Thursday, December 20, 2012

Rudolph, "and Other Christmas Favorites"

This month I listened to albums that haven’t been played in over 25 years. Yes, albums – records – that are scratchy and old and skip a word now and then. I had forgotten how a record player works – gently lowering the needle onto the record, hearing the satisfying scratch that indicates when the last song is over, watching as the arm rises up, then over the record, and over to rest on the armrest with a thump. When I was a kid I would stack more than one record on top, and they would plop down one at a time, the 70’s equivalent of a multi-disc CD player.

The record I’m enjoying this week is “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and it fills me with the feeling of being a kid in cold and snowy rural Southern Indiana at Christmas, when the air was thick with the excited anticipation of the holidays. The songs were old even back then, recorded in the old-fashioned style of 1950’s singers and choirs. Jimmy Durante sings and narrates the title song, making jokes while having a conversation with Santa. A Lawrence Welk-sounding woman sings “When Santa Claus Gets Your Letter,” and each reindeer introduces himself in “We are the Reindeer who work for Santa Claus.” Even though it has been 30 years, I still remember all the words.

I couldn’t yet read when I first listened to this record, because Mom drew little pictures in ballpoint pen on each side of the record: a little reindeer to show me where to find Jimmy Durante, little bells for Jingle Bells, and a Santa for “I Dreamed that I was Santa Claus.” I must say it was nice for her to let me use the record player at that age.

Nothing brings back the simple warm feeling of Christmas as much as these songs. When I hear other people say they can’t “get into” the season this year, I realize how lucky I am to be able to bring back that feeling so easily. (And how lucky I am to have such warm fuzzy memories to look back on.) Singing together at the piano. Shopping for just the right tree out in the cold grocery parking lot. Cookies in the oven. Making gingerbread houses. Making a gift list. Feeding the birds. Sending Christmas cards. Watching Rudolph and Charlie Brown on TV. Reading to the light of the bright Christmas tree. Wrapping presents. Playing in the snow. Wearing dresses and red tights. Gathering with family, together in a more special way than normal. Feeling part of the bigger picture, knowing kids all over the world were waiting for Santa at just the same time, just like I was.

The feel of all that, captured for me in one album. Not bad.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Santa's Workshop

Our living room looks like Santa’s workshop right now, which is cliché but true. In an effort to save money, I moved my sewing machine in there so I could make Christmas gifts while watching Jude play nearby. It has been fun - I put old Christmas albums on the record player that I haven’t listened to in 25 years, and Jude plays with his trucks and toys, or pulls ornaments off the tree, while I work. It’s very festive.

I wish everyone made each other gifts at this time of year. Even though many people do search for just the right gift to purchase for each friend and family member, most seem like gifts bought because they had to – not because they enjoyed the gift process.

My Mom and my Grandma taught me to enjoy the gift giving process, and I have to say it’s more fun than the anticipation of getting gifts – not because I’m such a goody-goody, but because I was taught that finding just the right thing was fun. And when “just the right thing” was something I made, it was even more perfect.

Every year, Grandma still makes gifts for everyone, even though she is past 80 years old and not as mobile as she used to be. But she will put a basket of yarn next to her, or fabric and thread, and she will create a little something for each person, just because she cares. Homemade things mean so much more than something quickly purchased in a store, don’t you think?

It is our family tradition to take a wacky family photo every Christmas, posing with an item we received as a gift. (This gift is usually put on our heads for the photo, but that’s another story.) In those photos I can see many of the gifts Grandma made through the years – potholders, stuffed animals, vests, sweaters, quilts, crocheted Santas – and in my house those items are still used, still a keepsake from a loving woman and a memory of Christmases past. These homemade gifts bring gift-giving down to where it should be – a simple statement from one person to another that they matter to the gift giver.

So I’m trying to get creative this year. I’m making Advent calendars – elaborate sewn things that I throw together without a pattern, framed photos, and homemade cookies that I’ll put in tins with a bow. Jude will receive a few handmade things as well. We need to keep the tradition going. And someday I hope Jude will make me some glitter pipe cleaner ornaments or finger paintings or potholders. Handmade by him, it will mean so much more.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Are You Lucky?

There is a homeless man who has recently been hanging out at an intersection I pass frequently, and I have to say he makes me smile every time I see him. Instead of looking down and out, this man is having a good time. Usually he is on the street corner dancing. But dancing puts it mildly - he is grooving. The song in his head is obviously slow and sexy.

Last week I was driving in the same area and saw a car stopped ahead by a road construction worker holding a sign. The car moved on, and as I approached I saw that the man was not a real worker; it was the dancing man. From somewhere he had gotten a yellow construction vest with the reflective stripes, and what I had thought was a big sign that he held up to stop traffic was actually an inflatable guitar. I wonder how many cars he stopped that day, and how long it took for them to notice something was amiss.

