December 21, 2009

Angels Among Us

Today I had the opportunity to stand in a very long line and watch an angel at work.

I stood in a snaking line at filled with harried people dropping off their last minute packages at the post office. At the counter, stood a lady with an unnaturally tangerine tinted, tightly set, heavily Aqua-netted hairdo, barely reaching the counter with her cards and packages. Her hearing was bad enough that the entire line was privy to her conversation with the postal clerk.

She hadn't filled out the address on her package properly and it couldn't be sent. She was asking dozens of questions, fumbling in her pocketbook, and papers fluttering like makeshift indoor snowflakes.  She clutched the handle of her bag and seemed overwhelmed. The clerk behind the counter didn't wince or lose his patience. Some folks sighed audibly while others began to shift or tap their feet. The other two clerks were moving efficently, but the third line stagnated.

The lady wanted to make sure her package arrived on time. The clerk tried to read the forms to her, but she became frustrated when she couldn't hear him. Minutes passed as she fumbled a bit more with the carbon copied forms. The sign on the counter indicated that clerks are forbidden to fill out papers of any sort. She finally gave up, knowing that she would need to go home and get someone to help her fill out her papers, hoping she could find someone to bring her back to the post office tomorrow.

I stood at the back of the line watching the scenario unfold. The clerk suggested he had a better idea and he got a priority box for her. He gently repacked the present as if it were his own and taped it shut. He explained slowly what she needed to do, "Just put this out with your mail tomorrow after you put the right address on here and you won't have to find a ride back." He didn't break any rules but he truly showed compassion and assistance.

The sweet lady thanked him over and over again, and turned to all of us in line and apologized for being so slow. I think the foot tappers may have been a little humbled. She was still rustling things back into her pocketbook when it was my turn. I just looked over at the clerk helping her and smiled.

Patience is so rare in the world these days that it really stands out. We have so many time saving devices, I'm often left wondering why there is never any spare time. I am grateful that two angels were in my path today to remind me that time is precious. The slow little old lady and her chivalrous postal clerk. While you're out there, take a moment to watch for angels. They are everywhere you look. I would love if you shared a story with us here in the comments.

With many blessings of Christmas for my readers and friends,

December 10, 2009

My Christmas Angel

I've written before about my first born, I've even had her guest blog here. But ever the neglected second born sometimes misses her equal time. On my personal Facebook page, I've been posting an ornament a day with the story behind it, I realized how truly remiss I was a few times, when I had an ornament for the first born but not second.I think it's just the universal truth behind birth order. Sorry to all non-first borns. But younger ones, take comfort in the fact that your older sibling will always think you have it easier. It balances out. Today, I will take that step.

Twelve years ago this week, my second child was due. I was rather impatient because child number one was five weeks premature. I felt as big as a house and like I was 5 weeks overdue already. I took to doing daily jumping jacks (not an image you wanted to paint, I'm sure) and contemplated four-wheeling or horseback riding. I was ready to have the baby. Even my then two year old would put her mouth to my enormous tummy and yell "Baby come out!" But that baby wasn't ready.

We tried to go about our normal Christmas preparations, which included the purchase of our tree. One crisp Friday night in early December, we went out to dinner and stopped at the brightly lit tree yard after dinner. I'm not sure when the tradition of tree shopping at night caught on, but for some reason, it is prevalent.

I had a full stomach and an even more packed intestines. Pregnancy makes a woman carbonated. As we wandered around the tree lot, my spouse, my two year old and myself, the tree guy followed perilously close.

Like any self respecting ladylike female, I tried to keep my carbonation at bay. I was not sure if I had to go the bathroom, give birth or just pass gas, but I do know my midsection was about as pressurized as a spring loaded snake in a pretend can of peanuts. You know what I'm talking about, the gag gift every crazy uncle passes around at a family gathering that inevitably scares some unsuspecting soul.

That pressure would not cooperate, and as I bent slightly to examine the branches of a Douglas Fir, the spring load released. In the No Longer Silent Night, I ripped one of enduring proportions. I was grateful for my spouse because I stared accusatorily at him and said only his name, expecting a full admission of guilt.

Befuddled, he looked at me and quizzically replied, "You're on the board? Or maybe excuse you?"

I glared at him. He missed the opportunity to be chivalrous and accept the blame. I'm really sure the tree guy wasn't fooled either, but I feel like I at least salvaged some dignity. Especially when he hurried to give us a discount on the tree. We took the tree home and decorated it and waited for that overdue baby who was the cause of my spring loaded sphincter.

Oh yeah, this story was supposed to be about her. I suppose that will come tomorrow. Please forgive me second born, Christmas Angel. You do know you're my favorite. Just ask your older sister.

Anyone know if Beano is safe to use during pregnancy?

December 8, 2009

By Request and also By Complete Endorsement

December 7, 2009

Jihads, Tigers and Bears, OH MY!

I just finished a fascinating book, Alone with a Jihadist, written by a young Christian missionary. He spend a day with a Muslim extremist for a documentary. We have communicated a bit via email, and I must say, I found my own faith challenged.

I invite you to read my review of his book, naturally followed up by reading the book itself. I'm convinced it will change your heart.

My most memorable Christmas

There are several that are memorable. Most Memorable shifts depending what taps the shoulder of my subconcious. By default, I attempt to explain most memorable, with the disclaimer that they are young memories and therefore subject to inaccuracies. Nonetheless, they are as I recall. (yes, the disclaimer is a way to placate any family member who may refute what I said and remind me of a more memorable Christmas).

When I was 5 years old, we had just moved into our farmhouse. My twin brothers were babies, we had barely gotten settled in our home. I remember snippets. We spent the better part of the past few months in my uncle's garage, driving to and from the farm house while our family brought a circa 1860 home up to 1971 code.

What I remember is going to midnight mass. I don't remember why my folks told us we wouldn't have a tree, but as an adult I assume it was the insanity of trying to get settled in a barely renovated, half finished farm house. We went to mass. That year in Kindergarten, I'd learned the words to all the carols and as the organist played the pre-service music, I was proud to sing. Loudly. I remember singing Silent Night at the top of my lungs. So much for Silent. At least the Night part was accurate.

We came back from Mass and in our foyer was a tree, filled with decorations and a big note from Santa's elves. "Santa will be back later, but we put up the tree so that he'd know where to leave the gifts". I stood in the room awed. Every kid knows, the only significance of going to Christmas Eve church is that you're one step closer to morning after Santa has arrived. Who'd think he'd send his emmissaries before him?

I never forgot that magic. Years later, the magic multiplied. At a family gathering, my aunt made a remark. "I remember that year that (my then boyfriend, now husband) went over and put up a tree for you while you were at Mass." Until I was an adult, I never knew how the tree appeared. I teased my aunt repeatedly that she shattered some magic.  That couldn't be further from the truth. She made magic.

To consider that on Christmas Eve, two college kids, who likely had many other things to do, thought the best thing to do was go put up a tree for her 5 and 3 year old niece and nephews...

Yes, there is Magic.

Thank you, many years later. Thank you to my Aunt D and Uncle L. You made magic. It continues to live.

November 25, 2009

Let's talk turkey!

As the nation prepares to celebrate our national day of thanks tomorrow, I am preparing for my first ever participation in a 5K run. I challenged myself to participate in this run over the summer, when I was encouraging my daughter to train for her Cross Country team.

I would like to tell you my training has gone well. It hasn't. I lost my mojo after I hurt my foot sometime in August. I will be walking most of the 5K, but I'm hoping to find inspiration to run it by NEXT year.

That isn't as important as the reason I'm doing the 5K. It is a charity Turkey Dash for an organization near and dear to my heart. A few years ago, a young mother I knew succumbed to her valiant battle with breast cancer. She was my neighbor and friend. While she was ill, a concern that always weighed heavily on her was how people without insurance or good jobs could possibly afford to get so ill.

Her husband started the foundation the year she died to help women undergoing breast cancer treatment. The Nakon Foundation helps women meet the costs not covered by insurance. Their first recipient was a single mother who was struggling to pay her mortgage since she had to cut her work hours. The foundation paid her mortgage while she was being treated. They have helped dozens of families around Northeast Ohio.

If you would like to start your Thanksgiving morning with an invigorating run or walk for a good cause, the Turkey Trot starts at Avon High School at 9 AM. Registration sheets can be downloaded here.

Hope to see my local friends there! Have a blessed Thanksgiving.

November 23, 2009

Feast of Flash Contest results

My esteemed writing colleague, Michael Solender, has sponsored a contest for Thanksgiving on his blog, "Not From Here, Are You?" Michael is an award winning fiction writer and a newspaper columnist for the Charlotte (NC) Observer.His generosity amazes me. The original premise of the contest was that he would award $100 to the charity of the winner's choice. Not only did he do that, but the next four runners' up also received $50 for their respective charities.

He has set a benchmark for other writers to follow. I entered a short story in the contest, and was awarded an honorable mention. (My story will be published next Monday).

I prefer to give him the Most Honorable Mention award instead. I am so proud to share space with him on the Internet. Please go visit his blog and show some love. He has done something wonderful, he has paid it forward.

Thank you, Michael.

