Dining In

Happy Thanksgiving! I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how when we stop to think about what we’re grateful for, our thoughts tend to automatically turn to those who don’t have those things. When I am grateful for a warm house as the weather gets colder, I think of those who don’t have heat or even a home. When I am grateful for my health, family or employment, I can’t help but feel for those who are struggling in those areas. I think that’s why Thanksgiving and Christmas are so intertwined for many of us – there’s almost a seamless transition from giving thanks to giving gifts.

At the beginning of October, I heard the following sermon on helping the poor by Jeffrey R. Holland during the LDS General Conference and was moved to loud, ugly-cry-sobbing tears as he reminded us that, “the great Redeemer has issued no more persistent call than for us to join Him in lifting this burden from the people.”

“In our day, the restored Church of Jesus Christ had not yet seen its first anniversary when the Lord commanded the members to ‘look to the poor and … needy, and administer to their relief that they shall not suffer.’ (Doctrine and Covenants 38:35) Note the imperative tone of that passage—’they shall not suffer.’ That is language God uses when He means business.”

Without specifying exactly how we should go about helping the poor, he urged us to “do what we can.” I thought about what I could do and we discussed as a family ways we could do more. But for the rest of the month I kept remembering this talk and I became very aware of how often I indulge myself just because I think I deserve it.

You know that conversation you have in your mind as you pull up to the drive-thru? “It’s been a long day and I’ve worked so hard. I totally deserve this Oreo Blizzard, Lime Rickey or Costa Vida mango chicken salad.” I know it’s not terrible to treat myself once in a while, but lately I’ve noticed a pattern of overindulgence.

Same goes for weeknights when making dinner for the family seems impossible, especially with a drive thru Little Caesar’s Pizza a few blocks away. Or weekends when going out to eat is the date night activity of choice almost every week. After a combined nine years of grad school-induced frugality, we feel entitled to treat ourselves once in a while, but we haven’t really been trying to think of less expensive alternatives.

Mormons observe Fast Sunday once a month by fasting for 24 hours and then donating what they would have spent on food to the church specifically to distribute to the less fortunate. As I thought about what I could do this month to express my gratitude, practice some restraint, and find my own way to give to those who don’t have the luxury to indulge, I decided to have my own “fast” for the month of November. I would avoid eating out at restaurants and donate the money I saved to the food bank.

As I thought about how I would pull it off, I realized it all came down to planning.The first Saturday of the month, I prepared by making nine freezer meals to have on hand for those crazy (or lazy) nights I would usually be tempted to get pizza. I planned dates for us that wouldn’t require eating out. I thought ahead and packed a lunch if I knew I wouldn’t be home in time. And I stopped telling myself I deserved a treat for every little thing I accomplished.

Full disclosure: I did eat out twice this month – once with some friends since the get-together had been planned for several weeks, and once for a family party to celebrate my brother-in-law’s Iron Man finish. Both worthy exceptions to my otherwise restaurant-free month, I thought.

I was amazed that it wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be. And I was even more amazed to discover just how much money I saved. Plus, as an unintended but not surprising bonus, I lost five pounds this month, although judging from the number of pies I just made, I might gain them all back today.

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This Post Goes Up to Eleven

We’ve all heard about the typical oldest child: pushed by over-involved parents to plan, please and overachieve. My oldest is very bright, mature and accomplished, with a sharp sense of humor, but I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t describe himself according to the first child stereotype. However, I recently read that “a firstborn child can be either strong willed and independent or a compliant people-pleaser.” So see, they don’t all have to be Alex P. Keaton.

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My first born is a talented musician who was born with many innate abilities and spends hours a day playing and composing music. He focuses most of his energy on percussion but he also plays guitar, bass and piano. He’s the lead singer in a band and he only requires a bit of arm-twisting to sing in our church choir. He played in BYU’s Balinese percussion group, Gamelan Bintang Wahyu and got a chance to play percussion with the Utah Symphony last spring.

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Every time I watch him play with his high school drum line, I start crying.  I think it’s because when I watch him play I realize he’s doing something I would never in a million years be able to do.

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When he was younger, I loved introducing him to the music I loved. I was so proud when my kids knew all the words to every song when we saw They Might Be Giants in concert.

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As he got older, he developed his own varied taste in music. He plays in his school’s jazz band so he spends a lot of time listening to jazz. He’s in the marching band so he spends a lot of time watching and listening to drum corps music. The one genre of music he listens to that I really can’t stand or understand, though, is metal. He talks about it all the time, plays it in his band and listens to it while he does the dishes. Sometimes I wonder if he really only listens to it because I hate it so much. Other times I wonder if I would hate it less if I listened to it for longer than 10 seconds. So that’s what I did this week and I lived to tell the tale.

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Last week I said, “It’s time for Metal Week. Are you ready?” and he said, “Are you ready?” He made me my own Spotify playlist (29 songs long) and called it “metal4mom”. I vowed to get through the entire list and not skip through any of the songs. I also set up a metal playlist on my Pandora station so I could listen to it on my phone while I exercise. I was ready.

