Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 Movies in Review

I know you've been asking yourself, "When will she post her annual movie year-in-review?" The wait is over.

Honestly, I thought it was a mediocre-at-best year for movies. Nothing really moved me or made my top 10 or even top 25 favorite-movies-ever list. Because of this, rather than tell you which ones I liked or didn't like, I decided to kick it up a notch and present my own award categories. For those of you who must know which films I actually recommend, I've added the urls. Now, without further ado, here are Freakin' Angel's top 15 Memorable Movies from 2012

For eye-candy purposes only
  1. Best Ending Unless You Like 'Em Happy:
    "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" (Steve Carrell and Keira Knightley)
  2. Best Non-Gratuitous Use of Sex:
    "The Sessions" (Helen Hunt)
  3. Best (and I use that term loosely) Use of Bods over Brains:
    "Magic Mike" (Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey)
  4. Least Enjoyable Kid's Movie:
    The Odd Life of Timothy Green (Jennifer Garner)
  5. Greatest Visual Appeal in an Ultimately Underwhelming Movie:
    "The Life of Pi"
  6. The Best Use of Awkward Teens:
    The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  7. Best-Suited for the Hallmark Channel or Lifetime (a.k.a. You shouldn't have paid to see this):
    "The Lucky One" (Zac Efron)
  8. Best Use of Chris Rock in a Polka-Dot Wig:
    "Madagascar 3"
  9. The "I'd Watch Justin Timberlake in Anything, but Clint's getting Old and Surly" Movie:
    "Trouble with the Curve" (Justin Timberlake, Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams)
  10. The Year's Most Bipolar Film (Is it a drama, comedy, sports flick, or romance?):
    "Silver Linings Play Book" (Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence)
  11. Best Use of Hip Waders:
    "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen"
  12. Least Accurately Represented by its Commercials:
    "Flight" (Denzel Washington)
  13. The Indie Film Most Awkwardly Teetering Between Fantasy & Reality:
    "Ruby Sparks"
  14. The "Oh Crap, That Could Be Us Someday" movie:
    "Hope Springs" (Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones)
  15. The "Oh Crap, That's Us Now" movie:
    "This is 40" (Paul Ruud and the actress with the annoying voice)
I haven't nagged you about leaving comments recently, but this post cries out for your response. What categories and films would you add to the list?

Next up: Books of the Year!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Random Musings, Volume 5

After Tuesday's post, let's keep it light today with a new edition of Random Musings.
  1. Why do people buy the super cheap toilet paper when it just requires you to use 5x as much to wipe? Even I buy decent toilet paper, and that's saying something.
  2. Speaking of bathrooms, in your office restroom, do you wait in the stall until everyone else has left? Because, yikes!, what if they heard you? These are the same people who flush while they're going because their bodily noises are so much different from the rest of ours.
  3. One more bathroom-related thought: Despite hand soap having been in liquid or foaming form for years, I still wet my hands first. I have no idea whether this is necessary.
  4. It can be difficult to get your husband's attention at times. One surefire way to get him to speak to you is to reduce the number of sports channels you get in your cable package. Of course, there's no guarantee you're going to like what he says.
  5. Don't you love bite-size candy? Did you know bite-size is industry lingo for "they'll eat lots more this way?"
  6. Why do we still sign credit card slips? Is someone actually looking at them?
  7. Buffets are a bad idea for cheap frugal people. We They overeat just to get our their money's worth.
  8. Is there a rule regarding how many days or weeks have to pass before you can wear the same outfit to school or work again?
  9. I love that boots are so popular. My mismatched socks have been given new life.
  10. I don't mind looking unpresentable when going out in public in the area where I currently live, but I wouldn't be caught dead looking that way when I'm out in public in my hometown. You just don't want the people who knew you 25 years ago to think you've fallen apart. The people who know you now assume you've always looked that way. 
Finally, I leave you with two bonus musings with a Christmas theme:
  1. Please don't put a to-from sticker on the gift bag you're using for my present (subliminal message). You realize I want to reuse that bag, right? I'm running dangerously low, and may be forced to purchase some. Gasp!
  2. If the gift you're giving requires batteries, for God's sake include them! The same applies to the necessary items for juicers (fruit), journals (a nice pen), and televisions (a year's worth of cable television).
Now it's time for you to log off and mail me a check for the Silvertones Twelfth Night Revelry on Jan. 12. Don't miss it!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My Own Words Fail Me

Aside from pure grief and heartbreak, a response to Friday's tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut seems  nearly impossible to articulate. Over the past few days, however, I have read a number of Facebook posts and news articles that offered words that resonated with me. I thought I'd put them together here and share them with you.

From "I am Adam Lanza's mother," by Liza Long, Huffington Post

[Upon taking her son to the hospital during one of his angry and threatening episodes] On the intake form, under the question, “What are your expectations for treatment?” I wrote, “I need help.”

And I do. This problem is too big for me to handle on my own. Sometimes there are no good options. So you just pray for grace and trust that in hindsight, it will all make sense.

No one wants to send a 13-year old genius who loves Harry Potter and his snuggle animal collection to jail. But our society, with its stigma on mental illness and its broken healthcare system, does not provide us with other options. Then another tortured soul shoots up a fast food restaurant. A mall. A kindergarten classroom. And we wring our hands and say, “Something must be done.”

I agree that something must be done. It’s time for a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health. That’s the only way our nation can ever truly heal.

God help me. God help Michael. God help us all.

From an interview with Anne Graham Lotz, after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. I assume if asked the question today, her answer would be the same. I don't agree with Anne theologically (I don't believe God ever abandons us, regardless of how often we turn away from him), but she makes an interesting statement.

When asked by an interviewer, "How could God let something like this happen?," she replied:

I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we’ve been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?

From a Facebook post by Rob MacPherson:

In the time I have been on Facebook, I have kept my political views to myself. Paraphrasing Nikki Perrine Passante, I feel like I am in the "sweet spot" when my conservative friends think I am a liberal and when my liberal friends think I am conservative. After today's events, I feel the need to be a part of the debate. I hear the call for tighter gun laws and I think of Prohibition - when we as a country outlawed alcohol and folks still found ways to continue to consume it. We have been killing each other since the dawn of time. Laws banning the supply do nothing to curb the demand. Agenda pushers on both sides of the argument will posture - they have no solutions, only points of view - which are often self-serving and hollow. At the end of the day, what we need is love. The kind of love that includes and encourages. The kind of love that involves and forgives. The kind of love that reminds us that in the final analysis, we are our brother's keeper. I don't know if Adam Lanza would have chosen a different path today had he felt a little more love. But I do know that the longer we ignore each other, the more time we spend self-indulged and detached, the greater the opportunity for senseless violence and heartbreak. I agree with all of those who call for us to hug our kids tonight. But I would also challenge you to think of those who will go un-hugged tonight - who will go un-loved. Pray for them too - they too are your brothers and sisters.

I leave you with this thought from Rev. Dr. Kirk Byron Jones:

"We cry and cling to the hope that God's love is as relentless as evil is heartless."

Amen to that.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

No False Modesty Here

I  met a guy at work last week. He is intelligent, kind, hard-working, giving, and kinda cute. He's also young enough to be my son. And coincidentally, his name is Ian.

I first heard about this student during my job interview at Villanova. In talking about how special the community is here and their dedication to service, the VP of University Communications told me about this kid from the engineering school who was doing volunteer work in Panama. The university decided to use his story in one of their commercials. They sent a camera crew to Panama and scripted Ian's lines. And Ian politely called this woman to express his concern for his "part." I don't recall the specifics, but basically he felt that what he'd been asked to say wasn't really him. That he was being asked to build up himself, and Villanova, as the heroes in the story while leaving out the efforts of the people in the village where he was working. He wasn't comfortable with it and asked if he could rewrite his lines, and he did. And it left a real impression on this VP.

Because Ian is quite an amazing young man (prestigious scholarship, awarding winning papers, perfect grades), the attention didn't stop there. There were stories about him in the College of Engineering's publications and on its website. He spoke at a meeting of the advisory board during my second week on the job. And last week I informed him via email that he had been selected as one of the students I was going to feature in the College's annual review. He responded by saying, "I'm undecided about whether I'd like to do this. Can I stop by sometime to ask you some questions?" I replied by saying:
"Sure thing, Ian. I understand if you’re feeling 'overexposed.' I know about the commercial and other attention you’ve received (well-deserved, of course), and I don’t want you to feel like the poster child for the College.  Three professors recommended you, so I had to ask."
Ian replied saying that was his concern exactly. And then he stopped by to see me. He was a gracious, mature young man, and he politely explained that he has a hard time saying no because he wants to make everyone happy even though he isn't comfortable with all the attention. And this was not false modesty. You can spot that a mile away. I explained that this feature story was actually to be in his own words. He could speak to anything he felt passionate about or about a service experience that changed him and the people he worked with. He could write about anything at all; it would give him an opportunity to have a say and a voice instead of just being trotted out as our golden boy. I also suggested I shouldn't be his first "no." (My, "I'm kidding, but I'm serious" approach to many issues). I tried not to use my mom guilt powers to convince him. Ian decided he needed the weekend to think about it. In the end, he did in fact use me to make personal progress in his ability to say "No." He declined to be featured in my article.

The point of this story wasn't to introduce you to an amazing, bright, altruistic, and talented young man, but to bring attention to his humility. Is it just me, or is this incredibly rare? How many young people (or old people, for that matter) don't want the spotlight? Don't want to be recognized for their accomplishments and good deeds? That recognition opens doors and this kid has his whole career ahead of him. Now's the time to flaunt it if you've got it. I think of my own kids and I know they appreciate positive attention. One of them lives for it. I don't know where she gets it. HA.

I think another reason why Ian's nature took me by surprise is because I just left a job where I met or learned of many Christian leaders who have no such humility. I knew one who used every opportunity to drop his title, his degrees, his connections, and his accomplishments into every conversation, every email message, and every article. I've mentioned before the best-selling Christian author who threw a hissy fit when his name was inadvertently left off a list of book contributors in a related press release. Look at the Joel Osteens, Rick Warrens, TD Jakes, and Joyce Meyers of the world and there's no question that attention, recognition, and having a high-profile move them almost as much as the good Lord himself.

I have no idea whether this student Ian is a Christian or not, but somewhere along the line he learned and took to heart a valuable and difficult lesson:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
--Philippians 2:3-4

The world needs more Ians in it.  
If you're interested, here's a look at the Villanova commerical which featured Ian:

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Love Story

I recall a conversation with a friend on the topic of greeting cards. More specifically, cards for her husband. Her husband is the demonstrative, lavish-shows-of-affection type and she's just about the complete opposite. Sometimes she feels guilty about this and on the rare occasion that the mood strikes, she'll pick up one of those warm and fuzzy, lovey-dovey cards for her man. Unfortunately, he often doesn't see them.
"I have good intentions, but by the time I planned to give it to him he's somehow irritated me again and the mood is lost." 
This leads me to the purpose for this post. A declaration of my love for my husband. I know this is not typical Kim territory. Positive, loving, and kind are generally not words associated with this freakin' angel, but the spirit is moving me today. I did consider waiting to share this on our anniversary (Jan. 7) or his birthday (Jan. 8), but there's the distinct possibility that he will tick me off by then. So here it is.

My husband Rob. A love story. Quit rolling your eyes and go with it.

Like every married couple, Rob and I have had (and will continue to have) our ups and downs. Our arguments are generally short-lived, but there are stretches of time when they seem to come more often than either of us would like. Some years overall seem tougher than others in every way, not just for our relationship. I recall 2011 being pretty crappy, but as we wind down 2012, I find myself smiling. Me, smiling? Weird, huh?

So what's made this a year worth smiling about? I think it was the way all the forces combined to remind, reassure, and reinforce what an amazing gift the love is between a husband and wife. More than a year ago Rob was suffering with extreme back problems that resulted in ER visits and ultimately surgery. I held his hand and tried to comfort him, but was otherwise helpless while he dealt with pain that actually made childbirth seem like a walk in the park. While my heart broke to see him in such agony, I think the brokenness, when healed, made my heart--and my love for him--even stronger. And this year when my depression brought me lower than I'd been in a decade, Rob took care of me. Never losing patience or avoiding the problem despite not truly understanding what I was experiencing because he hasn't been there himself. He simply loved me when I most needed loving.

Somewhere along the line Rob also started making a visible effort to be more involved on the home front with everything from housework and the kids to my ever-growing to do list. He knows my least favorite chores and takes them upon himself. He knows I hate running errands so he does the running. And he started doing whatever he could to deal with sick kids or their appointments so I wasn't always sacrificing my career to handle everything that came along. At the same Rob started pitching in, he became more attentive and affectionate. I used to tell him I always knew when he wanted something because his level of helpful activity and romantic gestures were blatantly obvious took a marked turn. Now I never know when he wants something because his good deeds are such a regular part of how he treats me. I'm never sure now when it's time for sex.This new approach to marriage was very disorienting for a while, but trust me, I've gotten used to it.

Don't get me wrong. Rob was never a lousy husband (I know a few of those). I never questioned his love for me. But like many women, there were times I felt like my biggest job as a wife and mother was making sure everything didn't fall down around us. We were in that rut that is so easy to fall into after 15+ years of marriage, two full time jobs and full-time kids and incredibly full lives. I truly believe having cared for each other through some difficult times and actually listening to each other's needs has brought us to this much better place. I don't know if it's Rob, the new job, or the correct combination of meds (probably all three), but I haven't felt this content, this thankful, or this light in a very long time.

Rob, I know you don't appreciate being the subject of my blog posts, but I hope you know this one was written in love to thank you for all you've done, all you're doing, and all you are to me. Now don't screw it up.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

"Laughter is Carbonated Holiness"

One reason I haven't sat down to write a book is that I'm lazy. The way I justify my laziness is by acknowledging that I'm really not a great writer. I know my parents strongly disagree with that statement but 1) they aren't reading really great stuff so they don't have a benchmark from which to judge, and 2) they're my parents.

Last night I attended a book reading with Anne Lamott. Anne is a great writer. Not classic literature great, but turn of phrase, rich and relateable great. If you're not familiar with her, Anne is a Christian writer. Sort of. I think she only "came out" as a Christian about 20 years ago, but she was on the path for quite a while before that. Before that, she was also an alcoholic, drug user, hippy enclave-living, dreadlock-wearing college-dropout in California. She's still wearing the dreads and living in California, but she's clean and sober now and considerably older and wiser.

What I love about Anne's writing is the purity of it. The complete honesty and lack of pretense. And her remarkable sense of humor. What she puts on paper most of us can respond to with "Oh yeah, been there." Well before it was fashionable to do so, she was confessing that sometimes we moms hate being moms. Oh yeah, been there. My friend Andria explained that Anne's book Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year helped her tremendously as a new mom. As she put it, "If Anne's child survived all the mistakes she made, I should be fine." Basically, this woman makes you feel better about yourself--all your weaknesses, fears, failings, doubts, etc. When you read her books you realize you're not quite as messed up as you thought you were. Or, if you are, you're not alone. It's probably the same reaction you have when reading my blog. A sense of relief that someone out there is crazier than you.

