Tuesday, December 23, 2014

10 Gift Wrapping Lessons From a Horrible Christmas Gift Wrapper

Tonight I'm celebrating (because I'm done) that one part of the holiday season that is inescapable...the gift wrapping. Tonight was the night to drag out that big, black trash bag full of gifts that was taking up space in my closet, gather up the wrapping paper and get to it. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a terrible wrapper, but I did realize a few things tonight:

  1. Cheap wrapping paper is cheap for a reason. Simply put, it is crap. Regardless of your wrapping expertise, it will inevitably tear. Be sure to grab the paper that is a bit more expensive; better quality is worth it.
  2. Gift wrap is recyclable. Did you know that? I did not, but now they stamp all over the inside along with those handy cut guides, "recycle this gift wrap". Understood.
  3. The handy dotted lines for cutting are not so handy if you have cheap paper. See #1. It still tears so don't be cheap with your paper like I was.
  4. Who needs to wrap when you have gift bags! My choice for large, awkward-to-wrap gifts. Just be sure you have tissue paper to match.
  5. My dog is a very generous giver. When in doubt, the gift comes from Laddie.
  6. Awkwardly shaped items are very difficult to wrap, especially when nice boxes are at a minimum in your house and finding one requires boots, a coat, and gloves to dig through the recycling bin. Opt for that gift bag!
  7. It is much easier to give a fluffy goat or a cute piglet in someones name via Internet and a charity instead of wrapping. Obviously I would not be wrapping up that pig.
  8. No bows or ribbons please. I am already "wrapping challenged"
    and ribbons will just make it worse. I'm wondering why I even bought all those yards of ribbon I have stashed away over the years.
  9. Another year of wrapping experience does not make me better. I am the kind of person who is a distinctively bad wrapper. Everyone can identify a present wrapped by me because the quality is that of a 4-year old. I will happily pay someone to wrap for me while go out and grab a coffee.
  10. A glass of wine or a latte from Caribou (depending on the time of day) makes the wrapping process much more fun. Not resulting in a more beautifully wrapped gift, but better for me.
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and beautifully wrapped presents beneath your tree!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Radical Christmas Giving

For the first time since 1978 I tuned into Saturday Night Live (SNL) a few weeks ago to catch my brother's favorite performing artist Prince. Before Prince's historic, 8-minute musical interlude on SNL, comedian Chris Rock delivered a monologue that has made me rethink traditional American Christmas giving. In a witty way, he questioned why there is so much consumerism around Christmas—the holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. Jesus was the least consumer-driven person ever!

So true.

To make this long and familiar story short, in Christian belief, Christmas is about celebrating God's gift to humanity, his only son Jesus Christ. Angels illuminated the sky singing praises, the shepherds brought their flocks, and the three wise men gave gifts to the Christ child. The beginning of the tradition of giving gifts to celebrate the birth of Christ at Christmas.You probably know the rest of the story. Jesus eventually died on the cross to give everlasting life to those who believe in Christ. The ultimate gift.

Gift giving and the whole shopping experience seems part of the American culture. It is probably safe to say that more people shopped over the Thanksgiving Day weekend than voted in the 2014 midterm elections. I guess that shows where Americans' priorities lie.

The New York Times notes that 133.7 million Americans shopped over the Thanksgiving Day weekend, spending $50.9 billion. Billions! Ever wonder how much good could be done with $50 billion? Improving water, feeding the hungry, providing necessary clothing and shelter for the homeless. $50 billion spent on humanity may only make a dent, but a better dent than feeding our consumerism. New flat screen TV for Dad, luxurious Coach handbag for Mom, or a gift to strangers in a developing country?

Not a tough choice. We want to spend on ourselves, our families, and our friends. That's great, but think of giving in a new way. Buy fewer gifts for your loved ones who already have all they could ever need.

Mull over giving a gift to someone who really needs it. And I'm not talking about tossing a quarter into the Salvation Army red kettle. Donate money to your favorite cause, give scholarship money to your Alma Mater to help a student in need, or consider doing more. Remove your blinders, ponder the true meaning of Christmas, and give a gift to someone who needs food more than a new phone. Here are some radical ways that my family has given back:

Compassion International: Sponsor a child. Ours is Mathias in Tanzania for $38 each month.  http://www.compassion.com/

Feed My Starving Children: Package food for those starving in Haiti and African nations. There is probably an opportunity near you. http://www.fmsc.org/

Doctors Without Borders: The one organization that is successfully fighting the battle against Ebola.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Tale of the Black Dress Pants

Photo of Jack by Jack,
wearer of the black dress pants
Life caught up with me this week. Last weekend's flurry of a basketball tournament, a wedding, a couple of orchestral concerts topped with a fresh layer of a persistent Saturday snowfall meant that a few things that should have happened over the weekend did not. You know how that goes. A busy family, a job, commuting in the snow during a road construction season that has extend rather late into November...sometimes things fall through the cracks.

The choir concert fell into the gap.

Perhaps you've been there too. Look at the calendar the day before and realize your son needs a few things for his concert:

  • White shirt, check
  • Bow tie, amazingly check
  • Black pants, somewhere yet to be located
  • Black shoes, brown boat shoes will have to suffice, check

At first glance I thought I was covered. The black pants hanging in my son Jack's closet belonged to his brother Patrick when he was in the 6th grade. A few hours before the concert I pulled them out and checked the label. Black pants in size 16. I forgot that Patrick was a bit taller back in the sixth grade than size 12 Jack.


Send the husband out to the garage not once, but twice to dig through the bins of old Patrick clothes for smaller black pants. None. Frantically dig through Patrick's closet only to find a couple pairs of much larger (now outgrown) black dress pants. Tear Jack's closet apart all to no avail. No black pants for Jack except for his black sweats.

In the meantime, my husband is calling around to some local stores in search of black dress pants. None available. Not surprising given it is band and choir concert season and all of the Moms who actually plan ahead have already cleaned out Kohls and Target of all black size 12 boys dress pants.

