Monday, August 11, 2014

From the nursery to the dorm room

I remember before our first child was born, I spent hours upon hours imagining, planning and decorating his nursery to welcome him home. Craig and I settled on a stars and moon theme for the room and I started purchasing everything with constellations I could find.

Of course this was early in our marriage when we were dirt poor, living off of the humblest of salaries while we finished graduate school. Let’s just say we ate a lot of Ramen.

So I did what every poor, non-crafty person does: I found crafty friends to help. One friend helped me make the bedding for the crib out of dark blue fabric with metallic gold stars on it; another friend helped me refurbish a hand-me-down chest of drawers so we could paint it like a dark, cloudy sky and then stencil gold stars on it; another friend helped me make curtains to match the crib bedding.

I then went in search of quotes that referenced the stars and sky and created them into wall hangings.

So why did we spend months in advance of our baby’s birth painstakingly decorating his nursery? Because we wanted this little bundle of joy to know from the moment he opened his eyes each morning that he was loved, safe and home.

Last weekend, however, when it was time to pack up that little “baby’s” room for college, we were done in a matter of hours.

How did that happen?

We went from Lego pieces strewn across the floor, a life-size Han Solo figure and a Yoda talking doll (sorry, action figure) to nothing more than a teenager’s clothes, books, musical instruments, laptop and a cell phone.

There are no longer any signs of Lego pieces anywhere in his room. Han Solo, while still cool, is nowhere to be found. Yoda, thankfully, was out of order after a certain parent took a hammer to him after he shorted out and wouldn’t stop saying “Tired, you are” at 3 a.m. (I was exhausted.)

As far as I could see, only one thing remained in his room that had roots in his childhood: the fleece blanket. I received this full-size blanket for Christmas one year in college, and for some reason, Natty adopted it at a very young age. As I stand at the door of his almost empty room, I can see it among the blankets on his bed.

Just the other day he asked me, “Do you mind if I take the fleece blanket up to school with me?”

Of course I smiled and said, “No, I don’t mind at all,” as my eyes filled up with tears.

As we head up today to take him to school, I may not be able to decorate his room like I did when he was about to be born. Yet our goal is still the same for him today: We want this young man to know from the moment he opens his eyes each morning that he is loved, safe and home.

I’m hoping that everything we’ve taught him over the last 18 years has communicated this message clearly, but just in case, it’s good to know the fleece blanket will stand-in to convey the same message for us.

Eileen Burmeister is a Winchester-based freelance writer. She can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com or you can follow her on Twitter at EBurmeister.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Alive women don't wear plaid either

I went shopping the other day and realized, to my horror, that plaid clothes are making a comeback. The mere thought of this makes me shudder.

I’m not a big fan of plaid clothing. Never have been; never will be. And I don’t mean I just don’t care for plaid, I mean I break out in hives and start itching at the mere thought of plaid clothing, which is eerily similar to the physical response I have at the sight of clowns. But I digress.

Why do I feel so strongly about plaid, you might ask? Two words: Catholic school.

Beginning in first grade, I was given the plaid uniform to wear EVERY DAY FOR THE NEXT EIGHT YEARS. Think about that … outside of weekends and summer vacation, I had no choice whatsoever on what to wear for a solid eight years.

There ought to be a therapist who specializes in this, but you’ll be surprised to hear there is not. Trust me, I’ve checked.

Sure, at first I was excited to wear the uniform, especially since I had watched my three big sisters march off to school in their matching uniforms (in the ever-lovely colors of forest green, gray and black, I might add). But once the novelty wore off, it became a bit of a grind.

“Wasn’t it nice to not have to give a second thought to what you’d wear each day?” friends ask, meaning well.

Sure, just as much as you’d like eating the same breakfast of a hard-boiled egg every day for EIGHT YEARS, I think.

Too much of a bad thing is just – well, bad.

Never mind the feeling of suffocation these restrictions placed on my freedom of expression by the time I was in eighth grade. I wanted to be adventurous, experimenting with respectable clothing choices, such as leg warmers, parachute pants, and jean jackets (with the collar turned up).

Can you say “Hello 1980’s?”

As if it wasn’t awkward enough to be a 13-year-old in the early ‘80s walking to and from school in this hideous plaid monstrosity, there were other hurdles to jump.
Exhibit A: The Bay City Rollers. In the late ‘70s, the Scottish pop band was promoted as the “tartan teen sensations from Edinburgh.” I’m sure that is because nothing says rock-and-roll like matching tartan plaid outfits on grown men, am I right?

Exhibit B: The Outsiders. The book read by all middle school students portrayed the gang fights between the Greasers and the Socs (short for socialites). In the book the Greasers are the well-meaning, mistreated and misunderstood underdog while the Socs were just jerks. Of course, every time a Soc is mentioned he is wearing a … wait for it … Madras plaid shirt. I rest my case.

