Favorite Children’s Books, or My Family’s Holy Texts

Recently, my kids and I found ourselves in a waiting situation without much to do. Uncharacteristically, we didn’t even have books with us. To pass the time, I used my phone to look up some conversation starter questions online.

One question carried us for several minutes. What’s your favorite book from childhood. I have never felt more success as a mother than when they both assured me I knew the answers without asking. And I did!

Continue reading “Favorite Children’s Books, or My Family’s Holy Texts”

Our Other Mom

These marigolds don’t have anything to do with the post, but aren’t they pretty? Also, a butterfly.

I write a lot about my own mother, because our lives are so enmeshed. I may or my not have mentioned that my husband also has a mom, and we all love her just as much. We don’t see her often, because she lives a few hundred miles away.

It can seem overwhelming sometimes being the close child, the one who is involved every day, the one who has to track every detail, take every phone call, drop everything and run to assist when your parent needs help. But now we’re experiencing the challenges of being the far-away kids.

Continue reading “Our Other Mom”

Summer Fun, Making Memories


For several years, I dealt with the inevitable summer kid complaint of “I’m bored” by keeping a list of possible activities posted on the refrigerator. Some were solo ventures – blow bubbles, draw a picture. Others were group doings – board games, etc. Some could be done at home and others were of the out-and-about variety for times I was available. Dozens of times each summer, I’d say “Go look at the list and choose something.”

Now I wonder how many summers I have left with any kids still at home. I hope it’s more than one, but fewer than ten. I know the empty nest can be bittersweet, but failure to launch is not all roses either. While I still have them, I want to do more than get through my daily checklist of bare survival tasks over and over: get cavity filled, pick up denture tablets for Mom, go to work again, cook dinner again and again and again… Continue reading “Summer Fun, Making Memories”

You Were Right, Mom

While my mom is still around, I want to take this opportunity to say, publicly, that she was right about so many things. Not that we see eye-to-eye on everything. But I’ve come around on a lot of issues since I was a kid.

I can rarely convince my son to wear a coat, even on the coldest winter days. I comfort myself by noticing how few kids exiting his high school in the afternoon are bundled up. If I’m a bad mom, at least I have lots of company. I remember how I never wanted to wear a winter hat in my younger days, no matter how many maternal admonishments I received about frost-bitten ears. I wouldn’t believe my mom was right about how important it was to cover your head in order to stay warm, because nobody else my age was doing it. In a concrete sense, I really was too cool.

Somewhere in the years of my adult life I stopped caring whether other people were wearing hats or not. I wanted to be warm. Since I have a lot of hair, I often go for a scarf wrapped around my head in lieu of hat, but I do cover my head with something when the temperature dips below freezing. Mom, you were right. It makes a huge difference.

And, Mom, the thing where  you always cleaned the top of a can before opening it? Totally the right thing to do. I used to think this was a silly obsession springing from your clean freak nature. Besides, it added needless seconds onto the food prep time. Then I became a mother, myself. After enough experience cleaning up someone else’s puke, I couldn’t help thinking a little harder about food safety and cleanliness. Once I took the time to make a close observation of the workings of the can opener, I realized how easily the device could push anything from the top of the can into the food. I’ll never reach anywhere near my mom’s level of tidiness, but on this one issue, yeah, she’s probably right. Definitely right. It only takes a couple of seconds after all, to wipe the top of a can. And then I can serve my family tomato sauce with confidence.

Also, my things do last longer when I take care of them. Who would have thought it? Oh yeah – you, Mom.


Christmas on the Couch

It’s Christmas afternoon and I’m still in my pajamas. On the couch. Coughing up a lung. This holiday isn’t going as planned. But then I’ve always heard the way to make the Universe laugh is to make a plan. It must be chuckling up a storm. I’m trying to laugh along and make the best of it. For instance, right after typing that sentence I added to the gaiety by accidentally dumping out the contents of a nearly-full economy-sized bag of cough drops. Ha ha ha!

After my mother spent several hours at our house on Thanksgiving, it became obvious she can no longer handle so much disruption in her day. Her back problems flared worse than ever and she was exhausted. It took her days to recover. I had a little moment when my husband, kids and I were decorating our Christmas tree, our ornaments including a few vintage ones that survived my childhood. I experienced a wave of sadness knowing my mom will never decorate a tree with me again. She’ll likely never come to our house again. I also had a few seconds of irritability over the fact that humanity hasn’t developed teleportation technology yet, because it would solve this problem. She could beam in for a few minutes and then beam back to the nursing home. I settled for taking a photo of the tree to show her.

The best Christmas tree. We got a spectacular one this year.
The best Christmas tree. We got a spectacular one this year. Not many ornaments down low because three cats.

I asked Mom if she thought she could handle a short outing to a restaurant. She believes she can, so our plan was to pick her up on Christmas Eve and go to IHOP, her favorite. For today, I thought I’d make a lasagna and some sides to have at home and at some time during the day pop over to visit Mom again. But over the weekend I developed a tickle in my throat, the same tickle reported by some of my local acquaintances before they fell all-out sick. Yep, I caught the thing that’s going around. Also, over the weekend, one of my molars broke and I managed to acquire a second-degree burn on my arm while removing a dish from the oven. At some point, my life started to resemble a sit-com plot. However, if I’ve learned anything from my mother, it’s to make the best of the situation, whatever it is.

Though I’m sad not to be with my mom on Christmas, I’m reminded once again how blessed I am with family, both immediate and extended. My husband and my 15-year-old son went over yesterday to see my mom (the 18-year-old caught what I have, so stayed home) and take her gift plus the staff gift bag I put together.

Let me go off the rails here, and recommend this idea for nurses, aides and housekeeping staff at skilled nursing facilities. Since there are so many of them, I put together a bag of items for the break room: hot cocoa mix, including regular and sugar-free, a variety of teas, popcorn, mixed nuts, snack crackers, etc. It’s easy and covers everyone.

For the staff break room at the nursing home.
For the staff break room at the nursing home.

Back to family now – my two guys had a good visit with my mom. Plus I put out the word to far-flung relatives that I couldn’t see her on Christmas, so she might appreciate some phone calls. When I called her about an hour ago, she was thrilled to report her phone had been ringing all yesterday and today. This cheers me up.

Also, my spouse and kids make the holiday fun. We’re a geeky crew who all like a good joke. After my two teens went on errands without me the other day, a package appeared under our tree with a gift tag saying it was to the whole family, and from:

We are favored by the Marvel superheroes.
We are favored by the Marvel superheroes.

The kids come by this creative packaging honestly. Here’s what my husband gave me this year:

My husband gave me a box of rocks.
My husband gave me a box of rocks.
No really, it's a box of rocks.
No really, it’s a box of rocks.
Oh wait, there was something underneath the rocks. Michelle Obama arms, here I come!
Oh wait, there was something underneath the rocks. Michelle Obama arms, here I come!

It’s hard not to have fun when the people around you are putting so much effort into making the event enjoyable.

Our three cats have helped, too, taking turns sitting on my lap.

Top Seniority Cat - my 15-year-old kid doesn't remember life without her.
Top Seniority Cat – my 15-year-old kid doesn’t remember life without her.
Cat who is on a diet, but sneaks the other cats' food if we're not careful.
Cat who is on a diet, but sneaks the other cats’ food if we’re not careful.
Cat who showed up and adopted us a few months ago.
Cat who showed up and adopted us a few months ago.

Then there’s the Pandora Christmas station for holiday cheer, and Netflix to give me a chance to watch some of those movies I’ve been meaning to watch over the years. I finally saw “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. Not much of a story, after all, but the singing and dancing is wonderful. I tried watching “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and now take comfort in the knowledge I haven’t been missing much. After 15 minutes, I switched to “Men in Black.” Much more entertaining. I’ll have to dial up the sequels.

While I languish on the couch, my family members have been foraging in lieu of a Christmas dinner appearing for them. Macaroni and cheese has been cooked, and we’ve wiped out the back stock of canned soup. Meanwhile, IHOP awaits for the day when we’re all well again. And I still have the ingredients for lasagna.


I’ve been floundering lately, feeling overwhelmed and undercompetent a lot. I’m glad for the Thanksgiving holiday to help me escape the funk. What a great idea – a holiday about gratitude. I do have so much to celebrate.

So many people say I’m grateful for my family, and I truly am. But that seems so general. For the ones I see all the time, there are specific things I appreciate about each of them.

My mom: First, I’m thankful she’s here to celebrate another holiday with us. We have our differences of opinion, but I’m happy I learned from her the value of doing your best to figure out what’s right and do it. You don’t really see your parents in context until you’re grown and you find out how differently some other people were raised.

There were things I didn’t know to be thankful for when I was growing up, but I do now. My mom never criticized my appearance. She had her ideas about appropriate clothing as far as modesty and I have different standards now, but beyond that, she never said a bad word about my weight, my hair, my complexion, any of it. I took this for granted, not knowing at the time how many girls were developing terrible self-images based on their parents’ critical remarks. Sure, I got plenty of it from society at large, but not getting it from my mom helped me not internalize it. In fact, my mom has never criticized anyone based on looks, or even commented on looks much at all, except for the occasional compliment on a new hairstyle or saying “That color looks good on you.” I’m thankful I was taught by example not to judge someone on appearances.

My husband: I recently read an article about a study of cities in the U.S. that said our little city is one of the hardest-working. My immediate response was “That’s because my husband lives here. He skews the results.” He’s always been willing to work however many hours it takes to get a job done, and is currently doing freelance projects on the side in addition to his day job.

My firstborn (18 years old now): I appreciate her enthusiasm. When she enjoys something – a book, movie, tv show, pet, food – she enjoys it thoroughly and without embarrassment. And she loves to see others enjoying things in equal measure, even if it’s not the same things. She embraces diversity of tastes. And she finds fun ways to share the excitement over her interests. The other day, when I got out of the shower, the mirror was all steamed up. There in the condensation clearly appeared the words “Welcome to Night Vale.” I have one suspect. One. I’m going to miss these little happenings when she eventually moves out.

My younger child (now 15): He has incredible focus and stamina when he’s working on a project. His two big interests are music and computer programming. In either area, he can work for hours on end. There may be an attention span deficit in his generation, but he doesn’t contribute. And then I get new music in my life. So what’s not to like.

I’m leaving now to pick up my mom and bring her to our house for the day. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wedging in Holiday Traditions – Christmas Tree Edition

As my kids get older, the calendar only gets more challenging. We still want the same family holiday traditions, but it takes more planning. For instance, we always buy a Christmas tree from the nearby Optimist Club lot. It’s a mere five-minute drive from  our house. Easy peasy, right? Until we start looking at schedules.

We definitely wanted to get it done this past weekend, so we’d have time to enjoy the tree before it came back down. We couldn’t go Friday evening, because my husband had to work late. I was scheduled to work all day Saturday. Then my daughter had a thing Saturday evening. Sunday, I’d promised to buy some supplies for my mom and take them over in the afternoon. And there was a meeting I needed to attend in the evening. Meantime, my son had a collaborative homework project he had to schedule with some other kids.

I looked up the hours for the Christmas tree lot and discovered it opened at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday. There it was – our time slot. Arrive at 10:00, 15 minutes to look over the selections and make a choice, whole thing decorated by noon, and we had time to get our other stuff done. My daughter even dialed up an internet Christmas music station for us so we could listen to carols as we hung the ornaments.