Thursday, June 28, 2012

Dog Days of Summer

Day 235
Deep in the dog days of summer, the boys and I grab a kitchen-mixing bowls fill it with water and place it on a shady patch of sidewalk. 

“I think it needs a sign,” I say.  In our yard, walkers might mistake the bowl as part of our standard clutter. 

For All Thirsty Dogs I. writes in blue marker using his best handwriting.  We tape it to the bowl and head to the movies out of the 104-degree heat.    

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Caribou Change

Day 234
“Oh, do you have any change?”  The lady in front of me at Caribou Coffee asks the cashier.  She frantically pats her pockets and rummages through her bag.   

“I do,” I say, digging through my change purse.  I hand her a dime. 

“I only need three pennies,” she says and hands it back. 

“That’s ten pennies,” I say and hand it back to her. 

It’s a little “Who’s On First” to me.  Need a penny?  I have a penny.  Who’s penny?  Your penny.  My penny?  Your penny.     

The cashier watches the exchange in amusement, takes the dime and hands the woman back seven cents. 

“This is yours,” the lady says and passes me the nickel and pennies. 

I drop the change into a white cup with a sign that reads, “Need a Penny.  Take a Penny.” 

“For next time,” I say and the two of us laugh.  

Rocky Start

Day 233
I often vary my walking route to gather gardening ideas from houses I pass.  Each season offers its’ own set of landscapes and neighborhoods to explore. 

I'm amazed and impressed by the dedication of many of my neighbors.  I know what time is involved to make these yards look this good.  If I ever find it, I'm hoping my yard might look a fraction of this good.  
I turn the corner at Zig Zag and continue walking east.  Water bottle in hand and ear buds piping This American Life into my brain, I could walk for hours. 

Up on the right, decorative rocks scatter across two sidewalk squares.  I assume the heavy rains from Sunday dislodged the stones.  The rest of the yard is manicured and pristine. 

I kneel on the concrete and begin scooping rocks from the sidewalk back under the tree to join a perfect circle of sandy-colored stones.  It occurs to me as I’m scooping that anyone watching from the house’s front window might wonder what I’m doing, become concerned and tear outside to tell me to stop.  I scoop faster.   

Then I pretend to tie my shoe.  Stealth move, right? 

Sidewalk clean, I stand, brush off my knees and continue my walk home.    

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Heat Makes Me Cranky

Day 232
It’s another scorcher with predicted temperatures hovering above the 90s.  The only place to be in the blistering heat is our city pool.  The boys and I slip on our suits, grab some towels and go. 

Through the pool’s front doors, they race directly towards the water.  I see their demeanor change as soon as their feet splash into the cool, clear water.  The heat makes them cranky.  Which makes me cranky.  It’s not a great combination.    

Settling into a white Adirondack chair, a friend and I visit while our kids play in the water.  A little girl dashes by and tosses her damp towel in a heap near my feet.   

I pick up the towel, shake it and hand it to dry on the back of an adjacent chair.  No matter how hot, it’s still nice to have a dry towel when you need one.   

Loveland's Amazing Race

Day 231
To say it’s not like anything else states the obvious.  When you’re asked to sit on a toilet, wear a plunger as a hat and cheer on your teammate who’s tossing rings at you in a twisted carnival game, you know it isn’t going to be an ordinary day.

Loveland’s Amazing Race is a crazy, mixed-up, outrageous romp of a good time. 

For the second consecutive year, my husband and I partner up as one of only 500 teams to compete in the annual event.  Started by a local family who competed in the television version The Amazing Race, participants try their wits and skills in twenty different obstacles.  It helps to have a good sense of humor. 

We run, walk and bike between each station.  The event lasts upwards of three hours and all profits go towards helping local charities. 

This year, we invite Chaz’ two aunts to join us. 

You can’t ask just anyone to help chase down escaped convicts in the woods or use an industrial strength blower to navigate a basketball through a maze.  Halfway through the race (and about the time they each got a pie in the face after losing a challenge involving a fire hose and a clown), I have to wonder if they question the invitation.  Prize or punishment?  

