44 Things I Have Learned

  1. People can change, but you can never make them change.
  2. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck. — Dalai Lama
  3. Talk less, listen more.
  4. Luck favors the prepared, darling. –Edna Mode, The Incredibles
  5. Envy is a wasted emotion.
  6. Take time to write a Thank You note.
  7. No one will ever love you as much as your cat or dog.
  8. My friends are my estate. — Emily Dickinson
  9. You will never regret showing kindness to people.
  10. Honor your grandparents. Without them, there is no you.
  11. Volunteer at some point in your life.
  12. Share your favorite recipes.
  13. Establish routines and traditions within your own family, even if they’re silly and unconventional.
  14. Spend some time outside each day.
  15. Give people the benefit of the doubt, but when people show you who they are, believe them.
  16. Beware of shiny things with little substance.
  17. Beware of shiny people with little substance.
  18. Children need the most love when they’re the least lovable.
  19. Play the hand you’re dealt, and bloom where you’re planted.
  20. NPR makes you appear smarter than you actually are.
  21. Accept compliments graciously.
  22. Give compliments generously.
  23. Value your children beyond their God-given looks and smarts; focus on their character.
  24. It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. — J.K. Rowling
  25. If you’re having doubts about your engagement, it is neither normal, nor a promising sign.
  26. When you marry for money, you will work every day of your life.
  27. Tip generously, and never insult people who handle your food.
  28. Drink more water than you think you need.
  29. Don’t write any email while angry or intoxicated. Let it sit for a day.
  30. Bake cookies for your kids on the first day of school.
  31. Make the effort to stay in touch with old friends.
  32. Be patient with your parents.
  33. If you judge people, you have no time to love them. — Mother Teresa
  34. Sometimes it’s necessary to bite your tongue to keep the peace.
  35. Clean your house before going on vacation.
  36. Surround yourself with smart, positive, virtuous people, and you will grow.
  37. Never stop growing.
  38. True nobility isn’t about being better than someone else. It’s about being better than you used to be. — Wayne Dyer
  39. Try to step out of your comfort zone at least once a year.
  40. Avoid any diet plan which prohibits pizza.
  41. Good wine, good cheese, and fresh bread are the perfect ingredients for a Friday night.
  42. Take nothing and no one for granted.
  43. Everything changes. And that’s okay.
  44. A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for. — Grace Murray Hopper

Well I know a woman with a collection of sticks
She could fight back the hundreds of voices she heard
And she could poke at the greed, she could fend off her need
And with anger she found she could pound every word.
But one voice got through, caught her up by surprise
It said, “Don’t hold us back, we’re the story you tell,”
And no sooner than spoken, a spell had been broken
And the voices before her were trumpets and tympani
Violins, basses and woodwinds and cellos, singing

“We’re so glad that you finally made it here
You thought nobody cared, but we did, we could tell
And now you’ll dance through the days while the orchestra plays
And oh-oh oh-oh-oh oh-oh, you’re aging well.”

— Dar Williams, You’re Aging Well

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Ask Mom Mom: So You’re Hosting Thanksgiving

This week, Mom Mom was asked a question in person. All the more fun!

I ran into a friend at school the other day, and she shared that she was hosting her first big Thanksgiving for about twenty people and could use some advice/hand holding/Xanax. Like most people would be, she was a little anxious about…well, about the whole production of it all. Thanksgiving is not for sissies. Most people forgive and forget a bad meal on any given Tuesday, but Thanksgiving? That one stays with you. However, with a little planning and preparation, this can be one of your greatest victories.

Luck favors the prepared, darling. — Edna Mode, The Incredibles

Step 1: Menu Plan

This may seem obvious to some, but I am sure others are saying, “Turkey, stuffing, what plan?” NOW is the time to sit down with your food magazines or your DVRd Food Network shows or Google and DECIDE EXACTLY what will be going on your table.

