Saturday, May 21, 2016

striking out

Growing up, I was always the "smart one." I was celebrated for the difficult books I read, my grades in school, the awards I won as a concert musician, the articles I wrote for the newspaper, the websites I designed. No one every really commented on the clothing I wore, or the condition of my hair, or my makeup. "Pretty" was never used in conjunction with my name. I was okay with that. I liked being recognized for my achievements and I routinely mocked beauty pageants and other superficial pursuits.

Perhaps because of this, I've never really been one to be that concerned with my appearance. I wear glasses more often than contacts, I get my hair cut once or twice a year and I am generally more concerned with keeping my skin in good condition than I am about eyeliner. 

Don't get me wrong, though. I definitely "dress for success" and I am always well-groomed when I'm out in public. I want to look my best, but I understand that my best is never going to be... Well, pretty. 

The other day I was out to breakfast with my mom, my aunt and my cousin. My cousin is the "pretty one." Oh, she's smart and accomplished and a great mom and an amazing cook and just truly a wonderful person. But she's also model gorgeous - in fact, she was a model in her 20s - and at 50, she's starting to look like she's in her mid-30s. 

So it surprised me when the waitress, who knows me, didn't recognize me at first. 

"I thought at first you were (cousin's daughter)," she said. (Names not given for privacy)

I laughed. My cousin's daughters are even prettier than their mother. "Nope, I'm not that pretty," I replied. 

The waitress gave me a funny look. "No, you're prettier than them."

I took this as a compliment - the waitress is incapable of dissembling. But I was a little taken aback. 

At 40, I'm more comfortable with my looks than I ever was before. I know that my slightly-hooked nose is bigger than it should be, but it is perfectly suited to keeping my glasses on my face. My square jawline is only slightly softened by my chipmunk cheeks, which are finally slimming down in middle age. My eyes are big and wide open most of the time, unless I'm squinting because I forgot my reading glasses. In general, though, my features are just a little too strong for my petite build. 

But pretty?

I posed the question to my best friend, Bean. We've known each other for more than 30 years and if anyone can be honest with me, it's her. 

"No, not pretty," she said without hesitation. "You're more striking. Beautiful, yes, but striking." 

And I thought, yes. I'll take that. I'm good with striking. Katherine Hepburn was striking. Meryl Streep is striking. 

Because now that I'm middle aged, I'm thinking more about how I look. I can no longer rely on my youth, like I did in my 20s. Nor can I use my children as an excuse for not looking my best, like I did in my 30s. I'm wearing makeup more often to enhance my good features (eyes, lips) and play down my bad features (lack of color - thank you Irish heritage - and huge pores). I'm styling my bangs to cover the lines in my forehead. My skin care routine is extensive and involves a weekly schedule of exfoliation, moisturizer, sunscreen and deep cleansing masks.

And I'll ride striking for as long as I can.


Sunday, January 31, 2016

date night

Tonight Nature Boy and I went out for a night without kids. We don't do this often, maybe once or twice a year. Yes, we know the statistics and we know all the advice - couples who go out for regular date nights - sans children - report being happier in their relationship. Yes, we probably could go out more without our kids, especially now that the Ubergoober can be left alone for a few hours by himself. 

The truth is while we do enjoy our adult time, we like our family time, too. 

But when Nature Boy got us tickets for a hunting banquet, we thought we'd take advantage and go out for some adult fun. 

And you know what? It wasn't that much fun. Granted, the event itself wasn't that much fun. The food wasn't that great, the beer was not good, the company was okay, everything just took too long. 

So, as is our custom when we go somewhere and get a bad meal, we decided to hit Taco Bell on the way home. I texted Goober to see if he wanted anything - Taco Bell is his favorite. He did. 

And then we waited 20 minutes in line in the Taco Bell drive through.

Goober started getting worried, so he texted us. And, being good parents, we decided to prank him. Tell him we changed our mind and we were going to go out partying and we'd see him in the morning. 

