Monday, December 27, 2010

Making it rain ...

I never thought I'd be happy to be peed on. But two days ago, urine sprinkling my new Victoria's Secret sleepshirt (thanks, Santa!) I was grinning and high-fiving like nobody's business.

Anyone who knows me knows that I don't like doing anything that takes me more than 10 minutes to figure out. So the fact that Cam's supposed potty-training readiness started about two months ago has done little to endear me to this next phase of his life. Two months ago, excited by the boy's interest, we bought the little potty seat that sits atop the regular toilet. And for the next few weeks, he'd sit on the sit for a few minutes, wipe himself with toilet paper, flush the toilet and wash his hands. Then he's promptly "go" in his diaper.

A month after that, I figured that what he really needed was a more exciting potty seat, so I went all out (well, as much as you can go "all out" at the PX) and got him an Elmo potty. Soon he was sitting on the potty making Elmo praise him until he got tired of sitting. Then he would stand and pee on the floor. And a couple of weeks after that, the daycare folks declared him ready and my $30 worth of diapers became worthless as they were promptly replaced with $30 worth of pullups.

I admit that I kinda thought the boy would be a potty-training savant. I'd sit him on the potty with a book (probably something like Lord of the Rings or the Chronicles of Narnia) and he promptly do his business, wipe, clean himself up and declare, "Mum, dad, I'm finished!" (which may or may not happen in Mandarin Chinese). Instead, we're going on almost 3 months of admittedly half-hearted training on my part and the only thing he'd learned is to take off his diaper/pull-up/underwear, often to disastrous consequences.

So last week, I decided Christmas week would the week! I hit the library nearly every day before the holidays, loading up on books. A Potty Training for Dummies and Busy Mom potty training manual for me, and two potty books and a DVD for him. I hit Target and got Yo Gabba Gabba undies, and threw in a pack of those rubber ones, too. The following day, they were all in the wash, along with his sheets. And my exubertant rendition of the "Go, Potty Go" song and my made-up dance, weren't having any effect on the boy. And then he peed on me.

Well, technically, he was on the toilet and seemed to accidentally let go before realizing what was happening and moving abruptly, spraying me in the process. It was what I'd been waiting for. We laughed, we hugged, we cried, we high-fived. It was like winning the potty Superbowl. Since then -- two days later -- I've tried to get things moving again, but so far, to no avail. But at least now, I have a little bit of hope that we're on the right track.

Plus, I know the Potty Dance.

Friday, October 08, 2010


Years ago, as a college sophomore, I did something I had never done before.
I failed a class.
I’d taken statistics, and between my social life, my sorority and my sleep, I had little time left for another “s.” I recall showing up for class after a weeks long hiatus to find that my classmates were taking a test in a statistics program I apparently missed during one of my off weeks.
Though I knew it was coming, getting that grade in the mail made my heart drop. Last week, that same feeling came over me when I realized I’d failed the President’s Challenge, in which I was enrolled as part of Team IMCOM.  In August, I declared my intentions; now, one week away from  finishing my eight weeks of physical activity (30 minutes for at least 5 days a week), according to my computer, I’ve done nothing.
The problems began right away; The Monday I was to start the challenge, I was recovering (badly) from a nasty stomach bug and overdosed on Pepto Bismol, causing a trip to the on-post urgent care later that week.
“I have to run today,” I remember wailing to coworkers, “Or I’ll let the president down.”
I was only half joking.
The first week was a wash for gym-going, but I still got four of those five days complete by doing 30-minutes of housework, which is included as one of several activities from which participants can choose.
The next several weeks were a breeze. Between my 5K training and my gym training sessions with my husband, I easily made the five-day minimum. Those days I didn’t feel like hitting the gym, I corralled the family together for a half-hour walk around the neighborhood. I had one other minor slip-up; between work, family and TV time, I couldn’t slip in that fifth day of activity one week. But still, I was on track to meeting the challenge goals and getting my President’s Challenge award patch.
But although I was hitting the gym three times a week and running the other two, I was getting consistently behind in logging my workouts. I put it off days at a time until, eventually, a week passed, then two. Last night, I finally propped my computer on my lap, clicked open my iCalendar and retraced my last two weeks of workouts. But – apparently – there is a 14 day limit on how long I had to log the workouts.
My computer screen showed – right there in black and white – that there was no way I would make my goal. “But I DID make it,” I whined to myself. I saw there was a reset button and  clicked on it, thinking it would skip my two lost weeks and let me start fresh at week 6. Nope. It was gone; all of it. Each of the days I’d worked out, the last  6 weeks of workouts, were wiped clean. It’s as though I hadn’t done a dang thing. For a few moments, I stared at the blank charts, disappointment growing as I clicked tabs trying to regain my lost weeks.
But then I realized that whether I actually “won” anything was irrelevant. I HAD gotten out there and done more physical activity than I have in probably the last four years. I could run longer than 3 miles without stopping. I could do 10 pushups (at least!). And – most importantly – I could fit into those jeans that I hadn’t worn since my mom dropped me (and them) off at the airport in 2005. When I complained about letting the president down, my coworker assured me that the president didn’t want me to work out sick, he wanted me to be healthy.
And I am.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Potty-mouthed boy ready for next step?

The other day, my son took a diaper from our portable caddy and handed it to me. He then grabbed the box of wipes, a changing pad and laid down on the floor. And just this week, as I picked him up from the day care, he said, "potty," and raised his shirt, indicating that he needed to be changed.

If the kid can do all that, I thought to myself, he is ready to be potty trained. But the question is: Are the rest of us ready?

My mother has been encouraging us to potty-train my son since before his first birthday. And my excuse was always that he couldn't be fully trained until he moved into a day care room with bathroom facilities. But when that happened a few months ago, he still didn't seem ready. My next excuse was the pediatrician's assertion that 18 months would be a good time to start. And now that 18 months have come and gone, I'm still unconvinced that it is time.

I understand that there are clear advantages to taking him from Pampers to Pull-ups: Every time I look over my receipts, I'm always in awe at the sheer amount of money we spend on diapers each month. And one can only change a wriggling toddler on the bathroom floor or picnic bench so many times before it grows old.
Each weekend, I pore through my books and search the Internet looking for a solid answer on the appropriate age at which a child should be fully potty trained. And every week, I am shocked to find that there is no one answer. A Google search for "potty-training tips" yields nearly 2.5 million results. Is it any wonder I'm so confused?

