Sunday, December 31, 2006

What do you call African Americans when they live in Great Britain?

This question, from my oldest son, reveals a lot about why he loses sleep. And gives you some insight about how many steps ahead we are expected to be.

I'm not opposed to researching, reading, learning and informing myself to keep myself on the ball when they ask these questions. We love finding out answers to all kinds of mysteries. But I admit that my husband and I have become, when necessary, experts at the dodge and bull. Some diversionary tactics, in case you need them:

"I think that would be an excellent question for _____." (Where the blank is basically any other adult person of influence -- teacher, pastor, grandparent, etc.)

"We don't really understand how that happened. It's a mystery."

"That's a very good question. Let's look up the answer." This of course wouldn't apply to the title question, nor many others. But it does work for such inquiries as whether or not a species is carnivorous.

And of course, these are only the generics. You have to be poised and ready to concoct just about any framework for any given question, pulled out of the labyrinth of possibilities in their minds.

Try pitting your child against the popular electronic game 20 Questions. (I'm sure, if you have a kid who can read, you own one, or one of their friends does.) They routinely beat the game, often on finely split hairs that are in fact nuggets of truth they have databased somewhere from some Discovery Channel special or non-fiction library book. The computer chip doesn't have a prayer.

Given these odds, what chance do I have of providing a correct answer to the majority of what they ask me? Probably my best weapon is creativity. From the time I learned to mime a phone call to the kitchen to keep my toddler occupied ("Hi, this is Kia LaBracke -- we ordered grilled cheeses a little while ago but they haven't arrived... oh, I don't remember, wait, let me ask him -- Did you want fries or chips with that?"), I can digress far enough off the point to keep everyone happy. So even if I don't have the right answer, the tangent is always a fun ride.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Secret

My friend Jenny often talks about a friend of hers who is, to put it mildly, an intuitive person. This friend reads reads Akashic records. So she's the closest thing to clairvoyant that I know of. I've never consulted this person but always have it in the back of my mind when I'm having difficulty sorting something out that her number is a good one to have in my back pocket.

Recently while speaking to this friend, Jenny noticed (because she also is an intuitive person) that her friend sounded different. When she asked her about it, her friend replied, "I am different. It's all because of this movie that I watched called 'The Secret.'"

Fast forward many Google searches and $150 later, and Jenny owns three copies of the DVD. After watching it and telling me -- without telling me, so as not to ruin it -- I buy one off of her and decide to give it to my husband for Christmas.

This was a thinly veiled plot to force him to watch it with me. I knew he'd be skeptical. Plus he manages direct salespeople -- so motivational speakers (and speaking) are his daily fare. So I knew it would be a stretch to get him to do this on his downtime.

Bottom line, my friends? Anyone who is over 40 should really be tuned into a lot of what is being said. The production is cheesy and even absurd at times.

But the message is outstanding. The conversations have been endless. And I find myself revisiting a lot of situations by reframing them with The Secret. So check it out, and let me know what you think. If you live nearby, I'm happy to loan you my copy.

I, too, am trying not to betray the full meaning of the movie for the uninitiated. But it can be summed up in one of the participant's quotes (and I'm paraphrasing):

"Mother Theresa would never attend an anti-war demonstration. But she would attend a pro-peace demonstration."

It's worth the watch.

PS: You need to get the Esther Hicks version. Or so says the clairvoyant...

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Number 29

A local woman's shelter co-hosted a program where their clients and other families in the area could come on a specific day to a large parochial school. Parents and caregivers could go into the gym and choose gifts for their kids, meantime kids could come into the gift shop and choose a gift vice versa. My friend Christy and I were on the team of helping the kids choose for their adult caregivers.

I learned early in the game that my own kids couldn't come and help because of confidentiality issues. It didn't hit me though until I was helping my first customer, number 29, that this experience really was a bitter combination of joy and resentment for the older of the kids being shepherded through.

As for number 29, she made no eye contact with me as we walked down the hallway to the gift shop. I pointed out some of the options she had for gifts for her grandma, and she skitted past one to the next, eyeing the clock, checking her cell phone, disengaging from the process. Finally she settled on a gift set of perfumes and body lotions that were packaged into a gift basket, and seemed genuinely happy with that selection for her grandma.

The process was to go something like this: Pick up the kids (though she hardly seemed like a kid, a fact not lost on either one of us), take them through the shop, pick the gift(s), then guide them to the wrapping/snack/Santa post, where their caregivers were to pick them up again. Hence the reason for the number assignment -- crowd control and a means to match kids with the adults who brought them.

I probably escorted ten families' worth of kids through the process. There was a four year old boy who clutched my hand for dear life but let me know he liked superheroes. (Check! My son does too.) An incredibly verbal and intelligent girl who made sure that her mom's gift basket, towels and wrapping were all color-coordinated. A younger girl who asked that I stay by her side until all gifts were wrapped and her mom had come to get her.

As for number 29, I failed miserably with her. It reminded me of the description in Betty Smith's "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," where Francie describes her mother's loathing of charity. To the point that Francie lies about her first name being "Mary" so that her name is eligible to win a coveted porceleain doll. About the shame she feels as she walks up to receive it in front of other children who know the truth. And ultimately she discovers, with glee and horror, that her real name is Mary Frances. So she deserves -- or does she?

My customer was there for a purpose, but she didn't like it. And when I tried to lead her into the wrapping room, she demurred -- "I have my own wrapping paper." I told her that her grandma would be picking her up there, and she insisted "That's not how we did it last time. I don't want to go in that room. I'm 15." I could see her point. So instead I led her back to the registration room, where, sure enough, her grandma was waiting for her. And let them go on their way.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Only Show in Town

I live in a very small town. Very. Small. Okay, not rural, exactly. As modern evaluations go, there's a Starbucks (let me repeat, we go here; I'm just using it as a nationwide basis for comparison), a Target within 15 minutes, and as rumor has it, even IKEA is coming. Between the city limits (15K people) and the outerlying school district area, we number around 35K.

That actually is quite a few people. Hardly rural. But you'd be surprised just how small we are.

Take my friend Kevin, who thought he lost his keys last week. Yesterday he was telling me that no fewer than 10 of his clients came in saying, "So, I heard you lost your keys... did you find them?" Without talking to anyone at the gym, or each other. How did they know he was looking?

Or my friend Karen, who went to high school here and literally knows everyone and how they're connected, maiden names, addresses, and life outcomes. (This is, to me, a full time job and migraine-inducing. I can't even remember which cars my own friends drive, much less a matrix of that depth.)

Someone recently said to me, "Who would you even date around here if you were single?" That got me thinking, Carrie Bradshaw-style, of a couple of my friends who are exactly in that situation -- divorced with kids and living in the same small town as their exes. If they did decide to date, who in the heck would be available? The pharmacist with a lisp and a bad haircut? The guy who always seems to be behind you at the bagel shop? Your fellow room-mom's ex?

For men, and there are a handful of divorced or never-married successful guys I can think of here, I guess being the only show in town, for lack of a better term, could be fun. On the other hand, knowing that everyone knows you're the only show in town has to be somewhat emasculating. Then again, I still think they have it easier than my female friends, who mostly go outside a 30 mile radius to seek out dates or even male friends. I think they've figured out that anonymity is bliss.

Silent Night

It's really no wonder why I have an obsession with kids' pajamas. I almost never skimp on pajamas. I never buy them used. Using a gift card before my first son was born, I purchased a delicious pair of Petit Bateau mille raies navy blue striped jammies that went through both of my sons and are still delectable.

"Jammy up, it's almost time for bed!" is one of my favorite phrases of the day. Not just because it means it's nearly time for some quiet time of my own -- though let's face it, that's a beautiful thing. But because more often than not, they're clean, they are winding down from their day, and most of all they look and feel simply scrumptious.

Not just my littlest, who of course has the cutest pj's because, well, she's a she. Put on the most recent ones and she's quick to point out the "tookie" (gingerbread girl) on the torso.

My six year old, who gets a lot of hand me down pj's, shares my love of loungewear but for the past few months has nixed any tops. So he has lots of great pants that he wears, apparently oblivious to the chill I feel just looking at him. (The fact that he's 45 lbs with snow gear on just adds to my feeling that he just *should* be cold!)

