Thursday, April 28, 2011

Time to Get the Ball Bowling!

When's the last time you went bowling? If you worked for the American Baptist Home Mission Societies you could have bowled yesterday. In celebration of Administrative Professionals Week, all employees were invited to an afternoon with lunch and non-stop bowling fun at Facenda Whitaker Lanes in West Norriton, PA.

And fun it was!

Remember when we were kids and bowling alleys were seedy, dark, smokey places that you tended to avoid unless armed or at least protected by your dad? Remember when you used to have to know how to keep score? Now bowling alleys are bright, hip, happening spots with laser light shows. They require nothing from you in the way of mathematical equations. Some of them are even open 24-hours, 7-days a week in case you feel an urgent need to bowl at 4:00 a.m. on a Tuesday.

Some things about the bowling experience have not changed, however. The shoes. The search for the perfect ball (there must be a secret handshake required to secure one that's less than 20 pounds). The pop of your thumb joint when the holes are too small. The way you ridiculously wave at the ball when you want it to move to the center of the lane as it veers toward the gutter. The dirty old men. The need for a few beers before you can really get in the groove, but maybe that's just me.

Yesterday's bowling adventure was a painful reminder that I haven't bowled for years without the benefit of the kid bumpers. I like the kid bumpers. They make me a better bowler. They provide hope. Yesterday I was nothing if not consistent, however. I either hit no pins or all ten of them. This makes it difficult to break the 100 barrier. And since we're on the topic of lousy bowlers, I have a brilliant idea. I think there should be a league for people like me. People who suck at bowling. You would have to try out first and if you score 125 or above you can't be in the league. I think that would be fun. There would probably be lots of drinking, merciless teasing, and poor self-esteem going around.

Despite my crappy bowling skills, I do think bowling, as an activity, has a lot going for it:
  1. It's family-friendly and ideal for those with young children (you can justify use of the bumpers.)
  2. It's a no-tech choice. Damn the Wii, the X-Box, the Playstation. Let's throw a heavy ball down a wooden lane and see how much stuff we can knock over!
  3. It encourages cheering, jeering, and friendly banter.
  4. It practically demands the consumption of beer.
  5. It does not discriminate by body type or athletic ability. Stop by an alley some weekday afternoon for proof of this statement.
  6. It is an inherently hopeful sport. You always get a 2nd chance. Don't get all the pins on the first shot? Go again! Heck, do that 10 times till your wrist and hips ache!
Allow me to leave you with one important piece of bowling advice: Never go bowling with someone who's really good at it. Like my friend Mark. He completely ruins it for everyone else. I haven't bowled with him in 20 years and I still resent him and his bowling prowess. I won't play Trivial Pursuit with him for the same reason. Some people just don't know how to have fun.

If you're a fairly lousy bowler who likes to drink beer and talk smack, call me. Let's hit the lanes!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Time for the Talk, Part 2

We returned home from the Outer Banks late Saturday afternoon and after settling in a bit, Rob hugged me and sighed, "It's nice to be home." At which point I almost broke into tears. And not because his hug was squishing me, but rather because the moment I walked in the front door I felt overwhelmed by responsibilities.

Later that evening, while contemplating this unpleasant reaction to coming home, it occurred to me that depression, angst, frustration, and a general sense of being unable to keep up are not what home is supposed to be about. "Home" is supposed to be a place of refuge, a sanctuary away from the troubles of this world. I decided that if home is going to be "where my heart is" I needed to make some changes. So I sat the family down for "the talk." And not the talk where mommy resigns. That was last month. This talk was intended to keep mommy from resigning in the future.

