Friday, December 27, 2013

Who Woulda Thunk It?

     A year ago today I screwed up all my courage and drafted my very first blog post.  Since then, I've written 70-something posts that over 3,000 folks have read.  It's not a very big readership. I know.  It's stunning to me that it is mostly folks I don't know, though.  Most of my readers found me through other bloggers or while searching for a blogpost about something I've written about or searching for weird ass shit that somehow led them to me (which is a bit creepy).

     I have not followed any of the rules about being a blogger, apparently.  My format is a mess and I don't also have a Facebook page or Twitter account for the blog and I don't generally publicize my posts.  I think perhaps this year, I will take some time to learn the rules and maybe take this writing thing a bit more seriously.

     You see, for me, this past year was mainly about getting over myself.  In retrospect, the amount of terror I felt is absolutely ludicrous.  Readers, you have been tremendously kind to me.  My friends and family have been really supportive. Other bloggers have been especially wonderful.

Elle over at This Is Mommyhood gave me my first break, by letting me guest blog for her.

Jenny Lawson (you know, Supreme Goddess of the Blogosphere from The Bloggess) let me share her Traveling Red Dress story on my blog.

Similarly, Lisa Rosenberg at Smacksy inspired me to write about the Official Summer of Awesomeness To Do List when she wrote about hers.  She, too, let me share a link to her blog.

Stephanie from Mom in Two Cultures and Louisa from WeezaFish are among my favorite penpals ever.   And I miss my friend Boo over at Boobaloo.  

     Thank you, all of you, for being so good to me.  I'm kinda excited to see what this next year will bring!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

(Not so) Random Acts of Christmas Eve

     For my children's entire lives, the week before Christmas has been all about the Big Reveal.  My Personal Chef has elevated the delivery of gifts to an art. He calls it Making Memories and he takes it very seriously.
   
     The first year of  Making Memories, he put all of Thing 1's and Thing 2's gifts in refrigerator boxes.  To see their faces when they saw the GIANT wrapped gifts in the living room was priceless.  There was the year that my Personal Chef spent countless hours locked away in his workshop downstairs, creating what was sure to be a masterpiece.  He put wrapping paper up on the windows and padlocks on the doors to keep prying eyes out.  All the kids in the neighborhood were engaged in trying to suss out the secret.  Were the kids ever surprised when they came downstairs Christmas morning to discover that they had gotten computers!  Yes, to throw the kids off the track, my husband actually spent hours in the basement watching sports.  During commercials, he'd  rev a drill or saw, maybe bang a hammer against some scrap wood.  He even threw handfuls of sawdust onto his shirt and in his hair before coming upstairs.  That was tough to beat, but the year the kids had to go through the entire neighborhood on a scavenger hunt to find their gifts was pretty spectacular. "Two Days Until the Secret is Revealed!" has become part of our family's lexicon. It's what  my FabFam says whenever they are looking forward to something any time of year now.

     So, this year, where we have chosen to have a Giving-Not-Getting Christmas, there is no Big Reveal.  Over coffee this morning, we talked about that, My Personal Chef and I.  He's having last minute regrets about not having a big gift to surprise the kids.  This feeling is unexpected.  In a year full of unexpected emotion, this seems fitting to me.

     Tonight, several of our closest friends will come by to share the joys of the season, which stand in sharp contrast to the sorrows we are still struggling to come to terms with.  There will too much to eat and to drink.  There will be plenty of laughs (both appropriate and inappropriate, mostly inappropriate). There will be some small gifts and stories and hugs and tears. It will be both wonderful and terrible, joyful and mournful. In the end, though, it will be overwhelmingly loving.  Even without the Big Reveal, I'm certain that we will be successful at Making Memories.

     Wherever this day finds you, and however you choose to celebrate it (or not)  may you find that you have plenty of peace, joy and love!  

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Random Acts of Christmas: Home Stretch

     I'm not ready.  Christmas is days away and I'm just not ready.  In fits and starts, I've gotten closer--I got the Christmas Albums finished  (they don't make themselves you know).  I found the dining room table. I filled the freezer with cookie dough.  I've ordered and shipped (most) of the gifts for the AWAY  wee ones. I cleared my desk at work of the loose ends that would haunt me during this holiday break. I'm still not ready, though.
    I know that it worries my family that I am not my usual whirlwind of holiday cheer.  They have extended plenty of grace to me these past weeks.  I cannot tell you how grateful I am for that.  I'm also grateful for the lessons of this stripped down Christmas.  Even with all the Tradition I've cut out or just not gotten around to--I didn't send out Christmas cards, we haven't watched a single Christmas movie (with the exception of about 1/2 an hour of White Christmas last week), we haven't attended most of the usual social engagements--I've experienced real moments of significant joy.  There was the hour I spent with some grade school kids this week, and the delight of opening the mail to find that Thing 1, my thoughtful daughter, had my favorite Christmas movie (the musical version of Scrooge starring Albert Finney) sent to me.  There was the surprising  response to one of my recent newspaper columns, and several encounters with people that remind me how rich in love I am.
     And, of course, there was this week's Giving-Not-Getting.  While most of our giving has been personal support of specific individuals, I am going to highlight two charities you might not know about.  We made a donation to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital which is widely known, of course,  and to this small, local charity the Lauren Zarembka Memorial Foundation. 
     In a few minutes, my FabFam will be heading to our lake house in New Hampshire.  It is slated to be a low-key, but festive weekend of good food, Christmas movies, and great company.  (Because my mother is involved, there is also likely to be matching pajamas for everybody, too.)
     Christmas will be here on Wednesday, whether or not I clean everything that needs cleaning, cook the entire feast,or get all the gifts.  I'm a bit unsettled about "blowing it." I'm trying to find a balance there.  In the end, I know that I will be with all the people I love and it will be more than good enough.
   

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Random Acts of Christmas Part II

     My children (the ones I gave birth to and the ones we seem to have collected along the way) and my husband continue to bless my socks off.  Their enthusiasm for Giving-Not-Getting has not wavered at all.  They continue to come up with great suggestions for bringing holiday cheer to folks.  They've been talking it up to their friends.  It's been an even better experience than I  imagined it would be.
     Coincidentally, the Evil Genius' middle school is involved in a project called "Revolution Kindness" where the entire student body is attempting to do 5,000 good deeds before New Year's Day.  For each good deed, a student is given a ball to add to the giant ball pit that is being constructed in the main entrance of the school.  As part of the events marking Giving Tuesday last week, they made a You Tube video.  The Evil Genius is the very last student on the film.



     Here are some of the really terrific charities our FabFam has supported this week, you know, in case you were looking for a cause to support.

We joined Rosie's Circle at the YWCA of RI.  In my professional life, I have worked with Deb Perry and her great team for many years.  I know first hand the quality of their programming and the difference they make in the lives of young women.

We also joined  The Tutu Project  after reading this blog post.  This couple are our kind of people--using inappropriate humor to get through some really difficult times.  That they are doing so much good for so many other women (and their families) battling cancer just blew us all away. 

We sent my blogger friend Stephanie over at Mom in Two Cultures, and her brave, brilliant son Sky 
Love Bomb.  
They recently moved to a new city, and Sky, who struggles to maneuver through social interactions because of his autism, articulates how tough it has been adjusting to his new neighborhood and school. Anyone who has been "the new guy" will relate to Sky's story.


     I find that I'm still slogging through a bit of a funk (which is a story for another day), but my spirits have been buoyed by these daily Random Acts of Christmas.  Stay tuned for what great things they come up with next!


     

Friday, December 6, 2013

Random Acts of Christmas Part I

     So this is what the FabFam has come up with:  Starting December 1st, we're counting down  until Christmas by doing a different charitable act (or acts) a day.  To hear each member of my extended family talk about the kind of efforts they want to support--some by getting out there and volunteering, some by donating funds that would otherwise have gone to gifts for them--fills my heart to overflowing.

     The Evil Genius is most interested in charities that focus on active military and veterans.  Thing 2 has always had a soft spot for special needs children.  Thing 1, as vehemently as she denies it, is my mirror and wants to change the whole world.  She wants to fill pantry shelves, help children, support our troops, do all the good she can.  My Personal Chef  has identified specific individuals that he wants to give a helping hand to this season.
I'm completely gobsmacked by it all.

     For our family, doing the good is all the reward we need.  However, I think that part of the good we can do is to publicize some of the charities we choose to support.  I know we aren't alone in searching for ways to make a difference.  Perhaps we will be able to introduce some of you to some new charities that resonate with you.

     Here is one of the efforts we supported this week:  Luna Luna Magazine .  It's a wonderful online magazine.  A poet friend introduced me to it and I'm grateful she has.  I just learned, moments ago, that they are $200 from their goal!

    Another day this week, we spent the hour after dinner sitting together addressing Christmas cards to active servicemembers. There are a lot of terrific organizations that provide holiday cheer to our troops, but we went through the American Red Cross' Holiday Mail for Heroes program.

     It's been a great way to start off the season.  I'll keep you posted on what else my merry band of elves comes up with for their Random Acts of Christmas.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

My FabFam Tries to Figure Out This Christmas Business

I don't have a full post here for tonight.  I just got home from spending an emotional long weekend with a good showing of my sisterfriends.  

We went up to my family's place on Lake Winnepesaukee in NH.  



We ate too much pie.  Drank just enough wine.  Said really-funny-if-vulgar things that would absolutely horrify our adolescent sons if they'd heard us.  Missed the sister who cannot join us ever again. Cried a wee bit.  Laughed a bit more.  Ate a bit more pie with a dip-and-chip chaser.  Played with a sister's hair.  Ran some errands.  Popped into a pub for some lunch.

Cheered on the gals that got tattoos and the one that got her nose pierced.  
(No, Mama, I didn't get either this time.)  




Missed the Man Who Loved Us who can't cheer us on in our hairbrained schemes anymore. Cried a wee bit more.  Laughed more than that. Had a cup or two of camomile tea. Let a dark and handsome stranger buy us breakfast.  (Okay, he wasn't EXACTLY a stranger.  Two of us went to summer camp together 30 years ago...) White tornadoed the house so that my folks keep letting me sit at the adult table.  Packed up the last few pieces of pie for the long ride home.

I arrived home to a delightfully affectionate welcome from my boys--my husband, my sons, and my pooches.  And there was an email from my firstborn, Thing 1, the daughter who never fails to bless my socks off.  It was simply this link:


Between that, Thing 2's commitment to doing whatever My Personal Chef and I come up with to "make memories," and the Evil Genius' pronouncement that "Christmas is about food and family--mostly family,"  I think we're starting to figure out where we'll be going this season.



Saturday, November 23, 2013

Giving-Not-Getting Christmas

I had a rather remarkable conversation with my FabFam this week.  

       It's been no secret that we've had a rough go of it this year.  We've gone through our share of sickness and loss and struggle.  It's made me--and the folks I've been walking through this season with--rethink a lot of things.  We all have a different perspective on our lives.  We have all shifted priorities.  And in the middle of all this, we are all still searching for answers to the Big Questions.  

    For me, much of this has manifested as a crisis of faith.  I've been wrestling with what I believe in and how I think I can authentically demonstrate that belief.  Once a devout Christian, I have not steadily attended any church in a while now.  With Christmas approaching, I have found myself pondering this spiritual business with more fervency.  This is the state I'm in as we enter this holiday season.

     After seeing a barrage of  Black Friday Sale commercials the other night, I noted that I am not feeling particularly warm and fuzzy about another consumer frenzy holiday season.  The idea of shopping is just too overwhelming for me.  
     
     What unfolded was the beginning of a thoughtful discussion about what kind of Christmas we do want to have.  We don't want a manic season full of shopping for gifts that have no lasting value.  We do want the season to have some meaning for us--as individuals and as a family.  We've got a ways to go yet.  This is an ongoing discussion, indeed.  What I do know is that my children amaze me.  They are willing to forego "getting" in favor of "giving."  There is talk about what kind of good deeds to do together as a family.  It has touched me deeply to find that I'm not in this alone.

