Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Have Yourself a Scrappy Little Christmas: Pretty Much a True Story

There was once a pine tree standing tall, but not so proud, in an ordinary yard next to a black ordinary mailbox. The family of the house, where the tree and the mailbox stood, never once noticed the not so proud pine tree until one morning after a terrible storm.

As the family was driving down the very long drive way, they noticed that there were piles of branches and trees everywhere. It looked like someone came along in the night and dumped limbs upon limbs on the side of the very long drive way. Father stopped the car so he and Mother could figure out what happened: this is when they saw the very tall, not so proud, pine tree for the first time. But this time, it wasn't standing: it was laying over the ordinary black mailbox in the ordinary yard and it had been cut down! But why?

After further investigation, Father discovered that the very tall (but definitely not very proud now) pine tree had gotten tangled in the electrical wires. No wonder they lost electricity last night! The electric company must have had to cut a lot of branches and the very tall pine tree down to fix the wires! Poor pine tree: thought the family. Too bad they had to cut it down. It was a very tall pine tree.

A couple of weeks passed and the family was full of Thanksgiving turkey and tired from traveling. The family had been busy with school and work and all those other things families do. So busy that the very tall pine tree was still laying on the ordinary black mailbox: No one had moved it! Every day they passed it down the very long drive way. Every day Mother moved the branches to get the mail and packages out of the box. Every day Father thought: I should really move that tree.

On Saturday, the children wanted to decorate the house for Christmas but Mother had to unpack and Father had to keep raking all the leaves from the very tall, very proud oak trees in the ordinary yard. They didn't have time to go to the tree farm today. Maybe tomorrow? But the children insisted and persisted. It was then Mother had an idea: She told Father to bring up the very tall pine tree from the ordinary yard and trim it to fit into the house. Why cut down another tree at a farm when we have one right here? We might as well use what we have.

So Father pulled the very tall, and apparently very heavy, pine tree out of the ordinary yard and up the long driveway. He measured it and cut it and put it in some water. All the while, the Mother and the children brought up the Christmas decorations from the basement with such excitement. They couldn't wait to put their favorite ornaments on their tree! During all the bustle, Father brought the tree inside and placed it in its usual place in its usual tree stand. Oh, said Mother. Hmmm, said Father. That's our Christmas tree? said the children.

The very tall pine tree was now a scrappy little pine tree. The branches were long but not thick and strong like last year's Christmas tree. The family tried to place their big, fancy glass balls on it: but the branches drooped and couldn't hold up the treasures. The needles were soft but not plentiful like last year's Christmas tree. The family started to put all its twinkling white lights on it, but it didn't really need all of them: only a few short strands. The tree was as tall as last year's Christmas tree, but it wasn't as stout and proud. The family put the usual star on the tippy-top and the little pine tree leaned over to one side. No star this year!

Father said: I think it is a fine tree and besides, it’s free. Mother said: All God's trees deserve to be loved. The children searched through their decorations and found the lightest ones they had. Last year, they just dumped the bags and hung ornaments hand over fist in holiday frenzy. This year, they would study and feel each item to find just the perfect ones for their scrappy little tree. Brother placed the ornaments carefully up high and Sister placed them very gently down low. Gold, green and red balls. Handmade creations from over the years. Wheat wreathes and pine cones. Even some of their very favorite, yet smaller, ornaments made it on the tree.

The tree was done. The family stepped back to view their work. If you squint your eyes, it almost looks good: said Mother. Hmmm: Father said. Not really: said Sister standing there with her little eyes squinted and her head tilted to the right. It's not so bad. Poor tree: said Brother. So the family stood there a bit looking at the scrappy little tree. Then they finished the rest of the work. Brother filled up the water reserve just like last year. Mother and Sister tied on the tree skirt just like last year. The cats came and curled under it just like last year. And Father plugged in the lights....just like last year.

So now the scrappy little tree, (formerly the tall, not so proud, pine tree), was a glistening, glittering Christmas Tree. It no longer laid in the ordinary yard down the long drive way over the ordinary black mailbox, but stood, with adorned branches stretched out to be admired and loved.

And as the family stood, arm in arm amidst the mess of the evening; they all agreed that this was the best Christmas Tree ever!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Green Gift Giving for Forgetful Kids

I was "green" years ago and didn't even know it. When my son was a baby, I started, I guess you would say hoarding, some of his birthday or Christmas presents. He would get SO much that it was overwhelming for him and for me. After the gift opening, I would go through everything and slip some items into a closet--maybe a puzzle, a book or stuffed animal. They were usually small things that I could pull out over the next few months, especially on rainy days or the trantrum filled, hair-raising moments. These items are definitely good to have on hand for the last minute party gift (just don't re-gift to the giver) or if you forgot to buy an item for the school toy drive. A few years ago, I discovered the most wonderful thing: I found out that I could also re-gift to my son! (Don't tell him on punishment of having to buy all his Christmas gifts this year.)

My son has a rather fuzzy memory, especially when there is a lot of hub bub like at a party or celebration. Between his birthday party and all his family holiday presents, it becomes an overload of stuff that, although well meaning, only adds clutter to his already full supply. It was his birthday and my parents were in town. Mom felt like she didn't have enough presents for him, despite my assurance that LESS IS MORE! We didn't really have time to get anything, so I just pulled out my secret stash and we wrapped up a couple of chapter books, a large puzzle and a game I had pulled from his holiday haul the year before. We figured that if he questioned it, we could play it off as a silly joke, but to our delight, he didn't remember any of those gifts and was quite excited to receive them. So, after the party, I slid a few choice items to the back of my closet, wrapped them in shiny red and green paper and repeated the offense at Christmas. He was thrilled with his gifts just as much as he was the first time; he just forgot about the first time.
I successfully re-gifted to my daughter as well. Unfortunately with time and my requirement of making them write thank you notes, I think they are growing too old to not catch on to the trick. So I am very mindful of their intake at gift giving times. Now I only buy them a very few things, maybe two or three, for their birthdays or holidays and then the rest comes from family and friends. Now I am just waiting for them to sniff out Santa so I don't have to buy those gifts either. No, I'm not a Scrooge, just wanting to downsize our accumulation of stuff.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

It's Time to Make Time

My brother, David, started a man's volunteer program at his children's elementary school in Austin. He calls it D.O.G.s (Dad's on Guard). The male volunteers, comprised of fathers and grandfathers, mostly help with morning cross walk duty and drop off procedures. At this school, you can either pull through a steady flowing car line where the children are greeted by teachers or other adult volunteers and escorted to their classroom. The other option is to pull around the front of the school, park in a parking space and walk your child into the building.

One day, my father, who has a great name by the way (Bill Hill), volunteered to watch over the front of the building. It was his duty to make sure people parked in the appropriate spots and that parents knew they had to walk their child into the building. This is an awesome job for Dad. It incorporates two of his favorite tasks: 1) he could tell people what to do and 2) he could tell people they were wrong.

As expected, many an opportunity arose for Guard D.O.G. Bill Hill to emphatically, yet kindly tell parents that, no, they shouldn't park in handicap parking and that, yes, they were expected to get out of their cars and walk their children into the building. Yes, of course, this was the school's policy and it was by all means meant only for the safety of the children, not annoy the parents. He would clearly explain that if they didn't like that option, they were more than welcome to go via the drop off option.

Parents got mad. They slammed doors, They screeched tires. They said very unpleasant things to Guard D.O.G. Bill Hill. But the most poignant reply when Dad gave them the choices of either going through the line or parking legally and walking their child to unquestionable safety was: "I don't have time!" The popular act then would be for them to verbally push their children out of the car, probably telling them to ignore the crazy man in the orange vest and pull off in a huff before their child's feet even hit the sidewalk.

What message did these parents send to their kids? You're not important enough to me. It is OK to go against the rules, oh, and by the way, it is also OK to treat people poorly in the process. Your safety is worth a risk. Make a lot of noise and throw a little fit and you, too, can probably get your way. I'm too busy to take care of you.

Unfortunately I think this mindset is one that several of us adopt at one time or another. I'm guilty of it, especially when I am tired or stressed. But lately I have been trying to live a more mindful life: one that allows me moments of pause to insure I am living a life that I want my children to emulate. My goal is not to be a "do as I say not as I do" parent but to be a kind of person I want my children to become. My children see how I treat people; they know how I treat them. The way I see it, my kids are getting older by the second. Now is the only time I have with them. It is time to make time.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Hug for Your Head from Laurie Erickson

So, I am sitting in a salon, getting my hair cut. I thumb threw a couple of magazines and a picture catches my eye. It is a gorgeous silk hair wrap by Laurie Erickson! My Mom lost her hair several weeks ago to chemo and she has been struggling to find a comfortable way to tie scarves around her head...especially one that would stay put! And here it was! Not only that...it was free through an amazing program called GOOD WISHES! (http://www.franceluxe.com/i/goodwishesscarves/GoodWishesScarves.html) By the way, Laurie has designed some amazing hair accessories in all kinds of patterns, styles and materials. Visit her site at http://www.franceluxe.com/. It is beautifully done and easy to navigate: definitely pleasurable shopping experience.

