Category Archives: But seriously…

The secret to sanity


I usually keep at least one candle lit in the house, saying a prayer when I light it. Candles definitely lend a romantic, mysterious ambiance to any interior. I also keep a candle on the porch; when I'm expecting a visitor or family member who's been traveling, I light the candle to welcome them.

Most parents’ lives aren’t packed with mystery. (“Honey, Baby Bobby’s poopie isn’t so green today!”) But I believe one path to happiness lies through mystery.

I studied Latin with a ballerina named Camille at Indiana University, and I was always amazed at her perfect grades. One day, I asked her how she did it so effortlessly. She confided that she lit candles, played Gregorian chants, and pretended she was a medieval monk translating texts.

Back then, I thought she was a weirdo. Now I think she was a total genius, a visionary. She was using her imagination and embracing humanity’s mysterious past.

The big-deal psychologist Carl Jung lends cred to the need for mystery. Jung said, “Show me a sane man, and I will cure him for you.”

There’s two lessons to take away from this: As a psychologist, Jung exhibited keen business sense by doubling his customer base to include the sane and insane. The second lesson is that it’s crazy to view life totally in factual, scientific terms.

I’ve felt more grounded since I increased my exposure to mystery. I volunteer at the Oriental Institute, a free (!!!) museum in the University of Chicago dealing with adventure and archaeology.

Indiana Jones would’ve studied there–in fact, the character is based on a real OI Egyptologist. At the OI you’ll see artifacts from the place many believe Armageddon will occur, and I’m always relieved to see the end of the world will not occur in a bathroom in my house.

With every artifact I see, I have the same reaction as Chris Farley in Tommy Boy: “That–was–awesome!” Seriously, I stand before a bit of Dead Sea Scroll with my hair blowing like I’m in a shampoo commercial.

If you’re stressed, you may feel you can’t escape an unpleasant situation, but there are many local ways to escape into mystery. Worship and meditation help. So might reading a mystery or ghostly book by Region authors Mark Marimen, Kate Collins, or Scarlett Dean. A drive along Red Arrow and Blue Star highways in Michigan can be mysterious as you wonder what’s beyond each bend.

Museums make you feel you’re investigating a mystery–I love how the fairy castle in the Museum of Science and Industry is deep in the basement, just as the most primitive part of your brain is deep inside.

Turn off the computer, and light a candle. I missed the last issue of Cosmopolitan magazine, but I doubt it featured the article “Kim Kardashian’s Seduction Secrets (Hint: Light-Emitting Diodes!).”

I also think it’s important to lend enchantment to children’s lives. At the OI, I found an Egyptian perfume bottle, where I keep fairy dust to sprinkle on my kids before lights out.


Graduating? You need your sorority more than ever


My legacy

Graduating? You need your sorority more than ever.

Sister, I was a senior too, finding excuses to miss chapter meetings, rolling my eyes and wincing as we clapped and cheered during rush. Twenty years later, I realized the clapping and cheering were seriously awesome.

I was one of 125 women who colonized Indiana University for Tri Sigma in the late ‘80s. Many did burn out—while finding our way, we often had five-hour chapter meetings. (Now I have four small kids, and I call the chance to sit for five hours “the spa.”)

After graduation, I moved thirteen hours from home to St. Paul, Minnesota. I didn’t know the grocery store’s name, let alone how to get there. The five parties a week I took for granted in college dwindled to none a year. Those clusters of purple-and-white balloons I didn’t glance at in senior year would’ve looked incredibly festive to me.

I endured depression for two years until my mother suggested I connect with Tri-Sigma’s St. Paul alumnae chapter; I also joined the Junior League of St. Paul. Suddenly, I had an instant anchor, women whose family had lived in the area for 150 years—women who knew how to show a newcomer a good time.

The same thing that drove me crazy three years before—women expecting me to show up—brought me career satisfaction and personal happiness. When jobs returned me to Indiana, I missed—and still do—those women and the Minnesota they taught me to love.

After graduation, you might move thousands of miles to someplace you know nobody. You will be a blank slate. Few will know your name; nobody will know your values. Some things you take for granted—money, perhaps, or the emotional support of family and friends—will disappear as you learn some people aren’t good at long-distance relationships.

