Monday, December 14, 2009

Shopping list

It's the holiday season (the holiday season), and some people are already done with their Christmas shopping. Those people are obviously killjoys and should be forced to stay home and babysit the children of the people who wait until the last minute to hit the malls.

I suppose I could be one of those people. I mean, it's not like my recipient list changes yearly, or someone changes the rules on what we can and cannot buy. Theoretically, I could be done Christmas shopping in July, if I were one of those (cough cough fun suckers) organized people. But what fun would that be? What's Christmas without rushing through the stores while on your cell phone, asking your sister-in-law's nearly deaf grandmother if she knows what size your niece is wearing these days. How can it be the holiday season if you're not frantically looking through the sweaters, seeking the one size that's always missing? How incomplete would the holiday be without a spousal argument in the middle of the mall because neither of you can figure out what to really get his mother, who has enough things to outfit a small third world nation? (For the record, the abovementioned scenarios are not theoretical.)

For me, holiday shopping starts in September, when I tell the kids to "put it on your Christmas list." See a toy you like? Make a list. Need designer shoes? Deal with the Kohl's brand and put the pricey ones on your list. Kids don't like this answer, but it's served many a mom during the fall months. A couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, I begin to form gift lists in my head. That means I look at sale papers and think, "Hmm, that would be a nice gift for Danielle." Then I promptly forget about it. Later on, I wonder how I could possibly forget such a great idea, because I remember it was a great gift, I just can't remember what the heck it was. As Thanksgiving draws near, I briefly think about hitting the Black Friday sales. Then I decide to avoid the (cough cough insane cough) Black Friday shoppers and sleep in.

Suddenly, it's December, and the only thing I've bought is a fleece vest for my dad, because we buy him a fleece vest every year. Now it's time to hit the internet. I might Google some ideas, such as "What is the best brand of socks for people who are so anal about their socks that they label them, in order to keep them in pairs?" Google spits out some answers, and I look them over. If one of the answers shows up on Amazon, I might even add it to my wish list. As a rule, I don't buy from merchants I don't know, because I live in fear of a gift that cannot be returned. Ditto on Ebay. Great deals, sure. But what if someone doesn't like their gift? To the best of my knowledge, Ebay doesn't take returns.

Then it's time to hit the mall. If I'm smart, I hit the mall during the day, when it's not so busy. Armed with coupons from Sunday's ads, I attack the stores. Let's see, I have an Aeropostale coupon for $10 any $50 purchase, so let's go to Aeropostale. Hmm, I can't remember if Emily's wearing a S or a M these days, and Becca insists she's still an XS, but I think she's probably a S. Let's wait on Aeropostale until I can drag the girls out and make them try on a few things. I meander through the mall, talking to nobody on my cell phone so that the kiosk people don't try to beckon me over to their wares. (I once paid something like $70 for a scented pillow thingie sold by an extremely cute and flirtatious salesman with a great accent.) Dad said he wanted a sweater. But my brother mentioned something he might want to go halves on for Dad. Granted, brother hasn't responded to the email yet, but I'd better hold off on the sweater. Ooh, maybe the nieces would like some of this body spray. I should buy some. No, wait, maybe they already have this body spray. Maybe they have the body spray and hate it. Maybe their mother doesn't want them to wear body spray. Better wait on that. I can't leave the mall empty handed, so I buy myself some expensive shampoo at the JCPenney salon using the coupon from Sunday's paper. Yay me.

As the days draw near, I begin to feel a wee bit of panic. Should I go ahead and move things from my wish list to my cart at Amazon? If I buy the nieces the body spray, what if I find something they want more? Why can't I find the one Transformer that my nephew asked for? I can't risk buying him a different one, because he has an extensive collection, and I'd probably buy him something he already has. My husband said he wants an air compressor. Does he really need an air compressor? Can't we rent an air compressor?

Then the e-mails start coming in. "THREE MORE DAYS OF FREE SHIPPING IN TIME FOR CHRISTMAS!!" OK, if I don't do something soon, I'm going to end up at Walgreen's on Christmas Eve, buying Chia Pets for my nearest and dearest. Finally, about two weeks before Christmas, I start to buy. I buy the blouse that is almost like the one I liked in November, but that one is long gone. I buy a bunch of little gifts to complement the expensive gifts for the kids, and wind up spending at least twice my budget. I check out the "gift book" table at Borders, because it's bound to have something my brother can read in the bathroom. By the Sunday before Christmas, I'm nearly done. On Monday, I'm finished. On Tuesday, I'm buying "just a few more things." I've been burned before, when I was up Christmas Eve looking for last minute deals online, because I was convinced we hadn't bought enough for my in-laws. On Wednesday, I'm swearing that I'm done, really, except for the one little thing I really want to get the kids. On Christmas Eve, I'm running to Walgreen's because I just counted the kids' presents and they seem uneven. Christmas Eve. Finally, it's Christmas morning, and I can enjoy the lights and the carols that have been playing for the last two months. Then I wonder where the season went.

Once again, I'll say that next year will be different. I'll plan better and do the shopping by Thanksgiving, so I can spend the season baking cookies and listening to Christmas carols without guilt. Who am I kidding? Chances are, you'll find me at Walgreen's on Christmas Eve. I'll be in the Chia Pet aisle.


Monday, November 09, 2009

Clean up

Anyone who knows my husband knows how much he prizes a clean house. Alas, I do not place quite the same priority on cleanliness. If cleanliness is next to godliness, I’m somewhere between purgatory and hell. Unfortunately for my husband, our kids have inherited my tendencies and not his.

But I do know when the house crosses the line, and I do try to keep myself closer to purgatory than hell in the clean house department. Consequently, I’m not a big fan of messy projects. I don’t like things that might involve serious cleaning up time, and woe to the child who wants to do something that might result in dragging out the floor cleaner or other appliance. That’s what art class is for.

Anyhow, the 10-year-old wanted to make Puppy Chow. Puppy Chow, or Muddy Buddies, is basically Corn Chex coated in a chocolately, peanut butter coating and topped with powdered sugar. It’s a shame that something so good has to be so messy.

I was feeling benevolent, though, and said sure, let’s make it. I carefully heated up the butter, peanut butter and chocolate chips, and poured them over the Chex cereal. Then I scooped the cereal into a Ziplock bag, trying hard not to spill the chocolate covered mixture over the side. Finally, Emily and I added powdered sugar to the bag. I closed it and gave it to Emily to shake.

Mission accomplished, with only a few dirty bowls that would clean up quickly. As Emily started shaking, I reminded her to be careful and make sure the bag doesn’t open. Famous last words, right?

