Don’t Miss The Way, Way Back

Have you seen the movie The Way, Way Back? If you haven’t, put it on your to-do list immediately. It’s that good. Image

First of all, Steve Carell plays a bad guy and he’s brilliant at it. Second, Allison Janney’s boozy neighbor character will have you cracking up throughout the whole thing and you will still probably miss a lot of hilarious jokes because she talks so fast. I’m going to see it again to pick up what I missed the first time.  Third, it’s a sweet, funny, coming-of-age story that anyone (especially those who ever spent car trips in the way way back of a station wagon during a family road trip) can relate to.

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Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of DVS1mn

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I spent hundreds of hours in the way way back of a car that looked just like this one.

All throughout my 1970s childhood, I spent family road trips in the way, way back of the orange Volvo station wagon my parents drove. Yes, orange. You’d think one orange vehicle would be bad enough for any family to own, but my parents actually bought three orange cars. They started with an orange Volkswagen Beetle when they first got married and graduated to their first orange Volvo station wagon after having kids. Then, because that obviously wasn’t enough attention-getting for them, they bought another life-jacket-colored Volvo station wagon. It wasn’t until I was in junior high that we finally had a normal-colored grey car.

Anyway, when packing for a family road trip in our hideous orange station wagon, my dad would leave a rectangular space among all the suitcases just for me in the way, way back. I would have my pillow and blanket as well as whatever book I was reading, plus my journal and some snacks, usually graham crackers. It was like my own cocoon of paradise back there. There was such a freedom about being able to stretch out my small body and read, write or sleep away most of the hours of the drive. Sometimes I just watched the tops of trees zoom by.

The worst thing about my journeys in the way way back was the fact that my parents usually thought I was asleep. Either that or they forgot I was there. When we arrived at our destination I often knew far more about the state of their marriage than I should have. And it usually wasn’t good. I was relieved when I got a Sony Walkman for Christmas one year so I could lie in the way way back and drown out the sound of their fighting.

One time I went on a road trip with my friend Lisa in the large van she called Big Blue. Her parents kindly put a gymnastics mat in the way, way back for us and during the several hour drive we did flips, walkovers, handsprings and cartwheels. It was just like having a moving acrobatic playdate.

Then there was the time that I smooshed in the way, way back of my soccer coach’s station wagon with what seemed like ten other 11-year-old teammates on the six-hour drive to a tournament in Virginia. It was the first time I realized I could make up stories on the fly and entertain people, even make them laugh. Scrunched up in the middle of all the other girls I made up story after story on that long drive in the way way back. I don’t remember how we did in the tournament, but I still remember the pride I felt at being able to tell a story that held people’s attention.

Today, most kids don’t have free rein of the way way back anymore – legally, that is. I know it’s safer for kids to travel in a car seat and be buckled in tight with a seatbelt, but I feel a little nostalgic for the time when car travel was less safety-conscious and more fun and free for the kids.

In any case, go see the movie. You’ll be happy you did.

The Joy Of Collecting Art

Growing up, I was an avid stamp collector. My friend Gina and I would get together at my house with our fat stamp albums and sit for hours trading stamps and glueing the little colorful shapes in the proper spaces. It was always a real thrill to match an actual stamp that someone had used to the black and white space holder in my album. 

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Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of vintageprintable1

I still remember the joy I felt picking out a delicate, crinkly envelope of stamps off the shelf at Woolworth’s, where I bought all my stamps with my weekly allowance. But what I most remember is the passion I felt for stamps because to me they felt like tiny paintings. Little gateways into a beautiful world. My favorite stamp by far was the 1973 love stamp designed by artist Robert Indiana. I love the simple, bold, graphic layout and the vivid colors.

I don’t know what happened to my stamp collection. It probably got tossed in the many moves my family made. And somewhere along the process of growing up I figured out that the less stuff I had the easier it was to move. So I stopped acquiring many things.

Now I only collect one thing: art. Just like I did with stamps, I see art as a window into the soul of the world. Since I have a very small budget, I have to be very picky about the art I choose. Last week I purchased two small photographs to add to my collection from my favorite photographer, Robert Lerch. One is of a turquoise rowboat in clear, shallow water and one is of rocks and water on the Essex River in Massachusetts. They are gorgeous.

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See the cat in the driveway enjoying the lovely fall weather?

The reason I love Robert Lerch’s photos are because of the beauty and serenity of the composition. You can feel yourself in the scene. Plus, my whole family loves his photos so I feel a connection to them whenever I look at one. I received this one for my college graduation from my grandmother, who knew it included two of my favorite things: fall leaves and a cat that looked like my own cat, Mittens. 

My new photos are being shipped. I can’t wait to receive them. I have a perfect place picked out for them over my bed. 

I’ll end this post with another of my favorite Lerch photographs. This one is of the bridge to Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester, MA. It hangs in my kitchen. Don’t you want to walk over that bridge?

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On Creative Memories, Scrapbooking And Gratitude

I hate that my favorite companies are failing.

For weeks after Borders went out of business I teared up every time I drove by the store where I spent hundreds of hours drinking coffee, writing and perusing the books. Obviously, I didn’t buy enough.

I still feel sad that our Friday night video-renting ritual at Blockbuster has been replaced by scrolling through NetFlix options on our TV. Now, another company I love is cratering. And it’s even more personal.

Last week I found about the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing of one of my favorite companies, Creative Memories. My emotions have been rollercoastering ever since. I want to embrace this new, social-media-driven digital economy but I also wish the world to go back to being simpler. Less online and more face-to-face. More Creative Memories and less Amazon.

But most importantly, what am I going to do about my not-quite-finished Creative Memories scrapbooks?

For those of you who don’t know Creative Memories, it is a company that sells photo albums, pages, colorful stickers and paper, markers, organizers and all sorts of other products that help people record and celebrate the people and events in their lives. Once you start a scrapbook with Creative Memories pages and page protectors, you have to continue to use their products in that album because of the fairly complicated way the pages are attached.

I was first introduced to Creative Memories in Fort Worth, TX in 1997. I had just had my first child and a local church offered a scrapbooking class for three hours once a week with babysitting for only $15. Truth be told, I actually only went for the babysitting and ability to spend three hours with other adults. I really didn’t care what the activity was. If it was line dancing or sock knitting, I  still would have gone.

But it turns out that for a somewhat creative person who likes stories, scrapbooking is kind of addictive. Every photo has a story behind it, right? And the Creative Memories consultant who ran the class brought huge bins of easy-to-use products like circle cutters and journaling templates and corner rounders. I learned to make each page different and color-coordinated with the clothes people were wearing in the photos. I learned that, for me, journaling is the most important element on the page so that my kids will know what funny things they said when they were toddlers or what happened to precede a particularly hysterical photo.

My own mother presented me with a photo album of my life at my high school graduation and it was only later, after she died, that I wished she had written on the pages so I could know more about what she was thinking or feeling when I was too little for my own memories.

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The album I was working on at the last scrapbooking retreat in January.

I decided that as long as there was babysitting, I would keep scrapbooking and I would make detailed albums for each child I had, documenting their lives up until they graduated from high school. I will give the albums to them when they have homes and families of their own. (Boys, I hope you appreciate this!)

After moving to Dallas in 2001, I joined the local YMCA (again, babysitting) and after working out one day saw a flyer announcing a new scrapbooking club. I immediately signed up and I’ve been involved with that club ever since. The club now meets weekly at members’ houses and hosts a yearly scrapbooking retreat. Scrapbooking is nothing if not social!

Even though I don’t attend the weekly meetings much anymore because I’m determined to apply my creative juices to writing my novel, I do attend the annual retreat. I’ve kept up my kids’ albums and I’m only two and four years away from finishing. Additionally, I’ve created albums for travel, Christmas and historical family photos. I am the official family historian and I take my role seriously.

It made me ridiculously happy when my boys argued one day about what happened during a certain family event. They went back and forth with their arguments until one of them finally said, “Check the scrapbook!”

If my house were burning down, the scrapbooks would be the only thing I would care about saving, after the kids, my husband and the dog, of course. Scrapbooks are windows into the stories of our family’s life. Every time I flip through an album I am overwhelmed with gratitude for this family I have had the honor of documenting.

So, Creative Memories, thanks for helping me record, celebrate and, most importantly, be grateful for my family’s memories. I wish you the best of luck transforming into a company that can survive in today’s digital world.

