Invincibility+Avoidance=Denial (My Silent Midlife Crisis)

Silence is the most powerful scream.  —Anonymous

When 40 reared its ugly head my reaction was twofold:  First, gratitude…not everyone is afforded such a luxury!  And my second thought was…this is it?  Really?  Midlife doesn’t look so hard.  Naïve, so very naïve.

I was duped on so many levels…most of them of my own doing.  First of all, I felt great!  On my 40th birthday I felt as good as any day in my 30s.  Only now I thought I had the advantage of WISDOM on my side.  Clearly, I’d made it through the hardest part of any person’s lifespan.  Far from adolescence, long past the early stages of discovering myself in adulthood, and just beyond the trials of thirtysomething.  All the “growing up” and “what-ifs” were behind me.  I was so comfortable in my own skin that I should have pinched myself!  In hindsight, I wish I had.

It’s not that midlife is scary or daunting…I just really wasn’t prepared for the level of introspection that accompanies this milestone.  Let me elaborate.  We’re all familiar with the clichés that surround the dreaded midlife crisis.  Extreme images like buying fancy sports cars, dating someone half your age, and plastic surgery always come to mind.  However, midlife can also be as benign as a new haircut, a tattoo or training for a marathon.  I knew about all these tell-tale behaviors, but it was the internal unrest that took me by total surprise.

Of course, all of this didn’t happen right at 40.  I was a late bloomer, so I should have expected that my midlife symptoms would show up late to the party as well.  And they did!  Look, I’m an introvert by nature, so being lost in thought is nothing new to me.  I wear it like a badge of honor.  I’m thoughtful and reflective.  I make informed decisions…I’m cautious to a fault.  I process everything…ABSOLUTELY everything.  This has always been my way.  Still, nothing could have prepared me for this new level of self-analysis and soul-searching.  Somedays, I carefully walk around my own thoughts…like a misplaced piece of bulky furniture that no one wants to move or deal with.  Other days, I can’t get away from myself…I’m practically tripping over my own musings!  And it’s not about regret.  My conscience is clear here.  It’s just that I wonder…should I have, what if I did, and my least favorite…is there still time to….

I truly thought I had it all figured out and when I realized that I didn’t, I decided to ignore that truth.  I told myself, I couldn’t possibly be prone to a midlife crisis.  I didn’t plan for this!  I didn’t authorize this!  I’m not doing this!

Naïve, so very naïve.

So, here I sit…wavering between dumbstruck and flat-out denial (all while trying to raise teenagers! God is so funny sometimes.)  It can’t be this hard, right?  Surely, everybody deals with this on some level? I know I’m not the only one (please tell me I’m not the only one!)  Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a functioning adult.  I have every intention of processing the heck out of this and coming out better on the other side.  And while I’ve already ruled out getting a tattoo, that doesn’t mean the fancy sports car doesn’t look good to me!

UP NEXT:  Is It Hot in Here or Am I Just Dying? (My Silent Midlife Crisis, Part II)

 

 

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Love Story: The Pen Remains Mighty

More than kisses, letters mingle souls. –John Donne, author and poet

When my children were little, they loved to sing this little ditty from Nickelodeon’s Blue’s Clues:  “We just got a letter, we just got a letter, we just got a letter…I wonder who it’s from?”  Maybe you’ve heard of it? (And if not, sorry for the brain worm!)  They would sing this song on the way to the mailbox daily.  The song continued no matter what kind of mail had arrived.  Electric bill…sing.  Junk mail…sing.  Not at this address…sing.  You get the picture.  When an actual package, card or letter would arrive (grandmas are awesome for this,) there would be absolute pandemonium–sheer unbridled jubilation!  As holidays approached, especially birthdays, the anticipation level in the house was off the charts.  Today, they’re “super chill” teenagers, but I can still feel this same anticipation meter slowly (and in the most cool manner ever) rise like in the “old” days! It makes my heart smile.

I had one of those heart smile moments just the other day at church.  As part of our CARDS ministry, a large display sits in the gathering area outside the Sanctuary.  This portable, mini Hallmark booth houses handmade greeting cards for all occasions.  Anyone is welcome to browse and choose one of these colorful creations in exchange for a $1 donation to the larger ministry which sends these amazing little gems overseas to our service men and women (who then fill them out and send them home to their families and loved ones.)  It’s a beautiful circle of love, one that mutually benefits the card crafters, our country’s service personnel, military families and friends, our church community and, above all, brings honor to our Creator.  It’s such an amazing mission ministry, but here’s the part where my heart smiled.  While walking through the gathering area with a group of elementary girls, one young lady stopped to pause.  And while it’s not unusual for the kiddos who participate in our Wednesday night children’s ministry programs to check out the display, she pointed several out to me, and shared that she had recently bought one herself.

I was taken aback, fourth graders aren’t your typical greeting card shoppers.  She said it was for her mother’s birthday.  Later, when I had an opportunity, I asked her about the card.  She told me that she had been scoping the cards out for weeks, trying to pick the very best one.  At the same time, she started saving her coins.  When her mother’s birthday arrived, she had reached her $1 goal and chose a card.  She said, “I’m a kid.  I can’t go to the store…I wanted my mom to have something beautiful to open on her birthday.”  And just like that, the mission field expanded.  Heart smile…can you feel it?

I always tell people that amazing and wonderful things happen at church!  And while I believe God is truly everywhere, it seems as if the Holy Spirit is palpable here…how else could we get filled up each week, ready to share the Good News and be Light to others?  When I went home that night, I thought about that little girl and the card she gave to her mom.  As a mother myself, I know what treasures these gifts are!  Written on that card in ink pen she would find more than her sweet child’s fourth grade handwriting and autograph, she would experience thoughtfulness, a child’s innocence, and unconditional love.  Words written on mere paper, yet guaranteed to leave a permanent mark on a mother’s heart.  In an age of texts and emails,  it is gratifying to know (that on so many levels) the pen remains mighty indeed.

 

Do not let kindness and truth leave you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart.  Proverbs 3:3

 

Shout Out to Other Mothers (THANK YOU!)

MOMS.  Because not all superheroes wear capes!  -author unknown

WOW.

In case you didn’t know it, that’s MOM upside down!

Okay, all kidding aside, WOW is the only word that comes to mind for me this Mother’s Day.  I’m not sure what made this year’s holiday different, but I feel very compelled to give a huge shout out to other mothers today.  I feel like belting out a great big THANK YOU…complete with song and dance (not to mention a few hugs!)  But mostly, I just want you all to know that I see you and I really just couldn’t do this mothering thing without you.

Some have said that being a mother is the most important job on the planet.  Something along the lines of “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”  And there’s plenty more sayings out there to describe motherhood (and, believe it or not, most of them are favorable!)  Still there’s nothing like being deep in the parenting trenches to remind you that you cannot do this alone.  We need each other…sometimes desperately.  I need you to be my eyes and ears,  I need you to catch my kids doing good AND to give me the heads up when they make poor decisions.  I need you to double-check our kids whereabouts and sleepover plans with me…because communicating in the tween/teen years can be difficult and responsibility/accountability are crucial.  I need you to share advice and help me navigate through tough situations.  And I need you to be loving examples, safe places, and trusted adults whom my kids can turn to, if needed.  And I promise to do the same…because motherhood is an interesting club.  It’s not necessarily hard to join (although I’m sensitive to the fact that it can be.)  There’s no pre-mom exam.  No age limit.  No “green light.” Some of us fit in from the get go.  Others clamor to get in.  Some of us enter hesitantly, if not reluctantly.  Many of us trudge through.  And some of us never quite find our place.  Regardless, once you’re in…YOU’RE IN.  And there’s no guarantee of success in this club.  There’s no real manual.  No graduation.  And sometimes, in spite of the numbers, it can be a pretty lonely place.  I can’t speak for everybody, but for myself I can honestly say I had no idea what I was getting into.  Albeit the oldest of four, growing up in a very large extended family, having countless hours of babysitting under my belt and with a “mother hen” type personality…I never felt like I was ready.  In fact, during my teen years and early twenties, I was pretty dead set against becoming a mother.  I had this nagging feeling in the back of my head that I wasn’t up for the task.  At age 26, my son was born…and while this was a well thought out and planned event I still knew on some level that I had no idea what I was in for (despite all my research)–and I was right!

