View from the top

The assignment for Writing 101:

Today, choose a place to which you’d like to be transported if you could — and tell us the backstory. How does this specific location affect you? Is it somewhere you’ve been, luring you with the power of nostalgia, or a place you’re aching to explore for the first time?

I’ve always been drawn to lights and high places. Sometimes I find a combination of the two.

When Rob and I moved to Colorado, we first lived on the Western Slope. Grand Junction, Colorado was our first real home away from home. We moved there in 1987 with our three-year and and our three-week old. Rob started residency in Family Practice at the local hospital, St. Mary’s, we bought a little starter house, and settled in. Grand Junction was good to us. He had a great training experience and we grew some good friends there. It was a beautiful western community with a perfect high desert climate and scenery to spare. The town had a small feel to it, the local peaches were legendary, and for five years we thought we had found a home forever.

But opportunities beckoned, and eventually lead us across the country, to a new home in Michigan. Midland, Michigan was another wonderful community. As the corporate headquarters of Dow Chemical, Midland had amenities that you wouldn’t typically find in small towns. Our kids had friends all over our neighborhood. I was an event planner for the local Chamber of Commerce, Rob had his first experience with corporate work.

But the winters there were hard, and long, and gray. And while there was a lot about Michigan that charmed us…Mackinac Island, summer cherries and fall apple orchards, Polish pierogi, the beautiful lake shores and the small, colorful towns…ultimately, we missed the Colorado sun, and the mountains, and we began to talk about next…next jobs, next home, next stop.

Once you start having those conversations, it’s only a matter of time.

We looked at a couple of practice options, but it was an easy decision to accept a job in Denver, taking us back to the mountains and the sunshine.

When you drive cross-country, heading toward the Rockies, if you approach from the east on I-70, you reach a point when you can just faintly, ever so faintly, see the outline of the peaks in the distance. That was the moment I always anticipated.

We drove it many times, and in fact, those drives had started in our childhoods, both families drawn to the Colorado mountains, though in different seasons. My parents were summer visitors, heading west on summer vacations, packing the iconic station wagon with four kids, bags, food, books, games, and more books. And music. My dad always had music with him, and by the time we were making those trips, it was cassette tapes, boxes and boxes of tapes.

Rob’s family went to Colorado to find snow, and they found skiing. In the 70s, driving out over spring break to experience winter and the mountains, they created a family tradition, returning year after year to satisfy a love of exploring, and beauty, and escape from routine.

Those trips were the beginnings of our love affair with the West, summer and winter, and the Colorado mountains.

After we got married, when Rob and I talked about where we wanted to live, the mountains of Colorado became our destination of choice. In 1995, that dream came true. We moved to the foothills of the Front Range, Genesee, nestled between Evergreen and Golden. At night we had a view of the lights of Denver to the east, and we had soaring peaks to the west. Perfect!

It was perfect, and from the day we moved to the mountains, I promised myself I wouldn’t take the views for granted, wouldn’t let it get old.

Even good things in your life become insignificant if you can’t see them anymore. 

I used to drive around, running my errands, and even after we’d lived there for years, I’d catch myself just staring at the scenery. I never got tired of it, never looked past it. Living with the views made me grateful, kept me humble, fueled my joy.

Our view to the west

Our view to the west

Red Rocks, a Front Range landmark

Red Rocks, a Front Range landmark

The river bank

Snow frosted

 

I’ve never been a city girl, but there is one city that completely charmed me, makes me want to know it better and better. Paris, the City of Light, is beautiful and timeless.

It’s romantic and iconic.

It seems familiar from all the movies and photos that have made it famous; but it’s unknown too..when you’re walking around, seeing the landmarks with your own eyes,  there’s a quality of déjà vu, and surreality. You can’t understand the aura from photos, or movies. You have to see it for yourself to absorb the little shops, the cafés, the traffic and the people, the Frenchness. I guess that’s true of most places…you have to experience in person. But somehow it’s more true there. There’s magic in Paris, that’s the only way to explain it.

View seat

View seat

The Paris Icon

The Paris Icon

Paris wandering

Paris wandering

Riverside in Paris, 2009

Riverside afternoon

The funny thing about that trip was how meaningful it was to both of us. We’ve done a lot of traveling together, and sometimes a place that speaks to one of us doesn’t  impact the other. But this was different. We were in sync with each other and with the city. And to this day, it is a touchstone for us, an experience that caught us by surprise, filled us with delight.

