Monday, May 22, 2017

How Many Placemats in a Year?
Last Friday night, I bought place mats. Nothing fancy, and not a big deal, really, except that they're cloth placemats.

It's not as though we've never had cloth placemats -- in fact, I have several sets in the dining room drawer. These new placemats, however, were purchased specifically to replace the succession of plastic kiddie placemats we had while my daughter was growing up. You know the ones I mean -- the wipeable variety, able to repel the inevitable stains from grape jelly, fruit punch and chocolate ice cream. Fun, festive and usually cheap, they were adorned with jack-o-lanterns, bunny rabbits and reindeer, marking the passage of each year in their own quiet, brightly colored, stain resistant way.

They haven't seen much action in the past few years, but I never quite got around to throwing them away. But lately, inspired as much by my daughter's calculated purge of her own bedroom as my own desire to do a little refreshing around the house, I decided that the time to move on to more adult table settings had arrived.

The passage of time is a funny thing. We don't really notice it while it's happening, unless it suddenly seems to  move much too slowly or much too quickly. Instead, we suddenly notice the small accumulation of changes over time. Arms long enough to reach the top shelf. Legs long enough to reach the gas pedal. Diploma signifying the end of an era.

This week, the little girl who helped me pick out pumpkin placemats leaves for London. I'm excited for her, but, as a mother, I can't quite get over the notion that she'll be so far out of reach. No matter how long my arms are, I can't reach "across the pond" to give her a hug if she needs one -- or if I do.  I've just barely gotten used to seeing her sleeping in "her own" bed again, and it's already time for her to take off on a new adventure. The house will be quiet once again -- perhaps too quiet -- for a little while, yet
I will be counting down the days until she returns.

So, while she's here, I'll do the mom things. Call the bank. Make sure her suitcase is up to the challenge. Cook her pancakes.

And maybe, when I slide the new placemats into the dining room drawer, I'll leave one plastic placemat there to keep them company.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Friday Feature: Would You Like Fries with that Book?

The burgeoning field of developmental neuroscience fascinates me. It seems as though every day we learn something new about what the brain can do and when it can do it.

One thing we've known for a long time is that reading is good for the brain. When caregivers read to kids, this simple activity fosters not only brain connection, but human connection as well. Programs like Reach Out and Read strive to put books into the hands of families who might not otherwise have them, while local libraries foster positive connections among children and caregivers, books and brains with programs designed for even the smallest pre-readers among us.

In Canada, even McDonald's is jumping on the bandwagon, offering books with their Happy Meals. Although McDonald's restaurants in the U.S. aren't currently doing the same, they have, in the past, partnered with Reading is Fundamental to give away books with their kids' meals.

As an adult, I'd have no trouble choosing between a book and a colorful hunk of plastic, but it's a much bigger decision for a five-year-old.

Here's an idea kids. Take the toy, but convince your parents to take you to the library after lunch.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Quizzing My Characters

On days when I sit down to write my blog post nearly twelve hours late, I'm grateful for little things that provide prompts (and for Sarah Reinhard, who taught me to use things in the environment when I get stuck). Today's questions came from my Happiness Project calendar, and here to answer them are Angel and Marita (Casting the First Stone, Chasing a Second Chance) along with the protagonist from my work-in-progress, Kelsey Stevens.

Okay, ladies. When in doubt, do you bring an umbrella or leave it at home?

Marita: Bring the umbrella to preserve the hair and the outfit.
Angel: Bring the umbrella, but I also have one in my car. Just in case.
Kelsey: Me too! I usually have one in my work bag as well.

As a child, did you have a special toy, blanket or doll? If so, do you still have it now?

Marita: I had a teddy bear that my grandparents got for me when I was born, or so I'm told. I don't know what happened to it. I think my mom threw it away. It was pretty raggedy.
Angel: I had a fuzzy pink blanket with silky edging that I used to rub against my cheek to fall asleep. It's on a shelf in the nursery closet so I can give it to Spencer.
Kelsey: I don't remember any special toys, but I always loved books, so I guess it's not surprising that I married an author! A lot of my books got handed down to my sister, Lindsay, but I saved some of my favorite series. They're in a box in my attic.

If you want to learn about something new, would you rather take in the information through reading, listening or watching?

Marita: Reading.
Angel: Listening--that way, I can get visual information too.
Kelsey: Watching. Or, better, yet, doing.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Scaffolding the Summer

My daughter is home.

All of my exams and papers are graded and final grades have been turned in.

It must be summer vacation!

Let the list-making commence!

Truth be told, I start making summer lists long before the last paper is graded. Last Saturday, I sat down with the various incarnations of notes to myself that I've been tucking into notebooks and calendars and began organizing them.

  • My Big 3 for Saturday. (Okay, it was more of a Big 5 because I couldn't decide).
  • My list for the weekend/week ahead, to be broken into smaller pieces as the week wears on.
  • My summer lists: overall goals, books to read, movies to watch. Projects. 

These lists hold a different kind of promise than my standard to-do lists. Biased more toward what I want to do than what I have to to, they're the scaffolding for not only my summer, but the second half of my year. As such, they provide a flexible structure suited to the season, but still leave room for opportunity. A day (or weekend) trip. An evening out. Some fun event that I don't even know about yet.


So, why make lists at all?

Because they hold a combination of promises made, things I've been longing to do and opportunities to explore -- all the things I don't get the chance to do during the year while I am teaching and life is busy and scheduled. As such, they are the counterbalance to the school year, the other side of the coin, the "what I want to be when I grow up" activities.

Just writing them down is both useful and enticing. For me, making lists sets things in motion; once I've written something down, it lingers in the back of my mind, keeping me alert for opportunities that are relevant to the things I want to accomplish.

This week, there will be a lot of loose ends to tie up -- tasks that got put off, awaiting unscheduled days. I'll start chipping away at the housekeeping items on the list, trimming away the short-term to-dos and revealing the items that can't be checked off with less than an hour's work. From there, my lists will diverge, sending me into my semi-annual goals review, otherwise known as an excuse to blow the dust off my leather-bound planner.

But that's another post.

How about you? What do your summer lists look like?

Friday, May 12, 2017

Friday Freebie: Wasting Time

I'm a firm believer in taking down time.

I'm just not so good at actually doing it.

From time to time, I stumble onto an article like this one from Quartz that is so perfect that I have only one thing left to say.

I can identify.

Now to translate that identification into action.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Charli Takes Over

Photo: Wokandapix via Pixabay
Hey everyone, Charli here -- you know, Marita's daughter? I'm taking over the blog today. I figured that maybe I wasn't the only kid who needed some outside help pulling off Mother's Day.

When your parents don't like each other very much, planning for Mother's Day can be kinda complicated. I can't exactly drive anywhere to pick out a card and, unlike in Anna's family, my dad's not going to show up any time soon to make sure my mom gets a card for Mother's Day.

When I was little, my grandfather used to take me shopping for Mother's Day cards -- one for mom and one for Grandma -- or at least that's how Mom tells it. I kinda remember going out alone with my grandpa sometimes, but I don't remember where we went or what we bought. Except for candy and ice cream. Those trips I remember. Mom says that all "came crashing to a halt" when she and I moved out and into our own house.

When I was about five, Bets and I started our Mother's Day shopping tradition. Bets picked me up after school one day and took me to the gift shop, and then out for ice cream. Bets has a way of making everything fun and I remember that I felt really special going out with a grown-up who wasn't my mom and picking out stuff for my mom all by myself. Back then, I usually picked something pretty or sparkly -- or both -- and didn't worry too much about what the card said.

This year will be the eighth year that Bets and I have gone card shopping. Somewhere between five and thirteen, I figured out what a good friend Bets is to Mom, and that the inside of the card matters more than the outside.

Marita, Charli and Bets are all
characters in my novel,
Casting the First Stone.
This year, I think I want to write a note to Mom inside her card -- something to let her know that even though I can be a tremendous pain sometimes, I'm really grateful to have her, and really glad to have a mom who worries about what's good for me even when it might not be something she's crazy about. The truth is, going to see my dad and getting to know Angel and having a baby sister -- those are all good things. And if my mom had just thought about herself like some moms do, I wouldn't have all that stuff.

This year, I think I want to get something for Angel, too. I never did before -- honestly, I never even thought of it when I was only going to Dad's every other weekend. And there was no way my mom was going to get that ball rolling, although I think this year, she'll understand, and maybe even agree.

I wonder if Bets will be a mom someday. I think she'd be good at making sure her kids had fun -- and ice cream. And I think she'd definitely love sparkly cards. She's certainly paid for enough of them in the past eight years.

Maybe this year, I should get a card for Bets, too -- not a Mother's Day card, of course -- just one that thanks her for making sure my mom had a Mother's Day celebration during all these years when I was too young to know it mattered.

Or maybe I'll just pay for her ice cream.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Bittersweet Mother's Day

My mom is sick. I've been avoiding writing about it here because it felt wrong. Too personal. Too hard. Too much.

But, as we approach Mother's Day, I want to write about her. Her courage. Her compassion. Her sense of humor.

My mom is one of the strongest people I know. She does what has to be done. No fuss, no muss, no bother and not a lot of complaining.

She freely expresses her feelings, the good and the bad, without becoming ugly. She'll put up with a lot, but no one, and I mean no one had better mess with my dad, my sister or me, or that person is sure to hear about it.

I got that from her.

My mom has always known how to be a mom. Raising kids in a time before parenting manuals and despite some trying times in her own upbringing, she knew when to push, when to pull back, where to draw the line and when to tell us she loved us and was proud of us.


She was a role model for authoritative parenting before anyone coined the term. She loved us the way she loves my dad -- unconditionally -- and together, the two of them gave my sister and me a secure foundation on which to build our lives and, eventually, the lives of our own families.

I am pretty sure this Mother's Day will be my mother's last one. It hurts, but there's an advantage to knowing this. No words will go unsaid, no petty grudges will be nursed long after they should have been forgiven. I will hold her hand and make her laugh and try to take care of her the way she has always taken care of me.

I hope she knows that she is to me what I have always known I am in her eyes -- smart and loved and pride-inspiring -- the kind of person I'd hang out with even if she weren't my mom.

I hope that in my life I can be as brave and strong and fierce as she is. Like her, I'd rather make reservations than make dinner, but I will, for the sake of my family, do the latter, even if I do it with much more grumbling than she ever did.

If you are lucky enough to have your mother in your life -- no matter how much she may annoy you or pester you or say things you don't want to hear -- don't let this Mother's Day pass you by. Tell your mom how important she is.

And if she's not here, tell her anyway. Mothers are usually listening even when we think they aren't.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom. See that? I gave you your own blog post.