A minty fresh time warp.

It was one of those days where I got the time wrong over and over again.

First, I dropped Grace off at her dance workshop, which worked out great because I could drop her off on the way to Lauren’s cheerleading football game, instead of having to make her walk or get Grandma to drive her. Then right on schedule, Lauren, Annie and I headed over to the high school about a half hour away for Lauren’s game. My first clue should have been the fact that we were the first ones there. I’m never the first one there.

While we hung out in the car waiting for people to show up I got a call from Grace. I had dropped her off at 9:45 but she didn’t really have to be there until 10:30. Well, she would just have to hang out at the dance studio. And she had a book to read, so I didn’t feel too bad. We hung up and my text alert boop-booped me. Oops. Lauren’s game was at 12:30, not 10:30, and at the middle school, not the high school.

So now it’s about 10:45, and I’m looking at a half hour drive home and a half hour drive back. But what the heck am I going to do to kill time in Buchanan, Michigan, with an energetic four-year-old and a second grader in a cheerleading uniform? I decided to go home via the scenic route, so at least I could start a load of laundry and feed the girls a quick lunch. I filled them in on the plan, backed out of my parking space and hit the road. It was a pretty drive along the back roads of southwest Michigan, through rolling farm fields with their barns open, selling apples, honey, sweet corn and all manner of pumpkins and squash. Past vineyards with lush purple grapes so ripe that I could smell their concord sweetness through the rolled up car windows. Somewhere along the line Annie asked me for a mint. I reached back and passed her an Ice Breaker mint I had up front.

The car was quiet because the girls were engrossed in Barbie, Princess and the Pop Star, when the screaming started. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Annie was screaming in obvious distress, and not the my-sister-took-my-plastic-bracelet variety. But between her heaving breath and the snot coming out her nose, I just didn’t know what she was trying to tell me until Lauren checked in and said, “Annie stuck a mint up her nose!”

Sidebar – a few months ago Annie stuck a popcorn kernel up her nose while we were at my sister’s house. She was pretty freaked, although I don’t think it really hurt. My sister, who is a total badass, strapped on a headlamp, laid Annie out on the counter, and plucked the kernel out of Annie’s microscopic nostril with some crazy tweezers that had serrated tips. I sincerely hoped Annie had learned a lesson about sticking things up her nose. But apparently she had not.

At this point in my scenic drive I was about 20 minutes from home. I briefly considered going to the emergency room, but in either direction the ER was much farther than home so I kept driving. Inside I was kind of laughing because Annie was almost hysterical, and hysteria in others tends to bring out inappropriate laughter in me. Plus, I have to believe the Ice Breaker was just about burning a hole inside her nose as the little flavor crystals dissolved in mucus. So I just kept driving and Lauren turned up the volume on her headphones. I swung into the garage at Mach 2, grabbed Annie and made a run for my bedroom, where I dumped her onto the bed and went for the tweezers and some tissue.

And that’s when she coughed, heaved out a big breath and shot half an Ice Breaker out onto her cheek.

I wiped her face, took her downstairs, made lunch and about 45 minutes later we were back in the car, headed to the game at the actual time it started and at the actual location.

At 4:45 I headed over to the dance studio to pick up Grace. Turns out, I not only dropped her off early, I also picked her up late. I was supposed to be there at 4:00, at which time I could have watched the dances they learned that day.

I don’t know how I got every single time wrong for the entire day. And I definitely don’t know why I thought it was an okay idea to give Annie a mint that would fit in her nostril. Kind of makes me wonder who really needs to learn a lesson – her or me?

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And then there was one. Maybe.

The original request was for a bunny. I was on the fence at first. I like bunnies, I’ve owned bunnies and they’re cute. So I told the girls to put together a presentation about why they should have a bunny, their plan for taking care of it, and how they would contribute to the cost of purchasing and supporting the bunny. Lauren and Grace disappeared upstairs to put it all together, and they made a lovely presentation. But I said no to the bunny because here’s the thing: bunnies poop a lot. I don’t want that in the house. And there is no way I’m building an outdoor hutch.

After delivering this crushing blow, Chad and I agreed they could have a hamster. I know… it’s not even close to a bunny. But hamsters have a lot of positives. For instance, they poop very little. Their cages are not too big. They don’t eat all that much. Plus, their life span is less than 1000 days, so it’s not like the 8- to 12-year commitment you have to make to a bunny (0nly 1 to 3 years if they live in a hutch outside, which is a weird and significant difference). The trouble is that you don’t have any real way of knowing how old the hamster is when you get it.

