Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas - the summary

What a week – the week of Christmas. Where could I possibly begin?

I set my table for Christmas Eve and my children disapproved.

“Mother. What are you doing?!”

“The table is set, Honey. I’m getting drinks. What would you like?”

“Gladys, take these plates back. Get the china. We only use china on Christmas.”

That was Andrew. My six-year-old disapproved of my Christmas table. My daily dishes are lovely. They are white with a green rim. They go into the dishwasher. We ate on Wedgewood on Christmas Eve. My mother thought that was just peachy. I’m such a rude daughter, after all – such a peasant.

Sometimes our lessons are a little too good.

Like the week before when Andrew was invited to go to the Gingerbread tea with my friend and her son, and down he came in a collared shirt and tie. Wow. I guess I should ask him on a date myself sometime. There he went. My husband stuffed some money in his pocket on the way out the door. Honestly, I was wondering if I should give him the keys to the car.

All Gladys wanted for Christmas was a very specific pair of pink clogs with candies on them that are no longer made and completely off-season. They had to be in her size. Fortunately, Santa pulled through. It’s just a guess, but I wonder if that didn’t cause just a little bit of stress. SOO glad that I wasn’t personally involved in THAT. (I’m crossing myself and taking a sip of port).

“Mom, is there another name for ‘yonder star’?”

“Yonder star?”

“You know . . . we three kings of orient are . . . . following yonder star.”

Right. Yonder star.

No one can tell what George actually wanted for Christmas. What he got was a trampoline from the Land of Misfit Toys. Mrs. Claus was talking to this really awesome elf and this came to that and George is the jumpingest kid on the planet. Yee haw.

My sister-in-law (we are married to brothers) and I went out for a movie while staying over at my MIL’s home. In case you are wondering, “Australia” is currently the longest film available at the theatre. (We all love each other, and we intend to take every step necessary to ensure that remains the case.)

While otherwise going about my business, my children were having a discussion of metaphysics and theology in the second row of my van. I wish I had a tape recorder. Honestly, I thought about getting on my cell phone. I thought about turning up my radio. My brain was hurting trying to keep up with their conversation. Please don’t ask me. Please don’t ask me. Please don’t ask me. Please please please don’t ask me.

“Mom! Gladys thinks that God is Light! She is sooooo wrong."

Those three year old girls - so sassy.

Enjoy your New Year’s celebration. My family will be enjoying a three-layer heart shaped cake with one layer carrot cake, two layers banana cake, frosted with cream cheese frosting except for the smallest banana cake layer, which has chocolate frosting. The entire thing is decorated with every last bit of canned colored frosting left in our house from 2008, Christmas sugar candy decorations and, of course, rainbow sprinkles.

As you can imagine, it is truly lovely, equally appetizing, and brimming with the stickiest sort of love.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Poem (Poe would cringe)

Once upon a midnight cheery, with my eyes bloodshot and bleary,
I considered my Christmas cards upon the cold and lonely floor.
While I pondered, glad but sighing, suddenly I heard some crying,
As if some one awake, lying there behind their bedroom door.
‘Tis the baby’ I muttered, ‘crying there behind the bedroom door -
Only this and nothing more.’

Ah, so quickly I remember we are now in crisp December,
And each separate family member, I must write into the family lore.
I dismissed this small distraction, but soon my body sprung to action,
My babe thus sought reaction, reaction there behind the door.
So quickly I leapt towards the noise, my feet sadly dismissed the toys,
The toys they spread across the floor.

And now the focused mind complies, and shows me those dear butterflies,
Those ones so sweetly, but not discreetly, flying across our dining floor.
Gladys’ friends ran through fleeting, enjoying this fine birthday meeting,
Cheering, laughing, giving greeting, welcomed through our humble door.
Together cake we were eating, and still dancing across the floor.
She is three, and not yet four.

In the Spring we took a drive, to keep our spirits fresh and live,
We constantly research and strive to show our children something more.
To Cincinnati we went looking, at each stop we were booking
Events and dinners, always cooking up a little something more.
A factory making Airstreams, adding fire to our big dreams,
Michigan to Indiana, we took our Toyota van
along Interstate 94.

‘Neath ohanami tree flowers, we savored each precious hour:
Petals fall as April showers and carpet our picnic floor.
Then they ride, the trails they like - he learns to ride a two-wheel bike -
Gladys frustrated on the trike – a game where they keep their own score.
We take summer trips to Cuyahoga and Kelley’s Island Shore.
Eleven miles and they want more.

The summer brought us more good times, traveling and making quick rhymes:
Those tricks for making our kids times enjoyable as we travel back and fore.
We went out to South Dakota, learning much of those Lakota
Before there was a Toyota. We heard stories of ancient lore.
Drew and Gladys caught two big fish, fulfilling one vacation wish.
I wish to have eaten four.

Alas, we camped and took a hike along desert routes the kids like,
Searching, seeking, and looking for those snakes along the desert floor.
Our awesome kids mind and behave while spelunking the deep Wind Cave.
In total darkness they are brave; the Ranger badge they now adore.
They wear it proudly on their shirts along with the other four:
Another at Mount Rushmore.

The Pig Roast came and we were guests. Aunt and Uncle brought out their best;
Welcomed us to a cozy nest, ‘tween New York and the Jersey Shore.
The family gathered for the Roast, a celebration we love most,
No holiday beyond a toast to a family we all adore.
Held but once and then tradition - a tradition forever more.
Always this and nothing more.

The Fall came and school hath started, in a bus Andrew departed;
A first grade course so well charted. We waved goodbye from our front door.
Sweet George toddles quickly walking. A few sweet words he is talking,
With his sister always stalking - quick to wrestle upon the floor.
I can’t keep up although I try, I blink an eye and they grow more.
Filled with love forever more.

Then Halloween comes right after, with the cackling of witch laughter,
The children run ever faster collecting treats from door to door.
A clown, fairy, and a Ranger, keep Uncle from unknown danger,
Neighbor’s houses ever stranger, ghosts now hang from their front door.
The children run down the sidewalk, a bag of treats but they want more.
Memories forever more.

For this year’s Thanksgiving feast, we forewent the trip out East,
At last but never least, we welcomed good friends through our humble door.
The rolls were baked with wine and cheer, those sweet children we hardly hear,
Though we are happy they are near. They play together on the floor.
The day too soon is over and leaves us still wanting more.
We bid farewell from our front door.

Thus the year was filled with treasure, no good way for us to measure,
The singing, swinging, sweet pleasure and love and laughter we adore.
As the kids grow the years are speeding, leaving parents always pleading
That our kids be never needing. To our dear children we implore,
‘It’s not a sin to play to win, but in love you can’t keep score.
Love each other ever more.’

The kids wake, ‘What is the matter?’- a rising pitch of cheerful chatter;
Still I hear the pitter patter of footie p.j.s on the floor.
Whatever happened to that crying behind their closed bedroom door?
Now my eyes sag and are seeming to wish for the pillow dreaming
Of kids faces always beaming from the joy ‘09 has in store.
Go forth with love ever more.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Operation Santa - The 36 hour miracle

This is my 'thank you' note to our fabulous organization . . .

How do I describe such an honor? In the first hours after I sent my original e-mail, the word ‘success’ already felt appropriate. By Saturday morning, only the word ‘miracle’ was left on my lips.


You may know the story. Service co-chair and I delivered to an adopt-a-family on Thursday morning. A neighbor approached us, with the humility only a person in love with her children could have possessed. We had told her that we didn’t think we could help much, but we would try. She left expecting nothing. My co-chair and I agreed to collect a few things from home, just a little something, by Saturday.


On my next errand, I ran into another PTA member. Still moved by the need, I quickly conveyed my story. In spite of my insistence that the timing was simply too short, she solicited my promise that I would write a PTA memo. I did.

From around 2pm on Thursday until my van backed out of the driveway Saturday morning, my phone rang off the hook, and my doorway barely closed before another minivan appeared bearing gifts. When one PTA mom departed, leaving entire wardrobes for both children and a huge bag of toys – all purchased new the few hours before, I nearly cried.

By Friday afternoon, I required everyone who made a delivery to enter my home. My shock so great, I worried that no one could possibly believe the generosity. I wondered how I could possibly describe such a scene. My home overflowed with bags and boxes of last minute love. Around 5:30pm, I received another delivery. While so many others had expressed a desire to help, but could not, she said she would be back in one hour. From 6:30pm until 2am, we sorted, we assembled outfits, and we wrapped those items with the love and care with which they were given. So many times, we wished we had one more Christmas stocking, another gift bag, more tissue, a shirt to match that sweater, and in the next box exactly what we wished for appeared. I joked that I was going to wish for a million dollars, and we laughed together.