We all know that our bodies change when we have a child.  Hormones fluctuate, things shift, etc., but what happens to your heart has to be the most remarkable, extraordinary change of all!  While the other changes occur over a matter of months, it seems that your heart changes almost immediately.  Your priorities change, your instincts change, your thought processes change…basically, what I’m trying to say here is that EVERYTHING changes.  What I was really least prepared for was the general roller coaster ride of motherhood.  The wins and the losses.  The ups and the downs.  I’m pretty much a planner (and a bit of a control freak) and motherhood is everything but a well-defined plan and you can throw any hope of control out the window.  Plan A quickly moves through the alphabet to Plan Z, and in no set pattern.  What works one day (and for one child) quickly falls to the wayside in lieu of something completely different for another child (or the same kiddo down the road.)  Uggghhh.

Photo of a soccer birthday cake (or at least what’s left of one) that a sweet “other mother” made for my son on his 15th birthday.

So for all this (and so much more) I continue to look to you, fellow mothers.  Without other mothers, I’m not sure where I would be.  I’m grateful to have my own mother to serve as an example and a guide.  Grateful for a mother-in-law who offers love and encouragement.  Grateful for a sister, who lovingly mothers all the nieces and nephews and her own stepkids with a natural mothering gift.  I’m grateful for sister-in-laws who treat my kids like their own.  And I’m especially grateful for the mothers of my children’s friends, the “church” moms, the “teacher” moms, the “neighbor” moms and other mothers in my community.  You all ROCK!  BIG thanks for your kind hearts, for the rides to and from practices/games, for the driving them through the fast food line and including them in your family plans.  Thank you for the birthday cakes, countless sleepovers, day trips and shopping excursions.  Thanks for bridging the gap when our family schedules were overloaded.  Thank you for sharing photos of my kids and yours just doing their thing.  Thank you for the “Walmart Updates.”  Thank you for not judging them harshly, for understanding that they are in a unique circumstance (as are most kids) and for offering them grace and love.  Thank you for including them in your family life.  And thank you for your example…often times it’s your own mothering actions that speak volumes.

So let’s forget the mom-shaming, the parenting peer pressure, and all the other nonsense.  And instead, keep breathing life and love into each other’s kiddos.  Keep talking, keep texting, keep cheering, keep showing up and keep vigilant.  Please continue to keep your eyes open…looking out for my kids and others.  Thank you for filling my ears (and heart) with bright spots that you see in my children.  I see the same bright spots in your kiddos, too!

We truly are on each other’s team.  Happy, happy Mother’s Day!

She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.  Proverbs 31:25

 

 

Closing Time (Every New Beginning Comes from Some Other Beginning’s End)

She believed she could, so she did. –R.S. Grey

A young woman who I know AND love is about to do something BIG and brave…and I couldn’t let this occasion go by without penning a few thoughts…because what’s the point of growing older (and wiser) if you can’t drop some knowledge on a youngster, right?  Amen.

myrandaMost of these musings came to me at 2am.  I mention this as both a disclaimer and an explanation to the randomness of these points, but let me start at the beginning.  I remember the day you were born.  Driving down the highway to the nearby town, your aunt and I talked excitedly about our soon-to-arrive niece.  I’m pretty sure we didn’t know exactly what to expect, so when we were invited into the delivery room we stood dumbfounded.  Now that you know us (and my aversion to all things medical) you can probably guess that we declined and opted to do the next best thing–MAKE A SIGN!  We sat in the hallway with a poster board and some markers scribbling a “welcome baby” greeting just for YOU!  From the beginning, you were so loved.  For years, our whole family life revolved around you.  When I would come home from college, you were one of the people I most looked forward to seeing.  I liked to rock you to sleep and quietly sing the KU alma mater song…because I found the song both hopeful and soothing (and I wanted to make sure you grew up to be a Jayhawk fan.)  Funny how things come full circle…it was this memory that actually brought me to write this blog which I hope will be equally hopeful and soothing to you as you ironically prepare to move to Manhattan, Kansas!  So here goes:

