Category Archives: Self Improvement

May

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Because it’s a time of endings and beginnings, May is definitely my favorite month of the year.  The spring semester ends in May, and we feel exhilarated and celebratory for all the work we’ve accomplished in our classrooms, whether we are teachers or students.  Anticipation for summer travel and summer projects is keenly felt.  Summer is a time to reconnect with friends and enjoy lengthy family dinners followed by a good game of Shanghai Rummy.  (I’m thinking a few games of Feely Cup are in order . . . )  I’m pretty sure my family would say in May, Mary is completely spastic, but I would respond saying, “I’m feeling positively giddy!” (My earworm this week is The Wind by Cat Stevens.)

May is also a time when our college student moves back home.  We couldn’t be more excited to move William home from Flagstaff this Saturday (you might recall Eve moved back home at Christmas to finish her degree and save some cash).  I’m trying not to be too worried about transporting William’s huge bed and couch to a storage unit three miles from campus in Hubby’s RAV4.  I have a strong feeling the Universe will smile upon us and all will go well.  If, instead, there is some bad karma to be reckoned with, I will be cleaning the apartment toilets at 10 pm while Hubby is out renting a truck to haul all our crap.  I’m trying not to give this move on Saturday much energy, instead focusing on how happy we will be to have William back home for THREE WHOLE MONTHS!!!!  With Eve here, too, it’s going to be a crazy, fun summer for sure.

Speaking of having our adult children back home, I wish I could travel back in time two years and slap my “oh pity me” self, who was so super angsty about becoming an Empty Nester.  OMG, what a WHINER she was.  Apologies all around to whoever had to hear my sad story about how my kids were abandoning me.  I’ve hated change my whole life, but once it happens, I’m filled with renewed vigor and vim.  (I know it’s usually “vim and vigor,” buy I’m doing a social experiment to see if I can change it.)  Hubby and I actually embraced being the only two people in our house (besides the three cats and Ruby the Wonder Spaniel).  The house was always clean and quiet, and we never ran out of toilet paper or toothpaste. There were always milk and eggs if we wanted them.  After raising three children, it felt extremely civilized (but a little boring).

If I could turn back time, slapping my old pitiful almost-empty-nester self would not be at the top of the list.  I would change a thousand things before changing that one thing.  At the top of my list of things to change would be being a better student instead of being such a wild child, visiting my grandparents in Illinois more often, being more patient with my children, and appreciating how good my life was even though we had little money.

I’ll wrap up with an interesting story from my classroom today: Our students begin the year at age three, and most of them have reached their fourth birthday now.  They are a very social, distracted bunch, so I appreciated when my lead teacher, put in place a strict lunch policy.  All children were to stay in their seats “attempting” to eat their lunches until the clock read 11:55.  This has been a challenge since our students don’t know if 53 or 59 come before, or after, “55.”  Today one boy thought he noticed the clock moving BACKWARDS, and Andrew (wise beyond his years), said, “Time never moves backwards. If any one of you can figure out how to go back in time, you will be the most famous person in the world.”  This gave them so much to think about that they quietly finished their sandwiches and fruit, their tiny containers of hummus, applesauce, and yogurt, and went out to recess with full bellies to play.

Cheers,

Mary

 

 

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A Snow Storm

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It is Sunday, and again I’m cooking broccoli soup.  I did not fully disclose the reason for last week’s broccoli soup:  we had leftover veg from school snack.  Each school day a student is asked to provide a specific snack, and two Friday’s ago it was broccoli and crackers.  The parent brought in a 3-pound bag from Costco for 13 children, most of whom won’t even EAT broccoli.  So as you can see, I was doing everyone a favor by using up the remaining 2.5 pounds of broccoli leftover from school snack.  Last week’s pot of soup was SO YUMMY that all three of us enjoyed it for many lunches.  I feel terrible when I purchase vegetables and don’t use them—I always picture the migrant workers, bent and tired, picking the broccoli so we can have it on our tables.

In the oven is a new creamed spinach recipe.  It’s easy to stir up creamed spinach, but this recipe has an jalapeno pepper in it!  If it’s good, I’ll share the recipe next time! And Hubby, aka The Grill Master, is marinating sirloin steaks we purchased at Costco this afternoon.  It will be a veritable feast!

This peaceful day of reading Here Be Dragons on the couch under a blanket and puttering in the kitchen was well-deserved after our 24 hours away to Flagstaff on Friday /Saturday to check in on our youngest, William.  We’d had several angsty texts from him over the week, with worries ranging from health issues, to a failed Chemistry exam, to not being able to find affordable housing for the next school year.  I was born with strong empathy (not exactly a gift, I assure you) and was worried all week.  I am sooooooo lucky to be married to my best friend who usually agrees with me  . . . and who also felt it was a good idea to drive the 2.5 hours up into the mountains to check in our boy (who is a sophomore studying Chemistry at NAU).

Well.  We knew it was going to snow, but little did we know we were driving into a snow storm!  I was excited to see snow falling from the sky since it had been seven years since I’d seen that magic in motion.  We were two hours up the mountain when the snow started to come down hard.  Visibility was good, but the road was slippery.  Cars were avoiding one snow-laden lane completely, so we proceeded slowly up the mountain in single file, each driver happy to follow the path carved out by the cars leading this strange parade.

Still daylight, it was hard for me to enjoy the postcard-perfect views of the snowy forest out the window when I knew Hubby was tense and anxious about road conditions.  On the right side, two SUVs had slid off  the road and were without passengers in the ditch.  Just before Munds Park, a semi had jack-knifed into the grassy area that is the median, blocking one lane completely.   (We later found out that ADOT closed that stretch of highway an hour after we had driven it!)  We arrived safe and sound, only an hour late, and were so happy to take William and his girlfriend to dinner and for groceries.  And by golly, I believe we solved all the problems, arranging for a two-bedroom for Fall and after his roommate graduates, an adorable, tiny studio for the Spring semester.  It was fun to be sooooo cold; yesterday was 20 and when we went to bed Friday night, the temperature was 4 degrees!  4 DEGREES!!!

I’m always grateful that our three children have stuck so close to home.  It feels good to be able to swoop in and save the day (as long as it’s welcomed help), and have a little adventure, too.  I’d forgotten the peacefulness of falling snow.  As Hubby fixed their apartment dishwasher,  I stood on the patio, watching the wind blow snow out of the trees in the quiet forest area outside their front door.  I was awed by the humongous ravens cawing and flying about, and breathed the cold air deeply into my lungs.  I  thought to myself, surely this is a precious moment that I will hold close for a long time.

Cheers,

Mary

 

Strong Women

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I am in Mexico.

Hubby and I drove down yesterday morning.  We were greeted by a smooth-as-glass sea and short-sleeve weather in the high 70s.  Bonus:  In the group of 20 single-level condos, there are only three occupied.  It feels downright sinful to have this slice of Paradise all to ourselves.  The ocean water is very cold.  After walking barefoot in the tide pools, I was eager to put on my thickest socks to warm my icy feet.

I brought a stack of novels and magazines, but instead sat in a chair on our patiodaydreaming and watching the birds dive into the ocean, admiring a long line of at least twelve dolphins swim slowly by.  I breathed in and out, letting my thoughts go here and there, losing myself in the gentle movements of the ocean.  I smiled thinking about happy hour with best friends the night before.  I LOVE my bossy friends–the strong women who don’t just smile and nod, but instead snort and say, “You’re doing it wrong!”  I was told I am too intrusive in my adult children’s lives, and more importantly that I am NOT allowed to wear sensible flat shoes to our son’s wedding in two weeks.  “But I want to dance all night,” I whined.  They patiently showed me photos of pretty shoes that would not hurt and would have hours of dancing built into them.  Another friend has been coaching my diet, sending me great ideas of how she lost weight last Fall, and another friend tells me how bad my brassieres are every time I see her.  To G, S, T, L, and L:  I will stop starving myself, and I will go to the mall this week to buy pretty party shoes and a new bra.  And I’ll consider not texting my children every day (not making any promises)!  I’m honored to have your love and friendship.

Speaking of strong women, I re-watched Terms of Endearment for probably the twentieth time.  You know, that old movie with Shirley Maclaine and Debra Winger.  (I love the expanded viewing choices on Mexican Netflix.)  The scene where Debra Winger gives her mom a small goodbye sign with her hand as she is dying gets me every time.  I thought this movie was an appropo choice since this past week I’ve been negotiating  a new situation of co-existing with our adult daughter.  The film gave me lots to think about and induced some waterworks from yours truly.

I mopped up my tears after the movie and went out on the patio to say goodnight to the stars.  Hubby and I gasped!  It was so dark you could barely see your hand in front of your face, but the sky!!!  The sky looked as if someone had thrown a hand full of diamonds onto black velvet.  It’s been years since I had a proper view of the stars.  The vastness and beauty felt overwhelming!  I was filled with an immense sense of peace while breathing in the ocean air and admiring the sparkling heavens. I felt as if the Universe was giving me a big hug and telling me, “Everything is going to be okay.” (And I’m pretty sure I heard, “And wear comfortable shoes to the wedding.”)

Cheers,

Mary

 

Peace and Quiet

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As a teacher, I look forward to the long holiday break as a time to see friends and family, and even more so as a time to get loads of peace and quiet.  Hubby also has off a week at Christmas, and besides organizing the garage and fixing stuff about the house, he also anticipates our quiet week with time to sleep late and and time for reading on the back patio.

Imagine our distress on our very first day of holiday break.  At 6am we were awakened to the sound of a bobcat in reverse. “Beep! Beep! Beep!”  We put our pillows over our ears, but this continued for hours. What kind of madman would schedule home renovations on the 23rd of December?  Turns out it was our neighbors two doors to the west of us.  Seriously?  Whatever happened to the etiquette of not having work done on the weekends?  And two days before Christmas?? The beeping and other construction noises continued until yesterday.

Christmas Day was quiet in the hood.

But the day AFTER Christmas, we were greeted by the sound of a wood chipper in front of our house.  WTF???  Whose idea was it to have all the neighborhood trees trimmed while so many of us were home for the holiday break??  The sound of chainsaws, Mexican music, and wood chippers are still being heard today, two weeks post-Christmas.  We have many common areas in our neighborhood with many trees. Since I am on the HOA board now, I’m definitely going to do my best to get the schedule changed for December 2018.  As I often say, if I were in charge, things would be a LOT different!!!

On the bright side, I got enough peace and quiet that I was eager to get back to school Monday.  I simply feel better when I’m on a schedule.  I truly missed my wee preschool friends–they’re just so stinkin’ cute (three years old)!  Today a boy arrived a bit late, and one girl was so happy to see him that she ran up and planted a big smooch right on his kisser!  The boy’s reaction was one of being completely stunned . . . and then the girl looked right at me, knowing she’d been naughty.  We talk a lot about germs, and they all know kissing is a no-no at school.  I totally let it go because it was such a heartfelt greeting that warmed my heart.  It was an adorable, unexpected moment . . . just one of many I see at my school each day.

The wood chippers are finally gone, and one of the sounds in my home is William playing computer upstairs on Skype with friends.  He leaves for college in two days, and I will cry.  We miss him so much when he is away, but are proud of the good grades he got last semester while pursuing his Chemistry degree.  Another sound is my persistent hacking.  It’s been two weeks now, and I’m tired of this cough!  And lastly, there is the sound of our daughter’s voice.  Eve decided to return to our nest for financial reasons.  We are proud of her grades, too, and (crossed fingers) she will be graduating from ASU with her Bachelors of Science in Biology in December.  Here’s hoping all of you found peaceful moments over the holidays.  Here’s wishing you all the best in 2018!

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

 

A Long Weekend

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Is there anything better than a three-day weekend?  Last weekend was a fun one, filled with time with friends.  The weather has cooled down enough that I’m able to walk with friends in the afternoon after work and in the morning on weekends.  I walked Thursday afternoon with my friend Debbie, and on Friday morning with my friend Mary L., both of whom I met when our kids were six years old and in first grade.  Well . . . now our kids are 22 so all I can say is I love being with my old, dear friends who’ve watched me raise my family and have seen all my ups and downs and have never judged.

Friday at lunchtime found me at Pita Jungle with my “Europe Gals.”  I met these ladies  for the first time five years ago, while on a European tour organized by our middle school.  After ten long days of sight seeing with our families, we were fast friends.  We love to laugh together!

Hubby and I met our Scout parents for dinner Friday night at Mac’s (home of my favorite sandwich, the BLTTA which is  a bacon lettuce turkey tomato avocado stack on toasted white bread, with a side of Cajun fries with Ranch dressing).  These friends are the parents of our youngest son’s friends, and even though we finished with Boy Scouts many years ago, I think we made our best memories camping and hiking and cooking together while our boys were in their teen years.  These parents helped raise our William on camp outs, sleepovers, swim parties, etc.  We always laugh when we’re together, even though we continue to worry about our boys, even though they are almost adults. Good grief, I’m ready for all of our boys to GROW UP ALREADY! (For those of you with small children, let me tell you:  the college years are tough!)

Saturday I got up bright and early at the crack of 8:30 to walk with “band mom” friends.  Fran, Erika, Emily, and I walked around the “fake lakes” just south of my house and clocked in at 3 miles when all was said and done!  We saw snowy egrets hanging out in the canals and lakes, plus lots of ducks . . . and lots of old people walking dogs.  We talked about every little thing, and mostly it just felt good to be together.

Saturday evening found us at my brother and sister-in-law’s new house in Chandler.  I LOVE IT.  It’s so pretty and fresh, and I hope that someday soon Hubby and I can purge ourselves of SO MUCH STUFF and move into a smaller home.  We have enough board games, Legos, and wooden train paraphernalia that we could open our own toy shop. Grandchildren will likely be in the cards in the next few years, so . . . I’m hanging on to them, even though our house feels a bit cluttered.  (I am NOT a hoarder.)

One final friend story:  Last night I met three teacher friends from my school, two of whom have moved on to different jobs.  I’ve only known these women for two years, but as I always say, “You do playground duty together, and you are friends for life!” We caught up on each other’s lives, and again, mostly it was just nice to be together.

After each of these encounters, I felt so happy. I commented to Hubby, “How did I get so lucky to find such intelligent, interesting, funny, and beautiful friends?” To which he said, “You’re intelligent, interesting, funny, and beautiful, too.” (He’s so nice to me.)  My mantra is “Just give your love, and don’t look back to see if anyone takes it.”  (Arlo Guthrie said that.)

And I’m sending out a THANK YOU with an I’M SORRY for bothering everyone with photos of potential dresses for me to wear to our son’s upcoming wedding.  I tried some on at the mall Sunday and shook my head and muttered, “Putting on these fancy dresses is like putting lipstick on a pig.”  I ordered something and promise NOT to bother anyone again.

At this time in November when we are giving thanks for friends and family, I can truly say that my cup runneth over.  I started out life as an awkward, shy girl and somehow grew into a woman who is so lucky to find new friends wherever she goes.  Recently I was asked what my favorite hobby is, and I responded, “Being with friends!”

Cheers,

Mary