Wisdom Comes Suddenly

The Effortless-American-Woman Quiz

November 21st, 2016 · 2 Comments

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Photo courtesy of bando.com (socks available for purchase)

As we’re wildly running about town, trying to create Pinterest-worthy tables and ingredients we’ll never need again, I thought the timing was right to publish my “Effortless American Woman Quiz”. Are you doing a great job pretending it’s easy to do a great job? America 2016 has presented us with an interesting twist in our media-portrayed narrative, ladies. You must DO IT ALL, while appearing as if you are DOING NOTHING. Don’t blame me. I don’t make the rules. But as your Rule Historian [inserting daily fake job title, hoping one might actually stick], I feel I should highlight our current state of affairs.

The Effortless-American-Woman Quiz

Career

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My career aspirations are judging your career aspirations.

Your job title must not indicate what it entails or how it earns money. It must show ingenuity in entrepreneurship, with a LinkedIn photo showcasing a casual lean against a desk, arms crossed, wearing a knowing-smile that you bring home the bacon (metaphorically speaking, as the Effortless American Woman hasn’t eaten gluten or meat since 2009).

Possible titles include, but are not limited to:

+10 points: Vision Board Consultant

+5 points: Mantel Stylist/Beauty Innovator

+5 points: Social Media Curator

+100 points: Font-Muse/Blogger

+10 points for every time you’ve updated your professional social media platform with a catchy hashtag:

    +5 points for: “Landed the Elderberry Candle Contract! #powerofawe!”.

    +5 points for: “What’s in your poop? #jet’aimeprobiotics”.

    +5 points for: “Put down the Arial! #fontlivesmatter”.

Deductions

-10 points for wearing Wellies unless you are a Candlemaker/Charitable Soap Enthusiast.

-1000 points for any job with a concrete mission. Possible titles include, but are not limited to:

Nurse

Teacher

Accountant

Attorney

Exercise

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Shouldn’t someone be in charge of saying, “I saw you wipe out on that paddleboard. It was NASTY.”

Count your Athleisure-wear. Special note: This question does NOT measure a commitment to exercise; work-out anticipation sufficient. Or nap-anticipating. It’s athleisure-wear, so it’s hard to say.

+1 point for every piece you own (adding ½ point for every black piece).

+1 point for every piece with a Yoga-esque title. Examples include:

Vinyasa Scarves

Half-Moon Half-tops

Easy Plow Pants

Bikram Bra

Deductions

-3 points for any single piece costing less than $75. If you want to transition from sweatless exercise to the grocery aisle to the comfort of your couch, it’s going to cost you.

-5 points for every time you break a sweat in these clothes. Your life is not a Nike Ad, Sweetheart.

Home Design

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Personal deduction of -500 points for my mantel.

Affirm every room in your home contains at least one piece of trash from a dead person. This is known as “vintage”, and may NOT be used for its original purpose. It’s better to be related to the dead person, or to have “restyled” the trash on your own, but the most important key is that you must not use your OWN trash!

Dead-people-trash is divided into “whimsy” categories:

Nautical Whimsy:

+10 points if you have a ship’s wheel on your wall.

+100 points if you are a descendant of Herman Melville and have his wheel on your wall.

+10 points for oyster baskets turned into a tables.

+5 bonus points if anytime someone tries to sit a drink on it, you scream “NO! That table is just for LOOKS! It’s not stable!”

Aeronautical Whimsy:

+10 points if you have an airplane propeller on your wall.

+10 points if your Grandfather flew the plane from which it was rescued.

 +20 points if your Grandfather ripped it from the plane of a dead Nazi.

General Historical Whimsy:

+10 points if you rescued a chair at roadside vintage flea-market on a brisk, autumn Sunday while sipping coffee and wearing layers of knit.

 +20 points if you stole an antique item from Williamsburg while drunk on a girlfriend getaway.

+5 points if you have a milk delivery crate on your front porch.

+5 bonus points if your Great Uncle was a milkman.

+5 bonus points if it holds mums and pumpkins in the fall.

-/+ 0 for bureaus. Items with drawers are neutral. Any tramp can turn a dresser into a dresser.

Foreign Language Whimsy:

+5 points for items printed with the word “atelier”.

+3 points for items featuring Italian words and placed in a kitchen.

 +2 points for anything referring to “la vie”.

Mindfulness

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This is me, drinking coffee at IKEA, judging people. But I was in the moment, so it’s all good.

This will be your most difficult item to score, because just by reading this quiz, you are ingesting junk-writing and not being mindful (it’s similar to Doritos, but without tell-tale orange fingers and self-loathing).

+10 points for every adult coloring book you own.

+10 points if you feel guilty for not knowing how to meditate, but swear you’re going to learn. Soon. Next year. Maybe.

+10 points for the use of daily mantras.

+10 points for writing Haikus during a mundane task:

 In the carpool line

Beeoutch, you can’t park your car there!

Forgot the snacks. Crap.

Deductions

-50 points if you actually meditate. This isn’t “Eat, Pray, Love” ladies, so I know most of you are lying.

Diet

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Just because my cousin grew it doesn’t mean I’m eating it.

HOW MUCH ZUCCHINI DO WE NEED?!

+10 points if you’ve eaten nothing but avocados and almonds for the past month.

+5 points if you’ve ever said “I just grab it off the vine and eat it”.    

+5 points if stopped eating fast-food and started eating “fast-casual”.

+5 points for every time you say “bloated” in casual conversation. 

 +3 points for any meal consisting of “handful of nuts”.

 +3 points for giving waiters special instructions when you order.

+3 points for drinking artisan cocktails from your favorite Mixologist.

Hair & Makeup

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Effortless, I say!! Gone are the long days at the spa and the admission you put any effort into your appearance whatsoever!

+10 points if you claim you’re only wearing mascara and lip gloss while sporting a full face of makeup.

+5 points for every “1-step facial kit” you own.

+3 points if you own dry shampoo.

+1,000,000 points if everything you slap on your body is made with locally-sourced ingredients.

SCORING:

250+:

YOU ARE THE ULTIMATE-EFFORTLESS-AMERICAN WOMAN! You do not sweat, smell, rush, or even try. You are the human equivalent of the messy ponytail. Your Vision Board is a tranquil utopia. Your career formed itself from the ashes of the corporate ladder which you set on fire. Gourmet dinners appear on your dinner table with no apparent prep whatsoever, and your guests sit their bums on mixy-matchy chairs you refinished without getting any paint on your hands. You own more infinity scarves than there are stars in the sky.  

100-250:

Are you even trying? You are, and that’s the problem. You probably still own a hairdryer, and you have things like “a boss”, and “matching furniture”. While this score is disappointing, there is still hope. Improvement steps include:

-Go for a hike while drinking water from a Yeti. (The container! Hiring an ACTUAL Yeti is personal-brand suicide!)

-Create a new font.

-Think about how things are arranged on your bookshelves. Is there a visual continuity, paired with an unexpectedly delightful focal point that inspires you to make your own deodorant?

-Study the differences between “pops of color” and “splashes of color”. I don’t have time to cover this territory right now. Honey, I could write a BOOK.

Less than 100:

You wasted precious time taking this quiz when you could have been mopping a bathroom or folding laundry. Effortless women hide these dirty deeds in coordinated baskets (YES, they keep their toilets INSIDE baskets.) You are worse than effortless; you are average. You wear ecologically unsustainable jeans without even noticing your holiday mantel is visual cacophony. I won’t even suggest you paint the word “Ciao” on your Great-Grandmother’s pie safe which you could use a dog-washing station. It’s hopeless.

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“They Loved Me Up So”

October 19th, 2016 · 1 Comment

 

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Michigan, the year 2002…snowing…SO cold…kind of ruined me to soccer…

About a million years ago I was 17, and I fell in love with a football player with a dark sense of humor and dimples. These are the things one does as a Senior in High School, followed by Prom, Junior Miss Pageants, Senior Skip Day, and other sweet memories we tuck away in boxes labeled, “1990”. We made quite a show of breaking up, getting back together, and other mayhem-ridden decisions one makes throughout a proper twenties. By 2002, I tucked our story away in a box labeled, “You made all the right mistakes”.

While we weren’t great at dating, we were pretty great at being an Aunt & Uncle. He had 5, my Fab Five…my precious nieces and nephews whom I adored to the ends of all time. When people say, “Did you stay together for the kids?”…well…yes…but oddly, they weren’t even ours. In fact, they had superb parents and a huge, wonderful family. He was too decent a guy to take away the only family I had at the time, and for that, I am in his debt.

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Oh my GOD…we were SO YOUNG! And SKINNY! But oh-so-dumb. No really…we were straight-up ridiculous, bless our hearts. I wish I could hug their innocence.

