A Hole-in-Eight (aka: Anything But Mini-Golf!)

“Ugh, I can’t stand mini-golf!” I groaned as my kids and I pushed open the heavy wooden castle doors and stepped outside. “Anything but mini-golf!” The sky was filled with dark, billowing clouds, giving the mini-golf kingdom an ominous appearance. Someone was going to suffer a round a bad luck on the course today.

Me, probably.


My kids, however, did not share my sense of foreboding. Brightly-colored golf balls in hand, they raced over to the first hole, eager to face the challenge. It had one of those loop-de-loop obstacles, then a straight line to the hole. My kids each stepped up to putt, giggling as the ball bounced off the loop-de-loop or returned to the beginning. I shook my head in amazement. How were they able to be so at ease when they had played so poorly? Sheesh…almost like I had raised them well.

I stepped up to putt, already accepting my certain defeat. It had been many years since I had even bothered to pick up a mini-golf club. Even now, my mind was filled with the pitying laughter of the ghosts of mini-golf past; a remnant of those futile attempts which resulted in a hole-in-seven, or eight, or ten, when the par was like, two. I placed my neon yellow ball and took my usual backwards stance, as I am a left-handed golfer, and therefore cursed, as putt-putt courses were clearly designed for the right-handed crowd.


Then I swung.

To my disbelief, the ball swirled around the loop-de-loop, then made a beeline for the hole. It dipped around the edge, teasing, then rolled off to the side. On the second putt, the ball went in. A hole-in-two. My mini-golf unlucky streak was broken!

At first, I thought it was a fluke. But then, I began hitting an almost-perfect game. A hole-in-one on the second hole, followed by another two, then another one. With every great shot, I was starting to hate miniature golf a little less and less. My kids, meanwhile, were producing quite the comedy of errors. My 12 year-old son, who plays actual golf, kept overshooting every hole at least four or five times. My 17 year-old son kept getting shut out by the automatic doors on the little buldings. And my 15 year-old daughter, who has never played golf in her life, magically learned how to chip the ball. Which apparently you’re not supposed to do in mini-golf. She chipped her ball into the bushes, into a pond, and over a windmill. She might have chipped one right onto the head of one of the guests playing on a nearby hole if her aim had been a little better.


I did experience one hole that made my newfound love of the sport falter a bit. It looked deceptively easy – a somewhat straight shot toward a small hill, with the hole hidden in a dip in the center. My kids finished their shots, then for the next ten minutes, gloated as they watched me struggle. “Come on, Mom! This hole is simple!” They taunted, clearly pleased to unthrone the queen, if only for a moment.

After a round of 18 mini-holes, I had achieved the impossible — a total score of 57. I had conquered miniature golf! Whether it was due to a serious streak of good fortune, or a course designed by left-handers, I have no idea. I’m also not sure whether I had so much fun due to so many sub-par holes, or due to the fantastic company I was playing with. I just know that I would totally play mini-golf again, and without the moaning and groaning.

“Okay, Mom,” my kids said as we put away our golf clubs. “Now it’s time to go play lazer tag!”

“Oh no,” I said, as my kids shoved me back through the heavy wooden doors of the arcade castle and led me toward the battle arena. “I can’t stand lazer tag. Anything but lazer tag!”

Stress (aka: Stresssss)

Oops…I just caught myself massaging the back of my neck. Again. And chewing on my pinky fingers. Again. Which may not seem like a big deal to lots of you, but to me, it means one thing.

STRESS.

Stress Sources

Wait, what stress? I thought I was just coasting along, my usual relaxed self. (Okay, correction: Relaxed for a Type-A personality. Relaxed for an INTJ). But we all have our own little signals that tell us when our bodies are experiencing a lot of stress. Some people overeat when stressed. Others smoke, or drink too much, have bouts of insomnia, or a myriad of other physical or psychological symptoms that spring up when our plates are just too full.

So what should we do when we recognize these symptoms? According to the American Psychological Association , we should identify the sources of our stress. Hmm, let’s see…

My oldest teen has caught a nasty case of Senioritis — that annoying and highly contagious bug that high school seniors often catch this time of year, when they feel so invincible that they slack off in school, convinced that they won’t fail. So I get to take off the sweet, cookie-baking mommy hat and put on the steel-edged hat of The Enforcer.