I immediately emailed Laurie to request a wrap for Mom. She quickly wrote me back
asking me to pick out a specific color or pattern (WOW! something free and you actually get to pick it out?) I chose something I think Mom would love and feel pretty in. In addition to her very timely and sweet response, Laurie included a copy of a posting she wrote for the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation (http://www.tnbcfoundation.org/) explaining her company and her program. I include it here for you:

I'm very new to the TNBC foundation and am thrilled to have found this resource. As a tech challenged person, it took me awhile to figure out how to even post a message. My name is Laurie Erickson and I am the CEO of a fashion accessory company located in Washington State . A few years ago I launched a program called Good Wishes scarves - a program where my company makes one, free of charge, silk scarf or headwrap for women experiencing hair loss. This program was borne as a result of an email I received from a loyal customer, Hillary, who bought hair accessories from my company. She wrote to our customer care address and asked if we had any products for women who are losing or have lost their hair. I replied no at the time, but offered to make her a scarf at no charge, in a color of her choosing. When her scarf was completed, we had a staff meeting and had a moment for this terrific woman, silently sending her Good Wishes. After receiving her scarf, we communicated from time to time and I told Hillary that should she meet anyone along her journey, who might enjoy a Good Wishes scarf to please let me know and I would happily have our factory make one for her - she told me that her Good Wishes scarf had brought her comfort during her chemo sessions. At a subsequent Chemotherapy session, Hillary met a woman who learned of our fledgling program and requested a scarf - we were so happy to know that our desire to give was becoming a reality.

I have really struggled to connect, to give, to share our scarves with women. It seems so odd to have the ability to give and KNOW the need is out there, but struggle to find the bridge to get that done. Fortunately, I spoke with Malaak Compton Rock earlier this week and she told me about TNBC - I was so happy when we spoke and I said "you're my Bridge!" - she was as always just lovely and helpful and I am absolutely optimistic. My head has been spinning with ideas and so I write to you here to help me spread the word. It’s very simple. My company works with hundreds of different silks and cottons. I will give as much as I possibly can to the community of women who are undergoing or experiencing an event where she is losing her hair. I have two options at this time; a scarf (which can be a bit cumbersome for some) or a headwrap called "It's a Wrap". I will send you one at no charge. We don't have these all up on our website yet at
http://www.franceluxe.com/, but I can send you swatches or a scan of the available fabrics at this time.

If you or someone you know would enjoy either a scarf or an It's a Wrap - please email me at
laurie@franceluxe.com and me and my staff will work to get it done for you.

In closing, I've worked in the fashion accessories industry for over 20 years. It is an honor and a pleasure to put smiles on faces through sharing our work - I believe in the power of sending good wishes.

Thank you and I look forward to working together with you to perhaps send some comfort to women from women.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tracie's Gone Shopping

Where? Target. Need I say more?

Target has upped its clothing and accessories department in the last couple of years. Their focus now is on the "Frugal-ista." A "Frugalista" are those ladies, like me, who love fashion but don't want to spend big bucks on it. In the midst of the recession, this is such an exciting direction...to offer mouth watering pieces at bargain prices.

If you haven't been in the jewelry department lately, take an extra 10 or 15 minutes to take a turn through. The Target around here moved everything out of its cases and put them on top on easy to see and reach stands. My latest purchase was a wonderful cuff bracelet. See it left. It is a nice shiny gold toe and adorned with luscious glass "crystals". It is solid construction and looks to cost much, much more than it does. It retails for $24 but I got it on sale for $20. When I wear it, I get compliments left and right from people I don't even know. I was at a bar the other night with my husband and this lady next to me literally coveted my Target find. I think I could've sold it to her and made a profit and I wanted to let it go. But as long as it lasts, it is a main stay in my bracelet collection.

On the same day, I took a bit of a turn through the clothing department. In the past, Target has leaned more towards the Junior set. Since I turned 40, I've decided that I need to choose clothing a bit more carefully. Focus on quality and style rather than what it "in" right now. Imagine my thrill when I saw this gorgeous dress pictured left. It is a glorious swirl of green, blue, yellow & white watercolor-esque pattern. The design is a fresh twist on a traditional look. it has a hidden zipper and is fully line...and it only cost $39. Better yet, it look fabulous with the bracelet just picked up in the jewelry department!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Taste of Summer Brings Comfort

When I am sick, or tired, or both, I tend to eat random foods for meals. Sure, I do the usual soup or grilled cheese or hot tea, but there are some items that I crave that not only offer comfort but some sort of satisfaction. When I've had an upset stomach and am feeling better, the first thing I want to eat is a Wendy's 1/4 pounder with cheese only. This is what I ate as a kid before discovering the magic onions and pickles add to a cheeseburger, so in essence, I sooth my tummy and relive a tasty childhood memory.
With this bout of illness this year, I've turned to another old favorite: biscuits and jam. I'll eat it for any meal any day. Last night I had it for dinner with a glass of cold milk. Yum! I've tried several brands and recipes and I've settled on one combination that is reminiscent of a summer's home baked cherry pie.
First, start with a warm, fresh-out-of-the-oven biscuit. My newest favorite is from the Immaculate Baking Company. (http://www.immaculatebaking.com/). In less than 20 minutes, these 8 biscuits come out fluffy, light and flaky...not to mention delicious.
Before they cool off, slice one open and slather on your most favorite butter. My spread of choice is Land O' Lakes spreadable butter with Olive Oil (http://www.landolakes.com/). It is smooth and creamy and melts into a luscious puddle on top of the biscuit.
Then top off your biscuits with a healthy scoop of Bonne Maman Cherry Preserves (http://www.bonnemamanpreserves.com/). Once the warm biscuit melts the butter which then mixes with the jam, this is where the summer shines through. These preserves tastes just like a luscious cherry pie---a lovely marriage of whole cherries resting in a glossy sweet/tart jam. So good, I even eat them with a spoon straight out of the fridge.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I'm Back....Sort Of

I don't really remember the last time I posted and right now I am too lazy to look. Does it really matter? I'm back, aren't I? I picked up the proverbial pen and began writing again regardless of how half-assed it really feels.
This year has sucked. I've had several illnesses and ailments. My dog died. My sister-in-law was diagnosed with skin cancer. And my Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. These are just the highlights not in any certain order. There is actually more between the lines and creases of my days.
I normally hate to complain. I usually try to focus on my gratitude and my blessings. When problems arise, I am more of the proactive, take it head on, type. But as I lie here in bed with my second bought of mono for the year, I feel defeated: physically, emotionally, spiritually. Sure I've been praying. I've tried to exercise when I haven't been injured or sick. I eat my veggies and drink my soy. But right now it all seems in vain.
My husband posed a question the other day watching college football. One of the guys made an amazing play and in the midst of his celebration, he pointed to the sky and clasped his hands as if in prayer. Jonas asked: "So, why do they thank God when they make a good play but they say nothing of Him when they fail or lose?" I couldn't answer him without sounding cynical or heretical. Most people ask "Where is God" during the bad times...me included. I've been taught that God doesn't cause bad things to happen: He allows free will and the free course of consequences in the world. IF something bad does happen, God is there with you every step. I'm just feeling a little lonely right now.
Then today I visited with Mom on my Windows Messenger video chat. There she was with her shiny bald head, looking strangely beautiful and serene. She has amazed me beyond comprehension with her unfailing devotion to her Faith through this journey called "Cancer." Sure, she has cried and she has asked "why?" Who wouldn't? But in contrast to those failing football players (and a good portion of the human population),she doesn't question God; she clings to him as a small child to its mother. She doesn't blame God; she welcomes the wisdom to come from her experience. She doesn't wallow in her loneliness; she cuddles in His constant embrace in her life. Mom doesn't look for the reason but knows that reason will present itself in due time and to her, it will be worth it all to help just one other person.
Little does she know, but my bald headed Momma with cancer is the one giving me the strength to make it through the rest this awful year has to offer. Her steadfast faith gives me hope that maybe God does hear me during my middle of the night pleas. Because of her, I can put one foot in front of the other with my slow steady progress towards accepting what is now will eventually pass and allowing myself to let a "reason" become enough.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Kill 'Em with Kindness

We all remember hearing and quoting The Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It took a while for me to figure this one out. As a child, I thought it meant that I should hit my brother when he hit me. After all, isn't that the way he wanted to be treated? I was just doing him a favor. Right?

