Organized?… Who me??

I am trying my best this coming school year to get ahead of the curve, the huge rolling ball (think ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark‘), the never-ending challenge of getting organized…and staying that way. If my recently ditched fitness routine is any clue to my success rate I am in deep trouble.

I was the “good mom” at the end of the last school year – ordered my School Pak for each child to arrive in their classrooms on the first day of school this coming year (meant to contain everything that they need for the upcoming year with only a few exceptions – we’ll see…) I’ve tried to get in early and round-out the supply drawer at home with “homework supplies”.

I have all of their medical records copied in triplicate and filed in my lovely file, sitting on my kitchen counter, for easy access. I have spent part of my summer going through their clothes to sort out what fits and what doesn’t – our oldest went through an amazing growth spurt this past spring and now he’s all over the board with sizes, his shoes have gotten bigger while his pant size has gotten smaller! Go figure.

I have also checked all pertinent websites, activity schedules, and scheduled doctor/dentist appointments and marked our “family calendar” with a fine-point Sharpie (which, to be honest, is more MY calendar since nobody else really looks at it and seem to rely on me to keep it all organized and handled). I have even purchased more “eco friendly” snack bags and lunch bag items to feel better about those sack lunches this year.

Whew!

Now the true test comes this week when the boys begin school and I have to test-drive this baby. There are always a few “unknowns” once the year begins, of course. I’ve managed to score the title of “room parent” this year which will add to my calendar, not to mention the requests for volunteers for recess duty and center help. The occasional school event and the catechism class that I have also volunteered to instruct, figuring that my youngest will be there anyway I may as well be there too. It all balances precariously once the school year begins, but for now I have a good feeling and a positive attitude that it will all flow seamlessly and without much difficulty.

But a phrase I have read often over time keeps popping into my head: fail to plan or plan to fail. Which one have I accomplished? Only time will tell, but until that time let me feel organized…even if it’s only for another day or two…it’s on my calendar already.

I give up

This past weekend I realized that it was okay to give up. Not in the educational sense, or career sense, no something much bigger than that in a sense (make sense?)

I am usually the one leading the battle cry of “what are you doing inside on a beautiful day like this?!” I have to make the plans, or come up with the ideas for outings and activities to get my family out the door to do something “fun”. It almost makes me crazy to see three healthy boys sitting inside of our house staring at the TV or iPods while the blue sky and gorgeous sunshine are beckoning them…and they don’t seem to care.

What makes it worse for me is a husband that also sees nothing wrong with staying in to watch TV during the gorgeous days of summer (grrrrr…) He is more than happy to plop himself onto the couch and watch countless hours of baseball or golf or whatever sport is being broadcast that day. I was actually told to “lighten up” and also asked “is it against the law to stay inside the house on a summer day?!” to which I replied “no, but it SHOULD be!” while I promptly pushed my little monsters out of the house and made them ride their bikes (yes, MADE THEM RIDE THEIR BIKES. Mommy Dearest has got nothing on me I guess)

But this past weekend I wasn’t feeling well after battling a virus for a week straight, I was run down, and tired of the fight. If they wanted to stay inside and waste yet another perfect day of the last week of their summer vacation let ’em. Why was I trying so hard? What is the point of “forced fun” anyway? Don’t they get enough of that idea at school? Plus, it also gives me permission to lay down and take a nap, to sloth for a day or two.

I know that my irrational fear of wasting beautiful days comes from a “Twilight Zone” episode. The one that takes place in the future, after we’ve destroyed the Earth’s normal cycle, and now the sun only comes out once every seven years, and even then for only one hour! The worst part is that there is a girl that the class seems to enjoy ostracizing, and another girl talks her into looking for something in the basement. Once she goes to the basement the “mean girl” locks her in the room! Shortly after this the entire class is brought outside to enjoy the one hour of sunlight -the first that most of them have ever experienced in their entire lives since they look about 7 or 8 years old – while this poor little girl is locked in a dark basement room with only a peep hole of a window to view the beauty of it all and watch as her classmates romp about in the golden warmth.

It’s heartbreaking.

