“What are you going to be for Halloween?”
It’s the most asked question during October. At recess, in between soccer drills or on the drive to piano lessons, you hear preschoolers and preteens, alike, eagerly pondering the possibilities.
At my house there was always a lot of discussion before the Halloween dress-up decision was made. Like every other 3- to 13-year-old, my sons, Shawn, Jake and Seth, took their time making this important selection. Woe to the kid who chooses too quickly and settles for something simple like a pirate, a cowboy or a vampire.
The chatter started weeks before October 31. Numerous ideas would be kicked around, debated and considered. Like most busy mothers, I did my best to sway the conversation in the direction of accessories we had on hand (cowboy hat, black cape, baseball mitt). I cheered when one of the younger siblings wanted to be what their big brother was last Halloween.
One particular mid-October, my family was busy unpacking the Halloween gear – boxes filled with decorations as well as leftover bits and pieces from Halloweens past. Shawn, 11 and Jake, 7, were carefully inventorying what items might work for this year’s costumes. Mingled in among the seasonal supplies – a glow-in-the-dark skeleton, pumpkin carving knives and fake fangs — were three hollow, plastic pumpkins the boys had used the previous year for trick-or-treating.
“These are way too small,” Jake complained as he pulled them out of the box. “All my candy falls out.”
I had to agree. Last year he and big brother, Shawn, walked every street and cul-de-sac within a mile of our home; their dad, Nick, and I, pushing 2-year-old Seth in the stroller behind. By the time we turned for that final stretch home, Jake’s hand was spread across the top of his trick-or-treat bucket, making sure none of his treasure spilled out.
“Can we get bigger bags this year?” he asked.
Nick, remembering his own candy-collecting pursuits, said his mom let his brothers and sisters use pillowcases. With some reluctance I went to my linen closet and fished out three of my sturdiest white pillowcases to donate to the cause.
“They’re so plain,” grumbled Jake when I handed them over. “Can we paint them?”
Before I knew it, brushes, poster paint and markers had been dragged out from the craft box. The Halloween décor was pushed aside while energetic artists set to work. Ghosts, pumpkins and goblins took shape on the canvases. Not really sure what all the excitement was about, Seth, did his best to join in the fun. As the painters worked, the conversation returned to the original question: What can I be for Halloween?
When my sons were little (under 4), the dialogue was brief. At my direction, they each took a turn being a cheetah, Robin (of Batman & Robin fame) and Davy Crockett (costumes inherited from older cousins). But now I had to run down the list of available options (available meaning that I had all the parts) for Jake. The list was varied but not remarkable — firefighter, baseball player, zookeeper. It amounted to an inventory of the costumes Shawn had worn.
Listening as I recited his Halloween history, Shawn grabbed a marker and started writing the names on the back of his newly acquired candy bag/pillowcase. His nine entries included masquerading as a traffic light in first grade and as a killer tomato in third grade (although, to his great disappointment, most treat-givers mistook him for a giant pumpkin).
Jake joined in and printed his shorter list of names. A few minutes later, after much deliberation, Shawn added the words Incredible Hulk to his list, Jake wrote ninja turtle and I penned zookeeper on Seth’s sack. From then on, the guys recorded each year’s costume name on their pillowcases before setting out for trick-or-treating. They’d return home with pillowcases bulging from their caches of candy bars, lollipops, gum, coins and the toothbrushes given out by Frances, our neighborhood dental hygienist.
That year, I abandoned my quest for recycling costumes, and the boys’ imaginations blossomed. In the Halloweens that followed, a new stream of characters came to life. Visits to costumes shops, thrift stores and bargain bins yielded disco-era bell-bottoms, light sabers and tie-dyed shirts. And character names like Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, “Disco Dude” and “Hippie Guy” were carefully inscribed on what would become three family heirlooms.
These linens, still part of our Halloween décor, are unpacked every October and displayed near a table that holds a treat-filled black caldron, a jack-o-lantern and a ceramic ghost. Three somewhat shopworn pillowcases that chronicle a time when at least one six-year-old boy thought being Buzz Lightyear was cool and a hand full of Tootsie Pops was a prize to behold.
