Don’t Cook in Your Bikini – a letter to my sons

Today, I was working on my cookbook. It’s a book I’ve been working on for my sons for the past 10 years. First, handwritten, and then entered into the computer and now organized and digitized, it’s almost finished. I’ve got a few more recipes to add, and a few pictures to throw into place, but I think it’s almost done.

If I can just get them to stop asking me to add more recipes…cover-image

But as I was reading and editing, I found this – the introduction to the cookbook (aptly named “Don’t Cook in Your Bikini, and Other Things I’ve Learned in the Kitchen”), a letter to my sons as they turn from boys to men.

I hope they listen.

Dear boys – 

Over the past 30+ years, I’ve spent hours in the kitchen. Probably days or weeks, if you add it all up.

And I’ve learned a lot from all that time sautéing, roasting, spicing, creating and burning… I mean, browning… the meals that y’all have mostly enjoyed. I’ve learned from my successes and I’ve learned from my mistakes.

Mostly, I’ve learned enough to keep you all from sending me on to “Worst Cooks in America.”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned though, it’s  Don’t cook in your bikini.

Why not cook in a bikini?

Well, let’s just say “grease splatters.”

It’s all well and good to think that even though a summer storm has popped up outside, you can still grill burgers inside on your griddle. But, when you decide to keep your bikini on and only cover up with a holey sweater, then you’re not really thinking.

And I wasn’t.

Right up until the moment when some of the grease from the griddle jumped up and splattered burn marks all over my stomach.

Then I started thinking a lot of things, many of which ended with “%$#@!!!”

Not that there are that many people who actually WOULD cook in a bikini, but it occurred to me that if I was stupid enough to do it, then YOU might think it was a good idea too.

Apple. Tree. You get the idea.

It occurred to me, however, that cooking in a bikini was a lot like wearing a three-piece suit to garden in – it’s just not a good idea. For every particular job or activity you’ll do, you’ll  have “appropriate clothing.” And there’s a reason for that clothing. You don’t see chefs wearing bathing suits in the kitchen. You see them in long pants and comfortable shoes, and short-sleeved shirts.

Why?

To protect themselves from spills, or dragging their sleeves through the food, or, you know, catching on fire. Yes, honey, that’s a real thing. And you don’t normally see businessmen in jeans and a t-shirt. Why? Because the formality of their attire matches the air of importance they give to their products and services. It’s simple sales, really.

All that got me to thinking … there are a lot of things that I’ve learned in the kitchen that  apply to other parts of your life.

Little bits go a long way. When you’re seasoning something, the best thing to remember is to add a little at a time, and let it cook for a bit before adding more. Think about it – if you added pepper to something and throw in a full tablespoon of it, you run the risk of having whatever you’re cooking come out way too hot. But if you add a pinch or two at a time, you can get to just the right taste.

And that’s kind of like life too. When you’re adding things to your life, try not to add too much at once. Don’t decide you’re going to start a new job, start playing softball, start dating a new girlfriend and move all in the same month. Pick one, do it for a while and then add another until you feel like you can take on something else. Add too much at one time and you’ll be overwhelmed by it all.

You’re not always going to be able to do that though. Life has a way of looking at all of your well-laid plans and happy little dreams, and saying “HA! You are SO cute when you think things are going to go your way like that…” Sometimes life is going to throw a million things at you at once. The best thing you can do when that happens is to just sit down and eat a little at a time until you’ve cleaned your plate. Then you can take a step back, rest up and get ready for dessert.

Don’t be afraid to try something new or make something up, but be creative with a measure of caution. You really should never be afraid to try new things, seek out new people or combine things you love together. For every goofy idea, there is a great success, as much as there is an abysmal failure. You know, buffalo chicken quesadillas started out as a crazy idea, but it worked! Same with the Skyline Lasagna. You should never be afraid to mix things up – whether it’s with a recipe or in your life.

But, remember… just because you like two things, doesn’t necessary mean they go well together. You may like chicken and you may like bananas, but that doesn’t mean chicken and bananas should ever, under any circumstances, in any part of the world, and in any way, shape or form, be combined in one dish and put on a plate.

Similarly, beer and skiing; steak and strawberries; Chuck E. Cheese and a migraine; lima beans and …well…anything… probably not a good combination. Be careful, but always be brave and try new things.

Know when you can fudge a little. Sometimes in cooking, you have to measure carefully. Sometimes, you can wing it. You just have to know which time is which. For example, in barbecue and pizza, really, there’s not a lot of measuring. In those cases, a little of this, a little of that goes a long way. But when it comes to baking, if the recipe says “1 ½ teaspoons of baking soda” you’d better damn well be sure that you measure out exactly 1 ½ teaspoons of baking soda. I’m not kidding. Exactly.

The same is true in life. You may be able to be to skip sweeping under the coffee table every other day at home, but when it comes to work, you have to do the best and most thorough job you can as quickly as you can. You’ve got to know when it’s okay to wing it, and when it’s important to do your best. It makes a huge difference in how successful you’ll be in the long-run.

Be careful where you put your fingers.  You know, it’s important to know where your fingers are when you’re slicing something. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve told you all to curl up your fingers when you’re holding something to cut, and to be careful with knives and food processors. That applies to burning your fingers in the oven (note my hands some day) and putting stuff in hot grease too.

But it applies to other people’s business as well. You don’t need to go sticking your nose or fingers (or any other body part) into someone else’s business. If they want you to know about something, they’ll tell you. If they want you to get involved, they’ll ask you. If they want your help with something, they’ll let you know. I’m not saying, don’t ask if someone needs your help, but certainly don’t take on someone’s problems if they don’t want you there. Be loving and caring with people, and by all means, let them know you are there for them, but don’t stick your fingers in places they don’t belong.

Quit holding on to your recipes  Everyone has secret recipes and things that are theirs and theirs alone. But it doesn’t do anyone any good to hold on to them too tightly. Sharing your gifts with the world is the only clear way to get something back in return.

If I weren’t to share my recipes with you, either by writing them down for you, or cooking them for you, they’d all sit on a shelf and go to waste. But by sharing them, not only do they get a life of their own, but you give me something in return. Whether it’s “Oh, Mom, this is the bomb,” or “I loved your recipe for chicken bog, did you want my recipe for chocolate cola cake?” you get a little quid pro quo action going. When you give a little of yourself, you get a lot in return.

The things you make with love will always surpass the things you throw together Every time you cook, you should absolutely put your heart into it. And by that I mean, when you are creating something, care about the result, because someone is going to be eating that. Do you want to eat something that someone threw together without caring how it tasted, whether or not it was burnt, what kind of texture it had, whether or not the ingredients were rotten? Of course not. You want to eat something that shows someone took the time to do the best they could just for you.

Would you want something that showed someone took the time and effort to make something really great? Or would you want something that someone threw together without thinking about the end result? Put effort into what you do, care about the result – whether it’s in the kitchen or not – and your results will always be better.

Simple ingredients and simple cooking methods are sometimes the best – Eating at a French restaurant can be an amazing thing. Your Dad and I have always said French cooking is about taking out every ingredient you own and cooking them in every pot you own, cleaning all the pots and using them again to come up with an entrée the size of a walnut. It’s all very expensive and very complex and very beautiful and very tasty.

But none of it compares to a bowl of soup beans, or chicken bog, or a really good fried bologna sandwich. Not everything has to be about microgreens, or vodka-infused something or the other, or even about pan roasting something with black truffle oil and pink Himalayan salt. Sometimes, the good stuff is just about three or four ingredients put together and cooked up in the most simple of ways – strawberries and sugar with whipped cream; bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches; scrambled eggs with cheese. It’s the simple stuff that makes a difference.

And in that same vein, when you’re working, sometimes just having good quality products, without all the bells and whistles and razzle dazzle, is all you need. Got a Powerpoint slide show to do? Just do the presentation and make the information sing. Do you need slides that swoop on to the screen and blast the text from out of nowhere? Not really. Let your work stand on its own without trying to baffle people with bullshit. People know what bullshit looks like, regardless of how much glitter you sprinkle on it. Trust me.

I wish I had some beautiful, lyrical words to tell you about living a great life and making a success of yourself and being happy. I don’t. Because I really don’t know what the secrets are.

But I do know this. You only get one chance at life. Do what you want to do. Be who you want to be. Take the risks that will make you happy. It’s always better, in my mind, to look back with a smile at the end of your life and say “I can’t believe I actually did that” instead of looking back with regret and saying to yourself “I wish I had tried to do that.”

I love you both so much. You have made my life better just by being a part of it. Even when I was screaming and angry or crying and worried, you have been the biggest part of my heart and you always will be. I never knew that I could love someone so much that I would give up anything to make their life better. I know I haven’t been able to give you everything. I know I’ve made mistakes. But I also know that I tried to be the best mom I could be. And I know that no matter what, I will forever keep trying to be that and that I will always be here for you.

Probably will still be asking if you’ve brushed your teeth and done your laundry, but still… I’ll be here.  :-*

Copyright (c) Liz Carey 2017

One holiday at a time, please

It’s Halloween night; so naturally, I find I’m a little sick of Christmas commercials.

Not even lying.

christams-fries

Merry Christmas!

This weekend, in the midst of a marathon horror movie session, I got just a bit tired of watching Best Buy’s Christmas commercials. Apparently, nothing says Christmas like going into debt to buy another meaningless gadget.

Unless it’s Rent-A-Center’s new living room or dining room ensemble. God knows your family will look down their nose at you if you don’t have the newest sofa, or the perfect dining room table with that extendable leaf.

And major retailers weren’t the only ones in on the Holiday Cheer. Cable channels got their Ho Ho Ho on too… The Food Network was already promoting its Christmas baking competitions – the ones where you too can feel inadequate over brownies, cookies and themed cakes you never knew anyone wanted or needed.

And The Hallmark Channel was gleefully showing “Love’s Christmas Journey” and “Hitched for the Holidays,” among about a million other sappy syrupy sweet movies where everything ends happily in a quiet snowfall that makes you want to curl up in your snuggy with hot chocolate and a peppermint stick.

Bleah.

IT’S HALLOWEEN FOR CRIPES SAKE!!!!

This is not the time for glittery white snow or elaborately decorated cakes or even sappy feel-good movies.

StampaThis is the time for scare-me-out-of-my-pants horror movies, binge eating trick or treat candy and dressing up like something other than yourself. This is the time to be lost in the crisp cool air hitting your face while leaves crunch underfoot and the smell of burnt pumpkins as candles sear the insides of jack o’lanterns permeates the air. That’s my kind of pumpkin spice.

This is the time for fake blood, pasty grey skin and fake teeth that mimic anything from a witch, to a zombie to a dead illegal voter.

Can we not, for once, just celebrate one holiday at a time though?

I went to the store on the way home this afternoon and all the Halloween candy was gone.

All.

Gone.

Okay, there were some orange pumpkin peeps and blackberry cobbler candy corn, but who wants to hand that out to a trick or treater? Can you say “Egg me, please!”???

In its place was an aisle of candy canes, egg nog, gingerbread flavored biscotti and snowmen Tic Tac dispensers.

I preferred the Halloween themed orange monster Tic Tac holder. But then again, Trump was probably still on the campaign trail…

gingerdead_man_3_saturday_night_cleaverAt least the guys at the cable channel El Rey got it right by running “Gingerdead Man III, Saturday Night Cleaver” a horror movie about a killer cookie come to life who travels back in time to the 1970s to wreak havoc at a roller skating rink.

I’m not sure whether I’m impressed by the melding of the two holidays, or of the fact that more than one of these movies was actually made. There were four in fact. Proof positive that people will watch anything…even Christmas commercials in July.

Why, I have to ask retailers, do you insist on putting out Christmas decorations in August? Do you think we don’t KNOW Christmas is coming? Do you think we’ve somehow forgotten that we’re supposed to be budgeting to spend a small fortune on presents that will be forgotten, broken or out of fashion come February?

(Note to friends who don’t follow the news – Pokemon Go is dead and a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 should only be given to those you really want to burn your bridges with… literally)

According to the National Retail Federation, consumers are expected to spend on average more than $935 this holiday season. In their opinions, we (the public) need holiday commercials because our minds are way too concerned with the election to pay any attention to the holidays right now.
“Everywhere you turn — whether you’re picking up a newspaper or watching television — political advertisements are taking up ad space that retailers typically use to get holiday shopping on the minds of consumers across the country,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Once the election has passed, we anticipate consumers will pull themselves out of the election doldrums and into the holiday spirit.”

REALLY???? ct-debate-prep-clinton-vs-trump-20160827

Do you think we’ve forgotten that there are major holidays that don’t revolve around this fiasco of an election? Do you honestly think we’re all not frantically looking for an excuse to NOT think about who is running for President?

I think that’s what Halloween is FOR!

I mean, sure… getting scared by a flesh-craving zombie may be scary, but not half as much as the idea that one of these people will actually become president on Nov. 9.

We need scary movies and cute trick or treaters and eerie music to take our minds off of the horrors that the first post-election days will surely bring. Subconsciously, I think, scares remind us what we’re all really thankful for – family, friends, full-sized Snickers bars from the good neighborhoods and clown-proof security systems.

But NO! You all have to fill your shelves with sugarplums and wreaths and jingle bells.

My husband went into Party City and Michael’s on Oct. 21 to buy Halloween decorations for our Zombie Pub Crawl.

There weren’t any.

easy-fun-crafts-to-do-at-homeThey had all been replaced by Christmas decorations and craft supplies.

Then again, we bought some of our Halloween decorations in August, right around the time we should have been shopping for back-to-school, so we should have been prepared.

But aren’t we missing something?

It’s bad enough that we’re practically skipping Halloween to market Christmas, but have we all forgotten there’s another holiday in there that needs attention too?

What the heck happened to Thanksgiving?

thanksgiving-hero-banner-091316You know, turkey, family, football – all the good stuff that we really need now more than ever?  I haven’t even started to stress that my house won’t look like a Norman Rockwell picture after I spend six hours in the kitchen to make a dinner that will last about 15 minutes before everyone goes back to video games and football yet and you want me to fret over $75 full-action Barbie Doll Commandos? Whatevs!

Sure, it’s hard to make a buck off of Thanksgiving if you’re not a grocery store, but it’s still an important holiday. It’s the one where we’re all grateful for all the things we have.

Maybe that’s why they want us to overlook it… if we’re thankful for the things we have, perhaps we won’t be as inclined to go out and buy more.

black-friday-wembl_3121002k-large_transqvzuuqpflyliwib6ntmjwfsvwez_ven7c6bhu2jjnt8Seriously, retailers, you all have come together and realized we don’t like the idea that you’re open on Thanksgiving and more than 40 of the big chain stores have decided that they won’t be taking part in Black Friday on Turkey Thursday.

Now, do you all think you can get together and make a pact to not put up Christmas decorations and sale items until the Christmas music starts?

Which, of course, will commence first thing in the morning on November 1.

 

 

Copyright (c) Liz Carey 2016. All images remain the property of their original owners.

How are we supposed to take Curvy Barbie?

This weekend, I watched a story on the new Barbies.

