A look back…via old 45’s (records, not people)

Music takes me back
vividly: braces, a perm,
Singing to my brush

*****************

I know it is the time of year when people look forward, deciding what to resolve to do for at least the next 30 days.  I thought I’d do some reflection, not of the past year, but of my 11-13 year old self.  How? My parents are moving out of the house they have lived in for 40 years.  I thought I had retrieved all my childhood possessions years ago, but alas, mom delivered to me something I missed: a 2 inch stack of old 45 records from the late 70’s and early 80’s.

What a hoot. This is like digging up a time capsule. What a treasure to be able to look back and try to understand my much younger self through my music choices. Here is what I’ve learned or recalled about myself…

1. I was a dork. Who else had the 45 for the Star Wars Theme/Cantina song? How about The Rainbow Connection from the Muppet Movie? I appreciate these movies now as pinnacles of cinematic excellence, but then, owning these was something I probably shouldn’t have advertised.

2. I thought I was a really good singer. Three records I remember playing over and over again, singing at the top of my lungs, convinced I was as good as the original singer:  The Rose (Bette Midler), Torn Between Two Lovers (Mary MacGregor), Nobody Does it Better (Carly Simon).

3. I believed myself to be a good dancer.  Several top-notch disco like dance tunes are prominent in the collection.  Makin it (David Naughton), Hot Line (The Sylvers), The Rubberband Man (The Spinners). When I pulled these up on iTunes to recall them, I could feel my muscles twitch, anxious to get up and shake it.

4. I had good taste in men.  I don’t care how old I get, Shaun Cassidy is dreamy. Yummy. Cutie-pa-tootie. I have the record sleeve from That’s Rock N Roll and it still makes me flutter. That feathered hair! Those blue eyes! That dimple! Did anyone else see him last year on Oprah… still adorable in my book.

5. I believed many famous rock singers fancied me.  I would sit around and sigh heavily while listening to these, convinced that they were written and sung expressly for me.  Beth (Kiss), Even The Nights are Better (Air Supply), Too Much Heaven (The Bee Gees).

6. I was a pathetic follower. What else could explain Double Dutch (Frankie Smith) and Le Freak (Chic) in this collection. I believe I bought and learned the words to these only because the cool kids did. See number 1 here; I was never the cool kid; why did I bother.

7. What was I thinking?  Deja Vu (Dionne Warwick), Hot Summer Nights (Water Egan — who???), I’m Alive (ELO, from the Xanadu Soundtrack).

8. Finally, my favorite category. The “Insta-Recall” records.  If you don’t hear the chorus of each of these as you read this, then clearly you are a lot older or younger than me.  Blinded By the Light (Manfred Mann’s Earth Band), Dancing Queen (ABBA), You Make Me Feel Like Dancing (Leo Sayer), Da Doo Ron Ron (Shaun “Dreamy” Cassidy), Keep it Comin’ Love (KC and the Sunshine Band).  Did you make it through without hearing those songs? I doubt it.

At first I thought this was just a joke gift from my mom. Then I thought perhaps these might be “retirement funders” and spent several minutes getting repeatedly disappointed on eBay. Now I think they are a wonderful gift. I don’t have a turntable anymore, but am contemplating a purchase. At the very least, I have downloaded several of these on iTunes and have been torturing, I mean delighting, the kids with my great voice and killer dance moves. I am going to see if I can find my Shaun Cassidy poster now…

The Purger vs. The Accumulator – Cage Match

 “Hic sunt dracones”
The man-cave sign states boldly.
I smile and walk on…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The day of giving stuff to other people has come and gone. We now have more stuff. An amazing amount of stuff.  Before Christmas I purged the kids’ toys to make room, but somehow it never seems to be enough. (Plus, thanks to the Toy Story series, the kids have a very emotional attachment to their toys now and fear pain and suffering will ensue should I get rid of any toy, so they are quite watchful… so far, so good, they haven’t missed anything.)

So I’m left with a question that I ask a lot these days: Why do we have so much stuff? What good is it?  I love reading Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits – I’ve learned a lot from him about how to not have so much stuff.  I don’t aspire to his level of minimalism, but the idea of culling the crap if only 20% would be a treat for me.  I’ve done a ton already… we’ve packed or unpacked our possessions 6 times in the past 7 years (from the US to England, from England back to the US into a rental home and then from that rental home to our current home… all since 2005).  As such, I am now a true blue “purger”.  I buy a lot less than I used to – I can go to Target and leave having bought only what was on my list – hah!   For the stuff we already have, well, if we don’t have a use for it, I give it away, sell it or throw it away. I have very little patience for keeping things “for when we might need it someday” because I am keenly aware I can’t remember if we have milk in the fridge right now, let alone whether we have an extra set of curtains in a box in the basement for just the right need.  (To be fair, despite the purging, we still have a lot of stuff… including enough Christmas decorations to delight several households, so I’m not perfect.) Most importantly (and with a head nod to Zen Habits), I have tried to become less attached to things and more attached to memories and experiences, which has been a nice substitute.

Here’s the rub: I am married to an “un-purger”.  Actually, I would most accurately call him (say this next part in your best Arnold Schwarzenegger voice):  The Accumulator. Not in a creepy hoarder-keeps-his-used-toilet-paper kind of way.   More like this:  he has never met an obscure motorcycle part, car part, airplane part, spare part or hand tool that he didn’t buy/try to buy/almost buy.  Unlike me, he has the memory of a computer – aware that back in 1994 (“you remember, we were looking for that Greek restaurant in Warren County?”) we stopped at a garage sale on some back road and he found a doo-hickey that did something special at 10% of what it cost new and we had to have it because he had always dreamed of owning a doo-hickle and this would be crucial to its maintenance. (The fact that nearly 20 years later we still don’t own a doo-hickle is irrelevant.)  So he has a lot of man-stuff from his 48 years on earth.

Interestingly, our moving over the last few years has never involved moving his man stuff, thanks to a large barn we owned on some property, so he hasn’t had to face up to his stash of stuff… That is until this past Fall, when we sold that property and my dearest had to vacate his 3000 square foot man-cave barn.  “Ah! This will require him to purge” I gleefully said to myself.  “This will mean less stuff since it all has to go into storage!”   Well, not exactly…

To be fair, he did do some purging. One day I visited him during pack-up and he showed me his (amateur) garbage pile:   “look, a spare leaf blower motor I was saving to motorize a skateboard some day; two old faucets I was saving for parts – all in the garbage!”) but all I saw was bin after bin of things I couldn’t identify.  I couldn’t believe how one person could stand to have “that much stuff” and chided him about it.  I talked about how it “took up emotional energy” and “cluttered his metaphorical space” leaving less room for the here and now.  Pause for a moment and imagine the look he gave me; it was quite funny.

And then I realized something really important.  For me, my stuff does take up emotional energy. I don’t like seeing it unused, don’t like the look of all the storage boxes, get frustrated when I realize I have something I just bought another of because I forgot I had one already.  I feel overwhelmed and get pissed I need to dust around it all or remember where it’s stashed. I like having well-loved and well used things that I enjoy regularly.  My beloved?  Well, he is a man. He derives tremendous glee from “the hunt”… the hours spent on eBay searching for the unique; the months spent watching Craig’s list search engines for this or that… this accounts for 85% of his satisfaction with the item. The owning of it is about 10%.  And the last 5%? Well, for him, he either uses it or he doesn’t, but he isn’t bothered either way.  He’s doesn’t care about how much space it takes up – energetically or otherwise – and certainly doesn’t consider remembering what he owns to be a bother (recall he has the mind of a computer).

Bottom line is we will continue to work it out in marital bliss: I will continue to happily purge and streamline my possessions (and never, ever talk to him about the “metaphorical energy of stuff”).  Him? The fact that he doesn’t own a doo-hickle and thus his doo-hickey collection goes unused? He would say, with a wicked grin, he doesn’t own a doo-hickle YET… there’s still more time.

“The Best of” our Christmas holiday (or how weapons, a hand mixer and underwear made for a great few days)

Christmas joyfulness
Cupped in my hands, warm, fragrant,
To be savored, shared.

