Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Spot of Sunshine

Day 147
Today, the sun broke through the clouds and gave us a preview of the spring weather we’ve been wanting.  Kids shed winter coats.  Walkers came out from hibernation.   Looking out my kitchen window, I can imagine my summer garden. 

Sunny weather after weeks of dreary days does this.  It makes me think of starting fresh and new possibilities, of days at the pool and afternoons eating popcicles, of afternoons reading in our hammock and listening to the boys play in the creek.  Spring is nearly here.      

I bring two bouquets of yellow daisies to the school secretaries and then quietly sneak into the resource room where the education assistants work and place two more bouquets there.  I place one on their lunch table and another on the desk.  It’s a spot of sunshine, a perfect reminder of the brighter days ahead.     

“What are these for?” asks Mary, one of the front office secretaries.  A friendly face in the front office, she’s always quick to offer a smile.  She’s welcoming and helpful and a wonderful representative of our school for new families on their first visit. 

“Just because,” I answer.  

Sometimes “just because” is the best reason of all.  Unless you’re my kids, then it’s the answer. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Out of Time and Tuna

Day 146
I. and I are on the way to baseball practice while Chaz and the little boys head to tonight’s Cub Scouts banquet.  It’s another night of divide and conquer that will end (if all goes well) with us all finishing dinner together.  Or that’s the plan. 

Thirty miles north of our designated meeting place, my phone bings to indicate a new text message from Chaz.  He writes: 

“On your way back from BB can you swing by Kroger and pick up some non-perishable items?  They are collecting for the food drive tonight and I forgot to bring stuff from home.  Thanks.”

I’m not surprised the cans got forgotten in the craziness of the weekend.  It’s been non-stop activities since Friday night.  Basketball.  Birthday parties.  Play dates.  Adult party.  Cake orders.  Baseball.  Cub Scouts.  I look forward to Monday to recover from the weekend.

If we stop to pick up cans, we’ll miss dinner altogether.  As it is, we’ll arrive an hour and a half late for a two and a half hour party.  I struggle for a bit but ultimately choose to stop.  How can I not?

Ian and I race into the grocery and grab a dozen cans of beans, a few cans of tuna and a bag of rice.  Arms full, we race back towards the checkout.

We arrive too late for dinner but in time for the night’s entertainment, a circus performer who leads the kids in Spongebob Squarepants while  I. and I nibble on leftovers I’ve scavenged from the kitchen.  

It’s all good.  It always is.   

Bubba's Bubbly Bar

Day 145
Today’s random act is very, very deliberate.  For the last several weeks, a friend and I have plotted and planned for tonight’s party.  What started as a simple get-together to send off a friend has transformed into a North Carolina-themed bonanza.

“Pinterest will be the death of me,” I only half-joke.   

We offer party guests our own version of low country cuisine: Granny’s grits, seaside slaw, sweet potato fries and smoked pulled pork.  To wet your whistle, guests may choose from hillbilly brew or Mama’s juice (both white and red). 

A burlap-covered table holds Bubba’s Bubbly Bar. Guests mix and match lemonade, orange juice or apple juice with champagne before adding raspberries or slices of green apples or wedges of clementines.

Wildflowers happily sit in tin cans we’ve instructed our guest of honor to collect and clean.  Did we need the cans?  Nah.  It’s a total haze and fun for us.  Yes, we’re that kind of friend. 

We finish setting up with fifteen minutes to spare, more than enough time to walk around and admire our efforts. 

“We’re feeders,” I say.  A friend in Texas throws parties for the record books.  One mid-week wine tasting soiree she threw together at the last minute included different foods for each wine and a sommelier who explained each vintage.  She’s the one who introduced me to the term and served as an excellent teacher on how to become a first-class feeder.   

Feeders, like the name implies, find pleasure in serving huge amounts of food to friends and neighbors.  My husband Chaz is a feeder, too.  For a brunch for eight, we’ll prepare food for eighteen.  Food is a tangible way to show people that you care.  Nothing says “I love you” than a doggie bag, right?

So, grab some bubbly, girls!  Raise your glass!  A toast to our friend and best wishes and good luck! 

And don’t forget to grab some food on the way out.    

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Friday Night Squeaky Sneaks

Day 144 
It’s I.’s last basketball game of the season.  He and his friends believe they’ll end tonight on a high with a big win.  

