Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Rocky Raccoon Horror Picture Show: Man vs. Beast

It all started the month before Christmas with the first indications of a break-in to our house.

I'm a pretty light sleeper, especially after having kids. One night, some noises downstairs woke me. It sounded like someone was opening the pantry.

Persistence, I thought, annoyed, on another midnight food raid. As I worked to open my burning, exhausted eyes, and convince my body It Had to Get Up and Go Save the Baby, I spared one irritated moment to wonder whether we had properly closed and latched the pantry before bed.

When I got downstairs, the utility room and kitchen were trashed. And Persistence was upstairs asleep in her bed.

I called my husband down. After much investigation, we decided our hyperthyroid cat Bubba must have lost his last noodle and gone on a bender.

This theory held up in that every single morning that we got up, the cat bowl (filled completely the night before) was totally empty, and someone had been biting his way into the dog food bag and cat food container.

"Damn cat," we snapped every morning at Bubba, "Eating us out of house and home!" The cat just stared at us, guiltily? balefully? and tore out another chunk of fur, dropping it at our feet with a pitiful squeak. We felt terrible. Poor old man. We patted his head. I promised to be better about putting out wet food for dinner.

As the weeks wore on, I stared getting really suspicious. The clues and evidence weren't holding up. I set aside my investigation during Christmas, but in early January, the invasions got more frequent and bold. The good news was that this left more evidence.

"I think we fit the evidence to our theory of the crime rather than the other way around," I told my husband a couple of weeks in to January.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"Well, on CSI, Grissom always says..."

"No no no not CSI...I mean, what evidence and what theory, how is it not holding up?" he interrupted.

"Oh," I said, pausing dramatically, "I think something other than the cat is coming in and eating the cat food. I don't think our cats, even Bubba, can eat this much all the time."

"What're you thinking? You thinking he's inviting other cats home again?" (Cue brief memory of the time when Bubba ran with a street gang of orange tabby cats and we worried daily about his welfare…luckily we were supportive and trusting parents, and, as generous hosts to him and his friends, could keep a close eye on them…and then he grew out of it.)

"Maybe," I said slowly, "Maybe other cats. Or maybe it's one of the woodland creatures."

"One of the woodland creatures? What? What are you talking about?"

"Well, the dog has been going nutty in the back, in the tree section, and something is smart enough to get in our house. Maybe it's a raccoon."

My husband rolled his eyes at me.

"No, really," I protested, "Raccoons are really smart! It explains how something is opening up the dog canister. Cats can't do that! It would also explain the dirt in the dog water dish. They wash their hands before eating. Think about it. This house is like a raccoon's dream come true."

He rolled his eyes again, but I could tell he was giving it some thought.

The next night it misted, leaving a fine film of moist out. I paid attention to the footprints on the grill, and on my kitchen tile.

I used packing tape and took a sample track, just like the Crocodile Hunter version of Sarah Sidle. I surfed the Internet, seeking a photo of a raccoon print.

Sure enough, the computer came back with huge message POSITIVE MATCH.

I high-fived the two year old, who was cheering sympathetically.

"We've got our culprit," I told her.

"I know what culprit means, Mom," said the five year old, "That was on Pinky Dinky Doo. And the culprit was this purple troll guy who was stealing all the cheese and it all started when they were at this fair in the park and the trees were green and round like I like to draw and then the..."

"That's great," I cut her off, "Now we all know what culprit means, and better, we know who it is."

That night, my husband grimly agreed that evidence does not lie. Clearly, a raccoon was breaking in. True to his profession, he scoped out the back of the house, identifying the most likely areas of vulnerability, and designed a raccoon security system.

We slept easy for a couple of weeks. The security system worked. No raccoon.

At this point, though, he must have been getting desperate. Hungry and desperate.

Around ten o'clock one night, my husband and I were in the living room watching TV.

All of the sudden...











"What the?!?!?!" we gasped, running to the utility room.

In this corner of the ring: The Raccoon

On one side of the cat door (not yet locked for the night) a raccoon head was butting against the flap, trying to get in.

And in the other corner: The Cat

On the other side, my intrepid hunter cat Francie would wait for the raccoon to push against the door. Once the raccoon did, she'd use her paw and the door to whap the raccoon upside the head, throwing in a ferocious feline yowl and hiss. Attracted by the commotion, the dog was first on the scene and added in his "despite my floppy ears and wagging tail my bark is low and deep and makes grown plumbers pee their pants in fear" woof bark.

We both slapped hands over our mouths and tried really, really hard to stifle our hysterical laughter. We failed. We clutched our sides, wiped tears from our eyes, and laughed loud enough to wake small sleeping children.

If only you could have seen how unbelievably funny it was. Just imagine, a cat, licking her paw in between whaps, smacking an intruding raccoon upside the head with a cat door flap, accompanied by a symphony of yowls and woofs from the other cat and dog.

My husband gasped for breath between gales of laughter, ""

I nodded, still laughing too hard to speak. We ran, dog between us, to the back door, and opened it. Can you believe that at the exact instant we opened the door and the dog ran out, the raccoon decided to Abandon Mission and the two of them ran smack into one another?

When they recovered, the raccoon streaked towards the tree, the dog hot on his tail, literally. The dog might have had him, too, except he opened his mouth to bark and thus lost the grip on the five hairs of the raccoon's tail.

He did tree it though. And did bark madly, trying to jump or climb the tree for a good while, until we decided the neighborhood had heard enough woofing and surely the raccoon was scared enough to Move Far, Far Away.

Or, suffer another fate entirely.

Never underestimate the fortitude of a woodland creature.

The next night, he was back, trying to finagle his way through our security system.

"What is this," I asked my husband two nights ago, "The Ocean's Eleven of Raccoons?"

More like the Knights of Prosperity raccoon, my sister would say.

Except, he succeeded, and he broke in, once again.

We called Wild Animal Control. Who told us it's illegal to catch and relocate raccoons. "Even to the nature preserve up the road?" we asked, all innocently, not at all imagining the hungry alligators. "Each bit of territory is claimed by a raccoon. You move him," the animal expert told us, "And there will have to be a fight, to the death."

So it's back to this: Us. Our house. The raccoon, a home invader. Stuck in this plot of land, not even a full acre.

We kept him out last night, but I think he might be altering his schedule. I think he snuck in this morning.

Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen...odds for man or beast?

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Is the road to hell paved with good intentions or role fulfillment?

(This is a bit of a follow-up to the previous post Underwater Basket Case 101. Comments and other thoughts kept rolling out and making me think.)

What people think of me---of me and my children---matters to me. I am aware of, and concerned with, public opinion.

It comes from good intentions, you understand. Caring what others think is a good goal, and is the basis for respect and consideration. I just never learned healthy boundaries for it. So as I entered adulthood, I tried to find a happier medium. It's been a struggle.

Public feedback is a mixed bag, and very confusing. I'm not really clear what people's expectations are, or how I am supposed to respond to them. It doesn't come naturally to me---determining how much opinion and expectation ought to matter in a healthy way---so I have to consider it. I'm probably too conservative, expecting high need and harsh judgment. It's what I learned from and experienced.

Therefore, out in public, I tend to assume that people do not like my children, do not want them around, and will become highly annoyed and critical if they "misbehave" (read: act like normal). I like to think that other parents will understand---and sometimes they do---but other times, they might very well be my harshest critics.

I discussed this in detail in my last post, and also went on to wonder whether there really is a mommy war, or if it is the tail wagging the dog.

Media stories certainly add fuel to the fire of my concern about public judgment.

Is the public really paying that much attention to me?

One of my favorite bookmarked bloggers, Beck (Frog and Toad are Still Friends) recently wrote about the type of parents she and her husband are, and described our mindset pretty well, in her post Attached.

We aim to positively discipline our children so they know okay ways to behave, with their spirits intact.

Additionally, her post and the comments to it, as well as her follow-up post World of Danger, confirmed for me that other people do pay attention to my kids.

My concern, though, is that my awareness of this might be a hyper-awareness, and may be out of perspective.

Am I sacrificing my children on the altar of public perception? Setting them up to care a little too much what others think?

How I feel: I am on my children in public like white on rice. Nothing slips past me and I am constantly on guard, working to keep them in line. A collie herding sheep.

This is tiring. I feel exhausted.

It takes everything in me and then some to keep my kids from being the kids who hit people, are disruptive, create chaos and messes, and who are unbearable to be around.

I feel like a sort of minority. Other moms just don’t seem to have to work quite this hard. Kids are kids, sure, and when tired or hungry will be on edge, or off it with crying, tantrumming, or tough behavior. All kids can be tough at times, all kids need discipline, and no parenting job is easy. Sometimes though, I feel a little validated when other moms look at me and say about my children, ‘I don’t know how you do it.”