The moment I turned, I heard the words every mother dreads: “Uh oh.” The bag had opened, and the floor was covered with Puppy Chow and powdered sugar. The dog had been lying on the floor in the kitchen, and she, too, had a streak of powdered sugar in her fur. If you could read dog minds (which I can), you’d know she was saying, “HOLY COW. THIS IS GREAT. I LIE DOWN AND ALL OF A SUDDEN LITTLE CHOCOLATE GOODIES ARE RAINING ON ME. WOO HOO, IT’S MY LUCKY DAY!”

My typical reaction began to form. Didn’t I tell her to be careful? Holy moly, there’s a huge mess on the floor. This is why I don’t like to make snacks, because something always happens. Now I’m going to have to drag out the vacuum, and the floor cleaner, and we have to clean up this mess before the dog eats it and throws up on the carpet in an hour. I saw Emily’s face, waiting for the inevitable parental meltdown over the mess.

Then I looked at my powdered-sugar-covered floor and the dog who was happily munching. I couldn’t help it. I began to laugh. And as I laughed, I watched my daughter’s face change from trepidation to relief to laughter, as she joined me in laughing and cleaning up the mess. That's when I had a parental learning experience. Sometimes it's easier to clean a floor than rebuild a crushed spirit.

Pass the Puppy Chow.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Taco soup - everyone should have this recipe

I just mentioned on Facebook that I'm making taco soup. Honestly, everyone should make this, especially on cold, rainy days. You can tweak the recipe to your taste - add different types of beans or sausages, or make a meatless version.

Be prepared to share the recipe.

Taco Soup

2 lbs ground beef or sausage (I did just one pound the last time and added an extra can of beans)
1-2 envelopes taco seasoning (use whatever "strength" you prefer)
1 pkg dry ranch dressing mix (do NOT use low-fat)
2 cans Mexican-style stewed tomatoes
1 can green chilis
2 cans of black beans, pinto beans or one of each
1 1/2 cups frozen corn
Shredded cheddar

Brown the beef. Drain and rinse under water to minimize fat. Return the beef to the pot and add the rest of the ingredients, except the Fritos and cheese. Add four cans of water. Simmer for at least 15 minutes. The longer you simmer, the better it tastes. Serve over Fritos and top with the cheese.

This is so incredibly yummy! I throw the tomatoes in the blender before I add them to the soup, because we don't like tomato "pieces." My SIL, who gave me this recipe, says she takes the leftovers and rolls it up in a tortilla. This recipe freezes well and tastes even better the second time you heat it up.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A prayer for mothers

When I was pregnant, I had this prayer/mantra that I would repeat to myself all of the time: Dear God – please let this baby be healthy, safe and normal. And if not, please let me be the parent this baby needs.

I never felt quite right praying for a healthy, safe, normal baby. Who was I to ask for the easy route? Besides, I knew many people whose children deviated from the healthy, safe and normal route, yet those folks felt no less blessed than the ones whose kids were deemed healthy and normal by medicine and society. Hence, the second part of my prayer. If God was going to choose to send me a child with special needs, then I hoped he would give me the strength to meet those needs.

When my kids were born, I rejoiced that they came into the world safely, and were pronounced healthy and normal. Thank you, God. Life kicked in and I forgot to be grateful, unless I caught one of those specials on Discovery Health about children with severe issues. Then I'd look at my husband and say, "We've been blessed."

Lately, though, I've been wondering if I need to resurrect the second part of that mantra. Raising two 'tween girls can be a befuddling, frightening, exciting and awesome experience. I used to think I'd be up to any challenge a kid could throw at me, but lately I realize how utterly unprepared I am. Let's face it. I was up to the challenge of raising a kid like me: a gawky kid who liked books over boys, a klutz who considered hide-and-seek to be an organized sport, a kid who feared the parental words, "I'm disappointed in you." Instead, I'm dealing with these gorgeous, athletic kids whose interests are completely different than mine were, and the words "I'm disappointed in you" seem to carry no weight.

Now more than ever, I find myself asking God to give me the strength to be the parent these girls need. I'm stunned and scared by the fact that there are no do-overs in parenting. Sure, we joke that some of the things we do are going to land our children in therapy for years, but I don't really mean it. I want to get this one right. I'm thrilled that they're healthy. I pray they remain safe. I hope they discover a normal that works for them. But mostly, I hope God can help me be the parent they need, because I don't think I can do this one alone.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Maternal mind changers

Last night, I attended the annual back-to-school night at Emily's elementary school. The assistant principal, who looked to be about 24 years old, went over the attendance policy with us. He stressed the importance of attending school regularly, and went over the school's policy for calling in sick kids or taking a planned absence.

"Those of you who are planning to go to Disney World, well, shame on you," he deadpanned.

Cue nervous laughter from the parents, especially the ones who like to go to DW in November.

"I'm just kidding," said the young 'un in the tie. "I just wish you had been my parents."

No kidding. I wish I had been my parents, too. My parents subscribed to the "You must be dead to miss school" policy. My parents weren't afraid to let you know about those parents who kept their kids out of school for a mid-winter beach vacation. For instance, when I lived in Florida, my parents visited every February. (They were well out of school and didn't need to fill out any prearranged absence forms.) Still, my father got his swim trunks in a wad when he'd see 8-year-olds frolicking in the sand.

"I wonder what they missed in school today," he'd muse. "I wonder if they're going to ever get another chance to learn that."

I tended to agree with him, remembering the days when I'd struggle to make up homework for a mere two days home with the flu. School trumped vacation. Period. I'd say that only funerals trumped school, but my parents sent my brother and me to school on the morning of my grandfather's funeral, only allowing us to come home at lunchtime to attend the mid-afternoon service. Family vacations during the school year were high on my list of things I'd never do as a parent. The list also included parking the kids in front of the TV, letting them stay up until midnight on any day except New Year's Eve, making them pay for every luxury item they crave so they'll appreciate them more, and taking them to church every Sunday.

Truth be told, though, I've fallen short on most all of the abovementioned things. We've done a couple Disney trips in January, although I will argue that they were prompted by a soccer tournament that happened to fall in January, and we planned the trip to minimize the time away from school. I even sent the girls to school for half a day when our flight didn't leave until 2:30. I've let them stay up as long as they darned well pleased this summer and over Christmas break, as long as they didn't bug me after I went to bed at my normal 11 p.m. The TV is on all the point, to the point where Spongebob is part of the normal background noise of our home. As for luxury items, well, we kind of missed the boat on that, because our kids don't have money. We screwed up the whole allowance thing, mostly because we couldn't agree on what chores were necessary to earn the allowance. And church, well, we've recently recommitted to going each week, as long as we're in town and healthy. This time we mean it.

