Category Archives: Random Thoughts

Disappearing Doos

                                         
Did you know that a lot of women over a certain age never wash their own hair? And they have it “done” only once a week?
“That’s so GROSS!” say my girls.  (Hmmm, if I were them, at least some of the time, I wouldn’t be talking…)

I think about “the generation gap of hair” once in awhile, especially lately as my 85-year-old mother has been staying with us for her annual visit.  That visit always includes finding her a local “beauty operator” to “do” her hair once a week.  Just like she’s been doing ever since she was in her 20’s.  I can remember accompanying her to the beauty shop when I was a child, to a house whose ground floor was filled with rows of bonnet hair dryers, which were filled with women getting “beehives”…it’s a wonder I could see them through the haze of hairspray!!  And it’s amazing how weekly “hairdoos” live on in 2009.  But I realized a few years ago as I sat at a women’s luncheon, staring at the backs of several “coiffures” in front of me, that the days of “doos” are numbered.  The look of older white women is completely going to change someday.

I say “white women” because from the looks of the new Chris Rock documentary, “Good Hair”, frequenting the beauty shop is alive and well among other cultures/ethnicities.  But I think it’s an endangered activity elsewhere. I mean, look at Baby Boomer Caucasian women who are in or close to their retirement years.  They wash and style their hair on their own, sometimes every day, just like they’ve done since their 20’s.  They became adults in the era of hand-held blow dryers and Wella Balsam shampoo. And look at white women younger than that.  We’ve never known it any other way.  Sure, we still visit a “styling salon”, but for a haircut or highlighting once in awhile– not every week.  I tried to explain this difference to my mother, but she just didn’t “get” it.  “Of course women will still be going to beauty shops every week,” she said. “Even if they haven’t, they’ll start.”  I asked my hairstylist, Brian, who’s been in the business over 20 years, what he thought.  He said lots of older women, like the women in his family, switched to do-it-yourself doos in the late 60’s/early 70’s when short hair for women became popular.  “The traditional beauty shop started dying then,” he said, and he doesn’t see it coming back.  My sister-in-law agrees.  At 61, she washes her hair on her own and has no plans to stop.  (Her sister, who is a few years older, has gone to the beauty shop every week since she was a teen and still does. My former neighbor Sonja, also in her late 60’s, also still treks to the salon each week. So it looks like beauty shops will still have some weekly customers at least for another 20 years or so.)

Having two girls, I guess I should count myself lucky that they wash their own hair. I’m sure our weekly beauty shop bill would be staggering if weekly outsourced “doos” were still the norm.  But when I hear the shower running for “forever” in our house on many occasions, try to scrub do-it-yourself hair color out of the bathroom rug, and find myself shelling out bucks for stuff like Bedhead Thickening Paste, John Frieda Clear Glosser/Shine Booster, Clairol Intensive Conditioning Creme, “Root Awakening” Shampoo, Chi Hair Straighteners and special wooden hairbrushes, sometimes I wonder if it doesn’t all even out in the long run…
 ###




The (Almond) Joys of Parenting

Ahh, the simple pleasures of being a parent on Halloween– at the end of the evening, we get all the candy rejects our kids don’t want.  This year, out of Emmie’s massive collection of 130 pieces of candy, I was given 1 mini Almond Joy, 4 mini boxes of Milk Duds, 2 pieces of banana Laffy Taffy (NOT the strawberry, of course, which I really would have enjoyed), 4 packs of Whoppers malted milk balls, 1 butterscotch candy, 1 peppermint, 1 Rolo, and a mini Heath bar. Not a whole lot to get excited about, but it made me laugh on the inside—this “reject pile” not only looks the same every year for both of my children, it contains the same stuff I rejected when I was a kid.   The same stuff about which I always think, “The adult who bought this doesn’t have a clue what most kids like.” For example, most kids don’t like coconut– so Mounds is a perennial reject as well.  Ditto for “Dots”, Good ‘N Plenty, “Chick O Stix”, any Tootsie Rolls other than the original flavor, red hot Jawbreakers, and black licorice.   While I’ve grown to like most of it, I still scratch my head about some of it, like the Milk Duds.
 

