Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Guilt in a red and white envelope

Usually I love seeing the red and white envelopes in my mailbox. Movies! From Netflix!

The other day I eagerly tore into the latest haul. (Since I queue up movies, several at a time, weeks in advance, I am sometimes surprised at what arrives.) First opened: The Nanny Diaries. Cool. I’d read the book and wanted to see the movie even though it didn’t get stellar reviews. Then I opened: Ghost Rider. Eh, okay. I think the boys wanted to see it. Last to get ripped open: Billy Blanks’ Ultimate Bootcamp. Ugh! I had forgotten!

My husband, in a surge of New Year resolution guilt energy, dusted off the treadmill and opened it up in our room. And actually used it. Three times. In the past four weeks. Although I doubt we’d qualify as contestants on The Biggest Loser/Couples, we both could stand some flabbage control.

Seeing that he was making an effort to exercise, I decided to revert back to the only routine I’d ever stuck to and gotten results from: Tae Bo. I had exercised with Billy back in the pre-DVD era and, I have to admit, I’d never been in better shape. Surely I could do this again. I guess it would help to take the DVD out of the envelope and put it in the player.

I have a couple of motivators that should spur me into action. First of all, I lied to my OB/GYN last year when she asked if I exercised. (Surely she could tell I was not a gym-rat!) Now that my annual appointment is fast approaching, I’m afraid this year she won’t buy it when I step on the scale. And I know a family history of osteoporosis should sufficiently scare me into weight-training, but so far it hasn’t. I just take vitamins and hope that’s helping. I’m sure it’s not enough.

And then there’s my girls’ weekend in early March. I’d love to lose a few pounds before then. Not that my friends care that I still carry over ten pounds of baby weight, but I’m sure we’ll do some shopping. Wouldn’t it be fun to buy a cute summer dress that actually had a waistline?

When my husband decided to unleash the treadmill and board it, I offered to take a “before” picture of him so he could document his progress. He was in his underwear at the time. “Are you nuts?” he asked. “You want me to take one of you?”

Now where would he get such a crazy idea?

Monday, January 28, 2008

This Ship has Sailed

We’ve just completed another milestone in life at our house: A high school musical. Jacob, a sophomore, auditioned in October for his school’s production of Titanic. Unlike the movie version which centered around a love story, the musical focused on the struggles aboard the ship—for power at the helm, for distinction between the classes and for accepting one’s fate in life.

Instead of waxing on and on ad nauseum about the time and dedication that it took to put on this production, I will let a few photos speak for themselves. But, I will say that a cast of 57 actors/singers spent nearly four months rehearsing and went through over 200 costumes to present a fantastic show that nearly sold out all four performances. I had to keep reminding myself that they were just kids up there, acting, singing and dancing like old pros.

Jacob played three parts: Officer Pitman (who kept a clipboard handy for checking off passengers and produce), the Major (a first-class passenger with a tendency to tell old war stories), and a third-class passenger. He sang, he danced, he made his family proud. We talked about this being his first foray into acting, but he reminded me that he had a lead role in third grade playing Santa for the Christmas play—and his pants fell down. This was certainly a step up!

If you are curious about the story, you can learn everything about the fateful voyage here. And just a small piece of trivia, there is one lone survivor still living. Millvina Dean was just nine weeks old when the ship sank.

For the musical, those who died were depicted in all white during the final scene, as you can see in the photo of the curtain call. Well done, kids!

Friday, January 25, 2008

More Than a Book Club

It’s been said that you never really know how much you need something until you know longer have it. What’s true about essentials such as eyesight or dependable transportation can also be said about a certain book club I started several years ago.

Just over two years ago I moved and had to say a tearful farewell to a group of women that I’ve grown to love and admire over the years.

Together we read thousands of pages—everything from lighthearted fiction to meatier tomes of history and saga. Books that were required reading from high school (that we never really read) were picked up again and discussed with the wisdom of years behind us. Surprisingly, we discovered a fondness for historical fiction and had several selections that found us divided in opinion and favor.

Not only did we meet to discuss books, but did we eat! My recipe box is stuffed with notes and recipes of wonderful dishes and desserts that will forever remind me of my friends and their warm kitchens.

But besides a love of reading and socializing, we created friendships that forever changed us. Through the years we saw each other through moves and miscarriages, the births of babies and the deaths of family members. The tragic stillbirth of Sonya’s baby, Tessa, touched us all. Sonya’s quiet courage and faith spoke volumes and taught us all as mothers to treasure our children’s lives every day.

