Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Giving Thanks For ISIS

Take a deep breath, I don't support ISIS in any way. I want to draw you in to listen to what I have to say, given that we've all been bombarded by 100s of opinions about unequal sympathy for various terrorist attacks, the nature of Islam, and Syrian refugees. The one good thing that ISIS has given us, for which I am thankful, is a kick in the pants to get in some arguments about topics that actually matter and begin a process that I hope with all my heart will result in a safer home for families whose old lives have been bombed into oblivion. 

(this may not be the most politically correct song, given the context, but it's the one that comes to mind when I try and process the sadness and the frequency of terror on this globe)

If you're on Facebook or follow any news outlets whatsoever, you've been riled up one way or another over people talking about how to help or not help Syrian refugees. I'm almost overwhelmed by it, and I'm certainly passionate about it. The threat of injustice is something worth getting mad about, and I make no statements like, "I hardly ever post this, but [insert pointed political news or opinion link]" because I DO do that all the time, and I'm trying not to be a pain or feel ashamed of speaking up and "bothering" people's daily lives in the process. I understand that politics can be divisive. Do you know why that is? Because it's close to people's hearts, which means that it's something that matters. 

Often, I hear people swear off political conversations because they don't want to damage friendships. Granted, we need to be respectful and loving in our language, but I am going to step out on a limb and say that there are some people you shouldn't be friends with because of their politics. Politics permeate lifestyles. It's not acceptable to let someone else's bigotry, hatred, and especially some half-baked claim of Christianity-aligned poor behavior go unchallenged. It's a terrible witness for Christ when we choose to look the other way when people attach His name to their lack of compassion. Jesus loved people even when they were bigots, and therefore I am called to as well, but he surely did not let them off the hook for their attitudes, words, and actions. 

I'm by no means an expert in war or politics or Islam, but I do dedicate a lot of my time to learning about it, and I'm striving to become more and more knowledgeable in the information I can offer. I'm so grateful that all of my personal contacts that I've seen take part in the Syrian refugee discussion on Facebook have been supportive of refugees, regardless of their politics. However, I'm disgusted by the words of some of our leaders, in the face of overwhelming historical evidence of the shame of having ignored or mistreated immigrants in the past. I was looking at a map of the states whose governors have opposed taking in refugees, and if the governors' words represent the majority of their citizen's beliefs, I don't think that it's too harsh to say that on this issue, the Bible belt should be renamed the Bigot belt. What an irony, and what a crying, sobbing, shame. 

But you already knew that. 

What I want to talk about is a conversation that we haven't been having, and why I think it's a major part of the puzzle in dealing with the seemingly endless threat of extremism in our world today. I have no qualms about saying that I think bombing Syria or any other place, for that matter, is a dead-end strategy. War begets war - a principle as old as time. I concede that ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Queda, Assad, and the rest are terrifying and need to be stopped, but we have to stop fighting a newer, more cunning, brand of evil with yesteryear's tactics. 

Ultimately, the struggles in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) need to be resolved at home - no amount of coaxing or brow beating or arming or educating can bend a region into a mini-West. Part of the reason that I think the latest wave of American wars in the Middle East have been failures have been this form of modern imperialism - the idea that if we just set up these countries to accept democracy, they'll swallow that little sugar pill and behave nicely. 

(vintage poster found here)

MENA has a very, very different historical and cultural background from the West, one that may not be best suited to democracy, and I think that's not altogether a bad thing. When we expect democracy, we often set up these states for failure. During the Arab Spring, many young people were ready to overthrow their dictators, but then what? There is no framework for a culturally appropriate government thereafter, which has given new dictators and extremist groups the opportunity to seize power, recreating the exact conditions seen prior to the Arab Spring, and encouraging the West to start new wars with the new dictators. Let's get off this merry-go-round, already.  

I want to back up for a minute and talk about the domestic dispute we were having in the US before the Paris attacks and America's role in the Syrian refugee crisis. As a country, we have been unable to "fix" our disease of mass shootings. To me, the school and theater massacres have been the work of extremists too. The ideology subscribed to by various criminals may be different, but the pain is the same, and problems seem equally difficult to solve. What if we could treat mentally-ill-white-male-with-a-gun syndrome and violent radical Islam with the same medicine? 

I was about to suggest that the greater Muslim community take careful measures to dissuade those around them from radicalizing, but there, I have shown my own naivety and bigotry. Muslims ARE and HAVE BEEN speaking out against terrorism all along! 

"The common perception is that radicalization happens at the mosque. But in fact, with a few notable exceptions, individuals are likely not exposed to violent extremist ideology from the imam at the local mosque. In fact, it is much more likely that an imam who sees someone in his mosque heading down the path to violence will try to intervene to correct that person's misconceptions about Islam, get the person's family involved, or even report the person to the authorities. People who do embrace a violent jihadist ideology will often, for this very reason, actually stop going to the mosque." (source)

Beside her point that the media doesn't care to listen to mainstream Islam (which is decidedly NOT extremist) I was struck by what Dalia Mogahed said in her MSNBC interview - we don't fear or blame the general community of white male "Christians" (as some have claimed to be) when a school shooting happens, but instead we assume those individuals were deranged. Why do we slant our eyes at Islam when Muslim extremists commit crimes? 

Some will dispute the fact that Islam is not a violent religion, and therefore it can't be compared to other world religions (including Christianity). First of all, we can not deny a history of violence in the name of Christianity and Judaism, and perhaps other religions as well, though I don't know as much about those. The Crusades, the KKK, individual massacres, general imperialism and even some cultural cleansing on the part of missionaries are a few examples of the bloody history attached to the term "Christianity". I do not believe any of those things reflect true Christianity, and I do not believe that radical Islam reflects Islam as a whole. 

From my limited knowledge of the Qur'an (and I am working to learn more about text-book Islam) it is undeniable that there are calls to jihad. Does this mean that Islam is a violent religion? I'm not always sure how to answer this question, but I can say with confidence that the vast majority of Muslim people do not seek violence. Many who are devout or read the Qur'an carefully choose to interpret the call to jihad in a nonviolent way. In an effort not to make this post twice as long, I will cite Wikipedia, "Many observers—both Muslim and non-Muslim—as well as the Dictionary of Islam, talk of jihad having two meanings: an inner spiritual struggle (the "greater jihad"), and an outer physical struggle against the enemies of Islam (the "lesser jihad") which may take a violent or non-violent form" (emphasis mine). 

Many more Muslims - and this is the case for most of the Muslims I grew up with - are not devout and carry the title of "Muslim" primarily as a cultural identity rather than a spiritual one, much as we do when we refer to America as a Christian nation, or the distinction I would make between the 83% (!) of Americans who self-identify as Christians and the true believing Church. 

Vile things have been done in the name of Christianity, but we know that is a contorted view of the truth. As a Christ-believer, I can not call Islam "truth", but I do not think that the religious Muslim body at large is any more to blame for terrorism than Christians are to blame to for the KKK or Westboro Baptist or Dylan Roof (the Charleston church shooter). When asked later what she would say to Donald Trump, given the opportunity, I loved Dalia Mogahed's response that he doesn't understand the United States constitution. She didn't care whether he liked or supported or understood Islam, she cared that he upheld the laws that this country has put into place to protect against discrimination.

