Friday, December 29, 2006

A Different Take on New Year's Resolutions

Well, it's that time of year --

  • lots of leftovers;
  • major sales of picked-over goods; and
  • commercials for diet plans, diet pills, and health clubs every 30 seconds.

Insult is added when the Valentine candy was put on sale the day before Christmas!

The more insightful among us use these final days of the year to reflect on the past and plan for the future.

The most common resolutions in the U.S. are (order may vary by region):

  1. exercise more,
  2. lose weight,
  3. get out of debt,
  4. quit smoking,
  5. quit drinking,
  6. spend more time with family,
  7. get organized,
  8. learn something new (read or go back to school),
  9. find balance in life, and
  10. help others more.

Noble, yes! All these things require so much discipline! Sounds like more work to me. Fortunately, I'm 50% there with the common resolutions -- can you guess which half? I figured that to only have 5 resolutions would defeat the purpose, so I've come up with 10 new resolutions for the year.

Here are my resolutions (or should I say "aspirations") for 2007:

  1. I will toss the burnt garlic bread out the kitchen window before the smoke alarm goes off.
  2. I will hit the snooze button no more than twice before starting the day.
  3. I will remember all the logins and passwords that I use on the internet.
  4. I will not buy any crack houses this year.
  5. I will complete the sleep study and do what's necessary so that my apnea won't wake hubby at night.
  6. I will learn to hip hop dance in a way that will impress my kids.
  7. I will do another stand-up comedy routine in public.
  8. I will embarrass my kids in public.
  9. I will laugh more.
  10. I will share my dazzling wit with family, friends, and anyone who crosses my path.

I wish you and yours a New Year filled with wonder, wisdom, love, great health, and prosperity.

Monday, December 25, 2006

2006 Christmas Fashion: Pajamas

We had our appointment with Santa at Phipps Plaza at 2 p.m. on Christmas Eve day. Katrina and Alexander cleaned up nicely and while they were working for coal in the car drive, they were sweet as sugar when they got their turn with Santa. Katrina is now 12 and this is her 11th year on tape with Santa. Alexander is 10 and 5/6 and this is his 11th Santa visit as well.

Robert baked another batch of his famous cookies for Santa and watched Miracle on 34th Street with the kids while I wrapped gifts and baked for Christmas morning. The kids were warned that they could wake us up at 9 a.m. and then we would open presents.

No alarm clock was needed this morning -- at precisely 9 a.m., the pitter patter of their feet was heard down the hallway as the kids came into our bedroom singing "We wish you a Merry Christmas." Their dad tortures them by taking time to shave and brush his teeth before going downstairs to set up the video camera to capture their descent down the stairs to get to their stockings.

This is the first Christmas day where we stayed at home all day. This was quite disturbing for our daughter, who felt we broke the important family tradition of having Christmas dinner at Aunt Linda and Uncle Ted's home. In recent years, we would join our cousins Catherine and Christina at their parents' home. Now that Catherine's two kids are getting old enough to fully grasp Christmas morning, they decided to stay at home (in Florida) this year. Of course, that means that the grandparents would drive to Florida to see their grandkids. So we are left to fend for ourselves for Christmas dinner.

To prepare for Christmas breakfast, I made mom's famous Jewish Coffee Cake and Grandma Vesta's Blueberry Buckle. It's always fun to start the day with dessert first, and these go great with my morning coffee. Gram has been on my mind a lot the last couple of months -- I'm sure her message will reveal itself when I just sit still for a bit.

Robert and the kids decided to stay in their pajamas ALL day. Katrina and Alex are assembling Lego Ferrari cars and Hogwarts trains while listening to the sixth Harry Potter book on CD.

I got a great nap in the middle of the day -- I can't remember when I took a nap without being ill! I got a great book called, The Moon Watcher's Companion. It got me started to think again about the writing career that I've yet to seriously launch. What could I write about? So much has already been said. My brother Gus came up with a couple suggestions:
* Motivations for People Who Relax Too Much
* Google Zeros -- help for people whose names get no hits on Google

Friday, December 22, 2006

Locks of Love -- A Gift That Keeps Giving

December 22nd, 2006

Katrina went to Salon Greco this morning to get a very special haircut. She had 11 inches of hair cut off into three ponytails so the hair she's grown for three years could be donated to Locks of Love. This nonprofit organization accepts donated human hair in good condition and has wigs made for children who lose their hair due to cancer and other illnesses which cause baldness.