On Saturday morning, my co-chair and I worked hard to fit everything into our two minivans. My view out my back window blocked, we finally departed.


When the grandparents opened the door, the grandmother (the woman who had originally approached us) recognized us immediately. They did not know we were coming.

“Have you been requesting a miracle? Because, I think there is one in our vans for you.”

My co-chair quickly explained that our vans were filled with gifts for them. Of course, who could possibly believe that we were not kidding?

The grandfather quickly slipped on some shoes and came out to help us. The gifts in the back of my minivan alone surprised him beyond any possible expectation. When he approached my van, I handed him the stocking with the little girl’s name written in glitter glue. Truly, this was an inexpensive stocking with a slightly messy name (I did my best).

He smiled and said, “That’s my grandbaby’s name,” with a voice that melted my heart all over again. I felt his humility, not able to believe that this wasn’t just her name not the stocking, by some coincidence, but that it really was HER stocking.

We unloaded the van together and with the opening of each door, the shock of the additional gifts started all over again. Their living room was truly filled, and they allowed me to take a picture, which I will share as well. The grandfather insisted that we come in. He kept thanking us. He wanted to know the who, what, where, and how. We shared the stories – the email, the donations, the 4 year old who ran out to my minivan with his toy bus, my friend’s child who ran back up stairs to find more books. We saw pictures of the children and told him how beautiful they are, how good they must be, how loving their grandparents are: how honored we are to be standing there before him. They soaked it all in, and felt all the hugs one by one.

He admitted to having felt a little down this Christmas, laughing with misty eyes.

I also had written a note for the grandparent’s stocking. I wasn’t sure how much we would say, and I wanted them to receive all of your sentiments and all of your hugs. I will include that below as well.

On our final trip out to the van, I handed the grandfather two more bags of unwrapped clothing I had picked up on the way to our delivery.

“These were extra,” I said, “just in case.”

He shook his head laughing, “Just in case?! The very first gift you brought was extra. God bless you all.”

Thank you ALL for a Christmas I won’t forget either.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Holy Christmas!

I have to share this story. Of course, consider this also a bit of an apology of why I have not been blogging of late. If it is possible to be bludgeoned by the Spirit of Christmas, then I believe I am experiencing it now.

It's a good thing.

First, there were the cranes. We decorated a friends tree with nearly 1000 cranes. You can read about that here.

Then, everyone pulled together when Indy's mother died. The love was palpable.

I thought everything would wind down this week. My co-chair and I delivered 'adopt a family' gifts on Thursday morning. The need was so clear, and the families were so appreciative, and I was feeling rather relieved to be almost done with maybe a few too many obligations. I was making it through, everything was scheduled down to the minute, but it would all happen.


And then a woman approached us in the driveway of the 'adopt a family' home. She asked the simple question of how she might get on our list. She was so humble, so polite, just there asking the question, just in case. We said that the program was over for the year, but we took her name and address, just in case. She walked away disappointed, but understanding.

She had hardly disappeared when my co-chair and I gave each other that knowing look.

"Deliver Saturday?"


"Got anything at home?"

"I can grab a few things. We'll figure it out."

After some polite scolding by our venerable communications chair who miraculously ran into me at the local grocery store, I sent out the note below. My living room is FULL. I have received at least 15 phonecalls from people wanting to participate. I cannot leave my house without returning home to a full porch. I was explaining to our communications chair in the preschool hallway how wonderful she is for convincing me to send the note, and the person next to her said

"Oh, you're Emama? I was just heading to your house. Let me give it to you now."

THE NOTE I sent Thursday around 2pm was as follows . . . .

Operation Santa Claus

I have a Holiday request . . .

THE NEED: We are looking for new or used (whatever you have handy) things for a 3yr old girl and 2yr old boy.

clothes - boy 2T and larger, girls 3T and larger (clothes, coats, hats, pj's, whatever)

toys, books, etc, for the same ages.

DROP OFF: If you have anything, please drop these items off at

1) my house

2) Pioneer preschool AM to my co-chair

3) Pioneer preschool PM to me

4) Call my cell and I'll pick them up.


My co-chair and I dropped off the giving tree gifts this morning to two families. Honestly, I can't tell you how heart warming it is to see how appreciated these gifts are to the families. I can't thank you enough. The families were truly overwhelmed with the quantity of gifts, and truly appreciative. I know it may be difficult to feel how important this event is when you are dropping off a gift and never see those families receive the gifts. It IS important. You all have really made a difference in the lives of these families.

As we were leaving one of the homes, a neighbor approached us in the driveway. She very politely inquired about how she might participate in the program (as a recipient). After a brief exchange, we requested her name and address. I explained that since we were just finishing up the program for this year, I wasn't sure that we would be able to help her out. I encouraged her to not have any expectation.

She was very understanding.

After she walked away, we agreed that she would be put on the list for a Saturday delivery. I am considering it a Christmas gift to all of us to be able to 'play Santa' for this family. We only have 36 hours really. But, look around your house. Maybe there is a feather boa in the bottom of the toy box that hasn't been loved in a long time and could use a new home. Maybe there is a little board book that your children have outgrown, or even a few extra matchbox cars. Ask your kids if there is something that they would like to give away to make more room for Santa's treasures.

If you have a moment to find something, please know that it will make a difference.

And, the first person who responds to this note who would like to come drop them off, will have the opportunity to join us Saturday morning. (I need to pass on some of this love.)

Thanks again,

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Preparing for our Lord

Christmas means many things to many people. We bake cookies. We gather gifts. This year, we even enjoyed a "Norman Rockwell" Christmas in front of a roaring fire at an 1850's Tavern. We even sang jingle bells on a horse drawn wagon. Okay, the cookies are still in the form of a bag of flour, but Christmas magic is in the air, and certainly we can expect the "Mary Poppins" effect to kick in any minute.

In the meantime, Gladys and I cleaned the refrigerator. I am not sure why no one sings songs about cleaning the house prior to the arrival of Christmas guests. Or, perhaps they do, and I have been too busy to listen.

Feeling rather jolly, I was amusing myself marvelling at the high tech features of my refrigerator, sure that, at any moment, some science experiment worth blogging about would present itself.

This particularly impressive gauge allows you to control the precise temperature of your refrigerator. You have the choice between "cold" and "colder." I can imagine the sarcastic engineers enjoying designing this particular gauge.
"So, you want me to make this dial? Really? So, we can say, 'what do you want, folks, its a refrigerator for heaven's sake, do you want it cold, or colder?'"
Someone with a degree did that.

Of course, this particular high-tech feature has been the subject of amusement for many, the secret light switch. I see here that someone decided that the confusion had finally gone to far, and they went ahead and labelled it for us otherwise befuddled consumers. I am SO glad they told me, I would have never guessed that it was a light switch.
And, of course, my very favorite feature of my refrigerator are these lovely shelves. It is difficult to read (I'm not a photographer) but it does say "spillproof."

I know, it probably means that once something is spilled, it won't go dribbling down onto your shoes and your pickles on the shelf below. But, if you had seen this shelf before I scrubbed it, the word "spillproof" would NOT have come to mind.
Ah, here is dear Gladys again, cleaning our very high-tech refrigerator. Not having found any so-called science experiments in my refrigerator (and feeling a little proud, mind you) I thought that this blog post may be just as dry as you are expecting. We would finish this chore and merely be a gnats hair closer to welcoming Jesus on his birthday.

And then I found this.

And I remembered that sunny, summer day when a sweet husband made mint juleps for his wife. And, that wife being of a frugal sort, decided to save the mix. However, those mint juleps were just so yummie and delicious that she must have been enjoying them so much that she forgot how to spell.
Mrs. Claus will savor that hot toddy on Christmas Eve.
And, now my friends, I am ready for the Lord.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Tangled Web of Friends

I wrote last night, ever so briefly, about Indy losing her mother. I fell onto my pillow reflecting upon the other half of the story.

Indy heard about her loss at 2am on Sunday morning. Her family gathered together to share the news, support each other.

As of Sunday morning, Mike had mentioned this tragic loss to one or two friends. At 1pm, I received the call.

“Is it true?”

I didn’t know. Mike’s friend told his wife, who saw Indy’s friend S in church. S called A who called C to confirm the news. C called me at home. I called Indy. Within 20 minutes, I sent an e-mail to another half-dozen friends who forwarded it on to those within Indy’s inner circle. Before dinnertime on Sunday, I received such an outpouring of love in my inbox that Indy now has meals scheduled well into next week. Another friend offered to babysit my kids, so I can help with both hands. Indy reported a phonecall from Iowa. The news made onto the blog, onto Facebook. Everyone knows.

Cookies will be made, flowers ordered, cards sent, gifts arranged, love offered.

In the halls of preschool, another friend offered to bring cookies for the preschool party in her place. The Pastor already knew; mutual thank yous were exchanged for supporting our friend.

“Is there anything else we can do?”

My van will be honored to transport friends to be with her for the Visitation. In the preschool parking lot, we counted the rsvp’s, and determined that my 8-passenger minivan may not be big enough for this event. Laughter rang out in the rain. Yes, our biggest problem is transporting all the LOVE.

This tangled web of friends . . . we all know, we all care.

Consider it done.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Just a note . . .

The real life friends in this blogging world are pulling together for Indy this week. She is such a great friend that I should be flooded with eloquence, but I'm not.

She lost her mother Saturday night.

Say a little prayer and leave her a hug here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


I looked at my calendar today and I thought about Ted. Of all the people with whom I shared my high school experience, I probably think of Ted more often than most. I doubt Ted thinks much about me.

He may not remember my name.

In the past month, I have been very “helpful” within my community. I organized a group to help with Habitat for Humanity. I made a pillow and wrote a poem for a friend fighting cancer. I am co-chairing a giving tree program. I helped to organize and execute a group of 15 or so women to make Christmas tree ornaments for a charity. I hosted a cub scout meeting. I hosted another family for Thanksgiving. My family shopped and cooked a meal for 50 folks we otherwise would have never met (one man even took our picture). I presided over a homeowners’ meeting. I attended a PTA Council meeting and spoke on behalf of my son’s school. I even attended a Board of Education meeting.

That was just November.

For every event or opportunity that I have the pleasure of promoting, I feel there are at least ten that fall to the sidelines. We all say ‘no.’ I try to say ‘no’ with no guilt, no apology, and very little explanation.

I remind myself of Ted.

When Ted and I were 15 years old, we worked together at a church camp. I cannot say we were good friends, but we had known each other since early elementary school. He passed every test he felt like passing. Naturally smart, he ran with a streak of menace about him. I knew him for too long to buy into the ‘tough guy’ routine, but we simply were not in the same circles, really. I saw him in a few ‘gifted’ classes and at church.

His mother was the original “church lady.” If something happened in our church, her name was on it.

Ted liked medieval weapons. You know, throwing stars, brass knuckles, num chucks and the like. He had taken num chucks to his father’s car a few days earlier. I heard his parents had him arrested, although I never confirmed that rumor. He was always frighteningly clever. That day, he was angry.

We were in charge of small children. This was a church day camp. The oldest person present was 21 years old (a week or so later that responsible 21 year old would be purposely dousing me with lighter fluid, but that is another story). Ted stormed off into the parking lot.

I walked after him. It went something like this.


“What do you want?!”

“Ted, what’s going on?”

“I’m p$%ssed. Go away!”

Silence, save for his fist hitting his car.

“That D*mn B!T**ch!”


“My @#$ mother.”

“She seems alright. I mean, she does a lot of stuff for the church . . . ”

“OH, YEAH, that’s right. She does a LOT of stuff for the stupid church. Yeah, she doesn’t give a CR#*P. She does a lot for the church to make HERSELF feel good and important, f*%g high and mighty, she doesn’t care about ANYONE else. F&%* B%&*%ch.”

More silence.

“So, fine, Ted. You are SO SMART. You can run circles around anyone in our school and you’re going to throw all that away, just because she’s stupid?!! That makes sense. You are WAY smarter than that, Ted. You can do anything you want if you don’t screw it up.”

He stopped hitting the car.

We walked back in silence, and never said another word about it.

I heard your message, Ted. I wonder if your mother ever knew how much her 'tough guy' missed her.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Happy Birthday, George!

Thanks for being your sweet little you, big man.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Birthday Contraption

Yes, my friends, it worked. This is the wreckage. I will have to do some forensic work here as the chaos of the moment did not allow pictures. Daddy came home early. Heads spun. String tangled. Children clamored to pull the trigger . . . . Daddy was definitely surprised.
Exhibit A - Wreckage

Exhibit A (above) shows the sequins fabric, D-ring with painters tape and one of the dowel rods. I happened to have the sequins fabric left over from an Elvis party. (A prepared mother should always keeps some on hand).

Exhibit B - Trigger rings
I cut twelve lengths of blue ribbon (12 inches each). I made a loop at one end and attached that end to a ring. Each open end of ribbon was tacked to the floor in front of a opening between the spindles in my loft's railing. (Shh! Don't tell Mom. Oh, I am the mom). The ring end of the ribbon could then dangle down towards the family room.

Exibit B - Coiled sequins fabric.

I measured the fabric strips very carefully on the floor by running my scissors up them in three inch increments, plus or minus a few inches. Meanwhile, Gladys helped by jumping up and down on the fabric cheerfully screaming "Mommy, why are you cutting my dance floor? Why are you cutting my dance floor?!"

I then very carefully rolled each strip into a coil (toilet paper style). The end of the strip was attached to the floor with a tack on top of each blue ribbon.

Then the ribbon was pulled back around the coiled fabric, suspending the fabric above the family room below. I slid each of the rings onto the dowel rod.
I taped string to the end of each dowel rod. The strings were then laced to the opposite walls of the loft (attached a D-ring to the wall). The extra string was left to hang downstairs as the triggers for the children to pull.

While Andrew and Gladys created "Happy Birthday" posters for their father downstairs, I attached two additional D-rings to the ceiling above the loft.

Exhibit C - Banner Attachments (D-rings near ceiling)

The posters were taped one on top of the other as a verticle banner. Then the corners of the top poster were attached to strings laced through the D-ring as show above. The other end of those same strings were attached to a larger ring, which was then laced through the dowel rods. The left side was attached to the left rod and the right to the right rod so the banner would fall down in the center. Since the rod was on the floor of the loft, the distance from the larger ring on the end of the string to the D-ring on the ceiling was the perfect length needed for the banner to drop down into the family room. The large rings would get caught at the D-rings and stop the banner from falling any further. (It worked perfectly).

Exhibit D: Sequins strips

Exhibit E - More Sequins strips

So, the banner fell first in the center. Then, one by one, the strips of sequins were released as the kids pulled the dowel rod. It gave the presentation a nice delay-action that brought Vegas right here to the midwest.
Truly, it should be on Youtube. Maybe next time.
Not everyone gets that kind of action on a Monday evening. Yeah, that's right, you're jealous I can tell . . . do try to control your excitement.

Monday, December 1, 2008


What can you make with . . .

poster board
two dowel rods
a good handful of 1” rings
crochet thread
three ‘D’ rings
painters tape
several yards of sequins fabric cut into 3” strips
one nut case mom

Well, if I’m lucky, a pull-action contraption that will automatically make streamers and a “Happy Birthday” poster magically fall from the loft into our family room obstructing my husband’s view of Monday night football. All of this, with a simple pull of a string.

That is Andrew’s dream. He has been talking about it for a week.

If you will excuse me, I have work to do. I have less than an hour.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Wave

Snow fell today. To be accurate, we should say “slush,” but I am not sure how that falls. The snow banks on the sides of our street cradled the onslaught on freezing rain, creating a river without flow (almost measureable as a slump factor, for you true engineers).

Imagine frozen orange juice left on your counter.

Having woken up in a deliciously good mood, I decided to wear a skirt that my son had helped me pick out. (An exaggeration perhaps, but he was a great sport at the store). I awarded him full credit, as I was a little concerned about the combination of teal, gray, and burgundy printed on corduroy. But, for $7 he thought it was “pretty crazy” so I bought it.

I should also mention that, considering the typical weather here in my suburb, I often shovel my way four doors down to the bus stop in the morning. (Call it your middle-class, suburban, full body workout.) Since Mother Nature prefers a healthy suburban mom, she often allows me the opportunity to do it all over again before the bus returns in the afternoon.

I threw on my snow boots with my “crazy” corduroy skirt and opened my garage door.

Gladys grabbed her shovel and followed behind, pushing now, then dragging the shovel behind. I was a few yards ahead of her, alternatively shoveling and checking on her over my shoulder.

Then, over my shoulder, I saw the Fedex guy. I saw the young man through his truck window, chuckling at me, smiling.

I looked down at my boots.

I looked back at Gladys.

