Coming Clean

I have a confession to make.

I do not own a dishwasher.

I guess that this is not very common these days, but to me it is normal.  In all of my adult life I have only had one (secondhand, portable) dishwasher. It was messy and sprayed water all over the kitchen. It was cumbersome and loud.  I used its butcher block top for extra counter space for a while and stored my Tupperware cake keeper in it, but I think I used it less than a dozen times.

A conversation that I had recently with an acquaintance went something like this:

She “I could not LIVE without a dishwasher.”

Me “Never really wanted one.”

She (horrified gasp) “That is unimaginable!”

By the tone of her reaction you would have thought that I had said that I preferred an outhouse to indoor plumbing! It is true, though.  In my 30+ years up here on the hill I have wanted many things…a hot tub, a sidewalk, even a bathtub for a time (but that’s another story), but a dishwasher is not one of them.

Another friend whose own dishwasher broke down right before the Thanksgiving holiday one year told me that she couldn’t possibly host the festivities without one.  To her the dishwasher was as important as the oven itself!

Don’t get me wrong – when I was a teenager and washing the dishes was a chore that had to be accomplished before I could slip away to be with friends, I hated the job.  I would do anything to get out of it, including trickery and deceit. I would make promises to my siblings that I never intended to keep so that they would relieve me of the job, and I was quite often successful.

When my own children were growing up washing the dishes and folding the clothes were the two main chores that they had to do each day. They will tell you that if I came home to a sink full of dirty dishes there would be much commotion. It is true that when I was exhausted from a long day at the office and needed the sink for meal preparation, I did not relish the task.

The kitchen sink is the heart of our home. Each member of our family has spent a significant amount of time in front of it.  We’ve bathed our children (and now our grandchild) there, pulled up chairs so that they could help us and taught them to do it on their own.  Thousands of basins of soapy water have been drawn there. My memories contain hours of telephone conversations had while scrubbing and rinsing and drying, watching the seasons pass by through the windows that are situated just above it. Gossip was shared, tears were shed, good news was revealed and bad news received – if only those walls could talk! Long conversations had while cleaning up after large family gatherings – holidays, reunions, graduation parties and even a rehearsal dinner brought friends and family members together long after the meals were finished and the table was cleared.

I remember my mother standing at my sink washing the dishes, even as her health began to fail.  She would bend from the waist, leaning on her elbows as she cleaned each plate and glass and pot.  She taught my sister and me that it was rude to leave someone’s kitchen without offering to help with the dishes, and I know that both of us feel the same way to this day. Sometimes when I am at the sink by myself I catch myself standing the same way she did as my back begins to ache from a long day of preparation and celebration. I smile to myself remembering how important this task was to her.

I would love to have my big country kitchen remodeled. I have thought many times about how I would arrange things, and what kind of cupboards and flooring I might have.  I have added marble counter tops, farmhouse sinks and tile floor coverings to my Pinterest boards, dreaming of how beautiful it might be.  The one thing that I never make room for in my imagination, though, is the dishwasher.  To me it is just unnecessary.

Think of all of those missed opportunities for memory making….

“Unimaginable!”sink, kitchen sink, country kitchen, dishes, doing dishes, chores

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My Mother’s Voice

I don’t really like to talk on the phone anymore.

There was a time when I would spend hours with it crooked between my shoulder and my ear. I could do almost anything that way….fold clothes, make beds, clean out the refrigerator…having a telephone conversation didn’t slow me down. When they were little, I think that my children may have actually thought it was a piece of my anatomy.

I still reach for it every time I do the dishes. Our main house phone hangs on the wall right there within an arms distance. It always seemed to make this tedious chore go faster, and it was usually the best possible time – after dinner, when everyone was settled into their before-bed routine.

I rarely make calls any more. The reason for that is that the person who I always called is no longer there to answer.

I miss my Mom.

I talked to my Mom on the phone nearly every day for years, even though she only lived a few miles up the road. I called her for recipes and advice about how to discipline my kids. I called to complain about my terrible day or (honestly) to gossip about people that we both knew.

My mother was a young mother and I often think we grew up together, more like friends than mother and daughter. She had a million friends, and always knew what was going on in our small town.  I could count on her to know the family of the boy who my daughter was dating or the name of a seamstress to hem a recital dress.

As my children grew older and busier sometimes the main contact that I had with my Mom for a few weeks was only over the phone.  She didn’t like this and would often complain that I was too busy.  I felt terribly guilty and we would even argue about it from time to time, but we still always managed to talk nearly every day.