Since watching this episode as a young girl I have always been appreciative of warm, sunny days and beautiful blue skies. I often comment on it – ask my kids, they’ll roll their eyes and say “yeah, she does that a lot”, but it’s an appreciation that many people just take for granted. Especially very young people who don’t realize that all too soon they may be stuck in their own “basement” of a job that only allows them one hour a day to enjoy the warm sun and beautiful blue sky if they’re lucky. Sigh…melodramatic? Maybe.

Just please, put down the iPod, turn off the TV and go outside and play. It will make me feel better.

Reaching my maximum girth…

I know that I’m not normal – you’re not pulling the curtain back on that idea for me at this point in my life, trust me, but I have to wonder if I am at least not alone…

Before the summer season is in full bloom we see advertisements for what people love to do in the summer: they swim, play at the beach, run, play volleyball, ride bikes…it’s active time! We all want to eat healthier, too! Salads, light beer, fruit and vegetable recipe ideas, farmer’s markets abound. We are all sick of the cold and the rain and the clouds and all we want is warm sun, light food and time to play, right? Then why is it that once summer hits I go into sloth-mode? Truly.

I am that person who would much rather lay on the beach baking with a tall ice-water and a good book than go surfing or play beach volleyball. If the temperature gets too high I am somewhat happy to be indoors in the air-conditioning – but I do feel guilty about it. I want to like being outside and romping in the sunshine. I want to “just do it” with my Nikes and run farther than I ever have before. I want to be able to wear that awesome bikini just once more (or just once!) before I am considered “too old” to be doing so (altho, with today’s attitude, I don’t think that there is such a limit thankfully)

I want to LIKE summer more than TOLERATE it. But I can’t.

I’ve come to realize that I am truly a fall/winter person. No, I don’t ski (very well or often) nor do I own a snowmobile or enjoy shovelling 18 inches of snow off of my long and winding driveway, but I prefer it to summer believe it or not.

I find that in summer I tend to slow down, my fitness regiment goes out the window because we are either travelling or I just lose motivation because “it’s too hot to run” and the gym seems so depressing in the sunmer. I ask myself “why am I inside on a machine or in a class when I should be outside running around, jumping rope, swimming?!”

Plus, the sweating. Oh God, the sweating. I am not a glistener, trust me, I am that kid from the playground that is soaked within the 15 minute recess time and all I was doing was playing hopscotch! Can you imagine if I was running around?! And no, I wasn’t the “fat kid” either. Well, I am still that kid. I don’t sweat like a lady, I sweat like a…I have no idea, but it’s not pretty and it’s not pleasant to be downwind of me either (once my brother made the sound of a horse neighing when he stood next to me after I had taught an aerobics class, if that gives you any clue)

My hair and make-up (when I try to wear it in the summer) look horrendously similar to Betty Davis in “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane” in the summertime – sticking up and out, smeared and running. How do they do it, those women that look pulled together in 95 degree heat while I am melting and stinking?? Do they have their pores removed? or just frozen in time and space until September 1st?

Add to that the fact that summer fashion is anything but fashionable, unless you are a size zero. T-shirt material tank-tops with spaghetti straps? Really? Daisy Duke shorts? You don’t want to see that on anyone over 18, trust me. Bare arms, bare legs, and (gag) bare midriffs…who’s idea was this?! And why do women who shouldn’t be wearing these items wear them the most?! Summer is the time of the most uncovered skin and for some of us this is not the best solution…

Unlike the normal population, I actually GAIN weight in the summer. I attribute this habit to our living abroad for over 10 years. How did I come up with that line of reasoning? Well, when you live in another country that doesn’t have a fast-food restaurant on every corner you tend to overdo it when you go home to visit, which is exactly what I would do each and every summer that we came home. I would binge on everything that I couldn’t get in Germany or Hong Kong: Arby’s, Chicago-style pizza, good Chinese take-out, fair-food (corn dogs, cotton candy, funnel cakes, etc.) and drink way too often because we were always going to a cook-out or house party while we were visiting…don’t want to appear unsocial now do we??

By the end of the summer visit I would barely be able to button my shorts, my shirts would all be tight and pulling across my expanded breasts and I would have gained approximately 8 pounds – give or take a pound or two. UGH!! The summer vacation photos always make me cringe…

I would then go home to my home in another land, bloated and depressed,  full of resolve to “get back on track” which would be close to Fall – perfect weather for me.

