops to him, and his superior, is enough of a lesson. It still doesn't explain how he got by the dog, but it was an eye opener to me that I need to lock the door even for a ten minute trip to the post office with a huge white guard dog at home.

So it all worked out fine. Except now I mourn the loss of a flat screen TV that was never mine in the first place.

Friday, December 11, 2009

What Not To Do

Recently I have caved on one of those parenting principles that I said I'd never do: use Santa as a disciplinary tool. But, people, I'm tired - so tired - and Finn is still running us ragged.

So about two weeks ago, when Finn was under the table, naked, and we were already late to get out the door to school, I heard myself say: "SANTA IS WATCHING! If you don't come out of there by the count of three, I'm calling him and telling him you're having trouble listening!!"

He scurried out, saying "sorry, Momma".

I realize this is complete manipulation on my part, and that his response and apology don't really count. It's bribery in its most desperate form. But with two weeks to go until Christmas and an unruly four year old ... I didn't care. I just wallowed in one whole week of good behavior .. with any hint of trouble I'd threaten to call Santa and he'd snap to attention.

It left me with an icky guilty feeling. I'd like to believe I have the smarts, patience and ability to be a more proactive parent. I've always been so-so on the whole Santa thing, anyway, preferring to give vague answers to the increasingly difficult questions about how he really delivers all those presents in one night, and how elves know how to make video games.

But, like many questionable tactics employed by parents everywhere, it was destined for trouble. A few days ago he was, once again, giving me a hard time as we were trying to get to school. I gave him a stern look, and told him to behave or I'd call Santa.

He peeked out at me from under the table, with a sly grin. "Go ahead, Momma. Call him," he said.

I blinked twice. "I will, Finn, if you don't come out now!"

He said, "Dat's okay. Call him."

I picked up the phone, thinking to myself: I totally deserve this. I pretended to dial, asked to speak to Santa, and announced to the dead air on the other end of the phone that Finn was having trouble listening. Finn giggled.

"So, Santa, you're saying that if Finn doesn't start listening better, you'll know about it?" I fumble. I don't actually want to say that he won't get presents; I'm uncomfortable with that, and Finn knows it.

"Thank you very much, Santa, I'll tell Finn," I continued, stalling for time and thinking madly: tell him what?

I hung up the phone and looked down at Finn. He has a huge grin on his face. "What did Santa say, Momma?" he asked.

"He said you need to listen better, and that he's watching you," I say. "He wants your listening to get better, and soon."

"So, if I don't listen bettah, I'll get coal for Christmas?"

I don't want to say yes, and I don't really know why. I'm so deep into it now, so far afield from any parenting tools I ever possessed, that I say, "he said if you don't listen better he'll call you himself and talk to you," mentally ticking through a list of men with gravelly voices I could actually get to do this.

Finn ponders this. "I'll listen bettah," he says. "But if Santa does want to talk to me, I going to tell him that you yell too much and you should get coal, too."

"Fair enough," I reply, thinking: at this rate coal is what I deserve.

Later that day Greta and Finn are playing in the next room, and I hear Finn tell Greta that he wasn't listening and that I called Santa. "She DID? You better be good now, Finn," she says. "It's a big deal if Momma has to call him."

A few minutes later she comes up to me and whispers in my ear, "Good thinking, Momma." My heart skips a beat - has she figured it out? Is this her way of telling me she doesn't believe in Santa anymore?

"What do you mean?" I ask.

"I know you didn't really call him," she says.

I gulp. "You DO?"

"Yes," she grins at me conspiratorially, "there are no phone lines to the North Pole."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Just A Day

This time of year there is a question I'm asked with increased frequency: is it hard not drinking over the holidays?

It's not an easy question to answer, of course. The short response is this: no harder than it is any other time of year.

I'm grateful that at least today, now, I can be around people who are drinking and not feel uncomfortable. It wasn't always like this. I got sober in August, and so I was about four months sober when I hit my first holiday season. The holidays didn't seem harder - it was hard all the time and the holidays didn't feel any different.

I braced myself, that first December, because I thought it would be really difficult. I thought everyone would notice that I'm not drinking. I thought I would feel like an outsider - what would I talk about? What would I do with my hands? Will Christmas feel really boring without a drink, like baseball games do?

It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be, perhaps in part because my expectations were really, really low. What I felt around people who were drinking was a sort of longing, a kind of jealousy, like watching your ex-lover dancing with his new girlfriend at a party. Even though you know your ex is bad for you, and you're mostly glad he's gone, it is still hard to watch.

I knew that I didn't really want to drink. I didn't really want to not drink, either, but I wasn't willing to risk losing everything. Looking back on it, what I was feeling was grief, a sense of loss. I missed my steadfast companion, the one who was always there for me but who turned on me in the end. I mourned the loss of the ability to drink like a normal person. I didn't want to be a drunk, I wanted to be able to have one or two, like everyone else. Thankfully I had the gift of desperation - I knew in my heart that one was impossible. It was actually easier to have none than to have one.

