Wednesday, November 30, 2016

In Need of a Good De-Grinching

Aside from setting out a few Christmas-y dust collectors and loading up the tree with the dozens of ornaments we've collected over the years, I do not deck the halls for the holidays. I consider decorating to be a form of arts & crafts, which is among the many maternal skill sets I lack. I thought this shortcoming would become less important once the kids grew up, but alas, Abby has once again voiced her disappointment at our Grinch-like abode.

Truth be told, I feel rather Grinch-like and it's not just the depression that's keeping me green and grumpy. I've felt ho-hum about the holidays for years now. I'm not sure where things went wrong for me. Perhaps when the kids became too old for toys (or at least toys that don't cost hundreds of dollars)? Perhaps when I became too old for toys? Perhaps when Christmas getaways began taking the place of gift-giving? Perhaps when I decided the loneliness of a mere family of four at the holidays was too big a bummer to bother truly celebrating? Perhaps when the radio stations started playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving and the stores decorated for the holiday in October? Regardless of the cause, I've definitely lost the passion for Christmas, which means I'm obviously missing the reason for the season.

This year I'm going to try something different. In an attempt to beat the Grinch at his own game, I'm going to decorate my heart and soul with 25 daily gifts of love. Wow, that sounds super corny, but work with me here. I'm thinking that rather than an advent calendar counting down to Christmas with chocolates, I'm going to remind myself daily of all the gifts I already have in my life. One gift each day, recorded in my journal so I can reflect on it. And to share the love, which is the whole point of Christmas (remember?) from December 1-25 I'm also going to "gift" my family with simple reminders of why I love them. My hope is that I can think of 25 reasons for each of them this countdown will fill my heart with the joy of the season.

I'd love to hear about the special ways you celebrate Christmas/Hanukkah. And if you want to get together over the holidays, give a call. Time spent with friends is one of the greatest gifts of all!

Monday, November 7, 2016

The End is Near! Or Maybe It's Just My Beginning?

Tomorrow night I officially take the stage, a real stage, for the first time in 30 years. And no, that's not an exaggeration. I haven't been in a theater production since high school when I performed in Leader of the Pack my senior year. I wore a black leather jacket in that role. In Marisol, I play “Woman with Furs” and I wear an amazing coat. I obviously have a gift for attracting roles with good outerwear.

Rehearsals for Marisol began in early October and the time has flown by. Along with the passage of time, I'm happy to say that my depression has eased dramatically (pun intended). I guess being part of something bigger than yourself and staying busy keeps sadness at bay. It doesn't hurt that I'm surrounded by a supportive family (now I have two!)—with me in the solo role of middle age woman. I've enjoyed the hugs (thank you, Rachel), loads of laughter (thank you, Nick and Leo) and ridiculous amounts of talent (thank you, all). Whatever it is, I've consistently looked forward to rehearsals, and there's little else I feel that way about these days.

The joy I've experienced throughout this process is all the more remarkable when you consider the size of my role, which amounts to one scene at the top of Act 2. A small part was ideal in the early days of rehearsal when it meant I didn't have to be there every night or stay for the entire time, but come the week before the show, a small part translates into more sitting than I've ever done in my life. Friday evening, the first of our tech rehearsals, I spent no more than 10 minutes on stage in four hours. On Saturday, during an 11-hour rehearsal, my stage time was about 15 minutes. It's no wonder I've gained weight over the past month. It's either all the sitting or the banana chocolate chip, french vanilla chip, or chocolate cheesecake muffins I've been eating regularly for breakfast.

All the sitting aside, I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Of course, I can say that now, before the performance, before the nerves attack and I forget all my lines and burst into tears on stage. At least I'm thinking positive. So let's say that barring a catastrophe, I'd love to do this again. Will I do it again? Probably not anytime soon. It's a lot to ask of my family as long as Abby is living at home and needs me for transportation. And I do miss time with family and friends. And speaking of missing things, would you believe Rob is going to Punta Cana for work later this month and I could have gone if it weren't for Marisol? Alas, the show must go on. And while we're speaking of Rob, can I publicly thank him for being so supportive? I know it wasn't easy, but this experience really has brought me considerable joy.

