Friday, 23 November 2012

Black Friday is now a foodie event!

I've been having a blast playing around on G+ lately...and getting to know some of the G+ people  and local power-users. From brunches to pumpkin carving, Google keeps us busy with all kinds of fun activities.

But tonight's event was hands down the best!  I got to participate in an After-Thanksgiving Cook-Off with two other food bloggers in a live Goggle Plus hangout. The event was hosted by Austin foodie Mary Helen Leonard from Mary Makes Dinner.  The challenge was to go beyond the standard Turkey-Day leftover fare (sandwiches, turkey tetrazinni and such) and create a delicious meal using common leftover food.

I had a great time coming up with my recipes (they came to me at about 2 a.m.!  A plus to insomnia!

Since we're vegetarian, there's no turkey to play with.  And the Tofurky is always gone by the end of the meal.  So I came up with a way to use the veggies and stuffing that I always over-make.

The soup was made up of chopped veggies from the vegetable tray (peppers, celery, carrots), extra onions from when I was cooking the stuffing, leftover corn, leftover mashed potatoes and extra cherry tomatoes from the salad.  Adding some Southwestern spices into the mix (cumin, garlic, onion powder, chili powder, cilantro) gave it just the right amount of flavor.  Then I finished it off with some cream for the perfect after-Black-Friday-shopping comfort.

The soufflés were a way to use up some of that stuffing and the sweet potato casserole.  I blended the sweet with some heat, by adding Cayenne, chili powder, hot paprika, and fresh black pepper, then whipped it up with a couple of eggs and some egg whites.  The stuffing went into muffin cups, and the soufflé cooked on top.  The result was just what I hoped...crunchy, savoury crusts filled with smooth, slightly spicy puffs.

It was crazy getting ready for it, but once the event started, my natural "hamminess" kicked in, and I had fun! My daughter was camera operator...and part time food thief as she snatched the leftover mash potatoes, and grabbed the final bowl of soup right after food taster Natalie put down her spoon!  My other kids were watching remotely, so it became a family event (right down to my other daughter's G+ comments of "Mommy!  Mommy!  Mom!!"

If you want to see the video (I haven't even seen it yet!) check it out on Google+  Then please vote for your favorite chef.  Of course, I'm hoping it's me, but we can still be friends even if don't (or not! LOL!)

Here's the voting link on Mary's blog...G+'s are great and much appreciated, but that's not the voting that counts for this!

Monday, 19 November 2012

Time for the family pictures...oh, and don't forget the holiday letters!

I have always wanted to have one of THOSE family holiday pictures.  You know, the kind where a smiling family is posed in a charmingly vintage setting, every hair in place and of course all in perfectly matched outfits.

Just one.  Just once.

So when I saw Design Mom's Tips for [Perfect!] Family Photos, I was once again hooked. Yes, I did insert that "perfect" but when you see her adorable shots, you'll understand why. Not only was the vintage European car a perfect prop, the stone building was a dream-come-true backdrop.  Even the sky cooperated, offering a lovely silver palate to highlight the bright red packages.

And miracle of miracles, the kids looked like they all played along.

As if.

As if I could ever pull that off. Oh, it's not that I didn't try. But between the whines when I said we would all be wearing matching demin shirts, to the photo-phobic child of the year (they seemed to trade this role from year to year), the picture of my dreams never happened. Hair was pulled, things were spilled (didn't I say no chocolate milk until AFTER the shoot???)...and again I settled for almost any shot with the three kids in it and no one's eyes closed.

But let it never be said that I am a quitter, because I am planning to try again this year.  No, there won't be any adorable vintage cars involved. And I'm thinking more geeky t-shirts instead of matching denim.  But seeing other people's perfect shot has renewed my determination to try again.

So kids, be forewarned. Mom is bringing out the family photo shoot plan again this year.

And then we'll start on the holiday newsletter.......Mwa haha,

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Stocking Your Thanksgiving Pantry

crowded thanksgiving grocery store
You DON'T want to be here on Thanksgiving Day! 
It's only a week until Thanksgiving!  I LOVE Thanksgiving! It's a holiday all about family, but there are no presents to buy and no religious observances to work in.  It's just about food and friends and having a great meal with people I love.

But what I don't love is heading to a grocery store on Thanksgiving Day to get those forgotten ingredients!  The lines are super-long, the parking lots are packed (who ever knew there was a parking space that far from the store's door?) and I always feel guilty for keeping the clerks away from their families on a holiday.

So when I saw the HEB's (the local grocery store here in Austin) guide to stocking your Thanksgiving pantry, I thought it would be a great thing to share. Everyone remembers the main course and the major ingredients for the side dishes, but it's the little things that always seem to be missing from the pantry on the big day.

I tried to find HEB's list on their website, but couldn't find it, so here's their list, plus a few ideas of my own. (There's a link to download the whole list at the end of this post, so no frantic copying and pasting needed!)

HEB's List

  • Sugar: brown, white, powdered, and extra fine sugar
  • Flour: all-purpose, cake, and seasoned frying flour (that last one is new to me!)
  • Baking powder
  • Baking soda
  • Nuts
  • Dried fruit
  • Canned pumpkin
  • Spices: cinnamon, allspice, pumpkin pie spice mix, ginger

It's a great start, and it got me thinking, so here's my own list, too. If you stock up on these extras and staples before next week, you'll be able to enjoy your holiday without those panicked trips to your local store.

Lindsay's List

  • Natural sweeteners (honey, agave, Stevia)
  • Flour and baking mixes: whole wheat, gluten-free, multigrain
  • Canned and frozen veggies (a great fill-in if you need more of something!): green beans, sweet potatoes, corn, peas
  • Ready-to-use broth (buying the kinds in cartons lets you use a little or a lot and not waste the rest of a can)
  • Spices: sage, poultry seasoning, pepper corns (and a grinder), salt
  • Canned fruit pie filling
  • Canned olives
  • Cheese (grated, cheddar, and according to my friends, the stuff in cans is a must-have too!)
  • Crackers
  • Heat-and-eat or ready-to-bake rolls
  • Stuffing mix
  • Butter, salted and unsalted
  • Instant mashed potatoes (better than running out!)
  • Gravy mix (vegetarian, chicken and turkey)
  • Canned milk
  • Sweetened condensed milk
  • Corn starch
  • Beverages (whatever you're serving, from tea to cider to soda)
  • Cake mix
  • Instant pudding
  • Cooking spray
  • Foil
  • Plastic wrap
  • Plastic food containers for people to take home leftovers
  • Paper towels
  • Paper napkins
And then two or three days before Thanksgiving, stock up on some extra:
  • Ice
  • Celery
  • Onions
Can you image?  A Thanksgiving without a last-minute store run?  What a concept! 

Of course, if you really need that chance to escape the chaos for a little bit, there's probably at least a one or two things I left off the list, right?  Frozen pizza, anyone? 

Download your own printable Thanksgiving grocery shopping checklist here.  And while you're shopping, do try to add at least a few things for your local food bank or homeless shelter.  It's been a tough year for many, and they could use your help in having a reason to be thankful.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

It's started already!

