When FYI is TMI

I love to browse the web. I often find very useful information on the health benefits of coffee, the latest outbreak of Mad Cow Disease, or a new recipe for ground beef. Sometimes I’ll click on a story to keep up to date on the latest fashion trends or political gaffes. I certainly wouldn’t want to be in the dark on such hot topics and browsing the web is how I stay informed. There are times when all of this free information can have negative consequences, though.

Yesterday while browsing on Yahoo,  I saw an article that caught my eye. It asked how often I washed my bedding and, apparently, I do not do it often enough. Fortunately for you readers, I could not find the link so you do not need to be guilted into changing your habits. However, when I read about the dust mites, pet dander and- heaven forbid- bed bugs that could inhabit our beds I decided I was due for an overhaul.

I immediately stripped down my bed- from the mattress pad to the shams- and began the long process of washing every item. Actually, it wasn’t the washing that took the time since I just threw it in the machine on the hottest cycle with bleach and fabric softener. The big hassle was getting the mattress pad and comforter dry. I had to keep pulling them out of the dryer, untwisting them and restarting the cycle. Each one must have taken 2+ hours total time to dry completely. Once I got through my bedding I moved on to my daughter’s bed. While her bed is smaller, she has two comforters and 4 shams so it was still a lot of work.

Then I had to take everything back upstairs and reassemble the layers, one at a time. I have to say,  both beds looked beautiful and smelled so clean and fresh.


Falling asleep in newly washed sheets with a hint of lavender fragrance was my reward. I usually wash the sheets every 3 weeks, but knowing the mattress pad was mite free and the comforter was stain free made me feel my efforts were worth it.  

Still, I can’t see myself doing this every time. I have better things to do than make sure my bedding is perfectly clean. It was an all day affair, and it continues today with the other two beds in my house.

Maybe I can bring myself to tackle this chore once a season. Then again, I could change my mind when a few days from now any lingering benefits of clean bedding will have expired. Is it really worth the effort? And is it worth feeling guilty about? In the future I will try to avoid clicking on stories that might make me feel like I am neglecting to do something- especially if it is something I dislike.

Besides I have more pressing things to look up, like how to get rid of these pesky spring ants…

It’s Lilac Season!

   I wish you could take a deep breath and inhale the fragrant aromas of my favorite flower. It is now the best season of the whole year- Lilac season. In between the flowering bulbs and shrubs comes the two-three week period when the lilacs are in full bloom. As their sweet scents fill the air I can hardly resist burying my face in amongst the blossoms.    Their fragrance makes me giddy with happiness.

I know where every lilac bush is in my neighborhood and purposely aim my walks to pass them by.

  They come in every shade of purple, as well as white.

My family knows my weakness for this special flower and one year bought me a lilac for Mother’s Day. Right now I have a bouquet with some flowers from that bush on my table.

To my great fortune, the previous owners of my house had planted a hedge of Korean Lilacs surrounding the deck. These are a later blooming variety; so once my traditional lilacs have faded, they will be at their peak-

extending my Lilac season by an extra week or so.  I’ll savor every breath, since Lilac season only comes once a year.

What is Your Musical Personality?

  What does one’s musical taste say about their personality? My son is a big fan of classic rockers Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Neil Young. The poignant lyrics of their ballads, civil rights or anti-war songs seem to touch his soul. He will be the first to stand up for something he believes is right. My daughter prefers the more cheery melodies and hopeful love songs of the Top 40 Chart. She works hard in school and looks forward to unwinding after a long day by singing her favorite songs in the privacy of her room.

I have always loved music and it continues to be an important part of my life; however it would be hard to pin me down as to any one type. I was trained to play classical music on the piano but also enjoy breaking out the “Great Songs of the   60’s” songbook. At Christmas time, I love to play my favorite carols and will sing along with my Messiah score to a DVD recording. Within the last two weeks, I have had the pleasure of three unrelated musical experiences. You may be puzzled at first, but I think that ultimately you will discover the link to my personality.

