Monday, November 19, 2007

Giving (stress-free) thanks

Okay, here we are practically on the eve of Thanksgiving and many of you are braving grocery store mobs to pick up the turkey, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, stuffing ingredients, pie ingredients and whatever else is essential to your annual holiday feast. The idealist in me loves the image of all that hustle and bustle, the aromas wafting through the house, the family descending for a few hours of hopefully civil, if not totally wonderful camaraderie.

Experience, however, has been less than blissful. Maybe it's because I'm not the world's best cook. Maybe it's because at least some of my family -- not me, of course -- is dysfunctional. Or maybe it's simply that through the years I've watched the reason for the holiday -- giving thanks for life's blessings -- get lost in a stressed out haze of food preparation, arguments and watching an entire meal that took hours to prepare disappear in the blink of an eye. I admit it, I'm jaded. I was, after all, a journalist. It goes with the cynical territory.

That said, I do love Thanksgiving and the whole idea of taking one day to be grateful for all the things we tend to take for granted the rest of the year. . . including our dysfunctional families. And I love turkey and dressing and pumpkin pie.

So, more and more in recent years I've joined friends or extended family members for Thanksgiving dinner in a favorite restaurant. No muss, no fuss, no frayed tempers. Truly reasons to be thankful. I'm doing that again on Thursday, getting together with good friends for a relaxed celebration. Not one of us will have to bake a turkey or a pie. None of us will have to get lumps out of the gravy. And there will be no dishes to load into a dishwasher afterwards, at least not by us.

Maybe the meal won't be exactly the same as what I remember from my childhood. The recipes may vary, though I suspect the chef's skills will exceed mine, or those of anyone in my family.
And, best of all, I will have all that extra time to give thanks for family and friends and for you, the many readers who've been in touch with me over the years. I wish you the joy of a homecooked meal, if that is a tradition dear to your heart, but more importantly I wish you a gathering of friends and family who mean everything to you. And for those of you separated from loved ones, I wish you a speedy and safe reunion at the first opportunity.

In the meantime, if you have a favorite Thanksgiving tradition or recipe you'd like to share with us, please do. And for those of you planning to brave airports or highways, be safe and share your travel tales with us once you're home. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!!

Sherryl Woods

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Where's the Starbucks?

I admit it; I’m a city girl. As an urban dweller, I had taken some things for granted—the neighborhood Starbucks, a choice of movie theaters, Chinese take-out, and high speed Internet connection. These are luxuries I had grown accustomed to. But that all changed when my husband took a job as a full-time fireman in a rural fire department.

When I say rural, I mean the boondocks—the town boasts a population of three thousand. It’s an old mining town stuck out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by mountains and desert. Civilization is a forty-minute drive away.

I wasn’t thrilled with the move, but really what choice did I have? There was a rule on the books saying that any fireman had to live within the town borders.

Weeks of packing, and suddenly I found myself smack dab in the midst of small town living. Everywhere I went people demanded to know who I was and where I lived. People I had never seen before waved at me as I drove by. I was accustomed to being a faceless cog in the city; now I felt as though I was constantly being stalked by strangers.

Slowly I learned to adapt. I bought a French press, learned to use a wok and joined Netflicks. It was an awkward, and at times painful, adjustment, but I survived. Still, sometimes I can’t help but laugh at the odd quirks that come with small town living.

The UPS driver will find me wherever I am. He stalks my red Bronco, the only one in town, and he will deliver my packages to me as I stand in line at the bank.

Everyone in town owns a scanner. Let’s face it, there’s not a lot going on, and if something is going on, everyone wants to know about it. I got tired of being out of the information loop and demanded my own scanner so now I can sit with the rest of the population and listen in on all the fire and police calls.

All aspects of your life are up for public scrutiny. This summer we decided it was time to get a pool. It didn’t take long to realize everyone was keeping track of the pool’s progress. I was bombarded daily with questions from my bank clerk, the UPS man, the grocer, the postmistress, the bank manager. The foremost question on everyone’s mind? When was it going to be done?

The desert is now all around my house, which means the creepies and crawlies don’t have far to creep and crawl. Every year we find five or six scorpions in the house. The most memorable scorpion experience over the years? The morning I got out of the shower and grabbed a towel to dry myself off only to realize there was a scorpion hanging on it. I went from dead tired and half awake, to wide eyed and screaming in a matter of seconds.

I have to admit I have grown to love the odd quirks of small-town living.

So, readers, do you live in a big city or small town? And what are things you love about it? And the things that drive you nuts? And if you join in and give us some examples of your big city or small town life I will get Sherryl to randomly pick from the comments, and I will send the person she picks something from Superior, Arizona. Thanks, Sherryl, for allowing me to stop by and blog.


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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Reluctant Handyman

I have many friends who talk about how they wish they had husbands that were “handy”. I have one of those, and it’s not always as advantageous as you might think. When we begin a project, my husband is a real go-getter, but as the project moves forward, sometimes he doesn’t. Case in point – 2½ years ago our home was hit by a mini-tornado. Our backyard shed was totaled according to the insurance company, so we received the funds to tear it down and have it rebuilt. And here we are today, as is the shed – at least what the wind hasn’t taken down – and we don’t seem any closer to having a shed with a roof and sides than we did the day after the tornado.

In the spring of 2006 he decided to enclose our front entryway, which sits on the north side of the house. That way, when the Oklahoma north wind blows in the winter, we can have some protection from it and as a result, save some energy. It is now the fall of 2007, and the only protection we have is our front door. Thankfully he didn’t decide to remove it when he started this project.

In August of this year Oklahoma had a hurricane. Yes, I know we’re “landlocked”, but the hurricane didn’t. As a result, many homes, our’s included, were flooded. Because my husband is “Mr. Fix-It”, we did all the repairs ourselves. This included replacing all the carpet in our living room, hallway, entryway and bedroom with tile. We did complete that task, but the water damaged wall and ceiling and the wind-damaged chimney and patio cover are still waiting.

The truth is, we have several projects, small and large, that need attention, and I can only hope they get some before we’re too old to handle them. My husband is one of the nicest, sweetest people you could ever hope to meet, and he would do absolutely anything for me. This makes me wonder if it’s just a gene that males have that we females don’t – something that keeps them from being able to complete the task at hand. Does anyone else have the same type of wonderful man?

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Who says stay-at-home moms don't work?

Has anyone actually looked at the schedule that today's kids are expected to follow and, right along with them, their moms? I think about this whenever I see a debate about working moms versus stay-at-home moms. I know somewhere out there are statistics about the number of hours stay-at-home moms put in at their "jobs" in any given week. Trust me, compared to this, the 40-hour work week some mothers have outside the home is a piece of cake.

I touched on this topic in my latest book, MENDING FENCES. Marcie Carter has always been a stay-at-home mother, who genuinely loves every second of her involvement in her children's lives. She bakes. She participates as a volunteer at her children's schools. She makes gourmet meals, keeps a spotless house and -- though it's not in the book -- I don't doubt that she probably drives more miles to get her kids to activities than some long-distance truckers put in during a week.

Then there is her neighbor and best friend, Emily Dobbs, who went back to work as a high school English teacher the second her own kids started school. She needs the fulfillment of that job. It makes her happier and, in a way, she's setting her own example for her son and daughter about life's possibilities.

I grew up with a mother who worked. She happened to have a job with a direct mail advertising agency mere blocks from where we lived. I did two things immediately after school. I stopped by her office to tell her how my day had been, then went home to the apartment complex where my grandparents lived only doors away from where we lived. It was my mom's boss who gave me my first after-school job...alphabetizing mailings lists when I was eight or so. He was also the first to say it would be a total waste of my brain if I were to simply get married and raise a houseful of kids. He, along with my parents, made me believe at a very young age that I was smart and talented and could do anything I wanted to do. I owe all of them for instilling that belief in me.

Now, however, with years and years of perspective, I don't think he was entirely right about one choice being better than another. It's never wrong to want to make sure your kids get off to the best possible start in life. But it is just as important that a woman find the fulfillment she needs in her life. It can make her, in the long run, a better example and a better mother.

Does it sound as if I'm taking both sides of this? You bet I am. Because in the end, this is a very tough decision every woman needs to make for herself. I know my mother would have gone stark raving mad if she'd been consigned to baking cookies or hauling me and my friends from one activity to the next. I didn't miss out on one single thing because she made the choice to work. I taught myself to bake cookies. I found friends whose mothers liked piling a gang of kids in the car to go places. As for getting meals on the table, frankly, my dad was a better cook, anyway. My mother taught me self-sufficiency and independence and that there are no limits to what I can accomplish. Not bad lessons.

If you've wrestled with whether to stay home or go to work or if economic demands have necessitated that you find a job, tell us about how you made peace with your decision, whatever it was. Maybe this is a bone of contention with your husband. If so, tell us about that, too, and maybe someone here will have some advice for you. We're here to share this kind of thing...just between friends.

Sherryl Woods

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