I even took a quiz that was supposed to gauge a child's readiness to be potty trained. My results? "Remember that there are no hard and fast rules about when a child is ready that will work for every child."

Some of the signs are there: He says potty, pulls up his shirt and is always ready to hop up on his new potty seat. But as my husband and I encourage him, the water running in the sink - I've been told it helps; it doesn't
- he seems content to simply sit there for several moments before snatching off a bit of toilet paper from the roll and holding it out for us to dispose.

My experience with him reminds me of a story that has made the Internet rounds in several different adaptations.

While out to sea, a large boat became shipwrecked and there was only a single survivor. This man prayed and asked God to save his life. Soon thereafter, another boat came by and offered the man some help.

"No thanks," he said. "I'm waiting for God to save me."

The men on the boat shrugged their shoulders and continued. As the man became more deeply concerned, another boat came by. Again, the people aboard offered this man some help, and again he politely decline. "I'm waiting for God to save me," he said again.

After some time, the man began to lose his faith, and soon after that he died. Upon reaching Heaven, he had a chance to speak with God briefly.

"Why did you let me die? Why didn't you answer my prayers?"
"Dummy, I sent you two boats!"

Through all of my research, I am waiting for an answer - a sign - that meant my son was ready for this next step. And like the drowned sailor, I've already received my answer. Now it is just a matter of whether I will be brave enough to accept it.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A different world

For last two or three months, I've been trying to figure out what direction I want to take in my life and in my career. What I've come up with so far is slim. With the hubby's help, I decided last weekend that I want to live in a coastal town, have a boat and walk to gourmet grocery stores and wine shops at which I will ask the salespeople to order me whatever new wine/cheese/rare ingredient I have decided I must have in order to make some elaborate dish I discovered on Top Chef.

And with the help of my 10-year-old sister-in-law, I came up with a bare bones plan to write a bestselling novel. Written in crayon on red construction paper and adorned with stickers, the three-step plan is as follows: 1) Come up with great idea (at this point, my sister-in-law conducted a scientific poll that included herself, me, her brother and her mom to decide the book genre); 2) Write the book; 3) Have Oprah endorse book. Underneath the three steps is the ultimate goal: Success! (Written in bubble letters in that way in which one begins writing too big at the beginning causing the last "s" to be squeezed in at the very edge of the paper).

A shaky plan, I know; even for someone like myself who has held approximately 20 different jobs since I was about 15 years old, excluding those jobs that didn't require me to file taxes. What I do know, however, is that I still ultimately want to teach at the college level, which has been my goal since graduating with my B.A. The issue is how  -- and when -- exactly I plan to do that. But I know that getting a doctorate must fall within that plan at some point.

While I enjoy my job, and hope to progress in it, it feels overwhelming when I think about going back to school while juggling a husband, a toddler and a somewhat stressful full-time job. And all the while, I have to keep myself trained up at work to make the paper better and become a better editor.

I hoped that writing this would provide some spark, some idea as to what would be the best point of action to follow. Didn't happen. But that's OK. Whatever path I decide to take, I know that my family is behind me. In the meantime, I'll just try to have a little fun doing what I enjoy best - cooking and writing. And the midst of that, maybe I will figure something out.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Big boys don't cry? Not quite

FORT JACKSON, SC -- I always heard moms talk about how difficult it was to leave their children in the care of another person for the first time. And each time I would hear such a story, I found it hard to believe.

At six weeks, I'd already enrolled him into the on-post CDC for the first time. At seven months, my husband and I left him with my mom for a long weekend as we went on a cruise. And we have been fortunate enough to have friends who don't mind inviting him over for a sleepover to give us time to ourselves. Don't get me wrong, we weren't necessarily jumping for joy when we left him with others. The sound of another baby would have our heads turning involuntarily. And in certain situations, we would find ourselves wondering how our child would react.

But I never really experienced that heart-wrenching feeling of separation that I have heard other moms describe; until this week, that is.

A couple of weeks ago, our son moved into what I've playfully dubbed the big kid's class. Whereas his previous room included newborn babies to brand new walkers, the toddler room may range in age from 15 months to nearly 3 years. Before his one-week transition began, my husband and I met with the room leader. She showed us around the room, my eyes widening at what she said the children would learn. After lunch, the children brushed their teeth. This room even had toddler-sized sinks and toilets.

Having always been drawn to older children - no doubt enchanted by their ability to do things he was not yet big enough for - he took to his new room immediately. He seemed to pass his former infant class with trepidation; peeking in ever so slightly but shrinking away from his former caregivers lest they whisk him away from his new class.

I learned quickly that the toddler room was a far cry from the infant room; a romper I put in his backpack as an extra outfit sat untouched for days. Big kids, apparently, didn't wear rompers. They also didn't carry diaper bags. But despite all of the differences, my anxiety quickly faded. At drop-off time, I was soon forgotten as my son rushed to open the safety gate to begin his day.

Until two days ago.

He was already fussy when I woke him that morning, seemingly bothered by the arrival of two top molars. He settled enough to eat a small snack before we headed toward post, but midway through our walk to his class, he was sniffling. Once we got into the classroom, he was openly crying. And as I spoke with the caregivers, I saw him run past us with a book, bawling his eyes out. By the time I left the room, I didn't see him, but I could still hear his wails. As I passed the room's window, I spotted him in a corner where he paused from his cries just enough to take in the fact that I had left him and build up enough momentum to cry even harder.

At that moment, as I weighed the pros and cons of going back into the room, a pain pierced through my heart. In my mind, I ran back in and hugged him tightly, telling him it would be OK. But I knew that rushing in, and leaving again, would do more harm than good. Besides, I knew the ladies (and man) would be able to handle it without getting emotionally involved. I was in awe at how the caregivers wrangled a dozen or so toddlers through the center, on the playground and through mealtimes. I still wonder how they possibly brush each of the children's teeth when I can hardly get just one to sit still as his teeth are brushed.

As I left the center, still hearing his cries in my head, I knew that was one in a long line of heart-wrenching decisions I would have to make. Because as much as we may try to delay it, my son is no longer my baby; now, he's a big boy.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Let's go swimming

About a month ago, I'd pretty much convinced myself that if I were a stay-at-home mom, my parenting would be very much different than it is now. Cam would be fluent in Mandarin Chinese, and we'd communicate mainly through baby sign, which I would know because I would study them both with vigor during his nap times. Instead of the thrown together pre-breakfast snacks I usually provide (mostly graham crackers, sometimes apple sauce, and lately oranges that must be sliced before they go bad), he'd have wholesome, organic meals, made fresh by me. Then we'd practice our braille.

