Musings from Home

Archive for November, 2011

Chairs

Yesterday, Jim called me on his way home from work (as he usually does to check in and see if there’s anything he needs to pick up on the way). But this time, after “Hello”, he opened with “Life is hard”, to let me know he’d read my blog. I smiled to myself. Not just because he had read my blog (he reads everything I write at some point, either before I submit it or once it’s up), but because it occurred to me once again that he had bought my chairs.

In case you’re wondering how we got from my blog to chairs, let me explain. In the 1996 movie “Phenomenon”, the main character, George Malley, buys chairs made by Lace Pennamin, his love interest. Chairs, incidentally, that most people in the movie do not find all that appealing. Later in the movie, another character (the doctor) explains, “Now George has a love at his side and she’s sticking with him. You know why? Because he bought her chairs. . . Every woman has her chair, something she needs to put herself into. You ever figure out what [your love’s] chairs are and buy ’em?”

That metaphor has stuck with Jim and me over the years and occasionally one of us will refer to it, either in regard to our own marriage or someone else’s relationship. We both feel it’s important to find out what each other’s chairs are and invest in them. Right now, in this point in time, this here blog is my chair. And in taking time out of his busy day as a teacher, a day in which I know he barely has two minutes to actually sit down and do anything non-work-related, he showed me that what’s important to me is important to him. Not that I was surprised (as I said, he always reads anything I write and supports me in anything I want to do), but it suddenly hit me how touched I was.

I believe that in relationships, buying chairs is a two-way street. Jim has a couple of different chairs and they converge in the school at which he teaches. His first chair is his teaching itself. He puts himself into it fully and takes a lot of pride in being creative and getting the material across to his students. His second chair is technology, which he uses mostly to further his teaching. He likes to tell me about new technologies he found and how he used them in a lesson. He also likes to show me videos and the like that his students have made and posted online. And I love to hear about all of that. I will admit, though, that sometimes I have to force myself to slow down and really show him how interested I am, in between helping Emerald with her homework, reading with Sapphire, and tending to all of the other family things we have going on. I know that sometimes I don’t do as well with this as I’d like, and I’m sure Jim would admit to the same. But we both make the effort and that’s all either of us can ask.

Figuring out our children’s chairs and buying them is also important in showing them how important they are to us. With them, at this point, it mostly involves spending time with them, listening to what they have to say, and supporting them through their triumphs and challenges. Again, this is not to say we’re perfect with any of this, but identifying and buying chairs for them, too, is something we strive for — and sometimes actually achieve.

In fact, with all of these chairs around, we may just have to add a porch onto our house just to have somewhere to put them.  Metaphorically, of course. 🙂

What are your chairs?

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Mantras

When I was in my early twenties (maybe even younger, but I don’t remember it from then), my dad started saying, “Life is hard” as a sort of mantra that seemed to just tumble off his lips. I remember being puzzled when I heard it. Life wasn’t that hard for me, on a day-to-day basis. Of course, I had rough days, but generally it was a fun and pretty relaxed period of time for me.

It wasn’t until he died that “Life is hard” took on a new meaning for me. And then again when my mom passed away. Even though I was an adult, life without my parents was — and is — hard, especially at particular times. But I have never dwelt on it.

Lately however, as we increasingly try to juggle schedules and work everything in, I find this phrase popping into my head more and more. I even say it out loud on occasion (usually, if not always, to Jim). Every time I think it or say it, I immediately feel bad, because in my mind anyway, it implies a dissatisfaction as well. And I amend the mantra in my head to add, “not bad, just hard”. The truth is I love our crazy, busy life (most of the time). I love all the time together. I love planning things out as a family. But I also recognize that it is extremely tiring to keep schedules straight and to get everyone to where he or she needs to be at a given time. It is at the times that the weariness sets in that the mantra pops out.