I embrace the cool air, the slight wind, the scent of decaying leaves while I run through the darkening mornings or ride my bike on the gravel trails. I feel my heart lift and my head clear as the mercury dips below 75. I feel lighter, faster, awake and alive. I sweat, but not before I get started, and I feel good about it because I have earned it.

Summer is good, but Fall is better for those like me. Call it “reverse hibernation”, whatever, just take pictures of the others at the party until I shed this innertube I’ve gained around my waist. How does October sound to you??

Games that people play…or maybe not?

So far this summer has been a busy one, almost unusually so from my perspective.

Gone are the days of sitting in the backyard with a gang of little boys climbing the trees, swinging on the swingset and eating a Nutella sandwich lunch on the patio. Gone is the wading pool with the Little Tikes slide leading into it, for an added challenge for our little daredevils. Also gone are the days of letting the day direct itself and deciding at a moment’s notice to go exploring, head to the public pool/beach or visiting a park with nothing else on our calendar for the day (with the exception of thinking of what to make for dinner when my husband came home). The days would drift into one another and each day had it’s own reward at the end of time well spent being “us” and the lack of time constraints that school always imposes.

Some of those days would not be the best summer weather days and we would have to go to “plan B” of finding an indoor activity to keep us all busy and happy (and for mommy to be sane by dinner time) Those days we would get out the playdoh, or paints, or beads and make craft projects with the cd player blasting the latest kids music, or break out the Duplo Legos and build the biggest block tower we could reach – usually only about 5 feet due to my height restrictions. And still, some days, we would get out all of our games and play until we were tired of taking turns. Our middle son had an addiction  to “CandyLand” and a bit later “Yahtzee”, our oldest to “Obstgarten” and “Quips” (both European games introduced to us by our favorite German friends/family) Once our youngest came along he picked up where the other two boys left off and also favored “CandyLand”,  “Obstgarten”, “Quips” and “Yahtzee” as well as currently “Monopoly” and “Sorry Sliders” (he’s six by the way) We also play card games (that may or may not involve a bit of gambling…some things have to be done to keep the adults interested every now and then) and the boys have all learned how to play chess and checkers (some better than others!)

The challenges can go on for days!

This summer I have come to realize that we may not be “normal” by the American standard (what else is new?) We have spent time with other families, had playdates at our house, and realized that we may be the only family around that actually plays games?! On a board?! It’s the one of the most amazing things I have witnessed since moving back stateside.

Just last month while visiting with a group of families I was stunned to find a group of preteen and teenage girls had never played “Scrabble” or “Yahtzee” before, plus they didn’t have any idea HOW the games were played. We’ve had playdates that six year old boys have never played “Sorry” or checkers or “Trouble” or any other young game and they also had no idea how to play. My youngest takes it all in stride and offers to teach anyone who will learn so he can have a chance to win, of course.

But this all got me thinking, and worrying, that maybe this is becoming a lost art. Maybe we are all getting too busy to actually sit down and play a game with our kids, to teach them how to take turns and how to win and lose. It’s really a very basic idea, but one that is on it’s way out unless we pay attention.

I realize that we are in a new age of technology and kids all want an i-Pod touch or i-Phone or DSLite or…whatever is new and cool on the market. I also realize that it is sometimes easier to just hand them a handheld game or turn on the TV and keep them busy while you get your “stuff done” (I’m just as guilty as the next parent, of that I am sure) but I am sensing that some of us do it more often than we really need. Parenting isn’t just keeping them healthy and safe, fed and clothed, loved and protected. Parenting is also about teaching, sharing, leading by example. It’s taking the time even when you’d much rather read the paper or watch the latest reality TV show or just sit and be alone. I feel that if we don’t do it now we will regret it later with a new generation of adults who have fewer values in human contact, know how to win and lose and play by the rules.

Our two oldest boys are old enough to not want to play games now, but they still do play. Sometimes I rely on them to play a game with our youngest while I get dinner ready or finish a load of laundry, whatever, but they play. They still play with their i-Pods and DSLs but they also love to sit around the table and play “Yahtzee” or “Monopoly” or challenge each other to a game of chess.