November 11, 2009

Charter for Compassion

Tomorrow marks a historic day in the world.
Author and freelance monotheist, Karen Armstrong's Charter for Compassion debuts.

Back in March this year, I wrote a short blog post titled Children of Abraham. The tragic events of the past week at Fort Hood reminded me of the post as we try to make more sense of a senseless act.

The premise of the Charter for Compassion is the Golden Rule, a central theme of all the Abrahamic religions; Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The Golden Rule requires that we use empathy -- moral imagination -- to put ourselves in others' shoes. We should act toward them as we would want them to act toward us. We should refuse, under any circumstance, to carry out actions which would cause them harm.

As we pray and remember our veterans who have perished on both foreign soil and their own, I hope we realize we still are bound to a duty to act with compassion. Compassion is not pity or self serving duty. Compassion is referred to by all world religions, in some form of the famous Golden Rule.

(the following is from Jeffrey Moses book, Oneness):

Christianity: Do unto other as as you would have them do unto you, for this is the law and the prophets.

Judaism: What is hurtful to yourself do not to your fellow man.

Islam: Do unto all men as you would they should unto you, and reject for others what you would reject for yourself.

Buddhism: Hurt not others with that which pains yourself.

Sikhism: Treat others as thou wouldst be treated thyself.

Taoism: Regard your neighbor's gain as you own gain; and regard your neighbor's loss as your own loss, even as though you were in their place.

Confucianism: What you do not yourself desire, do not put before others.

November 3, 2009

Come Soar with Us!

My friend and I have collaborated on a very exciting new blog. We are politically opposite, but also are Christian women of deep faith. We are hosting a forum for peaceful and respectful discussion about current social and political events. Even if we don't agree, we have an opportunity to listen to the other side. I speak to the more liberal views, while she shares her conservative leanings. We are very encouraged to be vehicles toward finding common ground.

We graciously invite you to join us in this exciting new forum.

Thank you!

Lifted on Eagle's Wings

October 30, 2009

My life of crime

When I was a child, Mama Fresh liked to sew many of our clothes. One outfit that vividly stands out was when Mama must have gotten a deal on many yards of olive green extremely wide-waled arctic thickness corduroy. My brothers and I had matching pants and vests constructed of this immovable fabric. We resembled miniature soldiers walking stiffly, not in khaki, but corduroy, needing only a few medals of honor to complete our uniforms.

I used to dread those twice-annual trips to the fabric store, looking for patterns and remnants. I just wished for blue jeans (or dungarees as Grandma called them) and a simple t-shirt from the local Sears. The closest we got to jeans were denim elastic-waisted bottoms. The elastic was ingeniously recycled from Papa's worn out underpants, so the waistband was always quite wide. I tried not to think too much about the underpants recycling. Movie heroines like Scarlett O’Hara used drapes and Maria in Sound of Music used the curtains. Apparently, we had no spare window treatments. We had dad’s underpants. I still hear Mama’s voice, “Nobody will ever know or see the elastic!”

One afternoon, during a particularly long fabric-searching marathon, there was nothing left for me to look at, like patterns or cute fabric that never was on sale anyway. I thought to play hide and seek in the bolts of fabric but nobody was there to look for me. My brothers never had to go on these trips.

I wandered past a bin of buttons and two big shiny brass buttons caught my eye. I do not know if I had heard the phrase about sewing brass buttons on my underpants and thought maybe that would dress up Dad’s elastic? Or perhaps I was determined to put some medals on our military looking outfits?

I am not sure what was so compelling about these two buttons but I was fascinated. I picked them up and studied my reflection, moving the buttons back and forth like a fun house mirror. My face warped, my eyes grew and shrunk. After entertaining myself with the buttons to help pass the time, I eventually decided to go check if Mama was finished.

I was about to return the card of buttons back to their bin but they seemed magnetized to my hand. Rather than put them back, I slipped them in my pocket without a second thought. I never even considered asking if we could get them. We just knew not to ask for anything at the store. I had no idea what I was going to do with the buttons, but suddenly, nothing was more important in my life than having those two shiny gold buttons.

They seemed to glow from my pocket. I held my hand tightly over the jacket pocket, in case they would escape or someone would notice. We bought our fabric and walked out the door and it was as simple as that; the buttons were mine. Nobody knew… no alarms went off; I was now the proud owner of two shiny brass buttons.

I could not wait to get home and study my prize. I scurried up to my room and hid in my closet, carefully removing the contraband from its hidden place. Then the gravity of my crime hit me. I had stolen those buttons. The face that reflected back at me was one of shame and petty crime. I was horrified. The fabric store was over an hour away, so it was not as if we could go back there, and I knew Mama would not be happy with me. Instead I buried the buttons in the bottom of my toy chest.

Every so often, I would pull the buttons out, but that same face stared back at me. Not the fun house face, the face of guilt. I stopped taking the buttons out and let my prize languish in the darkness.

Years later, that particular fabric store was going out of business. I wondered if my life of crime had been a contributing factor. I confessed my crime to the part time clerk while I was checking out, perhaps hoping for a moment of absolution. She looked at me as if I was crazy and I am sure I heard her say, “So?”

(Yeah, sew brass buttons on your underpants, that’s what started this whole mess in the first place).

October 22, 2009

Memories... light the corner of my mind...

I may be mired in a touch of nostalgia meeting the digital age. About two years ago, we moved and I packed up yet another phase of life into boxes that have only emerged this past week: more specifically, today.

If you're like me, unpacking isn't so much an exercise in efficiency, but rather a stroll down memory lane. I moved frequently during my teen years and can name three seperate high schools as my temporary alma mater.

I found my yearbooks and started leafing through them. I recovered memories, and yes, they lit the corners of my mind. My memories of people I once knew or hoped to know or wanted to know or maybe never really knew. Nonetheless, their paths and mine crossed.

I did an experiment. I wanted to find out how mutual those memories were. It's interesting. I found an old neighbor who was thrilled to see my name in her mailbox and I also found a skeptical sort. Both sides of the spectrum, yet both signed the same yearbook page. My old neighbor has moved several times herself and we had touched base in the interim. She went to great lengths pre internet days to track me down. I remember quite well, she called a cousin with the same last name who said, well I've got her grandmother's number, and she called my grandmother who passed the message along to me. Today, it's much easier. We log onto a social network and say "hey, I knew you, remember me?" We take a lot for granted.The skeptic assumed that the memory I had could be found anywhere. I respect that as well. I won't campaign for memories.

Today, it's also more suspect. We ask people to trust us with a click. That's asking a lot. So the girl who tracked me down had a greater investment. The boy who said, "I don't think I remember you" did not. I respect both answers. In a simple click I reminded one person of a long lost friendship and another of one to rekindle.

But trust notwithstanding, our memories remain true.

October 5, 2009

Tale of two cities

Like so many other parents around our nation, my past Friday night was spent under the lights at the traditional high school football game that rallies the community. I am lucky to live in what I consider the sort of town Norman Rockwell captured in his artwork.

We have a town green, a gazebo, and a school rated Excellent by our state. Our kids win in sports, academics and arts. If they didn't occasionally get into mischief, I would wonder if our town were Stepford, like Ira Levin's famous book, though my spouse would assure you, I fail at being a Stepford wife.

We are less than ten miles away from the murder capital of the nation, an area so blighted and depressed that murder must seem a better option than getting out. Our town at times feels like the eye of the hurricane. I got lost once shortly after moving here and purchased a GPS the next day. We're out of touch with our neighbors. I read the newspaper headlines and pretend that I don't understand the reality of "not in my backyard", because it certainly is in my backyard if I peek over my fence. We're lulled into complacency.

Which brings me back to Friday night. Our school hosted one of the city school teams. The juxtaposition was staggering. Their dilapidated buses rolled into the parking lot next to our sparkling astroturfed stadium. Our arrogance was put on the line. The game was tight the first half, ending with us leading 3-0. Then the marching band took the field.

It was a tiny little assembly of 22 students, mostly drums, 4 dancers, and a handful of instruments. With a whisper, they marched in unison and played their music. I looked at our band shell filled with a sea of 150 eager musicians in crisp uniforms and even the city school uniforms seemed to pale. I strained to hear, but they simply didn't have the numbers to make a lot of noise.

For the few minutes they stood in those stadium lights, I looked over to the empty visitor section and realized how hard those kids must work. As our band lined up to follow their halftime show, we paused to listen to the last song the city school kids performed.

The stadium got quiet as the announcer introduced their final number.


They earned mine in spades.

September 11, 2009

Pandora's Box and September 11th

This is something I wrote in the days following September 11, 2001. I republish it every year to remind myself of the central message. 

"What a world is down there," Pandora mused as she peered over the precipice of her mountaintop. “They have so much good but also so much bad. What did I unleash when I opened that box?"

She paused and sighed, still watching the humans, "They have a plethora of choices. I have seen so much from this mountain. They love, laugh, grow, live, die, and sometimes even hate. What an emotional bunch they are! So human.”

Pandora found herself daydreaming about the wonders of being human. Jolted from her daydream, there was a thunderous crash. "Oh dear", she panicked, "something horrible has happened down there!"

