Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Judge Not

close-up of paper white flowers

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

I want to be a good person. I try. I really do. I teach my children the right things and do my best to lead by example--do not judge others until you've walked a mile in their shoes. But that's the best I can claim. I try.

The closest I come to success is when I keep my judgments to myself. I make them all the time. I tell myself that I am a good person because I hold myself and others to the highest standards when it comes to judging people by their race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Those types of judgments would be truly offensive and close-minded--racist, bigoted, or homophobic. I can kid myself that I'm a good person because I truly find that behavior intolerable. The reality is, however, that I make snap negative judgments about people all the time.

This week alone, I have judged:

* the grocery store bagger who failed to put the cold items in the insulated reusable bags;

* the parent I saw dog-ear a library book at the swim meet;

* every blogger who center-justifies her blog (what is with that?);

* the woman who said I must be a health nut if I didn't want her to give my child unsolicited candy;

* the parents who bring their school-age children, presumably home sick, to the grocery store;

* the mother of the unsupervised, misbehaving little girl who told me I was not the boss of her;

* the women who come to a personal training session to chat more than exercise;

* every person whose professional website or other materials contain a spelling or grammar error; and

* every parent who puts the car in park and gets out of the car for any reason while in the drop-off line at school.

That's just in the last four days. See what I mean? Trying to be a good person, but failing miserably.

I fool myself that, if I don't vocalize these thoughts, then I am not sitting in judgment on all these people. But the reality is that, whether I voice my thoughts (and to whom I select to voice those thoughts) reflects more upon how I want others to see me--kind, thoughtful, not judgmental--than how I really am. Merely by thinking these things, I already have failed.

Does it make it any better if everyone does it? I'm not sure. I don't know if that's a true statement, and I certainly wouldn't let my children off the hook with a justification like that. ("If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?") No, I think it's still a personal failing. I'll continue to aspire to do better. I'll remind myself that everyone is fighting a hard battle. I'll remind myself of my own behavior that is easily judged--or misjudged--by others.

At a minimum, I'll keep my negativity to myself instead of blogging about it. Until then, anyone want to share something silly that has made them judgmental lately? It won't provide an excuse for my behavior, but it might make me feel better and give me a bit of a chuckle. Who have you judged this week and why?







Friday, January 25, 2013

Flashbacks


U2 has been my favorite band since freshman year of high school, when a friend purchased The Unforgettable Fire cassette for me as a birthday present. I quickly became obsessed and pirated U2's entire back catalog from one friend or another. If there is a soundtrack to my high school years, U2 is it.

I have remained a huge fan (except for Zooropa--let's not even discuss that--and, only to a slightly lesser degree, Pop), own all their albums, and have seen them in concert three times (two in adulthood). When my husband purchased my first iPod for me back in the day, he gave me the U2-branded 3rd generation iPod that came with U2's entire catalog. My iTunes library contains 460 songs by U2.

After my last post, a high school friend reminded me of the time I forced him to listen to 40, doing my best to show him the error of his disregard for the band. The comment reminded me that I hadn't listened to any of this excellent music in quite some time, so today I did.

Sunday Bloody Sunday played, and I could smell the lingering odor of stale beer in Matt's car and see his fingers drumming the steering wheel of his Camaro on our way to school.  Bad came on, and I could feel the squeak of the seat and smell the rubbery scent of a school bus in the dark on the way home from a swim meet. As Where the Streets Have No Name ramped up, I could hear the roar of the crowd in Cleveland Municipal Stadium and feel the excitement in my chest at the opening song of The Joshua Tree tour.

I listened to these favorite songs, associated with some of the best memories of my teenage years, and felt a heaviness in my chest akin to sadness. The music caused such strange, disconnected reactions--happiness in my head and heaviness in my heart--that I spent much of the afternoon trying to deduce the cause. I finally realized that the heaviness I felt wasn't sadness, but melancholy. Perhaps angst. The songs not only immediately brought back the sights, sounds, and smells of high school, but the emotions of high school as well. Egad.

I suppose it was the hormones. In my mind, high school is synonymous with strong feelings. Every emotion was intense. Intense joy or intense pain. Intense love or intense anxiety. It didn't matter what it was; it was always intense and emotional.

Until now, I've never considered myself to have been an angst-ridden teenager. Then I looked up the definition of angst and realized that all teenagers are angst-ridden.

angst

1. A feeling of deep anxiety or dread, typically an unfocused one about the human condition or the state of the world in general.

2. A feeling of persistent worry about something trivial.

Sure, a fair number of teenagers suffer from the first definition, but isn't the latter the very essence of the teenage years?

There's the familiar mental chorus of: Does he like me? Does he like her better? Does he love me? Does he still love me? Does he love me as much as I love him? Did he or didn't he?

Followed intermittently with: Why isn't she talking to me? Does she hate me? Will she make other people hate me? Are we still friends? Is she going to tell all my secrets? Why are we fighting?

Then again, maybe that was only my particular mental chorus. Regardless, I'm fairly certain that a variation of that tune is the universal teenage condition. I don't know what gave you a heavy heart in high school, but odds are that it included "a feeling of persistent worry about something trivial."

Now that I am an adult, I have many non-trivial things to worry about and no time to waste worrying about trivial matters. Despite this, I have little to no angst. I am on an emotional even keel. My heart is light and I'm thrilled to be well-past the teenage years. Now, if I could only disengage my teenage heart from U2's playlist, I'd really like to enjoy my favorite band again.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

My Life in Homes

red door

I felt like I needed a kick in the pants to sit down and write today, and I found one at Literary Mama. Yesterday's journal writing prompt there included the following:

"The [United States Census] Bureau doesn’t directly collect data on the number of lifetime moves, but using data from its 2007 American Community Survey, they estimate that a person in the United States can expect to move 11 times in his/her lifetime. Nine of these moves are made between ages 18 and 45; two after age 45.

Journal Entry: List all the places you’ve lived. Note your age and approximately how long you lived there, and then describe one memory from each home."

I thought this might be an entertaining trip down memory lane for me and provide you a little more information about me. What will be interesting is choosing a single memory from each. I'm trying not to overthink this and am going to go with whatever comes to mind first and keep the editing to a minimum. 

1st house, Sandusky, OH - birth to age 10

Although I didn't realize it at the time, my bedroom was very small. There were only two possible locations to put the bed, one of which placed the foot of the bed under the only window. My twin bed had a headboard (perhaps a faux brass?) but no footboard. During the hot summer months, my mom would make my bed upside down, so that the sheets folded down from the foot of the bed. Sleeping with my head at the foot of the bed put me under the open window, where I could catch the breeze.

2nd house, Sandusky, OH - ages 10-17

I first made out with a boy on the family room couch after a high school football game and during an episode of Miami Vice. "Brothers in Arms" by Dire Straits was the soundtrack to the episode and played in the background. I don't remember the kissing, except that in my utter lack of experience, I deemed it good.

3rd house, Sandusky, OH - ages 17-22 (summers during college)

During college, I predictably broke up with my high school boyfriend the summer between freshman and sophomore year. We got back together over Christmas break and finally broke it off for good during the following summer. One of the break-ups (I don't remember which, but odds are it was the final one) involved some pretty egregious behavior on his part. 

I confirmed the nasty rumor while sitting in the front seat of my (parents') car in his driveway one night, but the actual break-up came the next day. I vividly recall sitting on the trunk of my (parents') car, facing him standing in the driveway, and saying, "I still love you, but I don't really like you very much." 

Postscript: 20-plus years later, I still consider him a friend and keep in touch.

College - 18-22, actually 2 dorms and 4 rooms

My most memorable times were spent with my best girlfriends in our dorm rooms sophomore and junior year. I went to school in the South, and our dorms were not air conditioned. On a particularly sweltering day, several of sat together in my room, wearing only jog bras (as I believe they were then called) and boxers, spread-eagled in front of the only fan. I can still feel the breeze on my sweaty skin and hear my friends' voices bemoaning the heat.

Law school - ages 22-25

I--perhaps slightly less predictably--broke up with my college boyfriend the summer between my second and third years of law school. On my January birthday, a friend who was dating my ex's roommate informed me that my ex was dating someone--not just dating, but really seriously dating. The two friends with me in the room deduced the topic of conversation and had a strong gin and tonic ready when I hung up the phone.

Postscript: I got back together with the ex almost a year after we broke up and married him four years later. The friend who delivered the news married the roommate. We are all still great friends.

Atlanta - ages 25-27, actually 2 apartments in the same complex

After accepting a job in Atlanta and renting an apartment, I got back together with the aforementioned ex-now-husband, and we decided to give my parents an apoplexy and move in together. I arrived first. The boyfriend arrived, driving a U-Haul and towing a Camry, on the night of the opening ceremonies of the Atlanta Olympics. He was very, very late arriving, and I fell asleep on the couch. Around 3 a.m., he called to say he was lost and had been circling Atlanta for hours and needed directions.

I pulled out a map and asked where he was. His useless answer: just off I-285 at The Waffle House. Do you have any idea how many Waffle Houses there are just off the highway in Atlanta? I eventually located him on a map, drove to fetch him, and had him follow me to our new home.

Palo Alto - ages 27-31

Although we became engaged and got married while living here, neither of those events occurred in Palo Alto. Instead, one of my fondest memories is of a mundane weekly habit. When the weather was warm enough--which was most of the time--I would take my favorite sections of The Sunday New York Times to the pool outside our apartment building. I would sit in a lawn chair in the sun and read the entire Book Review and magazine cover-to-cover before returning inside.

Chicago, apartment - ages 31-33

We lived in a third-floor walk-up. We lived in this apartment until I was 8 months pregnant. I had to stop at each landing to wheeze and catch my breath before continuing up the stairs.

Chicago, condo - ages 33-36

Both our children were born while we lived here, so many dear memories are associated  with our first home ownership. Of course, what comes to mind is not one of the more joyous parenting moments--when our eldest (not yet 2) first climbed out of his crib.

I had read one of those stupid parenting books that insisted we didn't need to give up on the crib. According to the book, I should immediately pick up the escaped child, say nothing, make no eye contact, and deposit him back in bed. Without stimulation, he would stay in the crib.

I did that. 60 times in 45 minutes. 

Hours later, when I was exhausted and asleep, I heard the shushing noise of fat little legs in diapers approaching the bed. I couldn't get up and start the process again. I picked him up, placed him between my husband and me, and we all slept the rest of the night. That's the only time, other than infancy, that one of our kids has shared our bed.

Rhode Island - ages 36-present

I had never painted anything other than an elementary school art project before we moved here. One day, I noticed a sizable chip in the paint on the laundry room door frame. I touched it up. I learned that you cannot "touch up" white trim, because the fresh paint is painfully obvious. One thing led to another, and I didn't know where to stop. Before I knew it, the laundry room and bathroom door frames, the kitchen and family room baseboards, the hearth and mantel, bookshelves, and I can't recall what else had a fresh coat of bright white paint. I'm still going.


There you have it, my life in homes. Nine moves (if you count college as a single move) by age 42, and I have a strong feeling I'm not done yet.

If you know me, do you have a particular memory about one of these homes? How many moves have you had? Are you up to this challenge?





Monday, January 21, 2013

Step Away From the Camera

snowman

Saturday was a beautiful day for skiing. Luckily for the skiers in our family, we were in New Hampshire for just that purpose. Unfortunately, the only competent adult skier in the house was in bed all day with a nasty head cold. Because I'm useless on the mountain, I had to think of other ways to entertain two kids in a rental house and keep them quiet so the sick one could rest. We had a quiet morning of reading and Pac-Man, then went out to lunch and made a grocery store run. After that, I announced that it was fresh air time.

I had been looking forward to going outdoors all day and already had a plan in mind. There is a hilly snowmobile path through the woods behind our rental house. I had visions of hiking through the snow-covered trees with my enthusiastic children, getting my heart rate up, and stopping to snap photos as we went along. Rationally, I knew we'd stop every five feet to throw snow, eat snow or roll in snow.

It started off well enough.

two children running through snowy woods

But the little one was soon lying on the ground, protesting that she didn't want to go any farther. Soon I had one kid running away from me toward the house

little girl running away in the snowy woods

and one running away from me in the opposite direction to explore the woods.

boy walking into the snow and trees

The elder, more compliant one and I turned around and caught up with Little Miss Gets Her Way, and I abandoned any hope of outdoor fun. I underestimated them, especially the little one. They found a shorter path to explore, ate fistfuls of snow, and had a good-natured snowball fight before we reached the yard. When I suggested they make a snowman, they each began to roll a giant ball in the wet, sticky snow.

I plopped down in the snow with my camera, watching and waiting to capture the construction. Both kids asked me to help. I declined, telling them I planned to take some photos and reminding them that my gloves weren't waterproof. Only after my son suggested three times that I could walk up to the house and borrow my husband's waterproof gloves did it dawn on me that making a snowman with my kids might actually be more fun than taking photos of my children making a snowman.

I tucked my camera into my coat and zipped it safely inside. I stomped up the hill to the house, exchanged my gloves for some practical ones, and headed back to the construction area for directions. The project manager directed me to lift the moderately large snowball onto the giant snowball and to roll a smaller ball for the head. He assigned us minions to find appropriate sticks for limbs and stones for eyes while he carefully sculpted the face.

boy with snowman


To my surprise, both kids embraced my idea to add grass dreadlocks and left me in charge of coiffing. I didn't take a single photo until our mustachioed, dreadlocked, French-American snowman named Fred was complete. It was the most fun I'd had with my kids in ages.

snowman
Fred
I love photography, and my children are my favorite subjects. On Saturday, I was trying out a new lens my parents gave me for Christmas. I was having a great time taking photos before the snowman project began, but I had a fabulous time with my kids once I put away the camera. I don't want my children to only remember Mom watching and taking photos from the sidelines. I need to remember that it's more important to make the memories than merely to record the memories.

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I have linked this at Just Write. If you're new here, please like the Flotsam of the Mind Facebook page for more.



Friday, January 18, 2013

Germs

Sometimes I think about all the boys I kissed in college. It's a long list, so I don't linger over it. It's not about the boys but the kissing--all that swapped spit, all those people. It's a wonder that I, and the rest of the alcohol-fueled kissing culture, weren't laid flat by illness all the time. College should have been one giant Petri dish, but I can recall only two non-cold illnesses in four years. It must have been the disinfectant properties of the beer. That's my hypothesis anyhow.

I obviously wasn't a germaphobe back then. I think it was motherhood that did it to me.

I'm not the public restroom type of germaphobe. While I don't want to spend a lot of time in such places, general nastiness is not my hangup. My mania centers around shopping carts, PIN pads, and retailer pens--items touched by many people, where the average cold, flu, or other virus might be lurking. Of course I don't want to be sick, but that's not the primary issue.

The real problem is two-fold. First, I don't have time to be sick. When Mom is sick, the whole operation shuts down. Second, and more importantly, I don't want my kids to be sick. I hate to see them feel bad, and it's a lot of work for me. I mean, when kids are sick, they need to miss school. What better reason to carry hand sanitizer (and your own pen) everywhere you go?

Hand sanitizer is a staple. We have some in each bathroom and in the kitchen next to the box of tissues. I also have a travel size one in both my purse and the car. The minute I get into the car from any retail transaction, I whip out the hand sanitizer to eliminate whatever I unwittingly picked up while shopping. I'm also an offensive player in the war against germs--I always use hand sanitizer after blowing my nose or touching my nose or mouth, so I'm looking out for the rest of you.

In our house, we don't share drinks or take bites of each other's food, even when everyone is apparently healthy. Why take the risk? Get another cup, for goodness sake. I still kiss the kids goodnight when one of us is sick, but only on the forehead, away from the germ-receptor areas. My son has a mild cold today; at one point I instructed him not to breathe on me. He thought that was the peak of hilarity. I wasn't joking. You may say I'm neurotic; I say I'm using common sense to keep sick days to a minimum.

While I once kissed boys willy-nilly, I won't even share a room with the one I married if he has the slightest indication of potential illness. At the first sniffle, I'm off to the guest room for a couple weeks until he is well and the bedding can be thoroughly washed.

My husband has a cold. He worked from home today, mostly from the living room couch. I stayed two rooms away at all times. We drove up to New Hampshire for the weekend--in two separate cars, because why should the kids and I breathe his virus-laden recycled air for four hours? What good could come of that? He just sucked down some Nyquil and disappeared for the night. I've already removed all my belongings from the master bedroom and will be sleeping elsewhere tonight. After he went to bed, I plopped down in the pleather recliner he'd been sitting in for the last several hours--but not without wiping it down with a disinfectant wipe first.  A girl can never be too careful, especially when it comes to viruses.

If you live nearby, and I haven't seen you or your children lately, it might be because of our busy schedule. It also might be because I heard someone in your family was sick recently. From October through March, I'm acutely aware of every germ-passing opportunity and seek to avoid them like the plague (or at least like the common cold). I'd love to spend some time with you and your little Petri dishes once the weather clears up and everyone can play outdoors. Until then, I'll be in a room by myself with my hand sanitizer.



Wednesday, January 16, 2013

All About Me

girl blowing out birthday candles
The candles don't lie: 39 years ago today.
On my sixth birthday, as the last notes of Happy Birthday faded, I inhaled dramatically only to have another kid blow out the candles before I did. In her defense, the little girl was only three. I wasn't, however, thinking "in her defense" at the time. I was pissed. Thirty-six years later, I'm still a little peeved about the whole thing.

When I was six, I thought my birthday was all about me. Now that I'm forty-two, I only think it's mostly about me.

I am one of those people who loves my birthday and relishes the attention. None of this "I'm too old for that" stuff for me. Once a year, it's My Day around here.

I don't want or need a party; I can't remember the last time I had one of those. I rarely have a cake. My husband and I are spotty about gift-giving, so I often don't even receive much in the way of gifts (Mom and Dad always come through). Now that we've all gone digital, I only receive birthday cards from my in-laws, parents, and grandmother.

What makes my day are the well wishes, the "happy birthdays," the calls/emails/texts from friends and family. As with holiday cards, it warms my heart to know that someone I care about is thinking about me. Someone special to me has been reminded to reach out, even if it was Facebook that reminded her and she sent only a "hope you have a great day." The littlest things are meaningful.

I wasn't expecting much today--a Wednesday birthday doesn't present much opportunity for celebration. Despite what I think, the regular schedule is still in force; the laundry still needed to be done. I did the laundry, but I also had a great birthday. My friends made this average Wednesday (and yesterday's average Tuesday evening) a special day for me with a surprise cake and gift, coffee and conversation, texts, emails, and Facebook greetings. My kids serenaded me with Happy Birthday before saying "hello" this morning, and they waited until I was awake, showered, and dressed to do so. On my way out the door for school drop-off, my husband handed me a gift certificate to buy the newest technology for which I've been dropping hints-like-hammers, and the happy device is in hand and soon to be fully configured.

The kids were quite insistent that I (they) needed a cake, so I picked up one when grocery shopping today. That earned me a second Happy Birthday, a candle and wish, and cake for dinner.

A girl in mid-life couldn't reasonably ask for more on a not-so-average birthday Wednesday. If you were one of the many people who contributed in any small way by making me feel appreciated today, thank you. As a wise friend reminded me last year, every day on this side of the grass is a good one; this was an especially good one.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Leave a Mark

I have spent the weekend reading Lit by Mary Karr. It is an engrossing read with both an engaging plot and awe-inspiring writing. Like her other memoirs, it is about alcoholism, mental illness, screwed up relationships, and redemption. As you might expect, it does not contain many examples of great parenting.

While some may differ with my assessment, I think the following passage is a counterexample. I only hope that if faced with a similar situation, I'd have the guts to offer this advice and the good fortune to have it work out the way it did. In this passage, the author's son, Dev, has been chased home and pelted with snowballs by five other boys, including Dan. Here is his mother's advice:

"Over breakfast the next day, I tell Dev the strategy's this: if he's away from school, and there are that many of them, he should turn and fight. Throw down his book bag and just accept the fact that he's gonna take an ass-whipping.

Slipping his backpack on, he looks completely defeated.

One ass-whipping hurts once, I says. Running home afraid every day hurts every day.

Why would they ever stop? he says.

Because you're gonna pick out one of them--the closest one you can get to--and you're gonna leave a mark. Bite the dog dookey out of him. Lay the ivory to 'em.

He tries to grin, but a cloud passes over his face as he pulls his royal blue watchman's cap on.

What? I say. What's the matter?

Dan does know karate, Dev says.

Do you know, I say, what would happen to Dan if you hit him full-on?

What? Dev says.

He'd topple like a pine. He's a pipsqueak of a thing. You've got a leg as big as Dan.

Dev grins all over his face. He says, Really?

Absolutely. Karate or no karate. You're twice his size.

He's out the door when turns and hollers back, You swear I won't get in trouble?

If you hit first, you've lost TV for a month.

That afternoon he comes in shucking off his backpack. He'd run for about a block before turning to face the pack. Dan had said he was gonna karate Dev's block off, and Dev had said, You go ahead and hit me first, adding, When I hit you, you're gonna topple like a pine.

End of discussion."

I love this passage and I love this anecdote. Do you agree or disagree with me that it's risky but wise advice? Do you think you could or would give your child similar advice?

Home Alone

As I sit here in my jammies with my coffee, my laptop, and the sounds of the Zac Brown Band, my family is skiing. So are the guests we've invited for the weekend. Three adults and five children, having a ton of fun at the mountain. One adult sitting home alone.

I'm not sick. I don't even have much cleaning and packing to do. I've just accepted my limitations.

Do I want to be having fun with the group? Of course; I'm a social person. It's unusually warm today, so I even considered going, as the aching cold is one of the things I find intolerable. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I wouldn't have fun. I'd be scared of going too fast. Scared of hurting myself. Scared of the lift (I prefer to remain on the ground at all times).

I'd be even more scared of my children doing those things. This is decidedly a case of what I don't know doesn't hurt me or at least what-I-don't-witness-doesn't-cause-me-anxiety. The thought of my slight six-year-old, who could easily slide under the bar, on the lift is enough to make me tense. It's not rational. I realize that. But it doesn't make my anxiety any less real. And an anxious mom is not a fun mom. Nor is being anxious fun for me.

In other circumstances, such anxiety might bring out the helicopter parent in me. In this case, however, I know I'm completely useless to prevent most of the things I worry about. I'm a lousy, anxious skier; having me along is like adding another child. I can't help anyone because I can barely help myself. Today, I recognized my physical and psychological limitations and opted for a stool and a coffee mug instead of a mountain.

I know it's lame. I know it might be rude to our guests. I know I'm missing out on an active day with my family and friends. I also know that I'm okay with that. I'll be 42 this week, and in my forties I've come to accept my limitations. It doesn't mean I don't try new things--I gave skiing a good faith effort several times last winter--but it does mean that I don't force myself to do things just to be included. I am who I am. Sometimes, that means I am the one sitting at home alone in her jammies.








Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Embracing the Circle

close-up of artwork

It probably doesn't surprise you that I'm a square. Sure, I'm pretty nerdy, but I mean geometrically. I like parallel lines and right angles. Round things make me a little uncomfortable. What am I supposed to do with that? How do you straighten a circle?

I've been a knolling like madwoman for at least 20 years, even though I only recently learned the term. Is it new to you too?

Knolling: the process of arranging like objects in parallel or 90 degree angles as a method of organization 

When I learned that word, I did a little happy dance. So that's what I've been doing all this time!

While I've been straightening things for years, I never once thought consciously about parallel lines and right angles until I began to decorate this house. I quickly realized that I'm averse to round things. Tables must be squares or rectangles. The backs of the kitchen chairs--squared. The faux Roman shades in the family room--patterns of squares. The two 5x7 rugs--complementary square patterns. The craft room floor--square FLOR tiles. You get the idea.

And then I redid our master bedroom. I repainted the ghastly camel color we inherited with a grayish blue. I replaced the crappy black furniture with less crappy brownish-gray IKEA Hemnes furniture (I'm not a big spender on these things). Once that work was done and the bedroom was a more inviting place to be, I decided that it needed wall art. Preferably big wall art.

I started looking around online with a particular style in mind. After a while, I realized that the style I had in mind was that of my artist friend, Nicole. I'd seen an online photo of one of her paintings, a hydrangea composed of large dots. Think pointillism but with really, really big dots. I didn't know if it was weird to ask a friend to sell you a painting, and I didn't know if her and my price points were going to be at all in the same ballpark, but I asked.

The hydrangea painting I had in mind was quite small for the space I wanted to fill, so Nicole showed me some other options online. I liked this one. She told me I could take it home and try it out before deciding, so I did.

painting
The Neighbor's Shed by Nicole Maynard-Sahar
When I went to her home to pick up that painting, I saw the most stunning painting covering most of her kitchen wall. To my eye, it looked just the right size for the wall I had in mind. Perhaps committing a major friend-of-artist faux pas, I asked if she'd be willing to part with the one on her kitchen wall. She said I could take it home too, so I did.

painting
Sunrise (Welcome to Rhode Island) by Nicole Maynard-Sahar
We ended up buying both for the master bedroom. Here is the latter in its new home over a low dresser, so you can get a sense of how wonderfully large it is.

painting on wall above low dresser

In exchange for a favor I did for her, Nicole later offered me a choice of some prints she'd made. I had those framed, and they also hang in our bedroom. They too are made of lots of perfect circles (painted free-hand, I'm told).

I must have grown accustomed to all those circles, at least within the confines of the master bedroom, because in a moment of wild abandon I recently replaced my conservatively striped duvet cover with this one from IKEA (Malin Rund is the pattern).

duvet cover and pillowcases with colorful dots

It took a few months of convincing by a friend with a much better eye than mine, but I finally caved and purchased a round rug for our foyer as well. It still makes me a bit uncomfortable, but it is the right shape for the space. I'm only taking baby steps, but thanks to some beautiful art, I'm beginning to (slowly) embrace the circle.

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My apologies to Nicole if my photographs don't do her artwork justice. My skill is not yet that of a fine art photographer, but I tried.

To learn more about the paintings in the artist's own words, click on the titles below:

Sunrise (Welcome to Rhode Island)
The Neighbor's Shed

If you love those dots as much as I do and would like to see more of Nicole's work, you can do so at http://artweekly.blogspot.com or her accompanying Facebook page (link is embedded). If you live in the New York area, you absolutely should check out her upcoming show.

Nicole Maynard-Sahar: Paintings and Ceramic Reliefs
Bowery Gallery, 530 W. 25th Street, 4th floor
February 26-March 23, 2013
Opening reception to the public on March 2, 4-6 p.m.




Monday, January 7, 2013

Holiday Baking Streamlined

When you put away your Christmas decorations, odds are that you try to organize them in a way that will make sense when you unpack them next year. I have finally made the same effort to reduce the chaos of holiday baking.

yule log and meringue mushrooms
I am not usually a fancy baker, but I made this on Christmas Day. That's a Yule Log with meringue mushrooms.

I'm one of those crazy holiday bakers. I typically start December 1 and make at least a double batch of 10-12 different cookies and confections. I began this chaos--which often gets done post-midnight--in December 2000. For our June wedding that year, we (who am I kidding, I) received a new Cuisinart hand mixer that I loved. Armed with my Cooking Light magazine, I baked and baked. Not knowing what to do with the results, I took platters of cookies into work that year.

Over time, more recipes have been added to the typical holiday baking list, and a couple have fallen off. I now have a stand mixer, which is even more exciting than the Cuisinart hand mixer (which regrettably went kaput this fall, RIP). I serve my results at our annual book club party, at the school holiday show, and to the grandparents when they visit over Christmas. I also try to distribute as many as I can to friends because no one should have that much readily available butter and sugar in the house.

With kids, the Christmas chaos has magnified greatly, and I was way behind schedule this December. I couldn't even remember what I usually baked and failed to make my mother-in-law's favorite, which I only realized when she asked me where to find the biscotti (nowhere in 2012). I also have recipes in cookbooks, printed from the Internet and stored in a binder, on recipe cards in a dessert binder from my mom, on recipe cards in a recipe card box--they are everywhere.

To streamline this process in the future, I have created a single document that contains all the recipes for the holiday treats I usually make. I typed all the recipes into a Word document, which allowed me to include my own previously handwritten notes and to edit the recipe in a way that made the most sense to me.

For example, I make my mom's buckeye recipe with dark chocolate rather than the recommended semisweet. I prefer creamy Peter Pan peanut butter to the chunky stuff Mom uses. I've learned that 1 lb. of powdered sugar equals 3 3/4 cups, and that 18 oz. of peanut butter equals 2 cups. My typed recipes now note that a single batch of the chocolate portion is sufficient for a double batch of the peanut butter portion.

I made similar change in the ingredients, abbreviating items in a way that makes sense to me, a regular baker. All-purpose flour became flour. Granulated white sugar became just sugar. A large egg is an egg. I don't need to tell myself to grease the pan or cool cookies on wire racks, because I use a silicon mat and always cool cookies on wire racks. You get the idea.

Next year, all I will need to do is pull up a single document (which I also will print, just in case), and I will have all the ingredients and recipes for:

Buckeyes
Pizzelle
Gingerbread People
Sugar Cookies
Irish Shortbread Toffee
Lemon-Honey Drop Cookies
Cranberry-Chocolate Chip Biscotti
Chewy Chocolate-Cherry Cookies
Peppermint Bon-Bon Cookies
Spicy Oatmeal Cookies
Pretzel Rods
Peanut Brittle
Yule Log

I take that back. While the words "Sugar Cookies" appear in the file to remind me, the recipe does not. I'm willing to share any and all recipes except that one. That bit of deliciousness (my weakness) came from a childhood friend whose mother always made that recipe when we were kids. I only received that recipe after much cajoling and as a wedding gift from my friend, who served as my maid of honor.

I can't tell you how happy this little bit of organization has made me. Perhaps next year, I won't be such a complete nut job come December.

If you'd like me to share any of the above recipes--other than the sugar cookies, of course--let me know in the comments and I can post them separately. Happy baking!




Friday, January 4, 2013

I Said What?

I never realized how often I would have "Did I just say that?" moments as a parent. Last night was a prime example.

Soon after going to bed, my eight-year-old son went to the bathroom. On his way back to bed, he called down from the top of the stairs that he wanted to ask me something. He said it was "embarrassing," then decided it wasn't embarrassing, but "personal," and asked if I would come upstairs so he could ask without shouting down. I did. It was merely a personal hygiene question (a boy who is interested in hygiene--hooray!) that I easily could have answered.

Instead, the words that flew out of my mouth unbidden were, "Daddy knows more about penises than I do. Ask Daddy."

Where did that come from? Completely unnecessary punt by Mommy. Embarrassing, really. However, I'm thinking this one may come in handy during puberty and beyond. I'm going file this one away for when I really need it. (Sorry, son.)


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Passions

Today we pursued our passions.

After a week away spent skiing, my son was eager to hang out at home, build his Christmas LEGO set, and read. He shuttled back and forth between building and reading, sometimes having a graphic novel open next to him with the LEGO pieces spread out before him.

