Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Warning: Deadly Shopping Adventure Awaits Women of the Philly Suburbs

I am frugal. I take delight in finding a great deal or having someone compliment me on an outfit I got for a steal. Just last week I wore my new Talbot's skirt, bought on Ebay for $20.00. Original tags still on it. Woo hoo!

Over the summer this thriftiness manifested itself in a visit to a second-hand store, a new frugal venue for me. I had purchased a $20 Groupon worth $40 in clothes from Sophisticated Ladies Consignment Boutique. I left with a cute skirt, top, and capri pants which I have since outgrown. While at the store I signed up to receive their emails regarding sales and special offers. Though as a rule I hate to shop, I can make an exception for bargain opportunities.

Yesterday I received an interesting email from Sophisticated Ladies. They are offering a special consignment store bus tour. Yes, I raised my eyebrows at this also. For $40 you can join other penny-pinching women on a bus which will make stops at 6 different stores. They will also provide you with a boxed lunch and champagne.

Am I the only woman who thinks this is a terrible, if not downright dangerous idea?

Women are known to go slightly insane when in a competitive shopping environment. While, as a second degree black belt, I would have a distinct advantage over many women, this is still a scenario I would like to avoid at all costs. There are too many factors which would contribute to an unstable situation:
  1. These women are already focused on finding a great deal, as evidenced by the fact that they're willing to pay $40 to be on the consignment store bus in the first place. This makes them more likely to be emotionally or mentally unbalanced.
  2. Consignment shops rarely have significant floor space. This means women will literally be crawling on top of each other to get at the goods.
  3. Unless seats on the bus are reserved by customer dress size and they place a limit on the number of each, it's highly probable that a significant portion of these women will be looking for that coveted size 8 or 10. This is extremely dangerous and may result in physical injuries.
  4. They are giving these women champagne. Dear God. Alcohol will only fuel the fire!
Needless to say, I will not be signing up for the Sophisticated Ladies consignment shop bus tour. I just pray they've got insurance for what could be a deadly trip to shopping hell.

Monday, September 27, 2010

So I Bought this Furniture at Ikea...

On Saturday I visited Ikea with Abby and my friend Cathie. I'd been planning on purchasing a dresser for Ian in the foolhardy hopes that he would actually put his clothes away and shut his drawers if he had more drawer space to work with. I realize this highly unlikely to actually happen, but a mom can dream. So off to Ikea we went.

I'd been to Ikea only once or twice before and had never purchased any of their furniture. Frankly, the place scares me. As a rule, I hate shopping and any store that provides a map at the entrance is bound to overwhelm me. Luckily Cathie was fairly well-versed in Ikea-ese, so she guided me relatively painlessly through the maze. It helped that I had already identified a dresser that I liked in their catalog. We found said dresser, jotted down the aisle and bin number for self pick-up, and proceeded to the cafe where I was told I would enjoy a pretty darn good meal for a most reasonable price.

Abby and Cathie had the Swedish Meatballs while I opted for the chicken tenders and fries. Abby raved about the meatballs, proclaiming them to be as good as they were at Girl Scout camp (the kid has high standards) and honestly, my chicken fingers were outstanding. We also shared a piece of chocolate cake that was so tasty it required sharing a second piece. We even purchased frozen meatballs and mashed potatoes to take home. This was shaping up to be a most excellent shopping adventure. In my happy state, I decided to splurge and buy Ian a nightstand, too, in the hopes that he won't throw his books on the floor anymore. As I've said, a mom can dream.

Muscles 1 (Cathie) & Muscles 2 (Abby), carried the heavy furniture boxes to the car, and off we went, delighted with all we had accomplished. But then Cathie decided to be a downer and reminded me that I would need to assemble this furniture. And she predicted a blog post would result. And, alas, she was right.

Now, many a braver woman than I would allow her husband to take the reigns on the assembly part of a furniture purchase. However, not all women are married to men who morph into Mr. Hyde the moment they are handed a screwdriver, hammer, and instructions in picture-only form. I knew that if I wanted a curse-free Sunday, I would need to take matters into my own hands. So I handed the project over to Abby.

We decided to start small and try to finish the nightstand before tackling the substantially more intimidating dresser. The thinking is that this would bolster our confidence. And we were right. All was going swimmingly. We had legs, a top, and even a back on our nightstand and were feeling really good about ourselves. But then it all came crashing down at step 18.