She looked over the edge of her mountain in the clouds and saw smoke billowing. She heard the screaming cries as the humans bled and burned. Terror gripped her as she frantically raced to find out what had happened. Had she never opened that box, eons ago. She knew this was her fault. Her lack of discipline. Guilt wracked her soul. She set free the evils that were causing this pain. In an instant of time, the human's world changed. Their innocence ended as the evil she had unleashed once again found its way into the human's world.

For days, the humans cried in pain. Physical pain, emotional pain, mental pain. They tried to make sense of the senseless act. They looked to each other for explanations. There were none.

But Pandora knew. "I am so sorry," she thought.

Disheartened, Pandora closed her eyes. She remembered that fateful day when she simply had to open that box. "What have I done?" Then with a flash, Pandora remembered, one thing remained in the box... hope. Yes, hope. She walked over to her box, and peeked in, saw the shimmering light of hope. Hope had not escaped from her box. She knew the people would eventually remember the gift that remained theirs.

With glee, she watched more closely, waiting for the people to find hope. She saw hoards of folks marching to the place of the fire, reaching out, and trying to help. She saw parents holding their children tighter. She saw lovers embracing trying to seek comfort from the terror. Candles flickered and flags flew and the humans found strength within themselves. They held onto each others' hearts and hands. They remembered what was wonderful about being human. The ability to feel. The ability to comfort each other with love.

Peeking closely into one house, she saw a family, huddled around their table. They had their heads bowed in prayer. Their voices echoed to the heavens. Their songs shook the clouds. Their candles lit the world. She heard the faith, hope, and love in their voices, the simple comfort of their words, the solace in their touch. Ah yes, to be human. To know. To love. Pandora breathed a sigh of relief. Relief that she closed the box when she did. So grateful she had not allowed hope to escape. With hope, the humans would always find comfort.

Always remember, hope is never gone.
God Bless the USA

August 25, 2009

The Friendship Pin

Not too long ago, I cleaned out my jewelry box. Tucked in amongst my pins, I found an almost forgotten gift from an almost forgotten friend.

Years ago, when I was working at the grocery store, one of our baggers was a retired gentleman we called Rudy. He was from Switzerland and had spent his working life as a janitor at a local high school. When age forced his retirement, he came to our store to pack bags. Rudy was a character. His English was barely intelligible. His accent thick German. We could understand "Ya Ya" and "Okey Dokey" from Rudy. Everything else was gibberish.

His wife was a little bird of a woman and she would ride the bus to meet him at the end of his shift. She would shop for groceries and then check out while he packed them, punched the time clock, and they caught the bus home. Rudy and Mrs. Rudy, as we called her, were the sweetest lovebirds. I would struggle to understand them every time they came in the store because I was sure their story was interesting. The only details I ever learned was that they immigrated from Switzerland and had no children. The two of them came to this country alone and lived a modest life with their love binding them together.

Once, Mrs. Rudy couldn't come to meet Rudy at the store and called me to give him the message. Her and Rudy became my friends. I gave Rudy a ride home from work, and they lived in a tidy little house walking distance from the school where he had worked. I often wondered why their English never improved, but how much opportunity does a janitor get to socialize with people? They were their own little circle of love, so as long as they understood each other, I suppose it never mattered if anyone else did.

I remember one day, one of the people working at our store for the day spoke German, and Rudy's face lit up as he engaged in animated conversation with her. He really enjoyed speaking his native tongue and finally sharing his stories. The temp was the person who told me he and Mrs. Rudy had no children and were from Switzerland. When Mrs. Rudy would come in the store, she would always come to the office and visit with me. Most of the conversation was smiles and nods, as I wonder how much of what I said she understood, as I only understood about 50% of what she said.

After some time, Rudy began to call off sick from work. His health was failing. Nobody ever knew how old Rudy was, but he was much older than we ever imagined. Rudy finally quit one day, though he and Mrs. Rudy would still take the bus to our store to shop. They always would stop and visit for a few minutes. After a while, we didn't even see them shopping. I called their house once to check in, but then I felt like I was being invasive. One day, I answered the phone at the store to Mrs. Rudy's hysteria. Rudy had died.

I wish I could say I had gone to the funeral but all I did was gather money and arrange to have flowers sent. It didn't seem like it was that important at the time. About a month after Rudy died, Mrs. Rudy came in the store to shop. She came looking for me. I came out of my office and asked her to join me for a cup of coffee. As we sat sipping our coffee on a bench, she reached into her pocketbook. Wrapped in about 3 layers of tissues, she handed me something. She told me that Rudy gave her this when they were first married and I was always so nice the both of them that she wanted me to have it.

As I gingerly unwrapped the tissues, inside was a lovely gold and green floral pin. I insisted that I couldn't accept her gift, and she insisted that I must. She went on how I was the one of the only people who ever tried to understand her funny English. I took the pin and pinned it to my blouse that instant, and said, I would be proud to have such a lovely gift from such a dear friend. My eyes welled up with tears as my young smooth hand clutched Mrs. Rudy's wrinkled spotted hand.

I learned that the easiest language to understand is a genuine smile and honest concern. That overcomes any accent or barrier. When I found the pin from my friend, the story came rushing back. The pin that allowed me for the first and last time to understand Mrs. Rudy perfectly.

I wish I knew what happened to Mrs. Rudy. I never saw her much after that. I would like to say I did so much more for her, but I didn't. However, she taught me the importance of listening to everyone. You never know the stories they have to tell. You never know the opportunity that may be facing you. I may have missed some, but at least I caught some others

August 19, 2009

If Life were like a DVR

...(this is rerun of something I wrote about a year ago, but feels timeless)...

This morning, my daughter and I viewed a show we had recorded on the DVR. We were too tired to watch it the other night, but it was there for our convenience this morning. The DVR is a pretty amazing feature. You can rewind when you miss something, your own personal instant replay. Or you can fast forward past commercials or pause it. You can set the speed of life as you wish.

There are a few things in my life I would watch over and over. Pieces I really like. I would pause at the moment I first kissed my future husband. We were so young and naive. That kiss... I would pause there.

I would pause at the day I held both our babies for the first time. Squirming, puffy little bundles. Putting my finger against their foot and discovering their foot was the same length. I only need to look at my finger today to see how much they have grown.

I would pause the last time I saw my grandfather or grandmother alive. I would smell them. Hug them, and not assume I would see them again soon. I would cherish what was our last moment. They were my heroes. And even almost 95 years of life from each of them wasn't enough for me.

I would pause at the day we moved away from our hometown. Wait, I did pause that day. I walked around an empty house hearing my footsteps echo. I was alone, the kids safely at grandma's, my husband had already moved. Our worldly goods in the truck outside the house. I walked around kissing the walls, thanking the house for the memories. Promising to make good ones in the new home. Yes, I kissed the walls. I hugged the fireplace and I did pretend snow angels on the carpet. Wait. Where is that fast forward? This is getting embarrassing.

Are there any moments in your life you would pause, if you could?

August 12, 2009

Latex Allergy Awareness

My daughter has a severe latex allergy. I am posting this blog today because for the 4th time this summer, she was unable to eat at an event due to the food being handled with latex gloves. She completed two separate 5Ks and couldn't eat at the buffet after, she couldn't eat at a clubhouse barbeque party, and today couldn't eat the sandwiches at her band luncheon. That is just this summer.

Her allergy causes her to swell horribly, like a beesting sort of reaction. We prefer not to have that happen to her throat after she ate something handled with latex. She gets hives when she wears clothing with certain kinds of elastic, she spent an evening after Trick or Treating not eating candy but popping Benedryl. Someone had handed out candy with gloves on.

She went to a Red Cross babysitting class and her station had a pair of latex gloves. Even though they removed the gloves after she told them of her allergy, the powder still was in the area. Her eyes swelled shut when she touched them after handling the practice doll.

She has to avoid balloon parties and be careful what sort of bandages she uses on a cut. She had a visitor to the school bring balloons in a secret grab bag for the kids, it resulted in an afternoon in the nurse's office, just from touching it.

I am not trying to be a drama queen, but rather bring a level of awareness to my readers and hopefully pass this post along. Allergies like this are often progressive so we do what we can to avoid contact, but it seems to be everywhere. Many many common items contain latex and most people think it's just an itchy reaction. For my daughter and many others, it is much more serious.

In short, very few people are aware of this allergy and often times, think they are being germ conscious, when in fact they could trigger a life threatening (thank goodness not yet, her breathing has never been affected) allergy.


August 11, 2009

Wildest Horses

This summer, like the past 10+, our family and another (completely compatible best friend) family loaded our respective family hauling vehicles to the hilt and drove East. We even remembered the children, because this was the first year the oldest was old enough to babysit so the adults could go to a nice dinner alone.

It's the ultimate in suburban escape. Take everything we can haul 500 miles away and bend the environment to meet our needs. Crank up the air conditioning and carry that everything we hauled to the beach. In the past, we owned SUVs and would drive up to the 4 wheel drive beach towards the Virginia line. We ate picnics and shared our space with the wild horses. They flaunted their freedom in the most nonchalant way.

I wrote this tribute to them about 10 years ago.

Wild Horses

Wind blown manes, eyes wild with passion
They gallop.
Waves churn as they walk along the ocean.
The sand, their road.
The dunes, their home.
This is their domain.