Stress.

My ex-husband has decided to initiate court proceedings to have my child support officially decreased, thanks to my shiny new full-time job. Despite the new job, however, it has been a challenge to keep the budget balanced while raising three teen/tweens as a full-time single parent and saving for college expenses. So a potentially big income cut would be a serious blow. I’ve just begun hunting for a second part-time job – something to help make ends meet once our household income drops. Bye-bye free time.

Stress

The older teen just headed off on an expensive school trip with his band — the only trip I’ve been able to send him on for all of high school. Senior prom tickets are really expensive, too. So is his recent dental work. Also, my teen daughter, the former gymnast, has fallen in love with dance. “Hey mom, can I take a second dance class at the studio?” And the twelve-year-old keeps outgrowing his clothes. And did I mention how much it costs to feed three kids this age nutritious, homemade meals filled with fresh vegetables? Oh boy. Kids are expensive.

Stress.

I just finished a bout of medical testing  (an endoscopy, a colonoscopy, and even a special endoscopy where I got to swallow this cool miniature camera). The doctor found nothing, except for signs of gastritis. Gastritis which sprung up around a year ago, and was likely triggered by — you guessed it —

Stress.

Effect of Stress on the Body

It is astonishing what stress can do to our bodies, even when we think we’re handling it well. Kind of stresses me out to think about it. Luckily, there are things we can do to help us manage the way we deal wih stress. Here are some great suggestions from the Mayo Clinic:

  • Regular physical activity
  • Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, tai chi or getting a massage
  • Keeping a sense of humor
  • Socializing with family and friends
  • Setting aside time for hobbies, such as reading a book or listening to music

I’m pretty good with most of these, especially the sense of humor part. Very important stuff. But I still kinda suck at the socializing part. But know what? Today at work, I got to spend lots of time socializing with coworkers (in between moments of working hard, of course). And know what? It’s like a magic pill for this stress thing. Despite the enormous pressures I’m feeling, I’ve barely reached up to massage my neck or chew my fingers all afternoon.

Uh-oh — trying to come up with a nice, neat way to end this post is only adding to my stress. So I’ll just tip-toe out of here and hope none of you notice. Time to go and…

DE-STRESS

 

X-Chromosome Day (aka: Cool Things About Being a Woman)

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Apparently, today is International Women’ Day. Which used to be a day to celebrate being a working woman, but I guess the stay-at-home moms and desperate housewives had hurt feelings, and so someone decided to encompass them, too. So now, this is a day to celebrate being a woman, or 51% of the world’s population.

I also heard that today is a political day, in which women everywhere have organized a strike. That’s right — a Day Without Women, in which everyone with two X chromosomes (and vacation leave) is encouraged to stay home from work or school, so that the world may see that we women are much more valuable than just housekeepers, cooks, and sex objects. Sort of a “How do you like me now?” to men everywhere. Even Lady Liberty herself went MIA last night.

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Sadly, I never heard a thing about the strike. Just as I never heard a thing about the enormous women’s demonstration that happened in January until the protest was already taking place. You miss a lot of information, living in a cave. But anyway, I am wearing a red dress (okay fine, a cranberry-colored dress), so I guess that little coincidence can be my contribution to this moment of solidarity.

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My other contribution will be a small moment to reflect on some of the cool things about being a woman. No offense to you XY-Chromosomers out there, but being a woman is, for the most part, pretty sweet.

Dresses, Dresses, Dresses

No, not every woman is fond of wearing dresses. To some women, they are a throwback to the days when women were forced to dress in dainty, frilly clothes and act like proper ladies. But to me, and to many other women and girls, dresses are just one way to express ourselves and our femininity. Also, buying one dress often costs less than buying all the individual parts of a pants outfit. Another plus: on warm days, nothing beats the easy, breezy comfort of a skirt.

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Heels

Say what you like, ultra-feminists. For some of us women, nothing is more empowering than tapping through the halls in a pair of heeled boots. Power walk!

We don’t have to be great at everything

I’ve got to say, I in no way envy the competition among men to own the most tech toys, drive the fastest car, or be the best at sports. Except for my super-speed, I have always been blissfully mediocre at sports, and I never felt the pressure to perform any better than that. No need to strip off my t-shirt and shoot hoops. No need to know the stats of every football player in order to participate in a conversation. No shame in having no clue how to hold or shoot a gun. No, not even a virtual gun in a FPS video game.