In this talk I blamed everyone else for my unhealthy emotional and mental state calmly explained to my family that mommy needs more help, and not just from doctors and pharmaceuticals. I explained how, if everyone does their part in taking care of our home, mommy would be much less likely to run away and join the circus happier. I made a list of all the very basic ways they could help me, including:
  • Cleaning up after they make a mess
  • Wiping off the table after meals
  • Putting dishes in the dishwasher instead of piling them in the sink
  • Picking up their stuff
  • Not leaving dishes, candy wrappers, empty food boxes, etc. in various places in the house
In addition, I told Ian that he owes me an hour a day for whatever help I need in order to earn his gaming time. And Abby will not be allowed to get together with friends until her clean clothes are put away and her dirty clothes find the hamper. As for Rob, I asked that every weekend we try to complete one item on the house to do list.

I confessed to the family that I can be neurotic, obsessed, controlling a bit over the top in my expectations, but that together we can make home a happier place for everyone. I also noted that, while in the past I failed miserably with follow-through (we all know it's sometimes way easier to do it yourself than to deal with the attitude), this time I was going to nag them incessantly stay on top of things so that their helpful behavior becomes habit.

Suffice it to say that by bedtime everyone hated me. Abby ended up in tears, asking why mommy "can't just relax and be happy," at which point I once again explained that that was the very goal of my new approach to home administration.

I'm happy to say that Sunday was more successful; productive even! We went to church where we prayed we wouldn't kill each other and afterward Rob mowed and swept, Ian did yard work, and Abby helped clean the bathroom.

And this morning before school, proving that my new approach is working just beautifully, Ian left bread crumbs next to the toaster, on the dining room table, and in the bathroom (??). He left dropped cereal on the kitchen floor and his bowl on the counter. Abby also left toast crumbs on the table, and her latest painting project in the middle of the kitchen floor. But the good news is that I'm drinking my way smiling through it, realizing this won't be an easy adjustment for them, but determined to stick to it or pay the price with my sanity. The cereal remains on the floor, the crumbs remain where they left them, and paint and newspapers still grace the center of my kitchen. When the kids get home from school I will very gently (so as not to upset them) remind them of the promises they made on Saturday night and put them directly to work. Should be a breeze.

Wish me luck. Say a prayer. And send bottles of pinot grigio.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Vacation Metamorphosis

We are halfway through our vacation with friends and I'm happy to say that they are, in fact, still our friends. It's our first time getting away with another family (actually three other families) for a whole week, but so far, so good.

I think one of the best things about this group vacation is the vacation it provides for the kids. A vacation from us, their parents. There's something about being with friends that allows you to totally somewhat ignore your kids. Much to their delight and relief. Here is just a short list of things that Ian and Abby get away with when we're drinking hanging with our friends and our kids are surrounded by their kids:
  • Crazy late bedtimes. I confess; we forget that they're here. And awake.
  • Extra crappy eating habits. You know I'm no model of healthy eating, but I'm fairly certain neither of my children has had anything resembling a fruit or vegetable in three or four days. We may very well develop scurvy, as Karen, our resident nurse pointed out. 
  • Bedrooms unfit for human habitation. Truth be told I haven't actually stepped into Ian or Abby's bedroom here in the vacation house. I'm afraid. But from what I've seen from a distance I'm fairly sure they could be legally condemned. They're worse than their bedrooms at home and that's saying something.
Ian's upcoming adventure
Vacationing with friends also changes our children's behavior. Abby, for example, is much less clingy and seems to have matured considerably (a.k.a. "too cool for mom"). And Ian is suddenly digging holes and hang gliding. Seriously. The kid who I can't get to lift a finger at home spent a couple hours on the beach with his friends digging a hole so deep that we're bound to be sued when someone falls into it while taking a midnight stroll. And the boy who I think might be afraid to ride his bike is signed up for hang gliding lessons at Jockey's Ridge State Park on Thursday afternoon. But that's the power of friends. Peer pressure at its finest.

Seriously, that's the house!
I must admit that this trip has also changed me, probably just temporarily, but definitely for the better. For one thing, and most importantly, I feel 100% better emotionally and mentally than I did a week ago. And I'm doing stuff! I usually avoid doing stuff because stuff costs money and we know how cheap I am. Heck, the sheer fact that I'm sitting in the most amazing home I've ever seen directly on the oceanfront speaks volumes. I'm not the splurging type. And along with the house, I've gone fishing on a charter boat (remind me to tell  you about the one that got away...), spent stupid amounts of money on food and drink (there's no way we're going to consume all this before Saturday), am allowing my son to take an expensive hang gliding lesson (he better not chicken out cuz there are no refunds), and am paying for the whole family to take a kayaking adventure. This will not be an inexpensive vacation, but you can't put a price on your sanity.

So that's an update from Pine Island in the Outer Banks. I'll let you know how the rest of the week goes. In the meantime, I hope you're enjoying spring break and Holy Week.

Friday, April 15, 2011

House Rules from A Mother of Brothers

Tomorrow I leave for a group vacation with friends. At least they were friends prior to this vacation. Here's hoping we're friends afterward. One of these friends is Emily, blogger at Mother of Brothers. She beat me to the punch with a post on our upcoming adventure and since I'm behind in every aspect of my life right now, I'm going to share her thoughts with you instead of writing down my own. I'm sure I'll have something witty or at least snarky to write about during or after this trip.

And for the record, I too think she's talking about me when she suggests leave the emotional baggage at home. But then you know how sensitive I am...

Here are Emily's "House Rules:"

Tomorrow we are embarking upon the type of vacation I have only known from afar.  It will be a trip where the memories will last a lifetime and we will return again year after year, telling anyone who will listen just how wonderful it truly is.  I have a feeling we are about to enter a secret club where members are only recognizable by their pretentious car magnets that identify their vacation spot of choice in secret code.  In fact,  the first item on my to-do list upon arrival is to march down to the local souvenir store , purchase one of these damn magnets, and slap it immediately on the back of our crappy mini-van. 
It will read OBX.

For the uninitiated, I am talking about the Outer Banks.  Living an hour from the New Jersey Shore and having in-laws in Newport, RI, the 7–8 hour car ride down to North Carolina never held much appeal for us.  Even when friends would rave about the beaches or the size of the homes for rent, we would just assume its not for people who live north of the Mason Dixon line.  Still, I couldn’t help ignore the types of people who went to OBX.  I liked them.  They were the types of people who, if they laid their beach blanket down next to mine, I might strike up a conversation with the wife.  Our kids might become best friends over a drip castle.  The husbands would stand by the shoreline and talk about whatever husbands talk about when they stand at the shoreline.  They seemed like my people.
So one evening this past Winter when it was really cold and drippy outside, we were hanging out with our usual crew and decided we all needed to get away for Spring Break.  Together.  A few conversations later and we had four families signed up to go.
8 adults.  9 kids.  1 house on the beach.

This will either be the setting for a National Lampoon comedy or a Wes Craven horror film.  We found out recently that our vacation coincides with Biker Week in OBX.  So again – comedy or horror.  It’s a toss up.  What our group lacks in collective OBX experience, we make for in good humor.  Still, I’m hoping that no one dies in a horrific hot tub “accident”, especially yours truly who has been known to exude a certain rigidness that inspires people to want to drown me.
So for my own protection, I thought I propose some ground rules for the adults to consider upon our arrival:
  1. It takes a village. We are permitted to yell at any child at any time for any reason.  In fact, it would be preferable for parents to yell at children who are not their own because first, the kids will actually listen and second, it will make the real parents look so much nicer.
  2. Audibles encouraged. If a trip to shop for crafts or a fishing expedition seemed like a good idea at the time but has since gone rapidly down hill, pivot fast and don’t look back.
  3. Avoid the Bataan Death March. The likelihood of everyone wanting to do the same thing every day is low.  Do not force the children – or the adults – to participate in activities they do no want to do for the sake of being together.  Happy trumps together.  Say it with me.
  4. Hold your stones. I promise not to judge you when sleep past 10 a.m. if you don’t judge me when I want to go to bed at 9.  At least I won’t judge you out loud.  To anyone but my husband.  And anyone else within earshot.
  5. Pack light. I don’t mean you shouldn’t bring a carload of crap.  You should absolutely do that.  What I mean is leave all emotional baggage at home in Philly.  I need this advice more than anyone as I am already fretting about the work that will be waitng for me – or happening without me.    My goal is to be light and breezy, break free of my Type A shackles, and just enjoy being together with some of our closest friends and family.
Vacation is a gift – but only if you take it.  OBX – here we come.

