Sunday, July 29, 2012

Try and Try Again

Day 251
I tell a friend whose mother lives near us how much I miss Mrs. Jacks. At 85-years-young, she was a firecracker who still cut her own grass with a push mower.  She recently sold her home to move into an assisted living community near her son. 

“She was our go-to neighbor for our random acts of kindness,” I confess. The boys and I often left her secret treats simply to bask in her reaction.  Wild waves.  Big smiles.  Gosh, I miss her.   
 “I wish you’d do my mom,” she admits. 

That’s who I’m thinking of when we’re at the farm for our weekly pick-up.  The farm allows CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) members to cut gorgeous flowers from the cutting fields along with choosing fresh vegetables, organic eggs and free range chickens.  

I hand F. and I. a pair of clippers and walk with them towards the field. 

“Any ones we want?”  F. asks.   

“Pick the prettiest ones,” I say.  Then add, “Cut a bunch.”  It never hurts to give kids specific directions.

Flowers in hand, I drop the boys in my friend’s mom’s driveway.  “Just ring the bell and tell her to have a great day,” I say before backing up and turning the car  towards our house.

I wait and wait in our yard but see no sign of the boys.  My friend’s mom only lives three houses away. 

“Are we missing a few?” Chaz asks as I pace the front porch.  

“I worry they don’t have enough sense to come home if no one answers the door.  I’m going to go check.” 

I’m right.  The boys stand statute still patiently waiting for someone to answer the door. 

“We’ll get her another day," I say and point across the street.  "Let’s bring these to Mrs. Gluck.”  At 85, she’s another oldie but goodie.    

Paper Problem

Day 250
The boys and I walk at a leisurely pace on our return from Kroger.  It’s summer.  It’s a gorgeous day.  We have donuts.  Is there any reason to rush?    

“A.?  Can you take their paper and put it on the front porch?” I point to The Enquirer slipped in a clear plastic bag lying on the bottom of a driveway we pass. 

“Maybe they don’t want their paper moved,” I. says.  At nine, he’s trying hard to find his voice.  Recently, he’s taken to flexing his independence by arguing over the color of the sky. 

“Or maybe,” I counter, “they’ll open their door and be glad they don’t have to walk all the way to the end of their driveway in their robe.” 

Angus bends over, picks up the paper and trots up to the front porch where he gently places the paper as if it’s a fragile gift he’s giving. 

“Nope,” I. replies.  “I think they’d want us to leave their paper alone.” 

Oh, well.  Kindness loses today.  

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Bey Blade Birthday

Day 249
I have a small baking business that my husband and I affectionately refer to as “my hobby gone out of control.”  What started as a way to raise money for a breast cancer walk has grown to kids’ parties, classes and weddings.     

My favorite orders continue to be kids’ birthday cakes.  I especially love baking cakes for kids that I know.  I imagine them blowing out the candles, squinting their eyes and making a wish.  Then digging in and eating some great cake.     

“Can you make Bey Blade cookies?” a friend calls to ask.  She’s wanting them to include in gift bags for party guests.   

The mother of three boys, I’m well acquainted with the toy spinners.  “Absolutely,” I answer having never made them before.

We agree on two-dozen and a delivery date.  I send the boys to search their rooms for Bey Blades as I pull out the butter to soften and measure out the sugar and flour. 

“Is this Pegasus?” I ask A. when he hands me a red and blue spinner the size of a half-dollar.  He nods yes.  “Is he a good one?” 

“Oh, yeah,” A. answers.  “He’s tough.”  Tough is boy-speak for awesome.   

I bake up an extra dozen and pack them into the box with the others when I finish decorating. 

I love birthday surprises.  

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Skip Through Bourbon Country

Day 248
I’ve done the Susan G. Komen 3-Day.  Twice.  Each time, I’ve solicited friends and complete strangers for donations to fulfill the $2300 minimum fundraising requirement. 

Both times, after meeting survivors and family members of those that cancer took, I thought the same thing.  I should have raised more.  I could have raised more.  Next time I will. 

