Thursday, December 30, 2010

Let's Discuss Gifts From Spouses and Body Image

A few days ago, right before Christmas, I wrote a post here about Christmas gifts from Michael - about how once, several years ago, he gave me sweats for Christmas a few months after Joey was born, and how that made me feel, and about how I knew that he had gotten me something from Victoria's Secret this Christmas because I stumbled upon the charge when I was doing our online banking, and that I was not happy to know that there would be something under the tree for me from Victoria's Secret. I took the post down because Michael was understandably hurt by it - mostly by my criticism of a gift from him that I hadn't even received yet. The sweats he gave me that long-ago Christmas have become something of a joke - I know he meant well; after all, I do like to wear sweats! But his giving them to me for Christmas just made me feel frumpy and unattractive. What was he thinking?!

Anyway, so you would think that in light of that - of complaining about getting sweats for Christmas and feeling unattractive because of it - I would be happy to receive something from my husband from Victoria's Secret. After all, shouldn't it elicit the opposite response from the sweats? You would think so, huh?

But, sadly, that is not the case. As soon as I discovered that charge to VS and realized that he had gotten me something potentially sexy, I was bothered. Upset. Why? Because I know I'm not built for anything from Victoria's Secret anymore. Michael clearly disagrees. I should just run with that, shouldn't I? It bothered me, though, that even knowing full well the body image issues I have, he would get me something that he should know I'd never feel comfortable wearing.

(And this brings up a question: when giving a gift to someone, is it better to give them something you know they would like to have, or to give them something you, the giver, want them to have?)

About a year ago, I wrote this post: A Mother's Body. I wrote about the changes my own body has gone through in the course of having six kids, and just in getting older. I vowed to make peace with what my body has become, and let go of the self-loathing I've developed.

I've failed. Utterly and completely.

It's funny, because in some ways, I like myself better than I ever have before in my life. I like the person I am; I know I have good qualities, that I am worthy of the people who care about me (it's taken me almost a lifetime to get to this point), that I do good things and make other people feel good. I also recognize my shortcomings and try very hard to be honest with myself about them.

So in that sense, I'm good, I'm square with myself. But this whole body image thing? Eh. I don't like the way I look. I don't like that I have such a hard time finding clothes that fit and sufficiently camouflage my flaws - most notably my tummy. I am at an ideal weight for my build, so it's not the weight. It's just the fact that five pregnancies have pretty much ruined my belly. It sticks out and sags and I hate it. Despise it. It's become a habit of mine to check out other moms' figures - does her tummy stick out like mine? How does she carry herself? Does she seem as self-conscious as I feel? And how does that bitch have such a flat stomach when I know she's got four kids? I have become more and more fixated on the idea of getting a tummy tuck - well, really, a "mommy job" - a tummy tuck and a boob lift, because these boobs are in pretty sad shape as well.

I try to analyze this whole thing with a rational mind. Where do these feelings come from? Is it fed by our culture and the ever present quest for perfection? Is it just me having a hard time watching my youth fade?
And then there's the guilt. Why the hell am I so preoccupied with this? What place does such silly vanity have in my life when considered in the context of real medical issues that have become a part of reality for our family? And it's not like we have several grand laying around just waiting to be spent, nor is it realistic to think that what I understand would be quite a grueling recovery from such a surgery would be something our family could deal with.

So, I'm stuck. Obviously the most practical option is to just find a way to be okay with myself as I am. So far, I haven't discovered the key to doing that.

And I hate this post. Because it sounds whiny and shallow. But there you have it. One of the many topics that resides in my head.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Blood Pressure

One of my commenters left this link on my post yesterday about my blood pressure:

I am very intrigued. It's worth a try! After all, what do I have to lose?

I forgot to mention that in the doctor's office yesterday, my bp was 155/95. Insert frownie face.

Off to buy celery! Will report back in a few days . . .

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Update on My Scary Blood Pressure

Following up on that doctor appointment from a few weeks back, I went this morning and met my real doctor for the first time. He was nice. Patient. Thorough. Came across as competent. We talked about my family history, my health history, my current lifestyle. He deduced that it's most likely got very little to do with lifestyle (so I don't have to curb my drinking - yay!) and very much to do with heredity.

I've resigned myself to going on medication - probably permanently - for this. I'm not thrilled about it, but I realize that stubbornly hanging onto my little aversion to medication is not going to preserve my health. So it's time to suck it up, put on my big girl panties, and do what I gotta do. People are counting on me, damnit!

