Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Channelling Martha

It is that time of year when cookies are baking, lights are up, gifts are being wrapped, and we are all trying to outdo ourselves.

I am always perplexed that, during this busy time of year, we are determined to cram more and more projects into our already busy schedule. In between the Christmas programs and recitals, the shopping and wrapping and sending cards to everyone who ever crossed our paths, we are determined to make that homemade potpourri or bake that cheesecake with 16 different ingredients.

I finally understand why. We have been brainwashed by Martha Stewart.

We are surrounded by Martha Stewart products in at least three different national chain stores. She has had two Christmas specials on Fine Living Network. She must have at least six different magazines published under her name, not to mention countless books.

My Martha moment came several years ago when I saw a picture of oranges decorated with cloves placed in a bowl full of evergreen sprigs and pinecones. I was hooked.

I now have to do these every year or face Martha's wrath that I am not doing everything to provide my family with the perfect Christmas. Not that I have a prayer of Martha showing up on my doorstep. But some little voice inside me would accuse me of being such a disappointment to the proverbial goddess of all things domestic.

But I am doing my best to break free. I stopped making homemade gift tags a few years ago and now use store-bought varieties (the horror of it all). One year I did actually make embossed Christmas cards, but it took me so long I thought I would not get them mailed until Easter.

Sadly, however, I will never be totally free of her influence. I have made eight different kinds of cookies. I spent two days making marzipan. And those clove oranges do look lovely on my coffee table.

Martha would be so proud.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thankful For My Sanity

With Thanksgiving only days away, this is the time of year to pause and take stock of all we must be grateful for in our lives.

I am thankful for my family, a roof over my head and food on the table. I am thankful that Penn State beat Michigan in football this year. And I am most thankful that I still have my sanity because my 12-year-old is driving me insane.

He has apparenly decided to go for the title of class clown in middle school and has been acting up in class. He received an after-school detention last week for misbehaving for a substitute teacher.

Apparently, he has no problem doing homework or worksheets in school, but remembering to turn them in is another issue. He has been turning them in late (for only half credit) if he hands them in at all. He scrambled at the end of the last marking period to bring several grades up to a C. But he seems to think that since he got Cs and Bs on his report card instead of Ds or Fs, that this perfectly acceptable.

If this is not bad enough, his attitude in general leaves much to be desired. We are likely to get a smart answer or an argument over the slightest little thing these days.

We as his parents and his teachers know he is capable of a much better performance, so this is not acceptable in our household. It has resulted in the loss his much-beloved video games. Although this has encouraged a slight--and I do mean slight--improvement, more drastic measures are needed.

We have decided that since he wants a cell phone badly, he will receive one only if he makes the honor roll for the rest of the school year. However, instead of accepting it and working toward the goal, Sean prefers to go for the loopholes.

"What if I get all As and Bs and one C-plus," he asked recently.

"It doesn't count if it's not As and Bs," I said.

"But it's close!"

"Not part of the deal."

"Okay, but what if I got all As and just that one C-plus. Does it count?"

This child is wasting his talents in middle school. He should be in the Middle East negotiating a peace settlement.

I am hoping that wisdom and knowledge will descend from the heavens and settle on his stubborn little head. In the meantime, I have been forced to be the video game police and the locker and backpack monitor conducting weekly inspections for missing school papers.

I have been assured by friends and family who have been through this stage with their sons that Sean will eventually outgrow this and become more serious and cooperative. This, too, shall pass.

In the meantime, I will keep praying for wisdom and strength in the hope that strange people in little white coats will not need to cart me away in a straight jacket. And eating lots of chocolate to diffuse all that stress.

Thank God for the power of prayer--and big bags of Hershey kisses.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Lesson Learned Too Soon

When we think back on 2009, I think we will recall this as the year of losses. We have lost jobs, pets, beloved family members, and--more recently--a dear friend.

One of Shannon's best friends, Autumn Sova, died October 7th at the age of 14. She had been at the University of Michigan hospital awaiting surgery for an aortic aneurysm when she passed away.

The aneurysm was discovered about a week earlier when Autumn had pains in her ribs. An x-ray revealed what doctors thought was a cyst on her rib cage, but an MRI proved the situation to be much more critical. She was in the hospital for about a week while the doctors waited for the inflammation in her aorta to subside. On the night of October 7th, Autumn told her mother she did not feel well and immediately began having seizures. Doctors tried for an hour to revive her, but the aneurysm had burst and she was gone.

Losing someone who spent so much time at our home has been difficult on all of us. Autumn's funeral was the toughest service I have ever had to get through. No one should have to bury a 14-year-old.

No one is having a tougher time than Shannon. The loss of a friend with whom she ate lunch at school almost daily and shared dreams and confidences has been just heartbreaking for her. Although doing better in the weeks following the funeral, the slightest reminder of Autumn will still cause her to burst into tears.

We have spent a lot of time talking about how Autumn would want Shannon to remember her, and how a person so full of spunk and laughter would not want anyone to be sad when they thought of her. We talk about living her life in a way that would make her friend proud.

We also talk a lot about holding dear to the people we care about in our lives--especially friends. I have always told her to choose her friends carefully and to surround herself with people who make her feel positive and good about herself. I did not think we would have to have a discussion this early on how to go on when those people are unexpectedly taken from your life.

Even though it is early in life for Shannon to learn a lesson this harsh, I hope she will take from it the importance of not taking anyone ffor granted. It's a lesson that we all need to be reminded of occassionally. None of knows how long those dear to us will be on the earth. Make sure they know how much they bring into our lives, and don't miss an opportunity to bring something special into theirs.

We will miss you, Autumn.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Sad Farewell

Much sadness has hung over our house in the last couple of weeks as we have lost an adopted member of our family.

Stormy, or "Mamma Kitty" as we sometimes called her, passed away on September 24th. She was the mother of our much beloved litter of kittens born last spring.

With her kittens weaned, Stormy had once again gone into heat. We were confining her to the house, but at times she was determined to escape and seek some male companionship, if you get my drift.

Not wanting the responsibility of more kittens, we made an appointment with the vet to have her spayed.

She made it though the surgery perfectly. I was able to see her in the recovery room as she was coming out of the anesthesia. I left with the assurance that I could take her home the next day.

Instead, I got a call from the vet that following morning. Sometime during the night, Stormy passed away.

This was a blow to all of us since she had made it through surgery fine and was a relatively young cat--around five or six years old by the vet's estimate. Although the cause of death cannot be found accurately without a necropsy, the vet thinks it was one of two situations. She may have had a congenital heart defect, and her damaged heart could not handle the strain of the surgery and anesthesia. His second theory was a possible aneurysm or stroke--one of her pupils was completely dialated, which is usually a sign of brain trauma.

We all took it hard, but Sean took it the hardest. He had become very attached to this gentle little cat, and insisted we go to the vet's office to retrieve her. Athough it probably would have been less traumatic to let the vet take care of her, we buried her in the backyard and said a little prayer over her grave. This probably gave both kids the sense of closure that they needed.

I, of course, felt a tremendous sense of guilt at being the one to leave her at the vet's office to die alone. But I keep telling myself it was the responsible thing to do, and that she will be forever grateful for all we did for her. I hope that soon I will believe that.