We thought we were just doing the tourist thing. Turns out, we carved out memories for life. And you never know when life is going to hand you those moments. So it’s important to pay attention.

The good stuff can only be planned so far. I’ve learned to leave room for the joy of the unplanned, the surprise of the unexpected.

At the end of our exploring, tired and footsore, we headed to our hotel in the heart of the city to recover and get ready to leave the next day. But late that night, I think it was a little before midnight, Rob insisted we go back out for a last look at the city, and the lights. I was so tired, I almost didn’t do it.

But how can you say no to Paris?

We walked a few blocks, and this was our reward:

DSC00881

Paris night-light

It was worth putting on my shoes again.

I’m so glad I said yes. If I’d said no, I would have missed one of the perfect moments of my life, of our lives together. 

Seeing the lights of the Eiffel Tower, sharing a midnight dessert at a quaint little café within sight of that stunning monument, was the perfect end to our trip, the perfect date with my best friend.

Saying yes to life has served me better than saying no.

It has caused me to take some wrong turns, true enough. But even those wrong turns have lead to good things, and make up the mosaic of life. So when I find myself hesitating, I remember the lights, and a midnight walk through Paris. And I know that I’ll choose yes, because there might be a night-light worth seeing, and I’ll miss it if I say no.

Advertisements

Mother’s Day and other adventures

So, thinking I would treat myself to a little face to face with my son, I flew to Denver yesterday. It’s not often that I get one-on-one time with my kids, and when I have a window of opportunity, I figure I should take advantage.

I reserved a car so I wouldn’t disrupt Alex’s work day with the need for an airport pick up. Since I’m by myself, I reserved a compact size. Imagine my surprise when I checked in at Hertz and was told they had a Ram pick up for me! Now, I’ve driven mini-vans, and I’ve driven a Suburban, and I even drove our Class C RV for a stretch of about 10 miles one time…my first and last time to do that. (I had a standing plan that if anything happened to Rob while he was driving it…death or stroke or any little thing that took him out of the driver’s seat, I would put a for sale sign out and abandon it on the spot. I am not comfortable driving 30 ft vehicles. 🙂 )

The customer service agent assured me that I would like driving the truck…you’re up high, he said. You’ll have a better view, he said. I said it would be fine as long as it was an automatic. My upbringing did not include learning to drive a standard transmission. I was not going to admit to the rep that I would prefer a nice comfortable compact when I could get higher and better for the same price. No, no, I have my pride.

Well I was up high, all right. I’m short, and I had to do a little climbing to get in the thing. You know those running boards are not just cosmetic. I was a little insecure driving something that long. (This is a full size 2 ton truck…at least I think it’s 2 ton. Maybe it’s 1 1/2 ton. I’ve heard of those too. But what do I know? Vehicles with numbers are largely over my head.) But it’s true, I had a great view.  I think the other drivers I passed just wanted to stay out of my way.

I proceeded cautiously to the interstate. Now keep in mind, I live in VERY SMALL TOWN Alaska, so I’m not used to driving in heavy traffic these days. I used to be pretty fearless, but now that I don’t do it that often…well, I’m a little intimidated. I can do it, but I prefer to maneuver with a vehicle that’s more my size. I felt like I was in a semi, barreling down the road, peering over the steering wheel.

I don’t have blue hair, and I don’t think anyone would call me a little old lady. But I’ll be ready when the time comes. I know what that feels like now.

I made it to the hotel, and I parked. Alex lives about half a block away, so he’s able to do the driving for the weekend in his car. I’m just glad I don’t have to get in the beast again until Monday, when I go back to the airport. Good thing it was a great rate. Cheaper than a cab or shuttle as it turned out!

And oh yes, the customer service rep mentioned the truck would be good in the snow. Snow? I didn’t expect snow this weekend! I did not pack for a Rocky Mountain spring storm. Guess it’s a shopping opportunity for a sleeve or two. Wonder what else is coming my way?

Happy Mother’s Day to all the women who wear that title and love, nurture, and parent. It’s not a task for the faint of heart. But it’s one of the best jobs around. And I’m glad to celebrate this one with Alex, even if it means driving a big truck. I’m funny that way…I’ll do anything to see my kids!

That son of mine

That son of mine

My ride for the weekend

My ride for the weekend

Generations: My mom, my daughter, my granddaughter

Generations: My mom, my daughter, my granddaughter

The Jack & Riley show

The Jack & Riley show

Riley girl

Riley girl

Little Jack

Little Jack

Too blind to see

I was too blind to see that you were too deaf to hear me.

A few weeks ago I had a long weekend with my son in Denver. It was an overdue visit, and I treasured the time to connect in person. Although we keep a steady stream of texts and calls going, nothing takes the place of face to face.

I read a quote a few weeks back…a self-professed quote-a-holic, these things catch my eye and lodge in my mind….

“If you had an essentially happy childhood, that tends to dwell with you.”     Tracy Kidder

Motherhood was a joy to me, and I’ve written about that. I took pride in that role; not that I thought I was perfect, but I thought I was good. I was passionate about it. I loved my kids. And I was good at mothering, in many ways. I did so much for them and with them. But with this quote newly echoing in my thoughts, I asked Alex, sitting across from him in the midst of a light hearted conversation if he felt his childhood had been happy. I knew how I would characterize it.

Imagine my surprise, my dismay, when he answered no. When he said he had been bullied through much of his elementary school years, and often felt lonely. He never told me that before, and I never saw, never guessed. It never came out in parent/teacher conferences or any time through the years he was a kid at home. When I asked him why he never came to me with this, he just said he didn’t think I could help. Didn’t think his teachers could help. My instinctive response was of course I could have helped, could have changed that. But maybe with the vision of childhood, he had believed that if he made a fuss, called attention to the bullying, it would only get worse when adult eyes weren’t looking. And of course that’s when bullying happens.

Imagine the shift in my perception. Imagine my heart breaking listening to his words, telling me very calmly, and just because I asked if he had been happy as a kid.

In many ways he was a highly verbal child; as I used to say, he could talk to a post. We often had long conversations, and he never seemed withdrawn. Yet he was also a self-entertainer, spending a lot of time playing video games and building with his Lego sets. He had a few friends, kids that seemed, like he often did, a little different from the crowd.

By the time he was in 7th grade, he was coming home from school angry, and I did see that. We pulled him out of public school at the semester break, and after briefly trying a private school or two, we opted for home schooling. I cut my hours at work to spend time with him and the curriculum we chose. For the next couple of years the circle was Alex, family, youth group, soccer, and a few friends he kept from elementary school.

By the time he entered high school, in a new public school setting, he seemed to have outgrown the anger, in large part, and I put it down to the difficult transition that a lot of middle-school kids face…that most awkward time of life when you’re neither child nor adult, big or little. I thought the issues he had with school stemmed from the fact that he wasn’t really a student at heart, even though he was smart.

I noticed that he often gravitated to kids that were on the fringe, that seemed left out. And I worried a little about that. Was he not fitting in? But he also seemed popular enough, seemed well liked. I thought it was just Alex.

During our heart-to-heart a few weeks ago, he told me he had chosen to befriend the kids who were left out because he had felt that way too. He decided he could be a victim or a hero, and he chose to be a hero. I know he doesn’t trumpet his own acts of kindness because the ones I know of are the ones I discover in a round-about way. He loans money he can scarcely do without; he reaches out to people who need a friend. He’s a gentleman with an old-fashioned sense of courtesy that I love to see. He helps the lost and the old.

He’s dating again, a girl that he first met in church youth group. He first connected with her in high school because she was new to the group, and he thought she could use a friend. Now he’s the one who’s new in town, returning after six years away. And she reached out to him.

I think about things I hear…kids who take their lives because of bullying. Kids who get into substance abuse or join gangs to fit in. Kids from homes without love, without supervision. And kids from homes like ours, where the parents thought they were watching for danger, doing a good job, listening, seeing. Sometimes when you read about these kids, these children of other people, you wonder…how did this happen? Where were the parents? And without meaning to, without intentionally assigning blame, I’ve done exactly that. Even knowing that parenting is perilous and not for the faint of heart, I’ve wondered. Well, now I know, at least in part. I know bullying can happen without visible signs. Or maybe I was just blind because I thought it wouldn’t happen to my child, in our little neighborhood school, in an upscale suburb. And maybe that was the biggest miss of all…I didn’t think it could happen. I never even thought to ask if Alex’s school issues could be related to bullying. I thought it was all academic.

