Girl Talk, Life Lessons, Mothers and Daughers

Shopping With My Mother

This weekend my mom will be celebrating a special b-day – her 80th birthday!  She’s not only my mother, she’s my best friend.  She doesn’t look eighty, and she doesn’t act eighty.  Here is a re-post from January 2016 to give you an idea of what I mean.

“What other colors does it come in?”

This is how my mother shops for clothing.  When she sees something she likes – be it a blouse, or a particular style of pants, not to mention shoes – she’ll buy it in several different colors.  It’s insanity, I know, but now she’s even got me doing it.  Yes, all I’ve learned about shopping, I’ve learned from my mother.

You’d think living over two hundred miles apart would’ve put a crimp in our shopping expeditions, but it hasn’t.  When I’m home for the weekend, our shopping marathons lead us to fine stores everywhere.  And when she’s visiting me, we often drive up to the outlets in Kittery for a full day of shopping in the great state of Maine.

Then there’s the long distance shopping… I’ll find a voice mail message when I get home at night: “I got something for you today.  It’ll arrive tomorrow by FED EX.”

I’ll call back to tell her, “Thanks Mom, but you didn’t have to do that.”

“I know, but it was so perfect for you – and they were just giving it away.”

“Why’d you FED EX it? I’m coming home in two weeks.”

“I couldn’t wait – I wanted you to have it now.”

When I offer to pay for said item, she flatly refuses.  And I don’t have the heart to point out to her that whatever she supposedly saved on the sale, she’s more than spent on the FED EX charge.

Her other big rationalization for committing what can only be described as consumer carnage is that she wasn’t even looking for this latest treasure.  “I fell over it!” she’ll insist.

She frequents craft fairs, not only to support the local artists, but also to pick up some truly unique, one-of-a-kind items.  She’ll present me with a stunning ceramic bowl or piece of stained glass that’s been stuffed into a shopping bag with bubble wrap and wads of tissue paper.  When I innocently comment, “You didn’t get a box?” she’ll reply, “Box, schmox – he would only take cash – it was tough goin’.”

Despite all the shopping, one of my mother’s greatest gifts to me is not something she purchased, but rather something she taught me.  How to always, always, be generous.

Happy Birthday, Mom!  XOXOXO

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Girl Talk, Life Lessons

I Blame Shakespeare

My friend’s two young daughters refer to Valentine’s Day as “the love holiday” because, even at their tender age, they’ve figured out that couples celebrate with greeting cards pledging love and devotion, bouquets of flowers, and gigantic heart-shaped boxes of chocolates.  But not everyone has a significant other.  And for some single folks, February 14th can be a tough day.  Here’s a re-post from March 2016 with my perspective.

The “rom-com” plot never changes: the pretty, but downtrodden, single woman gets saved by the rich, good looking, completely idealized man, whose only flaw is that it takes him a little while to figure out that he’s in love with her; then in the last ten minutes of the movie, he must race somewhere to find her and keep her from leaving town.

“Feel good movies,” that’s what they’re called.  But who feels good after seeing them?  Single women?  Like seeing this one movie is going to wash away past hurts and disappointments, bringing instead, inspiration and hope to carry on – and to believe – yes believe, that the exact same thing will happen for you because Mr. Right is just around the very next turn…

While channel surfing late one night, I realized this movie formula was well-established with 1950’s films like Sabrina, and the Doris Day comedies.  Who says that in order to have a happy ending, the couple must get together?

The BardShakespeare.  He’s the one.  All the comedies end with a wedding, just as all the tragedies end with a death.  We’ve had over four hundred years of conditioning!  But The Bard was wrong.  This is the new millennium and, back me up here ladies, in the real world the guy tells the girl that he doesn’t deserve her, that she’s going to be a great wife for some other lucky guy, blah, blah, blah, before leaving her with a few mementos and a broken heart.

So what’s a modern girl to do?

I muted the television and sat for a while in the darkness, only the blue glow of the screen lighting my way.  And in the solitude of my living room, I figured it out.

It’s time to change the narrative.  You can’t expect or rely on another person for your happiness.  You have to find your own bliss.  A happy ending can be whatever you want it to be.red poppy

 

 

 

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Girl Talk, Life Lessons

Roommates

Whenever I speak about them, I don’t call them my friends.  Our relationship is special and it needs a qualifier to describe who they are and what they mean to me.  So I refer to them as my old roommates because living together made us closer than friends, and more like family.  Even though it’s been many years since we last lived together, this still holds true.

We met as grad students at Emerson College.  All three of us came from the New York-New Jersey area and were new to Boston.  The close quarters of grad school housing only helped our friendship to flourish.  At the end of the year, another New Yorker joined us, and the four of us moved off-campus.  Our new digs, a railroad-style apartment, was much larger, but in need of a major face-lift.  As young women living in the city, we didn’t mind residing in a self-proclaimed student slum.  We were too busy having fun.

Graduations and jobs inevitably ended our time of living together.  My roommates left Massachusetts – for New York, New Jersey, and New Mexico, while I found a cute studio apartment and stayed in Boston.  Although we often go for long periods of time without seeing one another, we stay in close contact.

Last winter, New York was the first of the roommates to visit me in my new home, arriving only a few weeks after I’d moved in.  She could see beyond the bare walls and the pile of cartons in every room, to what it would become with time.  And her enthusiasm for me was palpable.

In early November, New Jersey and New Mexico came to town for a conference and stayed with me for a couple of nights.  My first over-night guests since the big home reno was completed.  This symbolism was not lost on me.

We talk, we text.  And when I’m lucky enough to spend time with any of these three amazing women, we don’t miss a beat.  Time and age do not matter.  We feel as if we’ve never lived apart.  I’m sure we always will.

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Life Lessons

New Year’s Resolutions

Eat healthy, lose weight, join a gym, get more sleep…  It’s easy to make New Year’s resolutions but most people have a hard time keeping them.  For me, the key to keeping New Year’s resolutions is to be honest with yourself by setting realistic goals and adopting behaviors you can live with.  In that spirit, I’d like to share my plan for the new year.

Diet:  My three fruits per day will be two raisins and a glass of wine.  Cutting carbs is never easy, so rather than set myself up for failure, I won’t even attempt this.  However, when choosing brown food over white food, I will include two servings of chocolate (one dark and one milk). This way, the milk chocolate can double as one of my two dairy servings.  The other, a cup of ice cream (any flavor).  To reduce meat intake, I’ll cut bacon to no more than 3 slices with my weekend breakfast or brunch.  And a daily glass of V-8 to wash down a multi-vitamin should cover my veggies.

Weight:  Some people weigh themselves every morning, but I’ve always found once a week to be sufficient.  Funny thing: back in October, my scale broke.  I haven’t bought a new one and I’m not sure I need to because I really don’t miss this weekly ritual.

Exercise:  The gym is conveniently located a few doors down from the drug store and supermarket in the strip mall nearest home so I can easily go to the gym a few times per week.  If I park at the far end of the parking lot, and walk, I don’t even have to actually go into the gym.  I can just go past it on my way to the market where I’ll be buying all of my healthy food.

Sleep:  The sleep experts advise getting up and going to bed at the same time each day.  This would mean getting up at 6 AM on Saturday and Sunday.  Seriously?  What if I don’t set my alarm clock over the weekend and simply leave my rise-and-shine time up to fate?  I do resolve to go to bed earlier.  My goal is to turn out the lights at 1 o’clock.  After all, you can’t get much earlier in the day than 1:00 AM.

This should all work for me – hope it’s helpful for you.  Happy New Year!

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Best of Boston, Life Lessons

Hear the Angel Voices

The following is a re-post from December 2017.

“Are you ready?” friends kept asking.  And it was starting to vex me.  Ordinarily, I would be ready.  But with a week left before Christmas, there were cards not yet written and cookies still to be baked.  Moving in November had really messed with my holiday preparations this year.

When a dear friend invited me to her son’s Christmas concert the final Sunday before Christmas, the left side of my brain flatly rejected the notion.  I had too much to do to spend a whole afternoon at a concert.  But the right side of my brain which, for southpaws like me, runs the show had me blurting out, “Sounds like fun – I’m all in.”

Intuitively, I knew I needed some Christmas spirit.  And an afternoon of Christmas carols sounded like just the thing.  But as I traveled the long, convoluted train ride to Dorchester I wondered if my time might have been better spent preparing for the holiday.  I was behind and still had so much to do before Christmas.

The concert was held in a beautiful old Catholic church with magnificent jewel-tone stained glass windows and majestic statuary.  Even thought I had not been there before, I felt welcomed amidst all the familiar symbols of my faith.

Shards of late afternoon sunlight streamed through the stained-glass windows, and I settled into my seat in the crowded church pew.  The young singers and musicians were middle- and high-school aged and they represented four different Boston choirs and musical ensembles.  As they gathered on the steps of the altar, I couldn’t help but notice that these youngsters were a diverse group – in age, in height, in ethnicity, each one beautiful and perfect in his or her own way.  I knew by reputation that they were talented and the moment they began to sing, their pure, sweet voices touched my heart.  This, I thought, is what angel voices must sound like.  A peace I had not felt for some time came over me.  Yes, I thought, I am ready.  I am ready for Christmas.

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Life Lessons

The Sweatshop

My grandmother, like many Italian-American women, was a seamstress.  As a young woman, she worked in a sweatshop in Lower Manhattan.  After she married and had a family, she worked in a sweatshop closer to home, in Queens.  She was a working woman – a working mother – long before it was commonplace.  And my mother was a latch-key kid before there was such a term.

Over the years, my grandmother sewed men’s shirts, women’s blouses and skirts, and even crisp white nurses’ uniforms.  As a “piece worker,” her job might be to sew on the collars, or attach the sleeves, whatever was needed.  She didn’t work as a means to fulfillment.  She worked to maintain the basic necessities of life.

The stories I heard about the sweatshop left a profound impression on me.  The piece workers’ pay was based on the number of pieces they completed.  And the pay per piece was barely pocket change.  The seamstresses were forced to work at warp speed, with inspectors scrutinizing the finished garments to ensure high quality.  A bell signaled the beginning and ending of the lunch break, during which the women sat at their sewing machines eating their brown bag lunches.  They didn’t even stop to go to the ladies’ room until it was an emergency.  And there were no employee benefits of any kind.  Sweatshops were so named because in summertime, large noisy fans kept the air circulating, but did not cool the sweltering rooms, crowded with women who were literally drenched in sweat.  Now airborne from the whirling fans, the abundant fabric fibers and lint easily stuck to the women’s skin.

Today’s workplace feeds the 24/7 culture and the 9-to-5 workday is fast becoming obsolete.  Workers are expected to check email at night and on weekends.  Meetings are routinely scheduled between 12:00 noon and 2:00 pm so lunch breaks are sacrificed, and it’s not uncommon for workers to skip eating a meal all together.  When staff leave and are not replaced, the remaining workers’ workloads increase, sometimes twofold.  Earned vacation cannot be taken, and is lost.  Working mothers are in conflict – work late or go to your child’s soccer game?  And the single woman is expected to work late – because she doesn’t have a family.

A woman I know made a conservative calculation of the extra hours she worked, for no additional compensation, over a three-year-period, and was horrified when she realized the five-digit sum could’ve bought her a new, mid-sized car for cash, or better yet, secured the down payment for a condo.

Years ago, a brand of cigarettes that was specifically created for, and marketed to, women ran an ad campaign with the tag line, “you’ve come a long way, baby.”  Is the modern workplace the new sweatshop and, have we really come a long way?

 

 

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Life Lessons

What’s Cooking?

My office recently held its annual “pot luck lunch” which should’ve been called the “no luck lunch.”  The Tupperware and CorningWare were sorely outnumbered by the bakery boxes and other pre-packaged, store-bought items.  In fact, there were so few homemade dishes that the office manager, fearing there was not enough food to go around, ordered in several trays of salad, sides, and main dishes from a nearby restaurant.  Having said that, my officemate’s Tupperware and my CorningWare were present and accounted for on that big conference table.

While I understand that not everyone has the cooking gene, still, it was disappointing to see that there were so few cooks in the group.  After all, the plethora of cooking shows on cable television would have you believe that everyone is in the kitchen whipping up either a weekend feast or a quick “Tuesday through Thursday night” one-pot meal.

A common complaint I hear is that there’s no time to cook.  Yet my officemate – a mother of two, who doesn’t have a dishwasher – found the time to cook.   And despite my daily three-hours of commuting, so did I.

Have you ever heard a woman say, “Oh, I don’t cook,” with a nuanced tone, or a subtle hand gesture that implies she thinks that cooking is trivial or demeaning?  While it’s her prerogative to feel that way, and her choice whether or not to cook, it troubles me that the remark makes those of us who do cook feel as if our culinary endeavors lack value.  After all, isn’t cooking the most gracious form of hospitality?

As for me, after a stressful day, nothing relaxes me more than going into my kitchen.   Mia cucina.  That time is sacred to me.  The moment I start chopping some vegetables, or sink my hands into a bowl full of flour and butter…well, I become transformed.  Besides, cooking is not only a great stress-buster – you end up with something to show for your efforts.  Something tangible.  Something nourishing.  Something delicious.

Two days after the office pot luck, my officemate’s son informed her that he’d signed her up to help with a school bake sale.  She had two days in which to bake four dozen cupcakes.   I loaned her one of my muffin tins so she could do two batches at a time.

So, here’s a message to all my fellow cooks:  Cooking is both a skill and an art.  It doesn’t make you seem old-fashioned, or any less a feminist.  What you do matters – and it is appreciated.

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