Woman@Heart

Musings on Life, Love and Lefovers

Archive for the tag “love”

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.

 

 

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Promises To Keep

I’ve waited nearly a year to share this exciting news.

PROMISES TO KEEP
Now available for pre-order. Releases on March 23!

Promisesto Keep.paperback

Here’s a sneak peek of the second book in the Begin Again series featuring the Jameson sisters.

Love, Secrets, and Lies…

Kate Jameson married the man of her dreams. Her real-life hero. A man who wouldn’t abandon her the way her father had—or so she thought. Weeks after their son’s birth, her husband is suddenly pulled away for a business trip that takes him out of the country. But something isn’t right. His truths aren’t adding up. Kate digs into his past, determined to learn what he’s hiding. But unraveling this endless mystery draws her into a maze of lies, family secrets and deadly consequences.

For twenty years, undercover CIA agent Eric Wiley lived for one reason—to avenge his parents’ brutal deaths. Until he marries Kate. Eric promises her a life of love and commitment, but competing promises constantly collide, offering him little chance of keeping either. When an informant lures him to Mexico, Eric thinks his goal of apprehending an elusive killer will be realized. Leaving his family for a few short days, weeks at the most, would be worth the prize.

Can this final mission bring closure and allow Eric to be the husband Kate deserves and the father he yearns to be? Or will their destiny remain mired in the secrets of his past, leaving them powerless to embrace their present?

The eBook is available for pre-order at these sites. The paperback is available on March 23.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords | Kobo
iBooks – coming soon!

Visit www.clairefadden.com to read an excerpt.

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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