This is the second time that Katrina donated 11 inches of her hair to Locks of Love. The last time was over the 2003 Thanksgiving weekend.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Holiday Gifts or Guilt?!

This time of year feels like life is running on fast-forward. And for what? Everyone I talk with laments the commercialism of Christmas. Yet we continue to participate. People (women, mostly) feel obligated to give gifts to people whom they usually don't even send a birthday card during the year. They confess to having a few extra wrapped gifts tucked away in case they receive a gift from someone who wasn't on their list. "It's to avoid those awkward moments," they explain.

Why? Why do these seemingly mandatory gifts come with an unspoken expectation that each gift must be reciprocated?

I confess to being caught up in the holiday gift rat race. Each year I say that enough is enough and I'm not going to do it the next year. This year, I mean it. I'm growing up! Okay, well, I'm weaning off of the gift madness. I asked my husband to make his famous cookies this year so we could give them to neighbors and friends whom I normally feel compelled to spend money buying things they don't need.

I've warned some friends that they are receiving "Robert's Famous Cookies" for the holidays this year. That is code for, "I'm not buying anything for you this year, and I hope you don't buy anything for us this year, either."

The real test of my growth is how I will handle it if they give us store-bought gifts anyway. Will I whip out one of those pre-wrapped gifts I've stashed away over the years or will I just say, "thank you!" and share a hug?

I did manage to get some holiday photo cards printed up this year and wrote a one-page year-end letter to send out. I've even addressed and stamped about 30 of them this weekend. Now they just need to make it to the post office.

I had gone almost ten years without getting holiday cards mailed out -- letters were written almost every year, but they stayed in a stack until it was too embarrassingly late to send them out (like the wedding thank you notes I found five years after our wedding).

Let's make a pact for next year -- it's not too early to start talking it up:
No store-bought gifts beyond immediate family for Christmas 2007. Make a donation to a local charity in honor of all those candles, ornaments, and tchochkes you normally buy for people. Let your friends know that you are honoring them by supporting an organization that helps others throughout the year.

Peace to you and yours!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Paperchase Home Stretch

Nine months of paper gestating and no baby.

But finally -- four months after the Atlanta office of the USCIS received our request for permission to adopt internationally, we received our permission slip, called the I-797. (Adoptive families in other states receive an I-171H form -- go figure!). I spent most of a day this week getting it notarized, notary verified by the County, and the county certified by the Secretary of State, so the whole thing can be certified by the Chinese Consulate in Houston, TX.

As soon as we receive the papers back with the consulate's certification, our dossier will be complete with our adoption agency! YEAYYYYYYYY!!!

Next up, our dossier will be reviewed by the agency, translated into Chinese, and bound with a bunch of family photos and shipped to China. There, our agency's staff will deliver our dossier to the Chinese government where it will be logged in and processed sometime 15-17 months after it is logged in. As of now, China has more qualified families wanting to adopt than they have orphans who are "paper-ready" and in the system for international adoption. Does this mean that all orphaned children are being placed with families? Unfortunately, there are still several hundred thousand orphans living in institutional and foster care across that beautiful, vast country.

We began the adoption process in March of this year and here we are, 9 months later, to be only about one-third of the way to being united with our child. It is extremely frustrating, especially for one who likes to see immediate results once a decisive action has been taken.

I do not believe in coincidences. I know there is order in what seems to be chaos in the universe. I don't always like being in the midst of it, but I accept it. So what am I to learn from this process and journey?

I choose to believe that children are given to us as they are to teach us and help us grown-ups be the best we can be. The little soul who is to be part of our family is not ready for us -- or maybe we are not ready for her/him. Other parents who have children through adoption tell me often that when we meet our child, we will know instantly that we are meant to be together. I just want it NOW!