We are free to express our creative sides

We can be happily artsy, scrapbooking and drawing and turning our homes into something we’ve seen on HGTV. We can indulge in handicrafts without stigma, or even turn our faces into a personal canvas, with makeup and hair tools. We are free to sing, to dance, to write poetry, without ever needing to worry about how others may perceive us.

Yet I can’t help but feel that there is an injustice in this. As wonderful as it is to be a woman for these reasons, wouldn’t the world be a much better place if both genders could enjoy without shame many of these same “feminine” freedoms that I celebrate today?

It’s Okay to Change Your Mind (aka: Finding Your Niche)

what-color-is-your-parachute-bookMy 15-year-old daughter recently complained that she’s not sure what she wants to be when she grows up. As she’s only a sophomore in high school, I would love to tell her to just relax; she’s got a few more years to really decide. But, being a long-range planner myself, I also get the anxiety of not knowing exactly where you’re headed in life.

She needs a “thing.”

I firmly believe that everyone has a “thing,” or a niche. Some of those niches may be better than others, though, especially when it comes to career planning.

My oldest son, who is a senior this year, has several niches: playing computer games, creating music for computer games, and listening to music on the expensive wireless headphones he decided he couldn’t live without. I am really, really hoping that he finds some way to merge these niches into some kind of lucrative career. Either that or just do what I tell him and study computer science in college next year. I’m kind of hoping he’ll find a more productive niche in that direction.

My youngest son’s niches also involve computers. His, however, also include developing computer games using simple code, like Scratch, and building complicated, programmable Lego robots. He is dead-set on becoming an engineer one day (woohoo!!). His other niches include writing stories and using his gigantic vocabulary to invent new “clean” swear words, like “Oh sheep!”

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My daughter has a lot of niches. She’s a great athlete. She draws anime and comic strip characters. She writes stories, and is constantly learning new skills, like HTML code and jazz dance. She thinks she wants to become a doctor, but is getting nervous that it’s too ambitious, or that she won’t like studying medicine after all.

“No worries,” I tell her. “Just plan to go to med school and become a doctor. You can always change your mind later.”

I should know. I’m kind of the queen of drastic changes in niches.

When I was six years old, I wrote an essay on how I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. That, and a tap dancer. The tap-dancing thing never got off the ground, but I have always been a writer. When I went to college, I was clueless about careers, and had no adult guidance. So I did the only thing I knew well, thanks to countless babysitting jobs – I got a BA degree in Child Development and went on to become a teacher of young children. Eventually, I was even a site supervisor and parent educator, too.

kids-careers-jobs-costumes At the time, it was my niche. I was great at belting out Raffi tunes, finding creative ways to teach phonics, and managing a classroom. It was also kind of cool teaching other parents how to parent. But know what? It was a boring, mindless career. And it barely paid enough to buy the gas it took to drive to work each day.

So, I changed my mind.

I returned to college to add a couple more small degrees. Then I landed my true dream job, in the IT industry. I still get to use some of my old talents, like teaching and finding creative ways to problem solve. But I also get to develop and administer software systems and databases. I get to use my brain. Which is nice, because it’s a pretty great brain, so long as I get enough sleep.

Yes, I still write. That will always be my greatest niche. I also still plan to be a tap dancer. Okay, I am totally kidding. The next time I change my mind, I think I’ll go into management. It seems kind of like teaching preschool, only you have to go to a lot of meetings, and you get paid more.

My Great-American Junk Drawer (aka: Getting Organized)

miscellaneous-stuff I was searching for a screwdriver today.

Yes, my toolbox is full of screwdrivers, but I was searching for the one I like best – a Phillips screwdriver with a grippy handle that feels just right in my hands. You see, I just got my bedroom back for the first time in six months. Six months! (Insert cartwheel here). My sister and her family moved here from far away and needed a transition home. So, like a good little sister, I loaned them my spacious bedroom to use as their hotel-away-from-home until they could get settled and move into their own house. Which happened yesterday.

So today, I had work to do.

