Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Words and Music and Memory

It's been many years since I lived with a piano. I have not had daily access to one since I moved away from home. So it's wonderful and strange to once again share my space with one of these imposing pieces of musical furniture.

The piano that now sits in my front hallway beckoned me yesterday when I came upon some old Gilbert and Sullivan sheet music. I sat to play, but it wasn't the plaintive strains of Tit Willow that sent me into reverie, it was what fell out of the book of sheet music.

Hidden away between the pages were some photographs of my mother and father, taken perhaps a year or so before my mother became ill and only a couple of years before their deaths. I felt startled, but I cannot say why. They are familiar faces of loved ones, faces one has known for a lifetime yet strangely missing for some time from my view. I thought briefly about what to do with them, then slid them back into the book of music and continued playing.

This morning, the images of the photos came back into my mind and I wondered if I oughtn't to frame a picture to put atop the piano. But something stopped me, a fear of something I cannot name.

Perhaps it is only that there are not daily reminders that makes it possible to live in a world that is forever changed by their absences. I don't know why I should feel unnerved by photographs of my parents, it may be that they are so alive and themselves in these pictures, and I am overwhelmed.

On Christmas Eve, it will have been 6 years since my mother succumbed to the cancer that took her life. I wonder how long it will be before I can look at a photo and not feel the emptiness that her passing left in my world.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

I love Snow - a little bit

This winter promises to be a lot like last winter.  Snow, some more snow and then snow again.  I must admit that I love the way the world looks when it's covered in a newly-fallen blanket of white.  But, do I really love the snow?  I took the ultimate snow quiz and found out that I don't love snow as much as I used to.  I know that when I was a kid, I would have definitely been an all-out snow bunny.  Perhaps age brings us all to the point where the joy of snow is blunted by a cold slap of reality.  

You Are a Snow Kitten

You like snow in small doses. You find snow to be comforting, and you love to snuggle up under a blanket of snow.

You're not a big fan of the hassles of snow. You're happy to see it come, but you're also happy to see it go.

Go ahead and venture out in the snow from time to time! Throw a snowball or make a snow angel.

You have an inner snow bunny inside you, and it's time to let that bunny play.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Living Today

I have  a favorite Bible verse, one that encourages us not to worry about tomorrow as today holds enough worry to keep us busy. And I agree with the principle, even if I don't always put it into practice. But as much we should strive to put aside worrying about the future, we should also consider our relationship to the past.

We all have had experiences in our pasts that shape how we view the world today. We live in a world filled with humans, all of them flawed, including ourselves. Certainly there were past relationships with friends and others that took wrong turns, there were times of hurt, betrayal and disappointment. This is common to all of us. It's an imperfect world filled with imperfect people who make mistakes. A problem arises however, when we dwell in the past just as it does when we try to visit the future... it keeps us from enjoying today.

Yet God tells us how to deal with all of it, past and future.

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.
He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever.
He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

He doesn't reward us according to our iniquities. In human terms, He doesn't try to get even and because of His mercy, He let's go of our past so we can. We are to do the same, that's why we are encouraged to forgive 70 x 7. I think where we get stuck is our need for justice - we demand satisfaction. How can we forgive anyone when we feel they have hurt us on purpose? Well, how does God look at it?

For He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust

God is more merciful to us than we are to ourselves or others. He remembers how weak we are, that we are only human, that we are "dust" and He does not expect perfection from us. God forgives us the past transgressions and remembers them no more. Can we do that too?

It doesn't seem possible that humans can truly forgive and forget, maybe the forget part is more than we can manage. But the forgiving is absolutely necessary. The funny thing is, the forgiveness we give another isn't really for their benefit, it is for ours.

Holding grudges and the memories of wrongs committed against us close to our hearts, does nothing but poison us. Continuing to nurse that grudge against another does nothing to them, but it binds us and chains us to that person forever. They are free and we are bound. It is only by forgiving and letting go of that wrong that we are freed.

When are bound to the past, we allow those dark clouds of yesterday to block today's sunshine. Today's bright aspect can also be marred by worries about tomorrow that predict yet another storm. It is enough that the sun is shining on us today.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Being a Blog Addict

I think I am becoming a blogaholic.  I don't mean I am addicted to blogging, I am addicted to reading them. I love to read the blogs I have collected in my favorites menu and when people don't post it is just as disappointing as an empty Inbox on my email. Every time I turn on the computer, I scan each and every one of them, hoping to find some new entry. When none is forthcoming I am deflated and sigh inwardly. I sometimes even blog myself just to make up for the void. But most often, I just hit the "next blog" button and sail around Blogger.com reading the blogs of total strangers. And it can be annoying and it can be gripping.

I still ask myself, why? Why do we blog? I am not sure I know the answer.

For some it is a matter of strongly held opinions that they hope to spread the worth of and persuade others to be of like opinion. The most annoying ones are the blogs that are commercial endeavors or the ones that cause little boxes to pop up on your screen and cause internet explorer to experience an error and close. But the majority of blogs are simply online diaries, journals of the lives and thoughts of everyday people.

And why here? Why on the net? Why pour out your hopes and dreams, why spread out all this pain and anguish for the world to see? Is the world seeing it? So many blogs with so much personal pain laid out for potential millions to read and no one is seeing it, no one is commenting, no one is offering comfort. Sometimes the author proclaims his assumption that no one is reading his blog, and yet, it is out there for someone to stumble across. A sort of accidental and yet planned exposure. So much that is a universal human experience, so much that deserves to be recognized and also to be respected as private at the same time. It leaves me with an urge to comment, to say "hey, that is okay to feel like that".

And yet, I read them and "walk on" as it were. I sometimes come across the same blog a few days later, it is is a very haphazard way of navigating. Strangely I feel that I now "know" this blogger, another person on the net with a need for introspection and exposition. Sometimes it strikes fear into my heart to read the blogs of teens and college students, and to realize that soon English will be a language I cannot read.

Is blogging good for us? I don't know. Is it an attempt to bond with other humans on a level that is very basic? Do we just need to tell someone, anyone, that we are here? Or do we need to tell them "i feel weird today... but i can't pinpoint what is wrong. i think it may just be life in general.. what i'm saying is, just the life i lead, and no particular event is on my mind".

Perhaps too much introspection is just as bad as none at al

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Child's Play

I think that we have become more nervous as a society. Parents watch over their child's every move, thinking of how to cushion the fall they are sure is coming at any moment. Schools are more nervous, too. Play areas on school grounds are made of the highest quality, strongest, plastic-type stuff material that I assume takes great impacts without breaking small bones. It looks like something originally designed by NASA, and of course, it's all very brightly colored. The area under the play gyms and swings and slides is always padded in some way. Sand seems to out of favor these days, replacing it is a layer or two of wood chips. Wood chips look more dangerous to me, but I am of the nervous generation who can imagine things like splinters and wood chips impaled in an eyeball.

When I was in elementary school, we had a playground. It had no swings, no slides, no jungle gyms. It was paved in good old-fashioned asphalt and promised a properly scraped knee or worse to anyone who failed to keep upright while running over its surface. In fact, running and hopscotch were pretty much the only things you could do on this playground. Perhaps you could get a game of "tag" going (running) or dodge ball (running, getting hit by balls, falling down). When I think back on it, I am amazed we weren't all injured daily.

I have thought about it and decided it isn't really possible that today's children are more fragile than those of yesteryear. The only real difference is our level of concern for their safety, which now extends to trying to make sure they never fall down, never trip while running, never get a scrape or need all those bandages we fill medicine chests with. The reason is simple: it's the adults who have become more fragile. We can't stand the thought of seeing our children in even the slightest pain.

On some level I know my children will survive the usual bumps and thumps of childhood play, but I wonder at times if I will.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Colorful Look at Education

The town where my children used to go to school had, over time, renovated and updated all the elementary schools so that each school had walls festooned in bright, primary colors and floor tiles that not only gleamed but also gave directional prompts through differently colored tiles that indicated the possible directions you could take. The entire effect was hectic but pleasing to a young eye. I supposed they believed that children would feel energized and stimulated by this environment and be eager to learn.

The strange thing is that my son's new school is anything but new, but academically he is achieving far more. His reading skills were considered non-existent in his bright, shiny, school but have exploded in his current educational environment. This school looks a lot like the dilapidated schools I attended when I was young. Lots of ceramic tile on the walls, in muted non-colors that match everything and nothing while blending into sameness. Every wall, every room looks the same. There's nothing colorful at all, especially in winter when even the world beyond the windows fails to produce anything but greys and browns. Perhaps the key to learning is teaching, then, and not an attractive classroom?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Good Manners Month

September, it seems, is National Children's Good Manners Month. I didn't even realize that there was a month so designated, let alone that it had already arrived. I wonder why that is?

I certainly haven't been inundated with requests utilizing the word "please" nor have I become short of breath uttering "you're welcome" after every "thank you" directed my way.

In fact, aside from having slightly grumpier children every morning that they have to rise slightly earlier to get ready for school, I have seen little change in their manners.

Wait, suddenly this all makes sense. September is the month that the school year begins in most of the country. To the delight of teachers everywhere, Good Manners Month neatly coincides with this mass return to the hallowed halls of academic institutions.

I can honestly tell my children to listen to their teachers, they're pretty smart cookies.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Wonders of the Junk Drawer

There is one essential in every house, and the necessity of it can be clearly shown by the fact that every house has one. You are probably thinking "bathroom" but as important as that room is, it has limitations. The one space in a house that has no limitations and nearly no rules and yet is absolutely essential is the junk drawer.

"Junk drawer" is actually a misnomer, for anyone who keeps one knows that every item in that drawer is necessary for something or, at least, it will be someday.

The junk drawer is the repository for all things that don't have an immediate use but are bound to come in handy one day and you'll be very sorry if you throw it away now and want it later. These are items that don't have a set place that they belong. They would be clutter anywhere else, but here, in the junk drawer, they are treasures waiting to be discovered and dug up when the need for them arises.

I went looking through my junk drawer the other day, thinking that I should clean it out and how much more efficiently I could use that storage space. I was sure there were things that could be tossed out, after all, things seem to just get tossed in.

To my surprise, absolutely everything in that drawer is absolutely necessary - or will be one day.

For instance, there are two decorative candles whose decorations don't really fit with any known decor - but what happens if the lights go out one dark night in the middle of the winter? They will come in pretty handy then. If I throw them out, I will sit in the dark, cursing my decision. And we all know it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.

There is also a half of a taper candle. Obviously this broken candle can't be placed in the decorative sconce, but I may need it to light the other candles so as not to waste precious matches. Remind me to put some matches in the junk drawer.

There are several wall plates for switches and electrical outlets. None of these match any room's colors, and none of them match each other. But you never know, I could paint and find one of these is the perfect match. In any case, they are perfectly good and too expensive to throw away. They must be expensive, they are in such awful taste.

The assorted eraserless pencils and nearly-dry pens could very well be my only source for a writing instrument when an unexpected package arrives or I have to quickly sign The Boy's homework so he can run off to school.

There's a doorknob. It seems to have all the working parts. I don't have any knobless doors at the moment. Still, you can see how foolish it would be to throw out a doorknob.

There's a flashlight with no batteries. Obviously, the next time we trip a circuit breaker and need a flashlight to go down to the cellar, this flashlight will remind us that we need to buy batteries.

There are lots of dead AA batteries in here. These are the most popular size, running everything from clocks to TV remotes and video game controllers. They end up in this drawer because although they seem to be out of juice, they still look too shiny and new to throw away. Plus, as everyone knows, these batteries are "resting". It's a scientific fact that a well-rested battery often will gather the strength to power that remote control just long enough to change the channel without having to get up and actually touch any of the buttons on the television.

There's a pamphlet that warns us not to stand on the open door of the oven to avoid tipping accidents. I have never seen anyone attempt to stand on the open door of an oven, but it's a good reminder and something to file away in my "worst case scenario" collection of possible disasters.

There are various bags of hardware and screws left over from things like blinds and curtain rods. It's very thoughtful of the manufacturers to include these extra supplies, even though they must know that people will install these items using the fewest screws necessary due to impatience and the discomfort of standing on a chair trying to install a screw far over their heads while swearing. I think they know we will drop approximately 50% of the screws before we have a good, solid two or three in place. If you find and retrieve the ones that fell, you can put them in the junk drawer.

There are the registration cards for appliances like the coffee maker and the toaster. These cards activate warrantees that we will never use since the cost of a new toaster is much less than the cost to ship the broken one back to the manufacturer. Still, too important to throw away - just in case.

There are other, equally important items that are too numerous to catalogue. And that's just the kitchen junk drawer. Oh yeah, I have a few of these throughout the house. If one is a good thing...

Junk drawers go with you when you move. After all your other belongings are carefully packed away, the junk drawer will be emptied into a box at the last minute. But they are rarely unpacked at the new location. For by the time you've moved in and set up housekeeping, your new junk drawer is probably already full.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Language - Beyond Communication

Language was more than a means of communicating in my family. It was used to be unique, mysterious, superior, eccentric and sometimes as a weapon. Words were selected for impact, sound and occasionally meaning got lost somewhere along the way.

I have a sister who uses words for their sounds. That is, she chooses a word that she imagines to be the most shocking or the funniest or the most outrageous. The true meaning of the word is of only secondary importance if it is even considered at all. So a plush rug with an attractive design might be redundant, even if it isn't. There's no use in telling her what redundant actually means. She has decided that it's perfect to describe the rug. Ah well, we know what she means... I think.

My mother would actually change the sounds of words. She would purposely search to find a way to pronounce a standard word in a new way. She also used some very large words when she talked to very small children. I know people who would object to that, believing the children would not understand. Having experienced it, I realize that children can learn large words as easily as small ones, and even children are more impressed by being called dilatory than they are in being told they are being slow or causing their mother a delay. It sounds so much worse yet somehow, so much more powerful and important. I was dilatory a lot.

My brother learned to use language as a weapon. There were few who could verbally spar with him and survive. Soon, the only aim in conversation was to avoid being the target of his barbed wit.

Everyone's first experience of language is utilitarian. We learn to express our needs and the names of those who supply them. Therefore, there is a time in life where saying "mama" "dada" and "baba" is perfectly sufficient. It's what we learn next that makes the difference and makes life interesting. If we are not dilatory or redundant, language can make life a lot more fun.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

In Remembrance

Today is my mother's birthday. She's been gone for 5 and a half years. In some ways that seems incredible. In some ways the time and distance is the only reason I can even speak about the loss of a woman who was such a powerful influence in my life. I wish I could ask her all the things I didn't think I needed to know then, but do now. Cherish people while you have them.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

When Good Hobbies Turn Bad

There was a time when I was the queen of hobbies. I must have taken up dozens of hobbies which having experimented with, I quickly put back down. I suppose I had a need to feel accomplished, and goodness knows I reveled more in the accomplished tasks than in the actual practice of whatever hobby I had chosen to pursue.

I learned to knit from instructions in the Book of Knowledge, a vast encyclopedia of facts, geography, fairy tales and lessons in everyday life that was my constant reference when I was young. But knitting was tedious work, I soon found, and having begun with the intentions of knitting fabulous sweaters, I ended up making several pairs of mittens and one or two hats once I had discovered the joy of circular knitting needles.

I am afraid the same held true for crochet. Plans for large, warm afghans to cuddle up in on chilly winter nights ended up being pillows or afghans done in a large, open woven design that did little to keep in warmth but reduced the time it took to finish a project to a couple of days at most. I found crochet to be even more tension-causing than knitting and I am still not sure if several loose fillings were a result of the teeth-grinding that usually accompanied each row of crochet.

I turned to the arts, with an eye to "learning" to draw and paint. Much work went into learning how to produce a few things - a square-rigged ship, an apple blossom - despite my frustrating lack of ability to realistically render three-dimensional objects into two dimensions. I have two or three pieces of artwork that were produced during this period. They are sufficiently well done to elicit the approval of friends who can't draw at all but I would never show them to anyone who actually possesses any artistic talent.

It may be that writing is simply another one of these hobbies, except that I never studied writing, never planned any writing, don't bother working hard enough at it to cause my teeth to shatter and can't say if I ever produced anything worth the reading. I think of all my hobbies, it may be the one I do just because I like to do it. Perhaps that's more important than whether or not I do it very well.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

His Eye is on the Sparrow - The Sparrow is on the Windowsill

I don't have any great affinity for birds, but neither do I gave any great dislike of them. I know one person who is deathly afraid of birds, but I consider them to be mostly harmless - tiny dinosaurs with feathers. They haven't the brain power to plot evil deeds, so what is there to worry about? Birds basically do what instinct tells them to do in order to survive, and sometimes they don't even do that very well. For instance, they can't tell a reflection on a window from open sky, leading to costly mistakes in their flight plans.

Some years back I wrote about bird omens on another blog. I got lots of interesting feedback on birds and omens and what they all mean. I found myself wondering why birds play so many roles in superstition.

I have now experienced the odd sight of sparrows sitting on my windowsill twice in a matter of days. The first time, one perched on the sill just outside the window near my computer. He looked around but not at me, and then flew off. I thought it was interesting, but not very notable.

This morning two sparrows alighted just outside my kitchen window. One was on the sill and the other landed in the rather overgrown bramble bush that is threatening to swallow that side of the house. I think the first sparrow on the sill had something in his mouth, something the second one seemed to want to claim as his own. The second one made an attempt to connect with the first, who lunged at him (I can't explain how a bird lunges, try to imagine it). The second bird took that as a "no" I guess and flew off. Seconds later the first sparrow left as well.

There are many omens about birds and windows and houses, but a search on the net yielded no information about birds being omens if they just sit on the sill and have a bird conversation. Still, just the overwhelming number of bird superstitions made me a little anxious.

I found that the most commonly believed omen is that if a bird flies into your house or into your window that it is an omen of death. No problem, the bird wasn't in the house, nor did it hit a window.

But it was the sheer number of bird omens that amazed me. For instance, if a bird taps at your window, the number of taps is the number of days till death. A little bird sitting on top of your house means death too. That one seems a bit suspicious, as birds often sit on top of things, they are up there most of the time after all. Yet, I haven't seen a sudden rise in the neighborhood death rate due to birds landing on rooftops.

An owl screeching signals death. A raven on the roof signals death. A swift down the chimney signals death. There's not a lot of variety or imagination when it comes to bird omens.

A rooster seems a particularly dangerous bird to own. Whether it looks at the yard, crows outside the door, crows inside the door or refuses to crow at all, it probably signals death. Better to just get an alarm clock, I think.

Here's my favorite one of all: If a Whippoorwill sings in a graveyard, it is a sign of death... Umm...okay.

Now I am not a superstitious person. The main reason for birds landing on my window sills is probably that there is an unusually high bird population in this neighborhood and a sill is a convenient place upon which to land.

Sparrows should be a good omen. The Bible mentions them specifically, and states that God has His eye on them. It doesn't say He sends them out to be tiny, feathered, grim reapers.

Still, I am glad that I didn't have the kitchen window open on this particular morning, for then I might have had a bird in the house. According to my research, that could still turn out alright, provided that you don't allow the bird to leave the house still alive.

Then you have to wonder, which is worse? Letting a sparrow out alive and tempting the omens? Or killing a sparrow that God has been watching over?

Friday, May 29, 2009

When you really need chutney...

Over the last two years I have become a vocal fan of shopping online. After a particularly successful foray into internet shopping, I can be heard telling all my friends how they must give up the brick and mortar stores and head for their laptops if they want to find exactly what they are looking for.

This is becoming even more true of grocery and food items when you are looking for anything a little out of the ordinary. Sure, the supermarkets have some sections devoted to ethnic foods, but many times they are just your standard label food manufacturers trying their hand at some exotic item and not really knowing how to get it right.

If you are looking for authentic ethnic foods however, and you like to shop online, then you have to go with an online grocery store like eFoodDepot.com. Finding the right food item online is a lot more convenient than trudging up and down the aisles at your local store, only to find out that no one has ever even heard of the product you want, let alone stocked it.

We have some special tastes in my own family, and finding some items on grocery store shelves is just impossible. Finding authentic curry, chutney and water crackers in a regular store just isn't possible. For some items you might find a bland imitation but they are always disappointing.

