Sorting Words

I’m not sure what it is I want to write here in this moment. I don’t really know how to organize my thoughts in anything cohesive about what is happening in our country right now.

Ever since the day after Election Day, I have been promising myself I would put something here. Something so my kids look back, read my words, and know what it was like to live in this moment. I have failed at that because I truly don’t know what to point my words to.


Do I focus on my distress, worry, and anxiety about our new president?  Because I am filled with distress, worry, and anxiety. His campaign was filled with lots of yelling, making fun of people, tweeting tantrums, cozying up to Russia, horribly misogynistic rants, racism, xenophobia, and more. I’m sure when my kids are old enough to read my writing, they will be old enough to read what our new president has said. Maybe.

The Preamble to our Constitution states, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

See that bold part (that was my emphasis)? That means that our Constitution was put in place to make sure our citizens are ALL cared for, and that our citizens are ALL protected from unjust laws and a tyrannical government.

Our new president has nominated people to fill top leadership roles in our country who notoriously have worked against the very department they are supposedly going to be in charge of.

His chief adviser is a known racist.

We are being told that things that we hear and see with our own ears and eyes did not actually happen.

We are told that our president doesn’t lie, but gives “alternative facts.” (Pro tip: those are called lies).

I honestly haven’t been able to have a single day since he was elected that I could get my thoughts in order about how I wanted to write about this because every single day more news broke or he tweeted that people were mean to him or that Saturday Night Live made fun of him.

It’s enough to make my head spin.

This past weekend was the inauguration. So it’s official now.

This is what I know to be true right now: I do not trust our president.

I also know that I don’t want him to fail. Our country has a flawed system because humans are flawed. I don’t thin our current president is the one that is going to fix that, but I don’t want him to crash and burn because that would mean so very much pain for our country. Even more than has already been inflicted.

My prediction is that he won’t make it through his first term. At best he will be impeached, but then we have his VP to contend with. At worst…well…there are a lot of worse case scenarios and they all include someone’s bloodshed. That is unacceptable.

I don’t really want any part of my prediction to come to fruition. I would love to come here in four years and say, “man was I WRONG about that president!” I want someone–anyone–to get into his inner circle and help him be a leader who doesn’t hurt the people he is leading–someone who will help him do no harm.

Yet, he has already done harm. He has already marginalized.

I keep a small, match-sized flame of hope glowing, knowing full well that as a middle-class white woman who has insurance through her job that it is my privilege to be able to hold onto hope. And yet, how do we get through a day without some hope?


Do I also focus on the protests? That is something my kids will surely learn about in history.

There were Women’s Marches this past weekend as well. All over the country. Actually all over the world. Women (and men) came out in droves and created what is now officially the largest inauguration protest of all time. There were lots of reasons people protested our current president, but they all boiled down to ALL of us having the SAME rights.

The march made me happy on Saturday as I watched the photos flood my social media. It gave me hope to see so many–millions!–come together to protest and have their voices heard!

We need to take action. Showing up is an action.

Yet I’ve seen some negative posts about march. It makes me sad. It seems that other people are still unwilling to listen to others. People are still trying to tell others that their feelings are wrong. “No, you don’t really feel oppressed because I don’t feel oppressed.”  People are still unwilling to accept that someone else’s reality and experience may be different than theirs–and that both can happen. And that alone is inequality. Why is it that a largely white crowd is a “peaceful protest”, but a crowd made up largely of People of Color is seen as a “riot”?

Our system is broken.


Do I focus on what I am doing right now?

There is no question in my mind that we have to act. We have to raise our voice. We have to be the change. We can’t be content to write and share blog posts on social media, we also need to DO something.

As someone who is battling a really hard case of anxiety/depression this winter, probably in part to our current political situation, I have chosen to write my reps in congress and in the senate. I have chose to email and tweet them.

I have also chosen kindness. Our country needs kindness–humanity–right now. We need to be reminded that we are connected with each other even if we are different.

One thing we did this winter was actually Eddie’s idea. He was watching the news and saw a report on homelessness–specifically children who didn’t have winter coats and hats. He remembered this when I was packing up all the coats and hats that don’t fit anyone in the house anymore and asked me if we could give them to someone who didn’t have one instead of bringing them to GoodWill. We ended up taking a collection at church and taking the entire haul to Community Action House.

