Monday, November 29, 2010

Six Grinch-Inducing Aspects of the Month of Christmas

Note: This post was written in the throes of my post-turkey-and-filling funk. I'm happy to report my mood did improve over the weekend, albeit only slightly.

I tell myself, "Don't write when you're grumpy." But then the smart ass inside of me chimes in with "Well then when would you write?" Alas, I'm grumpy today. It's Black Friday, it's dreary outside, I've spent the morning cleaning, and my sporadic attempts at online shopping have been fruitless. I also seem to have infected Rob's Dell laptop with whatever computer poison apparently leaks from my fingertips as I type. Oh, and have I mentioned that I've got a 2:00 p.m. appointment with my Dell technician as we attempt to rebuild my computer from the operating system on up? Good stuff.

So as I sit here and self-medicate analyze, I have determined that my lousy mood is a product of my inner Grinch. If it was up to me, Christmas would look more like Thanksgiving, but with a grander tribute to baby Jesus. We would gather with family and friends and we would eat, drink, and be merry, but that's all that would be required. We would know we were dealing with your basic one-night stand, and that would be okay. As it is now, the month of Christmas stresses me out. Here are the contributing factors:
  • Black Friday. As someone who rarely if ever enjoys the shopping experience, Black Friday terrifies me. I hate the traffic. I hate the crowds. I think the idea of waking up at 4:00 a.m. to spend money is ludicrous. But I also feel that if I don't bite the bullet and get out there I'm going to miss the deals of the century. And the cheapskate in me whispers "Just do it!" (For the record, I ignored the cheapskate and stayed home.)
  • Decorating. I don't enjoy decorating. This bothers Abby considerably. Her friends' moms decorate for all the holidays. I don't find it to be a good use of my time. But letting Abby do the decorating messes with my need to control things in this house. Quite a conundrum.
  • The tree. The focal point of the decorating. I don't mind the tree itself, but bringing it in the house and setting it up is akin to a home improvement job...someone usually ends up yelling or swearing. We invariably buy one that's too tall and needs to have its trunk trimmed, and then getting it straight is like trying to fix my damn laptop...darn near impossible.
  • Enough (with the) Presents? Determining how many presents to buy always causes me anxiety. Frankly, I hate that my kids want so much when they already have so much. And I never know when enough is enough. It's especially challenging now that everything they want costs a small fortune. And do I keep it fair by quantity or monetary value? I liked it a lot better when they were too young to request anything and a cardboard box couple small gifts sufficed.
  • Online shopping. I greatly prefer online shopping to hitting the actual store. The downside to this is that it contributes to my Grinchy mood. No music, no decorations. I also have a need to avoid shipping charges, which means I buy more than I really want just so I hit the necessary minimum. I think they call this "penny wise, pound foolish."
  • The letdown. We spend a month gearing up for what generally lasts for 30 minutes on Christmas morning. Within 15 minutes of all the presents being opened I feel a tremendous let down. The kids run off to play with their new gadgets, I clean up the discarded wrapping paper, and there's nothing to look forward to for the next six days until New Year's Eve. This letdown is  probably not as bad if you have a large family to visit, but that doesn't apply to us. So we sit. And sometimes we go to the movies.
As a faith-filled, church-going Christian, you would think I would get more out of the Christmas season. But then again, perhaps its because I'm a faith-filled, church-going Christian that I feel such disappointment with the holiday as I've been living it. I know in my heart that it's supposed to be about so much more than the gifts, the cards, and the decorations, yet that's where the focus is.

So, Freakin' Angel readers, share with me your suggestions on how I can replace my inner Grinch with the hope, love, joy, and peace that the season is really supposed to be about. Looking forward to hearing from you...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Giving Thanks, Freakin' Angel Style

As we prepare to embrace family, watch football, and stuff ourselves silly, I would like to offer a non-traditional list of all those things I am particularly thankful for. I assume it goes without saying that a more traditional list would include my family, friends, health, employment, etc. (all the usual stuff without which I would have nothing to blog about).

