Netflix Nearly Ruined My Life

Books serve as a window into different worlds, time periods and lives, and provide endless hours of entertainment and escape.

When I was a young child, books held a great mystery that I could not wait to unravel.

I remember the Bookmobile coming to our suburban-Pittsburgh neighborhood, and the excitement of checking out picture books. I recall the thrill of applying for my first library card (and bank account, on the same day), as soon as I could write my own name. And I have a fond memory of the first book my mom bought just for me; it was shaped like a sleeping cat.

Over the years, books have provided company during quiet afternoons, comfort in stressful times, unexpected knowledge and endless delights.

Movies provide much of the same pleasure, but in the past, they were less tenable and required advance planning.

Trips to the movies, for a family of eight, were rare. Birthday party outings to theaters were special.

We anxiously waited the once-yearly TV broadcasts of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and “The Wizard of Oz.”  My mother let us stay up late when old Marx Brothers or W.C. Fields films ran. My siblings and I watched “Bozo’s Circus” during lunchtime (what kid didn’t love hearing, “Let’s go over the Bozo buckets?”), “Dudley Do-Right” cartoons on Saturday mornings and “Laugh-In” on Monday nights.

photo-2But with Netflix, it’s all too easy to watch movies and TV shows anywhere, any time. And, recently I got sucked in to the abyss.

Perhaps I should blame my 13-year-old daughter. She’s the one who showed me how easy it is to order films on an iPad. And, she introduced me to a TV series I wouldn’t have watched otherwise.

In an effort to retain any shard of respect you readers may have for me, I won’t mention the name of the program. Let’s just say it’s about people much younger than me, whose lives I really shouldn’t care about.

Here’s what happened: During a recent road trip, I watched several episodes of that show with Pea. It gave us an activity to share and something to discuss afterwards, and those of you with teenage daughters may understand that is no easy feat.

While traveling together, Pea and I watched the last five or six episodes of the show’s six-season run, and I was left with many questions.

“It’s too complicated,” she said, with the patience of a teenager. “You’re just going to have to start at the beginning.” So, she showed me how to watch the show on my iPad.

Soon, I had it streaming when I was cooking, answering emails and lying in bed (my husband travels for work every week). At the gym, I could watch an entire episode during one workout on the elliptical, instead of covering 45 pages of a novel.

I became far involved with characters that had literally nothing in common with me.

Now, I might add that during this period, the escape was welcome. Those who know me well would agree that the past year has been more than a little challenging for my family. While my husband and I are still married, gainfully employed and well-housed, we have experienced unparalleled stress and sadness related to several loved ones.

So, perhaps a few months’ “vacation” into these other lives was just what the doctor ordered.

But the price was too high, as l stopped reading. My stash of unopened New Yorker, Sunday New York Times magazine, Conde Nast Traveler and Kenyon Review publications piled up. My email queue contained more than 2,000 messages. I stopped looking for French-class assignments in Le Monde. I barely touched the assigned readings for my two book clubs, and went to meetings unprepared (definitely not my style).

I tried to skip several episodes of the program, but that left too many holes in the continuing saga. So, I rushed forward, feeling a burning pressure to complete the series before my life was totally upended. “Okay, just four more episodes, and then I can finish this month’s book club reading,” I told myself.

However, the book selection totaled about 450 pages, and there weren’t enough hours in the day – after work and family obligations – to tackle them.

Last Tuesday night, as we discussed Lent at the dinner table,  Pea announced she was giving up junk food. She asked what I had chosen, and it dawned on me that banning Netflix shows on the iPad would provide much-needed respite.

So, I stayed up late that night, finishing the show’s last two episodes. I did feel a sense of accomplishment and great relief when I turned off the iPad that night. And I was more than happy to say good-bye to those self-indulged characters.

The next day, I started reading a great book at the gym, and I have several more queued up. A new day is dawning.

– Linda Williams Rorem, 10 March 2014
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No Longer a Bieber Believer

Many who watched last night’s Grammy Awards wondered where the Biebs was.

Although the twice-nominated pop star didn’t receive any nods this year, the 19-year-old sensation – who Forbes says earned $58 million in 2012 – could have spent the night cavorting with cronies in the Staples Center.

