Sunday, November 30, 2008

Published November 30, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

In my mind right now, my life is an inspirational movie about a young, female boxer about to take on the fight of her life. No, no, I’m not contemplating assisted suicide. It’s not “Million Dollar Baby.” Think “Rocky” on estrogen.

Syrupy voiced boxing announcer: “In the right corner, we have (ahem) heavyweight champion Sarah Clark! In the left corner, we have the heavyweight contender, in fresh form and ready to fight: The Holidays! This could be the fight of the century! Let’s get ready to RUMBLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLE!”

Crusty boxing coach: “Okay, Sarah…this guy’s big and he’s mean and he’s no stranger to fighting dirty, but you can beat him! I want you to get in there and give him your famous left hook right off. He’s gonna try and get you with the gingergbread sucker punch and the turkey kidney shot, but you know how to deal with those. Don’t back down. Give it all you’ve got! You can win this! You’re the greatest! You’re the champ!”

Me: “And we throw in the towel when?”

I’m a little stressed. Can you tell?

To say my life is busy is to say Niagara Falls is a small leak over a couple of medium sized rocks. At this time in my life, I am a wife, a mother of five, a full time employee, a full time student, and an active volunteer at my church. I’m able to keep my sanity and get things done with a interesting mix of organization, determination, slave labor from the kids, random acts of kindness from my husband, and frequent breaks in which I just sit around and stare off into space...and drool…and sometimes cry. Overall, it’s a good balance.

Enter the holiday season. Holy Juggling, Batman! I don’t think we’ll get out of this one alive!

If I had a Batplane, I’d be in Tahiti right now. Don’t get me wrong. I love the holidays. I love baking pies and making gifts and decorating the house in red and green. I just think I’d appreciate all of that more in Tahiti…far, far away from finals and field reports and time clocks and domestic violence groups and choir programs and vacuums and laundry soap and did I mention drooling and crying?

Crusty boxing coach: “What kind of talk is this? You’re the champ! You do more in one day than most people do in a week AND you have an A average! Are you going to let a little holiday knock you out in the first round?”

Me: “I don’t know. Are YOU going to embroider Richard’s stocking for the wreath and cross stitch his stocking for the fireplace? Are YOU going to finish the sketches of the kids for their Christmas presents? Are YOU going to bake up decadent treats for the neighbors and plan a Christmas program for church and keep a choir of juvenile offenders motivated until concert day? Are YOU going to take my Ethics final three days after getting your wisdom teeth out and then prepare the food you’ll need to bring to the family Christmas party? Well, ARE YOU?!”

Crusty boxing coach: “No. Because I’m not the champ. I’m just the crusty old guy who trains the champ and then dies of a heart attack to give you a dead hero to live up to. I’m just the…*gurgle* *sputter*…pain…in my…chest…Champ, win this one...for…me…” (Collapses).

Me: “Nice try, Crusty. Now bust out the embroidery floss before I give you my famous left hook.”

Sunday, November 23, 2008

It could always be worse.

Published November 23, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

Thanksgiving during an economic crisis puts many in an interesting position. If things aren’t going well in your life, it might be hard to have an attitude of gratitude. There are probably people telling you that you should focus on what you have. I do not disagree. But in this time of economic uncertainty, when people are out of homes and out of jobs, and others are sure to follow, maybe it’s better to flip that sentiment on its head. Maybe it’s time to embrace a different mantra…it could always be worse.

Some might think that uttering those words is a classic example of a person tempting fate. I disagree. I don’t think people who think this way truly understand the meaning of fate. I mean, fate is fixed. It’s unchangeable. It can’t really be tempted. If things are going to get worse, they’ll get worse regardless of what you say, right? I’m just saying that even then, they could always be worse.

Someone out there is thinking, “I got pounded by the sub-prime mortgage debacle. I got laid off because my company made cuts. I don’t even know how I’ll manage Christmas for my kids or rent for next month or that operation I need so badly. On top of that, my wife left me for my best friend, my truck broke down, and my dog just died. I’m one tragedy away from a bad country song. HOW on earth could things possibly get worse?”

Legionnaire’s disease…that’s how. Did you ever stop to think about how much worse things would be if you had Legionnaire’s disease? Probably not. On Thanksgiving Day, if you have nothing else for which to be thankful, you can bow your head and say, “God, I’m grateful I don’t have Legionnaire’s Disease.”

And what if you do? Believe me…it could always be worse. Ever heard of amoebic dysentery? How about leprosy? The plague? I’ve bet you’ve never even had typhoid fever or even one bout of scurvy. Most people younger than I am haven’t even had chicken pox. Imagine having chicken pox right now.

When you look around at the rain of misfortune that keeps pouring down upon your life, imagine how much harder it would be to deal with if your home were overrun by genetically altered laboratory rats with really big teeth and the ability to reason. I know I’m grateful I’m not fighting off those guys right now.