Part A of this plan is deciding what category of food you want, and Part B is deciding which recipes you will use or which relatives you will ask to contribute. If I were hosting 20 people, my plan would look like this:

Light Appetizer (nothing to upstage my hard work)

Bread/Rolls

1 standard green vegetable

1 adventurous green vegetable

Corn

1 stuffing with sausage

1 vegetarian stuffing

Cranberry sauce

1 mashed potato dish

1 sweet potato dish

Turkey

2 pies

2 other desserts

Wine, Beer

Soft drinks

Coffee/tea

Once you’ve gotten all your food listed, it’s simply a matter of choosing your recipes. Remember, no need to be a martyr! If (and only if) your guests have offered to contribute, you can certainly shorten your list by delegating. Desserts are a good one to farm out. And if a trusted guest/cook can help you knock a potato off the list, all the better! Feel free to ask any questions in the comments, and I promise I will try my best to guide you.

Do the bulk of your shopping for non perishables the Friday or Saturday before Thanksgiving, and the earlier in the morning the better. Each passing hour, things get exponentially more crazy. But as bad as it will be on those two days, it will only get worse, so refer to your shopping list and knock out every single item you possibly can (soda, beer, wine, cheese, etc.) I am a huge fan of off-hours shopping, so shopping really early or really late helps preserve my sanity. Save your fresh vegetables and any other last minute items for the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. In a perfect world, you will have very little left on your list by that point.

Step 2: Logistics

This is a boring and often overlooked step, but let me assure you that it’s every bit as important. Make sure each one of your guests has a place to sit down and a proper place setting. It doesn’t have to be fine china, crystal or silver — warehouse clubs like BJs and Costco have nice quality disposables that are neutral enough to blend with your good stuff. If at all possible, give each guest a seat on a real chair and a real table rather than a sofa and coffee table. Sure, it’s fine to put your grandmother and the real dining room table and your eight year old at the fold-up card table, but to have some guests sit at a real table and others jockey for space on the sofa seems rude and unfair. Take the time to map out where people will be sitting, and if there is not obvious space available for everyone, tell them ahead of time where you expect them to eat. There is nothing worse than people with full plates in hand nomadically shuffling from room to room looking for an open spot to sit down. Everyone deserves a spot, and it’s your job to make sure they have one.

Step 3: Turkey, fresh or frozen?

This is a matter of personal preference. I have done both, and believe it or not, fresh has never come out significantly better. People are passionate on this subject, and I’m sorry, but I can’t take a firm stand based on taste. Obviously a humanely-raised-locally farmed-Montessori-educated-vegan-fed turkey is better for variety of reasons, most of which allow you to feel morally superior, but from a culinary standpoint? Eh, not so much in my book. Preparation is everything.

And by preparation, here is your reminder to order your fresh turkey N O W, especially if you require something in the neighborhood of 20 pounds or more. Don’t expect to waltz into the supermarket the Monday before Thanksgiving and pick up your 20+ pound turkey. It will be known as The Year You Made Two Twelve Pound Turkeys if you don’t plan ahead. There are a variety of turkey calculators online. Use them! You will be able to plug in your specifics and plan accordingly. For example, 15 adults and 5 kids who are big eaters would require a 26 pound turkey. If that turkey is frozen, it will take six and a half days to thaw in the refrigerator. Needless to say, these are not details you can just work out three days before Thanksgiving. Spend a few minutes today thinking about this.

Step 4: The Set Up

Start cleaning your house (or have someone else clean it for you) the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and leave the minor last minute touch up for Wednesday and Thursday. Wednesday night, set the table(s), move furniture to accommodate more tables, inspect/dust folding chairs, make sure table cloths are clean and fit. Inspect your china/crystal/silver and make sure it is clean and polished (or at least clean and sanitary). This always takes more time than you think it will, so do it the night before and save yourself some stress. I have been that person in cashmere and pearls cleaning a toilet while the first guest rang the doorbell. Learn from my mistakes.

Step 5: Food Prep

Bright and early Thursday morning, I like to go through each recipe and measure and chop ingredients ahead of time. It’s so much easier to make a stuffing with fourteen ingredients when they’ve all been prepped and measured and put into neat little baggies.

This is also the time where you fine tune your game plan and assign oven space. Before I got a double oven (and even some years after) I would use the oven of my neighbor across the street who would always travel during Thanksgiving. Most friendly neighbors are happy to lend you their ovens or refrigerators if they’re away, so that’s an option to consider. If not, you just have to work it out. It’s like a bad math problem: Sally has a turkey in the oven at 325 for five hours and it has to rest for 30 minutes. Once the turkey is out she has two dishes to cook, one at 375 for 30 minutes and one at 350 for 40 minutes...

The time to solve this sixth grade word problem is not when your guests have arrived and you’re drinking wine. Make your schedule with a sharp mind and a clear head, and stick to it accordingly.

Step 6: Enjoy your guests, enjoy your blessings

Take time to enjoy the day. Some of my best memories are of having Mom Mom and Pop Pop in my house for Thanksgiving. They were so happy and proud of all my hard work and enjoying their kids, grandkids and great-grandkids surrounding them. Watching the cousins play, seeing family from near and far, even if it’s just that one day a year, is so important. It’s a great honor to provide a venue for your family to gather, enjoy good food, and count their blessings. It is a big job, yes, but it is always worth the effort. Be thankful you are up to the challenge.

Ask Mom Mom: Contagious Kids

Dear Mom Mom,

What can one do when you have two children (first grade and middle school) and you get to the highly anticipated visit to see cousin who lives 3 hours away and has the lead in her middle school musical, and during the middle of the second act it becomes apparent that the first grader you have brought three hours in the van is feverish.  He makes it through the show but has now exposed that entire side of the family to whatever virus he has.  Can’t drive home at that hour so you give him fever reducer and put him to bed in the grandparents’ house and the next morning, no fever and he looks like he had never been sick, bouncing all over the place. I left town the next morning.

The problem I am faced with is that for the next week and a half I am going to be given a run down of all the people in that side of the family that he has gotten sick.  Do I just avoid all communication with that side of the family until they aren’t playing the stupid blame game and have forgotten who brought the plague to town?  I don’t think they mean ill intent but I always feel horrible.  I never would have intentionally infected an entire city if I had known ahead of time.  But this same group of people would have been equally upset if I had known ahead of time and had canceled, because I do cancel a lot.  The trips three hours away happen only about 4-6 times a year and the kids love their cousins.

Typhoid Mary’s Mom

Dear Typhoid Mary’s Mom:

I read your email several times, and each time I was reminded of two quotes by two wise women:

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. — Eleanor Roosevelt

Strep happens. — Mom Mom

I really can’t see how you did anything wrong. You may be a very powerful woman, but you cannot control the emergence or spreading of the world’s viruses and bacteria. Nothing in your email led me to believe you had any idea your child was sick, and once you did discover that, you left immediately. Plenty of people would have stayed if their child was feeling well the next day (hello!), but you went that extra mile in consideration. What else could have you done? Family is very important, and it’s great that you are willing to drive so far to support a cousin and promote these relationships for your kids. Your intentions are good, and you can hold your head high.

I can’t imagine anyone in their right mind would “blame” you for getting their children sick, intentionally or unintentionally, and therefore I would not avoid any phone contact or go into hiding. If anything, I would own it, saying something like, “I sure hope no one got sick from our brief visit. Fortunately it was a quick virus and our son bounced back immediately!”

Back in the playgroup days, there were two types of parents: The Crazy Bubble Parents and the normal ones. I am guessing maybe some of your relatives are the Crazy Bubble Parents? If I let our playgroup hostess know one of my kids had the sniffles or a lingering cough, the normal parents would say, “Eh, send ’em over if they’re feeling up to it! What can you do? Germs are everywhere. I might as well not go to Target if I care about germs touching me.” And the Crazy Bubble Parents would say, “Oh, I am so sorry Logan can’t come to our house. We’ll miss him at playgroup. I hope you called the doctor about that cold!”

You sound like a considerate person with good intentions who tries her best, and maybe you should explore why you are allowing these particular family members (or any people, period) make you feel bad when things turn out less than perfect. You wouldn’t want your children to feel this way, and you shouldn’t feel this way either.

Ask Mom Mom: Bad BFF

Dear Mom Mom,

This is a hard email to write. I think I have to break up with my BFF. We’ve been friends since second grade, and we’re now in our early 30s. I’m starting to realize — without going into too many details — that she has values that I just don’t approve of, and I’m not talking silly things like bad taste in tv, I’m talking major MAJOR things. I just don’t know how I can be friends anymore with someone who is so self absorbed, narcissistic and morally bankrupt, and I wonder if she was always this way and I just never saw it. Now that I have kids, suddenly these character flaws are a big deal to me.

Do we need to have the Big Talk or can I just end this quietly or what? I absolutely hate confrontation. Help!

Bad BFF

Dear Bad BFF (but good person),

Wow, so many things that I want to say, but I am trying hard to avoid dissertation mode and put you all to sleep. Also, the gossipy 7th grader in me is DYING to know the particulars of this, so feel free to email me, and I promise to keep it confidential. But really, I have enough information here to go on, and the details are not especially relevant, as you’ve made your feelings very clear.

To start with your question, no, I don’t think it is necessary to have a Big Official Talk. You may note if you’ve read some of my other advice that sometimes I do advocate being direct (my family may use the word ‘blunt’) and having difficult conversations when necessary, but in this case, I do not. I fail to see any good that can come out of such a conversation.

When people show you who they are, believe them. — Dr. Phil

All that matters is that your friend is behaving in a way that you don’t respect, and that’s an indication of her character. She is not going to change. She has shown you who she is. Believe her.

Our free time is a precious commodity, and choosing to spend it with people who bring you down or raise your blood pressure is not necessary. That is definitely one of the benefits of being a grown woman. I do think we are programmed from an early age to always play nice and ignore unpleasant traits in others, but as you wrote, having children changes your perspective.

How do you achieve this? Keep the phone calls short and the dates to a minimum. Being a parent offers the handy excuse of blaming things on kids which we want to get out of! Many relationships change and evolve over time, and that includes your childhood best friend. This is a person you may choose to always have in your life in some capacity, and that’s okay. But it’s clear your are ready for this person to take a less important role, and that’s okay, too.

I think if you do continue the relationship, it’s fine to speak the truth and not feel compelled to uphold the BFF Code of Unconditional Support. Certainly don’t hesitate to say things like, “I think it’s wrong to cheat on your taxes and stupid to brag about it,” or, “Maybe you should try marriage counseling before sleeping around?”

Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind. — Dr. Seuss

Ask Mom Mom: Ugly Hair, Tacky Clothes, Little Kids

Dear Mom Mom,

My nine year old daughter has “questionable” taste in clothes, shoes and hair. I know she’s only following the current trends which she sees at school and on tv, but I hate to support and promote ugly and tacky clothing which looks cheap and may give people the wrong impression about my daughter. Of course, she claims I’m the only mom in the world who won’t let her have a colorful hair extension. Am I wrong for wanting my daughter to look like a sweet little girl and not an edgy teen?

TC in DC

Dear TC,

The best parenting book I ever read was Kids Are Worth It by Barbara Coloroso. If you are only going to read one parenting book in your life, read this one. One of the many worthwhile premises of this book is that, whenever possible, we have to allow kids to make their own choices and learn from their own mistakes, as long as what they are choosing isn’t illegal, immoral or unsafe. That simple phrase right there has been invaluable in teaching me when to step in and when to stay out.

Is hair illegal, immoral or unsafe? No, not usually. If it was Nazi skinhead hair, then we could wave our immoral flag and heartily veto it. But simple hair choices: short, long, colorful or even unbrushed? Let it go. (I can feel my mom fainting at the unbrushed part from here). Kids need to figure out their own style identity and that’s one of the few choices they get to make in a world where much is already decided for them.

