Girls in white dresses…..

In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.

-Albert Camus

To say that I’m thrilled that it is the end of January would be an understatement.  It is Sunday as I write this, and the wind is rattling the house.  Our furnace works to keep up with the falling temperatures outside, the dog glares at me accusingly each time she comes in from outside, and I am, in a word, Grouchy. So grouchy, in fact, that I should probably change my name to Oscar.  And live in a garbage can.

I live with a good man.  He knows that I take winter personally. And so,  he brings me candy bars from town, hoping to sweeten up the old crow he’s currently married to. I force a weak smile and a thank you for these small kindnesses, feeling foolish for being such a pain in the you-know-what about something over which human beings have no control -the weather.  For the second time this month, the prairie where I used to live is having a full-blown, close all the highways, batten down the hatches, hide the women and children kind of blizzard today.  It looks like the kids in the Twin Cities might be getting another day off from school tomorrow, too.

And so, when I’m not growling and grouching, I have been going through old photo albums in a feeble attempt to organize and control one small corner of my life. Yesterday, I came upon a familiar photo taken in front of the house nestled in a grove of red and white pines near Max that was homesteaded by my ancestors in the early 1900’s.  Based upon the age of my grandmother and her younger brother in the picture, it seems to have been taken around 1912 or 1913.  It was a sunny day and my grandmother is wearing a frilly white dress, squinting into the sunshine.   The adults in the photo look about as happy as most Scandinavians do when things aren’t awful.  Based upon a little research I’ve done, they had survived some pretty awful weather a few months before the photo was taken.

Because January, 1912 was one for the record books, according to Dr. Mark Seeley, University of Minnesota Extension professor of meteorology and climatology in his article, “The Great Cold Wave of 1912”  (www.farmprogress.com). According to Seeley, that month in 1912 still ranks as the coldest, with temps barely reaching above zero throughout most of the state for the entire month. The author writes about the ways that the frigid temps impacted transportation and how major waterways like the mighty Red River  froze to depths of 32 inches, which no doubt made for great ice block harvesting, if nothing else. It wasn’t just a little cold.  It was a LOT cold. It was constantly cold. All thirty-one days of it!  And the rest of the winter of 1912 was much better, according to the article.

As I read about trains and street cars frozen to tracks and the lack of coal needed in urban areas during the coldest month of all, I thought about that photo of my ancestors outside the tiny, two room cabin in the Big Woods they’d called home. I wondered how they ever made it through a winter in a two room log structure with virtually no insulation, a wood stove, a hand pump for their fresh water supply and not one, but two little children.  What must that winter have been like for them and all of the other  families who homesteaded here? It is humbling to think of as  I sit here in a warm house with an electric thermostat I can turn up to fight the chill that tries to settle in my bones.

I will never be a lover of the cold.  And I’m pretty sure my partner hasn’t seen the last of Oscar. But I’m going to work a little harder on being a little more grateful not only for what I do have, but for what I don’t, as I count the days toward springtime, one of my favorite things.

Mom Jeans

I have watched a lot of old black and white  “Classic” movies from the 1930’s and 40’s lately.  I find them oddly comforting in the same way that things like heating pads and oatmeal do during January.  The plots are simple, good usually triumphs in the end, and best of all, NONE  of the women are wearing blue jeans.

If you are a woman past the age of 50, it is nearly impossible to find a decent pair of blue jeans.  I know this for a fact because I’ve been on the hunt and I have  noticed an alarming trend.    A lot of the jeans for more mature women are embellished on the back side.  And a lot of them have big, sparkly, back pockets.

I have been perfectly happy with plain old blue jeans since the 1970’s.  The simpler the better.  I want them to fit me decently. I want them to be comfortable.  I want them not to shrink two sizes after the first washing.   Here’s what I don’t want.  I do not want Bling on my back side.

I saw one pair yesterday that had so many silver sequins on the rear end that a woman wearing them could stand in for a lighthouse on the shore of Lake Superior if she was so inclined simply by climbing up on a cliff during a full moon and twirling around slowly in a circle while screaming at the top of her lungs.  Who WEARS these things?  And who decided that trying to get older women to buy 80 dollar pairs of blue jeans with silver sequins on the butt was a good idea?  Oh sure, if you’re say, sixteen years old, they might be cute.  However,  there is nothing cute about a grandmother with a flashy Booty. Just sayin’.

I wonder what my grandmother, a woman who loved classic, well-tailored clothing would think of these Fancy Granny Pants.  Every couple of months she would get the itch to take a road trip  to Bemidji to visit the woolen mill where she would meander through the stacks of finely woven fabrics, wool blankets and cashmere sweaters in a trance, stopping occasionally to murmur,  “Oh!  Just look at this one!” to nobody in particular as she caressed a collar, checked a lining, or admired a perfectly sewn seam.  The outings were more of a pilgrimage or trip back in time for her since she rarely bought anything.  Her whole life, she yearned to be the type of seamstress her own mother had been. During the Depression a couple of yards of fabric and a picture torn from a movie magazine was all it took for my great-grandmother to duplicate the  dresses her two daughters coveted. The ones worn by the leading ladies of the Silver Screen.

It is getting more and more difficult to find clothing for women of a certain age who would prefer not to look ridiculous (or like a lighthouse) isn’t it?  The actresses in those classic films of the 30’s and 40’s always looked fabulous even when the plot lines left a lot to be desired.

And as for those flashy jeans with the sparkly pockets?  I’ll pass.  I can’t imagine anything more uncomfortable than driving all the way to Bemidji with sequins digging into my back side, can you?