It is better now, today. I have tools I can use if I'm feeling uncomfortable. I have people I can call. I always have an escape plan when I go to a party - if I start to feel weird, I leave. In many ways I have a better time than I ever did when I was drinking, because I'm not obsessed with whether there is enough alcohol, whether anyone is noticing how much I'm drinking. I am able to have real conversations, meet new people, and be present for everything. If I start to feel jealous, or odd, I picture the next morning when I'll wake up rested, refreshed and hangover-free.

I also realize that most people really don't care if I'm drinking or not. In early sobriety, standing there with my glass of club soda, I felt as though I had a siren on my head screaming "Look at her! She can't drink!!" On the odd occasion where someone is pressuring me to have a drink (c'mon! loosen up! One won't hurt!) I don't offer excuses or reasons - I just smile politely and continue to say "No, thanks." Sometimes I see people who seem uncomfortable that I'm not drinking. I remember being that way, too. In the throes of my drinking anyone who could stand there with a soda smiling and having fun made me very afraid, because they made me think about my drinking.

I have gratitude, too. I hope I never lose the ability to appreciate how much richer my life is now. I have moments of pure frustration that I can't have one freaking glass of wine to relax: after a long hard day with the kids, at the end of a snowy day in front of a roaring fire or having a romantic dinner with my husband. Those moments come and go quickly now. I have learned to embrace them, to forgive myself for having those thoughts, because in their wake my gratitude increases. Today I have choices; alcohol doesn't call all the shots anymore. I heard a great quote the other day: "I'd rather be sober wishing I could have a drink, than drunk and wishing I could get sober".

I was riding in the car with Finn this morning when he said, "Momma, Christmas is a time for fun and family, right?"

"What about presents?"

"Of course presents, but that is just one day. The fun part lasts longer," he replied.

Note to self, I thought: Christmas is just a day, and the fun part lasts longer.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

I'm Too Sexy for The Holidays

We're coming up on a time of year that can be difficult for people like me - holiday parties and gatherings of friends celebrating the season is fun, but I'm forced to take a look at my situation in ways I studiously avoid during the year. I have to tell myself the truth: oh dear God I have nothing to wear.

I will never be mistaken for a fashionista, and most of the year this doesn't bother me at all. My middle-aged suburban Mom uniform rarely varies - the daily fashion questions I ask myself are which color sweater to wear: black, off-black or charcoal? And which pair of jeans: my oh-my-God-I've-lost-a-few-pounds jeans, my I'll-just-buy-these-until-I-lose-a-few-pounds jeans, or my I-don't-want-to-talk-about-it jeans (otherwise known as my it's-just-the-baby-weight jeans ... I'll milk that one until my youngest gets his learner's permit, thank you very much). Sometimes I'll get all crazy and crack out the eggplant sweater.

I rather enjoy the simplicity of my wardrobe. After spending years in Corporate America pouring myself into nylon stockings and high heels, now I prefer to wallow in the most comfortable clothing I can get away with wearing in public. The other day I was waiting in line at the post office and realized I was wearing my slippers. I wasn't embarrassed in the slightest; I'd rather be thought of as the town kook than have to wear uncomfortable shoes.

I can shuffle along like this for weeks, but on occasion I have to look more presentable. Thankfully, I don't run with a set of friends who like to get dressed in spangly outfits and go clubbing. When I'm invited to the odd dinner party, I exchange the jeans for a pair of black slacks, and the black sweater for one with a hint of color, and I'm good to go. I have made a sacred vow with myself that if I can live out my years without ever putting on a pair of nylon stockings again I will be a happy woman indeed.

There was one terrifying moment a couple of months ago when I realized I was going on national television. "Wear something with color!" the producer chirped into the phone the day before we were to leave to tape the show, sending me into a complete panic. She may as well have asked me speak swahili or play the mandolin. I don't DO color. But I did wear a lavender shirt with my black pantsuit. It even had a collar.

Every year, though, I decide this is going to be the year I bust out of my fashion rut and go a little crazy for the holidays. My closet stands in silent testimony to my folly - outfits purchased in a fit of mad determination. There was the year of the Shiniest Shirt on Earth , followed by the year of what I can only describe as Balloon Pants. The Christmas after Finn was born I was only one month post-partum and the jacket I purchased defies explanation entirely, but it can probably be seen from space. There is one little strappy dress better worn prowling the streets looking for a John. It is as if I'm trying to make up for my lack of flair the other eleven months of the year by wearing every color known to man during the holidays.

This year I'm going the safe route, something elegant and understated. I found the perfect thing:










It will look terrific with my Balloon Pants and Shiny Shirt.

Look out, Holidays, here I come.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Momma's Little Helper

I loathe bedtime. Not mine - the kids'. Specifically, Finn: he fights bedtime with every weapon his 4 year old brain can dream up. He performs a nighttime filibuster that would shame even the most seasoned politician.

