The Best Vacation Ever!

I have friends who complain about having to make all the arrangements for their family vacations. They book all the flights, all the hotels, and all the tours. All their husbands need do is show up. For many of them, this is a bone of contention in their marriages. I don’t have that problem. My husband is the best vacation planner ever. He does all the work. My biggest concern is how to fit a week’s worth of clothing in a small carry-on suitcase and how to keep up with him as he speed-walks through seven days of jammed-packed, magical madness. Our recent trip to Walt Disney World was no exception to the rule.

img_0561We explored the wizarding world of Harry Potter and spent time with the Simpsons at Universal. We laughed, danced, and got splattered with goo in the front row at the Blue Man Group. After a full day at the Magic Kingdom, we witnessed the 360 fireworks display from Frontier Land and saw Cinderella’s Castle decked out in all its patriotic glory. At Animal Kingdom, Expedition Everest took us to the top of a mountain and Kilimanjaro Safari took us on a trip through the img_0722heart of Africa. We ate, shopped, and polka danced our way around the world at Epcot. Hollywood Studios sent us to the Twilight Zone in the Tower of Terror and through the history of film on The Great Movie Ride. We had lunch in the Beast’s castle, sampled Mexican and German cuisine, enjoyed the music and Shepherd’s Pie at an Irish pub, and were wined and dined at Iron Chef Morimoto’s Asia. And those are just a few of the highlights.

I do buy in to the idea that Disney is the “happiest place on Earth”. It must have magical powers of some kind, because the children didn’t fight. Or at least they fought less than usual and my husband managed his usual lead and averaged thirteen thousand steps a day while still nursing a sprained ankle. As for me…  My ankles swelled and developed what is affectionately called “Disney Rash” from the heat radiating off the pavement. Between the sweat, water rides, and sporadic downpours it felt rather like a week-long wet T-shirt contest and there was nothing sexy about it. And I’m still not certain I won’t end up having a time-delayed stroke from all the colored, flashing lights of the Mickey Mouse bubble blowers I was exposed too on a nightly basis. But, it’s all part of the experience. Good and bad, it’s all woven into the tapestry of memories that will last a lifetime. I’m blessed to have had the time with my loved ones on what the kids are still calling “the best vacation ever”.

How will we—or should I say he—ever top this one? I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m going to spend next week getting reacquainted with my couch. I’m going to watch soap operas and start on the pile of books I have left to read. Thank God my kids will be at sports camp for five days, because I need a vacation from the vacation!

#Writer Problems

Your computer updates and deletes all of your bookmarks on Explorer, so months’ worth of research is lost. You are frequently irritated by grammar and vocabulary errors, even on Facebook and Twitter. You’re supposed to be making a career out of writing, but you delete more than you write on any given day. These are just a few of the things you’ll find under the “writer problems” hashtag. But if you ask me, the biggest “writer problem” isn’t something that happens to the writer. The problem is the fact that their families are forced to live in a constant state of paranoia.

Anything they say can and may be used against them in a future novel. If they’re lucky, it was something funny or debonair that will be quoted by the hero. If they’re not so lucky, words they used during an argument will be uttered by the snarky jerk of a protagonist.

Their spouses hear voices. They develop multiple personalities as they walk around talking to themselves in strange accents as they “write” dialog. And the poor things never know if their author partners are just letting their creative juices flow or if their just one step away from a DID or schizophrenia evaluation.

The author’s search history can be downright disturbing. My poor husband borrowed my computer to google something one day and when he pulled up my browser, he was met with one disturbing book mark after another.

• Cancer
• Can I drink beer with one kidney?
• Early signs of pregnancy
• What to Expect When Expecting Twins
• Causes of Erectile Dysfunction

The poor guy didn’t know if I might have cancer or I was pregnant. And the bigger question… If I was pregnant, who on earth was the father, since I had apparently already diagnosed him with Erectile Dysfunction.

Writing is hard work, to be sure. It takes hours and hours of research. You have to live and relive every scene you write just to make sure you get it right. Once you’ve written it, you worry if your brilliance is actually total crap. But at this point, I think I’m glad I’m the writer. At least I know what’s going on in this wicked head of mine. I know why I spontaneously break out in a fit of laughter or burst into tears while staring at my computer screen. Men and women have always had a hard enough time understanding each other to begin with, but my poor husband doesn’t stand a chance.

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Image from The Writer’s Circle on Facebook.

Think First and Blow On It

Kids… I don’t know what’s wrong with these kids today!