Exhibit C: Daisy Duke. Back in the ‘80s the Dukes of Hazards was popular, as was Daisy Duke, the racy side-kick country girl who had a penchant for plaid shirts. Of course Daisy tied her plaid shirt above the waist and wore hot pants, neither which is acceptable dress under the Catholic School Girl Dress Guide of 1981.

Now, I can wear gingham shirts (the younger step-brother of plaid, which was just not brave enough to cross paths with one another). I can even wear argyle (the slightly off-balance sister of plaid).

But if the ‘80s film is right, and “Real Men Don’t Wear Plaid,” neither does this girl. Ever again.

Eileen Burmeister is a freelance writer in Winchester, Ore. She can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com or you can follow her on Twitter at EBurmeister.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Aloha, owwwiieeeee

Have you ever lived under the illusion that you were better than you really are? Or have you found yourself assuming you can still do the things you were adept at when you were, say, 18? Have you found that some physical movements that were once common place, now often result in a trip to the chiropractor?

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, take heart … I am right there with you, my friend.

Our 12-year-old daughter has taken up hula dancing. I, fancying myself the spry teenager of the late ‘80s, would sit and watch her rehearsals and think to myself, “I can totally do that.”

Ah, sweet delusion. How was I to know where you would lead me?

When my daughter brought home a few DVDs of the dances she was learning, I stopped making dinner one night to join her in the living room to practice. You know, throw the kid a bone.

Back in the day, I could watch any kind of dance move and mimic it no problem. Of course, there wasn’t much skill to the zombie dance moves of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, but that wasn’t all I could do. I could also imitate the entire Bangles video for “Walk Like an Egyptian,” so I had that going on. I guess what I’m trying to say is that my moves were multi-faceted.

So in my mind, I’m thinking, “This will be no sweat. Let me run through it once with Lily and show her how it’s done.”

The video started and her teacher, a Roseburg woman who’s been teaching hula for years, popped up the screen and started dancing. We were barely two beats in and I was already behind. “No problem,” I told myself. “You’re just rusty after all these years. Muscle memory will kick in anytime now, pal.”

Next thing I knew, Lily was onto another move and I was still getting my arms to do the side-to-side move that hula is known for.

“No, mom!” said Lily. “Don’t move your fingers like that! Move them like this!”

Hold up. Why is my 12-year-old daughter telling ME how to move? Clearly she doesn’t know who she’s dealing with. Has she not seen me dance along to “Dancing in the Dark” by The Boss?

The next move was something with our hips that is not humanly possible. I seriously don’t know when my hips became disjointed, but I resembled Bambi the first time he tried to walk.

By this time, Lily was doubled over laughing. At me. The original (self-proclaimed) ‘80s valley girl.

What kind of lunacy is this?

By now I was completely out of sync and so far behind, that this particular Soul Train was ready to run right off the tracks. Plus I was out of breath and sweating. After 60 seconds of hula.

My how the mighty have fallen.

At that point, I grabbed my apron and went back to making homemade pasta e fagioli, something I truly am still good at. But just to show I was still cool, I turned on the Bangles Pandora station while I cooked and danced a little while I stirred.

Eileen Burmeister is a Winchester-based freelance writer. She can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com or you can follow her on Twitter at EBurmeister.


Friday, June 20, 2014

Don't fence me in

Last weekend we celebrated 22 years of marriage with a spontaneous overnight trip to the Rogue River. As luck would have it, both kids were invited to friends’ houses for the night and we were able to leave after work Friday and head south.

As we pulled together the plan Thursday night, everything was falling into place. I had booked a cabin, I had the directions to the lodge, and we had packed up everything we needed to hit the road. Sometime around 9 p.m. Thursday night, however, both Craig and I looked at each other in alarm and gasped, “What about Angus?”

Angus the Wonder Pup is our cute one-and-a-half year-old Scottish terrier who needs constant supervision except during those moments when he’s sleeping or eating. (The keyword in the preceding sentence is CONSTANT.)

He’s a good little pup, but he is busy busy busy and likes to eat inedible items, tear around the house with someone’s sock, eat every flower off the hydrangea plant we put in the ground not 10 minutes earlier, and piddle in the corner, so we have our work cut out for us during his waking hours.

And we had not arranged for anyone to stay with him like we usually do.

“You know what this means,” I stated, more than asked, my husband. “It means we’re going to finally try out a kennel.”

“I’ll call in the morning,” said Craig, realizing that the only thing standing between him and the Rogue River was this cute little black ball of fur.

Halfway through my workday I got a text from Craig that read: “Kennel is lined up and ready to go. We can drop him off on our way out of town.”

Now, just getting Angus in the car is a feat. Not to mention, the only time he gets in the car is to go to the vet or the groomers. You can imagine how much he dislikes going to the vet, but he’s not a huge fan of the groomers either. He gives me this look when I pick him up, all trimmed, smelling good and wearing a jaunty scarf. The look says, “You have no idea how emasculated I feel right now.”

The kennel itself is a lovely place that came highly recommended by our vet, so we were confident Angus would be happy there. Plus the people who worked there were so nice. They took one look at Angus and said, “Oh, how cute is he?” which showed us they are discerning folk.

But once we pulled out and passed Angus in the fenced-in area he gave us “the face.” Those pitiful eyes seemed to be saying, “Hey people, I haven’t peed on the carpet in a few months now. Is this really necessary?”

Needless to say, he was more than ecstatic to see us on Sunday when we picked him up. If licks can be interpreted, I’m pretty sure he was saying “I promise to never eat another hydrangea plant again … at least for a week.”

I keep waiting for a call from the kennel staff, complaining about their own hydrangea plants, but so far so good.

What a good little puppy.

Eileen Burmeister is a Winchester-based freelance writer. She can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com or you can follow her on Twitter at EBurmeister.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Small moments add up to big changes in our children’s lives

I’ve written some version of this article every year around graduation time, especially the last few years as I’ve watched our friends’ children reach the age where they are graduating from high school. This year is especially poignant as we send our oldest off to college in August.

I still remember the day four years ago when Natty gave me a hug and I realized he had passed me in height. I was completely caught off guard. When did this happen? Just yesterday he was shorter than me, but like Jack’s beanstalk, he just took off without warning.

It wasn’t the fact that he grew taller than me that got to me; it was the fact that I didn’t realize that the day before was the last day he’d be smaller than me in every way.

There are so many events in our lives as parents that are milestones, and their celebrations mark their passing: birthdays, graduations, driver’s test, a kid’s last summer home before college …

But there are equally important milestones that come and go without fanfare, which makes the passing a little harder for me to handle. I think it’s because they lack a sense of closure, a rite of passage.

For example, I still remember the evening not long ago when I realized that our sleepy seven-year-old daughter was too big for me to carry from our bed to her own bed. I wish someone would have caught me the night before that and whispered in my ear, “This is the last time you’ll ever carry her in your arms like a little girl again. Enjoy every minute of it.”

Natty used to reach out and grab my hand as I walked him into his elementary school. One day it just stopped without warning, as it should, but had I known that that was the last time we’d hold hands on the way into school, I would have squeezed his hand a little tighter and longer.

I truly believe that the less our kids need their father and me as they get older the better job of parenting we’re doing. All I’m saying is that I wish there were an early warning system in place that would notify me, “This is the last diaper you’re ever going to change because she’ll be fully potty trained tomorrow” … “This is the last day with training wheels because he’s going to learn to ride without them after dinner” … “This is the last bottle you’ll ever prepare because she’s graduating to a sippy cup” … or “This is the last time you’ll read ‘Goodnight Moon’ (even if you’ve already read it 4,520 times) to this little person on your lap who calls you ‘mommy.’”

Time marches on and in between the hours great changes are occurring in our children. I simply want to learn to embrace those in-between moments more, because I don’t know if they’ll ever come around again.

I love what C.S. Lewis wrote in his book “The Four Loves” and I think it’s applicable to the love I feel toward my kids: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken."

So, as I move forward with birthdays, holidays, high school graduations and college Parents’ Weekends, I hope and pray that my heart stays soft, even when it feels like it might break at the loveliness of it all. Carpe Diem … seize the day.

Eileen Burmeister is a Winchester-based freelance writer. You can contact her at burmeistereileen@gmail.com or you can follow her on Twitter at EBurmeister.

Friday, May 9, 2014

I can't be trusted with a DIY project

I am not cut out for do-it-yourself projects. Never have been; never will be. I’ve heard it said that the healing process can begin when you admit your shortcomings, so I’m going public with my admission.

My inability to do-it-myself once again became crystal clear while designing my own graduation announcements for our oldest child’s graduation in June. I saw the prices for the announcements through the school’s vendor and thought, “That’s too expensive! I’m creative, I can do this myself.”

That statement, right there – “I can do this myself” - is the slippery slope that leads me to the DIY trash heap, resulting in wasted money, time and effort.

Here’s what happened. I scanned pictures, I placed the pictures using the handy online tool and chose the kind of card stock I wanted to use for the invitations. I added the information about the graduation party we’re planning with three other families, and clicked ORDER.

Then two days later I realized I had ordered 75 invitations for the WRONG DAY.

Forty-eight dollars later, I placed my re-order for the very same invitations with the correct date. See how I saved us some money there? Yeah, me neither.

