Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Peace and Quiet

Recently, in the New York Times, there has been an influx of articles or op-eds regarding an increasing focus on how to get some peace and quiet from the iPhones, Blackberries, Droids, iPads, Kindles...and their ilk, that are constantly feeding our hunger for information.
(a link to the aforementioned article: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/01/opinion/sunday/the-joy-of-quiet.html?pagewanted=2&ref=general&src=me)

Well, I suppose feeding is not the correct verb, actually. They act more like a stimulant than a source of satisfaction, don't they? And often, what we get from them is directives from our place of work or from our families, letting us know of one more item to add to the To-Do list, or one more page we need to add to the report.

Count me in with those who are attached - after all, I possess both an iPhone and a Blackberry, and yes, they are with me 24/7. I am, though, fairly good about not perusing them while speaking to others. That particular habit really irks me. I happen to be married to someone who is guilty of doing this, but fortunately, I like him enough to let it slide, with only occasional well-placed barbs shot his way.

Back to the subject of quiet. Quiet is what I search for as soon as I have time alone. General quiet. Trust me, I live in a house with a total of 6 humans, 2 dogs, 1 cat and 2 turtles. Quiet is not something that happens around here with any degree of regularity.  I totally understand the need for it in our lives. And I sincerely believe our children need quiet - and although they will fight me tooth and nail on this, I believe teenagers need it even more than my 10 year olds.

It is possible that 2012 will bring with it a new routine in our household, one that involves a box that will be a temporary residence for all smartphones and other devices, just for an hour or so each evening. During dinner and for a span of time following dinner, to remind all of us that the people physically surrounding us matter just as much as the people who are emailing, texting or calling those boxed-up devices.

After all, those devices are nice enough to keep all of our messages waiting for us to find as soon as they are released from the box. The people around us may forget the important things they need to say to us, so we had better take the time to listen the first time.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Day = Start Anew Day

Isn't that a simply gorgeous Christmas tree?

No, that is not our family Christmas tree.
But it was one of the stupendous trees in the lobby of the Willard Hotel in downtown D.C.  We strolled through the hotel after viewing the National Christmas Tree.
One note about the "new" National Christmas Tree -- it really resembles something much closer to a shrub than a tree, and it felt just unkind to post a photo of it. We are holding out hope it will grow into something that resembles a tree in the next few years...or decades.
For those who are unaware, the former National Christmas Tree snapped in half during a ferocious wind storm in spring 2011. The new tree is its replacement. And, unfortunately, it is but a shadow of its former self. ; )

And so, today is January 1, 2012. For some reason, the sound of 2012 sounds optimistic and hopeful. And I am more than willing to give into that, and face the new year with genuine belief in our ability to improve ourselves and the world we live in.

So - a short list of the things I hope for myself and my crew to achieve in 2012:

1. Strengthen ourselves, each of us physically, and as a family.
2. Bolster our financial house and future. Plan, save and spend with more attention and focus.
3. Remember that amidst the craziness that daily life can bring, we are definitely among those to whom this applies:
From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.  (Luke 12:48)
**For the record, I did not realize the John F. Kennedy quote "To those whom much is given, much is expected" originated in the Book of Luke until I looked it up.

4. And lastly -- and this one is for me: settle into my own skin, and continue to work on blooming where I am planted. It is good to be me.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

