Friday, January 29, 2010

It's a Wrap

Big goings-on over here. First of all, my beautiful new Chevy Traverse passed a big test--thrifting! While car shopping, I had 2 major requirements:

Enough cargo space for thrift shop purchases (who wants to have to borrow a pickup truck when you could just shove whatever in the back of the car?)

Power Windows so that I could chat with the adorable 6 year old boy on our street who stands by his mailbox waving as I come in and out of the neighborhood. When he was on my driver’s side (coming into the neighborhood) I rolled down my window to chat, but when he was on the passenger side (leaving) I’d be too lazy to do the across-the-car-reach-and-crank and I'd feel guilty for blowing him off.

So, I got to greet little Daniel last week with a simple push of the button, AND I shoved a major purchase into the Traverse on Monday with no ill effects.


The purchase? Two large white laminate cabinets ($18/ea.) for our basement storage room. Tom was less than thrilled. He is the same one who actually said to me, wait for it… “Why do you need so much room in the new car? Don’t we already have everything we need?” Silly man.

When he saw the monster cabinets sitting in the carport, he groaned, and I knew I had the challenge of making them an indispensable part of Chez See.

On Tuesday, Molly was “sick,” so I missed work, parked her in front of the tv and got to work in the basement. I pulled every single box, bin and piece of furniture out of there, checked and sorted all the contents, and consolidated in order to make more room. Some items were super heavy—military trunks, dressers, a foosball table, toolboxes, and bins full of rollerblades not touched since I was fun and single. My back is still screaming.

You may be asking, “If you are bringing more storage into the basement, why did you need to purge first? Well, my vision for the cabinets was to make a gift-wrapping station. Let it be known I’m neither a good wrapper nor a good gifter, so I might not really need a designated space for this, but that’s beside the point.

In addition, all of our wrapping supplies have been happily ensconced with the dust bunnies under the guest bed for 6 years bothering no one, but you can’t stop a woman with a vision. So, in ADDING the cabinets and the wrapping supplies to the basement, I had to SUBTRACT other things.

Chairs went to the shed. My old teaching supplies went to the recycling bin, and a huge pile of junk formed for our Water Project yard sale.

The result? This:

Went to:

I know I could have cuted it up a lot more, but I decided to only use stuff that was already languishing in our storage room. The painting of my grandparents’ house was done by my mother in high school, the huge lamp is awaiting a make-under, and the ribbon holder was my mom's. I even have her brass turtle ashtray from when she would sneak a smoke late at night, thinking we didn't know. These are things I didn't want to get rid of, but they don't really fit in elsewhere in the house.

Don't you just love my little Sunday School drawing of my family?

One cabinet is for for gift bags, tissue paper and wrapping paper, and the other side has my fabric scraps.

So much fun!

Of course, now I have to deal with the yard sale pile:

Anybody need a tiki torch?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Repeat After Me: "I am a strong, capable woman..."*

I was cleaning the unfinished area of our basement last night for a project I’ll share with you in a day or two. As I looked around at all the plastic storage tubs, I knew it was time to get rid of the years of teaching materials that I had been saving. I taught high school for 6 years, and it has been almost 11 years since I quit to stay home with my kids.

I felt weird going through it and putting 99% of it in the recycling bin. Every single lesson plan was typed and in a plastic sleeve, then placed in a binder with support materials. I smiled at the memory of specific lessons, specific students, and that challenging yet rewarding stage in my life. It was difficult to let go of all that hard work and save just the memories, but I had to be realistic.

Even if I went back to teaching tomorrow, chances are I’d be teaching different grade levels, different works of literature, with a completely new curriculum. What good were my 100’s of transparencies of model papers and great works of art when they now can be found via the Internet and probably beamed directly into students’ brains? A lot has changed in a decade.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that I’m forgetful. Not forgetful as in losing things, but forgetful of what I have been through and been able to accomplish. I think back to myself in my early 20’s embarking on a teaching career. I must have been scared sh*tless. But there, in black in white, was the proof that I had not just survived, but thrived.

The students were amazing and the lessons were usually pretty good. Sure, I would change some things (what MOM would support giving 15 year old boys 4 novels, including "Wuthering Heights," to read during Summer Break? Aargh. Talk about killing the love of reading), but I’m proud of a lot of it. The teaching materials reminded me that I was an energetic and creative teacher.

The weird thing is that the minute I had my first baby almost 11 years ago (my water broke at 2 a.m. and I never made it to work at 6:30 a.m.) I lost confidence in my ability to teach. Even when I went back to visit a few times, I felt like a fraud-- as if I’d never taught before. I had so quickly forgotten what I could do.

But there is great benefit to remembering. When I started a new part-time job a year ago as the manager of a small bookstore, I was nervous again. This job, while far less stressful than teaching, was completely new to me. I had to remind myself: “I can do new things. I can learn.”

Drawing upon the past helped me take the plunge and try something new, even though I was frightened. I think it was also a great example to my kids. We are always having them try new things: basketball, gymnastics, etcetera, but we need to be brave, too. Now if only I could muster the courage to pursue my dream of becoming a estate agent…

What is it that you need to remember about yourself? Is it that you have been strong? Perhaps you need to remember when you broke away from a destructive relationship or ended a toxic friendship. You still have that strength inside you today.

Maybe you are facing unemployment or underemployment and are too scared to branch out of the comfort zone of a familiar field. Chances are you can remember another time in your life when you had to stretch way beyond what you thought your limits were.

Maybe your husband is working all the time and you don’t think you can handle another 14 hour day alone with your children. Can you think back to an earlier day or stage in life that you thought would never end (say, 7th grade?) but that thankfully, did? If you made it through that, you can make it through this.

Maybe you are lonely and tired of doing this thing called life alone. Remember people you have impacted. The world is a better place because you are in it.

I’m not sure what it is that you are facing today, but I bet there is a challenge before you.

Remember: You can do hard things. You have done hard things. And you will again.

*This is Molly's and my mantra when we need a little boost.

Friday, January 22, 2010

By a Thread

Just got back from getting my eyebrows threaded. I know I have shared with you before what a wimp I am about eyebrow threading. I grew increasingly nervous as I waited my turn, so I started some breathing exercises. By the time I sat down, I was feeling pretty composed.

Here’s what went through my head during the whole process:

(Eyes closed)
Ahhh! Oranges. I smell oranges. I love oranges. Oranges are sweet. I’m going to buy some oranges today. What did that Internet kid say? “I like turtles.” Yeah. This nice eyebrow lady is doing such a great job.

My shallow breathing is working. I can’t believe I feel so relaxed. I can handle anything.

Ow? Is someone going to steal my purse? What if this is a purse-stealing scam? Ow. I mean my purse is just sitting on the floor in the middle of the mall. Ow! Have I seen anything about this on Dateline?

Holy crap this hurts!

Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop!!!!
Mommy Mommy (dead for 22 years) Mommy!!!!!

Ewww. Eyebrow Lady has the thread in her mouth. What disease could I get from this?

(Digging nails into palms) Ow! Ow! Ow!

B.O. B.O. I can smell B.O. It’s a trace, but it’s there. B.O. Tom would say there’s no B.O., but men can’t smell worth crap.What happened to the oranges? I liked the oranges!

Breathe, Anna. Don’t forget to breathe.
Aaah! I think I’m starting to cry. Sheesh, I'm crying.
What is this sadistic eyebrow lady doing to me?

Sadistic Eyebrow Lady: “You want tissue?”
Me: shakes head and whimpers
Tissue? Tissue? I want morphine drip!

Jesus Loves Me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
She’s got to be almost finished. 5 minutes, my rear! I’ve been in this chair at least an hour and my purse is probably long gone. Ow! Crap! Crap. Crap?

Okay, she seems to be tapering off. I can quit crying. I’m going to be okay.Thank you, Jesus.

(Looking in handheld mirror at my much-improved brows and mascara down both cheeks)

Me: “Thank you very much; they look great”

Sadistic, Insensitive, 20-Something Eyebrow Lady:
“Do Lip Hair Next?”


What Have I Been Up To? About 5' 5 1/2"

So I went 4 days without posting. In my defense, because Monday felt like Sunday, today feels a little like Thursday, so the week isn’t really over yet…

Anyway, lest you imagine that I was busy exercising and decorating and volunteering and meditating and generally making the world a better place, I will fill you in on a few things I HAVE been doing this week:

1. Staying up way past my bedtime watching Lifetime movies, including, but not limited to:” The Mary Kay Letourneau Story.” Yes, I feel dirty.

2. Being in a grumpy mood each morning (see #1)

3. Refereeing two kids who have gotten along beautifully for the past 8.5 years but who now are at each other’s throats.

4. Obsessing that putting them in different schools this year has destroyed their sibling bond.

5. Trying to convince my underweight son that his winter coat does not “make him look fat.”

6. Trying to convince my son that he is not ugly, stupid, unathletic and generally terrible at everything (I remember starting to feel this way in 6th grade, not 5th. He must be advanced in the self-loathing department.) I think the sex talk was easier.

7. Being gentle and kind and understanding when my (8 year old!) daughter couldn’t put on her own socks and shoes because she had already brushed her teeth and it made her socks “feel weird.”

8. Getting so pissed at my daughter when she was screaming at me for putting on her socks and shoes WRONG that I said, “Well, how would you feel if you were dead in an earthquake?” then showing her a gruesome front page photo that no child should see. Aargh.

9. Grunting hello and goodbye to my husband as we said barely 2 words together all week (see #’s 1-8)

10. Remembering the Brownie meeting 20 minutes away 45 minutes after it started

11. Forgetting my dear friend’s fundraising dinner until…the day after.

12. Wondering why so few of the bloggers I read were posting this week, and then realizing that they just weren’t showing up in my reader. Thanks, Google.

Oh yes, I also went to work, did a lot of carpooling, laundry and wiping of muddy paws and nether regions of our dog, seeing that our yard has turned into a muddy swamp.

But mainly, despite my complaints, grumpiness, acne and general malaise, I spent time praying for the people of Haiti, reading their stories, and trying to remember to be grateful for this charmed and wonderfully messy life I have in a world where others are suffering so so much.

Forgetting a Brownie meeting is one thing, forgetting my blessings is another.

On the good news front: Things are coming together for our Well Project! Look for more news soon on this blog. The kids and I have already found $130 in change in the house that we had been saving for Disney and a generous donation has come in via mail from an awesome blogger. Thanks for your encouragement on this!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Let's Hear it FROM the Girl!

My husband Tom is darn lucky to have me.

I know I have shared on this blog about his hotness, his love for cooking, and what a great father he is. I mean, he was taking the kids to art museums before I was even comfortable taking them to the grocery store.

But still, he owes me big time. What I lack in the culinary arts, I make up for in bluntness and openness. Tom is introverted, shy, and buttoned up. For him, discussion is to be avoided at all costs. As in, if you don’t discuss something, the issue might just go away.

Several years ago he introduced Jake to the birds and the bees. This is Jake’s take on it, “Dad says that if a woman gets too close to a man, microscopic creatures go from his body to hers and then they have a baby.” Good, as far as it went, but certainly not enough to get the kid through Junior High.

I knew the next level of conversation would have to come from me, preferably under the cover of darkness. You see Jake is an introvert, too, but he is also a night owl. I have discovered that bedtime, in the dark, is the best way to talk about his feelings, or anything that has happened during the day. He does not want to go to sleep, so he is usually up for conversation.

Therefore, I sprung the topic at bedtime.

I am dying to share the award-winning curriculum of
Sex Ed, An Inch of Gray Style, but I also don’t want to get any creepy search engine hits.

So, bear in mind that although Anna See is usually blunt, open, and ever so calm when discussing these valuable topics with her offspring, particularly under the cover of darkness, and that she almost always uses proper medical terminology, she will need to edit herself carefully for Google’s sake.

