Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sharing Photos Just Got Easier

I have just gotten my first camera phone and I love having the ability to take photos on the spot. Of course, then I have to send the photo to my email so I can then download it to my computer and only then can I send it to others or post it on the web. What a hassle!

CEIVA has a better idea. I know you've seen digital photo frames before, but you've never seen one that can do what the CEIVA Digital Photo Frame can do. This remarkable digital frame lets you send photos directly to it, from your digital camera or your camera phone. Just hook it up to the phone line and easily send photos from your camera phone right to the CEIVA frame for viewing.

Imagine what a great gift this makes for grandparents. They can receive and view new photos of the grandkids daily, or anytime there's an adorable moment that begs to be shared.

The CEIVA also takes a memory card, so you can instantly load pictures from your digital camera. In addition, with your Picture Plan you get unlimited photo storage on the web. All you need is a phone line or wi-fi connection to send photos to the CEIVA frame. No computer required, so this frame is great for friends and relatives who aren't computer savvy.

Keep in touch with photos and share the moments of your life with family and friends using the CEIVA Digital Photo Frame.


Christmas Miracles

The Boy, having turned 9 about a month before Christmas, is probably on his last year of belief in Santa. In fact, it is surprising to me that he still believes, given that his teen sister taunts him often with cries of "there is no Santa Claus". But The Boy holds fast to the magical wonders of Christmas and probably with good reason - Santa is very attentive.

When the various aunts and uncles called to ask me what The Boy wanted for Christmas, I was at a loss. I had asked him myself, only to be told "Don't worry Mom, you don't have to buy me anything. Santa will bring me everything I need". Very sweet, but also very unhelpful.

Two days before Christmas, The Boy decided to write his list for Santa. Luckily for me, I hadn't done the shopping yet and neither had a couple of the relatives.
The list soon appeared, a full page in length. But what was on it was a moving surprise.

He had written only two items for himself. The rest of the letter was a listing of what he wanted Santa to bring the other members of his family.

Of course, now I had the task of fulfilling his gift list for all the people listed. The only one missing was his sister. He felt that Santa would not bring her anything, since she told such untruths about him.

So his step-dad got a shiny new coffee cup, his Uncle got a shinier gold edition comic book, and The Boy got his Lego sets. He even got a set of Legos with cars in it, something he didn't add to the list until after the shopping was done. It was another Christmas miracle.

Of all Christmases, past, present and future, this is one I will remember. I didn't try to make it magical, we were late with everything from the tree to the shopping, coming in just under the wire on Christmas Eve. There weren't nearly as many presents under the tree as in past years. Still it was a Christmas made wonderfully special by the kindness in a little boy's heart and the joy of watching his wishes come true.

Well, all his wishes except the present he asked Santa to bring me... a maid. I did explain that Santa can't deliver people and the hairbrush set was very nice.

And when he asked why Santa brought his sister gifts even though she doesn't believe in him, I explained that Santa is very forgiving and wants everyone to be happy, even if they are teenagers.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Beaded Gifts for Everyone on your list

For many years, I worked in an office that used key-cards to open office doors. Security these days means that many companies use such a system. Keeping these cards in your purse works well until you just pop out to the restroom or for a cup of coffee and realize you can't get back in. That's why I always devised a way to wear my card around my neck.

Here's a nifty and stylish idea for anyone who has to use a security card or a name tag. These are Beaded Lanyards availabe at These lanyards would make a great gift for co-workers, too. I really like the fact that something so practical can be made to be so fashionable too.

For those who need just a little extra magnification for fine print but don't wear glasses full time, check out these handy Eyeglass Holders. Again, they're stylish and elegant as well as practical. What more could you want?

And if those items don't cover everyone on your office gift list, you should take a look at these adorable Beaded Bracelets. For unique jewelry that will please any woman or teen on your list, this is a great site to check out.

A Real Christmas Post

I admit it. I have become lazy over the past few years. I admit that I have, for perhaps the last ten years, gone over to the dark side and put up an artificial Christmas tree.

I know what you will say. How could I rob my children of the heart of the Christmas home? How could I deny them the excitement of going from lot to lot in pursuit of the perfect tree? How could I deny them the aroma of pine needles and the feel of sap sticking to their fingertips?

I admit it, I did it to save myself. I don't know when exactly I became a fan of the boxed tree, but after my first year with a very unconvincing replica of a Scotch Pine, I was hooked.

I remember when I was a kid, being so anxious to get a tree and put it up. My parents wouldn't allow it more than a week before Christmas, or two at most. But I yearned for more time to admire the wonder of the tree, more evenings spent hypnotized by the flashing lights and the sparkling globes.

With the tree-in-a-box, my kids never had to wait. I could put the tree up the day after Thanksgiving, and even better, I didn't have to take it down until March if I didn't want to. No chance of it drying out, no sharp needles to prick my arms, no worrying about making sure I had it by the curb on the right day for tree pick up. When I wanted the tree, it was at the ready. When I didn't want it anymore, it could be easily relegated to its box to wait in the darkness of storage until the season returned.

They never waited, and they never seemed to be as fascinated with the tree as I remember being as a child. Perhaps it is because it is so easily obtained, set up and discarded that they do no sit for hours just admiring it. In fact, they almost never want the lights turned on. I realized after a few years that I had, in fact, never given them a tree that inspired or amazed. It came from a box, just like everything else does.

This year we have a real tree. It's not up even yet, we only brought it indoors last night. It may not get decorated until Christmas Eve. The children will be impatient while we cut it to fit the stand and take special care to be sure it is in straight and secure. It will probably be dry in a week and have to be taken down again. I will probably be vacuuming up pine needles until Spring.

That's the true Christmas tree experience and every kid should have it at least once. When they are grown and living in college dorms or tiny apartments, they may decide to get table-sized fiber optic pine-impersonators that play carols as they rotate.

But this year, there will be a tree.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Timely Gifts for Christmas

My mother was a great collector of beautiful watches. She enjoyed jewelry and had a particular fondness for elegant and stylish watches. Many of these watches were gifts from my father, gifts she ordered for herself but let him pay for.

A watch makes a perfect gift for anyone on your Christmas list. We are all governed by time, when it comes down to it. There isn't anyone who doesn't need a watch, and a watch that adds flair and style is especially appreciated.

I found a stunning collection of famous name watches at The If you're looking for those perfect gifts for anyone on your list, check out The Watchery's holiday gift guide. A watch is a gift that can be both beautiful and practical, and one you know they will be able to use. A watch is a great gift for either a man or a woman, a student or a teen.

A quality watch is more than something that just tells time. It's functionality is only part of its beauty. Watches have personality and are expressions of personal style and taste. This blue Ebel Voyager is a great choice for the man-on-the-go, with it's global themed face and elegant styling.

Holiday sales are in effect and the purchase of selected watches qualify you for a second watch free. When you are discussing luxury watches, that's a deal you won't get just anywhere.

Remember everyone on your list with a gift that will stand the test of time.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Fingering Memories

I spent part of the day going through the drawers in The Boy's dresser. One of those clean-outs that are necessary more often than they are performed. The hard part is actually making the decision to get rid of too-small clothes. It's strange how items of clothing make memories.

I found a couple of Spiderman shirts. These are several sizes too small, but they survived previous clean-outs by virtue of having Spidey on them. The Boy has turned 9 now, and he is much too mature for superhero T-shirts.
But these hold memories of another time, a whole other childhood. A childhood that had a little more wonder, when he was a little boy, and not a "kid".

It's hard to put the memories aside, harder still to let go of them as they grow.

I did fairly well, considering. I managed to turn up a lost video game and one of my books that I haven't seen in enough years that it's worth reading again.

I also managed to weed out the ill-fitting clothes and made room for the ones he actually wears. It was a brief, shining moment of useful behavior. I hope I can avoid doing it again for a long time.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Playstation Addiction - Why Not?

Two items in the news recently have caught my eye, both about the addictive qualities of video games. There was the one young fellow who collapsed and went into convulsions after playing a 24-hour World of Warcraft marathon, and more recently, an unresponsive boy of 13 was rushed to the hospital by his worried father. After some examination of the boy, doctors told the father that his son had “Playstation Addiction”.

Yet just a few moments ago, I was informed by The Boy that the Playstation was boring, because there were no video games to play. Of course, this statement can be likened to the oft-heard cry of children, who standing in front of a refrigerator packed to overflowing, moan that “there's no food in this house”. What it really means is “there's nothing here that I want”. Nothing new, nothing exciting, nothing expensive, nothing to play, nothing to eat...

I suppose I should be pleased that The Boy is not suffering Playstation Addiction. However, it is clear that he would like to, if only we would supply him a new game that is sufficiently entrancing. The good news of course, is that there isn't one. He's a boy of 8, and his attention span is about as long as his pinky finger. New is good, new is exciting. He's anxious to conquer a game, and enjoys the rush and fame of having scored well, but he's also easily discouraged by a game that is too complicated or difficult.

I should be pleased when he does get hooked on a game that costs good money, and when he plays it long enough to justify its purchase price. But the lack of days spent running pell mell outdoors and practicing trick riding on his scooter is starting to show in a certain hint of pudginess.

I should be pleased that he's not hooked on video games to the point of seizures and collapse, but there might be a certain peacefulness about a boy playing a game intensely enough that he doesn't want a peanut butter sandwich or have time to make out his birthday party list or plan the number of new toys that Santa ought to bring with him that the contents of my wallet cannot cover.

I think that video games are like every other activity and pleasure, from entertainment to eating to exercise. All can be taken to extremes, which can turn out to be a very dangerous situation. But often, in moderation, all these activities can yield benefits. If the children slept with the game controllers in hand (I swear, The Boy did that only once) or refused to eat or go to school, refused the company of friends or the lure of Disney television, then I would worry a lot more than I do.

I really wouldn't mind though, if he got addicted for an hour or two once a day so I could get a nap.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Joy of Yard Sales

My mother shared many things with me as I was growing up, and amongst them was her love of yard sales. Shopping was a vocation for her, a natural talent. I don't think she could have prevented instinct from turning the car in at every sign that proclaimed a yard sale event.

Yard sales fit perfectly with my mother's idea of interior decorating, the first rule of which seemed to be to cram as many items of furniture and objet d'arts into every available space as was logistically possible. But more than that, yard sales provided the excitement of discovery, the thrill of negotiation and the satisfaction of acquisition.

Those pieces of milk glass, the tiled wall plaques fashioned by some avid craftsman, and even the blue vase that I filled each spring with apple blossoms, all became part of our family's home – none more so than a kitchen table with a bench that she snapped up when I a teen. The bench was covered in a vinyl material in what once may have been a colonial pattern but was now faded, tattered and worn. Together we bought several yards of vinyl in a sunny orange and yellow pattern and reupholstered the bench ourselves. Over the years the bench and chairs broke and were discarded but the table continued to stand in our kitchen. When a niece set up housekeeping on her own, the table was ceded to her. When she replaced it with a new and modern dinette set, the table came to me. When I moved, I gave the table to another family member and so it continued to serve for many years. That yard sale table had become as much a family heirloom as any antique passed down for generations. It became more - it became a memory of days spent with my mother, poring over the discarded items of another family, looking for treasure.

My mother's love of yard sales taught me many things. I learned to look for the value in something that didn't arrive new in the box, to look beyond the worn exterior to find the shine from within. I learned the excitement of the hunt and the pleasure of the find. With a few dollars in our pockets, we were on an exciting adventure, an expedition that would uncover hidden treasures - furniture, books, toys - whose former owners had outgrown their delights.

That is the essence of a yard sale. It holds not just dusty junk brought out of the attic into the bright sunlight once again, it holds memories and stories, that having once been stored away, come out to live anew. Each item will be forever part of those who loved it or who loved a child that played with it. A table that has seen a thousand meals and heard the conversations of a thousand family dinners can also be that which carries the memories of days spent in joyful pursuit of the perfect purchase and a loving memory of one who understood the joy of life.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween Makeup Safety Tips

Tonight is Halloween and everyone from kids to adults will be donning costumes, masks and makeup to achieve their most ghoulish appearance for the event. For kids, face makeup is much safer than wearing masks. A mask can obscure peripheral vision and make it more difficult to see cars and other dangers. But is your face make-up safe?

Fortunately, the answer is usually yes. Color additives in make-up are regulated by the FDA. Some make-up can cause eye irritation, so if the directions say not to use on or near the eyes, believe them.

Here are some Halloween make-up safety tips:

* Be sure to follow the directions on the product.
* Don't use things not intended for your skin to decorate your face.
* If the label on face paint or other makeup may says that it is not for use near the eyes, do not apply near the eyes. Be careful to keep makeup from getting into your eyes.
* Some products can irritate your skin if you use too much. Apply only the amount needed.
* If you have sensitive skin or allergic reactions to certain types of products, check the ingredient label carefully and do a test on another part of your body, like your arm, to check for reactions.

Most of all, be safe and have fun. Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Blue is for Boys

My daughter was nearly five when I told her that we were expecting an addition to our family. All little girls are thrilled at the prospect of a new baby in the family, before they evaluate the consequences of another small voice clamoring for her mother's attention, that is.

The baby was welcomed as a somewhat cute oddity in her little world. Getting to hold him, laughing when he peed on Mom while she changed his diaper, listening to his strange baby gurgles; all of these things were appealing to her while he was in his baby stage. She wasn't very pleased that she got a baby brother instead of a baby sister, but at this stage it didn't make a lot of difference.

As The Boy grew into a toddler, The Girl wanted to play games with him but the age difference and the gender difference made it all a bit difficult. The Boy couldn't play more grown-up games with her, she didn't want to play trucks. She daily chastised me for bringing home a brother and not a sister.

And then one day The Girl devised a scheme so brilliant, so sinister in its objectives, that she just had to try it out. She had somehow convinced The Boy to play house with her. However, rather than being the daddy or some other male figure in the family, she had decided on a surprise role for him.

When The Girl called to me to come see their play - barely managing to get out the words between giggles - I had no idea what I would find. When I saw The Boy, my reaction was a mixture of amusement and horror.

She paraded him like a contestant at a beauty pageant. He was dressed in her best sparkly skirt and frilly top. She had put her pink plastic sandals on him and some strings of beads. She christended him anew with a femininized form of his name as she proudly displayed her "little sister".

Something about my less than enthusiastic reaction made it all the more fun for her, and for a year or so, she kept trying to dress The Boy in girl's clothing - no matter how much I tried to convince her that confusing him wouldn't be a good idea.
Sibling rivalry is one thing, but practicing sibling gender reassignment is quite another.

As The Boy grew it became more apparent every day that he was all boy, through and through. His daily routine was to find new and interesting ways to nearly kill himself and age his mother beyond her years. The Girl not only failed to make him into her little sister, she didn't even dampen his enthusiasm for boyish terror and danger.

I often wondered if things would have worked out better with a second child of the same gender. Certainly it would have been more economical. The younger could wear hand-me-downs from the elder, they could share a bedroom and Christmas could be the season of buying two of everything.

But The Girl probably never considered the ramifications of relinquishing her status as the "only girl" and I am sure would have tired quickly of the competition. She's lucky she didn't succeed in creating her own little sister, but I must acknowledge her efforts. She really gave it a good try.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A New Discovery

I had never planned on being an amateur genealogist, but I have found so much information on the internet lately that I think I may have a knack for it.

Many were the times that my mother told me of her Uncle Philip (or was it her great-uncle, obviously I need to research more). In any case it was told of Uncle Philip that he did exploring for the government of Canada and was quite the woodsman. The most fantastical tale involved Uncle Philip and a moose and a raft going down the St. Lawrence River.

Once again, this all appears to be true. I had heard of a book written by a family member about Uncle Philip and I assumed it was a vanity publishing. Research today proves that not only is this book in print and available for purchase, but that this particular cousin has written many books.

Now my only problem is funding my new-found desire to read his collected works. I do want to get the one on Uncle Philip first, of course, but the list of published works is quite extensive.

My biggest regret is that my mother never knew where to get a copy of this book, because I know she would have loved to read it. But when I do get it, I will gladly tell the tales she would have told if she could.

Theatre Church Conference

Growing up in a church setting leaves you with little nuggets of wisdom from which to draw on during rough times. One of my favorite Bible verses is just that - a succinct bit of sage advice, one I should take more often. The verse is Matthew 6:34.

Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

Basically, it means that we don't need to borrow trouble from the future, and we shouldn't waste time worrying or being anxious. We need to concentrate on overcoming the challenges that today sets before us and leave tomorrow to worry about itself.

Church today is a totally different experience for my kids than it was for me as a child. No longer is church boring and plodding, a thing to be endured. Many churches employ today's technologies to present a vibrant message with impact. You can Find out more because CineMeetings & Events is hosting the first-ever Theatre Church Conference in Silver Spring, MD on October 22 & 23.

If you're involved in a church that uses technology and performance to bring the good message to your members, you will want to Find out more about integrating technologies into your church experience.

The message is an important one and it's so sad to find people turning away when there are great avenues for capturing their attention and hearts. If you're interested in the Theatre Church Conference, Find out more at the related link.


The Sad Tale of Mr. Lion

Sometimes we are told that children don't develop long term memory until they are about 4 years of age. This may or may not be true. Although I think I have some spotty memories from before that age, I don't have a really good day-to-day recollection of life as a baby.

However, The Boy, probably because he spent most of his pre-school days as a superhero, has an unfailing memory. It may be one of his super powers.

When we moved into our present abode, The Boy was still in a crib. One room was already decorated with boyish things - brown walls and a wallpaper border depicting leopards frolicking (if, indeed, leopards can be said to frolic). It was quite fitting that someone gifted him a large, stuffed lion for Christmas. The lion was well-loved and had to accompany him to bed each night. I don't remember if he was christened with a name, he was probably called Mr. Lion, or something equally brilliant.

However, as time went on The Boy became dissatisfied with the lion and suddenly concerned about being surrounded by big jungle cats. Although the lion had a friendly face, a certain distrust of the lion's intentions crept into his thinking. He had obviously noticed that the lion was a bit taller than he, and had friends in the room. Honestly, I myself might have been concerned about falling asleep with a giant lion lying in the bed next to me, caged in by crib bars and rails.

The lion fell into disfavor and The Boy started to reject him at bedtime. As the months and years went by the lion was shifted from corner to corner in his room but never accepted into close friendship again. I don't know what eventually became of the lion. I believe he ceased to reside at this address years ago.

I was left without a response then, when suddenly, the other day, the Boy inquired as to the whereabouts of the lion. I thought of lots of ways to explain the animal's absence, some of which left me blameless (who wants to take the rap for animal abduction?). Perhaps I could say he ran away back to the jungle? I knew those stories wouldn't wash, The Boy is older now and he's not going to buy any such flimsy excuse.

In the end, I decided to face it. Steely-eyed and set in my purpose, I briefly explained to him that he had one day decided the lion was untrustworthy, and after a time it was decided that the lion must go. Therefore, the lion no longer lived at our house.

I waited for the accusations, the tears, the anguished cry of "how could you?" and braced myself to take on the full responsibility and guilt for my actions.

The Boy looked at me and said "Oh", then went about his business, unconcerned.

I had prepared for the worst and gotten no reaction whatsoever. All that guilt I was feeling was completely unnecessary.

Children are hardly ever emotionally scarred for life by the little things we think we have done wrong, or the small mistakes we have made. In the end, it's much simpler to just lay the truth out before them and let them deal with it.

I had to laugh though when later, after some reflection, I realized that the truth was even more exculpatory than I had thought. For it occurred to me that it was The Boy himself, engaged in the hated task of cleaning his room, who had carried that lion out to the trash one day.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Another Monday's Voyage

Today was Columbus Day. Every now and again they blindsided me with one of these Monday holidays I had completely forgotten about and gave the kids a day off from school.

Columbus Day is when we celebrate the fact that Columbus sailed east, hoping to circumnavigate the globe and hit the East Indies. As luck would have it, there were other bodies of land in the way, something he hadn't counted on at all. Columbus managed to find some Caribbean islands which he thought were off the coast of Asia.

I think the most intriguing part of the story is that they just didn't know how big the Earth was. They were all pretty sure it was round, but Columbus really had no clue that there was an entire continent between Spain and China. Maybe if he had known how impossible it would be for him to reach his destination, he never would have started out on such a journey.

I think that's always the way. Life is a long and hard voyage. We have to believe we can make it or we are doomed. It may be that our journey doesn't always take us to where we thought we were going, but we discover some wonderful things where we do end up. The most important thing is to make a start. You just have to load up the ship and sail.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Finding Your Family Tree

My mother loved to tell stories of her family and our ancestors (all of whom she claimed were illustrious and note-worthy). I have many times used the internet to discover that much of what she had told us was absolutely correct. The internet can be a great tool when one is researching genealogy.

The best way to get started researching your family tree, is to find sites and resources that contain information, names and documents relating to your family name.

One such resource is Find Family, where you can research your family name and find numerous types of documents in their archives - everything from birth and death certificates to old newspapers. Just choose your search name, such as kennedy family tree, and you will begin an exciting journey of discovery into your genealogical past.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Sad Morning

Today was one of those days when as a mother, you both sigh with relief and revisit fear. Mondays are always a bit hectic as you start the school week again, and there's a kind of calm that should overtake you once the children are safely on their way to their respective educational facilities.

But this morning I couldn't get over a feeling of restlessness and anxiety. It was one of those "impending doom of unknown origin" days. Perhaps drinking several cups of coffee within an hour or two on an empty stomach contributed to those fluttery feelings that rippled through my middle. It may have started when the Boy's bus was late, and came from a different direction. I always worry when the bus driver seems new, having found that new drivers often make mistakes and children aren't deposited when and where they are expected.

The morning was hardly underway though, when the phone rang. It was one of those recorded messages from the school. But instead of telling parents all about the upcoming open house or the next early dismissal, it was a sobering and heartbreaking message. A young girl had been struck by a car on her way to school. She was crossing a busy street to her bus stop.

I quickly digested what small detail was provided. I noted the street names and could breathe again as I confirmed it could not be one of my children. I listened to the description of injuries known and the fact that she was in the hospital. I was grateful for many things: one, that the girl was alive and two, that my children were safe.

I can only imagine the horror of her friends who witnessed this accident, and the terrible realization of her mother when upon hearing the brakes, screams and sirens, found that it was her little girl who had been struck.

I don't have anything to offer in the way of advice or comfort. As parents, we all do our best to watch over our kids and provide for their health and safety. Every day we take for granted that they will travel securely to and from school, that they will return to us with complaints about homework and a healthy afternoon appetite.

I pray that the little girl will recover quickly and will have no lasting injury or scars from this ordeal. I pray also that vehicles traveling that stretch of road now realize the importance of obeying speed limits and watching for children walking to school or crossing to bus stops. I pray for mothers everywhere who have watched and worried and for those who have had to endure the worst of news.

To my shame, I can remember driving very fast on that very same road early in the mornings on my way to work. We always believe that we are perfectly in control and that the worst can never happen. When you drive to work tomorrow, remember that school-age children are everywhere and they aren't always paying attention - children often don't. And remember that it is better to be a little late for work, than to endanger the life of a child.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Grief Revisited

A friend of mine recently sent me some writings by her late sister-in-law, a woman who journaled her thoughts about life, and then about her own impending death from cancer. I was moved by her words in ways that are hard to describe, my soul touched in places I that had not dared to explore for so long now, shining a harsh and exposing light on dark places I had not wanted to see.

I remember when I was informed that my mother hadn't been well, and was enlisted in the campaign to convince her to see a doctor. She had been losing weight without dieting, suffering night sweats and it was clear to all of us that she had lost much confidence in her physical abilities. She no longer wanted to drive, she seemed less balanced overall. When she had agreed, I made arrangements for her to see a new doctor.

The diagnosis was frightening, but as with all problems, the focus on the solution takes over. My mother had a large tumor in her abdomen. It explained why she was losing weight without actually appearing smaller except that her arms and legs were shrinking, leaving flaccid skin to hang listlessly.

The doctors removed a tumor - the size of a basketball, they told us. My mother recovered from surgery more quickly than I would have believed a woman of 77 could do. But the bleak news came after the biopsy. The tumor was cancerous, a form of sarcoma, not treatable with radiation or chemotherapy, and likely to return.

My mother had a few good months between that surgery and an ultrasound done as follow-up. She was lighter on her feet, thinner than she had been in years and seeming so much younger. But all the while, the cancer was spreading and growing in the background, launching a more aggressive attack.