In her slightly absent-minded, stream-of-consciousness talk last night, Anne endeared herself to a sold-out audience who laughed heartily and nodded their heads in agreement with this woman whom the Christian Right, the Evangelicals, and the Born-Agains would likely find offensive.While Anne calls herself a Christian and believes in God and the resurrected Jesus, she doesn't try to sell it. She doesn't claim an understanding of theology (in fact, some might find hers "loose" at best) or any book smarts when it comes to "religion." She doesn't preach and doesn't appreciate many of those who do, particularly those on a stage with an 800-member chorus. She doesn't care whether you call yourself a Christian or if you pray to Harold, as in "Our Father, who art in heaven, Harold be thy name," or Phil (her personal preference). For Anne it's about recognizing there's someone whose love for us is greater than we can ever imagine. That there's someone for whom we are perfect exactly as we are. That the grace we have been given is what saves us. This quote from her last night really resonated with me: "All we can know is who holds the future, not what the future holds."

Anne spent a good bit of time last evening explaining the blessings of age. She's 58 now and she accepts that her arms will not improve and that her reflection from the iPad screen may actually frighten her from time to time  And she finds amusement in us 40-somethings who still think we can fix ourselves. She explains "The grace of getting older is getting you back." You start savoring time because you realize how vulnerable you are. She confirms that we must indeed "be present to win" in this life, and that everything we need, we already have.

Anne's newest book, Help, Thanks, Wow, does not appear to be a particularly meaty book or one that more "seasoned" Christians may need for their spiritual development, but whether you call yourself a person of faith or not, I highly recommend checking out her earlier titles:
  • Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith
  • Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith
  • Grace Eventually: Thoughts on Faith
I can practically guarantee that within the first five pages she'll have you hooked by her raw honesty, her sense of humor, and her spirit. Give her a read and let me know what you think.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Thanksgiving Ode to Facebook

Today, among other things, I'm giving thanks for Facebook. While there are those who express concern or outright disdain for the King of Social Media, I would like to propose that it's done a remarkable job of bringing people together, at least for me personally. And when I'm in touch with people I care about, I am thankful.

I'm thankful that through Facebook I'm closer than ever to a few of my relatives and my relatives-in-law. Take my Aunt Joan and my cousin Linda. I haven't actually seen them in years, but now we correspond (and play addictive online word games) on a regular basis. Rob's cousin Anthony and I have likewise bonded. And I connect often with Rob's aunt Jeanie who happens to be one of my favorite people. Facebook even allows me to know something about my sister's life. She doesn't personally post anything, but her husband does, and hey, it's better than nothing.

Facebook has also reconnected me with friends whom I would otherwise likely have never seen nor heard from again: prolific blogger Jim whom I barely knew in high school, my grad school friend Susanne, my former classmate Karen whose writing reflects the beauty of life, and my Freakin' Angel critic (in a nice way) Bryce. And there's Maureen, a college friend and fierce TV-Radio competitor (she won); and Jon, also from IUP Radio-TV who made it big (as in working for Oprah big); there's Tim, one of the many guys I liked in high school who never noticed; and Jen, our high school's most beautiful singing voice. My friends across the pond in Northern Ireland are also within reach compliments of Facebook.

Then there are my best friends from college, the women who knew me before medication and loved me anyway. Though they live too far away to visit even occasionally, I'm blessed to keep up with Kathie and Amy, and occasionally see an update from Lisa and Sue.

Saying goodbye to former coworkers has been made easier thanks to Facebook. I've been reunited with Shannon, Karen, Tony, and Eric from Adams Outdoor. I've reconnected with Diana, the woman who predicted I'd marry Rob the first day we met when I started working at Hot 99.9 radio. Because of Facebook, I know I can count on "seeing" my Judson/ABHMS friends Gale, Lisa, Jen, Aidsand, MaryAnn, Tammy, Joe, and Rebecca. Former coworkers like Michelle, Rick, Sandy, and Obed are also just a click away. I can even enjoy updates from my favorite Judson Press authors, including Alicia, Janet, Bill, Scott, Marvin, Kirk, Susan, Dale, and others.

And Facebook has been about so much more than the number of friends on my list or even the occasional "like" or status update. Facebook has actually enabled and encouraged expressions of love, concern, compassion, gratitude, celebration, and sympathy. While not everyone is comfortable sharing their pain or even their joy, there are others with whom we form an emotional bond in a time of need. My high school friend Beth has endured some of life's greatest challenges, including the very recent death of her five-year old daughter Emma whose life was cut short by Rett Syndrome. Beth provided regular updates throughout her life, and requested prayers when needed for Emma or her other daughter Molly. The prayers and well wishes from dozens of friends near and far provided Beth with some small measure of comfort. And Beth is just one of many who choose to share their pain and sorrow, allowing those who love them from a distance to "be there" during difficult times. Similarly, on Facebook we celebrate the happy things in our lives, marriages, births, healing, accomplishments, and more. And be honest, who doesn't absolutely love seeing dozens of birthday wishes on their special day? That alone is worth the price of Facebook, if Facebook had a price.

As for me, well you know my life's an open book, and Facebook has served as my primary means for sharing these all-revealing blog posts. Through my blog I've learned that I sometimes say what's on others' minds, and by sharing what is private and painful for many I'm able to reach someone who similarly struggles. The greatest gift I get from my writing is hearing from another who has the same doubts, insecurities, parenting dilemmas, faith issues, and visits from the Funkapotomus. It always helps to know we're not alone in this big, sometimes bad, world.

To my Facebook friends near and far, past and present, Happy Thanksgiving. I'm grateful for having you in my life!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What Would Ann Do?

On November 30, 2012, it will be a year since my friend Ann lost her battle with cancer. To celebrate the extraordinary woman she was and to recognize her life-long commitment to helping others, my church, Media Presbyterian, coordinated with Ann's family to establish Ann's Love Builds. Donations to Ann's Love Builds will be used to build The Dr. Ann Bates Memorial Hospital in Ghana.

But Ann's love is not something we only want to share with a country 5,000 miles away. Ann's love needs to be expressed much closer to home as well, and so on Saturday, more than 200 friends, family members, and others whose lives she touched, gathered together to make a difference in the Philadelphia area. We worked with Urban Promise in Camden, assembled bicycles to donate to City Team in Chester for their Christmas Giving Project, and cooked and delivered hot meals to families in Long Beach Island whose lives were turned upside down by Sandy. At other sites, groups were ripping up moldy carpeting and laying new flooring in a school computer lab, constructing playground equipment, and demolishing a home that needed to be rebuilt from the studs up. And my group, more than 20 of us, fixed lights in classrooms and painted the outside of an elementary school in northeast Philly.

And the night before this day of service, I experienced my usual pre-service/mission work second thoughts:
Why do I sign up for these things? I don't want to get up early on a Saturday. I have a million things to do around my own home. 
Because this day was all about Ann, my whining and grumbling were less pronounced than they have been in the past, but I must confess to them nonetheless. And while I'm in confession mode (I am now working for the Catholics, after all), I also admit that part of my attitude problem could be traced back to that controversial commentary I recently shared on Facebook titled "Four More Years of Decline." While I definitely don't want to "go there" again (I am averse to confrontation), the article's disdain for the "entitlement age," had stuck with me. It is without question my biggest concern about many of Obama's policies (crap, I went there). And so I approached this day of service with a major societal issue and personal past service experiences lingering in the back of my mind.

Here's the thing. Give me a home with elderly residents, the disabled, or a single mom trying to make ends meet in order to care for her children. Take me to an organization that cares for kids in need or victims of domestic abuse. Or find me a school that's understaffed and neglected and I'll do whatever you ask. But please don't ask me to clean up a yard or fix a fence or paint a room while a strapping young man sits and watches me work. And don't ask me to pick up needles and bottles in an empty lot next to a community center where the staff complains about having to come in on a Saturday to "supervise" me. I guess what I'm trying to say is don't ask me to help someone who won't help him or herself.

At the elementary school where we worked in northeast Philly, the only maintenance guy caring for this school of 1,700 kids (seriously, one guy) was there with a smile to assist us in any way possible. And the principal was present for the day, too. And she even went to get donuts when she heard someone who looks a lot like me shall remain nameless was whining about wanting donuts. And there were about a dozen kids and one mom who showed up to help as well.  The day was wonderful and we accomplished a great deal, and it was a wonderful tribute to Ann.

