Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ireland Countdown

"Ireland would be fun." 

This is Paul's response when I ask him how he would like to celebrate his 50th birthday.  The thought of planning a week-long trip to Europe for the family does not sound "fun" to me at all.  It sounds overwhelming and daunting.  Infrequent travellers, our vacation destinations are usually to visit the grandparents and our biggest decisions involve what to order in the ice cream shop.  Also, as anyone who knows me is well aware, flying is not my favorite activity.  OK, actually, it terrifies me. 

I have to admit--at first I try to talk him out of it.  I suggest different ideas for his birthday milestone, to which he is amenable because he loves me...and he knows the whole Ireland idea is stressing me out.  So, no Ireland.  Problem solved.

I keep thinking about the idea though.  I think, "If not now, then when?  The kids are a good age for travelling and we can afford the trip.  Come on, Allison, is this how you want to handle a challenge?  By avoiding it all together?  Rule number one: Figure it out."

Then I have to talk Paul back into it.  I am both nervous and excited at the same time.  We are going!  Now comes the "figure it out" part.  I wish there was a book called, "The Dummies Guide to a Week in Ireland for a Family of Four Who are not Experienced Travellers."  There is not.  There are, however, about a million other books, websites and sources of information.   It is easy to get overwhelmed. 

Luckily, my friend Allyson went to Ireland last summer with her family.  She shared with me her experiences and itinerary.  I am using it as the basis of our adventure because A: she is very organized and her tabbed notebook makes me happy and B: we have similar aged children so I figure what works for them would work for us.  Rule number two: Don't reinvent the wheel.

Two weeks from today, we will be landing in Shannon, Ireland.  I'm putting the finishing touches on our plans and working on the packing list.  I'm wondering if I should convert to Euros before or after the debt ceiling vote.  I'm hopeful that it doesn't rain too much.   I'm thankful that Paul has agreed to drive the rental car.  I'm proud that I am stepping out of my comfort zone to plan this adventure for our family.  Happy Birthday, Paul.  Rule number three: Have fun.  Ireland, here we come!

Thursday, July 28, 2011


"This day is a do-over," my friend Allyson says to me.  We are in our swimsuits.  We think it is a brilliant idea to meet at the pool to visit and share adventures of our busy summers while the kids play and swim.   When we arrive we realize that the pool is closed for swimming due to a dive meet.

We've both had one of those days where nothing seemed to work out as planned.  Did you ever have one of those days?

In the morning I somehow missed my dog walking friends.  I thought I was behind and ran to catch up...turns out I was actually ahead.  In the afternoon a simple (oh so deceiving to even think!) task of reserving airline tickets to Boston turned into a 90 minute headache of a phone call.  (Don't get me started on United award miles reservations...) And now we are at the pool and it is closed.

Of course, we've all had days like this.  Really, though, my question should be, "Did you ever have a day where everything goes exactly as planned?"  Because that is the elusive Holy Grail of organization.  Maybe just a myth, yet somehow I come to believe in it every morning.  I have lists and schedules.  I have a budget.  I have my house divided into quadrants and my life in a daily planner and time map.  Every day I wake up with the expectation that it will all go according to plan.  And every day I am somehow surprised when it never does. 

"Life is difficult." This is the first sentence in the book The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. Years ago, my friend Kristin and I decided tried to read this book together.   "Life is a series of problems," Peck writes.  "Do we want to moan about them or solve them?"  I can't tell you much more--despite our intentions, Kristin and I never made it much past the first chapter.  We still refer to first that sentence though, when we're commiserating about a particularly lousy day. 

Besides accepting that life has challenges, I can also look back at my day with different perspective.  This morning I ran three miles--exercising the dog and me at the same time.  What an unexpected bonus!  I accrued enough frequent flier miles to secure 4 airline tickets to Boston with no out of pocket expenses.  How lucky!  And now, the kids have wandered off to play and watch the dive meet.  I am sitting in the shade on a grassy hill catching up with a good friend.   It's not a "do-over" day.  It's not even a "do-differently" day.  I've got tomorrow for that. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Who screams for ice cream?

Three dollars. Two children.  One kid's scoop each.  No whining.

This is our usual Baskin Robbins routine but tonight is different.  We're in the car with Sissa and she's treating us all to ice cream!  Oh, and did I mention it's 103 degrees out?  We're hot, hungry and ready!

"Can we get two scoops?" Jack asks.
"You can get whatever you want," Sissa replies.

Who knew that phrase could be trouble?  Once at Baskin Robbins, they notice the menu board for the first time.  So many choices--sundaes, smoothies, scoop sizes and flavors.  Decisions are made and we get in line.  Then, at the last minute, Jack changes his mind and orders some giant Reeses sundae concoction complete with caramel syrup, whipped cream, the works.