     I'll keep you posted as this Giving-Not-Getting Christmas unfolds.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

I Forgot I Had a Blog for a While There

     My Mama asked me if I were still blogging. I told her I was.  She sounded surprised.

    I guess I don't blame her.  I haven't been here much lately, eh?  No good reason for it.  I just didn't seem to have anything to write about.

     I have wrestled a bit with the usual season change-related health issues.(Meh.  It is what it is. I'm better off than so many other chronically ill folks.)  I've been busy--happily busy--with work.  The dogs and the FabFam have kept me on my toes.  I've knocked off a few more items off of the Official Fall of Fabulosity To Do List:

  • I planted garlic and my Personal Chef moved a truckload of loam to the new veggie bed.

  • I got apple butter, and applesauce, and apple pie, and apple muffins made.  (A chef friend gave us a boatload of apples from his yard a few weeks back!)

  • Trekked to Trinity Rep. in Providence to see their final dress rehearsal of A Christmas Carol



  • Got my geek on with my parents, my Personal Chef & the Evil Genius at a special viewing of  The Ghost Army documentary about the 603rd and their fake army unit--lifelike inflatable tanks and planes, hours of state-of-the-art sound recordings of active military bases, and flawless faux radio communications.

  • The movie was so awesome that the Evil Genius and I followed up with a trip to the Museum of Work & Culture to see the Ghost Army Exhibit.  


  • My Personal Chef & I caught a great Jonny Lang show.
  • My sisterfriend & I went on a winery tour.


  • The FabFam has celebrated the first of at least three Thanksgivings.  (Have I mentioned that I married a chef?!)
     

    So, I'm sorry I've been misisng from this space, but my days have been full.  I've caught a lot of joyful moments.  Indeed.
     

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Half

    Half a year has gone by since David and Evelyn drowned.  Spring gave way to summer and now autumn is upon me.  I am surprised by the passing of the seasons this way.  It all seemed to happen so quickly, without me noticing, even while I have tried to be aware of the fleeting nature of time.
     I have made a concerted effort to pay attention to the moments as though they were gifted to me--because they have been.  I made a point to watch the shooting stars from the Perseids and the Orionids.  I was awestruck by the magic of the summer's super moon.  Yet, I'm stunned to realize that the moon has waxed and waned six times since that night in May.
      Knowing that tomorrow is not promised to me, I have mindfully tried to capture joyful moments in each day.  I've worked at connecting with each of the people I love as frequently as I can, mostly in small ways--a phone call, an email, a goofy card dropped in the mail.  I've taken steps to mend some broken relationships. I've taken more photos than ever.  I've said, "Yes" to more invitations. I've visited more places and tried more things on the "one of these days I'm going to..." list.
       In fact, I  made special To Do lists--the Summer of Awesomeness and the Fall of Fabulosity--and have made some truly great memories with the people I love. There was wonderful music and family gatherings and babies and beach days and a wedding and birthdays on my calendar.  
     And still, I have lost entire weeks to cleaning laundry, dishes, and bathrooms; fussing over half-pints of milk at work; sitting in doctor's waiting rooms; watching mindless television; arguing over meaningless bits of protocol in board meetings.  I'm still suprised to discover that one hundred and eighty-two days have passed. Six months is gone.

     
     

Half a year.

     
     

    

     

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Shift in Perspective

     I hate October.  I hate it.  For as long as I can remember, I have associated October with trauma.  All of my deepest wounds and losses have come in October.  Usually they've hit me with such intensity that if I were to write the story of my Octobers as a screenplay, HBO would pick it up as a dark comedy.
     No.  Seriously.  As an example:  There was a single day in an October where I was sitting in the ER with Thing 2 when my stepmother called to tell me my father was rushed by ambulance to another hospital.  A few hours later, my father-in-law called to tell us that My Personal Chef's mother was being rushed to yet a different hospital.  All life-threatening.  All on the same day.  All in October.

   


     Then October, 2013 rolled around.  It's been good.  Very good, in fact. For starters, it's beautiful.  Living in New England, I've been blessed with some of the most incredible fall foliage on the planet.  This is the river that runs through my neighborhood:



     Add to this lovely environment, are all these people I love that have filled my days with joy.  With the Official Fall of Fabulosity To Do List,  I've intentionally been making sure that we do things that are memory making. There's been trips to two different country fairs.  High-spirited dinners out with friends have fed both body and soul.   The impromptu birthday party with my sisterfriends was nifty. Trips to the library and bookstores and the post office all made me smile.  (Yes, the post office--I  simply LOVE to send mail to folks and there is a brand new baby in the FabFam that needed a personalized gift shipped to her in sunny Florida.)  
     The Evil Genius and I went to a local museum, and a Harlem Wizards show basketball game last weekend.  A pack of us ran the Color Run 5K, too.  Something about tie dying a tee shirt while wearing it just tickled me.  Seeing my sisterfriend, husband and youngest son complete their first 5K ever was pretty satisfying, too. 



     I had the extreme pleasure of spending a lunch hour at the Sachuest National Wildlife Refuge one afternoon this week.  It's a point of land at the very edge of Aquidneck Island past the last of the Newport Beaches in Rhode Island.  Miles of trails wind along the rocky Atlantic shore, bordered by thicket and meadow.  The weather was spectacular.  It was unseasonably warm, but a late afternoon storm threatened to come in off the sea, so the skies were brilliantly purple and grey. The views, at every turn, alternated from life-affirming to breathtaking. A chance encounter on the trail with a middle-aged couple in full formal wear (beautiful teal ballgown and a well cut tuxedo with a calla lily boutiniere) just delighted me.  I can't think of a   more perfect day or a lovlier place to have eloped.




   There's still more.  There was dinner with my cousins and my mama and Thing 1.  The Red Sox are in the World Series. My Personal Chef and I trekked to a restored theater with friends to see the 1923 silent movie "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."  Lon Chaney, a mighty Wurlitzer, friends, popcorn... What's not to love?  

    So. Much. Joy.

