Monday, December 27, 2010

Why I'm singing the minivan blues

I bought a mini-van kicking and screaming.

I was eight months pregnant with my second child, so I was already hormonal. I loved my Nissan Pathfinder SUV, but was tired of hitting my 3-year old's head every time I hiked him into the back seat. I'm sure he was getting a bit weary of it as well. So after much research, we said goodbye to our last connection to pre-parenthoodness and bought a 2001 Honda Odyssey.

I have never felt so uncool in all my life.

I pulled into our neighborhood, tears in my eyes, belly nudging the steering wheel of this torpedo-shaped, 8-passenger beast; Aerosmith blaring on the sound system in my desperate attempt to regain some semblance of self.

It didn't help.

Begrudgingly, I came to embrace the van and all it's conveniences. The power doors were nice when my hands were full of kids or groceries. It was ridiculously easy to pile both kids into it, plus diaper bags, baseball equipment, lawn chairs and everything that comes with children as they get older.

I became "One of Them"... one of the myriad of vans in the school parking lot, emblazoned with two school magnets so everyone would know "my van". A cross of plastic beads made by my son in Vacation Bible School hung from the rearview mirror. It was easy to do that "Hi, Neighbor" wave as I passed other parents in their vans dropping their kids off at school.

No longer did I hang my head in shame, but deep down, I never felt like a member of the Club.

Today, nearly 10 years later, I have reached the day I thought I had been waiting for. The day I am no longer a "Van Mom".

And I must admit, I'm a little sad.

For all my resentment toward vandom, as I called it, that minivan certainly was good to me. It didn't mind when I sideswiped the big rock that idiots put on the corner so you won't drive on the grass when you take the turn. It didn't seem to care when the bicycles somehow careened out of control and into its side panel. And it didn't bat a headlight when I surreptitiously closed the garage door and popped out that dent with a toilet plunger.

It never failed to start for me - ever. It always gave me these lovely, bright courtesy warning lights to alert me that something was wrong, so it wouldn't leave me high and dry on the side of the road somewhere. I never had a flat tire. I never had an accident. I never had a dead battery. I never had not enough room, even when we piled four kids and all their luggage in it and trekked 2000 miles to South Dakota and back last summer.

That's when we hit 100,000 miles. It was a melancholy moment.

I know I could go another 100,000 with this van of mine. I also know that I'm doing a lot more driving now, and I'm not one to tempt fate.

So this week, I'm trading in my wonderful van and going back to my roots, an SUV. As carefully researched as our van selection was 10 years ago, I think I'm making the right decision. It has all the room of a van, is a newer car, and even has a third row seat, so I can transport as many of my kids' friends that I could before. I should be ecstatic.

Ironically, I'm a little sad. I feel as if I'm betraying my van. It was so good to me, and here I am, giving it up to some stranger who will do who-knows-what with it. Most likely, it will sit at auction, being bid on like some piece of... of... steel and fiberglass.

I'm sure I'll get over this. I'm sure I'll enjoy my new ride, and will feel much "cooler" tooling around in it than a silly old van. But I just want it to know that it was very good to me, it served its purpose, and it's one of the few things that has been consistent in my life for the past 10 years.

Thanks, van. I'll always remember ya.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Don't mess with Momma Bear.

There's a reason why women "bear" children.

We bear them for the rest of their lives.

I never imagined the instinctual protective nature that would seize me the moment my sons came into this world. I never imagined the fierce determination that would come over me when advocating for my child's benefit. I never realized that I had an intuition - a gut feeling - and that 95% of the time that I had that feeling, it was right.

It took me awhile to get comfortable in my thick coat of Momma Bear fur - I'm not sure that I'm quite there yet. But I'm filling it out now better than I ever have before.

Today, several years of struggle and hard work and angst and concern and bewilderment and helplessness and hopefulness was finally worth it. Oh, it didn't alleviate it. But today, I got people to listen. And make a plan. To help my child. Because at first I thought he needed it. Then I knew he needed it. And I was the only one who was going to make it happen.

Today, more than two years of emails and phone calls and conferences and research and trial and error all came together as if to say, "We get it now. Thanks for bringing that to our attention."

And the situation itself aside, I sit back, mentally and physically exhausted to the bone and think, "Should it really be this hard?" and "Why didn't I just give up?"

Then I remember the Momma Bear. According to National Geographic, "Mother bears are notoriously protective of their young, and can be dangerous to humans, particularly if surprised or if another person gets between the mother and her cub." For the past few years, I've felt as if I have to protect my young. Not to shelter them from life, disappointment, hardship and pain, but to advocate for them - to champion for them - to make sure that they get what they need - not what they WANT - but what they NEED to succeed. And until my son is a father, he will never know the depths to which he will go to do the same thing for his child.

Yesterday, someone gave my son a speech that made me burst into tears. It was essentially what I now refer to as the "Momma Bear" speech. I can't remember exactly what he said, but in essence he told my son, "You think your mom's an idiot. You think she doesn't know you. You think she's hard on you. That she doesn't like you. She yells at you. She makes rules you don't want to follow. She disciplines you. She makes you do your homework. What you DON'T know is that she can't sleep at night worrying about you. What you DON'T know is that she's desperate to help you when you can't help yourself. What you DON'T know is that when you're asleep, she comes into your room and gazes at you lying in your bed and THANKS GOD for you."

This is a tough world that our kids are growing up in, full of pressures and technology and temptations and a whole lot of adults with not a lot of time to do what they were put on this earth to do - raise their children. Sometimes it makes it harder for the Momma Bears in the world to do their job - protect their young and see to it that they grow up to become big, healthy bears themselves. But I beg of you all - never stop trying for your kids. Never stop listening to them. Or advocating for them. Or fighting for what you think is right and necessary.

Like I tell my son, "No matter what - at the end of the day, I'm your biggest fan."

And I will always be his Momma Bear.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Whoever said "Today is a gift; that's why they call it the present" must have lived in a guilt-ridden world

I'm a giver.

And I'm not saying that in a martyr-ish sort of way. It's as much a curse as it is a blessing.

I love to do nice things for people. It's nothing I really "plan" per-se. If I hear that someone I know has had a long week and no time to grocery shop, I may make a casserole or a pot of soup. No biggie. It's an excuse to cook something I wouldn't normally make. If someone has helped me out - picked up my kids, watched my house when I'm out of town, shoveled my driveway... I make sure they know I'm appreciative, either by reciprocating or by giving them a token of my thanks. And if I've been blessed in a way I can't return, I try to pay it forward to someone I find in a similar situation.

Again, I'm not saying this to pat myself on the back and let you know how thoughtful I am. I'd like to think that I do it because I'm a good Christian who was raised with decent morals and values. But I know better.

I do it out of guilt.

First of all, I hate "owing" people. When someone does something nice for me, they're automatically "up one" on my tally sheet. In my head, now it's MY turn, and I am SURE that they are sitting at home thinking I am some kind of selfish yahoo that just TAKES and TAKES and TAKES.

Which is why I'm so bad at receiving gifts. Any gifts. Because I know what it means. TAG - I'M IT.


Now of course, the logical part of me knows that my sweet neighbor is not sitting at home tonight wondering when I am going to bring her a hot, steaming plate of beignets right after I shovel her driveway (gifts from her and her husband just today.) But the "me" part of me is thinking, SHOOT. What am I going to do for them NOW?

That's the other thing. I'm lousy at RECEIVING gifts. Occasions such as Christmas and my birthday make me as uncomfortable as my grade school piano recitals. All eyes are on me (as I sit perfectly straight on the hard piano bench). I slowly tear open the wrapping paper (painfully trying not to miss any arpeggios). Finally - the reveal (as my final chord resonates in the quiet room). They wait for my reaction (I stand to bow). Is it everything they thought it would be? (Is it everything they thought it would be?)

Then it gets worse. I feel guilty for receiving the gift. I'm not worthy. Whatever I did was not enough to deserve such a gift. Really, it was nothing. Shoe on the other foot? I'm tripping all over myself to make sure that anyone who tells me I look thinner has a gift certificate by day's end.

It's a double-edged sword, this gift giving. I'd certainly rather give than receive. It's just how I am. Because then... I'm one up on you.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

What NOT to say

Have you ever said something then immediately wished you could take it back? Yeah, me too. So before you say something stupid again, read this quick and dirty guide from Real Simple and think before you open your yap.

18 Common Phrases to Avoid in Conversation

A few more I should add:

Question: Have you been crying?
Answer: Um, probably YES, and having to tell you WHY will only make me start boo-hooing all over again, thank you.

Question: Have you found a job yet?
Answer: Seriously? Have you found your tact yet?

Question: What did your kid get on his report card?
Answer: All A's. (no matter what he/she got. That's the answer.)