We had screwed the drawers together wrong, with the pre-drilled holes for the sliding tracks on the inside instead of the outside. And naturally the screws that were holding the drawer together were plastic and hammered in with no means of removal. I was determined to succeed at all costs and so I pulled out the power drill. Abby found a drill bit that looked to size. I marked the spot where the holes were needed. And then I discovered I had no idea how to use a drill. (My father is shaking his head in profound disappointment as he reads this).

At this point determination gave way to desperation. I called for my husband.

Not only did he solve the problem, but he taught me, for future reference, how to use the drill. And nary a curse word fell from his self-satisfied lips.

Tonight I'm making him put together the dresser.

Friday, September 24, 2010

What would your sci-fi world look like?

Last night as I was drifting off to sleep I was considering blog post topics. As ideas came to me, however, I was too tired/lazy to turn on the light and jot them down as I normally would. And that's what led me to this Sci-Fi posting.

Wouldn't it be great if when you go to sleep at night you could plug your brain into a super cool contraption in your pillow which would store your thoughts, ideas, concerns, fantasies(!), while you sleep? You'd never wake up trying to remember that great idea or wondering who that disturbing dream was about. It would all be recorded (and password protected) for your review the next morning.

While I'm not a futuristic/science fiction fan or afficionado, I've got a few other ideas I'd like to see implemented:
  • "Automatic" roads. Our system of roads and highways would be like conveyor belts. You'd put your car on the roadway, program it for where you want to go, and it would take you there automatically.  I guess you wouldn't even need your car, just some transport box to hang out in till you got to your destination.
  • Replacement noses. Don't you hate when you have a cold or your allergies are driving you nuts and you just wish you could rip your face off to get some relief? Well, since most of the problems stem from your nasal passages, I'd like to have replaceable noses. When the one you're currently using becomes problematic, you just take it off and put on another one.
  • Embedded communication devices. I imagine that within our lifetime we'll be able to implant chips in our bodies or brains which contain communication capabilities. These would allow us to simply say the name of friends or family members we want to reach, and if they can respond, we'd pick them up via some transponder in our ears. The same chips might contain our credit card information so we'd merely scan our thumbs or our retina when we want to make a purchase.
I believe I had another futuristic/technology idea, but since no one has yet invented my pillow brain scanner thingy, I can't remember what it was. Someone needs to get to work on that, pronto.

And while I'm making recommendations along these lines, if you have your own requests, please feel free to share!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Humankind or Hockey?

While I've written before about my frustration with living in shades of gray, this issue is crystal clear to me:
Humanity has greater needs than hockey

Last Friday, a Penn State donor gave the university its largest private gift ever, $88 million to fund the construction of a campus ice hockey arena and the creation of an NCAA Division 1 ice hockey program for men and women. Part of the money will endow a total of 36 scholarships for players. 

The small, realistic, capitalistic part of me says, "It's his money. He earned it. He can spend it however he likes." But the Christian and more human side of me asks, "Can you imagine the lives that could be changed with $88 million?

I did some research to figure out exactly what kind of life changing stuff could be done with $88 million. This is just a small sampling of those things that particularly touch my heart:
  • Plant trees, develop sustainable agriculture, teach the poor to help themselves.With program expenditures of just over $2 million, my friends at Plant With Purpose plant trees in villages of some the poorest countries of the world (nearly 700,000 trees last year). Planting trees restores productivity to barren, depleted land, and then the organization teaches the poor in these communities innovative agro-forestry techniques they can use to make a sustainable, living wage. From there, micro-credit loans and business training help the poor find other income sources and reduce their dependence on agriculture altogether. For a complete list of Plant With Purpose's accomplishments with a mere $2 million, check out their annual report and then do the math to figure out what would be possible with an $88 million budget windfall.
  • Bring water, bring health and hope. 3.5 million people die each year from water-related disease. My friend Dave Powell digs wells in Africa where water is incomprehensibly scarce. Dave is in Ghana as I write, so I couldn't get his actual dollar figures, but another site shared these numbers: the average cost for a hand pump bore well benefiting a village is $1,500. For larger scale projects where water is supplied to an entire school or orphanage, cost ranges from $2,500 to $10,000 depending upon the size and scope of the work. For $88 million, Dave could drill more than 5,800 village wells, helping untold numbers of people.
  • The gift of a smile. There are millions of children with un-repaired cleft lips and palates who have little to no prospect of ever being helped. Their parents are so poor, they could never afford surgery. What does it cost to give the child the gift of a smile? According to The Smile Train, the world's largest cleft charity, $250 is all it takes. For $88 million, 352,000 children could have this surgery.   
  • Feeding hungry children. In America, one of the richest nations in the world, the number of people in poverty today is the highest it's been in the 51 years for which poverty figures are available. The rate of children younger than 18 living in poverty increased from 19.0 percent to 20.7 percent - a jump of 1.4 million to a total of 15.5 million children. Children have no control over their economic state. They don't ask to be born into situations where there isn't enough food to fill their bellies. $88 million could provide 4.4 million pounds of healthy food through Feed the Children.
    This generous Penn State donor claims that he gives to other charities, though he wouldn't specify them for the newspaper article he was interviewed in. When asked "Why hockey? Why not something else?", he replied:
    "Because I wanted to. But this isn't the end of my giving. We'll be doing other things, give to the university or whatever. You can't do everything at once."
While I congratulate Penn State on its exciting gift and the opportunities it will provide for the university, I do wish something could be awakened in this man's heart so he might see the tremendous need all around him. Perhaps he would pledge something for humanity...instead of hockey.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Games People Play

