Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving: Pass It On!

Yesterday was a humbling day. An emotional day. A Thanksgiving kind of day.

The Sunday School class my husband and I are part of decided to donate money to buy boxes of food for families at one of our neighborhood elementary schools. It's the school that our kids attend, and where several of our class members are employed. It's a school that has some 70% of its students qualifying for free or reduced lunch programs. It's also the official "homeless" school for our community.

We collected money in class and quickly came up with enough money to buy 10 boxes of food from a local distribution center.

Yesterday, our family went to pick up that food and deliver it to the school, where the guidance counselor had selected 10 families to receive the boxes.

We got the food loaded up much more quickly than we had expected, and found ourselves with extra time on our hands. We decided to go to the grocery store and pick up a few items of our own. It was a typical family grocery store trip. Some bickering about who got to sit on that side of the car, some impatient snapping at each other, some negotiating for treats, some minor annoyances. We loaded back up with our own groceries (charged on plastic with nary a thought) now also in tow and drove to the school for the delivery.


Some of the families were already at the school, waiting, and the positive energy in the room was almost palpable. Everyone was smiling and helping and quietly talking. When we were done unloading, the counselor asked if we would be doing this regularly, and I said that I hoped so, but wasn't sure. He said that after talking with teachers, he had identified 16 families in need (though certainly there are more), and he would love to be able to connect more of them with some assistance.

It was with very mixed emotions that we left the building, realizing that we felt so good about this thing we had done...but that it was only a drop in the bucket. As we walked out the door, the counselor handed us some envelopes, explaining that the families had written thank you notes.

I got back in the car, working my feet in between our bags of groceries piled there on the floor. We drove away in silence, trying to process it all. And then I handed out the envelopes so we could read some of the thank you notes out loud. I wanted the kids to hear. I wanted them to know what it means to help others. I wanted them to understand this thing they were now a part of. (Or perhaps, this thing that was now a part of them.)

The thank you notes were heartfelt, gracious, kind. I had a knot in my throat reading the first one out loud, and found myself blinking back tears, just thankful for what we have, and thankful to be a part of something good, and incredibly moved by the simple fact of people helping people.

When my son started to read a card out loud, the emotions swirling through our heads reached a moment of overwhelming depths. (Or heights, depending on your view.)

Tears started to run down his cheeks, and he couldn't finish.

"He said there were sixteen families...but we only had ten boxes," he said.


I started this post last Sunday, but I couldn't finish it. I just didn't have the words. And now, even as I type this days later, the tears once again begin to rise up my throat and I find I still don't have the words.

But I know that when I come back and read this, I will remember.

I don't know how to record the moment, but simply to say that it was beautiful and tragic all at once. That it made me feel both immensely powerful in my ability to make a difference, and also to feel incredibly small and of no consequence at all. It made me feel incredibly good, and incredibly guilty. It was despair and hope, mingling together in one breath.


On the way home from the school, we stopped to pick up Junior. (He paid a visit to his grandparents while we did the grocery run.) It was time to go to his Physical Therapy appointment.

This is a new addition to his weekly therapy routine. Through word-of-mouth, we heard about an amazing therapist nearby -- the kind with magic fingers and sensitive spirit -- and she was willing to see him. Despite her full schedule. Despite our total inability to verbalize what we want her to do to him. Despite the fact that she doesn't take Medicaid, though that is all the coverage Junior has, and that we can't afford her full-price visits. She was not only willing, but excited, energetic, curious, eager! She's offering us a greatly reduced price and seeing him 5 weeks in a row for a trial run. I don't know what might happen, but I am extremely grateful for the possibilities.

I left the house with my grocery tears barely dried, then drove straight to this appointment, a fresh set of kindness-of-others tears threatening to spill over.


They say it's better to give than to receive, and I agree. It's certainly easier, I do know that.

But what is really amazing is to be on both ends of that equation within a short span of time.

My cup runneth over. I'm filled with Thanksgiving, though it it's not the official day for that. I'm proud to be a part of the human race today. That may sound like a crazy statement to make, but in a world where the headlines sometimes make me hang my head in shame -- for all of us -- it is a profound and welcome feeling to be a small, fitted piece in this very good puzzle.

Here's my challenge: Do something good today.

It can be large or small....just something above & beyond the usual, whatever your particular brand of usual might be. If something nice has happened to you recently, pay it forward. If nothing nice has happened lately, do it anyway.

Just tip that first domino over, and trust that the momentum can flow on down the line.

Happy Thanksgiving, world.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


It is 9:27 p.m.

I was just in the bathroom, washing my face, and preparing to brush my teeth...when I looked in the mirror and realized that I had a piece of spinach stuck in between my two front teeth.

I ate spinach salad SEVEN HOURS AGO.


I sat down to write an entirely different post,...but come on, people! Seven hours?!

