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Preview: Life Lessons

Pamela Hammonds





Updated: 2017-07-23T03:41:33.348-05:00

 



Gardening with Friends

2017-05-29T13:03:12.354-05:00

Whenever I move to a new house, unpacking boxes takes a backseat to getting my yard in order. With this most recent move, the yard took a bit more work (and funding) than anticipated. Isn't that the way it always goes? Instead of pulling weeds, clearing out plants and supplementing the soil, we hired Greenstreet, a landscape company, to build a wall to shore up the back yard--to level the playing field, so to speak--so plantings wouldn't slide into the neighbor's yard during spring rainfalls.Getting into the dirt required a waiting game, and I tried to remain patient as we experienced, to-date, in excess of four inches of rain vs. normal. But who can complain? When we moved here, to a sleepy town outside of Chattanooga, a drought had plagued the area and, along with it, devastating wildfires.So last week, when I finally got to plant my new beds, and during the weeks prior, when shopping for flowers, I was reminded of the many people who helped foster my love of gardening and taught me valuable lessons along the way.From Betty I learned to divide and conquerWhen we lived in Decatur, Alabama, Betty became my friend, my mentor and Mimi to my boys. A graceful, generous soul, she shared her knack for southern hospitality and love of gardening. She taught me that hardy perennials like monkey grass and mint could be divided and shared with a swift whack of a shovel imbedded in their spidery roots. Betty also gifted me with a tuber of Jackson Vine, culled from her own, that after transplanted in my yard, grew along my fence and provided waxy green boughs that graced my table and mantle during the holidays. I can still hear her southern drawl telling me "you cain't kill it" whenever I hesitated to thin out my plants.From Kim I learned to thin from withinWhen we moved from Alabama to College Station, Texas, I met an amazing woman and her two sons at Chick-fil-A. I was there with my two young boys and we struck up a conversation on the patio. In a move I can't believe I did and yet do not regret, I handed my boys off to Kim for a playdate at her house. She gave me her address and I promised to return a few hours to gather them. I will justify this decision by saying she is the wife of our then-pediatrician, so I knew I could trust her. Upon picking up my boys later that afternoon, she gave me a tour of her back yard. Kim impressed me with the brick path she was laying by hand, and she gave me a quick lesson on pruning. She reached into a shrub and clipped the branches growing inward to allow sunlight to reach the plant and to give the bush a more lacy appearance. The result was immediate. To this day,  I can be found with my pruning sheers, trimming branches from within my plants to make them appear less dense and more natural looking.From Dale I learned to deadheadTo this day, it's a tedious task I rather dread, but my neighbor in Illinois was diligent in deadheading her flowers. This weekend, I scavenged my hanging basket of petunias and clipped off the star-shaped green stems so new blooms will take their places. Today they look a little worse for wear, but I know, had I left them to their own devices, before long my petunias would look like spindly weeds with a single flower at each end.As kids, my cousin and I would deadhead black-eyed Susans and zinnias in my grandparents' flowerbeds, but we typically would wait until the blooms had dried and the seed-heads crumbled between our fingers; seeds would rain down into the soil, guaranteeing more flowers next season. Now I rarely wait for my blooms to dry, instead clipping the flowers to bring indoors where I can enjoy them all day long.From Martha I learned to move itI met Martha on a trip we took with my husband's coworkers and, as luck would have it, we are now neighbors. An avid gardner, Martha recently gave me a tour of her fabulous gardens. I reminded her of advice she gave me years ago: If something you planted isn't growing, move it to a different spot in your yard. I had a Texas mountain laurel that seemed to squat in the first bed I[...]



Telling the Story of Us

2015-10-27T13:55:06.771-05:00

This month I returned to my hometown of Muncie, Indiana, with my sister Amy, so we could spend time with our dad and visit with cousins and our Aunt Shirley, our mother's only sister.Mom holding me; my older sister, Gretchen, and brother Pete.After Mom died the day before Thanksgiving 2013, and while looking through some of her keepsakes, I came to the stark realization that any questions I might still have for Mom could no longer be answered. I read through her report cards and noticed weeks of absences during her kindergarten year and wondered why. The only person who could answer that would be Aunt Shirley.The night before Amy and I left for Indiana, she hosted a get-together with some of her friends (so I could put faces and voices with names) in Dayton, Ohio. While chatting about our plans, one friend suggested we look at the StoryCorps app hosted by NPR, a "global platform for listening, connecting, and sharing stories of the human experience." I downloaded the app on my phone, and Amy and I discussed on the drive to Muncie which questions we wanted to ask Aunt Shirley.The prompts included questions from categories such as Best Questions, Family Heritage, Grandparents, Growing Up and School, Love & Relationships, Military, Parents, Serious Illness, etc. You can make up your own questions, certainly, or set up a list of five or more to get you started. Amy recorded the interview on my phone and then we uploaded it to the StoryCorps site. Our interview with Aunt Shirley is here. It wound up being 35 minutes long, but we talked a bit more 'off mic' after we'd stopped the recording. So simple. So cool to have this and to be able to share it with our family members.If you decide to learn more about your heritage, don't be surprised if you're amazed by your ancestors' bravery and wonder how in the world they survived at all. My grandfather had been placed in an orphanage by his mother (who married seven times) and was hopping trains and sleeping in boxcars with hobos when he was 16, looking for work in New Orleans. My grandmother's family came from Holland on a ship in 1905, no small feat either. They lived in 32 houses before finding a place to call their own here in America. And to think I still make my grown sons text me when they reach their destinations!So, as the holidays approach, I suggest downloading the free app and getting some questions lined up for your family and friends to ask. Learn more about StoryCorps here. Don't wait until it's too late to find out about your family heritage.[...]