"As reported by the New York Times, a recent study by New America found that since 9/11, 'nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims.' The FBI's own report on terrorist acts in the United States between 1980 and 2005 "identified 318 events (including bombings, arson and malicious destruction, and shootings); only 7% of those events were attributed to Islamic extremists." (source) Furthermore, of the 784,395 refugees taken in by the US since 9/11, THREE have been arrested on terrorism charges (source), none of whom carried out attacks on US soil. To me, that translates into the acceptance of refugees as being a risk worth taking. 

Mogahed further points out that anti-Muslim sentiment spikes not after terrorist attacks such as 9/11 or the Boston Marathon bombings (with ISIS being the one exception), but instead with American election campaigns. How sick is it that our politicians capitalize on fear and discrimination in order to become the leader of this country? No one who does that is fit to lead a nation of immigrants, for that is what we are. Even as a pretty firm Independent/leaning-Democrat, I was interested and perhaps supportive of Chris Christie until he joined the ranks of those refusing to grant access to Syrian refugees. In his own words, "not even orphans under the age of 5". Nevermind that he doesn't have the authority to enforce that - he wrote himself out of the books in my eyes. Given the nature of politics in the US today, I know that people will say anything to get elected and then change their tune in office, but I can not respect a man who tells such filthy lies, assuming that was just a political lie. 

So, the conversation we should be having, but aren't - how can we get at the root of the problem of ISIS and our home-grown white supremacists? I will focus mainly on the ISIS question here, and tie it in to the mass shootings later. I think the key is ideology. Without making the mistake of putting the responsibility of de-radicalization on the Muslim community, I think we have far too little energy being put into combating the extremely powerful ideas that make ISIS so strong and dangerous. As far as I can see, combating extremism with bombs may kill a ringleader here and there, but the long-term result is merely a new group with a new name popping up somewhere else with the same twisted schemes. This leads me to think that the there is an underlying issue that is not being properly fought against. 

ISIS is incredibly adept at what they do. This very enlightening article/video points out that aside from ISIS's impressive use of high-production-value recruitment videos and sophisticated social media tactics, they provide a sense of purpose for people who feel like they lack one. The power of belonging and feeling important can not be underestimated. Furthermore, ISIS's videos present them as saviors of the marginalized, particularly Suni Muslims who are often treated miserably by the Shia majorities around them. This is just one of the stunning uses of propaganda that has attracted nearly 20,000 people from abroad to travel to Syria and support ISIS who most certainly relies on those recruits for their military strength. ISIS even takes care to indoctrinate children.   

So far, ISIS has always been a step ahead of those combating them because they have a powerful central message and sophisticated means of sharing that message. Why can't we - their opposition - turn on them with their same, clearly effective, weaponry - the power of ideas and inclusion? What if we were to employ an army of millennials to drown out the noise of ISIS on social media? (Anonymous is trying - whoever you guys and girls are, I want to kiss you!) What if we taught our children peace and equality with the same fervor that ISIS teaches children to hold a gun? So what if it's propaganda? We could use a little bit of constructive propaganda around here. 

No one is making me a war strategist based on my plan to dissolve ISIS and prevent future school massacres. I get that it's idealistic and ultimately we can't talk every crazy person out of crazytown. We want to feel like we're DOING something, seeing some change. But I would argue that fighting terrorism with the weapons we have been using - bombs and hatred and even the occasional stab at diplomacy - have failed. This is a new kind of war that we are fighting with outdated weapons. Change takes time. We need only to inspect our own hearts to see the truth in that. 

Again and again, when I work through these problems in my head, I come back to one-on-one relationships. What else is really in our power? And yet, can we not change the world if we treat our fellow men and women with dignity? Give them a change to speak, even if that means we hear some insane ideas (and perhaps get them some professional help, or if all else fails, make it impossible for them to come in contact with innocent people). Respect one another so that we all have the opportunity to feel welcomed and included and that we have a purpose. THAT will put ISIS out of business. 

(art by Jason Ratliff

Going back to what I said earlier about my uncertainty that democracy, at least the American brand of it, is the right fit for MENA, Canon White says, "You can’t have politics without religion in the Middle East! It’s impossible. Faith is our common ground. How on earth do you reconcile factions who think each other literally Satanic? You listen to their stories. You get to know each person, love them. Perhaps you can persuade them to hear each other’s stories. That way the conspiracy theories unravel."

A lack of compassion toward others can push people toward radicalization."It's important to remember that people are influenced by more than just external factors, and any one person who decides to join a group like ISIS or carry out attacks in its name is going to be driven most of all by his own personal and internal motivations. And that's exactly what makes dealing with radicalization so hard." (source) It is not our fault when a member our community decides to act out violently, but it is our responsibility to do everything in our power to keep others from thinking or feeling so isolated that they form the twisted idea that the world should suffer as they have. This "antidote" could work for our domestic issue of rampaging gunmen as well. Several factors that often proceed an individual's radicalization include (cited from here):
  • Treatment of certain groups as "suspect communities" that are subjected to invasive and overbearing counterterrorism efforts
  • A cultural or political hostility toward religion in general or Islam in particular
  • Unpopular foreign policies, such as support for repressive regimes or involvement in a military campaign, especially in a predominantly Muslim country (or several of them)
It is not beyond the scope of ISIS to carry out attacks on American soil as it has in Paris, Lebanon, and other cities. They are already here. They can already act through sympathizers in the US. Keeping immigrants out will not change that fact. 

What we can do differently than Paris is treat our immigrant population with respect. "France has the largest Muslim population of any European country: an estimated 5 to 6 million, or about 8 percent of the total population", "often socially and economically marginalized." (source) I love many things about France, and my ancestry is heavily French, but I lost a lot of respect for the French government, at least, when I learned in a recent class how openly racist they can be, and encourage their society to be. In the past, politicians have run on platforms of anti-immigration, much as some of our American presidential candidates are doing now. 

France values freedom of speech at all costs, which I would be tempted to respect, if it were not for support of publications like Charlie Hebdo, which often published (and probably still does) many despicable things in the name of free speech. Yes it's legal, but that kind of tolerated behavior stokes reciprocated hatred in marginalized communities. I do not say this to condone the attacks on Charlie Hebdo in any way, only that it's a factor in pushing immigrants, Muslims in particular, into the shadows, where dark things lurk. 

If you're curious why Syria's neighbors don't take them (as I have been), here's a good explanation. I also found this graphic (same source) to be astounding. All things considered, the United States has been doing a great deal of whining considering how little they've done to help. 

Refugees and immigrants come to Europe and America whether we like it or not, legally or illegally. It is not possible to keep everyone out, so why would we make it miserable for them and risk pitting them against us?

I am so happy and humbled that France has chosen to accept many more refugees in the wake of the Paris attacks. In this, they are demonstrating their ability to "heap hot coals on the heads of ISIS", even more so than their bomb dropping, in my opinion.