Maybe it’s just us…but I hope not.

 

Good boys

I know that we have good kids, I do. I like to think that we have done a pretty good job in raising them to be polite, thoughtful, neat and well-mannered along with intelligent, funny and loving. And I have heard these compliments about all of them over the course of the combined years of raising them – my “performance review” so to speak, and I am proud to hear it.

But I’ve also heard (and remember) what a nightmare a family road-trip can be, even with the best behaved children, so I was a bit surprised when our boys requested a road-trip of 15 hours one-way. What kid comes up with this idea and thinks that it “sounds like fun!”

Mine.

So, here we are after two days on the road finally arriving at our destination and oddly enough…we are all still happy. I have to thank technology for most of this perceived success. Let’s face it, when I was a kid we didn’t have a built in DVD player with wireless headphones (heck, we didn’t even know what DVDs were!) or handheld game systems, or an iPod touch to play with and watch more movies or listen to our own music. We also didn’t have the option of sitting in seats that kept us from touching one another (remember that fight? “he’s touching me!” “she’s on my side of the seat!”) No, we’ve come a long way from those days. And while that may take away from the “bonding” that so many child psychologists are trying to convince us happens on these trips as long as we leave technology out of it, I feel that we still got that experience even with a little help from our “friends” (iPod and DVD player)

We talked, they played travel Yahtzee in the back seat while I kept my eyes on the road, we listened to the comedy channels and the 70’s and 80’s hits on XM radio, and we ate in a couple of restaurants together that may not have been heavy on nutrition but easy and comfortable.

Not to mention the hotel stay – you’d have thought that the Holiday Inn Express had become the J.W. Marriott by the way my boys reacted. They LOVED the room! We swam in the dinky little pool, ordered pizza that was delivered (hot) to our hotel room door and popped Boy Scout microwave popcorn in our room microwave while we watched the Discovery Channel and learned how to make a spare tire from found objects in the wild (who knew you could do that??) It was pure perfection. Not one fight, not one tear the entire time.

So, the next time that they suggest a road-trip I will gladly Mapquest a destination and load the car, with a smile on my face. It is so much more worth it than air travel, both in cost and benefit, believe me. I’ve done both. A road-trip is an adventure with endless possibilities. And next time I will leave enough time on either end of our destination to make a few extra stops. Maybe the Bat Factory to get engraved baseball bats or an off the road antique shop to look for rare coins, or a local amusement park for a few hours of crazy fun. Those are the things that take the everyday road-trip to the next level. Those are the memory makers.

But for this time we’re happy with getting to our destination and seeing our favorite East Coast friends and family, making memories, sharing laughs…just being together.

Good things come to those who wait…and keep quiet.

It all worked out. I kept my mouth shut and waited for the stars to align and figured if it worked out it was meant to be.

And it did. So, I guess it was.

I had promised the boys that we would take a “road trip” this summer to go back to Connecticut for a visit to the friends that we miss back there, but I really wasn’t sure if it would work out with the timing of everything else this summer. Plus, I hadn’t really cleared it with my husband and could already picture the pouting and hear the hissy fit that he would put up (since he wasn’t really included in our roadtrip and would be left to his own devices for a week, something that he pretty much detests and resents)

So…I waited. I had a feeling that it would all shake out, I just needed to do it ninja-style.

Patience has it’s own rewards. And the god’s smiled on me, in a sense. He mentioned that his cousins and uncle would be fishing this coming month and had invited him (yet again) but he begged off since he would already be gone golfing the weekend before – and that just didn’t seem fair to me and the kids for him to be gone two weekends in a row (true. and I give him big credit for that, seriously)

That is when I went into “ninja-mode”.

It starts off sweet enough, and my intentions are for everyone to win, so it’s not like I’m really lying or trying to pull a fast one. I very generously offered to give my blessing for him to go on the fishing trip that he had been invited to multiple times but never able to attend, a vacation with his family that he truly deserves and can take advantage of now that we have moved “back home”. But I went on to offer that I could easily keep the boys happy and busy with a road trip to Connecticut. They had been asking to do this since January and would really love it if we could get back for a visit. This way we’d only miss each other for a few days outside of the weekend, and he’d mainly be at work for those days. No problem, really!