She had already ruled out more surgery, and I don't believe she would have gone for other treatments had they been available. My mother had always believed in natural medicine, vitamins, minerals, and nearly anything but doctors.

They gave us no hope and short time by their calculations. The growing tumor would squeeze out other internal organs, she wouldn't be able to eat by September, she would not see Thanksgiving.

My mother didn't do as the doctors predicted, she never did what doctors told her. She lived on past Thanksgiving, and she never lost the ability to eat. Although the tumor was now enormous, bloating her body and making it nearly impossible for her to even move its frightening weight to roll over, on the eve of her death, she sat up on the side of the bed and ate her dinner from a bedside table. I can't think of anything that makes me more proud of her than that.

I meant to write here about loss, about grief, about courage and about the world and how it changes when someone important has left it. I can't right now.

One day, I will tell of those things, but for now I find I am crying over the death of someone I never met, but now know through her writing. Cancer is a powerful force that levels all its victims and their loved ones to a common ground. Grief is often unspeakable, it only escapes us through tears and deep groanings in our spirit. But through a few words today, I experienced more than my own grief over my mother, I experienced the utter callousness with which cancer steals from its victims and the futures that it claims.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A Hogeous Post

Tolstoy wrote " Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way". What he didn't mention is that every family, happy or unhappy, speaks its own language. A lexicon peculiar to that family and its members, trickling down through generations, enhanced by new additions to the family through marriage and passed on. An oral tradition, if you will.

My mother's family had a rich tradition of words. I don't think so many words have ever been spoken in all of New England as were uttered by her family. By volume alone they are staggering. I did not know, however, nor suspected as a child, that the language I was learning from my mother was not quite English but some strange concoction resembling English and complementing English, yet wholly their own invention.

My mother's version of family history includes a huge migratory period of her ancestors from the Ukraine, traveling ever westward across Europe, settling in England for a time and then ending up in the American colonies and Canada. I am not sure what they were running from, this was never made clear to me, but apparently it was greatly appreciated that England had provided asylum for them in their flight from whatever it was. It may have had something to do with their brief stint in France.

In any case they were so indebted to England for something, not sure what ( not throwing them out perhaps) that they refused to fight against the English in the Revolutionary War and became outcasts once more, being forced to flee to Canada due to their unpopularity. By this time, I should think they would have gotten used to being chased out of countries.

I mention this as it may hold the keys to some of the words and sayings that I heard as a child, and still use today despite the occasional odd stare. "Hogeous" is a perfect example. I am not sure of the spelling, this is how my mind's eye always saw it spelled. It may well be spelled "hojus" but I doubt it, that would be spelling it as it sounds. I am sure that is too sensible an idea to be true.

Hogeous has many uses, usually meaning something vile or distasteful, often related to pungent smells. However it can also be used to describe a rather unpleasant dish being served to you, as in "I dont know what they had to run down on the road to make that stew, but it was hogeous"!

Anything cunnin' was cute. A soulcase was a person, most often a child. If you were called a cunnin' soulcase, you could be sure that meant they liked you. You did not want to be called a poohcat, though I confess to not knowing what that was. It was just bad. Something hogeous.

My mother had a gift for delegation and if you were so insubordinate as to ask why you were elected to any unpleasant chore, she would simply shrug and say "Why keep dogs and bark myself"? We were advised to "scud to school or you'll rue it". Education was important, and we had to scud to get it.

And then there was the mysterious medical condition known as a "split straddle". A girl always had to be careful of certain types of physical activities such as riding a boy's bike with the bar across, as there was a possibility that she might "split her straddle". She usually followed this up with the story of a girl she had known personally who had this happen to her, and it was horrible and irreparable. That touch of realism usually did it for me. My mother was good at supplying horrifying graphic images to make sure you were sufficiently emotionally scarred.

And more than anyone I ever met, my mother knew how to use words to her advantage. I remember her telling my father "Jack, I am your wife. Your money is my money and no one is going to tell me how to spend my money". Her logic was impeccable.

Now I must go and do my daily readings. Reading the blogs of others is a great way to avoid writing your own. I mean, why keep blogs and write myself?

Christian Lifestyle

I have a friend who is single, but with her job and busy lifestyle, she just doesn't have time to go out and meet new people. As a Christian, she doesn't want to do the bar scene or sign up for dating services where the members won't share her beliefs and principles. I am going to put her onto this new site I found, and hope she enjoys success. It's a place for Christian Singles to meet and chat, and hopefully find that special someone who can be a life partner.

This site is specifically for Christian singles. It's free to join and browse through thousands of profiles. If you're looking for that special someone who shares your faith, is great resource.

What Every Kid Knows - but will never tell

Every mother faces that day - the first day of kindergarten when they leave their child to the unknown world of school. I remember when it was The Boy's first day.

Timid and shy, he stood with his back against the brick wall of the school, only watching as the other children ran about to greet schoolmates they had left behind when classes ended in June. On his first day of school, The Boy stood as close as he could get to me, with all the clingy need of a kindergartener , eliciting promises from me to stay with him. I was calm, reassuring and comforting. I told him all about his day and how much fun he would have. He looked up with the eyes of a dog that had been beaten as if to say "How could you do this to me"?

But that was the first day of school. By the third morning, when his older sister was not going to be able to watch over him, and I was torn between staying or being on time for work, I was told in a confident voice "Just go ahead, Mom, I can handle this myself".

A strange thing happens to your beautiful, loving and needy children when they start school. They become kids. They speak the language of kids, their ideas and opinions come from other kids and the only people who are acknowledged to know anything are other kids. I remember all too well the innocent five year old girl with the silken curls, the frilly pink dream of every mother that I took for her first day of kindergarten 9 years ago. That little angel went into the school that day, but she never returned. Instead, they sent home a kid. I still have not recovered from the first time those soft, cherry lips uttered her first kid phrase: "Duh, Mom, I already know that".

I assume that whatever strange and mysterious things go on at school, they are too secretive to share with parents for it seems the children are debriefed at the end of the day with strict instructions to never admit to knowing anything or remembering anything that occurred during school hours. The Boy has only been in school for two weeks before he knew the routine well. I could see his resolve in our conversation while driving home one day that first year.

"What did you have for lunch at school today?" I already knew the items on the menu, I was just being interested in his choices. I thought mothers do that, so I was trying it.


"Nothing? I gave you lunch money, didn't you order lunch?"

"I don't know."

"You gave them your lunch money, what did you order?"

"I don't know."

This line of questioning obviously wasn't going to work so I took another tack.

"When your teacher takes you and your class to the cafeteria, what do you do there?"

"I don't know."

"Do you get a tray with food on it? Do you sit with your class and eat?"

"I don't know."

"Okay, let me get this straight. When you went into the cafeteria you blacked out and entered some kind of vortex and when you emerged you had no memory of it?"

"I ordered a hamburger and they gave me pizza."

Finally a confession, apparently brought about only because they had made a mistake. His loyalty to the secret school society was weakened when they disappointed him.

"And white milk."

That must have been the last straw, he spat the words "white milk" as if they left a bad taste in his mouth. Even I would not have been so foolish as to forget the chocolate milk and I am only a mother.

But that was the last revelation. I tried to find out what they learned, what games they played or how he liked his teacher. But he had recognized his slip and all I got was: "I don't know".

When I went for my first parent/teacher conference, I heard what a polite child he was, how friendly and outgoing with other children. The teacher explained what letters they were practicing and how they had learned to count by tens. She showed me his artwork and praised his efforts.

But for all I know, it could all be a lie. It may be that they do none of these things. All I have to go by is this stranger's word and a few scraps of paper with some scribbles on them. I have no way of knowing what really goes on in the secret school society.

The Boy knows, but he's not talkin'.

A is for Apple, B is for Bored

One of The Boy's daily homework assignments is to read for 20 minutes. This has been a struggle in previous years, but this year The Boy has vowed to put all his effort into schoolwork. Therefore, it was with great sense of purpose that he pulled out his reading book - a peppy sounding little tale called "Pig can Jig" - and took his place on the sofa next to me, ready to regale me with stories of prancing porcine pals.

I have a faint memory of the Dick and Jane series of books that were used to teach us basic words and reading skills. I can't remember them being very exciting, so I was delighted that modern teaching methods involve such wonderfully entertaining concepts as pigs doing jigs. A few pages into the book soon dispelled this notion.

