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mixed feelings

December 10th, 2007 . by maria

This time of year is always full of mixed feelings. Don’t get me wrong – I am about the most Christmas-spirited person there is. I love decorating. I love singing ye olde carols. I love crafting gifts, buying gifts – the whole process of really thinking about someone and trying to come up with something (you can afford) which will tickle their fancy. I love visiting with people. I love the time off work. I even love preparing for company and having a cookie party. The mixed feelings come in because of the pressures – pressure to get things done, to fit in extra activities, to spend money, to have the house more presentable than usual, etc.

Cards: I have a huge extended family on my mother’s side. She was one of six children. I love every one of them. I don’t want to leave anyone out. But I decided a few years ago that the cutoff had to be three generations. (ie I give to my grandparents, parents/aunts/uncles, and cousins. I don’t give to my cousin’s children, grandma’s aunt, etc.) Once I add in my husband’s family, a few friends, and my coworkers, I end up with about 50 people to make cards for. Plus, Alex has about 75 customers. That’s a lot of cards, whether you buy them or make them. I like making them, and on years when the budget is low – like this year – I make them.

Cookies & Birthdays: My DH asked me last night why I insist on having a cookie party. It started a few years ago when I discovered his mother’s aunt had a December birthday the day before mine, and that neither of us had had a birthday party in, like, years. So I decided that if no one would throw us a party, I’d throw a party. And since I love making cookies this time of year to give as gifts, but have trouble finding time to make them, I’d make it a cookie-baking party. It’s a fun time for women of all ages to squeeze into my little kitchen/dining room for a few hours of chatter and emerge with cookies to justify their time. I’m there making the cookies anyway. I might as well have someone to talk to, which is really what every woman wants most.

Work: It’s also a tough time at work. It’s a time when a lot of projects get finished up. That’s awesome. But it’s also a time when anything that can’t be wrapped up before the holiday gets pushed aside. That’s a bummer. The closer you get to the holidays, the emptier the work plate becomes. I’ve just completed a rollout of a DEMO of Instant Messaging for my employer. (Lotus Sametime running with our other Domino/Lotus Notes servers. It’s awesome. We’re loving it. For the users, it was like “set your password and away you go”. There was more prep work on my end than that, but overall not too bad. A little more than, say, the email-to-fax or enabling ldap or something. ) However, there are a handful of things that are making no progress whatsoever, and that’s too bad.

UPDATE: It looks like I’m not the only one who has projects get pushed off until after the holidays:

Atlantis to Launch No Earlier Than Sunday
Dec 07, 2007 05:00:00 GMT
Targeted launch time is 3:21 p.m. EST.

Atlantis to Launch Sunday
Dec 08, 2007 05:00:00 GMT
Shuttle will take the European Columbus lab to the space station.

NASA Postpones Shuttle Atlantis Launch
Dec 09, 2007 05:00:00 GMT
NASA delayed Sunday’s scheduled launch of space shuttle Atlantis after a failure occurred in a fuel sensor system.

NASA Targets Space Shuttle Atlantis Launch on Jan. 2
Dec 09, 2007 05:00:00 GMT
Space shuttle Atlantis’ STS-122 mission to the ISS now is targeted to launch no earlier than Jan. 2 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

Gifts: Like I said, I LOVE giving gifts. But, you always wish you had a little more time or money so you could give the “perfect” thing. I’ve got a few people who will probably get their ‘perfect thing’ next year, and their ‘good but not perfect’ thing this year, because of budgetary constraints…and time constraints. I’m a very thrifty shopper and a creative thinker and a crafter. I have to think that makes budgeting easier. But it makes actual gifting more challenging! I know someone who can give a really cute set of tea towels or really nice expensive wool socks, and be happy with that. Not me. If I gave tea towels, I’d have to embroider them myself with your name or your favorite animal/symbol/saying, and wrap them on a tea tray with a pretty mug and bags of your favorite tea. If I give wool socks, it’ll probably be because I learned how to knit, or because they’re in a gift basket with a foot massager and lotion – but only because if said your feet were really bothering you lately, or because they were on your list.