Sea meets the land,
Sun meets the earth.
Horses, wild and free,
Without the sad look
In their eyes
Of a domesticated horse.

The legend states,
A man once tried to tame a wild horse.
He lassoed her and took her to his stable.
She missed her sea and sand.
The hay was not the dunes.
The air was dank and stale in his stable.
She couldn't breathe.

Homesick, she missed her friends
who galloped with her.
The horses here didn't understand,
For they had never known.
Never seen the sunrise on the ocean,
Or a starlit night on the beach.

She tried to tell them,
But they only knew of bridles and
Walking in circles.
Saddles on their backs,
Blinders on their eyes.
They don't know.

The wild horse tried to fit in,
But each night,when the day was done,
She would sleep and dream.
Dream of her home by the sea.
One morning the man came to his stable,
His wild horse didn't wake up.

She was smiling in her sleep.

The past few years, development has encroached on the Wild Horse Area. We work harder and harder to find them. Last year, we rented Jeeps for way too much money with a guaranteed map to find the Wild Horses. We found one who looked like he may have been part of a scam to fool the stupid tourists. "TAKE YOUR PICTURE OF A WILD HORSE" sorta thing.

This year, we never even drove up there. We admitted defeat. We admitted that the wild horses were no more likely to find us than we them. We drove them further inland, we stole their beach, their sea, their dunes.

But I remember, I remember the day a wild horse walked up to me at the side of my SUV and whispered, "Does that thing really have more horse power than me?"

I winked at her and whispered back, "Never."

July 31, 2009

A year older/wiser?

Last year, I wrote about the upcoming family vacation with a similar enthusiasm. This year our trip is tempered somewhat by the myriad of activities that have usurped the lazy, hazy days.

The two older children are both entrenched in (oh my goodness) HIGH SCHOOL activities. The paper work and cajoling it took with the leaders of these activities to allow our children to vacation this year was incredible.

Once again, my spouse gets to assume control of my exceedingly cool Minivan. I just know he is chomping at the bit to take over, so he can indeed prove how good he is at *making time*. I still haven't followed through on my threat to put a bumper sticker about honor students or loving our dog on the rear end of it. This does mean he's one year closer to the alloted midlife crisis vehicle.

Once again, we have chosen our tie-dye shirts and this year's color will be dark green. Once again, our younger ones struggle with how old they have to be to still share a co-ed room. Once again, we wonder if they still will find potty humor funny. My younger one has been warming up her "grossology" inventory. Once again, we wonder how many margaritas it will require for us to admit that "a police officer standing in poo is on dooty*. C'mon, you know you chuckled!

Once again, we cherish each minute of each day we spend together.

We logically know it won't last forever, but, once again, we refuse to admit it.

Viva la Vacation!

July 23, 2009

Lazy, Hazy or Crazy, Dazy?

A random comment with another writer friend inspired today's post.

Gone are the days of "nothing to do". Today's parent strives to provide every opportunity for their child. No child is denied the chance to participate in anything that strikes their fancy. I don't even consider my children particularly busy, but their activities do demand a great deal of their time.

The younger one is on a softball team. That starts in April and goes through the end of June. There were usually 3 games a week. With only 11 girls on the team, missing a game needed a good excuse. Missing more than a game was a ticket to warming the bench. So we didn't miss.

My older one is in the marching band and on the cross country team. We were informed that the 4th of July parade counted toward their grade. We also were informed that band camp begins August 1st and that it is mandatory. Cross country training began in late June, but is not mandatory until August 1st also. The band director and cross country coach have coordinated the practice schedules so she will have a half hour between the two. I have pages of colored calendars and websites to cross reference. There are days I think I need a spreadsheet to keep track of where children need to be and when. One day, I logged 70 miles on my car and never went more than 5 miles from my house.

I contrast this with my own childhood. We lived on a small farm. We had our chores, naturally. We had animals to feed in the morning and the gardens to weed or pick sometime during the day. But I remember the afternoons spent lying underneath a willow tree by the creek, making daisy chains. I remember the kick ball games that all the kids who were close enough to ride their bikes would meet at our house. I remember mud pies and fishing poles.

What I don't remember is a shuttle service, an activity driven summer of running from one activity to the next. I don't remember wishing for a day off. I don't remember having to get to bed early because I had to get up for practice the next morning. We would run around catching fireflies, playing flashlight tag, and telling ghost stories.

I wonder when we became afraid of unstructured days and nights. I wonder when we became afraid of having down time. I wonder when it went out of vogue to give your children the luxury of free time. But mostly... I wonder, why it is considered a luxury?

July 13, 2009

Just Another Mile(stone)

A few weeks ago, I challenged myself and committed in writing to run a 5K this time next year. My daughter is a runner on the highschool Cross Country team and really works hard at it.

I'm not, nor have I ever been, athletic. I trip over air, I throw like a girl, and I generally spend more time bruising myself than bulking up. When I played on our town softball team as a kid, the most running I did was to close up the coaches' windows if it looked like rain. When I was in college, I delayed my phys ed requirement until my last quarter before graduation. I thought I was being clever by taking volleyball, where I could coast and the rest of the class would pick up my slack. I wound up with Rambo the volleyball instructor. His insistence that we wouldn't pass his class without serving a volleyball overhand almost prevented me from receiving my college degree. In short, athletic has never been an adjective people use to describe me. The most athletic feature on my body is my mouth.

I work out a minimal amount, in areas where I cannot hurt anyone, i.e., alone in my basement, not at a gym where I may subject myself to ridicule or wipe out an entire aerobics class with one misstep. (It's happened). I've worked several charity 5Ks as the person who sells raffle tickets or hands out bottles of water at the finish line. I've watched young, old, large, and small people participate and always insisted I was best behind the scenes, not running with the pack.

Then it happened. I realized that for all my encouragement that my offspring "could do it", I was not walking the walk. I was only talking the talk. It was time to run something besides my mouth. I'm not excited by my proclamation that I would run with her next year, but figured if a senior citizen with two knee braces could do it (I watched him at the last 5K we attended), so could I.

Today after a few weeks of rather embarrassing attempts, I ran an entire mile without stopping. But that isn't the best part. Two days ago, I was running with my daughter (with being a rather generous term as she was quite a bit in front of me). She had rounded the turnaround and was coming back towards me and she was cheering me on. I cannot think of a better feeling.

Maybe that is what is meant by a runner's high.

June 30, 2009

Boys are Dumb, Throw Rocks at Them

My daughter is 13, soon to be 14. In some ways she is going on 40, in other ways going on 6. She is in that beautifully awkward place between woman and child, that place that seems awkward, but really is more like a tightly closed bloom. Beautiful in its own way. She still plays with dolls, but she leafs through Vogue. Lacking the confidence to design for herself, she designs for the dolls, stitching and accessorizing, creating a fashion parade.

Boys exist, but with the view of a Disney movie of the week. They are something she will someday kiss, but today she is content to text with them. I'm not naive, I know there are "other girls" kissing, but she isn't one of them. She has a true innocent charm.

This morning, at the store, she received a text from a boy she is friends with. They sometimes hang out as part of a group and often get teased that they like each other. He's a nice, funny, geeky boy. In other words, I approve. He lives behind us. He sent her a text, "Will U go out with me?" In teen vernacular, that means "be my sweetheart", not go on a date, since she isn't allowed to date and neither is he.

Panic ensued. She couldn't answer him without a text conference with every female she knows. I suggested a quick phone call, which was answered with an eyeroll and the comment "Calling is so nerdy, mom!" I ignored my obvious lack of cool and said very calmly, "Honey, do you like him?"

Her crimson face looked back at me and she nodded, shyly. I said, "Then the simple answer is yes." Apparently her tribe of girlfriends sent in their endorsements and so she texted him back, those three letters. Y E S.

About five minutes later, he texted her back, "U do no I was joking, don't U?" Rounding the candy aisle, her eyes welled up and her crimson deepened.

I said, "You do know he's got a lame way of finding out if you like him first, right?"

She fumed, "I'm just so mad. He tricked me. What should I say?"

Thinking that the joke is on him, I suggested, "Why not text him back, Well I wasn't."

She did. He hasn't replied. She wants to text him back a million other explanations. I told her to let him feel as stupid as he acted. Leave it at that and resist the urge to overexplain.

Now you and I know, he is sitting there thinking, "Oh fudge, what an idiot I was."

June 26, 2009

Child Stars

The unexpected passing of Michael Jackson quickly upstaged the expected passing of Farrah Fawcett. I suspect for years there will be speculation that the Three Kings; him, Elvis, and the Lizard King wander not the Orient, but convenient stores in the midwest, never aging, but specters of Madame Tussaud's visions.

I remember watching the Jackson 5 cartoon and singing along with ABC, it seemed as easy as 123. Then in high school, Thriller hit the charts and no school dance was ever the same. We all tried pathetically to moonwalk while wearing zippered jackets and parachute pants. As if we could capture the mystique that was MJ.

Then, he got weird. Really weird. He carved his face with plastic surgery, lightened his skin and appeared more and more androgynous each month. He married, divorced, dangled children from balconies, and built a Neverneverland tribute to his seeming lost childhood. Did he ever have a chance to be normal? He entertained us, but he always seemed like a lost soul. In his attempt to capture the youth he never had, he stole the youth of others. My skin crawled and my heart cried. The manchild was neither, he became one of the monsters from his Thriller video.

