Tuesday, June 30, 2009


My husband Steve gave me my 40th birthday present last night - he surprised me with a trip to Bermuda. We leave on Thursday morning, and will spend four days right on the water, enjoying the sun and relaxing. The kids are staying with my parents for the week - I dropped them off this morning. I am beside myself with excitement - Steve and I haven't been away alone together on vacation in many, many years. It is an extravagance for us ... but this year is also our 10th wedding anniversary, so we're splurging.

I have two days home here without the kids before we leave. I don't know quite what to do with myself. I spent the first hour or so walking around my house in a daze - no little hands pawing at me, no requests for juice, nobody was following me from room to room. I'm not peppered constantly with unanswerable questions. I made jewelry, and didn't have to get up every four minutes or so to break up a fight or look for a lost toy. I had a lovely trip to the post office.

I got my hair done. My hair done! Instead of hovering over my sink haphazardly trimming my bangs with the kitchen scissors, I had my scalp massaged. I went to Target (man, I love me some Target) and picked out some nicer clothes for the trip. And by nicer I mean pants and shorts without drawstring waistlines and shirts without stains. I found a long flowy skirt and a cute pair of sandals. I tried everything on, without a kid opening the door to the changing room and randomly exposing me to people. I didn't have to worry about Finn crawling under the changing stall and horrifying the woman next to me. I luxuriated in making decisions about what to buy. I perused the book aisle for an hour. I saw a Mom there negotiating her kids through the toy aisle. She looked exhausted. I felt this strange compulsion to go up to her and say "Hey - I have two small kids, too - I'm not usually this relaxed!".

Tonight Steve and I had a quiet dinner at home, just the two of us. We watched whatever we wanted on TV. We finished sentences. We finished thoughts. We could wander off and do what we wanted, without having those quiet negotiations at every step: you want dishes or bath time? if you put them to bed I'll tidy up the kitchen. We sat on the porch after dinner and watched the sunset. We chatted.

I feel completely untethered. I can't remember the last time I could just dart out of my house to do an errand - no fumbling for kids' shoes, diaper changing or bargaining endlessly to get out the door.

I keep waiting for the guilt to show up - a vague feeling of uneasiness that I shouldn't be enjoying this time so much. That I'm supposed to miss them unspeakably, and be worried that they will be too homesick, get a sunburn or a tummy ache and I'm not there to comfort them.

But you know what? It isn't there... the guilt isn't there. I'm thoroughly enjoying myself. I know they are safe. I know they are happy. They adore my parents and will spend 7 days being showered with attention the likes of which they can't get full time around here. I am wallowing in this time, because it is precious. I don't want to waste it feeling badly that I'm not with them. Right now, it just feels too good to be free. Towards the end of the week, I will wallow in the fact that I miss them... it will feel good to miss them, because it will make being together again feel special. For me and for them. Too often we get so used to each other that we all kind of disappear a little. I caught myself looking wistfully at a picture of them on the refrigerator - a picture I see a hundred times everyday and don't even notice.

So while my husband and I will have some time to reconnect, the kids and I will too. Because we will miss each other - a lot - and when I get back a normal day will feel that much sweeter.

Twice Monthly Giveaway - New Item!!!

Congratulations to Elis B. who won the World to Me Ring in the last giveaway! Thank you to all who entered.

Here is the next giveaway item - the Amethyst Swarovski Crystal Twist Ring:

This pretty ring is made from a deep, rich amethyst swarovski "twist" crystal and wrapped with sterling silver wire. This ring has special personal significance to me, as amethyst is the Sobriety Stone and has powerful healing properties, but it also makes a fabulous and sparkly summer ring! Click on the photo for addtional pictures of it in my Etsy shop.

To enter, please leave me a comment saying you would like to enter (see the comment section on the right hand side bar). If you know your ring size, you may include that in the comment too.

SPECIAL - this week - for additional entries you can go to my Etsy store: http://www.shiningstones.etsy.com/ and check out some of my other pieces. Leave a comment about other pieces of jewelry that you like and why, and you will get one additional entry for each piece you mention. This helps me get more information on what people like in my store, what they would like to see more of... and it helps you get more entries to possibly win!

ALSO - I am leaving on vacation from July 11th - 18th - so the winner of this giveaway will be announced on July 10th.

Thank you, and good luck!

Monday, June 29, 2009

June Cleaver Can Kiss My Sass

I read an article in the Boston Globe the other day about Moms who blog about the trials and tribulations of parenting, who admit to how hard it is, and who have, as the article implied, dubbed themselves the "Bad Parent Movement".

Now, since I am new to this concept and have been known to miss out on major trends of all shapes and sizes, I am not going to launch into a commentary about this nomenclature. I realize blogging as a 'bad parent' is a literary way to flip the bird to the major media outlets who, for the most part, do little to alleviate the pressures parents feel to be perfect. It seems like a logical reaction to all the Sitcom Moms who keep a clean house, juggle three kids, solve their teenager's angst and prepare a home cooked meal all in the tidy span of a 30 minute television show.

I resist being included in trends, however I applaud those Moms (and Dads) who blog about the realities of being a parent and I would be honored to be included in their ranks. By my way of thinking, we are far from being bad parents. If anything, we have a frighteningly real sense of how important a job it is; every little decision feels riddled with implications and pitfalls. We understand with stark clarity that these little lives and personalities have been entrusted to us; we know how influential we are. And, if these other parents are anything like me, we wonder on a daily basis if we're really up to it. We are, after all, human. It is not out of disrespect for the importance of Parenting that we write about all the ways we screw it up, it is in deference to it.

I don't know what I would do without my friends, and by friends I mean those people I don't have to be perfect around. Those people who get it. The people I call when I've just about had it, when I feel like I can't take it for one more second. Their words of wisdom and support follow me everywhere I go, and I tap into their vast resources all the time.

Today, for example, I was riding in the car with Greta when out of the blue she says, "Mom, is it true that you can have a baby when you're only fourteen?"

Gulp. I am only allowed to panic for a few seconds, otherwise she senses that she is on to something good and she will sink her teeth into it and never let go. The words of my wise and funny friend Damomma pop into my head: Only answer what is asked. Don't presume she knows more or less than she is telling you. I think of my ever-resourceful friend Karin, who told me: when I'm stumped, I like to answer a question with a question.

So I do both. I say, "Yes, it is. Why do you ask?"

She replies, "I dunno. I was just thinking about babies and wondering if you were ever going to have another one. If you can have them as young as fourteen, what about forty? Is that too old?"

I breathe an inward sigh of relief. This feels like more familiar territory. But I'm still cautious, so I answer with the truth. "Forty isn't always too old, but we love our family just the way it is."

She said, happily, "I do, too."

Had I been left to my own resources on that one, I would have over-answered. In my rush to protect her from what I fear she may know I would have answered things that weren't asked, dropping little pieces of my adult world into her lap, things she may not be ready for. Because I have my posse, my friends, we share how we've faced the tough things - both how we've done well, and how we've failed. So we can all learn.

Another good friend of mine struggles with disappointing her kids, it just breaks her heart to say no. Her son asks daily to go do things, as all kids do, but she has a young baby at home and finances are tight. She feels guilty saying no - she feels like she is failing him. So I let her in on a little secret another Mom shared with me. If her son (he is 4) asks to go to the arcade, for example, she smiles brightly and says "lets see if they are open!". She pretends to dial, pretends to speak to the manager, and hangs up. Then she says, "sorry, honey, that was a good idea but they are closed now. Do you want to do a puzzle instead?" This may seem like a drastic measure to appease a child, but the person it is really helping is her. She has to say no, but now she can do it in a way that makes her feel less guilty. Its all good. Instead of feeling badly about saying no, she knows she is part of a network of Moms who are juggling the same feelings, the same difficulties. She is part of something bigger, not alone and just trying to hold it all together.

If we don't share all the ways it is hard, all the ways we mess up, how are we supposed to learn? Parenting is like a bad neighborhood - you should never venture there alone. And when you're in a foxhole, who do you want in there with you? June Cleaver?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Accept Acceptance

One of the first things you hear at AA meetings is: "identify, don't compare". In the context of recovery, this means to listen to other people's stories and struggles with an open heart and an open mind. In early recovery, when your brain is still trying to wrap itself around the fact that you are an alcoholic, or an addict, it is easy to look for a way out, a trapdoor -- anything to avoid the reality that your life will never be the same. If you are listening to someone tell their story of arrests, or jail time, and this has never happened to you, it is tempting to think "well, that hasn't happened to me, I can't be as bad as her". Your unhealthy brain is looking to accumulate evidence that you aren't really an alcoholic, that you aren't that bad.

