28 December 2012

December Day-By-Day, Week 4

Day 22: Decoration - Benny made an elf for our shelf at school. I like it.
Day 23: Joy Is Family Snuggle Time!
Day 24: Tradition - My sister has been giving everyone matching T-shirts for five or six years. It all started to coincide with a party my parents hosted a few years ago. Since then we've received shirts based on inside family jokes. This year the yellow shirts featured Goofy. My mom tells an amazing joke about Goofy messing around with Minnie Mouse.
Day 25: Lunch - Poor Lila was sick with the stomach flu for about four days. She didn't eat much, but when she did, she got bread and bananas.

Day 26: Mess - Nate gave me a juicer for Christmas. It was really a gift for the whole family. This is only about a quarter of the mess we made.

Day 27: Relax - We're hosting my brother, sister-in-law and baby nephew for the week. Doesn't he look positively relaxed? (Not to mention absolutely adorable!)
Day 28: Cold - Baby, it's cold outside. What to do in this type of weather? Why, eat delicious pho, of course! Lila insisted on using chopsticks with the noodles I gave her - with questionable success.

27 December 2012

Everyday on a Bike // A Challenge

Happy (almost) New Year! Since it's time for resolutions, I have an idea: What if I can gather at least one picture of one person riding a bike for every day in 2013? I know I can take a picture of myself riding my bike most days - but not every day.

So, here's the challenge...

Find me on Instagram (sarastruckman) and post a picture or pictures of yourself or other people riding bike (or any picture of a bike will do so long as you rode on that day) any day of the year. Be sure to label them #everydayonabike. I'll be compiling photos throughout the month and highlight one rider and his/her/their story once a month. Or, if you don't have an Instagram account and still want to participate, email me your photo and story. *Based on the current Instagram "situation," I'll probably create a Flickr account for this challenge as well. Stay tuned.

Some months I'll post specific challenges, like riding to work or riding to school or riding in the snow or riding with kids or group rides, but feel free to post whenever and whatever you want - as long as it's on a bike (and in good taste of course!).

My motivation for this challenge is twofold: 1. I'd like to use it to motivate myself (and, by extension, my family) to ride my bike more and 2. I want to encourage others to consider biking as and easy and fun and empowering way to get around (sort of a mini-bike advocacy/community-building activity).

By December 31, 2013, I want to report that I have collected at least 365 photos of people riding - one for everyday of the year. Are you with me!?!

22 December 2012

Book Review: The Blind Assassin

In the past three weeks, there are many things I could have and should have done in the evenings. But, I could not put The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood down. What a heartbreaking, yet somehow encouraging story.

Iris narrates her "biography" by way of the present and the past intermingled. The Blind Assassin is a novel inside a novel that complicates the story, but ties it together in the end. I don't want to give anything away because Atwood builds and builds and builds this story throughout the book.

I loved all the little details about the book - the time: pre-World War II, the Bolsheviks, industry and women's roles. I love that Atwood writes about strong, flawed female characters in her books.

I checked on a review of the book and ran across this one. Thomas Mallon couldn't be more of a jerk, as far as I'm concerned. I have a very hard time saying that this is my favorite book by Atwood - because I love all of her books. But I really think this is it.

21 December 2012

December Day-By-Day, Week 3

Day 15: Outside - I was still running outside on December 15!
Day 16: Something I made - My mom and I made plum jam this summer with the goal of giving it away to the kids' teachers at Christmas.
Day 17: On the Floor - I once saw this thought about cleaning with kids, "Cleaning with kids in the house is like brushing your teeth while eating Oreos." Enough said.
Day 18: Something That Makes Me Merry - I love this time of year: When not every piece of mail is junk or a bill.

Day 19: Starts with 'S' - On Day 19, we finally got some snow!

Day 20: Outside - The day after the snow storm, the temps were back into the high 40s. Perfect running weather!
Day 21: Tree - Benny made me a Christmas card. Love his tree (and smile)!

20 December 2012

Peace, Love & Joy

What an amazing year we've had in Denver. Every year seems like the best year ever, 
but this year definitely ranks as one of the best!

I started the year with a major career change: Teaching part-time at the University of Denver and consulting part-time with Struckman Consulting. The change was motivated by many things, the most important of which was spending more time with the kids - together. We enjoyed many adventures together, including the Butterfly Pavilion, the Museum of Nature & Science, the Botanic Center, weekly library trips, many trips to the park and other adventures around the neighborhood.

Nate embarked on a career change about six months later. He is now happily employed by a large engineering consulting firm in downtown Denver. The decreased commute and the interesting work topics continue to remind him that a change can do one good. 

This year I made a very conscious effort to live a more sustainable life. Benny reached a milestone in the spring that made that effort a little easier - he learned to ride a bike. Since March, the family has put countless miles on our bikes. Nate can commute to work by bike now and does on occasion. If possible, I schedule meetings within a five-mile radius of the house and ride whenever I can. The decision to bike more has made a profoundly positive impact on all of our lives.

The garden in our backyard has grown substantially since we moved into our house four years ago. Nate's strong suit is growing things - and not necessarily using them. By default, I'm the harvester. In past years, much of the produce has gone to waste. This year, I was able to use a vast majority of the produce and make some fantastic new recipes. And I'm still making dishes from the garden with the squash and garlic we have stored in the basement closets!

The kids are at such amazing ages now. Parenting, while still incredibly challenging at times, is also so much fun. Benny started school this fall and is excelling. He can be so mature and thoughtful and hilarious. He enjoys to play with blocks and puzzles and ride his bike and build forts. Lila is a joy. She is expressing so much by speaking now. She enjoys "making" brunch and play with her stuffed animals and watching construction equipment. This year, the two of them seem to have formed a special bond that only a brother and sister can have. They love to cause trouble together. And I'm so thankful that we were able to spend so much time together earlier in the year to help strengthen that bond.

So I close the year 2012 with a lot of peace, love and joy. I can't wait to see what 2013 has in store! Happy holidays!

18 December 2012

On Mental Health

In my previous post, I mentioned that several issues are bound up in mass shootings, including access to mental health services. I'd like to emphasize that I'm not an expert on mental health. However, I've worked in the mental health field long enough to have some educated perspectives on the issue. There are so many aspects packed into the lack of mental health care in this country. I'm going to discuss a few here.

The current mental health system in many states are inadequate to handle mental health crises, as the I Am Adam Lanza's Mother article clearly articulates. Emergency rooms, often individuals' only option when in crisis, are not equipped to deal with most mental health issues. Often, doctors prescribe something and discharge the patient. Or, those who experience serious mental health issues are not addressed properly and they land in prison.

In Colorado, the legislature has considered funding a comprehensive statewide mental health crisis initiative for several years. Metro Crisis Services is the only organization in Colorado providing crisis services. Two years ago, MCS launched a 24/7 crisis hotline and has been experiencing a significant increase in calls. MCS is moving toward creating a crisis system for the metro area and potentially the entire state - depending on funding from the state. This week, Gov. John Hickenlooper asked the Colorado Legislature for $18.5 to establish a crisis system. With a crisis system in place, individuals and families would have the option to access appropriate mental health services in a crisis.

It is so important to note that in a majority of cases, mental health crises involve individuals threatening harm to themselves, not to others. Most violent crimes are committed by individuals who do not have a mental illness. However, part of the stigma associated with mental illness is perpetuated by these high profile murders in which the media and experts suspect that the perpetrators have a mental illness.

Even with a crisis system in place, the stigma associated with mental illness, and especially severe and persistent mental health issues, creates an invisible barrier to treatment. Often when individuals experience a mental health crisis, their support system erodes for a variety of reasons, including erratic behavior, loved ones not knowing how to help, etc. This is the complete opposite of what happens when most people experience a serious physical health problem. Many organizations in Colorado, including Mental Health America of Colorado, offer (often underfunded) programs that train people on how to address a mental health crisis - and where to refer people for appropriate help. It also opens the conversation about stigma.

Additionally, issues of workforce, diagnosis, treatments and drugs are also at the heart of the issue. There are not enough psychiatrists to fill the demand in this country. Often, individuals experiencing persistent mental health issues are not properly diagnosed and diagnoses vary substantially as do treatments. Finally, psychotropic drugs typically do not have the potential to produce much of a profit, so drug companies are cautious about developing new and effective drugs.

In terms of mental health professionals and their responsibility to report past or potential crimes to authorities, it is stated in many codes of ethics that therapists may breach confidentiality if they think their patients may harm themselves or others.

I'm not claiming that if this country addressed mental health in a different way that mass shootings would end. And I'm not trying to minimize the responsibility of the individual shooters. These are heinous crimes. But, if we don't address these issues - along with many others - we will continue to mourn more and more victims without any hope of ending this epidemic of violence.

16 December 2012

The Unthinkable

When I first learned of the news from Connecticut on Friday, I quickly wished to remain ignorant - if only for a day or two. The thought of something like happening to a child - or anyone - breaks my heart and makes me wonder how we've come to this. Then I heard that most of the children who died were in kindergarten and the tragedy struck very close to home. I can't imagine what those parents, those mothers, are going through right now. Why why why?

Sadly, I have a feeling that we're going to talk about this again and again if we don't stand up and do something about this. It started with Columbine and it has become an epidemic. It's not just about the men (yes, mostly men) who perpetrate these mass murders. It's an issue that is bound up in many other issues, including gun control, the media, access to mental health care and the stigma associated with mental illness, as well as our own implications in these issues.

We can throw blame around for what happened in Connecticut (or Aurora or Oregon or ...): It's gun laws ... It's the media ... It's those "crazy" people who carry out these heinous acts. But the sad reality is that it's our fault, collectively. We need to demand that gun control laws protect the people and not individuals' rights to bear arms. We must demand that everyone, everyone has full and comprehensive access to mental health care - just as we do for physical health care. And we need to start focusing on prevention, not just reaction. We can turn off the TV when the news sensationalizes these acts and notarizes the men behind them. And, perhaps most difficulty and most importantly, we have to ask the hard question about gender: Why are young, middle-class white men motivated to commit such crimes. This is a question of gender and violence and we can't ignore it any more.

I've read some interesting and controversial articles in the past few days, one of which is written by a mother of a son with severe mental illness. Perspective is always a good thing to have in situations like these. And there's a link to a petition on Anyways. It's one small, simple first step.

Also, The Secret History of Guns, Fake Tears, Why Is the Shooter Always Male and Do We Have the Courage to Stop This?

How much more of this as a society and culture can we take? How did we get here?

14 December 2012

December Day-By-Day, Week 2

Day 8: Love - Wow, what a coincidence that the "love" day was on Nate's birthday. I love this man!
Day 9: Out + About - The weather has finally turned "normal" around here, i.e. cold. I've been taking some time everyday to walk around the neighborhood. One day I found some roses that have refused to die, despite below freezing weather.
Day 10: Under - See above, the part about taking some time to walk. Lila and I had to get all sorts of bundled up under layers for what was a cozy walk.
Day 11: Sweet - Clementines are one of my favorite foods of the season. And good thing ... on this particular day, I was recovery from yet another holiday party. I'm nearly holiday partied out.

Day 12: Hat - The colder weather turned warm for a day. No hats needed in 60 degree weather (coats either, for that matter). P.S. Look at those beautiful blue eyes!

Day 13: Lights - The snowman next door that Lila insists is a dog.
Day 14: Something Green - We have a tiny artificial tree. And our kids love it. They regularly rearrange the ornaments.

13 December 2012

The Potty Chronicles // Regression

Oh, how I wish the title of this post was The Potty Chronicles // No More Diapers, or, at the very least, The Potty Chronicles // Progress. Alas, we are back in diapers full-time again because Lila refuses to sit on the potty. We've taken to bribing her to at least try, but that doesn't even work. I love that my children are obstinate, but in cases like potty training it's not such a great trait.

Mentally, I am over diapers. I am so over them that I rarely use cloth any more. I bought the last box of diapers thinking that it would the the last box of diapers. We are quickly coming to the end of that box. Sigh. Also, Nate and I now routinely forget to bring diapers along on outings. In our minds, Lila is potty trained. In reality, she's not even close. We've had to make several emergency stops to buy diapers because we were going to be out and about for awhile. Sometimes we just chance it and hope that she doesn't poop.

The thing is, Lila knows how to go pee and poop on the potty. Several of her friends are potty trained. We talk a lot about how they are big boys and girls because they use the potty. Benny is a big boy because he uses the potty. Mommy is a big girl, Daddy is a big boy ... you get the point. Lila is perfectly content to be a tiny girl (her words).

Peer pressure isn't working, bribing isn't working, getting stressed out isn't working. At this point, I think Lila needs to decide that she's ready. Until then, we just have to wait and hopelessly day dream that she's potty trained - even if it means dealing with diaper drama when we're out of the house and forget diapers.

10 December 2012

Weekend Recovery

This weekend will probably go down as one of the best weekends in recent memory. My parents were in town to babysit on Saturday night, so we took them to the Colorado Railroad Museum for a fun daytime activity.

This was our first trip to visit Santa (ever). For anyone who knows Benny, you know he can be incredibly shy. When he was younger it seemed like it would be more like torture than fun for him to visit Santa. This year, however, Benny has fully committed to the Santa hoax. For awhile we thought he was going to refuse to talk to Santa, but he followed Lila right up to the big guy, unfolded his list and would have stayed with Santa for 10 minutes. Santa was impressed by his request for an electric guitar. 

On Saturday, Nate's birthday, we rode the bus (public transportation is my new favorite form of transportation) to his company's holiday party. We partied like we were 25 and felt it the next morning. Yikes!

We packed lots of other stuff into the weekend, I'm just too tired to write about it. Luckily, the weather has turned more "normal" and it cold and windy outside. The perfect excuse to stay inside and get caught up on all sorts of stuff.