Or maybe the mom stuff is more intuitive to them, and that’s why it doesn’t look as hard as it feels to me.

Or maybe it’s both.

For example: At the grocery store, I see other children who ride quietly in the proper seat of the shopping cart, just looking around, passively happy.

My children don't want to ride in the cart. They want to touch, taste, see, smell, crawl under, climb up, swing on and more.

I want to encourage their curiosity and sense of exploration, but not at the expense of the world around me.

My perception: my children, sitting in the basket or skipping alongside, occasionally testing the boundary by grabbing a package off the shelf or hopping on the side of the cart for a ride, are acting really well, all things considered. They aren't shrieking, running up and down the aisles, or knocking the entire pile of apples off the produce shelf. We're doing well. Okay, this is okay!

Then, I get a look. It might be slanted eyes, or raised brows, or worse, a fast look away. It might be a comment, either directly to me, or a passive one directed to another adult or child, "Look at that naughty child, Johnny, I'll beat your bum blue if you act like THAT!" I hate the latter most of all.

Suddenly, my confidence wavers, dips, plunges. I pause, step out of my little world of just the three of us, doing okay, and look around. I feel a little light, then self-conscious---that feeling in your nightmare when you realize you are at school in your underwear---and I sense/imagine a buzz of negative thoughts about us.

I imagine they are thinking, "How can that mom let her kids ride on the outside of the cart! That's dangerous!" Possibly, but we do our best to be careful, and truly, it's not as dangerous as them running off.

"Does that mom ever shut up? Constant chatter to her kids, 'do this,' and 'that's not okay let's do this instead' and 'good choice' and on and on and on." Just riding herd, knowing me, knowing my kids, and doing our best to stay safe and considerate.

"Those kids are loud! How many more times can they sing the ABC song?" Trust me, so much better than the banshee tantrum that is possible.

I often feel like a bone between two dogs, one named Public Expectation and one named Children's Needs.

It's a struggle to balance the two, and they often seem to be in conflict. Somewhere in there, too, I have to consider my sanity.

I look at the well-behaved children, who sit so nicely in the seat while mom shops and pays attention to what she buys rather than riding herd on them every second, and I wonder, "What did she drug them with and where can I get some?"

No seriously, I wonder if she understands, or if she thinks we are maniacs.

I wonder why I care. And whether her approval would matter.

I think it would. I'm trying so hard to be good. More than anything, I want some sort of confirmation that it looks okay and therefore it is okay.

Believe it or not, it's not really all about me.

I don't want my kids to experience negativity from strangers, possibly due to them acting in a way that the person perceives as badly-disciplined (but that I might accept or have failed to manage positively).

I don't want our discipline choices to negatively affect them.

I just so want my children to be welcomed into the loving, accepting bosom of the world exactly as they are, for who they are...not in spite of that. And, from personal experience, I know it isn't that simple or unconditional, and to expect that, is a little unreasonable on my part.

I hope they find that loving acceptance at home. Goodness knows we try.

And in honesty, that's the public feedback I really want: wow, those kids are so confident, sure of themselves, you can tell they feel loved

How does parenting feel to you? How do others’ opinions matter to you, or do they? Do you alter your parenting out in public?

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Underwater Basket Case 101

This is the post wherein you realize I am so not kidding when I tell you I am not even a contender for a spot on the team for Mommy Olympics.

My kids are very creative. Long-time readers, and those who caught the recap in my questionable sanity post, know this well.

I don't say "creative" as a euphemism for "poorly behaved" or "poorly disciplined" or even "inadequately supervised." I say "creative" meaning:

children who are actually unbelievably curious, extremely ingenious, with true scientific explorative natures---above and beyond the usual---that compel them to Try Things and Do Things (despite rules, repeated warnings and lots of supervision and positive directed activities) that often lead to stories within which I use humor to deal with the really horrifying, terribly messy, unbearably annoying, or horrifically embarrassing

This drive to Do In Spite Of, I believe, is a result of nature rather than nurture (or perceived lack thereof).

I blog about these events so that others may read them and think, "Geez, never mind my complaints about my own least they've never done that!" or more likely, "Thank goodness, I am not alone!"

As self-deprecating as I might be in these posts, despite the humor I try to infuse them with, and as much as I depict myself as the Mr. Magoo of Mommyhood...the truth is:

* I am not terribly graceful all that often,

* I have a quick temper,

* My expectations of my children (and myself) are really, really high

* I'm sort of a hard-ass

I too am fairly creative. I'm also a quick study (learner) and an avid researcher. Despite a very full bag of tricks and these skills, many, many times my kids get the better of me.

At any one of the times, someone who doesn't know me, or hasn't seen me in action...who doesn't have an across-the-board perspective of me might judge my parenting poorly.

In fact, recently, my mommyhood was called into very large question when one of these posts was widely circulated on the Internet. It got picked up at Digg or Reddit first, then went on to delicious, and a variety of other lesser known news services. Eventually a newspaper out of Virginia snagged and posted it. A number of private bulletin boards did too, including and something I believe was called mennonettesrus or somesuch. It also, apparently got forwarded broadly and widely via email. I think sometimes my blog was not even accessible, maybe due to clogged lines.

Instead of the huge thrill I expected when traffic to my blog exploded, I had a mild panic attack. When I write, I naively imagine my readers as my little group of favorite bloggers...just those few people who comment. I know that's not really accurate. I know that's merely a percentage of traffic. But I guess I figure those who comment are the only people who are actually reading and paying any attention at all to me.

So all of the sudden Me and My Words are Out There. Big time.

Also, I could see the comments on most of the news services. These were comments by people who have probably visited my blog only one time to read that one post. The things they projected onto me were intriguing.

My husband told me to back away from the computer and Leave. It. Alone. He told me to not look. Not pay any attention.

Could you do that?

I couldn't. I looked.

I'd be the girl turned into a salt pillar if these were Biblical Times.

Many comments were nice, and stated an enjoyment of a funny story and a good laugh. In fact, in my mind, these were the majority. Those made me feel great. When and where I could, I replied with my thanks.

A couple of people shared their own funny stories with me about similar experiences. I really enjoyed those.

Some comments were downright vicious using words like "hate" and "breeder." Others were simply very judgmental, assessing me very, very poorly as one of those "out of control parents" who "hasn't got the balls to discipline her kids and the behavior shows that." I didn't let those get me down. I knew these people didn't know me, and you can't really judge off of one tale, humorously told (or, in my opinion, you shouldn't judge).

My all-time favorite comment was from a newspaper reader who wrote, "Too funny! Totally fake, but too funny!"

I felt complimented on several levels, and I'm hard-pressed to say which one struck me more:

(A) That I am perceived as such a good writer who is so creative that I can make up this stuff and write it all so convincingly (it's all totally true and I usually have witnesses or photographic evidence to prove it)


(B) That my child is so amazing as to defy believability

My second-favorite comment was that I am too long-winded. That person will have to stand in line behind professors, other writers and editors of great ability (but clearly little influence) who say that to me frequently. I say it all depends upon the medium and audience. But I concur that typically I am pretty long to very long.

All in all, initial panic-attack aside, I learned a lot of valuable lessons about how news services can boost your traffic, the effects to your blog (positive) of high traffic, the awesome feeling of knowing, "hey total strangers who I didn't even bribe think I write well and enjoy what I write," how news services work, that I like Reddit a lot more than Digg, and that the Internet is a powerful medium full of very interesting people. I found some great bloggers I hadn't known, found new and useful web sites, and learned a lot.

But by and far, one key thing stuck with me: wow, a lot of people really judge parents harshly, across the board, based on one incident

I'm not just referring to myself and my experience, I am also referring to many other people's experiences and many other incidents.

The currently most famous is the recent Today show segment about moms drinking alcohol at playgroups, "Do playdates and happy hour mix?"

Other bloggers have blogged extensively about this, and received ample comments about it, so I won't rehash, but I will link to two of my favorite bloggers who wrote about it:

Izzymom wrote I call bullshit

Gwen wrote Via Media

I'll also link to two of the moms portrayed:

Baby on Bored's Stefanie wrote The One with the Green Shirt

Suburban Bliss' Melissa wrote several posts on it, all current.

It feels like every time I turn around another mother, mother's story, or mothering style is held up for dissection. Not discussion, which I welcome, but dissection. I want to clearly distinguish those.