I can't say this book is any improvement over the tried and true adventures of Dick and Jane. There are cats who are fat and there's dad who had ham and jam and the pig that does jig. All the three letter words you can think of with all their rhymes. But there's no story, there's no plot. There are words strung together in accepted grammatical patterns; but aside from the sense of satisfaction he gets from being able to read the sentence, there's little joy to be had from them.

I started to understand a bit better why Johnnie can't read. It's self-defense against death by boredom.

Perhaps it is nostalgia that makes me think that Dick and Jane and their little dog (what was his name?) were more interesting and fun. But, even if they weren't, they were at least kids like us, doing the sorts of things that adults think that kids do. Sure they were written for a world of Beaver Cleavers, but for some reason we incorporated that ideal into our world and didn't notice that there were no real families like that.

I could be totally off base here, but would it be so difficult to write books that made more sense, told a story that engaged the imagination and could be mastered by those new to literacy?

If there is one good thing about these "starter" books, it is that it creates a drive to help this child master the English language, so that when it is time for the evening's reading, I can have something interesting to listen to.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Who's Calling?

There are days when I curse Alexander Graham Bell. There is nothing more annoying than to be kneading dough or scrubbing the toilet and hear the phone ringing in the next room. And of course, by the time you wash your hands and get to answer it, the caller has hung up.

Not such a tragedy in the days of Caller ID, you say, but what about those calls that don't register? Of course this includes telemarketers and the like, but it also includes cell phones. And you can't do a reverse search in your regular phone directory pages for a cell phone number.

But I now have a little secret up my sleeve. Did you know there is a website where you can do Mobile Phone Reverse Lookup? It's just as simple as using reverse lookup on your regular phone pages, but you can get much more than just name and address. You can even access a background check. It's quick and easy, so why waste time wondering who called ever again?

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Winds of Change

Summer seemed rather incomplete this year, and not because it came late or left early. Some part of it must have to do with the maturing of the children in their interests and attitudes. And yet, the summer seemed hectic even without planning day trips to the beach or afternoons at the park. I am not sure where it went, and part of me is sad to see it go unfulfilled.

But an answer was heard this morning, a promise spoken on the wind. The glorious wind, that whipped through the trees and blustered through my open window, carelessly knocking over several items on my dresser in its rush to tell me. It came whistling a melody I hadn't heard in many long months, but know well.

The wind came to tell me that despite the fact that the trees are a tired, dull green instead of blazing into color and despite the persistently warm days following one after another, autumn is about to arrive.

Autumn is my favorite season. I love the crisp, cool days and the invigorating air. I love the smell of autumn and the colors. I love the winds of autumn, even though they strip the brilliance from the trees just a wee bit too soon.

I missed the chasing of the waves this year, and my heart yearns for the ocean. Perhaps that is why summer didn't satisfy. These misgivings and disappointments would hang heavily in the humid August air, but September has sent a cleansing wind to sweep out those remnants of unfulfilled dreams and lifted my soul up to where the treetops catch fire.

Friday, September 12, 2008

New Free Christian Chat Site

I started chatting online when my son was born, and over the years I have used many different chat venues. Each has some good points and bad points, but all too often they get stale with the same people and the same points of view. I have been keeping my eye out for some newer chat sites to open and here is one I think I may check out. Christian Chat City provides Free Christian Chat with video chatting. It's completely free to join or you can try it out with free guest access. It looks like a great place to gather with friends for free chat services. Check it out!

Feeling Disconnected

This morning my world fell apart. I had no internet connection.

My connection was painfully slow last night and apparently gave up the ghost completely somewhere in the early hours before dawn. I had only a steaming cup of coffee to brace me for the devastating news - "the internet is down".

I made the call I have made many times before to technical support. The most interesting part of these calls is listening to the robo-operator as she promises to check your line for trouble and while doing so, encourages you to try checking their website for online help. The most frustrating part is that it does you no good to scream at the robo-operator about how ridiculous it is to tell someone with no connection to try getting help at the website. The robo-operator will just reply "I'm sorry, I didn't understand you".

Two hours into the call with technical support I still had no internet, but had assured the human operator that I hadn't got up in the middle of the night and made any adjustments or changes to my telephone jacks or satellite installation.

When I got off the line, it still wasn't working and they had to open a ticket - the resolution of which I would be informed. Soon after that, things started working again and I have yet to hear that they have resolved the problem.

I don't think technical support actually does anything, to tell you the truth. I think they tell you to go to plug in numbers and passwords, unplug this, reboot that, until the thing starts working again on its own anyway.

But there's something comforting about taking action and calling technical support. For one thing, it's someone at the company I can whine at while I am waiting for it all to start working again. I get to be slightly disdainful of their constant questions about whether or not the computer is plugged in, and explain to them that they shouldn't treat all customers as if they are idiots.

On second thought, it might be more fun to work it the other way. Maybe one day, just for fun, I will unplug everything and call technical support. Let's see how long it takes them to teach me how to turn the thing on.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Is There a Child Molester in Your Neighborhood?

As mothers, we all look out for our children's health and safety. As they learn to walk and reach, we childproof our environments to prevent injuries. As they learn to run, we are there to cuddle and comfort when they fall. We caution them about "stranger danger" and take every step possible to ensure their safety. One way to protect our children against the danger of pedophiles and predators is to know if there are registered sex offenders in our neighborhoods.

Did you know that you can search for and locate child molesters living in your local area? There is a site that helps you access that information, regardless of where you live. At, information is available for your local area.

Get the information you need to keep your child safe from predators. Check for registered sex offenders living in your area today.

Bus Spotting as a Hobby

School began in earnest this week, with full days and homework assigned. So far it's going well. The Boy's bus has a rather unpredictable schedule thus far, but it's only the fifth day of school. I am sure it will start to be more regular, at least I hope so because right now the window of time of its possible arrival extends for about an hour.

I get a little anxious when it comes to the school bus. Okay, I really just drive everyone crazy while I am waiting for the school bus. I watch for its arrival in a near panic. It isn't the Boy's fault - he's always come straight home from the bus, it's not as if he's ever missed it and tried to cross highways to get home while sustaining himself on the pretzel crumbs in the bottom of his backpack. He's never done anything that would indicate that he's not capable of getting home on a school bus. The problem is really just a holdover from my first experience with a school bus when the Girl began school.

The Girl had been cared for by her grandmother until that first day of Kindergarten. I had watched the school bus come by every morning the year before to pick up the two boys that lived upstairs. Although they were not going to the same school anymore, I assumed the bus would make its regular stop for my daughter. That first day we stood expectantly outside the house until well after the time that school was beginning. The school apparently hadn't told the bus company that they still had to stop for children at that location.

The next day the bus did stop to pick her up. Not taking any chances, I hopped in the car and drove to the school to be sure that they had delivered her to the right place.

The third day of school, the bus picked her up, but never dropped her off. When the bus driver finished his route he noticed that he still had a small child on board. He drove her back to the school (with which I had been in feverish contact) and I had to pick her up there.

Things then went rather well for a while. I followed the bus to school for several days and all continued to go as planned. I began to relax. Then they did it again. Another bus driver who had my child on board at the end of her run, and didn't know where she belonged.

As you can imagine, my faith in the reliability of the school bus has been somewhat shaken. I drove both children to different schools for many years rather than face the uncertainty of bus stops and drop off points.

So now when I sit by the window looking for a patch of yellow to show through between the houses on the next street over, or nervously watch the clock from ten minutes before it's supposed to arrive and call the school immediately if the bus is a moment late, it seems to others that my anxiety is far greater than is warranted.

Perhaps when the Boy is 16 or so, I will be able to go about my day without looking out the window for the bus, or anxiously count the minutes till it arrives. Perhaps, but I doubt it.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hair Don'ts

We're on the countdown to the first day of school, and even after all these weeks of wishing it would come quickly, it still seems to take us unawares.

I shopped for school clothes online, making sure they all had plenty of time to arrive. Everything was a big hit, but some of it was just too tempting and now and again special permission was granted to wear this or that item. There goes that nice, crisp, brand-new feeling and look.

