Thursday, November 29, 2012

Music for Cool People: 11/29/12

Come on, everybody. If Bing and David can get along like this, we should all be able to do a little better.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Tale of Old No-tail

So, I have a new friend in the neighborhood. No, it's not some other lame Mom - it's a special friend. Ok you guys, it's a squirrel. This is him:

Notice anything unusual? Yeah, me too.

Of course, I spotted him immediately the first time we crossed paths a couple of years ago. My eyes are basically magnet-trained to spot any and all animals that I encounter (living or dead), so his jaunty, tail-less waddle was like a beacon among the typically foggy and mundane neighborhood goings-on.

I immediately felt sorry for the little guy. I mean, come on! Just look at him! He's so ridiculous looking - I wondered what the other squirrels thought of him. I imagined squirrel birthday parties that he wasn't invited to. I imagined him being laughed off the squirrel high jump team. I imagined lady squirrels shooting down his advances.

Yeah, Disney movies pretty much ruined me.

Then I tried to conjure up what had happened - had he survived a narrow escape from a predator? Our neighborhood did have more than its fair share of natural predators for him to fear (Can anybody say red-tailed hawk? How about coyote?) A run-in with a train? A trap? I actually spent quite a bit of time amusing myself with concocting the details of his life - it was like a relationship, except only I really knew about it.

In truth, I sort of assumed that was the last I'd see of him - either he would be moving on due to the ceaseless mocking or possible ostracizing from his peers, or he'd die from lack of balance, pride or both.

But guys - that little dude proved me wrong.

Not only is he still kicking, he's bigger than most of the others now. I see his cropped behind all over the place and usually it's smack dab in the middle of a big pile of food.

Clearly I was wrong about him - I had assumed that his missing appendage was a sign of weakness, but maybe it was something else altogether. Maybe it was a battle wound, a badge of courage. He walked among the others and they backed away in awe - it's him! The guy who survived. The one strong enough to not only get away but to thrive beyond the threat.

It made me wonder what other perceived weaknesses I might be misinterpreting. Could there be things about others or even about myself that I had misjudged?

I am glad to know this squirrel for a lot of reasons - but chief among them is that it is never a bad idea to reconsider your position on things, and he reminded me of that.

Thanks, little buddy. I'll leave some extra bird seed out for you, you know, just in case bravado fails and you need a friend.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Music for Cool People: 11/18/12

This opening riff is so good it makes me want to destroy something.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Music for Cool People: 11/14/12

Oh my God. I love this song so MUCH.

Dig it. This is tragedy.

Recipes: Allison's Black Bean Enchiladas

Over the years I have managed to become a pretty decent cook - this recipe is one of my best. It's filling, vegetarian, and makes for great leftovers. It is also full of options and can definitely be tweaked to serve to the health-conscious or vegan by removing the cheese and spot-checking a few ingredients...

So, here it goes - let's make some Mexican (ish) food everybody!

Black Bean Enchiladas


1 bunch of green onions (chopped, green parts only)
2 15 oz cans black beans (drained and rinsed)
1 28 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 slice of fresh lemon (remove any seeds)
1 TB cumin
3/4 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
8-10 tortillas (around 8" diameter)
1 1/2 - 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
3 10 oz cans enchilada sauce


1. Heat a large skillet over med-high heat. Coat hot skillet with cooking spray and add green onions. Saute for 1-2 minutes. Add black beans, diced tomatoes (liquid included) and stir until evenly mixed. Then add cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper and lemon. Stir well and bring to a low simmer.

2. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently (ish - just don't let the beans stick to the bottom too much) and remember to scrape down the sides as well. After 5 minutes, remove the lemon slice. The filling will start to thicken a bit over time but in the last 1-2 minutes of cooking I also smash a few of the beans with the spoon to add more thickening. Remove from heat and set aside.

3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 8.5 x 11.5 x 2in baking dish (or whatever you have that's similar in dimension) by coating it with cooking spray. Put about 1/2 - 3/4 cup of bean filling into a tortilla and sprinkle with 1-2 TB of cheese. Fold in the ends and sides of the tortilla to make a sealed pocket. Place each enchilada (seam down) in the baking dish. I can usually fit 8 or 9 enchiladas in my dish (so I pack 'em in pretty tight) - don't be scared - they smoosh together nicely. I'll pack 6 or 7 along the length of the pan and then 2 or 3 horizontally in the empty space below them. Next you cover the enchiladas with enchilada sauce. Just make sure all the tortilla parts are covered - you may not need to use all 3 cans of the sauce. Use your judgment - cover it all up, but don't fill it to the brim (or you'll be dealing with drips). Sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese.

