Thursday, May 29, 2008

Portraits of beauty

I wrote a story for the newspaper yesterday about middle school art students who had drawn portraits of senior citizens at a nearby retirement home.

The old people were invited to a reception at the school where the portraits and short stories the eighth-graders had written about them hung in a hallway.

The work was amazing.

And the scene was touching.

I couldn't help but be struck by the two generations. One: young, naive, innocent, oh-so optimistic, eager. The other: old, wise, realistic, resigned.

In some cases, 80 years separated these two players in my little story.

The old people from what I could tell absolutely loved the drawings the kids had worked on so carefully for more than a month. One man couldn't get over how exact the wrinkles on his forehead and neck were drawn, how just like him it looked (though he joked: "I'm not sure I like the picture.").

He stood in the corner where his portrait was for at least half an hour. Just looking at it, studying it, marveling about something or other.

I was struck by how in awe and appreciative the senior citizens were of the students' efforts.

They almost just couldn't get over it.

You know what I think a lot of it is?

The fact that someone took the time to talk to them, study them, draw their beautiful, wise faces and then invite them over for a cookie and punch to see what they all look like in artistic pencil.

They were a part of something different, and they were center stage.

The other thing I noticed is how much the older people wanted to talk. They have stories to tell -- about younger days, wives, children, great-great-grandchildren, businesses they used to own, wars fought, children lost.

It's heartbreaking and inspiring all at the same time.

Looking at them, listening to them, reminds me just how much life I still have to live. So much -- I hope -- that I can't even imagine it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

'We shoot bad guys'

So Rye is hit and miss with pronouncing our last name correctly. More and more, he gets it right, but sometimes he replaces the 'Stick' at the beginning with "Schnick" and even though it's incorrect, it's cute.

Two nights ago while laying with him at bedtime, he asked me what my last name was. I told him and pointed out that it was the same as his and that Daddy also had the same last name. So then we went through and said everyone's first and last names together.

Then, he said:

"We're the Stickneys. And we shoot bad guys."

(We don't, don't worry. I'm about as anti-gun as they come).

Friday, May 23, 2008

It looks like meat

We don't eat meat.

This is difficult for some people to understand, especially where we live. Many Nebraskans were raised on dinners of meat and potatoes. They grew up on farms and sometimes ate the family cow for dinner.

"What do you mean you don't eat meat?"

We get this a lot.

And that's fine; I generally offer a succinct answer about how there are actually plenty of other foods that don't involve animal flesh that we eat. We're certainly not lacking for nutrition or calories. And, to be clear, we're not judgmental about what others' eat. If you want to eat meat, that's your choice. Just like choosing not to is ours.

So anyway, I became a vegetarian about six months after marrying one. It was my own decision and one I reached one day when Dane said, "If you care about animals so much, how can you eat them?"

He was right, so I decided to try the whole vegetarian thing.

Five years later, it has stuck. (For the record, I did have a small amount of turkey three years ago when I was pregnant. I am not sure why I did this ... I'm blaming the growing baby).

So we've gotten used to eating beans in dishes that traditionally would require ground beef. In tacos, for example, we use either black, refried or pinto beans.

A few weeks ago, though, we were having friends -- carnivores -- over for dinner and I thought maybe we'd try the "Smart Ground" veggie ground beef. It's really all soy, but it sort of looks like hamburger. Dane, though, told me we could not try it with friends because we'd never prepared it before and you just can't try new things on guests.

OK. So it sat in our refrigerator until tonight when I took it out and cooked it.

Cooking it really only amounted to cutting open the vacuum-sealed package, plopping the soy crumbles into a frying pan, breaking them apart like I remember my mom doing to hamburger when she made tacos and then waiting for them to get hot.

It looked so much like meat it was gross.

Weird, huh?

Dane wouldn't even eat it, opting instead for a bit more adult version of Ramen noodles (Thai Soup, but it still comes in a package that you cut open and dump into boiling water).

I did eat it. And it was really good.

But still. It just didn't seem right. And I'm not sure if I'll buy it again.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Make your own lightsaber

For Rye's birthday party last week, we made our own lightsabers.

I've heard from several parents of the attendees that their kids are still playing with them. In fact, a few will soon need repair because of their popularity, I'm told.

It was also a really fun, fairly easy and not expensive at all project for a little kid birthday party. I'm totally glad we did it.

So here's a quick how-to, if anyone wants to steal the idea:

Visit a home improvement store and head to the plumbing section.