Alas, since stay-at-home mommyhood is not an option, I did the next best thing: I went searching for something that would create a mother/son bonding option. And what I found was swimming lessons.

The day before the first lesson was like the night before the first day of school. Though I'd purchased him a swim outfit weeks before, I headed to Target to purchase a reusable diaper, which the swim lesson company claimed was a necessity. I also grabbed another swim shirt, you know, just in case.

After work, I picked Cam up as usual and headed home to let Taz out before heading over to the lesson. I grabbed out suits and towels, threw them into a beach bag and headed to the pool. Which was outside. And had no changing room. I knew something was wrong when I saw a mom wearing a swim dress putting her daughter's suit on in the parking lot. After sending a frantic text message to the mom who recommended the class, I quickly changed Cam in the car and pulled out my own suit. I was dissauded by a dad who hovered near his minivan, which I was parked next to, and dashed inside the school to look for a place to change.

As I ran into the doorway, I was stopped by a newly-natural mama who was hiding her hair underneath a wig. At that point, I was already sweating, had 10 minutes until class and was in no mood for a conversation about how my hair did "that." But, after being a member of Nappturality for a few years, I knew the ire it drew new naturals when they felt brushed off by fellow nappies. I didn't want to be the reason this woman refused to wear her hair out or went back to the perm, so I took a few minutes. Once we finished, I ran through the school, found a bathroom and poured out the contents of my beach bag. No swimsuit. I'd left it in the car.


So back to the car I went. There was no more time to go back into the school -- the woman who showed me in told me they were closing -- so changing in the car was back on the table. I won't go into the details, but I will say this: Changing into a miraclesuit in an enclosed space that's about 90 degrees? Not a good idea.

Finally, we make it out of the car (hopefully) unseen. And I realize that Cam has no shoes. Hey, it's not my fault! I had no idea the swimming pool was outside! For some reason, I envinsioned the pool as one of those shown in high school horror movies -- indoors, heated, surrounded by gleaming tile and adjacent to his and her locker rooms.

Once the lesson started, Cam seemed a bit surprised at having the water in his face, but by the end of it, he'd gotten used to it. He kicked his legs, moved his arms and even went under water the first day.

I don't know if he will know how to swim at the end of the month's worth of lessons, but even if he doesn't, I appreciate the experience of watching him watching him brace himself each time he know's he's about to be dunked. And that bonding is priceless.

Even if we never learn to speak Mandarin Chinese.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The "eyes" have it

It’s 8 p.m. Dinner has long been finished, milk has been drunk, play outfits have been replaced by pajamas. My son is lying on the floor, trying his hardest to watch the Backyardigans while my husband lies across his legs to keep them from moving.

One hand is on my son’s forehead, the other holding his chin. All the while, I hover above them both, waiting for the perfect moment; the moment our son tries to catch a glimpse of the cartoon; the moment in which I can squirt a thin strip of eye ointment into his infected eyes.

If it seems like torture, that’s exactly what it sounds like at our house four times a day for five days. Parents call it pink eye. Doctors call it conjunctivitis. I call it “the infection with the absolute worst treatment ever.”

I should have known the ointment would be a problem when both the physician’s assistant and the nurse cautioned me when they explained the prescription they were giving me.

“You will probably need someone to help you,” each of them had said, eyeing me with what I now know must have been pity.

The first time wasn’t so bad. But that’s because he didn’t understand what we were doing. The next time, he was ready; arms flailing, head turning, and all the while, his eyes were snapped shut.

Seven treatments into it and it seemed using the ridiculous eye ointment was getting more difficult, instead of easier.

So I did what I usually do when I’m having trouble with something: I googled it.
This is what I found:
1. Place the fingers of your non-dominant hand along your child’s forehead.
2. Place the thumb of that hand gently on the child’s cheek just below the lower eyelid.
3. Gently pull down on the cheek skin with your thumb.
4. This will cause the lower lid to curl outward — you should see the thin pink “shelf” of the lining of the lower lid.
5. Using your other hand, gently apply the ointment along that thin pink “shelf.” Start at the inner corner of the eye and smoothly move across to the outer corner.
Sounds easy, right? Wrong.
Where in the directions does it address the crying that starts — and continues — as soon as we initiate step 1? What about the wails of torture the child emits as the eye ointment hits the eyelashes time and time again (which means that the medicine has not gotten into the eye, which means you must repeat each step)? And where does it mention that the child will eventually start to wail as soon as he or she sees the ointment tube?
I even checked my precious book — the one I consult for everything from runny noses to speech progress. Nothing.

We tried it with my husband holding him as I aimed the ointment from above. We tried sitting in the floor, me holding him and my husband wielding the tube. We tried it with him in a chair, we tried it with him lying there. It became as repetitive as a Dr. Seuss book. As I smeared the cream on his bottom eyelid with a Q-tip (“This totally counts,” I asserted to my husband) all I could do was laugh. Who, pray tell, came up with the idea of squirting a strip of ointment into the inner eyelid of a wriggly infant? Probably the same person who decided that giving a dog nightly mouth rinses was an “easy” way to keep his teeth clean. It’s as though someone was sitting in a room thinking, “Hmmm, what’s the most physically and mentally trying task that we can give a parent just getting used to parenthood? I know! Eye ointment.”

With the eye ointment glistening on his bottom lid, our now-exhausted son fell asleep in my husband’s arms. The day’s treatments were finished.

Only 12 more to go.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Why I won't shop at Home Depot

For the past, oh, seven months or so, I've waged a silent war against Home Depot. Not because I don't like their prices -- they don't seem any more expensive than any of the other home improvement stores. And it's not that I don't dislike the location. In fact, I have to pass Home Depot in order to get to Lowe's. It's not even the fact that Lowe's offers a 10 percent military discount (which we rarely use, because the hubbs isn't the "in your face type" that demands the discount, and subsequently, demands to see a manager if the sales clerk denies that the discount exists).

It's because of their ads.

I looove commercials, whether on the radio or on TV. I'm the type of person that would fulfill an advertising guru's wildest dreams. With few exceptions, commercials almost always make me want to buy the product (exception one: Taco Bell's shrimp taco - if they used frozen meat that they thaw in vats of warm water; which I know to be true because I worked there for two days when I was an undergraduate, how can I trust them to properly handle shrimp?!?).