The race gives one a unique perspective into your partner’s personality.  It's telling to see how someone reacts when they're shooting Angry Birds into a canoe or searching for a stuffed animal in a field while blindfolded.  

At The Dating Game, I answer questions and Chaz guesses my answers.  To the question “What cartoon character would your partner be?” I scribble down Roadrunner.  (He recently completed a 5K training program at a local running shop.) 

“What do you think?” the challenge judge asks turning to my husband.

 “Jughead!” Chaz shouts and the judge barks out a laugh. 

After a float down the Miami River in an inner tube where people in camo shoot at us with super soaker water guns, we run up the hill, discard our floats and hand-in-hand cross the finish line in Nisbett Park. 

The party’s in full swing by the time we arrive.  Friends and family laugh as racers relive the morning’s funnier moments. “Did you drag her or did she drag you?”  “And what is the capital of South Dakota?”  “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy…” 
We rip off of our racing bib tickets for food and drinks and join the crowds.  We lift our beers and clink them together in celebration.  We did it. 

“Next year?” 


We finish our pizza and check our watch.  We don’t want to leave but we have a sitter waiting at home.  Maybe next year with the boys a year older, someone can bring them here to meet us after the race and we can all celebrate together.  But now, we have to go.       

I turn to the racers next to us and hand them our two remaining free beer tickets.  “Good race,” I say and they laugh.  

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Culver Love

Day 230
Our oldest spent the week at a place near and dear to my heart.  Nestled in the cornfields of Indiana, Culver is a hidden treasure.  I attended boarding school there in the 1980s, married there in the 1990s and returned there with my kids in the 2000s.

For the past several summers, my childhood friends and I have returned with our spouses and kids for a special week of family fun.  Our motivation is two-fold: we want the time to reconnect with one another.  We also want to share this place with those most special to us. 

In the past, it was always me sharing my Culver with them.  This week, I. experiences a piece of Culver that belongs only to him.    

Jr. Woodcraft teaches kids the core values of Culver: Honesty.  Leadership.  Self-Discipline.  Consideration.  Cooperation.  Counselors seamlessly weave the lessons in between games of kickball, t-shirt tie-dying and Indian lore. 

The last day of camp, we join other parents and families for an all-camp talent show, awards and a parade where the kids march and pass in review of the camp director and his staff. 

We linger.  We walk to the lake and ohh and ahh over the progress workers make on the new boathouse.  We cut back through the woods and explore the new Woodcraft docks.  Walking back through camp towards our car, the boys run ahead and check out “our” cabin, the one we return to every August. 

Pieces of torn chip bags and corners of candy wrappers dot the ground.  Pieces so small, many might walk past.  We notice and bend to pick them up.  As we walk through camp and talk about the weeks until we return (“Can’t we just stay until then?” whines A.) we collect the trash and deposit it in the nearest trash can.  The kids pick up the trash without prompting. 

That’s when I realize what I’ve always hoped would be true. They feel pride.  They feel a responsibility. They love this place as much as I do.  

Monday, June 18, 2012

Stiff Upper Lip

Day 229
I’m not one who feels comfortable asking for help.  I’ll readily give it but feel squeamish if a friend offers to reciprocate.  I blame the British in me.  Keep your upper lip firmly in place and battle on. 

I’m working on this.  Today presents me a perfect opportunity to try.   

My boys have been (Ahem) unkind again to my computer and the power cord that connects it to the wall sparks.  I’ve ordered a new cord but it will be four days (!!) until it arrives.  How in heavens name can I be unconnected for that eternity?

In desperation, I post a plea on Facebook and immediately get several responses.  Who knew help was only a post away?  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.    

You know the old saying, “You can dish it out but you can’t take it”?  My parents used to tell us this if my brother, sister or I  teased one another but dissolved into tears when we became the target.  

I think about this and flip the saying on its head:  If you give it, be willing to take it.