  • Moving away from home/going to school takes guts.  Not everyone can do it.  Not everyone should do it, but having the courage to walk away from everything you know and try something new/exciting/scary and uncomfortable deserves some major props.  In doing this, you have already proven one thing:  you are WILLING to take chances.  Kudos.
  • In many ways you’ve been preparing for this your whole life and in many other ways you’re not prepared at all.  This is okay.  In fact, it’s better than okay.  It’s absolutely normal.
  • Good things will happen and bad things will happen, too.  How you deal with these things will make all the difference.  My favorite quote is by author Og Mandino.  It says “Count your blessings, proclaim your rarity, go another mile, USE WISELY YOUR POWER OF CHOICE, and one more–to fulfill the other four–do all things with love…love for yourself, love for all others, and love for GOD….You Are the Greatest Miracle in The World.”   You can always choose.  Remember that no hole is too deep, no place is too far for redemption.
  • Never date a man with hair longer than your own.  Random, I know…but really.  Who needs the competition?  I actually came up with this rule while visiting friends at K-State.  I can’t remember what the circumstances were exactly, but it’s a rule that has served me well.  BTW…man buns are now included in this one.
  • Talk to God (a lot) and don’t forget to listen, too.  Although I think you should go to church, I have to admit that I didn’t attend while I was in college.  I can honestly tell you that I missed out and I would definitely do this part differently today.  Nonetheless, I did a whole lot of praying during that time and LISTENING to God, too.  This saved my bacon more than once and I am eternally grateful.  Looking back I can clearly see God at work during my college years.  Make your relationship with Him a priority.
  • Practice the “pause.” I didn’t come up with this…I’m not sure who did, but it makes a lot of sense and it may actually save your life someday.  “When in doubt, pause.  When angry, pause.  When tired, pause.  When stressed, pause.  And when you pause, always pray.”
  • Keep an eye on your drink.  Again, another random one…but this is vital.  There are bad guys (and girls) out there.  People who do not have your best interest at heart.  People who will try to use (and abuse) you and hurt you to satisfy their own evil desires.  These people will buy you drinks and worse, they may even spike your drink.  I made it a practice to never, ever, EVER accept a drink from a stranger (and eventually I didn’t accept any drinks at all.)  It was not always well received.  I’ve been called countless names, been yelled at, and made fun of.  I didn’t care.  In fact, it just proved that this was someone who I definitely didn’t have any business hanging out with.  If someone wants to buy you a drink, great.  The two of you can go up to the bar and order it together.  At a party, keep in mind that you are perfectly capable of pouring your own drink.  Carry a water bottle (drunkenness is overrated anyway.)  Be on guard.  Protect yourself…and look after your friends, too.
  • You’re not expected to peak now.  While these clearly are some of the best days of your life…they’re not the only days of your life.  Someday you might choose to travel, land your dream job, become President, meet an awesome guy, have a fabulous wedding, start your own business, become a mother…the list goes on and on.  Life is a series of journeys.  Never think that your best days are behind you…always look forward.
  • Trust your gut…that’s the Holy Spirit at work.  Look people in the eye, but more importantly watch what they say and do.  I wholeheartedly believe God speaks to us and a little warning light goes off when we’re in bad company.  Do not ignore this!  Women (especially) tend to discount this small little voice.  We want to be nice, we want to give people the benefit of the doubt, we don’t want to seem childish or afraid…you get the point.  So we make nice…and often times this puts us in very vulnerable situations.  If it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t right.  End of story.  You owe no one an explanation.
  • Finally, know this…you can always go home.  ALWAYS.  There is no shame.  You’ve stepped out once, you can and will do it again.  This IS life.  Having a home base is a luxury not afforded to everyone.  You have a family that would move mountains for you (just ask.)  This is an incredible blessing.

