Thursday, December 31, 2009

There is Magic in the Air

J. Scott Savage, author of the wonderful Farworld series of fantasy novels, uses the phrase “Find Your Magic” to encourage his young and old readers to find the special talents and abilities they have within them. Savage writes about worlds full of magic and intrigue. He may be one of those lucky individuals who believe that our own world is still full of magic.

Both my grandmothers were such individuals.

Grandma Martin believed that leprechaun still lived in the forest of Ireland, and fairies could be found hiding in a bed of nasturtiums if you knew where to look. Well into her eighties, my grandma declared her conviction in the reality of both Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny. And I spent long afternoons curled next to her as she read me poetry and told stories from her own youth.

My Grandma Martha, on the other hand, believed in the magic of nature. She could take me on long walks in the meadows where she lived and name the wild flowers we encountered on the trail. She knew of spots where sweet artesian water bubbled to the surface of the ground and you could press you face against the cool watercress and drink to your heart’s content. And it was through her direction that I found how to crawl down under the blackberry bushes to the large metal culvert below, and sit for hours listening to the water flow below my feet eating juicy berries till my stomach was full.

So, as a grandma myself, I have been trying to think of the magic in my own life that I can pass down to my grandchildren. And though I do have quite a vivid imagination and a love for the out of doors, I find that my magic tends to be more earthy and domestic.

I believe in alchemy. Perhaps I can’t turn lead into gold, but I can do something even greater. If I mix sugar, butter, milk and chocolate I can create a fudge that is so creamy your tongue will think it’s died and gone to heaven. And if I add some eggs, flour, baking soda and salt then stick it in the oven… the scent alone will gather my family together in the kitchen like a magic spell.

I believe in poltergeists; evil spirits who lurk in my house and cause mayhem and chaos while I sleep. For instance, I can clean my kitchen spotlessly before I go to bed, and by the time I get up the next morning, the sink is full of dirty dishes, the floor is covered with crumbs and an unexplained puddle of honey adorns one corner of the counter. Some might blame it on a house full of teenagers, but I know otherwise.

I believe in whitelighters, (beings made famous in the TV series Charmed) or guardian angels. These creatures help bring out the best in their charges and help them when they’re in trouble. Except I call them Mom and Dad.

I believe in ogres, invisible monsters that lurk in strange places, like say the drier, and eat huge quantities of unsuspecting clothing. The jeans your daughter has to wear to the party tonight or your husband’s best golfing shirt. But although the ogres will eat anything, by far their favorite treat is single socks, preferably new ones without holes.

I believe we live in a world that is crazy and unpredictable. Natural disasters can destroy the lives of thousands in the blink of an eye, and man-made violence is even worse. Life is fragile and peace is often fleeting. And as we reach our adult years, it becomes painfully clear how little control we actually have over the events that shape us. In a world such as this, I think a little magic can go a long way to enhancing our lives and the lives of those we love.

I think that’s the magic within me that I will be passing down.

Friday, December 18, 2009

If I Could Meet Myself For Lunch

“Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you”
—Dr. Suess

There is something about the end of a year that causes one to look to the past and try to find meaning in the time that’s already gone by. Perhaps it helps us prepare for the future, or reassures us that we have done more than breath, eat and sleep for the past twelve months.

The main problem I find when trying to analyze my own life, is that I’m doing it from the confines of my own head. This is certainly a biased angle, but it’s the only perspective I posses.

I wrote a book one time where the main character dies during the first chapter. I tried to imagine what it would look like to see yourself from the perspective of a detached spirit. Would I recognize myself from that angle? And would that slack muscle thing that comes after death, and causes the body to cave in slightly make identifying my lifeless corpse even more challenging?

Having never died, I can’t really say for sure, but I assumed that seeing yourself dead on the ground would be a somewhat surreal experience. And not one that I would be drawn to fantasize about. But what if I could meet myself alive, perhaps sit across the table at an Applebees, share an appetizer and make conversation. Now that would be an experience worth imagining indeed.

Would I see myself, the way I look in the mirror with those special light bulbs that make your skin glow like a twenty-year-old girl in love, or would the multiple layers of chin that I try not to notice each morning as I brush my hair, leap out like a crumpled paper bag around my neck?

I hope I’d like my smile or the way I try to look attentive when someone else is speaking. No doubt we would both laugh at the same funny stories, and that’s important. I once quit dating a young man because it took him nearly thirty seconds to get my jokes and another ten to come up with a polite laugh. It was like watching a TV show where the audio doesn’t match the video and the mouths move moments before the actual words come out. Timing is everything.

We’d talk about our mutual interests of course, our darling baby grandson and why See’s candy is the only chocolates worth eating. I’d hope I wouldn’t be too pushy with my opinions, and I might play devil’s advocate just to see how I respond when someone disagrees with me. Of course, I’d probably see right through that ploy, but still it would be fun to try.

Maybe we’d check out the handsome waiters, and reminisce about how young we use to be. Would I agree with myself that we still feel that young deep inside; deep deep where no one can see? And would we both cringe at that embarrassing thing we did when we were single and still chasing boys?

I hope I’d be polite, and even though I already know all my stories by heart, I’d listen to them again without interrupting and smile and nod at all the right places. I’d like myself more that way I’m sure. And I’d offer to pick up the bill, even though I know I would never allow myself to pay for me and we’d end up going dutch.

As I sat across from myself, could I offer honest constructive criticism of how I could be a better person, and would I be able to take it in the spirit it was meant? Or would I find it hard to be truthful about my weaknesses and get defensive when I brought it up?

When it was time to leave, I think I’d be sad about the separation, until I remembered that it’s me, and we’re always together. And then I would be glad to know I always have someone with me who totally understands how I feel.

So the next time I got too hard on myself or became internally abusive, I could remember what a great person I am and how much fun I am to be with, and I’d realize I need to treat myself with kindness and patience.

And that, my friends, is what it would be like if I met myself for lunch.

(–thanks Carrie!)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Count Your Many Blessings

Since my recent conversion to Facebook I have noticed an interesting trend. Many of my social networking friends have been spending the month listing all the things they are grateful for. This is an admirable exercise especially when you consider what a rough year this has been for many people around the globe. What’s more, there have been numerous studies that show the psychological benefits of taking time to count your blessings

So in that spirit, let me share some of the things I am thankful for this Thanksgiving season.

  • I am thankful that sweeping the floor in my kitchen is so much like searching for hidden treasure. As my broom passes across the tile, I never know what exciting things will end up in the dust pan. A mismatched earring, a pen with the name of my credit union printed in gold across the side, thirty-seven cents in change, a half eaten bag of Cheetos, a slobbery tennis ball (we own a black lab) and a love letter, written in pink ink, that fell out of my son’s pocket. I need to appreciate this now, as some day I may simply be sweeping dirt and pet hair off my floor.

  • I am thankful that I have a junior high school age daughter so that I can actually live the drama rather than just watching it on Soap Operas. And now thanks to Facebook I can also follow she and her friend’s mood swings as recorded on their profiles:

    • (3:30 pm) I am soooo happy!!!!

    • (3:52 pm) Why are boys soooo stupid????

    • (4:05 pm) I soooo hate life, I wish I never was born!!!!

    • (4:23 pm) He is soooo hot and I love him!!!!

    • (4:30 pm) Parents are soooo the worst!!!!

  • I am thankful for the advent of cell phones that permit me to nag my children no matter how far away they might be. I’m also thankful that staying up late at night waiting for my curfew breaking teenagers to get home so I can chew them out is a thing of the past. Now, thanks to my cell phone, I can accuse, convict and render punishment while texting from the comfort of my own bed.

  • I am thankful for grandchildren that allow me to be the good guy….FINALLY.

  • I am thankful for all the cooks, waiters, busboys and dishwashers who have provided me with many effortless meals over the year. And for my darling children, who manage to make up for the ease and relaxation by destroying the house while I am gone.

  • I am thankful for a husband who is proving you can lose weight after age forty-five and is trying really really hard not to nag me about it.

  • I am thankful for a computer that can fill 98% of my basic social needs. It plays games with me and doesn’t mind if I cheat or quite when I’m losing. It allows me to socialize when I want to - even if that‘s four in the morning. It provides me with hours and hours of information to explore, videos of exotic places to visit and all the latest news on my favorite celebrities. But I’m not addicted to it, just because when it’s in the shop being fixed, I wander the house aimlessly while my fingers stab at invisible keys in front of me is no reason to think I can’t live without it.

  • I’m thankful for compulsory education for children and teenagers and that the summer break lasts a little less than three months.

  • I’m thankful for jean designers who make their pants larger than the size they have listed on the tag. It’s amazing how skinny a person can feel in jeans that keep sliding down your rear.

And finally

  • I’m thankful that I was able to find a place in my over packed refrigerator to fit the frozen 20 plus pound turkey I bought on sale three weeks ago, so I don’t have to find out firsthand what happens when you try to roast a fully frozen bird.

Here’s wishing everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Fifty Year of Marriage

Back in 1959 Fidel Castro’s army took over Cuba causing the then leader Fulgencio Baptista, to flee the country. The Soviet Union launched their first spacecraft Luna 1. Disney’s animated classic Sleeping Beauty debuted in theaters. Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper, three major rock and roll stars were killed in a tragic airplane accident. Barbie made her first appearance in toy stores. President Eisenhower signed a bill creating statehood for Hawaii. And Richard Charles Savage and Vicki Dee Martin were married and sealed for time and all eternity in the Salt Lake City Temple.

In a day and age where half of all marriages end in divorce, Dick and Vicki have managed to keep their love and commitment to one another alive for fifty years. I should know, I’ve been there to see it first hand for nearly all of those years.

I am very fortunate to come from a long line of successful marriages. The year my husband and I were married my parents celebrated their twenty-five year anniversary and my grandparents their fiftieth. As I stood with my new husband at our reception, I could barely see more than a few months or a year into the future before it disappeared into a gray fog of incomprehension. Now, as we prepare to mark our own twenty-five years of married life, I have so much more appreciation for the work, sacrifice and commitment that is necessary to create a marriage with the staying power to last half a century.

In order to make their marriage work, my parents had to learn very early to put each other’s needs first. This can’t have been easy. My father’s strong will and stubborn streak came straight from his Irish immigrant grandparents. Qualities that were essential for success in many areas of his life could have been a recipe for disaster in his marriage. My mother too was a woman of confidence and tenacity. And occasionally they would find themselves on opposing sides of a dispute. Yet it was this same stubborn and tenacious quality that pushed them to solve and resolve marital problems and stay true and faithful to each other regardless of the circumstances.

My parents sacrificed a lot in order to bring children into the world and raise them. According to the USDA, the cost of raising a child to the age of eighteen years is approximately 208,000 which means that my parents spent over a million dollars to feed, clothe and educated two daughters and three sons. And that doesn’t count the emotional and physical drain that comes with five teenage/young adult children. And yet I never heard them complain about any lack of finances in our home or the economic compromises they chose to face.

As children we spent many summers camping. Those were occasions of wonder and exploration. As my father would pull out the tent and sleeping bags to pack in the car, the smell of pine sap and outdoors clinging to the fabric would excite emotions of joy and anticipation in all of my siblings. It wasn’t till years later that I learned why we camped so much. It was the least expensive way of vacationing with a large family.

Over the years I have watched the kindness and compassion my parents have shown one another. My mother spent countless hours keeping our home neat, my father’s clothing cleaned and pressed and supporting him as he worked many long hours at his job and then took college courses after work, ultimately graduating with a bachelor’s degree. Later when my mother’s health deteriorated, I watched my father take over these tasks, caring for her needs, keeping the house clean and staying informed on the latest theories and breakthrough’s related to her illness. I believe it is these countless acts of love that account for the framework that has supported their marriage for so many years.

Four of their children are married with strong families, and number five will be joining our ranks very soon. There have been no divorces among us, not to say that there haven’t been trials and challenges. But we have been taught firsthand how to choose our spouses wisely, work through our differences and never give up. A legacy we hope is being passed down to the next generation.

And so it is, with love and tremendous admiration that we celebrate my parents golden anniversary and the fifty years of joy, pain, selfless love and respect that goes along with it. Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Okay, so it’s the week of Halloween and my thoughts have been drifting to all things ghoulish and scary. I’m not a big fan of fear that is induced my lots of blood and guts. You won’t see me anywhere near a slasher movie. But what I do enjoy is a good psychological thriller like Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Psycho. Nearly fifty years old, made in black and white, no special effects and I still can’t watch it when I’m alone in the house.

Another wonderfully frightening story is The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louise Stevenson. This novella has been made into countless movies and theater productions. It’s popularity due in part, I think, to how much many of us can relate to the idea of the split personality. The good and evil that constantly wage war within our own conscience.

In the story, a chemical substances was ingested by Dr. Jekyll that had the side effect of releasing Mr. Hyde, Jekyll’s evil alter ego. As a mother, I have often witnessed this unusual phenomenon in the life of my own children.
Take yesterday for example.

My twelve year old son stayed after school to try out for the school basketball team along with fifty other little boys. I had to sign a couple of papers at the office, but before I left, I took a peek into the gym.

Now those of you who are familiar with twelve and thirteen year old adolescent boys know that there is a huge range of height and weight associated with that age. Boys of every shape and size were running around the gym throwing dozens of basketballs at all the available nets. Scanning the crowd I finally spotted my son a few feet away, blocking a short blond boy who was trying to make a shot.

“Hey,” I yelled at the top of my lungs. “Good luck and don’t be nervous.”

He looked up, made eye contact for ten seconds then turned away without response.

“Whose that?” asked the short blond boy.

“No idea,” answered my son without another glance in my direction.

Evidently Hyde has taken over my sweet son’s body. Fortunately the transition is temporary. On the ride home he was back to Jekyll, responding politely to my questions and begging me to pick him up a combo meal at Wendy’s.

It’s the same with my fourteen-year-old daughter. Ninety-nine percent of the time she is great to get along with. She laughs at my jokes, willingly helps out with dinner and accompanies me to the grocery store (as long as I agree to buy her something.)
And then, it happens.

This afternoon I walked passed her open bedroom door where she and her friends were discussing the pros and cons of the uniforms that are required by their junior high.

“Well,” my daughter said, her voice dripping with distain. “If they made us wear those plaid skirts or navy jumpers, I would just tell my mother that I wouldn’t go. I am not a dress kind of girl.”

I smiled, peeked my head in the door and announced. “That’s right. She’s the only girl I know that will be wearing satin white jeans with beading on the ankles and a white T-shirt on her wedding day.”

I thought I was incredibly funny, but three pairs of eyes stared at me coldly.

Perhaps they hadn’t understood. “You know, she said she wasn’t the dress type,” I tried to explain. “And how everyone always wears dresses when they get married, but she would wear….”

This was a tough crowd. I could see that right away.

“Well, anyway,” I said, trying to save face. “Back to what you were talking about. I have laundry to do or something like that.”

As I slunk away from the door I heard my daughter whisper to her friends. “Just ignore her. I think it’s some menopause thing she’s going through.”

Hmmm, raising teenagers. Talk about a psychological thriller…. Maybe I have the makings for a classic.

Happy Halloween

Monday, September 21, 2009

Second Chances

We all live our lives from day to day assuming that when we go to bed each night, we will awake to another sun the next morning. We worry about paying our mortgages, fitting into our skinny jeans and whether the neighbors think we are still good people even though we let our front lawn get over-grown with dandelions all summer; every day ordinary worries that seem so important until something comes at us from out of the blue. Something so unexpected that it throws our whole world off kilter.

A large mass had been growing in my son-in-laws heart for weeks without anyone being aware of it. He had interviewed and been hired for a new job. He and my daughter were excited because it was closer to home with wonderful benefits. On the negative side, the pay would be lower to start off with and they had been stressing about how they could trim their budget to accommodate the lower salary and still keep her at home with their one-year-old baby son.

As the mass grew bigger it began triggering a series of small strokes in his brain, most going unnoticed. He developed flu likes symptoms and took to his bed. It wasn’t until a mini stroke occurred in a part of his brain that controlled short term memory that my daughter realized something was terribly wrong with her husband.

Doctors took tests and suggested various illnesses until a CT scan showed the frightening mass in a chamber of his heart and announced open heart surgery would be necessary.

I drove up the night before the operation so I could be there to care for my grandbaby when my daughter left at four the next morning for the hospital. She wanted to be there early to spend as much time as she could with her husband. The doctors had warned that if he survived the surgery at all it was very possible he could sustain life long brain damage. These might be the last few hours she'd have to be with the man she'd married.

The night was dark as I drove to their home that night, as were the feelings in my heart. How could my young twenty-three year old daughter survive this? Though we had many friends and family praying and supporting her, when push came to shove, she would be forced to deal with the outcome of this surgery in a very personal and solitary way. Like everyone else, I felt helpless. I was her mother, and I couldn’t fix this.

It’s a very strange position to be in, preparing for the possible death of a loved one. And stranger still, it’s not that unique. Every day, families sit in hospital rooms knowing the end for a loved one is near and trying to figure out how they will go on living without someone who has become so essential to their own personal happiness.

And it is in those dark and harrowing hours and days that the things that matter most become clear and indelibly imprinted on our brains. While other less imporant life issues fall from our minds like dead leaves in the autumn.

Thankfully, due to the skill of the doctors and the faith of so many people, my young son-in-law made it through the surgery with both his life and his mental facilities intact. An outcome that surprised many of the medical professionals who’d been working with him. There is still a long road to recovery and my daughter is still shouldering challenges beyond her years, but for now the worst is over.

This experience has reminded me again of the fragile nature of life. The fact that that though we may feel we are in control of our lives, our futures are not in our own hands. Life can change in the length of a breath, and people and things we count on can be taken suddenly from us like a magician ripping a cloth out from under a set table.

I wish this clarity of thought and appreciation of those things most important in my life would stay with me longer, but I know my own nature, and it won’t be too far in the future before I’m back to stressing about bills, calories and messes. Still every time I see my daughter's sweet family or watch her husband playing with my beautiful grandbaby, I will remember that his life, like all our lives, is a temporary gift, and maybe I will appreciate mine and the people in it just a little bit more.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Coupon Queen

When I was a little girl, I loved playing paper dolls. Do little girls still do that? It took lots of time and concentration to cut the doll out just right. (Fingers and feet where so easy to snip through). And then the clothes, pages and pages of clothes with those paper tabs that held the outfits in place.

So what happens to little girls who cut out paper dolls when they grow up and get married? They turn into Coupon Queens, trading paper bike shorts and evening gowns for fifty-cents off on a bottle of mayonnaise and a dollar fifty off on cases of diapers.

With the recession hitting so many of us below the belt, coupon clipping has become all the rage. Here in my county, the local newspaper has embraced this fad by hiring a coupon clipping expert to help guide her readers through the always confusing, but sometimes profitable world of cut out money. She instructs her readers to purchase binders and fill them with plastic sheets used to organize trading cards and load them with the coupons they collect. It is not an unusual sight on a Saturday morning to see a focused shopper with a binder full of coupons open in her cart and more coupons fanned out in her hand analyzing the volume of a box of cereal to make sure the product and the coupons match.

Never one to be left out of the current craze, I decided to jump into the coupon madness with both feet. I signed up to receive FIVE Sunday newspapers, each the size of a large chunk of firewood. The purpose of the FIVE Sunday papers is, of course, to have five times the coupons to choose from, but there are other benefits as well - everyone gets their own copy of the comics, and there's even an extra copy to leave in the bathroom for those who need entertainment while using the facilities.

Once the papers have arrived and are hauled into the house and dumped on the kitchen table, the real fun begins. Among the colored ads for popular clothing, hardware and office supply stores are hidden the real treasures. The coupon booklets - one, two sometimes three different ones. It's better than an Easter egg hunt.

Once the coveted booklets are found, we get to scan through them, searching for prizes beyond our wildest imagination. Like a dollar off of the bathroom cleaner with the tiny bubbles that cleans a toilet while singing Just A Spoon Full of Sugar. You've seen the commercials. Even as you watch, they makes quick work of the grossest stains.

"Can we really get it?" ask my children in wide eyed wonderment?

Normally, I stick with the bargain brand of toilet cleaner myself. It doesn't actually clean, but it makes the water so blue that you don't even notice how the bowl is still dirty. But with a dollar off coupon, the sky is the limit.

There are other coupons as well. Shampoos of every color, scent and bottle size just waiting to be purchased at forty cents off when you buy two. And frozen foods you wouln't give a second glance in the store, but are suddenly irresistible when you can buy one and get a bag of frozen french fries free.

And the dog food. You know, I have a hard enought time coming up with meals that my kids like beyond the basic Mac and Cheese and Hot Dogs in a bun. Why would I worry about variety in my dogs meals? But there must be people out there who thrive on purchasing little cans of gourment meat chunks seasoned with oregano in a red whine sauce (whine... dogs... get it? But I digress).

So after a lengthy conversation with my family, the coupons we want are chosen and the cutting begins. Hours of cutting, piles of newsprint tossed into the garbage and the painstaking process of finding just the right place in my coupon binder for each coupon. Do cookies go in Breads and Grains or in Misc? And if I have a catagory called Junk Food, can I ever save enough money on it to make the purchase worthwhile? These are the philosophical questions I face each week. It's no wonder I never have time to actually read any of the FIVE Sunday newspapers.

But at last, the coupon are filed away and the newspapers are in the recycle bin (the least I can do after killing all those trees to save a few cents on yogurt that comes in a rainbow of colors and can be used as finger paint). Then the real work begins.

Sure you can save forty cents on a bag of hamburger buns, but the big money comes when you combine your coupon with a sale!!! This is where the true coupon queens really shine. You get an ad from a grocery store that is selling its Marshmallow and Chocolate Sugar Crispi Cereal for $1.50, a 50% savings off retail. Then you add your forty cent coupon on top of that. Well, I don't have to spell it out for you. Big BIG savings!

(Disclaimer - Savings does not take into account the cost of the dental bill incurred from your children eating too many bowls of Marshmallow and Chocolate Sugar Crispi Cereal.)

You may be laughing out there, but truthfully, this stuff is addicting. (The coupon clipping not the sugary cereal). I actually embarrassed the life out of my son by picking up coupons that someone had dropped in the grocery store parking lot, and yelling, "Eureka, I struck Gold!"

