Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

The Condiment Conundrum

Friday, November 8th, 2013

One benefit I’ve noticed of living alone is that, little by little, all of the various spices and sauces and boxes and cans of foods that I don’t like are disappearing from my pantry and refrigerator. I have a cleaning lady once a month (cue ugly comments here,) and now when she leaves, I open the door to a fridge out of a TV commercial. It’s light and shiny and the few things within look almost spotlit. Fewer things fall off the pantry shelves when I search for a spice or bottle. I can imagine a time when I’ll be able to read all the labels without moving 10 things. I go to the store and buy what I want for a day or two—I feel very French somehow doing this.
But today I went to the pantry for ketchup to add to baked beans, and the cupboard was bare.
This might not seem odd to most people, but when the children were younger I always bought ketchup two bottles at a time, and there never fewer than three or four bottles.
I went to the refrigerator and looked in the door. My husband and I were raised in different denominations. I came from a refrigerated ketchup home, while he was from the pantry sect. We argued about this until one day he pointed out that I had worked as a waitress in a place where ketchup was kept on a shelf near the counter with the full knowledge of the health department.
But I went to the fridge, thinking maybe I’d reverted to my childhood ways and chilled the ketchup. Alas, none there, either.
I looked for packets from McDonald’s, but I cleaned out the packet drawer a few months back, and there was none to be found.
While I miss having my house full of my family, the advantage has been that, little by little, the clutter of multiple people sharing living space has begun to clear, and I’m enjoying the cleaner spaces. I’m just waiting for them to gain permanent addresses so that I can send rooms full of furniture and bedding and dishware and VHS movies to their new homes.
Maybe they’ll send back a bottle of ketchup.

When Did You Begin to Read?

Sunday, November 3rd, 2013

When did you begin to read?

Do you remember? Can you remember the first words you read on your own, your first book, the first time you read with no pictures?

Most people who love reading don’t remember beginning to read. It’s just something that has always been there. Part of who you are. You don’t even think about it. You just do it.

Some of my earliest memories involve reading. When I think of my mother, it’s often of her voice as she read to us. I remember reading to my baby sister, being bored to distraction by Dick and Jane, waiting eagerly for the Scholastic Book Club flier each month, reading to my newborn babies, and the pride of knowing that my son had stayed up all night to finish one of the Harry Potter books the day it came. Most of my education comes from reading. Even my faith in God is intertwined with a book.

When I was 19, I found out that if you joined a book club, they would send half a dozen books FREE as long as you agreed to buy a few more over a couple of years. WHAT A DEAL! Soon I belonged to four clubs, but the Mystery Guild was my favorite. Raised on Reader’s Digest Condensed Books selections of Mary Stewart and Barbara Michaels, I love mysteries. I’m not like most mystery readers. I seldom try to figure out “whodunnit.” I just turn pages faster and faster as the writer reveals delightful twists and turns, with the reward of a neat wrap-up at the end.

When my children were young, I read the classics of childhood aloud to them, even after they were able to read alone. We read Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain, the Bible, Robinson Crusoe, nursery rhymes, short stories, Eddie books, Alfred Hitchcock mysteries, the Hobbit…so many more.

When the children began reading longer books, I started reading some of what they read, and found delightful things like Hoot, and Harry Potter, and Holes (why do all the new books begin with H?)

For a couple of recent years, life somehow got in the way, and I found I could no longer read. The words were there, but the attention span wasn’t. I began reading mostly short articles on the internet and in magazines. I missed books, but couldn’t concentrate. It nearly drove me nuts—all my life, I didn’t worry about being a lonely old person, because I would just read. How would I deal with old age if I couldn’t spend it reading??

Thankfully, the concentration problem finally went away, and while I’m too busy to read as much as I’d like, I have a Kindle packed full of things to choose from. These days, I bribe myself to go to the gym by allowing myself to read without guilt as long as I’m walking on the treadmill. See? Reading is good for you.

When did you begin to read?

After Christmas Cards

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

I got a Christmas card from my dad yesterday.* It made me think about how sad it was that I didn’t get many cards this year, which isn’t surprising because I didn’t send many, either. But the thing I miss most about not getting cards is that thing which people love to complain about, the family Christmas letter.

My dad writes a Christmas letter every year, and signs it the same way no matter what he’s said in the letter. Some years it’s long, some years short. I have a cousin* who sends one detailing so much vacation time that if it were spread out among the family, we’d each have had two weeks! I love to read about where he’s been. My brother sends a letter that is thoughtful and spiritual and which makes me feel very shallow in comparison. That’s okay, there’s always something meaningful in his letter which makes me reflect on how I can be better. I don’t care what people put in their Christmas letters. I love getting them. And I missed some this year.

Now and then I write a letter. The main theme of my letters tends to be that Christmas isn’t a one day holiday, and that we don’t have to quit celebrating when December 25th has passed. I started using that theme to excuse the lateness of my cards, which have been mailed as late as a week after Christmas. I like to buy cards with the Three Kings on them, as a nod to Epiphany, and I usually write “Christmas is a twelve day season—Celebrate all twelve days!” I often include how much I enjoy thinking about the person to whom I’m addressing the card, and how much I enjoy my friendship or family connection with them. I just like to remind people that even when I’m not a good friend, I have appreciated their friendship.

The busy-ness of life has taken over in the last few years, and I’ve sent fewer cards and no letters. Of all of the things that I didn’t get done during the Christmas season, that’s the one I missed the most. I missed taking that time out to think about my friends and family, say a prayer for them, wonder about them. I missed including a letter that said how much they’ve meant to me, and I missed reminding them that Christmas can last longer than December 25th.

And now that I think of it, Christmas is not just a 12 day feast. Christmas is the reminder that Love was born into the world, and that Grace is a gift. Any day in which you share love and grace with others, Christmas is celebrated. There is no time limit on acknowledging God’s gift. Christmas is a 365 day season! Celebrate every day, until He returns!
You just might get a Christmas card at Easter this year.

(*NOTE—relationships, places, names, etc. in this blog may be changed for artistic purposes, such as today, when the card was really from both of my parents, and it’s actually from my mom and step-dad, since some people who know me, reading this, would say “why are her mom and dad sending a card together since they’ve been divorced for 40 years?” but my step-dad does the writing and mailing, so it’s really more from him for the purposes here. )

(*Note—exaggeration is permissible in blogs, and family members may not object, as they are now artistic purposes themselves.)

Christmas Presence

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

It’s Christmas time, and everyone is frantic to finish last minute shopping, wrapping, decorating…creating perfection where none exists. Hopefully in the back of our minds, we strive to create a perfect atmosphere into which the Perfect Gift may come. Or maybe we just want to outdo the neighbors.

I’m no different. Having been a little more financially blessed this year, I bought a few more presents. Since I have a new job and less free time, I shopped early. I was doing pretty well, but then someone tore a bunch of pages out of my calendar when I wasn’t looking, and suddenly Christmas is almost here, and I’m not ready.

Now it’s two days before Christmas. My tree is undecorated. My gifts are not wrapped. There are no gaily colored Christmas cookies for Santa, and I have nothing festive to wear to church. So last night, I went to a party.

I was invited to two parties, and I really wanted to go to both. On the other hand, my house is a mess, my kids are sick, and I had things to do. Going to either party required time that I couldn’t afford to spend. But I chose a party and I went.

Sitting on the hearth in my friend’s living room with a plate of good food and a glass of wine, enjoying the company of people I love, I was relaxing for the first time in a week. Suddenly I remembered that I should be home getting things done. Instead, I was laughing and talking and eating as if I didn’t have a care in the world. I started to feel guilty about having fun.

I stayed at the party. Sometimes spending time with people is more important than hanging ornaments on a tree. Giving the gift of time and presence is more important than perfect bows on presents.