I. goes as far as telling the other team’s coach when he sees her at the gym that her team better “be ready” because his team “has gotten a lot better.”  For the record, their record is 2-8.

Lots of Friday nights, I don’t look at the scoreboard.  Instead, I watch the boys as they run up and down the court.  Nothing beats third grade boy swagger.  They tough-guy dribble, turning left then right, before bouncing the ball just a tad high and losing control.

I. runs up and down the court.  His energy threatens to burst from his little 9-year-old body.  He wears a grin the size of Texas.  They play because they love the game.  Plain and simple. 

I’m told this will all change.  Soon.  By next season, boys will find themselves in one of two groups: jocks or others.  The line between the two will widen from here on out. 

When a boy falls and hurts himself during a game or practice, crying will no longer be acceptable.  Boys will no longer openly comfort one another.  They’ll be no more shoulder patting and “You OK?”  tsk, tsk-ing like little grandmothers. 

Early in the first quarter, a boy on the other team raises his arms and shoots.  The ball sails through the air and swooshes through.  It’s a beautiful, nothing-but-net, picture-perfect basket.  I cheer. 

“He’s not on our team,” my friend admonishes. 

“I’m just giving credit where credit’s due.  That shot was awesome.” 

From that moment on, I cheer for every good play I see.  Our team, their team.  It doesn’t matter.  I’m cheering for all the happy boy faces sweaty from exertion and flush from excitement.  I’m cheering for playing with a team like a team regardless of what the scoreboard reads.     

I’m ending the season with a big win.  

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Laundry Detergent and Life Lessons

Day 143 
“If you have a lot it’s your responsibility to help others,” starts my husband. 

“We don’t live in a mansion,” counters A. 

I wonder when the word “mansion” slipped into his kindergarten vocabulary.  He’s right.  We don’t.  We live in a comfortable home with a room for each of our boys and a fenced yard for Spot.  A creek borders our back property line and runs the length of the neighborhood and gives my kids plenty of opportunities to explore and find adventure.  We have friendly, thoughtful neighbors who bring us meals when Momma’s sick and keep an extra set of eyes open when I. speed races down the street on his bike. 

I’d be lying if I said my husband and I haven’t on occasion complained about wanting a bigger house.  More space!  Bigger yard!  Our eyes go misty at the idea of a new master bathroom to replace the 45-year-old plumbing we have. 

Then reality sets in.  And we look around and realize everything we need is here.  And this is enough.  Dreaming of the next best thing is dangerous.  If you want for more, you’ll always want for more.      

“There will always be people with more than us,” I explain.  “But if you look around, I think you’ll see we have a lot.”  

Our comments are part of a running conversation in our home.  We want to teach our kids social responsibility.  We want them to understand you don’t need to know someone to help them.  We want them to find pleasure in helping others so it’s something they willingly choose to do.

This blog, our family’s own personal social experiment, helps.  The kids look forward to finding ways to be kind, not always to one another, but we’re working on it. 

What prompted tonight’s talk are the donated laundry detergent bottles and Clorox wipes piled in the back of the SUV we gathered at tonight’s school event.  The collection is part of our school’s continued partnership with a school in Over-The-Rhine, a school located in a desperate neighborhood in downtown Cincinnati.  Describing it as desperate is kind. 

In the morning, I’ll drive the supplies down to the school where they’ll be distributed to families who need them most.  The detergent will help wash their clothes, but where will the food come to feed their families or the heat to keep their homes warm?  What things exist to keep them safe?     

I don’t want my kids to ever take what they have for granted.  Yes, we could have more, but we also could have a lot, tons, a whole world less.  

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Round Up

Day 142
After accompanying me to the grocery store, my father-in-law swore never again.  I piled boxes and cans, eggs and bread.  With no organization to my madness, the food teetered and toppled and left a messy trail of mac and cheese, a record of our trip in uncooked pasta.   

When he asked why I didn’t buy less but shop more often, I was horrified.  And bring all them? I motioned to the three little ones trailing behind us grabbing cookies from the lower shelves and taking out ill-constructed displays.

That was years ago but I still shop the same way.  Even though I do errands kid-free during the school day, I can’t seem to change how I shop.  I keep my head down and power through.    

I tell you all this so you’ll understand why I never noticed the sign.  The one posted directly to the left of the cashier.  For all I know it’s been up for months. 