I am excellent at playing head games...with myself. 

During childhood there were inklings of my potential for mind power when, routinely, if I assumed my actions/behavior were "safe" I would mysteriously end up in trouble. On the other hand, if I thought I was in for it, no one said a word. It was in college, however, that I really mastered my special gift. Somewhere around my junior year I discovered I could get out of studying by convincing myself that sleep was more important for my overall well-being. And of course, the mind game most of us have played involves reverse psychology wherein we anticipate the worst in a specific situation so that the experience is bound to be better than expected.

Most recently, many of my head games have been related to food, unhealthy food in particular. You've probably done this, too. You tell yourself you've earned it. Or it's fine because you're going to work out later tomorrow this week some time soon. Or that cookie is a very legitimate choice given that you really want a hot fudge sundae. What I've noticed of late, however, is that food marketers are into playing games with our heads, too. Now, this should come as no surprise given that marketing is all about getting into our heads and playing with our emotions, but a dining experience last week really brought this home for me.

Rob and I took the kids to Elevation Burger in Wynnewood, PA where I had a Groupon to use. I figured an offer at a burger joint was right up my alley. And this place had fresh cut fries, hand-scooped milkshakes and fresh baked cookies, too. And the best part? It was all healthy and environmentally friendly. Count me in!

As soon as you walk into Elevation Burger you are greeted by healthy looking signage proclaiming their organic, grass-fed, free-range, no-trans-fat policy. You are delighted to learn that grass-fed beef is lower in calories and contains higher levels of healthy fatty-acids (Omega 3s). And if the health benefits don't get ya, you'll feel good knowing that this is a sustainable/green/environmentally healthy way to eat as well.

Whew! With a lead-up like this, I don't remember the last time I was so eagerly anticipating my dining experience! We waited in line to place our order:
  • 2 Elevation burgers (two patties, two slices of cheese) 
  • Two single hamburgers for the kids
  • Three orders of fresh cut fries
  • Two milkshakes
  • One root beer float
And the dining began. 

And I was disappointingly underwhelmed.

Nothing seemed to have any flavor. Was it the lack of those hormones and antibiotics I was missing? Have I become so used to corn-fed, jacked-up, imprisoned cow meat that I couldn't appreciate this elevated burger? And why did the fries leaving me craving something genuine, say from Mickey D's? Even the milkshake failed to rock my world. Sigh. It was a classic case of having set my expectations too high.

The best part of all? When I got home, I was sick as a dog. I think I gave birth to an elevated burger in my bathroom. See, here's the thing. The ingredients may matter, but ultimately I still ate two big slabs of meat, covered in fattening cheese, washed down with a calorie-laden milkshake. Alas, no head game was going to win out over the common sense of my stomach.

Yes, playing head games can be risky and you're not always assured of a win. When's the last time your mind let you down?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Back to the Business of School

Alrighty. My fans My readers MaryAnn told me I needed to make my next blog post funny after the tearjerker that I offered last time. Will funny at my kids' expense do it for you, MaryAnn?

The obligatory first day of school picture

Here's a snapshot of life in "back-to-school" mode here at the MacShimer house:
  • The back to school shopping list is always an irritating way to start the year. And I'm not talking about the traditional first day of school outfit and backpack. No, I'm referring to the school-dictated supply list that seems to get longer every year. How is it we spend a gazillion dollars a year on school taxes yet we have to provide for the classroom or our child:
    • Baby wipes
    • Cleaning wipes
    • 2 boxes of tissues
    • Zip loc bags
    • Composition book, writing paper, graphing paper
    • Folders
    • Dry erase markers, regular markers, highlighters, colored pencils, regular pencils, and mechanical pencils
    • Protractor
    • And more stuff I can't remember off the top of my head.
  • Abby kicked off the year spending hours creating the most awesome "Me" bag ever, her first assignment. This was preceded by a daring attempt to complete an entire summer math packet (more than 30 pages long) in just the last couple weeks of summer. She darn near finished it, too.
  • Ian announced after the first day at school that he was going to hate the entire year because "none of my friends, except Hannah, are in any of my classes." I found out later this was an exaggeration. So unlike him.
  • Abby wore a Hatfield hot dog hat to school yesterday because "my teacher wore a hamburger hat" the day before. And we know hot dogs and hamburgers go together. 
  • Ian is joining the fencing team this year with a coach who is not only a former Olympian in the sport, but also claims to be part "pixie." Seriously.
  • At back to school night, Abby's teacher described her as "highly motivated," and noted she "raises her hand for everything." Abby said the teacher never calls on her. Teacher annoyed with know-it-all over-eager student already?
  • Ian had his first official meltdown over homework today. Asked me for help on his math assignment (insert emphatic "You must be kidding" response here). I suggested calling someone from his class for help but he declined. Instead, he prefers to just "drop out of enriched math." Claims it's too much for him. 
  • $90+ Texas Instruments graphing calculator was too much for me (and that was for a used one on Ebay), but I bit the bullet and bought it. You're sticking with math, kiddo.
  • Abby shed tears today because the teacher marked an answer on her in-class worksheet wrong. Abby says she's certain it's correct (and based on my limited subtraction skills, I think Abby's right). Only perfect worksheets get stickers and stickers are collectible. Abby doesn't want to bring it to the teacher's attention for fear of seeming like a know-it-all (see bullet point above).
  • Ian has already lost misplaced one house key, less than two full weeks into the school year.
We've got our work cut out for us here, but it's all worth it when mom catches a look at Ian's first writing assignment for his "Journeys" language arts program:

I am funny and smart
I wonder if there is life on other planets
I hear the sound of the keyboard and my sister watching TV
I see the sights of the world from Google earth
I want to see the sites in person
I am funny and smart

I pretend I am good at sports
I feel a new insect in my hands as I make a great discovery
I touch the world around me
I worry about the environment
I cry about dead things
I am funny and smart

I understand that I am not perfect
I say God's Word is true
I dream about getting lost
I try to do well in sports
I hope there is life in the universe besides us
I am funny and smart.

(used by permission!)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I hate losing friends. Sometimes I lose them at amusement parks, or at the beach, or on hikes. Occasionally I'll lose one at a party or sporting event. Generally, in these situations, I find my friends again. It's when I lose them for good that it really hurts.

During high school I was involved in Girls State and Freedom Foundation, a couple of student leadership type programs unrelated to my school. And then, during college, I worked at a camp in Maine for a summer. In each of these experiences I made many friends that I have since lost.

Back in the mid-to-late 80s, keeping friends meant writing letters. No cell phone calls, no texting, no Facebook, not even a word processor at which to sit down and quickly type a letter. No, these friendships required good old-fashioned hand written letters. And we know from my last post that I love letters. The reality is, however, that teenage girls eventually find better things to do than sit down and write to other girls (writing to boys, for instance), and thus these pen pal relationships disappear.

As you get older you start to realize what a precious commodity friends are and you feel their loss more acutely.  I still mourn the loss of one of my best friends from college. She had been like a sister to me and I went and upset her (as sisters often do), and the friendship dissolved rapidly. We now exchange the occasional Christmas card but I know there's really no love in that standard "Love, Krista" closing.

Time and distance are another enemy of friendships. A few years ago, a group of young adults from Northern Ireland joined my church family for a mission trip. We housed a couple of the boys/young men at our home. Friendships were made fast and furiously, and there was even a romance in there (not with me, of course), but with time and the ocean between us, those relationships have slowly fallen by the wayside and it's only the occasional Facebook post that lets me know they're alive and kicking and doing fine.