And speaking of Ann, she never would have reconsidered her commitment to participate in a day of service. Would have never been hung up on my issues with society. Never would have asked whether someone was deserving. Because Ann was one of the best people I've known. Dedicated to caring for others, no matter their station in life. Ann understood what it means to be the hands and feet of Christ. To "love your neighbor as yourself." And she recognized that "even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve."

May I learn from her example. 

Hope & Abby with fingernails painted. Literally.

The cutest and most enthusiastic helper you've ever seen!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Random Thoughts from the Gym

So in case you're wondering, the new job is going really well. I haven't cried yet! The people are very nice and no one has put my age after my name on my office nameplate. Of course, I don't actually have an office, or a nameplate for that matter. But still, I don't think they'd do that.

While I am happy at Villanova, I am disappointed to report that they're giving me nothing to work with in terms of blog post material. Therefore, in an effort to share something/anything, I offer you:

Random Thoughts from the Gym

The class I take most often is Body Pump which is basically a weigh-lifting class that hits every muscle group in an hour. It's an awesome class with mostly terrifc instructors except for the new girl. When I take class with the new girl I can't concentrate on my form because I'm always thinking about how much I'd like to slap her for her ultra chipper, annoyingly motivational, non-stop jabber. Plus, she's wafer-thin and no one needs to look at that for an hour.

I have another Body Pump confession: I will load more weight onto my bar than I can actually handle just so I look stronger than those standing around me. It goes without saying that this can have disasterous results. I'll leave it at that.

This is how no one in my class looks. Thank God.

I've recently discovered the Red Hot Dance class. Despite my two left feet and complete lack of rhythm, I love this workout. Two reasons: 1) I'm thinner than the instructor (though she knows how to get down and boogie, or whatever the kids are calling it these days) and 2) the rest of the class is actually older than I am (though most of them can dance circles around me).

I would be so much better at Red Hot Dance if I had a few drinks first.

On that note, I would probably have a lot more to show for my working out if I didn't stop for dessert or drinks after leaving the gym.

I have two recommendations for improving self-esteem for women at the gym (don't know that it's an issue for men). 1) In the summer, when the kids are home from school/college, I recommend they establish "Adult Hours." Kinda like adult swim at the pool, except in this case, everyone under the age of 23 would have to work out at a different time than us considerably older folks. 2) 1) I think they should have two separate entrances to the locker room based on weight and age. Not only will this preserve your self-esteem, but it could also come in handy when you inevitably forget your underwear and want to borrow a pair in your size.

Speaking of the locker room, I've learned it's never appropriate to ask "Are those real?" Also where body parts are concerned, while I would find it terribly flattering, some women are not comfortable being told "I would kill for an ass like yours."

Speaking of asses, I hate the way we have to walk past the power lifters to get to our classroom. It's like a freakin' catwalk. I wouldn't mind it so much if the men didn't hold up scorecards. Or, if I scored above a 6.

Finally, based on solid scientific research, I have determined that people who pay more to work out are less likely to have intestinal issues than those who choose less expensive options. A couple years ago I took pilates classes held at our local high school. I also arranged for "Fitness & Fellowship" yoga and pilates classes at my church. These were both bargain priced and during nearly each of these classes someone had gas. Nope it wasn't me. Well, just that one time. In contrast, I have noted that never once has anyone let out a little stinky during Body Flow (pilates, yoga, and tai chi) at the Health Plex. It's a fascinating discovery that clearly requires more research.

Unfortunately, folks, that's all the time I have today. Be sure to stay tuned for our next Freakin' Angels post which will likely be on one of the following important topics:
  • Parental involvement in teenage lives
  • A culture of entitlement and what it means for mission work
  • The mating habits of the Brown Throated Three-Toed Sloth
  • The addiction known as Homeland

Monday, November 5, 2012

So This Police Officer Walks Up to My Minivan...

It was 3:41 p.m. on a particularly chilly Sunday in November. I was en route to Abby's second soccer game of the afternoon having just said goodbye to my parents who were returning home after a week without power. I was happy that life could return to normal for them, though part of me wished they could stay so I wouldn't be alone with my anxiety. Rob's work trip to Las Vegas came at an inopportune time. I really needed him here to help me mentally and emotionally prepare for the big day that loomed ahead. My first day at the new job.

Perhaps it was this anxiety that caused my error in judgement. More likely it was the result of 20+ years of careless driving. I failed to come to a complete stop at a stop sign on my way to the game.

I saw the cop after I passed through it. I had slowed down significantly. I could see there was no one coming from the other direction. Still, something told me he was watching for someone like me. Within moments he was behind me on Avondale Road with its infuriating 25 mile speed limit. I could barely go that slowly. I was holding pretty steady at 30 and he was keeping up so I figured he was okay with my speed. Turns out he was keeping up so he could more clearly read my license plate and pull me over. Which he did.

It had been a decade or more since I was last pulled over by the flashing lights. The ill feeling was nevertheless familiar. Made slightly worse by the realization that I hadn't brought my purse. Or my driver's license. The officer sat there behind me for what felt like hours and when he finally ambled up to the car he took the time to look into my two rows of back seats. Thank goodness I wasn't carrying my machine gun or my stash of narcotics on this particular Sunday. As he approached the window I fumbled in finding my unexpired registration card and lamely explained my missing license. He finally told me the reason for our little get-together: Neighbors on Martroy Lane had been complaining about drivers inadequately stopping at their corner. I should have mentioned how neighbors on my circle have been complaining about the drug dealer residing on our street.

The officer returned to his car and I sat there in the minivan of shame, certain everyone who passed knew it was me, the one with the "I Believe" window sticker. I started to cry, albeit too late in the process to do any good. He remained in his car for another seemingly hour-long stint before returning to very graciously present me with my traffic citation. He thoughtfully pointed out that I could pay the fine within 10 days or plead not guilty and go to court. Surely my word would trump his with the judge. And could you just see me telling my new employer I needed the afternoon off to deal with a small legal matter? On the citation he did indicate green as my car color instead of the correct silver, perhaps I had something to work with there? 
He left with me with a congenial "Have a nice day, Ma'am." I'm not sure which pissed me off more, the "Have a nice day" crap, or being referred to as "Ma'am." Clearly my youthful appearance escaped his notice. Maybe driving a mini-van automatically makes you a ma'am. 

The very best part of this experience, besides gathering delightful blog material, was the "bill" itself. I really appreciated how they break it out for you:

FINE: 25.00 (Not bad. Breath a sigh of relief)
E.M.S.: 10.00 (Well, let's just consider it a donation to our emergency personnel)
MCARE: 30.00 (WTF is the "Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Fund?")
COSTS:  36.00 (The above aren't "costs?" They're certainly costing me. I may have to protest. What other service provider gets away with a vague "costs" line on their invoice?)
J.C.P./A.T.J.: 10.00 (Judicial Computer Project/Access to Justice. Whatever.)

TOTAL DUE: 111.00

Glad I've been saving money by buying my new work clothes on eBay.

While it absolutely sucks getting a $111 ticket, I had it coming. Nearly a decade ago, while together on a business trip, my friend and former coworker Gale recommended I consider coming to a complete stop at stop signs. It took this long for my failure to heed her good advice to catch up with me.

Driving home from Abby's game afterward, I came to a complete stop at each sign. It was a different feeling, but one I'll try to get used to. Or perhaps I'll just avoid Martroy Lane and Avondale...

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Stages of Grief: Career Edition

As I reported two posts ago, I finally quit complaining about my life and its lack of direction and I made a big move. I took a new job. My immediate reaction to Villanova University's offer was great excitement. Seconds after that my stomach dropped to my knees and I whispered "Dear God, what have I done?" Naturally I was nervous at the thought of starting something new, but bigger than that was my fear of losing what I had.

American Baptist Home Mission Societies/Judson Press is like the Hotel California (albeit without the wine):
You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.
Seriously, no one ever leaves this place. Twenty-plus years of employment is perfectly normal. Thirty isn't unheard of. Why should anyone quit when 99% of your coworkers and supervisors are really good people? And it's family-friendly with the flexibility a mom like me needs? And the work is literally about changing lives? And did I mention they have a retirement benefit that's to die for? Actually, it's to live for.

Even before telling my HR director and my boss that I was leaving, I entered the Four Stages of Grief (Career Edition).

No, this isn't really happening. If I just don't tell anyone, then it won't be real. I'll conduct business as usual. Attend and contribute in meetings. I'll even respond to those emails and phone calls I've been avoiding. Yes, it will all be fine. (Note: Denial works well until your soon-to-be new employer outs you to your current employer by calling to verify your employment there. Can you say "awkward?")

Yikes, depression is what got me into this mess in the first place. Now I feel worse. How can I feel worse? I got what I wanted. I should be thrilled. Why aren't I over the moon? People congratulate me and note how excited I must be and I have to conjur up my fake happy face to agree with them. Of course, most of the time I just break down and confess that I'm still waiting for the excitement to hit. Sometimes I just break down, period. Friends must think I'm insane to be so upset. This makes no sense whatsoever. Why can't I just be normal? (As if I haven't been asking myself that question for the last 35 years).

It's okay. This will be good for me. A chance to grow personally and professionally. I'll make new friends. And it's not like I won't see my Judson Press friends. We'll keep in touch. And I can always stalk them keep tabs on criticize my replacement stay familiar with their projects via my their JP blog and my their JP Facebook page and my their JP e-newsletters.

While not officially recognized as a stage of grief by the American Psychological Association, there's a little something extra I experience during times of major transition. I like to call it:

Symptons include:
  • Secretly hoping that those you've left behind are absolutely miserable without you
  • Accepting that this other person/organization is no longer part of your life, but not wanting anyone to replace you
  • Fantasizing that your replacement fails miserably in any attempt to fill your shoes
  • Praying you will be remembered as the best girlfriend student church usher pancake maker marketing director ever 
I am officially no longer an employee of the American Baptist Home Mission Societies and Judson Press. I shed a great many tears on my last day in the office, but I have reached the point of acceptance and figure I'm well on my way to visions of irreplaceability. In less than 36 hours I will find myself on Villanova's campus, ready to start the next stage of my life and career. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

When Your Brain Goes MIA

Anyone who reads my blog even once in a while knows that I spend way too much time inside my own head. Always analyzing, considering, evaluating, thinking. What's much more unusual for me is losing my head, spacing out, forgetting to think, behaving blondish. Aside from those momentary brain farts/senior moments we all experience, I can only remember two distinct occasions when I lost my mind entirely for an extended period of time.

The first time I had this experience I had an excuse. It was a boy's fault. I was home from college and visiting NYC with my mom and sister. What should have been a lovely day, however, turned into a complete mental mess for me. As was frequently the case in those days, I had had a fight with my then-boyfriend that resulted in a late night filled with lots of tears and little rest. Often I could recover from these emotional smack-downs with extra sleep, but our trip to NYC required an early bus departure and I had little time to pull myself together. The results were memorable and somewhat hysterical (only in hindsight):

  • On the bus I realized I had on two different shoes. One had a heel, the other was flat.
  • Getting off the bus I discovered my pants were on backwards. Honest to God.
  • In one of the department stores I tried in vain to use what I determined was a broken escalator. It wasn't broken, it was just going down while I was trying to go up.

The highlight of the trip? When I pointed out to my mom and sister a worn out, extremely haggard and unattractive young woman...and then realized to my utter dismay that I was looking in a mirror. Seriously.

That was my ultimate BMIA moment (Brain Missing In Action), but this week I had another doozy for which I had no fight-with-my-boyfriend (or even my husband) excuse.

It was Monday evening around 6:20. I was 10-minutes early for my Beginner's Italian class at our local high school. This was the fourth week of the 8-week course. I walked down the hall to my classroom and noticed a young lady whom I hadn't seen in our class before. I kept walking, thinking maybe I had the wrong room, but each one after it was dark with a closed door. I returned to the original classroom and sat down at a desk. The young lady asked me, "Is there a class in here tonight?" I replied, "Yes, at 6:30. It's odd that there's no one here yet, I rarely arrive before the professor or any of the other students." She explained that she was waiting for her teacher. I learned she was on the high school volleyball team. They're having a great year, playing a post season clincher this Thursday. I asked her if she knew my exchange student to-be (a later post, I'm sure) or one of the girls in my neighborhood. She knew them both and we chatted for quite some time. I thought she was very mature and outgoing. I said I would come see their game on Thursday evening. I suggested the school do a better job of promoting these things.

Her teacher entered the classroom and greeted me. I told him how much I liked his room décor and art. But then I noticed it was different. Much more artsy and nature-oriented whereas last week it had a more radical and political theme. I asked him if he had changed it all. In particular, I noted that I liked the quote he had had on the far right wall.  It had looked painted on, but I asked if perhaps it was one of those cling type images that you can peel and replace.

He suggested I might be thinking of his colleague's room. The one upstairs from us. On the third floor. Where my Beginner's Italian class was held.
"Oh, shit damn crap." 
Later that evening, after a class in which I understood absolutely nothing and was only physically present, I reflected on my second significant BMIA moment:

  • How did I fail to note that no other student or the Italian professor had come into the room during the 10 minutes I sat there? 
  • Why didn't the presence of a high school volleyball player waiting for her teacher tip me off that I wasn't in the right place?
  • What made me think that the teacher must have changed every single picture or quote on his walls during the past week? 
  • Did I really ask if he "took down" what is surely a quote painted on the wall?
I'm still stunned by my complete absence of any logical thought whatsoever.

Let's just hope this mental escapism subsides real soon. I won't make a very good impression at Villanova if I'm found on the first day of my employment, sitting in the wrong office of the wrong building, wearing my pajamas and speaking unintelligible Italian.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

I Finally Know Where I'm Going (for now, anyway)

For the past several couple months I have whined, complained, and pouted thoughtfully reflected on my life. More specifically, I've asked "What's next?" and "Am I living up to my potential?" I was becoming increasingly discontent with the path I was on, even though on paper there was absolutely nothing wrong with that path.

So I found a new job.

And the backstory is pretty good.

Over the summer I went on a resume-sending spree, primarily focusing on marketing and communication jobs in higher education. I've always wanted to work in a college or university setting. I think it would keep me in complete denial about how old I'm getting young. So, despite knowing full well that almost no one finds a job by haphazardly applying online for desirable career opportunities, that's what I did. It made me feel better. I could tell myself I was doing something.

At the same time I was making this half-hearted effort, I was struggling with my freakin' depression. It got to the point that I decided it was time for a little talk therapy. I looked up a doctor I had seen a decade ago.  Would you believe she went and died on me? Talk about inconsiderate. The next doctor I called kept me on the phone for 20 minutes trying to find a way to fit me into his schedule. Just when we had agreed on a date and time, he casually mentioned that he doesn't take insurance and he charges $140 an hour. My family doctor was of little assistance in recommending anyone and so I stopped looking. Figured I'd be fine without professional help. (Insert laugh here)

Then one day, when I had used up all my self-preservation and mental well-being reserves, I had an epiphany. An "A ha" moment. I decided to stop the frantic and useless job search (not a single nibble on the dozens of jobs I applied for), and concentrate on addressing the the crap clouding my brain. Figured if I could get my head on straight I would have a clearer sense of what I needed to do, where I might want to go, and how to get there. I also did the "at wit's end" shout-out to God, remembering that in Jeremiah 29:11 it says:
"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
I was looking for plans. Prospering is good. Hope and a future are excellent. And all that without harm? Bonus! With that, I handed my heavy heart over to the Big Guy.

Less than 24-hours later I was on the phone scheduling an appointment with a therapist when another call came in. I didn't recognize the number so I let it go to voice mail while I finalized my visit to the brain whisperer. When I checked my voice mail, this is what I heard:
Kim, this is Barbara from Human Resources at Villanova University. I am calling to arrange an interview with you for the Director of Communications job with the College of Engineering. 
God really likes to show off sometimes.

Three weeks after my call from Barbara, at 9:00 a.m. on a Friday I sat down for a three hour series of interviews with seven different people from Villanova.  At 4:45 p.m. they called to offer me the job. It's all terribly exciting and slightly terrifying.

In my next post I'll describe the stages of grief one experiences when leaving a place of employment that has been like home and family for elven years. It just wouldn't be a Freakin' Angel post if I didn't have something to be upset about, right?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Let's Not Make a Federal Case Out of This

My guest blogger today is Rob M., a.k.a. Freakin' Angel's husband. Enjoy. 

My sister has a tendency to get worked up when discussing, well, anything – which is sorta like saying the sun has a tendency to rise in the east every day. Growing up, when my sister was wound up, my dad, the late great Bob MacPherson, would quell the madness by dropping one of his go-to phrases into the conversation. A common one was “OK – let’s not make a federal case out of this.” So it was with this soundtrack playing in my head that I passed through security with a smirk on my face at the Federal Building on 6th and Market last Tuesday. I had been chosen for jury duty in the federal court – and there was a possibility that I would be making a federal case out of my work week. I couldn’t help but chuckle a little bit on the inside.

I reported to the jury assembly room on time and my mind immediately started grappling with the day’s biggest issue – with all of these great options, where should I have my downtown lunch? (Ended up at Campos - chicken and broccoli rabe - seeded roll). My game-planning was disrupted when a young lady entered the room and began making announcements. Before she was done, she called 30 names, including mine, to form a panel. Our panel was escorted to the trial room, where our group of 30 would become eight, and the eight would serve as the jury for the case. We endured "voir dire" questioning by the judge – a process meant to expose any biases or prejudices which might make one a less-than-impartial juror. The highlight of this process was my fellow panelist from South Philly (he told us, I’m not assuming) who explained that his book-making uncle and loan-sharking cousin were the relatives with whom he most looked forward to sharing a glass of vino, thereby making him sympathetic to the cause of the petty criminal. I haven’t had a relative behind bars in years, so I really couldn’t play that card, nor could I think of any other way to weasel out of my patriotic duty. After a few more minutes and a bundle of lame excuses, I was called as a juror – juror number 5 – and I and seven others would serve as the proverbial jury of ones peers, with the responsibility to render a verdict in the case.

The case was a civil proceeding. A man from West Philly – the plaintiff - was alleging that three different Philadelphia police officers from the 19th district used unlawful force in arresting him on two different occasions. He was looking for financial compensation. Long story short, after about a day-and-a-half of testimony and a half-day of deliberation, the plaintiff received nothing and the cops were exonerated.

Then things got interesting. The judge’s deputy – our main point of contact throughout the process and a good dude – asked us to stay for a few more minutes because the judge wanted to talk to us – he said it was common practice. The judge entered the deliberation room with the deputy, his law clerk and a couple of interns. He explained to us that our system of justice, while not flawless, is the greatest in the world. Eight fellow citizens just decided the fate of a man’s complaint – not a king, not a dictator, not a magic eight ball. This man received justice based on the findings of a jury of his peers.

After his preamble was over, the judge asked us a few questions and answered some of ours – including one about the whole jury selection process. Striking his most Socratic pose and squinting his eyes just so, he asked “Why do you think you were selected?” After enduring a few incorrect answers from this group of legal neophytes, he enlightened us, informing us that we were not selected, rather, we were DE-selected. The “crazies” are the first to go, he told us, then anyone who would appear to be overly-sympathetic one way or the other usually gets struck – each attorney gets three strikes. What are left are 45-year-old guys from Delaware County with anglo names whose relatives earn a taxable income (that description actually fit two of us). And two guys from Horsham, a woman from Willow Grove, another from Lititz (near Lancaster), another from New Tripoli (north of Allentown), and one from Northeast Philly – all white. The plaintiff was an African American man from West Philly – and we formed the jury of his peers.

Suddenly it hit me – I felt like Chazz Palminteri at the end of "Usual Suspects." In being de-selected from the panel and becoming a member of this jury, I had been profiled to meet a set of criteria favorable to the defense – the attorneys for the police. The irony was thick – we as a jury had just ruled that the plaintiff was off base in his own profiling allegations, while our mere presence on this jury came as a direct result of being profiled. The defense wanted as many “me’s” on the jury as it could find – trying to make the jury as non-peer-like as possible to the plaintiff. The plaintiff’s side was fighting an uphill battle from the time he filed his paperwork – considering the geography from which the jury pool was drawn and the uniquely urban environment from which the plaintiff hailed, the odds of this man receiving a trial featuring a jury of his peers were Calista Flockhart-slim – even if his attorney had 10 strikes.

So – knowing now that the system was not real plaintiff-friendly, do I regret our decision? No. The burden of proof was on the plaintiff, and he and his attorney failed to meet that burden. Instead, I was left with an uneasy feeling about how little I really know about our legal system. I’m glad I had the opportunity to serve as juror – the process was fascinating, and many of my long-held beliefs about human nature – good and bad – were affirmed. As the judge said, the system is not flawless. Having said that, as I write this, there is someone wallowing away in a third-world prison, jailed unjustly by a corrupt government, who would give all he or she has for the chance at justice my plaintiff just received.

If I am ever in need of the system – there are days where people cause me to want to commit crimes - I would not hesitate to lawyer-up and file my petitions. I’m just not likely to make a federal case out of it.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Adventures of a High School Chaperone

This past weekend was a whirlwind of activity and an emotional freak show for me. I know you find that very hard to believe. It's rare that I'm swept up in a whirlwind of activity. Emotional freak shows, on the other hand, are quite commonplace.

On Saturday morning I joined my son's high school choral group trip to NYC. After seeing the itinerary which included War Horse at Lincoln Center and the students performing the Earth Mass for the Blessing of the Animals at St. John's Cathedral, I shamelessly begged offered the choral group director my chaperone services to assist in shepherding the rowdy teens who make up this rag tag group of singers. That rowdy / rag tag thing was pure creative license. This group is nothing of the sort. They do, however, have their own "Glee" characters, but I suppose that is to be expected.

Along with the "Glee" characters, the weekend also proved revelatory in a number of other ways. Here then, are the top 10 things I learned on my NYC chaperone weekend.

One of the high school
students drew this for me.
  1. "Chaperone" is a very loose term. Most likely a school district requirement that in reality serves almost no purpose whatsoever. I'm totally okay with that. As long as Ian still likes me, I'm happy to travel to Broadway or Italy to chaperone his adventures.
  2. Ian is taking small steps toward not liking me any more. Well, maybe he likes me, but that doesn't mean he wants me anywhere near him and his friends. He didn't shout "I love you" from across the room, or hug me once during the whole weekend, and for some reason he didn't want to snuggle before going to sleep with the other kids on the floor of the gym at the church. Weird.
  3. You know how I often reference my lack of maternal or nurturing instinct? This weekend was a case in point. When packing for the trip I brought MY stuff. The other moms? They brought OTC meds of every kind, tissues, antibacterial wipes, hand sanitizer, bandaids, feminine hygeniene products, etc. in case any of the kids were in need. Of course, guess who needed the bandaid?
  4. You know you're with a special group of kids when not only is there no complaint about watching "Dream Girls" on the bus ride, but there was complete silence because everyone was listening with rapt attention. I'm thinking the high school football team would not have had the same response. Just a hunch.
  5. Being the mom of a freshman is kinda like being a freshman yourself. The moms of seniors know all the kids and the teachers and how the whole system works. You feel awkward and insecure and wonder if anyone will like you. But then you go to the Hungarian Pastry Shop and you feel better.
  6. The Hungarian Pastry Shop is to die for. It's even better when enjoying great conversation with a new friend over a cup of hot tea. I met someone with the same sense of humor as me. Welcome to Snarkville!
  7. Speaking of tasty treats, I recommend Mel's Burger Bar. A long wait but a damn good burger and you know I'm an expert in hamburgers.
  8. There is something about 232 ft. ceilings that truly makes you feel closer to God. I could spend hours exploring cathedrals and soaking up every bit of their history. Geeky, huh?
  9. The Earth Mass at St. John's is always the first Sunday of October. Put it on your calendar for next year. Go ahead, I'll wait. Everyone must see it at least once in their lifetime. 
  10. When PMSing or in any kind of hyper-sensitive emotionally vulnerable state, avoid seeing War Horse. I lost it. Had to leave early. Couldn't talk without crying for about an hour afterwards. In retrospect, I'm thinking I may have had some kind of breakdown cause that reaction was way over the top, even for me. 
That's it folks. Coming soon (but don't hold your breath), my husband claims he will post on my behalf (so I can clean the bathrooms) since he doesn't have anything to do this October. Phreakin' Phillies. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Secret of Store-Front Nail Salons

