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I'm the mother of four children who hopes to raise them to be productive, compassionate, humble citizens of our planet...who will also use their turn signals.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Hey, there!

So yeah, about this blog thing.  Although I have fallen short (and by short, I mean by miles) of my goal of blogging more often, it doesn't mean that blogging hasn't been on my mind.  Several times a week, I have ideas flying about my little pea-brain.  Target receipts, the backs of envelopes, and spiral notebooks, all with thoughts jotted down.  And yet days become weeks, weeks become months, months become cases of wine.  You know how it goes.

Part of the reason I'm such a blogging slacker is because I let "life" get in the way of creativity.  There are the less-than-desirable activities like never-ending laundry, grocery shopping, bill paying, cleaning.  And of course the things that bring joy -- making meals and baking, taking the kids to the park, hosting sleepovers, date nights with my man, entertaining family and friends, and travel.  Add college into the mix, and you've got a blog with a coat of dust thicker than the one crusting over MySpace.

Yet here I am again, offering up a few thoughts on a topic that is near and dear to my heart.  Travel.  As far back as I can remember, I've had a case of wanderlust.  I remember being around 9-years-old and waking up early on a Saturday morning to watch a television show called "Big Blue Marble".  It showcased kids from around the world, their culture, their everyday lives.  I would literally hang on every word and dreamt of visiting the featured countries.   At the end of each program, you could submit your name to be matched with an international pen pal.  I will neither confirm nor deny the allegation that I submitted my name EVERY. SINGLE. SATURDAY.   I almost feel bad about it, except for the fact that the idea of some poor intern opening up envelopes every week and cursing the repeat offender from Joppatowne, Maryland is hysterical.  Finally, out of sheer exhaustion (or a sense of pity), they matched me with a girl named Judy from Trinidad.  We wrote for about five or six years.  I still remember her photos and wonder how she is and if she recalls our correspondence.

Lest you think I'm the only dork who was harassing the staff of "Big Blue Marble," it turns out my husband scored himself a pen pal from Sweden when he was a kid!  When we discovered this shortly after we began dating, I knew he was a keeper.  Seriously, how crazy is that?  What are the odds?   Too bad we didn't get matched up when we were 12.  We could have been celebrating our 45th anniversary by now!

Because one pen pal certainly isn't enough, I also shook down my granny to give me the addresses of our family in Austria.  I penned letters to all of them and waited.  While I was excited to get a few responses, one  definitely stood out.  My cousin, Susi, wrote back and we immediately clicked.  She visited the following summer and we got along just as well in person as we did on paper.  We hatched the idea of my going visit her the following summer and our parents went for it!   I suspect I got my wanderlust gene from my mother, so there was little doubt that she would approve my travel request.  When I think back on it, there may be parents who wouldn't be willing to let their 15-year-old go to Europe for six weeks.  I will be forever grateful that my mother put me on a plane in New York and waved goodbye.  It was exhilarating and life-changing and shaped how I view the world.  I've gone back to Austria three times since then, but it was on that very first trip that I believe I was officially bitten by the travel bug.  So again, thanks mom.  And thanks also to Susi.  We've progressed from letters to email to Facebook and I'm so grateful you took a chance and responded to your crazy American cousin.

Modern day travel is actually pretty awesome when you think about it.  I mean, compared to being stuffed on the Mayflower or riding in a wagon train across the prairie, it's a breeze.  While not always convenient and maybe a little stressful, the rewards are tremendous.  I'd take travel over a new sofa or a designer bag any day.  And honestly, when I think back to any of the bumps in the road we've experienced, they may be trying at the moment, but in hindsight, 99 percent of the time they're hilarious.

Take our last trip to Sedona, Arizona.  It was a beautiful weekend in a stunning part of the country.  You totally feel like you've been plopped down right in the middle of a Bob Ross painting when you're there.  I was flying back alone, so that means that great anticipation of who will be your seat mate.  I feel like I could talk to a potted plant (not exactly breaking news, I'm sure), so I'm never really anxious about it, just more curious.  On this trip, I sat down next to a gentleman who was about 6'8, with 6 feet of that height coming from his legs.  I felt bad, seeing him stuffed in that seat.  I mean, I'm only 5'3 and I feel cramped, so I know he's got to get tired of his knees being in his teeth.

After sitting down, we struck up a conversation.  Or what I believe to be a conversation.  It went a little something like this:

Me:   (As I took the middle seat)  I'm sorry I had to make you get up!
Him:  Oh, no problem.  No, no, no.  No problem.
Me:  Thank you!  So this looks like a full flight, huh?
Him:  Sure does.  They need to get this show on the road.  Get it goin'!  I mean, let's grrrr grrrr grrrr hmmpph grrrrr grrrr sshhhhho grrrr.
Me:  You said it!
Him:  Every time, they just hmmmm rccccckkk grrrrrr shhhoooo grrrrr hmmmmph.
Me:  I hear ya!
Him:   If they can't shhhppphh trrrrrr rccccckkk grrrrrr shhhoooo, then hmmmmpph.
Me:  Yeah, well...you know.

