Birthday Reflections

Two days ago found me in the parking lot of an outdoor store—one of those chains that sells everything from Go Pros and hiking books to mountain climbing equipment and all weather socks. I wore a fluorescent yellow vest and a black helmet and stood in front of a green bicycle painted with flowers with a wicker basket on its front. The bike looked a bit like Austrian elves had decorated it, but I was captivated by the red tassels on its handles and by the silver bell that dinged like a doorbell, so I had selected it for my test ride. For years, I had been without a bicycle, my last one having rusted away, and I was at the store to see about getting a new one.

Apprehensive, I stood in front of the bike wondering if that maxim “it’s just like riding a bicycle – you don’t forget!” was true. My children picked up on my concern, and my daughter called out, “Don’t worry, Mama. Just take a breath and step on the pedal.” I looked at her, encouraging me, and felt a slight twinge of humiliation. Was it embarrassing that she was a better bike rider then me (which doesn’t say much since she learned to ride without training wheels only two weeks ago), or should I feel proud that the child was eclipsing the parent? I decided to go with proud (my ego, small as it is, couldn’t bear it any other way), and stepped up on the bike. I wobbled a bit and then found a rhythm. Around the parking lot I went, wind in my hair. I rode up and down the aisles, remembering how much fun it is to ride a bike, to do something of joy. I stopped in front of my husband, nodding like my daughter. I would get a bicycle.

***

All over the Internet, you’ll find letters parents write to their children on their birthdays. I have been known to do this once or twice myself. What about writing to yourself on your birthday? Birthday reflections for the grown-ups, if you will?

Well, today is my birthday, my still-close-enough-to-round-down-to-40 birthday. It’s not a particularly noteworthy year, though, the older I get, the more I realize that all milestones—no matter how big or small—are worth celebrating.

I’m having a quiet birthday, a day surrounded by love and hugs. I’ll spend the day being taken care of by my family. Delicious meals will be cooked for me. I will not empty or load the dishwasher, nor will I fold and put away loads of laundry. I will not pick up (or step on) Legos. I will drink tea while reading my book in my pajamas, under the covers in my bed. I will read Facebook birthday messages, and receive texts and emails of good wishes. I will smile while my children laugh out loud watching cartoons and playing hide and seek in my closet. I will listen to my mother call me (while I haven’t yet woken up) to sing me happy birthday. I will sit in my quiet bedroom and write. I will be feted. And, perhaps most importantly, I will be grateful.

I’ll be grateful for my family, for friends, for the roof over our head, for the blue hydrangeas growing in our backyard, for the sun shining overhead. I will be grateful (though it may be hard) for the wrinkles crinkling around my eyes and for a body, while different than it once was thanks to pregnancy and age, that can run a 5k, can still carry my fast-growing children, and can work tirelessly for people and causes in which I believe.

I’ll be grateful for being able to let go of the things that don’t matter: what other people think and their negativity, and small slights that may have undone me in my twenties. I’ll be grateful that I listen better now than I once did—and that I hear what is being said. I’ll be grateful for the ability to say no to opportunities or responsibilities that aren’t right for me—and to not fill guilty about saying so.

I’ll be grateful for memories that sustain me and for friends who I can always count on for telling me things straight. I’ll be grateful for the fact my children are different than me in so many ways, while I quietly relish in our similarities. I’ll be grateful for a husband who is unfailing supportive, who makes me laugh, and who can truly fix anything that breaks in our house. I’ll be grateful, as I have always been, in captivating books, beautiful music, and kindness.

***

birthday_reflectionsMy new bicycle is bright orange with wide handles and a comfortable seat. It has hand brakes and big tires, and rides quietly, projecting calmness. It’s a good message for me about finding new rhythms and not being too scared by the prospect.