The point of this post (which I apologize for taking a while to get to) is that I'm about to lose more friends and I'm not happy about it. Our beloved youth director at Media Presbyterian Church, Mark Boyd, is to become the senior pastor of Park Presbyterian Church in Beaver, PA. In about a month, he and his lovely wife Jamie, and their four amazing kids will move five-plus hours across the state to make their home in Steeler country. Now, I realize you're out there saying, "You silly, pessimistic girl, you can still be friends even with them moving!" But we all know that the reality is that it's hard enough to maintain close friendships with people who live across the street, much less those who move across the state. Yes, we'll keep in touch with the Boyds via Facebook, and undoubtedly Mark and my husband will text (cause that's what they do), but it won't be the same as having them here to share in Cheap Chicken Mondays, or impromptu bbqs in the backyard. And I hate that.

The Boyds: Freakin' Angel Jamie, Mark, Miller, Moria, Mila (missing from the photo: Makenzie)

So here's a shout out to friends, old and new, near and far. Thank you for the difference you've made in my life, and know that no matter how much time and distance may separate us, you will always remain in my heart.

Monday, September 13, 2010

For Love of a Letter

During my recent visit to my parent's house, my mom and I discovered a treasure trove of letters and greeting cards that my sister had left at home in her bedroom closet. Dawn kept everything, from invitations to parties of people she didn't even like, to notes from boys who liked me, trying to butter up the younger sister. We decided to search for letters from my Pop Pop to Dawn, mostly because my mom was missing him and there was something so magical about his letters that we figured finding and reading one would be the next best thing to having him here with us again. Unfortunately, we never found any of Pop Pop's letters (they're probably the only ones Dawn took with her to Colorado when she moved), but we found lots of other goodies, including:
  • Correspondence from LOTS of boys we couldn't remember her ever mentioning (and I'm not sure she would remember them either)
  • Letters from relatives (who, interestingly, never wrote to me)
  • Letters from me to Dawn
Letters are like little time capsules. Rereading them transports us back to an earlier time and place, capturing where we were in our lives at that moment. Letters remind us of why we fell in love, or out of love. They reconnect us with long lost friends. They bind us to our parents. And they envelop us in the words of loved ones who have passed on.

As a Facebook devotee and a blogger, I can obviously see the benefits of technology when it comes to communicating in the 21st century. The immediacy, the ease, the frequency, the ability to connect with literally hundreds of friends at one time is something letters can never compete with. However, the honesty, the depth, the emotion, and the staying power of a letter is something that is lost in the world of Facebook status updates, texts, tweets, email, and even blog posts.

My life would be considerably less rich without the correspondence between my Pop Pop and me during my years at college. I can't imagine having fallen so completely in love with my husband without the intelligent, creative, and witty notes he would leave on my desk when we worked together, and which later sustained me during a year away at grad school. Even rereading the letters I wrote to my sister during college brought back a flood of memories and emotions. It saddens me to think that this generation and those to come will miss out on the gifts of those cherished personal letters.

I've decided to take up a personal crusade to save the old-fashioned, personal letter. In fact, I was all set to establish a National Letter Writing Day, but when I Googled it to make sure my idea was as original as I anticipated, it turns out I've been beaten to the punch. It may not be well-known or participated in, but according to the Clements Library Chronicles (the be all and end all of official sources), National Letter Writing Day is December 7. Who knew?

Do me a favor. Don't wait till December 7 to send a loved one or friend a personal letter. One that's more than 140 characters or five lines long. And put it in the mail. With an actual stamp. Be honest, is there anything nicer than receiving a letter in the mail? Abby got one this past week from our summer babysitter who is back at college, and her delight was nearly equal to the joy of Christmas morning. Imagine, only 44 cents and a few moments of your time, and you'll make someone's day. Even better, your letter just might be one they savor for years to come.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Why Can't I Go Home Again?

After fifteen years of marriage, I'm sure it hasn't escaped my husband's notice that I nearly always return home in a rotten mood after a visit with my parents. The cynics amongst you are now offering me a smile and head nod that says "Yes, mine make me crazy, too," but actually, your sympathy would be misdirected. My parents don't always make me crazy (though Dad can be overly critical sometimes, a tendency my children will say I've inherited). It's the returning home to my house part that makes me irritable.

The truth is, frequently sometimes I wish I could truly "go home again."  "WHY?" you ask? Well here are the top 10 reasons moving back home with my parents appeals to me:
  1. They are actually happy to see me and genuinely enjoy my company and conversation.
  2. I don't compete for attention with my parents' technological gadgets.
  3. There's never a sink full of dishes or dirty bathrooms left for me alone to deal with.
  4. My dad can fix ANYTHING and doesn't usually drop F-bombs in the process.
  5. My *!#&% dog doesn't live there.
  6. My mom cooks for me.
  7. I have my own room and generally can sleep in one bed for the whole night.
  8. None of the furniture is too skeevy to sit on (see #5).
  9. Everything seems to cost less in the Lehigh Valley than it does in Delaware County.
  10. Being a grown up with kids of your own in a home of your own is not nearly as much fun as you think it will be when you're a kid. 
Now, to be fair, the novelty and upside of living at home with my parents would certainly wear off. In fact, I can already think of several reasons why it wouldn't work out, and I may just share those in another post. But sometimes I wish I could just be a kid again without all the responsibilities and expectations that come with being the mom.

Are there times you wish you could go home again? Why?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Acknowleding, Affirming, and Expressing My Gratitude

Today's youth are often viewed with distaste and scorn by the senior set who have managed to forget what they were like at that age. And on the flip side, the senior set is often disregarded and even ridiculed by those who can't see themselves that far into the future. Even though I've always enjoyed older adults more than most people my age, I'll be the first to admit that some of the stereotypes are deserved and a bit hard to take in large doses:
  • The play-by-play from the last visit to the doctor's office
  • The body-part-by-body-part review of the latest aches and pains, surgery, or therapy
  • The grandchild(ren) update that often dissolves into dismay over said child's bad choices and seemingly directionless existence
  • The disappointment over infrequent calls or visits from their children
  • The gossip about the new lady down the hall, down the street, or at the club
  • Refusal to wear the damn hearing aid so you don't have to speak at the top of your voice in every conversation (dad, this means you!)
Yes, seniors can pose a challenge, and this is what I was slightly dreading during my last business trip. My main order of business was to meet with an older woman who was running a store that I needed to work with. Having spoken with her on the phone, the word "crotchety" quickly sprang to mind and I knew this was going to be no picnic.

As it happened, my contact at the store wasn't the only senior I met on this trip. The driver who picked me up from the airport was a retired volunteer. The store manager's husband was ever-present. The store volunteer was a member of the senior set. And I was treated to dinner with two additional age 70+ ladies. And what did I learn from this experience? I learned that while the stereotypes hold true, there's something simple but significant we're overlooking when it comes to the older generation: They want to matter.

That statement may be deserving of a strong "no duh" response, but it feels like a revelation to me. When my dad repeatedly asks me whether so-and-so has seen the beautiful woodworking he's done in my living room, it may not be because he's getting senile and doesn't remember having asked me before. He may be asking again because he's seeking the affirmation and acknowledgment that demonstrates that he's "still got it" and that what he does has value. On this recent business trip, one thing I noticed was how eager my new senior friends were to tell me about their accomplishments--past and present. The store manager wanted to share her impressive history with the organization. Her husband wanted me to know of the shelves and stands he had built for the store, the wood crosses he was making, and the boat he had refinished. One of our dinner companions was an artist whose work was to be commended. In addition, I learned of their cruises, their visits with artisans around the world, their upcoming trip to Branson, the long drive home to Texas.

My friends and I are in our 30s and 40s, the "prime of our lives." We're constantly getting feedback--whether we want it or not--from our employers, our children, our friends, and our parents. Our lives are filled with non-stop activity and we never have time to wonder whether we have value, whether what we do matters, whether we're leaving or will have left our mark. Most of us look to the retirement years with a sense of anticipation. We dream of the traveling we'll do. The friends we'll socialize with. The golf courses and tennis courts we'll tame. But I'm sure we rarely, if ever, give a thought to what it will be like to not have that daily affirmation and sense of purpose that raising children and working provide us with now.

My parents and a few senior relatives and friends read my blog and I certainly hope I haven't offended them or been condescending. I just really felt the need to share what was for me a personal revelation. Whenever we can put ourselves in someone else's shoes, we're more likely to be compassionate, engaged, and tolerant.  And I should also take this opportunity to say thank you to all those "older folks" who have touched my life in so many ways. Never for a moment doubt the impact you have had and will continue to have on my life!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Back to School Night Insomnia

There are three occasions on which you can almost guarantee my children will have a hard time falling asleep:
  1. Christmas Eve
  2. The night before vacation
  3. The night before school starts, a.k.a. last night
The evening started out well enough.

9:20 p.m.: Abby and I finish our nightly reading of Harry Potter while Ian begrudgingly takes a shower. Everyone brushes their teeth (quite possibly for the first time this summer), and it's time to hit the mattresses.

9:40 p.m.: Abby comes upstairs in tears. "I'm not going to be able to sleep." Mom's reply, "Read a book."

9:45 p.m:  Abby reappears having "read the book." "I want to sleep, I just know I can't." Mom gently sends her back to bed and this time sleep wins out and she stays there until...5:00 a.m. when "I had a bad dream." She tries to find me in my bed but this is where the Ian scenario plays out.

9:47 p.m.: Ian appears in my room noting that he can't sleep because the dog is taking up too much room in his bed. Mom's teeth-gritted response, "Move the dog."

9:57 p.m.: Ian reports back in tears that moving the dog is not working. Mom's irritable response, "Ian, you need to get to sleep!" Result: More tears. Mom offers Ian her bed and moves down to Ian's room where, in fact, the dog is taking up an unreasonable amount of mattress. Mom reads a book. Tries to coexist with dog.

10:11-11:00 p.m.: Mom gives up trying to sleep with dog and moves to spare bedroom where she plays Texas Hold Em on her Blackberry because now she can't sleep. Buzzing noise from suspected stink bug as well guinea pig activity make this room inhospitable.

11:01 p.m.: Mom moves back to Ian's room and repositions the damn dog at which point dog decides she needs to go outside.

1:32 a.m.: Dog needs to go out again.

3:04 a.m.: Dog needs to go out...again. Not sure which was affecting her digestive system most, the hot dog rolls, the pizza, the cheez-its, or the pretzels.

5:00 a.m.: Abby is upstairs looking for mom. I hear dad direct her to the spare bedroom since that's where he saw mom last. She announces that she's unable to find me. Returns upstairs. Rob sends her back down and she finally locates mom in Ian's room. Abby climbs into bed with me and the dog and rubs my back till the memory of the bad dream subsides. She then reports that she's going back to her room.

5:30 a.m.: Dog needs to go out one more time and now the cat decides to make a break for it as well. Mom crashes on the couch this time, knowing the cat will return home any minute, crying like she'd been wronged...that is assuming the fox from the woods behind the house doesn't get her first.

5:45 a.m.: Trash collectors come rolling down the street with their squeaky brakes. Cat comes home. Mom falls back to sleep on couch until Ian's alarm goes off at 6:30 a.m.

6:30 a.m.: Bleary-eyed mom is in shower, functioning on five hours sleep, tops.

I'm sure this night-before-school-starts scenario results from a combination of excitement and anxiety (for me as well as the kids). I know they are both looking forward to and yet nervous about what is to come less than 12 hours later. I'm not sure if they could tell me exactly what they're thinking, but I remember very clearly, every single year, praying that God would "make me normal this year." Back-to-school anxiety dreams were a given. Being a kid is much tougher business than I give them credit for, and it's a time in my life I wouldn't wish to return to for even a minute.

Here's hoping that you and the student in your life get enough sleep and that God answers your back-to-school prayers!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Labor Day and Ugly Babies

In honor of our upcoming Labor Day weekend, I've decided to write about childbirth. Just kidding. Nobody wants to hear about that, especially first time moms-to-be. I always want to smack moms who tell their childbirth horror stories to women who are expecting their first baby. It would be like starting a job that you're really excited about only to have a coworker tell you that the place is sheer hell, don't be surprised if you poop on the job, the training program won't really prepare you at all, and it will take months to recover from the experience. And real moms know the reality is that the pain of labor is nothing compared to the pain in the ass that the kid is actually going to be for 18+ years. Whew. Sorry. Had to get that off my chest. Can you tell the kids have been driving me nuts lately? Why do we seem to be the only school district in the country that hasn't already returned to the classroom? Tuesday can't get here fast enough.