And just think. Isn’t it nice that our country’s recession isn’t just a side note to a poorly timed reincarnation of carnivorous dinosaurs? Isn’t it nice to know that even if you didn’t vote for President-elect Obama, he’s probably not actually a killer robot sent to earth from the planet Zarcon to prepare for the coming invasion. I don’t know about you, but I’d take partisan politics and questionable economic policy over that any day.

If none of this makes you feel better, all is not lost. Things are still better off than they could be. If you can’t find even one thing to be grateful for, just hold out until Turkey Day and let the folks at Red Rock Canyon School find it for you. (Former employee shout out! Hi guys! Miss you!) Head on over to their location at 747 E. St. George Blvd any time from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm on Thanksgiving Day and have a wonderful Thanksgiving Dinner on them. You’ll enjoy great food, live music, and a much needed case of the warm fuzzies as you bow your head and say, “God, I’m grateful that even though my life is turning into a country song, at least I didn’t have to cook today.”

Of course, if you have Legionnaire’s Disease, you may want to call ahead.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Published November 16, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

The other day, as I was studiously working on my geography homework, I noticed I had a new email from a member of my class. This student was looking for a partner with whom she could share the work of the time intensive field report project we’re all supposed to have been working on for the last three months. I shook my head in disbelief, wondering how on God’s green (and highly geographical) earth she ever expected to complete the project with only a week and a half to go before its due date.

You know that part in movies where people are listening to music and someone unwanted walks in the room and there’s a sound of a record being scratched and then everything just stops? There are moments in my life when I hear that scratched record and everything in my consciousness just stops and I’m left saying, “A-buuuuuuhhhhhhh” for a few confusing moments. This was one of those moments.

The imaginary music stopped for me when I realized I was not the person who wrote the email in question. How could this be? I am the procrastination queen! I wrote the book on procrastination. Well, I’ll write the book when I get around to it. How is it possible that I started working on this assignment only a week after it was given and will be turning it in nearly a week before it’s due? Who am I and what have I done with myself?

Being someone who thrives on personal change and progress, it’s always disconcerting when I realize I’ve made some big change for the better without even meaning to. The more I think about it, the more I realize I’ve been treating all of my schoolwork like this since going back to college in 2007. Not only that, but I also registered to vote immediately upon moving here, and I registered my car on time, and I got all the kids registered for school a month before the start of classes.

Somewhere during the last few years, I hit and surpassed a milestone, and I haven’t even been able to brag about it until now!

When faced with a situation like this, I do what any normal, American woman would do. I embrace denial. If I developed the maturity and organizational skills to stop procrastinating without even realizing it, the only thing to do is to start procrastinating again and grow and progress again…but this time on purpose!

Yeah, that’s not going so well. I decided to start by procrastinating while I wrote this column, visiting other websites rather than write. So what did I do? I ordered my husband’s Christmas present…with 42 days to go before the big day. Then I sent an email to my Ethics instructor, to get a head start on studying for this weekend’s big test. It seems even when I try to procrastinate, I avoid procrastinating.

I don’t know what this means for the future I dreamed about. Now that I finally have it in me to organize meetings of Procrastinator’s Anonymous, write my definitive work, Better Left ‘til Tomorrow, and go on a procrastinator’s support tour, I’m no longer able to represent procrastinator’s at all. Nobody’s going to believe a procrastinator who actually meets deadlines.

I know I should take comfort in the fact that my book, Organizing for the Reformed Procrastinator, is already halfway finished, but I’m too busy accomplishing things to notice.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Choosing battles

Published November 9, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

As I write this, there is a lovely blanket of snow on the ground and much more than a little chill in the air outside my house. My school-aged children are bundled up against the elements, the better to make the quick walk around the corner and into the warmth of their elementary school. That is, all of my children except my oldest.

My nearly 12-year-old boy is at what I’m beginning to refer to as the “Age of Arguing.” He’s actually been there for a few years, but now that he’s almost a teenager it’s somehow easier to take. Today, he hurried off to school in a knee length pair of shorts and nothing more than a single sweatshirt to keep out the cold, proclaiming mightily, “I don’t need a coat! I never wear a coat! It doesn’t even feel cold to me!”

Now, I’m the kind of gal who likes to walk in puddles barefoot on a chilly morning just for the invigorating rush, so I kind of see where he’s at here, but the barefoot gal gets a little more uptight when she’s thinking like a mom. I see one of my kids jumping through icy puddles and my mothering instincts kick in with a loud, “Get your hiney inside and put on some shoes!” It’s either instinct or fear of what all the other mothers will think…

I let Ray head off to school in his highly inappropriate clothing because I’ve decided to experiment with a parenting concept that’s always been very hard for me. As his shoes pounded the soggy pavement, my feet padded back and forth across my kitchen floor, keeping time with a rhythmic, “Choose your battles…choose your battles…choose your battles.”

I’m afraid to admit that I’m the kind of mom who has a very hard time choosing battles. The phrase has always been a bit of a puzzle for me. I hear, “Choose your battles,” and I think, Of course! I choose EVERY battle! I’m the MOM, aren’t I?

What I’m grudgingly learning is that there’s a lot to be said for allowing a kid to learn from experience when the experience isn’t completely life threatening. It was cold this morning, but not dangerously so. If the temperatures dip even lower, he’ll probably choose pragmatism over power struggles and decide to put on a coat. The good news is that it will be his decision at that point, not mine, and that will earn me a few points in the “trusted counselor vs nagging despot” battle.

And those are points I’m going to use. I’m not giving up these battles without the future in mind. I’m keeping track of each and every time I let something go in the name of choosing battles, because someday, there will be a REALLY important battle I’ll have to choose, and that, my friends, will call for some major ammo.

“Ray, I know you’re 16 and think it’s perfectly reasonable for you to go to Cancun with your friends for Spring Break without any adult supervision, but I disagree. If you look at the battle spreadsheet with me, I think you’ll find that I have stepped back from battling with you on your choice of friends, your hair style and color, each and every girl you’ve dated, your after school job, and your decidedly Democratic political leanings. That’s 10,873 battles you have been spared because of my herculean efforts at self control. Buddy, you owe me. You’re going to the Grand Canyon with your family, AND THAT’S FINAL!” (Cue sound of battle-ending nuclear explosion.)

Saving up non-chosen battles and using them as scores later is probably not what the experts had in mind when they came up with this parenting theory, and I’m sure it has potential to backfire if I actually put it into practice. Give me some time. I’m new at this. I’ll probably just keep tabs in my head to make me feel better about it.

But I’m totally bringing out the spreadsheet if he ever says he wants to go to BYU.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Election day tips

Published November 2, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

After months of mudslinging, pandering, and begging for votes, it’s finally here. Election day is Tuesday. It’s time to “Rock the Vote.” I don’t really know what it means to rock a vote, but I’m going to vote on Tuesday, no matter what. I’ll probably wear my Aerosmith t-shirt and walk in with a hippy swagger, just in case.

There’s a lot of talk in the national media about potential disenfranchisement of voters. Conspiracy theories abound. It doesn’t help that so many of them are supported by actual cases of unconscionable behavior by political party activists and certain elected officials. Add to that the fact that existing numbers of voting machines may not be enough to accommodate record numbers of new voters, and you’ve got the makings of a debacle of Bush/Gore 2000 proportions.

Never fear. I’ve spent at least 14 minutes pondering this situation, and I have some ideas for avoiding disenfranchisement at the polls. Follow my suggestions, and I can guarantee your vote will count (unless you’re voting Democrat in Utah. There’s really nothing I can do about that.)

First, don’t believe anything you get in the mail that isn’t your actual voter registration card. No matter how official a form looks, if it tells you there’s a problem with your registration or your polling place, make sure you verify, verify, verify. Whether you make a phone call or find up-to-date information online, get the facts before you decide not to vote. The only way to know for sure if you’re on the rolls is to make an appearance at your polling place and see for yourself. If you registered in enough time, chances are, you’re on the list.

Now that you’ve made it to the polls, be careful whom you trust. There may be unsavory people lying in wait to rob you of your rights. If anyone tells you he can get you out of there more quickly if you just vote on his machine, don’t fall for it. It’s a lie, and it’s downright un-American. Everyone with half a brain knows our system of government is based on a longstanding (heh) tradition of waiting in lines.

Once you make it to the election judges, you will have to verify that you are, in fact, who you say you are. In this situation, less is not more. Bring every form of ID you own. Driver license, social security card, credit cards, voter registration card, wholesale club membership card, work I.D. badge, everything. Make sure you don’t forget your library card. While there are no longer laws on the books that require proof of literacy before a citizen votes, a library card could improve our chances if the election judge just happens to be a retired English teacher.

Finally, when the time comes for you to actually vote, take it slow. If you’re confused, ask for help. If the machine malfunctions, ask for help. If you are in any way concerned that your vote didn’t count, ASK FOR HELP! Poll workers aren’t just trained in checking names and giving out stickers and candy, though if you need help with your sticker or candy, you can certainly ask for help with that.

If after doing all of these things, you find yourself disenfranchised, you can take comfort in the fact that millions of new voters were able to rock the vote, and at least one of them voted the way you would have. And of course, there were probably thousands of others who were also disenfranchised who would have voted against your candidate. It’s a small consolation, but it should help a little bit.

And if it doesn’t, there’s always the candy.