This phrase has been uttered by parents and grandparents for generations. As a middle school teacher, I confess, I find myself wondering the same thing. Several times a day! There are lots of theories out there as to what the problem might be. They don’t get enough exercise. They play too many video games. They’re too dependent on electronics. I admit there is some validity to these claims. I subbed for a six grade math class last year and got so frustrated that I literally wrestled a kid’s calculator out of her hand when she tried to use it to multiply 2×2. And just last week I overheard a student in the hallway with his mother. She was helping him to dial the combination on his locker. When it opened, he turned to her amazed and said, “Oh, I had the combination wrong! I thought I just lacked the upper arm strength to open it!” So, that kid obviously could have benefitted from a little physical activity or strength some kind of strength training. But, I maintain that the biggest problem with today’s youth is the complete lack of accountability and common sense. Folks, I hate to break it to you, but it may have started with us.

As a society, we no longer appear to value these assets. We have made it too simple to do something stupid and either blame someone else, or claim that we didn’t know any better. Law makers vindicate people who spill scalding hot coffee themselves and then sue and virtually everything has a disclaimer— everything except my crazy Aunt Earlene. Have you noticed this? The directions to my new vacuum cleaner read: 1. “Do not pick up anything smoking or burning” and 2. “Do not immerse in water.” Why is this necessary? I tell you why. Because someone somewhere once turned to his/her spouse one day and said, “Honey, the pool filter’s out again. Why don’t you take that new Dyson out there and see if you can clean that thing out!”

Have you ever wondered why the little packet of silicon in your new shoe box reads “Do not eat?” Some brilliant individual thought their sketchers were supposed to come with a snack and now we must warn the others!

My sister sent me a picture from the Laundromat where the washers bore this sign: “High Speed Spins – Do not put a person in this washer.” It’s a good thing that label was posted. I’m a multi-tasker. I was totally going to save time by washing my kids and my laundry at the same time.

How about the warning on the flushable toilet brush cautions, “do not use for personal hygiene”? Apparently Swiffer brand wet wipes should also include this warning, because my principal’s kids did exactly that when he accidentally left the box on the back of the toilet last year. They did develop a bit of “irritation”, but being a rational man, instead of suing the company, he recommended that his children pay closer attention the “home care” label next time.

My personal favorite was a warning for a fuel Tank Cap: “Never use a lit match or open flame to check fuel level.” Now, I have never considered doing that. But then, I have one of those fancy new automobiles with the little needle thingy on the dash board to indicate the fuel level. Should we really have to tell people this stuff? For that matter, should A&W really need to advertise: Contents under pressure. Cap may blow off causing eye or other serious injury. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I can see that happening as a result of a “double dog dare” in the middle school lunch room. “Dude, I bet you can’t shake that until the lid blows off!” Still, I ask you, is it really the root beer’s fault that middle school kids are crazy? Shouldn’t we expect our kids to know better than that? I don’t think one has to be a scientist to know that gasoline is flammable and soda explodes when you shake it? My six year old knows better. I dropped a bottle of Sprite on the way in from the grocery store the other day and she said to me, hand on her hip, “Mom, I seriously would not open that if I were you!”

Some of these are extreme cases, but my point is, if we want to find out what’s the matter with kids, we have to start by looking at ourselves. Why should we expect America’s youth to be problem solvers or to use common sense when we don’t expect most adults to either? People, it’s time to raise the bar. If you have a youngster in your life, talk to them. Monitor them so they don’t turn play time into an episode of Myth Busters gone wrong. But more importantly, help them learn about safety and making smart choices. Teach them to be responsible for their own mistakes and learn from them. If you take your toddler to Mc Donald’s and he burns his little tongue on his Happy Meal. Don’t just whip out your phone and google a lawyer. Teach him to think first and blow on it!

Just Because I’m Not Twenty Anymore…

I am not laboring under the illusion that I’m still a teenager. I am a teacher, wife, and mother of two. I am not as firm as I used to be, I could stand to lose a few pounds, and I’m not the most physically fit woman on the planet. I know I’m not as young as I used to be. What I don’t know is when exactly I became old.

Admittedly, I have been getting several emails a day from Assisted Living, AARP, 50 Plus Dating, and the Scooter Store for quite some time. I just chalked those messages up to spam, deleted them, and moved on. Today, however, I got a letter in the mail from Ohio Health with a list of free seminars from the Council for Older Adults. Topics included menopause and dealing with a mid-life crisis, developed for the “mature woman.”

