Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What the Hell Am I Doing with My Life?

Beyond the scope of motherhood, marriage, being a good friend and dutiful daughter, I feel like my sense of purpose has fallen off track during the past three and a half years--at least when it comes to my career.

I am a desk-jockey at a small satellite office for an enormous corporation. I push around paper, handle bills, contracts, and site-related planning, and occasionally I even handle issues for my boss, who works out of Philadelphia and is only in my office about a half dozen times a year. It's a good job with excellent pay, decent benefits, and a ton of flexibility. I'm grateful to have this job (thank you, Heide!), in the wake of last winter's layoff from a struggling local non-profit. I can put food on the table, pay my mortgage, rest assured that my medical costs are covered, and even buy some new clothes once in a while.

Why would I want more than that? Aren't my basic needs being met?

Yes and no. I was happiest in my career when I was a staff writer for a Stamford-based trade magazine, a job I took after fleeing the sharp edges of a public relations job in New York City. I lasted roughly a year in New York before I quit, realizing that I am just way too sensitive of a person to spend my days cold-calling, lying, and exaggerating for the sake of some expensive clients. At the glittery midtown firm, we were expected to outfit ourselves at Bergdorf's and live in the city on a salary of $20k. The only person in the office to whom I could relate was Christina, a sweet girl from Queens who was friends with Q-Tip. We often ate our brown-bagged lunches together at Bryant Park, talked about music, and shopped for make-up at Duane Reade. I still think about her from time to time and hope she's happy.

My shift to the magazine was an immense relief. I started as an ed assistant and worked my way up to special projects manager and staff writer in the space of year. I loved the people with whom I worked, I enjoyed spending the day interviewing sources and following leads, I was thrilled to be writing for a living, and I enjoyed going to work with regular people in regular clothes who lived regular lives. The only reason I ever left that job after four years was to stay home with Sean after he was born. My salary, as decent as it was, would barely cover daycare. And the commute from New Haven to Stamford would have kept me away from my new baby from sun-up to sundown. I couldn't handle that, and my ex-husband and I were in a position to live, tightly, on one salary. So I left, scoring occasional freelance work through my friend Melissa (thanks, Miss!), having a second baby, and enjoying the stay-at-home life.

Until I cracked.

Suffice to say, my life and my marriage blew apart in a category five hurricane that had been threatening off-coast for about 13 years. I found myself in need of--and ready for--a job. The boys, then ages 3 and 15 months, went in to full-time pre-K and daycare programs. I went back to work as an office manager for a medical researcher downtown, and within a year the house was on the market and the divorce date had been set (and reset, and reset...ah, lawyers and judges). Ironically, I considered applying to law school. Then, my divorce behind me and keys to my new apartment in hand, I took a job with a local nonprofit--and considered applying to an Urban Studies graduate program. Then I lost my job, scored this one, and here I am: A mother of two amazing boys who have thrived despite their brief ride on the Titanic; engaged to a wonderful guy; proud owner of a sweet little house; and once again considering applying to graduate school.

But for what?

Nursing would be my first choice, but it presents serious challenges. Nevermind the competitiveness of the local nursing programs and the intensity of the class schedule in addition to my already piled plate of full-time work and full-time motherhood. The sheer nature of the field, as much I am drawn to it, might not be for me. In all honesty, I'm not certain I could handle a patient dying on me. And that will happen at some point in a nursing career. So (if I say so myself) while I have the smarts, drive, compassion, and adrenaline needed for the field, I also have a serious predisposition to anxiety and panic. In short, I would struggle to turn off the adrenaline when not on shift. I would make a good nurse, but a lousy Moira. And that wouldn't help anyone--especially my kids.

So right now I have resolved to keep any graduate school ambitions on the back-burner, at least through next summer. Ian and I will get married this spring, and I look forward to watching that garden of ours bloom next summer, with the kids running through the sprinkler in the backyard and me enjoying summer hours and plentiful vacation time with them. I might--might--enroll in a non-matriculated education course next fall, to test the waters of a teacher certification degree, a program I abandoned in favor of a regular English B.A. in college. My recent stint as a "mystery reader" in both Nolan and Sean's classes has reminded me how happy I am in school--as a student, parent, or visitor. I love the way children look at the world, and I love witnessing them understand new concepts and ideas. Could I teach? Absolutely. Do I want to teach? Sure--don't I already?

