Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Christmas Collage

Every Christmas season starts with the ratty little collage.

I made it more than ten years ago. I was newly married, but still lacking the confidence of how things were supposed to go. My collage was really just an oversized piece of poster board. It featured a quote I read in a book that spoke so loudly in my head, I couldn't stop thinking about it. Just like everything else in those newlywed years, I was trying to do the best I could and hoping things would turn out alright.

Christmas was always a slippery slope for me. For some reason, I couldn't shake the guilty childhood feelings of either feeling like I had too much or I didn't have enough. There never was a true joy about it. After I read this quote about Christmas, it changed for me. I wanted to wear this statement about Christmas, to walk around in it, to let it be who I was. Instead I did the next best thing, I made a collage out of it. With beautiful re-used Christmas cards framing my faded handwriting, every year this becomes the decoration I love best.

Here's what it says:

"If, as Herod, we fill our lives with things, and again with things; if we consider ourselves so unimportant that we must fill every moment of our lives with action, when will we have the time to make the long, slow journey across the desert as did the Magi? Or sit and watch the stars as did the shepherds? Or brood over the coming of the child as did Mary? For each on of us, there is a desert to travel. A star to discover. And a being within ourselves to bring to life." -- Author Unknown

(an excerpt from Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach)

For me, my collage and this powerful quote remind me of the point of Christmas. The trouble is -- I don't want to miss it. I want to attend all the great plays, hear all the awesome concerts, see all the lights, the parades and the parties. But in my heart, all I want is this quote. Year by year, my collage strikes me differently. Over time, I find myself seeing from a different vantage point -- whether it's from the shepherd's watch, the mom looking down on her child, crossing my own desert, looking for the stars. It always speaks to me and always reminds me.

The truth is I don't have to do anything, buy anything or be anything to have a beautiful Christmas. I only have to stop and notice all the beauty before me. And in that pause, to truly see the one star overhead.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tiny Thankful Things

Today I was thinking of the "little" thankful things.

My emphasis is on the word little -- as I think the small stuff tends to get a bad rap. Not to take away from the big important stuff like health, family, friends, food and shelter, but what little teensy tiny things make up big piles of joy in your life?

Here's my teeny tiny thankful list:

1. The first cup of coffee on a cold morning.

2. The way my body hums after a 3 mile run on a dreary day.

3. Sunlight as it just begins to touch the treetops first thing in the morning.

4. When people tell me that my writing changed the way they think about things.

5. Love notes from my son.

6. The way my husband takes my hand before we enter a crowded room.

7. The miracle of my snowy white Camellias blooming in the winter when you least expect it.

8. The velvet warmth of a sultry Southern evening paired with the magic of fireflies.

9. Chocolate croissants from Trader Joe's.

10. Taking a long, steamy bath with Chris Botti's jazz playing in the background.

Now it's your turn -- what's on your teeny thankful list?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Purse Memories

It all began with the missing iPod.

I knew it was somewhere in the contents of my purse/snack bag/portable brain of mine. Out of desperation, I dumped the entire contents of my purse on the counter for total reconnaissance.

After sorting through the immense pile, I began to notice the contents were sort of bag-like-scrapbook of my life. Spread out before me was not only a pile of junky stuff, but bits of memories, funny little items and things saved for no apparent reason.

There was the pressed penny from a recent trip to the zoo. It housed the sweet memory of a summery week spent in Michigan visiting family and friends. Not just a penny, but a chance to treasure my son's viewpoint of seeing my birthplace through his eyes.

Then there was the Thomas the Train sticker. My son's reward for a trip to the doctor. The quiet comment from him saying "Mom, I'm not too old for Thomas the Train," then watching him secretly slip it into my purse out of the sight where no one would see.

A collection of leftover Tylenol Junior tablet wrappers brought the reminder of a family wedding in Florida. Upon arrival, my son developed a scary-too-high fever. Alone in a strange hotel room, all night I kept vigil with cold compresses. Watching the clock, I barely slept to stand ready to give him the next dose. I remember the miracle of the next morning, when he completely recovered, allowing us to spend a joyful day with family at the beach.

At the bottom of the purse I found tiny Lego men and strange pieces that I knew had invaded my entire home, but now like Carolina Kudzu had shown up where you least expect it. A surprise was a Moosehead beer cap. I neither drink beer nor like it, except for on extremely hot summer days. The cap must have been saved as treasure from my son and placed in my purse for safekeeping.

I thought about what the contents of my purse might say about me. If it was found by some private detective and analyzed for diagnosis, I'm sure it would come back to say something like "an extreme fetish for breath mints, weird gum, hair tools and lipgloss. Extremely jumbly - how does she find anything?"

Like an adored scrapbook, I was surprised that my purse contents told such history. The items offered sweet nostalgia from a past season of my life. Not simply a bunch of stuff in a bag, but things that told my story. I never did find my iPod in there, but I did find something even better -- treasures of times in my life worth remembering.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Little Cowboy

We are counting down the days until my son gets to unleash his "inner buckaroo."

As we make our way to the motherland of rural Michigan, we arrive just in time for the opening of deer hunting season. My 8 year-old son is completely beside himself at the idea of the great outdoors, guns and wide open spaces. It may not be PC, but it's true. The cowboy gene cannot be denied.

Part of me is glad for it. I want him to know what it's like to walk through a frosty field. To understand the silent quiet of watching the world from the hidden perch of a deer blind. To be completely enveloped in nature without the worry of getting hit by a car, stolen by child molesters or having to be perfectly-mannered at a desk.

He will walk in the footsteps behind his grandfather and his uncles, just as I did as a young girl. I can see him now, wearing oversized hunter orange gear, ambling quietly behind, studying the field's movements. As a girl, my dad and I would perch quietly in our grown-up size fort, listening to our own steady breathing, watching the grey field become ablaze with the red sunrise. After what felt like hours, we would numbly come home for hot chocolate, while my dad would fry up some corn fritters to go along with homeade maple syrup.

The simplicity of taking a walk in nature and appreciating its delicate balance is a lesson you can only learn by doing. I want him to discover memories of a time and a place that is simple. A place that doesn't require a carpool, a suburb or a commute on a highway. To appreciate that hunting was how people used to sustain themselves -- like it or not, it was the way people survived.

As a mom, I'm about as pro-NRA as the rest of the mommy club. But I want my son to know what it's like to be a part of a place that knows how to take care of basic needs. In rural Michigan, people know how to survive both with the land and from the land. There is an underlying respect of nature that can't be appreciated going down the road at 65 miles per hour. It takes a slow quiet walk in the woods. It takes a watchful eye, an appreciation for the rhythm of nature and all creatures within.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Getting Scary

It's scary season and in the spirit of things, I have been working on scaring myself daily.