Sometimes I wonder if my husband feels a little left out. He's Dad just as much as I am Mom, and we usually do most things pretty much the same way. I imagine if we counted hours, it would--despite the fact that I stay-at-home with the kids---probably, and possibly surprisingly, show that we spend a pretty equitable amount of time with the kids.

I used to simultaneously laugh and feel resentful about all the accolades he got if he so much as said our daughter's name aloud. For example, two years ago we split school drop-off and pick-up. He dropped our daughter off at school. Every day the teachers gushed over him, complimented him, said he was such a GREAT dad. He loved it. Every day I picked her up and they said...have a nice day.

People frequently tell him, "You're such a great dad."

People frequently tell me, "You and your daughters are so lucky, your husband is such a great dad."

We agree.

But still.

It's not like anyone says similarly to my husband. Which is not, I want to state, a reflection on me and my parenting. It is instead, I want to be clear, a reflection on the societal expectation of mothers.

My parenting is to be expected.

My husband's parenting is gratuitous.

So I've long understood the gender difference in parenting.

It started with trying to conceive. It was, initially, always my body under review. It proceeded with infertility, when (outside of one little fairly easy test my husband took) it was always my body being poked, prodded, tested and treated.

Pregnancy, however, was the real treat. At the moment of conception, my body, me, and my life suddenly became Public Property.

The normal boundaries of privacy and "it's your life, it's up to you" immediately evaporated.

People felt free to ask me how I got pregnant (you don't KNOW?), what my symptoms were, what vitamin I was taking, habits I had added (alleged good ones) or dropped (alleged bad ones), and more. They felt free to offer unsolicited advice, and extend judgment, "Oh, you know, coffee is bad for the baby, I hope you don't plan to drink more than one cup!" (Don't worry, I only planned to warm up with one cup of decaf, thanks.) They had no compunction about touching my body without asking, something each person seemed to expect I would love, whereas normally touching a woman's lower abdomen would garner a spray of mace to the face.

In fact, what I did with my body from the moment of conception, argue many, is not even my right to choose.

Like I said, becoming pregnant and then becoming a mother apparently makes you Public Property.

Therefore, people feel allowed to judge what you do---when in general your kids are healthy and well-cared for---and how you do it. Nitpick.

That is the part of this Today Show segment about moms who drink (at playgroups or in front of their kids) that bugs me.

In my opinion, at heart, it perpetuates this myth that each story of mommyhood, each example of mothering, is fodder for judgment and a platform upon which people may once again shake out the tired principle that moms need to be Super Humans, held to a higher example. (Or as Izzymom says, not only be perfect, but be perfect in contrast to men who are allowed to make excellent point.)

It doesn't even matter whether I have had alcohol at a playdate, or whether I think it's fine. It doesn't even matter whether I think mothers ought to be held to a higher standard, or whether I hold myself to a higher standard.

The point is, as long as my kids are healthy and well-cared for, I want that to be my business.

I don't think we need to dissect each act of mothering. Sometimes we are grand. Sometimes we are slack. In general, most mothers, I think, do the best that they can. I'm fairly sure that most of us are our own harshest critics. Hearing public outcry...I don't believe that is constructive. It is merely criticism.

Even worse, it usually asks us to choose either (A) or (B), neglecting to notice that there is an ocean of gray in between those two extremes.

Whatever happened to the middle, as Gwen asked.

We're missing the forest due to the trees.

I know, for me, frequently when I hear criticism about mothers, I think, "Oh my gosh, that could be me, I suck." I catch myself saying "I suck" or "I wish I had done better" or "Okay that didn't go so well" with regard to mothering, a lot.

Stories like this don't help. Lots of voices don't help. Loads of advice, especially bits that start with "You really should..." or "You really shouldn't..." don't help.

And anything that begins with, "Ideally..." can bite my ass. I am ideally fatigued.

I just want to be "good enough" and that has to be good enough. So none of the "if you were perfect..." advice helps.

What helps?

* Considering myself, my kids, our situation, and finding what is okay for us, specific us, not general "in a box type" us.

* Being allowed to fail at times without being considered a failure who has done permanent damage to her kids. Not being asked to wallow in it, or having it held up as explanation for some issue, "Well do you think you did too much...? not enough...? what about that time you...?"

* Being allowed to make mistakes, and knowing that's okay, then learning from it.

* Understanding that at the end of the day, I'm just the mom, not the owner, keeper, puppeteer, or All Powerful Q. This means that sometimes, regardless of my parenting, my kids are going to make their own decisions, which might or might not be bad choices, and then they can start walking through these asterisks (find what works for them, make and learn from mistakes, etc.).

* Recognizing it's not all about YOU. My kids walk this earth too and sometimes they don't like you any more than you like them...and how they are in that moment is not a reflection of them or me being bad at anything any more than it would be for you if I were to judge you.

And offers of babysitting.

What do you think? What do you find right and wrong, helpful and not helpful, (A) or (B)? ;)

(The winky is at myself..I really do want to hear your opinions.)

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Photo essay: The View from the Center of My Known Universe

Adding in Friday 1/26/2007 check-in:

That's almost a three pound loss from last go round. Thanks, Lotta, for hosting this great check-in and weight loss support!

Girl Con Queso tagged all unsuspecting visitors to her site with the "What's it look like out your front door?" meme-thingie going around.

Because today is finally a beautiful sunny day after (I think) 40 days and 40 nights of dreary rain, I finally felt motivated to whip out the camera and quickly snap off a few shots out my door. They are what I like to call rushed raw honest shots (read: I used PHD mode). I added in some other gratuitous shots to put the door shots in context.

Literally, out the front door in the last hour. What you don't see: that my little lighted Christmas trees are shockingly still on display out front. What you do see that I feel sort of apologetic about: the big yard mess. In defense, we've had dreadful weather and storms and always have a lot of debris to clear after that, plus who wants to mow, weed, and so forth in the cold rain.

The park and bayou down the street. The bayou flows to the lake that flows to the bay that flows to the ocean...and it's all so close together you can see pretty much the first three all at once. The north wind clears out the water. Yes, it's that green here year round. This close to the warm ocean water we are very temperate, often ~5 degrees warmer than even just 10 miles further inland. The average winter temp: ~68 degrees F. Average summer temp: 68 million degrees F.

Dragon boat races on the bayou. Isn't the smog gorgeous? Obviously a large percentage of people here are boaters of some sort, with a huge group of rowers (out there every day). Everyone must be very good and not capsize. Just north of our neighborhood (adjacent to us actually) is a large nature preserve. That have alligators. Or crocodiles. Or whichever of those water reptiles I mean, among other fauna. The alligators do not make good neighbors because they do not respect property boundaries. One has even gotten really lost and was seen cruising the waterfront road here. I know nothing of this because I invest heavily in Plausible Deniability, which is to say, if I keep denying reptiles exist it becomes plausible that for me, they do not exist.

Down on the boardwalk.

A gorgeous waterfront park in our town that has awesome hiking trails and great places to picnic.

Note: Apologies if you came here looking for space photos. I do have a Space Cowboy post in the pipeline but haven't managed to polish it up to post-ready.

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

An Unaccountable Capacity for Happiness

Who are you, you unaccountably chipper people, or more importantly, how are you? How do you glide so gracefully through life, effortlessly and naturally finding the lemonade in lemons...without clenching your teeth and repeating---a la protesting too much---that there is a silver lining to this cloud there is, there is, there is!

Were you born? Or were you made?

What makes a Harvey Ball?

Who is Harvey Ball? He's the artist behind the original smiley face!

He Made the Whole World Smile

The Harvey Ball Story

When three of Harvey Ball’s comrades were killed by a wayward shell as they stood next to him in Okinawa during World War II, he did not ponder if fate had saved him for a greater destiny. Harvey, a tall, lanky, laconic Yankee from Worcester, Massachusetts, was not much given to introspection, socializing, talking, or even smiling. But when he died in 2001 at the age of 79, Harvey had figured out his purpose in life. As he told People Magazine in 1998, “I taught the whole world how to smile.”

Harvey Ball, born and raised in Worcester, [created, in 1963, for an insurance company] the Smiley Face--that round yellow image that now beams out from Wal-Mart ads, Joe Boxer shorts and Internet icons J.

Harvey later figured out that his compensation for creating the Smiley Face button for the Worcester Mutual Insurance Company added up to about $45. When the lawyers for the company tried to copyright the image eight years later, they learned that it was impossible, because the image, reproduced 50 million times in the year 1971 alone, was in the public domain.


Every reporter who interviewed Harvey Ball asked him the same question: was he angry that he never made more than $45 from the creation that could have made him very, very rich? To every reporter he patiently gave pretty much the same reply: “Hey, I can only eat one steak at a time, drive one car at a time. I’m not ticked off about it. I don’t mind getting up in the morning and going to work. They ask me why I’m not upset. I just get satisfaction from it being so widely used and that it has given so many people pleasure.”