I don't have a lot of time to write, so allow me to quickly pen a brief politically incorrect post about Vietnamese nail salon technicians. I think they're a form of organized crime.

Being the cheap frugal woman that I am, I prefer not to splurge on manicures, pedicures, or waxing at high-end, a.k.a. expensive, beauty salons. Hell, my last haircut was a Hair Cuttery splurge. Where other women start to improve their beauty routines with age, I'm sliding backward. Anyway, for those who aren't "in the know," these Vietnamese-owned and operated nail salons are on every street corner of every town in America and they charge half of what the fancy salons charge for the same services. And they don't just offer every nail technique known to man, or in this case, woman, most of them also provide waxing and even neck, hand. and foot massages. And they're really good at all of the above.

And that's where they get ya.

Yesterday I hit one of these storefront oases knowing what I wanted and what I needed. Or so I thought. I walked through the door and one of the women looked up from the pedicure she was giving to ask me in her broken English, "What you need?" I gestured and replied in stilted, awkward English as if that would somehow make clear what I was there for. As if they don't know English perfectly well and only speak their native language so they can make fun of you with their co-workers. I asked for a manicure and lip and eyebrow wax. She suggested a neck massage. I've been tense. I said "Yes, for just five minutes". (They charge by the minute.) She started with the best neck massage I've ever had. When the timer went off, I asked for five minutes more. That's how they get ya.

And then my manicure began. Little room for error there, unless of course their instruments aren't sanitized, but that's another post. When my nearly perfect neck massage came to an end, the waxologist (I don't believe that's an official term) moved in. She asked if I also wanted my chin waxed. Um, no. I think I'd know if I had hair on my chinny, chin, chin. She started on my upper lip. And then suggested my chin again. I asked her if I needed it. She said yes. At this point, you're stuck. You're head is tilted back without a mirror in sight. You don't think you need a chin wax, but you don't want to find out later that you were wrong. Women with hairy chins are straight out of scary fairytales. You don't want to be that character. You give the okay for the damn chin wax. And then she suggests the sides of your face. As in your "side burns." She doesn't really ask, just goes ahead and layers on the hot wax. As she rips off the cloth, you're tempted to ask to see the proof of this wolf (wo)man condition you apparently have. But you're sure every other woman in the salon is is staring with pity and wonder at the woman who just received a total face wax so you keep your mouth shut. And then there's that language barrier my ass that keeps you from trying to discuss this matter or ask how much all this freakin' wax is going to cost you. I guess I should just be thankful she didn't ask me to drop my drawers.

The crafty waxologist tells you what you owe and you wonder how the hell it added up to that. But the price list is way up by the front door and you don't want to get up and go look at it like some suspicious, anti-Vietnamese cheap skate, so you pay the damn bill. And then you stick your nails under the dryer and you stew about it. And you wonder how it is you can shut down a used car salesman when he tries to sell you the bells and whistles, but you can't hold your own against a store front nail technician.

As you're driving home it occurs to you that if you'd have gone to the high-end salon you would paid half as much because you'd have only received the services you actually requested, not those they scared you in to. And then you start to break out in hives from an apparent allergic reaction to what was probably cheap and inferior wax.

And that's how they got me.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Hair-Raising Experience

Not digging Katie gray.
Or maybe it's the length.
Let's talk about hair. Katie Couric actually did an entire episode about hair last week on her new talk show. The woman went from reporting on the Pentagon, national politics, and international news to talking about hair. Hair is big. Especially in New Jersey. Ha.

I'm a big fan of hair, probably because I'm a Leo. Manes are important to us lions. The length of my mane is not an issue for me, however. In fact, I change up my hairstyle (cut it short) relatively often, at least once a year. That's a lot, considering some women my age are wearing the same style they had in high school. Women often use their man as an excuse for keeping their hair long. "Sam would hate it if I cut my hair." To which I reply, "Tell Sam if he wants to blow dry and style your hair every day, you'll keep it long." Sister, please. When we were given the right to vote, I think we earned a say in how we wear our hair.

I am fascinated by young girls like my daughter who wouldn't dream of cutting their hair short. Abby simply finds short hair "ugly." Especially on girls her age. I think this is a commonly held opinion because one only has to attend a high school football game to see that every twirler and cheerleader has hair long enough to braid. I'm starting to wonder if they allow you on the team if you can't braid your locks. Personally, I find young girls (toddlers to teens) absolutely adorable/beautiful with short hair. The look just screams confidence and maturity, an attitude that says
"I don't care what boys like or what other girls think. I can sleep in an extra 20 minutes every morning AND I look good!"
Recently my friend Kim G. and I went rogue, following in the pioneering footsteps of our friend Theresa.  Theresa got a fun, new, easy-to-do do that we all loved. We had to know: "Where did you get it cut?" The answer rocked me to my very core. "Hair Cuttery." Come again? Yes, Hair Cuttery. For 20 years I travelled back and forth to my home town (an hour-plus each way) to see my old stylist. When I finally decided that this trek was slightly ridiculous, I started picking up Groupons for cut and color deals at fairly upscale salons near my home, figuring I'd eventually find "the one." Despite playing the field for more than a year, however, none of my salon speed dating adventures turned out to be Mr.or Ms. Right. Now, you're telling me Hair Cuttery might be the answer?

Hair snobs are revolted. 

Kim G. went first and received a very nice haircut.

I had thought I was too good for the likes of a walk-in "salon" (if you can even call HC a salon). But one day I was in a mood and decided my hair was weighing me down -- literally and figuratively. In an act of desperation I threw caution to the wind and visited Dawn at Hair Cuttery. I even received a little key chain card to make it quick and easy to sign in the next time I visit. Ack! The badge of shame. I put on my dark glasses and made my way to the chair. I splurged for the blow dry. I didn't like the way she styled it, but I knew it had potential. Voilà.

A haircut that cost half of what the fancy salons charge, and looks pretty damn good (in my humble opinion). Those of you who don't like my new haircut are having an "aha" moment and are ridiculing my HC experience. I don't care.

While I like my new do, I LOVE Kim G's second style by Dawn at Hair Cuttery. When I saw her at church on Sunday with this awesome new look, I couldn't stop raving. Kim looks fabulous with this super short cut, don't ya think? Further evidence of just how slammin' short can be. And how good a cut you can get from a cheap walk-in joint.