Thank God, we didn’t have to learn about this through tragedy. I feel sadness enough about the impact of this issue on Alex’s life. I can’t sort out what those impacts have been. But the mom in me wants to go back and relive those years…dig deeper, question the teachers…what were they seeing? why weren’t they seeing it? be more aggressive. Maybe if I had been more aware, a lot of things would be different.

When I voiced that…my gut reaction that I had failed at the most basic role of parenting, to protect the child, Alex disagreed. He’s not holding a grudge, not bemoaning his childhood. He says we taught him how to be an adult, and that was the important job we had to do. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to see it that way. That’s a part of it, but to my mom’s heart, the role of protector is still the first priority, especially in light of what I know now.

Bullying can take many forms, and obviously some kids are more affected by it than others. I know awareness has grown, and maybe there’s more help available for kids today than even a few years ago. If this post can help even one parent think about what they may be missing, ask questions, dig deeper, then some good will have come from Alex’s experience. And knowing him, he would probably think helping someone else is reward enough.

Everyone is a product of the mix of life…the good, bad, the intentional and the accidents. I know that, and I know that even if I could have protected Alex’s childhood from any scars, adulthood would bring experiences I couldn’t shield him from. But that doesn’t stop me from wishing I could have a redo. I am thankful that Alex is who he is. And I am humble. I know, all over again, that I can’t understand someone else’s situation without knowing their story. Reminds me that I need to give grace when I don’t understand. Maybe there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye. And I need to receive grace when I make mistakes. Maybe, in spite of my best efforts, I’m missing something important. In spite of my good intentions, I’m falling short.

Thank God for grace. Thank God for Alex, teaching me, forgiving my failures as a mom, and finding the good.

Song of childhood

I have a child’s toy tune stuck in my head. Actually, the tune is from Jack’s new bouncy seat, complete with an assortment of objects designed to capture the attention of an infant. He’s not quite sitting without support, still a little wobbly. But in his little seat he reaches out to touch the noisemaker and color in front of him, his first exploration of the universe he’s joined.

Jack in discovery mode

Jack in discovery mode

I’ve been immersed in the world of the littles for much of the last two weeks. First we went to a family wedding, featuring Riley as the flower girl (sorry, bride and groom, this is Gram speaking!). It was fun to see her participate in the big event, complete with losing her shoe on the way down the aisle and stopping to put it on again. Priceless! She managed to scatter the petals (pedals, heavy on the “d” in Riley-speak). She was charming in her little dress. And both Riley and Jack were good on the flights. Mission accomplished!

Flower Girl Riley

Flower Girl Riley

I spent the following week in Gram mode, rediscovering the joys of potty training, naps, snacks, feeding times, and a memorable blow-out of a diaper. Funny how effortlessly it comes back! I struggle to remember I am not mommy in these scenes. With my own two children being the same sex and birth order as Riley and Jack, I could close my eyes and skip back twenty-five years to see Alex sitting in Jack’s spot, and Stephanie chattering beside me.

Riley is a joy, in the phase of constant “look at me.” She wants to go everywhere the adults go, have a part in everything going on. She’s both a big girl and emerging toddler, and you never know for sure which side of her you’ll get. But it’s all good. I have endless patience for this phase of life. Give me the sweetness of these ages, the funny things a child says, the joy of snuggling a three-month-old safe and warm in my arms, and I’ll gladly take the not-so-pretty spills, poops, and messes as the price of admission.

Over the weekend I flew to Denver to spend a few days with Alex. Alex, who at twenty-five has already spent five years in the army, has been 13 months deployed abroad in a war zone; has married and divorced, one of the statistics of military life; and is now trying to re-start his life in his old home-town…my Alex, who just a few short years ago was the Jack in my photos. He’s come through, not without scars, but with courage. He’s learned some difficult lessons, made hard choices. And now, seeing him after a year apart, a year of plans for connecting that didn’t work out, and long conversations by phone, I’m satisfied. The mom in me has needed this sight and sound of him, his hug and quick smile.

