Estate Jewelry, Eagle Scouts, and Evolution

Should my mother-in-law pass down a piece of family jewelry to my youngest child who is turning sixteen this week?

She thought she might. She was considering polishing the silver, cleaning the gemstones, whatever it would take. Then a friend said something, which led her to reconsider her decision. “Kids don’t appreciate heirlooms like they used to. They don’t care for them as they should. If I were you, I wouldn’t give something special like that to a teenager.”

My mother-in-law told me this over Mother’s Day brunch with my daughters only a few feet away from us at the table. I don’t think she believes it to be true that my teenagers are careless with the things she passes down to them, but her friend’s comment definitely made her stop and think.

Kids these days. Lazy. Too busy texting and snap-chatting to connect with their peers on a deeper level, let alone be respectful around adults. Expect everything to be handed to them on a silver platter. Too fascinated by the next new thing to appreciate something that’s been passed down from generation to generation.

The insinuation is that somehow we are superior to our children, grandchildren, other people’s kids, and especially to those kids living in environments that don’t fit our idealized image of childhood, based on memories of situations and teachings, which have been washed clean of every speck of dirt.

It’s true that many things have changed, that kids today do things differently than we did, and that they can, at times, be lazy or disrespectful or unappreciative. So what? Many things changed between our parents generation and ours, we do things differently than they did, and every one of us has been lazy or disrespectful or unappreciative, especially during our teenage years.

As a mother for 18 years, I’ve had the luxury of being an observer, and on occasion, a guide or taskmaster not only to my children but to the multitude of other kids who have come into our lives through neighborhoods, schools, places of worship, and extracurricular activities. I’ve seen them face obstacles and work their way through them. I’ve seen them create imaginary worlds beyond the capacity of my tiny mind. I’ve seen them treat each other with kindness and love, often when they thought nobody was watching. And I’ve seen how full they are of all of the things we are full of: love/hate, happiness/sadness, tenderness/roughness, strength/weakness, etc.

This past weekend, my husband and I attended the Eagle Scout ceremony for a young man we’ve known for years. He is the son of friends, he’s worked on odd jobs for us, and he’s in a relationship with one of my daughter’s closest friends. He is the typical 18-year old whom I’ve come across: he’s polite around adults and has fun with his friends. I’ve never watched him that closely, but I’m sure he texts a lot, posts pictures or comments on social media, and does things that would surprise me both for good and bad.

The first thing that struck me when I entered the room where the ceremony was to take place was that on a Saturday night, several 18-year old boys and girls (men and women?) chose to sit through an hour+ long ceremony to watch their friend get commended for his hard work. These teenagers turned off their cell phones, and remained quiet and respectful while several Scout leaders spoke and gave gifts and spoke some more. And, when their friend went to the podium to say a few words about his accomplishments, and found himself choked up with emotion and at first, unable to speak, not one of those teens mumbled under their breath or giggled or did anything to suggest they had anything but respect for the moment and for their friend. He cried without hiding his emotion and a bunch of teenagers, who’d given up their Saturday night, proved what I know to be true based upon what I’ve seen with all of the kids who’ve come into my life the last 18 years: at the core, people are people, all looking for friendship and love and fulfillment and respect from others. All of the little things (like technology) that fill their lives certainly impact them, sometimes in negative ways, and they often do stupid things and make poor choices, but that same thing could be said of you and me and our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents.

I think that kids rise to the occasion when they are made aware of the significance of what is happening in the moment. And even if one of those kids had reacted badly to his friend crying in front of all of us, I am certain he would learn a lesson about respect from the kindness of his peers, and next time he is in a similar situation, he will do better.

And THAT is what it’s all about.



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This Girl Is On Fire (and not in a good way)

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Everything is going along fine and then BAM, something happens that frightens you, that you’ve never had to deal with before. Do you listen to your fear or do you breathe through it and give yourself time to gather your thoughts before 1. panicking or 2. responding sanely? If you’re me, and it’s a potential health scare, you find a way to convince yourself that what’s happening is meaningless, that it is all in your imagination. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) that trick only lasts until the frightening thing happens again or gets worse.

It is six a.m. on a Friday. My arms stretch toward the sky, perfectly straight, elbows locked, hands clasped tightly over my head, against my ears, index fingers pointing up. I’m beginning the second posture in the Bikram yoga series: Half-moon pose. I can feel the first bubbles of sweat being released from the pores in my face and behind my knees. Before long, I will be drenched, but for now, I’m anticipating that first drip of sweat down one of my calves, my personal signal that class has begun and it is time to drop my thoughts and give myself over to the yoga.

Bikram Yoga, for those who don’t know, is unlike other yoga classes as it, in theory, is practiced exactly the same in every Bikram studio around the world. The twenty-six asana (posture) series is never altered, including the order of postures, the length of time each posture is held, and the timing and length of the breaks given to drink water and rest between postures. Probably the biggest difference, though, which seems to freak a lot of people out, is that this yoga class is held in a studio, which is heated to 105 degrees.

Without fail, the people in my life, upon learning of my relatively newfound love for this practice, ask the same question, “Are you sure it is safe to do yoga in such a hot room?” To which I answer, “I think so, but I can’t know for sure.” There are many opinions on the subject, many conflicting studies about the benefits versus the dangers of this practice, so I can’t definitively tell my mother (and others) that there is no risk involved. However, I can tell them that since I began doing Bikram yoga a year ago, I feel better physically, mentally, and spiritually than I ever have in my almost half-century of life.

That doesn’t mean that I always feel good during class. Sometimes, a part of my body is sore or tired and I can’t stay in a posture for the proscribed amount of time or I get a cramp and have to breathe my way out of it. Occasionally, a muscle will seize up on me briefly or I will feel an unexpected ache or pain in my back or my leg or my hip. What I’ve found is that if I scale back the posture to its most basic form, the problem always lessens, and then goes away fairly quickly, leaving that part of me feeling stronger and more able to withstand the work involved in each posture.

But this past Friday, something happened that set off alarms in my head. The sweat had broken, the drips down my calves were becoming steadier when I began to feel a strange sensation in my fingers. My first instinct was to brush it off, but it kept getting worse. “Should I be leaving now and going to the emergency room?” I wondered, but something in me resisted taking that thought seriously. Instead, I focused on my breath as I pulled back from the posture, doing it in a way that felt a little less painful, with my arms bent and holding the pose for a shorter period of time.

My instructor asked if I was okay and I said fine except my fingers were burning and it really hurt. The sensation resembled something I’d felt before but at the time I couldn’t pinpoint what it was. Later I realized it was a similar feeling to how my fingers feel if I’ve been exposed to extreme cold and then go into a warm room: they felt like there were icicles beneath my skin that were melting extremely fast, a feeling of being both burning hot and freezing cold at the same time. It’s hard to describe the intensity of that pain but it is pretty significant.

Somebody chimed in that she’d had that happen to her before. She thinks it happened when she was eating too much salt. I’d had a relatively salty meal the night before so maybe that was it. Then, somebody else said they had a similar thing a few weeks ago, that I should take it easy. Of the seven people in class that day, I knew that at least two of them were medical professionals: a nurse and a physician’s assistant. While they couldn’t feel my pain, they seemed to believe that what I was going through was not life-threatening.

I stayed in class, continued with the series. As soon as my hands were not in the air, they began to feel better. I avoided the arm-raising part of the next several poses and only felt a slight twinge of burning heat in my fingertips, noticeably in the thumb and forefinger of my right hand. Finally, after the first half of the class, the standing portion of the series, I rolled up my mat and went home. My fear had gotten the best of me.

It was as I was driving my daughter to school, still feeling residual pain in my fingertips, when I remembered a moment from the night before. I was making a chili-based pesto for chicken and while I wasn’t too lazy to prepare the meal, I WAS too lazy to find a pair of latex gloves to wear while removing the seeds and pulp from the habanero peppers which I’d reconstituted. A few minutes after I’d cleaned the peppers and combined them with the other ingredients in the blender, the skin around and just inside my nose began to burn. The feeling wasn’t that different from the feeling in my fingertips during yoga class. It was so severe that I was walking around with ice wrapped in paper towel and holding it against my nose off and on for at least a couple of hours after. But my fingers never hurt.

After I left the school, I pulled over and Googled “burning fingers habanero peppers” and found a lengthy discussion on about how the capsaicin in the peppers is so strong that it can lay dormant for up to 24 hours before causing the burning sensations that come from being stupid and lazy and not wearing latex gloves while seeding hot peppers. I’d found the culprit: my stupidity. It wasn’t like I hadn’t burned myself in the past when seeding hot peppers. I had and after each time, I swore that I would never seed a hot pepper again without wearing latex gloves.

Take what you may out of that confession. All I know is that the trick of soaking my hands in the juice of a freshly squeezed lime took the pain away within minutes. I was good to go on with my day, pain-free.

And I made a promise to myself: next time I’m working with hot peppers of any kind, I will wear latex gloves. And if I don’t, will one of you do me this favor: commit me to an insane asylum.

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The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

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Tom Petty is wrong: waiting isn’t the HARDEST part. It’s much tougher to sit in a room with a doctor and hear dire news about a loved one. Most of us have been there and that is downright devastating.

Yet, when stuck in the limbo of waiting, you feel, at least during the midst of it, like you have no control over your life. Throw in anticipation, be it good or bad, and it is enough to drive you to drink (or in my case, to eat copious amounts of chocolate. And maybe then a glass or ten of wine.)

We should be jumping for joy. My mother finished her chemo a few weeks ago, and last week’s CT scans are clear: no sign of cancer. Instead we’re back at Mercy (what a name for a hospital!): in the waiting room, in the pre-op prep room, in the operating room, in the recovery room.

A complication from her cancer surgery last October worsened with each chemotherapy treatment. By the time my mother received her clean CT scan, the complication had become a major problem, which was negatively impacting her life on a daily basis. When she finally told the doctor about how bad it had become, he examined her and within minutes announced that he was scheduling surgery for the next week.

So here we are. 8:30 arrival for registration and pre-surgery prep. Next, she’s brought back to a pre-op room where we are asked questions and informed of the details of the procedure by the floor nurse, the surgical nurse, the anesthesiologist, and the surgeon. On schedule. We see the last of them at 9:45. We should expect somebody to bring Mom to the operating theater in a few minutes, in preparation for the 10:30 surgery.

And we wait. Fifteen minutes. Thirty. An hour. An hour and a half.

It’s now forty-five minutes past the planned start time of Mom’s surgery.

When we conferred with the surgeon earlier, he gave us some worse case scenarios regarding Mom’s surgery, which we didn’t want to mull over, but how could we not with all that time on our hands? The look on Mom’s face is desperate. She’s shifting positions and complaining that the IV line, inserted on the top side of her hand, hurts. She wants to know why they couldn’t use the port that was in her chest. Or at least insert the tube in her arm. I know she had a tough night and barely slept. For a few seconds, as we wait, she shuts her eyes. When she opens them, the litany of discomforts begin again. She tells me that she fears the worst case scenario that the doctor had described.

I go to the nurse’s station, ask why we are waiting so long, when Mom will get wheeled up to surgery. She checks her computer, makes a phone call, and gives me the bad news: the doctor’s current surgery is more complicated than they’d expected; he is still operating on the patient and they’d called for some new equipment, in order to do an additional procedure. When pushed, the nurse says it will be at least another hour.

Another hour passes. Two more pass before they finally take Mom upstairs at 1:30, leaving me to wait for an indefinite amount of time in the waiting room. We’d been told that the surgery would take about an hour and a half, but I had no idea when it would actually begin. I’m thinking that they only took her up because she’d been nasty to the surgical nurse after she announced a delay beyond the delay beyond the delay, which we’d been suffering through with increasing impatience.