In general, though, I prefer more positive mantras like “I can do this”. When I get frustrated or feel like I’m up against a brick wall, I try to make myself look in the mirror and say, “I can do this.” It’s amazing how telling yourself something positive, especially in the mirror, can bring forth confidence. This is a mantra I have taught to Emerald and encourage her to use (although so far when she does it, it’s with less than enthusiasm — maybe in time it’ll help her. Or maybe she’ll come up with her own that works better for her).

Another mantra that I love in theory is, “I am beautiful”. I can’t say that I actually say this one. I am not currently in a stage of my life where I focus a whole lot on my physical appearance, although I am starting to notice signs of age I’m not too happy to see. So I may be there again sooner than I think. Either way, I love the idea of being good to oneself. There are too many negative emotions out there in that regard, especially for girls and young women. A daily (or more often) mantra, preferably in the mirror, just may help to convince young women (and others) of their own beauty (inside and out).

On a related note, although not a mantra, I like the practice of looking in the mirror and identifying what you like most of what you see. I have done this myself many times and I have asked each of my daughters to do it as well. It allows you to focus on the positives instead of seeing the blemishes, wrinkles, or what not. I also like that both of my girls are able to answer quickly (even the first time I did this, so it isn’t necessarily a memorized thing, and it does change). Sometimes they even have trouble deciding on which feature they like the most. Those days make my heart soar. They know they are beautiful and I hope this practice will help them hold onto that knowledge, especially as they enter the difficult puberty years. [Emerald is close to that now and I have noticed a larger focus on how she looks, especially along the lines of “looking pretty”, not looking “babyish”, and being appropriate for her age (not too young or too old).]

Another mantra I particularly like, especially when my confidence is low or at those times when I feel criticized is, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. A great quote from Eleanor Roosevelt. And a great way to remind us all of our inner value. 🙂

Do you have a mantra that you use? Are there any you think might be good to add to your routine?

A Different Take on Black Friday

I took a short blogcation, but I’m back. I hope you all had a wonderful holiday.

For a week or more before the actual day, I saw countless Black Friday ads. And for a week or more, I largely ignored them. I generally avoid stores (especially big box stores) on that particular day. While I like a good deal as much as the next person, I am not a big fan of huge crowds and I don’t see any savings as worth the risk of getting trampled or pepper-sprayed. [I know that only happens in a few locations each year.] To me, it’s just not worth the hassle and the aggravation. Add to that the fact that the girls and I are just about done with our Christmas shopping (and the rest are mostly gift cards we can easily pick up), and it was a recipe for staying away from  the sales and deleting the ads that preceded them.

But Thursday night I got an e-mail that caught my eye. It was from Fair Indigo and the subject was “Boycotting Black Friday”. Now this intrigued me, even as I wondered if it was a thinly veiled ad, intended to trick me into looking for the deals hidden inside.

To my surprise — and delight — this is what it said:

Now you cynics might say that this in itself is a ploy to get gullible people like me to shop at their site in the future, but I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt and I’m appreciating that they think about their employees and beyond that, that they offer food for thought to the rest of us for more meaningful ways to show we care.

Every Christmas season we try to do something with the girls to teach them to give back to the community or to help those who are less fortunate right now. Some years, it’s been Angel Tree. Other years, we’ve given them money to loan through Kiva. Others, we’ve contributed to classroom projects through DonorsChoose.org. Some years, it’s been a combination of several things.

Yes, many families already think about service and giving beyond just to their families and friends, but for a company to send this message without pushing their products at the same time, well to me that’s commendable. Way to go, Fair Indigo. I’m impressed — and touched.

Did anyone else receive this e-mail (or the same message via another mode)? If so, what did you think of it?

Emotional Morning

Anyone who knows my family knows that several of our family members are of the furry variety. And as you know, we recently lost one of those beloved family members, Heidi. She was actually the second one to leave us in less than a year. Our precious chocolate lab, Moka, went to heaven just before Thanksgiving last year.

