Thursday, December 29, 2016

25 Gifts for Christmas

Well, I did it. I successfully de-Grinched myself this holiday season. I stuck to my plan--daily texts of appreciation to my husband and kids, and daily journal entries reflecting on the gifts I already have in my life. It seemed to do the trick. For the past month I've felt better than have in a long time.

Just in case you need to be reminded of some of the gifts in your life, here are the 25 I counted down to Christmas with (and they were written as the spirit moved me, appearing in no particular order):

1: Antidepressants. Okay, an odd choice, but a serious game-changer for me. I'm so thankful that there are options for people who struggle like I do.
2. My friend Karen A. I can tell her anything and be myself 100% of the time. I have a blast in her company (she's the friend most likely to get me into trouble), and yet I can cry and bear my soul with her, too. I'm praying that 2017 is really good to her. She deserves it.
3. Occasions with friends. What a gift! Whether it's watching a PSU football game with my Freakin' Angels, their spouses and kids, or enjoying a girls' night out, few things are better than spending time with my "sisters."
4. Bubble baths. We take them for granted, don't we? Millions of people in this world don't have clean water to drink and we fill a tub with gallons of it, just so we can soak away our First World troubles.
5. My job. It was kind of a down year for me professionally. Just wasn't feeling it. Guess the depression didn't help any. But I am thankful for meaningful work to do, and even more grateful that it comes with tuition remission.
6. Working out? This is a tough one. You know I hate exercising, but I'm thankful that I'm strong and healthy enough to do it, and I appreciate the results.
7. Eating out. The only thing I hate more than working out is cooking. Every meal I don't have to make is a gift.
8. Good TV shows. Television is in a renaissance period. The network shows may suck (with the exception of "This is Us"), but Showtime, Netflix and Amazon Video are more than making up for the dearth of quality entertainment that we experienced for the past several years.
9. Books. Give me the shore, a boat, the sun and a good book and I'm a happy girl. Read almost 25 books this year and there were some good ones on that list. I'll share them in my 2016 Entertainment Year in Review, coming soon.
10. The Christmas Spirit. I was feeling it on December 10! I had breakfast with my friend Emily whom I hadn't seen in ages. Then I hit the gym. Then I made real pine boughs for the windows and played with Lily. I hung the stockings with care, went shopping and wrapped some gifts. That night we had an MPC deacons' party. It was a really good day.
11. MPC. Have I told you we have a new pastor (not an interim!!!) at Media Presbyterian Church? And have I told you I think he's awesome? For the first time in years, I'm happy to invite one and all to join me at MPC some Sunday morning. If you're looking for a church family, your search is over!
12. Vacation days. Even if you do nothing more than organize the house, it's such a joy to take a day off.
13. Free classes at Villanova. Even though I didn't like my Voice & Movement class this past semester, I appreciate the ability to take courses that interest me. Next semester I'm taking Playwriting.
14. Lily. She steals food and is relentless about the garbage, but I love her to pieces. One of the greatest joys in my life.
15. Christmas cookies. I know no limits when it comes to eating them, which is why I'll be instituting a rigorous workout schedule come Jan. 2. Until then, I'm going to pig out, so if you notice that my jeans are unbuttoned, there's no need to bring it to my attention.
16. Great movies. Apollo 13 was on television on Dec. 16. Reminded me how powerful films can be. It's been a while since I've seen anything as good as that one, unfortunately. What have you seen in 2016 that you think hits the mark?
17. Games! I LOVE playing games with my family and friends. I'm lucky that my kids are game people, too. It's made for many a happy night together.
18. Ian. He came home on Dec. 18 for Rob's mom's birthday. Every time we're together I'm reminded just how much I love being with that "kid." He's smart, interesting and interested, and funny. He's engaging and engaged. I couldn't be prouder of the man he's becoming.
19. Hair cut and color. 'Nuff said.
20. Theatre. My "debut" this year was was just about everything I could have hoped for. It helped pull me out of one of the most severe depressive episodes in my life. I hope there's more of it (theatre, not depression) in my future.
21. A really good cheeseburger. I had an amazing BBQ bacon cheddar burger on Dec. 21 (Avenue Kitchen in Villanova). It was worth each of those 5000 calories.
22. The dog park. I love the dog park in Haverford almost as Lily. It's a sanctuary of sorts for me, and it brings me great joy to watch the dogs play.
23. Family outings. They're increasingly rare and as a result they mean that much more now. Once upon a time I couldn't wait to have "me" time, or time alone with Rob. Then one day you wake up and "me" time is the rule, rather than the exception. On Dec. 23 we (all four of us, plus Brooke) went to Booth's Corner for the first time. Had a blast, then came home and made Christmas cookies.
24. Abby. Where do I begin to describe the gift that is Abby? She's a one-of-a-kind force of nature. Tough, but warm to those she loves. She appreciates what she has and never asks for more. I'm so proud of her.
25. Rob. My greatest gift by far. A living, breathing example of God's love. I'm blessed with one of the best marriages of anyone I know. I guess that's what happens when you marry your best friend.

Your turn. What gifts did you discover this Christmas?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

In Need of a Good De-Grinching

Aside from setting out a few Christmas-y dust collectors and loading up the tree with the dozens of ornaments we've collected over the years, I do not deck the halls for the holidays. I consider decorating to be a form of arts & crafts, which is among the many maternal skill sets I lack. I thought this shortcoming would become less important once the kids grew up, but alas, Abby has once again voiced her disappointment at our Grinch-like abode.

Truth be told, I feel rather Grinch-like and it's not just the depression that's keeping me green and grumpy. I've felt ho-hum about the holidays for years now. I'm not sure where things went wrong for me. Perhaps when the kids became too old for toys (or at least toys that don't cost hundreds of dollars)? Perhaps when I became too old for toys? Perhaps when Christmas getaways began taking the place of gift-giving? Perhaps when I decided the loneliness of a mere family of four at the holidays was too big a bummer to bother truly celebrating? Perhaps when the radio stations started playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving and the stores decorated for the holiday in October? Regardless of the cause, I've definitely lost the passion for Christmas, which means I'm obviously missing the reason for the season.

This year I'm going to try something different. In an attempt to beat the Grinch at his own game, I'm going to decorate my heart and soul with 25 daily gifts of love. Wow, that sounds super corny, but work with me here. I'm thinking that rather than an advent calendar counting down to Christmas with chocolates, I'm going to remind myself daily of all the gifts I already have in my life. One gift each day, recorded in my journal so I can reflect on it. And to share the love, which is the whole point of Christmas (remember?) from December 1-25 I'm also going to "gift" my family with simple reminders of why I love them. My hope is that I can think of 25 reasons for each of them this countdown will fill my heart with the joy of the season.

I'd love to hear about the special ways you celebrate Christmas/Hanukkah. And if you want to get together over the holidays, give a call. Time spent with friends is one of the greatest gifts of all!

Monday, November 7, 2016

The End is Near! Or Maybe It's Just My Beginning?

Tomorrow night I officially take the stage, a real stage, for the first time in 30 years. And no, that's not an exaggeration. I haven't been in a theater production since high school when I performed in Leader of the Pack my senior year. I wore a black leather jacket in that role. In Marisol, I play “Woman with Furs” and I wear an amazing coat. I obviously have a gift for attracting roles with good outerwear.

Rehearsals for Marisol began in early October and the time has flown by. Along with the passage of time, I'm happy to say that my depression has eased dramatically (pun intended). I guess being part of something bigger than yourself and staying busy keeps sadness at bay. It doesn't hurt that I'm surrounded by a supportive family (now I have two!)—with me in the solo role of middle age woman. I've enjoyed the hugs (thank you, Rachel), loads of laughter (thank you, Nick and Leo) and ridiculous amounts of talent (thank you, all). Whatever it is, I've consistently looked forward to rehearsals, and there's little else I feel that way about these days.

The joy I've experienced throughout this process is all the more remarkable when you consider the size of my role, which amounts to one scene at the top of Act 2. A small part was ideal in the early days of rehearsal when it meant I didn't have to be there every night or stay for the entire time, but come the week before the show, a small part translates into more sitting than I've ever done in my life. Friday evening, the first of our tech rehearsals, I spent no more than 10 minutes on stage in four hours. On Saturday, during an 11-hour rehearsal, my stage time was about 15 minutes. It's no wonder I've gained weight over the past month. It's either all the sitting or the banana chocolate chip, french vanilla chip, or chocolate cheesecake muffins I've been eating regularly for breakfast.