But enough about me and my emotional catharsis, it's time to tell you about this amazing show. First, it's not for everybody. I'd give it a PG-13 rating. If you believe the “F” word warrants an R rating, then it should be rated Triple-R. But “F” bombs aside, Marisol is an amazingly thought-provoking show. It will make you laugh, cry and cringe. It will make you consider the presence of God and guardian angels. It will make you wonder about this world we live in.

Here's the official description:

Brooklyn is a war zone, coffee is extinct, the moon has disappeared, and angels are trading in their wings for machine guns. As a celestial battle against an old and senile God brews in heaven, the rebellion spills over into New York City. Without the protection of her guardian angel, Marisol Perez begins a surreal journey through the chaos of a crumbling world to find her way home. Met by vagrants and vagabonds at every turn, she must salvage what hope remains amidst the rubble of the apocalypse. 

Perhaps one line in the show best sums it up:
“What a time to be alive, huh? On one hand, we're nothing. We're dirt. On the other hand, we're the reason the universe was made.”  
To learn more about Marisol, check out the website.

Performances run from tomorrow through November 20 at Villanova Theatre in Vasey Hall. If you're interested in seeing it you can order tickets at villanovatheatre.org or 610-519-7474.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Whom Would I Be If...?

Have you ever stopped to think about whom you would be if you became wildly wealthy or found yourself in a position of great power? Sometimes I ask myself those questions, often when there's a big lottery win on the line or when I encounter an executive asshole. I recently wrote an article in which I had the middle initial wrong for a bigwig, and "his people" were quick to let me know. To be fair, they weren't jerks about it, but I wonder, if I were the bigwig, would a mistake like that phase me in the least? When I’m mistakenly referred to by Rob’s last name I don’t make it a point to correct the individual in question, but if I were someone who “mattered” would I suddenly start railing against the offenders?  I’m curious, which comes first, the ego or the executive title?

I recall years ago when I worked in publishing we were producing a compilation of sermons and I had to choose just a few preachers' names for the back cover. I inadvertently left off the name of a nationally-known minister/author who proceeded to berate me, threatening to pull his sermon from the book if he wasn't properly recognized. Christian behavior at its finest. So was this guy a jerk to begin with, or did he grow into it, along with his fame?

Maybe I’m naive, but I like to think that no matter how important I became, I'd still treat everyone the same way I do now. Which to be fair, isn't spectacular because I'm actually pretty introverted and small talk kills me. Still, I can't imagine I could talk down to anyone, or lash out if someone dropped the ball where my identity is concerned.

And then there’s money. Does money change everyone? Is it a given? Maybe it depends on when you become rich. If I had millions of dollars fall into my lap at this point in my life, I really doubt that it would change who I am at the core. I’d buy a shore house immediately, but I’d invite everyone who likes this post all my friends and maybe even discount the rental fee. I'm generous like that. And I don’t think I’d suddenly be okay with $200 jeans or $500 haircuts. I’m pretty sure I’d still clip coupons and shop at TJ Maxx, Marshall’s and BJ’s. And I’d probably drive my minivan into the ground before picking out my dream convertible. If I were wealthy, I’d still nag my husband to use the dozen-plus brewery growlers he keeps in the basement instead of always getting a new one. And I’d remain pissed off at the way the dog has ruined the couch by treating it as her personal jungle gym.

If I were rich, I know I’d increase my tithing at church, give to those in need, and buy my dad a bigger boat, but I probably wouldn’t start paying for all my friends every time we went out for dinner (that could become awkward). I would go out for dinner much more often, however, because there are few things I dislike as much as cooking. Maybe I’d hire an in-house chef. I’d still eat peanut butter sandwiches because I don’t like anything “good,” but Rob and the kids could eat better.

Speaking of the kids, they wouldn’t find themselves living on easy street. No big handouts coming from mom (dad might be a different story). I’d still make them drive the crappy, seriously-used cars they have waiting for them now. And they’d still be responsible for filling them with gas, bought with the money they earned from their jobs. I think nothing is more dangerous than a free ride. Pun intended.

So how about you? Would fame and fortune go straight to your head or would you remain the individual we know and love? Have you experienced a change in title or wealth that tempted you to become someone else? What would others say about you? 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

How Do You Say...?

I do not like voids in my life, therefore, when the opportunity arose to fill Ian's spot, I took it. Within days of Ian moving to Villanova, I moved Gautier into his room. Gautier or Got (pronounced "Gote") is a 16-year-old exchange student from Tours, France. I took "exchange" quite literally, trading in one teenage boy for a new model. Not that Gautier is a French model. I wouldn't want a gaggle of teen girls showing up at the house with misinformation.

You may recall that I attempted this exchange student thing before, about four years ago. Jess, however, was from Quebec, which doesn't really count, plus she had already graduated from high school in Canada, which means she had no skin in the game. What I'm trying to say is that it didn't work out with Jess. She left us a couple months early. Boyfriend troubles, apparently, though there were rumblings of dissatisfaction around a certain family member's bathroom habits. We won't go there. No pun intended.

Filling the empty hole in my soul from Ian's leaving was not the only reason we ordered an exchange student. I also was looking for free labor, someone to empty the dishwasher and wash the cars, much like Long Duk Dong’s host parents in "Sixteen Candles." Abby also wanted an exchange student from France. She's taking French and figured it'd be like having a free, live-in tutor. Unfortunately, she didn't count on having to tutor him in English, and let's just say patience isn't her strong suit.

Got’s English is passable, but there are definitely conversations where I’m lucky if I understand half of what he says. While it can be difficult, personally, I’ve found much of the language barrier to be charming and/or amusing. For example:

“What was your day?” (translated: How was your day?)

“They don’t have bus for to go home. I will work.” (translated: I missed the bus. I will walk)

“Thank you for your helping.” (translated: thank you for your help)

“I past the first test. I don’t understand all the answer.” (translated: I finished the first test. I didn’t understand any of the questions)

“I work outsider with lily.” (translated: I took Lily for a walk)

“For this moment I don’t really have hungry.” (translated: I’m not hungry right now)

I also love the way Got describes nearly everything as “big,” which is certainly appropriate in America where everything from meals to our vehicles are overly large. He noted that the only thing small around here are teenage girls’ jeans. Actually, that was me. He hasn't mentioned girls' jeans. Got also refers to many things as “funny,” when I’m pretty sure he means nice or good.

While I pick up a decent amount of what he’s trying to communicate, I’m pretty sure Got gets about 10 percent of what I throw at him. I’ve learned that if he gives me a straight "yes" or "no" answer it means he doesn't understand what I’ve said and is trying to fake it. There have been some alarming examples of this. For instance, he responded “yes” to questions like "Will you try to kill me in my sleep?" and "Do you have any intention of hitting on my daughter?" And he replied "no" when asked "Do you like my cooking?" and "Do you think we’re a nice, normal family that you’ll enjoy living with?" Clearly these were not the responses I was looking for, nor the answers I believe he meant to give. Although, to be fair, he probably doesn't like my cooking, as evidenced by the fact that he keeps offering to make meals for us.

The most important thing to know about Got (besides his potentially murderous intentions) is that he’s very polite, respectful and eager to help. Kinda like I imagine my children are when they’re with anyone but me. He’s also a big fan of the way Americans treat our flag. Apparently that level of respect and display is unheard of in France, or many countries for that matter. It’s pretty cool to hear him talk about it.

Overall, I’d have to say things are going well. When I asked Got about his next host family (he moves to a new family in January), he informed me that he’s planning on staying with us. I told him that's fine, as long as he takes over all the cooking. Anyone interested in a nice French meal?

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Empty Nest Symptoms?