Being involved in such a coordinated effort for one single cause gives you perspective on how one disease reaches its tentacles into so many aspects of a life.  It moves you in a way I can’t adequately describe.  It commits you to continue helping in small and big ways in the future because you’ve seen what this disease does.  

You’ve seen it’s ugly face and you vow to do anything in your power to stomp all over it. 

When a friend sent an email asking for donations to support his team run for the American Lung Association, I hit the donate button within minutes of reading his note.  Plus, it’s a crazy undertaking.  He and his team will run 200 miles through scenic bourbon country in Kentucky over 36 hours.  Who doesn't love a little crazy?  

Whether it’s lung cancer or breast cancer, by donating we contribute to a cure.  Dollars go towards diagnosis and treatment.  Research.  

To borrow a line from the American Cancer Society, it goes towards more birthdays.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Street Fest

Day 247
The darkening skies scare us off.  We pack up the kids and call it a night.  An evening at a neighborhood street festival sounds delightful.  An evening with three soggy boys does not. 

If I’m being honest, an early night snuggled on the couch watching a movie with my husband while the kids sleep appeals to me more than a drink under the stars.   

“Will we see you later?” a parent from Cub Scouts asks.  He and his wife are heading home to drop their kids with a sitter before returning for the late night live music.   

“Not tonight,” Chaz answers.  “Heading for dry ground.”

The dad laughs and turns towards his car. 

It’s step, step, stop.  Friends are everywhere.  I hang back to talk to another neighbor when Chaz takes off at a sprint.  He catches up to a friend and hands him our unused drink tickets. 

“We’ll toast the Ellis’ tonight,” he yells back to me and slips his hand inside his pocket. 

“Great!” I wave back having no idea what he’s talking about.      

Lucky Streak

Day 246
We’ve always had good luck with neighbors. 

Make that great luck. 

In Columbus, my neighbor Lucy saved my sanity.  The two of us quit the working world together and ventured into the then unknown world of stay-at-home moms.  We’d talk every morning and figure out a plan for the day.  Even if it meant opening our front doors and letting the kids frolic together in our shared yards, it kept us on track.  Plus, it ensured that we’d each have someone over the age of toddler to talk to. 

Moving to Cincinnati six years ago, we fell into another great situation.  Play dates, neighborhood camping trips, summer happy hours, progressive dinners.  My boys believe that neighbors are instant, built-in friends.  And why wouldn't they?  That's all they know.  

That’s why we’ve been waiting patiently for our new neighbors to arrive.  They purchased the home across the street from us this spring but for weeks we see only the dad enter and exit with a variety of paint cans. 

Today, I see movement across the street.  “I think they’re home,” I say to the boys.  “Should we go see?” 

After a morning of swim practice, they’re less interested in meeting new neighbors and more interested in SpongeBob.  “Or I could just go?” I say. 

“Yeah, why don’t you do that,” F. answers without shifting his eyes from the television screen. 

I arrange some dahlias in a tin can and head over. 

“Are you here?  We’ve been so excited for you to move in,” I say when the mom answers the door.  The family has two boys that fall in age between my oldest and youngest.  

“Yes,” she says and motions for me to come in. 

I step through the front door and hand her the flowers.  “We’re so glad,” I start and the conversation flows effortlessly from there.  A new friend, I think.  The streak continues.     

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A New World

Day 245
“Do you think it hurts them?” F. asks. 

I’ve just hooked a minnow on his line.  Not as much as being eaten by a catfish, I think. 

“I don’t think they love it,” I concede. 

“Then I think we should let the rest go,” he says.  He considers the Chinese takeout box of live bait for a moment.  “After we name them.” 

“If you want to we can do that,” I say. 

F. kneels beside the lake’s edge and tips the box and its contents into the water. 

Be free, little Oreo.  You live to swim another day, Alexander.  You too, Columbus.  Go discover a new world.    