So I explained to him that I am currently (still) breast feeding, and that I need a medication that is safe to take whilst suckling the little one. He did not balk at this (score one point for the doctor!). He confidently wrote me a prescription for Norvasc.

. . . and I came home, looked it up, and saw that it is specifically contraindicated for breast feeding women! Hello!?!? Is anybody out there listening to me??

So, apparently, I am back at square one. Or maybe square two. I just sent a fax to his office explaining my quandary to him and asking him to please prescribe a different medication for me after confirming that said medication is safe for me to take.

Meanwhile, here I sit, with visions of my heart sweating its little heart out, and my arteries stressed to their limits.

Maybe a drink would help.

Monday, December 27, 2010


Someone asked for the recipe for the cheese fondue we had on Christmas, so I decided to devote a whole post to fondue!

I'm not exactly sure how fondue became our family's traditional Christmas dinner. I have memories of having cheese fondue when I was a little girl in the 70s - fondue was big back then. I know when I joined my local MOMS Club shortly after Joey was born, they were doing a yearly Mom's Night Out around the holidays where one mom would host a fondue party at her house; she would make several different kinds of fondue and the guests would bring bread, veggies, etc. to dip (I hosted one year!). Then The Melting Pot opened here in SoCal, and I was hooked.

We've been doing fondue on Christmas in our house for several years now. What I love about it, aside from the fact that it's so decadently yummy, is the communal aspect - it's the ultimate in sharing and being together, and that makes it a perfect holiday meal in my book.

There are a million different fondue recipes out there, using all kinds of different cheeses, broths, sauces, and sweets. The fondue I've made on Christmas for the last couple of years is Pub Fondue from The Everything Fondue Cookbook.

In addition to sourdough bread cubes and Granny Smith apple chunks, for dipping I like raw mushrooms and baby red potatoes quartered and cooked. There's really no end to foods you can use for dipping in cheese fondue: carrots, broccoli, celery, tortilla chips, crackers . . .

If you've never made cheese fondue, you should know that it's a little tricky. It's hard to get just the right temperature once it's in the fondue pot; too hot and it bubbles and burns, not hot enough and it solidifies and turns into a big hunk of rubbery cheese. You can't use a simple fondue pot with a candle for cheese fondue - you have to use a pot that gets much hotter than a single candle, but preferably with an adjustable temperature control. I use an electric fondue pot for cheese, like this one:

Even with this, I have a hard time getting the temp right. One of these days I'll get a fondue pot with a Sterno heating element.

Basic chocolate fondue is very simple. Take a small carton of heavy whipping cream (not whipped cream) and heat over low-medium heat in a small saucepan. Gradually add an entire package of chocolate chips, stirring until melted. Voila! That's just a basic foundation; you can add all sorts of different things: a splash of vanilla or liqueur, a heaping spoonful of peanut butter, some marshmallow cream, whatever. You can also use white chocolate chips instead of milk chocolate, or dark chocolate, or butterscotch chips, or peanut butter chips. Some great dippers for desert fondue are sliced bananas, strawberries, angel food cake cut into chunks, Nilla Wafers, jumbo marshmallows, and graham crackers.

And there you have it!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Redux in Photos

'Twas the night before Christmas,
And all through the house
Not a creature was stirring . . .

. . . except Mom and Dad who stayed up extra late to make sure the kiddies were all fast asleep so they could retrieve the holiday loot from the basement where it was hidden (said basement about which they boldly lied to the kids and told them it was flooded from the rain, so as to keep the curious hooligans from snooping), and hauled it upstairs, taking several trips to do so, all so Santa could receive glory and credit.

Christmas morning the kids were up at some godforsaken hour - I don't even know what time. I just know it was barely light out. We tortured them for a good hour, making them wait until a slightly more reasonable hour until we were ready to get up. Mean parents, eh?

In this photo, the kids are smiling, but if you look closely, you may be able to see the glitter of madness in their eyes. In truth, they were practically coming unglued with anticipation and impatience to open their presents.

Joey's favorite gift was a 2011 World Almanac. Yes, that's right, an almanac. He's been getting a new almanac for Christmas every year since 2007, and it's usually his favorite gift. This is what he reads for fun. Mostly baseball stats.

Pillow Pets were a big thing this year! Because you know, it's a pillow. It's a pet. It's a Pillow Pet.

The damage -

After opening presents, we had our traditional big Christmas breakfast, this year featuring Cinnabons, eggs, bacon and sausage. I had two Cinnabons. I couldn't help it.