That's the thing with child stars. So few grow up to be adjusted adults. From Judy Garland to Robert Blake, from Danny Bonaduce to Britney Spears. These wind-up machine children who entertain adults are denied the very essence of who they are. They grow up lost, confused and exploited. They don't learn impulse control because the adults around them are so busy milking their money train they don't realize they're also building a future train wreck. It's tragic.

I guess all I can hope now is that Michael Jackson really does Rest In Peace. I don't know how he could.

June 4, 2009

Idols Speak!

I have so much to say about this. As I blathered on to a friend, she said, Kim, you need to blog about this, and I hesitated. I didn't think communication with my Idol would count as a blog.

It's not even that big of a thing for jaded people. I don't worship "Hollywood". I do however count writers, and more narrowly, columnists in my list of idols. Our dearly departed Mike Royko was my first. He is one of the reasons that I wanted to write. I only dreamed of sharing my brain as well as he did.

My second Idol is Dick Feagler. A Cleveland columnist. I sat behind him in a church pew for 10 years, and never told him he was my Idol. He was merely someone I said "peace be with you" with, as we shook hands. I never had the chutzpah to tell him how much his words impacted my life.

Today, I'm older. I still idolize, despite my advanced years. I took the bull by the horns today. I am active on a social networking site. I noticed a friend of mine was friends with one of my idols. To comment in the same space as she was almost paralyzing. My respect for her cannot be captured in words. She exceeds my other idols, because she is... a she.

I sent her a note of praise and I also invited her.

She replied and accepted.

It made my day. Truly.

I'm in my 40s but my feeling today is better than the day I touched Bon Jovi. I was touched in a different way. I was touched mentally. My idol said hello and thank you.

It doesn't get any better than that.

Thank you, C.

June 3, 2009

Generous (?) Motors

This is the full text of a letter I recently sent to some local newspapers.

As General Motor’s announces bankruptcy, repeatedly, blame is cast towards the UAW and labor unions.

I liken what is happening to a wealthy parent who didn’t say “no” in time. It rarely gets mentioned when unions are attacked that all wages and benefits given to the employees are clearly outlined in a mutually agreed upon legally binding contract. There isn’t a union agreement in this nation that isn’t signed by both management and labor and authenticated by the government. That creates a system of checks and balances; a microism of our national government. This is the core of collective bargaining. Management agrees to the contractual terms as readily as the union.

To be part of a contract negotiation is no picnic. It is equally nerve wracking for either side. Every proposal is filled with opportunity, in the truest sense of capitalism. “How much can we make?” resonates on both sides. Like dealing with a rug merchant, the object is to get the best possible deal. Unlike a rug merchant, there is the future to consider. Again, I liken the bankruptcy to irresponsible parenting.

I am not suggesting the UAW is blameless. But casting blame is failure to accept responsibility in the situation. For one party to have “too much”, the other party must overindulge. Management had many chances to stand strong over the past 70 years. Closing the door after the horse ran away seems rather futile.

Unions are the best way a working class can achieve a level of life that is respectable. Management acted as an uninvolved, overly indulgent parent that threw money at its employees to keep them content. When the well ran dry, they punished their children for drinking the seemingly unending supply of water. Rather than find more water together, the companies took their bucket and found less thirsty children, abandoning the ones that had been quenched.

But to blame the unions for drinking all the water without blaming those who let the bucket splash all over the ground is unfair. They got in this mess together. Management and Labor need to come back down the hill with a full bucket of water so nobody goes thirsty.

May 20, 2009

Redundant Statements of the Obvious

Brought to you by the I <3 ____ bumper sticker people.

I've become rather active on the social network site, Facebook. It's like having a party with every single person I've ever known in my life. It's better than my wedding, graduation, or college frat parties rolled into one tidy wall. If anyone gets tipsy on the virtual drinks, I don't have to worry that I'll be sued for overserving and we can buy rounds on a regular basis without worrying about our pockets getting lighter. It's a win/win proposition.

We're busy laughing and posting silly things on each others' walls, and suddenly I get an invitation to join a group called "I Hate Cancer". Who wouldn't join such a group? Perhaps the manufacturers of chemotherapy drugs? While they may not love cancer, the demise of cancer would certainly put them out of a job. I suppose I have no reason to NOT hate cancer, but I feel rather silly proclaiming it. Of course I hate cancer, (not to be confused with zodiac sign of Cancer, many of whom I love dearly). But do I need to state such a thing? I felt irrationally guilted into joining, and now am a reluctant member of cancer haters.

Then the next invite came in. I love my daughter. I felt I could reasonably ignore that invitation. I have two daughters and there was no "I love my daughter(S)" group. I didn't want my girls to ask me which one of them I meant. And by loving one daughter, would the other feel excluded. So I'm not a member of the I Love my Daughter group.

Would anyone like to join my "I think it's obvious what I love and what I hate" group?

May 18, 2009

Clap Your Hands!

Some of you remember the story of the young boy I teach in Sunday School, the autistic one. I love him to pieces. His quirks endear me. J and I get along famously. A few weeks ago when I tried to get him back on track with a lesson, I said, J, you know how I know so much about Supermario from you? I want to give you that same gift about the lesson. I want to be the one who teaches you the way you teach me...

He lit up and said, I teach you about Mario Bros.? I said, absolutely. How else would I know about Luigi and Wario (the evil version of Mario, I'm told). And off he went on his elaboration of more about Supermario... so much for that!

If you've ever been around an autistic child, you know that there is a piece of their brain that just never puts them on track with the moment. I am not an expert in the least. I merely understand that they don't get it. I realize that his inattention has nothing to do with poor manners or lack of respect. It is in his brain. I see past my agenda and try to relate to his. His agenda is to behave the best he can until class is over so he is allowed to play his video games. I have to report to his father every week how he behaved so they determine if he can play Mario or not.

His agenda rarely is conducive to teaching the class. There are days I wonder if I taught ANYTHING. I keep forgetting, I am not the teacher. Because I learn much more than I teach. The books of the Old and New Testaments will not go away. The prayers remain the same, and the history of Martin Luther remains in print. The time to learn from J is this instant.

The days when J kisses me four times at the end of class, because J gives four kisses to people he likes, teach me something I can never capture in a lesson plan. I try to capture it in my humble blog. I try to take what I learn from this exceptional young man and spread the word. It's not happening.

Yesterday we had our last class until the fall. I let the kids pick through the box of teaching tools I had. Take whatever you want, it's yours. There were balls, Frisbees, plastic hand clappers, Styrofoam planes, stickers.

J took the hand clapper. And clapped, and clapped. The remainder of class he clapped. He went to the car clapping them. I did not envy his dad's long ride home accompanied by the clapper. I'm sure he is still trying to find the words to thank me for giving J a plastic clapper.

Then I realized.
He took my standing ovation for a fabulous year with him.
Because I am still clapping, too.

May 15, 2009

Madness or Genius?

I've had the privilege of knowing some extremely intelligent people in my walk of life. I gravitate towards them, eager perhaps to learn something just from being in their aura. I always feel like a fringe member of the elite intellects, knowing that every so often I really will completely understand them, but more often than not, I'll only have a cursory grasp of their topics. I eagerly wait for the moments of absolute clarity.

I have a friend from college. I will call him David, because, well that was his name. I tried to think of a fake name for him, but then my story would not be true. David was "the quintessetial old student". Every college has them, the back to school student who blows away the grade curves. What was unusual about David was that actually chose to live in the dormitories, with us wild just barely out of our teens kids. He wanted to be near the library to study. David was the roommate of one of my friends from work. When we could pry David away from the books, he would join us for dinner. Everybody thought we were just being nice to "the old guy", but the truth is?

He was fascinating. David was going back to school to get a law degree, doing his undergraduate work. He had a psychiatry degree and had been over in Viet Nam. So even during Nam, he was probably "the old guy", compared to the average age of the soldiers he worked with. Indeed, he had a fatherly air to him, and incredibly insightful. We would talk and he'd get a serious look on his face, and just listen. He would guess things about me that I never mentioned. I am sure it was his psychiatry training. He would advise us about life and the world as he saw it. We thought he was so wise and a heck of a study partner, too. Everyone wants to be friends with the person who gets perfect test scores.

In Viet Nam, he had two tours of duty, but his wife was back home. When he came back, she apparently had fallen in love with someone else and left him. His story gets fuzzy here, but something happened, that he blamed on her, and he lost his medical license. He was a broken man.

He met a woman who helped him get back on his feet and they were deeply in love. He kept her picture on his desk and also inside his notebook. She died in a tragic accident before they could be married, so all he had was her pictures. She was a beautiful woman. David's genius seems to cross to madness, because he also blamed his ex wife for her death. He apparently couldn't get anyone to believe him, so he decided to take it upon himself to right the wrongs of his life by getting a law degree.

This is about the time I met him. He was finishing up his undergraduate work, where he maintained a 4.0. We could talk for hours, but whenever he talked about his ex or his dead fiance, it would be a bit manic. We were so much younger than he, we didn't know what true love was yet, so our best reaction was to politely listen.

