Brenna Barzenick

Seeing Red

Seeing Red - Tales from the Crib

There are few moments in life when we are graced with an epiphany, a light bulb moment, if you will. It happens when all forces align in the moment and a little bell of clarity rings in your head. As a busy mom, any sense of clarity is appreciated, but lately, seems extinct. But this week, it happened to me while cooking. My friends and family will tell you that “cooking” and “Brenna” don’t really go in the same sentence. With that said, an epiphany for me while cooking seems as likely as a merger of NPR and Fox News.

Before I share my warm moment with you, let me take you back to last year. My super smart and talented cousin, Marena, decided to compile a family cookbook for everyone. She gathered recipes for months and the final product rivals any cookbook you might see on the shelf. When Marena visited at Christmas, she gave everyone a copy of The Monteleone Family Cookbook.

Since then, the little cookbook has been calling my name. “Oh Brenna, put down that box of macaroni and cheese now. Come see the treasures I offer,” sang the cookbook. You should know that I have “issues” when it comes to cooking. I feel like I have many other talents, such as precision splinter removal, grout cleaning, the ability to make corny puns (just call me The Kernel), and being able to moonwalk in my socks. However, I can honestly say that I have zero talent in the kitchen. Guess you can call it low self-esteam, since I can’t steam a vegetable to save my life. Until recently, I thought braise was what donkeys do.

If you are wondering how I get food on the table, I have two words for you – Crock Pot. Most crock pot recipes can happen in three steps: put in the meat, add a packet of onion soup mix, and cover with water. Stirring not required! A chimp could do it. And he would serve the meal with a fine vine. I love my crock pot so much, that I buy sweaters for it and carry it around in a big, blingy purse.

But outside the safe confines of a crock pot, meat doesn’t fair well. I’ve tried making a pot roast in the oven but the end result is disastrous. Let me say that in order for it to be edible, I would have to chew the meat first then give it to my kids like a momma bird would.

So, you can see why I am intimidated by recipes that go beyond three steps. As a recovering perfectionist, I am challenged by cooking terms. When I read “add a pinch of salt”, I start analyzing the size of my thumb and forefinger compared to others. What if my pinch is just a little too big? It stresses me out. Another phrase that throws me off is, “add water to desired consistency”. Desired consistency. My desire or your desire? Help me, Paula Deen!

Now for the cookbook story. On a rainy and cold Tuesday, I picked up the cookbook and decided to silence it once and for all. I imagined that the cookbook would finally quit calling out to me once it realized who it was dealing with -- Crock Pot Girl. I jumped to the ‘Desserts’ chapter and stopped on Aunt Mary Belle’s oatmeal cookie recipe. The cookies were tempting, but I can’t serve them for dinner (again). Then I thumbed through the ‘Main Dishes’ section and landed on the Holy Grail of family recipes, my grandmother’s prized spaghetti and meatballs. “Hush your mouth!” screamed the microwave.

As most Italian families can attest, a Sunday spaghetti dinner at Grandma’s house is more than a tradition, it is an event. Memories of the laughter, the town gossip, and talk of the good ‘ole days are conjured up every time I see red sauce. Years have passed since my grandmother died, but her sauce lives on. My dad, Philip, has her recipe down to the money and so does my Aunt Marie. But with busy lives and schedules, our tradition of eating together every Sunday has faded.

Studying the recipe before me, I felt like Snooki at a Mensa exam. Chop this, sauté that, boil twice – ok, not so bad. I can do this. As I dove in to it, I had enough confidence building that I chose to make a few healthy modifications. You see, aside from a head of thick, luxurious hair, our family genetics also give rise to high cholesterol, heart disease, and worrying.

Diligently working, I added the tomato paste and the water to a “desired consistency” (6 cups to be exact). After a few minutes, the delicious aroma of garlic and onion swirled from the pot. In that one moment of stirring the sweet crimson sauce, watching for the gentle rolling boil, I FELT my grandmother Louise. I felt her unconditional love washing over me. I felt her regal face smiling proudly at every little accomplishment I would make. I felt the true meaning of family. Her presence was undeniable and I knew she was peeking over my shoulder into the pot.

I also knew she was shaking her head at my ground turkey meatballs and organic tomato paste. Mizzica! You modern kids and your healthy habits!

Then, the epiphany came. Cooking is an expression of love. Cooking is an expression of love. I’ve heard it before, but it never sank in. I get it now.

I also realized that the basic foundation of making a good sauce is not so different from raising children. You have to carefully prepare, watch over it, and be tender with it. The cook has the satisfaction of knowing that she is feeding the body but also nourishing the spirit of those who sit at her table.

My parents and grandparents are the master chefs, giving me the ingredients for life. Theirs is a recipe of love, guidance, and wisdom. But the recipe takes time and it requires patience. It has to cook slowly for all the spices and flavors to blend harmoniously. It is also a recipe that can be modified, ever still holding the integrity of the original.

As I served the spaghetti and meatballs to my children (after convincing them it didn’t come from a box), I knew Grandma Louise was smiling in heaven. She raised her glass to the love-infused sauce, turkey meatballs and all.

Brenna Barzenick (C) 2011

Pom Poms and Circumstance

Pom Poms and Circumstance - Tales from the Crib

Football season always brings up repressed emotions for me. When I was a college cheerleader, standing eight feet in the air on my partner’s tiny man hands, I didn’t have time to ponder the intricacies of the game of football. I was too concerned with balancing, being full of teen spirit, and tampon string visibility. I didn’t know offense from defense, even though the raspy chants could convince you otherwise. I was shouting, “BLOCK ‘EM! BLOCK ‘EM!” but under my tight blond ponytail all I knew was that “block ‘em” rhymed with “sock ‘em”, which rhymed with “rock ‘em” , which then made me think of Rock’em Sock’em Robots.

The cheerleader mind is complicated folks. Two bits, four bits, six bits a WTF?

Football rules, regulations, and statistics just didn’t seem important enough to learn when there were other things to worry about. Things such as Level 5 Pom Pom failure, Bloomer Bacteriosis, and Pyramid Schemes.

When I first met my husband, he was all puffed up about watching football WITH me, his new girlfriend, a.k.a. a cheerleader (score!). Finally, a woman that understands the game. After a few months, I had to break it to him gently that all I knew about the game was that it involved men and balls.

I should know the game. I should care about football. I was a CHEERLEADER for goodness sakes. My uniform was tight and had words on it. I AM FOOTBALL. So why didn’t I know what I was cheering for? And is that a deeper question about life? Repressed, I’ll tell you. Repressed.

To cope with my repressed state of being, I’ve rewritten the rules, changed the terminology and came up with my own football logic.

Football Defined by Me:

  1. Coach – the first store we visit at the outlet mall
  2. Bounty Scandal – when I send my husband to the grocery store and he buys the generic brand of paper towels
  3. Referee – My son + my daughter = Me
  4. Unneccessary roughness – the bottom of my feet, right now, and in the dead of winter
  5. Tight end – dreaming of how my backside looked at age 22
  6. Special Teams – my hairdresser, my manicurist, my dermatologist, my gynecologist , and my psychiatrist
  7. Offsides – I say this when looking at my birthing hips in front of a mirror, “what are these things coming off my sides?!”
  8. Illegal formation – when my husband loads the dishwasher
  9. Pre-season – sprinkling Tony Chachere’s Cajun spice blend on chicken breasts before baking
  10. Pig skin – definitely allowed on the Atkins Diet
  11. Two minute warning – precise time when popcorn burns in a 1500 watt microwave oven
  12. Rushing – duh! I’m a mom
  13. Intentional grounding – future discipline plan when my daughter becomes a teenager
  14. Two Point Conversion – convincing myself that fudge brownie ice cream is only 2 points on Weight Watchers
  15. Gridiron – multi-tasking between making waffles and pressing a pair of pants
  16. Facemask – I’m supposed to apply this BEFORE the exfoliating eye cream
  17. Linebacker – I’m a physical therapist and I do this every day. Putting people’s backs in line again. (My daughter wrote this one)
  18. Hail Mary – full of grace, hallowed be thy name.
  19. Sidelines – my crow’s feet and smile lines
  20. Defensive strategy – how I prepare for when my mother-in-law visits
  21. Quarterback – what I get in return when I give my kids 20 bucks for the movies.
  22. Rose Bowl – a nice potpourri accessory my Nana gave me
  23. Punt - has the word "pun" in it so I like it.
  24. Pass Interruption - any time I have to hold in gas for longer than an hour (elevators, busy aisle at Target, class reunion)
  25. Completion – what NEVER happens in the laundry room

Warning: terrible puns ahead

Well, my goal was to settle the score before I spiraled out of control. I sure hope this is well received. I feel good having shined light on the dark cornerbacks of my mind. Guess you can say I’ve come to terms with football. And it didn’t Costas a dime.

Brenna Barzenick (C) 2012

If I Were A Man On Father's Day

If I Were A Man On Father's Day - Tales from the Crib

I'm generalizing here but if I were a man on Father's Day, I would be nestled in a recliner, beer in one hand and a remote control in the other, flipping the channels between Top Gun, Rudy, Braveheart, US Open golf, and an Ultimate Fighting match. Meanwhile, my wife, a gourmet cook/exotic dance instructor/proctologist, would be preparing my favorite meal of meatloaf and mashed potatoes. She would be dressed in a French maid outfit and, although puzzling considering the French outfit, she would speak to me with a sultry Swedish accent.

I would take several naps, nodding and bobbing, a few snores and snorts -- a true symphony of manhood. I would dream of an invention called the "Remote Commode". The Remote Commode would allow me to switch my recliner from TV Mode to Flush Mode. A man doesn't even have to get up to go the bathroom! Just pull the side lever back and flush away. Return the lever to the forward position and, alas, your recliner returns to TV Mode. What genius! The New York Stock Exchange could trade it as a commode-ity!

If I were a man on Father's Day, I might just open that junk e-mail for 'enlarging my member' -- not that I need to enlarge anything, mind you. I may even take a photo of my weiner but delete it immediately after -- I'm not an idiot.

If I were a man on Father's Day, I would go to Lowe's and browse every department, feeling like my wife in a shoe store. I would grab a skill saw and make a motion like I'm feeling the weight of it, pretending that I actually know what to do with the thing.

I would also be playing ball with my son, LeBron Jordan LarryBird Barzenick, and negotiating with an NBA team on drafting him straight out of Kindergarten. My daughter, Mary Lou Nadia Barzenick, would be polishing her gold medal in gymnastics and preparing for her photo shoot for Wheaties cereal.

And, I would be on the cover of Men's Fitness showing off my ripped abs.

Hey, a man can dream, right?

HAPPY FATHER'S DAY, JAY! My wonderful husband...I love you :) Bren

(C) Brenna Barzenick 2011

Stopping by the Fridge on a Hungry Evening

Stopping by the Fridge on a Hungry Evening - Tales from the Crib

The poem I’ve written below flowed out of me after a particularly hormonal day. With that in mind, I should be quite prolific. My poetry is more like a sonnet boom. For all of you avid poetry readers out there, you may want to stop reading now.

The day the poem was 'born', I had an infinite list of people, animals, and plants that I had to feed, clothe, kiss, medicate, de-worm, weed, water, fertilize, and trap live insects for. It was overwhelming. I had a ”I’m-not-cut-out-for-this-mommy-business-after-all-and-I-might-just-run-away-for-a-day” moment. Please know the farthest I would go would be Target. Still, I should explain a little further. As you may know, children are constantly hungry and need full attention every ticking moment. Daddy simply will not do. They need Mommy. Or, as I hear it, “Mommmmmy! Mommmmy! Where are you, Mommmmy?!”

On this particular day, aside from cooking healthy meals, cleaning the house, folding clothes, and shuffling school papers, I had to dispense medication, apply itch cream to insect bites, clip grubby little toenails, floss cruddy choppers, and clean behind their ears. To avoid causing my kids long-term emotional trauma, I performed all of these duties with a patient smile on my face but on the inside I was Joan Crawford. After grooming the children, it was time for a bedtime story. We read three books (I said only one) and I tucked them in (my bed, of course). Lights out. Sweet dreams, my dear!

But my day was far from over. I had to give our 11 year old Labrador his arthritis medicine and the new puppy her worm pills and flea prevention drops. Ten minutes of obligatory petting and praising followed. The cats were next. The litter box looked like the beaches of Normandy after the shelling, so I couldn’t put off changing the litter for another day. Scoop two, three, four. Damn cats. Done.

The Venus Flytraps were next. Thank you Discovery Channel for planting THAT seed in my kid’s heads. After an online search for the carnivorous plants, we surprisingly found them at Lowe’s. In order for the plants to thrive, they have to be fed live insects. Guess who has to provide the live insects? For the first time in my life, I started to envy frogs. Then I fantasized on being a Half-Woman/Half-Amphibian Superhero named RibbitGirl. I thought of all the superhero capabilities I could have with my retractable, radioactive tongue. Toys picked up instantly! Boom! Top shelf items reached in a flash! Boing! Alarm clock buzzer off! Splat! Kids misbehaving…whack!

After hours and hours of doing for others, I was ready to unwind. My husband had a suggestion for unwinding, but all he got was a growl from me. RibbitGirl done toad you NO, mister.

Combine all of the above chores and duties with a pre-menopausal, sleep deprived woman, and you get a crazy poet. Hence, my poem titled, “Stopping by the Fridge on a Hungry Evening”. I wrote it under the pen name, I. D. Frost. A nod to my cooking prowess.

Stopping by the Fridge on a Hungry Evening

All the creatures big and small
It seems as though I have to feed them all
They number many, those hungry bellies
Why do thou protest peanut butter and jelly?
You see I’m not a chef or a baker girl
Nor do I knit and purl

I’m simply a mom in a balancing act
With calloused heels folding another laundry stack
I wonder sometimes about my role
As I endlessly search the depths of my soul

The kids are hungry for more than just snacks
My time they need and that’s a fact
So for today, no Facebook, Twitter, or E-mail
We will sit and read a fairy tale

Life is good
And life is sweet
But hold on my dear
While I send this Tweet

In 140 characters or less
I will share with you my daily stress
Cooking, cleaning, and staying skinny
The chores abound and they are many

So what's the answer to the daily grind?
Careful what you seek, 'cause you just might find
Surrender to motherhood
Count your blessings, little mama
See your life as a comedy, not as a drama

Love, laugh, give big and just be
Our minds can imprison us or set us free
Hug your babies and nurture them well
Now off to ring the dinner bell!

Tales from the Crib
(c) Brenna Barzenick 2010

LOSE WEIGHT FUR REAL

LOSE WEIGHT FUR REAL - Tales from the Crib

2014 is here and our cat, Moby, is ready to get serious with a weight loss plan. After a year of sedentary activity, late night Fancy Feast binges, and general apathy for life, he's put on some pounds.

The cat scratched feverishly a list of things he wants to improve on in the upcoming year. Compared to the dog’s penmanship, the cat could be a calligrapher. His list is precise and not littered with extraneous thoughts. Moby’s decisions are not without contemplation and paws. He takes the true meaning of “sleep on it” seriously, spending up to 17 hours daily working on his goals while atop clean, folded towels.

After exploring several weight loss programs, such as Bait Watchers and Nutria-System, he’s decided on The Catkins Diet -- mice not rice. For exercise, CrossKit seems to fit his lifestyle -- climbing, jumping, licking -- right up his alley. For flexibility, he's adding yoga but refuses to practice Downward Dog. And finally, for a little cardio, he will be doing RPM (rapid pouncing of mice) a few days a week.

He's laser focused on his goal. Wish him luck!

(C) 2014 Brenna Barzenick

Dear Santa

Dear Santa - Tales from the Crib

American humorist, Kin Hubbard once said, “Next to a circus there ain't nothing that packs up and tears out faster than the Christmas spirit”. Christmas is about the children. That sounds cliché, but as a parent, it is heartening to watch the anticipation and excitement of my kids this time of year. Pure joy is standing right in front of me, as I watch my kids’ faces on Christmas morning. It is hard to remember the last time I felt true joy and unbridled happiness as an adult. Hold the phone, I just remembered the last time. It was at Target, last Wednesday, without my children. That was nice.

Christmas time is also about Santa. Now wait, as a Catholic, I’m well aware that we must keep Christ in Christmas; however, you can’t ignore the big guy. He’s everywhere. And, as I do ALL the Christmas shopping myself, it would be nice to keep Dad in Feliz NaviDad. "Honey, I could really use your help. Yes, the fire you built is extraordinary, it would make a caveman rethink his purpose in life. But have you seen the stuff I have to wrap here?!"

As we move closer to Christmas, I can hear sleigh bells ringing and my headache dinging each time I hear “I want this” and “I want that”. The sweet excitement of the season is marred by the constant requests from my children. “Mom! Come see this commercial, I want THAT!” screams my son. “But you told Santa you wanted the other Lego set”, I say, twitching. As I grumble and reconfigure my Christmas list, I think how spoiled my children are. I swear I feel like packing these little heathens up and flying to a third world country for the day. See that boy there, look how happy he is with a box of dirt and a ball of tumbleweed.

I may sound a bit grouchy because, well, I am. Holidays plus hormones mix like bleach and ammonia. From my rooftop, I want to scream, “What about Mommy?!” (Dramatic echoes of mom-me..me..me..trailing in the distance). But since I have neighbors and a cheery disposition to uphold, I scream on the inside.

I’m rolling the dice and sending Santa a letter this year. Having seen a vintage Norman Rockwell print, I know that Santa reads the newspaper. So, I’ll send my letter to the local paper in case he’s reading.

Dear Santa,

First, let me say thank you for my two front teeth. Although you sent them in at a 45 degree angle with a considerable gap in between, still, I’m grateful. I imagine that you’ve missed my letters over the past 38 years. I stopped writing when I was 11 years old thanks to a slip-up by an older cousin who told me all about you. Ho Ho Ho is No No No! How devastating it was. Now, at age 49, I’ve come full circle. I’m banking on the fact that you are real and you will deliver this year.

Since you bring only three gifts to my children, each one representing the Wise Men, I’ll request the same. The first gift I want is for the world to live in peace and harmony. On second thought, since I’m not a beauty pageant contestant or a protester, I’ll settle for my children to live in peace and harmony. I need a reprieve from being the resident referee. I can only use the “Santa is not coming if you keep fighting” remark so many times before they become immune to my idle threats.

My second gift is for reading glasses. Every color, every strength and put in places where I can find them at all times. Find a way Mr. Claus, find a way.

My third and final request is the gift of patience. I remember reading a phrase years ago that said, “Life is not an emergency”. My sirens seem to blast over the most trivial things. If you are in front of me when a red light turns green and you don’t accelerate like a Nascar driver, you will be honked at. Albeit, a passive-aggressive honk. One that makes the honkee have reasonable doubt of my rudeness. Maybe they will think I’m just saying hello or simply because I love Jesus. Just hit the gas Granny, I don’t have all day.

Well, Santa, thanks for listening. And, to sum it up, I want peace and harmony, 50 pairs of reading glasses, and patience. Just give Mrs. Claus my list and she’ll take care of it. Yeah, I’m on to you. We all know Mrs. Claus is running the show while you bask in all your glory. Sorry if that sounded Rude-olph.

Anyway, careful out there on Christmas Eve. Remember, no texting and sledding!

Yours truly,

Brenna

(C) Brenna Barzenick 2016

The Happiest Place on Earth

The Happiest Place on Earth - Tales from the Crib

During the Mardi Gras holidays, our little family unit visited Walt Disney World for the first time ever. After pressure from the kids and from all of our Disney-loving friends, we finally booked the trip. Hook, line, and sinker, we were in. I imagine you are expecting me to say how magical it is and that it makes adults feel like children again. Well, after several days of overcrowded buses, four dollar bottled water, long lines at the roller coasters, and one-too-many cheery princesses, I will have to say it is magical. And by magical, I mean that your money and your sanity disappear like magic. As for feeling like a child again, yes, it is true. I almost had a full blown, crying, twitching tantrum in front of the bronze statue of Walt Disney.

I know I speak blasphemy and sound un-American when I say I don’t love Disney World. While in Orlando, I know I was being followed by Disney’s version of the Secret Service. Their plan was to wrestle me to the ground and force a pair of Mickey Mouse ears on me. They apparently overheard me say I didn’t like the place. Who is this woman with an alarming desire to incite a Mickey mutiny? On their Donald Duck walkie-talkies, the agents described me as blonde, 5’2”, and suspiciously grouchy. The seventh dwarf, if you will.

They never got me – it was too crowded.

Before the trip, I really didn’t have a plan on what park to visit first or what rides we would focus on. This is unusual for me but it fit well into “Brenna, Version 2.0” and her plan to ‘go with the flow’. I thought we would meander through the parks at our own pace, pointing in awe to Cinderella’s castle and singing in harmony, “It’s a Small World After All”, like a commercial. I casually mentioned my scene of utopia to a seasoned Disney friend and she looked at me like she just witnessed a crime. “You have NO PLAN?” she quivered. “Oh, you must have a plan if you are going to Disney.” That is when I got scared. Here we were three days before leaving and I didn't have a plan. I curse you, Brenna Version 2.0.

My friend was kind enough to email me a detailed itinerary, highlighting the best rides and attractions and where to find good food. She even gave me the hours of operation at each of the four parks: Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot. I printed the email, laminated it (of course), and included it with my important travel papers. I was content with the fact that I now had a plan.

What I didn’t factor in was the crowd. A simple lowercase reference doesn’t do it justice, so I will name it, THE CROWD. Apparently, 50% of North America and 100% of Mardi Gras carnival goers decided to hitch a ride to the Happiest-Place-on-Earth. Disney World sits on 48 square miles of land and every inch of it was covered with people. I just love people.

My children were also a bit rattled by the crowd but they were determined to ride the big roller coasters at each park. Sounds easy, right? The big rides are at the back of the sprawling parks and each one had at least a two-hour wait in line. I should also mention that the parks are not connected. Think trains, planes, and automobiles in order to move between them. Meanwhile, I realized that more variables were not factored in to my plan to breeze through Disney World. These variables included constant hunger, tired legs, and genetic propensity for whining. In tears, I hear from my son, “I’m STARVING, Mom! I need to eat NOW!” The lecture I gave him on how children in Third World countries sometimes don’t eat for days, if at all, didn’t hold any water with him. And speaking of holding water, there was at least a 20 minute wait for the restrooms.

So it went for three days straight – rushing to wait – a paradox if you ask me. Finally, at day four, the crowds lessened and we were able to fit in more than one ride in a 12 hour period. During the crowded days, I almost had my kids convinced that the monorail was actually a ride. A straight roller coaster that I named, Train of Fools.

No longer having to dodge personal scooters, strollers, and the entire cast of Snow White, we walked through Magic Kingdom at a pleasant pace. The Barzenick’s were finding their groove. We visited The Hall of Presidents, one of Disney’s oldest and most famous attractions. The kids met Presidential Mickey and we were able to get a picture with him. As the Mouse put his arms around us, bearing his infinite smile, I wondered what political party he belonged to. Was he a DemocRAT or Ratpublican? Probably just a PAC rat, like all of them.

Disney reminded me of my single days when a friend would try to play matchmaker. “Oh, you will love him, he’s wonderful and very popular” I would hear. When I finally went on the date, he wasn’t “all that”. Yeah, he was cute and popular but not someone I would want to see very often. Actually, he got on my nerves and was a bit of a showman. Plus, if I dated him regularly, I would go broke. I ended up liking him but definitely not loving him.

I can’t end this tale dissing Disney nor can I say it very quickly without lisping. I will admit that the place started to grow on me, like Pinocchio’s nose. When finally boarding the front car of the big roller coaster, I looked over at my children. Their bright, excited faces made my spirit flutter. As the coaster ratcheted upwards, with each anticipatory click, joy overwhelmed me. At least for that moment, I was riding high at the Happiest Place on Earth.

(C) Brenna Barzenick 2011

Best in Snow

Best in Snow   - Tales from the Crib

Reprinted from December 2008

Christmas came early this year. The record snowfall last week was beautiful, amazing, and still hard to believe. True Louisiana weather – a hurricane in September and a blizzard (of sorts) in December. And, as the snow fell, I knew it would be a special day for my children and a long one for me. I figured school would be cancelled and the house would soon be in an upheaval. Though I realized that memories were about to be made, the beds would not be.

When my daughter and son woke up to see the snow, they immediately ran outside in their jammies. Cold but bright-eyed, they came back in, ready to get dressed so they could play. Our scarce inventory of winter attire was then put to the test. Gloves, mittens, hats, scarves and heavy coats were pulled out and piled on. With their mismatched clothes, the kids looked like they stepped out of an Oliver Twist production. L.L. Bean, we are not. My little boy, wearing Mommy’s mittens, had giant hands which was an interesting contrast to the tiny knit hat on his head. Pretty sure it was the one he wore in the hospital nursery, the day he was born. My daughter glammed it up with a hot fuchsia scarf, bright yellow gloves and high water, lavender fleece pants. At least I could easily track them against the white background of our neighborhood.

So after about thirty minutes of layering and bundling, they headed outside, walking encumbered, like little Michelin men. Top of their to-do list was making snow angels. They giggled and played and flopped around while I took pictures. Too bad I mailed out their Christmas picture the day before (taken at the beach of all places). Being organized and prepared can be overrated, you know.

After about an hour of heavy snowfall, the street was completely blanketed with snow. Lawns were indistinguishable from the pavement, seamless and stunning. My husband joined in and the four of us walked together in complete awe of the beautiful sight before us. The world seemed still and peaceful. Trees became art sculptures and were finally getting our attention. We all noticed the wonderful sound of the deep snow, as we marched through it, crunching and compressing like a new leather saddle. I then thought about how I live each day without always noticing the world before me and all the gifts that nature provides. God, your message has been duly noted.

With snow everywhere and more on the way, the kids decided they needed to eat it, feel it, and throw it. Little did they realize that snow is actually frozen water. And it is cold. Well, in they came, blazing a trail of wet mittens, slushy shoes, and red noses. “Mommy! My hands hurt!” rang throughout the house. “Mommy! My feet are throbbing!” came from one doorway. And, so, warm baths were drawn and hot chocolate was served. Once the kids felt nice and toasty, they were ready to go out again. Uggh. More clothes to launder! After repeating the sequence of bundling up and unbundling due to wet feet and hands, I was ready to rent a flame thrower and be done with this icy business once and for all. Then, my mother came up with a brilliant idea as always. She suggested we wrap the kid’s gloves and shoes with Glad Press and Seal. Well, it worked like a charm and could be patented as redneck Gore-Tex. If I could only figure out how to make it into a camouflage design, I could be on to something big.

Next on our winter wonderland activity list, was constructing a snowman, of course. It was a team effort all around. My husband started building the foundation, the kids collected snowman parts, and I watched and waved from the warmth of my cozy sofa. They gathered sticks, pine cones, and an old hat for the snowman’s clumpy, white head. The only thing we didn’t have was the snowman trademark – a carrot nose. Not a carrot in the house. I guess that says volumes about our vegetable consumption.

With the Picasso-esque snowman just outside my front door, and a blazing fire in the fireplace, Christmas carols began to ring in my head. But, I dare not sing aloud for fear of being mistaken for an injured hyena. Trust me on this one. As a matter of fact, “Let It Snow” was the number one song that played in my head (next to B-I-N-G-O which has been stuck in there since second grade recess). You are singing it now, aren’t you?

And, with all the hot tea I consumed that day, “Let It Snow” was remixed by this DJ. And it goes a little something like this….

“When your bladder is about to pop now,
Come on and have a seat now,
Sit on the pot and go,
Let it flow, let it flow, let it flow.”

I could go on and on (with the song that is) but I don’t want you to think that I am a flake.

Now that the snow has melted and the hustle and bustle of Christmas is revving up, I will do my best to reflect on that snowy, December day. A special day, indeed. And if I’m feeling stressed or gloomy, I will reference the beauty, peace, and joy of that day. Actually, it is always there, I just need to look.

(C) Brenna Barzenick 2008

A Four Letter Word

A Four Letter Word - Tales from the CribAfter a summer hiatus from writing, I’m back at the computer typing away and it feels good. It has been awhile since I’ve written anything other than a grocery list or a tic-tac-toe grid for my six year-old. I wish I could use an artsy and intellectual excuse like, “I have writer’s block” or simply, “I don’t feel the words flowing from my deepest self” but the truth is I’ve been flat-out lazy. L-A-Z-Y, lazy.

I’ve thought about blaming it on my hormones, a tried-and-true excuse that men never question and that women always validate (thanks, girls). But again, there is a difference between hormonal fatigue and simple laziness. Pardon a brief break in paragraph structure while I take a big yawn.

My laziness has manifested in the form of less exercise, fast and easy microwaveable dinners for the family, and allowing my kids to chew sugar-free gum instead of brushing their teeth. The wrapper does say, “prevents tooth decay”. So there.

The interesting thing about my recent bout with ho-humness is that I’m not beating myself up about it. What a strange and new concept for me. You see, my inner voice can make a Marine drill sergeant regress to his childhood – I’m talking fetal position-thumbsucking-want-your-mama regression. Drop and give me ten, Brenna! Or, actually, it is ‘Drop 10 pounds, Brenna!’ – my constant skinny squawk.

All this nice talk is starting to grow on me. Planted well into my 40’s, I’m beginning to think that with hot flashes also come flashes of wisdom. It also helps to read a few eye opening books. A recent favorite is, “The Four Agreements”, by Don Miguel Ruiz. He writes that the simple solution to life can be summarized in four statements, or what he calls, “agreements”.

The first agreement is “Be impeccable with your word”. No gossip, no judgment of others, and speak with loving kindness, especially to your family. That’s a hard one, particularly when the kiddos won’t get out of the car fast enough. I don’t really know what ‘lollygagging’ means, or really how to spell it, but I use it plenty when I’m grouching it up.

I am improving, as my daughter pointed out. She says that I sound “different in a good way” when speaking to them, especially in the public restroom at Target.

Before implementing the new strategy, I would talk to my kids in a sugary sweet, sing-song voice reserved only for when other bathroom stalls were occupied. “Stand up for Mommy now and let me wipe you, snookums” or “are you finished now, sweetheart? No worries, take your time my darling”.

However, when the public bathrooms are empty, the nice Mommy voice turns into, “DO NOT touch the seat! Come on now, haven’t I taught you better than that!” Or, “hurry up, we haven’t got all day, people!” So now, I stay somewhere in between sugary-sweet and Mommy Dearest.

Another important aspect of being impeccable with your word is that your inner dialogue needs to be nice. I think of it this way: Would I be friends with a person who constantly criticized my weight, my wrinkles, my mommy tummy, and my out-of-proportion long torso? No, I wouldn’t. So, I’ve become pretty nice to myself these days and I try not to believe everything I think.

The second agreement is “Don’t take anything personal”. What?! Then how can I blame others for my unhappiness? I don’t like that AT ALL. It is just so easy to yap, yap, yap about why my day is going bad – the idiot that cut ME off in traffic, the idiot that held ME up in the self-checkout line in the grocery store, the idiot on television that doesn’t agree with ME. There are idiots everywhere, and here I am trying to be peaceful, minding my own business! What’s this world coming to? Oh wait, this just in: Others aren’t responsible for my happiness? Their behavior is not my business? What they did has nothing to do with me? Well, that’s no fun.

When I don’t take anything personally, it releases me from tons of self-imposed pressure to please or be liked. By the way, this agreement is very handy when dispensing advice to my children. There are times when one of them feels left out either by their sibling or a friend. The handy “don’t take anything personal” statement goes a long way and makes mommy look so smart.

“Never make any assumptions” is the third agreement. Can you imagine how freeing it is to never make assumptions about people or their intentions? Many times in the past I’ve tortured myself with thoughts all based on assuming the worst. An example was the time I thought my friend was mad at me because she didn’t return my call. For days, I weaved a story in my head supporting this thought. Oh, how I suffered trying to remember what I had done to make her so mad. Well, wouldn’t you know it? She didn’t get my message because she was out of town visiting her grandmother, who had fallen and broken her hip! Oh boy, I’m such an idiot! Oops, time to refer back to Agreements 1 and 2. See how this works? From now on, if I assume anything, it will be assuming the best case scenario.

The fourth and final agreement is “Always do your best”. I believe most parents use this statement quite often. It is very versatile – it works with homework, school projects, sports activities, and so on. It also means to do your best with what you’ve got – be resourceful and be proud of your abilities and assets. I tend to skip this agreement when ironing.

As far as my laziness goes, I think I’ve broken the spell. Today I exercised (mental gymnastics, but still), I cooked real food for the family (frozen broccoli has plenty of nutrients), and I helped my daughter floss around her braces (I won’t elaborate). Guess you can say I’m over the hump. Off to the sofa now for my afternoon nap.

Brenna Barzenick (C) 2010

Holsum Prison Blues

Holsum Prison Blues - Tales from the Crib

Simply put, I love Johnny Cash. Love like when you find a natural comfort, an easy fit, that is strongly present and palpable in someone or something unexpected. Some of the best times of my life happened with Johnny's familiar music playing in the background. When I was a little girl, my daddy would play the entire Johnny Cash repertoire on his guitar. I would dance, sing, and dream of the Boy Named Sue. Fortunately, my fascination with Johnny Cash and his music was not lost to my adulthood. When I taught high impact aerobics in the 1980's, big hair, leg warmers, and Johnny Cash's "Get Rhythm" accompanied me to class.

When pregnant with my first child, I read that classical music helped the baby's IQ development. I invested in every classical CD I could get my puffy little fingers on -- Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven, and that Russian guy. I had to get a Handel on this! Eventually I switched from put-me-to-sleep Mozart to the iconic Man in Black. My baby tossed and kicked rhythmically to "I Walk the Line" (or more like, "I Walk the Spine"). Again, I dreamed of my baby and a Boy Named Sue. Fortunately for Sue, she was a girl. And as a preteen now, she will tell you Life Ain't Easy for a Girl Named Drew.

One of my greatest treasures is a huge original painting of Johnny Cash that is enshrined at the end of my hallway. The artist captured the essence of a somber Johnny and his white guitar on a rustic barn door, heavily weathered but standing strong. I couldn't think of a more perfect medium for Johnny to embody. Walking past the piece every day, even when carrying loads of dirty laundry, always brings me joy.

Johnny is ingrained in me, part of my life, and he tends to show up in unlikely places. Today, he was manifested (manna-fested?) when I couldn't get my mind off of bread. Not the band, Bread. Real bread. Hot, buttered French bread. Glutenful, yeasty, doughy, food of the gods, BREAD.

I started humming to Johnny. This is the song I imagined Johnny would sing if he was alive today AND his beloved June decided he needed to cut a few carbs. He was always a voice for the downtrodden and, trust me, cutting out wheat is oppressive! So here it goes:

HOLSUM PRISON BLUES

I hear the grain a coming
it's rolling off the pin
and I ain't seen Bunny Bread since I don't know when
I'm stuck in Holsum Prison
and thyme keeps dragging on
But that grain keeps molding on my sugared scone

When I was just a baby
my Mama fed me some
"always be a good girl
don't ever waste your buns"

Now I have to buy some Beano
thanks to that gluten free pie
When I eat my lentil porridge
I hang my head and cry......

And just like that, I did just what Johnny would do. I ate the damn bread. And I'm wearing black to hide it.

Brenna Barzenick (C) August 2013

Johnny Bee Good

Johnny Bee Good - Tales from the CribI believe that spring time in Louisiana is my favorite season. The beautiful weather and the longer days lure me away from the mundane chores of motherhood. In April and May, I’m more likely to have a sink full of dirty dishes, dusty furniture, and mounds of laundry than in other months. It is just too nice to be trapped indoors performing robotic tasks while the kids overdose on SpongeBob and Cheetos. As a bonus to spending time in the great outdoors, my children appreciate the interaction and the full attention of Mommy rather than being told the usual, “I’ll be there in a minute”.

We’ve been flying kites, chasing butterflies, and planting sunflower seeds. One afternoon, we all decided to lie on our backs in the grass, with Mother Earth cozily supporting us like a Tempur-Pedic mattress. And, thanks to a well-engineered subsurface drainage system, we now have grass in our yard. I was beginning to wonder how to mow mud.

I think I was twelve years old the last time I actually laid in the grass. So my recent St. Augustine romp was just what I needed to reconnect with nature. Resting flat on my back allowed me to notice the sky in its abundant glory. My kids searched for animals and other shapes in the cloud formations. They found a hopping bunny, a frog, and a piglet. I found the Target logo, a snazzy pair of shoes, and a martini glass. A pure moment of bliss, indeed.

All was well until the bees showed up. Seems as though we were sprawled out in the landing zone of a worker bee brigade. We were on their clover, and they didn’t like it. We were aggressively buzzed, dive-bombed, and put on notice by our winged attackers. The kids screamed and scrambled and that was the end of our grassy slumber.

Well this got me thinking about bees. Really thinking about bees. After careful contemplation, I’ve discovered that many parallels exist between bees and humans. Stay with me now.

For one, bee colonies are a community of bees. Colonies are just like our communities where social order prevails. Each member has a role that is necessary for a productive society. Colonies can have up to 100,000 bees that all coexist and rely on each other for honey production and collection of beeswax. This is not unlike human communities where we all coexist and rely on each other for money production and collection of fees and taxes.

Now, let’s take a look at the Queen bee. Once thought to be male, she is the largest bee in the colony. The hive is her palace. But she is no more than a figure head, really. Think Queen Elizabeth with the emphasis on the “izzz”. She is revered by all but doesn’t govern the nation – the Pollen Nation.

Moving on now to the worker bees. Well, guess what? They are females! Clearly, the worker bees are the moms of the hive. They are the greatest multi-taskers in the insect kingdom. They are responsible for collecting pollen, feeding old larvae, feeding new larvae, cleaning the cells, guarding the entrance, and protecting the Queen. They also feel pressure to maintain a thin thorax and keep a manicured stinger. Some worker bees have a glass of nectar each evening to take the edge off.

Then there are the drone bees – the males. Their sole purpose is to mate with the queen or potential queens. The drone bees do not work or contribute to honey production. I’ll call them “Dead-Bee Dads”. And under a microscope, you can actually see that a few of them have styled their hair into a honey comb-over. Oh, behave!

After the drone bees mate with the females, they never call. Actually, the drones have to leave the hive after mating or they will literally become “dead- bee dads”. You see, the females will tear them limb from limb, if they don’t leave quick enough. All of their little bee clothes can be seen on the lawn outside the hive.

Because of the bee encounter, I’ve learned yet another life lesson from interacting with nature. As a busy mom, I sometimes neglect to live in the moment, and I don’t spend enough precious time exploring the world with my children. Instead of attempting to complete endless to-do lists, I vow to stop and smell the roses, and just…bee.

Tales from the Crib
(C) Brenna Barzenick 2008

Happy Thankskipping

Happy Thankskipping - Tales from the CribWith Thanksgiving knocking on my front door, and Christmas just around back, I’ve come to realize that I’m sufficiently lacking in holiday spirit. It seems as though Halloween was over last week considering I still have candy-filled Jack-O-Lanterns sitting around. And the Reese’s Cups that I stashed away are eerily calling after me to eat them. I must do as they say.

Walking in to any store, one might think that Christmas was only days away. Wreaths, trees, ornaments, and candy canes are everywhere. The turkey hasn’t even landed yet, and the retail elves have been quite busy with their Christmas displays. Talk about living in the future. I prefer to celebrate one holiday at a time. In this fast-paced, get-‘r-done society, I’m thinking the powers that be will combine several holidays for efficiency. We can wear Halloween costumes to Thanksgiving dinner and then open Christmas presents right after the meal. Then, the following day, we can put on our Mardi Gras masks and exchange Valentine’s cards. Enough already!

On top of my moody merriness, I also get anxious when I read about building holiday family traditions. Magazines and morning talk shows ramp up their “holiday tradition” content this time of year and that makes my Inadequate Mother Alarm go off. I just don’t have it in me to mess up the kitchen baking leaf-shaped cookies while at the same time using threatening gestures with the rolling pin to break up a sibling squabble. I’m not patient enough to create multi-colored felt turkeys with my children, nor do I have the know-how or the desire to decorate my mantel with dust-collecting holiday figurines.

My sweet mother shakes her head when she comes over and there isn’t a stick of holiday-ware in my house. My mom is known for her amazing homemaker abilities and is a regular contributor to the magazine, “Grandmothers Who Take Up Slack For Their Domestically Challenged Daughters”. My mom is a phenomena -- she can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan and you’ll never ever, ever forget her hol-i-day ham…and so on.

My mom’s ability to cook, sew, and decorate has skipped a generation indeed. The good side is that I also lack the gene that makes one wear Christmas sweater vests and flashing ornament earrings. Thank you, baby Jesus. Thank you.

With my inadequate alarm blaring, I’m pulling up my demi-boot straps, and I’m turning this mother around. I’m starting my own traditions, by gosh. This mama doesn’t need to needlepoint or cross-stitch a winter scene to feel worthy. Nor am I required to make macaroons and stamp them with a fancy letter “B”. Besides, if I ever gave anything I cooked as a gift, my friends would be suspicious. My “traditions” are basically a conversion from the use of the word “habit” to the word “tradition”. Just rename the file, it is that simple.

So here is a list of the Barzenick Family Traditions that you, too, may want to adopt:

1. Mommy-On-Facebook – this tradition involves me sitting at the computer, on Facebook, while my kids repeatedly ask me to make them something to eat. I tell them “just a minute” and they take that cue as the microwaveable meal cooks for ‘just a minute’. They heat up the Hot Pockets for ‘just a minute’ and realize it is still a frozen hot pocket which is ironic in itself. I sigh and get up. This tradition can be used all year long and it teaches the kids that mommy prefers to be in the virtual world rather than the kitchen.

2. The High Fructose Corn Syrup Search – this tradition started after I read an article about the evils of high fructose corn syrup and how it is making our kids fat, hyper, and in need of medication. I take an inventory of pantry items containing high fructose corn syrup and throw it all out (except for the Reese’s Cups which contain real sugar – yippee!) This tradition lasts about a week and then the items make their way back to our pantry (thanks to grandmothers). I repeat this process a month or so later after another scary news report.

3. Cute Cat Videos – as an animal-loving family, we spend endless hours watching cute kitten videos on YouTube. We can’t get enough of cats chasing lasers, kitties riding on the backs of bulldogs, or momma cats allowing squirrels to nurse with their litter. And that is just scratching the surface.

4. The Basket Case – this habit, I mean tradition, involves me ignoring one laundry basket full of clean clothes that are tedious to fold. I will fold load after load of towels and blue jeans before I get to the ignored basket. When I look at the lonely basket, it taunts me. After the basket sits there for a week and becomes a cozy home for the cat, I finally put the clothes back in the dryer to fluff them up. Sad but true. Guess I have a hang-up. I’ll have my therapist ‘Bounce’ that one around. He-he.

Well, blessings to you all this Thanksgiving. May your turkey not taste like jerky and your gravy stay clear, not murky!

Brenna Barzenick (C) 2010

Saints Alive

Saints Alive - Tales from the Crib

Reprinted from February 2010 -- days before the Saints won the Super Bowl

Football hysteria – well, I finally get it. All of these years I’ve wondered what the fuss over football was all about. I know I am about to speak blasphemy, but I couldn’t tell you the name of the LSU coach or how many games they’ve won or lost this past season. And, I’m an LSU graduate. I was never really interested in football but now I get it. Boy, do I get it. The Saints are in the Super Bowl and I could not be more excited, or proud. I can’t quit thinking about football! I am even reading the sports section of the newspaper. The entire sports section. Please note: I am a woman. A blonde woman. And I’m now interested in football statistics. The police news and obituaries will have to wait because I’ve got football to read about! I’ve actually thought about the game during one of my 2 a.m. bathroom trips. Toilet bowl, Super Bowl, you get the idea.

I haven’t gone so far as to decorate my house with fleur-de-lis wallpaper, but now I can see why a born and bred New Orleanian would do that. Even though my Saints flag is small, a fleur-de-wee, one could say, I’m still equally as proud and passionate about the team.

My new found love of football has my husband, Jay, quite puzzled. You see, I was a cheerleader back in the day. I donned the pleated skirt in college, high school, and even Catholic school. However, I didn’t know a tight end from a wide receiver. And on that note, a few of my aging body parts could be on the team now. I wonder if they have a position called “wide end”? What about “quarter-rack”? Considering my breastfeeding days, I’m sure I’d be the top draft pick for that one. Anyway, Jay wonders how on earth I could enthusiastically cheer on the sidelines, and not know a thing about football. Well, it’s simple. Cheerleading is a sport, too. We train really hard and have to give our attention to many things at once. We can’t keep track of the game when we are counting dance steps in our heads and moving our bodies through intricate routines. On top of that, we must do everything with precise and sharp arm movements. Defense! Defense! Very precise. Fists at shoulder for the “De” and arms extended crisply above the head for the “fense”. Now throw a few pom-poms in there and you have a whole new ball game. No reference to football here, just a metaphor.

In my cheerleading days, we had to do flips and cartwheels, climb gravity-defying pyramids, jump high and touch our pinky toes, and flirt without being obvious. That takes a lot of energy. How could I focus on a first down or a punt when chanting a little ditty and trying to look pretty? “Pork chop, pork chop, greasy, greasy, we’re gonna beat y’all easy, easy!” Plain and simple, that’s poetry in motion.

So, here I sit crazy about football and the New Orleans Saints. And I can feel the energy in the air. It is palpable and it is beautiful. Everyone is smiling, the town is buzzing, and HD televisions are flying off the shelves. We have come together for a common goal. The obvious goal is a Super Bowl win for the Saints. But to me, a more subtle goal has already been achieved – awareness. Awareness of how we are more alike than different. Solidarity and human connection have manifested as a result of a football team and a dream. In our crazy, busy, technology-driven world, I think it feels good to actually feel, to connect with people on a different level. I feel joy. I feel peace. I feel a part of the whole. This tells me that if football can create peace and happiness in a community, then let the games begin! I may be an idealist but I truly believe our Saints are bridging a gap in humanity. The pre-game, tribal chant of Drew Brees and the team says it all, “Who are we? We are New Orleans! Who are we? We are New Orleans! Who are we? We are NEW ORLEANS!”

Without question, I will be cheering loudly at the Super Bowl, and I might even throw in a cartwheel or two. But one thing is for sure, I will be paying attention this time. WHO DAT!

(C) Brenna Barzenick 2010

Ground Control to Major Mom

Ground Control to Major Mom - Tales from the CribRight now, I’m singing, “Summer Nights” from the movie soundtrack of Grease. However, I’ve changed the lyrics a bit to fit my current situation.

“Summer lovin’ had me a blast,
I’ve eaten so many cookies,
just look at my ass,
I hate soy, tofu is not meeee…”

And so on. Summer has started to take its toll on me and I’m pretty much worn out. My kids sense this as well. For example, I’ve allowed popsicles for breakfast and I’ve shown an uncharacteristic indifference to their dental hygiene regimen. On a few lazy mornings, I’ve been guilty of letting them chew sugar-free gum as a quick fix for brushing their teeth. The package does say, “Prevents gingivitis”.
 
I always look forward to the first month of summer vacation. We swim, we go to the movies, and we stay up late. Then, the realization that these two little creatures will be under my feet for three solid months, day in, day out, becomes alarming. Yes, I’m grateful to have two beautiful, healthy children but Mommy needs some quiet time to remain sane. I recently read in the book Mother-Daughter Wisdom, by Dr. Christiane Northrup, that women have varying degrees of mothering styles. On one end of the spectrum is the “Earth Mother” and on the other end is the “Independent Mother”. An Earth Mother is completely fulfilled and at her most joyous raising children. An Independent Mother must nurture herself in other creative ways e.g. a woman immersed in her art, music, or career. I imagine that women who do extraordinary feats such as climbing Mt. Everest or professional athletes are more likely to be Independent Mothers. They love their children as much as Earth Mothers but must nurture themselves first in order to be a successful parent. It is quite validating for me to know that we all have different styles, none of which are better than the other.

I remain in awe over all mothers, but I have a particular curiosity about Earth Mothers. You probably know an Earth Mother. She has birthed a minimum of three children and would love to have more. Earth Mother brings the kids to the library instead of Target and she grows her own organic vegetables rather than buying the steam-in-bag broccoli. She is steady and strong, like a Maypole. And her children are the beautiful ribbons that braid their way into her heart. The Earth Mother delights in having children around her at all times, she thrives actually. Children, children, children. She just can’t get enough of them.

Well, God bless her, because I do not fall into the Earth Mother category. I am more like a Saturn Mother -- farther from the warmth of the sun, cold-natured, and there is always the potential for a cosmic storm to brew on my surface. I also have a ring of extra skin around my middle, just like Saturn. But I guess it’s better than being a Uranus Mother.

I do know that I need a plan for the rest of the summer. Plans are good, or so I’m told. I don’t want to over-schedule the children but I am also trying to avoid the inevitable, “I’m bored” dialogue. I figure if I choose a few activities that are non-traditional, it will keep things interesting at my house. For instance, every week, I will pick a destination that is no more than 50 square miles from our house. I’m sure there are fascinating historical sites nearby that could entertain the kids and broaden their experience beyond the usual SpongeBob Squarepants episodes. I have a few ideas such as taking them to pick blueberries, camping out, or visiting a Civil War battlefield (I can hear it now, “borrr-ing”).

The downside to traveling within a 50 mile radius is that I know where every shopping mall and shoe store is located on the route. This could easily distract me, so I will need a healthy dose of willpower to avoid bailing out on the trip. If our adventures fall short, we will probably end up in a familiar rut of television marathons, pajamas all day, and late afternoon snowball stand runs.

One strategy for success is writing in my journal/diary every day. When I commit to writing down my thoughts and ideas each day, I tend to be more productive and at peace with what is. Once my thoughts are written down, I can separate myself from them – a conscientious observer, if you will.

I’ve predicted what my journal entries will say at the end of the summer. I will close with my future entries:

Dear Diary,
Today we planned on visiting a free-range chicken farm so the kids could see how kind we are to the animals before we eat them. However, we left home a little late and the kids were hungry, so we stopped at Chick-Fil-A instead. Fortunately, they didn’t get the connection.
Will try again another day…

Dear Diary,
We were all set to visit the World War II Museum in New Orleans this past Saturday. I wanted the kids to see the museum, particularly where Grandpa Walt bravely fought at the Battle of the Bulge. I’m trying to teach my tots that freedom is a gift and should never be taken for granted. So, off we went, in our civilian tank of a Chevrolet to New Orleans. Halfway there, my daughter was ambushed by her brother who sailed a shoe at her head. Well, a sibling battle ensued and ruined our trip to the museum. Mommy came close to dropping an A-bomb of her own. Her-oshima, maybe?

Dear Diary,
I had big plans to take the kids to the Audubon Zoo today but it was far, it was hot, and it was expensive. At the last minute, I had a genius plan to visit the Feed and Seed store instead. They have animals on site. Granted, the Feed and Seed store lacks an elephant or two but the kids were just as excited to hold a few baby chicks (who were ranging free I might add). They were also anxious to feel the feathers of a fluffy, yellow duckling. They begged and pleaded to keep the duckling for a pet. My daughter wanted to name him “Bill”. After a firm ‘no’ on the duckling, we moved on to the parakeet cage. Of course, my son wanted a bird but he was met again with a definitive ‘no’. The whining started and the tears were rolling. “But I want a bird, Mommy!” he pleaded. This led to what I call the “twitchy” cry, like their little face is stuck on rewind.

Dear Diary,
This will be my last journal entry for the summer. I’ve given up on family outings and educational adventures. You see, today, we were scheduled to pick wild berries growing on the side of a country road. But once again, it was too hot and sticky outside to have any fun. So, I let the kids play a game on my fancy cell phone. After all, it is a Blackberry!

(C) Brenna Barzenick 2010

American Idle

American Idle - Tales from the CribSince having children, I’ve had to sacrifice a few things such as a good night’s sleep, a trim abdomen and primetime television. Oh, how I long for the days of casual television viewing complete with a big bowl of cereal for supper. Before kids, I watched Seinfeld, Friends, 60 Minutes, and old Bewitched episodes among many others. These days, I rarely get to sit in front of the television. And, when I do, it has to be something historical like the Presidential Inauguration or something hysterical like The Colbert Report.

When I hear people talking about shows such as Dancing with the Stars or Lost, I feel a little lost, too. It is like I’m missing something. But, I am a realist and I know that my television will be tuned in to Nickelodeon or The Disney Channel for many more years to come. So, I’ve decided to create my own line-up of television programs. And, if you are a Nielsen ratings family, be sure to tune in to my programming. Thought I would list my top ten for you and provide a brief description of each show.

1.  American Idle. A reality show based on the many hours a week that I sit in carpool line with my engine idling. With global warming being the hot topic at the moment, I’m just doing my part, folks. They say that ozone depletion causes various health problems, so I hope I don’t get carpool tunnel syndrome!

2. CSI. Also known as Children Screaming Incessantly. The show is on every network and runs twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Viewer discretion is advised. Especially if you don’t have children yet and are thinking of doing so.

3. 30 Rocks. A program that captures the contents of my son’s pockets at the end of the day. Thirty rocks. And, fourteen acorns. I love this show. It makes me smile.

4. E.R. Known as “Early Riser”. Popular among mothers who need to get things done before the children awaken. One of my favorites.

5. SpongeBoob FlarePants. This harsh reality show follows a woman over forty who has nursed two children and participated in one too many high-impact aerobics classes. She struggles with the notion of plastic surgery and continues to wear stylish trousers in an attempt to balance her tiny upper half with her not-so-tiny lower half. Don’t miss this one!

6. Peel or No Peel. A spin-off of SpongeBoob Flarepants. Our 40-something woman is now considering a chemical facial peel versus dermabrasion. Seems as though estrogen has stabbed her in the back once again. Darn you, red, blotchy cheeks! Be gone, adult acne and rosacea!

7. Dr. Pill. A weekly talk show that discusses all of the medicine required to keep a person functioning in today’s world. Topics this week include gastric reflux, thyroid disorders, arthritis, high cholesterol, irritable bowel syndrome, lactose intolerance, insomnia and many more diseases that guests eagerly share on the show (or in the produce section of the grocery store).

8. Graying Anatomy. An ongoing drama depicting….actually de-picking. Picking all gray hairs from my head, my eyebrows, and… yikes! Had to get that stray one on my chin.

9. The Bold and the Pootiful. This show stinks! Not recommended.

10. Dirty Jobs. A Discovery Channel show that follows a mom around to see what disgusting things she must touch or hold each day. From slimy chewing gum to unrecognizable food items behind sofas to moldy growth inside a rubber ducky, she does it all. Don’t watch this one at dinnertime.

Hope you enjoyed the special programming. Stay tuned. There is more to come. And, don’t touch that dial! And, if you still have a dial to touch, time for a new television!

Tales from the Crib
Brenna Barzenick (c) 2009


Going AWOL

Going AWOL - Tales from the CribAs I sit here to write on this Memorial Day weekend, I am brushing sand off of my notepad and watching my kids frolic in the shallow surf of the Gulf of Mexico. Families have come out to play in the sun. Rainbow kites are darting in the wind, neon rafts are being inflated, volleyball nets are pulled taut, and wafts of Coppertone fill the air. Ice chests act as side tables to ratcheting beach recliners while various SEC football flags are displayed in a taunting fashion. Our little piece of heaven, two chairs and an umbrella, is all I need today. We have officially stormed the beaches of normalcy.

Being close to Pensacola, military aircraft are often seen on their training flights. My favorite is the Army Black Hawk helicopter that flies low and loud just above the shoreline. My son waves and jumps as it thunders by. He is very excited by the sound, power, and percussion of the beautiful bird. Occasionally the rush of fighter jets can be heard, and my eyes zip across the sky, seeking their path. The jets give me chills.

The American flag is flying in the gulf breeze, set up adjacent to the lifeguard’s chair. His dad or grandfather must be a veteran. And then, I am reminded of the men that served our country bravely and lost their lives for the freedom that we are enjoying right here on this beach, on this carefree day.

My father-in-law, Walt, served in the Army during World War II where he fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He earned a Purple Heart for his efforts. My dad, Philip, is a Marine veteran of the Vietnam War. He was just a teenager during his time in Da Nang, Vietnam. Coming home, he did not have the Internet, an iPod, or computer video games to entertain him – only an M-14 and a canteen. Imagine that.

My patriotism swells like the ocean and my mood is grand. Several families are next to us on the beach and they all have little kids like mine, towing sand buckets, and plastic shovels. I have always found it very easy to talk to other women, especially mothers. We exchange glances then give each other a warm and comfortable smile. The smile says it all, words need not be spoken, but if a conversation begins, it always starts with, “So, how old are your kids?” This is an opening question only. Soon, the war stories will begin, our war stories.

Our war stories are memories of pregnancies and labor. They are detailed, sometimes gruesome, and always validated by the listener. We NEVER forget. And men, we will never let you forget, either. C-sections, breech babies, premature labor, epidurals, and episiotomies – the memories are raw, let me tell you. We remember when morning sickness began and the day it ended. We remember our blood pressure on Day 5 of Week 18 of the pregnancy. We remember the rate and amplitude of our labor contractions. We remember our husbands going to the hospital cafeteria for way too long.

After the pregnancy and labor stories, we move on to the newborn baby stage. “Mine had reflux, and I had to prop him up for the first six weeks.” “My baby had fever when she was 8 weeks old, and believe me, that was scary.” “My first child slept through the night from day one.” (With my kids still climbing in bed with me, spare me that story, please).

As the conversation progresses, we swap advice and strategy on raising kids. If a grandmother is nearby, she will always chime in: “remember this stage because before you know it, they will be grown and out of your house.”

I figured after this weekend on the beach, talking to mothers from all over the South, that I should start ranking them according to a military chain of command. After all, we are always planning voyages (maybe to Target but it still counts), strategically intervening in internal warfare (sibling rivalry), and calling in additional troops to help with our efforts (the husband).

The more children you have, the higher your rank. If you’ve given birth to one child, you are a Private. (Even with one kid, your privates will never be the same). Two children and your troubles are double. You’ve earned the rank of Sergeant. “Drop and give me twenty, Emma! You WILL say your alphabet and you WILL enjoy it.” Three children -- well, congratulations Lieutenant, you are moving up in the ranks. And with three children, this is where strategy begins because you are officially outnumbered. There are more of them than you. I would have to go AWOL – A Woman On Lexapro.

Four kids and your name follows Colonel. Colonel Crazy, if it were me. With four children, mothers can never complete a task. The latest intelligence report indicates that weapons of mass disruption are hidden in an underground toy box.

Moving on to the highest rank, we have arrived at the General. Having birthed five children, my friend, Melanie, is a Five-Star General, and I proudly salute her. Beyond five children, I consider you ruler of the world.

Well, I am happy to remain a mere Sergeant. I have done two tours of booty, and I have no ambition of becoming an officer. And I can say with certainty -- mission accomplished.

(C) Brenna Barzenick 2010

Piece Rally

Piece Rally - Tales from the CribWhen I reached 40 several years ago, a “mature” friend of mine gave me a big birthday hug and warm wishes for my milestone year. She then proceeded to spoil everything by whispering the “Truth” in my ear. I was told straight up to expect an expanding waistline, an assortment of arthritic pains, and red wine cravings. I was urged to stock up on reading glasses and gel-cushioned comfort shoes. I was given a brochure for an Alaskan cruise and a discounted ticket to an Englebert Humperdinck concert at the Grand Casino.

Another well-meaning friend gave me a pocket guide depicting the ABCD stages of melanoma and a coupon for Metamucil. I noticed when my friend pulled out of my driveway in her new Ford Crown Victoria, the left blinker was still on; apparently, from a turn she had made last week.

My friends assured me that although the body has more wear and tear on it with each year over forty, the mind remains young at heart. Most of them comforted me by saying that life “only gets better” with age. I am trying hard to believe them but it requires work. Right now, I have about four books in circulation and I can’t seem to finish any of them. Titles such as “Live Your Best Life”, “Finding Your Purpose”, “Your Emotions and Your Health” and “Could It Be Menopause?” are scattered between the bathroom and my bedside. For some reason, the books in the bathroom get read more often. Maybe because the last book I finished was called, “Fiber: Friend or Whoa!”

Well, I have decided to offer no resistance to my aging body. I am moving out of a fighting stance and into a place of acceptance. You see, I’ve read that any time something is labeled “anti”, it gives the thing you are against more power. Anti-war, anti-drug, anti-smoking, anti-gambling and anti-obesity are just a few examples of major problems that continue to get worse despite the best efforts of those crusading against them. I have learned that what you resist persists.

Mother Teresa said that she would never attend an anti-war rally but she would gladly participate in a peace rally. Following the good Mother’s advice, I am announcing that I will not label my efforts to stay healthy and young as “Anti-Aging”. I mean, aging will happen, regardless of how much I oppose it. I will not relinquish my power and energy to saggy eyelids or spider veins. “What-you-resist-persists” is my mantra.

Know that I am not resisting crow’s feet and thinning lips. I am not resisting skin tags that are rising like Jiffy Pop in the creases of my neck. I am not resisting brown-speckled luncheon meat hands. I am not resisting cracked heels that look like a Neanderthal. I am not resisting new patches of hair that have developed on my face, in my nose, and on my toes. I am not resisting larger nostrils and bigger earlobes. I am not resisting …wine at dinner.

For all of my “mature” friends out there, I urge you to join me -- not at an Anti-Sag rally but at a Piece Rally. Love the skin you are in – every piece of it!

Copyright (C) Brenna Barzenick 2010

Wag more. Bark less.

Wag more. Bark less. - Tales from the CribWhen this column goes to press, I will be celebrating my 42nd birthday and sharing the date with the likes of Gwen Stefani, India.Arie, Ashlee Simpson, and the Rev. Al Sharpton. I will also be celebrating with a very large piece of red velvet cake. Just picture a pack of hyenas (me) and the red velvet cake (unfortunate zebra).

Way back when I turned 40, a traditional milestone, I decided to write about things I’d learned in my forty years on planet Earth. Now, two years later, I thought I would create a new list. It’s not a bucket list. It’s more like a “pluck-it” list. Whereby I name all of the stray hairs and skin tags that have decided to set up shop on my aging body. Actually, I’ll save that list for my 50th milestone when I have a more fertile crop of undesirables. So my new list is a compilation of things that go through my monkey mind on a regular basis.

25 random thoughts, if you will. They are:

1. Wireless internet is magic. There is simply no other explanation.

2. I’ve finally crossed over to saying “cell” phone instead of “car” phone.

3. I still attempt to read French words on shampoo bottles and other bathroom sundries. I also consider it ironic that a perfume bottle has the words “eau de toilette” written on it. Be with you in a minute, I’m on the perfume.

4. I’m less worried about what people think of me (but I really hope you like this month’s column).

5. Text interpretation—I’m behind the times with texting (BTTWT?) and up until recently thought “LOL” was text-speak for “little old lady”, and “OMG” was an abbreviation for “ovaries must go”. Proudly, I do know what “WTF” means -- “wonderful, thanks friend!” For those of you unfamiliar with texting, trust me, it is like learning a foreign language. I wonder if the Rosetta Stone series will come out with an instructional DVD for texting? I also wonder how to pluralize “text” because it sounds like Texas when I say “texts”. Bumper sticker idea: Don’t Mess With Texts.

6. I’ve thought of buying stock in Kohler, a plumbing fixture company. And if I do, I’ll call it a commode-ity.

7. I find it’s quite easy to feel compassion for those less fortunate but not as easy to have compassion for people that disagree with me or share different beliefs. All it takes is a simple shift in awareness, really.

8. Telling my kids, “If I have to say this one more time!” always results in saying it five more times.

9. I’ve been trying to cut back on using the word “absolutely” so much (awesome, huh?!).

10. I’ve developed a mild obsession with www.wordsmith.org, a website for word nerds, like me. The website is an anagram server. I know you are thinking, OMG (see number 5 above), I can’t wait to log in! For those of you needing a refresher, an anagram is a phrase or word created from scrambling the letters of another word or name. For example, “Clint Eastwood”, when scrambled, spells “Old West Action”. And George Bush becomes “He Bugs Gore”. Fascinating, isn’t it? “Britney Spears” translates to “Presbyterians”. No kidding, get out your pencil and try it for yourself. A few more examples are, “Statue of Liberty” which converts to “Built to Stay Free”, “Conversation” equals “Voices Rant On” and “The Morse Code” anagram is “Here Come Dots”… Of course, I had to type in my full name, Brenna Barzenick. My favorite result is “Brain Can Kerb Zen”. How true.

11. I deeply cherish my friendships with all the women in my life.

12. I still think that “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, is the best work of fiction ever written.

13. I wish I could go through with my plan to cook everything in my freezer, refrigerator, and pantry before making a trip to the grocery store.

14. It’s been 3 years since I’ve watched a television news broadcast and I haven’t missed one thing that I really needed to know. Doom and gloom? What doom and gloom?

15. After observing folks at Wal-Mart, I see the irony in "skinny jeans".

16. I want and need a vintage American muscle car.

17. I recently read the book, “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz, and I loved the simplicity of it. Profound but simple. The four agreements are: Be impeccable with your word. Don't take anything personally. Don't make assumptions. Always do your best.

18. I still get a kick out of questions that my kids ask me. They make me laugh. My son wanted to know where hobos come from and if there are any hobo babies. And, when we brought our new kitten to the vet, my daughter asked me if he was going to need a “cat scan”.

19. If I conducted a study on the number of people that know how to ride a horse, could I call it a “Gallop Poll”?

20. I’ve outgrown my fear of spiders. But roaches still give me the willies.

21. My new favorite quote is “Wag more. Bark less”.

22. I want a personalized license plate that says, “LISNPL8”.

23. I have everything I need to be happy and it doesn’t have anything to do with “things” (excluding number 16 above).

24. Being over 40 is fantastic. The better it gets, the better it gets!

25. I am grateful. Grateful for my beautiful family, my health, my experiences, my friends and neighbors, and for the fact that I woke up another day and turned 42.

Tales from the Crib
(C) Brenna Barzenick 2009

The Stones

The Stones - Tales from the CribI have exciting news that I’m anxious to share with you. Last week, we found out we were expecting! The newest member of our family is not a baby, though. But it does qualify as a kid – a kidney stone, that is. We are pleased to announce that my husband is the proud father of a 2 millimeter calcified stone that we proudly named, Napoleon. Never underestimate the little guy. He came, he saw, he conquered.

I’ll take you back to the moment when my husband called me with increasingly painful symptoms in his stomach and side. I was shopping and “in the zone” when my cell phone rang. He said, “Honey, I’m feeling really bad. I’m having terrible stomach cramps.” “Sorry you are hurting, maybe you ate too much,” I told him, trying my best to sound sympathetic. He responded, with a strain in his voice, “No, I don’t think so, the pain is getting worse and is starting to move into my side and back. Kind of like the last kidney stone I had.”

I was trying to listen to his symptoms and also trying to corral my three year-old son. We were in a kitchen and bath store and, on display, were several shiny, new toilets. Well, this was a perfect invitation for my son. Before I could stop him, he lifted the lid and began to assume the position. I shrieked the famous Mommy shriek, which stopped him in his tracks. I had to explain the whole “display” concept to him, all the while listening to my husband groan across the airwaves. After we left, I’m sure the salesman put up a sign that read, “You pee-pee. You pay.”

By this time, my husband was on his way to the emergency room. My son and I met him there. He was pale with hues of greenish-gray dotting his forehead and cheeks. He was sweaty, clammy and curled up in a double-wide wheelchair. Needless to say, the triage nurse whisked him back promptly. My little boy looked worried and wondered what was happening to his Daddy. Time for a comforting lullaby. I started singing an old Temptations tune to him and it sounded like this…. “Papa has a kidney stone. Hey. Hey. Hey. Wherever he lays his head, he moans. Hey.Hey.Hey..” My husband was not amused, but my son liked it.

I have heard repeatedly that passing a kidney stone is more painful than childbirth. While I do appreciate the degree of pain that my husband endured, I respectfully disagree with the notion that kidney stones are more painful than birthing children. I’m not convinced because I’ve only heard this claim from men. I imagine the guys need something more significant than bigger muscles and outdoor grilling skills in order to truly compete against the ladies.

Before the kidney stone, I could always throw out the “But I gave birth to your children!” line when I was aggravated or moody. My husband had no reasonable comeback to that statement. The score is me ONE, you ZERO. I can hear him thinking…“She’s right. She gave birth. Twice. Her body went through pain and expanded beyond the limits of elasticity. She’s got stretch marks, loose skin, saggy boobs and wider hips.” He knows better than to ever say that last sentence out loud.

Now my childbirth speech doesn’t hold much water with him. He thinks that his pain was a great deal worse than mine. Much to my chagrin, others have validated this point. During the “passing” of the stone, I received at least a dozen phone calls from friends and family wondering if the stone was “delivered.” It was like he was in labor and everyone wanted a report on his progress. Give me a break. This is where I must set the record straight with a few contrasts and comparisons:

1. A uterus versus a ureter. The names are similar but don’t let that fool you. A kidney stone travels through a tube called the ureter heading for the bladder. The process takes a day or two. Must I remind people that women are pregnant for 40 weeks. That is 10 months under my calculation. Boys, try hauling that stone around in your ureter for almost a year.
2. Post-Delivery: Once the stone is out, it is does not have to be nursed every two hours, diapered, swaddled and put on its back to sleep. It does not spit up, have croup or thrush. It does not break curfew or wreck the family car. It is a stone. And, your body returns to normal. No trace of its existence can be found.
3. A kidney stone is a diagnosis. Enough said.

Well, the stone passed without much excitement. The doctor said the most painful part was the stone’s journey to the bladder (see my point). My husband is back to normal and pain-free. He has committed to drinking lots of water to help prevent the formation of future stones.

Until men deliver babies, we will never know the mystery of the kidney stone. But there is one thing that I know for sure, a passing stone gathers no sympathy.

Tales from the Crib
(C) Brenna Barzenick 2008