Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Popcorn was Better than Some of the Flicks

It was not a great movie year and the holdays did not bring out the big hitters like they usually do. In fact, I only went to the theater four times in the past week. Those four flicks included:
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • We Bought a Zoo
  • Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol
  • Sherlock Holmes
They were all...good, fine, okay. None of them blew me away. Maybe it's me, maybe my expectations are too high? Of all the movies I saw in 2011, here are my top 10:
  1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. A fitting tribute to a remarkable series.
  2. Crazy, Stupid Love. Ahhh...
  3. The Descendants. George Clooney is George Clooney regardless of the role he's in (does that make sense?) The good news is that George Clooney is always exceptional. This movie is powerful with well-timed moments of humor that make the heaviness bearable.
  4. Crazy, Stupid Love. A stellar romantic comedy? This is one of the best. LOVE Emma Stone. "Seriously? It's like you're photoshopped!"
  5. The Help. Loved the book, thought the movie did it justice.
  6. Ides of March. Second movie with Ryan Gosling. This is no coincidence.
  7. Super 8. Fun, action-packed, Stand by Me meets E.T.
  8. Bridesmaids. Not the raunch fest I expected. Lots of laughs with surprising heart.
  9. Horrible Bosses. Jennifer Aniston at her best.
  10. Win Win. You can always count on Paul Giamatti to deliver a fine performance. This is one of the more moving films I saw this year.
  11. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Also a faithful translation from book to film. Great acting. Not sure whether I liked it as much as the Swedish version.
To be fair, I didn't meet my movie quota for the year. There are still a bunch I want to see that may very well be top 10 material. These include:
  • The Muppets
  • Moneyball
  • Tree of Life
  • The Artist
  • Midnight in Paris
  • Drive (#3 with Ryan Gosling, no coincidence)
  • War Horse
  • Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
This post is ripe for your comments. Let's hear 'em!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I Waded Into the Vast Wasteland, Just for You

It's okay. Relax. I'm back. Been busy eating and drinking my way through the Christmas holiday, but now it's time to diet and exercise get back in the swing of things, at least until Saturday when the debauchery resumes.

As we approach a new year and all that it represents, I think it's important to reflect on where we've been. Is the "old" worth our attention in 2012 or is it time for new beginnings? Yes, you guessed it. It's time for my Fall 2011 new television lineup review. 

On September 14, I tackled the important subject of my television viewing habits. I explained my disinterest in reality programming (except for "America's Next Top Model" and "Project Runway," which aren't "real" at all), and noted that the only other shows I watched regularly were "Glee" and "White Collar." Interestingly, I had forgotten all about "White Collar" until I reread that post. And frankly, I'm not sure about "Glee" this season. Those teens are having more sex than I am

The rest of my "Fire Up the DVR and Get This Party Started" post consisted of what I considered to be a top ten list of the then-upcoming new fall programming. Strictly for research purposes, I watched a couple episodes of most of these programs so that I could report back to you and help you decide how to spend your valuable down time in the new year. So here, in the same 9/14/11 sequence:

The Fall 2011 TV Program Review

"Mind Candy" for when you want something light.
  1.  Up All Night with Christina Applegate and Will Arnett, a comedy about new parents and a wacky boss.Very funny. Not too heavy on cutesy baby stuff. Relateable. 
  2.  Hart of Dixie with Rachel Bilson, about a big city doctor/girl who finds herself adapting to life in a small southern town. The story lines are woefully thin (almost as thin as Rachel Bilson), the acting is mediocre at best, and yep, I like it. It's basically a romantic comedy and you know I'm a sucker for those despite how trite they are. We all deserve a guilty pleasure. And besides, I don't expect it will last long.
  3.  Pan Am with Christina Ricci. She gets top billing but is the least interesting character on the show. I like this program, too. The whole "stewardess as undercover courier" is a bit weird, but since it's apparently based on fact, we'll go with it. 
  4.  Person of Interest with Jim Caviezel. He's the deep, dark, brooding type and that just doesn't do it for me. 
  5.  Broke Girls is the number one head-scratcher for me. Apparently this lame comedy with two incredibly annoying no-name actresses is a hit. 
  6.  Two and a Half Men with Ashton Kutcher. Used to love Ashton Kutcher in rom-coms. The bloom is off the rose. 
  7.  A Gifted Man with Patrick Wilson is sappy and wonderful. And Patrick Wilson is incredibly easy on the eyes. I imagine it's very popular with the 60+ audience, kinda like "Touched by an Angel" and "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman."
  8.  Once Upon a Time with Ginnifer Goodwin is good fun. You sound like an idiot if you try to explain the show to someone who doesn't watch it, but basically it's a fairy-tale drama in which a group of fairy-tale characters trapped in a Maine town are cursed into forgetting their true identities. Got that?
  9.  Homeland with Claire Danes is getting great buzz, but unfortunately I haven't seen it. Should've noted that it was on Showtime when I added it to this list. I don't have Showtime.
  10.  Finally, I never got really desperate so I never watched the already-cancelled Playboy Club
So there you have it. In the unlikely event that someone disagrees with me (doesn't it always surprise you when someone whom you think is intelligent and has good taste doesn't agree with you?), let's hear it!

Coming Soon: Top 10 Movies of 2011 and The Top 10 Books I Read in 2011.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Thoughts? I Must Have the Wrong Blog...

Alright, I admit it. For much of this year, I've been a grouch, a grump, and most recently a Grinch. It's a wonder the two of you still read my blog. In an effort to get in your good graces before 2011 comes to a close, I'd like to share some happy thoughts on this eve of Christmas Eve: 

  • Abby and friends surrounding my dining room table, flour everywhere, cookie cutters scattered about, sprinkles at the ready, crafting the yummiest part of Christmas
  • Christmas cards from friends near and far. For many years I've been saving those photo cards of friends' children. I enjoy the nostalgic trip down memory lane when I see how the years have turned them from mere babes to youth and young adults. 
  • The Christmas tree. Yes, decorating was on my list of bah humbugs in my Dec. 8 post, but there's something about hanging the ornaments on the tree that warms the heart of even a Grinch like me. I especially love those that remind me of family vacations and special getaways, and others that mark my wedding day and baby's first Christmas. And then there are the priceless handmade gems from the kids' early years of Sunday school classes.
  • My annual theatrical performance. Not to be confused with my daily dramas. For the past two years, I've been asked to participate in the skit for the children's Christmas Eve church service. Last year was my big debut when I impressed children and theater critics alike with my convincing performance of an evergreen tree. This year I am playing the role of "Stage Manager" for "Idol Schmidel," a singing competition where the audience helps select the Next False Idol. Get it? I'll be signing autographs after the service which begins at 5:00 p.m. 
  • And speaking of church, Advent Sundays with Pastor Bill's messages of Faith, Hope, Joy and Love have provided important reminders of what the season is all about.
As wonderful as these thoughts and experiences are, my favorite Christmas moment occurred this morning while reading the newspaper. Yes, you read that right. The newspaper, a daily harbinger of gloom and doom, manages to find plenty of stories of goodness and charity and hope and love during the Christmas season. In today's Philadelphia Inquirer, I was moved by these stories:

  • In Coatesville, an anonymous donor had 40 turkeys he decided should go to the city's most-deserving residents. Police officer Rodger Ollis decided to have some fun with the opportunity, and gave the gift to those who had performed a public service or were simply "caught doing something right."
  • A body shop in Woodbury refurbished a car for a previously homeless woman who supported her sons and put a roof over their heads with her job at McDonald's. Each day, regardless of the weather, she took the bus to her job and to her children's caregiver, never complaining about the inconveniences. The expense of a car was never within reach.  She's astounded by her newfound freedom, a freedom most of us never consider. 
  • Across the country, Layaway Angels have been paying off others' balances at stores like Kmart and Walmart. 
  • In Cheltenham, Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church paid the $68,000 tab of hundreds of shoppers who'd bought clothes on layaway at the Burlington Coat Factory.
  • David Pincus passed away from leukemia on Wednesday. The 85-year-old humanitarian devoted himself to relieving the suffering of children. The paper described him as "fond of basset hounds, stiff martinis, athletics, and monumental acts of generosity." Now there's a guy I'd have liked to know.
What if the newspaper shared an equally uplifting story every day of the year? Would more of us be inspired to give back, to help someone in need, to simply appreciate the gifts we've been given?

Here's wishing you and yours a most Merry Christmas and a New Year full of goodness, charity, hope, and love!

Monday, December 19, 2011

And the Award for Mother of the Year Goes to...

My son Ian has had a fairly rough year, and I'm not just referring to the regular abuse he takes from Abby. Normally a pretty healthy kid, the latter half of 2011 has been one medical issue after another. There was the fall from the Media Theatre stage which left him with a broken finger. There was a spider bite that infected his foot while he was about 10 hours from home on a church youth group trip. There was the virus which caused him to miss the first two days of 8th grade (it's always a freakin' virus, isn't it? Never the bacterial kind you can treat with antibiotics). And there were at least two other bouts with a bug that left him down for the count.

Being the less-than-compassionate cautiously caring mom that I am, on most several of these occasions I suggested Ian suck it up persevere:
  • You should go to karate class, just don't use that hand with the broken finger.
  • Put a sock on to cover the infection and hop around on your other foot. 
  • You're not really too sick to go to school are you? 
  • Go to school and call me if it doesn't work out.
It's not just because I'm heartless maternally-challenged that I encourage Ian to deal with it work through adversity. It's because Ian's such a good actor. I mean, seriously, the kid has talent. Those dramatic proclivities, however, make it difficult to discern just how sick he is. And being the suspicious and mistrusting perceptive mom that I am, I naturally assume the kid's laying on a thick layer of pathetic and not nearly as ill as he'd have us believe.

So today I sent Ian to school with a sore throat that had him miserable yesterday. Given that he was able to sit upright to play video games and even talk online with his friends, I assumed a dose of Tylenol was all he needed to get his butt outta bed and go to school today. I guess I assumed wrong. Around 11:00 a.m., the nurse called me. The conversation went something like this:
This is Nurse Betty*. Ian is in my office with a sore throat. He said you knew he had a sore throat and that he was sick yesterday. Are his tonsils normally swollen? Some kids have naturally enlarged tonsils. 
I don't think he always has swollen tonsils. The doctor never mentioned it.
Well, they're a little swollen today. He doesn't have a fever, but he looks just miserable. I used to work at your elementary school and don't recall Ian have been to the nurse's office more than a handful of times. And I've only seen him once before in the three years he's been at the middle school. Do you want to call the doctor? Should I give him some ibuprofen? 
Yes, I'll call the doctor and I'll come pick him up now.
Fellow moms know exactly what Nurse Betty was really saying:
You knew Ian had a sore throat and was sick as a dog and you sent him to school anyway. You're an unfit parent. 
How is it you don't know the size of your child's tonsils?
Based on how rarely I see this fine young man, Ian is not faking his condition. 
Call the doctor and pick him up immediately. You're an unfit parent.
Looks like I'm not winning the Mother of the Year Award...

*Name has been changed to protect the innocent.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Guest Selection 101

If you're like most people, the Christmas season will provide you with a fair number of opportunities to celebrate with family and friends. (Unless you're me. I have no plans. Call me.) What the hostesses with the mostesses know about entertaining is the critical importance of having the proper guest list. It's like preparing a great meal. The combination of dishes and the ingredients in those dishes can determine your meal's success. While I know nothing about preparing a great meal, I have recently given thought to the subtleties involved with guest selection.

In the best case scenario, you want to be certain your core group of friends or family members will attend the event in question. This core group is made up of those special folks whose company you will enjoy regardless of whether anyone else shows up. The Freakin' Angels are such a group. As are our less than angelic, but equally fun heathen non-church friends. You know who you are.

The importance of having this foundation in place cannot be overstated. Without it, your entire guest list becomes a gamble. Let's face it. There are folks you should consider want to invite because they are part of the larger group of friends (or they're members of your family and you don't have a choice), but whom you would not want to entertain without the core group in place. Admit it. If you've ever planned a party, you know exactly who I am referring to. These individuals tend to:

  • Talk a lot. About themselves. Loudly.
  • Not talk at all or fall asleep.
  • Drink too much (and they're not "fun drunks").
  • Overstay their welcome.
  • Complain. 
  • Make inappropriate jokes.
  • Fail to compliment the hostess ad nauseum.
  • Have children who annoy you and whom they bring to every get-together.
  • Talk politics and/or theology.
  • Cook better, dress better, have better hair, decorate better, and/or make more money than you.
Should you invite these folks and your core group fails to show, the entire event could be a disaster.

Another risk in event planning is the guest combination. Unless you have 75+ attendees, you may want to pay particular attention to the group dynamics. It can be risky to combine family with the work folks, the church folks, and the going-straight-to-hell folks. In the event you find your guest list to be more than a bit random, it is best to invite what I like to call the "folks without shame." These pathetic individuals will talk to complete strangers, regardless of how they look, their lineage, their career path, or their stock portfolio. While this kind of behavior is completely unacceptable to some of us, it's actually ideal for a social gathering with questionable group dynamics. I actually know a number of these individuals and would like to embarrass name them here in case you're planning a party and need to hire them.
  • Cathie H.
  • Shamina A.
  • Dave A.
  • Karen S. (aka "Mom")
  • Karen H. 
  • Theresa B.
  • Pedro A.
I'm sure I'm missing a few, so if you feel you deserve to be on this list of desperately friendly folks, give me a call. And invite me to your next party while you're at it.

Well, I believe that covers most everything in Guest Selection 101. If you think I've missed anything, leave a comment (you know comments make my day, right?). And please, don't lose any sleep worrying about whether you're a core group person, an "I don't want to be alone with them" person, or a social butterfly. We all have our place on the social ladder of life. 

Here's hoping all your holiday festivities have just the right mix of guests. And God Bless Us Everyone!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Itchy, Itchy, Scratchy, Scratchy, Ooh I got One Down My Backy

I have always been a fan of primates. There’s the human family resemblance and advanced skill set, and I really appreciate the way they take care of each other. The kids want another dog, but I'm thinking of adopting an ape, chimpanzee, or snow monkey. I could use the assistance with grooming.

Particularly when dealing with a case of head lice.

See, with Ian, Rob and I having enjoyed foot infections, broken fingers, back surgery, and shingles this year, Abby felt left out. Being competitive by nature, she decided to join the fun with, yep, you guessed it.

The call came from the school nurse late Friday afternoon, ensuring an auspicious start to the weekend. Rob was the one at home for the walk of shame pick up and shampoo round of treatment, while I was lucky enough to return in time for the actual “nit-picking.” While my family would say that I excel in nit-picking, as originally defined, it turns out nit-picking is not one of my strengths. Flake or nit? That is the question. I spent at least an hour going through my daughter’s past-shoulder-length hair, scratching my own head every 15 seconds in the process.

Once the mark of pariahs, it appears that today nits and louses are no big deal. Perhaps because vampires are in vogue, we no longer get worked up about blood suckers. My daughter actually seemed disappointed yesterday when she went to school with the all-clear (or clear enough) from the nurse, particularly because two of her friends were sent home with the creepy crawlers. Like I said, she’s very competitive.

Lice Lifters to the rescue!
Today I went through Abby’s hair again (this will be a daily ritual for the next week or two, hence my need for primate assistance). The good news is that I’m getting better at recognizing the little buggers, the bad news is that I'm still finding the little buggers. The good news is that I may not have to go it alone for long. Forgoing the use of our four-legged relatives, I have learned that there are now brilliant money-making schemes businesses that actually remove head lice for you. Apparently the over-the-counter stuff is no longer doing the trick and with fewer moms staying home to take care of crap like this, some enterprising folks have found a way to ensure a clean bill of hair. One of Abby's friends used a service called Lice Happens which, for a paltry $295, will come to your house and take care of the critters, guaranteed. Another service, Lice Lifters, charges $175 if you come to them.

If I'm still finding these blood suckers tomorrow, I may have to make the call and spend the cash. Think Abby'd be willing to consider it a Christmas present?

And did I mention how freakin' itchy I am?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Anticipation or Angst?

For the past few years, the Christmas season has thrown me into an emotional and mental tailspin. My inner Grinch first appears when I see retailers' holiday displays in October, and hear carols before we've reached Thanksgiving. By the time Black Thursday night rolls around, I'm in quite a state (You crazy shoppers can't even wait till Friday morning at 5:00 a.m.?)

As a Christian, this time leading up to Christmas (also known as Advent) is supposed to be about the waiting, the anticipation of the birth of Christ. The societal madness, however, turns it into a time of rushing and decorating and shopping and planning; the complete opposite of waiting. I'm sure if I was a better Christian I could just overlook the craziness of the season and focus my heart and mind on Jesus. Instead, I get grumpy.

A major factor in my grumpiness is the whole gift-giving aspect of Christmas. Each year my children provide me with their wish lists (which I confess to requesting), and each year that list is made up of more expensive items than the year before. This causes me a good deal of frustration because:
  1. If I cut back on the number of gifts since they cost more, the tree will look bare and the kids will be disappointed in having just a couple items to open.
  2. Since they were mere babes, I have been conditioning them to expect a substantial pile of loot and I can't do a 180 now.
  3. These gifts will mean nothing to them in a year (I'll be lucky if they interest them that long). I'm willing to bet neither of them can remember what they received last Christmas.
  4. There are so many children in this world, country, state, and in nearby communities who have nothing. Kids who are asking Santa for food, a home, a job for an unemployed parent.  
  5. My children already have so much.
It's not that my children are undeserving of gifts or unappreciative of what they receive. They're both great kids (when they're not trying to kill each other). It's just that I can't get past the thought of those in need. Even buying gifts for those less fortunate, which I do for church and work, doesn't ease my discomfort.

I think another factor in my grouchiness is the sense of obligation I feel during this season. I have to decorate the house. I have to send Christmas cards. I have to make a real meal if it's my turn to play hostess. I have to buy gifts for my kids, my nephew and nieces, my parents, and my husband. It's not that I dislike decorating, sending cards, or buying gifts (although I do dislike cooking), but I like to do these things when the spirit moves me. I enjoy giving someone a gift to surprise them, to show my love when they least expect it. Hitting and ordering a bunch of stuff just doesn't have the same appeal.

