Thank you for dropping by!

I truly appreciate that you've decided to share part of your day in my world. I hope your time has been well spent and I've made you smile, laugh or think.





Saturday, April 30, 2011

My Friends

I am one lucky woman.

For some reason, I have been very blessed and fortunate to be surrounded by a group of amazing people in my life. 

Starting in high school, for whatever reason, incredible people started to play roles in my life.  People who make a difference.  People who overcame odds.  People who take adversity and turn it into a privilege.  People who change the world.  People who, by doing so themselves, make me try to set the bar a little higher.

Some people I am exceptionally close with and others have been more acquaintances who probably aren't aware of their impact on me.

I have friends who have set up scholarship foundations for children they have lost, organizations  that provide assistance for families of children of diseases their children have conquered, left cushy lives to provide bikes to farmers in Africa, established global organizations for teens to promote world peace and understanding, run marathons even when they found out their cancer returned-- I could go on. 

They travel, they dance, they laugh too loud, they read too much, they think.

They are thoughtful, they are conscientious, they are kind.

They love art, they love music, they love sports, they love politics, they love competition.

They love life.

They make every day of my life of a little bit better.  They are a part of me.

So if I call you my friend, know that you are part of pretty impressive circle of people. 

And know, most of all, that I am grateful to have you be a part of my life.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Reduction Deduction

Warning- you are entering the Zone of Too Much Information

One day, when I was 12 years old, I awoke to find a set of knockers upon my chest. 

Now, for most girls, this would be a fabulous day.

For me, alas, it was not.

You see, I was a tomboy of sorts.  I liked sports.  I liked tap dancing.  These are both things that become more difficult with a big set of boobs.

I remember sitting in the back of the bus with my 2 closest friends since first grade, Ed and David, when they both said, in unison, "Wow, you've got boobs."  We had hit a speed bump.

Thanks guys.

Later that year, in 7th grade, was the first time my back went out.  I was doing a lay up in gym class.  Ouch.  I became a more cautious and much less useful basketball player.  Welcome to the B team.  Sigh.

Tap dancing was the next to go.

I hid them well throughout most of high school.  Even into college.  Occasionally, a few people would notice.  They usually were PWP's- People With Penises.  Once they noticed, it became difficult for them not to stare.  Sigh.

My boyfriend at my lovely Ivy League alma mater even commented "Wow, you could be a stripper!"  Thanks. 

Don't get me wrong, I have used them to my advantage from time to time.  When I worked in a bar, I used the $10 button rule- for every button lower on my blouse, I ended the night with an extra $10-$20.  Also, leaning in, after I served a drink usually resulted in more than "Keep the change, kid."  They paid for college in some ways we could say.

But the back issues continued.  I did yoga.  I ate macrobiotic to reduce inflammation.  I stretched religiously every morning.

When I entered the professional world, I always dressed somewhat dowdy.  It just made life easier.  One time I wore a turtleneck while I taught a class. Under a jacket.  I got hot.  I took off my jacket. Bad idea. Hellooooo... I'm up here!!!  My female boss very politely commented that I wear something else the next time I taught.  You know, something less sexy THAN A TURTLENECK.

Then I had a car accident.  My back was hurt, but the orthopedist pointed out, at age 26, that most of the damage was pre-existing from my "large chest.  Not that I don't appreciate them."  He actually said that in a much less creepy way than that sounds...

Sigh.

I worked out.  I went to physical therapy.  I dealt with it.

Into my 30's I had kids.  At no point during my pregnancy was my stomach ever bigger than my boobs.  No cute baby bump for me.  And forget finding cute maternity clothes.  I went with the "Whatever I Can Get Over My Chest" clothing line.  Nursing was a bit of a challenge, but the girls served their purpose.  They were a little sadder and lower when I was done.  The good news, the shifting put pressure on a completely different part of my back- great!  It was also convenient when I had my daughter- I didn't need a Boppy Pillow!  My friend used to joke that she had 34 Longs. I completely understand that now.

And my back kept hurting.  And exercise became more difficult, not only to fit in, but to actually do.

I went to a chiropractor.  It worked pretty well.  For awhile.  I am an advocate.

Then my disc slipped.

And my shoulders have dents that I can probably rest pencils in from bra straps working diligently over the past 30 years.  They have been trying to do the impossible.

