Routine

Little stones create ripples that disturb the calm waters of the pond. The once smooth waters become clouded and, as more stones are thrown in, turn choppy. It takes a long time for the waves to pass and the stillness to return.

That is how I feel my last week has been. With the pre-Thanksgiving preparations to the post-Thanksgiving recovery, it has been a week since my last post. I had been pretty disciplined about setting aside time to write on most days, but once the little stones started falling in my path, the obstacles to writing built up and I could not make my way back to the path until they had been cleared.

I like my routines. I am very organized and, while I can be flexible and adapt to changing situations, I much prefer to know what lies ahead. You would think as a mom of two kids and two dogs, I would know better. Nothing is ever predictable, whether it is a last-minute school assignment for which supplies are needed, or a sudden illness that requires attention. Even the dogs get  into situations that throw stones in my path…like yesterday when they both required bathing after what I intended to be a relaxing walk.

The holiday season is especially loaded with distractions, school events, parties, writing cards, mailing packages and shopping for presents.  All I can do is stay calm and try to chart the smoothest path through the waves of demand that vie for my attention. At least I had a few minutes today to post my thoughts- one of which is this…

While many of us have enjoyed the unseasonably warm weather of this November, it has dreadfully confused the plants in my garden.

I have never before seen either of these flowering at this time of year.          They have come out of dormancy because they think it is Spring.

I couldn’t resist this shot of my Holly and Sedum alongside a sprig of Forsythia.

    It is a beautiful three season bouquet, but I would prefer something more routine for this time of year. Dried grasses and evergreens anyone?

A reflection on giving thanks

As I head out to the grocery store to shop for my Thanksgiving meal, I am thankful that my family is coming to gather at my home. I am thankful that I have the means to host everyone and provide a delicious meal. Several of the dishes I plan to serve have been grown in my garden, either frozen when they were harvested over the summer (beets) or still waiting to be picked, gathering sweetness from the cold nights and days (brussels sprouts). The other vegetables were purchased at the farmers market from a vendor who was still able to grow food in his greenhouse. The items I have to purchase from the grocery store are the staples and desserts ( although I will be using the apples we picked at the orchard for my pie). It gives me a happy feeling to eat what I have grown, as much as is possible, on this symbolic day.

Aside from the historical aspect of what happened in the years after the first feast, the picture of the Pilgrims and Wampanoags feasting together, celebrating their bounty and sharing their customs, is really what the spirit of Thanksgiving has become. It is a time of families to gather-to laugh, to cry, to share. It is the most travelled time of the year. The great distances that people are willing to cover to be with their loved ones on this day demonstrates that principle. The ones who can not join their families, often find friends or neighbors to share the meal with. Others volunteer their time serving meals to the less fortunate.

Unfortunately, those numbers are on the rise. The local food pantry is expecting to serve 1800 meals this Thanksgiving, up 28% from last year. When I think of all the people who have lost their jobs or homes, who will find this the only place to get a good meal for the holiday, it truly makes me thankful. So, as I wrap up my purchases I will make sure to drop a few items in the collection bin as a small way of helping others in the spirit of Thanksgiving.

The Thanksgiving Art Show

Only three days left until Thanksgiving and I am still not ready! Oh, I’ve got the turkey thawing and the menu planned out, my linens are washed and pressed, my guest room is clean- that was the easy part. What is not complete is my project for the Thanksgiving Art Show. As usual, we have all procrastinated until the end. So now I am scrambling to figure out which genre to submit-  photography, music, interior design (does that count?). My husband is working away on something in his workshop and my daughter goes back and forth between the computer and the dining room where she has set her project up. Everyone is trying to keep an element of secrecy until the unveiling at the show.

Our annual show has become the most important part of our holiday ritual. It is an unusual tradition, not just for its theme but also due to its origination. When one thinks of traditions, they tend to come from the older generations and are passed down to the grandchildren. This one, however, was created by the grandchildren and imposed on the grandparents, as well as everyone in between.   

It all started 9 years ago, when my daughter bemoaned the fact that Thanksgiving was so boring. She and her brother were the only children present and had to sit through hours of adults chatting and drinking cocktails. So she decided to change the course of action and create an assignment for everyone. That first year, we were instucted to bring up to two pieces of original art and give a presentation. We would then vote on the entries by category, with awards being given in each. I don’t remember what my first submission was, but the 2 hour experience of appreciating what each person had made was so wonderful that we all promised to do it again the following year.

Each year, our entries have gotten more complex. People have been encouraged to try new mediums- culinary arts, floral arrangements, photo editing, sculpture and fabric design.