I grew up the first half of my life in some quintessential Texas towns. One was in Northeast Texas (Sherman) and the other two were in West Texas (Amarillo and Lubbock). I have various memories from each: living minutes away from my grandparents and great-grandparents in Amarillo; the huge pecan tree in our backyard in Sherman; the dust storms in Lubbock. One thing in common for all these towns is that each one was, and still is, chock full of nice people.

Living in Texas for 25 years (and one year in Colorado--another very nice place) and being raised by Texans (my brother and I are believed to be 7th generation Texans) made kindness a way of life like walking or eating. Of course, you greet people on the street with a "Good Morning," even though you don't know them. It is an involuntary act to make a casserole for a friend who has a family occurrence of birth, illness or death. Why not invite the new family on the block to a party...the more the merrier! Southern hospitality is unprecedented and a southern heart or table always has room for more.

After marrying my "Yankee" husband, I had a rough time moving to the Northeastern United States about fourteen years ago. Although I looked forward to the adventure of a new place, I was ignorant how much this area lacked the social skills of basic kindness. I suffered from major culture shock! Through the years in Rhode Island, I've dealt with rude people on the street, unbearable customer service, and ungrateful, self-absorbed neighbors. I've lived in four different residences in Rhode Island and haven't once had a neighbor welcome me or introduce themselves when we moved in. It took me two years to make a new friend. People here are very "tribal": they have their own circle and it is very difficult to break through. I would go walking on Blackstone Boulevard in Providence, greeting people along the way without receiving any more than a blank look as a response. I remember when we had to spend our first Thanksgiving here and my in laws were out of town. No one invited us to join them (I had friends at this point). No one offered us a pumpkin pie. My husband bought a chicken, I roasted it and we spent the day alone. As my mother said: "that would never happen in Texas." I remember countless Thanksgivings growing up with random neighbors, business associates and acquaintances who would join us because my parents believed that you can always make room for more

I was at the dentist this week getting a crown and he brought up Texas and how amazed he is when he goes there on business. People greet him in the hotel lobby. Business men ask him to their houses for dinner while others offer to take him to buy his own pair of cowboy boots during their time off from work. He then compared being there to our own "Little Rude Rhody"and without even knowing I write a blog, he said to me: "You know, Tracie, you should write an editorial about how easy it is to be nice. Texans know how to be nice." He isn't the first one to tell me this. I've had store clerks, policemen stopping me to give me a ticket, plumbers, electricians, contractors, doctors and receptionists tell me how much they appreciate how nice I was to them. "It is so refreshing not to get yelled at, "one of them told me. A few of them said, "Wow, you must not be from Rhode Island." "No, " I proudly respond, "I'm from Texas."

I believe I was blessed with caring parents who taught be how to act and to treat other people with true kindness. It is second nature for me to say "Please," "Thank You," and "Have a Nice Day." I try on a daily basis to instill this practice into my own children and I am so proud when they mirror my behaviour without being prompted. As I have written before, it takes the same amount of time to say something in a kind manner as it does to say something with malice. I like to think that each time I am nice to someone, that one act of kindness will help them be nice to another, and so on and so on and so on...Do I get mad? Sure. Do I get disappointed and frustrated when things don't go the way I planned them. Of course! On a day-in, day-out basis, I try to keep things into perspective: "It is what it is." I have a mental list of questions I run through quickly before responding while I take a nice deep yoga breath: "Is this life or death situation? In the great scheme of my life, how important is this really? Could they be having a bad day or did something happen that is making them cranky? Do I want to preserve this relationship?" What I've found is what my mother has always told me (yes, Mom, you were right): "You attract more bees with honey than with vinegar."

Here are some tips for living a kind life:

  1. BE GRATEFUL: Be grateful for what you have and what you are able to do. Living a life of wanting leaves you empty and angry. Tell your pool company: "Thank you so much for coming out to open the pool this week. I would really appreciate it if someone could come out to check as soon as possible. The pool is green and I am having a party on Friday."

  2. BE APPRECIATIVE: Appreciate what others can do for you rather than focusing on what they can't. Don't have the attitude that you deserve something because you are smart, rich, on time, or a certain ethnic race. Living a life of deserving and self righteousness will leave you disappointed and frustrated. Tell the receptionist: "I know you must be really busy, but could I please ask you a question? I have to be out of here in 30 minutes, should I reschedule or will the doctor be able to see me soon?"

  3. BE COURTEOUS: Make it a practice to use your Ps and Qs. Say "thank you" to anyone who helps you do anything and assists you in any way: the clerk at the grocery store; the teller at the bank; the waitress at lunch. And, please, whatever you do, please say please. "Please" is a sweet little cushion even if you are asking for the impossible.

  4. BE FRIENDLY: Smile and say "Hi", "Good-bye," and "Have a good day" every day to everyone you meet. It is simple. It is fast. It costs you nothing but will pay you back in boundless benevolence.

  5. BE SYMPATHETIC: Got a grouchy check out clerk? Instead of snapping back, know that he or she must have something going on. You never know what happens at home or in the hearts of our fellow human beings. Either carry on as quickly as you can without any provocation (don't rock the boat) or make an effort to heal a wound: "Wow, you must be having a bad day. I sure hope it gets better."

  6. BE CONSIDERATE: Do small things as often as you can to breed kindness in your heart. Try to "touch, move and inspire" someone on a daily, or at least weekly, basis. Open the door for moms struggling with a stroller. Wait patiently for the elderly person crossing the street. Move over at the bar so a couple can sit together. Let the person pass on the highway who has her blinker on instead of giving her the finger and squeezing her out (yes, this happens). Take brownies to the new neighbors.

There are mean people all over the world, even in Texas. Rhode Island is just where I live now and will probably live for a long time. I tried for years to get my husband to move but we haven't been able to because of his work situation. In the last ten years, I have made some amazing friends. Most of them are "transplants" just like me but there are some native Rhode Islanders with heart and soul...(I know a few of them). I saw a message outside a church after I got my dental crown that day: "Kindness is not a bad religion. No matter what name you use for God."

Friday, June 5, 2009

Mommy Crisis or What Was I Thinking?

Hey, Moms out there, do you ever have a moment when you wished you weren't a mother? Oh, come on, admit it. This is a Mommy-guilt free zone. I've been a mother for 10 years now and have wished several times (too many to even count) that I wasn't one. Sometimes it is for a moment, sometimes a day; I've even had a few months in a row before (that is a long story for another blog). I FINALLY admitted my secret wish the other day to a friend of mine. It was just "one-of-those-days": "I know this sounds awful," of course I had to preface what I had to say with that so I didn't look too evil, "but there are times that I wish, really wish I wasn't a mother." To my little selfish surprise, she grinned and said, "Me, too."

Don't get me wrong; I wouldn't trade my kids for anything...well, at least at this moment I wouldn't. Ask me another time and you might get a different answer! I worked so hard to have those babies: four miscarriages, months of morning sickness, fat ankles (although more than my ankles were fat), not to mention the money I spent on ovulation kits and maternity tests. Truly, I love them deeply and, as all Mothers know, I would eat dirt for them if need be, but there are also times that I would love to take that dirt and shove it right in their little foul mouths.

So, here goes: I wish I wasn't a Mother when....
  • My child says, "Mom, I hate you....you are the worst Mother in world. I wish you weren't my mother!" Or any other variation on a theme. When I was little, my Mom used to threaten to sell me to the gypsies. When I was quite small, I believed her a bit. Then when I realized it was against the law to sell children, she was toast! Even though I knew it was eventually coming, the first time my sweet child assulted me, I was aghast! To think that I actually created this little monster who stood there, verbally abusing me. My mental reaction is "What was I thinking when I decided to have a baby? So you can yell nasty things at me? If I wanted that, I would've just rented a kid." My actual reaction: "Believe me, buddy, I wish I could send you back right now, but that it impossible! Now, go to your room."

  • I am trying to change my tampon and my children keep coming in to ask very inane questions or to tattle on each other. Sure, I should lock the door, but the lock it broken. So instead I have to figure out how to simultaneously block the door with my foot while taking care of business. At the same time yelling "Mommy needs her privacy!! I'll be there in a minute!! Go downstairs and get yourself some candy!!!" Thank the good Lord for yoga (or should I be thanking Buddha for that?) My rule now is that if the house isn't on fire and if no one is bleeding, then leave me alone when I am in the bathroom. Remind me to get that lock fixed!

  • I have a hangover and someone wants pancakes at 6:30 a.m. This does not happen often, but when it does, man, oh man, do I wish I was back in college with a day ahead of me with nothing better to do than lay in bed, eat saltines and sip Sprite in the dark. I always tell myself: "I will never do this again." But sometimes it just creeps up when you're with your friends, and the music is playing and you are living for the moment. Then the sun comes up and all I can hear is "I'M HUNGRY!! I WANT PANCAKES!" Oh, for the day when they can make their own damn pancakes.

  • A toddler throws up on me at the beginning of an overseas airplane ride. I have the flight attendant yelling at me something about germs and food. I have the baby screaming, crying and heaving. I'm standing there literally head to toe in vomit, chunks in my hair, drenched in the foulest smell without a change of clothing for myself (but I packed 3 for him!) Passengers are looking at me in horror. This is a Dorothy moment where I desperately click my heels together and wish, oh wish, I was back home---or at least single, sitting in first class with my cocktail, magazine and fresh baked cookies. Somehow, that doesn't work.

  • The doctor told me that the only way to get my stomach back would be to have a major surgery. You know those women who are "all belly" when they are pregnant. That was me with both babies...although I was also all ass. When most women aren't wearing maternity clothes until after week 16-20, I was in them almost immediately. Seriously. At 16 weeks, I had a lady ask me when I was due, and when I told her, she looked at me like I had 10 heads and said "Honey, you look like you are about to pop." Thanks, lady, who I don't know. Now I feel REALLY good about myself. So, I learned to start lying about my due date so people would tell me how good I looked. Bad, I know, but I do have an ego to nurture. My expectation are not that high. I know I won't have the pre-baby body I had in my 20s, but I would like one that doesn't look so lumpy and saggy.

  • Trying to change planes while flying home to Texas. I have got one in the stroller who can walk and one walking who doesn't want to walk. We have to go from one terminal to another in less than 30 minutes. I have a backpack that the walker refuses to carry, my bag with all-things-mother in it (so you know it weighs a billion pounds) and I have to keep picking up the bottle that the rider keeps dropping on the floor. I'm sweating. I'm thirsty. I have to pee. The one in the stroller is crying because she wants out and the one walking is crying because he wants to ride: "It's NOT FAIR she gets to ride." "But, honey, she doesn't know how to walk!" "I don't care, it's NOT FAIR!" I am literally dragging (picture child on floor flailing and me pulling an arm) the non-walking walker down the terminal with one hand and trying to steer a stroller with the other while hundreds of travellers stare at me in disbelief. Click, click, click those heels....damn, they're still here.
In the grand scheme of a lifetime, these difficult times are fleeting and far between. The clock hands seem to a crawl when I am in the midst of a Mommy-crisis. Then, once the air clears, I take a breath and we are back to the same ol' routine of snuggles, giggles, ruffled hair, grass stained knees (the sign of a very good day) and words of love. The bad news is, time truly does fly when you are having fun.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Lucy Goosey's Legacy

On Monday, May 4, 2009 our family dog, Lucy Goosey, died unexpectedly. The experience was beyond gut-wrenching. One of the hardest things for me to do was to pick up my kids from school, knowing that when we got home, the news would break their hearts. It was a warm day, sunny and clear. The kids came out of class with hope of dinner out and possibly ice cream for dessert (cotton candy for Audrey and peanut butter perfection for Dakota). I smiled, hugged them and said "What a wonderful idea. We will do that. Hey, and guess what, Dad didn't have to go on his business trip after all." They ignited into more furious giggles and the jumps in anticipation of our surprise night with Dad and all the trimmings. Now looking back, I'm not sure if I should've made them SO happy before releasing the final blow. I had no energy to argue or explain anything; I just wanted them home and in my arms.

After asking the kids to sit down on the couch for a "quick talk" before moving on with our evening plans, Dakota guessed it right away: "Someone died. Who? Mom, who? Was it one of the kitties?" All I had to say was "No, honey," and he immediately began his guttural screams and cries "Not, Lucy Mom. Oh, no, NOT LUCY. I didn't even get to say goodbye!" Audrey was her typical peaceful self, with a couple of tiny, hot tears rolling down her cheeks, she just wanted to know when we would get another dog. After a couple of hours of calming Dakota and placating Audrey, we did make our night out. Before we left, I took Lucy's two collars and the kids wore them around their wrists. This particulary comforted Dakota as he could still smell Lucy's fresh-rom-the-groomer scent. Over dinner we toasted to Lucy and talked about what a great dog she was and shared our favorite stories. Ice cream brought more tears so we snuggled when we got home and I let the kids sleep with me.

We had Lucy cremated and I somehow had to figure out how to thoughtfully explain this to the children without delving into the gory details. I simply said that Dr. Simpson (our vet) was turning her body into ashes so we could bury her in our yard. We do have a lot of wild creatures in our wooded land, so I continued to explain that we didn't want the other animals to dig her up. I also noted that if we ever moved, we would be able to dig the box up and take Lucy with us. They were satisfied with that idea and wanted to see her ashes when they arrived a week later. Oh, the things we do for our children! That was the first cremated anything I've ever seen, coming from a history of grave side burials. The box was heavier than I expected and the ashes were more gravel-like than soft like out of the fireplace. I wouldn't let them feel them. I just couldn't go there.

Each of us wrote Lucy a note and put it in the box with her. I couldn't fathom putting the box right in the ground (I don't know why) so I got out our handy, dandy ZipLoc bags. I triple bagged the box (seemed like a good idea at the time) and announced it was time for the burial. We had invited our two closest family friends over who really knew Lucy and had a relationship with her. My husband dug the hole under Lucy's favorite bush, I placed Lucy's box in the hole and then the 8 kids present took turns putting dirt on her. I asked them to say something nice about her when they did and in unison they began all covering her and spouting phases such as: "You were a good dog, Lucy," "Best dog of a life time." "We love you Lucy." "We will never forget you Lucy." Dakota and Audrey, with a little help from their friends, placed the stones they had made for her the week before on top of where we buried her. We all held hands in a circle and prayed. My parents were there so I had Mom pray. I couldn't possibly speak at that moment.

I was sad a few days afterwards. In fact, I get sad every once in a while for her. The grieving process is slow and steady. During the week after it happened, I would go to the door to let Lucy in and I could have sworn twice that I heard her barking and once that I saw her. One particularly sad time Audrey came to me and said, "Mom, don't be sad. Lucy is in your heart forever." (except it was actually cuter because Audrey still has speech issues: "Mom, don't be sad. Woosy is in yo hawd foevah.") Audrey believes that Lucy is now one of her Garden Fairies (an Audi-ism for Guardian Angel) and she talks to Lucy freely as if she is right there. She decided that Lucy is playing with our old cats, Hunter Boogyman and Chewy, in some beautiful place in Heaven for beloved pets. She showed me the faith of a child in its purist form and now I smile when I see Lucy's grave, knowing that she is still with me but instead of chasig turkeys, she is chasing clouds and instead of scaring away squirrels, she is scaring away nightmares. We love you, Lucy Goosey. You are the best dog of a lifetime.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Pure Pleasures

I went grocery shopping today. It is one of those necessary evils like getting a pap smear, doing laundry or cleaning up vomit. The new Nickelback song If Today was Your Last Day came on the radio and one of the first lines said: "each day's a gift, not a given right...." The synopsis of the song is that you should live your daily life as if it were your last in all that you do. This line really hit home with me; you are given the gift of another day each time you wake up in the morning. What are you going to do with it? I realized that it isn't just all the good things you should be doing with your life but also the good things you should be doing for yourself; those little things that bring a bit of joy. Driving down Route 2, I started making a mental list of what my pure pleasures are: uncomplicated things I can either do for myself or simply savor to make a bad day better or a great day fantastic.

        1. Brioche roll with butter, sharp cheddar, & hard peppered salami
        2. Hot day & the perfect sundress
        3. Freshly manicured toes & hands
        4. Clean sheet night
        5. The first scoop of peanut butter out of a new jar
        6. Hot bath before bed
        7. Dark chocolate truffle
        8. Margarita, rocks, salt
        9. Cool, dark room; heavy blanket
        10. Blasting Tom Petty on iPod

        You wanna hear the song? Click here to listen & read lyrics: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3gAgIMuRs4&feature=related

        Sunday, April 12, 2009

        Spring Clean Your Soul: The Art of Apologizing

        Easter is a time for renewal of the world around us. Even in the ch-ch-chilly days of East Coast living, you see tiny crocus and other buds stretching, reaching for the warmth of the sun trying to add some color to our otherwise gray Spring. Growing up in Texas with luscious green grass and colorful bluebonnets in March, I didn't really appreciate springtime until I lived in Rhode Island where we don't see a Spring day until Summer. It is also a time for the proverbial "spring cleaning"...my fingers start itching to dig out my kids closets and organize my junk drawer. The landscapers come and scoop away all the sand from the thawed roads and rake up broken branches and wayward leaves. With all this spiffing up around us, I think it is also a great opportunity to spring clean out our souls. A great place to start is by clearing up any unfinished business you have with anyone in your life. Maybe you owe someone an apology?