     And still, it wasn't until sometime yesterday that I actually exhaled and let go of all that dread. It's like I have been expecting the gates of hell to unleash their full fury upon me at any moment.  I did exhale though.  I'm working on letting go of that fear.  And I'm mindful of all that is wonderful around me.  October, you will not get the best of me this year.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Girl Talk: Boys Dish to Me About Girls

     I have had several conversations recently with boys and men about their engagements with females.  It's been a fascinating experience.  Ultimately, it's helped maintain my faith in humanity.

     For starters, there are the twenty-somethings that drape themselves on my furniture and eat all my food.  They're all complete bananaheads.  (I mentioned they are in their early twenties, right?)  They have no real clue about where they are going in life, but hey, they are making great time...  Ah, the divine oblivion of youth.
    They are forever talking about girls.  They are quick to judge, quick to change judgements, quick to say something stupid, quick to call each other on the stupid things they say.  Usually, I remember that they are just learning how to be young men, so I let them blather on.  Once in a while, though, they are way off base, and I have to redirect them by raising my hand up in the air and proclaiming, "Mother, sitting right here!"  Usually,that prompts an apology and a change in subject.
     I've come to the conclusion that for the most part, the young men in my life have been taught that young women should be treated with great respect, and by and large, they have caught the jist of the lesson.  It's heartening to see. I've witnessed the guys policing one of their fellow friends when he's crossed the line and said something abhorrent.  I've witnessed them standing up for a young woman being harshly treated. I've even been asked for advice by several of them on how to be supportive of a female friend they were concerned about, when her risk-taking behavior escalated.  They aren't "bad boys."  They're just hormonal balls of stupid.  I'm reasonably confident that they will grow into men who will treat women respectfully, equally, appropriately.

     Then there are the men in my peer group.  Primarily, these are men I'm related to, are friends with, or work with.   So, I get that there is a predisposition for them to get along well with me.  It's harder to discount the value of someone you actually know. I'm not one of "THEM."  They are still products of their generation, though.  And they grew up in changing times. Some of them, like me, were raised to believe women could be anything they wanted to be.  Some of them, though,  were raised to conform to specific gender roles and the corresponding ideas about those roles.  And they all interact together everyday--with each other and with women. It can get messy and complicated.
     We've talked together about this in a number of settings.   As an example, for this year's Fantasy Football Draft, I was consulted before it was decided to meet at Hooters.  The stated motivation for going to Hooters for the draft was a special they were having that absorbed a lot of the costs that we usually take on.  I believe that to be sincere.  Had I stated that I was uncomfortable with the venue, the entire group would have gone someplace else.  That I was asked made me feel valued and respected.
     The night of the draft, I walked into a conversation several of the guys were already having about the venue.  All of the men were in their 40s or older.  All of them found that THEY were uncomfortable with the sexualization of the young waitresses. It pleased me, a lot, that they came to that conclusion on their own. I might have ribbed them about the choir of angels coming down to recognize this moment...
      And  no, it wasn't staged for my benefit.  The guys were still talking about it back at the office a few days later, and when one of the men (who was not at the draft) made a callous remark about his attraction to young waitresses, the other guys pounced on him.  There's hope for us all, I think.
     That being said, men are still hardwired to be sexual beings.  At that same draft, where the fellas had their beautiful moment of enlightenment, a coworker inadvertently admitted to finding me attractive.  It was clear from the context of our interaction that he was not objectifying me, he wasn't being disloyal to his wife, he wasn't teaching his daughter that she was inferior to her brother, he wasn't being a douche.  He was just being a man, in all his human glory.  And we both laughed (and laughed and laughed) about it, because damn if it wasn't hilarious.

     This humanity of men was explained to me pretty eloquently by an elderly friend of mine this past weekend.  At 87-years-old, Fred has covered the full-spectrum of life's experiences.  He's kindhearted, smart, and generous.  He's also crochety and opinionated and he's a shameless flirt.  I'm very fond of him.  Over the weekend, he and my Personal Chef jokingly came to an arrangement where my husband would "lend me" to Fred if he thought he could catch me.  Nothing like a little inappropriate humor to liven up a Rotary event, eh? Now, nobody for a minute thinks that I'm going to have an affair.  Still, it brightened Fred's day considerably. He noted to me that all men want to be considered desireable for all of their lives.  It is his  belief, in fact, that it is that which is the primary motivator for men's behavior.  Men participate in sports, strive to succeed in business, engage in community service all in order to attract the attention of a potential mate.  To listen to his pack of Old Guys discuss this at length was very eye-opening.

    What does all this mean?  I'm pretty sure it means that boys will be boys, but that they don't have to be tools while they're at it.

     

Apologies for Going MIA

     A snotbomb struck our house two weeks ago or so and it's been a thermoMuclear disaster here since.  We're finally coming out of the bunkers to rejoin the survivors.


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Girl Talk: Discovering that Being a Girl is a Problem

    I am very fortunate to have grown up in a family that treated me as if they truly believed that I could be anything. I was never pushed to "girl things" or steered away from "boy things."  I was encouraged to try everything that interested me in any area--arts, sports, academics.  I was supported in the things that I self-selected as being "my thing"  (theater, music, outdoorsy things like hiking and camping).   My academic successes were celebrated.  I always had a sizeable fan club in attendance at my school plays, piano recitals, softball games, and soccer games.  When I missed the mark, I wasn't shamed or otherwised punished.  I was razzed good-naturedly for my failings.  There is no getting around being teased in my family.  It's actually a sign of affection. None of this was about my gender, though.

     In fact, I do not remember ever being aware of being expected to fulfill any gender roles.  My one attempt at learning to sew was a disaster that is still joked about today.  My mother, in exasperation at my mess and incometence in culinary efforts as a teenager told me to get out of her kitchen.  Her recommendation, "Marry a chef." (Best advice she ever gave me.)

     I wasn't born with the competitive gene,  and I was clumsy and slow.  In a family of scholar-athletes, it was a source of shame for me that I sucked at sports.  Never for a minute, though, did I think it was because I was female.

     I was fairly aware that being female was something my mother and aunts and their mothers before them made them "less than" in the man's world they were born into.  My mother had to fight to get off of the teller line and into the management training program at the bank.  I realized that it was a major victory when she beat out a male Harvard MBA for a bank manager's position several years later.  What I was completely unaware of was that other girls in my peer group still had to fight the idea that they were less than simply because of their gender.  I was an adult before I realized this.  And it blew my mind.