I think the big lesson in all of this planning and unplanning is simple: I need to enjoy the moment more, and spend less time planning my next transition/challenge/achievement. In lieu of an urban studies program, I have become a member of a couple of local landtrust and preservation socities. Instead of going to nursing school, I can teach another yoga class and continue to tend to my Grandmother, who has a dressing that must be changed each week. Instead of going to law school, I can just pay my lawyer to entertain me. And if I want to teach, the answer will come. That's my problem: I am always chasing down answers. If I would just sit still for a little while, they'll find their way to me when I least expect it.

I'm doing a lot with my life, really. My career might not be spiritually fulfilling, but the little moments are. As Heide knows, my office is the place where people stop by to talk--about anything and everything. They vent, they rage, they cry, they laugh, they share chocolate, they ask for my help, they seek my opinion, and if they actually want something done around here, they know I'll do my best to make it happen. I was the first person told about a coworker's pregnancy and the first one on "the scene" when a coworker found out a relative had unexpectedly died. I share hugs, tissues, and a lot of really tasteless jokes. Heide said I'm the "Office Mom".

So... I'm Mom, at home and at work. Honestly, being the one my children, friends and coworkers turn to first in good times and in bad is a pretty high honor. I've been so busy trying to find my calling that I haven't heard it speaking to me every day.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Marriage (or, Chocolate vs. Vanilla)

Holy Crap! The wedding is four months away!!!!

Okay--I've got the dress; the invitations; the save-the-date cards; the venue; the caterer; the music; the photographer; the JP; the attendants and such....we're pretty much good to go, with only about 6,000 other things to take care of in the next 16 or so weeks. Even smaller, simpler weddings are very "involved". Fortunately, I love to plan a party. However, as far as planning my own wedding is concerned, I learned a lot in the first round almost nine years ago, and I'm paying those lessons forward to this wedding.

More importantly, I'm paying those lessons foward to this MARRIAGE. Because that's what I'm doing...I'm getting ready for marriage. I'm not just throwing a party. I'm throwing a party to celebrate this deal Ian and I have struck with each other: I'll be there for you; you'll be there for me; and together we'll take care of ourselves. And keep the bills paid. And travel. And cook dinners. And raise kids. And enjoy a special friendship called marriage. And frustrate the hell out of each other. And love each other. And....

The thing is, marriage is work no matter who you're married to. It's not always easy. But some marriages present challenges that simply cannot be overcome for a myriad of reasons, most typically because only one person is working on overcoming them. Ian and I will face our ups and downs, no doubt. But if our solid friendship and experiences together over the past two years are any indication, we can ride out the bad and enjoy the good as a real team. This is mind-blowing to me. And I love it.

But enough of the heavy stuff! Let's get down to more immediate matters: THE HOLIDAYS!

Next week we're doing Turkey Day at my mom's, but I'll be roasting my own poultry at home so we have leftovers to return to at the end of the day. Pumpkin pie and sweet potatoes are on the list of things to bring to mom's. As for the green bean casserole, I found a great recipe on the Food Network the other night with Guy Fieri, and I think I might make that one instead. We'll see how it's received, though. My mom's Irish family really likes things to be the Same Way Every Year. I took liberties with last year's green bean casserole and put red pepper flakes in it (gasp!). My family was confused and flustered over the matter.


What I'm really looking forward to is Christmas, especially the baking. Each year Renee and I (usually) get together and whip up a bunch of cookies on some random Saturday night after Thanksgiving. Last year we had the pleasure of baking in my former, single-mom kick-ass apartment with its renovated, open kitchen and ample counter space. This year, it's back to reality because I own again. We'll be baking in my tiny kitchen, bumping into each other, dogs, kids, and our respective significant others as we manipulate dough and make ourselves sick from eating two of every dozen that emerges from the oven.