Even if you return home, people will only know the old you, whereas you know your sorority sisters better than you think. Recently, I had drinks with a pledge sister two years older than I—so I didn’t know her well—and I heard her laugh for the first time in two decades. I was stunned to recognize the same laugh and the same whimsical sense of humor.

The moment you graduate, the carrots-on-sticks stop: no more honors, awards, or grants. If you marry or have children immediately, you will be taken for granted. Babies can’t talk, and the most ardent boyfriend turns into a husband who comes home at night too exhausted to talk.

I’ve written before in my blog at that our culture is based on discontent. So after you cook a five-course, gourmet meal, your partner says, “That was good.”

Good? Some people in this world only eat a handful of rice a day. That meal was great!

But still I didn’t understand the value of cheering until I took my toddlers to Kindermusik. After every activity, we adults cheered, even if our child spent the whole time in the bathroom. We were celebrating progress, however small.

I’ve learned support, encouragement, and cheer are the underpinnings of every sorority relationship. No matter your walk of life, you need that: The world is full of people who tear down others, perhaps because of their own unhappiness, perhaps because they don’t know any better.

Because of our consciousness, every human has an identity, and after you leave your university, you’ll re-establish yours, whether you realize it or not. Now you need your sorority most: One inescapable part of your identity is your sisters once saw and accepted the unfinished you and realized your potential and how special you are. If they saw it, you must see it.

If you uphold the bonds of sisterhood you promised to uphold forever, you’ll cement your confidence to uphold other forever bonds, like marriage and children, and you’ll have access to women who can help you.

Contact your national office, and find your closest alumnae chapter. If you can’t find one, start one—I am, and it takes an average of five minutes a day, every day. (And yes, this is a shameless plug for Northwest Indiana Alumnae Chapter of Sigma Sigma Sigma.)

I’ll be cheering for you.

Vintage German recipe: dumplings


My grandparents owned a butcher shop in Evansville, Ind.–it sounds like it must’ve been an early grocery store–so there was always good eating in their home. Following is a recipe passed to my mom from her mom, Maxine Kissel. I remember being a little girl and watching Mom roll these out–a crucial memory in the success of this recipe, because here’s the thing:

These are the best dumplings ever.

Better than the Amish dumplings in pricey tourist traps, better than the frozen briquettes in the grocery store.

How could one woman’s flour and water differ so dramatically from another’s? There are two secrets. First, remember how I watched my mom roll out dough? She rolled them thick, say, between a fourth and an eighth of an inch. While experimenting with the recipe, I got carried away and rolled them to a half inch. You guessed it: The dumplings swelled in water, and I was left with an inedible pot of damp bread.

The second secret: Boil cheap parts of chicken for these dumplings; fat enhances the flavor. Healthy? No, but remember, my German-American ancestors worked long, hot, hard days: Their food needed to fill and fortify. Eat these dumplings, and you’ll feel like you could conquer a country. Of course, they ate less than we do: The recipe below fed a family of eight; I had to double it to feed two adults and four children. Wonderfully, the dumplings freeze perfectly, so you can thaw them for a home-cooked triumph on your busiest days.

Kissel family recipe dumplings

Mix 1 cup all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and ½ teaspoon salt. Set aside. Beat 1 egg, stir in 2 tablespoons milk and 2 tablespoons melted butter. Add to flour mixture. Stir until mixed together to form a ball.

If too dry, add more milk. If too wet, add a little flour.

Dust wax paper and rolling pin with flour. Roll out the mixture on the wax paper. Cut in squares with a regular place knife. If time, let them dry. Add them to a pot of boiled chicken and a cup or two of chicken bouillon, boil twenty minutes, and–as my grandparents would’ve said, “Das ist gut!”

Be the helicopter parent with the mostest


Now that winter weather has finally set in, I’ve continued my daily walks with my dog, Bandit. Although he was neutered, he never got the memo, so it does look a little silly for such a macho dog to wear a green striped sweater that makes him look like his name should be Mr. Whiskers.

I’ve always treated family pets like fuzzy people, something my children picked up. Sometimes, that’s not good. On the master bathroom tub, I keep a large seashell for rinsing my hair. When the children were babies, I washed them with it as a daily reminder of baptism.