There are a lot of people rooting for you, kid.  Team MO is firmly in your corner!  You’re going to do great…I just know it.  Do your very best, make good choices, and have lots of fun.  You are so loved.

The old is gone.  The new is here. 2 Corinthians 5:17

 

A Lesson in Ponytails

“I am not a perfect mother and I will never be. You are not a perfect daughter and you will never be. But put us together and we will be the best mother and daughter we would ever be.” – Zoraida Pesante

Lately, I’ve been marveling at my daughter.  It’s not that she’s doing anything special really…it’s just that she’s growing up and I’m trying to take it all in.  I get like this sometimes with my kiddos…making an extra effort to be super present, wondering what they’re thinking and how their brains work…basically just staring at them (sometimes they catch me–that’s a teeny bit awkward!)  The funny thing is, that while she may not actually be getting any taller (she’s doomed to be short like her mother,) I can see all kinds of other changes…in her maturity, her personality, and the way she carries herself.  She’s really becoming her own person and as a consequence separating from me…at least as much as any 11-year-old should be allowed to do.  So when I came across this article titled What Your Ponytail Says About You on the Man Repeller website, it really caught my eye.

You see, Casey and I both LOVE long hair.  I would say about ninety percent of the time we both choose to wear our hair down, but we are not strangers to ponytails.  As soon as Casey’s hair was long enough, I would put it in pig tails or a nice high pony.  I loved fixing her toddler hair and adorning it with those cutesy little girl bows!  Then came Disney Channel and it wasn’t long before she boycotted wearing her hair up and started favoring long locks carefully styled with a head band (a la “Gabriella Montez.”)  No more funny “fountain” ponytails on the top of her head!  low and parted CaseyRecently, however, after years of only wearing ponytails to play sports, she has decided that the pony is in style again…only now it’s on her terms.  This is what made the ponytail article stand out.  No longer would she settle for my favorite style (the high pony,) but rather she preferred the low and parted ponytail–and she could style it all by herself, thank you very much.  The low and parted ponytail, the one the Man Repeller article labeled the “champagne” of ponytails for its elegant and timeless look.  The description basically screamed “Casey.”  It went on to say that this was the look of someone who is “making a knowing decision to look put together.”  Yes, that’s my girl.

The "High Ponytail."So, out of curiosity of course, I had to look up the hidden meaning to my go-to ponytail look–the HIGH pony (a look I’ve been sporting for practically my whole life!)  Turns out it’s the preferred style of those who exercise (what?) and it’s also great for “signaling that you don’t give a what!”  Apparently this is a very versatile look and its meaning depends upon the method in which it is executed (combed and smoothed, tousled and messy…that’s a lot to read in to a ponytail!)  It goes on to say that the “high ponies are the maxi dress of their kind,” suggesting that the look is only for some and definitely NOT for all!  This made me giggle.  Here I am a forty-year old wife and mother, and the high pony has always been my go to updo.  Yes, I like the “fountain” as my daughter so affectionately calls it (did I mention that she’s pretty well versed in sarcasm these days?) The high pony is my all-time favorite!

All fun aside, this was just a cute reminder that while we have so many mother-daughter similarities, my girl is certainly growing up and developing her own thoughts and ideas.  It’s causing both a swelling of pride and quite a bit of anxiety as well.  In a matter of months, we’ll be talking about locker décor and what table she landed at for lunch in the middle school cafeteria.  We’ve already had numerous conversations (or was it disagreements) about clothes and shoes…not to mention what’s in and what’s definitely OUT!  Occasionally, I get to be labeled “cool,” but mostly I “just don’t know anything.”  Still, I’m the first person she comes running to on a bad day, when she doesn’t understand something, or gets herself into a jam.    Which just goes to show that what goes around, comes around.  My own mother probably has loads of stories about my tween/teen years and the occasional ups and downs of our relationship back then.  And I know that when I talk with fellow mothers today, it seems we’re all in some kind of yo-yo territory with our own girls at one time or another…a reality of growing up.

