Sparring with a champion

For the year, I’ve taken Tae Kwon Do at the dojang where my kids take lessons. It’s been an awesome experience, for me, who has always been unathletic and uncoordinated. I’m now a black and white belt and will be testing for black belt sometime before October. That’s right, people. I’m going to be a black belt!!!

Yeah, I’m super excited, but I am also aware that I would never have made it there on my own. I was lucky that started taking classes at the same time as some wonderful other women. We encourage one another and carry one another when we need to. And we lucked into a class with some other great women (all black belts), who are fun and patient with us. One of them is a 68 year old fourth degree black belt! I totally want to be here when I grow up!

And, then there’s our instructor, Master Um, who won the world championship in sparring. Watching him is amazing. Just the way he moves. Lightening fast. It’s like watching a movie. You know those fight scenes in movies where the ninja moves so fast you’re sure it’s a special effect? It’s not. He moves like that.

He doesn’t spar with us often, but every single time he does, I take a moment to pause. To just watch the way he does things. Not only to marvel, but also to learn. Every day I go to the dojang, I learn so much from the people I work with. I learn about my limits, my capablities. I learn when to be humble and when to proud. When to work harder.

I have felt that way about this blog. Every time I come to this blog I learn more about what it means to be a mother. What it means to raise children and grow them into people I want to share the world with. Just being part of this blog has made me raise my game. Just like when I’m in Tae Kwon Do, sometimes I come to this blog and I just stop and marvel. With these women–the ones who visit the blog and the ones who write on it with me–with these women, who are smart and strong and dedicated, with these women raising the next generation, how can we go wrong?

Thank you for sharing your lives, your creativity and your children with me.

So Long, Farewell

Until we meet again

Goodbyes are never easy. At least, not for me. Especially when they’re shared with loved ones, people I’m fond of, places I enjoy being, or blogs to which I feel a connection.

I guess you can see where I’m going here.

It’s my final blog on the Peanut Butter on the Keyboard site. I haven’t been a PBOK mom for very long, but I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. The camaraderie, the shared insight and advice, the comfort in hearing from other women with similar issues. Whether we have kids or not, have toddlers or adolescents or young adults, whether we’re married or single, whether we’re writers or not… we’re all women, striving to do our best, give our best, be our best… in a world that is ever changing, ever challenging, ever hectic.

There are times we want to fix everything, accomplish anything and feel like we’re SuperWoman. And there are moments when we just want to curl up on our couch, cover up with a warm blanket and take a nap.

We’ve shared celebrations, tragedies, family traditions, and posts about ideas or organizations or injustices we feel strongly about and staunchly support. We’ve questioned ourselves, our kids, our parenting, our actions—and in return we’ve received guidance, pats on the back, reassurance, tips, “hang-in theres” and commiseration.

I’m sad to see our time here come to an end. But the rose-colored-glasses, wide-eyed optimist in me refuses to think of this as “good-bye” but rather “FAREWELL!” Until next time. On the next blog somewhere on the internet. On the bookshelves. At a conference. In the grocery line. In spirit.

I wish you and yours a life full of peace, joy, health and love—much much love.

So, in the spirit of my musical theatre-loving family, I leave you with a song, a little dance, a little laughter and a fond, fond farewell.

If you’d care to share what movie or TV show farewell is your favorite, I’d love to hear it.

I watched many sad farewell videos before I selected this one. But seeing as how I prefer to close on a happier until-we-meet-again note, I close with this classic.

Until we meet again my friends…

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Cookie Exchange!

If you remember when we first introduced ourselves on this blog, I took the moniker, La Vida Loca Mom.

Just the other day I was telling my pal, author Cindy Miles, that it just didn’t feel like Christmas to me this year. For one thing, I live in Texas and it was 80 degrees outside. I’m really hoping for at least the low 60s for Christmas Day! But mostly because I’ve just been so busy.

Because I work at the corporate office for a restaurant group, December is just…insane. I work long hours, and even weekends, which I don’t do any other time during the year. It’s 100 miles a minute, from the second I walk in the door, until the moment I leave. I do have fun because I work with a great group of people, and we’re making Christmas really special for others, in lots of different ways (on top of our usual work load), but at the end of the day, I’m drained and left with little time to make my own family’s Christmas special.

But I’m determined to get on track this weekend. Sunday is MINE. I’m going to get my Christmas cards written (better late than never!) and bake cookies with my daughter. That’s part of Christmas for me, having cookies and cranberry orange bread to eat and they make the house smell great the way Christmas should! I always try to make a few new kinds of cookies, but there are several I’ve made since I was little and baking cookies with my mom. Here’s my sentimental favorite, Berlinerkranser, that I’ll be making again this year—in its original Technicolor format, the treasured original being a gift from my mom several years back.
Cookie 1
Cookie2

If you double click the image, the picture will enlarge enough so you can read! Sorry, I was too inept to successfully resize it. And no, I’ve never tried to make that magnificent Yule Log. Yet.