A Freakin' Angels "Thank Heavens" Top 10 List:

10. Pretzel Boys soft pretzels, movie theater popcorn, and fountain cokes
9. Stretch jeans (actually, stretch anything)
8. Bullfrogs croaking, owls hooting, and the book Owl Moon
7. Anti-depressants
6. Jim Wood's Facebook updates
5. Barnegat Bay, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Wakakida
4. The promise of summer
3. Dell technicians
3. Glee songs and Harry Potter books
2. Ian's sense of humor and Abby's drive and determination
1. The Freakin' Angels who inspired this blog and who serve as constant reminders of our loving God. You girls rock!

Hope your Thanksgiving is full of blessings and that you remember to give thanks for that which truly matters.

Amen to that!

Monday, November 22, 2010

5 Essential Children's Gift Giving Guidelines

"It's the most wonderful time of the year." If you're a kid, that is. If you're a mom with school age children the most wonderful time of the year is early September. As a parent I'll grant Christmastime 2nd place status with apologies to baby Jesus, though if he'd had kids, he would probably agree with me.

This weekend I looked through some of the dozen or so toy catalogs I've received in the past couple weeks. Abby has been kind enough to go through a couple of them, circling everything she wants. There were some requests that amused me, like the mini trampoline meant for 3-year-olds and the inflatable limbo stick; some I expected, like the friendship bracelet, jewelry, and scarf kits; and a few I'm giving consideration but have doubts about, including the sewing machine and pottery wheel.

Purchasing toys for children is an art and has very little to do with pleasing the recipient. As a public service, particularly for new parents, here are my guidelines for toy buying:
  • Determine if this toy can be used to inflict bodily harm on siblings, pets, or parents. While almost any toy can be used as a weapon, you definitely want to stay away from pens, pencils, bow and arrows, BB guns, suspenders, Wii controllers, balls, bats, Nerf guns, Nerf swords, paintball guns, paintbrushes, rulers, Cutco knives, remote control cars, and paper airplane or origami kits.
  • Anything with multiple parts should be avoided at all costs, and the smaller the parts, the more they should be avoided. This is particularly true when all the parts are necessary for the game or toy to function properly. Legos, K'nex, and Lincoln Logs are more acceptable because you can use them regardless of whether a few pieces go missing. 
  • Carefully consider your purchase if this toy, craft, or gadget requires parental supervision or assistance. If you're one of those engaged parents who enjoys making treats with an Easy Bake Oven, melting crayons into car shapes, or sewing small handbags, than this warning does not apply to you. My idea of having fun with the kids is to take their money playing Texas Hold 'Em, otherwise, please leave me out of it. (Hence my reservations about the pottery wheel and sewing machine.)
  • Does it require batteries? We go through batteries faster than milk and bread in our house. 'Nuf  said.
  • And finally, unless you are married to my dad (and I'm hoping that distinction only applies to my mom), do not purchase any gift that requires assembly. If you fail to heed my advice on this, at least assure me that you won't wait until 12:30 a.m. on December 25 to begin putting the beast together. No child should be woken up in the middle of the night by the sounds of swearing coming from under the Christmas tree. 
Here's hoping your holiday shopping is safe, successful, and doesn't put you in debt.

And if I've missed any valuable gift-giving guidelines for children, please feel free to comment!

    Friday, November 19, 2010

    Fear Factor

    I've discovered yet another flaw in my parenting skills. I'm missing the fear factor. Even with my second degree black belt (for which I broke concrete, for cryin' out loud), my children are not afraid of me. This became readily apparent when I recently engaged Ian's services in helping me rake leaves. As devoted Freakin' Angel readers know, Ian is my lovable but less-than-highly-motivated 12-year-old son. Ian prefers not to rake leaves. Or empty the dishwasher. Or lift a finger unless it's attached to a Wii controller, TV remote, or computer mouse.

    When I threatened to beat Ian with the rake for failure to adequately engage in the task at hand, he looked at me with dead seriousness and through clenched teeth informed me that he "wasn't afraid to call the police" to report me. I told him to feel free to make that call and then get back to work.

    More than a week later I am still replaying this little confrontation in my mind. Not because I'm upset at Ian's reaction, but rather because I realize Rob and I have failed to develop a healthy fear of mom and dad in our children. And yes, I do think it's healthy. Really.

