Just Another Ten Minutes

There’s a story alive in our family lore that’s told as frequently as anyone can work it into the conversation. It’s primarily about the three oldest children when they were little and how, even when it was still light outside, I made them go to bed at a certain time.

The way they tell it, they longingly looked out of bedroom windows while neighborhood kids played outside, and even worse, saw their friends come to our front door where I kindly informed them the children at our house were in bed for the night.

Recently I was talking to my son and granddaughter on Skype when he mentioned something about her bedtime. “Yeah,” he said. “I don’t make her go to bed at EXACTLY 8:00.”   “I get it,” I responded. “You’re a better parent than I was. I shouldn’t have been so strict with you guys.” He laughed and said, “Then we wouldn’t have all those great stories.”

It’s true. I was a bedtime Nazi. I like to think I softened a bit with the last two little boys that were born into our family – that there was more spontaneity and less code. More warm lingering and less razor-sharp structure.

I addressed the subject of little noses pressed to windows before the sun went down with my daughter not long ago, and she gave me some validation. “I understand it now,” she said. “You were done. You were tired. I know the feeling. But I’m not gonna lie. It was pretty awful at the time.”

She also insisted that the ribbing they hand down to me is not mean-spirited, and that if true hard feelings existed they probably wouldn’t keep telling the story. I told her I hoped I was a different person now. They seem to like me in spite of these past, dark episodes.

I’m grateful the years keep stacking up, but while my aging eyes read the word “influential” as “inflatable” (and that’s with glasses on), and I have to carefully plan the number of hours I get to sleep every night before I go back to work the next morning, I also get the less annoying bonus of perspective that comes with time.

The same way we all want endless summers and unlimited resources, I want to go back, for just another ten minutes, and see my little ones as the young mother they remember, but with the experience of my years.

Right before bed on one of those spring evenings, I would ask them to please do this for me now and then I would promise to make it up to them with fun later nights in coming years. Then I’d tell the oldest to always appreciate knowledge and fact, but mostly trust in his heart and gut. I’d tell the second one that whoever she wants to be is OK by me and offer to help her find out who that is. And I’d tell the third one to keep swinging from light fixtures and taking chances, but to be sure and look both ways first and choose only the risks that are really worth it.

Then the second before I shut each door I would make sure they looked at me directly when I tell them I will never stop loving them no matter what they do.

And yes, it would still be 8:00pm and sunny.

“Everything’s Amazing And Nobody’s Happy”

Published in the Ferndale Record, January 27, 2016

This title is taken directly from comedian Louis CK, who used these words a few years ago when describing a time he’d flown across the country. A fellow passenger was notably upset because of a last minute glitch meaning Wi-Fi was not available on the flight. Louis talked about how it used to take wagon trains 30 years to make the same trip that can now be done in five hours. Despite the extraordinary technology and opportunity everywhere, people will always complain about something.

I thought about this when I flew to Boston from Seattle last month. I used to be terrified to fly, and while I still have a healthy respect for air travel, instead of blocking the experience, I embrace it. I don’t really get the laws of lift, weight, thrust, drag and the Bernoulli effect, but apparently they work, and as Louis CK says, “You’re sitting in a chair.. IN THE SKY!” When you think about it, it’s pretty remarkable.

My experience with family in Boston was even more meaningful than the travel. Flight reawakened me to awareness, to paying attention. This happened a lot during the trip, but specifically when I was cuddling my newest grandson, something I knew I’d miss when I came home. “I should have done this more when you were a baby,” I told his dad. “I should have stopped doing whatever I thought was more important at the time, and just held you.”

I want to be more careful, go through my days deliberately, be happy and grateful for cell phones, the Internet, employment, shelter, family and enough to eat. And to not for even one second take it for granted or believe it will necessarily be there tomorrow.

I suppose this is all about that cliché – ‘living in the moment.’

But if we are not significantly changed, motivated or inspired by an event, or series of events, why are we participating in the first place? Has modern life and all of its amenities become boring, or even worse, expected? Have we stopped seeing every day magnificence?

Here’s what writer and artist Toko-pa Turner says: “This is the true meaning of embodiment: To show up with wholehearted presence for this moving encounter with life. Instead of clambering towards ever-furthering horizons or withdrawing into distractions and addictions, showing up for those absences in our lives. Welcoming our fears and discomforts as necessary conditions to creativity. Loving the gestation as much as the harvest, even while remembering the barren season that must follow. Aspiring, in all things, to be human.”

I like this. Not because it’s easy to do, but because it means we get more out of whatever we choose to do. Instead of slogging through life, or simply working toward another paycheck, we lend hyper awareness to our circumstances, we more fully appreciate living, work, other people and service. In refusing complacency, we become more whole.

Not every moment or string of moments is dazzling. But many are, and we miss them because we’re searching for common glitter to hold our attention when real gold is right in front of us.

The Dark Side Of Reading Online

Published in the Ferndale Record, November 4, 2015

I used to read a lot of books, magazines and newspapers. Now, most of my reading is done online, and this isn’t necessarily bad, but it places me squarely at the mercy of everyone who posts anything on the internet and the randomness surrounding this medium.

When I choose what to browse or absorb, I’m reminded there are slimy strings attached to brilliant technology. Even major news outlets pander to human nature’s seamy side. Everyone wants a larger piece of the reading audience and their tactics are often shameless.

The result is that I sometimes cave and peruse bits that are only mildly entertaining and far from edifying.

This week, while catching a look at NBC news online to see if there was anything I absolutely needed to know, I saw these headlines:

“Two more women accuse Bill Cosby of sexual misconduct” – How is this even important to the general population?

“Here’s how to make money off the migrant crisis” – Why is this a thing? And why is anyone writing about it?

“Vladimir Putin’s approval rating hits all time high” – Well, good for him.

“Trump takes swipe at Carson: Lower energy than Bush” – No mud slinging, please.

“Costumed canines strut their Halloween stuff” – Harmless, but not interested.

The following links were more to my liking, but still not anything I needed to know to survive:

“Mets to start Harvey in game 1 of the World Series” – The teams in this year’s Fall Classic are not my favorites, but there might be some good baseball, and I’m thrilled that the New York team playing doesn’t start with a Y.

“The 6 biggest health mistakes women make in their 50s” – I haven’t clicked on this yet, but I might. On principle alone, I usually move quickly past headlines claiming “6 things, 10 things or 17 things” that are critical for my wellbeing and promise that “number 4 will blow your mind!”

“Watch time lapse video of Hurricane Patricia” – OK, I clicked on this one.

I’m positive I would have lived another day without any of this information. It’s clearly up to me to make good choices and not just gobble up information because it happens to be in front of me. That’s really the problem, isn’t it?

I don’t dispute the value of everything written online, just a lot of it. Sensationalism is rampant. Grabbing readers and filling space seems more important than printing anything worthwhile.

Recently I heard a talk in which the speaker said, “ ..Why would we listen to the faceless, cynical voices..? [They] prefer to tear down rather than elevate and to ridicule rather than uplift. Their.. words can burrow into our lives.. Is it wise to place our.. well-being in the hands of strangers? .. These anonymous individuals, if presented to us honestly, would never be given a moment of our time, but because they exploit social media, hidden from scrutiny, they receive undeserved credibility.”

Choosing wisely shouldn’t be hard because there’s a lot of goodness out there, too. Try reading the high road. See where truth and fairness take your mind and heart.

School Pictures: The Good, The Bad, And The Really Bad

Published in the Ferndale Record, September 30, 2015

It’s that time of year.

Cameras are poised, little heads are done up with gel and bows, photographers practice their best kid-speak to produce winning smiles. But when you’re an adult working in a school, you get your picture taken, too.

I don’t know many grown-ups who are casual about having a portrait taken of themselves. Most of us don’t like it – at all. Selfies? Oh sure, bring on the phone! Best friend’s birthday? Jump in the shot! But, sit on a little podium by yourself between a paint-spattered backdrop and a professional photographer? Um, no thank you.

However, the buzz in the teacher’s lounge is EVERYONE has to have a picture taken, “for school records.” So we do, and we hate it.

As the school Administrative Assistant, it’s my job to hand out the pictures when they arrive in the mail. Just to be nice, the company taking the shots, gives each staff member a free picture packet – complete with an enormous 8×10 where nasal hair can actually be counted, two 5x7s to presumably use for target practice, some wallet size (because everyone carries wallet size pictures these days), and don’t forget the tiny ones to share with all of our friends!

Almost without exception, when a staff member sees his or her school photo, their response is something like, “Oh NO! Oh, please. Oh.. just. Oh no..” Nothing against the photography, just the massive, single face on the page.