It started about eight months ago. Prior to this our simple routine consisted of brushing teeth, climbing into bed, reading a story followed by a kiss and a hug and then he'd settle in to sleep. Little by little, he introduced new elements into our bedtime ritual. First it was the addition of a back scratch, then he needed a sip of "fresh" water. He would track each element like a hawk - if I forgot one step he would pad downstairs, saying "you fahgot my backskatch, Momma."

Then he began a bizarre verbal exchange before I turned out the light and left the room. One night, as I was leaving to go downstairs, he shouted "MOMMA! Lipstick and makeup!!" I was understandably confused by this, but he tearfully explained I'm supposed to say whatever he says back to him. I dutifully reply "Lipstick and makeup!" before turning out the light. It seemed a small price to pay to get him to go to sleep.

But the beast grew. A couple of weeks later, giving him his back scratch, he says, "Please give me an 'itch' backskatch first, Momma, then a tickle one." More tears, until I figured out he wants me to actually scratch his back, followed by a light tickle with my fingers. Before I knew it, our bedtime ritual was almost half an hour long: brush teeth, climb into bed, read a story, a sip of fresh water, an itch backscratch, a tickle backscratch, kisses and hugs, and a cheerful exchange of "Lipstick and makeup!" before I creep downstairs and hope for the best.

For the past month, even with a flawlessly executed bedtime ritual, he just won't go to sleep. He comes downstairs several times, saying he is hungry, he heard a noise, he isn't tired or his water wasn't "fresh enough". He would get into bed at 7:30pm, and wouldn't actually go to sleep until close to 10pm. I look forward to the kids' bedtime like a madwoman, aching for those two or three hours of peace and quiet like a junkie waiting for a score. I am, quite simply, completely out of patience by the end of the day and it gets ugly. Greta endures all of this quietly from her perch on the top bunk.

I have tried everything I can think of to stop this craziness, and nothing deters him. I finally got him to the point where he wouldn't come downstairs anymore, but he just upped his game. He lies in his bed yelling for me.

"MOMMA!" he yells. "I just need to tell you one more thing!"

"WHAT! WHAT IS IT? YOU NEED TO GO TO BED!" I yell back from the bottom of the stairs.

"I just wanted to say I love you, Momma!" he says, completely disarming me. I know I'm being manipulated, and it works every freaking time.

"I love you too, Finn. NOW GO TO BED!"

Twenty minutes later, just when I think he might actually be sleeping, he yells to me again.

"I weally, weally need you Momma! PWEASE!"

I have learned that if I ignore this, he can keep it up for a good twenty minutes. This keeps Greta awake, so I tromp upstairs, furious.

"WHAT?"

He is peering at me over the top of his covers. "I wanted to tell you you're a good Momma," he says with an impish gleam in his eyes.

I've had it. Something in me snaps. I'm forty years old, I'm supposed to be in charge, and I can't take it for one more second. I'm silently counting to ten so I won't explode, and fantasizing about duct taping him to the bed when Greta sighs and leans over from the top bunk. She looks meaningfully at Finn.

"Santa is watching," she says. "If you don't go to sleep you'll get coal for Christmas."

His eyes get wide. "Oh yeah, I fahgot about Santa," he says. "G'night Momma." He rolls onto his side and closes his eyes.

"Goodnight, Mom" says Greta, with a big grin.

I walk downstairs, muttering to myself: and Cupid on Valentine's Day, then the Easter Bunny... I can get all the way to APRIL...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Twice Monthly Giveaway - New Item!

Congratulations to Val, who won the latest giveaway of a gift certificate!! Thanks to everyone who entered!

Because we're getting close to the holidays, I'm going to do another gift certificate giveaway good for $25! This will be the last gift certificate giveaway I do this year. Here is a sampling of items from my shop:



To enter, please comment below with a message that you'd like to enter, and please provide an email address as well. If you are more comfortable emailing me directly please do so at ellieandsteve@verizon.net.

The winner will be chosen at random on December 15th (my daughter draws a name from a hat). There is still enough time to mail orders for the holidays if you live in the US. International orders take 1-3 weeks to arrive, so I can't guarantee delivery in time for the holidays if you live outside the US.

Thanks so much!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Letter To Me, Before:

Breathe.

Take a look around you. See that little baby, just learning to sit up on her own? She loves you, simply and with her whole heart. Soak it in. Do not be afraid of her love.

You think this is so hard, impossibly hard, this parenting thing. The long hours, the boredom, the constant needs. You don't feel up to the task, do you? You are doing fine. More than fine. You just can't see it.

That anxiety you feel? That deep fear? Embrace it. It's a gift, because it means you love fiercely. You want to hide from that love, because it's deeper and more powerful than anything you have ever felt before. It's mother-love, and it scares you. You don't know if you can bear it, the sheer weight of it on your shoulders.

Be gentle to yourself. You don't have to do everything perfectly - there is no such thing. Trust your heart, it knows what it's doing. Don't over think. Your mind can't get a grip on matters best left to the heart. Put down the parenting books, the magazine articles. Stop the constant comparisons, your endless quest for ways you don't measure up.