Call one neighbor. No one answers. Jack's black sweatpants are looking better and better.

Call another neighbor who kindly and very quickly digs through a couple of closets to unearth not one, but two pairs of black dress pants in Jack's size. All within minutes. I'm impressed...what a Mom! I'm saved. Thank you to my friend and neighbor Tammy who has already helped me out of more than one dilemma before tonight's frantic black pants search.

We actually made it on time to the concert; Jack looked amazing while he sang from the front row of his choir. Lesson learned for me: plan ahead. You can probably find me at Kohls tomorrow, hunting down a couple of sizes of black dress pants for upcoming choir concerts for Jack.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Vote for Change

Change...wasn't that someone's Presidential campaign slogan? Maybe it is time for another round of change. Some yawn at the prospect of Tuesday's midterm elections, but I see it as an opportunity for change.

I could go for some positive change. I think that America could use some solid leadership and the midterm elections give all Americans a chance to vote for fresh leaders.

Why the push for change? I'm actually concerned about ISIS taking over Syria and Iraq and creeping up on the borders of other countries like Hitler in Europe in the late 1930s. I think someone other than a political operative should lead the US government's charge against Ebola. It bothers me that women and children are continually taken from their villages in Nigeria by Boko Haram. I want America to bring the Russians to justice over shooting down that Malaysian Airlines passenger plane over the Ukraine. Remember that?

I do not understand why America is watching from the sidelines and not out playing the game.

I would like a US Senator who actually stands for something and takes on a leadership role. I want a vibrant and energetic Governor who actually cares about solving Minnesota's  problems, not a Governor who increases my taxes and shuffles away, mumbling incoherently about funding the new Vikings football stadium.

I am tired of the status quo and America's dwindling leadership on the world stage. Although I am just one person, I will vote for a change on Tuesday.
Will you?

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween!

Where are all of the trick or treaters tonight? Either my neighborhood has started to show its age with fewer little kids or else ghouls and their parents aren't nearly as hearty as they used to be. It's just barely below freezing at 31°, the blustery winds of yesterday are gone, and it is not even snowing! Toughen up!

This is the first year of not bundling up a child, or three, in their costume and layers for warmth for hours of Halloween fun. No trick or treaters in the house this year...everyone deems themselves as "too old." Unless they happen to burst into costume while at school. At least I did not resort to putting the dog in a costume.

Anna a Mess

But maybe they are smart. It is much easier to raid the candy bowl at the front door than brave a chilly night going door-to-door. Happy Halloween evening!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Technology Time Suck

Have you ever switched from your old computer to a new one? Swapped Internet providers? Hit the button to update your iPhone and now your GMail accounts aren't recognized? Logged onto your bank account to pay a bill only to discover that your bank account has been "compromised?"

If you answer yes to any of these questions welcome to the huge waster of time that I like to refer to as the Technology Time Suck. Technology is supposed to make our lives easier by saving time, which it does most of the time. Until something goes wrong.

Here that sucking noise? That's your time getting sucked into a black hole of trying to fix, update, and understand your technology by yourself. It's always tempting to draw others into your black hole to "help" you figure out your technology void.

Time disappears when you enter your technology time suck. Glance at the clock and suddenly two hours have passed and nothing was accomplished other than confusing yourself even more than when you started. You keep trying for another hour all to no avail. As your computer becomes even more messed up, your vow not to call the Geek Squad is quickly being forgotten.

If you're like me, you've never had resort to the Geek Squad but stubbornly figure it out on your own or with the help of your tween computer whiz. I may have even stumped my brilliant computer boy with my latest technology trial. The technology time suck will begin again once I attempt to figure out how to synch Gmail with my outdated phone and new Internet provider.

I may have to become a Luddite and shun all technology to preserve my own sanity.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Ryan Adams Navigates the Death Star

You know it's going to be an interesting evening when you end up sitting on a bar stool next to a DJ from a major Twin Cities radio station and across from a concert promoter for First Avenue. [For those of you not from Minnesota, First Avenue is "the" place to see concerts in the Twin Cities and the bar where Prince shot scenes from "Purple Rain" back in the day.] Listening in on their conversation at a local bar filled with aging-hipsters (and chic Moms) just steps from the University of Minnesota, I realized that I need to see more live music. Between them these two had seen every major show that had come through the Twin Cities in the last two weeks. How do I get a job like that?

Turns out the DJ and concert gal were also headed over to see the Ryan Adams concert. Ryan Adams certainly isn't in U2  or Adele concert realm of superstardom, but he has a storied concert past with his Minneapolis shows. I was curious to see what he would do on stage, and I have recently come to really enjoy his music.
Photo courtesy of Jon Bream

The flow of Adams concerts (at least here in Minneapolis) tend to run on his own time. History repeated itself. It was a Monday night,  and a full house of folks who had to get up for work in the morning—those same aging hipsters and chic Moms from the bar. The clock crept up on 10 pm. Finally 45 minutes after the opening act, Ryan Adams made it on stage apologizing, "Sorry we got lost trying to find the stage. It's like the *@!*ing  Death Star back there!" At last launching into his latest single "Gimme Something Good."

An hour and 45 minutes of music from his new album—appropriately titled "Ryan Adams" in the same font as the 1987 "Brian Adams" album— along with a couple of covers from his days with The Cardinals, a cover of Brian Adams' "Run to You," and some classics. "I See Monsters" was exceptional. He has an amazing voice when he sings. However there was lots of banter about Twitter, apps, guitar tuning, ginger ale, his hair misbehaving, and aging. Adams is at the ripe old age of 40.

A concert-going first for me...no one stood up and danced. Not even those fans in the front row. Maybe we were all tired from a long day and just happy to have Ryan Adams transport us somewhere else for a little while.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Not Clinton-Bush Part II

Please not again! Today's morning political chatter is buzzing about a Jeb Bush vs. Hilary Clinton run in the 2016 Presidential elections. For starters it is way too early to even speculate. But what else do these political speculators have to do with their time other than (you guessed it) speculate.

Haven't the American voters had enough of Bushes and a Clinton in the White House? I don't quite understand the appeal of a repeat. American voters do have a future to look ahead to, so why must we constantly revisit the past with Clinton and Bush. Neither candidate gives me the warm fuzzies or makes me feel secure.

Both parties, especially the Republicans, must put up a fresh candidate who actually has some quality and substantial ideas that will lead America out of the dark hole we seem to have entered. Looking backward to Hilary and Jeb will not lead us forward. Stop the inner party bickering and the cross-party bomb throwing. Time to stop leading from behind and looking to our past for Presidential candidates. Give the American voters an actual strong leader for a change. Someone who actually stands firm and has a vision.

And no, I honestly have no idea who that candidate might be on either side of the aisle. I'm just hoping we don't have another Bush-Clinton duel.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sights (and Smells) of a Weekend in Seattle

The Gum Wall
Ever taken a long weekend excursion to a place you have always been a bit curious to explore? I had that opportunity and finally visited Seattle over the weekend. Here are a few things I learned about Seattle while on a girls weekend escape trip:
  • Seattle isn't rainy in September. At least not this September on this particular weekend. The early morning clouds always gave way to a clear blue sky and warm, sunny afternoons. Gorgeous! 
  • Yes there is a monorail in Seattle that is operational and it goes directly from the flagship Nordstroms store over to the Space Needle. Interestingly a film crew was shooting some sort of movie with actors dressed in 40s style clothing complete with era hats and lunchboxes. Despite our efforts, the monorail driver was sworn to secrecy and share any details.
  • You can go up onto the top of the Space Needle for free if you have a dinner reservation at the touristy revolving Space Needle restaurant. Of course we did this! The food was fabulous, and the view was all the way to Canada.
  • The scent of Seattle is a mixture of coffee, fish, the sewer, and lavender combined with the ever-present smell of pot wafting in the air. 
  • Ferries everywhere! Cruise ships, boats to Victoria Island in British Columbia, sailboats, kayaks. We took a ferry to Bainbridge Island for an afternoon lunch and some shopping. The view from the deck was worth the $8 ticket.
  • Drivers are very mellow. Despite traffic jams, no one was honking their horn or being obnoxious. No traffic accidents or sirens. Maybe all of the legal marijuana and pot smoke in the air is making drivers very relaxed.
  • Where did all of the hills come from? For some reason I thought Seattle was flat. Wrong.
Not just a kilt, but a Utilikilt
Fish Market
Will I return? Yes! We didn't make it to a sushi restaurant or on a hike near Mt. Rainier and only hit the shoe department at Nordstroms once. So much more of Seattle left to experience.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Life Songs

While driving into work on a Tuesday morning and thinking about a particularly busy day ahead, a song came onto the radio. John Lennon's Imagine. The dreamlike melody took me far away out of my car stuck in traffic and placed me somewhere much more peaceful. Music does that. And Imagine is one of those songs that takes me to another place. Imagine isn't a particular favorite, but this song has stuck with me as long as I can remember.

Bob Dylan's Blown' In the Wind. Roy Orbison's In Dreams. Gypsy by Fleetwood Mac. The Byrds' Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season). And Johnny Cash singing Ring of Fire. I could not tell you when I first heard any of these songs; they just seem always a part of my life from childhood on. Maybe they stem back to my parent's collection of vinyl LPs neatly arranged alongside the record player.

Always there. Randomly playing on the radio or in the background at the market. Always unexpected. Always taking me back to a much simpler time in life. Maybe you have a collection of life songs floating around you as well.

Imagine and my other life songs help put the craziness and chaotic mess of this world aside and help me realize what matters the most. Family, friends, love, and being with those you love.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Why You Should Care About ISIS

I am certainly not a foreign policy analyst, but even I can see that the Obama administration's policy of leading from behind is not working. Although no one wants more war, this week's air strikes proved effective in stopping the advancing wave of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) insurgents. And pointed toward an ugly retaliation with the beheading of American journalist James Foley. 

I will leave the Middle East strategy and solutions to the experts like my friend Dan whose article in today's Wall Street Journal offers real, but difficult, solutions to ISIS. 

ISIS is here for the near future, and you should care. Here's why:

  • ISIS is far more ruthless and extreme than Al Qaeda with an increasing risk of splinter groups worldwide
  • Initiating a genocide of the minority Yazidi group
  • 1.2 million (MILLION) people displaced by fighting in Iraq in 2014
  • Mass public killings, including crucifixions, of those deemed not extreme enough to join them
  • Selling women and children into slavery with reports of nearly 1500 Yazidi and Christians sold into sexual slavery
  • Women found naked, bound, and repeatedly raped near the Mosel dam
  • ISIS is a major player in the deaths of thousands of Syrian civilians and have initiated a massive humanitarian crisis in Syria and Iraq
  • Perhaps a dozen Americans being held hostage by ISIS being used as pawns

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Wow! Mom Was a Cheerleader

'Tis the season for Senior portraits. You've seen them popping up on your Friend's pages on Facebook. Those smiling happy faces of our babies all grown up and ready to take on the world. My daughter Anna had her portraits taken this week and the whole Senior picture experience has changed since 1986, but some things do remain the same.

Gone are the days of taking your three outfits to the local photography studio for an hour of indoor studio portraits. Outdoors is all the rage–at least in Minnesota-–with an interesting interior space tossed in. Nothing was stiff and formal. The whole experience was much more fun than work. Perhaps it helped that our fabulous photographer is a close friend, the space we chose in Minneapolis was lively and active with a live band playing outdoors as the soundtrack for the photo shoot, and a chance meeting with friends who happened to be walking by along the Mississippi River.