I'm not giving up, however. I still have a list of things I am going to stick to. These include:

  • No dating until 16. I predict this will be the source of many headaches during the next four years. Dating will be defined as boy/girl, no chaperones, no other people. I'm not sure of the group date thing. Maybe 15? Already, I'm hearing ideas of going to the movies with a girlfriend, and a boy just happens to be there…. Gah.
  • The first car will be a clunker. I'm thinking that a nice 1996 Toyota Corolla will be a good find in another four years. Maybe I'll splurge and get a 1992 Camry. Insurance must be subsidized by the driver.
  • No parent-free spring break trips. Sorry, kids. If you don't want to hit the beaches with Mom and Dad in April, you're not hitting the beaches. I've seen too many "Girls Gone Wild" commercials.
  • No ridiculous amounts of money spent on sports. I'll get back to you on how that goes in a few years.
  • No computers in the bedroom. I want to be able to sneak up on them when they're AIMing.
  • College must be subsidized by the student. A part-time job must be procured by senior year of high school, to start contributing to college expenses.
  • No pets smaller than a cat. I re-instituted this rule after the last of 11 carnival goldfish went to the great fishbowl in the sky a few months ago.

I'd list more, but I hear my 12-year-old's cell phone ringing. Yes, that would be the cell phone she wasn't going to get until high school.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Guys: Don’t read this

If you're a guy and you're reading this, come on. Can you not read? This is not a blog post for guys. The subject matter contained within has been known to cause grown men to put their hands over their ears while they sing "La la la la I can't hear you."

Yes, I'm going to talk about female things. You've been warned.

Guess what? I have a circle in my breast. Yes, I'm sure you've all been wondering if Lori has a circle in her breast, and the answer is yes. An almost perfect little hollow circle, about the size of a pin head. How do I know this? Because this evening I had my annual mammogram, also known as the beginning of the most vulnerable, nerve wracking couple of days women go through each year. You can go into the office feeling fine, and then you pick up a copy of some health magazine and read a story about Sheryl Crowe. Suddenly, you're thinking that she's gorgeous and fit, and she had breast cancer, so what right do I have to hope I'll be spared?

Anyway, back to my circle. I go down the hallway, put on the gown and go to the imaging room, where the nice lady puts me in place and lets the machine do its job. I'm recovering from the first squish when she says, "Have you had any surgery on your breasts?" I look down and think, "Lady, does it look like I've had surgery here? Because if I did, I want my money back." Instead, I say no, and she beckons me over to the screen. "Look here," she says, pointing to a perfect little circle on the image. "That almost looks like a piece of metal or something."

Being Lori, I say, "Do I need to freak out?"

"Oh no," she says. "It's probably just a calcification. They're not usually perfect circles, though."

Fortunately, I remember having been diagnosed with a calcification some years ago. I had to go back for a mammogram every six months to see if it changed. After three mammograms with no changes, I was given the OK to go back to annual exams. The nice lady suggests we do the second image from a different position, to see if it shows up again. Sure enough, there's the little circle, in the same place. Again, she tells me not to freak out. We finish the other side and she takes me down to a computer room where she can pull up last year's mammogram. Sure enough, there's the circle. A perfect circle. Same size. Same place. In a freaking out way, it's almost kind of cool.

Why do I share this story? Because those of you who know me know how much I freak out whenever I have a headache that won't go away. Those of you who know me know that I'm going to fret over the circle for the next few days, until I get the call of "all clear" or (gulp) "come back for more pictures." As I said above, it can be a horrible few days for women. It's almost horrible enough to put it off for a while.

But I don't. Again, those who know me know that one of my best friends was diagnosed with breast cancer last year. I lost an online friend to the disease a couple years ago. So if my circle story serves as a timely reminder to someone who's reading this and thinking maybe, just maybe she should go ahead and schedule her annual mammogram, then I'm glad I shared this story.

And guys, if you've completely ignored my warnings and read through this, do me a favor. Tell the woman you love to make sure she gets hers, too.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

It’s called underwear, not outthere

I took my almost 12-year-old shopping today. Tomorrow is her middle school registration, where she'll get her schedule and her locker, and she'll sit for a picture that will double as an ID photo and school photo. She pointed out that she didn't have anything new to wear, although her T-shirt drawer can barely shut these days because it's so full. But I remember being 12 and wanting something new for the school picture, so we headed to the mall.

I figured she wanted a cute T-shirt, preferably one that advertised Hollister, Aeropostale or Victoria Secret's Pink line, a marketing tool designed to lure 12-year-olds into what used to be a decidedly adult venue. No, she wanted a poofy tank top that she could wear over a white T-shirt, because spaghetti straps aren't allowed in middle school. Nothing like a specific need when you're shopping with a mom who likes sale racks. We scoured Aeropostale, Hollister and Vic's Secret. No luck. On a whim, I said let's check out Delia's, even though I usually gasp at the prices. (I'm talking $26.50 for a T-shirt. Yes, they're often "buy one, get one half off," which translates to roughly $19.88 a T-shirt. When you're used to Kohl's prices, that's pretty steep.) She immediately found a top that worked. I decided to be generous mom and let her try it on. It looked adorable on her.

"OK," I said," "Let's walk down to Justice and get a plain white tee."

"That's OK," she said. "I don't need a T-shirt for the picture. I'll wear it like this. I just have to wear a T-shirt underneath when school starts."

Now, my almost 12-year-old follows a trend that I find a little unsettling. She wears cute little camisoles over her cute little bras, and she lets the bra straps peek through. I admit, as someone who went to great lengths to ensure that a bra strap never even peeked out of a sleeveless dress (ill-fitting strapless bras, anyone?), I had a hard time getting used to this look. I don't know why I'm surprised, when I'm almost always seeing the underwear of any wearer in the under-20 crowd. That's right. I know what color boxers the skater kid is wearing and what color thong the high school girl is sporting. And I've gotten to the point where I'm OK with the under-20 crowd flashing a bra strap, because they tend to wear cute little colorful bras with delicate little straps. I think that if you're going to flash a bra, you should at least have cute little bras to flash. The middle-aged mom, two-inch wide bra straps in white or cream just don't work.

But even though I've learned to live with the peeking bra straps, I really, really, REALLY didn't want to see them in my daughter's school picture. I brought this up in the Delia's fitting room, and she rolled her eyes at me. I used my "I hold the checkbook" veto power and said she had to find a solution that didn't involve sharing her bra straps with her grandmothers and anyone who happens to visit Grandma and look at the grandchild picture display on the wall. She begrudgingly agreed to wear a tank top or a T-shirt for her school picture.

I guess I should consider myself lucky. At least she's not flashing her thong panties, which she doesn't have and won't have until she's old enough to buy her own underwear. Which I wish would stay under there.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Spend, spend, spend

Many years ago, as I prepared for my first year in an apartment, my brother took me grocery shopping. I stocked up on the essentials: Pop-tarts, English muffins, peanut butter. I was on a tight budget, so I grabbed the generic peanut butter. My brother wisely advised me to put it back.