I have given money–be it small because that is what I can afford–to organizations that help educate people about cultural awareness and also go directly to help fund research and work in minority communities. My donations have gone to Being Black at School which helps educate and implement programs in schools to reduce the effects of systematic racism.

And of course I am trying to fight racism, tyranny, misogyny, and the rest with books. Research shows people who read fiction are more empathetic. Reading makes you a successful, smart person, yes. But way more importantly it makes you a good person. If you haven’t read The Giver, The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984, or Animal Farm, you should. Fiction writers have long been writing about worlds where tyranny rules and what that would mean to humanity.



I am not doing things perfectly. There is more I could be doing. There is better I could be doing.

I am listening, I am staying vigilant, and I am spreading kindness.

Giving and Thanks

A lot of people use November to list something they are grateful for each day on Facebook. I have never participated, not because I don’t have 30 things to be thankful for, but because November is insane and I never remember about it until, like, the 5th. Then I am already behind.

I also like to think of November as a time to give as well as to be thankful, and that’s just a lot for Facebook where I am pretty sure people already “hide” me.

Besides. I have a blog for these things, yes?

So because it’s November 10, here are 10 things I am thankful for AND 10 ways I try to give (and one request)…

I am thankful for…

  1. A husband who doesn’t consider being a good dad something “extra”, but something that is just his job as a dad. Not only does it make my life easier, but it is priceless for Eddie, Charlie, and Alice to have such an involved, loving dad.
  2. Three healthy kids who are the perfect fit for our family. Each fills a roll in this family that make us complete.
  3. A job I love.
  4. My students and their middle schoolish-ness. They want so badly to be adultish, but they still are very much kidish as well.
  5. This little house that drives me crazy. Eleven years ago, Cortney and I started the process to buy this house. It seemed so big and so full of possibilities. With three kids and a zillion more tubs of stuff, this house is starting to feel like the shrinking house. But it’s cozy and keeps us safe. It’s seen us through lots of loss and even more happiness. It is our home.
  6. My mom and dad. They have been married over 40 years and they are wonderful models to us of what a good marriage looks like.
  7. my internet friends–you are proof that the internet is not all mean comment sections and uproars over coffee cups.
  8. my “in real life” friends–I love you and cherish you and do not do nearly enough to show you that.
  9. my siblings. The older I get, the more I realize how rare it is to not only have siblings you get along with, but siblings-in-law you love and get along with as well. Wait. I don’t just get along with all 8 of my siblings/in-laws, I consider them my friends. That is a gift.
  10. health care that lets me take care of my family’s medical needs, vision needs, dental needs, and mental health. It’s costly, and it means I make way less than I could be making, but I have never had to worry about the cost of taking my child to urgent care for a fever.

Ways I am (we are) giving…

  1. We support my school’s theater program. Theater and the arts save lives.
  2. We are donating all of our baby items that we are done with to family’s who need them.
  3. We are buying books for my classroom library. Books save lives, yo.
  4. I donated children’s books to a local charity.
  5. We donate to the food drives at Eddie’s school and my school.
  6. We do the Angel Tree.
  7. We give collection in Sunday School (Children in Worship) to help buy goats for a needy community.
  8. We donate gently used clothes, toys, and household items to GoodWill
  9. I give my time as a Sunday School (Children in Worship) story-teller/leader.
  10. I cook meals for family and friends when they have a BIG LIFE EVENT like a baby or a loss.

Not all of the above ways to give are monumental, but when you don’t have a lot, you give where you can. We are not in a time of life where we have an overabundance in the finances department, but we always have an overflowing of love to give.

And now that request…

if you have stuck with me for any amount of time, you know that one of the places that the most of our money and the most of my time goes is the literacy of my students in the form of my classroom library.

You have all always been so generous.

My students have come together and made a list of 25 books they really want in our library. I posted it on where people can put as much as they want toward our “project”. If you type in SPARK when you donate, your dollar amount will be matched.

View our project here.

