Wedding Mantras for Mothers of the Bride

Over the string of months that I held mother-of-the-bride status, I adopted a few mantras to help me keep the crazy under control. These came in handy, say, when I would lie awake and sift through the midnight mental flotsam that would wash ashore in a panic of what-ifs and to-dos. Or when the low-grade stress of helping to coordinate a wedding weekend from the other side of the world eroded the joy of the whole thing. These are mindset reboots I found helpful rather than specific tips on planning a wedding--although at some point I'm sure Sarah and I will share some hints & lessons learned along with some of the details from both weddings. So here are my notes to self, wedding mantras to remember for next time. I didn't master them but they were helpful reminders:

Love, love, love: Invoke this mantra often. This whole wedding undertaking is ultimately about celebrating the love, marriage, and sprouting of a little two-person seedling of a family. Try and infuse the process with love--from your hundreds of coordinating texts & chats with your daughter to your communications with all of the families, your interactions with vendors, and your deliberations about the budget. Let go of the pressure to plan a perfect Pinterest wedding-to-impress and focus on creating an atmosphere where the couple and their guests will feel the love. They'll all remember how they felt that day much longer than they'll remember any little nitty gritty detail, anyway. 

She's the president, I'm the chief of staff: (i.e., Let it go/it's not my wedding): It's hard. In some ways this feels like familiar territory--like another party you're throwing for your child, kind of a birthday/graduation celebration on steroids. You might be used to calling the shots and making all the choices.'s not your wedding. Even if you're paying the invoices, it's still not your wedding. Follow your daughter's lead on how much involvement and advice to give.  She's the president, you're the chief of staff. (Also, related mantra: it's his wedding, too.)

Tiny scene in a long play: You're starting out a brand new relationship with a new son and your daughter's inlaws, don't start it with hassles over some little wedding details. The wedding day comes and goes but their marriage will last much much longer than that. Not only that, but this wedding marks the beginning of a new configuration of your own family, with a new son joining your crew forever more. When it comes down to it, choose to invest in building positive relationships over clashing or gnashing teeth on the logistics of party planning. After all...

It's just a party: This helped rein in my wedding anxiety sometimes. Hey, it's just a party! One night with friends and family. It's a big party but still. Just a party. Don't give in to the crazy.

The arrow has flown: I remember a few days before I got married my mom came home from someone else's reception and said "Annie!  we forgot to order the paper napkins with your names embossed on them!" (These were popular then. Are they still a thing? If so, we forgot to order them this time, too.) Meh. At that point the wedding arrow had left the bow and was on its way to the target; there was no point in chasing it down. Likewise, at a certain point you've done all the planning and arranging.  If something pops up in the last few days, fix it and/or forget it. It's time to just let the plan unfold and ENJOY IT. The arrow has flown. 

Serenity now!: Just kidding. That's the Seinfeld mantra. But it's a good generic one in a pinch.

What else? I'd love to add more mantras to my supply. What mantras have helped you in times of stress/planning/weddings?

photo by Chelsie Starley Photography

Building community -- one meatball at a time

Annie's last post on the shrinking family hit me hard. My third child is a senior this year, so I'm reluctantly heaving myself aboard the she's-leaving-home-soon roller coaster. But for now, Maddie is home for a few weeks from New York, and Jordan arrives in Houston on Sunday. Then, for ten glorious days, I'll have all of my chicks under my roof. And then they will leave me. I find it all very rude.

As we've adjusted to our own shrinking family, we've found that the quiet (while often welcome) can, at times, become deafening. Also, we need people. And perhaps it's these very holes in our lives that made an idea like Friday Night Meatballs all the more appealing -- hopeful even.

Photo by   carina romano  via  serious eats

Here's the story of Friday Night Meatballs: A couple in Philadelphia instituted a tradition of weekly Friday night meatball dinners to connect with family and friends -- and in so doing expanded their community on a global level (they have pics of people in the Ukraine having Friday Night Meatballs). Sarah Grey, the mastermind behind Friday Night Meatballs, sent out a Facebook message informing friends of the new tradition and asking for participants. Each week they had folks sign up, Sarah's husband Joe mixed up a pot of sauce and meatballs, and they had an informal but lively get-together that Sarah describes as "a comforting, relaxing, energizing cross between a Shabbat dinner, a salon, and a playdate." 

It was "salon" that got me. I've always wanted to host a salon.

The cool part about Friday Night Meatballs is that you can connect with your regulars -- your family and close friends -- but it's also an opportunity to get to know other people, those further outside one's immediate "group." The Greys have people sign up online (I'm sure in a safe and responsible forum), so they get a variety of interesting folks. And voila! Their circle expands! 

The recipe is simple and delicious (the meatballs can be made and frozen ahead of time). A few Sundays ago we had several families over after church to give the recipe a test-run, and I can testify that the meatballs were a success. And while I cannot wholly commit to Friday Night Meatballs on Friday nights in the crush of football season, I'm intrigued with the idea of branching out, moving beyond my comfort zone, meeting new and interesting people. Maybe in this season of shrinking and reworking our family life, marinara is one simple answer. If I cooked up a pot of meatballs, would you come? 