It's a simple matter of karma.  If you're nice to others, they're nice to you.  It's something I tell my boys all the time.  I love it when I'm right.  

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Day 228
“I did my random act of kindness today,” F. tells me. 

“Oh, yeah?  What’s that?” 

“At the pool, there were these girls,” he smiles. 

Humm.  Girls, I think. 

“They dropped their goggles,” he continues, “and I dove down and got them.” 

For some reason, I don’t think I’m getting the whole story.  

Go ahead

Day 227
“Go ahead,” I say motioning towards the order line and taking a step back. 

“Are you sure?”  The girl asks.  I say girl but she’s probably in her early 20s.  A working woman on lunch break from a nearby office.  A woman in a perfectly pressed summer dress and a fashionable bag slung over her shoulders. 

“We don’t know what we want yet,” I say.  In truth, I don’t know where all my kids are.  One stands beside me and I hope the other two are checking out the new-age pop machine in the corner.  It’s the first day of summer vacation.  We’ve thrown away the schedules and are floating through the day. 

“Really?” She asks again. 

I want to tell her we may need to let the next three people pass before we get it together enough to order but don’t want to scare her. 

I remember being her.  A young working woman with a life plan.  What must she think of a disheveled mom with three boys who can’t seem to manage ordering lunch?  Does she think, “That won’t be me?”  

Life takes you on funny little detours that you never imagine.  As much as you plan, some things don’t come with a map.  Or instructions.  Thank goodness.    

Monday, June 11, 2012

Swim Little Fishy

Day 226
“I’m so excited my stomach hurts,” F. announces as we pull up to the annual fishing derby at Swaim Park.  Each year, our local Kiwanis hosts the contest.  They stock the pond and invite anyone with a rod to come.  Every half hour they award crisp five-dollar bills to the person who catches the biggest fish and the first fish in every age division. 

F. and I have been having an ongoing debate about his need for a fishing license.  I tell him he doesn’t one until he’s twelve.  “But I do,” he counters, “if I want to mount what I catch.”  I love that boy’s optimism. 

“If you catch something big enough to mount, I’ll get you a license.”  He seems satisfied with the compromise. 

We pick a spot, hook a worm and drop the line.  And wait.  The lines belonging to kids on either side of us bend at the weight of a wiggling, nibbling fish.  F.’s pole remains still. 

“Can I fish?” I. asks. 

When you have more than one child, the first one gets the most.  It’s not intentional; it just works out that way.  “Not yet,” I say.  “Let F. have this right now.” 

I. sees a friend across the pond and runs over to join him and his dad.  Within five minutes and with a borrowed pole, I. waves wildly.  He’s caught a fish. 

I say fish but that may be overstating.  It’s more like a pet.  The officials measure his catch, a whopping 3 ½ inches, and record his entry. 

F’s face crumples.  He hasn’t caught a thing.  He greets each half-hour announcement with an exasperated sigh.  Oh, no.  This is not going to go well. 

“This will be the last of the prizes,” the announcer’s voice crackles across the loud speaker. 

The end of the fishing derby, the Kiwanis gives their “big” prizes: ten-dollar bills for the person who catches the biggest, smallest and most fish.  They call I.’s name.  He’s won!  In the two-hour derby, his 3 ½ inch fish wins the “big” prize of smallest fish caught. 

We pack up and start towards the car when I. runs up to claim his prize.  He returns and waves his two five-dollar bills in the air in triumph before turning and handing one of them to F.  It is one of the most generous and genuine gestures I’ve seen in awhile.   

F.’s face breaks into a smile and the disappointment of the morning washes away.  That’s a good brother.       

Walk Away

Day 225 
I like to start my stories in the middle.  I spend the day scribbling notes and start to organize.  The Bully Antidote starts to take shape as the last several weeks of writing begin to make sense.

I’m excited about this story.  I love the idea that kids may read this and feel empowered to fight a bully using the strength that already exists within them.  Kids can’t be told often enough that they can do anything.   