Katherine is next...but suddenly her two scoop order seems small and plain compared to her brother's.  As the line grows behind her, she looks back up at the menu board in desperation.

"Just get what you planned," I prod her.  "Don't worry about your brother."
"Get the Mega-Oreo Sundae," Jack chimes in. "That looks good."
"That seems like an awful lot of ice cream," I chastise.  "I think you should go with your original plan.  Just hurry up and decide because people are waiting."

So, Katherine goes ahead with her order but when it arrives she begins to cry.  Now, of course, I can see how I could have handled this situation differently.  I could have been more patient--pulled her out of the line to give her more time to mull over her choices leisurely.  I could have said, "I agree with Jack.  The Mega-Oreo Sundae looks fabulous--yum!"

But who knows?  After a long, hot day, Katherine is tired.  And, just like her mother, she is not a very spontaneous person.  Later I talked with my mother about Katherine's meltdown.  "What should I do? Is there was a way to teach her how to be more relaxed?  I mean, I feel like it's my job as her mother to help her work on this."

"No," Sissa says.  "I think it is your job as a mother to show her you love and embrace everything about her.  She should feel safe and comfortable coming to you for support--especially when she's tired or cranky."

Wow.  How'd my mom get to be so smart?  I guess she gets a lot of practice with me.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Super Powers

More organized than the Green Lantern
          More stylish than Wonder Woman
                   Faster than Superman at getting the job done...

My mom is like a Superhero.  She arrived at my house yesterday afternoon after about nine hours of travelling.  Fortified by a glass of chardonnay, dinner and some Girl Scout thin mints, she surveyed the scene around her and got down to business.

First stop, the geraniums on my front porch.  (Remember those?)  Well, it turns out, I'm supposed to (gasp) water them!  "I'll need scissors and a watering can, STAT," she says.  With the precision of a surgeon, she gets to work deadheading and nourishing until they begin to perk up.

Moving on to the garden, she oversees the kids harvesting and watering.  They return with a basket of green peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers.  And because it is my mom, the hose actually gets rolled up and put away when they are finished.

When I run up to the grocery store for a few items, she cleans the entire kitchen and then heads to Jack's room.  I return to find my 12 year old son cleaning out his desk--pondering whether each item he holds fits the "vision" he has for his room and sorting his belongings into baskets.

To round out the evening, "Sissa," as the kids call her, teaches Katherine how to knit.  I kid you not! 

She doesn't have a cape or costume (why Superheroes limit themselves to one outfit is beyond her) but my mom is definitely super and she is my hero.  I'm looking forward to our week together.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Proud to be a Gamma Phi

"It's a game," Betty whispers.  I can picture Betty crouched behind the seats of the family in the dark movie theater.  "It's a fun game."  She is trying to get the father to give her one of his family's ticket stubs.  Meanwhile, I am frantically digging through the movie trash bin while the other members of our team are asking ushers for help.  We're causing a bit of a scene and did I mention that we're all wearing hot pink glittery t-shirts and Burger King paper crowns? 

Returning to Ohio for a reunion with some sorority sisters, I wasn't quite sure what to expect.  Back in college, I joined a sorority for lots of social reasons.  Instant friends, because we all had something in common...even if only the same Greek letters stitched onto our shirts, hats and shorts.  The World English Dictionary defines sorority as "a social club or society for university women."  For me, social was the key word at the time.  Parties!  Formals!  Games!  Boys!  I wasn't a very good sorority member back then.  A giant slob, I was indifferent to the business meetings and wrapped up in my own social agenda. 

After college, I drifted away and moved on.  Except I didn't.  Christmas cards trickled in.  An occasional email arrived and I was "friended" on Facebook.  Through these women's efforts to keep in touch, I celebrated their marriages and births, agonized over their moves and career growth, mourned divorces, miscarriages and deaths.  While I didn't often comment from afar, I appreciated their including me in the loop.

Still, I'm nervous about the weekend.  I haven't seen some of these women since college.  Well, we have a blast.  We laugh, cry, reminisce and catch up.  We play a hilarious game of Amazing Race where--divided into two teams--we drive around Cincinnati with clues performing tasks such as eating hot wings, shooting a basketball blindfolded or collecting used movie stubs on the way to our final destination. 

The root word of sorority is the Latin "soror" meaning sister.  I never had a sister growing up, but now, almost 20 years after graduating college, I still have a whole group of amazing sisters.  We celebrate each other's strengths and respect each others differences.  I realize now that when I pledged Gamma Phi Beta I instantly got these sisters, but over time they developed into friends.  It was worth the wait.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


"Your account has been disabled."  This is the message I get when I try to log onto the blog during my vacation last week.  I read through the email and it says something about security, blah, blah and terms of service, yada, yada.

I am stunned.  I've only been a "blogger" for three weeks and they cut me off!  I haven't made my mark yet!  I am still finding my voice!  My audience numbers around three and one of the readers is my own mother. 

After the initial shock wears off, I'm angry.  I try to put it out of my mind but I feel helplessness, frustration and irritation seeping into everything I do.  "I don't deserve this," I think.

Soon my anger turns to questioning.  I am indignant.  WHY did they do this to me?  I am a rule follower.  I actually sit and read the Terms of Service.  The whole document.  OK, really I skim it.  But nothing jumps out.  I wrack my brain for anything in my content that could be offensive.

Oh no!  The last thing I wrote in my blog was "Michelle Obama, watch out!"  That's it!  I've been red-flagged as a potential terrorist!  Here I am at the beach and the CIA is probably at my house right now wiretapping everything and taking pictures.  I knew I should have made all the beds before we left for vacation.

I return to my account and fill out a short on-line questionnaire summarizing the issue.  Nowhere on the form does it indicate "Check this box if you are NOT a threat to our Nation's security."  Soon, the response comes.  Apparently, when I tried to use my father-in-law's computer logged under his name, Google was worried about my own security being breached.  I just needed to reset my password.  Whew.  Crisis averted. 

How do you handle life's little challenges?  Now back to blogging, I can reflect on how I handle such problems.  Basically, I panic first, think later, and stress and stew in between.  I wish I could learn how to pause...and think first.  I'd like to handle life's inconveniences with a grin, some grit and a bit of grace.  This time, it was more like a grimace, some grit and a bit of grumbling.  Well, at least I persevered. 

I'm sure I'll have a new "opportunity" to practice soon.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day

I can barely move.  Seriously.  Two days ago I did an exercise video and now I'm so stiff and sore that it hurts to get up.

Recently I decided to beef up my fitness regime.  I saw a picture in the newspaper of Michelle Obama doing push-ups with Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  Real push-ups--not the "girly" ones on the knees.  Looking at them made me wonder how many push-ups I could do.  The answer?

Zero. Not a one.  It hurt my wrist just getting into the starting plank position.

Now I'm 5'5'' and weigh 124 so you wouldn't call me fat.  And I do walk the dog about three miles every day.  But zero push-ups?  I used to equate fitness with a part of who I am.  I've done a marathon!  Triathlons! A 500 mile bike ride!  How did I fall so far that a 50 minute fitness video leaves me incapacitated?  I am only 40.  I'm too young to feel old.  (For the record, Tutu will be 80 this year and he's still doing push-ups!)

Chances are slim that Michelle Obama will ever challenge me to a push-up contest.  So why do I care if I'm feeling out of shape?  Mainly, for energy.  When I feel fit, I've got more of it.  And sanity.  Exercise improves my mood. 

Today is July 4th.  A National holiday seems a funny day for a new resolution.  Many people will be eating barbeque and drinking beer all day.  Well, I'm going to exercise and have a salad for lunch.  As America celebrates its independence as a Nation, I will celebrate my independence from lethargy, sluggishness and inactivity.  Michelle Obama, watch out!

Now, let's see if I can get up out of this chair.  Oof.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Planting Some Cheer

The front door to our house is red, which I consider warm and inviting.  I thought some potted flowers would add additional cheer so a few years ago I invested in two large pots to sit on either side of the stoop.  Every year around Mother's Day I give myself the gift of bright, ruby-colored geraniums that make me smile throughout the spring and summer.

Except this year.  Afternoons, pulling into the driveway lugging grocery bags, I was greeted by pots sprouting overgrown weeds and tiny maple saplings. 

Yesterday my friend Ellen comes over to drop her daughter off to play with Katherine.  A fellow teacher, we laugh and commiserate about the busyness of the school year and our ever-growing list of things we put off 'til summer. 

"I didn't even wear a watch for six months because I couldn't find time to get a new battery," she tells me.

"Enough is enough," I think.  "I'm planting my flowers today," I announce to her.

Buying them is easy--the kids help me pick out blooms in every color.  When you wait until July there are no crowds and lots of sales.  Once home, I really enjoy myself at first.  I love the feeling of the cool dirt between my fingers and the instant satisfaction each time I transfer a flower from its plastic tray to its permanent home. 

Soon, however, the hot July sun seems even hotter.  The muscle between my neck and right shoulder is tied in knots.  As most of the blooms are planted, I begin to think of the unpleasant task of cleaning up looming ahead.

Still, I press on.  I think of Ellen, returning at the end of the afternoon to find my job half complete.  "Get that grit," I tell myself.  "One step at a time."

Then, it is done.  I am sweaty, dirty and happy.  The last of the potting soil is swept off the front porch and I feel satisfied. 

But I don't stop there--basking in the glow of my own accomplishment, I reach into my jewelry box for a watch I haven't worn in weeks.  And I head off to the jeweler for a new battery.