Every summer, under a crisp, sunny summer sky, serious faces study programs, debate odds and circle sure winners in the racing form. There are a few minutes to post as my family mills around, each one with an ink pen at the ready. It’s our annual Uncle George Day at the horse races. This group of about 20 is focused on how to parlay two dollars into two hundred. Everyone, that is except me. My winning ticket involves capturing this moment with one snap of my digital camera. Corralling chickens is easier.
Hours earlier we set up lawn chairs and spread blankets on Del Mar’s trackside apron in preparation for a picnic of sandwiches, fruit and chips. Gathered alongside my husband, Nick, are our kids and kids by choice. Sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, cousins and long-time friends join in the fun. No one is interested in the future importance of photos chronicling our outing to where the turf meets the surf. More attention is paid to an over-sized bag of kettle corn propped against the cooler.
Nonetheless, I remain undaunted and perhaps a tad annoying. It’s not every day this group, spread over hundreds of miles, is together. Hoping to placate me — and have a chance to get their bets in before the windows close — people slowly shift into frame. A few even smile. I smile back as I take the picture. “Oh, don’t move,” I say. And the voice of any of my sons replies, “We’ve got to take two.”
With the images safely stored on my smartphone, everyone moves to their original places. The sound of a trumpet blares in the distance. A few scurry to the betting windows, seemingly mesmerized by names like Briarpatch Betty, Countyourwinnings and Pappaspepper. The younger kids scamper toward the metal fence surrounding the track and watch the horses and their jockeys trot to the starting gate. I breathe a sigh. Another family memory captured for eternity.
My gang doesn’t realize it yet, but someday these random snapshots, converted to digital data, will become family treasure. We moms, know. That’s why many of us assume the role of family photographer/historian, with the same seamless leadership and commitment we exhibit as family party planner, nutritionist and chauffeur. And this usually means we’re not in the picture — at least most of the time. That’s a small price to pay in exchange for the satisfaction of having the images of those we love preserved on a sheet of photo paper, tucked into a family album or captured on a computer slide show.
I wasn’t always a fan of digital photography. I mistrusted anything I couldn’t drop off at the drugstore for developing. It took nearly a year after receiving a digital camera for Christmas before I traded in my insecure attachment of film rolls for the convenience, efficiency and quality of a digicam. I fell in love with knowing instantaneously whether the photo was good or not. No more waiting days or weeks to find out I had blinked, someone had looked away or one of my sons (or their pals) had photo-bombed the picture.
Later that day, while everyone else gathers around the dining room table recapping their winners and losers, I sneak off to my computer to download the candid shots snapped in between races. I linger a moment and after a few mouse clicks, I open a digital slide show of other family events. One son’s first day at kindergarten, their grandmother’s 80th birthday, the sweet smile of a new bride, the joyous birth of a grandchild. It doesn’t matter where the pictures are stored — in an album, on a hard drive or at a photo sharing site. Or whether my face is among the group grinning from the image. I’m part of the moment and the emotion that only a photo can preserve.
I smile as the pictures glide past, reminding me of forgotten occasions. Like the sleepy Saturday morning I had awoken everyone early for a family portrait. The professional photographer insisted the light at Coronaod beach was best before the clouds disbursed. Sometime around 7 a.m. Complaints and protests — mostly Nick’s — echoed in my ears. “Why are we up earlier than the sun?” he moaned, as he and our young sons trudged barefoot through the wet sand to reach a sea wall.
Wearing rolled-up jeans and white T-shirts, our fivesome posed casually, while the photographer captured our smiles forever. It’s a great portrait. And that time, I was in the picture.
It’s not fancy. It uses five ingredients, and you won’t find it in the Joy of Cooking. Still, “Aunt Sadye’s Mac & Cheese” is the #1 most requested meal in my home. I’ve served it over and over since my sister, Sadye, first shared it with me years ago. It had been her son, Thomas’s favorite dinner. I know the recipe by heart, yet I pull out the card — tattered and oil-stained — and read the directions written in her hand.