Pop, Pop, Fizz, Fizz

Day 244
What do you get when you mix five moms, nine kids, a dozen water slides and a large pizza?  A great day at Kings Island.

We arrive early, flash our gold passes and scoot past the waiting crowds into the park.  The extra fifteen minutes before the gates opens allow us to search out a shady spot to set up camp. 

The kids divide and conquer.  Each drags a lawn chair and arranges it in a circle facing one another.  Under the protection of six trees, our impromptu village offers a place to regroup and relax.  Perfect.   

My kids know it’s a special outing by the fact that I agree to buy lunch at the park.  Usually I pack all sorts of cut up fruit (groan) and cheese sticks (yuck).  The idea of pizza is too much.  Too much.  When I opt for the unlimited drink refill wristband, the boys look at me like I’m Santa and the Easter Bunny rolled into one.  

“Unlimited?  All day?” F. asks his mouth watering at the idea of a trough full of carbonated pop.  “Lemonade,” I tell him.  Why build up the dream only to crush it later? 

Even without Sprite, it’s a great day.  The kids play well.  The moms laugh and gossip.  We remember to reapply sunscreen to the kids.  

But, alas, all good things must end.  Plus, the moms decide to drop the kids at home and reconvene at half-price martini night at a local restaurant.  It’s time to go. 

I look around for any kids with refillable cups.  There.  Sitting on a red striped towel with his dad.  I carefully peel off the wristband and walk over. 

“Do you have one of these?” I ask the dad.  “We’re leaving,” I explain. 

“We tried but they were out,” he answers.  It’s not a surprise.  Unlimited drinks on a 100-degree day sways even the most reluctant Kings Island consumer.  

I curl the wristband around his son’s thin wrist and push the tacky end to seal it.

“Have fun!” I wave goodbye and walk back to my waiting, tired and sun-kissed kids.  

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Summer Loving

The summer days seem to slip away from me without writing a word about our random act of kindness.    The boys and I are only behind in the posting...not the doing.  We're finding fun ways to surprise friends, neighbors and complete strangers.

I promise to catch up on the blog as soon as I dry off from my run through the sprinkler.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Trash in the Eye of the Beholder

Day 243
“I felt so bad,” Chaz starts.  “We were walking home from dinner and A. bent over to pick up something off the ground.  I yelled at him to drop it.” 

I know where this is going.  I’ve seen A. do this too. 

“What did he say?” I ask. 

“I’m picking up trash, Dad, so other people don’t have to see it.” Chaz grimaces.  “He told me it was his random act of kindness.”

It’s sinking in, this little experiment.  It’s taking root.  

Gardeners Like Water as Much as Flowers

Day 242
It’s another steamer at a hundred degrees.  As hard as I try, I can’t convince the boys to leave the basement and join me on a trip to the nursery to pick out flowers. 

“Too hot,” they whine.  “Too hot.” 

Apparently, others agree.  Only a handful of customers pick through the drooping inventory at Reading Feed and Garden.  

I push my cart towards checkout.  Behind the clerk stands a large, glass front cooler filled with ice water and diet cokes. 

“Anything else?” she asks. 

“A water,” I say.  The clerk hands me the bottle.  I twist the cap and drink half of it in one gulp. 

I slide 50-cents across the counter, “And one for the next customer, too.”  

Fa La La La La: World Choir Games

Day 241
This week, Cincinnati hosts guests from around the globe as part of the World Choir Games.  Tooted as the Olympics of choir competitions, the ten-day competition brings together 15,000 participants from 64 nations. 

It’s a can’t miss opportunity to expose my kids to something they might not ever see.  Or hear. 

Every day, game organizers plan several free “friendship concerts” that feature three choirs from around the globe.  (One choir hails locally.)  Yesterday, the boys and I attended a free concert at the Cincinnati Art Museum.  Tonight, I bring I. and a friend to another. 

“Why do they call it a friendship concert?” they ask.  Kids always get right to the heart of it. 

“I think they want us to celebrate our differences by bringing different choirs together but also show that ultimately we’re all alike and can be friends.”  They accept this answer and move on. 