All the sitting aside, I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Of course, I can say that now, before the performance, before the nerves attack and I forget all my lines and burst into tears on stage. At least I'm thinking positive. So let's say that barring a catastrophe, I'd love to do this again. Will I do it again? Probably not anytime soon. It's a lot to ask of my family as long as Abby is living at home and needs me for transportation. And I do miss time with family and friends. And speaking of missing things, would you believe Rob is going to Punta Cana for work later this month and I could have gone if it weren't for Marisol? Alas, the show must go on. And while we're speaking of Rob, can I publicly thank him for being so supportive? I know it wasn't easy, but this experience really has brought me considerable joy.

But enough about me and my emotional catharsis, it's time to tell you about this amazing show. First, it's not for everybody. I'd give it a PG-13 rating. If you believe the “F” word warrants an R rating, then it should be rated Triple-R. But “F” bombs aside, Marisol is an amazingly thought-provoking show. It will make you laugh, cry and cringe. It will make you consider the presence of God and guardian angels. It will make you wonder about this world we live in.

Here's the official description:

Brooklyn is a war zone, coffee is extinct, the moon has disappeared, and angels are trading in their wings for machine guns. As a celestial battle against an old and senile God brews in heaven, the rebellion spills over into New York City. Without the protection of her guardian angel, Marisol Perez begins a surreal journey through the chaos of a crumbling world to find her way home. Met by vagrants and vagabonds at every turn, she must salvage what hope remains amidst the rubble of the apocalypse. 

Perhaps one line in the show best sums it up:
“What a time to be alive, huh? On one hand, we're nothing. We're dirt. On the other hand, we're the reason the universe was made.”  
To learn more about Marisol, check out the website.

Performances run from tomorrow through November 20 at Villanova Theatre in Vasey Hall. If you're interested in seeing it you can order tickets at or 610-519-7474.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Whom Would I Be If...?

Have you ever stopped to think about whom you would be if you became wildly wealthy or found yourself in a position of great power? Sometimes I ask myself those questions, often when there's a big lottery win on the line or when I encounter an executive asshole. I recently wrote an article in which I had the middle initial wrong for a bigwig, and "his people" were quick to let me know. To be fair, they weren't jerks about it, but I wonder, if I were the bigwig, would a mistake like that phase me in the least? When I’m mistakenly referred to by Rob’s last name I don’t make it a point to correct the individual in question, but if I were someone who “mattered” would I suddenly start railing against the offenders?  I’m curious, which comes first, the ego or the executive title?

I recall years ago when I worked in publishing we were producing a compilation of sermons and I had to choose just a few preachers' names for the back cover. I inadvertently left off the name of a nationally-known minister/author who proceeded to berate me, threatening to pull his sermon from the book if he wasn't properly recognized. Christian behavior at its finest. So was this guy a jerk to begin with, or did he grow into it, along with his fame?

Maybe I’m naive, but I like to think that no matter how important I became, I'd still treat everyone the same way I do now. Which to be fair, isn't spectacular because I'm actually pretty introverted and small talk kills me. Still, I can't imagine I could talk down to anyone, or lash out if someone dropped the ball where my identity is concerned.

And then there’s money. Does money change everyone? Is it a given? Maybe it depends on when you become rich. If I had millions of dollars fall into my lap at this point in my life, I really doubt that it would change who I am at the core. I’d buy a shore house immediately, but I’d invite everyone who likes this post all my friends and maybe even discount the rental fee. I'm generous like that. And I don’t think I’d suddenly be okay with $200 jeans or $500 haircuts. I’m pretty sure I’d still clip coupons and shop at TJ Maxx, Marshall’s and BJ’s. And I’d probably drive my minivan into the ground before picking out my dream convertible. If I were wealthy, I’d still nag my husband to use the dozen-plus brewery growlers he keeps in the basement instead of always getting a new one. And I’d remain pissed off at the way the dog has ruined the couch by treating it as her personal jungle gym.

If I were rich, I know I’d increase my tithing at church, give to those in need, and buy my dad a bigger boat, but I probably wouldn’t start paying for all my friends every time we went out for dinner (that could become awkward). I would go out for dinner much more often, however, because there are few things I dislike as much as cooking. Maybe I’d hire an in-house chef. I’d still eat peanut butter sandwiches because I don’t like anything “good,” but Rob and the kids could eat better.

Speaking of the kids, they wouldn’t find themselves living on easy street. No big handouts coming from mom (dad might be a different story). I’d still make them drive the crappy, seriously-used cars they have waiting for them now. And they’d still be responsible for filling them with gas, bought with the money they earned from their jobs. I think nothing is more dangerous than a free ride. Pun intended.

So how about you? Would fame and fortune go straight to your head or would you remain the individual we know and love? Have you experienced a change in title or wealth that tempted you to become someone else? What would others say about you? 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

How Do You Say...?

I do not like voids in my life, therefore, when the opportunity arose to fill Ian's spot, I took it. Within days of Ian moving to Villanova, I moved Gautier into his room. Gautier or Got (pronounced "Gote") is a 16-year-old exchange student from Tours, France. I took "exchange" quite literally, trading in one teenage boy for a new model. Not that Gautier is a French model. I wouldn't want a gaggle of teen girls showing up at the house with misinformation.

You may recall that I attempted this exchange student thing before, about four years ago. Jess, however, was from Quebec, which doesn't really count, plus she had already graduated from high school in Canada, which means she had no skin in the game. What I'm trying to say is that it didn't work out with Jess. She left us a couple months early. Boyfriend troubles, apparently, though there were rumblings of dissatisfaction around a certain family member's bathroom habits. We won't go there. No pun intended.

Filling the empty hole in my soul from Ian's leaving was not the only reason we ordered an exchange student. I also was looking for free labor, someone to empty the dishwasher and wash the cars, much like Long Duk Dong’s host parents in "Sixteen Candles." Abby also wanted an exchange student from France. She's taking French and figured it'd be like having a free, live-in tutor. Unfortunately, she didn't count on having to tutor him in English, and let's just say patience isn't her strong suit.

Got’s English is passable, but there are definitely conversations where I’m lucky if I understand half of what he says. While it can be difficult, personally, I’ve found much of the language barrier to be charming and/or amusing. For example:

“What was your day?” (translated: How was your day?)

“They don’t have bus for to go home. I will work.” (translated: I missed the bus. I will walk)

“Thank you for your helping.” (translated: thank you for your help)

“I past the first test. I don’t understand all the answer.” (translated: I finished the first test. I didn’t understand any of the questions)

“I work outsider with lily.” (translated: I took Lily for a walk)

“For this moment I don’t really have hungry.” (translated: I’m not hungry right now)

I also love the way Got describes nearly everything as “big,” which is certainly appropriate in America where everything from meals to our vehicles are overly large. He noted that the only thing small around here are teenage girls’ jeans. Actually, that was me. He hasn't mentioned girls' jeans. Got also refers to many things as “funny,” when I’m pretty sure he means nice or good.

While I pick up a decent amount of what he’s trying to communicate, I’m pretty sure Got gets about 10 percent of what I throw at him. I’ve learned that if he gives me a straight "yes" or "no" answer it means he doesn't understand what I’ve said and is trying to fake it. There have been some alarming examples of this. For instance, he responded “yes” to questions like "Will you try to kill me in my sleep?" and "Do you have any intention of hitting on my daughter?" And he replied "no" when asked "Do you like my cooking?" and "Do you think we’re a nice, normal family that you’ll enjoy living with?" Clearly these were not the responses I was looking for, nor the answers I believe he meant to give. Although, to be fair, he probably doesn't like my cooking, as evidenced by the fact that he keeps offering to make meals for us.

The most important thing to know about Got (besides his potentially murderous intentions) is that he’s very polite, respectful and eager to help. Kinda like I imagine my children are when they’re with anyone but me. He’s also a big fan of the way Americans treat our flag. Apparently that level of respect and display is unheard of in France, or many countries for that matter. It’s pretty cool to hear him talk about it.