Yesterday I saw my daughter run through the house, seashell in hand. My sons sprinted behind her, and my maternal alarm rang. I vaulted up the stairs to see my daughter baptizing our kitten. I delivered the talk that, yes, Piki has a soul, but no, we don’t wash cats.

Situation changes everything.

My mother was perhaps the first helicopter parent; she carted me from ballet to piano to voice to Girl Scouts. At age eight, I remember telling my priest how stressed out I was. Today, many moms still want to give their kids ballet classes that cost $200 every two months. Taking kids to The Right Place enhances Yuppie mom cred.

But different cultures demand different skills. A recent article in the Yemen Times argues women shouldn’t drive cars because only a few have “serious errands, so…they waste money for nothing.” Maged Thabet Al-Kholidy, the article’s author, claims a woman “with a weak heart” fainted after a fender bender he witnessed.

Consider what would happen to your family if Mom couldn’t drive. Your family would probably die.

In our precarious economy, I predict survival will favor people capable of building networks and the community. Helicopter parenting in these conditions would consist of helping others, which costs nothing and teaches children stronger character than $200 ballet lessons.

Many helicopter parents wrongly associate intelligence with book learning, neglecting the work of Howard Gardner, who identified eight types of intelligence. Two are interpersonal–dealing with others–and intrapersonal–understanding yourself.

So start a resolution of teaching children ways to be smart you might have neglected before. During daily walks, take kids to pick up trash around the neighborhood, or bake cookies for the offices of community groups. My girlfriend Gracia Dudlicek takes her sons to the Humane Society to play with the animals.

If you’d like to hear more about what’s going on in the life of this Crazy Mom, feel free to friend me on facebook at

First printed Winter 2009, but seems more relevant today


This image was...interesting, for many reasons.

You’ve heard our economic condition called “the Great Recession,” but I wonder if the Greatest Generation gets offended by our being presumptuous and self-indulgent enough to compare today’s economy to what they endured. Are you wearing cardboard in the soles of your shoes?

I write much about thriving through crisis, and I think one way is to realize how soft our lives today are. But there are many other ways to brighten this darkest part of the year.

First, remember you’re probably not busy. Telling people you’re busy might offend people who are.

How do you know if you’re busy? If you’re caring for a child with Down syndrome or a housebound parent, you’re busy. If you can watch TV for an hour, you’re not. So if you’re not, your life is better than you thought.

When I had four children under age 4, I felt I was serving a life sentence. I felt better when I learned you can be on the mountaintop for one facet of life but in the valley for another—for example, maybe you’re jobless, but your relationships are good.

No experiences go to waste unless they go unexamined. The longer I’m a teacher and parent, the more I realize life isn’t linear, events sequential. Rather, events are linked by memory and meaning.

A new professor recently approached me about her anxiety to guide each student to that “aha!” moment. I told her not to stress—she couldn’t maintain that anxiety for decades.

“You’re not just your students’ teacher for a semester,” I said. “You’ll be teaching them the rest of their lives.”

I remember reading Wordsworth’s poem “Tintern Abbey” when I was 20, but I didn’t get it until I was 30, when it moved me to tears. But how wrong Wordsworth was—passion only gains momentum with wisdom. Time without journey is meaningless.

Back to that new professor. Show the students their goal, what you want them to learn, I said. Show them a few ways to get there. Tell them to keep their minds open that other avenues might exist. Do your best, but realize only the students can journey to that truth.

Journeys are encoded into many religions. The three wise men journeyed to Jesus. Muslims undertake Hajj to Mecca.

Journeys aren’t supposed to be easy. If they were, the three wise men wouldn’t have followed a star; they would’ve teleported to Jesus–nothing resonant about that.

Parents, don’t despair with your children; undertake your journey with them at peace. Teachers, realize you may only teach your students one lesson—but it may be the one lesson they really need.

Amidst these holidays, may your journey begin.

(Cr)appy Mother’s Day?


Happy Mother's Day

This Mother’s Day, let’s encourage women not to become mothers until they are completely ready.

During my seventies childhood, my mom stayed home, and my dad worked two jobs to provide for us and our future. He worked longer hours than my mother, and he was justifiably proud of his achievements.

Today, I sometimes wonder if men use working wives as an excuse to do less work—most statistics show men do only marginally more housework than their fathers.