I have a friend whose mother is ill. She has spent most of her time with her mom over the last few weeks, and she is not “ready” for Christmas. Yet she is giving her mother the gift of her presence. Yesterday, her mother had an hour or two of clarity, when they shared memories. If she’d been home baking perfect cookies, would she have missed that gift?

My gift to you who are reading this is a share in the wisdom I have gained. It doesn’t matter if your house is decorated. It matters that you decorate Jesus’ house. Decorate your hearts with love and kindness, and then the King of Glory can come in.

Winning the Financial Aid Lottery

Monday, February 1st, 2010

I’ve been home sick for several days, so I took the opportunity to file some of the required college financial aid forms online. This is the third year I’ve done this, so I should know what to do and when to do it, right?

The first part was a breeze. I actually knew the password and log-in names, and the FAFSA pre-filled last year’s information and just asked me to see if it was correct. What a breeze! I had worried because my taxes weren’t done, but I had my W-2 laying right there. No problem! Hmmm, new marital status, what kind of trouble is that going to cause? Just check the box? Great!

Moving along, breezing through the pages, then we come to: Parent(s) income____. Parent(s) other income______. Parent(s) income that you are trying to hide_______. I feel guilty only filling in one box. What if I hid it from myself?

Then we had: Income Tax paid (from line 56.)_____. There is nothing on line 56. But there is an amount owed on line 57. Is that the right amount? Why is it on the wrong line? Why don’t they just sync up with the IRS and get this stuff themselves?

Parent(s) total of cash, savings and checking accounts_____. Sometimes I lie on this one. I figure if I put what it really is, they won’t believe me. So I add a few hundred.

Parent(s) assets____. ZERO! Okay, done.

But now I need to file the CSS Profile. You need to be a CPA to figure that one out. Oh, you’ve never done that? Thank your child for choosing a school that doesn’t need a sample of DNA to hand out financial aid.

There are six different questions about retirement income. Which one to choose? Is my retirement plan sponsored? Will I get Social Security? Will you give my kid enough college help that she can take care of me in my old age? Is there a line for that?

What is your sister’s name? Where does she go to school? How much is her tuition? Do we get tax exempt interest? Why are Railroad Retirement benefits a separate category from any other? Credits to be received—how do I know? I don’t have them yet. And the best line of all: Cash expected to be received or any money expected to be paid on your behalf_______. Do I need to estimate the amount each aunt or uncle or grandparent is likely to send on her birthday? What about her graduation gifts? If she finds a quarter on the sidewalk, is there a line for that?

Maybe it isn’t really that bad, but getting financial aid for college is not for the faint of heart. I think that these forms are the first place that schools cut students who really don’t need the money. The parents with good college savings plans just close the window and send cash. The rich parents pay their accountants to do it.

For those who persevere, though, you just might win the financial aid lottery. And for the two years of aid my son has already been given, I’d like to say THANKS!

What Women Want

Monday, December 14th, 2009

Guys, pay attention. Some of you have asked me this question, and some of you just need to hear this. Before you go out and buy your wife a vacuum cleaner for Christmas and then scratch your head when she wears her flannel chastity belt to bed on Christmas night, I’m going to answer that age old question: What do women want?
The #1 complaint about husbands among my friends married for more than 5 years is lack of attention. A man thinks that since he told her he loves her, bought her a ring, married her for heaven’s sake, got her a house, gave her children, mowed the lawn and took out the garbage, she should know he loves her. He wouldn’t do those things if he didn’t.
Sorry, men. DOING LOVE IS NOT ENOUGH. Women need to hear it. Sincerely and often. They need, especially after babies and weight gain and gray hair and cellulite, to feel desired. This is not just i love you and a peck on the cheek on the way out the door, or sleepy sex when you’re both worn out and in a hurry. She needs to feel that you are still turned on by her, that she’s still the only woman you want, even if she’s tired or old or fat, etc. She needs to be touched when you aren’t in bed. She needs whispered promises and longing eye contact.
To feel beautiful if only in your eyes.
Your woman wants to know that you can still see her. Not the mother, not the good wife, but the woman you fell in love with. And in the times when you can’t see her that way anymore, you need to find her again. Date her, leave her notes, court her, and you’ll fall in love again, because the woman you loved is still there behind the wife and mother that hide her. If you keep looking for her all your life, your reward will be a wife who will give you anything you want, whenever you want it, for the rest of your life. Because that’s all she really wants, for Christmas and the whole rest of the year.

Holding Ava

Monday, November 30th, 2009

*note: This article originally appeared in Wings of Hope Magazine. Ava is now one year old. This post is to remind her mother that time flies.

I held my friend’s granddaughter yesterday. She is eight weeks old, chubby and happy with big curious eyes taking in the brand new world. With the wisdom of one so new from God, she regards everything without judgment yet, just taking it all in.

I love tiny babies, the newer the better. I love the baby smell, the downy hair, the soft as silk skin. I pull her against my chest and look deep into her eyes, and stick my tongue out. She smiles and sticks hers out at me. We are playing.

I want to tell her mother, a girl I’ve known since she herself was a baby, to quit work, leave the dishes, forget the laundry. Just sit and hold your baby and play, I want to say. She’s growing up every day. This time is gone in a flash, you can never get it back. Just sit and hold your baby and play.

Real life doesn’t work that way, of course. Onesies need washed, dinner needs cooked, work must be done so that bills can be paid. Mom needs a break now and then, too. And no matter how many people tell you that time flies, you never learn until it’s gone anyway. But still, I say it—just hold her. Just hold your baby and play, because tomorrow she’ll be gone.

My babies are nearly grown now, but I haven’t learned the lesson. There are clothes on the floor and science experiments growing in glasses in their rooms, homework undone, curfews broken. I find myself chanting at times “just a few more years!” I’m wishing away their teens over dishes and clutter. I don’t listen when a wiser mom with grown children says to me “Just play. Just stop worrying about the house and the homework and enjoy your children. They’re growing up every day. This time is gone in a flash and you can never get it back.”

And that is why, I believe, grandchildren are the most precious gift that we’re given. Because then we know. Time is gone in a flash. You can never get it back.

The Guilt Fairy

Monday, November 16th, 2009

I am never going to win an award for being either mother or daughter of the year. I know I’ll never be mother of the year, because my 18 year old daughter is always telling me how bad I am at motherhood. I’m sure she’s a much better mother, despite having no children yet, than I’ll ever be, and I concede that title to her (in the future—the DISTANT future!)

I’m trying to do better in the daughter category, since becoming a responsible adult is on my to do list this year, and being a good daughter is what a responsible adult woman does. I was reminded of that this morning after church, while chatting with a neighbor in the parking lot. “In less than three years, all the kids will be gone and I’ll have more time to volunteer,” I said. “That’s right, but then it’ll be time to take care of your parents,” she reminded me. “It’s a blessing that you still have them to care for.”

That certainly jolted my womanly guilt fairy. She’s been slacking lately, and I’ve let myself make excuses for not doing all sorts of things women “ought” to do. Grocery shopping? Send the teenager. House cleaning? It’s not that bad, and no one is coming over. Sending cards to friends and relatives who are sick/having a birthday/need a friend/mourning? I’m out of cards, and the teenager doing the grocery shopping wouldn’t pick up the right ones. That’s a stretch, so I knew the fairy was not doing her job. Helping my aunt with my elderly grandmother. Okay, the fairy must still be living in the area, because I do feel guilty that I have not been more help. But the excuse fairy is working overtime to come up with reasons for not volunteering, the best one being that since she didn’t call to ask, she must be doing okay without my help. That’s pretty lame, but it’s all I got.

Now the guilt fairy was home and paying attention. I was going to have dinner with my mother in just a couple of hours. Mom’s been having a problem with double vision lately and it makes her dizzy and seasick. Just the day before, she had stayed home from a picnic because she felt unwell. I knew that my daughter (the future good little mother) had already volunteered to cook dinner later. And I knew that Mom probably didn’t feel up to cleaning the house. The guilt fairy saw a perfect opportunity.