Does that mean you can’t attempt to gently influence these fashion choices? Of course not! And taking it a step further, I don’t think you have to pay for colorful hair if you don’t personally care for it. I quickly learned that my mom would pay for clothes she liked, so I often tried to meet her halfway and find something that worked for both of us. However, even if you HATE it (and it’s not illegal, immoral or unsafe) give your daughter the opportunity to pay for half of it herself by using her allowance, birthday money, or earning money through doing extra household jobs. She will have the added benefit of working towards something she wants, and you can proudly tell your friends, “She paid for that hair with her own money.” Win-win!

Ask Mom Mom: When Grownups Hit

Dear Mom Mom,

Recently a very good friend of mine started to go through divorce proceedings with her husband.  She has been talking about it for years, and finally, after he got physically abusive with her she decided to do it.  I was very supportive (for years), and helped her find an attorney, went with her to the attorney, went with her to court, and have had her daughter spend a lot of time at my house, while she goes to meetings and sorts things out.

Last weekend she asked if her daughter could stay the weekend, which is fine, she’s a lovely girl and our daughters are the best of friends.  But, her reason was that she and her husband were going to spend the day together.  The divorce had turned really ugly, and he was going after her with everything he had.  He finally realized what it was doing to the kids, and agreed to put everything on hold.  The whole family is in counseling, which I thought was great, and now I realize that they are actually doing marriage counseling, and even though she originally said it was just so they could co-parent, now I’m understanding that there is a chance that they could get back together.

I want what is best for her, and he is not.  I understand her desire to keep the family together, but he is not a good person, and even though I believe he is trying, I can’t help but feel he has an ulterior motive and I worry she will go back to being the abused wife.  I want to be supportive, but this is hard for me.  For once, I have held my tongue, and I actually avoided her all week.  I know I can’t just ignore it, but should I tell her how I feel?  I don’t think she will dump me as a friend, but her husband scares me a bit, and I worry about his reaction to me and how much I’ve helped her in the past.

Signed,

Perplexed in Portland

Dear Perplexed,

First, kudos to you for being the kind of friend every woman needs! Clearly you are a smart, caring person who wants to do the right thing, and when you start from that place, you rarely go wrong.

I think you are correct in laying low for a bit. While I do believe that sometimes people can change, I also believe that it is very rare for people to change. We have to give this man credit for attempting to save his marriage and do right by his kids, but only time will tell if he is capable of this. The burden of proof is now on him.

I think you need to be honest with your friend, as hard as a conversation as that will be. I would tell her you value your friendship but you’re uncomfortable associating with her husband at this stage in the game, so you prefer your contact with the family be limited to your friend and her daughter. Say it clearly and firmly, with no room for misinterpretation. I don’t blame you for wanting to avoid a man who is capable of getting physically abusive with a woman and who has a history of not managing his emotions. Perhaps by you modeling appropriate boundaries and self respect, your friend will be inspired to seek the sort of treatment she and her daughter deserve.

Setting boundaries is the secret to dealing with the important relationships in your life. It is not judging others for their choices, rather it’s honoring your own comfort level in different situations. When you know who you are and what you stand for, and you are not afraid to live by those principles, you are less apt to be dragged into other people’s drama. As I tell my kids, “Everyone gets to make their own choices.” And you, my dear Perplexed, are included in that everyone.  Choose to honor your gut instincts and stay away from a man you don’t trust and don’t respect. Support your friend, but avoid her husband. Will your friendship change? Undoubtedly it will. But all relationships evolve over time, and this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Ask Mom Mom: Loud Talkers

Dear Mom Mom,

I have a friend I meet regularly for coffee or lunch.  She is a lovely person but VERY loud.  It is very uncomfortable and awkward to be out in public with her talking so loudly. She doesn’t filter what she says, and will occasionally rant about her husband or talk about personal problems (a difficulty of its own category) in  her huge booming voice.  Recently I was so uncomfortable that I actually said “Shhhh” to her.  I have tried the “Oh, let’s talk about that later” or “Goodness, there are so many people here, let’s talk about this later” but it doesn’t have much effect. 

I don’t want to have to only meet her outdoors where she can’t scare everyone off but I am starting to avoid her invitations.

Thanks,

Wishing for Earplugs

Dear Earplugs,

I see that you have already gently and tactfully tried to help your friend find her inside voice, but to no avail.

I can really relate to this dilemma. I think I had the same friend, except we used to go out as couples to nice restaurants, and we were those loud obnoxious people laughing uproariously or complaining a little too loudly about the service or gossiping about our neighbors. I always felt like we were the grownup equivalent of crying toddlers in an expensive restaurant, and I could feel the daggers coming through the eyes of our fellow diners. I also wondered if the waitstaff didn’t put a little extra something-something in her soup on occasion. But I was so torn, because this woman really was so much fun and (public embarrassment aside) I enjoyed hanging out with her.

We cannot change people, but we can change the venue. I do think this is one of those relationships where the right venue matters. I know you said you don’t want to meet outdoors, but maybe if you could switch your outings to a mall food court or even one of your own houses for coffee or lunch, you might feel more comfortable. Think outside the box in terms of suggesting places where her loudness would not be a disturbance. I have also found that people like that are fun to work out with. Bars are another option.

What you cannot do is tell her point blank that she is too loud and she embarrasses you, even though this is true. Can you say no when she wants to meet at the new quaint little tea shop in town? Yes. Can you suggest a loud place to meet next time? Yes. Can you yourself speak in barely more than a whisper in hope she will follow suit (old toddler trick, by the way)? Yes.  But if you wish to preserve your friendship, and I think you do, you simply cannot tell her she is a loud talker and she embarrasses you in public. Not that you would.

Ask Mom Mom: The Older Bridesmaid

Dear Mom Mom, 

I’ve been asked to be in my cousin’s wedding.  She’s getting married for the first time at 45 and is very excited to have the big shebang wedding she always wanted.  I’m happy for her, I hope it’s everything she dreams…but I’m 44 and I do not want to wear a matchy taffeta gown.  I do not want to pony up lord-knows-what for an unattractive, silly dress I’ll never wear again.  Part of me thinks “it’s her dream, help her live it, stop whining” and part of me thinks “pay your bills, decline gracefully, wear a dress you already own.”  What do you think?  Can I get out of it?  If so, how?
Too Old For This

Dear Too Old,

I absolutely understand the pain and shame of those sherbert colored monstrosities called bridesmaid’s gowns, as I have quite a collection of them myself. Most people over the age of 30 look ridiculous in them, even though the bride will tell you otherwise. Don’t believe her. Ugly bridesmaids = Beautiful bride.

But here’s the thing. Assuming this cousin is a special person in your life, you will have to suck it up (and suck it in) and deal. This day is not about you, my dear. Life only gives us a handful of very special days and very special memories that will last until our nursing home stint, and weddings are one of those days. To be a part of someone’s very special day is a great honor and not one we should brush off for the virtue of fiscal responsibility or the sin of vanity.

If money is really, truly an issue, do not hesitate to share this concern with the bride. Tell her you would be honored to be part of her day but can only spend $X on a dress. I know I would not have wanted any of my bridesmaids to suffer a financial hardship in the name of attending my wedding, and the bride will likely tweak her wedding budget a bit to help you purchase the dress. Of course, this is very different than you just not wanting to waste your money, and I would only have such a conversation if a true hardship existed.

On the bright side, think of the amusing pictures and great stories you can share with your friends. And perhaps Mom Mom is old fashioned, but taking part in a day which celebrates love and commitment really is one of life’s great pleasures. You are a special enough person to be included in such an important ceremony, and I hope you can take time to enjoy it.