Granted it's not always feasible to use coupons, and sometimes, no matter what, the bargain brand is just a better deal. But other times, despite all the craziness involved, coupons can actually save you money.

My son got tired of his electric razor and wanted a closer shave so he decided to buy a straight edge razor.

"Don't go yet," I called to him as he headed out to his car. "I think I have a coupon for that."

Sure enough, I did. Four dollars off, in fact.

An hour later I got a call from him."So the razor was normally ten ninety-nine and the store had it market down to six. After the four dollar coupon I only paid two bucks. Is that great or what?"

I could only smile. My son's a coupon queen.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Garden Plants - Beware

It’s that time of year again when the days are long and sunny; the earth is warm and inviting. The time of year when gardeners both young and old head out to the local nurseries to select the plants that will grace their yards for the next few months. I love to admire the little baby flowers and the supple young tomato vines and dream of growing carrots and radishes that rival the pictures on the front of the seed packets. But all I can do is admire from afar, because my thumbs are not green – they are yellow grey the color of dead plants

With the possible exception of weeds, I seem destine to drain the life out of every piece of vegetation I encounter. My first garden produced a roaring harvest of tall brown grass, prickly weeds, an incredibly tall dandelion and three cherry tomatoes buried down underneath.

Houseplants are even worse. My husband won’t let me grow them anymore after that herbicide massacre thing. It was an innocent mistake! If one tablespoon of fertilizer in a gallon of water was good for my plants, imagine what half a cup of fertilizer in a cup of water would do. I had visions of huge vines of English Ivy wrapping itself around my kitchen while the kids had to push aside long fern tendrils to make their way to the dinner table.

Instead I got to watch my houseplants whither and dye right before my eyes. One minute they were green and healthy, the next they were brown lifeless piles of fibrous debris. Even the little cactus that the lady from the nursery had assured me could withstand almost anything, actually imploded right there in its pot.

The thing is that I do love working in my yard and the beauty that comes from a wide variety of plants and flowers. So this year, I had a plan.

First, I bought a garden statue and placed it in one of my flowerbeds. I figure, no matter what else happens, the pretty little swinging angle was guaranteed to make it through the summer without dying.

Next I spent several hours on the Internet and more hours consulting with experts in the field, searching for the strongest and toughest plants available. Shrubs that could accidentally be backed over by a minivan and still come back to life. Flowers with plenty of blooms for those times when my kids are inspired to surprise me with a bouquet of blossoms. Vegetables flexible enough to deal with a flood of water when the wading pool gets turned over on them, and drought resistant enough for those times I forget to water.

Believe it or not, I now have the perfect garden! My astro-turf is always the perfect shade of green, and I never have to mow it. Rock gardens are more exciting than one would imagine and fake flowers come in a wider variety of colors than the real thing. Best of all, if I prop the hose over the dog’s metal food-dish and turn on the water, it sounds just like a fountain.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Singing the Mother’s Day Blues

Recently my siblings and I received an email from our mother, announcing that she and her best friend (another mother of a bunch of grown children) had decided they no longer wished to receive gifts for Mothers Day. Her reasoning was that she already knew how much we all loved her and didn’t require any additional proof. Instead, she said, we should simply bask in the gifts and attentions of our own families.

This from the woman who never stopped celebrating Mother’s Day with her own mother until Grandma finally passed away.

Although I have not attempted to take on Mother’s day, I did try a few years ago to cancel my birthday. After about twenty-five, no one really wants to be reminded about the ceaseless ticking away of the life clock. Not that there is anything wrong with being thirty, forty, fifty, sixty etc… but who wants to have to have it thrown in their face on an annual basis. But, despite my best efforts, I still am forced, once a year, to celebrate my slowly declining body, diminishing eye-sight and the fact that there is no chance I will EVER have a body like Demi Moore.

But then Mother’s Day isn’t really about mother is it? This holiday was originally established by a daughter as a way for her and other children like her, to remember and honor all the years of sacrifice and effort her own mother had made in bringing her into the world and raising her.

As I look back on my own life, I know I didn’t really understand the depth of my own mother’s love or the challenges she faced raising me until I became a mother myself. As I held my first born baby daughter in my arms a few hours after she’d been born, I had this sudden understanding of my own mother’s life.

How can a child or teenager really get the immense weight that comes with caring for the every need of a helpless infant? Or the fear that freezes a mother’s heart when her young child wanders off in a department store? Mom’s knows from day one how vigilant they must be to protect their young from the evils of the world such as child molesters, pornography, or the tragic accidents are so often reported on the news. And oh, how long the hours of the night seem when a mother is up worrying about her teenager’s choices or waiting for him to get home safely from a late date. And despite her best efforts, every child will still go through heartache or suffering.

Over the course of her life, a mother spends countless hours washing dishes and clothes that never stay clean for long. They purchase cart load after cart load of food and make thousands of meals (about a third of which are met with less than stellar approval). They cleans toilets they didn’t dirty, mops up dirt they didn’t track in and live with the constant guilt that they still arn’t doing enough.

As I stood by my daughter’s hospital bed last July and watched her labor and deliver my beautiful baby grandson, I was reminded again of the chain that turns daughters into mothers. Tears ran down her cheeks, first from the pain and effort it took to deliver her son and then from the joy and trepidation of the responsibility she and her husband would now carry in raising that precious little child.

