Holder of My Heart (U.B.C. Day 3)

Today has been one of those days.  I knew from early on that I would be busy, but I nonetheless hoped I would be able to find time to write a post.  Alas, it never happened.  Knowing that, I decided to experiment with photography and post a photo I took today of the little man who holds my heart (as opposed to the big man who holds my heart).

 

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Muffin Tops (U.B.C. – Day 2)

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My son has recently discovered coffee cake and coffee cake muffins. This may not seem important or exciting enough to warrant an entire blog post, but trust me when I say that prior to his discovery, my child ate nothing. His diet for the past couple of years has consisted entirely of bagels with peanut butter, french fries, pizza, plain pasta with Romano cheese, and any type of candy he could grab. Our pediatrician talked me down off the ledge on multiple occasions, reassuring me that it was a phase and it would pass. Read more

Yelling Not Allowed

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One of the last times I yelled at my son was Sunday, November 10, 2013. That was the day I decided I never wanted to do it again because I never again wanted to see hurt and confusion, even fear, in his eyes when he looked at me. Although I am certain I will yell again at some point, I nevertheless keep the date posted on my refrigerator. Even when I have slipped, I see that date written on my refrigerator white board and catch myself faster. I take a breath, and then I stop. Read more

Saturation Point

I always enjoy getting the mail around this time of the year because of all the catalogues that arrive showcasing the pretty decorations, the glittery clothes designed for that oh-so-special holiday party, and the fabulous foodstuffs.  It makes me want to buy one of everything.  Usually. Read more

The Majesty of Thanks

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True Majesty: American bald eagle in flight, July 2013

As I begin the great Thanksgiving cook-fest, with the feast looming less than twenty-four hours in my future, I thought I’d wipe off my hands on the dish towel and turn from the stove for a few moments to give thanks. Read more

Hands Tied

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On Monday, I had the most disquieting experience of not being able to get to my child.

A little more than an hour before I was to pick up The Boy at school, I received one of those insanely frightening emergency line calls from his school. You know the ones; they are prerecorded and a computer calls all the parents and emergency contact numbers at once so all the mommies and daddies can panic at the same time. Read more

Keep a Contented Heart in November

Well, here it is again. That time of the month. The time when I drag out my muse’s guide to finding happiness and write myself notes on the next layer of my happiness and joyful cake creation. Here’s what Ms. Muse has to say for the month of November.

Keep a contented heart.  A contented heart is a even sea in the midst of all storms.  So said William Secker in his treatise The Nonsuch Professor in His Meridian Splendor, published in 1660.  Amazing that it’s the same some three hundred and fifty years later.

a) Laugh out loud.

She’s right. I should laugh out loud more. We all should laugh out loud more. It just feels so gosh darn fantabulous when we do it. The sun seems to shine brighter for a few moments, the air seems to warm, and the endorphins rush through our bodies. It can change my whole outlook on a day.

What do I do to ensure I laugh out loud at least once a day? For starters, I have a child who is learning to read and sometimes mispronounces words in such a way that I can barely even understand what he’s trying to say. My child also loves to sing, and I mean loves it as if it’s his favorite chocolate treat. He belts out whatever tune he is listening to, and at times it’s all I can do to keep the car on the road I’m laughing so hard. Which makes him smile and sing more loudly, which makes me laugh more…. You get the picture.

I also read amusing books. Currently on my nightstand is Jen Lancaster‘s The Tao of Martha.  Ms. Lancaster is a seriously funny woman who doesn’t take herself too seriously. Consequently, when reading her books, of which there are many, I tend to laugh out loud and try to live my life with the same grain of salt approach she seems to espouse in her essays.

Laughter is good for anything that might ail us. We all need more, so I’m going to continue laughing and smiling and feeling good. It helps me get through the days when the sun doesn’t shine so brightly, which was a lot of September.

b) Use good manners.

I have my mother and Emily Post to thank for my somewhat rigid adherence to “proper” and “appropriate” behavior. My parents drilled me like they were each an Army Drill Sergeant to ensure that I knew and utilized manners. Proper table etiquette, even when all we were eating was grilled cheese sandwiches. Thank you notes for everything and in a timely manner, e.g. no later than two weeks after the event, the gift, etc.