Saying goodbye to an animal that has become part of your family is never easy. But we will try to remember all that Stormy was and all she brought to our family. We will remember her for her bravery as she faced the winter with only the shelter of our front porch after she was cruelly abandoned. We will always recall her unusual meow and her beautiful grey and cream-colored fur. We admire how devoted she was in caring for her tiny kittens. And we vow that they will all have loving, safe homes.

Goodbye, Stormy.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Keeper Of All Things

As a woman, I hold many titles: wife, mother, homemaker, chauffer, unemployment statistic. But none of these holds as much prestige as my newest title--The Keeper of All Things.

I have awarded myself this very royal designation since I am apparently expected to know where all things are located in our household at all times.

Several times a day I am asked "Have you seen my (fill in the blank)?" or "Do you know where the (fill in your own lost item) is?" Even if I cannot claim ownership of most of these objects, I am supposed to have some sort of female radar that can automatically locate other people's misplaced things.

Yesterday the hubby calls from work and says that since I am not doing anything, I need to locate the missing power cord that connects to our digital camera.

First of all, "not doing anything" consisted of tending to a sick child home from school, taking my online computer class and completing an assignment, making spaghetti sauce from the overbundance of tomatoes in the vegetable garden and cleaning out a bedroom closet. But that is a topic for another blog.

I would not know what this cord looked like if it jumped out of a dark corner and bit me in the leg. So I asked for a description. I got "a cord with a little slot thingy at the end."

That helps tremendously.

I then asked where he last saw it so I could narrow down the search area. The last time Cliff remembers having it was during my sister's wedding. In June. In Pennsylvania.

Do I use my psychic powers or the time machine to locate this one?

I took the time to search the house and gather any unidentified cords. Some of these are probably from electronics that we got rid of 10 years ago. Unfortunately, none was the appropriate cord with the slot thingy at the end. He was a bit annoyed that I did not find it, but let's not mention the fact that he was the one that either lost it or did not properly put it away.

I suppose I brought this on myself because I have always been the one to pick things up and deposit them in their proper places. I have tried to teach my children to be responsible for their own things. Generally it has worked--they are very good at keeping track of their possessions. Shared items like scissors or tape, however, often need to be tracked down.

Unfortunately, the strategy of "everything in its place" is sometimes lost on my husband. I am probably the only person I know who has to check the garage for dirty clothes and dishes. I once found the cordless telephone in the refrigerator. He accidently walked out of the house with a television remote control. That was in 1991. We are still looking for it.

Rather than be annoyed, I am going to relish my new title and position. After all, it means my family considers me to organized and capable. I will continue to pursue the noble art of locating lost objects with grace and decorum.

I'm going to fashion myself a crown out of those orphaned power cords. And that lost remote can be my scepter. If I ever find it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Fall Is In The Air!

The leaves on the walnut tree are turning yellow and falling on the lawn. The pool has been closed up for another season. And the pitter-patter of medium-sized feet is silenced because the kids have returned to school.

Fall is definitely in the air!

Even the dog can sense it. The house is so quiet he has slept for three hours straight. He hasn't had that much peace since May.

It always takes me awhile to get used to the silence after having the kids home all summer. It is strange to be able to leave my office door open again since I don't have to compete with the sounds of video games, phone conversations or the occasional disagreement between siblings.

Most people look at January as a new beginning. September is like that for me. Now is the time to tackle new projects before the holidays or do that task I have been putting off with the children under foot.

This year also marks a new beginning in the sense that I need to decide what the next step will be for me. Because the job market leaves much to be desired, I need to make a decision whether or not to keep looking or return to school for that master's degree I have always wanted to earn.

But like summer, fall's beauty is fleeting. I need to make sure I take the time to enjoy the beautiful leaves, the warm autumn days and the cool nights. Of course, this must be done in between running kids to ballet, scouts and music lessons since all of these activities have also begun.

Maybe I will find a pile of leaves and jump in them, or locate a pumpkin patch to sit in. Of course, a forty-something woman doing these things will certainly garner some looks and possible questions of her sanity.

Guess I'll just take some walks with the dog and enjoy the weather. At least then no farmers will call the police about some weird woman sitting in the middle of their pumpkin field.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The End Of An Era

It seems not even churches are safe in this economy, and my childhood parish has unfortunately been one of the casualties.

The church in which I made my first communion, confirmation, got married and had my daughter baptized closed its doors last month, along with several others in my hometown. St. Casimir's Roman Catholic Church is no more.

Johnstown, Pennsylvania has been a depressed area for over 30 years since the decline of the U.S. steel industry. The area has never recovered, and young people who cannot find work in Johsntown simply do not stay. With no influx of young blood, membership in these churches has declined for years. West End Catholic, my elementary school which was a conglomerate of many of these churches, closed several years ago. Now most of the churches have also been forced out of existence.

These churches were built in the early part of the 20th century and were not the stark, modern houses of woship you see today. Elaborate marble columns, intricate statues and altars, and elegant stained glass windows defined their architecture.

The most amazing aspect is that they were built free of debt, mainly by the hands of the parishioners themselves. How these simple immigrants from Poland, Ireland, or Slovakia (as each ethnic group then had their own church) were able to construct something so magnificent when many of them could barely support their families is astounding.

What will happen to these beautiful structures remains a mystery. The memories held within their walls--thousands of celebrations of birth and marriage, and commemorations of a life well-lived after death--make them more than just stone structures.

They are the entire history of families. They deserve to be more than a pile of bricks.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Sounds of Silence

It is the middle of summer and my house, unlike most of those with school-age children, is silent.

Both of my children are away this week. Sean is up in Alger, MI for six days at Boy Scout Camp. Shannon is in the Upper Penninsula at Michigan Tech studying astronomy for a week.

Now that baseball is over and Shannon is not starting driver's ed until next month, this is a time when we would normally to go to the beach or the movies and spend some quality time enjoying the warm weather. Going to the beach or the movies by yourself just isn't as much fun.

I suppose I should enjoy this mid-summer break, but it is eerily quiet with no one blaring music and video games or bickering over whose turn it is to watch television. I am really starting to miss the noise and chaos.

I suppose this is a foreshadowing of what is to come when both are grown and out of the house. Everything is quiet. Everything is staying clean. Cliff did offer to mess up a few rooms so that I won't go into withdrawal from having no one to pick up after. However, you just have to look in our bedroom at his clothes strewn everywhere to realize I don't have to worry about that.

I am going to take advantage of the quiet to get a few projects done and spend some quality time with the hubby in the evening. We had a nice, quiet walk with the dog last night and could actually watch a television show that we picked. We also did not have to badger any children about bedtimes.

In a few days everything will be back to our normal summer schedule, and in a month we will be getting ready for back-to-school time. Regardless of the noise, bickering and craziness that comes with having children in a home, I am going to enjoy it. It won't be long until the sound of silence is a permanent fixture in our house.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Hard Lesson To Learn

As I was driving home from the dog groomers on Saturday morning, I witnessed a horrible sight that I hope I never see again.

As I passed an intersection, there was a pickup truck at the stop sign waiting to turn left. Hanging from the side of the pickup truck's bed was a dog strangling to death with a leash around its neck.