See that glass in your hand? The deep red swirl of wine? You think it makes the fear, the insecurity, the weariness all better, don't you? You feel it masks the anxiety, the self-doubt, the boredom. Know this: it masks the love, the joy and the laughter, too. You are trying to erase yourself from the picture, a little at a time, because you don't believe you're good enough.

You can't picture letting go of your fear. You think it is keeping you safe. It is keeping you stuck and alone. You can't imagine a life without the need to hide from yourself.

You don't really hear the giggles of your baby as you rub her belly, or notice how her face lights up at the sight of you. You don't really notice how strong her chubby fingers are when she clutches your thumb, or how she likes to rub her feet against you as she falls asleep. You don't see these things because you are scared to love that much. You are hiding within yourself, afraid.

Know that this fear isn't born out of despair, it is born out of love. A beautiful, all encompassing, love.

Have faith that it is going to be okay. Things will work out the way they are supposed to, and all the worry and anxiety you feel won't change that. So let go. Get up each day with a grateful heart. Or at least try to. Be present. Be present for all of it.

Breathe.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Attitude of Gratitude

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It isn't overly commercialized, no presents - just a time to gather with family and friends, have a good meal, watch some football, and relax.

This year, though, I'm thinking a lot about what I'm thankful for. Really thinking about it, not just a passing nod before I tuck into a heaping plate of food.

It is far to easy to think about all the things I don't have, especially when my mind is absorbed with the loss of Coalie. Yesterday I entered the Anger phase of grieving. I was angry that some careless driver robbed us of our loving pet. Angry that it happened at all. I was playing an endless game of what-if: what-if we hadn't let him out that day? what-if that driver had left their house five minutes later? what-if he hadn't run into the road? It wasn't a pleasant state of mind, and it left me feeling empty and sadder than ever.

My kids are processing their grief by talking about him a lot, acknowledging what a loving addition he was to our family. They are thinking about his life more than his loss. I learn so much from my kids.

I am terrific at feeling sorry for myself. I can put so much energy into sadness, anger or resentment, and it doesn't get me anywhere. I do feel it is important to acknowledge emotions; I spent years stuffing bad feelings, putting them Someplace Else, and that doesn't work either. So what is the answer?

Gratitude.

The funny thing about gratitude, at least for me, is that it is difficult to conjure it up out of thin air. Usually I experience gratitude after I have been through a bad patch, and I'm grateful that it is over. It isn't hard to be grateful for the absence of pain, fear or sadness. It takes more work for me to be grateful for an ordinary day. I forget that an ordinary day is a blessing.

It is the small moments that should carry the most meaning in the fabric of my life. The sound of my kids giggling in the next room. The way Finn sticks his tongue out when he's concentrating. Greta coming up with an idea for a book where the girl gets to save the day. The song the two of them made up together, when they thought I couldn't hear them. Greta's big toothless smile. The way Finn spins in place until he falls down laughing. The sound of them whispering to each other at night when they're supposed to be asleep.

I don't want to live in fear. I don't want to feel gratitude simply because something bad didn't occur. Coalie's gift to me is that he reminded me to see the simple beauty in life as it's happening.

I asked Greta this morning what she is grateful for. She gave me a puzzled look, so I said, "when you get up in the morning, what are you thankful for?"

She looked at me as though the answer was the most obvious thing in the world. "That I woke up," she said simply.

That's a good place to start.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Coalie Holey

Last week I did a blog about our pets. Yesterday our kitty Coalie was killed - hit by a car in the middle of clear Sunday afternoon. He was a big part of our little family, and we miss him terribly.

I have had lots of pets in my lifetime, and it is always hard when they die. Coalie had a special place in my heart, though - I had never met a cat like him. He was a very loving little creature, and he had a soft spot for me. Virtually every time I sat down, anywhere, he would come scampering across the room to sit in my lap, purring madly. Every night as I settled into bed to read, he would leap up on the bed and settle in next to me (or, if he had his preference, smack dab on the middle of my chest between my face and my book). I always sleep on my side, and each night he'd plop down, perched on my arm, and purr like crazy until he fell asleep.

It's jarring - losing him so unexpectedly. Everywhere I look I think I see him, and it is crushing to realize that isn't him curled on the chair, but only Finn's sweatshirt. Climbing into bed last night it seemed surreal that he was gone - I kept expecting to hear the little thump of his paws running up the stairs.

Greta and Finn are sad, of course, but kids have a very pure way of processing death. Finn understands that Coalie is gone and he isn't coming back, but he hasn't cried about him. He's talking about him a lot, though. Greta and I cried together for a while yesterday afternoon, remembering all the things we loved about him. As her tears dried, she looked up and said "You know what, Mom? Maybe there was a little girl in Heaven who needed a kitty. Now she has Coalie."