        Saying "I'm sorry" comes easy to some people. The words spill from their mouths effortlessly like water from a fountain. They apologize for everything and anything as if they are sorry for breathing your same air. Most of the time it doesn't make any sense when they mumble: "sorry". This type of apology is mindless, souless and useless; it is almost a habit.

        In the same vein as this, but definitely a step up, there is the basic apology that is easy to do and to say and usually occurs the second we bump someone, interrupt them or cause some sort of minuscule infraction. The majority of us are able to accept and apologize sincerely and succinctly. Children, on the other hand, tend to see life in black-and-white. I've been trying to teach my children that it is necessary to say "I'm Sorry" even when you accidentally hurt someone. My son will unintentionally step on my foot. After the pain subsides and I am able to speak, I will ask him to make amends to me. His tearful argument is: "I didn't MEAN to do it, so I shouldn't have to apologize." At this point, I pull out my dusty mind file on Newton's Third Law of Physics: For every action, there is an equal reaction (or consequence). Sometimes even mindless accidents cause consequences that require tending.
        The most difficult part of apologizing is to fully understand and take ownership in your own wrong doings. Many people tend to make excuses and justify the reasons for their actions: "It is OK I said that because I was tired, or drunk, or pissed off." I call this the "but apology": "I am so sorry for hurting your feelings, but.....blah, blah,blah..." For me, excuses tend to negate the whole apology and make it untrustworthy; it says that "this might happen again given the same circumstance." As a recipient, I might accept the apology BUT it would be very difficult for me to trust that person again.
        I don't think you should even try to make reparations until you sincerely accept responsibility for your actions and are willing to humble yourself. If you truly aren't sorry and you don't care what happens with your relationship and you can move onward in life with a peaceful soul, then don't say a word. It would be a lie. But, if you want another chance and wish to clean up your soul of unrest, here is the best way (I think) to do it:
        • Make sure you apologize as close to the offense as possible. It may be right away. It may be after a day or so if you had a heated argument and things need to cool down. Screaming "I'm sorry" with clenched fist and spit flying from your angry mouth doesn't count. If it has been a while since the offense, just know that it is never too late to start healing an old wound. Hearts have amazing healing powers when feed a lot of TLC.
        • Try if at all possible to TALK to your offended party. In my experience, emailing, texting, or any other electronic messaging is the worst way to say "I'm sorry." Words are read with a different voice than your own and can be taken out of context and misconstrued.
        • Once you are ready to talk, say simply that you are sorry for the specific offense. Speak in first person and NEVER apologize for the other person's feeling. "I'm sorry you feel that way" is NOT an apology: they are just more fighting words, if you ask me. You may want to validate their reaction, let them know how you feel about them and possibly offer an explanation and plan for the future. An explanation IS NOT an excuse. For example: "I am so sorry that I hurt your feelings so badly. That is the last thing I want to do. Your friendship means the world to me. I was angry with my boss and I took it out on you. In the future, I will try to communicate more so you know what is going on and I won't treat you unjustly again. Please forgive me."
        • Sometimes apologizing opens up a space to talk about what happened. Again, the best thing to do is to focus on your actions and reactions. Don't preach and teach by telling the other person how they should've felt or what they should've done. Don't dig up things that happened in the past that have nothing to do with the issue at hand. The focus should be on the current wrong doing and the recipient. Simply stick to your apology, be understanding if they still need some time to think, and be patient as their wounds heal.
        • Once it is over and all is forgiven, it is now time to move forward. Don't continually apologize: you've already done that. Don't keep asking if the person is still mad at you: that makes you seem impatient and selfish. The faster you move back towards normalcy, the better. Just take into account that this normalcy is different than the normalcy before the infraction: you've learned more about yourself and you've made promises to change and keep tabs on your future actions.

        Saturday, April 11, 2009

        Sew What?!?! Making Skinny Jeans that Fit

        Thunder Thighs. Bubble Butt. I've been called them all. And I've felt like them all. When asked what the least favorite part of my body, it is very easy to answer: my thighs. I can live happily with my voluminous backside ass-set, but I have to say that I am pea-green with envy of anyone who has thin, willowy thighs. Ahhhhhh......I can't tell you how excited I was back in the day when "relaxed jeans" surfaced. I finally had a jean that I could fit my thighs into! Thing is, they weren't "relaxed" on me...they were fitted. But, at least they fit. Up until then, I was buying boys jeans because they had a larger thigh circumference than girls'.

        So, imagine the lump in my throat when I saw that "skinny jeans" were in style. Yes, you are right. I could just skip it and not do the skinny jean thing. But, I enjoy fashion. I enjoy trying new looks and mixing and matching items. But, I really don't enjoy pants. Especially skinny pants. Truth be told, bottom line (accept the pun), I couldn't fit into any of the designer "skinny jeans" no matter how many sizes I went up.

        Instead of giving up and resigning myself to "mom" jeans, I decided to get crafty. Notice the sewing machine picture above. It actually belongs to my son. Yes, that's right, son. I bought it for him for $89 and taught him how to sew a nice, even straight stitch. He has made a couple of blankets and pillows. Once you can do that, you can really sew just about anything.

        So, I went to my "FAVORITE" store, Target, and purchased a pair of dark washed Mossimo boot cut jeans: specifically Mossimo Preminum Denium Low Rise, Bootcut jeans. They are awesome! They are very stretchy and very comfortable. The best part, they only cost around $14 (On sale. They are regularly , brace yourself, $27.99! I took them home and I made my own skinny jeans. So for all those girls with luscious thighs and juicy bums, here is how you do it:

        First of all, put your jeans on wrong side out. Note that you should be really careful putting the jeans on; I majorly scratched my thigh on the zipper. Once you get them on, grab some pins (or grab a friend with a bottle of wine & a hand full of pins) and pin the pants to the fit you like. For the record, I started around my knee area and continued all the way down. But, this will vary with the size and shape of your legs. I have relatively chunky knees.

        Next you are going to sew down the leg, following the pins . Sew slowly and take them out as you go. After you finish both legs, try on the pants the right way and make sure they fit. If they don't (heaven forbid) take them off, take out the seam, and pin and sew them again. Honestly, chances are, they are just fine. Once you have the fit the way that you want them (hooray) you will want to do a zig-zag stitch along the straight stitch on the outside. This will reinforce your seam and prevent fraying. Next, you will clip along the zig-zag stitch with a good pair of scissors.

        Hey, so now you are done! Break out the champagne!! (Preferably Veuve Clicquot). Turn them right-side-out and try them one. They should fit perfectly and you should be so happy that even though you have junk in the trunk, you are a yummy mummy in your new skinny jeans. Grab a fun top and a pair of high heels. Run, do not walk, to you local bar for a perfect martini of choice. By making your own jeans, you've probably saved yourself around $200! You can sashay in your skinny jeans feeling not only cool, but oh, so comfortable and thrifty. Cheers!

        Wednesday, March 25, 2009

        Ten Things I Learned in Vegas

        1. Italian men like to wear pink.

        2. People born in 1987 (the year I graduated high school) are able to gamble and drink.

        3. You can easily lose $200 in a matter of minutes, especially if you are using colorful plastic circles as currency.

        4. Chocolate Amaretto Gelato tastes best at midnight.

        5. Drink containers large enough to require a strap to carry them actually exist. Seriously.

        6. Everyone should have a button next to their bed that automatically opens and closes the window shade.

        7. There is no reason to spend $25 a day to work out in the hotel gym. Take a walk, man!

        8. Lots of people like to stand in really, really long lines for all-you-can-eat buffets. Not me.

        9. You can actually get blisters on the bottom of your feet from walking too much.

        10. Everything that happens in Vegas definitely doesn't stay in Vegas. Talk to my thighs!

        Tuesday, March 17, 2009

        Sweet Preserves

        The last day of my 39th year was a swirl of melancholy, anticipation and excitement.   I was at home with my family.  "Home" means with my parents not in the place I live with my own little family.  My brother and his crew live close, so all 12 of us were together off and on all day.  At one point during the day, Mom pulled out old video tapes and we cuddled on the couch to giggle, cry and reminisce.   It was just the two of us, which is a rarity when I visit.  Some kids were outside, some were watching TV and some where fishing with Dad.  We saw loved one who had passed years ago.  We saw friends we haven't seen since.  We saw younger versions of ourselves and marveled at the speediness and wild abandonment of the hands of time.  