A reclining chair is available so I settle in with my heavy bag of electronics and miscellany: my laptop and charger, my phone, Mom’s phone, chargers for both our phones, my journal, my Kindle, a five section spiral notebook, a filled folder from the hospital, three apples, two Larabars, two wallets, two pairs of glasses (one of them wrapped inside purple latex gloves, which we stole from the pre-op room), pens, hair bands, loose change, tissues, and more. Thankfully, I’d put Mom’s clothes, shoes, and purse in the prescribed locker, so I didn’t have that added weight to carry and manage once I was seated.

I had a plan: Get some writing done after I check in with my siblings and my mother’s siblings since I was supposed to call them around noon with post-surgery news. As soon as I got to the writing, I realized that I was seated under a television, blaring a soap opera, which was difficult to ignore. I couldn’t concentrate but I kept at it until I realized that I’d been typing the same letter over and over again on the page. I wondered if the surgery had begun. I checked my email. My Facebook account. My Twitter account. My Words with Friends games. My Hanging With Friends games. My email again. Facebook, Twitter, and so on . . .

Time went slowly. My mind wandered into that ugly place where every possible bad thing can happen and does. I ate an apple. I carried all my stuff downstairs and bought some chocolate, which I ate on my way back to the waiting room. My chair was still available. The woman next to me had her phone on speaker and an automated voice told her that she was 145th in line and that her wait would be an hour and forty minutes. If she’d like to wait, press one. If she’d like to get a call back, press two. She didn’t press anything, so the voice came on again. This went on for quite awhile. But I finally got rid of her. The man next in the row of loungers was in deep sleep, and snoring like a cartoon character. I give my husband a hard time about snoring but he’s soft as a bird’s chirp compared to this guy. Woman next to me harumphs, angrily gathers her things (including the phone with the constant automated voice), and stomps off to sit on the other side of the room (where probably some other guy was snoring.)

My brother calls me three times. My aunt calls me. My mother’s cousin calls my mother’s cell. I get emails from family and friends looking for news.

At four-thirty, I approach the desk. They make calls and tell me it should be another forty-five minutes, and that she went into surgery at two o’clock. That means three hours and fifteen minutes in the operating room, not the hour and a half the surgeon estimated. My heart drops. My mind goes to that awful place again. Nobody has any information. I try to read my book, get through a few pages before losing all focus. I stare out the window but see nothing.

I look up and Mom’s surgeon pops out of a door and motions for me to come back to a room to discuss the surgery. He gives me the rundown of what they did. He tells me about the issues that might arise. He says I can see her when she wakes up. He leaves and I call a few people from the list that my mother and I made up the night before. When I tire of talking (which happens relatively quickly), I start emailing and texting and FB messaging the rest on the list. I hope they get my messages but am not concerned enough to call them on the phone. Too friggin’ exhausted from all of that sitting around and doing nothing except stressing out.

Now I have to wait for the aide who comes down at the start of each hour to take families up to recovery to see their loved ones for ten minutes. It’s 5:15 so I have 45 minutes to wait. When the aide comes in, I stand up but I’m not on her list. My mother is still out from the anesthesia so I’ll have to wait until the 7 pm visit. Kill me now.

By the time I finally see Mom, I am so mentally and emotionally wasted that I can barely think. She is in a lot of pain but won’t press the button for pain meds. She doesn’t like to take medicine. Her eyelids are swollen, which I point out to the nurse, who says she hadn’t noticed, but explains she didn’t have a baseline from which to make a judgment. This makes me anxious. I have to go back to my Mom’s place and sleep. And eat something other than apples and chocolate. But I feel funny about leaving her with someone who doesn’t see how swollen her face is.

Then the aide comes to take me away. I tell Mom I’ll see her in the morning. I get her stuff from the locker and lug everything out to the car and drive home. Except in my dazed state, I miss my exit and have to drive an additional twenty minutes to get home. And I stop on my way to get a few things at the drugstore, where a homeless person asks me for money. I don’t give him any and then feel guilty for the rest of the night. Or that’s what I tell myself so I don’t have to think about what could happen in the hours that I am away from the hospital.

I can’t fall asleep. I can’t eat anything except the ice cream I bought at the drugstore. I pull out my computer and after doing all my social media checks and game checks and email, text, and messaging checks, I decide to write the blog post that I began while listening to the soap opera blaring on the television.

