Familiar Family Faces

There are several faces that the women in my family make. None are intended and all are genetic inherited the same way as hand mannerisms and stances. I’m guilty of several of them myself, and have come to recognize them now on my daughter’s faces, particularly when we’re conversing via Skype.

Skype, as amazing as it is, has a tendency to freeze, and who can blame it when it’s transmitting for free across the wide Atlantic Ocean in real time? But, in freezing, I get a long, hard look at some of the more familiar faces my girls tend to pull and, regardless of what they’re typing or saying, can get a real read on what’s going on with them.

Here are five of our more familiar family faces, all generally pulled when nearing exhaustion or frustration:

  1. Cleo Face. Affectionately named after our long, dead cat who stuck out her tongue when she slept.  If your tongue hangs out, we all know you’re exhausted and need to sleep.
  2. Cry Face. Recognizable from age one on and remains with you for life. The face you pull just before bursting into a hard, unending waterfall of tears. If recognized early enough the crying spree can be avoided with the words, “Oh, oh, cry face.”
  3. Bitch Face.  Generally appears around puberty and can stay with you for life. A face pulled inadvertently because you’re uncomfortable and don’t want to be someplace. Strangers misinterpret it as being snotty or haughty, but the face has nothing to do with them and everything to do with you. In fact, you’re generally trying hard not to be a bitch and not interacting with them, only leading more to the misinterpretation of snootiness.
  4. Uncle Gary Face. A face that appears largely when you’re sleeping in the car, or commuting and your head goes back. Somehow the family resemblance suddenly becomes clear.
  5. Tropicana Face.  This is the newest one I just made up on Skype for when faces freeze while concentrating on something being said.  Frozen concentrate, get it?










Van Gogh and Tales of Jersey Bathroom Art

A long time ago, I was a traveling student in Europe.  I dare say I may have been the first in my family to spend a semester abroad, in a time when it was just becoming a rite of university passage.  I lived with a family in Amsterdam, learned to commute via bicycle to the American University, fell for “Frites mit mayo” from street vendors, and even spoke a little Dutch.

Since that long time ago, both of my children have spent some time abroad themselves in various ways from a high school summer program, to visiting friends abroad, and even a full semester abroad for Eldest traveling from Greece and Turkey to Spain and France.

Youngest knew a full semester abroad was too long for her. She had earlier visited a friend in Paris and knew well how both her sister and now her friend were “done with the experience” toward semester’s end. Not wanting to totally forego the European experience, she cleverly found a summer course abroad on European Art & Architecture. Like her sister’s experience, it was not lodged in one place, but required traveling from The Tate to the Louvre with final stops in Venice and Rome.

As luck would have it, Youngest’s route took her to Amsterdam for a tour of the Rijksmuseum featuring the amazing work of Rembrant, and the Van Gogh museum.  Whereas I will be diligently trying to get tickets to the Van Gogh exhibit now in Philadelphia, she was at the master’s door.

I had been at the same door during my much earlier tour, where, I believe, I first fell in love with museum shops for souvenirs.  All Van Gogh prints were well out of my budget, but I found one small poster from the store that I could afford. I rolled it up and gingerly carried it all the way home, where it has had a hallowed place, largely in bathrooms, in all my homes since.

Both kids grew up with the Van Gogh print in the house.  But, probably because it was always there, no one ever paid it any attention, including Hubby.  With Youngest going off to Amsterdam, I told her not to skimp too much on souvenirs because many stay with you for life.  For proof, I walked her over to our bathroom print and, I believe, she really looked at it for the first time.  “That’s a Van Gogh?!” she exclaimed.

“Well, a decent print of one, or as decent as I could  afford at the time,” I admitted. “In the bathroom?” she admonished me.  If you have the same question of horror — here’s why.  I put things where I get the least resistance and still get to enjoy them!

Once in Amsterdam, Youngest texted me when she was standing in front of the original.  Then, she sent me a postcard of it!  When the postcard arrived, Hubby didn’t believe it was the same print hanging, yes, still in our bathroom.  It took Eldest standing in front of the print with the postcard to prove to him it was, in fact, the same image.

What we see everyday goes unnoticed.  For longer than I’d care to admit, my little Van Gogh image has hung in my house reminding me of a wonderful time during my own student years. No one every paid it much mind except me. But, with a new generation venturing abroad, everyone has finally seen it with new eyes.

As much as I value and encouraged the traveling experience for my children, I can also say, one does not have to leave home to gain a worldly view. One just has to take a fresh look at the hallowed walls of home and not take them for granted.  Yes, “Mes enfants,” mother has ventured out of New Jersey!





My Speeding Turtle – How Eldest Got a Speeding Ticket

Eldest has always been a turtle.

