Saturday, August 31, 2013

Oh, Photos! Be Still My Heart.

I might need an intervention.   I have 104 photo albumsIf each one holds an average of about 200 pictures (some have more, some have less, but, trust me, this is a good average), that means that there are over 20,000 photos in my living room. 

Is this crazy?  In this digital age, should I stop?  I can warn you ahead of time that not only do I not want to stop, but that my picture-taking is at an all time high. :)   For example, I just uploaded 1,298 additional pictures for printing (I was a year behind in printing and inserting in albums).

These pictures date back to my childhood, but most of them are from 1987 to now.  The fact that I have taken, kept and cataloged over 20,000  pictures in the last 20 years means that I can do things like the following, at will (with the assistance of the magical screen-shotting iPhone): 

Create a collage of my 3 kid's Halloween costumes from 1988 to 2013:
Come up with a Memorial Day Tribute incorporating family members from all 5 branches of the military in the last 4 generations (grandpa, dad, kids, siblings) of my immediate family:
Commemorate the 20th birthday of my beautiful child Lacey Allison in photos:
Produce holiday photo collages for not only Christmas (obviously)...

...but of the 4th of July as well, that date back for many years:

People say they are impressed by my collages and I admit they're pretty cool, but it's totally fun and easy for me.

In February my youngest brother asked if I'd make him a frame like the one that hangs in my house of him and me and our 3 other sibs that dates back to when we were little.  I have posted  one such picture of us in a previous blog: the 5 of us at ages 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10.  #love  The picture below is of Zoe with the frame I made for him --which has 13 of the 21 pics of me and my 5 sibs that I have collected from 1972 to today.

Pictures have helped me through bad times as well.  It's very sad, but, I remember how helpful it was, in retrospect, to make this "Baby Record Book" for Lacey in September 1999. Lacey was actually aged 6 at the time, but I came home empty and strange from the hospital after losing a baby at 5 months pregnant, and not knowing what to do. I still can't explain how it helped, but I went from creating this "baby record" to being able to make a memory album for my tiny-baby-not-to-be from pictures and artifacts that the nurses said that I would eventually want even though I refused to look at them at the time. (Those nurses knew the value of pictures).

My addiction has prospered and spread in the digital age --in ways that I could never have imagined back the days when I used to wait weeks to pick up my prints after dropping off the film.  (It was probably days, but felt like weeks.)  In addition to cataloging pictures in physical albums, I now catalog all my pics on an external drive.  And then there is social media where I am equally prolific:
  • There are 637 pictures on my phone today
    • I struggle to keep that number "around" 500
  • I have uploaded 1,831 pictures to Facebook since mid-2008 
    • This is an average of 366 per year
    • I am not the kind of person who uploads her entire vacation load of 143 pictures in one Facebook post; I pick the best ones (no more than 15-20 pics at one time)
  • I am tagged in an additional 183 Facebook pics
    • There was no Facebook when I was in college
  • I have posted 744 pictures to Instagram since this past January - this may be the most compelling argument for an intervention - I blame it on the challenges
    • I'm clearly very competitive 
  • God only knows what is happening on Twitter
    • I can't be held accountable for anything on Twitter :)

I have also posted before about my new found love for the View Master (the subject of that same previous blog post for which I am not being compensated in any way for promoting - it's just SO COOL (these are not my family pictures, but I would post one that had mine if I could).
And I can't leave out digital frames - when those came out I felt like they were made just for me!  I have two - one at home and one at work -and I just love them. 

I really can't begin to explain in one blog post how much 20,000-plus pictures mean to me, or why: the taking of these pictures, the printing of them, and the carefully placing of them in my albums. The continuing to record them even though I have no idea what the digital future holds.  Will I one day be able to call up any particular picture on my laptop/TV?  How cool would that be?! I don't know, but, whatever the future holds, I'm pretty sure it will involve me taking lots of pictures. 

So, yeah, I guess that was pretty much rhetorical - that whole question about whether or not I should stop earlier in this post. Never stop doing what you love. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Balancing Backpacks and Big Brothers

So, things are about to get complicated at work, and I'm already challenged enough to even remotely manage an appropriate work-life balance.  What makes this even more challenging is that people think I know what I'm doing. I'm not sure why, but it has something to do with having already raised 2 great kids.  I can't emphasize enough how big a role pure, unadulterated Luck played in this accomplishment. Seriously, ask them.  They will tell you. 

Today, there's still Zoe, the 11-year-old, at home.  And the cat and the fish.  And the laundry --always the freaking laundry.  (Not that the cat and the fish actually produce much laundry, but still.)  Now that we have gone back to school let's review a typical morning for me and Zoe last year: 

Me:  "Zoe, get up."
Zoe:  No response. 
Me, later:  "Zoe, brush your teeth."
Zoe, sitting on the couch, eyes closed, practically comatose, not moving nor ever planning to move, hissing: "I AM brushing my teeth!"
Me, even later, dropping a half-dressed possibly tooth-brushed Zoe at school because we missed the bus again:  "Have a great day at school."  
Zoe: No response. much to look forward to.  