Katrina and Alexander are so excited about having a sister or brother (we haven't specified a gender, but odds are strong that we will get a girl) and I want them to have enough time together in the same house before the older ones go off to college.

Over the next two weeks, I'm doing what I do best -- making a list of things to get done before we are matched with our daughter or son. I have plenty of time, so there go my excuses for not learning conversational Mandarin, getting in shape so I can manage a toddler with ease, de-cluttering the house, getting her/his room ready, preparing my team at work to move our agenda without my daily presence, learning from adults who were adopted from Asian countries and grew up in a white household, etc...

I also need to remember how to be in the present moment... Katrina and Alexander have taught me more about that than any other experience in my life. To honor them and our yet-to-be-known child, I must recommit to being in the Now.
Okay, I get it! These kids are here to teach me. And their snuggles are amazing, too!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Camping with the Middles

Are we getting so old that we are no longer understand the lingo and music of today's youth? I think not! I may be in my 40's, but I can chill or hang with the best of them. In my desire to maintain a strong, open relationship with my kids, I vascilate between living to embarrass them to sitting quietly and observing them in their natural social habitat. Both seem to annoy them if they catch me in the act.

So when my kids told me they just had to go to the middle school CONference with kids from their Religious Education class and that drivers/chaperones were needed, the date with destiny was made. I'd never been to The Mountain Center in Highlands, NC and was warned that it is a pretty rustic retreat center that focuses on honoring the natural habitat. Fair disclsosure: My idea of "camping" is staying at a hotel that doesn't provide thick, terry bathrobes nor room service.

We set out for the two hour drive on Friday evening, right after my husband returned from a week-long trip to Japan. "Make sure you get plenty of sleep on the flight back home, honey," I warned him. "You are going to be the adult advisor to four of our young men from church this weekend in a rustic mountain cabin."

It was absolutely beautiful in the mountains of Highlands, NC with fresh air and the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets. The stars in the night sky seemed close enough to touch. The weekend flew by and upon our return, there were several things I learned:

1. Kids are under a lot of pressure to conform to social norms, which are heavily influenced by corporate marketing. I heard kids talk about the looks and comments they receive if they aren't wearing "the" clothing brands. Some of these kids reject certain brands for socially responsible reasons -- like child labor issues, sexist marketing, and the way the environment is treated by the producers. Some would rather have less expensive clothes and save money for other things.

2. Kids don't feel safe to be themselves most of the time. Adults are not mindful about creating environments where all children and youth feel accepted being who they are. There is pressure to live up to an image or try to make self invisible to avoid being noticed.

3. Even the quietest kid has remarkable talents. During a session called the Coffee House, the youth were encouraged to sign up for a slot during the open mic Coffee House. Everyone is cheered for having the courage to get up there. Laughter was kind and the applause was genuine. A couple of kids decided during the Coffee House to add their names to the list when they saw the kind of love and encouragement others received.

4. Kids need safe spaces and places to relax, unwind, and just be. Parents aren't the only people in the house who are stressed out during the day. We need to be mindful that our kids need the same kind of serenity moments where they don't feel the need to be "on."

5. Parents dance like "old people." No matter how many dance contests we might have won at our college bars, kids today think we dance "funny." So my Shakira-booty-shake might continue a little longer due to the laws of physics on my middle-aged behind -- why should that embarrass my kids? And my idea of popping my back involves a chiropracter, not a rapper.
We can still have fun! We just realized that the Electric Slide is older than today's middle schoolers -- the DJ might as well have played "Celebration" or the Hokey Pokey!

6. Quirky can be cool. As I watched these kids interact over the weekend, I heard the kid inside me ask, "where were these cool, quirky kids when I was growing up?" They seem so much more comfortable in their own skin than I did at their age -- as well they should! Instead of worrying about how they might not fit in, they focus on what is important to them: A few real friends over mass popularity.

It seems these young people already know what many adults have yet to learn -- that appealing to the masses is meaningless if you don't love and trust yourself. That is what authenticity is all about.