We took our first family ride yesterday—and we’ll go again later today. Yesterday’s journey was a short one, around our neighborhood. We rode out of our driveway to the right, and then turned left past the homes of my children’s friends. Then left again and left and right and home. Was it half a mile? Perhaps. I held tightly onto my handles, back straight, keeping an eye on my children, speeding ahead of me, while looking out for cars. My daughter fell three times; each time she stood up, frustrated with herself but fine, getting back on the bike after a brief talk with my husband about why she fell. She never faltered in her desire to keep going. She laughed and called out to her brother, her pink bike and purple helmet chasing after him down the street.

When we arrived back on our house, my husband stood waiting for me.

“I’m a chicken,” I said, stopping the bike in front of him.

He nodded, agreeing. “What are you afraid of? Falling?” he asked.

“I had the same conversation with myself as I was riding!” I replied. “Yes, I’m afraid of falling.”

“What would happen if you fell? You’d get scraped up—maybe,” he said. “But you’d get back up. You’d be okay.”

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I’d get back up, and I’d be okay.”

***

The other thing about birthdays is they mark time so cleanly and so efficiently. Today, you are older. Today, another year has past. Today, today, today.

Hand in hand with today is tomorrow, of course, and that is what I find most fascinating about birthdays. As a child, we use the candles on our birthday cake to wish for something to happen next—a new toy to arrive, perhaps—but what do we wish for as an adult? Not a new toy, I bet; those we can, if we really need or want them, figure out a way to get them ourselves. Maybe we wish for something good to happen for a loved one, or health, or new adventures. Maybe we don’t wish at all, but use that all-too brief moment when everyone stands still, watching and wondering, as we pause over the cake to make our wish and blow out the candles, to breathe in deep that anticipation, that excitement, to hold on to it for another day, another year, another time.

Now, for me, in addition to a day of being grateful, birthdays are a day to try new things (i.e., bicycles) and to take stock. What makes me happy? What doesn’t? What is good for my family and me? What do we need to change? Where should I be on my next birthday? It’s the plus, of course, about having a birthday in July; I was born at a perfect mid-point in the year, six months after the New Year when thoughts like these often rise to the conscious mind. Having a birthday in July as a child was sometimes disappointing—birthday parties often didn’t came together because friends were away for the holiday—but, as an adult, I find that it works well for me. Another lesson of life: our point of view changes and we can learn to embrace that which didn’t work for us before.

So, here I am: another birthday, another year. It finds me grateful, reflective, and ready to get out there, no matter how scraped up I might get.

Yummy Hummus Chip and Dip Combo

Happy Fourth of July! For my family, this fast-approaching holiday is the official kick-off to summer and a fun reason to get together with family and friends. We’ll spend the day at a BBQ, feasting on corn on the cob, watermelon, and burgers. This year, I have a delicious hummus dip recipe to share at the festivities, thanks to my friends at Stonyfield and Late July.

hummus_recipe

My contribution to the Fourth of July!

Stonyfield invited me to use their organic yogurt as the key element in a healthy dip, so I consulted my smallest assistant—my daughter, G—for help. Together, we scrolled through the dip recipes on the Stonyfield website, deciding to make hummus, a perennial favorite it our house (it didn’t hurt that my husband was in the background yelling “make hummus! make hummus!”).  We elected to combine two recipes (this one and this one) to make our own version, which is what makes dips a great addition to any party—you can easily adapt the recipe to your taste buds.

Our twist on hummus is as follows:
1 cup Stonyfield Organic Whole Milk Yogurt
5 Tb Tahini
1 1/2 16 ounce cans of garbanzo (chick) peas
Juice of half of one lemon
1 tsp of salt
1/2 tsp of pepper (or to taste)
1 clove of garlic (or to taste)

Put all of the ingredients in the blender. Blend. Taste. Adjust the flavoring as needed.

G couldn't get enough of our homemade hummus!

G couldn’t get enough of our homemade hummus!

