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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Superdude

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Tomorrow is celebrated around the world as New Year’s Day 2010. But it’s celebrated at our house as my oldest son’s birthday.

Superdude (his email username picked when roughly 11 years old) was a New Year’s Baby. Due on December 15, he was supposed to be a before Christmas Baby and a 1988 tax write-off too. But 2 ½ weeks after the due date there were no signs that little Superdude was anxious for a change of address so my doctor decided to induce labor. Actually, I had to be induced with both my boys because they both were more than two weeks overdue. I joke that I’d probably STILL be pregnant if they hadn’t forced the little twerps out. I don’t know if they were afraid to come out and meet the parents or if they were just comfortable kickin’ it where they were. Anyway, it was definitely a New Year’s Eve to remember, but finally after 18 hours of labor (and my first New Year’s Eve involving major narcotics) we had a perfect baby boy on January 1, 1989.

Flash-forward to January 1, 2010 - my baby boy is turning 21 years old. I have a son who is 21 years old. I am old enough to have a son that is 21 years old – wow.

Superdude is serving a mission right now (email is Supermissionarydude – no kidding) so I won’t get to see him or talk to him, which is hard for me. But I am really, really grateful that I want to talk to him.

That may sound a little weird – of course I should want to talk to my child. But the reality is not every parent/child relationship is good. I was really worried about this before I had children. I grew up with a lot of younger step and half brothers and sisters and I did A LOT of babysitting from about the age of 8 on up. I admit that I learned a lot of skills being a major babysitter, but I felt like I had been there and done that and was so not interested in having any kids of my own. Plus, and probably more significantly, I had and have some real struggles with my own parents. Those relationships are just hard, sometimes painful and always kind of stressful for me. So there I was, around the time of my own 21st birthday, a young Mormon woman who just wasn’t interested in babies.

But as I’ve told Superdude many times before, someone somewhere realized that the only way I was going to get over my hang-ups was just to get on with it. So even though as a young married woman I was doing all the things you’re supposed to do to avoid having babies (well, almost all the things), I discovered early in 1988 that I was going to be a mom– and I am so grateful.

I have loved being a mom. I’ve come to realize that there were things I needed to learn about myself, about my own childhood, about the relationship with my own parents that I could only discover by being a parent myself. I love my children, but more important than that I think is that I actually like my kids too. I like hanging out with them. I like talking to them and I think that they actually feel the same way about me too – most of the time anyway. It certainly isn’t because I’m the most perfect parent in the world – and they know that for sure. But one of the things I’ve tried to show them is that I know it too. I’ve learned not to be afraid to apologize to my kids, change my approach and let them see and actually help me with the process of trying figure out how to be a parent.

So even though I didn’t think I wanted him, I’m so grateful for the journey that started New Year’s Day 21 years ago. Superdude was my second chance at a great parent-child relationship

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Living The Dream

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Some days I become reminiscent. I think about the days I was a teenage dreamer and remember all the things I was going to become. Namely, an actress and singer. Yesterday I had one of those remembering days, sparked by a conversation with my friend Cassie who shared those dreams so many years ago... and is now living them. She has been in a few well-known movies (including Princess Diaries) and currently performs on stage at Knott's Berry Farm in southern California.

So that got me thinking. What have I done with my dreams? Have I lost them?

The closest I got to being an actress-on-stage after high school was emceeing our church's talent show a couple years running. But hey, I brought down the house! I also love using different voices and accents when I read stories to my children. I enjoy acting silly around those I know well, telling animated stories of my life, and making others laugh.

I am definitely not a professional singer, but MAN do I love to sing! I love to sing my kids to sleep - I love it even more when they want me to. Our crazy family loves to blast the stereo and sing at the top of our lungs and dance like lunatics. I get to sing at church every Sunday. I love it when someone sitting near me is singing a different part than I, allowing me to enjoy the harmony we create. I sing in the shower, sing in the car, and burst into random song lyrics whenever someone unknowingly recites a line - or even a word - from a song. It's a little game I play with myself... and it's entertaining. (Seriously, try it!)

So... are these still my dreams? Sure! And I think I am living them. Just in a different way than I had originally planned. I have also added some new dreams to the mix since my high school days... dreams of being a wife and mother, a gourmet chef, master gardener, so-so photographer, cheerleader (minus the short skirt), writer, storyteller, bargain shopper, hairdresser, seamstress, and psychiatrist, to name a few. In varying degrees, I am living all these dreams.

And, let's be honest...

It doesn't get much better than all of that.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

About Being Sick

Pin It I woke up this morning feeling sick—of course, this probably shouldn’t be a surprise when I went to bed that way, too.

I thought about today being my day to post here at Four Perspectives, and I immediately felt overwhelmed at the prospect—especially when I felt as awful as I did. Of course, it doesn’t help when one finds himself totally uninspired as well in regards to a topic. These are two deadly combinations for a blogger with a self-assigned deadline—usually 8:00 A.M.

So I thought I’d write today about being ill, about not feeling so great, and about the hardship of sickness—well, sort of.

You see, I recalled a good friend of mine a few years ago saying that she hated being sick; that being sick was the end-all be-all of horribleness. Of course when she said this, I immediately realized that she and I didn’t quite see sickness in quite the same way. “I like to get sick,” I said when she’d finished.

“What?” was her reply. “Why in the world would you like being sick?”

“Because being sick makes me appreciate when I feel well,” was my answer.

Today, in not feeling quite so well, I am again reminded that there are so many times over the past year or so when I haven’t found myself truly grateful for those days when I am not sick. It seems that I have taken these moments for granted—squandered away without the true appreciation and gratitude of the ‘not sickness.’

In fact, I am just starting to feel much better than I had over the past twelve hours, and I find myself again grateful for the moments when I am not physically weak, dizzy, or vomiting. There’s something to be said for those ‘non-ill’ moments of our varied lives. So, for today, I find myself grateful—grateful for the privilege of being sick.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Run

Pin It It's inevitable, with the new year approaching, that I start thinking about the potential for maybe possibly re-starting my fitness routine pretty soon. It's more difficult to convince myself to do this than it is to actually get back into the habit. I'm not desperately out of shape, after all, and I'm busy. With...you know...stuff. It's hard for me to come up with really compelling reasons to exercise, to be honest. After all, I play volleyball--competitive, sacrifice-your-body-volleyball--twice a week, and shouldn't that be enough? But then I remember that I do have high cholesterol, and even if I could care less about having the legs and a stomach of an eighteen-year old (okay--so I'm shallow enough to admit that it would be nice), I probably should care about the whole heart and artery thing. That means a solid couple of hours of weights and sweat-inducing walking on the treadmill every day that I don't play volleyball.

When I was younger, I tried to do the whole running thing. I had to psych myself up first with the appropriate gear. Super-duper running shoes, check. Ankle socks (guaranteed to make my calves look very shapely), check. Compression bike shorts (guaranteed to keep my butt from jiggling too much, just in case anyone's looking), check. Uniboob sports bra (purpose evident, I should hope), check. Cute tee shirt (just because), check.

The next step in the psyching up process was the stretching--at least fifteen minutes worth. Quads, hams, calves...arms, fingers, knees and toes. What else could I waste time loosening up? Then I remembered hearing that doing crunches prior to jogging helped the runner extend his distance. Awesome. Three sets of twenty crunches later, I was ready for the torture to begin.

I walked to the end of my driveway and started off with a nice, easy jog to warm up.

It wasn't so bad at first. I settled into a rhythm, my shoes on the pavement and breath blowing out alternating a little song that I could sort of pace myself by. Slapslapbreathebreathe. Slapslapbreathebreathe.