Although the man makes me smile, of course I can’t help but feel bad for him. I wonder where he sleeps at night, if he finds food. He reminds me to be grateful for all I have.

Recently I was asked if I consider myself “lucky.” I paused for a moment and then answered yes. There have been many moments in my life when I have been suddenly overwhelmed by the emotion of all I have, and of how lucky I have been to have seen the things I’ve seen, to travel and to get an education, to have friends and family and a home and a car. We are so lucky to live in a country where we can take for granted the things people in other countries would consider extreme luxuries.

What do you take for granted?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

My October Project

A few years ago I began a little project that I have continued annually ever since – my October Project. I want to share this idea with you in case you’d like to create your own version.

The year I began I called it “My 38th October.” (It was actually my 39th October but I couldn't bear to write that number yet!)  I took photos every day and then chose one from each day in October to put into a book and document that one month. I uploaded them into a book and labeled each with “Day 1,” Day 2,” and on, with a description in the caption describing what was happening. I tried to get creative with the photos and capture moments I might not always think about. This helped me appreciate each day and see each day differently. I took photos at the grocery and at my hair appointment, photos of dinner cooking on the stove, of the TV we were watching one night, election rallies, and more. Looking back, it is an excellent way of seeing the progression of our lives – just by looking at one month, one chunk of a year.

So far this month, Day One was George sitting on the very top of my freshly folded basket of laundry, Day Two was "Top of the Stove Cookies" in the pan melting on the stove, and Day Three was taken at work with my silly coworkers. Sometime this month I want to get a photo of my crocheting project that is taking over the floor in our TV room, and also a few pics of us outside enjoying the cooler weather on the weekends. Although I don't plan ahead too much, I want to make sure the month shows a good overview of our current life.

Inevitably, there are a couple of days when I am ready to go to bed and realize I didn't take a photo that day. Aargh! That's when I have to get really creative. What is interesting? My toothbrush? No. A photo of our TV room with the TV tuned to our favorite show? Maybe. Our sleeping son with his stuffed kitty tucked under his arm in his dimly lit crib? Even better.

Documenting one moment every day makes me look at the month and make sure it is truly memorable. It makes me get out and do the things that I've been putting off.

October is my favorite month. I like paying it tribute with this project. Is December your favorite? Maybe you should make your own “My Thirtieth December” or take your least favorite month and make it more fun by adding this project to it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Our Park List

Another morning at Floyd Lamb Park, and our walk around the ponds, through the trees, gave us many interesting sights:

-         A large group of boys in matching shirts were on a day-long hiking trip throughout the park, after eating breakfast made on huge grills in the parking lot
-         Fishing families were clustered around the ponds, in the shade in makeshift morning camps
-         A jogging woman hurried past speaking in Chinese on her cell phone
-         A line of horseback riders crossed the desert in the distance
-         A lone turtle floated in one pond, the tip of his nose the only part above the water
-         An Asian man surveyed his student who practiced Tai Chi in the shade. He walked around him slowly, leaning over now and then to inspect his stance.
-         A kid on a bike with his jogging mom passed by us two times, their speed around the park much greater than ours
-         A man meets us, dragged by his two leashed golden retrievers
-         A young couple eats breakfast at a picnic table
-         A grandma holds her granddaughter on her lap, watching the geese on the water before them
-         Two kids begin feeding ducks only to be instantly mobbed by hungry ducks and geese
-         A grandpa shows his grandson how to put a worm on a hook
-         One of the boys from the hiking group sits alone under a tree, upset by something another kid said, and a dad approaches and tries to make him feel better
-         A guy reads a newspaper while lying on his back in the grass

Then, from our blanket:

-         A very distant traffic hum
-         Flapping birds’ wings
-         Bugs buzzing
-         Distant kids’ voices
-         A tricycle rolling on gravel, and laughter
-         Rattling keys, as Jude has found my purse
-         The shifting of George on the blanket as he finds a better sleeping position

No need to look at my watch. That is the best kind of day.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Our local Walmart has an aisle of fishing poles. That sentence may not seem odd at first glance, but don’t forget…I live in Las Vegas. The desert. Brown, dry dirt. Drought and scorching sun. But strangely enough, I see fishermen every weekend only five miles from my house at Floyd Lamb Park.

I bet many people live only blocks away from Floyd Lamb and have no idea it’s there. If you look toward it from the nearby street it just looks like a cluster of trees, like those that are planted throughout Vegas to simulate a non-desert environment. But if you pay the $5 entrance fee and see it up close, those trees are huge and natural, part of Tule Springs, literally an oasis in the desert where you can stroll around lakes, take a free bird watching tour, attend a twice-monthly farmers market, and yes, go fishing.

