September Takes My Breath Away

The leaves start to drop. The air is fresh. A school playground fills with shouting kids, and pick-up soccer games – and I feel melancholy, but on the edge of excitement, too. More than January, isn’t September the time of new beginnings? New grade school? College and university? Parents and kids fill backpacks with crisp notebooks and coloured pencils, then head to the malls looking for squeaky new runners? There are anticipatory trips to Ikea to deck out tiny dorm rooms or studio apartments full of furniture with funny Swedish names.
But there’s boo hooing all across the country too, for all those kids heading out the door with hockey duffles converted to super suitcases, and back packs hiding that favourite worn out stuffie, or that last  pair of sandals hopeful for another month of warm weather?

I have four young adult children who are just now getting used to my having written a book about this next stage of parenting, about all those Septembers – those goodbyes until Thanksgiving.  When Zoë, the eldest, left home, her copies of Love In the Time of CholeraHarry Potter, and Dragonquest gone from the shelves, her colorful collection of shoes gathered from the closets, and her vanilla-scented products stripped from the bathroom, I searched the self-help sections for a manual on how to let go. Now that I’m a true empty nest-er, it seems a bit odd. After all, I still had three hyped-up teens in the house. One of them leaving home should have given me a little more room to breathe. But it didn’t. It took my breath away. photo

I was able to relive it all, writing Text Me, Love Mom; Two Girls, Two boys, One Empty Nest.  (Hey kids – I gave you pseudonyms – relax.  Nobody knows who this Zoë, Cole, Hudson and Lily that I write about are.) If you’ve been following my erratic blog, I’d love it if you check out my book.  It’s been one hec of a ride. And if one of yours has packed up and will be spending winter and spring in another part of the country, or maybe another country – it’ll be okay.  Really.

 

A Magical Backyard Garden – My Inherited Mom’s Day Gift

Mother’s Day and the Gift of the Backyard Garden

Vibrant little green peas, the smell of carrots with specks of soil still clinging to them, earth with the aroma of green onions – the promise of the backyard feeds my soul. Every May the calendar days around Mother’s Day and my internal genetic calendar push me to turn over my tiny plot of soil, buy a handful of pretty seed packages, and tuck their contents into rows ready to water.  It’s a tradition passed on to me from my mom and her mother, like colouring Easter eggs around Good Friday, and picnics on a blanket on a warm summer day.

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On Mother’s Day when my four kids were little and excited to make me a tray in bed with the most delicious passion-filled luke warm pancakes, overcooked eggs, and bowl of Captain Crunch, I would elicit their dad to help me sneak pass them because always at that time of year the empty garden spots among the blossoming trees were just begging me to prance around on the dewy lawn and be lifted up by the best work I know. I’d run back to bed for my tray of child-love when it was ready.

My mom taught me the simple beauty and deep satisfaction of the vegetable garden. It was her favorite work too. She has five children and I have four. Raising a family is chaotic and chore-filled, and raising a garden takes you into another space for a short reprieve from groceries and laundry, meals and cleaning, ferrying little ones from here to there. Somehow in the garden you find time to dream a little dream while kneeling in the soft grass with seeds in hand, pushing aside an earth worm, thinking about how the summer might go, of people standing barefoot picking peas, or biting into the strawberries the squirrels don’t steal. It’s time away from time.

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I joke with my family that, “It’s all going to be okay. I’ve got the fall harvest in,” when in reality my eight by six foot bed of vegetables only supplies a few colourful meals and delightful raw snacks, not like my grandmother’s farm garden that was needed for survival ‘in the early days’. Still after retiring to the luxuries of town, my Nanny, an image of independence, planted a back yard garden; hills of potatoes and squash, rows of beans and peas, carrots and beets, circled by cornflowers and raspberries, and she did that until she was ninety-four-years old.  It’s my inherited Mother’s Day gift, from my mom, and her mom to be drawn outdoors with a reverence for the sun and the soil and the magic ability that nurturing the earth has to calm and sooth us, to take us to a sweet spot every May of hope and inspiration.  (Discover more at Amazon.com )

seeds in garden

Can I Say It Again -‘Look Up’

mom-and-dad-anniversaryIt’s February today – the month of love. We need more love – not just now, always. During a previous late winter I wrote about wanting to start a campaign. Let me say it all again: It doesn’t have to be on every bus bench or t-shirt or go viral on the internet.  It is made up of two simple words, ‘Look Up’.  Look Up.  Look Up.  Look Up. Though, my campaign has a subtitle – ‘Love the One You’re With’.  So, right now, stop staring at your screen for a minute and smile at a stranger.  Smile at your partner.  Smile at the person at the next table.  The one right beside you at the transit station.IMG_0865

Didn’t you go out to a coffee shop to escape the loneliness of working at home?    So let your eyes and your humanity drift away from focusing on your Ipad.  Take a break from texting on your cell phone. Look Up from the work, or play, that is keeping your attention on your laptop.  Engage a stranger, if only with just a smile.

I am guilty, too.  I have to wait to meet a friend at a restaurant table, and I immediately reach for my phone – the phone that connects me with all the people I love.  I hear that twinkly sound of ‘you’ve got a text’ and I’m immediately eager to see who is reaching out to me.  “No, just Look Up”, I tell myself. The greeting will be waiting for me, if I just resist the urge to look down – away from the world unfolding around me, the toddler impressing his parents at the next booth, the waitress who might linger at my table, or I could gaze out the big window – see the lovely setting sun, the small birds on the horizon, the row of frosty trees.  best-rainbow

Or I’m alone having a pick-me-up in a favourite coffee shop – so what do I do? Voila, I reach for the comfort of my phone, to check my text messages, my email messages and maybe even google the weather.  Instead, I could resist the temptation to touch my cool perfectly weighted phone (thanks Steve) and smile at a stranger, or pause to connect with a silly comment about the weather, the way people used to – in the old days – sharing a thought with someone new.  Worse is when we can’t resist the sneak a peak at the iphone when we’re not alone, but are with friends or family that we’ve sought out, or who have sought us out, to spend a few low tech minutes of actual straight up human connection.  That’s where the subtitle comes in – the ‘Love the one (s) your with’.  mike-and-i-on-patio-summer

On a recent wet and windy day I stepped into that warm coffee spot to view the customers in the line-up, and those hunkered down at the tables with their half-sweet-non-fat-extra- hot-vanilla-whatever’s all looking down, hiding with their many sized screens.  “Look Up,” was what I wanted to bravely call out.  “Look Up. Look Up. Look Up.”phone-booth I have a new idea on this first day of February – go out without your phone. I know it’s scary. But try it. Just try it. Just think your thoughts. XO

Hey! Stop Spying On Me!

What I wanted for my birthday was an Itbit , you know – that sleek looking device you wear on your wrist that tells you if you’d walked like 10,000 steps in a single day.  Ten thousand is a lot of steps.   But that’s not the aspect of Itbit that is freaking me out right now. It also monitors my sleep. Cool, I thought, I’ll wear it 24/7 and let it tell me about my dreams (almost).  The first time after a so-so night’s slumber, when I looked at my iPhone screen where Itbit gives its report, I got all feisty and argumentative. There’s no way, I haven’t slept nine hours in years. Oh, but I was restless twenty-two times and one of those lasted for two hours and seventeen minutes.  I took it up with my still sleeping husband, “This stupid gadget thought I went to bed when I had that two hour nap on the couch during our rewatching of The Sopranos for five hours last night.”

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“So don’t wear it,” he said, all gruff and practical and Tony Soprano like.  “It doesn’t just track your breathing and heart rate, does it? Some of those restless recordings could be me moving, all the more reason we should get a king size bed.” He is all over the king bed idea these days. Tony and Carmella have a king size bed.

But I had to wear it that morning.  I had my going to the gym clothes on – the outfit that makes people think that I’m the kinda woman that eats granola and yogurt and goes to the gym. And now on the mornings that I do drag my sorry ass to the gym what would be the point if I wasn’t wearing this damn exercise tracker. The first time I wore it and checked my iPhone to see what my Itbit and tattled about my ‘workout’ I decided that the damn thing had a broken chip.  But it turns out that you have to do more than a fifteen minute whirlwind of ‘I came in, I lifted some things, I left for Starbucks’ for the gadget to care.

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Speaking of which, my Itbit wants me to tell it how much water I drink each day and what I eat. I’m not telling it everything.  Somethings are going to stay my business.  I want to ask it “Who wants to know?”, because the other night I was sitting in the kitchen at my old-school PC tower computer exploring hotel options for a mother/daughter get away to taste wine in Napa Valley. I was drawn away from my hotel sleuthing by the Soprano soundtrack and joined my hubby downstairs to watch Tony checking out colleges with Meadow and then murder a guy. Itbit interrupted with a beep to show me a text from my daughter, but my arm isn’t long enough for how puny its font is so I took up my phone.  The text said she thought one of her brothers had posted a photo on Facebook that showed his possible new girlfriend in the background. (It wasn’t WikiLeaks but it was intriguing espionage.) So there I was sitting on the couch on Facebook on my cell – onto something else completely different than I had been upstairs at the ancient computer, and up pops ads on my phone encouraging me to consider a whole whack of alternate  Napa Valley hotels and adjacent wineries.

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Okay kids – I can figure out how that happened in your freaking new world.  I get it. But stop spying on me everyone.  It’s too much.  I’ll sleep when I sleep and eat what I want and go to the gym for fifteen minutes if I feel like it. Itbit is going to take a long nap in a drawer. Except for tomorrow….when I keep a date for a long walk with my girlfriend, because what’s the point of a long walk if this dumb gadget doesn’t congratulate me for it.

Do You Remember the Feel of Bike Pedals On Bare Feet?

Remember long July afternoons  when you were maybe, say ten? I do.  I can sit on the front steps with the sun on my face today and recall sucking on homemade orange Tang popsicle while I plotted the rest of my day. Or sharing secrets with a friend in the park, both of us perched on big wooden swings, our feet scuffing in the groove in the earth below us. Or how about being sent off walking to swimming lessons with my siblings, with our underwear rolled in a towel and a quarter for the locker.  Or the jubilation of the hottest nights when my dad said yes, to the sound of the ice cream truck.

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For all of that late July is just the most languidly indulgent time of year. Schools long out, and summers in full swing. The never ending winter is almost forgotten – not like in the crisp days of late August when you can hear it whispering again, “I’m coming, I’m coming.”

But now the afternoon sun heats the sidewalks and bee’s and cricket’s sounds make me lazy and nostalgic for days when I rode a bike in my bathing suit – helmet-less in the days before safety rules – and sometimes even barefoot. Do you remember the feel of bike petals on bare feet? You had to slow down your ride by bumping over the curb and onto the lawn. Or how about summer vacations and roasting a hot dog over a fire that someone else was managing – your bare bug bitten legs hot from the flame, your butt cold from the night temperatures. You couldn’t eat the hot dog fast enough cause after it came the marshmallows – gooey and likely burnt. And if you didn’t bother the grownups around you too much, you could run off after that into a sandy tent or cabin bunk and read Archie comics, or share some giggles with a friend or cousin before you were shouted at to go to bed.

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And so I promise myself on this hot July vacation morning that I’m going to just float in the lake and watch the blue sky, and not chastise myself for this weeks calorie ridden snacks by doing laps from the dock to a buoy and back. I’ll skip the Archie comics and barefoot biking, but I’ll bring out the new bag of soft fresh marshmallows and perch by the fire, immersing myself in a moment in time under the full moon. Which reminds me that the shooting stars of August are coming. Ah August and beach blankets spread over a grassy slope for falling star gazing. Okay – August then is very fine

…if you’d like to read more of my writing check out the book Text Me, Love Mom – available at http://www.amazon.com/Text-Me-Love-Mom-Girls/dp/1771800712

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Teens Playing Dress-Up

I spot another skinny teenage boy in an ill-fitting rental suit standing with his date, who took a hundred and ten percent more time imagining, choosing, and adjusting her glamourous outfit for the evening. They are with a fancy dressed crew of their peers laughing and acting giddy after all the attention of the day. I feel happy even for the weather – for the warmth of the evening sun setting on these kids as I drive by them, but mostly I feel nostalgic for the fun we had at my own four kid’s high school graduations.

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It’s June.  And June makes me think about writing the book, Text Me, Love Mom, and how the tale started with my eldest getting that letter in the mail telling all of us that yes, she would be leaving home to go away to college six-hundred miles from home. As nervous as I was (was she more or less so?) it was hard to fathom.  I was still driving her to piano lessons once a week, reminding her to bring a jacket on cool nights, putting in my two cents about – well – most everything. And she was going to somehow go off and live in a faraway city, (never go to another piano lesson) and get up every day and be part of something else entirely separate from us?

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Yes, of course, she was. As excited as those kids are that I pass on June nights, getting out of limos, or milling in parks in their dress-up clothes, maybe even dishing out money in a restaurant before or after a graduation event – somewhere there are parents whose trepidation and worry matched that excitement. The clothes had been bought and the limos rented by moms and dads who didn’t see how that kid would manage without them – their managers. That gang of youths getting ready to party hard had parents who were losing their concentration at work when they thought about their household ticking along with their son or daughter absent from it. Of course, not all the recent grads will go away.  Some of them will get jobs or go to local colleges, but still life changes.  They’ll stake out used furniture and share apartments with friends, travel to countries their parents have never been too, or find their people in another city.  I know now that they do come home to perch now and again, but there is no denying that this dress-up ritual, and the cap and gown, and late late night parties are part of the threshold to a new sort of family life.

Back in my quiet kitchen, which used to be such a hub of activity, I stare out into the yard.  The peonies have bloomed and are dropping their wide luscious petals, and the dark blue delphiniums reach to the sky. I’m stepping out to water a basket of geraniums on the deck when I get a text from our daughter Lily, who also lives 600 miles away now, “Mom, we’re meeting at the lake on the long weekend, right?”

“I’ll be there with bells on,” I text back and then I send a love note to each of her siblings, “It’s me, just checking in…xoxo ”

blue delphiniums