I tried to get insurance to cover the obvious need for a reduction, but they won't.  I have no "history" of back pain.  Huh? 

I'm too fat.  I like to say I grew into my boobs.  They are the same size they were 50 pounds ago.

But yes, you see, if I exercise my back goes out.  For 10 years every time I have started an exercise program-- even supvervised- my back eventually goes.

Well, I should lose weight.

So I did.

But not enough.

So I lost some more.

Still not enough. 

So I asked- "How much is enough?"

Well, there's not set figure.

WTF?

So I decided, oddly on the day of Elizabeth Taylor's death- another well endowed woman with back pain- that this is it.  The girls have served their purpose and now it's time for a little medical intervention, insurance be damned.

Oddly, I feel guilty.  I know enough women that have survived breast cancer that I feel guilty about having mine reduced. 

I also feel guilty spending money that could be used for something more important on something that my mid-western mind is having a hard time as seeing as important.

But I just can't take it anymore.

It is not my fault that I have big boobs any more than it's my fault that my nose is not particularly cute.  Oddly, I could easily have that fixed due to a deviated septum.  The amount of money that will be spent on "fixing" my back is probably substantially more than the cost of a reduction.  If I had had implants, they would pay to have those removed.  I guess my natural "implants" (aka boobs) don't count.
But I guess that's how insurance companies roll these days.
And there is the fact that I would like to be able to buy a shirt in a normal size- not three sizes bigger so I can button it.  I would like to be able to run. I would like to be able to workout for more than a month. Heck,  I would like to be able to sit upright for crying out loud.

Everyone I know who has had a reduction has said it's the best thing since seamless underwire.  I'm in.

Please note, I'm not anti-boob by any means.  I support boobs.  I just can't support mine any more.

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You may now return to your regular programming.  And please note, that if I catch you staring at my chest the next time I see you, I will slap you silly.  Thank you.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Finding the perfect card

Twice a year, I face a huge dilemma- finding a card for mother-in-law for her birthday and for Mother's day.  They don't make them.

Well, they SORTA do... there is usually 1 generic, "I'm married to your son and I tolerate you barely" card. 

The dilemma...

I like my mother-in-law.  A lot.

I have the best one ever.

My life as I  know it would not be possible without her.

No joke.

She and my husband are very close.  As a single woman this concerned me when I started dating her son, but now I get it.  She's really fun and cool.  As I like to say, if we were in high school, we'd be BFF's.  Who am I kidding- she'd be too cool for me!

In our wedding card, she gave us a condom with holes punched into it.  The story of how she managed to even buy a condom is even funnier.

When I found out I was pregnant, she immediately decided to retire.  Coincidence? I think not.

At her retirement party, I got more dirty looks than you could have imagined.  Who gives dirty looks to a pregnant woman?  She was that good, they didn't want her to leave.  They blamed me.

During our first year of marriage, she and I became close.  We used to go for walks and grocery shop together.  Once I started crapping out kids, we became closer-- although I do joke that she dumped me once she had a baby to hold.  I joke that I was simply a vessel for her grandchildren!  At least I think that's a joke...

When I was pregnant she carted me around to doctor's appointments.  She is a crier, I am not, so it was always fun to tease her when she sobbed when she saw the ultrasound.  She also laughed when we found out the sex of our son-- I brought doughnut sticks to her office.  Had he been a girl, it would have been a traditional round doughnut.  She thought that was hysterical.

After I had my son via an emergency c-section, she nursed me back to health.  She cleaned our house, did the laundry-- all allowing me to recover from the surgery and focus on being a new mom.

She has watched my children for FREE for the past 8 1/2 years while we worked. We tried to be very conscientious of her time- I worked a few days from home for a number of years- but I know we  took advantage.  We picked up the kids late more than a few times, assumed she'd be available when she probably had better things to do- oh, but she's not shy.  She usually let us know!  But in the end, she always has been there when we've needed her- and I mean always.  The kids would not have had the quality of life they've had and I don't know that my career would have been able to survive.

She is a phenomenal grandmother.  She lets the kids play in the mud, draw all day, take over her garage to build models- she has more toys at her house than we have at ours.  My children's creativity comes directly from my mother-in-law's free spirit.  Yes, I was a little concerned when I realized my 2 year old knew how to use a saw.... sigh.  But at least he did do it safely.  And on more than one occasion, I've thought the kids were telling me a tall tale about something they did with grandma, only to find out that yes, they did buy caterpillars/try to dig to China/send letters to various family members.

She once commented that she appreciated that I never told her what to do.  I told her it was because I actually didn't have a clue what to do and the kids seemed to be doing fine.  It's really because I trust her implicitly.  Her love for my children is beyond measure.  She lights up when she sees them. 

And did I mention that she's fun?  She has an infectious laugh, a great sense of humor and can laugh at herself. 

And she treats me like an equal.  Rather than tell me how things are, she always asks my opinion.  Well, most of the time.  She IS a red head, after all.  Plus, to be honest, it's not like you have to ASK me for an opinion...  But she always asks me questions about cooking, or politics, or sewing or all these other things that most women "of her age" assume they do better or know everything about.  And she never makes me feel like an idiot when I ask her a question. 

We have so many funny stories together that I could never have enough time to write them all down.  They often start with her terrible sense of direction.  But she has stories with everyone.  She's just that cool. 

On a serious note, this last year she helped her late husband's ex-wife, her stepson's mother, battle terminal cancer.  She drove her to doctor and chemo appointments.  She talked with her when she needed a friend.  How many second wives do that?  No one that I know.  But she did it.  Her reason: "It's the right thing to do."  Wow.

I can never find a card that sums it up.  I usually just get her some sarcastic, perverted card.  This year's is a classic, if I don't say so myself...

She recently had a big change in her life that I won't blog about.  It's pretty terrific and I'm very happy for her.  She deserves it.

So, Mrs. Bean, happy birthday!  If I haven't had a chance to say it, I love you very much.  I appreciate everything you have done for us.  I'm happy to call you not just my mother-in-law, but my very best friend.

In other words, to answer the question you always ask, yes, I will definitely wipe your ass when you're old. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Just some recipes...

Seriously, that's all I have.  I'm the committee chair for our local alumni admissions, so we're welcoming kids that were recently accepted- way fun.  My position is impacted by the tax season- way unfun.  It's a busy time of year for Mama Bean!

Easy Breezy I'm Too Cheap to Throw Out Aging Produce Applesauce
  • Core and cut up apples (I put in whatever is squishy- sometimes I have 4 apples, other times 8.  I use the corer/slicer thingy)- don't peel.
  • Put them in a slow cooker.
  • Add about 1/4 cup water.
  • Sprinkle with cinnamon to taste.  I like the fresh ground Saigon- naturally sweet.
  • Put on low and let cook all day.
  • Mush with a spoon.
  • Serve hot or cold.
  • I also throw in berries and pears that have seen better days.
Told you it was easy.  Seriously.  That's all I do.  The smaller you cut the apples, the faster it cooks.  I get compliments on this all the time and no one EVER believes me that I do nothing.  I like it over the canned stuff- no sugar, more fiber.  BONUS- it makes your house smell fabulous.

Phenomenal Flank Steak
  • Marinate a 1-1.5 lb flank steak in about 1 1/2 cups low sodium soy sauce, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tablespoon Chinese 5 spice, and about 1 tsp fresh ground pepper.  I usually marinate it about 2 days in the refrigerator.  I will flip it to make sure it doesn't dry out.
  • Let the steak come to room temperature (in the marinade).
  • Set the grill to high heat, then lower to medium.
  • Grill for 4-6 minutes on each side for medium rare (thinner cuts 4 minutes, thicker cuts 6 minutes).
It usually feeds all four of us with enough leftovers for salads.  The flavor is great, so you don't need a large portion.

Basic High Fiber Muffin Recipe
  • Mix in a large bowl- 1 cup whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup white flour, 1/2 cup oat bran OR 1/4 wheat germ, 2 tsp baking powder, 2 tsp baking soda, a dash of salt.
  • In a small mixing bowl, mix together 3 mashed ripe bananas, 2 tsp vanilla, 2 beaten eggs, 1/3 cup skim milk, 1/3 cup canola oil, 1/2 cup brown sugar.
  • Dump the wet ingredients into the dry. 
  • Pour into lined, sprayed with cooking spray muffin pan.
  • Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes (17 in a convection oven)
Makes 12.