We roll into the parking lot of Kenwood Baptist Church forty minutes before performance time.  It’s packed. 

“They’re turning people away,” a lady announces to the line of cars. 

I turn to the back seat.  “Go on in.  Find seats.  Stay together,” I say.  “I’m going to go park the car.” 

The kids jump out, scurry across the parking lot and disappear into the building.  I turn right out of the parking lot and drive several blocks to find a spot.  I park and hustle back to the church.  A posted sign on the front glass door reads, “At Capacity.”  I push on the door and enter. 

“You can’t come in,” the lady inside the door tells me. 

“My kids are in there,” I answer.  She waves me through. 

I find the kids and we settle on the carpet giving us a perfect view down the long expanse of the church aisle.  Everywhere I look I see people.  Hot, sweaty people.  The air conditioning’s gone out and the temperature continues to climb as we wait for the concert to begin.   

“Are these seats taken?” I ask a woman to our immediate left. 

“Yes,” she answers and places her purse across the empty chairs. 

After the second choir, she signals to me, her companion never arrives and the seat remains empty. 

“Do you want this seat?” 

Yes, I think.  My legs are cramping from sitting on the floor.  It’s hot.  I’m uncomfortable. 

To my right, also on the floor, sits an older Japanese man with his daughter and grandson.

“Yes,” I tell her then turn to the man.  I lean over and lightly touch his arm. 

“Would you like a chair?” I point to the seat.  “No, you,” he indicates.  I shake my head no. 

He pushes himself up and stiffly walks toward the chair before turning and bowing his head in thanks.  Or maybe it’s in friendship.  

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Some Like it Hot

Day 240
I fell in love with men in uniforms in high school.  It only makes sense that I married one. 

Dressed in his Boy Scout browns, my husband proudly walks with boys from our town in the Fourth of July parade.  The boys run from one side of the street to the other passing out packaged s’mores they’ve assembled the night before at Swaim Park. 

People cheer and wave as the boys pass by.  Some yell out a boy’s name as they recognize a child from the neighborhood.  At the parade’s end, kids wait red-faced and breathless on the curb for their parents. 

“Drink, boys.  Drink,” my husband tells them.  It’s another hundred-degree day.  The kids oblige by guzzling water like it’s an Olympic sport. 

The heat is doing a number on folks.  A squad in the parking lot reminds us all how dangerous hot, hot weather can be.  Many families abandon festival plans and head home for air-conditioned rooms and relief.  The usually crowded Montgomery Park is empty.     

The boys and I decide to stay as Chaz heads back towards the junior high and the start of the parade route to pick up our car.  “I won’t be long,” he says.

After half an hour, I start texting: ETA?  Fifteen minutes later, I shoot off: Where are you?  The kids and I are cooked.  We want to leave. 

Thirty minutes later, Chaz strolls up. 

“Where have you been?” I start.   

“We were walking up Jolain when we saw her.  She was laid out,” he says.  “Done.” 

She is an eleventh grade girl with special needs who’s fainted from the heat.  Chaz and another dad came upon her and her mom while walking back to the car. 

The two men carried a cooler full of melted ice from the parade and find an extra shirt to dip in the water to help bring her body temperature down.  

“We waited while the other daughter ran to get the car,” he says explaining the delay.

My frustration evaporates.  He was late because he was helping a stranger.  Would I expect any less from my man in uniform? 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Mores S'mores

Day 239
It’s 100 degrees and I’m afraid for the chocolate. 

The boys and I are at Swaim Park helping the Cub Scouts assemble 1776 s’mores to pass out at tomorrow’s Fourth of July parade.  It’s a smooth operation.  Except for the sticky marshmallow fluff, but that’s another story. 

“1776?  Really?” I ask my husband.  He grins and shrugs. 

“Very patriotic.”

“Everyone start with washing your hands,” instructs the dad in charge.  “Once your hands are clean, don’t touch your face or eyes.”  Or nose, I mouth to A.  “Got it?” 