Question: Did you get your hair colored?
Answer: No, I just got my face lightened.

Question: What did you do all day?
Answer: More than most men do in a week.

If you have any other good retorts to stupid questions, sarcastic or otherwise, please feel free to post them below. It's always good to have an arsenal of appropriate answers to those quirky questions.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Cold + Snow + Winter + Stress + Holidays = SAD

For those who are predisposed to what some call "the blues", others call "stress" and professionals may refer to as "a depressive state", the frigid temperatures, sun-less days and mounting holiday to-do lists are enough to send even the cheeriest of individuals over the edge.

I have to say, from the first frost until the last flake of dirty March snow melts, I'm in kind of a funk. Sure, there's something to be said for cozy nights by the fire, blankets, and "staying in", but too much of a good thing for me can lead to fatigue, weight gain, and an overall feeling of sluggish "Idontwannagetupinthemorning-itis".

I make light of it, but it's a heavy subject, and it's called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD for short.

Cute, huh? Wonder what happy-go-lucky researcher came up with that one?

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that occurs around the same time every year - usually starting in the fall and continuing through the winter months.

Here are some of the possible symptoms:
* Depression
* Hopelessness
* Anxiety
* Loss of energy
* Social withdrawal
* Oversleeping
* Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
* Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
* Weight gain
* Difficulty concentrating and processing information.

There are all kinds of theories on the causes of SAD. One is that the decreased amounts of light we get during this time of year screws with our internal clock, as well as certain chemical and hormonal levels.

One of the treatments for SAD is light therapy, where you basically sit near a special lamp that mimics natural outdoor light. This is supposed to affect certain brain chemicals that are linked to mood, regulate your sleep patterns, and "reset your clock". I've never tried it myself, but I know people who swear by its effectiveness.

There's also the medication route, which I support if regulated. It took me a long time to realize that seeking treatment or medication for "mental" issues is no different than seeing a doctor and getting a prescription for your high blood pressure. Better to bite the bullet (or the pill) than to live in a sad, helpless existence. Like my pediatrician used to say, "Whatever you need to do to get you through the day." But always go through your physician, and realize that you may have to try several meds and dosages before you find the one that works best for you.

Aside from these more technical means, there are some techniques that I have learned over the years that have helped me to survive the winter blues. The thing is, you have to implement them early, before you settle in for your long winter's nap and throw in the towel. Here are some suggestions:

1) Have a plan. Know that this happens to you, rather than think, "Well, maybe this time it won't." If you never feel the need to implement your strategy, no harm done. If you do and the symptoms never even materialize or are lessened, then pat yourself on the back and call the day a success.

2) Set a time to exercise. I recently heard a quote that is oh, so true for me: "The longer you wait in the day to exercise, the less likely you will." Now, if you're on a strict schedule and go to the gym three days a week immediately after work then you've got your plan in place. But if you're like me and work out at home, it's easy to get distracted by laundry, bills, TV and curling up in the fetal position in your bed. I have a set time each morning that I exercise. Sometimes it's only 20 minutes, but it's something - every day. And it helps.

3) Try to get outside. No, getting the mail doesn't count. Remember when we were younger and could stay outside in bitter temperatures for hours without feeling cold? Well, we were MOVING. Now we adults go outside and stand there and chat with each other while we watch our kids play. GET INVOLVED. Pull them around in the sled. Make a snowman with them. Throw a snowball. Heck, throw a frisbee. Just get out there and get moving. BONUS: It counts as your exercise!

4) Watch the carbs. It might just be me, but it seems like in the winter I crave the warm comfort of foods like bread and chips. While they may taste good going down, they do nothing for my winter metabolism that seems to have come to a screeching halt. Make sure you eat balanced meals - low-fat, comfort soups, fruits and veggies and whole grains. Oh, and advice I should take myself: DRINK WATER. The air is dry and your skin is sucking every little morsel of moisture it can. That cracking noise? That's your body saying, "WATER ME."

5) Have something to look forward to. This is probably one of the most important things for me in getting through this time of year. If I see nothing ahead but an endless instruction manual of "Work. Kids. Bed. Later. Rinse. Repeat." then I'm more likely to sink into the depressive quicksand. If I can mix my calendar up a little with, say, a weekend trip to Chicago with friends, or indoor rock climbing with the kids on a day off, or maybe hosting a Superbowl party, then it shifts my focus a little. Have something on the horizon that you can count the days until and you'll be more likely to muddle through the interim.

There's a lot more I could say on this subject. I don't want to minimize Seasonal Affective Disorder, nor do I want to give the impression that there aren't many people out there who suffer from types of depression that are much more serious than SAD. While this blog may be a good read for them, they need to seek professional help just like they would for any serious physical ailment. But for those of us who are pretty confident that SAD is just that - a seasonal thing - then the suggestions listed above just might make you smile.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

5 Things I HATE

Nice, negative headline for the season that's supposed to be filled with such joy and good cheer, right?

Ho freakin' ho.

In my continued struggle to bring up my kids with what apparently seems to be Amish-ish (is that a word?), completely archaic and unrealistic abandon, I have compiled a list of things - no - EVIL THINGS that continuously push my button of "WTF!" (Believe me, if my Staples Easy button said, "WTF?" when I punched it, it'd get a lot more play around my house.)

So without further ado, here's my list.

1) Video games. HATE, HATE, HATE. I don't care if you can prove to me that they are beneficial for cognitive skills, fine motor skills, or bowhunting skills (insert Napoleon Dynamite reference here). Anything that has a warning that it could potentially cause SEIZURES, no matter that it induces my children into an electronic COMA, is the DEVIL to me.

2) PG-13 rated movies. Thank you, Motion Picture Association of America, for going to the trouble to separate the movies into G, PG, PG-13 and R. Some of the PG movies are fine, but who decided that lewd humor about farts and boobies and kids getting punched in the nuts is great cinematography? I know, I know. PARENTAL GUIDANCE. And don't get me started on PG-13. My son is 13, and after researching and/or viewing the selection of PG-13 movies out there, I may as well throw out my plans for that sex talk and just give him money for popcorn.

3) Commercials. I'm in advertising, so yes, I know they're necessary. But cripes, some of these commercials prey on kids like that creepy white van that circles your neighborhood. The action figures never perform the way they do on TV, the Nerf guns break when you try to do what the cool SWAT-team-looking dudes do with them in some dark alley on a Saturday night, and hello, Ironman? Why make a toy for ages 3 and up if your damn movie isn't supposed to be viewed by anyone under 13????

4) Candy at the checkout. Again, I get it. Advertising. Product placement. Yadda-yadda. But really, I don't know that there is a mom in America who doesn't wish for a no-candy checkout lane. Oh, and while we're at it, can we ditch the magazines featuring half-naked women having so-and-so's baby? Because my kids can read, and between the PG movies and the checkout lane, they'll clep out of that sex-ed class.

5) Guns. Real guns, toy guns, TV shows that feature guns, water guns, Nerf guns, sticks in the shape of guns, Lego guns... get the picture? Hate them. They make me sick to my stomach. I know kids will play with toy guns, and even if you forbid them in your home (which I did for a very long time), one day you will look over at your son eating lunch and he will have nibbled his Kraft American cheese slice into a Colt .45.

I could go on, but I feel as if I'm being a bit of a downer as we go full throttle into this wonderful season of good will and happy, happy, joy, joy. But my point is, you try to raise your kids according to what you think is best, but sometimes, no matter how hard you try and how good your intentions are, the world just continually sucker-punches you with all this negative crap, but in such overwhelming measure that it is suddenly accepted as "how it is these days".


And if you don't agree with my list (as I'm sure many won't), don't be a hater. Just let me live in my own little world. They all like me here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

10 things your teen won't tell you

Like manna from heaven, an article was delivered to my inbox today that at least gave me a little insight into the teenage brain.

Hopefully it will help some of you. Much of it is common sense, but it brings to light the way teens think, how they process what you say, and what is important to them in this stage of life.

Click on the link below to see the full article:

10 Things Your Teenager Won't Tell You

Monday, November 29, 2010

Ridin' the storm out (an apology to my mother)

First of all, I'm sorry about the plant. I know it was a Mother's Day gift, and I know I was angry at you for some reason, but I really didn't want it to die. I just said that I hoped it would. I never knew if it did or not, but I'd be surprised if you didn't just kill it yourself. I'll never forget doing such a stupid thing, and I'm sorry.

Now that THAT'S off my chest, let me explain. I was a teenager. It was Mother's Day. I was angry at my mom for something I can't even recall, so I went and got the plant I had bought for her, handed it to her and screamed, "Here's your plant. I hope it dies!" and stomped off to my room.

NICE, huh? Well, quid pro quo, Clarice.

