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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Little Miss Can't Be Wrong

It's not her fault. She inherited the disease, as I have inherited it from my mother.

Yesterday was first full day of vacation in which I got to spend an entire day with my two wonderful kids. It confirmed a suspicion that's been on my mind for a few months now. Alexandria has got a terrible case of "know-it-all" disease.

Some of you might have it and not know it. Here's a quick test.

1) Can you relate to Hermione Granger? You know the Harry Potter character who always corrects her male counterparts? Who has her hand raised high in class, sitting on the edge of her seat, hoping desperately to be called upon?
2) Do you have a strong urge to correct incorrect use of spoken or written grammar? Or, do you actually correct usage of grammar to anyone other than your children?(If you actually do this, no doubt you have it.)
3) Does it pain you to hear a piece of factual information delivered erroneously?4) Do you believe you have the memory of an elephant?
5) Have you ever argued about splitting infinitives?

If you answered affirmatively to any of these, you probably carry the disease. Truly, it's not a terrible disease to have, but for obvious reasons one must learn to manage it! It takes a lot of practice to learn to keep your mouth shut, but in the end it makes for better friendships. It's especially a helpful marriage tool.

I also like to use the, "Oh, I must be mistaken. I was thinking..." strategy. It doesn't really matter if the other party realizes his or her mistake. At least you were able to speak a piece of your correct mind.

Anyway, I'd love to hear it from you know-it-alls out there! What techniques do you use?

P.S. Don't you love the picture of Alex above? She looks baffled by this blue Lego man -- a look she doesn't typically display

Friday, June 27, 2008


Mom always says, "Nothing perks you up like a new piece of fabric."

I want to go shopping. Really bad. You know what I'm talking about. At least you girls do.

I just finished reading another spiritual lesson from Deepak Chopra, so why am I craving a trip to visit Gap, DSW and Express? Wait! A thought! Maybe it's in my spiritual make-up! It's not just a materialistic, selfish desire to have an incredible wardrobe consisting of trendy clothes and adorable shoes.

But seriously, despite the shoe fetish I share with 95% of the female population in America, I'm really not deeply attached to anything in my closet (except maybe my ratty U of Iowa sweatshirt from 1988, but that's purely sentimental). As a matter of fact, Stacey and Clinton could toss everything in my closet. I wouldn't even shed a tear. I'd look at it as an opportunity to go shopping. So, aha! It's the process, not the outcome.

Of course, this process of shopping has backfired on me a few times. I've suffered through many "Mother's Day" shopping trips with my kids and husband because they wanted to make it a special day for me. Ever done that? What's more fun than having your family follow you around, waiting for you to pick something out and be done with it already? "What else do you need?" "Mom, can I get this?" "When are we going to eat?" Doug, being the supportive husband that he is, yells at the kids, "Just stop it! This is Mom's day!" And the kids mope. We don't do that anymore.

The best shopping trip I ever had was a trip to Kansas City with my mother a couple of years ago to celebrate a milestone birthday of hers. It was pure unadulterated joy. With no time constraints, no moping and no whining we visited almost each and every store in the Kansas City Plaza. We laughed a lot. We only ate when we were hungry -- and just enough to give us energy for more shopping. And you know what? I didn't even spend that much. It wasn't about what I got.

It was about what we shared. And maybe just a little about the shoes.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Breakthrough For the Finicky Eaters!

It’s a breakthrough discovery in the Kramer household! Do you have a child who wants nothing but hamburgers and pizza? Let me tell you about a technique called “melted butter”.

Years ago, I stopped asking my family what they wanted for dinner. Now I just start preparing. If they ask what I’m making, I simply respond, “something wonderful, like always”. Their response? Only apprehensive expressions.

A few nights ago, I grilled catfish fillets, steamed cheesy cauliflower and made rice. The meal was quite…yellowish. The plate didn’t look near as French as I intended.

“Mom? What do we dip it in?”

“Dip? Um. Well. Hey! How about some butter?”

I melted butter and gave everyone a dish of their own for dipping. The results?

“Mom! This is awesome! Can we have fish every night?”

Of course, everything on the plate (except the rice) was being fully-immersed in the melted butter. Cole held his food in the butter for at least ten seconds. But who cares? Voila! I finally hit a homerun on the meal front. And such a simple solution – melted butter!