I wish I could report that this if the first instance of my DIY projects going awry, but my son would be the first to tell on me and my history of DIY nightmares. Sadly, he’s been the brunt of most of these.

Exhibit A: The Great Home Haircut Nightmare of 1998: By the time Natty turned two, he already needed monthly haircuts, which added up quickly. It was a simple haircut, so I naively assumed “I can do this myself!” and bought some hair clippers at WalMart. I didn’t read the instructions because “I don’t do instructions” (another article altogether) and instead pulled out the clippers and started “trimming.” Instead, I shaved a strip on the back of his head bald before realizing that there were attachments for how many inches you want to cut off. Craig came home, gently took the clippers out of my hands, and said, “Please just pay for the haircuts.” I’ve never seen those clippers again.

Exhibit B: The Great Halloween Costume Debacle of 1999. Natty loved the Veggie Tales videos as a child, so for his third Halloween I decided he would go as Bob the Tomato. Sure, they sold costumes, but they were ridiculously overpriced and we were on a tight budget so I thought “I can do this myself!” I found an orange felt pumpkin costume on clearance at Kmart and bought some red spray paint. I decided I would spray paint the orange pumpkin to make it red, put some cut-out felt eyes and mouth on it and – voila! –our very own Bob the Tomato costume. Well, I’m here to tell you that spray paint does not go on felt smoothly, which made him look a little like Bob the orange/reddish squash. Then it started raining while we were trick or treating, so the paint started running down Natty’s legs. The next year, I bought a costume.

Exhibit C: The Great Birthday Cake Apocalypse of 2002: I’m one of those people that see a picture in a cookbook and think “I can do this myself!” True, most of my baking does TASTE good, it just ends up not looking even remotely close to the picture. I tried to do a Star Wars cake for Natty’s sixth birthday and … long story short … ended up at Fred Meyer Bakery that morning buying a sheet cake in time for his party.

In a few short weeks, Natty will be picking up his graduation gown and mortar board, but I’ve been thinking that those would be super easy to sew myself. I mean, I took a sewing class in the seventh grade, so how hard could this be?

I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Eileen Burmeister is a Winchester-based freelance writer. She can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com or you can follow her on Twitter at EBurmeister.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Say Yes to the Tux? Maybe not

Our son is a senior this year, which means the year has been swallowed by college visits, college applications, scholarship applications, FAFSA forms (also known as the ninth circle of hell), graduation party planning and, this weekend, prom.

And prom means one thing is certain: We will be forking over an unholy amount of money to rent a tux for one single night.

On a trip up to the college of his choice last weekend, we had the TV on in the hotel room and it happened to be tuned to the show “Say Yes to the Dress” on The Learning Channel.

For those of you who don’t know what this show is, let me give you my best synopsis. It’s about a bride, her mother, and her bridesmaids shopping for the perfect wedding dress (hence the title). And it doesn’t paint women in the most flattering light. Seeing that it’s a reality show, of course it capitalizes on hissy fits, power struggles and ridiculous one-liners such as “You don’t like my dress because you’ve never liked me!” or “Does this make my shoulders look fat?”

Oy.

I sat in the hotel eating breakfast, mouth agape as I watched the horror show of catty women in search of a dress that helped reflect their genteel, kind and feminine side. Oh, the irony.

My son Natty sat next to me for a few minutes, watching the train wreck as it happened, and said, “You know, it would be funny if they had a show called ‘Say Yes to the Tux.’ My best guess is that it would last a whole three minutes.”

We discussed how the show might play out: A tuxedo store clerk would bring out the first tux.

Natty: “I’ll take it.”

Tuxedo clerk: “But it’s only the first one, and it’s black. We have many other shades of gray, charcoal, slate, brown, taupe…”

Natty: “Wrap it up. That’s the one.”

Tuxedo clerk: “Okay, just give me a second to get my measuring tape and we’ll take some measurements.”

Natty: “Not necessary. I’ll just take that one. It looks just about right.”

Tuxedo clerk: “That’s not how this works, sir. I show you a tux, you choose the one you like, and then we measure you for the perfect fit.”

Natty: “There’s where you’re wrong. I don’t care about a perfect fit; I just want the cheapest tux in the shortest time possible.”

You can see how TLC might not think this would make for riveting, juicy programming.

To stretch it out, they could follow the male customer into a floral shop to help him pick out the corsage, but our guess is that might take less than a minute.

Floral clerk: “Can I help you?”

Natty: “Do you have red roses?”

Floral clerk: “We have many roses in various colors, along with other lovely varieties of flowers.”

Natty: “Yeah, that’s not necessary.”

The End.

If this is what a career in reality programming looks like, I think I’ll keep my day job, thank you very much.

Eileen Burmeister is a Winchester-based freelance writer. She can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com or you can follow her on Twitter at EBurmeister.