The Boy has got a suitably horrid new haircut. He wants his hair long like his cousin and I have no objections to slightly longish hair. When I was growing up, all the boys had long hair - it was these convict-style bald heads I found scary. But I knew that to have him show up at school with his long bangs hanging over his eyes would only lead to an emergency parent-teacher conference.

One of the things we feel is impeding your child's progress is his inability to see his work through that wall of hair over his face

No, I wasn't going to have that, so I sent him off to the hair salon, with instructions to leave it long but sort of clear away the hair over the eyes. I envisaged a rather nice modern layered style.

What I have is either Little Lord Fauntleroy or a lead singer from a 60s rock n roll group. The bangs are far too short, the sides are far too long. It took long enough to convince him to go in the first place, now I have to convince him to let me fix it.

I suppose it will look its absolute worst on picture day, which is usually scheduled early on, as it is one of the most important days in the school year as we all know. Field trips, school parties and picture day - these are the major events. Schoolwork is what they do to pass the time until the next big day.

So, I am off with trusty scissors to try to salvage some of his cool and save both of us a little embarrassment. I knew I should have had his hair cut last month - it would have grown out by now.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Secret Lives of Parents

Children have a sixth sense. It tells them when you are having fun, so they can make sure they put an end to it. They are particularly attuned to video games.

For instance, The Boy and his cousin went to the park, leaving the Playstation unattended. Seeing this, I whispered conspiratorially to the husband "Wanna play some Sonic"? We both grinned in glee.

I found the game, loaded it and our hearts beat wildly at the trilling of "Se-ga!". The music began and we were off on an exciting hedgehog adventure.

Then the phone rang. The boys explaining that they were coming straight home from the park as they both needed to use the bathroom facilities.

We didn't relinquish the game right away. But despite our assurances that we had been playing Sonic the Hedgehog before they were even born, they insisted on giving us tips on how to play. All kids know that parents can't play video games - what a silly thought!

Although the children quickly gather around the TV as soon as their spidey sense tells them that the old people are at the PS2 again, we have one secret weapon up our sleeves.

School starts next week.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Story of a Salting

My mother was very proud of her ancestry, although at times her stories of her relatives that went before got somewhat muddled. Many of her stories were simply dismissed by most of us children, especially when they told of close familial connections to Hollywood directors and royalty.

With a little amateur research on the internet, I came upon some startling information that supports my mother's contention that she was related to a Hollywood director. But more interesting and somewhat disturbing was the one line sentence I found next to the name of one of her uncles, a man who married late in life. It said simply that he was "salted to death" by his wife.

I found it strange that I had never heard this before from my mother, for mysteries and conspiracies were among her favorite pastimes. In her family it seemed that wives were always somewhat suspect, since they weren't part of the family but rather married into it. Second wives were even more suspect - even if the fellow was dirt poor, it was always assumed that second wives were gold diggers.

And yes, this was poor Great-Uncle M's second wife, the first having died and left him a widower. So it is inevitable that the family whispers would be breathed in quiet corners and behind backs. But I am left with one great question: how was this salting accomplished?

There aren't many instances of "death by salt" to be found upon a Google search, although there seems to be a rock band by that name. There's a biblical death by salt, as Lot's wife became a pillar of it, but I doubt that even a second wife had the power to call down fire and brimstone. Finally, we are left with salt poisoning, which by the estimates I found would require the average man to ingest about 12 ounces of salt at one time. Surely, this would be a crime of some magnitude and the tale of it would not have been so easily forgotten.

The most likely explanation is that others in the family cared little for her cooking and found it salty, or that Great Uncle M had some medical condition that was sensitive to salt intake. In any case, it was likely felt that Wife B fed him too much salt, therefore hastening his demise. Since the dates indicate he married her shortly after his first wife's death and lived on for another 16 years, Wife B must have been a very patient woman.

Unfortunately, my mother passed on before I ever thought to look up genealogy online and I can never confirm for her that some of her information was spot-on, nor can I glean more of what she knew of her Uncle M's life, marriages and death.

But I do know one thing, even if a death certificate for Uncle M were produced and it was found that he died of natural causes, it would not quell any rumors nor sway any family opinions. Worse, the family stories would lose their mystery and element of dark conspiracy. And if they were about anything at all, my mother's family were about entertainment.

Although I find the facts fascinating and engrossing, I think I would prefer to hear my mother's stories. There was never anything better than a family gathering, to sit amongst the siblings as they exchanged knowing looks and spoke in hushed tones about this one who was done wrong by that one, and about the wife who worked her husband to his death. It's the only way to find the nuts scattered amongst the branches of a family tree. Genealogy is a fine thing, but that - well, that's family history!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Those Lazy Summer Days

Every summer, school vacation presents problems for parents: how to keep the kids busy and entertained for two months. When I was a kid, this was never a problem. As soon as we woke up in the morning, we were outside, knocking on the doors of friends' houses, running under summer skies throughout the days. I can't remember anyone planning a single activity for us, our imaginations filled the days that seem to last forever and yet were so brief.

Bur for kids today, it's very different. Summers must be planned, activities found, rides sorted out and of course, money plunked down to pay for it all. Being able to stay home and experience summer freedom isn't what it used to be. Since most kids aren't home in the summer, there's little to do in an empty neighborhood.

This year I discovered what seemed to be a perfect solution - the Parks Program. All of the town's parks are staffed with counselors who will guide your young ones through a summer of fun and activities and it's all free. This sounded ideal as the neighborhood park is a mere two or three streets away and the ages served are 6-14, a range inclusive of both the children. Moreover, the elder can keep an eye on the younger.

During their April vacation I was persuaded to allow The Girl and her friend take the The Boy to the park. They had a raucous good time - playing, swinging, sunning and buying junk food from the ice cream truck. They went every day and vowed to spend all Saturdays in this manner. Although they never actually went to the park again, I still thought itsounded like the perfect plan.

As with any perfect plan, it went wrong before it began. The elder, being a 14 year old girl, had no interest whatsoever in going to the park, let alone watching a younger brother. She was bribed into participation with promises of payment, but soon even the prospect of spending money was not enough to rouse her from her bed to walk the three blocks.

Soon, the younger realized that the counselors don't insist on participation in games and that they have an "open door" policy, which meant he could leave at any time. The first time he decided to exercise this right was a day when clouds lowered heavily and there was an imminent threat of rain and thunder. Having kept a close eye on the weather, I set out to pick him up only to find him already making his way home, having left upon feeling the first tiny droplet of rain.

Soon his reasons to leave were such things as boredom, he forgot his favorite Pokemon card, he hit his thumb on a tree, etc. He began to find reasons not to go before he even got there and turned back halfway.

But never fear, The Boy has found the perfect activity to keep him busy all summer. At the top of the street (the hill, as he calls it), he has found a depression in the ground under a tree. He likes to sit in "the hole" and... well, I don't know what else he does. But when I call to him and ask what he's doing, he simply yells back "I am up the hill". Further inquiry reveals that he is "sitting in the hole".

Sure he will spend time riding his scooter, catching bugs, and just running for the sake of running, but it's nice to know that he will spend some time as I remember spending time on those long summer days. Sitting in quiet contemplation from a shady spot, perfectly situated to observe the world and its wonders - a walking stick on the tree bark, a dragon in the clouds flying through the sky - the wonders that we once saw on a summer afternoon. They are still there, though we no longer see them through the busy-ness of life. But sometimes, through the eyes of a child, we experience them once again.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Balancing Act

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights...

These stirring words from the Declaration of Independence express the desire for all citizens of this glorious land to have equal rights and equal protection under the law. Unfortunately, it is not so.

This was pointed out to me accidentally today by The Girl, who spent some time complaining to me that the rights in the household were unbalanced - she felt she didn't have enough rights. A quick tally of rights and responsibilities soon made me see the inequity.

The rights are out of balance, and tilted heavily in her favor. She doesn't pay rent, and yet she has a comfortable place to live. She doesn't pay utilities and yet she has lights, heat, electricity to run her PC, her radio, her blowdryer, her flat iron...the list goes on and on.

She doesn't work or earn money yet she has food, clothing, medical and dental care. Without performing any tasks of hard labor she gets spending money to go out with friends - sometimes it's offered just to get her to go out with friends instead of fighting with her brother.

I certainly had to agree with her that there don't seem to be enough rights to go around, and it appears that there aren't any left over for me.