    I feared my parents. They'd probably prefer I say that I respected them instead of feared them, but as a kid I can tell you there was definitely a fear factor there. I knew where the wooden paddle was kept, and I knew that it would be used if I got out of line. I also knew that it hurt like hell if I didn't move my hands out of the way of the impending butt swat. As I got older the paddlings gave way to the use of the fear in teaching life lessons. I heard scary stories of kids who did drugs, drank alcohol, drove drunk, had sex, hung out with the wrong crowd, etc. It may not be the teaching method preferred by parenting experts, but it worked like a charm on me. I was practically a saint all through high school.

    Rob and I don't have a paddle nor would we be inclined to use one, but on the rare occasion when I've spanked Ian with my hand the result has been righteous indignation. He either looks at me with angry disbelief or cries and heads to his room to slam the door on us. Definitely no fear there, just fury.

    I'm pretty sure I can't change parenting tactics mid-stream, but in hindsight I might have done it differently. What say you, Freakin' Angel readers?

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    Groupons, Gap Jeans, and Tim Lincecum

    This morning I woke up and realized I owe a debt of gratitude to Groupon. Groupon is this cool little service which sends daily deals to your in-box, generally offering at least 50% savings off a product or service in your region. You've got one day to respond to the Groupon offer and it requires a certain number of takers to activate the deal. If the deal goes through you basically end up with a gift certificate that you need to use before the expiration date.

    In addition to having saved a decent amount of money with these Groupons, this morning it occurred to me that Groupon has also provided me with a good deal of fodder for my blog. More than half of the Groupons I've used have resulted in something blog-worthy:

    Last night, Groupon treated me to a visit to the mall. For $25 I snagged a $50 Groupon to Gap. I've had it for months and it was set to expire this Friday. So off to the mall I went. And I discovered three things during this little outing:
    1. I'm officially too old for Gap. 
    2. The mall is a very depressing place.
    3. I looked the part of those other frumpy mall women in sweats and baseball hats. If I had decided to do laps around the mall for exercise, I would have fit right in.
    Is there anyone over age 30 in this ad?
    Yes, Gap clothes are made for women either much younger than me or much thinner than me. Despite not being actually overweight, there's no way my thighs can fit in Gap jeans. Or any trendy jeans for that matter. I picked out the "curvy" cut style and even that was a complete insult. I would be willing to pay big bucks for jeans that sit at my waist (this hip stuff is ridiculous), don't strangle my thighs, and don't look like something my grandmother would have worn.

    When the jeans didn't work out I considered a skirt, but Gap skirts are apparently made for really short women, or women in Las Vegas who like their skirts to just barely cover their panties. 

    I settled on a couple tops and made a mental note to not bother visiting Gap again. Probably not the result they were looking for when they offered the Groupon deal.

    As for the mall itself, well there's not much I can say about it other than that I don't see how those stores stay in business. Does anyone over the age of 14 actually shop in malls anymore? And is there anything worth shopping for?

    Tim and Kim -- separated at birth?
    As for my personal appearance, well that was just criminal. Why I allowed myself to go out looking like that is beyond me. I even had baggy underwear on under my sweatpants. And with my baseball hat and flat hair, I looked disturbingly like Tim Lincecum.  This depresses me to no end so I really need to stop thinking about it.

    So there you have it, another post courtesy of Groupon. I should offer them a corporate blog sponsorship or something. What do you think?

    Monday, November 15, 2010

    When it Comes to Unconditional Love, Nothing Beats a Grandparent

    Grandma, Ian, and Granddad MacPherson
    This past weekend would have been my father-in-law's 80th birthday. Robert MacPherson Sr. died of cancer in 2003, much, much too soon for family and friends who will always miss this terrific man. Bob/Granddad was a character. Sometimes the kind of character whose goofy jokes, overly lengthy driving directions, and noisy debates over silly stuff would make you roll your eyes, but mostly he was the kind of character that brought joy and laughter to those around him. He was especially great with his grand kids--Jordan, Spencer, Ian, and Abby. Abby wasn't even two when he passed, but at age 4 1/2, Ian had a little more time to get know him. Granddad would drive over here from South Jersey just to babysit, not so secretly enjoying his first and only grandson. Today we see a lot of Granddad in Ian's quick wit and desire to make those around him laugh.