You would like to think those things can't happen to you... and if you think it long and hard enough, those things won't happen to you. But, as you also hear in meetings "your best thinking got you here". The trick is to get outside yourself, get over yourself. To stop all the thinking and get out of your own way. In order to succeed, you have to let go. You have to trust in others, trust in a power greater than yourself, and gain acceptance that the world spins madly on no matter how much you wish you could control it.

This sounds simple, and it is. Simple, but not easy. I didn't think I was a controlling person, a perfectionist, until I came into recovery. Then I started to hear, over and over until I wanted to scream, how we don't have control over people, places or things. That we need to accept life on life's terms, and live in the moment. What?

Let's face it, in today's world we are constantly bombarded with messages that are quite the contrary. Television commercials telling us we need a nicer car, a bigger house, a special medicine that will cure our ailments. Advertisements and billboards plastered with perfect looking people living perfect looking lives are designed to make us feel inadequate. That whatever life we're living now could be vastly improved by whatever they are selling. Just glancing through any magazine shows me my face needs more moisturizing, I'm wearing last season's colors, my house needs a makeover, I don't have a waistline like a hornet and my body parts need a virtual cocktail of medications to function properly. Everywhere I look the message is this: that I can find contentedness if only I have this, or that. More money. A better job. A nicer house. A faster car. A more practical car.

It is exhausting. I would buy the product of any company that said in their advertising "you totally don't need this - its really cool and flashy and it will make your neighbors jealous, if that is important to you, but it can't make you happy, it can only make your friends think you are happy". In this day and age, we have taken the notion of 'keeping up with the Joneses" to a whole new level. Through every medium the message is one of instant gratification. More, and now.

These messages are prominent in the world of parents, too. Kids are over scheduled, overbooked and overstressed. Moms feel constant pressure to enroll their kids in every activity they can find ... because Little Susie is taking Swahili lessons somehow our own daughter will be inadequate if she doesn't take them, too. We are not passing down a message of acceptance to our children. Whether we are aware of it or not, too often we are telling them they need to keep up, to do more, to have more, to be more involved. The unspoken message is that they aren't good enough the way they are. We are constantly comparing, and not identifying enough.

We compare to make ourselves feel better - if someone comes on hard times it is human nature to feel that flash of relief that it isn't happening to you. We compare to make ourselves feel worse - if someone has more than we do, if life seems too easy for them, we feel that tug of resentment that we don't have what they have. And we drive ourselves mad trying to keep up. To be Normal. When we say Normal, what we really mean is Accepted. Accepted by other people, fitting in.

So how on earth, when you're caught up in this maelstrom, do you let go. How do you look around your life, your circumstances, and accept them all just the way they are? What recovery teaches is that true acceptance comes from within. How hokey does that sound? In this cynical age - very. Recovery helps you navigate the 'if-onlys'. I could be happy if only my kid were doing better in school. If only we had a three bedroom house. If only I were thinner. If only I had more time to get things done. If only I could get that granite counter top, if only so-and-so were nicer to me.

You can wait a whole lifetime for the if-onlys to come true. We are so accustomed to thinking we need more that we forget to look around at all we do have. I have a friend in recovery who lives in his truck on purpose. He has everything he needs there, and he can go anywhere he wants. He is the the most serene person I know. He gets a big chuckle out of people who feel sorry for him. He doesn't compare himself to them, not for a second. He finds it amusing when people compare themselves to him. "I think I make people feel like they have a lot going for them," he says. "It gives me pleasure to make people feel good, so it all works out."

Life on life's terms. Just the way it is, here and now. It can't be improved on, because it just is.

Pokemon, Armpits and a Trip to the Post Office

In the interest of understanding why I am nearly insane at the end of the day, today I made note of what took place trying to get to the post office. Of course, it is 4:40pm and I have to get there by 5pm to mail jewelry orders. The post office is 6 minutes away. It went exactly like this:

"C'mon guys, get your shoes on, we have to go to the post office!" I say, innocently enough.

Between my kitchen and the front door:

Greta: "I can't find my crocs, do I have to wear shoes?"

Finn: "Can we stop and get candy?"

Me: "Wear any old shoes, and no, no candy"

Greta: "I hate my sandals, they hurt my feet. I'm not going"

Finn: "Candeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee"

Me: "Fine. Don't wear shoes. But you'll have to wait in the car. No, no candy"

Greta: "FINE. I'll wear my sandals, but I'm going to need band-aids for all the blisters."

Finn: "I ready Momma!"

Me: "Finn, you cannot wear my high heels to the store ... where are your sneakers?"

Finn: "I don't wanna wear shoes either!"


Between the door to my house and the car:

Greta: "Its MY turn to sit behind Momma!"

Finn: "NO! Its MY turn!"

Me: "What does it matter? Get in the car!!"

Greta: "But the window doesn't go down on the other side - its my turn to sit behind you!"


Me: "Oh for crying out loud. Finn you sit behind me on the way there and Greta on the way back and I don't want to hear any more about it. FINN! What are you wearing? I said you can't wear Momma's shoes... oh, forget it, I'll carry you in."

While in the car:

Me: "Finn, stop putting the window up in down - that is why the other one doesn't work."

Finn: "Don't talk to me!"

Greta: "Mom have you ever broken any bones?"

Me: "Finn don't talk back - its rude."

Greta: "Have you, Mom?"

Me: "Have I what?"

Greta: "You never listen! Have you ever broken any bones?"

Finn: "See Mom? I can put it up and down and its not breaking!"

Me: "STOP IT FINN. No, I have never broken any bones."

Greta: "But you said you had a cast on your foot once."

Finn: "I see the store! I want candeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!"

Me: "No, no candy. I had a cast for a pulled tendon."

Greta: "What's a tendon? Do I have them too? Do they break a lot?"

Finn: "Sissy your Pokemon card just went out da window."


Me: "We can't stop, I have 2 minutes to get there before it closes."

Finn: "Can I put this one out the window too?"

Greta: "WAHHHHHHHH!! We have to go back!! WAHHHHH!"

We manage to get there with one minute to spare. I have to schlep Finn in on my hip (the kid weighs almost 45 lbs) because he won't wear shoes, and Greta is still crying about her Pokemon card. But we made it.

One the way home from the post office:

Greta: "I'm not speaking to anyone ever AGAIN!"

Finn: "I don't want to grow up."

Greta: "Did you hear me Momma? I said I'm not speaking to anyone ever again!!"

Finn: "I don't want to grow up, because I don't want hair in my armpit. Dat's gross."

Greta: "You don't even CARE! I said I'm not speaking to anyone ever again!!"

Me: "Okay, you don't have to speak, that is fine. Wait ... Finn, what did you say?"

Finn: "Shhhh, Momma. I talking to my armpit. DON'T GROW HAIR, OKAY?"

Greta: "You care more about Finn's armpit than you do about ME!"

It is this last statement that puts me over the brink - my tenuous hold on sanity breaks. So I grip the wheel tighter and try to go to my happy place. I picture myself on a warm sunny beach, the sound of gentle waves .. birds chirping, a gentle breeze ....... it is no use. My son is talking to his armpit and my daughter isn't speaking at all (wouldn't it be nice if she would actually follow through on this threat? Just once?). Only two and a half hours to go until they go to bed.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

On Turning 40

In nine days I will turn 40. Usually birthdays don't give me pause - I don't spend a lot of time thinking about getting older. Maybe it is because emotionally I feel like I'm about 28, or perhaps I'm happily in denial. Either way, I have never been particularly wistful about birthdays.

But it is impossible to hit a milestone birthday like 40 and not think a little. And then, of course, there are the comments from friends, who do seem to think 40 is a big deal. "My God," a friend of mine said recently, "we're halfway to 80!" Thoughts like that are precisely why I don't think about age much.

I kept a journal for years. I wrote almost daily for nearly 10 years, starting at age 18. Less so as time progressed, and hardly at all in the past five years. Nostalgia drove me to open these journals recently, and I smiled back at my younger self as I read through the pages. I saw something I had forgotten about: I used to keep lists. In my early 20s I felt a compulsion to document my life that bordered on ridiculous. It makes me think of one of my favorite sayings: I may not be much, but I'm all I think about. I would divvy up my life into catagories, and make lists immortalizing myself (at least in my mind's eye). Here is a sampling of lists I made on my 19th birthday:

What I hate: my handwriting, violence, insecurity, loneliness, chipped fingernails, sororites, arrogance, authority.

What I like: Red Revlon lipstick, Fleetwood Mac, road trips, leather jackets, Almaden wine, flirting, independence, my dog.

What makes me scared: being alone, feeling out of place, anyone being angry with me, people leaving, death.

What makes me happy: warm socks, a room full of people I know at a party, a beautiful spring day, driving my jeep, a lazy day in my robe reading a book, a good converstaion with someone I didn't know I liked, getting a letter in the mail, a smile from a stranger, a new term - a chance to do anything.

It is ironic .. these lists wouldn't be much different today. I don't do much flirting anymore, unless it is with my husband and then he looks at me skeptically, wondering what I need from him. Almaden wine would be scratched from the list (or perhaps switched to 'what makes me scared'). I still have terrible handwriting, and an enduring fear of conflict. And I'm still not a joiner; if suburban Moms had sororities (some would argue they do) I still wouldn't like 'em. I have switched from Revlon to Loreal lipstick, but I still love my leather jacket, although my husand (who is more conscious of trends than I am) won't let me wear it out in public anymore.

What I learn from my 19 year old self is this: the things that I need to be happy are very simple. Life gets complicated as we get older: careers, marriage, houses, children - all of these things mire us down in the day-to-day grind of life. It warms my heart to see that at 19 I understood the value of a warm pair of socks, a good book and friendship. I think I understood them then better than I do now. These days it is far too easy to overlook the simple goodness in life.

So, at 40, I would add only a few things to my list of what makes me happy: the flash of my kids' smiles, giggling, creativity, my little family, peace of mind.

I have also lost some fears - I am no longer preoccupied with what other people think about me. I love being alone. I don't fear death as much as think of it as the next step, whatever that is. And I have gained things I cherish - gratitude and acceptance.

So maybe, in honor of my 19 year old self, I should throw on my leather jacket and some red Revlon lipstick, jump in my Jeep (yup, still have a Jeep), crank up the Fleetwood Mac, take a road trip, flirt with my dog and celebrate my independence. Works for me.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Giving Back

The room is clean and well-lit. There are bright blue chairs set up in rows, and a long table at the front where the speakers will sit.

The audience - about 60 people - files in and is seated. A few people sip coffee, or chat with the person next to them - mostly it is quiet.

I stand off to the side with three friends; we are waiting for 8pm so we can get started. I take a few moments to absorb the room. I see a young pretty girl with an auburn ponytail - she looks to be about sixteen. She is sitting by herself, glancing around anxiously. A few chairs away from her is an older man with shocking white hair - he is wearing a striped button down shirt and khaki pants. His head is bowed, his eyes closed and his hands are clasped in his lap, as if in prayer. In the back row is a young man - 25 maybe? - with black spiky hair. He is jumpy, nervous. His eyes dart around the room, his knee bounces rapidly up and down. He looks terrified. A woman about my age is softly crying to herself, a tissue pressed to her face. She must have just arrived, I think.

It is finally 8pm, and the four of us file in and are seated at the table at the front of the room, facing our audience. Tonight, I have been chosen to start things off. "Hi, I'm Ellie," I begin, smiling, "and I'm an alcoholic".

I am at rehab center in Massachusetts. We come here once a month to share our stories - our experience, strength and hope - with the patients here. It is a humbling thing to do. In front of us are 60 people whose lives and spirits are broken, many of whom are at the end of the line.

In this room there are mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, grandfathers and grandmothers. Mechanics, artists, CEOs, accountants, musicians. In this room we are in the trenches of fighting addiction. I don't think about statistics. I don't wonder why or how these people got here, or whether or not they will make it. I don't think about my pride, or whether I look or sound just right. I do not judge. I do not compare. I think about how I felt when I was in the bright blue chair, full of shame and fear.

I talk about what addiction was like for me, how it brought me to my knees. I see heads slowly nodding - they understand. I talk about the isolation, how I thought I was completely alone. How I was a prisoner to this disease, and I didn't understand why, or how, it happened to me. I do my best to speak from the heart - to share my story with the hope that at least one person will realize they are not alone.

I speak about hope. I describe the feeling of safety, acceptance and comfort I feel in recovery. All I can do is tell them what is was like for me, how bad it was and how incredible it is now. I tell them recovery is full of strong, empathic, funny, smart, caring people who will carry them when they can't carry themselves. I thank them for listening, and I wish them luck.

After the meeting, as we're preparing to leave, the woman who was softly crying at the beginning puts her hand on my arm, stopping me. "You told my story," she says, her eyes wide. "I thought I was the only one who felt like this, who did those things."

I ask her how long she will be here. "Ten days, I think," she says. "I just got here this morning, and I'm so scared. How will I go back to my life? What will people think? How can I face my kids?"

"Don't do it alone," I say. "You don't ever have to do it alone again. Go to meetings, say you are new and need help. Help will come."

She doesn't look like she entirely believes me, but that is okay. She knows she isn't the only one, and that is a start.

As she is walking away I think: and once you feel better, stronger ... come here and give back. The more we share, the more we speak our truth, the better we all become.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Those Tender Moments

We're seated at the pizza parlor, scarfing down a quick dinner before we have to zoom off to the next thing. I have been rushing the kids around all day. We are all tired, cranky and a little bit sick of each other. I realize my daughter is narrowing her eyes at me. A minute or so later I glance up and she is still doing it.

"What on earth are you doing?" I ask.

"I'm concentrating with all my might," she says.

"Really. Why?"

"I saw on television that if you concentrate really hard with your eyes, like this (she brings the point home by slitting them even further) you can make stuff happen."

"And what are you trying to make happen?"

"I'm trying to make you into a nicer woman."


My son walks into the room, looking forlorn.

"What's the matter, hon?"

"I sad," he says with a sigh.

"Why are you sad?"

"Sissy said I will never be a girl," he says.

"Well, that is true. You are a boy, and someday you will grow up and be a man, like Dadda."

"Dat is why I'm sad," he continues. "Because when I grow up I wanna be a Mom."

I am so touched by this I can hardly breathe. "Like me?" I ask, just needing to draw this validation out a little bit longer.

He looks up in surprise. "No. Like Miss Spider on da Sunny Patch" he says, talking about his favorite TV show at the moment. "I like bugs."


We are driving in the car, and Greta is chatting away.

"Mom, when you first saw Dadda did your heart flutter and your knees get weak?"

"Yes," I say, making a mental note to wean her off princess movies for a bit.

"Does that still happen? Like every time you see him?"

"Of course it does, honey!" I chirp, hoping this little tidbit will be repeated to my husband later for extra credit or something.

"What does your heart do when you look at me?" she asks.

"My heart fills up with so much love it can't all fit," I answer without hesitation.

She ponders this for a moment. "I bet I know what your heart does when you see Finn," she finally says. "I bet your heart just cries and cri --"

"Now that is not true, Greta" I interrupt her, going into Lecture Mode. "Just because I get frustrated sometimes doesn't mean I don't always love you and your brother no matter wha-"

"MOM" she interrupts. "I was going to finish, if you LET me, that I bet your heart just cries and cries tears of joy! ...... You get frustrated with me?"


Monday, June 22, 2009

Work It, Girl

My husband and I have a new deal going. Three mornings a week, he will do the morning routine with the kids, and I will get up and go to the gym. This arrangement is fair on a number of levels, not the least of which is that getting the kids up and dressed in the morning is like running on a treadmill: lots of flailing about, sweat, tears and motion but you never actually get anywhere.

Its not that I don't like exercise, I do. Really. I totally understand that it is good for me, that it makes me healthier, gives me more energy. I don't know how it happens, but walking into the gym before a workout I feel slow, sluggish and middle aged... and walking out of the gym after a workout I feel like Jane Freaking Fonda in her glory days (minus the striped leotard and leg warmers). I even have a playlist on my iPod of workout songs; it is called "Run, Ellie, Run".

The problem is motivation. Once I'm up on the treadmill or pumping weights I'm good to go. It is getting there that is the issue. First there is the problem of what to wear. I marvel at the women I see working out in these matching sexy outfit type things. My workout gear consists of one of my husband's old tee-shirts, some black lycra biking shorts that I bought about a million years ago (LOVE that lycra - it just stretches and stretches ... I wouldn't want to be on the treadmill next to mine when it finally spontaneously combusts), and some cross-training sneakers I found on sale that are so white a ship could navigate safely to shore using just my feet as a source of light. I'm not completely hopeless, though - I realized a few months ago that white athletic socks that go up above your ankles are, apparently, no longer in vogue.

Then I have to figure out what time of day to go. Let it be known that I detest mornings - I have never been a Morning Person, and never will be. My husband, who is a Morning Person, leaps up out of bed every morning full of zest and ready to face the world. I don't fully wake up until 10am and several cups of coffee. But if I wait until 10am to go to the gym I am going to see lots of people I know. This sounds like a good thing, but even if I overlook the fact that they will see me in my gym clothes, my tendency to chat makes it more of a social hour than a workout hour.

And, of course, by 10am I will have the kids with me. We are fortunate enough to have a terrific YMCA in our town - it is new, clean and has a fabulous playspace complete with babysitting for the kids. I know of Moms with young kids who put on workout clothes, drop their kids at the playspace, and then duck around the corner to the Y's cafe for a peaceful cup of coffee. The problem with the playspace is that it is a complete crap shoot as to whether my kids will agree to go. This creates a situation full of pleading, bribery and tears (and sometimes the kids cry, too) that I find detestable. And there is another problem.. the space itself has no solid walls: the whole area is surrounded by glass so loving parents can wistfully watch their kids play. It creates a problem for me, though, because once I manage to get my kids to go into the playspace and get them settled, if they catch a single glimpse of me as I sneak over to the workout area they dissolve into tears. So I need to engage in all kinds of bizarre, clandestine moves to get past the playspace to the adult workout area. I have crawled on my hands and knees, or put my gym bag over my head. It is embarrassing.

If I manage to do all this successfully - drop them off, get to my workout area, get on the treadmill - there is still no guarantee I'll be able to complete my workout. The Y has a policy that if a child is inconsolable for more than 10 minutes, they will come find the parent. Nothing strikes dread into my heart like the sight of one of the playspace workers, wearing their happy little blue aprons, come around the corner and start scanning the treadmills for the offending parent. Nine times out of ten it is me.

So each day I would become exhausted thinking all of this through, and everyone knows you don't get a good workout when you're tired.

But I'm about to turn 40. And I realized that 40 is one of those ages where things just start to go. As in south. And since some of my parts seem to have already went, I decided it was time to crack down and just do it. So I'm getting up early, skipping my morning coffee, and going to the gym, alone, three mornings a week. It is not pretty. But there is nobody there to (a) see me, (b) socialize with or (c) hear me singing along to Eminem. Maybe for my 41st birthday I'll buy myself one of those sexy matching outfit type things to workout in. Its good to have goals.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Girl's Gotta Have Friends

My daughter Greta is 6 and three-quarters. It is very important to remember the three-quarters part - she is much older than her 6 and-a-half year old friends. Conversely, she looks up to her 7 year old friends - they are older, wiser, and in her words "way cool". Take her friend Abigail, for example, who is about 7 months older. We had a nice day at Hanover Day yesterday - our town's annual fair. Greta patiently helped me man our craft table for the first hour or so, but when Abigail showed up, her day really got going. Its funny to watch her demeaner change - her eyes light up, she gets a little swagger in her step. Suddenly I am really not way cool, and the two of them rocketed around the fair together like a couple of teenagers. It is a bittersweet thing to see - she cocks her little hip out and the two of them giggle and whisper secrets to each other. "See ya, Mom" she says, and they are off. They look just like the pre-teen girls I see walking by - they are literally pressed together arm-to-arm, and they navigate around like a school of fish ... never more than a millimeter apart, somehow one knows exactly which direction the other one is turning.

My friend Kate is Abigail's Mom. She is also about 7 months older than me and, trust me, she is very wise. I would totally walk around stuck to her arm-to-arm, if she would let me.

Kate and her husband offer to take the girls swimming at the local Y. I have been trying to teach Greta to swim, or at least to take lessons, for the past three years. I figured she wouldn't want to go, because of her professed fear of the pool. Greta didn't hesitate for even a nano-second. "I'm going swimming with Abi, Mom, see ya later!" she said happily. I pulled Kate aside and whispered that she is afraid of getting her head wet, that she needs arm floaties, or a swimming noodle and prepare her that Greta may think she wants to swim, but that she doesn't really know how yet. I watched them leave with some trepidation, hoping Greta wouldn't have a melt down of fear while they were there.

Later that afternoon, Kate's husband Mike drops Greta home. She is beaming. "MOM! Abigail taught me how to swim!!!" she says. "I used four noodles, then two noodles, then one noodle and I wasn't afraid!!!"

"Greta did great" Mike says. "I was watching, of course, but Abigail showed her what to do."

Abigail accomplished in three hours what I couldn't do in three years. She has way more street cred with Greta than I do, and that is exactly how it should be, although it is hard to let go. It is the double-edged sword of parenting: keep them close, raise them, protect them, nurture them and know when to back away. It is the knowing when to back away part that I find hardest. The temptation to do things for her is always there. To protect her from failure, to cushion every blow. I forget that I'm not sending her into the world alone: she's got friends.

To celebrate Father's Day, my husband takes Finn out to the beach camp for an overnight, and Greta and I have a girls' night in. We eat ice cream sundaes, we watch "Bolt" and stay up too late. Heading upstairs to bed, she says "Mom, lets tell secrets until we fall asleep", but when we climb into bed she wants to talk about her day. "I went swimming today" she says, smiling, her eyelids getting heavy. "I thought I was going to be scared, and I didn't want to use the noodles because I thought people would laugh at me. But Abigail was there, so I wasn't scared. And nobody laughed."

If I had been there, I would have overdone it. I would have talked to her in the car on the way over, told her not to be scared, not to care about what other kids think. I would have told her she doesn't have to do it if she feels frightened. Because I'm her Mom, and I can't help it. Because it is hard for me to let her just be. That is what friends are for.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Be Prepared

My kids love to ask me questions when I'm distracted. And I'm often distracted. Particularly when I'm making jewelry, they will trot up to me and I'll hear a few mumbled words, and then "Okay, Momma? Okay? Okay? MOMMA.... OKAY??" I will have no idea what they said, but to make the noise stop I'll mutter "okay" - and they are off like a shot. It usually takes me a few minutes to realize that I'm not hearing anything, that it is too quiet. I'll peek around the corner to find them naked and drawing on each other with a Sharpie marker. Upon seeing my evil stare, they will say "but you said we could make tattoos, Momma, you said it was okay."

And mothers everywhere know about the hidden phone alarm ... you know that one that only kids can hear, the one that alerts them to the fact that you are trying to speak to another adult and it is time to pepper you with requests for juice, or a snack, or why the sky is blue, or where their favorite blanket is ... anything to prevent you from finishing a sentence. I have been known to literally throw ice cream sandwiches at them to keep them quiet. And I have to throw them to ensure they have to go further away to get them.

So sometimes I'm only half-there. My daughter, who can write and is learning to read, asks me constantly to spell things for her. Usually its a caption for a picture, or a list of things she likes, or a sign for her bedroom door that says "No boys allowed unless you are Dadda or Finn or Grandpa or PopPop". So I'm rather used to multi-tasking in this fashion - I'm beading away and she's calling out questions on how to spell things, and I'm only kind of paying attention. The other day, while I was engrossed in a project, she was asking me questions. "What is Mimi and PopPop's phone number?" she asked. Then she wanted Grammy and Grandpa's phone number, then my cell phone number ... I figured she was learning about phone numbers at school, and felt a brief swelling of pride that she was practicing school stuff at home.