We children, whether adult or kids, need to take the time to celebrate Motherhood in general and specifically the Mothers in our lives. We need to give them gifts and take them out to dinner. We cannot forgot the efforts they made to bring us into the world and/or cared for and raised us through those trying adolescent years.
Okay, so I know that Mother’s day gifts are often cheesy. But sometimes, just the effort to think beyond oneself, if only for a few minutes, is an important experience for a child. One year my son bought me a bottle of French perfume from the dollar store that smelled like really strong moon-shine. I dumped the liquid out, and filled the bottle with water and blue food coloring. (My son never knew the difference when I dabbed a little on my wrist and told him how much I liked it.)

Our children learn to honor us as they watch us honor our own mother and my mother-in –law in May and through out the whole year. Not because either woman needs gifts, or because they have any doubt of our love for them. But because we need to do it, and our children need to see us do it.

Life is too short not to take every opportunity to show our love for our parents and to in turn accept the honor and love of our children. So Mom, I love you, but you’re just gonna have to deal with it!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Fear of Facebook

It all started, interestingly enough, with Morry Roach. Morry Roach was a kid from Pleasant Hill Junior High in California. We were both in seventh and eighth grade together and if memory serves we both took the same Spanish class with a teacher who looked something like a combination of Pee Wee Herman and Tiny Tim. I don’t know if we were friends, and I don’t even remember what he looked like so I dusted off my Jr. High yearbook. According to his picture Morry was an average size kid with that long shaggy hair style so popular with teenage boys in the seventies. I can’t explain why his name has stuck with me all these years, but it has.

So, anyway I was playing around on the internet a few weeks ago, doing random google searches on people’s names. I searched myself, my kids, a few people I remember from high school, and I noticed that the chances of pulling up information on the right person increased dramatically if the name was a bit more unusual. There are hundreds of John Smith’s and Bill Browns, so locating my high school buddy and first kiss Mike McMahon in this manner is next to impossible.

After running through all my families’ names, I searched through my memory for a name that was more unique and low and behold, Morry Roach came to mind. Sure enough, Morry showed up in google as a member of the online community, Facebook. Clicking on the link I was shown a microscopic photo of a man in his mid forties who may or may not have been my long haired classmate of yesteryear. However when I tried to gather more info, I was informed in no uncertain terms that Mr. Roach and his information were part of an elitest community that could only be approached by signing up with Facebook and then requesting the honor of being on his list of legitimate friends.

Yeah, like I was going to do that. I’m sure Morry not only doesn’t remember me but would find it strange if not a little stalker-ish to know that some kid from his awkward adolescent years was trying to look him up. In fact, the whole point of the internet is to gather information from the safe position of an anonymous outsider not actually make contact. So I left the computer for a more wise use of my time, and turned on the TV.

Then, yesterday a really amazing thing happened. Out of the blue, I got an email from a good friend I’d known in college. She said that her son was recently married and that there were pictures of the event on Facebook.


But what choice did I have. I was willing to live my life without knowing for sure if the Facebook Morry was my Morry, but I really really wanted to see those pictures. I would have to bite the bullet and get on Facebook.

It was strange and surreal experience. I entered my personal information and then suddenly I was bombarded with toenail sized pictures of people I knew and people I didn’t. Relatives and neighbors popped onto the screen as if somehow the program had crept into my brain and accessed all my memories. The boy who takes care of our dog when we go out of town, was right there next to my sister-in-law in California and my daughter who lives upstate. And intermixed were people I never even heard of from places I’ve never been.

Then Facebook asked me if I wanted to look up any people from my past. I thought again of Morry Roach. Sure I was curious as to where life had taken him in the thirty plus years since Jr. High but I didn’t want to actually make contact. No, all I really wanted to do was see my friend’s son’s wedding pictures.

At last I was an official Facebook member, and happily, I entered my friends email and waited with anticipation. Sure enough, up popped a tinsy tiny photo of four itty bitty people, and a note that if I wanted a better look, I’d have to apply to be my friend’s friend. Ahhhhh

As of this writing, I still haven’t seen the pictures, but the kid down the street just asked me to be on his friend list. So I guess that’s something.

PS I've decided I'm just not a facebook kinda girl and have taken myself off. Oh well

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Tebo my Life – Please

We live in a day and age where technological advances verge on the magical. I can flip open my cell phone and talk to anyone anywhere on the earth at the push of a button, (that is of course if they are awake, choose to answer and I am within my calling area). I can send and receive emails at the speed of light to anyone I choose. That means my daughter can tattle on her husband to millions of people all at the same time, and those poor Nigerian Bankers can solicit help from every shmuk who owns a PC. (See blog from last week). And last but not least, I can core and slice an apple into eight perfectly shaped wedges all in one firm push. (That may not be a technological devise, but I think it’s pretty cool).

Other amazing advances make our lives longer and healthier. Tiny cameras assist with heart operations, medicines cure diseases we thought we’d never cure, and of course laser hair removal which is a marvel in and of itself. But perhaps the biggest boon to the average American was the invention of Tebo.

Can you imagine going back in time and running into Benjamin Franklin, the great statesman and inventor? Imagine his shock as you explained things like microwave ovens that allow people to create nacho’s in almost no time. Mp3 players that allow people to record more songs than they even know and watch full length movies on tiny little thumb nail sized screens. And then you could tell him about Tebo.

Granted, Tebo wouldn’t make a lot of sense to him at first, being that the founding fathers hadn’t invented TV yet, not to mention the TV station. And the idea of having the leisure time to sit in front of a screen for hours at a time might also seem strange to people who had to cut their own fire wood for warmth, carry water from a well to drink and if they over did it on the beans and bacon, they’d be trotting back and forth from the outhouse all night. But Franklin was a smart guy and eventually he would get the idea.

