Woman@Heart

Musings on Life, Love and Lefovers

Archive for the tag “family”

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.

           

 

 

A Simpler, Kinder Christmas

No one confuses me with Martha Stewart. I wish someone would. But when any of my friends wants to create holiday centerpieces using bark, berries and spray-painted soda can holders, I’m not the first phone call they make. I know who they do call–women who turn a sprig of rosemary, three candles and a leftover Cool Whip bowl into a sight to behold. Through my green-tinged brown eyes, I admire those ladies. I barely grit my teeth when I receive their handmade holiday card and note how everyone in the family photo– even the dog–looks fabulous.

I don’t know where I was when elegance, artistry and style were being handed out. I must have been standing in the make-magic-out-of-mushroom-soup line. It’s not that I don’t admire creativity in others. Just the opposite. I’m the first one to offer a flattering comment. I’ll ask the neighborhood artisan what inspired her to place 50 floating candles in the backyard birdbath at the Fourth of July barbecue. I’m not the least bit jealous. I’m realistic. I know that if I re-created the same thing, I’d end up with 49 wet candles and a bird on fire. 

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Still I try. I want my family to have cozy, pleasant memories of their childhood Christmases. When they were young, I envisioned my three sons, Shawn, Jake and Seth, contently huddled around our hearth, stringing popcorn and hanging ornaments. Our joyful voices would be singing all the verses to the 12 Days of Christmas or taking turns reading the Polar Express.

Of course, this  never happened. A more likely scenario: they boys were in the driveway, playing basketball and discussing the Chargers’ playoff possibilities and how their fantasy teams were doing  while I hung stockings over the fireplace.

Nevertheless,  as a mom, and now a grandmother, I’m always looking for crafty, memory-making activities that bring a loving family together. That’s why an ever-growing pile of easy-to-make holiday craft instructions inhabits a corner of my TV room. There are piles of pages I’ve collected from numerous issues of Family Circle, Better Homes & Gardens  and Good Housekeeping. The only thing larger than this stack is my intention to actually make one of these projects, one of these years with Windley, my granddaughter.

My talents don’t excel in the cooking and baking department, either. Whenever I got stuck roasting the big bird, my first step was callingl my sister, Sadye (the former Home Ec teacher), pleading for a quick lesson in stuffing preparation and a refresher on how to truss a turkey. Now that call goes to Sweet Sue, who has been instrumental in my recent mashed potato success. Windley will soon learn that her Sitie’s gingerbread houses, complete with gumdrops and licorice, come from a kit.

The fact that I’m artistically impaired hasn’t diminished my passion for the holidays. My well-worn DVDs of It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street were cued up and ready to go by December 1. I’ll watch Frosty the Snowman holding a fresh box of Kleenex, because I always cry when Frosty melts.

Luckily, Christmas is not a season reserved exclusively for the creative. It’s also for the spiritual, the trusting and the sensitive. It’s for the tranquil, the disorganized and the easy-going. So, I’ve made peace with the fact that my home –complete with the artificial scents of pine and peppermint wafting through my kitchen — will never be a model for a Norman Rockwell-esque illustration. My somewhat tilted tree, decorated mostly with kindergarten art projects and my mother’s ornaments, won’t be featured in the Christmas issue of House Beautiful. And it’s OK.

I’m committing myself to a simpler, kinder Christmas; changing my attitude to embrace a gentler spirit of the season. One that doesn’t have me tracking super sales that started before the sun came up. Yes,  my cranberries come from a can instead of from the farmers’ market and I haven’t mailed all my packages by December 17.  Christmas isn’t intended to be a test of stress, but instead an awareness of our blessings. That’s why  I smile as I search for a mall parking spot.  I overcome the urge to elbow the lady reaching over me for a free sample in Costco.

Christmas is about enjoying the moments, whether they come with linen napkins and fine China or paper towels and Styrofoam plates. The holidays are for being with family and friends. A time to honor your faith and reaffirm your beliefs. Thank goodness for this pause in the hustle and bustle of life, this gentle reminder to recall past Christmases, savor the present and ponder what the future might bring.