After Harvey died in 2001 in Worcester, his son, Charles, said: “He was proud and pleased to have served his country and raise a family…He died with no apologies and no regrets. His moral compass stayed on north and never wavered.”

Would you, could you, be that big, in that situation?

I see cheerful people. I can be cheerful. I see content people. I can be content. But when I see a truly happy person, one who truly has some sort of internal peace and joy, I sit up, I take notice, I remark on it to myself...and I study that person for clues as to how they got that way.

Happiness is usually transient. So when it is the natural state of being for a person, I'm flummoxed, and entranced.

I've recently become enamored of a blogger who projects a genuine true happiness. Is she always happy? Is life always perfect? I doubt it. However, her genuine joy seems to be her default state, her foundation, at least as much as I can tell through her blog. In every story and in every one of her gorgeous, breath-taking photographs, she seems to say, life is awfully beautiful and great.

I have moments like this. But, unlike Harvey Ball, I am given over to much introspection. I ponder and weigh, and in the end, I take much on myself, adding weight and complexity to my life. Perhaps too much so, because in most situations I see pros and cons, meaning I rarely simply find something simply fantastic. I rarely am transported by joy. Or wonder.

The base of my being is not one of standard enjoyment and joy. I am not, by nature, a person who typically exists in a state of happiness. A state of pondering, a state of reflection, a state of motivation...and even sometimes a state of melancholy. This is my base state.

I was stymied when my OB/GYN asked me this question (after the birth of each of my children) in order to evaluate possible post-partum depression, "Do you find joy in this?" Joy? I'm learning how to breastfeed a new baby, adjusting to a big change in my family and home. I'm sleep-deprived, what do you mean I loved my baby, and occasionally felt wonder and happiness, but I wasn't transported by alt. There was too much to do.

I'm a "make a list and get cracking" sort. I'll note the roses (trim, weed, water) and will occasionally stop to smell them (mmm, smells lovely, that's nice, okay, now then...better fertilize) but I am not necessarily transfixed, absorbed, lost in the moment. I'll enjoy the baby (look at those sweet cheeks, oh sweet baby) and then think about what needs doing. Practical. Is the task joyful? Does it all make me feel joy? Hmm. I felt lost about how to answer my doctor.

So, the first time, I mumbled, "I guess so," thinking I didn't feel per se too differently about this than I expected, and not too far differently than normal (although my answer the second time was to collapse on the chair sobbing, which I think was answer enough for him).

Do I fear happiness? Is it the antithesis to deep sorrow, and do I keep myself more "centric" in order to insulate myself from too deep a sadness, thereby cheating myself of true joy?

Or, am I by nature, simply a person who feels differently than it seems I am supposed to?

"Don't worry, be happy!"

"See the good in everything!"

"Make lemonade out of lemons!"

"Dare to be happy!"

We are surrounded by what I call "Idealogue" instructions. In pursuit of happiness, we are to be light of heart, our brow is not to be furrowed, and our mouths are to smile smile smile.

I find "be happy" as a direction occasionally stressful.

Perhaps Martha Washington had it right, "I have learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions and not on our circumstances."

I believe happiness is more than just a mood. I believe that it can be a nature, a disposition, an underlying state of being. We can all have happy moods, or feel happy, or be in some way fulfilled so that we are at our best, and enjoying...taking and giving in fair measure. But I perceive a difference in those who are not just in a happy mood or good place---who are experiencing a state of well-being---but who are, by nature, truly happy, irrelevant of circumstance.

What makes this?

I've seen studies that suggest that it is disposition-oriented, although people with high self-esteem and an optimistic or hope-filled nature are more likely to be happy. I've seen further studies that indicate when one is a "happy person" one is habitually a happy person, regardless of circumstance. I've seen studies that contrast "happiness" from "well-being."

In the end, I still have questions. Chiefly, what does it mean for those of us who feel ourselves struggle to enjoy, or be happy?

I've mentioned before the positive power of negative thinking (aka defensive pessimism) that I learned about from Bub and Pie.

As much as the happy person attracts and intrigues me, I don't feel I am missing anything. When I sit back and reflect, I don't feel I have some error to me that I need to correct. I see the use of my method of thinking, and being. It doesn't make me a miserable person. It doesn't make me an unkind person. There is a huge amount of real estate between "happy" and "sad." I shoot from end to end of that gray area.

I do however, at times, envy how easily the "happy people" come by all the positive and positively reinforced aspects of life, such a being happy, taking things well, having a good attitude, being super nice, etc. Or maybe I envy the positive attention.

I've pondered this deeply as a parent.

I know my personality type is the one most harshly criticized. I've been called everything from high-maintenance to high-strung. I've been told to lighten up one too many times, and had one too many people tell me "don't worry, be happy." I've been told to "let it go, let it roll off your back" to the point that I wonder if anything is supposed to matter.

I determined to provide my children with fabulous self-esteem so they could be happy, and receive all the accolades of the world that happy people receive. Then my actual children---versus the theoretical---came into my life and I saw Patience, my deep thinker, and I worried.

Eventually, I had to learn to accept myself in order to love my daughter, unconditionally, as she was, and not convey any inadvertent "critiques" of whom--and how---she is. I do accept myself, about 85% of the time. The rest of the time I accidentally fall into my habit of apologizing for being too complex, and not happy enough.

Then I say to myself, Aristotle.

You think this was a man light of spirit, and happy by nature?

I think people like me are important. We make good philosophers, artists, comedians, deep thinkers and analyzers. We prepare worst case scenario preparation manuals.

And we make the happy people look really cool.

Where do you fall on the happiness scale? As a mood, and by nature? What do you think of the constant demands to be happy?

And what about happiness as a marketing tool: buy this and be HAPPY!

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Live like we do...and your little dog too

This is my dog. Isn't he a fine specimen of doggiehood? Handsome. Son of champions. And, probably from his breeder's point of view, utterly wasted on us: the people who love him simply as a member of our family. We don't compete with him, or hunt with him or hunt compete with him or anything.

His main claim to fame is the ability to lick a dirty baby clean in under 10 seconds and one time he swam across Ipswich Bay from Wingaersheek Beach.

A sailboat tried to rescue him, as did two sea kayaks, but he was determined. His favorite tennis ball was at stake. With many seacraft and a few life preservers around him, he paddled and paddled until he had rescued that ball and then---and only then---did he return to shore.

That, my friends, exemplifies how stout of heart and body my dog is.

He also strongly adheres to his own code of ethics.

In other words, he is pretty resistant to training.

We went through doggie kndergarten twice, obgility twice, hired a private trainer once, and continue to read and attempt to follow the Dog Whisperer rules.

The main problem is us, not him, I think, and so the private trainer told us. He was the New England Dog Whsiperer, with advanced degrees in human and animal behavior. My husband is too lax, he told us, and to compensate, I am too strict.

(Funny how that is not limited to the dog...)

Regardless, clearly we are committed to having our dog Under Command.

This is crucial as a member of any dog club we've belonged to, or to enjoy any park or beach during Dog Hours.

Our current dog club handed out Rules!!! (their emphasis) recently.

The rules were handed out because once again we are in danger of losing our dog park hours and privileges (ability to be leashless under a leash law) due to some dog owners' abuses.

The rules are simple and clear, and in my opinion are such common sense things that they shouldn't even need to be said, but they were written out, laminated even:

If you wish to join us and enjoy the freedom, exercise and fun that we and our dogs experience at the park, you need to be aware of and follow the simple guidelines below so that the behavior of your dog does not jeopardize everyone else's ability to meet and have "puppy park" time:

Your dog must be under verbal control with a reliable recall ("come!"). This is like having a leash on your dog. If you don't have control without a leash, put a leash or shock collar on your dog.

Your dog CANNOT be allowed to go into people's backyards or approach people on the sidewalks or other areas of the park.

All poop must be picked up and either deposited in the one trash we have remaining or carried out.

Agressive or extremely boisterous (out of control) behavior is not allowed. If your dog has too much energy, exercise him/her before coming to the park Smaller, older, rehabiliting or timid dogs can be harmed by overly physical interaction with other dogs.

If your dog breaks something, injures another dog or human, or otherwise does damage, it is YOUR responsibility to pay for the damage.
Accidents do happen, and as a responsible dog owner, we expect that you will respond accordingly if there is any problem.

We have been using this park for a long time. We greatly appreciate your consistent assistance in continuing our ability to do so.