Someday we can get Jude a fishing license when he is old enough, and I’ll be forced to brush off my fishing skills from years ago. I learned to fish on my Uncle Bill’s pond, casting off from the wooden deck he constructed himself. I never did take the fish off the hook, though, leaving that sad and painful part to my uncle or whoever was nearby (putting the worm on the hook wasn’t as bad for some reason). So my husband will have to help in that area when we teach Jude.

I also fished at my Uncle W.C’s pond just up the hill from my house. When the Great Aunts and Uncles visited, my cousin and I would fish there (and I would get upset when her fish was larger), and Uncle W.C. cleaned the fish on the patio beside the house. Then Aunt Mary fried them up for dinner. To this day the taste of catfish brings back such good memories. Does anyone know how to clean a fish nowadays?

While I don’t feel the need to know how to gut a fish, I am glad that fishing was a part of my childhood. My Uncle Bill still fishes from that same dock, and my husband often has fishing contests with him when we visit – one point per fish.  It’s good to get outside and sit and connect with nature. And I’m so glad to witness people fishing so near my house. They soften the desert a bit.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sweet Tea

When we visited relatives in North Carolina a few weeks ago, I jumped at the opportunity to order Sweet Tea at every meal. What a treat, to have it on the menu everywhere we went! Oh, you poor souls who live in the parts of the country without sweet tea.

As a kid, the huge old mayonnaise jar in Grandma’s refrigerator was always full of tea. We just called it "tea" back then – it was always sweet – why wouldn’t it be? Then I learned it was a Southern thing. We were in Indiana, not exactly the South, but that sugar-filled water with a slight hint of tea flavor obviously traveled up to us over time.

A sweaty glass of iced tea reminds me of weekends at home with my Mom, when she would pour herself a large glass and then set it on her table to begin work on her latest painting. That glass of iced tea meant she needed sustenance, to focus on her creation. Even now, I like to get a glass of something special to take with me when I work on a project. It shows commitment – I plan to at focus on my project at least as long as it takes me to sip my big glass of tea.

My husband turns on the radio when he begins a big project. My cousin used to put on a special hat. Do you have any habits or rituals that help you get motivated? If not, maybe starting one will help!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Out West

When I was about eight or ten years old, my Mom and I took a trip out West with her brother and cousin. The four of us packed into cousin Ed’s car and drove to see relatives in Texas, through New Mexico to White Sands National Park, and on to Colorado to visit cousins LeRoy and Majel in their house in the mountains.

It was a great trip. Most photos show me smiling in shorts, red tube socks, and a new cowboy hat bought along the way. (And yes, those are Mork & Mindy suspenders in the photo above.) We stopped at all sorts of interesting places, like a train museum, a battleship, and American Indian sites, and I got to buy a pretty Indian doll and a pink gingham bonnet like Laura Ingalls wore. We were Out West, and immersed in it.

Visiting LeRoy and Majel was a highlight, and I knew their place was special when we drove up a small highway into the mountains through thick pines and turned into their driveway, which was framed by a large wooden arch with their last name spelled out in horseshoes. Wow, a real ranch, I thought. Real horses and cowboys.

And LeRoy was just like his name sounds – a cowboy-boot-wearing “good ol’ boy” with a super-slow drawl who smiled constantly and got a twinkle in his eye every time he made a joke. And he let me ride a horse! I put on my cowboy hat and he helped me climb on for a photo. He and Majel took us to Golden for Buffalo Bill Days, the Coors Brewing Company (where I got water while the adults got free beer samples), Pike’s Peak, the Royal Gorge, and at night Majel made yummy homemade dinners and we sat afterward on their porch and wondered what it would be like to live there with the horses and the mountains.

Years later LeRoy brought his family to see me when I was performing in Branson, Missouri, and they showed up as a surprise in the audience. And when I got settled in Vegas, I started including him on my Christmas card list after Majel passed away. The first time I did so, he was so happy that he called me. Even though I hadn’t heard his voice in nearly ten years, I recognized him immediately, his slow, sing-song “Hello, Shannon, this is cousin LeRoy” carrying his smile to me over the miles.

LeRoy passed away recently, and this weekend was his memorial, back in Indiana with family and friends who reminisced about his gentle ways. I’m glad he was part of my life, too.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Travel Plans for 2020

One day, I’m going to the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics – it’s on my Life List, along with walking the Thames path, seeing the Tour de France, and publishing a book or two. I’ll probably embarrass my husband and son terribly because I know I’ll cry during the whole thing. Surely the “all the nations coming together” vibe gets many people choked up?