The new Bounty commercial makes me want to tackle my cast iron skillet with a paper towel. The new Audi/Iron Man commercial makes me want an Audi Spyder, despite my aversion to 2-seater sports cars (and lack of Audi money). And nearly any food ad, save for the previously mentioned shrimp taco commercial (ugh!), draws me in, even to the point where I want to go get a Big Mac/Zaxby's basket/milk shake at 11 p.m.

But back to Home Depot. I already have a problem with ads trying to "sound" black. And Home Depot is one of the worst.

"Gurl, what you doin'?" "'Bout to go to da Home Depot Girl!"

The affected speech that is intended to be that of two girlfriends in the midst of a home repair literally disgusts me.

First of all, why should it matter if a person is black or white when it comes to the store at which I want to buy my shrubbery? Why must a woman be addressed as "girlfriend" in order to entice me to come in to buy paint?

Incidentally, I happened to hear back-to-back ads: Home Depot, then Lowe's.

The Home Depot commercial was full of "gurl" and "MMhmmm" -- so much so that I could practically see the necks rolling and fingers snapping as the one woman tries to convince the other woman to purchase items that will help her save on her utility bill. ("Close the door JoJo! You letting all the air out!")

Lowe's was a normal conversation -- no "girl," no "boo," just a discussion about a woman who advised the husband on what products to buy and who identified bugs in the yard. Although I could tell the couple was black (don't get me started on how I can "tell" a black person by his or her voice. It's a long story, and actually something I'd like to get a scientific basis for), there was no need to "prove" the characters were black by adding slang to the conversation.

I'm not offended by the ads, I just find it unnecessary and contrived. And I don't like it.

So, for now, I'm giving Home Depot the boot. Next time I buy my flowers, guurrrl, I'm going to Lowe's.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Mama's Gun

I never considered myself the motherly type. In fact, once I spread the news that I was pregnant, my own family seemed hesitant to respond immediately, lest it be some type of late April Fool's gag.

Even so, I have been pleasantly surprised that I've taken pretty well to the whole mommy thing. That's not to say that I'm the model mom. I let Cam eat a sucker to keep him still during an allergy test. I let him watch "Ni Hao, Kai Lan" (alone!) while I get ready for work. His dinner doesn't always include those recommended on the food pyramid. Actually, if I can get two of the pyramid's layers, I think I'm doing well.

So when I dropped Cam off at day care this morning, and was pretty much told that the providers were talking about me, I admit I was crushed. Boy-stands-you-up-for-the-prom crushed. Ace-an-interview-but- still-don't-get-the-job crushed. Stay-up-all-night-writing-and-still-get-an-F crushed.

It seems as though some of the ladies feel as though I'm not giving him enough in the morning before I bring him in. He's whiny, my secondhand source told me, so I must be bringing him in hungry.

Did I mention I was crushed?

No matter how irrational it may be, there are two things that I tie completely to my self worth; meaning, failing at one those means that I am a failure. Parenting is one of those things. On the surface, I'm angry. Angry that they have the nerve to talk about me behind my back, instead of asking me straight out what he eats in the morning (for the record, he gets a cup of milk and sometimes some cheerios, which he dutifully throws on the floor for Taz because he doesn't like eating at 6:30 a.m., which is 15 minutes after he wakes up. He can barely walk when he first wakes up, let alone eat.) Angry that they couldn't come to me after I made it a point to speak with them before he started eating breakfast at the day care during which conversation we discussed him drinking milk so as not to fill him up before breakfast (which is at 7:30).  Angry that instead of asking me to bring in sunscreen, they slathered him in Vaseline (from head to toe, including his hair) because the sun "dried" out his skin. Wait, wrong rant. Ignore that last one.

But just underneath the surface -- not far, like scraping a bit of paint from the wall -- I'm disappointed in myself. All this time, I thought I was getting the hang of things, when it reality, I wasn't. I know it's ridiculous to let the unfounded judgements of a few day care providers make me question my self worth, that's how I feel. Even though they don't know that when he first started eating there in the morning, I cooked breakfast for him, only to have it ignored. They don't know that I've offered graham crackers (his favorite) only to have them crushed into fine powder into the high chair. That I have to force him to even drink all his milk; that most mornings, he would rather stop before finishing half the cup.

But I do know that, and still. Still, I feel as though I should have done more -- force fed him oatmeal or applesauce. Wake him at 5:30 a.m. to give him time to want to eat. Something. 

Though I hate to admit it, I'm not yet at the point where I'm not affected by what people say when it comes to my parenting. I am totally and utterly affected by it. But I have to remind myself of Cam's belly; the potruding pot belly that shows me that no matter what they say, he's not starving.

And that, I guess, is something.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Lost ...

The hit television show, “Lost,” is about a group of plane crash survivors who find themselves stranded on a mysterious tropical island. Each episode, the characters become more and more confused as they encounter polar bears, a monster made entirely of black smoke and unknown assailants.

For many of us, our first experience in the Army life may feel a bit like that. It’s easy to feel lost as we try to become acclimated to the new world we have entered.

But unlike those plane crash survivors, we don’t have people lurking around every corner, threatening us with harm. Instead, there are those who work countless hours to provide us with everything we need to become acclimated to the Army life. So for those who are new to the military life, I offer the following tips:

1) Take a visit to the Army Community Services center. When I arrived at my husband’s first duty station, he was instructed to take me first to ACS. Although I had no clue at the time what ACS was, it made a huge difference. I got the chance to see what types of services were offered, get a calendar of on-post events and I even left with a couple of job leads.

2) Take advantage of the free classes and events. Fort Jackson offers a wide array of classes every week. The best part is, they’re all free. Whether you want to learn how to “speak Army,” get a handle on your finances or learn how to deal with your active toddler, there is a class for you. ACS even holds events for newcomers that provide information on various on-post agencies and what they have to offer.

3) Contact the hospital. Even for those who never get sick, it is a good idea to be familiar with the on-post hospital. While Moncrief Army Community Hospital doesn’t have an emergency room, there are several other clinics, including an urgent care clinic, that offer family members and Soldiers an opportunity to be seen.
It is also a good idea to stop by the TRICARE office to make sure that you and all of your family members are enrolled. A couple of weeks ago, I missed out on an appointment for my son because I never bothered to fill out the proper paperwork. Taking a few minutes in advance to make sure all of your paperwork is in order can mean avoiding a hassle later.