As mothers, we hope our children will reminisce about what Christmas was like at home when they were small. That their holiday memories are filled with a magic and delight that brought satisfied smiles to their faces. My three sons are grown now and have begun their own Christmas customs and I’m filled with a new joy watching as their traditions unfold.

I eagerly anticipate the day when Shawn tells his now his ten-month-old daughter what Christmas morning was like when he was little. I hope that conversation includes a glimmer in his eye as he recalls leaving carrots for Santa’s reindeer or the excitement of choosing one gift to open on Christmas Eve. 

All of these small details make up the wonder and peace of Christmas. My mother’s laugh and the blending aromas of sugar cookies, pine needles and baked ham, that’s where Christmas lives in my memory. It’s a sure bet Shawn and my beautiful daughter-in-law, Lisa, won’t be recapping for Windley the first time they tasted my candied yams . It is possible, though, that I’ll get a shout out for my Chex Mix.

 

 

From the Kitchen of…

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.

maccheeseEager 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.

sadyecookingAt 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.

 

 

 

Thinking Thankful

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.

shutterstock_435712027Through 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.

Put Your Oxygen Mask On First

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.”

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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.

 

A Corner of Her Heart

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Am I excited to share this news!!

The Kindle edition of “A Corner of Her Heart” is available for pre-order. This is first installment in my Begin Again series. The novel will also be available in paperback on the October 14 release date.

Hope you enjoy this peek inside the pages . . .

Monica lifted her head from the pillow. That was a mistake. Why did I order that third pitcher? Her head, heavier than a bowling ball, pounded as though she had used it to throw a strike. Voices seeped through her bedroom door. Joyful sounds of Brad and the boys playing. She licked her lips, hoping to get the saliva moving. No luck. Cotton balls would fall from her mouth at any moment. She didn’t remember much after Kate brought her home, except Brad holding her hair while she hugged the toilet. Tequila is not my friend.

Monica forced herself up and reached for a water bottle Brad had left on her nightstand. She slowly sipped, listening to what sounded like bodies bouncing off the walls. Definitely a sock war was underway. Monica would find her sons’ socks, now rolled up into balls as ammunition, for days. Guys could make a game out of anything.

She gingerly placed her feet on the carpet and ambled toward the family room. A cobalt-colored orb Monica recognized as part of Burke’s soccer uniform flew past her nose.

“Mom,” nine-year-old Burke shouted, “get back, you’re in the battle zone.”

“Cease fire.” Brad appeared from behind a chair and waved his arms. “Hi honey. Feeling better?”

“A little. What time is it?”

“About three,” Brady answered, stepping in from the hallway, “Dad kept us quiet all morning.”

“I asked to play sock war,” Bodie said, his voice barely higher than a peep. “Dad and me are a team.”

Monica moved to where Bodie sat and joined him on the couch. “Are you winning?”

“I think so,” Bodie replied, pointing to an arsenal of socks.

These moments made Monica’s life. Her sons enjoying each other, laughter rising throughout her home. Getting drunk last night was an escape, but she couldn’t escape her obligations. She didn’t want to. God blessed her with four sons to love and guide into manhood.

 She soaked in their faces, sweaty and innocent. How could she steal this life from them? Monica would never forget what Brad had done. Still, she had to find a way to forgive him and make their family whole again. Her sons’ childhood depended on that.

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iTunes: Coming Soon

Stuck on Sticky Notes

People often ask me where I get ideas for my essays? Well, this one came during the cool down after a Zumba class. In between calling out commands to stretch our calf muscles, our young instructor lamented that she’s starting to forget things. “I’m now dependent on sticky notes to keep my life in order,” she groaned as we relaxed the biceps in our upper arms. She feared her gray matter was having too many gray moments.