Then my sinuses started to burn, and I figured I better start breathing through my mouth. Of course, I probably looked a little like a fish tossed up on land, but that was okay. That was about the time I hit The Hill, and I figured hopefully that it was probably time to alternate a little walking with my jogging (which was probably about as close to a walk as a jog can get, anyway). How far had I gone, anyway? Three tenths of a mile? Dangit. Maybe I shouldn't walk yet. I needed to run a mile. So I kept jogging. And gasping. It was starting to be more of a slapslapGASPbreatheslapGASP breatheslapWHEEZEslapGASPtry.to.breathe.slapslapWHEEZE...

It was around the top of The Hill--another tenth of a mile--that I developed an agonizing pain in my side. Whattheheckwasthat? Was I dying? Had I pulled something? DID I NEED TO WALK YET? Instead I licked my lips, which felt as if they had swollen to half the size of my face, with my cottony tongue. I should have brought a bottle of water. As if I could have grasped said bottle of water with my fingers, which had taken on the appearance of blood red sausages by this time. Whatwaswrongwiththem? It was as if all the blood in my body had rushed to my hands. And I knew that I was going to die of dehydration before I ever got home. Seriously. I was going to collapse in the middle of the asphalt street, chest heaving in its uniboob sports bra, legs twitching convulsively, and Die. Of what, I wasn't certain. The pain in my side, perhaps, or thirst, or mismanaged blood allocation...I would be dead, and it didn't really matter.

Somehow, though, I didn't die. I am one tough cookie. I managed, with that horrible pain in my side that I thought might have been appendicitis or something equally fatal but in retrospect was probably just a spasming diaphragm to make it around the block and back to my house. I'm pretty sure I was making a keening noise reminiscent of an animal suffering the agonies of the damned, but none of my neighbors came out to investigate. I wobbled inside drunkenly, leg muscles quivering, breath whistling, knees all but buckling beneath me as I staggered to the kitchen sink and began sucking water out of the spigot. I craned my head around to look at the clock on the microwave. My total time was ten minutes and some seconds; I had probably run a grand total of half a mile.

Once hydrated, I made the mistake of glancing in the mirror (I wanted to see, after all, if I'd toned up any or lost any weight). Did I mention this was a mistake? Big mistake. My face was brilliant with suffused blood. Not pink, or glowing--as in, wow, she had a good workout and she looks so healthy. We're talking all the blood in my body was now having a party in my face, with the exception of a thin line of white around my lips, cracked and chapped from where I'd been licking them as I ran. I was not a pretty jogger, apparently, although I will say that everything else was still okay--no unsightly sweat patches of the underarms or butt, no freaky hair. I guess God decided that if He was going to give me the face of a tomato, He might as well be merciful and skip the sweat glands.

All things considered, though, this whole experience left me a little lukewarm on the whole running thing. A brisk walk on the treadmill hill cycle is torture enough for me.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays

Pin It In light of the Christmas holiday, we’ve decided to give you a sampling of holiday music which is special to each of us. This is a gift we felt we could easily give to you all—each wrapped in a warm blanket of holiday spirit.

Come and celebrate with us.



Teachinfourth

The word haunting comes to mind when I think about the song, “Sanctus II”, by Libera. I came across this tune many years ago; it’s one I’ve probably listened to thirty or forty times over the years—and each time it becomes more and more one of my favorites. The message is mostly a praise sung to the God of the Sabbath. With the word Sanctus is the Latin word for holy. The message is basically: “Holy Lord God Sabbaoth. Heaven and earth are full of glory. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Last Christmas I happened across a musician by the name of Dustin Christensen, the lead singer of Jerrytown, and his performance of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” It wasn’t long before this song became somewhat of an anthem of Christmas for me. In fact, no Christmas since has been complete for me without having listened to it at least once.

Michael W. Smith has been an artist I’ve listened to since I was probably about twelve years old. I’ve loved listening to him throughout the years. It was a few years ago that he came out with a Christmas album entitled, Christmastime. The title track from the album is my favorite on the CD.

I’ve always loved the musical chimes of songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman. A few years ago he released his second Christmas album, and on it was a wonderful song, All I Really Want for Christmas.” It’s a song about having a place and home during Christmas, and an orphan’s ultimate wish.

Okay, even though I had originally planned on only listing four songs—there is one other which I feel needs to be mentioned, so I will do so. The song is, Going Home for Christmas”—also by Steven Curtis Chapman. This song has taken on a deeper meaning for me with the onset of the holidays this year. I think the words of the song speak well enough on their own without any additional explanation.

Lori

There are certain songs that never fail to choke me up, and Kathy Mattea's version of “Mary Did You Know.” is one of them. It paints such a vivid image of this young girl who literally has no idea of the power she holds in her arms, the covenant and the hope of humanity. What a weight to bear, had she realized the extent of her responsibility to her child. And yet what an incredible honor to be chosen as his mother.

Faith Hill's version of “Where Are You Christmas?” speaks to me because it's such a poignant reminder that we need to be constantly looking for the true spirit of Christmas--not getting caught up it the frenzy of passing things that don't matter.

Celine Dion's version of “O Holy Night” is possibly one of my all-time favorites--it dips and soars and echoes and simply transcends with the rightness of its message: Jesus is born. Celine Dion's voice pays fitting tribute to it. Another favorite, from the same CD, is one she sings with Andrea Bocelli--a man whose voice is as compelling as his eyes are sightless. It's “The Prayer,” a song about seeking wisdom, guidance, and grace--something we all need during not only the Christmas season but at all times.

Gerb

O Holy Night has long been my favorite of all the Christmas songs, but this version is my absolute favorite. First of all, I love that David Archuleta has such a hard time making decisions. But I especially love how he can just bust this song out so beautifully at the drop of a hat. I wish I could sing like that... only in a more feminine voice, I suppose. This version, unaccompanied, is one of the most beautiful renderings of the song I have ever heard. The lyrics tell the story of the true meaning of Christmas.

I remember hearing Celebrate Me Home as a fairly young child and loving the rhythms and the flow of it. I love that it has the sentiment of a Christmas song but is not always regarded as one. It's a great Christmas road trip song and the lyrics are beautiful.

Little Saint Nick always brings me back to Christmases in California as a teenager when The Beach Boys were one of my favorite groups and I loved to sing along and harmonize with their songs.

The Snow Miser/Heat Miser Songs were the highlight of my Christmas as a child. Every time I hear them I have very vivid memories of my brothers and sister and I watching The Year Without a Santa Claus and then singing these songs for months afterward - along with accompanying dances that we would choreograph which included lots of hip-swaying and hand motions. In a word? Awesome.

Mel

In looking over the songs and samplings by my fellow posters, I may not have entered into this Christmas Song activity with the same spirit as everyone else...but whatever. Besides the fact that it is just a catchy tune, I like The Elf's Lament by The Barenaked Ladies because it's just so alternative. I like back stories or alternative stories that explain traditions. Elf's Lament reminds me of those Rakin/Bass claymation specials from my childhood. Remember the elf that wanted to be a dentist? I'll bet he had a lament.

The The Hanukkah Song by Adam Sandler is just a funny quirky song that Adam Sandler presented as a song to help Jewish kids not feel so left-out at Christmas time. I'll bet he never dreamed it would become a Hanukkah standard. Other people are even starting to cover it. I found myself waiting in my car a few days ago equal parts astounded and amused by Neil Diamonds cover of The Hanukkah Song - no kidding. Plus it's always good to know a little something more about Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock (both Jewish).

While I'm feeling a little Jewish let me just say that Nat King Cole is "Like Buttah." And his version of The Christmas Song, you know "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire" is hands down the best secular Christmas Song ever recorded.