The sign explains how you can “round up” your order to the nearest dollar and donate the additional pennies to the Ohio FoodBank and/or other local charities. 

As we all know from the change jar in the laundry room (or wherever you keep yous), it adds up.   

“Can you round up?” I ask the clerk checking me out. 

“Round-up?  I don’t know the code for that.”  She checks a list, punches in the numbers, and the register calculates the dollar difference.  It takes seconds.

What a simple easy way to help the community for less than a dollar.      

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Future's So Bright I Gotta Wear SHADE

Day 141  
“I hate to do this,” I interrupt, “but is there any way we can skip to the last page of requests?  I have to be in Mrs. Rooks’ class in ten minutes.”  I add the last part in hopes people will take pity on me and move it along. 

A dozen sets of eyes turn my way. 

“And talk about the request you care about?” starts the meeting’s moderator.  


For the last 60 minutes, we’ve been sitting around a conference table tucked in a back corner of the school offices talking about how to divvy up $11,000 from the PTO for special projects.  

Each of us come with our own agenda.  Some want the committee to spend $1750 on an all-school speaker on nutrition, others want an assortment of classroom books and shelves.  I want nearly half of the entire budget to build a permanent shade structure for the playground. 

Shoot, if you’re not going to aim high, why bother to take the shot?  

My friend Gina nailed it when she said I was always fighting for some cause.  First the tree house.  Now the playground.  Before that it was breast cancer and before that, I don’t know, but it was something. 

I don’t set out to wave the flag but for better or worse, that’s how I am.  I want to be the majorette twirling the baton with the boom-boom beat of the marching band banging out the orders to GET...IT...DONE. 

We all turn to the last page of our packets to look at my request.  I have pictures.  I have multiple quotes.  I’ve spoken with city and school officials.  Bring it. 

“Does anyone have any concerns?”  This is the last chance to voice and address concerns before the vote. 

“I know some school that had one and it only lasted two years,” asks one. 

This doesn’t deter me.  When I worked for the Lt. Governor as her speechwriter, she trained me to have answers to any question.  As a former prosecutor, she could be brutal in her cross-examination.  I learned to prepare.  For battle.  I’m ready. 

“These shades have a ten-year limited warranty.  That’s the same as the playground equipment we have.  The fabric can withstand winds up to 90 miles per hour and sustain weight of five pounds.”  Next? 

“Aren’t there zoning issues?  I don’t think the city will approve this,” asks another. 

Hello?  Can you say tree house?  After our two-month battle to save our tree house this fall and our appearance in front of the zoning board to apply for a variance, I am so well versed in current zoning that I’m on a first name basis with the city planner. 

“I’ve talked with the city, sent them the quotes, sent them copies of the plans and arranged for the city planner to mark where in the playground it can be installed that adheres to current zoning.” 

Play ball! 

There’s more back and forth and a request to talk to three references but it passes.  It helps that I’ve convinced two friends Jamie and Christy to come for moral support and to vote in a block.  (If I could I would thank them by giving them those two hours back, but alas, no.)

I thank the group and stamp down a grin until I reach the hallway where I skip down the hall and pump my fist in the air.  We did it!  

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Calendar Girl

Day 140
I can’t blame forty.  My memory started failing long before I hit that milestone.  The reason I remember this?  My kids happily remind me. 

That’s why I write everything down.  Scraps of paper, napkins, backs of envelopes, they’re all my friends.  In a perfect world, all these notes find their way to my master calendar, a gargantuan eyesore that takes up the entire real estate of my desk.

So what does any of this have to do with kindness?  Sharing space with PTO meeting reminders on my calendar are things happening to friends and family: the start of a friend’s first round of chemo, my brother’s job interview, the one-year anniversary of the death of a parent. 

I want to acknowledge.  Reach out.  Offer comfort.

Of course, it doesn’t always work out.  Like this January when I remembered to purchase a birthday card for my college roommate then forgot to mail it.  Small steps, people, small steps.      

A friend recently shared some news that I knew would make today particularly difficult.  The boys and I pick out a sunny bouquet of flowers and drop them on her doorstep with a note to let her know we’re thinking of her. 

When you’re having a bad day, knowing someone cares helps. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Hide and Seek

Day 139
I’ve planned for a relaxing Sunday afternoon.  The best way to guarantee this doesn’t happen is to say it out loud. 