Variations
  • Add 1 cup chocolate chips or butterscotch chips
  • Add 1/2 cup low fat peanut butter and reduce the canola oil to 1/4 cup.  I also throw in chips.
  • Add dried cherries and chocolate chips
  • Add 1 cup applesauce and reduce bananas to 2 and canola oil to 1/4 cup, 1 tablespoon cinnamon, 1-2 diced apples.
  • Add 2 tablespoons cocoa to the dry ingredients, change the vanilla to almond, through in the chocolate chips, about 1/2 cup of coconut and they taste like Almond Joys.

As you can see, I've done a few variations- I've used dried mangoes, raisins, craisins, etc.  It's pretty much unlimited.  I almost always add some sort of chip- white chocolate, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, peanut butter, butterscotch-- just a cup goes a long way.

These are fairly high in fiber so don't eat more than 1 (I'm not joking)!  Also, they don't keep much past 3 days- so share.  I think they make great mini muffins.

I use this to get rid of the past-their-prime bananas. 

These were a huge hit with my kids' teachers.  My former ass't suggested I make muffins for a living, she loved them so much.  They aren't low-cal (about 250-300 per muffin per SparkPeople's calculator), but they are much healthier than a typical muffin.  I've played with the original recipe for about 6 years and added more leavening (to make them lighter and feel less "good for you") and the flavor variations.  I'm also a cinnamon freak. 

Zucchini Something or Other
  • Sautee 1 pint mushrooms in 1 tablespoon olive oil.  Season with garlic powder and black pepper to taste until they are tender.
  • Add 2 small or 1 large thinly sliced zucchini (I use a mandolin slicer).  Sautee until the zucchini begins to become translucent.
  • Add 1 can Italian style stewed tomatoes (or plain tomatoes seasoned to taste- I'm into low salt stuff).
  • Throw in 1 small can of sliced black olives ( 4 oz??).
  • Heat through.  Take off the burner.  Top with grated Parmesan cheese to taste.  4-5 lbs is good- kidding-- I REALLY love cheese.  About 1/4- 1/2 cup is good.  It holds it all together.

I usually serve this with the Healthy Harvest wide noodles.  My mom used to make a similar dish that was baked, but it's much easier on the stove top and the veggies keep their texture.  In my single days, I would throw in green peppers and onions.  It's too much for my family.

Brussel Sprouts That Anyone Will Eat
  • When you prep your sprouts, peel off the nasty, yellowed outside leaves.
  • With a food processor, slice them.
  • Sautee them in 1/4-1/2 cup chicken broth (depending on how many you have-- don't you love my "recipes"?)
  • Add 2 crumbled slices of cooked bacon (because everybody loves bacon).
  • Season with black pepper and garlic powder to taste (again, notice a trend?  I am a fan of garlic powder.  It's basically garlic flavored salt.  It has less sodium than garlic salt and more garlic flavor.  I actually don't like using real garlic- it's too strong and I tend to burn it when I cook with olive oil- and burned garlic is nasty).
  • Cook until they turn bright green and then STOP.  Overcooked brussel sprouts are disgusting.  It only takes about 4-5 minutes. 
SECRET- Don't tell people what they are.  They have a bad rep.  Everyone and every food deserves a fresh start at least once.  And again, there's bacon. 

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None of these take much time to make, by the way.

Happy Cooking!

Also- is it Brussel or Brussels???

Friday, April 1, 2011

"Waiting for Superman": One Mom's Take

A few weeks ago I decided to watch "Waiting for Superman."  I had heard a lot about the documentary, saw a few discussions on various TV shows regarding the eye opening take it had on education, and was intrigued enough to watch it.


I should point out my mother is a retired teacher who started college at 40 because all she every wanted to do is teach.

I am also married to a teacher.

My son attends public school as will my daughter next year.

My husband works in and my children are zoned for one of the worst performing school districts in the country.

Our state is notoriously one of the lowest rated for education.

My city, Las Vegas, was recently voted the dumbest city in America.

Those are my disclosures.

This is my opinion.

This movie was ridiculous.

Here's what I got from it:
  • 25% of charter schools perform better than average public schools when children, teachers and parents are motivated.
  • Some teachers suck.  This is entirely the fault of the teacher's union.
Wow.  Thank you for that insightful observation.  Maybe my insights will get me a spot on "Oprah."

When 75% of charter schools perform exactly the same as regular public schools, that means that they are no different.  There are a lot of great, non-charter public schools that are getting the job done.  I'm sure the low performing schools pull the average down.