Each member of book club brought her own personality and opinions to each meeting. Besides being mothers, each had a background that helped us all learn and grow. There was Cinnamon, a college biology professor. She was the one we could count on to explain the science behind anything we discussed. Trisha, an attorney, would set us straight about the legalities of a topic. School teachers Elyse and Jennifer and Lisa would give professional opinions about education issues that arose. But not only did all these women provide professional insight, at the heart of our group was a blend of personalities that kept each gathering an occasion to cherish.

After attending my last book club meeting, I received an email from a member, Millie, who wrote to me about what attending our group has meant to her. In part it read: “This group played a big part in helping me fit in here. It was very hard giving up my job and everything else I had in Toronto to come somewhere where we knew nobody, all for my husband's work. He got right into work and met people and was doing something people respected him for, the kids went to school and made friends, and I stayed home unpacking and trying to put the house together even though I was 8 1/2 months pregnant. Needless to say, I didn't get out much except to do the grocery shopping and take everyone where they had to go. So when book club came up and I met all of you, I knew I had found something just for me and that I DESERVED IT!!!”

Don’t we all deserve to find some place where we are accepted for who we are? A place where our opinions matter and our lives are enriched? As I unpacked boxes in my new home and placed my books on the shelves of my office, each book that I read and discussed with my friends holds a special place in my heart. I know I am a better person for having been a part of such a wonderful, diverse group of women. I hope they feel the same.

(Terri, Traci, Trisha, Jennifer, me and Sonya holding my daughter on a girls' weekend to Nashville--several years ago)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

I love you 85

My daughter told me the other day that she loved me 85. I guess that’s a lot when you are just four years old. Next she told her brother that she loved him eight. He was a little offended at the obvious gap in her affection level. Then she said she loved the dog seven, and her brother grew even more offended. I told him to look on the bright side. She could have given the dog a love rating of nine. But since the dog doesn’t even like her unless she’s tossing food his way, I thought seven was really generous and understood her brother’s feeling insulted.

On Saturday my mom came for a two-week visit, and so we chose elated as the word of the week. (Last week's word was symmetrical.) It was pretty clear that my daughter was elated that her grandmother was coming to play. And who wouldn’t be? I told my mother, “No playing dollhouse, no talking fairies in the bathtub, and no lying with her until she falls asleep.” It’s just too hard when she leaves to keep up with her level of attentiveness. She didn’t listen to me, and I don’t blame her. It’s hard to tell your granddaughter “no” when she’s so obviously your biggest fan.

So they’ve played dollhouse and talked fairies and they both fell asleep, side-by-side in my daughter’s small twin bed. What I’ve yet to hear is a number assigned to how much my daughter loves her grandmother. I’m sure it will be my turn to feel jealous.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Resume

My sister sent me an email this morning telling me that a friend of hers, who had taken a new job, might be in a position to hire a writer. She told me to forward my resume to Rosie. Resume? Hmmm….

Here goes:

Graduated from Ball State University in 1985 with a degree in Marketing, emphasis: Retail

Worked the next seven years in three different states performing five different jobs. Those jobs included: retail management, renting cars, newspaper advertising, mall marketing, and recreation marketing. No, I do not have ADD. It just took me awhile to “find myself.”

In 1992, shortly after the birth of my first child, I gave birth to a regional parenting magazine, Decatur Child. Two years later, shortly after the birth of my second child, I expanded the magazine’s distribution and changed the name to The Valley Family. Five years after its inception, I turned the magazine over to two capable readers and moved to Texas.

A year later we were off to Illinois. There I answered an ad in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a freelance writer, knowing I didn’t have a chance of getting the gig. But I did and happily wrote for them for the next two years. Then when the budget got cut, I picked up some volunteer writing work for our church which led to a stint working for The Illinois Baptist as a writer/editor.

Then, off to Texas again. Once here, I decided to try my hand at writing a novel. I wrote a couple pages and then fear took hold and I didn’t touch it for a year. Finally I wrote page three, then page four and the next thing I knew, I had lots and lots of pages. I spent the next year learning about the publishing industry, joining writers’ groups, attending a conference, and querying agents.

About six months ago, I decided to look into the local freelance writing market and found a few magazines willing to publish my work. Now I struggle with finding a balance of writing for others and writing for myself. Right now, others are winning. I have another book started, writing every other chapter with my critique partner, who is patiently waiting on me to write the next chapter. I also have two other novel ideas in early notes-only form, waiting on me to get motivated to start them.