Alex smiles

Alex smiles

We talk. I drive to his apartment in a blinding white-out of a spring snow storm, one of Denver’s famous March storms that makes me wonder if I’m foolish for being on the road. But how could I not be? I won’t give up a day of visit to the inconvenience of weather. His apartment is spartan, bachelor in furnishing, and needs a mom shopping trip. He doesn’t ask for anything, but I load up the cart with comforts and extras. It’s so little to offer.

He knows what he has to do: put his head down and forge a path to next. He has to make his life work, and that takes time and discipline, doing it day after day, paying his bills, creating a place for himself. I can’t do it for him, and I can only help in minor ways. Mostly, he has to choose what he wants, and then accomplish it. Hard for me to recognize that he is essentially on his own.

He used to want me to watch him play video games, to see his Lego creations. He was the one that said, “look at me!” Now he’s singing a different song. He has to prove something to himself, and to the world around him. His song has matured.

We were out in the storm last Saturday, hitting Target and Safeway and knocking out my list for him. In a parking lot there was a car with the hood up and a guy standing beside it, leaning over to look at something. Alex pulled up next to him and got out, offering to help. Turned out no help was needed and we drove away. That’s who Alex is. He’s funny, has been known to wear a kilt on occasion, loves music, is helpful to a fault.

My head spins a bit, coming back to Seattle for another few days in the nursery before heading back to Alaska. I’m in a time-warp, caught between the realities of today and the memories of the past. All good, but just the same, poignant, driving home the reality that the days are long but the years are short. I’m so blessed to have had children in my life that brought me joy. They weren’t, and aren’t, perfect. But they were, and are, a joy. And to see it repeat with Riley and Jack..that’s a privilege I treasure. I know this go-round just how fast it really goes, and I know more than ever that life is a risky business with no guarantees to the outcome.

Motherhood is a delicate balancing act. Heart can get in the way of character building and courage-growing. How could I not want to protect? And yet these adults that I still mother a bit have moved well beyond my ability to protect. They fight their own battles and make their own decisions. Sometimes my heart has to race to catch up with them. My head gets it, but the mother in me struggles. I’ve been a slow learner and late bloomer in the realm of letting go. I’ve done a good job of it externally. Does that count?

The song of childhood is sweet but short. I’m learning to listen to the adult voices of my kids, and feel proud that somehow, in spite of the fact that I was making it up as I went along, they turned out well. If I do say so myself, not in my own praise, but more in wonder that it worked…all the things I tried to do, that we tried to do as parents, somehow, we got enough right.

Mommy and cub

Mommy and cub

Afternoon sunshine

We’ve had a break in the rain. Either the notorious climate of SE Alaska is getting to me, or we really have had more rain than usual this spring. Not sure, but either way, I’m excited to have a window full of sunshine to enjoy. I saw friends from Colorado posting on Facebook that they have snow. Yes, that happens sometimes in Colorado this time of year. I’ve seen it snow there on my son’s birthday, which is in June. And the first summer we lived in the Denver area, it snowed on the 4th of July. I love that state! And I miss it. But I do not miss the late spring snows.

The late afternoon sun is a luxury of only a few months. So much of the year here, the sun appears late and leaves early. And on rainy days, you get a sort of twilight effect, although this region of Alaska doesn’t have the extremes of dark and light like the far north of the state.

This afternoon, as I sit looking around, I notice the light catching on things that I don’t usually see. It plays with the color of paint on the wall, the clear glass vase on the dining room table, makes the room too bright to sit in my favorite chair looking out over the water. I can’t see my laptop screen with the light pouring in through the picture windows. On the way home I noticed more trees leafing out. And the most sure sign of spring? The clearest indicator that the season has come? The construction workers have descended on us. The main road through Ketchikan is under seige, with cones dividing the space for traffic and speeds reduced to the one lane crawl.

The construction boom is in evidence at work. The hospital is getting a new roof. I’m in a different mind set. I’m hoping to sell a house, and spring is the season for homes to be shown and sold. People are moving, new people come to town. Opportunity is on the horizon.

It’s a bit like pregnancy, except there’s no known delivery date. You just sit with the process, waiting for a call from the realtor that there’s a showing, then hoping for an offer to come along. Every morning I leave the house ready.