Me? Worry?

Some people are Master Gardeners.  I am a Master Worrier.   Just ask my kids.

Now that they are off at school,  I don’t know what they’re doing unless they call and tell me.  And every Master Worrier knows that the only thing better than having real things to worry about is creating imaginary things to worry about.  This is my specialty. In fact, if there was a Hall of Fame for Moms Who Worry About Stuff That Will Never Actually Happen, I’d have my own statue.  I would be holding bubble wrap.

When they were little, my worrying didn’t annoy them nearly as much as it does now.  This is because they still thought I knew stuff and besides, let’s face it…. they didn’t have anyone to compare me to.   Here is a partial list of the things I spent a great deal of time worrying about back then:

1. I worried on the first day of kindergarten that they would forget where they lived and not know when to get off the school bus and I’d never see them again.

2. I worried that if I let them “cry it out” at nap time that their heads would explode.  I blame this particular neurosis on my grandmother who, in response to my sister’s assertion that “no kid ever died from crying too much” once glared at her and replied, “you don’t know that for sure” as she sided with her great- grandson about naps.

3. I worried that they would take candy from strangers, get kidnapped, shipped to another country, and sold into slavery where they would have to make tennis shoes for the rest of their lives.

4. I worried that they’d get worms from kissing the dog on the lips and/or eating raw cookie dough.

5. I worried that sending them to school when it was below zero would cause them to get frostbite on their cute little ears. And then I worried that the doctors would have a hard time finding replacement ear lobes.

6. I worried that instituting “quiet time” in their bedrooms when they were past the age of napping would make them hate being in their bedrooms.

7. I worried that they’d fall head first down the long flight of stairs in our house and end up with brain damage.

None of these things happened.  They reached adulthood without crossed eyes, worms,  or cavities. Their ear lobes? Fine.  During the teen years, they almost never left their bedrooms.    Seems kind of silly, right?

I’m pretty sure that having a Mother Who Worries Too Much is a major factor in why many kids leave home to go to college. After eighteen years they need a break.  After all, when they are somewhere else, mothers like me have a harder time acting that nuts which must be a tremendous relief.

And so,  these days, I’m left to try to imagine worst case scenarios on my own.  This week, a video of a toddler in a park being picked up by an eagle and then dropped a few yards after take off was going around on the internet.  It is a fake, I realize this.

But I have to admit.  I’m still glad my kids are too big to get picked up by a giant bird.  Because, well, you don’t know for sure that this couldn’t happen, do you? DO YOU?

And so it goes…..

Selfies

Who is the most beautiful woman you know?

Yesterday, because it was just too darn cold to do much of anything else,  I sat down, put my feet up and logged into the Book of Face to see who else was wasting time.  We all know that there are only two reasons the social network continues to exist.  The first one is to waste time.  And the second one, if you are younger than say, about thirty, is to post “Selfies” (photos of yourself taken by yourself)  so that everyone on your Friends list can see you staring into your own camera lens looking a. bored, b. pensive, c. sexy, or d. like a duck.

A confession. I hate having my picture taken.  I would hate taking my own picture even more. How does one smile naturally when one knows precisely when the photo is going to be taken?  I can’t even smile naturally when it’s a complete surprise!  I can only think of about three photos of myself  I’ve ever really liked.  I was a toddler in two of them.   So, there you go.

Many of the Selfies posted online are taken by young women. I’ve had the  psychology behind this explained to me…about how young women post these hoping that the photos will garner numerous “likes” from others.  This validation is a powerful and dangerous thing, in my opinion.  It’s also a set up.  I believe that any female who looks in the mirror and believes that who she is and what she is worth can be measured by how others rate her physical beauty on any given day in the hundreds of days she will spend on the planet is bound to lose more than she gains.

Besides,  I belong to the last generation of human beings on Earth who still knows what a flashbulb was and remembers the old Polaroid pictures that came out of the bottom of the camera wet, smelled like chemicals as they dried, and then faded and peeled off the backing about a month after they were taken. Today, most photos are taken either on cell phones or digital cameras.  Don’t like a certain picture? Delete it!  Take twenty more and still don’t like any of them?  Delete…delete…delete!  Not happy with that mole on your face? Your chin?  Think your eyes are too small? Too big? Too far apart?? There’s an app for that, Ladies.

Frankly, all this “fixing” and Photoshopping of young women’s faces and bodies by the young women themselves troubles me.  What does it mean?

I wish I could tell them this…

The most beautiful women I’ve known throughout my life have also been the most generous and the funniest and by far, the most interesting.  They are the women who care about others. They are readers and artists and thinkers of big ideas.  They know that the number on the scale or the size on the label inside their blue jeans do not define who they are.  They are perfectly imperfect. Perfectly. Imperfect. They know without a shadow of doubt that the only “like” they need is the one they give to themselves every day when they look in the mirror regardless of what they look like. And this is what makes them beautiful.

Because I’ve been around and while I may not know much, this I know for sure. What is on the outside of all of us is fleeting and temporary and so very unimportant. I would urge them to remember this every day for the rest of their lives and then to relax, love deeply, laugh loudly, cry more, nurture everything, and dance their way through this one perfect life they’ve been given because it goes way too fast and there’s no time..no TIME to waste on such nonsense, really.

And I’d tell them to lay off the Selfies, wean themselves from the addiction to affirmation from a society so fickle and shallow and coarse.  They’re better than that. They deserve better than that.

And they are worth infinitely more.