"There are certain things you pay more for," he said.

I bring this up because last week, my husband grabbed the wrong brand of toilet paper. We brought it home and thought, "How bad can it be? Aren't all toilet paper brands the same?" The answer, for those who are wondering, is no. Beware of one-ply toilet paper. 'Nuf said.

Most moms learn early to live on a budget, as we take back every grumbling comment we ever made about how our mean mothers never let us buy any snacks unless they were on sale or they had a coupon for them. I'm perfectly fine about staying on budget about certain things. I think Kroger brand popsicles are as good as the brand names. I don't spend excess money on purses, due to a personal rule that I can never spend more money on a purse than I'll normally be carrying in it. I don't need expensive dress shoes for those half dozen occasions each month (at most) where I dress up.

But pinching pennies isn't always a good thing. A wise person once told me that poor people can't afford to be cheap. And while we're nowhere near poor – despite what my 11-year-old thinks – I understand that cutting a corner here might lead to more expenses down the road. As I've grown older, I've developed a list of things that I never, ever substitute, even when money is ridiculously tight:

Poptarts – yeah, yeah, say what you want, but generic "toaster pastries" are awful.

Socks – there's a reason why Gold Toes are more expensive. They last longer, especially if you're like me and like to run out to the mailbox in just socks.

Good outfits – I'm a huge fan of Kohl's and Target for everyday wear. But I think every adult needs a well-made, well-fitting dress or suit for special occasions. I'm willing to make due with a pair of jeans that are a little long, but I'll pay for alterations on a good dressy outfit.

Home repairs – Yes, there are people in the world who are quite adept at their own home repairs. My brother is not afraid to take apart something and put it all back together. I didn't inherit this gene. If something needs fixing, there are professional people who do that quite well. We don't need to be playing with electrical wiring, if you know what I mean. Plus, when it's time to sell the house you can put "all professional repairs" on the sales sheet.

Diet Coke – I don't care if Diet Pepsi is on sale. Some things are worth a couple extra bucks.

Professional hair color – This becomes especially important as the gray takes over. The box is fine once in a while, but I love the feel and look of professional color and try to fit it into my budget whenever possible.

Swimsuits – If you're lucky enough to find a swimsuit that flatters your body, buy it. Heck with the price, buy it. In fact, buy two. The style will probably be discontinued next summer.

What's on your list?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Fashion queen mother

The other day, my 11-year-old told me I needed new tennis shoes. I looked at my feet, at my somewhat worn pair of Keds. I was kind of proud of these Keds. Escewing the traditional style I wore in college, I chose a pair of retro looking ones, with a wide toe and big eyelets. I thought that for once I could be cool mom, a mom who could keep up with the Talbotts models who double as elementary school mothers in this town.

Then my 11-year-old went on. "No offense Mom, but those look like old lady shoes."

It wasn't always this way. I used to be a shopaholic, spending my single girl's money on that latest styles. I spent so much time in the mall that the manager of one of those junior clothing stores became a friend, and she often had outfits picked out for me before I showed up. No, I wasn't a "Sex In the City" kind of shopper, primarily because a small town journalist's salary precludes that sort of shopping. But I did like to keep up with the styles.

Then kids happened. We went to one income. The mall wasn't nearly as inviting, considering I was pushing a stroller and living on a Target budget. Fashion mattered less than comfort, and the budget dictated that I buy things I'd wear a lot. Jeans and T-shirts became my uniform, although I did finally throw away my mom jeans and went with a lower rise.

(Note to the kids out there: Say what you want about Mom jeans, but we never suffered from muffin tops.)

You'd think I could save myself with shoes, but I've been cursed with funky feet. Nothing fits right. Nothing. Back when it mattered, I'd shove my feet into an uncomfortable but stylish pair of shoes, ignoring the fact that they hurt like heck on the dance floor. Nowadays, give me a pair of runners or flip flops. Anything else is a pain in the foot.

I haven't given up on fashion entirely. As the 11-year-old hits the age where fashion matters, I find that she's inherited some of her mom's love for the shop. The fact that she's a size 00 and looks adorable in just about anything has made shopping fun again, albeit expensive. She sometimes asks me why I don't want to buy myself something from Hollister. She doesn't understand when I shake my head.

As for the shoes, I might let my 11-year-old have some input on what I choose. I'm sure she'll roll her eyes when I veto anything that feels weird, uncomfortable or on the verge of falling off when I walk. But that's the beauty of being a slave to fashion. Eventually, you grow out of it.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Who's blessing?

Our church is once again hosting homeless families this week. I admit, I was feeling less than charitable about the upcoming week. Emily and I had been out-of-town for a soccer tournament. I was tired, sunburnt and annoyed because the hotel messed up my reservation and I had to sleep on a rollaway cot. Besides, the program itself has had its ups and downs. It was recently revamped with a new director and guidelines, but it's still hard to know if we're going to make a difference.

But, sanctimonious Lori told herself that my place isn't to worry about whether I'm going to make a difference. My place is to help out where I'm needed and hope that maybe someone I can help someone along the way. I dragged my grumpy self to church and met our guests.

As I was preparing dinner, one of the girls came up to me and asked if she could sing a song before we ate. I said sure, and called the crew to dinner. The girl, who was about 10 or 11, sang her heart out to the gathered group. She sang about God and blessings.

Here's a child who has to sleep in a rollaway cot every night, and whose belongings are being toted around in a trash bag. Yet she sings of being blessed.

Who's blessing whom?

Monday, June 01, 2009

Soccer mom speaks

The youngest had a soccer tournament this weekend. Now, as any sports parent can tell you, sometimes a team is "on" and sometimes they're "off." When both teams are on, the game is fun to watch. But if one team is off and the other is on, the watching can be heart-wrenching.

Our team happened to be on this weekend. The opposing team was off. The opposing team's parents were frustrated as the score went up. Meredith's dad was especially vocal. We were well acquainted with Meredith by the second half, because her dad screamed his directions while she attempted to follow them. Dad's directions weren't enough, though, because the goals kept coming.

"Come on, girls," one of the mothers said. "Don't embarrass yourselves."

Too late. It appears Mom and Meredith's dad have already done the job for them.

These are 11- and 12-year-olds. Most will never land scholarships or play in college. Many won't be playing in two or three years. When they look back, will they remember the good times, or will they remember the times they embarrassed themselves?

Or will they remember the times their parents embarrassed them?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Black bean and corn salsa

In honor of Memorial Day weekend, I am sharing one of my favorite easy recipes. I just made it last night, and its popularity hasn't waned since the last time I made it. This is a good recipe to have on hand when someone calls and says, "We're eating out.  Come on over and have a hamburger."  I almost always have the ingredients on hand.  It's yummy.

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 can white and yellow (or just yellow) corn, drained and rinsed

1 small green pepper, diced

1 small onion, diced

1 jar (more or less) of salsa

Marinade:  1/4 cup of each:  vegetable oil, white vinegar and sugar

Combine the first five ingredients.  Mix the marinade and pour over salsa.  Note:  You might need to experiment with the marinade to taste.  Some people feel the sugar makes it too sweet.  I like the sweet/hot combination, but feel free to add less or no sugar.  Also, I usually don't use a whole jar of salsa.  I pour about half in, let the salsa chill in the fridge and then decide if it needs more.

Serve with tortilla chips or Fritos. 

Friday, April 24, 2009

Are we there yet?

I was on a road trip with my kids earlier this month, and somewhere along I-71 all heck broke loose in the backseat. You see, my kids don't like to travel light. They have to bring along coloring tools, books, Nintendo games, Ipods and DVDs for entertainment. Then they have to have pillows and blankets and a special stuffed animal for cuddling during naps. This all makes for a crowded space, and anyone can tell you that 'tween girls and crowded spaces are a recipe for sibling bickering.

The comments started about an hour into our trip.

"Get off my side." "Get your stuff away from my stuff." "It's not on your stuff!"

Mom, who's not a great driver under the best circumstances, tells them to knock it off RIGHT NOW OR WE'RE TURNING AROUND AND I MEAN IT!

But about two hours in, the throwing began.

"Here's your dumb marker!" (throws marker!) "You did that on purpose! Here's your dumb book!" (throws book.) "Ow! That hit me! Mom, she hit me!" "She threw the marker first!" "I didn't throw it hard like you threw the book." "Yes you did. I have a mark to prove it!"

Fortunately, we were approaching an exit at this point. I drove off the highway, pulled into a Wendy's parking and gave the old "I've had it lecture." I'VE HAD IT WITH THE FIHGTING. DO YOU WANT TO TURN AROUND? DO YOU WANT TO NEVER VISIT YOUR COUSINS AGAIN? BECAUSE AT THIS POINT, I'VE HAD IT WITH ROAD TRIPS. I AM NOT GOING TO DRIVE FOR THREE MORE HOURS WITH THIS SORT OF BEHAVIOR. DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?

The fighting continued. I got out of the car and told them they could figure out how to get home on their own. They of course didn't believe me, but the separation calmed us down long enough for the siblings to knock it off and the Mom to gain enough composure to take on I-71 again.

So I'm just a little sympathetic to the New York mom who told her bickering kids to get out of the car. Granted, she actually drove away from them, which I don't think I'd do unless we were only about two miles blocks away from home. Still, there are times when parents reach that proverbial end of their ropes, and no knots are strong enough to hold onto.

For some reason, parents don't like to admit that we came dangerously close to losing it with our kids. Maybe we're haunted by those pre-kid declarations we used to make, where we said no kid of ours would be able to behave like those little banshees we just saw at the grocery store. Maybe we've read too many self-help books that say there's no excuse for yelling and if we'd just abide by the books, we'd be perfect parents. Maybe we're used to reading news accounts of other imperfect parents, and we're afraid someone is going to record the voices coming from our windows on Monday mornings when nobody wants to get out the door in time to catch the bus. Maybe we're surrounded by other parents that seem perfect, parents who never seem to raise their voices around kids.

Women's magazines are full of stories telling women to quit comparing themselves to skinny models and actresses who can afford personal chefs and trainers. Love the bodies we're in. Strive for health, not perfection. Maybe parents need to take this advice. Maybe we need to quit kicking ourselves for not being the perfect parents we imagined we'd be. Maybe we need to give ourselves points for the days we do manage to stop the fights before blood is drawn, and the times when our kids say, "You're a great mom" and quit focusing on those moments where we almost lost it. Strive for healthy families, not perfection.

And at the very least, share our transgressions with our friends, so we can support each other instead of trying to put up a false front that's bound to fall apart.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Roll the die(t)

I come from a long line of hardy Eastern Europeans. Hardy, yet poor, Eastern Europeans. My guess is that winters in my gene pool were pretty rough, what with no 24-hour grocery stores in 19th century Germany and Hungary. Consequently, my ancestors' bodies must have evolved to a point where our metabolism would slow down to nothing in order to survive the winter.

That's my story.

Of course, this means that every spring, I say things like, "How did I gain so much weight this winter?" I'm sure it's all because of my ancestors and has nothing to do with the awesome Christmas cookies I bake each year and the trip to the Disney World resort where you'd pay the same for a single serving of carrots as you would for a grilled cheese and fries. Plus, that whole hibernation thing doesn't help the waistline. And don't get me started on what happens to women's bodies after we turn 40. It ain't pretty.

Anyhow, every spring, I start to diet, and this spring is no different. On Sunday, the last day of spring break, I decided enough is enough. I'm going to make healthy choices, eat sweets in moderation and exercise daily. There will be a new me in a month, ready for the pool or at least a pair of shorts.

This is my week:

Monday: Start the day with 30 minutes on the treadmill. Eat one small piece of chocolate from the Easter stash in the morning. For lunch, enjoy a salad with just a few pieces of turkey and light raspberry vinaigrette dressing. Skip dinner, because the hubby is working late and the kids are happy with mac and cheese. Get on the scale Tuesday morning. 1.5 pounds gone! Victory! We're on our way. At this rate, I'll drop 10 pounds in a week.

Tuesday: Start the day with 20 minutes on the treadmill. You don't want to push this whole exercise thing too hard, after all. Eat a couple extra chocolates from the Easter stash, because yesterday you lost 1.5 pounds, you're doing great. Add a few croutons to the salad, and go ahead and enjoy some full fat dressing. Life is for the living. Hubby's home tonight, but make a nice pot of homemade spaghetti and meatballs, and enjoy a modest serving with a salad on the side. Get on the scale Wednesday morning. A half pound is gone. OK, we're making progress.

Wednesday: Blow off the treadmill. Treadmills are boring. You'll walk the dog later. Attack the Easter stash, because this darned diet has you starving. Load your salad with turkey, cheese and an extra handful of croutons. It's still salad, right. Besides, dinner is going to be a low-fat, chicken stir fry over rice. Make sure dinner is a smaller serving, to make up for the Easter stash attack. Apologize to the dog, but it's still cold and rainy and you won't be walking outside. Do the easy 20-minute treadmill walk. Step on the scale Thursday morning. No pounds lost. What gives?

Thursday: OK, today's going to be nice, so we'll definitely do a walk. Stay away from the Easter stash, save for one Reese's Egg. (We have to have our priorities.) Blow off the salad in favor of some yogurt and a banana. Take the dog for a nice walk. Make tonight's dinner burgers Steak 'n' Shake thin, and eat only half. Go to bed early because you're so hungry. Step on the scale Friday morning. Another pound gone. Yippee!