Overall, I’d have to say things are going well. When I asked Got about his next host family (he moves to a new family in January), he informed me that he’s planning on staying with us. I told him that's fine, as long as he takes over all the cooking. Anyone interested in a nice French meal?

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Empty Nest Symptoms?

Someone once said she appreciated how "real" I am.
I told her I'd prefer to be a little less real.
Last week I had one of my worst emotional breakdowns in 15 years. For anyone who's struggled with depression, you know that these episodes are terrifying. You can't breath, you can't stop crying, and you're paralyzed with the fear that you're never going to get better. Suffice it to say that depression sucks.

I've been in a pretty lousy place for about six months now and I'm starting to wonder if I'm ever going to feel like my old self again. It's not that my old self was anything awesome, but I liked her better. She laughed more easily. She made others laugh. She cried at happy things. She wrote funny blog posts and Vacation Bible School skits.

I'm not entirely sure what prompted last week's meltdown, but my guess is that it had something to do with being lonely. Honestly, loneliness has taken me by complete surprise. I craved alone time for most of the past 15 years, and now that I have it, I'm miserable. I never thought I'd be the mom who falls apart when the kids leave the house. I thought the whole empty nest syndrome was a bit ridiculous and only applied to moms whose entire lives were their kids. But here I am, the mom who paid as little attention to the kids as possible, now hates the thought of them leaving. And it's not like Ian's going to college across the country, for crying out loud (no pun intended), and I still have Abby for a few more years (though she's constantly busy). Woe is me! I've turned into my mom. Time to stock up on those guilt-inducing comments.

What concerns me most about this loneliness thing is that it's not as if I have nothing else to do with my life. I go to the gym (and as an aside, a meltdown post-workout is truly adding insult to injury. I exercise because the freakin' endorphins are supposed to help my mental health. It's totally uncool for them to not hold up their end of the bargain); I make dinner (it's been known to happen when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars); I play with the dog; I watch two episodes of my new favorite show Jane the Virgin (no more than two, because I want to make them last); I write, read, or pay bills or practice an audition piece for a play I may or may not have the nerve to try out for; I drink wine; and then I have mini panic attacks when I allow my mind to wander for more than a minute.

Most likely I'm overreacting. It's only the calm before the storm. Life will pick back up again and I won't have time to be looney lonely. Soon school will resume and I'll be chauffeuring Abby to and from soccer practices and games.  And did I mention we're taking in an exchange student from France? (His name is Gautier; he's 16. What could go wrong?) And I'm taking a Voice & Movement class at Villanova, returning to the theatre program. I also think I'm going to try out for a play, which would keep me busy six nights a week, at which point I'll have a breakdown because I'm overwhelmed. There's no keeping me happy. Aren't you glad you're not Rob?

Thanks for listening/reading. I know this isn't a particularly uplifting post, but I figured someone out there would be able to relate and might have something to say to make me feel better. Or, I'll make you feel better knowing that you're not half as crazy, lonely, sad, etc. as the girl who writes the Freakin' Angel blog!

Monday, July 18, 2016

To Be Extraordinary

A couple weeks ago the news reported the death of Seaman James Derek Lovelace. Lovelace drowned during Navy Seal training exercises. He was 21. Did you know that since 2012 more Seals have died in training than have died in combat or from combat-related injuries? A sad fact, sadder still because these men were extraordinary.

When I witness individuals doing extraordinary things, I feel really crappy about myself and my decidedly ordinary life. I'm in awe of those who tackle military training, or attempt American Ninja Warrior, or the Spartan races. I am beyond impressed by those who complete Ironman/Woman triathlons. I tip my hat to marathon runners and mountain climbers because there's nothing in me that wants to attempt any of those things. I hear the term "boot camp" at the gym, and I head to the yoga mat. Combine the word "extreme" with anything, and I run in the opposite direction. How is it there are people like Seaman Lovelace in the world and then there are people like me?

And it's not just those who accomplish heroic physical feats. What about hospice nurses like my girl Theresa, and teachers like my friends Cathy, Karen, Mindy, Dave, Dan and Susan? Put me in their shoes and you'd find the dying comforting me, and children running the classroom. And then there are those who make a difference in the world through their selfless acts. Like my friend Dave Powell whose organization Wells for Relief brings water to people in Ghana. Personally, I'd like to bring a dog  park to Media, Pa., and even that seems like too much work (and it's totally selfish since I could really use a dog park nearby).

Hell, even politicians, one or two of them, deserve our applause. Most of us bitch about the state of our country, but how many of us are doing anything to improve it? Current presidential candidates excluded, there are actual American citizens who put their district, state, and/or country first. I can't name any of them, but I'm sure they exist. This is just another category in which I would say, "Not a chance." I'm embarrassed to admit that I would probably fail a test on exactly how our political system works, and that's because I spend my time on the latest movies and best selling books instead of picking up Time magazine.

Wow. This is depressing. The problem with this thinking, and as a result this blog post, is that it stymies us. We're understandably daunted by aiming for extraordinary, convinced we can never achieve it, but I recently was given the advice to "Do one thing different" and that helps, really. Because if you think about it, neither the Navy seal nor the marathon runner, nor the teacher or the politician got out of bed one morning and said "today I'm going to accomplish something extraordinary." They built up to it with a run, or a course of study or, in the case of the politician, a bribe. Baby steps.

I'm not sure what my extraordinary could look like, but today and tomorrow, too, I'm going to do one thing different and see where it takes me. How about you? What would extraordinary mean to you? And what's the one thing you could do differently to get you there?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

It's Been Curiously Entertaining!

Rob and I have been talking about our 10-year plan and for some time now it's included retiring to Wrightsville Beach, NC. I even get Zillow updates on properties for sale in our price range. This year when choosing where to vacation we decided we should visit the place we want to retire, you know, before actually purchasing a property and moving there. So here we are in Carolina Beach, NC. We couldn't afford find a place to rent in Wrightsville.

Located just south of Wrightsville, Carolina Beach is billed as "a family-friendly, extraordinary beach town that's curiously entertaining!" The "curiously entertaining" part should have been a clue. I'm pretty sure it's synonymous with "uncomfortably amusing" or "freak show." Carolina Beach is also described as "North Carolina's most authentic beach town," which means "America's yahoos vacation here." Allow me to share the top 10 things I've seen this week (and the week is only half over):
  1. A tee that read "Cool story, babe, now get me a beer."
  2. A sign for a "Gun & Tattoo" show.
  3. A visit from the paramedics. Despite the fact that we were hanging on the front porch enjoying ourselves, she walked past us to the front door and when we looked at her strangely stopped and said "Didn't you call 911?" We hadn't. 
  4. Fishing charter boats so skanky I'd be afraid to eat anything they caught.
  5. Abby and Hope almost hit by a car and Rob giving the guy an earful.
  6. An absurd amount of vaping...
  7. A preponderance of Willie Nelson look-a-likes.
  8. An alligator.
  9. A bar with no public restrooms and a sign forbidding "club colors." Forgive my naivety, but I really didn't know Carolina beach towns were havens for gang violence.
  10. A brand new boardwalk all of three blocks long on which there is nothing but swings overlooking the dunes. Not a glimpse of the ocean to be found. And the boardwalk shops aren't actually on the boardwalk. Nor is there anything remotely worth shopping for. This place makes Seaside Heights look impressive. Almost. 
And now that I've gotten my elitist comments out of the way, allow me to add that bringing Lily on vacation was a mistake. We've had one escape in which she took off across the street, through parking lots, over the dunes and onto the beach. Some guy caught her by the collar and she dragged him several feet before he wisely let go. We haven't been able to leave her alone for fear she'll either die of a stress-related heart attack or destroy the house. We're going to the beach in shifts. 

Now, none of this is to say we're not having fun. The beach is lovely and the water is about the warmest I've ever felt the Atlantic. Yesterday we took a ferry to Oak Island and found a dog friendly beach that Lily enjoyed. We've played several rousing games of Polish poker, I finished a good book (Tana French's Broken Harbor), and we experienced hair raising thunderstorms. 

Still, I'd say there's an excellent chance we'll be home early. I prefer my yahoos without a southern accent. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

14 Things I Learned from the Elementary and Middle School Years

I am the mother of a high school graduate.Woo hoo! You'll be shocked to learn that I did not weep during Ian's commemoration or graduation last week. I have this weird ability to stay relatively chill during experiences that make unemotional people cry. It's silly stuff like the sunrise that get me choked up.