Nervous laughter swept through the class of 20, all over the age of 40-something. In between exhales, I smiled and gave her a knowing nod. I’ve survived for years thanks to sticky notes, to-do lists and e-mail reminders. My motto: The shortest pencil is better than the longest memory.

stickynote-pencil-copy-rotatedI’ve made peace with having to write everything down. In fact, I had to write down the idea for this column as soon as I got home from class, or I would have forgotten it. Many in my circle of girlfriends share this malady. We’ve discovered that as life gets busier, it’s harder and harder to remember simple things. We rack our brains to recall the name of an actor we saw in a movie last night. Wonder if we left the milk on the counter. We forget where we put car keys, cell phones, and sometimes for a moment or two, even our kids.

I used to fret about losing my memory, but I don’t any more. With age-earned wisdom, I liken sporadic forgetfulness to a baseball catcher’s overload. With a job, a husband, kids, a grandchild, dogs and a book club, there are simply too many balls to snatch. The less urgent stuff – buying stamps, taking out the trash or fertilizing the roses — occasionally drops out of my mitt. That’s not a sign that dementia is my next stop on life’s train ride.

There’s no shame in relying on a system – even if it’s made up of colorful scraps of paper — to help you remember to turn off the flatiron or pick up poster board at the drug store. There are lots of mornings I jot down a to-do list before I’ve gotten out of bed. I stash a pad and pencil in my nightstand drawer for that reason. Random notes to remind me to: e-mail Sue about a book I just finished; figure out what movie theaters are near Houston before I buy a gift card for my nephew or pull the pot roast out of the freezer so we can eat before 8 o’clock tonight.

So what if I can’t remember the name of Sue Grafton’s newest book (X) or the collective term for a group of turtles (a dole). I’ve already apologized to my teammates for our third place finish in last month trivia challenge. I should have remembered the book title. I don’t think I ever knew the turtle term, though.

For decades my head’s CPU has been bombarded with information. My computer-like brain is always on the job, processing data gathered from my thousands of days on this earth. When I was 12, it was so much easier. I barely had a decade of life under my belt. Twelve years of fact and fiction to keep straight. Maybe three contemporary U.S. Presidents and four Beatles to remember. There was lots of room in my head to memorize state capitals, multiplication tables and words for a spelling test. Homework was my brainteaser. If there was something important I needed to do, my Mom reminded me. Back then I had maybe 90 people in my life, including schoolmates, aunts, uncles and TV characters. Nowadays, more folks than that follow me on Twitter.

As the years pile up, so does the minutia. Names, places, computer programs, all vying for a spot in the mind’s filing cabinet. It’s an ongoing battle to determine what’s worth remembering, what can be retrieved by a Google search and what to delete from your cerebral hard drive. No one keeps track of everything. And why would we want to when there are notepads, calendars and other memory-saving shortcuts at our beck-and-call?

More power to those of us who’ve joyfully embraced our yellow and pink sticky notes as a white flag of surrender. We fight back by keeping our minds sharp and our pencils sharper. There was one more thing I was going to add, but I forgot what it was. Guess I should have written it down.

 

 

 

Off The Grid

“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.” shutterstock_212311645

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?

 

 

Make Mine Diamonds

We were out to dinner with friends the other night when the topic of wedding anniversaries came up. Actually, in between appetizers and the main course, I brought the subject up. I knew Jim and Becky’s* 40th was next month and wondered how these two would mark their milestone occasion. They traded knowing glances. “We haven’t decided yet,” Jim volunteered.

 Always the helpful soul, I piped up with my trademark suggestion: “You know that’s a diamond anniversary!” My husband Nick rolled his eyes, frowned and then added: “She says that about every anniversary.”shutterstock_336087602.jpg

I smiled at my groom. He’d know. I’ve chanted this rallying cry pretty much since the day we joined hands to cut our wedding cake.

Whether it’s the first or the 51st, I believe every wedding anniversary should be celebrated, acclaimed and lauded. And — for my money — nothing says celebration like diamonds, whether they’re in earrings, a necklace or a ring. Successfully navigating the ups and downs of 40 years of wedded bliss is certainly worth a diamond or two, so I put in a plug. 