We ended the weekend with the kids offering reflections on what the weekend meant to them. They shared sincere appreciation for the time together, the opportunity to commune with nature, make new friends and renew old friendships with kids from other states.
This article is my way of saying, "Thanks, kids! You taught me so much. I can sleep better knowing the future is in your hands."

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Resist the Urge to Shop til You Drop

This is the season of charging credit cards to the max as people begin the stressful winter olympic sport: holiday shopping.

It is a recipe for financial disaster that calls for:
1 part Advertising that assaults your senses (tv, radio, catalogs, newspapers, web)
2 parts Guilt (want to save face in front of others)
1 part Impulse shopping (I'll know the perfect gift when I see it)
2 parts Excessive Spending beyond what's reasonable to your budget
3 parts Remorse in January and February when the bills arrive

Here's how the cycle goes with many of us:
1. make a list of all the people you "must" buy gifts for...
2. list people to buy gifts for because you think they might buy you a gift (and that would be too awkward)
3. try to come up with gift ideas for each person on the list that won't break the bank.
4. when you can't come up with any ideas, head for the mall.

Once you find a parking place and get inside, you fall victim to all the impulse purchases that are more expensive than you planned. Since you don't have that kind of cash, you are lured by "save 10% when you get an in-store credit card" Cool, you think. I save money and get credit at the same time. Maybe I'll spend a little more while I'm getting such a good deal.

While all this consumer purchasing may be good for the economy, it will wreak havoc on your personal economy!

Did you know that your credit score drops EACH time you apply for that in-store credit? Why does that matter? Because the next time you shop for financing for a house or car or get insurance, the pricing will be driven by your credit score.

Then, there's the day of reckoning -- when the bills arrive in the mail. Do you have enough cash in the bank to pay those balances in FULL? If not, look at the high interest rates you'll be paying. Then, there are late fees, over limit fees, and any other junk fees the finance companies can legally tack on.

Quick -- Here is a bit of perspective:
Right now, name each gift you received last year, who gave it to you, where it is right now, and how important that item is in your life.

Let's not forget there is a war going on and millions of people around the world live in fear of violence.

Here are some Unique Gift Alternatives for 2007:

Around Thanksgiving, send a nice card to people you think you need to purchase a gift for and let them know that instead of giving gifts to friends this year, you've:

a. made a donation to a favorite local charity in honor of your family and friends

b. provided items to go to our troops who are serving overseas so they can have some holiday cheer from back home

c. adopted a local family or children in need for the holidays and are providing them with gifts for a merry Christmas and happy new year

d. paid down/off your credit cards/student loans/car note so that the new year can start off on the right financial foot

You'd be surprised how many sighs of relief you will create by this simple action.
They will also no longer feel obligated and can focus on the true spirit of the season -- love, renewal, family, and community.

Give it a try and let me know how it works!

Peace to you and yours.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Take the Toothpaste Challenge

I like minty-fresh breath. Especially when tucking the kids into their beds at night -- I love the sweet smell of their fresh breath as they kiss me good night. When my son shared that "eau de spaghetti casserole" the other night, I sent him off to brush his teeth. "I was going to, mom, but I don't have any toothpaste. Sam's dog ate it, remember?"

That's right. He spent the night at a friend's house and their dog apparently is also attracted to minty fresh smells. I saw the toothpaste tube carcass and said "No worries, we'll get you some more later. We can leave this for Mrs. Beasley."

So off I go to pick up some toothpaste. How hard is it to go grab a tube of Aqua-Fresh or Crest or Colgate? Well, toothpaste is an example of marketing gone wild. Each brand has too many options: teeth whitening, tartar control, enamel strengthening, sensitive teeth, flouride, calcium, gel, paste, gel & paste stripes, 3 kinds of mint, cinnamon... and various combinations therein! I hadn't planned to think so hard. Imagine what I will hear from the family if I come home with the wrong tubes! (Then imagine how I will respond!)

I could hear my Grandma's voice in my mind saying, "Hey, toots -- we used good old fashioned baking soda when I was growing up and I had all my teeth when I died at 85!" Imagine that -- good teeth and low prices!

