15 years!

Today, Eric and I are celebrating 5,479 days of marriage.

This is an interesting moment in time. We can vividly remember our dating days, but we’ve also begun to picture what our lives will be like when our kids are grown. We hear songs we listened to as teens on the “oldies” station, but not all of our concert outings are for nostalgia acts. We definitely know more than we used to about home improvement projects, but we also know when it’s time to hire a pro to get something done.

For me, the most amazing thing about marriage has been waking up each day knowing that I have someone on my team, someone who encourages me to do better at work and in life. When we do something, we bring out the best in each other. We’ve had such fun teaching together, reading books together, traveling to new places together, even just copy editing each other’s writing. Heck, we have built so much IKEA furniture over the years with so few tears that I know it was meant to be!

I knew Eric was patient and kind when I married him; I didn’t know how important his generosity of spirit would be as the years went on. Because he’s able and willing to keep things going at home on his own from time to time, I have been able to travel for work, volunteer my time in the community and sustain friendships. Maybe women can’t have it all, but we can have so much more when our husbands are true partners in life.

Ogden Nash had it right when he wrote: “To keep your marriage brimming, With love in the loving cup, Whenever you’re wrong, admit it; Whenever you’re right, shut up.”

Mother’s Day survey 2015

mother-daughter dance

Rachel and the girls on their way to the mother-daughter dance

Answers by Sophie, age 10, and Charlotte, age 8

What is something Mommy always says to you?
Sophie: Before you leave, give me some kisses.
Charlotte: You’re cute.

What makes Mommy happy?
Sophie: When the coffee table is clean. Or when she’s drinking coffee.
Charlotte: Snuggles and kisses.

What makes Mommy sad?
Sophie: When she burns the garlic bread.
Charlotte: When I cry.

How does your mommy make you laugh?
Sophie: Seeing her react to some of the TV shows we watch.
Charlotte: Telling funny baby stories.

What was your mommy like as a child?
Sophie: Adventurous and epic.
Charlotte: She lived close to the woods.

How old is your mom?
Sophie: 40
Charlotte: 40

How tall is your mom?
Sophie: 6 feet 3 inches
Charlotte: 5 feet 2 inches

What is her favorite thing to do?
Sophie: Play with us.
Charlotte: Drink coffee.

What does your mom do when you’re not around?
Sophie: Talk to Daddy.
Charlotte: Watch TV.

If your mommy becomes famous, what will it be for?
Sophie: Being the president.
Charlotte: Being a writer.

What is your mom really good at?
Sophie: Writing.
Charlotte: Cooking.
What is your mommy not very good at?
Sophie: Knitting.
Charlotte: Sewing.

What does your mommy do for a job?
Sophie: She works with people from other countries.
Charlotte: She’s a writer at Binghamton University.

What is your mom’s favorite food?
Sophie: Fudgsicle.
Charlotte: Red velvet cupcakes.

What makes you proud of your mom?
Sophie: She’s nice to people even if we don’t know them.
Charlotte: She’s very nice and loving and amazing. Cooler than Rainbow Dash!

If your mom were a cartoon character, who would she be?
Sophie: Not SpongeBob. Jimmy Neutron, because he’s really smart.
Charlotte: Princess Luna.

What do you and Mommy do together?
Sophie: Arts and crafts.
Charlotte: Watch “Goosebumps.”

How are you and your mommy the same?
Sophie: We have the same laugh.
Charlotte: We are funny.

How are you and your mommy different?
Sophie: She goes to work and I go to school.
Charlotte: I have no clue how to cook.

How do you know your mommy loves you?
Sophie: She says it so much.
Charlotte: She gave birth to us.

Where is your mom’s favorite place to go?
Sophie: Paris.
Charlotte: China.

Where does your mom hate to go?
Sophie: IHOP.
Charlotte: IHOP.

What will you remember about your mom?
Sophie: She loves to read a lot like I do.
Charlotte: She’s awesome and amazing and funny and she loves us.

39 lessons on my 40th birthday

I love birthdays, especially when they’re not my own. I like decorating cupcakes, surprising people with balloons, coming up with fun little gifts to put into the mail. This birthday, though? It has weighed on me for a while.

Today I’m 40.

Portrait of the author as a 40-year-old

Portrait of the author as a 40-year-old. Wearing a perfectly imperfect scarf she made with inspiration from Pinterest.

I’m not so keen to be 40. I’m not as skinny or as financially secure as I imagined I’d be. I haven’t written a book or run a marathon. Heck, I haven’t run a 5k! I have calloused heels, a cluttered kitchen and a to-do list that won’t stop running through my mind.

When I turned 30, my husband and I had been married for four years and were just easing into our second year as homeowners. We had a 5-month-old baby and jobs at the local daily newspaper.

I thought I knew a lot.

At 40, more of the known unknowns, as Donald Rumsfeld would call them, have taken shape. I may not ever feel as sure of the world as I did at 30. Still, there are a few things I’ve learned that are worth sharing.

  1. Whatever you saw on Facebook is not the whole story.
  2. You can say no.
  3. Life is too short to drink wine you don’t like.
  4. Bad coffee, though, is sometimes better than none.
  5. Everyone looks better without direct flash. (And don’t even think of taking a selfie from anything lower than eye level.)
  6. It’s OK to buy the red car.
  7. The best craft projects for kids can be eaten or recycled.
  8. You’ll never read all the great books that are out there, but it’s sure fun to try.
  9. The only thing worse than owning a house is not owning a house.
  10. My parents were right about almost everything.
  11. Best part of being a mom on a business trip? Taking a hot bath without any interruptions. True story.
  12. Go ahead and cry if you need to.
  13. Egg drop soup and DayQuil are all you really need to get through a cold.
  14. Your children don’t care what you look like in a bathing suit; they just want to go swimming as often as possible.
  15. On a related note, your friends don’t care if you haven’t mopped the kitchen floor in six weeks. Invite them over anyway.
  16. Your vote matters.
  17. Take time to feel gratitude for small things. It’s clinically proven to boost your mood.
  18. If you go camping with someone for a few days and still like each other as you’re packing up the tent, that person is a true friend.
  19. Save the receipt.
  20. Internet friends are real.
  21. You can have frozen yogurt for lunch.
  22. Don’t underestimate the power of a really good back-up plan.
  23. No one else’s project looked just like the picture on Pinterest, either.
  24. Treasure the parenting milestones that don’t get a mention in the baby books. You know, like the first time your kid barfs into the sink instead of into her pillow.
  25. Try to cultivate friendships with people much older and younger than you are. They know how to have fun!
  26. You can’t have too many AA batteries in the house.
  27. Learn to say thank you when someone compliments you or your work.
  28. Go ahead and whoop when you ride your bike down the hill. You’re definitely not too old.
  29. Real friends will tell you when you have something stuck in your teeth.
  30. They will also show up when you’re having a crisis, whether you need help cleaning out your flooded basement or just a hug.
  31. The book was better.
  32. Send someone a real letter with a stamp on it at least once in a while.
  33. Prayer really does help.
  34. Sometimes, you have to toss out all the Tupperware and start over.
  35. Don’t put it in an e-mail if you wouldn’t want your mother to read it.
  36. It’s better to be too dressed up than to be the only jerk wearing jeans.
  37. Legos are still awesome.
  38. So is Play-Doh.
  39. I don’t need time. What I need is a deadline. (I’ve seen this bit of wisdom attributed to Duke Ellington, but it sure applies to writers!)

I’m leaving slot No. 40 empty for now. I’m sure this year will teach me some new lessons.

For Mrs. Freedman on her 70th birthday

Judy Freedman taught my American literature class at C.B. West in 1989-90. That’s 25 years ago, though it feels like about 10 to me. Since then, I’ve earned a bachelor’s degree in English lit and a master’s degree in journalism. I’ve edited three newspapers and a magazine. I’ve even taught writing at two colleges. Mrs. Freedman remains one of my all-time favorite teachers, someone who made a huge difference in my life as a reader and a writer.

Mrs. Freedman in her classroom at C.B. West

Mrs. Freedman in her classroom at C.B. West

What do I remember about Mrs. Freedman’s class? The big experience was certainly reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece “The Great Gatsby” for the first time. We discussed the symbolism in it endlessly. (I can still recall a lively debate about the meaning of the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg.) We also watched the 1949 and 1974 movie adaptations of the novel. A certain teacher may or may not have spent some portion of that time swooning over Robert Redford. (No major crime, that.) She also let us watch the scene where Myrtle Wilson gets hit by Gatsby’s car over and over. This was the golden age of the VCR, you may recall, and the 1949 film did such a terrible job staging the accident that it left us all in hysterics.