It takes a lot of scrubbing and furniture-moving and reorganizing to get one’s bedroom back in shape after it’s been lived in by other people. It also takes a good Phillips screwdriver to repair your lopsided curtain rod, which has been yanked out of place by two rambunctious, preschool-aged kids. Which is why I was searching for one this afternoon.

After ransacking my toolbox and coming up empty, I began to rummage through various drawers and organizers. At last, I came to the large wooden IKEA desk that I keep in my bedroom. Our family has had this desk for nearly ten years, along with all the stuff that fills the drawers. Although I am mostly organized in other areas, desk drawers in my home have the bad habit of collecting all manner of odds and ends, until every single one comes to resemble that one drawer that everyone has in their home.

You know the one.

The junk drawer.

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The main drawer of our IKEA desk was a sight to behold. As NPR once put it, “The Great American Junk Drawer can be an accidental time capsule, a haphazard scrap heap, a curious box of memories and meaninglessness.” This one was no exception. Paper clips, old business cards from the home business I ran fifteen years ago, my youngest son’s missing library card, an unused $25 Game Stop gift card. I collected a few dollars’ worth of coins to add to our family Dream Jar, which will hopefully offset a future trip to Disneyland and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. But there was no screwdriver. I cut my finger on one of a zillion push pins or rusty staples lining the drawer, then happened to discover a single toy Magnetix rod, which turned out to be a perfect picker-upper for push pins and staples. But still, no screwdriver.

I then came across a stack of old photos – a treasure trove of snapshots of my children when they were small and rosy-cheeked, and a few pics of old friends that instantly threw me into a nostalgic mood. I spent the next half hour flipping through more old photos, traveling back in time, the bedroom project forgotten.

At last I shook off the distraction. As much as I would have loved to clean out the junk and make it a neat, organized office drawer, I had a screwdriver to find. Which turned out to be in the toolbox, where I swear it wasn’t the first two times.

I have my room back.

The curtain rod is straight again, and my room is once again a cozy, clutter-free retreat of comfortable furnishings, soft lighting, and flickering candles. Everything is in its place – visitors snug in their own home, junk in the junk drawer, and yes, my favorite screwdriver safely returned to my toolbox.

I think.

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Play on Repeat (aka: 365 Days of New Year’s Day)

So I read on some wise, informative website today (Twitter, probably) that whatever you do on New Year’s Day is what you will end up doing all year long. That’s 365 days of repeating today’s choices. Hopefully most of you didn’t just lie around, staring mindlessly at the television.

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Of course, I have no idea who came up with this zany idea. For all I know, it’s just some ancient New Year’s Day superstition, like not washing any laundry on New Year’s Day or you will wash away a person. I swear, I am not making this up. But still, I thought it would be fun to review how I spent this first day of the year, since it will foreshadow the remaining 364 days, it seems.

      1. I did a lot of cleaning and organizing. Seriously. I undecorated the Christmas stuff, scrubbed surfaces, tossed things out, and organized. This is one of my favorite New Year’s Day traditions — out with the old, in with the new. Sweep away the dust and pine needles and start the year fresh and clean. So far, it has yet to carry over to the remainder of the year, but I remain cautiously optimistic.
      2. I managed my home and family. As the one and only Head Honcho around here, I get a lot of opportunities to delegate tasks, call the shots, and make sure people are where they need to be at the right times. Today, this went pretty smoothly. I even got the kids to write a couple of thank you cards. (Gasp!)
      3. I went a little over budget. Eep! This is the opposite of my financial management goals for the upcoming year. To be fair, I mostly bought practical, helpful things, like plastic bins and cute matching organizers for all that tidying up. But still, a budget is a budget, and with plans to pay off old, pre-divorce debts and send kids to college soon, I’d really get a better handle on balancing the ol’ checkbook.
      4. I was active. Not as active as usual, since I’m healing from a nasty cold. But I count all of my traipsing around on foot today as much-needed exercise. The goal? At least 30 minutes of daily moderate exercise, whether it is brisk walking, jogging, or climbing the many stairs in the skyscraper where I work.
      5. I read. Okay fine, I only read the newspaper. But it counts. My goal this year? To read at least one book per month. Seems attainable enough.
      6. I was social. Sort of. I was social a lot with my kids. We talked and played around and cleaned together and finished our annual family slideshow. I should probably have social goals beyond just my kiddos and the occasional small talk with coworkers. But I am kind of at a standstill in that arena. How on earth do people get beyond the small talk realm and into that place where they do fun things together outside of work? (Do all those people even exist outside the building? What are they like when they’re not being all professional?)
      7. I made healthy eating choices. Low carb, low calorie, and yummy foods. I could totally live with that for the rest of the year.
      8. I accomplished most of my daily goals/tasks and planned for tomorrow’s.
      9. I relaxed. A little. I should have maybe increased my relaxation to productive work ratio, as I probably should most days.
      10. I wrote. Yes, I am counting this blog. But as long as I am writing something every day, I’m cool with that.

Happy New Year, readers! Maybe the new habits you began today carry over throughout the year, and may any laundry you happened to do today not wash away your family. Blessings!

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Never Have I Ever (aka: Stuff I Should Probably Try)

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My oldest kid, a senior in high school, did something recently that he has never ever done before. He went to his high school’s homecoming dance.

Yes, I know, lots of kids go to school dances, not a big deal. But for my son, a late bloomer, it was a first. Truth be told, he didn’t enjoy it all that much, thanks to a group of party-pooper friends who bailed halfway through. But he saw the value in attending, if only once in his lifetime. Now if I can just convince him to go to prom, too…

Have you ever played the game, Never Have I Ever? Here are the classic rules:

  • Friends sit in a circle with ten fingers pointing in.
  • Someone makes a Never Have I Ever statement, such as, “Never have I ever played Chinese Fire Drill at a stoplight.”
  • Those who have actually played Chinese Fire Drill remove one finger. Those who have never done it do not remove one finger.
  • The winner is the one who still has fingers remaining in the circle when everyone else has been eliminated.

drinking-gamesThis game sounds an awful lot like The Purity Test, which I used to play back in college and win every time, with a score of around 95% pure. And apparently, Never Have I Ever is also a popular drinking game, which I wouldn’t know, because Never Have I Ever played a drinking game of any kind.

While I’m trying to guide my kids toward taking calculated risks in life and trying a few things they’ve never tried before, I become glaringly aware of how many Never-Have-I-Evers are still on my own list. Of course, there are plenty of Never-Will-I-Evers on the list, too, like sex with a stranger, smoking cigarettes, or inciting a riot, but let’s just ignore those.

 

NEVER HAVE I EVER…


…caught a fish
(and likely won’t, unless I actually try going fishing one day).

…been intoxicated (What can I say? I’ve never had occasion to overindulge with alcohol. Once I drank three glasses of wine while relaxing at home alone, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t too affected).

…traveled somewhere that required a passport (unless you count those teen missionary trips to Mexican border towns back in the no-passport-required days).

…gone out dancing as an adult (Well to be fair, I did get to dance at a couple of weddings around 20 years ago, and once at a conference party for writers. But I’ve never been out to dance at a club, which is probably weird for someone who loves dancing as much as I do).

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…been on a cruise (unless you count those 1-hr. ferry tours around the San Francisco Bay, but that’s not really the same thing).

…fired a gun (And to tell you the truth, I kind of have a phobia of guns and even the idea of holding one freaks me out. Can I play the girl card?).

…played golf (Seeing as I’ve played soccer, tennis, basketball, volleyball, baseball, and a slew of non-ball sports, too, it’s probably just a matter of time before I get sucked into golf world).

…been camping in the desert or on the beach (one of these days…).

…gone wine tasting (which is strange for someone who enjoys wine and lives less than two hours away from Napa Valley, California. But wine tasting just doesn’t seem like the kind of thing one does alone).

…been to an NFL or NBA game (another thing that sounds fun to do, but not by myself. Maybe I’ll take the kids one day, when I can save up enough money).

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This list could go on and on. There are just so many things I’ve never done which many people have by my stage of life. Some things I’m not sure I’d really want to do anyway, but others I would absolutely love to try. Some of these things I could totally choose to do at any time. Others seem just out-of-reach, either due to a lack of financial resources or a lack of social companions to do them with. In just reviewing my personal list of Never-Have-I-Evers, there are two things I can say for sure:

  1. I still have a lot of things to look forward to experiencing in life.
  2. I would totally win the game of Never Have I Ever. Which I have never played, by the way. I guess I should add that to my list.