Eager to help a young bride on the road to becoming a good cook, my sis had tucked a blank recipe card inside each invitation to my bridal shower. Along with dishtowels, waffle irons and food processors, guests supplied me with their family’s treasured recipes. I keep this personalized cookbook-in-a-can on a shelf near my stove in the Favorite Recipe file Sadye also supplied. Some recipes I’ve mastered: Chocolate Refrigerator Cake (Sara), Meat Loaf (Carole), Hummus (Mom), Stew (Melissa), Refried Beans (Cara), Chinese Chicken Salad (Sue). Some I haven’t: Cioppino (Mary), Chicken Kiev (Laura).
During the hustle and bustle of a normal week — when the goal is nutritious, plentiful and fast — I turn to online recipe sites to expand my menu options. Quick dinners like spaghetti chicken, sloppy joes and taquito casserole satisfy the hunger pangs of my husband Nick, and any of my kids who may be loitering around the house at dinnertime. Over the years, a few of those meals-in-minutes made it into our family’s food hall-of-fame recipe file.
At the start of the holiday season, I comb through my handpicked collection searching for Christmas cookie ideas. Maybe this year I’ll try Jane’s Chewy Rolo Cookie Bars or Elena’s Snickerdoodles. I reacquaint myself with the secret ingredients in Sweet Sue Potatoes. Since my Mom always added an extra clove or two (or three) to her hummus recipe, I make sure I have extra cloves in my refrigerator.
I pull out the Chex Party Mix recipe, knowing that disappointed faces would multiply if bowls of the crunchy stuff didn’t dot the end tables and countertops of my home in the days leading up to Christmas. The recipe, hastily cut from a cereal box, now boasts scribbled additions, critiques and requests (flaming hot Cheetos for Seth, Bugles for Lisa and less wheat Chex for Rachel). This year, my great-niece and able assistant, Britton, wants to add M&Ms to the concoction.
Right after Thanksgiving, my shopping list fills with items purchased only once a year (garlic bagel chips, pistachio pudding, red food dye, sugar cookie dough) to prepare the dishes my family eagerly anticipates and expects as part of the Christmas season’s menu. It’s not that my family is overly attached to macaroni noodles and cheddar cheese or green beans and crunchy onions. It’s the aromas, the textures and the flavors of the holidays they anticipate and savor–the ones that don’t feel or mean the same in March or September. Whether we’re curled up on the couch watching “Miracle on 34th Street” or gathered around the dinning room table giving thanks, our taste buds savor the cuisine, but our hearts crave the memories.
These are the moments when cooks are preparing more than sustenance. Eating is more than nourishment. Secrets are handed down mother to daughter, sister to sister, friend to friend. Complicated meals that we don’t find time to prepare on a lazy summer day, are the focus of December afternoons. Families gather to assemble tamales using Grandma’s traditional recipe. Batches of breakfast strata are whipped up effortlessly.
For many holiday seasons, the womenfolk in my family scheduled an annual baklawa-making event at my niece Denise’s home. (The Greeks call this decadent dessert baklava.) We would spend hours chopping pistachios, tediously hand-brushing paper-thin phyllo dough and gingerly layering the nut, sugar and cinnamon mixture in between the flaky folds. By the time honey is poured over the diamond-shaped slices and trays of the rich pastry are popped into the oven, generous helpings of laughter, wisdom and love have been exchanged.
With a little effort, homespun recipes transform into a gourmet diary, a family food history. All the shopping, the measuring, the secret ingredients are recorded on 3×5 index cards, that begin From the Kitchen of… and end with …serves 4-6. They’re handwritten by sitie, a special aunt, a niece, a brother, a godmother, a long-time friend. This tried-and true formula ultimately combines to satisfy hearts as well as tummies.
Maybe I’ll make a memory tonight, starting with Mom’s hummus. Hope I have enough garlic.
About fifteen years ago I began keeping a gratitude journal. My notebook is nothing fancy; just aa simple, spiral-bound book filled with blank pages. On those lines, I jot down at least three things each morning that delighted me the day before. Spending a few minutes thinking about what I’m grateful for is a great way to begin each day.
The daily demands of being a wife, mother, grandmother, friend and consumer (just to name a few) provide lots of opportunities for disappointment, challenge and frustration. By taking a moment to reflect on what’s went right the day before, I give myself another opportunity — one that adjusts my view to see the glass as half-full instead of half- empty.