I have heard from many people one person that I did a good job of raising my son, and therefore I figured I should share my wisdom so others can benefit.  I have broken the marketing/ communication rule that says you should never write from the negative perspective, but given my glass half empty tendencies, I've decided to do just that. Here are two lists of what not to do during both the elementary and middle school years.

Soon, I'll write specifically about senior year. It's deserving of its own post.

See what happens to moms who volunteer? It's not easy being green.

  1. Don’t put pressure on yourself to be elementary school super mom. You don’t need to be the homeroom parent. You don’t need to make food for class parties. You don’t need to lead craft activities. As my daughter would say, “You do you.” In my case, that meant donating bottled water. Or cash. 
  2. Don’t put pressure on yourself to be a super mom at home. You don’t need to make meals. You don’t need to bake cookies. You don’t need to decorate the windows and door for holidays. You don’t need to visit Pintrest or read Better Homes & Gardens. In fact, delete the “need to” and simply DON’T do either of those things. Trust me, you’ll be happier. 
  3. Don’t put pressure on yourself to be an at-home mom. Been there. Hated it. Cried a lot. I was a much better mom the minute I took a job and left the house.
  4. Don’t help your kids with their homework. Trust me, after 1st grade you won’t know how to do it anyway, and by telling your kids you can’t do it in those early years, you’ll get out of helping in the future.
  5. Don’t drink too much in front of the kids, or else they’ll draw pictures and write short stories about how much mommy likes wine. 
  6. If you’re not comfortable with being public school enemy No. 1, don’t write a note to the principal questioning the appropriateness of wasting spending a month preparing for an extravaganza that involves less than 10% of the class. This will only lead to your child’s teacher never speaking to you again, and may actually sound the death knell for said event.  
  7. Don’t let your child quit a sport or a musical instrument without first having them sign a legal document absolving you of any wrongdoing when they change their mind five years later and it’s now too late to make the varsity team or first chair in the orchestra.


  1. Don’t drink alcohol or eat poorly in front of the kids. Their teachers are brainwashing them to believe one bottle glass of wine, and a bag handful of chips mean you’re a bad parent. 
  2. Don’t get involved in your child’s every issue. And if your child is having issues with a friend (and they will, guaranteed), don’t involve the friend’s parents. They’ll think you need to chill the f out. 
  3. Don’t panic when you hear your child has a significant other. This only means they’re holding hands while walking around the school track at lunchtime. They aren’t actually speaking to one another. That doesn’t happen until marriage, and for some, not even then.
  4. Don’t waste money on an actual bouquet for your son’s middle school dance date(s).  Pick up a Trader Joe’s flower bunch for $5, cut the stems short and tie a ribbon around them. Voila. 
  5. Don’t assume your child needs therapy. They might, but they might also just be a middle school age kid. That explains nearly everything. 
  6. Give up trying to find shorts that actually cover your daughter's tush. They don't exist.
  7. Sing loudly when you have your child’s friends in the car. Part of your job as a parent is to embarrass them and you want to stay consistent in this regard. Breaking into song at the hair salon is also good, as is chaperoning a school dance. And if you really want to leave a mark, shout, "I love you!" out the car window when dropping them off at school. They appreciate that.

Next up: What I learned about Senior Year.  Stay tuned!

Monday, June 6, 2016

On a Scale from 1 to 10

It was Friday evening when this email showed up in my inbox:
It's okay to rate them if they're famous.

Dear Parent of the Class of 2019:

Last evening I was made aware of a posting on a googledocs spreadsheet being circulated among students in the ninth grade.  The author(s) of the spreadsheet have rated and ranked members of the freshman class in a manner that objectifies female students and may be viewed as a form of sexual harassment.

I have interviewed several students today in an attempt to determine the source of the posting and to do what I can to insure that that list does not exist on school district computers and is not continuing to be spread over technology for which we bear responsibility.  Our investigation leads us to believe the list appears on student phones, and not on district computers, and so we will need the help of parents to eradicate the list from the possession of students.

I have also referred the matter to the Nether Providence Police Department as a case involving possible sexual harassment.  Given that we cannot determine the source of the list, we are unable to issue school discipline in this matter at this point.  If we do identify the source, consequences would fall under our harassment policy, including police notification, school suspension, and parent notification.

Any parent with information regarding the list is asked to contact me via email or phone at your earliest convenience.  All parents are asked to speak with your student about the damaging personal consequences of misuse of social media and technology, the proper and respectful treatment of young females, and the potential legal consequences for those who engage in this type of behavior.

Thank you.

MaryJo Yannacone, Ed.D.

As the mother of a 9th grade girl, I had a number of reactions to this news:
  1. Huh. Interesting.
  2. Involving police and harassment charges seems a bit extreme.
  3. Those boys are in a heap of shit.
  4. I wonder how Abby did.
  5. I better burn my 8th grade yearbook in which I "starred" the cute guys. If that gets out, I'll never be able to run for political office.
Frankly, that's about as much thought as I gave to the matter. Until the doorbell rang.

"Mom, apparently, one of the boys who made the list is going house to house to apologize to the girls. So if the doorbell rings..."

It rang, and there stood a tall, classically awkward teenage boy with his mom. He confessed to being one of the boys responsible and apologized for what he'd done. His mom noted that many lessons had been learned. When they left, Abby said, "I actually feel bad for him." And Brooke and Ian, who'd answered the door and then listened in from the kitchen, called it one of the most awkward things they'd ever experienced. I give the boy's mom two thumbs way up for handling it the way she did. All you hear of are parents who do everything they can to keep their kids from having to take responsibility for their actions, and here was this guy, facing 50 female classmates (they ranked the top 50) with his mom at his side. Bravo, mom. Bravo. I'd say the punishment fit the crime, but will the school agree? 

Based on the principal's letter, school suspension, police involvement and sexual harassment charges may be forthcoming. And, despite being the mom of a girl on the list (who was significantly under-ranked, by the way), I want to say, "Isn't that going a bit too far?"

Let's face it, we are hardwired to find each other attractive. It's what keeps the species alive. And males and females have been making these kinds of lists for decades, probably centuries. Somewhere I imagine there's a cave drawing with stick figures of various women ranked in order of attractiveness, hunter/gatherer ability, fertility, dinosaur escape skills, and fire making know-how. And I wasn't kidding about my yearbook. It may not have been 8th grade, but at some point I definitely placed stars next to the boys I thought were cute. I may have even given them scores. If a teen girl did that today and her yearbook was passed around and she was caught, would she risk the same punishment as these boys? Knowing our school district, she very likely would, which makes me sigh and shake my head a bit.

I get it, really, I do. For centuries women have been treated as nothing more than objects in a male-dominated society. It's cost us in innumerable ways--emotionally, mentally, physically, professionally, financially. And because we can't allow women to continue to be undervalued, there have to be repercussions for this type of behavior. But somewhere in this mistake lies one hell of a learning experience that I believe can be achieved without the involvement of our criminal justice system.

Yes, the behavior was wrong. It was wrong to come up with a list of categories on which to rate a grade's worth of 15 year-old girls. It was wrong to put the list online and make it available for input. It was wrong to hurt these girls by deciding their worth in physical terms. But, it is forgivable. And a boy who takes the time to apologize to each and every girl on this list deserves to be forgiven. Lesson learned. Let's leave it at that.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Lobster's Look at Relationships

"If this had been our first date, it would have also been our last," said my friend Johanna. 
Fair enough. You'd think that starting Memorial Day weekend with the lobster would have been a good idea, but it turned into a simply bizarre experience that felt considerably longer than its actual two hours. All either of us could say afterward was "What the hell?" There might have been a "WTF" thrown in there, too. Interestingly, however, as the days have passed, I've spent more time thinking about the lobster and trying to get to the root of its message.

If you haven't heard of The Lobster, allow me to provide a quick summary before diving in for a closer look (diving for lobster, get it?).

In The Lobster, the surprisingly versatile Colin Farrell, best known for so-so action adventure flicks before hitting a home run in In Bruges, plays David, a guy whose wife has fallen in love with someone else. Within moments of having his heart broken, we see him being escorted away by two guys dressed like waiters at a fine restaurant. They're there to take him to a Catskills-like hotel where he'll have 45 days to fall in love with one of the other guests. If it doesn't work out, he'll be turned into the animal of his choice. His brother, a dog, accompanies him. David decides he'd like to be a lobster because they live 100-years, are blue-blooded like aristocrats, and are extremely fertile.