Finally, Christmas Day goes by too quickly and with too little fanfare. Ironic, isn't it? The build up is overwhelming and the day-of falls flat. Opening gifts takes all of 15 minutes and then everyone goes to their separate corners to play with their new toys. The rest of the day is just like any other with a fairly quiet "real meal" with my parents or Rob's family thrown in. I wish I could spend Christmas surrounded by large numbers of family and friends with laughter, food, drink, music, and merriment. Invitations being accepted at

I know many of you have been reading this saying to yourself, "These are your choices, Kim. You don't have to do anything." In theory, you're right. In reality, it's not that simple.

I welcome your suggestions on how I can make the entire season of Christmas merry. My husband and kids would appreciate your advice!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Focus, Commitment, and Perseverance, Oh My!

Our school district has a strong fencing program which Ian participated in last year. Unfortunately, the practice facility moved off-site, membership fees dramatically increased, and Ian wasn't interested enough to make the extra effort and financial investment worthwhile. The other night he mentioned that one of his classmates is now a Junior Olympian in the sport and I asked him if he wished he was still involved. He told me "no" and noted "it would take me about three years to catch up."

Being the pain in the ass thoughtfully concerned mother that I am, I casually responded to Ian's comment, saying:
That's the trouble with kids today. It's interesting that you say that. You don't know what commitment and perseverance mean. I think your generation struggles with commitment and perseverance because life as you know it doesn't require it. You expect to have what you want when you want it immediate results because that's the way things work for you most of the time. Commitment and perseverance involve focus, and it's difficult to focus your attention on one hobby, sport, or talent when life throws new information, entertainment, and opportunities at you at the speed of light. 
Conditioned to life at 4G speeds, it almost seems absurd to ask or expect a kid to invest YEARS mastering anything. They simply aren't used to anything taking time. I have seen this lack of stick-to-it-iveness before with Ian. Regardless of whether he formerly enjoyed an activity, he easily becomes bored and wants to move on. I really believe today's technology conditions kids this way and I expect it will only become worse.

As is the case with most of my posts, I don't have an answer for my conundrum. I suppose I'm pulling a D. Herbert Lipson here (see If Anyone's Going to Insult My Kids, It's Gonna Be Me); just venting and casting a wide net with my fault-finding. The good news is that Ian saw the point I was trying to make during our conversation. The bad news is that he agreed with me, admitted there was nothing he could envision enjoying for years at a time, and will quite possibly see this conversation as justification for the way he is things are.

Two weeks ago Ian joined the gym where Rob and I work out. He's been enjoying weight training and is looking forward to impressing the ladies with his fine physique. I must admit I have had my hopes up that this might be something he could stick with. That was until last night when we were leaving the health club together. Ian pulled up his t-shirt, checked out his abs, and upon discovering that he had not yet developed a six-pack, announced:
This exercising stuff isn't working at all. I quit.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Heaven Gains an Angel

My daughter, like many children, has a favorite saying in times of disappointment:
It's Not Fair.
To which I reply, like every other parent:
Life's Not Fair.
Today I would like to add that death, especially, is not fair.

Yesterday the world lost--and heaven gained--a freakin' angel. Ann Bates lost her second battle with brain cancer. While we take some small measure of comfort in knowing she is restored and at peace, we grieve for our loss. We grieve that Ann leaves behind her young son Nicholas, her husband Chris, her parents, and all her extended family and friends.

Despite pretending via this blog to be a writer, words have a way of failing me when they really count. In particular, moments when my freakin' angel friends offer Scripture to comfort and ease the pain of suffering, I am woefully inadequate. I especially struggle to "pray well with others." All I know is that God somehow let us down. He took from us someone unbelievably good, with a kind and generous spirit, a beautiful smile, an unshakable faith, an inspiring level of love for family, friends, and strangers alike, and a penchant for medical terminology and extra-long conversations. Perhaps God just needed someone like Ann up there with Him. Though I would certainly argue that we need the Anns of the world right here on earth with us.

I have written about our dear Ann before, four times in fact, most recently during my "mad as hell" phase. Please see the April 20, 2010 post to read what her Freakin' Angel friends had to say about her during happier times, shortly before she and her family moved to Princeton.

I leave you with this quote from Scripture as shared by our friend Theresa:

...I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly you will find me. I will be found by you, says the Lord. I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and bring you home again to your own land. -- Jeremiah 29: 10-14, New Living Translation
Welcome home, Ann.