4) Get in touch with your unit’s Family Readiness Group. At an FRG meeting the other day, one of the women shared how she had an emergency soon after she and her husband reached their new duty station. With her husband already away on assignment, she was left to take care of things alone. The FRG offers support for spouses, whether in an emergency or not. Don’t wait until a deployment to seek guidance from the FRG, start now. If your unit doesn’t have an FRG, or if you’re unsure, speak to the company commander about possibly starting one.

5) Get out of your comfort zone. It’s easy to want to keep to yourself upon arriving in a new place. But it is healthy for you — and your family members — to experience all that the post has to offer. Check out the community calendar at Or take advantage of the hourly care options on post and take some “me” time to go shopping, work out or just take a nap while the children are under the care of trained professionals.

Is this an exhaustive list of hints to get you ready for a new life in the military? Of course not. But I can assure you that there are many men and women, much wiser than me, who have the best advice possible.

And many of them are right in your unit.

Editor’s note: Crystal Lewis Brown is an Army spouse of five years and editor of the Fort Jackson Leader.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Balancing Act

Ooops! I totally forgot to post this two weeks ago, so there will be back-to-back Crystal Clears. If you're not at Fort Jackson, I may not be able to help you with specific about your post, but I can certainly point you in the right direction!

Last Wednesday, on our production day (i.e., the day we send the newspaper to the publisher for printing) I was stressed out. We were running a bit behind and were scrambling to make our mid-afternoon deadline. As stressed as I already was, I doubted it could get any more hectic.

And then I got a phone call from the day care. The baby had a rash and it looked bad, they said. I texted my husband to pick him up but that was a no go — he would not be free until several hours later. And I couldn’t reach the friends I thought might be able to babysit for a few hours.

Within a matter of moments, my day had gone from normal-stress (the type of stress in which Inormally thrive) to super-stress (the type of stress that makes me wish I’d stayed in bed).

Although everything worked out in the end, I couldn’t stop the anxiety I was feeling, even throughout the next day. Could I really do this working mom thing? Did my coworkers think me less professional? If I’d paid more attention, could I have prevented the rash (which turned out to be a bad diaper rash)?

All of us experience stress from time-to-time. As military spouses, I (with much bias) say that I think we may have it worse than some others. In addition to the normal stress that comes from being a mom, working, volunteering and trying to get dinner on the table every night, we also have a few added stressors.

What if my Soldier deploys? Will my drill sergeant/ supply sergeant/company commander husband get home from work in time for the baby’s first birthday party?  How will I ever be able to find another job if we PCS? We can’t sell our house, but BAH will only pay for one dwelling — how will we make ends meet? If Igo talk to the chaplain, will it affect my husband’s career? What will people think if they find out?

One great thing about the military, however, is that we do not have to go it alone. 

The Army’s not just an institution, we are a family; here on post, we are Team Jackson. 

And there is someone on post who can answer each and every one of your questions.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Seasons change

For about the past couple of months, I've been feeling some kind of way. Like, I am so sick of myself.

I'm tired of being/feeling negative; I'm tired of letting myself get wrapped up in things that really have nothing to do with me; I'm tired of fighting for things about which I really couldn't care less about.

I'm just tired.

So, for the past week, I have started an experiment. I won't get into specifics about what the experiment entails, but I will say that so far, it appears to be working. (The reason I won't get into specifics is because, frankly, I don't want to be asked about it. It's kind of like going on a new diet plan; every five minutes, it seems, someone is asking how it's going. You eat a hamburger and people are all like: I thought you were on a diet. And in spite of what I am sure would be very well-meaning comments from very well-meaning people, I don't want to hear it. Hearing it, in fact, might actually do the opposite of what was intended.)

I will say, however, that the end goal of this experiment is to come out me, but a happier, more positive version. I will worry less. If it is an important life decision, I will put the burden on God to fix; no worries for me. If it is an important work decision that doesn't directly involve my position, I will let that burden go to the person to whom the job belongs. Again, no worries for me.

Unbeknownst to them, my friends and family are also a part of this experiment. Because in order to keep myself on track, I absolutely cannot get wrapped up in other folks' drama. I cannot allow myself to wallow in problems; therefore, I cannot stand next to you in the pit as you wallow in yours. What I can do is try to help you or, if you don't want my help, pray for you. I can also ignore you. And though I hate to do that, if your conversation, question, concern, threatens to derail the progress I feel I am already making, I must.

Often, I think we -- especially women -- take on everyone's problems. We try to be everything, all the time, for everyone. Frankly, no one (save for Jesus, but even he had to die in order to bear our sins for us) is built to withstand those types of burdens.

This experiment, I hope, will help me to realize that.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Hello Spring!

I'm not really an "outside" person. I prefer to sit in the house, pretending as though today is the day I will clean the house, write something, teach Cam how to speak Mandarin Chinese. Usually, I end up doing something like watching back-to-back episodes of Mad Men, taking a nap and watching some of my fav cooking shows (although yesterday, I did  teach Cam where he nose is).

But yesterday, in the spirit of the warm weather, I decided to turn on the grill and cook up a barbecue-style meal.

Instead of making something up, I took out my Get 'em Girls Cookbook (guide to the perfect get-together, their second book) and got to flippin.'  I have to point out first, that in my eyes, the Get 'em girls can do no wrong. You know how sometimes, you follow a recipe to the "t" and it comes out totally unseasoned or undercooked? NEVER happens with this book. Or at least it hasn't happened so far.

Anyway, I decided to make the pulled chicken sandwiches w/ easy creamy coleslaw. I also made something they called gold rush, a delicious cocktail made with lemonade, sweet tea, peach schnapps and coconut rum. Think peach Firefly w/ a hint of coconut. For non-drinkers, just try mixing the lemonade and sweet tea. Delicious!

Anyway, here's the recipe for the sandwiches. I threw the buns on the grill and topped my chicken with the slaw and a slice of pickle. I also had a HUGE bottle of BBQ, so I didn't make my own. Seriously, the work put into this is minimal. This is the type of meal you can cook for a group while you're outside playing cards or dominoes because you're not trapped in the kitchen. If you want the other recipes buy the cookbook -- or both. It's worth it!