Vinny came to us via our niece, who loved him dearly, but had a chance to take in a friend’s chinchilla and wasn’t allowed to have both. Frankly, if I were a kid and not a parent I’d probably pick the chinchilla too. I don’t care how much you love your hamster, a chinchilla is way cooler. Grace was very excited when Vinny arrived, and I was grateful that he came with a cage and a bunch of supplies to get us started. He was extraordinarily well socialized – at least in my minimal hamster-socializing experience – and not only didn’t bite, but didn’t even try to hide when you picked him up. Since I had promised Lauren that she could also have a hamster we went to Pet Smart a few days after Vinny’s arrival to get a second little guy, who she named Scout.

Both girls did really well taking care of the cages, cleaning them weekly, and also making sure to handle the hamsters each day to keep them friendly. But it turned out that the bedding, or maybe Vinny hinself, made Grace have horrible allergy symptoms and Lauren’s hamster tossed so much bedding out onto her desk that she wasn’t even going to be able to do her homework. We relocated Vinny and Scout into our toy room, each cage situated on its own shelf that is high enough to keep them out of reach of the cat, but relatively accessible for Grace and for Lauren with the help of a stool. All was well in Hamsterville until we came home from one of Lauren’s cheerleading games and I noticed that one of the doors to Scout’s cage was hanging open. I know for a fact that it was closed in the morning, but now it was afternoon and it was hanging down like an inviting little metal ramp to freedom. At my feet was one of the small chairs the kids use to play house, strategically positioned directly below the cage. I knew right then that Annie had opened the cage, but she denied it like a politician embroiled in a sexting scandal. I also knew right then he was gone, but I checked under his little wooden hut anyway. Nope. A quick check on Vinny assured me that, although Scout was on the lam, Vinny was safe and sound. Phew.

The next challenge was how to find Scout. Hamsters can go anywhere they can fit their pointy little rodent skulls. So Scout could, quite literally, be anywhere.


After getting the dogs outside and double-checking to make sure the cat was outside too, I did a half-assed search around the toy room. I mean, I felt bad that he was gone, but the odds of me actually finding him seemed slim to none. Instead I broke the news to Lauren and then we did an internet search to figure out how to trap him. The girls got to work building a tiny ladder of books leading up to a metal bucket with a washcloth – to break his fall – and food inside. They dribbled a delightful trail of seeds that began about two feet away from the books, went up the “stairs” and would, hopefully, lead Scout into the bucket. It was like Hansel and Gretel if the witch was into homemade organic granola. Since hamsters are nocturnal I figured we wouldn’t see anything until the morning so we just left it alone.

Next morning, nothing. Morning after that, nothing.

Now, hamsters are desert animals, so they can go a while without water, but he HAD to get hungry eventually. We sweetened the pot by rubbing the books with raw carrot and dropping a few small pieces of carrot into the bucket. According to my dad, seeds don’t smell enough to attract a hamster, but carrots smell like a delicious treat. Seeing as how Dad used to raise hamsters as a hobby in high school, I figured he knew what he was talking about.

The day after the carrots, nothing.

By this time I’m thinking Scout is for sure dead. I don’t care of you’re a desert animal, you still have to have water eventually. I was worried that he was going to start smelling, although part of me thought that the smell might help me find him. But again, Dad the Hamster Pro came through with this nugget – a hamster that dies somewhere in the house is just going to dry up and is very unlikely to smell. Okaaaay…..

Day four I swear I’m starting to smell something. I text my dad to tell him that I am not buying this no-smell concept.

Day five, it’s time to clean Vinny’s cage. Lauren decides to clean Scout’s cage as well, which I consider an act of extreme optimism, but why discourage her?

We bring the cages out to the newspaper-covered kitchen table and Grace pulls out Vinny’s little wooden hut. Vinny is resting comfortably. Oh wait. No he’s not. HE’S DEAD!

You always hear those stories about elderly couples who have been together forever dying within days of each other, but I didn’t think that applied to hamsters. Especially since male hamsters have to live alone or they will fight. But here was Vinny, dead of natural causes within days of Scout’s alleged demise. Guess what else? He smelled*. Bad. So did his cage.

The cage went outside for a thorough hose down, Vinny went into a ziplock and into the garbage. Normally we would have a funeral like we did for Grace’s frog, PeeWee Treeman. But PeeWee had spent about five days in a box in the freezer before we had everyone at home at the same time, during the day, to hold the funeral. Vinny was way too stinky for that kind of lying in state. Plus, a frog inside a box is one thing. A hamster in a ziplock is another thing altogether when it comes to mysterious items in your freezer.

The hamster era is over, as far as I’m concerned.

Maybe someday I’ll find Scout.

*A final note from my dad the Hamster Whisperer: even though Scout is dead, he doesn’t smell because he dried up. Vinny, on the other hand, died in the moist environment of his cage, hastening decomposition and creating the grody smell. Good to know, huh?

