Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Have Yourself a Hopeful Little Christmas

This holiday season is proving to be a tough one. Last week, my husband's company laid off 75 percent of the people who work there. Many of his friends--most of whom have mortgages and families--are now out of work only two weeks before Christmas. We are cutting short a planned visit to family in Pennsylvania because he is worried about job security.

Christmas shopping has been a challenge since I managed to save only half of what I had in previous years in my bank's Christmas Club account. We have very few neighbors this year and a lot of empty houses around us.

With all of the uncertainty, I have been feeling a little down this holiday season. But today, I have decided I will look for the positives. So, here is a list of all of the things I am grateful for this Christmas:

1. Watching the Christmas light twinkle while the snow falls around them
2. Baking cookies for family and friends
3. Online shopping
4. A lit Christmas tree in a dark room.
5. Getting tears in my eyes as I watch my kids perform in their holiday recitals.
6. My small house that I can comfortably afford.
7. Remembering my Great Aunt Helen as I make nutrolls
8. Having a job when so many have lost theirs
9. Mistletoe, and the right person under it
10. Watching holiday movies after everyone else has gone to bed
11. Thinking of my grandmother as I set out her silver
12. Cats who know instinctively when you need them on your lap
13. A church aglow in candles and Christmas lights
14. Radio stations that play only holiday music
15. My family gathered around our advent wreath
16. Getting Christmas cards and letters from faraway friends
17. Cold, clear nights when you can see tons of stars
18. Reading aloud the gospel passage of the birth of Jesus on Christmas Eve
19. Stockings for each family member hung in front of the fireplace
20. A prayer answered

The economy seems like a giant Grinch sneaking down off the mountain and robbing all of us hapless Whos of our holiday happiness. Don't let it. Take time this holiday season to remember all the things in your life for which you are grateful.

And I dare you to say "hapless Whos of our holiday happiness" three times, fast.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Deck the Halls and All That Nonsense

The holiday season is upon us, which means Christmas carols on the radio, Salvation Army bell-ringers outside department stores, and a stress accumulation powerful enough to launch the space shuttle into orbit.

Before you embark on a mad dash to Toys R Us and beat a fellow shopper senseless in a battle over the last Tickle Me Elmo, Brats doll other "hot toy" of the season, please take this survey to determine your stress level.

1. When I think of the holidays, I want to:
A. Cut down a live tree and sing Christmas Carols around a blazing fire
B. Count down the days until January
C. Strangle someone with a bough of holly

2. The line “a partridge in a pear tree” reminds me of
A. A song about the joy of giving during the holiday season
B. Some Christmas song that doesn’t make sense
C. Stuffed poultry served with a side of glazed fruit

3. Christmas shopping means
A. Enjoying the hustle and bustle of the holiday season
B. Going on the internet and avoiding all of those holiday lunatics
C. Resisting the urge to “go postal” in a local mall

4. You see a picture of oranges decorated with cloves in a magazine and think
A. They would make a lovely Christmas centerpiece
B. Some people have way too much time on their hands during the holidays
C. They would be something nice and squishy to lob at Christmas carolers when they ring your doorbell

Add up your score as follows: Each A - 3 points, each B - 2 points, and each C - 1 point each. Score yourself as follows:

10 to12 points - Martha Stewart loves you
7 to 9 points - Who spit in your eggnog?
4 to 6 points - Jacob Marley and Associates would like to schedule a conference with you around midnight, Mr. Scrooge

Now print out a copy of this survey, tear it into timy pieces, set it on fire and dance around it. Trust me, it will do wonders for your stress level.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Male Brain--How Does It Work, and Does It Even Exist?

In my 40-plus years on this earth, I'd like to think I have learned a thing or two along the way. Yesterday, I had a revelation.

Men are idiots.

We may have many great men in our lives. We may be married to a great guy. We may love men to death. This, however, does not disguise the fact that they act really, really stupid sometimes.

My husband is one of these really nice men. He is a good provider and an overall nice guy. However, he is a little selfish about leisure time. He makes sure he gets in a couple of hunting trips and three to five golf weekends every year. I, on the other hand, have not had a vacation or a weekend away with friends in over three years. Understandably, I find this inequality in leisure time a bit unfair.

He recently told me I had no reason to be upset. He claims that the two pilates classes I attend every week and the church choir practice I go to every Thursday evening are equivalent to his golf outings and hunting trips.

Now, how practicing hymns and sweating like a pig for 45 minutes are equivalent to drinking beer, playing cards, lounging around in clubhouses and chasing a little ball around on the grass, I have not yet figured out. But in the male mind, time out of the house is time off regardless of what you are doing. I suppose we should add the weekly trips to the grocery store into that leisure time total.

I know for a fact that no amount of reasoning is going to convince him otherwise. Once he gets an idea in his head, it sticks like gum to the bottom of your shoe. Yesterday, for example, he came home and wanted to know when I was going to get a full-time job. Now, the plan was for me to work part-time until both of our children are in high school. Since my son is only in the fifth grade, this is not an option I am considering for another three years.

I do, however, keep an eye on the classifieds and on-line job posting sites just in case something spectacular comes along. The economy being what it is, the only things offered lately are third shift caretaker jobs in nursing homes and something called "customer relations in our polution control department." I'm not sure I even want to speculate what that job entails.

That explanation was not good enough. He accused me of changing our game plan(?) and said that he is tired of working all these hours. He said I will just have to get another job and "adjust my expectations" as far as the housework goes. Translation: You go to work full time too, and when we come home I'll lounge around the house like I do now every evening and watch you work some more! Sounds like a marriage made in heaven.

I did tell him that if he is so desperate for me to get a better paying job, there are a few street corners in Detroit that I could probably work and make a bundle. He did not say anything. I am not sure if that is good or bad.

And so, the complex workings of the male mind continue to puzzle and amaze us. Perhaps amuse us would be a better word. If I were not married to this guy, I would find these musings and explanations downright funny. Since I am married to him, I am just plain annoyed.

See you on the street corner!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Family Holidays: Putting the Fun Back in Dysfunctional

Thanksgiving is fast approaching. This endearing American holiday signifies the start of the holiday season and represents an event that inspires dread and fear in the hearts of many--family gatherings.

Over the years, my own family has hosted many memorable holiday get-togethers. And if you are imagining some warm family camaraderie like you would see on a rerun of "The Waltons," you have watched far too much television.

Every family has one member with strong views on politics, religion, race, etc. This person just has to get on his or her soap box during every family event. My brother Jeff is the token radical (and I do mean radical) Republican in our family who cannot resist taunting our more liberal family members. The problem is he gets so angry while trying to get his point across that his opinions become senseless. My personal favorite is his claim that "the Jews" were responsible for the bombing of the World Trade Center back in the 1980s. Considering who was just elected president a few weeks ago, I am really looking forward to this year's confrontation.

My brother is just one of my many interesting relatives that make holidays so special. I recall one Thanksgiving when my uncle made White Russians with strawberry vodka that were just a bit too strong. He probably had about three of them prior to dinner. By the time the turkey and trimmings were served, he was so intoxicated that he loaded up his plate with food, set it on the table, crawled into the next room and passed out on the floor. Dinner concluded with my mother asking someone to check on my uncle to make sure he was still breathing.

My brother Kevin is the family clown, so we always expect something entertaining from him. One holiday he had one beer too many, declared he was a rapper named "Ice Floe" and started making up a ridiculous rap song. Unfortunately, he lost is balanced and fell backward into a toy box. He didn't spill a drop of beer, however.

All these events have been memorable, but the crown jewel of holiday faux pas has to be when one of my siblings, who shall remain nameless, had a little too much to drink (are we detecting a pattern here?) and admitted to doing something that would have caught the attention of federal authorities. Even though this particular event happened nearly 20 years earlier, my mother was absolutely furious. I guess there are some things even the passage of time cannot soften for mothers.

As strange as this may sound, these things do not keep us from having a great time together. They just become part of the folklore that every family gathers and passes down through time. My children still enjoy hearing stories of my Uncle Jim, who passed away several years ago, even though they barely knew him. Their favorite is the story of how he got a shark fin and decided to swim underwater with it in a popular watering hole near his home. This is around the time when the movie "Jaws" was terrifying swimmers everywhere. People were actually screaming and pulling children out of the water as he swam by. And this was in a creek in the middle of Pennsylvania.

So as you gather together this holiday with your family, make sure you take the time to laugh and enjoy those family members. Gather stories and make memories to pass down, no matter how strange or bizarre they may seem at the time.

And if your children ever commit a federal offense, make sure they never tell you.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Out of the Mouth of Babes

Last week, Cliff and I attended parent teacher conferences for the kids. They are both excellent students and we had no issues save one. Apparently, Sean said the word "s**t" on the playground earlier that day, and it was overheard by his teacher.

When we asked why he used that word, his response was, "Well, I meant to say 'crap.'" Yeah, that's much better.

Of course, we had the obligitory conversation about appropriate language. It is one that all parents have at one time or another after our child uses a word he picked up on the playground or, God forbid, from us.

I remember when Shannon was about two years old and my mother was playing a game with her and asking what sounds various animals made. When she asked her "What does Daddy say?", Shannon replied, "Dammit, dammit."

Thank goodness she did not say it front of one of her then 80-something great grandmothers. And thank goodness she only blamed her father.

All of us--and I know I am guilty--have occasionally let a mild swear word out when driving with the little ones in the back. Women tend to let an occasional "damn" slip out. Men, unfortunately, are often guilty of much worse trangsressions.

I am talking about the dreaded "f-bomb." When Shannon was about two, Cliff was speaking with a friend of his on the phone while she played nearby, and he let one fly. Let's just say if laser beams could have come out of my eyes, he would have been vaporized.

She did not repeat it. After two weeks, I figured we were safe. Then one evening while I was bathing her, she took her Big Bird tub toy, began pounding it against a cup and yelling "f***ing Big Bird!"

Naturally, part of me was horrified. However, being that "f***ing" is not generally an adjective you hear preceding the name Big Bird, I had to step out of the bathroom for a moment before I could talk to her.

Since my daughter is now in high school and my son has only a year to go before junior high, I am sure we are in for more language faux pas. It seems offensive language is the norm rather than the exception today. I am certain Sean's playground incident is not the only time foul language will slip out at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and in front of the person you least want to hear it.

Thank God my 96-year-old grandmother is now hard of hearing.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Men - Need I Say More?

Today is Tuesday, when I normally work from home catching up on paperwork, Mary Kay orders and other duties in my home office. A few hours ago, my husband called and said he is having some dental problems, so could I make an appointment for him?

Now, he obviously has a phone and time to call me to make his appointment. But, being the good wife, I called the dentist's office. The conversation went something like this:

"Where is exactly is the pain he is experiencing?"

"I don't know."

"Is it localized?"

"I don't know."

"Did this pain just start?"

"I don't know"

I got the appointment and called him back to make sure it worked in his schedule. I left two messages on his cell phone. He finally calls me back and tells me that time slot won't work for him. So I call the office back and cancel.

This entire episode took about 45 minutes. It would have taken about five minutes for him to do it himself. So why didn't he?

I have decided that most men spend their entire lives being taken care of. They go from being taken care of by their mothers to being taken care of by their wives. They probably don't even realize it, but they like it that way. They want it that way. They see no reason to change.

When a woman gets married and becomes a wife and later a mother, her entire system of priorities change. She learns to put the needs of everyone else first and put herself last. Men never learn to do this. In general, they go on exactly as they did before the wife and children came into the picture.

Say your husband's friend "Frank" calls him up to go golfing. The process goes like this:

1. Put golf clubs in trunk.

2. Meet Frank at golf course.

Now say your friend "Mary" calls and wants to meet a restaurant with you and some other friends to catch up. Your process would go like this:

1. Make dinner so that no one will starve and you will not get repeated calls at restaurant saying "I'm hungry, when are you coming home?"

2. Supervise homework because husband will be sleeping on couch when he comes home rather than help daughter with geometry.

3. Call husband to make sure he will be home in time to transport children to and from activities.

4. Call mother-in-law to beg her to pick up children from activities as husband has made a pit stop at the driving range on the way home from work.

5. Drive kids to activities yourself

6. Look for something in your closet to wear that does not scream "I am a soccer mom."

7. Stop at gas station because your gas tank is empty from transporting children, and stop at ATM machine since you have given out all of your cash for lunch money tomorrow.

By the time you accomplish all of this, Mary and the girls left the restaurant half an hour ago. I imagine it is easier to get national security clearance than for a mother to plan an evening out.

I have made it a priority in my life not to allow the dependent man syndrome to continue. My own son helps with laundry, cooking, cleaning and pet care. He will grow up to do auto maintenance and yard work like his dad. I will be darned, however, if he will have any excuse for leaving laundry on the floor beside the hamper or dishes in the sink next to the dishwasher for his wife to pick up. Some girl is going to thank me someday.

And if he ever calls his wife at work and asks her to make an appointment for him because his tooth hurts, I will go over there and give him a smack-down.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

It's Election Time! Praise the Lord and Pass the Antacids

It is finally election day! By tomorrow at this time, we will know the results of one of the most interesting elections in a long time.

We will also be able to watch television, listen to the radio and open our mail without being bombarded with political statements. I have not been able to do any of these in months without feeling like I need to down a bunch of Tums and go outside to dig a fallout shelter from the chaos that will ensue if the wrong person is elected to the water commission.

Frankly, I don't know what I will do when I can finally answer my phone again. We have been screening calls for weeks to avoid all the pitches and automated phone messages from candidates, unions and political parties. My daily mail delivery will probably be cut in half without all of the political flyers. Do candidates really believe the the best way to reach voters is to kill trees and annoy people at dinnertime?

It seems some people have really gone over the edge with this election. I heard on the news that a woman handing out Halloween candy refused to give any to children whose parents were Barack Obama supporters. She claims she finds Obama "scary."

What I find frightening is a person who would take an enjoyable children's holiday and turn it into a political statement. What is most bizarre is that she aimed it at those who are not old enough to vote, yet alone understand all that is happening.

I am also perplexed by the consumer products out there in honor of the election. I was watching the Today show, and they showcased at least 25 products emblazoned with the images of the presidential candidates and their running mates. There are actually two cereals called "Obama-Os" and "Captain McCain." What I want to know is, would anyone actually eat these cereals and what is the daily fiber allowance in the Captain McCain?

They actually had Cabbage Patch Dolls for each of the candidates. If you are buying one of these for your child, you should also purchase gift certificates for the therapy sessions they will need as adults. I can see kids in 20 years telling their therapists, "I know my parents never loved me. Do you know what they got me for Christmas when I was eight? A Joe Biden doll!"

In the meantime, I will be investing in therapy sessions this Christmas for all my friends and family members who insist the country will turn to communism if Obama is elected. I will also give them to the ones building bomb shelters for the nuclear attack that will ensue after President McCain bombs the daylights out of Iran and North Korea.

Happy Election Day, everyone!

And, just think, we get to do this all over again in four years!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Can't Buy Me Love--Or Anything Else In This Economy

It seems the current financial crisis is hitting all of us. We dread the arrival of out monthly statements from our Roth IRAs and annuity funds, from which we have lost thousands of dollars. For a working family, that money will be hard to replace.

But Cliff and I are not panicking. We are simply going to adjust our retirement goals. As of now, we figure we will be able to retire somewhere around, say, age 87.

Of course, we will still have to take on part-time jobs to pay off the loans we took out to get the kids through college since their mutual funds containing our education savings have also tanked. Given the state of the job market, we are not too concerned about having to learn new skills at that age. We figure the most we will have to remember is to ask "Do you want fries with that?" with every order.

I was listening to the radio last week when a women called to complain about her annuity fund holder, AIG. It seems she wanted to take out a loan on her money and AIG turned her down. All this was happening when the government was bailing out AIG's backside from financial ruin and the company sent employees on an expensive spa weekend at a resort to "brainstorm." Personally, I always brainstorm while getting manicures, pedicures and massages.

I can understand perfectly why AIG denied her loan. If they were to grant her access to her money, someone at AIG would have to go without a pedicure. Seriously, how selfish of this woman to want to use her own money to benefit her family when there are AIG employees running around with stiff necks and unpainted toenails. What is this world coming to?

With stocks plunging and financial institutions failing, I can understand now why so many people who lived through the Great Depression have such a deep mistrust of banks. The state of our economy makes a perfectly sane person want to take their hard-earned money and simply stuff it in a mattress. Of course, when your house is on fire and you are trying to force a king-size mattress through a window, you may want to rethink that strategy.

I for one will not be stuffing my mattress. Personally, I think a much safer option is to dig a hole in the backyard, put all of my savings into a mason jar, plop it into the ground and cover it up.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have a hole to dig.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I Am Woman Hear Me Snore (Frankly, I'm Exhausted)

They told us we could have it all.

In college during the mid 1980's, my Women's Studies professors talked about how women were entering the job markets in droves. They were moving into fields tradtionally dominated by men. They were breaking glass ceilings. They were oveseeing corporate mergers by day and rocking the cradle by night. They were successfully merging their professional and personal lives and looking fabulous in the process.

And we were to follow in their footsteps.

Following graduation, I moved to Washington, DC determined to take take the world by storm. I found employment in the field I wanted, got married, changed jobs, changed cities several times, started my family and adjusted my career goals to give me more flexbility.

I now have a cosmetic consulting business and work in sales and distribution for a small newspaper (both part-time), do freelance writing when I can find it, and am the parent of two terrific kids involved in about 20,000 activities (okay, so I embelish a little). I do volunteer work, take care of a dog and three cats, take an occasional writing class, do pilates, compete in 5K walking races, and do my best to keep our house from appearing on one of those home makeover shows where people are living in piles of trash.

Yes, I do have it all. Now will someone please explain to me what I am supposed to do with it?

My Women's Studies professors never explained that I would wake up each morning with a to-do list longer than Santa's "nice" list at Christmas. They never told me I would have approximtely 15 minutes each morning to shower and put on makeup so that my teenage daughter could dominate my bathroom for the next 40 minutes. And they certainly could not fathom that my husband would come home from work and doze off in front of ESPN while I chauffer children to ballet, scouts, football, etc., make dinner, oversee homework and clean up the hairball the cat just threw up.

How do women do it? I have read books on the subject, talked to other women and thrown tantrums in the middle of my kitchen out of sheer frustration (didn't solve anything but it sure made me feel better for the moment).

I have only come up with one solution. Embrace your chaos.

Yelling at your chaos or the cause of it (i.e. husbands and children) does not impove it. Ignoring it makes it worse. Resolving to get rid of it and working like mad to do so will put you in a state hospital for the mentally unstable. The only thing to do is accept it, work with it and treat it like one of those annoying relatives that come for a one week stay and move into your guest room indefinitely.

So the next time my son tells me at 6:30 a.m. that he needs three dozen cookies that afternoon, I will just smile. When my husband calls at 5:30 p.m. to say that he has not left work yet and cannot get Sean to his 6:00 football practice while I am trying to get ready for a 6:30 girl scout leader meeting, I will just tell him to drive safely on his way home. And when my daughter once again has a cheerleading competition and a dance recital all on the same weekend, I will cope. I resolve to face daily stressful situations with dignity and a cool head--and keep the phone number of a local bakery on speed dial.

I will learn to let some things go. I will learn to live with my stress without letting it get to me. And who knows. Maybe someday I will even learn to love my chaos. Because it is mine.