The adventures one has as an Aunt Yori (as toddlers, “Lori” wasn’t in their wheelhouse, so I became “Aunt Yori”, whom I remain to this day); Aunts are WAY better than Moms. Aunts never make you shower or eat vegetables. They take you to week-long science camps and feed you popcorn for dinner. Aunts let you cuddle late into the night, playing games of geography and giggling. They let you put the ornaments ANYWHERE on the Christmas tree, and if the tree falls at 3 am, nearly crushing you as you sleep in front of movies? Aunts LAUGH. Aunts sneak candy into Harry Potter movies, and let you watch movies WAY-NOT-OK. (I cannot BELIEVE the stupid things I did as an Aunt). Rollerblading? Aunts are young enough to go. Muscles don’t ache when you haven’t stayed up all night with your own kids. Sleepovers on the floor? Yep…I’ve got nowhere to be tomorrow. Junk food at ball games? I’m in. Trick or treating in the snow? Let’s do this thing. We’re leaving town and the fruit is going to spoil and smell up the apartment? We should crush it on the back porch and measure how far it flies. It’s FOR SCIENCE. Don’t worry…my roommate will clean it up. (Sorry Amie! Love you! Call you later today…)

NO WAY my own daughters would EVER believe I was Aunt Yori. Aunt Yori must be a mythical creature invented in my imagination.

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Ice cream for dinner at the ball game! Was this the  year they convinced me “American Pie” was a cooking movie?

As the years passed, even I began to believe Aunt Yori was a myth…oh how they flew by, and my Fab 5 grew up. REALLY grew up; their own spectacular 20’s are in full-swing now. You can imagine my excitement when I received a wedding invitation! Beautiful stories I had tucked into a box were pulled out, and there they were, my reason for wanting kids of my own: Chief, Princess, Fish, Babs, and Little Mike. If not for them, I’d have foregone parenting, believing I didn’t have the skills.

I still don’t have the skills, but I have the kids; so you know. No turning back now. I lost the return receipt in the confusion of childbirth.

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This young lady sent me an invite to her WEDDING! Look at her! She’s 8! She can’t get married!

I wondered if they would even remember me? 14 years is a blink to an adult, but to children? Eternity had passed. How could I convey how much they’d meant to me? I could barely breath as Greg and I packed up the car and drove the hours to Great Lake Michigan. “Breathe Yori…breathe.” Now is an important time to add I have the best husband on the planet. My friends were back in Indy building a statue in his honor while we made the trip.

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When Halloweening in the snow, it’s best to dress as furry animals. All 4 year olds know this.

On the way to the wedding we got stuck on a bridge over Great Lake Michigan during a tornado warning. You can’t make this stuff up. At one point I looked over at Greg with tears in my eyes and said, “So we’re going to die inside a tornado wrapped in a mangled bridge on the way to my ex-boyfriend’s niece’s wedding. Odd twist of fate, wouldn’t you say? [Insert nervous laughter.]” We eventually got off the bridge intact, and very relieved. Then we got lost. On flooded back roads in Michigan. Have you ever been to middle-of-nowhere Michigan? I’m from the Midwest…I specialize in “middle-of-nowhere”, and no one has this act together like Michigan. It didn’t take long to realize we were going to miss the entire wedding. Better than a watery-windy death on the bridge…but I was heartbroken.

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We decided to take one, last selfie on the bridge, for posterity. We’re dying! And smiling!

When we finally arrived in the downpour, the entire wedding party had been sheltering in a cabin, and we missed nothing due to the weather delay. Standing right at the door of the cabin was my friend, dimples still intact, holding an umbrella, and laughing as if not a day had passed. One hug and high-five, and no words were needed to convey that we’d turned our story into a deep respect for each others’ journey. Life can be beautifully surprising, can’t it?

The beauty of a Michigan wedding on a lake: It’s hard to describe the breeze and the mist, the green and God’s beauty. The Mother-of-the-Bride squeezed my shoulder on her way up the aisle, my sweet, sweet Jen, letting me know I was meant to be there. I walked quietly up to each one, and asked if they remembered me…and oh…the wave of relief as I realized they too, imagined me into being. Little Mike asked that I not throw him into any ceiling fans (IT WAS AN ACCIDENT!!). Luckily he weighs more at age 20 than at 4, and I was unable to lift him. I carried a small stack of photos like an old lady, but the laughter was worth the dork-gesture. I nearly carded Princess on our way to the bar, and she laughed the hardest. “Aunt Yori…I’m years past legal.” REALLY?! BECAUSE at LAST check, you barely qualified for the XL Slurpees at Sonic! Now let’s go eat waffles until we puke. (Princess and I share a waffle-problem, but we are in this thing together.)

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Prettier than all the brides, EVER!!

The Bride…my beautiful, wondrous Fish, who always knew exactly who she was and where she was going. After a week of sleepovers at Aunt Yori’s, at the ripe old age of 8, we were rollerblading (and deciding on ice cream vs. hot dogs for dinner), when she yelled out, “I’m as FREE AS A FISH!” If you live on a Great Lake, that analogy makes more sense…I realize that now. So my Fish she has remained, the gorgeous creature I held on the day of her birth, and now I can say, cried over with tears of gratitude during her wedding ceremony. I should have guessed it would be the middle child who pulled my beginning and ends together and wrapped me up whole again.

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She who does good hair at Age 5…

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Does 5-star hair at Age 20. It’s just good math.

It was a magical wedding, and I wake up some days quite certain I dreamed the whole day. I never imagined what I meant to them…I was so busy remembering what they had meant to me. At the end of it all, Greg remarked, “This is such a great family, and Lori, they love you so, so much. I didn’t anticipate this part…their faces when they saw you.” The loving of me…these kids were the making of me. Isn’t it funny how kids raise us into adults? Without kids, we’re just big kids ourselves, forgetting our bike helmets and staying up way too late.

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The beautiful bride and groom at sunset.

I’ve spent a couple of months trying to find the words. I’ve started and stopped writing more times than I let Babs do my hair. Ali-Babba.Loved.My.Hair. Not all feelings have matching words; all writers know this. Tucking my own squirts into bed last month, I picked up Jacqueline Woodson’s Newbery Honor Book “Show Way”. I stand corrected: Jacqueline Woodson always finds the words. In this one-of-a-kind story, she writes, “They loved that baby up so. Yes, they loved that baby up.”

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How far will a brown banana fly when smashed with a meat tenderizer? Everywhere.

I laughed right out loud, because it was then I knew: I didn’t love those babies as up as much as they loved ME up. Oh how they loved me up so, my Fab Five. In return, I probably gave them a couple of cavities. Maybe diabetes…it’s hard to say. This much I learned: You should NOT give little kids glass bottles of root beer while in a moving car. And if they ask for a ride on your shoulders, look above you for moving ceiling fans. And if one says “Watch my dolphin dive”, you should scream “NO!!!”, and stop him, because that’s a dive with NO ARMS FORWARD. THIS will not go well. But it will make for quite a story on school picture day with all that face-skin missing. Dear Lord, I know we had good times, but how did these kids survive me?

I guess when you love big, there are bound to be mistakes mixed in with the memories. Maybe making the right mistakes was part of the plan all along.

Wisdom Comes Suddenly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Princessiest Princess IN ALL THE LAND: A Tutorial

July 31st, 2016 · Comments Off on The Princessiest Princess IN ALL THE LAND: A Tutorial

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Kelly, like 99.9999% of little ladies in America, desired a 4-post canopy bed for her birthday, encased in shimmery curtains of LIGHT. “HOW glamorous”, I remarked, as she invaded my Pinterest boards with beds that cost more than all of my living room furniture.

Problem #1, I explained to her, was that she already owned a beautiful bed, which was a generous gift from her grandparents the month she ditched the crib. Mommy doesn’t buy perfectly good furniture to replace perfectly good furniture. I’m the Mom who did CPR in the mountains on a minivan with the age equivalency of Winston Churchill if he were still alive.

Problem #2, was that I WASN’T IN ANY MOOD TO SPEND ONE MORE DIME ON KELLY’S ROOM. She wanted the round shelves, until she GOT the round shelves. She wanted the artichoke light, until Sara chose are far more spectacular light. She wanted Chinese lanterns, which all went up…only to come down. Her current room theme is “colorful, lawless swamp of stuffed animals which cover every square inch of flooring.”

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Round Shelf Tutorial Is HERE.

Which leads us to Problem #3: The only thing more unlikely as a birthday gift than a canopy were additional stuffed animals. Canopy WINS. Which is to say, after shopping for anything adaptable without the 4-post bed (that was NOT happening), I handed this conundrum to Greg. He had it solved in about a day, because Kelly has his numba’. What does his Baby Princess need most in the world on her 9th birthday? TO BE MORE PRINCESSY, OF COURSE!

We left town a few days before Kelly’s birthday to visit my cousins, and Daddio spent his weekend making the “World’s Best Birthday Present In The Entire World, EVER-EVER, She Has Never Loved Anything So Much.” -Kelly Testimonial

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SUPPLY LIST:

10 Feet of PVC Piping, Cut Into (2) 3ft sections, and (2) 2ft sections. (3/4″ worked fine, be sure to pick up 4 90′ bends as well)

White spray paint to cover the black print on the piping.

