Long Distance Mom-ing

10 Dec

Being a Mom is the most wonderful of all blessings, and one of the hardest when your “little one” is not so little anymore and not even living in the same town.  I have new-found respect for what my Mom must have gone through when I was 19 and far away in college.  Back then, the only phone was in the hallway of the dorm, shared by every girl on the floor.  How did Mom stand the lack of contact?  Was it a good thing to be blissfully unaware and hopeful that all was well?  I can be in touch with my son via text, cell phone or Facebook messaging instantaneously.  I get to have a peek inside his college life as his friends tag him in pictures and posts.  A comfort to me, maybe not so much for him.

This week is finals week for many college students. My son, being a music major has finals, but also juries–solo performances in front of the entire woodwind faculty of the college.  He is in both the saxophone and oboe studios, so is required to present a piece demonstrating his skills for each.  Much of the time spent in lessons for oboe and sax each semester are devoted to polishing the literature he and his teachers have selected.  Many of the hours of practice time are spent going over and over and over the pieces–practicing until they become a part of him.

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And then, at 3am the morning of the juries, he wakes up with a horrible earache.  Imagine having a test that requires controlled and forceful breathing with your ear plugged and screaming at you.  Not good.  Not good a all.  Here comes the long distance Mom part.  He posted his frustration with the situation on Facebook, allowing me to know as soon as I opened Facebook this morning.  All ready, many of his friends had advised he go see a doctor.  I did as well, also asking to be kept in the loop of what came of the doctor visit.  Seems all too easy and matter of fact as I write this, but my Mom worries kicked in.  A monstrous desire to be able to instantaneously transport myself to him to give him a hug, wrap him in blankets and make chicken soup.  Who doesn’t want their Mom to come take care of them during times of sickness?!

He’s 5 hours away, so I had to settle for texting as he filled out forms in the waiting room of the clinic.  A quick diagnosis resulted in prescribed antibiotics, and he was sent on his merry way to determine (with input from his instructors) on whether juries are a go or not.  I still haven’t heard how that will shake out.  I feel fortunate that he is someone who is very good at taking care of and advocating for himself.  It helps me worry a bit less.  He also has a great network of caring friends; people I know will help him with whatever he needs–possibly even bringing him chicken soup.

When will the desire to rush in and make things “all better” end?  According to other Moms I’ve talked to, never.  It’s been a long, long time since a kiss was able to fix a boo-boo.  My little boy is a man who is quite capable of taking care of himself.  I’ll always be his Mom, though, and can’t wait for him to drive those 5 hours to be home this weekend so I can take care of him PROPERLY.  Off to the store I go to get the ingredients for chicken noodle soup–it’s better than sitting here worrying and waiting for the next text or Facebook update.

He’ll be fine and things will work out as they should.  How many times have I heard those words in my Mom’s voice?!  All those years of what I took as patronizing, turn out to be the best you can do when you’re long distance Mom-ing.

The Meaning of Christmas (In My Humble Opinion)

9 Dec

Beware.  I’m up on my soapbox.  Generally I reserve this soapbox for my rants about public education, but today I stand up here to stand up for myself and Comfort and Joy, Joy to the World, and A thrill of hope for the weary world.

Yesterday, I wrote a post to remember my Mom and her love of all things Christmas.  It focused mainly on decor and sharing good food with good friends.  This morning, I found two “pingbacks” (notification that another blog has linked to your post) to the post about Mom from a blog devoted to Christianity.  This blog used quite a few excerpts from my post to illustrate a perceived increase in secularism in what the author feels should be a completely Bible-based event.  I wrote a comment on his post, thanking him for at least citing his source, but that I felt that his use of my words belittled how religious and spiritual my Mom truly was, and that using them in that way completely ignored the whole purpose of my post.

Perhaps I am wrong for not going on about her deeply religious side.  She was a devout Catholic, regularly attending church, with many religious artifacts displayed in her home.  Not in a shrine-like way, just incorporated into her surroundings.  A large framed tin of The Virgin of Guadalupe, for example.   I feel more importantly, that Mom always conducted herself in a very Christian way: helping those who need help, listening to someone who just needs to talk, taking food to neighbors who were ill.  She loved her friends and family well.  Aren’t those Christian ideals?

Who decided that in order to be a proper Christian, you must adhere strictly to the Bible and its many interpretations?  When did these interpretations of the Bible start trumping the sort of life Jesus would have approved of?  When did displaying a Christmas tree result in being labeled a heathen?  Yup.  The blog’s author responded to my comment by saying that Mom may have been religious, but was probably affected by family traditions which caused her to celebrate Christmas with all the “heathen ornaments.”  What?!  Judge not…

Good gravy.  I don’t know about you, but when December shows up, and pretty lights, candles, evergreen boughs and even Jolly Old St. Nick appears, I get all warm inside with a feeling of Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men.  Isn’t that the true meaning of Christmas?   Yes, it’s the day used to celebrate Jesus’ birthday, but isn’t it more than a birthday party?  Isn’t it the encouragement to be the kind of person Jesus always tried to be (according to the Bible!)?   That feeling of we can all get along and love each other.  The impetus to be kind and share joy.  Am I somehow less Christian because I have Christmas stockings out?  Am I heathen because the trolls Mom loved are sitting on my hutch?

Where is the Christian tolerance and compassion?  How does a secular decoration belittle anyone’s personal faith?  Faith is faith, right? One of the few things you can have that can’t be taken from you.  And Christmas is a season of joy and loving and caring and holding our loved ones close.  All very Christian things to do in my opinion, even if they happen within view of a Christmas tree.

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A Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate it, and Happy Holidays to the rest.  May all of the Joy of the Season bring you warmth and comfort.

Celebrating Christmas, Celebrating Mom

8 Dec

“And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!”  ~Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol.

To say my Mom loved Christmas and kept it well was an understatement.  She baked jillions of cookies, decorated multiple trees and hosted a holiday open house with tons of different appetizers, cookies, Scandinavian delicacies, and drinks.  She loved to share her decorated home and culinary skills, and particularly loved that people she invited brought others with them and that the parish priest would stay until the very end of the party and take home leftovers.  She was in the middle of planning her holiday party when her recurring cancer landed her in the hospital.  She died Christmas Eve.  I like to think she went to party with the angels for Christmas, and they took her at that moment to make Christmas extra special for her.

People ask if this sad moment has “ruined” Christmas for me.  Not at all.  I’m a bit melancholy, but mostly, I try to decorate, cook and entertain in the way Mom would have.  I celebrate Christmas and celebrate Mom.

Mom had a shed on her New Mexico property she called the Christmas Shed–packed to the rafters with all manner of Christmas decor.  I brought a few things home with me, a tub marked Norwegian Tree, and a few of her treasured trolls.  Mom’s mom was Norwegian, and Mom identified with all thing Norwegian.  The tub had ornaments, linens, and candlesticks painted as a Norwegian man and woman in their traditional finery.  Here’s my Norwegian tree, decorated with Mom’s ornaments and those she had given me over the years, and festooned with strings of Norwegian flags–just like she would do.

Norwegian tree

Mom had a huge collection of trolls.  Trolls are beloved by Scandinavian people and according to Mom, these must be complimented on their beauty and charm.  If you dare speak of them in terms of ugly, homely or scary, they will play pranks on you at night.  These are my three favorites:  The Fairy, The Angel, and The Mom.  Aren’t they beautiful?!

trolls

Here are the candlesticks, complete with the candle wreaths she bought for them.  The friend that made them for her tried to paint them to resemble Mom and Dad.

candle sticks

Mom liked to decorate trees in each room of her house, each tree with its own theme.  While I don’t have trees in every room, I do have themes:

A snowman tree,

snowman tree

A kitchen tree with tiny kitchen utensils and cookie cutters,

kitchen tree

A tinsel tree that reminds me of the big one my grandparents had that had a lighted wheel that cast the tree in different colors as the wheel rotated,

tinsel tree

A silver and gold tree with spun glass ornaments that belonged to my mother-in-law,

silver and gold tree

The big tree with ornaments from my childhood and those my family has collected over the years.  It’s traditional to use an ornament as a decoration on a wrapped gift.

big tree

Some of my favorite ornaments from my childhood are these:  my glass Santa, an elf who sits on a tiny pine cone cushion, and a birdcage whose “bird” spins from the heat rising off a Christmas light.

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I also set out a couple other trees; a lighted ceramic tree that belonged to my mother-in-law, and a stuffed red tree Mom made for me.

ceramic tree

stuffed tree

My hutch gets decorated with a collection of red, green, and white, including three little choir boys Mom painted when she was a young woman.

hutch

I also set out a pair of Christmas plates, also painted by Mom.  The Santa one has Mom and Dad’s names as well as the names of their friends of the time, on Santa’s list.

Christmas plates

While planning for the holiday party that never happened, Mom called to discuss what sort of tasty bites to serve and asked if I could find Aquavit and bring it when we came for the party.  Aquavit is a traditional Scandinavian spirit, distilled from potatoes and spiced with caraway, dill, cardamom, and anise.  It pairs nicely with fish and is usually served in tiny glasses and meant to be sipped and savored.  This week I found a local liquor store that carries it!  We had friends over last night and toasted to Mom.  Skoal!

aquavit

I miss being able to call Mom when I’ve made a delicious recipe, or to ask for advice, or to share a cup of coffee and just talk.  Going all out with Christmas keeps her memory vibrant and close to my heart.  I hope she enjoys my efforts.

Finding Summer, Finding Neverland

25 Jun

Every spring and summer, I work at a greenhouse owned by friends of mine.  On my way to work today, I realized it was really, really summer.  I could smell someone grilling.  A few puffy clouds floated in a light blue sky. Kids walked along a sidewalk, laughing and wearing shorts and tank tops. I heard sprinklers and lawn mowers, along with the smell of freshly mowed grass.  Trees are fully leafed out, flowers blooming.

lightning bug

This sensory input triggered summer memories from my childhood: lightning bugs, s’mores, camping, making little dolls from hollyhock blooms.  Lemonade, the chlorine smell of a pool, birthday parties at “The Lagoon;” complete with the creosote smell of the timbers used to create a Robinson Crusoe camp on the river island connected by a footbridge to The Lagoon.  Neighborhood moms in capris, sleeveless blouses and cat-eye sunglasses.  Playing outside until dark and sleeping covered only in crisp, cool sheets and short seersucker jammies while crickets sang.

I love how the brain stores information.  How the sound of a sprinkler and the smell of freshly cut lawns can transport me back in time and bring my childish, sunburned face back into clear focus.  A Neverland of sorts.  The place in my head where I’m still the carefree little person who laid in the grass and decided what animals the clouds looked like.

At a time in my life where I often feel the need to write things down, lest I forget to do something, it’s lovely to have memories vivid enough to bring a smile and a contented sigh.  As I write them now, even more images are pushing at the corners of my mind, each sending a connection to another and another.  Neverland indeed.  First star to the right and straight on til morning.

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What Does Old Mean, Anyway?

28 May

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.  When I was in elementary school, or high school, or even college for that matter, I would have considered a person of my age old.  Not that I really had a solid determination of old; I think I just considered it something that happens with age.  My parents were old.  My teachers were old.  My grandparents were really old.  I have achieved the number of years that I once considered old…so am I?  No.  At least I don’t think so.  I still enjoy nearly all of the things I liked growing up.  Maybe with the exception of Twinkies–waaaay too sweet–bleh.  But I don’t think my anti-Twinkie palate signifies oldness.

So what IS old?  I’ve assisted people older than me while working my summer job at a greenhouse.  I admit to studying them a bit and imagining myself with their particular challenges of hearing, vision and mobility.  Do those challenges constitute oldness?  Or does the act of coming out each spring for your vegetable and flowering plants and then spending the summer tending, weeding and harvesting keep oldness at bay?  Are you old because it takes you longer to do things?  Does the joy of watching something grow negate the time it takes to plant it in the first place?

And what about the physical differences?  The effects of gravity, the age spots that remind me of summers spent laying in the sun using baby oil as “suntan lotion,” the wrinkles that frame my face.  The older-than-me folks at the greenhouse are also affected by these differences, but even more so.  I find myself repeatedly drawn to commercials featuring young, smooth-skinned beauties selling the latest spot-removing, tone-evening, skin-smoothing, wrinkle-erasing beauty cream, and I confess to wanting that youthful, dewy skin.  What am I afraid of?  Am I THAT vain?  Why can I not settle into “aging gracefully?”

Maybe that’s a good thing.  Maybe taking care of yourself physically and mentally IS aging gracefully.  Gray hair will happen, wrinkles and age spots cannot be undone without spending huge amounts of money that could be spent on plants and garden bling.  Worry is my nature, but I still love to play with friends, snuggle with my sweetie, watch clouds float across the sky, listen to our mockingbird perform his repertoire, and savor the first tomato of the season.

I saw my shadow the other day as my husband and I worked to weed our front yard perennial beds, and realized my shadow doesn’t show those parts of me that are slipping into what I identify with “old.”  My shadow is much the same as it’s always been.  How can I be old if my shadow isn’t?!  My hair becomes grayer each year, and wrinkles deepen.  Kids may think of me as old.  But I’ve decided I won’t consider myself old until my shadow looks old–how can that happen when it follows me to a slot canyon or when it sits in the garden admiring a fresh bloom?  I think my shadow enjoys a  cuppa as much as I do.  Here’s to my shadow and I toasting each other with a morning brew for many years to come, worrying less, and playing more.

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Up On My Education System Soapbox…Continued Thoughts on Chicken Little

12 Mar

Newspapers, blogs and Facebook memes are filled with stories about what’s wrong with the American Education System.  It’s those lazy teachers!  It’s the teacher unions!  The school year is too short!  The school day needs to be longer!  Summer vacation is so long, students forget what they’ve learned!  Schools in poverty areas don’t provide the same level of education as schools in affluent neighborhoods!

Lots and lots of accusations.  Committees form to assess the situation.  Committees form to come up with accountability plans.  Tests are created to hold students accountable, though they tend to be used more for teacher and school accountability.  Committees form to assess the results of the assessments.  Committees form to bring curriculum in line with the assessments. Committees form to standardize instruction of the curriculum to the point where teachers across districts all each the same thing the same way on the same day.

education reform

Tests are given in controlled environments where teachers read instructions, carefully warning students to not mark in the margins of the test booklets, often over a two-week time period where all instruction is ceased. The scores come back the following school year–5 to 6 months after the tests are completed, compiled school scores are published in local newspapers and the community runs around screaming, “The scores are falling!  The scores are falling!”

Loop back to accusations and committees.  Factor in multi-million dollar budget cuts, schools now focused entirely on readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmatic and we’ve stepped back to a time when few kids went to college, some went to trade schools or apprenticeships, and many worked hard labor or agricultural jobs.  The world is no longer that place.  We live in a complex world with complex problems that cannot be solved by learning there is one right answer that can be bubbled in on a test with a number two pencil.  “Make your mark heavy and dark, if you need to change your answer be sure to erase completely.”

Universities worry students aren’t prepared for college-level coursework, and they’re right.  Public schools prepare students for tests, not to be problem solvers; many students are unable or unwilling to think for themselves, let alone wrap their heads around a problem that might have more than one correct solution.  Money is being funneled to the “core” subjects of reading, writing, math and sometimes science, now taught with lock-step precision with no room for exploration of the teachable moment.  Electives are cut, library services are reduced or cut, creativity and problem solving disappears from our children’s education.

The reason I’m on my soapbox today?  My college freshman, who went through the local school system, called last night after struggling through a research assignment.  The librarians were asked to not assist the students from this class–they were on their own with whatever research skills they brought with them.  The professor expects her students come with research skills.  What are our local schools doing to prepare our students for college-level research?  Cutting library services.  Librarians are often reduced to clerks, checking books in and out, completing book orders and paperwork, and proctoring the annual standardized testing.  There is precious little time for librarians to teach research and presentation skills; not that many teachers have time in their prescribed curricula to collaborate with their librarian in the first place.

The big mystery is why studies such as The Colorado Study are being ignored.  Schools with degreed, certified, teacher-librarians presenting a full and comprehensive library program from well-stocked and up-to-date library collections have higher test scores.  Higher test scores.  What all the Chicken Littles are seeking.  Not only would students get the researching skills they need (and not only for college, but for big life decisions like buying a car, buying a home, deciding where to live….), but the communities would have their coveted scores.

Don’t even get me started on test scores vs poverty, homelessness, kids whose parents are in and out of jail….  OR that at the bottom of it all, we’re talking about KIDS here.  Little people.  Precious little people who should be coloring and pretending in pre-school, not already in classes learning to read….  OR that over-analysis of books sucks the joy out of reading…..   OR  trying to teach subjects to kids who are not developmentally ready, just because that subject is on this year’s test….  OR testing kids with learning disabilities who read below grade level with tests AT grade level….

OK.  Breathe.  Gonna step down from my soapbox–for now–and have a cuppa.

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Thoughts on Chicken Little

31 Jan

So here I am.  A Liberal, environmentally conscious, organic food-eating, yoga-practicing, vegan.  I have a master’s degree, I am computer literate (but not in a Geek Squad sort of way by any stretch), I’m retired, married and the mom of an 18-year-old college freshman.  I make a point of practicing advice I got from my mom years and years ago: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, it’s best to say nothing.”  I’m tired of those who think a person like me is some sort of whack-a-do, and those who convince others to believe the same.

I was so happy for the Presidential election to be over.  I thought it would be the end of the hate-filled and inaccurate memes and rants on Facebook, editorials in the daily paper and TV commercials.  Sadly, this is not the case.  At all.  I have posted all sorts of pleas to fact-check before posting, to take a breath and remember we’re all friends on Facebook.  Have an opinion, no need to be ugly about it.  If you have the computer literacy to pass on a meme, you have the literacy needed to spend a minute or two fact-checking.  If something is worded in a way that raises your hackles, it’s possible that you’re a victim of propaganda.

Who are these people that start the hate to begin with?  The ones who write slanted and often inaccurate articles and memes.  How did they become so powerful that they can click a mouse and start an uprising of people who are educated and sane?  The hate happens on both sides of every “hot button” topic.  People saying whatever they think will bring people over to their side.  We’ve become a world of Chicken Littles afraid the sky is falling because we saw it on a Facebook meme.

I say it’s time to remember we ARE all friends here and quit giving the power to the bullies on the playground.  Breathe.  Check Snopes.  Respect opinions and diversity.  Bring back civility.  Have a cuppa your favorite brew.  Me, I’m having coffee.

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