Instead of posting, I am now going to crawl under the covers and make up for those 7 Hours of Ignorant Bliss by fretting and stewing in extremely concentrated doses for the next 30 minutes!

Or until I fall asleep!

Whichever comes first.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?

I'm pretty sure I'm not quite ready for this yet, but it is just magically beautiful outside this morning. I can't stop staring.

First snow fall, Winter 2008.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Deep, Dark Pit of Despair?

I have something to show you. Look at this picture of the GIANT HOLE in front of our house:
What is it, you ask? A photo of my own personal deep, dark pit of despair?

No, silly! Look again!

Can you tell now? It's a very HAPPY pit -- a deep, dark, murky, worm-filled pit of HAPPINESS! (It's not every day you capture one of those on film, now, is it?)

You may be wondering why I am happy about a giant pit suddenly appearing in front of a house that looked like this when we bought it...
...and the answer is because it's the first step towards our basement remodel. Those pits will one day be filled with greenery and pools of sunlight -- and a pet toad, if Bubbs gets his wish -- and will also provide the necessary escape route for the egress windows in our future basement.

Here you can see the outside filled in with landscaping blocks and pea gravel (for drainage) and the score marks for cutting out holes to install some big, new, shiny windows.
It's a little...cement-y, I agree. But definitely NOT a pit of despair. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

And Now for the Talent Portion of Our Show

The hubster and I decided to take a little break from all the work we've doing lately, and brush up on an old routine of ours...

Try JibJab Sendables® eCards today!

(giggling) If you would like to try some fun dance routines of your own, take a look at in the "Starring You" section.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Penny-Pinching Quote of the Day

(a snippet of actual conversation between my husband and daughter)

Him: "...I want you to be cognizant of that, and also aware!"

Her: (blinking) "Dad, why do you always like to use those big fancy words?"

Him: "It's important to have a good, it's a cheap way to look smart!"

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election Day Joy & Merriment

I woke up this morning and had to run immediately to the computer to read the headlines and make sure that Obama really did win last night. (I went to bed before it was all official.) And though I really don't like to talk politics, let me just state for the record that I'm thrilled (as you probably gleaned from various comments I've made on this blog).

But there are some other reasons I'm especially relieved that Obama won. Now that the Obama Presidency is secured, it feels safe enough to let you in on a few little behind-the-scenes secrets that have had me pretty worried these past weeks.

First of all, it seems that somehow MY NAME was being tossed around as a presidential option! And while I thank all you faceless internet supporters out there for your belief in me -- however misguided it may be -- it was CLEARLY a bad idea. Very, very bad! (I suppose there was some twisted logic in thinking a Blogger Mom was just as qualified as a Hockey Mom...)

Anyway, I am breathing a BIG OL' SIGH OF RELIEF today that the nomination never really got much farther than the local news, and I'm still free to sit around in my robe and sip coffee and blog this morning. (Shew! That was close!)

Local News Clip:

**Edited 11/6 -- If the video doesn't show up for you, you can watch it here.

Now, the second thing that had me worried was that I forgot to update my voter registration card after moving! I read all the fine print on the on-line voting information sites, and was fretting and stewing that I wouldn't be allowed to vote this year.

To make a long story short, I ended up going downtown to City Hall and voting early, just in case there was a problem. Everything went smoothly, and I was assured my vote counted. Thank goodness, because I was SO PARANOID that Obama would lose by a single vote...and it would be all my fault! My friend sent me a video from depicting that exact situation. (Thanks, Lynne!)

I tried to go back to the website and personalize one with MY name on it, but the page is no longer available, so here it is hammering a poor ol' guy named Alan.)

**Edited 11/5 -- Shoot! The video actually says the non-voter's name is "undefined." Sorry about that -- looks like they've pulled the plug over there. I'm leaving it in anyway, just for history's sake.**

Just One Vote:

Here's to change! Can't you just feel it in the air?

Invisibility Post # 5: Help! I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up!

I seem to be stuck. All I can think of is how everything could be blogged about in terms of its invisibility factor.

There's the obvious:
Two large trees were cut down in our yard!
The one existing room in the otherwise unfinished basement has been deconstructed! (seriously, that one's totally gone, walls and all -- it's practically begging for me to post pictures and write about how it's now invisible!)

There's the less obvious (the -- wait for it --invisible, if you will):
All the summer posts that are sitting in draft form in my files, waiting to share their newsy bits!

I could just keep going and going and going and GOING with this pathetic theme. Which is...what I meant by "stuck."

But I won't. Or at least I'm trying not to. But here it is, Invisible Post Number 5 that's pretending not to mention Invisible Post Numbers 6, 7, and 8!

So let me just get this one last joke in and I'll change the topic:
An invisible turkey, an invisible priest, and an invisible rabbi go into an invisible bar, and the ba.....

--Oooooooooooooooo, SHINY!

And in case you can't tell how big that thing actually is, here's a bit of scale.

Yes, BIG. And so very, very shiny!

It has On Demand Digital Cable...which has Mad Men...which has a pink bathroom, just like ours! I'm totally hooked.

And, finally, free to move on from previous obsessions (to a nice shiny new one)!

P.S. Sorry about the dead horse and all!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Invisibility Theme, Part IV: Dalai Mama Has Left the Building

(Alternate title -- "Hello & Goodbye: A Long, Impassioned Ode to Catherine Newman, Blogger Extraordinaire...With a Few Ramblings and Pithy Comments Along the Way")

The Dalai Mama, one of my all-time favorite blogs, is undergoing a major change. Catherine Newman, the blogger behind it all, explains everything in It's Not Goodbye -- It's Bon Appetit! *

Have you discovered this amazing blogger yet? I've had her links on my sidebar all these months, though I've never singled her out for recognition. I certainly hope that some of you have wandered over there at some point and had a look around. It's a place so comfortable and warm, you'll probably want to go back and visit regularly. It's the kind of place you can sip a warm drink and spend an amiable afternoon without even realizing what time it's gotten to be. Where it's nice and nest-y, though you're constantly inspired to remember that you, too, can fly.

I think of Catherine as the mom I thought I would be...before I got too tired, or cynical, or just...took too many shortcuts. (Well, minus the vegetarian co-op part, and the loving-the-family-bed part,...and the husband-is-a-masseuse part, because THAT is something I didn't even think to dream of!) It's not that she's perfect, though, either. (Which makes her all the more wonderful, in my opinion.) She's not a robot or Stepford Wife, not Bree Van de Kamp or Martha Stewart. She talks about feeling overwhelmed & wondering if she's doing it right, but -- and this is key -- she remains mindful of these things. She somehow manages to maintain her focus on the big picture while simultaneously zooming in to note the microcosms along the way.**

She's a great writer, too. It's hard to pin down exactly what it is that makes her writing so wonderful. She's sincere, thoughtful, focused (mostly) -- in both her writing and her mothering, tender & funny, but it's more than that. She has that special something, that umami writing, that strikes a deep, rich chord beyond the bitter/sweet/salty components. Each post is something to savor slowly, and is uniquely satisfying.

So that blog, which I have eagerly read each Wednesday morning (although in reading her goodbye comments I discovered the new post was up on Tuesday afternoons, actually, and I could have read it 8 hours earlier!), that blog is now GONE.

Well, sort of.

She will still be there writing, only now she will be writing about recipes (mostly). I say mostly, because as she herself points out, it's not really about the pear cake.

I will be missing her old column greatly -- though of course, technically she is still there, both in archives AND in the new Dalai Mama Dishes. And of course I will keep visiting weekly, browsing through recipes and planning hypothetical feasts (much like flipping through an IKEA or Pottery Barn catalog), while reading between the lines for glimpses of Ben & Birdy and fall melancholy and pants and undies falling down.

So far, I've been surprised at how much I'm enjoying her new blog, and by how lovely her recipes sound -- they really are more than pear cake! And, because, let's face it -- I'm not the wholesome, unprocessed foods, & barrels-of-granola kind of mom that she is. (Read the otter pop post to read see why we differ...and why we mesh.) Her pot roast recipe with accompanying photos and comments actually had me giggling aloud. (How someone can take such unappetizing photos, then sprinkle the paragraph liberally with the words "placenta", "severed torso", "stool softener", and "barfing" and STILL make you want to try the delicious pot roast recipe tomorrow night -- ?? Well, that, my friends, is precisely why you should be reading her.)

But, now that I think about it, perhaps you should actually read the plum cake recipe first. Because that is the kinder, gentler, crunchier version. No bodily emissions or organs there! (Although there are reminders of motorcycle boots & fierceness layered with the wholesomeness of baking & motherly love that goes into the Catherine Newman parfait, so to speak.) And once again, while I can truly say that plum cake has never even occurred to me, I was moved to want to try the recipe. Both because it looked so tasty, and, simply, as a nod to Catherine. A sort of sweet goodbye -- and hello! -- to the blog(s). Plus? Butter. Real butter and sugar and simple goodness. I will overlook my usual chocolate bent and give plums a chance.

So anyway, once you've said hello to Catherine's new blog, go back and read the old blog archives. They are gems. Diamonds sparkling from the depths of an old mine shaft. An old mine shaft that is being deserted because it's getting unsafe. Or it's no longer environmentally sound. Or it's got some new owners. Or something. Whatever the metaphor, they're down there. Those posts are treasures waiting to be discovered, but they are going to be invisible from the surface. Look for them.