During the week I was in Jamaica, every tourist bus, boat or restaurant played Bob Marley. Being in Jamaica brought a whole new light to his lyrics-  not just from an American civil rights perspective. Seeing the poverty on the island and the deprived conditions, as well as the dependence on tourism, gave a truer meaning to his “Songs of Freedom.”  While riding the boat out to the reef for snorkelling, the captain invited us to sing along to “No Woman No Cry”. I love to sing and quickly jumped into the moody tune. My husband joined in, although somewhat more reservedly. My son shot me dagger eyes and elbowed me in the ribs- silently begging me to stop embarrassing him. I restrained myself out of respect for his feelings, although I did keep bopping my head.

When we returned from our trip, my husband and I were thrilled to attend the Springsteen Wrecking Ball Tour in Albany. We had bought the latest CD and been listening to the new music in preparation. The concert lived up to all expectations. The Boss rocked hard for three hours, pulling out old favorites along with the new ones. The emotions were raw and real and the energy of the crowd was radiant. Dancing and singing along to the music was amazing and we left the concert with a feeling of rejuvenation.

 Last night, we attended a completely different musical event. We saw the Albany Symphony Orchestra’s performance of “Carmina Burana”. There were two choral groups and an extensive orchestra, as well as three soloists. The house was packed, which is unusual. My husband and I were excited about the show. I had sung it many years ago (before kids) and he had listened to me rehearse and perform. Some of the songs are our favorites and we could hardly keep from tapping our feet. There was a man a few seats down who went so far as to wave his hands, conductor style. I felt badly for the “naive” sector of the audience who clapped after a movement or solist and were rudely reprimanded by their peers.

As much as I appreciate classical  music and understand the reason for the etiquette of silence, that reaction made me realize why I prefer rock and roll. I want music I can be a part of; music I can sing and dance to. Music is a way to engage myself- heart and soul. The examples of my son letting me know I was embarrassing him or the audience scolding members for clapping inappropriately illustrate the importance of interaction for me. Music should be about expression. In order to appreciate it I have to experience it, vocally and physically. As wonderful as the orchestra and chorus were, it would have been even  more enjoyable if I could have wiggled in my seat.

This observation also makes me realize why my kids think going to the orchestra is boring. They both love music, but sitting quietly is not their way of enjoying it. I can totally relate. I guess it is time to take out my CD and sing and wave my arms when no one else is home. “Oh Fortuna!”

Guilty Pleasures of Vacation

Over the last few days I have had time to reflect back on the wonderful family vacation we just took in Jamaica. The property was beautiful, right on the Seven Mile Beach. The food was delicious. There were multiple activites and entertainment to enjoy and all of the staff were extremely friendly. We felt so welcomed and relaxed- no worries, mon! It was only the presence of the security guards at each entrance and the ones patrolling the beach, keeping solicitors in check, that reminded us we were in a third world country.

This man must have paid a fee to sell his wares at Beaches.

I decided to support him by buying a few pieces of deco art made out of coconut shells. There were musicians travelling from resort to resort to eek out a living. I enjoyed listening to their music from my balcony.

This marching band performed at the resort, probably to raise funds for their high school.

There were also women offering to braid hair and men peddling cigarettes and ganja or rides on a wave runner. We declined all of those options.

For one day, we hired a driver to take us to some tourist spots. First we rode a pontoon boat in the Black River where we saw crocodiles and egrets. The tour guide threw scraps of meat into the water so we could snap shots of them. Then we visited the YS Falls where a guide escorted us to the rope swing, walked us out on the falls and snapped many photos with our camera. Finally we took a boat out to the Pelican Bar. It was a beat up old motor boat but the captain was still able to use it for the short ride out to the reef.