Then I saw my son’s bus slow down a few homes ahead to allow bus 64 to pass it. This happens every single day: bus 64 always passes my son’s bus at that exact spot. Every day, the buses follow this same dance.

The clockwork of this occurrence underscores the change in weather for me. A month ago I witnessed this dance in a light jacket, kicking leaves. Two months ago, I pulled the wagon in a cotton skirt.

Then I saw THE WAVE.

A tremendous, evil wave of slush grew larger as the bus accelerated towards the curb in front of me. I dropped my shovel and instinctively ran up the driveway.

Gladys (protected by angels) continued to focus on her shovel, standing behind a tree completely dry.

My son’s bus, now stopped two drives ahead, forced the Fedex truck to stop right in front of me.

“Hey! He almost got you!” his laugh was contagious.

“He’ll have to try a little harder next time!”

Andrew jumped off the bus, and the three of us ran home together into the warmth.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Juggling Rocks

A thick tension enshrouds the suburbs. The other night, an otherwise congenial friend of mine attacked my character. Another friend expressed her concern for a mutual friend, who she accidentally caught in tears. I hung up the phone a moment ago, wondering if somehow I had done it again. Somehow, completely by accident, someone felt slighted. Surely, it was nothing, but as I stand in this great cathedral, I see my friendships before me as a stained glass window.

I juggle rocks.

As you can imagine, this feeling led me into a state of introspection. I have been walking through life fairly pleasantly for more than thirty years. I am a reasonably sensitive person. I have been accused of excellent social diplomacy skills. Friends have truly humbled me in the past by their willingness to open up to me, and I can promise you that the smallest shreds of those private conversations will never appear here. Never. Even if you guess right, I promise I cannot tell you. (Anyway, I have a horrible memory.)

What happened?

Although I am well known in my circles as a pop culture idiot, I do my best to stay abreast of the more serious events of our time. I heard the other day that Citibank is laying of 50,000 employees on top of other layoffs. Yes, I heard about the credit crunch, the death spiral of retail sales, the automotive bailout debates, and “Hank and the banks.”
I received the e-mail from President Hockfield of MIT, explaining just how MIT will weather the financial storms. She sent me (and thousands of other alumni) an e-mail telling me things will get worse before they get better. I sigh, and I’m so glad that those employment figures are just figures. Those metrics sit sadly on the desks of economists, in some office, somewhere in a big city.

I am glad that I don’t know anyone losing their job.

Oh, except for Mr. Smith, of course, who was laid off recently. And then there is Mr. Jones, whose company will likely go under. Mr. Davis is in real estate, which I’m sure is doing just fine, right? Then there is the Wallaces who own a small business selling things that people can put off until later. And, since the manufacturing and banking sectors are unlikely to be laying off, those friends are pretty secure too, right? Right?


And I wonder why people are just a little edgy when the only thing everyone can agree on is the fact that things are going to get worse.

But, Mr. Smith, you may not know this, but Mr. Davis is pretty edgy too. And, his wife is upset because she isn’t able to figure out how Johnny is going to get that train set if she has to pay the copays this month and then your insurance is gone in January. She just heard that Santa’s elves are walking out if the pay cuts go through. Mrs. Wallace, please be patient with Mrs. Jones, she didn’t mean to offend you, but she just got off the phone with her husband who had some more bad news. She used up all her reserves telling him that she’d figure it all out and everything would be fine, even though she doesn’t really believe it herself.

And me? I probably look just a little bit comfortable carrying that fancy coffee into preschool with a big smile. I’m smiling because I found a coffee shop gift card in my winter coat from last year. I should have told you. Its that bad memory thing I guess. I have enough for one more. Do you want to split it?

I am not juggling rocks. I am another windowpane refracting the sunshine, even if its merely the reflection off the new fallen snow.

Looking out my window, I see snow glistening, as if to spite those gray winter skies. Pull up a cup of your cheapest joe, my friends, it may be a long winter, but it will be warmer in the company of friends.

And, my dear friends, I promise my next post will be cheerful, maybe even funny in its own Emama sort of way.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Save my seat

The unselfish kindnesses that brought me persistent and unmitigated disasters recently flood my thoughts with a tangible frustration. Not to say that I desire an end, mind you. My personality if not my internal, hard wired convictions resist even the notion. Throwing in the proverbial towel would, in truth if not simply in affect, signal an end with a drama not personally acceptable.

Truly, it shall not be done.

But, in light of the oncoming celebrations, the repetitive nature of my existence that not only repeats with the sun, but multiplies with the moon (at least as often as the last of those repetitive functions go undone, or the youngsters in my charge develop, events as consistent as the tides), the preparations for the aforementioned, and (let us not forget) the disasters unpredicted, I must accept a hiatus.

Did I say accept?

Accept, perhaps not, but I must shed distractions.


To simply throw off my source of ordered peace, my required mental exercise, my relentless search for beauty in a dwelling so viciously torn by inquisitive squeals, like a moth-eaten sweater, I shudder. To insult my friends and cyber-colleagues by equating these fellow humans, connecting their journey to mine, to distractions, I fall to my knees in utter shame.

Oh, bother. I just have stuff to do guys. I’ll be back.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades

I had a bad, terrible, awful day yesterday. If you had seen me during the day, you probably would not have even noticed. You probably could have sat on my shoulder all day, and never even realized what a terrible day I had. Some days are funny that way.

I told a friend I would do her a favor.

I missed it.

This is where I justify it. This is where I say that no one was hurt. This is where I explain that I missed it only by a little bit. This is where I say that it was sincerely an accident. (It was). It happened once before. (I am always at my worst around her. She dropped off my son once after a play date and I was upstairs vacuuming and did not hear the door. Andrew appeared in front of me and I had already missed my chance to say ‘thank you’. What are the chances of me vacuuming my upstairs at all, much less when someone happens to be at the door??). This is where I explain that I often do too much. It is a flaw of character that I have fought for years. I would go on here to explain how I called right away and apologized profusely. I did. I left a message that wasn’t returned.

In the end, though, it was still my fault.

I saw her today. She stood ten feet away as I lingered with a mutual friend. I was holding George and had Gladys at my feet, but I called her name. I apologized, in a clear voice, across that ten feet of space.

She said that she wouldn’t let it happen again. She wasn’t going to go for a third time. She held up two fingers and walked away.

I was wrong. Someone did get hurt.

I am truly sorry.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Another Christmas, A different dress, A few short weeks

Gladys wore this dress (above) on her very first Christmas. A mother of two children created that dress. It is made out of a very expensive silk brocade. That mother fully lined the bodice and skirt. The rich, velvet bodice has a lined jacket to match, with the most perfect pink jewel button.

This is a picture of a little girl with an organized mother. Isn't she perfect??

In early December, the year of Gladys' second Christmas, her mother made her a baby brother instead of a Christmas dress. He is far more washable, which is fortunate.

On her second Christmas, Gladys donned a hand-me-down from a kind friend. I'm sure there is a picture of her in it smiling just as beautifully as she does in a handmade dress.

Last year, that mother had three children and made her another dress from a lovely piece of silk brocade. The velvet bodice brings out the green in her eyes. That mother of three did not have time to even think about a jacket to match. The unlined skirt meets the bodice at a hastily basted lining that no one will ever see.

The day that my dear Gladys was to wear that dress in a perfect Christmas card picture, her beautiful, washable little brother had conjunctivitis. I was trying to remember why we did not have a picture of this dress on our Christmas card last year. After reviewing our pictures, I wondered instead why we attempted to take pictures at all. Here he is complete with a swollen face. We would have had to say "Have a Merry Christmas, unlike poor George here, who is not feeling merry even a little bit."

We opted instead to send a picture of our children appearing like their happy selves.

And now, in just over a month, Christmas will come. This year, I am going to do something totally different. I am going to make a dress with a piece of striped silk, instead of a brocade. See how wild and crazy I am?

Gladys' grandfather (my dad) bought some silk somewhere in Asia over the past 10 years. Dad gave it to me a few months ago, along with a few other pieces. This particular piece speaks to me. Gladys loves "rainbow colors" and I could never find another piece of fabric with all of Gladys' favorite colors in a rich silk. Gladys loves it already.

This is my inspiration.

Now, all we need is lots of creativity, more hours than exist, and the patience of Mother Teresa, and we'll make it through this Christmas.

Ah, but Mother Teresa was much wiser than I am. She was the Mother to the multitudes, not merely three children.

She would make a sari.

Friday, November 7, 2008

November walk

November brought spring to our part of the world this week. There were two fights on the Elementary school playground yesterday, as if the weather itself has stirred the restlessness of our children. Andrew avoided involvement, but he prides himself on thorough reporting. Another mother from his class confirmed the second hand reports,

“Oh, yes, I heard there was lots of blood. Unbelievable.”

Spring this week, with all of its glory.

The kids and I walked down to the park in our neighborhood. I am President of the Association here, so I try to walk the property as frequently as possible.

“Mom, wasn’t that so cool when we cleaned up the park, and everyone painted it?”

“Yes, it was.”

We entered a 13-acre park with a playground, baseball diamond, and pavilion. Amazing people live in our neighborhood. You know, the kind of people who show up with tools and donate paint and run out and buy donuts to celebrate. We have a few of the other kind too. Yes, yes, we all know about them. We make excuses for them and some people deserve the excuses, but we try not to judge. We try not, even if our minds do it by accident, and we reserve our opinions.

My children have not met them yet.

The sun sets early now and soon the November chill penetrated the stillness. The only leaves rustling lay under our muddy feet. George held my hand.

I enjoyed the walk home in the cool evening air, but my thoughts were on starting dinner, encouraging homework, perhaps a load of laundry yet. Seeing our house from a distance, I saw a humble home. Not a home that pumps the chest large with pride, just a nice home. A home that works out pretty well for us, but cannot be the castle of a child’s dreams. A light was left on, betraying the warmth within.

Andrew and Gladys ran up ahead, leaving George and I hand in hand a whole driveway behind.

“Let’s check this one out, Gladys. It looks perfect for us!”

“Oh, yes, Andrew, I like the pumpkins on the porch!”

“Mom, I think we should buy this one, don’t you think?” they ran to the door, squealing with delight, pretending to find our home for the very first time.

By the time I arrived, they were upstairs finding their bedroom. They ran from room to room.

“Mom! Look, there is a great guest room up here, and sewing stuff, and even a guest bed!”

I heard Gladys’ footsteps running behind Andrew.

“And, there are TWO bathrooms up here. One for the big people and one for us too!”

From every room I heard their surprised voices describing how incredibly, unbelievably, stupendously, fantastic every detail in our house fits our family like a well-worn glove. Like a prince and princess exploring their very own castle.

I closed the window against the November chill, and started dinner.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Geek at the Park

If a geek goes to the park on a beautiful day,
The things she may think but may never say . . .

She would look at this picture blown out of proportion,
Seeing water on cotton think liquid absorption.

And those shoes, “How cute!” but she wouldn’t go mention,
That beading water to her is nice surface tension.

And here Gladys jumps with exhilaration,
Against gravity it’s called counter acceleration.

Here George sits up high, now this is special,
She jumps to conclusions and sees energy’s potential

When that potential is spent and he’s back on the ground,
George splashes and plays, romping around.

Then suddenly he sees George, where he never expects,
In a muddy Fall puddle, he learns light reflects.

So why did she go to the park on this day?
The truth is: fresh air, and to see the kids play.

We teach them to see through just one more lens:
Science and poetry, the importance of friends.

So who is this geek? Surely not I.
Well, I can’t really hide it. I don’t even try.
Authors note: Congratulations to Senator and soon-to-be President Obama. I also congratulate Senator McCain, and all of those who have helped both of you through this crazy campaign season. Thank you for your sacrifices to make this democracy work.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Go Vote. Be Done. Move Forward.

This is me, Enthalpymama, running off to the polls to vote . . . .

For those of you who missed my post at the end of September, explaining my personal challenge, here it is. I wore skirts (or dresses) every day in October.*

Many of you who might read this probably consider my challenge frivolous and impractical, especially for a woman who prides herself on practicality. Other than a few old dresses thrown in, I only wore two skirts all month. One I made, the other one was a thoughtful purchase of my mother’s. I have to admit, it was a little inconvenient.

I am glad I did it.

First, it was a simple reminder to me of how many choices I have. I have the capacity to be frivolous. My restrictions in life come primarily from within.

Second, my mother read it. She enjoyed it. She told me that my great aunt always thought long skirts were “stupid” and said that she couldn’t DO anything in them. Those petticoats were thrown out for good reason, and I doubt long skirts will ever come back in style for daily wear.

Third, it kept me focused: the day I leaned over to buckle Gladys into the car and a wind blew my skirt straight up in the air in a busy parking lot, the day my friend's kid ran her hand right up my leg (as if coffee wasn’t enough to make me alert), the day I watched Gladys’ soccer game and froze my, well, you know. I thought about those ladies wearing skirts every single day: working hard, having no voice. I thought about how incredibly soft I am.

It makes you think of how many people, not just women, have been in truly heart wrenching situations. Situations I will never know . . . .

If you are one of those folks who are disappointed on Wednesday, when someone else’s candidate takes up residence on Pennsylvania Avenue, remember this. You have a right to be disappointed. You have the right to voice your opinion. You have the right to continue working for what you believe in. You have the responsibility to be part of this incredible American journey.

Celebrate how far we have come.

And, if you find yourself being fanatically red or fanatically blue, please remember to seek opportunities in that deeper shade of purple.

Go! What are you doing reading this? Go Vote!!!

Oh, and here is a picture of that other skirt. See that oh-so-practical car? Pretty tricky getting three car seats in that puppy.

Note: I wore pants once in October when George had a fever of 104 and I had to make it to the drug store before closing. Sorry, practicality does win sometimes.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Shoe crazy

Last week I met that woman again. You know the one. That woman in the grocery store who, when I was a new mom, was always there telling me what I was doing wrong. She was there again this week.

“That poor baby, his feet must be SO cold,” she said with a shiver. “And, no coats on those children?”

That’s what she said. I guess she meant well. When I was a new mom, I wanted to scream at her. I never did scream at her, but I did let the scream echo in my heart. I let it hurt me inside. I was not always sure that I was a great mom. I did not know how to measure that.

Last week, I did not even want to scream at her. I am not sure what I said. It was something noncommittal, something reasonably pleasant, but without much thought.

“Oh, I think they are probably used to the cold.”

The truth is that Andrew and Gladys’ coats were in the cart, buried under groceries. George was wearing socks, I just hadn’t bothered putting his shoes on. I carried him. I am a mother of three children. I focus on my task. Shoes are optional if they are not required to protect the feet (anyway, he likes to take them off). I had carried him into the car to pick up Gladys from preschool. I had carried him into preschool. I carried him into the grocery store. I thought his shoes were in the car.

I smiled and commented on the first snowfall. She said something apologetic and wandered off.

I carried George into the house. I unloaded the groceries. There was barely time to turn around before we were getting costumes on for trick or treat at the local senior home. I looked for the shoes as I explained to Andrew and Gladys that we were going on a service project.

“But we get candy, right?” Andrew asked, buckling himself in.

“Yes, of course, they will give you candy because they want to see your smile. Your happiness makes them happy. Where are those shoes?”

“Oh, so all we have to do is go there and smile and say trick or treat?”

“Yes. Think about how good it makes feel when you see someone happy because of something you did. Sometimes the best kind of gift you can give to someone is to just smile at him. Of course, George will need shoes.”

Then it dawned on me. When I pulled George out of his crib from his nap, I had carried his shoes with me out to the car. I had also carried a few other things. Since the driveway was snowy I had put the shoes on the top of the minivan . . . . uh oh.

“Kids, we might be a few minutes late for the senior home.”

“Why Mom?”

“We’re going shoe hunting! Everyone look out the window for George’s shoes!!!”

“Really?? Gladys, you look left. I’ll look right! Okay, Mom, we’re ready!”

We found them. One was on the side of the road in the neighborhood (above).

The other shoe was in the middle of the main street of town, a four lane road. So, if you happened to see some crazy woman running down the street in the snow, chasing after a child’s saddle shoe. That was me. My children gave me a great cheer to celebrate my success (and, they also told their father, who was real impressed too).

I know. I should pay more attention to my kid’s shoes.

I know. It’s dangerous to run down the street (I checked for traffic, I promise).

I also know that I’m a great mom.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Federal Forgery

My sister called me this morning.

“Thirty hours and counting, Sister, you ready??”

“Ha! That was LAST week,” I replied with a sassy voice.

“You finished the kids costumes early????”

“Uh, no, I was sewing on buttons hours before we left for my friend’s party, but that nightmare happened LAST week. Oh, and George wore the clown that you made for your daughter years ago.”


“Oh, I think they’ve all worn that one now.”

Yes, we’ve made it through costume season. It’s a frightening thing, more frightening than anything you will encounter on Halloween. And, just in case my regular amount of mommy-stress was not enough, I actually let Gladys help me. I put her to work, my friends.

Go ahead, make a fairy costume with a 3 yr old and a 1 yr old helping you and see if you don’t need some whisky by the end of the day. Sigh. No, the truth is they were great and we had fun. The only real craziness came when Andrew and Gladys decided to help me by bringing handfuls of thread spools down from the upstairs sewing room into the dining room where I had set up shop (a little safer than having the little ones in the very unbabyproofed sewing room). The entire house was wrapped in thread. I even found a completely empty spool. I had to cut the threads in large sections to get them all up (thread will kill the most impressive vacuum, unless the crazy engineer mommy takes it apart first, which I do way to often).

Each year the specifications for these annual costumes become more complicated. These were my directions this year.

Fairy Costume: sparkly fabric, multi-color stripes, butterflies, lots of colorful “leafies”, more ribbon, more sparkles, more silver, jeweled organza, and, of course, wings.

Park Ranger: Collared forest green shirt, two flap pockets, lots of badges, Park Ranger badge, Park Ranger hat

Which one was trickier? The Park Ranger was more difficult. No, I’m not kidding.

I thought I was being SO SMART allowing them to change their minds from furry monsters to a Park Ranger and fairy. I thought I would buy a shirt and just sew on a few patches. No problem. So easy!! I am SO smart this year!!!

It is not possible to buy a forest green shirt with two flap pockets for anyone smaller than a full grown adult. And, just in case you are wondering, it is ILLEGAL to purchase a Park Ranger badge. Impersonating a Park Ranger is a federal offense.

So, I made the forest green shirt from scratch.

I also fabricated the official Park Ranger badge. I know. This is forgery. I probably committed some federal offense by creating my son’s costume. But, we had our unveiling ceremony this year, just as years past, and those HUGE smiles made it all worth it.

So, everyone, don’t accidentally think that Andrew is REALLY a Park Ranger. Okay? He’ll tell you he is. He’ll even show you his badge. It’s illegal. I KNOW.

And, if I get arrested, I will ask you all, once again, like I did here, would you please bail me out? (Again).

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Warm Cookies

“Mom, can we make cookies?”

Those hazel eyes looked up at me lovingly last week, one hand pushing back her curls. I was about to put George down for a nap. Andrew was at school.

“Can we Mom?”

By some accidental spark of genius, or perhaps good intentioned folly, the unwritten rule in our house is that the only cookies we have are ones that we make. I have never stated this rule to the kids. It just became a fact. They don’t ask for cookies in the supermarket. If I bought them, they would ask me what they were for.

Unfortunately, stay at home mom or not, I do not always feel like baking cookies. But, once we get started, I love to see them peering into the stand mixer. I love to see the anticipation in their eyes when I pull off the beater and let them lick it. I even love it when my daughter turns the stand mixer on way too high (even after she said she wouldn’t) and flour poufs everywhere. By the end, I manage to forget about the floor and am asking Gladys to try a chocolate chip before we pour them in the bowl, just to make sure they taste right. I had used the same recipe as my mother, the one out of that blue McCall’s cookbook from the 60’s. You know, the one that has those fabulous now vintage pictures and the hints on how to set a proper breakfast table for your husband on a weekday morning.

We made cookies.

The first batch came out of the oven just as it was time to go to the bus stop to greet Andrew.

“Shoes on, Honey. Grab your jacket. Time to get Andrew.”

“Let’s run, Mommy!”

Gladys loves to run. We hold hands. We run to the bus stop.

Andrew jumped off the bus stop happy as could be. He had a great day at school. He jumped into my arms, all 50+ pounds of my six year old. Gladys wanted to join in, so I picked her up too, holding on to Andrew’s back; these are Mommy muscles.

The three of us held hands and ran all the way home through the crisp fall air. My lungs felt clean.

Gladys announced our surprise before we made it to the door, but no words could be as powerful as the smell of warm cookies.

All of the sudden, I had gotten off the bus myself, like so many years ago.

Monday, October 27, 2008

My "Liberal" Republican Parents?

“Well, I guess I should tell you.”

“Tell me what, Mom?”

“I know you won’t be in town Dear, but I should tell you that your father and I are having a Christmas party for our old friends.”

“That sounds nice. You guys like to entertain. Am I missing something?”

(This social group of my parent’s has been around since all of their kids were young, much like my Gourmet Club, but 30 years into the future.)

“We were all together to celebrate Cathy’s remission from cancer and I announced our plan for the party,” my mother continued.

“Uh huh,” I said, focusing on the fact that my parents still socialize with these old friends.

“Anyway, you know about Jill, right?”

“Remind me, Mom.”

“Jill announced that she is gay a little while ago. Remember? Anyway, she just married her partner and they are living in San Francisco.”

“That’s so nice. I am glad she found someone.”

Her voice shot up an octave, as if she had doubted how I would feel about a gay marriage. (I guess that topic doesn't comes up frequently with my mother.)

“Exactly! I agree. Anyway, her parents were being, well, a little nasty about it. They stopped talking to her when she announced she was gay. And, when they found out that we knew, they stopped talking to the rest of us too.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear about that. They will regret estranging their daughter like that.”

“We all thought so too. Jill is an adult. She’s an honest, confident professional who has made a commitment to her partner. They act like she’s some sort of criminal. We are all pretty mad about it. I mean, we all just want our kids to be good people with happy lives. This is 2008, not 1960. Anyway, I am sure there are exceptions, but I think most people are just born gay or not gay, it’s just whether or not they feel comfortable enough to express it.”

“That is really a shame that her parents are shunning her.”

“So, when I announced the party, one of my other friends said that Jill and her partner will be in town over Christmas (but not at the parent’s house). She suggested that we have a reception for the new couple.”

“So, you’re hosting a lesbian wedding reception? My conservative Republican parents are hosting a lesbian wedding reception? I love it!”

“Well, yes. . . . . That is right. Jill and her partner are very touched.”

“I think that’s really nice. That whole group was at my wedding. You should celebrate their wedding too. Um, but what about Jill’s parents?”

“Yeah, I called Jill’s mom to invite her.”

“How did that go?”

“She was upset at first. But, in the end she said that they will come and even asked why everyone is making such a big deal out of it (as if she hasn’t stopped talking to everyone).”

“Well, let her save face. Anyway, if she sees that everyone else is accepting of her daughter, maybe she will be too. Seriously, this is really nice of you guys to bring everyone back together.”

“We were all pretty upset about it. Someone said they are talking about maybe having kids.” She shifted a little, her body admitting to a little discomfort with the idea that her voice did not betray.

By the way, Mom, if you think people are just born that way, it seems odd to me that there aren’t any gay people in our family. Even if its genetic, I would think there would be one at least.

I leaned over to refill my mother’s glass of wine.

“You mean, I never told you about Uncle Fancypants??”

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Rub a Dub Dot, Mommy's Lost in Thought

I was feeling particularly good last Thursday. No, really good, even for someone who often suffers from overconfidence and unbridled optimism. I had finished everything I needed to do, and then some. My kids were having a great day. I even spent a bit of time sewing costumes with George (22 mos) and Gladys (3 yrs). They were helping me and enjoying the process. I displayed a level of patience with them that was unprecedented. I was as cool as a cucumber. George very carefully handed me pins, one at a time.

My joy also stemmed from my blog, of course. I have written a few political posts. Which, although overly mommyish and short on data, were allowing me to participate in an adult forum that I have not allowed myself to enter as of late. I had thrown aside my excuses and participated. I was asking, listening, researching and stating my opinions. I learned about something completely unrelated to children. I pushed my envelope a little, and it felt good.

We feel good when we participate in something larger than ourselves. I crave participation in the world. It fuels my fire and causes me to look for more.

My three small children were in the bath in front of me, but my brain was solving the world’s problems. I will do that. I make a difference. I will be involved.



“Mommy!” Andrew was now raising his voice.

“No need to raise your voice, Honey, I’m right here.”

“George is wearing a diaper in the bathtub.”

They push us to the limits of our sanity. They pull us back to reality.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A thoughtful response from my Democratic alter-ego

Hi EnthalpyMama,

EntropyDaddy here, trying to organize the chaos and get my guest blog written (and I only have one kid). You posted a few days ago about the financial crisis and asked me for my thoughts. Here they are with a disclaimer - I certainly can't match your eloquence, so if your revenues tank because I drag down your blog ratings - well, maybe we can just go to the government for a bailout! :-)

The economy is one item that you brought up in your recent "challenge" post. The collapse of the sub-prime market certainly seems to be the driving factor beyond the problems (I'm not an economist, so I'll have to rely on the information I've read). You point out your belief that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (FM/FM) are the problem. Certainly they're at the core of the problem. I think there's plenty of blame to go around (from the homeowners who took risks by not understanding the loans they were getting into, to lenders who put these people into loans that they knew would reset into much higher interest rates in a few years, to FM/FM, to banks and Wall Street firms who would buy these mortgages without understanding the risk, to the U.S. government for not fully understanding the markets and the crisis and taking action earlier).

I don't think the Democrats are heroes of the economy. I think it's more likely people think the Democrats will do a better job at fixing the problem than Republicans. I don't blame the problem on one party, but I will blame it on one issue - lack of proper regulation.

But one point very quickly, and then back to regulation. You asked why the Democrats didn't step in and fix the problem once they got control of Congress in 2007? Certainly would have been nice. But, by this metric, why didn't the Republicans step in between 1995 - 2007, when they controlled both houses (except for a brief time in 2001-2003 when the Democrats had a slim one-vote margin in the Senate). Both houses of Congress were Republican-controlled for the majority of a Republican administration (2001-2007), so I can't see blaming the Democrats for not doing something in the last 18 months as the reason for the crisis.

But let's get back to what is the major problem - poor regulation. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are regulated by HUD (Housing and Urban Development) - which is in the executive branch of government. Certainly Congress makes laws which can dictate what this organization does, but it's the executive branch that is responsible for running it and making sure there aren't any problems. Now, President Clinton did agree to allow FM/FM to cover more mortgages for more low-income families back in 1995, so maybe he did start this, or maybe not (Why didn't the Republican-controlled Congress from 1995-2001 stop this if it was bad policy?) One might argue that because of Clinton's policies, it was a ticking time bomb waiting to happen. Then why didn't Bush and the Congress come in and fix the problem in 2001? To the contrary, President Bush actually set a goal to increase affordable housing from 50% to 56%. Another metric, in 2000 Freddie bought $19 billion in subprime loans. In 2005, FM/FM bought $170 billion in subprime loans. Are FM/FM to blame, certainly, and so are the people who were supposed to regulate them.

I think the reason people see the Democrats as the potential good guys here is that a main tenet of Republicanism is laissez-faire, hands-off government - while the Democrats are more willing to use the "hand" of government to manage the economy. And I think people are much more willing to believe that the Democrats will yield better regulatory control.

One interesting thing, I don't disagree with the goal of this Republican philosophy - I actually want as little government intervention in my private life as possible. However, I think that over the last century (reference the crash of 1929) we've seen that capitalism is not a system that is fully self-regulating, and we need some government regulation in it. Not over-regulation, but proper regulation.

If you have time, one good article to read about HUD is in the Washington Post (

Sorry for the long post, but there's a lot there. I think we'll be sorting this thing out for years to come.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

My Schooling on School Funding

I would not have taken on the name Enthalpy mama if I didn’t get a little heated up on a few issues. (Enthalpy is heat). But, unless converted into power, heat is merely dissipated into the atmosphere, a colossal waste of energy. If you read yesterday's post, then you know education is one of my hot buttons.

I like dealing with facts, not rumors, and so the morning after venting about our local tax issues, I went on a relatively low key fact finding mission. I called the President of the PTA in my son’s school. I know her. I know she cares. Since there was a PTA meeting last night, I thought she would want to have a heads up if this became a topic of conversation. I asked her if it was on the agenda. It was not. She thanked me and said she would look into it.

A few hours later, I received a phone call from the Board of Education. I describe this mostly because I think the Board of Education (and particularly this person) deserves a huge THANK YOU. Seriously, she was on my list to call, but I try not to be a bulldozer about everything.

“Hello, is this Enthalpymama?”


“This is the Board of Education. I heard that you are interested in the effect of tax policy on school funding.”

Truly, these people take proactive to new heights. She spoke with me for about 30 minutes or so, answering every question, explaining details, adding some historical perspective. Honestly, she seemed very pleased to talk to me about it. But, I suppose we all enjoy discussing subjects about which we are passionate with those who will listen.

I won’t go into all the details here, but suffice it to say that my description was pretty accurate, with a few exceptions. The bottom line is that there is a huge problem, funding is probably going away, but there is not much that can be done until the first quarter of 2009. And, as I am finding, there are a lot of people in our city who are very passionate about improving the situation.

“You seem to be very knowledgeable on this subject. I don’t find many parents interested in this level of detail.” She said it with pleasure in her voice, without even an inkling of feeling inconvenienced about my detailed questions.

“Well, I guess I’m a bit geeky that way.”

I did attend the PTA meeting as well. The PTA President, who could not attend, surprised me by putting me on the agenda. I do have a great appreciation for clever people, and honestly it was very cleverly handled (and she knows I wouldn’t mind). So, I went from being a person asking all the questions, to being the person who was answering them.

Well done! (applause)

Funding aside, we have a great school district because we have great people.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A taste of things to come?? (redistribution of wealth)

I was thinking this morning about how radical I am not.

Here I am in the Midwest, in my middle class neighborhood, feeding my middle child a lukewarm piece of toast. I would even wear a size medium, if it weren’t for the fact that the marketers of ladies clothing decided to make everyone seem smaller. Now I’m a small, but I used to be a medium. I was thinking about how much I despise mediocrity. I thought perhaps I should stay away from politics and simply have a midlife crisis instead.

I called a friend of mine to tell her a fun story. She is not a friend with whom I typically debate politics, generally we focus on either our wine or our coffee, depending on the social hour at hand. I thought she would laugh at my story and make all things less medium. She obliged.

Then, she started talking about state tax policy. (And, I decided I would have to save avoiding politics for another day).

I was told this morning that our fair state will soon be implementing legislation that will reduce our city school budget by somewhere in the 20 – 30% range. Basically, our city fathers (and mothers) years ago encouraged light manufacturing and small businesses to come to our city. We have a couple regional headquarters buildings, a testing facility or two, and lots of small products. Tax money collected from these business goes into our school system. This keeps our property taxes reasonable and our school systems running with a reasonable budget. We have a nice city for many reasons, but primarily people move to our city because of the schools. We have actually had people “pretend” to move to our town in order to “sneak” their kids into the schools here. Basically, people lease apartments and move their children into them. (Parents are clever, aren’t they? Who can blame them?)

The fact that there is a disparity between the quality of schools from one town to the next is not lost on anyone.

The idea of the tax change is to take the money from these businesses and, rather than allow the money to go to our town, spread it all evenly across the schools in the state. Or, at least that is what I am hearing. That sure sounds fair and Democratic, right?

Would you like to buy my house?

When my husband and I purchased our home, we bought in our town because of the school system. Homes less than a quarter of a mile away are less expensive and larger than our home. Why? Well, if we didn’t have children, we would have lived in the next town over. We were willing to pay a premium and compromise on age/layout of our home in order to ensure a great school system for our kids.

Yes, I know, everyone should receive a fair and equal opportunity for a good education. But, people should also have choices. If you want a quality education under the current circumstances, you either live in a good school system, or work like crazy to make your system good (actually, both are required). Since parents who care about schools (and have flexibility) tend to do their research and live in an already good school system, parents who care tend to “clump together” and continue to make their school systems great. People who have other priorities, for better or worse, make other decisions.

And then, there are plenty of people out there who do not have the flexibility to make a decision at all. Maybe they live near their job in the city and don’t even have a car, for example. Maybe they are retired grandparents with custody of their grandchildren.

But, once again, my issue is not with the desire to improve the education system for everyone. My concern is how it is done. Do we punish the school systems/cities who have done well? Yes, punish the cities that have managed to vote their way into making the right choices. They shouldn’t be allowed to create jobs and have good schools. That can’t be fair.

Yes, we could raise taxes in our town. They are not that low now, actually, but they could be raised (not enough to pay the difference). We already have a neighborhood with 40 home foreclosures. I am not sure how many there have been in our whole city. I guess there would be more. While the schools and the city readjust to the new reality, some people will put their kids in private school. Those who were barely making it by could move back to a less expensive area (probably with worse schools, albeit with slightly more funding than before).

That economic diversity we have in our school system isn't natural anyway, right?

I guess my husband and I need to move to a town that doesn’t encourage small businesses to grow. We would take a big financial blow on selling our home, which would underscore to our children how futile it is to save for the future. We would have a bit of a tax increase, but we would probably make ends meet.

And, of course, we should make sure the leaders of our town discourage such willy-nilly job creation in the future. The politicians should be encouraging businesses to come to our community without any tax incentives for our schools. After all, they create jobs, many of which are held by people in other towns. They create tax revenue to support the schools in other part of our state. And, of course, let us not forget how beautiful the warehouses look and the pleasure of sharing our roads with semi-tractor trailers.

I agree with reducing taxes on companies to create jobs in America, but some portion of that revenue has to go back to the local communities, or you create a negative incentive (notinmybackyardthankyou).

I agree that schools need to be improved across the board. Funding does help (doesn’t solve it), but taking funding away from successful schools is no way to lead success.

Like I said, I used to be a “medium.” Then the rules changed and I became a “small.” This is not the kind of change I need.

Maybe it is just a rumor, but it looks a lot like a campaign promise to me.

(I was told that this information won’t be available to the parents in our school district until mid-November. I guess there is no hurry? So, how many PTA bake sales does it take to recover $1.8 million? Just wondering. Uh, no reason.)

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Little Something on Socialism

Fellow Bloggers and Dear Readers,

A few days ago I wrote this post in response to Mrs. Obama’s post on Blogher. Honestly, I have been reluctant to post it here. Not because it is not all true, but rather because a lot of dear and Democratic friends have been stressing to me that Obama’s positions are not radical socialism. Since none of us can truly be in the mind of another, we may never know (especially since even if he is truly radical, his view may well be tempered once in Washington).

However, regardless of where you think things are going to go, I’d like to remind everyone that socialism is just a bad idea. So, please, peek through the window with me and let’s remind ourselves of what we do NOT want. Then, hopefully, I can get this out of my head and return to focusing on what we DO want.

Let us consider that it would be extremely nice if everyone had more time off from workplaces. It would also be awesome if everyone was paid the appropriate amount for the job they did, regardless of race, color, creed, or gender. These are unarguable ideals. My concern is how we go about pursuing these ideals. We are given the right to pursue happiness. We are not given the right to be provided happiness.

Let us look at how socialist programs work in the oases in which they exist in our world.

I spent a few nights in a hospital in Japan a number of years ago. Have you ever been inside a socialist health care system? I spoke Japanese just fine, so I wasn’t worried about the language barrier. The floors were filthy. The only food I ate was brought to me by a few, kind Japanese friends. The doctor was shocked when I asked him what was in the IV he planned on giving me. He wouldn’t tell me. I wouldn’t give him my arm. There were four other patients in my room. I talked to them at some length (what else was there to do?), and I’ll assure you I learned a lot about how things worked there. I didn’t even have the right questions at first. The four other patients in my room were shocked when I decided to leave, without the permission of the doctor. Let’s just say things weren’t working out really well. It’s a long story, but you really don’t want socialized medicine.

Go to Europe and smile and you’ll see what socialized dentistry looks like.

Let’s see, education is another example of social programs. Public education in America has both the hand of government and unions. There are many wonderful teachers, but they are wonderful because they truly care about the students, not because the system works. Talk to any parent in a public education system and they can point to a number of teachers who, well, “we try to avoid them but everyone knows they can’t be fired.” And, if you are a really good teacher, you can’t expect to ever have a fabulous bonus for all your hard work and dedication, unless it is from the parents in the PTA. Sometimes I feel like that is the primary role of the PTA, to pump up the teachers to keep doing the best that they can under unfortunate circumstances. That’s what parents do, they do their best to make things work for their kids. Fortunately, teaching does attract people who generally care a lot about education. (Thank you teachers).

The UAW is an interesting example. I worked in a UAW plant as a night shift supervisor. There were lots of rules ensuring that everyone was treated exactly equally. If I didn’t follow those rules exactly, I was “written up” by an employee, and a union representative (and sometimes labor relations) would come down and have a chat with me about how things worked. (Yea, I got to know my union reps pretty well). In fact, I learned a lot from the UAW representatives, who were very nice to me when no one was looking. And, yes, they occasionally yelled at me when everyone WAS looking: an unfortunate culture.

I had four pregnant women working in my area. One, we’ll call her Susie, worked over-the-top hard. She took every opportunity for overtime. She was always there in plenty of time to walk from her car (although some of the guys would hijack an electric cart to go get her – they never wrote me up for letting them do that, hee hee). She showed up in a dirty coat, stretched tight over her huge belly, pregnant with her third child. She explained to me that she was taking all the overtime because she was barely making it by paying for all the childcare for her first two kids. So, she logically decided it made more sense to push out all the overtime up until she delivered, then take a week or so off when she would otherwise be paying for three kids in childcare: good mommy logic.

At the time, two pregnant chief engineers were just beginning to job share. I asked Susie about the Union helping out with childcare. There were many young employees and often both husband and wife worked at the plant (some took different shifts, and just never saw each other, but that was hard because the youngest person on 1st shift was 63, you know, it was fair). All they would have had to do was deduct a small amount from their pay for childcare and allow husband and wife to work the same shift. They were making nearly $20/hour, but there was no consideration for the effect the work structure was having on families.

I asked her about the UAW. The pregnancy hormones must have kicked in. I won’t quote her here, but lets just say that she felt that they were a bunch of self-serving old men who had forgotten that unions were actually for the employees. I quickly found out that even some young men were not happy with the UAW. They knew that no matter how hard they worked, they couldn’t do any better for themselves. Some employees who had been there for a few years had already thrown up their hands and, to some degree, stopped trying.

One of the young men and I had a couple lively discussions about it. He was very ambitious and had been elected the team leader. He complained that the team was so lackadaisical. He told me that there was a strong belief that the company was sitting on a “big pot of money” and just not sharing with the employees.

I asked him if there was a general concern that if the plant couldn’t be productive enough, that it might be shut down and the jobs shipped overseas.

“No, the Union wouldn’t let that happen. We’d just take the whole company down with us. Management doesn’t want that to happen.”

“Yeah, except that if the whole company went out of business, most of management would get jobs elsewhere. I’m not sure there are enough manufacturing jobs elsewhere to accommodate everyone in this plant.” I took a brisk walk between buildings after that one. I wanted to hang from the rafters and scream that everyone just did their best for even a six hour shift, we’d make so much money everyone could have childcare AND be home to get their kid off the bus. (I wonder if I would have gotten written up for hanging from the rafters). Well, to make that work, the system had to change.

About this same time, the company was looking for a new supervisor and was searching the ranks of UAW employees to hire into management.

“Why don’t you take it?” I asked. “I’ll recommend you. I think you’d be great.”


He wouldn’t even entertain it. He told me that he would lose all of his friends. The culture was so deep, he was concerned his neighbors wouldn’t talk to him anymore (and it was probably true). He knew that I didn’t make more than he did. And, of course, he was concerned about being fired.

They knew that they had traded in opportunity for security, but they were afraid to shed it as well. It is scary. Susie was afraid to bring up childcare to the UAW, the very socialist mechanism that theoretically represented her. They thought I didn’t sleep at night. It must be SO horrible to worry every day about losing my job.

I wasn’t worried. I wasn’t worried because I personally felt that my ability to do something productive for society was strong enough that I would be able to find a job. Many of them had been hired because their parents worked in the plant. Those who understood that lived in fear. They were afraid to complain, because if they lost their jobs, they weren’t sure they could do it on their own. A few of my employees had college degrees and one was working on her masters. (She told me that the job offers she had weren’t as good as the plant, so she felt pressure to forgo building a career).

I also heard plenty of heart wrenching stories from the older employees that taught me just how important it was that the unions were started in the first place. I know the tragic history, and how the pendulum can swing so tragically too far in the wrong direction. But, they traded their security in to give the power to the union leaders, and now in some cases they weren’t being treated fairly by the union either.

People need to be properly appreciated for the work that they do. If you remove the competition, people do naturally lose their drive to work (blessings to all you teachers who hang in against the odds). Taking competition away from the health care industry will significantly decrease the quality of care. I want to be able to choose my doctor. I want to know that if my kids need something, I can get them the best care in the world, even if I spend every last minute of my life working to pay it back. I’m their mom, that’s what moms do.

I also want there to be safety nets for those of less means. I am not suggesting we should allow people to be pushed out in the streets because they cannot afford it, but destroying our health care system won’t ensure proper care for everyone either. Let’s work on people getting a good education and good jobs, so they can pay the doctors a reasonable salary (that pays their college loans and insurance so they stay doctors).

The government did a great job finding ways to give credit to people to buy houses, how about limiting credit purchases to health care loans? Oh, not as fun though, because if those loans aren’t paid, the government would have to repossess YOU as an asset. And, of course, people aren’t our most valuable asset, right?