One year for Christmas my mother found and gifted me a book on manners penned by none other than Ms. Emily Post. I still have it on my shelf with the the note-filled margins, underlined text, and dog-eared pages. I still consult Ms. Post regularly, but these days it seems that most of her advice is considered antiquated niceties that we can all eliminate from our lives due to the instantaneous and often impersonal nature of the digital age. I disagree wholeheartedly and so stick to the advice and manners that have gotten me this far in life.

Several years ago I bought the updated version of Emily Post’s book for my two step-daughters.

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I thought that as they went out into the world as young women and began interviewing for jobs, receiving engagement, wedding or baby gifts, knowing how to deal with the acknowledging and thanking people for their kindnesses would be helpful, especially since so few people attend to social niceties these days with the advent of e-mail. I gave the books with that precise sentiment.  As both opened the gift in my presence, they both said thank you, having such a resource would be great.

Two years later?  Both books are still sitting on the shelf in their respective closets upstairs, unopened. One moved out and left her copy here.  Does anybody want to purchase a slightly used copy of Emily Post’s Etiquette? I can give you a really good deal!

c) Give positive reviews.

I consider this up there with manners. If I’ve received good service or had a good experience, I say it. I shout it from the rooftops. I am a firm believer in the maxim that if you let people know they’ve done a good job, that will make them want to do it again and again to get the feel good rush from positive feedback.

Accordingly, I’m one of those people on Amazon and Yelp and Open Table who reviews service providers. If the meal, the product, the service has been good, I let the provider know. Of course, I also let them know if it’s been bad, but I think it’s just as important to put out good vibes into the world as bad.

d) Find an area of refuge.

I’m working on this. I actually reclaimed my sunroom over Labor Day weekend and made it into a sitting/reading area.

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However, it’s off the kitchen, so although it’s a lovely spot in which to have a cup of coffee and chat with Ernie Hemingway or a friend when children are playing, it’s not really a refuge. Too public. So I’m looking for different space in the house.

Our house has a central family room where everything happens. We also have a formal living room, which at this stage of our lives is largely unused. The only time it sees traffic is when the Christmas tree goes up and when packages are delivered to the front door. It also tends – like so many other open spaces – to attract junk and become a storage area when it’s not being used for the Christmas tree.

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For some time, I’ve been planning to make the back corner of the room into a quiet area where I can meditate and practice yoga. It’s sunny and bright, and the farthest corner of the house away from the main traffic areas, so it feels distant. Just what I need for quieting my mind and soul.

Of course, I have an office, too, but currently it’s situated in the laundry room on the other side of the master bath, and over the garage, so it’s not quite as isolated and quiet.

Plus, it’s cold. It is so cold that even when the heat is on, I need an electric space heater to keep marginally warm. It is so cold that once the outside temperature drops below 40 degrees, my cat won’t even hang out in there with me. It is so cold that the winter after we moved into our house we needed to install heat into our garage to ensure that the pipes for the laundry didn’t freeze. I don’t know precisely what the previous owners did about that particular problem, but I don’t care. I now have a garage that stays at a relatively balmy 55 degrees all winter. Getting into a cold car is not really a problem, unless of course, I’ve been lazy and haven’t put the car into the garage, nor is frozen pipes, truly the most important thing.

My husband decided several months ago that his office, located off the family room, should be mine so that I wouldn’t have to spend so much time upstairs away from the central living area, but it’s still got a lot of his books and other stuff in it, so it doesn’t feel like mine yet.

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Maybe I’ll work on getting the walls covered with my stuff and then I’ll want to use it more. I’ll keep you posted.

For now, though, I think my quiet area in the formal living room – or the Christmas tree room as we call it – is my best bet. I’ve got a folding room divider that I’ll put behind the couch, a meditation chair for which I’ve just redone the cushion, my super thick yoga mat, and a Bose sound dock into which I can pop my iPhone to play ocean music. Now I just need to get all the junk out of that room.