        One  video was a tape that I had made for Mom and Dad years ago of our 8mm film so we could watch it on the VCR.  The video transfer preserved the raw scratchiness of the film and the silence made me focus on the images more deeply.  Although I have seen these tapes before, they meant so much more to me.  It's been at least 15 years since we've seen them, because I know I haven't made my husband watch them.  I got to see my parents in action in their twenties:  Mom bathing and powdering my baby body; Dad bouncing me on his knee and stealing sweet kisses from my neck.  Being a parent myself gave these images a connective feeling:  I knew how it felt to hold and love your own child, so I could appreciate the emotions more than just the picture.  Other scenes were mainly of my brother and me in various stages of play, celebration, and interaction.  One moment sticks in my mind of my brother not quite 4 and me not quite 1.  I wasn't walking yet...just a ball of baby rolling around on the floor.  Apparently someone was instructing him to pick me up so we could be filmed together.  He tried with all his might to get me and all I could do is flop and roll around.   He finally gave up and stood there alone and smiled while I lay there perfectly content.  This image represents our sibling life together:  he would try to direct me in a certain way, finally give up and let me be as I made my own way.

        Watching the cousins play made me nostalgic, even hungry for more childhood memories: swinging on my rope swing, snuggling with my pets, or just taking silly pictures with my brother.  So, I, literally, dug out and dusted off our old slide projector and boxes of slides...all of which were out of order. With great joy, I discovered it still worked.  My brother set up a sheet over the mantle and the kids all got pillows and blankets and gathered to watch our family memories unfold.   The kids marveled at the machine and mentioned more than once that they hoped it didn't blow up.  The hum of the projector and that unmistakable sound of it switching slides were worlds apart from watching a digital slide show on the computer.   What a marvelous way to connect generations! I pointed out a chair that is now in our family room...no longer the avocado green velvet...and a table that is in our living room...no longer the avocado green paint.   A small painted plaque that hung in my grandmother's kitchen is now hanging next to my sink.  A quilt that my great-grandmother made and gave me for my birthday is in my daughter's room.  My kids saw places I lived, pets I had, friends I made and how I grew from year to year just like them.

        My walk down memory lane did so much more than help me recall events.  It guided my hand as I pulled the common thread through my birth to present day.  These preserved memories allowed me to see how I learned to love, celebrate, appreciate and live.  And, now, in turn, I teach my children the same.

        Thursday, March 5, 2009

        30 Discoveries from My 30s

        So...as I have said, I'm turning 40. I'm getting all reflective and nostalgic in my mid-life. These are in no particular order or relevance. They are as they come to mind:

        It really is never too late to say "I'm Sorry." When Dakota first told me he hated me and never wished I was his mother, it was a dagger in my heart. I immediately called my Mom and apologized to her for ever saying that to her when I was a kid.

        Motherhood is one of the hardest things I have ever done. I had a pretty romantic ideal of what it would mean to be a mother before I had children. I didn't know how tired I would be. I didn't know how much I would worry. And I didn't know how delightfully painful loving my children would be.

        Postpartum Depression is real.


        Rag Doll cats are really very therapeutic for a hyper kid or a stressed out adult.

        I'm glad my father taught me how to drive a stick shift. It came in handy as our first two cars of our marriage where sticks. I would've hated for Jonas to have to teach me to drive a stick. Can't be good for a marriage.

        I really am a much better person if I am flexing my creative juices.

        I still don't like seafood. In the past ten years I have tried shrimp, squid, octopus, lobster, halibut, white fish...and I STILL don't like it. I'm done trying.

        How to make kick-ass margaritas.

        Getting rid of unwanted hair professionaly is not only important but neccessary.

        If you miss Days of Our Lives for six years, you can catch up in less than 3 new episodes.

        I really love Historical Fiction in books and movies.

        My Soul Sistas---the friends I've adopted as sisters.

        Rhode Island isn't as bad as I thought. I like it best in the Summer & Fall. I'd like to live in Colorado in the Winter & Spring.

        I am mentally and emotionally stronger than I ever thought I could be.

        My mom was right when she said I would regret my tattoo.

        There is nothing better than a hug and kiss from my children.

        Yoga rocks!

        You don't get bad hang-overs from really good tequila.

        Never say never. Seriously.

        My body is not like it was in my 20s but I can make it be the best it can be at whatever age I am.

        Medication saves lives.

        Babysitters save marriages.

        Following my heart or my gut has lead to many great things.

        Dark Chocolate + Red Wine = Heaven

        Clogs are very comfortable.

        Killing head lice is a tricky and arduous task.

        Saying "Because I said so" is obviously a part of the parental handbook. My parents said it and now it automatically flows from my mouth.

        Saying "No" is very liberating.

        How to be truly grateful beyond just saying "thank you".

        Thursday, February 26, 2009

        Spread the Love

        Valentine's Day has never been a big favorite of mine. Really. Sure, I love to be told how loved I am and I am not one to turn away a bouquet of flowers or chocolate of any kind. Of course, now that I am married, I do like the funny greeting cards Jonas gives me and have come to expect them in the morning along with breakfast in bed. This year brought a hilarious cave-man themed version along with my favorite muffin. Regardless of the niceties I enjoy on February 14, it never really made sense to me why people choose one day in which to show their feelings when there are 364 other perfectly good days.

        The basic history of Valentine's Day is simple. It began a few hundred years ago in celebration of a couple of martyrs named "Valentine." As the English courts flourished and "courtly love" came into fashion with Chaucer in the late 1300's, the expression of love in written form became more and more popular. In the United States, the first mass-produced cards were produced and sold shortly after 1847 by Esther Howland of Worcester, MA. Esther, the entrepreneur she was, took her inspiration from an English valentine greeting she had received and created her own out of embossed paper and lace. So we can thank the English for today's modern Valentine's Day celebration. Since then, Valentine's Day, like so many of our other holidays, has become mass-produced and mass-marketed to make businesses masses of money.

        Remember elementary school when you had to bring in a Valentine for everyone in your class...even for the kid that wiped boogers on you or the one that ate paste in the corner? It was a good lesson in the Golden Rule. My kids still have this practice at school. Truth be told, they love it...more for the candy that is attached to the greetings than anything else. When Dakota was in first grade and Audrey in PK, we started making collages for our Valentine's. The kids have fun doing it and it is more economical. They each use a picture of themselves from the past year and create a greeting with drawings and stickers. I then scan and print the collages and these become their cards. This year, they taped heart-shaped peppermint patties to them for a minty message.

        My 40th year is bringing a lot of time for reflecting. This February, while making these collages with the kids, I was trying to recall any memorable Valentine's Day. I wanted to give the day some significant meaning and purpose. I remember two: one with Dad and one with Jonas.

        When I was little, Dad always gave me a Valentine card and present. No matter what. He actually continued this practice until I got married. Hey, Dad, why did you stop? The one I remember most was a yellow umbrella. There was really nothing that special about the umbrella other than it was mine and it was yellow...oh, and Dad gave it to me for Valentine's Day. I loved that umbrella and actually kept and used it from elementary school through college and into my first job. There is actually a picture of me in college with my friend Cindy walking in the rain under my yellow umbrella. It made it in our local newspaper. Every time I used that umbrella, I thought of Dad and how much he loves me.

        It was February 14, 1995. I woke up and found some flowers that Jonas hid in my house the day before. We decided to get dressed up and go to our favorite Italian restaurant. There is a picture of us before we left I have hanging in our home: we are both young, thin and happy (not necessarily in that order). The most important memory I have of that night was looking at Jonas across the table and knowing that I was going to marry him. I'd never really felt that before and it was weird because we had only been "officially" dating since December. But when I looked in his eyes and laughed with him, I felt like I was home. A month later, we were engaged and then were married by December 30, 1995. When I look at the picture, it brings me back to the genesis of our love and reminds me of why we are still chugging along today.

        Neither of these experiences really has anything to do with Valentine's Day. Sure, the events happened on February 14 of some year, but it could have and would have been any other day. Dad still would have loved me and probably would have given me my beloved yellow umbrella. Jonas still would have made my heart skip a beat whether it was over spaghetti or our favorite chicken burrito. My point is that Valentine's Day is only as magical as you make it, but why wait? Why not make any ordinary day just as special? It takes two seconds to say "I Love You." (yes, I've timed myself). It takes 5 maybe 10 minutes to write a note of affection or encouragement. One second to say "Thank You." A minimum of 2 seconds to hug someone, although I prefer about a 30 second squeeze. One day has 86400 seconds. Why not use few of those seconds every day to hug, thank and spread the love?

        Sunday, February 8, 2009

        In Search of True Gratitude

        Ever noticed how easy it is to be thankful for something you really want or you truly like? People are more inclined to pour on the gratitude when you give them something from their wish list or when everything goes exactly as planned. How many times do you hear people who win something say, "Thank you, Jesus!" and then turn and curse God's will when it isn't quite right? "Why? Why? Why?" they ask over and over. For me, it is much easier to praise the goodness of dark chocolate than, let's say, cooked cabbage.