Each post is a lovely stand-alone essay, but taken as a whole they speak volumes. In between the great things and gulag days, there are summer fevers and gymnastics classes and dozens of other posts, each with moments or metaphors or individual sentences that take my breath away. I think nearly every week I was moved to laugh AND blink back a tear. And while that might simply say something about how I'm typically fairing mid-week, I think it really says more about Catherine's ability to witness the events in her life, to sift through them with an uncannily sightful eye, and to create such powerful written records of the meaning she finds therein.

The pear cake metaphor has been on my mind all week. "'It's not that I want pear cake, Mama. It's that I don't want you to leave.' Indeed." Indeed! I can't tell you how many times during this last week I've whispered "pear cake" in my head, as a gentle reminder to myself.

And it's often this way -- Catherine's words stay with me. They're filling. She's the fiber in a sea of bloggy junk food. I crave both, delight in both, savor both...but know that the fiber is what will keep me going. Or...not. (heh, heh.) (Which then makes me recall the stool softener pot roast recipe.) Perhaps she's the protein. She's meaty; gives you lots to chew on. Or a complex carb? Energizes you for the long haul. Meh. Either way, we're back to the power of Catherine's words. And food!! And --Ta Da! -- I neatly brought it all back full circle!

So back to the point I was starting to make, which is how her words have staying power. For me, one of the most powerful posts in the old blog was The Invisible Woman. I remember this description well, all this time later, because it's just so accurate for me. I feel myself blanking intentionally, mentally exiting my body,...the building, life. And it's so shocking to have someone name it, to call me out on it, because even though it's accurate, I hadn't fully realized I was doing it. (And once I saw it, I was additionally ashamed to realize how much resentment and annoyance filled my invisible moments.) Thanks to that post, I have become more aware of my tendency to disappear. I do it less. And when I do still find myself really needing to slip away, I now try to do it more gracefully, floating off to a quiet place where I can reflect & recoup for a moment, returning ready for the next round.

I browsed through The Dalai Mama archives to find the link to the Invisible Woman post, and was surprised to find it all the way back in November 2006! And it had something to do with a copper cylinder, which I certainly didn't recall. And I was surprised to find it was much shorter than I remembered. (And, actually, much more positive than I remembered.) But the concept was there. The wanting to disappear during the mind-numbing moments of parenthood. So, I'm almost certain that's the post I'm thinking of. And, plus -- really, how many entries on INVISIBILITY can one person write? (cough, cough)

Which all just goes to show how meaningful blogs can be. (When you get deeper than fanny packs & crazy talk, that is.) How reading someone else's thoughts can open up your own. How finding the right words at the right time truly is "as if a hand has come out and taken yours," like she said (which someone else said). How a person you've never even met can inspire you to become a better you. How amazing this internet stuff really is.

But don't just take my word for it. Go. Read.*** You'll be glad you did.

*I made a last-minute attempt at color-coding my quotes & links here, because I am referencing SO MANY and didn't want to send you off on so many wild goose chases, impelling you to click hither and yon only to find you had already been there. So...if the color is the same, the link is the same. Just trying to provide a few "footnotes" and to simplify. (any other spots that sound suspiciously lovely were probably supposed to be color-coded, too; not intending to plagiarize, just trying to get to bed)

**I deleted the following paragraph, because it is so over-the-top. But it kind of cracks me up, and it is sort of how I see her. So I'm pasting it here:

It's as if she's determined to put together a puzzle that she is absolutely loves -- not only because of the completed image it will make, but because of all the beautiful shapes and colors of each distinctly individual, vitally important piece. Some days she can't get many pieces to fit easily, or doesn't have enough time to work on it, and
gets frustrated. But she's able to say -- "Wow, this is a challenging puzzle! That took so much concentration & patience today, but I really just love this puzzle! Tomorrow I'm going to try to put another lovely piece in place. But if I find I still can't get very far, I'll just make a pot of tea and hum a tune and spend some time fondly gazing at
the amazing pieces!"

But me? Well, I'm more likely to have a small fit. To dramatically brush all the pieces to the floor with my arm. To break up the sections I already completed and throw them, hostilely, back into the box. To curse the ridiculousness and wrongness of certain pieces. To sigh and turn on the tv. So, yeah, she's a pretty great role model.

***Don't be put off by the baby-ish avatars accompanying the comments section on her new blog. It's an odd little quirk on that site -- and though I have never added an avatar of my own anywhere, I'm highly tempted to do so over there, just so everyone understands I'm not actually 5. Although that would require me to comment, which I have possibly done ONCE (?) over the years. I prefer to stay quietly hidden over here and then write long, rambling, gushing, then rambling again posts about how much I love her. Hmm. Again, one of the differences between her & me; she would TELL people she loved them -- or at least bake them a plum cake! -- where I would just crack a joke and then go check the local weather. So, ok. I'll leave a comment! (Because did I mention she's great? And a good influence?) I will comment and cook.