2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs
juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp Get'em girl essential BBQ rub (too much to print here, but use your fav rub)
1 c. BBQ sauce (there's an easy sauce recipe in the book, too.)
cole slaw
sandwich rolls (lightly toasted)
dill pickle chips

I started up the grill (you can also do this with a grill pan) and while it was heating, rinsed the chicken under cold running water. Put it in a large bowl and pour the lemon juice over the chicken. Let sit for one minute. Rinse under cold water and pat dry. Rub the chicken with BBQ rub and grill for about 25-30 minutes. Remove from grill and let rest for 5 minutes before shredding with two forks. Stir the chicken into the BBQ sauce in a large skillet. Cook until heated through. Serve and enjoy!

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Window Seat

Four years ago, I made the decision that I would become a full-time writer. I would blog, I would write, I would flex my creative muscle, and at the end of it all, I would have a book and a steady freelance career.

Four years later, I have none of that.

I'm the type of person who feels, for whatever reason, that I am always one paycheck from living in my car (at best) and living on the streets (at worst).

Sidenote: I'm not sure why these fantasies of demise never involve us living with my mom or mother-in-law; for some reason, it's always us - poor, jobless and homeless.

So: I worked. Instead of taking the last of those years when it would be just the husband and me, I worked almost all of the time I was in Germany -- three jobs in three years with only months in between.
I acknowledge that  I have also been ridiculously and improbably blessed since we've moved back to the states. (Who was it that said "favor ain't fair?"

Convinced we would be stationed in Oklahoma, I cold-called the local newspaper and asked for an interview, not knowing if they were even hiring. Whether they were or not, I got a call back a couple of weeks later to work though; though, truth be told, I'd been out of the news business so long that I would have worked there for free for a while to build up more current newspaper clips.

When we ended up getting stationed in South Carolina, again, I got on the grind, looking for jobs before we even shipped our belongings. I applied for several and got a phone call about one.

Her: Did you claim military spouse preference? Me: Yes.
Her: Do you have a federal job now? Me: No.
Her: Well, unfortunately, you don't qualify for preference. Me: Thanks, anyway.

But, improbably, I got the job anyway. With no "preference," no prior military service or (non-temporary) federal service to get me on the unbreak-through-able list. (If you know anything about government jobs, you know that it's hard as heck to get in "the system." But once in the system, you're pretty much set for life, so long as you're not completely incompetent. Though in some cases, incompetence doesn't get you fired either).

Six months, one baby and 6 weeks of maternity leave later, I was promoted (isn't it amazing when other people's blessing leads to a blessing for you? That's why you can't be a hater.)

I enjoy my job; really I do. But lately I've been feeling like something is missing. I want to expand my writing, to write something beyond what I've been able to do lately. To focus on finishing? restarting? the book I began some years ago. To have time to volunteer again (I shockingly miss being a Girl Scout leader -- something I never imagined I would EVER do).

So, to that end, I have taken the first step. And that first step will open for all the world to see in a couple of weeks when one of my articles appears in Zora&Alice, a new magazine and blog. I pray that this will be the first of many opportunities with Z&A, but no matter what happens, I know that nothing will happen if I stay in my comfort zone, never pushing the limits of what I am capable.

Does this mean that I will be leaving my job? Of course, not.

But there will come a time when I reach that point at which I have decide what direction I want my career to go. And, this time, finally, I will not make the easy decision.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Zigeunerweisen - ode to date night

Parent's night out at Fort Jackson is the 1st and 3rd Friday of every month. And ever since I found out about it, I do my best to make sure I'm at the CDC bright and early to sign up for a night of super-cheap (and reliable!) babysitting for five hours while the honey and I go out.

This week, however, the plans changed; and I admit, I didn't take it so well.
A friend had offered to keep Cam for the night, which meant we could go out sans curfew. The honey accepted said offer and started making plans of his own. It turns out, his plans involved going to a club. Um, what? 

I imagined going to some sweat-filled nightclub full of 20-somethings (and younger than 20-somethings with fake IDs) spilling cheap drinks while dancing to the latest garbage as it blares through the speakers (seriously, have you heard the music these days? ugh!).  Two things about me: I don't like noise and 2) once I've decided I don't like something, there's a very slim chance of changing my mind.

So. Date night. I bought a pair of shoes to make what I assumed would be an inevitable disaster more palatable. 

About an hour before we left, I googled the club. And it wasn't a "club" at all really. It was more of a restaurant/lounge situation. Ok, I'm feeling better. Except for # 2 listed above, of course.

Anyway, I reluctantly showered. Dressed. Untwisted hair (which could have lasted another week!). Camouflaged eye bags. Minimized skin flaws. Perfumed. And off we went.

I will skip the part where we got lost. I will gloss over us googling the address in the museum parking lot only to learn we were off on the address by about um, 30 or so blocks. And I will barely mention the fact that once we got to the club (30 minutes after my normal bed time, no less!) it was closed. Seems there was some sort of controversy brewing over a fire investigation, which I assume had something to do with it. So, there we are. All dressed up with nowhere to go, getting sleepier by the moment, and knowing that, like Cinderella, I only had until midnight. Except, whereas Cinderella's carriage turned into a pumpkin, I turned an overworked working mother with bags under her eyes the size of storage trunks.

So in an effort to salvage the evening, we decide to go to a tried and true jazz spot, the Blue Martini. When we got there, something was going on. The bouncer?host? was apologetic at the $8 cover he had to charge us. He seemed even more apologetic that he had to put "tacky" orange bands on our wrists. I wasn't sure what was going on, but it didn't seem like our scene. Meaning: the majority of the patrons seemed to be older than 60. An entire section was occupied by a group of gray-haired guys wearing sweater vests. I think I even saw one wearing one of those blazers with the patches on the elbow. "Professors" was the word that came to mind. Turns out, I was right.

We'd walked into a Dez Cordas concert, a double bassist/guitarist duo. The bassist was -- wait for it -- a professor at the University of South Carolina. I didn't know what they were playing, the blog title, Zigeunerweisen is one of the selections they played, but I liked it. Much of what they played sounded like something from the soundtrack from Martin Scorcese film. You know, that crescendo of strings that happens right before the part you imagine to be the climax, when in fact, the climax is nowhere in sight?

And the guys, well they were funny. In that geeky, Steve Carell-in-40-year-old Virgin type of way.

The talent was amazing. As a journalist I (rarely) use a tape recorder and later transcribe the interview. These guys did the same thing, except with music. As in, listened to a song, then wrote the notes in order to play it on their instruments. Amazing.

When they played a series of tangoes, I felt like I was in a little Argentinian club. When the little old lady next to me asked: "Do you tango?" I wished I could have said yes.

Was it the evening I'd thought it would be? No. But I enjoyed it; and in the end, I came out of it feeling just a little bit more cultured; a little bit more refined.

And then we got in the car and listened to Ludacris.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Just one of 'dem days

Yesterday was "one of those days." And a mere hour into today, it seemed
as though it would be another bad one.

Wednesday is the newspaper's production day; it's the day we take all
our articles, photos, whatever and send them off for the printer for
publishing. The deadline is final. We MUST have a paper 
on Thursday so
not sending it 
on Wednesday is not an option.

Well, yesterday, the day care called around 10 a.m. to let  me know that
I needed to pick up my son. My husband was unavailable until 3 p.m. and
I couldn't reach my friend on the phone to see if I could drop him off.
So he came to work with me.

This morning, my boss tells me that someone who'd called during all of
yesterday's madness was upset that she was having to call so many
different numbers. She called me first, but I couldn't help her. In her
words, actually, "She called and a woman answered the phone and all I
could hear was a baby screaming in the background."


I try hard not to let my personal life effect my work life. When I was
pregnant, I worked up until the day I went into labor. I walked, I stood
in the heat, I laid down on the ground to get photos, even when my belly
got in the way. I agreed to take the minimum 6 weeks off from work; four
weeks after the baby was born, I was back to work, at least part-time. I
carried the baby on my hip in a sling as I took photos and conducted
interviews. So, having someone call on a rare day when the baby had to
be here for most of the day and having said person hear him in the
background and comment on it was disturbing, to say the least.

My supervisors have been incredibly supportive through all of the
appointments, missed 
work hours and bring-the-baby-to-work days. But, it
makes me look unprofessional, I know; and I just can't shake the feeling
that I'm now one of those people who is failing miserably at being a
working mom. I know that tomorrow, or the next day, or Monday (at the
latest), I will be over this and will have moved on to the next thing
that has me all stressed out.

But right now, today, I feel like I'm on a derailed train and I'm trying
my hardest to figure out how to get it back on track.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Family days bring more than traffic

My first week at Fort Jackson, I received some advice: Limit on-post driving on Thursdays and Fridays — Family Day and graduation.

At the time, I didn’t know what Family Day was. But, for me, it soon became nothing more than a traffic hassle. Everywhere I went, from the PX to the Shoppette, it was packed. Quick errands took longer than usual. And forget about grabbing a burger or taco on Family Day; I’d either bring my lunch or eat off-post. But several weeks ago, a last-minute errand took me away from my ordinary routine, and into the PX, on a Thursday.  
I’m almost always in a rush, but that day, I took my time looking for shoes for my son.

As I walked through the PX, I saw the usual throngs of family members, but this time, I saw something more.

I saw Soldiers, after nine weeks of wearing combat boots, trying on high heels. I saw dads being reunited with children — children who were at that age at which two weeks could mean the difference between having a crawling baby and a toddler. I could imagine that these children were much different than when dad left for Fort Jackson more than two months ago. I saw brothers shopping with sisters, moms hugging sons. And for the first time, I saw beyond my own selfishness.

Many of these brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, wives and girlfriends were experiencing military life for the first time. They had never before seen a military installation, let alone been to one. For those of us who live here, the pause of traffic as a battalion of Soldiers marches across the road is commonplace.

But for these visitors, who I see snapping photos of said Soldiers with their cameras and cell phones, it is something new and amazing. They are seeing through fresh eyes what we have come to know from our own Soldiers — the discipline, the strength and the courage.

I often peruse the Public Affairs Facebook page and am astounded at how many family members and significant others of our Soldiers in training reach out to each other. They thirst for information about their loved ones. They passionately follow, as much as they can, each week of their loved one’s training. And they also become friends with each other, even if only online. So, as I looked around at these family members interact their Soldiers, I thought about the numerous posts I read each day. The posts in which a mother’s baby boy is leaving the nest for the first time. The newlywed who will be reunited with his or her spouse at graduation.

These loved ones have poured their hearts out on our page as they fretted over receiving letters, mailing care packages and missing phone calls.

I won’t say that I will never again complain about traffic on Thursday and Friday, but I will be more patient. Because now I know something about these family members that I didn’t before: To me, Family Day was an inconvenience; to them, it was everything.

First published in the Fort Jackson Leader at Link to the original is here.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Nappily ever after

I got that "good" hair.

You know -- That wash 'n go type of hair. That "I didn't really need to put a perm in my head, anyway" hair. That "you know I got Indian on my daddy's side" type of hair. The type of hair that makes it acceptable for me to go unstraightened while nappy-wannabes are forced to remain slaves to the chemical straightener/hot comb/flat iron for the rest of their lives.

Let "them" tell it.

All the time, I am told by women (unsolicited, I must add) that they wish they could go natural. That if they had hair like mine, they would be able to. That, despite the frizzy (and uncurly) fro they usually see on me with their own eyes, I must have "good" hair. Or, "better" hair than theirs. The other day, as I swapped beauty products with a natural hair I just met (Oyin Handmade and Qhemet Biologics are my to-die-for staples) she looked at my expanding second-day twist out and said, "You must have some good hair under there!"

Uh, what?

The phrase "good hair" is one of the few (OK, too-numerous-to-count) things that really gets my goat. To me, my texture is "nappy." The word doesn't offend me, it just describes my hair. I could get all technical about how it is kinky, curly, coily, but to me, it all just rings a bit hollow -- like I'm trying to hard not to accept my hair for what it really is -- nappy.

When I went natural nearly three years ago, it wasn't because of some life-altering decision or life-affirming realization. I didn't have the eye-opening realization that the caustic chemicals I let my kitchen beautician put in my hair every 4-6 weeks was doing more harm than good. I didn't secretly covet another sista's beautiful fro. I didn't make a lifestyle change that had me re-evaluate all of the unnatural things I was putting in my body, to include, yes, my hair.

I was just cheap. And I figured that if I was shelling out $100 for hair, 130 euros for a hairstyle and unknown amounts of gas (and time) wasted on the 60 kilometer trip to the hairdresser, there was no way I'd give another hairdresser $50-$60 every other month on hair hidden beneath two packs of human hair yaki. And when I took that final weave out eight months later, my 2-inch Fantasia cut had become an afro. And I liked it.

My entire relaxed life had been an emotional rollercoaster. I've pouted when my home-done relaxer didn't turn out as sleek and straight as a friend's; I've cried in the bathroom when a beauty school 'do made me look like an 18-year-old dressed as Patti Labelle ("On my own" Patti, circa 1986); I've washed out hairstyles just minutes after leaving the beauty shop. In short, I had hair drama. That is, until I went natural.

I realized that my natural hair embodied me more than any other style could. It is bold,big and in your face without me doing anything extra to it. It's "me."

I don't try to define my non-existent "curls." I just let her (my fro, of course) be herself. Sometimes, when I tell people that I often sport a wash n' wear style, they are incredulous. Perhaps they think that by wash 'n go, I mean that my glorious naps suddenly look like Tracee Ellis Ross' hair. It doesn't -- but I love it anyway.

So, for those women who, despite having had chemically straightened hair since they were 4/5/6 years old (and couldn't possibly remember what it looked like, and who used Blue Magic grease, which is totally NOT good for your hair), think they don't have the type of texture that would allow them to go natural, I challenge you.

Now that I'm natural, have hair that expresses me, but doesn't define me. The type of hair that allows me to get in the pool with my son and not worry about my hair "going back." The type of hair that switches from twists, to twist out, to fro (and sometimes, all in one day) with ease. The type of hair that makes me feel that I am fabulous, even when I'm wearing sneakers. The type of hair that allows water and a headband to salvage the worst bad hair days.

And once you find that type of freedom, you'll have "good" hair, too.

ETA: Since someone thought I was flipping the bird in my last photo (which I wasn't!) I swapped. Happy now? :)

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Crystal Clear: Mom, son have hair-raising experience

Since I stopped straightening my hair three years ago, I have been known by my hair. Those who don't know me through my husband or son know me as "the lady with the big hair" or "the lady with the afro." And, until a few weeks ago, my son was following in my footsteps.

His hair was a mixture of several textures, with a thick Mohawk-like patch of curly hair on top. He was born with a lot of hair, and over the past year, it had only gotten longer; well, more accurately, bigger. Much like my hair, it refused to be tamed. It was as if his hair had its own identity, and I liked it that way. His hair made pick-up time at the day care easy, too. If his usual providers were gone for the day, he was easy to identify.

"He's the kid with the crazy hair," I'd say.

But that was then.

One week after his first birthday, he had his first trip to the barbershop. He sat on Dad's lap - my little one looked tiny in the huge chair - and the barber covered his clothes with a cape. The first part of the haircut was easy - the barber shaped the baby's "Mohawk" with scissors. That is where I thought the haircut would end; unfortunately, I was wrong.

Next, came the clippers. For about half an hour, the barber clipped, shaped and cut my baby's hair. To my son's credit, he sat in dad's lap quietly the entire time. But at the end of the haircut, I couldn't help but notice the mounds of hair on the floor. And as the barber swept the hair away, it signaled to me the end of my son's baby-dom.

When I posted photos of the haircut online that night, a friend of mine remarked that she doesn't understand why moms are so reticent to have their sons' hair cut. For me, the reason was two-fold. The big, often wild, hair was one of those things that tied him to me. When I walked into a room with him, it was clear that we were mother and son. But now that his hair is cut more like Dad's, we'd lost that bond.

His hair was also a symbol of his growing up. I know he has to grow up, and I look forward to when he is talking, playing sports and going to school. But as the hair was swept away, I felt like a part of his identity and a part of his childhood innocence was being swept away, as well.

I know that although that part of our bond may now be gone, we still share something that only mothers can share with their sons. And now hair is something that bonds him and my husband - my husband now brushes our son's hair in the same methodical way in which he brushes his own.

I must admit, the haircut has grown on me, and now that it's already just a bit longer, I like it even more.

When some people go to a barber, they come out only a few dollars and a several strands of hair lighter.

But my son's change was more than that; he went in a baby and left a big boy.

Spice up your life!

I don't have the time, nor the inclination, to write a long, drawn out post about what my blog is/will be about, etc. etc. So for now, here is one of my recipe trials.

I found this one in my new favorite magazine besides Essence. And Glamour. And um, yeah, this one comes in after that. Anyway, it's Food Network Magazine. There are like 100 recipes in each issue and there is no way to try to them all, so I feel like I'm wasting my money. But when I get a recipe like this one -- which is really more than 11,000 recipes when you mix and match -- it seems worth it. This month's issue cover photo is a shrimp stir-fry. Last week, I made beef and broccoli, which turned out so-so. Today, I made spicy pork w/ celery, spinach and grape tomatoes served over spaghetti (all I had. I've banned myself from spending money on groceries until next week).

One caveat: I was rushing to do it all this morning (chop up meat, veggies, whisk sauce together and marinate meat) and skipped a step. Namely, instead of marinating the meat in the marinade, I marinated it in the sauce. I actually think this made for more flavorful meat, which was the downfall in my first try at the magazine's stir-fry recipe. Plus, I wasn't too sure how my baby arugula would play out, so I opted for frozen spinach instead. And there was no method as to why I didn't use the whole pack of spinach -- I just needed to save something non-spicy for baby boy's dinner.

Anyway, here it is. And yes -- it really is as delicious as it looks!

1 pound boneless pork chop, sliced into strips
1/2 package frozen spinach, thawed (chopped)
1/2 pack of grape tomatoes, sliced in half
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 scallions, chopped

For the sauce/marinade: Mix 3/4 c. chicken broth, 1 tbsp each soy sauce, dry sherry, 1/2 tsp. sesame oil, 1 tbsp sugar, 2 tsp. asian chili sauce (I used garlic chili sauce) . Make two separate bowls of this. Marinate the meat in one, put the other in the fridge until you're ready to cook everything.

Marinate the meat for at least 1 hour. Drain before cooking.

Heat 1/4 inch oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the pork, cook until almost done. Transfer to a bowl; wipe out the pan.
Heat the pan, then add 2 tbsp oil, 4 cloves garlic, 1 tbsp minced ginger, the scallions and the celery. Stir-fry for about 30 seconds, then add the spinach. Cook through, then add the tomatoes. Cook another 2-3 minutes or so. Add the sauce and the pork. Cook until the sauce is thick and everything is cooked, about 3 minutes or so.

Serve alongside rice, noodles or alone. Pour yourself a glass of your favorite wine and enjoy!

Fab femme's tip: Chop all your veggies and meat and marinate the night before cooking for a quick (yet freshly cooked) meal the next day. If you like it extra spicy, add a few sliced jalapenos right before serving.