Today, Zoe was all excited about her first day of  6th grade but while I was certainly gratified when she sprang out of bed this morning, I am not so naive to expect this sort of display of energy and excitement to last until say, tomorrow morning.  Nope, tomorrow I fully expect to be back to working the Balance Game

My favorite definition of balance is "a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions."  We call the elements of our very own Balance Game "Backpacks" and "Big Brothers."  These are obvious euphemisms for school and work (when you work at Big Brothers Big Sisters, as I have, for the last 15 years). As with most people who play the Balance Game, I learned very early on that these 2 elements are absolutely not equal and very rarely "in correct proportions."  

Last week, for example, before school had even started (which, frankly, just doesn't bode well), we already experienced one of the most classic situations in which Backpacks and Big Brothers could not possibly be equal:  The invitation to "Back to School Night" was delivered exactly 6 days before "Back to School Night" itself was to occur on a night when, yes, I already had a board meeting scheduled (over a month in advance).

These are the choices that illustrate the impossibility of achieving balance in this situation (choose one):
  • Skip the board meeting and take the kid to "Back to School Night" = bad employee = unhappy board members = work/life fail
  • Ignore the invite to "Back to School Night" and attend board meeting = just plain bad parent = unhappy kid = total work/life fail
  • Get someone else to take kid to "Back to School Night" = marginally bad (absent) parent = somewhat mollified kid = work/life fail       <what I chose, of course>
One could argue that the "elements" were in correct proportion on the night in question to the extent that I was at a Big Brothers Big Sisters board meeting and Zoe was at her school function, but this is merely the quibbling we do as we try to convince ourselves that winning the Balance Game is more than just a myth.  I wanted and needed to be in 2 places at once, and it just ain't happenin'.  

This situation will occur in various forms (field trips, class parties, parent-teacher conferences etc) with regularity as the school year progresses. I always vow to try and make each year the one in which I do not pointlessly complain to the school about the lack of adequate notice for events. Warning to Balance-Challenged Parents:  do not try this at school. There is nothing worse than the judgement passed on you as a parent for complaining that your schedule can't accommodate your child's important school function.

So back to my original point - about how things are gonna be getting really busy at work.  We have a bunch of projects heating up, including opening a gift store I can't wait to blog about, and I'm already fortifying myself to step up my Balance Game.  The work week is going to get longer and this means that the struggle for equality between Backpacks and Big Brothers is only going to intensify. 

This is how weekends went last school year when no one was making us do anything:
Saturday morning: "Zzzzzzzzzzzzz." 
Sunday night: "Dang, the laundry is really piling up."

If it's only the laundry that suffers this year, we'll be lucky.  But of course there's a reason that I work so hard to balance Backpacks and Big Brothers, and it's the obvious one: nothing means more to me than my kids at home, and I am pretty dang lucky to be able to work on behalf of the kids at Big Brothers Big Sisters everyday at work.

So, I was going to hit "publish" on this post right before I left to go get Zoe after school today, but I didn't, so I just had to share this conversation we had driving home.  This was after a discussion about how she is taking both Pre-AP English and Math because she "couldn't choose" between the two.  Her dad and I wanted her to be in Pre-AP Math because the girl has skills we can only dream about, but she liked the idea of Pre-AP English because it would be "easier."   

Zoe:  "I've been thinking today about my talents and what I'm going to do with them."
Me:  "Yeah? So what have  you decided?"
Zoe,  "Well, I could be an actress, a dancer, a singer, a poet, a choreographer, or a writer of children's books."
Me:  "What about being an accountant? Do kids ever aspire to being accountants?  That is a good career, and we just discussed how good you are at Math."
Zoe:  "No, mom.  No one wants to have the boring job OR personality of an accountant."
Me:  "That is such a stereotype.  How does an 11-year-old develop that kind of stereotype of for accountant?"
Zoe: "TV, mom - where 11-year-olds develop all of their stereotypes."
Me:  "Well, Chuck (our accountant at my office) is not boring, so there goes your stereotype!"
Zoe: "Chuck is an accountant??!!"
Me:   "Yes, he is."
Zoe:   "Well, not every accountant can work for Big Brothers Big Sisters!"  

You said it, girl. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Procrastination meets Denial

How does this always sneak up on me? Evey year I say I'm going to savor every summer day, wring every last drop of golden sunshine from my world, properly appreciate every goofy summer smile, so that when summer is waning down, I'll be ready. But yet again, it's almost over, and I feel like June was just, yesterday. I'm caught off-guard, mid-fun, open-mouthed, ill-prepared, unfulfilled. Am I alone?

I don't want to seem ungrateful. It was an action packed summer! I took many days off. I enjoyed my children. I spent time with my family. I went to the beach. I enjoyed many an adult beverage. I planted things. The pear tree bore fruit again. It was hot! My AC went out.  I spent too much money. I packed too much for my trip. I made time to blog. I played in the rain. I did puzzles. Went swimming. Went to the movies. Slept late. Took walks with the kids. Saw fireworks. Read some great beach fiction. Ate too much great food. We almost won a championship. 