Friday: Wake up hungry. Eat extra chocolate, including the second last Reese's egg. Tell the dog you'll walk later. Eat a couple of the Easter Peeps. Apologize to yourself and stick to yogurt for lunch. Promise yourself that you'll eat a sensible dinner, because the weekend is coming and you know you're probably going to splurge.

Obviously, my diary stops here, because it's only Friday. But I can almost guess what happens this weekend: Eat. Eat some more. Tell yourself that walking to the soccer field is exercise. Tell your husband to hide the Easter stash. Find it again. Get on the scale. How'd those pounds find me again?

Blame the ancestors. It's in my genes.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Don't forget the lyrics

Let’s get something straight here. Helen Keller didn’t talk with her hips. She talked with her hands. Amazing lady, that Helen.
Confused? Google the lyrics for 3OH!3’s “Don’t Trust Me.” If you’re too lazy, here’s what I’m talking about. Catchy tune, but check out the lyrics:

Shush girl, shut your lips
Do the Helen Keller and talk with your hips.

There’s also several lines where he sings about not trusting a ho. Lovely.

I always figured I’d be the cool parent when it came to music. After all, I love music. I exposed my babies to a variety of music, from the classical CDs they market to parents who want their babies’ brains to grow to the Sunday school songs on tape and the old time rock ‘n’ roll I loved. When the kids began to develop their own musical tastes, I put up with Radio Disney in the car and even took to singing along with the Cheetah Girls.

But admittedly, I wasn’t hip to popular music. Popular music lost me in the ‘90s, when grunge took over. It wasn’t that I didn’t like grunge music. I couldn’t stand to look at the musicians. I’m a child of the ‘80s. Tailored clothes and two showers a day. I’d watch the music awards and shout, “Dude, comb your hair and put on some clean clothes!”

My middle school daughter’s schoolbus driver plays one of the “popular” stations on the bus, though, and my daughter is quite taken by the music. Radio Disney’s preset button in the car has been changed to the popular station, causing a nice little battle when 3OH!3’s words fill my minivan.

“Mom, it’s just music. They’re just words.”

Are they? Or are they filling my daughter’s mind with ideas, ideas that women are just objects who should shut their lips? Are those “harmless” words the reason why young girls are suggesting that maybe Rihanna was asking for a Chris Brown beating? Are words enough to solidify these notions, or is it worse when the child is growing up surrounded by other people who believe this way? What if they're hearing a different message at home, one that says girls should never have to shut their lips, and a guy who tells them to do so should be shown the door? Will that make a difference?

I’m no fan of censorship, and I realize that my parents may have been equally horrified by “Sugar Walls” if they had ever actually listened to the lyrics. I also realize that a music gap is a requisite to growing up; that most kids take comfort in being different (read: cooler) than their parents. I mean, if I were singing along with 3OH!3, would that cause my daughter to seek a new sort of music, just because she can’t abide sharing musical tastes with her old mom? Maybe I should try it. I'll sing about doing the Helen Keller and I'll leave a copy of the soundtrack from "Sound of Music" lying around, with a note that says "Don't let the kids listen to this!"

I miss the Sunday School song tapes.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Girl talk

I have a good friend whom I’ve known forever. We grew up on the same street, were “best friends” when people had exactly one best friend apiece, and have stayed friends through marriages, kids, moves, sickness and health.

Oh, but I remember the fights. Occasionally, one of us would say something to the other, or do something, or do something with another girl, or not do something with another girl, and a fight would ensue. Days would pass where we’d snub each other in the neighborhood or shoot dirty looks across the street. Those fights were agony. I can still remember the time I wrote a long note of apology, spelling out my contrition as only a 12-year-old can. I took it to my friend’s house and handed it to her. She went inside and read it while I waited miserably on her doorstep. Finally, she returned and opened the door. “Come on in,” she said.

Life was good again.

I haven’t dwelled on these fights for a long time, mostly because it’s hard to believe that we ever had these types of fights. This friend is one of my dearest friends, and the idea of fighting her seems preposterous. But it was all too real when we were 12. As my adult girlfriends know, girls go crazy as they near adolescence. They trade friends like toddlers trade a cold virus in preschool. They agonize over little comments and throw themselves sobbing onto their bed for minor transgressions. On occasion (cough cough) they’ll break a bedroom mirror because their hair doesn’t look perfect.

Boys don’t have these particular growing pains. If two boys disagree, they either hit each other or say, “Dude, shut up,” and the fight is over.

Which makes female adolescence pure hell on dads. One of my mom friends and I were commiserating at how frustrated our husbands get over what we know is normal girl behavior. She mentioned a dinner one evening where Dad made an innocent comment that caused his daughter to burst into tears. He threw up his hands and said, “What did I do to deserve this?” My friend looked at him and said, “God has blessed you with girls. Deal with it.”

I think we need to cut Dads a break, however. Even those who grew up with sisters can’t appreciate the turmoil of female adolescence. So I offer this cheat sheet of sorts to help dads survive these years and remain their girls’ No. 1 man:

1. Hormones stink. Yes, literally your little angel is going to start smelling ripe when she’s been playing outside. But the hormonal upheaval during adolescence can turn a mood from sour to happy to depressed to exhilarated within 4.2 seconds. Want proof? Think of how your wife acted when she was pregnant. Yeah, it’s that sort of hormonal upheaval.

2. Girls are nasty. The phrase “Mean Girls” was coined for a reason. Your baby girl finds this out all too quickly, when the girls who were nice in grade school suddenly seem intent on making her life a living heck in middle school. Nothing feels secure at this age, especially friendships. You may notice that “best friends” change as often as favorite outfits. Again, normal. Maddening, but normal.

3. Body image goes haywire. For the love of all that is good and holy, do NOT say anything about your daughter’s body, unless you’re telling her she looks good. Do NOT joke about a spare tire or even make a remark about putting back that cookie, unless you want to hear stomping, followed by a slamming door, followed by sobbing.

4. Ditto on “hair image.” You know those curls that were so darling on your 3-year-old’s head? She’s going to hate them. She’s going to long for pin straight hair. If your baby girl was blessed with pin straight hair, she’s going to spend a half hour each morning adding curls with a curling iron. Again, do NOT make jokes. Do NOT say, “Why don’t you just let it air dry?” You don’t understand, Dad. Nobody under the age of 18 understands.

5. Girls need their Dads. Even when they’re being ugly and mean, they need to know that there’s one man in the world who will love them unconditionally. I know this is asking a lot, especially when you’re getting the eye rolls and muttered comments when you dare to suggest that she spend a little more time on homework and less time complaining about how she never has anything to wear. Look for the moments when you click, Dad. Give her a hug. Give her some love. Because if you don’t – and this scares the heck out of Moms who’ve watched our friends go down this path – they’re going to look for that love somewhere else.

6. They do grow out of it. Sure, we women still have our temperamental moments. But eventually, most women get comfortable in their own skins, and they form friendships that they’ll keep for the rest of their lives, if they’re lucky. And if they're really lucky, they're going to realize that they have a cool Dad who hung on for the ride. Hang in there, Dads. It’s going to be a heck of a trip.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sick daze?

As a parent, I learned early that it’s not so easy to determine when a child’s sick enough to stay home from school. Sure, a high fever is a no-brainer. Ditto with vomiting. But what about the sore throat without a fever? What about the “really bad headache” or the queasy stomach that may or may not result in a rushed trip to the bathroom?

Over time, I’ve developed the motherly gut instinct that tells me when we’re dealing with a nervous gut and when we’re dealing with one about to be spilled. I’ve learned to say things like “If you stay home, you absolutely cannot play with any friends today, even if you’re feeling a lot better” and “OK, but you have to go to the doctor’s to be checked.” To be honest, though, I don’t particularly love to pay a $25 co-pay so that my doctor can say, “Yes, your child has a tummy ache.” My doctor probably doesn’t need to find time on her schedule for a minor inconvenience, either.

My mom had no such qualms. She sent us to school unless we were Really Sick. Maybe that’s why I’m a bit more lenient with my kids. I know how crummy it is to sit through class when your head feels as if it’s filled with rubber cement. I believe that a day of lying low can knock out a cold that might normally last for a week if you try to keep up with your routine. Plus, there’s the whole “don’t infect other kids” thing. I appreciate when other parents keep their kinda sick kids home, and I try to repay the favor.

That’s why our school system’s latest absentee policy has thrown me into a tizzy. If I understand it correctly, the new policy states that after seven unexcused absences, you get a sit down with the school nurse. After 12, you’re meeting with a prosecutor type. Sure, seven sounds like a generous policy. But unless you have a doctor’s note, almost every absence is unexcused. If your child is home for a couple of days with a sore throat that never progresses to strep, she’s unexcused. I don’t know about you, but I don’t typically run to the doctor when my child has a stomach flu or a sore throat with a low-grade fever. I keep her home, give her Gatorade for a day or two and send her back to school. Two more unexcused absences.

I’ll admit it. School nurses frighten me. No one seems to wield more power in the halls of education than the school nurse. Granted, I love the elementary school nurse. She knows our kids, knows which ones need to be sent home as soon as they admit something is wrong and which ones just need a hug. But the middle school nurse doesn’t know my older kid. She doesn’t know me. And she thinks the absentee policy is a great idea. After all, she says, adults don’t stay home from work for every sniffle. (Frankly, I’d appreciate it if more adults did stay home for the sniffles instead of coming in and sniffling on everyone else. But I digress.)

I understand the fine line that school officials must walk. I understand that excessive absenteeism can cut into the school’s efficiency, not to mention the government funds. But I also believe that our educational professionals are capable of discerning between a true truant and a child who’s lost the virus lottery this year. I believe that a child with five absences and slipping grades might be better served by a conference than the child with 12 absences who’s managed to keep on top of her schoolwork.

Mostly, I believe that parental involvement is key to a successful school experience. I believe schools should not undermine the parents’ authority to decide when their kids are sick and when they should go to school. Yes, if a pattern is developing or the child’s grades are slipping, by all means involve the parents. But I hope they also consider respecting the parents. My kids’ education is going to be a lot better if we’re working together, not fighting over whether a sore throat is a legitimate reason to stay home. We’re in this together.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

How to eat candy

Everyone who blogs seems to be an expert at something. They're experts on parenting. Cooking experts. Political experts. Nobody wants to read what I think about politics, and my kids will tell you I'm no parenting expert. But I do have lots of life experience when it comes to eating candy. I've taken risks, like the time I was going through a bag of Hershey's Miniatures and discovered that the wrapper had fallen off the last Krackle in the bag. I've tried new things, like the Reese's Whipped Peanut Butter Cup bar, which doesn't measure up to the original at all. (The Reese's Big Cup, however, is divine.) I've stolen enough candy from my kids' Halloween bags to have an opinion on just about any brand.

So listen to the expert. Here's how you eat candy:

* Make it calorie worthy. Let's be honest. Generic candy, the kind that the kids bring home in their Valentine's Day goodie bags, is not calorie worthy. Leave those to the kids and treat yourself to a Butterfinger.
* When eating M&Ms or jelly beans, have some fun. Line them up on your desk by color until you have an equal number of each color. Eat the excess. You then have the option of eating one color at a time, or alternating colors.
* It is rude to only eat the jelly bean flavors you like. However, it is not rude to develop a steady hand that allows you to pull mostly reds and purples out of the candy dish. Luck of the draw, and all that.
* Everyone has an odd candy taste, one shared by no one else in the household. Capitalize on that. For me, it's dark chocolate. No one here likes dark chocolate. Sometimes I buy a bag of dark chocolate, knowing it's all mine mine MINE.
* Find a good hiding place for your candy, so your husband can't find it and say, "Why have you been hiding this?" (That's really a dumb question. I've been hiding it so I don't have to hear about how candy's not going to help me lose those 10 pounds I'm always complaining about.) Framed family photos on bookshelves are a good option. My Grandma's photo helped hide my M&Ms for years, until the kids discovered my secret stash. My SIL keeps her candy in her car.
* Everyone has at least one candy that they can take or leave. Keep that candy in mind when you're on a diet. You can calm a candy craving with this so-so selection, without devouring the package.
* Don't put candy in a dish on your desk unless you want a stomachache by 10 a.m.
* Plan your life around the candy holidays, which start in late August, when the Halloween candy arrives on the shelves. There used to be a window for Thanksgiving-themed candy, but nowadays we go from Halloween to Chrismtas selections. After Christmas, you have Valentine's Day candy, then Easter candy. Then we get a candy break, where we are all wearing shorts and need to lay off candies. Take advantage of sales. Trust me, a bag of green and red M&Ms taste as good in January as they did in December, and they're often 50 percent off.
* Don't listen to people who say they never eat candy or they prefer fresh fruit to a candy bar. They're misguided.
* If you've read this far, go out and treat yourself to your favorite candy. Do it for me.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Parent games

I just came back from a long weekend at Disney World with several other families. I like to be around other families with kids. They help me realize that all 'tweens are hormonally pumped and prone to going from excited to miserable to bored to happy to morose to loving within about 2.67 seconds.

It dawned on us that we could make up a pretty good drinking game with our kids - you know, every time someone whines about bedtime you drink a shot, and every time someone tells you you're mean you take another. But we realized we'd all be falling down drunk all of the time, which isn't conducive to decent parenting.