Do you have a favorite Christmas cookie recipe? Tell us about it! If you have a link to the recipe, even better! Please share!

The Holiday Spirit

It’s that time of year again! The stores are decked out in every kind of sparkle, and playing Christmas songs on their speakers. Everywhere we look, we’re being encouraged to buy buy buy (i.e., Spend! Spend! Spend!)

Many of us look for more meaningful ways to celebrate the true spirit of the holiday. I know I want my kids to be able to look beyond all the marketing mania and materialism, and know there’s much more to this very special season than “stuff”. Opportunities to make a difference abound, in big ways and small. Here are a couple of things we’re doing this year:

My daughter and I “adopted” a toddler age child and young mom who currently live at a place called Covenant House. Ever heard of Covenant House? They have “houses” in 27 cities throughout the US, Canada and Latin America, and provide support services and opportunities to homeless kids. Teens in crisis is an issue that’s become very important to me, maybe because my kids are teenagers now and I’ve become more and more aware that many (many) kids don’t have stable homes to go home to each night. They are passed around between family members that may or may not want to care for them, or fending for themselves. For Christmas, we bought our adopted mom-and-child clothes, other necessities and of course–some toys. We hope our gifts make their Christmas a little brighter.

And here’s something I saw in the news this morning—an opportunity for young kids, teenagers or adults that would take five minutes of your time, and mean a great deal to a very special someone. This may be 6-year-old Addie Fausett’s last Christmas, for reasons you can read about in the article if you wish. One thing that raises her spirits, is receiving Christmas cards. If you or your child want to send Addie a Christmas card, her address is: P.O Box 162, Fountain Green, Utah, 84632

What are some special things you’ve done, this year, or previous years, to keep your holiday season “real”?

Ode to Beverly Goldberg

Over the years I’ve seen numerous features on TV and the Internet about “Favorite TV Moms”. There are certain moms that always make an appearance this list. June Cleaver and Carol Brady come to mind. They’re always cheerful, dignified, lovingly concerned and you never, ever doubt their devotion to their children. They are the epitome of motherhood. And they always so wise, offer the best advice, and…well, I never heard June or Carol holler at their kids or let a curse word slip.

They’re heartwarming characters, but…I don’t really relate to them so much. My favorite TV mom? Beverly Goldberg. Anyone watch The Goldbergs?

Beverly Goldberg 3
I love Beverly. Beverly lakes me laugh. A lot. I relate to Beverly. Why?

Beverly unabashedly loves all three of her children, but…we get to see the human side of Beverly. She loves to watch them sleep. She gets wounded when one of them rebuffs her (very persistent) affections. She plays “favorites”, giving the last of the Boo Berry Cereal to whoever hasn’t hurt her feelings that day. She attends all of her kids’ important events (even when they don’t want her to). And she shamelessly interferes in their lives. Oh, and she snoops.

Beverly Goldberg 1

AND, best of all, since it’s the 80s, she wears fab outfits featuring shoulder pads, decorated sweaters and yes, even parachute pants.

Beverly Goldberg 2
You may be horrified by all of these things, but they only make my love Beverly more. Other than the fashion choices, I’m a lot like Beverly and Beverly’s a lot like me.

Who’s your favorite TV Mom. Do you relate to her, and why?

My kids love to listen to books. They love it when I read aloud (which is still a major part of our bedtime routine, even though they are now nearly seven and nine). They also love recorded books from Audible. Even though books from Audible are pricey, we have a membership and helps keep the price down. But even if it wasn’t possible to get them at a reasonsable price, I would still think they were a bargain. We’ve listened to many wonderful books while driving in the car. And since we live “out in the boondocks” as I like to say, we spend a lot of time in the car.

The books my kids love are ones they will listen to over and over and over again. Since we’ve gotten such joy from recorded books, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite titles with you. If you can’t afford a aubscription from Audible, check out your local library. They will have a selection you can borrow.

 

41onbzuscNL._SL150_Clementine

Written by Sarah Pennypacker

Narrated by Jessica Almasy

This series–about a percoious red headed 3rd grader–is a hit with both my own percoious red-head and with her younger brother. And with me as well! The characters are warm and delightful, the conflict and themes are both age appropriate and heart-felt. The fantastic narration highlights the books’ humor as well as their more emotional moments.

