Saying Goodbye to Rogie

10 Jul

The first time I remember praying to God on behalf of our Rogie, he was barely three months old. Joe had taken him to a 24-hour emergency veterinarian clinic after this new little black lab puppy had a two-day bout of vomiting and diarrhea. I was home with our sleeping boys, who were 9 and 13 at the time. In the previous year, we had lost two dogs — first, our beloved 9-year-old yellow lab, Niner, who died suddenly, and a few months after his death, our “replacement” mutt puppy, Friday. She — who was mistakenly adopted out to us by a terrible rescue organization terminally ill with distemper — was to help us heal from Niner’s loss — lived a mere 10 days.

 

 

And here we were, a few months after that, thinking the worst (more distemper!?) about our new puppy.

I pleaded to God to heal Rogie. I shared my concern that the devastation of losing three pets in a year would be too much for them to handle.  I asked, “Father, may he live a long and full life, and be sitting with us and comforting us as our boys go off to college some day.”

God gave us the favor of this answered prayer, and so, so much more.

After a sub-dermal saline injection at “24-Karat Vet” as I came to think of the emergency doggie clinic, Rogie was back to his mischievous adorable self in a few days. He was even the first to place a “present” under the Christmas tree as I decorated it (a nice, firm puppy poop. Sigh.)

His namesake was LA Kings hockey goalie, Rogie Vachon, a moniker arrived at after a naming conference akin to the NHL draft. Although there were many other popular choices, my hubby pulled the sympathy card, after reminding us that he had to call after a dog named after the SF 49ers all the while he was a Raiders fan. When his registration papers arrived from the AKC, it turned out he was the 5th such-named pup. Perfect! He was Rogie V!

Rogie V. was a chaser (and one-time catcher) of squirrels, a hater (and one time catcher) of crows, an enemy (and one-time tumbler) of feral cats, an unexplainable sounding board for humming birds (they used to hover in front of him, chirping, while he kept watch over his yard), and he reveled in the “country life” of his suburban home. He had a late-night run-in with a raccoon (and sported four white hairless scars on his forehead to prove it) and he mercifully called our attention to (but did not attack) an opossum in labor in our back yard one Sunday morning. 

He wasn’t big on fetching, despite the “retriever” inbedded in his genus. He’d get that item for you once, if you were lucky. And then, with a look that said “If you want that ball so bad, you’d better stop throwing it,” he’d lay down and admire it with you from afar. A trainer, upon seeing how stressed out he got when we kept asking him to do tasks as part of his training (he would head-butt us and tear through the yard in circles, turf flying behind him), asked us if, by any chance, Rogie was from the Bruegger line of labs.

Our affirmative answer seemed to make it all clear to her: “They’re hunting dogs, you know. Real independent thinkers. He thinks he knows better than you.”

And really, he often seemed to. His job, looking back with clarity, was to bring us joy, not tennis balls. To divert our attention from the things we couldn’t control, and just walk him for two miles four times a week, already. To give us unconditional love, laughs, chores (poop patrol) and the occasional wonderfully annoying phenomenon that is a dog who liked to eat so much, it seemed he purposefully ate too fast so he could throw up and eat it again.

He moved seamlessly into a rental house with us when he was just a year old as we did a 7-month remodel to our home. He only destroyed the backyard! He comforted us with familiarity and routine (and poop patrol) as we missed our neighbors. He provided a warm body, always putting his head or a paw on one of his people when they needed it most, when I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer during that seven-month period.

We taught him to pick up the newspapers from the driveway and bring them inside (that was a fetch that made sense to him apparently) and then we had to tone down his exuberance for this task as we walked in the neighborhood, and he proceeded to pick up every newspaper he passed. Thursdays, when the local freebies came out, were his favorite.

He barked appropriately at Lloyd the exterminator, at the UPS truck when it turned onto the street, and the gardeners every single Friday of his life. He greeted most other visitors with a wagging tail, grabbing whatever cloth was nearest to his mouth — whether dirty underwear from the laundry pile or his bed pillow — so that he could somehow resist the urge to jump on them. He stole tools from the plumbers’ chest as the crouched under the sink, and he buried rawhides outside so they could get good and moldy before he brought them inside.

He gave us laughs with his reluctant obedience, and his utter exuberance for kibble and treats — and yet he never stole food off the counter (but if it fell on the floor, stand back!) He would wait patiently, drooling, over his morning and evening meal, until we gave him the verbal, “OK” to begin eating. Hilariously, during my physician-imposed two weeks of silence after vocal cord surgery, he would not eat one morning because I could not say “OK.” I had to run upstairs with my white board and a scribbled message to my hubby, asking him to lean out the window and give the dog permission to eat! After an “OK” from above, Rogie dug in, with a mote of saliva surrounding him.

He was there, waggy and sweet, as our oldest headed off to University of Texas, and as we moved him to Dallas four years later after graduation. He was there, gray and lumpy, laying in the floor of the second-born’s room as he packed to go to college for the first time.

He was there, smiling from his favorite “hotel” at the LAX Kennel Club, as we flew off to see the second-born’s college graduation in Mississippi earlier this spring.

And he was here, waiting and struggling to move and eat just over a week ago, as our youngest arrived home for his last visit before beginning his career 2,000 miles away.

In the last week of his life, Rogie didn’t do a lot of greeting at the door with dirty socks in his mouth, but you could locate him, lounging on a cushion or carpet, by the thump-thump-thump of his wagging tail hitting the floor. 

And by the trail of saliva he dripped through the house.

When he first lost interest in food last month, we thought it was because of antibiotics for an ear infection (he ALWAYS had ear infections!!!) Even our houseguest, who thankfully made it possible not to have to board him while we went out of town for a wedding just weeks ago, cooked him eggs. That probably bought him a few more weeks of life, as even his beloved home away from home seemed to take a little out of him in recent months. After the eggs were semi-successful for his palate, I began cooking for him. Yet this voracious beast, who treated dry kibble as though it were chateaubriand, couldn’t muster more than a few days of interest in my chicken/brown/rice/egg/sweet potato/kibble masterpiece.

Our poor old boy could not swallow. He would get excited for meal time, wait patiently for the signal, but then chew just one or two bites and they’d fall out of his mouth. He would drink a bit, but his water bowl remained full. He drooled constantly. It turns out, he had a paralyzed larynx.

Our sons said their goodbyes over the weekend, and yesterday, on Monday, July 9, 2018, after prayer that we would sense we were doing the right thing, my husband and I took him to our Vet to have him put down.

It was our 30th anniversary. As we wiped our eyes and turned toward the car after petting and comforting Rogie as he took his last breath, finally free of the hunger, the difficulty breathing, the aches of obvious arthritis, we marveled at the date. What says “for better or for worse” more than sharing this important but excruciating necessity of mercy? As we walked away from the vet — probably for the last time — we held hands and hugged one another.

Later, as we toasted to an extraordinary dog who brought us so much joy and just the right amount of annoyance over the years, our oldest, who had been temporarily living with us after relocating from Dallas for work, informed us that he had signed a lease on his own apartment just that morning and would be moving out in a week.

Rogie will not be there to offer comfort this time. But that’s not on him. I think he fulfilled his purpose — and beyond. We will miss him, and I’m sure, we’ll unnecessarily jump up to put him in his kennel when we hear the lawn mowers crank up on Friday mornings for awhile. We’ll look for him absently when heading to bed. We’ll hear phantom jingles of his dog collar. We’ll shed some more tears when the UPS truck rumbles down the street, only to be met by silence.

I don’t know if there’s an afterlife for dogs — but it seems like there should be. If so, I’d like to think he’s there now, meeting Niner and Friday for the first time and comparing notes on how much joy and the right amount of annoyance we brought them. And perhaps he’ll finally acknowledge his old buddy Bo, who loved him dearly but he completely ignored, even as Bo licked Rogie’s chin.

And if there’s a dog Heaven, he’ll be eating. And when he does, maybe he’ll pause out of habit for the “OK,” and then smile the way we all think our dogs smile, at the memory of a family who loved him so much. Then, maybe, he’ll eat so fast that, if he’s lucky, he’ll get to eat it again in a few minutes.

RIP Rogie V. McMahon

10-10-05 – 07-09-18

Resume. Resumé. Remember?

1 Jun

A few weeks ago a friend encouraged me to apply for a job at her company. Motivated, I went right home and went to the Careers portion of the company’s website. Name. Check! Address. Check. Phone and email. Check Check. Upload Resumé. Uh oh. More like cross-check!

How long had it been since I’d updated my resumé? Yikes! I searched my laptop, which replaced my completely crashed laptop in November of 2014. The only files that came up were all resumés that belonged to my sons.

Well, isn’t that telling! So, in the past couple years I have edited resumés, formatted them, and cheered as my sons landed pretty incredible positions. But me? Not a draft of my achievements to be found.

So, I vowed to dig out a hard copy at some point and start over. And then I went on a walk. And made dinner. Watched a hockey game. And didn’t think of it again. Until today.

Linked In emailed me this morning to inform me of a freelance position at a lifestyle publication catering to mid-lifers. Well, that’ll get the attention of an empty-nested 53-year-old, won’t it? I made some coffee and followed the links in my jammies, feeling a little nervous.

Returning to the working world after writing freelance (with the emphasis on “free”) for various non-profits for which I’d been involved over the past 20-something years, is daunting to say the least. Such accountability! I’m not even sure I want to — but I probably need to. Not for the money, or the clout. But for the mind, body and spirit.

Being a “stay-home mom” (always a funny little description since none of the stay-home moms I knew ever stayed anywhere for very long) for the past 24 years, using my gifts of writing, speaking and organization to help out PTAs, churches, foundations, booster clubs and the like, was extremely gratifying and enriching. I was helping the very organizations that served my family, I was exercising my professional skills, and it was all voluntary and project-based (meaning, I didn’t have to punch a clock, could say no-thank-you when I wanted, and work from anywhere (like editing a newsletter while I sat in a ski lodge).)

Once the nest emptied, and those natural school-based volunteer opportunities dried up, it was much more difficult to find places to use those gifts and talents on a casual basis. And the lack of a “team” of folks to work with makes a huge difference. I will tell you, after the camaraderie of a vibrant magazine office back in the day, and the teamwork of a Board of Directors speaking into your projects, it is lonely and desolate looking at a blank Word file, determined to finally write that screenplay that’s been dancing in the back of the mind for a few years. So instead, you know, a person might close up and head to the gym.

But today, I did it. I created my resumé, from scratch, digging deep into my long-term memory to extract dates, projects, jobs and skills. I even put a few little funny nuggets in there, just in case someone reads all the way through (Bonus points if they respond to my “Roll Tide” reference!) I sent it to two companies. I guess I have resumed my professional life.

Now it’s up to my Resumé — go, resume and flourish!

 

My Portfolio

26 Feb

A few links to published works:

History of Mustang Relays, etc. Mira Costa Track & Field Invitational program features. March 2014:https://costatrack.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/mustang-relays-historical-for-dyestat-cal.pdf

Feature Story on Guidance Counselors at Mira Costa High School, Manhattan Beach, CA, for Manhattan Beach Education Foundation (writer and photographer): http://mbef.org/2010/11/19/counselors-the-guiding-light-for-costa-students/

A Thanksgiving Devotional for my Praying Mamas

21 Nov

Thanking “Jehovah Jireh”

(The Lord Provides)

Don't I look Peaceful? And grateful?

Don’t I look Peaceful? And grateful?

by Cindy McMahon

I had a pretty “church lady” kind of week (led a Bible study and a college moms prayer group, arranged a speaker for a women’s group at church, went to Sunday service with my hubby). But I boldly tell you that the most Godly thing I did this week was cancel my High School Moms In Prayer group for this morning. Yep. Pulled the plug 12 hours before it was scheduled to meet.

You see, I’ve been feeling  overwhelmed – it’s all good, godly stuff, but just too much of it! — and  I’m not in a very “prayer group leader state of mind.” When church commitments become obligations, it’s time to take a time out. So I did.

This morning, instead of racing out with my prayer sheets, Bible and verses in hand, I stayed in my robe after I got the guys out the door. I sat down with my Bible and my thoughts and began to dwell in prayer with God on thankfulness and provision. What a peaceful morning we had together. Here’s what resulted: a devotional for us — my praying girlfriends and me — as we approach Thanksgiving week.

Truth: God provides what we need when we need it (not always what we want or when we want it!) We don’t always get what we want, and we often get things we really don’t want. But, with apologies to the Rolling Stones, “we get what we need!” And we get them from the Lord.

God provides us with everything we need to seek and find Him, and to live a life honoring him on this earth until we see him in Heaven. That is his promise. (Queue: I never promised you a rose garden…”)

He provides for us spiritually, physically and emotionally, and even provides us with wisdom and proper perspective. And, He provided for us in the most significant and life-altering way by providing the sacrifice – Jesus – for our sins so that we might dwell with Him in eternity, cleansed by the blood of our Savior.

As I reflected on some of the ways God continues to provide for me, I sought out these verses. I hope they will serve as reminders to you this week, as they did to me, that as we lift up our thanks to the God Who Provides, we are thanking He who knows us by name, hears the yearnings of our hearts, and provides for our most basic needs.

God provides:

  • A way out of temptation

I Corinthians 10:13: No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

  • Strength to do his will

I Peter 4:11: If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen

 

  • Peace in times of fear or worry

Philippians 4:6,7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

  • Necessities for Life

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

  • Perspective about what’s important

Luke 10: 38-42 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

  • Wisdom for dealing with difficult people/circumstances

James 1:18-20 This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

After reflecting on these passages (thanks BlueLetterBible.org for making it easy to find them), I lifted up these prayers for all of us Praying Mamas and our families:

Travel: I pray for traveling mercies for all of us and our loved ones – whether going across country or across town. People get in a hurry and don’t necessarily look out for each other. Let’s have our heads up and our eyes bright and clear! Be defensive drivers and walkers! Don’t blame God if you crash your car while texting!

Harmony: I pray for peace and harmony in families where holidays mean strife. I pray that a true seed of thankfulness will be implanted in the hearts of all, and that the fruit of that thankfulness will be kindness and peace.

Freedom from Nagging: I pray that if our kids receive homework (now that’s evil!) to do over the break, that they will take ownership of it and that we can stay out of the nagging cycle with them. Same goes for those working on college apps – especially those that are due Nov 30 or Dec 1 (deep breath as I type that!) Again, I pray for us to offer a quiet, helpful spirit that is not pushy, nagging or badgering. Let’s keep this proverb in mind:

Proverbs 25:24: It is better to live in a corner of the roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman. (OUCH!)

Health/Rest: I pray that all of us and our families will be able to listen to our bodies – rest when we need rest or don’t feel well, rather than trying to “push through.” I pray for our immune systems as we are exposed to new and exciting bacteria as people move all across the country and into and out of our fair cities!

Loneliness: I pray that if you are spending the holiday away from your loved ones, or are estranged from those you most desire to be with, that you will seek and find the God of all comfort, who knows your name, loves you and will never leave you. I pray that you feel this in a palpable way, and that you find a way to serve others in His name in order to alleviate that loneliness, such as through a women’s shelter or food kitchen for the homeless, or by befriending someone else who may be suffering from loneliness. As we know, sometimes you can feel lonely in a room full of people.

Healing: I pray that if there is someone in your life – either dead or alive, someone who is long gone or who you might see – that has hurt you, betrayed you or abandoned you, that you will find it in your heart to forgive them. Not forgiveness in the sense of saying “oh, it’s ok,” but forgiveness in the way that says, “I won’t be defined by what this person did to me. By forgiving, I am handing their sin burden to the Lord to carry.” Remember that nothing that has been done to us that wasn’t also done to our innocent, sinless savior – often by those whom he should have been able to trust. He was abandoned, beaten, wrongly accused, lied to, yelled at, misunderstood, ignored, discarded, betrayed, and ultimately killed. HE KNOWS what we’ve been through and what if feels like. But his hurts and wounds do not define him – they were merely a chapter on his way to Glory – as are ours. And while you’re forgiving others, if you’re feeling guilty about something in your past that you’ve already asked God to forgive, provide yourself with that forgiveness now and move forward.

Stay thankful my friends.

Saying Goodbye to “Novo” – Sept 7, 1951 – Aug 15, 2013

24 Sep

The first time I had a one-on-one meeting with the late, great Tim Novoselski, I was fairly certain I was about to be fired.

I was 22 years old and a new employee – less than six months — with Miramar Publishing, the trade magazine company that he and his fantastic wife, Denise, owned.

The situation leading up to this ominous meeting had unfolded the day before. I had been excitedly meeting with my editors to discuss my first cover story. I was scheduled to travel the following week to the metropolis of Sandy, Utah.

“So, will the photographer meet me there?” I asked.

The answer was silent but jarring:  Two editors in chief, one associate and two other reporters stared at me. They said not a word. They’d all been there longer than I had….and obviously knew something I didn’t.

You are the photographer,” one said. She was the one who had hired me.

I felt a flush go through me. Like a pre-fainting feeling.

“All I have is an instant,” I explained, incredulous. If was a first-generation point-and-shoot 35 mm. Not cover photo equipment. Not even close.

“Did you lie when you interviewed?” she asked. Straight to the point, that one.

I was floored. Near tears. Never would I lie in a job interview!

Sheepishly, voice quivering, I replied, “You didn’t ask me about photography.”

“I’ll be right back.” She stood up and left the room.

Good lord, where is she going? What is going to happen?

Awkwardly, the rest of the crew made small talk about Utah and how to work the state alcoholic beverage system’s rules to get served a cocktail in a hotel restaurant.

I could have used a cocktail right about then.

When she returned, she had my personnel file in her hand and was smiling. Was it an evil smile or an embarrassed smile?

“Well, it looks like I skipped that entire page in your interview,” she said, holding up a sheet with typed questions but no writing. “You’re off the hook.”

I was relieved for about five seconds.
“But what about the photos?” I asked.

“Let me think about it,” my boss, the one with the Utah cocktail knowledge, said.

I spent some time that night freaking out. Obviously, they needed a photo-journalist, I reasoned. I would be fired. Would I get severance? Could I make my rent and car payment? I would have to move back to Northern California. Back into my parents’ home. A failure. I barely slept.

The next day, I was told to report to the office of the co-publisher, Tim Novoselski. I watched the clock until the appointed time and made my way over.

“Come on in,” he said, opening the door to his office. “So, you snuck your way in here, huh?”

He laughed. Thank you, Tim, for laughing.

“I guess I did,” I replied, meekly, not sure if I should smile or nod in solemn agreement.

No time for soul searching. Tim jumped right to the solution.

In the next 30 minutes, Tim gave me a crash course in photography. We discussed F stops and lighting, bracketing and framing. Obviously, over time, I’ve lost the ability to perfectly quote his instruction. But having told this story many times, I feel fairly confident this recollection captures the spirit of Novo’s Photo 101.

“The most important thing I can tell you is this,” he explained. “Don’t look around and say, ‘This is a great scene,’ and then put the camera to your eye to capture it. Put the camera to your eye first. See what it sees. Does it tell the story you want to tell? Is the subject of your shot the first thing you notice? Your eyes lie to you. They’ll fill in what’s not there. The camera sees only what’s there, and it will tell your eye the truth.”

At the time, I had no idea just how wise those words were, and how many times I would call on them in my reporter’s journey that has included the snapping of thousands of photos.

At the time, I was just grateful for his kindness — Grateful that this busy man (always walking fast on his way to do something, as I recall!), this boss man, would take the time out of his day to reassure and equip a budding reporter, first job out of college, scared to death that she’d be fired.

His last words to me that day were, “Take as much film as you need!”

I think I shot six rolls of Kodachrome and three of E6 Slide Film. Thankfully, one of them was good enough for the cover (I am still looking for that magazine cover!)

When Tim was first diagnosed with cancer a few years back, we shared several emails back and forth. As a cancer survivor myself (thyroid, 2007), we connected on a new level – more as peers than as mentor-student. I was able to share this recollection with him, and to tell him how much I appreciated his graciousness then – and how much I still do.

Just a few hours from now, I’ll join many former colleagues, and the phenomenal Denise Novoselski, to say goodbye to the beloved and larger-than-life Tim. Then, I suppose, it will seem real. But it doesn’t really just yet. I look forward to talking about old times with some of the old gang. I know we will share laughter and tears. We will share Novo-stories, and the ways in which we will always carry Tim’s legacy with us.

From creating the company that gave me my first job – where I met my husband and love of my life (still going strong after two kids and 25 years of marriage) – to the many emails, Facebook photos and stories we shared in the recent years, and all the workplace moments in between, I have the deepest gratitude for having known Tim. I am so sad that he is gone.

I will see you in the lens, my friend.

Our “Secrets” to a Happy Marriage

1 Aug

By Cindy McMahon

In the limo right after the ceremony.

In the limo right after the ceremony.

“So, what’s the secret?”

It was just a simple question from a virtual stranger in an email exchange. Mariana S., a hotel employee, was helping us arrange a few extras for our upcoming 25th wedding anniversary stay. She congratulated us on our marital longevity, explained that she was at year eight in her marriage, and asked us for “the secret.”

I could have been funny, or flippant, or politely brief. But she asked, right?

So without getting too heavy or long-winded, I replied:

The secret to a successful marriage? So many things come to mind — shared interests, shared faith, shared laughter, date nights, making each other a priority.  There’s a saying that sums it up perfectly: “The grass is always greener where you water it.”

Obviously, there’s more to it.  Like all couples, we have had some great times, some tenuous times, some fun and some sadness. There has been disappointment, failures, hilarity and joy. We’ve gotten on each other’s nerves, and we’ve yearned to see one another when we were apart.

 

So, why is it that our marriage has lasted – and flourished and gotten better through the years – when those of so many others who seemed just as well-suited to one another, have failed?

Only God knows that answer for sure, but after pondering the question for a few days, I’ve got some ideas on the subject (about 21 of them, as a matter of fact). I am certainly not here to judge your marriage, its potential for success or failure! We all work it out our own way and none of these are deal breakers, for sure.

[Note: This is our experience, and if there’s something you can apply now to your current marriage, or to your future marriage (or even to repair a broken or rocky marriage), please take liberally. If you’d rather not partake, ain’t nobody holding your eyeballs captive, so I hereby release you from the obligatory read. Get on along, now.]

So here they are, not in order of importance, but more in order chronologically:

The Top 21 Reasons I Think

Team Cindy & Joe are

25 years and still going strong

At a friends wedding, add decked out!

At a friends wedding last summer, all decked out!

1. We were friends before we were lovers. We worked for the same company, so we had an opportunity to hang out, occasionally work together, and get to know each other without any pretense or expectation. Over the course of many Red Onion Happy Hours with the crew from work, we found out about everyone’s past, lots of mistakes, and crazy stories that one might not tell a potential suitor.  The benefit of this start to our relationship was two-fold:

First, we had truly been transparent with each other – not necessarily the way things go when you’re getting to know someone through stilted first-date conversations.

 

Second, we knew what we were getting. No surprises!

2. We liked each other just the way we were.  This was huge, I believe. I didn’t expect to change the essence of who Joe was, nor he me. Sure, I made some wardrobe changes for him (goodbye Gilligan-style painter pants! He wasn’t a painter, ok?), and longed for him to write down appointments and events so that he didn’t double-book himself. He encouraged me to grow my hair long and to learn to snow ski, but those were just exterior things. If those things had never come about, they would not have been deal-breakers.

We ended up growing and changing together, but not because of expectations or pressure from one another. We matured together – with support from one another, but not with a push (occasionally there was a nudge though).

3. He was a good-hearted person who cherished me. Joe is and has always been kind – not just to me, but to strangers, old folks and children — even the crazy drunk homeless lady that wandered into our tailgate party at the Rose Bowl.

When we began dating, he doted on me. He bought me flowers and wrote me sweet notes. He took me out to dinner, and he gave me compliments. You can’t marry a mean, dismissive person and think you will change them into a nice, attentive person.

Ladies — if he doesn’t treat you right during the courting days, you’ll be in trouble once you are his wife.

Gentlemen — a demanding, belittling or drama-oriented girlfriend will not change into an accepting, encouraging non-dramatic wife once the ceremony is over.

Sadly, I have seen this misperception play out with some friends over the years. Were they perhaps so in love with the idea of being in love that they overlooked the personality flaws or red flags? Maybe they just wanted the ring, and the promise of a non-lonely future? Maybe they thought that marriage would “change everything.” It didn’t. I imagine, it rarely does.

4. We share a common faith.  Neither of us were living the poster-child Christian life at the time that we met. And, in fact, I might venture that despite early commitments to Christ when we were adolescents, our faith was unrecognizable from the outside. However, as our friendship and courtship intensified, we had a few heart to hearts on long drives and camping trips, and realized that despite our failure to practice our faith other than at Christmas and Easter, we held in common the belief that Jesus is the Christ, the only son of God, and that he died for us, was buried, and resurrected, and that we believed the Bible to be true.

Although that faith was indeed the “tiny acorn” of scripture, it became the mighty oak of the shelter for our marriage. We have both had some pretty profound spiritual experiences over the 23 or so years that we’ve been seeking a closer relationship with God. I can’t imagine how sad I would be NOT to be able to share those experiences with the one person I’ve committed to spend the rest of my natural life with, or to miss out on the blessing of praying, worshiping and serving together.

Our commitment to living a life that honors Christ has given us guidance in all matters of marital life, from honor to patience to commitment – especially in the moments where our human nature would have sent us in a different direction – away from one another. Shared faith has been huge.

5. We already had common interests, and created more on purpose.  Our first date was to a Raiders game (that is if you ask Joe…I didn’t know it was a date!) We both have always loved sports — especially baseball, football, and – a sport that Joe introduced me to – hockey.  He wanted to teach me about hockey and I wanted to learn since it was important to him. We still laugh about my first Kings game back in 1986 when I asked why some guys were wearing the “hats” and others weren’t. (Yeah, they’re called helmets, just like in football. Who knew?)

One of those common interests we've developed over the years: skiing/showboarding!

One of those common interests we’ve developed over the years: skiing/showboarding!

Nowadays we do the hockey fanatic thing together as a family. We enjoy water sports and snow skiing, fitness and movie-watching, and entertaining, even when one of us perhaps isn’t as interested as the other person (I semi-enthusiastically tent-camped for a number of years before I threw in the dusty towel on that one!).

While it is great to have your individual interests, my caution is that if your hobby consistently takes you away from your mate, and they have no clue what it’s about, it’s probably not helping your partnership at all. My husband wouldn’t set foot in my hip-hop class – and that’s okay. But I also don’t go out partying with the hip-hop class group. If I did, I’d bring Joe.

Check out your local parks and rec listings of classes. Is there anything you both might like to try? (Joe, take this as foreshadowing: I want us to do Stand-Up Paddleboarding!)

6. We were a couple before we were parents.  We were friends for about six months before we got romantic. Then we dated for almost two years before we got married. We were married four years before we became parents.

Add it all together and we had six years of double-income, no-kids fun, worked out some of the chaffing things we discovered about living in the same house, figured out how to handle friends and chores and responsibilities and family and bills and people dropping by with a 12-pack, etc. before we went into that four- or five-year survival mode that two little boys three-and-a-half years apart brings. In survival mode, it is quite difficult to work on anything except the daily to-do list.

7. We both wanted to raise a family – and we both wanted me to stay home with the kids. (Again with the shared values…see a trend?) We both came from very family-oriented crews, and so that one was easy. And when the time came, there was no doubt in my mind that I would stay home (which really makes no sense given my career-girl beginnings. I don’t know what happened, but I am so glad it did!)

With the blessing of being a stay-home mom all these years, I was further able to nurture our marriage by taking care of the myriad details and demands of family life during the day. When Joe returned from the office, we had family dinners, and down time, and then, when the kids went to bed, we could sit and be together. I know that’s a rare financial feat these days, and as I said, we know it was a blessing that not everyone can experience—or that everyone would find joy in. But I sure have – still do!

8. We sought outside help when things got prickly. When we married, we both brought life habits, coping mechanisms and ways of handling challenge culled from our families. There were good things, bad things and downright dysfunctional ways of handling strife that we had seen modeled through the years. We went through a patch where we needed a wise, trained third party to help us navigate those rough waters that involved extended family and personal history. We then began to forge our way of doing things, that held onto the functional legacy and, hopefully, jettisoned that dysfunction. (Of course, our kids will probably find something to seek counseling about our legacy someday!)

9. Date night: vital! When our first-born was about 10 months old, we were blessed to meet the best babysitter in the world! Tara was an education major at the local university, and had replied to a job ad for our church nursery. The day I interviewed her, she and my little guy fell in love. Nearly every Friday for the next 8 years, she babysat for us so that we could go out. Sometimes it was dinner and a movie. Other times to a pool hall. Once we even had a picnic on the beach. We stayed in touch with each other as a couple, not just as parents. (And now Tara is a wife and mom!)

10. We talk to each other – about everything – and we don’t have a “better” friend that gets more info. Communication is key to any relationship, but in a marriage, especially when kids come along, sometimes the verbal exchange amounts to a rundown of the calendar and a to-do list.

Often I would find myself too tired to recount a situation to him – some complicated challenge with a friend, or a concern about something at the kids’ school that I wasn’t even sure he cared about. It would have been much easier to vent to my girlfriends and let that be the end of it.  But I didn’t.

He could have done the same with work issues. But part of that connection was sharing the things that were important and that were dominating our thoughts. We are each other’s  number-one confidante. No co-worker or bestie gets more info or more input. Not even my mom or my sister.

11. We tell each other the truth, even when it is not a happy truth, and we don’t store it up. We are both non-confrontational people by nature, but we were given this advice early on in our marriage: If we’re mad at, disappointed with, or irritated by something the other person has done, is planning to do, or is doing, we say so. Get it out, talk it out, deal with it and move on. (A side note here: Bring up these issues at a time when you are both sober and have energy. Not after a bottle of wine; not when one spouse is about to doze off. Trust me on this!)

My folks always abided by the scripture from Ephesians 4:26-27: “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Good advice!

12. We don’t air the marital strife in social situations. Now, I’m all for being transparent, and not putting on some façade that leads others to wrongly believe that we are perfect, but being critical of a spouse to others (whether he or she is present or not) is not beneficial.

No fair making passive-aggressive or flippant comments at a couples’ dinner about something that’s been bugging me. Nope! It’s disrespectful and awkward for everyone.

No fair griping to my girlfriends about an issue we’re having in a way that damages my husband’s reputation or would make them look at him in a different light.

While having a trusted friend who is wise counsel and keeps you accountable is important – vital – care still needs to be taken when sharing about struggles in your marriage.

Are you truly seeking advice and help, or are you just bitchin’? In the case of the latter, I recommend that it stay within the family cone until it’s resolved. Then and only then, with the other person’s permission, share it if your experience can help someone else.

13. We – and our parents before us — were in it for the long haul. Divorce has never been an option in our minds. We promised God and everyone important in our lives that this was the real deal, ‘til death do us part. We meant it.

At the time of this photo (taken at our engagement party, our parents had about 60 years of combined marriage under their belts. Look how happy they were!

At the time of this photo (taken at our engagement party, our parents had about 60 years of combined marriage under their belts. Look how happy they were!

We are blessed with two sets of parents who stayed married. My hubby’s folks had been married over 40 years when my father-in-law passed away. My parents are on year 59. They are still having fun and sharing their common love for sports, socializing and card playing. What a rare legacy we have!

14. We were faithful to each other – and turned away from potential temptations. As my husband said when we were discussing some of these topics, “Who knew monogamy could be so great?” We were laughing, but we meant it. Adultery does not mean the absolute end of a marriage – and if you have worked through infidelity in your marriage and arrived at forgiveness and reconciliation, you are my hero! However, I would venture that most marriages do not survive it.

Although I don’t have first-hand info on this, my hunch is that most extra-marital affairs begin with a seemingly innocent flirtation, glance, comment or gesture at a point when someone can still walk away. There’s a scriptural promise that God always provides a way out of temptation (1Corinthians 10:13).

Everyone is tempted. Who hasn’t felt that rush of being noticed or flirted with, in person or online? It takes a strong, confident person, one who is being honest with him or herself, to recognize that temptation as potentially dangerous and to literally and figuratively walk away from it. If a marriage is in trouble already, the ability to do that is superhuman. God help you. Seriously.

15. We assume the best about each other. If Joe says something, or does something that bugs me or downright pisses me off, I first assume that he didn’t do it to purposely hurt me. Whether it’s an off-the-cuff comment, or a bathroom left in a state of nasty, I remind myself that he loves me, and that really, does any husband purposely want an angry wife?

16. We express gratitude and encouragement to one another. Whether it’s, “Thanks for making the coffee,” or “Thanks for putting out the trash,” – even if we do it almost every single day, we verbally thank one another. And, we speak words of encouragement often, whether it’s a comment on appearance, “You look handsome in that shirt,” or a nod for our effort toward a thankless endeavor:  “I know you’re working you butt off for XXX volunteer project – keep up the good work.” It’s sincere appreciation (no BS-ing!).

17. Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?  I would say that Joe is better at this – he doesn’t sweat the small details. If he wants to go to a movie, and I really want to stay home and watch a video, he’s more likely to shrug than dig his heels in. I try to be that way, but I often realize after the fact that I missed an opportunity to shrug and acquiesce. See, we always have room for improvement!

18. We didn’t blame problems on circumstances. If you fight about money when you’re poor, you will most likely fight about money when you’re rich. If you blame marital woes on your finances, your bad neighborhood, or anything else that you cannot personally control, chances are, your woes will tag along even if all those things are miraculously fixed.

It’s not the problems and challenges that will get you. It’s how you handle them. We did our best to take responsibility for our actions, make changes when we could, and communicate with each other. That’s where a good therapist will help greatly – to help you see what the core of the problem is.

There are really happy couples who have very little wealth, and really miserable couples who have treasure troves of money (watched any reality TV lately????)

19. We are intentional about intimacy (and not just that kind of intimacy). There are ebbs and flows in the physical part of a marriage. Generally women who are chubby from childbirth, and exhausted from nursing and being up in the night, aren’t thinking about the bedroom (unless it’s daydreaming about taking a nap, right?). That would be what you’d lable an ebb!

As marriages “season,” male and female hormonal levels shift and change. During the “ebbs” it’s important to remember that intimacy isn’t just physical. It’s about connecting on a level where you share your innermost thoughts, your hopes, fears and dreams – being vulnerable with one another. As I mentioned before, you should be sharing this type of intimacy with your spouse, not with your co-worker (especially one who is the opposite sex. Danger zone, and I mean it!)

And on the physical front (no pun intended, really), sometimes you have to trust your hubby’s lead, or he yours if one of you is not feelin’, ahem, “romantical.” And if things really go desert-like in the bedroom, get thee to a counselor! Sex is God-given, fun and free, husbands and wives! Just do it!

20. We divided the responsibilities of marriage, but Joe is the head honcho. I know this will seem weird to some people. Honestly, it would have to me about 30 years ago. Some would call it old-fashioned or outdated, or an affront to women’s rights. But much like a movie production needs a producer, a director, a screenwriter and actors – all of whom are vital to the finished product – marriage and running a family requires that couples take on many vital roles to bring it to success and fruition.

However, someone needs to be ultimately in charge if unresolvable issues arise. Otherwise, production stops.

It is not always easy – I would characterize myself as a strong, opinionated woman. However, I am married to a reasonable, smart, strong man whose opinion I trust and value. We both have our areas of “expertise,” but should a huge disagreement on a family decision occur, I would acquiesce. Thankfully, we have only had minor challenges in this area along the way. That, I believe, comes with compatibility!

21. I am a wife first and a mom second. And I’m not just talking chronology. Maybe you can cross out the period of time when each of our boys were born — first six moths or so – but we tried to put each other ahead of the kids.

It is really easy to get so wrapped up in your children that you hardly speak to one another about anything else. But the truth is – and here it comes, running toward us at an alarming pace – that kids grow up and move on, and you’re left back where you started – only you’re 20 or so years older and wiser, chubbier and more wrinkly.

With intentionality – the intimacy, date nights, etc. – we have maintained our identity as a couple. This certainly makes the prospect of an empty nest (in about 13 months – yikes!) seem less scary.

Nothing says happy like a fancy dinner and gourmet dessert!

Nothing says happy like a fancy dinner and gourmet dessert! Thanks to the Ritz-Carlton @ LA Live staff!

What will my days look like without the demands of Booster Club business and laundry baskets full of track clothes? What will our nights look like with dinner for two as the norm again? That will be a new journey. Thankfully, I will not travel it alone, but with the love of my life, my best friend, my confidante, my lover: my husband.

Here’s to the next 25!

‘Twas the Night Before Hockey

18 Jan

‘Twas the night before hockey

And all through Cup Kingdom

The fanatics were stirring

Like Luc doing Gangnam

The Banner’ll be hung

In the rafters with care

A reverent unfurling

While we’ll all gawk and stare

A long night ahead, tossing, turning in bed

With visions of June still fresh in our heads

Then we, in our jerseys, & Stanley Cup Caps

Will finally awake from this long puckless nap

Now out on the ice, there’ll arise such a clatter

Bettman’s folly, that lockout, won’t really matter

Jimmy & Bob will be back in a flash

And some bitter Ducks fan will prob’ly talk trash

Now Dusty, now Kopi, now Quickie and Penner

Now Cliffy, now Williams, Carter and Greener

To the slot, to the point! Willie & Drew

Shake off the cobwebs, get ready Ice Crew!

Then Sutter will stand, to his team give a whistle,

And away Champs will fly, like Scuds, like a missile

Without David Courtney, it won’t seem quite right,

But Happy Hockey to all, and to all, a good fight!

©Cindy McMcMahon

Manhattan Beach CA

Jan 18, 2013

Mary & Martha Revisited: It’s Attitude, Sister.

13 Dec

It’s not how much you have to do, it’s how you feel about it doing it.

(Note: Wow – one MOPS meeting results in three blog posts! What a morning it was! First, Potluck; then My Fave  Five, and now, Mary & Martha. Yahoo!)

I just completed one of the most schedule-packed, busy, speaking-writing,-cooking-socializing 9-day chunks of time in my adult life. The culmination event was leading the devotional and discussion time at the Mothers of Preschoolers group at my church Monday morning. Not surprisingly, given my audience of busy young moms and my recent schedule, I chose a verse that is often studied this time of year — Jesus at the Home of Mary & Martha: Luke 10:38-41. Check it out:

“38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’”

In my many years of studying this passage, the revelations just keep on coming.

In my early days of reading the Bible, I marveled: This is in the Bible? It seems like such a mundane, slice of life passage. But Jesus cares about the details of life! I have, at various times, identified (silently!) with Martha – Seriously, can’t somebody help me around here? And at other times, when my kids were little and the demands on my time precluded periods of “sitting at Jesus’ feet,” I yearned to be Mary: Please leave me alone and let me just sit quietly!

This year, however, as I revisited this passage with the intent of sharing admonitions against over-committing, and tips for doing what’s really important and lasting during the Christmas season, I had a new reckoning.

It’s not that Martha took on too much, per se. It’s how she felt about her decision – worried and upset. It’s attitude, sister.

After the 9 days of  crazy scheduling I just had – that included producing and co-MCing a women’s event at church, coordinating food for a memorial service at the high school (and I was a speaker there too), baking for a cooking exchange and a care package for my finals-burdened, out-of-state college student, three dinners out, cooking dinner at home every other night for my hubby and my busy 16-year old, hosting three meetings at my house (with food and bev, naturally), coordinating with the dryer repair man, doing announcements at church, going to the holiday fireworks show in our town, and then, speaking at the MOPS group on day nine, you might think I was being Martha – overscheduled and bitter about having to do so much.

But unlike many of those busy times in my adult life when I have over-committed and grumbled, this was different. I loved every minute of it! I mean, I was seriously joyful!

What was the difference this time? Well, the only explanation is: God.

As I approached this season – which I knew would be busy, even without foreknowledge about the death of our beloved Track Coach and his Memorial Service – I was praying fiercely and obediently. And I asked others, whom I knew would really do it, to pray for me. Before accepting responsibilities or offering to help others, I laid my ideas before God and asked Him – Should I? I didn’t respond to any requests immediately. I let the decision marinate in prayer.

Did I hear a voice? Well, that’d be weird! But “hearing” isn’t necessary when all the answers I need are in the Bible. This verse, which I had memorized long before, resonated with me as I prayed and sat quietly, “listening:”

“Whatever you do, work at it wholeheartedly as though you were doing it for the Lord and not merely for people.” Colossians 3:23

So, I felt God was saying – Hey, Cindy, it’s really up to you if you decide to do this stuff. But if you do, remember that you are doing it for me, you are representing me, so don’t go all Martha on me. If you decide to do more than that “one thing that is needed,” don’t be worrying and upset. And definitely don’t try to pass the buck to someone who has chosen differently. No guilt trips, girl.

So, with God’s blessing, I discussed the scheduling with my wonderful, patient, also-busy husband, and we figured it out. And then, there was the matter of a couple of giant and key naps on last Sunday afternoon and this past Saturday afternoon. Those kind where you wake up and think it’s a different day! So awesome!

So, as you go forward with your to-dos and your plans, and all those “shoulds” that you have on your calendar, it’s probably too late to decide whether or not you can get out of them. But it’s never too late to lift up your attitude for a recalibration. Remember who the Christmas season is really for, and ask Him to help you get to a place where you can joyfully serve, work, cook, clean, shop, host, whatever, as though He were going to be right there with you. Because, ya know, He is.

Now, as the real “meat” of my Christmas season looms (and yes, it’s Dec 13 and I have only bought 3 gifts), my challenge will be to maintain my joy, my daily conversation with God, and the act of laying my schedule out for prayer and approval.

Stuff to think about while you’re in line at Costco…or on the freeway….or trying to fall asleep:

When have you missed a moment because you were more Martha than Mary – grumbling about all you perceive you must do instead of enjoying it?

In what areas do you struggle for perfection – often hampering your own – and others’– joy?

What can you do this Christmas to be more “sit at the feet of Jesus and enjoy the moment” rather than “Hey, why isn’t anyone helping me do all this crazy stuff I think I need to do?”

Identify what you can let go of, and let go. Identify the “have-to’s” and work to change your attitude about them.

And pray!

“Mary” Christmas!

My Fave Five

11 Dec

This fall we started a new segment of our monthly Mothers of Preschoolers group (I’m the mentor, BTW, not one of the “young” moms) called Fave Five where we share our five favorite “things.” Could be anything, from cleaning products to websites, from recipes to cosmetics. I was considering sharing this: “Sunday after-church nap.” But I wanted to combine my talk with giveaways in the spirit of Christmas, and I wasn’t about to offer to watch toddlers while one of the mamas napped! Maybe in the spring….

Here’s what made the list (and seriously, I feel like I could have done my Fave Fifty!)

Microfiber Hair Towel — I’ve got thick, curly hair that takes forever to dry (I don’t blow-dry my hair, so this is especially an issue in the winter). I love my super absorbent hair towel turban! I usually go through one about every year and a half (they last but get discolored… especially when I use it within a day of “rescuing my roots.” Ahem.) My latest version of hair towel is turbietwist. Of course, it has its own website (but I bought it at CVS–they had a two-for-one dealio that was perfect for my give-away idea!) TurbieTwist

Fleishmann’s Pizza Dough Yeast — We love thin, crispy crust. Since I discovered Fleishmann’s

Pizza Dough Yeast at Ralph’s

supermarket (it doesn’t need time to

Homemade Pizza with dough by Fleischmann's Pizza Dough Yeast

Homemade Tostada Pizza with dough by Fleischmann’s Pizza Dough Yeast

rise!) I’ve been making pizza from scratch about once a week. Makes it so easy! I make two crusts from one packet, and I let my bread machine do the heavy kneading (I split the dough ball into two after it’s formed). I bake the crust for 7 minutes before I add the toppings for extra crispiness, but otherwise, I follow the directions on the packet. I have frozen the crusts (after the initial baking) and it worked out great to pull them out of the freezer, add leftovers and bake! A fave:  BBQ Chicken Pizza — use bbq sauce instead of tomato sauce, add white cheeses, thinly sliced Bermuda onions, fresh chopped cilantro and leftover shredded bbq chicken!) The photo is another favorite — half salsa/half refried beans for the sauce; Mexican cheese blend, shredded roasted chicken, black beans and corn. Mmmm. Fleischmann’s Pizza Crust website

Kevo Moisturizer: My friend, Brad Glynn, developed this great product after years in the sun playing and coaching

tennis, as well as years on the giving end of deep tissue sports massage. He wanted an all-natural moisturizer that could multi-task. He has since developed a couple of more specialized products (deep tissue massage oil, lip balm and eye cream), but I still love Kevo original for a lip balm, eye cream, cuticle cream, chapped face (hello Tahoe!), dry elbows, heels and knees, and so on. I have pretty sensitive skin (especially when it’s chapped….even hypoallergenic stuff stings me), but Kevo has never failed me nor stung even my most chapped ski-bum lips! Kevo Website

Method Shower Spray: We have two glass shower walls and really hard water. That’s not a great combo. And who wants to squeegie every time you shower? Neither my husband nor I! Never fear, Method Shower Spray is here! Bought it at Target after reading the label – it’s all natural, non-caustic and –yahoo– you just spray it on and leave it! Five years of showers and still the glass looks great! You can spray it on the tile too. If I could only convince my sons to use it too…..workin on it! Method Shower Spray

Mr. Clean Magic Eraser sponge: Not new, but still one of my favorite household products. Thank you, Mr. Clean. You’ve been bald with an earring long before it was trendy. What a forward thinker! These magic sponges are great to wipe away scuffs on the wall, scuffs on my shoes, soap scum in the tub (for those among the family who don’t use Method Shower Spray, cough cough) and a variety of other wondrous feats! Magic Eraser

So, there’s my Fave Five for now — and it’s probably important to know that I don’t get any kind of grease from promoting any of these products. Dang, that’d be nice, wouldn’t it?

Get Lucky this Christmas! (We’re Bringin’ Potluck Back)

10 Dec

In these tighter economic times, it makes sense that potluck parties should be on the rise. We shouldn’t give up our get-togethers just because our party budget has shrunk! And, with busy lives, the ability to cook multi-course meals – and still have the energy left to enjoy them with guests – is a rare feat!

I’ve hosted quite a few potlucks over the years –  from 80-person grade-level parents parties when our kids were in elementary school to Bible study end-of-year soirees that grew to 90 folks. We recently hosted a smaller potluck with a crew of 20 friends who all have kids in college (that same crew from the elementary school days)! If anyone ever understood the necessity of a frugal dinner party, it’s those of us who are paying out-of-state tuition!

Whether you are hosting or attending, here are a few tips!

Tips for the host:

Don’t kill yourself cleaning: Hide the stacks of unfinished business in your bedroom, turn down the lights and light some candles. Even a mess looks better by candlelight.

Tell them what you want: Give people suggestions for what to bring. You can even create a signup on one of the online sites like SignUp Genius. Unless you want specific items (such as bread to accompany lasagna) you can ask for general categories (appetizers, salads, main, sides, desserts, beverages, paper goods). But make sure your guests can see what the others are bringing – you don’t want four people bringing brownies! And, from experience, you don’t really need as many desserts as you think. One or two usually will suffice.

Be ready: Have everything ready to go so that you can greet guests and not be busy in the kitchen when they arrive. That means you’ve got space in the fridge for items that arrive and need to be kept cold, and space on the counter or in the oven – or on the buffet table – for items as they come. Also, lots of aluminum foil, ziploks and containers you don’t need back for sending leftovers out the door (or at least so you can send the original dish home with the provider. Who wants to drive around town with a load of Pyrex deliveries?)

Self-serve beverages: Unless your spouse or a friend really enjoys playing bartender, make drinks as self serve as possible. Walk your guest, for instance, to the cooler and cups, the already-opened wine bottles and glasses —  and get them the first one – then deputize them to help themselves  (and anyone else) to seconds!

Prepare for forgetful guests: Have plenty of dishtowels, trivets, oven mitts and serving utensils on hand, as well as platters, bowls, etc. for those who neglect to bring them. You don’t want to be standing on your head peering into the dark depths of your serve-ware cabinet trying to find the chip and dip bowl while you are supposed to be mingling and offering witty and charming commentary on your Christmas décor, right?

A friend indeed: Enlist a good friend to help you do an occasional walk-through-tidy (throw away empties, pick up used napkins, replenish ice or wine) or walk around with a platter of appetizers.

Ice-breakers: Even if someone else is bringing appetizers and drinks, be sure to have a few simple things on hand for those who arrive before the providers: some little cups of nuts, pretzels or Chex mix, a few large bottles of sparkling water, a bottle of champagne or prosecco (something that’s festive but won’t trump the person who arrives a few minutes late with that gallon of sangria or pitcher of Pom Martinis!)

Tips for the Best Potluck Guests:

Sign up early – but be flexible: Let your hostess know that even though you signed up to bring a chocolate cream pie, you would be happy to bring something else if she would like. This is better than signing up “I’ll bring whatever you want.” If you do that, you are forcing the hostess to figure it out for you. Give a default and proffer a phone call a few days before.

Know yourself, tardy girl: If you sign up for appetizers, arrive on time. If you are a habitually late person, offer to bring dessert instead!

Be fully prepared: When you bring something to a potluck, bring it ready to serve (or as close to that as possible) with all the appropriate serving utensils. I once had someone offer to bring macaroni and cheese to a potluck. They arrived 30 minutes late with a grocery bag and handed it to me: two boxes of uncooked Kraft Macaroni & cheese, a half gallon of milk and box of butter. I thanked them and told them we would be enjoying it for lunch the next day!

Even if you are bringing chips and salsa – bring a bowl for the chips and a dish for the salsa. Ask the hostess where she wants it and take it there. Dump them in and throw away your trash! If your dish needs preparation right before serving, let the hostess know that you will prepare it at the time – just ask for a five-minute heads-up before she wants to serve.

No doggie bags for You:  If you bring something to a potluck and it doesn’t get completely consumed (food or beverage), offer to leave it there – ask if they have a ziplock or a container you can transfer it to so they don’t have to wash your dish and get it back to you. (I know, the temptation is to take it with you – especially if it’s a bottle of wine – but etiquette wise, leave it unless your host resists and wants you to take it with you. They hosted, cleaned house and organized the party. They deserve to have a glass of wine and a nosh of onion dip once the guests have left!)

High-maintenance dish: If your signature potluck dish needs to be in an oven, be sure to check ahead with the hostess to make sure she has the oven or microwave space. I was once doing a pizza party (I had made several homemade gourmet pizzas). One guest arrived – they had offered to do meatballs – but they needed the oven for 30 minutes to heat them up. 30 minutes is a LONG time – and I needed the oven for the pizza. It was awkward…..but we did a little Rubik’s cube action and enlisted the microwave for the initial heating, and got it to work. But if it’s not convenient, consider making something else this time and save that high-maintenance entrée for you own party.

Gifting your Hostess: When you bring a hostess gift, make sure it’s not something the hostess has to deal with—such as a bouquet of flowers that are not in water. Nice host/hostess gifts you might consider as an alternative: a plant; a bottle of fancy olive oil or balsamic vinegar; bottle of wine with a note (but wrap it so it doesn’t get consumed that night);  cute cocktail napkins; a Christmas apron; small plate of something homemade (cookies; banana bread; brownies) wrapped nicely with a note; liqueur or schnapps (especially peppermint this time of year) are always nice to have on hand.

Courtesy call for help: Call an hour before the party and ask if you can pick up anything on your way over (a bag of ice – a bag of chips. I love it when someone does that for me!)

Last minute cancellations – send the dish anyhow! Unless your host refuses (or you have the stomach flu and no one would want to eat what you made with your infectious little hands) send your dish over even if you have to cancel – especially if it’s last minute and you’ve already made it. And that’s doubly important if you are bringing dessert – you might be the only one!

Now, shutdown your computer and get out there and socialize, people!