             

The kids have taken the entertainment to a whole other level with their emcee talents, keeping things moving along and making  everyone laugh.

This tradition seems to have influenced us in our daily lives as well. Each one of us has become more creative in ways that we don’t even notice- how we plate our food, arrange our flowers or play our music. In fact, we have incorporated art into our lives so much that I am now faced with the dilemma of choosing which project to submit? I wonder if my blog counts as a genre…

How to Keep the Fun in Winter- Family Style

With only  a week until Thanksgiving, it is time to admit that it will soon be winter here. I picked up downhill skis for my son and myself today. If you live in the Northeast, you better like winter sports. It is funny how our preferences change with age, though. And I’m not talking about old age…

When I was young, my parents taught me how to cross-country ski. We regularly broke trails on the historic battlefield that was open for winter recreation. My parents touted the benefits of aerobic exercise and appreciated the relatively safe terrain. As my sisters and I got older, the repetitive motion with little opportunity for speed bored us to tears- literally. My parents finally agreed to try downhill skiing. During the next several years, we spent long weekends or February break at rustic lodges in Vermont or New York. I have many fond memories of watching my ski go down the hill without me, or swinging in a chair that had been temporarily stuck and teasing my sister that we would have to jump down. Of course, there were also the near misses of the giant chair lift poles as I went flashing by, out of control down the steep, icy slope. Which is probably why, once I reached adulthood, I no longer desired to participate.

One of the first big gifts my boyfriend bought me, was a set of cross-country skis.  

We spent that winter exploring winding nordic trails that led us through thick woods. These sometimes ran along narrow ridges and descended in hairpin turns, in which case I would sit on my skis and slide down on my bottom.  My skills improved each time we returned. We picked our honeymoon destination because of its proximity to a ski area. When kids came into the equation, we carried them in backpacks or towed them along on a sled. Once they were old enough to ski on their own, we set them up with a rental program that would accommodate them as they grew.

Within a few years, they were skilled enough to take on the black diamond curves

and had the stamina to ski all the way across the lake.

Last year, they decided that the excitement of skiing down from the top of a long climb  

did not make up for the hard work of getting there. 

My husband and I could not convince them to cross-country with us. Instead we experimented at a local downhill resort. Surprisingly, the technique of slalom skiing came back to me and I quickly weaned myself off the bunny hill. My son was thrilled with the black diamonds and finally convinced me to try them out. I have learned how to be more cautious and stay in control, probably due to my cross-country training. I think it helped him pick up the sport easily,too.

So here I am, with two sets of season rentals in my car, looking at brochures for ski resorts in the area. I am sure my parents think this sounds like a deja vu. I am just looking forward to spending some fun times with my kids this winter. We do whatever it takes, right?

Downhill Skiing

Image by RenoTahoe via Flickr

Fall Leaf Collecting: Relaxation and Inspiration

 Sometimes the words just don’t come. I meditate through my yoga routine, I steam in the shower trying to clear my head; but my thoughts are too clogged with distractions. What to do? Thankfully, I have two dogs who recognized I needed to get out and refresh my mind. One went and sat obediently by the closet door, showing me where her leash is. The other kept nudging me, whimpering and begging me to stop being so foolish and just go outside. It was a gray November day, but surprisingly warm for the lack of sun; so I put on my coat and we headed out. Just watching them sniff and run through the leaves cheered my thoughts, and before I knew it their interest in fallen foliage had attracted me as well. I slowed my pace, stopping to look at the varying shapes and colors, observing the hints of moss peeking through the layers of mulch. The tiny shrubs valiantly clung to their leaves, in unusual shades and patterns. Normally I would have zipped by them all, trying to get a power walk in while the dogs ran around; but today, they also slowed down, taking time to turn over logs and dig through beds of leaves for scents of deer or rabbits. I picked up two leaves to admire the differences in size and shape, and almost immediately I began collecting them.

  Did you ever notice how many different shapes and sizes Oak leaves come in?

 Or how many shades of brown? Dark, light, golden, rust, tawny and olive are just a few versions I found.

These are all in yellowish tones.

  And what about red? Burgundy, orange, magenta, peach and even some I might classify as pink. Who knew?

I think these qualify as shades of black.

  And then there are these leaves, which couldn’t make up their minds. One even caught my eye as it had almost every color of the rainbow on it. It was laying off to the side of the trail, under some dried grasses. I would never have noticed it if I was not already alert to leaf watching.

  Finally, there are the stubborn ones. The ones who fight against the bitter reality that winter is coming, the days are getting too short to produce chlorophyll and soon it will be very cold. Kudos to them!