1 set of icicle lights

2 sets of a high thread count sheer voile curtains

Drywall screws

Large hooks

Small hooks

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THE GENERAL IDEA:

It’s pretty simple stuff: Create a white rectangle with the PVC piping, and feed on the curtains. Attach to the ceiling with the drywall screws and large hooks. Screw the small hooks into the PVC piping at a 90 degree angle to create a hanging system for the lights.

And you’re done, for half the price of the canopies I found while searching la Information Superhighway, and at twice the quality of their curtains.

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I was surprised how well this fits into her room. Kelly has a very small bedroom, so I thought for certain we were totaling any chance of order. But honestly, it’s very pretty, and Kelly sits on her bed for hours reading, covered in kitties. I’m not so hard-hearted to admit this is the realization of every childhood dream. Add in a pony that can fly to magical lands, and we win parenting. FOREVER.

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And really you’all, ’bout how much longer will our Boo Boo Chicken have childhood dreams? Despite my tears and tantrums, she went ahead and turned 9 last week. My youngest child is in her last year of single digits, and I have one headed into Middle School. When we joined hands out in this space originally, Sara was ONE. Freaks you out a little, yes?

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So here’s to little Princesses (who refuse to stay little), their kitty cats (cleverly hiding in this picture, waving at you with his paw), their beloved-loveys (covering their floors), their inability to place band-aid wrappers anywhere near a trashcan, and that tiny heartbreak we feel every night when we tiptoe into their rooms for a final tuck-in, and find them curled up with books and baby dolls. Oh how I have loved the elementary years…they went by SO QUICKLY. To you and your own little Princesses, Godspeed, my friends. As always, Godspeed.

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The Chicken Box, June 2005-June 2016

July 5th, 2016 · 2 Comments

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Last shot: pre-tow truck, epi-grieving, post-last-mile-driven.

The Chicken Box departed this life atop a mountain in West Virginia on Sunday, June 26th. While her health deteriorated rapidly in her last year of life, it was the transmission which finally caused her demise. Her family takes pride in the fact it took a mountain to kill her, but silently moans her inability to make it 30 more miles to the vacation house. I mean seriously Chicken Box…you made it 268,000 miles and you couldn’t make it 30 more? But I digress.

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Another year, another berry field.

She will be remembered for carrying her favorite human fowl: Ducky Wigglebottoms and Boo Boo Chicken, known for being both fowl and foul in her interiors. Her hobbies included storing old Happy Meal boxes full of half-eaten fry containers, catching coffee spills, and commuting to school and back. And to school and back. And to school and back. Again and again, and OH MY GOD WILL THIS SCHOOL COMMUTE EVER END? Her greatest contribution included 6 years of daily 100-mile commutes, when The Momma would compose verbal blog posts, arriving home with 1000 words memorized, ready to spill onto the page. The Chicken Box was an exemplary editor.

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First School Commute, August 2008

She was a cherished member of the Gifts Galore team at school, hauling approximately 10,000 gifts over the course of 8 years of service to the cause of “kids purchasing holiday treasures for their friends and family for the low, low prices of $5 and under”. She was a Daisy, Brownie, and Girl Scout van, a proud member of the school’s Cross Country team, attended to the needs of 20 field trips, served as the limousine for the PTA President, could easily hold hundreds of gourmet cupcakes during Staff Appreciation Week, loved rescuing “found furniture”, volleyed countless meals for sick friends, and safely transported enough items for the Momma’s ridiculous volunteer activities to float a ship (a minivan can hold 415 foam fingers, and not a single more). It’s worth mentioning she also moved the entire family’s belongings during the “summer of the haunted apartment” when the neighbors discovered bed bugs, and The Momma tossed her coffee down the drain and packed EVERYTHING into the hatch in 10 minutes flat. Not her favorite job, but lauded as “the best of the best”, The Chicken Box completed approximately 35 round trips to Washington DC while packed to the roof with Christmas gifts, pool floaties, beach chairs, diapers, pack n’ plays, a Barbie Jeep, and a snowblower (long story). Her ability to haul knew no end. Until “the end”, when she was fully stuffed and could haul no more, despite the Momma’s insistence that if she were just turned off and on enough times on the shoulder-less highway, she would somehow magically come back to life. Oh Momma…you dreamer.

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The first gifts of The Gifts War.

If The Chicken Box could speak, she would most likely repeat the poetry recited in her core:

  • Never, EVER throw things in a moving car!
  • She’s touching me!
  • OH NO. Oh no. Momma…I spilled it.
  • I have to go to the bathroom.
  • Good morning, may I have a large coffee with cream and sugar please?
  • Good afternoon, may I have a large coffee with cream and sugar please?
  • Good evening, may I have a large coffee with cream and sugar please?
  • I think I’m going to throw up.
  • I threw up.
  • Don’t make me pull this car over (repeat 5,000 times).
  • SHE TOOK IT FROM ME! MAKE HER GIVE IT BACK!
  • STOP LOOKING AT ME KELLY!!
  • STOP LOOKING AT ME SARA!!
  • Did you bring snacks?
  • Ewww…what’s that smell?
  • Turn on Kidz Bop please. Turn on Kidz Bop please. Turn on Kidz Bop please. I’m not going to stop talking until you turn on Kidz Bop.

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Oh dear Lord, no more Kidz Bop.

Grateful she’ll never have to listen to the melodies of Kidz Bop again, The Chicken Box is especially glad she won’t repeat the “year she contained a portable bathroom”. With girls potty training and a Momma on immunotherapy, she dutifully carried her family through arguably the most disgusting of experiences. But such is the call of the American Minivan: deep interiors can easily conceal camping bathrooms, complete with a handwashing station. The makers of SUVs don’t want you to know this (literally) dirty secret, but in her death, The Box asked this truth be revealed: YOU CAN POOP IN YOUR MINIVAN AND NO ONE WILL KNOW (hypothetically, of course).

Unfortunately, her interiors were impervious to annual detailing jobs, and some smells stick. This much we learned.

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How many kids can fit into a Chicken Box?

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All of them. Plus 2. Plus pets. And some groceries.

She is survived by Greg, who perpetually complained of her “minivan stank”, Sara and Kelly who caused most of the smells, and The Momma, who loved her with a devotion unnatural between a human and a minivan. What can I say? Not everything can be explained by the laws of nature; love is love. Gratefully she will not be scrapped for parts, as Momma is fairly certain she’s being held together by nothing more than stale trail mix, crushed Cheerios, and lost ponytails. There have been hush-hush mentions of her being sold to the Space Program. Since the decommissioning of the Space Shuttle, research efforts for “affordable alternatives” to “space vehicles” makes the Chicken Box an obvious test case. [Insert maudlin overlay music of David Bowie’s “Space Odyessey”. ODYSSEY…GET IT? I drove a Honda Odyssey?]

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Kitten Transport Days. Sweet, sweet baby cats.

In her final moments, there were no famous speeches, no holding of hands with doves flying overhead. Her service was held at the edge of a depressing, gravel mechanic shop in Eastern West Virginia; just The Momma sitting in her favorite driver’s seat, silently weeping with her head on the wheel. Honestly, not unlike many, many afternoons after returning home with cranky children.

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Kelly drove from Month 14-18, until she lost her license in a horrible Little Tikes car accident.

The family would like to extend a special thanks to Bart Beach at Indy Honda for keeping her mechanics in 5-star shape through the particularly challenging “commuting years”. Our dreams of pitching a commercial to Honda at the 400,000 mile mark may be dashed, but we’ll always have the oil changes, Bart. So, so, SO many oil changes. Also, special thanks to Firestone (especially Elizabeth and Scott) who attended to The Chicken Box during her last year, aka her ICU year. We are equally sorry you may go out of business without our weekly visits, begging you to keep her running while fixing anything broken around the $75 mark. If you kept her alive with duct tape and spit, I don’t need to know.

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Some fashion choices The Chicken Box agreed to take to her grave.

Memorial contributions may be made to “The Momma”. “Who suddenly has to buy a minivan.” “The week tuition is due.” “The year 2 kids are joining band.” “Entering the orthodontic phase.” “With kids in glasses.” “Baby need new shoes.”

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P.S. In even sadder news, the Craft Tower was also laid to rest with The Chicken Box. We rented an SUV to get home, and it wasn’t big enough for The Craft Tower. Stupid, dumb-stupid SUV. To everyone who has said to me, “OH..UGH…I’d NEVER drive a minivan”: REALLY? Well your STUPID SUV won’t hold a magnificent craft tower, and it won’t even hold LUGGAGE which had to be strapped to the roof and driven through a rainstorm. Keep your sexy SUVs where you cannot pee in private. I’m buying another minivan. STAT.

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In closing, my favorite of things, a Photo Essay, “Kids Sleeping In Minivans”:

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A portrait of one baby sleeping.

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Bar graphs are exhausting.

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Toddler in need of a manicure praying.

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Sleeping on craft tower with one-eye open (in case Kelly is committing Ding Dong thievery).

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Sleeping in color.

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Sleeping a la burrito.