The dog, a springer spaniel, had either jumped or fallen from the bed of the truck. The owners had apparently attached a leash to the collars of their two dogs in the back of the truck in an effort to keep them restrained.

As I passed the interesection, a man in a car behind the pickup raced over and lifted up the dog. He had apparently been trying to get the owners' attention for two miles.

I immediately turned around and parked at a nearby conveinience store. My veterinarian lived only a short distance away and, as a large animal vet, is willing to make some housecalls. I thought if there was any hope of saving this dog, he may be willing to come to the scene.

Fortunately, the woman who owned the dog is a nurse and was giving her dog CPR as I arrived. The dog began breathing on his own and regained consciousness.

The poor thing had some very serious scrapes and lacerations on his flanks from being dragged, and brain damage is certainly a possibility from being oxygen-deprived. But the ending of this story could be much worse.

It took me hours to get the image of that poor dog hanging by its neck out of my mind. I was actually shaking when I got home with my own beloved dog.

I always cringe at the sight of dogs in the back of pickup trucks. If the driver slams on the brakes, those poor animals will go flying out of the back. I have always said I would never put a dog any place in a vehicle I would not put a child.

Although these people made some attempt to make sure their dogs were safe, these efforts were obviously misguided by having too long a leash and restraining them around the neck. Even if the dog had been in a harness, he probably still would have suffered road rash.

I hope that anyone who witnessed that awful incident or reads this will think twice before placing a dog in the back of a pickup truck. It is a harsh way to learn a lesson, for both the owner and the dog.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Summertime, And The Living Is Crazy

Summertime brings to mind long, lazy days spent idling in the sunshine. So why is I am racing around like a chicken with no head and feel like I have been run over by a bus?

In the past three weeks since school has been out, not a day has gone by that someone did not need to be somewhere. Baseball games are in full swing. We have a bunch of doctor and dental appointments scheduled. We are helping out at a local pet shelter taking care of the cats and worked at our church's vacation bible school all last week. I am training for an 8 kilometer walk later this summer and meet with a training group once a week. To top it all off, I hosted a baby shower for my niece at my house last weekend.

I get out of breath just remembering all of that.

It seemed when I was a child, summer was for nothing but goofing off. Kids went outside in the morning, were called in for lunch and dinner, and basically ran around the neighborhood all day until it got dark. Mothers might be inside for awhile doing housework but always seemed to find time to have long chats with neighbors over the fence or while sitting on the front porch. Dads could be found swinging in a hammock in the evenings.

Now, it seems the only time I see my neighbors is when they are out mowing their lawns. The few kids in my neighborhood are in day care, summer programs or seem to be out of state visiting their non-custodial parent. How has life changed so drastsically in thirty-some years?

It seems that as technology has picked up the pace, our lives have followed suit. I am more likely to chat with someone via email than over the backyard fence. Kids need to be kept busy at all times so they don't fall behind. Summer has lost some of its most important aspect: lazy indulgence.

Now that many of our obligations have been fulfilled and baseball is nearly done, I am determined to allow some laziness into our schedule. I will float in a lounge chair in the pool. I will spend some time in the hammock with a book. I will quit nagging the kids about chores, music practice and workbooks and just let them be kids.

The first thing I will do is indulge in a long, long nap. Soon. But right now, Sean needs to go to baseball practice, Shannon has an orthodontist appointment and the cat just threw up a hairball.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Wedding Bells and Falling Tables

My sister Lynn got married last weekend. It was a beautiful day, a lovely ceremony, and an enjoyable wedding reception.

I am concerned about one thing, however. No one broke a table.

You have to go back through our family history of weddings to understand what I am talking about. At my wedding twenty years ago, my brother Kevin and his friend Ron were leaning against one of the tables as the reception was winding down. The legs gave out and the entire table collapsed. Ron and Kevin ended up on their backs, but somehow neither spilled a drop of the beer they were holding.

When my brother Jeff was married three years ago, my siblings and I once again found ourselves at the end of another wedding reception packing away decorations and helping to clean up. My brother and his new wife Tanya were still there, along with Tanya's brother. As all of the chairs were already put away, Tanya's brother decided to take a rest by sitting on one of the tables. As fate would have it, the table collapsed.

We have decided that this has become a family omen that decides the future of the bride and groom: If a table breaks, the marriage will last. The Jewish people break wine glasses at weddings for good luck. The Sorchilla family breaks tables.

Needless to say, we are a bit concerned that no tables came crashing to the ground. However, a few minor incidents may make up for this. When my sister Lynn bent over to pick up our three-year-old nephew, the zipper on her wedding gown split. Fortunately her wedding coordinator was able to run to Joann Fabrics. Her dress was held up for the rest of the evening with elastic and safety pins.

Later on, while my cousin Donna was heading down the hallway toward the restrooms, the glue on the sole of her shoe gave way, and the bottom of her shoe was almost completely off. Luckily she had pair of shoes in her car stashed away for when her feet got tired.

So even though no tables came crashing down, we are hoping that a couple of minor wardrobe malfunctions make up for it.

But, just in case, I am going to make the newlyweds a table out of popsicle sticks and have them smash it on their first anniversary. Why tempt fate.

Best wishes, John and Lynn!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Summer Is In The Air--Along With The Sound of Bickering

School is out as of last Friday, and the summer vacation stretches before us. As I listen to my children argue in the next room, one thing comes to mind:

It's going to be a very, very long summer.

Normally I am working several days a week, which gives me a bit of a break and gives my kids a chance to develop a little bit of independence. As the house has always been standing when I got home and both kids were unscathed, I assume everything went well. I even suspect they get along better when I am not there to play referee.

This summer, however, I am facing the prospect of being home all of the time. It has only been four days since school ended and my patience is already being tested.

But all is not lost. Sean will be attending scout camp and Shannon taking an astronomy class at Michigan Tech University, both during the last week of July. We also have two long weekends planned, one with my family in Pennsylvania to attend my sister's wedding and another at a local campground for Cliff's family reunion.

Sean is also playing on a summer baseball league, and Shannon will likely be attending a weekly cheer camp later in the summer. I am also planning to expand their list of daily chores, which will go a long way in alleviating boredom and will be expanded even further if I get any complaints.

And I am researching inexpensive options to keep them off the sofa and away from the television, computer and video games. For some reason, the more time they spend in front of media, the more cranky they seem to be with each other. Outings to local beaches, free classes put on by a local nature center, trips to the library and free concerts and movies in our local parks should help. Also, we are lucky enough to have a drive-in movie theater, minature golf course, and other cheap forms of entertainment at our disposal.

Hopefully, these strategies will keep some semblance of peace and order in our house. If it doesn't, perhaps I can find a summer camps for mothers about to lose their marbles to send myself to for a week.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Box Full Of Pure Cuteness

We have a new addition to our house. Actually, six of them.

Last winter a cat started living on our front porch. We felt sorry for her since the winter was a harsh one and the porch provides very little protection from the elements. So naturally, I made her an insulated kitty house out of one of our kitty carriers and an old blanket and started feeding her.