The boys and I return from church to find Chaz in a panic.  He can’t find his AmEx.  The one he uses for travel expenses.  The one he’ll need to board the plane to Charlotte in less than two hours.

Forget the fun-filled lunch.  Let’s skip the leisurely drive to the airport.  We are in full-blown panic mode. 

We pull couch cushions.  Throw back carpets.  We empty closets and move the piano.  We shake out laundry baskets.  We search the yard among Spot’s recent “acquisitions.”  Clearly, we’re desperate. 

It occurs to me it may be easier to find that needle.  Oh where oh where is that haystack?  Next to the AmEx card you say?  Very funny.   

The boys happily play Wii in the basement oblivious to our rising panic.

I yell down the stairs, “Ten bucks to the kid who finds Daddy’s card!” and the horses are out of the gate.  Even with the infusion of three extra sets of eyes, we can’t find it. 

“This kind of reminds me of my dad’s business trips when I was little,” I say.  I don’t think Chaz appreciates my stroll down memory lane.  My family is infamous for changing travel plans up to the last minute.  And forgetting the keys.  And tickets.  You get the point. 

“But did he find the card?” Chaz asks. 


This isn’t encouraging news.  Chaz continues to root below the driver’s side seat of my car. 

After nearly two hours of searching, the card is found, but not by us.  As much as I wanted to be the hero, I couldn’t do it.  The friends whose house we ate dinner at last night found it in their front yard. 

We race to northern Kentucky to our friends’ home and then burn rubber to the airport where Chaz misses his flight.  Relaxing, right?

We kiss him good-bye and tell him to have a good trip.  It’s all uphill from here. 

On the way home, I pull off to grab the kids some lunch.  On the exit ramp, an older gentleman holds a sign.  Scribbled in black marker across a scrap of cardboard, he asks for help.

The man's sign puts our earlier chaos into perspective.  So, Chaz missed his flight.  Things could be worse.  From the looks of the unkempt man, things could be much worse.   

I don’t have any cash to give him.  Not even a dollar.    

We’re idling in the drive-thru lane waiting to order when the boys and I realize what we can do. 

It’s a chilly 37 degrees, a miserable day to be standing outside with no mittens and a worn coat.  We order some food and a large, steaming cup of coffee. 

We turn back towards the exit ramp to deliver our random act.  I can’t get close enough to yell to him and can’t find a place to safely pull over.  I hang a U-turn and drive south on I-75 to the next exit where we turn around and drive north back to his exit ramp. 

When we get back to Buttermilk Pike, he’s gone.  We look right.  We look left. 

The boys and I drive around a bit, our own game of "find the AmEx card."  

Really?  Really!  I can’t find anything today! 

Lost but Not a Loss

Day 138
It’s 8:30 on Saturday morning but F’s excitement over getting fitted for lacrosse gear is contagious.  We’re moving.  We’re on a mission.   

We pull into the senior high school parking lot and easily find a spot.  It’s only because we've been here before.  For the past several weeks, coaches have hosted skill clinics in the back gym.  It’s been a great introduction to new players on the basics.  

Today they'll pass out gear for the season.  They’ve staggered today’s fittings to ensure it moves smoothly. 

The boys jump out of the car and start to sprint.  My words stop them in their tracks.    

“Boys, can you please pick up some trash on the way to the door?” 

My requests are meet with a series of moans but being good boys, they heem and haw but ultimately do as I ask.  By the time we get to the side gym door, each boy has two fistfuls of trash.  F. thinks he’s found a love letter and reads it to us in a sing-song, high-pitched voice.  It’s comedy at its finest. 

Dumping the trash, we’re back to why we’re here.  Helmets!  Shoulder pads!  Awesomeness!  We run to the back gym, swing open the door, and find…baseball players tossing balls.  Uh, baseball?  I double check the door.

“Boys?” I start.  “Do you happen to know where the lacrosse folks are?” 

The teens look to each other and communicate in shrugs and lifted eyebrows.  “Maybe upstairs?” 

We head upstairs where we find more…baseball players.  We check out the cafeteria.  It’s filled with not lacrosse players but Cub Scout leaders. 

“Mooom,” F. whines.  “Where are they?” 

Well, ain’t that the million dollar question?  “Let’s try upstairs.”  We’ve been hunting for nearly 30 minutes and running out of time.     