Back in the pre-cable TV days, Christmas specials were kind of a big deal. There were certain entertainers that had a Christmas Special every year - regular as clockwork. Bing Crosby was one of those and my mom was a big Bing fan and we watched the Bing Crosby Christmas Special every year. I don't remember many of them really, but I clearly remember the special where Bing Crosby sang a duet with David Bowie of all people. This was Christmas of 1977, and maybe I remember it because I was just entering the age when I was starting to form an opinion about what music was cool and what music wasn't. David Bowie was just coming out of his Ziggy Stardust years - I knew that for some reason probably having to do with my older brother's music collection - and I remember thinking, even at 11 years old, how weird it was that this usually-make-up wearing British rock star was singing with Bing Crosby. But it was good. With Bing laying the foundation with Little Drummer Boy and David Bowing adding a counter point with the Peace On Earth lyrics it was and is a compelling combination by two giants of their generations.

Speaking of generations, I like the original 1985 Do They Know it's Christmas? by Band Aid because it was just so much a part of my generation. I can remember watching this event come together as reported on MTV with bands like U2, Duran Duran, Bananarama, Spandau Ballet, Culture Club, Wham! and many others. I recognize that it may have been less about magnanimous charitable urges and more about self promotion for some of the artists involved, but the song made a lot of money for charity and it also set a nice precedent. Genuine motives or not, it actually put a positive spin on the power of celebrity - 'cause what else is it good for?

Happy Holidays from Four Perspectives.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Let It Snow

Pin It Early last week my scissors came up missing. In our home this means one of two things...

1. I misplaced them.
2. They are in one of the kids' rooms.

It is usually #2.

I made my usual rounds and asked each child if they knew where my scissors were and I was having no luck. I got to the final room, my oldest boy's little alcove in the basement, and opened his door. I found my scissors - and a winter wonderland.


What 16-year-old boy does this? Mine, apparently. And it's awesome.

Are you dreaming of a white Christmas?

All you need is an imagination and a pair of scissors.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Flickage of the Chickage

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“‘...chick flick,’ chirrupy and upbeat, sings a different tune, more defiant and ironic, postmodern and post-feminist, like the growling braggadocio of ‘grrrl power.’ Where ‘grrrl power’ says, “I can be cute and assertive too.” ‘Chick flick’ says: “I’m emancipated but it’s OK to long for romance, to get hung up on a guy, to obsess about mothers or children…”

~ Film critic, Molly Haskell


I slipped down to the basement for a moment of reprieve. My friends’ home cinema was awaiting me…complete with digital surround sound and high-definition picture. I turned off the lights and ignited the projector. I looked at the DVD player and saw the video already waiting in the carriage.

Mama Mia.

I gazed silently at the disk for several moments as my friends’ youngest came downstairs. Mama Mia? I love that movie!”

“Is it any good?” I asked.

“It’s all ABBA songs,” was the reply with a grin. “It’s awesome!”

I shrugged. ABBA was okay. I slipped the disk into the player, and the movie came to life on the eight-foot screen before me. I flopped onto the reclining couch.

I made it all of 3 minutes.

It felt like I was being guided into the vestibule of torture. I pretended that I needed to use the restroom, but instead slipped from the basement and hightailed it upstairs—volunteering to make the pizza run for dinner.

I was free. I had escaped the clutches of the dreaded ‘chick flick.’ I breathed in the fresh open air of Hurricane and made the pizza run, while “Sweetness” by Jimmy Eat World thundered in my ears.

It was some time later last night that I found myself again in the home cinema, alone. I perused the selection of movies filling the shelves: Twilight, What a Girl Wants, 27 Dresses, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The Perfect Man…the list went on and on. Lines from these movies, like useless confetti thrown out in the parade of nothingness, ran through my mind—those cheesy lines I’d heard girls repeat to each other while on group outings with friends, and those I’d heard yelled out as suggestions while working at ComedySportz .

I think I threw up a little bit in my mouth just then.

What I needed was power. An adrenaline-thrill ride complete with explosions, wanton violence, and car chases—as well as snappy lines delivered at the moment of death. I needed something which was not only visually spectacular, but riddled with adrenaline. In short: pure, unadulterated testosterone.

My eyes fell on a bluish-colored case: X-Men III

Mutants? Check.
Amazing powers? Check.
Explosions? Check.
Violence? Check.
Fight scenes? Check.
Nonstop action? Check.
Spectacular visual effects? Check.
Totally hot female lead? Check.
Pure Awesomeness? Check.

I put the DVD into the player, and then settled down and prepared myself to be nestled in the warm security of a good old-fashioned thrill ride.

I was not disappointed.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Pilgrimage

Pin It Every year, for as long as memory has served me, we've gotten up, opened presents, piled into the car and made the pilgrimage to Crewe, VA for Christmas at Grandma's. When I was a kid, this meant the four of us (my three brothers and me) stuffed into the backseat of the station wagon, the adults chainsmoking in the front seat. We'd be dressed in our Sunday best and our winter coats, which inevitably would be puffed up souffle-style around our faces. The entire hour and a half to Crewe, elbows would be slyly nudged into ribs, eyes would be narrowed, breath would be hissed, and the occasional brave one would lash out with a "Mom, Clay's looking at me!"

But somehow, every year we would make it there in one piece.

Grandma's house is always the best kind of chaos. Mom was the last of five daughters--a funny story in and of itself, actually. Grandpa Elliott kept hoping for a son, and so kept Grandma hopping, so to speak, with Ginger, Linda, Judy, Susan, and finally, Mom. He finally conceded defeat, named her Lesley after himself, and that was the end of the Elliott family procreation until Ginger took up the torch.

Now, here's a little background on The Sisters.

Ginger's the Cook. Linda's the Beauty Queen. Judy's the Middle Child, Susan's the Talented One, and Mom's the Baby. I love them all to pieces. Between them, they had I don't know how many kids--something like fourteen?--and over thirty great-grandchildren. I'm honestly not sure how many great-great-grands have been manufactured by this time. I've lost track.

But we'll just go back to the fourteen grandchildren for the purpose of this blog. When we get to Grandma's, there's typically a grandma and a grandpa, five daughters and their husbands or significant others, and their fourteen children. For the mathematically challenged, that's, like, twenty-six freaking people. Which wouldn't be a big deal, except I forgot to tell you that Grandma lives in this house that has four rooms: a kitchenette, living room, and two bedrooms that are roughly the size of your big toenail. Oh, and it does have a bathroom. A bathroom. As in One. As in, Wait Your Turn, Sucka.

This is the house that Mom grew up in. I never tire of hearing the story of how she and her four sisters all slept in the SAME BED in the same room all through their childhood, where literally there is just enough room on either side of the bed to walk. The crib from the girls' babyhood still remains at the foot of the bed--Mom said she slept in that until she was around five. I can't say I blame her. I think I would've slept in it until I was sixteen. Sometimes, during these visits, I would crawl into the crib just so I have somewhere to sit.

When I was a child, I knew exactly what to expect on Christmas morning at Grandma's. When you walked in, you could expect to be enveloped in hugs from one end of the tiny house to the other. The Sisters would look each other over critically for signs of aging, weight gain, and new glitter. Plates would get filled quickly with goodies, and soon laps would be filled with a few gifts--you could pretty much count on socks or underwear from Grandma. Afterwards, a walk down the gravelled alleyway behind the little house with Grandpa would round out the day. We'd leave in the evening, driving home with my face pressed against the cold glass of the window, watching the stars flash by.

Not much has changed since I was a child. Ginger and Judy still look you over critically but with a wealth of love, and proclaim to the ounce how much weight you've either gained or lost in the past year. Grandma will exclaim over how big the kids have gotten, and complain quietly over how long it's been since you've last been in to see her. The confines of the house have gotten a little tighter as the families have blossomed; laps form many of the seats and many of the men, like Duane, find it more comfortable to stand around in the nippy air outside rather than remain indoors.

Grandma still makes her perfect turkey and even more perfect sweet tea, while everyone else brings in all sorts of side dishes, and we eat until we're just about sick--especially Uncle Mike. Then we open gifts, and chuckle over our ubiquitious socks and underwear. There are still babies to be held, and toddlers to giggle over. There are still the same beautiful, old-fashioned ornaments on a sparse little Charlie-Brown type tree.

The only thing missing, really, is Grandpa. He's been gone for several many years--close to ten, I guess, but it's at times like this when I really feel his loss. I see him in that alley, and wish that my children would feel his presence there the way I always will.

That's okay, though--I've come to realize that his presence is a heritage, passed on in these families that return year after year to this little house on Carolina Avenue in Crewe, VA. These thirty-some odd great-grandchildren don't necessarily have to have known Grandpa Elliott; they're walking down that alley with him every time one of his grandchildren hoists them up on their shoulders, or takes their hand and does the same. Every time we gather in his home, we're sharing his past with his future.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Humbugs

Pin It GUEST BLOGGER: CODE NAME, CHARLIE

I am blogging on a site which, as it seems, is read mostly by women. I will therefore abstain from posting a photo of myself for fear that most of you will go blind with ecstasy. Heck. Never mind, if you really want to see my photo you can always click here.

When I was a kid I didn’t think I’d ever grow up to be like Scrooge. He was never my hero. Who ever thinks they’ll be that type of person? There isn’t anyone that I know of.

There are many people who feel excited at this time of year, but I have not been feeling the spirit of Christmas lately. Granted, nobody probably feels upbeat and happy all the time. I sure know that, but I just don’t seem to have that ‘Christmas Sparkle’ that you know that you’re supposed to have.

When surfing through channels today, I came across “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” I found myself amazed at how much my feelings related to those of Charlie Brown at the beginning of the film.

Standing with Linus, Charlie says, “I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel. I just don’t understand Christmas I guess…I like getting presents, and sending Christmas cards, and decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed… I almost wish there weren’t a holiday season. I know nobody likes me. Why do we have to have a holiday season to emphasize it?”

As I watched the program I found myself drawn in to Charlie Brown’s predicament. I had never really listened closely to what Charlie said before; I knew that he was bummed out, but I never really realized just how closely his feelings related to mine.

Twenty minutes in, I listened even more closely to the words of Linus Van Pelt, and how much sense they made to me. I felt a little better. I guess I really need to focus on others during this time of year to find that glow that has been lacking lately. When I was growing up, I was always told to ‘seek for happiness in helping others.’ I was again reminded of this while I was listening to a favorite Christian radio station on the AM dial recently. The pastor gave a message of service, and how “in serving, we become like him.” He spoke of how we will find joy if we give up ourselves and embrace this season through the lifting others.



I guess I found my answer, and now I just need to do it.

Back in Black

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The best color in the whole world, is the one that looks good, on you!
-- Coco Chanel

I have a point today - a frivolous one but a point non-the-less. However, it’s going to take a little background for me to get there. Plus I have a cold so I’m a little muddled and medicated– but here goes.

I listen to NPR (National Public Radio) a lot – especially at work. Nerd Radio Ebay calls it and he’s right really. But there’s a lot of interesting stuff on there and what can I say? I like it…nerd that I am.

So on NPR the other day they were talking to the director of a new movie that is coming out. I didn’t quite catch the name of the movie. It’s staring Colin Firth so I’m assuming that it’s something British probably involving cravats and dueling. But the part I did hear was the interview with the director. His name is Tom Ford and is apparently new in the world of movie directing because he came to fame and fortune as a fashion designer and specifically the primary fashion designer/director for Gucci. As part of the interview they talked about the movie a bit of course, but then also about his designs, inspirations, motivations – you know, all that artsy stuff. At the end of the show the interviewer asked Tom about what he was wearing. Tom said that he was wearing what he considered kind of his uniform – black suit, white shirt, black tie. The interviewer said that it seemed kind of conservative and even boring considering the things that he’s designed for other people to wear. Mr. Ford agreed, but said that he had to go with what made him feel comfortable. He felt like when he wore a lot of color, it sort of distracted him and made him feel like the outfit was the one wearing him rather than him being the one wearing the outfit.

At last – Validation!

I wear a lot of black – grey and brown too, but mostly black. I usually tell people that it started when I began teaching elementary school art. Because I was in clay and paint and markers and crayons all day I would ruin a lot of shirts if I didn’t wear black. Plus I wore aprons all the time, so who cares what outfit is under the apron right? This is true – I did ruin a lot of shirts. And I did start wearing a lot more black in the art room. But if I’m being honest, I’ve always kind of gravitated to the dark end of the color palette - probably something to do with my bright and sunny disposition. Even in college, I can remember getting a lot of crap from my sisters about wearing black…again. Now this was the 80’s so anything that wasn’t neon pink was less than fashion forward. But I had a lot of dance and theater classes during the day, which kind of lends itself towards the beatnik black thing.

Now I gave up the art gig a couple of years ago now, but I still have an awful lot of black and neutrals in my wardrobe. Maybe I’m just lazy but I find that it’s just easier, calming, less stressful, less trouble – but I do get some comments about it and I’m just insecure enough to dwell on those a bit. I blame all of those fashion make-over shows like What Not To Wear. We’re supposed to infuse color into our wardrobes. Structure, jackets, fit, pattern and color. Everyone generally looks better at the end of the shows than they do at the beginning so the advice must be right…right?

But now I have validation. I have Mr. Tom Ford – Gucci designer on my team. And come to think of it a lot of other fashion designers too. Marc Jacobs seems to be a fan of the basic black and do you ever see Vera Wang traipsing around in leopard print? No! She's always wearing black. And Coco Channel, the inventor of the "little black dress" herself said “Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.”

Of course I'm hardly a fashion icon and I surely don’t own anything designed by any of those folks. And while I’m not wearing big lumpy black sweatshirts, I’m probably a ways off from elegance as well. But feeling comfortable in my own skin is hard enough sometimes without adding a pink and yellow geometric pattern to the mix. It makes me understand what Tom Ford meant about the outfit wearing him.

So I’ll work on the fit and structure thing and maybe throw in a colorful scarf or something from time to time. But I’m going to dig my heals in about wearing the black and I have Mr. Gucci to thank for it.

Take that Stacy and Clinton.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Energize!

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photo from gnurf.net
I am not a fan of cats.

Don't get me wrong. If you are a cat-lover, we can all still be friends. I have no problem with others' pet preferences, but to me cats seem to have an air of arrogance that I just cannot tolerate. They laze about doing what they want, when they want and seem to enjoy napping more than anything.

Today I was surrounded by chaos. I was ready to pull my hair out. My second batch of dough for holiday cookies was mixing, my clothes dryer had broken and my kids were into everything imaginable. I put the dough into the refrigerator, draped sheets and blankets over doors to finish drying and got down on the floor to pick up the Legos that were strewn from here to infinity.

As I sat there on the floor, my foot became warm. I looked and realized that it was caught in a sunny patch of carpet and I moved my entire self into the sun's pathway, allowing it to warm my legs, my arms, my face. Oh, heaven, did it feel wonderful.

I woke up awhile later to the sound of my telephone. I had fallen asleep? In the middle of the floor? I had let the sun overtake me and dozed as it warmed and energized me. That was when it hit me... how much like a cat I was just then, lazing about in the sun's rays right in the middle of a mess of Legos and the incessant chatter of toddlers vying for a turn on the computer.

Right then, it was like nothing else was important. That little siesta was all about me. I felt a bit... what's the word? Arrogant? And I liked it.

I suppose it just goes to show you that even with our differences we can learn to appreciate the things we share in common with those we don't like much.

As much as I hate to admit it, I loved my afternoon catnap, basking in that little spot of sunshine as the chaos continued all around me.

But I'll still never own a cat.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sealing in the Goodness

Pin It Like ninjas of stealth we moved silently through the darkened neighborhood, carrying with us an arsenal of weaponry. I glanced at my phone to catch the time—it was nearly 1:00—there was little chance of being caught or noticed at this early (or late) of an hour.

As we neared ‘the mark,’ we slowed and examined the house; the shutters were down, and the blank windows were devoid of light. Always a good sign when one was about to do what we were going to.

As I set the bag of varied paraphernalia on the concrete driveway, I blew warm air into my hands, to ward off the stinging bite of cold which was starting to settle in. My comrade and I both smiled at each other and set to work.

“This is my absolute favorite thing in the world,” Jaqui said as she and I moved about noiselessly. “The crinkling of the plastic is such a beautiful sound…”

We continued until we were finished with the first layer, then beginning on the top, sealing in the goodness. I couldn’t help but laugh to myself as we continued to work, like artists, bringing a masterpiece to life.

“Okay, now the lights,” I whispered, digging them out of the Smith’s grocery sack. We fought with them for a few minutes, draping them over the sealed, silver surface. The candy was placed strategically about the vehicle along with a 12 pack of Vanilla Coke.

We plugged in the lights and stood back to admire our labors, glowing there in the driveway like a silver tree of tinsel.

It.was.brilliant.

We snickered amongst ourselves as we gathered up our materials and melted down the street, like phantoms in the darkness.

Oh, the joys of having a birthday at this time of year…

Monday, December 14, 2009

Idiot-Proofing the Southern Idiom

Pin It I figured everyone was getting a little overloaded on Christmas right about now--Christmas music on the radio, Christmas shopping, Christmas parties, Christmas...everything. So even though I have some fairly decent Christmas blogs lurking in the back of my head, I thought I'd give yall a break and do something different today.

I'm going to talk about the South.

I'm Southern, born and bred. As some of you may know, we occasionally speak a different language in the South--sometimes for effect, sometimes just because we don't know any better. It's just our raising. I have the benefit of higher education--an English degree, mind you--and still find myself lapsing into the comfort of "yall's", drawled vowels, and words that seem to last forever.

There are idioms, though, that are beyond even me. I think it has something to do with leaving the farm at a relatively young age--perhaps they just didn't stick? Maybe they're more country than Southern?

When I was around twenty, I was driving down the road with my brand-new boyfriend and future husband, Duane. We were passing an apple-orchard on the right, full of twisty, gnarled, totally adorable little apple trees. We were listening to Alan Jackson on the radio (no clue why I remember that--must have something to do with the trauma of the experience) singing "Tall, Tall Trees"--appropriately enough. I remember Duane pulling over, looking at me sideways, and saying slyly, "how you like them apples?"

I sat in silence for a second, pondering his asinine question. How did I like those apples? I liked them fried. I liked them baked. I liked them raw. I liked them fine. I liked them all. "Er. They seem a little scrawny to me."

I knew I had said something totally and completely WRONG when Duane busted out laughing (AT me, not WITH me) and pointed to the buck standing back in the shadows of the apple trees. "I'm talking about that," he hee-hawed. Apparently, the phrase "how you like them apples" is a gloating expression used to ask "what do you think about that?" It doesn't literally mean, "how do you like those apples," although I felt I might be forgiven for thinking so, since we were parked in an apple orchard.

I've learned many other fascinating Southern expressions over the course of my almost thirty-five years.

Root pig or lose your acorn (Eat before someone steals your grub).
I heard they ate supper before they said grace (They're living in sin).
If I had a dog as ugly as him, I'd shave his butt and make him walk backwards.
He's so ugly his momma had to tie a pork chop to him so the dog would play with him.
He's two bricks shy of a full load.
He's a few fries shy of a Happy Meal.
She was all over him like white on rice.
Boy, you are letting your mouth overload your butt. (can't back up speech with actions)
That woman would argue with a fence post. (or, "an empty house")
You're just cuter than a speckled pup in a little red wagon. (I've actually had someone say this to me--when I was sixteen years old, working as a cashier at Kroger, a forty-something man thought this was a great idea as a come-on line. Not so much.)

At any rate, I hope I've duly entertained you with a few of our little euphemisms. I promise not to tie pork chops to my kids or start arguments with any fence posts any time soon, although I have noticed a few fries missing from my Happy Meals lately. I think I'll go look for them now. ;)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Roadside Assistance

Pin It GUEST BLOGGER: SARAH

In the blogging world, I go by Super Sarah Ann. While not a completely adequate description, it prompts me to get moving in the morning to try to achieve some level of "Super" through the duration of the day (be it super lazy or super crazy) while still leaving me some room in the evening to feel like I accomplished something. A native Arizonan (which I hear is rare) I am a mom to two boys, one husband, two dogs, two cats, a bird and 6 chickens, so I am no stranger to funny stories and cleaning up messes. It's the writing about it that keeps me sane!



I ran to the local grocery store to grab a gallon of milk so my two boys wouldn’t have to go without cereal the next day (a major catastrophe in this home). While walking toward my car after said purchase, I noticed two well-dressed men next to their car; one was standing and barking into a cell phone, the other was crouched next to the tire and grunting very loudly.

Looking over and realizing they had a flat tire, I asked if they needed any help. The yuppie tourist on the phone rolled his eyes as he turned his back towards me, while the not-so-yuppie guy scrunched next to the tire grunted a very loud, “NO!”

Still feeling hesitant about their situation, I asked if they were sure they didn’t need help or if maybe I could call someone for them.

“LOOK, we are FINE!” the very flustered man at the tire responded, “We DO NOT need any help from you. Thanks for stopping or whatever, but we are fine.”

“Oh, ok. Sorry for bugging you, then.” I replied. “But you might want to try turning the lug nuts the other way if you intend on getting that tire off the car. You know, that whole 'righty-tighty, lefty-loosey' thing. Just a thought.”


I hope everything worked out well for them…must've been a tough morning.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Darkness Falls

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Let me just start out by saying - it was dark, ok?

It. Was. Dark.

It was dark because the gym that I go to has what they call a “Cardio-Cinema” room. This is basically a big room filled with treadmills, stationary bikes, stair climbers and elliptical machines that all face a giant movie screen. So while you’re getting your cardio in for the day you can be inspired by Dr. Benjamin Gates racing through solving Masonic puzzles in National Treasure, or millionaire Tony Stark hammering on a big metal suit in Iron Man.

Basically watching the movie helps the time pass and helps to take your mind of how much you hate to exercise – which is pretty much why I go there.

Actually I don’t really hate to exercise that much but I do have a hard time being consistent with it. I guess because I need the distraction, I like to hike in the mountains – through the trees, by the river. But it’s hard to find the time on a daily basis to drive up the canyon to hit the hiking trail. Plus it’s not really all that safe for a lone woman to traipsing through the woods alone. Plus, sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate (like today when the high temperature will barely make it out of single digits). So, even though as you see, I have a list of readily available reasons that I just can’t workout – I actually do try and go to the gym a few times a week.

The one I go to is close to my house, but it’s also close to the local University so the average age of my fellow gym-goers is maybe 22 and all the girls seem to wear the same outfit sported by that girl on that commercial about the shoes that make your butt look better (long legs, short shorts – your basic nightmare). Happily there are a few stalwart retirees that mix in with tight and taunt which is good news for me and makes me feel less conspicuous. Although having said that I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes about feeling conspicuous:

In your twenties you worry about what people think of you.

In your thirties you don’t care what people think of you.

And in your forties you realize people weren’t thinking about you in the first place.