In the meantime, I better go order more album pages. Scrappers only have until July 31 to order refills.

A Beautiful Thing Happened When I Put On My Gratitude Glasses

For years the view out my kitchen window included a scruffy looking, bumpy, rectangular, flagstone “patio” that the former homeowner used as a grilling area. Since we have a built-in gas grill now, we didn’t need a grilling area. The patio is too uneven to use for any furniture. I added a few planters with herbs but it wasn’t pretty and I usually forgot to water so everything looked sad. Plus the two rusty old sawhorses standing together beyond the tiny patio emphasized the abandoned and neglected vibe.

I wished we didn’t have to look at that ugly patio or those hideous metal sawhorses. Every time I glanced out that window I wanted to move them somewhere else – like the bulky trash pile. But those sawhorses were emotionally significant for my husband, whose great-grandfather had welded them himself. So those ugly things stood for years beside the bare patio. 

Until last Saturday morning.

While sitting at the kitchen table considering the unpleasant vista for the thousandth time, I decided to put on my gratitude glasses and reframe my perception. Wasn’t I lucky even to have the potential for a “view?” 

When you put on gratitude glasses, your perspective changes. Challenges become opportunities. Eyesores become art. 

Three cans of black spray paint and one trip to the Lowe’s garden department later, our patio is bursting with color and personality. The view from my kitchen window is beautiful. The sawhorses and patio have new uses, as does a long-abandoned wooden toy box handmade by my husband’s grandfather. It’s amazing what happens when you look at things differently.

See what beautiful things happen when you put on your own gratitude glasses.

 

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One ugly sawhorse before a coat of black paint and its new life as functional art.

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The new and improved view out my kitchen window.

Savoring A Morning at the Farmer’s Market

So it’s Monday morning and I’m drinking my coffee and thinking about all the stuff I have to do today as I robotically perform all my little kitchen chores like emptying the dishwasher and gathering up Sunday’s newspapers to recycle and ferrying folded laundry to the appropriate locations.

But what’s different about this Monday morning is that I keep walking by the lone yellow tomato leftover from my outing to the farmer’s market Saturday morning and I can’t help smiling. I had such a GREAT time at that farmer’s market. My food senses, which had been dulled by way too frequent trips to the grocery store to gather piles of boxed foods to feed the voracious appetites of my teenage eating machines, were finally stimulated again.

I remembered that farmer’s markets are like museums where the food is nature’s art.

Only at a farmer’s market do you learn the stories behind the food. One proud farmer, who ran out of fresh eggs before we got to his booth, displayed a photo album of his chickens and explained to us how one variety of his hens have little colored discs on their heads that indicate the color of eggs they will lay. He showed us their big, beautiful coops, their pastures and the places they roost in the shade to get away from the heat. He pointed to photos of his children on a tractor. “My helpers,” he called them. He told us that in the summer, when demand for his eggs is the highest, the chickens lay thirty to forty percent fewer eggs.

These are all things I’ve never learned at my local grocery store. At the farmer’s market, food is personal. I love that.

Here’s what I bought:

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My farmer’s market goodies

Organic blueberries that were picked the day before. Sweet yellow tomatoes. Homemade butternut squash ravioli and sundried tomato fettuccine. Fresh eggs from a vendor who hadn’t yet run out, possibly because his eggs were $.50 more than the other guy’s. Pattypan squash. An enormous cantaloupe. Fat, juicy peaches. Blackberries. Pain au chocolate. Cinnamon and sugar challah bread. And sausage and egg breakfast tacos (not pictured because they were immediately scarfed up by the teenager home at the time).

Here’s what I would have purchased if everyone else hadn’t gotten there first: lemon rosemary bread.

Here’s what I want to purchase next week when I know to bring a freezer bag: mojito popsicles, grass-fed ground beef and pork.

Here’s what else I learned from my first visit in years: Wear a hat. Go earlier in the morning. Bring more cash.

If you haven’t been to a farmer’s market lately, make a plan to go. It’s a great date location. The people and dog watching are added bonuses. And by all means bring your kids with you and watch their eyes light up when they bit into a warm, juicy peach.

I think I will go cut up a peach to put on my breakfast oatmeal right now. And then I will add the last few blackberries.

Yum.