When we strike out upstairs, I give up and call one of the clinic coaches at home. His wife is a book club friend and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they’re home.  She answers on the fourth ring. 
“Boys!  They’re at the junior high.”   

By this time, we’ve walked the length of the school.  It’s closer to exit through the school’s front doors than to walk back the way we came. 

Out the door, we’ve now got to rush to make it to the fitting before it ends.  But I can’t stand all the trash. 

“Grab and go!  Grab and go!”  The boys know what to do.  They skip and jump around the school, across the parking lot towards our car, picking up trash the entire way.

Trying to find the positive, I tell myself at least our getting lost wasn’t a total loss.   

Door Woman

Day 137
I see a woman in an electronic car on the other side of the glass doors and jog to reach the door handle first.  I pull it open, step through and stand aside to allow her car to move through easily.  She gives me a quick thank you and maneuvers between the door jamb like a pro. 

My fingers relax when I see a woman heading towards the door in the opposite direction.  I stand still as a statue and wait for her to pass. 

A man saunters behind her, “My own personal doorman!” he quips. 

“Door woman,” I correct and smile.   

With no one else in site, I let the door slip from my hands. 

I like holding the door.  It’s an easy way to show a stranger a small act of kindness and shows my kids that common courtesy does have a place in everyday life. 

My boys love to open doors for people.  It’s something they can manage on their own and get immediate satisfaction (and praise).  “Aren’t you sweet!”  “What a nice young man you are!”  “Welll, thank you!” 

They beam proudly certain their halos are blinding me.  With such feedback, they’ll stand patiently until the parade of people ends. 

Which leads me to wonder how can such a simple thing turn to such a tricky and confusing business? 

When I. and I visited New York City in the fall, I found if I held the door the line of people never ended. At the Starbucks in Time Square, I held the door for a line of no less than twenty people.  It never ended.  No one offered to take my place.  No one motioned for me to step aside and let him have a turn at the fun. 
When is it polite to let go of the door?  After one person?  Two?  When you’ve losing a visual on your 9-year-old who has continued to walk down the sidewalk?  Maybe instead of grabbing the door, we should relieve the doorman.  Now wouldn’t that be random.    

Friday, February 17, 2012

Think Thin

Day 136
A stack of unread magazines stares at me from the center of our coffee table.  I can’t pass by them without feeling a mixture of guilt about not having read them and dread about when I could possibly find the time. 

This is nuts, I think.  As a stay-at-home mom of three boys, I’m doing the best I can.  I beat myself up on a daily basis on the things I can do better.  Unread magazines shouldn’t even make the short list. 

What’s even crazier is if I do read them will I really begin to dress like Carrie Underwood?  Will my thighs resemble the cover model of Health?  Will I prepare the luscious recipe for salmon on page 124 with ingredients I can’t pronounce?  Let’s get real.  It’s a resounding no.  

I try to not worry about things I can’t change.  With lacrosse and baseball practices crowding the already overflowing calendar, I don’t foresee a week of free reading in my future.  I pack up the magazines and head out to give them to someone who might like to read them and have the time. 

I mean, really, one of us should have those thighs.      

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mmmm, Excuse Me?

Day 135
My neighbor blows into spin class, grabs one of the last two bikes, tosses her coat by the wheels and runs out to fill her water bottle.

With music loud enough to shake the mirrors, the class finds its groove and starts to spin.  A latecomer arrives and moves my neighbor’s coat and starts to adjust the seat and handlebars.

“Excuse me?” I say.  My words get lost in the deep thump of the music.  “That bike is taken.” 

She looks up surprised.  The only other bike left is one with boy handlebars.  Most women prefer the girl bars because their shape and position eliminates the need to lean forward during class.  She looks towards the door for my friend.  

Other bikers look away.  No one wants to get involved. 

“That’s her coat,” I point to the brown fabric in a heap on the floor.  “She’s getting water.” 

The lady moves her stuff to the last empty bike just as my neighbor returns.

As we climb up an imaginary hill and my legs tire from the bike gears, my mind wanders to another time when I spoke up.     

At the pool this summer, I saw two middle-school boys picking on a boy with Downs Syndrome.  Another mom caught my eye.  She grimaced as she watched, her mouth set into a thin, angry line. 

I stood in shock as one of them sprayed a line of water into the boy’s face and laughed.  I looked to the other mom surprised.  She responded with a shrug, her shoulders lifted in a question: “What can we do?”

Momma Bear jumped into action.  I yelled at the boys like they were my own.  (And my boys will tell you that’s pretty good.)  We can do something.  We can stop it.  We can find their parents.  We can protect this boy. 

Most times it isn’t as dramatic or blatant as a swimming pool bully, but all the same, if you see something going on that isn’t right, speak up.  Or if you see a misunderstanding happening, speak up. 

It’s OK to have an opinion.  And, oh, that thing tucked in your throat?  Your voice?  It’s OK to use it.  

Feel The Love

Day 134
The night starts out rocky.  We’re been planning for weeks to join friends and neighbors at the Ronald McDonald House on Valentine’s Day to cook and serve dinner to its guests.  Adjacent to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, RMH offers food and housing for families of children receiving long-term medical care.  

Less than a mile from home, F. starts to cough.  From the sound of it, I expect to see a pink, spongy lung on the seat next to him.

“Do you think he should go?” Chaz asks.  The meal coordinator specifically asks sick volunteers to stay away. 

“Sorry, buddy,” I turn the car towards home to drop Chaz and the little boys at the house. 

I’d hoped to be the first ones there but returning to the house puts us behind schedule.  By the time we arrive, several families are waiting. 

“What should we do first?” one asks. 

“Everyone wash their hands,” I say and quickly tick off kid-friendly jobs. 

Within minutes, kids are washing asparagus and cutting tomatoes.  Kids open packets of pasta and decorate tables with red hearts.  They stack plates and sort silverware.  They jockey for counter space to a resounding chorus of “What else can I do to help?” 

Ronald McDonald families form a line at ten to six.  We aren’t ready.  Technical difficulties (or operator error) keep the ovens from heating up and many of the dishes sit lukewarm inside the closed oven doors.
We roll with it.  Everyone works as a team as we shuffle the hot dishes forward and press every button on the oven until it dings.  Houston, we have power! 

We’ve brought red and pink paper, stickers and markers for the kids to make Valentine’s for their families.  One problem: there are no kids. 

“Did you notice that?” a friend asks.  I haven’t until she says so but she’s right.  All but three of the kids in the dining room belong to us. 

 Plan B.  We gather the kids and tell them the change. 

“This is very important.  Do you think you can help?” Ernest faces nod in response.  

The kids decorate Valentines like it is their job.  A pile of red hearts grows in the center of the table which we'll give to the front desk to pass out.  

Angel-faced E. approaches a man and woman at a nearby table and hands them a card.  “Do you have anyone you can give this to at the hospital?” It is a sweet exchange that comes straight from her heart.  

In my mind, tonight is a success.  We didn’t run out of food.  We feed over a hundred people.  The kids help in a hands-on, tangible way. 

It’s heartwarming to see on Valentine’s Day (or any day for that matter).  On a day dedicated to love, I can’t help but think sharing this with my son ranks way higher than any box of chocolates. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Beep! Beep!

Day 133
If you can’t help, be the facilitator. 

A friend needs a sitter?  Pass along the number of yours. 

Know someone looking for a job?  Help them network by passing along their resume. 

Hear that someone you know is unexpectedly adopting a baby girl in the next couple of days?  Collect gently used hand-me-downs from all your neighbors and friends with baby girls.  

When you think you can’t help, you can.  If you can’t drive the car, be the vehicle. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Cutting Edge

Day 132
On Christmas Eve, 1995, an article titled “Joy to the World” appeared in Parade Magazine.  The story featured a small, downy-haired child undergoing chemotherapy who clung to her security blanket to help her through her treatments. 

That’s all it took for Project Linus to be born.  What started as one woman’s response to the story has grown to a nationwide effort with 368 chapters in all fifty states and the District of Columbia and the distribution of over 4 million blankets to children in need.     

Don’t you find that amazing?  One woman.  One woman was moved to action.  I’ve always believed women will change the world.  There’s a natural empathy women possess that allow them to see need and imagine ways to help. 

For the past several years, the boys and I have participated in Project Linus as part of a monthly service project group at church.

Today, it takes less than an hour to measure and cut the fabric.  The boys will knot tie the pieces together when the group meets next Sunday. Our blankets will go to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. 
What would the world look like if we all found a need and through hard work or sheer will found a way to make it better? 

Progressive Dinner Pledge Fest

Day 131
I’m frantically cleaning for tonight’s neighborhood progressive dinner.  The house looks (and smells) better than it has in a while.  Everything sparkles.  Everything shines.  A Glade plug-in fills the first floor with a fresh, springtime scent.  A manic spray and swipe of Pledge across every surface adds a lemony hint to the field of flowers.  
For progressive dinner newbes, here’s how it works:  As a group, we start at one house for cocktails and appetizers.  From there, we split into groups of eight for salad and move again to enjoy the entrĂ©e with a new group of eight.  The neighborhood reconvenes for dessert. 

“We’re hosting why?” Chaz asks.  He reminds me that we nearly missed the deadline because we don’t receive the newsletter with regular frequency.  (We pay neighborhood dues but don’t live in the subdivision.)

It might be easy for us to pass on hosting duties since we don’t technically live in the neighborhood, but in my heart, we do.  For nearly six years, we and our friends have cared for children, camped in state parks, hosted Friday night happy hours, welcomed new babies, grieved the loss of parents.  One house length is negligible when it comes to building community. 

“Because they needed someone,” I say of the last minute request to host. 

“And you said yes.” 

“And I said yes.” 

I know he loves a clean house and secretly thankful for any excuse to get me scrubbing. He admires my handiwork and asks, “Did you clean the baseboards?” 

“No.”  I give him the stink eye. 

“And it looks great,” he quickly adds and hightails it out of the room.      

Friday, February 10, 2012

Carry My Heart

Day 130
This morning at the bus stop I hand each of my boys a 2 X 2 inch fabric heart pillow.   

“What’s this?” F. asks. 

“If you get mad or stressed or sad at school, I want you to put your hand in your pocket and feel this heart and know that Daddy and I love you.” 

“I get to keep it?” A. asks. 

“Yep.  It’s yours.” 

“So I know you love me?” 

I pull him into a hug and squeeze.  “You got it.” 

I. quietly rubs the heart with his finger but doesn’t comment.

“What do you think?” I look over A.’s head and into I.’s eyes. 

“That’s awesome!”  And slips his into his pocket.  

Spinning World

Day 129
I notice a dark-haired woman to my left struggling with the controls.  She looks uncomfortable.  Her eyes nervously dart from one bike to another.  It’s as if a bubble floats above her head, “These spinners are a serious bunch.  They have special shoes.”   

“May I help?” I offer.  The woman two bikes over jumps in as well. 

The two of us adjust the newcomer’s bike seat so it hits her at the hip.  We push the seat forward and raise her handlebars.  When it comes to spinning, we may all be borderline fanatics, but we’re also a welcoming, helpful bunch. 
“I don’t know about this,” Liz, our new classmate, tells us.  “I’ve never done this before.” 

“It’s great!” someone shouts.  “You’ll love it!” another adds. 

“What about these gears?” she asks. 

“No one can see them but you,” I explain. 

It’s one of the great things about spinning.  You control every class.  Unlike my clumsy grapevine that threatens to take out an entire row at aerobics, here, it’s you and the bike.  And no one needs to know if you didn’t make it up that last hill. 

The important thing about today is you showed up, I want to say, but don’t because I don’t want to sound condescending.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, costs associated with being overweight or obese in the United States are staggering.  Most recent numbers estimate that as a nation we spend $147 billion annually.  That’s billion with a B.   

Welcoming a new face to the gym and encouraging her to come back next week helps us all.  Support a friend when he starts a new exercise program.  Congratulate him when he meets weight loss goals.

Changing your life by adopting healthy habits is tough.  Let’s help each other succeed.   

“What did you think?” I pant. 

“I liked it,” Liz smiles.  “I’ll be back.”  The lady to the right cheers.  

Welcome Home!

Day 128
When your husband travels for work, the biggest act of kindness I sometimes show my kids is that I keep them all alive for Daddy to see when he returns. 

I don’t know about other families, but for us, it’s party time when Dad leaves.  Or, that’s what the boys believe. 

Food flies across the dinner table.  Water overflows the tub.  Ninjas “train” on my bed.  It’s Animal House for the Elementary set. 