This afternoon, I pause. I would love to have an offer in hand, to be able to look at the next chapter in life. But nothing yet. Maybe tomorrow. For today, since I don’t have a choice, I’ll enjoy the light streaming in, the blue of the water, the view in front of me. The sunshine reminds me that a new season has arrived, that days don’t stay dark.

How’s your view today?

Yum, doughnuts!

Krispy Kreme 10

Krispy Kreme Hot Light

I caught a few minutes of a Food Network program that was profiling snacks, one of which was Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. Gave me a flashback to when we lived in Colorado and a Krispy Kreme store opened near our favorite mall. We lived in the foothills above Denver, one of the most beautiful places I know. Genesee, a little community in unincorporated Jefferson County (JeffCo) was home for many years. It was a perfect place to live, high above the city, and the lights at night were beautiful. We had an amazing view of the mountains and could see a range of snow covered peaks by looking out our windows.

Ok, got sidetracked there…this post is about doughnuts. The important point of where we lived is that it was just far enough from our favorite mall, Park Meadows, that we needed a doughnut snack to make the drive home complete. When the Krispy Kreme store opened, any time we stopped by, there was a long line of cars waiting at the drive through window. Of course you could go in and buy at the counter. You could also watch the doughnuts being made, going through the process of rising, frying, then riding through the waterfall of glaze, before coming out on the other end, ready to be eaten in a few bites of warm gooey deliciousness.

The important thing to know about Krispy Kremes…if you ever see the hot light on, you must stop, whether you need to, mean to, want to, even if you just started a diet…this is an imperative! The hot light indicates that doughnuts are in production at that moment. If you haven’t experienced a freshly cooked doughnut, then you haven’t had a doughnut. I won’t claim that Krispy Kremes are the best doughnut in the world. I haven’t sampled all the options. But it is the only brand I’ve ever had warm, right out of the fryer; and that you can regularly have them fresh and hot is enough to make them a favorite with me.

So this is my suggestion for a great afternoon of retail therapy: take two fun kids along, shop your heart out, have dinner at your favorite burger place, then end the day with a box of warm Krispy Kremes. You have to have at least one on the ride home, and then one or two for breakfast the next morning (they reheat nicely with a quick microwave zap). Not sure what is more delicious: the doughnuts, or the memories. Here’s to you, Stephanie and Alex! Thanks for being part of those afternoon trips, those rides back home. And next time we’re together, let’s get some doughnuts.

The view from my window

As the morning mist rises, I look out from the windows in my sunroom to the Tongass Narrows, part of Alaska’s Inside Passage. The small community of Ketchikan, AK, is built along this stretch of coast. There are low mountains all around, covered with the evergreen trees that blanket the Southeast of Alaska in forest. This time of year, early December, the tops of the mountains have a frosting of snow. Although this is Alaska, the Southeast’s climate is temperate, and rain is the most significant weather feature. The view is beautiful, a combination of nature’s serenity and the human traffic of the region: fishing boats, both recreational and commercial, barges, all types of marine vessels. And float planes, the ever-present air transporation so vital to this area. In the summer season huge cruise ships are the most prominent traffic on the water.

I have had many views from my windows in the past thirty years. I have been fortunate to live in some pristine and scenic places. Colorado was home for almost twenty years, and from the Western Slope view of the Grand Mesa and the Redlands to the majestic alpine mountains from the foothills outside of Denver, I had a front row seat to enjoy the beauty of the changing seasons. For a few years in Michigan my view was a suburban neighborhood, filled with children playing street hockey and riding bikes, a kind of ideal Americana image magically preserved from some earlier and more innocent era.

My view will be changing soon. I’m listing the house for sale in January. I don’t know what the new scenery will be, but I’m hoping that it will be beautiful. I’ll admit, I’m spoiled. Maybe this is the opportunity to have a beach view and see amazing sunsets on a daily basis. Or it might be a changing view from the windows of an RV. Whatever is in the future, I’m looking forward to the adventure and the joy of experiencing what’s next.

My affair with Williams-Sonoma

Christmas Panettone

It began as a long distance romance…I can’t recall when I first encountered a Williams-Sonoma catalog, but it was at least in the early 90s…long before I ever went into a  Williams-Sonoma store or before there was a website.

In the early days of my infatuation, the catalogs were smaller and not as elaborate as the current style. As I recall, they were about half the size of the magazine format that the catalog sports now. But even then, each edition was a passport to wonderful culinary products. Understand, I didn’t experience the pleasure of shopping in unique kitchen stores until I was a young adult. There simply was no such establishment in the region where I grew up.

Granted, no matter where one grew up, retail shopping has come a long way. The internet has added opportunities for buying that were unimaginable only a few years ago. When I lived in the Alaskan Arctic, I regularly ordered items from Williams-Sonoma, and they arrived like clockwork, even at the top of the world. Most of my actual purchasing is done online, unless I’m lucky enough to be in the vicinity of a retail store…something that doesn’t happen often enough these days. I got spoiled to the ease of going to their retail locations when we lived in the foothills above Denver. There were multiple Williams-Sonoma stores in the city, and it was always fun to visit at the beginning of a new season to check out the most recent cookware, gadgets, and receipes being showcased.

But I have to say, even though there are benefits to visiting the stores in person, I get more actual enjoyment from a leisurely reading through the catalog. (Maybe this is where some would think I need a life?) But honestly, if you love to cook, how could you resist these pages with the most beautiful cookware, dishes and linens? And for gadget lovers, there are always new and unique items to catch your eye and fancy. What will they think of next? The photography is delicious, there are recipes scattered throughout the pages, lovely staging options for tablescapes (for all my elaborate entertaining) and in some editions, pages and pages of the most delectable foods to order, either for gift giving or for your own use.

I have never had a bad experience with this company. The food items I’ve ordered have been received with rave reviews. I can personally attest to the yumminess of the Panettone,  but most of the food I have ordered has been given as gifts. Their customer service is great and the quality of products as well as food is amazing.

However, back to browsing…if you don’t receive this catalog, go to their website or give them a ring and request it. It’s a wonderful way to find some inspiration for your next family food event or to challenge yourself to try some new culinary adventure. I highly recommend curling up with the latest catalog in the evening, cup of comforting hot tea at your side, and drooling a bit over the pages that make kitchen work seem exciting, even glamorous. Before you know it you’ll be making your wish list and dreaming of new culinary achievements, spurred on by the inspiratrion of beautiful images, lovely products, and enticing recipes.

I’m happy to say that I’ve passed my passion for all things culinary on to my daughter. She had a better outfitted kitchen right out of college than I did until I was thirty. And most importantly, she cooks. (So does my son, but his techniques are a little less traditional, more minimalist. No Williams-Sonoma wish lists for him!)

By the way, you can access a plethora of Williams-Sonoma reciepes on their website and save them to your digital receipe box. The ones I’ve tried have been keepers.

You can link to their site on my blog home page, or here: http://www.williams-sonoma.com/

Do you know “Flylady?”

I can already hear my family, and maybe even a few of my friends, begin to groan: not “Flylady” again! I first became acquainted with this site several years ago when I saw an article in a Denver paper profiling “Flylady” and her mission.

Let me explain: this is a site designed to help people who are challenged with self-organization in every way. If your home is cluttered, Flylady is for you! If you have difficulty getting your bills paid on time, Flylady is for you! If you are looking for exercise or encouragement to eat more healthy meals , Flylady is for you! This is a site that offers gentle and positive messages to people who need help overcoming self-defeating behaviors.

One of the nicest things about all of this encouragement is that it is free. There are various products that the site offers for sale, but there is no requirement to purchase to be an email subscriber. I don’t follow all the recommendations offered, but I have picked up some great ideas, and I love the positive attitudes of the people who host the site, as well as the enthusiastic subscriber comments. It’s a great virtual support group and members have the ability to be passive observers or as active as they choose.

Flylady is very family oriented and incorporates ideas for children as well as adults. The tools and suggestions work for everyone:  married, single, young, old, empty nester, or in the thick of child rearing.

One of my favorite phrases from the site is “Progress, not perfection.” There is an anti-perfection message at the heart of the Flylady system that emphasizes the crippling nature of that spirit. The goal is to recognize that doing your best is doing enough, to respect and value what is being accomplished rather than to focus on what may yet need to be done. This is the positive, hope-filled, and an empowering message of the site. Look beyond the graphics (a bit corny for my taste) and let me know what you think.