Thursday, June 4, 2015

Catching the Small Joys--Going to the Chapel Edition

 I think I've mentioned a time or two that my remarkable mama really knows how to celebrate big.  So, it should come as no surprise that she is marking the occasion of the 25th wedding anniversaries of both her & my stepdad AND me & my Personal Chef with a vow renewal ceremony in Las Vegas.  Here are some of the joys I've caught getting ready for this fandango:

  • For starters, the generosity of my mama for gifting me and my Personal Chef, along with my brother and his partner-in-crime with not only the trip, but also with the deluxe Hound Dog Ceremony at the Doo Wop Diner Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel. That's right. We are getting the full-on, Elvis-themed experience. It might not be your cup of tea, but it absolutely delights me to get to play along with my mama.

Photo courtesy: Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapels

  • With a minimum of eye-rolling, my kids have been going along with the fun. I came home one afternoon last week to find that the Evil Genius had put on a "Golden Oldies Classic Hits of the 50s" station to help get into the proper mindset. The family debate about Black Leather Elvis, Blue Hawaii Elvis, and Fat Jumpsuit Elvis has been epic.
  • Thing 1 and her Best Guy have volunteered to take care of the Evil Genius and the dogs while we are away. Thing 2 promises to help (or at least not burn the house down.)

  • The back and forth with my Favorite House Guest--who lives in Las Vegas--has me giddy.  It's been over a year since we've been together. I am really looking forward to seeing her. That she'll be joining in the shenanigans just tickles me.

Photo courtesy: Deposit Photos

  • I will admit to doing a little happy dance when the UPS guy delivered my Personal Chef's Daddy-O Dress Shirt.

  • My sisterfriends have gone above and beyond the call of duty as Fake Bridesmaids.  There was the incredible evening of dress shopping.  They found the perfect Audrey-Hepburnesque, white eyelet swing dress AND black patent leather Mary Janes that give me that perfect rockabilly bride vibe.  Then, despite being dreadfully ill, my seamstress sisterfriend took some measurements, gave me and Thing 1 a shopping list and sent us off to the fabric store. The next morning, I returned to find she had lovingly put together a teal blue tulle petticoat to complete the look. There has been much giggling about the wedding night lingerie, and secret conversations that I am not allowed to be a part of, and all sorts of glorious bridal party hoopla. I hear that they are gathering together to watch the ceremony by live stream, then whoop it at a Faux Reception, because they are made entirely out of awesome. I have been completely overwhelmed by the love. I am blessed beyond words by it all.

So, in less than two weeks, I get to go on a trip with my FabFam, 
visit with my Favorite House Guest, 
tease my mama & stepdad about being so freaking mushy after all these years, 
have Elvis help me say, "I still do" to the guy 
I cannot imagine going through life without
 (because, yeah, we're a bit mushy, too), 
and revel in the notion that back home, 
there are amazing folks loving the stuffing out of me.  

That's a whole lotta joy right there.  What's filled your heart this week?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Small Town, USA

     A decade ago, our family moved from a small city to a really small, rural town.  Somewhere in the assimilation process, I missed a step.  I had no trouble adapting to the environment.  Turns out I was born to be a country girl. All those cows and turkeys and vegetable gardens that make up my 'hood suit me just fine.   Somehow, though, I never quite became a member of my little community.  My work continued to be out-of-town, and my social life continued to revolve around the same people and organizations I have been engaged with for years.  So, while I have met some terrific folks--some neighbors, my children's friend's parents, fellow marching band program volunteers--I have never quite become a real part of this community where I call home.

Photo courtesy:

     Then I spent this past school year substitute teaching. Many of the teachers and administrators actually live here in town, too, and I've come to know them pretty well. I have to admit it feels good to be greeted warmly when I come into a school building, or to be invited to join a colleague/neighbor for lunch in the staff room.

Photo courtesy of  Blackstone/Millville Parents Group

     Last weekend, I chaperoned the marching band during the Memorial Day Parade. I have done lots of things as a Band Mom, but I have never been the water-bottle-toting chaperone before. It was a revelation of the most heart-filling kind.

Photo courtesy of BMR Band Announcements

     My town is a nice mix of working class and middle class families. They are folks who have lived here for generations, or wanted their children to grow up in that kind of place--a town where families set down roots. My town is the kind of community where whole families gather together to watch the parade. Houses are draped in bunting and flags. Mothers dress their children in red, white, and blue. I've lived here for a decade and somehow missed that. I'm glad I finally caught it.

Photo courtesy of BMR Band Announcements

     Because I have always watched this parade from a prime spot near the end of the route, where the ceremonies honoring our war dead take place (including a very moving ritual where a wreath is released into the Blackstone River by veterans), I had no idea what the start of the parade was like. I was touched to discover that it begins just beyond the town's nursing home. Every year, the residents sit on the home's front porch to watch the parade go by. And every year, the high school band director makes a point of having the kids stop long enough to play through their patriotic songs in their entirety before moving on down the parade route.

