Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Book By Its Cover

Day 354
I try hard to not prejudge or hold stereotypes in my heart.  Sometimes I fail.  It’s in those imperfect moments that Life shows her cards and I realize once again I’ve played the wrong hand.   

Ian and I wait in the green chair lift line at Perfect North.  The chair holds three so as a party of two we shimmy our skis closer to the front of the loading line and wait for a single rider to make us a party of three. 

A black ski mask obscures everything but his eyes.  Bulky headphones cover his ears.  He slides his snowboard towards us and turns away.  Nothing about him invites conversation.  

The chair swings around and the three of us board.  I. grips the side rail.  His face reads TERROR.  WHAT DID MY MOM MAKE ME DO?  WHY AM I ON THIS MOVING CHAIR?  SO HIGH FROM THE GROUND? 

I immediately do what I do in high-pressure situations.   I talk.  I blabble in an effort to comfort but also in an attempt to distract.  It’s working.  I. looks at me oddly as I go on and on about the lunch selections in the lodge and how hot does hot chocolate have to be before it’s deemed undrinkable. 

We’ve halfway to the top when the chair stops.  Our feet hang precariously in the air. 

I.’s on to my tricks.  His grip tightens on the side rail. 

“First time skiing?” the masked snowboarder asks.  “Having a good time?” 

I judged you wrong, I think, and listen as he engages my frightened son in exactly the thing I didn’t think he liked: conversation. 

The chair lurches forward as we chug up the mountain. 

“Tips up, just like last time,” I instruct as we near the top. 

I.’s left ski veers one way and his right ski the other.  By the time I realize what’s happened, gravity pulls me down the ramp and off the lift.  The snowboarder hops over on his board, extends his hand and pulls my child from the ground and out of the way of the next three skiers. 

So what’s my random kindness in all this?  Nothing more than to remember that books can’t always be judged by their covers.  Shame on me for forgetting.  And a heartfelt thanks to that snowboarder for reminding me.     

Monday, February 25, 2013

March. March. Jazz Hands.

Day 353
Thin Mints.  Samoas.  Trefoils.  Do-si-dos.

Oh, let me count the ways.  Or to be more accurate, let me count the boxes.

In total, 28 boxes of Girl Scout cookies have lined our shelves over the last two weeks.  Not all at the same time.  They don’t last long to get to know each other. 

“Why so many?” people often ask.  Or, “Were you a Girl Scout?” 

My elementary school didn’t have a Girl Scout troop.  We had Campfire Girls.  And I joined.

At least once a month, or more frequently if requested, I entertain the boys with a song and dance routine I do to When Every Campfire Girl Walks Down the Street.  It goes something like this:  

When every Campfire girl walks down the street (march, march)
She’s just one-hundred per from head-to-feet. (okay sign with my hand, touch head, point to feet)

She’s got that style, that smile, that winning way. (beauty queen pose, cheesy grin, clasped hands shake over one shoulder then the other)

Just one look at her,
You’ll recognize her and you’ll say, (shake finger in a knowing, authoritative way)

“Now there’s a girl I’d like to know.  (more finger-shaking)
She’s got that good old Campfire pep and go. (turn to the side, locomotion dance move)

Just to look at her is quite a treat! (jazz hands)
Oh to be a Campfire girl!” (pull out all the stops and throw in old cheerleading jump)

While different in many ways, I believe these two groups are alike in the ways that matter most.  They create community. They introduce girls to new challenges and adventures. They build girls’ self-esteem and self-confidence. 

These lessons last a lifetime.  Deep down that Campfire Girl still exists in me: a young girl willing to try new things and brave enough to fail.  Is there any better lesson we can teach our girls?  Or a better reason to buy Girl Scout cookies?     

For the record, I also do a mean Camp Tialaka chant.  

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Valentine Life Saver

Day 352
I love a kid with an entrepreneurial spirit. 

That’s why when I receive a flyer created by a neighborhood junior high student toting her babysitting skills I tuck it in my calendar to hire her the next time Chaz and I go out. 

I text the girl two weeks before our Valentine’s weekend dinner and receive a yes reply.

For those who don’t yet text the sitter; oh, honey, get with the program.  Texting makes booking sitters 100-times more efficient.  Gone are the days of leaving a message and biding my time waiting for a reply.  Today’s youth are about now-now-now.  This translates to me having an answer within seconds of hitting send. 

Flash forward to tonight.  We’re ready.  Pizza’s on the table waiting for the kids.  Emergency numbers are neatly written on a piece on notebook paper by the phone along with bedtime instructions and the address of the restaurant where we’ll be.  All we need is the sitter. 

The minutes tick by and I wonder why the sitter isn’t here.  Seven.  Seven-fifteen.  Seven-thirty.  I start to worry.  Our reservations are for eight at a restaurant 20-minutes away. 

I double-check my phone and the message I sent.  Yes, she said she was available.  I scroll back through our exchange.  For March 16th.  I’ve given her the wrong date.  

Before I go into full-blown panic (and before my husband finishes dressing and walks down the stairs), I call the girl. 

“Hi,” I start, trying to slow my breathing.  “I know I said I needed you to sit on March 16th but I made a mistake. I meant February 16th.”  Silence.  I battle on.  “So I was wondering,” my voice turns high and excited like I’m inviting her to a party, “are you available?  Umm,” here’s my closer, “now?” 

“Now?” the girl asks.  “Sure.”  Just like that.   

“Really?  You can come?” I nearly faint from relief. 

“I just have to call my mom for a ride.  She’s at Kroger.” 

“Whenever you can get here is great.  You’re a life saver,” I say and hang up. 

This isn’t how I imagined introducing this new sitter to our family.  On the up side, I now know she’s available for last minute sitting jobs.  Sigh.    

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Party Girl Lives On

Day 351
When I was little my parents dubbed me their party girl.  I don’t think they meant it as a compliment.  Their tone and delivery made me think “irresponsible” and “party” must be interchangeable.   

Here I am, thirty odd years later, still the party girl.  With a husband, a house, three kids, two dogs and a guinea pig, I have more responsibility than I can handle.  Somehow I’ve managed to blend the two into a working definition of happy.  And that’s OK with me. 

If you ask any kid within a three-block radius of our house, they’ll tell you.  I’m the cookie mom.  I keep ingredients on hand to whip up a batch of chocolate chip treats and a refrigerator full of icings ready for eager hands to decorate. 

Most mornings, you’ll find pencils and crayons scattered across our kitchen table as the boys craft whatever last-minute project I’ve concocted to keep the masses happy and the television off in the hour before the bus comes.

I’m not saying it’s a full-on party all the time but I do believe in putting on the sparkle when an opportunity presents itself.  

This Valentine’s Day week, I’ve been especially busy baking for class parties.  One of my neighborhood favorites is over playing and sits for a while on a kitchen bar stool choosing to watch me fill in cookies with corn syrup icing than run around with the other kids. 

“Mrs. Ellis?  When you were in college, did you get your degree in baking?” 

I smile up at her.  “No, honey.  But you might think so, right?” 

I tell her I have plenty of baked heart-shaped sugar cookies and if she wants her and her sisters can come over after school on Valentine’s Day and we’ll decorate cookies together with the boys.   

I see her dad that night at a school program and he tells me that they have a conflict.  “Thanks for the invite,” he says.  “She’s really disappointed it’s not going to work out.”   

It’s Valentine’s Day and I’m up at 5 am finishing class party treats, packing lunches and making icing.  I think of my neighbor’s daughter and think why can’t it work out?  No one says parties have to be after-school, do they? 

I. calls his friend at 8 am for an impromptu before-school Valentine’s Day party. 

We crank up the Taylor Swift.  I giggle as the country crooner belts out “We’re never getting back together.  Ever.” as we celebrate a holiday built around love.  The irony’s lost on the kids. 

We laugh.  We dance.  We decorate cookies.  We sample a few.  All in all, I say it's a success.  I might go as far as saying a new tradition.  

“Five minutes until the bus,” I call from the kitchen. 

There’s a scramble of backpacks and a search for shoes but we all make it to the corner with a minute to spare.  Inside, two hungry dogs stare longingly at a countertop of drying cookies.  

What Would Alex Do?

Day 350
Years ago I borrowed a book from my grandmother and forgot to return it. 

That’s not true.  I took it from a bookshelf without her knowledge (with every intention of returning it) but spilled water and destroyed the cover to a point past recognition that it was once a book.  So I tucked it into my book bag and snuck it home.  Sorry, Mom Mom.  Twenty years late. 

I can’t lie now.  I’m glad I stole that book.  It forever changed my life. 

Living a Beautiful Life: 500 Ways to Add Elegance, Order, Beauty and Joy to Every Day of Your Life by Alexandra Stoddard does exactly what it promises.  From making breakfast special to making paying bills more fun (really, she writes about this), it’s a great guide to making life more enjoyable by upgrading the mundane to magnificent.   

I need to channel Alexandra because Houston, we have a problem.  Family arrives in two days and the guest-room-turned-office-soon-to-be-transformed-back-to-guest-room is buried in a year’s worth of clutter. 

Chaz and I spend hours sorting through books and boxes.  We recycle a mountain of used computer paper.  Organize office supplies.  Remove a desk and bookshelf and schlep in the bed frame and mattress.

What would Alexandra do, I think as I smooth on fresh sheets and lay a pretty bedspread across the top.  I fluff the pillows and find a decorative pillow to add to the pile. 

I hope the room says welcome to our weekend guests.  I hope it says we care about you enough to make this room inviting and comfortable.  I want it to say we’re lucky to have you here.    

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Opps, I did it again.

Day 349
“How much do you charge for cupcakes?” my friend asks.

“It depends,” I say.  I’m not purposely stalling but I wonder why she’s asking.    

“We’re having a Casino Night for Kindervelt,” she explains. 

She doesn’t need to explain any more.

“Tell me what you need and I’ll give them to you,” I say. 

“You will?” 

Kindervelt brings together hundreds of Cincinnati’s best volunteers to raise money for Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. 

I’ve wanted to get involved with Kindervelt for a while now to thank Children’s and it’s amazing staff for the care they’ve given to my boys over the years.  Diagnosed with pulmonary stenosis at two-days-old, A. had surgery when he was smaller than a football.  He continues to see a cardiologist at the Heart Center. 

When I. fell from the slide at our city pool and broke his elbow, nurses and doctors cared for him as if he were one of their own.  They calmed a scared boy (and mom) with their competence and confidence that everything would be fine.  It was.    

I’d love to join a Kindervelt chapter but can’t add one more thing to my life.  Between family, PTO, writing, baking and Advocare (oh, yeah, did I mention I’m now selling Advocare?), I can’t do it.  I simply might lose my mind. 

It makes me realize that no matter how busy one is, one can find small ways to contribute.  I may never attend a Kindervelt meeting or sit on one of their several fundraising committees but I can do something. 

Cookies?  Cupcakes?  This I can do.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Passing Notes

Day 348
“That’s his desk.  Right there!” A. says and points to his friend’s pint-sized table and chair.  “I’m going to leave him a note.  To find when he comes to school tomorrow.” 

“Go for it,” I say.  I think it’s a great idea.  Who doesn’t want a nice note to start your day? 

I love little kid notes:  I like you.  You’re nice.  I’m glad you’re my friend.  They cut to the chase.  Strip everything down to the basics. 

What would happen if adults started leaving notes for friends?  At work, I imagine Chaz slipping a torn piece of computer paper under the office adjacent to his: Let’s have coffee.  Or me handing a card to a mom who I don’t know well but think we could have bunches in common: Let’s be friends. 

Ah, if life were that simple.     

“Done,” A. says. 

“High five!” I raise my hand and wait for the slap of palm hitting palm. 

“You know it.” A. smiles and struts to the hallway.  

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Birthday Bear

Day 347
It’s nearly dinnertime and the boys and I are still at school.  It’s not our usual routine. 

I’m helping with kindergarten registration and loving meeting this incoming group of fresh-faced almost kindergarteners.  Little pig-tailed cuties hop from foot to foot, unable to contain their excitement as parents wait to turn in their pile of paperwork.

Around the corner, the boys join the after-school childcare program, a first.  (I’ll admit to being a tad offended when they react with unabashed glee when I tell them the plan.)

By five, I’m ready to go.  I’ve been at the school for PTO things off and on a majority of the day. 

“Let’s go!” I cheer, hoping to rally the kids quickly to pack it in and head to the car. 

“I’m going to say hi to Mrs. H.  OK?” F. yells and bounces down the hallway before I give an answer.  The other two boys bound after in a mad dash to catch up. 

I can’t blame them.  Mrs. H is one of my favorites, too. 

I walk to the kindergarten wing in to find the boys feeding the class fish and filling in Mrs. H. on the latest and greatest. 

After a fun ten minutes I convince the boys we need to start home.  Walking towards the door, A. spots something on the floor.  “Brady forgot the birthday bag!” he says. 

The birthday bag contains several birthday-themed picture books, a birthday journal where kids record how they spend their special day, a package of crayons, a birthday hat and a stuffed bear.  Brady told us at the bus stop that he’d be bringing it home. 

Without missing a beat, A. offers to bring it to him.  “He only lives across the street,” he explains.    

“Oh, good,” says Mrs. H.  “He’s a worrier.  I don’t want him to worry.” 

It’s just the push the boys need to get them moving towards the car.  Homebound.  Finally.  Thank you, Birthday Bear.  

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Bulletin News

Day 346
We live in a community of 10,000 people.  Depending on where you live, this may sound like a metropolis.  Raised outside of Chicago, to me, it feels teeny tiny. 

Living in a small town takes some getting used to.  There are things you learn over time.  

1.   It’s impossible to go to Kroger without running into someone you know.  Don’t wear your pajamas.  Even at 6 am.

2.   Don’t cut anyone off on Montgomery Road.  You probably know them.

3.   If you go often enough, the lady at Algamesis Brothers Ice Cream will learn your name.

Another fun thing about living in a small community is opening The Montgomery Bulletin, a newsletter published monthly by city hall, and finding your neighbor’s daughter smiling proudly from the front cover.

I slip the issue into a manila envelope and the boys and I drop it in my friend’s mailbox on our way to karate lessons.  I’m certain extra copies will find their way into the hands of grandparents or far-flung relatives.   

I pull the car to the curb.  F. rolls down the window and leans towards the mailbox. 

“Don’t fall out the window,” I say.  This advice may seem obvious.  I’ve got boys.  Never assume. 

He struggles with the mailbox but manages to pull it open and shove the newsletter in.

“Gentle,” I say.  Again, obvious but have to add.   

Monday, February 4, 2013

Follow The Leader

Day 345
I hit confirm and five registrations sail through the Internet (to whatever wondrous place these things fly) for the March Mini Heart 5K.

I’ve known about the race for years.  Once, I even attempted to run it. 

This year we’ll all be walking to support F.’s friend Heath.  Born with a congenital heart defect, he’s had a long list of surgeries and continues to receive therapy today.  We thought about making a donation instead but want to teach the kids that one of the best ways to support a friend is to show up. 

We’ll stride side-by-side for 3.1 miles.  (Last summer a doctor recommended Heath’s dad have heart surgery.  He did.  We’ll be walking for him, too.)  More than that, we’ll teach the boys a little something about being a good friend. 

I imagine the kids will outpace the adults as we wind our way through downtown Cincinnati.  With Heath and F. in the lead.  Or that’s my hope.   

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Speedy Drive By

Day 344
It’s so cold even a polar bear needs a coat. 

That’s what I’m thinking as I exit Kroger with my one bag and every intention of sprinting to the car, jumping in and cranking the heat. 

Then I see the woman and my plans change. 

The old woman’s thinning white hair blows high in the wind as she hunches deeper into her coat.  She lifts one bag from her cart and places it in her truck before turning to pick up another.  She moves at a painstakingly slow pace.  I worry by the time she gets all the bags in the back she won’t need to worry about the weather.  It’ll be spring. 

I’ve learned this year that many people are reluctant to accept help from a stranger. Sometimes you need to not ask.  Give them the easy way out.  Put it back on you.  Just do.

“It’s freezing out here,” I smile.  “Let me help you get these bags in the truck so you can get in the car faster!” I pick up a bag and place it gently in her truck.  The lady stops and turns her head towards me.   

“I’m putting your eggs and bread here in the back so they don’t bump anything,” I say.  I want her to know I’m being careful.  She stands statue still with her bag and stares.   

In less than a minute, her groceries are loaded. 

“I’m going to take this cart,” I tell her, pushing her cart to the corral.  “Now get in that warm car!” I call over my shoulder. 

The woman looks a little stunned.  I’m sure she thinks what in heavens name just happened? 

She smiles and gives me a small wave by which time I’m in my own car with the heat turned high. 

Everything happened faster than you can say random act of kindness.