     

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Girl Talk: An Introduction

I have started and stopped repeatedly this week to write a post that is only partially formed in my mind.  What started as a goofy bit about being a woman who loves watching sports has somehow become this whole different thing.  See, I have found myself involved in a series of conversations about feminism with different groups of folks with varying perspectives and insights.

There's been the guys I'm in the fantasy baseball and football leagues with.  There's been the twenty-somethings my son hangs out with in my living room, who are complete bananaheads that are trying to figure out how to interact with young women.  There's my smart, strong daughter and her fierce grandmother.   My Other Favorite Nieces and my Cool Cousins have been in the mix, too.  Then there are my brilliant sisterfriends.  Each of them have (mostly unknowingly) forwarded the discussion.  And my mind is a swirl.

I don't know why this has taken up so much of my mental space at this point in time.  I'm grateful for it, though.  I love being intellectually and emotionally challenged.  And I'm confident that this is all leading me somewhere that I'm supposed  to be heading towards.

So far, it seems like I'm going to be putting together a series of posts about my ideas about womanhood.

The only expertise I can claim here is that I was born with the requisite reproductive organs to be deemed female.  Otherwise, I'm just making shit up.  This will be no scholarly work, in case that's what you were expecting.  Mostly, it will be me thinking out loud in print.

You've been forewarned.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Lots to Think About. Not a Lot to Say.

     I'm still in a contemplative mood.  I've got a lot on my mind--processing grief, coping with family struggles, empathy for friends-who-are-family who are coping with their own struggles, work responsibilities, and, and, and...    That's really nothing new, I suppose.  My head is always full to overflowing.  What is new is that I've been rather mum about it all.

     I'm not exactly known for ever being at a loss for words. Yet, here I am.  Apparently, it is noticeable. A dear friend noticed and teased me about it. The Evil Genius noticed and tried to fix it by giving me a very Evil Genius-like list of potential blogpost topics.  (How much do I love this kid?!)  Another of my dearest friends noticed, and has been VERY worried that something must be terribly wrong.

     I'm okay.  Truly I am.  I'm actually in a better place than I have been in for a while.  I'm still just fumbling to find the words to articulate it.  Okay?

To reassure you, here are a few of the small joys I have caught in the past day or so:

  • The cocker spaniel challenged me to a game of tag yesterday morning.  He's adorably frustrating and his evasive maneuvers make me grin like a fool every time.
  • I had a terrific lunch break with one of my sisterfriends this week.  It brightened my spirits and broke up my work day delightfully.
  • I caught up on my filing, so my Cubicle-of-Doom no longer poses an avalanche threat.
  • I finally fit into the shirt that my seamstress friend in Rwanda made for me.
  • The weather was clear enough to be wowed by last night's Harvest Moon.
  • There will be a brand new "Other Favorite Great Niece" in the family imminently.  The niece and nephew in Florida are delivering their first baby today!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

There is Nothing Truer Than This: You Cannot Be Replaced

     Today, my thoughts are with those who suffer or love someone who suffers from serious depression.  I'm slogging through a challenging time in my life, but I know that it will get better.  I absolutely do. Too many people do not believe this about their own struggles, though.  When the dark descends upon them, they cannot believe that there will ever be any light again.  This is because depression lies.  It lies loud and it is overpowering.  It paralyzes a person in fear and hopelessness.  It makes someone believe that the world would be better without her or without him.  That is the worst of all the lies that are ever told.

     This week is National Suicide Prevention Week and across the country, some truly wonderful organizations are working hard to remind everyone that they are out there all the time, willing and able to help shine a light on someone's darkest days--true life savers like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or The Samaritans.

   Last year, my daughter (the smart, brave, strong, and beautiful Thing 1) encouraged me to join her in the To Write Love On Her Arms campaign to promote awareness of life-threatening depression.  This year, the organization is conducting an amazingly powerful campaign  "You Cannot Be Replaced."  Because, where depression lies, the truth is that there is nobody else like you in the world.  You are irreplaceable. You offer the world something unique that nobody else can. As the scripture states, "You are fearfully and wonderfully made."


I cannot be replaced, because:


  •  I am the only one who can who can get Seamus off of the furniture. 
  •  I am the only one can answer the 80's pop culture questions when the Awesome Aunts & Cool Cousins go  to play bar trivia. 
  •  I am the only one who remembers that the Christmas Album doesn't make itself. 
  •  I am the only one who can take in the foster adults and make them part of the family.  
  •  I am the only one in my family who has been to Africa.  Twice.
  •  I am the only one who turn anything into an occasion for a theme party.
  •  I am the only one who can be my mother's daughter. 
  •  I am am the only one who can be Thing 1's, Thing 2's, and the Evil Genius' mother.  







     Consider what it is that makes you irreplaceable.  Then consider sharing your story.  Who knows who it will reach or the impact it will have.  


     

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

It's New Year's Eve at My House

     Today is the last day of summer vacation for the Evil Genius.  Everyone I know has already sent their kids back to school.  My great nephew in Denver (great because he is my niece's son AND because he is made entirely of awesome) has been back to school for almost a month already.  The niece and nephews (also entirely awesome) in Maine went back last week.  All of my coworkers' children are back to school. Thing 1's Marine started his first college class last night.  Thing 1 starts her final semester as an undergrad today.  The Evil Genius, though, has one more day of freedom.

     He's totally going to waste it.

     If he didn't look just like me, I'd swear this kid got switched in the hospital for someone else's.  Left to his own devices, this boy is going to let the day fritter away (most likely in front of screens, ugh).  Because he is in middle school--7th grade starts tomorrow--I'm not even allowed to make Last Day of Summer Vacation Plans for him.  That is apparently too horrible a fate to comprehend.  So, instead, I gave him a list of chores that he will likely ignore until minutes before I come home from work. Sigh.