Last week I read "do something every day that scares you."

I was trying to remember the last time I attempted something truly scary. Usually it's life that does the scaring -- watching the news, praying with a friend that was struggling with breast cancer, making casseroles for a family who is undergoing bone cancer treatments. You don't have to work very hard to be scared every single minute.

I was running through my daily moments trying to find anything I did that was a bit edgy, risky or truly dangerous. Here's my day: car pool, getting some writing done, paying bills, going to the gym, a few errands and then back to carpool. I think the scariest thing in there is the driving.

Scary doesn't have to be huge -- like bungee jumping, doing an Ironman or scaling a mountain -- although those are all good and creepy things to do. The scary I was looking for is in the taking risks. Even little ones that weren't really a big deal in the scheme of things, but a teensy bit dangerous nonetheless.

Scary to me is picking up the phone and pitching my ideas, sending out my writing, actually doing the work and being okay with getting a lot of rejections. It's getting my book done. It's being committed to the craft of being a writer and following through, despite the fact that it doesn't pay well and it's dang hard work.

As we close in on the season of mischief, I'm going to get busy scary myself today.

A good question: how have you scared yourself today?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Remembering Mom's Advice on Staying Well

I’m feeling a bit draggy lately.

With all the news about the flu and its impending doom, I wish I could go ahead and get sick. That has to be better than listening to the constant barrage of ranger danger talk on the news or reading how many new cases there are today. No amount of antibacterial wipes can convince me out the fact that I’m a walking flu time bomb.

Besides the obvious of washing your hands a million times, I was wondering what else I could do for my health this season. I have already read the wealth of knowledge available from the all-knowing medical resources. So instead of turning to the experts for ideas on wellness, I decided to go to the original source: dear old mom.

Our moms functioned fine without having to worry about flu shot supply or sanitizing every nook and cranny of their homes. They lovingly and knowingly took care of us without the help of WedMd or government sanctioned quarantines. So here’s a little old-school advice, courtesy of mom.


If you are feeling a little run down, take a nap. I’m always surprised how much better I feel after a rest. I don’t know why this solution is such a shocker, but many of us don’t think of it or fight it all day long. Don’t wait until you’re completely knocked out by sickness, take a nap.

Get Outside and Run Around the Block.

My mom’s cure for anything was to “get outside.” I think partly it was a self-preservation strategy, but it’s also very wise. She insisted we get some fresh air every day. If we were having a bad day, her solution was to get rid of it by a trip around the block at least three times. If you can’t run, a nice walk is a good place to start.

Have a Little Cup of Tea.

My mom is Scottish, so sitting down for a cup of tea was a precious ritual. Tea happens to be great for you with all sorts of antioxidants for your body. There is something so comforting and reassuring about pouring a mug of something hot and delicious. Make a pause in your day for a good cup of tea to refuel your spirit.

Come Home Before Dark.

Mom expected us to be in before dark for dinner, homework and getting ready for bed. Too many commitments, working late and cramming in the umpteenth activity saps your energy. The idea of getting home before dark is a nice rule of thumb to protect sacred family time and to replenish some down time in your day.

Sit Down and Eat Your Dinner.

In today’s zoomy society, sitting down at a table to a nice meal feels like a luxury. Coming home from school, my mom always had a pot of something hearty on the stove. Usually a soup, or stew filled with lots of veggies. Fall is a great time to fill your slow cooker and concoct a meal guaranteed to mend the spirit. Skip the drive through and plan ahead to come home and slow down over a meal.

Take a Nice Hot Bath.

Mom claimed a hot bath would “wash away the day.” Baths are a great way to unwind from a hectic day and also a way to check in with yourself mentally. If you don’t have a tub, try soaking your feet in a small basin or steaming your face over a hot sink. These small treats don’t cost much, but re-fuel our spirits in a self-loving way. Footed PJs are optional, but always a good idea.

Eat Your Veggies.

This classic advice was true when we were five and still is today. Listen to mom, eat your veggies. The problem is most of us are still stuck in that five year-old mentality that they taste horrible and have to taste like dryer lint to be good for you. Now that you are a grown-up, you actually get to make things you like. If you don’t know how to cook veggies that taste decent, go to www.epicurious.com and search away. Be a grown up, eat your veggies.

Wrap Up in a Blanket.

If mom was getting out the emergency measures for when we were sick, there would be ginger ale, toast treasures (specially cut up pieces of toast with gobs of butter) and there would always be “the blanket.” Mom used to wrap us up in a special velvety blanket and lay us down where she could check on us often. I think she knew sometimes we needed a mental health day, or a time to feel loved and adored. What are the things that make you feel lovingly cared for? You may consider making an emergency sick stash for a future event. Maybe it’s only permission to take some time off. If you need a day to wrap up in a blanket, do it. Take time to give your body what it needs.

Mother Yourself.

Even though these old school ideas aren’t very scientific, they go a long way in keeping us well. What’s remarkable to me is how far I will go to care and comfort my family when they are sick, but finding that same care for myself is rare. Maybe not getting sick is really about being a great mom to myself, not just for my family. I hope you will find time this season to take good care this season and more importantly, to find a way to be your own best mother. After all, she did know best.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lunch Funnies

Day in, day out making the same peanut butter and jelly sandwich for an entire year of elementary school lunches can get old. I have tried other things in my son's lunchbox. But nothing reminds him of home and the goodness of mankind like PB&J. I completely understand.

When I was a kid, I went home for lunch. In today's go-go society, that seems pretty odd now. The fact was I lived exactly two blocks from school and it seemed natural to pop home for a meal. Even better yet, the school thought it was fine too.

During my middle school years, I remember walking down leaf strewn streets during gorgeous Indian Summer days. The cool crisp fall weather and blue sky overhead was a refreshing escape from the drab cafeteria. Waiting for me would be my mom and a bowl of tomato soup with oyster crackers, or sometimes what she called "toast treasures." They weren't really anything more than buttered toast cut up in thirds. Having that chance to escape even for 30 minutes became a touchstone for my day. It became a reassurance, a comfort-style grounding.

In an effort to repeat that for my son, we happened upon the idea of the "lunch funnies." It all started one Wednesday when I witnessed my son's classmate laughing hysterically over her lunchbox. Showing no shame, I snooped over her shoulder to see that her dad had written a hilarious knock-knock joke. It was not a one hit wonder either, she told me he made up a new one every single day.