Anna brought along her French Horn, which is the same horn that made an appearance in my own Senior portraits back in the day. No pom poms though, and no curly Afro hair. My youngest son ran across my cheerleader Senior picture and learned that yes his Mom was a football and basketball cheerleader as well as a horn player and involved a many other activities at Spencer High School.

Anna's Senior year starts this week. I'm not quite sure how we got this far; it seems like she was just boarding the school bus for first grade. Wouldn't you love to have your Senior year ahead of you? Unwritten. Exciting times ahead.

Monday, August 4, 2014

A Temporary Hiatus

No I've not quit blogging or moved the Chic Mom blog to another host site. I'm recovering from a surgery I should have had done years ago. A "real" blog post will follow in a few days, once all of the haze of pain killers wears off and the dull headache fades away for good. Until then you can refresh your memory and read about how my laundry landed me in this predicament.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

An Evening in the Life of a Teenage Boy

As I write this blog post tonight, a small, but boisterous, group of 15- and 16-year old boys are gathering on the street outside the house. Tires have squealed around the cul de sac a couple of times, horns are honking, and their loud voices on the street are certainly annoying the neighbors who might have their windows open. They congregate in the driveway, briefly enter the house to find the parents at home, and quickly file out into the garage. Back to the cars, while they check their hair on their cell phones, and screech out of the neighborhood.

They must have a plan, at last. Someone thought of something to do other than drive around this particular neighborhood. Maybe they are just driving around another neighborhood, doing whatever it is that teenage boys in their cars do at 9:30 on a Sunday night in a Twin Cities suburb. I'm sure I don't want to know.

It's easy to tell when there are girls involved in the fun or if it is just an evening full of hanging out with the guys. Girls = spraying yourself with boy body spray, and lots of it. Enough to make you open the window to the bathroom where the cologne was freshly sprayed. Enough to make you wheeze if you are asthmatic. Could you imagine a carload full of these heavily perfumed boys? I wonder what the girls think when they are enveloped in the cloud of Old Spice Body Spray.

But tonight, no girls...just a couple carloads of sweaty teenage boys with their new driver's licenses. Out seeking excitement while driving the streets of a certainly dull Minnesota town. At least their hair looks good. Or should I say, "sick."

Thursday, July 17, 2014

295 Souls Lost

As a champion of remembering the thousands of people lost on senseless aircraft explosions through acts of terror like today's Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over the Ukraine, remember they were living breathing people. Not just a number. 295 innocent people died today plus the 3 infants just discovered sadly now equals 298 souls. Innocent. They did nothing wrong. They boarded a plane like we all have done countless times. Only they were unfortunately caught up in a war zone where a missile hit its mark. New casualties to a growing list of innocent souls lost in the so-called friendly skies.

Having watched the network coverage today, it seems that these people and those they have left behind are being lost in this whole investigation. Whether it was war or terrorism, MH17 was targeted and hundreds are left in the void. These people left behind husbands, wives, children, friends, lovers, co-workers, fiancees. Life. This did not have to happen!

I can only hope that some world leader will take a stand and condemn whoever did this horrendous deed with an action more powerful than economic sanctions and a slap on the wrist while looking away. 298 innocent people were senselessly killed today. What if that was your mother, your brother, the love of your life? What it that was you?

Send your thoughts, prayers, positive energy, whatever you believe to their mourning friends and families tonight. Innocent lives lost should not be dismissed and buried under a pile of economic sanctions.

Why the passion? Read on if you would like . . .

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Birthday America

What are we up to now? 227 years if you date back to the signing of the U.S.Constitution. Our freedoms as Americans can easily be taken for granted, but glancing at the headlines of any national newspaper this week brings all Americans back to reality. ISIS taking over parts of Syria and Iraq, raids on Christian churches in Nigeria, pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong, and in our own backyard a San Diego community forcing back buses full of illegal immigrants attempting to cross the border from Mexico. 

America still remains the land of the free and the home of the brave. As Americans we should not lose sight of our freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. Before tonight's fireworks begin over White Bear Lake here in Minnesota, I do hope that you and yours have had an enjoyable 4th of July in whatever part of the world you may have celebrated today. Remember what a democracy means. Remember those who fought for the freedom you appreciate today. 

“Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people.” 
 Abraham Lincoln

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Respect Returns to the Diamond

Despite the contention that shrouded my son's previous Little League baseball games, last night's Championship game was relatively calm. No one was ejected from the game, shouting at the umpire was at an all-time minimum, and little advice was being offered from the crowd that gathered to watch. All the players—coaches, the umpire, parents, and kids—displayed the one thing that was missing from the last few baseball games. Respect.

Perhaps the parents and coaches drilled it into the boys. Maybe those respect lectures stuck with both the parents and kids. Screaming at the umpire, ridiculing the coaches and yelling at the players just makes you look out of control. It's embarrassing to watch, and just think of how the boys must feel. It can't be easy to pitch or bat after the chaos created by out-of-control parents.

My son's team lost the championship game 9-4 but hopefully learned a valuable life lesson about how to treat others. Yelling, ranting, and generally throwing a fit won't really get you anywhere, even if you are an adult. Thank you boys for showing some solid respect.

For another viewpoint on youth baseball take a look at this blog post:

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

And You're Outta Here!

Last night's Little League baseball playoff game was as one coach described "EPIC!" That may even be an understatement for 10- and 11-year old baseball. Not only did the game last into the 11th inning, running over four hours, it was played on two separate baseball fields in two different towns. As dusk settled in at 9:30 pm with the score tied 12-12, this battle was moved over to another field that had lights.

But the longevity of this particular baseball game was only part of the story.

I had never seen a Team Mom ejected from a Little League baseball game until last night. But not only the Team Mom, one of my son's coaches and another Mom were kicked out of the game. The umpire may have been a bit agitated from the start of this duel. A controversial call at first base resulted in words being exchanged and perhaps a bit of "mama bear defending her cub instinct" that did not sit well with this ump. Not only did he kick them out but walked out to second base to yell at them again when he saw the Moms lingering near their cars along the road.

In the end my son's team did end up winning, 16-15.

Extreme baseball, and not in a good way. It all boils down to respect. Respect for the umpires, the coaches, the parents, and the kids. That seems lost and who knows what will happen at tonight's championship game.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Little League Parents Out of Control

I always find it sad (and somewhat amusing in a deviant sort of way) when parents get so involved in the game that they resort to screaming at each other. Picture this. A late afternoon Little League baseball game that starts 30-minutes late on a Saturday afternoon. Not a cloud in the sky or a hint of a breeze. It is hot with the temperature hoovering around 85°. Shade is at a premium. I'm in my lawn chair enjoying the spot of minivan shade with a view up the third base line to home plate. To my left is the big, heavy-set, obnoxious guy.

I am not being mean. If you picture a large, obnoxious guy you would think of someone like him. His neck is red from hours in the sun probably watching Little League baseball games. He is tossing out barbs at the 16-year old umpire, dropping the occasional cutting remark to hitters on the opposing team, and vocally questioning the coaching skills on both teams. All while constantly spitting. You know the type.

The game moves slowly. The players are hot. The parents are more than ready to leave. The game enters its third, oppressive hour. Score 17-12. My son's team leads, and the opposing team has last at bat. Two outs. The coach decides to put in a new pitcher who happened to have thrown a few pitches in the first inning. A potential breakage of Little League rules. All hell breaks loose.

The large guy erupts. All of a sudden he is the leading expert on replacement pitchers in 11-year old Little League baseball. Then all four of my son's coaches start yelling at the obnoxious fat guy who will not stop his rant. The losing team coaches are now yelling at the winning team's coaches. Remember that these coaches and the big guy in the left field stands are all parents of these players. The Little League players now join in and start taunting one another and mocking the big fat guy who is still yelling.

But wait...now the Moms in the stands and those with babies and toddlers seeking shade under the trees join the fray, defending their boys from the coaches and the big, fat expert on pitcher replacement. A momentary lull in the cacophony lets a lone Mom cry out, "It's just a game! They're just kids. This is supposed to be fun! Just let it go." Thank you sane Mom in the bleachers.

The heavy-set guy gives a last shout and finally shuts up when he realizes no one really cares about his opinions. The coaches on both benches calm down. The coach leaves in the pitcher to deliver three strikes, and the last out. Game over at last. An amused smile on my face, I am just glad to leave this place.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Rethinking "Senior"

While on my way to the gym for a morning workout, I drove past a neighborhood of bungalows nestled around an inviting pond. Nailed to the side of one of the buildings was a huge sign: "Senior Living Community 50+." Reality slammed me. That magical number of 50 is only a few years off. But I'm too young to be categorized as a "Senior!"

I was actually offended. Why 50? 50 is not old. The US life expectancy here in Minnesota ranks second in the US behind Hawaii at 80.5 years. I will agree that 80 does classify as getting up there. But to label people in their 50s as "Seniors" is just wrong!

Most people I know in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and even 80s are certainly not the stereotypical "senior." They are not feeble or destined to spend their days reclined in a Lazy-Boy watching infomercials and the Weather Channel. The Seniors in my life are incredibly active and most are not retired. If they are retired, they are volunteering like crazy or traveling the world.

As for qualifying for "Senior" living at age 50, I have to wonder, do they take teens? Most people in their 50s probably have at least one teenager still at home. Would teens fall into the category of dogs over 50 pounds and just are not allowed?

I can wait until I'm 80.5 for my senior meal deal at Perkins thank you. Until then I will continue to recycle my Prevention magazine and send back the ashes of my torched AARP card all while remaining as active as possible for as long as possible. Old age is a state of mind, not a number.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Most Handy Dad

Father's Day 2014

Marriage and fatherhood heighten the disillusion that we all think we are born handy. We confidently believe that we can fix things around the house, as if it's part of the collective brain that was further enhanced by eighth-grade shop class.
BOB NEWHART, I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This

Do you have one of those Dads who can fix just about anything, or one who thinks he is handy (and he's not) but the family keeps humoring him year in and year out? I'm lucky enough to have one of those Dads who is handy or at least will give it a good try. On his visits to my house he always finds some sort of repair job, an improvement to the basement, or something to paint. He actually is very handy.

This weekend's visit found him at Fleet Farm buying "Snake Away" and all weather caulking to eliminate the snake family living under my front porch steps. As much as I love seeing a snake slithering out into the garden right beneath my feet while I'm having my morning coffee, visitors to the house may not appreciate being greeted by a snake. Hopefully Dad (and Mom who also knows a thing or two about snakes) ridded the front steps of my garden snakes.

Happy Father's Day to my handy Dad who loves Bob Newhart and hates snakes.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Croquet Anyone?

All of the excitement has dissipated since Steve Perry—lead singer of Journey—made a surprise appearance on stage at the Eels concert in St. Paul a few weeks ago. However the Steve Perry question on everyone's mind has not been answered. Why St. Paul?

But also, why Eels? Why now? In a recent interview Eels front man, who now goes by "E", viewed it as a "why not" moment for Perry that began with croquet. Seems that Perry and Eels meet up for a weekly croquet game in LA each Sunday. Apparently Perry talked for years about singing with Eels since he is a huge fan of their music.

Eels invited Steve Perry to a few recent rehearsals in LA, and one day Perry showed up with his own microphone—an interesting twist. Again over a game of croquet, Eels invited Perry to sing live with them on their current tour, Perry accepted, and the rest is now musical history.

St. Paul just must have felt right because even E doesn't know why Perry chose the Fitzgerald Theater on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. Why doesn't really matter though because—thanks to croquet— it actually happened. Steve Perry, my daughter and me, and a couple hundred Eels fans briefly made it to the center of the musical universe. If croquet can unite the Eels and Steve Perry, what could a round do for your life?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Journey is the Journey

Photo: The Current Blog
A cryptic opening line by Eels frontman Mark Oliver Everett at Sunday evening's concert at the Fitzgerald Theater in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota. "The journey is the journey." He was dropping some major foreshadowing with that line. 

Looking around the theater, Eels fans were sporting plenty of facial hair—lots of men with beards. This made perfect sense once the Eels took the stage: an Indy rock band of white men with beards. Eels are a somewhat new band for me although they have been around since 1995. Based out of Los Angeles, Everett and his band, who he refers to as "the fellas," put on an amazing show. 

Despite too many songs off the recent "bummer" album, "The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett," and none from the upbeat "Wonderful, Glorious" album, Eels were electric. But the best part of the evening was saved for the third encore. Eels announced that a special guest would be joining them on-stage. A large bearded man in the balcony yelled out "Prince!" Everett quipped, "This is not a guessing game, but thanks for playing." Not Prince, but a singer whose songs we all knew and probably even heard that day. A singer who had not performed in public for over 20 years.

Who saunters onto stage singing Eels' song “It’s a Motherf****r,” but Journey singer Steve Perry. Yes, Steve Perry of the 80s band Journey!!! The crowd was on their feet. Women were screaming. Men were fist pumping the air. Ushers who stopped us from taking Eels videos pulled out their own iPhones and started recording.

Then Perry belted out the classic Journey hit "Open Arms." This is where it sort of hit me that Steve Perry was actually on the stage below singing "Open Arms" with that Steve Perry voice. He still has that incredible voice! I ditched the iPhone and listened. Perry closed out the concert with a lively “Lovin’ Touchin’, Squeezin’” that had the entire crowd of bearded men and the rest of us singing along. Even my 17-year old daughter was belting it out. 

I'm not quite sure how Mark Oliver Everett pulled this off but somehow he got Steve Perry, who hadn't performed since 1995, to share the third encore spotlight. I left thinking, did that really happen? Eels and Steve Perry. This was a once-in-a-lifetime concert experience!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

What You Can Do to Annoy a Terrorist on Mother's Day

What strikes fear in the heart of terrorists? Education. What is even more frightening? Girls getting an education. That's why the Taliban destroys schools in Afghanistan. Why do you think Malala Yousafzai was shot point blank in the head by the Pakistani Taliban? Simple, education. Miraculously she survived (much to the annoyance of the Taliban) and is now a worldwide symbol of the importance of girls education.

Girls getting an education is why Boko Haram did the deplorable—the kidnapping of 276 girls from their boarding  school in northeast Nigeria. It was strategic and calculated. Terrorist fear girls going to school, reading books, and forming their own opinions. They know this eventually leads to empowering women. These young women will learn about the world around them, leave their poor villages, contribute to economic growth by getting a job, and eventually not having as many children thus raising their own standard of living. Empowering women through education means loss of control for terrorists.

I have a 17-year old daughter. Do you? Can you imagine what these families are going through. Bring these girls home! Put all political differences aside this Mother's Day and annoy a terrorist. Give a $40 gift to Camfed.org to buy a school uniform for a girl. Contact your Member of Congress and urge them to pass the International Violence Against Women Act. Or show your support for those innocent girls and their families through #BringBack Our Girls. Let this ordeal end.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Ultimate Mother's Day Present

If you have not yet gotten Mom a gift yet, here is the solution. What does every Mom want that she just cannot get enough of? Very simple. Time. It's the ultimate gift. As a mother there is nothing more valuable than time. I write this from first-hand knowledge.

Hint, hint...time is the best gift. Giving the gift of time may be a bit perplexing because it is not something that can be bought at Nordstroms or ordered from Amazon.com. Time is such a simple gift to give, but it will require more work on the part of the giver.

Do something for yourself instead of having Mom do it for you. Take a moment to unload the dishwasher. Try to remember to bring home your Harriet Tubman book instead of asking Mom to drive you up to school yet again to retrieve it. Take a shot at doing your own laundry--that includes washing, drying, AND putting it away. Pick up all of the scattered pages of sheet music, mutes, CDs, and metronomes scattered about the music room. Forgo seeing your girlfriend for a couple of days so Mom won't have to drive you to and fro.

Mom will not only love receiving the gift of some free time, but best of all it is free! Love from Mom for a free Mother's Day gift? Brilliant idea! For this Mother's Day consider giving Mom a chance to rest, clear her mind for a few hours, and have some downtime all to herself. She will love you for this simple gift.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Cheese Please

As part of the national campaign to cut the obesity rate of kids school lunches have been taking a hit. Over the past couple of years calories, sugar, and extras have been cut out of lunches. Earlier this year at my son's elementary school ketchup was cut. As expected this move was not popular amongst the kids under 12. The most recent cut to school lunches has prompted a backlash.

Sorry kids, no cheese on the cheeseburgers. Single slices of melted cheese on cheeseburgers are no longer offered. Cheese is deemed an unnecessary fat that is contributing to childhood obesity. Can you imagine how delicious that plain hamburger patty is without any cheese or ketchup? A slice of cheddar cheese and a dollop of ketchup are not making kids fat. They would be better off cutting out the bun. Carbs contribute to obesity, not the fat from a single of cheese.

Whoever is responsible for eliminating cheese from the school lunchroom menu is completely missing the point. Kids are not getting empty calories from school lunches. Those extra calories are coming from carbs they consume in pasta, cookies, and bread. The sugar from soft drinks, fruit juice, and breakfast cereals. Kids consume these extra calories at home, not at school.

My son Jack took up a petition to try and get cheese back on the cheeseburgers. He is collecting signatures from his fellow classmates, teachers, and paraprofessionals at his school. His list will eventually make its way to his school's administration and the district school board. If his petition fails, watch for a black market effort run out of his locker. He will be doling out ketchup packets and Kraft cheese slices for a price of course.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Content with Enough

Gazing into an overflowing walk-in closet, I realize I have enough clothing, purses, and shoes for a small army of petite women. Cleaning out the fridge of old and unused food, my family certainly is not starving. Picking my way through the family room scattered with X-Box and Playstation controllers, laptops and their trail of cords, and bins of Legos, we are certainly not lacking for entertainment. Half a dozen pairs of Nikes, a stray winter boot, three dog leashes for one dog clutter the mud room floor. You get the idea. Stuff.

This family has enough stuff, but can we be content with enough and not want more? Being content with what we have is difficult. The temptation lurks—buying the newest model iPhone, having that top-of-the-line computer, or ordering the most decadent piece of chocolate layer cake. I'm guilty. I do like new stuff.

When will we realize that the empty calories and material stuff doesn't really matter? Enough of all the stuff that just clutters up our lives. We work hard all day every day. Some people won't even relent, letting their work and stuff bury them. There is more to life than just working endlessly to accumulate more stuff.

In the end will it really matter if you worked hard enough to buy that new Coach purse or that new gaming system for your kids? No. Donate the money for the purse to charity and take your kids on an outing instead of plopping them in front of yet another screen game.

And time. There is just never enough time is there? Time gets sucked away in temporary tasks that don't really matter much except to ourselves.

In this life there is never enough time with those you love. The clutter of stuff, care of your stuff, and accumulation of more stuff just gets in the way. Life is more than just the material stuff. What matters is what we do with our time to make this world a better place and how we treat those around us.

Be content with enough. You might just enjoy it.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter

From my family to yours, wishing you a very happy Easter and happy Spring!

Easter mornings are changing. Gone are the days of coloring a couple dozen eggs. 12 sufficed this year. No more trails of jelly beans leading from the kids rooms down to their Easter baskets. Gone are the Easter Sundays of rising at the crack of dawn to hide the Easter eggs, falling back asleep for a few minutes only to be woken up by a small face looking at you, wondering if the Easter bunny had arrived. All happy memories from Easter when the kids were small.

This Easter the adults rose, by choice, before the children. One teenager was sadly forced from bed to hunt for the remaining eggs his siblings left for him. One Easter basket is already void of all of the Peeps, marshmallow bunnies, and chocolate rabbits. Maybe some things will never change.

Today I wish you all of the joy and renewal of this glorious Easter morning!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A New Choice: Stroller vs. Leash

Do you ever have one of those moments when you look around and all you see are pregnant women? They've been out in force this week, making me feel like I'm no longer a member of that very exclusive club. But perhaps this was a sign.

This week brought the joyful news of three new and healthy pregnancies in my circle of family and friends. Ultrasound pictures were posted on Facebook and alongside a tray of celebratory cookies.

Given my happy baby news, I was a bit surprised by new data released by the US Centers for Disease Control indicating that young women are choosing owning a puppy over having a baby. A substantial dip in the number of babies born to women ages 15-29 corresponds with a noticeable rise in the number of tiny dogs owned by young American women.

The federal report shows"over the past seven years, the number of live births per 1000 women between ages 15 and 29 in America has plunged 9 percent." During this same seven years, the American Pet Products Associations reports"the number of small dogs (under 25 pounds) has skyrocketed from 34.1 million to 40.8 million."

Young women find that owning a tiny dog is "just easier" than having a child. True it is much easier to have a social life with a dog than a baby. Dogs are cheaper and certainly less permanent in your life than a child. You don't have to get married and settle down to own a toy poodle, effectively eliminating any lifelong commitments. And yes, you can dress your Yorkie like a baby. Just seems like a narcissistic lifestyle choice.

Perhaps I'm lucky that I have it all—three kids and a dog. I'd never give up the joy and sheer exhilaration of watching three babies grow up into amazing young adults. No matter how you dress it up, a chihuahua is just not a replacement for a baby.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Thank you Gwyneth

Attacking Gwyneth Paltrow when she is already down would not be fair or kind. Instead I will thank her. Thank you Gwyneth for shedding some light onto yet another tangent of the great Mommy Debate. You have made mothers think about how difficult the life of a starlet must be—a life to which most of us working and stay-at-home Moms cannot even fathom.

I honestly never imagined how very difficult it must be making one movie a year to tide you over on only a couple of million dollars. The stress of being on the movie set 14-hours a day must be truly exhausting. And all of that traveling to far-flung and exotic locations is taxing. Such sacrifices you have made! What it must be like to come home to nannies and staff who must be dealt with so your lovely Southern California home can operate smoothly. Two children and a rock star husband certainly require a flock of hired help. How do you even manage it all? Wait . . . I mean soon to be ex-husband. Good thing that Chris Martin's inevitable departure will make your life a bit easier since you won't have him living under your roof every day. Pesky rock star husband!

Thank you Gwyneth for opening my eyes and making me realize that I really don't have it so bad. Juggling three children's schedules, a husband's schedule, my own busy work schedule, the dog, an endless Minnesota winter, and the house and yard work really is ideal. At least I'm not a movie star and can somehow stay on top of my own boring 18-hour day life.

If you have no idea what I'm blogging about, please read on about Gwyneth Paltrow's E! interview/pity party and New York Post entertainment writer Mackenzie Dawson's response.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Observations from the Elliptical Machine

An ideal elliptical view—
multitudes to observe
Sometimes my family wonders how I can continually workout at the gym without getting completely bored. My answer lies in my loaded iPod and people watching. No not stalking, just silently observing. Airports, the busy center or downtown of any city, and fitness clubs are perfect for people watching. Today's 35 minutes on the elliptical machine was far from boring given the interesting attire and fitness club antics on display.

First there was the young woman on another elliptical machine wearing a turquoise peasant/gypsy sort of skirt with black tights, forest green knee high gym socks, and purple sneakers. I'm not quite sure if she came directly from church and forgot her shorts and opted to leave on her church skirt. She did not last long on the elliptical as that skirt proved a bit dangerous for entanglement in the gears.

Then there was the mint green eyeshadow lady a few machines down from me. These ladies are always working out in full makeup and usually heavily perfumed. Her eyeshadow did nicely match her mint green top. There were also lots of "parent personal trainers" at the club some with little kids in tow as they lifted and ran. Good to know that my club is family friendly.

Not quite so PG-rated was the middle-aged, rail thin, runner guy training on a treadmill. His tight white shirt tucked neatly into his even tighter black Lycra compression shorts that fit like a second skin, leaving nothing to the imagination. He must think it's a good look because he is there every Sunday morning wearing the same clingy attire that makes me shudder and wonder why.

Also joining in on this Sunday morning club spectacle was Randy who climbed onto the elliptical alongside me. Randy never disappoints and immediately started craning his neck to see who was working out. I have no idea if his name is Randy, but this name suits his particular behavior. He also is at the club nearly every Sunday morning and is truly out on display, sauntering along as he scopes out women. You know the type—that randy sort of behavior—aggressive weight lifting, chatting up the single ladies, checking out the women no matter what the age. Let's just say that Randy is a bit of a male stereotype and always amusing to watch in action.

The workout flew by, and yes I probably would be completely bored if I did not have such interesting companions at my club and my music playing as the soundtrack for an hour of exercise and entertainment.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Serendipitous Serenade

Have you ever become encapsulated in a moment? A furtive instant in an unfamiliar place where you normally would not linger? The scenario is an early morning horn lesson in a sleepy suburban Twin Cities neighborhood. My daughter is the student; I am the driver. Always the driver who lingers on in the background. The lesson was with a master French Horn player who teaches out of her home.

We are welcomed into the home by the instructor. She seats me in the dining room and ushers my daughter away to her lesson. I plug in my laptop, anticipating an hour of solid work. Until the master of the house finds me working away in his dining room. He is dressed for the gym except that he is holding a cello in one hand. A brief greeting ensues, an offer of coffee. Thank you no. He disappears.

A moment later the music begins. The most beautiful cello concerto I have ever heard performed live while I listen from the dining room. Dvorak I believe. If he is merely rehearsing I hear no errors. No repeated runs, no working over notes. Just the most fluid, exquisite work of art. Captivated by the cello, my work faded away, the laptop disappeared, and I was completely enchanted for 30 minutes of stunning passion released through the cello.

As the last notes faded away reality replaced my musical trance. The maestro reappeared, glistening with sweat from his workout, nodded, and left with his cello. Solo applause seemed inappropriate. I departed the home with my daughter. However the beauty of that moment, of the mastery of the cello, and being lost in the concerto lingers with me.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Sound of Silence

The sound of my morning is silence. The Simon and Garfunkel song takes on new meaning this morning. When you think of living in a house with two teens and an almost teen, you would expect a cacophony of noise surrounded by chaos of life with teens. While that is true in certain moments, not this Saturday morning.

Outdoors is a brilliant blue sky. The sun is actually shining, which makes it impossible to gaze out the window without squinting as the light reflects off of the endless white blanket of snow. It is quiet and still. Silent.

Indoors is uncannily quiet too, especially for a Saturday morning. One teenager is at a sleepover, one at a very early morning orchestra rehearsal, and the almost teen is plugged into his laptop and lost in his world of MineCraft. The dog went back to bed. After years of loud children running around the house on a Saturday morning and me wishing for a long, sleepy lie-in, this new norm is quite a shift. Perhaps this is that subtle move toward the children leaving home. They are easing me into it with their prolonged absences, weekend sleepovers, and hours spent with girlfriends instead of Mom.

This slow variation in life is a good thing. I embrace their exciting futures while I savor my silent Saturday morning.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Winter of My Discontent

Ask anyone in Minnesota about global warming and you will probably get thrown into the nearest snowbank. My snowbanks are growing in breadth and height with each passing weekly snowstorm, towering over my frigid body as I toss snow on top of the mounds lining my driveway.

Today is March 1 but you would never guess that. At -4° with the windchill plunging to -23° your skin will freeze in 5-10 minutes if left uncovered. That's nothing though. The brutal blast of -45° air predicted to hit after midnight means that you may well freeze the instant you set foot outside. Sadly people are actually dying of the cold out here. I would like to know where on the earth this arctic air is coming from? It is a good 24° warmer at the North Pole in Alaska and 35° warmer in Antarctica. I blame our cousin to the North. -13° in Hudson Bay. Thank you Canada.

If you have ever read Laura Ingalls Wilder's book The Long Winter you will get a good taste of a truly brutal winter. Similar to 2014 except for the fact that we do have food and electricity and heat that we do not have to generate by weaving hay sticks to burn for warmth. Not quite as bad as Laura's winter back in 1872, but that was the worst on record. This winter is the worst since 1979. Maybe it is hitting me so hard because since 1979 I have been fortunate enough to live in climates where it is not so cold and snowy.

Here are the facts about the Minnesota winter of discontent:
  • 37 days of measurable snowfall.
  • 24 inch snow depth in my yard. This makes me wonder when in May the snow will melt enough for baseball games.
  • At least 1 inch of solid ice on my driveway and on the neighborhood streets, making driving far too thrilling and treacherous.
  • 46 days with temperature 0° or below 0°. Puerto Rico anyone?
  • Lake Superior nearly frozen sold (yes, I said Lake Superior the largest fresh water lake in the world).
  • Colder in Minnesota than on Mars. According to NASA the Rover on Mars recorded temperatures on Mars -13‚ to -24°. Minnesota's -50° January temps do make it colder here than the surface of Mars. That's comforting!
  • 30° below normal heading into March.
  • Ice caves have formed intricate icicle formations only seen in extreme cold (like this winter) at the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior. Winter weary Minnesotans and Wisconsinite have been flocking to visit these ice caves.
What is the easy answer? Escape of course. I have tried to no avail. Escaped to Portland, Oregon and was hit with a freak period of snowstorms, blizzard conditions, and an ice storm. I'm escaping to Washington, DC this week and what awaits me? A winter storm of course. Welcome to the winter of my discontent.