I'm going to try a few new recipes this year, too, in addition to the usual chocolate chip and sugar cookies. Bakerella's blog is amazing, and I've found several recipes on there worth sharing. The red velvet cake and Oreo truffles are two latest discoveries that I cannot wait to try. Today's item for sharing is the amazing Double Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes filled with Chocolate Ganache and Topped with Creamy Goat Cheese Frosting. Phew. It's a lot to say, but I cannot wait to make them. They're not just for dessert. In fact, they would be perfect for a cocktail party or as a pot-luck item for, say, your table of 10 at a BYOB holiday fundraiser with Vinnie Penn (who will host Guido Jeopardy) that you might be attending on Friday, December 5 at the Annex Club on Woodward Ave. Tickets are $25 and it goes to a good cause.

Just sayin'.

Anyway, here's the recipe. Check it out. I, for one, plan to make these. Ian will hate them--he hates chocolate. Communist.

Double Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes filled with Chocolate Ganache and Topped with Creamy Goat Cheese Frosting

Double Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa, natural unsweetened
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup oil
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup whole milk, room temperature
1 cup shredded zucchini
3.5 oz. Valrhona semi-sweet chocolate bar, chopped in chunks

Preheat oven to 350º F
Line cupcake trays with 18 baking cups.
Stir together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt with a wire whisk. Set aside.
Cream butter with a mixer in a large bowl. Add sugar, eggs, oil and vanilla one at a time, mixing well with each addition.
Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture in three additions, alternating with the milk in two additions (flour, milk, flour, milk, flour)
Stir in the zucchini and chocolate chunks until combined.
Fill baking cups 2/3 full and place in oven immediately.
8. Bake for 15-18 minutes.

Creamy Goat Cheese Frosting

5 oz. Ile de France goat cheese
3 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
3 cups confectioner's sugar, room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla

Sift sugar and set aside.
Beat the goat cheese, cream cheese and vanilla in a large mixing bowl until creamy.
Gradually add the sugar, mixing and scraping down the sides of the mixing bowl in between additions.

Chocolate Ganache

2 oz. Valrhona semi-sweet chocolate bar, chopped in chunks
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup confectioners sugar

Place chocolate and whipping cream in the microwave. Heat in 30 second intervals, stirring in between until melted. Blend thoroughly.
Add sugar and stir until thoroughly combined.
Pour ganache into a small plastic squeeze bottle.

To assemble:

Insert opening of squeeze bottle halfway into cupcake center and squeeze ganache until you see it start to surface.
Then, spread creamy goat cheese frosting on top with a knife or small offset spatula.
Use any leftover semi-sweet chocolate pieces to sprinkle on top of cupcakes.


Happy Thursday!

Friday, November 14, 2008


What is friendship anyway?

I think the definition varies from one relationship to the next, one stage of our lives versus another. It waxes and wanes...it comes and goes, and sometimes it returns. Sometimes it's the thing that keeps us going; sometimes it's the most important thing in our lives. Other times, it's empty or simply something we can't devote any time to until we take care of ourselves.

The worst kind of friendship is forced. Say, when a couple of people have one or two things in common--like children, or a friend--and they think on some level they must forge some bond. It's beautiful when that works out; ain't no big thang if it doesn't.

I've been thinking a lot about friendship during the past couple of weeks, since I went back into the occasionally soul-sucking vortex of online social networks. I created a Facebook account after being asked three times in one week if I had such an account. So I opened one and shazam! Yes, yes, I'm able to connect with fellow New Haveners and acquaintences. But the big bonus is that I've reconnected with so many friends from high school.

Let's get something straight: High school was not the best years of my life, and you couldn't pay me all the money in the world to return to it. (The only thing worse was 7th grade. And maybe 2005-2006, when I was going through a divorce. But anyway...) I went to an all-girl's Catholic "academy", which was a small school with small classes and close cliques of "nice", mostly Irish, Italian, and Polish Catholic girls. There were 400 of us total in school, with about 100 of us in each class. It was an enriching experience on many levels, but when I left I was done with it and didn't look back.