Through sleep-rimmed eyes, before my feet hit the floor, I reach for my journal, stationed on my nightstand and start writing. Some entries are simple one-word notes like “sunshine,” “reading,” or “bargains.” Others are short prayers of thanks for my family’s good health, the addition of a grandchild, niece or nephew. I’m reluctant to admit that there seems to be a disproportionate number of entries involving food – lunches with friends, family dinners, new recipes that worked, a nut roll baked just for me by my niece, Maria.
Longer passages are a bit more reflective, perhaps chronicling a tough time, lamenting a difficult decision or struggling with the pain of losing someone close to my heart. The journal is also a place for me to boast about the successes of my children, record my feelings about a recently published article or pat myself on the back for achieving small goal – cleaning out a closet.
These pages are my paper sanctuary – a place to preserve the positive. They are a way to slow down my mind and reflect on the good news in my life. It’s what I call Thinking Thankful. Focusing on the good stuff that happened the day before lessens my usual spinning about things that normally make headlines in my mind — the computer crashing, the mess in the family room, a window screen chewed by Bandit, our dog or a rejection slip from an ill-informed editor.
Even though I start with three, there is no limit to the number of entries that find their way into my gratitude journal. Some days I take the time to write more, but knowing that I only have to come up with three makes it easy to fit this appreciation review into my morning routine.
Some items that show up with regularity are ways to simplify life. Great ideas from friends like the ideal construction of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. My recipe was two slices of bread, one slice slathered in peanut butter, the other in jelly. It wasn’t until lunching with my friend, Rik, that I learned the faultiness of my formula. As he ate his lunch, I noticed that his sandwich didn’t have that “grape-jelly seepage” mine are famous for. Rik covers both slices of bread with a thin layer of peanut butter and then jellies in between. Perfect PB&J every time.
My journal let documents the goodness that I might otherwise take for granted. It’s is a record of how quickly life changes. That’s why ever so often, I read what I’ve written weeks, months even years before.
In 2004, I noted how hatha yoga brought flexibility to my hips. A few entries recorded my time spent helping my son, Jake, fill out college applications and the joy of Sunday morning visits with my mom. Today I still keep up my gentle yoga practice. Jake, an ASU graduate, is engaged to the beautiful Rachel. But those magic times when seeing my mother’s angelic smile was a mere five-mute drive ended that September. The page turned.
Because of my early morning writing practice, I’m actively paying attention to the good stuff that life sneaks in when I’m not looking. I stop to think about what went right during the last 24 hours. Little things like my husband, Nick, starting a load of laundry; my sister Sue, having my hard-to-find coffee creamer in her fridge on a recent visit; a friend dotting my desk with ladybugs stones the size of dimes, just because she knows I like ladybugs.
None of these things are life changing. They’re not life-altering events like winning the lotto, paying off your mortgage or finding the perfect job. Fortunately, though, they are life enhancing. Taken together they comprise the best parts of living. These are moments I might miss. I might take them for granted if I wasn’t writing them down.
Today’s technology lets us accomplish more in less time. That should be a good thing, but instead, we’re moving at the speed of life, going faster and doing more. Sandwiched between laundry, homework and grocery shopping, there’s little space left to ponder and contemplate. Time for these important reflections doesn’t just happen. It has to be scheduled. By taking a couple of minutes each day to write about what you’re thankful for you’ll enjoy the journey more. It doesn’t matter what your destination.
My husband, Nick and I have lots in common. We share the same religion. We’re voting for the same candidate for president. Jeopardy and Blue Bloods are must-see TV. We parent three adult sons and spoil a beautiful granddaughter together. For sure, he’s the man I want bringing me a bouquet of roses and a box of chocolates on February 14.
But over the years, I’ve noticed that our personalities collide, a lot. Nick likes westerns. I prefer comedies. I’m a diehard Steelers’ fan. He’s Bolts all the way. My car radio is set to R&B, his to classic rock. I like cake. He’ll take pie.