His face lightened, his eyebrows went up and he said, “really?” Sure! It will be fun and the boys have been begging to go, so everyone will be happy. (smile,smile) He accepted and before he dialed his cousin’s number he turned to me and said, “you’ll need to get a new set of tires before you make that trip, you know.”

So, I am off to Connecticut with all four boys in a happy place…even my car is happy now that it is getting new tires, but my car is a girl…and I am happy, too. To see great friends, eat fresh seafood and get out of town on the open road to clear the cobwebs of the last school year and renovation project out of my brain is the best vacation I can think of at this point.

I think that we all needed this.

I just had to convince him…ninja-style.

I thought of you today…

It was unexpected and surprising, not that it hasn’t happened before, but I thought of you today.

I was sitting in an auditorium surrounded by other proud parents listening to our collective children play their hearts out to impress us. Preston played his trumpet with such confidence, not just because he was sure of his talent but also because he was dressed for success with his shirt and tie. He loves the spotlight, along with one of his brothers, like someone else I can remember.

His time was done and the next group of eager young musicians took the stage. The teacher announced the piece, which left me trying to place it, figuring that I was too musically ignorant to really know what piece would be next. I don’t listen to classical music very much, it had to be something that I might recognize but never be able to place.

But then they began to play and it took my breath away. My eyes stung and I was paralyzed. I was alone, in my own world, remembering you playing this song when I was a child. Suddenly a video of you was playing in my mind and you were there in front of me. You were smiling and laughing, playing your guitar and singing, and I was in awe of you. So in love with you. It was as if you had reached out and touched me in that moment, to let me know that you were still there even though you’ve been gone for a long time.

I sat through the entire song in my world of memories surrounded by my family, friends and strangers and yet I was alone in my thoughts. I wished that you could meet them all, but most of all, that they could all have met you. I wished that my children would know the creative, artistic, talented man that you were. I wished that they would understand where I got my quirky sense of humor and my habit of making friends wherever we are, my sense of adventure and my love of all types of music. I wished that they could have heard you play, and  played along with you, singing along to “Summertime”.

They played “Summertime” and I thought of you, and I missed you.

Biggest Loser Finale!! Can you say “superbowl”?

Yes, it’s finally here and I am REALLY excited! The big finale is here and I am ready.

No Milk Duds this time (I’ve learned my lesson) but a veggie sandwich on whole wheat from Jimmy Johns is a “must do” for our Biggest Loser nights – it has become a weekly tradition in my house this season. And for dessert? Extra Dessert Delight Gum, of course 😉

So, who do you think will take home the big prize? My money is on Irene. She’s had the highest percentage of weight loss for the entire season so far and she has a lot of determination. Plus, I kind of want her to win it since she seem to be the one who really needs it.

If you think about it, Olivia has already won in her own sense. Her husband lost weight to join her in her journey, she’s won money and a car and has all she needs to embark on a new life with her husband and hopefully a house full of children soon enough. She doesn’t NEED to win, does she?

And Hannah may not have won big money (prizes of course – the $15,000 home gym she just won last week) but she’s got enough personality to make up for that, don’t you agree? If Hannah doesn’t end up with a talk show or as an emcee of something after this is all over I will be shocked! She has pretty much become the STAR of the show if you pay attention to the previews and the show’s interviews. I think that if you seriously put all of her onscreen interviews/scenes together and timed them she would have two to three times more screen time than any other contestant. Why? Because she’s just so darn likable! She’s funny, quirky, well-spoken and lovable. She doesn’t really NEED to win, she’ll be fine without it I am certain. Although she would make a great spokesperson for BL…now I’m a bit torn…

Have you noticed that I haven’t included Jay? In my opinion he won’t make it as a finalist so he’s out of the running already in my mind. He doesn’t have the charisma or the drive, or the heartbreaking story, that makes him a top pick for staying. His “nine lives” have been used up!

So, that leaves us with Irene. Shy, quiet, unassuming Irene. She needs to come out of her shell still more than she did last week and she needs to feel successful. She needs to find the strength from within to change her life, but a little bit of confetti and a check for $250,000 wouldn’t hurt either. It might lighten her load for going back to school and give her more reason to keep the weight off.