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Trust The Momma

February 29th, 2016 · 4 Comments

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Dear Duck & Chick,

 

We’ll probably look back on this year fondly. I hope. Perhaps we’ll cringe. But if this messy math of mine works out, we’ll certainly come out on the other side of this year changed. I KNOW I WILL. After 8 years of swearing I was happily retired, I went back to work. Was this my wisest decision in the midst of grieving and helping the grieving and being present for the grieving? Hard to say, so as we do in such cases, we make it up as we go along:

As your dedicated historian, here’s what REALLY happened (because as we know, The Momma’s version is the one which counts…look it up): Matt died. I came rather unglued. 2 of the primary witnesses to my childhood disappeared (long story, one literal and one figurative). With too much time on my hands, I began to worry the narrative I’d spun about the brave survivors of Muncie circa 1985 was only relatively true. One should not pick friends based on estimated life span, but in all seriousness, think about choosing a bell curve if you can. Scrappy Survivor does not always equate to long life, this much I’ve learned.

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Art and Quote Courtesy of Brian Andreas, Creator of “Story People”

And then your Father asked me to grab some gum, and Kelly made a laundry list of items she needed for project…like right now, Momma. NOW, you’re going to think I must be half out of my mind to generalize your Daddy asking for a Costco run and Kelly creating a needlessly expensive project were VALID reasons for me going back to work…but remember: this is HISTORY, not REALITY. In the midst of Daddy having this “gum-scarcity-crisis”, I received a job offer for a really intriguing part-time, part-year job I’ve wanted for 22 years (not an exaggeration…this was my plot’s destiny). BUT NO, I DECLARED! I’m happily retired, helping people…buying that gum. And the 18 different candies on Kelly’s shopping list so she can create a cake that looks like the innards of a cell.

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Then we lost our friend, Denver, and she was 28, and doing such amazing things for our city. This isn’t OK on any narrative.

There I was, thinking life is so unfair in its dispersion of life spans, and well? Maybe I should be doing more than buying gum and crying about it all. Maybe I should get back in the game.

I know I’ve threatened to go back to work (’bout a million times) when you refuse to clean or get a case of the sassy-pants. I know you’ll probably look back and think I went back to work to make good on that threat. I’d love to think I was that strong (or brilliant enough to have kept it a secret until a night when you complained about dinner): “REALLY?! You don’t LIKE ratatouille?! FINE! I’m going back to work!! TOMORROW!” And you’d roll your eyes and laugh…and then at 7 am I’d put on a suit, grab my briefcase, and say, “This chef has left the kitchen!” But the truth is I really, really liked being present for you three.

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My People

For a long time, it was a good fit for us. Darn you life, changing all the time. After some seriously hard thinking (like, serious guys…I got headaches praying about this), I realized you needed pushed out of the nest. You needed a deeper relationship with your father. I had become the central force in our Universe, and began to joke the 3 of you stopped breathing when I left the house. Then it hit me: what if I stopped breathing?

I couldn’t do that to you; this leaving you with no skills. The hard truth is as long as I stayed at the house, you guys weren’t budging. I tried several weekends of being a disgruntled Officer, belting out orders. I don’t want to be that Mom, so maybe it would be best if I let you learn how to do it your own way.

Many friends stop me in the school hallways, call, write…”SOOOO, how is it going?!”, with that expectant smile that I’m “Lori’ing the whole thing up”. I’m taking this new challenge and spinning sunshine! It’s SO GREAT! PHENOMENAL! Being a working Mom is so much better than I anticipated!

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Sara made her own snacks for Girl Scouts! (See those tiny sprinkles? Let’s call those “my new floor decor”.)

Are you laughing yet? You should be laughing. Because no woman on earth can work this equation to perfection. You balance it, but it’s never actually in balance. Seriously…look away. From my floors. Which haven’t been mopped in weeks. If I do stop breathing tomorrow, the autopsy will show I’m made of coffee and Big Macs. I’ve taken the soda habit back up, and now I have a cavity. I think my hair is falling out. Either that, or I haven’t had time to clean up cat hair. Daddy has been an absolute champ (he loves a challenge!), but girls? You are a hot mess. For starters, I let you take over hair care, which means you now have missing chunks where I’ve had to cut out rat’s nests. Laundry? Don’t get me started. Rooms? I haven’t gone near them in weeks for safety reasons. And I’m not going to even mention your attitudes. THEY STINK. There. I said it. You two have been as supportive as a 10 year old sports bra.

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They need a sign which reads, “Can be bribed with cake pops”.

Are you still waiting for the good part? Good for you! My positivity partners! It has felt like a rush of fresh air to have an office, a title, a little income, and a parking space; not because of ego, but because of identity. Having a job means I get up with a clear purpose…and move aside world, I have THINGS TO DO! (Oh Dear Lord, I have so much to do.) It’s my world’s greatest honor to have been blessed with a family, but sometimes one needs to dust off the skill set and grow a bit. It’s been hard, but I’m pushing through to find some answers for myself…and that’s a good thing. And the wish I wanted most has come true: you and Daddy have “your own thing”. That “thing” involves a disgusting menu of things like “scrambled pasta”, but it’s ALL YOU. You have “your way” of doing things when Mommy is gone, and from the outside, it looks like happy-dipped in-happy. There was that challenging moment when I had to point out 2 little girls had not changed underwear in a week, but luckily Daddy is a fast learner (loving his military-mornings when he belts out, “GIRLS! TIME TO GET UP! THIS DAY WILL INCLUDE CLEAN UNDERWEAR!!”).

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These two. SO alike in so many wonderful ways. Daddy gave her his best genes.

And there’s the job: working with Indiana’s best college students in a program so rich in legacy, it makes me want to stand from the mountain top and sing out praises for my great state. Wait. HOLD THE PHONES. We don’t have any mountains. I am going to find a small hill and SING IT OUT WORLD! INDIANA ROCKS! This program changed my life in 1994, and spending time helping others experience the same magic is worth a few challenging months. I hope to know these young women forever, because just witnessing their journey is making me braver.

Looking back, many years from now, you may be tempted to ask, “So Momma, let me see if we get this straight: 3 friends you’ve barely seen since 1994 either died or disappeared, and Daddy asked you to buy some gum, and that brought on an identity crisis so large you decided change the entire course of your life and go back to work?”

MAYBE. Or maybe you didn’t put away those board games scattered all over my house after I asked three times. We may never know.

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Their Ubongo games can best be described as “perpetual”.

Kidding. The chance of a lifetime came my way when I needed it most, and perhaps when you needed it most, and I jumped at it. Analyzing is fine, but life is short, my sweets. When your ship comes in, get on it. WAIT. TERRIBLE ANALOGY: we don’t have deep water in Indiana! Let’s try this: when the harvest time comes, you gotta bring in the crops. Baby’s gotta eat. Crap, that doesn’t work at all. Indiana…we have the Race, nice people, great pie…but terrible topography analogies.

Wisdom Comes Suddenly.

See you after the Race (100th Running in 89 days, 21 Hours, and 42 minutes),

Momma

 

 

 

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The Sacred Now

January 24th, 2016 · 4 Comments

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As per my tradition while mourning, all pictures are from times spent hiking. Nature soothes a hurting heart.

I know, I know. We were rolling about in post-Christmas bliss, cleaning out leftovers and taking down ornaments, and you were expecting my final piece about the hostess tackle boxes I crafted. I had a funny picture of me riding Kelly’s new bike around the 1st floor at midnight on Christmas Eve, cookie in mouth, goofy expression plastered across my face…my post was gonna be ALL THAT, my friends. But life has it own “all that” ideas, doesn’t it? All that and more, as it turns out.

Greg’s friend died, and she was too young, and this past week has been…so very hard (to put the hard quite simply).

We’ve been sad. We’ve been quietly and gently processing. We’ve been loudly and jaggedly processing. We’ve been napping, because hard things make us tired. We’ve been cranky with each other. We’ve been kind to each other. We’ve been distant. We’ve been close. We’ve questioned God’s timing. We’ve praised God for allowing us to help with her final days. We’ve… once again (actually 4th again, if you’re beginning to wonder how many funerals I’ve attended since fall)…come face to face with the harsh reality that life on earth is an extraordinarily temporary gig. But mostly, we’ve spent our time cherishing her legacy with her friends and family.

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And her legacy is LONG…very, very long. In the short time I knew Denver Hutt, and although she was 15 years my junior, she taught me things which have forever changed me (again, she was a friend of Greg’s with a large community of close friends…I am just an acquaintance who turned into one of her many helper-friends in her last week). It’s a rare gift to have our lives so profoundly affected by people as bold and as wise as Denver. I witnessed first hand a young woman who didn’t complain, even while in the midst of profound suffering. I witnessed her treat nurses and doctors with a graciousness I could never muster in the face of certain death. Even while on the fringes of consciousness, she communicated to those around her LOVE. Big love. PATIENCE. Big patience. Thoughtful decision-making. Big wisdom. And BRAVERY. Big, big bravery.