So, I may not be fixing her ponytails anymore…and that’s okay because every girl has to learn to style her own hair.  It’s all just part of the process.  And while I learned through curling iron burns, crazy perms and tons of AquaNet…it’s fun to watch her develop her own sense of style.  (And in some ways I think she’s  got the advantage–we didn’t have YouTube tutorials back in the day!)

May your ponytail be high (or low) and your mother/daughter relationship blessed 🙂

Hair doesn’t make the woman, but it definitely helps!  –Unknown

 

 

 

Christmas Trilogy, Episode 1: THOSE Christmas Aprons

Memories are timeless treasures of the heart.  -Unknown

Sometimes I think that we open some of our very best Christmas presents long before the big day arrives.  For me, there’s something special about unpacking all the Christmas décor, ornaments, and trinkets that I’ve collected through the years.  Every December we lug the boxes upstairs and like little kids open each with a sense of excitement–kind of like running in to an old friend or finding something that was once lost.  My kids (even as a tween and teen) exclaim, “Remember this!” Or they’ll question me, “Why did you save that?” and “How long has this been in the family?”  One of the things that touches my heart most are the tales behind these treasured keepsakes which leads me to my favorite comment, “Tell me the story about this one!”  Then I get to share the story behind baby ornaments, school crafts from days gone by, or the Hallmark Yoda figurine that adorns the tree every year.  It was actually this ornament (and all the hub bub about the recently released Star Wars movie) that led me to write this post as I chronicle three of my favorite Spencer Family Christmas stories.

Casey wearing one of THOSE Christmas aprons before cookie baking in 2012.

Casey wearing one of THOSE Christmas aprons before cookie baking in 2012.

Let me begin with the FACT that my mother-in-law is far more popular than I could ever hope to be.  I think even complete strangers would nominate her homecoming queen should we ever find ourselves in high school again (despite the fact that we graduated in different decades and states!)  From hello, people just love her.  Actually, you don’t even have to speak to her to like her…I’ve witnessed countless strangers ask her for directions, information, and just start chatting with her without any prompting whatsoever.  She just has one of those faces that says, “Let’s be lifelong friends.”  It’s a rare gift (my husband has the same one,) and I just can’t help but sit back and marvel.  This sort of thing comes in handy when you shop at Hobby Lobby…or at least that’s what I’ve concluded whenever Karen is around.  And Hobby Lobby is the scene for this Christmas memory.

My daughter Casey was just a little, bitty thing at the time…probably 3 or 4ish.  She didn’t mind sitting in shopping carts especially if grandma was “driving.”  While I can’t recall why we went into Hobby Lobby that day (although I don’t think one has to have a specific reason for going into Hobby Lobby because who doesn’t LOVE that store?)  There we were in the fabric section when my mother-in-law spotted these cute, matching, mother/daughter gingerbread aprons.  Displayed on mannequins for all to see, they were just perfect for Casey and I.  Karen pointed them out to me…suggesting that we really needed to have THOSE Christmas aprons.  I agreed, but didn’t think much of it because the Christmas apron pattern was situated in such a way as to suggest that you had to make the aprons yourself (this is a craft store after all.)  I believe Karen’s response was, “Nonsense,” as she took them off the mannequin and put them in the cart.  We continued our shopping and eventually landed at the check out.