Okay, this is normal. Parents provide and care for children because it is right and normal to do so, because it is what parents are for. Children don't realize what real life is like because childhood is supposed to be a time infused with a certain amount of light-heartedness and it is the time to be care-free, before adulthood brings responsibility to rest heavy on their shoulders.

And because I was once a child and am now a mother, I know that there will come a day when she will understand and appreciate what I have done. I know it will be the day that one of her children complains to her about how unfair she is being. So it has always been, and so it always will be, from generation to generation. I don't think it's wrong that I am going to giggle just a bit when it happens... do you?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Juggling Act

I have some bad news.

I can't juggle.

Some years ago I was given a set of soft juggling balls and instructions. I did try (in vain) to master the art of tossing three objects into the air and preventing gravity from exerting its power over them, but inevitably I failed to save even one of the brightly colored orbs from its groundward fate.

Why worry about it? I am sure there are millions of people who can't juggle. But according to a new study, when older people learned to juggle, they grew new grey matter in their brains at a rate equal to younger students of the art. The skills mastered in learning to juggle made new connections and caused a growth of grey matter in the older participants so that even those that conducted the study were astonished.

Of course, I don't believe they were that astonished since it was their idea to teach all these people to juggle in the first place. They must have hoped to prove something. The thought occurs to me to wonder who stepped forward to fund this study when presented with the idea of holding clown school, but I have seen sillier studies than this one.

I can't juggle. I can't learn to juggle. My brain is doomed to become an ever-shrinking remnant of what it was - mostly due to having children - but apparently also due to my lack of hand-eye coordination.

I can't whistle, either. I can't wait to find out what that means.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Of Soap and Scandal

I may have told you this before, but housekeeping was not my mother's idea of a good time. She was very careful about germs and keeping things disinfected, and gave me some of my most prominent phobias about such things, but straightforward straightening up was not something that held her interest for long.

When it was announced that company was due, the clutter on the floor and stacked in corners didn't cause her any great consternation. If I expect sudden company, I am likely to rush through the house, picking up stray toys and clothes and hiding dirty dishes in the oven or dishwasher, making the surfaces appear uncluttered and giving the impression that our "stuff" is neatly stuffed away somewhere. My last thought would be to wash the windows or the paint.

But when faced with imminent social obligation, my mother instinctively cried out for just one cleaning product, just one magic formula that would render her home suitable for guests. I will remember the scent of it my entire life. I knew automatically that I would be sent to the apothecary to fetch home a bottle. This master of all cleansers was Tincture of Green Soap.

Tincture of Green Soap was added to buckets of warm water and rags dipped into it were used to wash down the wood-paneled walls and stairways. It cleared the dust, cleaned the wood and left a fresh scent throughout.

It occurred to me only yesterday that I had no idea what Tincture of Green Soap is or why it should be available at the apothecary only. So I had a quick google on it and discovered that it's a soap meant for human skin and has nothing to do with cleaning walls.

Interestingly, I found this quote about the properties of Tincture of Green Soap. One site selling it touted it as being "effective for removal of dried blood and proteins from skin and scalp".

Okay, we weren't the most well-behaved children and it's possible we put grimy hands on the walls or occasionally used a crayon to scribble out some insult or threat against a sibling, but come on... dried blood?

It's at times like these that I miss my mother, because I realize now how many questions I have that will always be left unanswered. I am sure there is some reason she used Tincture of Green Soap on the woodwork. Maybe someone told her that it was effective at removing grease or that it was kind to wood. But I still would like to ask her, with just a hint of a wink, what crime scene she was attempting to cover up?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Of New and Old

I am very proud of my new car, although it is new only to me, having been what is now termed "pre-owned". Car dealers believe that the word "used" carries negative connotations as does the term "used car salesman" so they tend to have only "program vehicles" (used rental cars) and "quality pre-owned vehicles" (used cars) on their lots.

The car is a little hungrier for gas than my last vehicle and quite a lot larger than any other car I have owned - which means my days of zipping into tight parking spaces is over. However, it was time to accept the fact that I had two children in the back seat who, for the sake of undistracted driving, should sit as far away from each other as possible.

I would be inclined, however, to believe anyone who told me that my car was driven only on Sundays by a little old lady who used it to go to church.

You see, yesterday was the first day it was hot enough to turn on the air conditioning in the car. Until now, we have used the heat, the defroster, and played endlessly with the electric windows until the perfect air flow and temperature were achieved in the car's interior.

We pushed the little button with frosty snowflake on it, eagerlyawaiting the first blast of cool air. Next we chose the button that limits air circulation to inside the vehicle, excluding the stiff, hot air from outside. With the fan setting at medium, a wonderful thing then occurred.

Emanating from the vents in the dash was air that was not only cooled and conditioned, but air which filled the vehicle with something that the car had lacked up until that moment.

This is why I believe the former owner must have been a little old lady who rarely drove it. Little old ladies are rarely too warm, and so the AC was likely rarely, if ever, employed.

Hidden deep within my car's ventilation system were the last remaining whiffs new car scent. As it wafted past my nostrils, I inhaled hard and long, sucking in its delicious fragrance. I realized also, that for my generation, that new car smell symbolizes so much more than the age of the vehicle. It brings up memories of prosperous family times, sibling squabbles, the excitement of accompanying dad to the dealership to pick out the new family car and stirs up nostalgia in an unsettling blend of warmth and sadness.

It also reminded me, as I endured the kids in the back seat having ridiculous arguments, giggling for no reason or making noise for the sheer pleasure of making noise, that I was once sitting exactly where they were. And in the natural course of time, they will one day be sitting where I am now. Then it will be that these days which now seem so ordinary and unremarkable will have become part of them, sealed into memory, only to be suddenly awakened by a chance sensory experience.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The ants crawl in and the ants crawl out...

Every year as the golden branches of forsythia burst forth and the lilacs offer their fragrant bunches of tiny, perfect blooms, another sure sign of spring can be found creeping in from cracks and crevices... the ant invasion.

I live in a very old house, and with every old house come numerous channels and avenues for creepy crawlies to make their way into the human living quarters. As the house settles down and then down further, more cracks appear and more access is given.

So every spring, the ants find their way to my kitchen. A few may show up in the bathroom, but the kitchen is their main point of entry. I have never wanted to use poisons or even ant hotels because of the kids. Consequently, I have spent many spring days watching ants march about my counter to see where they come from and where they go. Armed with a roll of duct tape, I am prepared to seal off any avenue they use. Sadly, I have met with only limited success. In an old house, there is always another way if you are small enough to find it.

The new invasion began three days ago, but this year I plan to try out some new techniques I found on natural pest control. I still don't want chemicals and poisons in my kitchen and I have run out of duct tape. I am also getting to old to spot the cracks the ants use to gain entry.

Armed with new knowledge of ant dislikes (flour) and common household items that are poisonous to them (baking soda), I plan to launch a full-out attack. I know that if I do nothing, they will be gone in a couple of weeks time. I know that if I spend hours a day trying to squash them all, they will be here for a couple of weeks anyway. But maybe, just maybe, if I counter-attack in a new way, I can shorten their stay.

Now, if I can only do something about the winter spider convention.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Fishy Story

Today may be the day I finally put the aquarium to rest, although I will miss it as a fixture in my livingroom. I rather like the soothing babbling noises of the filter and watching the air bubbles rise. I like the colorful gravel and the large rock formation that rises from it. It's a focal point for guests who stare at it in rapt amazement until they finally ask "where are the fish"?

It's another fish tale, the ones that didn't get away so much as simply expired. I expect goldfish to die with some regularity, but some were the victims of exceptional circumstances.

I believe it began when The Boy's teacher decided to put a little goldfish bowl in the center of every group of desks (nowadays, second graders are allowed to look at each other during school - the desks are pushed together in groups of four). The fish were a grand biology experiment for the children. They would learn how to be responsible for living things that they fed and cared for. Needless to say, all the fish died.

I saw one of the early corpses firsthand. When I arrived to pick my son up at his afterschool program, a counselor took me aside and handed me a plastic baggie with a small, mushy, somewhat shiny, indistinguishable mound of something that looked like it might have been a sardine that had slid out of a sandwich to the floor and had been stepped upon. I didn't make him a sardine sandwich that day.

The counselor explained that The Boy had shown up there with a fish in his pants pocket, a very dead fish. No autopsy had been performed, but a type of dissection by erosion had taken place while the body was transported inside the pocket of a small boy's jeans. The question then became, did the fish die before or after he reached the pocket?

The Boy upon questioning admitted to removing the fish from the trash after its natural demise. So when the children requested a couple of goldfish as pets, I didn't think it would be a problem.

The first fish that got sick received prompt attention from The Boy who decided to pick him up and comfort him, hastening his passing. Later fish died on their own as they will do, but also due to overfeeding, underfeeding, general attention and general neglect.

The most abused fish were the deceased ones. Although I firmly advised a flush funeral, The Girl insisted on burial. The Boy would then insist on exhuming the carcass for further examination. When the last fish finally went to Davy Jone's locker, I said "enough".

The tank is very clean now. If you glance at it quickly, the play of light and shadow makes you think you can see fish swimming about. Watching fish swim in an aquarium is rated highly as a relaxation technique. But watching an empty tank only gives one a desire to fill it and I have already seen where that leads.

So to avoid the many hours of relaxation followed by even more hours of high frustration, I think I will empty the fish tank today.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

I Am Not a Supermom

Have you ever woken up one day and wondered what your kids ever did to deserve you? Or rather, do they deserve better?

Recently I have had the experience of meeting "accomplished" mothers. These are the mothers who have such a list of credits to their names, it's nearly impossible to imagine how they managed to squeeze in time for pregnancy and birth. I do know one thing, they were probably multi-tasking during labor.

These mothers have immaculate houses. They make elaborate meals out of vegetables and grains they have grown themselves - organically. They sew, they churn butter, they knit the kids new bicycles out of steel wool.

I start to feel inadequate. I begin to pity my kids. I start to wonder why I had them, why did I want to bring children into the world when I wasn't prepared to make cookies for the bake sale, volunteer to sew costumes for the school play, head up the local fund-raising efforts and do spot welding on fighter jets in my spare time?

Then reality hits me. My mother never did any of those things either, and I don't remember ever resenting it. In fact as I face homework sent with my child that requires that I participate and then sign that I have participated, I can only imagine my mother's reaction should any of my teachers ever tried to send her homework.

I don't want to be without influence in my children's lives but I am not sure that constant accomplishment equals influence. I want them to know what I believe, know what I think is important, understand how to have compassion and how to forgive failings and foibles.

I don't live up to the perfect suburban mom standard. I am disorganized and scatterbrained and rushed and forgetful. Some days I get tired and order pizza. I let them eat it on the fly instead of forcing the family to sit down and talk about our days. But if they have something to tell me, I can listen instead of needing to wash the dishes, finish my needlepoint or paint a mural on the side of the garage.

Motherhood is hard enough without having to try to live up to impossible standards. I believe more mothers are like me and my mother than are like the supermoms. At least I hope so. And my children are lucky I am not a supermom, because truthfully, they're not perfect either. For now, we will each just have to make do with what we got.

Monday, March 3, 2008

I am an Espresso

I don't usually think that these online personality quizzes are the path to self-enlightenment or deep revelation - in fact, most of the time they get it completely wrong. Maybe that's because on about half the multiple choice questions, I can't find an answer that sounds anything like me. How can they measure my personality when it isn't even on file? I spend a lot of time shaking my head and thinking "I wouldn't do any of those things, are those the only things that normal people would do in that situation"?

Yet I found a quiz that nailed me completely. Of course, it's about coffee, so I knew all the answers - that is, I know what I would do about coffee. And, I am happy to say that the quiz recognized my special relationship to coffee. Et Voila, my results:

You Are an Espresso

At your best, you are: straight shooting, ambitious, and energetic

At your worst, you are: anxious and high strung

You drink coffee when: anytime you're not sleeping

Your caffeine addiction level: high

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Flashcard Friends - Myspace for Homework?

As I sat with The Boy, ostensibly to help him with his homework, I realized what he struggled with more than his reading - the medium of his homework. He fiddled and dawdled over each task I asked him to complete, looking at everything but the homework sheet. Finally, as I prodded him he let it all out in one frustrated exclamation of truth.

"I hate papers", he cried.

I actually think that's one of his big problems. He flies by in math, doing it in his head, but struggles with reading and writing. The Boy who can play complex computer games without being able to read all the complicated instructions, simply isn't engaged by paperwork. I began to wonder if I should look for computer games that taught reading.

When I saw Flashcard Friends, I immediately saw possibilities. Flashcard Friends is like a social network, but it can include your child's teacher as well as friends. I am still investigating ways to incorporate it into my son's computer time, but when my daughter saw me watching the introduction video, she immediately asked me to send her the link. I see a lot of promise for her, as well. There are already Flash Cards on the site on so many of the subjects she is now studying and there are even practice tests. If she got her friends to join up, they could share their notes and information by uploading their own flash cards. It's a very interesting concept, and bound to appeal to kids. This is a computer generation, what could be more appealing to them than a site that lets them connect with friends and study at the same time? The site was inspired by kids who wanted a fun way to study using the computer.

There's too much for me to explain, but if you have children of school age from Kindergarten to college, you should watch the video and see how Flashcard Friends can work for them. You can find them at Here's the press release for the website, it explains it all much better than I could.

Flashcard Friends Combines Social Networking and Online Learning

Second generation Web 2.0 entrepreneurs create a FREE “social learning” website for students, homeschoolers and teachers

Belmont, CA. – February 21, 2008 – Flashcard Friends combines social networking—a la Facebook and MySpace—with online learning. The inspiration for Flashcard Friends came when the founders of the company, Kendall and Ryan Hogan (now ages 15 and 12) were being forced to create flashcards by their whip-cracking father. They complained that “flashcards are lame…why can’t we do them on the Internet…and why can’t they be fun like MySpace.” Their father, Mike, a web 2.0 entrepreneur, started asking questions about how it might work. Kendall and Ryan described a social network where students could create flashcards and share them with their classmates; or teachers could create flashcards and share them with their students.

With the help of their father, Ryan and Kendall defined what they wanted their website to do. Then their father recruited a top-notch team of developers and got it built. You can now see their website at Following in their father’s footsteps, Kendall and Ryan are second generation web 2.0 entrepreneurs.

Old school (printed) flashcards are a powerful and proven memorization tool. By using them, Kendall and Ryan were able to substantially improve their test scores. But online flashcards enable a lot of very powerful capabilities. For example, spelling, pronunciation of foreign words, automated testing and correction, images, all of this and more is a snap with Flashcard Friends.

Once the flashcards are in the system, you can share them with friends. The Hogan kids are now looking forward to the day when they return from summer break, only to inherit online flashcards from the class ahead of them. In addition to finding flashcards through friends, you can navigate through flashcard decks by category (e.g. math > algebra), or search by tags, keywords, and more.

Some of the website’s functionality:
• Create flashcards with text, pictures and sounds (ideal for foreign languages)
• Four different learning modes: find one that fits you, or use them all
• Auto-magically creates tests from the flashcards and then corrects them
• Uses social networking to manage sharing card decks
• Find existing flashcards by subject, school, teacher, book and more
• Speak into your computer and add the recording to the cards instantly
• Turns a spelling list into spelling flashcards with a spoken version of each word
• Includes web 2.0 technologies like user ratings, bookmarking and tagging
• …and much more

Flashcard Friends enables students to create flashcards, share them, memorize them and then test themselves. Flashcards can be used at every level, from Kindergarten to post-graduate, and for every topic, from learning colors to preparing for the legal bar exam, learning a language, or studying for the SAT.

Nancy Ferraro 5th Grade Teacher, Granite Bay, CA: “I was very excited to discover Flashcard Friends. I introduced it to my 5th grade students, and we have been using it ever since. The students like how easy the site is to navigate, but they are so jazzed to see their friends’ flashcards. My students have already exchanged flashcards on multiplication, fractions, the 13 colonies, and space. All this in one week! I will definitely use this site for all of my classroom flashcard needs.”

About Flashcard Friends
Flashcard Friends, the social learning website, is pioneering the powerful combination of social networking and online learning. The company was founded by students, for students. The entire website is free to all; students, teachers, homeschoolers, everyone. You can register for free at For more information call (650) 595-2400, or email mike (at)

See web demos of here: