Thursday, August 30, 2012

Cemetery Stones

Day 264
Ian, the boy who believes we’ll be arrested for sneaking in candy to the movies, worries jumping the fence into the cemetery might not be my best idea. 

“No one will see us if we hurry,” I say.  “Now, go.”  The other two boys scurry over quickly and continue the hunt. 

I should clarify.  We’re geocaching not robbing graves. Today’s adventure leads us to the Jewish Cemetery in Montgomery.  It’s a lush, leafy oasis I hadn’t realized existed.  Tucked behind Hopewell Cemetery (and separated by a chain link fence), it’s a lovely, tranquil spot to explore.   

The boys take turns (albeit it reluctantly) with my IPhone using the downloaded geocache app.  Like a compass, it helps direct us to the treasure.  One step left.  Two steps right.  We wander with purpose until we find the loot. 

Unlike the Catholic cemetery we left that’s littered with an array of artificial flowers and empty vases, this resting spot is pristine.  Headstones dot the well-manicured lawn.  Instead of flowers, visitors leave piles of neatly stacked stones that serve as quiet markers of respect.     

“Why do people leave stones?” I. asks.

“To remember someone they love.  To honor their memory.  To celebrate that they lived.”

“How come some people don’t have any stones?” I. asks.  He’s my sensitive one.  It’s exactly like him to worry about the hurt feelings of those in the afterlife.  

Lots of reasons, I tell him.  No stones doesn’t mean no one remembers, I assure him.  It only means that a visit isn’t possible.  I think of all the visits I haven’t made to my grandmother’s stone in Kentucky.  I’ve been planning to take a day and make the 90 minute-drive since we moved to Cincinnati.  This month marks seven years since we moved to Montgomery.  I have yet to make the trip. 

“Can I put a stone here?” I. asks, walking towards a headstone clean of pebbles.  “You know, so they have one?”     

“Yes, I think that’s very nice.”  Everyone’s life should be celebrated and honored.   

Not to be left out, A. grabs three stones and plunks them down on a grave he finds.   “See?  I can do it too!”  Call it a gut feeling but I don’t think he’s feeling it like I. is.   

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Sticky Sweet

Day 263
When I was twelve, I volunteered at a nursing home.  Like all new candy stripers, I started as a transporter.  My job consisted of picking up and delivering residents to the in-house beauty parlor for their weekly appointments to perm and set their hair. 

A few times, I mistakenly brought the wrong ladies to the parlor.  They’d tell me they didn’t remember having an appointment and I’d insist that they did.  By the time I wheeled them downstairs they were giddy with excitement about a new hairdo.  The beauticians couldn’t turn them away at that point.  As you can imagine, this caused a bit of a problem.  Days I worked ladies lined the walls waiting for their turn in the chair.  

Not long after that, the volunteer coordinator reassigned me to floater.  My entire shift I visited patients.  If I saw someone who looked lonely, I stopped in and stayed awhile.  For a talkative type, it was a dream job. 

I quickly learned that it didn’t matter what I did or didn’t say but only that I came.  Everyone’s got a little lonely tucked deep inside.  Everyone wants to know that someone cared enough to show up.  I’ve tried to remember the lesson my 12-year-old self taught me. 

Which brings me to today. 

I’m at the Hyde Park Center for Older Adults teaching a cookie decorating class.  We’re at capacity with twenty-three seniors signed up. 

“If you make a mistake,” I start my usual spiel, “eat it before anyone notices.”  That always gets a few giggles.  I explain how we’ll be working with a corn syrup-based icing I’ve filled into clear plastic ketchup bottles.  “It’s much more forgiving,” I explain, “but much, much stickier.” 

For the next hour, we talk about favorite recipes and holiday baking traditions as we decorate.  The time passes quickly.  We eat as much as we laugh.   

As the aides return to wheel many seniors back to their rooms, I notice one woman with wrinkled, brown speckled hands who waits patiently in her wheelchair.  As I come around the table toward her I notice the icing that covers her fingers and palms.     

“May I wash your hands?” I ask, turning to the sink to wet a thick paper towel.  I take her hands in mine and gently wipe the red-tinted corn syrup from their creases.  She smiles and begins to talk.  I kneel beside her chair, hold her hands and listen.  I’m here and I’m in no rush to leave.    

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Conspiracy Theory

Day 262
F. and I load up the shopping cart and wheel it towards the door. 

“Stop,” I call out.  F.’s a few steps in front of me racing towards the parking lot.  I dig through our plastic bags and pull out a package of markers. 

“Will you put that in there?” I point towards a large cardboard box labeled “School Supply Collection Box.” 

F. skips back to me, grabs the markers and drops them into the box. 

“What if the store just does that and really puts them back on the shelves?” he asks.

“I like to think that they don’t,” I start.  “I like to think the store makes sure kids who need school supplies get them.” 

“But they might not,” he counters.  Ah, my cynic.  

“Maybe,” I concede.  “But here’s the thing.  Most people in the world are good people with good intentions.”  I pause to see if he’s listening.  “Give people the benefit of the doubt until they prove you wrong.” 

He considers this and slowly nods his head before saying, “OK.”  

For a boy who finds fault and unfairness around every corner, I consider his admission a victory.  

How The Cookie Crumbles

Day 261
I’ve spent a lovely hour and a half visiting with two of my favorite high school mentors.  A husband and wife team, the two of them guided many of my friends and I, students at an Indiana boarding school, to make good, thoughtful choices during our formulate teen years. 

My alarm on my IPhone buzzes to remind me that I have an important Mushball game to attend.  I set it knowing if I didn’t I’d spend the entire afternoon chatting.  (I’ve been known to lose hours to one conversation.)  As I stand to leave, the Besses hand me a bag of homemade cookies. 

“I’ll save them for after the game.  A victory treat!” I say to which they respond that I absolutely need more.  Mrs. Bess rushes to find another dozen to add to the bag. 

Driving back to camp I recognize two little boys riding their bikes and swinging wooden mallets in the field in front of the chapel.  Let me clarify.  I recognize them as the ones that belong to me.  I turn right through Culver’s front gates and park by the field. 

“No Mushball?” I ask my husband who’s comfortably watching the game of bike polo from the front seat of our rented gold cart. 

“Tomorrow,” he says. 

“Wait.  Wait right here,” I say.  I run back to the car, grab the cookies and rush back to him. 

“Look what I got!” I say and open the bag wide enough for him to reach in and take a morsel.  “Great, right?” I say as he munches.  (I know because I’ve already eaten two in the three-block drive from the Besses.) 

When our boys (mine and a few others) take a break, I do the same to them.  Each boy eagerly accepts a cookie.  Bike polo really builds up one’s appetite. 

The game ends and we all head back towards camp.  I. and F. cycle. I take the main road to return and park our car.   Chaz and A. drive the cart through the field back to the cabin. Every time the two of them see a family camper kid they yell out to stop, speed over on the golf cart and offer up a cookie. 

I admit that anywhere BUT Family Camp, a stranger offering you a cookie might be creepy.  Here, it's a wonderful surprise on a sunny afternoon.  

By the time we meet back at the cabin, there’s nothing left but crumbs.  I know the Besses would approve.   

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Let It Ride!

Day 260
If you squint your eyes, you might think you’re in Vegas.  Without the hotels.  Or the lights.  Or the cocktail waitresses.  Or the showgirls.   OK, not exactly Vegas, but fun all the same. 

It’s Casino Night, an adults-only event at Family Camp.  Campers choose between blackjack and craps.  Others enjoy appetizers and a drink while they watch over a gambler’s shoulder.    

A peal of laughter floats across the night.  Small circles of friends dot the rooftop of the Naval Building that overlooks Lake Maxinkuckee.     

You know what they say: While the kids are away (or tye-dying shirts), the adults will play!  Hey, camp isn’t just for kids, anymore.   

The big winner from tonight and the winner from Tuesday’s Casino Night will each win prizes and have their names announced at the conclusion of camp at closing ceremonies.  Clearly, there’s a lot on the line.

Knowing this, I listen carefully as Mr. Muneio, a counselor and a friend’s dad, schools us on how to win at craps.  I follow him for a while but lose him between the “double down” and “play the odds.”  Drats.  I suppose Vegas won’t be much help in financing college.  My skills in no way reflect how much fun I’m having.

My husband understands the game.  He’s a math guy like Mr. Muneio.  He likes the strategy and statistics.  I like a pile of chips in front of me on the felt table. 

“Let it ride,” I shout and plunk down some white plastic chips that total $2.  No one can say I’m not a gambler.  

The only thing that breaks up this party is a bolt of lightening.  Counselors roll up the craps felt.  Dealers pack up the blackjack tables. 

“Count ‘em up,” someone yells.  “Remember there’s a prize involved!”      

I slide my chips towards the gambler to my left and add them to her pile.  Let the counting begin.  

Friday, August 17, 2012

Spring Freshness

Day 259
I open the dryer and pull out the still-warm clothes.  Sweet little girl dresses.  Pink shorts with frilly hems.  Princess underwear.  All these things are foreign to a mom of three boys. 

A new camp friend watches me fold as she readies herself for bed.  If she wonders why I’m folding so much pink she never asks.     

I pile the laundered clothes into a neat pile.  I make quick work of it.  I don’t want to be found out.  One part of committing random acts of kindness is the covertness of the sting operation. 

I join Junko at the sink where side-by-side we brush our teeth. 

The sound of the wood door hitting the jam causes us to turn.   

“My laundry,” the woman says and smiles.  “Who did this?”

I shrug my shoulder, turn back towards the sink and continue brushing. 

“She did,” Junko offers, pointing to me. 

I adopt a tactic I sometimes use with my kids: Ignore and maybe they’ll stop talking.

“You did?” the woman asks. 

Still brushing.  Still ignoring. 

“Yes,” Junko clarifies. 

My cover blown I spit my toothpaste and turn.  And dazzle her with my shiny grin.    

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Welcome to the Family

Day 258
Culver Family Camp is our favorite week of summer.  Held at my high school, the camp brings back graduates of Culver Academies and Culver Woodcraft to reconnect with old friends and reenergize as a family with a week filled with outdoor adventure.

For new campers, even those familiar with Culver, it can be overwhelming.  Where do I sign up for tubing?  Can my 8-year-old shoot an air rifle?  Are kids content to be dropped at the kids’ nightly activity if I attend an adults-only one? They are too many options for too much fun.  It’s a nice predicament to be in.      

Plus, since camp’s only a week, veterans in the know race from activity to activity with the understanding that they still won’t get to everything which only leads to more anxiety for camp newbies.

“It’s our first time,” a blond mom shares with me that night while we stand side-by-side brushing our teeth in the shower house.  “It’s my husband who went to Culver,” she offers, anticipating a question I’m certain she’s been asked a dozen times today.  “I’ve never been here before.” 

“If you married in, you’re in the club,” I laugh.  She nods and grins.  She knows. 

It’s a lesson my husband also knows.  Married at the Culver chapel, an attendee of class reunion and area reunion events and a 4-time Family Camper, he knows all too well.      

We talk a few more minutes and I answer some questions about different activities.  I tell her not to miss Carnival, it’s a highlight for the kids.  She agrees to sign up for Casino Night for just adults the same night as my friends and I. 

We say good night and each head to our respective cabins.  I hope she feels welcomed.  Actually, I hope she feels like a member of the Culver family, a huge extended family that reaches all corners of the globe but whose heart is nestled in rural Indiana.  

Monday, August 13, 2012

When Life Gives You Lemons

Day 257
I see them but turn the car right purposely away.  It’s not that I don’t like lemonade, it’s that I don’t have any cash.  Debit cards have made us a nation that jingles very little when we walk. 

At Kroger, checking out (with my debit), I punch the button for cash back.  What a novelty to hold paper money in my hand.  I slip it into my wallet and rush back to the car. 

The lemonade stand is still in business when I turn down Knollbrook.  Two kids yell to passing cars with such unbridled enthusiasm I think this must be the best lemonade in the history of mankind.  

I pull over and roll down my window.  “I’ll take one,” I shout.  A blond-haired boy climbs my running board and hangs from my passenger side window. 

“You know we have cookies, too,” he says.  “Do you want one?  They’re really, really good.” 

“Well,” I smile.  “Only if they’re really, really good.” 

He calls in the order to his partner and a little girl walks over a glass of lemonade and a cookie wrapped in a white paper napkin. 

I head home and surprise my husband with an unexpected afternoon treat.  He works out of our home office and somehow manages to keep his job with all the chaos of three boys playing indoor baseball during conference calls.  If anyone needs a cookie, he does.  

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Right. Left. Right. Left.

Day 256
“Don’t lean over too far or we’ll tip,” I say. 

My warning sets A. to screaming.  “We’re going to tip?  We’re going to fall in?” he cries. 

“No, no,” I say backpedaling quickly.  “I just…   Oh…  Look, a crane!”  I point to the right of the canoe to distract him from his current line of questioning. 

I., A. and I paddle at Sharon Woods, a jewel within the Hamilton County Parks system.  Less than ten minutes from our house, it’s a treasure trove for geocaching, fishing and hiking.      

We start our canoe excursion as a leisurely tour of the lake.  We spy turtles, ducks and itty-bitty fish.  The only thing that distracts from nature’s beauty is the trash that floats and bobs and creates man-made obstacles for the wildlife. 

That's until we get an idea.  

It becomes a skills test for us, this weaving back and forth between bottles.  I. and I work together to steer the canoe seamlessly from one can to another.  I. carefully leans over the canoe and grabs the trash.  A. piles the finds at his feet.  

Whoever spots a bottle directs the course of our canoe. 

“There!”  We paddle right.    

“Over here!”  We paddle left. 

“Right!  Right!  Right!”  We turn around and go back.    

At the end of the hour, our arms shake from the effort and our cheeks hurt from smiling.     

