Thursday, December 30, 2010

An Ode to 2010...Or Not!

At the holidays, I believe that many of us of a certain age greet them no longer with that thrill and anticipation, but instead with the bittersweet memories of those we love and have lost. I wrote earlier this month about the grief elves stealing the holidays. It’s a constant battle to keep the grief elves at bay, but it’s important to embrace what the holidays mean to you, and embrace the joy, the love, the peace. This year I have been blessed to have peaceful moments with my Daddy. He has never been an easy man to love, but that never stopped the love from being there. I have also been blessed to see my closest, dearest friend, the sister I did not receive from my parents, through a very scary moment in life. That my Daddy trusts me now and can finally show me that he loves me, that my closest friend wants me and her husband there when life could have truly turned on a dime, how blessed have I been. If you have had a roller coaster of a year, I pray for you, for peace and for a recognition of blessings when they present themselves. And to each of you, I pray for love, hope, and happiness.
So to 2010 I bid a somewhat fond farewell. You reminded me that life is a constant jumble of good and bad, happy and sad. You provided more proof to the tired old adage that the sad helps us appreciate the good, and that sometimes a good cry, a talk with a friend and a really large bar of chocolate can all really, really help. You gave me my friend, reminded me that these men love me (hubby, Daddy, sons, brothers), and that by helping my children, I really help myself. My resolution is to remember all of this through the year, and to try to eat a smaller bar of chocolate. How has your year been? Are you happy or sad to see it go?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

'Tis the Season...For Full-Contact Shopping

By Laurie Decker, guest blogger

Ever notice how shopping becomes more of an adventure around this time of year? Now I don’t mean just the longer lines at the post office and check-outs at your local grocers. Nor the flash mobs, nor just plain mobs at the malls.

I’m talking about the kind of full-contact tactics that crop up as you traverse just about any retail outlet.

For instance…

The other day, I was going down the aisle of my grocers in one of their handicapped courtesy scooters (my knees don’t work well for long periods of use) and I noticed that as I continued down the aisle, one shopper was pacing me with her cart. I stopped. She stopped right beside me.  I started up again, and she was right there. I repeated this a couple more times on the tried-and-true theory that once is a fluke, twice is coincidence, but three times MAY be enemy action. I finally looked up at her until I got her attention and said, “Excuse me, but you may not be aware. This is not a competition and there’s no prize for beating me in this race.” She harrumphed and pushed on ahead to the end of the aisle.

A couple of aisles further along my route, I encountered a woman who, well, let me put it this way; I’ve seen less gifted guarding from NBA professionals.  As I neared a shelf that had an item I wanted, she would scoot down directly in front of it and stand there, studying the various items as though she were taking inventory. I waited politely until it became ridiculously apparent that I knew what she was doing, and so did she. I swear I was waiting for her to put her arms out and bend her knees into one of those basketball crouches I’ve seen the players use when they’re trying to keep someone from making a shot for the hoop.

I’m fortunate I don’t have children to buy toys for. I shudder to think what sorts of tug-of-wars erupt at Toys R Us.  I make it a point to stay as far away from that department at Wal-Mart as possible, this time of year.  In fact, I don’t set foot in a Wal-Mart from Black Friday through New Year’s Day if I have any other option available to me; though I do draw the line at ordering that gallon of milk online for convenient home delivery – for only four times in shipping what the milk cost in the first place!

Hmm…I wonder if this game is taken to a higher level for the upper-crusts who shop at those chi-chi, ultra-expensive toy boutiques in NYC, Chicago and Los Angeles. I have a vision of well-heeled shoppers sipping “gingerbread” martinis and nibbling on haute cuisine holiday noshes by world-renowned chefs flown in especially for the season while their live-in-nannies duke it out in the aisles over the last Diamond Barbie co-designed by De Beers (an absolute steal at $85,000), or the Junior Off Roader (comes complete with: all weather fiberglass body with a protective frame, dual hydraulic disk brakes, rack and pinion steering, manual emergency brake, full front and rear suspension, front and rear suspension, three speed transmission, radio and CD player with speakers on the side doors) for a mere $40,000.  Oh, and just so you know, to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Teddy Bear a German company created a limited edition of 125 bears of which the mouth is made of solid gold and the eyes of sapphires and diamonds. That’s gotta be a “must have!”  Yeah, I’d definitely be willing to let my nanny have a concussion if I could secure that for my little Speed Racer. But I digress. (Fun though.)