We seem to go through phases at the dog park. Someone gets a new dog or moves into town and wants to join up. We're always glad for new members. The trouble is people who let their dog be in charge, and then, when something adverse happens, they blame everyone and everything except the true culprit: their lack of control of their dog.

Here's a big fat newsflash: Dogs are animals. Many of them are large animals (like mine).

Even well-trained dogs have been known to "lose it."

Just like people.

When we are scared, hurt, stressed, worried, hungry, sick or hurting...we might very well act out in a way that is not the ideal (at best) and dangerous or injurious (at worst). You ever in a rush and yell at your kid? It's like that. However, a dog might snarl, growl, or snap. And that can be very dangerous.

One time, my dog (a vet labeled "excessive wagger" and "industrious swimmer") suffered a case of "broken tail." (It's not really broken, just like a really bad sprain.) He uses his tail frequently, and energetically, so every time he moved it, it hurt, considerably. He was cranky, edgy, intolerant. Not his usual self. We made adjustments. He got a lot of kennel time, and we kept the kids away from him.

Under-exercised dogs can appear "over-excited" or "aggressive."

In any of the less than ideal situations for the dog, even a sweet one, even a trained one can do something...harmful.

In general, our dog is extremely well-behaved. It takes a lot of effort on our part. We keep up his training, work on his exercise, and pay attention to his health, mood and life. We blow it sometimes...too busy for adequate exercise, too distracted to notice the kids are pushing him to his edge, and so forth.

But in general, we work hard, we stay on top of it, maintain our alpha position, and he's well-behaved. Energetic. Friendly. Curious. But well-behaved.

Other dogs are not only not well-behaved, but don't seem to be expected to. And this is when it gets really, really dangerous.

Especially in public, when the situation is not as "controlled" as at home.

Let me provide an example; flash back a few months ago to dog club at the dog park...

One new member's two dogs pulled him along the street and into the dog park. He couldn't even get them to sit and stay while he removed their leashes. It might have been funny to watch him attempt to greased-pig wrestle with his dogs, except we all knew what this meant: out of control dogs, with only a matter of when, not if, someone or something would get hurt.

In this case, it was my youngest.

On weekends she loved to go to the dog park and see and play with all the dogs. They'd drop balls at her feet and sit patiently, waiting for her to throw the ball all of the six inches she could manage. She'd clap her hands and giggle joyfully after she threw the ball and after the dog returned it to her.

Our dog would occasionally circle her protectively, reminding the other dogs that this was HIS baby, but for the regulars, he needn't have bothered.

Then the new dogs arrived.

One immediately rushed at my toddler's back, knocking her over, and before we could react, bit her neck. It was "playful" not aggressive, and she was more frightened than injured. Not that this mattered a bit.

My husband, a calm man who rarely displays anger, went ballistic.

If you can believe, the owner of the errant dog not only wasn't apologetic, but bickered back with my husband, stating that my husband shouldn't have brought his daughters to the dog park. He even privately took his story to other members of the dog club saying that my husband had "over-reacted" since it was just a "little shove and nip" and didn't everyone thing my husband ought to apologize.

Actually, no, they didn't. Out-of-control-dog owner was further stunned---and infuriated---to learn that most people preferred that he, and his untrained out of control dogs, not return to the park until the dogs could be under control.

After this, we had a rash of out of control dog issues, including one bitten adult and one injured older dog.

Hence the printed out dog park rules.

Once again, dogs are animals. They must be under control or they might injure someone.

Animals are a member of the family, and we have the same obligation to raise and care for them as we do any dependent. The need proper shelter, food, medical care, and of course, discipline (that is, constructive and positive discipline, not after-the-fact punitive or injurious with humans, dogs need to know what to do, not just what not to do).

They don't come out knowing how to behave. No animal does. Every one of us begins life as learning young.

Dogs don't know "leash on" means walk paced with the owner, and obey verbal commands. They don't come knowing sit means sit, stay means stay, wait means wait, lie means lie. They have to learn.

And this? This means someone has to teach them. And the owner needs to learn too.

(Boy, would I ever like some owners to learn that YES, if your dog pooped it is YOUR job to clean it up! My grass? Not your doggie's potty. CLEAN IT UP! The park? Not your doggie's potty. CLEAN IT UP! Street? Same rule! Sidewalk, even more strongly same rule! In fact, everywhere outside YOUR yard...SAME RULE! CLEAN IT UP!)

It appears some people think that having a dog begins and ends with simply providing food and shelter. These same people seem to think their dog's poor behavior is funny, "Dogs will be dogs!" They also appear to think that there isn't an "out of control" issue, any potential for harm, and that the responsibility resides with the dog for its behavior. They expect the dog to do what they ask, with no constructive roadmap (aka training) of how to accomplish that.

This amazes me...I know many of these people. Is this how they raise their children? "Feed them and give them a place to sleep and that's good enough!" I really don't think so.

So why, then, is this how we raise dogs?

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

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Added: My Family's Rules About Animals

1. Never approach a strange animal. Always ask a grown-up (your parent) and the animal's owner, first. Ask for the best way to approach. Never approach a strange animal who is not with a human.

2. Always use gentle hands, and watch/listen for the animal's cue about when he/she is tired of your attention.

3. Leave sick and injured animals alone, period.

4. Use your proper command words to tell the dog what to do, such as "sit" and follow training rules. Keep the dog under your control.

5. Clean up any mess you or your dog makes.

Probably more will occur to me, but that's the main gist.

Friday, January 19, 2007

MILF check, and seriously, you've NO IDEA how far 4 lbs of sugar will go

So...only down a little over a pound this week. I accept it. It's the Weight Watcher's target loss per week. I'm still progressing. More importantly, I'm down at least two sizes and am now comfortable rather than slightly tight in the smaller size. My wardrobe just doubled.

While we're on the subject of pounds, let's talk about exactly how far four pounds of sugar can stretch.

In point of fact, it can stretch throughout the breakfast nook and kitchen and all the way to the living room rug.

Yes, how coincidental...just the very week when I am yapping on and on about my creative kids, they out-creative me!

It's not really a coincidence. I am discussing all of this because they are having an extra creative week. I am trying really hard not to press "post!" on the eBay ad: Two kids, cheap, all accessories included.

Flash back...

Yesterday, I sat them down for a snack---the strawberries, if you must know, from the ill-fated jam-making attempt.

The phone rang. Gads, I hate when the phone rings. It means someone needs to talk to me. This is hard because this means, usually, that I want/need to talk to them...which requires focus, brain power and attention, but most importantly, it means my attention is diverted from the children.

In this case, we have one of two games that the children can be counted on to commence:

1. The "oh no freaking way you don't, you don't go put your attention elsewhere Mom...I bet in less than THREE MOVES I can have your attention right back here, on me, just like it ought to be" game


2. The "heh heh heh...she's not watching, what a great time to go do...(insert forbidden/naughty/science experiment/joke/curiosity activity here)" game

The trouble with games is...I am a terrible loser.

Yes, as a child, I learned to despise board games because I frequently lost (apparently having an utter lack of strategic skills coupled with abysmal attention span is a serious detriment to ability to win at board games) but worse than being a loser, I am a very sore loser.

Parenting is like chess, another game I am very bad at (see above confession about lack of attention and strategic skills). You have to keep planning your moves all while anticipating your opponent's (err, I mean kid's) moves. It's so easy, in chess, to have anticipated wrongly, and just when you think you've got it, your opponent cries, "Checkmate!" and you are stunned to see your king is trapped.

As in chess, once you get one move behind in parenting, your eminent loss is imminent.

I answered that phone call. I had to dart out of the kitchen to the office to check some information and to find a slightly quieter spot, because it happened to be a business call.

I thought, they're eating, that'll keep them occupied for a few minutes while I handle this call...

FLAG ON THE PLAY, RED FLAG! Queen is in danger!

Camera A, on Mom, in office: Mom is rifling through papers, looking for most recent print quote, shuffling emails, checking calendar, opening file...talking on phone

Camera B, on kids in kitchen, opening pan of Patience and Persistence, sitting nicely at small table, eating luscious red strawberries...zoom in on strawberries with ominous, foreboding music (use newly composed tune "Curse of the Strawberries)

Patience (begin sweetie-pie tone, slowly escalate to sharp bark): Persie, hey Persie, PERSISTENCE

(Persistence looks up)

Patience: You know what would make these strawberries taste, really, really even gooder?

Persistence: Stahwbewwies yum (pause) MINE! Mine stahwbewwies!

Patience (ignoring): SUGAR! That's what would make these strawberries even gooder than YUM!

Persistence: Sugar!

Patience: Do you know where there is some sugar, Persie?