He was mildly freaked out. We were laughing so hard we could barely contain ourselves.

By the time we got home, Goober had worked out we were kidding and I had confessed our prank. But we laughed. Then we ate Taco Bell and watched a movie. 

The most fun we had all night was getting junk food and watching a movie with our kid. 

Marriage advice is a funny thing, isn't it?

Thursday, January 28, 2016

final requests

Nature Boy's grandma's funeral today. She was his stepmother's mother, so not really his grandma, but we've never been ones to stand on formalities. 

It was a nice funeral, a full Catholic mass. As soon as we got to the church, Stepmom pulled us over to the coffin so we could see how nice Grandma looked. To show us the dress Grandma had designated as her funeral dress more than 30 years ago. And, to be fair, she did look good. At 102 years old, she looked like she was in her early 70s. 

This is the part of every funeral that makes me uncomfortable. I just don't like the viewing of the body. I can't even tell you why. Nature Boy, too. But we soldiered on and comforted Bill's dad and stepmom and shed no tears of our own, in our stoic Midwestern way. I've said it often before, we are not sappy people. We feel our emotions deep, and that's where they stay. 

But every so often, Nature Boy pulls out a loving sentiment that rocks my world. 

On the way home, Nature Boy and I were discussing our wishes for our funeral. He wants to be cremated, as do I. I promised to spread his ashes in the woods on the condition that he would spread mine on my gardens and pumpkin patch. Maybe some in the orchard. 

I had another stipulation - I want a good, old-fashioned Irish wake, with lots of storytelling, lots of food and booze and a celebration of life. I really believe that funerals should be happy, a time to laugh and share memories of the good times and the hard times and the funny time. A time of rememberance and not of grief. 

"And if anyone cries," I said, "they have to do a shot."

"There are going to be a lot of very drunk people, then," Nature Boy replied. 

He is a good man. 

Food Porn

When I was little, my most vivid memories were of my grandma's kitchen. We spent a lot of time with my grandparents, my mother's parents. They lived less than a mile from us and it was an easy bike ride to their home. Our school bus also stopped there, so it was easy for us to go there after school instead of home. 

As soon as we got there, my sister would crawl on my grandpa's lap. She was his favorite, after all. But I belonged to my grandma, and I would join her in the kitchen. We'd cook and we'd bake, but most of all, she taught me how to feel my food. 

Like many farm women, my grandma disdained measuring cups. She firmly believed that a good cook only needed a cup, a tablespoon and, for the really fancy dishes, a teaspoon. And if you didn't have any of those, it wasn't a problem -- your handful was a half a cup, the tip of your thumb was a tablespoon and the tip of your finger was a teaspoon. 

Mostly, though, she felt her recipes. How the spoon moved through it, the texture of the crumb, the meat firming as it fried, the dough moving from crumbly to satin as you kneaded it. She was forever touching the ingredients, feeling the raisins to make sure they were soft, peeling and slicing the apples by hand with a tiny paring knife so she knew how ripe they were and how long she'd have to bake her pie, breaking the clumps of sugar apart into a fine sand. She was intimate with her ingredients and knew them in a biblical sense. 

And you tasted that in her cooking. Pies so tender and sweet they made your tongue sing and your teeth hurt. Perfect roasts with silky gravy. Potatoes boiled so skillfully you didn't even need butter on them. And the cookies... Homemade ginger snaps, chocolate chip, anise cookies, sugar cookies, oatmeal raisin all made from recipes her mother taught her.

I got to make them alongside her. She would pull up a chair to her counter for me and make me touch the food with her, so I could feel when the pancake batter was ready for the griddle or when the cookies had enough flour or when the dumplings were ready to be dropped in the broth. I learned when the meatloaf had enough breadcrumbs or if it needed another egg. 