ROOM: the novel, the movie

2015-10-23T10:06:33.561-05:00

Years ago the novel ROOM by Emma Donoghue ended up on my bookshelf. I'm sure it was recommended to me by one of my WhatWomenWrite buddies, but for some reason I failed to dive in. Maybe the premise was a bit off-putting--young girl is abducted and held in a shed while repeatedly raped by her kidnapper. While held captive, she gives birth to a son. I even loaned the book to a friend who read it and loved it. Still, I passed.What I imagined was a difficult-at-best story filled with horrible images that would haunt me forever, because it's nearly impossible to separate fact from fiction here. Twelve years ago, I was pregnant with my daughter when Elizabeth Smart was found. I remember painting my girl's nursery with a TV nearby, and then being stunned by the news of Elizabeth's miraculous recovery.Of course, more recently we heard the news of Jaycee Dugard, who spent 18 years in captivity, giving birth twice while held against her will. And then the three women held in Cleveland, Ohio, and the daughter who survived that horrific nightmare. So while the premise of the book certainly felt real, I still put other novels before it.And then last week, I watched the trailer of the movie ROOM and was immediately captivated by the little boy Jack who tells the story. allowfullscreen="" class="YOUTUBE-iframe-video" data-thumbnail-src="https://i.ytimg.com/vi/E_Ci-pAL4eE/0.jpg" frameborder="0" height="266" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/E_Ci-pAL4eE?feature=player_embedded" width="320">You see, Emma Donoghue pulled off the near-impossible feat of telling the entire story through a five-year-old's point of view. A mother of two, Emma drew from her own experiences as a mom as well as months of research on feral children, kids born to incarcerated mothers, prisoners in solitary confinement, and, of course, cases of children born to abducted women.So ROOM turned out to be a story not of rape and solitary confinement, but rather love. The love between a mother and her son. And the ultimate sacrifice Ma's willing to make to save them both.Emma answers my girl's question about the main character, Ma. I read ROOM this past weekend and, as luck would have it, managed to snag my friend Elizabeth's passes to the screening of the movie in Dallas which included a Q&A with Emma, who also penned the screenplay. My daughter and I got to see the movie and then meet Emma afterward, who was gracious and lovely, as I expected she would be.Do this. Read ROOM. Watch ROOM. And then see if both change you in ways you didn't expect.----As a sidenote, Brie Larson, who plays Ma, and Jacob Tremblay, who plays Jack, are brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.And the R rating I think is a bit ambitious. It's really PG-13 with a few extra swear words. Zero sex, zero nudity, some peril. Emma Donoghue fields questions from the audience during the screening of ROOM in Dallas, October 19.[...]



Letters to Camp

2015-07-28T14:26:52.381-05:00

Writing a letter to your child at camp is much more challenging than it should be. There are a few reasons why this is true. You can't say how much you miss her because that might make her sad. You can't say what you're doing in her absence, because, again, that might make her sad. You can't admit how much quieter/clean/calm the house is because ... you see where this is going.Really, writing a creative note to camp is doubly challenging because, if she's gone only a week, you have to compose and mail the letter pretty much on the drive home from dropping her off. Even better, you send the letter prior to sending the child.This year, I mailed one card before she left and then another the following day. Plus, since she was going to be gone during her birthday, I emailed close friends and family and asked them to mail her cards to get at camp--a sweet gesture that many followed through on. As a result, she ended up getting quite the postal haul. The Camp Mail Queen title was hers! One of my favorite letters to send to camp is one either written by the dog or some other lovey left behind. This year, I ghost-wrote one from her huge stuffed rabbit, Hopscotch, including photos of the giant bunny trying her best to kill time until her girl returned from church camp. With my daughter's permission, here is the letter:Dear Mia,I sure hope you’re having fun at camp because it is sooooo boring here. I mean Boring. BORING. BORRRINGGGG! This morning, I tried playing hide-n-seek, and no one came looking for me. NO ONE! So, I decided I’d go outside and skateboard and then I remembered I don’t stand up too well, so I lay down on it and waited for someone to come push me. And waited. And waited some more. And then nothing. (Other than Kermit barked at me through the window.) So! Scary!But then I noticed the cool swing in the front yard, so I ditched the helmet (since swinging isn’t that dangerous) and hopped right on up there. Turns out, swinging isn’t fun either if no one will push you. So, I didn’t swing. I just sorta sat. And got hot. And then I got hotter. (Trust me—having a fur coat on all the time is not fun, especially when you live in Texas.)I finally made it back inside and wound up on the bench in the kitchen. (I heard there were carrots in the fridge.) Somehow I got set here beside Kermit. He didn’t even bark this time. OR try to eat me! I know! It’s like a Christmas miracle and it’s not even December!! (I really wish it was December. Did I mention how hot I always am?) After a little nap (OK, confession time—we slept a good two hours!), I heard Mom say to Ben something about going to see a movie, so I jumped in the car, yelling “Shotgun!” and waited for them to come. Turns out, rabbits aren’t allowed in the theater, and so once again, my dreams were dashed. So, I hope you’re having the time of your life at camp. It’s pretty lonely here. Next time, I’m hiding in your suitcase and coming with you. Do they allow rabbits at camp? Love and miss you oodles and oodles,Hopscotch [...]



Surviving Mother's Day

2015-05-09T23:41:21.272-05:00

Last year my siblings and I celebrated our first motherless Mother's Day. Mom died the day before Thanksgiving the year before--after telling us she didn't want to die on a holiday. I wonder at times what that might feel like, knowing death is imminent and having no say-so as to when it happens, other than willing yourself to not let go on a holiday. Perhaps making one final motherly act of love: Saving your children from having to dread a holiday associated with their own mother's passing.

But here's Mother's Day again. A day that will forever be a reminder that she's not here. And so we will celebrate as best we can.

(image)
My amazing mom at the age of 25! Can you imagine? Three children at 25?
A few years ago I let my own kids off the hook when my February birthday rolled around without much fanfare. I said they didn't have to make a big deal out of my birthday because I had already passed milestones worth commemorating--16, 21, 30, 40 ... (I'll reconsider if I make it to 100.) But I did expect some attention on Mother's Day. My thinking is, every day I do something that contributes to my role as their mother. My birthday? I pretty much just inhale/exhale to get there.

This week, my girl asked me what event might have prevented her from being born. It was a fairly weighty question given we were en route from school to home, but I gave it a bit of thought before telling her that any number of situations could have circumvented her conception. We talked about the sheer science behind her chosen egg/sperm combo, and that had Dad been out of town or we hadn't been 'affectionate' toward each other that day, she wouldn't have been conceived.

I went back in time even farther to tell her that my dad, as a kid, had helped his cousin peer into an automobile's gas tank--by lighting a match! Luckily for the pair, the tank was empty although he did remember a whoosh! as the flame and fumes collided. My mother once recalled a rainy walk home from school when she stepped into an open drain she couldn't see and caught her skinny self by her elbows. Had she fallen through, she likely would have drowned.

If we stop and consider any 'sliding door' event along the path from our birth to conceiving our own children, we realize the incredible miracle it is that we mothers have our children here at all. And to me, the only thing worse than spending Mother's Day without a mother is one spent after losing a child--an unfathomable scenario three very close friends of mine will be living through this Mother's Day.

So, mothers, tell your children they're the greatest gift God has given you and, if you happen to be so lucky to still have your mother in your life, tell her she's also the greatest gift God gave you. Both are true. So, so true.

Happy Mother's Day, my friends!



The Ungrateful Child

2015-05-05T12:43:36.500-05:00

This morning began like most. I wrangled my preteen from her precious slumber about four hours earlier than she would have liked and began my usual morning dialog that she listened to with her eyes still closed. She was probably still asleep. "Here's your uniform, your shoes are downstairs, get dressed, it's already 7:20, we need to leave, so hurry up." Ten minutes later, I would shout from midway up the stairs: "You'd better be up!" and she'd return a muffled, "I'm coming" that I knew meant she was still in bed, face down, where I left her.