So with a bag full of leaves, I headed home and spent  an hour arranging them in various snapshots and editing them for today’s post. Leaf collecting turned out to be a great way to clear my mind and be creative. I advise everyone to step out of their busy routines and retreat to some simple, physical activity. This is a stressful time of year and we all need to find a way to relax.

I just want to thank my wonderful dogs for reminding me of that and for taking me out for walks every day.

Ebony

Cooper

Black Friday ad nauseam

A mother plays the guitar while her two daught...

Image via Wikipedia

Why do I need to be reminded that Christmas is on its way when I am still planning for Thanksgiving? It seems that every time I flip stations on the radio, I always come across one that has been playing Christmas music since the day after Halloween. Not only that, but the retailers have started putting their jingles on the air, telling me how many shopping days are left. It makes me sick that we have become so materialistic as a society and that no one seems to be bothered by all this commercialism.

The retailers used to wait until after Thanksgiving to gear up, but then Black Friday was created. Now there are even other groups claiming shopping days- like Cyber Monday. This year Saturday has been designated  Small Business Saturday, as a way to support locals rather than big corporations. At least that one, kind of makes sense. And speaking of corporations, now I am seeing ads reminding consumers that layaway options are available. What they don’t do is remind people that this just sinks them further in debt, the very hole they are trying to get out of.

Why do we seem to “need” so many presents under our trees? Even Hanukkah has been roped in to the consumer loop as Jewish children try to keep up with their Christian playmates. I know, because we celebrate both traditions in my house. At first we tried to make Hannukah more like my husband remembered it, with one gift per day including one major present. But we quickly realized that it was more important to recognize the symbolism of the menorah and the traditional foods, latkes and applesauce, than to shower the kids with gifts; especially since they would get more for Christmas less than a week later.

While I am not talking about spoiling the fun of Santa Claus and a pile of presents under the tree, do we really need to place so much value on toys and gadgets? If we could lower our childrens’ expectations and prolong their ability to wait for a birthday or other gift-giving opportunity, perhaps the quality vs. quantity and anticipation of the gifts would be a reward in itself. While giving is a part of Christmas, it is also important to do so within your means, like the Little Drummer Boy. As a child, I was equally happy with a new album or book as I was with a hand-knitted set of mittens- or at least I tried to be since I knew about manners.

I don’t know how to combat this issue as a parent, trying to pass valuable lessons on to my children without making them frustrated that they get less than their friends. As you can see, this has made me very cranky; but it all started because of the Christmas music ad nauseam. It is a vicious cycle. I wish we could return to simpler times when holidays had more meaning, and Christmas music was only sung during its celebration.

A New Thanksgiving

When I looked at my calendar this morning, I realized that Thanksgiving is a mere 10 days away. For most of us, that is a reason to celebrate, especially if you are a kid who gets the holiday off from school. I am not going to get into the political correctness of the holiday, because we all know the conflicting historical views. I am only looking at Thanksgiving as a family gathering, a time to be together and celebrate life. And in my family, that is what is most important.

Ever since my wedding, I have spent Thanksgiving with my husband’s family. That adds up to 18 years over which we get together and share traditions (not to mention all the celebrations they had before I joined). My mother-in-law has prepared essentially the same meal every year, roast turkey, stuffing, twice baked potatoes, gravy, marinated brocolli, white onions and sweet potatoes. The appetizers and desserts change from year to year, put there always has to be a pumpkin pie. Not only is the food part of the tradition, but there is often a chess match and a long walk while we digest. My children started our most fun tradition, though, the annual art show. Between appetizers and dinner, every family member presents a piece of art and gives a presentation. It started out very simply, but it’ s been recurring for almost 10 years and has become quite sophisticated. (I may have to write a whole post on this sometime)

Anyway, back to this year’s celebration…

Over the last two years, we have lost two family members and the only ones who have not relocated are my own family. My mother-in-law now lives in a lovely apartment in Boston, which is the perfect size for her but not for a lot of people staying over. With all of the changes she has been through, I think she finally felt ready to hand over the reigns of hosting Thanksgiving to me. I am happy to have this honor, but at the same time I know it is a big responsibility.

The biggest challenge will be planning a new menu. Of course we will have turkey and stuffing with gravy. My husband has already said he will take care of that. My daughter wants to make the twice baked potatoes. So now I am in charge of some different side dishes and desserts. I have already ordered oysters and am incorporating a cheese fondue into the appetizers. It is fun to try new things and I think everyone will be up for it, as long as I don’t get too carried away.

We’ll still be able to talk a nice walk, play a game of chess and hold our art show. Some traditions just don’t change.

