Sunday Contentments – Cookies

I know this is going up late, but I just got back from Mary’s a little while ago. She and I spent most of the afternoon baking cookies and making fudge while the kids rampaged through the house and the husbands watched football and watched the kids rampage through the house 😉

I love holiday baking and I love my friends, so I’m very grateful I took a day off today to just bitch and bake with one of my best friends. We ended up making almond toffee sandies, sugar cookies, mint chocolate fudge, and something I think we’ve decided to call Christmas puffs. The Christmas puffs were Mary’s idea. She figured the kids needed something they could do with minimal supervision, so she melted some chocolate and set that out with big marshmallows and crushed candy canes. The kids dipped the marshmallows in the chocolate and then in the candy canes and then set the results aside to cool. Very simple and we only had minor squabbling about who’s turn it was to dip marshmallows next.

We split all the cookies and treats between the two families before I grabbed my brood and headed home. Tomorrow’s task will be to portion out all the goodies into small packages and deliver them to our neighbors. We’ll save a few for ourselves, obviously, but only a few because it’s not even Christmas yet and I’m already having problems fitting into my jeans. As the Pixie is wont to say, “Mama haff a big butt!”

And that’s pretty much it contentment-wise this week. Just baking and bitching with Mary while the rest of the family kicks back. Not really sure how I could top that, except maybe to have had a couple more friends with us to help bitch and bake and add to the general chaos.

Have a good Sunday night!

Drama vs. Contentment

I recently had a brush with someone else’s drama. It was not the natural disaster sort of drama, nor was it the death-in-the-family sort of deal where the tragedy that happens in unavoidable and there’s no way out but through it. Rather, this was a sort of self-inflicted sort of thing, many years in the making, that was brought about by bad decisions, refusal to communicate, and an unreasonable expectation that everything, especially the people you love, should be perfect or at least better than they are.

I hate this kind of drama. First, it’s sad to see people’s lives combust right before your eyes. But second, it really is self-inflicted, and it’s mainly because of that mindset that everything in life should be without flaw. People, jobs, relationships are not perfect. They never will be perfect. And when you get involved with any of these things, when you make a long term commitment to someone or to something, you ought to understand at the start that there will be mistakes and rough patches and even a little outright misery.

And you know what? That’s okay.

Seriously, this is where the Buddhist in me comes out. When Buddha said “Life is suffering,” I think what he meant was, “There are tough times in life, and there’s no way to avoid them.” And that’s true enough. But I also think he meant that people want things to be perfect no matter what, and they get upset when things turn out to be otherwise. Things, people, and situations are all impermanent. They CHANGE. What was perfect one day will be flawed and blemished then next. And that’s okay. It’s the natural state of things. Nothing lasts forever. But people refuse to see that, refuse to accept that the job they took on now has additional or different responsibilities, the person they made friends with has picked up (or probably always had) annoying bad habits, that the house they bought has bad plumbing, etc., etc., etc. And that refusal to accept always leads to anger and strife and worry and misery.

And people wonder why they’re suddenly so unhappy with their once perfect lives.

I figured out a long time ago that nothing was ever going to be perfect in my life. I have a husband I love. He’s handsome, smart, responsible, kind, generous, and good with kids. He also drives me nuts with his coupon clipping, his budgeting, his technobabble, the way he riles up the girls right before bedtime, the way he leaves his shoes lying around, his mile-wide streak of perfectionism. We’ve had more shouting matches and head butting over these things than I can recall. And somehow, we’re still married after 16 years.

Then I have these two beautiful daughters. They’re smart, funny, loving, healthy. They fight non-stop some days and drive me batty with endless questions and attitude and tantrums, not to mention their refusal to eat a meal I made because they specifically asked for it, and oh, did I mention the youngest scribbled on my freshly painted walls, and the oldest can’t focus on her homework to save her life some days? The whining and the fussing and the fighting never end. Yet somehow, I look at them and think, “I want a third. One more baby would make this family complete.”

I love my parents. They’re far from perfect. I love my friends. They don’t hit that goal of perfection either. And you know what? Neither do I. I nag, I bitch, I get angry, I yell. I’m rude, obnoxious, a loud-mouth. I’m carrying around an extra 10 lbs I can’t seem to lose no matter what and my oldest child tells me my butt jiggles funny when I run.