So, when Cole complained about the tator-tot casserole I’m making tonight, I simply responded. “You can dip it in butter!” He shrugged and said, “OK!”

But one bite into that cheesy, tator totty, hamburgy dish, I don’t think he’ll even remember the melted butter condiment! I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

And Peace Be With You!

Let me preface this posting by saying I have a very happy marriage. There is no doubt that fate brought us together. (See our picture?)With that being said...

I'm annoying the hell out of my husband this weekend. It's really out of the best intentions. You see, I just read the Seven Spiritual Laws to Success by the guru Deepak Chopra (yes the one Mike Myer parodies in his new movie), and I have found this new inner peace! So, I'm trying transfer some of my enlightenment on to Doug. But it just seems to be pissing him off.

He was given some upsetting news yesterday. It's not health-related, but without going into a lot of detail, he is understandly upset by something involving his farming operation. So, with my newly-found state of calm, I've been trying to help him.

"Let it go, Hon. It doesn't matter in the scheme of things."

"Easy for you to say. What about all of those years I spent working on this."

Hmm. "Maybe there's a reason. You know the law of Kharma... And eventally what you sow is what you'll reap."

He gives me a look like "obviously you don't understand".

Later enroute to a ball game, I actually get my Deepak Chopra book and start reading a few passages. Perhaps if I read the words verbatim, it will be more effective.

Again, no reaction. He turns up the radio.

So, as the day goes by, and I feel negativity consume his essence, I try a few more tactics.

I gently grab his arm, "Hey, it 's okay. It's just a softball game."

He turns to talk to someone else.

Then I try getting a little more in his face. "You're kind of a 'glass is half-empty' guy today, aren't you?"

He looks at me like, "no shit".

So, here I am on Sunday morning trying to brainstorm ways to make Doug happy while he sleeps.


What makes every male happy? I better go back to bed. :)

Friday, June 20, 2008

Oh the Wonder!

On the way home tonight, I saw an incredible rainbow! Both of the ends were visible and the spectrum was brilliant. It reminded me when Cole saw his first rainbow at about the age of four. He excitedly ran to me. "Mom! You gotta see this. I never knew rainbows were real!"

He didn't know rainbows were real -- only a made-up effect in books or movies. Too often we take for granted the wonders of nature. Now everytime I see a rainbow, I think to myself, "It's real!".

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Our Trip to the Pool

June is half over and I finally took the kids to the pool. What's happened to me? It wasn't all that many years ago when I impatiently waited for the first day of the pool to open. Now, here I sit in a lounge chair, sucking in my c-sectioned stomach, trying to hide behind a large Oprah magazine. I practically begged Cole to let me play with him in the pool so at least my bottom half would be covered. He politely declined. I guess it's embarrasing for six-year olds to play with their moms. Alex ditched me the moment she spotted one of her friends. (I'm still subtly monitoring her. Does a mother ever get over the fear of their children drowning?")

So, here I sit, with one eye on my kids and the other taking note of the young and skinny moms. One mom is wearing a string bikini with a six-month old attached to her side. A six month old! My doctor told me it takes three years for your body to come back. Cole's almost 7, and I'm still waiting.

OK. Time to get over it. What happened to all that talk last week about "age only being a frame of mind"? That was before I tried on my swimsuit. Oh well, at least I can sit here and write. And read Oprah. I'm sure to find an inspirational article in the magazine that always makes women feel good about themselves.

Better yet, I can put away my notebook and the magazines, stop drowning in my vain sorrows and soak in the youthful spirit of my beautiful children splashing in the pool. Don't you love how kids laugh? It's the sound of pure joy.

Wait! Here comes Cole.

He just asked me to catch him on the slide. I'm in!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Missing Female Trait

I'm missing a gene --the one that calls to the depth of a female's soul and says, "You must provide food. There must be plenty, it must be aesthetically pleasing, and most of all, delicious."

Ok -- maybe I have the gene that calls the command. But I certainly don't have the gene that can pull it off.

I would love the idea of entertaining guests in our home, if it weren't for the expectation of food. Doug always says that chips and salsa are "plenty good". But deep inside, I know he's not right...

Appetizers (more than one)should be adorably displayed on a clever serving dish.

At least one of the beverages should be blended and require foo-foo glasses.