I was getting her a glass of water before bed that night, and I saw the little list of phone numbers on the kitchen counter. At the top of the list was the number "911" (with the nine backwards, but I can read fluent 6 year-old so I knew what it meant). She was brushing her teeth, and I came up with the list and asked her what it was.

"Its emergency numbers I need" she said through a mouthful of toothpaste.

"Its good to be prepared - that is great thinking, sweetie!" I beamed.

"I put 911 at the top, because I know that one brings the police right away because of that time Finn was playing with the phone and then suddenly the police showed up. Remember that, Momma?"

Yes, yes I do. I remember it well.

"And I need the other numbers to call the people I'm going to live with when you and Dadda die."

I struggle to maintain my poker face. "When we die? What do you mean?"

"Well, you aren't going to live forever, and you are about to turn 40, and Dadda is even older than that, so I wanted the phone numbers of who I will call so I can live with them when you die."

It is moments like these where I wish I had the manual for parenting. Or at least a pause button so I could run and call my other Mommy friends and ask what to say before responding with something idiotic that will scar her forever. My first thought, unhelpfully, is to point out that Mimi, PopPop, Grammy and Grandpa are, in fact, even older than we are.

Then I feel a sort of sadness, a sense of loss, that at 6 years old she is already worrying about this stuff. Not yet, I think, let her stay blissfully unaware of these things for just a bit longer.

"And I would make sure Finn comes, too" she continues, "because I am the older sister and I will help take care of him." She is beaming.

And it hits me - she's not scared. She isn't paralyzed by fear that we are going to die - she is working through her fears, coming up with a solution, stepping up to the plate and figuring things out on her own. It is me that is scared - scared to let her grow up a little. It is so tempting to deliver platitudes, to tell her that she doesn't need to worry about this stuff, that Dadda and I aren't going anywhere, that she is being silly. But she is too smart for that now. She knows I can't promise any such thing. Saying those things would make me feel better, and would invalidate her emotions completely.

"Good thinking, hon" I say instead, swallowing the lump in my throat. "Lets put it someplace special where you can't lose it."

We find a special spot in her room to keep the list, and I tuck her into bed. Tomorrow she will be on to new and different things, the list all but forgotten. It makes me think of the Serenity Prayer, one that I say to myself often, but don't always follow with great success: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Way to go, kid.

It Is What It Is

The Recovery World is full of slogans and sayings; we repeat them so often that sometimes they start to feel rote. I forget to remember their deeper meanings. Many of them are short and funny, like some of my favorites: What other people think of me is none of my business, Sobriety Delivers what Alcohol Promised, or Dopeless Hopefiend.

Many of them are simple, clear and startlingly true. I hated the slogans I would hear when I was in early Recovery. It took me a while to realize that I didn't like them because they mostly spoke the truth. You see them often on bumper stickers, like First Things First, Easy Does It, One Day At A Time,and This Too Shall Pass.

And, despite my early cynicism, they are very helpful. The message most of them preach is Acceptance. In recovery we often talk about how we don't have control over people, places or things. We only have control over how we respond, how we let other people influence us. And we talk about trying to do the Next Right Thing.

And we talk about feelings. Man, do we talk about feelings. We talk about how we feel about our feelings. Some days it is enough to make me want to lie down on the floor and go to sleep. But, with time, I realized why we do this. Because oftentimes we don't even have control over our feelings, either. As alcoholics, for many of us this is at the root of why we drank. To manufacture the right feelings. To hide from the ones we don't like.

Yesterday I had a bad day. Nothing life altering or tragic, but all-in-all a bad day - nothing clicked. It was two steps forward and one step back all day. It started in the morning when someone I don't know well got really angry with me over something that wasn't my fault. The rest of the day unraveled from there... my perspective on the world had shifted. Suddenly everything felt unfair. My son has a cold, he isn't feeling well, and he was super cranky all morning. I had lots to get done, and not enough time to do it. The dishwasher wasn't working properly. I stubbed my toe. I lost the car keys. I felt victimized by everything - doesn't the world know I'm trying my best, I thought. Why can't things just go my way for once?

Those little slogans began winking at me from the back of my subconscious. Take It Easy, they said. This too shall pass. When I'm in a horrible mood, it colors my whole perspective. Suddenly nothing can go right. In truth, the only thing wrong is my outlook. There isn't anything really different about today versus yesterday. I'm just choosing to see things differently. Just Breathe, my subconscious says.

In Recovery, I have learned that I can't go around emotions, and I can't make them go away. A bad mood is just a bad mood - no more, no less. And bad moods don't last forever. Somehow, when I'm feeling joy or happiness, I don't have the unrealistic expectation that I'll feel this great feeling forever, so why do I do this with bad moods? What is the point in letting a bad mood ruin everything? Dishwashers can be fixed, stubbed toes heal, and lost car keys can be found. If people, places or things are making me feel badly, it is because I'm letting them. Serenity is not freedom from the storm, it is peace amid the storm. I can't keep storms from coming, of course I can't. But I can try to keep my perspective grounded and peaceful. Sometimes, in order to do this - to ground myself - I have to give a name to what is wrong. What we have here is a bad mood, I'll say to myself. I'm feeling pissed off because nothing is going right today. I'm resentful that someone yelled at me for no reason. I'm stressed because I have so much to do. I allow myself a few minutes to sit in it, to wallow in the unfairness of it all. To luxuriate in how underappreciated, or resentful, or angry I feel.

Then it is time to move on. Because, in the immortal words of Henry Ford, "whether you think that you can, or that you can't, you are usually right".

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Good Morning, Sunshine

The kids have four days left of school, and I am anticipating the summer with a combination of excitement and dread. Dread because the thought of two and a half months of completely unstructured time provokes a slight panicky feeling. Excitement for the obvious reasons: I picture long, lazy days in the sun without the pressures of hectic schedules. Mostly, though, I cannot wait to have a break from the Morning Routine. Wait - routine is way too kind a word to use for what our mornings are like. The only constant in our mornings is chaos.

This morning I awoke with a start at 6:45am with a vague sense of unease, like I had forgotton something. As I shuffled downstairs to make coffee, I realize what I had forgotton was the large man standing at our front door looking expectant and a little pissed off: the Peapod Man. Peapod is a grocery delivery service we started a few months ago, and it is the best thing that ever happened to me. I feel something akin to love for the man who brings me groceries every week. It also provides me with an unexpected perk: the kids seem to think that HE is the one who picks out our groceries every week. So if I forget something they like, or pick out the wrong kind of snack, they say: "Mom, the Peapod guy doesn't know we hate vanilla yogurt". "I'll be sure to tell him", I always reply.

School starts at 8:30am for my daughter, and 9:00am for my son. I have been told on more than a few occassions, with varying degrees of politeness, to please be sure to have Greta to school by 8:30am so she can participate in circle time. Right. No problem. They get up by 6:30am or so every day, so we have plenty of time to get ready and get out the door.

The Peapod guy leaves, with a promise to return next week. I love that guy. I feed the kids breakfast, which consists of cereal, fruit, a popsicle and chips, because they got into the snacks while my back was turned unloading groceries. While the kids are eating, I paw through the Clean Pile of clothes, looking for something the kids can wear. No luck. Rounding the corner towards their room in my search for more clothes, I slip on a large tray with toys all over it and crash to the floor. Swearing, I pick myself up and examine this odd sight. I realize there is a note on the tray that says "Theese toys are four poore peeple. We donnt play with them aneemore. Pleese giv them awey".

I go back downstairs, hand Greta clothes to put on, and explain to her that giving toys away is a noble cause, but ask her not to leave them smack dab in the middle of the hallway.

Getting Finn dressed is like trying to wrestle an angry Octopus into fishnet stockings. It is a process I detest. I have tried getting him to dress himself, but because I don't have the four hours it takes to accomplish this every morning, I help him along as best I can.

It is now 8am. Kids are fed, dressed, and I only have to pack their lunches and we're good to go. Noooo problem. I'm feeling especially good, because my fridge is fully stocked this morning, so I have a vast array of healthy delicious items to choose from. I pack lunches that contain all four food groups and feel rather superior. I don't think about yesterday (the day before the Peapod guy comes is a dark, dark time in our house) when they had Trix Yogurt, one piece of bread and black olives (I kid you not) for lunch.

8:10am. Kids are fed, dressed and the lunches are packed. I totally rock at this. I find the kids in the playroom watching TV. Finn is naked.

