Category Archives: Tidbits

Blog Hoppin’: All the cool kids are doing it

Blog hops are almost as cute as hopping bunnies.

Blog hops are almost as cute as hopping bunnies.

A couple weeks back, I was asked to participate in a Blog Hop by friend, fellow blogger, (and namesake, for that matter), Jenny Gwinn McGlothern. Her blog, Mama Needs a Refill, is a blog dedicated to helping Moms “refill their cups” when they start to run low. As a life coach, retreat leader, writer, and mom (to name a few of her talents!)- she knows a thing or two about how each of us can refill ourselves, in healthy ways, when we start to run a bit low. And as evidenced by my last post, Coming Unglued, we all run a low on the reserves of patience, compassion, and understanding that are the currency of good parenting.

A Blog Hop is a chance to talk a bit about why you write, to show off a few of your friends, and hopefully introduce them to a wider audience. So, I’ll do the answering a few questions part and then get on to the good part of introducing you to a few of my friends and bragging about them a bit. 🙂

My Writing Life

I love writing- I love the act of it, the challenge of it, and the result of it. I am not gifted with a lot of other creative talents and I believe that the act of creation is an important one. To have made something that stands on its own in the world- whether a physical object, a piece of art, a song, or even the humble blog post- it gives you the kind of satisfaction that little else can.

I started this blog about a year ago as a creative outlet and as a chance to share my thoughts, stories, and observations. My biggest challenge has been with consistently producing content. Even one post per week is a hard volume for me to maintain- though I have recently rededicated myself to doing just that.

What am I currently working on?

Currently, I have a list of about a dozen solid blog post topics that I am working through- from the provocative (I have one on SEX brewing!), to the introspective, to the quick and easy book review- I have a bunch of great content lined up. The trick is to carve out enough uninterrupted time to do the writing. Along those lines, my kids are currently unsupervised in the driveway with the garden hose, a couple of winter sleds, and a galvanized bucket full of ice. Sounds like a party to me.

Why do I write what I do?

As I have said- I write because I love it. I also write because I like the idea of leaving a record of myself. All too conscious of the fact that our time on this beautiful blue marble is fleeting, I want to leave something- however humble it may be, behind. I am arrogant (or confident) enough to hope that my daughters will one day want to wander through my posts. As they grow and mature- there will be posts that offer them insight into the joys and challenges of parenting, how I thought about the world as a woman, as a friend, a partner, and an advocate for equality, tolerance, and decency in the world. When they are ready, I hope that they will see me as something more than a mom- as a whole human being. That kind of insight about your parents doesn’t come until well into adulthood- so let’s just say this is partially a written hope chest for them.

How does your process work?

Nothing fancy here. I keep the ideas for my blogs in Evernote and use WordPress as my publishing platform. I usually mentally compose my posts for a day or two before writing and then write for between 20 minutes and a couple of hours to get something on the page. I average about 500 words in 30 mins, though that’s BEFORE editing. And I could be a better editor. I am working to be as ruthless with the delete key as I am generous with inserting my “voice” into my writing.

Blog Hop Featured Writers

So- enough about me! Let’s move on to the fun part of introducing a couple friends and awesome bloggers that I think you’ll enjoy getting to know! I have added their blogs to the “blogs I love” widget- so it’s easy to check them out anytime.

The two women I am featuring- Gemma and Val represent two different types of friendships- both of which I value and enjoy tremendously. Gemma and I have known each other for nearly 20 years and have been sort of distant friends & acquaintances for most of that time. The thing I love about Gemma is her confidence, her way of seeing the world, and the way she has always carved out a life that is uniquely her own. I am so happy that through recent reconnections and shared interests in blogging, snow sports, and parenting as normal, human beings (vs. chasing the fiction of perfect parenting), we are once again orbiting in the same universe.

Val, on the other hand, has more recently become a friend of mine. Okay, full disclosure: we work together, but I couldn’t be more thrilled by it. Val is warm, thoughtful, creative, smart, funny, and crafty! I have so enjoyed getting to know her both through working together and through her blog.