For more fun, funny, and thought-provoking posts from Emily, I encourage you to regularly visit Mothers of Brothers. Great stuff!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Adventures in Racing, Girl Scouts, Puppetry, and Bad Guys

After another rough night day week month, I was going to write about the insidious nature of depression. But that’s depressing. So I thought maybe I’d cheer myself up and get a laugh out of you by recapping my Saturday adventures.

It started with my first 5K. A "5K 2Care 4Kids," to be exact. My church was sponsoring the event to raise money for education for kids in Haiti and Liberia. I helped promote it from the pulpit, explaining that you didn’t have to run to participate because I, for one, only run when chased. So I showed up, dressed to run because the clothes are cute, but ready to walk. Rob was planning to run, and Abby was undecided until the last minute when she confidently announced that she was running with the intent to win. We got those cool little number bibs that make you feel like a real athlete, and off we went, Rob and Abby at the front of the pack, and me hanging back with the stroller brigade.

Those three miles were filled with lots of chatter, fellowship with friends, laughter, and tears. For a change the tears belonged to the little ones, not me. Abby finished with an impressive 10 minute mile (having never run a race in her life), and I finished. In less than an hour. Barely. But to be fair, I did double back a few times to catch up with friends and take my turn pushing little ones in strollers. I’m sure if it hadn’t been for those detours I’d have finished with a strong 17 minute mile. I should also note that yesterday my doctor told me that my iron levels are so low I’ll never run a marathon. So that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

With my runner’s “high” in full effect, I left the race and headed off to the day’s second activity: chaperoning Abby’s Girl Scout troop’s visit to the Children’s Festival in Philadelphia. I was in such a good mood I didn’t even mind being stuck with 19 eight-to-eleven year-old girls, usually my definition of hell on earth. We enjoyed an uneventful train ride into the city with a fresh but funny ticket guy, strolled through U Penn’s surprisingly gorgeous campus, made some arts and crafts, watched an interpretive hula hoop dance, listened to African drumming and then headed in to the theater for the performance of Basil Twist’s Petrushka, a Russian puppet show.

Floating Instruments
Now I like to consider myself a cultured person. I enjoy foreign films with subtitles, after all, but I have to admit I sat there thinking, “What the hell is this?” I shared baffled looks with my personal group of 4th graders as we became hypnotized by floating instruments, airborne hens, balls of light and giant spinning wheels, until graced by the presence of a ballet dancer who flirted mercilessly with both a clown and a muscle-bound machete-carrying African dude. The whole thing was bizarre as hell incredibly abstract until the point where Mr. Muscles takes the ballerina lays her down and starts making out with her. I’m thinking “You go literal now?? With a bunch of kids at a children’s festival?” The show ends with Mr. Testosterone chasing Mr. Clown through a forest complete with an over-sized bear and killing him with a machete to the back. Children's entertainment at its finest.

The make-out puppets
The puppeteers came out after the show and conducted an illuminating Q&A with the audience. And thankfully one of the Girl Scouts asked what everyone else was thinking: “What was that about?” I later learned that one of the youngest girls with us took another leader aside and asked the really important question “Why was that dude on the ballerina? What was that all about?