(image) It's teacher appreciation week at our school and since I dropped the ball yesterday and forgot to send in flowers (as outlined by the woman in charge of how we should show our appreciation), I mixed up some cookie dough last night, baked a double batch, found an idea for a card on Pinterest (from my friend Tracy), and put together some bags of oatmeal/chocolate chunk cookies to make up for the flower-less Monday.

After the cookies cooled and I had them bagged and tagged, I placed them into a small basket for my girl to take to school this morning. She took a look at the tags before she went to bed and mentioned that she doesn't like being called Amelia. That Mia would have been better. I tried not flipping her the bird as she sauntered upstairs.

This morning, we also had to remember the bag of coins to donate to the American Cancer Society fundraiser, the envelope of gift cards for the Teacher Appreciation drawing, and the $5 for pizza lunch on Thursday. As we were driving to school, she huffed and growled at having to deal with so much stuff in addition to her backpack and lunch box and, under her breath, she made a snarky comment again about the tags. This time I think it was in reference to the 'being so sweet' line, and it took all my willpower not to reach over, unbuckle her seat belt, and give the brakes a robust tap. Actually, if it weren't for the dog perched on the console between us, I might have done it.

I responded by launching into a speech about how she had no idea what it must be like for some children whose mothers do nothing for them, who don't even show them they're loved. I stopped short of telling her that if I felt she'd survive without physical harm, I'd gladly drop her in the deepest slum of Dallas or Ft. Worth for a few days to see how other kids survive with so very little. It's a scenario I've plotted many times in my brain.

And then part of me thinks that maybe this is more about me. She didn't ask for me to bake cookies for her teachers. I don't have to wash her laundry, make her lunch, fix her breakfast, lay out her clothes, or even remind her to bathe and brush her teeth. Eventually she will get hungry and stinky enough that she'll do it herself. She doesn't have to have a cell phone, a Kindle, five pairs of shoes, contacts and glasses, and horse riding lessons. She can survive and thrive on much less. She needs food, love, shelter, medical care, an education, church and books. And a dog.

My mission going forward is to help her grow independent from me. And if she can somehow view me as someone who is loving and giving toward others, then that's an added bonus. Maybe the next time I bake cookies for her teachers, the tag will read: Thank you for tolerating my daughter! ♥ Pamela 

Maybe next time she'll think to bake them herself. Even better.





Dimes from Heaven

2014-09-22T16:50:57.243-05:00

My mother died suddenly the day before Thanksgiving. A respiratory condition had ravaged her lungs, tethering her to an oxygen tank for two years, and a recent outpatient procedure proved to be anything but routine, so there’d been some time to prepare. But we always assumed there would be more. More visits. More conversations. More holidays. More time.In early November, I’d begun making plans to move her from Indiana to my home in Texas where I could care for her. At the doctor’s visit I had hoped would give her permission to make the long flight here, he instead admitted her to the hospital where she died hours later. The call early that morning from a caring nurse took me and my family by surprise. Instead of preparing her room, I started planning her funeral. As her executrix, I also had the responsibility of closing her accounts and paying final bills, so I had her mail forwarded to my house.The day after her memorial service in Indiana, my cousin Kelli and I sat on the floor of my mom’s sewing room and sorted fabric and patterns, lingering over half-finished smocking projects Mom would never complete. “Have I told you about the dimes?” Kelli asked. I shook my head. “Ever since Grandpa died, I keep finding dimes in random places. Once at a church retreat, I returned to my bed after showering and there was a dime—right on top of my sheets!” The other dimes she’d found were just as unexpected and never among other coins. Just a dime. “Yesterday after your mom’s service, my friend sitting next to me stood up, and a dime fell out of her purse and landed on the church pew between us. She knew about my finding dimes and said, ‘There’s one for you from Aunt Mari.’”Kelli’s story brought a measure of comfort in a difficult week of settling my mom’s estate before returning to Texas, and my grief subsided a bit as I fell into a familiar cadence back at home—work, kids, chores. Then one day in late December, I pulled out a load of wash and heard a ping against the metal drum. I reached in and found a dime. One dime. Shiny and clean. I sank down on my laundry room tile floor and clutched it to my chest like a long-lost treasure. Surely Mom was watching over me.Dime I found in Lowes' parking lot.As the weeks passed, I found a few more dimes—in a parking lot, on a desk at my daughter’s tutoring center (which I kept after trading it for an ordinary one from my wallet), and in the middle of the floor in the den. My sister found dimes, too. Once three at a time in her washing machine! The weeks following also brought many firsts—my first birthday without Mom. Her first birthday in heaven. Her first Easter apart from us. Every new first no easier to bear without her here.Then in April, when my niece Ashleigh announced her first baby was due in the fall, we were faced with another milestone: The first grandbaby my mother wouldn’t rock to sleep or read a book to. No precious handmade outfit or smocked dress made by Mom would be given to this new baby. Weeks later, when Ashleigh said she was feeling a bit overwhelmed with work, buying a home and trying to sew some special items for the baby, I offered to help. “How about I make your bunny quilt?” I asked. She had shared a photo of a stroller quilt she wanted to make with a bunny appliquéd in the center. “You wouldn’t mind?” she asked. “That would be great! Just no pink and don’t make it look like a boy’s either. Whatever colors you choose, I know I’ll love.” She and her husband were keeping the baby’s gender a surprise to everyone—even themselves.So I printed out a picture of the quilt, determined how much fabric I’d need, and went shopping. After the third fabric store, I’d finally collected the right combination of colors and patterns I needed to make the bunny quilt. The only piece missing was Mom. She would have helped me choose the best weight of b[...]