Let me close by saying this. Despite all the fuss women make over our hair, I've never understood the issue men have with losing theirs. Maybe it's because my dad was nearly bald and still a good looking guy. I, for one, find bald men much more attractive than guys with beer bellies (or I found them attractive back when I noticed other men). So if you have to worry about something related to your appearance, go with your gut. Literally.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Bruce Springsteen Friend Recovery Program

The Alan Parson Project and I have something in common. We're both wondering,
Where do we go from here, now that all of the children are growing up?
It's been a time of big transitions for the MacShimer family. Abby moved to the middle school, Ian started high school, and Mom started wondering what she's supposed to do with the rest of her life. I'm seeing the future through my children's eyes and it's exciting and full of possibilities...for them. Add to the kids' transitions hitting my almost mid-40s and attending my 25th high school reunion and you probably have a sense where I'm coming from.

Maybe this is why I
haven't heard from anyone?
Like any intelligent, rational, forward-thinking person, I'm using this time of questioning, renewal, and possibility to productively yearn for yesterday. I've become particularly interested in reconnecting with those individuals who touched my life in some way and with whom I've lost touch, including:

  • My best friend Laura from high school. I went to her wedding back in the early 1990s. She promised she'd come to mine. She didn't. I never heard from her again. So nostalgic stalker Kim tracked her down on the internet. Found real estate records. Mailed a card to her address letting her know I was thinking of her and asking her to be in touch. No response. 
  • My graduate school mentor and friend Susan. I ate dinner with her family, wrote my entire master's thesis at her office computer, and valued her academic and personal guidance. Through LinkedIn I found her husband and he provided me with both her personal and work email addresses. I sent her a message. No response.
  • My Scotch Plains, NJ roommate John. He got in touch with me via LinkedIn, suggested lunch. I replied to him weeks ago. No response.
I'm getting a complex. 

The good news is that since these failed attempts I did have a welcome dose of nostalgia. On Labor Day, my friends Dave and Todd showed up at our door before the Springsteen concert they were attending with Rob. Dave and Todd were two of the sales execs at Oldies 99.9 / Hot 99.9, the radio station where I met Rob in 1991. I spent less than a year there, but it was one of the best times of my life. The entire staff was like family. The business manager suggested I marry Rob (my first day on the job). Rob lived with two of our coworkers. And we all spent most of our time outside of work together. It was a really special group of people and I'll cherish forever the memories from those months. Seeing Todd and Dave brought all that back and warmed the cockles of my heart. Thanks, boys.

The lesson learned here is simple and valuable. If you want to reconnect with old friends, offer them tickets to a Bruce Springsteen concert. It's pricey, but it works. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

No Fish, but a More Than Fine Time

On Friday I was peaceful and content. Peaceful and content are a rare state for me that can only be achieved away from home. It's generally not the people at home that mess with my sense of well-being, it's my to do list.

My good feelings began on Thursday night when I sang a 90-minute solo concert en route to Waretown, New Jersey. Sometimes I enjoy driving alone just for the musical performance. When I arrived in Waretown at the B-Hive (a.k.a. the cottage), my parents were happy to see me. My parents are always happy to see me. Visiting my parents is like coming home to a dog without the licking, shedding, and crapping in the yard.

Friday night was a treat because my dad talked to me, and not just about taking the turns more slowly to save tire tread. No, my dad actually opened up and expressed his frustration at the infernal ringing in his ears and losing his hearing and how maddening it is to try to have a conversation with people when you have no idea what they're saying. We talked about a variety of topics and both fell asleep before we saw the Phillies lose. A nice way to spend the evening. [As a side note I'd like to warn you all away from Miracle Ear. You can take $6,000 and throw it away and get the same results my dad has had with Miracle Ear. It's a miracle he hasn't throttled the person who sold them to him.]

On Saturday morning we woke early at the B-Hive and headed to the marina to board the Wakakida, Dad's 22' Grady White. Our objective? Flounder. We slowly made our way through the wake-free zone until we reached Barnegat Bay and discovered complete serenity. The water as smooth as glass. The sun still in the process of rising. A line of non-threatening clounds hovering just above the horizon like a half-open window shade teasing at the treasures that lay beyond. Only a few other boats off in the distance. Boater's perfection.

What could possibly make the morning even better? How about a whale? Yep. A whale less than a mile off Barnegat Light. Breaching, spraying water out of its blowhole. An exciting first for me. You know what else makes a fishing trip memorable? Catching fish. I caught nada. Not a throw back. Not even a skate or a sea robin. Mom and Dad both caught nice 20-inchers, enough for me to bring home to feed my family. Yes, Mom and Dad are good to me.

The highlight of the trip? Clamming with my dad. We anchored the boat in about 3' of not nearly warm enough water in Barnegat Bay and slogged our way about a half mile till we reached the muck. The muck is where you find the clams. I'm not a fan of the muck, but I am a fan of my dad. And as I watched him drag his clamming rack along the bottom of the bay, it struck me that families have been doing just this for hundreds of years. Albeit without my dad's handcrafted stainless steel rake and the pool noodles being used to keep the bushel afloat. And as it occurred to me that this was a moment I'd never forget, my dad said "This is something you can always remember." And he recalled clamming 50+ years ago with his dad down near Beach Haven. They rented a small boat from Snuggery's Dock for $12 a day. It was $14 if you wanted one with a top on it.

My dad and I both have lived too much of our lives in a pretty dark place, but Friday was filled with light, literally and figuratively. My dad laughed and smiled and seemed more genuinely happy than I've seen him in a long, long time. I believe there's something about the wind and the water that breaks through whatever heaviness is weighing you down and blows away the cobwebs and the clouds that sometimes surround our hearts. 

Where do you find restoration and renewal? 
What brings you joy? 
In whose company do you find peace?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Things that Make You Go "Hmmm" Volume 5

Well, either you still haven't peaked or else you're life has been one big peak and you didn't want to make the rest of us feel bad. Even though I'm disappointed in your lack of response to my last post, A Peek at Peaking, I'm going to treat you to Things that Make You Go "Hmmm" which is always a crowd favorite. (I've really perfected the mom guilt, haven't I?).

For those of you who are new to this series of posts, Things that Make You Go "Hmmm" is a compilation of strange media requests I've found primarily in the daily emails I receive from HARO (Help a Reporter Out). The source of the request is in parentheses. Some of them are real head scratchers. Others are just plain funny when taken out of context. Now, without further ado...

  1. Ways to Be a Happy Mom (iVillage) - I'd say you definitely decreased the possibility of true happiness when you had the kid, but now that you're saddled with them, I recommend wine or boarding school.
  2. What are the Signs You Might be Carjacked? (National publication/news site)  - The guy pointing a gun at your head saying "move over, I'm driving" is a pretty good indicator.
  3. That Lettuce Issue Everyone is Talking About. To Buy Bagged or Bulked? (Frugivore)  - Everyone is talking about this? Clearly I'm being left out of a lot of conversations.  I just knew my friends were keeping secrets from me.
  4. Drunk shopping: How it can pickle your finances (major finance site) - Ya think?
  5. Why do men cry at weddings? (pitch process) (Anonymous) - The same reason women do -- they just realized what they've gotten themselves into.
  6. Does your town have a cat for a mayor? (National pet website) - Any town stupid enough to elect a cat for public office deserves to be disappointed. Everyone knows dogs do a much better job in that position.
  7. And speaking of animals... Can your pet do a cool kitchen-related trick? (Anonymous)  - Maddie, God rest her dog soul, could make an entire shoo fly pie disappear before your very eyes.
  8. Are you afraid that your teenage daughter is too promiscuous for her age? Now Casting (LA Based Talk Show)  - It's fine if she's promiscuous when she gets older.
  9. Do You Have a Healthy Relationship With Your Vagina*? (Frugivore) -  Sure do. I take her to the gym with me, and out to the movies. Sometimes we even share a good book. It feels like we're always together.
  10. And finally, How to improve decision making skills (website)  - I really wasn't sure whether to include this one...
*And speaking of vaginas, did you hear there's a new magazine titled "Fifty Shades of American Women Who Love the Book and Live the Life." Seriously. Check out newstands at Barnes & Noble and Walmart. 

Miss Things that Make You Go "Hmmm" volumes 1-4? Here are links to each: