Friday, December 25, 2009


I had seen her only once before—the day when she came into the center to pick up birthday boxes for her two grandchildren and to ask if we could help the family for Christmas. That day I learned a bit about her. The boys’ mother, Krystyna’s daughter, died this year from a brain tumor. Krystyna, a woman near my age, was faced with raising the two young children and their older sister. With a thick Polish accent, she wondered aloud why some in her apartment building always seemed to get the help they needed but not her. “It’s not fair,” she said.

“We can put your name on our waiting list for Christmas help,” I told her, adding, “if we can help, we will call you.” I really wanted to help her. Every time I start identifying like this, I find I am pulled deeper into lives than is wise. By that, I mean I am haunted by a life that is not mine but that I imagine very well could be. That’s primarily the reason I left a social services job at the county a few years ago.

Since that time,I have learned to keep an open heart without becoming too involved. Krystyna was my test. Maybe, it was the grandmother thing. I don’t know.

So, as the time neared to start contacting the waiting list families, I was happy that our donors had been generous and we had plenty of toys and gifts left to give the waiting list families.

Krystyna showed up the first day. I saw her sitting off to the side. “Krystyna,” I called out to her, “is someone helping you?” “They say my name isn’t on the list,” she said. “Let me check,” I replied. As I flipped through the pages of names, I spotted hers. “There it is,” I said. “It’s okay,” I said, “I know Krystyna.”

When she had big bags of gifts at her feet, we hugged. Krystyna told me how the children had been baptized recently. “The priest found godparents for them,” adding with obvious pride, “a deacon!” I know little about their lives. I know she struggles. I know I would do the same if I were in her place. She and I share that—maybe little else—the grandmother thing. Life’s lessons always come at a price. And while I think of Krystyna’s struggles, I know it is best to focus on my own, knowing I can still keep my heart open for the time when the next “Krystyna” comes along.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Price-less Gifts

Gifts of remembrance are to quote MasterCard’s ubiquitous tagline, “Priceless.”

When you remember a person’s name or personal preferences, it can make his or her day, thereby becoming a gift completely price less.

The young clerk at the bakery near my work gives me a gift of remembrance each time I stop in. By the time my hand is on the shop door, she is reaching for a chocolate-iced cake donut. “Maybe I will try a muffin one day,” I say, as she rings up the purchase—86 cents. I hand her a dollar bill and toss the 14 cents in change into the plastic tip cup. Yes, I know chocolate-iced cake donuts are not on my South Beach Diet, but how can I resist when I am thus rewarded?

And I am again rewarded when at work I recall a donor’s name as she or he brings in a bag of gifts this busy season. Tom brought in bag of basketballs last Christmas for the kids in our programs, and this year I happened to be at the front desk when he returned with this year’s donation: 10 basketballs. “You must have gotten quite a deal again,” I said as Tom smiled broadly.

My boss says we all wear a big invisible sign around our necks that says, “I want to be recognized.”

I am beginning to understand just what she means.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Awesome Crimson Tide Christmas Present

Work with me here folks. I am supposed to be doing my annual Christmas Countdown and while one of my readers suggested I post a photo of the Christmas tree when I got it up, I'd rather post about a non-Christmas subject--football. Well, except I think I have found a way to tie the two together.

Here goes. I really was thinking about Christmas and visited some Web sites selling University of Alabama merchandise looking for ideas for gifts. No hints here, but I think the intended recipients are clueless since they don't usually read the blog.

But lo and behold, I discovered a new product which I think is worthy of comment. You see it pictured here. No intended gift recipient has a satellite dish, but I thought, "How neat!" Now you can show your team spirit and cover that boring dish with the Dishrag. I really liked the name too.

I will have some more Christmas posts--so many I am practically bursting at the seams. Only, I am so crazy-busy at work (I am one of Santa's Elves, after all), that it's hard to find time to write.

Meanwhile, Happy Shopping dear gentle readers.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Tide Swamps Florida

Pardon my brief deviation from the Christmas theme this morning, but in a way the University of Alabama’s rout of #1 Florida last night is an early Christmas present for the Tide Nation. Coach Nick Sabin coached like those with the big bucks hoped he would, and the players played with heart and desire. Doesn’t get better than this with college football. As much as I respect Florida’s quarterback Tim Tebow, his faith in God, and his talent, I just wanted to say to him, “Tim, there’s no crying in football.”

All is well—least football-wise. The New York Times summed up my thoughts: “In football-crazed Alabama, it will mark a return to order in the football universe.” Happy Sunday!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Sheila’s Christmas Countdown

I’ve written so many Christmas-related posts since I started blogging that I really am taxed to come up with something new. In my first Christmas post back on Nov. 24, 2006, I wrote about my favorite Christmas book. I won’t repeat what I said there except to say, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is still the best ever.

However, this year I will first be reading a recent book and invite you to read along--an on-line book discussion group if you will. The New York Times story on “29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life” (Da Capo Press) by Cami Walker focuses on the notion that generosity improves your health.

Each day, I see the good side of humankind in my job at a small, grassroots not-for-profit organization, the Humanitarian Service Project. If you want to see the other side, watch the news. It’s all there.

For me, though, I know the power of goodwill and generosity firsthand. My attention was immediately captured when I read the story about Walker's book, and a stop by the bookstore will be on my list of errands today. That, and a stop by the Christmas tree lot, which is a departure from last year when my little apartment had no Christmas tree. For the first time since 1971, I did not decorate a tree. Freshly single after 36 Christmases, the ritual was more than I could handle. However, as it is with most challenges, you adjust.

Despite a crazy-busy work schedule filled with long days (our Christmas Offering is in its own countdown to Christmas), I need a Christmas tree this year. If nothing else, I need to smell the fresh scent of evergreen when I wake up. I need a reminder that the promise of Christmas symbolized by the tree can still be in my heart.

Happy Saturday!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Making it Better

First, I wanted to share one little thing that happened on my way to work the other day. Well, I shouldn't be stopping by Dunkin Donuts; but when I went through the drive-thru lane and after ordering a coffee and blueberry muffin, I got a surprise. I pulled up to the window to pay and the cashier said, “You don't owe me anything. The person ahead of you paid for yours.” The lady in the red SUV was long gone. Now, that has never happened to me. I had a big smile on my face though, and it made me think about what a better world we would have if we had more like the lady in the red SUV.

And then when I opened the e-mail this morning from Idealist, my earlier experience took on a greater meaning.

What is proposed (the short version) is:

In one sentence: It’s time to build a global network that will serve and support all those people who want to make the world a better place, online and in person.

The key to doing this is to bypass all those specific issues that can overwhelm and divide us, and instead focus on three challenges that affect all of us:

1. There is often a big gap between our good intentions and our actions.
2. Our problems are connected, but we are not.
3. The world is full of good ideas that don't spread quickly enough.

What we need, then, is a network, a movement, an ecosystem that will:

* Make it easier for people and organizations to move from intentions to action.
* Connect people, organizations, and resources in every possible way.
* Find good ideas wherever they are, and distribute them as widely as possible.

If we can do this, and do it well, most of our local and global challenges will be easier to deal with.

So, I have signed up. I need a mission. Maybe this is it. Maybe we could stop saying, "That's a shame. It shouldn't be that way." Maybe, boldly, we could actually make it better.

Happy Saturday from the Land of Lincoln my cyber-friends.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Who You Gonna Believe

Running in to the Jewel for a few random items like whole milk for Nicolas (he’s visiting later today while his mom and dad attend a wedding in Chicago), I took a few moments to glance at the tabloids lining the checkout lane. Wow, I am worried. According to the Globe, President Obama has lung cancer. Republican right-winger Sarah Palin might ought to stay closer to home, because one tab reports her husband is cheating on her. Or did I get that wrong, and she cheated on him?

Ever since the National Enquirer got it right when it broke news of John Edwards’ affair, I look at these salacious pubs with a different eye. Could they be right? Anyway, they make fodder for speculation and help pass the time in line. Happy Saturday!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

21 Years

Today is Scott’s 21st birthday. I struggled to find an appropriate card at the Jewel last night. Hallmark, American Greetings, and the like seem a lazy way to recognize a milestone birthday. I understand, however, that when we are rushed and tired, it is easier to let card wordsmiths say it. I will give him the purchased card with cash tucked inside. He can go buy something that will soon be forgotten, but I hope he remembers one thing—his mother loves him. Always.

Photo--Uncle Scott introduces Nicolas to video games. Well, Nicolas is just happy playing with the controller.

Be Well

It is October, and October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Panera Bread brings out the Pink Ribbon bagels, and advertising reminds us all of what many would sooner forget. However, I noticed today, someone bought some of my cards over on CafePress. Thank you to all who like my designs enough to plunk down some cash. I wish you or those you love the best. As one of the volunteers at the Montgomery Cancer Center always said, “Be Well.”

Friday, October 16, 2009

Seasons Come and Go

Stacked high. Waiting for me to figure out what goes and what stays and where to put it all.

A pile of summer clothes. Books brought out of the closet. You can tell a lot about the books a person surrounds herself with. I don’t have a lot of books now, and so the ones I took when the marriage dissolved have special significance. A slim volume of One Hundred and One Famous Poems inscribed in Mother’s handwriting, “To my dear daughter with love. Mom. Xmas 1969”--Tennyson, Whitman, Keats, Frost, and Kipling, whose “If” is a favorite of mine, are the standards I grew up with.

“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you; . . .
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same. . . .

Scraps of paper with ideas for art projects I’ll probably never have time to get to. Fabric. My addiction. Lots of that. Clothes waiting for me to iron them. Who am I kidding?

My place is small. The one bigger closet is about half-filled with my clothes. Art supplies take up nearly the other half, competing with quilts, Christmas decorations I didn’t even put up last year, and a box of photos. You get the picture. Something has got to go.

I’d rather get rid of the clothes than the art supplies. Who knows, I might find a way to have my own studio. Hey, I am old, but I still dream.

Today, I purge. Farewell striped pink blouse. What was I thinking! Socks, I can never wear all of you. Cute black and white Keds, you guys hurt my feet. I will hang on to Mother’s Day cards long ago given and 21-year-old ‘Happy Mother’s Coupons,’ which certify son Jeff will clean the bathroom and make his bed. I’ll even keep another 21-year old artifact: an anniversary card emblazoned with “The Marriage that Would Not Die.”

Triumph and Disaster aside, the lesson here is to make room and time for what really matters in my life and a reminder of what was once upon a time.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The world is but a canvas to the imagination.

There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly. Buckminster Fuller

Most grants and funding made to social service agencies addresses basic human needs. The not-for-profit I work for, the Humanitarian Service Project, does that too with our summer Feed the Kids Project. At Christmas time, we help families with two to three weeks of food and gifts for all of the children. And year-round our Senior Citizen Project delivers a monthly food package to needy seniors in our area.

But there is more to life than basic needs. Our Children’s Birthday Project, is described on The Common Grant Application as “an early intervention program for children ages 3-12, to bring joy and self-worth to poverty-level children on their special day at an age while they were still impressionable but before they were subject to intense peer pressure and the appeal of negative influences such as gangs.”

That’s a mouthful but what it boils down to is we think even poor kids should know their birthdays are worth celebrating!

So, we collect new toys and books, school supplies, and stuffed animals. Every box also includes what we call a party-in-a-box with all the makings of a fun birthday celebration like cake mix, frosting, paper plates, streamers, and party favors.

Now, we are hoping to include an arts and crafts kit in the birthday boxes if our donors support the idea. Arts and crafts kits with drawing and painting supplies of all kinds, craft supplies—you name it. We see it as a creative and positive opportunity to enhance the lives of our program’s children. With schools cutting back on funding for art education, I think many kids grow up failing to discover their innate creativity. And poor families just scraping by surely don’t have money left over to spend on art supplies.

All week I have been caught up with this notion. I have a growing list of ideas with over 30 suggestions so far. If any of my readers know of organizations or manufacturers who might be able to help as we get this underway, please let me know. We are a small grassroots organization, highly regarded, but also with a small staff.

I am excited about the possibility. Here is the list I have come up with so far. Wonder what I have forgotten?

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Where Is We in We the People?

Utterly ridiculous! Unpatriotic! For shame you Republicans who applauded America’s failed bid to host the 2016 Summer Games as a personal failure for President Obama. When the International Olympic Committee turned down Chicago’s proposal yesterday, gleeful opponents of Obama cheered. Rush Limbaugh called the U.S. delegation “Ego-obsessed imbeciles on parade representing the United States. Oprah is now eating Denmark.” This is strange, and if Democrats did it, Fox News (right-wingers for those of you outside the U.S.) commentators would be all over it like white on rice.

That hacks me off. This is still America. Where is your national pride? This was not about Obama. This was an American city trying to capture an important world event. However, this time it was not our turn. South America has never had a chance. For that reason and some apparent Olympic committee bad blood, more than Obama failing, the International Olympic Committee said no thanks to Chicago. It’s a blow to the City of Big Shoulders, but I believe when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.

Charles Lane over at the Washington Post said
The bid for a Chicago Olympics was to put a large American city, and probably the state and federal governments as well, deeply into hock constructing velodromes and the like, in return for the thrill of watching a bunch of steroid consumers try to break ephemeral world records in obscure sports.

Some say President Obama was ill-advised to put his prestige, and that of his country, at risk in a losing effort, especially when he has so many other important issues to worry about. Actually, it was a mistake, win or lose.

Yup. President Obama did the right thing as did President Bush in supporting Chicago’s bid. On hindsight, it is for the best that we lost. Chicago can now turn full attention to more pressing problems like finding a way to keep teenagers from killing each other.

However, a recent column by Thomas Friedman of the New York Times lays out a more disturbing concern interconnected to the lost Olympic bid. In Where Did ‘We’ Go?, Friedman writes about the poisonous political climate in Israel in 1995 that surrounded Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin before he was assassinated.