As I'm wrestling Finn back into his clothes, Greta says "Mom, it is Around The World Day today. Did you pack my London stuff?"

I have a vague recollection of a bright pink flyer saying something about studying maps and please bring in items from a place you have been. You would think the bright pinkness of it (clearly designed for people like me) would have alerted me to something. Or at least made it impossible to lose. But, it is in the back seat of my car, so it is Gone Forever.

We scramble to find items from London. The Everything Drawer produces an Eiffel Tower keychain (I realize the Eiffel Tower is in Paris, but she bought it at the London Airport, so that counts, right?) and I scramble to print off some pictures of her in front of the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace. For good measure, I even throw in a map of London (because my husband is Organized and has this drawer labeled "MAPS").

8:25am. If we leave RIGHT NOW we will be there on time. I shuffle the kids out the door, prod them in the general direction of the car, and rush back in to grab the lunches I so thoughtfully packed and then almost forgot. In the time it takes me to run back in to get them, Greta is splashing in a puddle in the driveway, and Finn is in the backyard chasing a chicken around (we have one chicken who cannot be contained - we can't figure out how she is getting out, so we named her Houdini and just hope for the best).

8:35am. Greta is deposited at school, and I give the teacher my Apologetic Smile. She gives me her Only-Four-Freaking-Days-Left Smile, and we call it even.

So I will be more than happy to give up the morning craziness for a couple of months. And I'm sure every Summer day will be like a Disney Movie - we will all wake up singing, fawns will be licking our palms, I will be fresh-faced and beaming. Because I'm nothing if not realistic.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Twice Monthly Giveaway - New Item!

Congratulations to Sarah K, who won the Circle Ring in our first-ever Giveaway! Thank you to all who entered, and for the many nice emails I received. It means the world to me.

Which brings me to my next free giveaway item: The World To Me Ring

Made from beautiful and rare Matrix Jasper, the blue and green hues of this ring remind me of the Earth as viewed from space - hence the name The World To Me. Wrapped with sterling silver wire. Click on the picture for more pictures of the ring in my Etsy store. Please note: each stone is different so the ring received will not exactly match this one - all stones are these beautiful blue/green colors and have the lovely matrix patterns, though.

If you would like to enter the free giveaway, simply send me a message in the Contact Me section on the right of the page. The winner will be picked at random (my daughter draws the name from a hat - this is a responsibility she takes very seriously) and announced on June 30th. If you know your ring size, please indicate it in the message. If you are the winner and you aren't sure of your size, I have a link I can send you to help figure it out.

Your email will NOT be shared with any third parties.

I will be doing this free giveaway every two weeks - so be sure to check back in! Thank you.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Organized Mess

My 'system' of household organization, if it can be described as such, is an Organized Mess. This may sound like one of those head-scratching oxymorons, like Act Naturally, Virtual Reality, Only Choice or Microsoft Works. But, in reality, it is more like a complicated algorithm or quantum physics: what looks like one big jumbled mess to one person actually contains a perfectly logical, linear truth to another person.

Take, for example, the Everything Drawer. I grew up with one, and as far as I know every house in America has one. If it doesn't, it should. When I cannot find what I'm looking for, and its not in the Everything Drawer, I decide it probably doesn't exist or wasn't really what I needed anyway. A sampling from our Everything Drawer reveals: a cow bell, a remote control, diaper cream, various and sundry medicines, scotch tape, string, cough drops, pencils, a thermometer, an ear syringe, a puzzle piece, ribbons, and much, much more.

My husband periodically pesters me to organize the Everything Drawer. I politely explain to him that doing this would upset the Universe's precious balance and create a wormhole that would suck every useful item we have in our house into the permanent vacuum of space.

There is also the Important Drawer. This drawer's purpose is just how it sounds: everything Important goes in there. Permission slips, registration forms, the odd unpaid bill, bank statements ... you get the picture. The Important Drawer is like my own personal rip-cord. If it is Important, it is In There. If it isn't, it wasn't Important Enough and it must be somewhere on the kitchen counter, where it will be unearthed or stashed away the next time we have company and need to look like Normal People. I would take a picture of it for you, but on the off chance the City of Boston reads my blog I don't want them to see my unpaid parking ticket. But at least they would know I consider it Important.

This system rarely fails me. There is one qualification to all this, though. Items must make it into the house to begin their journey through my Organized Mess. Any item left in the car is Gone Forever. I struggled valiantly for years to keep my car free of clutter. I have decided that my time would be better spent engaging in less futile pursuits, like understanding Tax Code.

Then, of course, we have Laundry. The bain of my existence. My arch-nemesis. I have a precarious hold on my Laundry System. It goes something like this: (1) if the article of clothing belongs to my husband, wash it, fold it, and put it away so he thinks I do laundry. (2) if the article of clothing belongs to one of my children wash it and put it in the Clean Pile in the laundry room. The Clean Pile can be accessed several times a day, as needed, and at the end of the day items are placed in the Dirty Pile and the process begins again, like a Perpetual Motion machine. Laundry is done with such frequency in our house, to me it seems like the ultimate exercise in Futility to fold everything and put it away (perhaps even more futile than finding a lost item in my backseat). I don't want to talk about what happens to my articles of clothing; it would upset my carefully constructed Denial.

So I'm not going to change my Organized Mess. I can't tell you how, but I always know where everything is. My kid's left shoe? In the playroom in the toybox under Chompie the Dinosaur. My daughter's Leapster? Under the bed, behind the pile of books I asked her to clean up days ago. My phone charger? Oh, wait. It is in my backseat. Oh, well.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Creatures of Habit

We are creatures of habit - we love routine and familiarity. Things get crazy in our little family, what with school, activities, playdates, work, etc. -- but there are little rituals we have that are so woven into the fabric of our lives that sometimes I forget to notice them, to appreciate how special they are. They are the touchstones we have to each other, something that is uniquely ours.

Since my daughter was about two years old (she is now 6) - we have done "kisses and hugs" every time we part. I don't remember how, but somehow this little ritual evolved into four little kisses on each cheek, one big smack on the top of her head, and ending with a big bear hug. Actually - the person leaving is the "kisser" and the person staying is the "kissee" - so if my daughter is heading out somewhere and I'm not going with her she stands on her tiptoes and gives me the kisses - four on each cheek and one on the top of my head. I'm treasuring this ritual, because I know it won't last forever. Even now, when I drop her off at school, she wants me to sneak off and do kisses and hugs around the corner so her friends can't see.

Our bedtime routine is full of little rituals. Sure, we do the regular stuff, like a brushing teeth and a betime story. But each of my kids has added their own little touch to the bedtime routine: Greta likes "fresh water" - not just your average water, mind you - but FRESH water. Finn asks for a "back skatch". If I forget either of these things, I'm sure to hear little feet padding downstairs, asking for water, or a skatch.

When Greta was 3 or so, bedtime also involved a thorough monster check - in the closet, under the bed, even in her bureau drawers. Finn's 3 year old obssession is bugs. Every night before climbing into bed, he scans the walls and the ceiling for the slightest trace of insect life. He's like a hawk - the merest wisp of a spider web must be removed before sleep is possible.

My husband and I have our own quirky rituals, too. They are so familiar to us, I don't really even notice anymore. For example, we never say "good bye" when we are leaving each other. We say "see ya" - it feels more optimistic, I guess - less permanent. And for some reason I've never been able to explain I simply must have my alarm clock set for 6:14am, or 7:14am -- any hour, as long as the last two digits say 14. I'm holding the universe together this way - I'm sure of it.

But I have a favorite ritual. It happens after all the bedtime routines are done, backs are skatched and fresh water is delivered - right before I leave the room and click off the light. My daughter started it - I can't even remember when - and now my son has picked up on it, too. She likes to wish me a "Happy Something", depending on which holiday is coming up. For example, in February she says "Happy Valentine's Day" .. until that holiday has passed, and then "Happy St. Patrick's Day" starts up. She likes it to be the last thing she says before I leave the room - I have to say the same thing back to her, too. Finn figured this out about 7 months ago, between Thanksgiving and Christmas. So they would each say "Merry Christmas, Mom" before I left the room. Finn, however, hasn't quite picked up on the whole progression-of-holidays thing.

So last night Greta said "Happy Fourth of July, Mom", and I wished her a Happy 4th right back.

Then I hear this little sleepy whisper coming from Finn: "Merry Christmas, Momma".

I'd love to hear about some of your rituals, too - what are they?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Bi-Weekly GIVEAWAY!!

UPDATE 6/15: Congratulations to Sarah K who won our first-ever giveaway! Thank you to everyone who entered!
Every two weeks I will give away a free piece of jewelry! All you have to do to enter is contact me through the form on the right hand side of the screen. Winners will be chosen on the 15th and 30th of every month, so the next winner will be chosen on June 15th! I will email you if you are the winner! Hurry and enter!
Your email will NOT be shared with any third parties.

This giveaway: The Circle Ring. A beautiful dusky blue swarovski crystal bead in a pretty silver bead frame. Wrapped with sterling silver wire. Please indicate your ring size in the message section when you contact me. If you aren't sure of your ring size, let me know - I can send you a link to help you figure it out. Click on the picture to view the ring in my shop.

Thank you!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Step One

The numbers are staggering. Nearly 20 million adults in America struggle with alcoholism. Over half of American adults have a close family member who is an alcoholic, either active or in recovery. Most people know someone, or of someone, who has struggled with the disease.

The statistics on recovery are even more grim. The success rate of long term recovery for alcoholics who have undergone treatment hovers around 7%. It is a disease that thrives on silence and humiliation. When someone has cancer, or diabetes or any other lifelong chronic illness, the person fighting that disease isn't usually subject to the same judgements or humiliation that the alcoholic endures.

I don't usually like to talk about statistics. Because the long-term recovery success rate is so abysmal, many chronic alcoholics are given up for lost. And many of them are, sadly, permanently lost. In AA there is a saying that an active alcoholic is heading one of three places: jail, institutions or death. But in many ways the statistics are useful: if you, or someone you love, is struggling with alcoholism they are not alone. And it is a disease that effects quite literally all walks of life - every economic and ethnic background.

It is a cunning and baffling disease. And it is a disease. Because of the humiliation and embarrassment involved with alcoholism, many people suffer longer than they need to because they feel that they should be able to get a handle on it. They feel its a moral issue. They feel they are weak, shameful and somehow "less than" because they cannot stop drinking. But the reality is this: if you are an alcoholic it is a virtual certainty that you will not be able to stop drinking without help. But in order to get help, you need to admit a problem .. this first step is the hardest, and in my opinion its why the statistics are so grim. Admitting that you are powerless over alcohol, that your life has become unmanageable (this is Step One of the Twelve Steps of Recovery) is close to impossible. Alcoholics are so fearful of the consequences of admitting their problem, they stay mired in the disease - it is all they know.

Addiction, at the risk of sounding cliche, was like spending many years inside a dark movie theater, watching my life play out on the screen. There, but not there. Laughing, crying, loving, reacting, but always one step removed from what was going on. And not even realizing there was another way. I won't pretend that I can explain addiction. Its like trying to describe the color red to someone who is blind from birth. Words fall really, really short. But I can describe Recovery.

Recovery is like emerging from the dark theater into the brightness of day. Blinding, confusing, scary and loud. And that feeling of disorientation you experience when you come out of a movie, where you have been completely absorbed in a story, in the characters, so that when you step back into the real world you have to take a few minutes to remember what time it is, what you were doing before you went in, where you are supposed to be... in early recovery that disorentation lasts a long time. And on top of that there is lots of fear, shame, embarrassment and pain. For me, it was living in reality, living in the truth, for the first time in a long while. It takes time to get oriented. It takes even more time to move past the shame, face your fears (in many cases figure out what those fears were in the first place), and to heal. Because alcoholics aren't bad people, they're sick people. And they need time to get well. Without help - for me it is Alcoholics Anonymous - they are bound to run back to the familiar, the 'safe' world of addiction, where life isn't really real. Where life happens to you, and you aren't an active participant. And although it is sad, it is familiar. You don't have to feel your feelings, you just sort of observe them. Addiction tamps down all the bad stuff, but here's the rub: it takes the good stuff with it, too.

Here is the good news: Recovery is amazing. For anyone who has hit rock bottom, for any reason, and then come back up - you will know what I'm talking about. I get to rediscover just about everything. I don't know what I thought life on the other side of Alcoholism would be like, but I certainly didn't think it would be this full of laughter, love and wonder. I have met the most incredible people in Recovery. Anyone who can stare down their worst fear, and win, is made of something special. The irony is that beating addiction isn't an event - its a way of life. For a long time I didn't understand (hated, in fact) the saying "One Day At A Time". I would think, cynically, "as if we can live more than one day at a time?". But in reality, that is exactly what many of us do. We are rarely there, really there, in a given moment, or even a given day. We're always thinking about what's next.... all of the "if only's" in life. Rushing around to the point of blindness, forgetting to see what is right under our noses. In recovery, I see everything with new eyes. I am full of gratitude. I used to think it was sad that I had to go through the hell of addiction to realize all I have, but I am - truly - grateful it happened. Recovery has taught me to keep things simple, realize the pure joys found everywhere, everyday.

People often ask me why I'm so open about my disease. They are often shocked that I am able to talk about it freely. They say things like "its called Alcoholics Anonymous for a reason, you don't need to tell the world if you don't want to". But I do want to. I have enormous respect for why AA works. Without the promise of Anonymity, most people would never, ever go to their first meeting, let alone stay there. I understand that completely. But for me, speaking my truth is a critical part of my own recovery. When I finally got help, when I learned that it is a disease, when I felt the power of the unity, empathy and acceptance I receive when I'm surrounded by other alcoholics in recovery, I couldn't keep it to myself. It was so freeing to understand that I wasn't alone. And here's the thing - I'm not embarrassed in the slightest. I'm not shameful, and I'm not afraid. And I can't be quiet about - then the disease wins.

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with alcoholism - get help. A good place to start is Alcoholics Anonymous: http://www.aa.org/.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Riddle Me This

Note: No animals were harmed in this story. One was mildly inconvenienced, but heck - welcome to my world.

If I am ever in need of a defense attorney, I'm going to appoint my 3 year old, Finn. He is the undisputed winner of just about every debate (arguably every conversation) we have. We were outside the other day, and he was playing with his squirt gun. I reminded him not to squirt people. He smiled, said he wouldn't, and marched over to one of our chickens and squirted her in the face.

"Don't squirt any chickens, either, love", I said.

"I didn't", he replied.

"Yes, you did. I'm standing right here and I saw you squirt Curly".

"Nope, I didn't", he said confidently, and squirted her again.

"Squirt her again, and I'll take it away, Finn"

"I didn't squirt her, Momma", he stated calmly.

"Then why is she wet?" (See - I can see in hindsight that here is where I lost control of the whole thing, but I just. can't. help. myself.)

"It's raining", he said, leveling me with his what-are-you-a-moron gaze.

"Finn, it's not raining, and you squirted Curly. Stop" I said helplessly.

"Don't worry, Momma, I get you an umbrella. Den da rain won't get you".

Two minutes later he emerged from the house with Greta's little princess umbrella, and handed it to me. And I, of course, took it. You can see it coming, can't you?

"Look out for da rain, Momma" he cried, and squirted me.

The thing is - I'm in charge. I know I'm in charge. I should know better than to get drawn in, but it works every time.

My 6 year old Greta should either be an Existentialist or a reality tv show producer (please tell me they aren't the same thing yet). She can spend hours engaging in "what-if". Wanting to be a responsive mother, I seem incapable of not engaging in this with her. Sometimes her musings are more maudlin:

"Mom, what would you rather do... eat a bucket of dirt or chop off your own foot?"

I know from experience that trying to explore why on earth she's even thinking about this is fruitless, so I reply.

"Eat a bucket of dirt" I say confidently. And the litany begins.

"What if the bucket had bugs in it? What if you didn't really like your feet anyway? What if the dirt would make you really, really sick? What if you could grow your foot back?" And on it goes...

Other times she is on a more philosophical path.

"What would it be like if the letter "e" had never been invented?" she'll ask. Or, "what if we're really aliens, and trees are people?" . Yesterday she asked "what if kids were grown-ups and grown-ups were kids?". I resist replying that, for starters, I would pepper her with unanswerable questions until her brain fell out.

