Chapter 11 of the Mommy Rule Book is, If Mama Ain’t Happy, Ain’t Nobody Happy.

Not because everyone needs to cater to you, but because if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t effectively take care of anyone else, either.

Don’t lose yourself. Have a hobby.

I’m posting these here, mostly because I don’t want to lose them.

(And also, because I’m leaving these in the workbook/coloring book/craft table, and I want clean copies to come back to.)

I like to draw mazes. Partly because they’re fun to work once they’re done, and partly because, like working a jigsaw puzzle, it’s kind of zenny to make them.



Waiting for the School Bus

Middle school is a crazy time.

I’m thinking I’ll probably have a whole collection of thoughts to gather together on that, later.

But I’m taking a minute, right now, to remember today.

See, I walk my middle-schooler to the bus stop. Every day. Our elementary school is only for our neighborhood, and as such, we don’t have bus service until middle school, so this is new this year, but it’s nice.

I trust her to walk herself. It’s a half-block, around the corner, and then another half-block, with maybe a dozen other kids, all middle-schoolers, waiting for the same bus. Quiet, residential street. I don’t walk her because I don’t think she’ll be okay – I walk her because I need to know everything else in her life is okay. This is a dedicated moment, amidst all the hustle and bustle of getting kids and self ready for school and work, dropping off sister at her own school, errands, chores, and the ephemera of real life – we walk, every morning, just the two of us, to the bus stop. And her daddy and I take turns picking her up. Sometimes we talk, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we talk about favorite books or new television shows or what’s going on in PE or whether she likes math or if that boy was being obnoxious again or what we heard about on the news. It doesn’t matter what the subject is, really – we’re together, in a dedicated moment, every day, by appointment.

But today, my kid stopped me before the usual drop-off spot. Just where we turn the corner. It’s not that much shorter, but….

But my kid is growing up, I guess.

And I guess that is one of the most important mommy rules, isn’t it?

Our job is to grow children – into adults.

Oh, I know we’re a long way away from that. But I think that maybe this is how it begins, isn’t it – a half-block from the bus stop.

Happy Left-Hander’s Day!


It’s Left-hander’s Day!

Generally speaking, lefties are more likely to use both hands comfortably than righties are. Personally, I think that this is probably because it’s sometimes just easier to use the computer mouse as it is, or because steak restaurants tend to have table knives that are beveled to favor righties, or the scissors at the craft table are all righties, or the swipers on credit card machines are almost all built to favor use with a right hand, or whatever. (The Edinburgh Inventory is a ranking of how “handed” a person is. I’m personally about 40 points left of ambidextrous. Would you like to know where you rank? There’s a little test here.)

As it turns out, the habit of switching hands might be good for your brain.

It seems to be popularly suggested that using your non-dominant hand for everyday tasks builds additional connections and pathways in your brain.

Now, think of your brain like a library. Everything you know – from algebra to how to brush your teeth – is on a shelf in the Brain Library. A physical library has different pathways – main aisles and side aisles, shelves can usually be reached from either end, and sometimes even through the bookcases. Then, for whatever reason, the roof collapses! And you very much need some piece of information, but the main aisle is completely blocked. That’s quite all right – you know how to access the needed information by walking down a side aisle or reaching through the stacks. Those multiple pathways come in handy.

In the real world, brain damage and degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia are very similar to those roof cave-ins.

The more neural pathways you have, the less devastating that cave-in is. The damage is still there, to be sure, but you have taught your brain how to do things in different ways.

Give it a try. Go out and be sinister today! Try and be a lefty (even if just to brush your teeth) – your brain will thank you!
Note: I first encountered the brain-as-a-library analogy when listening to an episode of the podcast “Two Guys on Your Head.” (I’ll update when I’ve tracked down which one.) For the whole catalog:


Additional reference:



Speak Out


We are trying to raise kids who are comfortable navigating in their world.

With that in mind, there was an opportunity this week that we simply couldn’t pass up. The kids and I attended a rally at the Texas Capital, and I have some thoughts I’d like to share.

The rally was kid-oriented; two Representatives, Carol Alvarado (D-Houston) and Wayne Faircloth (R-Galveston), read The Lorax, and we then discussed the bill in question, HB70, which prohibits all political subdivisions from creating any regulations regarding trees and other vegetation. I had already told my kids about the bill, and what it meant, and we went to this event only after they agreed it was something they’d like to speak out about.
Texas Campaign for the Environment then had some lobbyists delivering copies of the book to different Representatives. We tagged along, and though the House was still meeting, we did get to speak with some staffers. The whole thing was an interesting experience, and I know that not everyone shares our viewpoint, but I think there are some things that apply to everyone, and I’d like to share what we learned.
This experience taught me – and the kids – that speaking out about your opinion doesn’t have to be scary – even if it WAS intimidating at first. We went to five offices, and everyone we spoke with was quite pleasant, and even welcoming. It was a wonderful opportunity to remind my kids that we have every right to be there, and speak to the people who represent us.
We learned that sometimes, your allies might surprise you, or even hold a slightly different opinion. Some of the people protesting this bill were doing so because they love trees; some were protesting because they thought it was a slippery slope to other environmental issues, and some protests were not about trees at all, but were people who want to preserve local government’s right to regulate local concerns.