07 December 2012

December Day-By-Day, Week 1

Turns out taking a picture a day is a really good way to remember small moments.

I missed the first day of the December Photo-A-Day Challenge...

Day 2. Some days peace is little more than a clean house and sleeping children.
Day 3. Benny and I walked to school for the first time. He held my hand the entire way.
Day 4. Black and white and read all over. Currently, I'm reading The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood.
Day 5. The day started out cloudy and gloomy. Lila and I went outside for a walk and saw the clouds making way for a brilliant blue sky.

Day 6. This one was tricky. I keep meaning to take this sticker off my fridge - but I'm just too proud of it.
Day 7. I meant to wait until the evening to catch some stars in the sky. I didn't have to - there were on Lila's feet.

06 December 2012

Bad. Ass.

One way to feel like a badass ... Ride to a meeting downtown on December 6. I know, I know, some people do this every day. Just let me feel like a badass for this fleeting moment.

04 December 2012

Three-Shirt Day

Blast from the past! I decided to review my old draft posts and found this one from about three years ago - when Benny was having trouble sleeping (roughly May 2009). I vaguely remember this period - it was tough. But, it's a good reminder that these tough phases don't last forever. They're a blip on the map of life.

It's a three-shirt day at our house. Benny is currently drinking the milk he poured into a bowl of Goldfish. Drinking might be too generous. He's mostly spilling it into his mouth, which means that he's also spilling it onto his shirt and the floor. But, at least he's happy. He's in his second shirt of the day. The first shirt was covered with yogurt and blueberry juice.

Three-shirt days are normally OK. However, Benny has decided to stop sleeping, so this three-shirt day is more exhausting and frustrating than most. As I reported a few days ago, Benny had returned to his normal sleep patterns. About four days ago, he derailed - BIG TIME! He didn't take a nap for three days. He took a nap today because he fell asleep in the car and I carried in to my bed. He slept for an hour, which is better than nothing. He has also taken to crying/talking for two hours before falling asleep at night. This means that he's only getting about 10 hours of sleep a day. That's not enough. That's not nearly enough.

Last night he did cry for about two seconds and then talked for about 45 minutes. He was asleep before 9 for the first time in four days.

02 December 2012


I'm participating in the December Photo A Day (thanks to Simply Bike for the prompt on Instragram).

I missed the first photo yesterday. If nothing else, this challenge makes me take pictures and pause to reflect on what's happening each day of this busy month.

Although I'd love to say that peace for me means world peace, sometimes it means a clean house and a few hours of quiet. That's what I'm getting tonight. The dishes are done, the laundry is washed, the kids are in bed. I'm drinking a beer and getting ready to read The Blind Assassin. Can't think of a more peaceful Sunday night.

Wishing you peace for your week!

Holiday Prep

While walking in the dense crown, dragging two five-year-old boys along, I wondered What are we doing? The three of us tried to keep up with Nate, who was pushing the stroller. But we were slowed by two pairs of short legs and numerous obstacles - mostly young people jockeying to get a better position. And despite having an iPhone with a moving map, we couldn't quite figure out where we were supposed to go. The chorus of Are we there yet This is taking forever When are we going to get there Where are we? wasn't helping.

I finally spotted the building number and we trudged upstairs, greeted by a friend with glow sticks for the kids no less. Things were looking up.

We ditched the stroller and our coats and grabbed some pizza and sodas. Nate spotted the bar and procured two much-needed glasses of wine. The grown-ups were set. The kids wolfed down their dinner in time to catch the first float in the Parade of Lights downtown. And to see the smiles on their faces made the stressful five-block trek worth it.

This season seems a bit like a sham this year. We didn't even have to wear coats last night to the parade because it was still 55 degrees. I hate to complain about the mild weather we've experienced this late fall, but it's a bit disconcerting. I remember living in Austin during the holidays and feeling a bit out of place with the holiday decorations because it was warm and sunny. The upshot is that we continue to ride our bikes nearly every day very comfortably.

I'm planning to write a longer post about this topic some day, but I feel very strongly about not promoting stereotypically gendered toys for Lila (or for Benny, for that matter). I'm a big proponent of learning toys and I don't think that girls need to play with pink things and boys with blue things. We've been intentional with what we buy Benny (kitchen, tool bench, etc.) so that he's exposed to pretending to play with a wide variety of things.

The tree is up and the Santa lists are complete. We have plans to catch a train ride to the North Pole this weekend and see the Blossoms of Light at the Botanic Center sometime before Christmas. That's another thing I feel strongly about - giving our kids experiences as well as gifts.