Lazy Days of Summer

We haven’t had too many days this summer that classify as lazy; but at least we managed to take a short break from our electronic devices and disconnect from the buzz of today’s busy lifestyle. My family managed to do this by reserving a spot at a campground on the remote end of a popular lake two hours from our home.

We brought our tents, sleeping bags, camp chairs, cooking accessories and two coolers full of food and beverages. We also brought our motor boat for water sports and were excited that the dogs were even able to join us.

With two teenagers, putting up the tents and getting set up was a snap.

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Within an hour we were organized enough to go on the boat for a spin. The kids tubed and we all swam in the refreshingly clean lake water- a great treat compared to the chlorine pool we have been doing our laps in all summer.

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By the time we got back to our site, we were hungry and ready to start our dinner. Luckily the local vendor with fire wood and ice came by at the right time.

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That morning my husband and I had done all the prep work for a real surprise meal on a camping trip- Fondue! We spent at least an hour dipping shrimp. pork tenderloin, cauliflower, cherry tomatoes and cremini into the pot. This was accompanied by a pre-made fried rice dish that was reheated in a cast iron skillet over the fire. Who could imagine camping food could be so gourmet delicious?

After dinner, we lounged around the campfire and played charades while we digested.

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We haven’t played this game in years so we were a little rusty, but we certainly got some good laughs out of it. Afterwards we roasted marshmallows for our mandatory camping specialty- S’mores! You can’t say you have camped without putting a marshmallow on a stick over the coals, roasting it until it is dark or golden brown on the outside, yet soft and squishy inside. Then you must pair it with a piece of chocolate and smoosh them together between two graham crackers, letting the warm , mushy substance ooze over the melting chocolate as you crunch the sweet cracker sandwich in your mouth! Divine! ( see the link below if you don’t believe me)

http://www.ispot.tv/ad/7o9X/hersheys-smores#spotLink

By the time we crashed on our air mattresses at the end of the day, we felt like we had experienced everything a camping expedition required.

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Each one of these activities slowed us down from our normal busy pace and gave us time to enjoy the experience of the moment and the joy of being together with no distractions.

Even though it only lasted 24 hours,  it was a great way to unwind and truly appreciate the lazy days that summer is supposed to bring.

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A Mothers’ Day tribute to myself

I usually don’t have positive thoughts on Mothers’ Day- so this year I am doing something different. I am writing a tribute to myself on all the things that being a mother means to me.

* Always being there for my kids: whether it is a ride, a hug, lunch or someone to talk to, I am ready to jump into action for whatever they need.

*Unconditional love and support:  no matter what they do or say, I will always love them.

*Knowing when to give praise or express disappointment, or whether to just listen and empathize. Finding the right balance is tricky and depends on which kid and the situation. Knowing each child’s strengths, weaknesses and passions helps in these parental judgment calls.

*Being a good role model for my children: showing courtesy and politeness, responsibility, strong values and solid work ethics. By being a good citizen, I show my kids how I expect them to behave as they grow into adults. They each show these characteristics in their own ways. They may have their own beliefs and ideas, but they stick to them and work hard for them.

*Pride: like the mother lion, I can show off my cubs, even when they are grown. Their accomplishments, whether it is receiving an award or achieving a milestone, give me bragging rights to express how proud I am.

*Friend or Foe: This is the hardest part of being a mom (or dad)- how to juggle being a pal and parent at the same time. It is amazing how quickly things can get out of control and laughing can turn to yelling. It is very hard to draw the line, so I probably put myself in the “foe” category by not fully stepping into the “friend” role. Maybe friendship will happen later in life, but right now I am still the parent.

Safety Patrol: whether safety meant no running with sticks, biking with a helmet, or texting me for a ride if they were in an uncomfortable situation, I was always concerned for my children’s safety. With my daughter living the college life in Boston, I know I have lost any measure of control so I try not to think about it. At least she has the “courtesy call” down- meaning when she is travelling any great distance she will let us know when she reaches her destination. Instead, I am focusing my safety lessons on my son, who will soon qualify for his driver’s license.

*Mi Casa,es Su Casa: as a mom I always wanted my kids to feel safe and comfortable in the house. I let them freely invite friends over to hangout and kept plenty of snacks stocked for unexpected gatherings. Even as they leave the nest, I always want my kids to feel welcome to come home- hopefully not permanently, but for enough time to reinforce our love and support and keep us feeling like a family.