And did I forget to mention that Thanksgiving is at our house?  Namaste.

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Have Ambition, Will Quilt

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I still can’t figure out what I was smoking the day I agreed to be one of the class parents for my son’s kindergarten class and the co-leader of the baked goods section for his school’s annual fair and marketplace. One would be fine, but doing both is going to drive me crazy through the end of the day on October 19, the day of the fair. The Boy is excited; I’m dreading it.

As a class parent, I had to attend an orientation meeting last week. At that meeting, we were instructed on how we should communicate with the other parents in our children’s classes and what information we should disseminate to them. Each class has two class parents, and as the class designees, my co-parent and I were informed that not only we were in charge of keeping up communications with the other kindergarten parents, but that we also had to dream up an idea for a class gift to be auctioned at THE school fundraiser in the spring. And did they forget to mention that we were also tasked with creating said gift? Oops, sorry, but yes. Dreamer and creator. That’s what the job description should have said.

My brain works in funny ways. As I was listening to the class parent overseer describing the responsibilities regarding the class gift, my stomach was simultaneously dropping to the floor and doing back flips at the idea of doing something creative. I love the idea of being creative, and I get thoroughly excited at the prospect of crafting, sewing, scrapbooking … generally anything that involves the creation of original and pretty things. I just never seem to find enough time to execute my grand schemes. An idea popped into my head, and when I shared it with my co-class parent, she loved it. The teachers loved it when I told them. So now I’m committed.

To making a quilt. With all of the little urchins’ handprints and handwriting on individual muslin squares. To dragging out my long dormant sewing machine and figuring out how to use it again. To pulling out all my scrap fabric and cutting the border pieces. To designing the borders with all of that scrap fabric so that it doesn’t look like a paint box threw up on the quilt top. To layering the quilt and batting on the wood floor of my mostly empty living room. In short, I’m committed to driving myself crazy making a quilt that will be auctioned off to the highest bidder among the kindergarten parents.

Regardless of how many hours I actually have or may be able to find, my quilt must be not only good, but great. But not too incredible, lest I end up with a job on the auction committee moving forward. Apparently, in the history of this annual auction, no other class parent has dreamed up an idea quite so early. What I didn’t have the heart to say is that I only came up with the idea so early so that I wouldn’t be stuck playing catch up over the holidays and the school break. I have plans for those school breaks, and I’ve no intention of changing those plans to sit around on my duff and sew.

I used to quilt, actually make gifts for people in my life. One memorable holiday season, I made a king-sized quilt for an old boyfriend. At the time I made it, we had been together for a year and a half; we broke up after three and a half years. Every once in a while when I open my “crafting closet” and see my cutting mat and fabric cutter, I wonder if he kept the quilt, and if he did, whether another girlfriend ever asked where it came from. It’s unlikely that he kept it, but I do hope he at least gave it to his mother, sister, or someone else who might appreciate it. Thinking otherwise might make me crazy to think about all the time I put into that quilt, all the time I took away from other parts of my life. Then again, I did it willingly and happily.

My son’s teachers are excited about helping the kids make their individual squares. I’ve purchased the requisite washable acrylic paints and fabric markers. I’ve designed the quilt, figuring out the best layout for 17 one-of-a-kind squares. This week I will go and get the twelve inch square muslin pieces. I’m excited, too, but I wonder if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. Of course, regardless whether the quilt fetches $500 or $5,000 at auction (hey, I can dream!), the important thing is the memories my son will retain of my involvement in his life and his education. I can only hope that when he is a parent, he will look back and remember his mother’s reign as a classroom parent with fondness and humor instead of cringing.

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The Right Decisions

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“Can I invite Jill on Saturday?”

This question came from  my son in the back seat as we drove home this afternoon.  Our town is having a fair on Saturday, a festival of entertainment that celebrates our community by providing fundraising opportunities for town youth groups and non-profits, and highlights the work of our town’s service organizations.  The town center is closed to all traffic, and the streets come alive with pedestrians swarming and darting where there are normally only cars.