But it wasn't all by feel. We also tasted. Every step of the recipe needed to be tasted. Did it have enough salt? Was there enough cinnamon? Even spice mixes were tasted, quickly, before being rubbed into the roasts. Hot bursts of pepper softened by a dash of thyme. 

My grandma took pride in her cooking, without a doubt, but it was also how she showed her affection. My family is not a demonstrative bunch and we certainly don't verbalize our feelings -- we're from Wisconsin -- but if you come to our house, you will be fed and fed well. My grandma taught me this. When someone comes to your house, you put out food, even if it's just some homemade cookies and fresh milk. If it was during a meal time, you put out at least sandwich fixings but more often it was a full meal, meat potatoes, homemade bread, a vegetable or two and dessert. And she would smile as we ate, unable to suppress our groans of appreciation. 

I remember visiting my grandparents house one time with my mom, my aunt and my cousin. My grandma wasn't home, but her aunt Mary was visiting. Even though it was lunch time, Mary refused to feed us, nor would she allow us in the kitchen to prepare our own meal. It was unthinkable... Grandma's kitchen was open to all. We eventually left and went on our way, but Grandpa ratted Aunt Mary out and Grandma's Irish got up. Aunt Mary got the riot act and was informed that when someone came to this house, they were fed and since it was my grandma's house, she would decide who was worthy of food or not and if Aunt Mary kept it up, she would be one of the unlucky unworthy few. 

If someone did you a favor or worked for you, you gave them extra. My mother and aunt talk about the threshing crews on the farm and the food my grandma would prepare for them. Full Wisconsin farm breakfasts with homemade donuts at mid morning and sandwiches for lunch, with fresh-baked bread and freshly butchered meats. If it wasn't appropriate to serve someone a meal, you took them a plate of cookies or a jar of homemade jam. 

This is how I learned to cook, to love my ingredients and to enjoy the journey of the recipe, but most of all to pour my soul into it and feed it to my friends and family, knowing that this is how I can feed them my love. 

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

slings and arrows

A while back, I had this great idea that I would share 40 things I've learned before I turned 40. Yeah... That didn't happen. Mostly becuase this happened...

If you don't know what that contraption is, you're very lucky. 

See, almost a year ago now, my shoulder started hurting. It wasn't really that bad, so being the stoic Midwesterner that I am, I applied heat and ice and swallowed a few ibuprofen here and there. It wasn't until sometime in May that the pain got so bad I finally broke down and went to the doctor.

In retrospect, I should have gone to the doctor sometime in January when I noticed the pain. But stoic Midwesterners don't go to the doctor until they have to – a regional character flaw that we should really think about disabling.

See, what I had actually done was tore apart much of my shoulder. Seven weeks ago, I finally had surgery to repair a tear in my labrum and torn ligaments on my scapula.

And you know what? Surgery really sucks.

No, I take that back. Surgery doesn't suck, the recovery process sucks. I never realized just how much I use both of my hands until I couldn't use one of them. And don't even get me started being able to raise my right arm.

So today I'm offering you a handy guide to surviving shoulder surgery and the recovery process.

1. Prep like the zombie apocalypse is coming
Before my surgery, I took a month to deep clean my house and prepare a bunch of freezer meals. Even though my mom was coming to stay and help me, I wanted to make things as easy as I could on both of us. Just knowing that we at least had a couple meals a week already prepared has taken a lot of our stress away. My particular favorites are freezer to crockpot meals that you can just thaw, dump in your crockpot and eight hours later you have a meal.

2. Plan on being as useful as a potted plant for at least a week
I had delusions before my surgery of being up and at 'em in five days. I was so wrong. Not only was my surgery more extensive than they had originally planned, it turns out that I have a really adverse reaction to morphine and the oxycodone caused hallucinations and dizziness so severe that I was praying for death. It took at least 48 hours on a new painkiller before I could even function at a human level. Granted, this is probably an unusual circumstance, but you can use it as a cautionary tale. The moral of the story is to listen to your doctor and understand that when they say six weeks recovery, they mean six weeks.