InStyle, I am so over you

While waiting in CVS to get a prescription on Friday, I picked up the March 2011 issue of InStyle magazine. This will strike many folks who know me as a total laugh-riot, as I am one of the more fashion-impaired people they likely know. But on a whim, I bought it, thinking I would give it a look-over and see what was being declared “hot” for spring. Of course, now that I think about it, that is also pretty damn funny, as the chances of me wearing anything faintly “hot” are slim to none.
What I learned after perusing the magazine is that I have apparently aged out of InStyle magazine. Not so much because they don’t address women over 40 – they have Julianne Moore on the cover for heaven’s sake, and she is 5 years older than I am. But because I have less than zero interest in their focus on celebrities and their fashion choices. Once upon a time, I enjoyed paging through InStyle just to see what was what in fashion, but this time, I found I rather wanted my $4.99 back.
It isn’t so much whether they give an adequate nod to women over 40 – obviously, their target demographic is not 45 year old women with four children and a reluctance to shop. Honestly, they do only give a “nod” to women over 40, despite their choice of cover model. But hey, that is an assumed fact with a magazine like this, so I will let that one go.
It has more to do with the fact that not only do I not even faintly resemble the women they photograph wearing clothing I have rarely actually seen outside of their pages – but that these people live in a completely different universe, one that apparently doesn’t include dog hair and the potential for mud to stain the cuff of their skinny jeans. Honestly, even if I did own the $282 cotton lace sweater featured on p. 244 with the $350 pair of trousers, the chances of it remaining intact for any extended period of time are very slim (in the interests of full disclosure, I never will own a $282 sweater, unless I bought it on sale for $39).
Also, I wonder if the women who could swing spending $632 on just a single top and trousers are actually reading InStyle themselves. Somehow, I rather have my doubts, although I suppose it is possible they read it if for no other reason than to see if they themselves are featured.
Don’t misunderstand – I’m not being a fashion curmudgeon. It is more of a case of what age has brought me – in this case, my 45 years have taught me that in my particular corner of the world, the ins and outs of fashion and $282 sweaters are not worthy of my time or attention. And even daydreaming about it isn’t fun anymore. Once upon a time, I really enjoyed paging through Vogue, InStyle and other fashion mags, but to say I am over that is to put it all too mildly. My daydreams now are more likely to be about how I wish we had four horses and a flock of chickens, or about how I wish I were a skilled meal planner and chef.
Suffice to say, this will be my last issue of InStyle. I have no doubt they will fare well despite the lack of my $4.99 per month. And I wish no evil upon those who anxiously await each month’s new issue.
I rather do wish I could have my $4.99 back, but I will take the lesson learned as adequate payment for now.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thankgiving... with a side of bittersweet

It's the day before Thanksgiving, so we're double-checking ingredients and making sure we actually have more than 2 sides. The turkey is an extra special bird --- it's a 12 pounder that Spenser brought home as a result of winning the 3rd grade Turkey Trot one mile race. As Rob says, "that Spense - he's bringing home the bird!" And now we're about to make the bird the featured menu item for Turkey Day! It will be accompanied by a prime rib, for those that are slightly more carnivorous than others.

But Thankgiving is a funny day. At least, it is here in my heart and mind. Over the last 20+ years, Rob and I have lost all of our parents. We're so aware of how lucky we were to have them to begin with, and they are a part of our lives, and the boys' lives, and we knit them into everything we do. That being said, though, it takes my breath away when I realize they are all gone. And Thanksgiving being the sort of holiday it is - well, it makes you remember all of your previous Turkey Days, and the drama of the family table, and the reluctant answers to the annual question "What are YOU thankful for?", which seems like such a stupid question when you're 15, but boy oh boy, when you're 45, it is amazing how long that thankful list is.

I'm not being a downer here. I think watching the Thanksgiving dinner episode of NBC's "Parenthood" is the reason I'm a bit melancholy. I am fully aware it is a t.v. show, no more and no less. But they do such a good job of portraying life in a large family -- and boy, do I miss life in MY large family back in St. Louis. Even though parts of it were downright weird and decidely un-fun. As everyone's life is.

So, this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for all I have had as a result of my large family that I grew up with. I am thankful for the large family I have now - even if it is overwhelmingly dominated by testosterone.

And I am thankful for other things - and so, a list:

Outdoor Christmas decorations, especially the articulated white wire deer that come with entirely unintelligible building directions

The new engine that brought our 2003 Expedition back to life

Wireless printing. Definitely one of the best things EVER.

Elementary school Awards Assemblies - just had one yesterday. The parental pride was downright palpable!