Then you’d spring it on him. In the twenty-first century we don’t miss a TV show, not even when we aren’t home. Our TVs can watch multiple shows all at the same time. We can be asleep but old Tebo never rests recording hours and hours of The Simpsons, Law and Order and Cooking with Emile. In one day, Tebo can record more television than we could watch in a month.

Of course technology doesn’t come without a price. We are much wider and lumpier than our counterparts in the seventeen hundreds (thanks in part to the microwave nachos). And TV does become so addictive that people put them in every room in their house, including the bathroom. But those are relatively minor compared to what I like to refer to as the Tebo snapback syndrome.

You’ve all experienced curling up in front of the tube, and scanning through the channels till you find something really good to watch. (like an old movie starring a very young Pierce Brosnan and Twiggy). Then about forty-five minutes into the program a notice comes on the TV telling you that American Idol and Sponge Bob Square-pants are scheduled to record in five minutes and you either need to cancel a recording or turn off the TV. What a moral dilemma that puts one in. Which family members TV viewing tastes are more important, and what are the repercussions of choosing one family member over another. It’s mind boggling, and I suspect that even old Benjamin would be stumped.

I've given this issue a great deal of thought I think I've come up with an answer. It is that...

Whoops. I just looked at the clock and I only have a forty minute window in between I Love Lucy recordings to catch last week’s Wheel of Fortune, so I’d better run. Bye!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

My Junk Mail Folder

Imagine the scenario. Two techno nerds watching TV when the host announces the invention of the World Wide Web.

“Oh wow Earl, do you know what this means? People like you and me can send information around the planet at the push of a button. What profound information can we email to the world?”

Earl scratches his head, “Tell ‘em about a cream that you can rub on any part of your body and it will make it grow bigger in two weeks.”

Lo and behold, junk mail was born.

I often wonder who these strange people are that have nothing better to do with their lives but sit at their computer and create spam. Perhaps, like myself, they are frustrated authors looking for an audience. Or maybe they‘re all part of a club competing for the world’s worst con-person.

Like everyone else, my junk mail file fills up twice as fast as my inbox, kind of like how the price dial on the gas pump always goes faster than the gallons pumped dial. And usually I just delete the whole thing without even looking at them. But today, just for the heck of it, I decided to read my unwanted emails and share the results with you.

I was excited to learn that I had won the consolation prize of Microsoft’s Email Draw. Did any of you know that Microsoft was giving away prize money to lucky emailers throughout the country? What’s even more amazing is that the Washington based company is awarding it’s monetary prizes in English pounds. Yes folks, just for opening my email I have won 1,000,000 (one million) pounds. WoW! That’s nearly 2 million in American dollars. Gosh I wonder what the winner got?

In a strange twist of fate, I also won a million pounds from the United Nations Development Program.

My next email tells the sad tale of poor Col. Hosam Hassan and his wife and daughter who were killed in Iraq leaving eighteen million dollars in a Hong Kong bank, and on the verge of being claimed by the Chinese government. But dear Marvin K.T Cheung the branch manager has a plan and I’ve been chosen to be a part of it. But what Cheung doesn’t know is that I already won two million dollars from Microsoft and another from the UNDP.

I got another email from Nigeria today. Boy that poor country is just floating in unwanted money. I always feel bad turning my back on them, but a person can’t be expected to save the whole world now can they?

As if that wasn’t enough, the Republic of Benin has been trying to wire me my consignment for weeks now but with one thing and another they just can’t seem to get it through. Apparently they are using Western Union because Western Union is also struggling to wire me money as well. Perhaps if they fired all the foreign employees who can’t write proper English, they could get that cash through in a timely manner.

And lest you think my junk mail is all about the money, let me tell you. There are a lot of kind people out there concerned with my health and happiness. There are offers to clean my colon, improve my intimacy, get rid of my stretch marks, buy my gold and get me a job – like I need a job with all the free cash on the way.

Ah well, just another day in Spam World.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Cherry Ames is Back

Cherry Ames is back! After originally being published between 1945 and 1968, the series is being reprinted so that another generation of young girls can enjoy the exploits of Ms. Ames, nurse extraordinaire. In the 27 books she stared in Cherry completed three years of nurses training, and then went on to work in every possible nursing related field. This woman was bandaging knees at a kid’s camp in one book and was reattaching limbs in a war zone in the next.

I was a huge fan of the Cherry Ames series as a preteen, and I am still an avid reader. A therapist recently diagnosed me as reading addicted. And I have to say that I totally agree with his observation. I love fiction, and I can actually tract my growing up years by the genre of books I was reading at each phase of my life.

In elementary school I had rather eclectic tastes. The Mrs. Pigglewiggle books were a favorite, anything written by Beverly Cleary, and if it featured a horse I was all over it. A great uncle who raised horses use to give me his back issues of Western Horse Magazine, and I would pour over the articles. I didn’t actually own a horse myself, but I knew everything about training, breeding and that pesky hoof fungus that was going around in Montana.

As a preteen, I moved on to serial fiction. Nancy Drew, Trixie Beldon, the Bobbsey Twins and of course Cherry Ames. I missed multiple flirting opportunities with boys in my neighborhood because I preferred to curl up on my bed with a good story.

As adolescence hit, I moved into the world of Harlequin Romance were I fell in love with a different guy every other day. This messed up my head in so many ways and it took years to realize that real men weren’t anything like guys that populated those romances. These fantasy men, created in the overly imaginative minds of female writers, were always breath takingly handsome, rich and/or sophisticated, and could actually read the minds of the women they loved, often understanding thier thoughts before the females understood themselves. Real guys require real communication. And sometimes that doesn't even work.