The final thing I loved about this Blog Hop exercise is that each person needs to write their own bio– which is surprisingly hard to do. For many of us, it can be hard to “toot your own horn” and writing a descriptive, interesting bio for use in someone else’s blog is just the right forum for writing about yourself in a way that is not critical but celebratory! So, here they are, in their own words:

Gemma Alexander (@gemmadeetweet) loves stories wherever she finds them – in picture books, novels, creative nonfiction, in the news, on Twitter. She recently took the plunge from government staff writer to freelance, and currently writes for ParentMap, Three Imaginary Girls, and on her own blog at gemmadeealexander.wordpress.com. Whether writing for a client or herself, she tries to contribute to the pool of good stories in the world.

Val Portanova is a newly-(ish)-wed from a small town, putting down roots in a small city. She loves the simple things in life: getting up at sunrise, deep friendships, hitting the open road, and curling up with a cup of tea on cloudy days. When she’s not at the movies with her indie filmmaker husband, she’s at local thrift stores digging for treasure.  She hangs out on the web at www.acollaborativeeffort.com. There, she strives to create beauty, share grace, and write words of encouragement.

Okay- so, you’ve learned a bit about me and about a couple bloggers who are probably new to you. Check them out and see who they post about in a couple weeks! Thanks so much for reading and supporting me in this endeavor! Hop on, friends!

I can't get enough of that tail!

I can’t get enough of that tail!

One of the Greatest Things about Having a Dog is Not the Dog

Our Sweet Daisy

Our Sweet Daisy

This morning, like many mornings, I was out early walking the dog. It was such a beautiful morning, with the frost coating every branch, spider web, and blade of grass- as if Mother Nature just felt like dressing up, even though an hour later it would all be gone. The sky was high and blue with the moon shining and a few delicate clouds providing a canvas for the sunlight coming over the horizon. I had to stop and just stare for a minute- feeling so grateful that ahead of what will be a busy and long day, I had a chance to experience this moment.

What does this have to do with the dog? Well, without Daisy to walk- I wouldn’t be out there. I wouldn’t be taking my time, looking around, slowing down- even if it’s just for 15 minutes. I have similar experiences all the time- out late, taking Daisy for her constitutional on a crisp, clear night, marveling at the twinkling show happening above me. If it wasn’t for walking the dog, I know that after coming home late from work, putting the kids to bed, and scarfing down some food- I’m not going to say, “I think I’ll just step outside and feel my place in the universe for a minute.” Now- we all SHOULD do that anyway, but we don’t.  It’s hard, given all the pressures of life, to take that time but having a dog helps you to do that very thing.

Which is why one of the greatest things about owning a dog is not the dog. Even the responsibility of walking and caring and feeding is a gift. Recently, two good friends had their faithful and wonderful dogs pass away, and I have a third friend who’s beloved companion has been been diagnosed with serious disease. I have been thinking about the hole left, not just in their hearts, but in their lives. So let’s not get started on the fact that our sweet Daisy is nearing nine years old- which is not young for a German Shepherd.

So much has been written and said about what a dog does for you- the love, companionship, and joy of their presence in your life- but it’s more than that. At least for me, one of the greatest joys of having a dog is how how she helps me remain connected to the physical, tangible world around me- in all it’s magnificence (even on dreary, grey days).

Sharing your home and life with a dog may not be the right choice for everyone, but for those who can and do- we are a fortunate, fortunate group.

And for those who can’t have a dog, I recommend pretending sometimes that you do. Get out and take that furry beast for a walk- you’ll come home healthier and happier!

Lou Did It Right…

Doing it right- Lou Reed & Laurie Anderson

Doing it right- Lou Reed & Laurie Anderson.
Photo: Guido Harari/Contrasto/Redux

In my previous post, I shared my reflections on this crazy tapestry of life we each weave strand by strand through our actions and words. The garments we create take many forms and are as unique as we are. There is no “one size fits all” to living a worthy life.

With the publication of Laurie Anderson’s moving, tender essay about the death of her husband and long-time best friend, Lou Reed, we have an incredible example of doing it right and doing it your own way. Lou’s life, and his life with Laurie, was by no means perfect- but it was true and filled with deep love, learning, and creativity.

I hope you take a few minutes to read and enjoy Laurie’s essay, published in Rolling Stone.

Know Thyself! 23andMe’s Genetic Testing Kit

Pandora's Box!

Pandora’s Box!

About a month ago, I finally got around to doing something that had been on my list for awhile- I ordered a genetic testing kit from 23andMe.  The six-year old, privately-held company, was founded by Anne Wojcicki along with two others, and was given initial seed money of $3.9M by Anne’s husband (and Google co-founder) Sergey Brin.

The company offers “genetic testing for health, disease, and ancestry” and uses a saliva sample to crack each person’s genetic code.  My primary interest was simple curiosity and a love of things on the forefront of science and technology.  I thought it would be neat to understand my ancestry and perhaps I harbored a secret hope that my genetic code would uncover some latent gene for an X-Men like super power. <rubs hands mischievously>

Submitting the Sample

The small package arrived shortly after I’d signed up via their website and paid my $99 bucks.  Is this a fair price?  Hard to say- they likely had  high upfront costs, but my gut tells me that each incremental sample is pennies on the dollar to analyze.  Knowing nothing about their business model, I’m just going to say that at $49 bucks, I bet they would make it up on volume.  For a couple, it sets you back $200 and that feels a little steep.  If their website is any guide, they are desperately looking for ways to continue to monetize beyond the one-time analysis.  The site is full of vaguely useful articles and videos on genetics and it has a whiff of pseudo-science around their “Health Recommendations”.  Not sure I would have gone the “Dr. Oz” route of offering generic advice couched in terms that are so obviously designed to protect their liability.

Anyway… in order to submit your sample, you need to fill a small tube with approximately a teaspoon of saliva.  For me, this was a herculean task that required me to hide in the bathroom (a quirk instilled by my Mother- a lady does not expectorate in front of others!) and spit into the tiny tube approximately a million times.  Seriously, my tongue was sore by the time I had hit the fill line.  They sternly caution you that bubbles don’t count- it’s gotta be full-on spit.  Tony, on the other hand, apparently has a large amount of saliva just hanging out for this express purpose because he was able to complete the task before the door to the bathroom was even shut.  An informal poll of friends who have also taken this test suggest this is a “guy thing”.

Then we sealed our samples and nestled them into the padded and explicitly labeled boxes (they do not want genetic confusion in multi-person households!) and sent them off to the great gene grinder in the sky.  It felt a lot like sending saliva off to the Wizard of Oz.

Waiting

Turns out it takes a while to run that hard earned spit through whatever Wonkian

I imagine the machinery looks something like this

I imagine the machinery looks something like this

machinery is required, so we sat around, wondering for about a month.  During this time, I felt a vague sense of having set something in motion that I couldn’t stop.  The sample was out there, with no way of recalling it.  A good friend of mine, who is involved in the field of genetics, warned me that some worry about the intentions of the company- that they might sell my data and further, to be very careful about interpreting my results.  Good points of caution to be be sure, but being a purposeful optimist, I refuse to to worry about some darker or more nefarious purpose, however I concede that they may make a buck off me down the road.  On the latter point, although I am nothing more than an armchair science nerd, I feel that my grasp of the underlying science is solid enough* (*some restrictions may apply) to keep me from freaking out over deviation from the mean.

Results-Time Baby!

Finally, the long awaited email arrived- my data had been processed and was ready to be consumed.  Oddly, the health data was available first and it took another week for the ancestry picture to be revealed.

Again- the kludgy website had to be navigated.  No, I don’t want to read your dumb reports that are plastered all over the front page- I want MY RESULTS!  That’s all I care about (and don’t get me started on their useless iOS app!).  Once I find the right tab, several categories are revealed:  Health Risks, Drug Response, Inherited Conditions, Traits.

The Health Risks section is pretty interesting and is the area of the tool where you have to separately agree to see your results for Alzheimer’s Disease.  The results are displayed as a long list of both familiar and mysterious sounding aliments, with the top part of the list having more detailed info including: My Risk (%), Avg. Risk (%), Compared to Avg (Ratio), and a confidence score (4 star rating) for the studies supporting the risk percentages.  The lower half of the list only displayed an upturned red arrow for elevated risk, green for decreased.  My results listed 23 conditions that I have an elevated risk for- more than enough for any hypochondriac to get on speed dial with her doctor, but after a quick scan, nothing stood out as “Scary, call the doc,” which ironically left me feeling slightly deflated.  I have an elevated risk for gallstones <yawn>, Alzheimer’s (but only slightly), and Restless Leg Syndrome (which I’m still not convinced is just a made up thing).