Turn (45) for what?

Let's talk about birthdays. They just keep coming and I just keep turning whatever number I'm given. In previous years I've never been too hung up on the actual number I'm turning--and I actually really love this decade that starts with 4. Still, when I turned 45 a couple of weeks ago I was surprised that I did stutter over it a bit! 

The birthday itself was really great. I got to have two days' worth of birthday wishes--my Australian birthday and my American one. G had conducted sneaky reconnaissance on my Pinterest boards and had thoughtfully chosen some things that I had been secretly (but not so secretly, after all) pining for, like:  

  • three lovely thin silver stacking rings ("one for each child!" I happily exclaimed when I unwrapped them. "....Um, yeah!" Greg almost successfully improvised),
  • a luscious fountain pen,
  • a wooden pineapple-shaped chalkboard (because I sometimes text my signature celebratory pineapple emoji to my kids).

That guy is pretty fluent in my love languages by now, one of which is thoughtful (not expensive, not outrageous, just lovingly selected) gift giving. And maybe I have finally internalized that you have to actually articulate your expectations rather than expecting miracles of mind reading and other such sorcery. (Remember last year's birthday lesson?

And yet 45 was unexpectedly hard! I had planted it in my head that it's pretty much smack dab middle age. And it kind of is, you know? (If I'm lucky, that is.)  It feels like a time for re-evaluation and recalibration and reorientation. Lots of re.  It's a time to wash the metaphorical laundry midway through this mortal journey before repacking it all up again and figuring out the path ahead. Dante nailed it:

In the middle of the journey of our life
I found myself astray in a dark wood
where the straight road had been lost 


G and I went to lunch that day and I confessed and warned him that that precise, particular moment--the noontime on my 45th birthday--marked the apex of my life. All downhill from here, buddy. Undaunted, he seems convinced that the next 45 can be pretty terrific and is willing to continue to blaze the trail ahead a couple of years.

It's just a day, this birthday, another in the long string of days I'm blessed to have. Still, it has me a bit more tender than usual. Passages in books have me weepy with love for the beauty of words and the accompanying twinge to string together a few of my own--almost an anticipatory regret if I don't find my voice and just do it. And my dissertation is ripening on the shelf. And I want to walk places, see things, deepen my compassion and cultivate my corner of the garden. I'm reading Wendell Berry's book Hannah Coulter (so good!); midway through Hannah says "I began to know my story then."

45 sounds as good a time as any, yes?

What's your approach to birthdays and turning another year older? Do you celebrate or mourn? And, perhaps more importantly, what's your signature emoji?

p.s. Parts of this post appeared first in a birthday post on my personal blog last week so if it sounded familiar to some of you, that's why. Yup, I stole liberally from myself. 

Group game idea: Occupations

A while back we played a fun and easy, new-to-us group game called Occupations. I love a game that can include everyone from the very youngest, bright-eyed players to the very oldest, wisest ones; this is one of those times when "fun for all ages" is actually genuinely true. When we played it was at a party with several families--the youngest kids were about 6, the oldest kids were 18-19, and the parents topped off the range (*cough* 40-something). Everyone had a blast.

Gratuitous Richard Scarry picture placement. I have Busytown nostalgia. My kids loved these books.

Gratuitous Richard Scarry picture placement. I have Busytown nostalgia. My kids loved these books.

Here's the lowdown:

Equipment: a slip of paper for each player (and enough pens to use) and a basket/bowl/bucket

Skills: memory and good guessing

To win: remember the occupations list, correctly guess, and be the last one standing whose occupation has not been guessed

1. Everyone sits in a circle. Have each player write down an occupation on a slip of paper, fold it, and put it in the basket without telling or showing anyone what's on it. (The occupations can be real or invented, silly or serious. I think our bank of jobs ranged from "elephant poop picker upper" to "cashier." It doesn't have to be what you are or what you want to be--just any occupation.) 

2. After all the slips are in the basket, one person reads through them out loud. The group should listen carefully because it's the only time they'll hear all of the occupations and being able to remember them is important when you play the game. (When we played, the person read through them twice because we had 30-40 people and a LOT to remember.)

3. The youngest person in the group starts off the game by taking a guess what someone in the circle wrote ("Dad, are you the "circus clown"?)

4. If she's correct, that guessed person joins the guesser as a member of her team  and she (the guesser) gets to guess again. If she's not correct, the turn moves to the person on her left.

5. When you correctly guess the occupation of someone who's already part of a team, the whole guessed person's team joins the guesser's team. Teams are led by the guesser who's still "active" in the game (that is, whose occupation has not yet been correctly guessed) but the teammates can give advice and suggestions.

6. The last person standing (whose occupation hasn't been guessed) wins.

Hint: The more the merrier with this one! You want plenty of players, enough so it's hard to remember all the occupations. 

What group games do you love to play at your house? Any suggestions for teen gatherings? Mixed ages?