As a kid, I wasn’t bullied.  My childhood skipped along happily.  Girls invited me to their sleepover parties.  Friends spent Saturdays with me at the mall.  Boys asked me to the dance. 
That doesn’t mean I can’t recognize one.  I’ve seen one pick-pick-pick on my son who stutters.  I’ve seen my son’s fragile confidence crumble until I worried how we’d build it back up.  I went to the school.  I talked to his teacher.  I refused to allow the boy to enter our house. 

Ultimately, it was my son who had to find the strength to stand up.  It was his battle to fight.  We coached him but he was the one on the bus, on the playground, at the lunch table who had to make this end. 

And he did.  He learned the hard lesson that kids can be cruel.  He also learned the valuable lesson that he picks his friends.  If someone isn’t nice, you don’t have to play with him, I’d say.  For my sensitive, sweet child, he worried walking away meant he’d be the mean one. 

“No one has the right to make you feel bad about yourself,” I’d say.  And after a hundred times hearing it, he listened.  And walked away. 

That’s why I’m writing.  So other kids will also know they have the power to take back control. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Only 100

Day 224
Chaz gets the prize today.

“Hon?  Are you busy?”  Working from home has its’ advantages, your wife asking favors isn’t one of them. 

“Working.  What do you need?” 

“Only if you have time,” I begin.  I want him to have an easy out but I’m in a jam.  “I’m super busy with these cookies and was hoping you might be able to fill some water balloons for the kindergarten picnic?”  I’m rolling and cutting sugar cookie dough to make four-dozen Eiffel Tower cookies to fill an order.  There was some confusion about the delivery date.  Needless to say, I’ve lost a day and I’m 24 hours from crazy. 

“How many?” 

“Only 100?” 

Another might not notice the slight lift of his eyebrow.  I do.  You stay together for 15 years and not read the signs.  His eyebrow says “only”?  “Only 100”?  What I also know after 15 years together is if I ask for help, he’ll move mountains.  

Birthday Money

Day 223
Today my baby turns six.  It seems every time I blinked my eyes he was taller, running faster, taking chances, growing up. 

Two of A.’s buddies also have birthdays this month and our weekends are filled with party invitations.  I know what my son wants for his birthday but try and gather ideas for his friend, Hayden. 

“I could use my birthday money to buy Hayden’s gift.”

“Oh, honey.  That is really, really nice of you, but you don’t need to do that.” 

“But he’s my friend.”  

“Yes, he is.  But the people who gave you money for your birthday wanted you to get something you really wanted.”  I pause to let this sink in.    

“How about this?  How about you get a fun new toy and invite Hayden over to play?”  

Swim Team Tears

Day 222
Swim team always involves tears.  In five years, I’ve never seen a first practice that didn’t send at least a handful of kids screaming for their moms.  Today is no exception. 

One sweet boy sits on a lounge chair rubbing his head and fighting back tears.  I crouch so I’m at eye-level, “D., what’s wrong?  Are you hurt?” 

“My goggles hurt my head,” he sniffs.  Two perfect ovals of red mark his forehead. 

“Too tight?”  He nods.  “Can I loosen them up for you?”  He reluctantly hands me his goggles to adjust.  “Try them now,” I say, handing them back. 

He looks at them and shakes his head no.  “Still too tight.”  During this exchange, A. who doesn’t swim on the team slides next to his friend.  A push pop in his hand, he’s successfully dug through the swim bag for loose change. 

“You OK?” Lick. Lick. 

I leave the two to talk and step back to join my friend.  A. runs past with a second lollipop in his hand.  Just as I’m about to scold him for buying more candy, he hands the lollipop to his friend. 

“Oh,” I turn to my friend.  “I wasn’t expecting that.  Good thing I didn’t yell at him.”  

Thank a Vet

Day 221
War is a difficult concept to explain to a child.  Teaching them to respect the courage and commitment of American soldiers isn’t. 

“So,” I start using my serious I’m-going-to-impart-knowledge voice.  “I was thinking we could make thank you cards and give them to veterans who attend tonight’s concert.” 