Of course, our desire as individuals to help refugees is easier spoken about than put into action. I am aware of my own tendency to wag my finger about these issues and then fail to put any of my words into action. I'm afraid that sometimes I rest on my childhood having lived alongside Muslims and gotten along, and think that that excuses me from working toward further reconciliation now, because I've already done my part or learned my lesson. Shame on me. Instead, I've come up with 2 1/2 ideas for how to start respecting and including people who aren't like me, particularly Muslims, in my community. 

1. Get a foreign language penpal. Helping an immigrant improve their English is a great way to build a relationship. I will update this with a link once I find out how to go about this. 

2. Visit your local mosque and ask if there's anything you can do to support their members in the community (Here's the SM Islamic Center, in case you didn't know we had one! There's a mosque in SLO as well.)
2 1/2. (because it hinges on either 1. or 2. having resulted in a relationship). Cook for a new Muslim friend. Where politics is one of the most divisive topics I can think of, food is one of the most inclusive rituals known to man. 

I'm sure you'll be hearing more about this if I accomplish my goal, and I invite you all to hold me accountable to it as well. I apologize that much of this post is in "us" and "them" language, despite my topic. The reality is that I'm not close with any Muslims, and until I am, there is a part of me that considers them "other", simply by virtue of not being exactly like me. I'm always trying to be aware of the fact that there is a large community of frequently mistreated immigrants already sharing in the community I live in - Mexican migrant workers and immigrants, legal or otherwise. Honestly, I don't know very many people who aren't very similar to me, and I think that's a problem. I'm trying to change that, and I challenge you to do the same if you're in the same boat. 

One of my favorite sources of news and encouragement on the immigrant-settlement front is Miss Understanding. A Christian woman and a Muslim woman who are friends have begun to facilitate activities and meetings and conversations between ordinary people of the two faiths in an effort to incite change on a one-to-one basis. One of my favorite quotes from a friend involved in their efforts recently goes as follows: "I wish I could bottle up the love that exists between my family and Sondos's and pour this love out all over the world." That, my friends, is the power of making the refugee at home in this country.

I am thankful for a God who is bigger than ISIS, and I'm thankful for the push and the opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and love a refugee as refugees (America) first loved me. Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

My 5 Best Weeknight Meals

Have you ever seen those diagrams where you can only choose two between: cheap, fast, and well-made? It may be generally true of design, but I challenge that idea when it comes to cooking. I haven't been cooking nearly as adventurously as I used to because children are usually clawing at me around dinner time, but I hope to get back to fancy and time consuming cooking some day. In the mean time, I have a trusted arsenal of quick, cheap, delicious meals and I thought I would share 5 of them with you today.

In addition, these are one pot meals, made mostly from scratch. Cause that's how I rollllll...
I don't say that to shame anyone for not cooking from scratch, but truly, it's easier than you might think. Half the battle for me, especially when it's 4:45 and I realize I have no dinner plan, is figuring out what to make! I fall back on this kind of recipe time and time again.

1. Spicy Pork and Mustard Green Soup

Soups are a no-brainer for fulfilling the cheap-quick-yummy trifecta. Well, most soups are. This one is perfect, and it hits 3 major foodgroups in one pot, too!

2. Ssam Burritos

Serve this Korean-burrito hybrid to your hipster friends and it will blow their minds. Super simple fusion at its best. I buy already cooked pulled pork from Costco (because it's no cheaper or better tasting to do it yourself, at least with my level of experience cooking meat) and I use sriracha instead of pulverized kimchi because I prefer it (Jonas loves kimchi, though, and you can find it at most Asian food markets). For the fried garlic, I buy it pre-made from Asian groceries, but it's quite easy to make at home, too.

3. 1870s Mac N Cheese

I love this recipe because the cheese sauce is fluid instead of tacky, which is my main complaint with most home made mac n cheeses. Also, it's from 1870, duh! In order to keep this affordable, I just use whatever kinds of cheese I have on hand. Make sure you keep stirring the sauce until there are no cheese strings coming up when you pull the spoon out - that means everything is truly melted and makes for the smoothest sauce. Sometimes I grill chicken (season with Lowry's or however you like) and cut it up and put it on top of these noodles.

4. Thai Curry with Rice

You can find tubs of curry paste at most Asian markets. I always use the Mae Ploy brand, but more out of habit than anything else. I AM picky about which kind of coconut milk to use - Chaokoh is the best. The recipe for curry is right on the back of the tub. It measure ingredients in grams, but I just add in what looks like the right amount of veggies and meat, or whatever I happen to have. I also eyeball the amount of paste I put in - the more paste you use, the spicier your curry will be.

5. Baked Paremesan Tilapia

Tilapia is not the most glamorous of fishes, but it is cheap and you can make this recipe with frozen tilapia, which is especially cheap. Having a fillet of any kind of fish feels fancy to me, because I'm poor like that. I usually serve this over Rice R Roni because I didn't get to have Rice R Roni very much growing up and I'm still obsessing over it as an adult. This recipe also utilizes the broiler, which is a very undervalued part of the oven, if I may say so myself. I'm quite fond of it.

Two other general tricks I use to get dinner on the table quickly (or when my mother guilts me into a more "well rounded" meal - I'm really, really into one-pot meals) are rice cookers and microwave steaming. I don't want to see you buying any of that pre-cooked frozen Trader Joe's rice BS or trying to boil rice. No, no, no, no. First of all, TJ's IS charging you for the task of having already cooked the rice, and secondly, perfectly cooked rice could not be simpler to make yourself. What you need is a rice cooker. You can buy one for $17 at Target, or you can often find them at the thrift store. It will come with instructions if you get it from Target (as well as measurement lines right on the pot), but I'm basically a pro by now, and I can use my fingers to measure the right amount of water for the consistency of rice that I prefer.

As for steaming veggies in the microwave, it takes all of 3 minutes and it's really difficult to mess up. When I cook vegetables on the stove, I often end up under-cooking them because I'm so afraid to overcook them. I add butter and salt  to the steamed veggies and, viola! Plus, you can start with fresh vegetables, so you end up with a pretty healthy side (leave off the butter if you must). I love the Pampered Chef's microwave steamer, but you can put plastic wrap over a glass bowl, too.

What are you weeknight-dinner tricks and your favorite quick recipes? I'd love to know! 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

October 2015

All of a sudden, it's the Holidays! I love the holidays because it means that I get to see my family together more often. This year, I'm trying to be conscious of my tendency to set myself up for disappointment though, when I expect a day to be perfect (like Christmas day), and then let real life ruin it for me. Kids make mistakes, people let you down, plans fall through - that's the stuff that I'm sure will happen here and there, and I want to let the magical, exciting, surprising moments come on their own, without assuming that they belong to me.