The last time I really remember hearing my Mother’s voice was in a message that she left on my machine.  “Well, hello!! It’s just your Mother”. Her tone was self-depreciating as always, like her call was unimportant to me. I remember feeling guilty and thinking that I had better call her back as soon as I could.

A few days after she died I was all alone in the house and I had that urge to pick up the phone and I remembered the message.  I ran to the kitchen and pressed the button, but it was gone. We had never replaced the battery on the machine and the power had gone off recently. I cried for quite a while when I realized that I wouldn’t hear her voice again.

But I do.

When I play with my granddaughter her voice comes out. She sounds happy and silly and goofy and her laughter rings out. When one of my daughters asks how to cook a roast or what to use to remove a stain out of a good white blouse she answers them with patience and humor.  When my sister calls me in the evening frustrated at the trials of raising a five-year-old she is there offering support, love and understanding – if not answers.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.  I know that I can’t call you today, but I know that if I could you would be there for me like always. Thank you for all of the wisdom that you shared with me over those many hours on the telephone. I know sometimes it felt like a phone call wasn’t enough, but I appreciate every conversation that we had. ❤Mother, Daughter, family, Motherly love, Mother's Day

 

Tradition, Family and Rememberance

Memorial Day has always been a special holiday in our family. For my own children it mostly meant the beginning of summer, a day off from school and a family picnic.  During family visits like this we would always gather around the table and gossip talk and laugh. My girls always liked to spend time with their Grandma Prudie, because she seemed to always have a funny observation or story to tell.  Every year on Memorial Day she would remind us of the time in grade school when she was required to memorize the poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McRae, a remembrance written during the first World War. She would recite it word for word, and we were always impressed that she could remember it all of these years later. We would talk of their Great Grandfather, who served in that war, but whom they had never met. A few years before she died, she challenged my youngest daughter to memorize it as well. She did, and now she can recite it (almost) as well as her Grandmother could! The poem now serves to remind our family of my Mom as well as the soldiers that it was written about.

This past weekend I tagged along with my sister and my 5-year-old nephew to the cemetery to plant flowers at my Mother’s grave and to visit the graves of our maternal grandparents. This tradition is one that my sister and mother shared for years before my Mother’s death. I was never really a part of the ritual, but I respected the fact that they did it together every year and it was meaningful to both of them.  I have joined my sister and her son the last few years to keep her company. I felt that it might be difficult for her to do this without my Mom,  and also because I wanted to spend more time with her family.headstones, cemetery, history, marigolds

Cemeteries have never really been “my thing”.  I guess that I felt that I would rather remember loved ones in places that I had memories of them.  I have told my own family that I have no interest in being buried in a cemetery – I want my ashes scattered and have told them to “plant a tree or something” if they need a visiting place. Better yet – they can go to Mexico and feel my spirit there!

This year Memorial Day  seems to hold an even more significant meaning for our family, because we lost another of our children’s grandparents last fall. Grandpa Ray, who was such a large part of their lives, was a Veteran.  He is buried in the Soldier’s Circle at one of our local Cemeteries.  His stone was recently placed, and Jim and I had a plan to visit his grave later in the weekend.

The time spent in the cemetery listening to my nephew’s observations, and his mother’s patient responses, along with the first visit to my father-in-law’s resting place have given me a better appreciation for Memorial Day and what it means to those of us that are left behind when loved ones pass away. The history that is present there and the lives and stories that the sites represent seem so much more meaningful when there is a recent connection. The love and care shown by family members trying to give something back, to make an adequate tribute, is touching and personal. I have a new-found respect for this annual tradition.

My children are very lucky to have had such involved grandparents on both sides of our family. They had the chance to know them and love them and learn from them. I am lucky that my sister feels so strongly about keeping up this yearly practice. It gave me a chance to think about what family means to me and how much richer my life is because of all of them.

Happy Memorial Day! Hold your loved ones close today and be thankful for the sacrifices of the ones that have gone before us so that we could enjoy this day.Memorial Day Flags Sunset Hill Cemetery

Photographs and memories

I have no photographs of my mother and me together.  There may be some from when I was a child, but I do not have them in my possession. It makes me sad that I can only visit our time together on this earth in my memories.Mom

The relationship between mother and daughter is a tough one.  Women, in general, tend to be comparative beings.  We measure our worth and our esteem based on what we see in other women. Our mothers are our first love and our first rival. As the mother of three daughters, I have experienced this relationship on both sides and since my own mother’s death I have spent a lot of time thinking about the various complexities of how mothers and daughters relate.