I am apparently living the nightmare that my parents lived some 30 years ago - the teenage years. I had no idea what an asshole I was until I got a taste of what my 13 year old has been dishing out lately. Wow. I mean, really. I was a grade-A beeyatch. From hating everything to do with family to sitting in my selfish, morose and angst- filled room to playing music too loud just to annoy to pretty much single-handedly spoiling any joyous occasion with my crappy attitude, I'm now getting back twofold.

Mom, the curse worked. I had a child just like me. And it's WORSE. It's MALE.

Really, though, I knew this was coming. I braced myself as best I could. But I don't think anything can actually prepare you for the teenage years. It's like someone telling you what it's like to be hit head-on by a Mac truck. You can "ooh" and "ow" and flinch all you want at the description, but until you get hit head-on by a Mac truck, you just won't know how it really feels.

I have to say, I TRY to be sympathetic. I DO remember at times wishing I could just let go of the sullen attitude and have fun with my family and smile and be nice, but it was almost as if I was tied down by this teenage cancer that told me I needed to make everyone's lives as miserable as possible. I really remember not being able to help it - whether it was raging hormones or depression or mental illness or just being a teen. And God love my mom and dad - but mom especially, for she bore the brunt of my evilness. I'm sure with me being the third child she felt she'd seen it all before, but all I can say is if my second child goes through this like my first I'm flushing him down the toilet (just like my dad told his mom he would do with his first three children - no lie).

A guitar teacher I'm trying to pair my son up with to give him some guidance as to his current "musical taste" (or lack thereof) caught me off guard tonight. Here he was, a hip, cool younger dude teaching my son some sweet riffs. After the lesson, we were discussing my son's attitude toward the lesson and the teacher. His surprising words of advice for me? "PRAY." I stopped dead in my tracks. Not that I don't, but a hip, cool younger music dude telling me to pray? It must be REALLY bad.

I know we'll get through this, these teenage years. He's a good kid with a heart of gold and a brain full of morals and values that I know his dad and I have somehow stuck in there somewhere, no matter how far back in his conscience they might be right now. All I can hope is that he can ride out this wave of tidal teenagedom and come through the tube as a decent young man. Some don't make it. Some wipeout. Some drown. That's what scares me. But you'll bet I'm going to keep praying... and maybe get him a surfboard for Christmas.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Christmas is not for sissies... apparently I am one

I hate to be a Grinch, but I'm just not into Christmas. The whole holiday season, for that matter. At least in this day and age.

Don't get me wrong. I used to be all over Christmas like white on rice. When I was younger, I counted the days. Compiled my list. Practiced my carols on the piano. Vied to be "Mary" every year at a neighbor's annual Christmas caroling party. Helped bake and eat a multitude of Christmas confections. Made my own gifts. Hell, one year I even made my own wrapping paper and handmade Christmas cards featuring my cat.

I don't know when the pressure started to mount. I remember back in the early 90's after I graduated college and feeling exhausted after a long day at work capped off with fighting the mall shopping crowds looking for that perfect gift for each and every member of my family. That was BEFORE kids. I look back on that now as a walk in the freakin' park.

When I was a stay-at-home mom, I was determined to give my kids the Christmas experience and traditions that I had growing up. We would decorate the tree with "meaningful" ornaments from my childhood, any that my husband at the time had brought into the family, and of course every "Baby's 1st" ornament for any occasion that was available. I pulled out all the cookie recipes and made dozens and dozens, making sure that my husband had a big tray to take to work every year. The house was decorated to the nines, we hit every parade and light festival and Santa brunch and I made sure my kids knew how egg nog with a sprinkle of nutmeg tasted. My mother had set the precedent and it was up to me to carry it on. (Hats off to her, by the way. I don't know how she and Dad did it all.)

For the past few years,though, I've found myself slipping from the SuperChristmasMom status. Last year I did all my shopping entirely online. The thought of going into a store and waiting in line for hours just turns my stomach. I don't have TIME, nor do I have the desire. Shopping is not fun for me anymore. The Christmas decorations have been pared down considerably - no more extension ladder for me - and the cookie baking is down to a few snowballs and some jelly-filled things that my youngest requests every year. (They actually go to my mom's to bake the cut-outs and decorate them with icing.)

I guess my biggest beef is that right after Halloween this year, the Christmas decorations appeared. Two weeks ago - well before Thanksgiving, two radio stations changed to "all Christmas music". Pre-Black Friday deals and stores opening up at 2 and 3 am have given me knots in my stomach making me feel like I'm missing out on some tremendous deal. I feel like the holiday is being shoved down my throat, and the expectations to cook and bake and decorate and shop and buy and entertain and wear fabulous holiday sweaters is just TOO MUCH PRESSURE. I barely have time to live my own life, let alone throw a congested, commercial holiday that lasts two months into the equation.

It makes me sad that I have this regard for the holiday season, but I'm a little miffed that it's come to this. Sure, I know we're all appreciative of the chance to get together with friends and family, and it is true that many people do seem to really have this "feelgood" holiday spirit, but I just can't get past the fact that it seems like it's all for the wrong reasons.

You'll notice that not once in this post have I mentioned the true meaning of Christmas. That's to prove a point. It gets soooo lost in all the other crap that even though we realize the true meaning, it's somehow been beat out to Black Friday deals and Today Show holiday cooking segments.

When did we all allow this to happen? How did this get so out of hand? The self-induced pressure I have to "deliver" a good Christmas is so enormous that it makes me just want to crawl in a hole until well after New Year's, coming out only on Christmas Eve to take in a midnight service in the peace and quiet of my local church. And yes, I say self-induced, because obviously if I wanted to have an Amish-style Christmas I could do so, but unfortunately I'm too mainstream to go against the grain.

Don't get me wrong. I do enjoy sitting by the fire with my kids, and greeting the first snowfall of the season, and watching someone's face light up when they open the perfect gift. But I don't need a holiday season to do that. I often wonder if the cold winds of December are sometimes the Big Man upstairs just shaking his head at us all.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thankful with a twist

Although it's not very original, I do feel compelled this time of year to really take note of all the blessings around me that cause me to be so very thankful that God shot me into this planet some 44 years ago. So to mix it up a little, I'm going to skip the obvious (kids, family, friends, job, health, etc.) and really, really get specific about some of the things that I have relished during the past year that make me thankful to be me:

I am twistedly thankful for:

1) My second computer monitor that I set up just recently. I had no idea such dual-monitor pleasure existed. Two screens ARE better than one.
2) The automatic timer on my coffee pot. For some reason I can't stand to wait the seven minutes it takes me in the morning to make and brew coffee. I honestly think that first sip in the morning is nirvana. Every morning.
3) The cinnamony, clovey, nutmegy, garlicy, herby smell of my spice cabinet when I open it up.
4) Diet meals in a box under 300 calories. There are no seconds.
5) My 10-year old Honda minivan that still runs like a champ even though I've berated its existence as a minivan for the past decade.
6) My ex-husband who I don't hate.
7) Google Talk: so it's just like Amanda and I are working side-by-side again (not really).
8) Not getting that job.
9) Not taking that job.
10) Taking that job.
11) Progresso Split Pea with Ham soup.
12) The ability of my youngest son to crack my back every night when he hugs me.
13) My height and all the people who ask me to reach something on the top shelf at the grocery store.
14) Attracted to Shiny Things and the author who makes them that way.
15) Friends with big hearts, big smiles and big clavicles. You know who you are.
16) Cheap wine in a big bottle and my Jimmy Neutron wine glass.
17) Little affections still shown to me by my 13-year old son. Occasionally. But whatever. I'll take them.
18) EOFs. Stands for "Every Other Friday" when the kids head to their dad's for the weekend. I love my kids, but come EOF, I like to unwind a little. OK, a lot.
19) Nuclear power and all that comes with it.
20) Skinny Cow Truffle bars. They're big, they're chocolatey, they're 100 calories. So even if I eat three, I'm still within my 300 calorie per meal maximum.
21) Godwinks.
22) Cashiers who say something nice to you when you're not even paying attention to them like they don't exist. Good wake-up call.
23) Avanti's. My personal chef.
24) Cheez-its and Dr. Pepper. No, I lie. I'm not thankful for these. I curse their existence. But I do love them.
25) How I feel when I look down at my son in church and see him quietly mouthing the words to the Our Father.
26) The Man on the Corner, who checks in with me via phone periodically to "see how I am" now that our paths rarely cross anymore.
28) That my house is a home. Because the kids and I made it that way.
29) Guinness on a slightly empty stomach.
30) Fun words to say, like ubiquitous and schnitzel and discombobulate and juxtaposition. Oh, and heebee jeebees.
31) Six degrees of separation. Because it's cool.
32) A father who's an engineer, a mother who's an interior decorator, a brother who's an IT guru, a sister who's a nurse, another brother who's a lawyer. There's basically no question my family can't answer for me.
33) Online shopping. Thank you, Jesus.
34) My past. Without it, I would never have made it to the present.
35) The people who didn't believe in me who I proved wrong.
36) The people who believed in me so I could disprove the people who didn't believe in me.
37) Fleece.
38) Never being at a loss for someone to talk to on Facebook.
39) Funny statuses that make me LOL.
40) Padded push-up bras.
41) Billy Dennis. (No, #40 has nothing to do with #41.)
42) Satisfying news about an ex-boyfriend. (Still nothing to do with #41.)
43) Lilac bushes.
44) The exhilarating exhaustion I feel after the workout that I almost talked myself out of.
45) Spooning.
46) Phineas and Ferb. How else would my kids know what an "aglet" is?
47) The phrase, "That's a really good idea."
48) Yankee candles. The ones that don't make me sneeze.
49) "Well," I said, "I'm very, very thankful for punctuation! Aren't you?"
50) Writing. Because, well, It's My Thing.

Thanks also to everyone who reads me, for those who make comments, "like" or just plain tune in. You're the gravy on my mashed potatoes. Wow, that's 52!

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My kids live on air and Jell-O

I'm not kidding. If it weren't for the bits and pieces of nutrient-laden bacteria and other goodies in the atmosphere, they'd probably starve.

I'm obviously not bringing them up as legacy members of the Clean Plate Club. When I was growing up, we ate what was served. Now my mom will probably dispute this, saying she would not make us clean our plates but would withhold dessert if we didn't finish, but I only remember having to eat what was put in front of me. Then again, I don't remember downing too many desserts, either, so I could be wrong. (However, I did manage a sneaky breakfast trick. Every Sunday morning, Mom would cook up scrambled eggs, French toast or pancakes, all items that literally make me gag. When she wasn't looking, I'd stuff them up the sleeve of my robe and flush them down the toilet later. I'm sure she wondered why I always kind of smelled like syrup.)

Anyway, we ate at the same time every night. As I got older, I recall thinking, "Gee. It's 5:30 but I'm really not hungry." No matter. It was dinner, dammit, and we were going to eat it. Like Pavlov's dogs we'd eat it.

Fast forward 20 some-odd years or so to tonight. At about 8:25 pm the frozen pizza was just coming out of the oven. Gimme a break - we had tumbling class. I paired the Digourno delicacy with carrots and sugar snap peas, pineapple and kiwi. Oh, and milk. White for one, chocolate for another. White milk gets a straw. (Am I an enabler?)

My oldest ate one slice of pizza, four sugar snap peas and the pineapple. This was after he "forgot" to eat his lunch and consumed three bites of oatmeal for breakfast. My other son, who requests the "cheese stuffed crust", ate all but the crust of the pizza, the kiwi, and only the peas inside the sugar snap pea pods.

Here's the thing, though. Both of them LEAVE FOOD ON THEIR PLATE. *GASP* I know! That's exactly what I said! I was raised to CLEAN MY PLATE! ONE MORE BITE! Now THIS? This is unacceptable! So what do I do? Well, I eat whatever they leave behind. Breakfast for me is usually the remnants of a cold bowl of oatmeal and the crusts off a piece of jelly toast. Dinner? Pizza crusts, since my youngest apparently doesn't like them, and my veggie for tonight, the hulls of some sugar snap peas. Why even dirty a plate for me when I can clean theirs?

I KNOW it's healthier to leave food on the plate. I'm just so damn confused as to where they learned it. And if I didn't teach it to them and they picked it up, why is it that they won't eat anything I make no matter how I dress it up?

I've tried everything short of wearing a Ronald McDonald suit and painting the golden arches in the air with my magic finger. I've pounded chicken breasts flat, breaded them and presented them as the World's Largest Chicken Nuggets. I've pureed spinach and zucchini and blended them in spaghetti sauce. When they aren't looking I dump whey protein and wheat germ in their smoothies and shakes. But a CASSEROLE? You HAVE to be kidding. FIRST of all, THAT ingredient is GROSS, and THAT thing is touching THAT thing, and EEEWWWWWWW - what's that SAUCE???

And forget the "one more BIG Boy Scout bite" motto. Apparently my sons were members of Hobbit Troop #347, because the minuscule morsel that makes it past their lips is hardly enough to constitute sustenance fit for a hummingbird.

What I don't get is that they love to go to the Chinese buffet. For me, I may as well throw $35 out the car window. Very nice Chinese waitress: "How old your son?" Me: "Does it matter? REALLY? He ate a plate of Jell-O squares and sucked the cheese out of five mozzarella sticks. DOES IT REALLY MATTER HOW OLD HE IS?????"

These kids are the products of a mom who made their baby food, introduced vegetables first so they wouldn't reject them after the fruit, always had 100% juice boxes and whole wheat bread and kept track of how many servings they ate from the food pyramid per day.

And it's completely backfired in my face.

"Eat it or there's nothing else for the rest of the night" is a farce. They'd rather STARVE than eat what I'm serving. So fine. I let them. Then, as I watch their rib-exposed, emaciated little bodies running around outside, I picture their insides just eating themselves out because there's no food in their little tummies.

OK. Have some cereal. But just this once.

Their pediatrician says to keep doing what I'm doing; they'll catch up. So I've been trying a little harder to get them to eat. Having some fruit out while I'm heating up their fast food or pre-made whatever-in-a-box at least lets me know they're getting some nutrition. Every time they go for some random snack or treat, I make them pair it with something healthy first. And I wonder where and how they got this ability to simply eat what they want, when they want, then step away and be done.

And as soon as I clean the orange cheese puff residue off my keyboard, I'm going to go find out.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sex, spaghetti and Sophia Loren

I never really had an opinion about Sophia Loren. I always thought she was kind of a graceful beauty, with long legs and thick lips and large glasses big hair and a pushed-up bosom. And she talked funny.

But I started reading some quotes from her tonight, and am finding that there are some serious insightful thoughts inside that bombshell body of hers.

This one's a hoot: "Sex appeal is fifty percent what you've got and fifty percent what people think you've got." To me, that says that while you may not think you're particularly sexy, or good looking, or graceful, or whatever, that half of you that doubts yourself is being picked up by someone who loves you. It's good to know that someone out there has my back, or at least 50 percent of it.

This one struck me as well: "If you haven't cried, your eyes can't be beautiful."
I get what she's saying here. Those that show that raw emotion are somehow transformed into these beautiful, feeling creatures. However, she obviously has not seen me after I've had a good cry. My eyes look like a sleep-deprived drug addict who forgot to take her contacts out at the end of a long day.

And I've heard this one before, but never realized it was my girl Sophie (how I now refer to her): "When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child." Ain't that the truth. Add another thought for each additional child then throw in an extra for any teenagers in the house. I'm thinking quadruple time... all the time.

Sophia is one of those women who I think made her mistakes, had her success, got her fair share of ogling but still managed to keep her head about her. Her quotes can be quite risque: "Sex is like washing your face - just something you do because you have to. Sex without love is absolutely ridiculous. Sex follows love, it never precedes it." and "A woman's dress should be like a barbed-wire fence: serving its purpose without obstructing the view." You go, Sophie.

Some are downright hilarious: "Spaghetti can be eaten most successfully if you inhale it like a vacuum cleaner." How true.

Yet some are incredibly wise: "After all these years, I am still involved in the process of self-discovery. It's better to explore life and make mistakes than to play it safe. Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life." Looks like I'm exploring life at a pretty good clip.

I'll leave you with this one: "Getting ahead in a difficult profession requires avid faith in yourself. That is why some people with mediocre talent, but with great inner drive, go so much further than people with vastly superior talent."

That's what keeps me going. Thanks to my new quote girl Sophie, for keeping it real when I needed it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

If you could yell at anyone for 10 minutes, who would it be?

Back in July, I wrote what turned out to be one of my most popular posts to date. It posed the question, "If you could have lunch with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?"

I had a lot of responses, mostly naming positive icons such as Abraham Lincoln, Isaac Newton, Frank Lloyd Wright, Ben Franklin, Ellen DeGeneres... you get the picture.

So it got me thinking: If you could have 10 minutes with anyone and could spend that time giving them a piece of your mind - reading 'em the riot act - opening up a can of whoopass on them... you see where I'm going here... who would it be and why?

When thinking about this myself, my first thoughts turned to some less worldly-famous individuals. The track coach that told me (in front of everyone else) that I kick my butt when I run when I tried out for the team in 6th grade. I'd like to have a little chat on TACT with him. The popular girl in high school who noticed a small cold sore on my lip and announced, "Amy has herpes!" I bet I could take her now. Or how about the guy who invited me on a date then mentioned that his friend "Joey" was going to meet us... only to find out that "Joey" was a blond with really, really big boobs? Yeah, I'd like to take just a second or two of his time.

But I digress.

Now if I take a moment to step out of my self-serving box, I can think of a few people that I'd like to get in a room, in a chair, under one of those hot, swinging lights and say, "WHAT THE !%*$ WERE YOU THINKING?????" Such as:

Steven Hayes, the man who was just sentenced to death for the heinous torture and killing of a mom and her two daughters, while the father laid tied up and bleeding in the basement. And anyone else like him. This may go beyond just talking, as I would probably want to beat the living crap out of them. But I wonder if they know why they did it, and if they feel any of the pain that the general public, who may know absolutely nothing about the victims, feel. I'd like to find out what makes these murderous souls think that they are above every other human being that they can take someone's own life into their own hands. Ten minutes is probably nine more than I could take with these bottom feeders.

Any politician, celebrity or sports figure that gets "caught" cheating, then laments about how sorry he (or she) is. Now I could say specific names like Tiger Woods or Brett Favre, but they're really just the better known poster boys for brainless, stupified, egotistical behavior. Seriously, I'm sure these men (and women) love, and love deeply. That's great. So if they decide to stray, what planet are they living on that makes them think that they won't get caught? Sure, I know we "god-complex" these celebrities, wait with bated breath for them to fall, then laugh at them like the bully of the block. So one could say we kind of set them up. But still... seriously, Tiger? What was your first clue that you might possibly be screwing your reputation for the rest of your life? Not until the golf club went through the windshield or perhaps a little before that?

District 150. Yeah, I know, this is kind of out of left field. And there's not really one individual in particular that I'd have sit in the hot seat. I think I would just like to collectively get the Board together, maybe on some hot bleachers or something, then when I have their undivided attention, simply ask, "WTF, DISTRICT 150???? Have you not YET figured out that this is one of the worst school districts in the state? And you have no idea why or what to do about it? Perhaps you need to get in your cars and DRIVE to some of the good school districts and meet with their Boards and maybe take a pad of paper and a pen and TAKE SOME NOTES???!!!"

OK. I may need more than 10 minutes with them.

Anyway, so there's my short list. Now it's your turn. Who gets under your skin? Burns your soup? Gets your tighty whities in a wad? Think about it... then imagine 10 minutes of their undivided attention to tell you exactly what you're thinking.

And yes, I know that in real life this of course would be a very immature and self-serving thing to do. And I may very well be one of those people you want to throw under the bus. Either way, I do find that sometimes fantasizing about getting those pent-up feelings off your chest really DOES get them off your chest. Then you can turn off that hot light and leave the room... in peace.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Fall back, my a$$

Yeah, I'm not a big fan of Standard Time. I'll get to that, though. First, a little background on this whole Daylight Savings Time enigma:

First conceived by Benjamin Franklin, Daylight Savings Time was seriously advocated and lobbied for by London builder William Willett (1857-1915) who said, "Everyone appreciates the long, light evenings. Everyone laments their shortage as Autumn approaches; and everyone has given utterance to regret that the clear, bright light of an early morning during Spring and Summer months is so seldom seen or used."

Daylight Saving Time has been used in the U.S. and in many European countries since World War I. At that time, in an effort to conserve fuel needed to produce electric power, Germany and Austria began saving daylight on April 30, 1916. Many other countries followed suit, and today, approximately 70 countries utilize Daylight Saving Time in at least a portion of the country.

The Uniform Time Act of 1966 created Daylight Saving Time to begin on the last Sunday of April and to end on the last Sunday of October. Any state that wanted to be exempt from Daylight Saving Time could do so by passing a state law.

Under legislation enacted in 1986, Daylight Saving Time in the U.S. began at 2:00 a.m. on the first Sunday of April and ended at 2:00 a.m. on the last Sunday of October.

Various interesting little tidbits on the effects of the time change:

Halloween. Through 2006, Daylight Saving Time in the U.S. ended a few days before Halloween (October 31). Children’s pedestrian deaths are four times higher on Halloween than on any other night of the year. A new law to extend DST to the first Sunday in November took effect in 2007, with the purpose of providing trick-or-treaters more light and therefore more safety from traffic accidents. However, it appears most trick-or-treaters wait until dark to venture out, so this had little effect. In addition, it cost U.S. companies billions to reset automated equipment, put us further out of sync with Asia and Africa time-wise, and generally inconvenienced most of the country.

Drinking. Patrons of bars that stay open past 2:00 a.m. lose one hour of drinking time on the day when Daylight Saving Time springs forward one hour. This has led to annual problems in numerous locations, and sometimes even to riots. For example, at a "time disturbance" in Athens, Ohio, site of Ohio University, over 1,000 students and other late night partiers chanted "Freedom," as they threw liquor bottles at the police attempting to control the riot.

Trains. To keep to their published timetables, Amtrak trains cannot leave a station before the scheduled time. So, when the clocks fall back one hour in October, all Amtrak trains in the U.S. that are running on time stop at 2:00 a.m. and wait one hour before resuming. Overnight passengers are often surprised to find their train at a dead stop and their travel time an hour longer than expected. At the spring Daylight Saving Time change, trains instantaneously become an hour behind schedule at 2:00 a.m., but they just keep going and do their best to make up the time.

Crime. A study by the U.S. Law Enforcement Assistance Administration found that crime was down 10 to 13 percent during periods of Daylight Saving Time than during comparable standard time periods. It is clear that for most crimes where darkness is a factor, such as muggings, there are many more incidents after dusk than before dawn, so light in the evening is most welcome.

Births. While twins born at 11:55 p.m. and 12:05 a.m. may have different birthdays, Daylight Saving Time can change birth order -- on paper, anyway. During the time change in the fall, one baby could be born at 1:55 a.m. and the sibling born ten minutes later, at 1:05 a.m. In the spring, there is a gap when no babies are born at all: from 2:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m.

I always thought the whole Daylight Savings Time started for the farmers. Not true, apparently. In fact, farmers generally oppose Daylight Saving Time, and don't particularly appreciate having to change their schedule twice a year.

Personally, I relish Daylight Savings Time. Reverting back to Standard Time means no more walks after work, no more playing outside until 7:00, and for some, their days begin and end in total darkness. I'm wondering if there have been any studies done linking depression to the end of Daylight Savings Time. To me, it signifies the beginning of six months or so of cold, dark, dreary days when I sit inside and eat comfort food, packing on my winter coat and waiting for the sun to come out again.

What's your take on the end of Daylight Savings Time? Do you love it or could you leave it?

Information for this blog was obtained from Web Exhibit, an interactive online museum of science, humanities and culture.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Why I'd rather be 44 once than live 22 twice

Ironic that my last post was about how much being 13 sucks. 'Cuz 44 is awesome. I mean, I'm anticipating. I technically didn't come into this world until 8:26 am, weighing in at a hefty 9 lbs., 6 oz. (which I'm sure I mostly carried around my hips and thighs). But so far, so good.

Here's a recap. When we last checked in on my birthday (one year ago today), I was "gainfully unemployed", struggling to get my new business off the ground, in the throes of a new relationship, parenting at warp speed, and very thankful for my friends and family. (See "Happy Birthday to me... I'm 43!")

Some things change, and some remain the same. If it's possible to double my gratitude for my family and friends, consider it being done here. Amanda, Tracie, Frandy, Shannon - we've had a big year, haven't we? Who'da thunk we'd be where we are today - good AND bad. But we're still rockin'... together. Muchas gracias a mis amigos.

As far as my business goes, I have learned and grown more in the past year than I think I ever have in my professional career. Best of all - I did it My Way. :) I scratched and crawled and networked and marketed until I was blue in the face and it paid off. I got to meet the most interesting people and had some of the most awesome writing gigs that I could ever imagine, and it completely reinforced Kennard Communications' motto that "everyone and everything has a story to tell". There will be more where that came from, you can be sure of it.

Call it ironic, coincidence or divine intervention, but just at the height of KC's success I received an offer I could not refuse. So today, my 44th birthday, I embark on a new adventure at a new company that I'm totally jazzed about. I STILL get to do what I love, but that great fear of when the next paycheck will roll in will all but be eliminated, not to mention ridiculously high self-employment health insurance premiums and a lack of contribution to my IRA. Stability is nice. Very nice.

And the relationship? Well, it's been a big year for this single gal. I've had the distinct pleasure to grow with a gentleman who I tried and tried to find something wrong with, tried to push away, tried to tell myself "this will never work". Guess what. Despite my best efforts, it's working. And he's amazing. 'Nuff said.

The parenting? Yeah, it's tough. I knew it wouldn't get any easier, and it hasn't. BUT, I've found support, and new ways of approaching things, and I've learned that there is no one answer, and as soon as you think you've found something that works, life changes, your kid changes, and you have to reinvent your tactics. It's still gut-wrenching, exhausting, and gives me knots in my stomach sometimes, but for every hour of sleep lost, there happens a moment that fills my heart with joy and makes me so incredibly thankful that God made me the parent of these two boys.

So there you have it - me at 44 and not looking back. My stretch marks are my war wounds, my wrinkles referred to as "laugh lines", and every gray hair on my head has been duly earned. And I still think that my mom was right - the 40's are the best decade. So far. And if the promises of this 44th year are any indication, I can't WAIT to turn 50.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Being 13...

...kinda sucks.

I remember 13. It was November, and we had just moved from my hometown to Peoria. I was a freshman and not at all happy to leave my friends, let alone start a new school two months into the year. Double bonus: my first day of school was my birthday. I cried all the way home.

Life sucked. In part because of the circumstances, but in large part due to my attitude toward those circumstances. I was unhappy, had a chip on my shoulder, and was going to let everyone know about it.

It took me about a year to come around. The August before I started my sophomore year, I asked my mom if I could change schools. She must have been desperate at that point (I know the feeling now) because she obliged. Year 14 gave me a fresh start, and a new outlook on life. Sure, I made a ginormous amount of mistakes, but I had come from the depths of 13, so I could survive anything.

"You don't have to suffer to be a poet. Adolescence is enough suffering for anyone." -John Ciardi, Simmons Review, Fall 1962

I was lucky. What happens to these poor pre-teens who just get off on the wrong foot and are never able to turn it around? And even if they DO turn it around, does anyone bother to notice? Or are they destined to always be labeled as they were originally perceived?

13 is complicated. Yes, it can be a fun, carefree, interesting and cool part of your life. It can also be depressing, helpless, emotional and full of angst. 13 is trying on different personalities to see if they fit. Sure, you have your own, but you're not comfortable with it. Or it's not accepted. Or cool. So you act like you think you should, or how your friend does, or how the cool people do just to fit in.

"Don't laugh at a youth for his affectations; he is only trying on one face after another to find a face of his own." -Logan Pearsall Smith, "Age and Death," Afterthoughts, 1931

You make mistakes. Again. And again. There's no "learning from them the first time" at 13. You question authority. You ask why. You don't understand. You wonder when you're just going to grow up and then everything will be OK. You have no idea that your parents are going through three times the anguish that you are, just watching you.

"Adolescence is a period of rapid changes. Between the ages of 12 and 17, for example, a parent ages as much as 20 years." -Author Unknown

My heart aches for 13, but I know it's a rite of passage that all humans must go through, some more gracefully than others. Unfortunately, I can only watch like a hawk, listen when it's needed and pray like there's no tomorrow.

"Figuring out who you are is the whole point of the human experience." -Anna Quindlen

Monday, October 25, 2010

Peoria District 150 apparently wants to "rock and roll all night and party every day".

I don't consider myself a prude. But really, District 150? Is this photo truly the kind of representation you want of an already struggling school district?

Yes, it's cute, and funny - maybe hanging on someone's bulletin board at work, or perhaps sent through inter-office email. But on the WEBSITE?

I have nothing more to say about this. Really. I'm just speechless.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

If I wrote a book, would you be in it?

When people ask me what I do and I say, "I'm a writer", their next question is usually, "Have you written a book?"

Nope. But it's on my bucket list.

My problem is my topic. I have this issue with writing fiction; I mean, I have so much going on in my everyday life and my everyday brain that to conjure up some sort of fantasy scenario with amazing character development not only seems like a lot of work, but somehow redundant as well.

There's too much that's gone on in my world to pass it up.

If you go to my website, Kennard Communications, the first line is, "Everyone and everything has a story." The older I get, the more I believe that this is true. My story alone would encompass so many people and situations that I'd certainly have to change the names and places to protect the innocent (and the not-so-innocent).

The book would definitely be humorous. I mean, look at life. It's funny. And if you don't laugh, you'll curl up in the fetal position and cry yourself to sleep every night. Yeah, I've done that.

The book would most likely be ironic. Which is funny. Because a good friend of mine and I argue continually about the difference between "ironic" and "unfortunate". Unlike the Alanis Morissette song, it's not ironic that there's a fly in your Chardonnay, it's unfortunate. Let's just get that straight.

I could do an autobiography of sorts, but I always thought of them as pretentious; that is, unless you're some super-human individual who has encountered amazing adventures like war or the Peace Corps or disease or possibly alien abduction. And I just don't feel as if I've "lived" enough to start spouting off all the things I've learned.

The best I can come up with right now is a hodge-podge collection of stories. I could write chapters and chapters on parenting: what NOT to do, what worked for me, what I did that I didn't HAVE to do, what completely backfired - not to mention the "funny things that happened to me on the way to being a mom", including a section on "things you never thought you'd say" - i.e.: "Don't do cartwheels next to the tripods", "I don't have a staple gun and seven band-aids", "no farting in the van" and "stop going all 'General Grievous' on your brother".

There's my love life - though I'm not prepared to reveal all the details - but friends of mine will say that the string of circumstances that led me from one failed relationship to another is the stuff of a Harlequin romance novel gone bad. Put it this way: if I ever find a man in the Coast Guard, I will have managed to unwittingly date all branches of the military. *sigh*

Then there's family - my twisted brothers and sister and parents that just shake their heads at us all. Many of my Facebook friends have "met" my siblings, and all agree that the Talcott clan is just a bit off. Perhaps we were all dropped on our heads as babies - it's possible. If it makes for some great Thanksgiving dinner fodder, imagine how it would translate into a juicy, familial chapter.

And let's not forget friends - oh, do I have stories! Unfortunately, these same friends have some pretty good dirt on me as well, so I'd have to get signed releases to tell those tales. Put it this way - it's kind of like the adage, "If you were in prison, I wouldn't be the one posting your bail. I'd be the one sitting next to you saying, 'Wow. That was a GOOD time'."

Maybe I need to sit on this for awhile longer. Maybe when I'm old and gray and not running around like a chicken with my head cut off, I can finally sit down to get some thoughts down on paper, then decide if anyone in the real world would give a rat's ass to read about it.

Until then, my friends, you all are safe. I'm just gonna keep living.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Googling God

I'm a big fan of the saying, "Everything happens for a reason." I've also started subscribing to the "God has a plan for you" mentality, though not without a fight.

The past few years of my life have been interesting, to say the least. There are friends whom I've had only for a short time that I say to apologetically, "My life isn't always this dramatic. Really. Just give me a little time to get it all sorted out." At least I thought that's how I was, until I looked back and realized that my life has been sort of a comedy of errors for nearly 44 years.

It's easy for me to sit here at this point and say, "Oh, that's OK". A couple of big dramas have finally played themselves out and God's plan has revealed itself just a wee bit more. Ironically, I remember saying to my mom, "I would never want to go through this past year again for anything." Her response, "Are you sure about that? Look at all you learned and how far you came. You really found out a lot about yourself and accomplished a lot as well."

You know, she's right. (She loves it when I say that.)

Every once in awhile, I'd look to the heavens and say, "God? I know you have a plan for me, but if you could just hurry up a little bit that would be great." It was exhausting, trying and trying while waiting for Him to reveal the next step for me.

Looking back, he did give me hints in small, subtle ways. The upsetting rejections of a few jobs led to a string of career circumstances that never would have happened without those depressing "Dear Applicant" letters. The frustration of not being able to find anyone to hear me about issues with my son led to assistance from an unlikely source and subsequent (cautious) rejoicing at some amazing progress. Finally letting some walls down and working through my bull-headedness with regards to a personal relationship has made my future look very, very bright.

When I would call my mom and cry to her that I just didn't know what to do, her response was, "Pray". Mom's a big prayer. I am not. I believe in God, attend church, and consider myself a Christian. But aside from the monotonous prayers I learned as a Catholic, I'm lost when it comes to prayer. So I did what any anal-retentive retired Catholic would do. I Googled prayer. And you know what? There's some good ones out there. And the more I read them, the more I realized that I don't have to say a prayer, that I can just talk to Him. Anytime. About anything. Which is cool. And obviously works.

But, as my mom reminded me, "Don't forget to thank Him." That's another task in itself. But I do know this much - I'll be in this position again. Needing help. Not knowing which way to turn. Feeling frustrated. Then I'll remember this past couple of years, and how He helped me through, even though at times I doubted He was on my side. Next time, I'll have more faith. And I'll try to stay more connected to him in good times, and in bad.

I'm not trying to be all preachy here, but this is my blog, and my story. So if there are any of my readers out there who have been in a bind and don't believe in Him, I can't imagine your plight. Feeling helpless while having NOTHING at all to turn to must be horrible.

Take five minutes to Google God - you may be surprised at how "at peace" you suddenly feel.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Who is your mentor?

Everyone has one. Whether consciously or subconsciously, we all have someone in our past or present life that we have looked to for guidance, or who have molded a part of our being in some way, both professionally and personally.

But have you ever thought about who those people are, and perhaps taken the time to thank them?

Mentors come in all shapes and sizes, and can change over the course of your lifetime. When you're a kid, your mentor could be your third grade teacher, your soccer coach, or your friend's mom. As you get older, it could be a professor, a guidance counselor, or even the cool older kid in school. You may not realize that these individuals are your "mentors" - at that age, who even knows what that really means? But these are the people we remember later on - the ones that shape our lives - above and beyond what our parents can do. Parents, of course, have a standing order as mentors - I know mine do.

Thinking back, I remember my mentors. In grade school, it was the 6th grade teacher who encouraged my writing. I still have her comments on my short stories - "You should be a writer when you grow up" is the one that makes me want to contact her and say, "Thanks in part to you, I did." In high school, there was the mother of a friend of mine whose house everyone always hung out at. She was the consummate stay-at-home mom. We were always welcome there, and she always had snacks. I was one of the few girls in the group we hung out with, and she, with three sons, "adopted" me and all my teenage angst as the daughter she never had.

In college, my mentor was my first boss at the advertising agency I interned at in Milwaukee. She was the one who took me under her wing, and taught me the ropes of not only advertising, but working in the professional world as well (i.e. it's not a good idea to drink as much as the client during lunch). To this day she remains a good friend.

Today, I have several mentors. Some I look to for guidance in my professional life. These are the people that I call when I need advice in my work - the ones I "follow" to see how they are taking life by the horns. The ones I try to model myself after not only because of their own success, but their attitudes and optimism as well.

Personally, I have a good friend that never bullshits me. She'll tell me if she thinks I've made a bad decision, will neutrally guide me when I have a problem, and constantly reminds me of my good choices and "how far I've come".

Reciprocally, I hope that there is someone out there that considers me their mentor. I hope that I have had a positive effect on someone's life, and that years later, they remember me as one of the people that influenced them, professionally or personally.

Take a few minutes to reflect on your mentors, past and present. If you get the chance, look them up and thank them. As I've said before, we're all in this together, and sometimes you need to let those people know the difference they have made in your life.

Friday, October 8, 2010

How to make a decision

Anybody know how to do this? I have some ideas, but sometimes lack the confidence to implement them and be secure in my ultimate decision.

This isn't about "paper or plastic", "white or whole wheat" or "soup or salad". This is the big stuff. The stuff that YOU have to decide and the stuff that has the potential to change the direction of your life, temporarily or permanently.

My mother has always encouraged me to make lists of pros and cons, and that is a good practice. Usually, it gets me to really think about all the possible aspects and outcomes of my decision, both good and bad. The problem I have is in weighing their value. There may be only one or two "cons" on my list, but they may be so significant that they outweigh the eight "pros" in the other column.

I know - I over-analyze a bit.

I've found that talking it out with others helps, too. Trusted friends whom you respect can shed light on your decision-making, bringing up points that you perhaps never thought of. A good friend won't make the decision for you, though, but will act as a sounding board for you to verbalize your conundrum. Talking about it out loud, whether with someone else or just to yourself, also gives you a sense of your attitude toward one decision or another. If I find myself getting into a debate about my options to the point where I'm defending one choice over the other, it somehow becomes very clear.

My last piece of advice is not all that tangible, but works for me. Sometimes, we don't realize that deep down, we KNOW what we want. It may not be the popular decision, or the choice that our friends or family would make, but in our gut we know it's the best for us. I know when I've made my decision because of how I feel when I finally commit to it. Sometimes it's like I was just punched and I feel defeated. Other times I'm excited and anxious. The key here is being able to LISTEN to your gut without having others' opinions about what you "should" do affecting that feeling. That's the rub right there.

Above all, know that decisions, while they seem very, very final, are not always. These are variable times we live in, and you never know what's around the corner or what kind of curve ball God's going to throw you next. Make your decision with an open mind that if circumstances change, you'll be open enough to revisit and reevaluate if necessary.

Some heavy thoughts for your weekend, and for mine.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Seriously, what's going on with District 150 buses?

From the Peoria Journal Star, October 4, 2010:

"A Peoria District 150 bus driver was cited for driving under the influence after veering off the road and hitting a pair of parked cars early Monday.

The bus was carrying 20 children. The driver and 13 students were transported to local hospitals for observation.

In addition to DUI, Gary H. Davis, 46, was ticketed for improper lane usage, failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident and driving on the sidewalk."

And here I was complaining that my son's District 150 bus was a half an hour late to pick him up today, thus making him 20 minutes late for school.

Oh, then there was the fact that the District 150 bus didn't even show up at his school to pick him up until 2:45 pm - 45 minutes after school had ended, and five minutes before I was halfway there to get him myself.

This is apparently where I should look on the bright side. At least his bus driver wasn't drunk. That we know of.

I don't really know the whole story here, so instead of just preaching what should be done, I'm going to ask for some explanation. At the beginning of the year, we were told that the bus routes were getting "ironed out" and we needed to be patient. The kids were going to be late until evidently some magical solution was to be implemented to make all the bus drivers hit their stops at the allocated times.

I thought my son's route was the lucky one - our first bus driver was spot on every day - up until last week. She's mysteriously disappeared - replaced by someone who drives looking at her address sheet in one hand and apparently at times talking on her cell phone in the other.

I understand there are glitches. I understand drivers need to get to know the routes. And I praise the dependable bus drivers who make very little yet put up with a lot every day. Hats off to them. But I think most parents have been pretty patient with District 150 and/or bus transportation in getting the kinks out. It's October, Guys. And part of the reason why the District changed the middle school times to a non-working-parent-friendly 7:25 am - 2:00 pm was to accommodate the bus schedules - to make them more efficient and less costly. OK, at what price now?

I'm lucky I don't have to take off for work before my son gets on the bus. I see kids standing at their stops alone and I wonder what they do when the bus doesn't show. And what about the kids who are supposed to be home at a certain time and don't show up? The only phone call I got was for my son, asking me to pick him up.

All I'm asking is this - I'm doing my part to get my 13-year old, bleary-eyed son out to the bus stop at 6:40 am every morning. The district or bus company or whoever is in charge of these people needs to do their part to be there to pick him up. And get him home safely, and on time. That's our agreement.

And I promise not to show up drunk at my stop if they promise to do the same.

Friday, October 1, 2010

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

I often think of this. I don't know why. But there are definitely times I feel as if I am not using my physical and mental capabilities to their maximum potential (try ALWAYS), and feel that having a superpower in one of those areas would make up for my other gross deficiencies.

So what would I choose? There are so many. Physically, would I pick speed? Perhaps that would alleviate my chronic lateness. I could certainly get more done. But I'm a "stop and smell the roses" kind of gal, so I think I somehow feel I'd be missing out.

What about strength? I suppose this would come in handy when I get the urge to rearrange some furniture and don't want to wait for some big, strong guy to come to my aid. Superhuman vision would be awesome - not necessarily X-ray - there's no need for that, really. But I'm as blind as a bat, and to be able to see clearly would be a definite bonus. And I've often wished I could fly - it seems as if I waste a lot of my day trying to get from Point A to Point B.

Maybe mental superpowers is the way to go. Superhuman intelligence? That would be nice - I feel as if I am pretty smart in some areas (writing), but incredibly stupid in others (math, science, geography, history.....) But I'd hate to be that irritating know-it-all at the party that no one wants to be around. Mind control? Ha - maybe for my kids. But I'm pretty pro-free will, so that may screw with my morals a bit. What about precognition? I'm always wondering what will happen next, but then again, maybe I don't want to know.

So what's it going to be? I think if I had to choose any superpower, I'd pick telepathy. It seems the safest, and most beneficial. It seems these days that a lot of people tell you what you want to hear, and bending the truth - whether it's to avoid hurt feelings or to keep from divulging information - seems to have become the norm. I try to be as honest as I can with people, probably to a fault. I always want to know "the whole story". There's been too many times when I thought I knew someone, only to find out they were thinking something completely different. With telepathy, I'd know if my son really DID brush his teeth. I'd know if that client across the table is considering hiring me for his project. If my boyfriend really does think these pants make my butt look big.

With telepathy, not only could I read their actual thoughts, I could communicate with them without saying a word. How many time have I thought, "I'm not a mind reader!" Yes, the power could be a curse at times, and my kryptonite would definitely be my sensitivity in knowing the truth.