I was briefly offended by their assumptions, or more suitably, their accusations. “How dare they!” I thought. “I am only thirty-eight. I stay up past ten p.m., get up after four a.m., and I never eat dinner before five in the afternoon.” I was so irritated that I went running into the living room to show the letter to my husband.

He looked up at me from his recliner and said, “Don’t worry, sweetie. They obviously sent it to you by mistake. You’re the least mature woman I know.”

Thanks honey!

Maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss those people from 50 Plus Dating. If he keeps it up, I may be single again soon!

“You’ll shoot your eye out!”

The following is an adaptation of a speech I gave several years ago in my Toastmasters club. I found it in an old folder, and it still amused me. I thought I would share.

What’s the Matter with Kids Today? It was a question raised in song in the musical Bye-Bye Birdie. It’s a question that has been raised by older generations for decades. We find ourselves looking at our youth and wondering why they seem to lack common sense. We ask how they have become so entitled, with no sense of responsibility. If you ask me, the problem doesn’t originate with the children. They have not evolved into senseless creatures all by themselves. Today’s children are victims of society. As a society, we no longer appear to value this asset. We have made it too simple to do something stupid and either blame someone else or claim that we didn’t know any better. Law makers vindicate people who spill scalding hot coffee themselves then sue, and the only thing that doesn’t come with a warning label is your crazy Aunt Earlene.

The aforementioned McDonald’s lawsuit was so outrageous that it made the news all over the U.S. You might think that something so ridiculous would cause us to take a long hard look at ourselves, but I’m not sure that discouraged others from filing silly lawsuits. In fact, it may have encouraged it. The Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch listed several similar cases.

One homeowner sued the owners of a local business saying that their dust was trespassing on her property.  Of course, once it was established that dust had no legs and could not intentionally trespass, the case was dismissed.

Another woman, a housekeeper, stole what she thought was a decorative candle from a house that she was cleaning. During dinner with friends, she lit the “candle.” It turned out to be a firecracker and caused a small explosion. She later sued her client for leaving the firecracker laying around the house without a warning on it.

A woman leaving the hospital in a wheel chair was pushed into a parking gate. She sustained minor head injuries and sued, not the person who pushed her into the gate, but the manufacturer of the gate.  If you’re going to sue in a situation like that, at least get your priorities straight! The jury rightfully found that the gate maker was not at fault.

Even those convicted of crimes themselves continue to blame others for their problems. In Michigan, a prisoner sued the state because prison food was causing a flatulence problem. The Attorney General’s office estimated that frivolous prisoner lawsuits like that one waste several million dollars in state tax dollars every year.

Maybe they need more warning signs posted in those prison cafeterias. After all, nearly everything else in the US comes with some kind warning. Vacuum cleaners include such directions as: “Do not pick up anything smoking or burning” and “Do not immerse in water.”  Did someone wake up one day and decide to use their Hoover to clean out the pool? Why does the little packet of silicon in your new shoe box read “Do not eat?” Some brilliant individual one day mistook it for a snack. Now, steps must be taken to warn others and avoid prosecution. Once upon a time, there was a site called Wackywarnigns.com which gave several other examples like these. A Laundromat washer bore this sign: “High Speed Spins – Do not put a person in this washer.”  It’s a good thing that label is posted. That way the multi-taskers would know better than to wash their laundry and their children in the same machine. A warning on a flushable toilet brush cautioned, “Do not use for personal hygiene.” Apparently Swiffer brand wet wipes should also include this warning, because my principal’s kid did exactly that when he accidentally left the box on the back of the toilet. Kudos to him. Rather than sue, he suggested his son pay more attention to the “home care” label the next time.

Here are a two more serious warnings:  A fuel Tank Cap warns, “Never use a lit match or open flame to check fuel level.”  A&W soda labels state: Warning: Contents under pressure. Cap may blow off causing eye or other serious injury. As a middle school teacher, I can see that happening as a result of a “double dog dare” in the lunch room. “Dude, I bet you can’t open that bottle with your eye!” Still, I ask you, is it really the root beer’s fault that middle school kids are crazy?

Why should children think for themselves or try to solve a problem by using common sense when we don’t expect adults to? If you have a youngster in your life, talk to them about what they watch on TV so they don’t turn play time into an episode of Myth Busters gone wrong.  Help them learn about safety and making smart choices.  Teach them to be responsible for there own mistakes. Don’t help your toddler dial a lawyer when he burns his tongue on his Hamburger Happy Meal.  Teach him to think first and blow on it next time.