Meat should be marinated and handsomely prepared via grilling or roasting methods.

Potatos and/or vegetables should be basted in exotic spices and served casserole-style to ensure the masses will all be able to enjoy.

Dessert should consist of at least 15 ingredients and require a four-hour lead time for preparation. Of course, an alternative (such as cookies) should be available in case of dessert failure.

Oh, crap! What about a salad? A soup? And what about the mess in the kitchen I'll create trying to make off this stuff?

I would much rather give a speech to a large crowd than prepare a dinner meal. Heck, I get nervous just bringing a dish to someone else's dinner party. I just can never seem to ever get my hands around an entire project involving food. Maybe it's because I try to take shortcuts when I cook. Maybe it's because I haven't bought enough Pampered Chef products. Nonetheless, my disfunctional "entertaining" gene is bound to haunt me for life.

But I continue to work on it. Today I made a suggestion that gave by pysche a smattering of hope.

I'm in a management group with three other men. And tomorrow, lunch is being brought into our staff. (We made our sales goals two months in a row.)

"What do you guys think of bringing a dessert for the crew? You know, to show how much we appreciate their efforts?"

Some chuckles. They don't respond. I volunteer first.

"I'll bring a pan of brownies."

"Oh, you're serious?"

"Yes, I'm serious. I think the staff will appreciate it!"

"Um. OK. You'll bring brownies for everyone then?"

"Well, the idea is that we all bring something."

"Oh. Well, I can bring Oreos."

"My daughter just made Monster cookies. Will that work?"

"My wife makes a killer strawberry pie."

That's the spirit! I have a Betty Crocker mix that only requires one egg and some vegetable oil. It even includes the frosting.

Maybe the key is starting small. Today it's Betty Crocker. Tomorrow, who knows? Maybe I'll try a Martha Stewart recipe.

Maybe. Or, better yet, have my friend Charlene sell me more of her "Tastefully Simple" items. They are killer.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Remember Yesterday!

For the past couple of months now, I've been a bit obsessed with my seemingly accelerating passage of time toward "40". In a few weeks, I'll be 39. According to my six-year old son, I'm still two years away from 40, since I'm only 38. I like his math.

It's not the first time I've fussed over my age. "30" seemed like a big cross-over. Oh, to be "30" again. My skin was still fairly tight. The cottage cheese blemishes on my belly were barely visible -- of course only one child had been born by then. Those were the days when it was still fun to try on swimsuits. Now I resort to catalog purchases, only from Eddie Bauer who has this amazing technology of fitting not-completely-dumpy swimsuits anyone over the age of 35.

Mom told me a few months ago that "age is just a frame of mind". Easy for her to say -- she looks amazing at the age of 61. "Your mom is so cool." "She looks so young." "I love your Mom's hair!" "Grandma seems younger than you." And the kicker, "Are you Sandy's sister?" Oh sure, age is a frame of mind when you look fifteen years younger than your real age.

Needless to say, I've been practicing "The Secret" (Rhonda Byrnes) by telling myself that I do look young. It's tough when your children say things like, "What's that big line on your face?" "Well, Cole, it's my laugh lines!" "It doesn't look funny." Or when you can't shove that muffin top in those dang low-rider pants anymore. But I continue my quest. "I still look young. I still look young. I still look young. 38 IS young. Right?"

The other day I had lunch with a friend who is also getting close to the age of 40. She is very pretty and youthful. A few topics came up in our conversation that are defining to Generation X -- South Africa (anti-apartheid, Nelson Mandela, etc.), E.T. (yes, the movie), The Gap (yes, the store), etc. And guess what? After our lunch, I felt revived and, well, young! Maybe it was because my friend just plain looks young. Maybe it was because she's full of enthusiasm. Or, maybe it was because we connected! While we have different backgrounds, we lived through the same defining, historic events.

I have other good friends who are also classified as "Gen-X", and of course my husband and I are the same age. Too often we're busy chasing the Boomers' career pace or plugging into Gen Y's communication devices. And of course we're all running our kids to various activities to ensure they'll grow up to be well-rounded. All of those factors simply do not make me feel youthful -- it exhausts me.

So, perhaps the secret to feeling young is taking time to connect with those whom we share similar, generational viewpoints. Of course, my mother has a bazillion Boomers to connect with. We Gen X'ers must learn to seek each other out and "share" in order to keep a youthful frame of mind.

So, let me end another babbling blog with this thought. I took a picture of my ornamental lilac tree a couple of weeks ago. It only blooms for about a week, so during that week, I make sure to relish in the aroma and beauty while it lasts. Then, overnight, the blooms shrivel and dry up. It becomes merely an ornamental tree with dark green leaves.

And it is still lovely.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Customer Service Lessons at McDonald's

I ate at McDonalds by myself today. I'm not sure if I've ever eaten at McDonald's by myself. Say what you want about the fast-food chain, I will always love the place. Perhaps the sentiment goes back to my youth, before we sickened ourselves by frequenting the drive-through bi-weekly, sometimes daily. McDonald's wasn't just a convenience -- it was a treat! "I'll take a Big Mac, small fry and a Coke!" (The value meal didn't exist then.) Of course, I had to give up the Big Mac when I learned the calories in the mega-sandwich exceeded an entire day's calory requirements. Now, I order the salads (crispy, not grilled). I don't intend on finding out the caloric value. Please don't inform me.

Anyway, as a manager of a customer service area, I like to watch customer service in action. Since I was by myself and was eating at 11:00 AM (practically breakfast time), before the lunchtime rush, I made some interesting observations.

1)The young teenage girl working was naturally friendly and easily conversed with the diners upon taking orders -- a truly refreshing sight!
2)The young teenage boy had trouble figuring out where to deliver the two food items in his hands. He kept looking at me, almost in despair, as I patiently waited for my order. I smiled and nodded "no", a few times. Apparently he had been trained not to ask questions. Eventually the manager yelled orders to "give the two wraps to the customers in the drive-up. This manager (I think she was the manager) was the only person in the food area that knew what to do and she let every customer and employee in McDonald's know it. "Where's that salad? Go clean up the tables! How old are these fries? The ketchup needs filled! Now!..." (These managerial skills must must be protocol in fast-food school. I see the technique used frequently.)
3)The teenage boy didn't want to talk to anyone, but he was able to help the teenage girl with the register when she had trouble. I'm guessing that since he had a knack with equipment, they let him run the headset for the drive-in. So what if he couldn't make the connection between the food ordered through his headset and the the people in the drive-up lane!
4)McDonald's customer service training must ultimately focus on cleanliness. Don't mind the inconvenience you may cause a customer enjoying his or her lunch. Just get that floor mopped! They'll move their feet. (Apparently, this philosophy isn't always applied in the restrooms.) I have an idea, Kid! You go clean the bathroom and let me finish my lunch. Then the floor under my table is all yours.

Ok. Enough said. McDonald's --I still love you, always will. So what did I learn from today's experience? In terms of customer service, nothing that I didn't already know -- welcome customers sincerely (as the young girl did today), make processes transparent (as no one did today), and so on. However, my experience today has unfolded a debate in my mind. Are females born with natural customer service skills? And are operational issues more easily mastered by the male gender? Of course, I'm speaking in general terms. I know some girls are geniuses with a tool. And some boys are helpful and can multi-task. But, in general, are these skills learned because of our gender? Or are we born with it? I've studied this issue in the adult working world and have way too much to say about the topic. But observing two teenagers, different genders, and basically the same position has sparked my interest a bit.

Let's hear it from you! What do you think? Post a comment.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Reason for Daughters

Obviously, the reason every mother wants a daughter is to dress them up. Admit it! When any of you mothers out there found out you were pregnant, did you peruse the baby girl or baby boy sections in the stores? Sure, you might have glanced over to the blue section at Gymboree and politely smiled at the mother with two toddler boys. But then you immersed yourself in the pink and purple frills, the matching hats, and adorable sandals to complete the wardrobe you imagined building for your daughter -- even if you didn't know what you were having!

And it happens. You give birth to a beautiful little girl. You are flooded with gifts from Baby Gap, The Children's Place, etc. You retrieve all of those girly clothes you bought with your mom on clearance "just in case" you had a girl. Each day you get to pick out an outfit, not so unlike the days of playing with dolls when you were little.

"Alex, we're getting groceries today! I know just what you should wear. Let's do jeans, since it's a more casual day, with this pink baby doll (baby doll -- isn't that funny?) shirt. Your plaid floppy hat will be perfect -- even if it is cloudy! Now, what shoes do you suppose will stay on the best today and still complete the look?"