The boys nod that they understand before spreading out to fill six picnic tables.

Leaders assign parents to crack and snap crackers and chocolate.  Boys spread “a little in the middle” of white, gooey marshmallow to the center of a graham cracker.  Other boys add the chocolate and others add a cracker top. 

Other parents sandwich the assembly line and bag and label each finished s’more.

“Assembly lines are only as strong as their slowest moving part,” a dad tells me.  “I learned that in business school.”   

“Are we the slowest part?” I laugh as the kids call and clamor for more crackers and chocolate. 

“Yeah,” he grins.  “I think we are.”  

Smile for the Camera

Day 238
To be fair, the reason I remember is because of the all caps SCREAMING at me from the family calendar.  PICTURE DAY!!!  I’ve written.  In bold.  With three exclamation marks.

We arrive at the pool on time, in our team suit.  I pull the completed order form from F.’s swim team folder and search for a pen to write a check.  I’m enjoying the brief and unexpected calm of being on top of it.  What a novel and wonderful feeling.   

“Shoot.  I knew I forgot something,” my friend says.  She pats her pockets for dollar bills before rummaging through her purse for a checkbook.  “I don’t have any money.” 

 “I do,” I scribble out a check for her before she can object.  “What do you need?” 

“I’ll get you the money tomorrow.”  I never doubt it for a minute. 

We hurry over to the kids who are lining up near the diving board.  The photographer cajoles this one over an inch and tells another to stop making a face.  My friend checks her watch.  She’s got to be at work. 

“I’ll get the girls the forms.  Go,” I say. 


I’m a stay-at-home mom who spends everyday at the pool.  Where else am I going to be? 

“Really,” I laugh.  “Go.”  She hands me the form and rushes out. 

“On three,” the photographer yells.  “Big smiles!”  The kids grin for the camera.  F. makes a face.  At least he captures my child’s true self. 

Done, the kids scamper back to their towels to grab goggles for practice and nearly take out an arriving mom. 

“Oh,” she says, wearing a look I’m familiar with.  “It’s picture day?”    

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Ugh. Morning.

Day 237
I’m not firing on all cylinders. 

Even Bob at Kroger comments.  “You got a case of the dropsies, too?” he laughs.  I give him a half-hearted wave as I stoop to pick up some bananas from the floor.  

Yeah, that and a case of the can’t-sleep-with-a-6-year-old’s-knee-in-my-back, but that’s too much information to share at this early in the morning. 

Milk.  Fruit.  Donuts.  Focus.  Focus.  Focus. 

I stumble to the car with my groceries.  An abandoned cart in the empty lot lisps dangerously to the right.  I might not be able to carry anything, but I certainly can push something.  I click the cart with mine and push (at a snail’s pace) the carts to the corral.  Whew.  Now home to feed the savages.  

Good Morning, Sunshine

Day 236
I pull into the intersection to check for oncoming traffic and slam on the brakes just in time to avoid being sideswiped by an older model black Honda accord barreling towards me.  The driver flips me the bird as he whizzes past.  He’s also yelling.  I can’t make out his words but don’t think it’s “Have a nice day.” 

Where did he come from?

Wow.  Not really the way I like to start my day.  Take a breath.   

I turn right onto Main where I see the same Honda stopped by a red light one block away.  I have no choice but to pull up behind him. 

He sees me in his rearview mirror and starts cursing and motioning some more. 

I often tell my kids that being nice to someone who isn’t nice to you is one of the hardest things to do.  Time to put up or shut up.    

“What’s he saying, Mom?” F. asks from the back seat. 

“Good morning.  I think he’s saying ‘Good morning’,” I answer. 

The man becomes more and more agitated when I don’t react to his rant.  I should, I think. 

Be nice to those who aren’t nice to you, I repeat.  I smile and give him a 4th of July float wave. 

“What are you doing?” F. asks again. 

“Wishing him a ‘Good Morning’ back,” I say.

The light changes and he slams on the gas to get away.  Ah, well.