Trash Picking

2014-09-03T08:00:02.201-05:00

It's trash day tomorrow. So, that makes tonight trash-eve. Or, as I like to think of it: Your trash is my treasure. Honestly, you won't believe the stuff people throw away. Sure most of it is truly garbage, but you can score some pretty good stuff if your timing is right and your standards are low attitude is optimistic.A few weeks ago, on trash-eve, I was walking the mutt around 10 o'clock at night (once it was finally cool enough to be outdoors), when he slowed his pace and started this low, menacing growl. I assumed my best ninja stance and strained my eyes to see whatever he had locked his night vision on. A figure. In the dark. Tall. Not moving. Big. Really big. We crept a little closer, keeping a protective brick mailbox between us and the scary, hulking ... angel.A neighbor had placed an 8-foot tall Christmas angel beside their trashcans. We got close and I inspected her. Hmm. I'm not a huge fan of yard art, but she looked pretty sturdy, lots of lights on her, maybe.... Before I could make a yes or no call, I looked down to see that the mutt had lifted his leg and was peeing on the angel. I took that as a 'no' and we kept walking. (It was gone by the morning, so my apologies to whomever took it. I hope you didn't take it indoors.)Last year, my friend Tracy texted me a photo of two chairs her neighbor had out on the curb. She didn't need them and wondered what I thought. I hopped in the minivan and drove a few streets over.Club chairs before Baby blue and certainly cat-clawed, but with some new fabric...I could definitely see potential. First I followed the advice of my BFF-I've-never-met, Lara Spencer, and checked the label on the chairs. She wrote the book on thrifting: I Brake for Yard Sales, and her sage advice includes salvaging name brand, well-made quality furniture. "Look for good bones, people," she preaches and I listen.Lifting the cushion, I found a tag that indicated the chairs had been custom-made by a tony Dallas furniture shop. I did the sit-test for comfort (another tip from BFF-INM Lara) and a quick sniff test (for 'cat'), and gave Tracy a high-five. We asked the homeowner if we could haul them away, and he not only said yes, but offered us first dibs on his matching cat-scratched sofa. I passed but thanked him, and under my breath suggested he de-claw the cat. Or at least call me when the feline destroyed something else pretty nice.I found a nearby upholsterer to recover the chairs and purchased fabric online. A few weeks later, I had two pretty sweet custom club chairs for a fraction of what I'd have paid to have them made for me.One chair stays in the den after being covered in an over-sized floral by Richloom, legs painted gray.The second chair I had covered in gray linen, legs painted black and placed in the living room. Someday I may recover them again in a matching fabric if I live someplace where I need a pair, but for now they work well apart. And while most of my rescues are DIY, I know when a project needs a professional to complete it.I've never climbed inside a Dumpster, but I'm not afraid to see someone's castoff as a potential score. I just hope I never toss something into my van that a dog has lifted his leg to and watered. Again, my apologies to the Christmas angel and her new owner.[...]



Broke is the New Black

2014-08-21T14:48:14.009-05:00

New this fall is an ABC comedy series about an affluent African American family living in the 'burbs and trying to retain their cultural identity.Which got me to thinking, I need to pitch my own series:Here are a few episode ideas as we follow the Smith family, trying to keep up with the Jones family next door. Episode 1: Mary Smith buys her daughter a like-new Vera Bradley backpack on eBay (just like Katie Jones' daughter's) and then realizes the girls are dumping their Bradley bags this year in favor of bohemian satchels. She sells it on a local Facebook trading site and gets $35 for the $85 bag she paid $60 for and vows to eat PB&J for a week to make up for her poor purchase. Meanwhile, Bob Smith takes a second job delivering pizzas in a nearby town (Mary can't take a chance on his delivering to anyone they might know) in order to pay the rent on his boat slip at the marina.Episode 2: Mary realizes the tuition is due for Sally's private art lessons and her credit card is maxed out so she can't pay it. So, she rifles through Bob Jr.'s closet to borrow $50 from the $76.83 he keeps in a Mason jar. Meanwhile, Bob Sr. puts his childhood baseball card collection on Craig's List to get enough money to pay for Bob Jr.'s hockey uniform.Episode 3: Mary gets Sally and Bob Jr. to help her "clean the freezer" in hopes of finding something she can thaw for dinner because she doesn't have money in the checking account for groceries. Meanwhile, Bob Sr. stealthily goes through Mary's closet in search of clothes with the tags still on that he can return for cash so he can pay the entry fee for his office's Fantasy Football League. Episode 4: Mary tells Katie Jones she's allergic to silver to keep from admitting she doesn't have enough money to buy anything at her Stella & Dot party. Meanwhile, Bob Sr. rifles through Sally's closet to borrow $10 from the $17.25 she keeps in her Princess Anna and Elsa bank, so he can put it under her pillow after she loses her first tooth. Episode 5: Mary sends Sally and Bob Jr. out on their bikes to look for a lost Jack Russell after seeing posters in the neighborhood offering a $150 reward. Meanwhile, Bob declares a family 'get in touch with nature' week and turns off the air conditioning in order to lower their utility bill, and everyone is forced to sleep in the backyard playhouse when the house gets too hot.Episode 6: Mary gets her hair cut for $15 at a beauty school and cries when she ends up with an asymmetrical cut that Bob says makes her look like a transgender indie pop star. Meanwhile, Bob gets a cavity filled at the nearby dental school for free and tries to become a paid sperm donor but is told there's not a market for men with male patterned baldness and excessive congenital moles. Episode 7: Mary Googles possible ways one can sell a paired organ in order to get the $5,500 she needs for a tummy tuck, and then wonders if she can just have the transplant surgeon remove excess back fat when he takes out a kidney. Meanwhile, Bob Googles the possibility of reversing a dog's neutering, so he can lease out their golden retriever Sooner as a stud to a standard poodle after he hears the Jones family paid $1100 for their goldendoodle puppy.Episode 8: Mary crashes their Porsche Cayenne into the light pole in the Target parking lot because the lease payment is due and they don't have enough money to pay it. She then sues Target for $50,000 for placing the light pole too close to the cart corral, claiming she didn't see it because she was distracted by the kid using the motorized cart collector. Meanwhile, Bob loses his job delivering pizzas so he sinks his boat in order to collect the insurance money.Before I pitch Episode 9, the network decides to scrap 'broke•ish because viewers complained that it was "depressing" and "hitting too close to home" and that "[...]



