Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Holiday P.R.

One thing that amazes me at this time of year is how everyone suddenly becomes a public relations expert.

Many of us are guilty of sending out those standard holiday letters. I know I send them to all those on our Christmas card list who we don't speak to on a regular basis.

What I find most interesting is how everyone's six-year-old seems to be in line for a Nobel Prize and how redecorating the dining room has made us a candidtate for a spread in Better Homes and Gardens. Because whatever news we have this year, good or bad, we spin it.

That speeding ticket you got in October becomes a commedation from the police department. The bad progress report your sixth grader brought home is now a special recognition for academic achievement from the school's principal.

Wouldn't you love--just for once--to get a letter that sounded like this:

Happy Holidays to all of our family and friends!

We hope this year finds you well. It has been an exciting time in our household.

Cliff continues to enjoy golf. He recently purchased new clubs since he threw his old ones in a water hazard out of frustration. Cliff's electrical business continues to thrive. We were not bothered at all by that pesky IRS audit last year. He expects the fraud and racketeering charges to be dropped at any time. If they aren't, what's 10 to 20 years, anyway?

Kris is quite excited about her expanding cosmetic business. She is planning a demonstration at a women's prison early next year. Her hobbies include gardening, scrapbooking and following her rather disorganized family around the house with a dustpan and a can of Lysol. She is still taking remedial cooking classes and was not discouraged at all by that three-alarm fire in the kitchen at Thanksgiving.

Shannon is still thriving in high school. The little cheating incident on the PSATs has not discouraged her academic goals at all. She is hoping to be accepted into one of the finest convent or reform schools in the country.

Sean's progress in school continues to be, well, interesting. The teacher thinks he may very well pass seventh grade without summer school this time. Our family in Pennsylvania is making plans to visit him for his military school induction or his first parole hearing, whichever comes first.

Our little puppy Chloe is growing fast. We are searching for a doggy psychiatrist to assist us since she has been kicked out of three obedience schools. She is almost totally housebroken now, and we only had to replace the carpets in six rooms, along with two couches and a matress.

For those of you in the southern part of the country, we may very well show up on your doorstep next year. We will be travelling to Podunk, TN to see the world's largest ball of yarn!

Now there's an interesting year!

Here's wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year that is "spin-worthy!"

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

I Believe In Santa Claus

In our house, it's been a long time since we have had a little one waiting anxiously for Santa Claus to arrive. And that makes me little sad.

The fact is that children mature and realize that Santa Claus doesn't land on the roof and descend down your chimney with a pack of toys. But to a parent, the loss of that belief is a sign that your children are growing up and that some of the magic has gone from this time of year.

I, however, refuse to believe claims that Santa is a myth, because I still believe that he exists.

Santa Claus was actually a real person who lived about 1,700 years ago. The real St. Nicholas was a 4th century bishop in Turkey who used his substantial inheritance to help the poor. Legend has it he would toss coins through open windows, and children began hanging up stockings hoping to capture them.

St. Nicholas has evolved through the centuries into the jolly, fat, bearded man in red we know today. He is blessed with the uncanny ability to force children into good behavior (I used to warn mine his elves looked through the windows to give Santa status reports) and reminds adults of the days when they, too, waited to hear sleigh bells on Christmas Eve.

And I miss Santa. I miss the annual trek to the mall for a visit. I miss writing letters to him, mailing them to the North Pole and waiting for a response. I miss sprinkling reindeer food in the yard, setting out a plate of cookies by the fireplace and tracking his progress across the world on the Norad Tracks Santa website.

Of course, I could still do all these things, but my family would probably think I've dipped into the eggnog too often. Besides, a 40-something woman sitting on Santa's lap just may give the jolly old elf the wrong impression.

Although Santa may no longer exist as a person, I believe he endures in a non-physical sense. He is the embodiment of all that is good and wonderful this time of year. He causes children to behave a little better, strangers to treat others with more kindness, and puts a little bit of magic and mystery back into our lives during the holiday season.

As we stress ourselves out trying to recreate the Martha Stewart holiday special in our own homes, perhaps we should all remember what Christmas comes down to: celebrating a miracle in a stable and the pure joy of giving.

As Francis Church famously responded to eight-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon's question "Is there a Santa Claus?" in the New York Sun back in 1897, "No Santa Claus! Thank God he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Viginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood."

He also fills the hearts of adults with joy, if only we let him. Here's hoping we each find a little bit of Santa in ourselves this time of year.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Talkin' Turkey

Thanksgiving is upon us. It's that time of year when families once again gather to gobble (pun intended) loads of food, watch hours of parades and football and wind up feeling as overstuffed as the turkey we just cooked.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. It has all the togetherness of Christmas without the mad dash to blow money we don't have on gifts and over-decorate just to show up the neighbors. It is simply a time to gather and reflect on all for which we are grateful.

Although retailers would have us believe the Christmas season begins the day after Halloween, I prefer to give Thanksgiving its due. Although many around us are already lighting the plastic Santas, our house is still adorned by pumpkins and cornstalks.

That's not to say I have not begun planning for Christmas. I just prefer not to have a Christmas tree next to my Thanksgiving table.

I applaud Nordstrom's Depatment Store for its decision not to put up Christmas decorations until after Thanksgiving. Perhaps if more retailers did this, we would feel a little less pressured to jump into the holiday season before the jack o'lanterns have had time to rot on the porch.

So go ahead and put your grazing ornamental reindeer in your front yard and illuminate your house with enough lights to guide a 747 to a safe landing on your roof before the cranberry sauce has enough time to congeal on the tablecloth.

I'll be enjoying my turkey sandwiches without the holly and ivy as side dishes for a little while longer.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Can We Talk?

The time of year is upon us that many parents dread. It's time for parent/teacher conferences.

I would have to say that more parents fear these dreaded teacher meetings than the sugar-filled, present-driven hyperactivity of the Christmas season. At least Christmas is over in one day. The repercussions of these conferences will haunt you for weeks, an entire semester or even a whole school year.

For some lucky people, these are pleasant exchanges. With Shannon, we meet with her teachers and hear what a polite, cooperative young woman and great student she is. Then we head over to the middle school for Sean's conferences.

And we brace ourselves.

It's not that Sean is not an intelligent child. He has unfortunately been cursed with some sort of genetic disease that prevents him from keeping track of things. He received an ipod for his birthday a few weeks ago and has already managed to lose the headphones.

Unfortunately, this defective gene also affects his ability to hand in homework. We know that he does the homework, but we have no idea where it goes once it enters the black void of his backpack.

It is frustrating to go online to check his grades and see that he has A's and B's for all the work he has done, but has a C in the class because of all the Fs he receives for missing work.

I have a feeling many of the papers simply end up on the bottom of his locker. I had to retrieve a book from there a few weeks ago when he missed several days of school with an ear infection. That thing needs to be declared a bio-hazard.

Apparently, everything that has ever disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle has materialized in Sean's locker. The bottom was half full with gym shorts, swearshirts, both of his coats, binders and notebooks with at least 30 pieces of paper randomly stuffed around everything else.

Even worse, Sean had left an insulated lunch sack in the locker for about four weeks with, unfortunately, the lunch still in it. Brown goo had oozed through the lunch sack, which now covers the bottom of his locker with some papers actually stuck in it. I practically had to don a protective suit to get anything out of there.

Also, I have repeatedly warned him not to put papers in the pockets of his pants. Crumpled school papers, however, sometimes appear in the washer and dryer. Since he has a binder for each class, I cannot figure out why he thinks the pocket of his jeans is the best place to store papers.

Despite regular efforts to go through his backpack and a new organizational system we are trying with his class binders, success has eluded us. The problem is he is simply not motivated to keep track of his schoolwork.

Since Sean is motivated by money, we have now instituted a new system where he loses $1 from his monthly allowance for every missing assignment that pops up on Powerschool. We figure he will owe us money by the end of the semester.

We also have a longstanding policy where he loses television, computer or videogame privleges for any grade below a C. That list will now include his ipod. Our hope is that he will become organized out of complete boredom.

So, next week, we will once again arm ourselves with a brave face, gather our courage and enter the realm of middle school to once again prepare for battle with the dragon that is a teenage boy's lack of enthusiasm and motivation.

Seems to me that slaying a real dragon would be a whole lot easier.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Politically Incorrect

I was appalled to watch the news this morning and listen to a candidate in next week's elections tell the President of the United States to "shove it." What is even more shocking is that this person is a member of his own party.

This only goes to prove that, when it comes to politics, any shred of courtesy, decency, morality and respect has gone the way of the dodo bird.

In a world of 30-second sound bites and a "do whatever feels right" mentality, civility may well be on the endagered speicies list. Nowhere is that more apparent in the world of politics. Political ads today do not tout the merits of a particular candidate, but instead are designed only to slander the oppostion.

I heard a commerical recently that claimed "since Fred Smith has been in office, unemployment in his area has gone up 80 percent." Can someone please show me somewhere in this country where unemployment has not gone up 80 percent?

But candidates today assume that people who are polarized toward their particular party are not going to stop to think about such a statement. Unfortunately, they are correct. The ad could probably blame this guy for everything from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster to Hurricane Katrina, and ignorant people would be calling the candidate's office (because they of course publish a phone number) to accuse him of being everyting from a communist to an evil, tree-worshing wiccan who can control weather systems.

Even worse is that we are grooming the next generation behave exactly like us. My daughter was recently volunteering at a water station for a road race with some of our other youth group members. Two girls tried to convince her to state that she hates President Obama because "he needs to die." The worse part is that these fine young representatives of our church were saying this within earshot of other volunteers from a protestant church who were mainly African-American.

Fortunately I have groomed my children to handle political incorrectness like this by simply stating that they are a Christian and do not hate anyone since that goes against everything for which our Lord lived and died. You would be surprised at how quickly a statment like that shuts the mouths of supposedly "good Christians."

It's obvious these children are learning from their parents that inflammatory speech is perfectly acceptable when it comes to politics. Not only are they grooming ignorance, but they are teaching an entire generation to follow a narrow-minded path wihout instilling in these children any compassion, common sense or the ability to think for themselves. Certainly we want our children to follow our moral examples, but should these examples include racial and religious insults and death wishes?

As for me, I am proud to be a dinosaur who believes that the President of the United
States deserves the respect to which his office entitles him regardless of if I agree with his politics. Taunts and name-calling should be left on the playground with the rest of the pre-schoolers. And freedom of speech does not mean we have a right to behave like a bunch of uncivilized baboons whose opinions come only from advertisements, political pundits and "unbiased" news sources.

God blessed each of us with a brain and the ability to think for ourselves. Let's not insult him by refusing to use it when it comes to politics.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

It's Duck Season!!! It's Wabbit Season!!!

The nights have turned crisp and cool. The leaves are turning. And, my husband is growing a beard.

All clear signs that hunting season is upon us.

I must admit I don't understand that male ritual of sitting in one spot in the damp woods for hours just to shoot at something that no one else in the family will eat. But that does not stop Cliff from donning facial hair and camoflage to go out in search of Bambi each year.

For the past two years, my son has joined him in this rite of male passage. He has not been old enough to hunt with a rifle, but simply goes along to join his dad, grandfather, uncles and male cousins in the annual testosterone-fest at our cabin in Gaylord, MI.

Not that I really need to worry about my husband getting a deer. The last time I remember him actually shooting one was about 20 years ago. One year while he was hunting, I actually hit a deer with my car. A police officer had to shoot it and then asked me if I wanted to take it home. Cliff never even saw a deer that week. I bagged one with a Ford Tempo.

When I think about it, hardly anyone ever gets a deer during hunting season. This makes me wonder what actually goes on at that cabin.

Years ago I heard a song on the radio called "The Second Week of Deer Camp" where a bunch of guys sang about how they got together each year in the woods to smoke, drink and play cards. At the end of the song, someone finally got a deer. They hit one with their truck while on a beer run.

I seriously doubt the Moore boys spend most of their week three sheets to the wind. I think hunting season is more about the timeless tradition of males getting together to bond, share experiences and pass on their rituals to the next generation of hunters. And, occasionally, they go out into the woods.

Besides, I can hardly complain. Hunting season has led to a female ritual commonly known as "Outlet Shopping Season." This is one tradition in which I will be happy to partake.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Coming Out Of The Closet (The Clothes--Not Me)

With the arrival of autumn, it is once again time for me to go through all of the closets and prepare for the arrival of cold weather.

This is a ritual I repeat every spring and fall as the weather changes. I replace some seasonal garments with others, clear out what the kids have outgrown for donations, and make note of what they will need for the upcoming warm or cold weather.

Orgnaizing my closet, however, is not so simple. As every woman knows, we need three sets of clothes for every season.

We have our normal set of clothes which wear on any given day. These clothes are the size we generally hover around and wear the majority of the year

Then of we have our "fat clothes." We don these garments if we put on a little weight, or on mornings when we wake up feeling like we are the size of a walrus.

Every woman also has some clothes that she wore in college or before the kids came along. Some women refer to them as "skinny clothes." I refer to this as my "I have a dream" section.

Organizing experts say you should not keep anything you have not worn in a year. That theory goes right out the window when it comes to our "skinny" garments.

The fact that the size 2 formal dress I bought in 1987 will probably never again see daylight does not deter me from keeping it. Every woman has clothing she convinces herself that, one day, she will get into again. Never mind that she probably has better odds of winning the Megamillions lottery.

Those clothes will be in that closet until the day she dies. Someone will be going through our closets thinking, "What did she save that for?" and "Did she actually WEAR that?"

Skinny clothes are not to be confused with clothing from special occasions such as weddings or proms that we all stash in some spare closet in the house. We don't wear them. We just take them out occasionally to reminisce.

To a woman, a closet is more than a place to store clothing. It is memories of her past. It is a reflection of who she is and how she came to be that person. It is as personal to her as a diary.

So when my husband asks why I am keeping a maternity dress that I wore when pregnant with my son thirteen years ago, I simply move it to another location. Getting rid of it would be like getting rid of a part of me.

The other day I came across a dress I wore to a college formal. It was fire engine red with a plunging back and hit about four inches above the knee.

Perhaps I will surrender that one. I don't want anybody to find it after I die. Might give the wrong impression of my single days.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Puppy Love

The pitterpatter of tiny paws has returned to the halls of our home.

We have adopted a puppy. Her name is Chloe and she is a three-month-old border collie/german shepard mix. I also suspect she has some labrador in her as she is forever pointing at nothing outside and attempts to flush chipmunks and mice out of my gardens. I would not have an issue with this if she were not also pulling my plants out by the roots.

In the thirteen-plus years since we had a puppy, I seem to have forgotten many things. Puppies are a lot of work.

I got quite acquainted with the planet Venus for about a week as I was up early enough to see it well before dawn while Chloe explored the yard searching for the perfect pee spot. Although she now sleeps a bit later, the potty training adventure continues. She is not yet letting us know when she needs to go out, so I have seen more of my backyard in the last month--especially in the the dark--than I have seen in the last 14 years.

I have also been reminded that puppies chew. This is evidenced by the fact that Sean is now missing the back end of one of his flipflops. We alleviate this problem by keeping plenty of chew toys on hand.

What we cannot seem to get through to her is that cats are not chew toys. Most of our cats avoid her, but Midnight is attempting to befriend her. They do play together, but it usually ends with Chloe pinning him to the ground by his neck. Cats do not like this.

With the cooler weather this weekend, Chloe has also discovered that people wear pants. This is apparently something she thinks she should latch onto and hold on for dear life.

Most of these habits will be overcome with time, patience and a good dose of obedience training. She does have some very good qualities in that she rarely ever barks, walks well on a leash and is already picking up on some basic commands. Our puppy is no dummy.

This has also been a good lesson for Shannon and Sean on the responsibilty of owning a young animal. A large part of her care fell upon them before school began. They now realize that puppies are not something that can be ignored or taken care of on your schedule, but have their own timetable. They require lots of attention, affection and are not something disposable.

We are hopeful that our experience with Chloe will be as memorable and wonderful as our time with our beloved labrador, Zak. She has already found a special place in our hearts in her short time here.

Feel free to visit or call for updates or with advice. And don't hesitate to call early. Believe me, I'll be up.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

They're Going Back!!!!

It is the time of year that parents everywhere hear the words that bring joy to their hearts: Back To School!

The days of lax schedules and sleeping in are drawing to a close. The dog days of summer are giving way to class schedules and school projects. Soon I will again hear the dulcet tones of the school bus stopping at the bottom of the driveway. I never imagined that would be music to my ears.

If someone had told me 20 years ago how excited I would be to see bins full of pencils and spiral notebooks lining the aisles at Walmart, I would have thought they had sniffed one too many Sharpies. It's the same feeling I used to get when I saw the words "shoe sale." These days I would drive past 10 shoe sales just to make sure I get hold of those fifteen cent folders at Target.

Funny how your priorities change as parents. When childless, I would plot and plan how to save enough money for my dream car. Now I spend the latter part of my summer scouring sale flyers for the best deals on binders.

I used to think I was become boring, but I now realize that as parents, we become realistic. Car seats simply don't fit in the back of a Mustang convertible. That Prada bag simply would not function the same stuffed with diapers and wipes. And who needs to spend money on a Versace blouse when they must send their children off to school with Crayola supplies rather than--God forbid--some generic brand of crayons which will cause them to be made fun of and scar them for life, resulting in thousands of dollars spent on therapy.

So as I run amok between retail outlets in search of the gel ink pens and mechanical pencils my daughter cannot live without, I remind myself that the house will soon be quiet and structure will return to my days. I will--in some small way--miss the sounds of video games rising from the basement and the lovely tones of my daughter's cell phone as she receives her 30th text message of the morning.

In the meantime, I need to hurry up and get to Kmart. Rumor has it there is a huge sale on highlighters.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ain't No Cure For The Summertime Blues

The end of summer vacation is approaching. In a way, this is a good thing as it coincides with the yearly end of my sanity and patience.

I have actually managed to keep the bickering and boredom to a minimum this summer. It may have preserved some of my faculties, added a few days to my life and resulted in fewer gray hairs. I wonder, however, what has it done improve the quality of my kids' free time.

Summer vacation today is not the same as the carefree, sunny days of my childhood when children went out to play after breakfast and you only saw them at mealtimes and bedtime. Even though it is a vacation from school, today's breaks are not necessarily a vacation from learning. Since many education experts have warned about the "brain drain" that occurs during summer vacation, I have always felt compelled to keep their minds engaged during the long school breaks.

It used to be we did workbooks each day. This was about as fun for my children as watching paint dry. This summer we tried a different approach. Following Sean's stellar performace during the first year of middle school (we are still thanking the powers that be that he actually passed everything), he is enrolled in a learning center this summer for math and took a chemistry class at our local planetarium.

We also decided that Shannon should take a "test run" for some classes she will be taking online this next school year through Michigan Virtual High School. She decided to try learning Latin.

Their chore list has also grown this summer to include lots of yard work and even more household chores. They also both volunteered during our church vacation bible school. Shannon has also picked up a couple of new babysitting clients.

Athough I make a huge effort to keep them busy, like most parents today I also spend the far too much time prying them away from cell phones, computers and video game controllers.

The days when gangs of children roamed the neighborhood on summer days are long gone. Only two of Shannon's friends live within walking or biking distance from our house. None of Sean's friends are nearby. Telling them to "go outside and find someone to play with" has never worked at our house unless you could befriend a squirrel.

When they were younger, I could send them out to play on the swingset, sandbox or other variety of outdoor toys that littered our backyard. This would generally occupy them for a long period of time. Although we now have more "grown-up" toys like a pool and a trampoline, this will engage them if they alone for about 10 minutes.

I find it alarming that they are willing to spend hours texting and communicating on Facebook, but are reluctant to invite friends over and actually hold conversations face to face. If I have learned anything this summer,it is that technology is starting to take a toll on personal relationships.

In a way I feel bad trying to structure their vacation time so much. My parents never gave me hours worth of chores, insisted I do volunteer work or made me do math problems over the summer. Sometimes, I feel like the Adolph Hitler of summer vacations.

But as I think back to those school breaks of my childhood, I think my four siblings and I spent more time bickering during the summer than playing together. My poor mother probably locked the doors once we went outside in the mornings just to keep her sanity intact.

I try to remember that summer is not only a time to unwind and relax, but also a time to learn and grow through new responsiblilites and opportunities. And we always make sure to make time for "the fun stuff" like scout camp, spending the afternoon at a local beach or going to the movies.

Perhaps I am not doing them a disservice by insisting on a balance between fun and responsibility. After all, they both seem to have grown and matured a little this summer. They may complain about the workloads, but in the end I am sure they are grateful for the structure in their lives.

I, too am grateful that the household has seem to run more efficiently and the choruses of "I'm bored" have lessened this summer. I am even happier that I have not lost too many brain cells refereeing arguments over whose turn it is to play the Avatar game on the Wii.

At my age, I don't have that many brain cells left to lose. And I can certainly think of better ways to lose them.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Goodbye, Zak

Last week was a very sad time in our household as we had to say goodbye to a very dear friend, our 13-year-old black labrador retriever, Zachary.

He was diagnosed in April with a defective heart valve after I took him to the vet with some breathing problems. There was nothing that could be done to correct the problem save an expensive surgery he would likely not survive. However, our vet said that with a limited activity schedule, he had seen dogs live for several years with this condition.

Happily, Zak did well for awhile with only short periods of exercise. Up until the day he died, he could still enjoy a quick game of catch and a short walk.

On the evening of July 21st, he suddenly had great difficulty breathing. Our vet met Cliff and Shannon at his office and gave us the bad news: Zak's lungs had filled with fluid and his oxygen levels were decreasing. He was in congestive heart failure. There was no more he could do for him. The decision was made at that time to put him to sleep.

The hardest part is that Sean and I--who were not home at the time--were not there to say goodbye. Our dog was suffering and there simply was no time to wait for us. I listened on my cell phone while our vet put my dog to sleep.

Sean has taken it particullarly hard--his dog has been his constant companion since he was a baby. We have photos of one-year-old Sean toddling through the house with his blanket and stuffed elephant, Blue, in his hands, his binky in his mouth, and his faithful dog close at his heels.

Zak was as loyal and devoted a dog as anyone could ask. He was far too friendly to be much of a guard dog--we used to joke that if anyone broke into the house he would make them a cup of tea and help them load up their van. But he was always up for catching a tennis ball, a walk to explore the neighborhood, or a ride in the car whether it was for a trip to our cabin or a visit to the vet or dog groomer.

Our constant companion for over thirteen years, the journey from the rambunctios six-week-old puppy to the old, mellow dog was far too quick. The memories with which he left us will last a lifetime.

As a labrador retriever, Zak would eat anything that would not eat him first. When he was a puppy, he would constantly get into my garden and eat the strawberries. I badgered Cliff to fence in this area, a job which he kept putting off. He was finally convinced to take on the project the day Zak ate about thirty red and green cherry tomatoes and threw them up all over the family room.

From that day on, the only thing he would not eat were tomatoes. One Thanksgiving holiday weekend, we were travelling back home from Pennsylvania and left an 18-inch turkey sub in the van with the dog while we stopped at a rest area. By the time we returned to the vehicle, the only thing left were the wrapper and the tomatoes.

He was such a gentle soul he would not even hurt another animal. He discovered a nest of baby rabbits in our yard once and did nothing but carry one in his mouth until I convinced him to drop it. He did the same thing to a very wet bird he found once during a rainstorm. His one passion was chasing squirrels and chimpmunks. He never had a prayer of catching them, but that did not stop him from enjoying the chase even in his final days.

The irony of his passing is that the Monday before he died, my book club met to discuss a book called "Good Dog. Stay" by Anna Quindlen. The book is about the life of her black labrador retriever named Beau and what she learned by watching him from his puppyhood until his passing at age 15.

Quindlen says that the life of a good dog is like the life of a good person, only shorter and more compressed. From watching Beau grow up and grow old, she learned to take every day as it comes, live life to the fullest, and to simply roll with the punches. Sometimes, Quindlen says, and old dog can teach you new tricks.

Zak not only lived a full, happy life in his thirteen years, but added fullness to our lives as well. Through him, I have learned to find joy in every day, take time to enjoy the beauty of nature that surrounds you, nap and play whenever possible, and--every once in awhile--drop whatever you are doing and chase a squirrel.

Goodbye, dear friend. We miss you and will never forget you.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

No Pain, No Gain

Each New Year's Day, I come up with a list of resolutions for myself. This year, I decided I want to challenge myself physically.

In additon to trying to keep my girlish figure, I am discovering muscles I never knew I had. Mostly because they hurt.

I have taken several Zumba classes this summer in addition to my usual pilates class. Apparently I am not the only one who has made this resolution because the class is filled with overwieght, middle-aged women with a few 20-somethings sprinkled in. You have not lived until you've seen a 200-pound, 50-year-old woman bouncing around to the music of the Black-Eyed Peas.

After a few years of competing in mostly five kilometer races, I have also decided to walk the 10-mile race in the Crim Fesitival of Races this summer. I have joined a training group that is--you guessed it--moslty middle aged people.

Why is it that we suddenly wake up in our forties and decide a change is necessary? We certainly could have been doing a better job of this in our twenties and thirties, which would of course head off the need to lose all that extra weight once our 40th birthday rolls around.

One reason is that families and jobs keep us so busy in our younger years that we don't have time worry about expanding waistlines. Once the kids are more independent and our careers are established, we then realize our figures rival that of Shamoo the Killer Whale.

It doesn't help that television shows, commericals and magaine ads blast us with models and celebrities with perfect physiques. I've never seen the show "Jersey Shore," but the cast was on the "Today" Show not long ago. One of the male characters actually has a named his abdominals and calls them "The Situation." I thought that was interesting because we have a nickname for my husband's abdominal muscles as well. We refer to them as "Missing In Action."

Even my husband, however, has caught the middle-aged fitness bug. He recently began jogging and hopes to lose at least 30 pounds.

Getting in shape at any age is a laudable thing, and I applaud all those who take steps to live longer, healthier lives even if they do get a late start. Just make sure you visit your local Costco or Sam's Club first and stock up on the Motrin.

And to all of those 20-somethings who run circles around us in the park, a word of advice: Stay out of my way or I will hit you with my cane.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

R.S.V.P.--Response So Very Poor

I discovered recenlty that the meaning of the phrase R.S.V.P. has changed. I was taught as a child that it stood for "respond so very promptly" I have come to understand that it means "reply sort-of, verification pending."

We had a 16th birthday party for Shannon last week with R.S.V.P by a certain date. Almost half or the people either did not respond or said they will "probably" attend.

I wonder if these people realize that "probably" means that you have to count them as attendees, and when they "probably" do not show up, you are stuck with the extra cost of covering them. Shannon invited 22 people to her pool party, and only eight friends actually came.

Granted, there were some legitimate excuses: one friend got stuck out of town, another had to leave early for camp. But to simply not show up or give a wishy-washy response is just one of those things that would make Miss Manners' head explode.

It seems customary--if not acceptable--to give a non-committal response. This to me is an insult. It's like saying "I will come if I have nothing better to do."

What really irks me is the people that commit to coming, then at the last minute decide they have a better offer. Someone Shannon thought was a close friend did this to her the night before the party, and she was devastated.

I have uncovered a couple of codes that will tell you if people think you are as exciting as watching paint dry. They are:

1. "I will have to see what else is going on." Translation: you are boring and if I get a better offer I am on it faster than a dog can pounce on a dropped hot dog.

2. "My grandmother passed away (for the sixth time)." You can get away with this excuse exactly twice. When you lose track of your fibs and your relatives start passing away more than once, you are either a bad liar or have one screwed-up family tree.

3. "I want to come, but I just can't seem to get out the door." Translation: I would rather sit on my couch and watch a "Gilligan's Island" marathon than drag myself to your snooze-fest.

As I feel I am becoming an expert on party etiquette, I will be conducting a seminar--or maybe it's a support group--for the chronically boring party host. We will cover topics such as "Getting party attendees without begging" and "Discover your inner party animal." Details to follow.

Just make sure you R.S.V.P.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

My Sanity Has Disappeared With The Phone

I am in need of a good detective. We have lost a cordless phone.

The phone from my home office has gone missing in action. Since the battery has now died from not being charged, the paging function does not work. I think we need professional help.

I have checked all of the usual spots in the house where I have found it before: under the sofa, inside the sofa, in the refrigerator (yes, I am serious). No luck.

This would not have happened except for one small problem in our household: NO ONE PUTS ANYTHING AWAY!!!!

Do I sound a little frustrated?

The scissors from my office are also missing. I have a bin full of socks without partners in the laundry room closet. At least two remote controls have disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle that has apparently relocated itself over my house.

I spend at least 15 minutes each evening putting things that others in this household leave lying around back in their proper places. I am constantly calling on my family to please put this or that away.

I tell myself this is a step toward being organized for the next day. Some days I think that it is one more step toward the state mental hospital as I will go insane from repeating the same phrases and tasks over and over.

I often wonder what would happen if I were to go on strike. What would result if I suddenly ignored all schedules, household tasks and responsibilities and spent my days lounging outside in the hammock? I would like to think my family would pick up the slack and gain an appreciation for all that I do. I suspect, however, that the house would simply implode due to neglect and we would all be living in a giant smoking crater.

I have decided I will no longer search for or replace the missing phone. Those responsible for its disappearance can now use the phone connected to the fax machine with the big white springy cord attached to it that goes no further than four feet from its base.

At least now there is one less thing I have to track down. Now, if I could get a springy cord that I could attatch to the remote control, I'd be all set.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The New Detention

My 12-year-old son has been spending lots of time in after-school detention lately. This is not a good thing.

In additon to seeing how we can slide through 6th grade doing as little work as possible, we are now exploring the realm of having a reserved seat in detention hall. Except that the tradtional after-school detention has gone new-age.

Instead of making children sit in a room writing things like "I will not release toads in the school hallway" 100 times, teachers now take a different approach.

Yesterday, he and a group of his friends (who were all in detention because of an incident involving throwing milk cartons) had to weed the school gardens. Since our school has a rather large agricultural curriculum associated with Michigan State University, this was no small task.

Detention now means that kids are put to work. It makes sense to me. Why have a bunch of kids with a lot of pent-up energy sit in a room when you can get some free labor out of them?

A couple of months ago, they apparently couldn't find any work for the detainees to complete. Instead, they had to listen to music. Classical music. This may not sound so bad to you or me. To a bunch of pre-teens, however, this is akin to Chinese water torture.

When they were done with the classical selections, they switched to music for preschoolers such as "The Barney Song" and the Teletubbies theme. I am surprised his ears were not bleeding when he got home.

I am hopeful that forced labor and tortuous musical therapy will have some positive affect on my son. In other words, he will hopefully straighten his behind out and not want to spend any more time listening to Raffi.

It hasn't worked yet, however. He has detention again this Thursday for taking his cell phone out in school.

I look forward to hearing what task was forced upon him this time. I hope it's cleaning the boys' bathrooms with q-tips.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sweet 16

Hard to believe, but my baby girl is turning 16 this Friday. Scary.

This is opening up a whole new world that I am not sure I am ready to face. She will now be permitted to date. She will likely have her driver's license by the end of summer. She even applied for a part-time job to supplement her babysitting income and is saving for a school trip to Europe next summer.

Perhaps now would be a good time to look into convent school enrollment.

I am happy to admit, however, that she has grown into a responsible young woman. She has never had a detention in school, maintains a 3.8 grade point average and received the highest score on the PLAN standardized test in the entire sophomore class. Shannon has already gotten recruitment letters from about 30 colleges, including Columbia, Brown, Duke, Vanderbilt and the University of Miami.

She is generally respectful and follows our rules, usually does her chores and takes care of her responisbilities without complaining, and keeps busy with school and outside activites which keep her out of trouble.

Part of it, I am sure, has to do with strict parenting and clear expectations. But Cliff and I cannot take all the credit. All we can do as parents is set them on a path and hope they will follow it.

There is a poem I have always thought describes the parenting experience perfectly:

"Little one, I wish two things:
To give you roots,
To give you wings."

The roots are established. Now the time is coming to start testing the wings. I have no doubt that as Shannon begins to venture out into the world, her options will be many, her successes great, and her wings will take her far.

Happy Birthday, Baby Girl!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I'll Be Going Back To Bed Now...

Ever find that when a day starts off badly, it just gets worse as it goes along?

It seems that the first few hours after you get out of bed seem to set the tone for the remainder of the day. If that is always the case, I should just go back to bed because today is already a complete wash.

We started off the day with my two kids missing the bus. It's the second time they have done this in three weeks. The problem is I am still trying to figure out how they do it.

I let them wait inside the house on cold mornings. All they have to do is stand in the family room and watch out the back door for the bus, which comes down the road that runs perpendicular to our street. Somehow, neither of them saw it. How you can not see a large yellow vehicle with flashing lights coming down a road, I will never know.

It probably did not help that the bus comes at 7:15 and Sean was still getting his shoes on at 7:14. They are both supposed to be ready at 7:10, and Shannon was indeed ready. She was, however, too busy messing with one of our cats to apparently notice a bus driving by.

The fact that I had to drive them to school was not what upset me. It is only about a five minute drive. What makes me angry is the lack of responsibility in not being ready on time or the ability to stay on task. To make it worse, the circumstances were similar the last time they missed the bus.

I would like to say I handled to situation in a calm and mature manner, but I probably sounded more like a howler monkey.

So the day started with me getting angry and delivering a lecture on responsibilty during the entire drive to school. This made both of them quite happy. So now no one's day is off to a great start.

What makes me feel bad is that nobody's day had to be ruined. As the kids pointed out, they have only missed the bus three times in all of the years they have been riding it. It doesn't do anyone any good to start the morning angry and upset.

I read the book "Don't Sweat The Small Stuff" by Richard Carlson several years ago. There is a chapter called "Look Beyond Behavior" that basically says you have to take into account the circumstances that might be behind people's actions. No one deserves a rough start to a tough day simply for being distracted or not moving fast enough. If it means swallowing a bit of inconvenience to maintain harmony, then so be it.

Of course my kids need to responsible enough to be ready on time for school, but that fact would sink in much better in when discussed by a calm mother rather than a raving banshee.

So I will have to put this experience in the "What NOT To Do" column and hope my kids learn a lesson about timeliness.

I could also threaten to make them walk the two miles to school next time. Then they would have an excuse to pass on that story handed down through the generations about how they were forced to walk to school. Uphill. Both ways.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Spring has sprung, and with it an event that my husband dreads every year: the awful "honey-do" list.

As I yield a pretty mean hammer and drill, I only put items on here that are absolutely impossible for me to do. I can hang a picture and even put together a storage cabinet from a kit, but adding an outlet to the kid's bathroom is something I will never attempt. Unless I feel the need to get an instant perm from the electrical shock I will inevitably give myself.

With the arrival of warm weather, however, my husband has other priorities. They are:

1) playing golf
2) watching golf on tv
3) dreaming about playing and watching golf.

As you can imagine, this causes some conflict in our household. I need a hand, and he wants to chase little white balls around with metal sticks.

Since I have made it a priority this year to work on my patience, I try to put the honey-do list in perspective. I try to remember that my husband is a hard worker and is also taking a very difficult electrical licensing class right now. Frankly, he needs a break once in awhile.

Also, if a to-do item sits on a list for awhile, so what? The world will not end if the lawn is not fertilized tomorrow.

So I will continue to smile as he heads out the door with his golf clubs, promising that he will get to the list soon. After all, patience is a virtue.

Besides, if he lets that list go for too long, I have some great hiding places for those clubs.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dumbing Down

I have been asking myself the same question over and over lately: When did I become so stupid?

According to my teen and pre-teen, I have apparently become the stupidest person in the world. This is evident in the fact that they seem to roll their eyes at everything I say lately.

Although I have been on the earth for forty-plus years, I apparently know nothing and understand nothing. I had an argument with my daughter before school the other day all because I would not allow her to simply roll out of bed and get on the bus. I am critical of everything she does and, of course, "don't understand" anything. All this because I insisted she do something with her hair.

When Sean was on crutches and I had to drive him to and from school, I thought he would die from embarrassment. I was absolutely not allowed to get out of the car to help him under any circumstances and should stay as hidden as possible. I considered renting a white cargo van and wearing dark glasses, a hat and a fake beard simply to spare him the humiliation of the entire middle school realizing that he actually had a mother.

What happened to the days when they hung on every word and I was the center of their universe? I suppose it is called "growing up."

It is only natural for teens and pre-teens to begin questioning beliefs and testing limits. I can remember living in constant fear at that age that my own mother would say and do something that I deemed embarrassing in front of my own friends. And "something embarrassing" usually consisted of being in the same room.

I can accept this (although I call them on the eye rolling and mumbling) as long as they understand that there is no compromising on certain prinicples. When my son decided recently that there are too many rules in our household, he informed me that when he is 16 he is doing whatever he wants. I informed him that if he thinks that will happen, he better have a full-time job and his butt better be out of my house.

Rules regarding morality, grades, curfews, substance abuse and going to church will never change as long as my children are living under my roof. Period. As I have told them before: If you don't like it, get you own house.

My kids know the saying ad nauseam: This is not a democracy. This is a dictatorship. Heil, Mamma!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Birds Of A Feather Sure Make A Mess

One of my favorite ways to pass the time is to watch birds. I have set up two bird feeders outside my kitchen windows, which we keep filled year round.

It is amazing the number and variety of birds that get into the habit of coming to your yard when you feed them consistently. We have logged nearly 30 species of birds over the year. We even had a bluebird--the only one I have ever seen--coming to our feeders for awhile.

There is a downside to this wonderful spectacle of nature. Birds sure do make a mess.

Now that the snow has melted, it is obvious how much the birds have used our deck for "target practice" over the winter. I cannot tell at this point if the deck is supposed to be solid brown or brown with white polka dots.

Apparently I have also spoiled these birds so much that they now refuse to eat any seed that falls on the ground. Even ground feeders like the mourning doves now land in the bird feeders. I got a second surprise when the snow melted--a vast amount of moldy birdseed covering an expanse of lawn and garden.

As much of a pain as it is to clean up these messes, I would not dream of removing the feeders. There is something relaxing about spending a few moments watching the birds go through their daily routines.

Also, you would not believe how much bird watching can entertain cats. We refer to the kitchen windows as "kitty tv" since at least one cat is always sitting on the kitty perch chattering to the birds. This breaks up their daily routine of eating, sleeping, chasing catnip mice, sleeping some more, knocking down any breakables they can find, and sleeping.

So I will continue the expense of purchasing large bags of bird seed and the occasional forays outside with a scrub brush and rake to clean up what the birds have left us.

You'd think they'd come up with a better way to say "thanks."

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

One Smart Cookie

March is one of my favorite times of year. Not only does it mean that the end of winter is near, but the beginning of this glorious month signifies the delivery of Girl Scout Cookies in our area.

We look forward all year to these delicacies arriving on our doorstep. Nothing cures the winter blahs better than diving headfirst into a box of Samoas.

The Girl Scouts actually do a pretty good job of marketing these cookies. They are only available once a year in limited quantites. They have even expanded by allowing certain companies like Dairy Queen and the makers of Edy's Ice Cream to add the cookies to their products for a short time.

Of course, you know the Girl Scouts have got you hooked when you are willing to pay $3.50 for a box containing 16 cookies.

Sadly these sweets do not last forever. We have had them for less than a week, and my 12-year-old son has already devoured two boxes of the chocolate-covered peanut butter ones on his own. I ordered the Thank You Berry Much cookies for my daughter and I since Sean does not care for cranberries. He has eaten half the box. Now he is eyeing up my Thin Mints.

This means war. No one comes between me and my Thin Mints.

I was wathching a show called "Worlds's Dumbest Criminals" which featured a segment on two teenage girls stealing money from a Girl Scout selling cookies in front of a supermarket. When a news crew arrived to cover the story and talk to the very upset young girl, these two teenagers actually came back to the supermarket looking for their 15 minutes of fame. They told the news crew they took the money because it was an "easy crime." Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum were then arrested.

One of the show's hosts declared they had actually botched the crime as she would have gone for the cookies. She explained that she can always make money. She can't make Thin Mints.

I saw news coverage once of an overturned armored truck that spilled money all over a highway and resulted in several motorists exiting their vehicles for a cash-grabbing frenzy. Can you imagine the chaos if it were a truck full of Girl Scout cookies? I would never dream of stealing money that isn't mine, but I have to wonder if I would not be one of those people running around with arms full of cookie boxes screaming, "Hands off the shortbreads--they're mine!"

Since my conscience would never allow me to do this and the odds of a tractor trailer loaded with Girl Scout cookies crashing in front of my house are slim, I will have to be content to enjoy the sugary bounty while it lasts. Soon enough, the boxes will be emptied, the cupboards will be devoid of cookies for another year and semi-healthy eating habits will return to our household.

But all hope is not lost. I have devised a plan to make this fleeting season last a bit longer.

I have hidden the Thin Mints. They will have to torture the location out of me.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Looking For The Blessings In Disguise

We started 2010 with high hopes for a better year after a rather traumatic 2009, but it appears we are off to a rocky start.

Last Saturday, Sean and I were sitting a stop light on our way home from his basketball game when an elderly man plowed into the back of our minivan, sending our van into the back of the vehicle stopped in front of us.

Fortunately, I was far enough away from the little Honda ahead of us (which contained a father and his young daughter) that the damage to the front of the van was not severe and the Honda barely had a scratch. The back of my van, however, had caved in and the car that hit us was totaled.

I called 911 and requested an ambulance at the scene because the elderly couple in the car that hit us were obviously injured. The woman in the passenger seat, who was blind, was screaming. She apparently was not wearing a seatbelt and her head hit the windshield. The gentleman seemed to be in better shape at first, but quickly bacame agitated. He said he was diabetic and could not remember the last time he had an insulin shot and complained of pain in his chest.

The police believe the man was going into shock due to low insulin levels. A witness said he was travelling about 35 miles per hour and never hit his brakes before crashing into us. As of the weekend, police were unable to talk to him because his condition was very unstable.

I have not heard any more about this couple but am keeping them in my prayers. The police indicated they would let me know if the gentleman did not make it and would send out a detective to speak to me as part of their investigation. I figure no news is good news.

As for me, my back took a good wrenching as a result of being thrown back and forth, but there are no vertebrate fractures or ruptured disks. The soreness should go away in a few days.

At first we thought Sean had escaped unscathed. He was seated in the middle of the van and his knees had hit the seat in front of him, but he had no pain or obvious injuries.

On Sunday night, he started complaining about pain in his left knee and could not put weight on his leg. I took him to his doctor on Monday morning, who said the knee was swollen but did not suspect any major damage. However, he ordered an x-ray just to be sure. Unfortunately, the x-ray revealed that Sean's left knee is fractured.

He is now on crutches with his knee wrapped in an ace bandage, but is pain-free as long as he keeps weight off of his leg. A visit to an orthopedic surgeon on Friday will let us know the next step.

As upsetting as it is to have my child injured, I am trying to remember how much worse it could have been. I try to make it a habit not to stop right on top of other vehicles and was about six feet behind the car in front of me. Had I been closer, the impact to the front of the van would have been more severe, seriously injuring not only both Sean and I but also the father and daughter in the Honda. It could have also sent that car into the one in front of it.

This is also the first time since I lost my job that I am actually glad not to be working outside my home. I can now take Sean to and from school instead of having him struggle to get on and off the school bus in crutches.

I think the best thing any of us can do in these situations is look for those little blessings in disguise and thank God that situations and circumstances were not different. It is truly amazing how some minor decision or small annoyance can turn out to make the biggest difference.

I suppose there is some truth to the saying that everything happens for a reason. God truly does work in mysterious ways sometimes.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Turn On The Lights And Break Out The Prozac--Winter Is Here!

According to a news report I heard this morning, yesterday--the last Monday in January--is the most depressing day of the year.

I find it hard to believe that a Monday in January could be more depressing than April 15th or opening day of the Detroit Lions football season, but that's just my opinion.

According to the news, not only are the days still relatively short, but the Christmas decorations are put away and the holiday bills have begun to arrive. Those facts coupled with a long stretch of winter still ahead of us apparently increase depression.

There is probably some truth in this. If I don't have the windows uncovered to let in what little daylight there seems to be and keep myself occupied, I find myself wanting to eat an entire box of chocolates while drinking a bottle of wine as I lay in bed reading "The Bell Jar." If alcohol, excess pounds and a Sylvia Platt novel aren't a cry for help, I don't know what is.

Studies have proven that those of us not exposing ourselves to enough light this time of year can suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I can almost hear the electric meter spinning with all of the lights I have been keeping on lately.

I may owe my soul to the electric company, but I figure it is better than being a candidate for psychotherapy. Or perhaps "a better candidate" would be a more accurate description.

I should probably turn on more lights--I feel a chocolate craving coming on. Guess I should also cancel the DVR recording of "Ordinary People."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Politics As Usual, Unfortunately

If I see one more image of Harry Reid on television or hear his name mentioned on any news program, I am going to throw something at my television.

The news media has latched on to the latest political faux pas and, naturally, is rehashing it ad nauseam.

I get what old Harry was trying to say. He was stating that most white Americans would prefer to vote for an African American candidate who looks and sounds more like them.

Of course, he could have stated this in a more delicate way, but politicians always need to learn from the "Open Mouth, Insert Foot" School of Political Science. He also could have kept his mouth shut, which politicians never seem to learn.

Instead, we have the annual media circus parading through Washington and politicians on both sides tripping over themselves to demand resignations and assess blame.

As I see it, the only purpose this serves is to keep people from wanting to enter the political arena. In every political race--no matter if it is local or national--it seems less time is spent explaining how a candidate would fix problems in favor of seeing how much dirt they can dig up on their opponent.

Who wants to run for office when some researcher may discover that your great grandmother's uncle's sister-in-law's cousin twice removed once loaned a cup of sugar to a neighbor whose father's stepmother's nephew's dry cleaner had ties with the Mafia? Obviously, this candidate has organized crime connections. At least his shirts might if they were labeled "dry clean only."

The only thing the current political climate is good for is discouraging people who may actually be able to solve some of our most pressing problems from serving their communities. People with integrity and intelligence now fear putting themselves in the spotlight, and that is the true political disgrace.

As for me, I would never in a million years run for political office. The opposing party would sick PETA on me. I accidentally ran over a squirrel a few weeks ago.