Everywhere we went, US dollars were the accepted currency. Normally we have to exchange money in foreign countries so this is a sad statement about how much the Jamaican economy is supported by tourists from the US. But even more revealing was what we observed as we drove around the end of the island near Negril. Many of the houses were formed from concrete and scraps of tin. They were smaller than the family room in my house and obviously had no running water. Sometimes there would be a separate outhouse in the backyard. We saw children fetching water in buckets to carry back home and women washing clothing in the creeks. It made me feel guilty using extra water during my shower so I could shave my legs. I began throwing bathing suits in the shower with me to do laundry without wasting extra water.

None of these observations were missed by my kids. While I did not feel the need to emphasize the differences in our lifestyle, my husband did ask them a few questions to confirm that they knew what they were seeing. I think they were most disturbed by the story our driver told us about his deprived childhood, eventually running away from home and trying to create a better life for his own children- especially one that included school. He pointed out a prominent building behind a barbed wire fence which he said was a very expensive school and only select students could attend. Even though it was fancy by local standards, it must have made my kids appreciate the quality of their own public education. When we returned home I heard no complaints from them about attending school the next morning.

I am glad that we were able to take that day to see parts of the island and the people who live there.  I am not going to allow myself to feel guilty for enjoying my vacation, served by people in a very poor country. However, it was a  good reminder to be grateful for what we have as well as to be charitable and help others when we can. On the last night we were there, Beaches held a fundraiser for the Sandals Foundation. They were taking donations to improve schools and hospitals on the island and my kids immediately got in line to purchase a token paper lantern. When we lit ours in the name of some family members, my son added under his breath, “and to world peace” as we watched it soar high into the sky. It seemed like an appropriate ending to our otherwise fun vacation.

Enjoying the Fruits of Our Labor

  You may be asking, “When did asparagus become a fruit?”. Maybe I should have used the word vegetables or flowers in my title, but that wouldn’t have been as catchy. When I saw this fresh crop of asparagus ready to harvest for dinner, I was so excited I ran to get my camera.  My husband and I both enjoy working in our garden. Planting and tending our flowers and vegetables (raspberries are the only fruits of our labor) and then harvesting what we have grown gives us great pleasure.

I have posted photos of my flowers before so most of you know how much I love cutting that first bouquet of the season, no longer relying on the supermarket for my indulgence. Creating my own unique arrangement of bulbs and flowering shrubs is my favorite weekly activity.

The bright bursts of color and the sunny days warm my heart.

Yet as much as I love my flowers, they are not nearly as satisfying as eating our homegrown produce for dinner.  My crop of mint is now thriving so I will be clipping some sprigs to throw into my iced tea.

When I make baked potatoes for dinner, we can chop some chives to throw over them.

It won’t be long before the lettuce mix and the baby spinach is ready to pick and I will become overwhelmed with fresh salad for lunch.

But none of these developments is as exciting as cutting that first batch of asparagus. Last night I was able to harvest 8 stalks! I delicately sauted them with some olive oil , throwing the tips in with a pat of butter at the last second. The portion size was way too small per person- we each could have eaten the whole plate. It was wonderful to see how much the kids appreciated the fact that we had grown this, even though they knew that by next week they will be sick of asparagus. Until then, I am going to enjoy every savory bite.

Back to Reality

For the last week, I have been out of touch. It is amazing how the lack of WiFi (or at least the unwillingness to pay extraordinary rates for it) can really make you appreciate the meaning of vacation. For a whole week, I was unable to check my email, post on my blog or check updates on the latest news. The only things I needed to think about were which water activity I was going to do next, or where I would choose to eat my next meal. I brought some reading material, but I never seemed to find long enough chunks of time to sit and enjoy them. Instead, the few times I was lounging occurred when my husband and I were enjoying our late afternoon cocktail on the beach. 

   We really slipped into Jamaican mode; never consulting our watches or setting a schedule for the day-so it was a rude awakening on Monday morning when we returned to the reality of our daily life. Getting everyone out of bed was tough enough; then I spent most of the day unpacking, doing laundry, grocery shopping and planning our schedule for the week. After sorting through all the mail (email and USPS), I finally had a chance to do some catching up online.

Apparently, the most newsworthy topics that happened while I was away were the devastating tornadoes in the midwest and some attacks in Pakistan. The buzz really seemed to be more focused on the secret service members who were caught in a prostitution scandal and some more political blunders by Mitt Romney, who seems to be claiming the nomination. The Trayvon Martin story is still stirring up controversy. I had hoped it would have been resolved by now, but I guess it is just too juicy of an issue for the media to ignore. I never heard anything about the summit that Obama attended at the time of the scandal. I guess it wasn’t as important as a political indiscretion.

I was shocked to see that gas has climbed to $4.09/gallon of regular and am not looking forward to filling my tank again. At least I can say I came back with a nice tan, carefully attained by lathering up with 50SPF lotion; and, even though our food and drinks were included, I did not gorge myself on them and returned 2 pounds lighter. It must have been all the water activites that saved me.          Maybe I could paddle back there, off into the sunset, away from this reality…  When is my next vacation? I better schedule it in.

A Fortunate Mistake

In 2006, my family spent April vacation in Utah. We had flown out with our camping gear and met my brother-in-law and his wife for our annual trip. They did not have children and greatly adored their niece and nephew. The kids were 5 and 3 at the time; on the young side for adventurous hiking trails, but very willing to do their best. They happily skipped or ran along, exploring the National Parks we visited. Arches, Canyonlands and Bryce were several of the places we stayed for several days, setting up our tents and enjoying nature. 

We all have fond memories of that trip: spotting whitetail deer on the trail or bald eagles flying overhead. We even saw a bear and her cubs saunter through our campsite, while we safely watched from the car. We attended Ranger talks around the campfire, cooked S’mores after dinner and sipped our morning coffee or hot chocolate in our sleeping bags.

The kids were real troopers on the hikes and rarely complained. When their legs started to tire, their dad or uncle would scoop them up and give them a piggy back ride until they asked to get down. My BIL usually took my son. He would let him sit on his shoulders and bounce him around, while leading us all in song. “If I had a hammer” was one of our favorites and we merrily sang the verses over and over. The kids would join in and the hikes seemed to pass quickly. Before we knew it, we were back at our tent prepping dinner or kicking a ball around. BIL was almost always involved in the games. He loved being silly with the kids and they enjoyed playing with him.

Later, we roasted marshmallows around the fire and the kids would usually snuggle in his lap as we looked at the stars and reflected on the day’s activities. It was a wonderful family bonding time and well worth waiting a whole year to do again. As the end of the trip approached, BIL purchased a gift for each child as a souvenir of the fun times we had. When my son opened his present- a long-sleeved t-shirt with the logo “Moab Utah” on it- we immediately saw the error in BIL’s judgment. It was an adult-sized shirt for a 3-year-old boy. My son thanked his uncle anyway, since it was the thought that counts. We laughingly packed it up and flew home.

Somehow the shirt was transferred to my daughter, since she was slightly bigger, and it ended up buried in her dresser for years.Sadly, since then BIL has passed away. His long  battle with cancer made it too difficult for any further camping trips, so that was the last one we were able to take together. Yesterday my daughter came downstairs in her sweat pants and an orange shirt that said “Moab Utah” on it.

I asked her if she knew where it came from.  “Of course, Uncle BIL got it.” I smiled, starting to get teary-eyed. “What’s up, Mom?”  “It’s funny that when he got it, you were too little for it; but it fits you now after he is gone.” I replied, reflectively. “Well, if you already knew that, why did you ask me?”  I had no acceptable answer to that retort. Instead I walked away and enjoyed my emotional moment alone. I am so thankful that what we once saw as a humourous mistake has evolved into a treasure that will be appreciated for many years to come.

The Value of Siblings

Professional photograph of a person/group from...