 So why the feeling of panic when I see this display in the grocery store? 

Is it because the back-to-school list of things I need to do isn't even written? This might be it.  Procrastination, accompanied heartily by denial, has taken over in a BIG way.

"It's only the beginning of August," I said.

Then: "I've still got 2 weeks, plenty of time."

And now, "it's a week away, we'll get it done."

Who wants to bet that next Friday night I'll be thinking," We've got the whole weekend."

And then, Bam! It's Monday morning.

But for now, exactly one week until the night the summer of 2013 comes to an end, I am still pretending that I have all the time in the world, and this is my view.....


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Parties and Presents!

The summer months mark many milestones in my family. Six birthdays, Father's Day and my parent's wedding anniversary occur from June to August, and because these months are so busy we've formed a habit of coming together in August to celebrate them all at once. This year my sister, Ali, the youngest of my siblings, turned 40. As surprised as I was to actually turn 40 several years ago myself, it's totally crazy that my baby sister has rounded that corner as well.  

One of the most frequently reproduced pictures from our childhood is of my 4 sibs and I dressed in outfits our mother made for us at the ages of 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10. It is almost inconceivable to me that this picture was taken almost 40 years ago. Thankfully, however, we have something to help make up for all the unwanted aging we have had to do over the years - Parties and Presents!  I have always appreciated any excuse for a party- I am an absolute holiday junkie - and in a large family, birthdays are a frequent excuse to celebrate. 
So when we came together last night for our Party at the Main Event where 18 of us enjoyed bar food, beverages, bowling and a cupcake cake, I was prepared with 40 gift-wrapped treasures collected over the last 3 months to  commemorate my sister's milestone appropriately.  The thing about gifts is that they truly are as rewarding to give as to get.  It may sound crazy, but my two youngest daughters and I had great fun selecting, wrapping, numbering and then watching Ali open all 40 gifts. Most of the gifts were small things we thought she would appreciate.  We applied the philosophy "It's the thought that counts" liberally in our quest to get to the big 4-0.  I think she had fun - it looks like she's having fun in this picture below: 

And truly, who doesn't feel good when they get a present?  Presents are just pure fun, and they satisfy that need in all of us to open Pandora's box.  It was tough to keep my dad's Father's Day under wraps since June because we think it is a pretty awesome gift idea:  A customized View-Master (remember those?) of pictures of my dad with various members of our family that Lacey and Zoe picked out and created for Father's day.  The View Master itself - available in several colors, as well as the initial reel, was $29.95, and it was pretty easy to upload the pictures to the website.  It was a big hit at the party and got passed around to each guest to enjoy!  I love the idea so much that I ended up buying several additional reels for others.  If you love pictures, check it out!  This is a present everyone is loving.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Music To Live, and Drive, By

My kids learned to love "my" music in the car. They were a captive audience I guess you could say. It's a more than fair trade for all the Barney and Wiggles songs I've had to sing over the years.

On long summer drives thousands of miles across the country back in the day (before the wondrous invention of the iPod) we played the same CD's over and over again.  Today, my 20 year old will tell you her favorite song is "Desperado" by The Eagles, and my 25 year old is partial to "The Sound of Silence" by Simon & Garfunkel, and Led Zepplin and The Cure.

Back and forth on the daycare commute over her first six years Zoe, the 11 year old, developed an appreciation for everything from Journey to Godsmack from her car seat. Many of her early renditions are captured on our YouTube channel, kindersinger, like this snippet from Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorn."

All three of my girls know just about every word to the musicals "Evita" and "Rent." It wouldn't be strange to find us in HEB shopping and singing the different parts. Strange for us, I mean, it might be strange for you. On a recent trip to Florida we karaoke'd "Would You Light My Candle" in a hotel bar for a family reunion. Picture 20 year old Lacey singing the part of Roger, 11 year old Zoe as Mimi (skipping the "bad word") and Ariel and I singing along with both parts from the table, filming. No one else in the bar knew the song.

These days though, its a rare occasion for us to enjoy music together like we used to. We fly on vacation now -each with our separate headphones, and Zoe rides the bus to school. So recently, on a short trip to Austin (to pick up Ariel) Lacey, Zoe and I made a playlist. We named our playlist by each one of us choosing a random word. For inclusion in the playlist, all songs had to be "really liked" by all three of us.

And so was born The "Orange Water Sparkles" Playlist. 16 songs for 43 minutes of listening pleasure. It's our go-to car music these days. Zoe said this past weekend, from the backseat, "I love this playlist because I can sing all the words to almost every song."

Our next playlist is going to consist of each of our Top 5 Fav songs that the others have not yet come to love. I'm looking forward to that one. We don't spend as much time together as we used to, and certainly even less in the car, but it's always nice when music accompanies us. We're naming that play list now...