My first extended listening period was while I was on the elliptical machine at the gym for 40 minutes. I didn’t really mind the music there. In fact, the aggressive music sort of helped me work out a little harder than I usually do – 100 calories harder. I started to think maybe there was something to this.

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But then I started listening to the playlist he made me. I usually listen to music while I cook or clean, so this time I tried cooking to metal4mom. The music I often listen to allows me to clean and listen and think all at the same time, but once the metal came on, there was no room for thinking. I kept going to the cupboard or fridge and stopping because I couldn’t remember why I went there. None of my thoughts could focus and I felt like I was going to have a seizure any minute.

Most of the lyrics I couldn’t even understand but when I got to Madhouse by Anthrax I felt an immediate connection to what the singer was screaming: “World of confusion, air filled with noise…Trapped, in this nightmare I wish I’d wake…I can’t find my way out of this maze.” I heard that and I could totally relate. That’s exactly how I felt when I tried to listen to this music.

I can understand why teenage boys get into this stuff – it’s very virtuosic and fast and loud, but it’s that same frenetic activity that freaks my brain out and makes me crazy. He had me listening to Animals as Leaders, Nile, and Slayer and I really didn’t like any of it and was this close to googling the symptoms of a stroke. I also hated the growl, whether it was Cookie Monster style (Revocation, Nile) or the stuff of nightmares (Meshuggah). Ever since I can remember, whenever I have a fever I have dreams where everyone is shouting. This music reminded me of those nightmares.

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I was getting worried that I would hurt my son’s feelings if all I could say about his music was that I hated it SO MUCH. But I stuck with the playlist and eventually got to the long list of songs by his favorite band, Mastodon. He talks about Mastodon all the time and his wears weird creepy Mastodon t-shirt all the time, so I was curious to see what they sounded like.

After all that Nile, Anthrax and Slayer, I found myself thinking, “This isn’t so bad.” Then I found myself wondering if he did that on purpose. I started to suspect that he stuck all the stuff he knew I would hate at the beginning of the list just to mess with me. So I asked him about it and it turns out I was right.

I was a little bit relieved to know that the most horrible songs on my playlist were not actually his favorite songs. And it was also reassuring to realize that even though my son and I have very different personalities and interests, at least I knew him well enough to catch on to his scheme. Because if there’s one thing I know about my son, it this: If I love it, he hates it. If I hate it, he’s drawn to it. While we were driving somewhere this week, my hand went up automatically to change the station when a song I didn’t like came on the radio. He reminded me that I wasn’t allowed to do that because it was Metal Week, so we left it there–until he changed it himself and said, “I don’t actually like that song but I left it on because I knew you didn’t want to hear it.” Typical.

Swing Your Partner

When I was in college in the early 90’s, country dancing was really popular even among non-country fans (remember The Boot Scootin Boogie?).

I was invited several times to go out country dancing but each time I responded that when I had children, I wanted to be able to tell them honestly that I didn’t ever drink, do drugs or go line dancing. I stuck with that pledge and have never participated in any of those activities until now.

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Since I was so stubborn about it in the past, country dancing was one of the first activities to go on my Giant List of Things to Try for this blog. It took me six months to finally work up the will to do it because a) country music and b) dancing. I finally got to work and found a place in Provo, gave my husband a few months’ advance warning, and gave myself several good pep talks.

I was expecting the place to be either empty or filled with old people so I was surprised to see a long line of college students waiting for the doors to open. All those visualization exercises I did to prepare me emotionally for this experience were now completely useless. When I expressed my surprise at the younger crowd, my husband said, “I knew it would be exactly like this. What do you expect when we’re a few blocks away from BYU?”

I was already having second thoughts as we stood in line and then we saw some old friends walking past and had to explain to them why we were there. I was seriously considering just leaving and giving up on a challenge for the first time, but my husband talked me into seeing it through. I know he did not want to be there either, especially because he ran the risk of running into current or former students and had a lot more to lose, but he was there for me. He even got all dressed up for the occasion.

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The evening began with a 30-minute tutorial. I was expecting it to only include line dancing so I panicked when they started teaching us the swing moves. I’m a terrible dancer and neither one of us has ever done any tricky couple dancing, unless you count my show choir choreography or his fourth grade square dancing award. The instruction portion went by too quickly and suddenly the real dancing began.

There were some super hard core dancers there and we had to duck a few times to avoid kicks to the head as girls were being tossed around. After one song’s worth of us wandering around trying to find a spot that wasn’t too crowded or well-lit and asking each other several times what we were even doing there, my husband suggested we actually try out the moves we had been taught.

We were slow and slightly disoriented, but my husband was persistent and, it turns out, good at leading. This was very helpful because I was clueless and not nearly as determined as he was to actually get the moves down. I did o.k. on some of the line dances because they’re a lot like Zumba class with more stomping, but I was still awfully confused.