The fire and police stations are open to the attendees, and the kids get to climb up into a fire truck and sit in a police car, complete with the opportunity to sound the sirens.  There are bouncy houses, miniature golf, electronic race car courses, food stands, and all sorts of demonstrations and vendors.  It’s kind of like a parent approved free-for-all for the kids.  There are police everywhere, and kids don’t stray too far from their parents, as one or both hold the key to a successful day:  the money.

For the past two years, my son has invited his friend, Jack, from nursery school, whose mother became a good friend once the boys began begging us for playdates.  Although our boys attend different schools and we live about 25 miles apart, we try to get together every couple of months, more if time and scheduling permits.  Jack and his mother will come again this year, and we plan to ride our bikes down to the town center from my house.  Both boys enjoy riding, as long as the riding involves their tandem bikes.

And then today my little guy tossed out his request to invite Jill.

Jill is an eighth grader at his school and the daughter of a school administrator.  She is a lovely young woman and I enjoy watching them interact.  It is sweet that The Boy has such a great relationship with her.  He often talks to me about playing with Jill on the playground during recess, and how he really likes that she pushes him and his friends on the swings.  One day toward the end of the summer, when The Boy was getting a little nervous about going back to school in general, and in particular about starting kindergarten and having full days, I opened the mailbox and there was a letter for him.

It was from Jill.  She wrote that she missed him and was looking forward to seeing him back at school and hanging out and playing with him at recess.  My heart melted as I read the letter to my son and I saw his eyes light up.

Upon the kids’ return to school, I told Jill’s mother what a sweet gesture I thought her letter was.  Her mother relayed that Jill had asked if she could write to my son because she missed him and wanted to make sure he was having a good summer.  A few days after school began, The Boy and I arrived at drop-off at the same time as Jill and her mother.  Jill bounded out of the car and yelled a hello to my son, then scampered over to walk in with him.  He let got of my hand and took hers, then happily skipped away with her.

When Ernie and I were looking at schools for The Boy, one of the things I loved most about his now-school was that they allow children to be children and encourage the older kids to interact with the younger ones.  I wasn’t entirely sure how it would work out in practice.  Seeing his smile when I drop him off and pick him up, hearing the excitement in his voice when he tells me about something new he’s learning, and watching the relationship develop between my son and his eighth grade friend, I’m thrilled with the decision we made.

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Pursue a Passion in September

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September is here. For me, it’s always been the beginning of a new year, despite there being no symbolic cultural or physical turning of the calendar or changing of the year. I have spent so much of my life in school that it’s always seemed natural to me that the year begins in September and ends in August.  I sometimes joke perhaps that is what drew me to Judaism as an adult; it was merely an extension of my pre-existing calendar bias.

Perhaps it’s simpler. I was born in September. I adore the crisp mornings warming into bright sunny afternoons. I adore autumn fruit: shiny red and green and yellow apples, firm and unyielding until baked, cut up and put into a pie or a cobbler, or simply eaten straight from the tree. Cranberries, pears, kumquats, pomegranate fruits. Autumnal vegetables thrill me. I love nothing more than scooping out a pumpkin and roasting the seeds with cinnamon, salt and sugar, or roasting a spaghetti squash and mixing the flesh with butter and salt and pepper for a yummy lunch. Acorn squash cry out to be hollowed out and filled with a turkey-cranberry-bread stuffing and roasted.  During the autumn months, I try always to have my home smell of apple cider or wine simmering on the stove with mulling spices, even if the only way I can accomplish that is by lighting one of the Yankee Candle candles that are ubiquitous throughout my space.

Gretchen Rubin‘s “to-do” list for September tells me I should focus on the following items this month.

a)  Write a novel.

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I’m already working on this. Well, not a novel, but a book. At this stage, I’ve got only notes and the beginnings of a proposal, but it is in progress. See the “Writing the Memoir” tab for more details.

b)  Make time.

Much to my eternal chagrin, I have only recently begun to realize – feel it in my bones and understand, realize – that my time with my little boy is glaringly short. With that dawning has come a covenant to spend as much time “in the moment” with him as possible. By “in the moment” I simply mean I try to let everything else go during that time. I try to forget about the dishes piling up in the kitchen sink, or piles of newspapers and old mail growing on the kitchen table and counter, the thousands of Lego blocks strewn about my house like invisible little IEDs waiting for my unsuspecting and not-yet-caffeinated foot to step down and then explode into a thousand points of shearing pain.

Instead, I focus on his obsession with cars – specifically, minivans and SUVs and me getting rid of my current car and substituting either model. My great concession to stop the never-ending and often loud debate was to agree that if I had triplet girls (never, ever, EVER going to happen), I would buy a minivan. Specifically, the Honda Odyssey minivan with a built-in vacuum depicted in a rather amusing commercial.

I focus on his questions about life and death, which are becoming more and more frequent, and less easily answered. I focus on his questions about the new school year and what it will hold, which belie his anxiety about the beginning of kindergarten and the addition of nine children to his tiny little group of eight classmates. I focus on his questions about me having another baby and his envy over the twins one of his friends is soon to have as siblings.

I focus on all these things because I know that someday soon he won’t ask questions of me and he won’t want to talk to me; he’ll ask questions of his friends and he’ll want to talk to his teachers. I know this is normal, and I know it’s healthy, and I know it’s the way the world works. Children are born and cling to their parents for a little while, but then they move on to their autonomous lives faster than anyone expects and can prepare for. But as I sit here writing this, tears snaking down my cheeks, I know I’m ill-prepared to face that. I cannot conceive of it, yet.

So I make time for all of the things that he wants to share with me, no matter how small, and I hope that by making that time and sharing those experiences, I can keep him close and ensure that he will always want to talk to me, to ask me the tough questions and that even though his friends and his non-mama world will get bigger as he does, he will always save a space and time for the woman who will always love him best.

c) Forget about results.

This one I’m going to have some trouble with as I’m an anal-retentive control freak. A lawyer by training and profession, albeit a happily retired one, I’m results oriented. I’ve had a difficult enough time adjusting my life philosophy to embrace the adage that life is about the journey, not the destination.  My adult life has been about winning the case, beating the opponent, getting the settlement the client wants.  Anything else just didn’t make sense.

I’ve always set goals for myself. I guess it’s been my way of marking off how close I am to achieving my dreams, but now that I’m actually living my dream of a life dedicated to writing, I wonder if I still should be keeping such a strict “to do” list, intent on ticking off items. My tendency to mark off life accomplishments like so many chores hadn’t made me happy, and since I haven’t really had so much time to put into my goals-oriented life plan, I have been happier, more in the moment. Hmmm…..something to ponder.

d)  Master a new technology.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, technology is defined as:  (1) the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area; (2) a capability given by the practical application of knowledge; (3) a manner of accomplishing a task especially using technical processes, methods, or knowledge; (4)  the specialized aspects of a particular field of endeavor.

When I first read the fourth item on September’s “to-do” list, I scoffed a bit. My first thought was that I could skip it as I’m pretty computer savvy, and our home is filled with just about every new or newish technology available. Then I looked up the definition, and decided to approach this instruction from the angle of learning something new about a subject matter I enjoyed and about which I was already somewhat knowledgeable, namely cooking.

I enjoy cooking, and I know that I need to up my game as it relates to my family’s nutrition as both Ernie Hemingway and The Boy have the palate of a four-year old boy. I can cut The Boy some slack as he’s not too far removed from a four-year-old boy, but Ernie, not so much, as he turned sixty this year and should know better.

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So my technology challenge for September shall not involve computer or other information machines or processes, but shall involve the bookcase filled with abandoned and lonely cookbooks, as well as my forlorn All-Clad slow-cooker, my much-loved Zojirushi rice cooker which gets not nearly enough attention from me, my Cuisinart food-processor and Breadman bread machine which haven’t seen me since the last century (and both of which were wedding gifts when I married my first husband in 1999), my much-loved and well-used Kitchen-Aid mixer (I do actually cook sometimes!), and any other kitchen implements and appliances I might come across in my kitchen.
I’ll keep you posted on my progress.