 

Artemis Fowl

Written by Eoin Colfer

Narrated by Nathaniel Parker

An action/adventure series about a boy criminal-mastermind–the titular Artemis Fowl–who gets more than he bargained for when he decides to capture and hold for ransom one of the fairy folk. Fast-paced, smart and an all-around hoot-n-half, the plot and characters of Artemis Fowl will entertain and delight even the most curmudgeonly listener. Frankly, I don’t know why no ones making movies of these! (Or writing books for adults this good, for that matter.)

 

Matilda

Written by Roald Dahl

Narrated by Kate Winslet

I think anything writtne by Dahl sells itself. (And–holy guacamole!–narrated by Kate Winslet? How did I not notice that before now? Probably because the story is so engaging.) But if you need more proof, we’ve listened to this one approximately nineteen times. And I may be low-balling that number. The kids simply love it. ‘Nough said.

 

The Water Horse

Written by Dick King-Smith

Narrated by Nathanial Parker

This is one those rare books that is slow-paced, charming and engaging. It will interest readers, without ever overwhelming them. My kids sometimes get to wrapped up in stories, but this one keeps them listening without every being too scary or overstimulating. It’s just a delightful, lovely tale.

 

When You Reach Me

Written by Rebecca Stead

Narrated by Cynthia Holloway

Just a friggin’ fantastic book. It’s for a slightly older audience than the others (though mostly in plot complexity, not content). The year I first listened to it, I decided it was the book I’d read that year. It’s mysterious and atmospheric and complex and thought-provoking. I dare you not to love this book. I dare you. In fact, if you listen to it and *don’t* love it, I’ll refund your fifteen bucks. Oh, and it’s a Newberry award winner. Those people know what they’re talking about.

 

514STvKcm9L._SL150_Holes

By Louis Sachar

Narrated by Kerry Beyer

Thematically probably more complex than a lot of the others, this book deals with faith, friendship, race relations, and smelly shoes. It’s brilliant. Funny. Tragic. Romantic. Everything you could possibly want. And it’s another Newberry winner. I told you they know what they’re doing over there.

 

In case you’re wondering, we’ve listened to every one of these books at least three times. We’ve listened to The Water Horse so often I once lied to my kids and told them it had vanished off my iPhone just so I could take a break.

So, yeah, recorded books seem expensive. But if I can get  four or five listenings out of it, it’s worth it. That’s roughly $2.50 for four or more hours of entertainment for the whole family.

Do you like recorded books? If you haven’t tried them, try one of the titles on my list. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Emily McKay lives and writing in the Texas Hill Country with her kids, hubby, and her chickens.

 

 

WT# Is Wrong With You?

I peruse several Facebook Fan Pages for various television shows, authors, movies, and such that I enjoy. I like reading articles and comments, and yes, sometimes spoilers. Last week, I absently clicked on a link for some spoilers for the second season of a television series…and was gob-smocked to discover these spoilers, instead of being of the vague “a beloved character dies,” “a couple faces a threat,” or “a mysterious newcomer promises answers” variety were excruciatingly specific. But that’s not all they were, either. They were the entire plotline of the second installment in the story, including all the major plot points and surprises.

Given that I already knew all this, the revelations didn’t bug me, but I found myself cringing anyway. Since I’m somewhat of a spoiler aficionado, I know what spoilers usually are, and this wasn’t it. So I found myself feeling REALLY BAD for the people who clicked on that link expecting regular vague spoilers, but who instead had the entire second season of a popular show ruined for them. True, true… they clicked on the link so it was their choice. But I couldn’t help but think a lot of people who were clicking on that link weren’t expecting to read what they did.

So…I commented. Now, I’m not a confrontational person. At all. I’ll go out of my way to avoid just about any confrontation of any type. I’m much more of a peace making type of person. And that’s what I was trying to do. I commented something to the effect of “wow, careful there! those are a lot more than spoilers!”

And the slamming began.

All sorts of people started jumping on me, as well as the few others like me who dared to mention that these spoilers were a little more specific than regular spoilers. People pointed out the thread said Spoilers (true), so what did we expect? But they didn’t stop there. It was a regular pile: Only an idiot clicks on Spoilers if they don’t want to see spoilers. Quit crying over something you did yourself. What kind of stupid person are you? Could you be any more of an idiot? What part of the word SPOILER did you not understand? And, my favorite: WTF is wrong with you?