Professional photograph of a person/group from around the turn of the 19th/20th century: siblings (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night my kids matched their wits in a geography contest while sitting together at the computer. Yes, I literally mean sitting together. My daughter was in the swivel chair with my son in her lap- mind you they are both teenagers. They had their arms around each other and were hugging and congratulating each other when they answered correctly. I knew I would ruin the moment by taking a photo, so I pretended I was a fly on the wall and silently watched them from across the room. I couldn’t help but smile at their innocent display of affection and respect for each other. It seemed like a perfect moment, something indicative of the years they will still be looking out for each other when that is no longer my role.

Every parent wants their children to be friends but it doesn’t always work out that way. The connection to family has to start early and you have to be able to accept your differences and embrace each other for who they are. I grew up with 2 sisters. We are very close in age and we experienced the usual sibling rivalry along the way. The one thing we always knew, though, was that we had each other’s backs whenever their was a problem. While we would be the first one to give a critical assessment of each other’s hair styles or fashion apparel, we would immediately jump  to each other’s defense against bullies or ex-boyfriends. Today we still call on each other for emotional support with our children or jobs. We know we can always expect love and objective thinking to carry us through.  I am thankful that my sisters and I have each other to share concerns about our parents. While they are both still healthy and strong, one day they will need our help and we will take it on together.

Unfortunately, not everyone has the same unconditional support network of siblings that I do. One of my friends is an only child and had to deal with the illness and death of her mother, while still balancing her own health issues and having time for her grandchildren. I don’t know how she did it. I tried to provide emotional support as a friend, but I know it’s not the same.

In the last 2 years, my husband has lost his older brother and his father. In some ways, this has drawn him and his younger brother closer together. I think they have a greater appreciation for each other and are in closer communication than they had been previously. I know they have given each other emotional support and they have shared the responsibilities of aiding their mother with her transitions. They have been able to share old memories which, for all my love and support,  I could not have fully understood.

It is very satisfying to see that my own children appreciate each other and have developed a strong bond in spite of their gender difference. Inspired by Whoonu,

Cranium Whoonu

a family game where we draw cards to match a person’s favorite or least favorite things, my kids enjoy challenging each other to name their favorite color, musician, perspective careers and ideal vacations. They seem to know each other inside and out and have an intuitive sense of what the other one is thinking. When they get their heads together, they can easily trick their relatives into believing anything or convince them to do what they want. They make a formidable team of siblings with a great sense of humor. It is nice to know that as they mature, they will already know how to take on more challenging issues together with love and understanding.

Earth Hour

This is a photo of Sydney Harbour Bridge and S...

This is a photo of Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House during Earth hour (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On March 31st, Earth Hour was observed around the globe. Organized by the WWF in 2007 in Sydney, Australia, it has since spread to 147 countries which turn off the lights of their notable landmarks. These include the Sydney Opera House, the Great Wall of China, the Acropolis, the Brandenburg Gate, Big Ben and the Empire State Building.  For one hour, between 8:30-9:30pm local time, residents of the countries were encouraged to participate as well. I stumbled across this invitation in the Saturday morning paper and was surprised by how quickly my kids decided they would like to join in. They enjoy their video games and tv shows, but they were very willing to put them aside in favor of playing a board game.

As 8:30 approached, we had a fire burning in our wood stove, fragrant candles lined up and a pot of tea brewing. Monopoly was set up on our coffee table and we had a flashlight nearby to aid with reading the cards. We walked around the house, turning off all the lights, shutting down the computers and taking our phones off the chargers. Then we gathered in the family room and began our game.

Monopoly board on white bg

At first it was difficult to see the board and the pieces, but our eyes gradually adjusted and the scent of the candles was very relaxing. As we rolled the dice and competed for properties, making purchases or trades, the time passed quickly. Before we knew it, the hour was over. We reflected on what it would have been like to be without power for days, as our relatives were last fall. They agreed that it was fun for a short time, but were glad we could now turn the lights back on. Before we did, though, we pointed out how this made us aware of our reliance on electricity and asked everyone to be more careful about leaving lights on or running electronic devices unnecessarily. Frankly, I’m not very optimistic that they will follow through; but I am proud of them for giving it a try.