Varying wildly between laugh-out loud absurdity and grim, disturbing and painful implications, The Lobster makes a harsh statement about the sins of being alone in our society. On his first night at the hotel, for example, David has one hand handcuffed behind his back. A reminder that we are not complete without another. Throughout his stay, scenes are performed for the guests that drive home the inherent dangers of being alone. Eating without a partner leads to choking to death. A woman walking without a man is raped.

The Lobster also comments on the differentiators that draw us to one another.
The ability to fall in love and get married may hinge on nothing more than a similar proclivity for nosebleeds, or the same physical defects, such as a limp or shortsightedness. Then there's the "survival of the fittest" aspect that comes into play with regular hunts in which the single guests are given a stun gun with which to take out the competition. For each fellow guest you put down, you're given an extra day in which to find love.

In another slap to society's face, we're rudely reminded how many of us will pretend to be someone we're not just to avoid being alone. Choosing to take up with a cruel woman, David plays the part of someone equally heartless until the illusion is shattered in one of the movie's most disturbing scenes (I won't spoil it for you in case you plan on seeing the film).

Meeting someone who's only a day away from becoming her animal of choice, we learn that, on that last day, guests are permitted to do anything they want. It is strongly suggested, however, that they don't choose a walk in the fields or having sex since those are things you can do as an animal. Yes, The Lobster is about as subtle as dropping an anvil on the head.

And did I mention that if one of the hotel's lucky new couples begins to fight or have issues they throw a child into the mix since that usually takes some of the attention away from the problem? No commentary being made there.

Now, lest the audience think that all of society believes in the necessity of love and partnerships, The Lobster introduces the loners. When David decides to flee from this dystopian nightmare, he takes off into the woods where he meets a counterculture group of individuals who refuse to play by society's rules. But rather than offering a humane, enlightened view of human relationships, the loners have equally morbid and disturbing rules of their own. Conversations with other loners are permitted, but anyone caught flirting or falling in love may have their lips slashed or tongues cut out. Seriously, this movie is not for the faint of heart.

Without giving away the ending, which frankly, I'm not entirely sure I understand, I will say that David meets someone. And that shortsightedness plays a role, both literally and figuratively.

The Lobster is one of those rare movies that I can neither recommend nor tell you to avoid at all costs. While I wasn't particularly happy to have spent the first couple hours of my Memorial Day weekend watching this absurd/painful commentary, I must say it's certainly stuck with me and that it continues to offer revelations and insights that are worth pondering. If nothing else, I would encourage you to see it so I have someone else to ponder it with me.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Monetary Maneuverings Lead to Savvy Savings!

My dad and I have a lot in common. The good (strong work ethic) and the bad (serious funkapotomus issues). Recently I have channeled my inner Walt in the frugality department, and while some of you might think being cheap thrifty is a bad trait, I’m feeling pretty damn proud of myself for my monetary maneuverings. After you read of my recent conquests you too might see my frugality as a strength.

I’ve always shown tendencies toward tightfistedness conservative spending. For example, I’m one of those people who takes the gardener’s catalog 100% guaranteed plants promise seriously. I received more than a dozen free new goodies to start my garden with this spring. I’m a big fan of Groupon and Living Social for airport parking, park admission, and movie theaters, and I search coupon websites for every new online retailer I consider doing business with. There’s almost always a discount or free shipping offer to be had. Finally, I only buy clothes on sale and I’m flummoxed (a word I’ve always wanted to use) as to why anyone would pay full price. While those are all general examples, I have been on a particularly hot streak of late.

It all started with a Midas coupon for a free oil change that led to four new tires. I knew I needed tires, but I certainly didn’t want to pay Midas prices. So when my guy told me the price, I just happened to be sitting at the computer and was able to tell him how much they really cost. He said he’d call me back. He did, and he met the lower price. Rather than immediately moving forward with the work, I pressed my luck and told him, “Throw in a pair of windshield wipers, installed, and you’ve got a deal.” He said he’d ask his manager. Deal done.

Then there was the Sear's charge for $58.27 for a replacement filter for a refrigerator we don’t own. To be fair we did own it for the day or two it took to be delivered, at which point we found we couldn’t get it through the kitchen doorway. Anyway, when we bought the fridge we signed up for automatic filter replacements and never thought to cancel that service. When the filter arrived in my mailbox a couple weeks ago, I wrote on it “Return to sender” and stuck it back in the mailbox. Then the credit card bill arrived.

I called Sear's and was told that the part had been shipped to me FedEx, and without a tracking number, I had no proof that I had actually returned it. I explained that I assumed it was sent by U.S. Mail (given its arrival in the mailbox) and so that’s how I returned it. “Well we haven’t received it ma’am. Maybe give it more time?" I called again a week later. Still no part, but they’d look for it. And I was to trust that they would really look for it, just like I was asking them to trust that I’d really returned it. We were playing the trust game.

I wrote a letter. It was a very good letter. I referenced my loyalty as a Sear's customer. A day after I mailed the letter (hence, before they could have received it), I had an email from Sear's letting me know the $58.27 was coming off my bill. Nice.

Just today I enjoyed a $50 savings on an American Airlines flight I’m taking to California in early July. Why? Because several months ago I found a cheaper price on one of those travel websites when a booking flight for Ian. Despite the rigmarole involved with proving the difference, I persevered and not only secured the cheaper price directly from the airline, but was also given a code for $50 off my next flight. Sweet, right?

And then there was my dad’s Rusty Wallace 8-lap race car driving experience scheduled for this Saturday. I had found the offer on Groupon and given it to him for Christmas. Unfortunately, just last week my dad was diagnosed with degenerative back disease and he's in serious pain. This is not the time one wants to speed around a race track at 200 miles an hour. A phone call to Rusty’s people, a phone call to dad’s doctor, and a live chat with Groupon and I have my money back. Well sorta. I have Groupon bucks waiting for me.

I’m telling you all this for three reasons:

  1. Because I haven't had anything else to write about in a long time,
  2. So you’ll think I’m really awesome, and 
  3. To show you that it takes fairly little effort to save some serious dough. 
When I summarized my savings savvy for Rob, I suggested he reward me with a shore house. Unfortunately, it looks like I haven't saved quite enough for a down payment YET. Just give me a little more time…

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

I Can Be Vanna!

I’m not the best barometer for sexism, probably because I have a number of shortcomings as a feminist. For example, I don’t have a problem with being “appreciated” for my physical features. This is partly due to the fact that, being in my mid-40s, I’ll take any compliment I can get, and also because, in the past, before I was married, I was known to acknowledge attractive male specimens.

So, if there’s a scale for feminism, with 1 being “you are an embarrassment to your gender” and 10 being “I refuse to even acknowledge that men and women have different body parts,” I’m a solid 5, or maybe a 6. My feminist beliefs include:

  • Equal pay for equal work.
  • Equal opportunities.*
  • Equal respect and consideration. 
  • All women should have the choice to do with their lives and bodies what they please.
  • Mom doesn’t stay home and raise the kids because she’s the woman. If she stays home and raises the kids, it’s because she wants to. 
  • Women around the world shouldn't be abused, bought and sold, subject to genital mutilation, or worse. Of course, no human being should be victimized in such unspeakable ways.
  • History needs to acknowledge the contributions of women.
  • Every woman is beautiful, and Barbie dolls shouldn’t be the standard we aspire to.
  • No little girl should be told that she can’t do something "because she is just a girl."

Frankly, I would hope all women agree with those points.

On the other hand, I have some feelings that radical feminists (a broad term for which not all of these apply) might be displeased with, including:

  • *Equal opportunity based on qualifications—don’t give me a job just because I’m a woman and you have to meet your quota (particularly true in the STEM fields). Give me a job because I deserve it. 
  • A man complimenting you on your appearance is not despicable (unless he’s creepy and leering at you lasciviously; and/or he’s your boss or coworker and he acknowledges your legs and not your job performance).
  • You can’t hate men for being men. 
  • You can wear skirts and dresses and still believe in women’s rights.
  • I’m not offended when God is referred to as “He.” 
  • Women are no more superior to men then men are to women.
  • Giving little girls dolls and dressing them in pink is not anti-feminist, as long as we’re also giving them Lincoln Logs and letting them wear whatever they want to when they’re old enough to dress themselves.