And I just sat there reading all this, going…wow. At first I responded, trying to explain WHY I commented, but that only made the slamming worse. Random people started posting pictures with pithy little sayings on them, one after the other. Labels were tossed about, stupid, moron, and idiot among the most common. So…I disconnected from the thread and went on my merry way. I wasn’t upset personally… but on more of a macro level I found myself scratching my head, wondering what possessed people to be so ugly? Why would you talk that way to anyone—someone you know, but maybe even especially to someone about whom you know nothing? A complete absolute stranger (who could be the nicest person in the world, or could be unbelievably fragile, or in the middle of a personal tragedy, or, or, or…you just don’t know.)

A few days later there was another Facebook discussion on my local community’s page about a certain parental behavior, something some are comfortable doing, but others aren’t. And again the judgment started to fly, with those who had opted against something referring to those who opted in favor as stupid, careless, dumb, idiots, and criminal.

And again…I found myself going wow.

It’s not just on Facebook, either, although Facebook represents a nice tidy microcosm of society. It’s everywhere. The judging. The slamming. The hate-speak. There’s the big stuff like politics and religion, abortion and gay marriage, gun control and the death penalty, but the ridicule doesn’t stop there. People get shamed and shredded for whether they use plastic or paper, which light bulbs they buy, if they believe in global warming, what time they choose to put their kids to bed, if they choose to shop on Thanksgiving or…whether they choose to read spoilers.

I don’t know. I think back ten, twenty, twenty-five years ago, and it feels like we’re less tolerant than we use to be. It feels like we’re less okay with people thinking and behaving differently than us. We say we are, but then we turn around and ridicule/blast/shame them for doing so, then defend ourselves by saying hey, it’s your right to say/do what you want, but it’s my right to say/do what I think about it. And…well, yeah. It’s hard to argue with that basic logic, but it also feels like something’s getting lost there. Passing judgment/ridiculing does not equal accepting differences—and being cool with each other anyway. (And yes, as I say that, I find myself wondering if I’m being a little hypocritical…if calling out those who pass judgment is, in its own way, passing judgment…)

All I know is I find myself shaking my head, wondering…when did we quit caring about other people? Where did our basic compassion go? And civility. When…did we get so mean? We give all this lip-service to bullying, telling our kids how horrible it is and running news stories about it, but it seems to me that we, the adults, are as guilty as, if not more so, of bullying as our children.

Hmmm. Could it be our kids are learning more from us than we realize?

The Decision that Ruined My Son’s Life

….or so he says.

It all started innocently enough, a new video game my 10 year old daughter heard about from friends and asked if she could play, too. We checked it out and didn’t find anything alarming, so we said sure and off she went. She’s never been a gamer, so we were fairly amused and intrigued to see her hunkered down with her device, building all sorts of intriguing virtual creations, via the world of Minecraft. All so very innocent and innocuous…until her little brother caught the fever. He’d never done anything online before, was pretty much consumed by his Lego’s, so we saw no red flags warning us….Stop! Don’t Do It!

If only we’d known then what we know now.

Maybe summer hit at the wrong time in our son’s Minecraft love affair. Maybe he had too much time on his hands. Maybe it was just too hot outside to do much running around outdoors. Or…maybe…he’s just a whole lot like both of his parents: Type A, OCD, all-in…whatever you want to call it. He started out playing on his iPad, but quickly evolved to the X-box–and before we knew it, our 6 year old was utterly consumed by the world of Minecraft. It was all he wanted to do, all day long. It was all he talked about–even in his sleep. Even, on occasion, racing into our room in the middle of the night to tell us some cool nuance he’d just discovered or wanted to try out. Oiy.

Now, that’s not to say there was no good, because there was. Lots of it. His imagination took flight, and we soon discovered we may have a budding architect on our hands. Or a natural-born storyteller (ahem). Maybe both…but definitely a gamer. By the end of summer, our earlier fascination had turned to frustration…and some other less than attractive emotions. Because for our son, playing Minecraft was not passive. It obsessed him. Consumed. He would talk to his world as he played. And fuss. Complain. Yell. A perfectly happy kid could sit down to play, transforming in a very short time to a grumpy grouch. And his now soured mood would transfer to every other aspect of his life. Heaven forbid we told him it was time to put the device down and come eat dinner…run an errand…take a bath. And don’t even get me started about group play. I quickly learned there are reasons that, technically, Minecraft is for older kids. Yes, from a technical standpoint, younger kids can easily navigate the world of Minecraft (and do really cool stuff). But from an emotional maturity standpoint, they’re just not ready for someone else (a sister, a cousin, a friend) to enter their world…and make mischief (which is, in all fairness, an intriguing part of the game.) If he spent hours (and I do mean hours) building some master creation, only to have his sister slip in and catch his world on fire….OMG. The rest of the day wasn’t only ruined, but drama and fighting would ERUPT, and our blood pressure soared.

Which brings me to the end of summer–and our decision. By the time July rolled into August, my husband and I had not only had enough, but we realized we had a problem, and it was up to us to solve it. We did some research on the game, as well as on kids and screen time, and, after talking with a friend who goes “device free” during the school week, we decided that’s what we needed to do, as well.  Our 6 year old was starting kindergarten, and we couldn’t have him obsessing about a video game day in and day our, not when our schedules were getting busier, and sports were starting up. So. We announced that Monday-Friday were going to  become “no screen time” days.

Needless to say, he freaked. Shock quickly gave way to anger, to yelling and screaming and gnashing of teeth, to absolute mania. We couldn’t do that! We didn’t understand! We were being mean! And yes…we were ruining his life. His LIFE, I tell you. RUINING it.

But we held firm. This was one of those occasions where we knew what needed to happen, and we weren’t about to let any amount of ranting change our mind. It was time to be the parent, not the friend. And so school began, and the devices got put away.

For the first week, he begged every single day. He pleaded. He tried negotiating. Deal-making. And…yes…threats. But we held firm (and let him know in no uncertain terms that threats were NOT going to be tolerated around here.) Then week two rolled around and…nothing. No pleading. No whining. No negotiating. It was like he finally realized we were dead serious, and there was no getting around our decision. And then, glory be, other changes began occuring. The Lego’s came back out. He began drawing pictures again. Making forts. Doing all those things that I once thought drove me crazy (and, yeah, probably still do, but at least they engage him physically and mentally and he’s not glued to a device.)

Now, a month into the school  year, and it’s rather stunning how dramatically the “device-free weekdays” has changed our family. Our son is more relaxed. He’s not amped up and talking Minecraft 24/7. And he’s REALLY gotten into his taekwando classes. He’s about to test for his first “color” belt–a yellow–and he’s (on his own) practicing like crazy.

Does he still long to play Minecraft? Yes. Does he count down the days of the week until Friday afternoon, when he can dive back into his virtual world? Yes. Does he squeeze in Minecraft as much as he can on the weekends, between soccer and softball and t-ball games? Well, yeah. But come Sunday evening, the devices go away, and peace returns.

Did our decision ruin his life? He might still tell you yes, but as for the rest of us-my husband and 10 year old daughter and myself-we’d tell you our decision was one of the smartest we’ve ever made.

 

 

 

An open letter to the family who donated my mother’s kidney,

First, please let me begin by thanking you for your generosity at a time that must have been unimaginably difficult. My mother received a kidney transplant in late July and I will never be able to express how thankful we all are. Instead I would like to tell you what your gift means to my family and to me.

DSC_0085_NEFMy mother has been suffering from renal failure for nearly twenty years. At first, it was manageable with diet, but eventually—nearly ten years ago—she had to go on dialysis. She has been on the kidney transplant list for the past six and half years.

I have young children, ages nine and six. This means their grandmother has been on dialysis for all their lives. The grandmother they have known has always been weak and fragile. She has been unable to babysit them, or get down on the floor and play with them. Due to her dialysis schedule, she often hasn’t been able to attend school events. Holidays have been cut short. Multi-generation family vacations have been impossible. I know how much she loves them and how hard it has been on her to not be a “normal” grandmother to them.

For me, the hardest part has been knowing that even the limited part she has played in their lives couldn’t last. Dialysis is hard on a person’s body and I have watched as it shaved years off my mother’s life, knowing that the inevitably result of my mother’s kidney failure would be that she would not live to see my children grow into adults. They would never know her as teenagers. They would not be able to turn to her for guidance in those tough years. They would never see her through the eyes of an adult.

My mother is my children’s only grandmother. We lost my mother-in-law to pancreatic cancer three years ago. It breaks my heart, but they have already begun to forget her and how much she loved them. Knowing they would lose their other grandmother too, that they would forget her, that they would enter adulthood with no grandmother … that has been heart wrenching for me.

That is what this gift you’ve given us means to me. Not only does it mean more years with my mother for me, but it means more years with her for my children. It means she will live long enough to see them graduate high school and probably college. It means they will have the chance to know her. My mother is one of brightest, most cheerful, most optimistic people I have ever known. She has faced true hardship in her life, and she has always done it with a smile. Her optimism and joy infect everyone around her. At my darkest moments, I’ve been able to think, “What would my mother do?” And the answer is almost always, “She would find the positive. She would find a way to smile through it.” Sometimes, just having that example is enough. Because of your family’s generosity, my children will have that example, too.

Thank you. Thank you a thousand times, in a thousand tiny ways.


 

Emily McKay lives and writes in the Texas Hill Country where she bakes and collects eggs from her yard chickens.