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Whew!  I'm back from our annual trip to Culver Family Camp and have plenty to report!  The boys and I had fun (and a few mishaps) attempting random acts of kindness on vacation.  After a hot, hot shower to melt away a week's worth of grime I'll get to writing.  Look for lots of posts tomorrow!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Take a Deep Breath and BLOW!

Day 255
The waiters bound out of the kitchen singing what I can only assume is “Happy Birthday” in Spanish.  It’s accompanied by an odd rhythm of hand clapping and toe tapping. 

The birthday boy looks to be in his early twenties.  He wears an enormous sombrero and looks slightly uncomfortable with all the attention.  To the contrary, his date appears giddy with fanfare.  The lead waiter places a quickly melting ice cream scoop topped with a lit candle in front of the birthday boy.

The singing turns to English and I join in.  I. rolls his eyes and grins.  (As a parent, it’s important to teach children that it’s never too early to start embarrassing them in public.)  A. bobs his head to the singing oblivious to I.’s assessment of my cool factor. 

Happy Birthday, Stranger!  Blow out your candle and make a wish!  I hope whatever it is you want comes true! 

And if it’s that we all stop singing, well, the song’s almost over.  

Live Like a Movie Star

Day 254
It’s a parking spot reserved for the stars.  In front.  By the door.

It’s a reward for clean living. 

It’s a spot that makes you feel lucky all day. 

I turn my steering wheel to the right, ready to glide my SUV into the open space.  At the last minute, I change my mind.  The car jerks to the left and I continue driving.

I feel like a lucky, lucky girl most days.  Great husband.  Super kids.  Wonderful life.  Most days I feel I won the lottery. 

I pull into a spot furthest from the front door. Let someone else feel lucky today.  I’m full up.  

Shake Your Senior Thang

Day 253
We arrive early for the Ohio Senior Olympics.  The race walk event is slated to begin at eight am.  Sharp. 

The boys and I spent last night making signs to cheer on Aunt Marty who will be participating in today’s 1500-meter race walk.  She’s got a great sense of humor so we don’t worry that our anthem of “You’re not too old to go for gold!” will offend.  

We’re also working out a small cheer (who says high school cheerleaders have no skills?) to perform when she walks past the stands. 

It goes a little like this:

Shake it!  (Shake to the right.   Shake to the left)
Don’t break it! (Dramatically grab hip.) 

I know.  Great, right? 

The boys and I hike up the stadium stairs to find a good seat with a view.  Water from last night’s rain beads on the aluminum benches. 

“Wait! Don’t sit!” I tell the boys.  “Let me get towels from the car.” 

A benefit of rarely cleaning my car is I have at my disposal lots of problem solving tools: A stack of fast food napkins?  Kleenex!  A half-eaten box of crackers? Emergency snacks!  Towels from the pool?  Bench dryers!

I return with four slightly damp towels and give the boys each one.  I. dries the seat we plan to sit on then runs to the top of the stands.  F. follows.  They systematically dry each row for fans that may arrive in the next half hour. 

What good sports, I think.   

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Cold As Ice

Day 252
I wake in a full-blown panic.  The alarm clock blinks 4:32.  I roll away in hopes of snuggling back into sleep but know it’s no use.  A slideshow from a movie we watched yesterday keeps replaying in my mind.  It’s enough to give one nightmares.   

While visiting the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland, we bought tickets for To The Arctic, a 3D IMAX experience that shows the magnificence of the wildlife and habitat of the arctic region.  It’s the magnificent splendor of the glacial waterfalls that’s kept me tossing.  Scientists say they prove the polar ice continues to melt at a significant rate.  To put it simply: The ice is disappearing.  Experts predict that by 2050 the polar ice will no longer exist. 

For those that doubt global warming, go see the movie.  In less than forty years, the absence of polar ice will significantly alter the temperature of our planet.  I don’t claim to know enough about science to understand all the ramifications of this catastrophic event but know enough to know it’s bad.  As my boys would say, “It’s really, really bad.”  

I left the movie panicked.  Hopeless.  “It makes it real when they give a date in our lifetime,” Chaz whispered to me as the credits rolled.  Yeah, I think.  I’m already six shades to Sunday with worry.  I get how real it is.  

Chaz and I will both be in our eighties when the last ice melts but our boys might be parents.   Their kids will be young.  What keeps me up is the state of the world we’ll be leaving them.  They are the ones who will live with our consequences. 

But what can one person do? 

Support elected officials who care about environmental issues.  Be mindful of how you use energy.  Conserve it when you can.  Talking about protecting our environment isn’t a random act of kindness.  It is a deliberate, mindful act of kindness.  Start the conversation.  It’s a first step to action.    

And go see the movie.