Adding to this already full plate are my other responsibilities which include feeding, transporting, and caring for three children and a husband. Life is good. It’s good to be busy.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Where Have All the Manners Gone?

Across the table from me, she carefully peels the crusts from her bread, squishes the piece into the palm of her hand, places her other hand on top of it, rolling it into a ball. Her masterpiece complete, she opens her mouth and drops it in, chewing passionately. Her companion on her right, jabs her fork into her whole chicken strip, picks it up and begins to nibble on the strip while twirling the fork in a circular motion. Suddenly, I’ve lost my appetite.

No, I’m not seated with a group of toddlers. I’m a cabin leader at camp, in charge of a group of fifth-grade girls. All week long I’ve reminded them to put napkins in laps and chew with closed mouths. Now they mockingly hold up their pinkies, when they remember to use their utensils, as a way of showing me I’m much too particular about how they eat.

But am I really asking too much? Just where have all the manners gone? I have a few theories.

We are a nation of fast-food consumers. And how do we eat most fast food? With our hands! You won’t find too many children or adults using silverware to eat a burger or a slice of pizza. So when faced with a knife, spoon and fork, is it any wonder kids are confused as to their purposes? Can’t I just pick it up with my hands, roll it into a ball if necessary, and eat it that way?

Another theory is the time we don’t spend eating together as a family. I spent two years interviewing high school seniors as part of an assignment I had for a newspaper. I asked the same set of questions to each student. One question was, What is your favorite time with your family? And while some mentioned a memorable vacation or outing, the vast majority responded: dinnertime. If it isn’t a priority in your home, maybe it should be. What better way for your kids to learn table manners than from your example!

We lead as hectic a schedule as most, but we eat most dinners at home, at the table, without the television to distract us. My boys have learned how to properly set a table and how to pass food to others. We don’t get up once we are seated until we’ve been excused. And while this might mean we eat at odd hours of the evening—or night—it’s a priority for us, no matter what time we eat or what’s on the menu. I can confidently send my children out to a restaurant or over to a friend’s house for dinner and know they will not embarrass themselves.

I also know that as a parent, my plate is pretty full. Not my dinner plate but my things-I-have-to-do plate. And some might argue that they have enough to worry about in this business of child rearing without having to teach an etiquette course in their home. But I say to that, the earlier you teach, the less damage control you’ll have to do later.

At another reporting assignment, I covered a group of students who were preparing to enter the job market. Their school had set up a lunch at a local hotel and hired an etiquette coach to critique their manners. Many companies today will take a candidate to lunch or dinner as part of their interview process. They are not just being hospitable; they want to make sure their future employee will represent their company well.

So the bigger picture might show you: Teach your kids their table manners, or they might not land a job and one day move out on their own. If that’s not motivation for teaching manners, I don’t know what is!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Nothing more American than an Idol

The long-awaited (at least in our house) debut of season seven of American Idol did not disappoint last night. Having quickly tired of no new episodes of my favorite shows (except for my fav—Friday Night Lights), I had been forced to seek creative refuge in a stack of books. It was time for some good ol’ veggin’ in front of the boob tube. And I must say, I loved it “from my head to my nipples.” (If you didn’t tune in, you won’t get that line! Thank you, Uka, aka Sexy Face.)

I’m not sure where some of these people come from, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to live there. Tonight, I have to admit that I do indeed live close to those who are featured. They are showing the Dallas auditions tonight.

There were some pretty talented singers and a whole lot of weirdoes. Chris Watson, a chiseled-cheek crooner, said he wanted to become a legend—sell more of his music after he dies than when he is alive. Huh? He must not understand the concept of royalties. I’d like to sell a lot of novels and then die. Can’t spend money in heaven. Anyway, he made it through and was a decent singer, but I’ve got ten bucks that says he forgets the lyrics once he makes it to Hollywood. Just a hunch.

And then there was glitter girl Alexis. I felt sorry for her at first. She lives in a tiny one-bedroom apartment with her mother, sleeps on a small sofa and goes to school fulltime. But when she wasn’t put through, she didn’t turn the other cheek. She turned on her other personality and became a raging looney bird. Scary. Even more scary than Paula’s stalker, who said if she was a bathtub he’d caulk her, if he were Columbo he’d Peter Faulk her, etc. I thought he was a hoot. Simon thought he was creepy.

