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Friday, October 25, 2013

Wake up, parents

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Yesterday, I was scrolling through Facebook when I saw that my daughter and a friend of hers had posted about a false Instagram account someone had started to say cruel and untrue things about certain kids who go to their school.

It took me a minute to find the Instagram app on my cell phone. I have an Instagram account, but I don't really use it. The app is mainly on my phone because Charlie has an account that he posts to using my phone sometimes.

Once I found the app, it took me another minute or two to find the offensive account. I was really sickened when I did. How could someone think it's funny or even remotely okay to say terrible, malicious things about someone else? Worse, the account was falsely ID'd as being owned by another student.

I blocked the user. But that was all I knew to do. I figured there was probably a way to forward the offensive material to Instagram for further action, but I didn't know how. Why? Because I've always fallen on the excuse, "I don't do Instagram."

What a crock of crap. Please, listen up, parents. If your kids are on social media, you better be on social media too. If they are on Facebook, get an account. Have their passwords. Log in under their accounts from time to time. Randomly post comments on their stuff, just so they know you are aware.

If they are on Instagram, be there. Yes, I had an account, but not a presence. You can bet I will now. The same for Twitter. And sorry, Annie, but I'll be signing up for Tumblr, too.

It's a lot to manage, so tag team it. Let your friends know where your kids hang out on social media and ask them to keep an eye out. I hope that if someone see my kids posting inappropriate or troubling statuses, one of my friends who sees it will let me know.

I'm keeping an eye on this Instagram bullying mess going on and I keep thinking to myself, "His (or her) parents would probably be devastated if they knew this was happening." And then I wonder to myself if they have any clue? I want to tell every parent to sit down with their kids' phones, laptops and tablets and walk through the activity of the past day or two.

Maybe the person who is responsible for all of this would be found? Maybe a parent would find that his or her child has been a target of the bullying. I would want to know that as much as I'd want to know what kind of stuff my child has been posting. What if someone posted some awful untruths about my beautiful child and I didn't know. Would she come to me? Or would she suffer in silence?

Should our kids expect some measure of privacy in their social media interactions? I suppose. But sometimes, a parent has to sacrifice some privacy in the best interests of the child.

This whole series of events has made me angry. And ill. At the same time, the fact that so many students have rallied behind the people who have been singled out makes me proud. And hopeful.

But above all, this situation has made me aware. Awake. If you are a parent, I hope you wake up too.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

My friend, her book, your bank account

My friend
One of the great fringe benefits of blogging is getting to know other bloggers, mostly incredible women who I likely would not have met if it weren't for the blogosphere. Cherie Lowe, AKA, the Queen of Free is one of those women. So when Cherie asked if I would be interested in reading and reviewing her new e-book, "Inspiration to Pay Off Debt," I was all in.

I said yes in part because I wanted to help my friend. But I also said yes because we are one of those families whose bills outweigh the bank account. We've taken the Dave Ramsey course, but haven't quite gotten ourselves to the point of action. We have stopped using credit cards (though we still owe on a couple), but we have a long way to go in the area of financial management.

Her book
So, in mid-September, Cherie sent me a free pdf copy of "Inspiration to Pay Off Debt." Here it is, mid-October and I'm just now reading it and sharing my thoughts with you. No, I wasn't kidnapped by a band of ninjas. No, I wasn't trapped by mountains of laundry. I wasn't even delayed by something altruistic like walking miles for charity. The truth is that the e-book sat untouched in my e-mail because I was afraid.

Afraid to take an honest look at what our income vs. expenses is. Afraid to have to lead my family in making uncomfortable choices.

Then yesterday, Annie and I were in Chicago and because of some short-sighted planning on my part, we found ourselves with less than $20 to spend for the entire day. Our hotel and transportation home were already paid for, so our money needed to go for food and entertainment.

The entertainment part was pretty easy. We walked 2+ miles to Millennium Park (in very cute, but not very practical shoes). The walk was enjoyable -- except for the shoes and for the part where I turned my ankle and sprawled in front of the Hilton on Michigan Avenue. I was so stressed about the money that I fleetingly thought, "If I have to go to the emergency room, they would probably give us jello and crackers."

We survived the day, thanks to 55-cent, day-old Jimmy John's bread (Annie's brilliant idea), a crazy-big slice of pizza that we split, and a shared McDonald's value meal. But by the time we got home, I'd had enough. I was ready to make some changes on the financial front, but I needed some inspiration to do it.

Enter Cherie's book.

 photo CL-inspiration-pic_zpscbd082d3.jpg"Inspiration to Pay Off Debt" is written in a 30-day format. Kind of like "Power of a Praying Wife," it's not a book to read it once and put away. At least that's not how I plan to use it. I anticipate reading it in order. Then maybe I'll go to a specific page when I need specific inspiration. Then I'll probably go back to reading it in order.

Honestly, it was hard to read it through quickly so that I could write this post. I wanted to sit with each day and give it some specific thought.Plus, I kind of like being referred to as a "Royal Lady." Finally, someone recognizes me for the royalty that I (think that I) am.

I scanned the pages, making note of things Cherie said in the book that resonated with or inspired me.

"Paying off debt is not complex, it’s just not easy."

"You can do it.
It will be hard.
You will still have fun."

"Face it Lords and Ladies, no matter how much debt you have, no matter how much you think you’re sacrificing, compared to the rest of humanity, most of you are rich."

"A lot of little bills were sucking the life out of us. Every. Single. Month."

There were some instances where I just marked down entire entries:

Day 10
Day 17
Day 23

Day 27 (In which Cherie took a page from the priest's message at our wedding -- "Getting on the same page financially could take weeks, months, or even years. But it can’t begin at all if you don’t open the lines of communication.")

Your bank account
So how does your bank account figure into this post? Well, if you are seeing something of your own lives in the lines here, considering downloading a copy of "Inspiration to Pay Off Debt."

Ordinarily, the e-book is $4.99. However, Cherie recently submitted another book to the ReWrite Conference Writing Contest. She won! (Watch for her new book to be published by Tynedale Momentum sometime in the next year.) To celebrate, Cherie is offering FREE downloads of "Inspiration to Pay Off Debt" for the next two days -- October 20 & 21.

If you download it, I hope you'll let me know what you think.

Monday, October 14, 2013

I get you a little better now, Austin Collie.

In 2009, Austin Collie, a wide receiver, signed with the Indianapolis Colts. He quickly became Charlie's favorite player. In fact, when we ordered Charlie a Collie jersey for Christmas that year, I had to special order one because he was too new and not proven enough in the NFL to justify an inventory of jerseys bearing the name "Collie."

In 2010, Austin Collie suffered two bell-ringer concussions. During a 2012 preseason game, he got clocked again and recorded his third concussion in 3 seasons. A lot of people, me included, thought Collie should hang up the pigskin. But he was determined to play. It was during the third game of the 2012 season that Collie suffered a season-ending knee injury. I was pretty vocal to the people that I kibbutz about football with that the injury was probably divine intervention, delivered as a loud and clear message that Austin Collie should not be playing football.

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I argued that he should quit for the benefit of his wife and kids, although I wasn't entirely sure (and still am not) he has a wife and kids. I said that surely he had enough money and all the money in the world wasn't worth living with a jello brain. I just could not understand why he would even consider getting back on the field.

Then 3 weeks ago, Charlie got a concussion playing soccer. I wasn't there when it happened and was a little skeptical when the coach told me that Charlie couldn't tell them his address or phone number when he came off the field. Still, after calls from two parents and the coach, I opted to take him to urgent care to be checked out. From an emergent standpoint, he was ok, but our pediatrician told us to take him to the sports medicine doc for ImPACT testing the next day.

The neurological exam the sports med doc gave him was pretty interesting. He asked him to remember a list of six words and then would randomly ask him to recall the list during the appointment. He gave Charlie a string of numbers 1-9-3-8-2-7-4 and asked Charlie to repeat those backwards. (At that point, I was beginning to think I was concussed, as I don't think I could have done it.) Say the months of the year backwards.

It was the balance exercises that really shocked me. He asked Charlie to stand with his feet together and close his eyes. With his eyes open, he was a little wobbly. With his eyes closed, Charlie couldn't stand up straight for more than a few seconds.

The Rx for concussion: brain rest. I listened as the doc told Charlie, "If you wake up and you have a headache, dizziness or nausea, you can't go to school. If you are at school and you start to get a headache, dizziness, or nauseated, you have to go home." There were also limitations to note taking and homework as well.

As Charlie tried to contain his smile, I was shooting daggers at the doctor. Seriously, please don't tell my kid all that. I was envisioning him home from school for a week. Then it was my turn to smile...in addition to all the "good" things (in Charlie's mind), the doctor also said no TV, video games, computers or texting and no physical activity for a week. I could see it on Charlie's face. Suddenly, this concussion wasn't such a sweet deal.

Truthfully, the restrictions weren't too hard for Charlie. His collision happened on a Sunday. It wasn't until the following Saturday that the fog seemed to lift from his brain and his personality. We could just tell he was a half-step behind and he slept...a lot.

But the next two weeks were harder. Each week, we took Charlie back to the doctor for the neuro exam and for the computerized IMPACT testing. Each week, his scores on the IMPACT test were not high enough to be considered "recovered."

Meanwhile -- and this is where I'm finally getting back to Austin Collie -- Charlie's team's soccer season was marching on. He was resigned to the fact that he wouldn't make it back to the field in time for any of the remaining regular season games, but he was -- and Mike, I and the coach were -- hopeful he'd be cleared in time for the tournament.

Charlie was feeling better and not having any concussion symptoms. He was following the graduated physical activities the doctor had prescribed. He. was. READY. Except he wasn't. At least not as far as that darn IMPACT test was concerned.

The morning of the first tournament game, Charlie pleaded with us. "Please. Call the doctor. Tell him I don't have symptoms. Tell him to clear me."

"Charlie, if you get hurt again, you will miss basketball tryouts and probably the whole basketball season."

He wasn't happy, but he took his lumps.

The next day, his team was geared up for the two final tournament games. The first game was a slugfest. Charlie dutifully sat on the bench in street clothes, cheering his team on. I sat with the other parents and made mental notes of places where Charlie could have made plays. Finally, the ref blew the final whistle and Charlie's team had won 5-4. On to the championships!

The championship game was against the Lightning's league rivals, the team that always wins the tournament. I thought to myself that I wished I'd put Charlie's soccer uniform and gear in the car, that maybe he could have played just a few minutes.

It was a very physical game. Our team played good defense, but had a hard time mounting a coordinated offense. I would glance from time to time at Charlie sitting on the bench, symptom-free, and think of what he could have brought to the field. I'm not trying to overestimate Charlie's skills, but last season he did score twice in one game on this team's goalie, a kid who had only given up six goals all season.

I daydreamed a little about telling the coach that Charlie was ok to go in. That he was symptom-free and the doctor was being too conservative. That's when I began to understand Austin Collie just a little bit better. I was having these thoughts about a kid's soccer game, when all that was at stake was a cheap plastic trophy and my 14-year-old's immediate gratification over getting a chance to play.

Collie had a decision to make -- to play or not to play -- from the vantage point of looking out over his career, his livelihood, not just over some rec league game. Ultimately, I know we made the right decision in keeping Charlie on the bench. And I still think Collie would have served his body and his family better if he'd bowed out of the NFL. But at least now I understand the wide receiver a little bit better.

(Note: Austin Collie no longer plays for the Indianapolis Colts. He was signed this season to the New England Pat......" )

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Dear Becca & Jake:

I don't know you, but I know you recently got married. I've watched a 2-minute video of your wedding about 10 times. Really, I'm not a creepy stalker. In fact, I really wasn't that interested in the video images of you. I hit "play" so many times because I was moved by the words of Fr. Todd's homily. That's how I found your video in the first place. Fr. Todd shared it on his Facebook page and being the good Catholic that I am, I watched it because my priest shared it.

He spoke about the decision to get married being a decision to deepen your love. He talked about it being a commitment. He said you were choosing to move beyond love being just a feeling, that by saying "I do," the two of you were making a decision to live in love. Not in gushy, fluttery, sweep you off your feet love. But in covenant love.

Today is my 20th wedding anniversary. I know that officially makes me old in your eyes and that's ok. With age comes wisdom. So let me share some wisdom about covenant love with you.

Covenant love is hard work. That doesn't mean it's not worth it, but some days you will question whether it is. Covenant love may ask you to give up a piece of yourself with the faith that what will fill the hole will be stronger and better than that which occupied it before. Covenant love might mean turning the other cheek. It certainly requires forgiveness and it might make you do things -- or not do things -- for which your friends and family might call you crazy, or even foolish.