No, nothing is ever perfect. But there’s plenty in life that’s good enough, and I want to appreciate those things as much as I can. Case in point. Hubster and I were rather shell shocked after being hit by the shrapnel of someone else’s drama (and that’s my biggest bitch about drama; it doesn’t just affect those directly involved, it takes out the bystanders too). Feeling nervous, upset, out of sorts, we deliberately decided to take stock of what we had. We had dinner as a family, laughing and joking with the girls. We ate fortune cookies and giggled over the ludicrous fortunes we got. We read comic books together and tucked the girls into bed with kisses and songs. Then we curled up together on the couch to watch a movie. Before we went to sleep, we made love.

None of it was perfect. Pixie wouldn’t eat her dinner and threw a tantrum when she only got one fortune cookie because of that. Princess pouted and whined over not getting extra stories or being allowed to stay up late. Hubster and I argued over how good the movie was when it was over, me rolling my eyes yet again at his elitist standards for cinema. And the sex? It was comfortable, not earth-shattering.

And I’m good with all of that. Really, I am. It’s a quiet life with minor issues, and I don’t set out to make mountains out of molehills by digging up every little thing that goes wrong. And I think that’s good, because when the mountains do come along, the real ones like a natural disaster or a death in the family, I know I’ll still have the solid ground of a contented life to keep me steady on my feet.


Helen’s list of contentment’s for today:

  • Two little girls who love singing along to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
  • Waking up with a half-decent story idea in my head for today’s writing
  • Cheese and onion pie with fruit salad and iced coffee at the Briar Patch Tea room
  • Running into an old friend at lunch and reminiscing about the days I used worked at the newspaper
  • Reading Bone by Jeff Smith to my girls
  • Having time to do random doodling on in my sketch book
  • Picking up an old paperback I’ve had for years and finally starting to read it (Gojiro by Mark Jacobson)
  • Summer dresses and nice weather
  • Long phone calls with my friends
  • Learning how to knit a potholder
  • Watching Stranger Than Fiction with the Hubster and discovering Will Ferrel can really act
  • Sleeping late, curled up with the man I love. He smelled too good and felt too comfy for me to get out of bed.

Really, what more could I want than all this?

Who’s Divorce Is It Anyway?

I found this article on Web MD today, about how someone’s divorce can affect their friends’ marriages. I have to say, I’ve only read the first few pages, but so far this article is spot on. Michael and I have been through this more than a couple of times, where a couple we know and hang out with suddenly end up divorced. In fact, it’s happened to us so often that I am no longer allowed to look through our wedding album, because I sit there and pick out all the people we know in the photos who are no longer together. These days, I can also pick out the people in our wedding album who are now dead, which is another reason why I’m not allowed to look through our wedding album anymore; Michael says it’s just too ghoulish.

And he’s right, it is ghoulish to sit there and look at the pictures and talk about what went wrong, like I’m performing some sort of verbal autopsy on a long-dead relationship, but that’s how I handle these things. I look at what the people around me did wrong and I want to discuss it, to learn from it, to make sure I don’t end up repeating their mistakes. As badly as I felt for my neighbor down the street who’s husband died suddenly of a heart attack, I couldn’t help but want to analyze about the aftermath she went through. She couldn’t get into her late husband’s computer to pay the bills; she wasn’t sure how to handle the insurance claim; she didn’t know how to deal with certain financial aspects of her home business because her husband had always handled it. I have to discuss these things with Michael to make sure I won’t end up in the same bad situation.

I’ve done the same thing with divorces, picking apart what might have gone wrong and then comparing my findings to what’s happening in my own marriage. It’s armchair quarterbacking for sure, but when someone you know has been married for 10 years and you just went camping with them the weekend before and now suddenly the wife is moving out and they’re getting a divorce, it does make you stop in your tracks and go, “WTF?! How’d that happen? Didn’t we just go camping with them last week? Uh, honey? We’re not headed for divorce, are we?”

To reassure all my friends, I do not study your lives under a microscope. Half the time, when you make a mistake, I have no idea; I’m too busy fighting off my own alligators to notice yours. And the closer I am to someone, the more likely I am not to need to analyze what’s gone on in their lives. Those folks tell me everything anyway.

But some days I’ve got to be the ghoul. Some days I have to sit and try to learn from other’s mistakes. It ain’t pretty, but at least you know that because I’m a stay-at-home mom, I can’t hang around the water cooler at work and gossip about it.