I’ve always been a sucker for grand events like the Olympics, ever since I was a Spanish interpreter at the Pan American Games in Indianapolis the summer of my sophomore year of high school. Don’t be impressed by my mentioning of “Spanish Interpreter” – they invited high school Spanish students from all over the state to come give whatever assistance they could, and mine was minimal.

But it was a great experience. We students got together for a whole week prior to the games, to brush up on our Spanish skills, learn about the events and procedures, and learn the lyrics to “La Bamba.” And during my week of volunteering, I met so many interesting people – became pen pals with a judo player from Venezuela, played checkers with guys from the Virgin Islands and Cuba, and was once driven quickly across the Athlete’s Village to interpret for a female athlete from Chile.

And before the games began, Mom and I went to the Opening Ceremony at the 500 Speedway. It was just like the ceremonies on TV, just smaller scale, and I remember exciting moments of jets flying overhead and gymnasts performing stunts on platforms at the tops of the bleachers. We sat in the “card section” and added to the spectacle by holding our yellow cards up at just the right time, to create a scene on the stadium where we sat. We never did know what kind of picture we all made together, but it was fun being a part of it all! Unfortunately I don’t have any photos to share from the ceremony, because my film was erased when I went through Security at the Athlete’s Village the next day.

A few years before that, I experienced my first Olympic excitement when our high school band traveled to  perform at the Los Angeles Olympics. I was too young to go, but as part of the junior high band we learned the music with the older students. To this day, I can still play the main theme of that year’s Olympics on my flute, but my fingers still stumble when going from that high G to F to E. (I can also still sing all the lyrics to "La Bamba.")

So, when will I go to the Olympics? And more fun, where will I go? South Korea would be fascinating in 2018, but Jude would still be a little young for a trip like that. Maybe Istanbul, Tokyo, or Madrid in 2020? Olympic Committee, tell me, where will we travel to?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Liar, Liar, Stretch-Pants on Fire

On the way to the airport, I kept asking Jude if he was ready for our Big Adventure. That’s how I decided to look at our upcoming flight, just the two of us. I had been worried about it for weeks, trying to imagine how on earth I would get anything out of his diaper bag during the flight…I wouldn’t be able to bend over and reach anything while holding him on my lap. How would I use the tiny restroom on the plane while holding him? How would I carry everything onto the plane and off again? My husband was on another flight, flying standby, so I labeled Jude’s and my first solo trip as an Adventure with a capital A. It would be fun, not stressful, I vowed!

Getting through Security wasn’t bad - I got to use the special lane and take my own sweet time. The next two hours until boarding were filled with Jude crawling around on the ground at an unused gate, playing with the stroller’s wheels and chasing a half-empty water bottle. Even boarding wasn’t too bad. A nice lady pushed the stroller down to the plane and folded it up for me.

Then we went inside to search for a seat.

I had hoped we could sit on the bulkhead, so that I could get up easily during the flight whenever I wanted. The seats on the right were taken, but on my left there was a woman sitting in the aisle seat, and a small bag sat on the center seat next to her. The window seat was empty.

“Are these seats taken?” I asked, gesturing with my elbow toward the seats by her. I shifted Jude in my arms and tried to relieve my shoulder that was carrying the burden of an overfilled diaper bag, a soft cooler of baby food, a bed pillow, and my purse.

She paused a moment, then answered, “yes.”

In that very instant, during her pause of hesitation, I realized she was lying. Lying through her teeth, past her tight black stretch pants, oversized flip flops, and thick Jersey accent.

I looked pointedly at the empty seat. “That window seat therethat one is taken?”

Another pause. The woman glanced over at the seat and changed her mind. “No,”she mumbled.

Wow. I could have gotten angry at this woman, but I was too happy about getting the very seat I wanted. Jude was asleep, so I put the bed pillow on the empty seat, laid Jude on it, and held him in place with one hand. My bags dropped to the floor with a thud as I looked up to see who could help me get my things into the overhead bin.

Just then the woman’s son returned to occupy the center seat. Yea! Someone who could help! “Do you mind putting this in the overhead for me?”

The bald son glanced over and then replied while he strapped himself into his seat, “There’s no room. It’ll have to go way back there.” He gestured toward the back of the plane with one hairy hand.

I didn’t respond. I never have been able to give people smart retorts because I’m always so surprised when people are rude or uncaring. So I stood there a moment, still bending over and holding Jude on the seat with one hand, wondering if maybe a flight attendant could help me.

Just then a woman’s blonde head poked up from the seat behind Stretch-pants-lady. “I can put it up there for you!” She stood, took my bags, and fit them in the overhead directly above my seat.

“Thank you so much!” I was so glad to have a savior! Before I picked up Jude and sat down, I noticed that the seat next to her was taken by a small boy who obviously had some physical disabilities. That woman knew how it felt to be denied help when you need it. No wonder she came to my rescue. She even gave the back of the son’s bald head a dirty look for good measure.

And during the whole nearly five-hour flight, Jude was great. We slept and played and ate and talked and thumbed our noses at the rude people next to us.

And I’m happy to report that while eating, Jude sneezed exactly when I was holding a full spoonful of peas up to his mouth. Old baldy had to ask the flight attendant for more napkins for his arm and pants.

As an end note, I am happy to report that Jude loved the ocean, my husband was able to join us, and even George had a nice vacation at my friend’s house while we were gone. And on the way back, our seatmate was a nice hairdresser from Houston. Jude didn’t spit food on this guy.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Swimming Is Not Like Riding a Bike

Yesterday my son had his first swimming lesson – quite an accomplishment for a 10-month old “kid.” My husband took him to a Parent/Child class at the local YMCA, and he was more nervous than my son was.

Apparently, the most difficult part was when he had to put Jude under the water for three whole seconds. Three whole seconds – a lifetime in my husband’s eyes. Jude was a trouper, though, and only got irritated about it on the third try. During the 30 minute lesson, he enjoyed songs, splashing, “jumping” off the side, learning to crawl out, and he almost fell asleep while learning to float on his back.

My husband took him to the class because I am not a swimmer. The odd thing is, I used to swim. I even have an Advanced Beginner swim badge from when I was 8. I remember doing “real” swimming across the length of our huge public pool, turning underwater like I was in the Olympics, then crossing the whole length again. The instructor even complimented my form, which I knew was good because I was a dancer.

Then one summer as a teenager I tried to learn how to dive, and for some reason I wore nose plugs. That was the beginning of the end. When I tried to swim years later, I had forgotten how to go underwater without holding my nose. I tried, but I always ended up with a noseful of water. People are incredulous when I tell them this. “Isn’t swimming like riding a bike?” they ask. I thought so, but apparently it’s not true.

So, Jude is destined to have a mom who will get in the water, will swim the backstroke and sidestroke, but will always embarrassingly hold her nose to go under. Sorry, Jude. But I’m sure it won’t be the only time in your life I’ll embarrass you!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Overdoing the Red Glitter

We got up early on the 4th and took Jude to his first parade. He watched the old fashioned cars and police motorcycles with interest, then had a bottle and fell asleep on the blanket at our feet. It was hot; he left a sweaty spot on the blanket when we picked him up later to go home. We left poor George at home because have yet to figure out how to handle him and baby on outings at the same time.

The parade was fun – reportedly 35,000 people in attendance – and there were a few unusual parade entries to keep things interesting: a group of Star Wars characters complete with an R2D2 and a whole squadron of storm troopers who marched with their blasters, and a local bug company who featured a man in a bug suit who kept getting beat up by the company’s uniformed pest controllers.

I marched in my hometown’s annual Fall parade many times, as a clown with the Girl Scouts, as the 4-H fair queen in the back of a white convertible, and on my bike with friends. 

The year we rode our bikes, I was about 10 years old. One section of the parade was always a place where kids were allowed to ride their bikes, to be a part of the parade even if they didn’t have an affiliation with any parade participant. That year, two of my friends and I decided to decorate our bikes and join in. We planned to meet in their yard on the morning of the parade, so the night before, I referred to my favorite book Kids’ America and painstakingly copied the way they suggested to decorate a bike – with several rows of red, white, and blue streamers woven through the spokes, streamers hanging from the handlebars, and a large sign stuck to the handlebars that read “Spirit of America” in red glitter.

The next morning I rode my bike up the hill to discover that my friends had only put a few streamers through their spokes. My bike was over-decorated. I saw them look at the colors and the glitter and I felt embarrassed. And I guess a little disappointed, too. It would not be the last time in my life that I would put 100% into a project only to have those around me participate half-heartedly.

I rode my bike in the parade anyway. Looking back, I’m so glad I didn’t take off even one of the streamers. And someday if Jude wants to decorate his bike for a parade, I hope he will go all out and be proud of his effort, even if no one else puts in the time. It’s important to care about things, to get excited about things, to participate 100%. It’s something to be proud of.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Super Crafty or Landfill?

I’m still trying to get rid of stuff, but it’s a slow process. I get so motivated when I’m driving to work or daydreaming during the day, thinking about the big organizational projects I want to take on: get rid of cassette tapes, VHS tapes, old clothing, etc. Then I get home, take care of baby and husband, eat something, and then at the end I see I have exactly 12 minutes left in my day to either rest or accomplish something. I usually choose rest.