Until now.

Now I'm reconnecting with so many women I knew as girls, and it's beautiful to see what course each of our lives has taken in the 17 years since graduation. As a collective, we're doing quite well. To hear from my old friends and get updates on their lives is such a treat. We all knew each other during such formative years; we all knew a certain naïve aspect of each other, from when we were full of aspiration, hope, and hormones. (Most of us are still hopeful, aspiring, and maybe a bit too hormonal.) Basically, it's nice to reconnect with people who understand and accept each other with few words and much unconditional care and concern.

I am lucky. I have a few very close girlfriends--and quality is more important than quantity. People like Renee, Heide and Mary are forces of strength in my life that keep me up when I'm having trouble keeping myself up. I have plenty of acquaintences who are dear to me, too. But pure friendship is something that we cannot take for granted, nor is it something we can force. It either happens, or it doesn't. The fact that I have a pool of old friends with whom I can reconnect on a meaningful level is profound. It feels like home when I talk to them.

My grandmother has kept in touch with childhood and college girlfriends her entire life. Each month she meets up with friends from her days at Regis College, and all-women's Catholic college in Massachusetts. They lunch. They celebrate birthdays (this year they're all turning 80), and the keep each other laughing through whatever inevitable downs they must ride out in life.

I used to say that if I ever had a girl I wouldn't send her to the high school I attended. The point is moot: I don't have a daughter, and I likely never will. But I can't rule out the value of an all-women's education. As I lunched at Grandma's on Wednesday, she pulled out some photos of her mother's sister and family. They're all dead now, but Grandma's first cousins were, like Grandma, well-educated at esteemed private schools. Grandma pointed to the boys. "Jimmy died when he was 3. John went to West Point and then Yale, once the war was over. Then he married a DuPont." she said. "Edmund was drafted and died in France, where he's buried. The twins and Mary each had a debutante ball, and Mary went to Smith. She used to come by and visit on her way up to see her old college friends. Do you remember that?"

Of course I didn't.

But what I do know is that if you lined up the generations of women in my family, you'd find that the strongest ones had the best education, unbelievable loss and heartbreak, brilliant and beautiful children, and amazing girlfriends to whom they could always return to find missing pieces of themselves.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Spicoli Lives On...in Pre-K

Nolan's nickname of late is "Noly Spicoli".

He's been known as "The Chugger" (he will drink an entire "thing" of [insert beverage here] in one sitting, without coming up for air). He has also been known as the "Howler Monkey" (his scream outdoes anything I've ever heard from a kid). And he's also proudly worn the title of "Cookie Monster," a nickname that requires no explanation.

But Noly Spicoli is perfect. Yes, he's only four, but he loves to say "dude", he refuses to wear anything except slip-on skater sneaks, and he likes to walk around while eating. He also likes to say, "Wouldn't that be so awesome?" about every idea that pops into his head. And he says it in his Dude voice, which is deep and goofy. The kid is hilarious.

So one day last week I picked up the boys from school, and it was like any other day. Nolan dragged his backpack along, scuffing down the hallway in his completely shot Simple slip-ons. (His Vans died a long, slow death, and giving up the Simples will only happen when his toes poke through them.) Sean chatted away about problems that need to be solved and projects that need to be built. And then Nolan shared that his class had begun to learn about Thanksgiving.

"Mo-ha-mom," he said in his Dude voice. "Do you know what I told my teacher today?"

"What, honey?"

"'I'm glad I'm not a turkey!'"

"That's pretty funny, Nolan."

"Cuz I don't want to be shot and stuffed," he laughed in his Dude voice. "Because that would NOT be so awesome!"