4. Bake for 45 minutes or until sauce is bubbling and the cheese is browning. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

You can totally tell from this picture that I was guilty of overfilling my pan with sauce. What can I say, we like things saucy around here. 

Serving suggestions? Well, I usually serve it simply with sour cream and salsa, but we have also enjoyed having chopped avocado as a topper. Really, you can serve it with whatever you want, you guys. I hope you enjoy it if you try it! 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Music for Cool People: 11/12/12

Today is the first truly cold day. All the warm overtones are gone. 
So, an Arcade Fire for you.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Or do you just like yourself too much?

So this whole blogging thing has got me thinking. It's obvious I enjoy doing it - I've been on here incessantly over the last few days. But I started feeling a bit strange almost as soon as I came back to it. It was somehow making me feel self-conscious.

This is such a familiar feeling for me - I can't even come close to telling you how many times I've been crippled by insecurity in my daily life (particularly the kind caused by that cruel bitch embarrassment). So, the feeling was instantly recognizable. But it was of odd origin. And my usually level-headed mindset regarding the opinions of others started to wither. I started feeling sure that people were going to get the wrong idea about my intentions. And that they would find me arrogant.

I suppose I should explain. I have always been a bit of an odd duck when it comes to confidence. Can I get on a stage and sing in front of a crowd? Sure, you bet. Can I speak in front of a group? Absolutely. But I am not truly confident in a lot of things - I am especially sensitive to the thoughts of others about who I am. I worry when people don't like me. I get uptight thinking about strangers talking about me. I can be a real shrinking violet, kiddos. Also, a nut.

And from that small cross-section of my brain, an idea grew: Oh my God, when it comes to stroking your ego having a blog might be the ass-kissiest thing a person could do! People are going to think I'm in love with myself. I was instantly horrified.

I could vividly picture any number of my Facebook friends collectively rolling their eyes at my posts. I could hear them making snide remarks over their laptops to partners or friends about their "blogger" friend who's so up her own ass. Typically when I start in with this line of thinking I land here for a beat. You know, spend a few minutes in paranoia-land dreaming up all the awful things people could say. It's pretty dumb really.

Then I took a breath, calmed down a smidge and decided to use my old pal logic. (I know, a truly novel idea.) I thought down to the bare bones of my feelings. Where was all this crap coming from? What was I committing to with this blog? Was it more than I could or wanted to handle? And worst of all, was it some kind of narcissism?

Are you doing it for the right reasons, or do you just like yourself too much?

I decided that what was most important was determining what exactly I felt committing to a blog meant. So I thought about it and came to the conclusion that through attempting to blog I was inferring that I feel I have something of value to say or share. Easy enough.

But, come on. Did I really believe that? Was the viewpoint from my chair one that people would want to see? I immediately felt wrong about saying that it was. I just felt uncomfortable saying it. It did feel a tad arrogant.

Still I felt compelled to write. Still I wanted to share. There must be a way around this. How do all those other bloggers do it? I read lots of blogs and never find myself thinking this way about any of those writers. Why would I hold myself to a standard that I would never exercise on others in a similar situation? I wasn't being very fair.

Since I was probably blowing this whole thing out of proportion, I decided to call in reinforcements and shared my feelings with Ryan. As always, he was excellent for a confidence boost (because he thinks I'm super cool). And just as dependably, he brought something new to the table that I had not yet considered. He brought up the idea of blogger identities being less self-worship and more avatar. Of course the explanation he gave included the word "microcosm"so I'll spare you the rest of it - but, the avatar part really opened up the mindset I had fallen into using.

An avatar. Yeah, I could see how that fits - an extension of self into a foreign space. Really it felt like exactly the right word. Blogging is an odd beast because in many cases it is about sharing your personal life, interests, and work but it is not a mirror. The reader doesn't see everything we are. The blogger decides what to share. They determine what view you see into their world. They fix all the cameras and lights and let you in on the scenes they choose. Color them just so.

So it isn't really about arrogance or self-obsession. It's about creating a world to visit. It's about building a life in an artful manner. It's about creation.

And creating art (no matter how it might be reviewed) is something that interests me very much.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Art. Ish.

Music for Cool People: 11/9/2012

He's a clever lad, that Elton John.

The Naming of Things

When naming this blog, I did quite a bit of thinking. No wait, I barely thought at all. The name just came to me - the thinking part happened afterward when I started to wonder if I had aptly or incorrectly titled this thing.

I mean, a blog is basically just an expression of self, and I was suddenly acutely insecure. I was a new Mom, sure. But was I the "maternal type?" Misrepresentation of self is a sure sign of cognitive dissonance - and I thought I might be cracked here. I moved quickly from worrying about just the title and thick into worrying about the actual consequences of this discovery. Did it mean I wasn't cut out to be a Mom?

You have to remember that I first started writing here (albeit briefly) when Willow was 10 weeks old, and at that point I was still feeling a bit, well, lost. The word maternal always suggested a natural quality to me, like it should be something simply and inherently felt - I mean its most common phrase pairing is "maternal instinct." That's sounds like it should be pretty darn natural, right? But at the beginning, I didn't feel natural at all. In fact, I felt quite foreign to myself.  What made it worse was that I worried I looked as awkward and fumbling as I felt. It made me uneasy - was I doing this right? If I was, why did I still feel so insecure? Why wasn't this coming naturally? Suddenly the word itself felt like a great weight. I was buckling under the pressure to find something within that I thought was surely lacking.

Adding insult to injury is the fact that there are those women that just seem like they were born to do this job. You know the type - they've been gushing over babies since they were little girls, playing house and daydreaming of the day they will get to be a real Mommy.  And then they go off and have tons of babies that they never seem to get tired of breastfeeding, and it leaves Moms like me feeling even more alien. I mean, unless they are all really good liars, it seems that some people are just naturally better suited for such things. Did it matter that I wasn't one of them? Was Willow getting the short end of the stick because I couldn't get the hang of this as quickly as other people do?

Amble on down the road a bit and things are much different. I do feel maternal, I know I'm a good Mom. I have confidence. Where did it change? I'm not really sure. There are days I'd swear I was right back at the beginning, and then an instant later I can snap back into self-assured mode with ease. I believe part of the comfort in maternal feelings came for me simply by learning. I am maternal because that is what I have become. It is what I've grown into. I am the skill sets I have acquired. I am the instinct now that alluded me so thoroughly at first.

Which brings me to my point: In my haste to find a snappy name for my blog that intimated my personal and vast feelings about life and parenthood (while simultaneously making me sound clever) I had inadvertently stumbled upon a perfect name for very different reasons. Because let's be honest folks, parenting is largely a game of paradoxes just like this one. The road is full of stumbling blocks and concepts that begin to look hazy the longer you stare. There's so much advice and information out there that beginner parents can feel suffocated by all the options. Even in the idea of maternal nature I could see alternatives I didn't even know were there initially. Yes, it could be instinct. Yes, it can also be learned. So what does it matter which way it happens?

Just like with everything in the parenting world - there's more than one right way to do things folks.

Am I maternal? Yes and No.

I am. And I am not. And I think that's ok.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Art. Like Garfunkel.

Music for Cool People: 11/8/2012

This particular remix of this song is so much fun - probably the best dance song I've heard in a while plus it's a good addition to my running playlist. I hope you enjoy it so much that you freak out about it like me:

The one where I come crawling back...

I started this blog when my daughter was first born as an attempt to chronicle her life and to keep track of all her little victories... you know, back when she looked like this:

It will be momentarily obvious that my plan went to hell pretty quick when I show you what she looks like now:

WHAM! Two years in less than an instant!

Crazy, right? It's no testament to me that I failed to keep up with blogging, but I am proud to say that I neglected my plans to be a great Mommy blogger to, you know, actually just focus on being a Mommy. And you know what? I think I have done a pretty bang-up job of the whole thing. 

Willow is a pretty incredible kid. She's loving, and smart, and creative. She loves art and building with blocks, and I'm pretty sure her language skills are improving almost daily. Two years is a very fun age for all of us here at Chez Chamberlain - we finally got the kid we ordered (you know, like FOREVER ago), and she was totally worth the wait.

A friend once said that the only way people should have babies is if they are willing to turn their lives upside down for two years. It was a frank statement, but one that I think is indeed true. Now that we have reached the two year mark, I really feel like a significant corner has been turned. It's just so much easier now. I mean, don't get me wrong - there are still days I just get so frustrated with her I could spit nails. But even in her worst places, I never get the sense of doom that her baby days periodically inspired me to feel. Not that the early days were all bad - they had their good moments, too. But I had trouble at the beginning, I think a lot of Moms do - especially with the first one. But now I just see possibilities for us. It's a good spot to be in. 

So I suppose it all begs the question: Now that the horizon looks like relatively smooth sailing, should we have another baby?

Oh man, I don't know, you guys. It's a tough call. And being analytical people, Ryan and I have made many pros and cons lists. Depending on the day, there can be more pros or cons on the lists, so we vary on our opinion based on our momentary circumstance. And that worries me. What if my wavering on the idea is a sign that I'm not committed enough to go through with it happily? But then I remember back to my pregnancy and how scared I was on some days, and then how happy I was on others and I think that these emotional swings on the topic could be natural.

What do you think out there in internet land? Were you scared to take the plunge and have a second kid?

I think the most important thing for the moment is that we are very content with our family just how it is - and that is a pretty comforting thought no matter what direction the wind ends up going.