Now I have written a nice “love ya” note or sometimes tucked “have a great day!” well wishes in my son's desk. But to put a joke in every day and to actually invent it too, that was taking it to a new level. I loved the idea of the lunch funnies -- a happy way to make a plain day sparkle. Lunch with a joke was a sweet reminder to put a smile on his face. Even though lunch would always be PB&J, I could invent new wonder daily with the lunch funnies.

Some say imitating genius is the highest form of flattery. Smartly, I borrowed the joke idea and made it my own. Like finding the prize at the bottom of the Cracker Jack box, my son looked forward to my lunch time whimsy. Later I would find the jokes I had written stuck in his locker, folded up carefully and tucked in his pockets, secreted away in his back pack. He would save every single one and carry it with him all day long.

He loved it so much I started inventing new ways to be funny. One time I put a pack of sardines in his lunchbox with a note that said “something is fishy around here!” Then there was the sporting phase where I would put in golf balls, mini basketballs and wrote notes about “have a ball at school!” The balls weren’t the best idea because you can imagine the ruckus that followed with rolling a golf ball around a bunch of second graders.

The spring brought the bug phase where I would put pretend rubber bugs in things like snack crackers or crawling on sandwiches or popping out of snacks. The bugs made for a high scream factor among girl classmates, so I had to taper that one off quickly.

This year in third grade, we are back to the jokes again. Each day he loves to report back on how funny he thought it was or ask a question if he didn’t get it. More than anything, I wanted my son to remember that even though I wasn’t with him, he’s still on my heart. I wanted his daily lunch funnies to be a reminder that despite how good or bad your day goes, you can always find an opportunity to laugh. To know, even in the ordinary moments, there is joy.

PS. If you want to feel really inadequate as a parent, check out Cookie Magazine’s 30 Days, 30 Lunches Blog. A friend sent it to me as an inspiration with amazing ideas for lunches including puzzle-shaped sandwiches, sculpted animal snacks and heirloom quality note-cards. Check it out at www.cookiemag.com/magazine/blogs/food/30-days-of-lunch/.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Small Time is Big Time

If you had to come up with one little thing that would make your life better, what would it be?

Repeat, little thing, not big thing. I recently read this idea about teeny tiny changes and thought the chances of something small making a difference are only that, small. Nevertheless, I thought I would give it a whirl and my little thing would be to spend 15 minutes a day on piano.

The backstory is I started playing piano several years ago on a whim. I had taken it as a child and hated it. My piano teacher, Mrs. Coon had breath that smelled like feet. She used to press her bony fingers down hard on top of my hands as I played. Apparently she was going to put piano into me by force. The only good thing about going to Mrs. Coon’s house was riding the school bus there and getting to watch TV while my brother had his lesson first.

The practice lasted until my mom could no longer afford it and I was all to glad to be done with Mrs. Coon. Fast forward about 30 years. A friend and I were having a conversation about regrets. We were asking each other if we died today, what would be our greatest regret for not having done in this lifetime. Without hesitation, I said “piano.”

It shocked me that it came out. Somewhere in the dusty attic of my soul, this deep longing to play piano showed up. The truth was that I loved piano, I didn’t love the way I learned it. I wanted to be good at something that was hard, that took practice, using a totally different side of my brain. For me, there is a complete undoing that happens when I listen to stunning piano music. Like combing through the ratty parts of my spirit, piano somehow tapped into hidden, lost places.

I longed to play, to be able to read music, to sit down and hammer out a jubilantly spirited tune. To be like a movie during the holidays, where friends and family gather around a beautiful baby grand, belting out Christmas carols as I accompany on the piano.

So I began the piano, or pseudo-return to my childhood over three years ago. At first it was fun, really really fun. I found a fantastic young piano teacher who was spirited, yet challenging. She would clap and sing along as I heartily played the Mexican Hat Dance. It was a blast. But as I progressed in my lessons, it got hard. As you know, anything worth doing, is hard. And I noticed it became harder and harder to find time to practice. Without meaning to, piano was sliding out of my life.

In my heart I wanted to keep going, but it required more effort than I had planned. As I read about the tiny changes, I immediately thought about piano. If I set aside 15 minutes a day, which is not very much time, I would at least make an effort. Fifteen minutes is nothing, it’s a cup of coffee, a trip to the bathroom, a flip through a magazine – I could handle 15 minutes.

I found that once I got started in my 15 minutes of fame, I was lost in it. All I wanted to do was keep going. Ticking off my 15 minutes soon turned to 30 minutes and I looked forward to my time just to play each day.

Seriously, you may be wondering, what is the point of this piano? Nothing really other than sure pleasure. This is my time to do something completely ridiculous and lovely all for me. I’m not going to be a concert pianist anytime soon, but Christmas caroling parties might be in my future. It shows that I have a passion that I'm not afraid to put to use, however ridiculous. It’s certainly a much better use of my time than Facebook.

The beauty of it is that it only takes 15 minutes – or at least that is what I tell myself. But those 15 minutes are probably one of the best parts of my day. It's ironic to me that to do the things we love, we have to fool ourselves into it. Fooling or not, this small is big to me.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Building a Better Lunchbox

67 pounds of trash.

That’s how much the average child creates in waste every year with a disposable lunch. (Source: www.wastefreelunches.org)

This trying-to-be-green momma wanted to start the school year off in a kinder way for the environment. So, instead of stocking up on all the plastic baggies, single serving snacks and bottled waters, I did some homework on building a better lunch box. I hope my ideas will inspire you to make a little change, or at least whittle down a few of those 67 pounds of trash.

Building a Greener Lunchbox Ideas:

  • Amp Up the Lunchbox — find a reusable lunchbox that rocks. If your kids love it, they will use it and not lose it. My son loves gaming and computers, so I got him the “Laptop Lunchbox” -- a mini laptop style case with cool reusable containers inside. (www.laptoplunches.com) Find out what your child loves and see if you can match your lunchbox to suit their passions. A great source to peruse some clever options is www.lunchboxes.com.
  • Size Matters — Find a drink container with a realistic amount of liquid for your child. Last year, I bought a large size reusable water bottle, but realized I was wasting most of it since my child only drank a small portion. Reusable water bottles now come in a variety of sizes to accommodate your needs. My favorite new water bottle is from Camelbak. It has a fun pop up valve that is super easy to clean and a perfect portion. www.camelbak.com.
  • Make Your Own Single Serving Snacks — Buying the single portion snacks is certainly a timesaver, but when you calculate the cost of how much you are spending and the additional trash, it’s not really worth it. I decided to get creative in making my own snacks for the week — I had my child pick out bulks items he likes such as yogurt raisins, peanuts, gummy bears, graham crackers, animal crackers and pretzel sticks. Then we mix and match to make our own snack combination. This was more fun, better for the environment and usually healthier in the end.
  • Little Things Add Up: It’s easy to forget about small things like napkins, utensils, sandwich wraps — but with a little thought, switching over to greener versions is a snap. Consider using a cloth napkins, reusable utensils and cloth sandwich wraps -- all of these make a big difference when creating trash in the lunchroom. For ideas on recyclable materials for lunchboxes, check out www.reusablebags.com or use resources you already have at home.
Lastly, brainstorm with your kids on ways that they can help cut down on trash. Kids understand and want to make a difference -- this is a great opportunity to pass along a valuable life lesson of taking care of the fabulous resources we have been given. Not only are you eliminating trash, but you are showing them what a good steward of Mother Earth looks like. And that is a lesson any momma (or daddy) could be proud of.