Instead, just days after his arrest for drag racing, driving under the influence (with an expired license) and resisting arrest, Justin Bieber was spotted in Panama.

Perhaps he was looking for a hat like Pharrell Williams’.

BieberMy 13-year-old daughter, for one, didn’t miss him.  According to a text Pea sent me between classes on Thursday morning – the day news of Bieber’s arrest circulated — she is “officially over the Biebs.”

Oh, how quickly they fall.

Less than a year and a half ago Pea and her friend Smiley were rocking out to JB at the Tacoma Dome. The two had, like thousands of other teenage girls, decorated T-shirts for the occasion, in hopes of being spotted and brought on stage for a serenade.

Now that Pea is no longer a Belieber, I hope she will understand the error in how we elevate, adore and ultimately enable young stars.

On Thursday evening, I was so proud that she noted how Seahawk Richard Sherman, an A student and Stanford graduate, had been vilified for his off-the-cuff, post-playoff-game comments, while Bieber – after all his recent shenanigans – is forgiven as a “misguided youth.”

Don’t get me wrong. I have sons close to JB’s age, so I am all for forgiving youthful transgressions.

The problem is more about boosting young singers, actors and athletes onto pedestals and holding them up as role models, watching – and even helping them – fall from grace, and then allowing them to easily wipe the slate clean and start over.

It seems a well-crafted public apology is all that is needed, and then these so-called heroes are back filling stadiums and making millions. What lessons are learned?

So often, pop stars and superstar athletes seem to gain success over night; make oodles of money; abuse drugs, alcohol and rules of the road; ignore marriage vows; get arrested and then rise again. Apparently the message for our youth is, “Go ahead and mess up. We may stomp on you when you fall, but if you have many millions or a high Q Score, we will help you rise again.”

This only perpetuates the hero-worship problem.

As Lauren James of contactmusic.com recently pointed out, JB has been riding a “personal-image rollercoaster…and has narrowly avoided being severely reprimanded each time, which has boosted the young star’s ego and seemingly given him a sense of invincibility.”

In fact, The Independent reports this morning that the recent charges against Bieber have been dropped, as his lawyers claimed police had “exaggerated” allegations that JB ingested alcohol, pot and prescription drugs before speeding off in a  $260,000 Lamborghini.

When it comes to our sports stars and celebrities, we never tire of second chances.

Yankees slugger Derek Jeter will play again, and is still a rich man. Lance Armstrong fooled us for years, and I see people wearing Livestrong bracelets. As a society, we have contributed to the problems teen-show stars Amanda Bynes, Demi Levato, Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus have experienced. And, we always celebrate their resurrections.

The very talented young actress Lindsay Lohan has appeared in court nearly 20 times in the past six years, for offenses including resisting arrest, stealing jewelry and brawling in night clubs, and her jail sentences are always shortened due to “overcrowding.” I can’t even talk about Charlie Sheen, Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods or Nicole Ritchie.

Life doesn’t work that way for most of us, and it isn’t helpful for our kids to believe that redemption is that simple.

While I’m all for forgiveness, I think accountability and penance are equally as important. I don’t want my kids to believe it’s that easy to eradicate past problems.

And I want them to idolize people who use their power in positive ways. I want them to gain inspiration from actors and singers who donate their millions to the needy, who spend their time working in soup kitchens instead of bar-hopping in Brazil or shopping on Rodeo Drive. I want my sons to revere athletes who volunteer at inner-city Boys and Girls Clubs and Big Brothers Big Sisters organizations, instead of spending their free time on pleasure yachts and their money on custom sports cars.

So, I’m giving permission for young bucks to look past their money-hungry handlers, and think hard about who they want to be and how they want to use their power. And, I’m urging the rest of us to model the right kind of idol worship.

 –       Linda Williams Rorem, 26 Jan. 2014
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Put Up the Lights and Lighten Up

Several years ago, in our pre-blog days, we took a “girlfriend getaway” during the first week of December. Our good friends thought we were crazy:

“How could you leave your families this time of year?”

“You’ll miss all the fun parties!”

“When will you manage the Christmas shopping?”