    Grandparents are such an incredible gift to a child. My PopPop was one of my favorite people in the whole world (I shared about his amazing handwritten letters in "For Love of a Letter"), and I enjoyed visits with my Nana well into her 90s. As for my Grandpy, I will always remember the sweet smell of sawdust from his wood shop and I still have the furniture he built for me as a child which now has found a home in Abby's bedroom. I lost my Grandma when I was just three or four years-old, yet I still hold a memory of the kitchen cupboard in which she kept the Archway molasses cookies.
    While Rob and I enjoyed a quick getaway last weekend, my kids enjoyed some special time with my mom (Nana). They managed to go for four whole days without fighting like banshees, refusing to eat what was offered for dinner, or being openly hostile and chock full of attitude. It's amazing how grandparents bring out the best in your kids. Best of all is the time Abby and Nana had for bonding. While Ian has always been quick to show emotion and loves easily and openly, Abby is rather stingy with her affection. If Abby expresses her love, you know it's 100% genuine and heartfelt. During this visit, Abby was Nana's best friend. They did everything together, including snuggling in bed to watch television. To call home and hear my mom's delight at this time they were spending together was almost as good as my getaway itself.

    I have friends and extended family whose children have no relationship with their grandparents and that breaks my heart. I know personally how much richer a child's life is for having had their grandparents in it. If your life was or is blessed by a grandparent, your assignment for today is to either call that special person to say "I love you," or to say a prayer, thanking God for the gift that they were to your life.

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    A Facial or a Sinister Government Experiment?

    I had a spa facial last night. At least I think I was in a spa. It's possible I was in an evil scientist's lab. Or maybe a machinist's shop.

    I first sensed something was terribly wrong when I walked into the cell, I mean room, and saw this contraption hanging from the ceiling (I'm sorry it's out of focus, but I was trembling):

    I still have no idea what the hell this was, and I was too frightened to ask.

    I tried to hide my fear and obeyed the technician, removing my robe and crawling under the covers on the bed in the center of this sinister little room. The procedure started gently enough with a mild cleanser, but then "Amanda" brought out the heavy artillery.

    First, a steam cleaning:

    Then polishing with a small power sander:

    And then came the torture I knew was inevitable:

    Was it an ice pick? Perhaps an awl? Maybe a nail set? She had conveniently covered my eyes so I couldn't see her weapon and therefore could never testify against her in court. Teen magazine always said to never poke at your face or pick your zits, but there she was, this "professional," gouging into my clogged up pores, apologizing for the pain and promising me it would be over soon.

    When she had dug enough holes into my face, she tried to disguise her handiwork with one of these little beauties:

    But I knew it would take more than a coat of paint to hide what she had done to me. 

    This cover-up was followed by what she liked to call an eye treatment:

    And then, because that wasn't enough to satisfy her sadistic tendencies, "Amanda" decided a scalp massage was in order:

    Finally, she informed me that she had completed her "procedure" and that I should leave the various oils and lubricants on my skin for at least for the next several hours. Naturally I couldn't take the suspense, wondering what on earth had become of me. I scraped off the spackling and here's what I found:

    Needless to say, I won't be going to that spa again.

    Monday, November 8, 2010

    Random Musings III, Las Vegas Edition

    Thank you, dear friends, for successfully praying for my renewed strength and health so that I was able to take a last minute (and nearly free) trip to Las Vegas with my husband. I'm still here, as I write, sitting in the conference room where the Major League Baseball Radio Rights Holders are meeting (the purpose of Rob's trip). The only place I can finagle free internet service.

    In honor of this special occasion, here is a special, Las Vegas edition of Random Musings. Enjoy!

    • Little old Mexican women passing out advertisements for girly shows is particularly disturbing. Shouldn't they at least use the kind of women you're likely to see at the show?
    • The force of a flush in the Bellagio hotel room toilets is capable of taking away a small cat, dog, or child. Nearly gives me a heart attack every time I use it.
    • Smoking is everywhere in Las Vegas. That is soooo last century and incredibly annoying.
    • Even adults can't help playing with water being used as art. Myself included.
    • Yes, skirts can really be that short and heels that high. Have never seen anything like it. Just praying none of these women drops their purse, or it'll be sheer chaos.
    • It's not cool to spread ketchup on your chest and lay in your hotel room bed, faking death, just to scare the housekeeping staff.
    • Flying over the Grand Canyon is worth the entire trip.
    • Playing poker on your Blackberry is not the same as playing in a casino.
    • The only cross section of society I have not seen on the Strip are Catholic nuns.
    • After spending an obscene amount of money for a hand, foot, and scalp massage, I was caught with my ankles crossed and informed that I had been blocking the energy from flowing through my body. Excellent.
    • The freaks really do come out at night.
    Here's a shout out to Sin City for giving me a wonderful chance to reconnect with my husband, sleep in an outstanding bed, eat tremendous food (in reasonable amounts), and catch up on my reading. I'm blessed!

    Friday, November 5, 2010

    It May be a Stomach Bug, or Floor Germs, or Just Plain Crappy Eating

    Dear Friends,

    Yesterday I dropped my lunch, a cheeseburger and fries, on the hall floor at work. And being cheap and hungry, I ate them anyway. I did however, first request on Facebook that you pray for me. Either you did not take my prayer request seriously, or you're not well-connected to the Big Guy. All I know is that since about 4:00 p.m. Thursday I've been one really sick puppy. It could have been that I picked up some evil germs/virus from the floor. Or maybe it was the slice of cake and soda that followed the cheeseburger combo. Or perhaps the handful of popcorn was to blame. Or maybe it's all just a coincidence and I've been laid low by a stomach bug. Still, whenever your stomach runs roughshod over the rest of your body, you're bound to reflect on the nutritional choices you recently made.

    And my reflections have left me wondering how it is that I'm not always in this miserable condition.

    I eat like crap much of the time. You've probably sensed as much from my Le Tub post back in January, and my more recent Elevation Burger review. My grocery shopping summary also provided insight into my less than healthy choices.

    I think this current condition I find myself in is the wake-up call I needed. I think it's my body's way of telling me that I'm no longer a teenager who can eat whatever she wants without repercussions. I think if I ever feel good again I'll treat my body right and put only good stuff in.

    It's that or I invest in a stomach pump for residential use.

    I'm supposed to leave for Vegas tomorrow. My first time to Sin City, all expenses paid. If I promise to not gorge myself at one of the famous all-you-can-eat buffets, can you give a shout out to the Big Guy on my behalf? I'd really love to regain my equilibrium and control of my abdominal muscles so that I can get on the plane. Thanks, friends.

    Love, a Freakin' Angel.

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010

    If My Children Ruled the World

    When it comes to making good life decisions, I no longer have to think for myself. Instead, my kids do it for me. This was not the case when I was a child. Can you imagine having told your parents:
    • I really think putting me in a car seat would be much safer.
    • Could you not smoke when pregnant with my sibling? I don't want his or her growth to be stunted.
    • Slow down driving, pops. You've had a lot to drink.
    • You really should limit my television viewing time. All these Tom & Jerry and Road Runner cartoons could make me violent.
    • A BB gun? Are you serious? I could shoot my eye out!
    • Meat and potatoes again? I really need more greens in my diet.
    No, I'm pretty sure our generation had too much fear of respect for our parents to point out what they might be doing wrong. But then again, I don't think our teachers were passing along many of these life-changing messages. Today, life lessons seems to be a regular theme in our schools, and because I have two authority-respecting children, these lessons make their way into my home.

    For example, yesterday Abby pushed the voting thing on me as if she were personally running for office. When she calls my cell phone, she basically hangs up on me if she finds out I'm driving. And a nutrition-related field trip will result in her demanding better food choices and eating right for at least a week.

    Ian is not quite as bad helpful as Abby, probably because he's a big fan of bad habits himself (junk food, computer games, television, etc). When he does feel the need to modify parental behavior, however, Ian tends to prefer the use of sarcasm. (I have no idea where he gets that.) For example, if you ask my son, he would tell you that I drink like a fish. (Those anti-drugs and alcohol school assemblies clearly affected him.) Now those of you who know me from my high school days will find this particularly amusing as I am known for requesting milk at the one and only party I attended. Though I am still a big fan of a nice cold glass of milk, I have discovered the joys of a nice cold beer as well (as every respectable German girl should). I am also not opposed to a glass of wine with dinner.