We are already about a third of the way to our goal; we need under $200 more. A $5 donation could be $10 when you enter SPARK and put us that much closer to getting these books.

If you’re looking for ways to give this season, I would love to be on your short list. Otherwise please consider passing our need to someone else who might be looking for a place to donate.

Thank you. THANK YOU for your continued support.

Because of your kindness, we are now halfway to getting the books for my classroom library! Only $150 to go!

pregnant wine-ing

I am not going to lie to you here in this space…one of the things I miss most while pregnant is wine.

Yes, I miss eating lunch meat (subs are NOT the same when they are veggie.  they just aren’t)  and sleeping and wearing real pants…but all of those things I can get used to.  No really. I can.

I got pregnant in the summer this time around and one of my favorite things in the summer is sipping a glass of wine in the evening.

I have mentioned before that I am a bit partial to flipflop wines, yes?

They have generously sent us samples in the past of their Riesling and their Chardonnay and before this bun in my oven I was also able to try their Moscato.


Just thinking about the crisp, sweet taste…mmm…I think I can even smell it.

Wait…what was I talking about?

Oh right.  Flipflop Wines.

I highly recommend the Moscato for a sweet treat with chicken or spicy foods…or as a yummy sipping drink while reading a great book on the deck on a lovely day.

It tastes like sweet flowers and summer.



Seriously though.  Flipflop wine is yum.  The Moscato earned the Double Gold at the 2010 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the largest, most influential international wine competition in America.  Wine Enthusiast Magazine gave flipflop Moscato a “Best Buy” in this year’s June issue.

So it’s not just my opinion, people.

But the real reason I love to work with flipflop is not because I have gotten free wine I love their wine, but because they give back.

They are partners with Soles4Souls which provides footwear to impoverished areas to help improve health and productivity.

The latest effort is The Flippin’ Good Deed Challenge.  This is a challenge for bloggers to run a drive to collect as many pairs of gently used shoes until Nov 15, 2011.

The winner will receive a trip for 2 on one of the international distribution trips.

What do you think?  There are only four blogs on the leader board and they choose from the Top 5.  I think we need to get some footwear donated.

You can sign up your blog for the challenge here.  I can’t travel at the beginning of the year due to pregnancy, or I would so enter.  So tell ’em Sluiter Nation sent you.

And if you enter your blog in the contest?  Let me know…I have footwear to donate.

And now I will go and stare at my flipflop wine that is just waiting in the basement in the wine holder.  Soon, sweet Moscato…soon.

Legal Stuff:  I was not compensated in any way for this particular post.  I have been given free samples from flipflop in the past, but not in conjunction with this particular post.  I just enjoy helping promote their charity work.

writing for the win

Cortney has about 534590834 cousins.

But one cousin, Josilyn, happens to be going to my alma mater, Western Michigan University, in the fall. In the honor’s college, nonetheless.

You guys, I am so proud.

The Beautiful Josilyn

This lovely lady has made me proud with her writing skills too.  She just entered an essay contest for a scholarship to help pay for her schooling at WMU.

The deal is though, that it is judged on popular vote.

I know I have asked for a LOT of voting from you all in the past week…but this is not for me.

Please read Josilyn’s short piece, “A Tutor’s A Tutor No Matter How Small“.  If you like it?  Vote for it.

That is all.

Help me win a $3,000 college scholarship. Vote for my essay!


love wins

In an email from my mom not so long ago she praised my writing and mentioned that she didn’t know how I did it.

Besides making me smile all day (I like praise from my parents…it makes me uncomfortable, but I like it), it made me think.

I really don’t think I always had this talent.  Or at least it was just waiting around because my life was way too boring write about.

Until recently.

As in the past six years.

I’ve been blogging for almost four years and until I decided to talk about my depression, all my readers were friends and family whom I begged and harassed to read my blog (I am sure most of them do NOT miss the mass emails of PLEASE READ MY BLOG).

And then I started sharing about our other hardships:  Cort’s job loss, my over-commitment to jobs, Cort’s dad’s death, his grandpa’s death, our miscarriages…

There are my stories to tell now. And I love to tell them because not only have I found some much-needed support, but I have been able to honestly talk about things other people can’t.  I have been a voice for the silent.