I asked Emmie why she didn’t like Milk Duds.


“I don’t know, “ she replied.  “I’ve never tried them.”


“Huh?” I responded. “Then why are they in the reject pile?” 


“The name just makes them sound bad,” she said.  “Milk DUDS.”


She decided to try one for the first time, and I hadn’t had one in years, so we opened the tiny box and shared this momentous occasion.  It was not a good experience. My jaw hurt trying to maneuver to get the sticky mass of caramel off my teeth. 


“I can’t get it off,” I said.  “I think we’re supposed to suck on them.”


“I’m already trying that,” said Emmie.  That didn’t help her enjoy them much more. The rest of the Milk Duds boxes remained in the reject pile.



Sifting through said pile some more, I wondered if stuff I’d given out to Trick-or-Treaters over the years ever ended up among their rejects.  No “Now and Laters” or imitation Sweet Tarts come from my hands—I usually try to do something different and maybe even (horrors!) healthier, like mini bags of pretzels or Goldfish crackers, mini packages of unpopped microwave popcorn, even one year, much to my older daughter’s dislike, 4-packs of “Halloween crayons” in colors like Ghoul Green, Black Cat and Ghostly White.  She put her foot down when I thought up the idea of giving away old McDonald’s Happy Meal toys.  “We will be the laughing stock of the neighborhood,” she said.  “No kid wants to get a Happy Meal toy in their sack for Halloween!” 


 


Okay, okay!! But I still think it would’ve ranked higher than the Bit-O-Honeys. ###


 


 

Time to Celebrate

Isn’t “Fall Back Day” the greatest? You know, the day we “fall back” to Standard Time. The day that Daylight Saving Time ends.  I like it so much, it just might be my favorite holiday.  Oh, I know, it’s not really an “official” holiday.  But it should be.  In fact, they ought to just call it Mother’s Day and forget about that inferior shorter day in May. 

After all, if you’re a mother with kids still at home, isn’t time the one thing you wish you had more of? Time for yourself or your family or your laundry.  Time to make it to places on time. Time to do things you never do, like catch up in the family scrapbook/photo album, have lunch with a friend, fix your broken earrings, read a book, get 8 hours of sleep.  If you’re not a mother, you probably wish you had more time, too.  And the only day that actually gives you extra time is Fall Back Day, coming to a clock near you this Sunday.

Yeah, I know, it’s only an hour, but beggars can’t be choosers.  My to-do list is so long right now I’d be happy to take advantage of even 15 extra minutes. (And life just seems to go in slow motion when you need to get things done, doesn’t it?) And evidently with DST, thought up by Ben Franklin in 1784, a little time goes a long way.  According to webexhibits.org, an online “museum”, Daylight Saving Time reduces energy usage in some locations, and helps the economy (more daylight time to shop!). 

This year, the end of Daylight Saving falls on the day before my birthday, and I couldn’t think of a better present.  How will I spend those 60 precious extra minutes? Maybe reading the newspaper. Or cleaning my house, since my 85-year-old mother arrives on the same day to spend two weeks with us.  (Fall Back Day would also make a great “National Day of Service”, where everyone would pledge to use the extra 60 minutes to volunteer in their community.)

Maybe I should follow my own advice, published nine years ago in the Dallas Morning News, on how to make the most of this unique day (updates are in purple):
 

-Plan to use the extra time first thing in the morning, before distractions get in the way. Make sure you let your kids stay up an hour or so later than usual the night before. Otherwise they’ll wake up at the usual time (which in my house, can be the same time I arise or earlier
for my 10-year-old) and your precious moments of freedom could disappear. (That is, unless the one thing you never have enough time for is your family. In that case, rise and shine, everybody!) (If you’re a walker, early morning is smart because pedestrian fatalities increase three-fold in the evening right after the switch.)

-Don’t set your clock back before you go to bed – wait ’til the next day. There’s more dramatic impact when you wake up, look at the clock and for a brief moment think something like, “If I don’t get up now, I’m going to be late for church!” and then realize, “Aahh, it’s really only 6:30 a.m., not 7:30!” That is the blissful, annual moment when time is actually handed to you on a silver platter – so set yourself up to savor it.

