Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Happy Places

Everyone has a happy place. Hopefully more than one. It doesn't have to be any place exotic. My friend Susan considers Target to be one of her happy places.

The Jersey shore is one of my happy places. Avalon is particularly happy, but boating on Barnegat Bay off of Long Beach Island tops the list. Currently I'm blessed to be in one of my other happy places: Colorado.

My love affair with Colorado started several years ago when I brought the family to Estes Park where I was working for Judson Press at a youth conference.We went horseback riding. We saw elk crossing the street like pedestrians. Rob and the kids went fishing and hiking. We went to our first rodeo where Ian won the mutton-busting contest, beating all the local little cowboys and cowgirls. He was on the front page of the paper the next day. Good times and great memories.

I love Colorado because it is simply one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. You never know when you're going to turn the corner and find yourself staring at a scene of incomparable beauty. You might pass elk, antelope, or big horn sheep. The mountains are snow capped well into spring. The creeks and rivers offer yet another source of adventure.

My sister, her husband, and my awesome 16 month-old nephew William live in Castle Rock, Colorado, giving me an even better reason to visit. For spring break I thought I would treat Ian and Abby to this happy place. What I've quickly learned is that mom's happy place is rarely going to be a happy place for her children.
  1. Beautiful vistas do nothing for 11- and 9-year-olds
  2. Hiking is akin to root canal for my son
  3. Abby thinks anything with shades of brown or gray is "antiquey" and she's completely not interested in historic stuff. This was her reaction to my suggestion for visiting Caverns of the Winds and the Manitou Springs Cave Dwellings.
  4. Anything more than 20 minutes away is too far. EVERYTHING worth seeing in Colorado is more than 20 minutes away from Castle Rock.
Right now we're sitting in my sister's living room and the kids are playing Rock Band. Something we never could have done had we not spent a few hundred dollars to fly out to Colorado. Sigh...

While I wait for a call back from the Historic Triple B Ranch (praying that they're offering horseback riding today--the only thing both kids are interested in), please leave a comment sharing your happy place. I may  have to live vicariously through you this week.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Communicating on the Road of Life

Recently I angered a fellow driver on the road of life. I'm still not sure what I did wrong, but being the sensitive type (a theme in these blog posts), I felt bad about it. I don't often upset other drivers, but when I do, they seem to take it very seriously. More than 12 years ago (obviously it left an impression), I cut someone off when needing to quickly change lanes to make my exit. He didn't take it well. In fact, he decided to follow me. Closely. All the way home. Since it happened pre-kids and I still had all my brain cells, I had the presence of mind to not stop at my house, but instead drove to the police station. That's when he decided he had something better to do than terrorize a young woman who made a driving faux pas.

That whole ugly scenario could have been avoided if someone would develop my Driver-to-Driver Vehicle Communication System (DDVCS). The DDVCS would  have many uses. The standard model would allow you to flash one of three basic signals (perhaps in the form of a flag that would pop up out of the roof of your car):
  • Green: Go ahead and yell at me. I totally screwed up with that bone-headed move. You should feel free to drive past me angrily and shake a fist. (I think the whole flipping the bird thing is a bit extreme).
  • Yellow: I'm not sure who's at fault here. Since we both think we were justified in our actions, let's call a truce and go our separate ways peacefully. 
  • Red: You are an idiot. I did nothing wrong and you are completely unjustified in yelling at me, shaking your fist, or flipping me off. Knock it off, or this 2nd degree black belt is gonna get out of her car and kick your ass.
The higher end model of the DDVCS would have additional selections:
  • For you single folks, see someone you'd like to know better while waiting at the traffic light? Flash him or her the "Hi" sign. If interested, they can flash back (no telling what they might flash -- wink, wink).
  • Stuck behind someone fixing their hair, applying makeup, shaving, texting, or looking at something other than the road, use the DDVCS's side flag which is capable of stretching forward one car length to the other driver's side window. You have your choice of messages, including: DRIVE ALREADY!, MOVE IT, WILL YA? and YOU LOOK GREAT, NOW DRIVE!
  • Passing a mom yelling at her kids, looking like she's about to lose it? Send her the condolences flag with the message, "BEEN THERE, SISTER. HANG TOUGH." 
  • Someone tailgating you? The rear flag might offer a warning that you are about to stop suddenly so  unless they want to get up close and personal real fast, BACK OFF. Or, as seen on bumper stickers, other flag messages might include: "Please don't tailgate. It makes me nervous and then I start farting." Or "Tailgaters have tiny penises."
  • For the senior citizen (aged 80+), you would have a flag with extra large print that reads WOULDN'T PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION SAVE YOU GAS MONEY? 
These are just a few of my suggestions for the DDVCS. The deluxe model of the system would allow you to customize your options. What would you include in yours?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Nice Friend

Recently, Freakin' Angel Kim G. was in need of assistance and I practically had to arm wrestle Freakin' Angel Karen for the opportunity to be the "nice friend" who provided the help. While offering assistance, I confessed to FA Kim that I was angling for Nice Friend status, and now, much to my delight, the Nice Friend label has stuck.

While savoring my new Nice Friend status, it occurred to me that calling someone a nice friend is probably a bit redundant. Like a drunk Irishman. One would assume a friend to be nice, just like one assumes an Irishman to be, well, you know. But then, the more I thought about it, I realized that a nice friend really isn't a given. They are actually rare enough to be considered a blessing.

When I was in my early 20s, I had a not-so-nice friend that I had to break up with. That was a first for me. Despite having not-so-nice friends when I was in my teens, I didn't have the nerve to actually tell them off or to give up on the relationships. When we're younger, we want all the friends we can possibly claim. We're willing to accept a lot more (or actually, a lot less) from our so-called friends in an effort to maintain some semblance of popularity.

One of the benefits of getting older is the confidence that comes with it. It's no longer a popularity contest (though Facebook would have you believe otherwise). She with the most friends does not win. She with the truest friends does. I'm no longer interested in pursuing friendships with those who concern themselves with the clothes I wear, the car I drive, or the neighborhood I live in. Simply put, I'm looking for long-term relationships. My days of casual dating are over! Once you experience a friendship that survives pregnancy, marital upheaval, late night meltdowns, cancer, diets, and jail time, there's no going back.

Though I'm more likely to be known as the smart-ass friend or the "go-have-a-drink-after-church-meetings" friend, I hope my friends would also say that I'm nice. Because I know how overwhelmingly blessed I am to have many very, very nice friends.

Your blog assignment for today: Tell us how you define a "nice friend."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda

Do you ever get caught up in shoulding? I think shoulding should be a word. Heaven knows I do it often enough.

When I commented on Facebook that I was dealing with blogger's block, a friend suggested I write about health care reform. That's when today's shoulding started.  
Man, I should know more about this whole health care reform thing. I should really care more about what's happening politically in the country. I should be able to share my opinion on important topics like this.
Because I care way too much what others think, I "should" a lot:
  • I should like opera. It's dignified to like opera.
  • I should watch old movies. It's cultured to appreciate the classics instead of the chick flicks I prefer.
  • I should eat sushi and international foods. It's classier than my usual burgers and beer.
  • I should enjoy visiting art museums. Educated people go to art museums.
  • I should go to Bible study. Good Christians go to Bible study.
  • I should play tennis or golf or run in a marathon. Those are more sociable activities than kicking people in the head. 
I guess my shoulding is okay as long as I don't inflict it on others. My husband, for one, hates "to be should upon." I've learned shoulding him is a great way to start an argument.

Are there any other should-ers out there? We should probably start a support group!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Making the Cut for My Desert Island Roster

Reading Entertainment Weekly is one of my guilty pleasures. It goes well with my other guilt pleasure, movie theater popcorn. I read in a recent issue that there is talk of making a movie version of Gilligan's Island. This got me thinking about who I would want to be stranded with on a desert island. In keeping with the Gilligan's Island theme, there would be seven us (and I'm probably Mary Ann).

Now seven is a problematic number because I'm supposed to it goes without saying that I would want my family with me. Rob, Ian, Abby, and my mom, dad, and sister. That's my six right there. For the sake of a more interesting post, let's just say I couldn't have my whole family with me. Who would make the cut?
  • We can leave my sister out because anyone who knows us knows that we wouldn't last 24 hours together on a deserted island. This is the girl who takes a nap when I'm having a personal crisis that requires assistance (but that's a subject for another time).
  • While I'd love to have my mom along for moral support and oodles of love, I'm not sure she'd last too long on a desert island since she hates bugs and anything that crawls, scurries, or slithers around. 
  • The kids should alternate visits since they'd probably try to kill each other in the first couple days and we'd expend way too much energy keeping them from beating one another.
  • From a practicality standpoint, Rob should be left out of the mix because he possesses none of the skills needed on a desert island. (But as my best friend, I think I'll keep him anyway.)
  • Of course, the go-to man on any desert island should be my dad. This guy would build us a ridiculously sturdy hut, craft a boat out of a log, and kill anything that moves in the name of dinner or protection.
Stepping away from the blood relatives, the one person I'd really like with me on a desert island is my friend and co-worker Gale. Gale has a number of wonderful qualities that would contribute to the well-being of those of us on this island:
  1. Gale is kind and good-natured. All the time. It's almost ridiculous how good-natured she is. 
  2. Gale never says a negative thing about another human being. This means she's no fun to gossip with, but it would definitely be a plus to have her around when the rest of us are ready to cannibalize each other.
  3. Gale is very motherly, but in a nice way. The only time she nags me is when I cut my hair short and when I fail to re-pot my office plants in a timely manner. Otherwise, her maternal instinct has her making sure you're taking care of yourself and not overdoing it.
  4. Gale is committed. She does what she says she's going to do without complaint. She personifies dedication. Heck, she's been with Judson Press for 25+ years now. Or is it 30+?
  5. Gale is calm. No matter how much is thrown at her, I've never seen Gale lose her cool. Frankly, it's a bit unnatural, but again, a good thing when you're stuck on an island.
  6. Gale is genuinely committed to her faith. You know without having to ask that she is praying for you. And the fact that she regularly fasts means that she wouldn't need as much food as the rest of us. 
I'm bestowing upon Gale the honorary title of Freakin' Angel, and I'm inviting her to my desert island.

Beside family, who would you want with you on your island?

    Monday, March 15, 2010

    Food for Thought

    We all know I can be a little too sensitive; a bit too concerned about what people think. This past weekend I realized it's starting to affect me at the grocery store. Does anyone else feel like a terrible person, particularly a terrible mom, when putting their items on the belt at checkout? Here's a sampling of my recent purchases:
    1. Three boxes of sugary cereal
    2. Two boxes of highly processed granola bars and Nutrigrain bars
    3. Two boxes of Cheez-Its (BOGO sale)
    4. Packaged beef roast with gravy (must be all-natural; it stays good in the fridge till May 3)
    5. High sodium Campbells' Chicken Noodle Soup
    6. Hot dogs (also all natural)
    7. White bread
    8. Genuardi's chocolate chip cookies (only because they were on sale)
    9. Uncrustables with peanut butter and grape jelly on white bread
    10. Benefiber chewables 

    I don't know about you, but I definitely judge people make assumptions about someone based on what I see in their cart:

    The college student:
    • Ramen noodles
    • Mac n cheese
    • Energy drinks
    The single guy:
    • Protein bars
    • Beer (in cool states where they sell beer at the grocery store)
    • Microwave dinners
    The "crunchy" mom (when not growing or raising their own food...)
    • Organic fruits and vegetables
    • Organic cereal
    • Gluten-free snacks
    • Free range chicken
    • No red meat within 500 feet
    The senior citizen:
    • Single-serving meals
    • Ice cream
    • Coffee
    • Bananas
    The healthy exercise nut person:
    • Vitamin water
    • Vegetables
    • Whole wheat pasta
    • Fat-free yogurt
    • Playtex Sport tampons
    Yes, I can just imagine what crunchy mom and healthy exercise nut think of my selections.

    Obviously there is a solution to this problem.

    Supermarkets should designate lanes according to your shopping classification:
    1. Single guys and college students
    2. Senior citizens (they need their own lane because of speed, or lack thereof,  moreso than food selection. Mom and dad, this doesn't apply to you.)
    3. Healthy people 
    4. Moms like me
    With everyone in their own lane, no one has to be uncomfortable. I think it's the best idea for grocery stores since they introduced those little carts with videos for the kids! And really, it's a much easier fix for my problem then, let's say, making healthier choices.

    And for the record, it has occurred to me that I probably wouldn't need the processed fiber tablets if the only thing healthy in my cart wasn't the smallest head of broccoli I could find.

    Friday, March 12, 2010

    Familiarity Breeds Contempt

    1992: New York City
    • Tiny cubicles
    • Boss from hell
    • A meager $21,000 with a master's degree
    • Neil Young
    It was my first job out of grad school and I was working for one of the leading ad agencies in the world. I hated my boss. I hated the corporate environment. I was stuffed into an itty-bitty cubicle with the rest of the underpaid peons. Life just couldn't get any better. But then it did. My cubicle neighbor decided that Neil Young needed to be played daily. Not just once a day, but all day. Every day. That voice was like nails on a chalkboard. To this day, when I hear a Neil Young song, my blood runs cold. Could I have ever liked Neil Young if I hadn't heard him on repeat for about a year? Sadly, we'll never know.

    That was my first experience with musical over-kill, but it wasn't to be my last

    1994: Avalon, New Jersey
    • Blue shag carpeting
    • Bodies everywhere
    • Counting Crows
    One summer before we got married, Rob and I shared a beach house with a few dozen of his closest friends. And that was the summer I despised the Counting Crows and their first CD, "August and Everything After." Like Neil Young, someone felt the Counting Crows should be played over, and over, and over, and over, and over again, ad nauseum.  So I grew to absolutely hate them and that CD, and was generally miserable for the entire summer (his friends wondered why he was marrying such a b*tch). It took several years before I could listen to the Counting Crows without wincing, though in this case I eventually grew to love that CD.

    2010: Wallingford, Pennsylvania
    • Two kids, a dog, a cat, a guinea pig, a husband
    • 2nd degree black belt
    • Freakin' Angels blog
    • Bruce Springsteen
    My husband is killing Bruce for me. Unlike in the case of Neil Young and the Counting Crows, I used to like Bruce Springsteen. A lot. But my husband, who's been a life-long fan, is increasingly obsessed. Obsessed as in attends every concert. Obsessed as in listens non-stop to the Bruce channel on satellite radio. Obsessed as in The Gospel According to Bruce Springsteen.

    I don't know if it's just me, but there is nothing I can tolerate on such a constant basis. Not my kids. Not the Godfather movie. Not Bruce Springsteen. Heck, not even my beloved Glee, volume one CD!

    Who or what has been ruined for you by overexposure?

    Tuesday, March 9, 2010

    Parenting in the Major League

    My husband leaves for spring training this weekend. As a marketing/sales guy for the Phillies, he's in the unfortunate position of having to take clients to Clearwater where he's required to wine and dine them, hit the links, and of course, sit in the warm, Florida sunshine with a cold beer enjoying a few Phillies pre-season games. You can tell I harbor no resentment about this whatsoever.

    In the midst of my harboring no resentment, I've been thinking about how there are a number of elements of baseball that I'd really like to see applied to parenting:

    Spring training: Every year, for two months before your child gets out of school for the summer, you would head to Florida or Arizona to practice your parenting skills and maneuvers so you don't drop the ball or commit too many errors when overwhelmed by the all day, every day presence of your children for the next three months.

    The off season: We think teachers have it good with summers off. How about professional athletes? Baseball has the longest season and that's still only six months. I think all parents should have an off season where you get to walk away from the madness, the constant demands, and the expectations. Just chill on a yacht or cruise around in your sports car for a few months. Yes, I do believe I'd be a much better parent if I had an off season.

    Batting average: If you're batting .333, your team is pretty darn happy with you. You're destined for the All-Star game. The press is noticing your accomplishments. High fives and butt smacks all around. As a parent, what if I only make good decisions, deliver appropriate consequences, and say the right things one third of the time? Or what if I have three kids and only one of them isn't a total embarrassment? I think we should adopt major league standards for ourselves as parents. It would relieve so much pressure!

    Salary  It should go without saying that we parents are seriously underpaid. Personally, I'm working with a salary cap of $0.00. I'd be willing to trade in my super cool mini van and frumpy mom clothes in exchange for a bump in pay. And I wouldn't even ask so much that it would require my home team to pay the luxury tax.

    Let's hear it sports fans. What other elements of the game should be instituted for moms and dads?

    Saturday, March 6, 2010

    The Head Games We Play with Forbidden Love

    There's a new love in my life, and like many loves, this one should be forbidden. I'm in love with Dunkin  Donuts muffins. Preferably the coffee cake or chocolate chip  variety.

    Yesterday I was headed toward a 9:00 a.m. seminar about 20 miles from my house, and I contemplated a stop at my neighborhood DD before starting on my journey. But reason prevailed--I'd already eaten an English Muffin and the local DD was not on the way.

    Now my travels just happened to take me through a major retail/dining thoroughfare, so naturally I passed a DD on my way to my destination. And that's when the head game began. I decided that if I should see another DD on my route, I would allow myself to stop for a muffin. At that point, after all, the fates would have ordained it.

    It wasn't long before another DD appeared, but alas, I was in the wrong lane. I decided to move into the slower right lane in order to avoid messing with the fates. And voila! My commitment was rewarded with not just another DD, but a DD with a drive-thru! And who was in front of me in the drive-thru lane but a Philadelphia police officer. This meant that not only was my muffin stop preordained, but it was also a very safe choice given the protection in line ahead of me.

    Whenever I go through a DD drive-thru, I'm struck by what a testament it is to my/our character. I don't want to burn even minimal calories walking from the car into the restaurant in my pursuit of sugar and fat. In fact, have you noticed that nearly everything that we can obtain via drive-thru is bad for us? Fast food. Beer. Donuts. When is the last time you picked up fresh fruit and vegetables at a drive-thru? But then who craves an apple or broccoli the way you crave french fries, milkshakes, or beer? But I transgress...

    All told, my journey turned up SEVEN Dunkin Donuts locations in about a 15 stretch. All on my side of the road. Interestingly, there were no DDs for about the last couple miles of my drive. Do you know what I saw instead? About ten different places of worship. Several synagogues, an Islamic community center, a number of diverse types of churches including one with services in Korean. And funeral homes. Now it may have been the fates messing with me, or God speaking to me, but it was as if I was supposed to be praying for forgiveness for my gluttony...before I die and the funeral home puts my enlarged body on display.

    Let me wrap this up by saying that I really learned my lesson on the way home. I didn't play any head games with myself. I didn't test the fates by considering stopping at the third Pretzel Boys location I saw. After all, I knew there was only one Pretzel Boys...And have I told you how much I LOVE soft pretzels?

    Side note: I may have cured myself of my love for DD muffins in writing this post. When I searched for an image to use, I found it on a list of the 25 worst things to eat. The ugly truth:
    • Calories: 660
    • Calories from fat: 230 
    • Grams of saturated fat (that's the bad kind): 7 grams
    • Sugar: 57 grams
    I'm not going to look up the nutritional value of my beloved soft pretzels because that would just ruin my weekend.

    Wednesday, March 3, 2010

    What is it about kids today?

    You know you're old when you say something along the lines of "What is it with kids these days?" But really, there's something about them that feels different from "when I was a kid." Here's what I think it is. As a whole, they're gutsier than my generation was at their age. Now in some cases, that bravado is also accompanied by a lack of respect, a lack of limits, and general obnoxiousness. But in most cases, it translates into inspiring fearlessness and self-confidence that I'm not sure I possess at age 40.

    Last week was the Wallingford Elementary School Variety Show. And my daring daughter performed a solo act. With a hula hoop. To MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This." And she didn't just stand there and hula. She walked with it. She turned in circles with it as it spun around her. She dropped to the floor with it (on purpose) and kept that hula hoop spinning the entire time. Still have no idea where the hula hoop gene comes from in my family, but it was fun to watch.

    Of course, Abby wasn't the only talented kid up on that stage. Since she was near the end of the show, I was one of the poor suckers stuck watching the whole thing lucky enough to see most of the 46 acts. Yes. There were 46 acts which included probably around 100 kids. So what did the little cherubs do in this aptly named Variety Show (because "talent" show would have been a bit of a stretch in most cases)? Here's a sampling:
    • A McDonald's rap
    • Performance of a Who number (drums, electric guitar, singers)
    • Magic tricks
    • Poetry reciting
    • Joke telling ("What time is it when the clock strikes 13?   Time to get a new clock")
    • Brazilian drums
    • The 12 dogs of Christmas
    • At least two performances of Green Day songs
    • Playing the electric guitar
    • Playing the acoustic guitar
    • Playing the french horn
    • Playing the piano
    • Irish dancing
    • Hip hop dancing
    • Lip-synching
    • "Real" singing
    I think I was most impressed by the kids who got up there and really sang, without the recording behind them. Acapella in front of 500 six-to-ten year-olds??? That's downright ballsy! And then there were even gutsy song choices, including "Jesus Take the Wheel," and "Amazing Grace."

    But do you know what is the most inspiring thing about the Variety Show every year? It's the audience. Kids as a whole often get a bad rap as being cruel and insensitive to each other (and as a mom and former kid I know that some of them sometimes are), but at the WES Variety Show, everyone gets cheered as if they're a rock star. No one is ever booed and the applause is always deafening. It's a beautiful example of what's possible when we support one another and give each other the confidence to succeed.

    In the interest of full disclosure...

    When I was in 8th or 9th grade I teamed up with my best friend Kelly and we performed in the Shawnee Intermediate School Talent Show. I'm pretty sure it was called a talent show and not a variety show, but regardless, I know for a fact that Kelly and I demonstrated no talent whatsoever. Unless you consider making a fool of yourself a talent (in which case, I'm a star!). Kelly and I donned our cowboy hats and boots and sang along to the recording of that classic Davis Mac number, "Oh Lord, It's Hard to be Humble." Not familiar with it? Here are just a few of the lyrics:

    Oh Lord it's hard to be humble
    when you're perfect in every way.
    I can't wait to look in the mirror
    cause I get better looking each day
    I'm still embarrassed.

    Let's hear your talent/variety show stories!