LEGO 4x4 in process

The truck he's building has 1,327 pieces, three motors, and a remote control. He's really taking it to a new level. We had sensed that his interest in bricks, Bionicles, and Hero Factory was waning slightly and thought he was up to a new challenge. He most certainly is.

assembling LEGO truck

I loved watching how engaged he was with the whole project. Every few steps, he'd plug all the motors in, just to ensure that the gears were still working properly before proceeding further. He'd gleefully prattle on about it, tossing around words like chassis and suspension.

directions for LEGO truck

I'm wildly impressed, as this is one complicated machine he's putting together. I wouldn't have the patience for three thick booklets of intricate directions and the assembly of all those tiny pieces. IKEA furniture tests the limits of my patience, and it has significantly fewer types of pieces. Did you see the tiny pieces? I'll show you again.

LEGO 4x4 assembly

While he was pursuing his favorite hobby, I decided to do the same. I picked up my camera to capture him at work. He was so focused on his work that I didn't distract him, but he was also so proud that he was pleased to have me capture the moment.

He was very intent that I include the box in the photos, so that anyone viewing them would understand what his masterpiece will look like when complete. I liked his suggestion because I was able to capture a portrait of my master builder at work and within his work (and without showing his face so that I could share with you here).

boy's shadow on LEGO box

As of bedtime tonight, the most anticipated step had been completed--the machine now has wheels. He still needs to build the remainder of the vehicle, but required a substantial break to drive the truck around the house, testing what type of obstacles it could overtake. I watched him with a remote control and a truck he built himself, and listened to him scheme with his dad about the ramps, jumps, and obstacle courses they could create. It was a quintessential little boy moment. Passionate in the extreme.

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I am linked up to Just Write at The Extraordinary Ordinary.

An Anniversary Review

sunset over the bay

Today is the one-year anniversary of Flotsam of the Mind. I hope you sent a card.

62 Likes on the Flotsam of the Mind Facebook page. 138 blog posts. Over 9,000 page views. It's still a humble little thing, but compared to what I expected when I started a year ago (which was nothing) the reach and the resulting reward are phenomenal. Thank you to each of you who has taken the time to read my words or share them with your friends.

I considered doing an end-of-the-year recap highlighting the most popular posts. However, if popularity is what interests you, you can see a list of my ten most popular posts at any time in the right-hand column underneath my super cool Hollywood-style photo. In my opinion, the most popular posts are not necessarily the best; they are in large part those that are linked to other blogs or Pinterest, which brings them more traffic. My hunch is that the bulk of those readers stop by, but don't hang out to see what this blog really is about, which is the random stuff that goes on in my life and my head.

Instead of a most-popular list, I'd like to give you my list of favorite posts. Without further ado, here are my favorite posts from my first blog year in chronological order.

Men - My second post, in which I lament that I rarely see my male friends and will likely make no more.

Grandpa - I deal with the loss of my grandfather to dementia and the fact that I really did not want to visit when I was home (postscript: but I did).

It's the Little Things - A story about how my friend Karyn was there for me on my wedding day, as always.

Bad Words - When cursing is acceptable.

Reading Dinner - How books keep me sane when my children threaten to do otherwise.

An Option on Two - Why we decided to try for baby number two.

Housewifery - Coming to terms with being a housewife and wondering what my children will make of my decision to do so.

Schadenfreude - Wishing ill upon five- and six-year-old soccer players (sort of).

My Other Half - My 30 Days of Gratitude post about my husband.

My Fierce Baby Girl - My 30 Days of Gratitude post about my daughter. I consider this to be one of my best, both for what it says and how it says it. It was both very simple and terribly challenging to write.

My Sweet Boy - My 30 Days of Gratitude post about my son. This also was hard to put into words.

The Fat Man - My thoughts about Santa and belief.


My favorite DIY or organization projects and crafts of the year were:

Rising to the Occasion - My daughter's barrette and bow organizer.

The People at HGTV are a Bunch of Liars - The conversion of our dining room to a craft/homework room.

Tickled Pink - Painting my daughter's closet pink.

Bubble Art - Making canvas art with bubbles and food coloring.

LEGO Organization - Detailing how we organize my son's vast LEGO collection.

Card Management - Organizing all those annoying loyalty and reward cards.

Ribbons and Bows - Making a wreath from ribbon that I'd actually display on my front door.

Party Favors - Our handmade favors and packaging for my daughter's birthday party.

Catalog Wreath - The wreath we made using the contents of the recycling bin.


And finally, some photos I liked this year:

Sea of Pink - Little girls in pink tutus.

Early Autumn - Three autumn photos from my yard.

Japanese Maple - The Japanese Maple in my backyard, in its fall splendor.

Portrait of a Book Club - My class final project. Photos of members of my book club reading.


I hope you can take a moment to catch up on my favorites that you missed. If you particularly enjoyed any that aren't listed here, I'd love to hear about it.

Thanks again for supporting me in this little hobby. Happy anniversary to Flotsam of the Mind!







Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Cleaning Out

I am starting the new year with a clean refrigerator. I'd like to claim that this is some deeply symbolic event that I do every new year, but the reality is that we've been away for a week. The fridge was so empty that I could see and be nauseated by the nastiness that usually lurks beneath the food.

I purged items I could no longer use. I cleaned up messes from the previous year. I adjusted shelf heights that were not working ideally for my purposes. Wait a minute...there just might be something symbolic going on with that crumb and mold removal. Get rid of things you don't need, tidy up whatever was messy, make adjustments to things that aren't working to their potential. I think I stumbled upon a symbol right there in my vacant and sticky refrigerator.