“Aren’t you too busy to take off work?”

Exactly our point.

While we did tackle some holiday shopping during the trip, without the benefit of frazzled crowds and piped-in Christmas music, we mostly just relaxed. Yes, we did miss a few parties and events, but our friends forgave us. And, somehow, we finished the pressing tasks at work and home in time.

Our great escape had the inverse effect of what our friends had predicted: it made our holidays run (and feel) smoother. Our stress-free break allowed us to enter those final hectic weeks of the year with calm and more open hearts.

We have since, separately, tried to continue the trend. This year we decided it was time for a reunion trip, ostensibly as a writer’s retreat.

Hemingway writer's retreatSo, here we are, sitting in Ketchum, Idaho, coffee shop, gaining inspiration from a larger-than-life photo of Papa Hemingway, But our best inspiration came during lunch on Saturday.

We kicked off our 48-hour retreat with roasted red-pepper soup at the Kneadery, a casual, local favorite, which features moose heads on the wall and a 10-foot stuffed grizzly bear by the door.

REd Hat LadiesOn this particular afternoon, the restaurant also boasted a boisterous tableful of lovely ladies, all wearing decorated red hats and purple coats or sweaters. We were immediately drawn to their laughter and positive energy.

We looked at each other and said simultaneously, “Looks like a great Permission Slip in the making.”

And it was.

“We’re part of the Red Hat Society,” the group’s leader, Poo Wright-Pullium, explained. “Actually, we’re the ‘Potato Heads’ chapter.”

Of course, we wanted to hear more.

“Our purpose is to have fun,” explained Wright-Pulliam. “We meet once a month, with the goal of just taking care of ourselves and not worrying about anyone or anything else.”

The ladies, wrapping up their meal, leaned in to tell us about their chapter and the international society – which we may be the last on the block to learn about.

Apparently the Red Hat Society was formed in 1998 by Sue Ellen Cooper, a Southern California woman of a certain age who was inspired by Jenny Joseph’s 1987 poem, Warning, with the oft-quoted line “When I grow old I shall wear purple/ With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.”

The society “began as a result of a few woman deciding to greet middle age with verve, humor, and elan,” according to the society’s website. “We believe silliness is the comedy relief of life, and since we are in it together, we might as well join red-gloved hands and go for the gusto together.”

Now incorporating more than 20,000 chapters in the U.S. and 25 other countries, the Red Hat Society is the world’s largest woman’s social group; its members strive only to take life a little more lightly. The society is open to any woman aged 50 and up, while younger gals can attend meetings if they wear lavender clothing, not purple, and pink hats, instead of red ones.

In Ketchum, the lively group we encountered meets monthly for lunch and social activities, such as last weekend’s trek through the area’s holiday bazaars.

Clearly, it is not a sisterhood of the traveling pants, but a community of clashing red hats and purple clothes, geared solely for friendship and fun.

Chapter Queen Wright-Pulliam explained that the Potato Heads have met regularly for some eight years. Many of the members were not acquainted before joining the now tight-knit group. The ladies often pull together between monthly meetings to entertain visiting Red Hat Society members.

During birthday months, members must wear their outfits in reverse – red coats and clothing, and purple hats. That’s one way to keep the celebration going.

On meeting days, the members’ ostentatious red hats and bright purple clothing announce that they are out for fun and fellowship, and that they refuse to take themselves too seriously.

Especially during the holiday season, with unyielding pressures on most of our time, patience and pocketbooks, we could all stand to lighten up a little.

Saturday afternoon, the holiday spirit our new red-hatted friends exuded was contagious. We walked away, across a snow-covered, slippery sidewalk, feeling inspired.

Not only did we remember the value of a “time out” during the so-called “most wonderful time of the year,” but we also took to heart the reminder to relax more and stress less.

Hats off to you, ladies!

–          Carol Lewis Gullsad and Linda Williams Rorem, 9 December 2013
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Marriage Isn’t For You

Love this very true advice from a young man’s father. Must read.

Marriage Isn’t For You.

Daughters Teaching Mothers

Those who know me, know that I am never short on words or advice. If one does not want to hear my advice, I give them the out, prefacing my comments with: “You may not want to hear what I have to say…” I do not voice my opinion if it is not wanted. So, if you do not want to hear my advice on raising teenage daughters, read no further.

Many parents and kids today hate to hear the truth. Parents love to assume that their child is perfect and uber smart; that he or she never lies, steals or cheats. These parents love to blame other parents and their kids’ friends when something goes wrong, instead of looking in the mirror and taking full (or partial) blame themselves. And in our small yet over-protected community, some parents even threaten others with a lawsuit–really!!!!

Katsman youngThe other day at the gym, with pure joy, I was able to exercise with my dear friend Linda (co-author of PermissionSlips). Linda and I enjoy each other’s advice and company, and share deep-rooted Midwest values when raising our children. We give our kids just enough rope to slip and just enough rope to reel them back in. Since Linda has four children, she is far more experienced in child rearing than I. But I have more girls than she does.

Linda and I commonly discuss the latest issues surrounding her Number Two and Three sons, who are friends with my two daughters. Linda loves to hear the stories of our community from the “girls” point of view, and I like to hear the “boys” point of view. On this particular day at the gym, she asked if I would be willing to share my advice with PermissionSlips readers. So, here goes:

Keep Kids Busy
When my daughters were babies, a very wise neighbor said to me, “The best advice I can give you when raising a daughter is to keep her very busy, very, very busy. The busier your daughter is, the less likely she is to get into trouble.”  I have lived by those words.

My girls have been over-programmed since they could start Kindermusik and infant swimming. They have played on every sport team and taken every type of sport lessons, including, but not limited to, horseback riding and water skiing.

What has stuck for more than 16 years with my oldest is dance. At 18 years of age she is still dancing. My 16 year old has been dancing for 14 years. I like to think they are too busy and exhausted to get into trouble.

Make Children Accountable
In our household, we have always made the guilty party accountable for their wrong.  No taking the cell phone or car away. Why would we do that? It only punishes the parents.  Take away something that is embarrassing or puts the child on edge – maybe no Varsity baseball team or cheer squad. How about doing the punishment that the principal states is required for forging a parent’s signature, instead of arguing that your child would never do such a thing?

Honesty is the Only Policy
In our home, I raised my girls to be honest. We stress that no matter how terrible the crime is, be honest about it. We parents can help our children out of a bind if they tell the truth. The truth never changes, but lies always change. In our home, if the truth is told there is no additional punishment. If there was, then why tell the truth in the first place? Some kids would relish a night, week and month with out being wired into something.  Just tell the truth.

Never Judge Others
My girls know that I will never judge their friends. Everyone’s personal life is different.  Everyone’s family situation is different. And truthfully, some family situations are terrible.  Does that give us permission to judge someone else’s child?  No, it brings us to empathize with them.

Save Secrets
I know that there are several “secrets” my girls have kept from my husband and I in the past. Little do they know, I have found out most of the secrets. Instead of confronting them on these little secrets, I save them in the back of my mind for those “just in case” moments when I need to pull something out of my own bag of tricks. Why let your child know you are angry with them in the heat of your anger? That only promotes more anger. Most teenage girls generally assume that their mothers are always upset with them for something. We are not always angry or upset with our daughters; their perceptions stem from their fragile, hormonal egos.

Don’t Be Afraid to Make Mistakes
Katsman recentMy oldest child just set off for the University.  She is opening her eyes and world to something so foreign to her and away from our loved and protected Island. I have told her to learn from her errors and mistakes. I said, “Now is the time to really figure out who you are. It is okay to make mistakes.” We all did; we were just never told it was okay. It is okay to figure out who you are. For example, I said, “You may change your major a dozen times. Just make sure that whatever you choose to graduate in is: 1. Employable; 2. Can support your lifestyle.”

Remember Where You Come From
I was always told to stand tall with my head high. And lastly, to remember what my last name was. I was also told, “Never embarrass your mother and father.” I hope that I have instilled these lessons in my daughters. Though my lessons may not indicate the popular choice or the perfect choice, they have been the steadfast choices in our home.