Apparently, you can now get Barbie in sizes other than “bone thin and completely unrealistic.”

people-barbieAccording to Mattel, Barbie will now come in four different sizes, seven different skin colors, 20+ different eye and hair colors and, presumably, an inordinately large number of coordinating outfits and shoes, some of which you will even be able to find after you open the package.

There’s Tall Barbie, Petite Barbie and Curvy Barbie to go along with “regular” Barbie – still super model on crack thin with annoyingly perky boobs.

The new dolls are a response to concerns that Barbie promotes an unrealistic body image to girls and add to body issues.

And it only took 60 years – go figure.

As near as I can tell, Curvy Barbie consists of thunder thighs and small boobs. I would put her at about a size 12. Granted, I’m about as fashion conscious as a linebacker for the Houston Oilers, so I wouldn’t take my word for that.

Petite Barbie is just shorter with the same sized boobs and Tall Barbie is just Barbie after a few hours on a Medieval rack.

But the thing that struck me was that after the piece on Barbie was over a Weight Watcher’s commercial came on….starring Oprah.

Huh.

So, the goddess of the television, whom we’ve all watched struggle with her weight is now hawking Weight Watchers.

What does THAT say to girls about body image?

oprah-winfrey-weight-watchers-commercial__oPtFor most of the women I know, they related to Oprah because she wasn’t perfect. Oprah had curves. Oprah looked good despite her curves. Oprah succeeded in spite of her curves, not due to her lack of them. Oprah was, and still is, funny, savvy, smart and compassionate. No one looks at Oprah and says, “She would get so much farther in life if she’d just drop 10 pounds.”

Trust me, I’ve heard that in my life.

She was perfect because she WASN’T perfect.

And we all related to that.

But now, are we saying “not perfect” isn’t enough?

I know the commercial says we should want to find our “best” us, but damn… isn’t what they’re really saying is that the “you” that you are right now ISN’T your “best” you.

I wonder how that makes women who’ve identified with her for such a long time feel.

About the same time, a friend sent me the daily diet of California juice guru Amanda Chantal Bacon as published in Elle magazine.

Af285f930090179560c060802ef21f5fapparently, this female entrepreneur’s diet consists of mostly teas, peppered with the occasional zucchini ribbon, and a bevy of other ingredients of her own discovering like brain dust, vanilla mushroom protein, coryceps and activated cashews.

God knows, nothing is worse than eating those regular old, lazy, inert cashews.
Now, let’s not forget that this Bacon girl, whose name is only slightly ironic given her air-based diet, is the guru to the star whose mere existence makes the rest of us look pallid in comparison – Gwyneth Paltrow.

According to Goop, Paltrow’s … jeez, I don’t even know what the hell to call Goop… other than the only place I know where vapid blog posts about how you, you lowly earthly scum, can’t even boil an egg right, and need this web site to learn how to do it better than Martha Stewart, all while buying $5,000 juicers and $1,800 sweaters to go along with your $400 lip balm.

Anyway, apparently, Goop says G.P. went to Bacon in the throws of a “Brain Fog”, only to have Bacon sell her a full supply of $65 jars of Moon dust and some activated fermented sea vegetables to nibble on. Seems it not only cleared up her brain fog, but helped her extra sensory perception as well.

I swear, I really wish I were making this up.

So, Elle – a magazine whose media packet boasts that the majority of its readers are 18- to 49-year-old women who are, according to Robbie Meyers, editor-in-chief, “the first person to try something and she brings all of her friends along on her fantastic journey” – decides to publish a diet for a woman who believes in Cosmic provisions and preventing your body from having to actually chew anything as disgusting as, well, … food.

How does THIS help women’s body images?

How in the world is a fat doll supposed to help girls with their body image if everything around them says “Hey, it’s not enough to be thin, you need to live off air, and if you’re not skinny, you should be ashamed of yourself no matter how successful you are because it’s not your ‘best’ you”?

Why even worry about putting out a fat doll, at all?

Until everything else changes, nothing Curvy Barbie says to girls is going to make a bit of a difference – except to reinforce for girls who don’t fit into regular Barbie’s image that they’re somehow not as “good” as the original.

When I was a little girl, I had Barbie. I got the airplane for Christmas along with Barbie, Ken and Skipper. And Barbie’s horse. I distinctly remember Barbie pushing the serving cart around the plane while Skipper headed off on the horse to see what was going on with my Star Wars figures.

Barbie looked really pretty in her clothes, when I could get them on her. Although I have to admit she spent a lot of time sitting around looking pretty while I played with my science kit or my Dad’s microscope (with my hand-made slides of squooshed bugs, blood and the occasional booger).

apollo and starbuckShe always smiled politely while Skipper and I battled Darth Vader, or occasionally joined Captain Apollo and Lt. Starbuck in some attempt to outwit and evade the Cylons.

And I’m pretty sure even Skipper wasn’t around the day my friend Claire and I decided that all of the floors in my mom’s house were lava and the ottomans were our only way to get from room to room. Traveling down the stairs and into the hallway to the guest room on that ottoman is an adventure I will never forget.

Yeah…. Sorry Mom.

