Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Gift You Can Open Again and Again

I love books. There is only one other thing that I love like I love books, and that is movie theater popcorn. As notoriously cheap frugal as I am, books and movie theater popcorn are two things that I will spend money on even though it is much more financially sensible to take books out of the library and sneak microwave popcorn into the theater.

I love books so much my father recently built gorgeous wooden cases for my living room to hold all my treasures (imagine my disappointment when an interior designer told me I shouldn't fill them top to bottom with every title I own. Apparently that's not aesthetically pleasing.)

I have stacks of books I own but haven't read, and I have a list of books I want to read that I don't yet have (it's up to 112 titles). And that's in addition to my dream of reading the Modern Library's 100 Best Novels.

My favorite genres of books are historical fiction, literary novels, and the classics. There are a few authors whose entire collections I have read, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, D. H. Lawrence, and Tom Robbins. And then there's the Harry Potter series.

I am currently reading the Harry Potter books out loud to my daughter Abby. We're on the third volume, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. At age nine, Abby is a perfectly capable reader, but she's particularly enjoying having Rowling's books read to her because I "do the voices." Reading the Harry Potter series has been a magnificent reminder of what is so incredibly wonderful about books. It's also reminded me of what we lose when we allow television, movies, video games, facebook, and even blogs to take their place. The magical thing about books is the pictures they create in our minds and the places they take us.

When Ian read that sentence over my shoulder as I typed (I hate when he does that, by the way), he remarked that "that's what teachers and librarians tell kids so they'll want to read." But it's completely and wonderfully true! Sure, there's something to be said for reading for knowledge, but for me, reading will always be about the escape, about the places I go, and the characters I meet.

Even before we had the Harry Potter movies, we had millions of children, teens, and adults with vivid images in their minds of Harry, Hagrid, Dumbledore, Sirius Black, Crookshanks, Moaning Myrtle, He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named and dozens of other unforgettable characters. In our mind's eye, we saw Quidditch matches, the Whomping Willow, and the Great Hall filled with food, and owls delivering dreaded howlers. We imagined the stories' fantastical creatures and fearsome beasts. We felt the terror, anger, disappointment, anguish, and joy of our favorite students and we "saw" them grow up before our eyes. We are indebted to J. K. Rowling for renewing or introducing the joy of reading to millions around the world.

As the marketing director of Judson Press, a small, non-profit Christian publisher, I am blessed to see firsthand the journey a book takes from a mere kernel of an idea to its final, printed form. I am blessed to work with our authors to literally "spread the word" about their contribution to the vast library of titles that has existed since the invention of the Gutenberg Press.

I would like to propose a National Authors Day in which we celebrate the gifts that we receive from millions of writers around the world. Without them, I would never have:
  • Visited Hogwarts, Hogmeade, or Privet Drive
  • Been kept awake at night wondering of the whereabouts of the devil in the White City
  • Met Kavalier and Clay
  • Felt the anguish of lost love on Chesil Beach
  • Traveled to Afghanistan with Amir
  • Considered what cats in hats have to do with Christian living
  • Lived life as a baseball-loving, fatherless Jewish boy in Brooklyn in the 1940s
  • Searched for Dracula with Helen Rossi
  • Imagined my life as a widow during the Civil War or as a single mother in Nazi Germany
  • Survived a shipwreck in the Pacific ocean with a wounded zebra, a spotted hyena, a seasick orangutan, and a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker 
These authors and hundreds of others have touched my heart, my soul, and mind, and for that I am forever grateful. Which writers have left their mark on you?

(And extra credit if you can provide the title of each of the books referenced above!)

"The smallest bookstore still contains more ideas of worth than have been presented in the entire history of television."  ~Andrew Ross

Friday, February 26, 2010

Cyberspace is No Place for the Insecure

The other night Ian and I went out for dinner and ran into three young adults we know. The most outspoken of the three announced with what appeared to be some measure of embarrassment that they had just been talking about me. Naturally, I responded by asking whether it was good or bad talk. One of the three quickly said an unconvincing, “good,” but the leader of the pack replied with a more honest, “it was interesting.” He then specifically mentioned my Freakin’ Angel blog and my black belt and didn’t elaborate beyond that. At that point, Ian and I were seated and the conversation ended.

If you’ve ever accidentally learned that you had been the subject of someone’s conversation, you may have felt as I did: disturbed, concerned, curious. Oh, let’s be honest. I was more than curious. I was fairly dismayed! Based on that brief exchange I reached the conclusion that my blog and my black belt had been the object of scorn and/or ridicule.

Now clearly I enjoy attention. I don’t think there are too many bloggers and devoted facebookers who aren’t basically screaming, “Look at me!” Heck, I’ve been more than willing to sacrifice my pride and self-respect just to get the laugh. So I was surprised by my distress over the conclusion I had reached from this brief conversation.

I find it completely absurd that I should be so willing to expose my every thought and emotion to all of cyber-space and then be upset by the notion that someone disagrees or disapproves of what I have to say. It’s not as if everyone in the “real world” likes me and thinks I’m interesting or amusing, so why should everyone in the virtual world adore me? Geez, how delusional am I?

I figure this recent voyage of self-discovery means I either need to:
•    Toughen up
•    Reconsider my place in cyber-space
•    Limit my posts to material that theoretically no one should have a problem with

I welcome any other recommendations you may have. Assuming they’re kind. Because clearly I’m a little sensitive…

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

When the Going Gets Tough

On Saturday I tested for my 2nd degree black belt at World Class Martial Arts. It was three hours of hell requiring 800 jumping jacks, 400 sit-ups, 200 push-ups, and 100 leg extensions. And that was just the cardio stuff designed to break us. Add to that line drills, sparring, self-defense, break falls, forms, and breaking boards and concrete, and you might excuse my taking timeout to hyperventilate and cry during the three-hour torture treatment.

Even after all that, if I ever regain use of my legs and hips, I'll return to training.

Yes, there's a part of me that screams over the pain in my thighs, "You're getting too old for this. Do something more gentle." But the reality is, I can't stop. Part of it is the fear that if I stop, all the calories and fat I've eaten for the past 40 years will catch up with me overnight and I'll wake up weighing a minimum 300 pounds. If I stop training I'll have to stop eating cheese steaks and nachos and trade in beer for water in order to save calories. No one wants that.

Another reason I need to keep training is for the emotional release it provides. For less than the cost of seeing a therapist, I can kick and punch my troubles away and burn calories in the process. Just ask my family, if I don't go t o class for several days, I'm really not fit to live with. It's that important for my mental health.

The friendships I have at World Class Martial Arts are also a driving force behind my being there. Our wildly diverse family is wonderfully supportive, encouraging, and simply fun to be a part of. Danielle, Steve, Phil "the Animal," Wild Bill, Mr. Pete, Jane, John, Chip, Muneer, Jen, Chris, Anthony, LeeAnn, and of course Master Aaron. Another host of heavenly Freakin' Angels in my life.

These are all excellent reasons to continue at WCMA, but the number one reason I stay with this sport that occasionally tortures me while I train? The challenge. It forces me out of  my comfort zone, but does so in a way that manages to keep me going.

The reality is that Tang Soo Do is the first thing in my life I've ever stuck with that I'm not particularly good at. For the past 40 years, I've quickly quit everything that didn't come easily to me. Tried skiing once. Loved it. Tried skiing a second time, icy conditions scared me to death, I was a wreck. Haven't tried it since. That's pretty much my M.O. When the going got tough, Kim got going. I've been blessed to be reasonably good at enough things that no one seemed to notice what a quitter I was.