For more information and ideas, check out www.wastefreelunches.org.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The End of the Morning Crazies

School is here, cue the deep sigh. Yes I love that back to school feeling with the fresh crayons, brand new notebooks and shiny shoes. But with those 48 crayons and the built-in sharpener comes an amazing level of everyday stress that simply doesn’t exist in July.

My sentences now begin and end with “hurry up” in the mean mommy voice. Getting out the door with everything required for a full day sometimes feels like performing laproscopic surgery with a pair of chopsticks.

I was recently perusing magazines and found one really slick publication that featured a story about “the unhurried child.” Wow, that would be so nice. Despite my best attempts to be organized, have backpacks ready to go and clothes laid out in those neat Lillian Vernon day- of-the-week cubbies, my school mornings feel like one big adrenaline latte.

As I was noticing my heart palpitations knocking on my chest before it was even 7:19 a.m., I thought there has got to be a better way. The insanity of being so rushed and stressed before you even start your car engine is simply not right.

How we start our days with our family is so important – it sets the tone and feel for what follows whether we like it or not. Mornings will never be perfect, but there have to be some ways to make them feel a bit better. Below are a few thoughts that I came up with to add a nicer hum to my morning.

This is not the list of “perfect ways to make life perfect.” I don’t have it all figured out, I’m working it out just like you are. But here are a few of my ideas to improve the day – test them for yourself or create your own.

Wake Up Earlier.

I know this seems pretty “duh” but adding a bit more “wakey wakey eggs and bakey” time to my son’s day is really what he needed. He likes to do one thing, play a bit, do another thing, play a bit. So now that I know this, I added in a bit more time for the wake up margin in the process.

Find a Carpool to Share the Commute.

I realize not everyone commutes to school – so if your child gets on a bus, count yourself blessed. Carpooling requires a bit of work and more planning. For me, this was the thing that absolutely drove me crazy – being totally stressed out in ridiculous traffic all the way to school. But finding someone to share the driving can be a beautiful thing. Other creative ideas include “Friday Daddy Pickup” or “Grandparent Day Pickup.” Consider a play date pickup exchange as it makes sense – anything to reduce the amount of time you have to zoom to and fro to school in your car. If you feel selfish about asking for this, tell people it’s because you want to save the planet.

Do a Couple Things the Night Before.

I am much more together when I’m not freaking out in the morning. Stringing together a couple small items to prepare your day seems like a no-brainer, but often we forget to do them. A couple ideas: check your child’s backpack for all the books they need. Pack the lunch the night before. Make sure homework is complete. Have your child take a bath and lay out clothes for the next day. Have them wear their clothes for school to bed (just kidding, I just wanted to see if you were paying attention.) But seriously, a couple little things put together make a huge difference in your morning.

Go Easy on the Caffeine.

Somehow I always think drinking a couple cups of coffee will assist me with the madness. But when I find that my head is thumping to the tune of Radio Disney, I realize maybe caffeine is adding more fuel to the insanity. My reward for successfully getting through the morning is sitting down at my desk to a nice cup of coffee. Caffeine has now become my treat after my child is off to school and the calming moment to set up my day.

Don’t Forget About Yourself.

Sometimes I get so obsessed about what my son needs for his day, I forget about my own needs. Then the reason I become “psycho mommy” is because I am rushing around for all the things I need for my day. Take a few moments the night before to consider what you need for an excellent day. A workout bag, a lunch packed, movies to return placed in your car – whatever you may need for your day, think about getting ready the night before or in the time before your child wakes up.

Remember The Forgets.

Everyone forgets stuff. But if there are things that you consistently forget, try to stock your car with these items. Snacks, breakfast bars, water bottles, running clothes, your journal, a magazine to read in carpool – whatever the items that you usually wished you had remembered can be a lifesaver. I always forget to eat breakfast – so my glovebox is filled with all sorts of snacks.

Create Rewards to Celebrate.

Everyone likes a treat. Consider little special rewards to celebrate smooth mornings. It can be a small thing like having a special breakfast at McDonald’s for being on time all week. Another idea is a little note in the lunch box or backpack thanking them for helping get the day started in a great way. A special activity together after school lets your child know how much you appreciate their help to be prepared for the day. We all love to be celebrated and it doesn’t require much additional effort.

Ready For Launch

I like to call the time getting ready for school and my day as “Launch Mode.” It has an official and scientific sound about it and it makes me feel important. Do yourself a favor and find what tools and strategies for your family you can design to make a successful launch. They have all the power to make your days a true blast.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tell Me a Story

There is a quote that says "storytelling rescued me most of my life" from Writer Armistead Maupin.

I felt that way this week as I laid a cold compress to my son's forehead. In my freaky mommy brain his horrible headache was worming it's way to certainly becoming brain cancer, a cerebral bleed or most likely a concussion. It was a simple headache, but somehow I had let myself travel down the mommy "fear luge" to arrive at the worst case scenario. I knew that when my son asks me to tell him a story, instead of reading one -- it means he truly doesn't feel well.

So as I pressed his forehead and waited for the Motrin to kick in, he asked for me to tell him a story. In an effort to distract myself from the crazy brain, I tried remembering the funniest stories of my childhood. I know how he loves to hear about the days when I was a kid. Somehow, my ordinary growing up days never grow old to him -- seeing every story filled with magic and charm.

"Do you want to hear the story about the school bus we transformed into a camper?" I asked gleefully (my favorite story).

"Mom, you have told me that one a thousand times," he said.

"How about the time I broke my leg playing darts in the church?" I offered.

"Heard it," he said in a tired voice. This wasn't working.

"Okay, how about the old family cabin in Kalkaska, Michigan story where we had to use an outhouse?"

"Wow! Tell me that one!" he said.

With relief, I told him the story about our family of five kids and two adults staying in a one room cabin deep in the wilderness of Michigan. I lavished and embellished my story about snowy winters where we hiked back in waist high snow, hauling food, clothing and whatever entertainment we needed. His favorite part was how there was only an outhouse until we got ultra modern and brought a portable potty about the size of a suitcase inside the house.

He was fascinated with the fact that there was no running water in this place, no TV and how we could all survive in that snowy little shack. But he was most fascinated with how the portable potty worked. He rolled with laughter at the idea of it and in his almost 8 year old brain, I'm sure he was imagining his mom as a 12 year-old peeing into a suitcase.

What struck me as funny was how riveting all this stuff was to him. All the things that I grew up thinking were so ridiculously rustic and horrible inconveniences made for great stories to him. He peppered me with question after question:

"How does a water pump work?" he asked.
"How does a portable potty flush?" he continued.
"Did you ever use the outhouse and was it creepy?"

He was full of questions and I could tell that all was well again with him. He begged me to tell him about the suitcase potty one more time.

"I think that is enough for tonight," I said happily knowing his headache was better and indeed only a headache.

With relief I could think back to times I had told him the stories. When he was hooked to IVs in the hospital, trying to overcome dehydration. When he lay in bed too sick to watch TV or even hold his head up. When he was wracked with a too high fever that would not budge with medicine, I told him the stories. The stories became my way of coping and distracting myself from the fear that lay before me. I can always count on the stories to remind me of brighter times and happier moments. 

Those were the kind of stories that Armistead quotes -- rescuing both of us once again.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Mama's In the Kitchen, Again

I hate the kitchen, I love the kitchen.

I loved the kitchen when I wasn't a grown up. Before the the time when I didn't have to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for every waking minute of my day. Or when I wasn't plankton brain exhausted from a day of work, only to have to face the kitchen. There I was, all alone to figure out how to feed my tribe. The mind-numbing feeling of coming up with dinner felt like having to do Phd level calculus with an abacus.

As a kid, the kitchen was a blast. My five siblings and my dad as the ringleader would all be given assignments. We used to get the newest issue of Cuisine Magazine (which no longer exists) and pour over which meal we would attempt as a family. My dad as our fearless head chef, my sister as the sous chef, the rest of us as mere line cooks and kitchen workers to help do the jobs for the meal.

Since I was the youngest, I usually got the job of dishwasher and setting the table. I did this all happily because watching my family members work in concert in kitchen was like watching a battle of the pans. We would each taste everything as we went, noticing how various spices improved things or brainstorming how we could take the meal to the next level.

Not only were we cooking as a family - it was like a party, a laboratory, a competition to see who could do their part the best, a chance to outshine in the spirit of fun. My dad with the dishtowel neatly tucked around his waist, a glass of rum and Coke in one hand - he would be the conductor of his noisy team. We would repeatedly trash the kitchen with choppings, dishes and tools everywhere. My job was to clean up behind everyone. And in the middle of it all would be the food-stained Cuisine magazine - our passport to epicurean exotica unknown.

Fast forward twenty years and here I am alone in the kitchen. By myself trying to be inspiring or find some sort of way to make the daily meal grind fun. As an adult I now appreciate what my dad did. I see how smart he was -- he could have begrudgingly cooked the meal for his five offspring or do what he did, make it a big giant project for all of us.

As parents, we probably spend more time in the kitchen than sleeping. I decided there had to be a better way than me, the momma, slaving over the stove and everyone else enjoying themselves until their restaurant meal was ready. Taking a cue from my dad's early teachings, I came up with a little list of ways to make kitchen time a more joyful experience. Here are a few ideas to try out this summer to see if you can transform your kitchen into the family fun zone. At the very least, not to be all alone in the kitchen.

Making Kitchen Time Fun Time

1. Start Simple.
Make one or two small changes to start. For starters, pick one special night of the week to make "family cooking night." Rome wasn't built in a day and small changes in your family kitchen are easier to manage in bite size steps.

2. Begin with something everyone loves.
Consider something easy to prepare and something your family already adores. Pizza, spaghetti and meatballs, nachos or roast chicken are all easy ideas.

3. Create ambiance.
If you're going to be in the kitchen together, you might as well make it beautiful. Consider matching the music to your menu theme with opera, salsa or country. While you are at it, get out the good plates, napkins and China. Life's too short not to eat off the good stuff.

4. Turn the TV off.
Declare a moratorium on the TV for family cooking night. The Weather Channel, Disney and MTV will still be available when you are done eating.

5. Be educational in a sneaky way.
Don't miss the chance to pass along valuable life skills as you go. This isn't a lecture on how to be a chef, but important things they eventually will want to know as a functioning person in society. This will vary according to your child's age but ideas might include how long to boil spaghetti, how to grate and chop. Pass along knowledge to them in a soft way that teaches them without them even knowing it.

6. Ask good questions.
Use this time to connect with your family in unique ways. This is your shining moment to enjoy them. Ask them the funniest thing that happened today. Or find out when they were most creative. What was the best thing they did during the day. Take turns letting them ask you good questions.

7. Move outside your comfort zone.
Once in awhile mix things up by trying something totally new and out of everyone's comfort zone. Ideas might include: fondue night, sushi rolling or breakfast for dinner.

8. Be sensory.
Invite your family to use their senses. How do things taste and how can they be improved? Experiment with spices and create a learning laboratory. Have them describe the way things taste using as many adjectives as they can.

9. Let the kids be in charge.
Your kids will have more fun if you let them make choices or be in charge, once in awhile. Ask them to be the "head chef" -- pick the menu or to decide which jobs everyone gets.

10. Be goofy.
If you can't have fun, what's the point? Get out aprons for everyone, don chef hats, dance a little, get your hands dirty, sing as you cook, play with your food. You aren't cooking for an award, this is a chance to connect with your family and create something together. Enjoy it!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Chocolate Bon-Bons From God

Looking back in my rear view mirror, I saw her.

A woman waving at me frantically, desperate to get my attention at the stoplight. I had that feeling in my stomach as if I was about ready to get scolded for something I didn't do.

She's going to tell me I cut her off, or my gas cap is undone (didn't I put it back on?) Better yet, my clothes were probably hanging out of my car and now stained with mud and highway tar. I rolled my eyes and rolled down the window, ready for whatever insult was going to come my way.

She stuck out her head and yelled "I read your book! My husband got it for me and it was awesome!"

Then the light changed and I turned and she was gone.


Here I was thinking I was about ready to be taken down and instead I was given a flower. Really more like a bouquet, a giant bouquet of roses in my favorite color for no apparent reason. By a complete stranger who had read my book, words that I had dreamed long ago in my head and dared to publish. She had read them and saw me in the middle of no where. Well, I guess Cary, NC isn't really "no where." But she took the the time to notice and tell me. I was thrilled.