So anyway, the gym makes a useful alternative, plus they have a big movie theater to help me through the pain and, as I’ve mentioned, it’s dark in there which helps with the “conspicuousity” factor.

So one bright sunny day a few weeks ago I talked myself into working out and drove down to the gym. As I said it was a beautiful and bright sunny fall day. And since I was at the gym I like to travel light so I took off my sunglasses to leave them in the car along with my bag. I walked through the bright sunshine filled parking lot, through the gym doors, scanned my card and turned into the Cardio Cinema room. As I walked into the darkened room my eyes struggled to adjust as I looked towards the screen to see if I could tell what movie was playing. “Ah…James Bond. I can walk along the beach with Daniel Craig for awhile,” I thought to myself as I moved along a row of treadmills, picked out an empty one, still looking at James Bond on a Jet Ski, and stepped onto it.

The next moment my feet flew out behind me and I went face and shoulder first into the treadmill rubber. The stupid thing was already moving!

A series of declaratives, questions and I don’t mind telling you more than a few curse words flew through my brain (and out of my mouth too I have to admit). Why was it moving when no one was on it? How many people saw me make a face-plant on a treadmill? How long will it take the skin to grow back on my nose and elbow from treadmill roadrash?

Well, this was embarrassing and to be honest more than a little painful. I can’t help but wonder how they make people fall on treadmills on T.V. and in the movies because man! It really hurt! I kind of crawled pitifully over to the wall, leaned up against it slowly rotating my shoulder and trying to decide if I had permanently damaged more than just my pride. It was at that moment that one of the twentysomething gym employees bounded up to me, asked if I’d had a good workout and would I be interested in a personal trainer? I gave him my best Fortysomething withering stare and stumbled out of the cardio-cinema room and back in the bright sunshine to my car.

I was glad to see that my 17-year old son E-bay was home when I got there because I was in need of a little sympathy. “You all right Mom?” he asked me as I limped into the house. “No!” I told him and explained the whole sorry mess. To be fair Ebay took it pretty well. He expressed an appropriate amount of concern for my road rash and applied his EMT training to helping me judge the mobility of my sore shoulder. But he also had that certain look on his face. The look that says that while he’s holding it together on the outside, he's bursting with laughter on the inside. I recognize the look because it’s the same look I get on my face when my own mother tells me that she’s locked her keys in the car and left it running for the third time in the same week.

I stared him down.

“What?” I asked.

“Nothing,” he answered lips twitching suspiciously.

“WHAT?” I asked again glaring at his smug 17-year-old face.

“You really fell off a treadmill?” He asked.

“It was dark!” I barked back.

“But it was moving!” said Mr. Twitchy Lips

“IT WAS DARK!!”

Well, he held it together as long as he could – bless him. At my last outburst he started laughing and has pretty much been laughing at me ever since. It’s become an excuse for everything at our house:

You didn’t put gas in the car – it was dark.

You put the empty milk carton back in the fridge – it was dark.

Have you seen my keys – It was dark.

The road rash has cleared up and I can pretty much move my shoulder in all the ways a shoulder should be moved – but I’m still going to be hearing about this one for a while.

Yeah....I don't know what's happened to my life.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Where Are You Christmas?

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I was at the end of my rope.

I finally had all of the Christmas decorations ready to be set out, the festive music of the season playing and the tree purchased and waiting to be wrapped with strings of colorful lights. I plugged in the lights for their annual test-run and sighed. Only one strand was working.

Two of my youngest kids were rummaging through the box full of ornaments which sat beside me on the floor. "Careful, guys!" I warned. "Lots of those can break." They moved to the piano to admire the nativity.

I sat, cross-legged on the floor next to the tree for nearly 2 hours, painstakingly removing and replacing each light in an attempt to find and repair the one bulb which was preventing the others from glowing. As I did so I reflected on the lack of Christmas spirit I was experiencing this year. Where are you, Christmas? I wondered. The beginning verses to this song seemed to play over and over in my head and I found myself growing more melancholy as I worked. I had 3 colors working on one strand and 4 on the other but the dead bulbs detracted from what I wanted to accomplish. Again, a sigh. After 17 years it was time to purchase new lights for the tree.

I stood to stretch my cramped legs and noticed that the nativity scene had been rearranged into a small cluster on the piano. I placed each piece back into its proper position and went to the kitchen to set up Santa's Village. When I was finished I collected the now useless lights in a grocery sack and placed them near the door. I went to grab my purse and noticed the nativity, once again, all pushed into a corner. I knew this was the doing of my 5-year-old boy, Hubba, as I had seen him push the nativity together numerous times already. As I rearranged the pieces I wondered if this was all worth it; setting everything up only to have it moved around so that I would need to organize it all over again and again and again. "Hey, everyone!" I announced as I left to purchase new lights. "I'm leaving! Keep the little kids away from the piano, please!"

I ventured out onto the snowy roads, found the lights as well as a few Christmas gifts I needed, waited in a long line to make my purchase and then headed back home. As soon as I walked through the front door I noticed the nativity again, all crowded together. Again I moved each piece where I wanted them to be. I noticed Hubba peeking at me from around the corner.

"Hubba!" I scolded, exasperated. "I asked you to leave these alone. Why do you keep messing them up?"

"They're not messy, mom. They like being in a circle."

Frustrated, I turned to look him in the eye. "They do NOT like being in a circle. The wise men want to stand over here, the shepherd and his sheep want to be over there, and the angel wants to stay right here," I told him.

"But I thought they all camed to see Jesus," he said to me. "It's Jesus' birfday, and they want to see him. I was just helping them see him more better. 'Cause that's Chris-mis, right mom?"

And that's where I found Christmas. Right there on my piano, in the middle of a cluster of nativity figures. The reason we celebrate and decorate and give gifts and sing carols and promote peace on earth, good will to men all December long. I just needed Hubba to rearrange the nativity - and my way of thinking - so I could see things more clearly.

Yes, Hubba, that is Christmas. Thanks for helping me remember.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Pop Rocks

Pin It I ventured to the store not that long ago, and saw Pop Rocks at a display by the check stand. I couldn’t help but grin, remembering this candy from when I was a kid, taking a whole envelopeful and dumping it in my mouth.

The sizzling, popping sound, as well as the electric tingle on my tongue was indescribable.

I reached into the bin and sifted through the various and sundry flavors.

Strawberry.

How could one go wrong with that?

That’s exactly what I thought.

So instead of writing a long, detailed post today, I instead decided instead to make a short video.

I present it without further ado…

Monday, December 7, 2009

Superwoman

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The tagline on my blog reads something like "finding the other side of yourself after you've already tried to be Superwoman." This refers back to my younger days, when I foolishly thought I could and should do it all--teach full-time, be an amazing mother and wife, be THE Church Lady (not the "isn't that special" SNL Church Lady, but the one who taught Sunday School, directed VBS, and coordinated a whole slew of other things I'm just not even going to embarrass myself with now), scrapbook my children's lives in living Technicolor, reign as amateur journalist supreme, be faculty advisor for an award-winning literary magazine...I can't quite remember every pie I had a finger in, but I'm pretty sure there was one for every finger and probably a few toes, as well.

I'm pretty much over that now. Yeah, common sense has asserted itself and I have discovered worth and peace in doing...nothing. Or at least, doing only a few things. I quit the full-time job in order to mommy and wifey full-time instead, and discovered that they tend to fill my time in amazing ways. Who knew. I still write the occasional article for the business journal, but it's not a pressing concern. It's more of a..."can I handle this right now and is it fun? And can you give me six weeks to get 'er done? Okay--sure." And I've whittled the church activities down to those I feel prayerfully called to do, not those I feel are a result of the tyranny of need and desperation of a small church. I still volunteer at my children's school, but it's important, I think, to show my kids that's it okay to give freely of yourself and your own resources--to help others when they need it.