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We tried our best to stick it out longer, but with only a handful of moves it got boring after a while. Plus, being back at a college dance gave me anxiety. I was impressed at the skill of many of the dancers and was even more impressed by my husband’s determination to get it right. I’m still not sure it’s my kind of thing, but if we ever find ourselves in a situation requiring thirty seconds of country dancing, we could probably fake it just enough to squeak by. Or if we really wanted to hone our skills, the place we went to offers instructional dvds. Even if we achieved nothing more than embarrassing our children, it would totally be worth it.

So would I have enjoyed myself if I had just caved in and tried this back in college? Nope. I’m pretty sure I would have hated country dancing and I would have spent the whole evening making a mental list of all the things my date did to annoy me because that’s what I did back then. And if I had given in to peer pressure on the dancing, who knows where else it could have led. I’m so glad I waited to try it until it was the right time with the right person.

Who’s that Girl?

So there’s this thing that happens to me quite regularly, usually at least once a week, sometimes more often. I’ll be out running errands or at a party or my kids’ school and I’ll run into people I’ve met before who don’t recognize me so I have to reintroduce myself. They’re always embarrassed and I always reassure them that it happens often and I’m used to it.

For example, a few months ago I went on a day-long field trip with the fifth grade and spent a lot of time working with one of my other sons’ former teachers. We chatted about what my son is up to now that he’s in junior high. Then we probably spent 30 minutes together as we walked back to the school at the end of the day. Later that night at the school carnival I was standing in the popcorn line in front of her and I said, “So did you get sunburned today too?” She said, “Yeah, the 5th grade went on a field trip and we spent a lot of time in the sun.”  Then I reminded her that I also went on that field trip. Just five hours later and she didn’t recognize me.

My son was in a community play a few years ago and I came to his rehearsals regularly, sitting right near the front. I was there every night. One evening after three months of almost daily rehearsals, four different members of the cast at different times said to me, “And who are you?”

Last week I was at a piano teaching conference and ran into an old friend from college. She said, “I recognized you even without looking at your name tag!” I told her that was the nicest compliment she could have given me.

I used to think it was kind of cool that no one recognized me. I could get away with anything because I’m just like Clark Kent-Superman.

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But lately I’ve realized it’s more likely that no one remembers me because I’m just not memorable. I am a real-life Ann Veal.

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My mom, on the other hand, is recognized wherever she goes, even by people she hasn’t seen for forty years. I think it’s because she has red hair. I was born with bright red hair which faded to strawberry by the time I was in preschool. Every summer my hair would bleach out and every winter it would go back to red. Eventually I got tired of the change and just started coloring it so it was always on the lighter side of strawberry.

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When I was pregnant with my first child, I decided to stop coloring my hair. For eight years after that I struggled because I never felt like myself when I looked in the mirror. The natural color I had wasn’t really red anymore but wasn’t blonde either. It was just a generic drab color. I tried many different horrible haircuts trying to feel better about how I looked, but nothing worked. Finally I decided to just go back to being blonde. After a few months of not so great attempts, I was able to find a color that reminded me of my former self: Feria no. 93 – Candle Glow. I have stuck with this same color for nine years, never daring to stray for fear of mirror shock. I have to travel to the next town over to get my color because stores in my town don’t carry it. I’ve even considered stockpiling extras just in case the company ever decides to discontinue Candle Glow.

But then during a casual conversation with some friends a few weeks ago, it dawned on me that it wouldn’t be earth shattering to try a different color for a few months. Other people do it all the time. And for the first time ever, I began to think it would be nice to go back to my roots. Since I already experience the stereotypical ginger side effects: pale skin that sunburns easily and turns bright pink when I cry or exercise, greater sensitivity to cold, increased resistance to anesthesia, and slower clotting blood (lucky me!), I thought I might as well try looking the part. Maybe I was swayed by all the fall leaves or maybe I was curious to see if having red hair would result in me being recognizable for a change. I was sure my husband would try to talk me out of it, but he thought it was a great idea and of course my mom also encouraged me to take the leap.

I didn’t want to go crazy with the red, especially because it’s a tricky color to get right, so I chose a nice deep strawberry. See how different it looks from my everyday color? I wasn’t sure I was ready for such a big change (in fact, I was kind of freaking out a little bit) but I decided to just go for it.

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When I finished coloring my hair, it didn’t seem very red. It was a slight shade darker, but nothing close to the color on the box. I even checked with my husband and my friend and they couldn’t see much of a difference either. It’s been a week and a half since I colored it and no one seems to have noticed any change. After a few days of mirror meh, I finally realized what my hair reminded me of. After all that worry and build up for me to take the leap and try a wild new color, I wound up with the exact shade my hair had been for those eight years of blah. I can’t believe I paid a whopping $10 just so I could stick with being Bland, I mean Ann.