Hunter and Truman, our family canine companions

Recreational and high school football - what on earth would fall be without my boys playing football??

E-mail and texting-- without it, my siblings and I would have virtually ZERO communication

Sod. Until your yard is missing a significant amount of grass, you have no idea how wonderful replacement sod can be. Trust me on this.

Our outdoor fireplace. We use it nearly every day, and it is definitely a source of family time for us.

Fall in Virginia - fall is a real season here, long and lovely, especially this year.

Christmas music 24/7 on Pandora. Really, can you hear "Have A Holly Jolly Christmas" too many times?

What I am most thankful for, though, is not something I can lay a hand on, or smell, or show in a picture.

I am incredibly thankful for my mom, dad and step-mother, who gave me a childhood filled with security, love and its share of bumps in the road. They gave me the foundation to become the still-in-progress person that I am, and they gave me confidence in myself to know that somehow, some way, I will muddle my way through and give my kids the same security and love.

Because one thing I know for sure is this: Rob and I are creating the memories that will someday provide our boys with the brickwork for their adult lives -- and I damn sure want to know that they had it at least as good as I did. And boy, did I have it good...

And I still do. Testosterone and all.

Happy Thanksgiving to you - and don't forget to have a healthy serving of Reddi Whip with the pie of your choice tomorrow. Honestly, isn't pie usually just a vehicle FOR the whipped cream?

: )

Monday, October 11, 2010

Ultimate Family Vacation

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It's easy for me to draw a picture of my idea of the "ultimate family vacation" - although of course the ULTIMATE vacation would likely include something more upscale than the vacation I'm going to describe - but for me, the "ultimate family vacation" would look very much like the trip we took this summer to Los Angeles and Phoenix.
Los Angeles is a favorite place of ours, and has been for a long time. It's sort of funny that way, because the kids have only been there once as a family before now, although the two oldest have each been there on additional time each on business trips with Dad. And add to those visits the fact that a favorite television show for my clan is "Emergency!", which took place in L.A., and voila! Favorite place status!
We stayed at the Beverly Garland Holiday Inn in Universal City, which I cannot recommend highly enough. It has this "old Hollywood" glamour to it somehow, although it has been recently updated and is gorgeous and classically Los Angeles in its design and color schemes. The outdoor pool features "family movie nights", and the kids get to swim around and watch great flicks from the pool on an inflatable screen. This was a big hit with my clan.
Add to a trip to Universal Studios, which included a walk-through of the Engine 51 station (Emergency! Engine 51, anyone?) and a fantastic afternoon. Our boys range from 8 - 15 years of age, and all of them had a great time between the rides and the shows. And we went to Venice Beach, which only happened because I had to visit one of the most wonderful paper shops on the planet - Urbanic Paper Boutique. Even better, we were there for "Cupcake Saturday", which made the boys' day. Killer cupcakes.
What made it the "ultimate family vacation", however, was what ran beneath all of these activities and places. All 6 of us relaxed, and talked, and spent time with each other, and although we are already a close-knit family, this time together wrapped us even closer. Early mornings at the pools, some long drives in Los Angeles County, the drive from L.A. to Phoenix - there were moments of conversation and camaraderie that never would have happened elsewhere. It was like time out of "real" time, and it made this trip a vital part of our family memory. So much so that we plan on doing it again - probably next year. : )
Don't forget to enter the “Do What You Love” Sweepstakes, for a chance to win your own ultimate family vacation. I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective, which endorses Blog With Integrity, as I do.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Life Surprises Me

1. The twins were watching a movie with me, and asked about a father and daughter dancing during a wedding reception. I explained that it's a sort of tradition, and it is called the Father-Daughter Dance. And as I said that, I had to pause because a huge lump turned up in my throat, and I had trouble speaking. I wasn't consciously missing my dad - I think about him daily, but not at that particular moment. Just SAYING Father/Daughter Dance overwhelmed me with emotion - and I was completely caught off guard. Losing a parent leaves such a void, and you become adept at either going around the void or filling it in so you are better able to avoid it -- but then your 8 year old asks about something as simple as a dance, and you find yourself swept into the void without having recognized you were anywhere near it.