Sound familiar?

Then she turns three. It all goes downhill from there. Suddenly, she's developed an opinion and a unique fashion sense wanting to wear the same ugly t-shirt (that you can't remember why you bought) every day. Sometimes she finds bottoms to match. Sometimes not. You even hide the shirt in the deepest cove of the dirty laundry, but she still finds it. Then you argue with your toddler like you never thought you would.

"Alexandria Grace! You have so many beautiful clothes in your closet and you want to wear that stupid shirt every day!"

"Mom! You said stupid. That's a bad word."

"I know! But, why do you insist on wearing that shirt? Why don't you wear this outfit, with the little pink skirt?"

She cries. You cry. She wins and wears that same stupid shirt with the unicorn on it. You think to yourself, "Where did I go wrong?"

But all young mothers with daughters, take heed!

Alex turned eleven on June 6. We took a mother-daughter day to go shopping together -- and it was the best! I just love that girl. What made the day so great? Perhaps I've relaxed my stance on how I think she should be dressed all of the time. And somehow, she's come along way from corny unicorn shirts and has developed a trendy sense of style. (Maybe our weekly required viewing of What Not to Wear has rubbed off a little.) She also realizes who pays the bill. And like most girls, she has become an artist at getting what she wants. She no longer cries, but she knows how to turn on the charm with her sincere sweetness. (I'm not kidding. She is a sweetheart, especially when she's not around Cole.)

I've also discovered some tactics to help us to come together on clothing decisions. No longer do I barge into Limited Too and select the first thing I want her to try on. Now, I hover around a cute outfit and patiently for her to come back to me with a question.

"Mom, what would go with this?"

"Oh, that's cute!" (This is an important step, even if you don't think it's cute.) "Hmmm. Well, I don't know. What do you think of this, Alex?"

"I like it!" Then I help her to find her size and she's off in the dressing room. Before long, we have a stack of clothing that we both love. Shopping is fun again.

So, what's next for our mother-daughter relationship? My guess is that we embark on discussion about make-up practices. That should be an adventure.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Quiet Thee Mind

They all teach it. Jesus, Deepak Chopra, Martha Beck, Echart Tolle. So I know Oprah believes in the practice.

"Shut up that chatter in your head, or your journey to self-fulfillment will be seriously hampered." Perhaps they are more eloquent, but essentially that's one of their messages.

So here we are in the full-swing of summer break. No dance class. No soccer. No homework. No school programs. We're actually down to one sport -- softball. (Cole didn't meet the age requirement for "real baseball" and didn't want to debase himself by playing one more year of T-Ball. No problem, Kid.) My mind has plenty of reasons to shut down and relax a bit. So why can't I? What is wrong with me? I know, it takes practice.

Every morning, I try to clear my mind's slate by praying or meditating. Going outside would seem to help me since God is so easily disclosed in nature. So, here's a typical morning attempt:

"Our Father...Father's Day! It's just a couple of weeks away. What should I get Doug? What should I get Dad? Speaking of gifts, I wonder when Alex's birthday gift will arrive. I need to line up a cake as well. Ahem. Let's try again.

"Our Father who art in heaven...(I look to the beautiful sky and then down at my lawn.) Looks like Doug forgot to trim around the trees. I wonder what a flower bed on the Northwest corner of the house would look like? Oh, man, did I water my flower pots last night? No, I was doing laundry. I need to get Alex's softball uniform in the dryer after I pray! Pray? Pray! That's what I'm supposed to be doing. Forget dryer. Focus on the Lord's Prayer.

Eventually I get through the entire prayer. And as long as I repeat the prayer at least ten times, some element of spirituality infuses my soul. Of course with the extra chatter working like the Energizer battery's pink bunny, the entire exercise takes way too long. (I know, that's not the point.) But eventually, like the soothing of a crying baby, the chatter subsides and I reach a state of calmness and peace.

Until I see that it's 6:10 AM.

It's about twenty minutes too late to be out of the door and on time for work. Luckily, my mind wakes up quickly the minute I say, "OK. Let's get ready." And like an old friend, the chatter picks right back up again. Sounds good! What are we going to wear? Is it a shave day or not? What should we make the kids for breakfast? Busy day ahead, huh?