What I haven’t written about until now is that we have two other cats (Carroll and Squeaky) and two puppies (Riley and Raine) all of whom are also very important parts of our family. We got Carroll as a stray in Birmingham, Alabama six and a half years ago when we were visiting my mother-in-law. He visited her deck every evening right around 5 o’clock. At the time, my mother-in-law’s best friend was sick and in the hospital, so she named her new visitor after her. [We didn’t know until later that he was actually a he, so a spelling change was in order]. This kitty was very sweet and took to Emerald (who was then 4 ) immediately.

At the time, we had two cats, Heidi and Juneau, but neither of them would let Emerald play with them. Jim and I thought Carroll would make a great pet for Emerald so my mother-in-law called all around and Jim went door-to-door to make sure the kitty didn’t already have a home. No one claimed him so we brought him home with us.

Ever since, he has been the most loving cat you could imagine. He loves attention and purrs almost constantly. He fit into our family seamlessly and added so much joy.

About five months ago, we found out that Carroll had a very aggressive malignant tumor in his left eye. By the time it was discovered, it was very large and had likely already spread. We had to have his eye removed, but we were told that he probably wouldn’t have much longer to live because of the type of tumor he has.

Over the last few weeks, he has been back and forth to the vet and at times he has seemed very uncomfortable and unhappy. But with treatment, he went back to being the happy, affectionate cat and time went on. That is until this past Saturday. His eye socket began bleeding; he lost a lot of blood and seemed to go unconscious. We thought this was the end. We knew it was coming sometime, but this was a sudden and traumatic way for it to happen. Sapphire in particular took it very hard. We were all petting him, saying “goodbye” to him, and telling him how much we loved him, when suddenly his head popped up and he began washing his paw. It was as if he were saying, “Don’t count me out yet.”  We were overjoyed.

But after that, he just hasn’t been himself. He is hiding, is very unsteady when he does move, doesn’t seem interested in food at all, and doesn’t want attention. We began to fear he is in pain.

Yesterday morning, I took him to the vet again. This time, there was no treatment she could offer. She said the tumor has spread along his jaw and likely into his brain as well. She also thinks he may be hemorrhaging into his brain. She agreed that he is probably in pain. She also fears he will have a very traumatic end, likely in the middle of the night. She knows that we don’t want that for Carroll, or for our kids. Although she knew it wasn’t what I wanted to hear, she said it is time to put him down. [Even now as I type this I want to say something less harsh, like “help him go to heaven” or just “it’s time.” Those words are just so hard to think, let alone put in bold print.]

Even though I half expected that was what she would say, it was still a bit of a shock and it took all I had to hold back tears. I told her that I couldn’t do that without giving the rest of the family the chance to say “goodbye”. She knew I would feel that way and offered to give him subcutaneous fluids since he’s dehydrated and then send him home with me, telling me that she would be in every day this week except Thursday and would work us in anytime.

As she took Carroll into the back for his fluids, I wandered back to the lobby to wait. I had noticed an adorable kitten in a crate there as I walked in with Carroll thirty minutes before. It had been found in the sewer of an apartment complex and was being given away to a “good home”. Jim, the girls, and I had talked about getting another cat/kitten at some point ever since Heidi died and we got the news that Carroll probably only had a few months left. We had intended to wait until after Carroll’s time here was over. We certainly don’t want to replace anyone, but we also felt a new cat may help fill the void left by Heidi and soon, by Carroll as well.

It felt like a sign that they had this kitten today. The note on his crate indicated that he is very affectionate, very playful, and gets along well with everyone, as well as with other cats and with dogs. Perfect. I went to him and reached through the bars of the crate to pet him. He leaned his cheek into my hand and purred. This sweet little thing needed a home and seemed to have exactly the personality we were looking for in a kitten. I was sold, even as I felt my emotions about Carroll start to bubble up.

I called Jim to fill him in on Carroll (and to cry) and then I told him about the kitten. He agreed that this might make it less traumatic for Sapphire and Emerald. He left it up to me, which is probably not be a wise move when it comes to pets, especially kittens.

As I’m sure you’ve guessed, we have a new family member.