So why all the confrontational consumerism? I blame it on the era in which we are living. (Cue the band! “Aquarius” if you please, ladies and gentlemen…) 

‘Cause it’s the age of entitlement! Age of entitle-ment! En-TITLE-ment! En-TI-tlement!

Me and mine deserve the best, and the first, and the only one left.  And everything in between if that’s what I decide.

Ah, the spirit of the season! Right. Whatever happened to it? Must have gotten left behind in the trunk of the Junior Off Roader.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Siren Call of Electronics at the Holidays

So with all the frigidly cold weather, has anyone else been concerned about the possibility that hell really is freezing over? I have definitive proof that it is freezing over and that proof was provided to me by my Momma. If you read the essay I wrote "No More Electronics In This House " than you saw that Momma considers electronics to be a royal pain in the tush. Well yesterday, she asked me to read her the blog. I did and then she made the comment "I guess everybody reads the computer now a days." Being the good Southern girl that I am (sometimes, anyway), I simply replied. "Yes, Ma'am." Now for the proof. Her next words, and I swear on a stack of Christmas cookies (I think there are still some upstairs) that this is true, "Well, you never know, I just might have you go get me a laptop next time you come." WOW! The siren call of just never know who it might hit next. Now I wonder if I can get her on Facebook and if she'll accept my friend request, and hit the Like button on the 4gaby page? She might enjoy some World War II video games. Wonder if she'd like an Ipod? She might be a little too long winded for texting though...
What do you think of electronics? Love them and you're lusting after an Ipad, or you hate them all? Do you think video games allow for a little peace in the house or do you spend too much time making the kids get off the darn things? I'll be honest - I love the things, just love 'em.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Don't Let the Grief Elves Steal the Holidays

Possibly the most touching card I will ever receive, with the exception of the handmade ones from our children, had my own signature on it. Now, I'm not the kind to send myself a card, and this was not an exception. Actually a friend had scanned in a card we had sent her fiancee a few years back and sent it to us with a note. We lost this dear man this year and she wanted us to know that he had treasured that card. The holidays can be so hard. Too many expectations, plus too little time or money equals disappointment (what - no diamonds, again? Really, dear!). But for anyone dealing with grief - fresh or not - the holidays can become a constant reminder of loss. Maybe it's that decoration given to you or the tradition that someone always participated in, or maybe it's just the absence of the presence of that person you love. I've lost several people the last few years though I'm blessed to still have my husband, my children, my parents, and more people I love than I can possibly name here. But the losses have brought with them a deeper empathy for others and their losses. It can be difficult to find joy, but in the memories there can also be a comfort, and in the sharing comes a peace and remembrance. So share with others how you feel and you may be surprised at the love you receive back. At the holidays, try not to let the grief elves steal the holidays from you...certainly not while the carb elves are busy stealing my waistline. And for Jim - GO VOLS!

Friday, December 10, 2010

I Went Plastic

By Mary Alford-Carman

I can’t believe I did this. I didn’t really go plastic, as in plastic surgery, but when I was offered a “filler” called RADIESSE (to be in a training session at a local plastic surgeon’s office), I jumped at the offer. As much as I’d like to think that the aging process doesn’t bother me, the cold hard truth is that sometimes it does. So I went with the quick steps of a 16-year-old girl at the prom, looking for the fountain of youth, or at least a stopwatch to check the wrinkles for a while.

If you have any kind of major aversion to needles, this isn’t the thing for you, but I’ve been through worse and this was a cake walk. I watched as one side of my face was softened like a real-life photo shop of special effects, and then viola, the other side matched. My cheeks looked fuller, the laugh lines around my mouth were almost nonexistent, deep laugh lines were gone, and I could still smile and show expression when I laughed, smiled or frowned. Of course they told me that roughly $700 worth of product was pumped into my face. It took that much to make me look…um…less lined. Whoda thunk?

