The Apron

By Tara Canestraro

The following was written by my friend Tara who lost her mother four years ago. Late one night, filled with deep emotion, Tara stayed up and penned the following about her mother, the relationship she had with her and the special kind of love that exists between a mother and her children.

the-apron

Anyone in my family can tell you what the words “go get my apron” meant. For as long as I can remember my mom always had an apron she wore to work. I used to think this apron was magical because so many things came from it.

From this “magical” apron came groceries, utilities, clothing, house payments, wedding dresses, car payments, college tuition and even toys. And the most magnificent thing that it could produce was a Christmas beyond a child’s wildest imagination.

Her apron was not only used for her own children — it was carried on to the next generation. It provided school clothes, more prom dresses, lunch money, Beanie Babies, books, coats and shoes. With her smooth tone of voice—never condescending—we were always told, “It’s in my apron.” Oh was this apron magical!

As the years went by, what I always knew to be “the apron,” had lost its shape and became the pocketbook. The pocketbook could take on the same majesty as the apron. It could provide for anyone in need without question. Even if was something as simple as a piece of gum, the pocketbook miraculously provided.

As an adult I now see that the apron/pocketbook helped a lot of people, and wasn’t really magical after all. I realize now that deep inside the pockets of this apron were things like sacrifice, dedication, and hard work. What came out of it were things like patience, loyalty and love.

She, like many, many mothers, was very dedicated to her children and worked tirelessly to make sure we had everything we needed and then some. Patience and loyalty were given without hesitation, and love and sacrifice provided expecting nothing in return.

Although I cannot repay all that the apron gave to me, I truly pray that my children will see her wisdom and virtues through me. I hope I can provide for my own family in the same way she did — without hesitation, without questioning, always loving, always putting their needs first.

Losing her has been the hardest thing in my life, but I have learned so much from it. What you have is material, but what you need is love. The most precious gift I can give to my children and my children’s children comes from my mother’s apron — self-sacrificing, unconditional love.

I hope in all my years, the contents of that “magical” apron will continue to be passed down from generation to generation.

Tara

Tara Canestraro

You Look Richer / Prettier / Happier / More Interesting on Facebook

Wealthy Woman Served Champagne in Bubble BathWhile at a concert the other night I saw a balding, middle-aged man wearing a white t-shirt that simply read: “You look richer on Facebook.” My first instinct was to internally ridicule the man for wearing such a dumb shirt and elbow Lee who was sitting right next to me. Which I DID do… I know, I can be rather catty and shallow at times. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how true the statement on this guy’s shirt actually was.

We really do put our best digital foot forward when it comes to social media. ALL social media… This isn’t exclusive to Facebook. It extends to Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. etc. Why do we do this? Because we can. And thanks to the Orwellian world in which we now live, it has NEVER been easier. Most of us, I believe, use the platform of social media to carefully craft the image of ourselves that we wish to project to the outside world. Am I wrong?

The “Class Reunion” used to be the vehicle by which we attempted to show off our “best” selves for one night. We’d diet, buy a new figure-flattering outfit and color our hair. We’d fluff up our job titles and descriptions. Brush up on our awareness of current events or the latest juicy bits of gossip. And season our conversations with snippets from the family highlight reel. But now we need not limit our narcissistic indulgences to once every five or ten years.

Now we are out there 24/7, baby! And in tandem with the convenience of the “24/7 All Me, All the Time” channel comes the convenience of “hiding” behind glowing screens day and night. Sorting, cropping and color-correcting our photos until they show nothing but our best sides. Our darkest secrets now cloaked in our ability to choose whether or not to click that “Share” button. C’mon. Admit that you do it.

OK… I’ll go first with the confessions… As far as “negative” things go, I might post that I am getting a migraine or slammed with a sinus infection but that is all fairly innocuous “above the neck” stuff, if you will. Not to mention, there is some cyber sympathy that comes with that sort of suffering minus the need for embarrassment. But no one, I repeat NO ONE puts the crappy, nitty-gritty stuff of life that really goes on out there for the world to see.

For instance, we don’t mention the fight we had with our spouse or kids the day before. You know the one that ended with the slamming of doors and muttering of expletives? There is nary a word about the gas station burrito we gobbled in haste that later kept us up all night, chained to the bathroom fixtures, experiencing the sorts of digestive horrors nightmares are made of. We’re mums on the “mysterious rash” some new medication is giving us. And there isn’t a peep about what you suspect the weirdo next door may or may NOT be doing with a chainsaw in his garage at 3 a.m.

I mean, sure, there are always going to be a few of “those” people who are willing to hang ALL of their dirty laundry out there… Lamenting the choices they’ve made in life… Or the number of times they’ve been rejected, how much they hate their friends or social life, feel lonely or have suffered financial ruin. I, for one, stand in curious awe of these individuals. One can only assume that these perverse pixel people are sadists, masochists or hypochondriacs in search of some commiseration, pity or affirmation.

However, it is their right and freedom to do so. Personally, I would rather hide my shame. I prefer (as I suspect most people are likewise doing) to disguise the less-than-stellar-stuff-of-life in the fanciful façade of a funny picture or clever observation… My life… According to me… made up of millions of pixels… arranged precisely the way that I want YOU to see them.

Debt Free(dom)

cutting up cardLike a recovering alcoholic sampling the taboo taste of a beloved beverage, I handed the cashier my plastic. The ease with which I did so, accompanied by my effortless smile gave absolutely no hint to the hesitation lurking just beneath the surface. Though the purchase was justified and the actual money in the bank, there was a tiny place inside of me that still remained uneasy.

Once you’ve climbed out of the deep, dark hole of credit card debt—finding yourself back in the black—the former aches and pains of actually digging that hole occasionally come back to haunt you. I am not proud to admit that I was in debt — having only recently brushed the remainder of that dirt off my less-than-stellar credit report. But I am relieved to say that those days are behind me.

Sifting through stacks and stacks of old mail over the weekend reminded me of those darker days. Except that while I was living them, I technically didn’t know they were “darker.” It would be awhile before I actually realized how deep I had dug. I was in fact, living it up back then! I was happily buying new furniture, clothes and shoes, paying for manicures, pedicures, salon visits, gym memberships and housekeeping services.

A close friend did occasionally ask me whether or not I should be spending so freely. But I brushed it off as them being too “conservative” with their own money and “fearful” of bad things that would “never happen.” I was gainfully employed, single with no dependents and the proud owner of a seemingly endless supply of credit. It never occurred to me to be concerned because I was always able to keep up with the payments. If I could pay the bills every month, then this was all stuff that I could afford. Until it wasn’t.

Being young and stupid, I never gave much thought to all of the uncertainties out there. I’d done my homework, gotten a degree and been blissfully employed since graduation. Things like personal illness and the company you work for going under weren’t even on my radar. Until they were.

Back then—during this hedonistic time of living like some kind of entitled Hilton or Kardashian—I fell ill with a serious case of pneumonia. On top of that, just prior to the pneumonia, I’d left the security of a lower paying government job to accept an exciting new position at a rapidly-growing publishing company and had zero sick leave in the bank. On doctor’s orders, I missed an entire month of work and wages. Suddenly making those bills was a little bit harder.

And then the “rapidly-growing” company folded. Making paying those bills all but impossible. I managed. I didn’t file for bankruptcy or anything, but I did have to move 2,000 whole miles back east to live with mom and dad, working a minimum wage job until I could find a better one. Going through the ancient mail was like watching a train wreck in slow motion. First there were the bank statements, bills and invoices… a.k.a. Evidence of All the Fun. Followed by a trickle and later a heavy stream of medical bills, debt consolidation packages and various hand-written notes of lists I’d made inventorying all of my debts and monthly bills.

But it was good for me to see how the entire ordeal had actually unfolded. What started out as a simple housekeeping exercise wound up being a true moment of reckoning. I’d often wondered, through the years, as I struggled to pay down the balances on these debts: How did this happen? How did I rack up all of this debt? And now I know. I can see it all from a distance. It was as though it had happened to someone else… because in a way, it did happen to someone else. I am no longer that person.

Thanks to the support of my parents, a couple of really good friends and an extremely fiscally responsible soon-to-be husband, I am learning the value of having money IN the bank before I have any fun with it. I still love furniture, clothes, shoes, salon visits and travel and I would LOVE to pay someone to do all of the unpleasant, laborious tasks that accompany adulthood. But since I’m neither a Hilton nor a Kardashian, I’ve lain to rest my Visa Gold & Mastercard shovel and am enjoying the freedom that comes with “living it up” — within my means.

Merry Christmas! I Love You Thi$$$$ Much!

price tagsWell, it’s descended upon us again hasn’t it? The traditional, commercial Christmas is practically here. That magical time of year when we all gather together after rushing madly hither and yon in search of that perfect gift that lets our loved ones know just how very much we love them. Literally.

For example: “Here, Aunt Nancy… here’s a lovely plaid scarf. I know it’s wool and a little scratchy but it matches your eyes. Don’t you think? They did have cashmere, but you see… My love for you is not a cashmere kind of love. My love for you is a woolish kind of love. In fact, I love you around $11 worth.”

See what I mean? Without realizing it, we often divide those we care about into categories, defining our love for them by assigning dollar amounts. Now I know you might argue with me that it is all about budgeting and how can you possibly spend more on Cousin Stuart after dropping less than 20 on Aunt Nancy’s hideous scarf… but we ought to admit that on SOME level it is true.

The math goes a little something like this (Feel free to add a zero depending on which “percenter” you are)… There are those who fall into the $5 category. They are the ones most often occupying the fringes of our lives… Those we HAVE to see on a daily basis but would not necessarily interact with were we not forced to. And those we place into the $10 to $20 range… People with whom we choose to spend time but are not related. And then there’s family. Family eats up most of the budget either out of necessity, obligation or affection.

And this is where the real fun begins. You consider what THEY got YOU last year and thus what type of gift should be given this year. This sometimes breeds a healthy bout of one-up-man-ship or at the very least a breaking even. I’ve often wondered whether or not we should all just keep the $50 or $100 since we’re essentially handing it back and forth year after year. But what would be the fun in that?

Then I remember that it isn’t really about the money. The money is the necessary evil by which feel we must express our gratitude or love this time of year. It’s really all about recognition. Recognition of the people we COULD not or WOULD not live without whether they gave us a faulty, small kitchen appliance (with or without a warranty), a gift card to a place we hate, a too big pair of pajamas or a hideous pair of slippers last year.

Merry Christmas everyone! May you give and receive lots of love to and from your 5, 10, 20 and 50-dollar people this holiday season… no matter what form of currency it comes in.

Farewell, Family Christmas Letter

awkward-christmas-card-photosWe’re all aware that while constant connection due to social media is convenient and entertaining, there are many things that have been lost due to this advent of technology and instant, infinite contact. Some things have made me sad as I’ve watched them go… like actually sitting in the same room with someone and talking face to face. But other things?… Not so much. Some things, I was happy to see fall by the wayside. And in recent years, Christmas time has reminded me of one of those things. I am referring to the family Christmas letter. Remember those?

I used to hate them. Every year my mailbox would be jammed with fancy envelopes adorned with pictures of the baby Jesus and custom gold and silver embossed address labels. Inside were the letters… chocked full of bloated, flowery lies stories about the family and their annual exploits. These always included (but were NOT limited to) fancy vacations, costly household renovations or new real estate ventures, overachieving brats children and their exhausted utterly thrilled and proud parents.

Of course accompanying the letters were the perfectly-staged “family photos” — everyone gathered ‘round the hearth in matching turtleneck / sweater combos that had either holly leaves, reindeer or snowflakes embroidered on them. (See above photo for perfect specimen.) OR said family was seen sitting serenely on some beach somewhere in coordinating white linens and sandals.

However, admittedly so, before I hated them… I wrote them. I know… I realize this makes me a bit of a hypocrite and one of “those” people, but at least I’m admitting it. I’m not proud of it, but there was a period of time in the late nineties that I wrote a few of my own. What can I say? I was young and stupid and when I first struck out on my own, how else was I supposed to learn how to act like an adult if I didn’t copy everyone else?

So I’d compile a letter “fluffing” up the events of my life in kind. And being a graphic designer by trade, my letter had to LOOK killer. Thus, I usually chose a theme (yes I said theme) and began its “development” in June. Therefore assuring that nothing worthy of note would be excluded and I would have ample time to procure excellent photos to accompany my exaggerations ur… embellishments um… life events.

So, why did I stop? You may be wondering. I simply got tired of it. And like I mentioned at the beginning, I began to hate them. Sensing that I was, indeed, seeing through the entire charade, I grew weary of reading people’s letters. But even more so, I got tired of feeling the overwhelming need to create my own “utopian mirage” that for a mere 32 cents a piece (back then anyway) could be mailed directly to the residences of everyone I knew.

Family Christmas Letter season was like a printing and postal arms race. Who could cram more into their perfectly-printed letter by being the prettiest, happiest, richest, most-successful, most-fulfilled family IN ALL THE LAND!?! Just once I wanted to see someone compile a letter that was REAL. I never actually had the courage to BE that person… but it would have been so delightful to go to the mailbox and find something like this instead:

Dear Friends and Family,

This year has totally sucked. I hate my job. Bonuses were eliminated despite the fact that the workload has increased by 20 percent. Most weeks I work six, 10-hour days and get maybe four hours of uninterrupted sleep if I’m lucky. Little Larry is failing ALL of his classes and the school has begun tossing around words like “alternative learning programs” and “family intervention” and “expulsion for the betterment of the educational environment as a whole” — whatever THAT means. Our daughter Maude has contracted some sort of scalp fungus that has yet to be identified. My lovely wife Bunny has gained 30 pounds and I swear sometimes when I look at her I believe she is plotting my demise. I no longer eat her cooking.

We didn’t vacation this year due to the fact that the house is falling down around us. The roof is leaking, the bathroom tile is chipping, there is a strange greenish water spot spreading across the kitchen ceiling — the source of which I cannot find to save my life. Meanwhile I discovered asbestos in the attic while setting rat traps and no one will admit what or who caused a giant, smelly rust-colored stain on the living room rug. Unfortunately, none of it can be repaired anytime soon because financially, we are bust. We’ve run up 40K in credit card debt, Maude’s mystery fungus is bankrupting us and the car needs a new transmission.

Sadly, our beloved dog Walter died tragically in a Fourth of July fireworks incident gone horribly wrong and the kids are driving me crazy begging for a new puppy. However, there is one bright spot to report. September proved to be a better month when the lawsuit against me was dropped so long as I continue to adhere to the rules of the restraining order. So that’s a plus.

I’m not going to lie… I hope this letter finds you and yours to be just as miserable as we are.

Happy Holidays!

Sincerely,
The Sellers Family

Sometimes, Appearance IS Everything

Despite the fact that I do not have a “boutique” bank account, I do enjoy occasional boutique shopping. Every now and then—even for a Budget Boutiquer like me—I find that they are often the perfect place to find well-made and unique items to spice up the wardrobe.

But boutiques can be tricky. Not because of their shameless overpricing but rather their interesting employee/customer dynamic. Just ask Julia Roberts’ character Vivian in Pretty Woman. Do you remember the iconic scene? She arrives in her (a-hem) “street clothes” at a high-end boutique on Rodeo Drive with Richard Gere’s limitless credit card in hand, only to be swiftly sized up and turned away by the store’s snotty staff.

Of course, the joke’s on them (and their commission checks) later in the day when Vivian returns to the same boutique dressed to the nines in couture and loaded down with bags and boxes after spending obscene amounts of money at OTHER retailers… showing (and telling) them what a HUGE mistake they’d made in judging her earlier.

Now, I don’t own an outfit like Vivian had at the beginning of the movie. Trust me, no one wants to see THAT on ME anyway… but I have experienced a watered-down version of some similar treatment. A year ago, I visited an adorable boutique in a nearby small town. And while I browsed, dressed in jeans, sneakers and a fleece pullover, gently sifting through the $400 cashmere sweaters and equally expensive accessories… not one person in the store spoke to me. I left without buying anything.

This past weekend my parents came for a visit. On one of our excursions, I decided to take my mother to the boutique. Although the items inside were far more expensive than she or I would normally spend… I thought she might enjoy picking over the pricey offerings. After all, it never hurts to browse and one never knows what one might find hiding on the sale rack.

However, before we went inside I warned her that, in my experience, the sales staff was not so friendly. “Apparently,” I told her, “I didn’t fit their ‘idea’ of who should be patronizing their business when I showed up the last time. Don’t be surprised if you feel like Julia Roberts when you go in here.” My mother just shrugged. Now that she’s retired, she doesn’t let things like the obnoxious dissing by snobbish retailers bother her. One can only hope that such an attitude will rub off on me one day.

Much to my surprise, when I walked through the doors of the place (bracing myself for another cool dismissal) the sales woman practically tackled me once I was inside. I was looking at some colorful, all-weather, rubber boots and admiring them when she pounced. She asked what size I wore, demanded that I remove the boots I was wearing and try these new ones on. “They’re Danish, you know.” She said launching feverishly into her sales pitch while jamming my stocking foot into one of them… “They are VERY well made and worth every penny!” And she went on and on pointing out all of the features of these super trendy boots.

“Uh-huh…” I muttered while half-listening to her and subtly turning a pair over in my hands to get a look at the price tag on the bottom. $300. Yikes. I thought. “That’s a little too rich for my blood. Especially for something not made from an animal.” I admitted to her, setting them back on the shelf. Yet I couldn’t help but wonder… What in the world was the difference between my treatment a year ago and today? And I continued to wonder… that is until she inquired about the boots I was currently wearing.

“Well, what kind of boots are THOSE?” She asked, accusatorily and aggressively thrusting her pointed index finger toward my feet. Even as I KNEW that SHE already KNEW what kind of boots I was wearing.

To which I sheepishly replied, “UGGs.”  Referring to my somewhat costly, tall, fold-over, cable-knit sweater boots. They are my favorite fall and winter wardrobe item — a brand name splurge I afforded myself last season and by far the most expensive footwear I own.

Irritated that I’d turned her down, she smacked her lips and quickly snapped at me with the following… “Well, if you can afford THOSE boots… surely you can afford THESE.” It was precisely at that moment that I walked away from her, stunned at such a brazen attempt to get me into her fancy, Danish rubbers! How dare she try and bully me with my very own boots.

I guess I learned what the difference was. No matter your backstory… Appearance (to some people) is not only everything… It is the ONLY thing.

A Productive Revelation

Although I find the 6 a.m. alarm to be extremely unsettling — it doesn’t take long to remember why it is so rudely and obnoxiously invading my dreams. I have somewhere to be. My day has structure and meaning again. And it is a good feeling. I am employed… at least for now.

As a freelance graphic designer, the position is a contracted one. Meaning that it will come to an end when the workflow shifts and the company no longer needs me. But it is employment nonetheless and a paycheck and experience and a source for networking as well as a means to generate additional items to place in the portfolio.

However, after seven months of NOT working, it is a stark change when compared to my typical non-structured day of snoozing until I feel like it, noontime bagel eating, bad TV watching and mind-numbing internet surfing. So far (albeit surprisingly) my nostalgia for all things lazy has not overshadowed the joy I find in being productive. I know. No one is MORE shocked than I am at this startling revelation.

It seems I expend vast amounts of mental energy imagining and writing about what it might be like to NEVER have to work. To live a life of leisure and of privilege. To NEVER interact with others… that is, unless I want to. But thou shalt never underestimate the positive power of productivity. Here are just a few things no one ever tells you about going BACK to work…

  • That coffee tastes and smells so much better in your work mug than in your cups at home.
  • That the idle chatter of co-workers can be much more entertaining than Lifetime television.
  • That slipping into a great pair of heels boosts more than your overall height.
  • That too much time spent alone with bagels, bad TV and one’s own thoughts is a dangerous thing. (See previous post)
  • That leaving the house miraculously helps you to pinpoint precisely where you are.

Understanding that my time in this new role is most likely limited… I’ve got to follow the advice of 38 Special and Hold on Loosely. Yes, I know that reference dates me a bit. Please stop doing the math, I’m trying to make a point. Like willing oneself not to fall too deeply in love with a warm, squiggly puppy you realize you cannot keep — I must hold my affection for my new (temporary) lot at arm’s length.

And hopefully—when all is said and done—I will have been reminded of where I am, where I’m going, all I have to offer and how great it feels to be a participant again. Even if that means getting up at the unnatural, ungodly hour of 6 a.m.