So here's a parental drinking game with a twist - every time your kid does one of the following, you reward yourself. It's a win win situation. The kids are still rotten, but you're too pampered to care:

* Whenever your kid says "I want" or "Can I have" or "You have to buy me," eat an M&M. (Make sure you've bought the extra-large bag. You should go through it in about three days.)
* If you ask your child to do something and she replies along the lines of "just a minute" or "I'll do it later," give yourself a five-minute internet break. (These can be saved up and used together.)
* If your preteen daughter says she hates her hair, put $5 in a jar. You should have your next family vacation paid for in a month.
* Every time you find a piece of outgrown clothing that still has tags on it, donate it to charity and buy yourself something brand new. You deserve it - and you know you'll actually wear it.
* Each time an expensive item gets misplaced (Ipod, Nintendo DS, etc.), book yourself a manicure.
* Give yourself a cookie every time your child says "I need help with my homework!" If it's said in a whining tone, make sure the cookie is chocolate.
* Whenever your child complains about the dinner you prepared, plan on going out to dinner the very next night. Leave the kids at home with a mean babysitter and a box of Kraft mac and cheese.
* Count the stuffed animals. Put aside a dollar for each one you find. You and your spouse should be able to afford a luxury vacation (sans kids) by Wednesday.
* If your child proclaims that you are the meanest mom ever, book a full body massage. You've earned it.
* If you manage to go a week without yelling, run to the nearest emergency room. Something is obviously wrong with your children and they should be checked out immediately.
* If your spouse suggests that the kids would be much better behaved if he were in charge, roll your eyes. Then book yourself a weekend away at an expensive resort, so he gets a taste of time alone with the little darlings and you get a taste of time alone.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Oh say can I see?

There's a name for women like me. No, not that name. Not that one either.

I'm an emerging presbyope. (And here you thought I was a Methodist.)

Presbyopia, for those of you who aren't of a certain age, is a condition that occurs when the lens of your eye isn't as flexible as it used to be. You can't focus on things like you used to, and ironically it's the close stuff and the little print that drives you nuts.

Back when my mom was an emerging presbyope, she simply opted for bifocals. No biggie. My mom had been wearing glasses for years. What's an extra line in the lens? But I'm different. I wore glasses between the ages and 8 and 16, and I don't care to explore that world again. The world isn't kind to an 8-year-old in dork frames.

My vanity forced me to save my babysitting dollars when I was 16 years old to buy my first pair of contact lenses, and there's been no looking back, at least no looking back through rose colored glasses or wire rimmed frames. I don't do glasses. I look like a dork in glasses, even the dork frames that are supposed to be cool. I absolutely cannot abide the idea of glasses.

My optometrist is a patient guy, and he's all about exploring the options. He sent me home with bifocal contacts that drove me absolutely bat poop crazy. He suggested monovision, where one eye is corrected for distance and the other for close work, letting the brain figure out which eye to use when. Amazingly, this worked for about a year. But time marches on, over my face and eyeballs, and the words on the page aren't as clear as they used to be.

The optometrist suggests going back to glasses. My eyes aren't that bad anyhow - I can read just fine without contacts. He says I can wear glasses to drive and in my daily errands, and just take them off to read. He even suggests (gasp) going with bifocals, because "it's time."

I decided to take another route. I bought a $2.99 pair of readers to help me with the little type. Amazingly, they work wonderfully. But nobody told me how reading glasses come with little invisible legs, because they're never where I want them to be.

I suppose I'm going to have to cave and get glasses. I can't walk around squinting or deal with headaches much longer. Thankfully, today's frame options have come a long way since I was an eyeglass wearer, back in the early '80s when frames were huge and often included a little sticker in the corner. (Yes, a sticker. Mine was a flower.)

My friends and I like to sit around talking about how different our middle-aged selves are from our parents. We're so much more active than we remember our parents being. In our minds, at least, we're much cooler as well. But our bodies haven't gotten the memo. Sometimes in order to see clearly, you have to adjust your expectations.

Besides, all this squinting can cause wrinkles. Maybe glasses aren't such a bad idea after all.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

What the cell?

I caught a segment of CNN this morning promising to tell me how to save money on my phone bill. As someone who likes to spend, um, save money, I listened intently. The tip: Get rid of your land line and use your cell phone only at home.

I must be AT&T's dream come true, because I am going to cling to my land line until the lines shrivel up and turn to dust under the ground. Why do I want to keep a land line? Let me count the ways:

1. Cell phones sound horrible. A typical conversation includes breaks and statics. This is a minor annoyance when you're calling home to ask if you need to pick up toothpaste while you're at Target. But I'm a writer. I'm trying to get a complete quote out of someone who's voice keeps going in and out, depending on whether he's driving under a tree.

2. Speaking of, the whole talking while driving thing drives me nuts. (No pun intended.) My husband has graciously pointed out that I'm not the greatest driver anyhow, so he suggests I stay off the cell phone while driving. Point taken. But, what happens when I'm driving and the phone rings? I look and see my kid's school on the caller ID, so I assume she's been hurt and is en route to the emergency room. I almost crash my car trying to grab the phone, only to hear a recorded message reminding me of tomorrow's PTO meeting.

3. Cell phones have cut into our right to be left alone some time. Back in the Stone Ages, people had a healthy respect for a home phone number. You rarely received a call from work after hours, unless it was an emergency. Nowadays, my husband gets phone calls at 3 a.m. from people who are having a work crisis. I say that 20 years ago, that crisis wouldn't have been a crisis because nobody had cell phones and nobody would dream of calling someone at home at 3 a.m. They just waited five hours and THE WORLD DID NOT END.

4. Sometimes I need to be unreachable. I know, I know, I have the right to not answer the cell phone when I'm out and about. But a ringing phone causes a Pavlovian response, where I panic unless I find out who's calling me and why. For instance, suppose I'm killing time at Target, which qualifies as therapy for most mothers. The phoen rings, and it's someone from "home," so I assume someone had an accident and is en route to the hospital. I answer the phone, only to find out that my daughter needs me to come home right away because she needs a ride to Shelby's house and Dad's busy mowing the yard. Even if I tell her she's going to have to wait, the conversation has added just enough guilt to my Target trip to limit its therapeutic potential.

I understand that the younger generation doesn't have such hangups, and I begrudgingly acknowledge that someday I'll be calling my adult children on their cell phones. I'll have to endure staticky conversations if I want to talk to them. I get it. But I'm not giving in, not yet. Even if I didn't have the reasons I listed above, I have one reason I will cling to for years: My 11-year-old informed me that boys don't want to call her on the landline, because they feel funny about the risk of talking to one of her parents who might answer the phone first.

Yeah, I'll be paying for that land line for a while.