{I've started wearing earrings again after about 3 years, due to grabby kids and irritable skin. I really like this pair.}

Anyway, that's my private pep talk as we move into November. In our family, the holidays kick off on October 26th, my dad's birthday! Then Ishmael turned 3 on the 29th, followed by my sister Annelise's birthday (and visit!) on the 31st, and my brother Jonathan's November 2nd (he turned 20, which means that all my siblings but my youngest sister Julia are in their 20s, which is positively bonkers).

I'm not one to constantly bemoan my children growing up, but sometimes I do look at Ishmael and marvel at how big he is. He's been pretty hilarious lately, and thankfully, oh so thankfully, seems to be a little less contrary recently. He says "what" even when he hears or asks "where" even when he sees, but I know he is taking everything in and learning at a mile a minute. His favorite books are interactive, like The Jolly Postman books, and he's crazy about swords. Auntie Annelise got him one for his birthday and we've been constantly dying at his hand ever since. He says hilarious things which I document on Facebook, when I can. He loves to play baseball in the backyard and find spiders with Daddy.

Ira is such a smiley kid, and he's a goof, too. He sings "row, row, row" (aka "Row Your Boat"), and dances like a mad man, stomping his feet and clapping with his arms stretched all the way out between claps. He loves toes, has a bunch of new teeth, and is starting to say lots of "words", like "NO", "Baba" (Grandpa), "chee??" (cheese), "wa" (water), "up", and "down". He's alternately a major cuddle bug and feisty, generally ignoring all instructions and fake crying when he doesn't get what he wants. When someone (especially Grandma) leaves the house without him, he flattens himself face down on the floor and cries.

I'm growing quite tired of listening to children's music all day, and I do make exceutive decisions to listen to my music sometimes instead. I hate that my Spotify Discover playlist is always mellow hipster stuff because most of it sounds so generic, and I protest that that's not even remotely the majority of what I listen to, but then I look at the songs I play over and over, and they are generally mellow and moody. FINE. I found more than the usual amount of songs I liked this month, but the Japanese House stands out as a new discovery AND my husband likes it too.

Pretty, moody, wintery (it's quite chilly today, as I write this) tea cups. Perfect for sipping from while listening to the Japanese House and my "Chill Out, Ma" playlist, which I made especially for Mamas (well, me), who need to put headphones on for a bit and drift away. 

Also, I'm starting to cook from a cookbook (!) which I picked up at a used bookstore a while back, and we haven't had a dud yet!

You probably already know, because I keep blabbling about it, that I'm watching this Spanish soap opera called Velvet. Other than the horrible soundtrack, I'm absolutely sucked in. I almost stopped watching early on when I was really upset about a main story-plot not going how I wanted it to because all the characters are incapable of honesty, but I'm all cool with it now. It's kind of fun that I've learned a little bit of Spanish in the process too! I always feel strange living in a heavily Hispanic area and not speaking a lick of Spanish. I also watched the Aviator for the first time, because Leonardo DiCaprio and Cate Blanchett, obviously. I admit I've seen her in some dud films but she was a fantastic Katherine Hepburn. Wow. I just read that she's going to be in a Lucile Ball biopic soon, and I think she'll be very good in that role too. I also watched Iris, and fell even more in love with Iris Apfel like pretty much everyone else. I'm so charmed by her husband and their long-standing relationship and love for one another, even if (especially because?) they do still bicker about what kind of yogurt to buy. One of my favorite take aways from the documentary was when she explained that her husband finally talked her out of getting up at 4 in the morning to go to flea markets because all the things that she wanted would still be there at 11 anyway because no one else had her style! Yeppppp. When I go thrift or estate sale shopping I turn into a lunatic and am snatching things left and right (ready to scratch anyone who tries to take what I have my eye on) and then half the time, the shop or sale owner will give me a discount because everyone else thinks that the stuff I want is trash.

{This is my dream winter coat, but when I ordered it from China a few years ago, it wasn't nearly this nice and it didn't fit. Boo.}

Beside all the birthday celebrations this month, I took Ishmael trick or treating for the first time! IT WAS THE BEST. We didn't grow up celebrating Halloween and so I think I'd only gone trick or treating once in my life before. I was kind of "meh" about Halloween in general. But I dressed my boys up for a little fashion shoot - Ira as Andy Warhol and Ishmael as Beethoven - which was hilarious and very well received on the internet ;), and then Ishmael and I had a blast walking around collecting candy and visiting some friends in nearby neighborhoods too. Being Ishmael's first time too, he was full of wonder over the whole thing, and very quickly became a big fan. It was so fun to see him discovering something new, and I can't wait for next year.

Funny or noteworthy things on the internet this month included this parody of every celebrity interview, ever (I had noticed about the coffee and describing what they're wearing, but the thing as a whole is priceless), this insane doppelganger situation (WUTTT), and an article I didn't read that has a headline that feels pertinent to me ("When Child Care Costs More than Rent, Women Stay at Home"). 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Look With Your Eyes: Bjorn Wiinblad

Do you ever see something on the internet that sends you into a time-sucking (if glorious) rabbit hole of obsessed fascination? Well, I do. I love feeling that rush of discovery. Of course, this latest thing I stumbled upon came before my eyes at about 11pm (a bit past my bedtime) and I stayed up way later scouring Ebay to see if I could conceivably acquire any pieces by this artist.

Many of you may know the artist Gustav Klimt who painted "the Kiss". I am QUITE fond of all things Klimt and could write several posts about the ways in which he's influenced my aesthetic and lesser known inspiring parts of his world, but today, I'll only use him in reference to Bjorn Wiinblad. I'd never heard of Wiinblad before nor seen his work, but he seems to have been prolific (hooray!) and I couldn't help but think of him as a mod version of Klimt. Can you see the similarities? Wiinblad is more playful than serene, but they both convey so much with rainbow-hued geometrics.

Of course, I'm drawn to Wiinblad's blue and white ceramics too, since I collect [mostly Asian] blue and white ceramics. Really, his work touches on so many points near and dear to me - the Arabian nights, silhouette/block cuts, gold, mid-century, romantic scenes. It seems that many of his pieces were artwork for theater posters. Happily, I think I probably can and will eventually have some of his work as part of my personal collection. His work seems obscure enough that there aren't a bunch of high quality photos available, but here are some of my favorites that I saw.

Do you like it? What have you recently found that inspired and excited you? 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Fall 2015

I don't hate fall AS MUCH this year! Miracles really do happen. I think we've finally reached a tipping point with pumpkin spice, seeing that there is now pumpkin spice cat litter and people are making fun of all the pumpkin spice things. That usually signals that the craze is on the decline, and that alone is making me almost stoked on fall this year. 

I don't inherently dislike the taste of pumpkin spice, although I do hate walking in to a store that smells like cheap pumpkin spice candles. I would like to point out, however, that pumpkin spice lattes bring in $80 MILLION A YEAR for Starbucks (so says Wikipedia), so I'm allowed to be righteously indignant about how excessive this has become. (I might forgive you if you wear a dress like this while drinking, but MINUS ALL THE POINTS if you dress like this). 