EfoodDepot has an amazing array of specialty ethnic food items from countries all over the world, including huge selection of foods from Japan, China, India, Middle Eastern countries, and African Countries.

Usually, one of the major drawbacks about ordering anything online is the shipping cost. But you really can't beat eFoodDepot's flat rate shipping - only $4.99 anywhere in the USA.

For some things, finding a local version is just fine but there are some cravings that can only be satisfied by the real thing. I found a few products that I haven't found elsewhere and I like the fact that eFoodDepot let's you suggest new products.

A 1/4 Milestone

Today, I took that giant leap of faith. The one I have been avoiding for several months. The one that was so traumatic, I am actually writing about it. Today, I let The Boy walk to school without anyone walking with him, crossing him over the street, or watching him walk to make sure he gets there.

The school is about six houses away, down the street. It's a quiet neighborhood, with many other children being walked to school each day. But, as close as the school is, I can't see it from here. This makes me crazy.

Every child needs to find a new level of independence at each age. Crawling was an act of independence, walking even more so. But what mother doesn't try to cushion the possible side-effects of learning these new skills?

The learning curve seems to be the child's, but in fact, it may be a shared experience. The child learns new skills, gains confidence, and with each independent move sharpens the line of separation. They become persons, individuals in their own rights. The parent learns that to allow that independence, to let those apron strings get erased and of course, the worst lesson - letting go.

There are gains for the parent, to be sure. There is a freeing-up of the time that used to be spent on things like diapering and spoon-feeding. I can have a coffee table without worrying that some child with an unsteady gait will crash head-long into it (The Boy may still do this, but he's a boy). We don't have to buy only melamine plates and plastic cups, we can have real china.

But even with all those gains, I still wonder if I wasn't better off with the 2 month old who couldn't go anywhere without me and would always be right where I put him. It saves a lot of worrying when he doesn't have to cross the street.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

That's Entertainment

Many people think their television entertainment choices are limited to the local cable company. While it's true that you probably only have one choice if you want cable, it's not true that cable is the only choice.

At my last address I canceled the cable and lived without television for a couple of years until I saw an ad for directtv. In no time they came to my house, hooked me up and we had great reception and service the whole time I lived there. It's no wonder that they have a higher rate of customer satisfaction than cable.

If you're less than satisfied with the entertainment value of your cable company, or if you've just decided it's time to try satellite, you probably won't find a better time to check out Direct tv. They have great deals on packages, some of which give you movie channels free for three months.

Television becomes a better entertainment value when you add Direct TV service. Movies and specials on demand, sports, and all the best channels and programs can be found at the touch of a remote. Now that's progress.

Boo Hoo, Boo Boo

Children, with their bouncy gaits and inattention to safety concerns are just accidents waiting to happen, and they happen frequently. Every mother will apply numerous kisses to heal the inevitable boo-boos during their children's younger years. Well, every mother but me.

The Girl was my first baby. Having read that coffee tables are a top source of injuries to babies learning to walk, I removed the coffee table from the livingroom as soon as she started to crawl. When she was two years old, I put the coffee table back, assuming she had gained some balance and coordination. Within a few days she had managed to topple off the sofa onto the table where she received her first bump on the head. I tossed the coffee table into the trash the very next day. This was her only major accident in her toddlerhood. The Girl was naturally careful and concerned for her own safety and rarely suffered any serious boo-boos needing attention. I am not sure that to this day she has ever truly experienced pain. She has made it her life's ambition to avoid pain at all costs.

The Boy, on the other hand, was born already programmed to self-destruct. He found new and interesting ways to hurt himself, or at least to try to hurt himself - a good portion of the time I was able to thwart his plans. So this should have afforded me ample opportunities to try out my boo-boo kissing and other make-it-all-better techniques. But it was not to be.

The Boy had a different approach to getting hurt. Getting his finger caught in the door jamb didn't make him cry, it made him hide his finger from me so I wouldn't see that he was hurt. He would react angrily to my solicitous questions about his general well-being. I quickly learned that the question "are you alright?" and outstretched arms never resulted in his running to me for comfort. Instead,he would pace about and mutter; returning to me only after the pain had ceased at which time he would relate the somewhat horrifying details of the incident.

In some ways The Girl's caution and The Boy's stoicism saved me from a lot of unnecessary panic over minor cuts and scrapes. But you have to admit, I have missed out on practicing the healing arts of motherhood. Therefore, I am unskilled in this particular area of nurturing. It's one reason I can't risk having any more children, the next one might be normal.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day - in remembrance

Memorial Day is just another holiday to most of us who have never had to say goodbye to a father, son or brother as he was deployed in his nation's service. Those of us who never had a gravesite to visit, or lay flowers upon, have a vague sense of the meaning of the day, but ultimately its importance is that of every three-day weekend. The day means cookouts and family fun, or an extra day to relax or do chores. I confess that, over the years, this attitude has crept in upon me as well. Strangely, I was more aware of the day when I was young.

Every Memorial Day was parade day in my little hometown. My friends and I would walk or ride our bikes downtown to watch the mix of veterans, policemen, firemen, boy and girl scouts and nearly anyone in uniform march to the often painful insistence of the high school marching band. There were baton twirlers and flag bearers, all of whom practiced throughout the school year for this, their shining moment in the sun.

A punctuating moment in each parade was when the members of the Historical Society, dressed in colonial garb, fired a 21-gun salute with their muskets in the town center by the American flag. A fife and drum accompanied their solemn marching, and though they were a rag-tag bunch, the effect was profound.

The final destination for the parade was the Town Hall, where the marchers joined the spectators and one audience was formed as the names of hometown heroes who had fallen was read. The brave men who were lost in battle, and the old men who, having returned from war, used to march in the parade. Men who, just the year before, stood here among us, silently honoring their comrades and brothers, men whose names were now on that same list.

Our hometown parade was a small and amateurish affair, but its purpose shone through as brilliantly as the sun striking the gleam of those brass band instruments. It taught me how to value life and freedom. It taught me how to mourn those I did not know, simply because their lives were worthy and their absence worthy of note.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Of Lilacs and Memories

Although my childhood is far behind me, although my childhood home has long been passed on to the hands of new owners and although my parents have been gone for several years, now and again I will see or experience something that takes me right back there. I suddenly become the child I was, and the flood of memories overwhelms me.

Yesterday, while looking out of the window, searching for The Boy who was visiting a friend, I just happened to notice a lilac tree peeking out from behind the corner of a house across the street. Suddenly my senses yearned for the delicate scent of lilacs and apple blossoms on a warm, spring breeze.

Immediately upon sighting that lilac tree, I was transported back to my childhood home. All that I was and all that I had came to me and wrapped itself around me like a soft, worn blanket. But these moments bring a second wave of emotion that is without comfort. A moment of longing, nostalgia and loss.

This morning when I opened the window, a familiar fragrance wafted through on the morning air. A faint scent of lilac entered and assured me that all that I was, is all that I am; and though out of reach, my parents and my childhood are not forever lost to me. As long as I exist, they exist still in some way. As long as the lilacs bloom in spring, their lovely perfume will bring me home.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Ice Cream Truck Memories

One of the nicest things about where we live is that there is a park just down the street. The Girl, who is now a teen, uses the park only as a central point where she and her friends can meet up before setting off on their teen destination. But The Boy has been enjoying the park to its fullest extent.

The first thing that attracted him to the park, and which still remains one of its most important features, is the daily visit by The Ice Cream Truck. It doesn't matter that the ice cream truck also drives right by his house and will stop if he is out there waiting for it. There's something very special about being at the park, money in your pocket and conducting the important business of purchasing a frozen delight all by yourself.

I haven't lived where there was a neighborhood ice cream truck since I was a kid. I remember how all the kids came running out from yards and forts and dropped bicycles in the street when the first to spot the carrier of creamy confections yelled "Ice Cream Truck"!

Of course, in those days the cost of the cheapest frozen product was a lot less than it is today. A quarter would get you something cold and sweet and delicious. Summer days were made that much more special by that brief ingestion of cold on a hot, sunny day.

And although I sometimes catch myself singing "Do Your Ears Hang Low?" for days at a time, and although it's costing me no small amount of pocket change, I am happy that The Boy can experience the simple joy that fills the heart of a child when that white truck with the circus music appears.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Boy and His Dog

There is a reason that there are so many stories about "a boy and his dog". Boys and dogs seem to be made for one another. We don't have a dog right now, and I am not sure if we're in the market for one, but I do know that The Boy would find the dog an unending source of amusement and a tireless friend.

I witnessed this special magic between boys and dogs recently when a friend came to visit and brought his dog. Now the thing you have to understand about a small terrier, is that it has the same personality traits as an 8 year old boy. Always energetic, willing to play the same game for hours and always eager for more play, resting only when reaching the point of collapse.

After a few days, when my visitor had departed and taken his dog with him, a subdued, sad-faced boy came tearfully to me with one plea.

"Mom, can we get a dog"?

I am not new to this game, so I know a few things for certain. I know that the promises to always walk the dog will soon be broken. I know that the nutritional needs of the dog will soon be my responsibility alone. I know that when the house starts to smell like dog, I am the one who will have to bathe the dog in fragranced preparations. I will be the one who cleans up all the failed attempts at housetraining.

Yet, it's undeniable. There's just something about a boy and his dog. If the good weather holds out, it's possible that playing ball, riding his bike and climbing the odd tree will fill enough of his time that he will forget about the dog. I hope so, anyway, because if the truth be told, I am weakening.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Parents Connect

Everything about your world changes when you become pregnant. If it's your first pregnancy, you will be full of questions about your changing body and curiosity about your growing baby. It's a time of concerns, too, always wondering if your particular symptoms are normal.

When will I first feel the baby move? How long does morning sickness last? How much weight gain is healthy? Knowing what to expect and when to expect it can alleviate a lot of first pregnancy fears and help you understand the way your baby is developing.

Whether you're concerned about your pregnancy or what you should name the new addition to your family, Parents Connect is a great resource. Register for Week-by-Week updates on how your baby is growing and changing or connect with other parents to discuss everything from what colors to paint the nursery to opinions on baby names.

Parents Connect is a place for parents to meet and make new friends on the internet while sharing the joys and trials of pregnancy and parenthood. Whether you're expecting your first child or dealing with the temper tantrums of your toddler, you'll find other parents with experience, advice and a friendly ear.

Register today at Parents Connect to connect to other parents just like you.

Color My World

This video is an absolutely hilarious scene from the film "Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House". Myrna Loy goes to great lengths to describe to the workmen the exact hues and shades she envisions for each room.

I want it to be a soft green. Not as blue-green as a robin's egg. But not as yellow-green as daffodil buds. Now, the only sample I could get is a little too yellow. But don't let whoever does it get it too blue.

I love the guy's remark to his fellow worker - "You got that, Charlie? Red, green, blue, yellow, white".

Oh, if only it were that simple. I can attest that choosing paint is one of the most difficult tasks you will ever face. No paint chip is ever labeled "blue", for instance. It will be named "Cloudy Morning" or "Icy Stream" or "Montana Sky" but never, ever will the paint manufacturer admit that this color is quite simply, blue. In fact, if you were left with only the names of the colors, you might not be able to determine what color they are meant to be.

After much deliberation, we had decided on Marzipan, but ended up with Dusted Bronze which actually looks quite green. I didn't think Marzipan was supposed to be green and Dusted Bronze is only one shade darker. When bronze turns green, doesn't that mean it's old and dirty? I certainly didn't think we needed any more dust.

Actually, the name Dusted Bronze is a wonderful stroke of luck. The very mention of the possibility of any color even hinting at green was decried by all and sundry. I was not allowed to even think about anything green. But Dusted Bronze is acceptable, it doesn't sound green so no one seems to see green.

So, as long as I don't tell them that the walls are actually a light celery, they like it just fine.

Friday, March 27, 2009

They've Made Your Bed

Several years ago, I decided I wanted a nice bed. I had never had a real headboard or footboard, just the metal frame that comes with the mattress. I got tired of the pillows falling down behind the bed. So, I searched the internet and although I came across dozens of beautiful beds, to my mind, each posed dangers. The poster beds were so elegant but seemed just right for the children to impale themselves on when jumping on the bed. This one was too square, that one too sharp... my list went on and on. I finally ended up buying a metal bed with rounded corners but it wasn't what I wanted.

If I had only known then what I know now, I would have looked at Leather Beds a lot sooner. They are soft and padded and look great in any decor. Not only won't the children injure themselves on it, I won't either. I admit to being something of a klutz and I have been known to stumble directly onto the sharpest corner of any piece of furniture. A bed really shouldn't leave bruises.

As it happens, I did just get a bed. The one I got looks a lot like one on the Time4Sleep site that I posted the link for. It's the Savoy. But because I didn't go to the right place in the first place, mine is only faux leather (meaning vinyl) and it's going to cost me about twice that much and look only half as nice.

If you are looking for a new bed, I highly recommend a leather upholstered bed. They are so inviting and comfortable and give the room that designer look. But do it right, get a real leather bed for a good price at Time4Sleep.com.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Let's Sleep On It

According to a television commercial I saw recently, there are 70 million Americans with insomnia. I can neither prove nor disprove this accounting, but since the commercial is for a mattress retailer, I have to assume they know about sleep, or the lack of it, and would have done their research.

This led down twisted paths of thoughts, this number 70 million. Imagine, on any given night, there are 70 million Americans who, instead of slumbering peacefully in their beds, are wandering about dark houses in search of a cure.

That's 70 million more light bulbs burning for illumination, 70 million more refrigerator doors open and 70 million more televisions running. It seems to me that curing sleep disorders might go a long way towards solving the energy crisis.

That's 70 million more sleep-deprived people with impairments to rational thinking who are watching infomercials. It's no wonder that infomercials are nearly the only fare on late-night television. This is their core audience. Keep someone from sleeping for several nights in a row and it's much easier to convince them that spray-painting their bald spots is just as good as a hair transplant or that they actually want onions diced into perfect squares of equal size, while making thousands of Julien fries.

Perhaps if we cured insomnia, these companies would go out of business and we would be spared the convenience of these inventions, spared the sight of one more aging celebrity who can't get any other job than declaring the efficacy of snake venom as a wrinkle reducer.

I gave up staying up late when Johnny Carson was no longer on the Tonight Show and Ted Turner bought all the great old movies that independent stations used to show all night. In the place of worthy reruns are infomercials. This is what 70 million Americans are forced to watch. We can't bring Johnny back, so we have to cure insomnia, folks. It's our only hope.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Boots That Work

My father spent his early years on a farm. He learned how to work hard and the value of having a sturdy pair of boots when one's duties include taking care of the livestock, plowing the fields and bringing in the harvest.

Whether you work outdoors or in construction or whether you just have a need for sturdy work boots, this site is a great place to get the lowest prices on famous-name boots and other footwear.

My father knew that you had to take care of your feet if you expect them to carry you through a busy day. If you need quality footwear, then try Work Boots USA.com for great prices and free shipping on orders over $50 if you live in the US.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dance of the Temper Tantrum

I noticed an article today on how to deal with children's tempers and tantrums. There was all sorts of advice on how to weather the storm, how to patiently give them time to work through their feelings, how to understand their frustrations which are the underlying reason for the need to flail their arms and scream at the top of their lungs.

I have to admit that I never employed any of the approved psychological techniques to coping with a temper tantrum. I figured that if they were going to throw a tantrum, I was going to make sure they did it right. I became their tantrum choreographer.

When one of the children decided to fling themselves on the floor and start to wail, I encouraged them in the only way I knew how. First of all, I would insist they also wave their arms, and in fact, took their hands in mine to show them the correct angle and speed. Sometimes, they would stop crying at this point and start to giggle. I immediately reminded them to cry "wah wah" at this point and added leg movements to the arm movements for maximum flow.

About this time, the kids would be trying to get up, but I told them "No, you were really upset. You need to stay down there a little longer, that's not long enough to express how really upset you were". It didn't take long before they were laughing and begging to get up and they rarely had any idea of what the tantrum was supposed to be about in the first place.

Now, I don't know if I was supposed to find out what the tantrum was about. It's always possible that these unresolved issues will stay in the childrens' psyches well into adulthood and resurface at some later time, like middle age. The important thing to remember, is that whenever these problems resurface to cause problems in the future, it's a good bet that the children won't live at home anymore at the time.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Room With a View

My mother taught me the value of blinds and drapes. These are the means by which you shut out the prying eyes of the world. When the lights go on, the blinds close and the drapes are pulled tightly. This is the way to lead a private life.

Privacy was of ultimate importance to my mother. She was always convinced that everyone from the neighbors to complete strangers were in the grips of a powerful desire to see inside our home.

So I find it interesting that I am learning the value of windows that let in light and provide a view, rather than being regarded as huge holes in the walls that must be plugged.

Sunlight becomes an addiction. Suddenly, I am overcome with a desire to look out of the window and to let the outside in. But there are dangers to this behavior.

There's not a lot of automobile traffic on my street, but there is an abundance of foot traffic. People walking to the train station, walking back from town, people walking dogs and dogs walking people, the sidewalks are never empty for long. It becomes difficult to stare at the monitor screen in front of my face when brightly-clad pedestrians keep appearing in my peripheral vision.

Another threat to my limited attention span are the squirrels. Two rather scrawny and bedraggled squirrels scamper and frolic in and on the tree directly in front of my window on a daily basis. Squirrels are not exotic animals and hardly rare. I have seen thousands of squirrels in my lifetime and never felt the least interest in watching their social activities. Yet, there's something fascinating about these rascally rodents.

Okay, this is the real reason that I am now enjoying the view from my recently unveiled windows: the view is distracting. I can stare out the window and still appear to be doing something useful on my computer. I seem to be entirely focused on the screen ahead of me when in fact my eyes are trained just beyond it and on the interesting man rushing down the street with something blue wrapped up in his coat.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Candy and other sweet memories

There are certain childhood memories that stay with us for life. Maybe some of the most potent are sensory memories - the enticing aroma of your mother's cooking, the sweet taste of your favorite Candy. Remember the sweet, creamy goodness of a piece of chocolate, melting in your mouth? We may not have been connoisseurs, but we knew good when we tasted it.

When you're a kid, even a piece of Gum is a taste delight. I remember those special days when my mom would give me some change and we would walk downtown to buy an assortment of candy.

Well, I am all grown now and I still have my favorites, although candy isn't a staple of my diet these days. In some ways that makes it even more special. Is it any wonder that candy is one of the top gifts people give for Valentine's? No matter what your age, you still feel a smile creeping over your face when you tuck into some soft and chewy gummy bears from Haribo. It's a universal guilty pleasure.

So when you come upon an occasion - birthday, anniversary - anytime you want to give something special, consider the gift of candy. It's like giving someone a little piece of childhood.

What I Did on My Vacation

The long school vacation has ended and strangely, I have mixed feelings about the return of Monday mornings.

At the beginning of a full week's vacation from school, the children count up all the free days ahead, lost in dreamy contemplation of nine consecutive days of sleeping in. At the beginning of a full week's vacation from school, I try to think of interesting and fun things we can do to break up the monotony, and to make the week memorable. OF course, I intend to include educational experiences that will open their minds to new academic frontiers.

Needless to say, we don't often actually do any of those things. When it comes right down to it, inactivity is what they are looking forward to. Truthfully, it's what I am looking forward to as well. Slothful is an ugly word, but let's be honest.

School vacation means nine consecutive mornings where I don't have to set three separate alarms set to make sure I get the kids up on time. Nine mornings where I don't have to trick a groggy Boy into the bathroom and then shove him under a shower while he proclaims that he's clean enough already. Nine mornings without the Girl's questionable taste in music being loudly shared from the bathroom as she straightens her hair. Nine mornings where I don't have to worry about tardiness, imagined illnesses that would prevent their going to school or explaining to The Boy that it IS important that his socks match. No hurried search for the shoes that mysteriously walked away during the night and hid themselves under the couch. No shouting "it's February" to The Girl as she attempts to leave the house without the unfashionably warm winter jacket.

Of course, it goes without saying that it's also nine consecutive days of siblings bickering, televisions blaring, loud music, loud voices, increased clutter and a heavy cash outlay for snacks and pizza.

But come Monday morning, when that first alarm sounds its warning bell, the trade-off seems so worth it.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

How Reality Works

The Girl called me today with an astounding announcement.

"Mom, I need to get a job."

She then launched into a list of reasons why she needed one and where she could get one and valiantly defended her position against any objections. There was only one problem.

I hadn't made any objections. How could I? The Girl wants to work! It's like a dream come true. I honestly thought this day would never come, the day when she did work on purpose. I think hard work is exactly what she needs, but that's why I don't hold out hope that she'll like it.

Of course, there are details to work out before she gets permission to get a job. She will have to keep good grades, which means doing homework on time and not a week late. She will have to save some portion of it. She will have to learn that money can only be spent once. And the real shock will be when she gets that first check, after having mentally spent the money a thousand ways, only to find out that the government has already taken its legal big bite of her hard-earned wages. Reality can be like an ice cold slap in the face.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Fire The Tooth Fairy!

The problem with those mystical, mythical figures of childhood is that their reliability depends so much on the ability of parents to remember that a visit from them is due.

Although Santa was very meticulous this year in fulfilling all of The Boy's requests, I cannot speak very highly of the performance of the Tooth Fairy.

The Boy informed me one evening that he had a loose tooth. He was rather anxious to dispense with this wiggling remnant of babyhood but despite his best efforts to wrest it free, the tooth stubbornly hung on. He went to sleep with visions of monetary gain slipping from his grasp.

Much to his delight, the tooth picked its moment the next day and neatly fell out into his hand. He quickly transferred the tiny bit of enamel to a zip-loc baggie for safekeeping and to keep it safe under the pillow. Sleep came bringing dreams of piles of cash, but the morning brought only disappointment. The Tooth Fairy had not been to collect her prize.

Well, it was the weekend, I explained, perhaps she takes the weekends off. This seemed reasonable to him, after all, he takes weekends off from school.

Two nights went by and still the Tooth Fairy had not arrived. By this time The Boy had become rather suspicious and weighing several alternate stories as to why the Tooth Fairy was so unreliable, decided that he had probably stayed up too late over the weekend, rather than that she had been out partying and forgot him. So he determined to go to bed early and give the Tooth Fairy a wider envelope of time in which to do her work.

This apparently did the trick, because the Tooth Fairy did indeed show up and manage to deposit a nice sum in exchange for the tooth. He was very happy and proud of himself for having determined the cause of her seeming dereliction of duty.

However, there was still one oversight. The baggie containing the tooth had never made it under the pillow and the forgetful Tooth Fairy had gone off without it. I had also forgotten to go find it and hide it, but I wasn't sure The Boy had noticed that it was still there, until The Boy appeared and asked this question:

"Mom, if the Tooth Fairy left me money but forgot to take my tooth and I put it back under my pillow, would she come and leave money again"?

"She didn't take the tooth?" I exclaimed in mock horror. "That Tooth Fairy ought to be fired and a replacement hired. First she forgets to come for two nights running and then she forgets to take your tooth?"

"I didn't say she didn't take it", The Boy quickly backtracked. "I was asking hypothetically, IF she didn't take it".

Hypothetically. While my mother's heart swelled with pride over each and every syllable of this new vocabulary word, used with such comprehension, one thing became clear. This kid is just what these mystical mythical characters need to keep them in line.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

My Bathroom Vanity

For the first time in my life, I have two bathrooms. With two kids, this seems like an essential amenity, so I can't understand how my mother survived living in a small house with one bathroom and five kids.

But the bathroom could use some spicing up. I remember when my father made my mother a new vanity for her bathroom and how it transformed the whole room. The key is to find the right place to find quality and stylish bathroom vanities. If I had the space, I would love a vanity with two sinks and twin mirrors. Check out the link for some examples, they're gorgeous

Truthfully, this is an older house and although I love the roominess, I know that I am going to need some new things to make it seem warm and homey. Currently, I am shopping for a new bed, and have found some gorgeous bedroom furniture here. I am torn between something modern and sleek, or a more traditional, classic sleigh bed. There's something about wood that always draws me, no matter how elegant more modern styles are.

I definitely love shopping online, and although there are lots of choices, whether you are looking for bathroom vanity sets or any other type of furniture for your home, finding the right place to shop is key.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Chacun A Son Gout

One of my favorite phrases is the French "chacun à son goût" or basically, "each to his own taste". However, the good old American "there's no accounting for taste" better fits my current decor.

Each and every room is wallpapered except the bathrooms and the kitchen. I have nothing against any of these wallpapers, most are of excellent quality and the designs are tasteful and quiet. Very quiet. Inaudible. That's really the problem. They are all variations on a theme of white background with nearly invisible shades of blush, pink or more white with a hint of silver. Any and all of them would be lovely in a little girl's bedroom, or Barbie's bedroom. The wallpaper that graces the front hallway and stairway looks like Barbie's bridal shower wrapping paper.

All this quiet elegance has a sameness and understatement that is coma-inducing. These great walls leading to impossibly high ceilings are covered in bridal gift wrap.

So, when The Girl decided her room should be painted a garishly bright pink and the doors should have zebra striping, I agreed much more readily than I might normally. And I am glad I did.

The Girl's room is like an ice-cold energy drink after an exhausting workout. It's like jumping into the cold Atlantic on a hot summer day. It's refreshingly not shades of white and silver.

There's color. Lots of it. Teen girl color, admittedly, but color.

I now look forward with heightened anticipation to all the new coats of paint of whatever color that we manage to slap on any walls in whatever part of the house. My eyes, which were slipping into a state of ennui, will be grateful for the stimulation.

And as for the garish pink, well, chacun à son goût, I always say.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Save the Pilot Cracker!

There are some New England traditions that carry on from generation to generation. In the case of one tradition, I didn't even realize its importance until I researched the reason for its disappearance.

One thing that my mother always stocked in her cupboards was Pilot Crackers. These were plain but hearty crackers in a rectangular shape. Nearly as large as a piece of bread but not so wide. Although they were widely used in chowder, my mother often ate them with butter and jam with her tea. As kids, we often used them as a substitute for bread in making a sandwich and they are the perfect complement for some cheeses.

Back in 1995, the manufacturer of these crackers decided to stop making them. To our delight, there was a hue and cry went up from the many lovers of the crackers that we considered a staple. Nabisco, who made the crackers, relented and put them back on the shelves. Why don't companies ever do market research surveys before making these decisions?

Sadly, I bought my last box of Pilot Crackers some time last year. Yes, the company has again downsized their product line and decided to take them off the market. I hope that fans of this favorite are able to convince them to change their minds once again. I know there is still a large contingent of New Englanders for whom chowder is not chowder without a Pilot Cracker. And you know how seriously we take our chowder...

Baked Bean Philosophy

You don't realize it until you are grown and on your own with the full responsibility of cooking for yourself, or maybe until you are in a strange place with unfamiliar cuisine, but there's something you yearn for and cannot obtain. The further we get from our home and childhood, the stronger this need becomes. We want what Mom used to make. Mom's food was more than good, more than tasty. There's a comfort, a warmth and a feeling of strong bonds and love in a mother's cooking.

I experienced this not long after my mother passed away, when my father was ill and it seemed sure the house would be sold. My childhood was being disassembled. Suddenly, I wanted my mother's baked beans. I set about finding out her recipe and buying the ingredients and although they were not as good as hers, I felt slightly more at ease. Something about my mother still existed, some part of my childhood could stay with me, in some small way all those memories could live.

I made Baked Beans several times over the course of a year, but haven't made them since. They are not a favorite of my family, and so this memory must remain all mine. Still, I know that I can revisit Saturday night Franks and Beans anytime I like, and as long as I know that, my mom and my childhood will never die within me.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Snow, Snow, Snow

The winter started off magically, with a lovely, fresh, layer of snow just in time for Christmas. Having a white Christmas seems to make it all that much more special.

It snowed again the next week, several inches of fluffy flakes that sparkled in the sunshine and twinkled in the moonlight.

It snowed again the week after that, enough snow this time to make travel difficult and close the schools. The children were ecstatic. The driveway was full of ruts and ice. The car got stuck. The motor club was called to tow it out as it would neither go forward nor backward, but sat stubbornly wedged between snowbanks with its tail end halfway into the street.

It snowed every day the week after that, and then it snowed as soon as that was cleared off the street.

Admittedly, we have wonderful and picturesque views of the winter wonderland that surrounds us, but a few storms ago the snow stopped being quite so picturesque.

I think I could handle it if we had already gotten our quota of magic for this season.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Giving the Gift They Want

Have you caught your breath yet now that Christmas is over? The rush of the hectic shopping season means that we all probably forget at least one important person on our list, or couldn't find the right gift. If you were smart, you gave at least some of the people on your list a gift card.

You might think of that as an impersonal gift, but it doesn't have to be viewed that way. With the wide array of available gift cards from a variety of specialty stores, you can hone in on the interests of the recipient and then let them choose the gift that they really want.

Best of all, they can get even more by waiting and shopping after Christmas to take advantage of the January sales. Your gift goes a lot further and you haven't wasted money on a gift that had to be returned. Did you know that 40% of Americans return at least one Christmas gift?

And for anyone who still deserves a special remembrance this season, whether it's the babysitter or Aunt Rose, it's not too late to give gift cards. They will still be in time for the recipient to get great deals and after-season markdowns and you will have the satisfaction of knowing your gift is well-received. Gift cards are also a great choice for birthdays, graduations and nearly any other celebration you can think of as well as saving you time and hassle.

Stirring Memory and Desire

Years ago there was a television series called "The Wonder Years". It chronicled the life experiences of a middle-school age boy whose main goal was to win the heart of his first love. The show was often charming, but after a time it wore on my nerves, mainly because there was nearly constant voice-over narrative that was highly detailed. The truth is, no one could remember that much about each individual day of his life. If we could, it would probably drive us crazy.

Memory is a strange thing. I don't have such moment to moment memories as the kid in The Wonder Years, but what memories I do have, I like to believe are my own. Yet recently, I have twice been present to hear stories of my life told by other family members as if these events happened to them. In each case, I am sure these are my memories and not theirs, so when did they appropriate them?

I have heard it said that if one hears a story enough times, they may incorporate it so that after a while, it seems like a memory rather than just a story of their childhood told to them by others. Perhaps this is what has happened. Or perhaps there were only so many stories to go around and my mother told us all the same ones, so that we all think these things happened to us.

I didn't bother to stop the stories or question the storytellers about these memories. I simply sat in a confused state and pondered. Would I upset some delicate balance in their lives by challenging what they believe was an event that shaped their futures?

This blog is often filled with memories, it is its very purpose. To consider that I may have only imagined some life-changing occurrence might cause the very foundation of my life to crumble. So I will continue to believe that my memory is intact and accurate and feel compassion for the other members of my family who are clearly starting to grow old and forgetful.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Salute to the T-Shirt

Okay, it's been a long time since I was a teenager, but still... I don't remember that being 14 as being so fraught with drama. The Girl, however, finds drama in nearly every situation of daily life.

Christmas has passed, and only now do I realize that I completely missed on the perfect Christmas present for her.

Not only does it perfectly describe her teen personality, she would definitely wear it as all teens love those really cool t shirts.

Now, I am not completely out of the loop. I remember being young and shopping those specialty stores for those fresh t shirts with popular logos or captions that said it all. T-shirts are a staple of any wardrobe and have been since the sixties. T shirts are a part of the culture, a way of expressing individuality and proclaiming everything from political beliefs to personal philosophies.

There are funny t shirts, thought-provoking t shirts, even green t-shirts for the environmentally conscious. T shirts can be worn to amuse, show support or persuade others to consider a fresh viewpoint. In so many ways and for so many reasons, t-shirts are the most popular form of self-expression found in America today.

So, let's salute the purest form of American fashion - the t-shirt.

A Cluttered Lesson

I read a story today about a man who died of dehydration in his own home. Seems he kept ten years of garbage inside his house, stacked ten feet to the ceiling and had an elaborate system of tunnels going through the stacks but had become disoriented and lost.

My mother was a packrat. She not only kept old things for years, she even bought new things, wrapped them in plastic and kept them without using them for years. Although she put off having gall bladder surgery for nearly 30 years, she still purchased silk pajamas and exquisite, quilted bedjackets "for when I go to the hospital". In the end, she had laparoscopy which entailed only one night's stay rather than the extended stay that the old-fashioned procedure required. When she passed on, there were still elegant nightwear items, pressed and neatly folded in plastic bags tucked into her bureau.

I confess to having my own pack rat tendencies, especially when it comes to clothing. I realize that this may be just one trait of my mother's that I share, although I can't say if it's heredity or learned behavior. Like my mother, I usually fill twice as many closets and drawers with clothing than the rest of the family put together. But it's not just clothing, I keep knick knacks, books, unopened mail, and stacks of useless items - some of which I don't even like.

However, the story of the man who expired in his home because he couldn't navigate his way through the ten years of garbage and clutter he had collected, has decided me. I don't want to become the crazy old lady who lives amongst garbage bags who is found several weeks after her death only because neighbors noticed a strange smell. There would be the inevitable interviews with policemen who would describe a scene of horror and filth. I might even show up on the Drudge Report or one of those Offbeat News sites.

I am embarking on my new life, striving to free myself of years of useless items, unattractive knick-knacks, yard sale bargains that sit unused in closets and clothes I not only never wear, but have never worn. It's a weeding-out process, and not everything goes with the first review. I mean, I might need some of this stuff... one day...