Now.  As a former court reporter, I consider myself a pretty good listener.  In this case, however, I seriously had no idea what this man was saying.  I can confirm it was English, but after that...I got nothing.  And it was one of those cases where you just KNOW that saying "pardon me" totally isn't going to help.  This is when you go with those benign responses and hope that he plans on using that travel pillow he has wrapped around his neck.  And soon.

It's spectacular that travel is now available to many more people than it used to be, but part of me feels like we've become spoiled.  Take for example the lady who sat behind me on my last flight.  She got quite bitter when they ran out of cheese breakfast sandwiches by row 20.  It was foolish, really.  This is the United States of America, The Land O' Plenty.  We all know you walked by no less than 15 purveyors of food (or what is supposed to pass as food) on your way onto this flying machine.  Why put all your chips on that biscuit and let 'em ride?  And then you complain to the flight attendant about THEIR poor planning?  Me thinks someone needs to take a little peek in the mirror.

Speaking of being jaded, I may be dating myself with this one, but does anyone else remember when people used to clap when the plane landed?  I, for one, think it was awesome.  In fact, I'm on a one woman mission to bring back the applause.  If you're on a flight and hear a lone fool clapping, feel free to pretend you don't know me.

Has anyone else wondered how, even though you're just sitting in a seat and doing absolutely nothing except playing Jewel Blitz or drooling through a nap, you can get off of a plane and look like you just went three rounds with Mike Tyson (only you still have both ears)?  I kid you not, I've gotten off of flights and gone to the ladies room, only to look in the mirror, run out, and go directly to Homeland Security to put MYSELF on the Terrorist Watch List.  Where does it all go wrong?  Is it the cabin pressure?  The peanut fumes?  Good Lord.

And while we're talking about bathrooms, I've got a small bone to pick with BWI about that very topic.  Which man (because we all know it would have to be a man) designed the bathrooms in Customs?  Which man said to himself, "Let's see, people just flew no less than four hours and now they have to wait in monstrous immigration lines.  How many bathrooms might we need to accommodate these full-bladdered folks?  I'm gonna saaaaaaay.....THREE."  Yes, three.  That's how many stalls are in the women's bathroom.  Clearly there wasn't a woman in that planning meeting because she would have at least put a drain in the floor for those of us who are one sneeze away from full-on incontinence.

So despite the fact that travel has its challenges, we could travel every day of the week and still wouldn't put a dent in our destination bucket list.  It seems that every time we cross off a city, we add three.  I like it that way.  I love the adventure, I love the unknown, I love the food, and I love meeting people who are seemingly different and are yet very similar to myself.  It's a gift I want to give to our children as often as humanly possible.  Being strangers in a strange land together, I think, forms a special bond.  I also believe that the memories and lessons from travel last a lifetime.  Long after everyone has forgotten what they got for Christmas four years ago, stories of travel go on.

One of my favorite quotes is from Mark Twain, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness."  There is such truth in those words.

Monday, January 19, 2015

And the hits keep comin'!

So because I apparently like to set myself up for failure, I come to you with my final five resolutions for 2015.  A sane, rationale person would probably limit themselves to one, perhaps two.  Me?  Oh, no.  There have pots on all four burners, two cookie sheets in the oven, and pizzas on the grill or mama ain't happy!

I gave thought to whittling down the list, but each item seems crucial to my survival.  Okay, that may be a bit dramatic.  But they all feel like things I want to give attention to and I don't want to let go of.  So without further ado, I give to you resolutions six through ten.

6.  Be present.  If all of the sudden there were resolution police and they showed up at my door because I was exceeding federal resolution limits, this would be the one I would keep.  It applies to SO many areas in my life.  While multitasking has become fashionable and almost required, I sometimes hate the fact that I'm good at it.  Sure, it's great to be listening to a podcast, peeling potatoes, and coaching the kids on homework, all while I think about my to-do list for tomorrow, but there comes a point when you need to put the brakes on the crazy train.  Focusing more, appreciating more, savoring more...these are the only "things" I want more of.

One of my next blog posts is on this topic alone, actually.  I've registered for an online class called "One Little Word" again this year.  The word I chose this year is "Savor."  When I did the class last year, I found that thinking about and incorporating whatever word you choose is inspirational and motivational on so many levels.  In speaking with friends, there are so many of us that just feel like days are a blur and weeks are spent running on the hamster wheel.  We are craving simple.

7.  Read more.  I recently read that 29 percent of Americans admit to not reading a novel in the past year.  Seriously?  I call BS on that number.  I reckon it's far higher.  And while most people, I believe, know the value of reading and truly want to read more, my experience is that it's one of the first things to go when kids need to be bathed and socks need to be matched (or in my case,  60 percent of socks need to be matched and the other 40 percent are singles that I'll put in a basket for three months before I throw them away.)  I guess I should be ashamed to admit that I didn't read anything other than children's books, recipes, and permission slips for years.  If I tried, I would read three paragraphs and forget what I read because I was feeling guilty about what I should be doing instead.

To tackle this resolution, I've joined an online book club called "Recovering Readers."  (Hey, are you noticing a pattern here, by the way?  Maybe I should have 11 resolutions, with the addition being resolve to stop joining clubs.)  Anyhoo, I've completed January's book which I loved.  It was such a treat to be immersed in a story that didn't involve Captain Underpants or a Wimpy Kid.  I'm resolving to read more with my kids, too, but it sure was nice to climb into bed at night, slip my cold feet up against my man, and delve into a good book.

8.  Document the every day.  With cell phones and Facebook, we are all documenting a lot more about our lives than past generations.  Sure, some of it (most of it?) could be considered mundane or frivolous, but I am always intrigued by how things you think are so common and will always be around will instead be unique and treasured in years to come.  Shag carpeting?  The mullet?  Monogram sweaters?  And who doesn't love opening an old box with items wrapped in newspaper to find out how much ground beef used to cost and what people found news-worthy?

My goal for 2015 is to document more of our stories.  When I look back at scrapbooks I've completed, I positively would have forgotten so much of what I've written about.  And not only do I want these stories for myself, but for my children and their children.

9.  Delegate chores.   I admit it, I suck at delegating.  S-U-C-K, suck.  Since I will probably never be good at it, my goal is to suck less.  Like if I'm a 9 on the sucky scale right now, I'm aiming to finish out 2015 as a 7.  It's not that I think I'm great at doing everything, it's that I think it's easier if I do everything.  The intellectual side of me (okay, maybe it's not a full SIDE of me.  It's probably more like a section.  Or a piece, like a 1 x 2 inch piece) knows that I am not doing the kids any favors by not assigning chores and responsibilities.

But then there's that, "Oh, geez!  It's 8:30 p.m. and tomorrow is trash day.  And I still have to empty the bathroom trash cans, which are upstairs, and everyone is downstairs.  And plus they have their shoes off and I still have my shoes on.  Also it's dark out and I have pretty good night vision.  Really, by the time they find their shoes, I could have just done it already.  So seriously, it really is stupid to make anyone else take out the trash."   I do this with every chore (see #3, Over-Analyzing.)

On New Year's Day, I broke it to the kids that there's a new sheriff in town and things are going to change.  We came up with some jobs (and outrageous fees that they suggested to be paid with said jobs, which I quickly vetoed.)  There will probably be a little bit of a learning curve, but I'm thinking this joint should be running like a well-oiled machine by early next week.  Or July.

10.  Do my part to keep the U.S. Postal Service afloat.  Surely I'm not the only one who thinks getting the mail is a colossal disappointment most of the time.  I've been so fortunate to have a new pen pal in South Africa and a cousin in Austria that I exchange cards, letters, and packages with and it brings such joy.  I have concocted a plan, which shall remain secret, of how to do my part to bring happiness to mailboxes far and wide.  I'm excited.

So that's it.  Or at least that's it FOR NOW.  In fact, I just realized two other things I want to add.  Similar to the justice system, maybe I'll have ten "jurors" and two alternates.  Like if I crash and burn on the losing weight, I'll call in some second-string resolution like, "Take Deep Breaths" to experience wild success!   It's so crazy it just might work!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Go Big or Go Home

Resolutions aren't something that ever appealed to me.  In fact, I've never really found that New Year's Day feels any different than any other day of the year.  I suppose that's a good thing in some ways, because I've always felt that every single day is a new beginning, a chance to get it right...or, in the case of some days, get it LESS wrong.  I think that may be why I've always viewed New Year's resolutions as a silly, self-defeating tradition...that is until this year.

Why is this year different?  I have no idea.  It's not like I suddenly have things to improve on this year that weren't in existence any other year, that's for darn sure.  And I've been receiving Oprah magazine for nearly three years, so it isn't that I've suddenly become more enlightened either.  I did enroll on that online Deepak Chopra meditation class, but I never ACTUALLY meditated.  I mean, I read all the emails -- or I read the subject line of the emails.   Some of the emails.  So yeah, I don't think that really qualifies as a game-changer.

Nonetheless, I found myself making a whole lot of resolutions on January 1st this year.  I hadn't been thinking about a single one before that.  But that day?  Holy smokes, I was on FIRE with the resolutions.  In a timely stroke of cosmic endorsement, I heard a story on NPR about how to increase your chances of success when making resolutions.  The expert stressed the fact that putting them in writing, especially in a public way, can greatly enhance your sense of accountability.  I get that.  And because one of my resolutions was to actually write more in 2015, it was a no-brainer that I'd incorporate my wishes for 2015 as a blog post.

So here we go with my resolutions.  And just like the pile of papers on the right-hand side of my countertop, they are in no particular order:

1.  Drop the Dial for awhile.  Wanna invoke a look of horror on the face of one of those mall kiosk workers?  You know, the ones who stop you to demonstrate their fountain of youth face cream?  Tell them the only thing you use on your face is Dial soap.  Better yet, tell the ladies at the Clinique counter.  Just be sure you have a paper bag for them to breathe into when you do.  I know this because that is all I wash my face with.  I'm not bragging, believe me.  When I was waiting in line at TJMaxx a few weeks ago and made the mistake of looking at my right eye in one of those 15X magnification mirrors they have in the impulse buy section, I realized how desperate the situation actually is.  For a nanosecond, I thought for sure I had dove head-first into a rack of crumpled up tan tissue paper.

So for 12 days now, I've been washing my face with soap that purports to contain olive oil to soften my skin.  I sunk like $4.99 into this bar of hope so I'm expecting quick and dramatic results.  And because I feel like I'm so behind the curve, I'm going all out and expanding my beauty regime to TWO STEPS by slathering on a moisturizer, too.  I know it's extreme, but desperate times call for desperate measures.  Plus I promised Frank that within three weeks, he's going to wake up to a wife that looks like a typical college freshman...not the college freshman he's been married to for the past three months.

2.  Lose weight.  I know, I know.  Predictable and BOR-ING.  But seriously, it needs to be done.   I've gained 12 pounds since we got married.  And we got married in May.  Of 2014.   That's ridiculous.  By my calculations, if I keep gaining weight at this rate, I'll weigh 627 pounds by our 10th wedding anniversary.  While that might land me a nice paycheck from one season of "My 600-Pound Life" on TLC, I think I'll pass.  I already know where I've gotten lazy diet-wise and certainly getting to the gym more frequently will speed things along.  I thought about easing up on the chocolate martinis, but instead decided that I'll allow myself to use them as a meal replacement.  Hey, Slim Fast built a lucrative EMPIRE on that concept so obviously it works.  And unlike the chocolate martini, Slim Fast doesn't have the beneficial side effect of not caring that you're hungry.  Bonus!

And not that I'm trying to blame my shriveled up ovaries, but it sure is different trying to lose weight at 47 compared to 27.  Back then, I'd eat one less Pop-Tart and substitute one green apple for a bag of green apple Jolly Ranchers and call it a day.  These days, it's a little more complicated.

3.  Stop it with the over-analyzing.  (I think this may be Frank's favorite.  Or at least the one he will profess to be his favorite, because he fears that if he says 1 or 2 are his favorites, he won't be around to see the MIND-BLOWING moisturizing results.)   As much as we have technology assisting us in 2015, I swear it's made us all more crazy.   I feel like nothing is simple any more.  Remember when we were younger and our parents planned a family vacation?  They looked at the budget, decided a destination, called a hotel or two, and checked that task off of their to-do list.  Now?  You (and by you, I mean me) have to go online -- which we all know is the hugest time suck in the history of time sucks.  You start reading TripAdvisor, which then links you over to Hotels.com, where you price hotels, only to realize that your best bet is to go on Priceline and bid for a hotel.  But only a FOOL bids for a hotel without first checking biddingfortravel.com to see what other people bid.  While you're in that forum, you realize (again, by you, I mean me) that you don't even really like hotels.  You want culture!  You want experience!  You want to meet new people and build relationships that will no doubt lead to world peace!  You totally need to go to AirBnB.com and find a house to rent.   Oh, stop.  Wait. Just. A. Minute.  AirBnB has an Instagram?  I am all about Instagram.  Let me quick follow them.   OMG, look!  A recipe for peanut butter chocolate truffles.  I have to "like" it.

As you can tell, this whole process completely takes on a life of its own and spirals into weeks on the computer until suddenly you have 37 tabs open on your desktop, have started following 6 new travelers on Pinterest, and bought 3 Groupons for a city you weren't even going to three days ago.

Unfortunately, I can't blame this behavior solely on technology because I often find I have a similar number of "tabs" open in my brain at any given time.  Say I'm in Target and I see a pair of winter boots I like and they're on sale.  It should be a no-brainer!  I mean, I do need boots.  I've been wearing Rowan's when I go out to shovel the snow and he's a 10-year-old boy.  Okay, I should just get them.

That's when what could probably be considered traits of mental illness begin.  What if they mark them down again in two days?  I shouldn't be such a greedy, ugly American!  You know that woman from Kenya who won the Boston Marathon a few years ago?  She ran like 30-some miles, BAREFOOT.  You do NOT need boots to have a good life.  You have some nerve even "liking" the Becoming Minimalist guy on Facebook when you're standing here looking at boots!  And what if your furnace and your transmission and your kidneys all give out next week and you went and spent $19.99 on a pair of boots?  It would serve you right if that happened for being so frivolous.  Not to mention that the tag says they're made in Indonesia!  We all know what that means.  Some poor 7-year-old child was being hit with a stick while he sewed these boots.  I should be ashamed of myself.  I only came here for milk and copy paper anyway.  I'm nothing but a big, fat, selfish jerk.

4.  Ease up on the Coke Zero.   Kind of self-explanatory.  I've never tried Crack cocaine, but I have tried Coke Zero.  I'm pretty sure in a few years, the Today show is going to be doing an investigative report that reveals that Coke Zero is Crack in liquid form.

5.  Write more.  I have mad respect for all the serious bloggers out there who come up with fresh, new posts every single day.  That is no small feat.  And it's not just coming up with material, it's sitting down and taking the time each day to drain your brain onto the screen and make it entertaining, or at least readable.  I can't tell you (no really, I can't tell you - because I honestly don't know) how many pieces of paper I have on my desk with blog topics written down.   My goal is to try to post something once a week, which seems doable and the rewards, I think, will be great.  I truly enjoy writing and love when I hear from my friends and family that I've given them a reason to laugh with me...or at me.  I'm not picky, I'll take either.

My original intention was to post my top ten resolutions, but since this is quickly approaching a blog version of "War and Peace," I'll leave you hanging as to 6 through 10 until next week.  What about you?  Are you a resolution person?  Did you make any you'd like to share?  Surely one of you plans to outdo that mom of three who blogged last year about having sex with her husband every single day for a year.  Don't be shy.  Anyone, anyone?

Friday, January 09, 2015


Happy 2015!  Hard to believe I started this blog over five years ago.  Harder to believe I still remember the password, considering how few entries I've written during that time.  

I heard an "expert" on public radio a few days ago talking about resolutions and what you can do to make those desires a reality.  One of the tips she mentioned was documenting, in a public way if you wish, what you would like to work on in the coming year.  Because one of my resolutions is to write more, I thought I'd jump-start the ol' blog and see how it goes.  

But before I reveal my resolution manifesto, I thought I'd share my Christmas letter for this year...or for any year, for that matter.  Here we go!  


Ah, the Christmas letter.  Like fruitcake, it often gets a bad rap, which is why I’ve always shied away from sending one.  This year, however, I’m throwing caution to the wind, fully realizing that my Facebook friend count will likely take a nosedive approximately three to five days after these babies leave the post office. 

I believe the intent of a Christmas letter is to update everyone on the major events of the year as it comes to a close (or at least the ones you want people to know about.)  For some, it is also an opportunity to let everyone know that your family is made up of some incredibly amazing, wildly successful, picture-perfect people.  I hate to blow the ending to this letter only two paragraphs in, but we aren’t those people.  Shocker, I know.

As most of you know, we blended our families in May of this year.  Under sunny skies and with baggy eyes, we catered and created our own backyard wedding.  Would we do it again? Of course. Would we do all the cooking for 110 people ourselves?  Probably.  Would we remember to label things correctly instead of finding out that we really hadn’t run out chicken, but had 20 more pounds that were labeled as green beans?  I would hope so. 

Joining families with many kids means a lot of jokes from well-meaning folks who think that they are the first person on the planet to compare you to The Brady Bunch.  While it was my very favorite show growing up, I like to point out to said jokesters that we have out-produced Mike and Carol Brady by a whole two kids.  And let’s not forget that Mike Brady brought Alice the housekeeper to the union.  That’s pretty impressive! On the other hand, Frank doesn’t wear white leather belts, have his hair permed, or wish he could call me Steve instead of Steph, so there’s that. 

The other comment we hear happens to also be TV sitcom-related.  It goes a little something like this:

Unnamed Person:  So, how many kids do you folks have?
Us:  Eight.
Unnamed Person: Oh, my!  Well, is eight REALLY enough or –-

Before anyone gets any ideas, YES.  Eight IS enough.  If by some strange (and not funny) twist of fate we would have an announcement to make, it would either be made by The Guinness Book of World Records or by Anderson Cooper on CNN, as he is stationed under the Golden Gate Bridge while negotiators beg Frank and I not to jump.
Summer brought us the opportunity to spend ten days in Europe.  It truly was a terrific experience for us with the five youngest kids.  We traveled 1700 miles through Germany and Austria, renting private homes and enjoying the breathtaking alpine landscape.  We also got to spend a few days visiting my family in southern Austria, which is always so special.  Frank and I have such a love of travel, which we hope to pass on to all of our children.   Not only is it exciting to see new places and meet new people, we hope it gives them an appreciation for all the things we take for granted. 

All seven of us, crammed in our smaller-than-an-American-minivan began in Frankfurt and made our way through Nuremberg, Tirol, Salzburg, and Munich.  Like many families on road trips, we played games to pass the time – and not just the usual license plate game or I Spy. Because our van had a manual transmission, our game was called “Don’t stall, don’t stall, don’t stall!”  Whenever I was stopped on a hill, weaving through small cobbled streets, or paying a toll, we’d chant that vacation mantra and hope not to feel the resulting whiplash that comes with letting up on the clutch a little too fast.  Hermit crabs die and t-shirts fade, but vacation memories like that?  They last FOREVER.

The kids were incredibly good throughout the entire trip.  They really, really were.  I can’t emphasize that enough. Despite the fact that European restaurants don’t give free refills on sodas and some areas had spotty WiFi, they struggled through with courage and dignity.  And then there was that little incident where I dashed in a store for drinks and came out with three two-liter bottles of vinegar instead of apple juice.  Even at the end, when our eight-hour flight home turned into three flights and an unplanned overnight stay in Minneapolis because we were rerouted, only to have our next flight cancelled, they were wonderful. 

So 2014 was a pretty awesome year.  There were those couple of speed camera tickets but, barring any unforeseen circumstances over the next two weeks, we managed to make it through 365 days without a single member of our ten-person family landing in jail or, even worse, pictured in a “People of Walmart” photo-montage.  That, my friends, is what I call success.

Our wish to you is that 2015 brings all the things that really matter:  good health, making new memories with family and friends, lots of delicious food, and a little bit of time each day to close your eyes, take a deep breath, and feel grateful. 

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

They called it frightening, I called it enlightening

Having a teenaged daughter means I get a front row seat to a lot of really wonderful things.   But along with the good things, come the realities of being a kid today.   And at the risk of sounding like Aunt Bea from Mayberry, bless their hearts.  Some of it makes me real sad.

I remembering being in the car with friends, one of our parents driving us somewhere and, as each girl would pile in, we'd talk nonstop, laugh hard, and sing loud.   Now as the driver, I grit my teeth as I hear  my daughter repeating the same question to her friend three times, while said friend has her head stuck in her phone.  If I wasn't a subscriber to the Zen Habits email, I'd swing my arm over the seat and start swatting, hoping to knock the phone from her clutches.  Hello!  Remember us?  We're ACTUAL PEOPLE!  Three-dimensional, animated beings!  We breathe!  We speak!  We pull cars over and make rude little brats walk!  

And what are they doing on their phones?  Well, there's texting, of course.  But then there's the NONSTOP checking of Vine, SnapChat, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter.  (Note that I didn't mention Facebook.  That's because, to this generation, Facebook has become a place for people who discuss politics, grandchildren, medical illnesses, and bus trips.)  I think that's what is different between growing up in 2013 versus growing up in the 19 (cough) 80s.  Yes, we had MTV, Seventeen magazine and Brooke Shields in her Calvins, but it wasn't incessant.  It wasn't ALWAYS in our face. 

The stories of what models do to be so scary-skinny have been around for awhile, but the latest revelation of models eating Kleenex to feel full is a new all-time low.  How does one even come up with that idea?   I mean, did one model have a cocktail party and serve up  neatly folded Kleenex skewered on toothpicks?   I can hear it now, "Oh, Sasha, you have GOT to try the Puffs Plus with Lotion.  THEY. ARE. DIVINE."  The only positive about this ritual (and clearly, I've given this way too much thought) is that it allows you to poop and wipe at the same time.

Sure, we had our "designer jeans" and Bermuda bags (with covers), add-a-bead necklackes and Polo shirts, but it just didn't seem as intense.  Or maybe I just didn't care?  (That's entirely possible.)  But now, not only do you have to be stylin' from head to toe, you've gotta bring your A-game when it comes to undergarments, too.  While girls today are sporting the newest thong from Victoria's Secret, my biggest worry in the swimming locker room was trying to put on my underwear without letting them touch the slimy floor.  (Ew.  Just typing that gave me the shivers.)

Add to it the pressure to be ready for your close up every single minute of your life.  Remember how we had an entire year to prepare to get our picture taken?   The friendly folks from Life Touch rolled up to school with their sponge-painted background and case of free black combs to capture us in our pubertal glory.  For double-the-fun, they had that run of "Reflection" shots.  Because we all know that if your braces and breakouts look good from the front, they are gonna be SLAMMIN' in the right lighting, from the side.   If you were like me, the picture usually sucked, but you drew a mustache on yourself in the yearbook and life went on.  You had no way of knowing if people "liked" your pic.  If someone drew a wart on your nose in their yearbook, you were none the wiser.  You didn't have to go back and read 325 comments from people, critiquing your look.  

So in an effort to inject a little bit of reason into the SHEER INSANITY of today's image machine, I decided to take action.  I shared with Olivia and Maddy a YouTube video from one of my favorite shows, BBC's "What Not To Wear."  Because this is the British version, they have no problem throwing around the terms "tits and ass" and showing women in various states of undress.  Oh, those cheeky Brits.  

In this episode, they were on a mission to get the women of the U.K. to wear a properly fitted bra.   While it may sound like a snorefest, what I found so gloriously refreshing was that the woman featured was 100 percent REAL.  She wasn't a 20-something, pushed up, silicone-enhanced, fan-a-blowin-through-her-extensions, Botoxed, spray tanned, 83 pound Abercrombie model.  She was what 98% of the women on this planet look like.  (While I've totally made up that figure, I think if I did a few years of research, I could totally back it up.)

So as the video progressed and the woman lifted up her arms and took off her shirt, this is the commentary that went on in my family room: 

Olivia:   Oh, no.
Maddy:  Oh, my gosh.  What the --
Olivia:   Oh, no, no, no, no, no.
Maddy:  I can't look.
Olivia:   Turn it off, Mom.  Seriously. 
Maddy:  I'm really scared.
Olivia:   Why do they look like THAT? 
Maddy:  This is SO wrong.  
Olivia:   No, really.  Why do they look like THAT?

Even with their heads buried their hands, peeking out between their fingers, victory was mine!   I was able to undo the damage caused by watching the last two seasons of "The Kardashians" with one click of the mouse.  

Don't get me wrong, I am not about tossing our razors and burning our bras.  We all want to be healthy and look and feel our best.  But this unrelenting focus on physical perfection is nuts.  And although I probably won't be ambushing the young ladies in my life with any more images of gravity-affected, middle-aged breasts, I will keep reminding them that the truly beautiful people aren't always displaying chiseled cheeks and six-pack abs.  It's those compassionate souls that draw you in with their sense of humor, their wisdom, their generosity and their kindness.  How about we start seeing some hashtags like that?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Hey! Blogs don't expire!

Okay. So if my blog was a house, the windows would be filthy, soggy and yellowed newspapers would be littering the driveway, and the grass would be tall enough to shelter a medium-sized tribe of pygmies. Well, don’t look now, but mama is coming down the street right on a riding mower, armed with Windex and 25 contractor-sized garbage bags.

Whoever coined the phrase "time waits for no one" was no joke. If I didn’t see the date for myself, I wouldn’t believe it's been almost two years since my last post. Maybe that’s because I’ve had so many virtual posts in my own head. Although some of them genuinely kept me entertained while sitting in traffic, others probably would have caused you to ask for the five minutes of your life back that it took you to read them. Trust me.

But somehow I just haven’t been able to kiss the blog goodbye for good. And while I can’t promise that every post will knock your socks off, I hope to at least make you smile. Or cringe.

Three years, 60 pounds, and more than a few wrinkles ago, this blog began. My first post chronicled life as a middle-aged mom, just trying to keep all those balls we juggle in the air. The posts that followed spoke about how I’ve struggled with my weight. That oh-too-familiar place for a lot of us. And to those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about and simply cannot identify, to you I say, in my sweetest Georgia accent, "Well, bless your little heart." (That’s an expression that people in the South use when they don’t have anything nice to say.)

I will never for a minute pretend that I have this weight loss thing in the bag. Is there a time limit after losing weight that you no longer have to fear the yo-yo effect? Maybe there is, I’m just not ready to take that chance. But I am learning things on this journey that may help others who have found themselves in the same puffy place I did. You know, like when you walk by a store window and catch a glimpse of your reflection and think, "Oh. My. God. Why hasn’t someone TOLD me?" Or what about the dreaded side or rear view picture that someone took without even asking you to sign a photo release? And if they tagged you in it on Facebook? Oh, it’s ON.

Before I begin, let me offer this disclaimer. Outside of my own experiences, I generally have NO IDEA what I’m talking about.

1.  ACKNOWLEDGE. This is the first on my list and also the probably the toughest. You know how I know? Because I used to be completely delusional and in denial. How in the world could I have possibly packed the equivalent of 240 sticks of butter on my 5 foot 3 inch frame? That’s what’s so insidious about this weight thing…it literally happens OVERNIGHT. Or over several years, which is kinda the same thing. I know, I know. You can’t understand how you got to be the size you are because you really don’t eat that much. Unfortunately, as in my case, that’s probably not true.  To be fair, you aren’t totally to blame . Have you taken a look lately at the OUTRAGEOUS portions served at restaurants? And I know I can’t be the only one who has looked at a packaged product that any Dorito-loving-American would consider a snack, only to realize that the manufacturer intended you to share it with THREE friends. What in the world? My friends and I never share food. That’s one of the things we love about each other! But until you are super-real with what you are eating, slaying this dragon will be impossible. Writing down what you eat can be helpful. You can destroy the evidence at the end of each day, but acknowledging what you are TRULY digesting is both eye-opening and necessary. 

