Woman@Heart

Musings on Life, Love and Lefovers

Archive for the tag “claire yezbak fadden”

A Pillowcase of Costumes

“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.

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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.

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Get The Picture

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.uncle george day

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.”

Photo Bomb at Uncle George Day (2018_01_26 07_27_09 UTC)

Photo bomber circled!

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.

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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.

 

 

RINGING IN THE NEW YEAR

By the time the last of the sugar cookies are eaten and all the gift have been unwrapped, we barely have a chance to jot down a resolution or two and reflect on how quickly 2017 has passed. Another year is coming to an end and it’s time to usher in a new one.

There are lots of ways to welcome in the New Year. Your family might stay up until midnight to bang pots and pans, pop open a bottle of bubbly and watch the ball drop in New York’s Times Square. Many believe that sharing a kiss at midnight is a sign of good luck.shutterstock_643138579

For some folks, the New Year signals a day to relax, watch football and unwind from the flurry of holiday activity. My husband Nick and I review our successes with last year’s resolutions before writing down 10 attainable goals for the coming year.

People from all corners of the world participate in many of customs and traditions, unique to their culture and history. Here’s a sampling of some memorable and unique ways to say good-bye to old Father Time and greet Baby New Year. Perhaps you’ll add one or two to your family celebration.

GOOD LUCK GRAPES 

If you are in Spain or Portugal for New Year’s Eve, you can share in the local custom of selecting twelve grapes from a bunch. Then as the clock strikes midnight, eat them one at a time making a wishing with each grape as a way to bring good luck for the next twelve months. Latin American countries share this custom. In Northern Portugal children go caroling from home to home and are given treats and coins.

DOWN UNDER CELEBRATIONS 

In Australia and New Zealand, New Year’s Eve falls when summer is in full-swing. Fireworks symbolize the crossover from New Year’s Eve, marking the end of the old year, to New Year’s Day, which signaling the beginning of the New Year. The largest and most elaborate fireworks occur at midnight in Sydney Harbor, an iconic Australian landmark. On this night, the harbor is lit with spectacular fireworks, where hundreds of cultures unite for the Harbor of Light parade.

Because New Zealand is located close to the International Date Line, it is one of the first countries in the world to welcome the New Year. It is celebrated as a day to relax, visit family and friends, perhaps attend a horse racing carnival or other summer day fairs. Instead of football, New Zealanders watch cricket.

EUROPEAN FESTIVITIES 

January 1st is an important date in Greece because it is not only the first day of the New Year but also St. Basil’s Day. A traditional Greek celebration features Vasilopita, a cake with a silver or gold coin baked inside. On New Year’s Day, the cake is sliced as a blessing to the home and to bring good luck for the New Year. The first piece is for St Basil, the second for the house, the next for the most senior member of the household down to the youngest member and often includes absent family members. Whoever finds the coin in their piece of cake will be lucky for the next year.

To predict the future, families in Germany and Austria melt a small amount of lead by holding a flame under a tablespoon, then pour the lead into a bowl or bucket of cold water. The resulting pattern is interpreted to predict the coming year. A heart or ring shape means a wedding, a ball means luck will roll your way and a pig signifies plenty of food in the year ahead.

SOUTH OF THE BORDER  

Bolivians who want to travel in the New Year must take their luggage to the door of the house or go upstairs. Another custom is to wear your underwear backwards: Red is to be lucky in love; yellow is for wealth. At midnight, Bolivians turn the underwear frontwards symbolizing moving forward into the New Year. Some Bolivian families make beautiful little wood or straw dolls to hang outside their homes to bring good luck.

Brazil may be the most celebrated locale to welcome in the New Year. Millions of people from around the world travel to Rio de Janeiro’s shores, especially in Copacabana to experience the majestic fireworks light up the sky above the beaches. Your good luck will increase if you can jump over seven different waves while making your New Year’s wishes, one for each wave. Brazilians believe lentils signify wealth, so on the first day of the New Year they eat lentil soup or lentils and rice.

At midnight on New Year’s Eve, Mexican families open the front door and symbolically sweep out the old year before tossing coins on the ground and sweeping them into the house wishing for prosperity in the coming year. To symbolize renewal, Mexicans also throw a bucket of water out the window.

AULD LANG SYNE 

The most popular New Year’s Eve song, is actually an old Scottish song. Poet Robert Burns transcribed and refined the lyrics after hearing them sung by an old man He published the song in the 1796 edition “Scots Musical Museum.” “Auld Lang Syne” translates as “old long since” and means “times gone by.” Bandleader Guy Lombardo popularized the song in 1929 and turned it into a New Year’s classic.

The birthplace of “Auld Lang Syne” is also the home of Hogmanay, the rousing Scottish New Year’s celebration. Shortly after midnight on New Year’s Eve, neighbors pay visits to each other and impart New Year’s wishes. They are called “first footers” and traditionally, bring along a small gift. You will be especially lucky if a tall, dark and handsome man is the first to enter your house after the New Year is rung in. The Scottish also believe that you should clear your debts before “the bells” ring at midnight.       

HOW TO SAY HAPPY NEW YEAR

Brazilian: feliz ano novo

Brazilian Portuguese: feliz ano novo no brasileiro

Chinese (Cantonese): Sun nien fai lok

Chinese (Mandarin): Xin nian yu kuai

Czechoslavakia: Scastny Novy Rok

Finnish: Onnellista Uutta Vuotta

French: Bonne année

German: glückliches neues Jahr

Greek: ef̱tychisméno to néo étos

Hawaiian: Hau’oli makahiki hou

Italian: Buon anno

Portuguese: Feliz Ano Novo

Philippines (Tagalog): Manigong Bagong Taon

Spanish: Feliz Año Nuevo; Prospero Ano Nuevo

 

The Power of the Story Inside Us All

During the last century, I filled my college hours in Dr. Hartung’s news reporting 101 and Mr. Krumming’s Media Law classes, fascinated with fact-finding, spelling and grammar. Who could ask for more?

Well, San Diego State University administrators can, and did. In those days, SDSU required J-school undergrads to have a minor, whether it be finance, history or art. They probably knew the odds of getting a writing job were similar to winning the California State Lottery.

So, as many of my fellow students, I set about to select a minor. If I knew then what I know now, I would have invested my time in comparative literature or marketing. But psychology captured my imagination and units. So, I learned about Freud’s id, ego and superego as well as the behaviorism theories of Pavlov and Skinner. Surprisingly, a lot of  my journalism classmates shared my affinity to explore the inner workings of our minds, but I never understood why.

Then I read “The Power of a Story” in a recent issue of Real Simple magazine. I now realize the path I chose was meant to be traversed. There’s nothing happenstance about my choice. In the article, Jennifer King Lindley intersects psychology and plot twists in a fresh, creative way. And since this storyteller lives on the corner of character arc and classical conditioning, I was immediately taken with the premise.

According to Lindley, “We naturally think of our own lives as stories, psychologists say. Changing the way you tell yours can help you handle whatever plot twists come your way.” In her article, I learned about an emerging field of study–narrative psychology. Too bad that minor wasn’t offered at San Diego State when I was a junior.

Hope you find “The Power of a Story” as fascinating as I did.

https://www.magzter.com/article/Home/Real-Simple/The-Power-Of-A-Story

What’s Your Rush?

shutterstock_392375377It happened again today. I was late meeting a friend for coffee. As I drove around the parking lot searching for a spot, I caught a glimpse of her sitting at the sidewalk café. Not wasting time waiting for me to show up, she was cleaning out her purse. I apologized for my tardiness as she gave me a hug. “It’s no big deal,” Margaret said letting me off the hook. “I’ve been wanting to clean my purse for a while anyway, but I never could find the time.”

The frustrating thing is, I shouldn’t have been late in the first place. I was ready to walk out the door 15 minutes early. But since I had extra time, I tossed a load in the washing machine and wrote an overdue thank-you note. Presto, now I was running behind.

I start out on time, but for some reason, being early often makes me late. It’s like my day is 10 minutes shorter than everyone else’s. The truth is, being a chronic multi-tasker (aka woman/mother/sitie) has impaired my time-management skills. Even though I’ve adopted “Be in the moment” as my personal mantra, more often than not, my actions are focused on reaching the destination instead of enjoying the journey.

My husband doesn’t classify me as a woman-in-constant-motion, even though Nick is often the benefactor of my never-waste-a-moment mentality. To him, I move about as fast as — well — as a wife. So several weeks ago when I got pulled over for speeding, he was shocked. In fact, since my speedometer rarely hits 60, Nick agreed that my car must have been the only one the officer could catch. At the time, my mind was on where I was headed; not how fast I was getting there. Luckily the patrolman let me off with a stern warning. Maybe I reminded him of his own wife.

I blame my scheduling shortcomings on a high regard for the value of time. I’m committed to squeezing every second out of the day as if I’m crushing oranges so every drop lands in the glass. I know time is precious and I don’t want to waste it. But somehow in my quest to get the most from every moment, I’m often rushed, segmented and rarely able to strike a reasonable balance between using time wisely and staying in the moment.

Just a few weeks ago, while going through the afternoon mail, I noticed a long-awaited check for a freelance writing assignment. I opened the envelope, looked at the amount, smiled and then — as any busy woman and mother would do — went on to finish a variety of chores. About a half-hour later I realized I had misplaced the check. Panicked, I retraced my steps. Wow, I had done a lot in those 30 minutes — paid some bills, vacuumed the familyroom, dropped off magazines at the neighbor’s house, fed our dogs, Bandit, Jersey Girl and Bowie. Still, I couldn’t find the check.  I was discouraged about losing my hard-earned money, but what really bugged me was how much time I’d wasted looking for that envelope. In my haste to get more done, I’d accomplished less and I was more stressed for my efforts.

About an hour later I found the check, tucked inside a stack of papers filed for a future writing assignment. But the reality hit me. Doing several things at once can actually cost more time than it saves — and it doesn’t do much to strengthen long-standing friendships, either.

I already have a few changes in mind to get me on the path of doing less and enjoying it more.

I’m told the best way to solve any problem is to acknowledge it and then take small steps toward improvement. I already have a few changes in mind to get me on the path of doing less and enjoying it more. For starters, I could replace quick showers with an occasional lingering bubble bath or eat a real breakfast instead of bites of an untoasted Poptart. On days I really want to splurge, I’ll actually read an entire magazine instead of skimming through the pages and ignore that little voice adding items to my “to-do” list.

There’s one improvement I’ll definitely make the next time Margaret agrees to meet me for coffee. I’ll leave the house 15 minutes early — no checking e-mail or devising last-minute menu plans.  This time she’ll find me sitting at the café table with nothing more to do than sip a warm, chocolatey mocha, happily awaiting her arrival.

 

 

 

 

 

Maybe This Time — FREE

To kick off the summer beach-read season, download Maybe This Time for FREE, today, June 28.  And remember to leave a review, like it or not!

Enjoy your summer.

 

An excerpt from Maybe This Time:

Eric swiped at grains of brown sugar on Kate’s cheek. “You do everything with passion, don’t you?” he whispered not wanting to interrupt the instructor and the other eight students clustered in the kitchen of a gourmet supply store. Scents of soy sauce, rosemary and lemon zest competed for the attention of his nostrils, but Kate’s perfume won that battle. When Trish suggested taking Kate to a cooking class, he thought she had lost her mind.

But Trish was a woman and should know what women like, so he gave it a shot not expecting recipes, ingredients and measuring to be this much fun. Food was the language of love. He’d have to tell Trish she’d been right. On second thought, no way. She’d never let him forget.

“My mom was a good cook,” Kate replied, continuing to stir her sauce rhythmically. “I never really bothered to learn more than how to boil an egg and make a grilled cheese sandwich. I’m surprised at how interesting all this is.”

“We do look great in our aprons, I have to admit,” Eric said. Kate looked amazing in whatever she was wearing, the cobalt blue apron made her green eyes appear bluer. He loved how whatever she wore transformed her eyes from a warm amber to a vibrant pacific blue. Sadly the apron also covered the neckline of her knit sweater. He couldn’t wait for class to end to enjoy the full effect of the clinging fabric.

Kate carefully poured the glaze over the salmon and turned to put their combined effort into the oven. “This is going to taste good.”

“Don’t forget to set your timers,” Chef Andre reminded the class, but Eric knew that prod was intended for him and Kate.

“Are you always this innovative with your dates?” Kate asked before taking a sip of wine.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, we went to the fair. And now a cooking class. It’s like you googled best first dates or something.”

Eric looked away.

“You did, didn’t you.” Kate shoved his arm playfully.

Eric nodded, avoiding the glare from a forty-ish woman seated at the cooking station in front of the class. She hung on every word from Chef Andre as though learning the wonders of whisking would improve her life. Maybe they would. Seemed to be working for him. What Eric knew for certain was that the woman’s brown sugar maple glaze would turn out much better than theirs and she didn’t appreciate the chatter of young love.

He put his finger in front of his lips, and slid his gaze from the woman to Kate, signaling that they were a disruption. If they didn’t cease and desist their conversation, everyone’s cedar plank salmon would be ruined.

 

Release Day for Maybe This Time

I’m excited to celebrate the release of my novella, Maybe This Time. Here’s a short excerpt I thought you might enjoy. 

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Available exclusively on Kindle Unlimited.

Kate held the door as Colleen, eyes still glued to her tablet, walked out of the coffee shop. “I’ll follow up on the wine and chocolate class,” Kate promised.

“Nothing gets your mind off a hot guy like wine and chocolate,” Colleen said. “Are you coming to yoga practice?”

“Naw, think I’ll head into the office early and catch up on a few things.”

And wait for Eric to call.

“If he calls, he calls. I just met the guy. This isn’t life changing.” Kate argued more to herself than to Colleen, dismissing the idea aloud that she was already in deep. The pounding of her heart did little to reinforce the casual tone she hoped to emit. After all, she and Eric barely spent an hour together and most of that was discussing floor plans and parking flow. “There he is.” Kate shouted at Colleen, shoving a crinkly bag of leftover scones into her friend’s hand before racing up the street toward a parked taxi cab.

Colleen fumbled to catch the bag without dropping her tablet. “He who?” she yelled, chasing behind, but not at the same sprint Kate exhibited. Suddenly Kate stopped hard, as though she hit a wall and turned around. Oh my God. Her breath hitched as she tried to regain her composure before Colleen caught up to her.

“What are you chasing after?”

“A dream,” Kate responded, sucking in air. “It wasn’t Eric. I made a mistake. Let’s go.” She grabbed Colleen by the arm and tugged her toward the cafe, hoping she wouldn’t ask any more questions. Kate didn’t want to tell her friend that she saw Eric standing near a cab. Her Eric, being kissed by a shapely woman with a tiny waist and long legs. A beautiful blonde who whispered something sexy into his ear before walking away. They must have been on a romantic getaway. How stupid I am to think a guy like Eric is waiting around for me. He probably dates lots of women—at the same time.

“Hey, Kate. Is that you?”

Kate walked faster, but Colleen stopped. “There’s a guy back there waving at you. Kinda nice looking. Now he’s coming our way.” Colleen smiled as though inviting him to come closer.

“Don’t encourage him,” Kate said.

“Too late. Here he is.” Colleen made a sweeping motion as though she were a hostess on a game show introducing today’s prizes.

Oh God, his eyes are browner than I remember.

“Kate, I’m glad I caught you,” Eric said. “Sorry I missed you on the phone. I got back into town early.”

“I see that,” Kate muttered, her icy tone coating each word. Not going through this drama again. Crazy guy. Multiple girlfriends. Bad endings.

“I’m Eric Wiley,” he said, offering his hand for Colleen to shake before returning his attention to Kate.

“So maybe we can set up that coffee date. There’s a great little place a couple of doors down.”

“I know. Colleen and I just had coffee there.”

“And scones,” Colleen chimed in, handing Kate her bag of leftovers. “I’ve got to get going. I have class in thirty minutes.”

“Teacher or student?” Eric asked.

“Yoga instructor.”

“Nice. Maybe I can take your class sometime. It’s not that sweaty yoga, is it?”

“No, it’s more of a flow class. Kate can tell you all about it.” Colleen tapped Kate on the shoulder. “I’ll see you later,” she said before scurrying toward the yoga studio.

“I like your friend,” Eric said gesturing to Colleen’s back.

“She’s pretty terrific. We met in her class. Used to be a cop.” Kate wanted to run away, but her feet grounded into the earth as though an alien force rooted them in place. All the small talk didn’t comfort her. Minutes before this guy was kissing another woman, and now he was flirting with her. Was there no end to his nerve?

“Now that’s really switching career paths,” Eric said. “I consider doing that sometimes.”

“And leave the family business for what? I don’t see that happening.” You’re such a privileged mama’s boy, Kate wanted to say, but didn’t. Truth was during their earlier interactions, Eric didn’t strike her as someone who life had been easy on. It was obvious his parents leaned on his judgment. Eric presented himself as a self-made man, working for what success came his way. Still, he was hiding something she couldn’t quite put her finger on.

Granted with business-owner parents, his path may have been smoother than many. Even if your folks set you up, you’re the one who has to walk that path. Kate knew lots of privileged folks who took the benefits they were born into and managed to drink, gamble or in some other way squander their advantage, as though opportunity was an all-you-can-eat buffet. Made a bad choice, no problem. Just get a clean plate and try again. The sports pages and movie magazines were filled with celebrity examples. A couple of Kate’s sorority sisters were still trying to find themselves. That’s what they claimed at the last reunion.

“You’d be surprised. I can tell you more about my future plans over a hot mocha.”

Kate readjusted her purse strap and leaned away. “Thanks for the invite, but I need to get to work. We’re already brainstorming the next complex. Proposal is due in two weeks.”

“Yeah, I know. We talked about your innovative ideas. I thought they were great. You’re great.” Eric licked his lips and stepped closer. “Seems to me like we connected, at least a little bit, but if you’re not interested, just say so. You don’t have to go through not answering my calls and giving me the brush off. Just be honest. It will save us both a lot of time.”

Kate shoved her paper pastry bag in her coat pocket and crossed her arms. “Honesty? Is that the most important value to you, because I believe in always telling the truth. I always tell the truth.”

“And you’re suggesting I don’t?” Eric’s nostrils flared with anger, causing Kate to step back. “We are standing in the street arguing about I don’t know what. Do you want to have a cup of coffee with me or not? It’s just that simple.”

“Not until you answer a question first.” Kate straightened to her full five-foot-six height. “Who were you kissing a moment ago?”

“Kissing? What are you talking about?”

“Near the cab. The woman who kissed you. Who is she? You’re an only child, so I know that wasn’t your sister. A cousin, maybe?” Kate huffed.

Eric’s eyes widened.

Is this how he stalls for time, cooking up a lie, Kate thought. This should be really good. She waited, even tapped the toe of her boot a time or two. “Well?”

“Like I said on my call, business ended early. I grabbed a cab with a coworker. End of story.”

“Not quite. Here comes your coworker, and she looks ticked.”


 

 

More Payne, More Gain

I used to be a couch potato, hoping that fitness was just a fad. Convinced that I looked good in double-digit jeans, I became expert at finding clothes labeled relaxed fit, tummy control and instantly slimming. By the end of each day, my energy was so low that I nodded off during Jeopardy!

Things started turning around, though, after my doctor made it clear that maintaining my current out-of-shape shape wasn’t a viable health strategy. During my annual check-up, I listened as he lectured about the importance of a regular fitness plan. And, he said, it had to include weight-bearing exercises to strengthen my bones. My gelatinous thighs and giggly-under arms moved in agreement. I got the message: this PE delinquent needed to get serious about exercise.

A researcher by profession, I’d toyed with the concept of exercising before. I talked to friends, gathered flyers, read brochures and considered class schedules. Pinned on my bulletin board was a two-year-old e-mail reply from the local Y to my inquiry about yoga classes.

When I got home after my check-up, I pulled out my research and sifted through the many choices, times and locations. My eyes were drawn to: Step & Sculpt: This fun and high-energy class combines easy to follow step aerobics with strength conditioning. Perfect to slim and tone all over. P. Payne, instructor.

I thought about last time I’d worked out on a step, nearly two decades ago. My youngest son Seth, attended Tiny Tots program, laptops were where you put your napkin and no one I knew got their coffee from a barista. Only our parakeet tweeted. And I had more energy, my clothes fit better and I felt good about myself.

So, it seemed that this twice-a-week step aerobics class at City Recreation Center offered everything I needed, and it was only 55 minutes long. Could be my on-ramp to the fitness freeway? Out of excuses, I sucked in my stomach, grabbed my sneakers and water bottle, crossed my fingers and signed up.

On the first day of class, I left my half-finished mocha and the morning newspaper unread to arrive on time. Still not sure that I’d made the right decision, I secured a spot in the back of the room, near the door for a quick escape. After a few warm-up stretches, I blended in — just another gal in a group of 20- to 60-somethings, trying to remember her right foot from her left. The music boomed hits from the ’70s, ’80s, ‘90s and beyond. Patricia, our instructor yelled out cues: March Right, Alternate Hamstring Curl, “L Step”. It took a few minutes, but the choreography came back to me. I was stepping, kicking and lifting in lockstep with everyone else; firing up muscles that hadn’t been used this century. My heart rate quickened with every Grapevine to the Right and Three-knee Repeater, she commanded.shutterstock_281837396

Weeks went by. We gals — sweating our way through whatever exercise-set-to-music routine this physical-fitness powder keg threw at us — bonded in our common goal. Patricia showed no mercy to our muscles. Triceps, biceps, abs, quads, it didn’t matter. She angered them all. And then, after 40 minutes of aerobics, the real workout began. She brought out exercise balls, resistance bands and hand weights – medieval torture devices designed to push us to the next level. Lunges, curls, crunches, push ups — she mastered them all and for some crazy reason, she thought we could, too.

Patricia motivated, challenged and cajoled each of us to work harder. So it wasn’t surprising that, after several weeks, I saw progress – definition returned to my upper arms, my thighs didn’t keep moving after the rest of me had stopped and I’d overcome my need for an afternoon nap. Excited to share my good news, I stayed after class to tell her. I wanted Patricia to know that it was her sincere words of encouragement that kept me off the couch and on the gym floor.

“I’m getting a lot from your class,” I said, my quads still burning after a particularly strenuous set of squats. “After the first couple of classes, I didn’t know if I’d make it or not. But I’m glad I hung in there. I feel stronger and things aren’t as jiggly as they were.”

She smiled. “I knew you could do it. Just keep it up and you’ll be back in shape by summer.”

I nodded, not wanting to entertain the thought of swimsuits just yet. “But I have to confess that I almost didn’t sign-up for your class. I was worried about taking an aerobics class instructed by someone named Payne,” I said, chuckling at my own joke.

She stuffed her towel in her workout bag and turned back to me. “Good thing you didn’t know that my maiden name is Moore.”

 

 

Heartbreak Cake: A Delicious Read

Sometimes you need dessert and usually you want to eat the whole thing. That’s how I felt about Cindy Arora’s debut novel “Heartbreak Cake.” I wanted to consume every morsel in one sitting and I nearly did.

I enjoyed this novel so much and my waistline didn’t suffer. Arora took me on a sweet ride with so many twists, turns, and tasty treats that I found myself smiling with each flip of the page. Just when I thought I’d figured out the story, the main character Indira Aguilar took me down a different path, thankfully paved with delicious, decadent, delectable desserts. 

I rooted for Indira, the pastry master and owner of Cake Pan, in spite of her sometimes foolish choices (never in the kitchen though). Arora introduced characters I immediately loved, Pedro, Simon, Rebecca, Indira’s quirky parents, and of course, Noah. And those folks I love to hate: Josh, Valentina and Lindsey, a nosey journalist.

The ending was as satisfying as a piece of wedding cake. Treat yourself to something yummy. Heartbreak Cake won’t disappoint, but it might leave you craving another slice.

What’s In A Name

I have a name and I like it – Claire. From the French for bright and clear. My mother chose it, I’m sure after searching through baby naming books. She fought off pressure to use traditional family names to pick this unique one. For all of her hard work, I’ll bet she’s not happy with the variations it’s undergone.

Unlike Elizabeth (Liz, Libby, Beth, etc.) there aren’t a lot of diminutives for Claire. The most memorable attempt was Claircy. (My Godsister Fran is the only one permitted to call me this to my face.) Fortunately it never stuck. I think that’s why my mother chose Claire. There is no nickname. However, mom didn’t think it all the way through. She should have suspected–being a mother of four herself–how my name and my identity would change. She knew what would eventually happen, yet she never shared the secret with me.

I’m talking about the inevitable nicknaming every woman endures after becoming a mother. You are now referred to as “the room mom,” “the pitcher’s mom,” “the goalie’s mom,”  “the mother of the boy Kayleen has a crush on.” Not quite the moniker bestowed at baptism, and a tough one to fit on a driver’s license. During all of these conversations, there are few attempts to learn the woman’s given name.

My friends, on the other hand, have no problem saying my name, no variations included. They call me Claire. Never am I referred to as “that boy’s mother.” With my girlfriends, my identity is never in question.

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Being mom takes precedence over everything else in my life. It’s the most important work I do and I do it with love. But I wasn’t born a mother. I did have a life (I think) before I had children. I am a person, who’s also a mom. That’s who I was before I became Shawn, Jake and Seth’s mom and now, my new favorite – Windley’s grandmother. 

With my gal pals, I’m Claire. A person first, a mom and grandmom second. That’s why I need to connect with these ladies regularly – my longtime friends, the Zoo Gals, women providing support and free therapy at the drop of a hat. Our careers changed, however our friendships remained constant. Even though I now live miles away from Laura, Jackie and Elaine, they are as close as an e-mail. 

When we were young mothers of toddlers who quickly transformed into teens, we would gather for three or four hours, every few months, and allow our mom role to take a back seat. And it felt good. On those occasions I was among people who didn’t think my finest talents lie in making a grilled cheese sandwich. To them I’m wasn’t the originator of the phrase: Pick up your mess! They don’t think the words old and Claire naturally go together. Not one of them ever used the designation annoying when referring to me. At least not when I could hear it.

Among the four of us, we mother eight kids. I’m the only grammy so far, but then again, I was the only mommy when our little foursome formed. Still, we never refer to each other as Colin, Jason, Jake or Bryce’s mom.

These ladies remember when TV shows were only in black and white. There were maybe three channels, not 300. Like me, they grew up making popcorn in a pot on the stove, not in a bag in the microwave. Our term papers didn’t include Internet references. Caller ID, cell phones, text messages – all things our parents didn’t deal with.

These are my friends. Women in the same place, at the same time, who raised our sons the best we could. We know each other as individuals. That’s why I miss our occasional mochas, unlimited popcorn at the movies and  Cheesecake Factory outings.

Gone are the days when we’d pick a night, meet in the middle of San Diego county and catch up on where our lives have taken us since our last moms’ meeting. Each of us knows the importance of enduring friendships; peers with a history and a commonality of purpose. Now we’re spread across the country from California to New York City, and those monthly opportunities to get together have changed into yearly possibilities. 

Our children are now adults, a constant reminder of how quickly things change; everything except why being mom is a priority. On those golden occasions, when we are able to reconnect the women behind the mothers, we discover more about ourselves.

That’s an important lesson I learned from George, Sadye, Paul and Claire’s mom. Her name is Florence.

           

 

 

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