Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Aunt Kristin's Back to School Survival Guide

The new school year starts this week and many of us are still on vacation mode.  Luckily Aunt Kristin, survivor of more back-to-school registration days and open houses than I care to count, is here to help you and even the most resistant offspring ease into the new year.

Most back-to-school "experts" will advise you to start putting your kids to bed early (and up at the crack of dawn) a week or so before school starts. Do not fall for this trap!    Do you know how easy it is to get a child, who has been lying around all day watching cartoons and playing XBox, to sleep before 10 pm?  About as easy as getting your teenage son to hug you in public.  They won't fall asleep until the wee small hours and when you try to wake them early there will be all sorts of ill-tempered churlishness in your home.  Why would you intentionally make your children grumpy while they are still in your care all day long?  Let the teachers deal with the difficult transition from night-owl to early-bird--that's what they get paid the big bucks for! (An apology in advance to my kids' teachers...But you have been warned.)

When doing your new school clothes shopping, do not buy them an entire year's wardrobe.  Sure those boots look cute, but they will not fit in two months.  I always found that if I bought my kids the new expensive jeans they wanted for the first day, those same pants would be an inch too short come November.  I don't know what it is about the first month of school that makes them grow, but it never fails (often in direction proportion to what you just spent on clothes). Everyone gets one pair of jeans, a few new tops, and the cheapest pair of shoes they'll agree to be seen wearing in public.  Oh, and don't forget to bring your valium and your credit card, because if they're anything like my kids they'll push every single one of your buttons until you would pay any price for the shopping trip to be over.

The school supply lists seem to get longer and more detailed every year.  Do your best.  If there really is no such thing as a "3 5/8' X  8 3/4" matriculated ruler, standard size ONLY" you very kindly, using your best grammar and punctuation, email the teacher.  Explain, to the best of your abilities, there is no such thing in this hemisphere.  You will look like a leader, while the other parents are still frantically calling every office supply store in the tri-state area (afraid they are failing the very first test of School Parent).  Little do they know the way to a teacher's heart is not by following every little rule listed in the syllabus, but by sending little Mabel or Oswald, Jr. with chocolate.  Oh, and volunteering--a lot.

On the subject of school supplies, when you see them on sale stock up.  In our cupboard there is currently about 20 college-ruled spiral note books, 10 packs of filler paper, four packs of pencils, two packs of pens, and both lined and unlined index cards.  My kids, being in high school, do not receive a supply list--each teacher lets them know what they'll need once classes start.  It never fails that someone, about the third week of school, needs something akin to the above mentioned non-available school supply...Tomorrow.  Somehow my mothering abilities are so legendary that both my child and their teachers assume I can magically produce any office supply at 9 pm on a school night.  (Well if it's a spiral notebook or a box of #2 pencils, yes I can.)

Good luck to all students and parents--have a great year and learn lots!  And if your kids don't do well in school this year, no worries.  They can always live at home a little longer, eating your food and using your wifi, you know, just until they find their real calling...

No, no, no, no!  Hand them their spiral notebooks and their #2 pencils and push them out the door, quick!

*Disclaimer:  Teachers do not make "big bucks," nor do they want to deal with your sleep-deprived children.  I am not a child behavior expert, nor do I play one on TV.  Follow this advice at your own discretion.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Kristin's Summer Reading Extravaganza! (So Far)

I was perusing the aisles of my local library the other day--no particular title in mind, just hoping the right book would find me--when I came across a whole shelf of color coordinated dust jackets with matchy-matchy titles like Morning Mist, Afternoon Clouds, Red Skies at Night.  Please don't read these kind of books.  (Okay, maybe just one--to get it our of your system).  I don't mean to judge--some well meaning author put her heart and soul into writing these books (of the same story over and over again with a slightly different title)--but honestly,  I think you deserve better.  You deserve variety, new ideas, complicated story lines that make you want to stay up late reading to find out what happens. You deserve dust jackets that don't match!!!

I'm not saying I'm a summer reading list expert; I will not attempt to give you a list of "Must Read Summer Books That Will Change Your Life and Make You Happy with Our Current Political Situation."  All those lists are readily available on Pinterest (and are in my opinion a load of hooey).

What I can do is tell you what I've read so far this summer, what I liked, and why.

"The Kept" by James Scott which I picked up from our local thrift store. (An excellent place to stock up on summer reads, by the way--if I only paid $2.99, who cares if it gets sand in it?)  It was  kind of mystery meets Larry McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove."  With a whole lot of dead people.  The characters I loved (complicated, multi-layered, yet relatable) and the plot line started out promising.  But then all those dead people got in the way (darn dead people). And while it was enough to keep me reading late into the night, I was a little disappointed with the ending.  I give it a solid 3.5  out of 5 stars.

Patricia Bracewells' "Shadow on the Crown" was recommended on our library's website as a historical fiction title.  Let's just say the history of the English monarchy makes our current political situation look like a walk in the park, holding hands and singing "Kumbaya".  Intrigue, poisonings, murder, and strategic pregnancies all to get one step closer to the crown.  Throw in a heaving bosom and some throbbing loins (because how are you going to get the King of England to knock you up without a heaving bosom?) make history come alive.  This book was a 4.5 stars in "Kristin's Summer Book List to Make You Forget It's Not Really Summer-like Anymore".

"The Nightingale" by Kristin Hannah--oh, I so didn't want to like this book.  The author generally writes romance-ish titles (ala Nicholas Sparks of "The Notebook" fame) and it had been on the best seller list for weeks and weeks. (I generally shy away from titles that EVERYONE raves about because I don't trust the hype--I still haven't gotten over my disappointment in Nicholas Evans' "The Horse Whisperer.") But as far as summer reading goes, this was easily a 4.5 stars.  (It probably didn't hurt that I read most of it while camping in the rain--in the warmth of our camper, of course.)  Set in France during WWII, it follows two sisters as they try to survive Nazi occupation.  Fabulous characters, interesting back story, and a little mystery thrown in.  Oui, oui! Vive la France! (Okay, maybe 4.75 stars.)

"Brooklyn," by Colm Toibin, I heard about because they were making it into a movie and I wanted to read it beforehand.  Have you ever come across a book character you get so mad at you just want to shake them?  Yeah, me either, but maybe I had some issues with the main character of this book. Ellis Lacey seems like a smart, motivated young woman who is looking for a better life than she has in Ireland after WWII.  She moves to America and looks to be working toward her goals and then does something so stupid I almost didn't finish the book.  I did, but I'm still mad at her.  Only because I liked everything until that point, I'm giving it 3 stars.  (And if I ever meet Colm Toibin, we will be having a serious talk.)

"The Girl on the Train" by Paula Hawkins--another a book I'd been dancing around (tango anyone?) because it was on the best seller list with talk of a movie in the works. "You'll like this if you liked 'Gone Girl'." Well, I didn't like "Gone Girl", but I gave it a try anyway.  I loved the main character, Rachel, whose life is one hot mess--but she's also smart and funny.  Then she witnesses something;  a crime of passion, a runaway bride, or just her inebriated brain making things up?  This is touted as a "psychological thriller"--ugh, sometimes publishing marketing departments make me tired.  It's a good story line (what really happened that night?), with complex, flawed characters who seem like total losers one moment and like they could be you the next. Okay, okay, 5 stars.  Summer Reading Extravaganza winner!

Coming soon in Kristin's Summer Reading Extravaganza are these titles I just picked up from the library:  Terry McMillan's "I Almost Forgot About You" (I almost forgot about Terry McMillan!), Susan King's "Lady McBeth" (historical fiction which is sure to have all sorts of back stabbing and conniving--fingers crossed for throbbing loins), and a young adult title that keeps coming to my attention, "Six of Crows" by Leigh Bardugo--the cover art is fabulously dark and fascinating.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some reading to do.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

To the Class of 2016

Tomorrow I'll be attending Lakewood High School's Senior Presentations, where the graduating class of 2016 will present a portfolio of accomplishments to a board of community members and school staff. I went  last year for the first time and really enjoyed seeing what these kids in our community had done and what they had planned for their futures.

I was thinking what I'd say to these kids if I were the one doing the presenting.  What advice would I give them?  Luckily for me I won't be the one in the hot seat (needing to pass in order to graduate), but if I was it'd go something like this:

First of all, I'm totally going to pass you.  That is a given, so no worries there.  Unless you spend your time ranting about how Donald Trump will make America great again.  Okay, I'll probably still pass you, but you'd better have a solid argument.  And chocolate wouldn't hurt.

Next, even though I've probably never met most of you, I am proud of your accomplishments and look forward to what you'll do in the future.  When my son graduated a couple years ago, the school district superintendent in his speech told them "Lakewood loves you."  And I thought how true that is.  We are a community that is centered around our small school district (three elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school all within walking distance of each other).  These are our kids.  Even if I don't personally know them or their parents or their siblings.  If you tell me you went to Lakewood, I will consider you to be one of ours. (So behave accordingly.)

I'd also tell you that while your parents (and other adults of my generation) may seem totally uncool and completely un-tech savvy, keep in mind we were the ones who taught you how to use the toilet.  And eat with utensils.  And tie your shoes, and read, and...One day all the stuff you know now will be obsolete and your kids will roll your eyes at you, too.  And us grandmas and grandpas will laugh and laugh.

Lastly, I'd tell them that while graduating from high school is an important step, this is just one of the many important steps you'll take.  Travel the world, go to college, learn a trade, but keep going.  You are already moving in the right direction--why stop now?

Wait! Always separate your darks from your lights when doing laundry, never open an email claiming to be from a Nigerian prince who wants to give you money, and be nice to your little sister!

I think that's it.

I am ready to be amazed by all the presentations tomorrow.  (And remember kids, Mrs. Graf likes dark chocolate.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Picking Presidents

Has the presidential primaries got you down? Tired of hearing all the empty promises of the candidates?  I found myself wishing we had an easier, more reliable method for choosing our next president, so I came up with some guidelines to help the process along.  Simply mark off the following qualities necessary in a presidential candidate and the path to the White House will be clear.