“Why ‘thank you’?” A. asks. 

“Because we should thank the men and women who serve our country,” Chaz explains.  “Some are injured very, very badly.”  We don’t add that many die in defense of our freedom.  We tightrope walk the line between what’s too much information to share. 

“Is there a war right now?”  A. asks. 

“Yes,” Chaz says.

“There are American soldiers who are fighting today to make sure we are safe,” I add.  This leads to more questions: Why war?  Why do people fight each other?  Are there always wars? 

“I don’t have answers for a lot of your questions because I don’t know,” I answer honestly.  “I don’t know why people fight.  What I do know is it’s important to thank them for their service.”  The boys are satisfied with my half-answer and finish their cards. 

At Town Square, I. and F. become suddenly shy so A. and I go it alone, searching for a soldier.  I see his Navy hat first.  He’s an older man sitting with his wife.  Each dressed in red, white and blue. 

“Excuse me, are you a veteran?” 

He answers yes, he is.  A. hands the man the card who immediately hands it to his wife.

“We wanted to say thank you,” I say.

The wife opens the card and looks from A. to me to her husband.  “Are you looking for a donation to something?” 

“No,” I answer slightly confused.  “We just wanted to say thanks.” I nudge A who mutters an incoherent “thank you.”   

She hands the card back to her husband, “This is for you.” 

He opens it, “You made this?”  A. nods.  “You’re a good boy.”  A. dips his head embarrassed, a grin spreads across his face.   

Next, we find a Vietnam Vet and our exchange goes smoother.  A., loud and proud, thanks the man and hands him the card.  The man looks a little taken back but touched. 

One card left, I point towards a man with a prosthetic leg 

“Excuse me, are you a veteran?” I ask as A. hands the man the card. 

“No,” he says.  Awkward.  “But our son is,” his wife adds.  Whew.  

“Will you give this to him?  And tell him thank you?” 

“Absolutely!”  Then go on to share that their son is back safe in the States.  They wear their pride like a badge.  They should.  My throat tightens and I push back my tears.  For these proud parents, their son made it home.  We can’t ever forget those who don’t. 

Butterfly Kisses

Day 220
Each spring, visitors flock to the Krohn Conservatory for their annual butterfly show.  It’s a feast for the senses: brilliant colored wings to see, fragrant flowers to smell, giggling children to hear, and if you’re lucky, a touch as soft as a kiss when a butterfly lands on you.

To enter the exhibit, the boys and I step through a door and stop.  We wait while the volunteer closes the door and search the area for loose butterflies.  She instructs us NOT TO TOUCH THE BUTTERFLIES then passes out pale paper flower cutouts.  We each stand with our hand out palms up waiting our own. 

“Sorry, we don’t have enough,” she says.  I assure her that it’s OK and that we can share. “Hold the flower and the butterfly will come to you,” she says. 

She opens a second door and we enter. 

Hundreds of butterflies in vibrant blues, oranges and greens flit past us in the enclosed space.  Nearly as many visitors hold their flowers hoping a butterfly will land.

“We need to be still,” I remind the boys.  “Still like a statue.  Frozen like a popsicle.”  F. rolls his eyes and hides his paper flower between the petals of a real bloom.   

We wait.  No butterflies.  We move to a new spot and wait.  No butterflies.  To be fair, we aren’t frozen but more melting.  The heat inside the exhibit is stifling.

On the way out, we pass through the two-door system.  The volunteer makes us shake our bags twice and check our neighbor for butterflies.  There’s a basket sitting on a chair by the closed door. 

“Should we drop these in here?” 

“If you want,” she says.  “Or you can take them home.”  Why does free make something more special? (Slap a "50 percent off" on a sweater, even one I wouldn't normally like, and it suddenly becomes much more appealing.)

Drop.  Drop.  Drop.  Each of the boys’ flowers land in the basket. We decide it’s nicer to let someone else attempt to catch a butterfly.  Maybe they’ll be a statue.