It did call out that I have an elevated risk for Cleft Palate, which I do, in fact have.  Although my risk was only slightly higher, it noted that maternal smoking and alcohol consumption are environmental factors that compound that risk- I had those too, so that probably tipped the scales in my case.  Luckily, I’m no worse for wear and can make a funny like squeaky noise through the repaired scar on the roof of my mouth (see this amazing feat for the low, low price of a drink).

The Drug Response section was interesting primarily because it confirmed what I had

Pretty much me after anesthesia

Pretty much me after anesthesia

discovered through years of deep and highly unscientific testing- I metabolize caffeine quickly and it doesn’t negatively affect me.  So, it’s pretty sweet to know that I can continue to enjoy my fond addiction with abandon!  The second interesting thing is that it predicted that I have moderately greater odds of something called “Postoperative Nausea and Vomiting” (PONV).  And oh yes, Dr. Crick, I do!  Every time I have had my teeth worked on under anesthesia or any kind of surgery, I am like the Exorcist, spewing like crazy.  I had no idea that this could have any genetic component and I feel slightly vindicated knowing that it’s “in the genes.”

The next section, Inherited Conditions, was a complete bust- out of the 50 or so things tested for, there wasn’t one thing that applied to me.  Beyond learning that there is a condition called “Maple Syrup Urine Disease” (yes, really) it was pretty unremarkable  and left me wondering if all the conditions are so rare that essentially no one gets “a hit”.  I guess that’s a good thing.  Nobody wants to learn they are a carrier for something heart-breaking like Tay-Sachs disease.

The Traits section highlights included learning I have  more fast-twitch muscle fiber (so no excuse for slow-poking it on runs!) and that I can indeed taste bitter flavors.  Oddly, it did not flag me as having an “alcohol flush reaction” but there must be some other factor that influences it because anyone who knows me that you only need to bring a glass of wine near me and I light up like splotchy wallpaper.

Who’s your Daddy?

Hey Grandpa!

Hey Grandpa!

The Ancestry section gives you a peak 500 years into past and tantalizingly, tells you how much Neanderthal DNA you have.  I’m completely tickled to report that I am in the 99% for Neanderthal DNA at a staggering 3.3%!  So, now that I am a genetic minority, I am putting it on my resume.  You think your family has overcome adversity?!

Less unexpected was the news that my family is exclusively (99.9%) Northern European- guess we weren’t travelers and stuck to one relatively small geographic region (so basically, Hobbits).

The final section in ancestry shows you (should you opt-in) how many genetic relatives you have already in the 23andMe database.  I apparently have 994 DNA relatives as of today.  Oh man, by the holidays, my Christmas card list could be ridiculous.  None of these relatives are in the “close family” or “1st & 2nd cousin” spheres, so it looks my parents where both pretty well-behaved. (Just teasing, Mom & Dad!)

The Brass Tacks

So, is shelling out $99 bucks to have your genetic code laid bare worth it?  If you enjoy ancestry/genealogy or geeking out on science-y things, then, Yes!  Though it would be a hell of a lot more attractive at $49.  However, if you are a hypochondriac, I’m gonna say No.  If you can’t filter information or if finding out you have a slightly higher tendency to produce body odor is going to make you painfully self conscious, then I’d keep a lid on Pandora’s box.  Happy Spitting!

Cookies, cookies, cookies!

So yes after writing my earlier post & book review, I really made my Dad’s awesome chocolate chip cookies!  I highly recommend his recipe- they are just a little crispy around the edges, chewy, with the perfect ratio of sugar, butter, and chocolate chips!  I hope you’ll make a batch and share with the people you love!

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients:

1 cup Butter (softened)
1½ cups Brown Sugar (packed)
½ cup White Sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla
2 Eggs
1 & 3/4 cups Flour (use Bread Flour instead of all purpose)
½ teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
2 cups Chocolate Chips
2 cups Walnuts

Procedure:
1)  Turn on oven to 350° F
2)Place softened butter in mixing bowl along with brown & white sugar & vanilla and mix on low – about 3 minutes
3)Beat 2 eggs in a small mixing bowl and add to mixer bowl – mix on low – about 3 minutes
4)Combine flour, salt and baking soda in small bowl, stir and add incrementally to mixer bowl – mix on low/medium about 5 minutes
5)Stir in chocolate chips and nuts
6)Place rounded teaspoon of mix on baking sheet – 3 across, 4 down
7)Bake with timer for 9-11 minutes – I find that 10 minutes works well
8)Enjoy and share

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