Despite this hard-fought and incrementally won battle (hard-fought because it's not easy to change who you fundamentally have been for thirty-some odd years, and emerge somewhat victorious), I have recently backslidden. Some of you may have noticed that I have been a SLACKER on my blog for the last...ummm. Month? Something along those lines. This is because I have suffered from temporary insanity and forgot that I am not Superwoman, and have been engaged in all sorts of home improvement projects during the last month or so. Oh--and celebrated Autumn's birthday on top of it!
  • We have painted. A lot. If I never see another paint brush I'll be happy. But wait. The dining room's not quite finished...

  • We have packed up 75% of my house and moved it into the remaining 25%. Don't ask me how, mathematically, that works, because the answer is: it doesn't. It. Does. Not. Work. Surfaces, such as tables and counters, help. (I discovered during this time a fundamental difference between my husband and myself, btw. I am a "sort it out, clean it out, throw it out prior to packing it up" kind of person. Duane is a "dump it all in a box and take care of that later" kind of person. Just a little fyi: these two personality types need to be kept far, far away from each other during the pack process. Truly, they do.)

  • We have had new carpet installed on a Sunday in that 75% of the house. Our cat, who may soon meet with an accident, marked his territory on Sunday afternoon.

  • We have been meeting with counter people for estimates over the last couple of weeks...a decision on those will be made this morning and we will set in motion a two week carnival ride that will (hopefully) result in new countertops by Christmas.

I don't know what I could've been thinking. Painting a house, laying carpets, and installing countertops all in the two months prior to Christmast? Psh. No problem. I was freaking Superwoman in another life.

Friday, December 4, 2009

To Get You In The Christmas Spirit...

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Home Front

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So I watched President Obama’s address the other night - about Afghanistan and increasing troops and the strategy for the conflict.

Now, not to worry I’m not going to get too political here. In truth, I think I’d make a lousy politician – or at least a lousy partisan politician because I would be the ultimate wishy-washy-flip-flopper candidate. There are just a lot of issues I can see both sides of. And this conflict is one of them.

But, as I said, politics isn’t really what’s on my mind today. I’ve actually been thinking about war.

Take our country’s original war for example. The Declaration of Independence stands out as quite a polite method of announcing rebellion. Never has a war been so courteously declared. These thoughtful men almost seem regretful in their rebellion outlining a host of reasons and list of chastisements for their ruler, which led them, after much deliberation and debate to this regrettable conclusion: We, the undersigned respectfully resign from the British Empire and invite King George to…well, stick it if you please.

Boy, the rules of war sure have changed since 1776.

We are in an age where the world seems to be fighting scores of technically undeclared conflicts punctuated by exploding pizza parlors and roadside bombs. We can become so numb to the day to day violence that it’s hard to see through the noisy haze of the 24-hour news cycle to who exactly is paying for our fights – who has skin in the game if you will.

During WWII it was easier to tell. Almost everyone had a family member in the service. But more than that - the nation was at war and there wasn’t a single person that was unaffected by it. There were rubber drives and rationing, bond drives and blackouts. The whole nation shouldered the responsibility of shoring up the servicemen and women who were doing the fighting and dying overseas.

My brother is currently serving his second tour of duty in Iraq. He was originally there for a year, came home for about a year and a half and has been called up again for active duty for another year and a half. Bro is a reservist. He signed up for the Army Reserve after high school as a way to help him pay for college. He did his one weekend a month and two weeks a year for 25 years before he was called up for active duty. Now you can kind of do the math yourself there. He enlisted after high school, which is coming up on almost 30 years ago now. So he’s not one of the young whippersnappers running behind a tank or anything. He is support staff for the troops and helping with transportation and Human Resources. But he still had to leave his wife and his life to fly half way around the world to a country where much of the population would happily be willing to blow him and his friends up to do his duty. Not to mention that he is self employed and had to leave his business, which ceased to exist because of course he wasn’t there to run it. So, when he came back after his first tour, he started up another business which he had to leave again to go and serve his country. My Bro knew what he was signing up for. It’s what he trained for and he’s willing, perhaps not eager, but willing to fulfill his responsibility even though it’s coming at some pretty significant personal cost.

How many of us have been personally touched by the war? I guess I can count myself because of my brother. But besides emails, a few packages and worrying about him being in Baghdad I haven’t had to make a lot of sacrifices. I still have gas in my tank and no ration card. I don’t hear air raid sirens outside at night or have blackout curtains on my windows. I haven’t had to give up nylons or sugar or beef.

I’m not trying to initialize a debate about whether we should be fighting in the Middle East. Nor to I want to go back to the good-old-days of rationing. But like it or not, our nation is at war and when I think about my brother and so many of the other soldiers, I can’t help but feel like the burden of the war isn’t evenly spread. Not like the conflicts of the past. We have a volunteer military, so those who are serving chose to serve. And the thought of reinstating the draft scares me to death because my boys would be right in the middle of that.

I guess my argument today is simply that we need more opportunities for the rest of us to serve as well – a Home Front. As a nation we celebrate and we mourn together. Our defeats are softened and our victories are sweeter if we do them together. As a nation we should share the responsibility to win together because we will lose together.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Magical 8-Ball, Please

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My youngest son is pure entertainment these days. At 18 months old, a few of the more discernible things he says to us are 'yeah' and 'no' and 'huh?', so the kids have taken to asking him questions to determine their fate. It's sort of like having our own real-life Magic 8 Ball.

Wouldn't it be awesome if those things really worked? For people like myself who struggle to make decisions a truly magical Magic 8 Ball would be welcomed. One which could answer questions beyond the limits of yes/no answers would be at the top of my Christmas list.

Just the other day my 5-year-old boy was asking some questions of our little 18-month-old magic ball of knowledge and the answers (amidst much giggling) were remarkably accurate.

Am I a boy? Yeah.

Is mom a girl? Yeah.

Do you wear diapers? Yeah.

(giggling) Does mom wear diapers? No.

Is mom a crazy cuckoo? Yeah.

You see what I mean? It's uncanny how accurate his answers are. But when I try asking him things everything seems to go awry...

Which store has the best price on milk right now? Huh?

What should I make for dinner tonight? No.

Where did you hide my keys? (quizzical look)

As cute as our little ball of answers is, he is definitely not the solution to remedy my lack of decision-making ability. So if anyone happens upon a truly Magical 8-Ball in the course of their holiday shopping, can you pick me up an extra?

I'll even pay the shipping...



(I'd love to hear what's at the top of YOUR Christmas list this year!)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Perspective

Pin It I’ve come to realize that life is all about perspective. The direction by which we look at a situation can make all of the difference in how we respond to that circumstance.

“If you fail this test, you’ll probably need to retake the entire class.”

News? Horrible.

“You failed, it turns out that you’ll need to retake the test again.”

News? Fabulous.

What is it which makes this fantastic news instead of awful?

Well, like I said earlier, it really all depends on the perspective by which we see it; the proverbial side of the situation we’re getting it from.

“You might have a tumor.”

Devastating.

“It turns out that you have chronic headaches, and will need to take medication for the rest of your life to combat it.”

Suddenly, it’s the best news I’ve ever heard.

I am—even now—becoming convinced that perhaps we should always be shaken with the worst-case scenario in all situations. That way, when we hear the true outcome of events we will feel grateful for the results, instead of grunt reproachfully and cry out that life simply isn’t fair.

Sometimes it helps us to feel gratitude when we realize that it could have been far worse.

Case in point:

I was driving on the freeway recently when—after operating with no previous problems—steam blew out from under the hood in all directions like a splay from Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park.

