Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Trash Talking

Day 118
I forget to put our own trash out so the fact that I remember to pull out my traveling neighbor’s today is a miracle. 

But isn’t that always the case?  

You dutifully water a neighbor’s flowers every day while your own wilt in the summer sun.  You collect a friends’ papers at the same time a nice collection of circulars dot the end of your driveway.  

It makes me think of the cobbler’s kids and what things I’m not doing for my own that I’m willingly doing for others. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Pine Wood Derby Delicious

Day 117
I position myself in front of the door.  I’m a human obstacle.  No one gets to the food unless they get past me.

Let’s be clear.  This isn’t what I had in mind when I heard I was going to be doing hospitality for the Pine Wood Derby.  (When your husband’s Cubmaster, you get volunteered for all sorts of things.) 

I'd envisioned something on the lines of this: Some food.  A couple of movies.  Decorations.  A few coloring sheets.   

The plan is to bring the food out in shifts so that it lasts for the event’s four-hour entirety.  Sounds reasonable, no?  Then the crowds begin to gather.  Around the empty tables of food.   

Firm but polite, I ask people to move away from the table and explain we’ll be bringing snacks out in a bit.  I don’t add that I’d appreciate it if they refrain from drooling.

“One’s in!” A seasoned hospitality mom calls and points to a side door.  A Webelos 2 quickly drops the cookie in his hand and has the good sense to look ashamed.  

The afternoon passes in 45-minute increments.  Every 45 minutes, we break the seal and bring out more food.  The crowds rush the tables.  The boys pick every last carrot, cookie and grape from it. 

“How was it?” my husband asks when we regroup at the end.

“Besides feeling like the Food Police, it was fun.” 

It’s also nice to feel like I contributed to something my boys enjoy.  Scouts normally fall under my husband’s domain.

Today I feel like it’s mine, too.  

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Piece of Cake

Day 116
I’m exhausted.  It’s only 10 o’clock but my body thinks it’s well past midnight.  Four hours of a kindergarten cake walk does that to a person. 

For those enquiring minds (who want to know), the cake lasts all night.  (See Carnival Craziness.)

One of the best things about kids is their unfiltered enthusiasm when they win.  Add cake as a prize?  Holy cow, nail down the roof ‘cause it’s about to blow away! 

In that room tucked back in the kindergarten wing, I witness a microcosm of our little town.  Some win with grace.  Others na, na, na as they dance their victory jig. 

My favorite exchange, hands down, is when one small boy turns to his neighbor, pats him on the back and wishes him congratulations before he turns, air-pumps his fist and mumbles “Drats!”   

Clearly disappointed not to have won, he doesn’t pout.  He doesn’t stamp his feet.  He doesn’t throw a tantrum.  Many an adult might learn from the kind actions of a 6-year-old boy. 

I walk over, lean in and whisper in his ear, “You were a very nice friend.”  

“I still wanted to win,” he admits.

“I know.”  I don’t add he already has.  He won’t understand, but in time, he might.

Thanks, Mom

Day 115
How old were you when you realized your mom (and dad) knew what they were talking about?  Twenty?  Thirty?  When you became a parent yourself? 

When you started taking their advice and surprisingly things worked out?

Cincinnati-based Proctor and Gamble hosts a Facebook page titled “Thanks, Mom by P & G” that allows online visitors to post their mom’s favorite advice.  Their “collection of Momisms” range from the serious to the seriously funny. 

Always travel with a corkscrew. 

Too sick to go to school, then you’re too sick to watch TV.

The only thing you can change is your reaction.

You should always be on your best behavior no matter where you go…you never know whom I may know!

And the one I may borrow and add to my own repertoire: You have to the count of nothing.

My mom always told me not to fight with my neighbors over kids.  Tempers flare and parents lose all objectivity.  I haven’t always taken her advice in this area although I wish I had.  One friend and I disagreed over her child’s behavior.  She thought I was self-righteous.  I thought she was irresponsible.  Our disagreement took months to resolve. 