Cartoon thanks to Restoring Truthiness

Quick!  Somebody check the calendar!  Mine says it's November 14th.  Is it right?

OK, so WHY are there not one, but TWO channels of 24/7 Christmas music on the radio already?  Didn't that used to start the day after Thanksgiving?  So why the bump up?

Are the people at XM Radio concerned that we might have forgotten the lyrics to the Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire song, so we need more practice before the holiday actually hits?  If that's the case, I can assure them that the words to that and every other standard Christmas song are permanently burned into the brains of every American, regardless of their personal religion. We do NOT need to practice!

Or maybe they think that hearing endless versions of Rockin Around the Christmas Tree* will make us turn our cars around and head to the mall for a zombie-like shopping spree. Sorry, retailers. I think as a country we're wising up a bit, and realizing that no one really wants those "gift sets" stacked up at the entrance to every department store. And the "Made in China" clothing is wearing thin, too (literally, in this case! Is it even possible to find shirts that don't show your skin and bra through them anymore?)

No matter why they're on so early, you may be wondering how I know about these two stations of aural torture. XM has hundreds of stations, right? True.  But I am blessed with a daughter who actually likes Christmas music.

She apparently even liked it before she was born, because she chose to make her entrance on the planet on December 25th. I thought that she might have picked that day because the roads were empty...a handy thought when said roads were also snow-covered. But now I'm convinced she picked that snowy December evening so she could listen to the last of the barrage of Christmas music.

Why else would she have gotten that glow in her eyes when she heard the mention of the new stations as we were driving to school the other day?  And why, this morning, was I subjected to a sampling of all that is to come for the next month and half?

I did try to nip it in the bud. I suggested that we print out a list of the standard Christmas songs, and keep it with us in the car.  Everytime we hear one, no matter which version, we check it off. Once the list is done (which I figure will only take a few days), we shut off the Xmas sounds until next year. As Elvis came on, moaning (er, um singing) Blue Christmas, she laughed.  "Funny, Mom."

Sigh.  It's going to be a long, long time until December 25th.
*The version of Rockin Around the Christmas Tree we were "treated to" this morning was sung by Wayne Newton. Neither my daughter nor her BFF had every heard of him, and neither believed it was a guy.  I officially felt old!

Monday, 12 November 2012

When being lonely feels normal, is it time to worry?

A quick browse of my e-mails and blog follows today included a couple of articles that caught my eye.  The first was one on the impact of social isolation on the human brain.  According to researchers, spending too much time without social interaction actually changes brains.  And that change makes it harder for people to even want to meet new people and become less isolated. Which increases isolation and adds to the brain changes. So the problem deepens over time.

As an at-home mom and freelance writer who moved to a new city last year, I can tell you it's true without even looking at the test data.  After over a year spending most days alone, it's become hard to even imagine having friends around.  And just the other day, I announced to my family that I had given up on the idea entirely.  And what's more, I was just fine with that.

"It's just the way it is," I said. "My friends are online and in Florida, not here in Austin. But that's okay. I am fine with not trying to make friends here anymore."

After reading about the research, the scariest part of my statement is that I absolutely meant it.  My daughter is at school all day.  My husband heads to the gym after work, and is seldom home before 7 pm...sometimes later. I spend most days here at home writing and taking care of our home (cooking, laundry, etc.) That has become my normal.

Once in a while, I'll attend an event...a book group or a SEO meeting.  I go to yoga at the gym several times a week, but no one talks to each other there.  And we go to services and Torah (Bible) classes every week. As a family, we often go out to dinner, or take a walk at the Domain or downtown.  But that's about it for me. No actual non-family social time with friends.

But I had no plans to try and change that. The effort it takes to get out and meet people one-on-one and try to make connections seemed like far too much work to be worth it. In fact, I've recently contemplated dumping the mystery book group.  And the number of SEO meetings I actually make it to have been dropping quickly.  I even noticed that the connections I used to maintain online are slipping away.  I just didn't question why.

But now I know why it was so comfortable to decide to give up on the whole friends thing. My brain is morphing. My days, weeks and months alone have changed how I think...and who I am.  That aversion to social invitations?  My feelings of discomfort at networking events?  My loss of interest in chatting with friends online?  It's not just my natural introversion.  It's the impact of the isolation re-wiring my thinking.

The researchers did find that the changes were completely reversible when social interactions increased.  What they didn't answer was how that happens.  If, as they found, new social connections become unappealing, how do you cross that barrier to build them?

And how do you get past just not caring if you do?

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Why I can't watch the election results until it's over

I know the network and news stations are pushing election predictions and polls right now.  Radio is probably doing pretty much the same.

That's why I have the Food Network on my TV while I work. No matter who you're cheering for in this presidential election, this race is too close to call. And the results matter too much for the country as a whole, and each person who lives here.

At this point, there is nothing I can do. I have voted. I have shared my views and the data on social media and among friends and family. I have watched debates, and declared winners and losers (and I have to admit, had fun mocking mistakes made by the candidate I did not support!)

But now the tension is too high. The stakes are too high. A jump here, a dip there and suddenly I would be elated or upset.

So with my civic duty done (as much as it can be as long as the electoral college remains in place), I will work and write my articles and get ready for tomorrow mornings's interview on YNN*.  And I will look up occasionally and watch someone show me a new way to cook carrots or make a pie crust.

Tonight is soon enough for me to be happy or upset.

What about you?  Are you watching or listening or checking online for polls and results?  Or are you waiting until it's all said and done? 

*Tomorrow, I am being interviewed on YNN Austin, and will be demonstrating how to make a 72-hour emergency kit for kids. Check the website after 9:30 CST to find the video!

Monday, 5 November 2012

This is a test...can I actually be organized?

family command center via Pottery Barn
Photo via Pottery Barn
Right now, my front hall is decorated with a half dozen neatly tacked up pieces of newspaper.  I read somewhere that this was a great way to figure out how to arrange pictures or art on a wall before you actually grab the hammer and nails.

After a few false starts, the arrangement works.

In a few minutes, the newspaper is going to be replaced. with memo boards, a dry-erase calendar, chore charts, a bulletin board and framed name art to show who's board is who's. The whole thing will be topped with a quote designed to help us start the day right.

Once it's all up, the real test begins. Starting tomorrow, I will have a command center with all the tools that are supposed to make family scheduling easy, homework tracking efficient, and school mornings free from panic, tears, rushing and last-minute "oh I forgot..."

So what if it doesn't work? What if all of these tools and boards and quotes don't change anything?

If I can't get myself and my family organized with all the right stuff, does that mean I have to give up on EVER getting it right?  I am about to find out.

Yoda says there is no try, only do. So starting tomorrow, it's not about trying to get us on track. It is about doing...or not doing. Wish me luck!

Sunday, 4 November 2012

What if you had to leave your house with 5 minutes notice?

Photo via Emergency Essentials
When my two older kids were in preschool, the school said I had to make earthquake kits for each of them.  Each had a backpack to fill with the basics they would need for 3 days...72 hours. I was literally terrified at the idea of my little ones having to survive for a few days...or even a few hours...on what I packed!!! So I did my homework, and learned what to include to make sure they would be warm, and comforted and well fed if those kits ever needed to be opened.