__Must have read "Jane Eyre".  This is non-negotiable. If you cannot appreciate the plot intricacies of the greatest novel of all time (he loves her for her mind!), you are dead to me.  And it clearly states in the constitution that dead people cannot be president.

__Must understand calculus.  I realize this puts me out of the running--I will bow out gracefully--but I think the leader of the free world should be smarter than me.  And if you can understand calculus, maybe that whole national debt thing will make sense to you.

__Must be able to identify all the Disney princesses.  Being able to connect to the common man--or in this case, the common 5-year-old--is essential in a leader.  This bank of knowledge will undoubtedly draw in that youth demographic.

__Must not be a douche bag. (Argh, I know.  Pretty much disqualifies a large portion of the candidates, but we're trying to narrow the field, remember.) Having a president that no one ever invites to all those state dinners would be a real downer.  ("Do we have to invite him along?"  "Well, he is President." "Ugh, okay.")

__Must be able to belt out, with feeling, Otis Redding's "The Dock of the Bay" whenever requested.  A president must exhibit passion and soul.  And if you can't sing Otis Redding, you ain't got soul.

__Must prefer dark chocolate to any dessert with fruit in it.  Fruit is a health food, not dessert. A president who doesn't understand this will never fully comprehend the USDA's food pyramid and will try to pass off ketchup as a vegetable.  (Uh, Hello--ketchup is made from tomatoes and tomatoes are a fruit.)

__Must have never publicly uttered the word "bimbo." (Unless referencing baked goods.)

__Must have at least one embarrassing relative who will surface post-election and make headlines for some stupid stunt. Like being arrested for stealing Queen Elizabeth's wig, or pantsing Vladimir Putin. 'Cause who doesn't enjoy an embarrassing relative (that's not your own)?

__Must understand how the government works. I know this should go without saying--I mean, we all had to attend that high school civics class (and hey, who can forget "School House Rock"?). But given some of the candidates, I'm beginning to think they don't have to pass any sort of test.

__Must watch all episodes of "School House Rock".

There, wasn't that easy?  Now any candidates that passed at least 8 out of the the 10 categories can now move on the the next round--something I like to call "Anyone But Him."

Friday, February 19, 2016

Adulting Is Hard

It's that magical time year, when I drag up the last little bit of my Catholic school catechism and observe Lent by giving up Facebook.  I know this sounds like a silly and superficial thing to give up, but I love Facebook with all it's time-wasting quizzes, funny posts, and cat pictures.  It gives me a quick break from my alter ego as Office Manager/Amazing Wife/Doting Mother.  And while it's not going to get me any closer to sainthood, it's hard for me to go the six weeks without it.

Unfortunately. this Facebook Fast coincides with all sorts of other adult responsibilities that I really don't enjoy and would really like to complain about on social media--but cannot.  Because, you know, Catholic guilt.

My husband has his own business and it was decided that, as I knew how to add and subtract, I could run the business office. And somehow I was also put in charge of choosing a health insurance plan--not just for our family, mind you, but for the whole company.  You would think having taken three kids to all those well-child check ups I would have a strong opinion about health insurance. But trying to sort through all the variables of coverage, while trying to keep costs down (but employees happy!) has been like trying to juggle strawberry jello in a china shop on Thursday in the rain.  It makes no sense.  I considered just closing my eyes and pointing at one.  And the paperwork and forms and waivers and applications!  Wait, did I just but a house?  Okay, well at least I met my deductible.

Tax Time!  Since I have an English degree and only the aforementioned accounting skills, we have a CPA that prepares our personal and corporate tax returns. However, this CPA, not having been blessed with ESP (LOL), wants me to gather all sorts of minutiae and documents and forms that only CPAs and government officials have ever heard of.  What is the square root of our home office and how much did we spend on our toast bill last year?  Ummm... Form 940 and our W-3?  Uh yeah, I have them filed under "WTF".   Luckily for me, everyone in our CPA's office understands my little financial-development delay and patiently explains "it's the paper with the numbers on it, Kristin."

My older daughter is finishing up her junior year of high school and beginning to plan for college. SATs and GPAs and MGC (Mothers Gone Crazy) are all in a swirl at our house.   You would think, having been through this a few years ago with my son, this time would be easier.  You would be wrong. The idea of my daughter, my baby girl, being practically an adult and moving away freaks me out so much I can only consider it in little snippets.  I've gotten to the point where I can hand her the brochures she gets in the mail from potential colleges without having the urge to rip them up and run away.  That's all I can promise for now. How can I get through this stage without commiserating with all my Facebook friends who have gone through the same thing?  What if I feel the need to post the picture of her on her first day of kindergarten?!  Ugh, even if I was promised a spot right up there next to Mother Teresa, this might not be worth it.

In conclusion, adulting is hard.  Complaining in a joking manner on social media is fun.

Stay in school and don't do drugs.