The writing calms me down but I’m not sure sleep will come. Once again, I am waiting. This time I am waiting until I can go back to the hospital and see my Mom; the waiting is hard, especially since until I get there, I won’t know if the swelling went down and if my mother finally took it upon herself to press the button for her pain medicine.

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Facebook Made Me Do It

M & R's Granola Bars

M & R’s Granola Bars

I couldn’t think of anything to write about today. Actually, that isn’t true. I had approximately seven million thoughts, but for whatever reason, I couldn’t slow my brain down enough to retrieve only one and turn it into something more than a fragment of an idea.

One Twitter friend suggested I take a walk, which I did. And it helped. I came back and wrote down about four paragraphs worth of material. But I was itchy and couldn’t sit still and remembered that I promised my daughter I’d buy her granola bars to take to her lacrosse game tomorrow. She’s allergic to nuts and peanuts so there is only one type of bar that she both likes and can eat and earlier, when I went to the store that stocks them, they were out.

When I realized that I couldn’t finish the blog post I’d started, I decided to make the granola bars that my daughters and I have been making for years. Baking and cooking ground me, except when making weeknight dinners after a busy day. Then cooking stresses me out.

I found the recipe back when there wasn’t a single brand of bar that my allergic daughter could eat. The girls and I have played with the recipe a little bit over the years and while I wouldn’t call the result a healthy treat, I would say that it is far healthier than the ones we get at the store. And it tastes better.

I posted a photo of the finished granola bars on Facebook and enough people seemed interested in the recipe that I realized I had a blog post after all. So, for all those who’d like to make their own granola bars, here’s my family’s easy easy easy recipe. (Ours are nut-free but if you want nuts, just add them in at the end.)

M & R’s Granola Bars


4 cups oatmeal

2 cups flour

1 cup coconut

¼ cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

¾ cup vegetable oil

¾ cup honey (OR 1/2 cup honey, 1/4 cup molasses , OR 1/2 cup honey, 1/4 cup corn syrup depending on your taste)

raisins or chocolate chips (or whatever you prefer to add)


1. Mix dry ingredients together well.

2. Add oil and honey.

3. Mix well. Get your fingers in there and mix it until all is blended and sticky feeling. If you don’t, they will turn out crumbly.

4. Add raisins and whatever else you enjoy.

5. Firmly press into jelly roll pan (12 x 15 inch).

6. Bake 15 to 20 minutes at 375°F They will look puffy and soft when you take them out.

7. Don’t wait until they are brown or they will be very hard.

8. Cut into squares while still warm.

Let me know if you make them and if you like them!

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Two Trees: A Love Story

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It was enough for me to see the palm tree wearing a shorter flowering tree as a decorative skirt, but then I got closer and the hairs on my body stood at attention. Landscaper designed or not, one tree with its branches wrapped around a totally different kind of tree’s trunk made me ridiculously happy.

I’m reminded of this photo exhibit I saw in the 80s of the faces of children of “mixed” parentage. One parent is Asian, the other American. One is African, the other French. One is Moroccan, the other Spanish. I believe the exhibit was the senior project of an art major at the college I attended. If only I could recall the artist’s name because I want him/her to know that I still can see, in my mind’s eye, those faces. And each one is more beautiful than the next.

I don’t remember if the faces of the parents were also part of the exhibit, but I’m guessing they weren’t because I think those faces would have stuck in my mind too.

Early in our marriage, my (WASP) husband used to say to me (his Jewish wife) that our kids were going to be mutts. But not to worry, he’d add, mutts are always smarter than pure breeds. While the families were stressing about how two people from largely different backgrounds would raise our kids, we didn’t doubt that we’d figure it out. We both saw it as a plus that we’d be mixing up the gene pool.

The kids have turned out pretty well, as far as I can tell. They’re both smart and beautiful, inside and out. Not that I have a biased opinion or anything.

I wonder about my new friends, the hugging trees. Will they grow so close that they will graft together and become the progenitors of a new breed?

My tree knowledge is minimal, but how great would it be to see the product of those two trees that the landscaper decided to intertwine?

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