We tried to find her owner but discovered from a neighbor that she showed up last fall in his yard with two other male cats--a gray one that looked just like her and and an orange tabby. The gray male was sadly killed in the road a couple of months ago. The neighbor kept the orange tabby, which is now living in his garage.

As spring approached, we realized that the female kitty was soon to be a momma kitty. Not wanting her to have her babies in the still below-freezing outdoors, we moved her into the utility room of our basement, much to my husband's chagrin and the disdain of our other cats. But cats don't count in the voting, and my husband is outnumbered by the kids and me. Democracy rules.

One morning about a month ago, I peeked in on the kitty--whom we dubbed "Stormy" since her fur is the color of storm clouds--to find her lying in her box as usual. Only this time, she was surrounded by five tiny balls of fur--one black, one black and orange, one grey and two orange tabbies.

It took awhile, but we finally figured out we had two females and three males. Of course, Shannon and Sean could not resist naming them. The gray female is Mystery. The black and orange female is Destiny. The black male is Midnight. The playful orange tabby is Zeke (the only one Sean got to name), and they shy orange tabby is Shylo.

As cute as they all are, nine cats in one household is a little extreme. We don't want neighbors gossiping about the "cat people" down the road. I am always appalled at the reports of the humane society raiding the homes of people with fifty wild cats running around. So, when the kittens are weaned, momma and babies will all be going to a local no-kill shelter as soon as they have the space.

It will certainly be difficult to see them go. Your mood cannot help but improve when you watch five balls of fuzz wrestling with each other and chasing around a small toy. And there is something sentimental and serene about watching a mother nurse her babies. I think it brings back memories of nursing my own.

But these cats will be at the shelter until they find homes, and the people who run the Adopt-a-Pet facility are meticulous about the homes to which they go. I have no doubt they will all have wonderful, pampered lives.

Besides, it has been good for my kids to see newborn kittens grow and take on the responsibility of caring for them. It has even inspired Shannon to volunteer. She will be working at Adopt-a-Pet this summer helping to care for the animals. It will be a good learning experience since she is considering studying veterinary science in college.

Still, I will miss the five little fuzzballs and their momma. It won't be the same when I can't take a sanity break by opening a door and letting a bunch of kittens vie for my attention.

In fact, I think I will go step in there right now. I am feeling the need for a dose of cuteness.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Boys Will Be Boys--Much To Their Mother's Chagrin

I am less one child this week as my son left this morning on his fifth grade trip to Mackinac Island near the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I see this as a mixed blessing.

On one hand, I think the break will be good for both of us as he has been testing my patience lately. I decided during the last marking period to give him a little leeway instead of hovering over his schoolwork and constantly checking his grades. He will be going into middle school in the fall, and since no teachers will be accepting late assignments or allowing him to make up a low grade on a paper, I felt he needed a taste of the real world to come.

This resulted in a D in math. Apparently he did not bother to turn in two assignments, which dropped his grade significantly. This not only resulted in him missing the honor roll for the first time in 18 months, but he also lost his XBox 360 and has the threat of summer school hanging over his head if the grade is not brought up in this last marking period.

On top of the grade fiasco, he has basically been dismantling the house piece by piece in the last two weeks. He broke a glass while haphazardly loading the dishwasher. He broke a door on one of the kitchen cabinets roughhousing with his dad. He broke the leg on our game table. He yanked a towel bar off the back of the bathroom door. Of course, all of this has been "by accident." Also, someone broke the portable heater in my office. No one will admit to doing it, but I think I can name the culprit in one guess.

In my currently unemployed state, these damages are more than just a nuisance. But at least he was putting dishes in the dishwasher and actually hanging up towels! That is generally more than I can get his father to do.

But he is, after all, my baby. And his absence leaves a little bit of emptiness in the house. It is a lot quieter without all that boy energy in the air.

I also worry about how he is doing. Not that I am all that concerned about safety. He is being chaperoned by a very trustworthy father of one of his classmates. I worry more that I am not there to remind him of the little things I monitor each day, such as brushing teeth, combing hair and putting on deodorant. Hopefully, this father is not in charge of three 11-year-old boys who neglect to apply deodorant every day.

Fortunately, this absence will be a short one. He will be back on Thursday evening full of tales of the experiences he just had. And life will return to its normal state of organized chaos.

So I just have to remind myself when the quiet gets too overbearing that this situation is temporary. The silence will soon be replaced by the sounds of a loud pre-teen voice, running feet, and my daughter complaining about how annoying her brother can be. Not to mention the sound of glass breaking as footballs are lobbed throughout the house "by accident."

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Help Wanted--Find Me A Decent Job!

In the world of the unemployed, job hunting is a daily necessity. Quite frankly, I am finding it downright humiliating.

With so many people competing for so few jobs, I find myself looking at employment opportunities I probably never would have thought of pursuing in the past. I just finished writing a cover letter trying to convince some vet why I might be a good receptionist/kennel assistant.

The receptionist part does not worry me, but the "kennel assistant" is a little questionable. That could cover anything from feeding dogs who are recovering from surgeries to wrestling rabid beasts who would like nothing more than to tear off a limb.

That is the problem I am finding with many of these job descriptions. They are simply too vague. Here are some examples of want ads I have found:

Appointment Setters -I assume this means calling people at dinner time and pestering them to buy anything from a water filter to a time share in a Louisiana swamp.

Motivational Instructors - this one screams "Set up a pyramid scheme by peddling our products and annoy your friends and family into joining you!"

Help Wanted in Our Pollution Control Department - You are a glorified janitor. Is there somehing wrong with just saying "janitor?"

100 Workers Needed to Assemble Crafts! $480 Per Week! - What they don't tell you is they refuse to pay you because the string on the puppet you assembled is .002 mm too short.

Yes, it is definitely slim pickings out there. Although there do seem a lot of jobs for truck drivers. Could you see short little me driving a big rig? I almost have to stand up in my seat in order to see behind me when I back up the minivan.

But I refuse to get discouraged. I will just continue to plug away, scanning the internet and the newspaper ads. Somewhere, there has to be a good fit.

Think I could pass for an experienced rock and roll promoter?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Have You Disinfected Today?

It is bad enough that we are dealing with record home forclosures, job loss rates that are the highest in decades, and people have lost their shirts because of questionable banking practices. Now it seems that a flu pandemic is lurking on the horizon.

I can't remember--is plague and pestilence the First Horseman of the Apocalypse, or the Second?

My 11-year-old son is a worrier, and it has taken some convincing to persuade him that we are not going to drop dead from swine flu at any time. In fact, when I was acting a little down last week in the wake of my job loss, Sean was absolutely convinced that I had it.

Not that it is to be taken lightly. This is a strain of the same flu that killed millions worldwide in 1918. My own great grandfather was a casualty of that epidemic, leaving my great grandmother a widow with four children and one on the way.

Modern medicine, however, has come a long way since then. We also have to remember that medical care in the United States is more sophisticated and more widely available than in Mexico, where the flu originated and most of the deaths have taken place.

So we will proceed with caution. I am encouraging everyone in my family to wash their hands and use hand sanitizer so often that all the germs in our house are starting to wave little white flags. Hopefully it won't get to the point where we will have to walk around in surgical masks and be unable to shake hands with the people next to us during mass, but we will cross that bridge if we come to it.

But if I see a guy in long flowing robes galloping down my road on a white horse, I'm not sticking around to see where he's heading.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Welcome Me To The Ranks Of The Unemployed

It appears I have joined a club to which no one wants to belong: the National Association of My Job Is Gone.

I am not actually all that upset that I lost my job. The newspaper for which I worked has been in trouble and was recently sold, and I knew this was a possibility. It is the manner of my dismissal that is upsetting.

I received an email yesterday morning saying thank you but your services are no longer needed. That's it. No phone call. No notice.

The new owners claim they will be doing my job themselves to save money. However, when I went around to my the businesses I worked with to tell them I would no longer be with the company, I found out that a woman who claims to be a friend of the owners is now doing my job. And it gets worse. When the business owners would ask where I was, she told them she was "just helping Kris out this week"

Not only do these new owners not have the courage to face me, but they are also too cowardly to admit what they did.

The real rub is that for the first three months this newspaper was in existence, I worked for basically no pay. I got no reimbursement for gas or mileage as I visited businesses soliciting ads or distribution points. I created and printed ad packets, an expense which came out of my pocket. I actually lost money doing this job for the first few months.

The one good thing that has come out of all this is, during past year, I have had a chance to meet and work with some wonderful people in this area. In fact, some have been so outraged at the way I have been treated that they now refuse to do business with this newspaper. The saying "you reap what you sow" is certainly proving to be true.

I am now trying to decide what the next step will be. I have always been a believer in the saying that when God closes one door, he opens another. I have a Mary Kay business that I could certainly work to expand. Also, I have always toyed with the idea of going back to school to get a master's degree. Perhaps that is the door that God is holding open now.

Whatever happens, the sympathy, support and encouragement I have received has been overwhelming. I may have no income right now, but I feel like a millionaire.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Break Out The Windex! Spring Is Here!

For me, the warming of the air and the greening of the grass this time of year mean one thing--it's time to go into a cleaning frenzy.

There is something theraputic about sweeping out the dust and cobwebs of winter, opening the long closed-up windows to let in some fresh air, and scrubbing, dusting, sweeping and vacuumming until I collapse. Nothing says spring like dishpan hands and sheer exhaustion.

I think I get this spring cleaning bug from my mother. She was not much of a housekeeper, and with five kids cooped up inside all winter, you can imagine what the house looked like come April. But just before Easter every year, she would grab a shovel and clear off all of the mail, school papers and assorted garbage that accumulated on every surface of the house. Okay, so I exaggerate about the shovel. But a backhoe sure would have come in handy.

I'll be the first to admit that I am a neatnik. I think this comes from growing up in a house that regularly looked like Hurricane Katrina came though. So it is not enough for me to just do the inside of the house. I have to move into the garage as well, and this year I have decided to tackle the attic.

The garage and attic are generally my husband's domain. But when you live with someone whose idea of putting something away is to throw it on the floor until your wife gets sick of looking at it, your ideas of cleanliness tend to clash.

So last week I went through the garage, threw away all empty containers, put everything back in its place on the shelves and wiped a year's worth of crud off the surfaces.

Now I am working on the attic, better known as The Place Where Unwanted Household Items and Electrical Paraphernalia From My Husband's Business Come To Die. I have found--among many interesting things--eight plastic sleds (we have two kids), a empty box from some floor mats my husband bought four years ago, and a set of tires.

The tires in the attic are odd, but the eight sleds are downright strange. Are we smuggling polar bears to a safer climate or harboring Eskimo refugees up there?

As this is by far the biggest job on my spring cleaning list, it is going to take awhile. But by the time I am finished, I am confident I will have a neat, organized attic and a nice pile of donations for some charity. And it will be well worth the effort not to have to climb over piles of garbage to get to the Christmas decorations come December.

So I will continue to plug away at the mess and ponder why we keep remnants of a carpet we tore out five years ago in storage. And if I find Jimmy Hoffa hiding under the rolls of electrical wire, I'll let you know.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easter At Our House--Marshmallow Peeps and Pepto Bismal

The Christian world celebrated the resurrection of our Lord this past Sunday. Unfortunately, I was not one of them. I spent the entire day on the couch with a stomach bug.

My family's Easter dinner consisted of glazed ham, potatoes with cheddar and sour cream, Caesar salad and Hawaiian sweet rolls. Mine consisted of saltines, jello and ginger ale.

I tend to be very much a type A personality and have a hard time sitting still, especially when there are holidays involved. My husbands swears that the best way to torture me would be to tie me to a chair for awhile. To me, there is nothing more depressing than working so hard planning and preparing for a holiday and then being forced to watch from the sidelines. All the baking, spring cleaning, shopping and choir practices seemed to be for nothing.

But as I watched my family, I realized this was not the case. The kids loved all the thought I put into their Easter baskets, which as any parent of a teen and pre-teen knows can be a real challenge when you try to avoid a lot of candy. My husband enjoyed the Easter dinner I planned even though he had to make most of it.

I also think that God knows what he is doing at times when he forces us to slow down. I had been cleaning frantically because we were anticipating that my brother and his wife would spend the weekend with us. We found out Tuesday before Easter that they were unable to make it. Had they come, I would have been too sick to enjoy their visit.

Being forced to sit in one place also allowed me to catch up on several days' worth of newspapers, organize the family calendar, finally sew the new boy scout troop numbers on my son's uniform and just simply look outside at the beautiful sunshine and mentally plan my gardens. All things I did not have time to get to because I was just too busy.

I also spent a lot of time with my husband and children just coming in to sit and chat for a few minutes, the dog bringing me toy to throw, and a cat or two curling up with me as I read.

So perhaps a sick day isn't so much of an inconvenience as a time to remember what is really important in life: slowing down enough to enjoy it. Hopefully, it won't take another sick day before I stop and smell jelly beans.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Happy Easter From Our Winter Wonderland

Mother Nature gave us a lovely Easter surprise early Monday morning here in Michigan--six inches of snow.

The past two Easters here have been white. It is starting to become part of our Michigan Easter traditions: baskets of colored eggs, jelly beans, marshmallow peeps, and winter boots and parkas. I am certain the Easter bunny is consulting with Santa Claus about borrowing his sled so that he can get around Michigan to make his deliveries.

I think manufacturers of snow removal equipment should start making them in spring colors. They would make a killing here. "Forget the Easter baskets this year, Marj! Let's buy us a lavender snow blower!"

Our only consolation is that the temperature later in the week will be in the high 40 degree range. With any luck, this will all melt. Let's face it--indoor egg hunts just aren't as much fun. How many eggs can you hide under a table or on a windowsill? It gets to a point where the kids can sit on the couch and point to the six places you are forced to hide the eggs year after year in the living room.

So we poor freezing souls here in the midwest will hold out hope that the sun will shine and green grass will be visible on Easter Sunday. But I am cleaning the snow boots just in case.

Happy Easter to all! And if you plan on visiting us here in Michigan, don't forget your snow shoes.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Vast Household Conspiracy--Our Appliances Are Watching Us

I am convinced I am about to uncover some major conspiracy that will shock every American household. Our appliances and electronics are plotting against us.

In the past few weeks, everything seems to have gone on the fritz. After I blogged a few weeks ago about problems with our photo printer, I took a copy of a photo up to the Geek Sqaud at Best Buy to see if they could help me figure out the problem. I was told it was probably the printer head gone bad and was advised to give the printer a proper burial.

This week, our computer decided to crash and now cannot load Windows. Yesterday, I once again made a visit to the Geek Squad and left them our computer. We are becoming best friends and will soon be going out for drinks and inviting each other to family functions.

Now my carpet steam cleaner is making noises that probably resesmble an elephant in labor. The cats run off and hide in terror every time I turn it on.

How is it that they all know to break down all at once and at the worst possible time? Last year, my oven and water conditioner went at the same time as our roof had to be replaced. Right now, Cliff's company is about to run out of work and the newspaper I work for is about to be sold, so neither of our jobs has a very stable future.

I am convinced our houses and everything in it talk to each other. They know exactly when a major expense or financial hardship is coming, and they take turns breaking down.

There was a movie back in the 1980s where appliances, cars, and anything else than ran on electrical impulses starting attacking people. I tell you this is coming! They are plotting against us and biding their time until they can take over the world!

The people in the movie were forced to take refuge on an island where there was no electricity. I would try to do this, but I would not survive two days without checking my email.

The dryer has just started making strange noises. I think it's plotting with the dishwasher. I need to go unplug a few things. The toaster looks like it wants to lead a coup.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Tribute To One Amazing Woman

It has been a difficult week at our house as our family has lost a beloved member. My grandmother, Elizabeth Sorchilla, passed away last week at the age of 96.

She never had much education, but you certainly couldn't put anything past her. Born in 1912, she was second oldest of we think ten children--no one is quite sure how many there were as some did not survive past infancy. Her mother recognized early on that she had strength and character. She would keep her home from school to help with her younger brothers and sisters. When the truancy officers would get after my great grandmother, she would send her to school for awhile but would inevitably keep her home again. She never made it past elementary school.

Her education was the world in which she lived. She grew up through World War I, survived the Great Depression, and was a young wife and mother during World War II. She raised her children through the prosperous '50s and the turbulent '60s. She watched her grandchildren grow up in the '70s and '80s, and was a great grandmother in the '90s. She was the 20th century personified.

Her generation was not raised to show affection through words, but she expressed it through actions. The wonderful family dinners on Sundays, generous gifts on special occasions, and taking a grandchild or two to visit relatives and stopping for ice cream on the way home were the ways she showed love for her family.

She was also raised to believe the man was the head of the house, but we all knew differently. Once when my grandfather was fixing something in the basement, he hit his thumb with a hammer. A stream of obscenities rose up to the first floor. My grandmother marched over to the top of the stairs, yelled down, "If you don't stop that swearing I'm going to come down there and hit you over the head with that hammer!" and slammed the door. Not another word was heard from the basement.

Her faith in God was always unwavering. She would pray for everyone--family, friends, neighbors, people she heard about on the news. And she was honest to the core. My sister tells a story of going to the mall with my aunt and grandmother. My grandmother needed to purchase paper plates on one end of the mall, and my aunt was picking up her wedding gown at the other end. When my grandmother reached the bridal shop, she realized the she had walked out of the store without paying for the paper plates. She walked back to other end of the mall so fast that her younger companions could not keep up with her. To this day, my sister cannot believe that someone in their seventies could move that fast.

She was probably the most stubborn person I have ever known. If she did not want to do something, she was not going to budge. If she had an opinion, you knew it. But her determination would serve her well late in life. Widowed in 1987 and losing her eyesight to glaucoma, she refused to surrender her independence and remained in the house where she raised her family. And she stayed there until she entered the hospital shortly before she died.

I am convinced that the prospect of losing that precious independence was what led her to finally let go. Her worsening eyesight made it impossible for her to continue to live on her own, and plans were being made to place her in a nursing home. And she knew when the end was near. Her final words were ones that no one in the family had ever heard her say: "I love you all."

I am hoping I can learn some valuable lessons from this one amazing woman with this one amazing life. Find courage in whatever situation you are placed, stick to your guns, trust in the Lord, and let those you love know how you feel before it is too late.

We love you too, Grandma.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How Many 14-Year-Olds Does It Take Make You Lose Your Mind?

I recently read a quote in a book that described 14-year-olds as emotionally four years old one minute and 30 the next. As a mother of a 14-year-old daughter, I would have to disagree. Emotionally two years old would be more accurate.

The last few days at our house have been full of drama for no apparent reason. A friend she chats with occasionally is no longer logging on to the computer. This has resulted in a full-blown emotional meltdown.

One minute she seems fine. The next minute she is crying. She won't talk about what's bothering her because "no one understands."

She came home upset from school one day last week because she claimed no one at her lunch table would talk to her that day. When I suggested she call one of these girls who is a good friend to find out if there is a problem, she looked at me as if lobsters were crawling out of my ears.

I had to remind her that I was not born a 40-something woman with a harried look on my face and bags under my eyes. As difficult as it is to believe, I was once fourteen as well. I don't think she believed me.

Apparently, at this age, it is easier to be upset than examine the root of a problem. The only saving grace is that these situations and moods seem to be fleeting. After a weekend full of trauma and crying jags, she is now fine.

I can remember going through similar trying times at that age. Although my mother was not willing to listen, I had a grandmother, an aunt and many good friends who weathered those storms with me.

At fourteen, I know now that hormones are changing and it is perfectly normal for mood swings and emotions to get out of control. What I can't understand is that you would want to go through such emotionally trying times alone when there are family and friends wanting to help. I would also be willing to let her talk to her doctor or even a good therapist if she feels she needs to.

I suppose we will just have to weather this emotional hurricane and hope she realizes that a sympathetic ear is always nearby. In the meantime, I'm not sure I will get through this phase without a good therapist of my own. And a glass of wine.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Customer Is Usually Wrong

What happened to the old saying "The customer is always right?"

A recent odyssey I had with Best Buy stores tells me that this saying no longer applies. My daughter bought a DVD (she saves allowance and babysitting money to buy DVDs of a certain television series), and found that one of the disks was missing when she opened the package.

Unfortunately, some time had elapsed between when she bought it and when she opened it. When I brought it back to Best Buy, I presented them with a crumpled-up, illegible receipt I found in her room for what I thought was the DVD. A computer scan of the receipt showed that it was the correct series but wrong season.

The customer service rep asked if it was possible to find the correct receipt. Anyone who has a teenager knows that, at times, Jimmy Hoffa could be buried somewhere in their room and you would never know it. I cannot get her to put a shirt in a hamper let alone put a receipt where anyone could find it.

The customer service rep refused to exchange it without a receipt because I could not "prove" it came from their store. Every DVD she buys from comes from their store because they have the best price, but that did not matter.

She suggested I contact the web site listed on the back of the package to see if I could get it replaced. When I did, I was basically told it was not their problem--the retailer has the obligation to stand by their product.

At this point, I did what any red-blooded American would do. I called the store manager and--excuse the expression--bitched. I was told to come back in the next day and they would exchange it, no problem.

Why did it have to take going to the top of the store's food chain, complaining loudly to the powers that be, and driving back and forth to the nearest Best Buy twice (30 minutes from my house) to get something done? Several years ago I returned a duplicate DVD that my son recieved as a birthday gift to Walmart with no more that a small bit of one of their price tags on the corner. I did not have any problems.

Are retailers getting stingy in this economy? Or perhaps they are falling into the trend that seems to permeate every aspect of our society--courtesy and cooperation are being overtaken by rudeness and laziness. A check of the store's records would have shown that I have a rewards card that lists most of the DVDs she has purchased.

I plan to complain to their corporate headquarters about this incident, but a small fish complaining to a big corporate whale will probably have little effect. Still, it is the little fish in the school that keeps the whale alive, and I intend to get out my harpoon on this one.

Ahoy, maties! Captain Ahab is on the hunt!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

2009: A Technology Oddity

Technology is supposed to make our lives easier. Frankly, it gives me a massive headache.

I admit I am a bit technologically-challenged. I got a new cell phone last fall and it still takes me two minutes to find a picture on it. My son and daughter can do this in less than ten seconds. I don't know how to download a photo on the computer. I did a happy dance when I figured out how to use the DVR function on the television.

My real challenge is when something malfunctions. I have a printer that I use to print out photos for scrapbooking. Suddenly, every photo it spits out looks like there is a two-year-old inside it filling in lines with a set of basic-color crayons.

I have run an ink flow check. I have run a paper check. I have run a check on the program settings. I have run an FBI background check. My photos are still coming out looking like a page from a Dr. Suess book.

I have spent probably three hours online with the Epson troubleshooting website. I have wasted numerous sheets of paper, loads of ink, and hours of time.

Perhaps it is time to move on to the next diagnostic step:

1. Disconnect power cord
2. Disconnect printer cable from computer
3. Chuck printer out of window into path of an oncoming semi-truck

I am starting to miss the days when I dropped off a roll of film at the drug store and it magically appeared as pictures a few days later. Perhaps many would accuse me of living in the "stone age" for not enthusiastically embracing technology. Frankly, I would rather wrestle a sabre-tooth tiger with nothing but a wooden club to defend myself than spend one more minute psychoanalyzing a photo printer.

Gotta go. I hear a semi-truck approaching.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Let a Sleeping Bear of a Husband Lie

I made a huge mistake last night--I woke my husband out of a dead sleep.

Cliff has always been a very solid sleeper and has never been pleasant to wake up. I found that if it is necessary to wake him, it is best to just poke him with a 20-foot pole and run like the dickens out of the room.

Last night when I got home from my exercise class, he was parked right in front of the garage, completely blocking it. Since I could not get my vehicle in, I thought I should ask if he was starting a project and did not want me parking in the garage tonight.

When I got in the house, he was sound asleep. Since I did not have a 20 foot pole nearby, I had to wake him by calling his name several times (from a safe distance, of course).

He was actually in a pretty fair mood when he woke up and said he was planning to clean out his company van but fell asleep on the couch. Because it was already 8:30, he indicated he would move his van and pull mine into the garage.

I figured I had gotten off easy until I walked back into the room five minutes later. Cliff was once again sprawled on the couch fast asleep.

Not wanting to push my luck, I decided to let him sleep and handle the situation myself. I picked up his coat to look for his keys. He immediately jumped off the sofa, told me I was impatient and used some words I cannot repeat in this blog.

Was I upset? Of course. Is it worth dwelling on? Probably not. I know how he is when he wakes up from a dead sleep, and he probably does not even remember the entire incident.

The next time, I will definitely let a sleeping bear lie. And if he yells at me the next day for touching his stuff, I will not get angry. I will simply let the air out of one his tires. (Kidding--maybe.)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

From Baby Steps to Stepping Out

My 14-year old daughter reached a milestone last weekend--she attended her first formal dance in high school. As excited as I was for her, it left me pondering that question that all parents ask: How is time passing so quickly?

It seems like yesterday Shannon was playing dress-up to look like a princess. Today, she is looking like a princess stepping out to a ball.

It is funny how life occurs in circular patterns. Mothers of little girls love to dress them up in frills and bows. When our daughters reach the tween years, they would rather go out dressed in a potato sack than be seen in anything with ruffles and lace. Now we are once again shopping for beautiful dresses.

With her emerald green satin and sequined dress, wearing a pair of high heels and with her hair swept up on top of her head, Shannon looked so grown up it was frightening. Of course, five minutes later she is making a smart comment to her brother and rolling her eyes at something I said. Some things just don't change that quickly.

But I know this is a glance at what is to come. She is becoming a young woman preparing to step out on her own in a few years. Cinderella entering into her carriage to be carried away into the world.

For now, however, she had better be home before midnight or she will have much bigger problems than her carriage turning into a pumpkin.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Teachable Moments

All of our children experience difficult moments and situtations from which we will not always be there to rescue them. The best we can hope for is to turn these moments into an opportunity to learn a valuable lesson.

Recently, my son was spending time at the home of a friend. This particular friend had several other boys there that my son does not really know. Sadly, these boys felt it necessary to exclude and make fun of him. And unfortnately, my son's friend decided to join in.

This of course led not only to hurt feelings, but also to a minor scuffle. My son left feeling very angry, upset and ready to let a long friendship go.

While discussing these events with Sean, I asked why he had not come to either me or the boys' parents for help. He said he wanted to handle it himself and thought that the bullying would only get worse if he involved adults. He was probably right.

I told him he had every right to be angry and never speak to this friend again. However, I thought a better approach would be to give his friend an opportunity to make things right. He could do this by contacting him and explaining how hurt he was that someone he thought was a good buddy would turn against him.

Next I asked Sean a very important question: What would you have done if the situation were reversed? If you had several boys over and they decided to gang up on your friend, what would you do? Without hesitation, Sean replied," I would tell them to stop. He is my friend and that is not cool."

Finally, I asked him to remember at that moment how it felt to be picked on. I want him to never forget those feelings of being left out and belittled when he sees it happening to another child.

It is up to him now whether the friendship continues or not. But I am hoping the lessons learned will last a lifetime.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Just Say "NO!" (Maybe)

As women, we all know we take care of things. I take care of my family. I take care of the dog. I take care of the cats. I take care of our neighbor's cat who has taken up residence on our front porch.

I take care of the birds in our neighborhood by feeding them all year round. I think every bird within a two-mile radius now congregates daily in my back yard. I've even started buying dried corn cobs for the rabbit that lives in our yard after I saw him eating twigs the other day just to survive.

Recently, an elderly neighbor has started calling me asking for things. At first it was to bring her mail to her door. Then it was to put out her trash and recycling. Then it was for rides to the grocery store or the drug store. Yesterday she called to tell me that her phone was not working properly and that I needed to bring her some batteries immediately.

This recent request got me wondering. How exactly have I become the caretaker of the entire world?

I understand that our neighbor is 86 years old, lives alone and needs some help. What bothers me is that she has family living no more than 20 minutes away. She claims she cannot call on them because "everybody else works."

It is official. I don't work. I sit around all day eating bon bons, watching soap operas and reading trashy novels just waiting for someone to call me with something to do.

The problem is I have a hard time with one word - "No."

My son's teacher sent a form home a few weeks ago asking for volunteers for several class fundraisers. I signed up to not only work at our school's Darlin' Dance, but also to bake cookies and donate a door prize. On Sunday night, my son's teacher calls and says she doesn't have enough volunteers to work the Book Fair and could I possibly volunteer for a shift?

Of course I said yes. But it left me wondering where the other 19 parents in the class were that they couldn't give three hours of their time.

It is simply the curse of being a nice person. I have a hard time letting people down. My heart went out to the poor bunny eating twigs just to fill his stomach. I feel bad for a little old lady stuck in her house in this harsh weather.

But maybe the next time my son's teacher calls for me to volunteer, I will just say I have a previous engagement. Perhaps when my neighbor calls for a ride on a day I have to work, I will suggest she call our local transit authority that provides a shuttle service for senior citizens at a small price.

Then again, who I am kidding. I will still be the one sitting in a busload of over-stimulated children on their way back from a field trip and driving to the store for batteries in a foot of snow.

Pass the bon bons.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day: Pomp, Circumstance and Bobble-head Dolls

We have just inaugurated the 44th President of the United States. And what good old American celebration would be complete without cheap, gaudy souvenirs to commemorate the occasion.

I was watching news coverage of the pre-inauguration festivities yesterday, and a reporter was talking about the variety of Barack Obama souvenirs that are on sale. She interviewed a guy that had already sold 1,500 Obama bobble-head dolls and had to order more.

Why is it that we feel compelled to honor any major event with t-shirts, hats and mugs? I can still remember some of the stuff people were selling as part of the United States Bicentennial Celebration back in 1976. What true blue, red-blooded American could properly observe our nation's 200th birthday without a pair of commemorative underpants.

Apparently this phenomenon is not limited to Americans. I recall watching the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson back when Prince Charles and Princess Diana were married. He was showing some of the souveniers on sale for that event. The one I will never forget was a t-shirt emblazoned with the words "The Morning After" on the front and showed the Prince and Princess sitting in bed with black eyes and missing teeth. And I thought we Americans had cornered the market on tackiness.

When Pope John Paul II passed away, I bought a commemorative issue of People that focused on his life and his papacy. On one page, there was a display of products that apparently were on sale when he was made pope. There was actually a bar of soap shaped like his head on a string called--you guessed it--Pope on a Rope. Somewhere, there is a soapmaker headed straight to hell.

As for me, I will celebrate this historic moment without buying shirts or spending $10 on a commemorative $1 bill with President Obama's face on it. I will, however, be doing an internet search later today to see if I can find an Obama Bobble-Head Doll.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Winning Isn't Everything, But You Darn Well Better Come In First!

Last weekend, my son participated in his final Cub Scout Pinewood Derby. He will be moving into Boy Scouts in a few months.

His car actually made the finals in the Webelos Division. He ended up finishing in sixth place. The top four cars in each division move on to the district race. And was he ever disappointed.

Upset and angry might be a better description. He barely spoke a word to us on the way home. He only opened up when we bribed him with a McDonald's double cheeseburger. He said he was disappointed because he really wanted a trophy.

Now, my son's dresser contains plenty of trophies, three of which are from past Pinewood Derbies. Actually, last year was the first time ever that his car did not place. But he was fine with that, saying that other kids needed a chance to win a trophy.

So what changed since last year? Maybe it was because it was his final race. Perhaps it was because he based his car design on one that had come in first place several years earlier. Or maybe kids today are just used to rewards coming too easily.

When I was young, only the championship teams--whether it was football, little league or cheerleading--received trophies. When my son played flag football last fall, every child that participated got a trophy. My daugter has a bunch of cheerleading trophies in her room because every girl that performs in a competition gets one.

I have no problem with encouraging and rewarding children to boost their self-esteem and confidence. It seems that we are doing a great job teaching them to be good winners, but we are failing at teaching them to be good losers.

The world loves a winner. They applaud and idolize them. And the losers are often seen being mocked and trash-talked by the winning team. Watch any professional sports game and observe the interaction between the two teams. No wonder kids think there is so much shame in failing.

To my chagrin, my son did not congratulate one of the boys who placed in the race last Saturday. He just sulked away. Could I have forced him to offer those boys praise? Certainly, but it would not have been sincere.

Instead, we had a long talk when we got home. We discussed the importance of both winning and losing with grace. We discussed the fact that out of 24 cars in the Webelos division, his had come in sixth place. And he had done most of the work on it himself. He should be proud of that accomplishment. In the end, I think he felt much better about his performance that day.

As for me, I will be more careful to praise the effort rather than the result. Maybe if we concentrate less on trophies and awards, we can raise a generation that not only can congratulate the winners sincerely, but can also congratulate themselves on a job well done regardless of the outcome.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Starting the New Year With a Whimper and a Prayer

It is the first full week of 2009. The holidays are over, the decorations are coming down, and I feel downright depressed.

I always feel down this time of year when the glitter and lights of the holiday season are gone. When my children would get upset as the tree came down, I used to remind them that this a brand new year full of possiblilities. I would cheer myself up wondering what good things the new year would bring.

With financial experts making dire predictions for 2009, however, looking forward in this year is like looking forward to a colonoscopy. In an effort to cheer myself up, I have decided to make some predictions of my own. So here goes:

-The pathetic Detroit Lions football team recovers from their dismal 0-16 season by actually winning a game. Unfortunately, officials are forced to call the game with 30 seconds left when the Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse ride onto the field, signalling that the world is ending.

-Disgusted by the lack of explanations and accounting from financial institutions which received bailout money in 2008, Congress calls a special session and demands that company CEOs come clean. These individuals respond to the inquiries by sticking out their tongues, waving their fingers by their ears and shouting explanations such as "Neener, neener, neener!" and "Jack, jack, no trade back!" Outraged, the American public responds with outcries of "Liar, liar, pants on fire!"

-Executives of the Big Three automakers are forced to give up their big salaries, free company vehicles and private jets as conditions of the bailout given by Congress. Furthermore, they are also required to shop at Walmart, get their hair cut at Fantastic Sam's and buy their cappuccinos from the vending machines at Speedway. The horror of it all.

-Barack Obama is sworn in as president and promptly announces he is going on a four-year vacation, declaring "There is absolutely no way I am ever going to clean up this mess anyway."

-Former Republican Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin is given a cabinet position in the Obama administration. Her job is stand on the shores of the Alaska and keep an eye on those pesky Russians.

-George Bush and Dick Cheney leave office, and there is much rejoicing throughout the nation. Cheney occupies his time by taking Barack Obama, members of his administration and congressional leaders on hunting trips. Mysteriously, Obama, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are all killed in a series of "hunting accidents."

-As a result, Hillary Clinton is named President of the United States. This leads to what doctors call a medical anamoly as conservatives everywhere drop dead from heart attacks and massive strokes, or simply have nervous breakdowns and babble uncontrollably.

-President Bush retires to his home in Texas and opens his presidential library. Strangely, the library contains only two books: Jeff Foxworthy's "You Know You're a Redneck If..." and "Presidency for Dummies." Sadly, the wrapper has never been taken off of the latter book.

Happy 2009 everyone! And may God help us.