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The end-of-school lazies.

My kids are not the only ones who are starting to check out mentally at the end of the school year. I am too.

It’s nice out. Sunny until nearly 8:30, light out until 9, which is past two kids’ bedtimes. But I want to be out too, and I conveniently seem to lose track of bedtime. The swingset we bought for the yard is paying off in spades as the girls climb, swing and devise bizarre monkey-like crossings from one end of the rig to the other. For once we’re getting a head start on our yard work. And the sunsets have been incredible – did you see the partial solar eclipse right before sunset this weekend?

Homework? Oh. Yeah.

Bedtime? Wow is it 8:30 already!? They all need baths, or at least a deep scrubbing of the bottoms of their feet.

Student council every Tuesday at 7:40 am? Still happening.

I’m hard pressed to decide which is more challenging: holding the schedule together at the end of the school year or getting them back on it at the start.

And just in case you missed it:

Partial solar eclipse over Lake Michigan

Gorgeous solar eclipse, sunset and looming thunderstorm all in one.

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30 Minutes of Destruction

Here is what Annie accomplished last night in the time between when we got home and when dinner was just about ready to go.

1. Abandoned her sisters and the jungle gym to go dump out about 2.5 gallons of water from the dogs’ bucket onto the basement floor, followed by using the dog food scoop to add water to the bin of dog food. When I showed up to check on her she grinned at me and said, “Messy, messy!”

So I brought her upstairs to hang out with me. But I had to leave her for a few minutes to start the grill. Leading to

2. Dragging out her kitchen stool and started banging a spoon or something into the dishes that were in the sink. When I walked back into the kitchen she held out a piece of broken glass the size of a playing card and said, “Look!”

So I got her down, put away the stool, pointed to her little ride-on car and went to check on the potatoes on the stove. A few minutes later I hear

3. Insistent banging of some sort. Annie has climbed onto the counter stools and grabbed the coffee mug Chad left out, and she is banging it – upside down – on the counter with glee. Shards of ceramic are flying off and as her big sister shouts “No!” and pulls her off the stool Anne realizes she has blood on her hand.

So I take a weeping toddler over to the sink, drag out the aforementioned stool, wash her hand, put on a Band-Aid (which she is delighted about), take a deep breath, tell the big girls to start setting the table and start counting the minutes until bed time.

Lord help me.

Posted in dinner time, family, Uncategorized, Working moms | 1 Comment

The importance of seasonal bedding (and other lessons I learned from my mom).

This past Sunday was surfboard sheets day.

It’s usually always in May, but not on a specifically designated day. It’s whatever day I decide is making me feel like summer is close AND in which I have time to wash the winter sheets. On that day it’s time to break out the surfboard sheets and say hello to summer!

I don’t know if other people have seasonal bedding. Or seasonal couch pillows. Or seasonal lamp shades. I have all of these and so does my mom. My grandma did too. The older I get the more I discover things I do or say, traditions I hold onto, that have come down from one generation to the next. Another way to say this is that I seem to be turning – unavoidably – into my parents and my grandparents.

Here are a few examples.

1. My bed has sheets for summer (surfboards! and pillows with orange anchors on them, plus a delightful new orange duvet cover that Grace is completely horrified by), and then other sheets for the rest of the year – Mom

2. I fear running out of microwave popcorn – Dad

3. When I stir Hershey’s syrup into my girls’ vanilla ice cream I tell them I’m making an “ancient Norwegian recipe” – Grandpa

4. I always take down my Christmas tree before New Years because a) it’s bad luck to have it up when the New Year comes and b) it’s important to start the new year with a clean slate for home decorating – a) Grandma; b) Mom

5. Conversely, I always put my Christmas tree up the weekend after Thanksgiving because that’s when Christmas starts – Mom, Grandma and lots of other people too, judging by how early the Christmas decorations are in the stores.

6) I feel better when there is an ample supply of toilet paper in the closet – Dad

7) I have an inordinate number of moles – everyone in my entire family

8) I’m a very impatient driver – Mom

These aren’t the most revelatory examples. And I probably don’t even realize some of the ways I am like my parents, or my siblings. The main thing is that I love the idea that we are all connected in both big and small ways. We spend the holidays together and we talk to the people in the car in front of us as though they can hear us. We like Stove Top stuffing at Thanksgiving and look forward to meeting up on the corner dressed in red, white and blue to watch the 4th of July parade together every year.