A pharmacy worker came down the aisle to see if I needed any help. Apparently I looked quite perplexed, as if reading toothpaste boxes was an exercise in decoding a foreign language. "I'm looking for plain old toothpaste," I told him. "I don't think they make that anymore. They've got all new toothpaste technology." the young man said.

Toothpaste "technology"? You've gotta be kidding! A toothbrush and some friction -- that's all it takes (Grandma's voice again)

By this point, the young man sees that I'm either stupid or in shock. He decides to go for the jugular. "You know, some of these work better with motorized toothbrushes than others."

I had forgotten about those. For people too lazy to rotate the toothbrush in small circular motions, there are now toothbrushes that will do that for you with the push of a button. I'm told that they really do make a difference, but then someone suggested that they work better because they run for 2 minutes and most people don't make those circular motions on their teeth for two minutes on their own. Ahhhh!

After I held my breath and threw 4 tubes of toothpaste in my basket, the guy sheepishly asked, "do you need any tongue scrapers?"

"Oh, I've got plenty of those, thanks!" I said. Then I bolted for the check-out.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Stuff I Do For Free

My son saw a responsibilities chart in my daughter's room tonight and asked if he could have one. We've tried all kinds of positive reinforcement systems since the kids were toddlers (I think potty training started it all -- boy, did they get us trained!). Stars, Points, M&Ms, Skittles, you name it.

He read down the list of tasks on Katrina's list and said "Cool -- I get a nickel for each thing I do on the list, right?" I can see the gears in his mind grinding away, calculating the money he will get each day for making his bed, brushing his teeth, feeding the cat, loading the dishwasher... As a fifth grader, he is already falling prey to the grips of capitalism and consumerism. Apparently, he is the ONLY kid in school who is not wearing $200 sneakers!

Katrina answered him before I could. "No, Alexander -- that is the stuff I do for FREE."
"For FREE?" he asked incredulously.
FOR FREE? I asked.

They hear the spiel about being part of this community we call a family. They know I don't get paid for taking them to various practices, tutoring, cooking nutritious meals, and late night runs for poster board and rubber cement for the project they neglected to remember until the night before its due.

I decided to try a new tact: Promoting voluntarism and the personal growth and satisfaction that come from helping others and making the world a better place. Both kids have the volunteer gene in their DNA. Their compassion for others is well known among their friends and teachers.

They spent six months collecting soda and beer cans to take to the recycling center to donate the proceeds to a family who was raising money for a liver transplant. All that time, all those cans, and the syrupy drip marks in the back of my SUV, got them $9.70 to give the family. "How much of a liver will that get him?" asked my daughter. "Probably one Tylenol in the hospital," I thought to myself.

We created a matching program and they did some extra things around the house to earn money so they could donate $50 to the liver transplant fund.

Is it possible to channel that compassion MY way?

They are children and still learning about exchanges and different types of rewards.

But what about some adults? They will walk for cancer, talk nice in front of the preacher, but back at the office refuse to help a co-worker. That's not my job... I don't get paid to do that... I've seen this attitude in retail stores when I'm a customer and think "If I were your mother/manager..."

I thought of all the stuff I do "for free" for my family, my co-workers, my community and really don't think twice about it. I do it out of a sense of philanthropy (love of mankind). I don't think about quid pro quo -- I figure that if I share kindness and grace with others, it will come back to me when I need it most. And it always does.

What will you do for free today?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

What Names Hang from Your Family Tree?

Did you know that humans and apes have 99% of their DNA in common? It makes the question I heard growing up, "What are you?" all the more poignant. Back then, the question referred to your ethnic heritage. Are you Greek? Irish? Polish? Italian? Jewish? I learned my fractions at a young age by trying to give the ingredients to my gene pool. Let's see, I'm half Greek, a quarter Irish, and a quarter French, German, and maybe some English.

As teenagers, we would try to calculate what our children would be if we married that cute but not-so-bright ball player. Or that sorta cute and very funny band geek. Calculating ethnic genetics and capability genetics proved to be a task that could keep a slumber party talking all night.