DIY Organizers

2014-08-18T09:06:32.411-05:00

Lo and behold, I pinned something to Pinterest and remembered to go back and attempt it. In fact, I found two different bloggers who claimed this idea--organizers made from pot holders. This one and this other one have detailed instructions about how you take a square pot holder, stitch some snack size storage bags down the center and attach a closure to make a purse-sized organizer.I thought these would be great to share with my book club friends at the retirement home. Many of them use those push walkers that have a storage compartment under the seat, and these would fit perfectly there. My girl and I were in a crafty mood, too, so we set out to find some pot holders. I figured I could score some at the dollar store, Target or World Market. I was right, wrong and right. But, those at the dollar store were beige and very skimpy looking. Target didn't have any square ones. World Market had gorgeous pot holders but, at $5 each, they were a little out of my budget since I planned to make at least a dozen as well as purchase items to place inside.Since ours didn't have to be heat-resistant, I went to JoAnn Fabrics and bought quilted fabric and extra wide double fold bias tape. I purchased 1/2 yard pieces in four different designs; each cost $7 and I could get ten 8-inch squares out of each. (Since the fabric was reversible, with a coordinating print on the other side, it was like purchasing eight different fabrics.) One package of bias tape would bind three squares. In total, each cost less than $1.70; including sandwich baggies, not including the items we filled them with.After zigzag stitching the tape around the edges (and including a loop at one corner), I thought it might be nice to add a place for a pen on the outside. So we took scraps of bias tape, about 6 inches long, ironed out the center fold, tucked under the top and bottom edges and stitched it down one side, across the bottom and up the other side, leaving the top open. With this stage, I let my girl help out. The most difficult stage was stitching the bags into place. Those suckers are slippery and have to be taped down. (For a step-by-step tutorial, click here.) After that, we hand-stitched buttons on the front as well as added a loop of ribbon on the opposite side for a closure. A couple friends happened by that day and helped my girl get them stuffed. We included:wet wipesemery boardsfloss picksBand-AidsTylenol packetsCarmexrubber bandspaper clipsbobby pins breath mintscandyHalls cough suppressants tissues ink penThe women at the retirement home LOVED them and seemed so pleased we'd made something just for them. (Of course, I forgot my camera and didn't think to grab my phone and take a photo.) We handed out about a dozen of the sixteen we made, so my girl kept one for herself and gave the rest to friends. I was surprised to see how excited the kids were to get one, too. I'll definitely be making more and possibly including them in my Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes this year (without the Tylenol or Halls). They'd be great to keep in the car, in your beach bag or diaper bag, or in your desk at work. Teachers' gifts maybe? I can think of a lot of uses! [...]



Dreaming of Mom

2014-08-12T22:33:50.847-05:00

I dreamed about my mother early this morning. The kind of dream that wakes you and forbids you to go back to sleep. Mom was on vacation with us and yet not with us, so I was walking down a long, wide carpeted hallway toward her hotel room to check on her. As I got closer, she appeared, wearing a faded blue nightgown, walking purposefully toward me, tiny, frail. I stepped into pace beside her and asked, "Where are you going?" She answered, "I think I have pneumonia. I'm going to the hospital." I pulled her to my side, hugged her close, turned my head and kissed her on her left temple. Once, twice, again and again until I woke up.

The last time I saw her was October 14. In two months it will be a year and a lifetime ago that I was with her. And yet she's always with me. When I fold laundry, I can hear her chiding me that we have too many clothes. Of course, she's right; I do a ridiculous amount of laundry. When I sew or cook or bake, she's looking over my shoulder, remarking about how I do things just like she did and how I do things so differently than she did. When I'm with my children, I can feel her watching me with the same amount of maternal pride I exude. She often said her greatest joy was her children, and we knew that even when she didn't say it.

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Kermit and me, October 14
I will never get over losing her. I will forever miss her so deeply I find it hard to breathe at times. So this morning, it took me a minute to get out of bed. In time, the dog bounded in, jumped up on the bed and put his head on my chest, his paw on my shoulder. He's good that waythe way good dogs know when we need them the most. The way he was when I got home last October, exhausted from spending four nights beside my mom in the hospital, not wanting to leave her side. I had stumbled into bed to nap and, after an hour, my husband opened the bedroom door so the dog could join me. Kermit had been ramming the door with his head so much, my husband was afraid he'd hurt himself if he didn't let him in.

Most nights I don't dream about my mother, but I know she's with me. She's always with me.



Summer To-Do List

2014-08-05T22:25:36.791-05:00

I don't know if your kids are cut from the same over-achieving cloth as mine, but we had barely scraped the gunk from her lunchbox and shaken the Goldfish build-up from the bottom of her backpack when my girl announced her summer goals:1. Read War & Peace2. Learn a second language3. Gather food and clothes for the homeless4. Get the true homeless experience by:a. building a tent in the backyardb. cooking eggs on a hot sidewalkc. burning leaves with a magnifying glass (in case you can't find heat this winter)So, I put aside her Mensa application and set off to purchase a magnifying glass while she pulled the chip clips off every opened bag in the pantry and culled sheets and towels from the linen closet.Anyone with functioning opposable thumbs can rig a tent as long as one can find two tallish somethings to attach twine or a clothesline to. Lucky for us, we have two trees in the yard that worked. After stringing the twine, we chip-clipped the sheets into place and she laid a patchwork floor fashioned from old curtains and beach towels. A few accessories later--including a strategically placed mosquito-deterring plant, her iPod, a Beats Pill, folding table, a fan/spritzer bottle, plus a best-bud--and she was good for an hour or so. Until she got hungry. And then too hot. And then saw a spider.Once the tent had to be taken down so Dad could run the sprinklers, she decided to attack her next challenge and enlisted the help of her best boy bud. (The fact that he was wearing a T-shirt with an appropriate saying was a bonus.) We picked the first day the temps soared over 100 degrees and once the sidewalk seemed sufficiently preheated, let 'em drop!  Ew, touch it! Maybe this will cook it faster. Turns out they don't cook but rather congeal. No one was daring enough to see if they were edible. Except the dog, later. And probably that weird cat that hangs out around here at night. Then she had bigger fish to fry things to try and set fire to. Turns out magnolia leaves are pretty crunchy after they fall off the tree and dried palm fronds worked too. All we needed was to get the sun's rays coming in at a good angle and pretty soon the leaf started smoking. It wasn't long before the driveway started smelling like a outdoor music festival. But before I could say 'Bonnaroo', she was off again--looking for things to set fire to.Then she heard me mention this cultural phenomenon known as 'the summer slide' so, of course, she was determined to tackle that as well, my precious gifted one. Now, we've started the countdown to school and will try our best to not break something or set the house on fire. We like to keep our goals manageable around here.[...]