I went home feeling fantastic and new. My husband rounded the corner when he got home and just said, “Wow!” Good enough for me! He didn’t have to trade me in for the younger model just yet. But mere days after I’d gotten filled in, at the Flea Market buying my son a toy truck, the vender said, “Yes ma’am, all the grandmama’s can’t seem to resist their grandbabies.” He is still alive, although I debated for a moment as to what would be his demise.

In spite of the vender’s comment, I catch myself looking in the mirror and going, ‘Not too shabby girl!’ I feel good about it and I don’t think that I look fake. I did it because it was free and I was curious, and I have a four-year-old son and I’m 51. Trying to keep up with the younger moms and my son is exhausting enough without looking it. It would be very easy for me to get “addicted” to doing this at the end of a year when the RADIESSE loses its battle with real time and the real me. We’ll see, but in the meantime, if anyone has any more freebies they want to send my way, game on.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What's on your Bucket List?

In my “It’s on the List” column this month, I trashed the ubiquitous bucket, or life, list. Supposedly it’s the list of all the things we want to do before we die, usually quite outrageous things, like find the bucket of gold at the end of the rainbow, climb the highest mountain, sail the ocean solo. I took issue with them, preferring my daily reality to pie-in-the-sky stuff. What say you?

Have you read the blogs where people list the things they've already done: "re-learn French, Mandarin," "Climb the Eiffel Tower," "Run the NYC marathon." I especially love these arrogant ones, where the resume becomes the list. You've got to wonder about those people. Let's keep it real.

What’s in your bucket?
Do you think you’ll tick them off?
What’s on your daily bucket list, your real-life one?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Support your Local Independent Beauty Rep. Now. Or she'll keep calling.

Okay, okay, I know December’s essay “Death by Makeup” was snarky. Possibly even mean-spirited. I have friends who are Indie Beauty Reps, so my intentions were not to skewer them all. My intention was to examine my response to the whole industry and have a laugh about it. I enjoy makeup, have no quarrel with being feminist and wearing makeup. I quarrel with pushy salespeople, and especially those who I feel are just using me to make a dime. I take issue with women who look down their perfect noses at me and my pores. I vote for building each other up, seeing the good and ignoring the bad. We are not meant to be celebrity-like airbrushed facsimiles of human beings.

I want some cosmetics products that say pro-life, pro-aging, pro-wrinkles, pro-feel good, pro-beautiful on the inside, pro-creative, pro-you. I’m sick of the anti-wrinkle, anti-aging, anti-biotic, anti-septic stuff. (Especially now that I’m coming of a certain age.)

Have you had an interesting encounter with Indie Beauty Reps, or while being one?
What about makeup in general—hate it, love it?
Have you hostessed a party, and how did it go?
Are you okay in the skin you’re in?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sending Sick to School

You could probably tell from my article about sending kids to school sick ("To Send or Not to Send") that I was fairly emotional about the topic. With flu season around the corner, I am stressed already that my children, God forbid, will get sick again. This school year I have already received 2 of those ‘letters’ even though we had sorted out the problem with the first that arrived. I really have broken a personal best! I mean, are we really at threat of being sent to jail because our children don’t live up to the system’s healthy expectations, or do you think like me that it is too extreme a threat?
I have on a few occasions sent them to school with a sniffle and quite honestly felt guilty, but what can you do? Someone somewhere has devised this grand plan of attendance percentages, and Mr. or Mrs. Jobs-Worth implements it, giving no thought to the reality that our schools are like public gathering places for germs to latch onto on another and spread the good word so to speak. Am I alone in feeling that this is an issue within the system that needs to be re-addressed? Anyone got any amazing ‘sick’ stories to tell? Or are you a teacher that has a view on this? I would love to hear from your side, too. Do you mind having sick kids in your classes, or would you prefer the parents keep them at home?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Our Schools are Cooking