3. You can't do this alone, so ask for help 
Another delusion I had before surgery was thinking that I could take care of myself. Turns out another character flaw of stoic Midwesterners is the apotheosis of self-reliance. I am one of the worst offenders. However, when you're tripping balls on morphine it's really hard to do anything other than watch the walls melt around you. Even after we sorted out the painkiller problem, I was still unable to do many tasks including drying myself after a shower, cutting my own food, tying my shoes, driving a car, laundry, cooking, etc. So swallow your pride and ask someone to help you.

4. Do your therapy, but don't overdo it
Yes, your aunt knew a guy who had shoulder surgery and was doing push-ups a week later. Clearly, this guy is an alien because humans don't heal like this. You can improve your chances for a smooth recovery if you go to your physical therapy appointments and do your at-home exercises. Just remember that if it starts to hurt, stop what you're doing and take a break.

5. Painkillers are your friend
I really don't like taking drugs (see above re: morphine) so I was trying my best to limit the amount of pills I was taking instead of taking the recommended dosages. This was a mistake, especially considering that I have the absurd pain tolerance that comes with being a redhead. By the time I realize I'm in pain, I'm in pain so severe that it makes childbirth seem like you're floating on clouds and it's going to take a lot to come down from that. And when you're in that much pain, you're going to set your recovery back. You won't feel like doing your exercises and you sure as hell aren't going to sleep. Also, you will be so bitchy that even your spouse - who has sworn to love you in sickness and in health - will cheerfully offer to kill you and bury you in the woods. Not cool. Just take the damn drugs.

6. Make friends with your recliner
There is just no getting comfortable when you're strapped into a sling, but recliner can offer more comfort and support than any other piece of furniture I've found.

7. Enjoy the downtime
I work full-time, help my husband run our business, serve on a foundation board, volunteer with arts organizations, raise children, homestead and a lot of other things. There are very few times when I'm actively relaxing. And, for the most part, I was happy with that. I had no idea what I was missing. Turns out, relaxing is not so bad. I read magazines, books, watched bad TV and generally just chilled. It was awesome. I'm going to try to do that more. 

So that's what I've learned. Anyone else have any tips to share?

Friday, May 01, 2015

40 before 40: Never say never

For several years now, Nature Boy has been bugging for a dog. Hard. Like at least twice a week he'll bring up photos on his phone and sigh wistfully, telling stories of the dog he had when we were first together (who lived with his mom) and the dogs he had growing up. 

I get it. I had dogs growing up, too. My favorite was a miniature schnauzer who had some serious birth defects including a pericardial hernia and significant brain damage. She was a great dog and her "bubble" on her chest was always a great conversation piece. 

So I also know how much work dogs are and, frankly, we just don't have time. We both work 50-60 hours a week, we manage a 40-acre hobby farm (without any chickens, but that's another story) and we have three children. 

"We can get a dog when we can adequately care for our children," I always said, knowing we'd never be at that place. 

Then, right around Christmas, Nature Boy got a SnapChat from Ty, who was working as a hunting guide in Wyoming. He got a puppy. From what we have been able to discern, he was working or visiting a farm and learned that this puppy and her mom were found in a barn. I'm still fuzzy on the details, but she was the only puppy of the litter to survive and breeding is questionable - Australian Shepherd and ... something. Maybe a border collie? Probably some kind of terrier. 

So when he came home last month on a layover between Wyoming and Alaska - his next stop in his hunting/fishing guiding career - guess where the dog landed? 

Meet Dixie Einstein. We took her in on a temporary basis and now... well, it's looking pretty permanent. 

And  for someone that said, "NEVER!" to getting a dog, I'm absolutely smitten. She follows me every where and has become my laundry, gardening and running companion. During the day she goes to work with Nature Boy and has become the official mascot of our archery shop, but as soon as I walk in the door, no one else exists. 