But don’t go thinking that my perfectionist tendencies are the problem. I’ve learned from that I have to accept “done good enough” sometimes over “not done because it wasn’t good enough”. If you can’t tell that from the above, you should know that there are tons of other things I’d like to do around Christmas that I don’t. I’d like to be in a choir again, like I was in school. I’d like to take the kids caroling from the back of a hay truck. (They’d hate it.) I’d like to put on a Christmas pageant. I’d like to have something really awesome to give to my DH, who is getting to that stage of fatherhood where he says not to get him anything because if he needed it, he’d buy it himself. And I’d like to do something really special to acknowledge or help so many others… And that’s just the list of things I think that I actually COULD pull off, if I really had my act together. In my dream world, there’s also plenty of time and money to give something modest but special to the mailman and my coworkers and DH’s customers. I’d like to make really awesome quilts to give as presents. Plus spend time sipping cocoa in front of the woodstove with a good book while snow falls with a feeling of peace because everything got done. Ummm…that would be nice. But it’ll have to wait until January.

Where have I been?

December 5th, 2007 . by maria

OK, so it’s been awhile. Well, family comes first, and the holidays are fast approaching. I keep saying “I ought to blog something”, and I keep putting it off because other things are keeping me busy. Besides, after spending literally the whole day on computers, I don’t have much drive to look at a screen when I get home. At least, not beyond checking my email and balancing my checkbook.

Things I’ve been busy with:

A certain little boy had some medical testing. Fortunately it showed there was no medical explanation for his memory issues. (MRI brain normal, full blood workup normal.) The doctor said to consider him as “a variation of normal”. He said don’t worry as long as he’s performing well in school, not having behavioral problems, and not having memory issues which endanger him or anyone else. It’s funny, the disconnect between the medical and educational systems. Because of how funding works, the educational system wants to label anyone who is different as learning disabled. In fact, a teacher I spoke to recently said almost every student is signed up for some type of learning support, and there’s no longer a stigma associated with it. However, from a medical point of view, there is nothing wrong with the child. Hmmm.

The Thanksgiving Holiday came and went. We attended a community Thanksgiving feast that my MIL’s church particpiates in. The mayor attends. Several of my MIL’s odler friends attend. A few years ago, my MIL decided she’d rather do that than throw a big shindig. It is decidedly easier – and they do send you home with leftovers. But for me, it falls short of being celebratory. You just don’t get that hanging out time and that special stress time. I dunno. I might suggest that next year we host something ourselves. I’m not one who wants to do a big turkey in the oven, but I’ve discovered that a few legs and breats in the 5qt crockpot are perfect.

Cleaning and decorating for the Holidays.

Snow, cold, and the result that kids stay in the house constantly. (Not enough snow to be fun.)

Setting up a crafting space in the basement. This involved moving the freezer, and moving my supply “cabinet” from upstairs to downstairs. I also gathered various supplies from all over the house and took them down there. And I will probably move my sewing machine down there. If I can’t move the whole thing, I’ll unscrew it from the cabinet and just take the machine.

DIY Christmas Cards – This is a tradition I thoroughly enjoy, but am alone in creating. The boys used to help, but they’ve grown out of it. Alex likes the idea that we put a personal touch on our cards, but he’s not interested in helping either. This year I’ve got 78 customers and about 50 friends/family to make cards for. Each year it is a challenge to come up with a design that is simple and inexpensive enough to make enmasse, but still attractive. It should look “hand-crafted” but not cheesy.

Card lists, wish lists, gift lists, gift crafting/sewing projects, shopping, making things.

Shadow and the vet. Shadow is our 15 year old cat. He’s had a behavioral problem with the litter box for a few years, but we’d been dealing with it. More specifically, I’d been mopping urine up from beside the litterbox every morning. He was to the vet a few years ago, and they determined he didn’t have a urinary tract problem. He had a heart murmur, but there really wasn’t much they could do about that. They tried to give him antibiotics anyway, but that made him sicker, so we gave up. I’ve tried various things – extra boxes, different litters, moving boxes around, different foods, etc. Nothing helped. Then a few weeks ago he peed on the office chair and the futon. OK, at that point he crossed the line from quirky to BAD KITTY. He went into the cat carrier with a tiny litterbox and towel, and I made a vet appt for last Saturday. The tests and appointment were $225. The results came back. The good news is there’s no urinary, kidney, liver, or other problem identified with the exception of being anemic. (Apparently, kitties that don’t feel well express themselves by peeing whereever they feel like peeing.) The bad news is, that means they want to do more testing to determine the cause of the anemia. In kitties, anemia isn’t an iron deficiency, but a symptom of some other disease – one website said there are about 75 possibilities. Our doctor wants to start with Feline Lukemia/HIV tests, another blood test, and xrays. That’s another $150. Meanwhile, back at the home front, Shadow has been happily going in his litterbox in his carrier, or in the basement box if we take him down there. Of course, he doesn’t have a chance to pee anywhere else, because he only gets out of his box if he’s supervised. If this continues, we might get the behavioral problem licked, in which case I don’t know if we’ll pursue much medically…15 for a cat is like 92 for a human…really, if he’s not in pain now, I don’t know how much stress/pain I’d want to put him through to solve the anemia which isn’t bothering him.

