Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Sense About Scents

While I was making a pit stop in the teachers’ lounge yesterday, I saw a jumbo bottle of Jean Nate' After-Bath Splash on the counter. I could not believe it. One sniff and I was transported back, way back, to the 70’s. If asked, I would not have been able to conjure up a memory of this smell, but as I placed a few drops on my wrists, I felt about 11 years old again. I was in elementary school, digging through my mother’s things, trying out her jewelry and face creams, maybe even riding my bike the one mile to the drug store to buy a bottle of it and my first (roll on!) deodorant.

Throughout the day, I sniffed my wrists and thought about other scents and what they meant to me.

Shortly after Jean Nate' came Love’s Baby Soft. This is also when I started applying light blue eye shadow to my lids in the bathroom at school. My sixth grade picture (with pink sweater and red shirt!) shows a hint of this covert operation. I thought I was pretty subtle with my application, but when I came into the classroom after having my picture taken, a boy immediately said, “Nice eye shadow.” Yikes. I had 4-6 weeks to wonder just how obvious it would be in the photos. Love’s Baby Soft represented 6th through 8th grades, as I gingerly tested the waters of becoming a teenager.

High school meant getting out the big guns, scent-wise. It was the 80’s, the age of excess. My sister and I now had possession of our parents’ credit cards and weren’t afraid to use them. We were still girls inside, but our changing bodies and changing tastes led us to apply some heavy-hitting and expensive “adult” perfumes each day before school. I leaned toward Opium and White Shoulders, while she favored Giorgio. We had big hair, big shoulder pads, big attitudes, and big scents. A sniff of any of these still catches me off guard. Not only do they seem almost overpoweringly strong to me now, since I haven’t worn perfume in about 15 years, one whiff makes me feel young again. I don’t necessarily mean in a good way. I’m talking about the angst, the late-night phone calls with boyfriends—phone cord stretched as far as it would go for maximum privacy-- and the major insecurity that went along with navigating complicated social terrain. No amount of hair mousse, stonewashing on my jeans, or expensive perfume could make me entirely comfortable in my own skin even though those were special, exhilarating times.

I don’t know which scents take you back, or where they take you. It could be something that reminds you of your mom, grandmother, or a lost love. When I told my husband I might be interested in starting to wear perfume again, he quickly suggested Chanel #5. I’d be interested in hearing what it reminds him of. I even purchased a bottle of my mother’s favorite perfume a few years ago to see if smelling it would help me feel connected to her. Memorable scents might not be perfume—how about Bain de Soleil suntan oil (we didn’t call it sunscreen in those days), Ponds Cold Cream or even Ben-Gay? I’d love to hear about the scents that transport you to a different time and place.

I can’t help but wonder if my kids’ memories of these years will be conjured up by Bounce sheets and dog pee.
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Monday, April 21, 2008

Hobbled and Humbled

I needed and got a kick in the pants today at church, I had been feeling pretty sorry for myself after a couple of recent events, but I think God wanted to put a little more gratitude in my attitude today.

Last week I had another in a long string of eye appointments to determine whether I should re-do an unsuccessful Lasik procedure. I’ll admit that one of the reasons I wanted to get rid of my contact lenses in the first place was because after 25 years of pulling and tugging on my eyes daily, I was getting pretty wrinkly. I was hoping that in addition to stellar vision, I would be able to leave my eyes alone and (hopefully!) halt what I saw as too-rapid aging around the eyes. Well, not only is my vision not great at this point, I’ve had so much pulling and tugging and examining and medicating in the year since my surgery, that I kind of wish I had just kept the contacts.

Anyway, I was feeling kind of bummed about my latest bad eye appointment when a mishap occurred. I was walking Shadow when I fell into a hole. In my own driveway. Ouch. I sprained my ankle. The next morning, as I hobbled on crutches in the kitchen, I fell again, slamming the toes OF THE OTHER FOOT into a kitchen cabinet. Crack. I broke one of my toes. I spent this weekend popping Advil and hobbling to the kids’ games. I was also feeling pretty resentful of my husband who, in my opinion, was not being attentive enough to my condition. I’ll admit I was being passive-aggressive, but I was hoping for some cooing and concern, “Oh you poor thing! Do you want me to take you to the doctor? We must get you checked out!”

In our 16 years together, I have learned I need to be blunt, even forceful, about my needs. “I need a nap. I need you to walk more slowly so I can keep up. I need food in the next 6 minutes or it’s going to get ugly.” You get the idea. Sometimes he doesn’t. But this time I didn’t want to have to say, “I need to keep my feet up for the next 36 hours.” I wanted him to suggest it. Bad idea. This is the same man who thought it would be a great idea on the day that my daughter was induced, right after the doctor had “stripped my membranes,” if we would WALK to an outdoor shopping center about ½ a mile from the hospital to kill some time before delivery. It was 95 degrees in mid-July. I put my swollen foot down at this suggestion, and he looked shocked. So, unless I am bleeding from the head, or have a baby visibly coming out of me, I know I need to make my needs known loud and clear to dear hubby.

As I hobbled into church during a pounding rainstorm this morning, my tiny broken umbrella looking like a mangled pigeon over my head, I was feeling pretty steamed at hubby and pretty sorry for myself. Hubby had to go to an earlier service because of another obligation. The two complaining kids and I headed to the elevator rather than the stairs. The only other person on the elevator with us was Kevin, a young dad of four who is dying of an incurable disease. I was on the elevator because my toe was throbbing. He was on the elevator because he was incapable of climbing stairs any longer. Hmmm.

I deposited the kids in their classes and headed to my own, late of course. It was led by a silky-voiced retired lawyer who held his printed pages up within inches of his face. He showed us the font size of his typed notes—at least 48 point. He has a degenerative eye disease and said to us as he struggled on, “Never take your eyesight for granted.” Double hmmm.

Both of these events helped me put my complaints in perspective. I can see well enough. My toe will be better in a few days. I have a husband with integrity and a good heart. The kids bickered in the back seat all the way home. We pulled up to the house and saw the gutter had pulled away from the house and rain was getting in. We opened the door to a wall of flatulence from Shadow so vile and intense that the kids ran for cover. I smiled and walked over to the screeching Carbon Monoxide detector to shut it off, its lit panel spelling out one word only—“GAS.” Home sweet home, and I’m grateful for every bit of it.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

It Ain't Easy Being Green

This magazine junkie has noticed that for the past 3 or four months, each of my home magazines has had a “green issue.” The magazines are trying to out-green one another by showcasing green remodels and products. I am glad that in our renovation-crazed culture, people have started to look for ways to be friendlier to the environment. At our house, we use compact fluorescent bulbs, low VOC paints, Clorox Green Works cleaning products and, of course, we recycle. I’m not too impressed when these magazines espouse ripping out perfectly good home features and replacing them with environmentally superior ones. Articles showcase $4,000 organic couches, but they never seem to point out that perhaps keeping an old couch out of the landfill for 10 more years by throwing a slipcover on it might be a good alternative.

I know this isn’t a design blog, but I am big into tweaking my house décor. As a stay at home mom, I have had plenty of opportunities to stare at the walls and dream up ways to make changes. When something irks me about my house, it grates on me until I can’t seem to let it go. My husband, on the other hand, can breeze in and not even bat an eye at our groovy 70’s swirly-textured ceiling! I just don’t get that.

Our powder room has an ugly oak vanity cabinet, so-so lighting and a stained vinyl floor. The problem is, I know the previous owner put this stuff in only about 6 or 7 years ago. To rip it out and start again would be purely cosmetic. My magazines would lead me to believe that replacing them, as long as I do it with environmentally friendly products, would be the best thing.

But I think my grandparents’ generation would have proceeded in an entirely different manner. Their idea of “going green” was to hang on to stuff. This could mean keeping the same kitchen cabinets for 40 years or leaving a vintage bathroom intact. These are the same people who knew not to squander aluminum foil and who always had a giant ball of twine at the ready for any tying needs. My grandma understood the value of “cottage style” before most others, realizing that if you covered up almost any piece of furniture with a soft white paint, you could get a fresh new look without tossing anything out.

I don’t mean to sound judgmental when I talk about renovation, because as I sit here next to the offending powder room, I’m itching to surf the web for a new pedestal sink! I just want to give kudos to the one voice of reason I found in my latest issues of Metropolitan Home. Architect Rob Harrison writes, “Before you do any of these things (major renovations) you may want to talk to a real estate agent. The most environmentally friendly solution when a home doesn’t fit your needs is to move to one that does! Chances are someone else out there will like your house the way it is. Not renovating at all is the greenest option.”

Hmmm. I don’t think moving is in our near future, but I do like the way he thinks. I’d give you more of his thoughts, but he’s already in the recycling bin.
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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Say What?

Jake just turned 9 and I realize I can’t understand a word he says. He talks so fast and his lips barely move. It sounds like his mouth is full of marbles. He’s usually talking about the subtle difference between his 50 different Bionicles, so I’m not sure how much I’d understand even if he spoke clearly, but I do think we have a problem on our hands. Hubby Tom has swooped in with a Clear Speech Chart hoping to wipe out the problem with bribery, er, incentives. This is the same guy who masterfully fashioned the Potty Chart, Chore Chart and Stop Saying Annoying Things Chart. We have learned from certain experts that incentives work well with some kids, and this seems to be the case with Jake. For Molly, what gets her back on track is losing t.v. time. Since she’s not as heavily charted as Jake, I’m wondering when she’s going to clue in that “being charted” can earn her some neat stuff.

Anyway, Jake’s speech problem went unnoticed for a long time. This kid said his first word at 7 or 8 months old! I have video documentation. Anyway, his early speech so amazed and delighted us that we didn’t notice when his peers, heretofore considered by us to be voiceless lumps, started talking a few years later with clarity and articulation. We had been so busy parading Jake around like a circus performer, “Say constituency!” “Say semaphore!” that we didn’t notice a problem was developing. I am also known as a rather fast talker, so I didn’t consider it a bad thing at first.

We finally got Jake into speech in elementary school, but he hated it. I wasn’t too thrilled with paying $80 a week and was relieved, when at the end of 2 years, the teacher let us go. I am not certain whether it was Jake’s resistance that wore her down, or if she thought he was improving enough to be released. Anyway, here we are, in 3rd grade, and I can’t understand him! I subbed in a high school last week and one of the Seniors had a speech teacher. I know Jake doesn’t want to work on this right now, and doesn’t think he has a problem, but I’d prefer to get this situation under control before high school-- with all of its other stresses and traumas-- begins.

Molly, suffering from an unfortunate lack of teeth, landed in early intervention speech class when she was 3 and eventually hammered out all the sounds that were eluding her. Now she speaks slowly and clearly. I didn’t mind that it took her several extra months to be understood by the general populace. There were some plusses. I found great value in being the only one at ballet class who could tell she had just announced, “I like the smell of my vagina!”

Friday, April 4, 2008

You Learn Something New Every Day

When I was in high school I would have keeled over and died if I farted in public. Apparently this is not the case in high schools today. I’ve been substitute teaching (more on that in another blog) and thinking about how much things have changed since my days in high school and as a high school teacher. Note passing is completely passé, replaced entirely by texting. The students tell me that if they try to act sly when texting they’ll get caught, but if they are more brazen they’ll probably be able to get away with it. They can’t make calls during class, but texting seems to slide under the radar just as earlier generations’ note passing did.

Cell phones come in handy for more than texting, as I saw last week in a class I was “teaching.” One girl thought she had some sort of weird growth on her back, but she couldn’t quite see it. Her friend snapped a quick pic of it with her phone and voila, problem solved. While these girls were discussing backs, growths, and ideal tattoo spots, one of the girls passed gas. Loudly. Giggles, but NO MORTIFICATION. Another girl burped loudly a couple of times earlier in class. It’s funny because I had convinced myself that my own kids, 6 and 9, would one day find their current habits gross and start showing some manners because of peer pressure. I was hoping peer pressure would eliminate using one’s shirt as a napkin, nose picking, talking with a mouth full of food, and passing gas at the table. Now I’m thinking they’ll pick up more gross habits as they get older.

You may be wondering why I was being paid to sit around and watch all of this. In my defense, it was a very small class in which the students, all Seniors, were supposed to be working on whatever they pleased. I don’t think the teacher had farting and burping in mind, but at $13.00 an hour, I didn’t feel highly motivated to press the issue.

Besides, we did work on vocabulary. For instance, I had no idea a tattoo on the small of the back was called a “tramp stamp.” The lovely young girl who wanted to get one had an excellent rationale, too. She said that getting one on the stomach would get all saggy and distorted after childbearing, while a tramp stamp wouldn’t stretch out and would be covered by business attire on the job. It’s fourth quarter Senior year and you can’t say these kids aren’t planning for the future. I just sat in my chair with my saggy self and had another sip of tea.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Like Taking Candy From a Baby

I’ve almost finished eating my kids’ Easter candy. Another day or two is all it should take. I thought I’d be done by now, but with Easter coming so close on the heels of Valentine’s Day this year, I had a bit of a backlog. I finally decided if I was going to keep up my usual pace there would be NO eating any candy I don’t like. Once I got rid of the conversation hearts and various kid-centric candy like Nerds and Ring Pops, I was good to go. Chocolate, chocolate, nothing but chocolate! Oh yeah, and jelly beans. The kids have asked no questions, and I’m volunteering nothing.