A Fun Finale to Fall

   The last of the golden brown oak leaves are fluttering down in the warm breeze. That means it is time for another favorite fall tradition: raking leaves. But not just the raking part… the place we rake them is in front of the swing set. We gather the leaves from a long radius around the swing set and shape them into a giant fluffy pile. Once we have collected as many as we can, the kids take turns swinging high on the swing set and then jump off, spinning through the air and landing in the cushioned pile. They then fluff the pile up and do it again. What could be more fun?

  

I have to admit, I have taken a few turns too. But I really prefer to walk through the crunchy leaves, swishing them under my feet or admiring the layers of color.

  

I look for signs of sumac and golden rod, still putting out a brilliant display until the end. The dogs love running through the leaves too, sniffing for deer tracks, moles or bones hiding underneath.

But I hear the wind picking up, whistling through the nearly empty branches. I feel the temperature rapidly drop as the cold front moves in.

Our last days of Indian summer have passed. As I watch the clouds build up, I finish pruning my dried flower stalks and pack my bulbs in a bin full of fluffy leaves. I pull my sweatshirt around me tightly as I watch the kids take a few more leaps into the pile. Tomorrow I will need to wear a warmer coat.

More on Boys and Video Games

Wal-Mart de Chicoutimi, dans l'ancien édifice ...

Image via Wikipedia

If you didn’t notice it, you missed your chance. No I am not talking about the giant asteroid that missed the earth by a mere 200,00 miles. I am referring to the release date of COD: MW3. For those of you who don’t have teenage boys, that stands for Call of Duty:Modern Warfare 3. It is another installment of this video game, rated M for 17+ and was released in stores at 12:01 am November 8.

My thirteen year-old has an earlier version of the game and wanted to be one of the first to get the new one. One of his friends suggested they go to the store and camp out until it is released at midnight. That sounded like a fun idea to them, but they couldn’t get a single parent to agree to drive them. My son does not usually ask for things or stage protests, but he spent the weekend begging me to drive him and his friend to the store Monday night. When I refused to do so, he went on strike- refusing to participate in chores until I pointed out that the two issues were not related and I wouldn’t even consider another option until his chores were done.

When we finally tried to work out a solution,  I still wasn’t sure why he needed it immediately when he could ask for it for Christmas. He was worried they would run out of copies. He figured all his friends would have it and he would be left out. He wanted to experience the thrill of being one of the first to play the new version. Even though he could have preordered it online, he didn’t want to wait a week for it to get here. These seemed like valid reasons to me, and at least gave me a sense of why this was so important in his mind.

Then he came up with a compromise, which was actually very clever. He asked if his friend could sleep over and I could then take them shopping in the morning. I agreed to take them any time after 7am. So Monday night came around, his friend came with his sleeping bag, game controller and wallet. They didn’t stay up too late since they wanted to get an early start. We didn’t actually leave the house until 8, so I had time for my much needed coffee.

The first place we drove was Wal-Mart. There were two men in line ahead of them, in pursuit of the same game. I joked with one of them, dressed in a suit and headed to work, when he mentioned that here he was 35 years old and still playing video games. When it was the boys’ turn, they decided they wanted the “hardened” version. I asked them what the difference was (what do I know, I’m just the chauffeur). They told me the regular version did not have all the add-ons, extra maps and other perks which were included in the “hardened” game. It was $30 extra, but they rationalized that to buy the extras separately would cost them $120, so in the end they would be saving $90. I guess that’s using your head, if you were planning to do that anyway.

Unfortunately, the people at Wal-Mart had no clue what they were talking about. They had plenty of regular copies, but the boys were not interested. So off we went to the nearest Game Stop. It didn’t open until 10 and it was only 8:30 so we went to the mall, searching out Best Buy. Again nothing was open yet. I suppose selling games at the crack of dawn was not in their business plan. So we drove over to the Supersize Wal-Mart, which did not carry the hardened version of COD:MW3 either. We decided to go back to the mall, get a bite to eat and wait for the stores to open.

When we got there, the Game Stop was just throwing open its door. It was only 9:30, but I guess they felt there were enough customers around to do business. Two other men, probably in their 20’s, walked in ahead of us. By the time the boys asked for their hardened version, there were only 4 left. They pulled out their cash and counted it out for the cashier. He would not sell it to them until he read me the riot act. He wanted to know if I was aware that this was rated M. Then he read a graphic description of the blood, gore and violence in the game. I nodded my head in agreement, giving my permission and adding that I must be a terrible parent for allowing this.