The point of all this is to say that I’m not one to quickly cry sexism at every perceived gender slight; therefore, when I say I was recently the victim of sexist behavior, I mean it.

Last week I attended a creativity and innovation workshop in which we formed teams and had to come up with a product or service, create a logo and prototype, and ultimately present to the rest of the group in a one-minute elevator pitch. I should add that I was one of only 3 women in a room filled with men, and the only woman on my team.

Appropriately, the category is "Around the House"
When it came time to present our idea—which I had proposed in the first place—one of my teammates strongly suggested, more than once, that I should be part of the presentation because “you’re a woman in a room full of men and you’ll get their attention.” To add insult to injury he then said, “You can be Vanna.”

Whew. For a minute there I thought he was going to actually encourage me to speak. Thankfully all he wanted was for me to hold the poster board and smile.

I’ve been asked how I reacted to this Neanderthal (who was in his 50s), and I’m ashamed to say I responded with nothing more than a “Ha.” Yes, I blew it. After the fact I thought of a number of appropriate comebacks, including:

  • Too bad I didn’t wear my stilettos and a shorter skirt today. 
  • After I play Vanna, can I get you a cool beverage and fawn over you?
  • What decade is this? 
  • No wonder more women don’t go into STEM careers if it’s filled with assholes like you. 

Women, I’d love to hear of your encounters with sexism, and men, I’d be interested to know if you think I’m overreacting, or if the guy really blew it. I should add that I don’t think he meant to offend; the problem is that he didn’t “think,” period. And that behavior is so ingrained in some men that they don’t even recognize that it’s wrong.

Share your stories, and suggest even better comebacks so if when it happens again, I won’t let the guy off the hook so easily.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Chin Up: A Change is Coming!

It's been three days since Villanova's big win in the NCAA Basketball Championship. I watched most of the games this season and while I still can't figure out what qualifies as a foul and when it earns a foul shot or just possession, I'm really starting to enjoy the sport. Especially when they're nail biters, which seems to be the rule rather than the exception. Although to be fair, I bite my nails a lot, regardless of the situation.

I bring up the basketball game for two reasons:
  1. It provided me with a day off (and another one tomorrow!) and the opportunity to write a well-overdue blog post.
  2. Ian told us before the Oklahoma game that he would enroll at Villanova if they won the championship. 
Should I hold him to it?
Some of you are aware that a wrinkle/wrench has been thrown into what was going to be a fairly easy decision where college is concerned. Along with Villanova, Ian was accepted into William & Mary's Joint Degree Programme (that's how they spell it in the U.K.) with the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. St. Andrews is situated on the coast, with beaches and a popular golf course (an understatement for anyone who knows golf). People also have cool accents and there are lots of pubs. And MacPherson is Scottish. The school is pretty damn good, too, and he'd earn a BA, International Honors, from both universities. And did I mention that this programme only enrolls about 20 students per year? 

His acceptance letter included a handwritten note from the director: "Your passion for economics and travel make you a natural for our programme. Join us." 

Well, damn. Didn't see that coming. Seriously. Ian didn't either. It's like when he made the Silvertones as a freshman. "Wait, what? Are you sure?" 

This is one of those situations where the advice you receive completely depends on the individual. Those who have put kids through college and incurred student loans say "Villanova." Those like my sister who believe "the best" opportunity is always worth paying for say "Scotland." We're saying, let's go talk to the folks at W & M, crunch the numbers, make a pro/con list, and then decide on Villanova. Obviously the kid can't go wrong either way, and this is a hell of a nice "problem" to have. It's just that I'd really like a shore house some day. 

I didn't start this post with the goal of bragging about my son's opportunities. My objective was to brag about what an awesome young man he's become.

Some of you have known me long enough (we really only have to go back a few short years) to remember when I was forever frustrated by this kid. Smart. Yes. Hard working. No. Funny. Yes. Willing to share that personality in performance, writing, or on late night talk shows? No. Ambitious? No. Easy-going? Yes. Passionate about FIFA? Yes. Passionate about anything else? No.

I went crazy with his attitude, which was best summed up in his own words: "If it's not fun, why should I do it?" Dude, you're talking to a woman who feels guilty if she's having fun instead of working. If I hadn't given birth to him, I'd wonder if he's adopted. 

Recognizing that many most parents, at one time or another (or daily) want to wring their teenager's neck for their crappy attitude, I will say this: It will pass. The kid who commits to nothing but video games will find his or her passion. And it just might involve developing video games, which I happen to know makes for a pretty good living. May I recommend Villanova's Computer Engineering program?

I know Rob and I are lucky. We've watched Ian's transformation take place. He still loves FIFA, but he's also passionate about economics and societal issues. He recommends to me books he's read and enjoyed for school. He and Rob watch "Meet the Press" together (yes, it's for a class, but it's a class he really enjoys even though he wouldn't label it "fun."). He's working harder than ever and challenging himself academically when most seniors have written off the last few months of their high school education. His sense of humor continues to light up a room, and he's still willing to play Bananagrams when begged asked. Our teenage son seems to like us, and the feeling is mutual.

Now before you accuse me of patting myself on the back for having a great kid, let me say that Rob and I really had nothing to do with it. It just happened. Or more likely, his girlfriend Brooke is primarily responsible for his maturing. After all, it still takes five requests from Mom before Ian does what's requested, whereas Brooke sees immediate results.

This leads me to just one suggestion: If your teen's evolution is taking longer than you'd like, consider finding a nice boy or girl to help move things along. If he or she has big brown eyes, that's a bonus.

Good luck!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Like a Half-Eaten Donut, Better than Nothing!

I have been a bit of a mess lately. Literally and figuratively. Last week I went to a hair cut appointment and when the receptionist took my coat, I discovered I had fresh brownie mix dribbled down the front of it. And earlier that day I totally missed a conference call for work. The reminder popped up on my computer and I didn't recognize it so I dismissed it. Totally unlike me. I need a vacation. Somewhere that I can't get my hands on brownie mix or cookie dough.

Despite my above average ability to ramble, there are many occasions on which I start writing a blog post and only get a paragraph or two into it and realize I don't know what else to say. (See the example above.) Or I can't come up with a witty or fitting close. So today, because I slept like sh*t last night, I've decided that rather than try to write a complete post, I will pull together a few of the posts I've left unfinished for an eclectic look at the inner workings of my mind. Just what you were hoping for on this beautiful, spring-like day! So here goes it:

2/12/16: If you heard alarms going off on Friday night, it wasn't another car getting broken into. It was my hype meter. It's no coincidence that it was also the Night of Bruce.

My husband is an enormous Bruce Springsteen fan. Which is probably part of the problem. As I believe I've mentioned in an earlier post, familiarity breeds contempt. I have detested Neil Young for 20 years thanks to a coworker who played him 8-hours a day, 5-days a week. It's not really Neil's fault. Technically, as a singer-songwriter fan I should like him. But that's what overexposure can do to a person.

Every time I get in Rob's car, he's got the satellite radio tuned to the all-Bruce station. So, where before I generally enjoyed his music, I'm getting a little tired of it. But the music itself isn't as bad as the pre-concert buildup. I've been to one Bruce concert. He's an amazing performer, but I don't like waiting for the divas to appear on stage and I don't like big concert venues, so when it came time for this particular concert I took a pass. Not worth the big bucks and the finagling involved with securing the almighty ticket.

12/19/15: We know that fashion is cyclical. Every few decades, someone decides that bell bottoms, leg warmers, high waisted pants, tall boots, skinny jeans, shoulder pads, Bermuda shorts and pantsuits should be reintroduced to society. Even hairstyles come and go and then come back again. Except for perms. I'm still waiting for perms to make a comeback.

Toys tend to have more staying power than perms fashion. Elmo has been popular since he joined Sesame Street in the 80s. Barbie refuses to die. Matchbox cars still have their place. Every home has Jenga, Monopoly and Scrabble. And don't get me started on Legos. Did you know the company was started in 1932? [I have no idea where I was going with this post...]

12/13/15PJs and Down Time
I know a few people who wring the life out of each and every day. I know several others who never want the fun to end when it comes to social occasions. Then there are people like me (at least I hope there are others) who look forward to pajamas and bed time as much as--if not more than--a night out on the town. This obviously can be problematic when ones spouse and friends fall into different categories.

What's important for "those people" to understand, is that my desire to be in bed versus spending more time with them is not personal. In fact, I'm pretty sure if Jesus himself showed up at my house I'd only be able to give him a few hours and then I'd need to retire to my room, slip under the covers, and curl up in the fetal position. This is fairly common characteristic of us introverts. We get our energy from alone time, versus feeding off the presence of others.

I suppose on some level I consider bed time my reward for having made it through the day. After work, there's nothing I want more than to come home, change into my p.j.s and settle in for the evening. If you want to put me in a bad mood, ask me to run an errand after I've mentally and emotionally called it a day. Ask my kids how well I handle that.
Think I could pull it off?

9/27/15: [Ironically, this could have been written last Friday.] I regained a touch of my youth on Friday. Thank God for hair color! Now if only it lasted longer than a few weeks. Part of me is considering adopting that platinum silver/purplish look that Pink and Kelly Osbourne are sporting these days. At least when the color fades I'd have the right color coming in.

Almost as bad as the skunk stripe I sport every six weeks or so, is the process required to fix it. Two freakin' hours at the hair salon is not my idea of fun. Sitting still that long is torture, and there's something about the environment that drives me nuts. In fact, I came up with a list of "10 Things about the Hair Salon."
  1. The person with the loudest voice also is the one carrying on the most inane conversation. 
  2. There's always one stylist who thinks she has to talk to you throughout your entire appointment, leaving you screaming inside.
  3. And even if the stylist doesn't babble the entire time, you still have to at least start with small talk. I abhor small talk. 
  4. Putting on a cape, slapping some thick paint on your head and leaving you to stare at yourself in the mirror for an hour-plus is cruel. You find wrinkles and lines you never knew you had. And inevitably I'm there with no makeup on. 
  5. Speaking of thick paint, no matter how many times I remind them that my skin stains easily, I always leave the salon with a ring around my hair line. So I end up wearing a baseball cap for two days to hide my forehead. 
  6. There's always some customer talking about her horse, or her vacation to Bora Bora, or the limo ride to see Bruce.
[Obviously I couldn't come up with 10 things...]

And finally: 
2/10/15: [This still applies one year later.]
Yesterday was Abby's 14th birthday and I couldn't be prouder of my not-so-little girl. I have to confess that it takes a good bit of self control to not brag about her ad nauseam. Finding that fine line between "how sweet" and "enough already" is definitely a major challenge in the age of social media. I figure if I only post photos of Abby's work it's not really bragging, it's more like show and tell. But how do I write a blog post about Abby for her birthday without going overboard? I don't have to. It's my blog and I can say whatever I want. Insert smiley emoticon here.

When my kids were elementary school age, I had one recurring wish for them, and it wasn't the standard "may they be happy and healthy." Instead I wished that they'd turn out like Richard, Ryder or Bridget, or Kevin or Laura Jean. These former babysitters and/or neighbors/friends, were the gauge by which I was going to measure my children. Why these five? Because their qualities were the same qualities that I hoped my kids would one day possess. Respectful, kind, hard working, intelligent, involved, friendly, happy, and NORMAL. Sometimes super kids have everything except that normal element. The one that allows them to make friends and fit in and get a job someday (if that's your thing).

Well, I'm happy to say that Abby (and Ian, too) have lived up to the example of those former youth, now young adults. I realize that parenting experts generally advise against comparing your kids to others, but I'd say it was less about using them as a measuring stick for my children, and more about providing a parenting goal for me. When all we hear about are wayward youth, I needed a beacon to follow that could show me it was possible to get it right.

That's all for now folks. I have at least a dozen others I'll share with you when I can't find the time or energy, or the right words, to write a complete post. Enjoy this beautiful day!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Kids are More than Alright

My increasing prudishness is evident in the TV shows I'm comfortable (or not) watching, the clothes I'm okay (or not) with my daughter wearing, and the skin I'm uptight about showing. I have referenced my issues in a couple blog posts over the years, from "I've Been Thinking," in which I wondered about parents who let their young teenage daughters go out in barely there dresses, to "Saying Goodbye to Sandra Dee" in which I had a small hissy fit about our high school's production of Grease three years ago. Given my well-documented history of serving as the morality police, my reaction to the high school's production of Rent this past weekend is even more surprising.

I thought it was fantastic.

For those of you not familiar with the musical (1996), which was also made into a movie in 2005, Rent tells the story of a group of impoverished young artists struggling to survive and create a life in New York City's East Village under the shadow of HIV/AIDS. Its characters are gay, straight, clean, addicted, living, dying, thriving and barely surviving. It's depressing as hell, and this incredibly mature group of Strath Haven High School students pulled it off beautifully.

I had heard good things about the performances, but was prepared to ask (not for the first time) what the hell Shank, our beloved musical producer/director, was thinking when he chose this show. Of course, it should be noted that his first choice was Company, which is even less age-appropriate than Rent. Shank never was one to play it safe, but he obviously knew his students and he knew what they could handle. He also knew better than to promote it to elementary school kids, which was one of my major beefs with Grease.

After opening night, someone posted a "must-see," rave review on, a terrific app/website for all things local. But because nothing is ever without controversy on this site (i.e., deer hunting, new traffic circles, or the value of a Sharpie with a missing cap), at least one member had a negative reaction to the recommendation to see the show:
"The idea that children are involved with a show about I.V. drugs, homosexuality, death from AIDS, handcuffed girls getting paid at a stripper club makes me sick! They are too young to understand the depth of Rent and don't need to deal with that subject matter at their ages. Half of you don't even know it's a spin off of La Boheme. The human brain isn't fully developed until age 25. How do you expect teens to handle such material at their ages?
It is inappropriate for children to perform or see Rent in any version as the theme is not for children. Please be a responsible parent and do not allow your children to see the show. Rent is a great show for adults. Take them to see La Boheme instead."
Well, let's just say I bet this poor woman wishes she had never expressed her opinion publicly. There was a bit of a backlash After the last performance, a week later, she finally said: "This is my opinion. I would appreciate if this discussion would stop."

A.J. B. killed it as Roger
But, anyway, I was extremely impressed. Unlike in Grease where the maturity--or lack thereof--of certain students took a fairly innocent show (as compared to Rent) to an almost indecent place, the students in Rent seemed to understand the importance of the message they were sending. Liza B., the young lady in the role of Mimi, the main "handcuffed girl at a stripper club" never took the part to a tawdry, "let's have fun being naughty" place, but rather presented us with a broken shell of a woman consumed by addiction and the physical and emotional price she pays. Similarly, Ethan S., the young man who played Angel, a cross-dresser, managed to avoid creating a caricature or delivering an over-the-top, "look-at-me running around in heels and a dress" performance that many teenage boys would have presented.

Basically, there was nothing gratuitous that turned the production from one of value to one of indecency.

Kate D. as Maureen
And while I'm recognizing these specific
performances for their maturity, I also have to applaud the students for simply wowing me with their acting and singing chops. Kate D., who played the character of Maureen, delivered a stunningly strong performance in her song/scene "Over the Moon". And A.J. B., who played Roger, gave me "goosies" (as J Lo would say) with his singing. I could go on and on. The talent in that cast (typical of Strath Haven) was impressive.

The only disappointing moment came at the very end, after the actors left the stage and lights came on. That's when I turned to Ian, who had sat next to me for the performance, and told him he would have been amazing in the show. And then I cried, informing him he'd broken my heart by never allowing me the joy of seeing him on stage. It was one of my finest--and most shameful--mom-guilt moments.
Sorry, kid.

Perhaps there's a theatre production in your our future at Villanova?

Monday, February 22, 2016


Despite not being Catholic, I gave something up for Lent this year. Nothing big, just my hopes and dreams.

I dropped my musical theatre class, in effect dropping out of Villanova's theatre program. I loved it, so I'm seriously sad to have made this decision. You may be wondering, "Then, why the hell did you drop out?"