Which means Millennial Mom is worse off than 1950s Mom. Because she’s still the default parent, Millennial Mom’s to-do list is incredibly longer. Kids do more homework today and attend more sports practices than in the 1950s. Today, Millennial Mom has 529 plans and 3-D scrapbooks to maintain—yet she does it around ten hours a day in the office, while dads play videogames.

If I sound like a feminist, I appreciate the compliment. If you believe in marrying for love, you’re a feminist too—the romantic ideal for Ancient Greeks was homosexual. After all, men and women had nothing in common. Women had few rights, little education. Men lived outside the home; women lived inside.

Today, the solution is simple, but it starts young. Women: If a man won’t practice safe sex with you, he doesn’t value you. Be furious; walk out–there’s nothing sexy about sex with someone who won’t protect you. If you don’t think pregnancy will happen in just one encounter, you’re wrong. My first two sons were conceived on the first try; the next “first try” resulted in twins.

Don’t squander your precious life on a man who won’t work harder than you and take pride in treating you like a queen. If your man isn’t working harder than you (that is, valuing you), go on strike. If there’s a pattern of his abusing your hard work, dump him. The hardest worker is in control.

Let’s show youths how grueling parenting is. Throw infant simulators in the trash; they dehumanize human babies. As an inexperienced mom, my first son’s cries deeply distressed me; knowing a flesh-and-blood human was suffering made me work harder to comfort him. 

Instead, let’s make all middle- and high-school students, under professional supervision, provide hands-on help to single parents–eight hours a day, every day, for twelve weeks, at least.

And let’s be conscientious about the messages we send: If we raised young women’s societal status to equal young men’s, teenage pregnancy rates would plummet.

Let’s create a new normal. Last year, my son’s second-grade teacher gave birth, and my kids were trying to determine how old she was.

“I think she’s twenty-six,” Jake volunteered.

Josh laughed. “Silly, women in their twenties can’t have babies.”

And that was when we had our first chat.

The best way to get ready for spring


It all started with a satin sleep mask.

In the complete darkness, I snoozed beautifully. Then I realized my old green toile apron held a bazillion doodads in its pockets. Now I never stay home without it.

The step from convenience to comfort is small, but the drop to self-indulgence is long, even for parents, who ruefully remember how easy life was in the years BC (Before Children).

“Why don’t horror movies scare you?” my oldest son just asked.

“Because the devil is too smart to resemble a B-movie monster. He’s more likely to be a drive-through window.”

When I counted how often I indulge myself or work toward convenience, I didn’t like the results. I decided to give up junk food for Lent, the 40 days in which Christians prepare for Easter. I also fast every Tuesday.

Disclaimers: I passed a full physical. Fasting is an unhealthy diet, and the Gospel of Matthew advocates nobody know you’re fasting. I hope readers recognize I’m not fasting for self-aggrandizement.

Moreover, fasting isn’t a very Lutheran idea. Lutherans do give up for Lent, but they’re likely to take on, too—say, volunteering to walk dogs at an animal shelter.

My problem is that I take on too much: Should I teach the kids French? Oui! Enroll them in soccer? Bien sûr!

Besides, fasting is a fitting way to atone for every time I’ve shoved food in my mouth without concern for people who are hungry, even in Schererville. Discomfort? A reminder of Christ’s much-worse suffering on the cross.

The first day I fasted was Ash Wednesday. By evening, I was a little lightheaded, but my stomach didn’t growl. If I distract myself while I run, time compresses. Likewise, I decided that, once I make up my mind, I ignore negatives that occur while I’m achieving the expected.

The next day, I realized if I could endure those 30 hungry hours, I could conquer other challenges that, reconsidered, are merely a matter of willpower.

Our society often equates success with luxury or ease, but my readers probably live better than the multimillionaires of 1890–air conditioning and aspirin, anyone? Most Americans thus are successful, but unless they’re inventors, the success was someone else’s.

If your idea of success is buying stuff or getting comfortable, you’re thinking small.

You don’t need to be religious to conduct spiritual warfare: You are the final frontier. You should solve big problems. Achieve what you consider impossible. Help people you consider beyond your help. If you’ve got big problems, that’s part of being human, so parents, you’re good.

Whether or not you observe Lent, start solving a big problem now. Then you can truly celebrate when spring blooms.