Happy Monday!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Obama Mama

Obama won. And for the first time in many years, I feel really proud to be an American. I've always been proud...but this time it's different. It's not a defensive pride, as it was in the wake of 9/11. It is not a blind pride, as it was when I was a kid and thought our country was impervious to just about everything. Now, I just appreciate what it means to be an American. Yes, our country's kind of in the shitter. But it's also full of amazing idealism and integrity like no where else, and those two things will help our country rebound under the direction of a new president--one who does not set himself apart or above other Americans. I am proud to have voted for Obama. Yes we could, and yes we did.

In the meantime, I've got this funny life that I live with two kids, an amazing guy, and two dogs. I sometimes feel a disconnect from some of my girlfriends. I'm out of synch in a way, since I had my children either way after or way before some of them became moms. I've carved my own niche and have become close to a couple of moms whose children are the same age as mine. And my friend Mary and I were clearly related in a past life. I feel so blessed to be friends with her now. But as for some of my closest friends with kids, right now I get to enjoy their new babies and toddlers, wondering how those years went by so quickly with my own kids--and how on earth I ever did it by myself for almost three years.

I gotta say, though, it's pretty freakin' nice to be out of the diaper and baby-gate stage...

Happy Friday!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Liberty and Empathy

My elderly neighbor Florence just adopted a new dog, two weeks after her 16-year-old mutt Kelly finally gave up the ghost. Florence was upset as she informed me of Kelly's death, but immediately commented, "Don't worry. I won't wait. I'll get another one soon. I don't like not having a dog in the family. It's just not normal to me without a dog in the house."

True to her word, Florence brought Sweetie home yesterday. She is a one-year-old mutt, rescued from a high-kill shelter in North Carolina and adopted through a shelter in Newington. I stood in the driveway at 7:00 this morning, chilly in my socks and pajamas and happy to let Sweetie lick my hands and gain some trust in her environment. She seemed timid, but happy.

All of my animals have been rescues. With the exception of fish, I have never purchased an animal from a pet store or breeder. Even the turtle is a rescue, found injured and helpless by Ian's father on the side of the road in Milford. All of the cats I ever had "found" me; all of the dogs I've loved needed a family. Ditto for Ian. (Wait, that didn't come out right.)

As a young child, I even had a pet parakeet, Liberty, who was a rescue. Liberty was not long for this world, though. And in a way, I thought it was a good thing, since I never much liked keeping her locked behind bars. I often let her out of the cage to "be free!", and she would shit all over the curtains. Mom wasn't pleased.

But I loved the bird, and I was devastated when she had a heart attack during a thunderstorm. My mother was on the phone with the vet while pumping the little bird's chest with her index finger, using all of the techniques she could from her experience working in the ER (on people). But Liberty wouldn't revive. We cried. And then we lovingly placed her in a very pretty cookie tin, and my mom ceremoniously disposed of her in a trashcan in my grandmother's garage.

A few days later, my grandmother lugged a big bag of garbage out to the garage. Lifting the lid of the trashcan, she spotted the pretty cookie tin. "Strange," she wondered. "Why is that in there?" She had a collection of tins in the basement, and she never parted with a single one of them. She removed the tin from the heap, threw the bag of garbage into the can, and brought the tin inside. It sat in the sink for a couple of hours until she decided to wash it, at which point she discovered the dead bird, screamed, and nearly threw up.

I never had a bird after Liberty. Fish seem dumb enough to be apathetic about their watery confines, but birds? I just won't keep a bird in a cage. It doesn't seem right.

I've apparently passed on the empathy gene, too. On Friday, Sean burst into tears after watching an ASPCA commerical with Sarah McLachlan. He was SOBBING. "The animalth are THO THAD," he wailed through three missing teeth. "I want to help them!" I told him the world is a better place because of caring people like him, and he said he wanted to collect pet food and toys for the animal shelter this Christmas in addition to collecting canned goods for the hungry.

It was a great idea. And it didn't stop there.

Last night I finished a big lap quilt, which I had been working on all weekend. Sean and Nolan immediately wanted to snuggle under it while watching a movie. I told them I planned to make more, hoping to give some away as Christmas gifts.

Sean piped up, "Why don't you give them to the homeless who really need blankets?"

I guess I better buy more fabric.