The earthquake kits, thankfully, were finally opened for a last day of preschool party, instead of a crisis.

But since then, I've usually kept a 72 hour kit in our house and in the car.  I even wrote and sold a guide to basic emergency preparedness, filled with the things ordinary people need to know to stay safe and healthy when the unexpected happens. (In fact, I'm in the process of revising that now.)

Sometimes my 72 hour kits are complete and up-to-date, and other times they're sadly in need of attention.  But after watching the events of Hurricane Sandy on TV, I've decided that being lax just isn't an option.

During the past week, lots of us had friends, family members or colleagues who had to leave their homes with only a few hours...or even a few minutes notice. Hurricane Sandy turned into a Frankenstorm that had weather experts scratching their heads in disbelief as people fled their homes. .

But it doesn't take a monster hurricane wrapped in Nor'easter to cause an evacuation. It could be a fire in the area...a big problem here in Texas.  Or a tornado.  A blizzard, a flash flood or even a toxic spill.  Could you do it?  Do you have everything you would need for two or three days in a shelter?  Or in your car?

When you're not facing a crisis, it's easy to put together a kit. But when the order comes to leave, it's too late to start.

In case you're one of the vast majority who don't have your kits made and ready to go in a moment's notice, here's a link to my very own 72 hour kit checklist.  Your family's needs might be different, but it's a good place to start gathering what you need to get started on your path to preparedness.

Kids 72 hour kits
Go to the 72 hour kit checklist

Thursday, 1 November 2012

So how was your Halloween?

Halloween table decorations

Halloween, my absolutely favorite holiday, has come and gone again for another year.

There was so much going on this year with family that I didn't get around to doing nearly as much of an event as I'd planned, but I did manage to create a pretty cool Trick or Treat table at the last minute.

I especially liked the tree (a Hobby Lobby special for only $7!) and the kind of post-apocalyptic metal spiders I've had for years and years. The picture in the top photo is a Dollar Tree find from last you move, the image changes from the sweet old lady you see to a grinning skeleton face.

It was fun sitting outside with my DH, handing out candy to the little ones who came by.  But the best part was when the golf carts arrived!

You see, we live in a development that includes a golf course and club. So, as we learned from one of the neighbor moms last night. the kids traditionally all gather at the club, load up on golf carts and head out to Trick or Treat!  The parents drive, of course!

They stop on every block, unload a swarm of kids, everyone goes to the houses and then re-boards for the next block!  I love it!

I was also thrilled to see that Trick or Treating here started AFTER DARK!  Even for the little ones!  No 5:30 doorbells, or everything over by 8!

My daughter chose an easy costume this year...she wanted to be an 80's rocker, so all I had to do was open my storage bin of clothes I saved from then, add a pair of very 80's rock-star leopard skin boots I found on clearance at Target, and she was set!  Oh, and one more thing...I bought a ton of hair spray and gel to give her that 80's hair!  A blast from the past! I can't believe we did that much work every morning just to have our hair right!

My husband took lots of pictures last night, so I may upload more later, but I really wanted to get this post up this morning...lots to do today (y'know, like work!)

Maybe next year, I'll do the haunted house in the garage, or set my dinner table with great Halloween table settings like Susan showcased on Between Naps on the Porch.  But I'm learning to be happier with what I do these days. So full on Halloween next year...this year the table and kids and golf carts were just enough.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The other side of the coin...

While I was driving on Tuesday, I was half-listening to Marcus Smith, the host of a radio news and information show. He was talking about what a beautiful morning it was in the sky was clear and blue, and the breeze was gentle. (It was almost the same here in Texas that morning.)

And then said something that caught my ear...

He started talking about how the clear skies and breezes were reality, for him.  But at the same time, Hurricane Sandy was bringing high winds and pouring rain and flooding and destruction to people on the east coast.  And at that exact same moment, their reality of weather and the day was very different from his.  Both could answer "what's the weather like?" and although nothing in their description would agree, both are completely true and accurate. And neither one is better than the other!

And then he connected the dots to other things in our lives, where we look at the world as though there is always one right answer to every question...or at least one best answer. But in reality, that just might not be the case.  The answer -- the right answer -- depends on where the speaker is standing.  Or where they came from. Or what experiences they've had in life.

I listened so closely, because like so many of us, this is something I have a problem with in my life.

It's not about the little things, like whether you think a pizza isn't complete until it's covered with green peppers, and I think only pineapple works. Those differences are easy to resolve, whether it's by doing a half-and-half pizza or ordering two.

And it's not about the big things...the life and death matters where I truly believe there is universally no wiggle room for opinions on whether it's okay or not (like child abuse, or rape or murder.)

It's about all the stuff in the middle. Like whether getting 8 hours of sleep a night is a must-do or if it's better to sleep less and do more. Or if you believe that bottle feeding is just fine for babies or breastfeeding is the only way to go.

In those kinds of differences, if I have a strong opinion, I have a tendency to spend more time proving my point, and less time listening to someone else's. Because to me, accepting their opinions quietly (before or after sharing mine) has always felt tantamount to agreeing.

It's not a 100% thing, mind you.  Often times I do listen and learn, and sometimes I do change my views after learning new information. And like most of us, my reasons for speaking up are usually benevolent -- I genuinely believe my information/view/experience will help them in some way.

But that respectful listening, and trying to understand where they're coming from, and why they believe as they do, is tough.  And when it's a real hot-button issue for me, it  doesn't happen as much of the time as I would like.

I want to do better. When I am tempted to shut down any objections to breastfeeding or natural childbirth, or jump into that conversation where someone is saying that you need meat to be healthy, I need to work on listening more.

I need to remind myself that listening, and trying to understand has nothing to do with agreeing. And it doesn't prevent me from sharing my reality any more than someone in Texas is prevented from sharing the day's weather with someone in Pennsylvania. It just means I have to remind myself that the right answer to the question just might depend on where each of us is standing -- even if we're only across the table.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Throughts while blogging from the Texas Conference for Women

(My tablet weirded  out yesterday during the conference, so I had to wait until the day after the conference  to publish this! Gotta love technology!)

Right now I'm sitting in the Texas M.I.L.K. bloggers lounge at the conference, catching my breath and taking a minute to think about what I've heard so far.

But before I talk about the "official program", I wanted to mention something I heard two women talking about. It seemed that they had just met at the table. They chatted for a minute or two and then when speaker Gretchen Rubin talked about how important good relationships are to happiness one said...

"I would bet that half of the women in this room are lonely. It's so hard to make friends."

The other woman just nodded, then said "Who has time?"

And there, right there, was my post from yesterday. Here, in a room with nearly 5000 women, loneliness was a real issue.

And in quite a few presentations today, I've heard the same theme.

No time for friends. Seeing people once a month or every six weeks is now counted as good enough. No time for one on one visits, so group activities where you can see a bunch of people is good enough. Women starved for connection.  Women lonely in the midst of lives that leave them with too many tasks and not enough time to breathe. Women who are seldom if ever far from other people, and yet missing the whole category of friends from their lives.