Friedman writes:
Others have already remarked on this analogy, but I want to add my voice because the parallels to Israel then and America today turn my stomach: I have no problem with any of the substantive criticism of President Obama from the right or left. But something very dangerous is happening. Criticism from the far right has begun tipping over into delegitimation and creating the same kind of climate here that existed in Israel on the eve of the Rabin assassination. . . .

Even if you are not worried that someone might draw from these vitriolic attacks a license to try to hurt the president, you have to be worried about what is happening to American politics more broadly.

Our leaders, even the president, can no longer utter the word “we” with a straight face. There is no more “we” in American politics at a time when “we” have these huge problems — the deficit, the recession, health care, climate change and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — that “we” can only manage, let alone fix, if there is a collective “we” at work.

I thought Obama might be the leader to bring back the ‘We’ in “We the People of the United States . . .” from the U. S. Constitution. Now, I question, can any one?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Camping Renewal

Last weekend was too perfect for these parts. The cornfields stretched for miles, but with some roll to the countryside, it wasn’t a boring drive to Oregon. No, not THAT Oregon. Illinois has a little town called Oregon and that’s where my drive took me.

Past rustic red barns and horse farms, past a make-shift sign pointing to a blessing of the harvest, past so many road kill raccoons I have to make mention. Solitary but not alone, a two-lane road with so many motorcyclists you’d think they were all going to some big convention. I think, however, they just knew this weekend was one of the few left for their passion until spring.

As each cyclist passed another, they extended their left arms downward. Not being clued in to motorcycle culture, I imagine this some kind of “secret handshake,” akin to the cub scout or boy scout handshake.

On hindsight, this is an appropriate segue since scouts camp a lot and that’s where I was heading. Years ago when my son Jeff was a cub scout, I somehow got snookered into becoming a den mother. Of course trying to wrangle eight elementary-age boys into after-school crafts projects is like herding cats. Bless my friend Molly’s heart, she knew better and passed on the opportunity to lead. Her son Christian, my son, and the co-leader’s son, ring-led the other boys into all kinds of harmless mischief. I had fun but not at the time. Does that make sense at all?

Eventually, Jeff graduated cub scouts and moved onto boy scouts and his dad took over as a leader. At least on my watch, the boys didn’t try to burn down the forest on a camping trip. The boy who a attempted that was, as they say, “troubled.”

So, when Jeff felt it was time to introduce camping to Natalie and little Nicolas, I was at first reluctant. Fifty-seven year old bones don’t like sleeping on the ground in a tent. Ever the boy scout, Jeff offered up an AeroBed, clinching the trip for me. The other appeal, besides being outside on a lovely fall weekend with people I love, was Jeff’s cooking.

By the time I pulled into the crowded campground at Lowden State Park, one former Governor Rod Blagojevich closed last year due to budget troubles, Jeff and Natalie had already set up camp. Sweet! Minor items forgotten and a burnt apple cobbler in a new Lodge Dutch oven were our biggest issues. Small price to pay for stars over our heads, a roaring campfire, S’mores, great steaks, campers’ breakfast, and being with people I love.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

America’s Most Stressful Cities and One That’s Not

Forbes ranks America’s most stressful cities. I’ve lived in several cities on the list: Houston, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and was born in one—Washington D.C. However, I am presently located in Chicagoland—Chicago being the most stressful of all. I can agree that driving on the expressways when necessary is stressful. I try to take Metra when I go into the city. Paying through the nose to park a car only adds insult to injury.

While I love all that Chicago has to offer after you get there, I have settled in the far west hinderlands of Chicagoland. Batavia to be specific, which is ironically the only Illinois city to make Money Magazine’s list of America’s best small towns. Ranked at number 56, my little slice of Chicagoland is a stark contrast to the big-city buzz.

Here in Batavia, the biggest thing going on a Friday night is the local Batavia High School Bulldogs game—a real Friday Nights Lights just down the street from me. Life here is simpler—farmers market on Saturday, volunteer fair at the library, arts shows, bikers up the wazoo (we are on the bike trail along the Fox River). My bank, cleaners, insurance agent, hair salon, favorite coffee shop, drugstore, and the library are all within a mile or walking distance of my place. That cuts down on stress for sure. Batavia calls itself the City of Energy and the local landscape is dotted with windmills, an omage to its once booming windmill manufacturing status.

So, let Oprah Winfrey celebrate Chicago this week as well as celebrate her 24th year in TV with what the Chicago media has dubbed Oprahpalooza as she takes over three blocks of Michigan Avenue for her show, throwing even more stress onto the shoulders of commuters. It’s okay. This is the City of Big Shoulders afterall, but I think I’ll stick to my little corner of the world.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Including Samuel (and Nicolas)

Including Samuel, a documentary by Dan Habib that is airing on television stations in the U.S, chronicles a family’s journey to include their disabled son in all that life has to offer. Samuel has cerebral palsy. My long-time readers may recall that my little (born Feb. 23, 2008 at 26 weeks—1 lb. 12 oz.—101 days in the NICU) grandson Nicolas has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

So, this film hits home. I’ve just seen the 12-minute trailer. I hope you will watch this film if you have the chance. I know I will. At least click on the link and watch the trailer.

Closer to home though, as I watch little Nic crawl around army-style on the floor, I hope for the best. Hope the therapists who say they think he will walk by “three or four” are in one sense, right—that Nicolas will walk—or wrong in that Nicolas will walk sooner. Mostly, I try not to think too much about what ifs. I know that human spirit can overcome some labels and that much is left up to Nic’s spirit and determination. He has been given a tough hand to play. Many are helping him but no one can really predict. Labels are hurtful, limiting, unfair.

And that’s why inclusion is important. Not just because to me this is personal. But because all of us need to know that we have a chance to overcome, excel, fly—to soar wherever our talents may allow us to go. To walk, run, swim, create, speak, heal, cure, invent, teach, and to participate in all the other possibilities of life.

Googling BedBugs

I put Google ads back up on the blog since I am trying to make it to my $100 threshold. I don’t write to make money, but I would like to get the few bucks Google says I have earned. However, I thought it funny that three of the ads were about bedbugs. Well, that’s because I wrote about the Poundin Bedbugs Playskool toy and the fact that Colorado State didn’t have their annual sofa roundup because of the little critters. I will try to watch what I write about from now on.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

My Favorites on America’s Got Talent

America’s Got Talent: Guilty pleasure, manipulated reality talent show—that’s my take and I’m there. So far, I’m a big fan of former chicken catcher Kevin Skinner, aspiring country-ballad singer. If he’s genuine—there’s always a part of me that holds on to a bit of skepticism with these competitions—he has my vote. Then, those three Texas Tenors look awfully cute in their cowboy hats. Soprano Barbara Padilla sings beautifully, plus she’s a cancer survivor—she’s high on my list. Next week brings more semi-finalist performances. Hope they are as good as the last round.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

I was talking to a colleague at work yesterday. She mentioned that she had a shop in an antique mall, something I had never heard her talk about. “Oh, yeah,” she said, “I opened it about 15 years ago. Did real well.” She went on to say that she’d lost her passion for the shop now.

I’m kind of like that with the blog. I still love to write and have no shortage of topics I could write about here. Maybe, it’s because I write quite a bit at work—different type of writing but writing still. I look at how long it’s been since I posted last. Yes, I’d say, I have lost interest. So, I reckon I’ll see how this goes. Maybe I’ll still write once in awhile, but if you don’t hear from you, you’ll know why.

Meanwhile, see how Andrew Sullivan views blogging in this Atlantic piece (warning: it is long).

Sunday, August 09, 2009

A Childhood Memory

I remember this poem by Robert Louis Stevenson. Mother recited to me often. I found this page in a Dover Publication and thought it appropriate for a summer day.

Treasure Island
might be more respected and popular as far as a RLS work. I recall reading that book for myself. Of course, this Baby Boomer will always have the Disney version of the tale in my mind. But, it is The Swing I recall when hot summer days take me back to my childhood memories.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

A Blogging Anniversary

When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us. Helen Keller

I’ve been blogging for three years now. The first post (July 31, 2006) was one day after my 54th birthday. Here’s what I said back then.

And here’s where I am now. I have a real job working for a nonprofit organization helping needy elders, children and families. I still wonder how much time I have left. It’s been over five years since the Big C visited me.

I still ramble way too much. I can have the attention span of a gnat. My head is teeming with untested ideas. I don’t write here as often and regret the loss of time to cyber-visit with readers. To recap, since 2006, I have moved from Alabama to Springfield, Missouri, and from Springfield to Batavia, Illinois. My marriage of nearly 37 years ended last summer. Lots of other things happened of course, but I’m saving those stories for the book.

So, the past year has been a year of transition, self-discovery, self-sufficiency, and soul searching. While I see the glass half full, I wouldn’t mind if it were completely full. As I flit from one great notion to the next, I do feel progress is being made, ever so slowly.

The best is yet to come!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Don’t Let the Bedbugs Bite

No “Good night, John Boy,” at my childhood home. It was always Mom saying, “Night, night, don’t let the bedbugs bite.