I do have to point out that I had a splendid dance with my wonderful father at my wedding 21 years ago. : )

2. I thoroughly enjoyed the book "Red Hook Road" by Ayelet Waldman. Cannot recommend it enough. It tends to get classified as a book about sisters - but it is really about family, loss, and how relationships change over the span of time. I particularly liked how the parent-child relationships changed - and did not change - over the years.

3. I watched the first episode of a new show on Showtime called "The Big C". Laura Linney stars, and she is wonderful. If you can overlook the occasional colorful language (including swearing at people one would not typically say such things to but would probably wish to), it is a show with a strong script and very little reluctance to talk about those things people rarely talk about out loud - most specifically, cancer. But that was not the most surprising thing about the show - what caught me off guard was when Laura Linney's character said one of her reasons to not pursue cancer treatment is because it would mean other people taking care of her, and that is what she does - take care of other people. And she just couldn't face the idea of having to have others care for her in that way. And I understood what she meant, 100%.

Oddly enough, a couple of days later, I found myself in a conversation with a friend, talking about taking care of our families. She does a a great deal for her kiddos, her husband, her work - and I said that is exactly where I am in my life. I take care of my kids, my husband, my job, my pets, etc. - and right now, I don't do a great deal to take care of myself, in terms of "me time" and putting hours into hair care, etc. (not that I will ever put lots of time into hair care, anyway), -- and that is all right. THAT is where I am right now, and I try really hard to enjoy where I am right now. She totally understood what I was saying.

Taking care of my family and my household and my friends - and working, writing, etc., - is what I do, and if it means not doing certain things for myself or temporarily putting certain goals on a shelf for the time being, that is what I choose to do. Not what I am forced to do. I happen to be pretty good at taking care of others, and it brings me a certain joy.

Now don't misunderstand - I am no saint and I am certainly not filled with joy in everything I do. Joy is hard to find in some of the detritus of daily life - I know joy is definitely off-site when I have been waiting 35 minutes for football practice to end. And it is rarely nearby when I'm breaking up yet another name-calling contest between the boys.

It was just surprising to see a t.v. show said something I had been thinking, but had not put into words.

4. A children's book recommendation - Berkley Breathed, who is the genius behind the fantastic comic strip originating in the 1980s called "Bloom County, wrote a book for young adults called "Flawed Dogs". The twins and I are reading it together, and the plot is definitely NOT dumbed-down in anyway. The feelings of the dogs in the book are so on target with what dogs look like they might be thinking. And while some of the humans in the book are awfully reprehensible, there are also humans who are clearly the good guys. Get a copy and give it to a kiddo you like. Better yet, buy a copy and give it to a school library.

5. Last thought for today - there is a saying "Bloom where you're planted". What that says to me is this:
Realize how lucky you are while you are lucky. Be aware of blessings as they come your way, even if those blessings look a lot like fighting kids or houses in need of new windows. When you can think of nothing you want more than a quiet house, find a spot to find that moment of silence, but don't forget that some time in the future, the kids and dogs and aquariums making all of that racket will be elsewhere, and the quiet you seek now could become the quiet you try to fill with television and CDs.
Being married and raising a family is work. And man, there are moments when it is SUCH HARD WORK. Egads, somedays there are days and days when it is such hard work. But you know what occurred to me recently? It should be. It doesn't GET any more important than that. Funny how we all understand that becoming a doctor requires all of those years of education and training, and we all say "but it's worth it". But then we are all taken off guard when parenting is hard. Raising itty bitty human beings to grow up and be kind, civil, hard-working members of society is no easy task, and the world is doing parents few favors in terms of help along the way.

All of that being said, I love the idea of blooming where we're planted. Seeing the good before we get snarled up in the bad, difficult and icky. So, I'll just keep doing what I'm doing, and I'll be over here blooming if anyone needs me.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Summertime And the Living Is...A Bit Complicated

A Hope list for the Summer of 2010:

1. I hope we all relax. Although that is obviously not proving to be very complex for three out of four boys, as since last Friday (the last day of school), they have slept until noon or until they were rudely awakened by me. I do get a peculiar joy out of waking up sleeping teenagers. Does that make me unkind?

2. I hope the boys have what I think of as a "real summer". I know kids who participate in sport camps nearly all summer, and kids who go to "sleep-away" camp, and kids whose summers are chock-full of lessons, "summer bridge" learning programs, and various trips. The eldest boy does have weight training for football June and July, and "two-a-days" beginning in August, but otherwise, my kids tend to fall into the camp of "unscheduling". Sleep until you wake up (well, not every day), stay up later, go to the pool, hang out with friends, read, play games and yep - get bored. Last time I checked, boredom won't kill you. Although my boys apparently aren't aware of that fact just yet, judging by the fact "I'm bored" has already been said once -- and it wasn't even true at the time. It was just a reflex. : )

3. I hope we have a truly great getaway later this summer when we travel to the west coast for a "real" family vacation. We usually wrap our time away around visits to family or around work for my husband. This trip - although it does include a spot of "work" for Rob - is a true vacation, and we are looking forward to it mightily.

4. I hope to instill something faintly resembling a work ethic in the boys. After giving them a week or two of a break, I plan on putting daily responsibilities into place, so that everyone has at least some purpose in every day. I also want to encourage additional physical activity - biking, running, going on walks. And also some reading - fun reading, books of their own choosing. Just so we all keep some remembrance of our own capabilities, and perhaps return to school in the fall somewhat stronger and brighter.

5. I hope that these 90+ degree days in June are not a portent of things to come. Summer heat is fine, but 85 degrees at 10 in the morning? C'mon, that's August weather, not June!

6. I hope we score ourselves a contractor who can repair our collapsing retaining wall, which may eliminate the minor water-in-the-basement problem. And I hope we score ourselvs another fine person to clean our not so old roof shingles that have this rather repulsive mossiness all over them. Definitely reduces the "curb appeal" of our sweet yellow house.

7. I hope we are able to get our second car, a 2003 Ford Expedition with a habit of spitting out its own sparkplugs, up and running again, just in time for the 15 y/o to acquire his learner's permit later this summer. And yes, I do find the prospect of any of my children driving a bit terrifying, but this one - he's probably going to do just fine. And he already has a better internal mapping ability than I do, which he is more than happy to point out on a regular basis. At least he is unlikely to get lost. : )

8. I hope my little family of testosterone-laden critters remain as close and as reliant upon one another as we are now. My eldest reports that he has been ribbed a bit by friends who say he spends "too much time" with his family. To that I said "That is EXACTLY what I wanted for us - outcome achieved." He didn't find that half as funny as I did. But my point was made, and he actually (privately) admits he (usually) likes the fact we all hang around together and go to D.C. to "our" Washington Monument and "our" National Mall, and that we discover new places and experiences not far from our own backyard.

We are a tightly bound family, and we know that the next 10 years will separate us geographically and personally, with college and life decisions putting perhaps hundreds of miles between us. And that is partly why we invest time in just being together - whether we are all crowded together in our smallish den watching a pre-recorded episode of "Friday Night Lights" or we're driving to D.C. on what has become our annual pilgrimage to the National Christmas Tree (even though two years ago, the tree had actually been turned OFF the day before - Rob will never ever live that one down) -- or we're all at the high school varsity football game, sitting in what has become our "usual" spot, talking to friends and letting the older boys sit with their friends, but touching base with us at halftime.

We are a family. And I have yet to find the words to describe how much contentment I get from having my husband, boys, dogs, cat, turtles, and the life we have together. I have no idea how I got this lucky - but rest assured of this:

I never take it for granted.

Happy Summer to all who read this...