Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Reflections on a Passing Year

One of my sons got in a lot of trouble about a month ago, and part of his punishment was to spend an hour a day doing extra chores for me. It must have been about the fourth day into this punishment when it finally hit him. “Mom, I’ve emptied the dishwasher every day, and I’ve vacuumed the carpets every day too. Why can’t I just do the job once and be done with it?”

The eternal question.

As I sit here on New Years Eve, contemplating 2008 I realize how much of this year I spent doing job’s that never get done. Washing dishes and clothes, dusting, vacuuming, mopping. I just have to face it. Life is repetitive.

My baby grandson has a set of books that his mom reads over and over too him. They say it’s because little children love repetition but I think its nature’s way of preparing them for the constant reiterations in adult life.

And it’s not just work that we have to repeat. What about phrases.

I notice that my cell phone came with a set of prewritten text messages that can be sent without taking the time to type them yourself. Phrases like:

“Where are you?”
“Call me when you get this message” or
“What’s your number” – although that last one seems kinda silly if you're sending a text message… oh well, talk to T-Mobile about it.

I’m thinking of inventing a little cell phone style box just for mom’s. And in it, I’ll have prerecorded all the things I find myself saying over and over and over.

“Where are you going and what time will you be back?”
“Did you brush your teeth AND use deodorant?”
“If you’d do it the right way the first time, you wouldn’t have to do it again.”
“But I’m not her/his mother, I’m yours, and that’s what I said.”- and of course-

So, to deal with a world of mindless repetition, one must use their non-repetition time doing new and exciting things. I would recommend traveling to Branson, Missouri or visiting Hawaii or China once a year. But if you aren’t my parent’s, then these options may not be financially viable.

For the rest of us let me share some of my favorite free internet adventure hot spots for 2008

1. Karaoke Party -

This is fun site. You can pick up a microphone at Wal-Mart for less than fifteen dollars and plug it into the back of your computer. Choose a song category (in karaoke party lingo ‘Classical’ would be the Beatles, not an aria from Madam Butterfly) and then sing. You get points for how well you match the artist (think Guitar Band Hero with out the weird looking characters) and then can compare your score with other players around the world. (Or not)

One word of warning. If you’re kids walk in on you belting out “We are the Champions” from Queen, they will make fun of you!

2. Smile Box eCards –

I have set a 2009 goal to remember all the birthdays and anniversaries in my family this year by sending ecards. However I always go to Hallmark and they only have so many new and free ecards. So, in an effort to widen my ecard horizons, I did a google search and found this site.

Smile Box is free and allows you to upload photos or videos and incorporate them into an ecard to send out to people. How cute is that? I’m thinking I have a couple of photos of myself that would make truly frightening Halloween cards.

3. Jib Jab -

This is similar to the above site except you get to attach head shots of your favorite people onto animated bodies and then watch them play out their own little mini movies. But be forewarned. If you create the movie or show it to people whose heads are in the movie, they will think these are unbelievably hilarious. Anyone else watching will get boarded really fast.

4. The American Museum of Photography -

When I really need to get out of my own world, I like to search out exotic locations or interesting museums and then pretend I’m really there. The idea of web cams sounds good, but I don’t care how exotic the beach, watching several minutes of a still shot, replaced by another still shot from some high and not very artistic vantage point, just doesn’t do the job.

However, if you search a little, you can find some really funky places on the internet to visit like the site above. This exhibit from the American Museum of Photography is titled Pulp Pix: The Bizarre Case of Photography Noir. It was so unique that I spent over an hour exploring it.

Well I gotta get back to my dishes so I can bring in 2009 with a bang! Till next year.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Finding the Perfect Gift

I always make a point of going to Wal-Mart on February 14th around five-thirty in the afternoon. That’s about the time that the men in our community have gotten off work and suddenly realize that if they show up at their homes without something red, pink and sweet in their hands to give to their loved ones for Valentines Day; they will probably end up sleeping on the couch.

There’s a look about these men whether they are seventeen or sixty-seven that is so amusing to watch. Half panic half hope that somewhere in the depth of that super-store will be a gift both romantic enough to show that they care, and not reek of last minute desperation.

I bring this up because in many ways Valentines Day and Christmas are alike. Both holidays rely heavily on making the right choice in the gift department, and both are loaded with potential guilt if that goal is not achieved.

My teenage son came home from Christmas shopping the other night and told me that I was the hardest person he had to shop for. He couldn’t find anything he thought I’d like. I stared at him in dumbfound amazement. In my opinion, women are by far the easier sex to buy for, falling right there in line with pre-schoolers and family pets.

It’s men in general and teenagers specifically that are the mortal terror of gift buyers everywhere.

For instance, did you ever notice that the older a man gets, the more expensive his toy wishes. Maybe if I was Jennifer Lopez or Bill Gates I could actually give them those expensive big ticket items.

“Oh Mom, how did you know I wanted a 27 inch HD plasma TV with a high definition surround sound system for my bedroom. You’re the best!”