When I wrote that post yesterday, I had no idea my rant would be repeated in a major conference the very next day. But the extent of my experience with this bone-deep loneliness for girlfriends, and the fact that the same theme was repeated over and over again means that it is NOT just me!  It's most of us.  Maybe almost all of us.

So what do we do?  I wish I had an answer!  I wish someone at the conference had an answer. Maybe just getting the reality out there and into our consciousness is the first step. I desperately, passionately hope so.

(Now that I can see this post so far, I see that it's too long to add the conference coverage part, so watch for that is my Thursday post!)

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Life without girlfriends...

Tomorrow, I'll be heading to the Texas Conference for Women for a full day of seminars and roundtables and talks. I'm excited about the information I'll learn, the ideas that might inspire a blog post or lead to a new client.

All day long, I'll be surrounded by other women, many of them moms and wives and bloggers like me. Some of them probably scrapbook, others love jazz or dogs or old bookstores, and I'd be willing to bet that at least a few like getting together at the last minute for lunch or a late night snack and a long talk about everything and nothing.

But after over a year in Texas, I have given up hope of turning any of those chance meetings into a friendship.

We (all of us, but especially women) live in bubbles. We who work from home, or those who make their home their profession, work alone.  Drive alone.  Shop alone. Raise children with a spouse...or do that alone, too. Women who go to a workplace are cautioned to avoid making friends even amid the worker lunches, meetings and projects, we remain essentially disconnected.

And when that urge to meet someone for a chat after the kids are in bed strikes, we pull out our computers or tablets and login to Facebook or a blog or Pinterest, and try to fill our need for girlfriends there.

But no matter how we tell ourselves that the online connections or the casual conversations at church or our kids' school events or in line at the store count as human interaction, we know in our hearts that it never quite fills that hole.

When we go to events like the Conference, we exchange business cards and blog names, and then move on, returning home with a bag full of cards and vague impressions of the people behind them.  In the bustle of running from seminar to roundtable, we pass in halls, share a table for a few minutes or an hour, and then we are off to the next event. 

And for those of us who have moved from state to state, or even country to country, the effort of starting over again and again, and trying to build relationships that last for more than just the time we share the same geography becomes exhausting.

We live, most of us, in lives without girlfriends. We live without face to face time with other women who really and truly know us.  We accept "friends for now", and dance around the impermanence, knowing that when a job or a spouse's job or a child's school needs or a new house somewhere else calls, those "friends" will move on (or we will), and the dance will begin again.

The question is, then, if our in-person time with other women is so seldom what we crave and need, why do we keep pretending?

Is it better to tell ourselves that what we can get from our brief (or virtual) connections is enough, even as we yearn for something more?  Or is it better to just accept that, as sad as it is, true friendship among women...real lasting, sustaining, growing friendship that lasts through years, that exists within the reach of a hand or close enough for a hug, has vanished into the past?

Sunday, 14 October 2012

I think reading health advice is bad for my health

I just came across an article on the Weather Channel website about the things that are terrible for your immune system.  I wasn't looking for health articles...I was just minding my own business and following a link for a forecast.

But then BOOM! Instead of reading about the weather in a Rocky Mountain town where I used to live, I am  facing article that promises to tell me exactly what will reduce my immune system to rubble. And like an accident you can't look away from, I can't stop reading.

The first piece was about isolation, and how people with less daily contacts get sicker.  Great.  I work from home in a town where I have yet to make any friends after over a year. Strike one.

The next part is about not sleeping enough.  Sleep?  8 hours a night?  Yeah right. Strike two.

Chronic stress?  You bet!  Despite yoga and the best of positive intentions to meditate more, the stress continues. So strike three.

Bottling up emotions and feelings and not being positive were items four and five.  Kind of seems like one or the other has to give, but since I haven't gone postal on anyone lately (or ever, for that matter), I guess I might be bottling up something or another. Strike four.  And after reading that article, I'm feeling pretty pessimistic about the whole immune system thing, so I guess that hits strike five.

Yup, I get to strike out almost two times at bat in one article.

Now here's my question...if reading this article increases my stress, keeps me up with worry, messes up my plans to go out to lunch tomorrow, and makes me grumpy (but not enough to take it out on my family), isn't there only one logical conclusion?  You got it!

Reading health advice is the worst thing I could do for my health. Now where was that in their list??

Friday, 12 October 2012

The smell of home

Yesterday, I got the box my dad sent me.  Inside was the long woolen cape that my mom had bought a few months before she passed. She never got to wear the cape, so for the past year and a half it's hung in the closet of my childhood home.

By all rights, this unworn cape should smell of wool or stores or that nasty new-clothes-smell that so many things seem to have.  But as soon as I opened the box, I was enveloped in the scent of home.  That unique mixture of fresh Florida air and a slight hint of moisture and the wood of my parents' closets and something else I can't define.

I held the cape up to my nose, and I breathed in.  And I cried.

I cried for the home my dad is selling...the home of my childhood.  My root in my world that has seen too many moves, too many temporary dwellings.  I cried for the never-to-be chance to have a good, loving relationship with my mom, and for the good-byes she wouldn't let me say. I cried for my dad, knowing after our summer together how very hard this packing up and clearing out is on him.

And I cried because I know that once that smell of home fades from this cape, it's gone forever.

When I came back after the summer, I hauled with me a large white coverlet that used to live on the guest room bed.  Part of my reason was that looking at it reminded me of being a kid, and seeing that always perfect white coverlet in the guest room that waited for the next grandmother, a cousin, an aunt or uncle.  But mostly I brought it back because it carried that same wonderful smell of home.

Only weeks after returning to Texas, my dog jumped up on the coverlet with muddy paws, and I had to wash the coverlet.  With that wash, the smell of home vanished.

Now in the final days of packing up for his move, my dad found this cape and sent me one last breath of home. The house is nearly empty there in Florida, so there will be no more surprises to bring me that scent.

If it was a look, I could photograph it.  A sound could be recorded. But that scent...that most evocative of our senses...there is no way to capture it.

So for now it hangs in my closet. And I will inhale that bit of home every chance I get until the Texas air takes it away.  And on that day, I know I'll cry again.

Because then, when my childhood home is someone else's house and the smell of home is gone for good, all of it (my home, my mom, my childhood) will exist only in my memory.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Marriage advice you just might want to print out

One thing that's not lacking online is advice.  Dating advice, home improvement advice, website advice...and of course, marriage advice.

It's everywhere, and to be honest, most of it's either so ridiculously obvious ("it's never acceptable to throw things at your spouse"  Gotcha.) or just plain bad ("You get what you give"  Right, Dr. Phil!)  that it will either waste your time or make matters worse.

But yesterday, while I was looking for something about education, I came across a post on a site called Today's Letters that defied all of those was marriage advice that made sense. For instance, here's number 7 from their top 10 list:

7. We Celebrate Each Other: Husband and I love to make a big deal out of anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, and even smaller personal accomplishments. We are each other's biggest fans, and finding a thoughtful gift or preparing a special meal can make the biggest difference in helping us feel known, loved, and celebrated.

How different is this from the stereotype of the husband running out for the last minute present, or the wife begrudging making the holiday dinner. How refreshing to use these days to honor and celebrate our partners!   In fact, this tip was the very first one I saw.

There were nine other equally thoughtful ideas, from surrounding yourself with other couples committed to marriage to some wonderful weekly questions to help keep the marriage on track.

I love the ideas behind their post, too.  The idea that marriage should be fun...and that playtime is just as important as conflict resolution (maybe more so, because more play probably means less conflicts to resolve.)  I love the unconditional tone of their's not something to do IF the marriage works, but because the marriage is a given.

My DH and I have only been married about two and half years, so we're still learning about our marriage. Sometimes I think that we should be completely on track by now.

But this post not only gave me some great ideas, it reminded me that the learning and growing and improving will never end.  And really, that very fact might be exactly what is best about marriage.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Rethinking the classroom is no longer an's a necessity

I hear my daughter's complaints about school.  And I hear her friend's complaints, too.  They're remarkably similar. They are bored with school. And they have been for years.

It's not that they think that they know everything (although at 14, there is sometimes a bit of that, too!) It's that they're not learning anything that seems to matter to them.  Or even worse, not learning anything at all.

For example, the math. These are gifted, talented kids but they are mastering only enough of their advanced math classes to get through the tests with a good grade. And I understand why.

No where in their assignments or textbooks or lectures is there a hint of how any of this information can be used in life -- or a career. No where is there an explanation of the application of Advanced Geometry or Algebra. The subject are taught in a vacuum, and the result is a classroom full of really smart kids who don't give a darn beyond the grade sheet.

The same could be said of their science, English and history classes. No where is the "why" answered...or even allowed to be asked. 

 I was thinking about this when I came across this article on Wired's website this morning "Coding for kids is as easy as Pi" it said. And the story was the opposite of what I see and hear in my daughter's school. These little kids weren't be told to USE a computer program; they were being taught how to create their own programs.  They weren't handed "learning games" to play...they were coding their own games.

And I was struck by the difference between that school in the UK, and this supposedly outstanding high school in Texas. In one, learning is doing. And when you do, you quickly learn the "why" of things like math and science. They used math and science and English to make a toy crocodile "bite" an offered finger. And in the process, learned far more than any textbook and test could ever teach.

But that lesson seems to be missed in the high school here, where competition for grades and ridiculous levels of homework substitute for actual learning...or even motivation for real learning.

There's a lot of talk about education reform, classroom size, and how we are falling behind the rest of the world in knowledge. But instead of more tests and longer school day and stricter attendance policies, it seems to me that the real answer lies in a primary school in England -- and making a crocodile bite a curious finger. 

(Image from the wired website and the original article)

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Happiness and sleep...but what about a life?

I've been reading a book called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.  It's arranged by month, but I'm a rebel so I'm starting with January instead of skipping ahead to October.  Yup, running with scissors, that's me.

Anyhow, the very first element of happiness she addresses is sleep. Er, um...sleep as an issue?  Who me?  Well....yeah. In fact sleep has been an issue for me as long as I can remember. By middle school, I was a veteran of the late movie channels.  And that book I got in the morning might very well be finished by the next morning.

I've heard all the reasons why sleep matters...and the dire predictions for those who don't sleep enough. People opt out of the 8 hours a night of shut eye are more prone to accidents, have weaker immune systems, are less effective at work. Thanks folks...nothing like worrying about the health risks of a lifetime of sleeplessness to help you drift off into dreamland, right?
So when I saw the same warnings in Rubin's book, I almost skipped the chapter. And when she talked about how wonderful she felt after a week of going to sleep at 9:30 and waking up sans alarm at 5:30, I closed the book.

Let's get real.  Sure sleep might be great.  It might even be critical, but drifting off at 9:30 p.m. night after night would mean:

  • Ending my day and getting ready for bed at around 9 pm
  • Spending almost no time alone with my husband. (And because this is a family-friendly blog, I will leave it at that.)
  • Missing all the wonderful connections that come from late night conversations with my daughter
  • Giving up on concerts, date nights, football games, blogger gatherings, professional conferences, and even phone calls with friends when their kids are finally asleep
  • Never seeing another movie in its the time the dishes are cleaned up after dinner, it's at least 8 pm (often later)
  • No scrapbooking or art or (gasp!) reading for more than a half hour or so
  • Skipping out early on religious services on Friday nights, where we are often still at the Temple at 9:30
Don't get me wrong.  I get the idea. And odds are I would feel more rested and be a better worker. But the days of really falling asleep over dinner aren't that far away for any of us.  So until it's time for me to be packed off to Century Village, I will choose my late nights over a bit more shut eye. 

And I'm going to use some of that time to read the rest of Rubin's book....I flipped through the book and a lot of the other ideas sounded very good. And you know what?  I might even stay up extra late tonight to finish it! 

Gretchen Rubin will be speaking about her new book  Happier at Home at the Texas Conference for Women on October 24th in Austin. Tickets are still available at the conference website.  Listen in on her free teleconference on October 15th for a taste of what's to come!

Monday, 8 October 2012

Bring it on, Autumn!

austin autumn fireplace decorations 
Once upon a time, for a few years, I didn't like autumn. Well, not entirely. I did love the colors of the leaves.  And the snap in the air.  And I always loved the feeling of taking long walks wrapped in a cozy sweater and boots, with the scent of fireplace smoke in the air.

What I didn't like for those few years was the knowledge that this most perfect of seasons was followed by winter.  And I lived in a 200+ year old farmhouse that was never ever warm enough in winter. I dreaded the days ahead when I would huddle over the floor vents to get even slightly warm enough. When fireplaces were great for keeping one side warm...but your other side would be ice cold.

That fear of what was to come robbed me of any joy I had in autumn. But things changed when I moved back to Florida. Suddenly autumn wasn't about impending winter.  It wasn't even about all those wonderful colors outside or long chilly walks.  It was all about the decorations I put up in the house.

My daughters and I decked our Coral Springs apartment with garlands of silk autumn leaves and bowls filled with mock pumpkins and gourds. We lit Yankee Candles in scents like cinnamon spice and Autumn leaves. And we made hearty soups and spicy pumpkin bread.  Despite the 70 degrees outside, we created autumn inside. Sure, there would be cool or even cold days in winter.  But we couldn't wait.

Now we're in Texas, where summer's awful heat reaches deep into fall. But unlike in Florida, there are a few days, like today, when a real feel of autumn is in the air.  Last night, we went for a wonderful walk when the air was around 50 degrees and heading down. And we smelled wood smoke in the air, from a nearby fireplace.  Yes, it will sadly go back up to the 90's later this week :-(  -- but for a few days, we had real autumn.

And inside, we have continued our practice from our Florida days.  The fireplace is decked out with garland and autumn flowers and just a bit of Halloween. The front porch has it's own taste of autumn, too, with our decorated chair and a step basket overflowing with autumn colors.

In the kitchen we draped the light with more leaves, and scattered some around on shelves.  With no threat of a too-cold house for months ahead, we can enjoy our taste of autumn to its fullest.

So as much as I would love to be seeing the beauty of a full Pennsylvania autumn, I think I'll just be happy with what I have today.  So bring it on, autumn. Leave those hot temps far behind...we're decorated and ready for everything you have to offer here in Texas.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Post holiday lessons keep coming

Buddha in garden

Those of you who are Jewish know that we just completed the High Holidays.  Those who aren't Jewish might not know, or at least, might not know that this season of the year is about self-reflection, inner review and a determination to do things better in the coming year.