As the oldest daughter, I know that I took my mother for granted.  She was a woman born and raised in a different generation. Her experience was of marriage and family and friends.  She had made some life choices that she was not happy with, but she did not feel empowered to modify them.  This was difficult for me to understand. During my own adolescent years the world was beginning to teach girls that they could do anything.  If my mother was not happy with her circumstance, I could not see why she would not just try and change it. As a perpetual “fixer” this frustrated me, and on that level my mother and I did not communicate well.

Despite this conflict, there were areas in which I envied my mother.  She was a friend to many while I have struggled with the ability to maintain female friendships my entire life. She lived in the town where she grew up and those people who were part of her core group had been with her for most of it.  They had strong, long standing relationships based on shared experiences and memories.  They talked and gossiped often over hot coffee at the kitchen table. They sent each other cards and gave each other small gifts of books and trinkets. I remember sitting at the table with them when I was a teenager and feeling like a part of the group. When I became an adult many of them provided me with advice about children and parenting, always available to lend an ear to my problems. I was friends vicariously with many of her friends for a time and it made me feel good to know that they were interested in my life and my own family.

My mother had a wonderful sense of humor.  She was witty and funny and her self-depreciating style was amusing to all who met her.  Mom being sillyShe would do and say the most absurd things.  We have photographs of her with a hundred toothpicks in her hair, or wearing a dirty cowboy hat from my father’s garage, always smiling and laughing.  One time when she and I visited my sister in her college dorm for a night we actually started to write a book of silly things that she said. Funny statements and sayings like “Do you think the rain will hurt the rhubarb?” As I sit here now, I can’t remember most of them, but my sister has them written down – we talk of having them printed. Sometimes I will open my mouth and her words and voice will come out, especially when I am talking to my granddaughter.  It always startles me when this happens, as if she were actually here with us.

I was a difficult teenager and I am sure that it was not at all easy to parent me. My mother seemed to take it in stride, though, and she let me make many decisions that I know were not easy for her to watch.  She was often the “middle man” between her children and our father, who was always the head of the household and had the final word on any issue. This was taxing to her and made her job as our Mom even more demanding. She did the best that she could with the circumstances and I do believe that her biggest hope was that we would all be happy and content with our lives.

As I became a mother myself, I began to realize how challenging her job had been.  I have to say that I was not quite so diplomatic at times, and I chose to be much more involved in my daughter’s lives and decisions.  Sometimes my mother and I disagreed on the choices that I made as a parent, but for the most part I relied on her experience and wisdom during many times of uncertainty and struggle with my children.  I feel that often times her guidance was my saving grace during those years, even if I chose not to take her advice.

Mom and the girlsMy children were very fortunate to have had her in their lives.  She is a very large part of their childhood memories.  Our family gatherings were always centered around her presence and we have struggled to continue on without her, as many families do when they lose their matriarch. Holidays and Sunday suppers are just not the same without her laughter and her smile. She took great joy in her grandchildren and always made them feel special.

The last few years of her life were difficult for the both of us.  We did not agree on a few issues, and that caused us to be at odds.  We still maintained close contact, and talked to each other regularly, but we didn’t see each other as much as we should have – mostly due to my stubbornness and inability to understand her situation. As a result, her friends, who I once considered my own had distanced me, and while I understand their reasoning – they were merely being protective of her – it hurts me to have lost them as well.

I knew that her health was deteriorating, but I did not focus on it.  I felt that by acknowledging her weakness I was giving her permission to give up. My mother was a constant to me, and I refused to admit that she would not always be there. Sometimes I feel that I failed to listen to the things she was trying to tell me.  I didn’t hear her voice because I was too busy justifying my own.

At that time I believed that the struggle we were having would pass and we would regain the closeness that we once shared.  I have a picture in my mind of the two of us a few years from now.  My children are grown and we are watching them and our (great) grandchildren playing on the lawn after a Sunday Supper. I cherish this picture, even if it is not a real photograph.

I always thought that we would have more time.NCL Hands Almost Touching

Fashion after Fifty

I am not sure when it happened.

All of a sudden I am feeling a bit out of the loop fashion-wise. Well, that is not entirely true. It really wasn’t sudden.  As a child of the seventies, I have always been a bit out of it as far as style goes. Let’s face it, when I was in high school my main “uniform” was a pair of Levi’s, a flannel shirt and a pair of work boots.