Sticking with Tang Soo Do even though it doesn't come easy to me and often brings out the worst in  me was originally about setting a good example for my children. Now it's about having one thing in my life that continues to challenge me and make me stronger. And it's something that's completely within my control. Economics don't dictate my success as they do in my career. Tween hormones don't wreck havoc with my performance as they do at home. The amount of sugar in the students doesn't determine my effectiveness as it does in my Sunday school class. No, what happens during a Tang Soo Do class depends completely on what I bring to the table. Some nights its my fears, insecurities, and self-doubt (and those nights are ugly). Other nights it's anger and frustration that drive me (and those nights it's great to be sparring). Often, it's simply the relief of knowing I'm in a safe, supportive place that makes WCMA the best place for me to be.

Everyone needs their own WCMA/Tang Soo Do, something, someone, or someplace which challenges you and drives  you to be better than you think you can be. What does it for you?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Monday Friends

All friends are a blessing, but Monday friends are especially worth celebrating. Monday friends join you for dinner at the last minute without the slightest concern for:
  • the cleanliness of your home
  • what's on the menu 
  • what you're wearing
  • whether the parties involved have showered within the last 24-hours
Monday friends forgive you when your big galoot of a dog knocks down their toddler. Monday friends don't blink when you reuse your dessert plate for their son's brownie. Monday friends don't need their Acme fried chicken served from a platter, being perfectly okay with it coming from the bag.

With Monday friends there's no pretense, no need to impress, no awkward moments. Thanking God tonight for the gift of Monday friends!

Friday, February 19, 2010

My Son, the Tweenager

I knew motherhood would be unbearable insane tough at times, but I really thought after surviving those first ten six four difficult years that I would be alright for the rest of it. I figured it was just the infant/toddler/pre- communication stage that I sucked at would struggle with. I was even naive enough to think someday I would rock as the super cool yet effective mother of teens.

Then my son became a tween. Tween started basically as a marketing term for those who have the most disposable income (!) and is now used to define those kids who are just starting into adolescence. Those who are too old to be thought of as children, but have not yet reached thirteen are called tweens. According to, developmentally, a true tween is approximately eleven to twelve years old. BINGO. You've got Ian (D.O.B. 5/7/98)

I'm not positive, but I think Ian officially entered tweendom last week during the blizzard. It's as if all that family-time pushed him over the edge into a whole new stage of life. There had been moments which foreshadowed what was to come, but it seems we have really hit this thing full stride now. If you're wondering what a tween looks like, it's not so much a look. Of course, I can't always get a good look at him these days without him asking me to go away. Although sometimes he says "please" before he tells me to get lost. No, it's not a "look" that a tween has, it's more a state of being.

Recently, I bitched to commiserated with my friend Rebecca on this very topic and she used the term "quicksilver." I think that aptly describes it: Quicksilver: rapid or unpredictable in movement or change. Yes sirree, that's my boy. One minute he's happy, joking around, borrowing Calvin & Hobbes material to make us laugh. The next minute he's slamming and locking doors to keep us away from him. The other day he actually helped his sister with her homework. A short time later he announced with venom in his voice that she was ruining his life and he hated her. In a matter of minutes he can move from tears, to anger, to affection. Geez, he's starting to make me look stable!

A couple nights ago we had a brawl fight conversation over a mediocre test score and when we asked him why he should want to do well, he responded with, "so you guys don't scream at me." When we calmly explained that we never scream (at least I don't), and tried the question again, his answer was, "so I can get a job and work until I die." Now that's more like it.

In keeping with this theme of working till you die, Ian's also been lately questioning the meaning of life. He recently asked, "what's the point of our existence?" He really can't accept this notion of doing ANYTHING that's not FUN. When we explain that life costs money so you have to get a job to earn it, he suggests we return to the barter system of days of old. Is this a tween thing reflective of his generation, or is my son just weird?  I'm pretty sure at age 11 I was asking much more mundane questions like, "why doesn't that boy like me?"

And speaking of boy/girl stuff, the other day, for the first time ever (at least with us), Ian actually made a comment with sexual innuendo. He heard me tell Rob I was going to have "some one on one time with Master Aaron" (my Tang Soo Do instructor). Ian reacted with an "oooh, one on one..." And it wasn't like an "ooh, you're in trouble with the principal" kind of comment. Yikes. Time to have "the talk," Rob!

When we're not in the heat of one of these quicksilver moments, it's as if I'm watching a training video for child psychologists on the behavioral characteristics of the tween. I know in my head that's it's normal and appropriate and "just a stage." Heck, I even read about this stuff in my Real Boys book. But watching the video and reading the book just don't compare to living it.

The good news is that this should all be over with by the time he turns 13, right? And then I'll have my sweet, good-natured boy back. Someone? Anyone? A nod of agreement, please? Please...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What Have You Done for Him Lately?

sac-ri-fice [sak-ruh-fahys] --noun-- the surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim.

With the start of Lent I've been thinking about the concept of sacrifice. Sacrifice isn't something most of us are familiar with. About the only things that comes to mind for me personally are the sacrifices we make in our relationships. When the kids were little, I sacrificed pursuing some of the things that I enjoyed and desired in order to be to be more focused on them and their needs. I recognize that my husband often sacrifices going out with the guys because of the time away from home that his job requires.

Beyond these family-related concessions, I have never surrendered anything of substance. Compare that to what Christ sacrificed for us. In his book Tempted to Leave the Cross: Renewing the Call to Discipleship, author and pastor Ernest Flores writes:

"He could have called thousands of angels to free him from the cross, but because he loves us, he remained there. He didn't have to take the punishment. He didn't have to endure the suffering. He didn't have to. But because it was the only way to save us, redeem us, restore our relationship with God, he did. He took the pain. He took the bruises, the stripes, the scorn, the mockery. He did it all for you and for me."
Most of us today are blessed in so many ways that we tend to forget the high price of salvation. Our kids think money grows on trees. They expect that the newest gadgets and gizmos should be a given. And we adults aren't much better. Immediate gratification is the name of the game in our society. There are even prosperity and victory preachers out there who would have us believe that health, miracles, jobs, and financial rewards are ours simply by being faithful worshipers. Flores notes "We tend to forget that life has costs, that blessings have a cost, that all these blessings come from someplace. And we certainly tend to forget the great sacrifice that yielded a resurrected Savior."

As we enter this season of Lent I will strive to respond to Flores's challenge to be worthy of the sacrifice, to be selfless in my pursuit of what is right and good.

How will you choose to respond?

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Day I Decided to Take Up Drinking

Rather than using this post to fully develop one particular idea, I think I 'm just going to use it to sound off on a variety of thoughts I'm having right now. Bear with me or feel free to check back in a few days when I've focused in on something you might find more enjoyable.

Random Musings
  1. Based on his recent 11-year-old behavior/mood/personality, I'm not sure Ian is going to actually live to see the teen years. What has gotten into my heretofore golden boy? Someone get him a Midol stat. 
  2. My weekend in Harvey Cedars was terrific. As it always is. Except for all the babies that I drove to tears. 
  3. The Freakin' Angels finally got a most-of-the-group picture. Kim G. wants it noted that she is not in her FA shirt because her husband lost it after I gave it to him to give to her. That's okay, Kim, we still know you're an angel.
  4. I have some thoughts about sea shells that I think are rather poignant, so you have that to look forward to in a later post...when I'm in the mood to talk about sea shells. Which I'm not right now.
  5. My cat has twice missed the mark when trying to jump up to the table or counter and my dog has an eye infection. 
  6. A "Luxury pet resort" is only luxury when you upgrade from the standard suite. Total BS if you ask me.
  7. I have decided to give up Tang Soo Do and take up drinking instead. Ah, you knew it was coming, didn't you? You knew there was an issue I was just itching to address. Yep. It's that damn black belt test on Saturday. E Dan. 2nd degree.What the heck was I thinking when I agreed to this? It's actually costing me money in addition to my sanity, self-esteem, and entire sense of well-being. 
See here's the thing. I'm not being modest when I say I 'm not very good at the martial arts. I'm really not. I've got a great round house and ax kick, but that's about it. I really don't feel deserving of a second degree black belt. I've had this battle discussion with my instructor and he insists I wouldn't be testing if he didn't believe I was deserving and qualified, but our ideas of deserving and qualified are very different. I think there's a right and wrong. A correct and incorrect. You're one or the other. He takes a much more subjective approach that works in my favor, but doesn't work for my confidence. He notes that I'm the best 40 year-old woman student in our school. I happen to know that I'm the ONLY 40-year-old woman in our school. Needless to say, that's not exactly motivational. What happens when I encounter another 40-year-old in the streets and she kicks my ass?

I'm throwing the Tang Soo Do "indomitable spirit" tenet out the window and I'm going to focus my energies instead on "wine and spirits." I think if train real hard I can be the best drinker in my neighborhood by the time I'm 45. Now that's an accomplishment to include in the Christmas letters!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Real Freakin' Angel

This weekend is our annual Media Presbyterian Church Family Retreat to Harvey Cedars, NJ. We always look forward to this weekend of learning, laughter, friendship and faith. This year our exodus (an excellent word choice when discussing a church retreat, eh?) out of town will be even more exciting because we've all been cooped up in Siberia with our families for what seems like weeks. I'm particularly looking forward to spending time with several of the Freakin' Angels: Jamie, Cathie, Cara, Andria, Karen, and Kim G.

I think it's about time to properly introduce you to the Freakin' Angels. In my very first blog post I explained where the name came from, but now I'd like to start profiling individual Angels. I just hope the police and the TSA don't start using these profiles against us, singling out Freakin' Angels for random acts of kindness. But I digress.

My Freakin' Angel for February is Kim G., recent birthday girl and new mom (for the third time) of Weston James (the little Angel in white with his mommy who's doing a good job keeping him from being lost in a snowbank).

Where do I start in describing Kim? She's practically too good to be true (which irritates the mere mortal Angels like me). Did you ever meet someone so kind, thoughtful, considerate, and well-liked that you wanted to be that person? I used to look at people like Kim and wonder, "Why can't I be more like her? Everyone likes her. She's so NICE." Eventually I gave up on that and realized that my place in this world is to be a smart ass, but again, I digress. Back to Kim.

I asked her fellow FAs to tell me what makes Kim an angel, and these were some of their comments:
"There are many words that I would use to describe Kim but the one that is popping into my head right now is real. The first time I had a conversation with Kim, I walked away thinking, now that is someone who is genuinely a good person."
"Kim is one of the most reliable people I know! She invests her life into loving her family, friends and the church. She shares her love not merely through her words but through her actions.  Kim is able to see a need before it is even spoken and respond!"
"Kim anticipates needs before we even know that there are needs. She knows your thoughts before you get a chance to speak them. She's always there for you, sharing a smile, laugh or most embarrassing moment, and she doesn't judge."
"Kim G. is the very definition of an angel here on earth.  She is genuine, caring, kind, and compassionate, and would do anything, and I mean truly anything, for a friend.  But what makes her extra-special is that she would do -- and does -- these things for those whom she doesn't even know.  THAT is my definition of an angel."
Clearly I haven't embellished when I say Kim is one of those people you aspire to be more like. She really is a Freakin' Angel. I take my wings off to you, Kim G.!

And now, dear readers, I welcome you to tell us about a Freakin' Angel in your life. We can all use the inspiration these angels provide!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

COB Syndrome

My friend Emily and I were talking the other night about our children and our blogs. Emily's son Noah informed her that Ian has to get my permission before I'm allowed to blog about him and Noah wants the same consideration. I need to clarify. First, I only ask Ian permission for Facebook posts related to him (after apparently damaging his fragile ego in the past), and second, permission requests only apply in the case of very sensitive subjects. I do have parental embarrassment rights, after all. If you take away a mom's ability to embarrass her children, what else has she got?

During this conversation, Emily did raise a legitimate concern. What if they organize? Form some sort of union or protection agency? Knowing our bright children, this could happen. Ian's always looking for someone to sue. It's just a matter of time before he decides to take me to court for psychological damages resulting from my Facebook and blog posts.

I can see it now. A whole generation of children will seek restitution and therapy for COB Syndrome, an affliction that strikes Children of Bloggers. Here are some of the symptoms of COB syndrome:
  • A paranoid sense that people are talking about you, people you may have never even met
  • A naked, exposed feeling which leaves you emotionally hyper-sensitive and vulnerable
  • A Jekyll-Hyde personality that both craves attention and fears it at the same time
When asked on college applications and in future job interviews, "Tell me about yourself," COBs will likely respond in short, pithy phrases, often exhibiting inappropriate humor, raw emotion, and self-deprecation. COBs will assume that they're supposed to entertain you with whatever they have to say. If their words elicit no response, they will feel like failures.

COBs will follow in a long and distinguished line of children messed up by their well-intentioned parents, but I think they're still better off than the generations of kids with parents and grandparents of the Depression era who insisted that you always "clear your plate" thus ensuring you would forever battle your weight.

Now before I veer off into discussions of healthy eating habits and the power of good looking doctors, I will close with this question:

Do you think COBs will be more psychologically sound because everything about them is out there in the open, or do you think we're slowly destroying them by making them objects for our amusement? Your response could prove critical in the fight against COB syndrome.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Learning to Hold a Grudge

I think something is wrong with my daughter, Abby. She doesn't seem to know how to hold a grudge. This could be a major character flaw that we're going to have to develop.

Do you think we're born with the grudge-holding/often-hurt/easily-offended gene, or do we acquire it over years of perceived slights and offenses?

In Abby's short nine years, she's suffered a few major "dings" that are so often dealt by other little girls who seem to lack basic kindness or at least good "filters" that keep the rest of us from saying whatever mean thing pops into our heads. For example, on one picture day at school, "friends" asked if she was really going to wear that and told her she didn't look nice. Abby clearly knew it had been a cruel thing to say since she remembered to tell me about it when she got home that day, but it didn't stick, even for an hour. There seemed to be no harm done to her psyche or even those "friendships." Had that been me, I'd still be writing about it my journal and sharing it with the therapist.

Another example is a "friend" who never invites Abby to her birthday parties, even though she always comes to Abby's parties, and Abby continues to invite her. Again, Abby recognizes this as a slight because she mentions it when her friend's birthday rolls around, but she doesn't seem to be able to hold a grudge. Me? I'd have written that friend off long ago and cried about it to everyone I know.

Abby also seems to be inordinately concerned with other people's feelings. If I suggest that she's a great soccer player, she takes offense for her friends whom I've indirectly implied are not as good. When I mention that so-and-so really needs a haircut, she tells me that I'm not being very nice.

It could be that time spent in Sunday school and around all the Freakn' Angels in my life is really having an effect on her. I think for now I'm just going to monitor the situation...and pray that she always maintains this impressive strength of character.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I Need My Own Material

You know how some people look like their dog?

Well, I don't have that problem. My problem is that I've become my husband. We've always looked a little bit alike, given our dark hair, but worse than looking alike is that I've started to sound like him.

I don't know if it's a fraternity thing or a guy movie thing (it's probably a combination), but Rob has lots of witty, well-timed material. You may recognize the source of some of these:
  • "That's what she said..."
  • "Is that what the kids are calling it these days?"
  • "Don't cost nothin'"
  • "Cha"
  • "Key, very key"
  • "How ya like me now?"
  • "Turning into a nice little (fill in the blank with whatever) for you."
And then there's the lingo:

Base = bed
Cheese = girlfriend, woman, wife
Sklech =  good

I could go on and on.

These little Robisms are fine for Rob, but I've started to adopt them. It's particularly noticeable when we spend a lot of concentrated time together, like on our recent trip to Florida. It seemed like every other expression out of my mouth was one of his. It's embarrassing really. I feel so unoriginal.

So my assignment to you, dear reader, is to come up with some Kimisms so I can develop my own material. I look forward to your wordizzle for myshizzle. (Clearly I'm going to need some help here.)