An hour before dinner time, I presented myself at Mom’s, ready to do my part as a good daughter and clean her house, including all three and a half bathrooms (my own dirty bathroom being ignored as usual.) I felt quite self-righteous and my halo had a new shine. My mother looked at me like I was nuts. “I got up and cleaned and dusted everything the other day. Maybe it doesn’t look clean, but I can’t tell since I can’t see straight!” she said. The excuse fairy was right on that, throwing the guilt fairy down and sitting on her. Mom cleaned, it looked fine to me, okay, let’s eat!

I am never going to win the daughter of the year award. But one of these days, when Mom actually needs it, I’ll clean all three and a half of those bathrooms. For now, I’ll just give thanks that she doesn’t need it yet.

The Cat’s Meow

Monday, November 9th, 2009

Do you speak cat? My poor black kitty has walked around all afternoon screaming at the top of his lungs for no apparent reason. He has food. He doesn’t seem to be hurt. I petted him for half an hour. I think this is the kid-equivalent of I’m Bored.

Apparently his brother the gray cat won’t play with him. Gray kitty is sleeping on the back of the couch, where he’s been most of the day, and he’s just not up for a good romp today. Old kitty won’t play, either. She just hisses and smacks him. So there’s nothing to do. And unlike a kid, I can’t threaten to make him clean his room.

My kids thought we should get a dog. I love dogs, but I don’t want one. A dog is like a three year old that never gets any older and always needs taken care of. A cat is like a rock star, and you are the manager who makes sure he’s happy. There’s always the possibility that you could be fired.

Dogs bark, you tell them to shut up, and they shut up. Tell the cat to shut up, and he’ll walk over to you, peer into your face, and shout “MEOW!” He wants what he wants, and he wants it NOW.

So I picked up the nasty baby toy he found in the yard and dragged in, and I tossed it across the slick floor so that he could chase it. That was fun. He chased it, caught it, and brought it back for another round. We played that game until he was tired of it, and I went back to my computer work. And he went back to yelling.

Do I Know Where My Children Are?

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

I spend lots of time trying to make people believe that I am a competent adult and responsible parent. It’s hard work, but I am determined to fool at least some of them. My kids aren’t making it easy.

Every day, I fill out permission slips and absence notes and request forms and hand them back to the child who needs them, ready to go back to school. Every day I get calls from the school office asking for permission, absence excuses and requested information. My children apparently suffer from a condition that does not allow them to return a form to it’s place of origin.

It’s not just the high school children who have this problem. My college age son is unable to even request the correct form to get scholarship money sent to the right place. He is “too busy.” I managed to navigate the web and find the phone number for the correct school office for him and e-mailed an address for sending out the form, so that all he needs to do is make a phone call. No word yet as to whether he found time to do that.

I’m not the only parent with this problem. One dad I know told me that when his daughter was a Senior, he bought a steno pad, signed every page, took it to the office at school and told the secretary to simply write in whatever she needed. He told the secretary that if she thought it was okay for the kid to go, he trusted her judgment. He got a lot more work done after that, since he didn’t have to answer the phone every day.

I think my older daughter only appears at school long enough to get permission to leave again. Today she started off going to the local university for a college fair. She went from the fair to a quiz bowl match, and from there to a Kiwanis luncheon. She says she might get to school in time for her art class last period.

The younger one is already practicing to get out of school over the next two years by becoming an office assistant. She knows that as soon as she has her license, she will be able to run errands for teachers, seriously cutting down on time spent in class.

I pay tuition for these children to attend this school. I should be allowed to pay by the hour.

I believe the school must be subliminally transferring knowledge to them all over the city. They must be learning something sometime, since they do exceptionally well on standardized tests. They’re getting A’s in their classes. It’s hard to argue that they aren’t getting a good education. But I wonder, after graduation, if they’ll recognize their teachers!