I had a particularly meaningful Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) this year, so it shouldn't surprise me that the lessons that go along with it just keep coming.

Today's piece showed up in my e-mail inbox, in a post from a site called Tiny Buddha.  Here's a little bit of what it said...

Finances, relationships, responsibilities, and life in general can certainly create a great deal of noise in our heads. However, if we truly want to feel inner peace, we must take the time to learn to be mindful instead of mind full. This, and only this, will allow us to respond to life instead of reacting to it.
I have tons of happy memories from my childhood and a few harsh ones too. Unfortunately, the harsh memories are those that we replay over and over again, until we heal them. A difficult memory that stuck with me for a very long time was my mother’s pattern of despair.
She would appear agitated or frustrated about something and soon after she would yell, “One of these days, you’ll come home and you’re not going to find me!” (There’s still a part of me that shudders a bit when I hear those words.)
As a child, this was a clear sign that my mom was angry about something and if I didn’t hurry up and make it better, she just might leave. (Read more....)
I immediately stopped there. In my head, I heard my own mother's voice making similar threats whenever I upset her or any number of other things upset her. But my mom's threat wasn't exactly the was to die. She spent her life facing a huge number of illnesses, some of her own making and some not, but she used those sicknesses as a weapon to express her anger.

My mom passed away in 2011, in large part because she refused any treatment that would have kept her alive and functional. She had finally made good on her threat to die.

Like the author of the post, I too had to reach the understanding that her anger and her threats weren't really about me. She had had a rough childhood, filled with loss and probably neglect. She had some very real health challenges. But this brilliant woman (and I do mean seriously brilliant) didn't have the ability/interest/skills/desire to channel her anger appropriately. She lashed out at her children, her husband, her neighbors as a reaction to any kind of frustration or fear or upset. She alienated almost everyone who should have mattered to her in the process, and she died without her children or friends or any family except my dad around (her choice.)

I have lived my entire adult life in terror of becoming my mother. I asked friends, family, even a therapist if I was like her. They assured me I was not. I sought out other role models for being a mom (mostly from my LDS friends who, thank goodness, were more than willing and able to model healthy family life for me.)

I embraced  the influence of spirituality and family heritage that she had rejected, and have used it to help me find deeper meaning in life. I have tried to find peace with her since her passing, focusing on the few good memories, and offering my hopes that she is now at peace herself, free from the demons that fueled her anger.

But...since moving to Texas last year, I have seen some aspects of that reacting in myself. I am unhappy here.  I am lonely and lately, not feeling well, as I deal with what seems to be an intense allergy to the place  (I can't remember the last day I didn't wake up stuffy and coughing.) And I am homesick for Florida.

Unfortunately, that unhappiness has spilled over into some angry reactions. I thought a lot about this during Yom Kippur. But it was Vicki Savini's article that crystallized exactly what was  happening, and reminded me what to do about it. And why it matters so much that I do work on it.

I will never be perfect.  No one will, and even the greatest saints sometimes mess up and get angry when they should step away and breathe. But I want to do better at responding instead of reacting. I want to incorporate that stepping away and breathing and finding the source of my feelings instead of just reacting.

I have no idea whether the message in my inbox arrived at just the right time to help me with what I was already feeling, or if the feeling made me more aware of the message.  And it doesn't really matter. I am just grateful for the synchronicity.


Image via

Do you have stories of synchronicity to share?  I would love to hear them! 

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Texas rain

It rained last weekend.

For those of you who aren't in Texas, that might seem like a pretty meaningless statement.  "So what", I can hear my friends and family in Florida saying. "It rains every day."

But not in Texas.  In Texas, I've learned, rain is a precious thing. Instead of an every day occurrence, it's a rare treat.

Each time rain is even a slight possibility, I become an Accuweather junkie.  I keep it on the first menu page on my phone, my tablet and my computer.  I start the TV on the Weather Channel.

My level of hope rises and falls with the number at the bottom of the page.  "20% chance on Friday.  Okay, that's better than yesterday when it was only a 10% chance for Friday.  We're going in the right direction."  Or "Heck!  It was a 60% chance for rain this weekend, but now it's only 40%. No!!!"

And when it does rain, I try to make sure I am where I can see and hear it. I don't want to miss a single moment of that wonderful moist air.

I go for walks in it. I take pictures. And then when it ends, I return to my post on Accuweather, looking for the next day without a zero at the bottom.

I miss the daily rain. I miss knowing that if I missed a chance to dance in the rain today, there was always tomorrow. Here, missing a single rain shower could mean waiting weeks for the next precious drops.

And maybe that's a lesson for me. In so many things, even things I already love like rainy days or great beaches or my family or my friends, maybe I haven't been paying enough attention. Maybe there's been too much of the "there's always tomorrow", and not enough of the "who knows when (or if) this will come again."

I hope I won't always have to live where rain is such a scarce commodity, or friends out of reach for a spur-of-the-moment lunch. But even when I am back in the world of daily rain, and when friends and family and beaches are all within reach, I hope I will remember this lesson. I hope that even in abundance, even in bounty, I will remember to be grateful for every single drop.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Back to Mom 101

Can this happen in the real world??
You'd think after three kids and countless mornings getting kids off to school, I would have it down to a science.  Lunches would be prepped and in the fridge, clothes laid out and backpacks loaded and waiting by the door. And I would sail through the morning, dressed and ready, calm and peaceful, planting kisses and offering sage advice on how to ace that vocab test.

Yeah right.

Take this morning for example.

My husband and I are both fighting a cold that won't let go, so the morning started with coughs and grabbing for tissues.  Then he headed out to walk the dog, and I hit the shower for my relaxing, revitalizing four minute shower.  (What would a long shower be like??  I've forgotten.)

After I hack up a lung as soon as the steam hits, I scrub down, decide I can go one more day without washing my hair, then throw on a pair of jeans and a top and head for the kitchen.  On the way, I hear the dryer running, so that means my daughter didn't get her laundry done last night and needs something for today.  I stop to check the dryer, and find that she's thrown a couple of wet things in with the already dry load.

I pull out the now super-dry stuff and find my husband's missing sunglasses bouncing around in there. Dry clothes folded, blazing hot sunglasses on top.  Dryer restarted with only the wet things.

Back to heading for the kitchen.

I hear my daughter moving around between her room and her bathroom, so I know I don't need to go wake her up, and I have visions of putting the water on to make myself a cup of peppermint tea.

My husband returns from the walk, and heads for his own four minute shower.

Hint...this is NOT me!
Then I look at the time, and remember that we didn't get around to cutting up the stuff for lunch last night, so instead of reaching for the tea, I reach for the cutting board and the veggies from the fridge. Lettuce, peppers, carrots, celery, cheese.  Check.  Apple. Check. Water bottle.  Oh heck!  Where is that water bottle?

I ask my husband to empty the dishwasher, so we dance around each other in the kitchen while I finish packing the lunch. 

Call out to my daughter in my scratchy voice.  No answer.  I hear the water running in the bathroom.  Surely she's done by now.  And I hear the printer going. How can both be running at the same time?  I'm afraid to ask.

My daughter runs through the kitchen, still in pajamas, heading for the laundry room. Water bottle found and washed. Daughter runs back through, complaining that my computer wasn't working right and messed up her printing.

Lunch done, veggies put away, cutting board emptied.  The trash smells funky, so I close it up and pull the bag out.  Throw in a load of wash.

Grab my computer because I need to catch up on some work while I'm at the genealogy library this morning. Grab my purse.  Look for keys.  Run back in the bedroom to grab my phone.

Ask my husband to grab the trash bag just in time to hear the door closing behind him. Chase daughter out the door, grab my purse, computer bag and trashbag and shut the door without the dog or the cat getting out.

Throw the trash away (hoping I haven't tossed anything else in the my phone), and open the car door. Get in and realize that I forgot to take my cold medicine and vitamins, and never got around to putting on makeup.

Our van is on the fritz right now, so we have to all go to drop our daughter at school (who's mad that I told her she had to take the bus home, and oh, by the way, she forgot to wash her tights for ballet), then head to my husband's work to drop him off. 

Finally get to the genealogy library only 5 minutes late. No makeup.  No peppermint tea.  No energy.   I pray for a "Closed" sign on the library.  No luck. 

But also, no patrons.  So I can do some work..  But first, I need to blog.  No really, I NEED to blog.

And so it is.  Three kids. And I am still at Mom 101 on a morning like this.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Magic in the wind

It's only been autumn for two days but already the air is different. No, not New England or Colorado different. It's still hot here in Texas, and aside from the sprinkling of dry leaves on my patio, there's no sign of autumn colors.

But the trees are blowing instead of standing motionless in the searing summer heat. And the air that's tossing my hair into tangles is cooler. The light is different too...more intense and richer than the blinding summer light.

It makes me dream of cool nights, soft quilts, warm sweaters, bowls of hot soup, and crackling fires on long evenings shared with friends and stories and laughter.

Odds are the heat will stick around awhile longer here. And the leaves might not ever turn orange or red. But if the Farmer's Almanac is right, the season of warm sweaters and hot soup isn't far away.
I'll wait. It is all's in the magic in the air.

Happy Autumn!

Friday, 14 September 2012

Texas high school mums, Part 2!

A few days ago, I posted about the mysteries of something high school students in Texas call "mums."  Well, now, thanks to some great Austin bloggers, a lot of web searches, and some very amused but thankfully patient people at Michael's, my daughter had her own mum in time for Homecoming Day. 
Decked out in orange and white, this mass of silk flowers, plastic hanging bits, tiny cow bells, hot glue, staples and more ribbon than I could have imagined took shape last night on our kitchen table. 

 I hung it in the Hoosier overnight, in part to keep the ribbons straight, and in part to prevent the cat (and/or the dog) from turning our hard work into the latest drag-out-into-the-yard  toy.

 One thing we didn't know until last night was that friends make mums for friends!  But when my daughter found out, she took the teddy bear that was supposed to live in the center of the mum, and made it into a beautiful mum-i-fied (giggle!) gift for her Austin BFF.

 The mum made it through the night unscathed and on to my daughter.

I may not understand these craft store concoctions (and as a scrapebooker, I usually love all crafts!) but I'm glad we found out in time to create our own masterpiece. Thank you to all who helped explain the mysteries of the Texas mum! 

Friday, 7 September 2012

Fan-girling over a favorite author

Okay, so I didn't exactly go all fan-girl when one of my favorite authors spoke last night at Book People in Austin.  At least on the outside.

But inside that calm exterior, I was waving my hands in the air and shouting as William Gibson, author of some of my all-time fave books like Neuromancer  and Spook Country stepped to the podium. I resisted the impulse to shout "I've read your books for years! And I loved all of them (well, except Idoru). "

I have spent hours and hours tucked into a comfy corner of my couch or even my bed lost in this man's words!  That's worth more fan-girling than just liking a song or two from some band, right?  But no, I sat calmly and listened, snapping pictures as he spoke, along with about 200 other fans and geeks in the standing-room only second floor of the bookstore.

He talked mostly about his newest book, Distrust That Particular Flavor, but also spoke about the crossing of past and future in our conceptions (for instance, when we talk about future life, we usually use pictures and designs from 1940's -50's science fiction even though the future they were talking about is mostly now in our past!)

He had a bad cold, and warned fans that the warm handshake he usually preferred might be a health hazard this time, but that didn't stop most of the audience from lining up to get their books signed.  And risking sharing some germs in the process. that I think about it, I wonder if there was other people  internal fan-girling (and fan-boying) last night? So tell me...have you ever done the internal silent scream over a favorite writer?  Or is this my own particular brand of geekdom?

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Why the simplest things seem so hard to find -- like free time

After cancelling yet another "just for me" event I had planned to attend the other day, I took a hard look at my life.  I am tired, constantly running from one project to another, and still feeling like nothing ever really gets done well.

I write, I publish, I research, I cook, I clean, I do laundry, I shop, I blog, I help clients, I write code, I run errands, I take care of my family and sometimes I collapse on the couch to watch TV. But I never seem to get to a point where I feel like I am done for the day and can claim some guilt-free me-time. There is always another article to write, another box to unpack or another errand to run.

Now to be fair, working from home has been my choice since moving to Austin last year. There were family obligations that needed to be addressed, and my DH very wonderfully has supported all of my efforts. But it seems that the more I do these days, the behinder I get.

I worked from home years ago when the kids were babies, and it worked then.  But I've realized there are some difference now.

There are no more  nap times or baby bedtimes now to give my day structure. I once worked when they slept.

Now there are no playgroups or park days to give me time with other moms. My daughter now goes to school each day, but the errands and to-do's just multiply while she's out as I rush around so I can spend time with her when she gets home, and my husband when he gets home.

And there are no nearby friends to call me up and drag me out for lunch or a scrapbook afternoon -- or for me to call for a last minute Starbucks gathering or trip to the farmer's market.

I know that I need to get out and do things with other women to make friends in this new town, but it's a circular issue. No friends means no motivation to get out with other women, and not getting out means not making friends.

So yesterday, I decided it was time to make a schedule for my weeks. Not an every-changing daily agenda, but a standard week's plan. I need to plan out that week-to-week structure so I can identify and claim time for the gym or scrapbooking or whatever and still get my work done and supper made and homework help offered.

I could make a schedule on paper, drawing lines and filling in colors like I used to do in school.  But I wanted to print, fill and stick it up on my bulletin board quickly. I wanted to set things in motion.

You'd think it would be easy to find, right? But no. I found calendars, both printable and electronic. I found class schedules for college students and class planners for teachers. I found world holiday calendars and page-a-day agendas. But I could not find a single template for planning out a standard week, with room for all the hours in the days on one single sheet. Dang!

So it turns out that what I thought would be so simple to find is just as elusive as blocks of free time. I guess it's time to get out those markers and rulers. It's time to take control.


Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The mysteries of high school in Texas

I've lived in a lot of places.  From Florida where I grew up, to years spent in the Rockies, Pennsylvania and even a brief stint in New England, I've experienced a lot of regional "quirks".  But with a daughter now in high school in Texas, the mysteries have deepened.

We thought that the weirdest thing so far was the fact that in Austin even people who don't have kids in the local high school buy season passes to the high school football games. And they really go!

But the "strangeness factor" jumped several degrees yesterday when we accidentally encountered something called "Mums" at the local Michael's. No, these are not the flowers, although a silk version of them is involved.

Texas mums are enormous creations made from silk flowers, too many yards of ribbon to count, stuffed bears, plastic cupcake decorations, Mardis Gras beads, bells, battery-powered Christmas lights and enough hot glue to securely put Humpty Dumpty back together again.  And that's just a "basic mum."

And best all, when these things are all assembled, girls wear them to school! And in some schools, to the Homecoming game as well. They're worn pinned to shirts or jackets (or in some cases to bra straps to keep them from tearing holes in clothes because of the weight of it all), or tied around necks.

Boys get off a bit easier. They wear a smaller version of the traditional mum, attached to a garter and worn on the arm (ideally over a letter jacket, I'm told.  This is, after all, Texas!)

And as if all this silliness wasn't enough, there's the matter of the cost of this autumn high school tradition. This enormous hot-glued bundle of fake flowers and ribbon and do-dads can easily cost hundreds of dollars.  Sometimes over a thousand.

A very basic mum base at Michael's starts at $30.  And from there, girls (or moms or in some cases, boyfriends) are expected to buy and add all the extras from stuffed pets to blinking lights. There are pages and pages online explaining how to make and customize a mum.  And even more sites selling them, all for upwards of $200.

Needless to say, we're going to make our own.  I'm handy with a glue gun.  I found a step-by-step Homecoming mum video.  We stocked up on ribbon using this week's Michael's coupons.  The Mardis Gras beads and tiny stuffed bear are coming from the dollar store.  Not sure about bells or lights.  But we're going to try and keep the cost below $20.

And once it's all done, we'll take a picture or two of our creation as my daughter heads out the door. And I promise not to giggle too least while she can hear me.

Mums, indeed.  Giggle, giggle!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Found on Pinterest...

Just one did whomever wrote this get into my head?  A perfect start-of-the-work-week giggle!
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Revisiting 100 things that make me happy....

Just about two years ago, I published a post listing 100 things that make me happy.

I was thinking that it might be fun to revisit that list, and see what has changed over the past two years.  Is my list the same?  Are there things that I would replace, especially since I'm now living in a different state?   And are there things I wrote on the list that I'd forgotten about...little pleasures that I might want to add to my life again?

So here's my old list, revamped for 2012.  I would love to see your lists, too.  Maybe you'll remind me of some little pleasures I hadn't considered!

  1. Writing
  2. A hug from someone I love
  3. Eating breakfast out...and outside
  4. Rainy days when I don't have to go anywhere
  5. Walking on the beach at night
  6. Singing along with a favorite song in the car
  7. Being greeted at the door by my cat and dog
  8. Back to school supply shopping with my kids
  9. Waking up to a view of trees and sky through a big window
  10. Windy days
  11. Figuring out a tough math or programming problem
  12. Having time to sit at a café and read without watching the clock
  13. Working on my art projects
  14. Watching it snow outside my window (with a cup of cocoa in my hand!)
  15. Scrapbooking with friends
  16. Spending time with my kids
  17. Stumbling onto great live music while walking downtown 
  18. Finding a great new mystery writer 
  19. A new book from a favorite writer
  20. Listening to live jazz, especially outdoors
  21. Stashing away the perfect little gifts for upcoming birthdays or holidays
  22. Getting a REAL letter in the mail
  23. Spending time with my dad, sharing memories and silly jokes
  24. Getting a flower/flowers from someone
  25. Wrapping presents with a creative touch
  26. Cottage gardens
  27. Finding a great new blog to read and follow
  28. Learning something new that changes my view of other things
  29. Moments of spiritual insight
  30. Fresh, juicy peaches that drip juice everywhere
  31. Seeing someone I love across a crowded room
  32. Kissing my husband
  33. Houses with tons of natural light
  34. Foggy mornings 
  35. The smell of fresh cut grass
  36. Clean sheets that have been dried on the clothesline
  37. Handmade quilts on a bed
  38. Hearing a song I used to love but had forgotten about -- and remembering the words!
  39. British television
  40. Well-worn wood furniture (primitives) with stories to tell
  41. Long silk skirts
  42. The smell of old book stores
  43. Long walks in the countryside
  44. Seeing cows in a field
  45. Gardenias - the look and the scent!
  46. Really watching a butterfly flying
  47. Photographing the details on old buildings
  48. Country fairs with animals and old-fashioned craft and food judging
  49. Quaint old cottages
  50. Quaint new cottages
  51. Curving, hilly roads
  52. Wide roads with lots of green
  53. The first few notes of the overture before a show
  54. Being backstage with something to do when the overture starts
  55. Old, well-worn, super soft blue jeans
  56. Slices of crisp green apple and sharp cheddar cheese
  57. Holding hands
  58. Waking up with my husband
  59. Rearranging books on a shelf
  60. Cooking without a plan
  61. Cello music
  62. Following a fish around while snorkeling and pretending I'm a fish, too
  63. Poetry that does not rhyme
  64. Finding an especially beautiful spot on a hike...and having time to enjoy it
  65. Wearing soft cotton clothes
  66. Laying on the grass and watch the light change through the leaves
  67. Seeing pictures in clouds with my kids
  68. Flying a kite
  69. Seeing old people holding hands
  70. Keeping up on my blog
  71. Adding something beautiful to my bulletin board
  72. Finding the perfect card for a birthday or just-because
  73. Dropping mail in the box at the post office
  74. Reading on the beach, especially on a chilly day
  75. Warm hoodies that are still soft inside
  76. Blue time (twilight)
  77. Lightening bugs...thousands of them!
  78. Listening to music on a great sound system (doing that now!)
  79. Fossil hunting...and finding that hidden treasure
  80. Lazy Sundays at home
  81. Friends who stop by unexpectly
  82. Live steel drum music being played by the Bay or ocean
  83. Hunting for sea shells at the beach
  84. Warm socks when my feet are cold
  85. Lush, green countryside
  86. Goats with floppity ears
  87. Getting the photo JUST RIGHT
  88. Planning for my next trip
  89. Discovering people who believe in magic and fairies and unicorns and mystery
  90. Having the perfect airplane book in my purse when I get on my flight
  91. Long, inspiring, unexpected conversations
  92. art, in fabric, in nature, in my home
  93. Cozy rooms with unexpected details
  94. The color yellow
  95. The smell of a baby's head
  96. My kids' art work, from beginner scribbles to amazing creations
  97. Giving away unneeded things to people who can use them
  98. Old-fashioned country auctions
  99. Baking for family and friends
  100. Long walks on cool evenings
  Okay, your turn!  Post your links and I will happily hop over to see your lists. And if you're anything like me, making this list may start out hard, but by the end, you'll have dozens and dozens of other happy pleasures you just won't be able to fit in the 100!  And that, as Martha says, is a good thing!