12.11.2014

Ho, Ho, Ho, How Many Times Can I Use "I'm too busy" as an Excuse?

I haven't had time to write. Work, swim meet volunteering, holiday decorating and shopping. But truthfully, I've not been in much of a mood to write anything anyway. Last night we put up the tree and Santa chachkies, and I drank my first egg nog of the season, so perhaps I'll be in a cheerier mood. Also, I have spent some time writing the annual Schoon holiday newsletter. If you happen to get a copy, treat it like a drinking game. Every time I make you roll your eyes, take a drink. Nog, wassail, Everclear. Whatever gets you through.

One sure way to assist with merriment motivation is listening to Christmas carols. I'm not going to get into a debate over what truly constitutes a carol. You can "Jesus is the reason for the season" yourself until you turn blue; I generally lean toward the secular end of the holiday tune spectrum. And if you just gasped at my use of holiday instead of Christmas, go suck on a candy cane. It's my blog and my opinions. Deal.

Anyway, here's my top five all-time favorite holiday tunes:

5. 2000 Miles -- The Pretenders made this song a December favorite for many people. However, newer versions by KT Tunstall and Coldplay put it on my holiday hit list. Lots of musicians have covered the tune. Go find one you like and listen to it. A lot. It's ear worm worthy.

4. Mary Did You Know -- The Kenny Rogers version is a classic, but a cappella phenoms Pentatonix just released a new version that is getting rave reviews. The song is decidedly religious, but it made the cut for me because it's hauntingly melodic. And who can beat Bible-based lyrics like: "Did you know that your Baby Boy has come to make you new? This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you." Things that make you go hmmm.

3. I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas -- Some things I just learned about this song: the little girl, Gayla Peevey of Ponca City, OK, was 10 years old when she first recorded this novelty record in 1953. I also found out that Captain Kangaroo recorded a version in the '60s. The B-side of the original 78 featured a song called "Are My Ears On Straight?" And, this song about your "hippo hero standing there" plays during the opening of the special, "Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever." I think I like it even better now.

2. Do They Know It's Christmastime? -- The first version by British recording artists in the mid-'80s raised money and awareness for famine in Africa. Bono, frontman for U2, just organized a new recording, this time with funds going to fight Ebola. Day after he and his pals recorded, Bono had a hideous bike mishap in Central Park and shattered some bones, including his eye socket. Now we need a bicycle-safety-awareness fund-raiser. At any rate, I love the original. Wham!, Duran Duran, Boy George, The Police, and Bananarama performing together?! So perfect!

1. All I Want For Christmas Is You -- Mariah Carey is usually a big ol' "meh" for me, but she gets hearty applause from me with this tune. I can't listen without singing; I can barely keep myself from dancing. (I will refrain, and you will thank me for not busting a move.) I made this song my RINGTONE for December. "Oh, I won't ask for much this Christmas. I won't even ask for snow. And I'm just gonna keep on waiting, underneath the mistletoe."  OK, so I might ask for snow. I will NOT, though, ask for White Christmas. What a slow, tired song that is. Mariah-baby, hit it:




12.01.2014

Birthday Reflection

Mom loves telling the story of when she went into labor with me, Dad was getting ready to have a nighttime snack. He was going to insist on eating his bowl of crackers and milk before taking Mom to the hospital. Mom, who had been through this pregnancy thing twice before, convinced him that if he didn't get in the car and start driving right away, she was going to deliver me in the back seat on the way there.

Once the realization of urgency kicked in, he sped through Derby, Kansas -- notorious police speed trap -- "90 to nothin'" probably in hopes the cops would pull them over, and they'd get themselves a high-speed escort the rest of the way to St. Joseph Hospital in Wichita. Amazingly, he didn't get stopped, Mom avoided pushing until they got to the delivery room, and I was born just before 2 a.m. on  December 1, 1971.

Those were the days before men joined their laboring wives in the whole delivery scene. There was no Lamaze breathing, no coaching at the bedside. Dad warmed the waiting room seat with his fellow pops-to-be. Since there weren't ultrasounds back then, he didn't know he had a baby girl until some medical personnel popped out to give him the news. I was a "she," and I had ten fingers and ten toes, and a head of black hair.

Thanks to a rather twisty, many-forked family tree, Dad had, through marriages, inherited children and grandchildren that he loved like his own. But I came along when he was in his mid-40s, a bit of a surprise to my folks, who had sort of given up trying for me. He turned out to be an incredibly overprotective, fiercely loving father. He was my daddy; I was his punkin'.