So I’ll be tuning in tonight to see what Big D has to offer in terms of talent and weirdoes. It might not be great, but it is always entertaining.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Princess and the P-Word

It was bound to happen one day. With two brothers in the house and her sharing a bathroom with one, it was only a matter of time before my daughter experienced her first penis-sighting.

The suspect was her brother, and he had the unfortunate timing of exiting his shower as his little sister came into the bathroom to brush her teeth. “Oh!” she said, pointing. “What’s that?” He hurriedly pulled the towel down from his head to his midsection and then said, “Well, that’s my penis.” End of story? Riiiight…

Months earlier she had caught him half-nekked and asked about his chest and he told her those were his nipples. I guess she figured, on boys, they were called something different.

So the next time she happened upon her brother, she had a request: “Can I see your nipples and your zucchini?” (I told him he should be flattered—and keep covered up.)

It reminded me of the good old days when my children were innocent and the public school system and cable television shows hadn’t filled their ears with words we didn’t use in our house.

I remember our oldest telling me on the drive home from second grade that someone had said the S-word and gotten in trouble. My mind raced but wisely, I played dumb. “The S-word?” I asked innocently. “Yes,” he said. “You know.” And more quietly he said, “Stupid?” Ahhh. That S-word.

Weeks later he relayed that someone slipped and said the SH-word. Again I played dumb and he offered, “You know. Shut-up?”

Oh, if only those were still considered bad words now that the boys are teenagers. In a fit of frustration the other day, I slipped and said the real SH-word and my son was mortified. “Mom!” he said. “Stop!” I wasn’t sure if he thought I was overreacting to the situation or was appalled that his mother had a potty-mouth. I do try to control myself as much as possible. Sometimes it just slips out.

And then this weekend I referred to a basketball coach from the opposing team as an ass (He really was!) and my son didn’t reprimand me this time. He did give me a funny look because I said it as we were exiting the gym, and the coach was just a few steps in front of me. Seriously though, I’m sure he’s been called that before. Unfortunately, I have to admit, he and I are a little alike. We could both be better examples. I’ll work on it. I wonder if he will….

Friday, January 11, 2008

How much is that lawsuit in the window?

I read in the news the other day that the claims against the government regarding Katrina now total $3,014,170,389,176,410. (I refrained from adding 99 cents, just to make it not seem quite so big.)

One plaintiff is filing his/her own three quadrillion dollar claim, apparently adhering to the strategy, aim high and leave room to negotiate. I didn’t even realize there was a number quadrillion, thinking it was like gabillion—a number my kids throw out there to quantify how many chores they have to do, or how much homework their teachers assigned.

One I-have-too-much-time-on-my-hands guy stated that a stack of quadrillion pennies would reach from Earth to Saturn. And that would impress me if I could only remember how far away Saturn is. But I’m sure it’s far, far away. Lots of pennies. (I kinda doubt the settlements would be doled out in pennies, but if they were, that would probably make everyone rethink their lawsuits.)

What I’d like to know is, what is he/she going to do with all that money? And more importantly, where’s it going to come from? It’s not like our government even has that much. Imagine what it would do to our national debt? Or the GNP? Or FEMA, or the NBA, or the DMV? Wouldn’t we all suffer if all the money in the whole entire USA ended up going to one person (less the percent his/her lawyer demanded)?

I just don’t think this is a good way to go about seeking retribution for having your life irrevocably changed by an act of God. Speaking of Him, I’m sure if this one plaintiff wins an amount anywhere close to what he/she is seeking, the assessment, “He has more money than God” would certainly apply here.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Funny is as funny does

A few months ago I submitted a cold query to a parenting magazine. I found the editor’s email address online, wrote a letter and attached a short article. Weeks and weeks passed and no word. Then one day, a response. She loved the writing, but they were looking for humor columns for their closing page of the magazine. Did I have anything else to submit?

I told my husband about it and his response was, “Do you know how to write something funny?” After I stomped on his instep and punched his shoulder, he refocused. “I mean, I think you’re funny, but will others?”

Well, I sat back at the computer and pulled up my word documents’ list. Sometimes when inspiration strikes, I’ll write up a little something and file it away. Lurking there was an article I’d written on commuting with kids, but the word count was wrong and I loved every word and couldn’t bear to cut it in half. So, I dug back into my blog and decided the one about my haircut might work. I sent it off and lo and behold, she thought it was funny and bought it.

Another time, my son read through some of my blog entries and came out to the kitchen. “So are you trying to sound smart when you write your blog?” he asked, scratching his head. Was there a compliment lurking there? I wondered. “Why, do you think I sound smart or am I using big words or something?”

“No, not really. Well, kinda,” was his response. “No, I’m not trying,” I told him. “It just comes out that way. Naturally. Because I am smart,” I said to the back of his head as he rummaged through the pantry in search of food.

Apparently around here, humor and intelligence is in the ear of the beholder. Or something like that. I don’t try to be funny. Or smart. But I’ll bet if you ask my mom…

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

So many books, so little nightstand space...

Recently my friend, Wila, invited me to sign up at Goodreads as a way to keep track of what books I’ve read, list books I need to read, and compare notes and book reviews with friends. I’ve gone back a couple of times, when I get a spare moment, to add to the list of books I’ve read and enjoyed. It’s fun to see what others are reading.

And my friend, Sonya, told me about Bookswim, doing for readers what Netflix did for movie viewers. You can sign up for a monthly fee and get books shipped to you and postage is free. Memberships start at $15 a month. Something to think about if I can ever get through my to-be-read stack that seems to grow.

Right now I need/want to read two books that I’ve been meaning to read for at least a year now: The Dive from Clausen’s Pier and The Memory Keeper’s Daughter.

This led me to think of a fun list to create. Below is a list of fictional titles I’m sure I won’t be reading this year:

How NOT to Raise a Daughter
by Lynne Spears and Dina Lohan

Of Course I DID IT
by OJ Simpson

Why I Date Hot Blondes: Because I can!
by Tony Romo

How to Get Dallas to Hate You
by Jessica Simpson

Scientology: How Hollywood Does Religion
by Billy Graham (you know he wants to write this)

How to Wed and Un-Wed a Guy in Ten Days
by Pamela Anderson

Deceiving Oprah
by Jessica Seinfeld and James Frey

Adoption for Dummies
by Angelina Jolie (with a foreword by Madonna)

Pet Adoption for Dummies
by Ellen DeGeneres

Dog Training for Major Idiots
by Michael Vick

Nude Photography for Dummies
By Vanessa Hudgens

The Humanitarian Heiress (a fantasy book)
by Paris Hilton

My American Dream: Work a little—make a lot
by David Beckham

Everything you ever wanted to know about rehab but were too enibri
innebre drunk to ask
by Lindsay Lohan

What are you reading this year? Or what won’t you be reading?

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Christmas Letter

I know I've already posted on my Christmas Card woes for this year. But the annual letter did get written and the cards were mailed just a few days before Christmas. If you didn't receive one, it doesn't mean we didn't think of you, I just keep a really tight list--as I'm sure most everyone does. For those who sent us greetings, we love hearing from you. Just don't wait a whole year to stop in and say, Hey! Have a great New Year!

Here's our letter:

The Kids' Bios

Amelia Marie aka Mia

Spend days: playing dress-up; helping my mom; and talking about my former life in South Africa where I was 7, lived in a pink house, had 12 older brothers and sisters, 3 baby brothers and 3 baby sisters, and was Criss Angel’s girlfriend.

Career Goals: Last month—ballerina, last week—cowgirl, this week—road builder

Recent Accomplishments: starting to learn to read and spell, coloring in the lines, twirling without falling, styling my hair

I’d like to improve myself by: not being so bossy—not really, but Mom thinks I should

Favorite Catch Phrases: Fo-shizzle and You forgot to say please!

Benjamin aka Ben

Spend days: playing 8th-grade basketball and select soccer, wrestling the dog and watching ESPN

Career Goal: play soccer at Texas A&M or Auburn.

Biggest obstacle to goal: Texas A&M and Auburn don’t currently have men’s soccer teams.

Recent Accomplishments: straight A’s so far this year and making the basketball team

I’d like to improve myself by: growing taller

Favorite Catch Phrase: Get off me—I can’t breathe!!!

Jacob aka Moose

Spend days: playing guitar and bass in church band, wakeboarding on Lake Grapevine, and learning to drive

Career Goal: go to college as a music major

Biggest obstacle to goal: passing pre-AP chemistry

Recent Accomplishments: landing a role in Titanic—my high school’s musical

I’d like to improve myself by: being a better singer and solving Rubik’s Cube without online help

Favorite Catch Phrase: Do we have anything to eat around here?