I love this about kids, though. Their fervent belief that if they are emphatic enough, they can make anything true. Their young imaginations uncluttered with shopping lists, bills to pay, places to be and where their next meal is going to come from. And its okay, because they just think they are in charge, right? Right?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Quit Your Day Job

I love those ads you see everywhere - stapled to telephone poles, in the back of magazines, on late-night television -- "Quit your day job!!" they scream. "Work from home! Earn thousands a month!". They make me smile, because I wouldn't quit my day job for anything in the world - I'm a Mom. To be truthful, its good that I can't quit, because on some days I'd hand those kids my resignation notice and peal out of the driveway in a cloud of dust. But of course I'm kidding (right?).

As my good friend Liz says- Motherhood is Not For Wimps. And its not. Its tough, exhausting, demanding and my oldest is 6 and so far neither of my kids has said to me at the end of a long day, "Great job today, Mom. Really superior parenting. I feel emotionally well balanced and thoroughly nurtured. Well done."

Its okay, though. For the most part seeing them thrive and grow is all the reward I need. And its true that they are the most important part of my life. When I left Corporate America seven years ago, after I had my daughter, I was blessed to be able to stay home with her full time. What I eventually figured out (okay, it took me five years) was that to be a good Mom I need to nurture myself, too. And doing that is hard - its contrary to a lot about parenting. I underestimated mother-guilt. Putting my needs first - no matter how benign they are - felt wrong somehow. I thought the kids' needs always had to come first, no matter what. What I was slower to learn was that taking care of myself is putting their needs first. Because, as my wise friend Karin says: "when the mothership goes down, it all goes down." My first few years of being a Mom were a lot tougher than they needed to be, because I didn't understand, yet, this valuable lesson.

I started Shining Stones a little over a year ago. I did it on a whim - I loved making jewelry, and my brother Rob told me about Etsy one day. So I started a little shop, thinking it would be a good distraction from the day-to-day grind of raising kids and running a household. And it was, but it didn't stay little for long. The business grew steadily, and I found myself about nine months into it with what amounted to a busy part-time job. I was thrilled to have the business thrive, but thoroughly surprised, and in a kind of denial that my little business was keeping me so busy. I was thinking of it, in my own head, like a sort of hobby. It was too difficult for me to admit (hello, mother-guilt) that I was actually running a business. The kids began to notice, too, that I wasn't available for them all the time. All my son had to do was see me sitting at my beading table and he would burst into tears. My daughter said to me (with that stab-you-in-the-heart voice that 6 year old girls around the world have perfected) "Its too bad, Mom, you don't have time to play with us anymore". Things got crazy enough that I almost shut my business down. I felt like I wasn't measuring up on any front, and the kids are my top priority, so I thought the business had to go.

But I know better now. Jewelry making is a passion of mine, and I can't imagine my life without it. And managing a small business is good for me. It keeps my head in the game, gives me other things to think about. I meet so many interesting and talented people, and the little extra income makes me a financial contributor again. So I pulled my boot straps up, admitted this was important and worthwhile. I try to be better about structuring my day so the kids get quality time, and then I get my time, too. I'm getting better about the mother-guilt. I have to tell myself, like a mantra, that my time is just as important. Its like the instruction you get on airplanes: "In the event of a loss of oxygen in the plane, put your own mask on before assisting small children". I didn't used to understand that, but now I do. Because I'm no good to anyone if I'm not getting my oxygen. And my kids see that I'm more than a Mom, too. In the post office recently (we practically live at the post office) my daughter said to Ken, our favorite postal worker, "did you know my Mom's a famous beader? She sells jewelry around the whole world. When I grow up, if I decide not to be a teacher or veterinarian, I'm going to be a beader".

Monday, June 1, 2009


I feel reluctant to call myself an Artist. I was talking to a friend about this the other day, and she asked me why. The answer that popped into my head was that true Artists feel a creative spirit that wells up from inside, something that has to express itself - a compulsion to create. They aren't in it for money or fame, they are following a passion they possibly can't even explain themselves, right? She blinked and replied, "well isn't that you?"

And, it turns out, that is me, its just that I am the last to know. I feel creating jewelry is something that just sort of happened, something I stumbled upon, like finding a $20 bill on the sidewalk. You're happy its there, but you don't feel like it has anything to do with you.

As I thought about it, I remembered my childhood rock collection - dull round rocks that held treasures of glistening crystals within. I loved my rock polisher, and would spend hours on the beach collecting and cataloguing stones. Barbie dolls? Not so much. There is something visceral for me about stones, gems and crystals - I marvel at how nature can produce such an amazing array of colors and textures deep in the earth. My favorite bead store is a funky little place in Enfield, NH - an improbable little compound with buildings chock full of every imaginable kind of stone. There is a large pit there full of little polished rocks, and I have to stifle the urge to simply lie down in it and wallow (a desire my 3 year old did not feel the urge to suppress when he was there... ).

I approach creating jewelry the same way I approach lots of things in life ... with a vague notion that something is pleasing to me, but not sure really how its all going to turn out. I find stones, crystals and beads that move me somehow, and I sit in my studio (read: what used to be our dining room) and I start working with them. I have, quite literally, no idea how a piece will turn out when I begin working on it; the surprise of how it will turn out is half the fun. I love mistakes - they lead to some of the best creative ideas.

I know other creative people who feel this way about paint, fabric or glass. My good friend Kate (now she's REALLY an Artist) created this amazing window from reclaimed materials and beautiful glass. At her house one day I saw sketches, materials, and heard her talk about some ideas, but from what I saw the window is more born than it is made. Sure, she's doing the work, but its like the piece speaks to her and helps her along.

All of this is what makes it hard to put yourself out there and sell your art. Its intensely personal to create, so its like exposing pieces of your inner self to the world. Much of what I create is just for me, and if someone else can appreciate it, that's great too. But its difficult to keep those two notions separate sometimes. I can't worry about whether a piece will sell, or whether it will be well received by the world at large. But me being me, it has taken time to ignore that, too. Its freeing, somehow, to know that pieces essentially create themselves. Because then if nobody likes it - I'm off the hook, right?

A couple of days ago my kids and I were strolling on the same beach where thirty years ago I first found my own treasures, and my 6 year old daughter picked up a perfect round little stone with startling colors of bright greens and blues. She looked up and me and said "Its like magic, Mom ... how did nature make this?". Then she took it home and made a necklace out of it. Atta girl.


I've been thinking a lot about Balance lately. One of my favorite rings reminds me of it daily. On good days, it is a reminder to be grateful that I have such a full life, that I have so much to juggle. One other days, however, it feels like a reminder of something I struggle unsuccessfully to achieve.
Juggling raising kids and the myriad of complexities involved in running a household and a growing business is difficult, and it gets crazy around here. I often feel like I'm zooming from one thing to the next, with barely a moment to breathe - to stop and appreciate everything around me.

It occurred to me one day that true Balance is rarely achieved. Why gymnasts and tight-rope walkers spend more time tipping back and forth than they do upright on the beam. When I'm focusing on how far I'm tipping left, when I should be tipping right, or all the things I'm not getting to, instead of all the things I am achieving every day - its no wonder days can be full of stress. Instead of feeling like I'm reaching for a goal, I feel like I'm trying not to fall. And then there are those moments - brief stretches where it is all clicking nicely. I feel full of purpose and accomplishment and I wonder why it all seemed so hard before. And then, in a flash, its gone.

One of the greatest gifts of recovery, at least for me, is the growing ability to appreciate that age old (and sometimes annoying) adage that the Joy is in the Journey. I spent too many years looking longingly at the balance beam, the tight rope, frozen in my own fears - what if I can't do it? What if I fall? What if I look stupid up there? I stayed immobilized, thinking I was keeping myself safe. That voice still haunts me ... tells me I have no business being up there - "you can't start a business! what are you doing?" ... "why try - you might fail"... or the loudest one: "you're just going to fall anyway, so don't bother".

I have learned, in recovery, how to answer that voice. The answer is usually "So What?". At least I'm up there, I'm out there swinging. I miss way more pitches than I hit, but the ones I hit feel great. And the best lesson of all, for me, has been that falling isn't nearly as scary as its cracked up to be. You just get right. back. up.