Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Timeshare Idiot's Adventures in Vacation Planning

I'm pretty sure that planning a vacation should not be on my fairly long list of parental/family obligations that I dislike. This puts what should be an enjoyable activity in the company of cooking, helping children with their homework and arts and crafts. I think I have a couple things working against me when it comes to family vacations:

  1. The family 
  2. My damn cheapness thriftiness
  3. The freakin' time share we bought years ago
Numbers two and three go together. See, once you buy a timeshare, you feel the need to get your money's worth out of it. This means that you need to use your property or exchange it for another location, and there's never one in the place you really want to vacation. Nor is there one in driving distance. And no, Atlantic City and the Poconos do not count. And forget trying to find a two-bedroom property even though that's what you own. In Orlando. With 80% of all the other foolish timeshare owners in the world. I confess that this is just another example of what happens when you don't listen to your father. The guy who despised the notion of timeshares since you were a little kid. The guy who would occasionally check out a property for the free toaster, and would happily punch the salesman in the nose if he didn't take no for an answer and give him the freakin' toaster at the end of the high pressure presentation. (He didn't really punch anyone in the nose. As far as I know.) Dad knew better than to commit to something like a couple bedrooms at a resort in Florida for the rest of your freakin' life. Yes, even if you're an adult, married with children, your father still knows best.

While we can exchange our week for reward points every other year (we own a Starwood property), 2013 required us to use our week. A use it or lose it situation. With two kids in school and a husband whose summer is half booked with Phillies games, our choices were limited, to say the least. Nothing besides the Poconos and Atlantic City in driving distance. Several options in desert climates. We did that a few years ago. Palm Springs, CA in July. 107 degrees. But it was a dry heat. Like sticking your head in an oven. Good times. The only other option? Ski resort towns. Hence last year's visit to Lake Tahoe. Lake Tahoe, however, was a winner, so guess what we decided on for this summer?

Breckenridge, Colorado.

I did my research. Everything I read said it's lovely there in the summer. Likely to be an identical experience to Tahoe. Bike riding, hiking, horseback riding, whitewater rafting. High altitude sickness. We turn into outdoorsy folks on these trips. And the added bonus? We'd be within 90 minutes of Castle Rock, CO, home to the world's most adorable nephew. My sister and brother-in-law are there too, but I wasn't going to let that stop me. We found reasonable airfare and a three-bedroom resort, and I booked it. Whew. One more thing off my to do list. Next up, window washing.

Yesterday I told the kids of our plans. My ungrateful bastards lovely children asked why we can't go somewhere we haven't been before. Though we've never been to Breckenridge, apparently having gone anywhere in the state before qualifies as having been "there." I heard "Why can't we go to the Bahamas with Noah's and Maddie's families?" "What about Mexico?" "I thought we were going to California?" I responded with "It's too expensive." "It's too expensive." "The flights were too expensive." For good measure I added, "You know there was a little trip to Italy earlier this year. And then there's your pastry camp, Abby. And Girl Scout camp. And Ian's leadership camp, which, I know, I recommended. And sessions with a personal trainer. Oh, and you want private voice lessons. And maybe an acting camp would be nice, too."

Generally, my children are not ungrateful bastards, but this is one of those unpleasant side effects of living in a nice community where everyone seems to take amazing vacations and some even take limos to the airport. And when they're not vacationing in Hawaii or the Caribbean, they kids are headed to some camp that costs more than my freakin' timeshare. I end up having to guilt my kids into appreciating what they have. "When I was a kid I went to Disney World once and every other summer was spent at the Jersey shore and we loved it. So pipe down, kid, or you can spend your vacation in your bedroom. Without the computer."

Talk about your first world problems.

Before I wrap this up, have I mentioned there's a two-bedroom Sheraton resort property in Orlando that's available for a steal? It's like brand new. The current owners have never used it. Let me know if you're interested.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Putting an End to the Nightmare that is Gym Class

Television, radio, websites and publications — in nearly every form of entertainment there is something that appeals to our individual interests, quirks and passions. There’s no reason to be like everyone else or even engage with anyone else when it can so easily be all about you. By immersing ourselves in that which fits our personality, IQ and emotional needs, we can be assured that no harm will come to our confidence, self-esteem or self-image.

With this in mind, three years ago in “Food for Thought,” I suggested that supermarkets designate lanes based on the kinds of food a customer buys. That way, those of us who purchase crap loaded with preservatives and artificial sweeteners won’t feel badly about ourselves when we’re in line with the organic health food buyer. I’m sorry to say that I have yet to see a grocery store implement this excellent idea. I can practically guarantee they’d enjoy an impressive customer base and strong sales.

Along those lines, today I would like to propose separate gym classes based on body type, athletic ability and basic level of fitness. And I recommend that these segmented classes begin as early as kindergarten so those of us who require remedial hand-eye coordination activities will not find ourselves ostracized during snack time. The reasons for despising gym class tend to vary from age to age and person to person, but the end result is always the same: emotional scarring, night terrors related to dodgeball and long-term aversion to anything physical.

For some, what they most loathe about the experience of phys ed is the actual performance part. Run a mile in 6:30. Finish 10 pull-ups. Catch this ball. Walk in a straight line. These requirements can be brutal and cause one to break out in tears hives at the mere mention. Others may not dread the activities so much, but find undressing in front of their peers is a fate worse than death. Are you as well “developed” as your classmates? Are you clean shaven? Did you forget today was P.E. and wear your Thomas the Train briefs? This is the stuff that keeps therapists in business. That, and our parents.