Happy Birthday, Mary!

I can’t remember how old she is (last I recalled, she was a year younger than me, I think), nor can I remember the exact date of her birthday (hell, I can’t remember the exact date of MY birthday), but I do know it’s sometime this month, and she’s still alive and kicking, so happy birthday, Mary! Here’s to not dropping dead from sheer frustration.

The Origins Of Cynical Woman

I have a secret to confess. I am not the original Cynical Woman.

Are you shocked? Don’t be. Cynical Woman is a title I inherited/borrowed from a friend of mine way back when. Many, many, many moons ago, I was a young college student studying communications at Virginia Tech. I was also a cadet and an ROTC scholarship student, but those are miseries we’ll discuss in later entries. As I was saying, I was a young Hokie working hard on my degree and in desperate need of a social life. Being the geek/freak that I am, I joined VTSFC, the Virginia Tech Science Fiction Club, and proceeded to meet a wild assortment of characters, including a charming young woman named Joelle. I do not use the word charming lightly. Joelle originally haled from Atlanta, Georgia, and was as close to a Southern Belle as anyone I’ve ever met. She had style, grace, good manners and enough attitude to power all five computers currently running in this house, which is funny because computers and Joelle never really did get along.

So I met Joelle and we very quickly became good friends. She was working on her master’s degree in entomology, the study of bugs, and did cool things like make pets out of giant Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches (while still maintaining that wonderful Southern Belle attitude). Unfortunately for Joelle, life was not always easy. I think she had more than her fair share of bumps trying to get through grad school. She was supporting herself and paying for all her courses, which often stretched her finances thin. She worked an assortment of jobs to make ends meet, and did them all very well, but usually only got paid crap for them. She rented a small room in an apartment that was quite frequently mistaken for a landfill. Her room was clean, but the rest of the place was a dump. And she had problems with friends who turned out to not be friends, thesis advisors who stabbed her in the back, etc., etc., etc. I won’t go into too many details because a lot of it is quite personal and much of it is not pleasant, but I will say that Joelle survived in spite of all the garbage that was dumped on her by her graduate department, minimum wage jobs, and assorted aggravating room mates and faux friends. In fact, she did quite well, although there was always something coming up to cause her trouble even after she graduated and moved on to bigger and better things.

Through much of this, I had the pleasure of being one of Joelle’s friends. I can remember several lunches, usually held as some fine but affordable dining establishment located somewhere in Blacksburg, where we’d sit and discuss our woes (I had my own problems with being a cadet and an ROTC scholarship student, but again, we’ll save that for later). What I remember best is that after detailing her latest crisis, Joelle always said the same thing. “You know Helen, just when I think things are going well and everything is wonderful, something really crappy happens, and then Cynical Woman raises her ugly head and says ‘I told you so!’”

And that’s where Cynical Woman came from. It wasn’t until a few years later that I myself started to use those same words. “And then Cynical Woman raises her ugly head…” By then, I was dealing with my own crappy minimum wage jobs, assorted aggravating room mates and faux friends and I so totally understood what Joelle meant. You think things are going okay and you start to feel happy and kind of nice and then life jumps up and bits you in the ass. Only the way Joelle said it sounded so much nicer. Cynical Woman. It just had a nice ring to it, so I adopted the title and developed the persona to go with it. And I have to admit, being Cynical Woman has served me pretty well these last few years, especially when my life has been at its worst. Anytime I’ve been hip deep in agony, I’ve always been surrounded by a bunch of Pollyannas who try to tell me that life is great, things are going to get better, God has a plan for me, etc., etc. Well I know better. Life isn’t always great. Many times it down right sucks, and I’d much rather be Cynical Woman and know that life is going to hand me crap than be all perky and obliviously happy and then get kicked in the teeth when things go bad. Some people think that’s a horrible attitude to have, but I say it’s realistic, and being realistic means I’m always prepared for when things go wrong.

So whatever happened to Joelle, you ask. Where is the original Cynical Woman now? She’s in Bangkok, Thailand, a place she went to pursue her dream job and live an exotic, adventurous life. Of course, they’ve just had a military coup over there and everything’s in a sort of uproar. As Cynical Woman would say, “It figures.”


Artwork from yesterday. More torsos. I’m getting better at it, I think.

Torso studies, 19 September 2006