Nick was born in Newark and I’m from a little town near Pittsburgh. I used to wonder if that was the root of our differences. Then I thought, maybe it’s because I’m the youngest of four and Nick is the seventh of nine. Or perhaps it’s because I have brown eyes and his are blue. But the realization of a simpler answer trumped my earlier theories — men and women are different. When I was playing with Barbies, Nick was setting up his Hot Wheels track. When he was being introduced to Barbasol, I was learning about mascara.
About three weeks ago, our contrasting preferences became even more apparent when I invited him to go shopping at the mall. I figured that our trip would take up most of Saturday afternoon and part of the evening. Nick was planning on a 30-minute outing (travel time included).
Not only do Pinks and Blues clash when it comes to how long a shopping trip takes, we’re oceans apart about what we want to shop for. Ogling the latest in barbecue accessories or scoping out bug spray in Home Depot is Nick’s idea of the ultimate buying expedition.
For me the mark a successful mall visit is finding the perfect pair of shoes – no matter how long it takes. Before I became a wife I thought that everyone loved shoe shopping. Nick has since taught me that if you circle Male instead of Female on credit applications, you probably don’t consider footwear as a personal fashion statement.
About an hour later, from across the winter boots display, my husband sent a pained look my way. I was veering into the purse department. Of course there was a basketball (football, baseball, soccer, golf, hockey, curling, bowling) game waiting for him on TV at home and I suspected that he’d rather be watching a 6-foot-6 dude take 3-point-shots instead of discussing the merits of pebbled leather. Or giving his opinion about which looks better, the hobo bag or the tote? What he really wanted to say is: “Don’t you have a dozen purses in the closet already? Pick one of these and let’s get home before the third quarter ends.”
Men and women are on shaky ground when it comes to problem solving too. Women understand that sometimes all you need is a listener who nods supportively and mutters “Hmmmm” at suitable intervals. Just because we pose the question, doesn’t mean we’re looking for the answer. Men, on the other hand, are programmed to fix things — here’s the problem, here’s the solution, end of story.
This is where my husband shows his royal blue streak. His problem-solution skills are right up there with some of the greatest minds of his gender — Einstein, FDR, Knute Rockne. But after this short discussion outside the dressing room, Nick won’t be so quick with the answers anymore:
“Boy, I don’t like the way these pants look,” I said modeling them for him.
“They are a little tight,” Nick observed. “How’s your diet going?”
“Slowly. Why are you asking?”
“Because you said you didn’t like the way your pants fit. You could always do what your friend did and try liposuction.”
“I didn’t say they didn’t fit. I said I didn’t like how they looked. I don’t like this khaki color.”
“Ohhhhh, ” he sheepishly replied.
I’ll leave you to imagine the rest of conversation, but you can be sure that Nick will never again suggest liposuction to his bride. In his spare time, he’s now practicing variations of: “Claire, you look fabulous in whatever you wear.”
It’s true that I might be from Venus and sometimes Nick wishes he was on Mars, but after many years of marriage, we’re proof that opposites attract. It may be a girl thing and it might be a guy thing. But one thing’s for sure – thanks to an odd-colored pair of Capri pants, come next Valentine’s Day I’ll be getting a larger bouquet of roses. And that box of chocolates I told you about earlier, it’s certain to be a three-pounder.
My sister-by-choice, Sue and I just returned from New England where the magical display of brilliant colors amazed us. This annual spectacle serves as the official kick off to fall. Exhausted from our leaf-peeping, we plunked into our seats and settled in for the five hour flight to Los Angeles. In the old days (maybe last year), a flight attendant stood at the front of the cabin pointing to features on the aircraft as passengers readied themselves for take off. Today, Sue and I were directed to a mini-screen anchored in the seatback in front of you.
This MTV-like video contained the same basic information reminding passengers to fasten their seatbelts, turn off any electronics and where to locate the nearest emergency exit. As part of the routine speech about FAA rules, the choreographed dancers used coils of plastic tubing from an orange-coned mask in one hand as though they had dropped down from a compartment above. In possibly their best fly girls impersonation, the performers demonstrated what to do in case the cabin lost pressure. “Grab the one hanging in front of you and put it on,” they sang. “Breathe normally. If you’re traveling with a child, put your oxygen mask on first.”