When she was a tot she was mesmerized by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a passion she kept all the way through high school.

TurtleWhen she learned to drive, she quickly got the nickname turtle, as she was always “turtling along” on the highway. Most parents worry about their kids speeding. We were the only set of parents who pleaded with her to “step on the gas.”  “Peddle to the metal,” her dad would shout, while sitting patiently as the passenger.

The rest of us drive on the faster side, so her caution is odd to come by.  She doesn’t like highways largely because everyone is speeding and forcing her to up her game.

This weekend, my two daughters are driving together roundtrip from Boston to Pittsburgh. It’s a girl’s road trip to support eldest in a job interview and give her highway support, not to mention sharing the driving of a 10-hour jaunt from the Northeast to the almost Midwest.  As they got up early this morning to get a jump start on the long journey back to Beantown, it’s a bit of an irony that a zealous NY State Trooper stopped Eldest for speeding!

She was going in the mid-70s on an empty 65 mile road. How often all of us have done that! How odd that she’d be the one to get stopped and ticketed!

And so, our economy trip letting the girls drive out rather than fly, has been compromised. The good news is that my two are traveling together in support of each other, and arriving safely.  That’s my true mother’s day present today. The ticket is just an annoying  cost.

Flower Power: A weekend spent happily in the dirt

It’s not quite Mother’s Day yet, but since we’re now in South Jersey, spring planting can begin a bit ahead of the standard schedule.  Having an unusual weekend off (or what I continually fantasize is a normal weekend for other people), we headed for the nursery to get a jump on spring planting.

This year, I had a plan. I pre-counted all the pots I had, including the planters that sit on the deck railing, and I had color scheme for both the pansies planned for the planters and the geraniums planned for the pots.  What I hadn’t planned for was the husband.

  1. The husband loves an annual plant that wasn’t in my plan. Coleus.
  2. He loves tons of different colors. I was going for a new, coordinated look.
  3. He adores using coupons.  I wanted the expensive variety of pansies off coupon.

The good news is that the weather was overcast yesterday and perfect for planting.  I largely kept to my plan, but compromised with alternating boxes of color-coordinated, yet varied pansies.  I stuck to my guns for the expensive variety of pansies, because I do believe it makes a difference.  I found spots for his beloved coleus. It gets showy by the end of the summer, but at worst it will take over my gerber daisies. At best, it will grow over where the daisies fail to thrive.

And yet again, I’ve re-learned:

  • Color matter
  • Plants matter
  • Scent matter
  • The time and money in short-lived annuals are worth it because the result is so wonderful.

The  flowers already make me happier and have put me a summer frame of mind.  That includes looking forward to visitors to share the new floral scents coming from my geraniums, enjoying the sun sets off the deck, and sipping wine.  Open invitation. Come on down!

What Motherhood and Social Media Have in Common

What do social media and motherhood have in common?  I learned the hard way this year. You can never stop – not for a minute, not for day, and certainly not for more than a year.

On the motherhood front – I’m almost an empty nester.  That does not imply the end of motherhood.  It does imply the ongoing state of long-distance motherhood. The rule of thumb is if your child doesn’t call (or instant message, or email), good times are being had by all.  You may want to check in  just for giggles, but no news really is good news.

If your phone is ringing with tweets, messages, video chat requests, or even a call, something is awry.  It can be as small as the need for more vitamins, or as large as what to do in the midst of the ongoing bomb threats at the University of Pittsburgh campus. This last one is all too real at the moment. More to come on this when we feel on safer ground.

On the social media front – I now have more blogs, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+ accountsthan ever before.  To stay vibrant, they all need care and feeding.  I took almost two years off to attend to my real life, and they all went to hell and a hand basket.  Bringing them back up to health is not easy.  I brought in a professional.

When you’re a harried mother, they tell you to get a babysitter and go out for the night.  I did the same as a harried blogger.  I hired a social sitter (and will be happy to send along the recommendation) and went out to dinner with my husband.

Remembering passwords, user names, logins etc. is similar to trying to keep my children’s friends names straight.  It was easy enough in first grade (or when all I did was Facebook), but by high school it was increasingly difficult, and college is almost impossible. Without a face, how does one remember who’s who?

So, I’m recommitted to straightening out my digital life. I’ve found my real life is now too entwined with my digital life for me to ignore either. Finding time for myself now includes finding time for blogging, tweeting, Facebook posts and the list goes on. Pinterest, like all last born children of large families, suffers the most. I just can’t spend the time nurturing it. At least not until I get the older ones on more solid ground.

Meanwhile, the real kids are really OK. I’m proud to report that I was on LinkedIn and Pinterest first although both have now dabbled in tweets, blogs and are Facebook pros. As they say, the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree.