Monthly Archives: November 2015

Five reasons I won’t give up on Forced Family Fun

My husband and dad are watching football for the third straight day. My son and his friend don’t want to do anything except play the Xbox. I’m bored and unsatisfied with our family interaction.

What do I do? Bring out the board games! Plan an outing!

It’s a picture-perfect November day, with blue skies and sunshine to kick off the Christmas season. We’ll go to the Seattle Center, ride up the Space Needle to see the futuristic Santa, then visit the gingerbread houses. Family fun day!

The response from my son?

“I don’t want to go!”

Oh yes, we’re going. This isn’t just family fun. This is forced family fun at its finest.

forced fun biggerThe night before, I had suggested a rousing game of spoons with grandparents, parents, and kids. I heard more than a few complaints about what a dumb game it was. What’s the point? All you have to do is grab a stupid spoon? Lame.

“The point is THIS IS FUN!!!!” I screamed.

After finally getting everyone on board and explaining the very complicated rules of the game (pass a card, get four of a kind, reach for a spoon and don’t be the player to end up without one), we had a great time moving through the deck as fast as we could and diving dramatically toward the middle of the dining room table trying to grab our spoon.

As I was trying to inspire a little enthusiasm out of my son and his friend for my holiday sightseeing plans, I asked my dad if my siblings and I moaned and groaned when it was time for a family adventure our parents thought would be a blast. He just laughed. “Sometimes,” he admitted.

I don’t remember that, but I do remember the family fun – games of Facts in Five (does anyone else remember this old-fashioned, tougher prequel to Scattergories?) road trips filled with endless singing of “There’s a Hole in the Bucket,” and “The Other Day I Saw a Bear,” and visits my parents arranged to historical sites like Pearl Harbor and the Lincoln Memorial.

So no matter how much grumbling I hear, I won’t give up on forcing family fun. Here’s why:

Because it get us off our screens. Whether it’s Minecraft, Facebook, the NFL Network, You Tube, or WordPress, we all spend a lot of time looking at our devices and not really talking to each other. It’s important to step away and have actual conversations and play real games. They always evoke giggles, and laughing together is my favorite kind of family fun.

Because I go places like the Family Fun Center and Chuck E. Cheese. Let’s be serious. These casinos for kids are not a place for family fun. Trying to keep track of the kids, limiting the dollars spent on tokens to stuff into machines that spew tickets, only to wait in line to count said tickets, then wait some more while they carefully redeem them for plastic swords and whoopee cushions is not my idea of quality time. But I do it for you, kiddos.

Because we’re creating traditions. Maybe we whined when it was time to play the classic Midwest card game Rook with my mom’s large extended family, but we always had fun at card tables filled with our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins at family get-togethers. The night of my grandma’s memorial service, her children and grandchildren gathered together and played the game she taught us, and we now-adult grandchildren have shared it with our spouses and kids.

Because we’re making memories. My siblings and cousins often reminisce about camping trips and fishing outings with our parents. Waking up at 4 a.m. to climb onto my uncle’s small boat for a long, bumpy ride out to the halibut and crab grounds in Southeast Alaska drew some protests from the younger set, but we have fond memories of those times we spent together. Someday, my kids will teach their children the silly songs I sang in the car with them, and I will join the chorus.

Because most of the time, we have fun. The trip downtown wasn’t the best example of that. Suffice it to say I wasn’t the only one who had this great idea. Crazy long lines kept us from the two main things we set out to do, and the kids were hungry and cranky. After one of those Mom-of-the-Year moments when I told my son I was so done with his whining I might not ever take him anywhere he wants to go if I don’t want to go there too, I put myself in time out.

Succumbing to failure, we headed home. My son asked if his friend could spend the night, and my initial thought was no way, not after how you behaved today.

“I really want to play spoons again!” he said with genuine excitement. “I have to admit, Mom, that was pretty fun.”

Forced family fun wins again.

 

 

 

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Count your blessings every day

It’s easy to talk about all we’re grateful for on Thanksgiving.

Our family has been trying to make a habit of counting our blessings all year long. The idea was born on a crazy-making day when everyone was complaining and whining. I suggested – ok maybe screamed – that we all take a minute to think about something good that happened that day.

The good thing that day was the beautiful box my son made asking us simple questions: What are you grateful for? What good happened to you today? Easy questions with often profound answers that undoubtedly change our perspective. A few months later, we went to a paint-your-own-pottery place and he decided to make a more durable Gratitude Jar.

We slip colorful pieces of paper in the box and jar and share them over the dinner table several times a week.

I’m often overcome during the reading.

I’m grateful for a sunny day.

I’m grateful for true friends.

I’m grateful there was no traffic.

I’m grateful for my thriving family, my funny son and my sweet husband.

I’m grateful for coffee. I’m grateful for wine.

I’m grateful for music, for books, for laughter, for tears.

I’m grateful for our home, our health, our sense of humor. Especially that sense of humor.

Sometimes we’re grateful for simple things we usually take for granted. I’m grateful for my coat, my umbrella, my dinner on the table, my bed. My son always wants a little more stuff. He’s almost 9 and thinks more stuff would make him happier.

Sometimes he’s grateful for Minecraft. Sometimes it’s the money he got in a card from his Grandma. Or doing well on a math test or having a friend over.

Then he writes something like this, that he’s grateful for happiness, and my heart swells, knowing my message is getting through to him.

h grateful

Granted, sometimes we’re better at it this gratitude thing than others. We have been through our trials this year, as have you all. Some days just suck, as my son says. Many of us are struggling with loss and pain and stress. Others are coping with hunger, joblessness, homelessness, loneliness, illness, addiction. No matter our circumstances, someone certainly is in a worse position. No matter our wealth, someone surely has more.

When I’m down, I look through the piles of paper I’ve saved and stuffed into gallon Ziploc bags, and I’m reminded how bountiful my blessings. So I try – as corny as some may find it – to find joy in every day: A giggle, a song I like on the radio, a message in marker on a pink slip of paper that reminds me someone loves me.

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

 

 

 

 

Rushing toward imperfection

My in-laws are early. My hair is wet and I have no makeup on. I wanted to make the pie before they got here, but of course I am out of one ingredient, so flour and sugar are all over the kitchen. My husband is running the vacuum, and my dad is frustrated over computer problems. My son is pounding on the piano and the dog is going crazy jumping and barking over all the excitement. I have to get to the airport soon to fetch my brother, and the sheets for the guest bedroom are still in the washer.

Happy day before Thanksgiving!

This is not the way I wanted this morning to go. I’m not a good housekeeper, and I don’t really bake. But we’re hosting everyone this year, so I wanted everything to be spic and span, as my dad would say, for our out-of-town company. I didn’t strive for perfection, and no one expects it out of me (seriously no one), but I was hoping for more than abject chaos.

I mean, is cool, calm, and collected too much to ask for the day before Thanksgiving? Apparently so.

But here’s the truth. This is kind of me, kind of us. I wait until the last minute to do things, so I don’t have any leeway when things go awry. I laugh at myself so it’s ok for others to laugh along with me.

And in this moment, I am grateful for the noise, because my house is full of people I love. I am grateful for the imperfect morning, because I have the whole day ahead of me to improve upon the way it started.

I have 20 minutes until the oven timer is done. That’s plenty of time to slap on some makeup, make the bed, post a blog, and get to the airport.

Plenty of time.

 

 

Looking past my flaws to find a clearer picture

I do not take selfies.

Cute pic of me and my kid? Love it. Date with my hubby? Of course. Girls’ night out? Sure. But you better believe you’re not going to tag a photo of me and see it show up on my social media with my approval.

And posting a photo of myself, alone? No way.

The last time I had photos taken of me alone was for my high school senior portrait. That was the age of the black drape in the studio, not the on-location photo shoots kids take today for multi-picture graduation announcements.

I love those announcements. I adore photos my friends and family post on Facebook and Instagram. A couple of my friends have done some modeling, and they are just natural beauties behind the camera. If I was ever under interrogation, a threat of a day in front of a camera would be an effective form of torture to get me to spill all my secrets.

In my professional life, I have supervised countless photo shoots, putting the subjects at ease, assuring them they looked great and the reviewing the pictures afterward and knowing I had told the truth. I admire people who post pictures of their bellies after baby, their make-up free faces, and themselves at their most glamorous. I’m inspired by Whitney Thore’s NoBody Shame campaign, and I’m a big fan of Dove’s Real Beauty ads.

But I have never quite been able to get there myself.

So when many people I trust told me I needed a better headshot on my website, Linked In, and this blog, the idea of having my picture taken pretty much made me feel like this:

katherine 2015-28

Fortunately, I have cousin who is a talented photographer who graciously agreed to help. I told her I wanted to spend a total of 5 minutes in front of the camera and the rest of the time catching up.

But Sara’s a pro – and she loves me – so she took me to a picturesque park on a beautiful fall day and spent a long time shooting in a lot of pretty places.

When she sent me a group of 35 shots to review, ( 35!!) I initially cringed. Oh my God, I am fat. Is that a gray hair? I should have touched up lipstick. My eyebrows are too thick. Can you see those wrinkles? And oh my God, I’m fat.