Becky took a sip of her drink and smiled at me. The guys swigged their beers and went back to dissecting last night’s baseball game.

The next day I went online seeking advice from anniversary experts and stumbled upon Anniversary Gifts By The Year. I’m in favor of taking the guesswork out of shopping, but these guidelines (divided into traditional and modern suggestions) postpone the good stuff until many decades of being Mr. & Mrs. have passed. This sequence seems backward to me. Is this what the American National Retail Jewelers Association had mind in 1937 when they first devised the list?

If Jim conformed to tradition, he would give Becky rubies — not diamonds – to commemorate their two scores of marriage. Rubies are nice, but why the 40-year delay? And if Jim follows those same traditional gift-giving gurus, Becky would spend the next 20 years anticipating diamonds.

It makes sense for young couples to exchange practical gifts when they’re just starting out. I guess that’s why suggestions like clocks, linens and pottery show up for anniversaries 1 to 10. Some argue that working toward silver and gold, rubies and diamonds are a great incentive to stay married. I say phooey. Give your wife diamonds early and often. The monthly payments alone will keep you together for the next 30, 40 or 50 years.

Guys, listen up. A wedding anniversary is the perfect time to go off script – or in this case – off list. My husband has done this a time or two. For our second anniversary, instead of the recommended cotton, he opted for boogie boards. For our 11th, he bypassed steel and got me an Espresso machine. Not exactly a sparkling tennis bracelet, but it’s a start. In return, he received a gas barbecue grill.

For our 29th anniversary the “list” didn’t offer any traditional gift recommendations. The modern suggestion touted furniture. Just what every girl wishes for — a new chiffarobe. Nick wasn’t thrilled either. He was hoping for golf clubs. True to form, I proposed diamonds. Nick responded with granite (countertops). I’m not complaining. Granite is a sturdy substance, not as strong and shimmery diamonds, though. Still, much better than a coffee table.

Six years ago, Nick and I marked what’s traditionally known as the Pearl Jubilee. And believe it or not, the modern gift idea is diamonds. After all these years, I could legitimately finagle some ice out of my groom. But Nick had a better idea — a voyage to the land of his heritage, Ireland. It didn’t take me long to swap the promise of diamonds for emeralds of another sort.

And since a trip to the Emerald Isle was way better than a single piece of jewelry, I put my Every Anniversary is a Diamond Anniversary crusade on hold. Until now.

Next Tuesday Nick and I will celebrate a marriage that has endured enough years to be eligible to become president, plus one. And even though the list-makers recommend bone china as the appropriate gift for 36 years of sharing the same remote, I see things a bit differently.

For the past week, Nick has noticed a few hints gently seeded around the house making the case for adding a fifth C to the 4Cs  used to determine a diamond’s quality (color, clarity, cut, caret … and Claire).

Of course, I could be easily talked out of an ice-crusted bauble in exchange for a champagne toast, a foot massage and a warm, tender kiss from the same man who, year after year, continues to say “I do.”

 

*names have been changed to preserve their marriage.

 

 

 

My World of Simple Pleasures

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.

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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

Dimmer switches

Squeezable jelly

Mascara remover

Amazon Prime

Frozen pancakes

Crock pots, crock pot cookbooks, crock pot liners

Nutrition facts labeling

Gift registries

Snapshot check deposit

Voice mail

Neighborhood yoga classes

Ceiling fans

GPS

FitBit

Milk frothers

Mobile dog groomers (thanks Natalie)

Pause, fast forward & rewind

Copy & paste

Airport cell phone parking lots

Toothpaste with flip-top caps

Scanner printers

Instant oatmeal

(Grand) Baby video monitors

Carbonless copies

TV remotes with a sleep timer button

Pre-cooked chicken

Wrinkle-resistant shirts

Flight trackers

Caller ID

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

Gift cards

Relaxed fit jeans

Microwave ovens

Bread makers

The Weather Channel

Return address labels

Shampoo shelves in the shower

Gift receipts

Cash back

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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