Sapphire and I batted name ideas around all afternoon. When Emerald got off the bus, she suggested “Shadow”, which we all agreed was perfect for him. Shadow it is. [Note to Mary: There are white hairs on his back (he looks a little salt and pepper), just for you. :)]

Mixed with the joy of a new “baby” in the house, we also have profound sorrow. We have to figure out how to deal with the loss of another very special boy. And we have to schedule it. I get tearful just thinking about it. Carroll is truly a special cat. He is, and will forever be, my beloved buddy.

Carroll, I’m not ready to say “goodbye”, but we know that it’s what’s best for you. We will love you always and you will forever be in our hearts. ♥

It was a very emotional day. Just the first of several, I’m sure.

Pockets

I have a long-standing practice of shoving change (usually in the form of dollar bills) into my pockets. In fact, in my single days, on those occasions that I got home late from work and was too tired to make dinner, I could always count on finding enough money in my coat pockets (if I didn’t have enough in my wallet) to pay for a delivery pizza. I just had to be really careful to go through my pockets before taking anything to the dry cleaners or giving anything away.

These days, I tend to carry a purse most everywhere I go, so I don’t use my pockets quite as much. There are occasions, though, especially on the weekends for which I don’t want the incumbrance of a purse. It is on these occasions, that my pockets get a little more action.

Last weekend’s baton competition was just such an event. With the bag of activities to keep the kids entertained through hours of waiting and the bag of extra competition outfits, hair pins, hair spray, etc., I didn’t want anything else to carry and keep track of, so I carried a little cash in the pocket of my jeans, to buy drinks and snacks as needed.

This weekend, as we were going about our weekly chores and I was knee-deep in helping Sapphire straighten up and deep clean her room (a.k.a. sort through unused toys to better organize the ones that actually get played with), Jim called up the stairs to me, “I think the [insert federal agency] is going to come out here any day now and arrest me.”

Now, I should point out here that my husband is the most law-abiding person I know. He is also smart enough not to do anything even accidentally that would get him into trouble. But he is also quite the techno-geek, so my first thought was that he had accidentally hopped onto a website that might call attention to him.

As he made his way up the stairs to Sapphire’s room to explain to me what he meant, my heart thumped and my mind raced. What had he gotten into? How bad was this really?

Then he appeared in the doorway with a big smile on his face and two fistfuls of one dollar bills. He sifted them onto the floor and announced, “I have just laundered money.” Oops, my pockets. My change. He had started the laundry. Hee hee.

After giggling, I sheepishly replied, “Sorry. But on the upside, I’ve always liked knowing I have an  extra few dollars about the house, just in case. All we have to do is check the coat pockets in my closet.”

My dear husband chuckled and said, “Not anymore.”

“What do you mean?”

“Where do you think our babysitter money has come from through the years? I’ve raided your coat pockets. There’s nothing in them anymore.” Good to know.

I guess the moral of this story is if you are going to have a stash of “mad money”, make sure you’re the only one who knows where it is. 🙂

Do any of y’all have secret (or not so secret) stashes of money for the emergency pizza or the like? I must say, mine has always been quite unintentional, but appreciated nonetheless. At least until it was no more. 🙂

[Disclaimer: To any federal employees who are monitoring the internet, we truly are talking about pocket change left in clothes and run accidentally through the washing machine. Any reference to “laundering” is a joke.]

Saved by the Movie

Some nights when Emerald doesn’t have a lot of homework and we’re all exhausted, we have a picnic dinner in front of the TV and watch a movie as a family. The trick is to find a movie we all agree on. The other night we had such an evening on the spur of the moment. Emerald suggested several movies, which were all vetoed by Sapphire. I mentioned several, which were all vetoed by one or the other of the rest of them. Ditto with Sapphire’s and Jim’s suggestions. So Jim and I set off for the drawer of DVDs upstairs (purchased over the last 15 years) in search of a PG-13- or G-rated movie that the kids have never seen but might enjoy.