Only time will tell…fingers crossed for Irene.

One last thing, this is Jillian’s last season (bummer) which may add to the festivities of the finale. Then again, she seems to be keeping it low-key which will make me more sad if they don’t do a proper goodbye to her (sigh) I cannot imagine this show without her, seriously. Or Bob without her…
“Of all the friends I’ve made here I’m going to miss you the most, Scarecrow”

Tonight on NBC: BIGGEST LOSER FINALE
Get your big water bottle and your healthy snack – and don’t forget to do push-ups and sit-ups during the commercial breaks!

Oprah…

I was just reading the paper (as I try to do daily) and noticed the upteenth article to say “goodbye” to Oprah. Of course, it’s a Chicago newspaper and I totally expect the tributes and the letters and the gaga-ing reaction to her “secret finale” this week (it is this week, right?) But…I’m over it.

Maybe because I was out of the country for a good ten years, and these happened to be my “raising babies” years, I missed the connection to Oprah that so many of my friends and family feel to her. I didn’t have that morning fix while I fed the kids their snack of Cheerios and apple juice in their highchairs. I watched videos of Teletubbies instead. Or Sesame Street, Bob the Builder (in English), Blues Clues, etc. Not really fulfilling mommy-TV, I admit, but it made for a more peaceful balance in my day, trust me.

I do remember Oprah first coming onto the scene and how her appearance created the disappearance of the talk show host I truly loved: Phil Donahue. I mean if he’s good enough for “That Girl” Marlo Thomas, he was definitely good enough for me! I loved his thoughtful way of asking questions while his white hair bobbed over the microphone, and how he would float an idea out to the audience to get a reaction, a thinking reaction, which was so new to the talk show scene at the time. But Phil couldn’t keep up with Oprah’s style and the way she talked to women and for women. It was liberating for many, myself included. I was sad to see Phil leave, thinking that I would miss him forever and never watch daytime TV with the same attention, but Oprah filled that void and gave me reasons to think beyond my own living room. Phil became a distant memory.

All too soon, our family moved out of the country and my daily fixes of Oprah came to a screeching halt. I was too busy trying to get our lives together to worry about what book Oprah was suggesting today or what marriage she was trying to save – or which celebrity she was going to be interviewing as if I could remember any of them at that point! – and the internet was in it’s infancy, lacking that Yahoo/Facebook connection to American culture.

So here I am, twelve years later, living in the Chicago area with school age children and the freedom and time to watch daytime TV if I so choose…but I usually don’t. Still too many other things vying for my attention aside from my growing boys – laundry, grocery shopping, Facebook, email, phone calls, school plays, volunteering assignments, etc. – who has time to watch daytime TV?? And for that matter get so wrapped up in saying “goodbye” to someone I really don’t know…sigh…

While I get the whole idea of the importance of Oprah, the woman and the show, I have to say…I’m over it.

Can we talk about something else now??

You go girl(s)!!

I am still glowing from last night’s episode of Biggest Loser. Can you believe it?! Three women in the “Final Four” and with any luck (and votes) there will only be three women in the finale next week going for the big prize.

Irene really deserves to be there, don’t you think? I do – voted for her 10 times today myself! Go Irene!

Have to say that I will be somewhat surprised if Hannah doesn’t end up with her own TV show or something public after this, she is a personality that draws you. She’s funny and quirky and honest. Love her!

And I have total respect for Olivia. Last week when she was given the choice of a one pound advantage over taking the $10,000 and she chose the money I was surprised (I mean who doesn’t want an advantage at this stage of the game when the pounds are slowing down on the scale??) But when she explained her reasoning I totally admired her for it. She did it for her husband and for a reward to them as a couple. She did it for love. (sigh)

As for Jay…I feel for him, just not enough. He’s been out before and has this attitude that that is how he is meant to stay in this game with his “nine lives” but I say “nay-nay!” Things happen for a reason and for some reason your fate has been played with this season but your golden road is ending, my friend. He doesn’t even pull the numbers that he should which tells me that he isn’t in it to win it.

I cannot wait for next week and the finale. As I’ve said before, “this is my SuperBowl, baby!” and I meant it.

Biggest Loser, Tuesday night on NBC.

Be there, you’re gonna love it!