Well, except Goober. 

Maybe it's because we only have one kid at home and he's pretty self-sufficient. Maybe it's because our schedules have finally settled into a routine. Maybe it's because she is a herding dog and pretty easy to train. 

Or maybe it's because I'm learning that never isn't a good place to be. I've said never a few times in my life: I was never having kids. I was never getting married again. I was never going to go hunting. I was never going to shoot a bow. 

Yeah... Ask me how all of that worked. 

So now I'm vowing never to say never about my life. It's probably about time. 

Sunday, December 07, 2014

39 for the first (and only) time

On Friday I turned 39 years old. 

"For the first time?" my standpartner asked. 

"For the only time," I replied.

Truly. I have never been the woman who lives perpetually in the nines, so I'm not going to lie about this one. You know those woman, the one who claims to be 29 well after she crosses the 30 line. They joke that it's their "29th birthday," but you can always see the desperation in that laugh. They aren't ready to get old, to let go of the life they had before.

Me? I say, bring it.

Frankly, when I look back on everything in my life so far, it's been quite a ride. There have been some good things - my kids, my Nature Boy, my family, my music, my career - and there have been some bad things - a divorce (or two, depending on your definition), death, financial problems. But through it all, I've learned a few things. 

So for the next year or two, I'm going to be reactivating this old blog to share with you a few of my favorite life lessons. I'm going to shoot for 40 of them... 40 things I've learned before I turn 40 next December. 

I hope you enjoy. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

embrace your not so inner geek

I reread the Harry Potter series recently and it hit me again how genius this series is. 

Not because of the fantastic stories, the brilliant characters or anything like that, but because of the idea that we are all magic. 

Now, I know... there are a whole lot of people who get all up in arms about the fantasy genre and more who got their undies in a bunch that we were celebrating witches, but I'm not sure that's what things are about. 

I think the magic is more symbolic. That everyone has that something inside them that makes them a hero. Their mystery superpower, if you will. 

For my husband, it's his ability to fix anything. Seriously. Camera lenses, leaky toilets, loose doorknobs, broken hearts, he can do it. If he can't, throw that bitch away. 

My mother's ability is to look completely appropriate no matter what the situation. Victorian tea? Check. Parent/teacher conferences? Check. Hauling wood from the barn to the house? Check. Her hair and makeup and wardrobe will not only be appropriate, but stylish. Me? I'm lucky most days if my shoes match. 

My boss can turn any situation into a positive. There was a meeting we had at work that was so bad it had two of us (including me) crying, three so angry they were unable to form coherent words and the last so in shock she was unable to walk. By the end of the meeting, my boss had all of us eager to move forward with a new plan that we all - miraculously - agreed to. It was amazing. 

See, that's something I've learned. We all have something in us that is magic. Some skill, some quality, something that makes us special. Even people we don't think are special has one. It may not be someting that we agree is special, but it's there. 

For a long time, I was very judgmental about people. If I didn't agree with them, or if I felt they weren't operating on the same level I was, I wrote them off as not worthy. And it stressed me out. I would aactively wonder how they had managed to do what they had done, become what they were, being as unworthy as I had condemned them to being. 

But then I started to see things, little things that made me rethink my stance. (Fulll disclosure... I had a lot of help from a therapist.) And you know what? It changed me. Made me less stressed. When I focused on finding the positive, I felt more positive. That  didn't mean there weren't negatives, but those negatives were a lot easier to deal with when they were tempered by the magic. Sure, he messed up that headline for the seventh time, but at least he called in before we went to press to fix it.

So that's my lesson for you today... find the magic. It's there. Celebrate that and just enjoy it. Let that chase the negative away. 

(This post is part of my 40 before 40 project - 40 life lessons I've learned before I turn 40. These thougths are my own and you can take them or leave them. Just please be nice.)