Lisa Katsman, 14 Oct. 2013
Mother of 2 daughters

A Quotable World

Some people meditate to get perspective, others go for a run. Some might pray. Personally, I look for a good quotation to find inspiration, perspective and a good laugh. I litter my letters with them.

I am a lover of inspirational quotations. I have them on sticky notes, plaques and posters all over my office. I keep a file of quotations. I am the friend who will “like” your quotation posted on Facebook. Memes work for me too. I frequently visit the website Brainy Quote.  I have a hard copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. I even get quotes emailed to my inbox each morning.bartlett's

Since I use quotations for situational inspiration, I can’t say that I have an all-time favorite. However, I do seem to return to a handful of writers and speakers again and again. These are some of my “go to” guys and gals. Here is small sample of their wisdom and humor which spans centuries and cultures.

1. Sun Tzu, Chinese military general, strategist and author. Born 544 BC.

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

2.Mark Twain, American humorist and author. Born 1835.

“Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.” Note this was written about a 19th century group of politicians not about the 2013 U.S. government shutdown!

Eleanor Roosevelt with Fala

Eleanor Roosevelt with Fala (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3.Eleanor Roosevelt, U.S. Presidential spouse, women’s and civil rights activist, syndicated columnist. Born 1884.

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

4. Martin Luther King, Jr., U.S. Civil Rights Leader. Born 1929.

President Lyndon B. Johnson and Rev. Dr. Marti...

President Lyndon B. Johnson and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. meet at the White House, 1966 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

5. Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor. Born 121

“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”

Today’s inspiration is about giving ourselves permission to be unafraid. It is courtesy of Mark Twain.

Today’s inspiration is about giving ourselves permission to be unafraid. Mark Twain wrote, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

 Who inspires you? Please share your quotations in the comments section of Permission Slips.

Carol Lewis Gullstad, October 7, 2013

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What Shall I Be When I Grow Up?

It’s deer season.

I’m sure you’ve seen them in supermarket aisles and Starbucks lines, masquerading as middle-aged women. The “headlights are shining on me, so where do I go?” looks gives them away.

In Mommy Speak, that look translates to: “My youngest (or only) child just left for college; what shall I do with my life now?”

photo-21This scenario is far from novel. For centuries, women have stepped back from careers, hobbies and/or friendships to devote themselves to raising progeny.

Mothers fill their at-home hours and days and years with child-related tasks, such as cooking, cleaning, shopping, laundering, tutoring, coaching and coaxing.

They allocate considerable thought and worry to their kids’ well-being, at all hours of the day and night (more during the day with small children; more during the night with teens).

And then, seemingly suddenly, those little ones become young adults, moving boxes into dorm rooms and tacking posters onto new walls.

After a long, tearful drive or flight back to an empty-feeling house, the female parent takes a look in the mirror and asks, “if I’m not needed as a mom, who am I?”

(Of course, what these ladies don’t yet know is they may hear from their college kids more than ever, at least for the first few days or weeks, and that their work as nurturers, guideposts and bankers is nowhere close to conclusion.)

The fact remains, every fall a new crop of middle-aged women suddenly gains significant free time, and these re-purposed parents have an opportunity to “opt back in” to the workplace – re-starting a career, swapping part-time for full-time work or moving into a position with longer hours or more travel.

Fortunately IMHO, we women have the flexibility to step back onto career tracks without explaining resume lapses; the time spent at Toys ‘R Us, sitting on bleachers and driving carpools. We have choices and opportunities to reset and find new paths.

I used to harbor resentment about swapping a fulfilling career for primary parental duties. While I continued to work part-time for many years, I found balancing home and office work quite stressful. Like many working mothers, concerns about home life interrupted my time at work, and thoughts about work disrupted time with the kids. I never felt 100 percent dedicated to either realm.

I passed up chances to chaperone field trips (really, who doesn’t want to sit on a school bus with 60 eight-year-olds singing “Ninety-nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall”?). I couldn’t serve as Room Mother and missed Preschool Association activities and PTA meetings.

At work, I kept one eye focused on the clock and dreaded phone calls about playground injuries, diarrhea or vomiting. I dined at my desk, turned down Happy Hour invitations and left meetings at 5 pm sharp, leaving work undone and calls unanswered.

