The Rockwood Files: Confessions of a love story addict

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

I did it again last night – stayed up way too late in the name of love. A rerun of a romantic comedy I’ve seen at least eight times came on TV, and, even though I can lip-sync all the important lines, I watched until the ending credits rolled.

notting hillTom has seen me do this many times during our 18-year marriage. He usually glances at the TV, then looks at me, shakes his head and says “Again? You’ve seen it so many times.” To which I reply “And I enjoy it every time.”

Last night after the movie ended, I fell asleep wondering why I’m so easily sucked into a love story. When I’m watching one of these seen-it-a-million-times movies, the rational part of my brain says “Turn it off and go to sleep. You’ve got work in the morning.”

My heart brushes off my brain and replies “I’ll just watch until the first kiss.” Then after that scene, my heart whispers “Just watch until the breakup scene.” But then I can’t turn it off and leave the main characters lost and heartbroken, so I watch long enough to make sure they get back together, which usually happens at the end of the movie – hence the late-night habit.

So why am I (and plenty of other people) such a sucker for a good love story? I think it’s because love – regardless of what form it comes in – is the ultimate “get.” We want the main character to “get” the guy or the girl. We want them to “get” the lesson that love is worthy of sacrifice. We want them to “get” past their own fears and hang-ups enough to be known and loved.

Love stories are about drama and declarations, angst and affection. Love often has to struggle through misunderstandings and misplaced pride, baggage and break-ups. When two people can walk through that emotional minefield and hand over their hearts – either on screen or in real life – it’s remarkable. Maybe even miraculous. New love has its own brand of magic.

The only problem with new love is that it’s often plagued with push-and-pull syndrome. When I was in my early twenties, I had a string of relationships with a common theme: Someone was always pursuing and someone was always retreating, and the roles might reverse multiple times in a single month. It seemed to be more about leverage than love. There was an unspoken pressure to flirt but not cling. To be interesting but not overly interested. Those kinds of relationships go from affectionate to aloof (and back again) faster than you can say “commitment issues.”

I’m grateful God arranged for my last blind date in 1998 to be with someone who made me feel safe enough to treat love like a verb instead of a game to be played and won.

Hollywood doesn’t make as many movies about married people and long-term love stories. I guess new love sells more popcorn. That’s fine. I like those movies, too, but when the credits roll, I’d rather go home with married love.

st-valentines-day-1990691_640 (2)Long-term love is a lot like new love, only it’s been to war and back. It stays with you in the foxhole of what can sometimes be an ugly reality. It knows the real you and likes you anyway. It has seen you with the stomach flu and didn’t run away. Long-term love may not be as shiny, but it’s sturdy, solid and it’s the best kind of serene.

Is it a perfect system? Of course not. Even in movies, when things are too perfect, the story falls flat and the audience stops watching. Conflict is an inherent part of any life story.

But long-term love doesn’t play tug-of-war with your heart on the line. Even when I’m crazy mad at him, I know Tom and I are on the same side. We’re on the side of “us.”

From my heart to yours, Happy Valentine’s Day.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

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The Rockwood Files: Salad Fatigue

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

A few days ago, my friend Shannon and I went to lunch. In an attempt to change our ways and counterbalance the sugar-laden excesses of the holidays, we ordered salads.

When the waiter brought them to the table, we marveled at the Olympic-size salad bowls. Even during lunch, a salad is a big event in modern America. Do restaurants give us huge salads because they feel sorry for us? Or do they give us an entire field of greens because they need an excuse to charge the same amount we’d pay if we were having a plate full of pork chops? (Something tells me it’s the second reason, but that’s not the point.)

salad-374173_640 (2)The point is that these super-sized salads have become a workout. Ten minutes after my horse-sized salad arrived, I was still trying to cut it up into manageable pieces. While the salad makers are more than generous with quantity, they totally ignore what most people deem an appropriate bite size. I’d have to unhinge my jaw to eat these salads without cutting them up first.

No one wants to have a large piece of greenery dangling from her mouth while trying to enjoy lunch conversation. I don’t want a stranger at a restaurant to perform the Heimlich maneuver on me because of a dangerously large bite of salad.

So I cut and cut and cut some more until the giant lettuce leaves and grilled chicken pieces were a more suitable fork-size. Then I distributed the little cup of dressing across the vast sea of salad, trying to do demure dabs instead of gluttonous globs.

By the time the salad was finally ready to eat, I was exhausted. All that pre-meal prep work causes a condition I call “salad fatigue.” At that point, I didn’t know what I needed most – a meal or a nap.

It’s no wonder restaurants pair soup and salad together as a combo. By the time you’ve wrestled your unwieldy salad into submission, you only have enough energy left to sip soup out of a spoon. A half-hearted slurp is all you can muster.

Of course, the cure for salad fatigue is often right under my nose. It’s that beguiling basket of bread that waiters bring to the table. If I carbo-loaded with the free dinner rolls, I’d probably have the energy of a knife-wielding ninja, able to slice up a salad before you can say balsamic vinaigrette.

But then again… carbo-loading cancels out the benefits of eating a salad in the first place, so what’s the point? I might as well order the plate of pork chops.

Speaking of chops, a “chopped salad” would really settle this issue once and for all. A chopped salad would have all the benefits of healthy eating and none of the work. But it’s rare to find a chopped salad on the menu these days, probably because the prep cooks in the kitchen get salad fatigue, too.

Some prep cooks are so tired that they can’t even be bothered to tear the leaves off the head of iceberg lettuce. They just slice off a large chunk, slap it on a plate, douse it with dressing, blue cheese crumbles, onion and bacon bits and call it a “wedge salad.”

Don’t get me wrong. I love a wedge salad – mainly because what it lacks in chopping it more than makes up for in the amount of goodies piled on top. The wedge is mainly just a vehicle for the delivery of salad dressing, cheese and bacon, which is why I’ve yet to meet a wedge I didn’t want.

But for now, while I’m trying to honor my good intentions from New Year’s Day, all I want is a salad that doesn’t wear me out. I want to have lunch, not a chore. Life is tiring enough without suffering through another case of salad fatigue.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

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The Rockwood Files: Bossy bikini pushers

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

I’m a planner by nature, so I understand the need to “get out in front” of something. But when I opened the Target sales circular this Sunday, the only words that came to mind were these: “This is ridiculous.”

Two pages past the Valentine’s Day candy, there it was – a splashy double-page spread of models in swimsuits. Swimsuits! In January! The Christmas fruitcake hasn’t even had time to get moldy yet, and already they’re pushing stringy two-pieces for her and Hawaiian board shorts for him. In the wise words of my elementary school crossing guard, “Slow down, people.” What’s the rush?

Perhaps I’m missing something. Has it become a tradition to watch the Super Bowl in beachwear? Am I the only one who’s not shopping for a new swimsuit to take on a mid-winter tropical getaway? Or are we expecting an unusual February heat wave that’s gone unreported on the news?polka dot bikini

Don’t get me wrong. I like a cute swimsuit as much as the next person. When the time is right, I’ll be happy to make peace with my jiggly bits, wriggle into something stretchy, and float into summer. But until then, why are these retailers trying to ruin the only time of year we’re allowed to hide the extra Christmas cookies under an oversized sweater?

This is the time for boots, not bikinis. We need fleece, not flip-flops. Even the Bible says “to every thing there is a season,” so I’m fairly certain even God would agree it’s a wee bit early for swimsuit promotion.

The only “spaghetti straps” I want to see this month are a mound of noodles on my dinner plate, covered in a generous amount of meat sauce and accompanied by a golden slab of garlic bread.

If retailers have their way, the famous groundhog will probably emerge from his hole on February 2nd wearing a push-up, padded bikini top and sunglasses. He’ll forget entirely about checking for his shadow because he’ll be anxious to show off his bikini briefs and matching beach tote bag.

If you ask me, I think this sneaky swimsuit promotion is more of a doubling-down on the fitness equipment stores have been hyping since New Year’s Day. On the page right past those swimsuit models with their washboard abs, there was an attractive sale on free weights and yoga mats. Coincidence? I think not.barbell free weights purple 200

During January, you can sell me leftover Christmas decorations during a half-off sale, and I will squirrel them away until Thanksgiving. You can sell me discounted sheets and pillows, and I will gladly snatch them up for a nice “long winter’s nap.” You can even sell me those colorful free weights and yoga mats, which I will have every intention of using on a daily basis, whether I actually do or not.

But don’t try to sell me June in the middle of January. It’s like trying to talk me into a jack-o’-lantern on Valentine’s Day. It’s weird and unsettling.

Let me and my fellow oversized sweater lovers walk through our winter wonderland until March, when we begin to sense spring on the horizon. Then we’ll drag out those dusty free weights and yoga mats and deal with reality.

But until then I, for one, will resist the retail rush. I refuse to be pressured into picnic supplies or prematurely seduced into shorts and sandals. There comes a time to draw a line in the imaginary sand and say: “I will buy no bikini before its time.”

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

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The Rockwood Files: Digital memory lane

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

If you’re on Facebook or save digital pictures online, you probably get the same emails I do – the ones that show photo memories taken on the same calendar date several years ago.

Last week I got an email with photos of our youngest when she was only 3-years-old. She was outside playing in one of her first big snowfalls. There’s a picture of her bundled up in a puffy pink coat with a fur-trimmed hood, beaming at the camera with her bright blue eyes and cheeks tinged pink from cold. She was lying down in the snow while her dad moved her arms and legs to teach her the correct snow angel technique.

kate snow collageThe only thing I don’t like about these emailed photo memories is the realization of how quickly things are changing. That bundle of pink from seven years ago is now a tall 10-year-old who has decided that pink is far too “little girl” for her these days. If I tried to carry her on my hip like I used to, her long thin legs would dangle down past my knees.

Meanwhile, her two older brothers have gone from toddlers to teenagers in what feels like no time. The pitter patter of their little feet has morphed into something that sounds more like a herd of horses tromping through the house. When the teen horses gallop into my kitchen, they turn into hungry hippos, plowing through pizza rolls and chicken nuggets like a handful of Skittles.

hamburgers-575655_640 (2)They eat so many burgers that the Chick-fil-A cows have filed a restraining order against them. At this point, I’d guess our sons have a body composition that’s roughly 97 percent burger, 2 percent pizza rolls and 1 percent sarcasm.

For a long time, I consoled myself that at least I was still bigger than them, but now even that claim is gone. At 5 foot 8, I’m taller than the average woman but my 15-year-old passed that mark last year. He enjoyed his vertical achievement far too much for my taste. It’s hard to be authoritative when the person you’re lecturing can pat you on top of the head and call you a “good little mommy.”

Of course, the kids aren’t the only ones changing. It’s happening to Tom and me, too. When I see those photo memories Facebook keeps delivering, there’s no denying what our 40′s are doing to us. We’re grayer and slightly squishier than we used to be.

A few months ago, Tom and I went out for date night to try a new hot spot downtown. We sat in the bar area of the bustling restaurant so we could feel as cool as the twenty-something hipsters surrounding us. We ordered drinks and toasted to our Friday night freedom. But then Tom couldn’t read the fine print on the dinner menu. He asked if I had any reading glasses in my purse, so I dug out the only pair I had and handed them over. The glasses have red frames and a delicate floral pattern adorning each side.

There he sat, the love of my life, all dressed up for date night and wearing old lady glasses. It didn’t bother him in the least. You know why? We’re officially too old to care, which I suppose is a good thing. Nonetheless, I now carry a pair of his silver reading glasses in my purse. It helps preserve whatever scraps of our youth we have left.

Our new dependence on reading glasses makes me wonder if teenagers throughout the centuries have been getting away with things simply because their middle-age parents can’t see what they’re up to – literally.

So far, our tweens and teens are taking it easy on us. And we need them now more than ever because they’re great at reading small print, fixing the Wi-Fi, and eating leftover pizza. Although their childhood seems to be racing by, there’s real joy in watching them become the adults they’ll one day be.

And thanks to all the photo memories bouncing around in the digital “cloud,” those precious baby days and snow angels will still come back to me – one email at a time.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

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The Rockwood Files: Spicing up the New Year

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

I don’t have it all together and, most of the time, I feel like an imposter pretending to be a grown-up. But you’d never know it by looking at my spice cabinet.

One of my main gripes about a New Year is the pressure to do more, be more, and have more. All the relentless resolution-making wears me out. Just when you think you’re an acceptable human being, January rolls around and makes you feel like a lazy loser in dire need of a life makeover.

But I know that any grand promise I make in January often turns out to be an “oh well” by the time I hit March. For me, small changes have the best shot at long-term survival. So I made one and then fell in love with it.

For most of last year, I opened the spice cabinet in my kitchen and one of two things would happen. I’d either fumble around in there, moving various bottles in a vain attempt to find garlic powder or oregano. Or I’d open the cabinet to grab salt and get beaned in the head by a falling bottle of basil leaves. It was a disorganized mess, and I finally got frustrated enough to fix it.

I went online to search for tips on organizing a spice cabinet and found thousands of suggestions, but the most popular one was to get a set of matching spice jars. A set of twelve jars was under twenty bucks, so I decided to give it a shot. The people who post Amazon reviews on spice jars convinced me I’d be glad I did this. I even took their advice and ordered some cute chalkboard labels to put on the new glass jars.square-spice-jars

A few days later, the jars arrived, and I set about the task of cleaning out the cluttered cabinet. I watched an old movie on the kitchen TV while I used a funnel to pour things like nutmeg, thyme and cayenne pepper from their plastic bottles into the new jars. There were a few spills and sneezes along the way, but I got it done. I proudly stuck a label on each jar and then lined them up in the cabinet like spicy little soldiers, ready for duty.

Here’s the crazy thing about this project. I’m not even a person who loves to cook. In fact, I barely tolerate it, and my skills are mediocre at best. But when I look at my newly organized spice cabinet, I feel like a pro – someone who knows her paprika from her peppercorns. More importantly, I love how this one change turned cabinet chaos into a small oasis of order. Martha Stewart would weep tears of joy over this thing. Sometimes I open the cabinet for no other reason than to stare and appreciate what an improvement it is.

What I learned after my self-imposed spice jar intervention is that progress and order can be contagious. One cabinet transformation often leads to another and then to a drawer or a pantry or maybe even a whole closet. The next thing you know, you’re a person whose tube of toothpaste has its own little compartment in a bathroom drawer organizer tray. (It’s own compartment!)

Of course, real life has a way of sneaking into almost any orderly space or well-intentioned routine. Most of my other cabinets and drawers are far from Pinterest-perfect. And on most days, my Fitbit tracker has to live with disappointment. But I must admit that, even though I roll my eyes at January’s overzealous goal-setting, making one small change can often be just the thing you need to lead you into a better way of doing things.

They say variety is the spice of life. I would add that being able to see the variety of your spices is pretty darn good, too. Pass the paprika, please.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

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