Having received our dose of artistry and culture for the day, and having earned our “freaky puppet show” Girl Scout badge, our gaggle of girls made its way back to the train station. And that’s when what little maternal instinct I possess was set to high alert by the presence of what I’m fairly sure was a predator with a shoe or foot fetish. An older gentleman, maybe in his 60s, nicely dressed in a Ralph Lauren sweater and khakis, was strolling about the platform with a slight grin on his face. He watched my girls with obvious pleasure, and repeatedly focused his beady little eyes on their shoes. Or perhaps he was trying to see through them to their little girl feet. But it wasn’t just the little girls he seemed enamored with. I also saw him checking out a couple of the other moms (and their feet). Let's just say I may not be able to run a 10-minute mile, but I was more than prepared to kick 100% of his creepy ass.

So that was my Saturday. An interesting day to say the least. And far more entertaining and blog-worthy than this pesky depression crap I'm dealing with. Writing is becoming more of a challenge these days, so bear with me till we get the meds straightened out :-).

Till next time...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Freakin' Angel Discovers Harmful Effects of Social Media

You know how sensitive I am. In fact, I'm pretty sure I've started at least one blog post with those very words. Maybe more than one. So for part 2 in a series of "Pity Party Posts" we're going to address the harmful effects of social media on self-esteem.

You probably know I've been obsessed immersed in this social media thing for a while now. I'd say I'm majoring in Facebook with a minor in blogging and a certificate in Twitter. No one, meaning me, was getting hurt in my foray into the big bad world of cyberspace. I hadn't even withheld intimate relations punished my husband for having a couple hundred more Facebook friends than me.

But as you've heard a few million times now, that darn social media marketing course came along and changed everything. When I learned you have to read others' blogs in order to find new readers for your own, I started reading this Scary Mommy blog. Scary mommies seem to fit my style. And that's when it hit me. Social media is just another way to feel badly about yourself.

I recently read one post Scary Mommy wrote about 80s sequels. It elicited 101 comments, 16 tweets, and 65 likes. She proudly notes on her site that she's been seen in Parenting, CNN, MSNBC, Redbook, Baltimore Magazine, The New York Times and Ms. Freakin' Angels, on the other hand, has been mentioned nowhere other than in front of my aunts at the diner for breakfast. On a good day I get three comments, 6 likes, and no tweets.  

Damn. It's high school all over again.Wondering if anyone will vote for you for homecoming queen, ask you to a movie, invite you to their party, or sign your yearbook. Waiting in the shadows for someone to friend you. Or like you. Or invite you to join their group.

Today we wait to be Friended or Liked (Facebook), Followed, Retweeted or Mentioned (Twitter), Invited (LinkedIn) and Followed or Commented on (blogs). There are entire sites dedicated to helping you find out how popular you are. You can check out,, Google Alerts, Twilert, and Google Page Rank, or search bookmarking sites like digg, reddit, delicious and Technorati for mentions of your name. For the record, I show up nowhere.

I'm fairly certain there will be an entirely new branch of psychotherapy to deal with people traumatized by social media.

In an effort to protect me from the harmful effects of social media and the expensive therapy bills I foresee in my future, how about both of you you do the following for this post:
  • Comment on it
  • Like it
  • Tweet it
  • Bookmark it
And if you're not already, please join as a Freakin' Angel follower. And follow me on Twitter @freakinangel. And be my friend. And invite me to dinner. And your parties. And to the prom. Thanks a million.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Is More Ever Enough?

Warning: This post is being written in a weepy, tired, and frustrated state. The blogger will not be held responsible for the contents of this post. 

This is the first in a series of "Pity-Party Posts." 

Do you ever wonder if you could be more than you are? Or maybe you don't even wonder about it. Maybe you're pretty certain you could be more than you are. Maybe most days you don't think about it at all and you're completely satisfied with life as you know it. But perhaps once in a while it occurs to you that you're messing up if you're not maxing out on your potential. That's where I'm stuck right now.