I didn't tell you that story to brag or puff up my ego (although apparently I could use it.) What was funny is how it's so easy to assume the worst about everything. How we can create our own little mini-dramas in our head only to be completely wrong. It got me thinking how many times I had totally gotten it wrong and perhaps never even knew it.

Whenever someone compliments me for my writing, it feels like getting a giant chocolate bon-bon from God. It tells me to keep going and that I'm on the right path. That may seem weird, but it's affirming to know that people read my work and then remember it. They may not get it or even like it. But it tells me that I'm putting my gifts and talents to work. Or in the words of Wonder Woman, my favorite childhood superhero, "I'm using my super powers for good."

As I plow through another work week ahead, instead of assuming the junk, I'm going to look for the flowers. Or better yet, I'm going to look out for the bon-bons. You never know where they might turn up.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ode to Cheese Balls

Almost all of my happiest childhood memories involved cheese balls. The neon colored snack food item that stains your fingers and clings to the roof of your mouth were symbolic of the happy day moments of my youth. Every sleepover, camp out, birthday party, TV night, anything fun always involved cheese balls.

As I prepared for my son’s second grade “boy bash” with a jumbo size container of cheese balls, I couldn’t help but smile. My son beamed with delight as he was talking it up with his boy buddies boasting “my mom even got a mongo tub of cheese balls!” Never mind that there would be a limbo stick, musical shell game, pizza and video games. Most importantly, there would be cheese balls.

It got me wondering what was it about those precious orbs of puffed yum that sent me down nostalgia lane? And clearly they cued up the happy for not only me, but for my son too.

I decided to check out the ingredients to see what they put in those babies. You will be happy to know that there is indeed, cheese. It may be cheese monoglomate ezymatica along with other crazy sounding ingredients, but the label says “real cheese.” We should truly call a spade a spade and let it be known that it’s more like “essence of cheese” in those things. No cheese I have ever eaten or seen tastes like that.

Please don’t get me wrong. I have read the news and understand that we are creating the most obese generation of kids in history. I also understand that this may be the first generation of kids not to outlive their parents. I’m not promoting a steady diet of cheese balls. I’m just noticing this special treat makes me happy and I can’t quite figure out why.

Maybe it’s the fun shape or their bright sunshiny glow or the fact that we don’t eat them very often. Cheese balls don’t come out for big stressful holidays or for special dinner party style entertaining. They come out for cozy time casual fun. Cheese balls are for ordinary joyous moments like football watching or our favorite TV show or when a pack of rowdy seven year olds comes over to celebrate the end of a school year.

I think cheese balls are simple innocent joyful fun. It’s not only what I crave as a cheery snack but also a metaphor for what I long for in life. I think Forrest Gump said it best when he said “Life is like a box of chocolates.” But I think I would change it a bit to say “I want my life to be like a tub of cheese balls.” A dose of ordinary joy packed into a happy little ball.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Grateful Game

Tucking my son in on an ordinary Tuesday night I struggled to be grateful.

My head was full of laundry, overwhelm and a ridiculous state of tired. The tired that comes from not sleeping well the night before, worrying over dumb things and cramming too much in one day.

As part of our bedtime ritual, we usually like to read a devotion together. This night's devotion was about a "cheerful heart" and being grateful. If there could be any more of an anti-example of cheerful heart, I was definitely it.

Instead of the usual "God bless so and so" sort of rote prayer we do, I asked my son if he would like to play "The Grateful Game." I figured naming our blessings out loud might help me to catch some gratitude. Or at least help me think about something else besides how tired I was.

Listening to my 7 year old son speak about his blessings grounded me in ways I could not imagine. He began "Mom, I'm grateful for parents because some kids don't have any."

"Yes," I said humbly, "that is true."

"Mom, I'm also grateful for having food and a home and my bed, there are so many kids around the world that don't even have any food at all or a place to sleep."

"Those are all great things to be grateful for," I said feeling my tiredness slip away.

"Mom I'm grateful for my stuffed animals because they snuggle with me in bed when I'm alone and scared. And I am really grateful I have $30 saved in my bank."

The more he continued, my heart melted to how beautiful it was to witness my own son's gratitude. His simple statements of appreciation allowed me to bask in the wonder of his abundance. I couldn't help but feel that same humble appreciation.

Tucking him in that night was a worn out mom who could think of nothing else but what was missing. After the grateful game, I was a mom with a renewed sense of abundance, courtesy of a seven year old.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What Do You Do?

Whenever someone asks me what I do, I'm always shocked what comes out.

The usual thing I say is "I am a writer." This always provokes a million different questions about what I like to write, am I published, what am I working on now. This conversation leaves me feeling a bit hollow as it's a constant reminder that I haven't finished my next book. Next flow in the constant guilty voices of "you're not good enough or smart enough to finish it" or the loaded voice of "you don't have the guts, babe."

Man. All of that from one simple question.

If I'm feeling more "corporate-ish" the what I do answer is "I'm a public relations consultant." This is true, as my background is lots of years in corporate PR, ad agencies and the like. I do get the intermittent project to write a website, review some copy, develop a plan. When I say this, I feel like I'm not being true to my calling, my passion, what I was meant to do here on earth. So again, here come the deranged voices saying "is that really true missy?"

When I'm feeling whipped by life and low about my writing career, I give some sort of whishy washy answer of all my volunteerism to help prop up my ego. This sounds something like "Oh! I do many things like helping in my son's school each week, helping build a women's ministry at our church and launching a family foundation." I figure that sounds like a real altruistic, contributing sort of person in hopes that it helps me feel better about life, especially my own.

I can recall being at a business cocktail party surrounding with the high flyer set. My husband left me to retrieve a refreshment, when immediately an ambitious gentleman came up to chat. We made the usual small talk and then he asked the question, "what do you do?"

I fumbled at my words and was even more shocked to hear myself say "nothing." I literally said that I do nothing. I could not believe I couldn't come up with something better than that. What I meant to say was I wasn't really here for the business agenda or that I wasn't part of the program. I was just decoration, sort of. The poor guy felt sorry for me and politely found an opportunity to make conversation in another, more opportune area of the room. I felt like an idiot.

Where did my confidence go? I have done some awesome stuff with my life. I have written and published my own book. I have written many articles for women's magazines, an award winning monthly column and have been chosen for writing awards. I am even a featured blogger for Carolina Parent. I have a beautiful son, a fabulous husband, some truly amazing step children, I am launching an awesome family foundation and I get to spend time with my son each week at his school. He even treasures having me in his classroom. I'm blessed beyond belief and have so many good things cooking in the pot.

So why all the weirdness?

I can't help but think of all the things I haven't done yet. Sure I've done some cool stuff, but I want to do so much more. I guess I feel like maybe I'm squandering my talents or I'm not taking big enough risks. When people ask what I do, they don't want all that. They just want to make conversation, to figure out what bucket I fit in, what I'm like as a person.

So I need to stop and realize it's only a question that requires a simple answer. Not an explanation, not a laundry list of what I should be doing with my life, not a Texas-sized guilt trip.

It requires a smile and nod with me saying "I'm a writer, and you?"

Thursday, March 26, 2009

One Weekend to Live

My dog Java went on permanent dog vacation Monday.

I think that sounds nicer than saying he was euthanized or put down. Java had oral melanoma cancer for almost two years. A huge baseball sized tumor in his top and lower mouth, making it almost impossible to eat or drink.

Doctors didn’t think he would last more than a couple months, but he chugged along on magic time despite the odds. These past few months, the stoic black Labrador had begun to fade away bit by bit. Sleeping more, wanting to engage less, not wanting to go outside at all. It was not fair to him to keep prolonging his life because I needed my constant companion. So, we set the date for the "vacation."

The whole weekend, I couldn’t help but contemplate my own life. If I were a dog, what would I want to do on my last days here on earth? Eat, eat and eat. So all weekend, we ate only the best things that I knew any person or dog would love: hot dogs, steaks, biscuits with gobs of strawberry jam and bacon by the pound.

It’s funny how my dog’s last days were ironically how I would like to spend my own. Sitting in the sunshine, listening to great music, having my family by my side, enjoying the laughter of my friends. Sunday morning, I took him for a walk and let him off the leash to be free to smell, track and wander as much as he pleased.

I have to say taking him to "check out" was one of the hardest things I've done. I kept sitting in the parking lot, feeling grief stricken and guilty about what I was about to do. I kept hoping hoping to muster up some sort of enlightened grounded feeling, knowing his moments were ticking down. But it never came and I wept uncontrollably like a small child. Part of me was embarrassed at how upset I was over this dog. After all, it's a dog, not a person. The huge crashing wave of grief surprised me. I loved this dog in ridiculous ways and now I had to let him go.

We always called Java our “angel dog” sent here on earth as a gift to watch over us. And for 12, almost 13 years, he has watched over our family. He has always been with me when I was feeling alone or blue or just needed something to snuggle. He was there in our very first home, he was there to welcome my son, he was always there. He welcomed me home every day -- ready with a wag, a smooch and a happy hello.

Now I come home and I can't help but feel a bit empty. I keep expecting him to round the corner, shake and stretch from behind the couch after an afternoon nap. Each day is a slow remembering that he is not here. In little ways it seeps into my heart how significant he was to our lives. He was a great dog. Perhaps the best dog. I keep saying to myself every day "the great circle of life continues." It gets a bit easier to know this too is part of loving.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

We Got Trouble

I love the Rogers and Hammerstein play "The Music Man."

It reminds me of being a kid when my sister and all three brothers were in the local community version of this play. I was the left out donkey, the baby, the youngest and forced to sit on the sidelines and watch. I was so jealous of their cool costumes, getting to memorize lines, hanging out with the other kids in the production.

One of my favorite songs was "We Got Trouble" where all of the kids in the background got to sing "trouble, trouble, trouble" over and over during the whole song. I thought that was the coolest trick to be singing something completely annoying in the background while the grownups were trying to make sense of a song over the top of it. It sort of reminds me of the strange days we are living in right now. "We got trouble" is an understatement.

Lately it's been overwhelming. All the bad news, all the depressing, horribly deranged politics involved. I don't know what to believe anymore. Add that into 6 straight days of rain this week and it makes me want to reach for some Tequila.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Since we are smack dab in the Easter season, I have been spending more time in my Bible than ever. In church we have been reading about the life and times of Christ and were invited to read John 14 for our study of the week.

I read the first line of John 14 and it said "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God and also in me."


Isn't it funny how God gives us exactly what we need to hear when we need to hear it? I've been pondering that scripture all week and thinking how "today" those words are despite having been written centuries before. If God made a point to share this, it's up to me not to let my heart be troubled. I don't need to lug around all this freaky-ness of world. The Big Guy is still driving the ship and He's still in control.

I don't need to carry it. What a relief to let go of the trouble. And to realize we are not alone in this thing called life.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Hanging Loose

Spring makes me want to change all over.

Not just my home or my outside, but on the inside too. Holding things loosely is the change idea of the moment. Not really such a deep thought, but more about being lighter about life and my desire to direct everything. When something's important to me, I start squeezing the ever-living joy out by trying to control it. My writing, my son, belly flab, my marriage. I guess I forget that life isn't a video game where we can maneuver our joystick to drive all things we love.

What's at the bottom of all this is that lately I've been struggling with my writing. Nothing good was coming out, I kept getting lots of rejections, it didn't hold it's usual satisfaction and pleasure. I was meeting with a group of other writers and one friend talked about her writing in a state of "holding it loosely." She went on to explain that by holding it loosely, you allow room for other wonderful things to be a part of the process. Your writing becomes less about you and more about sharing something that is an extension of who you are.

What a wonderful vision for the way to approach our gifts, whether it's writing, our children, our families, our friends. To hold them loosely with a lightness that allows for room to maneuver. When we hold things tightly, it becomes about our ego, our unmet needs, our junk in our personal trunk. Keeping a light touch welcomes more to the process and invites our Creator and other wonderful resources to join in the fun. Everything becomes more vibrant as a result.

I didn't recognize by holding things so tightly, I was sending out the message that "only I can do this, it's all up to me, no one else could possibly know it better than I do." No wonder I was getting so many rejections from other people, I had already rejected them first.

When I think of "hanging loose" I think of it like having a surfer mindset. Relaxing in the water, waiting to see what life sends your way. Not splashing around making more waves or positioning your swimsuit for optimal wave-riding conditions. Hanging loose is about being happy in whatever weather you have and ready when the big wave comes.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Artful Nothing

Yesterday was a complete goof off day.

I watched two movies, ate a bowl of popcorn for lunch, took a nap and ate at least 12 Girl Scout cookies. I can't even describe how ridiculously great it was. By late afternoon, I managed to accomplish four loads of laundry so at least I could pretend that I did something valuable. More so when my husband walked in the door and said "what did you do today?" I could let out a deep and exhaustive sigh and say "you wouldn't believe the laundry!"

Goofing off on a Monday is completely foreign territory for me. Usually by 7:30 in the morning I have already been up for two hours and ticked off six items on my to-do list. My days and weekends have been so packed with commitments, volunteer work, regular work, church work, kid's school stuff and home repairs that the productivity police would be pleased. But who wants that?

It's a beautiful thing to simply stop for awhile. As most of the South was covered by several inches of snow, it was lovely to look out the window to a snowy dreamland. Everything was blanketed in breathtaking wonder. I followed suit by seeking to create my own wonderland inside by doing whatever I wanted to do.

As moms and heads of the household there is a lot of stuff we "gotta" do. Kids have to get to school, lunches have to be packed, laundry has to be done and dinner has to be made. Let's not forget about work, career and bringing home the bacon. This doesn't leave much room for our "fun" o-meters to be filled.

My older and wiser sister's code word for this kind of day is "fake sick" day. She and her high school age daughter will call a "fake sick" day on each other. This means total permission to lay in bed, watch movies, eat toast or whatever might make you feel good. She shares her guilty pleasure of fake sick days like discussing a secret lover. Inside, I'm jealous that she is so free to claim that serenity for herself.

I decided to try out her fake sick day idea. I must say that today I feel completely energized and whole again. I think when we take a day to do nothing, we become better people. It's sort of like giving that little girl inside of you the Barbie doll you have always wanted. It's a treat, a joy, a chance to reclaim that bit of magic we all still have.

Give yourself an amazing gift and schedule a day of nothing this month. You'll love how much the richness of "nothing" brings to your life.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Busy Little Bees

How many times recently have you had this exchange:

"How are you?" someone asks.
"Busy!" you reply.

I know, I know. I'm right there with you saying "busy busy" all the time.

For some reason responding "busy" when I am asked bugs me. Yes I am busy and saying that out loud is correct. But who is not busy? Have you ever asked someone the token "how are you?" and gotten "I am so relaxed. I have all the time in the world and right now I"m enjoying the fact that I get to have a sweet conversation with a friend like you. In fact, I wasn't even sure what I was going to do until you walked up to talk to me."

Let's face it, we're all busy -- but is that all we have to say to each other? We certainly can find more to talk about other than how jam packed our lives are, filled with stuff to do, places to go and e-mails to check that we barely have time for a meaningful conversation.

Busy has become our code word that declares "I am valued, I am needed, I have lots to accomplish." Who doesn't want to feel valuable, important, on a mission in life? I know I do, but my goal is to find a way to say it without saying the "b" word.

The challenge is that when people ask you how you are, they really don't want to know. They want to know sort of, but in a hurry up, let me get to what I want, get on with it sort of intention.

So to be efficient but real, I put together a list of potential responses to the "how are you?" question:

How are you?

The Pollyanna
"I'm excellent and hoping you are too!"

The Encourager
"I'm well and you are looking well yourself."

The Ray of Sunshine
"I'm struggling today, but I'm on the upward swing."

The Truth
"I had a horrible night's sleep, but looking forward to a nap later."

The Honest
"I'm getting over a cold and am in need of some soup, do you have any?"

If you can't think of something good to say, I think a "I'm great" with a smile will always do. Because even if you are struggling inside, the very fact that you said "I'm great" out loud fools you into thinking you can find a way back to it. I hope you will try to be a bit more creative than "busy" when someone asks how you are. It certainly would make more life more interesting for everyone involved.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Facebook Frenzy

Since joining Facebook, I don't think I've ever felt so popular.

With all the "be my friend" requests, quizzes to find out what celebrity I am most like, fish presents, causes to join and virtual cocktails and outfits, I can't help but feel popular. I even have a host of people wanting to know "65 random things about me." I'm not sure I want to know 65 random things about me, let alone share that with other people.

If you are not familiar with Facebook, it's an on-line community place where you get to share all sorts of fun things about you and what you are up to each day. When you make friends with people, it's a chance to invite them into your "circle" and keep up with what's going on both of your lives. You can post pictures, share causes, write on walls, post buttons of flair, take all sorts of quizzes and give away virtual gifts. It's ridiculous and pointless electronic fun and it's completely addictive. (www.facebook.com)

People you may have never even spoken to in high school are looking you up and be-friending you. It's like one big giant popularity contest to keep up with Facebook. The downside is that it can be completely overwhelming to respond to all the requests, invitations and virtual gifts. It can also be completely addicting. My new cell phone has a Facebook icon on it, so I can literally find out what my 75 friends are doing while I'm sitting in car pool.

When you think about it, it's over-the-top nosy to be constantly needing to find out what everyone is up to. But in some ways it's very practical. My husband and I wanted to invite a friend over for dinner one night and he actually said, "can you check Facebook to find out if so and so is in town to see if they can come over?"

The reality is life can be sort of lonely and it's pretty neat to be reminded about all the people that know and care about you. It's pretty comforting to know that you have 75 friends. People that are really interested in knowing what 80s sit-com you most identify with. But yes, it's a huge waste of time -- sort of like eating a bag of Doritos with french onion dip. Not so healthy, not completely harmful, but delicious nonetheless.

But with all the bad news, job losses, economic downturns and political scandals, it's really nice to have something that is pure ridiculous fun. And that my dear, is Facebook.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

For the Love of January

January makes me want to eat, sleep and drink bourbon.

Driving my son to school this week, it was raining sideways and the sky kept getting darker and darker along the way. I felt like I was about to enter the epicenter of doom. I tried to cheer myself by looking for inspiring music. Of course, that's when every song on the radio sounds like Bob Dylan or Alanis Morissette singing about drinking binges, losing lovers or dying. Did I say Happy New Year yet?

If January's nasty weather doesn't drive you crazy, there's always the comfort of some ridiculous New Year's resolution that will never happen. Yes that and the fact there are no good holidays to look forward to other than Valentine's Day, which just adds more guilt and pressure to your life.

This morning, I was again looking for any sort of encouragement. I found myself raiding my secret good stash of chocolate by 9 a.m. There's something a bit Stepford-ish about eating chocolate bon bons in the AM. But I was merely looking for coping strategies. It didn't really work anyways and left me sick and disgusted at myself for having to eat a bon bon to get through the morning.

In December I long for the quiet simplicity of January. In January, I long for anything fun and joyful. In my sane, non-chocolate ridden brain, I know that January is sort of cool. You can use that indoors time to get more organized, read great books, do nothing. It's that month of introspection, thinking, getting acts together. There's a lot of good football and something wonderful to be made in a crock pot. I do love the easy days with free schedules, weather keeping you in and a chance to get your brain back from the holidays.

A friend of mine likes to call this "hunkering down." When she's in the mood to only be with her family and say no to the outside world, she says "well, we're just hunkering down today." January is sort of like that. One long month of hunkering. And that makes January a pretty loveable month after all.