So if I had this superpower, I wouldn't have to ask this question: if you could pick any superpower to possess, what would it be?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"Jumping" at the chance to help

Here's a re-post from Debbie Adlof of C.W. Notes and the Community Word. My son is a Charter Oak third grader and I was thrilled that this story received some positive coverage. "Jumping" is definitely his thing, and now he can do it for a cause:

“Jumping” In To Help the Salvation Army
Posted by Debbie Adlof on 28 September 2010, 2:31 pm

Third Grade Students to Raise Funds from Jump-a-Thon for Army Feeding Programs

The Salvation Army is grateful to students and administrators from Charter Oak Primary School in Peoria for their generous nature. The school was one of many area schools contacted in an effort to expand knowledge of Salvation Army programs and services and responded with an idea for a jump-athon.

“Ms. Shannon Roach and Ms. Joan Frickleton’s third grade class had a visit from Major Donna Miller of our Family Shelter and the students wanted to do something to help feed the people who come to The Salvation Army,” said Rich Draeger, Assistant Development Director. “Our staff worked with the teachers to work out the idea for the jump-a-thon and we are delighted they did so.”

The students will be giving up some valuable recess time, beginning Friday, October 30 and continue for 4 more recess sessions. They were sent home with pledge forms and will be getting monies from friends and family to support their efforts.

The monies collected will be utilized in our Social Service area in our food warehouse, Family Shelter and Sylvia Fites Family Services Center, where our daily Lunch with Love soup kitchen is held.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Top 10 Guilty Pleasures: what are yours?

Everyone has them. Few talk about them.

Guilty pleasures. Wikipedia (for what it's worth) defines a "guilty pleasure" as "something one enjoys and considers pleasurable despite feeling guilt for enjoying it. Often, the "guilt" involved is simply fear of others discovering one's lowbrow or otherwise embarrassing tastes, rather than actual moral guilt."

So, baring it all, here is a list of my Top 10 Guilty Pleasures (in no particular order):

1) My automatic drip coffee pot with timer. My guilty pleasure part is the timer. There is something absolutely magical about coming downstairs in the morning and grabbing a cup of freshly-brewed joe without having to go through the daunting task (which it is for me at 5:45 am) of making it.

2) Cheez-its. I don't buy these anymore. If I do, I eat the whole box. No, not in one sitting. Sometimes it sits in the cabinet for a day or two. Other times, I open the box in the parking lot of the grocery store. Then handful by handful, those square little cheesy morsels of deliciousness disappear. And no, Cheese Nips is not an acceptable alternative.

3) Aerosmith. Yeah, I have a "thing" for Steven Tyler. I know, I know, the guy looks rode hard and put away wet, but to me he has that certain something that just makes me swoon. Maybe it's the scarves. Maybe it's the mouth. Maybe it's the "ayayayayaayayayaya!!!!!" and his vocal range. I don't know. But if "Livin' on the Edge" or "Deuces are Wild" comes on the radio, you can bet I'm belting it out right along with ole' Stevie.

4) Facebook. I can't help it. I work at home, and sometimes my buddies on Facebook are the only human contact (outside of my children, and that's debatable) that I have all day. I justify it because I've made many a business contact on this social networking site, and find inspiration for some of my writing from my FB friends all over the world.

5) Jeans. I have WAAAAAY too many pairs of jeans. My issue is that I have very long legs, so I wear tall sizes, which are hard to find. When I DO find a pair of tall jeans, I buy them, rationalizing that "these are hard to find". Let's just say they are getting less and less "hard to find", but alas my buying habits haven't quite made the adjustment.

6) Army Wives and Grey's Anatomy. I was an Army wife once, but not like Claudia Joy or Roxy LeBlanc. Oh, and I faint at the sight of needles and blood. Why I watch these shows is beyond me, but I'm as hooked as I used to be on that John Edwards psychic show.

7) The paper copy of the Peoria Journal Star. I know, print is dead. Whatever. And yes, I also know I can read it online. But there's something about sitting cross-legged on the couch with a cup of coffee and the newspaper that I just miss.

8) McDonald's Happy Meals. I love them. I love the little flat burger with the schmear of ketchup and mustard and the three pickles. I love the little packet of fries and the tiny Dr. Pepper. It makes me think I'm cheating at the very lowest of levels. And since I drive a mini-van, they never suspect it's for me. Also because when they ask if it's for a boy or a girl, I always say "boy".

9) Cheap wine in a juice glass. It's a habit. Most nights, after I'm done writing and the kids are in bed, I treat myself to a tiny juice glass of cheap red wine - because I am on a budget. And yes, it does go with Cheez-its.

10) Watching my kids sleep. My oldest isn't really very cuddly anymore, and he's angry with me a lot. But when he's sleeping, I get to see that little boy face again, blond curls askew on the pillow. My younger son still creeps into my bed in the middle of the night on occasion, and though I know he shouldn't, I love the fact that he thinks that mom's bed is "safer". And yes, every night I go in and put my hand on them to make sure they're breathing. I know, I know.....

So I fessed up - now it's your turn. What are your guilty pleasures? As always, this is a family blog. Keep it clean.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Financials for Dummies: How this wordsmith is learning her numbers

I'm definitely a right-brained sort of gal. That's probably why I'm a writer. But as a business owner, I have to channel the powers of my left brain to run the accounting end of my business.

This makes my whole brain hurt.

Enter SCORE Peoria. SCORE (Counselors to America’s Small Business) is a national nonprofit association dedicated to entrepreneur education and the formation, growth and success of the nation’s small business. I attended an awesome workshop at their offices today (located in the Heartland Partnership building) called Financials: Mastering Cash Flow and Profits. In preparation for the two-hour seminar, I drank an extra cup of coffee and took four ibuprofen. Turns out, I really didn't need it (well, the coffee, maybe).

David Mills is a CPA and the owner of Business Management Solutions, an accounting and financial services firm with offices in Peoria and Morton. Don Rohn, SCORE Peoria Chapter Chair and an old friend of mine, referred me to him personally a few weeks ago when I had questions about the checks and balances for Kennard Communications. He spent over an hour with me going over self-employment tax ramifications, dumbing down accounting terms and answering even the most basic questions that my right-brained mind just couldn't get my head around.

I was thrilled to see that David was one of the speakers at this workshop today. While last time we met I was looking for answers to questions I had, today he gave me not only valuable information regarding the accounting side of my business, but questions to ask myself to enable me to stay on track financially from here on out.

Among those questions were:
Did you create a job for yourself or a business?
Do you have good advisors around you who have your best interests at heart?
What's the biggest money maker of your business and how can you capitalize on that?
Do you have a budget?

In addition, David took the time to painstakingly explain four very important (yet sometimes grossly overlooked) bookkeeping aspects of a business, no matter how big or how small:

1) Profit/Loss Statement. This document summarizes the revenues, costs and expenses incurred during a specific period of time - usually a fiscal quarter or year. These records provide information that shows the ability of a company to generate profit by increasing revenue and reducing costs. The P&L statement is also known as a "statement of profit and loss", an "income statement" or an "income and expense statement".

2) Balance Sheet. This is basically a snapshot of a business’s financial condition at a specific moment in time. It's called a balance sheet because the two sides balance out. This makes sense: a company has to pay for all the things it has (assets) by either borrowing money (liabilities) or getting it from shareholders (shareholders' equity). I'm not quite sure how to transition this to my business at this time because I am so small, but at least I know how to do one now.

3) Statement of Cash Flow. Otherwise known as, "Where'd all the money go?" This piece of accounting records the amounts of cash and cash equivalents entering and leaving a company. The three main components of a cash flow statement are 1) operations, or how much cash is generated from a company's products or services; 2) investing, or any changes in equipment, assets or investments, and 3) financing, or changes in debt, loans or dividends.

4) Budget Sheet. Since my work bottom line is so closely tied to my personal bottom line, this is (in my opinion) one of the most important and useful things for ME as I grow my business and support my family. David's advice was key: even if you don't know for sure what some of your expenses are that first year, get a ballpark figure and from then on out, keep diligent track of ALL business and personal expenses. From what I gather, the budget sheet is key and feeds into the other financial paperwork mentioned above.

I'm not going to pretend that I completely understand all these bookkeeping nightmares (I mean, tools...) after a two-hour workshop. I'm sure the majority of business owners out there are much more well-versed in the accounting side of their businesses than I am right now. But after meeting with David, I feel as if I have received enough advice to build at least a skeleton of a bookkeeping practice for my own little copymarketing firm.

If any of you are in the same boat as I am, I highly recommend that you contact David Mills. We right-brained people are easily frustrated by numbers and I am truly thankful to have a left-brained person in my corner who is able to explain the basics to me without me leaving with a huge migraine.

Thanks to David and to SCORE for providing a great workshop!

For more information on SCORE, visit their website HERE. You can contact David Mills, CPA at 309-266-5700, or visit his website HERE.