     I'm not entirely sure why this bother's me so much.  My Personal Chef tells me I should just let him have a final, lazy day.  It goes against my very nature, though.  I have this compulsive need to celebrate, or at least observe some recognition of transitions.  I have always been like this.  I hadn't yet elevated the "marking a transition with a celebration" to an art, yet, but I always made a fuss.

     When I was the Evil Genius' age, my neighborhood friends and I made a pact to wear summer vacation right out.  On the final day of summer, we were out the door and on our bikes right after breakfast.  We'd be on the run all day, stopping only for a baloney and cheese on white bread sandwich and a popsicle.  We'd build forts in the woods, jump off the rope swing into the lake, hold a kickball tournament, wade through the swamp to get to the giant rock that we'd defy gravity to climb, and  spend all of our loose change on bubble gum and Pixie Stix and Slush Puppies. The really cool kids would stare death in the eye as they skate boarded down The Hill on Tucker Road. This was our last chance to squeeze in summer vacation, man!

     At dusk, though, it was over.  At dusk, we all went home for dinner and we started to count down the new year.  I know the calendar says the year starts for us on January 1, but in reality, this final night of summer vacation before school starts is our New Year's Eve.  So after our final day on bikes/ in the woods/at the ball fields/in the lake we'd all go home and start obsessing over our first-day-of-school-wardrobe selection.  We'd pack and unpack our Trapper Keepers.  We'd call our bestest friend and discuss said wardrobe selections AND where to sit at lunch, crush potentials, rumors we've heard about the new-to-us teachers, discuss strategies for managing the quick change from our cool clothes to our heinous gym uniforms and back again. We'd make resolutions:

  • this year I'll do my homework as soon as I get home from school 
  • this year I'm going to make the starting squad on the team
  • this year I'm going to kiss [name of the unrequited love interest here]
  • this year I'm going to be awesome...


   
 

Happy New Year!

Prosperity and Awesomeness for you all!

     

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Late in the Game, I'm Starting to Count Joys

     Just before the start of 2013, Ann Voskamp over at  A Holy Experience dared the world to count 1000 gifts--3 gifts that bring you joy a day, every day for the year.  To help folks out, she even created an app and published a journal for tracking the found joys, and sends out a monthly list of prompts.  I just discovered the challenge last night.  So, I am too late to be included in the related contest (one collector will win a new camera!), but I figured I would share and forward the dare onto us all.
     Those of you who know me, have often heard me talk about "catching the joyful moments."  And when things are really bad, I'll encourage you to, "Quick!  List 5 things that don't suck,"  as a reminder that not every moment of your day is ever truly hopeless.  So, this is right up my alley.
      I have a Cool Cousin to thank for introducing me to A Holy Experience.  This past year, Ann Voskamp traveled to Uganda right around the same time I was in Rwanda.   My cousin thought I would appreciate the blogposts about the trip.   I did.  The writing about her experiences was deeply moving.  Her other posts about daily life as a home-schooling, farmer's wife are also moving.   And then I found the dare to Count 1000 Gifts.  I believe I may have found a kindred spirit.  Go meet her for yourself.  And consider taking up her challenge.

     Today's prompt: 3 gifts yellow...


  • The black-eyed susans taking over the corner of my badly neglected perennial bed simply delight me.
  • The way it feels when Thing 1, Thing 2 and the Evil Genius  tease me when I pick yet another shade of yellow to paint some part of the house.  Currently, the exterior, the living room, the hallway, the upstairs hallway, and the upstairs bath are all shades of yellow.  I love that we are a family that laughs together.
  • Brand new yellow crayons (and all the rest of them) symbolize back-to-school for me. It's probably my favorite time of year.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Fall of Fabulosity

     The Evil Genius and I spent this final weekend of summer vacation up at the lake with my parents.  We had a wonderful, wonderful time in the woods and on the water.  There was hiking and biking.  There was cruising in the Black Pearl for my boy, kayaking for me.  Grampie took the Evil Genius and I out to Steamboat Island to see the remains of a 100-year-old ship wreck.  There was skee ball at the arcade. I visited a dear friend who took me to her "grocery store"--a local farm--and then fed me ice cream for lunch.  (THAT is a good friend!)  The Evil Genius twisted Grampie's arm and went water skiing.
     This morning, we drove for two hours to spend the afternoon with my brother-in-law's clan.  So. Much. Joy.  Nieces, nephews, great-nephews and a great niece.  Too much food.  Fresh lobster. (Did I mention that one of my nephews works a lobster boat off the coast of Maine?) Tickle fights and ping pong and family pictures and sword play (because a pair of great-nephews were pirates for a bit).
     And so the summer comes to an end.  Upon review, my FabFam has managed to cross off a bit over 50% of the items off of the Official Summer of Awesomeness To Do List.  Everyone agrees that the summer was  indeed awesome AND that the OSoATDL was a great idea.  The Evil Genius decided we should just keep going.  "You know, An Awesome Autumn To Do List or something like that."  And so, the Official Fall of Fabulosity To Do List is now accepting submissions.  On the list so far:

*Get passports (for Thing 1, Thing 2 and the Evil Genius--because they'll need them to go to Niagara Falls and to Rwanda).

* Run a 5K (We're planning on doing a Color Run in Providence this October with some of our Cool Cousins.)

*Get our History Geek On--walking the Freedom Trail in Boston and taking the Quincy Adams Presidential Tour.  (The Evil Genius has never done it.  Walking up the stairs of John Adams' house gave me goosebumps the first time I went.  I cannot wait to go with him.)

*Make apple butter.  (The apples on our tree are too ugly to do much of anything else with them!)

*Go away on a Girls' Weekend.  (My sisterfriends suggested this by text while I was stuck in holiday traffic.  I'm all in favor of it.)

*Go to the Big E AND to the Freyburg Fair.  I'm an all-day sucker for a good county fair and these are two of the best going.

How was your summer, friends?  And what are you looking forward to doing this Fall?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Baby is a Teenager!?!

    It's official.  My baby boy, the Evil Genius, is really a teenager.  This momentus occasion was marked in style.  By all accounts the Glow-in-the-Dark Hot Tub Dance Party (oontz oontz oontz oontz) Birthday Rave was a smashing success.