Persistence: A-fwidge-a-wator.

Patience: Ohhhh, in the refrigerator...where Persie? Will you show me?

Persistence: Ohhhhhh...yes! SUGAR!

(Flash to Camera A, show clock, one minute has elapsed, zoom in on mom looking anxiously at clock and talking somewhat frantically on phone, trying to hang up)

(Flash back to Camera B, kids are walking to the refrigerator, open a drawer, pull out large bag of sugar...stumble a little under the weight of the bag, older one grasps it, gets a good hold on laugh...return to table)

Patience: We pour out a little sugar, and dip the strawberries!

Persistence: Stahwbewwies and sugah YUM!

Patience removes the clip sealing the sugar, and turns to pour. A huge amount dumps out, covering the table top.

Persistence: UH OH!

Patience: It's okay, Persie, we'll eat it ALL!

Girls commence dipping and eating. Persistence eyeballs bag of sugar...reaches out, tries to pick it up but it slips...zoom in slow motion on falling bag, catch resplendent splatter on floor with sugar crystals exploding across room...

Flash to camera mom, talking, smiling, looking at file on clock, two minutes elapsed

Flash back to camera B.

Show girls sliding, rolling, frolicking in sugar, licking it off the floor with their tongues.

Flash to camera A, mom is hanging up phone...follow mom walking back to kitchen.

Quick flash to camera B to capture mom's reaction when she sees the sugar all over the kitchen, zoom in on look of





End scene showing mom cleaning up kitchen.

There I am, one move behind.

Seriously, do you think I am utterly lacking in common sense and parenting skill? Am I a slow-learner? Does one need to supervise one’s children constantly…are my expectations that I can turn my back for a couple of minutes completely unreasonable considering their ages (5 and 2)? How do other moms do it? You ever leave the room, turn around, engage in another task? Do your kids do something *this creative* pretty much any time that you do?

What do you do? Let all the other tasks slide? Or invest in strait-jackets and restraint chairs for the moment when you need to do things such as run the trash out to the bin.

While I cleaned the kitchen, Patience decided it was time for Persistence to go to the potty.

"Mama, I think Persie needs to go potty," she announced to me, as I pulled the kid's table out of the way in order to vacuum up at least two pounds of sugar collected beneath it.

"Pers, you need to go potty?" I asked. She slid her eyes to her sister and then nodded. "Okay, let me turn this off..." I said, reaching for the vacuum switch.

"It's okay Mama," Patience said, "I can take her!"

Well...there was all this sugar, it was spreading farther and wider, I wasn't sure how much longer I could fend off the animals...and she has helped Persistence with potty time I said okay.

And, therein, my friends, made my king vulnerable.

I did finish cleaning up the bathroom somewhere around ten o'clock. You'd never guess how hard it is to scrub dried poop off a partially-stripped wall and wooden stepping stool.


copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

"However do you stay SANE?" is a legitimate question when it comes to parenting

Danvers State Insane Asylum. My old stomping grounds. Danvers, that is, not the asylum.

Boogiemum's comment in my last post got me thinking. "I think I could write an entire blog on instances, like the one you mentioned, on things that my 3 kids have done," she wrote in response to my confessions of adventures in parenting my creative kids.

In fact, come to think of it, to a large degree, I have.

More to the point, I love doing it.

First, it records adventures my kids and I have at this time in our lives. Second, it helps me find a healthier (read: more humorous) take on the situation. Third, and most importantly to me, it is empathetic fodder.

Oh how I love to hear from the other parents who have been there, done that and lived to tell about it.

My husband and I were talking about the kids last night, and it struck me how fortunate I am to have so many outlets for connecting with other unbelievably valuable that is for me. I love my real world friends for it, and I love the Internet for it too.

The Internet is an awesome medium. Support boards saved me during my infertility crises. The people there were a price above rubies. Blogs---much the same and much different---are fantastic ways for me to feel both validated in my experiences and stretched in ways I haven't had experience.

In the end, though, parenting is (by and far) the biggest, hardest, most challenging, and of course, most wonderful, experience. Since it is the biggest thing I've ever experienced, commiserating with other parents---either by writing my own adventures, or reading about others, as well as chatting it up with friends---is probably exactly how I stay sane.

The question of sanity came about half a year ago, when I put up my post about my daughters and their fun with jokes and science experiments. That post won me a Perfect Post nod (thanks Jozet! Who happens to be one of those people who has contributed greatly to my ongoing sanity by reminding me to find my sense of humor about it all) and two questions from "lildb" of I obsess, a blog that I have bookmarked and love to check in on regularly:

two things; the first being, how do you stay sane? I'm not necessarily angling for an honest answer on that. the second thing: how will I manage when I'm in a similar predicament? again, no answer necessary, as I'm already screwed in the sanity dept

It's taken me a while to answer...but now I shall. I stay sane by remaining in good company. And I am in very good company, indeed.

The Beatles were on to something when they sang about getting by with a little help from my friends, and Hilary wasn't too far off when she said it took a village.

Is this the key for everyone? Perhaps not. But it is for me.

I have a lot of introvert in me and have been known to turtle. I also am an INTJ sort so have been known to overanalyze to death. Sometimes I feel like a balloon loosed from a little hand, floating powerless, to who knows where.

My network of friends can be a bigger hand that reaches up to grasp the errant string, and pull my loosed balloon mind back to earth.

They are great for this when I feel extra challenged, which is frequently. And it ends up being a pay it forward situation. I discovered this again, last night, out with my mom friends.

A new friend happened to hear me mention (for who knows what reason) my experience with Patience and her past battles with consistent constipation, potty issues from it, and a long dependence on Miralax which we ultimately broke. My experience with this is behind me, and her experience with it is just beginning. As we talked---she telling her tale and me, mine, providng as much support and reassurance as I could---I saw in her face the relief of, "Oh thank goodness...someone who understands, has been there, done that and lived to tell about it," that I have felt so frequently.

You find that it's not crazy, I'm not crazy, my kid isn't crazy...and you somehow are once again cosseted in the comforting familiarity of sanity, and confidence in, "We can get through this, too," and "This too shall pass."

I have ample opportunity to reach out, lots of story fodder, thanks to my children, who are often described as "very creative" and "full of lots of character" and "big personalities" which I understand are often euphemisms, but I have decided we ought to take these things on and own them!

Here's a quick recap of some of our adventures, which I have blogged about here:

The challenges aka Potential Lowlights

What scares me? Jokes and science experiments... in which my children play with a Barbie, creatively, and reveal that their idea of "funny" and mine do not at all coincide

In which I ask my childrenThe Dumbest Question in the World, Bar None, Hands Down, Ever, "What in the WORLD were you THINKING?"

When the husband and kids are home alone, in which my husband is left to his own devices, and must get the children ready and to school by himself, Persistence is arrested by the SPCA, and I am regarded oddly as I mutter to myself over and over, out loud, in public, healthy curiosity, not a sign of future sociopathy

Potty Experiment #2, in which my toilet obsessed children have more fun with potties, except this time, it's someone else's

Call Sherlock! The Great Powder Caper, Part Onze, in which my children decide a fun way to spend the end of the summer is by playing a very naughty version of Blue's Clues

No joke...another science experiment aka Glowing Mommy Moment #5382 aka Grills Gone Bad, the title says it all

I hate candy, or I Once Again leave My Husband and Children to their own Devices, in which I renew my vow to ban both spousal free will and candy from the house forever

In which I admit to an utter loss of sanity and discover the bribery of Twizzlers

The Rewards aka Potential Highlights

Poetry in motion in which I compose (she says, extremely humbly) an ode (which immediately undermines the aforementioned humility) to my daughter's dancing

Heaven, she said in which I display some of Patience's amazing thought processes that leave me gaping, in the dust

My daughter's haiku, in which I revel in the beauty of my children, and they revel in the beauty of the world around them

Confessions of a loving mommy...who doesn't love a sleeping child?

Pretty little death machine, in which Patience once again wows me with her amazingly complex concepts

Mine!, in which Persistence displays how one word carries a wealth of meaning

In which Patience plays a game of Miss Muffett

Persistence at eight months old

Persistence walking

What are your big sanity savers? However do you stay sane?

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The naked truth: This is why my friends always invite me back

You wish you had a friend like mine, or maybe you do. She goes to the local farm every week and walks around thinking things like, "Wow, the strawberries look great, what a good price, too! I bet Julie would sure like some!"

Then, magically, with no effort, you have awesome fresh produce, lots of it organic, for better quality and price than in the grocery stores.