Someone once said she appreciated how "real" I am.
I told her I'd prefer to be a little less real.
Last week I had one of my worst emotional breakdowns in 15 years. For anyone who's struggled with depression, you know that these episodes are terrifying. You can't breath, you can't stop crying, and you're paralyzed with the fear that you're never going to get better. Suffice it to say that depression sucks.

I've been in a pretty lousy place for about six months now and I'm starting to wonder if I'm ever going to feel like my old self again. It's not that my old self was anything awesome, but I liked her better. She laughed more easily. She made others laugh. She cried at happy things. She wrote funny blog posts and Vacation Bible School skits.

I'm not entirely sure what prompted last week's meltdown, but my guess is that it had something to do with being lonely. Honestly, loneliness has taken me by complete surprise. I craved alone time for most of the past 15 years, and now that I have it, I'm miserable. I never thought I'd be the mom who falls apart when the kids leave the house. I thought the whole empty nest syndrome was a bit ridiculous and only applied to moms whose entire lives were their kids. But here I am, the mom who paid as little attention to the kids as possible, now hates the thought of them leaving. And it's not like Ian's going to college across the country, for crying out loud (no pun intended), and I still have Abby for a few more years (though she's constantly busy). Woe is me! I've turned into my mom. Time to stock up on those guilt-inducing comments.

What concerns me most about this loneliness thing is that it's not as if I have nothing else to do with my life. I go to the gym (and as an aside, a meltdown post-workout is truly adding insult to injury. I exercise because the freakin' endorphins are supposed to help my mental health. It's totally uncool for them to not hold up their end of the bargain); I make dinner (it's been known to happen when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars); I play with the dog; I watch two episodes of my new favorite show Jane the Virgin (no more than two, because I want to make them last); I write, read, or pay bills or practice an audition piece for a play I may or may not have the nerve to try out for; I drink wine; and then I have mini panic attacks when I allow my mind to wander for more than a minute.

Most likely I'm overreacting. It's only the calm before the storm. Life will pick back up again and I won't have time to be looney lonely. Soon school will resume and I'll be chauffeuring Abby to and from soccer practices and games.  And did I mention we're taking in an exchange student from France? (His name is Gautier; he's 16. What could go wrong?) And I'm taking a Voice & Movement class at Villanova, returning to the theatre program. I also think I'm going to try out for a play, which would keep me busy six nights a week, at which point I'll have a breakdown because I'm overwhelmed. There's no keeping me happy. Aren't you glad you're not Rob?

Thanks for listening/reading. I know this isn't a particularly uplifting post, but I figured someone out there would be able to relate and might have something to say to make me feel better. Or, I'll make you feel better knowing that you're not half as crazy, lonely, sad, etc. as the girl who writes the Freakin' Angel blog!







Monday, July 18, 2016

To Be Extraordinary

A couple weeks ago the news reported the death of Seaman James Derek Lovelace. Lovelace drowned during Navy Seal training exercises. He was 21. Did you know that since 2012 more Seals have died in training than have died in combat or from combat-related injuries? A sad fact, sadder still because these men were extraordinary.

When I witness individuals doing extraordinary things, I feel really crappy about myself and my decidedly ordinary life. I'm in awe of those who tackle military training, or attempt American Ninja Warrior, or the Spartan races. I am beyond impressed by those who complete Ironman/Woman triathlons. I tip my hat to marathon runners and mountain climbers because there's nothing in me that wants to attempt any of those things. I hear the term "boot camp" at the gym, and I head to the yoga mat. Combine the word "extreme" with anything, and I run in the opposite direction. How is it there are people like Seaman Lovelace in the world and then there are people like me?

And it's not just those who accomplish heroic physical feats. What about hospice nurses like my girl Theresa, and teachers like my friends Cathy, Karen, Mindy, Dave, Dan and Susan? Put me in their shoes and you'd find the dying comforting me, and children running the classroom. And then there are those who make a difference in the world through their selfless acts. Like my friend Dave Powell whose organization Wells for Relief brings water to people in Ghana. Personally, I'd like to bring a dog  park to Media, Pa., and even that seems like too much work (and it's totally selfish since I could really use a dog park nearby).

Hell, even politicians, one or two of them, deserve our applause. Most of us bitch about the state of our country, but how many of us are doing anything to improve it? Current presidential candidates excluded, there are actual American citizens who put their district, state, and/or country first. I can't name any of them, but I'm sure they exist. This is just another category in which I would say, "Not a chance." I'm embarrassed to admit that I would probably fail a test on exactly how our political system works, and that's because I spend my time on the latest movies and best selling books instead of picking up Time magazine.

Wow. This is depressing. The problem with this thinking, and as a result this blog post, is that it stymies us. We're understandably daunted by aiming for extraordinary, convinced we can never achieve it, but I recently was given the advice to "Do one thing different" and that helps, really. Because if you think about it, neither the Navy seal nor the marathon runner, nor the teacher or the politician got out of bed one morning and said "today I'm going to accomplish something extraordinary." They built up to it with a run, or a course of study or, in the case of the politician, a bribe. Baby steps.

I'm not sure what my extraordinary could look like, but today and tomorrow, too, I'm going to do one thing different and see where it takes me. How about you? What would extraordinary mean to you? And what's the one thing you could do differently to get you there?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

It's Been Curiously Entertaining!

Rob and I have been talking about our 10-year plan and for some time now it's included retiring to Wrightsville Beach, NC. I even get Zillow updates on properties for sale in our price range. This year when choosing where to vacation we decided we should visit the place we want to retire, you know, before actually purchasing a property and moving there. So here we are in Carolina Beach, NC. We couldn't afford find a place to rent in Wrightsville.

Located just south of Wrightsville, Carolina Beach is billed as "a family-friendly, extraordinary beach town that's curiously entertaining!" The "curiously entertaining" part should have been a clue. I'm pretty sure it's synonymous with "uncomfortably amusing" or "freak show." Carolina Beach is also described as "North Carolina's most authentic beach town," which means "America's yahoos vacation here." Allow me to share the top 10 things I've seen this week (and the week is only half over):
  1. A tee that read "Cool story, babe, now get me a beer."
  2. A sign for a "Gun & Tattoo" show.
  3. A visit from the paramedics. Despite the fact that we were hanging on the front porch enjoying ourselves, she walked past us to the front door and when we looked at her strangely stopped and said "Didn't you call 911?" We hadn't. 
  4. Fishing charter boats so skanky I'd be afraid to eat anything they caught.
  5. Abby and Hope almost hit by a car and Rob giving the guy an earful.
  6. An absurd amount of vaping...
  7. A preponderance of Willie Nelson look-a-likes.
  8. An alligator.
  9. A bar with no public restrooms and a sign forbidding "club colors." Forgive my naivety, but I really didn't know Carolina beach towns were havens for gang violence.
  10. A brand new boardwalk all of three blocks long on which there is nothing but swings overlooking the dunes. Not a glimpse of the ocean to be found. And the boardwalk shops aren't actually on the boardwalk. Nor is there anything remotely worth shopping for. This place makes Seaside Heights look impressive. Almost. 
And now that I've gotten my elitist comments out of the way, allow me to add that bringing Lily on vacation was a mistake. We've had one escape in which she took off across the street, through parking lots, over the dunes and onto the beach. Some guy caught her by the collar and she dragged him several feet before he wisely let go. We haven't been able to leave her alone for fear she'll either die of a stress-related heart attack or destroy the house. We're going to the beach in shifts. 

Now, none of this is to say we're not having fun. The beach is lovely and the water is about the warmest I've ever felt the Atlantic. Yesterday we took a ferry to Oak Island and found a dog friendly beach that Lily enjoyed. We've played several rousing games of Polish poker, I finished a good book (Tana French's Broken Harbor), and we experienced hair raising thunderstorms. 

Still, I'd say there's an excellent chance we'll be home early. I prefer my yahoos without a southern accent.