What’s cool about this sense of tradition and shared experience is that it has made me who I am, and I can see it making my kids into who they will be. They love our family traditions, including little ones at home like changing the beds to the summer sheets. No doubt my daughters will someday marry a guy who wonders why they have to have different sheets for summer or place mats for every holiday. But hopefully those guys will be as easygoing as my husband and just say, “Oh, those are cool sheets!”

Until then I’ll just keep the traditions alive and think of my Grandma every time I put on my Sperry Top-Siders.


Sequin sperrys for my Grandma

My new favorite shoes.

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False alarms and Fruit Loops.

When my Grandpa died about nine years ago we didn’t discover until a few months later that my Grandma had been in the earliest stages of dementia. There had been a couple signs, in retrospect. For instance, at the rehearsal for my mom’s wedding we were walking out to our cars to go to dinner and my Grandma said, “Are we going to do the rehearsal now?” That seems like a big ol’ red flag now that I think about it. But my Grandma has always been one of those people who goes a mile a minute all the time. She has always asked questions and not fully listened to the answer, so I’ve spent a lifetime telling her things more than once. It seems so foolish that I could not have grasped how weird it is that she asked if we were going to rehearse the wedding when we had just finished doing that about three minutes before. But I didn’t.

Before Grandpa died I thought it was so sweet that they were spending more time together, going places together. That she would drive her little white Honda Accord with her spastic boxer, Max, in the front seat, and my somewhat over-sized Grandpa, invariably dressed in jeans, a striped rugby shirt, deck shoes, a windbreaker and a sun hat, squeezed in the back. But when he died we all realized that the reason he had been going everywhere with her is because she couldn’t always remember where she was going or how to get there. And after his death, her cognitive slips rapidly became more pronounced. Over the months we began leaving her notes about what meal was next and what time to put her pajamas on. My cousin bought her car and an extraordinarily kind woman was hired to take Grandma on errands, come by the house each day for light housekeeping, and to help make sure she ate and took her medicine. Have you ever tried to get a 3-year-old to swallow a prenatal vitamin? No? Well that would be considerably easier than convincing my very hard-headed and frustrated grandmother to take two pills the size of ibuprofin.

When we started worrying that she would set the house on fire by leaving a Revlon Cherries In the Snow-stained cigarette burning in the kitchen, or the bathroom, or the bedroom, and fretting that her dog would pull her down on her steep driveway and break her hip, she was moved into assisted living. What a relief. She was safe. She was supervised.

Here’s an incredible side story, and one of my all-time favorites about my grandma: My grandma started smoking at about age 18. She chose Marlboros because the red and white package looked cute in her purse. In my memory she tried hypnosis, going cold turkey, weaning down one cigarette at a time and even this very gross thing where you had to keep burned up butts in a baby food-sized jar with a a little water in it, to quit. The deal with that was that when you opened the jar and sniffed it the smell of the cigarettes was so awfully pungent that you would be turned off by it and not want to smoke. But not Grandma. She would pick that jar up and stick her nose in like a toddler smelling a summer peony and breathe deep. It was beyond gross. And none of it worked.

She was still living at home and still (at about age 84) smoking, when her caregiver took her out for a few groceries and lunch. They were driving past a gas station when Grandma asked to stop so she could run in and buy some cigarettes. Her lovely caregiver, in a moment of utter brilliance, turned to her and said, “Why Mrs. Brauer, you don’t smoke!” My Grandma simply said, “Oh,” and has never smoked again.

So there’s the upside of dementia. You forget your worst habits. But sometimes it can magnify them. And that passage of time between the first onset and the point at which your loved one does not know who you are is brutal. For them it is terrifying and frustrating to a level I can only imagine. For you it is terrifying and heartbreaking. You can’t be with them every second, but you are afraid to leave them. You don’t mind telling them your husband’s name seven times in 20 minutes, but if they ask you one more time you think you’re going to scream. You realize they never get sick of CNN because it’s all new, all the time. You lose them long before their body is gone from this world.

Here’s a confession that is really hard to make. Since Grandma has been in assisted living I have never visited her by myself. I don’t know what to do. She doesn’t talk much. She doesn’t know who I am. Even when she still knew that I was someone familiar, but didn’t know my name, it freaked me out to be alone with her. It was like she was there, but not there. And I’m pretty okay at small talk, but not with someone who can’t participate. I rationalize this by telling myself that she doesn’t know I don’t visit her because she no longer knows me. But I know and I feel guilty about it.

Over the past few years we’ve gotten a few false alarms about her impending death; that phone call where my mom is weepy and is pretty sure it will be soon. About a year ago Grandma became suddenly listless, with no appetite. She was sleeping a lot. We were sure this was it. But it turned out she had a UTI, and a good dose of antibiotics and couple days later she was in the dining room eating chocolate chip cookies. Nine months ago she became so withdrawn that my mom picked out her funeral outfit (my Grandma’s, not her own) and delivered it to the funeral home. My sister and I thought this was a somewhat extreme preemptive measure, but since I don’t visit her what do I know? That was nine months ago, though, and the funeral home hasn’t called back to ask for the outfit to be picked up, so maybe this is a thing I just don’t know about.