Insanity Now

For those of you who were alarmed by the title – no, it is not a counterattack on Susan Powter, the 90’s fitness guru, who encouraged us to “Stop the insanity!” It is, in fact, a tip sheet with advice on what to do and what not to do to win a Humorous Speech contest. Some of you may be thinking, “Don’t compete in the first place!” But that is not my advice. Speech contests, while scary and nerve-wracking, are also entertaining and exciting. Going to a Toastmasters Area contest is always a great networking and educational experience. If you want the additional satisfaction of taking home a trophy, there are a few things you should remember.

  1. Do practice. Practice frequently. Practice out loud. Practice in front of a mirror. Stomp around in your living room to practice staging. Talk to yourself, no matter who’s watching, and no matter how ridiculous it makes you feel.
  2. Do not forget to put the time and place on your calendar and then proceed to forget about the contest entirely until the day before.
  3. Do get a good night’s sleep on the eve of the contest.
  4. Do not assume that six hours of sleep will be sufficient. If you go out with friends and dance until after midnight, chances are, even your new Mary Kay makeup will not be enough to hide the dark circles, and you will not have the energy needed to put on your best show. (Especially if you are old enough to remember Susan Powter in the first place.)
  5. Do everything you can to prepare for the contest in advance, so you can feel confident the day of, and remain unshaken when the competition appears funnier than you.
  6. Do not sweat it. If the contestant before you gives a speech titled “Insanity Now” about suffering at the hands of his wife on a torturous trip to the grocery store, in an amusing accent, with great gestures and expressions… chances are, you’re going to lose anyway. Sit back, relax, and enjoy it!

Jesus, Drugs, and Whitney Houston

Everyone knows that as a parent you will eventually have to tackle difficult topics with your kids. You assume that as they grow you will have to teach them about smoking, drugs, sex, and other big issues. What no one tells you is that there are no rules as to when these topics come up. No one told me that I would be driving home from a Toastmasters meeting on a Tuesday night with my four and six year olds in the backseat giving the longest, most important table topic of my life.

It all started on our way out of the meeting. Someone had given a speech or a table topic about the dangers of smoking or something. I don’t even recall the specifics anymore. My son began before we even got in the car. I should have known I was in for it. The conversation went something like this:

“Mom, smoking is bad for you, right?”

“Yes it is.”

“But, people in our family smoke.”

“Yes they do.”

“Why? Don’t they know it’s bad for you?”

“Yes. I’m sure they do.”

“Then why do they do it?”

“Because cigarettes are addictive.”

He got in the car and was quiet for a moment. Then it began again.

“What’s addictive?”

I sighed as I eased out of the parking space. I didn’t really want to get into it while driving, because- you should know- I’m a bad driver as it is. I don’t really need distractions. But, you never know how many opportunities you will have to discuss these things with your kids while they are actually listening. At the moment, the kids were strapped into the backseat, a captive audience, so I chose my words carefully, trying to be simple, but effective.

“Addictive is when you have something and you just want more of it, like when you eat chocolate and it’s so good that you just want more of it.”

“Why are cigarettes addictive?”

“Because they have a drug called nicotine in them.”

That satisfied him for a moment, as the sun began to set, the situation worsened. It started to rain and my ever-inquisitive boy continued.

“Drugs are bad for you too, right?”

“Yes.”

“Then why do people do drugs?”

I sighed again as I turned the wipers on.

“Well, because drugs can make you feel good at first and people don’t know how bad they really are. By the time they realize it, it’s too late to stop.”

“Whitney Houston did drugs and she died.”

“Yes.”

Then my daughter got in on it.

“I miss Whitney Houston.”

“It is sad, isn’t it?” (She’s four! Does she even know a Whitney Houston song?)

“Why did Whitney Houston die?” she wanted to know.

The windows were starting to steam up, probably from all of our hot air.  I turned on the defogger.

“Ah… they say she took too many prescription drugs, so you see, even drugs from your doctor can be dangerous if you’re not careful about following directions.” I was feeling pretty good about working that in. But it wasn’t over.

We were traveling down Riverside Drive, a dark and windy road when my daughter hit me with another curve ball. Whitney died. She missed Whitney. So naturally, another death occurred to her, and she cried, “I miss Jesus!”

“Yeah,” her brother said. “Jesus died.” (Thank you vacation bible schoo!)

“Why did Jesus die?” she asked. (I take it back… thanks for nothing VBS!)

I turned up the wipers and tried to focus. Everything seemed to be happening so fast. Rain, headlights, questions. “Well, it is said that Jesus died to save us from our sins.”

“He sacrificed himself for us, right mom?”

“Yes.”  (My wise little boy!)

“You would sacrifice yourself for us, right mom?” (Holy cow! Where did that come from?)

“Yes, honey, of course I would.” (Dear, God, would this drive never end?)

It was pouring by that time and I hit a puddle. They were relentless. We hydroplaned. As I struggled to keep control, my daughter said, “What about dad?  Would he sacrifice himself for us?”

I couldn’t take anymore. “You’ll have to ask your father!” I shouted.

Two minutes later, we pulled on to our street. The kids clamored out of the car and ran into the house as I lay back exhausted in the driver’s seat. And you know, they didn’t ask their father! Part of me wondered why I had been blessed with the tough questions and not him. But I’m thankful that they felt they could ask, and happy that we could be so open with each other. I’m also thankful that I’m a Toastmaster, so that I wasn’t completely panic stricken and was able to formulate somewhat coherent answers. I’m actually hopeful that we will have more of these types of conversations, even if they are at night, in the dark, in the car, in the middle of a monsoon! Oh, who am I kidding? Next time they’re riding home with dad!

Signs

A year ago I was on a quest. It was a quest to look good. I had visions of looking like a Hollywood movie star. Of course, as my mother affectionately pointed out when I was a mere sprout of a girl, “You’re built like a bison.” So, I knew I would never be petite, but thin and relatively toned seemed attainable. Then Thanksgiving came… and Christmas… and New Year’s…. several birthday parties… Saint Patty’s Day… End of the year school parties…. And well… you get the idea. Around every corner I found another excuse to give myself a free pass on points. But now that my “skinny pants” are more than a tad snug, I think it’s time that I jumped back on the Weight Watchers bandwagon and renew my commitment to “The Quest”.  If any one of the following has ever happened to you, it might be time you joined me in my quest.

  1. Your five year-old poked your stomach and said, “Mommy, when you look like that it means you have a baby in your belly.”
  2. While shopping with your husband, you held up a pair of pants in your size and your husband said, “Wow, those look huge!”
  3. You were folding laundry, when your son walked in and asked, “Are those pants yours or Dad’s?”
  4. You noticed the server in the school cafeteria giving you a funny look as you went through the line. Moments later, she stopped a fellow teacher and asked, “Hey, is she pregnant again?”
  5. Even after pointing out that it wasn’t polite, the five year-old repeated, “I’m sorry, Mommy, but it really looks like there’s a baby in there!”

They’ve all happened to me. Sad but true. By the looks of things, either I have made some incredibly poor wardrobe choices lately, or I need to lay off the Dairy Queen and Doritos. If I keep going at this rate, by the time I have to go back to work in the fall, I’ll have blown all my money on Peanut Buster Parfaits. There won’t be any room in the budget for new “fat pants”. So, that’s it.  I have no choice! I’m renewing my commitment to “The Quest”. If Lynn Redgrave, Fergie (the duchess, not the pop star) and Jennifer Hudson can do it, so can I. Rice cakes and carrot sticks, here I come… tomorrow!

The Telltale Grocery List

I stood in the checkout line at Meijer in my Ohio State Buckeye flannel pants. I was mildly embarrassed. Being a self-respecting, professional woman who’s watched a lot of What Not To Wear and How Do I Look, I usually avoid leaving my house in my pajamas. Today was different. I was exhausted and desperate. The sad part – it was only 5:30pm. I tried to shake off my shame, but as I scanned the items on the belt in front of me, I only felt more pathetic.

I had been sent to the store for another jar of Arborio rice and Parmesan cheese to top off the risotto my husband was making for dinner. That was it. On the five minute run through the store with my two kids, we managed to accumulate the following: Miracle Whip, a package of trail mix, Nutella, pretzels rods, two packs of gum, two bags of Doritos (Cool Ranch and Nacho Cheese), a Monsters Inc. Pez dispenser, and a bottle of Sutter Home Moscato.

I was certain that the clerk and the woman in front of me must be judging me based on the conglomeration of items in front of me. What must my pile of impulse purchases say about me? I began to construct a list of explanations.

1.I teach middle school. It was testing week.
2. I haven’t slept much recently. I have two small children and a full-time job, and I’m writing a novel.
3. I’ve lost track of time, but I think I may have PMS.
4. Did I mention I teach middle school?
5. There is one day left before Spring Break.

The woman in front of me glanced back at me as she put her credit card back in her purse. I smiled nervously and said, “This is quite the bunch of groceries, huh? I guess I’ve been a little stressed lately.”
She smiled back and said, “You have Nutella and a bottle of wine. Looks like a good night. I’m jealous!”