Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Say cheese

It’s that time of year again … the time when I start thinking “I really should get an ‘official’ family photograph taken so we can send it with our Christmas cards.”

Every year our refrigerator is covered with our friends’ family pictures, each one more beautiful than the last. Here is one family frolicking in a pile of leaves, tossing a few in the air, laughing at some private joke. In another the kids look like they stepped out of a J. Crew catalogue immediately after getting their braces off.

And every year I have the best intentions of getting my brood all together in some lovely outdoor setting and taking a picture that captures our essence as a family. But instead we end up with a candid shot of the kids thrown in front of the fireplace with a string of twinkly lights wrapped around them for a festive touch. Or the four of us, shivering in the snow at Lemolo Lake on our trek to find a Christmas tree, which, in theory, sound lovely. But our smiles are always off, more grimace than smile, because we can’t find a tree that doesn’t look like Charlie Brown’s, our feet are soaked to the bone, someone forgot the Hershey’s bars for the s’mores, and we are somewhat tired of the sight of each other.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Sure, these are still technically considered family photos, but not the family portraits of my childhood. What I’m saying is they are NOT Olan Mills Portrait Studio.

If you did not have the pleasure of experiencing an Olan Mills Portrait Studio as a child of the ‘70s or ‘80s, you missed out on a cultural event. Kids, think Awkward Family Photos and you can envision what I’m talking about.

And my mom LOVED her some Olan Mills, much to the chagrin of her four daughters.

Despite the fact that my sisters and I were all in various stages of the awkwardness that is adolescence, my mom insisted that we get dressed up and get our family portrait taken.
This was the era of feathered hair, cowl neck sweaters and gaucho pants. Yeah, we were styling. And thank goodness someone forced us to get photographic evidence of these days (she said, sarcastically).

Stepping into an Olan Mills Portrait Studio felt like stepping into Kojak’s apartment … shag carpet, groovy music, and indistinguishable smoke smells. The lighting was dim, which I suppose was to create a mood, but instead created a sense of anxiety and doom.

Inevitably the “photographers” were middle aged men down on their luck, making minimum wage forcing people to pose in positions that, 30 years later, require regular trips to the chiropractor.

“Here, you - you in the Marcia Brady ponytails - come and sit next to your sister but with your back to the camera. Now put your arm around her shoulder and look over your shoulder.”

My oldest sister would mumble out of the side of her smile, “Yeah, ‘cause this is always how we sit at home.”

Poor guy. He had no idea the sarcasm that was eking out from behind those smiles, but to be completely honest, none of us were happy to be there, the photographer included.

I was always intrigued by the nature backdrops in the studio. The photographer would lower a screen with a picture of a forest in the background and we’d stand in front of it, fully clad in clothes you’d never wear in the forest. Never mind that there was a park with trees RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET FROM THE STUDIO. But he’s the “photographer,” and this was clearly the more artistic and natural approach.

So as I take another crack at a family photo this year, at least my kids can rest assured that we won’t be heading to an Olan Mills Portrait Studio. However I see quite a few leaves collecting in our back yard and I feel a frolic coming on.

Now, if I can just find those gaucho pants…

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, September 5, 2014

Family, like fish, are only good for three days

I just booked a trip to Ohio for my niece Maggie’s upcoming wedding. It’s a real circle-of-life moment for me, seeing that Maggie was our flower girl at our wedding 22 years ago.

I’m hoping it will be a fabulous visit. It has to be better than our visit four years ago.

How could it possibly be worse?

The hosts in this case were my sister Peg and my brother-in-law Jeff, parents to the bride-to-be Maggie. They are lovely people with, as you’ll see, amazing patience for me and my brood. It was just me and the kids (hubby had to work) so I assumed it would be no big deal, right?

Wrong.

The first incident occurred within minutes of my arrival. I took my suitcase up to the guest room to unpack. I went over to open the shades and they collapsed on my head. As I balance them above my head, trying to re-insert the ends into the hardware, the curtain rod fell down as well. I tried my best to replace the shades but later in the night the whole contraption fell again.

Our second night there we made popcorn, caught fireflies and watched a movie with the kids. Someone (the jury’s still out on who) put the popcorn kernels down the drain, causing the garbage disposal to emit a groan that was not unlike a dying seal. I found Jeff at the sink, his arm in the disposal up to his elbow, pulling them out one handful at a time.

On day three I thought I would redeem our family name by running out to the store to stock up on some grocery items. I was borrowing my niece Maggie’s car during our trip, and when I started to back up out of the driveway I slammed into something. I looked out the window just in time to see the back hubcap rolling in the yard. Upon closer inspection I realized that I had struck the basketball hoop’s post.

Later that day I overheard Jeff say to Peg, “Our ice maker in the freezer is broken.”

“I wasn’t anywhere near the thing,” I yelled across the room, exasperated by the carnage that was piling up, seemingly as a result of my family’s presence.

Then Lily and her cousin were playing in the garage and decided to pull the garage door rope down, disengaging the automatic door opener, thereby trapping Jeff’s car inside until we figured out what had happened. At this point, I was ready to call the airline and get us on an earlier flight home.

Instead, I decided to do a load of laundry and ended up accidentally washing Nathaniel’s iPod among a load of darks. I immediately put it in a bag of rice since that had worked for my cell phone a couple of months ago. Jeff looked skeptically at the bag, and asked, “What happened here?”

I assured him that this would work, as it had before, and he said, “Yeah, but you dropped your cell phone for a moment in the toilet. The iPod rattled around in water for an hour.” Sad but true, Jeff was right and the iPod died that night in Ohio, alone in its rice tomb.

On day four, the last day of our visit, Peg asked Jeff, “Do you think it’s a Burmeister curse?”

“No, because they’ve stayed here before,” answered Jeff. “But then again, they’ve never stayed this long…”

“You know, I can hear you guys,” I reminded them, sitting across the table, a mere inches from this discussion.

So here we are, four years later. I can only imagine the conversations Peg and Jeff are having anticipating our arrival …

Eileen Burmeister is a freelance writer who lives and works in Winchester. You can reach her at burmeistereileen@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter at EBurmeister.

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.