I’ve learned to not get worked about the false alarms. Of course she could die any day. She is 90. She has late-stage dementia and emphysema, although shockingly she does not have even a whisper of lung cancer. She doesn’t really walk and she doesn’t talk much, but she smiles a lot and she really lights up when she sees our children. She also has two cousins with dementia who are 96 and 98, so she could very possibly be here for a while.

But this past week the call was different. She was not staying awake for more than a few moments. She was not talking. Not eating. Not drinking. When her eyes were open they were vacant. Her breathing was a little rattly. She was cold and curled up on her bed like a child. Both my mom and my aunt had spent time with her, and the staff at her facility – who are truly sent from heaven – felt that this was the beginning of the end. I made my sister go with me and we drove over to see her. I had to be out of town Wednesday and Thursday and I couldn’t live with the fact that she might really die and I didn’t at least say “I love you” one more time. So we tip-toed into her room and sat down on the bed. My sister put her hand on her shoulder and said hello, told her who we were. Not much response. I haven’t seen my Grandma asleep since I was about 7 and used to sleep over, sprawling in the center of my Grandma and Grandpa’s king sized bed so it was odd to see her like that. We talked to her a little and she kind of made an mmm hmmm sound when we asked if she was cold. And then she opened her eyes, looked right at my sister and said, “What are you doing?” and then closed her eyes again.

I almost laughed out loud! This was not the voice of someone on her deathbed. We said we had come to visit, blah, blah, blah. We told her about funny things we had done with her. She smiled a little, opened her eyes a couple of times. But aside from the totally unexpected question, she did, in fact, seem like this might be it. Even in dementia and old age she has never been a napper. So to me her in-and-out-of-sleep behavior seemed like that of someone who is tired. With a capital T. Somebody who is perfectly at peace with throwing in the towel.

We took turns having a few moments with her in private. I went first, then sat in the lobby waiting on my sister, wondering if future nursing home lobbies will be decorated with posters of Kiss and Led Zeppelin, instead of Charlie Chaplin and some popular-in-1929 radio host. The next day I left on my business trip, waiting for the phone to ring. On Thursday I saw that my mom had called while I was doing an interview for a video. I called her back, ready to hear that it had finally happened. That Grandma had died. I said to my mom, “So, what’s happening? Any news?”

My mom said, “Well, today Grandma sat up and ate two boxes of Fruit Loops.”

That time I did laugh.

And I felt like I had fallen for yet another false alarm. But what can you do? She will, in fact, die, probably sooner than later. It’s her time frame, not ours. And maybe the Fruit Loops were the real false alarm. Like the kick a runner gets at the end of the race. And if they were, I’m glad she didn’t waste it eating Grape Nuts.

My other Grandma is also 90 years old. She also lives in assisted living, the kind where you have a private apartment and a social life. She is slipping a little too, but I think after 90 years of a pretty full life that’s just the way it goes. I also figure that with this gene pool behind me, my lack of smoking, my general enjoyment of exercise and my extreme dislike of bacon, that I will live to be at least 110.

I can only hope that I will use those years to touch as many lives as I know my grandmothers have.

P.S. If you are reading this and you are related to me (which some of you are), and are shaking your head with a smart-ass comment on your lips about the mental workings of my mom/aunt/grandma, please keep that to yourself. I already know.

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The workings of an over-full mind.

I said a sad farewell to my favorite jeans today. Thanks a lot J. Crew design team for pointing out to me that my thighs rub together when I walk.

It’s a fitting end to a week with several small rants going on in my head. It’s nothing that’s worth an entire post, but since I can’t be the ONLY person thinking these things I’ll just throw them all here together and clean out my mental closet. The first is not so much a rant as an epiphany. An epiphany of stupidity on my part. It’s this: nighttime skin care makes a difference. Yeah, I know. Duh. But I have spent a lifetime being epically lazy about it and one night last week I just decided to do it for pete’s sake. A little wash, a little eye cream, nice moisturizer… I swear to god, seven days later my skin is much better. And even after the first day I was much less frightening when I woke up in the morning.

If my Mary Kay friend is reading this she is surely laughing out loud. I haven’t even pretended to take care of my skin at night and though I’ve purchased countless products I love from her, I don’t think I’ve ever once gone for one that was specifically designated as a nighttime skin treatment. But now, my friend, I’ve turned the corner because after my grey hair crisis I guess I realized that I’d better start taking care of my face or I’m going to have a crisis about that too.