Although even if I could afford such pricey items, this plan would probably backfire too. I can just imagine it. Christmas morning me and my young adult son head out to the driveway where a brand new shiny silver BMW sits proudly, wrapped in a huge red ribbon. “Merry Christmas Son,” I’d say with pride, watching his face for that look of stunned pleasure.

Instead he’d study the new vehicle for a few minutes before shrugging his shoulders and saying “Yeah it’s nice, but I really wanted a blue one.”

Clothes shopping is not an option either, at least not without them standing over your shoulder and whispering in your ear, “Not THAT color. I wouldn’t be caught dead in those pants. Who do you think you’re dressing? Pee Wee Hermon?” I could actually blindfold myself, and walk through the men’s department picking some piece of clothing at random and have a better chance of pleasing my boys.

A young friend of mine (male of course) told me that his strategy is to ask his parents for one concrete item. Say a book or CD that he wants. Something clear and concise that they can’t mess up. Then he asks for money. Mom and Dad get the pleasure of giving him something they can watch him unwrap and he can spend the cash any way he chooses.

So what is a mother to do? Break down and give gifts of twenties and fifties? Condense the pile of brightly covered packages under the tree to a scattering of long narrow white envelopes? Take a second mortgage out on the house to give them those expensive gaming systems and electronics they want?

While meditating on my options, it suddenly came to me. I’m the mom here and it’s my job is to teach my kids what is really important in life. Things like how they should eat a few vegetables before digging into dessert, and the benefit of the frequent and liberal use of soap and deodorant. I’d managed to convince my kids that playing with matches, though definitely fun, was not a good idea if they intended to keep a wood roof over their heads. And if they put their shoes away, right when they took them off, it’s so much easier to find them the next morning. (Okay, we’re still working on that one.)

With this in mind, I knew that it was my responsibility to instruct my children on the true meaning of Christmas and the importance of recognizing the love and thought behind a gift. And who better to teach such principles than the woman who’d been receiving hand colored mother’s day cards and bouquets of dandelion flowers, presented by little people with sticky dirt covered fists for years.

So this Christmas, we cut back on how many gifts we are buying and how much money we spend. I’m putting my foot down and not allowing myself to let the season evolve into a guilt fest. I even turned on the All Christmas Music All Day Everyday Day Since Halloween Whether You Like It Or Not radio channel and sang along with Perry Como… and it wasn’t even Christmas eve.

Will it work? I don’t know but I have seen some promising signs. Next week I’ll tell you about our eleven year old son and his amazing seven days of Christmas.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Christmas Shopping - Enter At Your Own Risk

Last week, my husband and I decided to attempt shopping the early morning sales on Black Friday. I had assumed that the term ‘black’ was a financial term, meaning that the stores did so well that they went from the red ink of loss to the black ink of profit. But after actually participating, I realize the connotation is more ominous and akin to ‘Black Plague’ or ‘Black Widow.’

I joke about this, but the after Thanksgiving sales are a big deal for retailers and they put a lot of marketing ideas and dollars into figuring out ways to beat out their competition for those early morning shoppers. For example, the earlier you open, the sooner Joe and Jane consumer can spend their hard earned cash at your establishment. Six, five and even four a.m. is not too early. And if a store’s sales are really extraordinary a tent village will spring up around your front door, signaling to the world that those five Wii games for 95% off are already history.

Some retailers give away freebees to encourage customers to shop at their stores. Donuts, coffee, hot cocoa… One year I stood in line for thirty minutes in sub freezing temperatures at five in the morning, with over two hundred other people, just to get the free hot wheel car they were handing out and the possibility of a $100 shopping spree if you got the lucky car. I didn’t win the prize, but after buying two more hot wheel cars at fifty cents each, I had a stocking stuffer for each of my three boys.

Once in the store, it didn’t take me long to realize what an amateur I was at this. I watched one large family arrive and work the store like a well oiled military machine. One person got in line, while the others fanned out through the aisles, cell phones turned on and in hand.

“This is Katelynn checking in, just got the Easy Bake Oven for 60% off.”

“They’re running low on Guitar Hero, can someone create a diversion while I grab the last two?”

“I’m up to the register in five, everyone back to base.”

And the lines, oh my goodness. You stand in them to get into the door and then you stand in them to get out. We spent more time in long serpentine chains that wove through the aisles and around the store than we ever did shopping. One enterprising department store had clerks walking up and down the lines promising a shorter check out at customer service for any customer willing to apply for their credit card. Kind of a sneaky retail form of blackmail.

By eleven oclock, we dragged back into the house, tired and foot weary. As we made our way into the bedroom with our super duper savings tucked under our arms, ready to be hidden away for wrapping, we were accosted by our teenage son.

“You already did your Christmas shopping?” he asked?

“Sure did,” his father said with a tired smile, “And we’ve bought all your gifts.”

“Are you crazy?” our darling son responded. “You don’t even know what I want!”

“You want what we got you and don’t forget it!”

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