Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Touch of Duchess

I have a confession to make. I hope it doesn't sound too cheesy. I hope it doesn't sound too silly. And I hope it doesn't sound too frivolous. Okay, enough disclaimers already. I'll just come right out and say it:

I want a replica of Kate Middleton's engagement ring -- the one with the large oval sapphire (appropriately, my birthstone) surrounded by tiny diamonds. You know the one!

Prince Charles gave it to Princess Diana for their engagement. They were married on July 29, 1981. I got up before 4 a.m. that day to ride my bicycle to the house in Southampton, Long Island, where a friend worked as a mother's helper for the family of a coffee-machine mogul. Starry-eyed girls in our late teens, Sue and I watched the ceremony on TV together. I was a summer lifeguard in the uber-rich town. Only two months younger than Diana, I fancied I looked like her on a good hair day when my hair was very short. We both were blond, blue-eyed, and broad-shouldered.

Our personalities were also similar. Both of us were shy introverts who came out of our shells -- she out of necessity and me out of expediency. Both of us were highly sensitive and perceptive about other people to the point at which their inconsiderate actions caused us a lot of pain. And both of us were not good at hiding our emotions. Hello, Sourpuss Face!

But she had me beat hands down in the height and curvaceousness departments. And, duh!, in the clothing, jewelry, title, social calendar, and everything else departments as well.

Nevermind. A girl can dream, can't she?

The blue stunner graced the left hand of The People's Princess until her death in a horrific car accident in a Parisian tunnel on August 31, 1997. Years went by, and I don't recall hearing about the ring. Meanwhile, her dashing first-born son Prince William grew up and fell in love with a sporty college classmate, Kate Middleton. Except for one breakup lasting only a few months, the relationship between the royal and commoner lasted nine years. Speculation spread that Kate was The One for William, and that he would make it official. Sure enough, they got hitched on April 29, 2011.

Happy-go-lucky spare to the heir Prince Harry, it turned out, had been in possession of his mother's ring since her death. Very generously, he gave it to his brother to give to Kate. The public first glimpsed it adorning her hand following the photo shoot marking the couple's engagement. The then-future Duchess of Cambridge wore a simple, yet fashionable navy blue wraparound dress for the occasion that perfectly matched the ring.

It is gorgeous, of course. But that's not why I would like a copy. To be honest, I am not terribly attracted to conservative, classic-style jewelry -- or clothing, for that matter. I prefer a more outdoorsy/bohemian look.

Rather, it is a touch of duchess I seek.

While Kate has been favorably compared to Diana in beauty, stature, and style, it is her grace I would like to emulate. She is poised on every occasion and, unlike Diana, seems to genuinely enjoy each one. She is fresh (in the good sense, like a daisy), grounded, friendly to everyone she meets, and always appears relaxed. Granted, she is off to a much better start than Diana because she has married into her role for real love. She is nearly a decade older than Diana when she married, and that makes a big difference in terms of maturity. And, being a brand new royal, she has not been tested the way Diana was, especially when it comes to dealing with a husband's blatant infidelity.

Kate and William's bond appears to be a love and partnership for the ages.

Following damage done during the Diana years and the finger-pointing aftermath, there was much talk about the decline or impending demise of the British royal family. Then Kate arrived on the scene and singlehandedly rehabilitated the monarchy with her bright and down-to-earth demeanor, calm willingness to take on a sometimes grueling schedule in a job not of her choosing, and unflappable steadiness of character.

My life is challenging on a daily basis. So sometimes it would be nice just to be sprinkled with a little duchess dust. The closest I can come to that, I figure, is by wearing a copy of the royal engagement ring . . . at least once in a while. I don't anticipate putting it on every day. Instead, I would save it for special occasions or when I need a pick-me-up. Gazing at the ring, I would become embued with the Essence of Kate -- the next best thing to a Kate Middleton fragrance, of which there is none and will likely never be one because that would be too commercial and tacky.

Given the popularity of these replicas, it may be surprising to learn that I have only actually seen one in the flesh. It was on the hand of an attendee at a writing conference in Seattle I went to last summer. It looked lovely, not cheap like from a Cracker Jack box.

Back home I saw a photo in a magazine of one being sold on Kohls.com. I cut out the tiny picture and have been looking at it now for many, many months. Only recently did I Google the ring to see a wide assortment being sold by multiple vendors online. I'm considering making a purchase. It very well may happen because I've been interested long enough.

Who can't use a touch of duchess from time to time?

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Long Line of Anti-Martha Stewarts

It's time to clean the house. Make that waaaaaaay past time!

House cleaning is the bane of my existence, the chore I put off as long as possible, the activity I happily forgo in order to take care of all else, the last item on my priority list, the energy zapper that pushes me over the edge . . . or causes me injury. Seriously, I hurt my back last winter cleaning the house for a playdate. That's how much work lay ahead of me.

I abhor house cleaning. The doing of it. On the flip side, I adore house cleaning. The results of it. I just don't enjoy those results often due to my lack of interest in taking the time and exerting the physical effort necessary to bring about said results.

Have I always felt this way? Hell, yeah! It could be hereditary as my late mother hated house cleaning also. More likely, my attitude toward it is a by-product of my environment -- i.e. growing up with a mother who hated house cleaning. I suspect that was my mother's excuse as well. You see, she was raised in a hotel. My grandfather, after losing his stockbroker job at E.F. Hutton (and much of his and his clients' money) following the crash of '29, moved into the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan where he went to work for The Canadian Club of New York. (Both he and my grandmother came from Cornwall, Ontario.) My grandmother didn't have to clean as that is what hotel staff are for. So it must have been a big shock for my urban mother when she and her husband, my father, bought the only house they ever owned in the 'burbs. It was not large -- a '50s-style ranch with three bedrooms. But it was a house, and it came with no hotel staff.

The nerve!

I have memories of Mom dusting knickknacks on the mantelpiece, wiping off tables with Lemon Pledge, and such. But when it came to heavy cleaning -- vacuuming the living room carpet and washing the kitchen floor, for example -- she hired the big guns. The "cleaning men," we called them. I remember being uncomfortable at the thought of these strange men, who came over very seldom, going through my bedroom when I was at school. I suspect she also felt uneasy with them occupying her house in later years while she, by then elderly, supervised alone. So she hired a fellow Christian Scientist she knew from out of town to do the job. The two ladies were not exactly friends, and they squabbled often. Again I felt uncomfortable with this arrangement.

Are you sensing a theme here? Bingo. I experienced a lot of discomfort of one sort or another in my earlier years.

Indeed, Mom and I clashed in many respects, but domesticity was not one of them. The city girl and the girl raised by the city girl both despised/despise keeping house. You can call us "The Anti-Martha Stewarts." What the heck, throw my grandmother into that category as well! However, the difference between the three of us is this: For me, a 24/7 single mother with no steady paycheck, the option to hire experts is really not on the table. In the four-plus years I have lived in my present home, I have hired professional cleaners probably twice; carpet specialists, a little more often.

Right now I am in desperate need of professionals. Granted, the downstairs is in pretty good condition except for my bathroom, which I won't get into here. That's because I hired an environmentally friendly company a few months ago. The two men cleaned the relatively new wall-to-wall carpets in my bedroom and a long room next to it. The flooring had gotten wet in May when a hose broke off a toilet upstairs in the middle of the night during a once-in-a-lifetime freak incident. Don't cha love it?! The hose shot clean pressurized water (praise the Lord it wasn't the alternative!) all over the bathroom, into the hall, through the hardwood floors, and onto my bed and the two carpets downstairs. When the duo stopped by a few months ago, I banned them from the upstairs carpets because they were not (and still are not) ready for primetime, er to be steam-cleaned. Why? There is too much junk all over them.

You see, house cleaning is no one-step process. For a single mother -- and any other kind of parent, as a matter of fact -- it is at least a three-parter. First, toys and other items (miscellaneous papers, food wrappers, dirty clothes, etc.) must be picked up and sorted or thrown away. What's being kept must then be stored on shelves or in closets, laundry hampers, baskets, or other containers, thus freeing up valuable floor space. Lastly, the room must be cleaned.

Sounds rather simple, but the reality is far from it. On top of everything else I do in the way of parenting my two young boys, the first two steps not only exhaust me but also take much longer to complete than expected. That leaves me with zero strength or time to finish the job of making the house presentable. I clean only when both boys are out of the house or occupied with an activity inside the house and, therefore, not in a position to disturb me. I refuse to clean late at night, and I refuse to clean early in the morning. I try not to let it cut into my work day. But once I decide to tackle the project, it always does. Typically, I will spend up to three weeks whipping the house into shape or, at least, reaching Part III. At that point, having had enough, I may succumb to calling in the experts. The former happens rarely; the latter, once in a blue moon.

I chose to write about this topic in the hopes that it would spring me into action. I need to make my house decent-looking as soon as possible because I am terribly indebted to so many people in my town for playdates, sleepovers, and child-care favors when I've needed (mostly) or wanted (infrequently) to do something without my boys in tow.

Think how much picking up, organizing, or cleaning could have been accomplished in the time it's taken me to write about it! Gadzooks. Well, it's now on the brain, front and center. The mop will come out tomorrow.

Yeah, right!

How do you cope with house cleaning?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Two Peas in Separate Pods

One is redheaded; the other, blond.
One is husky; the other, wiry.
One is lazy; the other, helpful.
One is sensitive; the other, tough.
One is intellectual; the other, physical.
One is easy; the other, challenging.
One is cautious; the other, adventurous.
One is stiff; the other, flexible.
One is gentle; the other, aggressive.
One is innocent; the other jaded.
One is sweet; the other cool.

One likes chocolate; the other, lollipops.
One likes reading; the other, to be read to.
One likes downtime; the other, activity.
One likes eggs scrambled; the other, hard-boiled.
One likes red; the other, blue.

One has hair wavy and thick; the other, fine and straight.
One has a style preppy/rocker; the other, surfer dude.
One has lost interest in Legos; the other loves to build.
One has no desire to wrestle; the other, an innate need to.

One runs on curiosity; the other, kinetic energy.
One sleeps with one stuffed animal; the other, fifty-two.

My sons.
Two peas in separate pods.
Same mother.
Same anonymous sperm-donor father.
Full siblings.
Brothers.
Forever.

Friday, February 10, 2012

TGIF, Not!

"Thank God It's Friday! Time to partaaaaay! Woo-hoo!!!"

Those are statements you won't hear coming out of my mouth anytime soon. More like DIF -- "Darn It's Friday." That's because Friday is the day of the brain-numbing doubleheader. No, I don't mean consecutive baseball games. Rather, back-to-back boys' activities at two different locations.

Argh. It's like undergoing a lobotomy.

First let me say that The Winter of Charlie is going better than expected. Following an autumn during which Christopher's activities dominated, I decided that I needed to focus on my younger son for a while. The tagging-along-and-waiting-around-and-being-stuck-in-another-city scene while Chris played football, participated in Cub Scouts, and performed in a Christmas show did a number on Charlie's behavior and my patience. To reverse the damage, I vowed to swap the activity load of both boys.

Charlie now does gymnastics twice a week (at a YMCA and gymnastics academy) and plays basketball once a week. He completed a series of four group ski lessons on consecutive Sundays last month and has recently started group skating lessons on Wednesdays. Four sports clinics per week for the past month-plus. It sounds like a heavy schedule -- and it would be for many other five-year-old boys as well as eight-year-old Christopher -- but it feels just right for the boisterous baby of the family. I'm pleased as pie that he is exerting his boundless physical energy in a constructive manner instead of taking it out aggressively on his brother.

Christopher, meanwhile, takes just one weekly basketball clinic and one jazz/hip hop dance class. He seems satisfied with his schedule, if a bit winded toward the end of hoop games. He could stand to get more exercise this season, but I can't (and won't) add any more clinics to the plan.

The problem -- and, believe me, there would have been many more if I'd had snowstorms to contend with! -- is the Friday lineup. After a long, tiring week, I pick the boys up at school by car to drive them to a gymnastics academy in a nearby town. Charlie took a class there all last year. I liked the intimate setting, made friends with several of the other mothers, and viewed my fatherless son's male teacher as a role model for him.

But this season, the experience has been flipped on its head -- appropriate for a gymnastics class, I suppose. The place is now jam-packed with parents, students, and younger siblings, i.e. noisy toddlers and preschoolers. So long, intimate setting! Hello, crowded and confined space! Seriously, the dimensions of the two waiting areas are roughly 12 x 5 feet, which includes the space taken up by the folding metal chairs. Even minus the wee ones, the place can be really loud when children upstairs run then jump on a springboard into a foam pit. The ceiling thuds, making me worry that the building is going to cave in. Last year during class, I had no means -- or desire -- to get on the Internet. My mother friends and I often talked the whole forty-five minutes. I never even opened the magazines I brought with me. This year, not having made new friends yet, I attempt to read or check e-mail or Facebook on my new iPad. But I can't get an Internet connection in the cave-like second-floor space. Several of the mothers, in fact, I do know from the elementary school. However, they don't stick around for class, opting instead to run errands or pass the time at Starbucks. Oh, and the positive male role model? He is not teaching Charlie this year. Considering that I am already worn out from the week, the now hour-long Friday afternoon session feels like a marathon.

It would seem like a lot of time to have a half hour break between Charlie's gymnastics and Christopher's jazz/hip hop dance class. But it is not when you factor in the snack rush -- obtaining a bag of fruit snacks and/or cheddar cheese goldfish and/or a bottle of water -- as well as the time it takes for my rambunctious child to put on his sweaty socks, sneakers, and coat. The Y is less than ten minutes away, yet we arrive with only five to spare. Well-behaved Christopher, who has most likely declined the offer of snacks at the first facility, now wants a treat from the larger display. He chooses a blueberry scone and promptly inhales it.

Charlie and I tried waiting outside the room that doubles as a dance studio, peeking through the window to watch class from time to time. But two weeks in a row my eyes burned something fierce while reading in this location. The lighting, I concluded, was poor. So we moved to the seating area near the cafe at the front of the Y. Grand Central Station, basically. There Charlie and I fell into our old song and dance routine of killing time while he emptied my wallet on snacks. Today's total: $12, and that was getting off easy as neither boy chose a food or drink at the gymnastics academy. Me? Having missed lunch, I succumbed to a chicken salad wrap and bag of mixed nuts to satisfy my salt craving. Class finally ended, and we could ditch this joint. Praise the Lord! Or was I stuck in a scene in Groundhog Day as it took one . . . more . . . entire . . . half . . . hour to get home due to the finishing up or packing up of snacks and the putting back on of socks, shoes, and jackets?

Somebody shoot me, please! Gone three and a half hours, and I feel like I've been waterboarded.

D-I-F.

What are your Fridays like?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Winter That Wasn't

I may be eating my words, but I'll chance it: Welcome to The Winter That Wasn't!

With just over a month and a half remaining in the season, those of us living in northeastern Massachusetts could still get clobbered by multiple snowstorms and/or repeated spells of bone-chilling cold. However, neither weather event has occurred thus far. And seeing as it is now the tail end of January, I feel comfortable enough at this point making my declaration.

In this part of the country, I expect every day of the winter (as well as many days in the late fall and early spring) to be cold, often bitter cold. The reality is usually not that bad as there can be many 40-something-degree days scattered about the calendar this time of year and even one or two unseasonably warm days thrown in for good measure. I expect there to be a few big snowstorms delivering six inches or more and/or many days and nights of frozen precipitation, resulting in at least a couple of inches on the ground. Typically, a winter here brings both.

Now don't get me wrong: I do not hate winter. I live here by choice. I don't mind the cold. Heck, I'd take a sunny, freezing day in the Boston area over a gray, drizzly mild day in Seattle any day. And I love the snow. Downhill skiing has always been my favorite sport. I also enjoy cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, skating, and winter hiking. If I had the time, I'd take up ice hockey and join a team. Natural snow is preferable to manmade snow, and pond skating is preferable to rink skating.

New England winters are wonderful.

As for the cold, I measure it by how many days I need to wear my warmest, heaviest down jacket -- the one with the working zipper and the one not purchased in desperation in a Beijing department store. So far this winter, I can count on two hands the number of days I've had to reach for the giant light blue monster. Many more days a black down vest, usually unzipped (as was the case today), has been sufficient. Or I have comfortably thrown on my raspberry-colored fleece jacket that usually only gets outside time in the fall or spring. Two days I even happily walked the boys to school at 8:25 a.m. and back wearing only a fleece-lined flannel shirt from L.L. Bean. Gosh, I love that cozy purple, navy, and white plaid shirt I bought myself for my last birthday!

Living on a private cul-de-sac, I have to chip in whenever the street needs to be plowed by a hired contractor. You see, the town will only clear snow from public roads. The contractor charges $90 each time he plows the circle and the three driveways shooting out from it. That amount is split $30 a piece between the three homeowners, only one of whom actually lives on the street. That would be me. Keep in mind, the $90 is not per snowstorm; it is per plow. So, on average, the contractor makes $180 per large storm because he generally comes up the street twice during the snowfall. I've even seen him plow three times during a multi-day event, socking me hard in the wallet to the tune of $90 total for one damn storm.

I can easily tell what kind of a winter we are having by studying my checkbook. Two years ago, we had an average winter. I paid $210 for the season for seven plow visits. Last year? Holy Abominable Snowman! I spent exactly twice that amount -- $420 -- on 14 visits. Coming in at 80.1 inches of fluffy stuff, the season ranked eighth-snowiest in Boston history.

But that's not all. With roof collapses becoming a regular item on the local news, I began to consider what was over my head . . . and it didn't look pretty. From the street, it appeared that three feet of snow would not budge from my roof. Driving around town, I noticed every other house has a much steeper-pitched roof, and one made of shingles. My roof more closely resembles those of schools. I was alarmed to discover that the rooves collapsing or being deemed unsafe around the region were, just like mine, nearly or completely flat as well as made of rubber.

Calling Harvey Firestone!

MY roof might collapse. I worried for five sleepless nights, listening intently in the darkness of my bedroom for any sounds resembling cracking walls, etc. Next I knew parts of the ceiling in my living room, dining room, and kitchen began leaking. This development further convinced me that my shoddy roof was on the verge of caving in or, at least, needing to be replaced -- at how much of an exorbitant cost I could not imagine.

By then obsessed with news coverage of roof failures, I found the names of snow-removal companies in the vicinity and called them. The three feet of snow overhead was not moving or melting, and I had to do something about it pronto. Through a process that took less than two hours, my roof was cleared for a whopping $800. It was declared safe and, incidentally, not leaking. The dripping inside my home, as it turned out, was caused by a previously unknown chimney-sealing issue.

Long story short, the amount I coughed up on snow plowing plus roof clearing for the winter of 2010-2011 totaled $1,220 -- more than $1,000 higher than the previous year. Given this fact, you can only imagine how ecstatic I am not to have forked over so much as $1 for snow removal thus far this winter. Yippee! Thank you, thank you, Mother Nature.

Old Man Winter has been replaced by Young Girl Winter. And I like her very much.

How do you feel about The Winter That Wasn't? Do you love it or hate it?