Marriage was the last thing on my mind during and right after college. I was out for opportunities to gain wisdom from the world. Dating was not supposed to be a direct path down the aisle as far as I was concerned. And despite my "mixed heritage," the pressures to find a "nice Greek boy" were strong. The cultural pressures actually worked against ambitious Greek American women who wanted to set the world on fire more than their stoves at home. Expectations create very powerful social norms, and the best way to manage the "perfect Greek wife" image was to avoid it.

Of course, when I brought home a WASP with the last name "Peed" to meet the family, you might think I went a bit extreme. I was used to having a name that sounded funny and no one could pronounce, but with a funny sounding last name that is so clearly spelled, well, that was another thing. What is it? people would ask. It doesn't sound Italian, or Irish, or Polish...

What kind of name is "Peed"? This is the question that led me to pursue the genealogy of my dear hubby. Growing up with that name is not for everyone. Two of Robert's uncles changed their last names to avoid the teasing (they are now Reed and Peet). So if you run into folks with either of those last names, there is a good chance that their ancestry actually has some Peed in it! That makes me smile every time I meet a Reed or Peede or Peete.

Our children have grown in their resilience with the name. They say the first couple of days at school each year are the toughest, as new teachers call out names and kids who hear Peed for the first time snicker. But they have learned to let name calling roll of their backs, which is a very useful skill in life. No one has yet to come up with a smarty pants comment that we haven't already joked about at home. (I told Katrina that if we had named her after my Aunt Mildred, she would have been Milly Peed).

Of course, their middle names are my maiden name, so we had to make sure their first names were strong and easy to pronounce and spell.

With our impending adoption(s), we are back to the drawing board with names. The new wrinkle in the process is that our child/ren will be from China, so we are working on how to honor their heritage without creating names that are overwhelming for people. Your name is the first impression you make in many instances -- people often see your name on paper before they meet you.

So, if you have any great ideas, please feel free to share them with us. We have about a year before we will travel to China to get our child/ren.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Happy New Year (Back to School Year)

The night before the first day of school is much like Christmas eve. The kids have a hard time falling asleep in anticipation of what awaits them the next day. Last night was was particularly big -- one child nervous about starting middle school and one excited to begin his last year at elementary school.

This morning, Robert drove Alexander ("call me Alex") to elementary school today where he begins his last year there. He's now a big fifth grader, asking if his clothes match, putting gel in his short hair. The kindergartners look so small in comparison to these 5th graders. And their parents looked so worried, compared to the seasoned parents of older kids. I remember the first day of kindergarten like it was yesterday...

I drove Katrina to middle school (her first day as a 6th grader). She wanted to ride the bus, but since I'm leaving town for the week, she let me drive her there today. She also let me park the car and walk her to the front door. We walked hand-in-hand from the car UNTIL we turned the corner to the front of the building where there were 100 or so kids milling around waiting for the bell to ring so they could enter the building. When she let go of my hand, she said, "Now mom, don't say anything to embarrass me!" Katrina has never said that before and MEANT it, and I confess to being a bit incredulous. "What would I say that would embarrass you, honey?" I asked. "Just use your good judgment, mommy, I trust you." she replied.

Note to self: kids do remember what you say to them and they will quite smugly turn your phrase back on you!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Paperchase Winds Down

Great news today! Our homestudy is complete and has been approved for China, Georgia, and the US. We should get the approved report this week and then need to have it certified and authenticated. That means take it to Fulton County and then down to the Secretary of State's office. Still waiting for a dozen documents to come back from the Chinese Consultate in Houston.

With all these done, then we'll take pictures of all the paperwork (for posterity) and deliver the stack to CCAI's Georgia office for dossier review and preparation.

On a sad note, there was a major typhoon that hit the southeastern coast of China today. It is reported to be the worst to hit in 50 years. We will try to find out if orphanages (called SWIs -- social welfare institutions) were damaged or destroyed.

The airwaves have been full of news that the British government foiled a significant plot to blow up several airplanes heading from London to the US. So far, 25 people have been arrested. As of today, no one can go through security with any liquids, gels, or lotions. All toiletries must be checked luggage. The lines at Hartsfield were hours long today. I travel to Washington, DC next Monday.