-Plan ahead what you’re going to do once the time has arrived. 

 -Be thankful that you live in Texas (well, at least on that day), as opposed to Arizona, Hawaii and the eastern half of Indiana, where daylight-saving time is not observed. (Horrors!)  (Indiana is now on board)

 -Be flexible and have a sense of humor. Your best-made plans may have to be put off another year after being up all night with a sick child, or a neighborhood kid selling something rings your doorbell early in the morning and wakes everyone up.
Then again, you could always vow to take your next vacation across a couple of time zones…
###

Time to Celebrate

Isn’t “Fall Back Day” the greatest? You know, the day we “fall back” to Standard Time. The day that Daylight Saving Time ends.  I like it so much, it just might be my favorite holiday.  Oh, I know, it’s not really an “official” holiday.  But it should be.  In fact, they ought to just call it Mother’s Day and forget about that inferior shorter day in May. 

After all, if you’re a mother with kids still at home, isn’t time the one thing you wish you had more of? Time for yourself or your family or your laundry.  Time to make it to places on time. Time to do things you never do, like catch up in the family scrapbook/photo album, have lunch with a friend, fix your broken earrings, read a book, get 8 hours of sleep.  If you’re not a mother, you probably wish you had more time, too.  And the only day that actually gives you extra time is Fall Back Day, coming to a clock near you this Sunday.

Yeah, I know, it’s only an hour, but beggars can’t be choosers.  My to-do list is so long right now I’d be happy to take advantage of even 15 extra minutes. (And life just seems to go in slow motion when you need to get things done, doesn’t it?) And evidently with DST, thought up by Ben Franklin in 1784, a little time goes a long way.  According to webexhibits.org, an online “museum”, Daylight Saving Time reduces energy usage in some locations, and helps the economy (more daylight time to shop!). 

This year, the end of Daylight Saving falls on the day before my birthday, and I couldn’t think of a better present.  How will I spend those 60 precious extra minutes? Maybe reading the newspaper. Or cleaning my house, since my 85-year-old mother arrives on the same day to spend two weeks with us.  (Fall Back Day would also make a great “National Day of Service”, where everyone would pledge to use the extra 60 minutes to volunteer in their community.)

Maybe I should follow my own advice, published nine years ago in the Dallas Morning News, on how to make the most of this unique day (updates are in purple):
 

-Plan to use the extra time first thing in the morning, before distractions get in the way. Make sure you let your kids stay up an hour or so later than usual the night before. Otherwise they’ll wake up at the usual time (which in my house, can be the same time I arise or earlier
for my 10-year-old) and your precious moments of freedom could disappear. (That is, unless the one thing you never have enough time for is your family. In that case, rise and shine, everybody!) (If you’re a walker, early morning is smart because pedestrian fatalities increase three-fold in the evening right after the switch.)

-Don’t set your clock back before you go to bed – wait ’til the next day. There’s more dramatic impact when you wake up, look at the clock and for a brief moment think something like, “If I don’t get up now, I’m going to be late for church!” and then realize, “Aahh, it’s really only 6:30 a.m., not 7:30!” That is the blissful, annual moment when time is actually handed to you on a silver platter – so set yourself up to savor it.

-Plan ahead what you’re going to do once the time has arrived. 

 -Be thankful that you live in Texas (well, at least on that day), as opposed to Arizona, Hawaii and the eastern half of Indiana, where daylight-saving time is not observed. (Horrors!)  (Indiana is now on board)

 -Be flexible and have a sense of humor. Your best-made plans may have to be put off another year after being up all night with a sick child, or a neighborhood kid selling something rings your doorbell early in the morning and wakes everyone up.
Then again, you could always vow to take your next vacation across a couple of time zones…
###

Just Tell Me What To Do

Some days, don’t you want to be on auto-pilot? Like, not having to make a lot of decisions or worry about much other than following instructions and just “being”?