My eyes landed on “Little Women” and we both quickly agreed that this was the one to try. It’s a classic. What young girls would not love this movie? Convincing Emerald was a little harder than we expected. She fired questions at us regarding the plot of the movie and she did not like our rather vague answers (it had been years since either of us had read the book or seen the movie). She insisted she did not want to see that movie.

Not being one to force my child to watch any movie, I told her I thought she would really enjoy it, but she didn’t have to watch it if she didn’t want to. She could go to her room; she could study for her History test, which is Friday. She didn’t like those options, so she settled on the couch rather grumpily, ready to dislike the movie and still hoping we’d give in (at least I think she was).

Since nothing else I’d tried had worked, I decided to add a little humor into the situation. I offered her a deal. If she could honestly tell me at the end of the movie that she didn’t like it, I would spin around 10 times. As Em began to smile, Jim asked me which way. I couldn’t imagine how that mattered, but he then asked her which way she wanted to see Mom fall, forward or backward. Gee, thanks, hon. 🙂 Emerald was now all over watching the movie, if only to see me fall down.

A few minutes into the movie, I glanced in her direction and she was entranced, with a smile on her face. Sapphire was more verbal, with the occasional “Mom, I love this movie”. Halfway into the movie, Emerald admitted she liked it.

Except for the scene when Beth dies (which we had warned them about, but still sent Sapphire into tears :(), it was a complete success. So much so that we ended up watching the whole thing even though we intended to stop it partway through and finish it another night.

When the credits rolled, Em turned to me and said, “OK, start spinning”.

What??? “I’m not spinning. You can’t honestly tell me you didn’t like it.”

“Mom, I didn’t like it.”

“Yes you did.”

“No, I didn’t like it. I loved it. You have to spin around 10 times.”

No, no, no.

But I did learn that kid should be a lawyer. And yes, my parents are looking down at us from Heaven and loving this. Not only is Emerald sharp as a tack, but she is paying me back for all the times I did the same kind of thing during my childhood.

She is definitely my daughter. 🙂 And I’m loving that, too.

Flush With Confidence

Eleven and a half years ago when Jim and I bought this house, we noticed that the bathrooms were equipped with low-flow commodes, which was code. These particular ones ran very slowly and were, to say the least, quite annoying. But we figured it was a minor thing and we can pretty much get used to anything, especially if it saves water. [We have since learned that low-flow didn’t have to mean low-performance.]

And we did get used to them, although we still grumbled every time they didn’t flush as they should. We employed strategies to tip the scales toward success: We used the upstairs bathrooms as much as possible to get gravity on our side and were careful how much paper we used (a good idea anyway to save resources).

But in the last couple of weeks, the shut-off valves in the two upstairs bathrooms stopped working. One didn’t shut off the water completely and the other leaked in the form of a spray all over the bathroom when turned “off”. This led to rules for the kids, such as “Do not flush for number twos. Call Mom or Dad for help.” I can’t speak for anyone else, but I was getting afraid to take care of business. Replacing the valves was on our “to do” list, but we weren’t in any particular rush.

It all came to a head, so to speak, at the end of last week when we had one particularly bad clog and I couldn’t clear it no matter what I did. And I couldn’t turn off the water. You can imagine the panic.

When it was all over, I decided right there and then that if we were not moving the next day (which of course we weren’t), we needed to bite the bullet and buy toilets that actually flushed as they should. Jim’s suggestion was to fix the valves, which would cost a lot less money and had to be done at any rate. But I was no longer going to accept “getting used to anything”. We were past that. It was time for proper function. Jim agreed because “if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”. 🙂

Yesterday the plumber came and installed Three. Brand. New. Toilets. I was like a kid on Christmas. These babies even “whoosh” when you flush! The kids are tired of hearing about it (Em is also aghast that I would write a blog post about this), and no one else in the family is quite as giddy as I am about our new additions, but for me, having confidence in one of the two most important rooms in our house is the best present I could ask for. It’s the little things.

Is there anything in your house that would just make your year if you replaced it?

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