My style was something like Donna'sPhoto credit: www.tv.infinitecoolness.com
My style was something like Donna’s
Photo credit: http://www.tv.infinitecoolness.com

In the summer I might swap out the jeans for a pair of cut-offs, but I rarely showed my legs, so it had to be VERY hot for that to happen! I was a late bloomer, so the hippie style of the sixties was really my thing.  The most feminine thing that I owned was an embroidered gauze top. Being stylish wasn’t one of the things that I worried about.  My biggest memory of clothes and shopping when I was that age was talking my father in to letting me actually buy my jeans at the local “County Seat” store rather than the overstock farm store that sold fake Levi’s with the orange tab cut off.  It was all about that orange tab!

When the disco craze started at the end of the decade, many of my contemporaries started to dress up a bit – ala “Saturday Night Fever”, wearing heels and polyester fabric.  I have to admit that I tried a few of these styles, but I was always a bit uncomfortable with all of that.  Being a part of the ‘disco sucks’ contingent, I stuck to my hippie attire until the advent of the Preppie faze, which started conveniently during my college years.

My deck shoes, button downs and fair isle sweaters served me well for most of my adult life; taking me from my first job at a local high school, straight on through.  I have been a classic dresser during times of slim fitness and when I have been overweight. There always seemed to be stores where you could find a good cable knit sweater or a pair of chinos. No sweat and no real thought involved.

When I returned to the workforce in my thirties, I started wearing suits and slacks, so that was no problem, either. My casual wardrobe started to dwindle, but again, the classics prevailed and my biggest challenge was what type of jean leg to choose.  I stuck with boot cut and felt (fairly) comfortable for several years.

My recent wake up came when we attended my husband’s company Christmas party.  It was held at a local Japanese steak house and was a casual evening.  I chose to wear (surprise!) a wool sweater and jeans – I dressed them up a bit with some sparkly flats. I topped it with my black pea-coat and a beautiful pashima that my kids had given me as a gift last Christmas. I asked my youngest, who is still home on break, how I looked before I left and she said “great”, so I thought I was all set.

My husband telecommutes, so he does not work in a typical office situation.  Although I have never met any of his coworkers, he speaks of them often, so I have pictured them all in my mind.  Imagine my surprise when we walked up to the bar and were confronted by about 20 young, hip-looking people waiting to be seated.  A cruel twist of fate – we are now the “old folks”.  Even my husband’s boss is in his mid-thirties.  Much to his credit, I do say that Jim fits right in.  Even if he is a bit greyer than the others, he doesn’t look out of place at all.

The first thing that I noticed, when I looked around, was that I was the ONLY woman there not wearing knee length leather boots. (Well not the only one…there was one other woman who was dressed in a flowy, sixities-type flowery number, so I guess we weren’t the OLDEST ones there) Now, I have seen these boots and have actually mentioned to one of my children that I might like a pair.  As a matter of fact, she rolled her eyes and said “Mom, you know you have to wear skinny jeans with them, don’t you?”

Raising three teenaged daughters has taught me that there are certain lines that mothers do not cross. The most important rule is that Moms do not shop in the same stores as their children – unless it is Old Navy.  Nothing is more horrifying than a mother wearing a pair of American Eagle jeans.  Gap is ok, but nobody want’s their mom to have the same pocket pattern as they do! When I was thinner and in my early forties, I have to tell you that jean shopping was a terrible chore.  When did the waistline lower itself to my hips?  And how do I avoid my middle, which is much less firm after three pregnancies and the natural loss of elasticity that comes from aging, hanging over the edges.

So the question remains….what, exactly is appropriate after fifty?  A few years ago I decided to bow to the fashion gods and I bought a pair of Ugg boots. I had to promise to wear them UNDER my jeans (although I have to admit that when I wear them to work because it is actually snowing, I do tuck my dress slacks into them – I know this is a huge faux pas, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do).

Sperry Love <3 Please note the modern color and styling (and the boot cut jeans)
Sperry Love ❤
Please note the modern color and styling (and the boot cut jeans)

I was pleasantly surprised when last year or the year before my beloved Sperry started producing new and hip shoes. Gap, Old Navy and Department stores will continue to sell classic clothing, and I guess I am not quite ready for a lap rug – just yet.

I do think that I might reward myself, after I lose a few more pounds, though. Rest assured that I am pretty sure that no amount of spandex can make me look appropriate for the public dressed in “jeggings” (although it does seem that whoever thought of a jean that fits like a stretchy legging MUST have been thinking of middle-aged women –  am I right?), but perhaps a pair of skinny jeans might find their way into my closet.

If that is the case then perhaps I can go shopping for a pair of these:

Photo Source: www.macys.comI hope they come in 'Wide Calf"
Photo Source: http://www.macys.com
I hope they come in ‘Wide Calf”