My latest dilemma is what to do with old trophies and awards. There’s the one I got when I was Miss Orange County, a cheerleading trophy, a few Drama Club Director’s Awards from high school, and an Environmental Award from a science fair in which I did an experiment involving snails. I hate the idea of just putting them in the trash. Can’t sell them because they have my name on them. They meant something to me at one time, but now they’re just previously-sentimental knickknacks.

One Christmas I saw a magazine article in which the woman used her old colorful award ribbons as Christmas ornaments on her tree. I liked that idea. But what about trophies and plaques?

If I were super crafty – super thrifty – I would think of some way to re-purpose these awards instead of adding them to a landfill. I recently read a blog in which the writer took old trophies, painted them and edited them, turning them into cupcake stands. But sometimes things like that look a little…too crafty.

My awards could be…
Hot plates for hot dishes on the table?
A yard ornament?
Spray painted wall art?
An art sculpture?

I guess my awards are destined for the trash.

p.s. I did an online research and found a few interesting suggestions. One was to remove the name plates and put them all together into one framed memory. (See the link below.) The second was to donate them to a local trophy company, to the Special Olympics, or to a school or rec center. Yea!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Just a Dress

 It’s just a dress. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. It’s only been in my closet for 23 years, moved from house to house, stuck way back in a closet behind other never-worn-again sentimental items of clothing.

I’m going through a major organizational/cleaning/purging phase, and this purple dress is one on my mental list that I simply must get rid of. But there are so many memories attached! Mom and I went shopping together and bought it for me to wear for my high school graduation. I got new black heels to go with it, too. And the shopping trip itself was special – we bought it back when people didn’t run out immediately to buy every single thing they needed – it was special to go out a shop for a special dress for a special occasion.

And we put a lot of thought into it. Our school colors were purple and gold, so the dress had to coordinate. And it couldn’t be too brightly patterned and show through my graduation gown in a weird way. And it had to look good peeking out from the bottom of my gown. We thought of everything, and we did finally find the perfect dress. A purple dress with a small floral print and a simple lace yoke. I wore it for my graduation with the diamond necklace my dad gave me and those new black heels that confirmed my feeling of adulthood.

 I know I shouldn’t keep something just for a memory. It hangs there with four prom dresses, the yellow dress my mom made to wear for her sister’s wedding in the late 60’s, and a pale blue taffeta dress Mom wore for a piano recital at age 16, when she wowed the crowd by playing music far advanced for her age.

We do have space in our extra closet for these things, so I could leave my purple dress there indefinitely. It’s not hurting anything. But I’m feeling the need to clean out things, so here I am, feeling guilty about getting rid of a dress.

 And writing about it, as always seems to happen, is making me feel better. I will take a photo of the dress before I donate it, to commemorate it, and I will hope someone else will appreciate it. After all, it’s considered “retro” now, right? Maybe getting rid of it will feel so good that I’ll also donate those prom dresses, too.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Just Stop Already

On Thursdays and Fridays on the way to work, I always see three school crossing guards at an intersection in Summerlin, looking very official in their bright yellow vests. If I happen to get stopped by the light, I enjoy watching them walk, stoically, puffed up with importance, to the center of the intersection, holding their stop signs up high. They bravely face oncoming traffic, a single person standing against the fray, and provide safe passage for school children, joggers, and people walking their dogs.

You have to admire these people. They don’t do it for the money. There isn’t any glamour. And they’re out in all weather – the woman at my intersection is often wrapped up with a scarf around her head. And they always do their job so diligently, following the rules to the letter. The three at my intersection stand at their opposite corners, waiting for the important moment when they protect strangers from disaster. No time to chitchat while waiting for the next pedestrian. They have a job to do.

How nice it would be to have crossing guards in all aspects of life. I’d like a person in a yellow vest to stand by my desk at work and hold up his stop sign to protect me from cruel words from annoyed customers. There would be no need for me to ever protest; his sign would say it all. How about a guard to pave my way through crowded airports when I’m struggling with luggage, tickets, and baby? The seas would part as he holds his stop sign high. And I could use one when I just need a break. He could hold his stop sign up when the phone rings too much, when the baby cries, when bills are due, when life just hands me too much and I need a break. Of course everyone would obey his valiant sign. That’s just what we do.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Glowing Fluff

There is a Frisbee golf course at the park where I took George and my son this morning. All over the park are signs that warn “This park has a Frisbee golf course!” so that you know that at any moment you could get clocked on the head by a Frisbee. (A good thing to know when you’re out, strolling nonchalantly, enjoying the cool breeze and blue sky.)

I’m getting to be quite an expert at packing for outings. Baby in stroller, extra blanket attached to stroller with clothespins for extra shade, folded blanket to spread on grass, travel dog dish and bottled water, baby toys, bottle and formula, diaper bag, cell phone, sun hat, Starbucks iced chai tea latte, a book for if he’s sleeping. It was a perfect morning, and the Frisbee golfers kept their distance and were entertainment instead of a hazard.

As we walked, the breeze shifted and suddenly the air was filled with fluff – big cotton ball-sized pieces of whatever had been blown off nearby trees. It looked like a soft snowstorm, and I dodged the bigger pieces as we walked, hoping I didn’t get pieces stuck in my hair.

Later on the blanket, I lay on my back and stared at the sky. I should stare at the sky more often – the world is at a different perspective that way, literally and figuratively. The tree we laid under looked different from down there, its branches and leaves reaching up away from me toward the sky. A helicopter flew overhead way up high, far enough that I could barely hear it. Then, hundreds of feet above the treetop, I saw the fluff again. It was flying way up high in the wind, gently flowing with all the high currents, and was lit by the sun like glowing fireflies, or round twinkles in the breeze. I never would have seen them up there if I hadn’t lain on that blanket.

What other beauty am I missing because I don’t look at things from a different angle?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Red Doors or Roses

I love houses with red front doors. And while I’ve never lived in one with such a bold statement, I always find myself taking photos of houses with bright red or blue doors, huge pots of flowers, or benches with floral cushions - any type of entryway that makes the home look inviting.

Right now our entryway looks pretty amazing, thanks to Mother Nature. The one rose bush I planted long ago has taken over the doorway, and I often have to prune it so that people don’t get whacked in the face when entering or exiting. And the scent is amazing! You can smell its overwhelming sweetness from thirty feet away. (It’s a white banks rose, if anyone wants to plant one.)

I think front doors of houses, or their entryways in general, should be made to look welcoming, no matter what the rest of the house or yard looks like. It’s like the old theatre rule: no matter how many mistakes you make onstage, always keep smiling. The audience will forgive anything if you just keep smiling. So even if the yard is a mess or the house needs paint, a fresh coat of paint on the front door and a pot of flowers to match can forgive a lot.

At Christmas I try to follow that philosophy by putting outdoor lights only near the front door, to lead inside where the festivities are. They should put a focus on the entryway so people want to come in.

The irony is that I do not have a mat that says “Welcome” in bold letters at our door, and I never will. The people who come to our home will hopefully know they’re welcome long before they reach our “welcome” mat.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Of Bunnies and Tap Shoes

The first thing that pops in my head when I think of Easter is Fred Astaire singing “Happy Easter” as he walks down the street shopping for his girlfriend’s Easter gifts at the beginning of the movie Easter Parade. It was a tradition (and still is) to watch Easter Parade every Easter morning. By this point, even my husband can say the lines along with the movie, but he has yet to join in when I tap dance along with Fred and Judy.

As a kid we decorated Easter eggs by coloring them with crayons before dipping them in dye. It worked really well and allowed for all kinds of eggs: polka dotted, scribbled, striped, plaid, and a few with rabbits or chicks if we got ambitious. These then went in a plastic grass-filled basket on our kitchen table until they got old and had to throw them out.

The eggs at Easter egg hunts were not filled with candy when I was a kid. Instead, we searched for the real eggs we had decorated, after the adults hid them in the yard – it was all about the hunt, not about the prize.

I’ve always liked Easter because it’s a simple holiday. The colors are pastel and laid back, it’s a warm fuzzy Sunday with fluffy bunnies and cute chicks, and it’s all infused with Spring: a meal with fresh Spring produce, the air fresh and crisp, blooming flowers peeking through the ever-warmer ground, ladies in floral dresses and wide-brimmed hats, men in light colored suits.

This year I look forward to playing my son his first Easter records: Peter Cottontail and The Red Red Robbin. And of course, he will “watch” Easter Parade for the first time. I wonder how long till he will join in with the tap dancing?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

In the Kitchen in My Birkenstocks

I never dreamed I’d be one of those make-your-own-baby-food people. It sounds like something you do if you wear Birkenstocks and have your own chicken coop. Okay, so I do own a pair of Birkenstocks (which my husband calls my lesbian shoes), so I should have known I had the potential of falling into the homemade baby food trap.

But for some reason, I love making baby food. Who could have guessed? We received a Baby Bullet as a shower gift, and as soon as our son was old enough to try his first spoonful, I cooked some peas until they were mush, pureed them, and fed them to him as he made horrible faces. I loved it.

I don’t know why I get so much satisfaction from making his food. It could be that it feels good knowing I am giving him the best nutrition possible. It could be that I feel it gives me Gold Stars in the Good Mommy category. But overall, I think I like the orderliness and simplicity of making his food. I don’t have to plan elaborate meals or think about their cost or about if a side dish goes with an entrée. I don’t have to wash a lot of dishes or make sure my husband is in the mood for a certain dish.

Instead, I pick out a vegetable in the produce section. Something fresh. After all, these are his first tastes. His first foods! What fun to introduce him to a smooth avocado or a sweet butternut squash. I pick out the brightest, freshest ones and take them home, chop them up, put them in the pan in the steamer basket, and then forget them for a while.

Even pureeing them is satisfying – adding some water and watching the mixture get smoother and smoother. Then I spoon it into ice cube trays, freeze them, and pop them out into Ziploc bags perfectly labeled with the contents and the date. The freezer shelf is a pleasant place to poke about, to see his fresh veggies there waiting.

So far, in addition to rice cereal, multi grain cereal, and oatmeal, he has had peas, yellow squash, avocado, sweet potato, butternut squash, zucchini, and apples. (Those apples sure smelled good cooking on the stove!) This week he’ll have bananas for the first time, and next on the list is green beans. I’m excited for him!

Maybe I need to make some for myself, too, and reintroduce myself to simple, good food.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

I Am a Nevadan?

I have lived in Las Vegas for nearly 18 years. I had to count on my fingers to figure it out, and I have to say that I’m overwhelmed at the idea of having lived here longer than anywhere else during my life. Wow.

So does that mean I am a Nevadan? And what is that exactly? Other states have it easier. If someone says they’re a Texan, you immediately get a mental image of their heritage, of their history of being loud and proud – I picture my Uncle Ed with his big smile, big belt buckle and cowboy boots. Texan is understood.

Another population that clearly states their heritage are New Yorkers. Smart, in-your-face, confident; those people are New Yorkers and proud of it. New Yorker implies an identity like no other.

Some states have their own labels for their residents – ones more creative than simply adding an “n” to the end of the state like Californians. I grew up in Indiana and was therefore a Hoosier. And what are Hoosiers? Pure Midwesterners, salt of the earth people. But having an unusual name like “Hoosier” gave us a bit of mystery. Or an oddity.

For Christmas our son received a cheese head hat from our relatives in Wisconsin. Of course George had to try it on, too. I think it’s neat that the single silly term "Cheese Head" can evoke the silliness and enthusiasm of a whole state. It must be fun to live in Wisconsin.

But, Nevadan? What are we exactly? If it is a label that I now have to claim, I want to know. The word itself conjures up images of dusty desert and cowboys. Am I part of that now?

This state is full of transients, people who come and work and move on - people who do not get to know their neighbors because the stop is temporary. Those are not Nevadans. Those of us who stay are those who moved West, much like those pioneers of long ago. We packed up our homes, got an itch to see what was beyond that next mountain, and took off. That’s what I did eighteen years ago, when I packed up my car and drove here by myself. I was adventurous. I was an explorer. I needed to head West.

If that is the definition I have come to, I will claim Nevadan. And I will befriend those who have also decided to make this home. I will learn to love this dusty, expansive, wild, sun-filled place. It’s time to claim my new state.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Notes, Scribbles, and Dog Ears

I love opening the pages of a brand new book. The smell is freshly printed, the pages crisp, the spine opens with a pleasant crack. You would think that I always want to keep books in this pristine condition, but sometimes it feels good to break them in, to write in them, to dog-ear their pages, to condition them and make them look loved.

I just finished reading my Mom’s old copy of The Scarlet Letter. And this book could not be more used. I had to hold it together with a large rubber band because both covers were off, and as I read I had to piece together halves of pages that had been torn off. This book went through a lot.

The most interesting thing in the book was Mom’s notes, written in ink in the margins, and her passages that were underlined. She obviously read this book in class, maybe in Mrs. U’s Senior English class in high school, and her notes allowed me to read the book along with her.

I’ll never forget the first time I was allowed to write in a book. It was in college, and I relished the idea that I could mark it as I wished with pencil or ink - make notes wherever I wanted.

Well-used books make me think of my Grandma’s Bible. As a kid I envied the look of it. The leather cover was soft and worn, there were notes and papers stuck in it everywhere, a yarn bookmark kept her place, and sometimes she even made little notes on the thin pages in pencil. I wanted a Bible that looked like that, so I got out mine from way back on my bookshelf and tried to think of things to stick in it so it looked loved like Grandma’s. I think those papers are still inside it, on my bookshelf, where it sits today.

Of course some books I will never write in, such as my large beautiful art books, or old ones from my childhood that I cherish. But I do write notes in my cookbooks (a check mark next to a recipe means it was good; a check plus means it was great), and I like to write, as my Grandma does, the date I cooked a recipe on the page, too. That makes the book more personal, as a historical record.

How loved are your books?