I learned my lesson.  If I disagree with someone else’s parenting choices (as I’m sure people do about some of mine), I keep my mouth shut. 

I added my mom’s advice to the long list of Momisms hopeful someone else might learn from my mistake of not listening to my mom in the first place.    

Friday, January 27, 2012

Response from Henrietta Lack's Family

When I opened my email this morning I found this waiting for me and wanted to share.  It's a lovely note from the family of Henrietta Lacks.  For those who haven't read this book (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks) yet, let me once again stress what a wonderfully written story it is about one woman's (unknowing) contributions to science.  

Greetings Ashley & book club members-
On behalf of the Lacks Family, we would like to thank each and every one of you for taking time to read the amazing story about our beloved Henrietta Lacks, the Lacks Family, and the HeLa cells.  We hope this story has touched your life in a positive way.
We know our beloved, Deborah is smiling down with a humble and proud heart knowing her mom is getting the recognition her and her brothers were desperately trying to accomplish.  Thank God for giving Deborah a spirit that was determined and persistent to know who her mother and sister were. Much honor goes out to the Lacks Brothers: Lawrence, David(Sonny) and Zakariyya for being the true soldiers standing tall with resilience in spite of such abundance of miscommunication, misrepresentation and unethical practices. Kudos to Rebecca for narrating the story very well!
Thank you for reaching out to the family.
Jeri Lacks Whye
(granddaughter of Henrietta Lacks)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Carnival Craziness

Day 114
Every January, the Montgomery Elementary PTO hosts Carnival.  It’s a night filled with games, raffles, cookies and cake.  It’s a collaborative effort between parents, teachers and local businesses that raises approximately $20,000 that the PTO uses to purchase items for the school such as smart boards, lap top computers and playground equipment.   

Even though I lecture friends on needing “Volunteer Intervention” when the committee found themselves one lead volunteer short I found my hand in the air.

A popular game at carnival and the one I’m organizing is the Kindergarten Cake Walk.  Think musical chairs with cake as a prize.  I’ve been soliciting cash donations to purchase cakes, begging people to bake and bring cakes and arm-twisting volunteers to help the night of the event.  The game only lasts as long as the cakes do.    

Tonight, we meet at the school and our Carnival chair walks us through a “dry run” before Friday’s big event. 

I’m confident the night will be a huge success, even if we run out of cake.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I Can Climb Mountains

Day 113
After a stressful day the biggest kindness you can give yourself is an extra hour at the gym. 

Nothing clears my head like an hour spin class at the Y.  I like the music loud and the gears turned up high.  I’m not climbing a hill.  I’m climbing a mountain. 

I don’t consider “me” time selfish.  It’s restorative.  Plus, everyone knows when Momma’s happy, we're all happy. 

If the gym’s not your thing, meet a friend for lunch or catch up on that missed episode of The Bachelor. 

Be kind to yourself.  You deserve it.  

Monday, January 23, 2012

Kroger 500

Day 112

From the back she looks like my old boss.  In the Montgomery Kroger?  It seems unlikely but not out of the realm of possibility.  

Maureen O'Connor sits on the Ohio Supreme Court.  I worked for her when she was Ohio's Lt. Governor.  She's smart and accomplished.  And someone I respect.   

I push my cart to try and catch her before I thing it may not be the best idea.  I haven’t seen her in several years and I don’t want our chance meeting to start and end with a heart attack in the frozen foods. 

I cut up through the potato chip aisle towards the lunch meat and hang a right.  I figure if I come around the corner I can see her face and confirm if it’s her.  I round the corner but I’ve lost her. 

How is this possible?  I’m frustrated now and rethinking my original plan.  I take a lap.  Meat.  Bakery.  Produce.  Bread.  Nothing.  I take another.  It's the Kroger 500 and I've lost the lead car.  

Really?  I’m so angry for missing this opportunity. 

I’ve wasted enough time and look down at my cart before checking out.  I’ve forgotten one item and go to pick it up.  

Guess who’s also picking up some cookies?  A lady who looks eerily like my old boss. 

“I’ve been stalking you through Kroger!” I say and tell her the story.

“She looks good?” the lady jokes. 


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Technologically Challenged

Day 111
I remember writing out directions for my grandmother on how to use her VCR that started with “Press power button to turn machine on.”  I wonder if my grandkids will do the same for me. 

I’ve found my comfort zone with technology but don’t like to venture too far beyond it.  I’ve been struggling with html code and other foreign languages in my attempt to post the embedded video. 

I’m not one to give up easily.  I like to think I’m tenacious.  My husband might argue that I’m stubborn.  Tomato. Tomatoe. 

After several attempts, I figure it out! Hand pump, anyone?

A high school friend forwarded me this video (It's in the top right corner of the page.) from Life Vest Inside (LVI), an organization geared towards spreading kindness and goodwill.  LVI believes that in life we all need some help, perhaps a “life vest” to keep us afloat.  The group turns to kindness as a means of connecting people to one another. 

The boys and I watch it together. It provides a great jumping off point for talking about finding ways to be kind in everyday life. 

“What ways did you see people being kind in the video?”  I start.    

“I don’t want to answer,” I. says. 

“Do you think it’s a test?” I tease. 

He nods his head up and down. 

“It’s not.  There’s no right answer.  How about this…if kindness can go around a whole block do you think it can travel around the whole world?” 

“Yes!  It totally could!” 

I look to F.  “What do you think?” 

“Yeah, I bet it could.”

A smiles.  “All you have to do is be nice to one person.”

And the circle begins.   

Life Vest Inside, www.lifevestinside.com

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Shower with Kindness

Day 110
It’s a well-known fact among my friends that my sister nearly lost her mind when I got married thirteen years ago. 

“She’s having a hard time,” said my mom to explain away my sister’s behavior.   

This September I’ll stand beside my sister when she takes her wedding vows.  As her matron of honor, I’ll throw her a shower.  I’ll do it because it’s the right thing to do.    

I’ll do it despite the fact that when I got married she refused to plan one for me (“It’s just an excuse for you to get gifts!”) and refused to attend the one my friends planned. 

I spend the afternoon on Pinterest, my new obsession, collecting ideas for cookies, flower arrangements and favors.  I’m thinking an English garden party that both my British mom and sister will enjoy. 

This shower is also for me.  Only a thin line separates kindness from forgiveness.        

A Long Awaited Thank You

Day 109
It may be a record.  Eighteen women with wine glass in hand find a seat and settle in to discuss The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot at tonight’s neighborhood book club. 

What’s even more impressive is seventeen of the group actually read the book. 

Everyone’s talking.  Everyone’s excited to discuss. 

Skloot writes in an easy, conversational way that draws you in to the life of Henrietta Lacks, a poor African American woman whose cancer cells were taken without her consent in the 1950s.  Her cells, named HeLa after the first two letters in her first and last names, launched medical research round the globe and helped scientists develop a polio vaccine and advance cancer treatments and diagnosis, among a long list of other things.

The family, rightfully so, felt violated by John Hopkins “theft” of the cells when they learned of it twenty years after the fact.  Not having a formal education to understand how scientists used the cells, they turned to religion, Voo Doo and science fiction for answers.  (That there is a recipe for a heaping helping of the heebie jeebies.) 

A constant throughout the story is Henrietta’s daughter Deborah’s wish that the world recognize and acknowledge her mother and her role in many of the advancements made in the last several decades.  It’s a fair and reasonable request.      

In the back of the book, the author lists a web address for a foundation set up in Henrietta’s name to benefit her descendents (www.henriettalacksfoundation.org) and another for the Lacks family (www.lacksfamily.com).  I click through and send this with the subject line “Ohio Book Club Says Thank You”. 

Last night, eighteen women gathered to discuss the contributions made by and the life of your mother, Henrietta Lacks, after reading Rebecca Skloot's book.  

Around our circle sat a genetic counselor, an IVF specialist and a cervical cancer survivor.  It's difficult to imagine the lives they'd live without the research advanced by your mother's cells.  

We all agree that Skloot did a wonderful job personalizing your mother and paying tribute to your families’ lives through details gathered during her extensive research.  We were saddened that your sister Deborah died before the world publicly recognized and acknowledged the important role your mother played in helping countless people.  

Old wounds heal slowly.  We hope the decades of hurt have begun to heal.  

Please accept our sincerest thanks and gratitude.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Picture Speaks A Thousand Words

Day 108
Hey, Marni C., this is your spoiler alert!

I’ve got a surprise planned for a friend who’s moving and I’m excited because I think she’s going to love it. 

For the past several days, I’ve been searching my computer photo files (quite a feat) to pull together an online photo book of pictures of her son and mine.  Think of it as a retrospect over the years, if you will.  The two are best friends.   

I'm amazed at how many photos I have of the two of them together: First days of school.  Basketball.  Birthday parties.  Neighborhood get-togethers.  Town festivals.  Halloween.  Fourth of July.

My favorite photo shows the two of them at a Flamingo Night we hosted at our house last summer. Colored plastic necklaces threaten to weight them down.  I. grins at the camera while E. grins at him.  A click of a camera tells the story of how these boys lives’ are wrapped up and around each other. 

When they get older, I want them to remember how there was a time when the biggest problem they had was deciding who got to be Anakin.  

I order two books, one for her son and one for mine.  I want both of them to remember.    

For The Birds

Day 107
My eyes lock in on a spot of color on the sidewalk.  On closer inspection, I see that it’s two red birds.  I’m outside Hobby Lobby and the birds are fake and made from feathers and foam.  

When you go to a store and purchase two four-inch birds, there’s a reason.  I don’t believe in my heart these could in any circumstances be an impulse buy.

I see the back of another shopper walking purposefully towards her car.  I quickly bend, pick up the birds and take off at a jog to catch her. 

“Oh!  Are these yours?”  I thrust my hand forward with the little birds. 

“Yes!  They must have flown right out of my purse!” she laughs.  “Thanks!”

Fly home little birdies, fly home.   

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Happy Heart

Day 106
A few years ago, the boys and I helped serve breakfast at the Ronald McDonald House in downtown Cincinnati.  Across the street from Children’s Hospital, it provides housing, food and support for families with children receiving long-term treatment at the medical center. 

The boys and I helped cut fruit and stack bagels before joining a table where a little boy sat with his mom.  I can’t remember their hometown but do recall they’d been living at the house for several weeks while the boy underwent chemo.  The boy’s dad and siblings were back home.  They spoke nightly on the phone. 

Looking at the child’s port and baldhead, I saw the boy from a parent’s perspective.  My heart hurt to see him so sick.  His bravery in the face of something so terrible was uplifting. 

My boys saw him as someone else to play cars. 

“Can we stay and play?” they asked after we’d cleared up the breakfast dishes.  The little boy with the port stood beside them smiling.  “In the playroom?” They pointed to a room off the kitchen.  Even from here I could see the bright colors of plastic toys and trucks. 

“Sure,” I said.  And they were off.  My boys weren’t fazed in the least by the boy’s baldhead.  To his credit, he wasn’t fazed by the rowdiness of my boys.  
I loved taking my boys and have often thought we need to return with another meal. 

I’m homebound with a sick F. so checked online to find a day and time that might work.  Valentine’s Day dinner is open.  What a fun night to bring dinner, I think.  I’m thinking themed food and lots of red food coloring.  Maybe red noodles with rolls cut with a heart-shaped cookie cutter?  How about breadsticks in the shape of Cupid’s arrows?  This is going to be great!   

Before I commit, I need to recruit some friends to join us.  Dinner involves serving 125 people and don’t know if the Ellis family can manage this on our own.  Friends immediately respond back and it’s booked. 

If you live in the Cincinnati area and want to join in on the chaos fun, send me an email and I’ll send you the details. 

He Had a Dream

Day 105
I am surprised and impressed as A. repeats to me what he’s learned in school about Martin Luther King, Jr.

“His big words were love, peace and togetherness,” he starts.  “He won a special, special medal because he taught people to fight with their words.”

“And not their fists?” I prompt.  A. nods.  
Isn’t it amazing how kids understand the big picture?

Today, on a day dedicated to the memory and ideals of the greatest leader in America’s struggle for civil rights, I start a frank conversation with the boys about the things MLK wanted for all of us.  Equality.  Freedom.  Opportunities.   

“If you could be any color in the world other than what we are, what would you be?” I ask.   

“Red,” F. answers. 

“Yellow,” says I.

“I’m picking whatever Mom picks,” A. says.  He and I are both green.

“Do you think the color of our skin changes the person we are inside?”  The boys agree it doesn’t. 

“How do you think it makes people feel to be treated badly because their skin looks different?” 

“Bad.  Real bad,” A. says.  We talk about what we might do if we see someone being teased or bullied.  Tell a teacher.  Stand up and speak out.  Be their friend.
“I think our life is much more interesting because of all the differences between us.  What do you think?”   

F. smiles. “Rainbow is my favorite color.”  That’s my boy.   

Monday, January 16, 2012

Try It, You’ll Like It

Day 104

Every month, the Sycamore Wellness Community hosts a fruit or vegetable tasting at my boys’ elementary school to introduce the kids to a new healthy option.  The hope is they’ll choose carrots over candy.  I think this is optimistic but love and support the idea behind the plan. 

Last year I volunteered every month.  This year I help out less, not because of the program but because I’ve learned to say “no”. 

I love to help out at the kids’ school but last spring burnt out and felt angry at being one of the same “go-to” parents.  Clearly, the only one who put me in this position was me so I felt it was also me that needed to fix it.  I still volunteer but space out my obligations across my kids’ grades and only say “yes” when I want to and not out of a panicked belief that if I don’t no one else will.

This month’s tasting features butternut squash.  Two other moms arrive early to cube, bake and season the squash.  It’s ready when I arrive to help.  My job is to convince and cajole kids to “just try it”.  I use jokes, peer pressure, and promises that it tastes “sweet, just like candy!”  I get lots of takers. 

I also help pass out napkins and stamp kids hands with a dancing apple and the words ‘I tried it!’. 

The funniest things motivate kids to do things.  For me, I’d need more than a stamp to do the laundry or clean the bathroom.  But if a stamp did it for me, I wonder, what would it say? 

I cleaned it up!

You made it GERM-FREE!

Yeah for you! 

It’s Starbucks Time! 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Tippy Toes

Day 103
“Do you think I should get these shoes?”

I’m standing in line at the Valley Thrift store run by Goodwill.  I’ve come in search of a boys’ suit that may pass for something Thomas Edison might have worn.  It’s surprisingly crowded and line to checkout is six people deep.    

“They’re pretty flat,” I say.  “Do you think they’d hurt your feet?”  I don’t mention they are also hideously ugly. 

She flips them over to look at their soles.  “They look like they’re never been worn.” 

Everybody needs a friend that will tell her the truth or in this case, a total stranger who won’t sugarcoat when you ask for an opinion. 

“Don’t buy the shoes.”

“Really?  No?” 

“There’s probably a reason they weren’t worn,” I say, twisting her earlier argument for buying the shoes.  “I had a pair like that once and I’d be hobbling by the end of the night.”  

“You’re right,” she turns and places them on the counter to the right piled with discarded items. 
And they’re ugly, I silently add. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

No Soup for You

Day 102
“How do you get your kids to eat that?” a friend asks.  We’re at lunch and discussing the never-ending question of what to make for dinner.  

“I only make one meal.  If they don’t eat dinner, I tell them the next meal being served is breakfast.” 

I can’t tell if she thinks I’m a genius or hard-hearted. 

A few weeks ago, I cracked open Betty Crocker and found something other than tacos to make for dinner.  I want to stretch my kids’ culinary horizons further than chicken nuggets, tacos and spaghetti. 

We vote on all new meals: Keeper or Stinker.

I share my recent favorite, pumpkin wild rice soup. 

“I’d love that recipe,” she says. 

How many times has a friend said she’d like a recipe, the name of that book you’re reading or your hairdresser’s name?  How many times has the comment floated away?  No?  Only me?  If I don’t write something down, it’s gone.  The fact that NPR is reporting this week the mental decline of persons over 45 doesn’t encourage me that my memory will improve as I age.   

Not today.  I type out the recipe and hit send. 

Maybe her kids will like it better than mine did.

Pumpkin Wild Rice Soup
1 cup chopped onion 
2 Tbl butter 
4 cups chicken broth 
1 (16 ounce) can pumpkin (may substitute 2 cups cooked butternut or buttercup squash) 
1 1/3 cups cooked wild rice 
1/8 tea white pepper 
1 cup heavy cream 
snipped fresh chives or parsley 

Saute the onion in the butter in a large saucepan for 5 minutes.  Stir in the broth and pumpkin.  Heat, stirring occasionally, over low heat for 10 to 15 minutes.  Stir in the wild rice and pepper.  Continue to heat for another 10 minutes.  Stir in the cream and heat through; do not boil.  Garnish with chives or parsley and serve immediately. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Domino Effect

Day 101
A bonus of this year-long experiment is the unexpected kindnesses that my boys continue to show to one another.

I don’t want to give the impression that they’re angels.  They’re brothers.  All parents know that there’s no one more fun to torment than someone who shares your DNA. 

Which is why what A. did tonight surprised me. 

After a bath or shower, each of my boys needs to drop his dirty clothes down the chute in our master bathroom. 

Ian drags his feet and complains.  Always.  As our “easy” child, I don’t understand why.  (Having admitted that he’s an easy child, I’ve guaranteed he’ll grow into a full-fledged hellion in high school.)

“Clothes.  Chute.”  I really should loop this on a recorder to save my voice.   

“But…” and it starts.    

I read an article once that talked about how people expended all their positive energy with friends and strangers.  When it came to interacting with their families, their reserves were empty.  Shouldn’t the people you love the most get the best parts of you?

Without prompting, A. gathers up his and I.’s clothes.

“What are you doing?”  Usually the boys don’t do any extra chore unless money changes hands. 

“I’m putting the clothes down the chute.” 

“You’re taking I.’s, too?” 

He nods. 

“Why?”  I expect some explanation involving a back-room deal.

“Because I know he doesn’t like to.” 

Our kids never cease to surprise us, do they?    

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Day 100

Day 100  
“It’s Day 100!” I say to my husband.  “Can you believe it?” 

I don’t think he can.  I’m infamous for sprinting out of the blocks and losing steam around the last bend. 

What’s different about this project?  This blog?  It’s fun.  (Did you want something more philosophical?) 

How’s this?  Everyday I wake up thinking, “What can I do today?”  It gives me focus.  It makes me find the best in myself.  It forces me to be better.  

While grocery shopping, I pick up a few small potted primroses.  I love the delicate, bright-colored petals.  They shout out happy.

The plan is to take the boys to Twin Lakes, the retirement center down the street from our house, give them each a potted plant and walk around until each one finds someone he thinks looks like she needs flowers. 

“What’s Twin Lakes?” F. asks.  

“It’s where the old people live,” I tell him.  When talking to kids, use words they understand.

“When?” That kid needs details. 

“After dinner.”  

We roll up to Skyline.  I. and I settle into a booth.  F. and A. sit at the counter and engage the cook in an animated discussion about favorite football teams while our waitress bounces from table to counter, taking orders and filling drinks.

Back in the car, the little boys begin to fight.  They remind me of puppies and I wish I had a hose to spray them both to separate them.   

"Whoa!" I’m rethinking Twin Lakes. 

Inspiration strikes. 

“What do you think?  Should we run back in and give this to our waitress?”

Ian opens the car door and jumps out.  He extends his hands, takes the flowers and jogs back inside. 

“What did she say?” 

He grins.  “She said thank you like five times and she was really excited.”

While not the original plan, it works.  In some ways, I think it's better.  It's random.