This directive isn’t new. Some three decades ago (did I say that out loud) I took my first solo flight as a mom with my 8-month-old son, Shawn perched on my lap for the 80-minute journey from San Diego to Sacramento to see my sister, Sadye.
New to all this mothering stuff, my mind quickly weighed the plusses and minuses of putting Shawn’s mask on him before I secured my own. If an emergency really did happen, what would I do? How can I put my mask on first? What if I don’t get to my son in time? My maternal instinct, whirling with protective strategies, kicked in big time. Before my mental scenario took hold though, the flight attendant explained: “If you don’t get oxygen, you can pass out or get disoriented and you won’t be able to help your child.”
In spite of my instinctive reaction to care for Shawn first, that wasn’t the safest choice. I needed to secure my own breathing first. This was a startling concept for this rookie mom to embrace – the importance of taking care of me before my child.
I’d been absorbed by motherhood months before Shawn was born. For me, it started when I first saw his heartbeat during a sonogram and felt his tiny feet kick inside my tummy. I prepared myself to love and nurture this little person long before my husband, Nick, and I picked out a name, a preschool or a college fund. His welfare would always come before mine. For a flight attendant — or anyone else — to ask me to protect myself before taking care of my son is attempting miracles.
Pretty much the only time we’re okay with putting ourselves first is on the second Sunday in May. You know it better as Mother’s Day. The 24 hours (well, maybe more like two hours) when mom’s the top banana — pampered, fussed over and honored as if she’d made it to the finals of “American Idol.”
From California to Connecticut, sleep-deprived women are lovingly served burnt toast and lukewarm tea for breakfast. Homemade cards, bouquets of handpicked daisies and warm hugs are the treasured gifts of the day. Dad has arranged for a bucket of chicken for dinner and the afternoon is spent doing what mom likes to do – (if only she could remember what that is).
It’s hard for most moms to make the switch from caregiver to care-receiver. For 364 days a year, we’re meal-planning, check-book balancing, nutrition-seeking beings, with just one mission – keeping our family safe, healthy and happy. Our days are divided into many roles — wife, mother, grandmother, sister, daughter, aunt and friend — and we do our best not to disappoint anyone. But on this springtime Sunday, we’re told to put away our day planners, toilet brushes and coupon caddies. We’re coaxed into relaxing while our kids take care of us.
Many Mother’s Days have passed since that first flight I took with Shawn. We arrived safely in Sacramento without any oxygen masks popping out from overhead. But that day, I left the plane with a new appreciation for why – sometimes — it’s okay for mom to be first. A relaxed, replenished mother is better equipped to take care of those she cherishes.
Finding a few minutes to take a breath can seem like an insurmountable task when you’re raising children. But if you plan it right, you can sneak “me-time moments” into your day. My favorite breathers are a 75-minute yoga practice, meeting a friend for a mocha or reading a few pages of a captivating mystery.
On a really good day, I’m soaking in a hot bubble bath, blissfully uninterrupted by the demands of life. Don’t get me wrong. Very few days play out like a 1960s TV sitcom. Most of the time I’m torn between hectic schedules and conflicting demands. But if making time for me benefits my family, then I’m willing to take one for the team.
Today and every day, if only for a few minutes, Put Your Oxygen Mask On First. Those deep breaths energize us to face burnt toast, muddy tracks across the kitchen floor, college tuition and that endless pile of mismatched socks.
“We’re out of toothpaste,” my husband Nick shouted from another room. “Which list do I write that on?”
“The purple one,” I replied.
I’ve learned the best bargains on sundries and non-perishables are at a discount chain. I get fresh fruits and veggies from a health food market and everything else from the neighborhood grocery store. So there are three pre-printed lists hanging in my pantry – color-coded, of course.
I can’t take full credit for this idea. My long-time friend Arlene unintentionally introduced me to the concept years ago during a lunch break. Peering over my turkey sandwich, I spied her preparing an after-work shopping strategy.
“Is your list printed?” I asked, unable to hide my surprise.
She laughed. “Yeah, I got tired of writing the same things over and over, so I typed a list and made copies.” She handed me a sample. Dish soap, shampoo, dog food, TP. Arlene’s system was simple — checkmark the items that were running low.
I naively adopted her blueprint, expecting Nick and when they were still living at home, my sons, to embrace the system. I dreamt that, after taking the last of the something, those living under this roof would circle the item on the list, sending a clear signal to replenish the chocolate syrup, tortilla chips or mouthwash. It didn’t take long for Claire-the-realist to propose a compromise — leave the empty “whatever” on the counter. Code for “I took the last one.”
Living in the digital age, we’re inundated with hundreds of list applications to keep track of groceries and home supplies. Still, I prefer the feel of a pen and the crinkle of paper. I love my smartphone as much as the next gal. I’ve downloaded a whopping 47 apps. At the tap of a fingertip, I can tag a song, play word games or check the status of my delayed flight. Occasionally I use the device to make phone calls.
Apps are convenient and amazing, but I’ve trusted my reminders to a pencil and a spiral notebook for decades. The time it takes to move a ballpoint pen across the page allows my thoughts to crystallize. Plucking at a keyboard or poking a touch screen isn’t the same. Besides, paper’s battery never dies and even a dull pencil writes.
I was reminded of the benefits of simplified communication on a late summer afternoon, a few years ago. While I prepared for an expanded version of my monthly book club, an unusual quiet blanketed my house. The gentle buzz of the water cooler silenced. Ice cubes didn’t drop in the freezer. No digital read-out reminded me there’s two hours left to chill the white wine. After a bit of investigating, I learned a power line was inadvertently tripped and parts of Southern California and Arizona were left without electricity.
I had limited time to notify the usual group of eight, now expanded to about 30 because a local author wrote that month’s selection, that without air conditioning and illumination the meeting was cancelled. My cell phone didn’t connect. No Internet access, either. Twitter worked for awhile, but I knew my group of friends wouldn’t be checking my tweets. I could alert those within walking distance by knocking on doors, but shoe leather was impractical for friends living miles way. Fortunately, mounted on my kitchen wall was an operating telephone. I dialed a few other traditionalists who still used landlines and asked them to spread the word.
The hot weather made staying inside uncomfortable, so while my son, Seth, barbecued already defrosting hamburgers, husband Nick and son Jake dragged a couple tables and chairs to the driveway. Neighbors, rolling coolers filled with ice and carrying goodies originally intended for book clubbers, joined us for an unplugged evening. Conversations flowed and it was hours before the glow of candles dotting the tables faded and flashlights began to dim.
An accidental blackout turned into an impromptu block party for adults, teenagers and kids who happen to live side-by-side. We savored this unscheduled break from laundry, homework and economic woes. There was no fretting about what dish to bring or what clothes to wear and plenty of the time to enjoy life off the grid.
Human error caused that evening’s blackout, giving us an unexpected break. Before summer ends, let’s reenact a “lights out night” and relax under a star-dusted sky with neighbors and friends. We can switch off, power down and unplug everything–except the fridge.
Better stock up on matches, candles and flashlight batteries. Guess I’ll add those items to the yellow shopping list. Or is it the purple one?
Most people think the primary purpose of their refrigerator door is to keep the food inside cold – the lettuce crisp, the eggs fresh.
They are wrong. Well, at least in my case.
Sure that’s the original idea, but my fridge does so much more than protect the milk from spoiling. It’s really an appliance-sized art gallery, showcasing my family’s personality, goals, achievements.
When my children were small, the door was the place to hang school awards, newspaper clippings of athletic victories and report card successes. Those white panels recorded the many stages of my growing sons including the photo of my oldest, Shawn and his pal, Mike, proudly displaying their catch of the day or Jake walking across the football field to shake hands with the other team’s captain.
The refrigerator has served as a gigantic magnetic letter board, where my sons moved around colorful shapes in their early attempts to learn the alphabet–a tradition I’m eager to watch my granddaughter, Windley Marie, continue. Back then, there was a steady stream of art projects, including a Popsicle stick-laden frame declaring– in a six-year-old’s best handwriting–my husband, Nick as the World’s Best Dad.
Just like the media’s short news cycle, those memories have been upstaged by more recent happenings. Right now, held up by butterfly magnets, is an invitation to celebrate my youngest son, Seth’s college graduation juxtaposed near Windley’s birth announcement. A photo of me and my sisters, Sadye and Sue, sharing a laugh shares space with the boutonniere Nick wore at our wedding vow renewal last August.
Some things require permanent placement, however, like a photo from the ’90s of Seth with Max and Baylor, our dogs. Through winning and losing seasons, both Pirates and Steelers schedules compete alongside the Padres and the Chargers. The ladybug magnet given to me by my niece, Frances and the I Love Lucy one, a gift from niece Maria, will always have a spot on my KitchenAid holding miscellaneous notes, invitations and prayers.
Hidden among the family’s calendar, sandwich shop loyalty cards and the lottery tickets, beats the heart of my vibrant family. Each time I reach for the milk, or take out the lunchmeat, I’m greeted with this running Fadden Family news banner. It’s always on, streaming through the events of the day, the week and the year.
This easily updateable scrapbook serves as a haphazard window into my family’s life, keeping me focused on how quickly time passes. Blanketed with shopping lists, dental reminders and a Trader Joe’s coupon that expired last week, this metal canvas doubles as a larger-than-life reminder to pause and savor these sweet, fleeting moments. And to treasure the small things that translate so seamlessly into life’s biggest blessings.
I was born 42 years after my mother, during a time of innovation, progress and the Beatles. And although the most important ingredients necessary to be a good mother and grandmother – love, discipline, patience, faith and a sense of humor – remain the same, there are many reasons I’m glad that I got to be a mom and a sitie in this day and age instead of the ’60s. There are inventions, newfangled ideas and discoveries that streamline my life in ways my mother would have never envisioned.
Sure, she lived in astonishing times. Advances like cars, television, Teflon pans and supermarkets made parenting easier for her than for her own mother. I’m certain my mom marveled at her laundry chute, coal delivery, the five-string clothesline in our backyard and Tupperware.
But if she were alive today, she’d be amazed at the many services, short cuts and accommodations we have at our fingertips. Think tanks all over the world are busy creating products to make our tasks easier, our homes cozier, our lives healthier and our spirits lighter. Maybe they’re not major strides in civilization like finding a cure for polio or travelling across the country by airplane. But these small, simple pleasures bring a smile to my face, a song to my ear and can reduce the wrinkles around my eyes. I stay on the lookout for them, because it’s easy to take them for granted.
Little things like dishwashers, surge strips, permanent press and smudge-proof lipstick, impact the quality of my daily life. Improvements, enhancements and technological advances like these get me through the workweek with minimal wear and tear. Not only do conveniences like these make me look better and feel better, because of them I have time to spare. I can relax, take a walk with my husband, Nick or enjoy game night instead of ironing, hanging laundry or standing in line at the post office.
In many ways its a tad easier to be a woman in the 21st century than it was in say, 1816. Here are, in no particular order, some 50 reasons why I’m happy to be living today. With any luck, by tomorrow my list of simple pleasures will expand.
Kleenex with aloe
Crock pots, crock pot cookbooks, crock pot liners
Nutrition facts labeling
Snapshot check deposit
Neighborhood yoga classes
Mobile dog groomers (thanks Natalie)
Pause, fast forward & rewind
Copy & paste
Airport cell phone parking lots
Toothpaste with flip-top caps
(Grand) Baby video monitors
TV remotes with a sleep timer button
Daily moisturizer with SPF 15
Heated driver seats
Hearing “Sweet Child of Mine” play when one of my sons, Shawn, Jake and Seth calls my cell phone. And “Pretty Woman” should Lisa or Rachel give me a ring.
Cell phone cameras
Flavored coffee creamers
Self-adhesive postage stamps you can order by mail
Words with Friends
Used paperback book stores
Relaxed fit jeans
The Weather Channel
Return address labels
Shampoo shelves in the shower
Book club readers’ guides
Extended wear contact lenses
The craziness, chaos and demands of life slow down by the end of the day. It’s then that I can sit quietly with a cup of Irish Breakfast and let my thoughts settle. That’s when it hits me — during these few quiet moments when my work is done, I once again realize what I’m most grateful for: the good health and happiness of my family. But there’s also a soft spot in my heart for that pre-grated cheddar cheese in the handy zipper-lock bag that makes taco night a breeze.
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