Now that I've just spent an entire paragraph being bitchy, I think I'll skip the post I originally had in mind ("Teaching Social Skills to Your Tween") and share some miscellaneous thoughts that have occurred to me recently. Hey, I know readership will be down today with the looming holiday weekend and all...may as well save my good stuff for next week. So here you are, a second dose of Random Musings (if you missed it, the first one was back in February, titled "The Day I Decided to Take Up Drinking")

  • Has anyone else noticed that Smart cars look really dumb? They look like golf carts and they pretty much scream "I'm antisocial!! I don't ever vacation so I never need trunk space for my luggage, and I have no friends so I don't have to worry about giving someone else a ride." I apologize in advance for offending my readers and friends who drive Smart cars, though I stand by my impression of them. I'm in marketing and really, it's all about image.
  • Since we've been in renovation/fix-it mode for the past year, I've been in contact with my share of contractors. And, I've come to the conclusion that these roofers, plumbers, builders, flooring guys, etc have it really easy. All they have to do is return your call or show up when scheduled to give you a quote and they've already outdone 75% of the competition. If they actually follow up with an estimate, they're 95% of the way there. It's maddening how hard you have to try to give someone your business and your money.
  • Back to the Labor Day theme, while they're all beautiful in God's eyes, there are such things as ugly babies. Never known any personally, but I've seen them so I know they exist.
  • Is it just me or can you pretty much tell you're not going to like someone by the slogan or words on the t-shirt they're wearing, the bumper sticker on their car, or even the car they drive?
  • The plastic bags from grocery stores wouldn't be clogging up our landfills so much if these clueless baggers would assume I can handle more than a loaf of bread and box of crackers in one bag. Unless you're bagging for a 90 year old or someone with a back brace, fill the damn bags so I don't have to drag twenty of them out of my car. (And for the record, I do use reusable totes 95% of the time. Can you hear me patting myself on the back for my eco-friendliness?)
  • Who knew jewelry had a year or season? Apparently at least one friend of mine does. She complimented a waitress on her earrings and they discussed how they were "last year's design." Damn, I've been wearing the same earrings since the 80s. Clearly I'm hopeless where fashion is concerned.
  • And lastly, as a final tribute to my west coast trip this summer, I would like to note that, for supposedly being one of the healthiest states and the most narcissistic by far, California has more burger chains than I've ever seen anywhere. No wonder there are billboards and radio ads with special offers and pricing on liposuction. Sheesh.
All right folks, thanks for letting me vent. Here's hoping you enjoy your last unofficial weekend of summer. Stay safe. Don't drink and drive. I need you alive to keep my readership count growing.

Love, Kim

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Leading the Uprising Against Semiotics and New Math

Laundering clothes ranks way up there with cooking when it comes to my domestic skills. If I even look at bleach it's sure to find its way on to whatever black item is in the clothing pile. And if it can be shrunk to fit Barbie, I'll shrink it. And this is with clear care instructions on the clothing label. So imagine my utter dismay when I discovered that this great new ensemble I recently purchased did not include care instructions, at least none that I could decipher.

Instead, as part of some underground, subversive, undoubtedly European movement, the label has been eliminated and replaced with the printing of instructions directly on the symbols.
Now correct me if I'm wrong, but traditionally, when learning a new language (such as semiotics), isn't one afforded an opportunity for study and training? Shouldn't my new outfit have come with a symbol translation guide? A laundry APB or announcement on the emergency broadcast system would have been nice. Perhaps this semiotic movement was covered in all the women's magazines, but that wouldn't have helped me at all given that I avoid them like the plague (they make me feel inadequate as a wife, mom, and homemaker).

I see the upside in losing the itchy, uncomfortable, always-sticking-out-of-the-back-of-your-shirt tag, but honestly, how hard is it to print a simple "machine wash cold?" Or, better yet, just tell me what not to do: "Do not put this in the dryer or you can kiss your new purchase goodbye." Or, "Keep 50 feet away from bleach." There's also this clear and to the point approach to laundry care that makes a great deal of sense:

Of course, if my children try to use this "It's her job" line on me, I'm likely to strangle them.

Perhaps the issue here is bigger than laundry care labels. I think it might be about an aversion to change. For instance, I vehemently dislike the new math they're teaching our kids in elementary school. And I definitely put off oil changes as long as possible. I never made the switch to metrics (though the rest of the country was with me on this one). And I'm not psyched about the changes I'm seeing in my waistline. Or my hair color.  Or my eyesight and hearing.

I say, if it ain't broke, don't fix it!

Who's with me? And what changes make you crazy?