He received his dual degree with highest honors, applied and was accepted to law school. On the first exam, he didn't get his usual perfect score. I no longer wondered if he was a bit crazy, but knew, because he blamed his ex wife out on the west coast for that, too. He explained with rage simmering in his voice, how she had gotten to his professors and somehow convinced them, perhaps through bribes, to fail him so he couldn't get his degree and exact justice on her.

He dropped out of school and checked into a VA hospital. We wrote letters back and forth, just keeping in touch. He came home a year later, and went back to law school. Shortly after that, he and I lost track of each other but another mutual friend told me he dropped out again, and was living in his mom's basement.

A couple years ago, I was reading the paper and saw the names of the recent law school grads. His name was listed. Somewhere, across the miles and years later, I hugged, and prayed.

Maybe he finally got it right.

May 14, 2009

Why Yes, Officer, I do believe I was speeding, BUT...

The summer after I graduated from college, the first thing I did was buy a brand new car. It was my first nonused car in life. I had driven some real clunkers through the college years, memorable vehicles, all of them. But I was now an adult with a full time job and no tuition bills. I could afford a new car. Barely.

I went to the dealer with a budget of $150/month. I wasn't thinking I could afford a new car, but I could at least afford a DECENT used car with less than 6 figures on the odometer. A car I didn't have to keep a case of oil in the back to reload every 100 miles as I drove with a trail of blue smoke spewing from the pipe of my Chevette. Yes, I admit I owned one. I didn't have to drive a car with an old stop sign bolted to the driver side floor because the floor had rusted out.

I was ready for some WHEELS! The salesman said he could get me in a BRAND NEW NEVER BEEN DRIVEN CAR for $158 a month. I hesitated for a moment. Keep in mind, 20 years ago, that $8 bought a lot more than it had today. But it also probably bought $8 less repairs, and I was able to get 0% financing. Moment over, I was on my way to owning a new car. This new car didn't even have a radio, or power anything. It was even a manual shift. But it was NEW. It had that smell versus the dry rotted sun bleached smell of my prior vehicles.

To celebrate ownership of my new vehicle, I convinced my best friend to take a trip with me to the beach in New Jersey. I spent my teenage summers there, but this was the first year I rented my OWN house, not my parents. We made the trek. I always loved going to Jersey because we were so close to NYC and the beach. The best of both worlds.We had gone up to the city for the evening to do some shopping and have dinner. During the drive up, not a single car on the the Garden State Parkway was going under 75 MPH. I kept up with the traffic nicely. On the way back to our beach house, I maintained a similar speed but I was one of the only cars on the road. Prime pickings for the officer. I got pulled over.

I still had temporary tags on my new car, from the great state of Ohio. This absolutely gorgeous specimen of man in uniform appeared at my window. Flashing my most charming smile, I conjured every ounce of feigned innocence and inquired what the problem was. I knew I had been speeding and he confirmed that. I'm not quite sure where I found the boldness, but I retorted and said, "You know, I'm from out of state, and when I drove this parkway around 4 PM, everyone was driving 75, I just figured it was the native protocol."

He agreed with my assessment but pointed out that there was no traffic to keep up with. Then he asked what I was doing in Jersey. I said I had just graduated from college and was spending a week at the beach to celebrate. We made a bit of small talk about what a great basketball team my school had, and what I studied and then he cut the conversation short and took my license and started to walk back to his car to fill out the ticket. I was shocked!

I thought we were halfway to the altar, NOT to a ticket. I hung out my window and said, "Hey, wait a minute, get back here!" He smirked and came back with a single word, "What?"

I began to babble somewhat nervously and said, "You don't really want to ruin my vacation, do you? You know if you write this ticket, I'm not going to pay it. What would you do, chase me down to Ohio to pay it? Have some mercy on an out of towner so I return to your state, please?" I'm pretty sure I also batted my eyes. The act of a desperate girl who knew that the ticket would more than eat up the slim budget I had.

I think my boldness shocked him. To this day, I don't know how it worked, but he looked at me, handed me my license, and said "getouttaheah and have a good vacation" in his Tony Soprano accent. I smiled and thanked him for saving my vacation, and went to drive off.

He went back to his cruiser, flashed his lights, got on the megaphone and yelled, SLOW DOWN! I am a hero with my friends in Jersey. I'm told NOBODY gets out of a ticket from a Statey. But I did, and I have a witness. I am legendary.

Have you ever gotten out of a ticket that you know you deserved?

May 12, 2009

Ready, Let's Sew...

Today's post features a guest blogger, my child. It's my blog so I can do this sort of stuff from time to time. She wrote this paper for a class and I was so impressed that I want to feature her here. Proud parents can do that. She is 13, and keep in mind I NEVER saw the essay the whole time she was working on it. I had NO input in it whatsoever.

For your reading pleasure, I present, Ms. Mini Fresh:

"And this year's Ready Let's Sew winner and state fair participant is..." Ridden with the bitterness of losing, I swallowed, trying to lose the sour taste in my mouth. Blinking rapidly, I tried to keep the wetness out of my eyes.

I'd thought I'd been one of the better ones, at least well enough to get one of the 15 honorable mentions. Which little farmer won it this year?, my thoughts mocking whoever won the contest. I mean, I know that my mom said 4-H isn't just for country kids, but I didn't completely believe her. I had joined 4-H two months earlier, in the sewing and cooking categories. In the sewing room of our troop leader's hours, I had worked for 10 hours, stitching each seam as close to perfection as I could. Finally the big day of judging arrived. I double checked my teal-with-brown-polka-dots cargo shorts, messenger bag and scrunchy all had firm seams, and no wrinkles.

Earlier that day, I had had my first round of judging for my shorts. I got an A. Not a big deal. Everyone did, unless you didn't do any work at all. We went home for lunch, and came back at 5 for the second round of judging. The second round of judging was optional. You could do it if you wanted to try for a ribbon, or a state fair invitation. When we got there, there was a half-hour of utter confusion, and then it was almost time. We all knew when our turn was, and where to walk on the runway. I had gotten a yellow tag with the number 47 on it, which meant I was the forty-seventh contestant in our category. We slowly shuffled upstairs by category. After all 300+ of us were seated we all pretended to watch the scuffed black runway beneath us, but we were all looking at the competition, sizing it up. After a few moment of spying, I began to feel very out of place. Everyone else was wearing a cute, colorful, floral-print skirt, whereas I was wearing almost-boy-cargo shorts. I'm gonna fail 'cause I don't look anything like anyone else.

With a start, I finally noticed the group that was walking on the runway. Hey! My friend is in Frugal Fashions! I liked how people managed to find a great outfit for $5.00, but was internally laughing when someone thought they got a great deal spending $30.00. I didn't like the fact that they didn't sew, though. They got to show off with the people who worked for days sewing, and they didn't even spend one shopping. About a half-hour later, it was time for our category. We quietly got up, and someone led us through a twisting and turning back way, and we wound up behind the stage. We counted off into 2 groups, and each group took a side on the runway. Watching impatiently, I waited for my turn. When I finally got to see the stage, I began to get very nervous.

I got to watch each of the judges' faces, but they didn't give much away. All I wanted at that point was for them not to hate my outfit visibly. How embarrassing it would be for them to make a face, and grimace until I was done. Finally it was my turn. I walked carefully, so I didn't trip in my wedges (I can't walk normally in any shoe besides a flat. I swear I find as many things as possible I can trip over). Fortunately, I made it to the end without a single stumble. As I walked off the runway, I was handed a homemade ribbon, and a goodie bag that only a sewer would want; with a seam ripper and a retractable measuring tape. I made my way upstairs, and was consumed in my own thoughts for the rest of the show. I only paid attention when someone I knew was on the runway. I really can't tell you what happened during the rest of the show, other than the music really started to bug me. But finally, it was time for judging. First they did awards for leaders and helpers, and then it was time for the contestants. They went slowly through the honorable mentions, and I eagerly listened for my name. I was positive I was going to get a prize. When the honorable mentions came and went, I was a little disappointed that I wasn't picked. Some of those kids still had threads hanging off their skirts! Well, maybe I was good enough to get third place. I was positive I wouldn't get first or second place. There were much better ensembles than mine. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I could probably be 3rd place. By then all the honorable mentions were done being called, and it was time for the top three in each category.

They announced Frugal Fashion's winners, which went right over my head. I was too impatient for the Ready, Let's Sew winners. "And this year's third place for Ready Let's Sew is..." The announcer's mike blared enough to make people cringe. I can't remember who won third place, other than it wasn't me. Misery washed over me. I caught my mom's eye and realized that we both had the same look of disappointment. I hadn't expected her to understand, winning State Fair ribbons left and right when she was a kid. Even though it was nice of her, I didn't want the pick-me-up ice cream and "You'll do better next year's". Even if I had gotten an honorable mention, it would have been better than this total public humiliation. I turned my attention back to the announcer. Even though I knew I hadn't won, I was still curious to see who did. "And this year's Ready, Let's Sew winner and State Fair participant is... MINI FRESH!" I gasped, and my jaw dropped. I had never really believed people's jaws dropped until then. After a moment of shock, my shocked look was replaced with a smile from ear to ear. I won! I won! I had beaten the odds and come out on top. I practically skipped up the runway to collect my ribbons. I was so happy. You can't possibly understand how happy I was. It was as though the world was perfect in that one moment, that one snapshot.