“This tastes just like hummus, Mama,” G marveled, as she devoured scoop after scoop. (I really should cook more often for this kid.) We ate our dip with Sea Salt by the Seashore Multigrain Tortilla Chips, provided by Late July. This was our first time trying these organic, gluten-free, non-GMO chips, and they were addictive. I especially liked that the chips are made by a family owned and operated company here in Massachusetts—what a delicious way for us to eat local.

And dips—what a great way to get my kids to try new flavors! I often struggle with their differing palates. My son, R, for example, loves spinach while G won’t have one bite of it. They both love carrots, but balk at herbs. A dip of their favorites—with some different tastes thrown in there, too—may just be my secret weapon to get them to try something new.

Until then, we’ll celebrate the Fourth of July with fireworks, friends, and my new chip and dip combo!

Disclosure: This post was created in partnership with Stonyfield. As a Stonyfield Blogger, I received free product from Stonyfield and Late July for this post. All opinions are my own.

8 TV Shows to Binge Watch

television

8 TV Shows to Binge Watch Right Now

Last week, I chatted with some colleagues about the television shows we’ve been watching. One of my coworkers, due with her first baby in a few short weeks and therefore looking for something to watch during those 2 AM feedings, took notes on all the things we said we loved. I tried to remember what I watched during my maternity leaves and came up blank. On leave before the advent of Netflix, Amazon Prime TV, Hulu, and the other ways we watch television in 2015, I was stuck with cable and maybe On Demand. I think I watched Gilmore Girls, or maybe it was The Golden Girls.

Anyway, nowadays, I rarely sit on the couch in front of the television when a show broadcasts; instead, I fit in shows while I’m cleaning the kitchen and making school lunches for the kids, laptop open up on the countertop, show streaming online. The plus of this approach is that I don’t often see commercials and I don’t “surf” around looking for something to watch. The challenge is to find the right thing to watch. So, for my colleague who is about to go off on maternity leave and for anyone looking for great TV to binge watch (i.e., watch from start to finish in a short period of time) right now, here are my eight recommendations:

  1. Catastrophe (Amazon) – A laugh out loud series about an American man who, on a business trip to London, has an affair with an Irish woman that ends in an unplanned pregnancy. The leads—Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgans—are terrific in this saucy, sexy tale. Outlander fans will love Tobias Menzies in a surprising comedic turn, while Star Wars fans will look forward to Carrie Fisher as Delaney’s mom.
  1. Call the Midwife (Netflix) – Following a group of midwives (some of whom are nuns) through the East End of London in the late 1950s and 1960s, this show boasts a strong ensemble and an addictive peek into post-WWII England, with a specific focus on the lives of women. I love the spirit of the show—positive and hopeful—and how it traces the evolution in thinking about childbirth and pregnancy.
  1. Bloodline (Netflix) – A dark look into a prosperous family in southern Florida, I enjoyed the tension of this series, which features Sissy Spacek and Kyle Chandler, along with a number of other very strong actors. Worth watching if you’re looking for something brooding.
  1. Frankie & Grace (Netflix) – How can you not love the combination of Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, as two women who husbands—after decades of marriage—come out as gay—and then leave their wives for one another? And the husbands are Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen? Fonda and Tomlin are the heart of the show, which has lovely things to say about friendship and moving on.
  1. Mozart in the Jungle (Amazon) – An inside look at the secrets (Sex! Drugs! Jealousy!) in the world of the classical music, Mozart in the Jungle has a who’s who cast (Bernadette Peters, Malcolm McDowell, and Gael García Bernal) and wonderful music (as you might expect). Season 2 is expected in 2016.
  1. Orphan Black (BBC America) – Season 3 of this must-watch show concluded this weekend, but you can catch up now. A dazzling performance by lead actress Tatiana Maslany who portrays Sarah Manning and her nine clone sisters (yes, that’s one actress in—so far—10 different roles, often in the same scene). I love how this series is smart, unexpected, and bold, with the right mix of sisterhood and sci fi.
  1. Friday Night Lights (Netflix) – If you’ve written off FNL because it’s a “football show,” think again. This series is an insightful study on small town America and family, with great performances by Kyle Chandler, Connie Britton, and Taylor Kitsch.
  1. Battlestar Galatica (Netflix) – If you’re a sci fi fan, Battlestar Galatica is a must-see TV. The first television show I binge watched, I couldn’t get enough of it. As a fan of the original 1970s Battlestar Galatica, I was skeptical to embrace the remake, but it’s so well done, with a number of strong female leads.