All I saw were the flaws. Sara told me she loved the pictures, and that she saw in them the person she admired: “kind, strong, dedicated, loving, funny, and faithful.”

“I hope you see that person too,” she wrote.

I wish I did too.

Why is it we are so quick to compliment others and criticize ourselves? “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all,” we tell our kids. But we call ourselves ugly, disgusting, fat, without a thought. And we believe it.

It’s taken me weeks to be brave enough to post these photos. After much agonizing (Glasses, or no glasses? Smiling or serious? Far away or close up?) I did choose one for Linked In, but I added it to my profile with the “notify your network” button turned off. I looked at this post dozens of times before hitting “publish.”

It’s not that Sara didn’t do a beautiful job. She did, and she was a great coach.

“Is that a real smile?” she asked a few times.

It wasn’t. I don’t like to smile too big in pictures because I think it  makes my face look even chubbier.

But when she caught me with a genuine smile, I have to admit I kind of liked how I looked, which I’d say is happy:

katherine 2015-14

Plus, thanks for the windblown hair, Sara.

As our feet scrunched through piles of crisp, colorful leaves at the end of our morning together, Sara had an idea: recreating photos we have all taken of our kids playing in autumn’s bounty. I grabbed piles of crunchy leaves and threw them in the air with wild abandon while her shutter clicked. People walking by gave me odd looks, but we were laughing so much I didn’t care.

katherine 2015-34

All photos by Sara Montgomery.

It’s not the most flattering picture, but when I look at it,  I see laughter and joy. I have a wonderful memory of a special time spent with the cousin I love and admire, who helped me see myself through a different lens, imperfections and all.

Hm. I guess I just posted some selfies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m so sure! I have some mega memories of camp in the ’80s

Every time I go to my childhood home, I dig through another box of mementos that have been stored in the closet of my old bedroom for decades since I left for college. Last week, I found a gem: the journal signed by the friends I’d made during three weeks at music camp.

journalI have wonderful memories of the time I spent there, nestled in woods on the shores of King’s Lake. I remember walking along the trails, drum beats accompanying my strides as violins whistled through the trees, and being overcome by the magical harmonies of our madrigal choir.

I was so nervous to go the first time, thinking everyone would be cooler and prettier than me, and way better musicians. But I remember how quickly those friendships formed in our cabins, over late nights with giddy girls listening to the radio and whispering about crushes on brooding guitar players.

From what’s on the pages of that canvas-covered book I had saved since 1982, those camp kids thought I was super neat!!!

“It was super neat having you in the same cabin,” wrote one girl in her loopy handwriting. “You are a super funny, neat, and sweet person.”

“You are a super, great, funny, cute, loveable and all-around neat person,” another said.

“You are so funny and super nice! You are always so cheery and friendly.”

“Camp would have been very boring without you!!!,” my friend Christine wrote. “You brighten up our day.”

On these lined pages, before social media and cell phones, there was a distinct lack of profanity and not a hint of nastiness, like you hear so much about with teenagers today. The teen verbiage of the ‘80s shined through.

“It’s been, like, a blast at camp this year. Like, I had a lot of massively fun times. You’re an awesome gal with a mega sense of humor and a totally excellent singing voice.”

“Things have been mega quad this year,” wrote a guy named Jeff. “You may be dingy, but your heart holds much goodness, and I believe (why I don’t know) that reality will be good to you.”

He continued with the most explicit entry in the book: “Lots of luck, love, success, happiness, and great sex (not too heavy on the last one.)”

And from another boy, with whom I had shared some summertime drama.

“Thank you for being a friend. I hope that this year we better understand each other, though it was mostly my fault. F/A.”

The signoffs were equally hilarious.

Love and Preppiness, signed both Tracey and Jennifer, who must have worn polo shirts with their collars up.

Love and Vogueness, from Tammy, obviously an outdoor fashionista.

“I’ll call you after camp and we’ll do something totally radical,” a friend from my school wrote. “Remember that I wuv you to the max!”

Many of these signatures were from people who were only in my life for those few weeks in the summer, but some are from lifelong friends, like the guy who wrote this:

“I’m real glad we’re friends, and I know that we always will be!!! Thanks for being my friend. You always keep me smiling or laughing.”

Back at you, Tyler.

That was my last summer at camp, before we all got too grownup for bunk beds, early morning rehearsals, and waiting in line for showers, and we chose instead to spend our time off school working and trying to find the RADDEST party.

The summer of 1982, I was still belting out songs from the much-loved movie “Fame,” about a group of kids committed to their art, and channeling Irene Cara:

“Sometimes I wonder, where I’ve been, who I am, do I fit in?”

For at least those three weeks, I fit in.

That’s pretty neat.