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family (71 posts)
A friend sent me this video recently with the message, "beautiful." I watched it without sound and, yes, the footage is lovely: lush images of voluptuous waves, surreal water formations, a breathtaking flock of birds, and a tiny wet-suited figure surfing some enormous, curling waves. Watching this video is like taking a 6-minute meditation break. Relaxing, unless you're the surfer's mother. It was only when I rewatched the short film with the sound on that I realized what it's really about.
"I never set out to become anything in particular, only to live creatively," mutters the narrator. He describes his love for "wave riding," despite the terrible injuries, biting cold, and various dangers. And then he begins to talk about his place in the world, as a person who loves to ride waves and to document them in photographs. It's what he's drawn to, he explains. He's okay with "scraping a living," as long as it's a "living worth scraping," and movingly, he describes his gratitude to be doing what he's doing, in particular to be able to have "a tale or two for the nephews." It seems to me a meaningful legacy if ever there was one. There are so many measures of success, so many ways we judge our lives: money, fame, the highest wave we've surfed (er, metaphorically, for most of us). In the end, isn't it good enough to have some stories to tell the nephews?
How to Live Your Best Life
After all, as Lisa Chase writes in this great essay for Elle, "Mothers become the no-sayers in the house, the keepers of the schedules, the tight ones, while the fathers get to swoop in after dinner and break the rules." In Chase's experience, her mother was forced to fill this role in extremis, as her father was a wild one—creative, fun, thrilling, "because of the brew of wild and blue inside him (which, in hindsight, was almost certainly a manic-depressive disorder)."
Why she went into the beauty business: We needed to buy a new engine for our van. I'd been making soap for our family and friends, so I decided to make some extra and sell it to raise money.
When she realized they'd be able to pay for the engine...and then some: We had so many orders that we were regularly eating dinner on the kitchen floor because the table was piled high with soap. Within several months, I told my husband either I'd have to scale back the business or he'd have to quit his job to help full-time. We decided to take the leap.
Clicking on the photos enlarges them and offers a caption about the departed person. "I found out via Facebook that my first love died a premature death this summer at age 41," one caption reads. "I find it incredibly strange that he no longer exists, out there somewhere." Another photo is labelled, "My brother was always a ham. He was also an amazing protector and friend. Looking through pictures of our childhood, I was amazed at how nearly every picture had him with his arm around me supporting me. He truly taught me the meaning of love." And another: "This is how I would like to remember my sister Sandy, optimistic and mischievous at the same time...She was strong and brave up until the very end."
Viewing this gallery offers an irresistible peek in to the stories of others, and the format is thought-provoking. What one photograph would encapsulate my life? What moment in time would your loved ones remember most about life with you? What pose, what face, what mood would you most miss about the people you love? If you're not crying by now, maybe it's time to go slice some onions or something. At any rate, when you see your loved ones over the holidays, be sure to hug them tight, tell them you love them, and remember to take lots of photos.
You must see this photo gallery to believe it: The Lives They Loved, at the New York Times
Coping With Loss
The Digital Trail of the Dead
What never occurred to me was that babysitters are a relatively recent phenomenon. Ruth Graham writes about the cultural history of the American babysitter in a smart, funny piece for Slate, explaining how the Depression created the babysitter, and dissecting the ways babysitters have been portrayed in the media, from the perfect (the aforementioned Baby-Sitters Club) to the bumbling (Jonah Hill in the new movie “The Sitter”) to the deranged (Marilyn Monroe in the 1952 thriller “Don’t Bother to Knock”).This piece is a must-read for anyone who ever was a babysitter, hires one now, or just enjoys smart analysis of American family life.
In my mind I am a scrappy urban pioneer who raises chickens on my fire escape and bakes everything from scratch, but I must stress that this is strictly in my own mind. In reality I have a real city-dweller’s squeamishness about food. My meat comes bloodless and entombed in cellophane; I get a little skeeved out when my mushrooms are dirty; I buy my bread pre-sliced whenever possible. I live, like many of us, entirely disconnected from the life cycle of what I eat.
As the Casper Star-Tribune reports, the sourdough starter is older than the rotary dial, airplane and modern assembly line. “Someone first stirred its ingredients together the same year the Eiffel Tower opened and Vincent van Gogh painted ‘Starry Night.’... It’s older than the state of Wyoming.” (I think I have some take-out packets of ketchup that old, but I’m not proud of them.) Anyway, 83-year-old Dumbrill, who inherited the starter from her mother (who could track it back to a 19th-century sheepherder’s wagon), says it’s easy to keep: you just have to put it in a ceramic jar in the fridge and “not be afraid if it doesn’t look good.” (You simply must read the entire article for what she means by that, and why the starter could "make some women squeamish.")
The sourdough starter has become something of a local celebrity, the star of
fundraising pancake dinners and political meet-and-greets. But what I love best
about this story is Dumbrill’s “go with the flow attitude -- “Nothing about
sourdough is absolutely absolute,” she told the Tribune. A little of this, a
little of that, and voila, you have a delicious meal that contains a link to
history, a dash of pioneer woman spirit, and tastes great with whipped cream.
As she writes: "He was trained to drive a tank in World War II, but his ulcer and bad back got him sent home before he could be deployed overseas. Instead, his heroism took place on quieter grounds." Frangello goes on to describe an incident at a Target dining area, when her father saw some kids who were clearly hungry, and told the person working at the counter to give them all the food they wanted.
In recounting this and many other compulsively readable anecdotes, Frangello has created a tribute to her father that is sensitively nuanced, achingly ambivalent. Her father is a fascinating, difficult character who has suffered from mental illness, and her relationship with him is simultaneously close and distant, loving and exasperated. Her essay on The Nervous Breakdown is really an exploration of the question "What is love?"—and it's a must-read for anyone who has ever had to confront death, to experience grief, to love truly and deeply. In other words for all of us.
Caring for Aging Parents
Home Safety for the Elderly
After all, there's more to tell if everything went wrong. Holly Robinson writes of this phenomenon in her Huffington Post piece called, fittingly enough, "Cherishing the Memory of Bad Vacations." (Read the whole piece for some hilarious descriptions of family fun gone very wrong.) She writes: "Here's the thing: bad vacations are the real family keepsakes, because you survive them together (ideally). You have to play games or tell jokes, you have to get each other through the hail or the flat tire or the flu. Surviving a bad vacation as a family requires everyone to step up and show determination, loyalty, and yes, even courage. Blue skies, sunshine, and a white beach are all pleasant, but what fun is that kind of vacation to reminisce about later?" It's true—what I fondly recall about our disastrous canoeing trip is how my brother and I made our own fun, in a time of our lives when at home we mostly ignored each other.
A good thing to remember as we plan our own family vacations. Every time I organize even the smallest of weekend getaways, I am struck by an urge to make it perfect, as if each botched meal or tantrum-punctuated outing were a major parenting failure. But nothing ruins vacation fun faster than a stressed-out, crabby parent. Robinson's story of beloved, terrible trips seems to me a call to be easy on ourselves, to remember that the most disastrous family dinner or, ahem, holiday gathering might end up being the one you all cherish the most.
In the immortal words of Clark Griswold, "I'm just trying to treat my family to a little fun."
Give yourself a break:
A reformed perfectionist on setting yourself free
3 ways to focus on the positive
Now, I love holiday season as much as the next Yuletide elf. I love how it doses wintertime with a sleigh's worth of twinkle. The Christmas spirit, the good will towards man, the candy canes. I'm into it. But before Thanksgiving? Hearing the relentlessly upbeat "Jingle Bell Rock" can set your teeth on edge any time of year, I suppose, but hearing it last week inspired a sinking sense of dread. You are already behind on your Christmas shopping, was the message I was meant to receive, and receive it I did. Also, Lines at CVS take way too long.
Christmas seems to sneak up on us earlier and earlier every year, but at least there is one bastion of relative sanity in the sea of premature cheer: Nordstrom's. According to the Boston Herald, every year Nordstrom's hangs a sign that reads: "We won’t be decking our halls until Nov. 25. Why? Well, we just like the idea of celebrating one holiday at a time." I could see how, especially in a time of recession, any retail outfit would feel tempted to join in the sale-offering fray, and it's nice to see that someone is trying to stay a tiny bit sane. I'm not the only one who feels this way, either. As one Nordstrom shopper told the Boston Herald, "It puts a stress on you when it’s too early." Right? And, as I ask myself every year (and on every holiday), why should a holiday be stressful? Aren't they supposed to be fun?
So I'm putting myself on a strict, Nordstrom's-inspired, holiday fun plan. No stressing out. Here are five steps for a stress-free holiday. I think I'm going to start with assessing my holiday plans and decoding who they are actually for, what can stay and what can go. For example, I'm pretty sure the kids don't care if I make every dish from scratch. Decorating the tree and carrying on our tradition of sledding in the park on Christmas Day? Those have to stay.
But wait, before that, I'm going to finish my kids' Halloween candy and look up a Thanksgiving stuffing recipe. One. Holiday. At. A. Time. Here we go.
More ways to avoid seasonal stress:
Quick tips for happy holidays
Get organized and stay sane
Three experts on avoiding holiday freakouts