2.  BE AWARE. You know the commercials on television for the sleeping pill, Ambien? One of the side effects can be unconscious eating. What’s so weird is, that SAME EXACT THING has happened to me! Only I’ve never taken Ambien. I have never, in my 45 years, eaten an entire bag of chips. I’ve never even polished off a quart of ice cream. But guess what? More than once, I have reached into that box of Tastykakes for a 9 p.m. snack, only to realize it’s half gone. (And unfortunately, since I hid them, I can’t blame the kids.) It’s those little bites, the couple of cookies, the handful of chips while packing lunches, that add up. My solution? As tree-huggerish and granola as this may sound, getting in touch with the REAL reason I was shoveling something into my mouth was crucial. Whenever I want to eat something, I stop, put my hand on my stomach, and say, "Ethel (I sometimes call myself Ethel), are you REALLY hungry?" Because honestly, we all really do throw around the phrase, "Oh-ma-god, I’m STARVING!" when we truly have no idea of the meaning.  

Try thinking about the real reason you are reaching for vittles.  Maybe you’re bored? You’re stressed? Your job sucks? Your kid had a book fair today and you were the loser parent that forgot to send in their money? Well, as the old saying goes, "If hunger isn’t the problem, then food isn’t the answer." If I am TRULY hungry, I try drinking a bottle of water first and then make myself wait 10 minutes before snacking. More times than not, drinking water and waiting makes me rethink that rendezvous with my frenemy, chocolate.

3.  BE REALISTIC. Although there are a million excuses, it really comes down to the fact that, when we eat too much and move too little, we get fat. We’d like to make it more complicated, but sadly it’s not. There is no pill, no shake, no vitamin, no drops for your tongue, no plastic suit, no overpriced-delivered-to-your-door-full-of-preservatives-meal that is going to make you lose weight. Because if there was, the United States wouldn’t be in the throes of an obesity epidemic. Do some of them give results in the short-term? Sure. But NO ONE can live their life having "a shake for breakfast, a shake for lunch and a sensible dinner." It’s just not realistic. I have no stock in Weight Watchers and am not a paid spokesperson, but I do whole-heartedly believe there is a reason they’ve been in business for decades and have thousands of lifetime members. It’s because they have no required prepackaged foods and no food is off limits. It’s just about choices.

4.  BE OPEN. I had to accept that the way I was doing things wasn’t working. Accepting that and being honest about where my choices got me was (just like my butt) huge. Learn from others. And not just people who have also struggled with their weight. Believe it or not, the skinny person you secretly give the one-finger-salute to may be one of your biggest (or should I say smallest) teachers.

Here’s an example: I am someone who hates to waste food and had designated myself as a One Woman Clean-Up Committee. My kids left some pasta on their plate? Come to mama! I mean really, what’s two more bites? I can’t let it go to waste! Someone doesn’t like pizza crust? Toss that dough my way. After all, there are children starving while sewing Nike sneakers in China! But guess what my oh-so-slim sister said to me when I brought this up a few years ago? The BRILLIANT revelation that, either way, THE FOOD IS GOING TO WASTE! It’ll be waste in the trashcan or waste in the toilet. (But with the latter, most of it morphs into back-fat.) I could've licked plates for the next 10 years before that would have occurred to me! But that was completely logical to a thin person. See what I mean?  

And don’t just assume that if you see someone who is not overweight, it’s because they possess the Kate Moss chromosome. While that’s true in some cases, often times those people are making different choices about what they eat. I took my daughter and a friend to get their nails done recently and another customer complimented me on my haircut. She then opened up about how she felt like she was in a rut, both with her hair and her body. She said, "I am trying to lose weight because I’m not blessed with being naturally thin like you." After looking over my shoulder to see if she was actually talking to me, I told her that I think about eating almost every hour of every day and about how I only like Yankee Candles that smell like food. While it does come easy to some, a whole lot of people are playing the game all day long, deciding what’s worth it and what’s not.

I guess my point is (and I do have one), YOU CAN DO IT!  Even with restaurants working against you by bringing out meals in troughs, it’s possible. Even though too many foods are laden with salt, sugar, and chemicals we can’t pronounce, it’s possible. Despite feeling that we are all just rats in the race and there’s no time for reading and planning and cooking and shopping, it’s possible. Feeling less guilty, less tired, less defeated…it’s possible.  And you're worth it.

I still carry my Weight Watchers keychain and I have incorporated other things to help me stay the course. Believe it or not. the most un-athletic person in the 21014 zip code, has joined a gym, an experience that will be the subject of my next blog post. In the meantime, I truly apologize for leaving you with that horrifying visual.