S.E.A.I.O.G.S Lessons 1 and 2:

Female Anatomy
Male anatomy, textbook and slang terms
Function of male anatomy
Hormonal fluctuation
The woman who became a man, married a woman, and had a baby (Thanks Guinness Book!)
Dreams that are not dry
Ons that are not soft
How to carry a book or a jacket to disguise an On that is not soft
How much?
How long?
How often?
Premarital sex
Immodest clothing
Suggestive dancing

S.E.A.I.O.G.S. Upcoming Lesson 3:

That all this may sound weird but it is truly a special, wonderful gift. Just don’t read blogs because you might get the idea that a lot of moms wish they could exchange this gift for a nice long nap, a Diet Dr. Pepper and a pedicure.

You owe me, Tom! I’d say you are in charge of telling Molly, but that would just be too cruel, to both of you.

P.S. I’m also available for Birthday parties and Bar Mitzvahs.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Parlez Vous le Spamais?

I only speak one language—English. I loved French in high school, but that’s mainly because my best friend and I gave each other French names and enjoyed eating crepes. I was a French minor in college, but one episode in Paris quieted this petite mademoiselle forever.

Studying in London for a semester, we hopped over to Paris for spring break. We had no idea where to stay, so we wandered the streets for a while at midnight (note to self: never let my kids do the same crap I did!) and walked into a small bar. My friends and I were chatting with a few creepy middle-aged men there (I know, I know!) when one girl said we didn’t have a place to stay for the night. Eeek.

The creepier of the two started describing his beautiful apartment to us and then calmly stated, “You are most welcome to stay in my apartment tonight as long as I can FEEL your friend.” Yes, he was pointing at me.

Should I have been flattered that I was the chosen one, creeped out beyond words, or just pissed at a girl named Jenny who actually had a flicker of disappointment cross her face when I declined the guy’s offer?

We ended up checking into a place called “Hotel California” and fortunately we were able to check out anytime we liked and we really could leave. The next day, when my friend Julie realized she’d left her shirt behind, she appointed me as the pay phone caller because I’d taken the most French. I tried to explain to the hotel desk clerk about the missing “chemise,” when the lady broke in with disdain—“Oh puh-leeeze Miss, you should just speak in zeee English.”

My French days were over.

A few years ago I took Spanish at the local community college and loved it but haven’t practiced at all.

I do hope my kids learn languages. Jake is an expert in Latin, which should help him, say, in Ancient Pompeii, and Molly thinks other languages sound weird. She does rock an awesome British accent that swings between high brow and Cockney.

I know that trying to communicate in another language is difficult and humbling, and I always show people the grace that the mean hotel lady in France did NOT show me.

Unless they are spammers. A comment on yesterday’s post:

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "And the Earth Shook":

I want not concur on it. I think polite post. Specially the designation attracted me to study the unscathed story. Posted by Anonymous to An Inch of Gray at January 14, 2010 2:29 AM

Or am I being too mean? I mean, trying to spam in another language does take some level of skill.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

And the Earth Shook

Thanks so much for the words of encouragement and great suggestions regarding the well project! I am excited that this is going to happen. Fundraising "thermometer" and donation buttons to follow.

But first things first. Like me, you are probably reeling when thinking of the devastating earthquake in Haiti. You may be wondering why these things happen to the poorest and most vulnerable people. I don't have an answer. You may be wondering how to help.

Two wonderful organizations I mentioned yesterday, Community Coalition for Haiti and World Vision, are accepting on-line donations right now to help people in Haiti. The director of CCH is a friend of mine and we emailed after the earthquake yesterday. Both of these websites have updated information regarding conditions in Haiti and what their organizations are doing to help.

Off to tuck my kids into their warm, safe beds.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Dig It

I am so excited I could burst!

Each year we give money and time to various charities. Ok, more money than time, but we are trying to get better about that. In addition to sponsoring children through Compassion International (for the past 21 years! woohooo!), we love to give “alternative gifts” through World Vision, Community Coalition for Haiti, and Unicef. The kids select mosquito nets, clothes, pregnant goats, piggies and chicks to donate around the world. Lately, however, we’ve been thinking about WATER.

Our family has decided to donate a well that will serve up to 150 people. We have asked my friends from small group to join us. I am so excited to have a family project to focus on throughout the year, and the possibility of partnering with dear friends is even better.