A few good gems

Less than two weeks till Christmas! I'm 88% finished with my Christmas shopping, and 100% fired up for the big day. Our best gift will be a Skyped conversation with our daughter in France. I hope I can hold it together and don't turn into a sobbing mess when I see her. I'm giving sobbing mess a 94% chance.

But there's still time to seize the season, so to speak. Here are a few good gems in case you need a little inspiration.

So, it's pretty much decided. I'm making this awesome peppermint bark as my friend & neighbor gift this year. Still need to find some cute containers.

I absolutely love this little kindergarten girl. She signs her entire holiday program for her deaf parents. She's a doll, and for some reason it made me kind of teary that she was translating the entire thing for them. 

via  SweetPaul

For your holiday dinner -- antlers on placecards! What could be better?

Remember when I posted about Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge? Read about the books that meant the most to Elizabeth Strout in 2013. Really the entire series, of A Year in Reading: 2013, is undeniably cool.

Without doubt, O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi" is my favorite Christmas-time short story. I've forgone Madeline's Christmas and most of the kiddie Christmas books in our collection, but I do require an annual reading of this book. We have this illustrated version. But you can download the story (along with other O. Henry classics) here.

Check out this NYT's article on how to minimize the material aspects of Christmas -- how to have a great holiday with LESS STUFF. Be sure to check out the comments where other parents weigh in.

That's it guys! Have a great weekend. Stay warm!

Turkey hangover

thanksgiving2013 web.jpg

I had fully intended to come up with a long, windy list of fabulous links for this Friday after Thanksgiving. But somehow, Thanksgiving morphed into a three-day, non-stop event that took me far from my computer (well, into the kitchen anyway). I haven't cooked a Thanksgiving dinner in YEARS, and I wanted to do this one up right -- wanted my kids to remember beauty, and laughter, and tons of food. I think we hit it pretty darn close. In the middle of it all I remembered that it's just as bonding to work with my family as it is to vacation with them. So, check, for now on 'teaching kids to work', and now let's move onto playing.

And just so you don't think I'm living in la-la land over here, let me detail to you the worldly amidst the wonder. 

  1. Last Sunday our dishwasher developed this malady wherein you press start and it starts . . . but then about 10 minutes into the cycle it MAY decide to turn itself off. So, you press start again. AND, it may run the whole way . . . or may turn off in ten minutes. Frankly, it's tired. We went to three different stores, none of which could get us a new dishwasher by Thanksgiving. 
  2. I bought two fresh turkeys on Tuesday and put them in the refrigerator in the garage. On Wednesday night I went to get something out of that refrigerator and had the feeling that it wasn't quite cool enough. Hmmmm. We took the kids out to dinner (which ended up taking FOREVER), and I mentioned to Sterling my refrigeration concerns. After dinner, Sterling ran to Walmart to buy a refrigerator temp gauge. 47 degrees!!! Oops. So, at 11:00 PM on WEDNESDAY NIGHT, Sterling had to go out in search of two fresh turkeys. Luckily, he found them easily. But I had an anxiety attack for about 27 minutes.
  3. Right in the throes of cooking on Thursday morning, the ignitor on our gas stove goes beserk. It will NOT stop firing. Sterling digs around in the cabinetry to unplug the ignitor -- after which we have to light the burners manually. I was all, "This is just like Little House on the Prarie!" Sterling reminded me that the Ingalls did not have a gas stove. Oh. Right.

But guess what? We overcame faulty appliances and put out a massive feast (and were still all friends by the end)!! It was incredibly gratifying to work side-by-side with my family to make this holiday happen. I was exhausted, but I did sleep in a bit this morning to recover.


Happy Holidays to all of our readers!!

A few good gems

Egon Schiele, Crescent of Houses, 1915

Egon Schiele, Crescent of Houses, 1915

Welcome, weekend! I'm ready for you. This week has been a bit of a doozy BUT, as of today, the kids are done with the high pressures of exam week here (it's almost the end of the school year for Aussie students) and G just arrived back from his 2-week transcontinental business trip so I'm looking forward to some good, relaxed weekend vibes. But first, here are a few things to launch you into the weekend (and a couple for next week for you Thanksgiving celebrants):

- Try this experiment to become a morning person.

- Are children like dogs and teens like cats

- Learning to let your children reveal themselves (and, relatedly, remember our show me who you are post?)

- When my teen needs a ride

- Lots of truth in this post about mastery and choices and piano lessons: "Look, the truth is that your kid can't be a black belt in karate and a ski racer and a soccer player and a pianist and an "A" student and a dancer and in the school can go broad or you can go deep; that's your choice. But you need to know that learning to play the piano takes place in the deep end of the ocean."

- Make an easy Thanksgiving garland

Instead of candles at the kids' table, you could make (or they could make) and use these adorable paper pyramid lanterns

photo via  Willowday

photo via Willowday

- And I'll leave you with this gem from the inimitable Erma Bombeck: "The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another's desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together." 

Enjoy your own band of characters this weekend! See you back here on Monday. xx