Then there's the oldest, for whom, I'm sad to say, the tight-fitting jammies of old just seem, well, nearly pornographic at this point. Or is it that he has so little sense of fashion and comfort that he has been known to try to stuff his junk in boxers underneath long-underwear styled bottoms? So we've switched most pair to the looser "lounge pants" with long sleeved t-shirts, or more classic styled flannels. Trouble is that most of the time they don't match. So we wind up with some bizarre combination of colors, patterns and fabrics. He could care less.

Even so, I can't resist a request when one of those delicious dishes sidles up to me with their jammies on (or, half on as the case may be).

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

About as Funny as it Gets

These days, I am old enough to be in bed when Saturday Night Live is on. But last Saturday I made an exception because I heard that Justin Timberlake was going to be both the host and musical guest.

I've never "gotten" the big deal with JT. He's just not that good looking to me, I never listen to popular music, so I'm just out of his sphere. So I thought it would be a great opportunity to get why he's the bomb.

The show -- and I only watched 30 minutes of it -- stunk. Even the Bee Gees Talk Show, a bit he's done before, was just not that funny. But this was worth the extra half hour's sleep I lost...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Blog = Extended Christmas Letter

So I made the mistake of sending my husband the link to this page.

I should back up. For the uninitiated, computers are to my husband what jumper cables are to me. Necessary, but basically used only when absolutely necessary. Preferably by someone else while I watch.

As you may have ascertained, I do most of my living (communicating, bill paying, information gathering) via the Internet.

It should really have come as no suprise that his comment was, "Why do you do this? And by the way, do you realize, since you wrote a post about Christmas letters being self-congratulatory, that a blog is basically one big long Christmas letter?"

He has a point... but I'm still up for pointless navel-gazing as a form of recreation any day!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Got It!

I found out yesterday that I have been offered the J-O-B !!! Woo-hoo!!! I'm actually so incredibly relieved to be past the wondering stage and into the logistics...

I find out soon what the process will be, likely beginning with a day's training in Illinois.

Thanks to everyone who has offered their support during this quite momentous time for me.

Monday, December 11, 2006

All About Christmas Baking Recipes

Because I'm all about sharing, here are some that I routinely make each year... tasty and easy once you get the hang of them!

Cream Cheese Walnut Cookies -- from Martha Stewart
Makes 4 dozen cookies

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 pound butter, softened
6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups walnuts, toasted and chopped
1 cup walnuts, finely chopped

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Whisk together flour and salt in a large bowl; set aside.

Put butter and cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Mix in sugar and vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Add the flour mixture, and mix until just combined. Mix in toasted walnuts.

Transfer dough to a clean work surface. Divide in half; shape each piece into an 8 1/2-inch long log, about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap each log in parchment paper and freeze until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350F, with racks in upper and lower thirds. Remove one log from freezer. Roll in 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, coating completely. Cut log into 1/4-inch thick rounds. Transfer rounds to parchment-lined sheets.

Bake, switching positions of sheets and rotating halfway through, until cookies are golden around the edges, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer to wire racks; let cool completely. Repeat process with remaining dough using cooled baking sheets.

Mrs. Repetti’s Cupcakes
Makes 3 to 4 dozen

1 8 oz package cream cheese
1 tsp baking soda
1 egg
½ tsp salt
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 cup oil
1 12 oz pckg miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tsp vanilla
1 ½ cups flour
1 cup sugar
¼ cup cocoa

Combine softened cream cheese, egg, sugar, and salt; mix well. Blend in chocolate chips, set aside. Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa, soda and salt. Stir in water, oil and vanilla. Line mini-cupcake pans with paper liners. Fill each cup 1/3 full with cocoa mixture; top with 1 teaspoon cream cheese mixture. Bake at 350F for 20 minutes.

Peanut Clusters

1 lb. white almond bark
1 c. chunky peanut butter
12 oz. pkg. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 lb. spanish peanuts

Melt almond bark and chocolate chips over double boiler. Remove from heat.
Add peanut butter and spanish peanuts. Drop by teaspoonsful onto waxed paper. Store in the refrigerator.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Snow Days

We loved this site last year -- and now it's linked to being able to donate to a wonderful cause -- the Salvation Army.

Warning -- it can be addictive for all ages.

PS: Search on "Oconomowoc" to see our creations...
Hosiery and Cosmetics Required -- Part Time

On Friday I had my second interview for a job. I think I wrote that correctly: J-O-B. Paid, part-time, accountable to someone else's calendar. It's too much to stand the thought that it's been nearly ten years (okay, nine and a half) since I last was on someone's payroll. Lots of consulting and marketing assignments, three children, and countless volunteer hours later, here I am offered what seems, on paper, to be an ideal fit for me to supplement our family income to help offset tuition costs for two (soon three) in private school.

The offer to apply came through my volunteer contacts at Emergency Medical Services for Children. The J-O-B is Executive Director of a state chapter of a national professional organization championing children's health. It completely falls within a lot of the things I already do on a volunteer basis. "Executive Director" sounds cool; it's really a lot of administrative stuff and managing a volunteer organization comprised of caring pediatricians. The hope would be that I'm fabulous enough on and off the clock to secure additional funding to lead into more full-time (maybe with staff), ideally as my youngest is heading into school.

This couldn't have been scripted better for me. And yet I am so ambivalent about jumping the track from happily retired stay-at-home (or never-at-home) mom to having to be accountable to some whole new organization's schedule. Then again, my volunteer work for GFWC tends in the hundreds of hours per year direction anyway.

At least with this, my travel would be paid for... and my hours too. Stay tuned!
Runway Withdrawal

I am a somewhat rabid fan of the Bravo show "Project Runway." And it's been way too long since the finale where Jeffery "I'm so BAD" Sebelia walked off with the $100K to boost his Cosa Nostra clothing line.

Now, there are reports that Tim Gunn may not be returning for the fourth installment of PR. Say it ain't so! Tim is the reason to tune in. As my friend Christy often says, "Tim for President!" As the Tim-inspired T-shirt, designed by winner Jeffery says, "Sex, Drugs and Tim Gunn."

Even if you haven't watched the show, TG's podcasts are worth every second of downloading time (note to my friend Debbi who somehow lives without a high speed Internet connection in West Virginia, who tells me the link from my YouTube post took her over an hour to access)

I sincerely hope that the producers do more than try to work around TG's schedule. He. Is. What. Makes. It. Work.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Funny something-somethings

My mom's sister sent her this birthday card -- and I'm still laughing about it.

Actually, just the front makes me laugh.

The inside -- from those witty Hallmark folks, says:

"I think the ruffle really makes a difference, don't you?"

Enjoy the Fresh Ink -- my favorite line!

Another cool link I stumbled onto this weekend involves a YouTube video, which, for once, I actually got to enjoy. (I have a faulty sound card / Windows conflict that only allows me to iTune or video about as often as Halley's Comet comes to town.)

I think it's brilliant to take a family classic (especially from the House of Disney) and turn it into something horrific.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Photo

We used to send out Christmas letters with our holiday cards and pictures. I thought it was good, if for nothing else, to take stock of the year (since I am terrible about journaling, much less putting "baby" or other memory books together for my kids). At least I could pinpoint which year my son was Aladar for Halloween and which year we went on which trip... so that someday I could put those pictures in the right order.

Years ago my husband put the kibosh on the letters. I resisted at first, citing the reasons above, but I could sort of see his point about them tending to be mostly self-congratulatory and a fictional confection of what really goes on. So I agreed to stop sending them, even to distant relatives. It was also one less thing on my December "To Do List..."

We switched gears to photo cards. As I've noted before, it's become patently clear to me as a parent that all anyone really cares about is how your kids are growing, especially if they don't see them very often. In theory, this is a great idea. I love receiving photos of my friends' kids (and my friends, for that matter). (Then again, I also like receiving Christmas letters, but I digress...)

This all sounds good on paper. The problem is getting The Photo. As I've chronicled before, I'm no photographer. I try, and two of my three kids are good sports, but 99 times out of 100 the shots are miserable. Nothing I'd choose to print copies of.

If you go the professional route, then my life becomes a whirl of preparation for The Photo Shoot. A photographer who took the first precious pictures of my first son once told me all the tips for getting the most out of your family photo. It involves a lot of planning, all the more so as our numbers have grown to five human beings to coordinate (but not match), do hair for, and care and feed so that they are in relatively human moods during The Photo Shoot.