May 11, 2009

Dancing with the Clouds

She wore ruby red glittery Mary Janes. My children had similar shoes in their dress up box and I always smiled when they wanted to wear them in public. Perhaps they fancied themselves a modern day Dorothy, swept away by the tornado of activities, but with an assured way to still return home.

Magic shoes have always captivated me. I know when she put them on her feet, she was charmed, too. I would have snapped a surreptitious photo if cameras had been allowed, but we were at the Warhol museum and photography is prohibited. The irony was not lost on me. A museum devoted to a man who never met a photo opportunity he didn’t like, didn’t allow photography. I was tempted to sneak a photo, but security cameras were recording our every move. (Mercifully, someone braver than I took the attached photo). Big brother watched more carefully than I did. I wonder if the not so hidden cameras saw the red sparkling shoes.

Magic shoes in Warhol’s magic cloud room, a room filled with silver Mylar pillow balloons, migrating slowly around the room propelled by fans. The art is interactive and kinetic, with clouds floating gently around the room; brushing the people, moving away, and drifting near again.

It was enchanting and starkly juxtaposed with the macabre exhibits on the same floor of the gallery. Prior to discovering the Clouds, we saw suicide photos, grisly car accidents, skulls of many pop art colors.

Andy Warhol is one of my favorite artists because he looked at everyday things in ways nobody ever had before. He saw art in soup labels and newspaper headlines. It was art because he said it was art, not because it had ever been even noticed prior. He boxed the contents of what appeared to be the equivalent of a junk drawer and called it a time capsule. The museum encased his unused Christmas cards, pens and business correspondence in a display and we looked. We nodded our heads, knowingly, and looked a bit more. The voyeur was thrilled to glimpse, and even gaze. He made people look twice.

Because I couldn’t take a photo, I looked twice at the little girl in the ruby red slippers. My eyes followed from her feet to her head, filled with ringlets and bright eyes and a giggle that echoed as the clouds drifted around her. The children in the cloud room were simply grateful to play and have a respite from the galleries. The clouds floated by shining and reflecting her glittery shoes.

Children swinging their arms, batting the clouds like makeshift volleyballs, the clouds were indifferent to the glee and continued their steady calm drift. The children danced with joy. The ruby red slippers sparkled against the shiny silver chrome of the little girl’s wheelchair.

Her mother wheeled her back out and I knew, her shoes were indeed magic. For a moment in time, she danced in the clouds.

May 7, 2009

Pass It On

When I was a young girl, we used to sing a song at camp called; "Pass it On"... it started like this:

It only takes a spark to get a fire going.
And soon all those around, can warm up in the glowing.

A friend of mine in another writing forum posed this question to me the other day.

I have something for you to mull over and maybe post a blog about it. Why do some of us care about humanity, in the abstract? I mean beyond our present and maybe the next generation, why do we care what happens to mankind. There is no benefit to us what so ever. This caring, transcends all cultures and all religion.

I know a tweak when I see one. I know that he meant the "no benefit" comment to rile me. Sure, on an impersonal level, why should we care? If we believe in heaven or some sort of afterlife or post world consciousness; we'll be there, not here. If we believe in no higher power, life ends when we do. He has a point, it transcends religion and culture. Why should we care about what happens when we're gone?

This is the sort of collective energy that I believe makes up all of us. We are not separate. We are not singular. We are One. This is where my Christianity and New Agey-ness and Hippie mentality meld. We are One. We are interconnected with silken threads. Chaos theory states that a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world can cause a tornado in another part. Nothing we do happens in a vacuum.

Consider the random acts of kindness movement. Consider what happens when we extend a hand to a stranger. Consider the idea of paying it forward. It comes full circle. When we sow seeds of love, we reap it not just in loaves and fishes but in positive energy. When you answer a phone with a smile on your face, the person who cannot see you on the other end hears that you’re happy. A collective consciousness is present.

I've only addressed today, I still have not addressed why it matters for the future. There are so many things we have yet to understand, but I feel those days are very near. Today, I estimate this post will reach at least 10 people. By next week, it may reach 100. It started with one person. This is the power of our instant communication.

I believe our time/space continuum is not a straight line. We just don't understand the hyperbolic nature of it... yet. I'm not a physicist or a mathematician, so I won't be as bold as to attempt any sort of explanation, other than I think it's possible. Our universe is infinite. Everything that could happen, is/does/will/has.

I do know that from a purely selfish view, when I visit an old favorite place, I want it to still be lovely. I drive past my childhood home on occasion and I want to see the same beauty I saw as a child. I want to keep those eyes of a child for eternity. It is a tenet of my Christian faith, to see the world as a child, but it applies to all people.

This is the personal responsibility we have. Protecting the future is important, because it could be our own. Life spans are longer, I believe they are eternal. It's not just science fiction. Everything and everyone lasts longer (when we want it to and don't plan for obsolescence).

The future is now. It is yesterday and it is forever. Let's protect it today.

...Once you've experienced it, you want to sing
"It's fresh like spring"; you want to pass it on.

Dare you.

May 5, 2009

May Flowers

Seven years ago May 1st, my grandfather died. He was an incredible man. Nobody ever met him who didn't love him. My brother named his first child after him, under the hope that someday, someone would say, "I knew a great guy with that name." I have no doubt it will happen. When his bride joined him on Christmas Eve this past year, I was happy that they were reunited. I don't have any answers about the afterlife, but I do believe they are together in some way or form.

Last Friday, along with reverently remembering Grandpa, we celebrated the birth of a new child, his great granddaughter and baby sister of the boy who carries on his name. Probably the last child with the same last name as him. Our day of family grief now holds hands with family joy.

Life is beautiful that way. While a calendar is somewhat arbitrary, we still use it to mark our days. In our family, we have a lot of shared days. My aunt and uncle share a birthday as well as my uncle and I, my twin brothers, and my daughter and my cousin.

For me, it's a reminder that we never walk alone.
In our sorrow or in our joy, we are never alone.
We welcome our little May Flower and all the love she brings into our world.

April 28, 2009


I posted about the other man in my life a few months ago. Now it's progressed past crush stage.

We had our first kiss.

My young friend J is a treasure.

I teach Sunday School every week, and quite frankly, it's a dirge. I show up filled with enthusiasm, eager to open bright young minds and my class, more often than not is J and ... My own child.

My spouse stays because he knows that if all the students show, my hands are full. But that's rare. There are two or three other students who show maybe ever other week, but in essence, class is me, my child, my husband and J.

And J is in his own place. He is there because Dad takes him and he will leave "when Dad is here" and often he wants me to go to the car and make sure dad knows J was good.

I love J. Each week it takes every ounce of my willpower not to hug or kiss him and love him to pieces. He charms me.

I prepare my lessons hoping to find a spark of joy, a place my students relate to. It's rare. But I'm not doing this for me. I'm doing this... gosh yesterday I knew why, but the truth is, there are days I don't know why I do this.

J is fixated on the crystal cross he saw on TV with the Lord's Prayer he saw printed in tiny letters.

He tries to talk about Mario (from the world of Nintendo).

I tell him as soon as we finish the lesson. I forge onward. I talk about disciples, the spread of Christianity, the history of how it was learned. I talk about Peter as the first pope, James who stayed in Jerusalem, and Thaddeus who was rarely heard from again, but established the entire orthodox Christian following.

I am earnest. I have a lesson to share. J interrupts me again, wondering if the Dark Knight (the Batman movie he saw that weekend) had anything to do with this.

I explain that we can talk about that as soon as we finish the lesson. I pull out maps. I show journeys. I stress the amazing work of those early disciples.

J asks if Mario would die if the Dark Knight was in the game.

I smile and realize how futile my mission is. I tell J that everything I know about Mario I learned from him.

He smiles back and says, really?

Really, J. You've taught me everything I know about Mario.

How are you doing on the Lord's Prayer, I ask him. He again mentions the crystal cross he saw on TV. If I held it to light I could see all the words.

I hold J to light instead.

He shines.

Class is over, he comes to me and wraps his arms around me and kisses me on my shoulder (where he reaches) 4 times. He makes sure I know I just got "4 kisses".

They felt like 400.

I see all his words, too.

April 27, 2009

Good Kids, Bad Choices

I have two daughters. They are the lights of my life. They are so talented and lovely and smart they make my teeth hurt. The sort of children every parent hopes to have. I don't know how I got so lucky. But they are great. Sometimes a bit too wise for their own good, but still...

My oldest walks the straight and narrow so well she could be a plumb line for a builder. The younger one tests the waters a bit more. She is very social and I do monitor her behavior more closely. She has a "boyfriend" (more like a grade school sweetheart), and I've laid down very strict rules. Anytime I ask, she has to hand me her cell phone so I can scroll through the text messages. If there is an inappropriate one, I will suspend her text privileges or call the parents of the inappropriate text sender. What she doesn't know is that I am a complete text doofus, and I have no intention of telling her that. Shhhhhh.