The boys walked out of the store with their games in their hands. They were no longer hungry and just wanted to get home and start playing. On the drive back, they read the description on their boxes excitedly. They thanked me for taking the time to drive them around. They were pleased they had held out for this version, rather than settle for the first one they saw. And (this was the best news to me) they agreed it would have been so disappointing to stake out at Wal-Mart in the middle of the night, only to discover they had wasted their time. That’s about as close to a “You were right, Mom” as you can get. Hopefully they’ll remember that when COD:MW4 comes out.

A Room of My Own: Lessons on Interior Design

I wish my community offered a continuing education program on interior decorating. I need help finding my own style of design. I still have a piece of furniture that my grandparents parents gave me when I first moved to my own apartment. Over the years, I received some more family heirlooms. Now I am at the point where my parents are downsizing and find myself accepting all kinds of furniture or artwork that are too sentimental to let go. It certainly is a home designer’s nightmare, trying to combine these old items with newer ones and somehow making them blend together in a way that is not overly eclectic.

Where was I to start? This is the before photo.   

I had painted the walls a soft peach color when we moved in 10 years ago, and been able to  in- corporate all of our reddish hues of furniture into the : the two bucket chairs we had accepted from parents during a move, the futon we had reupholstered to add a splash of color to the room and still was pulled out to accomodate guests from time to time, the 11×13 thick burgundy oriental carpet and an assortment of artwork highlighting shades of red. It had taken time to find the right window treatments. The unique shade was a gift from my mother in law and I had found the perfect swag to go with it.  We had purchased a Lazyboy recliner, as well as a large bookshelf; but the biggest piece in the room was a baby grand piano.

For 10 years, this arrangement was fine with me. I had other things to do and this room didn’t get that much use anyway. However, as the kids got older my husband and I started using that room as a retreat for an after dinner conversation while the kids did their homework. It wasn’t ideal, but I was not in a rush to do anything. That is until we received our latest inheritance of furniture- a marble chess table top and a grandfather clock. Maybe we could have stored the chess set in the basement until our son wanted it, but there was no hiding the clock. That was the spark for change.

I spent weeks trying to come up with a color scheme, floor plan and figuring what to keep and what to discard. Fortunately, fall is a big season for garage sales. It was pretty easy to give stuff away for free, especially after all the flooding this fall that created a need for cheap furniture. I took the room down to the basics: the two chairs, the piano, the book shelf, the grandfather clock, the matching end tables and the one piece of artwork I decided to use as the focal point of the room.

     Inspired by the golden colors of fall, I tried half a dozen shades of yellow before choosing the one that would adorn the walls. Next  I had to replace the furniture.  After shopping at several stores and online, I devised a plan for a sofa and wing chair which I thought would tie the old and new styles together- one in a neutral color, the other in a catchy print which would emphasize my nature theme.

               I had to find new window treatments. I couldn’t bear to part with the shades, but I was able to find the perfect shade of green drapes and a tassel that made all three pieces look perfect together.      At the risk of adding more furniture, my husband built a table stand for the heirloom chess board and I borrowed a pair of old chairs from my father’s house; but the bonus is that we now have an intimate corner for playing an undisturbed game of chess or assembling a puzzle.

Carrying through with the nature theme, I rearranged all the souvenirs and artwork that deserved to be displayed; eliminating anything that could be categorized as clutter. That was definitely the hardest part, but now the beautiful pieces get the notice they deserve.       We went out and bought a smaller area rug to replace our giant oriental carpet. This one creates a cozier seating area and is more neutral in tone, while having a decorative border that (I hope) goes with the new chair print.

      My husband’s steel and acrylic artwork create a major focal point on the modern side of the room, and an oil painting that I am pleased to have  recently inherited showcases  the more traditional area.

         

As of this post, I am waiting patiently for my new sofa and wing chair to be delivered (hopefully Thursday). Once that step is in place, I will decide whether to reupholster the matching chairs or not. Finally, I will begin adding artwork to the walls. But each step takes time and deliberation, carefully considering how each element contributes to the overall effect. That is why I need a design class. I don’t always trust my judgement; and according to my daughter who has impeccable taste, I have no fashion sense. I do know what I value and what makes me happy, though. Creating this new room in a cheery nature theme, being surrounded by family heirlooms or artwork I enjoy, sitting in comfortable furniture and feeling welcomed make this project what it is. I envision many relaxing evenings in my new room, sipping wine with my husband, and catching up on our days. Sometimes you have to go with your gut instinct.

Update (11/10/11): My new furniture came in.

 In case you can’t tell, they are just what I wanted except for the pillows (the one on the right is my fabric swatch I have been carrying around for weeks). Old Brick is taking care of the problem and I will be relaxing on my comfy couch whilst contemplating the next phase of this project.

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