At dinner last night Molly had us brainstorm ways to raise the amount needed throughout the year. I can't believe that little cutie in the picture above is now old enough to wield a clipboard and pen just like a teacher, figuring out ways to help other little ones who have not had the same opportunities she has, just because of where they were born.

(Note: Please ignore the Hillary Clinton look-alike holding Molly. I guess I was already working the turkey wattle 8 years ago).

Okay, here is our list, as recorded by Molly:

Hot chocolate stand
Lemonade stand
Bionicle Show (Jake shows people his Bionicle creations and charges money)
Sell stuff on Craig’s List (Mom)
Change Jar ( $66.10 already!)
Bake Sale
Car Wash
Yard Sale
Self Donations/Birthday donations
Ask People
Save Money by not eating out

One friend is thinking of donating her class fees when she teaches a crafting class. The possibilities go on and on.

I must admit I am basically a selfish person. I want my yard sale money. I want my Craig’s List money. I want to go out to eat. So telling you this, getting the kids involved, and joining in with friends will hopefully keep me honest and motivated. Because water? Makes all the difference.

What do you think? Do you think we can do it? Do you any have creative ideas to raise money to help others in 2010?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

For Women Only-- The Dough Also Rises

So I’ve had a bit of a weird week health-wise and I went to the doctor today to see if we could piece together why I haven’t been feeling like myself. Problem is I’ve been watching too many Medical Mystery-type shows. Our local paper also has one of these weekly in the Health section and I’m captivated by the stories. The common theme is that it takes an awful long time before people find answers to their puzzling medical problems.

So when I started having some vision problems and a lot of brain fog this week, I wanted to be sure I was very specific about my symptoms. Then when I noticed I’d gotten got a little yeasty down there, I knew I should share that, too. I wanted the doc to be fully informed. But how much is too much?

I didn’t want to get caught up in years of misery like the girl in the newspaper who was treated for eczema when she really had a tropical parasite living in her leg (!!) but I didn’t want to over-share either.

For instance, I DID mention that I haven't exercised at all in years. I DID mention the date of my last period. Christmas Eve-- how could I forget all that joy?

I did NOT mention as they took notes and then 3 vials of blood, that I may have become a little too enamored with the fabulous heated seats in my brand new car during this week's cold snap.

I mean, what if having all that heat and yeast together had turned me into some kind of unwitting focaccia bakery?

Was I correct in keeping my mouth shut?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Before and During

I've been trying to find a few Before and Afters of our house to share with you.

Unfortunately, when we moved into this house I wasn't too keen on taking Before pics. Not sure if it was the seafoam green carpet, the 4 kinds of wallpaper, or that fact that we had just set the record for paying the highest price ever in our neighborhood for a 1970's paradise, but I didn't really want to document what we had gotten ourselves into. That, coupled with the fact that we hadn't yet gone digital and didn't want to "waste film" means we have a dearth of photos.

Of course, had I heard of blogging back then and realized how we all love a good Before and After, I would have snapped some pics for posterity. Actually, I'd rather call them Before and Durings, because are we ever really finished putzing around and changing things here and there?

I came across a few that I'll share with you. Here's our staircase "Before." The iron railing continues around the right up one more small level. Of course the true "before" would have a formal Oriental carpet runner going down the stairs and wallpaper on the wall. Do we still say Oriental carpet or is Asian?

We ripped up the carpets and had the floors and stairs professionally refinished. A railing guy put up this new banister and posts in one day, then Tom painted the risers for me for our anniversary.

I like to hang greens on the banister at Christmas:

Or maybe some little mice at Halloween:

The stairs are too messy today to get you a good picture, but believe me--6.5 years later and I still love it!

Monday, January 4, 2010

I Resemble That Statement

Artwork by Molly, which MAY allude to the fact that I've never learned how to remove my eye makeup properly at night.

I really don't know what she's referring to.

Poor Dinner Planning, An Inch of Gray Style

Th: Venison/Black Bean Chili
Fri: Taco Bell Bean Burrito
Sat: Black Bean and Veggie Enchiladas
Sun: Navy Bean and Bacon Soup

Saturday, January 2, 2010

I Hereby Acknowledge

So I was checking email down at my sister’s house. I saw 4 or 5 work emails that I thought I would get to later. I’m in charge of registration for an upcoming event at work, and people are registering via email and our website. The next day when I checked—the work emails were gone. I commented on this odd fact to my sister. Tom was laptopping away next to me and said nothing. Tappety tappety tap.

Now his NOT chiming in on a convo between my sister and me is not unusual, because he usually has no desire to weigh in on whether Old Navy’s Perfect Fit tees are better than the Baby Fit ones, but his silence seemed…notable. He also had a bit of a deer in the headlights look.

Upon pressing, I learned that he had checked our shared email account and done what he usually does, deleted the emails that were of no concern to him. He usually does this upstairs from his office on his computer and it doesn’t seem to affect my emails downstairs on mine. So I don’t want to get into a whole Yahoo/Outlook technical thing here (yawn) but suffice it to say, my wheels started turning.

Were my work emails lost forever? How many registrations were missing? Did this explain why for over a year I would check my emails from my work computer and not be able to find them when I knew full well they were on my home computer? About 4 or 5 times I’d called in tech support to help me with this, but no one had any idea of what I was talking about.

Had Tom been the culprit the whole time? He proclaimed what he had done would have NO effect on my emails. Hmmm. I was not buying this litttle co-ink-y-dink.

I don’t know whether it was the excess of Christmas cookies or a zen new attitude, but I took it in stride. Normally I would freak and worry that I would look incompetent at work. I would lash out at Tom for ruining my life. Instead, I emailed my boss and told her I had no idea who had registered. I contacted the website people at work to see if they could find the info some other way. It was notable that I didn’t get mad and didn’t start playing the blame game.

I think because it was so obviously Tom’s fault, and so clearly unintentional, that I felt sorry for him. I tend to lash out and blame others the most when I feel a bit culpable myself, and on this one I didn’t feel the need because I was smelling like a rose.

But it got me thinking. All I want in life is a little acknowledgement. Tom is not super-forthcoming in this department. He is more of the, “if we don’t talk about it, perhaps it will go away” school of thought. “Maybe Anna will forget it ever happened in the first place.” Ha. I am from the land of, “just admit you are wrong, then I’ll feel sorry for you, and we can all move on.”

I know acknowledging our failures does not come easily, especially to me. I am such a blamer I am apt to drop a can of diced tomatoes on my toe, cuss, and look around for someone else to pin it on. The thing is, when we (I) say a sincere “I screwed up" or "I’m sorry” --NOT “I’m sorry you feel that way”-- we are all better off.

After an hour Tom volunteered, “I think I may have been responsible for the disappearing emails…” Not clear cut, but it did land him firmly back on my good list. He also said perhaps we should get separate email accounts so his ardent desire for an uncluttered inbox would not adversely affect me. Bravo.

I think his motives may not have been 100% pure. He had a vested interest in getting on my good side because he knew that within the next two hours we would be headed to this bed and breakfast for our anniversary. He did not want to ruin all chances of a little Anniversary Lovin.’

Like most men, he has experienced the (insert screetchy sound effect of a needle being dragged backwards across a record) of a promising evening quickly going down the tubes because of one wrong move, look, or a careless answer to the question, “Do these Jeans make my butt look big?”

Don’t we all want the same thing? No, not a big butt or even some Anniversary Lovin’—but a little acknowledgement? It’s not that we DISLIKE doing the shopping, decorating, and un-decorating for Christmas, but we want someone to verbalize that they know these things don’t happen magically by themselves. We want someone to say, “Good job. I know packages don’t mail themselves.”

We need it. Our kids need it. Our husbands and friends need it too.

Think of how far these words could go: "I appreciate you. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I screwed up. You need a break. I’m sorry. You seem worried about the kids. I haven't been spending enough time with you. I've been neglecting our friendship. I get what you’re saying. You look great in those jeans. I smell what you’re stepping in. You matter to me."

So here's to a 2010 in which we slow down, notice, and acknowledge...