You know you’re a person with a lot on your plate when you’re grateful for the computerized directions at the gas pump.  Seriously– sometimes when I put gas in my car, I feel fleeting relief at having someone (or some”thing”) tell me what to do. “SWIPE CARD”– you got it, chief.  “SELECT GRADE”– no problem!  “LIFT LEVER”– anything you say, bucko!  I set the nozzle on the “hands-free” latch and lean against the car, taking a two-minute vacation and a deep breath (although not too deep so as not to OD on petroleum fumes…)  Managing self, job, a tween, a teen, family schedules, housework, numerous volunteer activities and numerous “other tasks as necessary” can make anyone’s head spin.  If only some days, someone else could take care of the “managing” part of the equation, for more than just two minutes.

I think that’s why some of us make lists.  It’s like handing over everything you have to get done to a piece of paper, and somehow the paper becomes the manager. It helps you kind of clear your mind of worrying about the big picture and concentrate only on a list of tasks.  Then, making checkmarks or crossing things off is like reporting back in–“See, I’ve done that! And that! And that, too!  Woo-hoo!  Paper, aren’t you proud of me? Do I get a raise?  Hello??”

I think our need for unburdening ourselves of so much decision-making is also why flylady.net, dinewithoutwhine.com and other daily task-oriented websites are so wildly popular.  (Flylady.net sends out constant email reminders, all day, of what stay-at-home people might want to be doing at any given time to help get things under control– one reminder is all about getting “dressed to the shoes” in the morning; another suggests which room in your house to clean on a particular day; another reminds you to “Get to Bed and don’t stay up too late”.  Some days she tells you it’s time to clean out your car; another day she tells you to clean out your purse.)

I think I’d like to have something similar to our family’s GPS, when we set it to the “Austin Powers” voice.  Although our GPS has sent me woefully astray, it sure is fun to get lost hearing Mike Myers (or a decent facsimile) in that crazy British accent sing out, “Groovy driving!” and “You’ve reached your destination– Yeahhh!”  I’d love to be able to plug my To-Do list into a device like that in the morning, and hear Austin guide me through my day.  I could hit a button and hear him say,  “Do a load of laundry.”  “Answer emails.”  “Update your calendar.” “Walk the dog.” And then when I finished and deleted each task, I would hear his voice say, “Groovy, baby!” or “Shagadelic!” How fun would that be?!  And you know, there are so many GPS voices available now that my electronic manager would have to have lots of voices as well.  Let’s see, some days I could listen to the inspiring voice of Richard Simmons (“Cmon, just one more task and you’re done with the list!  There, you’ve done it!! Now go reward yourself! You deserve it!!!); or a torchsong diva like Celine Deon (“You are…de greatest mother… in de vorld! Vel, other dan me!”) or even Martha Stewart (“Time to wash the dishes– and speaking of that, it’s a good thing to store dishwashing liquid in an antique glass bottle next to your sink.”).

If only someone would invent that!  For now, I’m glad that at least I have a husband who wakes me up every morning (and lets me know what day it is), a library who calls to remind me when my books (and tapes, and DVDs) are overdue, and kids who let me know (loudly) that their bathroom is out of toilet paper.  After all, I can’t remember everything!


It’s A Different World…

This has been a week of eye-opening experiences that has made me think a lot about the state that I now call “home”.

On Friday night, Allison and her friends introduced me to a TV show called “Toddlers and Tiaras”, a documentary-type look behind-the-scenes at child beauty pageants.  I watched in horror as a tiny three-year-old who looked exactly like a pint-sized version of Anna Nicole Smith was forced to endure a photo session while she was sick with fever.  Her red, thickly-lipsticked mouth quivered and drooped as a photographer went through histrionics trying to get her to smile. I just wanted to bust through the TV set and rescue her. The pageant she was about to win was in Texas, and most of the “stage moms” highlighted were from Texas, too.  It figures, I thought.

On Tuesday night, my husband, Andy, and I took Emmie to south Dallas to listen to her former piano teacher, Mark Meadows, play with his band in a jazz club called Brooklyn’s. (Check out my blog’s MP3 player, on the sidebar, to listen to Mark.) She loved watching all the musicians and studied them intently.  It was also a learning experience for her in another way.  We were three of only about 10 “white people” in the entire place.  On the way home, she asked us all sorts of questions about segregation and what kinds of things went on in Texas not so long ago.  “I feel so sorry for black people when I see the movie, Hairspray,” she said.  I told her there were even better movies that show more history of the Civil Rights movement that we’ll have to watch someday.  As Andy talked about segregated drinking fountains and swimming pools (he grew up in Dallas), I was feeling proud to be from the North, and a bit homesick as well.

