Saturday, November 30, 2013

*Ignoring the Scales

During a lively discussion among friends about weight, one of our girlfriends, the THIN one, I might add, told us the best thing she ever did was throw away her scales.  It was so liberating for her.  

"How brave," I thought. "But how does she know whether to feel good about herself or not?" I wondered.  I'm just KIDDING. Sort of.

For now, this just a mental picture I have in my fantasies.
But seriously, I pondered her words, and pictured my scales sitting on top of a heap of trash in our bin, and it made me smile.  I couldn't bring myself to do it, mind you, but just the thought of that image made me happier.  And so, for the next couple of weeks, I avoided the offending rectangular prism in the bathroom.

Each morning, I would get up, cast a glance at our scales, and then walk on by. How nice it was to just ask myself, "How have you been eating? Where could you improve?" instead of knocking myself about mentally for some arbitrary number on the dial that reflects a variety of conditions; water retention, muscle gain or loss, medication side-effects...but doesn't reflect at all on my character. Yet, that is how I'd always used it.  

In the past, the scales revealed to me my weaknesses and my flaws. They indicated whether I was in control or out of control, strong or weak, bad or good. A bonus of buying a DIGITAL scale is that it allowed me to judge myself harshly in the smallest of increments. I could determine my worth in tenths!  

So, tossing the scale, or in my case, ignoring the scale, was an act of defiance, and liberation. I was going through an emotional time, and realized I needed to be kinder to myself. 

My self-talk became more gentle, and I would suggest that I make a veggie smoothie before tackling the leftover Halloween candy. I would remind myself that I might overeat occasionally until I learn how to deal with my feelings, but that this was not the end of the world, and as soon as I started feeling better, I would increase my efforts to eat better.

Things were going quite well until I had to go to a counseling appointment. The receptionist asked the client ahead of me to step on the scales. 

"NOOOO!" my mind screamed."What in the WORLD?  They WEIGH us here? I'm going to need more than interpersonal communication counseling if she has to record my weight!"  I considered telling her she better not utter one OUNCE of my weight out loud.  I would avert my eyes.  And then I thought, ready or not, just own it. And get over it. Goodness knows I've done that enough in my life. 

So while the first client had his blood pressure taken (Blood pressure?  At a therapist's office?  Go figure.  Mine was going to be sky-high after being weighed!), I slipped off my shoes, and surreptitiously stepped onto the old-fashioned balance beam doctor's scale. 

"So glad I drank a whole quart of water on my way over here," I announced to the room, a little too loudly, to excuse at least TWO pounds of what we were about to witness, and I set the heavy metal weight about where I thought it should be, and began the fearful task of tapping the sliding weight toward the right, where the HEAVIER numbers were. Good grief. Tap...tap...tap... Well, this was not going well at all. Tap...tap...there. Well, how disappointing this particular result was to my still raw psyche. Up seven pounds from where I was when I was trying to go DOWN ten pounds.

Visions of all of my sins flashed before my eyes: Pumpkin-Spice Lattés from Starbucks, fried ice cream from Garcia's, nibbles of caramel-flavored candy corn, Pepperidge Farm Pumpkin White Chocolate Chip cookies... I HATE SCALES!!!  And then I heard the receptionist say that she wouldn't be needing my weight; not today. Whew. I scurried back over to the cold, metal scale, and nonchalantly slid the weights back over to zero, erasing any evidence of my embarrassment. Now we were back to only my having knowledge of the number. What was I going to do with this information?

I beat myself up over it for a couple of weeks, feeling TERRIBLE about the number. My birthday, numerous family celebrations, and Thanksgiving all occurred during those two weeks.  

"I'm sure this is all going extremely well," I thought. "I'm just compounding the problem with every bite of cake, every nibble of cookie, every sip of holiday drink." Every day, I imagined my weight climbing ever higher, back to my HIGHEST WEIGHT OF ALL TIME.  

Fast forward to this morning. I considered my petite friend's tossing of the scales. She simply judges her health on how well she tackles the big hill on her daily walk, how her clothes feel, and how her body is functioning. That is all well and good for her, I believe, but for me, who has always needed some sort of monitoring, I want to be able to check in from time to time to see how close my estimation is to the actual number. We "women of the Amazon" need a little reminding every now and again.

I cured myself of incessant weighing years ago. I used to weigh upon wakening, before breakfast, after breakfast, when I got home from school, after I worked out, and before I went to bed. During that period of time, I desensitized myself to the natural fluctuations of my weight. I understood better how my body was responding to water consumption, physical exertion, and eating patterns. Lately, I have lost some of my common sense approach to weight control, and need to retrain myself to eat better, and then to better understand what is going on with my weight.

So, this morning I told myself to get on with it. "Get ready to own this. You've had two weeks of being mean to yourself, now it's time to see what the reality is, and then make adjustments in lifestyle choices accordingly." I knew I would either be pleasantly surprised, or slightly overwhelmed. It was time to face the music.

Whew. I am so glad I did. My weight is down...SEVEN pounds from that day at the therapist's office. Of course, it was. I have not eaten like a madwoman...and that day I was fully dressed, minus the shoes...and remember... I'd had a full quart of water on the way to the office. No more mental abuse from myself about my habits, and no more infernal internal noise telling myself I'm off my game. How silly that I was needlessly carrying around seven pounds of emotional baggage for all of those days. Being a slave to the scale is so foolish. Now I can resume healthier eating habits, and increase the frequency of my walks.

I'm going to ignore my scales for another period of time, but I'm not going to toss them just yet. For me,  I need a little bit of accountability every once in awhile. I will continue to ask self-assessing questions, and will use the scales as one small part of assessing my health. No longer will it cast the deciding vote on whether I have worth or value. My weight is only a number; a very small part of determining my overall health, and plays no part at all in determining my value. 

Operation Accountability starts today! My scales will be a little lonelier, but I'll visit them again, just not any time soon. They're going to have to get used to feeling ignored, while I get used to taking a healthier approach to the holidays!

Friday, November 29, 2013

*Baked with Love

Sigh. It's a quiet post-Thanksgiving Friday for us today. We're at home, digesting the wonderful food, and sweet memories from yesterday. We had 15 people at our house, and it was delightful.

My sister brought me this beautiful Poinsettia for my birthday gift, and took the time to make our family's traditional Christmas cookies, Pfeffernusse. I consider those cookies a labor of love.

Yesterday, we were praising Mom's rolls. Someone said, "They're so good because she bakes them with love."

I felt a little nervous, and could only say, "Well, good luck with that turkey today.  I made it with a lot of anxiety."  We chuckled, and as it turns out, the anxiety must have had a lot of love underneath it, because it turned out just fine.

No shopping for me today.  This girl can't take the crowds and the craziness.  The rest of my shopping will be done at my leisure, on line for most of it.  

I'm baking my son's favorite holiday dessert, Paula Deen's Gooey Butter Pumpkin Cake.  I'll take it to Mom's later today to share with the family.  For now, Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving special is on TV, and I'm going to watch it. I LOVE THE HOLIDAYS; all of them.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

*I Don't Want to Be a Martha

Whenever I hear the story from Luke about when Jesus went to the home of Mary and her sister Martha, I always squirm with discomfort.  (Luke 10: 38-42)  I think anyone who has read the story agrees that we should all strive to be like Mary. Just recently, I have become aware of how like Martha I have always been. Like Martha, I welcome guests into my home.  That's a good thing. Like Martha, I get a little grumpy when there is so much to do to make guests feel welcome, and people like Mary sit around, enjoying the company while I slave away tidying up and preparing the food.  Um.  That's not a good thing.

I'm afraid that I identify a little too much with Martha.  If I had been there, I'd have been tossing things around in the kitchen, throwing icy glares at old Mary, sitting on her butt, talking to Jesus, while I would have been busy, busy, busy. 

Why can't I just be like Mary?  Why can't I just love the people around me, and let the details take care of themselves?  Why do I feel obliged to be like Martha?  

This morning, I realized that I can change.  My intention on this day of Thanksgiving is gratitude; for my blessings, for my family, for the opportunity to all be together.  I will invite peace into my heart, and allow others to help, while focusing on the people, not the things, for our holiday gathering. 

The house is relatively tidy; I can relax my goal for immaculate.  The worrisome bird is finally in the roaster. Whew.  I had a sleepless night over that little detail.  The sweet potatoes are ready for a little syrup and topping.  Slight assembly is all that is needed for our Pumpkin Trifle.  Everyone else is taking care of the rest.  It's time to relax and enjoy this beautiful holiday for what it is: a time to give thanks.

Yesterday I was on a roller coaster between blissful peace to frantic panic.  The morning was delightful with music and holiday lights and shopping.  The store was not overly crowded; I found everything I needed; I carefully selected some beautiful oranges to make some holiday potpourri for gifts.  Before driving home through the canyon, I treated myself to a Dirty Dr. Pepper (coconut syrup added), and I listened to XM stereo's Holly channel all the way home.  And then, just like that, my focus shifted.

Where were those oranges?  Oh, no.  I bought all of the wrong stuff for our Keurig?  Was the turkey thawing fast enough?  Our floors look streaky.  Should I set the tables now or in the morning?  I forgot to get canned yams!!!  We live over 30 miles from town.  As I crested the hill into Marysvale, Tugs convenience store came into view. I would buy their yams I had seen in the back of the store that morning.  Yes, they would be pricey.  No, I wasn't going to quibble about the money.  Yes, there would be much more prep since they were fresh.  No, I wasn't going to let that stop me.

I started to wrap the last of the presents.  Yes, our crazy family adds a little extra holiday to
Eric, in his fine Italian suit, with my friend Cindy and me. 1984
Thanksgiving by doing our gift exchange. Thanksmas, we call it.  And then I saw my mistake.  My brother Eric had asked for some warm winter socks.  I knew just where to get them.  Our local Ace hardware has a nice assortment of wool blend socks.  I had felt several pairs to find the softest ones, and I grabbed them.  Something you need to know about Eric...our family has always joked that he is our Mr. GQ, always carefully dressed. When he was a young adult, he saved very carefully from his job at Barnaby's Pizza to be able to afford his first complete Italian ensemble...from the fine leather shoes, to the fitted suit, to the shirt and tie.  He could have been a model.  My handsome brother always looked nice.

So, back to the socks.  What I had accidentally bought was DUCK COMMANDER socks.  Now, I love watching Duck Dynasty as much as the next retired school teacher, but I would NEVER buy my brother something with Uncle Si emblazoned on it, or the words HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY on the front.  So what did I do?  I bought my fashion-conscious brother two pairs of Duck Dynasty socks. Oh, well, we'll laugh about this later.  Like I said, we live quite a distance from town.  He's getting the socks.

All of the little problems were sorted out.  Bridger bought what we needed for the Keurig by running into town before coming home; I dug out the old, slightly dry Cutie tangerines to use in the potpourri, and we had a simple frozen pizza for dinner.  The three of us enjoyed some Charlie Brown holiday movies on Netflix before we all headed to bed.

Sleep is not my friend the night before holiday gatherings.  I still fret over the details.  What if the turkey isn't thawing properly?  How am I going to wrangle that 24 pound bird by myself with it covered in butter?  Why didn't I remember to bring the whipping attachment for the mixer from our other house?  So around two, I found myself re-reading recipe directions online, sipping Kava tea, hoping to return to sleep before dawn.

Now that the turkey is in the roaster, and I know that Mom is taking care of the whipped cream before she arrives, and I realize I only have about another hour of kitchen duties to take care of, my goal is to relax into the moment, and simply enjoy this day.  Soon our home will be filled with the fragrance of roasting turkey, and yummy citrus and seasonal spices. There will be laughter and teasing.  We will enjoy a delicious dinner consisting of my mom's yummy rolls, my brother's famous stuffing, and my sister's creamy mashed potatoes.  There will be dessert.  

Before we open gifts, each of us will take a turn to tell what we are grateful for.  We'll open gifts. Eric will be gracious when he opens his; you see, he's not just a classy dresser; he's just plain classy. We'll all clean up; there's never just one person doing it all, and for that I'm grateful.  I hope today we'll be a room full of Marys, enjoying each other's company and taking part in the holiday festivities.  We have a position for a Martha opening up in our family.  Any takers?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

*The Six-Word Memoir; Want to Try It?

Here's a challenge for you. Write a memoir in six words. Anyone can tell a rambling tale; goodness knows I can! Keeping our life story to six words would challenge the best of us.

There was a brief article in the February 2012 issue of the Oprah Magazine that caught my eye, "Mini-Memoirs: Your Life in Six Words." The concept of a brief, concise autobiography in a handful of words intrigued me. Could I do it?  Could you?

Larry Smith, editor of SMITH Magazine, had challenged writers to write their memoir in only six words. Over the last several years, he has collected over a half million stories. I will share a few of my favorites here with you, and then I'm going to take a stab at it.

"Thought I would have more impact."  -Kevin Clark

"Brought it to a boil, often."  -Mario Batali

"Hoping my obituary spells 'debonair' correctly." -Greg Easterbrook

"Divorced twice, lived happily ever after." -Susan Guyaux

"Became my mother.  Please shoot me."  -Cynthia Kaplan

"It's like forever, only much shorter."  -Pete DeVito

"Still trying to impress my dad."  -Shoshana Berger

"She read too much...into everything."  -Jessica Reed

Aren't these great?  We can learn so much about someone in such a few attitude, a motto, a mantra, a theme, a wish, a regret, a summary.  I was impressed with each author's succinct way with words.  So I decided to give it a go. And I cheated.  I did more than one.  You know me; if six words are good, more words are better!

Denise's attempts at the Six-Word Memoir

Through my writing, I live twice.

Searched everywhere for peace; found within.

Takes photographs to live moments again.

The littlest things make me happy.


if you decide to try it, drop me a line.  A six word line would be great!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

*Who Put Jesus in a Burrito?

Berries, pine cones, and frosted branches!
Christmas trees fascinate me; I am drawn to them, like a moth to flame. I study them, deciding what it is that I love, and figuring out if it's something I could copy at home. We bought a new tree this year, and I am in love. It was "half off," if I can believe that. Seriously, weeks before Thanksgiving, the store marked EVERY Christmas item half off, which probably means they jacked the prices up so they could reduce the prices to something less horrifying. Okay, that was my inner Scrooge emerging; sorry.

This year I decided to drape a gauzy, shimmering garland that must be about two feet wide around the tree. What a beautiful product THAT is. And what a pain in the butt to get it wrapped around the tree. It's like trying to put on nylon stockings with fancy rings on every finger. That fabric catches on every little thing.

After snagging the ribbon all over the top few branches, I got smart. I stuffed the garland in part of a gift wrap tube I'd snipped to shorten it, and then I could bypass all of the snafus which dangling ribbons create. I just fed the tube through the branches, allowing the ribbon to fall out as I threaded the tube through the branches. I know; my brilliance surprises me, too. I expect MENSA will be contacting me after the holidays to see if I'm interested in joining their illustrious group.

Over the years, I've tried just about every tree there is: real (that became a serious fire hazard); real, ultra large (fell over about five times before we wired it to the window frames); artificial (that smacked of fake-ness); and flocked (that left a mess for me to clean for the next several weeks).

This year's tree is a winner. It meets all of my criteria.  
1. It has to stand the test of time; it may have to look green for MONTHS!  
2. It has berries and pine cones.  
3. It is lightly flocked with icy-looking crystals.  
4.  It was half-price! (Even though I'm still not sure it was exactly a bargain.)

I've never had a themed tree, unless ECLECTIC is a theme. Since we have two houses to maintain, I have two trees. (Wouldn't you?) They are both filled with strange and entertaining ornaments. We have Jesus, Boston Terriers, an airplane, little nativities, silver initials, pigs on skis...yes, folks, we have it all.

This year I've added ORANGE decorations because it has become my favorite color. One of our ornaments is my very favorite, a small handmade clay ornament of Jesus in the manger that I purchased at a holiday boutique when Sierra was born.

Many years later, when my youngest was old enough to talk, the children and I were in the living room decorating our large live tree. Bridger tapped me on the back as I was unpacking the Christmas ornaments.

"Mama, look, somebody put Jesus in a burrito!" 

That is exactly what it looked like. No wonder I love that ornament so much; it combines my favorite holiday with my favorite cuisine.  
Every year, he smiles as we retell the story of Jesus in the burrito. One day, I'll give my favorite ornament to him, so he can tell HIS children the story from his childhood Christmas.  

Feliz Navidad!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

*Seeking Happiness with a Vengeance

There are times in my life that I have allowed circumstance to dictate how I feel.  During those moments, I find I am not taking a pro-active position, I am simply reacting to everything around me. I'm like a leaf in the wind.  Once I become conscious of my weakening attitude, it is like I attack the dark cloud of discontent like a warrior.

The few times I have confided in my friends that I'm struggling, the comments have ranged from, "I'm so glad to know you're sad.  I thought you were always happy," to "You always seem so happy. No one would ever know."  That's the hard part for me.  I've always believed that no one should know my secret of occasionally not being happy.

There is a part of me that feels threatened by sadness. I feel like it is a weakness on my part if I allow myself to sink into that feeling. So I fight to stay afloat, to remain buoyant, to keep myself from drowning in the whirlpool of the blues.

During a recent bout with a lingering longing for a better mood, I discovered the Happier app. Currently, it's an iPhone app and a website accessible by computer, with an Android app in the works. Happier's co-founder Nataly Kogan is one of the most amazing TED Talks speakers.  Her 15 minute video led me to her website, and things just got better from there.  Nataly is a Russian-born immigrant who was in search of the American dream.  After accumulating wealth, and the stuff of life, she realized that what truly makes us happy isn't the THINGS, it's noticing the little things that make us happier right now. 

For me, I have always had a grateful heart. I take joy in the slightest things.  Somehow by focusing on finding at least three things that make me happier each day, and recording them on my Happier page, my life started to turn around.  Don't get me wrong, my life was never in such a bad spot; it was just in a terrible rut of noticing that I wasn't as happy as I thought I should be.  So many things have come together for me in these last few weeks, and I am certain it is because I was no longer trying to figure out what was wrong, I was finally making a conscious effort to discover all of the little things that were going right.  I have made some new friends on Happier, and the online community lifts each other up during our less happier times, and celebrates with one another when things are going well.  

What a simple concept Happier is.  Notice and record at least three things that make you happier each day.  You can jot them down on paper, keep a log on your computer, or do what we do, record them online on  The wonderful people on Happier just reaffirm to me that there is so much for which to be grateful.

My greatest examples come from those who have so much to lose, the ones for whom daily life is a struggle.  There are warriors who are battling dreaded illnesses with valiant hearts and strong spirits. I feel like my soul is fed by their example.  I need to be more grateful for the relative ease of my life, and for my good health.  I should not take so much for granted.

In January, Happier is offering a "Jumpstart Your Happiness" course.  It is $40, for a limited time, for the first 100 people to register.  There will be weekly videos, daily reminders, a journal, and several other gifts for signing up.  Of course, the Happier app is free, and available to all of us.

During this week of Thanksgiving, I am most grateful for my family, my friends, and my blessings of health, strength, and happiness.  If you think you could "up" the happiness factor in your life, you are welcome to join us on Happier.  Seeking to recognize the small blessings in our lives can only make us more grateful, and in turn, happier.  Happier Holidays to you all.

Friday, November 22, 2013

That's a Wrap! (Wrapping Gifts with the Pleated Paper Technique)

If you have a few moments, and enjoy paper crafts at all, you might get a kick out of this little tutorial. However, if you are experiencing anxiety about the holidays, or are feeling overwhelmed this time of year, you might want to skip this post, and take a few minutes to put your feet up, and read something else, like SIMPLIFYING THE HOLIDAYS

Back in the day, as long as the identity of a gift I was giving was hidden by paper, I was content with my wrapping skills. I had a big supply of gift bags in a variety of sizes that suited my needs perfectly.

And then it happened. I received an exquisitely wrapped gift from my sister-in-law Cristina. I was fascinated. The paper was PLEATED, there was a bow, and inside the box, there was tissue paper, delicately covering the gift for its final unveiling. I felt so honored that she took the time to do that for me. Then I wondered, how did she DO that?  

Lucky for me, she was more than willing to share her gift-wrapping secrets. Ever since then, I have enjoyed making an extra effort in wrapping gifts, especially when I know it will be appreciated. 

Do I wrap every gift this way? Um, no. I have gift bags and speed-wrapping skills for last minute presents, and gifts for folks who just want to tear into the present.

It takes a little mechanical thinking to execute the folds, but only a little, because I'm able to do it. Hopefully, between my instructions and the photographs, you'll see how simple pleating can be.

First of all, when you're cutting the paper, you'll need to allow for extra width to make the pleats. There is probably a mathematical equation to determine exactly how much more paper is needed, but if you were hoping for that info, you are reading the wrong blog. A mathematician I'm not!

You can make vertical or diagonal pleats. Your first crease will determine the direction of the other folds. You can pleat the whole front of your package, if you want to get crazy with it, or you can simply make a couple of creases, and sharply flatten the pleats.

For finishing touches, I love to combine textures, utilizing twine, gauzy ribbon, wired ribbon, curling ribbon, shiny bows, and floral picks. During the Christmas holidays, there are so many decorative additions to choose from:  holly and berries, ornaments, pine cones and evergreens.

My tips for saving money on wrapping supplies are HERE.

I hope you have as much fun with this pleating technique as I do!

This first example demonstrates a diagonal pleat:
For this diagonal pleat, I placed the box on top of the paper to see where I wanted the top and bottom of the pleat to be.

This is what it looks like on the outside of the paper.

Once the pleats are made, flatten them with your hand so that
the edges are sharp,  and secure their placement with tape on the inside.

Place the box on the inside of the paper, and wrap as you normally would,
securing the overlapping seams with tape.

Add ribbon and a bow, if desired.

For the pièce de resistance, add a coordinating gift tag, and you're done! Talk about eye candy.
The next two examples utilize a vertical pleat. I suppose it goes without saying, you can make horizontal pleats, if you so desire. Once you have the basic concept, you can go crazy with pleating your packages.

Here's a close-up of the pleats for vertical lines.

A view from the side of the pleats. Make sure you make sharp creases before securing things in place.

Secure the pleats in place with at least three pieces of tape on the inside of the gift wrap.

Voilá!  The completed pleats. To complete the look, add a floral pick, like this white poinsettia to some gauzy ribbon.

And..."That's a wrap!"

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"My Heart Knows the Answer"

"My heart knows the answer."  As I heard Deepak Chopra's soft voice remind me of the centering thought during my meditation, I began to realize that for me, there is no physical thing I need or desire.  My physical needs are met.  There is a state of mind which I am seeking, on a daily basis now, that is mine for the asking.  

All I really want is peace.  I want to let go of tension and chaos, and welcome peace into my life. Calm feelings residing within me are what I desire.  

What can I do today, that will allow this to happen?  I need to be aware of my surroundings, but more importantly, my reactions to my environment.  

True peace does not rely on anyone else but me.  Restoring order, and organizing my belongings will remove some of the dissatisfaction I experience.  Keeping to a schedule will help me relax in the reassurance that things will get done. I will have a sense of accomplishment.

The sweet feelings I have when I am meditating actually follow me throughout the day.  The centering thought returns to me so that my day becomes a living meditation.  

I read a quote this morning that resonated with me.  Zig Ziglar is always good for some motivation, and he had this to say, 

"The choice to have a great attitude is something nobody or no circumstance can take from you."  

I think I stumbled upon this because I needed to see it today.  I believe it applies to my desire for peace, as well.  No one else, and no other circumstance can deny me a feeling of peace.  

"My heart knows the answer."  I take great comfort in knowing that my heart will not lead me astray.  My body knows the desires of my heart, and will not allow me to deny that which I truly desire.  My contemplative moments will return to this thought throughout the day to see if there is more than peace that my heart desires.  For now, peace is plenty, and if I have that, I will have enough.

Monday, November 18, 2013

*53: It's Just a Number

November 18, 2013.  Happy 53rd Birthday to Me!  In honor of this "momentous" day, I am going to tell you 53 things about me, whether you want to know them or not.

1.  I hate the number 53 because it's odd.  I do not love odd numbers.  I love even numbers.  I love repetitive numbers.  Just ask my old fifth graders.  We celebrated this year at the exact moment of 9:10 11/12/13.  I love these kids more than any strange numerical pattern.
Yes, the retired elementary teacher hunted down her kids at the middle school to celebrate this moment.
2.  My dream destination? Anywhere tropical, but I would love to go to Hawaii sometime. Vacationing at Myrtle Beach several summers in a row as a teen, and then as a mom of teens, ruined me.  Every year that I haven't been there feels like something is missing.

3.  Sleeping is not my favorite thing.  I wake up even before the sun hits my window. It's always a blessed miracle if I can go back to sleep, but I love mornings so I don't mind.  When I was teaching, it was common to be awake by three.  Since I retired, thankfully, I "sleep in" until about five.  Whee!

4.  My heart melts over big dogs. My dream dog is a Mastiff.

5.  My favorite meal in the world is DESSERT. When I go to buffets, my favorite way to end the meal is with apple cobbler a la mode.

6.  My weight hit an all-time high of 224. That was a very hard thing for me, emotionally and physically.  Notice how number 5 segued my thoughts to number 6. Yeah, I really have to watch myself.  It's easy for me to numb myself with food.

7.  I was born without hearing in my left ear. "HUH?" was my most commonly-used word growing up...but I wasn't trying to be rude. I tend to read lips to even things out.

8.  Chicago, Illinois is the place of my birth. Only lived there four months before we moved.

9.  I earned a Master's of Education degree from Utah State University. I'm very proud of that fact.

10.  If I had to choose a favorite flavor, I would have say peanut butter, caramel, lemon, ginger, and coffee in that order. If you had told me when I was a child that chocolate would not even be in the top five, I would never have believed you.

11.  I jiggle my leg when I am when we were in an interminable meeting at school and I wasn't sure we were ever going to get out, my leg started bouncing up and down when I began to tap my heel up and down.

12.  Stevia is the best sweetener in the world!  Love that all-natural stuff. I will NOT use Sweet 'N' Low.  If that's all that's available at a restaurant, I'll just drink water, thank you.  Remember Tab?  Worst cola drink on the planet because of the saccharine, in my opinion.

13.  I love coffee-flavored ANYTHING: ice cream, hard candy, frozen yogurt...  Favorite drinking memory growing up? Getting iced coffee after dinner at grandma's house. YUM!
14.  My maiden name is BEIDLER. I was told that when our ancestors hit Ellis Island after leaving Germany, they dropped the VON from VON BEIDLER. I could have sounded like a Baroness if they would have left that alone! Baroness Denise von Beidler!

15.  Diet Dr. Pepper is the best soft drink ever.  Add coconut syrup to it to make it a Dirty Dr. Pepper, and I feel like I'm on vacation.

16.  I brush my teeth. OFTEN. Upon waking, after every meal and most snacks. One of my favorite gifts was my electric toothbrush my husband gave me a couple of years ago.

17.  My stepdad said people can read me like a book. When I'm happy, everyone knows it...and when I'm not, well, everyone knows it. I don't fake emotions well, and I can't lie. Whenever mom wanted to know who took the cookies, I'd admit it. I don't even know why she asked. It was always me.

18.  Writing and reading are two of my favorite hobbies. I'm a lister. I make grocery lists, things to do lists, things I've done lists...I just like lists. I even write things on the list of things to DO that I've already DONE, so I have a sense of accomplishment, no matter how small.  I would rather write or read than watch TV.

19.  My goal is to move to Saint George, Utah, one day.

20.  Now that there is less of it REQUIRED of me, I find that I kind of like to cook. And I love altering favorite recipes so they are healthier: lower fat, higher fiber, more protein, hidden veggies or fruits. It's a THING with me.  If I can find an excuse to toss cilantro and cumin in a recipe, I will!

21.  I used to bake a mean batch of rolls and my homemade bread wasn't bad. But I find the more I bake, the more I weigh. So it's a rare treat these days to have something fresh out of the oven from my kitchen.

22.  Appliances I'd rather not be without? My cell phone, my computer, my microwave, my coffee maker and my hair straightener.  If I could only choose one, I guess it would be my cell phone, but holy cow, I hope it never comes to that!!!

23.  I hate to pee outdoors. I have HORRIBLE memories of soaking my clothes as a child, and I'd just rather use a restroom. I'm just saying...

24.  Babies are a great way to start people and I can't wait to have grandchildren of my very own. I can't imagine how it will feel to love the children of my children.

25.  I cannot sleep well without my contoured pillow.

26.  The scent of a memory can send me reeling back in time.  Chlorine?  Teaching swimming at the country club.  Sautéing onions?  Knowing mom was starting dinner.  Dreft laundry detergent? Snuggling with my babies and folding their tiny clothes.

27.  It takes me five minutes to apply my makeup.  The one day I had my makeup done, for my sister's wedding, the beautician worked on my face for over a half an hour.  I received many compliments.  Here's a picture. You will never see me look like this again.  Who has 30 minutes a day to devote to makeup? Well, I have the time, so I can't use that excuse.  I can just think of other things I'd rather do. Like watch paint dry.
28.  November is my favorite birthday, which, you are welcome to celebrate all month long...and Thanksmas...I love to celebrate!  

29.  I have eight siblings, having grown up in two families of his, hers, and theirs.  I have four sisters and four brothers.

30.  Hiking is my favorite activity, followed by biking.

31. I am NOT a competitive person, but when I was in high school, I played volleyball, and was on the track team.  Notice I did not say I "ran track." I did field events, the shot put and discus, and I sucked at both.  I "lettered" in track because Coach Nimmo felt sorry for me.  When I finally got the letter, I hid it in a box in my closet, knowing I had not really earned it.

32.  I never had a boyfriend in high school or college.

33.  Which may explain why I married my first serious boyfriend five weeks after meeting him. I knew one week later, I had made a very big mistake.  22 years later, I corrected the mistake.

34.  Dressing up is fun to do, rarely.  My uniform consists of yoga pants or jeans.

35.  Silly socks are fun to wear.  White socks make me nervous.

36.  I have never owned a pair of Crocs, but I have a pair of baker's clogs which are just as ugly, so I will not judge you for wearing either.  I totally get wanting to be comfortable.

37.  I had always bragged I'd never had a broken bone, until I fractured my elbow falling UP a step when I was about 35, but x-rays later in life revealed that I have healed fractures in my feet and back.  I'm not surprised, living the life of a klutz has been pretty painful.

38.  Downhill skiing is my "adrenaline rush," but I stick to the intermediate runs.  I started when I was 47.  In 2013, I skied ONE day, New Year's Day, and I tore my MCL in an ugly tumble down the Wolverine Run at Eagle Point. (P.S. I skied ONE day in 2014, 2/2/14, and I tore the MCL in my other leg. Hmmm...1/1/13, then 2/2/14. Guess what I WON'T be doing on 3/3/15...)  I didn't say I was good; I just like to ski.

39.  Sjogren's syndrome is the condition I have that sent me to a rheumatologist seeking answers. Basically, my body is as dry as a desert, leaving my joints and mucus membranes dry and un-lubricated.  Which is why...

40.  I drink about a gallon of water a day.

41.  Teaching was my passion.  I just finished a 30 year professional career in elementary education. I've taught every elementary grade, except kindergarten, and I made sure I did NOT have an early childhood endorsement.  Make no mistake, I love little children, I just did not want to tackle teaching the concepts of lining up, sitting down, and using scissors.

42.  My favorite grade to teach was...the one I was currently teaching.  Honestly.  I loved every grade I taught, and cried every time I was told I had to change grades.

43.  I have ugly hands that I cherish.  My fingers are chubby, my nails are wavy and brittle, and I have chronic hang nails.  I cannot bear to have my nails done; it's too boring to sit still that long, and the smell is something I abhor.  I clip my nails short with nail clippers, no filing necessary. I am so grateful for my hands, though.  Touching things brings me so much pleasure, and holding hands is something I still like to do.  As my hands have weakened with time, I appreciate the strength I do have left.
44.  Coffee is my morning beverage of choice, sweetened with cream.

44.   My favorite book to read was The Once and Future King by T. H. White.  I hated to read when I was younger, and up through junior high, I selected books solely on their spine width.  Nothing over an inch for me, please!  Now I juggle a couple of books at a time, and I go for New Age (Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra), comedic memoir (Jen Lancaster), and Arthurian legend.

45.  Weather is something I love.  I believe there are all sorts of good weather: sun, snow, rain, hail, sleet...I love the weather.

46.  Once I made peace with the snow, I released my distaste for winter.  I love all of the seasons, but autumn is my very most favorite of all.

47.  I have a horrible memory, and tend to repeat myself.  This is such a long list, you've probably read a couple of "facts" twice.  Sorry about that.  When Bridger came to visit once, I offered to try to only tell him things we had not already discussed, and he said, "It's okay, Mom, I'm used to it." Sad.

48.  Shoes must be my weakness.  Over the last year, I think I've given about a dozen pairs away, and I still have two closets with shoe-cluttered floors.  Shoes must be comfortable, and I don't wear heels.  Minimal hiking shoes and sandals are my favorites.  I wear a women's 11, or a men's 9 1/2.

49.  I love to try on hats.  Until last year, I never was brave enough to wear them, but now that I'm OLDER, I frankly don't care what people think about me, so I wear them, but not boldly because I still wonder what people think.

50.  When I am angry, I am passive aggressive.  It is very ugly, and I'm working on being forthright with my feelings, and making peace with my faults, instead of trying to hide them.

51.  When I was younger, I had ONE best friend.  I never managed the drama of female relationships well.  Now I treasure my girlfriends, and have many.  I find the more encompassing my circle grows, the better I feel.  I've surrounded myself with wise and witty women, and I learn as much as I can from each of them.

52.  My children are my greatest blessing.  Being a mother has brought me unfathomable joy.

53.  Just this week, I have discovered my passion has become my writing.  Starting this blog is the best thing I ever did for myself.  If you are reading it, you are making me happier than you could ever know.  Making connections with the friends who take the time to read Randomocity brings me so much pleasure.  It is so rewarding to have the time to follow my passion.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

*The Scents of Home

The screen door slammed shut behind me, after walking up the gravel driveway where the school bus had deposited the seven of us.  

"Mo-om!" Always two syllables in the word mom when I wanted to find her. "We're ho-ome!" She was usually up in her sewing room, or in the kitchen. The smell of home-baked bread filled my nostrils. I would find her in a bit; I just wanted her to know we were home. I was hungry after a long day at school, and the smells from the kitchen enticed me to follow my nose.

The Iseman-Beidler Home in Shipman, Virginia in the seventies.
The sweet memories I have of home are based on smells, one of my strongest memory triggers. Onions and garlic sautéing on the stove, smoke from the chimney drifting over the yard, bread out of the oven; all of these have a profound affect on me. It seems I passed on my love of sensory experiences to my children.

My daughter and I have bonded over our reaction to the sense of touch. Whenever we shop, you can find us gliding our hands over every single towel, blanket, rug, and sweater. If it's soft, we have to stop, and share the feeling. With my boys, we seem to connect over smells.

Every time Bridger visited, he would stand in front of the linen closet and take a deep, inhaling breath.  

"Aaaaah..." he would exhale.  "I love this."  

Me, too. The scents of Tide and Downy intermingled among the sheets and towels make me react the same way. He still loves to press his face into clothes fresh out of the dryer.

When the kids were babies, I would empty the clothing hot out of the dryer onto them on the couch. They each squirmed with delight at the warmth and smells that came from the clean clothes. I suppose that's one reason I have always loved doing laundry since becoming a mom. I control the scents that go into the washer and dryer, and I had more than two decades of pleasant memories of folding the clothes on the couch while the kids watched TV.

In November, my 26 year-old came to Marysvale to visit me for my birthday weekend. When he opened the door, he said, "Ahhhh, your house always smells so good."

"Thanks!  It's probably the pumpkin spice candle..."

"No," he cut me off, "You always make such good food, and that makes the house smell good."

I smiled. The smell of garlic and onions simmering on the stove always reminds me of coming home from school. Mom always started dinner that way, it seemed, and it smelled like love to me. A casserole in the oven or a roast in the crockpot smells like someone took the time to love me.

The boys helped me decorate my artificial tree before the holidays. There was no sweet smell of pine in my house, and we all missed it. We always had a real tree in our old farmhouse when they were growing up. Putting up the tree was one of my favorite memories with my children. 

These days, I put up my tree WEEKS before Christmas; I don't dare have a real one. We would have a real fire hazard on our hands if I had a real tree up for two months.  

During the fall and winter holidays, I fill our home with the smells of candles scented with cinnamon, evergreen, and pumpkin, and I wallow in the smells of dinner simmering on the stove, or baked goods coming out of the oven.

In the spring and summer, I love smelling the tropical scents of citrus fruits and coconut. Light floral smells, and anything that reminds me of summer tantalize my senses.

Whenever someone comments on the pleasant fragrances coming from my kitchen, it reminds me to fully dwell in the moment, and appreciate it for what it is.  My home smells like love, and the scent of today will be the memory of tomorrow.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

*Milestones Become Touchstones

Inside of card:
Welcome to the years where your birthday
means nothing!  Enjoy it.  The rest of
the milestones kind of suck. 
There are birthdays, and there are BIRTHDAYS! Those wonderful milestones we anticipate from birth... turning five so we can go to kindergarten, turning sixteen so we can drive, turning eighteen so we're officially an adult.  Now that I'm pushing 53, I'm considering what I have to look forward to. Hmmm...

When I hit 45, AARP leaflets started filling up my mailbox. You can be an official member when you hit 50. Oh, boy, now THERE'S some good news. I'm already late to the party!

I'm still not old enough for the senior discounts at Chuck-A-Rama, but apparently if you look old enough, you get it anyway.  That was a sad day, indeed.  

After paying my "entrance fee" to the cashier at the Disneyland of Eating, and I happened to ask the young college-aged lad how old I had to be to qualify for the discount.  

"Oh, I already gave it to you."  Gasp.  

BUT I'M NOT OLD ENOUGH, I wanted to scream. I joked with him, sort of, about being careful how he puts that to potential OLD FOLKS; it could be considered offensive. He didn't get it. Like any kid his age, he just figured he was doing me a favor by saving me some dough.  I tried not to get all huffy about it.

The government benefits to the aging are the dangling carrots of Medicare at 65, and Social Security at 67. I can hardly wait. Seriously. After 30 years of teaching, receiving a monthly check that is just a little more than half of my regular salary is no cause for celebration. The insurance thing is a nightmare for anyone, especially those of us on a fixed income. Gloom and doom,  I tell you.

Bridger noticed last year that Eagle Point Ski Resort offers a great perk for we those of us in the rapidly aging category. I started skiing when I was 47; I'm pretty proud of that little fact.  I'm not the best, but I have so much fun.

"Hey, Mom!  You've gotta keep skiing until you're 65 so you can get the senior discount!" my then 15 year-old told me.  Yes, this remark was made on the day that I was sitting in the lodge with my ski pants down around my ankles so I could ice my knee after tearing my MCL in an AN UNFORTUNATE TUMBLE down the Wolverine run.  Some intermediate routes are best left to the intermediates and advanced skiers. I'm just an advanced novice skier. Live and learn. If I have anything left of my arthritic knees when I'm 65, I will proudly demand my senior discount!

There aren't very many widely accepted milestones left for me to anticipate. This last year, I had a few little items checked off of my bucket list.My retirement was a biggy. I had my first pedicure.  I hiked the Navajo Loop at Bryce Canyon. I had my first and only two hour massage.

So as this 53rd birthday approaches, I will have to make some milestones of my own. This year I have some goals, which at my age, are kind of like milestones. Perhaps they're more like touchstones. A touchstone is something that is used to judge the quality of other things. I will see the Grand Canyon.  I hope to see the New England states, especially Vermont, Maine, and Massachusetts. There are so many little states all scrunched up in the northeast section of the map, but those three have been calling my name. Going to Virginia this year to reconnect with my family and childhood friends would be good for my soul. I plan to submit my writing for publication this year. I want to go on a cruise, my first ever.

Since there aren't many more milestones about which to dream, I will gather touchstones. A touchstone will remind me I am alive and living well. These experiences will assure me of living life to its fullest every day I am given the privilege to live. I will seek the ones that bring me happiness and joy, so that I can be assured of living a life of quality.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

My Grandpa's Honey Bee

November, the month of our birthdays, Grandma's and mine.

We were in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia, in some off-price women's retail shop, and I was bored out of my mind, as ten-year-old girls tend to be when shopping with adults for anything other than toys. I was out of earshot of my mom and grandma, while they were trying to find the perfect dress so Grandma could have her picture taken.  I pushed my way through a rack of clothes, feeling the fabric squish me tightly, and then I was in the middle of the circular rack, hidden by all of the blouses.  I hoped they'd be done soon.  Maybe we'd get to go out to eat. Finally, I pushed my way back out of my cozy hiding place, and wandered back to where they were holding up dresses under Grandma's chin.  I let out a long, slow exhale. "Are you almost done?"

"What do you think of this one, Denise?"  My Grandma held up the brightest, orange-est dress I'd ever seen.  My mouth dropped open, and my eyes went wide.

"Grandma!" I protested.  "You can't wear THAT!"

"Why-ever not?" her eyes sparkled, as she feigned shock.

"You don't wear...colors!  And that's a lot of colors!  You only wear black...and grey.  That's so...ORANGE!  And YELLOW!  And BRIGHT!"

"I think it's perfect," she said, returning the plainer dresses to the rack. And that was that.  I followed the two of them to the cash register, dumbfounded.  Seriously, Grandma only wore plain clothes. When my mom was young, she remembers that her mother had only two dresses.  They were simply designed, and plainly dark, one grey and one black is what I remember her telling me.

My grandpa had passed away just recently, and I think my mom encouraged Grandma to go shopping for a new dress, to get her hair done, and have her portrait taken to cheer her up.  It was like as soon as Grandpa was gone, my grandma blossomed into a woman who was even more of who she was.  She was more funny, more silly, more fun, and more happy.  Theirs had been a patriarchal family, for sure. Now she was the lone matriarch, and she ruled her dominion with frivolity and joy.

Grandma started to enjoy life.  She went out to eat.  She traveled.  She took an apartment near Washington, D.C. to work at the Mormon temple there, and she built a new home in Waynesboro to live closer to my mom and most of her grandchildren.  She bought herself a new car.  She still ate salads every single day, but there seemed to be more candy at her house.

The summer I came home to live with her was a wonderful summer for me.  I had just finished my second year of teaching in Richfield, and wanted to spend more time with my family.  Still feeling independent, I suppose by living with Grandma, and not my mom or dad, I felt like we'd be more like roommates.  She let me take the guest room with two twin beds.  The biggest shock of all?  She allowed my black Lab Gordon to stay in her backyard.  Gordon was still a puppy, and I knew he would not be allowed in the house. Grandma was a real trouper about letting the two of us spend the summer with her.

Early one morning, I'd taken my young pup for a run up Grandview Drive in Amherst.  On our way home, the Jennings' black lab followed us home.  Their dog Hoss was a big, black Lab with the identical safety orange collar my dog had.  After I chained Gordy up outside, I snuck Hoss inside the basement, and pulled him up the stairs.  Opening the door to the kitchen, I yelled, "Grandma! Come here! Quick! I think living in Virginia has been good for Gordon.  Look how big he has grown!" When that large, lumbering dog entered the room, I thought Grandma would faint.

"He's gotten so BIG!" she laughed nervously.

"Oh, Grandma, just kidding.  This isn't Gordon; it's the Jennings' dog.  Gordon's outside."  We both laughed.  She seemed so relieved.   Over the years, we both got a chuckle out of retelling our versions of the story.

Today is November 14, and I am overcome with emotion.  Beatrice Clara Jorgensen Engelhard would have been 103 today.  Happy Birthday, Grandma!  Oh, I miss you so much, especially during November.  I miss celebrating our birthdays together.  I miss your laughter.  I miss your candy bar stash in your bedroom.  I miss your soft hands.  I miss the sweet almond smell of Jergen's lotion.  I miss your loud whispers in church.  I miss you so much it makes my cheeks wet with tears.

My grandma was not a very typical grandma, but she was a great grandma.  She wasn't a cookie baker. She was always slender until she started taking Prednisone for her leukemia.  I just realized that orange is the color chosen to represent the leukemia survivors.  Grandma could rock orange better than anyone, couldn't she?  She was not a stay-at-home mom, like many women of her generation. She had a head for numbers, and was a contributing partner in her husband's businesses of owning "five and dime" stores back east.

Grandma wasn't much of a cook.  I got to thinking about that just recently, and asked my mom about her traditional German cookies, Pfeffernuse, pronounced, feffernussa. They were a mildly, sweet, kind of dry cookie, coated with a white glaze with a hint of anise flavor. If Grandma didn't bake, how did they end up having any cookie as a Christmas tradition?  My mom said they always had them during the holidays, but only because her mom would take her recipe to the baker and request he have them ready for her before Christmas. Smart lady!  Grandma made a killer fresh pork roast, and always served it with red cabbage and applesauce.  The only other things I know she could cook were potato pancakes (German-style) and Engelhard special (a one-pot dish consisting of hamburger, rice, peppers, and Velveeta cheese.)

Grandpa called her his Honey Bee. Beatrice drank coffee and smoked cigarettes from the time she was a teenager until she joined the Mormon church in the seventies.   Her family came from Germany; her maiden name was Jorgensen.

As a child, I always shared my birthday with my Grandma.  Beatrice Clara Jorgensen Engelhard was 50 years and four days older than I.  Her birthday is on the 14th and mine is on the 18th.  I loved sharing birthdays with Grandma.  Our favorite birthday cake was chocolate cake poked with holes and filled with red Jello and topped with a frosting made of chocolate pudding and Cool Whip.  Heaven! Grandma would have been 103 this year.  She has been gone too, too long, and today my sweet memories of her make me weep.  I'm not exactly sad, just so grateful for her influence in my life, and for her wonderful, happy way of viewing the world.  I hope it's a good day for you, Grandma. Remembering you with so much love...
Our last Christmas with Grandma Engelhard.
So grateful that my baby boy Dylan was there and
that she got to know him.