In high school an English teacher introduced me to my next genre love. Gothic fiction. Okay, Gothic is predictable as all get out, I know, but I was fourteen at the time and it was fun to have a little scarey intrigue and suspense thrown in with my previous diet of all romance all the time. I think what I enjoyed most were the creepy old houses and mystery shrouded mansions with secret doorways and hidden rooms. Plus the most attractive guy was usually the murderous maniac and the more stoic and confused guy was always the hero.

Since then, I’ve developed a taste for mystery. I set a goal when I first got married to read every Agatha Christie book she ever wrote. She wrote a ton of books and I’m still working on that goal. But I love the whole English feel of her stories. Every house no matter the size had a name like The Paddocks or Little Styles. Granted, they were strange names, and often not very pretty, but every house had one.

Which brings us to today. I read quite a few contemporary writers now. Amy Tan and Mary Higgins Clark are two of my favorites. I recently discovered Dean Koontz. He has a series about a guy who sees dead people, has a dead girlfriend and a dead dog, so I guess that kind of fits back into my gothic past doesn’t it.

I find myself wonder what type of books I’ll be reading when I’m old and decrepit. I know I will have to wear huge magnifying glasses (my eyesight is already on the fritz) just to read the words. And the books themselves will have to be light so that my little bony arm's with saggy skin hanging down to my waist, will be able to hold them.
Actually, I can see myself and the other old broads in the rest home, sitting side by side in our rocking chairs, ipods attached to our hearing aids, listening to our MP3 books and occasionally laughing out loud at a joke that no one else can hear.
Hmmm that doesn’t sound half bad.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Stinky Kids and Other Joys of Motherhood

My youngest son will turn twelve soon, and though I love him dearly, he produces some of the worst body scents ever known to man.

-I need to stop here for a second and warn my mother that I will be writing about gross stuff again this week. (She still hasn’t gotten over my remark about Hannah Montana little girl's underwear back in September.) Poop will be discussed in detail, so if you have a weak constitution… consider yourself warned.-

On the positive side, the boy is tall, athletic and has a metabolism that just won’t stop, so perhaps stinky-ness is just a side effect. Having never been a boy, tall, athletic and having a metabolism that creeps along at a snail like pace, I wouldn’t know.

To explain how bad it is, even as a little kid, if he went “number two” and missed wiping off one smudge on his cheeks, within in ten minutes, the whole house knews about it. It’s that potent.

About two years ago, the preadolescent “B.O.” kicked in. The child can be playing dead - in the snow - in his underwear - for two seconds - and if he didn’t put on his deodorant we can smell him from three feet away.

Unfortunately, he is still a little boy, which means he considers soap and water a waste of energy and would happily live in a world where toothbrushes and anti-persperant had never been invented.

Last year I got a call from the elementary school that my son stunk really badly and would I please come pick him up and take him home. (I’m not kidding, this really happened.) Sure enough, he’d missed a spot on his rear, and he’d somehow lost his container of extra-strength deodorant. The kid reeked.

I tried to use this as a teach opportunity, pointing out the importance of proper hygiene in a real world environment but he was unimpressed. He insisted that all boys smelled like this and plus it kept the girls away. Who can argue with that?

So, in my ever growing repertoire of morning chants, I now say: “Do you have you backpack? Your coat? Did you brush your teeth? Really? If I go look in the bathroom will I find a damp toothbrush?” (One time his toothbrush fell in the toilet and he threw it away. I didn’t find out for two weeks as he continued to insist that he was brushing his teeth everyday.) “And how about your rear? All clean? And your pits?”

You couldn’t pay someone enough to say that!

I have faith that someday he will decide that smelling good has its benefits and that attracting girls is more fun than repelling them. In the mean time I’m investing in a good pair of nose plugs.

Friday, January 9, 2009


My grandfather was quite the Renaissance man. He was an artist who used small colored tiles to create beautiful mosaics on furniture and walls. A music lover with a rich deep voice who was often conscripted with my grandmother into singing at funerals. A born salesman who could sell you an air conditioner in the dead of winter. And an inventor of sorts.

According to my mother, grandpa came up with a chemical formula for degreaser long before the oven cleaner was invented. Her family would go on vacation, check into a motel and grandpa would mix up his special solution right there in the bathtub.

Then he would bottle it, and head out to town looking for as many greasy spoon type diners as he could find. Once into a restaurant, he would get the owner to allow him to put some of his special formula on a corner of the grease laden grill, with instructions to let it set until he returned.

Thirty minutes later, Grandpa would be back and with a simple swipe of a sponge, the grease seemed to melt away like butter.

Unfortunately, Granddad didn’t have the money or the connections to market his product properly. And because of that, I am not the rich, oven cleaning solution heiress I was meant to be.

Like Grandpa, I too have had my share of million dollar ideas that eventually made someone else a fortune.

Yeast infections are a plague that women have had to suffer with since the beginning of time. (I don’t know this for sure. Do you know how hard it is to find any info on yeast infections and the cave woman?)

And of course, the treatment is simple. For a couple of years I was calling my doctor every six months for a prescription. He didn’t even have to see me. Just called it into the pharmacy. And since I could tell a yeast infection from say pink eye or a broken arm, I was pretty sure that every other woman could too.

So I called into one of the companies that manufactures other women’s unmentionables, and suggested they make a line of over the counter yeast infection treatments. I spoke to a young man who was probably nineteen and didn’t even know what a yeast infection was. And guess what? Three years later, everybody is selling OTC yeast infection medication.

That was me, my brilliant idea, but you think I saw a single penny of the profit? I even have to pay full price when I buy the stuff!

Or how about the GPS system’s for tracking down your teenagers in the car, your lost pet or your kid wandering around Disneyland. Yup, that was all me too!

I guess it’s just the curse both my grandpa and I carry.

Exceptional minds and empty pocket books.

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