Those feelings came back last night as we sat at parent orientation in the auditorium of our local high school, where Allison will be a freshman in less than two weeks.  They have a (gulp) country-western dance team that wears (gulp) cowboy hats, and we learned the first school dance of the year is called “Howdy” and has a country-western theme.  The football coach got the biggest round of applause of any teacher that spoke.  Some moms came onstage modeling homecoming mums as big as flying saucers, decorated with more trinkets than a Joan Rivers segment on QVC.  Both girls AND guys will be wearing them for homecoming in a few short weeks, and people have been working all summer getting 1,300 ready for sale. Made me want to run back to Iowa and hide in the cornfields with Shoeless Joe.

Yes, even after 25 years of living in Texas, I still sometimes feel like a stranger in a strange land…no, make that often feel like a stranger in a strange land… but I cope by thinking about all the things I love about being here.  Like the fact that you can go to the beach, mountains, flatland prairie and tall piney woods all in one state, though maybe not all in one day.  That some of the world’s best authors, playwrights, artists, entrepreneurs, chefs, actors, and musicians have, at some point past or present, called Texas home.  That the word “y’all” is acceptable anywhere (I happen to think it’s a pretty useful word).  That certain gorgeous flowers still show their faces in the midst of dire drought, and that real fried pies are not something that comes in a cardboard sleeve at McDonald’s.

Next Tuesday, my Girl Scout troop will be doing the flag ceremony when Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison stops in Dallas for her announcement tour in her run for governor.  I’m sure I’ll see a lot of cowboy hats there, but hey, what a great role model for the girls to meet, the first female U.S. senator ever elected in Texas (and that’s a pretty big deal, considering married women in Texas couldn’t even own property until 1967 and that prior to that, employers couldn’t legally hire them for a job without first consulting their husbands!).  I just hope I don’t hear any music played that includes the words, “We’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way”… because I just might start fantasizing about running away and hiding again.  Only I don’t think the Iowa cornfields will protect me from that
Smiley Face Cowboy Emoticon

When Mom Dresses Like A Teen

I once bought jeans a few years ago from Limited, Too– for myself! No, I’m not a size zero.  Just a busy mom who never has time to shop for herself, yet gets dragged to the mall on numerous occasions by her oldest daughter so that she can shop. So there I was one day, bored, waiting while my then pre-teen daughter was trying on clothes (and I kept waiting….. and waiting…..) and sick of listening to the pounding pop beats played nonstop in that store, and I started thinking “outside the box”.  Hmmm, I wonder if I might find some jeans on the clearance rack in a size 16 plus-plus or 18 that would fit me? (Ahem– keep in mind these are GIRLS sizes) And sure enough, I found some.  I took a few pairs into the dressing room next to my daughter’s. 

“MOM?” she called out in a shocked voice.  Not sure how she knew it was me, other than maybe she recognized my heavy breathing, as I was attempting to try everything on as fast as I could so no one would notice…  Much to her chagrin, she found nothing that fit, and I did– a pair of bell-bottomed jeans embellished on the top 1/4 of one leg with charms and painted-on chains.  They were really cute, and ever since I purchased them I’ve received numerous compliments, mostly from adults. 
I made sure to wear them with an “adult” looking sweater and jewelry, however, because I hate it when adults look like they’re trying hard to look younger. I remember I once did a double-take while watching a mom coming out of a movie theatre with her kids–it was hard to figure out who were the kids and who was the adult– she was wearing tight, skinny jeans, flipping her bleach-blonde pony tail and smacking her gum with the rest of them. Sick and weird, I thought.  But then again, in the area of fashion, what choices do moms have, especially moms in their 30’s and 40’s? I’m petite, so most of what’s offered up to me in department stores looks like something my 85-year-old mother would wear.  The other choices look like, well, close to something my now-teenaged daughter would wear.  So that’s what I buy. And now that she’s grown into a beautiful girl with fantastic fashion sense (who has quit shopping at Limited Too), I find myself asking her for advice. We sometimes even…gulp… share jewelry and shoes, or should I say, we “borrow” eachother’s jewelry and shoes when the other’s not looking…



So I have recently come to wonder, have I become one of those moms who looks like she’s trying hard to look younger? I really don’t want to.  I’m proud of my age and the fact that I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, not the 90’s. I’m proud that I have some gray hairs, laugh lines, spider veins, breasts that nursed two children and a scar on my belly from a C-section. Yet I also don’t want to buy clip-on earrings and double-knit pantsuits in colors like aqua and salmon.

What’s a middle-aged mom to do? Hmmm…maybe check out magazines to see what celebrities who are close to my age are wearing… Let’s see, there’s Valerie Bertinelli (just saw that Jenny Craig bikini layout, so no, that won’t be me); Ellen DeGeneres (I don’t like pants that much); Demi Moore (didn’t she marry a teenager?) and Marie Osmond (a little bit too many layers).  Maybe I ought to get a subscription to MORE magazine for fashion advice– but is that even being published anymore?

In the meantime, my younger daughter has discovered fashion, so after a brief hiatus, I found myself back in Limited Too again a couple weeks ago.  Only now it’s changed its name to Justice. (Yeah, that’s what I want after shopping there…only kidding!)  Same colors, same music, same too-cute stuff.  This time, I found myself in a similar situation.  Bored while she was trying on clothes and realizing I wasn’t going to get to do any of my shopping, I found something in the store that was on my list– sunglasses.  And sunglasses on sale, no less. And with UV 400 protection! I found a cute pair that I liked and that fit, and realized I wasn’t going to find a deal that good even at Target, so I bought them.

Only I have to be careful when I wear them when my teenager’s around, because she is totally, completely, bent-out-of-shape embarrassed with having a mom who wears black sunglasses with Cheetah print on the sides. ###


(updated and adapted from a post I once wrote for the Blogher network)

Just A Spoonful of Sugar…

Heard while walking out of the grocery store yesterday, spoken to me by my 10-year-old, Emmie: “You are so lucky, you get to do this all the time!”
She was talking about grocery shopping. 

It wasn’t that she’d never been to a supermarket before.  I have my share of kids-whining-at-grocery-store stories, or kids-reading-embarassing-magazine-covers-in-the-checkout-line stories, or kids-shopping-together-and-running-their-cart-into-people stories.  Yesterday was different, because for the first time, I let her take a copy of my shopping list and one of those small plastic “carry baskets” and head out into the grocery store, alone, while I pushed my cart around and got the rest of the list. (We’d planned to take along walkie talkies, but couldn’t find one of them, so I trusted her maturity instead. She also knows to scream “This is not my parent!” at the top of her lungs if someone were to try to grab her.)  I’d highlighted what I wanted her to find on the list.  She had a blast and felt very important, getting all the items and coming back to me for another “assignment”.  I asked her why she got the super-sized Ravioli instead of regular. “They were out,” she said, matter-of-factly.  “I asked someone who worked here for help.”   Wow. 

When she returned with frozen lunches for her dad to take to work, she proudly announced that she’d studied the boxes and made sure they didn’t have too much fat or salt.  I kept all of her selections, even though some were pretty skimpy for a guy’s lunch (I’ll eat them, or he’ll supplement).  I told her she did a great job.  She was so happy when she was done, she asked if she could always go to the store with me and help out like that. Absolutely, I told her.  It gave her a great “independence” experience, a great self-confidence booster– not to mention it cut my chore of grocery shopping in half!
 
Which brings me to her comment as we left the store.  Isn’t it funny how kids often marvel at what we take for granted, or find routine and boring?  I remember when I was a kid, saying to my parents, “You’re so lucky.  You get to drive a car, every day!”  I remember my cousins, when they were around age 10 or 11, standing next to my sister and watching her in the bathroom mirror, as she carefully applied mascara. “You’re soooo lucky,” they gushed.  “You get to wear makeup, every day!” If only, as adults, we could always feel such joy and excitement in doing everyday tasks.