With a nine year old whose main occupation seems to be eye rolling, a six year old who showed up in superhero mode, and a-nearly-two-year-old who, well, was acting her age and clearly wanted no part of the entire business... the family photo basically didn't happen. Even our laid back photographer,
Miranda, admitted later, "Well, we didn't get the rock star shot of all five of you."

Fortunately we did get some great ones of the kids, and even one where John is (miraculously invisible to the camera) holding our squirmy daughter in between her brothers in a tree. Given what we were working with -- that's The Photo for 2006.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Parental Guidance Suggested

My oldest child is a "tween." (Sidebar: He doesn't resemble any of the kids after that jump.)

I hate the word tween, but unfortunately it pretty well describes him. I've seen him struggle being the (way) oldest child sitting patiently at the Children's Sermon at church. Being the oldest volunteer in the group, when the youngest are not even school-aged. His siblings are six and nearly 2. He's the one expected to smooth the rough edges, grab a diaper, and generally be agreeable. We are just starting to see the first pre-pubescent signs of surly, moody behavior and attitude.

That said, as the first child, the world still revolves around him, his schedule, needs and wants. I have to supress a snort and eye roll when he complains about having to attend one 45 minute swim lesson for his younger brother; I wouldn't want to tally the number of minutes his younger siblings have tallied at football, soccer, swimming, piano, etc.

When he was a baby (our first baby), the world revolved around whether or not he got a good nap in his own bed. If my younger two could speak out on the issue, they'd reveal that both have been stripped out of sound sleep to pick the eldest up from school. As my (now-relocated) pediatrician, mother of four, used to say when I brought this up -- "My younger ones know that if they want a nap, it's in the car."

He is a smart, almost prescient kid, and I try to have open dialogue with him when I sense that the earth is moving under our comfortable relationship. Recently I've noticed that our movie choices are increasingly troublesome. Until now, it's been pretty much okay and accepted to say, "That's unacceptable for you." "PG movies have to be screened first by the parents." "There is no way I want you watching that." (Okay, that last one is more a bubble above my head in the comic strip of our daily lives.)

But as I examine the content and complexity of some of his reading material from school, the concepts that he grasps and discusses with me more or less in an adult manner, and the fact that he can usually beat me in chess in four or fewer moves -- I need to ask myself, "Is it really me who can't let go of his babyhood?"

I do relish telling him that yes, he did really watch "Teletubbies" over and over. (We own one VHS version. He watched it hundreds of times.) On the other hand, would it really be the end of the world if I let him watch "Star Wars" or "ET?"

I suppose it's hard for me to forget my excited (misguided) first attempt at taking him to the real movie theatre, to see "The Tigger Movie." Gone were the benign, happy go lucky characters we'd seen in the videos. This morbid telling of Tigger's search for "real" family left my then-3-year-old in tears. And not just for noise or overwhelming visual stimulation. He only cried at the sad parts. And it was more of a wail than a whimper.

So I stand, with my reviews at hand. Ready to say no. (I wish I'd used Screenit for "Monster House," an abomination by my standards.) And yet... he's 9. He gets things that I can no longer ignore. He's not a child anymore. So I need to let some things go, and let him absorb some "inappropriate" here and there.

After all, didn't my mom let me read Mad Magazine when I was not too much older than him?

What was she thinking?

Friday, November 17, 2006

On Being Both

While never in the conundrum the depth of say Sean Combs (Puff Daddy, P. Diddy, Diddy -- whatever), I have always been both. A given name (Kiersten) and a nickname (Kia). {And, to reveal my age if not my maturity level, I came first. Not the car.}

In the final analysis, Kia and Kiersten are one in the same, if the latter used only on official forms and documents and as the occasional party conversation starter. In fact, though I was named for my mother's college roomate from Sweden (who also was born Kiersten but always called Kia), and it is a fairly unusual name, I do run into the occasional Kia from time to time. Or see them in credits. The most ironic crossing was when my brother's art teacher learned my name, and was stunned. My blonde, blue eyed self didn't quite match up to his notion of "Kia" -- his daughter, for whom they had concocted what they thought was an African sounding name!

Now that I've gone through the excruciating process of naming three children, I do wonder why we as parents plan for the name on the birth certificate and the name the child will actually go through life answering to.

In truth, I've never been anything but "Kia," since I was always called Kia from birth. Only twice have I switched gears.

The first was when I was in Kindergarten, and came home sobbing and asking my mom why she'd burdened me with such a weird, ugly name. "Why," (I'm imagining a dramatic face here) "couldn't you have named me something pretty -- like Candy?" I did indeed have a girl named Candy E. in my class, an adorable, long, curly brown haired Latina -- apparently my vision of beauty and class. From that moment on, after what I'm sure was a detailed account from my mother of how my true, glamorous name was Kiersten, I insisted on being called that from that point forward. Which, with the attention span of a five year old, lasted approximately ten days.

The last time I attempted to throw Kiersten around was when I'd stupidly put my given name on my resume, only to have my first employer address me by a name I'd never used. (Except on paper.) With the patience of a 22 year old, it lasted about... ten days.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The O's versus the C's, a/k/a The Walgreen's Parking Lot

You just never know when your past is going to come back to haunt you. Or make you wet your pants from laughing too hard. It all depends on whether you're an O or a C. (Not to be confused with "The O.C." -- and no, I don't watch it!)

I realize more and more that people are generally divisible into roughly the following two types:

Wear their hearts on their sleeves (Type O)
Prefer the comfort of secrets (Type C)
Enjoy belly laughs at their own expense (Type O)
Would rather boil in their own blood than suffer that embarassment (Type C)
... Where O stands for Open/Out and C stand for Closed/Contained

Suffice to say, the fact that this blog even exists should give you a clue that I'm more O than C. (Although, to date, to my knowledge only four people have ever seen it, so this is hardly about the need for exposure.)

Recently I had an email exchange with my friend, who is also the husband of another friend. (This matters later, stay with me.) Almost as an aside, he made a reference to something having to do with me and the Walgreen's parking lot. Huh? I had to get to the bottom of it.

Let's rewind a few years, back when my Thursday nights consisted of (A) putting the kids down, (B) holding either a board or committee meeting then (C) dovetailing into an ER night with girlfriends. Apparently, during one of the (B) to (C) crossovers, his wife stayed on after the meeting and met the ER contingent of friends, including my friend Karen.

Karen and I always laugh (and apparently talk) about when we first got to know each other, we would always ride together to whatever event or goings-on was happening (we met through Newcomers), and then spend an inordinate amount of time gabbing in the parking lot at Walgreen's (read: our park'n'ride). Instead of the evening lasting say until 10:00pm, it inevitably would go on and on as we started one topic, tangented onto another, and another, and another.

One night I had turned off the engine to my car, because we were clearly not finished with whatever topic was at hand. It was a cold midwest evening and eventually the windows were completely fogged up. Then the security lights in the parking lot -- now activated because it was past midnight, I'm guessing -- were going on and off in the parking lot whenever one of us would make a gesture. This made us laugh even harder. So went the (really not that interesting) tale.

Back to the ER night when two factions of friends collided. Apparently Karen talked about our lengthy conversations in the Walgreen's parking lot. In fact, several other friends chimed in with similar stories.

The takeaway was that I had had "interesting escapades" (my words, not hers) with girlfriends in the Walgreen's parking lot. Or rather, that was what he heard.

So all these years later, an innocuous comment became a punchline about some wild streak I didn't even know I had.

Maybe it's time to reign in myself a bit and at least pretend to care how things might appear. Then again, my "O" personality has really done nothing but serve to provide me (and apparently others) lots of laughs over the years. Why quit now, when I can most use the humor?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Red Red Wine

I was poking around the options on my new phone yesterday and came across this song as a potential ring. (Incidentally, searching for a ring is not nearly as compelling as online gaming. But I digress.)

It reminded me of the last time I used this song to describe a crazy event in my life...

The time: Fall 1985
The place: Paris, France
The reason: Junior Year Abroad with Ripon College

I'd determined in high school that I wanted to go to Paris. To drink in all that the city had to offer. I wasn't disappointed.