The Plumb Line, she couldn't be bothered with texting unless it discussed the latest math and science discoveries. She is the prettiest little nerd I ever met. The other day one of the girls she hangs out with skipped choir and hid in the bathroom texting. The girl was caught and got a detention. The detention was mild to the punishment my little Plumb Line had in store. She came home absolutely aghast at this girl's behavior, and planned to distance herself from this rabble rouser. I suggested she would serve her friend better by remaining a friend and setting a good example.

Then to illustrate the point, I shared one of my more embarrassing stories. When I was in 6th grade, on the verge of graduating to the JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL, I decided to leave our mark upon the elementary school we had called home for the past 6 years.

We were in a small school, one class for each grade. I was a leader of sorts in our micro-world. I convinced all the 6th grade girls of my stellar idea. We were going to write graffiti on the walls to display our obvious preparedness for the JUNIOR HIGH. We were going to use... gasp... curse words! This would be an absolute demonstration of our maturity for the big leagues.

I pondered over how to best display our readiness for Junior High. The words reached me like a vision. A phrase so filled with brilliance and the ability to use TWO, not one, curse words. I convinced my classmates that the lasting graffiti for us to leave as our legacy was:

"Shit your ass off"

Being the ringleader that I was, I wasn't going to do the actually writing. Rather, I convinced my friends to do the dirty work. And within a day, the lower 5 grades were encouraged to shit their asses off. The principal somehow or another discovered I was behind the brilliance. I was the one responsible for leaving behind such a noteworthy message for the young ones who followed. I had to stay after to clean the stalls. I'm so grateful that my followers had the sense to use pencil. I think pens were for the Junior High kids. Thank goodness we weren't deemed ready yet.

Even bad choices can be erased.

The Technology Gap

When my daughter was four, I probably should have gotten an inkling. Our monthly Disney book arrived and as we opened it excitedly, I noticed that month’s selection was Mickey and the Beanstalk, a Disney-esque retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk. My memory was nudged, having heard the story repeatedly as a child. It was a favorite. We had a collection of Disney LPs, so I knew it frontwards and backwards. As I read the story to her, I even knew the voices and the songs. She stopped me and asked, “Mommy, did you have this video when you were little?”

Without missing a beat, I answered, “No, I had the record.”

“What's a record?”

I should have known. It was the foreshadowing of many such conversations.

I remember black & white TV and rabbit ears. I recall only a few channels; ABC, NBC, and CBS, and for certain hours of the day PBS. I remember getting cable television in the 80s and being able to SEE the music that I had grown up with. Some of my friends had movie channels and we would watch Star Wars and Eddie and the Cruisers as many times as we wanted. The movie channels only broadcast about three movies a month, repeatedly. Videotapes were essentially for home movies and really high tech people.

My music buff friend told me about CD players. I was a loyal member of the Columbia Record Club and got my 12 free albums for a penny. CDs were of no interest to me with their shrunken artwork and miniscule lyric sheets. Plus, how could I make a favorite song cassette tape for my Walkman without my albums?

In my mid 20s I began to make the transition to CDs, and stopped buying records completely. My albums still are protected in plastic sleeves in an orange crate in the basement. I don’t know why I keep them, but I cannot imagine life without them. Visual testimony to being a music junkie.

My idea of audio visual technology is so deeply engrained in my psyche that it never occurred to me that my children wouldn’t know what a record was. I began a mission to find an old fashioned record player like we used to have in the schools, those magical self contained hinged boxes that would play either 33 or 45s. I still had my Disney albums and wanted to share the stories with my kids that way. We could just close our eyes and let our brains provide the Technicolor imagery. I asked a favorite aunt whose hobby was garage sales to keep her eyes peeled coupled with regular Ebay searches.

Finally, I found a turntable. It wasn't the self contained magical box I wanted, but it still would play records. I had to special order a needle for it and we were ready to listen to Mickey and the Beanstalk. It was every bit as memorable as I hoped, at least for me. My daughter didn’t seem to share my enthusiasm. Of course, that could have been my absolute paranoia at letting her use the turntable after the hoops I went through to get it. I don’t know for sure. It gathers dust now.

I never wanted to be the sort of parent who waxed nostalgic about “when I was a kid” complete with me leaning over a cane and having a shaky voice and peppering my speech with mutterings about whippersnappers. Our recent trip to The Smithsonian and the National Art Gallery left me with no choice. I could practically taste the shots of Geritol to keep me spry at my advanced age.

We saw a photography exhibit of Robert Frank’s work from the book The Americans, snapped throughout the 50s. It contained film proofs and early dark room prints. My children did not remember what a film camera was. I was amazed. I had one for their early years; I only made the transition to digital about six years ago. I still have canisters of undeveloped film and a few throwaway cameras. But they barely remembered cameras with film. That stunned me and I felt a bit old.

To cement that I felt my age, we saw a typewriter on display at the Smithsonian. My youngest asked me how that worked and how on earth did you correct mistakes? I explained about the white correction paper that you would backspace and slip the paper in and type over your error, backspace, pull the paper out and retype it correctly. I thought about my research papers when only the really geeky sorts used something called Word Perfect in the computer lab. I remembered a paper I wrote in college decrying the loss of typewriters, while at the same time acknowledging the need for progress. My first major purchase as an adult was indeed an electric typewriter, not a computer/word processor.

The irony of explaining a typewriter was not lost as the very next place we went was the outdoor sculpture garden, and the first artwork we saw was a giant typewriter eraser. Timing was everything.

I didn’t think about the technology gap again until yesterday. I had to stop at the store for two things and my daughter wanted to wait in the car. I handed her the keys in case she wanted to listen to the radio or a CD. She looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language as she inserted the ear buds of her iPod.

I suddenly have a taste for some Metamucil to chase the Geritol.

April 21, 2009

Driving in Traffic 101

I truly should have been born more privileged in life and had my own personal car & driver. I find driving tedious, dangerous and uncomfortable. But for a family, it's an economical and relatively hassle free way to arrive at point B from point A.

The thought of staying in my small town for an entire week was more painful than the idea of a road trip. We opted to see our nation's capitol. With the advice of some locals and a bit of research, the trip was set. In less than a 5 hour drive and all the hustle and bustle of Washington DC would be ours for the asking. Provided the drive go smoothly.

It didn't.

Garmin nĂ¼vi 3790T Sat Nav I literally crossed the border from MD to DC on a small narrow parkway that had signs posted what hours we could travel that direction on the road. While trying to absorb the information, the vehicle in front of me stopped suddenly. I did, too.

By hitting her. Luckily, it wasn't a serious accident, but an inconvenience. The damage was minimal, except she was driving a dealer loaner vehicle, so we had to wait for a police officer to come take a report. That also proved confusing as nobody knew whose jurisdiction the accident happened. VA, MD, or DC? It took nearly an hour to sort out, and I had a sinking feeling that my vehicle fun was only beginning.

Parking in DC is not easy either. I found what seemed to be a good lot and we braved the cold rainy day by lurking in the National Art Gallery. At 5 PM, we'd had enough since we had started so early in the day and decided to head back to the room. Rookie mistake to leave DC during 5 PM rush hour. I could have crawled back to the room more efficiently.

The 20 mile, two hour drive to our hotel in Northern VA solidified my decision that the Metro was the way to get into the city. Slight problem. No parking was available at the first Metro Station. I drove another 5 miles to the next one and found a meter, since the lots were still full. I rummaged through the bowels of my purse, the van floor and scavenged the change from the kids' wallets for all coins silver-colored.

Like a reverse slot machine, I poured in one coin after another, but no time registered on the meter. I read the fine print. It only accepted quarters, but there was no change machine in sight. Curses! OH did I! I pulled out the Mother of all swear words and tarnished the innocent ears of the Minis. We had to drive into the city. I think I scared them, as we passed two or three more Metro stations and I asked, Should I look for parking here? It was met with a resounding "NO!"

I drove right into DC around 10:30 AM and found a lovely parking garage. We decided to stay until 7 PM to avoid the rush hour. We got back that second night the same time we did by leaving at 5 PM. I felt positively local by now and decide to do the same thing the following day, Friday.

We stayed in DC for dinner and discovered that our car was locked in the garage for the WEEKEND. (No, there were no signs indicating this, apparently though I was in a university parking lot and shouldn't have parked there in the first place). HUGE PROBLEM since we planned to head home the following morning.

Fortunately, I had a guardian angel friend that we had dinner with and then drove us back to the hotel promising to bring us back to the city the next morning to figure out how to get our car out of vehicle prison, as I rattled against the aluminum door, banging for my vehicle to appear.

I was on a bit of a wild goose chase from the parking garage, to the phone number on my claim ticket, to the university police, to a 24 hour lot that I COULD have parked at had I known, back to the police to finally claim my minivan.

The best part? As the officer was walking with me to my van, he inquired, "Oh, don't they have front license plates in your state?" I sheepishly smiled, "Yes, they do, but the screw on it was bent on the way INTO DC when I bumped that vehicle, and I removed it so it wouldn't get lost."

Yet, despite all the travel trials, we had a fabulous trip and look forward to returning again. My plan next time is to stay in the city proper and take our bicycles to get around. Good idea?


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...