Tonight’s topper is my repeated request for I. (the good one!) to stop bouncing a small basketball off the walls of my bedroom.  He grouses and slumps his shoulders (the unfairness of it all!) before sending the ball on one last joy ride.  This time it smacks the cream painted ceiling and leaves a perfect, round imprint of grime. 

I count to ten.  I breathe in.  I exhale out.  And I send everyone to bed.

The sudden peace allows me to kick back, stare at the spot on the ceiling and calculate the hours until Chaz’ plane lands.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Hey, Cookie!

Day 127
OK, I’ll admit it.  It’s a hobby gone wild.

Cake pans threaten the hinges of my kitchen cabinets. Piles and piles of pans fill my cabinets.  They’re not limited to the kitchen.  Or the basement.  Or the garage.  That’s all I’m admitting to.

I collect cookie cutters like my boys collect LEGOS.  I see an infinite number of possibilities in each shape.  Don’t even get me started on the sprinkles. 

It’s nice tonight to share my obsession knowledge with some area moms at their monthly meeting.  I’ve spent the afternoon baking and making and coloring icings.  I want it to be hands-on.  I want it to be fun.  I want there to be some leftovers so the boys and I can decorate cookies tomorrow after school.    

It’s been a long and sugary road.  If I can share the things I’ve learned from my mistakes why wouldn’t I?  But as I tell my kids, is it ever a mistake if it can be topped with frosting?  

Evil Genius

Day 126
“It’s not fair,” F. complains with righteous indignation.

 Oh, I may regret this, but ask the natural follow-up. “What’s not fair?”   

“The kindergartners get all the shade.”  

We’re talking about ideas to improve the school.  Every year, the PTO donates items that the school budget can’t cover.  Parents and teachers submit special request applications for consideration. 

I promise to suggest it but half expect F.’s request to be met with eye rolling and snickers.  Instead, it surprises me to learn other parents hear similar complaints from their kids.   

I think about it, and he’s right.  The kindergartners play on a separate playground from the bigger kids.  Directly adjacent to the kindergarten classes, the building blocks the sun and a shadow falls protectively over the small play set.

It’s not so on the big playground, here the sun shines brightly.  No trees block it’s heat.  Kids, sweaty and red-faced, huddle against the storage shed in the slice of shade created by the slim roof. 

One thing you need to know about F. is he knows what he wants and he possesses an uncanny ability to make it happen.  At seven.  Heaven help us when the evil genius hits the teen years. 

For the last several months I’ve been talking with vendors and researching shade options.  Most fall outside the PTO’s budget.  I’ve talked to the city planner about zoning.  Today I finalize the request and gather last minute quotes from a new vendor who may offer us a lower price.  It’s the final push to the finish.  I want this to happen.  I want it for not only my kids but also for all the kids at Montgomery Elementary.   

If the board approves the request, I wonder, what will Finny ask for next?  

Monday, February 6, 2012

Dream Date

Day 125
There’s a tradition at the high school in our town that my husband and I don’t understand but enjoy nonetheless.  Since I don’t understand it, please forgive me if I get some of the details wrong.

Before formals, boys (in the fall) and girls (in the spring) concoct elaborate plans to ask a date to the dance. 

For example, earlier in the school year a banner hung the length of a house on Mitchell Farm Lane with bold block letters asking, “Will you?”  We automatically assumed it was a teen inviting another to the dance and not a marriage proposal.  We were right.  (She said yes.)  I’ve heard of asks involving marching band, a room full of classmates and lots and lots of flowers.   

A friend contacted me to see if I could make some cookies for her daughter as part of a winter-themed idea that included brownies, cookies and a puzzle (I think, again, I’m shady on the details).  I agreed immediately because I think her daughter is adorable. 

I run a small baking business out of my house but kept it a secret that I was giving her the cookies until she came to pick them up.   

My husband (once a teenage boy himself) appreciates the effort the girls are making but makes a fair point: They’re a girl, right?  The way he explains it, any conversation between a girl and boy sounds something like this:

Girl: Hi?  I was ….
Boy: Yes. 

On a side note, this explanation also brings into a focus for me a very clear picture of my husband as a teen.

Let’s be clear, my friend’s daughter is a gorgeous, talented teen who is sweet to her little brother and has a smile that can light up not a room but an entire auditorium (we know this because we watched her play the lead in the winter musical). 

I doubt my cookies did anything to sway this boy’s decision.  I’m betting he couldn’t say yes fast enough.