*Letting go: This is also part of being a parent. Realizing that I have fulfilled my duty of raising children to live independently. Hopefully they have picked up the skills through daily chores, or at least watching me do them. Thankfully, letting go happens in stages: first they take the school bus, then they learn to drive; they start with a sleepover at a friend’s’ house and then go to summer camp. By the time they are ready for college, they should have weaned themselves and feel the urge for independence. The hardest part for me is giving them that final push and encouragement to go.

However, it doesn’t matter whether they are 2 or 20 or 50, they will always be my kids and I will always have these feelings and roles as their mom. All of these emotions and traits go with the territory and make me the kind of mother that I am. Many of these were learned from my own mother (and father) and will likely be passed to the next generation. It is called family.

Surviving a Kitchen Makeover: Tip # 4

Tip # 4: Accept invitations for dinner whenever possible

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Progress Report: The structural beam has been repaired. They have rewired the electric and plumbing and are working on the vent for the stove. Sheetrock is starting to go up and it is beginning to look like a kitchen.

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Nevertheless, there are still no appliances and we are probably many days away from being able to cook in the kitchen. Which brings me to Tip # 4: Accept Invitations for dinner whenever possible.

Even though, technically speaking, I can cook my dinner on the grill, I have not stocked up on all the perishable items that are nice to enhance the flavors and most of my non-perishable ones are packed away. My garden produce keeps on growing, though and it is a shame to let it go to waste. I have given away many pounds of kale, collard greens, cucumbers and herbs. Now the zucchini and green beans are starting to become abundant.

My friends and family all appreciate what I am going through and kindly offer to have us over for dinner. It is a much better option than going to a restaurant or ordering takeout.  I have been showing up with freshly picked vegetables as my contribution to their efforts and we have all enjoyed each others company for a few hours. It is a nice way to step away from the chaos going on at home and an opportunity to acknowledge the importance of maintaining these friendships. It really reminds you that we can’t always do it alone and it is nice to know you have people to lean on when you need it.

I look forward to hosting a kitchen party when it is all done as a way of thanking all my friends and family for their support.

p.s. as I am typing this, appliances are being delivered and cabinets are starting to be installed! More updates tomorrow!

 

 

The Magic of a Snow Day

For those of you who live in parts of the globe that have been overwhelmed with snow and ice this season, I hope this post will bring you back to my perspective.
We are already into the month of February and, for those of us in upstate NY who love winter sports, it has been a very disappointing winter. Freezing temperatures without snow cover is the worst possible combination ( right up there with 40 degrees and that damp, raw feeling in the air that we get in the spring). Out of all the snow storms the Weather Channel has now decided deserve names, there has been very limited snow here. We seem to get hyped up, overestimated results followed by warming trends where it all melts away.
My family enjoys cross country skiing which, unlike downhill, is totally dependent on Mother Nature’s whims. Our weather pattern has gone from snow to grass with bitterly cold weather in between. When this latest storm, Nika, was predicted to dump up to a foot in my area, I just shrugged and went about my business. Sure, I took the necessary precautions like getting groceries and filling my gas tank and my husband brought in several loads of firewood; however,  I did not cancel or change any plans assuming it would be a normal, busy day.
Nevertheless,  I asked my kids for I instructions on what to tell them if I learned there would be a cancellation the next day. Thanks to modern technology,  I did not need to set an alarm and wake up to check the tv or computer for that information. Instead, at 5:30 am my cellphone beeped me awake witha text message that the district would be closed all day.
I went into my daughter’s room and whispered “snow day”. She happily repeated my words and snuggled back under her covers for a longer sleep. I didn’t even disturb my son, so when he awoke several hours later and realized the time, I heard “SNOW DAY!” echo out of his room. My husband even decided to work from home today.Thus, instead of all heading in opposite directions, we sat down for a “big breakfast”, another family ritual consisting of bacon, home fries and pancakes.
The appointments on our calendar have been cancelled and there is a fire burning in our fireplace, as well as a roast slow-cooking in the oven. So far, only the dogs have ventured outside. From the comfort of my home, I have observed my neighbors digging themselves out and heading off down the poorly plowed road . The mail has been delivered regardless of the 8+ inches of snow but we are all still in our lounge wear with no urge to dig out and return to the rush of the real world.
There is something serene and magical about being trapped in the house on a snow day. Not a care in the world (because thankfully we have not lost power) and all obligations put aside. The bustle of the world feels hushed by the fluffy blanket of fresh snow. Those bears have it right- winter is the season for hibernation. We humans only get snow days…