Personally, I still have nightmares about the choosing of teams in gym class. Who in the world thought it was a good idea to put a couple of kids (usually insensitive bastards athletes) in charge of picking teams? While you can try to blend in with a group of fellow gym class haters for the activities themselves, or disappear in a toilet stall to avoid comparing bra sizes, when you’re lined up against the wall for team selection there’s absolutely nowhere to hide. As each captain starts calling names and the wallflower lineup gets shorter and shorter, it’s basically the equivalent of someone shouting, “We don’t want Shimer! She’s the worst athlete ever!” I was usually chosen second to last, saved only by the significantly overweight kid or the one on crutches.  Good memories.

My simple solution, separating kids into appropriate groups, has the potential to be life-changing. Imagine no more…
mysterious illnesses on gym class days
terror at the prospect of playing dodge ball with the football players in your class
standing alone against the wall like the girl who never gets asked to dance
shame at wearing granny panties
fear of ridicule when you fall over your own two feet at the starting line
hyperventilating when you run out of air during those aptly named “suicides”
concern that you’re overweight, underweight, undersized or oversized
costly long-term therapy to address issues of self-esteem

With separate gym classes all kids can feel comfortable in their own skin. There will be no pressure to improve skills, get in shape, lose weight or talk mom into buying you appropriate underwear. Simply put, gym class, high school, and the world in general will be a kinder, gentler place. Now that's something worth cheering for!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Awakening to Goodness at a Time of Loss

It's been a rough couple of weeks. On the morning of Friday, April 19, my Aunt Faify (Faith) was admitted to the hospital in critical condition after suffering what doctors assumed was a heart attack. That same day, my Aunt Glenna, who is battling leukemia, was told that chemotherapy wasn't working and doctors recommended hospice care. And then, that evening, when coming to the hospital with us to visit his wife, my Uncle Richie took one step into the lobby and collapsed, code blue. A dozen medical workers pounded on his chest, shocked his heart, and miraculously brought him back. If he hadn't been in a hospital when this happened, he would have died.

Two weeks later, Uncle Richie has had a pacemaker put in and was moved to a rehabilitation facility. My Aunt Glenna is holding on as best she can. And my Aunt Faify has found a new home in heaven.

I haven't known what to blog about during this difficult time. A comedic post seemed inappropriate (though laughter is exactly what we need now). A detailed post about the range of emotions we experienced felt too heavy. On Sunday during church, however, I got an idea from Pastor Nikki's sermon when she remarked that "the pools of kindness are drying up." You'll be glad to know I didn't shout it out loud, but my immediate reaction was "Nah ah!"

There's been a whole lot of tragedy in the world and a great deal of loss that I've experienced personally in recent years. And though my "Why, God?" has gone unanswered, I have found Jesus' words in Matthew 5:4 to be true: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted…" I can also relate to Psalms 94:19: "When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul." My comfort and consolation are coming from those pools of kindness, and I see them everywhere I look. I wish it didn't require grief and loss to awaken us to the goodness in the world.

In the past couple weeks I have seen love and kindness in action, some of it in direct response to my personal situation, some of it just there waiting to be noticed:

  • The "newlywed" couple at church still holding hands after 50+ years of marriage.
  • The simple gesture of a husband putting an arm around his wife's waist, symbolically saying "I'm always by your side."
  • An adult son bringing his cancer stricken mother to church in a wheelchair and throughout the service rubbing her back, adjusting the scarf on her head and smiling because being there with her and for her was bringing him joy.
  • The unexpected kindness of a Villanova student worker wrapping his arms around my shoulders and hugging me when I received the call that Aunt Faify had passed.
  • The love of friends who bring food, offer prayers and provide support in times of need.
  • A four-year-old walking into a room to give his PopPop a hug and a kiss -- just because -- and then walking out again to return to his toys. 
  • The kindness and care of a neighbor whose love sustains my parents through good times and bad.
  • The commitment and love that brings a daughter home from Denver, twice in two weeks, to be there to support her mom and to say goodbye to a beloved aunt.
  • The constant presence of a husband who let go of old resentments and is providing the unwavering support his wife needs during one of the most difficult times of her life.
Freakin' Angels, indeed.
And then there's my Mom. For the past several months she's been a source of strength for my Aunt Glenna. Taking her for chemo and blood and platelets. Letting her cry. Talking and laughing. Reminiscing. Just sitting together. My Aunt Faith and Aunt Glenna have been my mom's best friends throughout her entire life. Out of five sisters, they were the inseparable three.To say this is a difficult time for my mom, would be a major understatement. She had to plan her sister's memorial service because Uncle Richie was in no condition to do so. She has had to care for him as well. And despite being emotionally and physically drained, she never lost sight of the needs of her sister Glenna. Through it all, my mom has displayed incredible strength, resilience and unwavering faith. She has mourned and will continue to mourn her loss, but the love she feels for her sisters keeps her going.

Having never known three women with bigger hearts who give (and gave) of themselves so selflessly, I'm certain that this awakening to the love and kindness all around us is exactly what my aunts, and my mom, would want. The perfect tribute to each of these wonderful women.