    My drinking never amounts to more than a glass or two of my beverage of choice a few nights a week, tops. But Ian's snide comments would lead you to believe that a visit to AA is in order. If we are eating out and I ask for the beer menu, Ian will respond with: "Oooh, of course, mom has to have a beer!" If I stop at the liquor store for a bottle of wine, I will hear more smart ass comments. His approach does manage to make me feel like a bad parent, though not bad enough to do anything about my clearly serious drinking problem.

    While all this child-directed instruction provides good fodder for blogging, I can't seriously complain. Any life lessons I can get help with are much appreciated. And if my kids actually learn something in the process, so much the better. After all, the less I have to teach them, the more time I'll have for downing a few dozen cold ones!

    Monday, November 1, 2010

    I Think the Call to Dell was the Tipping Point

    You may have noticed that I can be moody, negative, and pessimistic. And that's on my good days. While I was intending to write about my love of parades today, I think I just need to vent instead. So bear with me. Or come back on Wednesday when hopefully I will have a sunnier outlook. See the reality is, right now Life is kicking my ass.

    This state I find myself in can be traced back to the big stuff, those milestones that should really be called millstones cause frankly, they can get heavy and weigh you down:

    You're born
    You grow up
    You get married
    You buy a house
    You have a job
    You have children
    You have relatives

    And then the challenges become more nuanced:

    You undertake home improvements
    Your kids become hormonal
    You worry about your parents
    Your spouse makes you crazy
    Your friends move away
    You move up a dress size
    Your team loses
    Your meds lose effectiveness
    You brush your teeth in the wrong sink
    You spend more time with Dell tech support than you do with your family

    We've all been there. And we all know that eventually, Life will ease up on us a bit if only to gather renewed strength for knocking us back down. Being a wicked tough 2nd degree black belt, I can take it. What I can't take are the pie in the sky, rose-colored glasses, count your blessings responses to my frustration, depression, or angst. From a marketing perspective, I get it. But personally, it bugs the crap out of me.

    Dell Technical Support is my happy-go-lucky case in point. If you're calling Dell to speak to someone with a thick Indian accent, you're clearly to the point of taking desperate measures. Unfortunately, I've reached this point on two occasions in the last two weeks. Over the past two years, I've been on the phone with Dell technicians no less than half a dozen times. This may explain why I've been in a bad mood for roughly 730 days.

    Dell technicians must be required, at gun point, to tell you that "Everything will be absolutely fine." "We will fix the problem completely." I don't know that they even hear what you've had to say before they assure you that all will be right with the world when you're done with them. I'm relatively certain I could tell them that I've dropped my laptop off a 50 story building and it's laying on the sidewalk in roughly 2,538 pieces and they would say "This is not a problem. We can help you. Now may I please have your Express Service Code?" I may call to tell them I've just robbed a convenience store in order to get the money to replace my damn Dell laptop and see if I get the standard "This is nothing we can't fix" response.

    The best part of the Dell phone call is the point at which they pass you off to a supervisor who makes certain you were satisfied with the outcome of the call. Hmmm. Satisfied? I just spent three-plus hours with your guy on the phone, trying to decipher what it is he is telling me to do, sobbing uncontrollably at one point, and you want to know if I'm satisfied? Let's define "satisfied," shall we?

    Let's be honest. There are times in our lives when being reassured that everything will be fine, or being told to count our blessings just doesn't cut it. Sometimes it really just all goes to hell in a hand basket and we have to suck it up until it passes. I think the best advice I've received during this rough patch came today from a Judson Press author. On Facebook I respectfully requested that Life ease up on me a bit. Dr. Kirk Byron Jones responded that my request is one we can all identify with and he suggested,
    If life doesn't ease up, you do. Grace yourself.
    I've decided to take his advice. On Saturday I leave for the holy land, the destination of all those seeking serenity, hope, and grace. I'm off to Vegas, baby, Vegas. Pray for me.