But still, for YEARS, I struggled with who I was, based on who I was not. I didn’t even LIKE Barbie and I STILL compared myself to her. I had a picture of what I thought were the perfect Barbie-esque thighs hanging next to my full-length mirror in my closet from the time I was in junior high until I graduated high school. As a matter of fact, they are still there.  As a swimmer and a curvy girl, I was never going to have that kind of thigh gap. But I still felt like that was what would make me popular/datable/attractive/successful/perfect.

I’m not Barbie. I’m not like the women I see on TV. Hell, I’m not even as skinny as “plus-sized” models!

And that’s okay.

Now.

It wasn’t okay for a long, long time. Truth be told, I still have trouble with it sometimes – breaking down in tears because I don’t look like what women who are not the butt of jokes and wisecracks are supposed look like.

I wonder what’s going to happen to those little girls who get curvy Barbie?

Are we still telling them at an early age “You’re just not measuring up, honey.”?

What are we telling girls if on the one hand we’re telling them “Here’s a doll that looks more like you,” and on the other telling them “You know, honey, being a successful multimedia mogul isn’t enough. You have to be thin too?” What are we telling them when we glorify a woman whose whose $700 a day diet has fewer calories than Gandhi lived on?

Why not just tell them it’s okay to be who they are and what they are?

Girls don’t need a doll to tell them they don’t look like other girls in school. Trust me, they know already.

And they don’t need idols telling them you can have everything, but it’s not enough if you’re not thin.

Girls need other women telling them to be who they want and be proud of who they are. And they need guys in their life telling them they like girls with curves too.

 

Copyright © Liz Carey 2016

Images remain the property of their respective owners.

If you say you’re going to do something, do it

If it’s true that “what you do on the first of the year is what you’re going to do for the rest of the year,” I think I may be in trouble.

wpid-confusedSo far today, January 1, I’ve managed to clean, nap, cook and walk into another room four times, forgetting what I was there for and then working on something else, until I walked back into the kitchen and remembered what it was I intended to do originally.

This does not bode well.

In fact, it took me looking at the stove four times this afternoon before I realized that it wasn’t 4 p.m., but that the oven was on and cooking at 400°.

Does that mean for the rest of the year I’ll be dazed and confused, or that it will just take me longer to realize what I’ve actually been accomplishing?

I feel like I’m getting old and forgetful.

In my defense though, it’s been a long couple of weeks.

Really. Long.

There have been numerous holidays, lots of stuff going on, one huge party, a few set backs and disappointments and a ton of work commitments to get thru. It didn’t feel much like a vacation, even if I was “technically” off work.

Come to think of it, with 70° weather and rain, it didn’t feel much like Christmas either.

o-UNWINDING-facebookAt one point last week, I was given the opportunity, several actually, to walk away from a commitment. It would have been the easier thing to do. I would have disappointed others, but it would probably have been easier for me to just walk away from what I had said I was going to do.

Then, I thought about what my friend Steve has said to me before. “If you say you’re going to do something, do it.”

And that’s what I did. I kept my word. I, along with several others, threw a huge party and while it wasn’t the overwhelming success we thought it would be earlier this year, it was still a success.

Which got me thinking.

Maybe if I said that I was going to do something today, and then did it, it would be a better indication of what the rest of my year would be like.

As such, I’ve decided to start the year off right writing.

refashionistaInspired by my blogger girl crush, the Refashionista, I have started a challenge for myself. While she will do a post a day for 366 days (leap year, you know), I will do a post a week. That’s a big leap for someone who has not really posted anything since before Halloween.

I think I will do them on Mondays. I always hate Mondays, so maybe writing for myself on a Monday will make it easier for me to face them.

And I’m going to work on other things too.

I’m going to finish my cookbook for my sons – all of our family recipes, interspersed with some of my old columns, and a few of our old family stories. I want to have it ready to give to my oldest son if and when he moves out.

I’m going to seriously work on getting my children’s books published – starting with “My Little Zombie” for which I found an illustrator recently.

I’m going to focus on finishing my novels and getting down to the editing process.

I’m going to write about the Children of Clay – a project I’ve wanted to work on for almost a year now.

I’m going to write a history book about Anderson.

There’s also a lot to look forward to this year.

200020892-003

I’ll get my hip replaced in April or May. Little Mason will graduate in June. Max will start working  – if all goes well and the Hot Topic angels are smiling on him. And in October, Pints for the People will enter its fifth year of giving away money to charities.

That’s a lot of good stuff.

And I’ll write about it all.

One week at a time.

If I can remember what I’m supposed to be writing about when I go into my office, that is….

 

Copyright (c) Liz Carey 2016

All images remain the property of their respective owners.

 

A mother’s curse

When I was 12 years old, my mother cursed me.

And I don’t mean she yelled profanities at me, I mean, she put a curse on me through my future progeny.

I remember the day clearly. I was home watching ZOOM! in the living room.

Write ZOOM!, Z double O M, Box 350, Boston, Mass 0-2-1-34

Write ZOOM!, Z double O M, Box 350, Boston, Mass 0-2-1-34

Remember ZOOM on PBS? It was an after-school show where kids did all sorts of fun stuff sent in by other kids. It was one of my favorite shows and identified me early on a dork of enormous proportions.

On this particular episode, they were capturing spider webs. In this scenario, clearly not intended for children without adult supervision, you took a piece of construction paper and placed it behind a spider web. From there you softly sprayed spray paint onto the web. What wasn’t web would show up on the construction paper as paint, leaving behind the design of the web in negative. Easy enough, right?

My sister was at work.

My mom was at work.

I was home alone, hoping to find something interesting to do.

“Well,” my little pre-teen brain said. “This looks like fun.”

pedal carSo, I went into the garage and got the only can of spray paint I could find. It was bright red. Fire engine red, in fact. I know it was fire engine red, because it was the same spray paint I used to paint the antique powder puff blue convertible pedal car my Dad had gotten me… I don’t recall mom or dad being too happy about my actions that time either.

Anyway, spray paint in hand, I went looking for construction paper.

One would think that the house of a kindergarten teacher, my mom, would be filled with construction paper in many different colors, but I couldn’t find any.

Granted, I was 12, so without it being in the open, on top of a stack of anything other than laundry and with a six-foot-tall neon sign saying “THIS IS THE CONSTRUCTION PAPER YOU’RE LOOKING FOR!” pointing to it, I wasn’t likely to find it even if I tripped over it.

After more than six whole minutes of dedicated searching my pre-adolescent brain decided I didn’t need it. In fact, it came to the conclusion that in this activity, construction paper was like coconut in a cake, completely optional and most likely not at all necessary.

Armed with a spray paint can and an eagle eye for anything arachnid, I ran outside and searched the yard for spider webs to create art.

I didn’t see any webs on the grass and I didn’t find too many in the bushes and I didn’t notice any at all in the trees.

I did however find a number of them in the garage windows.

spraypaint11Let’s take a moment here to recap the ingredients in this particular activity – several spider webs, one can of red spray paint, one willful 12-year-old tom boy, several garage windows framed with white paint.

No matter how you mix it, it was a recipe for disaster.

When my mom came home, every window on her garage facing the street had little circles of red covering the corners of the window frame and onto the glass itself.

To say my mother was a more than just a little mad, would be like saying that Ghandi was on a low calorie diet for a while.

“Mary, what have you done?” she screamed.

As hard as it may be to believe, this wasn’t the first time I had heard those words.

“My windows, Lord Almighty, my garage windows!” she screamed. “What on earth possessed you to spray paint the garage windows??? What were you thinking?”

I looked at her incredulously.

momdaughter yell“They were they only ones with spider webs on them,” I replied matter of factly.

I’m pretty sure the fact that I didn’t say “duh!” is the reason I am still alive today.

Mom closed her eyes, grabbed her head in her hands and gathered together her wits. You could almost hear her counting to 10 in her head.

And then, it came.

“Mary Elizabeth Carey, I swear, one day I hope you have a child just like you,” she said.

There it was.

The curse.

The longest running curse in the history of womankind, bestowed at one time or another on every misbehaving kid on the planet by their mothers.

And it worked.

I have a child who is just like me.

When I was a kid, for a while I wanted to be an Olympic bicyclist, until the day I wiped out on gravel and ended up in the hospital with 22 stitches in my leg.

Boy jumping

Boy jumping

My youngest son, Max, was determined to be a super hero when he was five, and jumped off a slide to prove he could fly. When he landed successfully the first time, he decided to do it again to show his friend, and promptly fractured his foot on landing.

When I was a kid, I couldn’t find a brush one day, so I used one of those little pot holder loom thingies to comb my hair. The resulting rat’s nest of a tangle required an emergency visit to the stylist.

Max decided one day he didn’t like his bangs or his side burns, so he cut them himself, using a razor, leaving one inch stubble over his right ear and bangs slashed diagonally across his forehead. This also required an emergency trip to stylist and an entire summer growing out a crew cut.

When I was a kid, I wore my favorite red patent leather go-go boots until they were so tight that my second toe on both feet grew crooked because I wouldn’t let them go.

Max had one pair of pants that he would wear all the time. All. The. Time. until they could no longer be called “floods” or “highwaters,” as much as really long shorts which I had to steal from his room in order to throw them away.

When I was a kid, I would stay up late at night, reading Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden mysteries until my Dad came to tuck me in or I passed out asleep.

Max will sneak his way to reading Creepy Pasta and other things online on his Chromebook until the wee hours of the morning, or until I walk into his room at 1 in the morning and tell him it’s time to go to sleep.

I have a nasty habit of just walking off, away from the people I’m with, if I see something that interests me. When Max was little and we visited the zoo, as we often did, my husband, older son and I routinely took turns at “Max duty,” to make sure he didn’t walk away and end up figuring out a way to get into the giraffes cage or end up petting the Bengal tigers.

Now I understand what my Mom went through raising me.

I understand the sheer terror of wondering what your child is up to because the house suddenly goes quiet.

I understand the fear of not knowing whether or not you child will survive into adulthood even without the threat of you beating them to death.

I understand what kind of conflicted emotions she must have felt the day I accidentally sucked the gerbil into the vacuum cleaner trying to help out with the chores, or when I spilled India ink on her new carpet while drawing her a picture.

I’ve stood in her shoes.

It’s not exactly a true curse, and it’s not exactly a true blessing, but I think it’s a little of both.

581719_3662309190010_2038050352_nMothering any child had its heart-stopping moments. But having a child like me, helps me to see the world through my mom’s eyes for a while, and helps me to understand the world Max sees as well.

I hope that as Max grows into a man, that I can be like my mother was with me – patient (most of the time), willing to let me be me and understanding of her willful adventurous little girl.

Mom taught me a lot about letting your child be independent and responsible and capable of facing up to the consequences of their actions – especially if it involves stealing the family car for a joy ride at 14 and knocking over a basketball pole, something I pray Max never does.

And I hope I can be as firm as she was in her resolve to teach me how to be a better, calmer, more focused person. It’s a daily task, I’ve learned, that isn’t easy and forces you to look into your child’s hurt and confused eyes while you dole out punishment. She taught me how to do that, even if she never told me how hard it was.

How she did it alone, and without killing me, is beyond me.

Thanks to her, I think I turned out pretty good. And because of the things I learned from her, I think Max will turnout pretty good too. After all, he’s well into his teen years and he’s still alive, so… there’s hope.

It goes without my saying anything that one day Max will have a kid just like him.

And my mother and I will have given Max all the tools he needs by then to deal with the curse.

Hopefully, he will see it, as I do, as a blessing instead.

Copyright (c) Liz Carey 2015

Why the Easter Bunny still visits our house

Even though my sons are 16 and 15, the Easter bunny still visits my house.

easter-basketGranted, the baskets aren’t as elaborate as they once were, but they are still full of chocolate bunnies, jellybeans and the occasional Peep.

This year, there was none of the plastic grass that clings to every living thing in the house, and it lacked its usual bevy of toys. But each one did include an envelope full of money, which is all my sons really wanted in the first place.

The solid chocolate break apart bunny was just a bonus.

After all, they’re teenagers and toys, candy, colored eggs and plastic doo dahs don’t do it for them as much as cold hard cash-ola.

Ever since they were born, they’ve been the recipients of gifts brought to them by anonymous mythical creatures who wish to buy their love through sweets and trinkets.

At the same time, we’ve spent their formative years telling them to beware of evil men in cars with lollipops and missing puppies who are waiting for the opportunity to kidnap them and of “stranger danger.”

No wonder this generation is completely screwed up.

Throughout their childhood, from the tooth fairy to the Big Guy himself (you know – Mr. Claus) to the Birthday Monsters, there seemed to be no end to the parade of mystical creatures bestowing gifts on my kids.

Sandra Boynton's Birthday Monsters

Sandra Boynton’s Birthday Monsters

Spoiler alert kids – Some of them are completely made up.

Take for instance, the Birthday Monsters.

When my guys were very little, every year on the night before their birthday, I read to them Sandra Boynton’s “The Birthday Monsters.”

In the story, a group of monsters comes to visit you and proceeds to celebrate your birthday by wrecking your house, opening your gifts and eating your cake, only to make it all perfect again before they leave.

Somewhere along the way, in our house, this turned into a tradition of waking up on one’s birthday morning to find presents on the kitchen table and eating birthday cake for breakfast.

All these early morning discoveries, of course, required a lot of late night basket decorating, stocking stuffing, quarter leaving and present wrapping on the part of one particular person in our household.

I remember one year talking online with a friend and asking them if they thought it would be okay if I left the boys alone in the house, since they were asleep upstairs, and ran to the store to grab more Easter candy for their baskets. They weren’t particularly enamored with the idea. I ended up filling some plastic eggs with spare change that year instead.

More spoiler alerts kids – now might be a good time to go watch a YouTube video or something.

My oldest son, Mason, figured it all out when he was 8 years old. He came to me and said “You’re the birthday monsters, aren’t you?”

Look! Mom has wings!

Look! Mom has wings!

I admitted that I was.

“That makes you the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny too, doesn’t it?” he asked.

I nodded my head.

“Oh… then that means,… hmmm,” he said. He knew it all.

“Just don’t tell your brother,” I said.

When my youngest son, Max, found out he was nearly 13. For years, he had been a believer, even to the point of ringing a Christmas bell around us (while we had to act like it was broken) to prove that the magic in it still worked.

Once the realization the Big Guy was just me, all the other night visitors fell into their appropriate places in history for Max. His belief suspended, he realized the myths for what they were.

“My whole life has been a lie,” he lamented.

I guess it never occurred to him before then that it was a little strange that every few months supernatural beings were breaking into our house, not to mention stalking us and keeping tabs on our behavior.

Of course, these mythical entities were great discipline tools. Mom had Santa’s cell phone number. She would let the tooth fairy know if one of those bicuspids didn’t exactly fall out on its own. And no one wanted to see what the Easter bunny would leave if he got an email telling him they weren’t picking up their room.

But now, those tricks don’t work. They know there will be an Easter basket on the kitchen table even if they fail to change their sheets and that their Christmas stockings will always be full of the little joys they never expect.

So why do these gifts keep appearing?

finger-pointingMaybe it’s because I want them to be my kids always. I want them to know that they are loved. I want there to be one moment every once in a while where I can still surprise them to make up for the all the times I’ve yelled at them about grades and jobs and dirty laundry.

Maybe it’s a chance to spoil them when I’m so hard on them the rest of the year.

Maybe it’s because I like carrying on a tradition we started and which will one day be carried down to their kids.

Maybe it’s because the gifts are so appreciated. Today, when they got up at the crack of noon, they both got their Easter baskets and began to immediately make plans for the cash. Soon thereafter, Max came in the living room and hugged me. Mason, in turn, got out of bed and kissed me on the forehead.

They liked the baskets, even if they’re not full of jellybeans and Reese’s pieces and Peeps.

Those are the parts of the basket the Easter bunny kept for herself…

 

Copyright (c) 2015 Liz Carey

White Girl Chic… at 40+

The other day my son told me I looked like a “white girl.”

I’m sure he meant that as a compliment.white girl

There I was in my oversized sweatshirt, leggings and Uggs, and my son was stunned.

“Yeah, you look really fresh,” he said. “You look like a white girl.”

The thing is, this is not a new look for me.

The leggings are somewhat permanent.

I typically spend all of my off time in my Momm-iform (Mom Uniform) which consists of leggings of some sort and a big shirt. Or a pair of jeans and a big shirt. Or leggings and a tank top and a big shirt. Or just a big shirt over a bathing suit…in the summer, of course.

I mean, seriously, I spend a lot of time in really big shirts.

But for some reason, now he thought I looked different. Maybe it was the Uggs. Maybe it was the haircut I’d just recently gotten, or the fact that my hair was back to blonde instead of whatever other color laced with grey that it used to be. Maybe it was because I had lost a few pounds.

For some reason, he thought I looked like a girl. Specifically, a white girl.

And here I was worried that my biggest fear growing older was to know when I slipped into the ever-feared aging blonde category…

Now picture this for a minute… we live in the South and the only time ANY girls around here put on Uggs is when the temperature bottoms out at 60. We pull out the sweatshirts when the temperatures hover around 50.

It was in the 40s. We were heading to the grocery store. And it was a Saturday. I was in my comfort element. I really wasn’t going for any style other than Mom-irrific.

leggings and scarfHere, on a typical day in the South, the momm-iform is more capris and a camp shirt over a tank top with flip flops or those $5 sneakers you buy at KMart, or even walking shorts and a twin sweater set. Well, March through November anyway… But this was February and the typical Momm-iform then is to throw on leggings, a turtleneck, thigh high boots, one terrific scarf and one of the three heavy sweater you actually own.

Face it, Northern ladies, we may suck at colder weather, but we’re just like you… only prettier… and better dressed.

Still, I don’t think most people look at me and immediately say “Oh, look! There’s someone who spent a year as PTA president! You can tell by her sweater set and perfectly groomed toenails!”

I’ve read other suburban moms saying that yoga pants and a tank top are their momm-iform. I don’t buy it, as many of these women look at if they are at the gym on an hourly basis, and at their hairdresser’s when they’re not, but… if that’s what they want us to believe, so be it.

Honestly though, my look hasn’t changed much since college – whether I was a mom or not.

Of course, what this all means is that when my son said that I looked like a “white girl,” the first thing that popped into my head was not that I looked any different, but .. what the
heck did he think that I looked like before?

Ghetto mom?

White trash professional?

The Goodwill wife?

By day, it’s true, I’m a mild mannered executive who tries diligently to marry comfort and style, but I usually fail miserably – mostly because I am not a fashionista at all. Heck, it’s kind of hard to be fashionable when you’re an overweight mother of two pushing the waning edge of your 40s.

Is there one of those Facebook posts out there that tells you what not to wear when you’re pushing 50 and don’t want to look like a high school trollop?

pajamasBut by night, I am a grime fighting super mom who regularly wears clothing inappropriate for stepping out of Cinderella’s basement, let alone picking up one’s kids in church parking lots. Which, of course, is what I usually wear when I pick my kids up in church parking lots.

I never actually get OUT of the car, but still… I’m pretty sure I’m the only one there at the mega church on a Wednesday evening in pajamas.

Even as I write this, I am in black and red plaid pajama bottoms, a black three-quarter sleeve shirt and a red hoodie sweatshirt. It’s a nice ensemble to go with my awesome fuzzy grey slippers. I might also add that it’s 7:30 and I probably won’t go to bed for another four hours.

But this is my comfort zone and this is where I get to wear what I want and be who want in whatever I want right?

mom and kidSo maybe I did used to look like something else to him. He sees me at my best and at my worst. He sees me when I’m getting ready for work. Usually, since he has better taste than me, he’s the one I ask whether or not I’ve been able to successfully pull an outfit together. And he’s seen me at my worst, which usually involves sagging gardening shorts and dirt-covered tank tops when I work in the yard.

Now he thinks I look like a girl.

This is a big change from a few years ago when I told him I could help him talk to his latest girlfriend and he responded, “What do you know about girls? You’re a mom!”

I guess, though, what I should take away from this is not what I used to look like, or what I look like now, but what I look to him.

Regardless of how whether it’s good or bad, how many 40++++ women can say their sons think they look like a girl?

At least one I can think of.winking mom

Copyright (c) Liz Carey 2015