By Dawn Tolson
Whilst I was writing my review of the children’s cookbook in our latest 4Gaby issue ("Williams-Sonoma, The Kid's Cookbook"), it occurred to me that there is something missing in our schools. In England we were taught to cook, yes I said it, we WERE taught to cook. Boys and girls alike, we all took basic cookery lessons. It was compulsory in the lower grades and then when you came to choosing your options (in the UK you chose your exam options in Year 9 which is equivalent to our 8th grade), cookery or as it was called, Domestic Science, was a curriculum option. I wonder whether the obesity problem here in the U.S. could be reduced if we taught our children the art of cooking.
At present it seems easier to visit McDonald’s or Burger King for dinner and even fool ourselves that having apple pieces with a fried burger full of cheese and mayo is a healthier option. Jaime Oliver, world-renowned English Chef, started a foundation in the UK whose mission is to raise awareness of the importance of nutritious food and cooking to children and vulnerable groups. He changed the school’s meal system and has started this process in the U.S. I for one hope that he makes it to North Carolina!
What do you think? Do you teach your kids to cook?
Do you think a cooking option at school is a good idea?
How did you learn to cook? Maybe you were taught at school and it is just our ever-evolving school system that has changed; if so, what do you think of that?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How to Get a Cheap Workout

By Mary Alford-Carman

When I wrote “Packaging With Care,” I couldn’t help but think about shopping in general, and shopping at the grocery store has convinced me that I don’t need to join a gym. I have a very active lifestyle, thank you very much, because I shop at the Superstores for groceries, and it’s a workout tried and true. Think of it, rolling the cart, lifting and bending and putting items into the cart, taking them out to put them on the cashier’s conveyer belt, picking them up and depositing them into the cart and then rolling the cart to the car. Yet we’re still not done.

Now it’s time to put them in the car, drive them home, take them out of the car into the house, and, finally, take them out of the bags and lift, bend and twist to put them up. Workout complete.

Does anybody else find that shopping for groceries is the major workout of the week?

How do you handle it with coupons, children, long lines and the time it takes to get it done without stressing?

What is your least favorite part of shopping in your household?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Shopping is Good for the Soul

By Mary Alford-Carman

After music and writing, I have to confess that shopping is high on my list of things I enjoy with the exception of when I was fitted for a bra as discussed in my essay “My Cups Runneth Over.” Going to the grocery store becomes an adventure because I’m never sure of who I’ll meet or who I’ll talk to. I’ve had some of the most memorable conversations with complete strangers and sales clerks. Some of these moments are like little snippets of my life history -- like the time I bought diapers, a girl’s pair of shorts and Geritol from the local Wal-Mart, and the cashier and I wound up talking about how busy life is with children and how many different directions you can get pulled in, especially considering the vast age ranges between my two children.

One thing leads to another and you start to share, not just your circumstance, but sometimes even your innermost feelings. A lady was in front of me purchasing a black dress at the department store and it was evident that she was crying. I pressed a tissue in her hand and we wound up talking about the loss of her mother. Having lost my own Mama, we had an immediate connection, however brief, but just as powerful as some from a lifelong friend.

What does shopping do for you? Have you ever walked out of a store thinking it turned into more than you expected? Is shopping a social event for you? I think I’ll go shopping and see what happens today. Wanna come?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Joy to the World - School Projects

So raise your hand if your child has a project due at school and you're trying to start thinking about the holidays...yep, timing really is everything. The essay, "Four Words to Ruin the Day" is basically my frustration over projects. First the disclaimer, I am all for education. Whew, now that I have that covered, here are a few holiday time project suggestions, and I'd love for each of you to add your own suggestions:

1 - Your child should demonstrate problem solving - have your child determine what your mother-in-law REALLY wants for Christmas.
2 - Your child should demonstrate creativity - have your child come up with a decent present for his/her mother. Points will be deducted if it has to be plugged in (unless a smart phone or MP3).
3 - Your child should demonstrate patterns and colors - have your child decorate the whole house in one day while singing carols...without developing new know the words your husband uses when stringing the lights.
4 - Your child should demonstrate organizational skills - have your child arrange family holiday visits across three states and several blended families. Anything less than ten complaints will receive a grade of A+.

Any others - just looking to help out the school system here...So what helpful holiday projects would you like to see assigned this season?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bullies - Words Do Hurt

I haven't been honest enough regarding bullying. I wrote "A Kind Place to Sit" as a way to pay tribute to the people who didn't bully. But the reverberations of being bullied can continue on through your life. I am a 50 year old wife and mother. I have a very satisfying home life with a great husband and typical teenage boys. We have a lovely home, and I have very close friendships. And yet, to this day, when I walk into a room full of women, I am scared. Now intellectually I know that if they dislike me or disapprove, they will resort to the slightly more civilized method of cold politeness, and simply not include me in their gatherings. But it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that they will not like me because I am too weird or anxious in their presence. Why am I that way? Because I was conditioned from a young age that I would be excluded, made fun of, even circled and teased. So like Pavlov's dog, I expect little and receive less. Being bullied is not something you easily recover from, and as one friend who was also bullied put it - even though I appreciate the adult I became, I can't help but feel that they took something from me. Did you experience bullying? Who terrorizes you? Has it impacted your life? Has it impacted your children's lives? And how do we stop the bullying and exclusion of others? Why do we find it so hard to accept each other as unique and wonderful in our own way?

Monday, November 8, 2010

One Flew out of the Cuckoo's Nest

In "Flying the Coop," I realized a few things…like I know how to move, but I don’t know how to stay. Like it’s a romantic’s choice to keep flying away. Like the result is that precious few things remain, and few things remain precious. Like riding off into the sunset can be fun, but you leave a lot behind.

This month’s Oxford American features an essay about suburban drain, and the word “solstagia” was coined, referring to our especially American lack of place, and our soul’s nostalgia for it. I can trace my wanderlust, which was really a craving for home, back to second grade when we moved from Connecticut to North Carolina, and I never felt part of. Funny thing is, Connecticut was not my family’s home; upstate New York was, and because of my lovely summers there, that’s where I longed for most of my life.

Have you moved a crazy amount of times, and how do you feel about it?
If you prefer staying in one place, why is that?
If you Goodwill and garage sale, what’s your best find?
For me, a purple can of paint is in hand every move. What’s in yours?
Do you live in a place with a sense of place?
Do you long for a certain place?
How can we create that feeling of being at home no matter where we happen to live?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Listless and Free

My latest column talked about the sabbatical my chronic list-making took ("The Surprising Sabbatical of My Lists"). The new routine of no-routine in summer caught me with my list down, and I reveled in it. The gift of a gift card also had its way with me, so my normal grocery list got thrown out the window. Along with my son out of school for summer, I also started a job that required I be gone half the time, which took up so much mental space that I forgot to list make (although I probably needed it more). Things were left undone, but I didn’t mind. Freedom from the list, listless, we enjoyed our free time.

Did summer stymie your to-do lists, or did they change in nature?
What was on your beach reading list? Really.
If you went from SAHM to working Mom, did your lists change?
Or, alternately, if you went from working Mom to SAHM, did they change?
What was on your summer vacation list?
Do your children make lists?
What in the world of Target would be on your list if you received a gift card?

On a completely random note, what do you think of the new ruling that 4-year-olds can now be sued, the little criminals?

Friday, October 29, 2010

It’s the Great Pumpkin, or is It?

By Mary Alford-Carman

It’s Halloween. There. I’ve said it. It’s not Harvest Time, Fall Festival, Fall Ball Time or anything else. It’s Halloween, for the love of too much candy and carved-out pumpkins. I don’t know who we think we are fooling. At my daughter’s middle school they have conveniently called this week “Spirit” week to show their support of their school. I find it a little odd it was held the same time last year and just like last year the kids were allowed to dress up. On Monday it was dress tacky day. Tuesday was retro day, and Wednesday and Thursday had their own themes for dress as well. Even our town council had to mandate that Halloween would be held on its true date which falls on a Sunday, and it created quite the controversy. Years ago, when my daughter was little, the same thing happened and the council decided to celebrate Halloween the evening before, on the 30th and not the 31st. People were so confused as to when to Trick or Treat that the numbers who went were so low the merchants complained, and households were stuck with enough candy to feed a small army.

The origin of Halloween was to honor the dead, mark the end of summer and, in some cultures, celebrations were held. The next day was spent in church, hence All Souls Day in observance of the saints. What on earth is so controversial about that? I realize some religions do not participate in Halloween, and I’m fine with that, but isn’t it an insult to their intelligence (and others) to cover it up by calling it something else and being politically correct? Why all this fuss over what many children find to be a joyful tradition?

What do you think? As for me…I say BOO!

Friday, October 22, 2010

What Diet Works for You?

By Dawn Tolson

In my review of the Dukan Diet, I self-confess to being a diet freak. I listen to adverts on the TV with more than the normal interest; I scan the current magazines searching for new tips on losing weight; but in reality, there are many people out there who would tell me I'm crazy. For what reason, you may ask? Well, the reason is that I am 44 years old, 5’5”, 138 pounds and a size 6. Truthfully, in many peoples' eyes I shouldn’t even be on a diet, but the reality is I am 10 pounds over the weight I feel happy with.

Weight is a personal thing--my 10 pounds may be like 200 pounds to the next person. I own and literally wear my 10 pounds every day, and it is to me a baggage around my ankles or thighs actually. I have come to the conclusion that it is a personal search for what diet works for you and I am still searching. I have tried ones that tell me to drink only coffee, eat cabbage soup or even salmon all day, and still every time I have a limited amount of success, and then Bam! I am back to my larger size as soon as I start to relax and eat normally. Some people can choose a diet, follow it for 10 months and lose a load; some like me spend years trying different ones and never achieve success. I have to wonder what I am doing wrong, or is there not a diet out there that caters to my category?

Please tell me I am not the only one who thinks this way. What’s your experience dieting? Is there an alternative? Did it change once you crossed over the 40 mark?       

Friday, October 15, 2010

Mourning the Loss of my Mornings

by Mary Alford-Carman

When I wrote “Life in the Fast Lane,” I couldn’t help thinking that as much as I look forward to Mother’s Morning Out for my three-year-old son, I don’t seem to get much of a morning out. Every other week there is a party, a breakfast or a field trip that I’m asked to attend. My son is only at the “school” three mornings a week from 9 to 1 p.m., minus the travel time for drop-off and pickup, which leaves me with 3 hours and 15 minutes a day or a whopping total of 9 hours and 45 minutes a week, alone. Those three little days are the only chance I get at sanity, an uninterrupted phone call, heck, an uninterrupted thought!

I often hear, “Careful, one day you’ll miss being with them,” and I want to retort, “But I need serenity now!” I noticed a few other Moms whispering conspiratorially when I told the teacher I could not come to this week’s harvest party. I almost stopped to tell them why I needed this time, but nah, if they’re already judging me, why should I explain? Is it wrong to want the service that I am paying for to handle its own activities without having to provide my own time and even more money for field trips and parties? Is it so wrong to want to have time for ourselves? Why do we feel guilty when we do get it? Am I the only Mama out there who could use a break and isn’t afraid to admit it? Do any of you ever feel more and more of your time is being taken away from you because of in-school activities? As for me, this Mama is taking her morning out!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Once Upon A Time I Had A Life, Too!

So why is it so hard for women to talk about themselves? When I wrote my first Goodness Gracious column, "Don't Expect Me to Talk About Meeee," it really struck me how many of my friends have a difficult time discussing their own accomplishments. We can talk about our children (which can be obnoxious in its own right), our spouses, siblings, shoot I've even heard people brag about distant cousins or being in college with Sandra Bullock (OK, that was me, and I really was in college with her - just never met her - Accounting and Drama majors didn't exactly hang together). But when it comes to talking about yourself and your own accomplishments we suddenly get the "goodness gracious, you don't want to hear about me" syndrome. So what do you think makes it so hard? And how do we do it without being obnoxious? 'Cause we all had our own lives...once upon a time.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Chained to my Lists

Chained to my Lists

In the inaugural column of “It’s on the List,” I discussed my inveterate list-making origins.

-Can you trace your list-making habits to heredity, or is it something else, like a learned trick to manage our fast-paced stimulating world?
-What do your lists look like? Are they on nice paper, scraps, or digital? Do they have an app for that?
-Do your lists help, or do they indict you?
-Do your lists keep you organized?
-Do your lists keep you procrastinating?
-What kind of odd things are on it?
-What could we tell about you as a person by reading your lists?

Share your story here with us. We’ll pick our favorite, and put you on our list.