If I were the type who makes resolutions, I would resolve to clean the fridge every new year. It is both practical and symbolic. It starts the year off fresh and new. It smells nice. You don't need to invent reasons to open the door and admire your work. It is incredibly satisfying. It is also probably more sanitary than waiting for the next hurricane that causes you to lose power for several days, forcing you to dispose of the entire contents of the fridge.

There you have it, folks. My deeply symbolic, incredibly practical new year's suggestion: clean out your refrigerator. You'll feel better and probably be healthier for it. Plus, now that I've drawn your attention to it, you're going to notice all the nasty things hiding in your fridge and be compelled to clean it.

You're welcome. Happy New Year.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Making Memories

Our memories of events are never what we think they are going to be.  Instead of remembering the special moments--the things we planned--we remember the mistakes, the calamities and the just plain odd things that happen.

When they were kids, my younger cousins visited my parents and my dad told them they could have anything they wanted for breakfast. They asked for ice cream. My dad gave it to them. Those cousins are adults now, but they remember and still talk about that breakfast.

Before we were married, my husband and I spent a couple Christmases with his family. I don't remember the meaningful things that happened. Heck, I don't even remember the gifts. I do remember the year my in-laws were learning to use their new gas fireplace, when the house was so hot we had the front door open during a blizzard while we ate Christmas dinner. I also remember a Christmas dinner when my husband came upon me in a back room as I shoveled a bowl of bite-sized Krackle candy bars down my throat because I didn't like any of the food that was being served during the meal that was, to my mind, hours delayed. I also remember the Christmas my mother-in-law, acknowledging the first Christmas Day I'd ever failed to spend with my parents, sent my parents a lovely centerpiece to thank them. She'd asked that the card read, "Thank you for sharing Cynthia with us." Instead, it said "Thank you for sharing sympathy with us." If that card had been correct, no one would have remembered it. Instead, we chuckle about it every Christmas when both our families join us for Christmas at our house.

I'm thinking that the past week we have spent in New Hampshire may be like those stories. We've had some quality family time--talking, playing games, reading, watching movies, playing video games and ping pong. We had friends with kids visit for the weekend. The weather has been fantastic for skiing, and my husband and children have discovered parts of the mountain they did not know existed because we had so little snow when we were up here last winter that the trails were not open. (I gave skiing the old college try last winter, and we all have agreed it's not for me. I stay home and facilitate their skiing.)

While all these things are wonderful, I'm fairly certain there are only three things that will forge this trip in our memories. I'm guessing that this will be remember as:

1. The Year the Car Wouldn't Go Up the Driveway

Thank goodness, it was dry when we arrived after dark on December 26. The house we are renting is on a winding country road, and the driveway is long, steep, gravel, and very twisty. It snowed significantly the first night we were here. The next morning, I dropped my husband and kids at the mountain and went to the grocery store. The little one crapped out before I'd even finished shopping, so I picked her up on the way home. The otherwise much beloved minivan wouldn't go up the plowed snowy driveway. Not even a little bit. Before the first turn, the car stopped and rolled down the hill. No four-wheel drive. No traction. No hill.

I couldn't leave the car at the bottom of the driveway for the whole week, because the driveway is shared with neighbors. I couldn't park on the snow-covered winding country road. I couldn't get up the hill. If my daughter had not been with me, I probably would have cried. Instead, I called an auto repair shop, learned about snow tires, and spent the next couple days acquiring some at a rather significant cost. Days wasted, money spent, but problem solved.

2.  The Year the Squirrel Got in the House

This one's probably self-explanatory. The little furry guy had been sneaking in the garage for days. Yesterday, after our visitors left, we went out for the afternoon. We returned to find the side door ajar. About ten minutes later, my six-year-old screamed a very helpful "Squirrel in the house!!!!" (I'm beyond impressed it wasn't a useless squeal.) In any event, with the opening of doors and some coaxing, we got the rodent to go back to his natural habitat, and he doesn't seem to have done any damage indoors.

3.  The Year the Power Went Out

My husband drove home this evening so he could go to work in the morning. The kids and I are planning on leaving tomorrow. As I called the kids to dinner, the power went out. It was kind of freaky being out in the country with no power, no phone (all those in the house are cordless), no cell coverage, and no Internet. Fortunately, I keep a small flashlight in my purse for reading in the car after dark. My son remembered seeing candles. We already had a fire lit. I did become a little alarmed with all the fire, two small children, and no phone, so we drove to the closest gas station to report the outage to the power company. After about two hours, power was restored, but not after many memories were likely made.

I made both kids change out of jammies and get dressed, just so we could go out in the driveway to look at the stars. In my nearly forty-two years, I have never seen so many stars. It was stunning, and the kids loved it.

I'd had to let the fire in the fireplace burn down while we made our gas station run. The kids were amazed and impressed that I rekindled it with pages torn from the In Style magazine our friend left here this weekend. (This is likely the only use I ever will get out of an In Style magazine, so I was rather pleased as well.)

Once the fire was blazing and bedtime was upon us, we made smores in the fireplace. My daughter was eating smores while putting on her pajamas for bedtime. She had to polish off the last of it just in time to brush her teeth. After all the excitement and treats, each got to bed a bit late, which is far from the norm when Mom's around.

All in all, I'd say it's been an exciting and memorable trip, just not in the way I had expected. You'd think I'd know to expect the unexpected by now.

What about you? Any family memories that get shared over and over that were absolutely not part of the grand design?