        I've been to a couple of workshops on gratitude. The whole premise of both workshops was to find gratitude in everyday things. The big idea is that if you are a gracious person; you are a happy person. At one point, I even followed Oprah's suggestion and wrote down in a daily journal all things I am thankful for that moment. I look back and things range from U2 to my husband to rainy days...all things that bring me some sort of pleasure. One workshop leader suggested for us to try to find gratitude in the mundane. His primary example was sidewalks. "Imagine," he said (I am paraphrasing...don't have that great of memory), "our world without sidewalks? Your feet would be muddy and it wouldn't be that easy to walk around the neighborhoods. Isn't your life so much easier with sidewalks?" Well, what do you know, it IS much better!

        Lately I've been pondering the actual power of feeling gracious. How the simple task of truly appreciating something for what it is can raise your attitude, mood and whole state of mind to a higher place of being. This week I decided to do a little project to take my graciousness a step further: finding gratitude in things that I really, really hate. Yes, hate is a strong word, but I wanted to challenge myself because it is easy to find the good in things you kind of don't like; that's why you only kind of don't like them. Here is my list from this week of four things I hate but am grateful for:

        Getting My Teeth Cleaned: Now, this sounds like a pretty inane thing to hate. You just lay in the chair and someone polishes up your pearly whites. But, I cannot stand getting my teeth cleaned. I hate the scrapping and the sucking and the dripping. I hate the grinding and the blowing and the flossing. I really hate it when the hygienist slips and jabs her instrument into my gum. Ow! Ugh, just thinking about it send chills down my spine. So, while I was laying there, I tried to find my gratitude and an image came to mind of all those characters in period themed movies. You know, the ones with people in big clothes and big hair who lived in the 1500s? Well, in the movies they always show the rich people having these perfectly straight white teeth and then the poor have the black, gunked up mouths with half the teeth missing. In reality. at that time most everyone had gunked up teeth as well as missing ones because there was very poor dental hygiene. There was only so much cleaning they could do with a stick and when they got a cavity, they pulled the tooth out. In fact, Queen Elizabeth (1533-1603), although being the most powerful person in England, was known to have had black teeth and she was missing so many teeth by the end of her life that it was difficult for her courtiers to understand what she said. Toothbrushes and dental hygiene as we know it today didn't come into play until the early 1900's. And you know what, I am grateful that I live in a time where we have such amazing dental care. I have all my teeth, although I do have to get a crown on one due to an old filling (at least it isn't getting pulled!), and I will more than likely have all of them when I'm old and gray. So scrape and grind away all you want! I won't complain. I'll check 'em out in the mirror afterwards and say thank you, thank you, thank you. I'll just take a few Alieve next time before I go.

        My Stomach: Ask any woman and there is something about her body that she doesn't like. I get this. I actually have a few things about my body that I don't particularly like but I can be thankful for: my thighs are big, but they've carried me this far; my butt is voluptuous but it's strong and a good place to give a piggy back ride: my breasts aren't very big, but they are a soft landing for a crying child while I hold them. My stomach, well, it really annoys me. I hate that I didn't get the flat tummy gene. Now, I've never really had a super flat stomach, even at my thinnest. It has always had a little curve to it that I liked well enough. But now, after two kids, its not so much a curve as a bulge and on top of it, it is all wrinkly. The doctors I've seen simply tell me it is all a part of having babies. Really? I have these two gorgeous sisters-in-laws who have both had two kids and their stomach are smooth and probably even flatter than before they gave birth. "It is called good genes," they retort. In the summer, my little green jealously monster growls every time I see them in their bathing suits (at least I can admit it). GRRRRR! So this morning, after my shower, I was looking at my stomach, trying, trying, trying to be gracious. With my hands pressed against my flesh, I could remember how thrilled I was the first time I felt my babies kick. Dakota, my first born, was a fighter. Jonas called him "the bully in the belly" because he moved around so much. Audrey was more of a little tap dancer. Her gentle taps and tickles made me laugh more than groan. All of it was awe inspiring because I knew they were really there, really growing, really being inside me. Both times after giving birth, I missed having them with me all the time, but I found it fascinating to watch them wriggle around on the bed and having the ah-hah moment of: "so that's what you were doing in there!" Can I really hate what my body has become because of my children? I wanted them dearly and cherished every moment they were with me. So my marks, wrinkles and pooches are now my emblems of honor; evidence of life's miracle. Without my glorious children; I wouldn't have them. But, don't expect to see me in a bikini any time soon! I'm not feeling that gracious.

        Doing Laundry: OK, so this is truly a drudgery for me...it makes my weekly grindstone a little harder to push. I still cannot believe that I know people who actually love doing laundry. They love the challenge of getting out the most stubborn stains. They drool when there are condiments on the table, not for the taste but for the fight they'll have later with their stain sticks. They love the smell and feel of fresh-out-of-the-dryer clothes. They actually fold their clothes right when they come out of the dryer instead of leaving them in a laundry basket for a couple of days. Me, well, I really hate doing laundry. It seems like such a thankless job; once you think you are finished, you go into the bedrooms and find more! In reality, you are never truly done with laundry; there is always something (hello, you're wearing it) that could use a washing. Given that this task isn't going away and no one else around here will do it all, I decided to add it to my graciousness challenge. There is the basic, yet very important, awareness that I am simply thankful that I have clothes to wash. In this country alone, there are over 800,000 homeless people each week. The majority of these people only have the clothes on their backs, perhaps a change in their bag--not to mention that not only do they not have a home, or clothes, but they also don't have a washing machine to keep the clothes they do have clean. Speaking of those washing machines...My great grandmothers and those before them had to do laundry by hand...boiling in big pots and scrubbing on a washboard. At least I have one. Thank God (did I just say that?) Yes, thank God I have clothes and a home and a washing machine. I am so thankful that I have laundry because it means that I am safe, secure and sheltered along with my family. I will never look at another dirty towel the same again.

        My Kids Living Room Forts: Part of having kids is having a mess. In my perfect imaginary world, my kids would take one thing out at a time and put it away before they take out another. I know, I know. They do this at school! I am just too lazy to make them do it at home all the time plus I don't have a principal here. Maybe I should hire one? I could make an office out of an extra room in the basement. Hmmm? Living on the East Coast in the winter time, leaves not much to do outside and a lot of energy couped up inside. My kids have taken the idea of mess to a whole new level. On the weekends, my kids love to build a fort. This fort isn't just in the living room; this fort IS the living room. They take every possible pillow, cushion & blanket they can find and construct a new structure each time. When I walk in, my initial reaction is always a few breaths that verge on hyperventilation. I see the signs they have made for the "kitty hotel" and the tunnels they have made toward the "warming room." They have areas that are specifically created for watching television and others for playing games and even more for their stuffed animal friends. I look at all the stuff all over the place and instead of yelling at them to "clean up this mess now", I crawl through it and marvel at their creativity. This is something that no Wii game or Nintendo could offer. I listen as they tell me their plans for next time and how much our animals love to sneak around and sleep in their little spaces. On top of all this, I realize that they did it all together. They actually spent a half hour or so, working in conjunction with each other and not fighting. These messy, all encompassing forts offer them an opportunity to bond and to create childhood memories they will cherish forever. If you see my brother, ask him if he remembers our fort behind the big pecan tree in Sherman, TX.

        I'm asking myself to try to continue this trend: to look beyond the face value of an experience or a person or an item to find what makes me grateful. I'm not dilligent about keeping a daily journal and I'm not certain that every time graciousness will be the first feeling that comes to mind when facing the unlovable. So for now, all I can say for my new gr-attitude is "Thank You, Jesus!"

        Monday, January 26, 2009

        Four Lessons I've Learned from My Children

        I Am What I Am: You'd think I would learn this lesson from the hundreds of episodes of Popeye the Sailor Man I watched as a kid, but the "I Yam What I Yam" song didn't quite sink in until it was one of those days when Dakota and Audrey just couldn't get a long. She would whine, he would growl and then it would all end up in stomping feet, streaming tears and slamming doors. In exasperation and desperation to find meaning to the madness, I grabbed Dakota by the arm and said, "I just don't get it. Why do y'all have to fight non-stop?" He looked at me in a blaze of confusion and replied: "Mom, we're brother and sister. Duh!" Duh, is right. He's the big brother and she's the little sister and big brothers and little sisters fight. A lot. I know this because I am a little sister of a big brother. I have Top Honors in sibling rivalry. They fight. Sometimes for no reason. Sometimes just to pass the time. Sometimes because she got a bigger piece than he did. Regardless of the reason, the fact remains that Dakota is who he is and Audrey is who she is. And, you know what, I am what I am, and I what I am is a mother who wants peace and quite! So, the majority of the time, I no longer get in the middle and play referee or talk about feelings like a therapist; I let them work it out in all their glory by themselves in their own time. So far we've only had a couple of scratches and a bruised arm...that I know about.

        It Is What It Is: My mother always taught me that I had a guardian angel or two watching after me. If I was afraid in my room (thanks to my brother), had a nightmare (thanks to my brother) or nervous about being someplace alone (thanks to my brother) my Mom would always tell me that God's angels were watching over me. Now, as an adult, sometimes I smell my great-grandmother's Chantilly Lace perfume or my great-grandfather's Juicy Fruit Gum and I know they are right there at my elbow. The other day, we were having dinner and Audrey said, "Oooo, what's that smell? It smells good." The rest of us couldn't smell anything and we couldn't figure out what it was after sniffing all around like a pack of bloodhounds. "Well, Audie," I said, "maybe it was your Guardian Angel. " I continued and explained to her as my mother did to me. "Can Garden Fairies talk to you?" Garden Fairies?? I explained again that the term is "GUARDIAN ANGEL" pronouncing each syllable while she watched my lips. The evening continued and it was time for her to go up and get ready for bed, which is usually a pretty fearful time for her. She started up the steps and turned around, "Mom, I'm OK tonight. I have my Garden Fairy with me." Garden Fairy it is. As Juliet said of her beloved Romeo: "...that which we call a rose//By any other name would smell as sweet".

        If It No Fitta; Qutta In September 2005, Audrey was three and she wanted to try to play soccer like her brother. I signed her up, got her a #3 pink soccer ball and her tiny shoes and shin guards. We went to the first practice and she sat through the first half and then decided to run around during the second half. She laughed a couple of times. The next practice was a bit of the same; pretty tame with eight little kids trying to maneuver several out-of-control soccer balls. Then we had a game: she sat on the bench and cried. Then we had a practice: she hysterically cried and wouldn't get in the car with her coach. Then we had the second game and she sat there with arms folded and tears streaming down her face. Dakota was all decked out for his game so he went over to give her a pep talk, to absolutely no avail. Finally I knelt down to speak to her and in her sobbing, speech delayed way, she said "Momma, socca... no... fitta me." She didn't go back to soccer. Like a too small scratchy wool sweater, it didn't fit her. I didn't see it as teaching her to be a quitter; I saw it as allowing her to make her own independent life decision. She had (and still does) so many things she had to do and had to follow. Soccer didn't HAVE to be one of them. Her brave decision taught me that it is OK to say things "no fitta me". This mantra became very important to me in 2008: My Year of Saying No. It was time for me to lift some unnecessary burden off my broken shoulders and give myself a break. With Audrey's example and my utter exhaustion from doing everything everyone asked of me, I finally decided it was OK for me to say "No." No to hours of volunteering. No to committees and counsels. No to trying to have a perfectly neat home. No to pretending that I felt great every day. No to feeling guilty about occasionally feeding my kids nutritiously lacking dinners of buttered noodles or frozen waffles. So now when my head is inches from going under, I take a breath and think: "No fitta: I quitta."

        Show Me the Love It is an amazing turn of events when your own child can actually express love back to you. After endless moments of rocking, singing, snuggling, nuzzling and saying "I love you," to have that reciprocated made up for all the endless poop, pee, crying, throw up and sleepless nights. When Dakota was about 2 1/2 years old, he got his big boy bed. Audrey was on the way and I didn't want him busting his head open hurdling over the side of his crib. At night, when I put him to bed, he would hold out his little arms and say: "Smuggle wit me, Momma." So I would snuggle in, we would listen to classical music and tell each other how much we loved each other. Now, at 9 1/2 (I can't forget the 1/2 or he gets mad at me) our "smuggling" isn't as often but the love is all there. He rarely leaves the room without hugging and kissing me. He tells me he loves me "so much" several times a day. And just the other day, in a random two seconds of love, he hugged me and declared me "the best Mommy in the world." I have to tell you, I was having a really difficult day and that short interaction dissipated all my ill feelings. Now, I know I am not the only mother to receive such accolades, but, believe me, I will take it. I realized that all it takes is 2 seconds to make someone feel good. All it takes is 2 seconds to say "thank you," "I really appreciate you," "have a great day," "I love you," or any other phrase to soothe the daily grind. You know about the "trickle down theory" in economics; well I call this Dakota's "Smuggle Down Theory." Give one person a "smuggle", a word of kindness or love, and you will set in motion an unstoppable force of good will that will multiply and spread way beyond your intention.

        Friday, January 23, 2009

        Whatever Happened To....???

        I found that after graduating from college, I lost contact with so many people. I guess there was no other reason than it was just life. I started my first "real" job. I was learning about paying for rent, insurance, and toilet paper. I had my close knit "peeps" around me. It was in 1991, so I wasn't really into the World Wide Web then or email. I still communicated via telephone, for which I would have to pay long distance charges. I remember staying up past 11:00 p.m. to make calls because the rates dropped dramatically then. If I had the time, I practiced the ancient art of letter writing by putting pen to paper and stamp to envelope.

        I often wondered, and still do, what happened to various people. Those friends who drift in and out of your life. Some are fair weather friends who stick around for good times and some are friends for that moment in time. Some are true friends you just let slip through your fingers and some are just people you knew but didn't really know. There was this one girl, Susie, who I was close friends with in high school but lost touch with in college. For six years I wondered what happened to her. I tried writing to the last address I had for her parents, but they had moved. I tried calling information in some places I thought she might live, but that didn't work. Then, one day, in 1993, I was getting on an elevator in my office building. The door opened. As usual I made eye contact with the other passenger to say "Hi" (this is the normal thing to do in Texas, if you are wondering). This time, it was a familiar face. "Hey, I know those eyes. I know that smile!" This time it was, can you believe it, Susie! I screamed; she screamed. We both started crying. People rushed in the hallway to make sure there wasn't a fire or an attacker. We tried to explain through tears and laughter what miracle had just happened. I couldn't believe I had done all that work all those years to try to find her and she was working in the same office building as I.

        Then came GOOGLE: searching for people on the Internet was so much faster and more instant. One night, my girlfriends and I GOOGLED our old, old boyfriends. I'm talking Junior High and High School boyfriends and maybe a sprinkling or two of college and post-collegiate guys. We were at a Spa, drinking wine and it was midnight as we gathered around my laptop huddled on the bed. We took turns typing in names and telling stories. Some people we found and some we didn't but it was so much more about sharing with each other in the present rather than trying to connect with our pasts. I was able to find a few of people via GOOGLE. The people were usually listed on a work related website with an email listed, so contacting them was relatively easy. For others, I was able to locate an address or telephone number and contact them that way. If you haven't, you should GOOGLE yourself and see what comes up. It will probably surprise you.

        My new favorite people searching website is Facebook, because you not only can find people but you are also able to keep up with them. It is definitely not a place for people who want to remain anonymous and lead a secret life. I had a friend who tried this with a phony name, birth date and location, but I still found her because it listed her email which was in my Yahoo account. Nice try, but you will have to open a separate account with a very obscure name to hide in Facebook.

        I've enjoyed my time on Facebook so far because it has helped me answer the question "Whatever happened to....?" for so many more people than my previous search tactics. I have people from Junior High, even elementary contact me...not to mention high school and college. I hadn't realized how many people I lost contact with until I created my Facebook Account. In fact 98% of my Facebook Friends are people I used to know and who aren't recently a part of my present life. Facebook has also helped me heal some old scars and find closure on some random, old issues. As an adult, I've been able to say things (or write things) that my younger self never could have. I found out that the kid who used to sometimes spit on me in Junior High is now a very kind adult who doesn't even remember that. (Or he is lying about it). And the people I thought were so hot and so great are just as normal and regular as I am. OR maybe I was hot and great and just didn't know it. That is a possibility, maybe? It is fun during a downtime to scroll through people's updates and see what they are up to or what their thoughts are on current issues. Sometimes it can get as addicting as watching a soap opera!

        I have found some special people via Facebook. There are four people in particular whom I have been searching for for years, like I did with Susie. I figure I only get one, maybe two, miracle greetings on an elevator in a life time. One day on Facebook in the "People You May Know" section, I saw my first friend's picture show up. I haven't seen him since Junior High, so his adult self was a gentle shadow of his 13 year old self. I read his name several times and squinted my eyes to try to see his thumbnail profile picture before clicking on it and sending him a message. I was SO glad to find him and now know what ever happened to him. He has a wife, kid and one on the way and is very happy. The other three friends I found in one jackpot day. One of the girls found me on the "People You May Know" section and sent me a message. Once that happened and we befriended each other, another long lost friend found me on that Facebook page. These two findings that day made me feel lucky, so I typed in my old friend's name (whom I have been trying to find for 15 years) as I had done several times before to no avail. This time it came up and I sent her a message. It was just like that elevator door opening and Susie giving me that long lost hug.