     This morning, my basement looks like Willy Wonka's factory had an explosion, what with all the candy wrappers everywhere.  The backyard is a mess of silly string and abandoned glow sticks.  There are glow-in-the dark stars, planets, animals, and zombies all over my patio furniture.  And there is a trail of pizza sauce stains and potato chip crumbs--the only signs that there was any food for these boys at all.  It really was like a mass of locusts descended on the picnic table.

 




     The Evil Genius is pretty pleased with the results.  It met all his criteria for "epic 13th birthday party."  So, we have that going for us.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Can't You Hear the Bass Line?

   In a few more hours, the Evil Genius and one of his buddies are hosting a joint 13th birthday party.  Actually, according to them, it's a Glow-in-the-Dark, Hot Tub, Dance Party (oontz, oontz, oontz, oontz)  Birthday Rave.

I stand corrected.  

    My house is plenty clean enough for a dozen teenage boys and almost clean enough for their Mamas.

  There are marshamallow peeps to roast on the bonfire, glow sticks, glow-in-the-dark bubbles, stars, planets, and zombies, a totally fabulous glow-in-the-dark piƱata, a dozen cans of silly string, birthday cake, my Personal Chef's famous hand-tossed pizza, some day-glow colored drink concoction, Thing 2's mad DJing skills, and the centerpiece of the Oasis of Awesomeness--the hot tub.

     I think I'm going to take some pre-emptive ibuprofen and double-check to make sure that everything breakable is put someplace safe.

If you don't hear from me in the next few days, come looking for me in the rubble, would you?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Summer of Awesomeness Super Awesome Edition

  What. A. Week.  We crossed off a whole bunch of amazing things from the 
Official Summer of Awesomeness To Do List.

    Last weekend, we went down the Cape  (that's Cape Cod to you folks who are not from the northeastern part of the United States).  For generations, my father's clan has gathered in Falmouth, Massachusetts to spend time at the beach, eat fried clams and lobster rolls (that's lobster salad in a hot dog roll), ride bikes, go for walks, play board games, drink a smidge too much perhaps, laugh a lot, and have a wonderful time.  We did all that and more.




    On Sunday, we got to cheer on a Cool Cousin for running her first Falmouth Road Race.  It's 7.15 miles of winding, seaside roads, lined with happy people cheering her and all 12,000+ runners.  It was the furthest she had ever gone and she did it with a smile.  She was a last minute substitute for her cousin who runs it annually, but has a stress fracture in his foot.  Because he runs for a great cause--Compassionate Care for ALS--the family didn't want to bail.  Hurray for Cool Cousins who will run their furthest just because it's the right thing to do!



     While she ran, we raised money and cheered.  Because supporting Compassionate Care for ALS is definitely the right thing to do.  The folks there are wonderful and caring on a level that is exceptional, even for charitable organizations.  When my Uncle Tom was sick with this heinously cruel disease, Compassionate Care for ALS provided adaptive technology that made it possible for Tom to stay home, and ongoing support for his family to keep on keeping on when it was really too hard for anyone to do it alone. To learn more about this organization, click here.

     We played in the sand and the surf.  There were boogie boards and sand pails and preschoolers bossing college graduates around.  There were blankets and chairs and umbrellas and towels.  There was plenty of sunblock for kids, not quite enough for adults (or at least this adult, I burnt to a crisp).




     We watched the sun set into the sea.  It's a family tradition, one that I had never been a part of before, so I found it to be especially heartwarming.  After a perfect, post-race beach day, the FabFam gathered drinks and snacks and sweatshirts and blankets.  We talked about everything and nothing.  We snacked and drank and sang and poked fun at one another.  And we watched the beautiful sunset, until the sun disappeared into the sea.  (I got to do this again with my family on Wednesday night, too.  I can see why my Aunts keep doing it!)



     We watched the Perseids Meteor Shower from blankets on the beach.  It was a perfectly clear night, and the sliver of a moon set into the sea around 10 PM, making the conditions perfect for seeing the vastness of the universe at it's most wondrous.  The Evil Genius proclaimed it the best bit of the entire summer.  I'm inclined to agree.

     There was more biking and walking and beaching and picnicing and delighting in each other's company all week long.

     And that's not all of it!  On Thursday morning, to celebrate the Evil Genius turning 13, my Personal Chef, Thing 2 and I drove all the way to the other end of Massachusetts to the Berkshire Mountains.  There, the men I love ziplined  for three hours, across the valley.  I did not join them.  While I am not afraid of heights, I do have a fear of falling.  (Hey, I cannot explain it either.)  So, three years ago, when celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary, I did this exact same zipline adventure with my Personal Chef.  It was one of the most remarkable things I've ever done.  As it took everything I had in me to step off of the platform before every run, I didn't see any point in doing it again.

     Instead, I spent the afternoon wandering through the hidden gem of a town--Shelburne Falls.  It is an old mill town built on the Deerfield River.  Today, it has a thriving art community.  So, I spent several joyful hours in galleries.  I befriended a local potter and her adorable dog. I also finally experienced the Bridge of Flowers.  The FabFam often travels to this part of the country.  I've read about the Bridge of Flowers, but had never seen it for myself until this Thursday.  In 1908, there was a trolley bridge built across the river.  It was decommissioned in the mid-1920s.  Dismayed with the eyesore, the local gardening club took it upon themselves to covering the span with plantings.  Nearly 100 years later, the garden club still maintains the Bridge of Flowers.  It is so stunning, it made me tear up as I walked across it.  It was really wonderful to spent that much time just looking at beautiful things.

     I stopped off at a local market to pick up a picnic dinner then gathered my menfolk from the mountain.  From there, we trekked to Tanglewood to see Yo Yo Ma, Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer and Stuart Duncan, aka The Goat Rodeo Sessions.  They were joined on vocals by local girl, Aoife O'Donovan.  It was a phenomenal show.


     Over the weekend, my Personal Chef, the Evil Genius and I got out on our bikes and got the kayaks out on the Blackstone River.  It was an 8 mile bike ride, but only a mile or so on the kayaks.  The river is low and the lily pads are high...

     Finally, we finalized plans for the Evil Genius' Epic Thirteenth Birthday Extravaganza.    It's a Glow-in-the-Dark, Hot Tub, Dance Party set to go off this Saturday night.

So, how's your Summer of Awesomeness Going?

Friday, August 9, 2013

Dream a Little Dream

      Most of my dreams are just wisps of a vision and they vaporize with the morning sun.  Once in a while, though, I will have a dream that really gets to me.  I had such a dream about Rwanda the other night.  It is still with me this morning, two days later.
     Well, I say that the dream is still with me, but really what I mean is that the feeling it evoked is still with me.  I can't actually remember anything about the dream except that I was walking along a red clay road.  I don't remember now where the road was.  I don't know where I was going.  I just know I was happy to be walking.  I also remember the smell of the air.  Rwanda has a distinctive smell, like barbecue almost.  I remember snippets of sound--so many birds, cow bells, the deep tones of Kinyarwanda and French being spoken by people who were out of my line of vision, and music--East African pop music with it's synthesizers and mellow dance rhythm.
     And once again I am homesick for someone else's home.  I cannot explain the feeling beyond saying that it is a deep longing.  I am really looking forward to traveling with my family next summer, and showing them this place I love.  I worry a little that they won't be as captivated by Rwanda, that it won't get into their souls the way it is now a part of mine.  Then I smile to myself, imagining my children and my husband discovering the gifts of this beautiful nation for themselves.







Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Goodnight, Sleep Tight

     One of the most challenging, and simultaneously the most rewarding, part of caring for infants--either my own or in my classroom--was nap time.    Sleeping babies are among the world's most precious treasures.

       At work, to help get 4-9 tiny ones to sleep at once, I employed a time honored tradition that all the cool early childhood professionals know--the naptime tape. There are plenty of lullaby tapes on the market and local musicians are always trying to busk their latest compilation at early childhood conferences.  In a pinch, the third side of the Beatles White Album makes an excellent playlist for sending kiddos off to sleep.  The best teachers, though, skipped the ready-to-play naptime tapes preferring to put together their own special mix tapes.  Back in the dark ages (before iPods), it took significant effort to create the soundtrack to peace and quiet.  And in many child care centers, the competition to create the best naptime tape is fierce.  
(This is the subject for another blogpost, but I promise to one day tell you how I vanquished the toddler teacher who insisted that a Madonna mix could touch the Beatles with a vengeful hour of over a dozen covers of "Blackbird.")

     My naptime mix has evolved over the years to include a mix of classical, classic rock, gospel, and folk tunes guaranteed to lull my wee charges to sleep.  When my own children were babies, it was these songs that I would sing over the cradle, or while I walked miles and miles in circles around the house to comfort a fussy one.  When my cousins and nieces and girlfriends' children started having babies, I made up CDs of my naptime mix to add to their shower presents.  I would like to think that one day my own children will sing, or at least play, these same songs to my grandbabies.

Miss Kristen's Naptime Mix

Blackbird (Beatles)



Freight Train (Peter, Paul & Mary)


Whistling Gypsy Rover (Tommy Makem & the Clancy Brothers)



Ripple (Grateful Dead)



You Can Close Your Eyes (James Taylor)


Three Little Birds (Bob Marley)


The Garden Song (Pete Seeger)



Welcome to the Family (Kids Praise 3)















Monday, August 5, 2013

Smitten

     This weekend, I fell head over heels in love.  He's got soft, brown hair, and big, blue eyes.  After a whirlwind romance, he spent two hours in my arms.  It was heaven.  I can't wait until our next date.

Baby D arrived in our family on the first day of summer.  He's my cousin's first child.  And he's perfect.

I'm not just a one-baby girl, though, and yesterday, I spent the day with another cousin's babies--8-month-old Marshmallow  Man and his super groovy 4-year-old big brother, the Little Lebowski.  These fellas have had me wrapped around their little fingers since they first arrived on the scene.

  It's been too long since I've spent this much time with babies.  I forgot how much I love them.  I mean I really, really love babies.  I made a career out of caring for them, of training other infant caregivers, and working with parents through pregnancy and the early years with their babies.  Two years ago I took another job--that I do in fact love--working with hunger relief programs at a food bank.  It's a wonderful job doing really good work that helps a lot of people.  I get to work with church food pantries and social service agencies and afterschool programs and shelters.  It's not working with babies, though.

It was good to be reminded of my first love.  I am okay with not making my living in the baby biz.  I am defnitely going to have to spend more time with these three lover boys, though.


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Living Like a Rock Star

     For a woman-of-a-certain-age who has been complaining about being tired and achy and old, I have had a real run of good times.  Y'all heard about my adventures with Bon Jovi.  Then my FabFam, amazing friends (as I promised, this includes you and yours, Paul), and  I just kept rocking on.

There were margaritas with a childhood acquaintance who is becoming an adult friend on Thursday.  Dinner, drinks--and most importantly--dessert with a bunch of friends on Friday.



A whirlwind trip to New Hampshire for some time on the boat, lunch with my brother and his best girl, and the Toga Party to End All Toga Parties on Saturday.









I was part of a posse of 15 incredible women who saw Phil Vassar in concert on Sunday.  What a great show!  The whole band just looked like they were having a terrific time.  They totally seem like guys you'd want to hang out with.  And did I mention that Phil Vassar really knows how to fill out a pair of jeans?





Trekked to Boston on Monday for a Red Sox game.  Discovered that My Personal Chef "knows a guy", so we were able to get into the Royal Rooters Club for dinner and then get special seating on the Budweiser Roof Top Deck.








Yesterday, I was actually happy to just go for a run and sit in the hot tub after work. I have been doing a lot of complaining lately, but on the balance, my life really does not suck!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Whirlwind

     Dinner with friends on Friday.  Road trip to NH for a lunch with my brother, time on the boat, and a toga party yesterday.  Phil Vassar concert with an amazing group of women today, followed by dinner with friends tonight.  So, I'm a wee bit wiped out and not up to a thoughtful post.  There will be toga party pictures in the next few days.  I promise!

     Sweet dreams, friends!