I'm blaming the stupid social media marketing course I took last month. Actually, it has nothing to do with that particular course, which wasn't stupid at all. It's just that going back to school, even for one week, made me think about what I'm doing with my career and what I could be doing and probably should be doing. It's not that I want to change careers or even where I work (because my employer is actually a blessing in my life, seriously), but I think I could be doing more. More publicity. More sales. More social media. More promotions. I could be learning more by reading more in the trades, on twitter, in white papers, in newsletters, on websites. I could be setting trends, leading the way, displaying innovative marketing techniques for small non-profit publishers everywhere. I could be writing articles, speaking at conferences, being sought out as an expert.

Of course if I were able to do all that would I be able to teach Sunday school, or serve as president of the PTO, or volunteer at the animal shelter, or teach English as a second language? Oh, that's right. I'm not doing any of those things either.

It must be because I'm spending all my time playing with my kids, and cooking great meals, and decorating the house.

Um, no.

So I could be doing more, lots more, for my family and my community, too. 

I'm struck by the irony of feeling completely overwhelmed while feeling guilty for not doing more. Of not living up to my potential. And all these feelings are serving only to stymie any ability I may have to more forward. I think it's called the "paralysis of analysis."

And I wonder how we know when we're done doing more. Do we ever reach our potential? Do we ever feel there's nothing left to do, or will I be lying on my deathbed apologizing for not giving life my best effort?

And when I hit the button that says "Publish Post" I'm going to feel badly for not giving you something humorous which is what you really want and expect from me. And I'm going to wonder if you think I should have saved this kind of stream of consciousness bull crap for my personal journal not my public blog. And I'm pretty certain these kinds of posts will lose me readers, not get me more. And that's contrary to today's theme of "more."

But I'll take my chances. Count on the kindness of strangers and committed Freakin' Angels. And hope you'll stay tuned for my next Pity Party Post: "Technology Offers New Ways to Feel Bad About Yourself."

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Bitch and a Laugh

With apologies to poet T.S. Eliot, I would have to say that March is the cruelest month (Eliot bestowed that honor on April). In addition to the extremely crappy weather, in March I lost my dog, had sewage back up into my newly-finished basement, spent my children's college education on home expenses above and beyond expectations, and wrapped up the month with a sinus infection and bronchitis that left me bedridden for the better part of this past week. Still, I'm trying to keep it in perspective, count my blessings, yada, yada, yada. 

Since a real blog post isn't in the cards for me right now, I'm going to share this quite delightful bit from British writer, actor and self-described tall person, John Cleese. And if you need a movie to watch in between Phillies games this weekend, in tribute to Mr. Cleese, go rent "A Fish Called Wanda" and have a laugh for me (I'd do it myself but it still hurts too much).

The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent events in Libya and have therefore raised their security level from "Miffed" to "Peeved." Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to "Irritated" or even "A Bit Cross." The English have not been "A Bit Cross" since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies nearly ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from "Tiresome" to "A Bloody Nuisance." The last time the British issued a "Bloody Nuisance" warning level was in 1588, when threatened by the Spanish Armada.

The Scots have raised their threat level from "Pissed Off" to "Let's get the Bastards." They don't have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line of the British army for the last 300 years.

The French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from "Run" to "Hide." The only two higher levels in France are "Collaborate" and "Surrender." The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France 's white flag factory, effectively paralyzing the country's military capability.

Italy has increased the alert level from "Shout Loudly and Excitedly" to "Elaborate Military Posturing."  Two more levels remain: "Ineffective Combat Operations" and "Change Sides."

The Germans have increased their alert state from "Disdainful Arrogance" to "Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs." They also have two higher levels: "Invade a Neighbor" and "Lose."

Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual; the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels .

The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy.

Australia , meanwhile, has raised its security level from "No worries" to "She'll be alright, Mate." Two more escalation levels remain: "Crikey! I think we'll need to cancel the barbie this weekend!" and "The barbie is canceled." So far no situation has ever warranted use of the final escalation level.

 -- John Cleese - British writer, actor and tall person