Even better, when you drop by to pick up said produce, apologetically late in the day, she invites you to stay for dinner, which includes grilled salmon with ginger, soy and Japanese bread crumb crust and crunchy noodle salad. Not only delicious, but Weight Watcher friendly. And loads better than the left over gumbo you were going to eat...again.

So this is us on Sunday.

As I took my quart of gorgeous looking strawberries and other assorted yummy produce, all the while effusively thanking her (again) and trying to do things like wash the dinner dishes to make myself worthy...I asked what she was doing with the two other flats full of strawberries.

"Well, in advance of the ice storm coming," we both laughed heartily at this idea,, where the average winter temp hovers around 70, "They cleaned out their fields so produce was plentiful, fresh and cheap. I got the strawberries to can into jam."

Fresh canned strawberry jam? Yum! Fun!

"Oh wow!" I exclaimed, impressed. Not enough she cans pickles and other vegetables, but she also makes jam! "Hey, the kids would love that, if you want any help, call us over when you're ready to make jam, and we'll help. Well I will, they'll add kid help."

She said sure, and so yesterday----a school holiday and day of climbing the wall stuck in the house willies---she calls and says, "Come on over, let's make jam!"

The kids had been torturing me with their new favorite game: Test Boundaries Until Mom Blows Her Top Because It Sure is Fun to See Steam Come Out Her Ears (TM) (not available in stores, by special erratic order only).

So you can imagine my joy at the thought of Getting the Hell Outta Dodge aka the house.

The kids were all very excited about making strawberry jam. "It sounds like fun," they exclaimed, "We love strawberry jam," they yelled, making it into a song, "We love jam, we love making jam, we love strawberry jam, going to make strawberry jam!" The apple, or berry in this case, doesn't fall far from this singing tree.

Except, it is actually work. There's a lot of chopping and washing and squishing and boiling.

So they lost interest.

They began torturing the baby with too much love, so I intervened and told them to go upstairs and play in the playroom. I swooped in, rescued the overstimulated and now crying baby, and fed him a bottle while my friend caried on with the jam-making.

The children obeyed---with alacrity no less---my request that they go upstairs to play.

This should have been a red flag.

It was not.

Instead, I was pathetically grateful after a hard day already of bartering and threatening to have cooperation with no argument.

I plead battle-fatigue. I plead PTSD.

Here comes the fun part, the part wherein my children show how grateful we are to be invited to our friend's house and get to take part in the jam-making...and the reason why we are just always so welcome in people's homes.

My friend had so many strawberries that once she added in the ingredients, she found herself in a pickle (no pun intended) for space.

"I'm calling across the street to run get a bigger pot since all my big pots are in use," she told me, "Are you okay to watch the kids by yourself for a couple of minutes?"

"No problem," I said to her, feeling confident.

Again, this should have been a red flag. It was not.

"He's almost finished with his bottle," I said, admiring how efficiently a just-past-newborn can suck, and how cute his little cheeks and chin looked working, "I think he's I'll let him finish and then put him down to nap."

"Sounds great," she said, whisking out the door to run across the street.

After the baby finished his bottle, I set it down on the table, and moved to sit in the living room to soothe him into a sleepy state. A few minutes passed. Then a few minutes more.

Persistence was none too glad to see her mom involved with another baby. She decided to regain my attention by kicking the dog.

I tried to verbally stop her, to no avail. My attention only encouraged her.

Every time I spoke, the baby opened his eyes. I wished I could hop up and handle the situation face-to-face with Persistence, but I hesitated to disturb the baby. Luckily, just then, my friend returned.

"Everything okay?" she asked.

"Well...can you put Persistence in the time out chair for kicking the dog?" We both turned irritated eyes to Persistence, who was giggling as her foot reached out once more towards the dog. Just a stage, I reassured myself, not a sign of future sociopathy.

I added, "Other than that, all seems fine. The girls are in the can hear them thumping like a herd of elephants now," she and I laughed, "And the baby is just about asleep."

My friend picked up Persistence and said, "You are going into time out for kicking. We use NICE feet to walk, not kick." She placed her in the chair, turned back to me and said, "Sorry it took so know how chatty she can get!"

"Sure," I said.

"Okay...I'm just going to mix up the rest of the strawberries and get them cooking."

After another minute, I decided it was calm enough upstairs and the baby was asleep enough that I could go put him in his crib.

As I climbed the stairs, it occured to me that it was too quiet, and the kids' voices were too muffled. Oh no, I thought, they've gone into the office, my friend will not be happy about that.

I carefully laid the baby in the crib, then covered him with a quilt. I made sure he was fine, closed the door quietly, and adjusted from "calm gentle mom who can put babies to sleep" to "you've incurred the wrath of the mean mom now."

I opened the office door. This, this horror, I did not expect.

My friend's office was trashed.

This ain't no paint party, pals. That's what we call an unsanctioned art project.

Her middle daughter was sitting in a puddle of paint pooled on the white carpet, with scissors in her hand, and hair all around her.

Patience was nowhere to be seen, but I heard her and my friend's youngest daughter giggling. Under the desk, I thought.

"Patience," I said, trying to hide my anger from my voice, "Patience, you have until TWO to come out."

Patience and her friend emerged from under the desk. I gasped. They were naked, and each held a container of dot paint, which they had apparently---in a sort of strange homage to a Celtic battle tradition I guess---been painting on themselves and each other.

The other child took my moment of distraction to attempt an escape.

"WHAT THE OH MY WHAT WERE YOU HOW THE," I gasped and struggled for words, completely past coherence, "Okay, you two," I said, pointing to the Celtic Warriors, "In the tub, pronto." I snagged the Escapee, "You, pick up the dot paint and put it away."

I called my friend, with trepidation, "Ummm, I think you need to come up. There's a little situation in the office."

When she walked in, her face reflected the horror and exhaustion I think my own face held.

My friend's carpet? Ruined.

The mess? Cleaned up.

The children? Still alive.

My husband and I decided to punish them all night with our absolute and full attention, which apparently they are screaming for, although I think now they have decided to be careful what they wish for.

Oh, yeah and Persistence? For once her survival instincts kicked in. She heard the commotion upstairs, smelt Mom Anger, and sat, still and silent, the entire time, in the time out chair. And never uttered a word of complaint when I finally remembered her and set her free. She just gave me a hug, patted my cheeks and said, "Mama otay?"

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert, aka
My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Baroness Maven the Erudite of Hopton Goosnargh
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Monday, January 15, 2007

A post not about Martin Luther King, Jr. on the occasion of his birthday (observed)

I have tremendous respect for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

He made many speeches that are noteworthy and repeat-worthy, which are often ignored in favor of his most-popular "I have a dream" speech. This barely rankles me because that speech still chokes me up.

The other thing that still chokes me up is the "This American Life" story where the dad explained to his young child why we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. His ideas scared many people, because they were based on love and tolerance, rather than hatred and oppression, the dad explained, and so some people got too scared and killed we celebrate his life, and try to live by the principles he preached. Kind of like...Jesus, the child said. The dad---and I---marveled at such a complex understanding and observation from such a young chld, stated is so few words.

As MLK Day approaches, I get excited and look forward to it. I look forward to celebrating the fact that we are reaching, many of us, towards tolerance and acceptance. I take this day to celebrate the advances, rather than worrying about all the ways we still need to improve.

But then, last week, I was listening to Pacifica radio and the radio host said, "I'm so sick of the only appreciated African American hero being Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I respect him, and his speech, but if I have to hear it one more time...Me? I'm black all day every day, as is every other black man out there." He laughed, to soften it, and I understood this wasn't a statement against Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, or the celebration of his life, but a statement for every other African American hero out there.

There are many. More than you hear about, or that you studied in your history class.

Check out this site that tells you about them: Real African American Heroes.

Real African American Heroes is a website dedicated to all African Americans who over the years have made a difference. This site will focus on leaders and positive role models who sometimes do not get all of the recognition that they deserve.

We hope to highlight individuals from all walks of life whose work should help others to remember that it is possible to make a difference.

The site tells you about every African American astronaut, military and medal of honor heroes, and other leaders. It is men and women alike.

I took the host's point to heart and considered it. I did a little research and that's how I found the above site. There really are only token heroes studied time and again, and so many other people who contributed tremendously get little to no recognition.

I decided to focus on an African American woman who made her mark in politics: Barbara Jordan.

© Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. This image is in the public domain and may be used free of charge without permission or fees.

I knew a little of her, and was fascinated to learn more.

Barbara Jordan was born and raised in Houston's Fifth Ward (a predominantly black and poor---often considered segregated---community) in 1936. Her father, Benjamin, a Baptist minister, and her mother, Arlyne, clearly raised their daughter to be strong, and ambitious.