Signing on with AYA meant traveling with one fellow classmate, Kathy, and a bunch of strangers. One of them was a petite, bottled-magenta, funky dresser by the name of Jessica. She was funny, as brash as her hair color, and generally fun to be around.

Once we got to France, I saw quite a bit of Jessica and enjoyed her company. When the family I was staying with announced they were going "en vacance," I pounced on the opportunity to have a party at their appartement. Kathy and Jessica were eager co-conspirators.

Fast forward to the actual event. Being a midwestern college beer-drinker, I was not yet a red wine kind of gal. But that was the libation of choice that evening. I have a feeling all of us were treating the good, cheap French wine with the flagrant disrespect Americans are known for. (How many stories did I hear from the French about how no one is ever drunk?) There was music playing, great food, fun people (all American, none of whom had yet to learn the art of holding their liquor), and lots and lots of empty bottles.

As my friend Kelly would say, we all had a good shine on. It wasn't until several bottles deep that I began to perceive a change in one of my guests. The usually perky and positive Jessica had taken on a sad, Modigliani-esque mime quality. Her lips were an angry smear and her crocheted beret sat askew. When I asked her what was wrong, she stormed out of the apartment.

Lesson learned. We switched to a different red.
Why, Ryan, why?

Reese and Ryan (Witherspoon and Phillipe, the latter pronounced "Fee-Lee-Pay" for some unknown reason by our local DJ) splitting up makes me sad. Maybe because, in another life, I'd have her life. Maybe it's because her daughter shares a name with mine. Maybe it's because -- oh, I know, who cares, right? They're a young hollywood couple who didn't make it. A dime a dozen.

I guess I always admired their admitting to getting couples' therapy. That she confessed to having cellulite (though I personally never have seen any, despite frequent stops at celeb sites). Their working out schedules so one of them is home with the kids.

On some odd level, I identified with this couple. I also married young (24) and though I didn't have kids right away, since I did have children I've often re-thought that decision. As a 40 year old with a bad knee and shoulder, I have to wonder -- is it better to just plunge right in young and stupid? Would I have been more inclined to jump, skip and run? To eschew television and encourage Tae Kwon Do classes? Would the day to day fatigue of raising children have been less of a stress on my marriage?

It's curious to me, since a lot of people respond to Reese and Ryan's news by saing "They married young." Not all young marrieds wind up separated or divorced, G-d knows. My in-laws married very young, in fact my MIL had my husband before she was 30 (right around the age we had our first child). My own parents, married 41 years, were under 25 when they married. Nor do all "older" marrieds/parents suffer more stress.

That said, not all young-ly marrieds live in the white-hot heat of the Hollywood spotlight. Nor do they hold jobs that require them to work on location (read: away from home and responsibilities) with attractive members of the opposite sex. Isn't the point of history not to repeat it? Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Todd. Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise. Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

May the details of their divorce remain private and amicable. May their children live through it outside our nosy glares.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Also known as: Why you need a professional photographer.

(Follow the link. Heather is my BFF and an amazing photographer. So if you live near Franklin, TN -- you're in!)

Part of the reason I just can't seem to plunge into the scrapbooking craze is that my pictures are generally pretty crappy. So why embellish crap?

Anyway, a photo I recently took of my kids pretty much sums up the problem. (Email me if you want it -- I'll be happy to send it your way if I know you!) I have two boys and a girl. Don't get me started about what a hoopla that causes in casual conversation -- "Aren't you so relieved you finally have a GIRL?!?!?" and other completely ridiculous comments. (Which usually subside when they meet said girl, who is pretty much out there on the tomboy scale and counts a stiff-arm "get away from me" as an early achievement.)

Suffice to say, girl or not, people want to see how the baby of the family is growing. My daughter is just under two years old. Last Christmas she was an itty bitty thing. So people want to see what she looks like now. Let's face it, this is one of the only times in life (boy or girl) that people are gracious and generous. Babies, toddlers and even preschoolers, as long as they don't have too much contact with anyone, are pretty much the center of the "oooh and aahh" world.

This photo would simply not "do," in polite terms, for those people looking for this type of affirmation. Yet my daughter insisted (maybe on purpose) to rebel against this pose, while her brothers were cooperating. She refused to take her brother's skeleton mask off.

Bully for her.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

It's 9:17pm -- do you know where your kids' homework is?

My husband is out of town, and usually it falls to him (because he can't stand last-minute anything) to sort out who has read his book-in-a-bag, whether the snacks are packed, if math facts have been reviewed, etc. (Though I do reign as the official permission slip signer and check writer.)

Thankfully, and after several iterations with my sons' teachers, I have established that I need order and rules. You've heard about those "boundaries" that kids need? Well, so do I, as the person who's ultimately in charge of math and reading logs, writer's workshop, spelling lists, and whatever other things are tossed my way.

I have learned, as the mother of three, that my life becomes infinitely easier when Monday is Show and Tell day -- across the board and for all kids. Egyptian Day is so much more exciting when both sons are looking forward to the festivities. This is why I cannot fathom juggling more than one school calendar, with differing teacher in-service days, vacation / break days, and whatever else comes along. I have a hard enough time managing one school's calendar, frankly.

Lest you believe that I am one of those "reliving my education" parents, I am not. I should frame for you my sons' school -- private, micro-tiny, and wonderful. Lots of first children and onlies. Lots of very involved parents -- that's a great thing.

But I have noticed that, for some parents, when their child receives an assignment from school, it becomes a Holy Grail of sorts for them. It's not a flashy competition. And yet our teachers have felt compelled to add an instruction to the presentation criteria that specifies that all work should look like it came from a (fill in the grade)'er. A kindergartner with computer-generated text and artwork? Hmmm...

I don't remember much about my own homework days, except that a lot of it, toward middle and high school especially, was done late at night and often with the television on. Being involved in extracurriculars like ballet and gymnastics pretty much put the kibosh on me doing much else than homework, eating and sleeping. I also remember, given my after school schedule, doing a lot of this homework late into the night -- but that was at an age well advanced of where my kids are.

My eldest will openly worry if we have too much going on at any given time, depending upon his own homework load. He's right. And in 4th grade. Throw in a presentation into any given week's flurry of activity, and it gets pretty complicated.

One one hand, I'm grateful my kids are being expected and taught at a very early age (preK) to speak in public.** (See quote below.) On the other hand, especially at the younger ages, it adds a whole level of strain for the parent to determine (A) how much of the work should be "guided" or "aided" by the parent; (B) how much time they should spend on it; (C) do you encourage, or discourage (again, the number of young children in your household necessarily will tilt this inclination!) "extra credit" type of projects such as faux Ramesses II temples and Greater Bilby clay sculptures.

Ultimately, I believe that my kids are getting their own education, with as little prompting from me as possible. And I find that the less I push, the more they retain.

** "According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy." -- Anonymous

Friday, October 06, 2006

Hey Sister, Go Sister

Hey Sister, Go Sister...

Many moons ago, my husband announced that he would be gone every Thursday night for work commitments in Chicago. My solution? Hold weekly Thursday night "ER" viwings at my house. Mind you, that was when I still watched and loved it. Then a few years ago, the incessant gore and arbitrary violence shooed all of us away.

But before that happened, after one particular episode-cum-party at my house, the evening ended with a rousing rendition of "Lady Marmalade" from "Moulin Rouge." (And as a sidebar, my best wishes to Nicole and Keith...)

The images of all of us singing our lungs out into a kiddie microphone have lingered on and on. (Fortunately my kids are sound sleepers!)

Since then, my friend Jenny and I have been trying to figure out how to turn our "soul sista" million dollar ideas into millions of dollars in the bank. Tentatively called "Soy Sister Productions," many of these ideas come from morning coffees (soy latte for me, soy chai extra hot for her). And the tagline is: "Cheaper than Therapy!" (Or, how I justify the latte factor into my househould budget.)

The bottom line is that we're both on the verge of having all three kids in school, are paying private tuition -- our choice -- and wanting to find a groovy working scenario.

Jenny's criteria, in no particular order:
(1) Uniforms
(2) Walk to work
(3) Walk dog to work
(4) Work with friend(s)

My criteria:
(1) Use marketing experience
(2) No office-y BS
(3) Comfy, close workspace
(4) Minimum of intrusion onto my other job (eg.: Mom)

I wish I could share our idea bank so far. But I don't know if I can trust you with that information... it could be our first million in the bank.