We had a little burial out in the woods, said a few prayers for him, and put down a little headstone. As we solemnly walked back to the house, I was thinking about the innocence of animals. How all they really want from you is love. Coalie's affection could drag me out of the worst mood. I'd be sitting in a funk feeling sorry for myself, and he'd crawl into my lap, purring and nudging me for attention. Petting him brought me a measure of peace, and reduced my anxiety.

Seeing Greta sad over the loss of Coalie gave me twinges of guilt. Steve and I knew this might happen, we did the best we could to keep him safe, but we live off a busy road and we always understood this was a danger we faced. The kids became so attached to him, only to have him wrenched away too soon. Was that fair to do to them? Should we have avoided getting a cat because of this danger? The fact is, though, that he brought a lot of love into this house. And it was worth it. I don't want to miss out on that kind of love, just out of a fear of loss.

We kept his food down in the basement, and so the dog wouldn't get it we cut a little circle opening in the base of the door, just big enough for Coalie to fit through. We called it the "Coalie Holey". Now I have a Coalie Holey in my heart, but I am so grateful to have known this loving little spirit. We're hugging each other a little tighter today.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Four Feet of Furious

I had heard the stories, the cautionary tales, from other Moms.

"It's not the terrible twos with boys," one friend told me three years ago. "It's the F-ing Fours."

I nodded politely at this news, gazing fondly at my adorable one year old son. Not if I can help it, I thought smugly.

Finn turned four on November 9th, and it is like someone flipped a switch. I am eating humble pie at my belief that somehow my child would be different and escape this stage.

Greta went through a rough patch when she was almost three. It lasted a week. Suddenly, she was testing boundaries and throwing tantrums when she didn't get her way. After three difficult episodes of being sent to her room and Sternly Lectured, she stopped.

Finn is proving to be a bit more difficult to discipline. Part of the problem is that I'm not used to it - he has always been a roll-with-it kind of kid. He has an innately sweet disposition, and although he is active and challenging to keep entertained, for the most part he is easy going. Until now.

Yesterday I was on the phone with a friend I haven't spoken to in months. Finn marched up to me, put his mouth right next to my ear and yelled, "Get me a hamburger!!!"

"Don't speak to me that way, Finn. It's rude."

"GAAAAAH!!! HAMBURGER! NOW!!!" he screams, and throws himself on the floor. I walk away, desperate to finish a couple of sentences with my friend.

He follows me, screaming and having a complete meltdown. I get off the phone, and send him to his room, where he proceeds to throw himself against the door over and over.

After five minutes he calms down and is let out of his room. He comes up and gives me a hug. "Sorry, Momma," he says.

I open my mouth to talk to him about his behavior, and he interrupts me.

"You made tears come out of my eyes," he continues. "Now you hafta say you're sorry to me."

"No, I don't. You were rude to me and you got in trouble. The way you acted wasn't okay," I begin.

"But MOMMA! You made me cry! Dat's WONG! Say sorry to me, and say it nicely!!!"

Back in his room he goes, and the cycle continues. From the other side of the door, through hysterical sobs, he says, "it's not FAIR! You are mean and stupid and I hate you!"

"That hurts my feelings," I say to him through the door, as calmly as I can muster. I set the timer and tell him I'll let him out in five minutes. Then I walk away - what he wants is my attention. Even mad attention is still attention, and I remove myself.

Things go smoothly for the next half an hour. He is sitting in the playroom watching a show, and he yells out, "Come change the channel! Now!" And we begin again.

When five minutes is up he comes out of his room again, looking contrite.

"I won't be mean anymore, Momma. I was just mad but now I'm not," he says.

"Every time you're rude, or mean, you will go to your room for five minutes, Finn," I explain. "Next time you feel like you're going to get mad, just use your words. And remember to say 'please' and 'thank you', it's important."

He nods. "Okay, Momma. Now it's your turn. You say sorry to me, really nicely, like this: 'I'm sorry sweetie'". He says this in falsetto - a nearly perfect imitation of my voice.

I have to admire his tenacity. We have been doing this dance for three weeks now. The other day he threw a temper tantrum, sobbing hysterically and screaming "Put the tears back in my eyes! Put the tears back in my eyes!"

I know he needs me to be consistent, but I am so damn tired. It's hard not to feel like I'm doing everything wrong. I'm trying to find ways to focus on the positive, too - give him praise when he does something well. The other day he politely asked for a snack and said 'please' and 'thank you'.

"Good job asking nicely," I said.

He looked up at me impassively. "You're actually a good Momma, usually," he says. "You don't need to get mad all the time, though. Just use your words and it will all be okay."

Right.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Courage to Change

I read a statistic recently that said that up to 42% of American adults have been directly effected by alcoholism. Nearly half. I think about this number sometimes, when I'm sitting in a crowd of people. I look around and think: nearly 1 out of every 2 of these people have been hurt somehow by this disease.

It is true that most people suffering from active alcoholism need help to stop. It is also true, I believe, that nobody can make someone stay sober - it is an inside job, and to achieve any sort of longer term sobriety the person has to want it for themselves. So what to do?

For me, the critical moment was when my husband and family intervened. My husband arranged for my parents and sister to come to our house, surprise me, and sit me down to talk about my drinking. It was a moment I had feared would come for a long time. As my drinking got worse, my primary motivation for trying to hide it was that I knew if it got bad enough my family would try to make me stop - something I didn't want to do at all. The baffling thing, though, is that as my drinking spiraled out of control I also thought to myself: God, I wish someone would stop me.

On some level I knew I wouldn't be able to stop myself. I had tried everything - I would tell myself I would only drink on weekends, only have two, only drink wine or beer, only drink after 5pm. The sad reality was that once I had one drink I was no longer in control of how much I drank. And I wanted, so badly, to be able to have just one. Every time I picked up a drink I would tell myself: this time it will be different. It never was.

So my family had an intervention. They called me on it - told me that I was destroying myself and my family. That my children weren't safe with me anymore. That I had to get help. I told them I would. I remember thinking to myself: I don't think it is going to work but I'll give it a try if it will make everyone happy. At this point I didn't care enough about myself to get sober for me.

It didn't work, not right away. I went to a ten day outpatient clinic, and drank the day after it ended. I was sent to a ten day inpatient program. I sat in the front row of every group, I took notes, I told myself: I never want to come back here, this has got to work. I drank within three hours of coming home. I thought to myself, as I left to go buy alcohol, that I had learned so much, had been sober for ten whole days, that I had to be able to have just one, that I wasn't as bad as the other patients at the rehab. I was wrong.

So what changed? My husband, when he came home that day and knew I had been drinking, had finally had it. He drove me back to the treatment center for a 30 day stay, and as he dropped me off he told me he was done. That if I wanted to destroy myself, that was my choice, but that I wasn't going to take the rest of our family down with me. If I didn't get sober and stay that way he was leaving and taking the kids. He meant it. I was on my own. I finally, finally, got good and scared. I had no self-esteem, no sense of self-worth, so it wasn't possible for me to get sober for me. His ultimatum, though, gave me another reason to try: I didn't want to lose my family. Up until this point, I didn't truly believe that I would lose my family - I always assumed in some vague way that we would always be together, no matter what. Wrong again.

After the 30 day stay, I still wanted to drink, badly, but I knew what would happen if I did. If I didn't want to lose my family, I had to give recovery a try. Looking back on it now, I feel this way about everything: my husband's ultimatum got me to stop, and now I keep myself stopped. It was months before I began to want sobriety for myself. I slowly regained a sense of self-worth. I surrendered to my disease; I finally believed that I could no longer have one drink in safety. But in the early days, it was the knowledge that I would lose my family that kept me from drinking.

I love the show Intervention (A&E, Monday at 9PM EST). What is powerful about the show, I think, is that the addicts and alcoholics featured know they have a problem. They have agreed to be in a show about addiction; they don't know their family will be staging an intervention. They are in the end game: they aren't in denial about their problem, but they still can't stop. I watch each show, fascinated, listening to how the interventionist advises the family members. It is acknowledged that nobody has any control over the addict's behavior. Nobody can force the addict to get help. The focus is on what each family member does control: their own actions. The root question is this: what are you willing to do, what consequences can you put into play in the addict's life? Whatever you decide to do you have to follow through no matter what.

There is no guaranteed happy ending. Not all the addicts featured on the show make it, although many of them do. There is no way to determine, at the outset of the show, who will make it and who won't based simply on the addict's story, or how far down their disease has taken them. What matters most, I think, is whether or not the consequences are meaningful enough, and whether or not the family members follow through on them. Even when they do follow through, there are no guarantees that the addict will get sober. Watching the show, though, it is clear that when family members put up boundaries and stick to them, the chances the addict will seek help improve.

I don't mean to put the responsibility for someone's recovery on other people - as I said, it's an inside job, and the addict has to want recovery for it to work. Loved ones of alcoholics feel powerless in so many ways, and for good reason. Nobody can make someone stop or control someone else's actions. But we can control our own actions. Sometimes what feels like the harshest action is actually the most loving. It may just give an addict a reason to try recovery. What happens after is up to them.

You can view episodes of Intervention at A&E's website here. One story in particular, Leslie's story, touched me deeply. I had the honor of meeting her and her family last month, and they are incredibly honest, brave people.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Right Thing

Greta, who is 7, is learning about money. She gets an allowance every week for doing her chores, but she's always looking to score a little extra cash by doing jobs around the house. She saves up her money to buy Webkinz at Target, where they cost $10.

Yesterday afternoon she asked what she can do to earn $5 - more than we usually give her for chores around the house - so I had to think up something good.

"You can clean up the playroom AND your bedroom," I said. "And really clean them, don't just shove stuff in closets."

Ordinarily this sort of request is met with whining and complaining, but yesterday she just nodded and set about cleaning both rooms for over an hour. They were a complete mess, and she put away every toy.

After she finished she brought me my wallet and I gave her $5.

Half an hour later, she came up to me with $10 in her hand - all of her savings. It had taken her about a month to get this much, and I expected her to ask to take a trip to Target to buy a Webkinz.

"Here you go, Mom, " she said, and handed me the money.

"What's this for?" I asked.

"I want to give this money to the women you're helping in Boston," she said. "I want to help them have Christmas presents this year."

My jaw dropped. I serve on an advisory board for a rehabilitative house in Boston that helps women struggling with addiction. There they get sober, have a safe place to live, find jobs and get their lives back. Every year they have a little Christmas party, and they give each woman a gift card to Walmart. After Christmas, the counselors and their clients take a road trip to the nearest Walmart so they can use the gift cards to get new clothes, or buy some much needed supplies. I had been talking to Steve about all this yesterday, and I didn't realize Greta was listening.

"Can we go to Walmart, buy a gift card and mail it to them today?" she asked.

"It is really nice of you to help them," I said. "It takes you a long time to earn $10, and to give it to someone in need is really special."

"It's okay," she said. "I can always earn more money, and I want them to have a good Christmas, too."

My heart swelled. I'd love to take all the credit for her generosity, her big heart, but this one is all her.

"We'll go tomorrow, I promise."

"Will they know it is from me?" she asked.

"I'll make sure they do, honey. I'm sure they will be very grateful."

She smiled. "I can't wait to tell my friends I helped someone," she said softly. "Do you think they will be proud of me?"

"I'm sure they will," I replied. "But you should feel really proud of yourself, too. Do you?"

"I guess so," she said. "It just feels like the right thing to do."

"It is, honey," I said. "It is."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pepperoni Love

My kids love animals. Any living creature, actually. Perhaps this is how we ended up with four chickens, a dog, a cat and a hamster. This doesn't count our dearly departed 2 chickens, Taily-Tail the gecko, and a rapid succession of 7 or 8 Betta fish with unusually short life expectancies.

Casper, the dog, predated our kids. She was our "we-need-to-learn-to-be-responsible-before-we-have-kids" acquisition. She is a Cuvac (pronounced "chew-vatch") - a huge white longish-haired dog bred to work in conjunction with sheep dogs, and guard the perimeter of a property - her job is to bark and alert sheep dogs to to the presence of predators. This particular skill would be invaluable in, say, the highlands of the Alps, but is misplaced in the relative security of suburbia. Any motion along our own perimeter - a jogger, cyclist, neighbor, UPS man, visiting friend - is subject to a torrent of barking that shakes the walls. Now she is a bit hard of hearing, and so she barks all the time just for good measure - certain there is a perimeter breech somewhere that needs to be addressed.

Our cat, Coalie, joined our family last year - a gift to our daughter for her 6th birthday. My husband isn't a big cat person, so he was skeptical, but Coalie has no idea he is a cat. He is the most loving creature I've ever seen. He is particularly attached to me, and he isn't content to just perch in my lap. He wraps himself around my neck, places both paws on my shoulders and presses his face into mine. I swear he would french kiss if I'd let him. He's completely insane. He fits right in.

Rhino the hamster came about because we were just too damn tired to say no. Greta's friend Abi got a hamster last year, and the kids asked to get one every other minute for a week straight before we broke down. Coalie spends hours gazing hungrily into Rhino's cage while he putters about, oblivious. Occasionally Rhino will get out of his cage - to this day I don't know how - and we'll spend a few terrified minutes chasing the cat, who is chasing Rhino, only to pluck Rhino from the claws of death with seconds to spare. This usually happens at 2am, which is fun.

Getting chickens was an obsession my husband nurtured for years. One day he came home from work and told the kids he had a surprise for them in the car. They went squealing outside, and I followed with a sense of mild dread. I didn't know he had gotten chickens, but feared the worst. Inside a shoe box were six tiny little fluffy chicks - the kids were smitten immediately. It took me a little longer, as I was concerned with little details like "where the hell are they going to live, HONEY?" Turns out they lived in a big box in the basement until my husband could build them what I refer to as the "Chicken Condo" - a beautifully crafted A frame structure that is nicer than my living room. Chickens are actually fairly easy to care for, and we get two or three eggs a day, which is nice. We have the occasional Chicken Revolt - they all get out somehow and wander into the neighbor's yard, which prompts a visit from the Chicken Police (yes, they exist) - but otherwise they are quite low maintenance.

We've had ant farms, butterfly farms, and countless injured insects and moths found in the backyard and brought inside to be nurtured back to health. The ant farm kept itself going for a couple of months, and one by one the ants died until what we essentially had was a mausoleum of dead ants.

My kids will bring any manner of creature inside to nurture as a pet. We've had "Sluggy Slug", who munched happily on leaves for two days before perishing. Several moths - who I think live for like ten seconds on a good day - were nevertheless given a little home in a jar to live out their brief lifespan. One baby toad with an injured leg actually made it for two days before I convinced the kids to let him hobble away.

I guess one of the advantages of all this wildlife is that it has taught my kids at an early age about the Circle of Life. When we lost their favorite chicken - Yellowy -to natural causes, we dug him a grave in the woods and the kids put colored rocks down for a headstone. This was over a year ago, and I still get questions about how Yellowy is doing in Heaven. Taily-tail was the beloved Leopard Gecko who somehow escaped in the night and disappeared. I spent several weeks expecting to find his mummified corpse in a shoe, or in a closet somewhere. His fate is unknown; I have convinced the kids he went home to find his family. So far, so good.

Greta is, thankfully, mostly done with her Vegetarian Experiment. Although she is a carnivore again, I have to assure her that each and every animal she consumes was treated humanely before becoming dinner.

"Mom, promise me! Was this animal treated really nicely before it died?"

"That's a pepperoni, Greta."

"I know! Was the pepperoni treated fairly, allowed to roam free?"

And because I'm getting old, I'm tired and I just can't be bothered... "Yes, it was," I reply.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Twice Monthly Giveaway - New Items!

Congratulations to K-Dart and Nina, who were the winners of the last giveaway!! They both selected the Vintage Style Flower Ring!

Thank you to all who entered! Because we're coming up on the Holiday Season, the next giveaway will be for a $25 gift certificate good toward any item(s) in my shop!

To enter, please reply in the comment section saying you would like to enter, and please leave your email. If you are more comfortable contacting me directly, please do so at ellieandsteve@verizon.net

The winner will be chosen at random (my daughter picks a name from a hat) on November 30th!! International entries are always welcome - I ship anywhere in the world.

Here is a small sampling of ideas:

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Zen and the Art of Squirrel Containment

I have been trying to meditate. I say 'trying', because I am really not very good at it. Not at all. Once I even bought a guided meditation DVD entitled "Meditation: Find Inner Peace in Ten Minutes or Less". That should have been a sign that my kind of over-active mind needs a little more help than most. But I did listen to the DVD. Once. In the car. For five whole minutes.

I have always been a short-cut taker, and not just with activities, projects or work. I like emotional shortcuts, too. When I have unpleasant emotions, my mind automatically seeks the quickest possible escape route. I am not particularly fond of being alone in my head, with so many thoughts pinging around all disorganized and unresolved. My brain is like a hyperactive, hungry, immature squirrel - always flitting about, digging things up, making snarly little nests here and there and then scooting off to the next thing.

My idea of relaxing involves listening to the radio, playing on the computer and talking on the phone at the same time. The only time I seem to have any kind of focus is when I'm reading a book - and even then I often have to re-read sentences or entire paragraphs because my mental squirrel has gone running off somewhere without my permission.

My first experience with meditation was last year. I participated in a women's discussion group, and before every group meeting we would meditate. Sometimes with the aid of a guided meditation CD, but often with nothing at all - just silence. We would set a timer for ten minutes, sit in a circle, dim the lights, settle comfortably in our chairs, and meditate. Or, perhaps more accurately, the rest of them would meditate. My mind would go into overdrive, and I would spend the entire ten minutes chasing the squirrel around my brain. My internal dialogue would usually go something like this:

Okay, am I comfortable? No - my feet feel wrong. How are they supposed to be? Flat on the floor, right. Now they're on the floor. But I never sit like this. Shouldn't it be important to feel like myself if I'm meditating? Am I allowed to cross my ankles? I'm just going to peek - really quickly - see if everyone else has their feet on the floor.... damn. They do. Okay, feet on the floor. What's next... oh yes! Breathing. I can totally do this. Deep breath In...... and exhale. In...... and exhale. Wow, that's going well! In... and exhale. Oh shit I have to cough. Must. Suppress. Cough. Damn! Too late. Now everyone's probably looking at me. Where was I? Oh - breathing .... in..... exhale. In..... exhale. Crap, I don't think I'm supposed to be thinking "in" and "exhale" in my head when I do this.. I don't think I'm supposed to be thinking anything. How do you not think at all? Do I just think "ohm?" Okay... ohhhhhhmmmmmm. Ohhhhhhmmmmmm. Ohhhhhmmmm. Ohm. Ohm-diddly-ohm. OHM. That sounds like "oh, I'm". As in "oh I'm so bored". Ohimsobored. Ohimsobored. Ooohhhhiimmmmsooooobooooorrrrredddd.

It goes on this way until the little 'ding' of the timer. Everyone else appears to surface from some inner pool of mental calmness. By the time it's over I'm close to panic that I haven't quieted my brain - not for one second - so I study their faces and try to imitate their look of zen-like satisfaction.

I keep practicing, though, because every now and then there are a few moments of - well, of silence. And peace. And they're nice.

What I need, really, is a Zen Squirrel Trap. Like a Have-A-Heart Trap for the mind. I don't want to kill the squirrel, not really. Just contain him for a while. Quietly.