I have to admit that it was pretty funny watching the cashier search the aprons for the price tag, but what was even better was the look on her face when Karen explained how she got the aprons.  I imagine that it’s a pretty rare occurrence when someone takes a sample product off a mannequin and then proceeds to try to purchase it.  The cashier explained that sample items are not for sale…they are SAMPLE items.  Karen wasn’t deterred in the least.  She asked the cashier to get someone from the fabric section to come to the check out stand so we could discuss the purchase of THOSE aprons further.  I’m pretty sure at this point we were holding up the check out line, but still we waited.  Finally, someone came up.  She agreed with the cashier that the aprons were samples and not for sale which led to a conversation about what actually happens to the samples at Hobby Lobby when they are no longer needed.  It was interesting…typically the items are returned to the person who made them, stowed away for display at a later date, or just given away to someone who works at the store.  Karen reiterated that she would like to purchase them as a Christmas gift for me and my daughter…telling about her visit to Kansas from California, my love for baking, and Casey’s fondness for Rachael Ray (but that’s another blog.)  Clearly, Karen had won over the woman from the sewing department and a few seconds later we were exchanging phone numbers and my mother-in-law had arranged for the store to call me (after Christmas) to pick up the aprons when they were no longer needed.  They agreed the aprons could be purchased for $5 each and all I had to do was keep a hold of this little piece of paper until the pick up date arrived.  SCORE!

Grandma Karen and Casey wearing THOSE Christmas aprons while making holiday rice krispy treats!

Grandma Karen and Casey wearing THOSE Christmas aprons while making holiday rice krispy treats!

In the back of my mind, I wondered if they would really call.  I mean, Karen had already returned to California, no money had changed hands at that point, and the note from the store (scrawled on the back of a receipt) hardly seemed like a binding contract.  Yet, there it was…a few days after Christmas…a message on the phone from Hobby Lobby saying that I could come and pick up the aprons from the sewing counter in the store.  Well, Casey and I hot-footed it over there and sure enough, THOSE Christmas aprons were right there waiting.  They were even cuter than I remembered and Casey was so excited!  We proceeded to the check out full of smiles…and then….

The cashier (the same one from our previous visit to the store with Karen,) looked at the aprons and frowned.  FROWNED.  She looked at me said, “You can’t have these.”  I was taken aback as she explained that she couldn’t possibly sell these aprons to me because the sweetest woman from California had come to the store before Christmas and she wanted to buy them for her granddaughter and daughter-in-law.  She repeated the whole encounter to me and I couldn’t help but laugh…which threw her off a bit.  I pulled out the little note and told her that I was with Karen that day.  I wish I could have captured her smile!  She was so delighted that we were going to have THOSE aprons after all!  She said she remembered my mother-in-law very well and although she didn’t recognize me (surprise?) she didn’t think she had the heart to sell them to anybody else after meeting Karen that December day.  Karen had used her “gift” to secure a truly, special gift for Casey and I.

Every year at Christmas time we pull THOSE aprons out–our cookie baking wouldn’t be the same without them!  This year when Casey put hers on we realized just how tiny the apron really is.  Casey is 10 now and while the apron still fits it’s clear to see that she’s not a preschooler any more, but that same sweet smile spreads across her face when she wears it.  THOSE Christmas aprons have become a part of our family’s Christmas tradition and I love to tell the story.

It is in the kitchen where the warmth of shared memories, laughter and life create a recipe that spans the generations.  -unknown

Stay tuned for Christmas Trilogy, Part 2:  Deck the Halls with Christmas Spew, Falalalala Lalalala

 

 

Dear Daughter…Marry a Chef (You’ll Thank Me Later)

Eating is a necessity but cooking is an art. —Unknown

When I was a kid, I would tell my mother that I wanted to live in a house without a kitchen.  Actually, if I remember correctly, we had several conversations about it.  I’m fairly certain that I’ve even brought up the subject with a couple of past boyfriends (just to let them know what they were in for—yes, I’m a courteous girl :).)  And my poor husband, he knows all too well how much I LOATHE the kitchen.  Turns out that it’s not really the kitchen that I have a problem with…I mean I always planned to have a microwave and a refrigerator (I’m not stupid.)  What I really hate is the COOKING that takes place in the kitchen!