If you look at that from a single-minded perspective, it might look like you're getting the short end of the stick, you might wonder why anyone would ever choose to get married. But if you both are committed to covenant love, the equation should be equal on both sides.

Fr. Todd pointed out in his homily that the wedding vows don't even say "I love you." When I heard that, I had to stop and repeat the vows my husband and I shared on our wedding day 20 years ago.

"I take you to be my spouse. In good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life."

Wow. From where I sit, that is powerful stuff. We promised, as did the two of you, that "I WILL love you." On your wedding day when both of you are glowing and joyful, that might be an easy enough promise to make.

I will love you...when you bring me flowers.
I will love you...when you make me laugh.
I will love you...when you let me wear your coat because I am cold and I left mine at home.
I will love you...when you get a new job.
I will love you...when we are on vacation and all the cares of the world are hundreds of miles away.

Twenty years down the road, that promise is heavy with the gravity of what that really means.

I will love you...when the bank account is stretched.
I will love you...when the laundry is backed up, the grass needs cut and dinner has not even been thought of.
I will love you...when you disappoint me.
I will love you...when you don't believe in me.
I will love you...when I am embarrassed by you.
I will love you...when you hurt me.

I will love you. I will love you. I will love you...

If I were you, I would print out those words: "I will love you." and put them somewhere you see them often. (Maybe over the toilet so Becca, you can remember them when Jake leaves the seat up.) Remind yourself, every day, of the promise you made. "I will love you." Then there is no question. You said you would. Now do.

As for my husband and I, we are. It hasn't been a decision that's been easy every day. And quite frankly, we probably haven't lived that decision, those words every day. We've considered taking those four words and stuffing them somewhere to never be seen again. But we haven't, because they are more than just words. They are the mark of the covenant we made to each other before God.

So, to you Becca & Jake, I say blessings on your new life together.

And to you, Mike, my huzzzband of 20 years, let me say once again, I will love you.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

10 crazy things that happened in September

Holy cow! It's October 1 already. September pretty much kicked my butt. It was a good month (no one died or was arrested), but a crazy, wacky one.

1. I'm working full-time. Yes, I've already reported that. Yes, I started working full-time in August. But it was in September that the reality hit and boy, oh boy am I one tired pup.

2. In one week's time I had a mammogram (all clear!), an MRI (more on that in a minute), and a root canal (I hate dentists, but I LOVE nitrous oxide!). Seriously, I should get a medal for that.

3. As I was in the waiting room to get the root canal, my family doc called and said she had the results of my MRI and I needed to see a neurosurgeon about the pain in my neck and the numbness in my arm.
4. Six days after the root canal, the dang tooth pretty much crumbled and ended up having to be pulled anyway. Thank God for friends who are oral surgeons and for endodontists who are willing to waive your fee.  (The man is no dummy. He's seen my x-rays. He knows I'll be back.)

5. My car got a flat tire. Somehow I managed to drive over a nail in just the right way that (of course) the tire couldn't be repaired and had to be replaced.

6.  The neurosurgeon said I have a herniated disk and should have a discectomy. I opted for a round of steroids first. The symptoms (a numb arm) haven't improved much, but I'm hopeful maybe a second round might do the trick.

7. Charlie got a concussion at the ONE soccer game all season that neither Mike or I were at. And of course it was an hour away. That was 10 days ago. He's feeling better, but is still on physical and academic restrictions.

8. The day after Charlie's concussion, we got rear-ended. We were all ok, with the exception of Annie who had some mild whiplash. The other driver has Progressive insurance. They have been terrific to work with.

9. If you read #1-8 and thought that even the most sane person on Earth would have been driven to drink over all that, you would be right. I've picked up the Diet Coke habit again. Not to the extent I once drank it, but one or two a day. Being a Diet Coke brand ambassador might have had something to do with that, too.

10. I survived the in better (mental & emotional) shape than I expected. I've been investing some time in myself and in my own sanity and it is paying off. I find myself better equipped to handle unexpected occurrences and able to sidestep chaos to take a minute to take a deep breath and get a grip. That's not to say I don't lose it from time to time, but still, I'm pretty happy with myself.