How to Survive a Water Park this Summer

2014-07-29T14:36:44.575-05:00

In case you happen to visit a waterpark this summer with your family unit (I'm assuming you'd not visit one alone, you weirdo), I want you to be prepared. We just returned from Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels--a wet and wonderful attraction I'd managed to dodge for the past nine years we've lived in Texas. According to their press, an average 9000 people each day visit the park, so you can imagine how jazzed I was to be able to communal bathe with 8995 strangers.Here are some tips if you happen to visit Schlitterbahn or another park in the near future.1. Plan to visit about mid-season--somewhere between 'new, ambitious lifeguard' and 'jaded, seasoned lifeguard.' If you go early, the lifeguards are like hawks and, quite frankly, whistle-happy. They've never had so much authority and are eager to assert their new-found power. If you hit the parks in late August, the lifeguards have become bored with standing in knee-deep water for hours on end and have perfected the art of harassing the guests--as much as they can get away with. So that gentle push at the top of the slide becomes a bit more of a whiplash-inducing shove; that courtesy splash to cool you off takes a more menacing tone.Our kids at Schlitterbahn2. Leave any inhibitions about how you look in a swimsuit back in the minivan. Trust me, there will always be someone who looks worse in theirs. But there will also be someone who looks better--and she's probably 15. You, too, can stare at her smooth thighs and imagine them dimpled with cellulite in about 10 years, if it will make you feel better.3. If you decide to travel to the park in your clothes and change in the locker room, make sure your children have their swimsuits. Otherwise you'll have no other choice but to purchase a suit in the gift shop--one that looks like a Kmart clearance cast-off at a Nordstrom price. And, trust me, when your daughter develops a serious case of inner-thigh chub-rub, you'll have to buy a second, less modest suit for her which will eat up your entire souvenir T-shirt budget. Dagnabit!4. Come to terms with staring at back hair, tacky tattoos and suspicious moles for most of the day. The majority of your time at the park will be spent standing in line, looking at strangers in a way you'd rather not. The person behind you in line is returning the favor. 5. Develop a family code word for 'you have a weird booger in your nostril.' Ours was 'tornado.'6. Understand that real men pierce BOTH nipples, fo sho.My idea of a water park!7. Try to pack a cooler of your own food, if the park allows it. Maybe you don't because you hate the hassle. Maybe you feel weird about looking like the Clampetts on vacay. Do it anyway or embrace paying $11 for a hot dog meal (granted, it was a HUGE hot dog) that has been taste-tested for you by a gagillion flies from the kitchen to the counter.8. View your time at the park as a spa day--one where hydrotherapy was the only thing on the menu. You will be so waterlogged by the time you leave, you don't dare eat a piece of bread for at least 48 hours. I made that mistake and couldn't button my shorts.After about four hours of water fun, we called it a day. My girl asked when we could come back. I told her we'd come again as soon as her other brother (a college student) could find time to go. I didn't tell her that he'd be taking my place as her tubing partner.[...]



A Letter to My Sister on Mother's Day

2014-08-28T19:29:42.173-05:00

Dear Amy,First of all, happy birthday! As this marks the first time you celebrate your birthday without our mother, it's doubly hard since it's also the first Mother's Day for us without her. Years ago, when you arrived on Mother's Day, you gave Mom the ultimate bragging right and she always said you were the best Mother's Day gift she could ask for. And who would argue that? You were adorable and brilliant and the perfect toy for us three older kids.I remember waking up the morning of May 11, 1969, and finding Grandma Stephens at our house and wondering why she was there. Later when you came home--probably a week or so since in those days, birthing a baby led to days of recovering in the hospital--we jockeyed into position for the privilege to hold you. I remember standing by as others cuddled you and squeezing my arms around my six-year-old self, so eager to get my hands on you.I imagine my dolls became neglected after then. Who could possibly compete with you? As you grew, I don't ever remember feeling as though I'd been removed from power as the baby in the family nor do I recall competing for attention or affection. Mom was good that way. She was tiny but overflowing with love and patience, time and talent.Today's parenting books might say she did many things wrong, but we know better. She didn't breastfeed or put us to bed to cry it out. She read to us and rocked us to sleep, and if we woke in the night she would lie with us until we drifted off again. She let us consume raw cookie dough, lick the beaters, and use power tools--like a lawnmower and electric hedge trimmers. She expected us to say please and thank you, not run in the house, chew with our mouths closed, sit up straight and be kind to each other. We weren't allowed to say 'shut up' or 'stupid' or slam doors, even though the Brady Bunch six did without repercussion.She wasn't afraid of hard work and believed we shouldn't be either. While she doted on us--you in particular, curling your hair before school while you sat perched on a barstool with a Pop Tart or bowl of ice cream (hey, it's milk!)--she demanded we work alongside her as she helped others. So, off we'd go to Aunt Anna's or Aunt Grace's to mow and pull weeds and wash windows or hand off curling rods while she gave them their perms. I'm sure it's no wonder we both have a heart for old people.One of her greatest gifts was hospitality, and we enjoyed the generosity of her spirit. Ours was the house where friends were welcome and she always made room at the table for one more. She took us to church more often than we felt necessary, and ushered us off to church camp even though she hated going herself. I am most grateful for being grounded in a faith that made losing her a little less horrible. Knowing she's in heaven is the only way I can cope with the loss of not getting to talk to her every day.Even now, five and a half months later, I still look at the answering machine and marvel that the light no longer blinks. There is a saved message from her on there and I've listened to it twice. While it's her voice, it's not her. In my mind her voice doesn't falter or sound out of breath. I prefer to remember her as healthy and laughing--surrounded by children and grandchildren who loved her well.Some of the Tooley women: Gretchen, Amy, Amelia, Pamela and Mom.To many people she was Aunt Mari, but to us she was and always will be Mom. We are the very best part of her and she would agree. Her greatest role in life was being a mother; it's what she felt called to do. She said quite often that she felt she let Grandma down when she didn't finish college and become a nurse like her, but she nursed many sick children in her care and ministered to friends and fa[...]



It's not really so fuzzy after all

2013-08-30T13:21:11.198-05:00

Over the past week we’ve been inundated with folks weighing in on The Incident at the VMAs. From moms writing letters to their daughters—using Miley as a cautionary tale of a good girl gone bad—to people comparing Robin Thicke (what rhymes with Thicke?) to a predator for not realizing during rehearsals that having a barely-legal girl dry-humping him on stage might be met with some disdain. But I think we’ve missed the real problem. One no one will stand up and say. One we’ve all dismissed as too difficult to speak about. But I will. Bears. Teddy bears gone wild. And so this goes out to the stuffed bear in my house.If I ever catch you twerking or jerking or doing any type of erking in my house, there will be hell to pay. I’ll wear your fuzzy little butt out, I tell you. You think I don’t know what you’re capable of? Well, Mr. Fuzzy-pants, I surely do. At night, those noises I hear coming from the upstairs playroom? Mr. H thinks we might have another raccoon in the attic, but I know better. I’ve seen Zebra in the morning, looking all worn out from a night of your carryings on. You know he sees too much, and so you’ve threatened him, right? Well, he talks, all right—like a cheap canary, he does.And Velvet? She might not be talking now, but I found a selfie on her phone of the two of you and you know what will happen when she tweets that. #foolingnobodywiththattoupeeSo consider yourself grounded. No more late night partying. No more driving the Barbie car at breakneck speeds. No more innocent poses of you with GI Joe, acting all respectful and patriotic. I’m not buying it. If you think 30 minutes of Time Out is bad, you’ve got another thing coming.I just might let you spend a day with the dog and I think this photo speaks volumes. Curious George asked only one question and look how he ended up. I love you too much to let it go that far. Honestly, I think it’s time we all moved on. Wouldn’t you agree?[...]