Photo courtesy: BMR Band Announcements

     One of the most wonderful, and totally unexpected parts of the experience was the number of people who called my name out in greeting. The MOST wonderful part was the number of school children who gave a shy wave and the children who squealed out, "Hi, Mrs. Allen!"  and "Mommy, that's Mrs. Allen from my school!"

Photo courtesy: BMR Band Announcements

     It's taken me a while to figure it out, but I think I'm going to like it here.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Catching the Small Joys--School Days Edition

I'm still something of a hot mess, but it feels like I've turned a corner. Here are some of the joyful bits that have helped get me there:

  • Having a pack of kindergartners from several different classrooms run up to me on the playground at recess to give hugs, high fives, and various other forms of exuberant greetings. 

  • A teacher I covered for came back to the class at the end of the day to thank me for taking such good care of her class. 

  • The reluctant reader I've been tutoring spent about 10 minutes negotiating the number of pages of Charlie & the Chocolate Factory he would have to read to me. I finally agreed to  swap off with him after six pages. He started to read and the magic I had been hoping to conjure for months now finally struck. He lost count of pages and instead got captured by the story. TWENTY-EIGHT pages later, he finished the book. It wasn't until I was on my way out the door that I even told him how much he had read.

  • I was wowed by a group of six-year-olds who really got into the Story Tag Game--one person starts a story, another person picks up the thread and moves the story along, etc.  The students demonstrated tremendous creativity--a Sasquatch came to school and got hurt on the swing so the nurse called his mom to come get him. Zombies chased the class during the "Queen Mrs. Allen Day Parade" so they took the Bat Plane to space and hopped from star to star to escape. Really?! They were respectful of their fellow classmates, and suitably appreciative of the twists and turns the stories took.  (There was much laughter when the Sasquatch was playing video games in his underwear.) It was almost too much fun to be considered work.

  • A sweet little girl was really struggling to get through a class assignment. I sat next to her, thinking she just needed some adult supervision to help her to focus on the work, only to discover that she really did not understand it. We looked at the problems from a number of different angles before the Aha! Moment came, at which point, she impulsively jumped up and gave me a big hug and a thank you.

What little joys have you caught this week?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Catching the Small Joys--Music That Made Me Edition

Rolling Stone just did a cool series "The Music That Made Me," where they asked a bunch of musicians to list the songs that really influenced them.   Then a bunch of bloggers I crush on were prompted by Nancy Davis Kho at Midlife Mixtape to post lists of their own.  I have been a bit obsessed with these lists since then.  I love these peeks into the musicians' and  these writers' lives. Then when she invited me to join her with a list of my own, how could I possibly refuse?!

Music is an ever-present part of my life. There is a soundtrack to my days, and my memories are imprinted with specific songs or artists, the way one puts a label on a file folder. So, this week, I'm going to share a list of songs that bring up joyful memories, regardless of what else is happening in my day.

The soundtrack of my childhood was a mix of 60s and 70s folk and rock.  My Dad, Sir favored the Beach Boys, Irish music, and had a weird obsession with Gordon Lightfoot's "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."  My mama was more of a rocker, and to this day loves the Rolling Stones. (She  really is awesome!) My folks entertained often, and many of their friends were musical.  I fondly remember sneaking down the stairs from my bedroom to spy on the inevitable jam session.  

As a young teen, I spent hours on the blue living room rug, reading liner notes and playing favorite albums over and over. My best friends, Susan and Mary would come over and we'd pretend we were DJs on Station WKSM (or WMSK or WSMK depending on whose tape we were making). Using my Radio Shack tape deck, we'd record our own mixtapes.  They were a goofy blend of my parents' albums and my growing collection of 70s pop--Sean Cassidy, Leif Garrett, Bee Gees...  

If I had to pick the songs that made me in my beginnings it would have to be:

1. Beach Boys "Sloop John B"

2.  Rolling Stones "Satisfaction"

3. The Clancy Brothers "Whistling Gypsy Rover"

High school for me was, like for everyone I know, the best of times and the worst of times. I had lots and lots of fun, I fell in love for the first time, I suffered my share of trauma.

Through it all, music fueled the joy and soothed the angst. To this day, the opening notes of any song by Prince transports me to summer camp. (I cannot hear "Raspberry Beret" without changing the words to "Leftover Buffet.")  David Bowie's "Rebel Rebel" brings to mind my friend Monique's subversive insistence on walking up the DOWN staircase, no matter how fiercely the nuns pursed their lips disapprovingly at her. I might have driven my mother mad when I went through my Warren Zevon stage, playing the "Excitable Boy" album on repeat.  It was likely a relief when I got into 80's post-punk.   Who doesn't love the B52's, Devo, and the Talking Heads? Right? Adam Ant's "Goody Two Shoes" became something of an anthem for me.

If I had to pick a song that made me as a teenager, though, it would have to be something from Rush.  Rush's Moving Pictures Tour was my first concert. Rush was my go-to music for both drowning my sorrows and pumping me up for the next great adventure. I still love Rush today.

4. Rush "Limelight"

In college, I went to a LOT of concerts. I saw Rush every single time they came to town. I saw Lou Reed, the Talking Heads, Squeeze, the Jam, Genesis, Jackson Brown, Elvis Costello, David Bowie, the Moody Blues, Arlo Guthrie & Pete Seeger, Room Full of Blues, Little Feat, Stevie Nicks, Elton John, Peter Frampton, Bruce Springsteen, Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians, the Circle Jerks, the Dead Kennedy's, Pink Floyd, the Hooters, Def Leppard, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Tom Petty & the Heart Breakers, Bob Dylan...  I saw pretty much everyone.  

I went to my first Dead show on July 4th in 1986. It was like running off and joining the circus. From that moment, until Thing 1 was born, my vacations were built around the "East Coast Tour." 

5. Grateful Dead "The Wheel/I Need A Miracle/Uncle John's Band."

Then I met my Personal Chef. Our first real date was a doozy.  He came to my preschool classroom and did an incredible ice carving demonstration.  Then he drove me home.  Had me pack for overnight. Flew me to Montreal. (Yes, he is the most remarkable man, and I am the most blessed woman I know.)  James Taylor was on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson that night.  He played two songs off of his then new album, "Never Die Young."  Before that trip was over, I knew that I was going to love my Personal Chef for the rest of my life, and James Taylor has provided the soundtrack for that love affair for all these years since.

6. James Taylor "Sweet Potato Pie"

Becoming  a mother was transforming. No duh. It is challenging and messy and heart-breaking and the most incredible experience ever. There are so many songs that bring back the joyful moments of motherhood. Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl"  never fails to bring Thing 1 to mind. The beat of a classic merengue always reminds me of Thing 2 dancing in the kitchen.  Frank Sinatra is forever linked to the Evil Genius for me. The Chairman of the Board had magical powers that could make the lad stop crying mid-wail. If I have to pick music that made me a mom, though, it would be something from Nickel Creek. Where they are each very different individuals, all three share a love of bluegrass. Nickel Creek was Thing 1's & Thing 2's  first concert. As a teeny bean, the Evil Genius' favorite song was their version of "The Fox." (Charmingly, he--and my whole family--called this song "Bones-O".) 

7. Nickel Creek "The Fox"

Travel is a big part of my life. Part of preparing for all my trips--weekend jaunts to the lake house, road trips cross country, jet-setting around the world--includes putting together the "Road Trip Mix Tape".  It's a long-standing tradition that every playlist of travel tunes begins with this song:

8. Little Feat "Fat Man in the Bathtub"

Loss has taken a lot out of me in recent years. The grief is acute, but it is a burden I gladly bear because the love of these friends-who-became family was such a blessing to me. They--and all my sisterfriends and the Men Who Love Them--have helped make me who I am. These two tunes never fail to bring to bring them to mind in a way that is sure to make me smile.

9.  Queen "Bohemian Rhapsody"

10.  The Doors version of "Gloria"

What songs have brought you joy, my beloveds?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

In Purgatory

     I was raised Catholic, so I was taught this idea that upon one's death, a soul could spend some time in this in-between place working off the less-than-mortal sins in order to be purified enough to escape hell and enter the gates of heaven. Or at least, that's my vague understanding of Purgatory.  
     I cannot actually claim to be a particularly good Catholic.  In truth, while I was raised Catholic, I wasn't exactly faithful to my, um, faith.  I got my soul saved in the Baptist youth group my bestie belonged to; came to love religious tradition and noodle kugel while working for Jewish organizations; gleaned wisdom from a whole host of beautiful people who believe very different things from any number of faith traditions; married a roving Protestant who spent 21 years with me in a non-denominational Pentecostal congregation. About five years ago, we made the difficult decision to leave that church and have been without a faith community since.  So I get that it is entirely possible that I have no idea what I'm talking about. I do know what it is to be in an in-between place, in purgatory.  I've been living there in oh-so-many ways. 

     I'm in-between sickness and health.  
I'm not laid out like I was this fall, but I'm not back to my best. 
I am somewhere in-between working my way to fully healthy and accepting that this very well could be my best now.

      I'm in-between jobs, somewhere in the late-middle of my career. 
You know, that place where I'm overqualified for a lot of positions,
 too expensive for a lot of others?

     I'm in-between generations. 
 I'm still raising children.  I'm still my mother's child. And I see the days ahead where my mother is going to need some mothering-type care herself. 
(Accepting it is a whole other discussion that neither of us are in any hurry to have.)

I'm in-between joy and despair.  
I am mindful to catch the joyful moments as they rush by, and they are beautiful. 
I'm still hopeful for better days to come,
 but the pain of continued disappointments is acute. 

I'm in-between rage and forgiveness. 
I cannot even articulate what that looks like. It's brutal and messy.

I'm in-between a rock and a hard place.



Sunday, May 10, 2015

Catching the Small Joys--Looking Beyond Disappointment Edition

This was supposed to be the week that I gleefully shared amazing news about a string of good fortune that has come my FabFam's way. This was supposed to be the week that changed everything.  This was supposed to be the week where I wrote a made-for-tv-movie happy ending of a post.

It wasn't. This week has been, um, disappointing, to say the least. So, I have had to really work at catching the joys. Thankfully, they were there to be caught.

Here is what blessed me during this tough stretch of days:

  • The outpouring of support, the demonstration of true affection for me and my family fills my heart. It has made this week bearable.
  • The Evil Genius has had a TERRIFIC week--two concerts, scheduling the appointment to get his braces off  TOMORROW, spending time with friends, and best of all (to him) the first marching band practice of the season.  Despite it all, I am truly tickled for him.

  • A dear cousin shared the great news that she's expecting her second baby. As Don Herold said, "Babies are such a nice way to start people."
  • A first grader blew me away with her advanced reading ability.  She brought a book back from her family trip to Florida about Hope and Winter, the famous dolphins at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. It was definitely a book meant to be read to younger children, not by them. She read it flawlessly.
  • Her classmates blew me away when they cheered for her after she read it to them.

photo courtesy: Clearwater Marine Aquarium
  • All the seeds we planted--flowers and veggies--are sprouting.

  • The apple tree we thought we lost is in bloom.

  • The weather has been spectacular. There really is no place in the world as beautiful as New England on a warm spring day.
  • My husband and children, despite experiencing this week and its disappointments as acutely as I have, have been scurrying like mischievous elves to make sure that I have a Mothers' Day that is full of love and surprises and joy. The first Mothers' Day joy?  Waking up to the intoxicating scent of turkey stock.  It appears I'm getting a Thanksgiving Feast for my Mothers' Day dinner.  THAT makes me very happy, indeed.
photo courtesy: Jason Marzini

What is filling your heart this week?

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Catching the Small Joys--May Flowers Edition

Spring has finally sprung.  The joys have sprung along with them.  Here's a few of the things that have filled my heart this week:

  • The Evil Genius has struggled the first two terms of school this year. It really, really bothered him--way more than it bothered me or My Personal Chef. It has been hard to watch him beat himself up so much. Report cards came home this week and he made highest honors.  All his grades are up, but his science grade went up EIGHT percentage points. As we say in our FabFam:  Commence Smarty Pants Dance!
  • When discussing how to celebrate his hard-earned success, the Evil Genius asked for dinner at his favorite restaurant, with some of MY dearest friends. (Each of them are Smarty Pants in their own rights, who have been wonderful, nurturing examples for my nerdy,old soul son.)  That they happily obliged means more to me than I know how to express.
  • Because the Evil Genius is on a roll, I also had the absolute delight to watch him perform as part of the Massachusetts Music Educators' Association 43rd Annual Central District Junior High School Music Festival.  It is very competitive to get a seat in one of the ensembles. So, he was feeling pretty good about himself, just for making it. Having sat through years and years of student performances, my expectations were, um, realistic. I was blown away. The performances weren't good middle school performances.  They were good--really, really good--performances. 
  • An impromptu trip to Newport rewarded me with this incredibly joyful sight:  two busloads of high school students testing out their engineering skills with their homemade kites.

  • The incoming president of my Rotary Club asked me to serve as the emcee for her installation banquet. I am deeply touched and truly honored. 
  • Because I've been sick, I haven't been an active Rotarian in months and months. So, it was pretty awesome to return the week the first of the Woonsocket Rotary Days events kicked off with a spectacular Touch-a-Truck Festival.  The biggest joy?  Going for my first hot air balloon ride.

Photo courtesy: Kevin Greenough
  • I scored big on an outing to my favorite thrift store this week. My $13.00 haul included a spectacular hot pink and tangerine psychedelic tie for My Personal Chef (seriously, I think this trippy thing can be seen from space!), the cutest basket-weave purse ever, and brandy-new Clark's clogs for $5.00.  (I found them on their website for $85.00.)  I know not everyone gets a thrill out of thrifting.  That's fine.  Go ahead and write your own list of joys.  Okay? 
  • My tulips opened up this week.  Of all the flowers in my garden, the tulips bring me the most joy, because they require the most faith.  I plant them in the fall, hoping they will survive my lackadaisical planting technique, my yard of foraging critters, and the long New England winters.  This year's batch exceeded all expectations. I'm just delighted.

What has filled your hearts this week?

Thursday, April 30, 2015

I'm So Not June Cleaver

I might have to concede that I am hopeless when it comes to housewifery. 

I was taught by the best. My mother is a terrific cook, keeps a clean home, decorates seasonally, and never leaves the house without looking put together. When I was growing up, she did all this as a single mother and successful banking executive. She still had time, skill, and energy left over to have a thriving social life. Her parties are legendary. 
She set a fantastic example for me.

art credit:

It just didn't take with me, though. I have no idea why. I'm smart. I had a great teacher. I was given every opportunity--until that day in high school when my mama returned from work to find the kitchen a complete disaster.  Something in her broke, and she banished me from her kitchen, telling me that my best hope was to marry a chef. (How right she was!)  The only thing I seemed to have picked up from her was my knack for putting together a shindig.  I do know how to throw it down for an occasion.

photo credit: Tupperware

An illustration: When I was a young stay-at-home mom, my Personal Chef came in from his work one evening to hear me shrieking at a toddler Thing 1, "Stop helping me!  Just stop it!" He took the beautiful, wee imp in his arms in a hug, and over her shoulder looked at me and deadpanned, "I knew you weren't a great housekeeper when I married you. Go ahead. Get a job."

photo credit:

So, I did.  I returned to working in child care, bringing Thing 1 and Thing 2 with me. I never looked back.

For over twenty years, I have barely managed to keep the laundry done, the dishes clean, and the bathrooms in good enough shape to prevent an outbreak of disease.  My decorating projects are never quite complete. There are always piles of things that need to be put away somewhere else. Dust mocks me on every flat surface of my home. I am ashamed to look you in the eye and talk about the dog hair that rolls across my floors like big, fluffy tumbleweeds. And truth be told, if I hadn't married a chef, the kids would have ended up surviving on cereal, cold cuts, pasta and cookies. Until VERY recently, mealtimes always crept up on me like a surprise.  (What?!  It's time to feed these people again?!)

photo credit:

I've been out of work for over six months now. So, I've tried making a comeback at this homemaker business. I got off to a fantastic start. In a frantic two-day whirlwind--preparing for an out-of-town house guest--I hung the pictures that had languished in boxes for YEARS, finished painting the woodwork in the living-room, hung actual drapes, artfully filled my bookcases, and replaced the decorative throw pillows.  With that success propelling me forward, I moved into my kitchen. There, I've discovered the pleasure that other folks have long found in preparing a good meal.

art credit:

That's about as far as I've gotten, though. My bedroom makeover has been unfinished for so long that it is now time to re-redo it. I found Christmas, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, and Easter decor all co-habitating in my dining room. (Most of which I would not even own if my wonderful mother hadn't thoughtfully gifted me the pieces over the years.) Because I'm home to create them, there are even MORE piles of things that need to be put away somewhere else. The dust still mocks me. The dog fur tumbleweeds still roll by.

Just this morning, as I went to wash the pan from last night's dinner--which My Personal Chef prepared, I should note--I was thoroughly doused by the kitchen hose that has been broken for as long as we have lived in this house. (Yes, ANOTHER thing that is only a surprise to me. I get it.)  Then, my inner Heloise kicked in.  I took off my soaked sweater, and used it to mop the floor. Brilliant, right?! I might get this housewife thing down after all.

photo credit Pinterest

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Catching the Small Joys--Bigger Than Expected Joys Edition

What. A. Week.  My heart overflows. Like any week, there have been difficult moments and joyful moments.  A few of those joyful bits left me gobsmacked:

  • Thanks to the wonders of technology, I got to hear my Personal Chef putting his best foot forward in a presentation. Not that I doubted it, but he was absolutely fantastic. To see him so excited about a professional opportunity is pretty incredible, too. 

  • I got connected to Girl Noticed. This project speaks to me in a powerful way.

  • I finally met this little bundle of wonder. Born prematurely with a few complications, at two months old, she is finally 7 lbs. I held her until my arms fell asleep. I love her, her mama, and her Papa Smurf (her grandfather) more than I can say.

  • I spent a working lunch with the coolest 10-soon-to-be-11-year-old going.  Together we planned a Dr. Who-themed birthday party that is sure to rip a hole in the fabric of time it is going to be so awesome.

  • I was gifted with more time to love. A dear friend's life threatening health scare had a happy ending.

  • My second favorite harbinger of spring--the official proclamation of "ice out" on Lake Winnepesaukee was declared.  That's the day that the ice has melted enough for the Mt. Washington to make her complete run around the lake. 

photo courtesy of

  • The first blooms in my garden all appeared this week--the forsythia, the hidden hyacinths, the creeping myrtle, the weeping cherry, the daffodils, and this one, early-bird tulip.

  • The veggie beds got tilled, composted, and planted.

  • I rebuilt the fire pit. Sacrificing the first Peep* of the season under a beautiful night sky was the perfect way to end a day of hard work. *Years ago, we upgraded from toasting plain old marshmallows to toasting Peeps on a campfire.  Try it.  They morph into fantastic shapes, and, if done right, they taste like creme brulee.  And if you get it wrong, the colored sugar turns the flames into great colors. Either way,  you can't lose.

What has filled your heart this week?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

What Do You Notice?

     We are absolutely inundated with visual stimuli that vies for our attention. Entire industries are dedicated to capturing images, packaging images, transmitting images, branding images, correcting/changing/updating images, getting the most hit counts for your images...

     I bring this up, because whether we like this or not, the truth is that in our culture we invest in what matters to us. And according to our spending habits, we are overwhelmingly concerned about what we look like, and how that look is perceived by others.

     This is true in all areas of American life, but for the purposes of this blogpost, I'm going to focus on women's personal appearance, okay? A simple Google search on "women spending on appearance" comes up with 62,100,000 links. In the first few links I clicked, Huffington Post articles note that American women spend $426 BILLION a year on beauty products and treatments.  Lea Goldman from MarieClaire talks about the unfair business practices targeted at women, resulting in $151 BILLION in mark-ups that men do not pay for the equivalent products marketed to males.  The Today Show revealed that on top of spending their money on products, the average American woman spends two weeks of their time a year on selecting clothes. Judging by the way we spend our money and our time, women, clearly, have accepted the messages about image.

     Only every woman I know is so much more than our image. We are more than our hair style and the clothes we wear and our skin regimen.  We are more than the vehicle we drive and the place we get our coffee and our magazine subscriptions. We are absolutely more than the color of our skin or the language we were first taught at home. We teach children, heal the sick, run corporations, write poems.  We grow vegetables and flowers. We develop policy and draft legislation.   We start families. We worship. We build communities. We make mistakes. We fail at some of our relationships. We suffer losses. Sometimes we give up.

We experience the entire gamut of the human experience. 
We are so much more than what we look like.

     I don't actually have a problem with women (anyone, actually) cultivating their image. It's part of what makes each of us ourselves. Personally, I love getting my hair done, and a new skirt can make my whole day. The problem is when we all make our value judgments about each other based solely on our look. There is a lot of great work going on right now, bringing attention to that--especially in regards to women.

     Here is one project that has especially resonated with me, though. Florida artist, Lori Pratico, and photographer, Elizabeth Sanjuan, have founded Girl Noticed.  Over the next three years, Lori and Elizabeth will be traveling to create mural-sized, charcoal portraits of local women in all 50 states. The subjects of these portraits are allowed to voice what it is about themselves that they wish the world noticed.   Designed to be an interactive project, viewers of the murals will also be able to add their own notes about what they want noticed about themselves. The installations already done in Florida and Michigan have been powerful and impacting. I cannot tell you how excited I am to be even tangentially involved in this important creative work.

     You, too, can get involved in this project.  Check out their website. Make a financial donation. Submit a story about why you or another woman in your life would make a good subject for a portrait. Offer up the exterior of your business as a site for a mural. Visit one of the installations and add a note of your own. Most importantly, make the effort to notice, really, fully notice the women in your life.





Sunday, April 19, 2015

Catching the Small Joys--a weekly round up

Even the worst days have moments of joy.  They do. I promise you they do.  Here are some of the joys that blessed my socks off this week:

  • Having a preschooler announce to the entire class on Monday that it was my birthday*, then having the entire group scramble to make pretend birthday cake and gifts.  I am now the proud owner of multiple pretend hammers, a new baby doll, and a Thomas the Tank Engine. I was really hoping for a Percy, but I can't complain.  This impromptu birthday party rocked!    *My birthday is actually in December. 
  • Spending a delightful hour or so wandering through a couple of my local garden shops.

  • Spending two self-indulgent afternoons engaged in some serious dirt therapy.  My window boxes are now filled with cheerful pansies, my perennial beds are cleaned out.  The potted tulips and daffodils from Easter are transplanted into the yard. I got my morning glories and cutting flower seeds planted.  

  • Discovering these little daisy cousins--bellis.  Don't you think that they look like the flowers from Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who ?  I simply had to have them in my perennial bed.

  • Sending the Evil Genius off on his 8th grade class trip to Washington, DC.
  • Spending a morning shopping for baby shower presents with Thing 1.  I do not spend nearly enough time with my firstborn.  
  • Adventuring with My Personal Chef on a Progressive Supper Date Night.  Three restaurants in three different cities in one night.  So. Much. Fun. 

What filled your hearts this week, my beloveds?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Managing My Yes

 I have these dear friends in Rwanda who are married with three beautiful daughters, a large, close-knit extended family, and satisfying careers that fulfill them. They are so obviously happy together.  It's adorable. When they first told me the story of how they fell in love, I was gobsmacked.  Forget that they came together in the immediate aftermath of the Rwandan Genocide. Their story is charming and romantic on its own, in any place and any time.

For him, it was love at first sight. 
For her, not so much.  

See, she's practical, thoughtful, and fiercely independent. She's not exactly distrustful, but she certainly doesn't rush into relationships of any sort.  (I suspect she was like that before genocide undid her world.) Undaunted, he pursued her patiently, gently, relentlessly.  For over a year he tried to get her attention and woo her.  For over a year she refused him. Another man would have given up and moved on.  

Another man wasn't in love with her, though. 

He had a powerful ally in his quest--one of her sisters.  Together, they worked out a plan that they hoped would finally win his true love's heart.  He would throw her a surprise birthday party.  He got all the friends and family gathered at her favorite spot at the home of a beloved uncle. This was several hours from her home in Kigali, mind you, so it involved him making several round trips to get all the party guests there, all while keeping the party a secret.  He arranged for all the food and drink and music. This man really went all out. After the party was done (and deemed a smashing success), he made several more round trips to get everyone back home.  

Late that night, he received a text from her that simply said, "Yes."

He was over the moon.  
She was happily anxious.

What she said next to me, was striking,
 "So, now I had to figure out how to manage my yes."  

What an incredible turn of a phrase, right? It really gets to the heart of commitment. Beyond the giddiness of being smitten, there is the practical, ongoing, active demonstrations of your loyalty, of your steadfastness, of your love. It's doing the endless loads of laundry, working overtime to pay the bills, biting your tongue when you really want to criticize, making the apology when you weren't able to bite it...

Managing your yes. 

I love to say yes.  I say it all the time. I often say it without giving it much--or any--thought at all.  I dive headlong into relationships.  I enthusiastically sign onto a project. I volunteer for pretty much anything anyone asks of me. Very frequently, I say yes to things that I cannot realistically manage, because truthfully  I'm too busy or too ill-equipped for them. 

Lately, I've been thinking about the people and things I have said yes to. It shames me to realize how often I have let someone down simply because I didn't consider my yes to them or their project a commitment I've made. So, I'm trying to be more mindful of the yeses I say. 

I'm finding it to be a lovely lens to see the world through. It turns burdensome tasks into practical demonstrations of affection when I see them as part of managing a yes I said to someone. It makes it much easier to say no to something I think is a worthy project when I see it as a commitment that I cannot meet.  

I'm learning to manage my yes.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Catching the Small Joys--a weekly round up

Even the worst days have moments of joy.  They do. I promise you they do.  Here are some of the joys that blessed my socks off this week:

  • Spending a morning with some of the best minds and biggest hearts in early childhood care & education.  Whenever I spent time with these folks, I always leave feeling inspired and encouraged.
  • Sitting on the screen porch watching the first Red Sox games of the season.  Especially delightful is the fact that the Sox are already up 2 games to nothin' over the Yankees. 

Photo courtesy of

  • Joining my sisterfriends and the Men & Boys Who Love Them in a high school auditorium, because one of our sons was the lead in the school musical.

  • Getting in a good walk along the shore, taking a break to listen to the changing tide and clanging sailboat rigging, returning just ahead of a rainstorm.
photo courtesy of Goddard State Park

  • Being a substitute kindergarten teacher for a day.  Having one of the little boys spontaneously wrap his arms around me and exclaiming, "I love you, Mrs. A.!"
  • Letting a fifth grade class have a dance off as a reward for getting across the school with a minimum of noise. You haven't lived until you've had to judge between hip hop, Irish step, Ring Around the Rosie, and whatever the heck THAT move those boys were bustin'.
  • Going with Thing 1 to our favorite hairdresser/cousin for a visit and a 'do adjustment.

  • Celebrating the awesomeness that is having the Providence College Friars Hockey Team win their first ever NCAA hockey national championship!  I'm giddy over this because one of my Other Favorite Cousins is the athletic trainer for team, because the game was fantastically exciting from the first period to the final seconds, and because the Friars were the underdogs when they came up against undefeated Boston University. (That's right, it was two local teams facing off for the national championships at the TD Boston Garden. It. Was. Electrifying.)

photo courtesy of the Boston Globe

  • Celebrating my brother's 45th birthday with my FabFam.

  • Hearing the peepers in full chorus.  It's my favorite harbinger of spring.

What joys did you catch this week my beloveds?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Musings on Grrrlhood

     Now, while it is true that my radio presets are pretty much all classic rock stations (with one set for sports radio, because, DUH!), I do love me some old school hardcore punk rock.  So imagine my delight to learn that today is Riot Grrrl Day in the city of Boston. No, seriously.  Kathleen Hanna, Riot Grrrl and third-wave feminist, is speaking in the city tonight! In response, Mayor Marty Walsh is proclaiming April 9, 2015 as Riot Grrrl Day.  It's a big enough deal that not only did all the cool indie press sites pick up the story, but so did the Boston Globe .

     Even if you aren't into the punk scene, you should pay attention to this, because the whole Riot Grrrl movement is so much more than a collection of bands from a single genre of music. It's about women claiming their rightful place as creators. It's about women using their voices--the louder the better--to express what they are compelled to express.  It's about women demanding that we expand our world views to include not only women, but all people--LGBT folk, people of color, believers of all stripes, non-believers, everyone. It's about believing that everyone's art is valid, everyone's art expresses something important, everyone's art has a place.
     While it is true that the art world is more diverse than many other fields, there is still such a long way to go.  As I write this, the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference is happening.  It is the largest literary conference in North America.  There are nearly 500 offerings for the 12,000 attendees.  Yet, somehow, the session on small press publishing has an all-white male panel.  White men fill the bulk of all the panels, it seems. That isn't meant to knock the conference.  It's a fantastic gathering of brilliant creatives.  It just serves to illustrate how deeply rooted the standards of validity are when it comes to art in our culture. It's not just AWP.  It's not.  The outcry over the reboot of the Ghostbusters movies with female leads is mind-boggling. The internet is blowing up over the idea of re-drawing classic superheroes as heroes of color, as if a Latino Spiderman will trigger the apocalypse. (Although, I wholeheartedly support the arguments that there is no reason not to create brand new superheroes that aren't white, and that we could use new female superheroes that don't look like porn stars.)

     Another example that is much closer to home for me:  I was filling in for the Evil Genius' English teacher one day last week.  I have met the teacher several times and we get along quite well, as we share a passion for the written word.  This was the first time I had been in his classroom before, though. He's created a good space for his students. It's warm, inviting, and literature rich. Lots of books, including plenty of poetry (a rarity in middle school classrooms).  Noticeably, though, there were very, very few female authors, and even fewer authors of color.  I took a chance on the strength of my connection with him, and left the teacher a note calling him on that.  I even sent my son to school the next day with several poetry anthologies that featured a diversity of contemporary writers. When I saw him in the hall a few days later, he thanked me for them sincerely, and launched into a discussion about poets and writing and the creative call that was heartening.

This wasn't a man who was intentionally biased to only accept the art of 
Dead White Guys.  

     It's simply become so ingrained in us as the standard that we need to be pushed to recognize it. We have so very, very narrowly defined creators as specific professional artists. Anything that falls outside of that definition is invalid. Don't believe me? Check out any textbook in any public school.  Overwhelmingly, they are filled with the work of white men. What we teach our children is what we as a society have deemed worthwhile. So yes, teach my children about Shakespeare and Michelangelo and Beethoven.  Please, though, show my children enough women and men of color so that they understand that art comes in many forms from everywhere.  I hate that Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou are singled out as "special,"  as if they were the only black poets who wrote anything worth teaching our children. The world is full of brilliant artists, and our children should learn from their diverse examples.

My son's teacher just needed a gentle nudge. Lots of folks need a loud, violent shove.
Riot Grrl is all about providing that shove.

     All people are creative.  Personally, it is the foundation of my faith.  I believe with all of my heart that I was formed in the image of my God.  The Almighty is a CREATOR, so, I, too, must be a creator. So are you.  So is your neighbor.  So is that guy you don't like. So is your daughter.  We are all creators.

Our culture discounts that, though.  

     Thankfully, in every generation, though, there are those who are called to blow up that paradigm and push the boundaries.  New genres appear--jazz, cubism, free form verse, hip hop dance...   Each new creative endeavor brings us closer to true equality.

     It's dangerous to be a creator, to be an artist, to express what is in you. It is also very holy. It is sacred to respond to the call to create. So today, even if you aren't in Boston, celebrate Riot Grrrl Day by creating whatever it is you create: paint, dance, write, sing, bake, arrange succulents in a terracotta pot, quilt...  You do you. Hardcore.


Sunday, April 5, 2015

Catching the Small Joys--Easter Edition

Even the worst days have moments of joy.  They do. I promise you they do. This week has had more than its fair share of rough moments. Still, here are some of the joys that blessed my socks off this week:

  • Waking up to coffee, challah French toast with local maple syrup, and ham...
  • ...and the intoxicating scent of lamb stock simmering in preparation for the incredible holiday feast my Personal Chef is pulling together.

  • Being surrounded by folks I love for another successful Annual Tie Dyeing of the Easter Eggs Fandango.

  • Having a friend like Bob who loves my kids so much that he'd invent the Annual Tie Dyeing of the Easter Eggs Fandango back when Thing 1 and Thing 2 were teeny beans.
  • Knowing that my kids love the tradition--and especially Bob--to do whatever it takes to make sure they're here for it.

  • Ricotta pie from Modern Pastry and friends who love me enough to bring me one.
  • Being surprised with a bonus pie from Modern Pastry, because my friends are made entirely out of awesome, and know that I have never met a pie I didn't like.

Photo Courtesy of Modern Pastry

  • Getting the screen porch and Oasis of Awesomeness put back together in time for opening day of baseball. We've never missed an opening day, but this is the first year that there's still snow on the ground, so it was a worry.

  • Listening to the spring rain falling on the roof in the quiet hours before sunrise.
  • Paying attention when the rain shower ended and the sun came out in all its spring glory.
  • Discovering my tulips coming up, and spotting the buds on the forsythia.

  • Finally perfecting my macaroon recipe--they taste like little bites of lemon meringue pie in heaven.  My Personal Chef announced them to be his favorite cookie ever. (Snickerdoodles, you've had a good run.)
  • That unexpected phone call from Sister Theresita that lifted my sunken spirits, and put me back on track. Her radical faith is demonstrated in a thousand practical, persistent ways. That she is a joy-filled force of nature just adds to her charm.  Her example and her friendship are among my most treasured gifts.

  • Cadbury mini eggs, Reese's mini eggs, and  jelly beans
  • Loading some of my favorite kids with bubble stuff for the season.

  • Believing, really believing, that better days are ahead.