Kiss the Cook :)

Kiss the Cook 🙂

Maybe my dislike for cooking comes from possessing a very plain and boring palate.  For example…I’m pretty much a beans and rice girl.  When we go out for dinner I typically choose one of three entrees:  cheeseburger, pizza or chicken, and I’m not really into sweets.  There isn’t an adventurous bone in my body when it comes to trying new foods (asparagus anyone?)  And I’m actually very okay with this.  I view eating in the same manner that I see the need for sleep–a mere necessity and nothing more.  I have a hard time relating to a lot of my foodie friends who rave about their latest food find and go on and on about “pairing” this delectable tidbit with that scrumptious delicacy (am I even using those words right?)  I really just don’t get it.

In my own defense, I WANTED to get it.  I wanted to be a so called “expert” in the kitchen.  While I make a mean sandwich, there actually was a time when I secretly aspired to be whiz in the kitchen.  I own a lot of cookbooks, including the elusive Joy of Cooking CD-ROM (lol) and at one point I was absolutely addicted to the Food Network.  Like many stay-at-home moms, Paula Deen, Bobby Flay, Tyler Florence, and Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) were not only my idols, but also my best friends.  As soon as it was acceptable for me to turn off Nickelodeon (11am or so) I would quickly click the channel to see what my “friends” were whipping up for lunch and dinner.  Never has anyone been more into “homemade” and “from scratch” as yours truly.  I was rolling out dough, making my own stock, and a regular in the fresh herb section at our local supermarket.  I’m not sure if I crossed the line into “cooking obsessed,” but I’m pretty sure I was right on the edge.  When my three year old daughter started to request tuning into Rachael Ray instead of Dora the Explorer I finally woke up.

To be honest, I was spending a lot of time, energy and money on a hobby that I hated.  Not only did I not enjoy cooking, but truth be told, I was NOT very good at it.  In hindsight, I realize that I was fighting a losing battle.  Don’t get me wrong…I have the utmost respect for foodies and chefs alike.  It just turns out that it’s not my thing.  Slowly, I stopped turning in to the Food Network and filling my time with other things.  I began adhering more to the Sandra Lee method of food prep—“Seventy percent store-bought, ready-made plus 30 percent fresh allows you to take 100 percent of the credit.” Her kitchen motto was all that was left of my so called “love of cooking.”

Needless to say, my family didn’t starve to death.  Not once has any one ever said, “Oh, Anna, how I wish you could go back to making (fill in the blank.)”  While there are few remaining recipes that I rely on all these years later, I don’t really sweat it…especially since my children inherited my same plain and boring palate.  We primarily live on the basics:  a variety of chicken dinners, tacos, spaghetti, LOTS of sandwiches and whatever my husband can grill.  It’s not exciting, but it fills a hole.  What used to make me feel like a failure as a wife and mother, now has crossed over into the realm of acceptance.  I no longer want to be a good cook.  If I could, I honestly would quit cooking altogether and live on cereal. Unfortunately, that is not an option.  Sigh.

So here it is…I am over the mom pressure from the foodie crowd (I couldn’t grow or can anything to save my life.) I will be the first one to shout from the rooftops that being a successful wife, mother, & homemaker doesn’t mean that you are required to be a culinary genius, too.  Just because you stay home with your kids does not mean your worth and value is tied up in what’s for dinner.  Serving chicken nuggets does not make you less of a woman.  I wish someone had told me all of this years ago.  Today, the only chef I pay attention to on the Food Network is Guy Fieri…and that’s because I like to drool over the food (mostly cheeseburgers and barbeque) he samples on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”  Mmmmm….

I completely understand that no “knight-in-shining-apron” is going to come to my kitchen rescue anytime soon.  Research shows that even in today’s modern society, woman are responsible for nearly 80% of household food prep.  And while a growing number of men are becoming more and more comfortable in the family kitchen, I realize that meals will continue to fall into the woman/wife/mom category for the foreseeable future.  And that’s okay because I’ve already been coaching my daughter to marry a chef.  Problem solved.  (You’re welcome.)

Today’s menu has two choices:  TAKE IT or LEAVE IT!