PSL (my stars, it even has an acronym, #toofar!!!) aside, here is how I'm choosing to craft my fall season this year, such that it is not loathsome:
  • Molasses cookies. They are my favorite. 
  • Cuddling. Because, so long pregnancy and breastfeeding hormones. I'm a new woman! 
  • Other people not complaining about the hot weather of summer anymore. 
  • Vintage clothing bonanza! This is the best time of year to hunt for vintage because many shops will put it on their Halloween racks because they're dweebs. 
I think that's everything that I'm excited about. Don't push me... 

Should I ever be called upon to decorate or actually celebrate fall, I'm armed with a Pinterest board of not-garish decorating ideas and children's costumes that I will never get around to making. You're welcome for all the tasteful and non-cliche ideas. {image above by the infallible Justina Blakeney}

As I was just looking at the photos I've included in this post so far, I was trying to figure out why I'm not repulsed by the color pallet, which is one of the yuckiest parts of fall to me. And it hit me - the 1970s! - I've fallen hard in love this year, and seeing so much 70s goodness year around in fall colors must be helping me adjust. 

Here are some color pallets that are less traditionally Fall-ish. I'm all about reinventing the look of Fall decor. I'm telling you, the secret is to include moody, misty blues. Or deep greens or black - NOT stark orange and black contrasts because, boring and I repeat: garish. {images from here, here, and here}

We keep being told that MUCHO El Nino (or whatever they're calling a mega El Nino) is supposed to hit this year. It has yet to come to pass, but all of us Californians are ready to brave some torrential rains if it means we can be done with the drought. It never got cold last winter, so it's kind of like we haven't had fall for 2 years. I'm liking it.... I can handle one or two months of cozy every other year. #californiaforever. What this also means is that I've been wearing sandals for two years straight (I'm serious - I wore sandals or flats all "winter" last year). But it might be time to prepare for some boots. 

Girls go crazy for boots, you probably know this by now. But I'm a special kind of difficult when it comes to the ol' boot hunt. I want my boots cheap (so I can rationalize getting new ones every season), versatile (so I only have to buy one pair), and unique - because hello - I don't have your average wardrobe. I googled 2015 boot trends, and I'll be darned if the internet doesn't know how to play to my weaknesses. 

This specimen on the left is the first picture I saw and my eyes melted into hearts. Unfortunately, they're not strictly boots, so let's move on to exhibit B. These are definitely eye catching and I'm on the fence about whether I like that color, but it's definitely the right idea. They fail in the versatility department though. Exhibit C is the most practical, but I'm looking for a flat boot and something higher. Lemme know if you see any good ones! {images from here}

And last but not least this year, here are some delicious sounding and looking fall-inspired dishes to make. I've actually eaten this one-pot autumn risotto meal, and I was impressed. Some other recipes calling my name (all with lovely photos, you're welcome): Caramelized shallots, Caramel apple cider with homemade Fireball whipped cream (come to mama!), Cheesecake bars with pecan shortbread and salted whiskey caramel (this is all my dad's favorite things in one), Candy and caramel apple pie, Cheddar and apple handpies, Cranberry orange chocolate pavlovas (All of these food things begin with a C! this is the kind of thing that I derive infinite pleasure from).

I hope you're not too disappointed that this was an upbeat-fall year. ;) You can browse the tag "The Fall Post" to the right of this page if you want to see other color schemes I've promoted in past years or the post from 2 years ago when I was especially creative with my disdain for the season.

Ciao! Don't drink very many PSLs unless you're thing is giving in to the Man. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

No Refuge

This started out as a much longer (angrier) post, but as I was getting closed to finished with it, I realized that I didn't have anything new to add the topic of the Syrian refugee crisis that you can't find somewhere else. Mostly, I just want to bring it back into view - even though it's painful - because I find myself so easily calloused against tragedy when I'm asked to care so much about something new every week, even when all of those other things may be truly tragic. I don't want these people to get lost in our hearts because we have more recent things to be troubled by.

{I found this beautiful song, a "re-written version of the Palestinian folk song 'Tareek Ateet,' which grieves the loss of their Syrian homeland to war," if you want to listen while you read.}

When a world (or even local) event becomes too complicated for me to understand, I move on to other things calling for my attentions and my emotions, and I'm fighting to combat that in myself and in those around me.

Yesterday morning I was scrolling through HONY's (Humans of New York) stories and photos of Syrian refugees, and the ones that grip me most are the ones about people who are helping in the face of insurmountable numbers of those who need help. Maybe those ones get to me because I can relate more to them than to the refugees themselves. Some of the refugee's stories are so terrible, I simply can not imagine it, and therefore can not process the emotions that they should illicit in me. I moved on with my day thinking that only people who have suffered relatively little at the hands of others have the luxury of believing that humans are basically good beings.

{all the photos in this post are from here, click through to read captions. Many of them are too heavy for me to post here without you being prepared to look at them, but they deserve your attention none the less. }

HONY interviewed a family who is helping refugees, themselves inspired by a priest who recently passed away. They said that the last thing the priest posted online before his death was, "God is Love with no asterisks." That is what I have chosen to hold on to, even though I don't understand it fully. I do not trust myself to believe in the love of God should I face the suffering that almost every Syrian refugee has faced. Consider that half of the 19.5 million refugees in the world today - more than at any other time in history - are children. Consider what they have witnessed, and trust that our faith in God is only strong because He allows it to be. I have heard children say they would rather have never been born than see what they have seen.

Oh my great God, have you forsaken them? 

I become disgusted at myself and my ambitions when I read the accounts of refugees, but I have to remind myself that because of the abundance I have, I am in a position to help other people. It will be a terrible thing for any of us to stand before God Almighty someday and stammer out an excuse for why we were "too overwhelmed" by the plight of others to help them.

Much of what I've seen in the news recently is about Europeans opening their homes and their countries to Syrian refugees. I'm so thankful for every one who has made that personal sacrifice, especially when I realize what a big commitment it is for an individual and a nation to host the volume of refugees currently seeking asylum.

As impractical as this may sound, it's not my problem to worry about the logistics of accepting refugees nor to worry about why Gulf states aren't accepting as many refugees as we think they should. Jesus did not call his followers to solve political problems, he called us to care for widows and orphans.

Proverbs 31:8-9
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Leviticus 19:34
The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

Let us not be so fixated on the threat of internal attacks from ISIS that we ignore the much larger issue at stake.  As I see it, ISIS can find a way to cause mayhem with or without "boots on the ground", and it is better to give refuge to the 99% who truly need refuge than keep everyone out for fear of the 1% of troublemakers who we are already grappling with, no matter their location.

I wish that we could pick a new slogan for honoring 9/11 victims beside "never forget". First of all,
we are not in danger of forgetting. Secondly, as was pointed out on Facebook, more often than not when I hear that phrase "never forget", there's a heavy unspoken suffix of " and never forgive". Once again, I would implore those who profess faith in Christ to stay far away from that attitude.

It also seems to me that we have bigger problems in the U.S. right now than those that would be caused by an influx of refugees. For example, grappling with our own racial inequality issues and the intense level of violent crime (compared to other first world countries). Even taking our shortcomings into account, we have too much to offer to hoard it to ourselves in fear while others risk the death of their children to come to our doorstep, only to be turned away because of their ancestry. Let me point out that this extends to Mexicans and other refugees from Central and South America, for many of them are fleeing for their lives.