Granted, I am a just a mom who volunteers for a few hours every week.  For the three years my son has been in school, every teacher has been not just good, but exceptional.  His school, whose scores are just "adequate", offers additional after school activities- such as chess, dance, Spanish, science clubs, etc.  They are at a minimal cost (less than after school care).  They have a great reading incentive program.  They use the same math program as a very prestigious private school in the area. They have science days and encourage every student- whether it's required for their grade level- to participate in the Science Fair.  There is a great art program.  The music activities are impressive for an elementary school.

And yet they are barely hanging on to "adequate" some years on the testing.

What you don't see is what I see as the problem-

My son was the only student in the entire kindergarten program to participate in the Science Fair.  In first grade, there were maybe 4-5 kids.  In his second grade class, there is 1 other student in his class- not sure about the whole second grade since the 6 week projects just started.


The Principal's Advisory Committee (PAC) meetings usually have 8-10 people attend- often the same ones.  Granted, they are held during the day so those of that work have some challenges (and they get cancelled or rescheduled about 50% of the time).  The school has approximately 700 students.

In a class of 18, I am one of about 3 parents who volunteer.  I am one of the only ones who volunteer regularly.

Do you see where I'm going with this?

Where are the parents?

The schools aren't waiting on Superman, they're waiting for Mom and Dad to show up.  And not with excuses.

Today I helped review spelling with the kids.  I asked if their parents gave them any tips.  Half the kids had tips to share.  The others had no idea because their parents never reviewed their spelling with them.

Half the kids in the class are doing well.  The other half, not so much.

Guess which kids had help with their spelling?

In speaking with the kids, you can tell who have engaged parents.  The kids make eye contact, they listen, they have ideas, they are present.  They are respected by their parents and in turn, respect their peers and teachers.

Some of the other kids have no idea how to behave.  They interrupt in order to be heard.  If you give them any attention, they are overwhelmed.  They never have a real opinion because it's apparent no one has ever asked them for one.  Rather than speak coherently, they babble, excited that anyone is listening.

When I do something as simple as read a story to the class, half the kids pipe up "Oh, I read that at home with my mom/dad/grandma." 

Guess which half?

By the end of third grade, it's pretty much done.  Their learning patterns are pretty much set.  Their self-esteem established.  Their labels given.

And as for blaming the teacher's union, I am befuddled.  The union doesn't hire and train teachers.  I do agree, however, that it does appear to be difficult to get rid of bad teachers.  I honestly think it's a very small percentage that are truly so bad that they need to be removed from the classroom.  From what I can see, most teachers- especially elementary- work extremely hard to meet their students' needs.  I've seen some pretty spectacular things in 3 years.  I don't think measuring teacher's "success" on student's test performance is the answer, but I absolutely agree that there needs to be a better way to help burned out teachers get their spark back and to get incompetent teachers out of the classroom.  I also think expecting a teacher to dazzle every single day is ridiculous.  Do you?  It's not a circus show.

I've seen my husband stuck in conferences/e-mail discussions, with parents who insist that their child's poor performance is the school's fault, not the child's. But hey, at least they show up to complain.  For the number of students that drop out (nearly 50% in Clark County), you would think he'd be in conferences non-stop.  Not true.

And increasing classroom size to save money is NOT going to help the situation.  Or cutting salaries or pensions.  Not just for the school system but for the future.

I jokingly say that maybe if parents were taxed on their child's grades that fall below a C for wasting our tax dollars,we'd see a huge increase in test scores.  Sadly, we'd probably only see an increase in lawsuits.

So my solution for education is simple:
  • Parents, read to your kids as often as possible.
  • Parents, talk to your kids and listen when they talk to you.
  • Parents, be involved in their school, even if it's 30 minutes a week to read a book.  Or 10 minutes.  Or sending extra supplies or treats.
  • Parents, when your kid gets a bad grade, ask why and how you can help.
  • Parents, make sure your kid gets to bed at night. 10 pm is too late for a 2nd grader.  11 pm is obscene.
  • Parents, feed your kid a healthy breakfast so they can pay attention during school. 
  • Schools, make the parents feel welcome.
I can only imagine next year at my son's school.  I am horrified at the cuts that are being made.

But what horrifies me most, is that we have become this type of society- one who accepts no responsibility for its actions. 

It is not the school's job to raise your child. It is yours.  Parents, step up.