What I won't do

2014-08-12T16:40:49.797-05:00

This morning I woke up and, with a few minutes of peace and quiet, I thought about what I had to accomplish today. And then I thought otherwise.I thought about everything I won’t do today.I won’t sift through rubble and debris to find my kitchen. Nor will I wonder if today’s radiation levels will be more than my family can safely endure.I will not walk barefoot miles down a dirt road to a filthy river and scoop water for my children to drink. Nor will I have to take three buses to get to my job, only to discover I’ve been laid off. I won’t have to tell my son that he can’t go back to college after spring break because there’s no money for tuition and he has to get a job to help support his family. When my children get hungry for lunch, I won’t have to tell them there’s nothing to eat. And when dinner comes, I won’t have to trade my body in hopes of making enough money to buy them supper. When I kiss them goodnight, I won’t tuck nets around their bodies to ward off malaria-carrying mosquitoes and wonder if they’ll wake up too weak to stand because we’ve gone another day without food.I won’t worry about my boys when they go to visit friends, that they might get shot or tortured or kidnapped. When we go to church on Sunday, I won’t expect guerrillas to storm the building and kill us for worshiping our God.  People who know me might label me: white, upper-middle class, middle-aged, mother, wife, writer, homeowner, tax-payer, Christian, woman.But to the rest of the world I am privileged, wealthy.What will you not do today?[...]



Red Ribbons

2010-11-28T16:30:20.262-06:00

Ever since the Red Ribbon campaigns hit my kids in elementary school, I've had mixed emotions. Is it really appropriate to tell a kindergartner about the perils of drug use, only to have them rush home and label Mommy a druggie for having a glass of wine? Try giving Tylenol to a kid fresh off of Red Ribbon Week. "No," they'll scream. "I don't do drugs." So you chase them around the kitchen, trying to reassure them you're not a pusher, just a woman trying to keep her kids healthy.

This year's Red Ribbon Week brought about a sweet reprieve. My daughter's second grade class wrote letters to the high school students, asking them to stay off drugs and alcohol. Since she has a brother who's a junior, Mia was allowed to address hers to him. Then, in return, Ben wrote one back to her. Here's their correspondence:

Dear Benny:
Please stay drug and alcohol free. Don't smoke. If you do, we will wrestle over you drinking. So Ben, do not go drunk. Make healthy choices or Mom and Dad will be mad. At you. 

Sincerely, 
Mia


Dear Mia:

(image) Thank you so much for sending me the letter. It made my day. You don't need to worry about me doing drugs or alcohol. First of all, I am way too smart to get into that sort of shenanigans. Second, look at me. Well, you can't, but when you get home, do. I'm super cute. Why would I throw that away by doing drugs or alcohol? You know who is also cute...you are!! So, I don't want you getting into that crap either or I'll have to wrestle you. And watch out, because I have been working on some moves and when I get my cast off, I can take you. Also, Mom and Dad would get super mad at you too. Also, it's hard to ride a horse drunk. Trust me. Just kidding. I have not and never will drink or smoke bad things and neither should you. Anyway, have a good day at school. LEARN!!

h&k's

Love,
Benny ♥



Now I understand the value of Red Ribbons.



Let's eat!

2010-05-28T12:47:13.267-05:00

Tell me I'm a good dancer and I know you're humoring me. Tell me I'm a good cook and I might agree with you. I think I'm good at it because I enjoy baking and feeding people--probably because my family tends to love what I cook. That's pretty natural, I think. I remember loving my mother's cooking and, years ago in her honor, I assembled a cookbook with our family recipes. My maternal grandmother's family hailed from Holland and she was one of four sisters: Anna, Grace, Frieda and Jane (aka: Antje Jacoba, Greitje, Fredericka and Martha Jane). So, because I'm also quite creative when it comes it naming things (We have a goldfish named Goldie, if that tells you anything.), I titled it Four Sisters Cookbook. Every woman in my extended family submitted recipes, and I bound them together so we'd have a shared recipe cache. align="left" frameborder="0" marginheight="0" marginwidth="0" scrolling="no" src="http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=lifel03-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0061658197&fc1=000000&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="align: left; height: 245px; padding-right: 10px; padding-top: 5px; width: 131px;">Over the past 12 months I've probably purchased more cookbooks than I have in my lifetime. Through recommendations from friends, I've gotten to know The Pioneer Woman and The Cake Mix Doctor. align="left" frameborder="0" marginheight="0" marginwidth="0" scrolling="no" src="http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=lifel03-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0761129618&fc1=000000&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="align: left; height: 245px; padding-right: 10px; padding-top: 5px; width: 131px;">My daughter and I have played Hello, Cupcake! and my friend Tracy introduced me to A Passion for Baking. Girlfriend Jennifer bought me the Cook's Country Cookbook, which is a treasure trove of kitchen-tested recipes. This doesn't include the few recipes I've purloined from the Internet. Recently my friend Joan had surgery, so I opened Jan Karon's Mitford Cookbook and Kitchen Reader and whipped up a batch of Puny's Chicken and Dumplings--good for anything that ails you and sometimes when you're just plain hungry. On my Need-to-Bake-for list are: my daughter's teacher, the crossing guard who has managed to keep hundreds of children and their parents from getting run over this year, and the paramedics who came to our rescue the other night when my husband lost consciousness. align="left" frameborder="0" marginheight="0" marginwidth="0" scrolling="no" src="http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=lifel03-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0618829253&fc1=000000&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="align: left; height: 245px; padding-right: 10px; padding-top: 5px; width: 131px;"> align="left" frameborder="0" marginheight="0" marginwidth="0" scrolling="no" src="http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=lifel03-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0670032395&fc1=000000&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="align: left; height: 245px; padding-right: 10px; padding-top: 5px; width: 131px;">For me, baking soothes the soul and feeds the belly of those I love. I learned at the elbow of my mother, and my six-year-old daughter is already adept with a rolling pin. (Somehow the boys lost interest in the process years ago.) With a long weekend ahead, I think I hear the kitchen calling me. I'll probably dip [...]



Ambiguous

2010-04-27T16:41:59.615-05:00

As a mom, I think I've done a pretty good job raising my kids to not be prejudiced or judgemental. In fact, there are times now, with two teenagers, when they'll correct me when something slips out that seems insensitive.

I'm also grateful that they've been exposed to professionals of both genders. When I was a kid, men were doctors/women were nurses. The same gender biases existed for pilots/flight attendants and other professions. My children have a female pediatrician and a female dentist and now even the dog has a female vet. (He doesn't seem to mind until she takes his temperature; then he's a little embarrassed.) Hopefully my children will approach their personal and professional lives with the attitude that people are people regardless of gender, race or orientation.

But I'll admit I was a little relieved when my daughter was born and the gender balance finally drifted a little back into my turf. At times it feels as though we're still outnumbered, but I try not to focus on boys v. girls around here.