We purchased PVC pipe for the handles and pipe insulation for the actual saber. To color the sabers, we let the kids (parents) wrap them in colored duct tape. I purchased a roll each of red, blue and green tape at Wal-Mart.

Dane used a handheld miter saw to cut the PVC pipe into 7" pieces. Then, he spray painted them black and let them dry.

We made sure the insulation we bought fit inside the PVC pipe. It was no problem, as any major home improvement store will have several sizes from which to choose.

Dane also cut the insulation into 3 feet strips. For this, he used plain old scissors!

All in all, we probably spent $20 on all the supplies, which made 15 lightsabers. A good buy, I'd say.

And definitely a hit with the birthday boy and his friends. (And even some parents).

Here is the finished product:

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Wait, we didn't study!

My recurring nightmare is that it's April and college finals are approaching when all of a sudden I realize I've forgotten to attend one of my classes for the ENTIRE semester. I panic for the rest of the dream and somehow try to learn an entire textbook in a week. (Yes, I'm fairly sure this also happened on "Felicity.")

So when we went to the doctor yesterday for Rye's 3-year-old checkup and they suddenly began to do everything differently than we've ever done before, I panicked. Just a little.

First, they had him take off his clothes and put on a flannel Looney Tunes hospital gown. He did not like this. I don't blame him.

Then they began quizzing him.

This was worse than undressing. For Mommy at least. I hadn't prepared him!

The nurse held a card and began asking Rye to find the square, then the triangle, the circle and so on. I was feeling pretty good, as I knew he knew those. But, oh no, I silently gasped as I scanned the quiz sheet, I don't know if he'll recognize a capital E -- and I know he won't recognize a cross.

But somehow he did. He got all those right. Process of elimination, I'm thinking, on the cross.

Phew. Give us an A please.

But then she had Rye put on giant glasses and gave him a card on which the images were hidden by a bunch of blue and red dots.

My anxiety rose as she asked him again to find the square, the triangle, the circle, and his little pointer finger moved cautiously over the card, pausing on one blue and red square before settling on another.

He passed this as well but needed a little nudging from the nurse on at least one.

And later, more tests of academic mastery that I hadn't expected. The doctor asked him to draw a circle.

Rye did.

Again, hooray.

But what's with all this testing of a little boy who's been 3 for a mere 48 hours? And that's what I realize: Passing those tests, any tests, at this point in his life, doesn't really matter.

My goal: Keep him anxiety free for as long as possible.

Still, if the overachiever on my left shoulder wins, we might start studying for the 4-year-old exam this summer.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

To Rye, on his birthday

Dear Rye,

You turned 3 years old yesterday.

When you woke up, I went to get you, and I said, "Happy birthday! You're 3 today!" and I felt tears sting my eyes. The emotions were unexpected, but in that instant I remembered how far we've come.

I really, really wanted a baby and it took us no time at all to learn we were having you. But on that day I found out I was pregnant, I remember feeling scared that what I had wanted for so long was finally, actually coming true. Before you have kids, parenthood is a hard notion to understand. I think you don't really know what it's like until you do it, until you are one yourself, until an actual human being -- who can't talk or do anything for himself -- is your sole responsibility.

But I was more than excited. Right away, I started planning your room, your baby clothes, your name, everything I could think of. I remember spending hours in the room that would be yours just arranging things.

I didn't ski that winter -- and that was OK. I didn't really run anything substantial that year -- and that was OK. I stopped doing yoga and the weight-lifting classes and hanging out with our friends like we used to. And it was all OK.

You were worth it.

Now, you are playing with Star Wars action figures and making specific noises for whoever you are holding.

You know that Anakin Skywalker is Darth Vadar and that Luke Skywalker is his son and all sorts of other very specific details that I do not really understand.

You say things everyday that surprise me -- and leave me in wonder and awe and complete and utter love.

When you were a baby, it was hard. I remember thinking, "It's going to get better. Wait until he's 2. With every day, it's going to get easier."

It was so hard for several reasons. One, it was such a different way of life. Our time was no longer our own, and I remember missing your dad, even though he was right there. Two, you cried a lot. Some babies just do. But we had some eating issues, and I think our main problem was that you were hungry. I got bad advice from your doctor right away and that caused us to struggle. But after awhile, we figured it out and you started taking naps and sleeping with us at night, all night, and then it got even better.

We moved from Colorado to Omaha and you started daycare (which I still say is the hardest thing I've ever done -- leaving you there that first day).