Hubby and the great mouth guard caper.About a month ago, he started grinding his teeth in his sleep. It didn’t wake him up, but it woke me up. It sounded like a blender full of ice going off beside my ear. He also ended up with some jaw pain. He went to the dentist, who took a mold to make a ceramic mouth guard that clips in for him to wear while he sleeps – it is sort of like a retainer. It is supposed to keep the teeth in such a position that you don’t do the grinding. The problem is, they apparently weren’t made for guys with a jaw that shuts like a crocodile. He keeps breaking it – literally shattering it. They keep made a new one. He bit on it during the fitting, and it cracked. They ground off the cracked part and fit it again. He bit down, and it shattered. I keep telling him he needs to just buy a football or boxing mouth guard and be done with it. He goes back today.

The Rules of Marriage

November 19th, 2007 . by maria

In response to some recent articles I’ve seen, and thinking about some people around us who might could use some advice now and in the future, I present the rules of marriage.

Life isn’t fair. This isn’t the 1950s with the woman as a slave/homemaker getting the man’s slippers. But, if you subscribe to the modernist thought that things are 50/50 you’re bound to be disappointed. You’ll be keeping score and constantly coming up short – and so will your partner. That’s because to me, running the vacuum is an awful chore that rates at least a -10, but to my husband the least I could do is run the vacuum and it rates about -1. I’m willing to do cat litter and laundry every day if I can get someone else to vacuum. On the other hand, when it comes time to remodel, I’ll paint every surface of the house, and my husband can’t stand painting. Neither of us like to balance checkbooks and pay bills, but I’m the least likely to freak out while doing so, so it became my job. The first year (or 7) of your marriage will be spent figuring out what ranks highest on each other’s “pain scale”, and dividing up the chore list in a way that works. Don’t get it into your head that things will be fair. Instead, work out a balance that you can both live with.
Decide what is important to you. Do you plan on having children? Dogs? Living in the city or country? Driving new or used cars? What kinds of vacations and how often and with whom. What to do with your free time. (Do you like to spend time at home, or will you fill every evening coaching little league, playing bball with the guys, and stopping a tthe bar on your way home?) What you are, and are not, willing to do to finance all these plans. I’m not talking dreams about your life, but what scenarios would NOT work for you? It is unlikely everything will go according to your plan. However, if you know what you REALLY want, you can take steps to work towards it. And what you really DON’T want, you can take evasive action. But, more importantly, if you find out that your fondest plan is your spouse’s worst nightmare, you can draft a new plan that you both can live with. You wouldn’t want to find that out AFTER you bought the dog/crib/condo, right?
Use your own yardstick. Don’t measure your relationship against someone else’s. What works for you, works. Don’t worry if it is not what works for someone else. My MIL and FIL are joined at the hip. They have even been known to dress alike. While I think that’s all cute, and sometimes I think I’d like that, I admit that I’d lose some respect for my DH if he allowed me to dress him. And that he’d drive me crazy if we spent EVERY night in each other’s company. It doesn’t mean that our relationship isn’t as good as theirs. We’re just different. The same goes for cleaning, finances, yardwork, children, etc.Familes have their own culture. I’ve heard that in certain cultures, pointing your index finger at someone is similar to what we mean when we point our middle finger in the air. It’s a cultural difference that you better learn if you don’t want to look like a jerk. Similarly, families have “cultures” of their own. Your wife’s family had a certain way they celebrated Christmas when she was growing up, certain things they did on Sunday afternoons, certain “inside jokes”, and even certain blind spots to certain family member’s problems. Your family has their fair share of these things too. Some of these will be obvious, and others won’t. Try to figure out what are the important traditions and touchy hotspots, and treat them appropriately. Even if you don’t know going into things what these are, if you know to look for them, you’re better off. It’s kind of like if you forget what fork to use at a fancy dinner, so you watch to see what everyone else does. If you’re ever confused, or offended by something, look to your spouse as an interpreter. Treat times with your wife’s family like that, and you won’t go wrong.

It is NOT all about you. Your husband’s bad mood might be a sugar low, or an argument with a friend. Your wife is supposed to spend 99.9% of her time with the new baby.When your wife visits her family, it is not to take a vacation with you. Your kids are supposed to get all the presents at Christmas and birthdays, and you’re lucky if they remember yours. On days that you resent these changes, remember that your spouse feels the same way. Do what you can to change it, and someday they’ll return the favor.

It IS all about you (plural). Gone are the days when what you did only affected you, and only reflected on you. If you leave dirty socks on your bedroom floor, you’ve essentially just tossed a dirty sock onto your wife’s bedroom floor. You wouldn’t have done that when you were dating, would you? If you fail to open the door for your wife, you aren’t just being lazy, you’re showing her friends that she has a thoughtless husband. Likewise, wives, if he goes to work dressed badly because you didn’t have the laundry done, it reflects poorly on both of you. Did you ever work one of those jobs where they said “remember that when you’re wearing our uniform, you’re representing our company”? Well, 24/7 you are representing your family, so don’t do anything that wouldn’t represent well. But more importantly, remember that what you do or say reflects how you feel about your spouse.

Be honest, but be flexible. Tell your spouse when something bothers you. But be able to get over the little things. Recognize the things that are important to his heart, his sanity, his self esteem. Find ways to allow him to have those things without crushing yours. Find ways to let him know what’s bothering you that acknowledge the fact that YOU are the one feeling insecure/inadequate.

And Finally…

The grass is not greener elsewhere – you just aren’t seeing it as closely. It’s so easy when you’re having trouble making things work to think that things would be better with someone else, or even by yourself. But it isn’t true. Here are some reasons why:

If there were things you didn’t know about your spouse that now make you dislike him, don’t you think the same might be true of others? Even if you make sure you don’t have the SAME blind spot, you’ll probably find out you overlooked something else.
Separation is just adding to the problems, not subtracting from them. Once you are married (and especially if you have children), you will always have a relationship with that person. If you separate and take up with someone else, you now have TWO relationships/families to deal with. NOT easier. Just different problems. Are you SURE the problems you are having now are bad enough that you want to make your life that much more complicated? Remember, you’ll still have to deal with your “X”, you just won’t have to live with him/her, and the bargaining chips will be different. Even if you separate just to be “by yourself” for a while, and end up back together, it will always be a sore spot between you. Better to spend the time hashing things out, if possible.
It takes two people to have an argument. You were one of those people, and no matter where you go you will still be you. Take a good look at yourself and see if perhaps you aren’t the problem – or at least part of it.
You’ve gotten this far. There are already a lot of things you’ve found out, worked out, shared, and worked through. Do you really want to throw all that away? Do you really want to go through all that again with someone else?

Happy Birthday Aidan

October 1st, 2007 . by maria

My oldest just turned 12 today. Holy cow! It barely seems possible – except that he’s almost as tall as me now, so there’s really no doubt he’s growing up. We had a sleepover party on Friday. The theme was extreme sports. He had 8 boys come, and 7 spent the night, and they were all very well behaved. I was SO happy. My big party tip of the year, which worked out really well: Buy cup cozies and write each person’s name on them. Slip these onto drink bottles with lids. We had 0 spills, 0 shared drinks, and 0 drinks thrown out because we weren’t sure whose was whose.

two kinds of I don’t know

September 24th, 2007 . by maria
Seth Godin discusses “two kinds of I don’t know ” .
He describes them as the difference between ” I don’t know French ” and ” I don’t know how to cook ” . The first can be fixed with a book or a class. The second is ” …either fear or lack of interest. People with this type of deficit won’t find the answer in a book or (usually) in a seminar either. ”

This was an aha moment for me. We’ve had friends who couldn’t ” get their act together ” , and we’ve tried to help, and it just doesn’t stick. I’ve also had people at work that I’ve tried to train to do something and it just didn’t stick. (Around the Helpdesk watercooler, we’ve often acknowledged ” fear of tehcnology ” as one reason people don’t get along with their computers.)

But the key in this article was, for me, recognizing that the ” fear ” problem was separate from the ” can be solved with a book or a teacher ” problem. Seth says ” If you discover that users are afraid or resistant to what you’re trying to get them to do, more information is almost always the incorrect response. ” Well, smack me, because I’m always talking their ear off. I always figured they didn’t understand how it works, and went off explaining it to them. Apparently ” The effective technique involves peer pressure and support and in changing the design and inputs of what you’re doing so that this group is more receptive to what’s on offer. ” Now, I just have to figure out how to use peer pressure to get people to archive their email…


September 12th, 2007 . by maria

I, for one, am sick of hearing people blame those in authority as if they were expected to have the wisdom, power, and perfection of God. It’s about time to start judging other people by the standard we wish to have applied to ourselves. If you have ever expected other people to cut you a little slack and overlook your mistakes, then have the decency, when they make mistakes, to try to give them the benefit of the doubt, too.

Orson Scott Card (writer)

Is this the thing I’m supposed to be doing?

July 10th, 2007 . by maria

Another blog I read regularly writes:

I’m surely not the only person that gets up goes to a good, worthwhile job wondering – “Is this the thing I’m supposed to be doing? Is this the art I was meant to create? Is this as close as I can come to really meeting real needs of the family with whom I share this planet?”

You are not the only one. When I follow the history of how I got where I am right now, it is obvious that God’s hand was in everything. Yet, I cannot see how God is using me right now. But, when I try to make a move in any diretion, I am blocked. I know God wants me where I am right now, because he won’t let me go anywhere else. I just have to trust that He can use me here (He can do anything). God’s work is not always as obvious as a formal ministry project. Sometimes, it’s just dropping seeds in the ground around you.

The New “Shroud of Turin”

March 13th, 2007 . by maria

It was the end of the day. My boys had their newest attraction – a box turtle. We had safely tucked it into a lidded plastic storage bin with enough dirt, twigs, and rocks to make any landscaper proud. We even had a plastic sandwich box full of water, big enough for the turtle to take a dip. What we didn’t have, apparently, was turtle food. It wasn’t eating leaves. It wasn’t eating banana pieces. It wasn’t eating lettuce. As the boys headed up for their showers, I vaguely remembered that we once had a pet turtle, and we fed it live grasshoppers. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try. I stepped out the front door into the wooded night, but surprisingly didn’t see any bugs. The only thing buzzing around our front door light was a dragonfly, and he was way too big. “Any other day, I’d be swatting moths away from my face right now,” I thought. In desperation, I turned to the plastic pool we had set up for the summer. There were always wasps, bees, and other assorted bugs floating in it.

That’s when I saw the largest swallowtail butterfly I’ve ever seen…floating outspread in the pool. My heart sank. Poor thing. Her wings were bedraggled. She wasn’t moving. But she was still beautiful. (She was most definitely NOT turtle food. The turtle would just have to learn to like banana.) My mother’s most recent decorating fetish is butterflies, so I thought perhaps I could figure out a way to frame this butterfly. I got a piece of computer paper and carefully slid it under the butterfly. Bingo! I was able to lift her out, wings outstretched, and perfectly flat. I brought her inside and laid the paper on top of a cardboard box in the kitchen to dry.

I showed my prize to my husband and the boys. Hubby headed over to chat with a neighbor. I tucked the boys in and set to work cleaning up the kitchen. When I next checked on her, she looked to be drying well. Her antennae and legs weren’t stuck down anymore, and she seemed to have more colors than before. Her body was still plump, so it was easy to imagine what she might have looked like as a caterpiller. She looked so lifelike, I knew she’d be beautiful framed.

I watched TV for a few hours. My husband came home. We started turning off lights and heading up to bed. I checked on my butterfly. “She’s gone,” I yelled to my husband. “One of the cats ate her,” he replied. I couldn’t imagine…not that I’d put it past them, but I would have heard them getting on the box. There would be paper and…little butterfly parts…around. This was no crime scene. And then I saw her – perched on a pair of jeans hung over the stair railing beside the box! “Honey! She’s alive!” He came in to look in wonder, and then carefully lifted the jeans and carried her to the back deck. He deposited her on an aloe plant I had out there. She took a few steps and wiggled a little. She seemed content to perch for now, wings still outspread (and probably still drying).

I told my husband I was glad I saved her, even though it meant I couldn’t frame her. He told me that to frame her, we’d have had to dry her in the oven a few hours. I was glad he hadn’t told me that a few hours before!

The next morning I looked out onto the deck. She was gone. I turned back to the kitchen and saw the piece of computer paper still sitting on the box. On that paper was a perfect outline of her wings. I knew my mother would rather frame this outline than the butterfly’s body. Butterflies are often used as a symbol of the resurrection. But this…this was an extra-special resurrection symbol.

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