I’ve read “The Great Gatsby” numerous times since, but it has never been as fun and as engaging as that very first experience with Mrs. Freedman.

Mrs. Freedman also introduced us to T.S. Eliot. I’m pretty sure she had us memorize “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” or at least a section of it. To this day, it’s rare that I eat a peach without thinking of that poem and of that class.

Mrs. Freedman was ready to cheer us on when we fell in love with a book or a poem. She also allowed us to express our lack of enthusiasm from time to time. I still recall discussing “The Scarlet Letter” with her. I was impressed that she didn’t try to bully me into liking it. In her classroom, I got the first taste of what my academic life would be like as an English major, though I’m sure I didn’t recognize or fully appreciate it at the time.

What else do I recall about Mrs. Freedman from that era? Long denim skirts, paired with button-down tops. A sarcasm that was rare (or, at least, rarely expressed) among our teachers. And, above and beyond all of that, high standards paired with a real interest in her students and their lives.

Happy birthday, Mrs. Freedman! You made a real difference in my life and in the lives of so many other students. Thank you.

Back-to-school love for moms

It may not be popular to say this, especially in late August, but I actually love getting my kids ready for back to school. New backpacks, fresh markers, sharp pencils, all of it! I also enjoy sending little care packages to people, especially to mom friends. Recently, I combined these two things and made a couple of fun, inexpensive care packages for mothers who are looking forward to the start of the school year.

Check out the great little things I found:

Back to school care package

One package included a rejuvenating face mask, jelly beans, nail polish, tea, mints, Advil and a mini picture frame.













Back-to-school care package

The other included mints, a mini-picture frame, an emergency sewing kit, Advil, M&Ms, tea and a Sharpie. Maybe more practical!











I also had fun thinking of a back-to-school tie in for the container. Here’s what I came up with:

Back-to-school care package

Lunch boxes in bright colors from the dollar store.

Back-to-school care package

These fit into a standard padded mailer with a little room to spare.











So, for less than $10, I think these are pretty great. I’m already thinking about some happy mail ideas for fall, too!


If you give a kid a party…

If you give a kid a party…

If you give a kid a party, you’ll want to clean the house.
If you want to clean the house, you’ll need to steam-clean the carpets.
If you want to steam the carpets, you’ll need to get the machine from the garage.
When you go in the garage, you’ll find a bag of trash to go outside.
When you take the trash outside, you’ll notice some shrubs need to be trimmed.
While trimming the shrubs, you’ll remember that you should be cleaning the carpets.
If you go back inside to clean the carpets, you’ll see that they need to be vacuumed first.
When you get the vacuum from the bathroom closet, you’ll see your glasses.
If you see your glasses, you’ll remember that you need to take out your contacts.
When you take out your contacts, you might as well remove your makeup.
When you remove your makeup, you’ll see the vacuum again.
If you use the vacuum, you’ll finally be ready to clean the carpets.
And if you clean the carpets, you might as well give the kid a party.

Super Charlotte turns 7!

charlottefliesCharlotte dressed up as Wonder Woman for Halloween last year, and she has been fascinated by superheroes ever since. For her seventh birthday, we celebrated with a superhero bash in the back yard. It was freezing here in upstate New York, but that didn’t stop these first-graders from having a good time.

One of the coolest things we did was to set up a photo booth so the kids could have their picture taken while “flying.” We put up two pieces of this cool paper (intended for school bulletin boards, I think) on the wall, plugged in a fan and let the kids strike a pose. Dollar store capes and make-your-own masks (thanks, Oriental Trading!) completed the look.

For games, I turned to Pinterest for some inspiration. We ended up doing Pass the Kryptonite (based on hot potato, always a classic). Then the kids practiced using the Lasso of Truth (a yellow hula hoop) to capture Spiderman (silly, I know, but we couldn’t find a punching bag with a bad guy on it!). After that, they rescued some superheroes who had been captured by Mr. Freeze (this involved warm water in water guns). Finally, they had a chance to practice shooting their webs (silly string; I wish I had bought a can per kid because they went through it so quickly).


Here’s the silly string in action!


Mr. Freeze didn’t stand a chance!


There goes the Lasso of Truth!

I didn’t photograph the food or party favors, but I will say I was pleased with this great set of paper products from Birthday Express. It allowed us to include a variety of superheroes while still expressing the party theme nicely. A roll of matching stickers let me dress up the favor bags and doubled as seals for the invitation and thank you notes.