At 4 months old, you had surgery. You had an inguinal hernia, which means you had a hole in your abdominal wall. I felt so guilty. I wasn't allowed to feed you all morning, and when you finally fell asleep at the hospital, I laid you down and the nurses came minutes later to wheel you away on that gigantic bed. The operation went fine, of course, but I was more than happy to have you back in my arms afterward.

Before long, you learned to sit up and to eat rice cereal and to crawl and then walk. Those milestones seem both so long ago and so just the other day.

But you are 3.

I was so happy at your party yesterday. Your Star Wars party where you made lightsabers and played on the toys and ate cake with your friends. You said thank you for all your gifts and really seemed to appreciate having them.

Right now, you are walking on your tiptoes because your heel hurts (you say) from a splinter I dug out earlier. And you're asking to watch the Darth Maul "movie" on YouTube again where he fights Obi Wan Kenobi. You also just stole a line from my favorite childhood movie: "I'll get you, my pretty. And you're little dog, too," as you waved a new toy saw in Daddy's direction.

Three nights ago, out of the blue, you said, "Mommy, you're my best friend," and 10 minutes later, in your bed, you put your hands on my face and turned me to you and said, "Mommy, I love you."

Our life wouldn't be the same without you, Rye Watson. Thank you for these first three years and for all the ones yet to come.

I love you.


Saturday, May 17, 2008

My baby turned 3 today

I plan to write a more meaningful post about his birthday later, but in the few minutes before we go to the park for his party, I wanted to post something.

Yesterday, he called me at work. Excitedly, he said:

"Mommy, we have a light saber CAKE!"

"We do, Rye?" I said. "That's awesome!"

Rye: "YEAAAAAAAA! And it has sparkles on it!"

Me: "It does?"

Rye: "Yeaaaaaaaaa! And they're red and blue.

Dane's mom made him a cake that he obviously loves. In general, this birthday and the time leading up to it has been the most fun so far because he gets it. He understands that this day is just for him.

I love it.

Now, off to the Star Wars party.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


The phone rang tonight and instantly I was back in college.

She lives with a broken man...

Dane is in St. Louis at a Radiohead concert with his dad. For Dane, I'm not sure it gets much better than that. Tomorrow, they're going to a Cardinals game. That's probably as good as it gets.

Yesterday, he told me Radiohead hadn't been consistently playing "Fake Plastic Trees," my favorite Radiohead song.

When I said "hello" tonight, though, on the other end was Thom.

A cracked, polystyrene man...

And I stopped in my tracks, phone to my ear to listen.

I haven't heard that song in a while, or if I have, I haven't really listened to it.

Tonight, I did, as best I could through the sometimes crackly reception.

The song to me marks the beginning of our relationship. It was near the end of our freshmen year in college when we started dating, and I remember well the feelings of possibility and excitement.

Dane right away wanted to introduce me to his music. I remember sitting on his bed, in his dorm room and listening to music by Radiohead and Pulp and probably a few others. I hadn't heard most of it.

This song, in particular, I liked.

...who just crumbles and burns...

Dane used to sing along and I really liked that.

That summer, we went our separate ways -- but not before Dane drew me directions to his parents' house on a napkin (which for years I kept in the glove compartment of my car. It may still be there) and burned me a Radiohead CD.

I listened to it all summer. I remember staying overnight at the pool while it filled (a laborious, ridiculous task) and finally, the other lifeguards asking to listen to something else.

She wears me out. She wears me out.

Though I've never completely gotten the meaning of the song -- it's sad and melancholy and beautiful at the same time -- it's special because of its timing in my life.

"Fake Plastic Trees" reminds me of before things got so stressful, so routine-ized, so adult. Of the time when we worried about our grades and our jobs at the student newspaper and that was about it.

Of the time when we laughed a whole lot more.

If I could be, who you wanted...

Don't get me wrong: I wouldn't trade my family now for anything. Having Rye is the most important thing I've ever done. We've ever done.

But sometimes it's easy to get jaded by the routine, the 40-hour work weeks, the commute. And you forget to remember who you are. And that it's enough.

All the time.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Oh, man

I taught my childhood best friend's 2-year-old daughter to say this on Saturday when I visited them.

Accidentally, and no harm done, but when she came up to me declaring sticky fingers after eating a rice krispy treat, I said it.

Then she said it. And she kept saying it. And then she'd laugh. It was adorable.

But it was me using the phrase later that day when Rye and I got home from an afternoon at Jenny's.


Because Jenny totally said she'd go to Chicago with me to see New Kids on the Block perform for the first time in 15 years. OK, so she said we'd have to drive, but still. She said we could go. And I was excited.


Unbeknownst to me, tickets had gone on sale about six hours earlier.