But occasionally, I must take it to the opposite extreme and she's picked up on it. The other evening her dad was looking for something in the pantry and came up dry. She turned to me and said, "He looked like a man." I wasn't sure where she was going with this, so I asked for clarification. "He looked like a man," she repeated. "If he had looked like a woman, he would have found it." To prove her point, I crossed the room and looked for the missing item myself. Moments later I passed it off to him. Short of fist-bumping her when I returned, she said, "See? You looked like a woman."

Wonder where she got that attitude?

(image) It's true that men and women are wired differently. Even when they're little, we girls have to be patient with boys and make sure we're understood. My daughter's two best friends and neighbors are boys (and they only have sisters, so it's a good match), so she gets plenty of practice. The other day one of her buddies was over and later his mother called him home. Before he left, I handed him a twenty dollar bill and said, "Give this to your mom. Tell her it's for the table she sold me." As I escorted him to the door, I said, "Don't forget." He turned to me and said, "Forget what?" I had to laugh. "The twenty dollars in your hand. Give it to Mommy."

He nodded and trailed down the driveway--looking like a man.



"Jantsen's Gift" author Pam Cope

2010-03-25T09:10:59.159-05:00

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I recently read Jantsen's Gift and encourage you to read it and let it speak to your heart. I know it changed me




What not to be when you grow up

2010-03-10T23:01:50.574-06:00

Late this evening, while I was fixing dinner, my daughter came up to me and asked, "How do you spell 'id'?"

I said, "That's not a word."

"Yes," she whispered back. "I'm trying to spell idiot."

Apparently she was writing a note, tattling on her brother because he called his brother's friend an idiot for parking in the driveway, keeping me from getting in the garage.
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Later, while watching The Biggest Loser weigh-in, her brother commented that one of the guys had lost ten pounds and that was pretty good. (The guys weigh in shirtless.)

"Yeah," little sister commented. "But he still looks like he could breastfeed."

I'm guessing her future career won't involve having to spell or being a life-coach. We'll take those options off the table.



My Ghost by Glass Pear

2010-03-02T12:44:24.718-06:00

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This song never ceases to affect me--no matter how many times I hear it. So moving...




Someone should warn Willard Scott

2010-03-01T14:23:46.630-06:00

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This was a fill-in-the-blank "What I'll be like when I'm 100" assignment first-grade child had to do. She made sure to point out that, by that time, likely half of her teeth would be missing.



Am I losing it?

2010-02-28T08:31:29.294-06:00

(image) I'm blaming it on brain overload.

Lately I am mid-thought and I can't remember the name of someone--an author, a political figure, an actor. I watched an episode of Modern Family the other night and had to wait until the credits rolled to get Minnie Driver's name. I kept thinking Mimi, knowing that wasn't it but close. Then the other morning I couldn't think of John McCain's name. I did every trick I knew but couldn't pull it out of the frontal lobe. Finally I Googled: 'Republican presidential nominee John' and thankfully Mr. Google filled in the rest for me. Good thing he has a bigger memory chip.

Sadly, my mother has a few close friends who are deep in the throes of Alzheimer's. It's frightening for her to be around women who, once engaging and delightful, are now forgetting how to hold a spoon. "Promise me," Mom said. "If I get that way, you'll put me somewhere and not let anyone come to see me like that." Better yet, she proposed to come up with a cluster of pills she could take if she ever felt herself slipping away.

But when would you know? Is it when you can't find your keys? We'd all be reaching for that special stash. No, it's when you hold the keys in your hands and can't remember what they're used for.

It reminds me of the '70s public service announcement for The United Negro College Fund: A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Indeed, a mind is even more tragic when lost.

I'm trying not to make my forgetfulness a bigger deal than it is and chalking it up to a lack of sleep and mind-overload. How many telephone numbers do I know by heart? Too many. Birthdays and upcoming events on my calendar? Perhaps I need to write more things down.

It just might be contagious. My daughter stood in the foyer the other day, trying to tell me about a song and said, "You know...that girl who sings it...she's married to JayZ..."

"Beyonce?"

"Yes, that's it," she said.

And she's only six.



Tech Support? It's all relative

2010-02-18T11:47:21.929-06:00

My mom sent me an email the other day with a link to an item she was interested in on eBay. I thought she could find a better deal, so I started to email her back and then figured, calling her would be easier.Over the phone we navigated her options: bid, wait and bid later, buy it now. I urged her to find a buy-it-now item and save the hassle of waiting to bid. It took about 10 minutes for her to find the item I was looking at since our pages were loading differently, but she finally found it and bought it. Now. Then I walked her through the PayPal process. She has an account and even has her own store on Etsy, so she's not a computer newbie. But for some reason, helping her pay for her item caused me to do some deep breathing and to thank the Lord above that I don't work a job as tech support. That's wisely left for those who can fall back on the fact that English isn't usually their mother-tongue and therefore, even when they mutter an obscenity, we're likely to mistake it for computer-lingo. She was about to check out and then hit a snag. "What?" she asked. "I'm not going to donate $18 to the Red Cross. I guess I just click off this, but I don't think I paid for it.""No, don't click off!" I said. "The item you bought is $18. They just want to know if you want to give an extra dollar to Haiti relief. Just keep going through the checkout." Finally she clicked the right button and up popped a receipt for her payment. She apologized several times for wasting my time but I assured her it was fine. I'm always glad to help.Then the ball landed in my court.I have a bad habit of leaving multiple Word documents open. I know if a kid clicks one or more closed or if my computer restarts itself to update my system, Word will recover my last versions and I'm good to go. The other morning I discovered my computer had run an update overnight, and I recovered one document and began working, clicking on some command that, like my pile of dirty laundry, would allow me to get to it later. Then later came around and I couldn't find the file because I hadn't named it. It was still an orphan, unclaimed and floundering in cyber-city.I called my sister."Help," I said. "Do you have Vista?""Yes," she said. "What do you do when you can't find an unsaved document?" She told me to search my history. I'd already tried that and it wasn't there but I suck at history, so that was no surprise. Then she told me to search for it by a word that might have been in the document. That didn't work either because I couldn't figure out how to do the search. She proceeded to send me a text message with a photo attached of her computer screen, her helpful finger pointing to the window where you input the word you're searching for. Her screen was different than mine, so...not much help."Just close out Word and it should come back up as recovering your unsaved work when you restart Word," she said. Actually, I think she presented this option earlier. I just ignored her, thinking that was too easy. She was right; it worked. And like my mother said to me, I apologized for her having to walk me through kindergarten keyboarding.Then a few days later, I was uncharacteristically out shopping in a real store (not eBay or Amazon) and my phone buzzed. This time it wasn't my son asking if I'd seen any shoes for him (it's his vice) or his asking when was I coming home. It was my sister. The message read: How do you insert text over [...]