While I haven’t mastered that kind of “zen”, I did come up with a way, not long ago, that helps routine tasks seem a little bit more important: Counting. Putting numbers to what I do.  It wasn’t that hard, one day I just kept a mental tally and then after a task was done, I’d write on the nearest scrap of paper I could find. Stuff like: number of emails dealt with; number of coupons clipped and filed; number of minutes it took to vacuum the dining room rug; number of dishes loaded and unloaded in the dishwasher.  It may sound nuts, but it was actually fun (didn’t Mary Poppins say something about making jobs a game?).  And it was eye-opening.  Who knew I drove over 40 miles a day driving my kids around town?!

I did another count today.  When my husband comes home from work and asks me what I’ve been doing, won’t it sound more impressive to say, “I washed and dried 38 pieces of laundry” rather than “I washed underwear and socks”? Or, “I unloaded 56 cups and plates, 34 pieces of silverware, and loaded in 45” rather than “I did the dishes.”  Or, “I composed and typed 636 words!” rather than “I posted to my blog…”

The Cousin Connection

Just got back late last night from our latest family reunion in Iowa.  It reminded me of one of my favorite children’s picture books, “The Relatives Came”, although we didn’t sleep on the floor, overlapping each other– but sometimes the dogs did! There were 14 adults, two kids, two dogs, one active toddler, one baby, and one on the way, at times all crammed into Grandma’s tiny house at once, and there were lots of hugs, and food, and chatter, and music, and games, and bike rides, and golf cart rides…   And then after a few days, we piled back into our minivan (it made it!) with our kids, and our dog, and Emmie’s guitar, and all of our bikes, and drove 13 hours straight home, all day and into the night, only stopping for fast food and bathroom breaks.   

I was the main “planner” for the reunion, so it was a lot of work, but a lot of fun for everyone, and it left me thinking a lot about cousins. 

My friend Jenny, if I remember correctly, has a cousin which she’s as close to as a sister.  Same for my friend Teresa.  I never had cousins exactly my own age, but I had one four years older and her sister was five years older, and some of my cherished childhood memories are those of summer weeks spent at their house in Springfield, IL. What fun we had, exploring their neighborhood, buying candy and “Flying Things” at a nearby store, playing with the Mattel Thingmaker in the basement and watching a TV show called The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, starring the late great Bill Bixby. (I can still hear the theme song, sung by Nilsson.)  They taught me how to knit, how to appreciate Archie comic books, and we even saw a real funnel cloud together.  I got great writing practice when my cousins and I exchanged many letters, often decorated with psychedelic ’70’s stickers.  But as my cousins grew older, the age gap seemed to widen and the visits (and letters) stopped.

Many years later in 1998, when I was married and had one child, our “thinking about having a second child” turned into action when my sister-in-law Marti announced she was pregnant.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a child that has a cousin who is the same age and grade?  My plan worked.  Cousin Ted was born in August, and my Emmie was born in November. She and Ted became fast friends, and were blessed to have another cousin their own age when Andy’s stepbrother and his wife had a son later the same year.  When those three cousins get together, it is pure joy to watch.  Whether jumping on the trampoline, playing Guitar Hero or spraying each other with the hose, they have a special connection.

For Allison, my teenager, her nearest first cousins (other than the younger ones mentioned above) are six and seven years older, which has sometimes meant a playmate at family gatherings but hasn’t quite meant weekend sleepovers and endless correspondence, and, just as I experienced, the age gap has widened with age.  At this latest reunion, Allison watched as the college-age cousins left to “hit the local bars” at night.  She stayed back at Grandma’s, reading a book.

I regret she has not experienced the fun of a close cousin.  Oh, it’s hard to time everything right for cousins in family planning, especially with me being so much younger than my siblings, and waiting until my 30’s to start a family.  But I think we should have tried harder in Allison’s younger years to make more connections with the many second and third cousins close to her age found on my husband’s side of the family. 


Maybe it’s not too late.  Now that I’ve planned one family reunion, I should be an expert at planning another– right?  And most of this other bunch lives less than five hours away.  Only it’s not my side of the family, so I’ll definitely need help.  And we’re talking about several teens and ‘tweens being a part, so it will be a challenge getting them to interact.  And, of course, there’s no guarantee that they will!  But at the very least, it will give my husband and his sister the chance to reconnect with their own cousins, with whom they share lots of childhood memories.

Bring on the cousins! Let the family reunion planning begin again!!
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(R to L) Allison, 14, shares a smile with her first cousin Erin, 31, at the family reunion.



Emmie, 10, sips “pop” with her first-cousin-once-removed, Jetta, age 2 1/2.

Friendship 101

Do you have friends you’ve kept up with since childhood? High School? College? First job? If you’re a parent, who among your kids’ friends do you think they’ll still be close to when they’re in their 40’s and beyond? I think one of the best gifts we can give our children, and ourselves, is to help foster and nurture deep friendships.  I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, as I count down the days until my teenager starts high school (66 as of today– I can’t believe it!) and watch my kids spend their summer hours.  Having “best friends” in childhood, college and beyond is an important component in weathering the ups and downs of life. I’ve been fortunate to have had really good friends, friends who will drive (or fly) a long way to be at (or in) your wedding, attend your father’s funeral, show up on a moment’s notice when you’ve just moved to the ‘burbs and are really depressed about it, send you a “gorilla gram” for your birthday…  a lot of these friends have known me since elementary school, one since preschool, and I’ve wondered lately, who among my two daughters’ friends will be their Best Friends Forever? 

From reading this blog, you probably wouldn’t think my teen is very much on the shy side, but she is.  It’s always been hard to get her to call up “new friends” and ask them to do things.  Still, I’m noticing a few good signs of her establishing strong friendship “foundations”– a certain group of friends (people she’s known a long time) that consistently come over to spend the night; inside jokes and good times they “reminisce” about; lots of laughter; funny photos they share with eachother on Facebook.  I try to help them make memories when I can, by suggesting fun activities and accompanying them there, like outdoor exhibits, concerts, etc.  Things are looking good for my other daughter as well– she has a tight-knit group of school friends (there is only one classroom of her grade level at our neighborhood elementary school so they’ve all been together since kindergarten), and no matter where she is, she collects phone numbers and addresses of new friends (just like I used to do). It’s my job to help her find these scribbled scraps of paper, encourage her to put them in an address book, and try to arrange get-togethers, providing transportation when necessary. 

But as adults, do we put as much effort into nurturing/fostering friendships for ourselves?   We get busy with jobs, family, community…our BFF’s from our younger years are often not in our own neighborhood anymore.  We call them maybe once or twice a year.  Send a birthday card.  A holiday “form letter”.  (Luckily, Facebook has greatly helped increase opportunities for communication!) If we’re lucky, we might see them in person once in awhile…
We try to make new friends, but it’s hard. When you’re married with kids, or married with older parents to care for, you tend to “circle the wagons” and focus inward. There’s a lot to be done as a family and there’s hardly any time for anyone else.  Or at least, we don’t prioritize and make the time.  I see it time and time again, not only in my own family, but in others, among men as well as women.  How sad, huh? And then when we really need a good friend to talk to, someone outside the family, we’re kind of “on an island”.  Oh, sure, you talk with other moms at soccer games, birthday parties and PTA board meetings, but that’s not quite the place (or enough time) to make deep friendships.  If you’re lucky, you might be blessed with neighbors who become your good friends– my husband once had that kind of next-door-neighbor, and then our neighbor passed away.  For women, the concept of “retreats” has sprung up to help meet their needs for friendship– opportunities to “get away” from their families and hang with other women.  Around here, on any given weekend, there are scrapbooking retreats at country B & B’s, church ladies’ retreats at lakeside conference centers, Girl Scout volunteer retreats at wooded campsites, babysitting club retreats,… if I went to all of them, I’d never see my family! So I rarely go to any of them, because I’m too busy

Just as we help our kids nurture friendships, we need to model friendship, show them that it is important to our own health, happiness and well being, by making time for our friends.  I keep telling my teen, when she’s feeling bored and lonely, “Friends don’t just happen.  If you want a friend, you have to be a friend.  You have to nurture that friendship.”  It’s time I took my own advice!