Simple answer: I felt guilty---a condition recognized by millions of firstborns and children with Jewish mothers (or so I've been told). I was also feeling increasingly depressed---the funkapotomus had been on an extended vacation, but alas, he's back--- and this class was the only thing I could point to that might be causing the blues. Of course, in retrospect, it could also be the goddamn winter.

As I mentioned in my last post, the amount of work required for my Musical Theatre course was staggering. I don't know if this is a reflection of the quality of academics at Villanova, or my inability to effectively manage homework after being out of school for 25 years. It was only one course, but I was spending nearly all of my free time writing: initial responses to musicals, responses to journal articles about those musicals, lyrics analysis, music analysis, etc. My children were not phased by my "absence," quite likely they didn't notice. I'm not sure they'd notice if I was lying unconscious on the kitchen floor, but that's a post for another time.

No, the only person to notice the amount of time I was spending on homework was my husband, who apparently wants to spend time with me, which I should be thankful for. So that guilt combined with my own self-questioning---"Why the hell am I doing this? I don't care about the credits or a degree. This is a crazy amount of work..."---led me to throw in the proverbial towel last Wednesday morning, before my evening class. And because I'm a weirdo and I didn't want the professor to think I was quitting because I hadn't done my homework, I was sure to turn in my assignment. I think it was some of my best work. Not surprisingly, she hasn't sent it back to me with a grade.

To make myself feel better about giving up my hopes and dreams, I've come up with this list of the top 10 things I can do with the time I was previously devoting to class:
  1. Catch up on my Acme Monopoly game pieces. I sense that this is my year to win.
  2. Ruminate on the fact that Ian is going to college next year and Abby spends all her time in her room, and I'm basically no longer needed. Except by my husband and parents, which I tell myself is nice.
  3. Come up with new excuses for not going to the gym.
  4. Take an official count of the number of books the dog has eaten.
  5. Finish Abby's elementary school scrapbook.
  6. Build my collection of cheap wine.
  7. Catch up on American Idol (yes, I'm the one)
  8. Determine the best wireless carrier and exactly how my new health insurance plan works.
  9. Keep up with the latest dumb-ass thing Trump has said so I can write a book about the absurdity of a reality show colliding with real life, and what it means for the future of the free world.
  10. Wash my pee-proof panties since I only have 10 pair to recycle.
I'm also open to suggestions. You know I have this whole "possibilities" theme going on, so I'll consider pretty much anything. Except eating vegetables. That's still off the table. Literally.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Considering the Possibilities

A few years ago my friend Emily adopted a New Year tradition wherein she selects one word that
summarizes her goals, resolutions and ideal state of mind for the year.

Last year I joined Emily in this endeavor, and I choose the word "perspective." As in, "Let's keep things in perspective before we have a melt down, or let's consider someone else's perspective before automatically assuming they're an idiot." I wrote my word down in red ink on a small piece of paper, taped it to my computer and promptly forgot all about it. Ironically, the next time my written reminder caught my eye, I noticed that the ink had faded to the point where it was almost unreadable. I guess you could say I had lost my perspective.

Like we do every year, the kids and Rob and I celebrated this New Year's Eve with Emily, her family, and several friends. Because we're getting old and a little pathetic, by 11 p.m. there was a good deal of moaning about being tired and wanting to call it a night. In an effort to save the evening and keep us awake till the ball dropped, Emily handed us each a piece of paper and instructed us to come up with our word for the year. Rob chose "Hillary," not because he's a fan, but because he thinks this year will be all about her. He also went off on some tangent about the concept of "relevance." Obviously he didn't get the idea behind the one word challenge.

I decided on the word "possibilities." It came to me while we were in Arizona over Christmas. I found myself thinking a lot about the possibilities for my next stage of  life. With Ian heading to college next year and Abby only three years behind him, the door is wide open for Rob and me to make some exciting changes (that don't involve choosing new spouses). Like moving to Arizona! (We've already ruled that out.) Or maybe buying one of the swanky new condos they're going to build in downtown Media. Or maybe we'll move to Wilmington, NC where I can work part-time at UNC and spend the rest of my time reading books on Wrightsville Beach. So many possibilities, so much fun to think about them!

For the more immediate future, I've been considering the possibilities of what I might do with my increasing amount of free time. With the kids needing (and wanting) less of me, there are opportunities for me to do the things I couldn't do when they were little. Right now, pursuing my love of theatre is top on the list. As many of you know, I took a step toward this possibility by registering for Villanova's "Graduate Certificate in Practical Theatre." I figured it was worth $50 a course to hone any skills I might possess and see if I have what it takes to make it in the cut throat world of community theatre.

In the fall I took my first course: Principles of Acting. And I loved it. I was a nervous wreck before every class performance (and there was one practically each week), but I really did enjoy it and I came out of it with an audition piece to use if I ever get up the courage to actually try out for a play. This semester I'm taking Musical Theatre, which is the type of performing I grew up on. I'm not sure what I expected, but I think it's fair to say it's more than I bargained for.

First there was the solo performance the very first night of class, which was repeated the second night of class the following week. Then I saw the syllabus, which includes:
  • Initial Response (IR) papers for every musical we view and every related journal article we're assigned to read (basically one a week). 
  • A practitioner report with a PechaChuka presentation
  • Character, music and lyrics analysis for each solo we perform (there's at least two of them)
  • "8 Counts of 8" in which each student is required to teach the class a dance routine
Did I mention there's dancing for about an hour of each three-hour class? Have I mentioned that I can't dance to save my life? 

Did I mention that my first IR was seven pages long and took no less than 7 hours of my time between the viewing and the writing? 

And my practitioner report, in addition to the Pokemon-sounding presentation, requires an MLA or Chicago format bibliography. Do you want to guess how long it's been since I wrote a bibliography?

And did I mention I can't dance? Nor can I effectively carry a tune when I'm a nervous wreck. 

My loving husband asked a couple valid questions the night before my first class (before I even knew about the time commitment/workload). He asked, "Isn't a hobby supposed to be something you enjoy? If it stresses you out and overwhelms you, doesn't that defeat the purpose?" 

Damn. He's always got something insightful to say. I hate that. 

Part of the problem lies in my unwillingness to fail or look bad. You'd think for as often as I embarrass myself in my blog posts (can everyone say protective panties?), I would be immune to the fear of humiliation. Nope. When it comes to the things I choose to invest my time in, I'm either really good at them or I quit. That translates into my need to get an A on every paper, and deliver above-average performances in the singing and dancing categories. That translates into weekends lost to homework and fingernails lost to anxiety. I can't just do what I need to do to pass the class and move on. I'm not hardwired that way. 

After spending my snowy weekend tied to the kitchen table, viewing Showboat, reading, and writing, I asked myself more than once if this is really what I want to do. It's not that I detest the work (I actually enjoy the musicals and don't mind the written response), but do I enjoy it enough to dedicate so much of my time to it? Shouldn't I be binge-watching something on Netflix? Or playing Wordbrain? Or at least reading a book for pleasure? It's not like I'm dying to earn another master's degree or want to make a career change. In fact, this level of commitment is exactly why I dropped out of an NYU PhD program 20 years ago. I don't know how to balance the goals I set with having a life. They're probably not supposed to be separate, are they?

A couple Saturdays ago, my friend Andria from church brought together a group of women for the one-word experience. As we gathered in smaller groups to talk in detail about our word and what it might mean for us, one of the older, wiser women responded to my "possibilities" with something completely unexpected. She said something like this:
"You may have to consider the possibility that you can't do everything you want to do, or that it's not right for you, or that you might actually fail or not live up to your own expectations." 
Wow. In my mind, the possibilities are all positive and shiny with rainbows on the horizon. Are there possibilities of failure or disappointment? 

You may think my wise friend was being a Debbie Downer, but I found her comments brought me some relief. I am allowed to fail, to change my mind, to come to the realization that something just isn't for me. Maybe the possibilities for my life don't involve theatre and moving to NC, but instead call for me to be a spokesperson for Icon undies, or to travel the world as first mate on a 72 foot yacht. Who knows? 

I've really rambled through this one, haven't I? I suppose the topic was better suited for my personal journal, but part of me is looking for your advice or encouragement. To theatre or not to theatre? To move on, or establish deeper roots right where I am?

I'd also love to know if you have a word of your own. I'm finding it's helpful to have a partner or a group of supporters to keep me focused. So please share if you're interested in playing along. It's not too late to join us!