I’m sure the minute I put up this post, I’ll think of several other great show that are worth watching (House of Cards! Buffy the Vampire Slayer! Veronica Mars! Outlander!). I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below!

Disclosures: None! I just watch too much TV.

Photo Credit

3 Ways to Celebrate Father’s Day

fathers day

Last month, I wrote a Mother’s Day gift guide, and my husband studiously noted that of all of the posts I’ve ever written on Red Shutters that one felt the most directed to him.

Hint, hint, indeed.

It wasn’t my intent, of course, but if he found my post helpful, hurrah! However, to make the point that I wasn’t writing just to offer him suggestions to celebrate me on Mother’s Day (though I didn’t mind that one bit), today I am sharing ways to celebrate Father’s Day, for those seeking last minute inspiration (equal opportunity and all that). After all, Father’s Day is just five days away!

  1. When our kids were still in diapers, every Father’s Day (and on his birthday), I gave my husband a free pass on changing diapers. For the full 24 hours, he—normally a very hands-on, help-in-every-way dad—didn’t have to change one diaper, or even wipe a runny nose. He did the same for me on Mother’s Day, and it was a get-out-of-jail card we both appreciated. Consider doing something similar for the dad in your life. Would he love a break from mowing the lawn? Washing the car? Packing school lunches? Organizing the recycling? Find that task and let him skip it this Father’s Day.
  1. In our house, the parent being celebrated gets to decide how to spend the day. Want to sleep in? Have breakfast in bed? Spend time with family and friends? Carve out alone time? See a baseball game, or catch a movie? This Sunday, let Dad decide. For Father’s Day 2015, my husband will head out for long mountain bike ride in the morning, the kids and I will treat him to a special lunch, and then we’ll have friends over in the afternoon for a barbeque—a perfect mix of activities he loves.
  1. Everyone loves gifts, but it can be hard to find the right thing that says “you’re the #1 Dad.” I still have flashbacks to the year I gave my dad a super ugly tie for Father’s Day; I knew I “struck out” on that gift before he opened the box. My key for Father’s Day gift giving is to give something that celebrates one of Dad’s interests. My husband has started to listen to audio books while commuting to work, so this Father’s Day, the kids and I are giving him a subscription to Audible (and he already knows; I inadvertently sent him the receipt instead of myself—so much for surprises!). In year’s past, we gave him an assortment of craft beers and bike gear—gifts that match how he enjoys spending his time. Find the same connection with the dad (or dads!) you’re honoring this holiday.

Most of all, have a fun day! Sometimes, we get all caught up in making a day perfect that we forget that perfect isn’t always what we need (or want); being together and showing appreciation is what makes Father’s Day—and really any day—the best day.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links; learn more here.

3 Ways to Celebrate the Last Day of School

3 ways to celebrate the last day of schoolToday, on our calendar, there’s a big 13. Thirteen days until the end of school. Already the homework assigned to my first-grader has ceased, while Field Day, the Art Show, and end of the year parties have been scheduled. The kids are looking forward to the last day of school year and the summer of camp and vacation that will follow. But I’m a bit sad.

It feels too soon to have my kids move from kindergarten and first grade to first and second grade, yet I can tell each is ready for a new challenge. They are eager—especially my son, R—for something new. It always sounds trite to say “it’s gone by too fast!,” but trite as it may be, it’s a true sentiment. The days have flown by and my kids are growing far too fast.

To slow down time—as much as I can!—I have three ways to celebrate the last day of school, building upon traditions my son and I started last year. Now that my daughter, G, is saying good-bye to her first year of elementary school, the three of us will fulfill these traditions together:

  1. Take a picture! On the first day of school, I went “snap happy,” getting lots of photos of R and G holding signs that said “first day of kindergarten” and “first day of first grade.” I’ll do the same thing on June 23 with these “last day of school” printable signs I found on Pinterest. I’ll send the pictures to grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends, and probably get a little teary-eyed while looking at them!
  1. Break bread – Last year, on R’s last day of kindergarten, I took him out for a lunch at a nice restaurant for some quality mommy and me time. This year, R, G, and I will have lunch together, someplace easy and kid-friendly, solidifying lunch together as our annual “hurrah for the last day” must-do event. Or, we may have a picnic in our backyard and invite friends over. I took the day off from work to note this milestone, so our meal can be as leisurely as possible. After lunch, we’ll head to the pool or library, or meet up with friends.
  1. Interview your kid – I’m adding a new tradition this year: one-on-one interviews with each child to capture this all-too fleeting time. I’ll ask them: name, age, favorite color, favorite thing to do, favorite book, favorite superhero, favorite game, favorite book, best memory from the school year, and what they want to be when they group up. I’ll keep the interviews in their not-yet-complete baby books, and ask them the same or similar questions next year. Hopefully, they’ll find these interviews entertaining when they look back—I know I will!

Happy last day of school!

Getting your child ready for the start of elementary school this fall? Check out my How to Transition Your Child to Kindergarten Pinterest board.

Why Book to Screen Adaptations Can be Great, or What I Learned from Watching Outlander

outlanderLast night, the first season finale of Outlander broadcast here in the United States. It was a harrowing, emotional, and deeply felt hour of television that was beautifully and honestly acted, though very difficult to watch due to its intense subject matter. I’ve enjoyed the entire season of this show; the sixteen episodes that have been produced have been smart and provocative—pushing against stereotypes of heroism, feminism, and sexuality. Set against the stunning landscape of Scotland (my where-we-move-when-we-win-the-lottery destination), Outlander has been must-see TV in my house.

Based upon the novel by Diana Gabaldon, Outlander is the first in a series of books about a World War II nurse, Claire Randall, who unexpectedly travels through time from 1945 to 1743, finding herself caught up in a Jacobite uprising, Highland clan politics, and all sorts of danger. She falls deeply in love with a warrior/farmer/all-around perfect fictional man, Jamie Fraser, despite having a husband back in the 1940s. Claire exhibits the kind of resourcefulness, spirit, and resolve that has had fans gushing over Gabaldon’s novels for decades, with TV critics now calling Claire a true “superhero.”

Claire’s romance with Jamie is another driving force for the fan devotion, as is Gabaldon’s richly researched stories, which span continents and centuries and feature a deep knowledge of everything from anatomy to medicinal herbs to 1700s military techniques. Outlander and its subsequent books—there are eight in the main series, with several spin-off novellas and novels, and a ninth book currently being written—are hard to classify. Are they historical fiction? Romance? Adventure? Science fiction? It’s doesn’t matter, as far as I am concerned, because they’re good and fun to read—which is really all that matters.

Outlander was first published in 1991, 23 years before the TV show broadcast, so its success was based upon the written word, not its translation to the screen. When it was announced that a TV show would be made, from what I have gathered, fans reacted with excitement (finally!) and fear (will it be good?).

I get the fear. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with TV/film adaptations of books. They don’t bring to life the vision I have in my head of the story, and therefore I’m often disappointed. Outlander, however, has thrown that belief aside, and by watching it, I’ve learned why book to screen adaptations can be great.

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The Case for Adequacy

I read an article in The New York Times the other day in which a CEO of an insurance company was interviewed about her career development, management style, and hiring techniques. She said that, from childhood, her parents had instilled in her and her siblings that “mediocrity is not a good place to be.” That guidance had clearly impacted her, as she demonstrated leadership skills early on and has had a very successful career (she was being interviewed by The New York Times, after all!).

I found myself nodding along with the interview. That’s right, I thought. Mediocrity is a not a good place to be.

Only, sometimes, it is.

the case for adequacyI have come to this idea only recently, and it’s been difficult to embrace. As a self-described Type A, being mediocre isn’t in my DNA. Doing an adequate—as opposed to excellent—job in any and all aspects of my life—in my career, at home, in the larger world—doesn’t sit right with me.

But the past three months, I found myself repeating an unusual mantra over and over:

Adequacy is okay.
Adequacy is okay.
Adequacy is okay.

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Boston Ballet’s Thrill of Contact

I was invited by the Boston Ballet to attend the dress rehearsal of Thrill of Contact, the company’s latest performance, which you can see now at the Boston Opera House through May 24.

The dress rehearsal, held the night before the show opened to the public, was an impressive behind the scenes peek at the very hard work—and incredible talent—that goes into a ballet performance.

As a ballet novice—a fan, but a novice—witnessing the dress rehearsal was thrilling. I sat a few rows from the stage with other bloggers and media representatives, careful to stay out of the way of the director and production team who needed a clear line of vision to closely watch each lift, jeté, and pirouette in an effort to ensure that opening night would be perfect. After each performance, the director and the team went on stage to give notes, and, sometimes, the dancers ran through a sequence again to address a concern or to try it again with the music at a slightly different tempo.

Most of all, I loved how the dancers, in between performances, laughed and talked with one another or practiced their steps. In fact, by the end of the rehearsal, the edges of the stage were crowded with dancers, dressed in their street clothes with their hair still pulled back in buns, watching their colleagues perform, twirling about en pointe. I loved how they remained, even when their parts were over, to support one another, and I loved how genuinely excited they seemed to be to watch the performance. There was great unity among the members of the company, and that camaraderie comes through in their dancing.

thrill of contact 1

Theme and Variations, Thrill of Contact

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A Weekend in Boerne Texas

Howdy, y’all!

A few weeks ago, my husband and I spent a weekend in Boerne, Texas for the wedding of one of my cousins. We met up with my brother and extended family for the nupitals which were held in this small town close to San Antonio, and the time away—59 hours to be precise—was an infrequent kid free weekend for us.

A kid free weekend meant that we did all the things that we never do when traveling with our son and daughter:

We slept past 6 AM.
We took an afternoon nap.
We caught up on our reading.
We had long, leisurely conversations about adult topics.

We didn’t go a children’s museum, watch cartoons, talk about Harry Potter, referee an explosion of sibling rivalry, or answer Star Wars trivia. We missed our kids, but, wow, those 59 hours were great.

The thing I love most about travel is determining what I want to do when. Not every person visits the same place and has the same experience. That makes travel exciting—your trip is all yours.

The wedding and associated gatherings were held in Boerne (pronounced Burn-ey), which is about 30 minutes from the San Antonio airport. In the area, you can find vineyards and antiquing; you can also have the quintessential Texas experience by shopping for cowboy gear or visiting a ranch. We, however, focused on catching up (it had been too long since I had last seen my brother) and eating.

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Patio Dreaming with Wayfair

When the temperature hit 80 degrees this weekend, my son and daughter celebrated by running around the backyard with the neighborhood kids, while my husband and I sat outside on two not-very-comfortable chairs to drink a glass of wine and relax.

It was delightful.

But, the chairs really were uncomfortable. I knocked over my wine glass because I didn’t have a table on which to place it. And, the patio where we were sitting looked uninviting. This patio, I thought, needs some work.

To the rescue came my friends at Wayfair who invited me to design my dream patio. I wondered how they had read my mind (they are very clever over there at Wayfair!), and then I got to work browsing the Wayfair site for ideas.

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