I just thought it was a sweet way to close the day. Later, I realized bedbugs are real. And maybe you have had an up close and personal encounter.
But Fort Collins, Colorado, apparently does not plan to become a bedbugs mega center.
Colorado State University’s annual Great Sofa Roundup was canceled after organizers worried they might be recycling the little critters as residents hauled used sofas to a CSU parking lot instead of dumping them in alleys at the end of summer leases.

However, when I came across a toy with a bedbugs theme, I had to get it for Nicolas as I gradually build up a Gramma stash of little guy accoutrements.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

A Patriotic Rocky Road to Recovery

What better than a cone of ice cream to celebrate the Fourth of July? I found a new flavor of Edy’s ice cream at the grocery store today.

What caught my eye in addition to the patriotic colors was the little product note on the back.

At Edy’s®, we have a history of lifting spirits. In 1929, we introduced a new flavor of ice cream to bring a smile to people during the dark days of the Great Depression. That flavor was Rocky Road. Now 80 years later, we’re at it again. To brighten the summer, Edy’s is proud to unveil a new Slow Churned® Light Ice Cream Limited Edition Flavor: Red, White & No More Blues!

I’ll let you know what we think, but I’d be surprised if I didn’t like it.

The Edy’s folks are doing their part to further economic recovery. Now, go out and buy something. That’s is if you still have a job.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Defining Moments

I hate labels. No, not the kind on food or medicine, which are practical and helpful except when they are deceptive.

The labels I hate are the kind applied to people. Mostly, I hate them because they do not define a person, only a condition, or at least what some expert seems to think is the condition. So what.

Somewhere along the line someone said I was shy. Is that bad? We introverts are supposed to extroverts. That is the norm. It took me some time to say, “You’re OK. I’m OK.”

As is the case often these days, my fractured mind took me off course. The excerpt below is what got me to thinking about labels. Dear Gentle Readers of some standing may remember my grandson Nic’s extremely early arrival into this world at 26 weeks, 1 pound and 12 ounces in February 2008. Then as now, we worried how these circumstances might impact his life.

While Nic has already overcome many hurdles, he has his work cut out for him. Of course, he is not alone in his journey. In addition to family, Nic has an army of specialists and experts on Team Nic. Here’s what Nic’s mom had to say recently,

We have been worried with the continued stiffness that Nic has in his legs, feet and pelvis. Upon several expert suggestions, we decided to take Nic to Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago to see a pediatric physiatrist, who specializes in whole body movement. Nic hasn't been able to sit up on the floor by himself because the tightness makes him fall to one side or throw himself backward. It also can make him “slouch” when sitting in a highchair. The physiatrist confirmed what we thought, which is that Nicolas has Cerebral Palsy in the form of spastic diplegia. This means that the legs are primarily affected, and also minimal tightness in the arms. This type of CP does not usually affect the cognitive or social abilities of the kids who have it, and does not get worse. CP is a condition that you are born with and that does not progress. Right now we know that the brain trauma he suffered after premature birth is causing his brain to send chemicals to his legs to make them stiff. Although it is hard to have your child labeled like this when he is so perfect in your eyes, we know that CP has a wide range of effects, from very mild to severe. Right now the doctor classifies his as mild.

We are going to have to help Nic continue to work hard to stretch and loosen these muscles in order for him to be able to sit up and eventually walk. That is a scary proposition for any parent to be told that your child may not walk. But, we have great faith in Nic’s abilities and are so proud of his determination so far. He already is exercising and stretching himself and helping himself make progress. I already can’t help but think of him as a tough guy and look at other kids differently because they don’t work as hard as he does. I’m sure that will always be the case.

Other things that we will be doing to try to help him progress is adding PT for a second time a week, starting Occupational Therapy, and also adding Aquatic Therapy once a week. Yes, Nic is going to get more pool time! He loved his first swimming class with Jeff at the Rush-Copley Healthplex, but now he will be trying therapy in the water one-on-one with a PT. I think he will really like this and we will continue to feed his love for the water. This weekend he used his baby pool on the deck for the first time. We will also be using the braces for his feet and knee immobilizers to help him stretch and keep his feet in the correct position. There may be other orthopedic devices that we employ here in the near future.

Down the road Nic may also need surgery, Botox injections, serial casting or oral medications to loosen the muscles as his bones grow longer. The Physiatrist specializes in kids with CP and is going to help us coordinate all his care so we don’t get lost in a sea of opinions.

It is what it is. It is not what it will be.

NOTE: Lisa Belkin has a parenting blog over at the New York Times called Motherlode. She recently posted a wonderful piece of writing by David Sexton titled “Out a Breath,” which was about having a child with Cerebral Palsy.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Strawberry Pies Forever

Hey y’all marketing/pr folks over at Shoney’s, Frisch’s Big Boy, or Bob’s Big Boy Restaurants, I have a question for you if your alerts pick up on this blog post. What’s the real original recipe for your strawberry pie?

I have had a recipe for years that tastes pretty close to what I remember the pie tasting like. However, no fewer that 46 versions crop up when you search Shoney’s Strawberry Pie over at and another 11 more if you search Bob’s Big Boy Strawberry Pie.

Some call for strawberry Jello. Others cooks top their pies with Cool Whip (do not get me started on Cool Whip) instead of whipped cream. My version uses 7-Up. So I was curious as to what is the real, original version y’all came up with?

In case you were wondering Dear Gentle Readers, I made a strawberry pie for elder son in honor of Father’s Day. Hope he likes it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Batavia—Where the Biggest Crime is Catnapping

Batavia—Where the Biggest Crime is Catnapping as a headline was too good for me to pass up. The Daily Herald reported this story the other day.

Seems a neighbor lady got fed up by Linus the cat doing catly things like killing birds and chipmunks. According to other neighbors, this female vigilante confessed to them that she had trapped Linus with a can of tuna and took him to a park for release.

Batavia’s deputy police chief said, “I can’t recall anything quite like this. We’ve had issues where pets come up missing, but this has a bit of a twist.”

Apparently this tension has been brewing ever since Linus moved into the neighborhood and his owner said someone had even posted a sign on their door warning them to keep the cat inside.

The catnapper will be arrested, but Linus is still missing.

The point of my post. I don't really know. Just struck me as an indication of how easily little things can get under a person's skin.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


College Boy has joined the Dharma Initiative a.k.a Fermilab, the world's leading particle physics lab. Monday was orientation and CB is amazed by the brainpower around him. With over 6,000 acres, Fermilab is a pretty incredible place environmentally too. We drove around yesterday when I picked up CB and found the buffalo herd. Nice. But we did get Lost.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Be Big

I entered this contest yesterday. You should too. You don't have to be a kid either. Scholastic is encouraging everyone to Be Big and think creatively about how we can help our communities. Go for it! You have until June 26. Wonder what I suggested? Just ask.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Delightfully Macabre

My latest weekend passion is researching fabric designs either online (today) or at my local JoAnn Fabric store. Blame the fascination on my attempt to combine quilting with my love of design.

I was struck by this fabric called ‘vida de los muertos’ by Alexander Henry and had a hard time picturing how one would use it. Thankfully, the folks at J & O Fabrics had suggestions for this “delightfully macabre imagining of the daily routine of skeletons.” How about Hawaiian shirts, bags, crafts or an outfit for Rover? And then, I found a link to the bib pictured here.

Maybe one day you will see fabric by yours truly.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Feeling Picky

Having delayed getting my Illinois driver's license since returning to the state, I finally read Illinois Rules of the Road. I guess we have a shortage of proofreaders.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Missing Montana

I have never been to Montana. I have it in my head to go to Montana. This longing is nothing new as it goes back several years, fueled perhaps by too many years living in towns and cities.

As a young girl, I grew up living in the country—rural Alabama to be precise. My dad bought 20 acres and built a house on the land after he got out of the Air Force. From the age of five until 18 when I went away to college, I lived there, roaming the woods unto my self for the most part. I was an only child, close to my grandpa and grandma, who took care of me while my mom went off to her breadwinner job at Maxwell Air Force Base in nearby Montgomery. My dad never seemed to be able to make a go at much we judge success by—the War left him wounded without the visible signs. He never was the same says an aunt.

So, with rose-colored glasses, I look back on a sometimes lonely childhood. But it is what molded me and I appreciate quiet, nature, and time for reflection. Maybe that is what draws me to Montana. I think if Montana is anywhere as pretty as the pictures, I might find what I seek.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Take Two Aspirin and Call Me in the Morning

Reuters reports farmers fear pigs might get “swine” flu from people. I must admit that headline made me laugh, but then upon reading further, I realized maybe I shouldn’t have. One Kansas hog farmer said he was banning visitors from his farm and anyone needing to be near the porkers had to submit to a sort of swine security clearance. A Purdue University veterinarian said, “Pigs get flu just like people get flu.” And an Iowa pork producer added, “It's a real issue. If the pigs get it, there isn’t much we can do. Water, aspirin, and bed rest, that’s all we’ve got.”

Last weekend when cable reporters were all over this story like hogs after slop (not that I think the media are swine), I dismissed the hubbub as more mass hysteria, whopped up by media with too much airtime on their hands. Could I have been wrong?

Here in the far reaches of Chicagoland, officials closed Batavia High School and a middle school on Thursday after suspected cases of H1N1 were discovered. The Batavia Park District canceled all programs and gatherings through Sunday for children, and suburban papers reported business at some Mexican restaurants was way off.

Over-hype or not, it’s too early to say. However, the economic consequences are real and there are sick folks out there. I’ve avoided the regular flu all season and just when I think the danger of that has passed, up pops the swine kind. As Rosanne Rosannadanna used to say, “It just goes to show you, Jane . . . it’s always something. If it isn’t one thing it’s another.”

Friday, May 01, 2009

Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive

Put this on your calendar, America: Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive is coming up. HSP, where I work, gets food from the Stamp Out Hunger Drive, which happens on Saturday, May 9. Food from this drive largely fuels our Feed the Kids summer nutrition program.

Lots of food pantries need your help. Simply leave your donation next to your mailbox and your letter carrier will pick it up if your local office is participating. Call yours to see. Sadly, some are not. If that’s the case, Google food pantry and the name of your town and then take your donation to a local agency who needs it. Feeding America has a pantry locator too.

What should you donate? Peanut butter and jelly (our shelves are pretty bare), hearty soups, pasta, pancake mix requiring no eggs, syrup, cereal, tuna, coffee (we never get enough of this), mayonnaise, ketchup, canned tomatoes, canola oil, oatmeal, juice (V-8 is my favorite), crackers, Ensure, and low-sodium or sugarless products.

No glass or expired products. That’s really all you need to know. Except . . . there are so many in our country who really do need food. I talk to people everyday looking for help. Shouldn’t be this way. Not in America. Go forth and donate.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bama Quilt Gets a Tryout

I finally finished the quilt for Nicolas. Here he is lounging around on it at a wedding shower last weekend at a wedding shower in his mom’s hometown of St. Joseph, Missouri. Nic was the only guy there. His dad was at Grandpa and Grandma Hammer’s house watching Alabama’s A-Day football game on ESPN. Unlike urban protocol, Mid-America small-town protocol still allows that men don’t much care for attending wedding showers. Personally, I agree, but Nic did not seem to mind one bit I am told.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

National Volunteer Week Starts April 19

Most of my long-time readers know I work for a nonprofit organization that helps low-income senior citizens and children. Heck, some of you have even contributed to HSP. So, y’all shouldn’t be surprised that I would have volunteers on my mind this week.

I recently recruited three new volunteers for our speakers’ team. These speakers spread our community outreach efforts further than our small staff ever could. What impresses me most is that these talented people are working full-time; and yet, they are called to volunteer their time when I’m sure they could be otherwise engaged. Our nonprofit’s lifeblood is the volunteer. With a lean paid staff, volunteers support us every day in our mission to alleviate some of the pain caused by poverty. I’ll bet it’s that way at most nonprofits.

Today, contrary to what was once the image of volunteers as retired folks seeking ways to fill newly acquired “down” time (we have a great bunch of those folks too), volunteers come in all ages and from all backgrounds. One of the new speakers is a young man not long out of university who plays music on the weekend in a band. Another is a working-outside-of-the-home mom with two teens. And the third is a dynamic young man who is working and going back to school. The common thread is that they are passionate about wanting to help others and have chosen our organization as the conduit.

If you have an extra hour or two, find a way to volunteer. You’ll make someone happy and that could even be yourself. And if you happen to be in the Chicagoland area, drop by for a tour this Tuesday. I’m making oatmeal scotchies.

Open House for National Volunteer Week
Humanitarian Service Project
465 Randy Road, Carol Stream, Illinois
Phone: 630-221-8340
Tuesday, April 21: 9:30-5:30 p.m.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole. ~Roger Caras

We lost a dear family friend this week. He passed way too early, barely out of adolescence. For the last few months he had faced an illness which only seemed to get worse. Finally, the time came when we had to say goodbye.

Like those we love and lose, I will remember the good times most of all. As a youngster, he swam in our pool and chewed sticks in the front yard of my Alabama home when he visited. He flunked obedience training, but he was smart. He learned to go the door, indicating a need to attend to business best completed outside if you know what I mean. Then, he would pull the trick of stealing my spot on the most comfy chair before I could close the door.

His human mom and dad are sad and so I am.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Revisiting Spring

And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Sheltered from the still chilly north wind, the bright daffodils surprised me the other morning as I headed off to work. Yet, there they were as if overnight they sprung to life, brave little souls they were tucked safe against the south wall of the house.

I think of daffodils as the first harbinger of spring. Maybe I should credit my fifth grade teacher for my love of daffodils since she required us to memorize poems, and I think that was when I first read William Wordworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” more commonly and appropriately called the “Daffodils.”

Today is sunny and soon less hardly plants will venture forth. I can barely wait. As the life contained in dormant seeds and bulbs begins to push its way up toward the light and warmth, so shall I.