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Time for the middle generation

Similarly to many of you, I spend my days and weeks and months doing things for others. Whether it is driving my children to activities, visiting an elderly friend or transporting her to an appointment, or just routine errands to keep the family organized – I have to make an effort to do something for myself, the middle generation.
I usually am able to carveout some personal time each week to destress with my yoga class. Either a hair cut or pedicure happens every other month- although it lessens my guilt factor if I think of it as necessary maintenance instead of an indulgence.
Eventually though, maintenance doesn’t work and things do break down. I recently replaced my old couch with a shiny new one. I sent my wool carpet for a professional cleaning and I hired an upholstery shop to recover my torn cushions. In the midst of all this home maintenance, I realized I better follow the instructions of the airlines: “put your own oxygen mask on before assisting others.”
You see, all this time I have been suffering from what I assumed was a pulled muscle on the inside of my knee. I figured if I didn’t push myself too hard, it would heal on its own. Well, four months later and the regret of having missed opportunities to play tennis with my husband, take a boot camp class with my sisters, or hike down to a waterfall with my daughter finally convinced me to take care of it.
The orthopedist determined I had a torn meniscus. After so much time, he felt that arthoscopic surgery was my best option. Because I had done some research, as well as spoken to family members who had had the procedure, I decided to schedule the operation.
Of course, that meant I spent the days leading up to it stocking groceries, doing loads of laundry and rescheduling lessons or carpool arrangements so that I could be “off duty” for several days.
But here I am, sitting on the couch, not worrying about cleaning up dishes or making dinner or picking anyone up from school because this is my time to be cared for. My husband set me up with a carafe of coffee and my ice packs before he left for work, members of my family from across the US have called or emailed to check on my progress (besides, they probably see this as a great chance to catch up since I won’t be running off anywhere anytime soon) and my kids have offered to bring me drinks or snacks or help with the driving while I am out of commission.
So as much as I enjoy my independence and being able to help others, I am glad I have put myself first and allowed myself to ask for help. Thankfully it should only be a few days, but I have to remember I deserve this special treatment and enjoy it while it lasts.

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Til Death Do Us Part

My previous post was about changes in family due to death or remarriage. Today I am going to discuss divorce.

Nearly half of all marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. This trend was apparent when I was a teenager in the late 70’s. A high percentage of my friends were going through a parental divorce. By the time I graduated from high school, it had happened to so many peers that I was proud my parents were still happily married.

Little did I foresee that within ten years they would get divorced- just three weeks after my own wedding. Thankfully, their principles of marriage seemed unshakeable to me at the time and they did not reveal their intentions, knowing that my faith in the permanence of my wedding vows to my betrothed, would be swept away in confusion.

Couples divorce for many reasons. I know my parents still loved each other, but for some reason they felt a need to go their own ways. I appreciate that they are still friends today and we can have family gatherings together. Unfortunately, the six months after my wedding, when I learned my parents were splitting and my new husband suffered a heart attack (not fatal), were the most devastating moments of my life- shattering my rosy concept of marriage and “for better or for worse, til death do us part”.

The days I spent in the hospital, holding my husband’s hand was relieved by having both of my parents by my side. Because they could be there for me, together, and put aside their differences, I was able to heal the pain in my heart. It also made me stronger and more determined to keep my own marriage on track, through all the trials and challenges of raising a family.

I don’t want to repeat my family history and have nothing in common with my husband once the kids are gone. It isn’t always easy to find time to be together, to talk, to express our desires, our dreams- but we certainly make an effort. Even though my parents’ divorce was heart-wrenching, I was able to take away some lessons from it:

*Don’t ever take love for granted.

*Always make time to talk to each other. Whatever the troubles are, they are better handled together.

*Look beyond the horizon. The kids will be gone in a few years (in my case, 5). Reinforce our bond at least once a week so that we revel in each other’s company when we are on our own again.

* Remember why we fell in love in the first place and try to recreate that feeling at least once a year.

*Give each other space to do their own thing; but also find activities you enjoy doing together.

By following these steps, hopefully we won’t have to put the whole puzzle of our marriage back together when we become empty-nesters; but only will have to pick up a dropped stitch here and there. I have a picture in my mind of my husband and I, sitting on our front porch with a glass of wine in our hands and our walkers by our sides, enjoying the view of the sunset and reflecting on old times.

Life through Rose-colored Glasses

What would your life look like if you described it to someone else? How would their perception be different than your own? Do you see unusual or even exotic events in your past or does everything seem dark and dreary?

Over the last few weeks I have been spending some time visiting with an older woman who is undergoing chemotherapy. For an hour or two a week I stay with her while her caregiver takes a break. My role is not to provide care, but rather to be a companion- someone to keep her company and bring a little cheer into her day. As we have gotten to know each other, we have shared stories about out lives. We had very different childhoods, marriages and life experiences. Out of respect for her privacy I will not reveal more about her. Instead, I want to focus on how she sees my life and how that has filtered my own view of it- giving my a life a more “rose colored” feeling than I realized.

I think we get so caught up in the day to day issues, whether they involve problems at work, home, illness or children, that we don’t see the big picture and what we have experienced or accomplished thus far in our lives. We are so concerned about the future, that we lose sight of the past.

For example, I told her about the recent trips I took with my family- to the beach in Jamaica for snorkelling [https://themiddlegeneration.wordpress.com/2012/04/19/guilty-pleasures-of-vacation/] , or in a hot air balloon in Tucson [https://themiddlegeneration.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/sunrise-over-tucson/].

While I found them to be enjoyable family vacations, in my mind that was the norm. I had grown up in a privileged household that did a lot of travelling. Beaches and adventures were always a part of our lives and when I had my own family I continued the tradition. In contrast,  my companion had never been out of the state. Her family didn’t have the luxury to take such vacations and when she had her own children,  for the most part, she was a single working mom. As you can imagine, when I told her about the exotic locations I had travelled on a Mediterranean cruise last summer, it almost sounded like a fantasy to her.

I told her other stories about growing up in an old victorian house and the adventures I had walking around town. Memories that never seemed important to me took on a new life through her eyes. When her caregiver returned, she would highlight some of the things we had talked about. To hear her describe my life to someone else added an element of excitement. If she could see these parts of my history as special, maybe I needed to look at them in a different light.

I always enjoyed sharing the story of how my husband and I met [ https://themiddlegeneration.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/the-strings-that-bind-us-together/.] I knew it had elements of humour as well as charm to it; but when she retold it, it sounded like the most romantic fairy tale. Imagine two people, coincidentally connected through a tennis match, become good friends and then, upon discovering that they are soul mates, get married and live happily ever after (well I assume that will be true).

When I tell her some of the activites my children are involved in, she is extremely impressed and always compliments me on how amazing they are. I guess I neglected to tell her about the dirty socks and dishes they leave lying around; but I don’t think that information would change her view. She has told me stories about trying to raise her children as a single mom and I realize my challenges are minimal compared to hers.

Her outlook reminds me to focus on the positive things about my children- like their interests and skills. They’ll outgrow their annoying habits. Instead of making my life be about always cleaning up after them, or yelling at them to do it themselves, I should think how lucky I am to have two wonderful children with such amazing talents.

Rather than seeing myself as a typical mom with two kids, two dogs and a house in the suburbs, I have retinted my sunglasses to see all the opportunities my family has taken advantage of, all the adventures we have gone on together and the wonderful family connections that we have. And I have my friend to thank for it. By hearing her reaction to what I saw as routine (from my narrow point of view), I gained much appreciation for how exciting and fulfilling my life really is.

Now don’t take me as some snob, because I have always really known that. It has just taken an experience like this to bring that feeling back to the surface. The reason I volunteered to do these visits is because I am a kind and caring person and like to help others. Little did I forsee how much I would gain from the time we spend together. I am already looking forward to next week’s visit and starting to think about more stories to dig up from my past. I know she will help me see them in a whole new light. No matter how young I was or how mundane the activity, it will look brilliant through her rose-colored glasses.

I think the same can be true for all of us. If we take a moment to step back and look at ourselves from a different angle, we may be a whole lot more appreciative of what we see.

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