For dinner, we had what has become our unconventional traditional Christmas dinner: filet mignon grilled to bloody perfection ala Michael, and cheese fondue with plenty of dippers, ala moi.


And for desert, chocolate fondue, also a Christmas tradition in our house.

And now that I've managed to double my weight in one day, I am officially swearing off crap for my New Year's resolution.

It was a good Christmas. The kids were all thrilled with their gifts, and we were all together, happy and healthy. Speaking of which, Michael is doing mucho better. He did spend the morning last Thursday having testing done to gauge the extent of the medical issues he's been having, but that same day he seemed to have a turnaround and has been feeling a lot better since then. We haven't gotten the official report from his doctor, but all signs at this point indicate that things are resolved. Phew!

And now, big plans for New Year's Eve! What to wear, what to wear . . .

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Rain Clouds

Last year as I slogged through the Christmas season, muttering "Bah humbug . . ." I swore to myself that next year would be different. Once we got through Michael's cancer treatment, a new chapter would start for us, and I was determined to let go of my long-held dislike of the holiday season, which has mostly been based on a feeling of loneliness because of my lack of extended family, and on allowing the stress and materialism of the season to overshadow everything.

It ended up that I didn't even have to try very hard to make the holiday season feel different - better - this year. We've had so much to be thankful for, and for the first time in a long time, I have felt utterly content with the little family Michael and I have created; that feeling that something is missing is gone. I cheerfully shopped for Christmas presents for the kids, and we decorated for Christmas inside and out. I was feeling positively festive, full of goodwill and good cheer.

And then the rain clouds rolled in, literally and figuratively.

It's been raining almost nonstop here in sunny Southern California for days and days and days. Everything is gray and wet and soggy and muddy and dismal out. The kids are all on winter break from school for two weeks, and have been locked up in the house the entire time so far because of the weather. They all have cabin fever, and I'm spending a lot of time breaking up fights and listening to tattling and tears. I'm pretty much letting them watch TV all day long because there's not much else to do. I think Joey and the girls went for four days without bathing and spent those four days and nights wearing the same pajamas. And while I know they all brushed their teeth every day, I can't swear that they changed their underwear during that time. I finally bathed them all yesterday, but the weather is still completely shitty and I have a feeling they will remain in the jammies (and underwear?) they put on last night for the next few days.

I did manage to spend two days baking, and I'm glad for that. I gave away most of the stuff I baked. As for what's left here, I've thrown moderation to the wind and am doing some serious comfort eating.

We did manage to buy a Christmas tree last weekend, but it was bought in the rain, so we couldn't bring it in the house right away because it was soaking wet. So it stayed outside for several days where it continued to get rained on. Michael finally dragged it into the garage a couple days ago to dry it out, and brought it in the house last night (four days before Christmas . . . sigh). The kids and I decorated it this morning.

Michael has not completely recovered from the ordeal that landed him in the hospital last week, and it is looking more and more likely that he is going to need surgery after all. This is a complication resulting from the cancer surgery he had a year and a half ago. He is scheduled to have some testing done tomorrow, and that will determine what the next step is. I'm bracing myself for the possibility of him being in the hospital very soon for a few days, and, yeah, I guess I'm feeling down about it. Worried about him, resentful of being dealt another shitty card, and, yeah, kind of feeling a little sorry for myself.

So, yeah, quite a damper has been cast over things recently.

But we'll deal. What other choice is there? Eventually the rain will pass, right?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Holiday Dance Recital 2010

Today was the big day - the girls' dance recital, featuring a Holiday Showcase of ballet, tap, and hip-hop dancers from the dance academy they've been attending for about a year now.

Like the Land of Oz production they participated in last June, this recital required full regalia of costume, makeup and hair for all the dancers. Remembering the saga of getting them into makeup for the Oz production, I was not looking forward to this morning's preparations, and it was, in fact, a nightmare. First came Annabelle, who began crying hysterically right after I put her eyeliner on, thereby turning her face into a mess of black, runny streaks. I sent her to her room and moved on to Daisy. Daisy cooperated fully, infusing me with the confidence to move on to Lilah, who went into complete meltdown mode halfway into her makeup application. No amount of reasoning, threatening, guilting, or bribing her with treats would convince her to get on with it. Michael was unable to convince her either.

She's been squirrelly about dance (and preschool) for a while, but all along she's insisted she wanted to be in the show, so I've continued to drag her little butt, sometimes in tears, to dance class every week, swearing that once the recital was over, that would be it for dance. But alas, it finally became clear this morning that she just was not going to budge, so I threw my hands up in surrender. I'm still pissed. I know it's only money and time, but a lot of it was invested in this on her behalf because she said this was what she wanted to do. I'm not a pushy stage-mom, and I've never pushed any of my kids to participate in anything that they weren't eager to participate in, but damnit, once they commit to something, I expect follow-through. I'm disappointed . . . but maybe, after all, mostly in myself for not realizing that at four years old, Lilah is just not mature enough to understand commitment and follow-through.

After spending some time alone in her room, Annabelle agreed to come out and go on with the show, so I got her makeup on, got her and Daisy into their costumes, and we were off.

The show was held in a church, and upon entering and seating myself in a pew, lightening bolts did not, in fact, obliterate me.

Here is Michael showing Joey a bible:

The show was spectacular. In all, there must have been a couple hundred kids and young adults performing, ranging in age from three to twenty-two. I am seriously amazed by the talent of every single dancer there. I honestly see some real talent in Daisy and Annabelle, and think they could really progress with it if they choose to stick with it. We'll see.

Lilah would have been in this piece (in a green costume):

Daisy and Annabelle with their class:

Daisy wants to try t-ball in the spring, so for now we are taking a break from dance. I'm looking forward to the respite.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Other Shoe

Less than a week after rejoicing in the wake of Michael's clear post-cancer CT/PET scan, he developed a very serious - potentially life-threatening - condition and ended up in the hospital after two trips to the emergency room. The problem appears to have resolved without surgery, but it was touch and go for a good part of the day today as to whether he would need surgery. As of now, we are hopeful that he'll be home by tomorrow night.

I am reminded once again of several things . . .

. . . that none of us ever gets to say "I've paid my dues." Just when you think you've had all the rotten in life that you should have to bear, life has a way of throwing just one more curve ball at you. And you rise to the occasion, because what else are you going to do?

. . . life is short. And precious. And fragile. Anything can happen, at any time.

. . . the human body is a wondrous thing! Appreciate all the parts that work properly!

. . . I am so very fortunate to be surrounded by caring friends who actually want to go out of their way for us. I am truly thankful.

. . . I love my husband with everything I have, and I miss him like crazy when he's not here.

. . . and last but not least, I'm really not crazy about doctors all that much.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Michael and I got inked last night, and photographed the event for posterity:

This was not a first tattoo for either of us, and we've both talked about each getting another for a while. Trying to decide what to get and where took a lot of time and thought. We finally decided on matching peace signs, symbolizing peace in our love for each other - which is especially meaningful to us with everything we have been through together - and our wish for peace in life in general. We wanted something matching, also, to symbolize the unity between us.

The chosen spots

Me first . . . signing my life away

In another lesson of not judging a book by its cover, the guy who did our tattoos, John, had the look of a carny - completely tatted out from neck to ankles, giant holes in his ear lobes, shaved head, and just a vaguely inbred look. He was extremely polite and well spoken, however, and completely won me over when this oddball guy who apparently hangs out at the shop pretty frequently started talking about Howard Stern and how funny it is when he makes fun of "handicapped people," and John said, very seriously, "It's not funny. I don't like it."

The outline is done

My tattoo took about an hour, and it hurt! The inside of the wrist is a very tender area, and it's still very sore today. I'm very happy with it, though - he did an excellent job. Look at all the detail. Isn't it beautiful?

Michael was next. His tattoo didn't take as long, as it had much less detail. It's basically the same peace sign as mine sans the vines and flowers.

Interesting fact that I learned last night: there is no licensing of tattoo artists, and there is no governing body regulating tattoo artists or tattoo studios. Tattoo artists learn generally by apprenticeship, and there are no set requirements for becoming a tattoo artist. All one needs is a business license. This came as a huge surprise to me, given that the girls who do manicures and pedicures are required to complete a certain number of hours of schooling, pass a written test as well as a performance test, are required to be licensed to practice, must follow stringent regulations having to do with sanitation, and are subject to random site checks by the State Board of Cosmetology. And yet, tattoo artists, who deal with tissue and blood, have none of these requirements. Kind of shocking! Really makes this whole tattoo thing seem like even more a leap of faith. I saw their autoclave in the back last night, which made me feel a little better.

My Other Tattoos

All of my tattoos symbolize something to me. It goes beyond body art for me - I haven't set out to just decorate myself with images that look pretty or interesting but don't mean anything. Each one represents something deeply important and meaningful to me.

I got my first two tattoos eleven years ago, shortly after my first marriage ended and my first husband died. They are two butterflies, and they are located on my right hip. Getting a tattoo in the first place represented a sort of statement of independence for me; I had wanted to get a tattoo for a long time and my first husband, being the controlling bastard he was, always told me he'd leave me if I got one. Butterflies, to me, represent metamorphosis or transformation, and these butterflies represent me and Kevin who, at that time, were undergoing a huge change and transformation - beginning a new life, a fresh start, my hope being that we would grow together (and did). They are also something of a tribute to my dad, who had a butterfly tattooed on the back of his shoulder.

This tattoo is on my left shoulder. The two intertwined hearts represent me and Michael, and the six flowers, our kids. I got the hearts and the first five flowers shortly after Lilah was born, and had the sixth flower added after Finn was born.

In a sort of twist of irony, the guy screwed up the sixth flower.

As you can see, it's irregular and not lined up properly. Fitting, though, that it represents my "irregular," imperfect boy. I think this actually gives it more meaning for me.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Holiday Trauma Brought to You By Elf On the Shelf

The holiday season is upon us, and with it come my usual threats to the kids to behave and be nice because Santa is watching. I don't know if it's that they don't believe me that Santa is watching, or if they are all gamblers at heart and just choose to play the odds, realizing that no matter how naughty they've been in years past, somehow Santa never forgets them. Today I had my fill of the whining and bickering and refusal to be cooperative as I tried to move through the Witching Hour. I brought out the Big Guns: The Elf on the Shelf.

Are you familiar with this? I learned about it last year during the holiday season when several friends were talking about it. It sounded like such a brilliant idea, a fun way to keep the kids in line during the buildup to Christmas, with the added bonus of a new holiday tradition. In the box are a doll (heretofore referred to as "The Elf") and a book you read to your kids which explains The Elf's purpose and adventures. You, the parent, are supposed to find interesting, out-of-reach places for The Elf to sit from whence he can watch the children and make note of their behavior, and said children can tell The Elf (from a safe distance; if they touch The Elf, its magic powers are lost. Of course.) what they'd like Santa to bring them for Christmas. Each night after the kiddies are asleep, The Elf flies back to the North Pole, makes his report to Santa, and returns the next morning in a new location in the house. (This requires diligence on the parents' part; you have to remember to move the damn thing every night. I failed miserably last year.)

Anyway, so this evening as the girls were in the tub screaming and being general pains in the ass, I suddenly remembered The Elf, which I had not yet pulled out of the drawer I stuffed it into after Christmas last year. I quickly stole from the bathroom and stealthily placed The Elf on a high curtain rod in the girls' room, thinking when they got out of the tub, they'd go in their room to get their PJs on, see The Elf, exclaim in awe and wonder, and immediately shape up.

What ensued, instead, was utter hysteria. I got Annabelle out of the tub and dried off first, and sent her scampering into her room to get her jammies on. Roughly nine seconds later, a blood-curdling scream emanated from her room, and in a couple more seconds, she was back in the bathroom, howling in terror, and trembling - literally trembling. "THERE'S AN ELF IN MY ROOM!!!" she screamed over and over with tears and snot running down her face. This got Daisy immediately worked up and within seconds, she, too, was completely unglued, and she hadn't even seen The Damned Elf yet. Lilah was clearly on an adrenaline buzz from all the excitement, but so far she wasn't crying. Joey heard the ruckus and came running. "THERE'S AN ELF IN MY ROOM!!!" Annabelle wailed for the nineteenth time. Joey's eyes grew big and his breathing came a little faster, and he went to see for himself. "Wow, this proves Santa is real! I knew it!" he came back to report breathlessly.

Finally, after much cajoling, I convinced the girls to go into their room with me to check out this troublemaker, The Elf. Daisy and Annabelle refused to speak directly to The Elf and insisted I tell him on their behalf that they were scared and wanted him to leave.

(It was now coming back to me, vague memories of a similar scene last year . . .)

This continued all through dinner. Sitting at the table, Annabelle cried the entire time and positioned herself so that her back was towards the door to her room, as she didn't want a chance glimpse of The Freak Elf through walls and around three corners. Every noise she heard, she would jump and cry and go, "What was that?" thinking it was Satan Elf coming to get her.

I couldn't take it anymore, so finally I got up and said I was going to talk to The Home Invader Elf and ask it to leave. I chucked the damned thing back into the drawer where it spent the last year. And peace ensued.

All this over a doll.