A couple of years ago, most of the staff hated their pictures so much that one of us, with a particularly artistic bent, decorated the wallet sized photo of anyone willing to share. These were classic: missing teeth, eye patches, scars, and most notably, one of us was made into a clown. I kept these posted in my office to the delight of adults and small children alike.

The good pictures: These are, in my opinion, almost all of them. Even ones teachers hate of themselves, are good. They’re representative of that person. You recognize who you see in the picture. It makes you happy inside – if you’re not the person in the photo.

The bad pictures: These are the ones where someone was obviously trying too hard to look nice or different. You don’t know exactly what it is, but something’s wrong. It looks pretend, weird, or makes the viewer feel uncomfortable somehow. We’ve all seen these – or been in one.

The really bad pictures: These are, of course, the most hilarious. A school photographer usually gives you one shot. They may capture a surprise look, like you were caught picking your nose, or your smile is clearly fake. Maybe the spinach you ate for lunch is lodged in your teeth. That decision to get a haircut before picture day was a really bad idea, or maybe you should have rethought the lime green argyle sweater.

This year, I know what I’ll wear, how I’ll smile, what to do with my hair. Odds are I’ll still hate it. No big deal. Thank goodness for retake day in November, when we’ll all get another chance at a really bad photo.

Here’s Transportation Everyone Uses

Published in the Ferndale Record, August 26, 2015

The fact that I often discuss food in this column is not lost on me. I’ll admit to passion about the subject and think I inherited more than a few tendencies and practices concerning it from my mother.

She loved whipped cream on most desserts, so it was common to have it around. I don’t mean the kind you spray from a can. Hers was whipped in a chilled mixing bowl with sugar and a dash of vanilla, and it was spectacular.

Once, after consuming what was left of the whipped cream on top of a mug of cocoa, Mom faced a dilemma – there was cocoa left to drink, but no more whip. In a story that is still told in family lore, she simply went to the mixer and whipped more cream so her cocoa would be properly topped. That really happened.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was probably my first experience witnessing food as a vehicle. You know – when one food is consumed mainly because what you really want is the food it’s commonly eaten with. In my mom’s case, the cocoa was good, but what she craved was the whipped cream.

I blame propriety. Why not just bring the bowl of cream to the table, add a spoon and eat up? It’s a good question that could be asked about a lot of food we use this way.

I’ve written about my love of frosting before. The following is a short list of items that, in my experience, serve as excellent conveyances for frosting: Cake, cupcakes, brownies, graham crackers, donuts, cookies and pie. Yes, pie. Fingers, spoons, forks and knives, while not edible, also have a place on this list, and if it weren’t for the trappings of convention, they would be used more often.

We want to eat healthy food so we stock up on veggies. This is commendable. But let’s get real. Those scrubbed, sliced carrots, celery and peppers are vehicles for ranch dip, peanut butter or sour cream.

Baked potatoes are not only an exquisite comfort food, but are supposedly good for you. However, in my world they’re also solid transportation for butter and blue cheese salad dressing. Also, baked chicken breasts can be part of a healthy diet. But how much easier do they go down when dressed up in a cream of mushroom soup and sour cream mixture?

Ketchup and salt transport French fries, Hershey’s chocolate syrup carries down the ice cream, salsa and melted cheese for tortilla chips, onion dip for potato chips, milk for Oreos, tartar sauce for fish, any dressing for salad, Strawberry or Chocolate Nesquick for plain milk, even hamburgers serve as a ride for bacon. Some vehicle foods come pre-packaged for our convenience. Case in point: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

Some things just taste amazingly good together so we consume them as a duo. I understand this. But the next time you face a naked carrot (not because you’re dieting, but because it’s in front of you) odds are you’ll look around for the Hidden Valley Ranch because, well – you know.

Shopping And Frosting: Two Important Decisions

Published in the Ferndale Record, June 24, 2015

Once I wrote a column about how people encourage others to be outraged concerning causes they feel are important. I understand this mentality, the wanting to share, the “You’ve got to FEEL what I’m feeling!” sentiment. I have pet subjects, too.

But here’s what’s happening: I’m mellower and not as easily whipped into a frenzy as I used to be. Maybe it’s simply energy related and choosing carefully where my focus ends up, rather than being led all over the map – passionate about everything and effective in nothing.

Although weightier issues squeeze into my consciousness, there are some tiny preferences upon which my mind is set, and surprisingly, these less than urgent decisions make life a bit easier.

I hate shopping for clothes. So, when I do, an item has to shout to get my attention. I rarely start by looking at sizes. If the color catches my eye, I go there first. If I love it, but the fit or style isn’t right, I move on. I won’t buy it because I might like it better at home.

That’s how I shop for clothes. Totally based on love. I have functional clothing, but if I don’t adore it, won’t wear it, if it doesn’t fit right, or if that shade of red doesn’t blow me away, it goes back. The end.

Here’s another example. I decided years ago that frosting is my favorite part of the cake. Someone offers you cake, you say yes, and the frosting to cake ratio makes no sense. It’s all cake with just a sliver of frosting. You know what I mean. This doesn’t work for me, and if I’m being honest, it never has.

I boldly decided that if I’m going to eat those kinds of calories, they’d better be worth it. So, when I buy or create baked goods with frosting, I get as much bang for my sugary, decadent caloric buck as possible.

The bakery at our local Haggen makes a fantastic single-layer German chocolate cake. If I’m buying one, I check carefully to make sure the chocolate and coconut frosting layers are thick enough for my liking. I’ve been known to pick out a cake, take it to the counter and ask for more frosting, and they kindly oblige.

Additionally, when I get the cake home (and since no one else likes it), rather than slice it in traditional wedges, I just carve off the edges to my preference, producing a perfect amount of frosting on the slice, without an overabundance of the delicious, moist, yet secondarily preferred cake.

If it sounds like I’ve thought all of this out meticulously, I have. Also, I feel no shame, just freedom from the shackles of ‘polite society.’ I also recognize these are options largely confined to a first-world inhabitant. For this, I’m grateful.

So, if the color or fit doesn’t make me a little giggly, I won’t buy it or keep it. And if there’s too much cake and not enough goodness on top, I sweetly decline. But if I know you well enough I might say, “More frosting, please.”

Dear Teenage Me

Published in the Ferndale Record, April 29, 2015

I’ve been thinking about you and what I would tell you if I could. Now that I’m a whole lot older than you, and have a wee bit of experience, here goes.

First – you are perfect just the way you are. I know this because our dad, who always spoke the truth, told me this on several occasions. I don’t think he meant ‘perfect’ in the sense that you and I never made mistakes, just that we didn’t have to try so hard to be something we’re not. That’s what I’m telling you, Teenage Me, you are good enough, and much better at most things than you think.

Don’t use a small voice, ever. Keep laughing too loud, talking too much and acting too silly. When people say you are too ‘something,’ take it as a compliment. You’ve become a woman who, frankly, is too much at times. It has caused only occasional problems, but mostly served you well. Keep it up. Be bold, live out loud. Don’t cower.

Next – you spend a lot of time being afraid. You fear the death of a loved one, spiders, not understanding, failing, succeeding, what other people think. Stop it. If you’re going to be afraid, save it for something really big like skydiving. Otherwise, roll with it. Stuff happens. People die. Life gets messy. Meet these things where they live and don’t smudge your innate curiosity with worry.

Also – boys and clothes are important. I get it. But they’re only miniscule parts of your huge life. Spend more time thinking about what you really like (besides boys and clothes). Go deep into music, writing and dance. Don’t think, not even for a second, that the dark-haired boy (who almost has a mustache) in your French class, or the sweater you have on layaway at Lipman’s are tickets to personal happiness. If you get how great you already are, those things won’t matter anyway.

Another thing – money. The older you has learned hard lessons about this. So, even though you’d rather spend than save, develop a healthy respect for what money can and cannot do. You know those three part time jobs you have? Be grateful that people pay you to baby sit, sling tacos and teach children piano lessons because there are days ahead when jobs and money won’t come as easily. I think you know this, so really enjoy what you’ve got, and it wouldn’t hurt to sock away a little of your extra dough – and you DO have extra.

The other thing about money: Don’t rely on anyone – the government, your parents or a man – to pay your way. Money comes from work. This is a tough lesson you don’t want to know, but it’s the truth.

So, Teenage Me, here’s the deal. I don’t really want to be you anymore. But if I could, in a Star Trek kind of way, go back in time for a few minutes, I would hug you hard, brush your long hair, and tell you all of this. Then I would assure you that you will love and be loved by many, I’d ask for a piece of our mom’s German Chocolate Cake, hug you again, and magically re-inhabit my current life.

Thank you for your part in our ride. I still feel like you sometimes.