I pulled to the off ramp, noticing my ‘heat’ gage immediately shooting up to maximum capacity, burying itself in the top corner of my instrumental panel.

I fought the rush-hour traffic and pulled aside, switching off the ignition. I popped the hood and looked at the engine. A hose going to the radiator had completely exploded, coating the underside of the hood with a milky-looking liquid. This did not fare well, and I felt a crushing blow to my stomach like a punch from Mike Tyson.

I snatched up my cell phone and dialed my mechanic.

He said that I might have blown the head gasket.

The extreme heat might even have cracked the engine block itself.

With both of these horrific scenarios spiraling though my mind, I groaned inwardly envisioning a dozen or so winged hundred dollar bills zooming out of my already destitute bank account.

The tow truck came. My car went. I was vehicleless…what a sad and sorry place to be.

Like an anxious relative awaiting results at the hospital, I waited for the final prognosis from the mechanic the next day. I checked my phone periodically. Then, in the mid-afternoon, the prognosis came.

The radiator was cracked.

Under normal situations I’d have been somewhere between ‘holy crap’ and serious blunt force trauma; however, I was euphoric. Only a cracked radiator which would need replacing?

Brilliant.

After a few measly hundred bucks (compared to the alternative), I found myself driving from the repair shop in a car which purred like a kitten.

Life; it’s all about perspective, isn’t it? Truly, how we see the situation can indeed make all the difference in the world.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Reversals

Pin It What is the measure of a man? Of a woman, for that matter?

I had an opportunity recently to ponder these questions when my daughter had a sleepover with a friend she doesn't get to spend a lot of time with a few nights ago. In the course of picking her up in the morning and exchanging the usual idle chitchat, I became aware of some changes in her friend's family's circumstances.

Her mother announced, a sad twist to her lips, that they would probably be putting their house on the market in the next few months. "You know. Just to pay the bills." She was trying to make light of the situation, but it's not easy to cover something as heavy as financial stress with humor. I was startled--we'd been in a different school system last year, had been somewhat on the fringes of things, and I genuinely had no idea that they were suffering any reversals.

She explained readily enough. Over the last year or so, this family had--like many others--taken a beating by the economic downturn. Dad's job in the mortgage industry went to pot, and he was subsequently forced to take other less lucrative positions to support his family.

I left feeling slightly stunned. The financial bottom had fallen out of their world.

This couple had taken up the gauntlet thrown at them by circumstance unflinchingly, though, and had done what needed to be done. Mom had increased her hours in her own job as she was allowed. Dad was managing a local pizza joint--a step down that would be unthinkable for many that had previously held a position such as his, but one he made with good humor and the knowledge that not only was he providing in the material sense, but also in the sense of setting an example for his children. And now they were ready to sell their home to make things easier--to do, simply, whatever it took.

The bottom might have fallen out, but they were rebuilding it, one little block at a time. That, to me, spoke volumes about the measure of this man and this woman--this team. I don't think you ever truly see the measure of a person, or a team, until they hit rock bottom, and have to pick themselves up. Sometimes they lay there for a while, sluggish and disoriented, before they stagger to their feet and begin to climb. Sometimes they leap up like a runner sliding into home, carrying a trail of dust behind them. Sometimes they never rise, and thus never prove themselves.

I thought about this family a lot over the course of the last week. It was actually a very interesting week--one where tradition was upset by family illness and I ended up in a cabin in the Smokies, hoping to get all of my Christmas shopping done. Instead of a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal we ate at Cracker Barrel (gag--sorry, but their sweet potato casserole just does not measure up), and goofed off at MagiQuest and mini-golf and the movies. And then I waited until midnight, when the outlet center would open, waited for the mad rush and the jockeying for position amidst the lines and parking spaces and the shoulder to shoulder crowds.

I just couldn't do it, though. This family, and a couple of others that I'm involved with helping out for Christmas, just kept coming to mind, and I actually felt kind of guilty that I had money to spend, and the spirit to do it. The parking lot, which was full of people camping out at nine p.m., sort of bugged me. When midnight arrived, I sat down at my computer in my pjs, and did some half-hearted online special hunting for a while, then went to bed.

When I rose the next morning, I was clear-eyed. I had my list of needs for the two families I was helping with--seven children all together, four boys and three girls. It was okay that I had some money to part with...after all--here were some kids who had some needs. It was time to shop.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Those Were The Days...

Pin It GUEST BLOGGER: TRISH

Trish is the married mother of four girls and one lonely boy, but is sure it should have been the other way around as she knows nothing about being girly, growing up a tomboy herself. She is a transplanted Californian and will forever miss the ocean. The mountains in her present town are wonderful and majestic, but the beach will always be her home. Trish is a lover of road trips and all things Dr. Pepper; a volleyball mom, football mom and sometimes losing-her-mind-mom. But it's all good.



My teenage kids are going to hell (gasp)... and apparently, I am driving the bus.

Some may say I am a defacer, a vandalizer, a disrespector of shrubs and bushes... call me what you will, I take no offense. I was, once upon a time, the queen of toilet papering (with a few other queens in tow).

And it appears that the time has come to pass along the torch.

Now understand, I feel no shame in this. I actually quite relish the official-ness of it all. I take great pride in passing along my tricks of the trade, so to speak. I will even go so far as to drive the get-away car if necessary; that is, as long as I am home and tucked into bed by 9:30. Otherwise they're on their own.

No, I am not just trying to be the "cool mom"...although that does have a nice ring to it. Nor am I just trying to live vicariously through my kids (okay, that one is probably a lie). I am simply trying to teach my kids that there is more fun to be had than sitting in front of the boob tube or doing whatever else it is that kids are doing these days. And if you think about it, toilet papering is an art form, really. I guess one could say I am encouraging my kids to use their creative minds and at the same time exposing them to all things cultural.

The nostalgia of it all warms my heart. I think that this is a memory every kid should carry with them... even us big kids.

It is harmless fun, after all...

Isn't it, mom?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Playing the Fool

Pin It

With a direct nod to yesterday’s awesome “key” post by Gerb, I think I’d like to go down the same road a little bit today because of a similar experience.

Number two son and I stopped at a convenience store the other evening. It was dark, and getting colder, so while the boy ran into the store I stayed in the car to keep it warm. After a minute or so there was a knock on the car window and a young woman’s face peering in.

She was asking for money.

Did I have just $10 so that she could buy formula for her baby?

I never know what to do when that happens…and it’s happening more and more often; The young man asking for spare change outside the grocery store doors; the older man with the cardboard sign in the corner of the mall parking lot; the young woman outside the Maverick with a story about a fight with her boyfriend and a hungry baby.

Because of the stories that I’ve heard from the kids I work with and because I watch the news, I know that there’s a decent chance that I’m being scammed. There’s a chance that that young man outside the grocery score is trying to get enough money to score an oxycodone at the park across the street. The older man with the cardboard sign declaring himself to be veteran could just be a veteran of too many trips to the liquor store. And the young woman tapping on my window could be…who knows…working for someone else or simply playing a game to see how much money she could collect that evening.

But I find that even though thoughts like this filter through my head (along with a decent wave of fear like Gerb said) when confronted with this type of request. At the end of the day I don’t care. Maybe I am being played for a fool – but maybe I’m not.

For me, asking for help is really, really difficult. It is only by the grace of a benevolent God and good friends that I am not pushing all of my belongings around in a shopping cart. If these people have gotten to the point where they are asking for help from strangers for whatever reason, I can’t put myself in the position of judging the purity of their motives because I recognize that mortification can exist in the asking.

There’s an old proverb that says “Charity looks at the need, not the cause. And another that says in this world we must help one another. Their motives are their own and mine is not to question why. It is little enough when truly, I have been so blessed.

I gave her $20.

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