It hit me again tonight, when I opened my cards, that this was the first birthday card I'd ever gotten that was just from Mom. He passed away last January 12. In recent years, she had still signed for him when Alzheimer's had taken his ability to write. And about this time last year, as we were moving him into the nursing home to get him the 24-hour care he needed, he wasn't even always sure who I was. I remember one night before we moved him, I was trying to get him to lie down in bed to sleep, and he looked at me and asked, "Now, who are you?" I told him I was Amy. He broke into a big smile and said, "Oh! I have a daughter named Amy!"

He may not have recognized me, but he remembered me. Although his mind was devastated by that awful disease, it's nice to know that kind of memory stuck. Yes you do have a daughter named Amy, and she loves you very much, Daddy. And she's thinking of you on her birthday.

I hesitated to even write this because as soon as Mom reads this, it's going to make her cry. Mom, I don't want to make you sad. I loved the card you sent. And I love you too. 

11.24.2014

You don't HAVE to be Michael Phelps

If I'm counting correctly, this is H's fourth year swimming with the local swim club. I actually never thought he'd stick with it this long. He's improved so much, from those first few months when he flailed around looking more like someone who needed saving than someone who was swimming in races.

Just this fall, he was moved up from the novice group to the semi-competitive group. It means swimming 15 minutes longer per practice -- so one hour instead of 45 minutes. But his new group swims twice as many laps as the novice group does per practice. He's also trying to boost his number of practices per week from three to four. And he just moved up to the 11- & 12-year-old group for meets, which means he's just about the slowest of his age group in meet events.

It's kicking his butt and his self-confidence. H has never been fast. He has never had a qualifying (Q-) time for state championships. We try to stress to him that he's not, at this age, racing against everyone else. He's only trying to improve his own times, which he did at this past weekend's meet. He swam six events in two days and cut time in four of those six events.

As we were leaving the meet yesterday, he was grumbling about being slow and having to listen to his friends on the team talking about their Q-times. I hate for him to even see the listed Q-times for the events he raced. He's anywhere from 16 seconds to half a minute slower than a Q-time, depending on the event. Considering he shaved no more than 5 seconds off any individual race time, making the cut for the state meet seems a daunting task indeed.

In the car on the way home, he dejectedly muttered, "I think I'm a nerd. I'm really smart at school, but I suck at being an athlete."

Nearly broke my heart.

I asked him if he was even having fun at swim anymore. He said he'd have a lot more fun if he were better. Reminding him of how much better he is than when he was that 7-year-old, first-season swimmer and could barely freestyle one length of the pool doesn't seem to provide much encouragement. We emphasize that he just needs to try his best, to work hard, and he will see results.

It certainly doesn't help that he's the smallest, shortest guy in his age group. I'm afraid he probably also inherited some non-athlete genes from two parents who weren't exactly shining stars on sports teams growing up. I'm hoping for a wild growth spurt one of these days. In the meantime, I hope he sticks with it and doesn't let any snarky comments from his bigger, faster teammates (or the occasional asinine comment from a pressuring coach) discourage him.

Tim and I think it's actually healthy for H to be involved in activities in which he's not inherently talented. School comes easy for him. His assessment scores are stellar. In fifth grade, he reads at a high-school level, and his math comprehension is nearly that high as well. In his second year playing viola, he can sight-read music and amazes us with his skills; he loves playing in the orchestra.

Swimming competitively doesn't come easy for him. That's OK. He doesn't have to be, and surely won't ever be, the best at everything. That's certainly a life lesson worth learning.

11.22.2014

Building a Time Machine out of Blogspot (no, not a DeLorean)

A week from Monday, I'm going to be older. That's kind of how I look at my birthday these days. It doesn't have the kind of excitement it once did. I remember the days when I couldn't wait to be old enough to go to a rated-R movie by myself, or vote, or drink legally, or be technically old enough to be president of the United States (not that anyone would be much honored by that milestone these days . . . who would want THAT headache).

I guess the excitement for middle-aged birthday celebrants goes more like this: Hey, I'm way too old to be drafted! Can't wait to be old enough to get my first colonoscopy! Counting down the days until I can become an AARP member! How much longer until I get the Senior Citizens' Discount at Denny's?! Grand slam gets even grander, it seems. Woohoo, I'm still around for another birthday!

I thought I'd look back to the year of my birth and see what today's newsmakers were doing way back when. Time machine set to December 1971 . . .
  • According to RenewAmerica.com, our now-president Barack Obama was a fifth-grader at a prep school in Hawaii. He was the same age my son is now. 
  • Justin Bieber's DAD, my sources calculate, wouldn't be born for another three-and-a-half years.
  • Cher had just released her album "Gypsys, Tramps, and Thieves" and was starring in "The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour" on CBS. Cher, now age 68, announced earlier this week cancellation of the last 24 dates on her current tour because of health problems. 
  • TMZ reported (in November 2014) that actress Louisa Moritz alleges Bill Cosby forced her to perform oral sex in her dressing room before an appearance on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show in 1971. Cosby's iconic cartoon series "Fat Albert" debuted the following year. Hey hey hey.
  • Hillary Rodham had just started dating Bill Clinton. The two were Yale Law School classmates at the time. 
  • Walt Disney World opened in Orlando in October '71. The latest Disney rumors, which popped up in mid-November 2014, suggest that the theme-park giant may be considering plans to build a Disneyland in the Middle East -- specifically, Egypt.
  • On November 24, 1971 (the night before Thanksgiving that year), the man known in the media as "D.B. Cooper," with $200,000 in ransom money, parachuted out of a Northwest Orient flight over Washington State that he had hijacked, and was never seen again. It remains the only unsolved skyjacking in U.S. history. 
  • Former pilot, engineer, astronaut, and United States Senator John Glenn celebrated his 50th birthday in 1971. He's still alive and kicking at age 93 (As of Nov. 22, 2014). He might feel the same way I do about birthdays. He once joked, "There is still no cure for the common birthday."

11.20.2014

Making a wish on the birthday candles . . .

Tomorrow I will be thinking about an Iowa farm girl who grew up to be a wife, mother, teacher, homemaker, accountant, seamstress, crafter, quilter, supreme cookie-baker, grandmother, magazine article-writer, church organizer . . .

I could go on and on.

Tomorrow would have been my mother-in-law's 76th birthday. We lost Darlene to brain cancer a little over a year ago. I miss her so very much. I'd love to tell her about my latest knitting project. I wish I could share the funny things her grandson says or tell her how he did at the swim meet or send her a video of him playing viola -- something she never got the chance to see him do. I know my husband misses sharing his latest photo projects with her or talking sports or getting her take on current events. I wonder what she, a longtime suburban St. Louis resident, would have to say about the national spotlight on Ferguson, MO; she probably would have been speculating like everyone else on when the grand jury findings would be announced. My brother-in-law surely would have enjoyed chatting her up about the Watergate books he was reading earlier this year. And she would have gotten a kick out of all of the pictures he's posted on Facebook of his dog visiting birthday cake sculptures around St. Louis in commemoration of the city's 250th birthday.

It would be so wonderful to ask her what we should do to help my father-in-law try to move forward in his life; I bet she would know just what to say or do to convince him. I realize that for how much I miss her, it it is a mere shadow of the loss that must feel suffocating in its darkness for him. He seems so lost without her. She had such a knack for taking care of him. For taking care of all of us, really.

A week from tomorrow, I will be thinking about her again, and what it would have been like if she and I could have continued our Black Friday shopping tradition. I recall plotting our bargain-hunting strategies on Thanskgiving afternoons, the newspaper circulars spread out around us as we clipped coupons and made our lists of must-have doorbusters.

So I'll think about her on her birthday. And Black Friday. And I'll think about her every day in between, and each day after.

"Here is one of the worst things about having someone you love die. It happens again every single morning." -- Anna Quindlen

11.18.2014

I do? I don't, don't, don't understand.

I don't even know where to begin.

I was flipping through news sites online this morning and landed on a story that sickens me on so many levels. I bet you're thinking it's the announcement that mass killer and vile monster Charles Manson is going to marry a 26-year-old, glassy-eyed, obviously unbalanced woman who has been visiting him in prison since she moved to California from her parents' home in Illinois at age 19 to be close to him.

That, in itself, had me reeling. But what truly left me feeling like I needed a long, disinfecting shower was a sidebar story on ABCNews.com. The headline: "What Charles Manson's Future Mother-in-Law Thinks About Wedding."

I stopped wondering what was wrong with this warped girl, born Afton Elaine, but allegedly known to her beloved Charlie as "Star." Instead, I wanted to scream, "America, what the hell is wrong with us?!" This is what "journalism" in our country has devolved into. This is what we're asking for? Maybe we're trying to understand what kind of childhood this person must've had, what sort of Daddy issues or abuse or fetal contact with toxic chemicals she experienced, to have led her down the path to choose a swastika-tattooed, cold-blooded, life-sentenced murderer as matrimonial material.

Or maybe we think this is just another reality show in the making?

In case anyone needs reminding, the 80-year-old Manson is behind bars for participating in the bloodbath slaughter of SEVEN people, including an eight-and-a-half-months pregnant actress Sharon Tate. This bride-to-be's mommy would have been a toddler at the time of the killings.

Do you suppose the mother wonders where she went wrong with her parenting skills? What caused her child to seek love and affection, acceptance and connection, with this cretin? According to the bits of the story I could stomach reading, she didn't seem all that broken up about it. In fact, she -- I daresay -- bragged a bit about the couple's worldly "virtues."

"He's an environmentalist, and she's involved in his environmentalist program," Star's mom explained.

Yeah. Charles Manson, tree-hugger? Lover of Earth and all its creatures?

I'm guessing he's just up to his old brainwashing, cult-leader trickery. I saw the photo of his betrothed (with her long, brown, straight hair and cold eyes) and immediately thought: just another member of the Manson family. Susan Atkins. Patricia Krenwinkel. Leslie Van Houten. Lynette "Squeaky" Fromm.

All those Bible-thumpers out there, ranting about preserving the sanctity of marriage, is this the picture of marriage you're hoping for? One woman, one man? Till death do they part?

Whose death are we talking about, I wonder.



11.17.2014

Stand up, sit down, fight fight fight

In late spring, I wore a pair of high-heeled shoes. I felt like dressing up for work. I like the way they make me feel youthful and girly. And for someone who squeaks by at 5'4" when I'm standing ramrod straight, the added height with tall shoes is bonus.

Right around the same time I wore this fabulous, feminine footwear, something in my back slipped or bulged or inflamed. It didn't matter whether I was walking, lying down, floating in a pool, curled in the fetal position -- my back hurt. Hurt doesn't even begin to describe the pain. And any sense of looking feminine went right out the window; I looked like the Hunchback. I tried chiropractic adjustments and electric stimulation. I iced it. I slathered it with Sportscreme. I broke down and went to an internal med doc who prescribed some lovely narcotics and several sessions with a physical therapist.

The pain has waxed and waned, but I haven't been the same since those damn heels.

The doctor also suggested that my sedentary lifestyle could be aggravating the condition. At first I was offended. Sedentary lifestyle? I'm not sedentary! I am go, go, going all the time! I work out! I take walks! But a closer look at my actual physical movement throughout the workdays left me shocked. There were times I sat in my desk chair from 7:30 a.m. to noon, and from 12:30 to 5, with only an occasional restroom break or trip to the coffeepot. I even ate my lunch at my desk. I wear a device that monitors the number of steps I take each day. I believe 10,000 steps a day is the target to shoot for; there have been days when I crawled into bed at night without hitting 3,500.

Doc called desk work "the new smoking" and had me convinced I needed to make a much more concerted effort to move more (and probably eat less, but one thing at a time). Doc wrote a note to my employer in late summer, requesting that I be provided an alternative workspace, one where I could work part of my day standing up.

I thought, "Yes! This would be perfect! Let's do it!"

Then I found out getting this setup was not so simple as a medical request from a licensed physician. Because this desk would be special, I needed to schedule time in the company's Ergo lab to test out the equipment and see if it met my needs. So I had the letter and I scheduled the lab time. Meanwhile, my back continued to be compressed into my desk chair as I was still working up to 12-hour days in front of my computer screen. Finally, I thought, I'd jumped through the hoops (no small feat for someone with disk issues). Then came the big whammy. If I wanted one of these desks and my doc felt it was medically necessary, I could have one . . . but only if my manager agreed to foot the $1,100 bill.

More paperwork. More begging. More waiting.

Eventually, the higher-ups agreed, signed on their dotted lines, emptied out their pockets, whathaveyou. Yes, they said, I could have the sit-to-stand workstation. Hooray!

Seven weeks after I got the monetary OK, they finally installed the desk.

For reasons completely unrelated to my frustration over the wait for the desk, I thought about quitting last week. But honestly, I felt guilty about the extra cha-ching they forked over and thought it would be bad form to give two-weeks' notice just as my fancy-schmancy adjustable desk arrived. Although, now that I think about it, I've put in so much unpaid extra time lately (the joy and honor of being "salaried") I probably have paid for the thing ten-fold.

So far, after the first six hours, I'm enjoying it immensely. This is the most comfortable I've been in ages. It's kind of a bummer I work from home two days a week. Maybe I'll figure out a similar ergo setup for my home office. Or maybe a couple days a week, I'll just stand in my cubicle at work in my jammies and fuzzy slippers.