Work bled into my home. I distinctly recall speaking on the phone to a journalist, when I was in public relations, propping the phone under my chine as I cradled a nursing infant in my left arm and scrambled some eggs with the other arm.

The last straw came a few months later, when I took a call from a Wall Street Journal reporter while pushing my youngest, in a Baby Jogger, up a steep hill to meet my kindergartner after school. We could barely communicate over my huffing and puffing, the baby’s babble and the passing traffic.

So, with four kids ranging from two to eight, I “opted out” of that wonderful PR job and refocused energies. Fortunately, because I am blessed with “portable” skills — writing and editing — I knew I would never want for paid work.

Nevertheless, frustrations marred my new path. Every time a freelance deadline loomed, a child would spike a fever and demand cuddling all night long. My husband would return from business trips and question why I was glued to my keyboard at 12:30 am.

However, my resentment dissipated as I realized I had the better job. I could find work when I needed or wanted it, but also could choose to spend time with the kids. I could serve cupcakes at classroom parties and build LEGO creations in the afternoon. My husband didn’t have those options.

My work provided balance, maintained my sanity and kept my skill set sharp. And, as motherhood made fewer demands on my time. I was able to increase my work hours. I’m now enjoying my fifth career as a part-time French teacher, and still write and edit on the side.

So, that’s the point I’d like to share with the lost ladies lurking in the produce department: yes, it may seem that your primary job has ended, and in terms of day-to-day operations, it has. However, because you’re a woman, you’ll probably find new opportunities around the corner. Your next career may begin with an online or community college course, a volunteer position, an offer to help a friend, a Craig’s List ad or a Linked In profile.

Give yourself permission to try something new, and watch those headlights guide you forward.

– Linda Williams Rorem, 2 September 2013
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Zigging and Zagging through Life

As my second son prepares to leave for college this week, I feel happy that he will pursue his dreams and goals at the school of his choice, and I know that on many levels, he’s more than ready to leave the nest.

He has done his best to soil that nest over the past few months.

However, I’m also filled with final-hour words of wisdom he won’t stop to hear, and the fear that 18 years of values, morals and role-modeling haven’t left their mark.

photoCAMXJ4D9You see, a few days ago, I moved my oldest son out of an apartment near the university where, exactly two years ago, we installed him with feelings of anticipation, pride and excitement.

Let’s just say that although he loved the school, made great friends and grew in wonderful ways, overall it was a failed experiment, filled with a mixture of heartache, disappointments, missteps and unexpected drama. He is now transitioning in a new city, where he will get a fresh start at a different university.

So, forgive me for being a little jaded on the “it’s so exciting to head off to college” thing.

Like most kids, I was taught that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. That we should take the quickest route home from school, a friend’s house or work. That Cliff Notes (I know, they’re called Spark Notes now) can help us get through novels faster, flash cards will prepare us for graduate-school exams, the right attitude, outfits and long hours might help us advance at work, and a two-week, guided tour of Europe will show us all the highlights we need for our photo albums.

Unfortunately, most of our parents, teachers and bosses didn’t tell us to take our time, to enjoy diversions and to smell roses along the way.

On an intellectual level, I know that the zigs and zags and bumps in my older son’s journey have made him a stronger, more grounded and better-balanced individual. The fact that he has suffered some setbacks doesn’t mean that he is a failure.

I need to remind him that Thomas Edison made something like 1,000 attempts in his route to inventing the light bulb. When a journalist asked how it felt to fail 1,000 times, Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

My kids should know that they can take as many steps as they need to find success and happiness on their own terms.

I hope they understand that when we’re in too much of a hurry to get from point A to point B, when we believe the road should be straight and flat, we miss a lot of lovely details, excitement and learning opportunities.

“Life is never a straight line, it is full of twists and turns,” writes Warren T. VanderVen (I have no idea who that is, but I like the quote). “The way to lead a happy life is not to avoid them but to embrace them; to find the happiness in them.”

And so, I shouldn’t worry about #2 son when I leave him at school next weekend.

He’ll probably love the school he chose, but then again, he may find it too small and stifling.

It’s possible he’ll chose a major he’s excited about, take stimulating classes with interesting professors, and find a job in that field. Or, he may graduate, have no clue what to do next and move back home for a few years.

He could form a close bond with his roommates, but also, they might clash over music, noise, cleanliness and overnight visitors.

He may fall in love with a classmate, experience the thrill of young love in a college setting and end up spending his life with her. However, it’s more likely that he will experience ups and downs in several relationships, and suffer a broken heart or two.

The point is, if his journey is less than straight and trouble-free, it’s okay. He will learn from his mistakes and snags and bumps and hurts.

After all, life is a marathon, not a sprint.

My hope is that both of my college-age boys – as well as my younger kids — will realize that the unexpected turns, the distractions and the diversions could be as important as their perceived, immediate goals.

I hope they’ll give themselves permission to embrace the zigs and zags and bumps in the road as part of life’s amazing journey.

Linda Williams Rorem, 19 Aug. 2013
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Permission to Love Swag

Nothing can kill the “had a great time out with my girlfriends” buzz better than returning home to a mess.

When the kids were young, I could literally retrace their – and my husband’s – steps after a few hours away. Sherlock Linda could detect: Dad made pancakes, dripped batter on burners…child spilled syrup on table…child added Nestle Quik to milk (and counter top)…boys used seven blankets to build fort on bunk beds…someone opened 13 video cases to find missing tape…boys learned how to make paper airplanes…toddler “ate” Cheerios for snack, all over house…and so on.

Fortunately, the messes diminished as the kids aged. So, on Friday night, I was shocked to see dozens of small packages strewn across the kitchen counter. And then, upon closer inspection, I realized it was MY stuff.

photo-20Yes, the box of swag I had shipped home from last weekend’s BlogHer 13 conference had arrived, and my daughter had rifled through it for the goodies I had promised.

Every conference attendee received a bag full of stuff – promotions that companies wanted to market to the 5,000 or so, mostly female, primarily aged 35 – 55, bloggers. Other advertisers handed out their wares at alluring booths adjacent to the conference rooms.

Of course, I loaded up on lotions, dog toys, nail polish, lip balm, key chains, coffee packets, almonds, cups and even a T-shirt emblazoned with my daughter’s nickname, “Peapod” (a new grocery delivery service).

When I returned from a GNO on Friday night, Pea and my husband were watching “So You Think You Can Dance” downstairs (one of them CAN dance; the other wants to reincarnate as Gregory Hines). Pea heard my footsteps and shouted, “Mom, your box got here. Dad thinks you have a ‘Free-Stuff’ problem!”

It’s true, I love “free stuff.” And I come by the trait honestly.

My maternal grandmother was the queen of cheap. Although she and my grandfather were financially secure, Nana never passed up a freebie. In fact, she filled the candy bowl in her living room with chocolate covered mints pilfered from their Yacht Club’s hostess stand.

If that isn’t irony, I don’t know what is.

Back in the day, banks offered cool stuff – toasters, dishes, electric blankets – as incentives for deposits. So, my Pop-Pop gave Nana a certain amount of money to move around as the spirit – and swag – moved her. I know that was the source of many Christmas presents.

My well-to-do grandpa wasn’t immune to his wife’s obsession. In fact, Nana and Pop-Pop’s bridge group met in one bank every Tuesday morning for the free coffee and donuts. True story.

After Pop-Pop died, my mom was astonished to discover Nana’s stash when helping her move into assisted living. Apparently, an entire closet brimmed with useless items from banks.

Although the taste for the free treat may have skipped my mom’s generation, it certainly hit me hard. And while I don’t want to “out” anybody here, I can say that when visiting a certain older sibling in Rochester, NY, and Minneapolis, we planned trips to supermarkets known for generous and savory samples.

Here in Seattle, we have Costco. And if you time the trip right, you can enjoy a full free meal. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like or would never otherwise taste the treat offered; if it’s free, you take it.

After that, you buy the multi-pack and watch it grow mold or gather dust in your kitchen cabinet.

Several years ago, my co-blogger Carol and I enrolled our youngest kids in a weekly gymnastics class. Not being the type to hover during practice, ready to advise the coaches on training our budding Olympians, we escaped to the local Trader Joe’s every week.

The class started at noon, so we knew TJ’s samples could serve as lunch. We always circled back for a second helping, hoping the server wouldn’t remember us.

We then purchased the promotional ingredients to replicate the dish in our own homes, and often, at least in my home, that food turned moldy or gathered dust. Even worse, the TJ fare occasionally got pushed to the rear of my deep cabinets and was forgotten.

That is, until the pantry moths started hatching.

This became a multi-month problem, which began with throwing out tons of food (mostly all-natural grains), continued with wiping down the cabinets with ammonia and ended with installing fly-paper like traps from my pest-control agent.

It was probably payback for my “Free-Stuff” problem. However, from the looks of the bag of swag on my counter, I didn’t learn my lesson.

– Linda Williams Rorem, 5 Aug. 2013
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Slow-Motion Re-Entry

Few adults would argue the benefits of taking vacations, but whether you’re taking a break from a hectic job or running off with your family, the preparations can be grueling.

Beforehand, it’s a race against the clock to check-off pre-trip duties in time: confirming reservations, paying bills, returning emails, canceling newspapers, filling prescriptions, washing and folding clothes, arranging pet care, straightening the house, making packing lists and fitting necessities into suitcases.

We find solace, in those harried days or hours before departure, knowing that a true break lies ahead.

photo-2Returning home is a different story. We’re exhausted from travel, the teens are bristling from too much “family time,” our suitcases brim with dirty clothes, a mountain of mail awaits and, most likely, a strong smell of past-date food fills the fridge.

We are overwhelmed, and feel our bodies start to tense up again.

Late last night, when we returned from the airport after 10 days away, I was determined to slow-down the re-entry process, and to try to maintain the vacation calm.

The teenage boys rushed out, and I lifted their curfews for the night. I didn’t even wait up for them.

Friends of my kids had left a welcome-home cake on our front porch. Despite the late hour, I allowed my daughter to dig in.

My email inbox stretched on for pages, and I decided to attack it later. (Of course, modern technology allowed me to deal with any critical messages while out of town.)

I knew the bread was growing mold, the yogurts were past-date and the milk had soured, and vowed to deal with it later.

My husband, daughter and I emptied our suitcases, and I decided to let the piles of laundry sit.

I didn’t open the Sunday newspapers, turn on the TV or play the answering-machine messages.

Instead, I took a tip from Scarlett O’Hara, and said to myself, “I’ll think about that tomorrow.” I washed up, climbed into bed, and allowed myself time to reflect on the trip:

For most of 10 days, my teenage boys got along, and even smiled occasionally. (I have photo documentation!)

We sampled new foods, went to museums and experienced cultures different from ours.

We walked, together, in the bright sunshine, absorbing sights and much-needed vitamin D.

The kids gave their thumbs a rest from constant texting. They read books and talked to each other…and even to their parents.

My husband “un-plugged” from work, and didn’t once mention issues with clients.

For more than a week, I didn’t get behind the wheel, didn’t rush a child to a lesson or practice, didn’t scurry to the grocery store for milk, cereal or bread.

I didn’t cook, clean or do laundry.photo-1

While on vacation, I didn’t remind anyone to put dishes in the dishwasher, pick up dirty towels, turn down music or turn off lights.

I went to sleep every night knowing where my children were, who they were with and what they were doing.

This morning, I still sense the quiet and calm. The kids will sleep in. My husband will soon rise and head back to the airport, but hopefully with lower blood pressure than usual.

The cat is purring on my daughter’s bed, relishing in her warm body and rhythmic breathing.  The dogs are resting at the Tails-a-Waggin’ pet hotel, where I will fetch them later today.

For now, I will spend time on Facebook, enjoying photos of friends’ July 4 adventures. I will load my own photos into the computer, and look at them over and over. I will make another cup of decaf, and sip it slowly.

I give myself permission to slow down the re-entry process, and make my vacation last just a little longer. And, maybe, I can take some of the lessons learned, and apply them to “real life” here. 

– Linda Williams Rorem, 8 July 2013
PermissionSlips1@gmail.com

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