It was also a very neat way to remind the kids that if you don’t tell people – or your government – what you are thinking, then they don’t know.Aside from our gentle little foray into political activism, we made a whole day of it. We spent the day walking around the capital city, riding public transportation, and talking to people and taking in the public art, all of which goes back to the goal of comfort in navigating your world. (I realize that there are places where this is not a big deal, but for those of us in Texas: we love our cars, and we are well out in the suburbs. Public transportation and learning how to safely walk on a city street are experiences that we have to actively seek out!)

Go out and be brave! Ride the bus, talk to a stranger, voice your opinion!
Speak your mind even if your voice shakes. — Maggie Kuhn

The Zen of the Jigsaw

I sat down with my kids on a recent, rainy summer afternoon, to lay out a jigsaw puzzle on our coffee table.

I love jigsaw puzzles. My mom and I used to work puzzles together. I have very specific dallas jigsaw.jpgmemories of having puzzles strewn across the formal dining room table. Specifically, I remember the Dallas yellowpages puzzle, and the night before christmas jigsaw.jpggreen Night Before Christmas puzzle. (Funny, I guess other people remember them, too – a very quick googling brought them up right away.)


I have so many other puzzle memories, too. Working the US Postal Carousel puzzle on the coffee table, watching the news, when the famous OJ Simpson white Bronco car chase was going on. Spreading out the Paris Cafe puzzle on my apartment kitchen table. Working the Visit from St. Nicholas puzzle on my own kitchen table, while my oldest baby sat in her high chair next to me, eating (read: playing with) her afternoon snack. Spreading the blocks from the kids’ farm puzzle all over the living room floor. Having a collage of all the kids’ puzzles spread on the coffee table. Sitting up way too late with my husband, working puzzles on the puzzle board. Spreading a tablecloth over the puzzle on the kitchen table so we can have lunch; giving up and going out for dinner, because every hard surface in the house is covered with a different in a jigsaw in progress.

Yes, I love jigsaws puzzles.

I once had a coworker who confessed that she didn’t like them, and didn’t understand them. “What do you do with them when you’ve finished it?” And it’s not just her – I’ve heard other people express similar sentiments.

In January of 2013, my oldest daughter and I had the amazing opportunity to witness a group of monks from the Drepung Loseling Monestary, as they worked towards creating a sand mandala in the atrium of one of our local university’s art museums. A sand mandala is designed with the specific purpose in mind of destroying it when it is finished. It is meant to represent the impermanence of material life, and its value is not in the having, but in the creating. The act of its assembly is a sort of meditation.

The concept of mindfulness seems to be something that our culture struggles with more and more. There is a facebook ad that keeps popping up on my news feed, encouraging me to just breathe for 15 seconds. There is a dutch trend called “hygge” (pronounced hoo-guh), which really doesn’t have an direct English translation, but which basically means being mindfully cozy. Do a quick google search on “stress addiction” – it seems that being addicted to cortisol – the hormone released when the body is placed under stress – is a thing.

My jigsaw puzzles get assembled; displayed on the table for a day or two; carefully (and completely) disassembled and returned to their boxes; stored on a shelf for a year or more; and greeted once again like the old friends that they are, for the process to begin again.

Despite the display and the return, the joy is in the peaceful assembly. The gentle, quiet, socialness of sitting with a friend or loved one over the project, and the ritual of working the same Christmas puzzles, year after year after year.

For many of us, I suspect it is the closest we will get to creating our own sand mandalas.

I would like to make a humble, and perhaps biased, suggestion for all of us who are searching for peace and mindfulness. It might be time to just sit down, and work a jigsaw puzzle.


There are no extra pieces in the universe. Everyone is here because he or she has a place to fill, and every piece must fit itself into the big jigsaw puzzle.  – Deepak Chopra


To be, or not to be.

O God, give us the serenity to accept what cannot be changed, the courage to change what can be changed, and the wisdom to know the one from the other.   – Reinhold Niebuhr

Fairy tales are full of people who won’t share their name, because it gives power. The stories say that if you give someone your true name, then they have some control over you. But maybe, just maybe, fairy stories have some sort of distant relative in reality. Superstitions, after all, are based in practicality – it’s bad luck to open an umbrella in the house, but only because something as unwieldy as an umbrella is likely to knock over and break something.

I’ve never really felt in control of anything, and I wonder if that’s why I’ve always felt awkward when I’m introducing myself to people. I invariably mumble, and then they have to ask again, and then I have to tell them again. I dread being asked what my name is. Is the mumbling caused by the dread? Or is the mumbling caused by distaste? When I was a kid, the first person I had met who shared the same name had already claimed the only logical nickname. It had never occurred to me until that point that there WAS a nickname for “Amanda,” and Mandy is the first person I remember being consciously jealous of.

(I did try, briefly, in high school, to claim the nickname “Alice,” because it sounded vaguely like my initials strung altogether, but I’m insecure enough to have hated it the very first time it was said mockingly, even though I’m sure the person only meant to be funny rather than mean. There is only one person left who still brings that up, and I can’t seem to get her to stop. My own fault, I suppose, for bringing it up in the first place. Que sera, sera.)

I’m not a terribly assertive person. “That’s not what I would have expected you to choose,” or “Oh, no, you really don’t want to do that,” and “We’re going to do it this way,” and “I want you to care about this,” are things I have been in the habit of capitulating to. I don’t confront decisions that I would not have made. I’ve been in the habit of consoling myself that situations are only temporary. That I can just go back and quietly and privately fix it later.

The problem is, when you aren’t assertive enough to do it right away, “later” keeps getting further and further away, and before you know it, temporary situations become long-term, and the starter house and furniture and miscellany of life that you bought 14 years ago, that really wasn’t what you wanted, has become the house you are going to stay in for at least another ten years until your youngest graduates from high school.

I’m afraid that this is who I am now, though. The last time I really tried to be assertive was ten years ago, and I was told that I was pregnant and hormonal, and throwing a temper-tantrum, so I’m kind of in despair that I will ever be taken seriously as someone capable of defiance of any kind. I’m trying to dig myself out right now, to say that “later” is finally here, but I think I let it go too long. I’m afraid it’s no longer possible, and that maybe, since I’ve always lacked the courage to change anything, it’s time to just accept.

I’m really very blessed. I know this. And in the end, I suppose this current sadness is really just another temper-tantrum. Maybe fairy stories have nothing to do with mumbling when you introduce yourself. Maybe fiction is beloved because it gives us the illusion that people exist who really do get to decide their own fate.

Maybe you all feel the same way, and I’m only just now coming to the same “what have I done with my life” mid-life crisis that everyone feels. If so, then I’m going to tell you something that you really need to hear: It’s okay to feel this way. I understand, and you aren’t alone.


Standardized Test Season

I’m still fleshing out how I feel about all of this. But I’ve got some ideas.

My general attitude about school is that a school’s job isn’t to teach kids how to memorize facts. It’s to teach kids how to learn. Because once they know that, they can tackle anything.

And a test doesn’t measure how smart you are – it measures either how well you understand an idea, or tells us what you need help with. By the same token, report cards are only reporting what a child does or doesn’t need help with – not how smart they are.

So what does that have to do with standardized tests, anyway? STAAR testing begins next week, so we had that discussion this morning.

Just like every other test they’ve taken, this test isn’t measuring intelligence. It’s not attempting to take a snapshot of a child at all. It’s measuring how well they understand certain ideas. And, it’s measuring how well the school is helping them understand. If a lot of students don’t seem to understand something that pops up on the test, the school will know that something isn’t quite right.

Naturally, my kids have heard the rumor that if you don’t pass the test, you don’t get to go to the next grade. I told them that was very rare, and that it’s because if a student needs more time to understand, then it seems like trouble to move them on to other things if they don’t have the right building blocks. To use academics they’ve experienced – being really good at addition helps you with multiplication, and you have to be comfortable with short stories before you’re ready for novels, right? And I think they can all understand. We just need to teach them in the same the way they need to learn.


I believe there’s another side to this coin, too. Texas just started a somewhat controversial system of grading schools with an A,B,C,D, or F letter grade. A bill was proposed in this legislative session that would reduce the impact standardized tests have on that letter grade, and put some emphasis on parent and community involvement. This makes some sense to me.

It’s not unusual for me to explain something to the kids in such a way that it makes no sense whatsoever. But when Daddy explains – the lightbulb clicks on. It’s also not uncommon for the teacher to explain something to the kids at school, and they kind of understand, but it doesn’t 100% make sense until we sit down and do it together as homework. This is part of the reason homework exists. It’s not just practice – it’s hands-on, practical application, and sometimes, hearing the words from a new voice or in a new way. Which is why “do some homework” is in the Mommy Rule Book – not just for kids, but for Mom and Dad, too.

(But we don’t do homework to the point of stress. Just enough to reinforce, but not enough to drive everyone nuts. There’s a different sweet spot for everyone, I suspect.)

I think there should be some way to measure a school’s effectiveness. I don’t think it lies in causing stress to anyone – that seems counter-productive. But it really doesn’t seem like all of the blame – or all of the credit – should be heaped on a school.

I tell my Scouts that their school is part of their community. The things that are taught in the school are going to affect the community. Just as school the affects the community – the community needs to remember that it also affects the school. Kids learn, and they grow up and become the people who create reality. Let’s help them make it a good one.