With apologies to Mary Kay I started this nighttime skin care regime with a night moisturizer by Salma Hayak that I bought at CVS during a business trip. The reason I bought it is because I really can’t tell the difference between one kind of skin product and another. Plus, my husband thinks Salma Hayak is super hot and she is, so maybe she knows what she’s doing. But here’s the weird part – the directions say that you should apply the moisturizer to your face in an upward motion. I suppose this is so that you push your wrinkles upward instead of pulling your skin down, but I can’t stop thinking that it’s kind of treating your face like it’s shark skin. Like, put it on in upward motions so you don’t cut your hand open on the un-exfoliated desert that is your face. Thankfully the small sample of Mary Kay night restore lotion (probably not it’s actual name) does not require such precision in application and it smells less strong, so two points to Mary Kay on that one.

This past week was also my personal worst in terms of party planning/management. We were having a family birthday party for the two oldest girls, whose birthdays are ten days apart. (They hate the shared party, but I say too bad, so sad to that business.) So first off, I totally left a whole segment of the family off my planning list, which means I also didn’t count them in when setting the table. Really, there are few things more embarrassing than being in the middle of serving dinner and having your aunt sidle up and ask for plates and silverware for herself and her family. Second, sometime before the guests arrived my 2 yo wild woman turned off one of the crock pots. I discovered this about 15 minutes before family started showing up. If it had been taco meat I could have thrown it in a pan and browned it right up. But nothing says poison like a pork roast that’s bright pink inside.

One call to Pizza Hut and all was well. We served a smorgasbord of homemade macaroni & cheese (a huge hit), one small dish of barbecue pork (because I guess Annie couldn’t figure out how to turn that crock pot off), salad and pizza. The pizza was so popular it made me wonder why I have been cooking all these years.

A couple other random thoughts from this week:

• The Turbie Twist is awesome. It actually makes it so that Grace’s hair is almost dry by the time we leave for school, which is nice in the sort-of-winter weather. Also, when I wear the pink one while I’m putting on makeup I kind of feel like Elizabeth Taylor during her turban phase.

• Aquatanica Spa body gel and body wash is so good-smelling and so soft on your skin that I cannot believe I have to buy it on eBay. WTF Bath & Body Works? Remember that girl who started an online petition to get a big bank to drop their ATM fees? Whatever she did is what I want to do to get Bath & Body Works to bring back Aquatanica Spa.

• Grace likes to lie on the bathroom floor while I take a shower in the morning. The floor is heated, so that’s nice, but otherwise she’s lying on a hard tile floor, which would absolutely kill me but doesn’t seem to bother her a bit. When I get out of the shower she gets in and we have a nice little morning routine together. It’s kind of sweet (which she would be embarrassed to hear me say, much less tell you about), and also allows me to snap pictures of her like this:

Beautiful girl sleeping

Beautiful, no?

• Why is it that the day you most need the baby to take a decent nap because you’re dragging her to a Super Bowl party in Illinois does she sleep only one hour then wake up bawling? This does not bode well. Good thing I don’t give a fig who wins because I will probably be wrestling an exhausted child off my head starting at around kick-off.

Now, if I could just figure out which jeans to wear to the party…

Posted in family, Seasons, Take care of yoruself | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

How DO I feel about aging?

It started with one gleaming grey hair. Sure, everyone has that moment when they look in the mirror and see a hair that, heretofore, was a completely normal color. It’s not like I didn’t know it was coming. I just thought I wouldn’t have it for another 10 years.

See, most of my Dad’s family has gone grey relatively early. By my age, my dad was extremely grey. But not my mom. My mom is 60 and still only has a few grey hairs, while my dad is practically white-headed. When I made it to 30 with nary a grey I thought the coast was clear. But there it was, quite obvious in the Tampa International Airport restroom mirror. A grey hair. But only one. So outwardly I remained calm. I can pass for mid 30s (I think) so I felt I should maintain a sense of decorum about one lousy grey.

But I’m also at the age where years of sun worship are showing. Crow’s feet and a chest wall that looks like a Jackson Pollock painting. Okay. Fine. I just try to keep the chest tan in the summer and covered the rest of the year. No problem. And who doesn’t have crow’s feet when they smile? Speaking of smiling, there are also the smile lines. I used to think they were just smiles lines anyway, until I realized that if I look closely in the mirror there is an actual line visible even when I’m not smiling. Hmmm.

I once did a profile of a young plastic surgeon new to a local healthcare system and he told me during the course of our interview that he could usually tell what side of their face people sleep on just by looking at them. Well thanks a lot Dr. Cherukuri, because now I can’t stop thinking of that and the smile line on the right side of my face is definitely deeper than the one on the left. F*&@!

Adding to my aging woes are my sagging eyelids. It’s genetic. My mom had already had an eyelid lift by the time she was my age. And I’m not spilling any family secrets here because a) I don’t think she reads my blog and b) I don’t think she would care if I told you about it. One way I know for sure that my eyelids are actually saggy is that when I’m looking straight at myself they are touching my eyelashes. The other way I know they’re saggy is that I bought some liquid gel eyeliner and attempted the cat-eye look, only when I  opened my eyes the cat part disappeared.

As I’ve been observing these phenomena a few more grey hairs have appeared.

Which has led me to think about how I feel about aging. The more I think about it the less I know how I feel about it. Here, in no particular order, are some of my thoughts:

•  Well, hell, it’s inevitable.

• Only you are looking at your face in a mirror from two inches away. No one else is looking that closely.

•  You can still pass for your mid 30s.

• Holy crap, I look like a 40 year old mother!

• How much would it cost to get an eyelid lift?

• What if I got an eyelid lift and could no longer close my eyes like that woman I saw on Night Line?

• You know what? I like getting older because I feel a lot more secure about myself and care a whole lot less what other people think. That’s pretty cool.

• Three or six grey hairs is not a crisis.

• Beauty has nothing to do with age.

• Does that little wand that claims to get rid of undereye circles really work?

• You are spending way too much time thinking about this.

• Who wants to be 25 again anyway?

In truth, I feel silly complaining. It’s just that for the first time I am older than my clients, older than some vendors I work with, older than some of my employees and even older than most of the other moms at daycare. But on the flip side, the benefits of being older are pretty good. I have a husband and a family. I own a house. I’ve got a career I love. And I’m not exactly circling the drain. I’m 39 for chrissakes.

I don’t want to be one of those people who freaks out about turning 40, but there is a little part of me inside that totally is.


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I have feelings for Miley Cyrus.

Miley Cyrus and I have two important things in common.

1. We have the same birthday.

2. We both really like my brother.

My brother is a musician and met Miley when he got a job working as a music trainer for an actor on a film she was filming in Detroit in the summer of 2010. John’s job started out in an empty storefront in a strip mall off set, working with an actor named Douglas Booth, teaching him the basics of playing guitar. John is a straightforward and hard-working guy, and pretty soon he was tapped to buy instruments and other props for setting up the “band” in the movie. Not long after that he was on set and found himself sitting next to Miley, even though he didn’t really know who she was. (He doesn’t have a TV and I don’t think he’s ever read a copy of Star or US magazine.) They got to talking, she discovered that he is a musician and he figured out who she was. They became friends and that friendship has endured.

I’m not even going to pretend that I know Miley. I don’t. But I know this – my brother chooses his friends wisely. And for their character. Without exception his friends are kind, funny, intelligent, fun to be with and many of them have become like family for all of us, not just to him. Before John met her I really had no opinion of Miley. My girls weren’t old enough to be Hannah Montana fans so she was just another person in the pop culture ether. Turns out, she’s just like everyone else aside from the fact that she has hundreds of millions of dollars and her face is on a garbage can in my daughters’ bedroom. She’s been at a crossroads in her life. Her contract with Disney’s music company has ended and she has been uncertain how to take the next step, or whether she wants to take another step in music at all.

That’s when the opportunity came to do a song on the Bob Dylan tribute album being put together as a fundraiser for Amnesty International. Artists like Adele, Pete Townsend, Maroon 5, Sting, Elvis Costello and Johnny Cash signed on, each doing a cover of a Bob Dylan song, including some that were previously unreleased. When the chance to do a cover for this album came her way she took it and what’s more did it as a collaboration with none other than my brother, Johnzo West.

The song is incredible. Moody, moving, simple and shows off a voice I honestly never know Miley had. It’s the voice of an adult and – I think – a bridge to the next phase of Miley’s career and probably a whole new legion of fans. Like I said, I don’t know Miley but I am so proud of her. And so happy that she is getting good reviews of this eye-openng performance. I find that I have maternal feelings for her; I want her to be happy and successful, and to find her way in the world, much the same way I want those things for my own three daughters.

But enough about her. I’m so proud of John that I could burst into flames! Because he’s a big part of what made this song happen and you can see him in the video for their Dylan cover, “You’re Gonna Make me Lonesome When You’re Gone.” And when I say you can see him, I mean YOU CAN SEE HIM! On camera! A lot! You can hear him singing, see him play guitar and he looks cooler than all get out!!! This video is all over the web, it’s been on MTV and several other channels and today I saw the album right there at the counter in Starbucks. Starbucks! Like a dork, I told the cashier how my brother is on this album and she should go home and google Johnzo West to see the video. (She very kindly got excited, probably more because I was so spastically excited than that she actually cared.) My phone has been burning up with a family-wide text conversation about video sightings, how cool we all think it is and what’s going to happen next.

Miley, I doubt you’ll be reading this, but if you do I want you to know I’m proud of you for taking the next step. I’m very interested to see what comes next. And that guy in the chair next to you with the guitar? He’s the best.


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Discovering my inner craftiness.

As I write this I’m eating one of my recent baking projects – the most delicious cinnamon rolls I have ever had. Actually, I’m eating my third delicious cinnamon roll. Of the day.

I baked them over the weekend and I only ate two in one day before having a dream that I got really fat from eating all my baking. I’ve been baking a lot. I’ve also been rediscovering that I LOVE to bake. This is not working for me and my husband’s waistlines, but forget that. It’s a revelation of self.

I haven’t written in a long time for a variety reasons, but not for lack of ideas. It’s just that there is a line for me about what is truly personal and what is either worth sharing or just too funny not to write about. Also, I have suffered from months of carrying around a mental weight that made it hard to be creative, and also hard to find the energy to do something like writing. Writing is another thing I find satisfying, so you’d think I’d want to do it no matter how stressful life may be. But it’s exactly the opposite. The more stress we have (or rather, I have) the more likely I am to push off doing things that make me personally happy or satisfied because I don’t think I have time for them.

Two important things have happened in the last couple months that have turned this tide back for me. First off, my husband and I sold a house in Chicago that we built on spec starting in 2007. That’s right. Four, almost five, years ago. Pre-economic collapse, pre-real-estate-bubble-burst. Through either sheer stubborness, naivete or straight-up foolishness – and maybe a little bit of all three – we clawed our way through to finishing the house and getting it sold after four years of extreme stress. In retrospect we were living at a level of stress that could only be classified as Olympic qualifying. But you know how it is. Things get worse gradually and it’s only when the thing is absent that you realize just how bad it was.

So that’s done.

The other big thing is that starting in the new year I am working part time. Three days a week. Which means a four-day weekend every week. Aside from high school, I’ve never had a part-time job. Never even envisioned a part-time job. I come from a long line of hardworking people so I guess I had assumed a sort of all-or-nothing viewpoint. You wouldn’t believe the knot I had in my stomach about approaching my partners with this idea. But it turns out they were fine with it because I was severely abusing our “let’s all work and still have a life” policy as it was. This change to an actual part-time schedule was just an acknowledgement that I suppose they appreciate and relieves me of guilt.

What I didn’t expect was that it would cause me to do some re-examining of my identity. I’ve always been proud of working. I like working. I just didn’t realize how much I defined myself by it until it took up less hours of my week. Maybe it’s overly analytical, but I am still kind of reshaping my way of thinking of myself. While that goes on in my subconscious, however, I am finding that working part time is totally AWESOME. I mean, my house isn’t magically perfectly clean, but it’s a hell of a lot better. I have a planned time to grocery shop at a time of day that is both quiet at the grocery store and does not involve me being exhausted or rushing to get it done. I’m doing better at keeping up with the laundry (which wasn’t that big of a problem because Chad does the bulk of it). But here’s the biggest difference – I’m about 100 times more relaxed on Sunday night.

I didn’t realize how much pressure I was putting on myself to get the house cleaned up and the ducks in a row on Sunday because once Monday hits it’s madness and then I can’t keep up. Nope. Instead I can do some picking up in the morning just to get things cleared up, but then I can relax knowing that on Monday morning the big girls will leave and I’ll be able to get life in order. Subsequently, getting the girls out the door Monday morning is also less harried. For me, it’s an incredibly freeing feeling to know I will have two days in the week to run errands or do things at home that A) won’t have to be squeezed into the weekend because B) I know I will have a day to get whatever it is done instead of figuring out which lunch hour or after-work timeframe I can use to squeeze it in.

Between selling the Chicago house, working part-time and reassessing my core identity I’ve discovered that I like doing crafts. Well… truthfully, becoming addicted to Pinterest helped me discover my heretofore unknown love of crafts. All the other stuff helped give me the energy and time to do them. So far I’ve baked my brains out, re-covered the bench in my hallway, made cute clipboards for teacher gifts and am in the process of making a cell phone holder out of an old lotion bottle. Oh yeah.

Here are a few snaps of my crafty endeavors:

At our house 2012 is what we think of as our rebuilding year. This is true in so many ways. It’s also a good reminder that you never can know what’s around the next curve it the road, but whatever it is, if you make the best of it and keep moving forward you’ll be alright.


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