And every single one was gone.

Every. Single. One.


Seriously, I was surprised. This was the group that I got made fun of for years for liking. This was the band whose T-shirt I refused to stop wearing, even after mean, mean eighth-grade girls physically hit me and sneered at me in the halls of my new middle school for wearing it.

My New Kids love burned deep, and I wasn't about to let anyone squash it, not jealous boys and not mean old bullies.

So I went to eBay, thinking I'd be willing to pay $20 over face value.

Silly me, though. Try tickets going for $300 and $400. Apiece.

So, alas, Jenny and I will not be driving to Chicago to see the now much older boys from Beantown.

And I am sad about this for several reasons. One, obviously, is how much fun it would be to see them up on stage again (assuming they are, you know, still good). And the second: A road trip with Jenny would have been fun.

The bright side, though: The demand hopefully means more supply. More concerts.

Om-a-ha. Om-a-ha. Om-a-ha.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Can't it be Mother's Day every month?

I mean seriously. This day, just for us, really is great.

I slept in a bit, while Dane got up with Rye (who was in our bed ...again). I listened sleepily as Dane helped Rye make me a card.

And I was happy to hear Rye's footsteps running toward my room about 10 minutes later. He was SO proud of the card he made. It was the best present ever.

Then we went to breakfast with my mom and sister, and despite an hour-long wait in a really crowded place, it was really nice. The food was delicious (Sara, I got the English muffin-brown sugar- apples entree you ordered last time. Yummy).

And then we came home and I organized my closet. I love the feeling after I'm done doing this. I hauled a pile out to my car to give away.

Then I went shopping (during Rye's nap. I do have my priorities in order). And I found my new favorite store.

New York and Company.

Where has it been all my life? Seriously, I've been disappointed with the Gap for the last couple years. The Mother's Day gods were smiling upon me today, though, by urging me into NY&Co. Thank you.

And now it's now. Rye is still sleeping. And that means I am sitting here, doing this, drinking a Diet Coke and eating rice.


Happy Mother's Day to everyone (especially you, Mother).

And here's my card. Rainbows drawn all by Rye.

And here's the inside.

Friday, May 9, 2008

So, like, when did this happen?

Not that long ago, I was a lifeguard.

That meant I wore swimsuits just about every day, all day, for three months straight.

I recall not minding doing this. I wasn't that self conscious, and it was nice to not have to worry about wearing real clothes in the hot, humid Nebraska summers.

Now, though, is a different story.

Yes, I've had a child so my stomach will never be the same. But still. I feel the anxiety is worse this year than ever before.

Is this just what happens the closer we get to 30?

I went to Scheel's the other night because they had running shorts on sale. I found the shorts and decided to look at the swimsuits as well. I've never been interested in wearing a skimpy bikini. Rather, I've always liked the more athletic suits, and you can't really find athletic suits at Target. So I thought I'd look.

And I was excited when I saw that Scheel's had one-piece Tyr suits on sale for $20. That's a great buy.

So I picked out four and I tried them on.

Horrible. I hated just about everything.

I went home and dug out the scale from the back of my closet.

I weigh the same as I did last summer.

I also am in pretty good shape -- I just ran a half marathon and felt pretty great doing it --and I eat relatively well (though, yes, I still eat ice cream at least twice a week and also made chocolate chip cookies, which I ate my fair share of, last week). But I don't eat meat or white bread or even drink much pop. We have a stir fry -- rice and vegetables, people! -- at least twice a week. I'm also making a concerted effort to drink a lot of water.

So what freaking gives?

I'm actually considering -- I never thought I'd say this -- wearing some kind of swim shorts this summer over my swimsuit.

So far, my 28th year of life has been ALL about feeling like an adult.


I suppose next I'll have to stop shopping in the juniors section.

Monday, May 5, 2008

'My mommy's running ... today'

The morning was cold, and I wore gloves in the car.

Still, when we stepped out and began the short walk to the starting line, we knew it would be perfect.

We joined the crowd fanned out from the starting line, and before long I found myself alone. I sought out a bathroom in the football stadium and then I stretched, savoring the last moments of stillness.

I found my friend, Cara, again and we ditched our bags of stuff in a truck staffed by National Guardsmen. Miss Nebraska was singing The National Anthem and we ducked into the mass of runners behind the starting line.

The gun went off -- actually, it was a cannon; seriously -- and we started slow, walking, as we inched our way to the actual line. I clicked my watch and we were off. All 6,000 of us.

Almost right away, I felt emotional. There is just something about being with so many other people on a cold, bright morning doing the exact same strange-to-so-many-people thing. Running. Pure and simple.

The spectators along Lincoln's half-marathon course are amazing. Little boys held their hands out for high fives (I, of course, obliged as many as I could). Little girls held signs with their daddies that said, "Go, Mommy! We love you!" or "My mommy's running 26.2 today."

Others had signs that said, "99 percent of Nebraska decided not to run 26.2 miles today."

My favorite: "Your reason thanks you."

You see all sorts of people on a marathon course. Old men with beer bellies and no hair. Old women with outdated running clothes and gray hair. Young women in sports bras and tattoos. Young men in nothing but a pair of running shorts. People of all shapes and sizes and ages in between.

It really is something.

And somehow we all fit. Running doesn't care what you look like, how old you are, if you have a successful career or if nobody really likes you. Anyone can do it. And everyone is welcome.

I looked around as I ran Sunday. I read the signs, I thanked the kids giving high fives. I noticed the people who were watching. Just like the runners, the spectators were all ages, shapes and sizes. A baby just learning to walk toddled on his front lawn while his dad stood, hands in his pockets, just watching us all go past.

I was happy to pass the first mile mark in 9:05, almost exactly the pace I had cautiously hoped for. By mile three, I was on track to finish in under two hours, but I didn't get my hopes up yet. I still had a long way to go.

Before I knew it, I was at mile six and then seven and there was my personal cheering section, who I was thrilled to see. I gave Rye a kiss and then kept going. I figured those four seconds were worth it.

At mile eight or nine I saw them again and then I was almost done. I passed a giant tub of jelly beans, the tiny orbs spilled out onto the ground, and it made me smile. I decided against stopping for orange slices or bananas either, grabbing only one more cup of water, swishing the liquid in my mouth and spitting it out before bracing for the end.

Just after mile 10 when the race heads into the final straight stretch, I knew I could do it. I could finish in under 2 hours.

So I just kept going. One foot in front of the other, over and over again. At mile 12, I saw a crying baby in a stroller. His dad was halfheartedly offering the boy a baby biscuit or piece of bread. The kid just kept screaming. I felt like saying, "I know how you feel." But I didn't. Because I didn't. I was tired, yes, but I was having a great time.

Around the final bend, I gave it everything I had. It looked like an awkward, hobbled-sort of sprint, I'm sure, but as I crossed the finish line and clicked my watch and heard my friends and family cheering for me, nothing else mattered.

I was nowhere close to winning this half-marathon or even placing in my age group (nor will I ever be), but this, for me, was a victory.

My official time: 1:56:50.

It's one of those memories you hope never goes away.

(Cara, for her part, ran twice as long as me yesterday and smashed her personal record. She finished the 26.2 mile course in 3:50. I caught her at the end and she said she wanted nothing more than to stop running. I remember that feeling. But she kept going, of course, along with so many others I saw out my car window afterward, who were running the whole damn thing. Way to go!)

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Thank you, mystery nominator

So ... who was it?

Someone -- thank you VERY much -- nominated me for the BlogHer Hero Contest. Wow.

That is flattering and inspiring and really means a lot.

So thanks again.

Now, if I can just keep writing posts that matter...

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Grocery store goodness

I never thought being at Hy-Vee could be so nice.

But tonight I went alone.

I got to use the big girl cart that wasn't extra long, impossible to steer and shaped like a firetruck. I got to stop and look at things that caught my eye.

No one talked me into buying popsicles shaped like Shrek like that three months later are still unopened in our freezer.

I walked more slowly. I looked around. I thought things to myself!

I smiled knowingly at the other mothers there WITH their children.

One was instructing her son, who was maybe 4, how to pick out the unblemished apples. After great care, the boy finally chose four.

And then his sister, maybe 2 and sitting in the cart, dropped them all on the floor.

Meanwhile, I serenely chose between the ripe avocados.

In the cereal aisle, I compared prices. I noticed that several cereals of my youth have gone and changed their look! Total Raisin Bran is now sleeker, shinier, perhaps a bit more purple.

It's these sorts of details I normally miss.

The best part, though, was that I spent time in the tiny, pristine health-food area. The aisles are small there. Seriously. The fire truck cart doesn't fit. And it's one of those areas I just want to look. I'm one who likes to peruse the options before making a choice.

Tonight, I got to. I indulged in about seven minutes in the healthy little section. I came away with two jars of organic salsa, yellow corn organic tortilla chips and one tube of energy gel for the half marathon on Sunday.

I was happy.