Category Archives: family

Ditch Day

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We woke on the last morning of November to gray skies, a welcome change after the endless summer we are enduring here in Tempe, Arizona.  It’s still warm, but waking up that morning to the absence of the sun made my whole world look different.  I felt like pulling a “ditch day.”  Maybe it’s because it’s finally cold enough to wear boots, and wearing my boots makes me feel sassy (even though after a few minutes on the school playground they are covered in a fine layer of dust).  Maybe it’s because I was wearing a new blouse with a bold pattern and gypsy sleeves?  Maybe it’s because Christmas is just around the corner, and I’m filled with excitement and anticipation for all of the holiday fun coming our way!

Of course, I did not call in sick to school.

Upon reaching school, I chatted with a friend on the playground.  I asked her, “Did you ever ditch school?”

“Yes,” she said.  “In fact, I was thinking this morning how great it would be just to stay in bed.  I think it’s because of the cloudy sky.”

I shook my head.  “When I ditched class in high school, it was after second hour Humanities, a class I had with my best friends, or sometimes we’d go out to lunch and decide not to go back.  It was the BEST feeling to leave school during the middle of the day and not go back.”

She smiled, and I whispered,  “Let’s ditch.  C’mon . . . let’s go!”

“It would be great to go home and get back in bed,” she mused.

“Think bigger!,” I said.” We could go to the Farm at South Mountain!”

Her eyes got big. “Oh!  A chai latte and a big breakfast!”

I nodded vigorously. “And walk all around the gardens and look in the gift shop! It would be so relaxing!”

Then the bell rang, and all the teachers and all the students went inside to our separate classrooms.

I did not ditch school.

We all love working at our school . . . but something in me that morning made me feel like doing something wild and crazy and spontaneous.  Lucky for me, working with three-year-olds makes EVERY DAY wild and crazy and spontaneous. I had a fabulous day at school, and afterwards did errands and googled Christmas gift ideas and texted with my lovely auntie in Illinois and played Words with Friends and picked up my Christmas cards from Costco.

On that note:  Why can’t we take a good picture?  Hubby and I are standing in strange poses, and there is a hand on Patrick’s shoulder that looks creepy. Is it William’s? Whose hand IS that???  I’m seriously not sure what happened there, but when I look at our photos from all the previous Thanksgivings, I laugh remembering all of the moments that lead up to the picture that is chosen for the Christmas card.

Happy December to all of you.  I hope you will keep in mind it’s okay to “ditch” every once in a while.  My December calendar is packed with social gatherings, and I’m quite certain I will “ditch” one or two of them, just to stay at home, start a fire in the fireplace, and bake cookies while singing badly to my favorite Christmas song and my favorite winter song.

Cheers,

Mary

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Is it Winter Yet???

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Other than the less than stellar Thanksgiving day feast (see prior post), I had a very productive weekend.  I FINALLY planted my vegetable garden.  Our puny backyard bed which measures a meer 12′ x 6′ last year gave us more lettuce and spinach than we could eat!  I procrastinated on planting because a) it’s still SO hot here in Tempe, AZ, b) the bed was a total mess from being neglected for six months, and c) I couldn’t pawn the work off on Hubby because a few weeks ago, he hurt his back. I put on my gardening shoes and worked hard for hours while listening to good music and (annoyingly) the neighbor’s dog yapping on the other side of the fence. (Six months ago we got new neighbors, and I am optimistic that their horrible dog is elderly and on the brink of death.)  In my garden, I was able to scrape off a 2″ layer of fragrant mesquite leaves, plus pull out a summer’s worth of spurge weed, turn over the dirt, water the hell out of it, and the next day planted rows of spinach, mixed mesclun (that’s lettuce for you gardening newbies), green onions, and carrots.  Hubby bought me two tomato plants which I will get in the ground tomorrow. It was a lot of hard work, but last year this small plot brought me so much joy . . . and beaucoup salads!

Another accomplishment to crow about is getting our Christmas decor boxes down from the attics.  Good Lord, this is NOT an easy job.  It’s easy for me:  Each day I say to Hubby, “Gosh, I’m hoping you can get those boxes down for me so I can decorate for Christmas. I promise I’ll make it worth your while,” accompanied by suggestive winking.  Usually this works, and I can stand at the bottom of the ladder voicing concern with comments like, “Are you okay?” and “Don’t hurt yourself!” and “I’m holding the ladder steady!”

This year, Hubby has a bad back, so I had to beg our son, William, (home from college for the weekend) to please, please, please get the boxes down.  He was surprisingly cheery about it, although was clearly nervous while perched on the very top of the ladder trying to coax hard-to-reach boxes into his hands, then pass them down.  But with encouragement from me and help from Hubby, all ten boxes were retrieved from two attics. One attic is over the kids’ shower, so that involves the ladder balancing half on the tile and half in the shower stall.  The other attic is over the garage, but the rod that the garage door hangs on goes midway over the hole.  Every year I look at Hubby and say, “Why can’t we make that hole larger???”  The lesson to be taken from this long story is that now that poor William has shown he can do this job, he will likely be doing it for us next year . . . and the year after, and the year after (methinks with an evil smile).

Other than that, over the weekend we had two lovely dinners with two different groups of old, dear, and hilarious friends (laughing with friends is one of the best things in life, don’t you agree?).  Hubby took me on a day date to the Phoenix Art Museum where we admired favorite exhibits such as Black Cloud and You Who Are Being Obliterated by Fireflies.  So beautiful and magical, and we felt like we were on vacation, even though we never left our home town.

Crossed fingers that this cursed heat will pack its bags and leave.  I’m reminded of that movie Groundhogs Day, in that you wake up each day and think things will have changed.  But no!  Here in Tempe, AZ, it is still summer! Today it was 88 degrees!  I love love love love love love love Christmas, and I’m so excited about this coming holiday season.  Perhaps we will be eating Christmas dinner in shorts after a swim?

Cheers,

Mary

 

 

 

Thanksgiving 2017

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Well I did it:  served another Thanksgiving dinner to my family.  I’m not sure what happened.  I did everything I usually do, yet the green beans in the cheesy bacon casserole were too crunchy, the mashed potatoes were too soupy, the dressing not bready enough, and by the time Hubby carved the turkey, it arrived at the table cold.  Our daughter asked, “Is there any WARM turkey??”  In the middle of dinner, I had to transfer the turkey out of the fancy china dish with the golden trim into a casserole dish and microwave it so it would edible!  I forgot the rolls were rising in the oven and preheated the oven with them inside, causing them to seize rising and not cook thoroughly.  Thank goodness for my “almost daughter-in-law” who brought a delicious pumpkin pie and apple tarts!  Thanks, Samantha!  I guess after cooking this same meal for so many years, I just phoned it in this time.  I love the cooking marathon, but next year will find the recipes in the cupboard and double check my work.

Of course it was great to have our whole family together, but lately the kids want to play games I’m not interested in such as Ticket to Ride and Carcassonne and then when they got to Scrabble, there wasn’t really room for me at the table.  So I sat on the couch nearby playing Words with Friends enjoying the music of their voices and soaking up the nearness of my children.  But lately I feel like when they are all together (and now they are four, instead of three, because of Patrick’s fiance) there is a bit more teasing (not always kindly) and treating me like “Mom,” as opposed to when I see them one-on-one and they mostly treat me like “Mary.”  My kids are all in their twenties now, and I like that we can have a relationship as adults together, without me being in charge of their lives.  I like that we all ENJOY being together (most of the time, haha).  We giggled together over the movie, Seems Like Old Times, which was certainly a highlight of the day for me.  Overall it was very nice, and Christmas time will be here before you know it and we will all be together again.

So the day after Thanksgiving, I was feeling a little blue because Thanksgiving had not gone exactly as I had planned, but I shook the feeling off because it was A GOOD DAY.  I asked myself, why should I get to plan the games and the movie just because I am the host?  I’m so happy to host, so the lesson for me is “let it go” and “be flexible” and  remember to be so incredibly grateful that we live close to each other and can be together often.

I distracted myself from over-thinking the situation by watching several new episodes of Chef and the Farmer on the PBS website.  Vivian exhausts me!  I want to say to her, slow down, Girlfriend . . . and I want to give her a hug.  After watching Vivian cook persimmon pudding, I went into the living room and there I spied it:  The dreaded Book Group novel.  It sat on my coffee table, taunting me with its thick spine which encased all tedious 462 pages.  The title sounded so appealing:  A Gentleman in Moscow.  Doesn’t it sound so romantic, like one of those books you finish and sigh sadly because you’re so sad it’s over?  Well folks, let me tell you, it is NOT that kind of book, and I decided to not let it mock me anymore and placed it firmly in the library pile where it will be donated,and I will never have to look at it again.

Then I picked up Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist, a book my friend Hanna loaned me . . . and it was just what I needed! I don’t know much about this author, but I would summarize this book by saying it’s about her struggle to be the best person she can be and to be a good person in the World.  She has so many great quotes, but this one is what I needed to read this week:  “We sometimes choose the most locked-up, dark versions of the story, but what a good friend does is turn on the lights, open the window, and remind us that there are a whole lot of  ways to tell the same story.”  I hope my kids tell the story of this year’s Thanksgiving that we had a great day together (and not that mom seemed grumpy).

Cheers,

Mary

When I’m Old

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Do any of you play Words with Friends?  I am absolutely addicted to this word game, which I play on my phone.  Each morning after my shower, I sit on the couch and play the 10-15 games I have going. I sip my coffee and pet my animals and truly, it’s a lovely way to greet the day.  During my school day, I can’t wait for a free minute to play a word or two, and lately, at night, I’ve been dreaming I’m playing.  Last night I dreamed I played the word “sofa” for 120 points!  This game is supposed to be good for maintaining healthy brain function and increasing memory skills.  A good player will be able to quickly find words in a jumble of letters, which is called anagramming.  Scientists have studied expert Scrabble players by examining MRI images while they are playing, and studies show that the expert Scrabble players are using different parts of their brains than non-expert Scrabble players and are strengthening areas of the brain associated with working memory.  I’m so happy to be addicted to a game that is actually good for my old noggin!  (Read more about it here.)

In general, I feel like my brain is keeping up with me quite well, but every once in awhile I can’t recall the name of an actor, even though I can see his face quite clearly in my head.  Or the name of a movie or book escapes me.  It usually comes to me later in the day, but it’s a frustrating feeling.  More embarrassing is telling the same stories twice to the same person. I’m especially guilty of this with Hubby, but in my defense, I talk to SO MANY PEOPLE during the day that I can’t remember whom I’ve told what!  I try to be entertaining and interesting and am always happy when someone cuts me off and says, “You already told me.” I also have incredibly vivid dreams, so it works the other way sometimes, in that I’ve dreamed that I told Hubby something and in waking life, I’ve never told him.  You know, just little things like we have company coming for dinner Friday, or my sister will be staying the night next Tuesday.  Lucky for me, after all these years, Hubby is used to my crazy ways!

The little lapses in memory do worry me, and lately I’ve been wondering what kind of old person I will be.  I want to be the nurturing, wise old grandma that always has banana bread baking in the oven and potato soup bubbling on the stove and time to listen to every story (like my Grandma Summers).  I’m so worried that I’ll be the embarrassing grandma with Turret’s Syndrome that shouts out things like, “PENIS!” at family dinners, or picks her nose or farts in public.  I’ve heard of elderly people who take their clothes off at the grocery store, or insist on watching the same tv series over and over again (and for me will it be Gilmore Girls, New Girl, or How I Met Your Mother?).  Will I stop bathing and get that old-person moldy smell?  Will I shuffle around the neighborhood wearing my bedroom slippers and bathrobe leading a chihuahua named Honey?

Well!  I’ve gotten myself quite worked up thinking about my future, so I’d better stop here and take a deep breath . . . and I’m pretty sure there’s a new word to be played.  If anyone wants to play WWF with me, message me, and I will send you my Zynga code name!

Cheers,

Mary

 

The Fat Soldier Costume

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I’m re-posting this blog I wrote a few years ago:

When I was a girl, our costumes were solid. We were ghosts, vampires, Mickey or Minnie Mouse. We were firemen, doctors, and hobos. Our costumes were made from salvaged cardboard and other found materials, or sewed with a bit of help from our moms. We went trick-or-treating without parental supervision, and arrived home at the agreed time with huge sacks of candy, which we poured out and bartered with our siblings. It was a simpler time. Life was good.

Let me take you back. Waaaaaay back. The year: 1973. The place: a small town in northern Illinois. I’m nine years old. Close your eyes . . . can you hear Don McClean singing American Pie on the radio? Can you smell the burning leaves on the cool October breeze? Can you taste the warm apple cider pressed from apples grown at the farm just down the road?

“Daddy, Daddy, do you think I’m big enough to wear the Fat Soldier costume THIS year? I’ve been waiting FOREVER!”

That’s me. I’d grown up hearing stories from my father and my aunts about wearing Grandpa’s WW II uniform on Halloween when they were children. It was legendary, and pretty much regarded within the family as the most excellent Halloween costume ever. But first you had to be big enough to fit into it! When I asked my Aunt Linda about it a few years ago, she said, “it was warm, and the people loved to see it.”

My Grandpa Koppen was in WWII and served with the military police in Europe. He was away at war when my father (his first born) was born in May, 1944. I wish I had more details about what he saw during the war, but he never wanted to talk about it. I feel proud of his service, since nobody else in my family has ever been in the military. After Grandpa and Grandma passed away, I was given several small yellow-jacketed photo books which held blurry black-and-white photos of Grandpa with guns, tanks, and other smiling soldiers.

I will never know what happened to Grandpa during WW II, but I do know he loved his family deeply . . . and he always made us laugh. He passed away the year my first son, Patrick, was born and honestly, I have never stopped missing Grandpa during these past 24 years. He was one of my very favorite people. He was smart, loving, and most of all, hilarious. He had a “bawdy” side to him of which my cousin Bridget and I are often accused of inheriting (thanks, Grandpa!). There’s no better compliment than when one of my aunts says, “Okay Bernie,” after I say something a bit risque. I am a legacy.

Back to the costume: We called it the Fat Soldier costume because even though my Grandpa was tall and thin when he wore it during the War, we were children. To make it fit, we had to stuff a pillow into the front and roll up the pant legs. I remember it being a dark greenish brown, made of scratchy wool, with a jaunty cap. I wore it two years in a row before we moved to hot Arizona where you could suffer heatstroke in such a get-up!

I wonder where Grandpa’s uniform went. The houses in the Midwest have huge spaces for storage and I’m sure, one of these days, someone will come across the uniform in one of the many attics and smile while thinking of all the stories it could tell.

Cheers,
Mary

My New Green Tutu

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I’ve heard that one sign of having a job you enjoy is that time flies by quickly while you’re at work. I love my job, and definitely the days pass so quickly that I’m not sure where the time goes.  Today, too much of my time was spent in the bathroom, but our three year old students are still working on “control” (if you know what I mean).  One particularly stinky incident this afternoon activated my gag reflex—oh my goodness, I’m so glad I did not barf on our wee student!  (Enough about that.)

After school, a lovely gentlemen from Ideal Energy came to my house to conduct an energy audit.  My brother and sister-in-law had one performed at their house recently with great results, and after a recent summer family dinner here where everyone was gleaming with sweat even though our AC was blowing full blast, I thought it was either time to give up summer parties . . . or get the danged AC fixed.  The energy audit results will be emailed soon, but apparently we have lots of duct work problems.  GOOD GRIEF.

When our auditor first arrived, he explained the process, then I allowed him to proceed through the house.  He’d been up and down the stairs twice before I realized there was a bad smell coming from that area.  Upon closer inspection, I found a HUGE cat poop mixed with dog kibble right in the middle of the landing.  UGH.  I was so embarrassed.  I’m certain Ruby the Wonder Spaniel is the culprit . . . and just eeeuuuuwww.  I got to be embarrassed again a few minutes later when the auditor pointed out the large pile of ashes in the fireplace and asked if I could cover them so as not to make a mess when he did the pressure testing.  Clearly these ashes were from last winter (January to be exact) since the temps here in Tempe, Arizona are still in the 90s every day.  I paused and thought about making up something about celebrating Fall early or some such BS, but instead just turned pink and covered the mess.  (Cleaning the fire place is a dreaded task.) Then, as I walked the auditor out, I noticed the body of the ginormous scorpion I killed last night on the front door mat.  Nothing says “Welcome to our Home” like a dead scorpion, right?  Add onto all that the fact that I got really excited opening my Amazon package and yelled, “MY NEW TUTU IS HERE!!!”  (I was sharing the good news with Eve, who was here doing homework.)

It’s a weird world out there, and I’m counting on the fact that the energy auditor has seen way stranger households than ours.  And I’m truly very excited about my tutu:  It’s forest green and super fluffy.  It fits perfectly.  It’s part of my Halloween costume!  I’m dressing as a flower garden, or maybe Mother Nature, or perhaps a character from a Midsummer’s Night Dream.  I don’t have to decide yet and am excited to have something new to wear to the school carnival.  I’ve been the Tooth Fairy WAY too many times.

The auditor is gone.  Eve went home.  Hubby has happy hours every day this week due to a local conference.  The house is very quiet.  I decided I’m gonna bake some pumpkin muffins in my new tutu and singing loudly to my favorite tunes.  Best Tuesday ever.

Cheers,

Mary

 

Beach Butterfly Parade

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Monday, October 9, 2017

I am in Mexico.

This morning, I awoke to the most amazing sight:  Thousands of Monarch butterflies floating over our patio!  Hubby and I sipped our coffee and laughed out loud at the amazing amount of them flying by, admiring their beauty and feeling so fortunate to be here during the migration.  I tried to video the butterflies, but alas, my camera phone is no good.  Picture this:  One small orange butterfly would flitter by on the breeze just above my head, then a few seconds later two or three would come by.  We watched them float upwards and over the buildings, only to see when we later took a walk that they were flying over the roof top to have a snack on the neighbor’s bougainvillea.  Walking down the beach road with butterflies flying all about us was so beautiful and so strange,  it actually occurred to me I might be dreaming. A good pinch dispelled me of that notion. It’s late afternoon now, and there are still a few lone butterflies floating about, all of them flying west towards town.

We saw so many beautiful things at the beach this weekend.  I love teasing the hand-sized crabs who think they are hiding so well in the sand, but when gently prodded with a toe, quickly scuttle away sideways. (The crab is my astrological sign which I do not think fits in any way; the Cancers who I know are not crabby at all, but are very happy, thoughtful people.)  I spent time sitting in a warm tide pool and was happy to see small Sergeant Major fish floating in the same pool as I was.  The majestic Osprey stood stoically on his man-made perch just east of our place. The nest is overly huge, so I’m thinking he must have eggs or babies he is protecting. Twice a day we see the man with his horses for rent walking down the beach.   All of them are tethered except for one young dark-brown foal who hangs back, testing the caballero who leads them, then when they get too far ahead, the young horse begins to feel worried and gallops to join the rest of the group.  It makes me laugh every time. We’ve tried to identify the many birds we see on the beach, but our bird guide is for California and is of no use.

As we swam in the warm water yesterday afternoon, we were enveloped by huge clouds of tiny silver fish.  Two-inches long and completely metallic silver, we “think” they are sardines, but neither of the two zoology books in the condo have info on them. We’ve certainly seen them before.  The birds loved the great fishing; we loved the feeling of being in a huge school of tiny sparkly fish (I’m talking thousands of fish swimming densely together) tickling our legs and toes.

Today the pelicans returned to their mostly odd-numbered flocks, allowing me to stand by my completely unscientific analysis of coastal bird behaviors.  In that same vein, Hubby shared with me that he’s noticed when the tide is all the way in, it is flat at the shore, and when it’s coming in, the tide is angled toward the west . . . and when the tide is going out, it’s angled to the east.  I narrowed my eyes and said, “I’ve never heard of such a thing.”  He shrugged and said this scientific finding was in direct correlation to how many beers he’d consumed at that time.

There is magic in this place. I can feel it as soon as my bare toes hit the warm sand and I inhale all the rich ocean smells. Maybe all beaches are like this: full of surprises, unexpected beauty, and interactions with nature that leave one full of questions. I fell in love with this place when I was here for the first time at age 13; at 53 I’m still in love with this gentle Sea of Cortez, our little neighborhood called Las Conchas, and this small town of Puerto Penasco, Mexico.

It’s finally happy hour, and there’s a cold bottle of Pacifico waiting for me in the fridge. Tonight Hubby and I will watch the bright stars twinkle in the dark sky over the ocean, and we’ll wait for the waning full moon to slowly climb up the eastern horizon.  We’ll feel grateful for this beautiful day, along with a hint of regret at having to return home tomorrow.

Cheers,

Mary