Jordan attended an all black high school (Wheatley) and college (Texas Southern University). Upon graduating, she decided to pursue law and moved to Boston for law school. During her time there, she began to understand how restrictive and unequal "separate but equal" is, and how it prevented her from receiving the same quality of education her white peers had received.

Many say this was her galvanizing realization, but I believe this woman was motivated from the beginning.

Saying she attended high school and college, and then went on to law school might seem like nothing to us today.

However, here are two points to ponder:

* Jordan graduated magna cum laude from Texas Southern University in 1956

In 1956, all women total accounted for barely 30% of college enrollments. I can't distinguish race within that figure, but I imagine that black women were an even smaller percentage.

* Jordan graduated Boston University Law School in 1959. She passed the Bar Exams in Massachusetts and Texas before returning to Houston to open a law practice.

At the time, this was the prevailing sentiment regarding black lawyers:

At bottom, American ideology presumed that coloredness caused debilitation, requiring that superior whites should act for colored persons since they were incapable of acting in their own best interests. Presumed racial supremacy explains why blacks were enslaved, why Native Americans were removed, why Mexicans lost the Southwest, and why Chinese and Japanese persons were declared ineligible for naturalization. Even some whites have not been white enough to receive the privileges of whiteness until they abandoned their ethnic customs and embraced white supremacy.[5] Black and other colored lawyers lived under this shadow of presumed incompetence, while seeking to dismantle America’s discriminatory legacy. Thus, any racial progress at all is remarkable given the tremendous obstacles to it.

Note: This article also mentions some black legal pioneers in Alabama and is very interesting reading.

Source: Making Bricks Without Straw: The NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Development of Civil Rights Law in Alabama 1940-1980, UNiversity of Alabama Law Review, by U.W. Clemon and Bryan K. Fair

Jordan clearly had to overcome prejudice about both her gender and her race. It was a struggle. Some attribute this to the "tough shell" exterior she was reputed to have, and used it to explain what many felt was a "stubborn and sarcastic" personality.

After law school, she returned to Houston, found law to somehow not fulfill her, so turned her attention to politics. She first got on the political train in 1960 when she actively worked on the Kennedy-Johnson campaign.

She decided to try her own hand at campaigning and in 1962 and 1964, she ran (unsuccessfully) for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives.

In 1966, she won. She was elected to the Texas Senate.

Today, a woman elected to a state seat might not turn heads. But consider this:

In 1966, when she took office, she was the first African American state senator since 1883 and the first black woman to serve in that body.

It makes it a tremendous accomplishment. And her career flourished from there, until she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Here's a quick highlight of her accomplishments, from wikipedia:

1968-1972: Reelected to a full term in the Texas Senate, she was the first African-American female to serve as president pro tem of the state senate.

1972: Jordan served for one day as acting governor of Texas.

1972: Jordan was elected to the United States House of Representatives. She was the first black woman from a Southern state to serve in the House. Fellow Texan President Lyndon Johnson, supported her, and secured her a position on the House Judiciary Committee.

1973: Jordan was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis

1974: Jordan's landmark, famous speech that interpreted the Constituition. Broadcast on television, her speech to the House Judiciary Committee was considered the impetus for the resignation of Richard Nixon.

Her legislative accomplishments include the renewal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (including expansion of that act to cover language minorities.

1976: Jordan presented the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention, considered by many historians to have been the best convention keynote speech in modern history.

1977: Jordan sponsored the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, legislation that required banks to lend and make services available to underserved poor and minority communities.

1979: Jordan retired from politics to become a professor at the University of Texas at Austin Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.

1992: Jordan again presented the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention .

1994: Jordan was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994. It was only one of many honors given her, including election into both the Texas and National Women's Hall of Fame.

1995: Jordan chaired a congressional commission that advocated increased restriction of immigration and increased penalties on employers that violated US immigration regulations.

She was awarded the prestigious United States Military Academy's Sylvanus Thayer Award, becoming only the second female awardee.

1996: Jordan passed away.

January 19, 1996, Jordan lay in state at the LBJ Library on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin. She was buried in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin, and was the first black woman interred there. Her papers are housed at the Barbara Jordan Archives at Texas Southern University.

Barbara Jordan had many admirers. In the KUT radio documentary Rediscovering Barbara Jordan, former president Bill Clinton stated that he wanted to nominate Jordan for the United States Supreme Court, but by the time he could do so, Jordan's health problems prevented him from nominating her.

And Eugene Holley Jr. said, "If we understand her lessons, then we will know that the making of an American hero is a rare--and wondrous--event."

Following are some of Barbara Jordan's famous quotes---and some of her lessons to us. Let's see if we can take Holley's and Jordan's words to heart.

• The American dream is not dead. It is gasping for breath, but it is not dead.

• I never intended to become a run-of-the-mill person.

• A spirit of harmony can only survive if each of us remembers, when bitterness and self-interest seem to prevail, that we share a common destiny.

• One thing is clear to me: We, as human beings, must be willing to accept people who are different from ourselves.

• If you're going to play the game properly you'd better know every rule.

• If you are politically inclined, you may be President of the United States. All my growth and development led me to believe that if you really do the right thing, and if you play by the rules, and if you’ve got good enough, solid judgment and common sense, that you’re going to be able to do whatever you want to do with your life.

• "We the people" -- it is a very eloquent beginning. But when the Constitution of the United States was completed on the seventeenth of September in 1787, I was not included in that "We the people." I felt for many years that somehow George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment, interpretation, and court decision, I have finally been included in "We the People."

• We cannot improve on the system of government handed down to us by the founders of the Republic, but we can find new ways to implement that system and realize our destiny. (from her 1976 speech at the Democratic National Convention

• Just remember the world is not a playground but a schoolroom. Life is not a holiday but an education. One eternal lesson for us all: to teach us how better we should love.

• We want to be in control of our lives. Whether we are jungle fighters, craftsmen, company men, gamesmen, we want to be in control. And when the government erodes that control, we are not comfortable.

• If the society today allows wrongs to go unchallenged, the impression is created that those wrongs have the approval of the majority.

• The imperative is to define what is right and do it.

• What the people want is very simple. They want an America as good as its promise.

• Justice of right is always to take precedence over might.

• I live a day at a time. Each day I look for a kernel of excitement. In the morning, I say: "What is my exciting thing for today?" Then, I do the day. Don't ask me about tomorrow.

• I believe that women have a capacity for understanding and compassion which a man structurally does not have, does not have it because he cannot have it. He's just incapable of it.

• My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total. I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.

• The majority of the American people still believe that every single individual in this country is entitled to just as much respect, just as much dignity, as every other individual.

• How do we create a harmonious society out of so many kinds of people? The key is tolerance -- the one value that is indispensable in creating community.

• Do not call for black power or green power. Call for brain power.

• If I have anything special that makes me "influential" I simply don't know how to define it. If I knew the ingredients I would bottle them, package them and sell them, because I want everyone to be able to work together in a spirit of cooperation and compromise and accommodation without, you know, any caving in or anyone being woefully violated personally or in terms of his principles.

• On why she retired from Congress in 1976: I felt more of a responsibility to the country as a whole, as contrasted with the duty of representing the half-million people in the Eighteenth Congressional District. I felt some necessity to address national issues. I thought that my role now was to be one of the voices in the country defining where we were, where we were going, what the policies were that were being pursued, and where the holes in those policies were. I felt that I was more in an instructive role than a legislative role.


Which of these strikes you? Which motivates or validates you?

For me, I identify with many, including the one about not being a run-of-the-mill person, and needing to seize every opportunity to learn from life, rather than take a holiday. I also disagree with a few. I think men can have the capacity for caring that women have.

At heart, the one that most struck me, probably because of the day is:

"One thing is clear to me: We, as human beings, must be willing to accept people who are different from ourselves."

I also have to emphasize:

• The majority of the American people still believe that every single individual in this country is entitled to just as much respect, just as much dignity, as every other individual.

• How do we create a harmonious society out of so many kinds of people? The key is tolerance -- the one value that is indispensable in creating community.

• Do not call for black power or green power. Call for brain power.

For more Information about Barbara Jordan:

Barbara Jordan: American Hero by Mary Beth Rogers (a colleague of Jordan's at the LBJ School of Public Affairs)

This is a news article, created Wednesday, February 08, 2006 (341 days ago).
Alta Keynote Images. Austin, TX. The following is a transcript of KUT’s radio documentary, “Rediscovering Barbara Jordan,” which originally aired in February, 2006.

Barbara Jordan A short biography on

Barbara Jordan at LBJ School of Public Affairs

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

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