As this blogger points out (in reference to some Europeans reportedly only being willing to harbor Christian refugees). "If we’re not willing to help our neighbors in need regardless of who they are and without precondition, then we’ve completely abandoned the way of Jesus."

I want to let the plight of refugees continue to make my own life uncomfortable, sharing even a sliver of their burden, because the smallest dignity I can show a refugee is to share in their grief as much as I am able.

I don't really have anything else to say, and I'm worried that this post doesn't flow well or really build an argument or that you'll think it's sappy, but that's not really the point. I'm simply trying to figure out my own place in answering the call Christ has put in my path and trying to bring even a tiny bit of awareness to how perhaps you can too.

The man in the picture below has made it safely across the sea, just as the photo is taken. I want that to be the face of the refugee crisis instead of families torn apart and turned away from safety, and we do have some power to aid in them reaching safety. I can't help but imagine his face as the embodiment of what it must feel like to reach heaven and leave every tear behind. I think I have no other choice than to trust that there is a God waiting for me at the end of all of this, and I am going to feel just like this man when I get to meet him face to face.

Christ says, come to me, and I will give you rest.
Death says, come to me, and forget your misery.
Lady Liberty wants to cry out, "come to me", but her mouth is stuffed with the fears
of the comfortable and complacent.
The whole Earth groans under the weight of thy stumbling feet.
Waves of tears well up in me as waves of the Aegean well over you.

Some Helpful Resources:

I recently saw this comic strip explaining how the conflict in Syria began and I hadn't heard any of it before!

An excellent children's book about a family fleeing to the U.S. as refugees. I had this book growing up and I remember being able to digest some of the fear felt by the characters. Reading it as an adult, it's not too heavy for children, but realistic enough to help them understand what it might be like.

I've seen or heard of this from at least three different platforms, but here is how to begin to get your Church family involved in helping refugees. I just submitted the form to get the ball rolling in my own Church (little do they know, haha!), and though it terrifies me a little bit, I would be a hypocrite not to give it my best shot.

Here is an excellent list of practical ways to help refugees in Europe RIGHT NOW. I was hesitant when I first saw this link because I have very little to give in the way of money, but I ended up giving $5 to the Jungle Library. It makes me happy to share my love of books and know that even $5 is enough to buy at least one book, which has the power to change someone's life.

If you are a fashion conscience parent of fashionable babes, one of my fellow Instagram shops, @chalkmarks, is run by a woman who is an immigration lawyer (representing immigrants) in LA. This is not a charity account, but I still like supporting individuals who stand for something admirable.

Let us not rest until we have extended the love and refuge of Christ, our own arms, and our own country to every man, woman, and child in need of it. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

September 2015

I'm working on my Fall 2015 post right now, which I know you've all been waiting for with baited breath. ;) Everyone knows now that I've made a "thing" out of not caring for fall, but this year, I'm not altogether hating it! We had a really warm summer and the weather continues to be nice, though we're starting to get a few rain showers here and there which is like GOLD in California. I've been amassing more and more incredible clothing since I've been selling clothing as a [very, very part-time] job this year, and party season will give me an excuse to show some of my favorites off, I hope. It's nice to be able to drink at parties now that I'm not pregnant or nursing as well.

I'm back in school, through October, currently studying Comparative Foreign Policy. It's one of the more difficult classes I've taken so far, but I'm gaining a lot of good insight from the other students, which I really appreciate. Jonas is in school as well, which can be challenging because he's away from home more often, but we got sucked in to the Netflix show Peaky Blinders and spent 12 hours (not all at once) watching it together. Highly recommended! Also, cooler [fall] weather makes cuddling nice. {see end of the post for details on this picture}

Fall also gives me the perfect excuse to crank out the comfort food dishes, and the best new recipes I've tried are thai butternut squash soup and chicken pot pie with tater tots (both super easy!). Here's a soundtrack for you to cook to, been loving this jam.

We had a small combined birthday party for Ishmael turning 3 and Ira turning 1, since September falls in the middle of their birthdays. In hindsight, I don't think it would be any harder to do their birthdays separately because it's not like we put on anything extravagant for the party and we end up doing the birthday routine at home with them on their actual separate birthdays anyway. Still, it was fun to get our family together and hang out at the Goleta Train Museum where they could run around with their cousins and ride the mini train there. We recommend it if you're in the area and have kids. Not many people know it's there, but it shares property with the venue where my sister got married this Summer (also worth walking around those grounds!) and it's free!

In other sons-of-mine news, Ishmael does the best impersonation of a fish I've ever seen (we have been unable to catch it on video thus far), loves to sing songs (and gets most of the words right!), and seems more and more a little/big boy than a toddler. He repeats plenty of things that through me for a loop, like "knock it off!", but also says adorable things like "shall we" do this or that. I've been challenging myself to put my finger on specific aspects of how "children are a blessing" (especially when I'm at the end of my rope with him) and one thing I love is to see his unbridled enthusiasm for Jesus and learning about the Bible, even though he doesn't have very much understanding of God that I know of. It seems so organic in him, which is both astonishing to me and treasured. He also recognizes the letter "S" and knows that it's associated with the words "stop!" (which he yells out every time we see a stop sign, scaring me half to death) and "snake".

Ira also loves to sing, and has started saying words! His first word was "bird", but he also says "ball, up, down, thank you". Though short lived, he also said "NO, NO, NO" a few times which we ignored (especially since it was out of context) and that seems to have solved the problem. Ira has had a lot of classic child behaviors that Ishmael didn't. Ira also loves to swing his arms while walking, and he can go up and down stairs on his own, though it still makes me nervous. He is a pretty fearless little guy, but thankfully seems to have good balance and recover quickly when he does take a tumble.

Lots of new pictures of the boys just posted to Facebook in the album called "The Sweetest Kill" (my albums are usually titled after whatever song I'm listening to when I'm uploading them, ha).

{September is the biggest month of the year for fashion!} 

September really flew by! Jonas' car just about died, so we made a big leap of faith (as educated as possible) and used a lot of our savings to get a 2005 used van. Which has been a DISASTER. Mega sad face. Going on a month, we're still trying to work everything out with the seller and the continuous maintenance issues, but I'm trying to let it go, let it be a good learning experience, and remember that this will all be in the past eventually.

In happier news, Jonas' best man got engaged and the wedding is in Japan, so Jonas is going to be Chris' best man! I'm super excited for Jonas that he will get to go, but I don't get to go this trip which is bumming me out. I'm sending a big shopping list with him, obvs. Our friends Manny and Katya visited from Arizona and we so very much enjoyed their company. As a TCK, I never really expected any childhood (especially online high school!) friends to end up in my adult life (in fact, I was positive that they wouldn't!), but I couldn't be more thrilled. It still feels like such a surprising and surreal blessing.

I've been slowly but steadily building up my shops on Instagram (@retroriot and @retroriotreads), especially focusing on networking. I really enjoy this work and can see myself doing something in this vein for a long time. I didn't expect that when I started, but I'm stoked to have that [possible] security doing something that is fun and profitable. I also spent a large chunk of the last week (first week of October, I'm late writing this up, as usual) volunteering, consigning, and shopping for kid's stuff at our local semi-annual MooLaLa event. Make sure you catch the next one the first weekend of April 2016 - the inventory is impressive and it's very affordable.

September on the Interwebs:

Two of my favorite people on the internet just got awesomer.

Is it bad, given the message, that I really want this to be an Instagram account?

This camera is kinda awesome, but cynical too. The ultimate hipster accessory.

Growing old with the same person you were young with must be the hardest and loveliest thing of all time. The suggested videos on the side look so sad that I can't even click on them.

Has your Pinterest gotten rotten all of a sudden? Here's why, plus a few ways to combat it. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

642 Prompts: The Lazy Son

Prompt: A woman is struggling to get a large package into the trunk of her car. Her son doesn't get out of the car to help her. Write the scene.


The boy is leaning against the door, staring at the unknown through his sunglasses. Or perhaps he's staring straight at his mother, but remains absolutely motionless. It's most likely the hottest day of the year, but all the windows are shut tightly.

Standing in a doorway across the street, shading myself in the shadows and puffing at my cigarette, I wonder - at what point do you call the police on a negligent mother, even if the child is able to care for himself? Or is he the careless one, sitting in there with the AC on, watching her struggle to move each industrial sized tupperware of guts into the car?

I hate to promote stereotypes, but the only explanation I can conjure is that she runs a street food stall selling menudo. Her strong Latina hands can probably put the fear of God into that child if she so pleases.

Another car drives by slowly and I see the passenger stare hard and pull out a phone. Whatever. People are so paranoid and racist these days. Why can't the lady have an equal chance to wear her body down in search of the American Dream? Why can't that little brat enjoy some laziness? I'm not going to spend my time doing someone else's parenting. She slams the trunk and pulls out.

Two nights later, I read in the newspaper about a woman who had been arrested on my block. She had kidnapped a boy and left his dead body in her car, along with vats of pig guts in her trunk. They also found three human livers. 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Rotten Island

It's been a good long while since I had a parenting vent session. I guess that's good, because it means I've hit my stride in a way, or that the really rough patches are short lived. Or maybe it just means that now that I'm back in school, I will find anything to do or write about other than comparative foreign policy. Not that that's a boring topic, but I'm SUPPOSED to be doing it, so therefore, I'm doing this instead.

You're not going to believe this, but I think we might be buying a van. Don't worry, I can still rock it. And I can say with complete honesty that we're not getting a van because it's the van-phase of our family life, but just that our other cars died and the van is the right price with the right mileage and a reliable brand and we need to replace our car NOW. I was really gunning for a station wagon, but nothing panned out.

I haven't been particularly invested in the process of finding a new car because I hardly ever drive anymore. We have one car between Jonas and I and he's at work or school 7 days a week. I spend an egregious amount of time at home with the boys, which I think contributes to my feeling rather frazzled as a parent right now. We are all pretty bored and don't know how to combat it. It's too hot to play outside. We can't play in the water very much due to the drought. We can't go very far in the suburbs without a car. When we do get out, I feel terrible for spending money. We live in a giant house full of other people's things that are not for babies to touch.

I used to think that my failure as a parent was being too selfish to indulge in the behavior or take the time to do what my kids would consider fun or entertaining all day. I've gotten much better at that, but they have the attention span of gnats, so even when I am able to play with them, they don't want to play for more than 5 minutes, or it degenerates into Ishmael bashing Ira in the head because only he gets to play with mommy. For his part, Ira loves to sit on my lap and be read to, but I've really hit my limit of being hit full on in the face with board books every time he wants to suggest a new title.

I get so frustrated with Ishmael's constant wailing on Ira, no matter how I punish him or how many times I tell him to be gentle or to share. It's hard for me to stay calm when they ruin my stuff, too. I can't always make it there in time before they tear a page, or fall and hurt themselves, for that matter.

I'll be keeping an eye on one of them (obviously, they can never choose to be playing within sight of each other if they can possibly avoid it), and the other takes the opportunity to get into unfathomable mischief. Every single time, I think to myself "there's nothing over there that they could possibly get in to", but they are incredibly talented at defying my wildest imaginings. I would like to, for once, find one of them cleaning up or reading quietly, instead of peeing on chairs or shoving compost in their mouths.

Few things make me die inside more than Ishmael coming out of his room, clearly not having napped, and waking up a sleeping Ira in the process. I can barely fight off the heavy sense of dread as I envision the rest of the sleep-deprived day going downhill, with no chance for me to do homework, or anything else in that sacred nap-time space either, for that matter. It's really, really hard for me not to be furious (or to show him grace despite being so disheartened).

It reminds of me life on Rotten Island, a place where "[monsters] loved their rotten life. They loved hating and hissing at one another, taking revenge, tearing and breaking things, screaming, roaring, caterwauling, venting their hideous feelings." (Story and fantastic illustrations by the one and only William Steig. I want to marry him in a parallel universe.)

Sometimes I just want to GIVE UP. Do whatever you want, boys, tear each other limb from limb if that's what you want so badly. As Jonas puts it, "the boys are taking me on a trip to Nuts. They're driving me there." Incidentally, the boys think Jonas is the BEST and cry for him when I'm being especially strict with them, which is super encouraging, obviously. When he gets home, we all run to him and shake the bars of our day, screaming, "let me out of here!" (aka, "venting our hideous feelings") Get us off Rotten Island!

Having "mastered" the ability to play with my children, should I choose to, was clearly not the answer to all my problems. Perhaps I'm just not very creative with that task, because there's only so much block stacking and airplane drawing we can do before we're all pretty tired of it. They're little Olympians at turning fun stuff into gladiator sports, as I may have mentioned once or twice before. All "fun" eventually comes to a halt with me telling them to stop standing on the back of the couch, or stop kicking each other in the face.

My new parental self-esteem issue is thinking that it's my fault that they can be so unpleasant. If only I were more patient, more carefree, more loving, they wouldn't act so brutish. I think this is actually a lie, but it's mighty hard to shake.

The night doesn't seem long enough to recharge me from the horrible, petty, irritable mess I am by the end of a day of keeping their gnashing teeth away from one another's necks. After a few days in a row, I wake up already upset with Ishmael (maybe because he wakes up in the middle of the night for no good reason most nights, occasionally even waking Ira) and wanting nothing but to escape. I don't like this. I don't want to be in this situation, and I don't like feeling myself unable to reset. Frankly, I feel paralyzed to even ask God for help, and generally abandoned to my own ugly war. I know this is ridiculous and even offensive, but I feel like my day and my attitude are #beyond! Beyond His help, that is, and that if I were to get "spiritual" about motherhood that it would only be a pretty face on top of something that is still incredibly hard and rotten, most days. I fall prey to the idea that if I were a good enough mom or a good enough Christian, Jesus would make my life easy. What a joke. The only truth I know about God and parenting so far is that it is still hellish (perhaps more so when you're trying to guide your children to love the Lord and do what is right), and the only difference is that His mercies are new every morning. My problem is that I have trouble accepting them.

Even my body is aware of my state - bent to the point of pain at standing straight, pain at being on my feet because of bad posture, headaches from coffee or lack of coffee or just emotional exhaustion.

It's very hard for me to see the joys in parenting right now, and there's certainly little to no fun. One of the worst things is that I'm afraid that if I can't have fun, they probably can't have nearly as much fun as they could be having, and that's a shame. As I was cooking dinner today (they were gated in upstairs where it was easier to ignore them yelling at me) I realized that perhaps the crux of my dissatisfaction with my role as a parent right now is that I can't seem to thrive at it. I think most of us would agree that we enjoy doing things that we're good at and find fulfillment in seeing a good thing completed. For me, that has yet to happen with parenting, which seems to be my sole job for the next two decades at least. I know that this is my perspective more than reality, but I have a hard time separating the two.

A lot people are willing to say that parenting at any given moment is typically not the most fun or enjoyable thing, but they always continue with, "but it's so rewarding." In the interest of being honest, I'll throw it out there that thus far, I don't find it very rewarding. I don't see my children becoming incredible creatures that somehow stand above the rest. I don't feel rewarded that everything is a struggle, including my own personhood. Their milestones are cool, but I don't have very much to do with that (I know, me me me again), and while it's amazing in a sense, everyone else hits those milestones too. I like my kids a lot better than I like other people's kids and I still don't find watching them grow to be the pinnacle of my life's joy or achievement. In a Biblical sense, maybe that's okay, but God Almighty is it counter cultural! I love to be counter cultural to a degree, but this is in a realm that just feels completely isolated.

This is a really negative way to look at it, but I wonder to myself sometimes, why do we have children and sacrifice so many other good things in the name of giving them "a good life" only to have them repeat the process? We're raising kids to raise kids to raise kids. I know that we can accomplish other things in life in tandem with raising children, but I feel like a pet store rat on a wheel imagining my kids finally being grown and therefore having "made it" to the goal, only to have them start out with babies right where I'm leaving off with them and feel pulled away from everything we've worked so hard to given them the opportunity to do. Unless the journey IS the goal (see my reservations about that above), we never reach the finish line. I know this sounds so heartless in light of the fact that my children are treasured human beings. I love them, I just don't love this system. Is this the way life was designed to be, for me or them? If so, WHY? And if not, what am I missing?

I've read of a few chapters of Jennifer Senior's "All Joy and No Fun" (buy it right meow) and she goes into a bit of the history of the economic value of children. Right around the industrial revolution, people got up in arms against child labor (which I think we can generally agree was a rotten thing) and in her words, children suddenly became "economically worthless and emotionally priceless". I'm not arguing that children aught to exist to make me happy instead of working, but why is my existence now expected to make them happy? It's not, and I don't try to make it be. Which is not to say that I don't want to see them happy, but again, not bending over backward to mold your child's life just so goes against the grain of middle-class American schools of thought today, and even though I don't buy in to it, I still feel guilt for not living up to a standard I don't believe in.

You know what the real joke of focusing solely on your children's lives is? No matter what we do as parents, they will never turn out exactly as we envision them or want them to, and a lot of people get caught up in their own supposed "failure" over that, or worse, blame their children for not being who the parent dreamt they would be.

It's not a lot of fun to slog through each day trying to teach them life lessons rather than gratify every demon possessed desire that grips them, and probably only slightly less miserable than giving them everything they want and letting them run the world. Maybe we just haven't come out on the other side yet, to the magical land where character building has made fun more rewarding than it can ever be for children or parents who are enslaved to one another.

The 2-3 year old age range is infamous. Ishmael will ask for something to eat, and I will give it to him. Then he won't eat it and will ask for something else. All day, every day. This might not sound like a big deal, but I don't allow him to waste food, so multiple time a day, this scenario turns in to him whining to get down, me saying no and having to prompt him 7 times to eat his lunch. He won't, so eventually he gets down with the understanding that he won't be eating anything else until he finishes the original food that he asked for. Then he will ask me for other food about 15 times through out the rest of the day, and I will say, "no, eat what I already gave you". If this (or any similar situation, such as "clean up this toy before you get that one out") goes on, it's not unlikely that he will get frustrated and melt down eventually. When he asks for other food or anything else for that matter, he will say it many times over with no breaths in between until you acknowledge him. Sometimes you can't even acknowledge him because he's taking up all the air and noise in the room asking you. If you do acknowledge him and give him an answer, he'll ask you a bunch more times or say "why not?" if it's not the answer he was hoping for, or if it was the answer he wanted and you're not making it happen quickly enough, he'll ask you 10 more times for good measure. It's exhausting just to write it out, and probably to read it too.

If he sounds like a brat, I worry that he is. I can only focus on so many life lessons at once, and not interrupting hasn't made it to the top of the list yet. Even when I do everything "right" parenting him, he still chooses to be pestulant much of the time. Perhaps it tickles his insides more than being obedient does.  God knows why, since the look of sheer pleasure and adoration on my face, accompanied by rewards and praise when he does the right thing are probably enough to keep him from sinning again for the rest of his life.

Part of me thinks that one day, they'll GET IT, and just be the lovely cherubs they could be if they just listened to my advice. On the other hand, every single person I know who has ever had more than one boy says that they battle with one another constantly, so I'm not holding out hope that they'll give up their Rotten Island ways for at least 15 more years.

I cropped the rest of this tabloid story out because it's too child-neglectish to be very funny, but I've always [ruefully] grinned at this headline about taking a break from your toddler, like you might with a particularly difficult relationship with an adult in your life. {link}

Sometimes I imagine myself doing yoga instead of actually doing yoga (children just sit on your face) and at least in my imagination, some of the worries melt away. For their part, children are like uncrushable little balls of optimism, ready to try another day, no matter how bad the previous one was.

I think I suffer from never having truly been a child at heart, but at the end of the day, there is some little seed of motherhood in me that I can't drown, no matter how intensely I fight against mom-hood sometimes. I think all women get this magical substance when they see their child for the first time, and it's like their hearts get an injection of fluid elastic so they can be beat and prodden and torn in every direction and still have room for that kid in there. I got it too, except they were almost out at the hospital, so I only got a drop. Even so, it melts me even in the worst of times (or soon thereafter) and makes me want to give my sons another chance and it makes me smile back when they grin at me, even in the midst of their devilry, and makes me reach for them when they reach for me. I can't resist it when they crawl into my lap with a book.

Sometimes it prompts me to call out across the sea of broken toys and shattered agendas that "I love you!". It feels like one good thing against a mountain of things I don't like at all, but somehow it always wins, and not just because I don't have a choice. These kids somehow still love me, even when I'm fed up with them and myself, and when I see that in their beady little eyes, I scoop them up against my better judgement and try again to make sense of all of this. 
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