Thursday, August 30, 2012

Just One of Those Days

My first moment of peace all day. Our summer fun facilitator's (SFF) last hurrah was Tuesday and I've been home alone going stark raving mad with my children since then. Today was "one of those days." One of those days that only parents of pre-driving age children can relate to. One of those days that makes me think I need a summer-fall-winter-spring facilitator to manage my children and their schedules. I believe rich people call them nannies.

I mentioned in my introduction to Summer and Shane (our 2012 SFFs) that one thing I particularly appreciate about my summer help is the errand running and children shuttling. I despise both of those things. Basically anything that requires me to get into the car for something other than work, the movies, or dinner out is a major imposition. Today I had the pleasure of adding one other thing I detest into the errand running/kid shuttling mix: WAITING. I don't wait well and today included waiting to the extreme.

The plan for my morning was simple enough. The Silvertone's (the high school group Ian sings with) was performing at our school district convocation in the morning. The director told me to be there by 8:45 a.m. and that it would end by 9:30. Because I'm always punctual, particularly when Abby's nagging me, we were there right on time. We entered the auditorium and the high school's drumline was already on stage. The rest of the 300+ kids in the band filed in. It was a sight to behold and the sounds were as spectacular as one has grown to expect from one of the greatest high school bands in the state. We were off to an excellent start.

After the band performed, the Silvertones took the stage where they performed a moving rendition of the nationl anthem, followed by "Happy Birthday" for one of the teachers in the audience. Good stuff.

And then they left the stage. And Abby and I stood along the back wall of the auditorium to wait for them to reappear. And we stood. And we stood. And we stood some more. Around 10:00 a.m., more than an hour later for those of you who don't want to do the math, the Silvertones came back and performed "What a Wonderful World." And then they sat down on the stage, suggesting a short break before their next song. And Abby and I stood and waited. And we stood. And we stood. And we stood some more. Around 10:45 a.m. the Silvertones rose and perfomed Adele's "Rolling in the Deep." It was almost, but not quite, worth the wait.

We asked Ian if he could leave with us so I wouldn't have to come back and pick him up. He first shot me dagger looks for speaking to him while in the company of his fellow performers, then he said "no."  He couldn't leave. Abby and I headed home. We walked in the front door and as I set down my keys my phone rang. You guessed it. Ian was ready to be picked up.

An hour later he required a ride to his afternoon babysitting gig.  An hour after that, Abby required a ride to her orthodontist appointment where we sat and waited for an insignificant (compared to our morning) 30 minutes.

An hour later Abby required a ride to soccer. She couldn't go in the carpool because the other driver has a problem with punctuality and Abby won't tolerate being late. I dropped her off at soccer practice at 3:45 p.m., called Ian to see if he was ready to be picked up from babysitting (just a few blocks away). He said no. I went home. I walked in the front door and as I set down my keys my phone rang. You guessed it. Ian was ready to be picked up. I kid you not.

And all this is just a precursor to my life for the next nine months. Ian has 7 a.m. rehearsals daily and plans on joining debate team. Abby will have band rehearsals, plus soccer practices and weekly games. And God knows how many clubs she'll join when she arrives at the middle school next week.
I'm up for the challenge though. In fact, apparently I'm so squared away and in control of my life that I'm hosting an exchange student come the second half of the school year. I think a 16-year-old French speaking Canadian who will probably play soccer and/or volleyball and require rides to and from practice is just what I need. Best of all, the Rotary Club tells me I also have to feed her while she's living with us. Good times are a comin!

I know some of you crazy parents with more than two kids have it way worse than me, but it helps just to get it all out. And a bottle of wine helps a good deal also.

Enjoy your Labor Day weekend. The fun is just about to begin!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

One of 233

For the past two weeks the Philadelphia news media have been providing constant coverage of one particular story, and for some reason, it's bothering me.

The story is about the murder of off-duty Philadelphia police officer Moses Walker Jr. As described on
On August 18, Walker, a 22nd District police officer, was shot three times with a 40-caliber handgun while walking to a bus stop at 20th and Cecil B. Moore Avenue in North Philly after work. Walker was heading home in street clothes after his shift when police say Jones and McFarland approached him and announced a robbery. Police say Walker drew his weapon before he was shot three times.
After the murder, the media covered every element of the case, from the $118,000 reward money for help identifying the assailants, to police efforts to track down the shooter in Alabama.Ten days after the murder of this reportedly "gentle and kind" 19-year veteran of the force, the story is still headline news. (Both suspects are now in custody and the slain officer has been put to rest.)

Why is this bothering me? Because year-to-date (as of 8/27/12) there have been 233 homicides in Philadelphia. Thirty-one more than last year at this time. Offer Walker is one victim. How much do we hear about the other 232? Where is the six-figure reward for catching their killers?

Mayor Nutter at Officer Walker's Funeral
I understand that the police, city government, and the media want to send a strong message that if you kill a cop they will hunt you down and you'll pay for your crime, but in this case Walker wasn't on the job. He was one of us. Victim of a robbery gone bad. Basically, these two criminals picked the absolute wrong guy to attack and they're more likely to pay for their "mistake" than had they victimized some average Joe. In fact, yesterday, at the officer's funeral, Philadelphia Mayor Nutter let the killers know he was going to play God where the rest of their lives are concerned:
"I read the Good Book. The book tells me, 'Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord,' but while those two are in custody and here on this Earth, their butts are mine."
I mean no disrespect to Office Walker and I certainly don't mean to imply that this tragedy was not worthy of our attention. I simply think it's almost an insult to the hundreds of others who have also lost their lives on these city streets and whose names we never hear.

As a side note: If anything is deserving of extra attention in this case, it's the failure, once again, of the criminal justice system. The shooter, Rafael Jones, had an extensive criminal record including arrests on gun, robbery, and aggravated assault charges. He was out on probation without the required electronic monitoring ankle bracelet. His accomplice, Chancier McFarland, was being sought with an arrest warrant after two store robberies in February 2011. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

When Fantasy in Film Goes Awry: An Entertainment Review

In the past couple weeks I’ve consumed a good deal of entertainment in the form of books and movies. I also seem to have consumed a good deal of wine, though the two may not in any way be related.

Given that I have nothing particularly fascinating or disturbing to write about (really, once you cover shaving your nose and dropping socks in the toilet, what else is there?), I thought I’d provide you with one of my official/professional/authoritative movie review posts.  From here you can decide what to see this weekend. Cause really, my opinion means everything to you, right?

A failed experiment
I started off my movie blitz last week with Hope Springs, the troubled marriage flick starring  the incomparable Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones. I invited my boss to see it with me after work. This is rather like watching a movie with your mom, only to have an embarrassing sex scene pop up. Luckily, Laura and I both laugh easily which masked any discomfort we may have felt. But about the movie, it was good if slightly disturbing. Disturbing in that, if you’re married, you can see (relate?) to how easily your relationship can fall apart. It reminds you of just how much work is required to keep a marriage strong, intimate, and rewarding. Still, despite the heaviness of that message, there are plenty of good laughs and the usual happy ending. It’s also fun seeing Steve Carrell play a serious role. I adore him. Just seems like someone you’d want to have a beer with, doesn’t he?

We’ll give "Hope Springs" 2.5 out of 4 stars.

After "Hope Springs" my movie choices became notably less realistic. Perhaps a subconscious decision on my part?

Trippy fun, for a little while
While in Dedham, MA for my brain scan, I decided to take in a movie. (I have no qualms about going to the movies solo. Must be the introvert in me.)  I selected Ruby Sparks, an indie film that I knew I’d have trouble selling to my usual movie partners. As described in the synopsis on IMDb, "Ruby Sparks" is about a young novelist struggling with writer's block who finds romance in a most unusual way: by creating a female character he thinks will love him, then willing her into existence.  Sounds kinda fun and trippy, right?

It had its moments, but actually veered into dark territory. And ultimately it went with the standard happy ending.  I get that people go to the movies to escape reality where endings are all too often unhappy, but sometimes for a movie to really work, the writers should refuse to bow to the pressure and make the ending legitimate. If not unhappy, then at least vague and uncertain. Maybe that’s just me. Anyway, I’d say this one is worth a look for the unique story line, but wait for the video.

"Ruby Sparks" earns 2 out of 4 stars.

Ricky Gervais with his 10 Commandments
On the train ride home from Boston I popped in a video I’d borrowed from a friend: The Invention of Lying. Great title. Great concept. Great cast including Jennifer Garner, Ricky Gervais, Rob Lowe, Tina Fey Jonah Hill, and other fairly big name celebs. So why hadn’t I ever heard of it? Has anyone heard of it?

"The Invention of Lying" is a comedy set in a world where no one has ever lied, until a writer (Gervais) stumbles upon it and seizes the opportunity for personal gain. The blunt honesty of the dialogue makes it wry and cynical, a rather black comedy. 

Especially interesting to Christians with a sense of humor, the movie "explains" the origin of God and His ultimate control as well as the concept of Heaven and Hell. Translation: Christianity is a lie, pure fiction. Not surprising content given that outspoken atheist Ricky Gervais also wrote the movie.

If you’re not easily offended by sacrilegious material, I really recommend this one. It’s definitely funny. I give it 3 stars out of 4.

Timothy Green being, well, odd.
Finally, in the company of Rob and Abby I finished out last weekend with The Odd Life of Timothy Green. Let’s just say they got the title correct. “Odd” it is. I’m usually a sucker for these feel-good flicks, and I’m a big Jennifer Garner fan (I know she’s the only reason my husband was willing to see it), but this one left me flat. As described on IMBd: “A childless couple bury a box in their backyard, containing all of their wishes for an infant. Soon, a child is born, though Timothy Green is not all that he appears.”

SPOILER ALERT: The kid comes out of the ground and he’s got leaves on his legs and when all the leaves fall off… It can be a traumatic ending for young viewers.

I have a problem with the combination of reality and fantasy. I generally want mine straight up, either-or. This particular mix came off as hokie. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood. Maybe the mix of fantasy and reality in "Ruby Sparks" had pushed me over the edge.

NOTE: The exception to this rule is "Field of Dreams." And science fiction doesn’t count cause there really could be aliens like ET.

Timothy Green gets 1.5 stars out of 4.

So there you have it. Four movies, none of which you need to rush out to see this weekend. Which in hindsight makes this post rather pointless in the short term.

In order to end on a more positive note, allow me to whole-heartedly recommend two books I've recently read:

The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald, which I gave 4 out of 5 stars on, and The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley. I'm not quite finished with it, but barring an awful ending, it's also on its way to 4 out of 5 stars.

That's all, folks. I'm off to my happy place tomorrow! Enjoy your weekend!

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Glimpse at the Real Kim

Well, I'm home. I returned from the Center for Career Development and Ministry having been picked apart, prodded, and poked with sticks. It was an emotionally and mentally draining experience but it did yield some insights which I'll share with you in a minute. First, however, I want to tell you what happens when you don't follow directions.

Before I left for CCDM, I was told to plan for some down time afterward, time away from kids, work, home, etc. Those "in the know" recommended I give myself an opportunity to process and reflect on all l I learned, as well as time to recover from the emotional and mental battering. I, however, decided to go home. And that's when the trouble started.

When Rob picked me up at the train station on Friday night, Ian and Abby were with him. They had just eaten at Max Brenner's. The chocolate restaurant. I think the kids would have been less hopped up if he'd given them each 16 ounces of Red Bull. The were entertaining, but exhausting. And of course Abby had made me a cake saying "Welcome Home, Mom!" And it was chocolate. And we all had a piece around 10 p.m. Suprisingly, the kids didn't get to bed at a reasonable hour on Friday night.

On Saturday things really got ugly.

The schnoz
I cut my nose while shaving my legs in the shower at the gym. As I posted on Facebook, I may be the first person in history to have done this. I don't know how it happened. I must have been day dreaming or had an itch or something. It hurt and I bled like a stuck pig and I had to somehow get out of the gym without leaving a trail of blood behind me.
Later on Saturday, when taking off my socks while simultaneously using the bathroom (I'm always multi-tasking), I dropped a sock in the toilet.

And on Sunday during dinner I bumped my plate and voila!

Hot dog and baked bean remnants

I think I should have taken some time off, as directed.

Now, because you all desperately want to learn more about my internal wiring, here are some highlights from the substantial number of things I learned while at CCDM:
  • I am an ISTJ: Introvert, Sensing (vs. Intuition), Thinking (vs. Feeling), Judging (vs. Perceiving)
  • Being an introvert justifies my going to bed before my party guests leave.
  • Though I am an introvert, I'm off the charts in the Expressive category. This means I will gladly share my entire life story, but then I need to be alone for a while.
  • Under "Thinking" I am a 5 out of 5 in the Critical category. I know everyone is surprised to hear this.
  • I am highly sensitive to being left-out, left-behind, or ignored (like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction)
  • I want to receive love and affection more than I want to give it.
  • I don't tell others what to do (at the workplace, anyway), but I don't want to be told what to do either.
  • I use passive-aggressive methods of rebelling, rather than openly hostile ones.
  • My current job uses about about 95% of my strongest skills and 90% of my motivating values.
  • But Marketing Manager is really, really low on the list of careers best-suited for me.
  • Speaking of best careers for me:
    • Paralegal
    • Broadcast Journalist (ironic since this was my career goal until my junior year of college)
    • Librarian
    • Parks & Recreation Manager (???)
  • Least appropriate careers for me:
    • Architect
    • Mathematician
    • Religous/Spiritual Leader (and to think I briefly considered seminary)
The really good news is that I'm neither psychotic, schizophrenic, or bi-polar.  And according to the myriad of tests I took, I am living up to my potential.

So that's that. My future's clear as mud. Time to get back to work!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

My Future's Calling; Wish Me Luck

As I write, I'm on an Amtrak train to Boston. It's my first long train ride; I don't think I've gone farther (further?) than Philadelphia to New York City before tonight. I decided on the train because I figured it would give me several hours of uninterrupted “me” time. Time to read, work, write, reflect. And five and a half hours later, I can say I did all of the above, plus a little Words with Friends when I had a decent wireless connection.

It's been a stormy night, both outside my window and in my soul. I can hear the rain battering the windows and once in a while the lightening illuminates the darkness. I particularly like it when the train generators temporarily go down, taking out the noisy fan and ugly lights, leaving a dark, peaceful quiet during which I close my eyes for just a moment. I've forced myself to stay awake for the whole trip, knowing if I fall asleep now, I'll never fall asleep when I arrive at my hotel. I'm still struggling with the west coast/east coast time difference and it's wrecking havoc with my shut-eye.

Maybe the lack of sleep is contributing to my somber mood this evening. Or maybe I can attribute it to the purpose of my trip. See I'm headed for the Center for Career Development and Ministry in Dedham, MA. I know I should be excited about this opportunity, and until today I really was looking forward to it. I think I've just had too much time to think and reflect on what brought me to this place.

A few months back I wrote about my internal struggle as it relates to my life's work and purpose. I was asking myself those difficult questions: Am I living up to my potential? What am I being called to do with my life? Is this all there is? What's next? At the time, I talked with my friend Emily who attempted to bolster my self-esteem, telling me I could do anything I put my mind to, that she felt I wasn't giving myself enough credit, nor challenging myself enough. She let me know, in Stuart Smalley-style, that I'm Good Enough, I'm Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!” Our little therapy session left me feeling both inspired and slightly desperate for answers and insight. Naturally, being the “say whatever you're thinking” kind of fool that I am, I went in to work the very next day and proceeded to tearfully tell my boss everything that was on my mind. It's times like that that I'm incredibly thankful I work for a Christian organization that accepts all of me, tears and smiles, strengths and weaknesses, highs and lows. Heck, some folks don't even have family and friends who are that supportive.

My boss's response to my mentally and emotionally battered state was to offer me this opportunity for some career/life counseling. I had a whole bunch of homework to prepare for the visit, including strengths finders, skill assessments, personality profiles, autobiographical insights, and more. And tomorrow, when my visit begins, I believe I'll be tied up to a lie dectector and brain wave monitor. Or maybe they'll just give me some psychological tests. It should be fascinating.

I think maybe I'm a little sad, anxious, stressed, concerned, and somber because it feels like there's a whole lot riding on the next two days. I've been in a fairly dark place the last few months and I'm praying this visit sheds some light on where I go from here. And I know that's a lot to ask.

Something else I know is that many of you don't appreciate my more melancholy moments, and tomorrow morning I should probably reconsider this post, however, I imagine I'll go ahead and share. See even though some might give me a hard time for being a “downer” (and you know who you are), there are other Freakin' Angel readers who have told me they can relate and take comfort in knowing they're not alone with their fear, depression, or uncertainty. And I figure that, every once in a while, that's worth just as much as giving you a laugh.

My future's calling. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Good Times, but I'm Still Waiting for the Pie*

It's been four days since I returned home from our Lake Tahoe adventure and I think I need a vacaction. If not a vacation, at least a deep tissue massage. I didn't forsee the level of physical activity, some of which I alluded to in 10 Things I Learned on My Summer Vacation.

It started on Day One with a roughly 12 mile round trip bike ride from the Red Wolf Lodge at Squaw Valley where we stayed, to Tahoe City. The weather was phenomenal, the bike path mostly flat, and the scenery (riding along the Truckee River) beautiful. I had one small incident running my beach cruiser into a fence (damn those barely-there brakes), but other than that, we had an amazing time.

Then came Day Two.

It started innocently enough. We headed out with a small group of Red Wolf Lodge guests for a short, one hour round trip hike in Shirley Canyon. When we reached our destination and prepared to head back to the lodge, however, someone in our family, IAN, suggested we hike to High Camp. High Camp is up high (duh), at the top of the mountain (Squaw Valley). Given the shock of Ian suggesting any form of physical activity, Rob and I agreed.

We asked our tour guide about continuing the trek and were informed that we were about 1.5 hours from High Camp and that if we continued about 45 minutes past there we could also visit Shirley Lake. Best of all, we didn't need to hike back down the mountain because we could take the aerial tram from High Camp back to the village at no cost. Another hiker in our group encouraged us onward, assuring us that his wife had hiked it in her flip flops and that the trek wouldn't get any more difficult than it was then (relatively flat and wooded).

Let's just say news reporters aren't the only ones who should alway check their sources. To put it mildly, we were the victims of bad information. It turned out that fellow hiker man and his flip-flop footed wife had never made it all the way to High Camp and our tour guide had her destinations, and hence her times, reversed. The lake was actually 1.5 hours away and the tram 45 minutes past that. You couldn't actually get to the tram without traveling past the lake first (at least not without mountain climbing and rappelling gear). We didn't learn this bit of news until we were too far to turn back.

And did I mention that between the four of us we had one and a half bottles of water and no food?  

And that I wasn't even wearing my brand new Cabela hiking shorts?  

And that the wooded, dirt path turned into sheer rocks?

And that we were ultimately covering 3+ miles and working our way up a 6,000 foot incline?

I kept waiting for the St. Bernard with the little barrel around his neck to show up and rescue me, or at least provide some much needed hydration.

Our little adventure ended up taking three-plus hours and challenged me even more than my black belt tests. Of course it could be because I was so completely unprepared.

In the end, I'm glad we made the trek, first and foremost because I saw a new side of my son. Ian showed how mentally, emotionally, and physically strong he could be as he led the rest of us up that mountain without complaint. And of course along the way we viewed some of the most incredible sites -- and heights -- I've ever seen.
That was Day Two.  

Day Three included whitewater rafting (class 2 & 3 rapids).  

Day Four took us swimming at Sandy Beach State Park on Lake Tahoe, followed by horseback riding in Alpine Meadows where my horse and Ian's had a little spat. While we were riding them.
By Day Five we had come to our senses and were relaxing luxuriously at High Camp's pool and hot tub. Yes, there's a big beautiful pool, restaurant, and even rollerskating, disc golf, and paintball all at 8,200 feet. Pretty cool to swim a mile-plus above sea level. (And it was literally cool when that wind blew!)  

All in all, our week in Lake Tahoe was one of the best family vacations we've ever had. The kids fought a fair amount, but we had a heck of a lot of fun, tried a bunch of new things, and ate a number of quality hamburgers.

Good times indeed.

*If you're wondering what the pie reference in the title is all about, check out "The Psychological Power of Pie."

Monday, August 13, 2012

10 Things I Learned on My Summer Vacation

Last week my brood and I vacationed in Lake Tahoe, specifically Squaw Valley in Olympic Valley, California, site of the 1960 Winter Olympics. Whenever traveling as a family of four without the buffering effect of extended family or friends, there is always the potential for conflict. In other words, there's the possibility that vacation might turn out like time spent together at home. Well, I am happy to report that this trip was a great success, and best of all, we gained some valuable knowledge along the way. With contributions from the rest of the MacShimers, here are the top 10 things we learned on our summer vacation:
  1. Freakin' cheap United Airlines doesn't even offer you peanuts or pretzels on a cross country flight.
  2. Plastic cups sucked to ones face, will result in a chin hicky. Just ask Ian.
  3. Black bears enjoy a dip in the hot tub after coming out of hibernation and would rather eat your peanut butter sandwich, hot dog, or cinnamon roll than dine on you personally.
  4. Everyone in Lake Tahoe owns a dog. This is because cats get eaten by coyotes.
  5. It's true that Racer 5 and Lagunitas taste better in California.
  6. Trying to beat Abby in a game of Set is an exercise in futility.
  7. Beach cruisers with practically non-existant brakes are a bad idea on steep inclines or, in my case, little hills
  8. Made with real badger?
  9. A 3+ mile hike up a mountain is a foolish undertaking with only one and a half bottles of water for four people (more on this in my next post).
  10. When you see squirrels in the forest, be sure to sing "California Squirrels" to the tune of "California Girls." The kids really like that, especially when strangers can hear you.
  11. "Lightly scented" Badger Sunscreen literally smells like badger. What in the hell do they put in this stuff? It's almost unwearable.
That's all for now, but stay tuned for a full report on our mountain adventure. It was worse than my black belt test...