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Because there was no time remaining, Denver, her family, her friends and I, were thrown into a “Sacred Now”. We could only exist in the moment at hand, and hold onto each minute as a treasure. There were no wasted words. There was no pretense. We were both helpless and courageous, as we attempted to fill the air around her with love. I watched her friends muster a maturity so many in our society would like to believe isn’t present in “the younger folks”. Oh gracious…the false caricatures we paint and assign to our generational labels. The “younger people” who graduated from college in the depth of the Recession, and therefore have career resilience beyond their years. People who know security and possessions are a mirage, and live their lives by their values instead. Say what you wish about the Millennials, but as a disgruntled X’er raised by divorced Baby Boomers, I have yet to meet a Millennial I don’t like.

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Their intense focus on the quality of their connections with people and to their community is inspiring. Denver was a phenomenal human, but she equally surrounded herself with phenomenal people. And as we sat in the quiet night, I asked of their stories. Such divine moments we shared, because as time slips away, the Sacred Now grows in its vividness. We love to mark the joy of birth, and it’s right to do so. It’s a blessing. But witnessing someone’s battle is a blessing as well. We learn arcane things which shape us into better people. We grab onto the best humanity has to offer, and allow it to seep into every crevice of our consciousness. We discover the future is a myth, and what we really have is each other; seeing, loving, and knowing one another.

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Denver’s brother so eloquently shared at her Celebration of Life, “Let us not say things such as ‘All things happen for a reason’, and therefore absolve ourselves of any responsibility in drawing meaning from her death.” I clung to those words, as they so succinctly summarized all I’ve been trying to take away from this tragedy. I WANT to be changed by the legacy of someone with so much to offer. Here is what I know:

(1) Denver didn’t whine. Whining isn’t something adults should do. If Denver didn’t bellyache about end stage cancer in her 20’s, I can tough out my ridiculously dumb medical drama. Dumb, I tell you. Really, really dumb. Don’t question me on this; I’m a nurse. We are sworn to our nursing categories: (1) You made that up, you histrionic bastard. (2) It’s a cold. Take some Nyquil and go to bed. (3) Stop giving the entire city your dumb cold. Unless you are saving the world, drink some WATER and go to bed. (4) Dumb. Irritating and persistent, but dumb.(5) Um? You should get that looked at. (6) Crap, that might be a thing. (7) Oh no. Officially a thing. This shit calls for pie. (8) Aw, HELL NO. (9) How can I help you with comfort? It’s time to get real and get things done. No more saying stupid things stitched on pillows, as we are nearing the Sacred Now. (10) “Dear Lord, reveal to me how I may of be of use walking your child home. And please, please, please…don’t let me say anything dumb.” Seriously…I know that’s why we all fear going near dying friends. We fear we’ll say something dumb. Our friends NEED us in their most vulnerable moments, and all we can think of us is our own, egocentric fear about saying something stupid. Humans are, in fact, rather obtuse. You’d think we’d get used to this.

(2) Denver made everyone in her presence feel that he/she was the only person on the planet, and she absorbed and reflected her loves’ goals and dreams. She was the world’s greatest cheerleader and had a special talent for lighting a person’s path towards their heart’s desire. This was not something she did for the special few. This was something she did for the entire city in which she lived. How often will you read multiple news stories about a 28 year old losing a battle to cancer, and journalists are able to elucidate the massive hole left in the commerce of a large city? Denver’s loss is Indianapolis’ loss, to put it in the most basic of terms. HUNDREDS of people poured into her life’s celebration to mourn not just for ourselves, but for our city.

(3) Denver sent cards. Not emails…actual snail mail cards. I have to highlight this fact, as it’s something I have always loved doing. In fact, one of the last things Denver did was sit with her best friend and write cards. I received one in the mail the very week she died, so I’ll be keeping THAT card forever. I’ll be keeping one more card: The one I wrote to her, but didn’t get to mail. It’s sitting addressed, in my kitchen. I couldn’t take it to the mailbox because I was driving like a bat out of hell to the ER to meet her. How I wish I would have thrown it in my purse. We always think we have at least one more day, don’t we? As it turns out, we had exactly 23 hours. My last text to her read, “It’s raining and I can’t find a parking spot!! Screw it. I’m giving the car away. I’m on my way into the ER doors now.” See? Cards are better. E-messages are ephemeral. Print is forever.

(4) Denver loved, loved, LOVED our city, and made it her mission to make it a better place. She wasted no time in doing so. She flung her talents about and let her passion for Indianapolis get onto everything and everyone. For many of us tired Hoosiers (tired of hayseed references, tired of flyover state comments, tired of being made fun of by folks who pay too much for housing and spend their lives sitting in traffic), this born Californian opened our eyes to the treasure of a city before us. She became a Hoosier by choice, and she forced us to revisit our treasures: Our hospitality (we assume everyone is as friendly as we are), our culture (we have a lot more than most people realize), our community (take our shared value of kindness, and add-in the belief that if you are meeting a new person, you probably have a friend in common, and you’ll have a city of people who treat each other as friends). Indianapolis is just a truly nice place to live. I know a West-Coaster with a huge box of “I love Indiana” tshirts to prove it.

(5) Denver had mottos which have become an anthem ’round these parts lately: (1) If not now, when? (2) Her final words from her final blog post: “I will ask that you smile at strangers more this week. Be kind simply because you are a kind person. Judge a little less. Hold the door open.”

If we just lived by these uncomplicated words alone, we’d make the world a better place.

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We fear change. I fear change. But I’m so grateful for the personal change I’ve experienced after this unexpectedly painful past 6 months. This change means I no longer make decisions using my old platform of filters. Example: I’ve had a weird, uncomfortable, not-so-great week. Living out Denver’s legacy, I stepped WAY out of my comfort zone and committed to helping my city in a big way. Some of it was super cool. Some of it was not. I had a moment (many moments) when I feared I’d made a huge mistake. Perhaps I should run back to my safe and quiet cottage, and let the city remain “as is”. After all, I’m sure my beloved city will be just okey-dokey without me mucking it up. But those darned new filters of decision-making!

Me: I should quit. This is harder than I planned.

Denver-isn’t-here-to-talk-me-out-of-quitting-filter: Have your passions for Indy changed? Have your goals for Indiana changed?

Me: No.

Denver-legacy-in-my-head-filter: So whassup? You’ve never quit anything in your life.

Me: Seriously, dude. This is scary.

Denver-would-be-laughing-at-my-cowardice-filter: You’re scary.

Me: Yeah! I am.

Denver-loved-Indiana-filter: You can’t quit on our city. You have to stick with it. Look at the wrinkles as an adventure.

Me: You’re totally right. I know you’re right. And I know it’s bat-shit crazy to make up conversations with people who aren’t here, but it eases the pain of the missing.

Matt-isn’t-here-either-and-that-sucks: Keep your face towards the Son. Remember? You promised.

Me: It’s WINTER! There is NO sun!

Matt-took-zero-of-my-bullshit: Don’t argue with me young lady! I mean…OLD LADY WHO I KNEW WHEN SHE WAS YOUNG, AND THEN GOT OLD, BUT KEEPS TELLING ME MY EYESIGHT IS FAILING, AND SHE’S STILL YOUNG, LIKE I CAN’T DO MATH!

Me: Can’t we all just get a beer together and pretend this whole year never happened?

Matt-and-Denver-who-never-met-but-would-agree-on-this: Grow up. Stop whining. Get to work.

 

Version 2

We spend our lives fussing about, short-circuiting over things disguised as blessings, wishing the paths were less bumpy and less full of “adventure”. We forget to say “I love you” at the end of each phone call. And most importantly, we forget how limited our stories on earth will be. Denver knew better, lived better, and modeled a better attitude than most of us will ever have. She exhibited a graciousness which left me speechless. So if I had to leave only one legacy from this past year (and I deeply thank each and every one of you for witnessing my own story, as I know we’ve been through a tough year together), it would be this:

Rush towards people whenever you can. Don’t run from grief if people you love need you, because when it comes down to your final hand: Grief is inevitable. Love is the blessing for which we came. The Sacred Now is all we really have.

Wisdom Comes Suddenly. Godspeed, my friends. As always, Godspeed.

 

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The Christmas Eve Champagne Brunch

January 3rd, 2016 · Comments Off on The Christmas Eve Champagne Brunch

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Christmas doesn’t come without Goomommy. Go ahead, Google it. I’m so right.

A better title for this gathering would be, “The Christmas Eve Champagne Brunch, Holiday Tea, a little wine, A Hot Chocolate Bar, and Oh Good Lord, why does Lori always make too much food?” Or maybe the most fitting title is, “I’d never attempt a stunt like this without Goomommy being in town for a visit. No way, no how.” I push my limits with my Mother-In-Law at my side. She helps me learn as I go, and catches me when I fall short. We like to tease each other for doing too much, but seriously, when it comes to hosting, we are SO cut from the same cloth.

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For as much work as I put into this gathering, even with the holidays at hand, I am totally making this a tradition. It was super festive, and super fun seeing my friends on Christmas Eve. Such a great way to kick off everyone’s favorite 2-day party. OK, so the planning: I sent out paper invitations, and then I just started randomly inviting people because when I get it into my head I’m going to host “a small gathering”, I usually ix-nay that plan pretty quickly. More is more at the holidays. By the end, we had 35 guests, and that was just perfect. 75 would have been great too. Or 15. Or 50. Numbers are pretty irrelevant to me, but you knew that already.

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So, the menu. Prepare yourself. I left no stone un-turned or pot unused. Or dish left in a cabinet. Or bowl. And we used all the champagne glasses.

(1) Spiced Turkey Medallions with Tomato Jam; I turned these into sliders for the party, but the bread was unnecessary. Just keep them as medallions.

(2) Sweet Potato Hash; A huge thank you to Uncle Randy for showing me how to make this amazing recipe. I’ve served it at two brunches, and well…yum.

(3) Holiday Mini-Cheese Balls

(4) Minted-Pea Crostinis

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(5) Bacon, Cheddar and Chive Buttermilk Biscuits with Honey

(6) Clementine Iced Tea

(7) A Hot Chocolate Bar; I didn’t get any pictures of this, but it was for the kids, primarily. I had Crème Brulée and White Chocolate Hot Chocolate, along with marshmallows, whipped cream, 3 types of crunched toppings, and candy canes. I “had” a hot chocolate maker and server, which I won’t do again. It was cheap, it was awesome, and it broke.

(8) Hot Teas: Black English, Peppermint, and Cinnamon-Cardamon

(9) Ice Water, Coffee, White Wine, and Red Wine

(10) A Shrimp Tray, a Fruit Tray, and a Salad

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(12) The Sweets Table, everyone’s favorite. I had mini-apple fritters, donuts, a plate of Christmas cookies, Bark Cookies, Buckeyes, a Chocolate Chip Pie, and some breads. About 99% of this was thanks to Goomommy.

(13) And of course, CHAMPAGNE (cocktails and straight up). “I only drink champagne on two occasions. When I am in love, and when I am not.” -Coco Chanel. True story.

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My favorite partner-in-crime, Kathy. We are DANGEROUSLY capable. Seriously. You should see us clean a PTA Closet. People get hurt.

But what makes a party is not what you serve, or how perfectly warmed your buffet. It’s your friends and family. My house filled with my favorite people to start the annual celebration of Jesus’ arrival. THAT’S what makes my parties so special…love. Everywhere, spilling off the counter tops and getting all over everything. The sun poured through the windows, the air was sprinkled with Christmas music on the Sonos, and it was a gigantic smile-fest for hours. I walked into Christmas Eve service feeling so full of joy and gratitude, even with laryngitis, I sang out the carols.

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If anything ever happened to Amie & Kellie, I’m fairly certain I would turn to dust immediately.

You will hear from Greg almost daily, “Is this something you’d rather ask Amie or Kellie? This feels like an Amie/Kellie conversation.”

Music, laughter, clinking of coffee cups, and just everyone so glad to have made it to the finish line. I held the party from 10 am to 2 pm, but next time I’ll do this open house style from 11 am – 2 pm. There were those with holiday plans and traditions which means they couldn’t make it. There were those who were happy to take a short break between the rush between family and church to spend a few minutes with friends. And then there’s my continued attempts to find traditions that work for my own family. My parents are dear friends, and their spouses get along very well, but they live 100 miles apart (my house sits square in the middle). And when we’re not in DC for Christmas with Greg’s parents, they are usually in Indiana with us. Plus church. Plus my sister’s family. Plus my Grandfather who isn’t healthy enough to leave his house. Plus my Aunt & Uncle who flew in. I know…most of you are expert jugglers as well. The math for me includes 5 families, 5 different religions and traditions, located in 3 different cities on Christmas. Champagne, anyone?

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Papa Bill brought work-out gym-like gifts?! NO WAY. How unexpected (wink).

This brunch allowed EVERYONE to get together in one place, without me having to spend Christmas driving all over the state. Now that my kids know the score at Christmas, I’m done spending the holiday in my car. In fact, I didn’t even get dressed on Christmas. Once Christmas Eve services were over, I turned into a hermit, which is how I like it. In fact, I haven’t left my house in 3 days. I might be growing roots.

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Craft table was only 2nd to the Hot Chocolate Table. Aren’t I glad NOW that I can’t afford furniture in my sitting room? It made for a great kid room.

I did learn a great hosting “thing” from my new friend, Amy. She’s a teacher, and invited our family to a holiday gathering at her home this season. SHE’S the one who had the super-hip hot chocolate bar, and gave each child a holiday-themed scavenger hunt upon entering the door, and then had a table set up for crafts. Greg and I couldn’t stop talking about how well entertained our children were, especially at a party where they didn’t know many people. I shamelessly copied every one of her tricks. I’ll never plan another family party without putting equal thought into kid’s activities. I’m great at “adult parties”, and I’m great at “kid parties”, but I’ve never thought about the combination of the two. I didn’t want to just banish them to the basement with a movie on Christmas Eve. Not very “festive”.

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We’re almost there gang! Next I’ll share my annual crafting post, with this year’s theme being Hostess Tackle Boxes. It was a load of fun. Maybe a weird gift? I’m not sure. It’s possible that not everyone enjoys hosting as much as I do? But you gotta try new things! Traditions start somewhere! I hope this New Year has greeted you with health. I’m at Day #14 of viral laryngitis with a weird rash. I hate viruses. But I’m not overly miserable, and I do have a clean chest Xray, so to sum up: I’m still happy with 2016. Godspeed, my friends!!

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Christmas Dinner 2015

December 29th, 2015 · Comments Off on Christmas Dinner 2015

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Friends, the journey we’re about to take over the next few days will drive you to drink (I suggest a Hot Toddy made with Basil Hayden’s Whiskey). Reviewing the work any Mother does over Christmas makes us all shake our heads in a dizzied-retrospective-collective-UGH. HOW DID WE MAKE ALL THAT MAGIC? How did we ever unbury ourselves from the pounds of ribbon and tape? How did we not become total alcoholics in front of our 100th Hallmark Movie while hot-gluing crafts? Apparently my magic is fueled by whiskey, because I put a bottle on my wish-list. Good ‘ole Dad. He always gives the perfect gifts.

Tonight, we’ll start with what I called “a simple, easy, no-fuss Christmas dinner”. My Mother-in-Law just coughed up half a lung in a most sarcastic cough. She would have laughed out loud, but along with a full belly, I gave her laryngitis for Christmas. Christmas dinner was a “tad” bit more work than I anticipated, but oh-gracious was it worth every second. I absolutely loved this meal, which is why I’m sharing it first. Over the next few days, I’ll also share my menu from the Champagne Brunch I hosted on Christmas Eve, and a run-down of how I created custom Hostess Tackle Boxes for the Teacher Gifts this year. I warned you earlier this month I was feeling better. Life got a full dose of Lori this Christmas. LIFE is probably ready for a drink of its own. My dear, priceless Mother-In-Law is also ready for a drink, after working as my Sous-Chef. That’s not the world’s easiest task, and she’s probably chopping crystallized ginger in her sleep. I love you Goomommy. I love you more than my mandolin slicer, my new cheese knife, and all of my stock pots combined.

 

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FIRST COURSE

Spiced Apple, Cranberry, and Pecan Salad (modified from a really old Williams-Sonoma Cookbook I’ve probably had since college):

1.5 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (I use red or chili powder, because that’s what I have on hand)

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 cup pecan halves

3 Tbsp of sugar

1/3 cup of plain yogurt

1/3 cup of light mayo

2 Tbsp honey

1 tsp of Balsamic vinegar

5 sweet apples (I used Honeycrisp, but next time I’ll use Granny Smith)

3 large celery stalks, sliced very thinly

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1 head of red leaf lettuce leaves

 

In a bowl, mix 3/4th of tsp of cumin with 1/8th of the red pepper. Set aside.

Warm oil in a small skillet, and brown the nuts for 5 minutes. Add the sugar, stirring constantly, until the sugar melts (the time of this varies widely, but if you walk away, it will burn and be a bitter, ruined mess). Add hot nuts to the spices in the bowl, stir. Spread out on wax paper, and when cooled completely, chop coarsely.

In a small bowl, make your dressing by stirring together the yogurt, mayo, honey, vinegar, and remaining 3/4th tsp of cumin and 1/8th tsp of red pepper. Cover and place in fridge.

Slice each apple as thinly as possible. I run it over my mandolin and then chop it into quarter inch by 1/2 inch pieces. The original recipe makes the apples pretty chunky, which makes it hard to eat, because the beauty of this salad is getting it all of the flavors with each bite. Combine the apples with the celery and dried cranberries, and then toss it with the dressing. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Service: Layer a the lettuce on the bottom, top with a mound of salad in the center (but make it pretty and rustic…not like it was made at the MCL cafeteria), and top with the nuts. I eat this salad with a knife, so I can get the lettuce plus the toppings in every single bite. SO GOOD.

 

Christmas Ham

THE MAIN COURSE

Apricot-Cherry Spiral Cut Ham

This is ROCKET science, I tell ya’. Buy a pre-cooked ham. Rinse and dry it. Pull out all the doo-hikkie things that may be attached to it. Throw out the instructions because they lie. It takes 30 minutes per pound to warm a ham at 275 degrees, I promise you. Warm it at 325 to get that down to 20-25 minutes per pound. Keep it covered with aluminum foil while it warms. My oven cooks a little cool, so you may want to keep yours to 300. Any warmer and you’ll have one, dry ham.

In a saucepan, warm a jar of apricot jam (not jelly) with half a jar of tart cherry jelly. Add a little butter and lemon juice. Baste the ham every 20-30 minutes. Serve the warmed version on the side with the dinner.

Green Beans That Pair Best With Sweet Meats or Side Dishes

Use fresh green beans and stem them. Boil for no more than 20 minutes. If you make mushy beans, take my name off your recipe and change your name to Mertle, because you-is-an-old-lady. Mix in finely sliced white scallion parts and finely chopped cooked bacon. A tiny bit of butter and salt and pepper. The onion flavor holds up well if you’re eating a sweet ham or sweet potatoes.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes With Brown Sugar & Spice (My favorite of all sweet potatoes, but I’d take them off this menu. Too much sweet. Just a plain potato with chives and some chicken broth would have worked better on this menu. Even an Herb-Roasted Red Potato might be too much. Pumpkin-Sage Grits…that’s what I’d do, or something hot with Cheddar, but small in portion size. I’ve said too much, haven’t I?)

Bake 6 lbs of sweet potatoes, pierced, on a baking sheet for 1 hour. Cool, remove from skins (those things just fall right off). Add 3/4 cup of brown sugar, 1/2 cup of cream or half and half, 6 Tbsp of butter, 1 tsp of cinnamon, 1/2 tsp of nutmeg, and 1/2 tsp of allspice, along with 1/2 Tbsp of vanilla. Mash. Season with salt.

Place in a buttered baking dish, topping with 1/2 cup of chopped pecans. Bake about 30 minutes and serve directly from the dish.

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DESSERT

Pear Upside Down Spice Cake

I do not, DO NOT like ice cream on ANYTHING I bake. Not on pie, not a la mode, no sir. I like my desserts pristine, and unobscured by cold, iced sugar (my name for ice cream). BUT, this dessert is not sweet. It’s delicious, and very dessert-y, but it’s not sugary. Pairing it in a dish with a scoop of cold, vanilla ice cream (the real kind with the beans) was just heavenly. And after a tart salad followed by a sweet ham, this not-sweet cake was the perfect dessert.

Again, this is from an ancient, dusty Williams-Sonoma book I bought at a dollar sale in a warehouse. Williams-Sonoma cookbooks are poorly written and are made specifically to drive you to their stores for things you don’t have or cannot find. Therefore, I choose which ones I make sparingly. BUT, and this makes no sense to me whatsoever, their recipes have never failed me. Everything in this recipe can be found at a normal grocery store (crystallized ginger is easier to find at the holidays and will be near the fruit cake supplies…bleck). Molasses? Ugh. This stuff is a mess. I’ll probably substitute a dark corn syrup or a maple syrup next time. Still, the flavor of the molasses held up against these spices. If a recipe is chocked full of things you don’t own or too many ingredients with which you are not familiar, you should sniff a disaster. I love to try new things, but one at a time.

6 Tbsp plus 1/2 cup of unsalted butter

1 1/4 cup of brown sugar

4 Bartlett Pears, sliced on a mandolin or very thinly sliced longways (or use any tart, crunchy pear)

1 1/2 cups of cake flour (trust me on this one)

1 1/8 tsp of baking powder

1/4 tsp of baking soda

4 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup milk (I used 3 parts whole to 1 part skim)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg

1/2 cup light molasses

1 Tbsp grated orange zest

1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger

Preheat oven to 350. Pull out your 10″ springform pan (See? Guess who sells springforms? I own an entire set, so stick it W-S. Unfortunately, you can’t make this recipe, or any cheesecake for that matter, without one). Line the diameter and interior sides with aluminum foil using 2 pieces. Butter the foil. Sounds nutty, but this cake turned out beautifully.

In a small, heavy saucepan over low heat, melt the 6 Tbsp of butter, and then add in 3/4 cup of brown sugar and stir until well blended. Pour into foil-lined pan and spread out evenly. Arrange the pear slices like the picture above, making 2 rows if your pears are too short to reach the center.

Sift together the dry ingredients in 1 bowl. In a 2nd bowl, combine the milk and vanilla. In a THIRD (triple ugh on the washing this recipe requires) mixer bowl, place the 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup of brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg. Add the molasses and orange zest and beat until fully combined. Mix in the dry ingredients and alternate adding the milk-vanilla in 2 batches, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients (thank you W-S…that is not needlessly complex AT ALL). Using a rubber spatula, fold in the crystallized ginger.

Pour over the pears without disturbing their placement.

Bake about 55 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Or until the special, silver-plated cake-toothpick they sold you at W-S for $19.95 comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes ($40 W-S cooling rack optional…mine works great and cost $4). Loosen the edges with a knife, unhinge your springform, and turn it out onto a cooling rack. Cool for 30 minutes.

I know I give Williams-Sonoma a hard time for being so overpriced, but I’m in love with this cake. I’m so tired of overly sweet cupcakes and pies with quadruple the sugar needed to enhance the flavor of the fruit. “Sugar” is not a flavor. I was so excited to finally find a dessert that isn’t chocolate covered chocolate with chocolate filling.

Hang in there with me (or hangover…I’m not here to judge), and we’ll keep eating. I mean…reviewing…what we ate. We ate so much. Oh God. We did, didn’t we? Wasn’t it just FABULOUS? Missed you guys. Hope your Christmas smelled as amazing as mine did. Godspeed us into the New Year!!

 

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This Lingering Fall: A Free Verse Poem About Depression

December 9th, 2015 · 2 Comments

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All pictures taken during my long hikes this Autumn

Depression. Even the word itself sounds like a thud. Like falling down a rabbit hole; but not the vividly colorful, manic hole Lewis Carroll described. Depression is darkness on the way down, with continued darkness at the bottom. One, last look at my family, and the falling began. Amazing how one can shift into automatic for weeks on end, playing at the game of life, as if it’s happening, while the mind is elsewhere.

 

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This hole and I have met before. After my parent’s divorce. After Sara’s birth. After the 2nd skin cancer treatment? Or the third? Suit up and ride the wave. First the silent, painful tears at bedtime. The stabbing in my chest. Then the 5 am wakings. Then the 2 am wakings. Then the insomnia. Last, but not least, the nightmares, which were blessedly brief this trip, because when they come, I occasionally skip sleep altogether. Writers have vivid nightmares, a truth kept quiet in circles of creative minds. Some things are better left unsaid.

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But then the Fall lingered, in a beautiful, magnificent way. Every single day sparkling like Jesus had kissed the air himself. Daily naps pressed me to my bed, pulling me from the sun. But one day, the walking began. And the continuing of this thing we call “breathing”. And the trusting this season of my life would pass. 10 years in Psychiatric Research…I am trained to KNOW episodic, life-event-induced depression passes. I couldn’t feel it, but I knew it. When? How long could this go on? Every day was an eternity of exhaustion and tasks too hard to manage. A single load of laundry = climbing a mountain.

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Tears stopped, switching to a pain building in my chest. After years of counseling friends that grief brings out the worst in people, and to pray for grace and patience, it was my turn in the grief-seat. My words flew away like trash in a windstorm. It’s a horrible study in human behavior to learn which of your “peoples” will stick by you during the hard. Some came and refused to leave, especially Greg. Grace pouring out of him, hydrating my soul day after day. Calls from Amie which never fail, no matter how many Oncology appointments her Momma has, the lunches with Kellie and Shayla, forcing me to shower (but sometimes pretending not to mind I looked and smelled like old seafood. And because Kellie JUST lost her Momma, sometimes I feel we just sat with food we didn’t want to eat, looked at each other, and silently communicated, “HOLD ON. We have to just KEEP GOING.”). The hugs from friends brave enough to look into my eyes and say the words, “I know. I know.” But some friends rang bells which cannot be unrung. Those stories haunt me; losing witnesses to our lives should be mourned. The inability to cry nearly choked me during the hard.

 

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But the sun. That lingering, gorgeous Autumn sun! It followed me everywhere I went, and seemed to shine right onto my face, no matter which way I turned. Matt said comforting and funny things into my heart. I felt his joy in heaven, his freedom from a contracted, stroke-ridden body. His contagious smile, his eyes as blue as an imagined sea, and his boisterous laugh…telling me the sun keeps rising on me for a reason. GET UP. GO DO THE THINGS YOU WERE MEANT TO DO. And don’t say anything you’ll regret. Friends will let you down. This is not new information. Move on. Still. Every day…he was missing.

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The moving forward…a very dark trip to my childhood farm to say goodbye to my Uncle. The closing of my esophagus where the emotional pain became physical. I finally fell to my knees and wept. Tears in which I fought against this lingering fall, this dying season, this ending of my season of service. Greg scooped me up, and took me home. Thanksgiving was waiting to hug us with its familiar scents (which I could barely swallow, but thank you to my doctor for trying all things possible to quell the heartburn. Getting me to admit my heartburn was partially due my heart feeling like it was on fire, and perhaps along with some Pepcid, I could use an antidepressant.) I returned renewed, calm, knowing the thick fog of fall was passing.

 

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I am slowly re-entering my life, carefully. A tiny bit fearful a misstep will trip me back down the hole, but so far, I am good. I’m me, inside me, reflecting me back to me. Those whom have experienced the lifting of depression are laughing inside their hearts, knowing exactly what those words mean.

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The last, long walk through 5 canyons. I walked through a lifetime in my mind on that hike. My precious teen years with Matt. My childhood on the farm, with my Uncle at the head of the family. My life fully decorated by my Grandfather, now too weak to shower while standing (watching someone lose their life 1 centimeter at a time is some HARD). Swirling around me like a rock in a river, with our joined histories flowing past me. Past me, never to return.

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Climbing out of the last canyon, the wind began to blow wildly, leaves flew all around, hiding the steps before me. After a day of hiking in the shade, the sun was fully on my face, as it had been the day of the hayride when Matt died. That awful afternoon when I couldn’t reach him, and I was so struck by the evening sun in my face, I took pictures, wondering what was afoot in the Universe. That moment of climbing onto the tractor when I fully heard in my heart, “I simply cannot go on. My body cannot keep going.” I stopped in my tracks, and looked up at the sun, and could not understand why these words were front and center on my mind. I did not yet know Matt was gone. I did not know those words were his words.

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That last canyon. Matt now shining as the sun, saying his final goodbye on that last hike of the Fall. The-Fall-That-Lingered. His last words to my heart : “Keep walking towards The Son. Hear me, Lori. THE SON. It’s all about walking towards The Son.” My final promise to this season which has forever changed me. I will. I will walk towards the Son.

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All seasons come to an end. The snow has come. The Christmas tree is up, along with countless rubbermaids of “stuff”. And I feel joy, so grateful the anhedonia has passed. Depression happens, and we must happen right along with it. I miss my life before the Season of Service, but I’d never undo it. We’re here for one reason: to be together, in support of one another. There is no other way than kindness, even when it comes at a very high price. We will all lose witnesses on our journeys. We will all lose our way in grief from time to time. When the story turns dark, just turn towards the Son. Godspeed, my friends. As always, Godspeed.

 

 

 

 

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We Take A Break From Our Normal Programming…

October 29th, 2015 · Comments Off on We Take A Break From Our Normal Programming…

DSC_0046I’d love to pump you full of happy tales about how I’m feeling GREAT and everything is GREAT, but in light of the fact that it’s total bull, I’ll skip being a fake shiny, happy person. Matt’s funeral was lovely, and will be followed shortly by my Uncle’s funeral, and Grandpa has decided he’s done leaving his house. For…ever. Halloween technically starts tomorrow with class parties, and as we all know, KELLY DOES NOT CELEBRATE HALLOWEEN. She does get a costume, but she DOES NOT HONOR this HOLIDAY FROM HELL. Her screaming started sometime last week and has yet to cease. Her teachers had to call me last week to get proof of life, as this Halloween season is now paired with a phobia that her Mother is going to die. Gosh. Can’t imagine where she got that fear. At any rate, I’m playing a manic game of catch up while fighting the constant need for depression-induced naps, while Kelly is running around with her psyche on fire. And Sara got braces this week. It’s…colorful…here. Things are…uncorked.

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So, in light of our current state-of-affairs, and my reticence to post some maudlin tale about walking through canyons and finding the meaning of life (give me a week on that one; I haven’t the energy to drag us through the 5-canyon hike tonight), I’ve decided we could all use some Kelly-stories. Especially Kelly.

Tonight at dinner:

Mommy: Did anything good happen today?

Kelly: Sara and I invented a new game called “College”! I LOVE IT.

Mommy: How do you play college?

Sara (very nonchalantly, because now she has braces, and that’s just COOL): Oh…you know. We go to class and then we do college-things. Things you do at college when you’re not in class.

Mommy: [Insert my mind on a mad-race through 4 amazing years: Is she referring to quarter taco night? Quarter beer night? Dancing at The Chug? Sorority Dances? Fraternity boys? OH GOD. Please not ANY of these things. Spring Break? NO. Definitely NOT that. Studying all night? Please say that. Say you’re studying. Wildly glance over to Greg who has the blank stare of someone who attended a Military Academy. He’s imagining marching? Making beds? WHO GOES TO THESE COLLEGES?! AND WHY DO THEY GO THERE?!]

Mommy (matching nonchalant with even MORE nonchalant, because I’ve had ALL the braces): Huh. Things you do when you’re not in class. Such as?

Kelly: Oh you know, the usual. Talking about Shakespeare and going to Science Dances.

Sara: I LOVE Romeo & Juliet.

Daddy: What does one do at a Science Dance, as opposed to something you do at a? NON-science dance?

Kelly: You drink bug juice named after caterpillar guts.

Mommy & Daddy: OH. Huh. OK then. Science dances. Shakespeare Club. That’s great. That’s very…college-y.

Mommy: Anything else good happen today?

Kelly: YEEEES. I sat with all of my friends at lunch and played Crazy I-Spy.

Daddy: OK. I’ll bite. How does one play CRAZY I-Spy, as opposed to say, REGULAR I-Spy?

Kelly: It’s JUST like I-Spy, only you can spy things that AREN’T REALLY THERE.

Mommy: Your friends have to look inside YOUR MIND?

Kelly: YES! And they are very good at it. But you have to spy something that would normally be in everyone’s mind. Like…you can spy an orangutan, even if it’s not IN the cafeteria. Everyone has SEEN an orangutan, so it’s IN all of our minds!

Mommy: This seems difficult.

Kelly: Not at all. Olivia totally guessed it.

Sara: But you can’t see things which are RARE. For example, you can see a butterfly, and you can even see a Buckeye Butterfly because they are found in the Midwest, but you can’t see a rare butterfly found only in the Amazon.

Mommy: How do you know where to draw the line?

Kelly: EASY! Monkey, but NOT the Proboscis Monkey. See?

Mommy: Um? What on earth is a Proboscis Monkey?

Kelly: It has a huge nose. You really should read more Ranger Rick Mommy. You’d lose pretty quickly at Crazy I-Spy.

Daddy: YEAH MOMMY. Why aren’t you studying Ranger Rick? In your free time?! Proboscis Monkey! DUH!

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LAST WEEK AT THE ORTHODONTIST:

Mommy: Doc, Kelly has been VERY nervous about having her teeth checked by you. We’ve told her it’s just a check, that she’s not ready for braces.

Doc: No Kelly, it’s not time for you to get braces. We’re just checking your Dentist’s Xrays and counting your teeth. It will be quite some time before you’re ready. We’re keeping an eye on your teeth just because your sister is already here, getting her braces.

Kelly: Well, that’s good, because my friend told me I’d have to get an Expander, and I’ve been very worried. So this morning, I played a game to distract myself. It got a little violent. I was a bear-hunter, and was made the Queen of Japan. THEN, I became a Minister. It was awesome, until my congregation ACCUSED me of being Jewish!

Mommy: WHAT?! What. Kelly! What does that mean?

Kelly (hand raised in some odd sign of 8 year old solidarity): ACCUSED ME, I SAY!

Doc: [Stunned silence]

Mommy: Synagogues have Ministers, Kelly.

Kelly: Mommy, I’m Jewish. I think I would know.

Mommy: You’re Presbyterian.

Kelly: That doesn’t make sense. My congregation was Methodist.

Sara: EVERYONE CALM DOWN. Kelly has been trying to convince all of us she’s Jewish for many years, because she figures if she celebrates Hanukkah AND Christmas, she’ll get more gifts. Kelly doesn’t the know the difference between any of these words, she just wants more stuffed animals. She knows her Jewish friends get a holiday all to themselves, and she’s jealous.

Doc: Well. That’s actually pretty smart. Who wouldn’t want more gifts?

Kelly: SEE? The Orthodontist understands me! I’M JEWISH!

Sara: Wait. Wasn’t I baptized Lutheran? What does that make me?

Mommy: Honey, I’m a Baptist, so don’t ask me. Now that our new Orthodontist team thinks we’re totally wacko, let’s move on, shall we?

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I hope these stories made you laugh, as they’ve certainly brightened my week. I hope your week has been easy, and full of sunshine. And sincerely, I hope no one died or became home bound. But if they did, take lasagna and a movie. You might find yourself laughing until your sides hurt, on a random Thursday afternoon, in the living room of a 90 year old, wishing you could stop Father Time. We take this break from our normal programming to count the many blessings surrounding us: a beautiful autumn, an understanding school overflowing with a loving community of people, the continued wit and cognitive strength of my waning Grandfather, the communion I’ve been sharing with friends old and new, and the hope that Thanksgiving will bring some wisdom as to why this year was a part of my journey.

In the meantime, Godspeed my fellow travelers. Godspeed.

 

 

 

 

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