——————————————-

The buzz of Christmas is giving way to the reality of normal life. Before it gets away, let me share some of the more notable happenings around the Howard household these last few days.

Most surprising: It was one of our best Christmas’s ever. I usually fret each year that the kids won’t like what Santa got them; they will ask “is that it” at the end of the frenzy… that they’ll mention the one gift they had secretly wished for, which I didn’t know about…. All of which would break my heart. I was determined that this year I would be “relaxed and groovy” about everything. And you know what? A funny thing happened. I was relaxed and groovy and so was everyone else. Coincidence? I think not.   It was a wonderful day full of gratitude and love.

Most ridiculous cooking instruction:  Mix for 5-7 minutes until combined.  Are they kidding me? Combined means it is all one color and that takes about 30 seconds.  What happens after that is a waste of time.  I made it 4 minutes and gave up.  The cake was wonderful. 

Best timed cooking mishap:  My hand mixer, which held up so nicely in the agonizing 4+ minutes of cake batter (not to mention the other things I cooked Christmas Eve), died later that same evening. Just as I was finishing Santa cookie dough, one of the beaters stopped working. The other one died a few hours later as my husband was working on homemade yeast rolls.  Lucky for us, that was the end of the need for the hand mixer.  And this is what after Christmas sales are about, after all.

Proof I have the best kids:  At 7:30am Christmas morning, both kids galloped  into the bedroom ready to go. My husband turned over and said “it isn’t 8 o’clock yet. Go back to bed!” and you know what? They DID! Both retreated to their rooms and slept/read/played quietly for 30 minutes. I was astonished. Best kids ever.

Best answered prayer: Christmas day was warm enough that the blasted Cars 2 Splash Car Color Change Track wet-o-rama could be set up outside.  That was a complete mess. If you don’t know what this is, just know that ice cold water and hot water are both required for it to work. No way will that ever be set up inside. Whoever designed that does not have children, hates mothers and lives in a room with a drain in the center of the floor.   

Funniest moment:  My 5 year old boy got an Imaginext T-Rex, which launches projectiles (aka weapons).  My 9 year old girl got a hu-mungo Littlest Pets tree house thingamajig complete with a dozen wacky animals (aka peaceful). I walked in on the boy, T-Rex in hand, stalking the tree house chanting “I’m going to shoot you down… pting, ptchow” and launching all matter of pretend spears at the little creatures. It was like a replay from Avatar – the militant brutes against the tree loving aliens. Classic boy play.

Best quote – unbelievable:  “I can’t wait to try on those shoes,” spoken by my husband, seriously, when the large box from Zappos arrived. I was astonished and didn’t reply for several moments. I plan to remind him of this quote at a future time beneficial to me.

Best quote – concerning: “Mom, can I have 4 skewers?” spoken by my daughter, who was playing with her younger brother. As she disappeared upstairs with them, she shouted over her shoulder “Don’t worry, I’ll be safe, I won’t poke him!” Yeah, right, I thought.

Best quote – embarrassing:  While standing in the crowded checkout line at Macy’s, intimate apparel in her hands, my mom loudly declared: “You know, I haven’t bought underwear in 12 years.”  If silence made noise, the place would have been deafening.  I watched eyes bulge and ears prick, could hear brain cells working, asking themselves “did that woman just say what I think she just said???” My reply: “Mom, why did you feel compelled to declare that in front of this large group of strangers?” at which point everyone laughed out loud. A slightly racy conversation ensued where people speculated as to why my mom hadn’t purchased any underwear in such a long time.  I crept away slowly…

Prettiest scene: My table set with lovely Christmas china, my wedding silver and wedding crystal. I just don’t use this stuff enough, and yet when I do, I enjoy it so immensely.  I even lit candles – long tapers in lovely silver candle holders. It was so peaceful I lit them again for the leftovers tonight – it made an average meal feel special and calm.  Highly recommended.

I would love to hear your stories.  And I hope you had a memorable Christmas with those you love and that you can keep the feelings present well into 2012.

We’re a team (or one of many reasons I love my husband)

There’s no better spouse
Than he who sacrifices
His sleep for his wife’s

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In 2005 my husband became a (mostly) full-time stay at home dad. There were some very tough times (for me at least) as I adjusted to this, which are the subject of a separate posting. Today, I want to talk about a moment where my affection for my husband spilled from me and I truly came to appreciate what we were doing as parents and partners.

I was at work, and got a call that I needed to have a senior executive I worked with video-taped for a big meeting. I needed to write the script, find a quiet location, tape him and get it sent off by noon (I think it was 10am). I didn’t have a camera, a script, nothing (this was 4 years ago, before every handheld device was a decent video camera).

So I called my husband… the man who has every electronic device. 

“Help! I’m sorry to bother you, but I really need your help!!” I said frantically. “I know you have a ton of things to do today, but I really need you to bring our video camera to work – make sure there is a fresh tape – I have to do a video of Mr. X in the next 90 minutes. Really, I’m sorry to bother you, I’m sure you have a lot you need to do, but I don’t know what to do!?!”  My voice petered off, sheepishly.

Frank simply said  “Honey, don’t worry. We’re a team. I’ll be right there.”

I didn’t know what to say. I was stunned. The phrase “we’re a team” was one I don’t think I’d heard him say before, and at that moment it was the most perfect thing he could have said.  It meant we were in this together, that he had my back, that he supported me regardless, that I needn’t feel guilty about interrupting his plans for the day, that together we would sort this out. And vice versa.

Here I was worried that I was somehow throwing off his day – worse, being a nuisance — and he settled once and for all that what we did, we did together, for the betterment of both.

To this day, 4 years later, that continues to be a defining moment for me as the single breadwinner of this family. The humanity in that phrase, spoken by a man who was still exploring what it meant to be a stay at home dad, overwhelmed me.

I recalled this moment while watching the move Secretariat. The main character, Peggy, was a housewife who found herself a racehorse owner, trying to evolve herself into a working woman while maintaining a family, often half a country away. There is a heart breaking scene where she is in a hotel room, her flight having been canceled, listening to her eldest daughter perform in a play over the phone.  She lies down on the bed, her hand over her mouth, weeping while she listens. I’ve been there – it was painful to watch. The difference is in that movie, her husband was a jerk about her success as working woman until the last 15 minutes of the movie, whereas my husband has never once been anything less than supportive of my path.

I am grateful to him and for him. I think he is a special breed of man, and more are out there. I couldn’t do what I do without him.  Do working dads out there, whose wives stay at home, feel the same way about their partners?  Do the wives see themselves as part of a team? I don’t know. I sure hope so.

Being intentional… or why I threw out my crappy mattress pads

Devil mattress pad
refusing to yield… brings me
to my knees, weeping

 

I am a working mom.    I sort of no longer believe in work-life balance… instead, I’m all about being intentional about what I’m doing — being choiceful about what gets my attention, my money and my time.  Across time, these choices make me happy.  So, here are a few things I’m choosing (and also refusing to feel guilty about).

Dirty shower curtains. Why do I spent time and chemicals to make these clean? They cost $4.99. I’m throwing it away when it gets cruddy looking and buying a new one.

Mattress pads that are a bitch to put on. A few months ago, I threw out every unrelenting mattress pad I owned. Life is too short to stroke out over mattress pads that are too small/have shrunk. I came to this decision during a middle of the night bed soaking during potty training. (There is a special kind of hell at 3am when you can’t get the god*&$@ mattress pad on the bed and your kid is slumped in the chair, now dry, whining, ready to go back to bed, and you realize your first conference call is in 4 hours…) So this is a slightly more expensive decision than the first one, but I don’t care. They are a pain in the ass and have to go.

A company-ready house. I have a new phrase to describe my house when we have visitors – “well lived in”. My stay at home husband keeps the kitchen spotless, the kids happy, the clothes clean, the pantry stocked, the yard mowed. He really isn’t into dusting; straightening happens irregularly… I can either be pissed about it,  do it myself, or get over it. I mostly pick door number three. Every once in a while I go a little ballistic and tear around the house picking up things: returning the coat hanger in the dining room to the laundry room; corralling the hot wheels into a single vessel; combing through the accumulation of crap on the front table (you know the stuff – no one knows where to put it so they put it here? I throw it away).  I think about how if I only spent 30 minutes a day at this, it would all stay under control. But I always find something else more compelling to do. Imagine that.

Not using every last ounce of shampoo/body wash/toothpaste. The effort required to extract the last 5 cents worth of stuff from a tube or bottle these days isn’t worth it. I’m all for being thrifty, but after three days of “bottle farts” – you know, when you leave it upside down and then squeeze it hard to get something out, and then stuff does come out — everywhere, messy, making a noise that would embarrass you in public… well, at this point I pitch the damn thing over the shower curtain in the direction of the garbage can and pull out a new one.  Frankly, after one day of bottle farts these days I give up. 

Chicken nuggets and Kraft Mac & Cheese. Enough said.

Paying extra for a good haircut and styling products. I seem incapable of controlling my weight, my kid’s behavior (at times), my acne… but I can get and keep a decent hair cut. So that’s where I spend some money. No matter what, the hair looks ok. It makes me happy.

So there they are: small choices that make my life easier and bring me peace, leaving me more time to focus on the important stuff.  What about you? What would you add to this list?

Grass versus Velvet

I realized something recently that made me a little sad, but mostly made me laugh.

My husband and I have officially moved from being lawn seat people to Taft Theater people.  For those of you who aren’t from Cincinnati, here is what it means:

– Lawn Seats are at Riverbend Music Center, an open air venue where you can sit under the pavilion, in normal “concert” seats.  Then beyond that there is a huge expanse of grass where there is no assigned seating and the seats are cheaper.

– Taft Theater is a lovely venue in downtown Cincinnati with ornate carvings, cushioned chairs and air conditioning.

You can see where this is going…

Last summer, we took in a concert at Riverbend, and picked lawn seats on purpose. I shopped for a lovely collection of picnic-date-night-music food (think olives, focaccia bread and mozzarella), wore a sundress, brought a blanket.  We arrived relatively early, staked out a space on the lawn and prepared to enjoy our evening of music and finger good.  But it wasn’t too long before we were surrounded by people standing, holding ginormous cups of beer, and gesturing a lot who kept stepping on us or over us.  Our romantic picnic became hand to hand (more like hand to knee) combat with lightly intoxicated people about 10-20 years our junior.

I can’t even remember who was playing in the concert. Our attention was soon completely diverted to watching people argue over blanket boundaries and whose time it was to pay for beer. We left early.

We weren’t mad that it wasn’t what we hoped for, just oddly rattled.

And then a few weeks ago, when we talked about going to a concert, it hit me. No more lawn seats for us. Taft Theater from here on out. I don’t want to stand the whole time. I don’t want a portion of my brain worried I’m going home covered in beer. I don’t want, hawk-like, to track the uncertain trajectory of my fellow concert goers’ steps.  I want to sit, listen and quietly sing along.  And though there is some sadness in this realization, mostly I’m ok with it. I’ve done the lawn seats; time to move on and let someone else take them.  There is a lovely, velvet covered burgundy seat waiting for me on 5th street.

Welcome… please join me

So here it is… the blog I’ve been waiting for months to start. Actually, I’ve been waiting for months for another site to sign me on as a contributor and alas they have not. I choose to believe that it isn’t because I’m not worthy… Instead, I think it was because I wasn’t meant to be part of that (wonderful) blog, but on my own, making my own way.

So with loads of encouragement and a dose of bravado, I’m here. Thank you for tuning in.

Here is what I’m all about:

1. Laughing at my life. Otherwise, it isn’t worth it. I hope you will laugh along with me.

2. Writing for the sheer joy of putting together sentences that are fun to read.

3. Trying to see the funny, interesting or insightful in the world around me.

I will do this in prose and in poetry.

Thanks for taking the time to have some fun with me.

— Maureen

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