Woman@Heart

Musings on Life, Love and Lefovers

Archive for the tag “mothers”

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.

shutterstock_1145381099

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.

Advertisements

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.

IMG_2289

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.

 

 

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.

shutterstock_471754448

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. 

shutterstock_163338383

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.

 

 

 

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.”

shutterstock_93484678

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.

 

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?

 

 

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.

shutterstock_304733597

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.

What I’ll Do On My Summer Vacation

Summer is the best time for vacation. Daylight lingers, delighting us with sun-soaked rays. My husband, Nick and I stick to this timetable, although it’s not every 12 months we can afford to pack up and caravan to a distant place. Big vacations are sprinkled in whenever we can swing them.

Even though we budget, often our travel plans put us in the red. Nick and I don’t mind. We know memories are worth more than hefty bank accounts. Past summers have been spent horseback riding in Kauai, boating on Lake Tahoe or rafting down the American River in Sacramento. My family has picnicked near the Golden Gate Bridge, taken a cruise to the Bahamas and trekked to Pittsburgh for a family reunion. We have photos of us in front of the Liberty Bell, the St. Louis Arch and the Statue of Liberty.

But more often than not, we staycation, devising our own (reasonably priced) entertainment. In spite of financial reality, I’m not quite ready to do away with family vacations all together. There are a few places I’d like to see  before the days get shorter – Washington, D.C. and the Grand Canyon to name two. But in between the major getaways, there are still plenty of ways to enjoy the lazy, crazy, hazy days of summer. So, before it’s time to turn the clocks back, I’m hoping to:

  • Lick toasted marshmallows and melted chocolate off my fingers after a barbecue.
  • Really listen to the words of “America the Beautiful” when it’s sung on the Fourth of July.
  • Watch Mary Poppins (for what might be the 63rd time).
  • Make do-it-yourself Chipwiches. Use vanilla fudge ripple ice cream.
  • Avoid full-length mirrors while wearing my one-piece “slimsuit.”
  • Score big time in a water balloon fight.
  • Hit an exacta at Del Mar.shutterstock_110964818
  • Recall the fun I had as a little girl after dark, catching lightning bugs in southwestern Pennsylvania.
  • Smile at the memory of my mom’s voice telling me to let them go.
  • Hug my family every chance I get.
  • Hit a wiffle ball over our backyard fence for a homerun.
  • Use a lot of SPF 30.
  • Mix up bowls of Candy Apple Salad (equal parts: Granny Smith apples, Snickers and Cool Whip).
  • Take in an afternoon Angels’ game. Sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
  • Buy some peanuts and Cracker Jack.
  • Keep quiet when someone ate the last Twix ice cream bar.
  • Buy a new sun hat.
  • Win a game of Monopoly – or get sleepy trying.
  • See the summer blockbuster movies. Crunch buttery theatre popcorn.
  • Tempt fate and try my luck on the Slip ‘n Slide.
  • Avoid travel brochures touting romantic getaways to Rome, Paris or Athens.
  • Eat cotton candy and grilled corn-on-the-cob at the fair.
  • Dust off our telescope and be amazed at the jewels found in the night sky.
  • Learn to swim. This may take several summers.
  • Fill my phone’s memory with lots of pictures.
  • Ignore that Y-shaped tan line my feet get after wearing sandals.
  • Taste the tomatoes, zucchini and green peppers, Nick grew in our backyard garden.
  • Shun the Halloween and Christmas displays already at the stores by early August.
  • Enjoy the extra hours of sunlight.
  • Curl up on my patio glider and read, read, read.
  • Sing along with Carly Simon: “. . . these are the good old days. These are the good old days. These are — the good old days.”

 

 

 

 

Post Navigation

The Coffeeholic Bookworm

reading books, sipping coffee, sharing thoughts

reecaspieces

Sharing little pieces of me with you.

Chick Lit Goddess

...because every author wants to feel like a goddess!

Celticlady's Book Reviews

Book Reviews, Book Spotlights and Giveaways

The Paranormal Housewife

Your All American Housewife With A Twist

beingmommie.com

Sharing my learnings of being a mother

Woman@Heart

Musings on Life, Love and Lefovers

Writer Unboxed

about the craft and business of fiction

Sharon C. Cooper

Just thinking...

San Diego Society of Professional Journalists

Supporting journalists across the San Diego region.

Writers In The Storm

A Blog On Writing

ClaireFlaire

Enjoy the Journey

The Better Man Project ™

a journey into the depths

Eye-Dancers

A site devoted to the Young Adult sci-fi/fantasy novel The Eye-Dancers

Bucket List Publications

Indulge- Travel, Adventure, & New Experiences

San Diego Professional Writer's Group

A San Diego based critique group for professional and aspiring writers

%d bloggers like this: