Category Archives: Family

My Christmas Wish List

With Christmas just around the corner, my husband and my kids are wringing their hands wondering what to get mom.  I’ve put together a list to help them along:

  1.  World Peace.  Miss America asks for it every year.  Why can’t I?  In fact, let the record show that I have always been in favor of world peace.   This year, I am urging my family to “Think Globally, Act Locally” and stop bickering, in particular my two youngest.  Little steps can make a difference, especially when it comes to preserving your mother’s peace of mind.
  2. Healthy, Safe and Kind Children.  This really is my number one gift request, but I am trying to present myself as altruistic, ergo the world peace appeal.  Like all mothers, I worry constantly about my children.  This year, we experienced some minor injuries, a broken wrist for Meg (basketball) and a separated shoulder for Kerry (football).  Both kids watched their playoffs and championships from the sidelines and handled their disappointments much better than their parents did.  We must be doing something right to raise such nice children.  At the end of the day, I just want them home in bed in one piece.
  3. Jobs for my Children when they graduate.  I guess I want a little more than their health and safety.  College graduation is at least four years away for Kerry, eight years for Meg.  Given the state of the economy, we might as well put in our request now.
  4. A Full-Time Cook.  OK, now I’m showing my true lazy self.  I once worked for a woman who had household staff including one guy who did all her grocery shopping and presented her with home-cooked meals every evening.  This is my fantasy.
  5. More Sunshine.  I live in the foggiest place on earth.  I am totally against global warming, except in my neighborhood.
  6. Gentle Menopause.  The lead-up to this next life passage has left me sleepless and confused.  Enough already.
  7. A New Mini-Backpack.  Years ago, I bought a powder blue, quilted mini-backpack from Target that I have used to death.  I take it to all sporting events, on bike rides, the occasional bus excursion, and anywhere I don’t want to carry a purse, but need to have a few necessities with me.  It now looks stained and gross, but I can’t bear to part with it because I have never found another backpack like it.
  8. A Warm Bed and a Roof Overhead.  I have this, but I never take it for granted.  So many people live on the street in San Francisco.  Here’s an incredibly shameful 2011 statistic:  nearly 2,220 public school students in San Francisco are homeless, enough to fill five or six elementary schools or an entire high school.
  9. More Material for my Blog.  I started posting in July and have truly enjoyed myself.  Sometimes I run out of things to write about, but more often, I just can’t bring myself to post what’s truly on my mind for fear of alienating my family and friends.  Ironically, my daughter thinks I have no filter, but I think she has no appreciation for my quiet tact.

Thank you to everyone for reading my blog and sticking with me.  I plan to keep blogging in 2012.  I hope Santa is good to you and your family this Christmas.  I wish you peace and health and safety and kindness in the coming year.  Love to all.

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A Crowley Christmas

The Christmas season has caught me by surprise this year.  It always does.  I figure I should start hauling out the decorations after I notice that my Jewish neighbors across the street have put up their tree.

The Crowley Children circa 2006

The Crowley Children circa 2006

While most people relish the Christmas holidays, I find them a bit overwhelming.  First, I feel immense pressure to decorate.  I’m a minimalist by nature so the idea of stuffing my living room with a bunch of Noel–themed tchotchkes is anathema to me.  When my kids were young, I had no choice.  But now that they’re older and their tastes have become more refined (ahem, like mine), I can afford to be selective with my Christmas decorating.

I put out a modest, little wooden crèche on my mantel, which my mother purchased for me so I would never forget the true meaning of Christmas and that I was baptized a Roman Catholic.  And then I rely on my daughter, Meg, to do the rest.

Meg is almost 14 and still has one foot in childhood.  She loves the magic of Christmas even though her mother is a Scrooge.  Every year, Meg breaks out the Christmas music and decorates the tree.  My husband helps with the lights while my son, Kerry, and I find other important things to do.  Meg finds places for my carefully curated Christmas collection and transforms our home into a veritable Santa’s workshop that has been stripped down to wooden benches with some red and green accents.

I buy all family and friend presents, and generally speaking, I do not like to shop.   I manage this by shopping a little on the Internet and visiting the Mall in two-hour chunks during off-peak hours and taking regular breaks.  I spend a fair amount of time planning my purchases in advance so I usually know what I’m going to buy before I enter a store.  This makes for a more efficient shopping experience.

I’ll also go downtown for a morning of shopping, but never all day.  I find it too tiring and am unable to carry everything.   Even though I’m not a big shopper, I do like to give thoughtful gifts.  I realize this stands in the face of everything I’ve just told you, but the recipients of my gifts always seem to like my presents, at least that’s what they say.

I try to get all of my shopping done before the kids break for Christmas and then plan some outings with the family to enjoy the season.  One of my favorite outings took place five years ago where I forced my husband and children to do a walking tour of Chinatown through San Francisco City Guides, which is an incredible free resource, by the way.   I even managed to drag my two older stepchildren along for the ride.

We traveled to the oldest Chinatown in North America on a crisp, sunny winter day and followed an extremely knowledgeable guide around the back alleys visiting Chinese herbal shops, temples and historical sites.  Our kids rolled their eyes throughout the tour and mocked me for my choice of activity until we came to the fortune cookie factory.

This intrigued my family, especially when they learned you could buy X-rated fortune cookies, which featured suggestive messages.  The fortune cookie factory owner implored us in her heavy Chinese accent to buy her “Sexy Fortune Cookies.”  In the spirit of the season, my husband bought several packages.  Thus, my tour had been redeemed and forever inscribed in our children’s “Fond Memories of Christmas…Growing up Crowley” book (destined to become a bestseller).

Afterwards, we walked down to the waterfront full of laughter and fun and took our Christmas card picture.  We made our way to South Beach, home of AT&T Park and my friend Janet’s famous ballpark restaurant, MoMo’s, where we enjoyed a relaxing lunch.

As we were eating, my son spied Pro Football Hall of Fame Quarterback , four-time Super Bowl champ and hero to all San Franciscans, Joe Montana, casually eating lunch across the dining room with his wife Jennifer.   We played it cool even though we were anything but, and did not bother them.   We kept stealing glances in the Montanas’ direction and reporting to each other on every move that Joe made.

We finished our meal and left before the Montanas, proving that we weren’t so star struck that we needed to linger.   Besides, we had to get home and begin making enchiladas for our traditional Mexican Christmas Eve feast.

Gun Tso Sun Tan’Gung Haw Sun and Feliz Navidad!

Some of my favorite Christmas music is featured on the Carpenters’ Christmas Portrait album.   I think Karen Carpenter had a voice like silk and left us way too early.  Enjoy her haunting version of “Little Altar Boy.”


Emergency Appreciation

Yesterday, my 13-year-old daughter, Meg, broke her wrist in two places.  Ouch!  She was playing basketball during PE at school and went to block a shot.  She fell back onto her left wrist, instantly turning it into a lumpy mass.

I got the call from her school around 2:15 p.m. to come and attend to her.  Fortunately, I live close by so Meg didn’t have to wait long for me to get there.   The principal and school secretary were huddled over Meg comforting her as she tried to contain her agony.  She thought she did a really good job, but I knew otherwise.

Once Meg settled into the car, she screamed for a solid 30 minutes while I drove through stop and go traffic, missing every traffic light, to finally arrive at the doctor’s office across town.

Meg with cast

Meg with cast

Meg’s doctor saw her immediately, splinted her wrist and sent us across the street for X-rays.  Even though I had given her four Ibuprofen, Meg’s pain continued unabated.  Soon, the X-ray results showed why.  Her wrist was broken in two places and “angulated,” which meant it needed to be manipulated back into place.  We had no choice but to check into the Emergency Room (ER).  Poor Meg!

The ER docs and nurses evaluated Meg, and determined that an orthopedic doctor was needed.  We were advised to sit tight for two more hours and the orthopedic would be on his way.  In the meantime, my daughter anguished.  I asked for more pain relief, which the ER staff duly provided.  This finally quieted Meg down.

Around 7 p.m., the orthopedic doctor arrived.  I felt hungry and tired and more than impatient, and was prepared to dislike this late arrival.  Instead, the new doctor charmed my husband and me and completely disarmed my daughter’s fears with his friendly and outgoing demeanor.

I sang softly to Meg one of her favorite lullabies as the orthopedic prepared to numb Meg’s wrist in preparation for the “reduction” or correction of her fracture.  The doctor complimented me on my ability to keep Meg calm, which led me to ask him if he had any children.

“Yes, three under the age of seven, “ he answered.   “One of them is sick right now, so I know how hard it can be to take care of them.”

I asked him what his child was sick with, expecting him to say the flu.  Instead he answered, “Brain tumor,” and instantly I sensed he regretted sharing this with me.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I said.  I looked across the room at my husband and felt incredibly sad.  The doctor thanked me and moved on, refocusing on my daughter’s  needs.

I did too, but said a silent prayer that Meg had only endured a broken wrist that would mend soon enough.

After about four hours in the ER, Meg was finally released.  She continued to feel scared and uncertain, but was comforted by a stream of messages on her phone and on her Facebook wall from classmates and friends wishing her a speedy recovery.

My husband nicknamed Meg “Sweet Pea” because she truly has the sweetest of dispositions.  She also possesses a remarkable understanding and appreciation for the important things in life, family and friendships and honesty and loyalty.

Right before bed, Meg outlined her numerous concerns and anxieties over her injury, but then concluded by telling me how lucky she felt to have so many people in her life that cared about her.

I agreed and said another prayer of thanks for a healthy daughter, loving and caring family and friends, good health insurance and excellent medical care.   May we all be so blessed.


Sleeping in San Francisco

I love a routine.  Take me out of it and my whole world turns upside down.  I eat more, sleep less and growl a lot.  Last week, my routine went south.  I had a series of events I either hosted or attended and since I’m almost 52, I tire easily.

I anticipated the impact my “busy-ness” would have on me and I tried to build in down time.  But inevitably, the adrenalin I generated from one event would prevent me from resting up for the next one.  By the end of the week, I felt ready for the hospital.

Bill Clinton naps

Bill Clinton napping

When I’m feeling insecure, which is just about every day, I view my inability to sustain a brisk pace as a serious character flaw.  I know other women my age and older who run circles around me.  My friend, Alicia, is the managing partner of her law firm, travels almost every week around the country to both glamorous and God-forsaken locations, and has managed to raise three beautiful children.  She also has a full social calendar and a stylish wardrobe, not that I noticed.

My friend, Helga, who is 74 stayed out until 12:30 a.m. on Saturday night.  We attended the same event and I tucked into bed by 10:30 p.m.  I called her the next afternoon and she rightfully crowed about how much she had accomplished that morning, cleaning two bathrooms, changing sheets on multiple beds and baking an apple cake.

I took a nap when I heard this.

If I don’t get enough sleep, look out world.  Just ask my children.  And unfortunately, as I age, sleep is starting to elude me.  I think it’s related to my plummeting hormone levels (TMI!) and I don’t like it one bit.

A good night’s sleep and/or an afternoon nap remain at the top of my list of favorite things to do.  Frankly, I don’t envision any other activities toppling these pursuits.

I view people who need only four hours sleep a night with suspicion.  Bill Clinton, Martha Stewart and Madonna are famous short sleepers.  Bill, of course, is charismatic yet inherently untrustworthy; Martha Stewart went to jail for insider training; and Madonna, well, you can draw your own conclusions.

Sleeping has always been a huge priority in the Crowley house.  My husband does not get enough of it during the week, but does his level best to recapture his lost zzzz’s on the weekends.  I have long admired his ability to turn on the TV and instantly fall asleep.

My teenage children gladly adhere to a 9:30 p.m. bedtime during the week with no prompting from me, although my 17-year-old son finds it increasingly challenging, given the demands of his senior year in high school.  To compensate, he has discovered the joys of napping on the weekends.

I feel a strange sense of pride that my children share my sleeping values.  They are very productive when they are awake and sleep like bears in hibernation when they rest.

Many successful people take pride in not needing much sleep, but they do not impress me.  I’m too busy napping to care.

If you have trouble sleeping, take a moment to listen to Kenny Loggins singing “House at Pooh Corner,” a Crowley family favorite lullaby.  I’m sure it’s everyone else’s too.


Old Friends

Last week, I took a walk in the fog on my blog.  To be truthful, I do enjoy my walk, but I really didn’t like my post.   It had good descriptive qualities, but it lacked honesty.  I appreciated the positive feedback I received, but I felt unsettled.

Then, I received an e-mail from Sarah, one of my oldest friends, (not age, mind you, but length of friendship.)  “Wow,” she wrote, “I want to go for a long walk on the beach and talk to the birds…and you, of course.”  Boom!   Nothing like an old, true friend bringing me down to earth.  I laughed so hard I cried.

Some of my old friends

Some of my old friends

You see, I wrote about the birds and the names of the avenues and the surfers out of obligation.  Don’t get me wrong.  These are all things worth noticing.  I know this because I’ve read many books on writing that tell me I should notice everything and be specific as possible.  Therefore, I included an explanation and some thoughts on the endangered snowy plover.

But how much do I really think about the snowy plover on my walk?  When I have to meet my self-imposed blogging deadline, the snowy plover takes on a sense of urgency.  Otherwise, I barely notice any birds other than to duck and cover when they fly by in packs.

Most of the time, I walk with my friend Janet who I’ve known since the third grade and doesn’t want to be mentioned in my blog.  Suffice to say, we yack the entire four miles and by the time we’re done, I’ve barely noticed that time has elapsed let alone the snowy plover and the surfers.

This brings me back to Sarah.  Sarah and I were born around the same time and shared space in the nursery at St. Mary’s Hospital.  Although our parents knew each other, we did not become acquainted until we were 13.  We’re almost 52 so we’ve known each other well for almost 40 years.

I don’t get to see Sarah as often as I’d like as she lives two hours away.   It doesn’t matter.  When I see her, we pick up where we left off and she dishes me in a way that only someone who has known me for 40 years can do, ribbing me in her e-mail about a previous walk we shared on the Santa Cruz beach where I donned a blue terrycloth jogging suit that I accessorized with penny loafers and an Italian satchel draped across my body.  Of course, I give it right back to her, but her wit often trumps mine.

I feel very lucky to have a good number of old friends.  Although I’ve grown up in a large city, I’ve lived in a small community where so many of my schoolmates still reside.  I went to college across the Bay and made new friends who, because of my advanced age, are my old friends now.  And I treasure them.

Old friends sparkle like diamonds.  They light up the room in a party and I am immediately drawn to them.  My old friends absolutely judge me and tell me what they think to my face.   We celebrate milestones together because we’re roughly the same age.   I don’t have to explain that I am the youngest of six children; they know the names of my brothers and sisters, my parents, my late aunt Margie, my husband and my children.  They know that I don’t like vegetables and that a long time ago, I drank like a fish.  They get my humor and I relish theirs.

As I said before, I feel very lucky.  I have new friends, too, folks that I have known only 15 or 20 years and or maybe just 15 or 20 months.  I love them dearly, but they really only know the “adult” Nancy and sometimes, I just want to go back to that time when I was young and didn’t have a care in the world.

When my mother turned 70, my sister threw my mom a birthday party and invited all of her old girlfriends.  I remember my mom being asked how she felt now that she had reached 70 years of age.  She answered, “I feel like I just turned 13.”

Why wouldn’t she?  She was celebrating her birthday with her old friends.


My Brush with 9/11

I feel a little like Forrest Gump.  If you saw the movie, the simple-minded Forrest had an uncanny ability to be present at every major world event.  I was not visiting New York during 9/11 so the parallel isn’t exactly straight, but my husband, F.X., had just arrived in Manhattan a day earlier.

I had talked to F.X. on 9/10 and all seemed well.  He was staying in mid-Manhattan at the Edison Hotel, having traveled to New York on business.

The phone rang early the morning of September 11 and I answered it, expecting a wake-up call from my husband.   My brother-in-law Joe, F.X.’s oldest brother, said hello and immediately asked me if F.X. was OK.  “Yes, of course,” I replied.  “Why?”

9.11 New York skyline

9.11 New York skyline

“Because two planes just crashed into the World Trade Center,” he said.

The last time I had visited New York had been in college so I had little understanding of Manhattan geography.   I knew F.X. had a meeting that morning, but I did not know where.  When I told Joe that F.X. was staying in Midtown, he concluded that F.X. was probably not in danger.

I hung up and began shaking violently.  My three-year-old daughter slept soundly in F.X.’s spot, next to me in bed.   I called for my son and turned on the TV.  The news unfolded in front of me and I became distraught, jarring my little daughter awake.  I dialed F.X.’s cell phone number repeatedly to no avail.  “All circuits are busy,” droned the operator.  F.X. also carried a pager so I tried paging him, over and over and over again.  My children gathered close to me, sensing my fear and began to cry and call for Daddy.  I tried to be strong, but failed miserably.

About a half hour later in what seemed like an eternity, F.X. miraculously got through to me on his cell phone and explained that he was about four and a half miles removed from this enormous catastrophe.   Once I heard from my husband, my children recovered instantly and went about their business.  My two older stepchildren called in a desperate panic and I vowed to them that their Dad was safe.  I had recovered my adult self and appeared in control again, even though I really did not feel that way.

Over the course of the next 24 hours, F.X. was able to call me and report on events.  He observed thousands upon thousands of New Yorkers retreating from downtown on foot covered in debris and soot, like refugees from a war.  His meetings were obviously cancelled, which left him with nothing to do and nowhere to go.  He walked the streets, visiting a nearby fire house and offering condolences.  He talked to me on the phone as he ventured closer to the Financial District and began coughing and choking on the toxic, putrid air.

I urged him to turn back, get in a car since planes weren’t flying and come home.   I worried about biological warfare.  My overactive mind went crazy with endless and lethal possibilities.

F.X. remained calm and resolved to wait it out until the planes resumed flying.  He connected with friends, Tom Rocca and John Meyer, who also were stranded in New York on business.  They kept each other company for a day and then attempted to board a plane at JFK on Thursday to return home when the airports presumably had opened.

Machine gun-toting National Guardsmen ran security that day.  A trip to the bathroom turned into a police lineup with suspicious riflemen poised to fire over one false move.   Several hours later, the F.B.I. arrested the co-pilot and the flight was cancelled.  The scheduled take-off had evolved into a snare to smoke out more suspects.

This final experience convinced F.X. and his friends to rent a car and flee New York.  I’ll never forget when he called me for the umpteenth time that week and reported that he had crossed the George Washington Bridge and had merged onto Interstate 80 West heading home.   I had held it together once I knew F.X. seemed safe, but my sense of relief at his departure from New York was palpable.

He and Tommy and John rented a blue Ford LTD, slapped an American flag on the side window, and drove 1,600 miles straight in 25 hours, landing in Denver where the airport had just re-opened.  Wheedling their way onto the first flight out of Denver to San Francisco the next morning, F.X. and his friends made it home safely on Saturday morning.

My son had a scheduled soccer game at Larsen Park on 19th Avenue in San Francisco at 10 a.m., which F.X. was determined to attend and he did.  Our family felt overwhelmed and lucky and grateful and deliriously happy that F.X. had finally come home to us from work.

Tragically, 2,977 people did not receive this same consideration on 9/11.


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