But those stories are sad.  And it is draining to put myself out there with them.

And sometimes those sad stories get the best of me.

And they take over my brain and make me feel useless and overwhelmed and hurting.

They open a door for depression to creep out of its locked cage and seep into everything I do, whispering about my inadequacies, poking at my doubts, pouring salt into my already bleeding weaknesses.

When this happens? I fall into a big, dark pit and I can’t get out…

…until something happy happens.

And I don’t mean happy like me winning a Mod Tots giveaway (which I did…and yes, I am happy.  In fact I was sweating and shaking I was so excited).

Or happy like getting paid for my writing…writing that means so much to me.

Or happy like getting asked to contribute to someone’s blog or finding that someone is recognizing you on their blog.

All of those things are awesome.  They are huge.  I am blessed beyond words.

But somehow?  That big deep hole in my heart?  Needs something more.  Something bigger than me.

I have to do something to get out of the hole.  Nobody can pull me out.

Today I did that thing.

I am the senior class adviser at my school which means I am in charge of making sure seniors who wish to participate in the graduation ceremony order their caps and gowns.

Even without all the “extra” stuff, the basic package is still almost $50 with shipping and tax.

Did I mention I teach in a Title 1 school?  Not many of our kids have $50 lying around.

For the most part, the company that we go through works with them to get a payment plan together.

Today, though, another teacher and I were helping a senior get his stuff together.  A senior who has been through more in his 18 years than I can ever think to go through in my whole life.

I don’t want to go into specifics, but he has to work and go to school and support himself–completely.  As in living accommodations, bills, groceries, transportation–everything we as adults do.  Plus he NEEDS to finish high school.

He is a GOOD kid.

He doesn’t need to be saved or bailed out.

He needs to be loved.

Today another teacher and I bought his cap and gown.  He doesn’t know one of the contributors was me.  He doesn’t need to know.

I looked him in the eye and told him it was taken care of by someone who loves him and wants to see him step across that stage.

He asked me to tell the person thank you…and that he wouldn’t let him/her down.

Even if he doesn’t graduate and my money goes to an empty cap and gown?  that is not the point to me.

The point is that he felt love today.  because I know some days he goes without feeling any.

And doing that?  Giving my heart to a boy who just needs the love of a mom?

That pulled me out of my funk.

I’m back.


speaking of my writing, I am really excited about this big announcement at the Red Dress Club.

We are starting a memoir writing prompt each Friday (with a link up on Tuesdays).  Since the majority of the writing I do is memoir-style, I hope you will all enjoy my contributions to this.

And for those of you with a blog?  I hope that you would join in.  I would love to read your {true} stories!

Top Ten Tuesday: Causes

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is way important to me.  Way.  This week I am choosing to tell you about the causes that are most important to Sluiter Nation.  The ones we spend our money, our time, and our prayers on.

10. Susan G. Koman Race for the Cure: Cort and I have had friends and family who have been touched by breast cancer.  This past fall we chose to raise money for and participate in the Grand Rapids Area 5K.  It was one of the biggest blessings to me to be so close to so many survivors and family/friends of survivors.  Reading the names of who people were racing for made my heart swell.  If you would like more information or to donate, please go here.

9. Hospice: Hospice of Holland has been specifically close to our hearts. They came in the final moments of Cort’s dad’s life.  Cort’s grandpa was also blessed by one of their nurses to guide him and grandma through his final days.  Hospice does everything from make patients comfortable in the last moments, to helping the family understand each step, to helping pay for meds.  They are truly a blessing.  To learn more or make a donation, please go here.

8. JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation): My very best friend since middle school, Tonya, got the news eleven years ago–just before getting married–that she had JD.  I read up on it and was devastated for her.  I pledged to her that I would do anything I could to help her stay healthy and alive.  I need her and love her.  Each year that she has participated in the walk, I have pledged.  I hope to walk with her some day.  If you would like to pledge to a walker or donate, please go here.

7. The American Cancer Society: As I said before, many of the women in our lives have battled breast cancer.  We have also had members of our family battle other types of cancer, particularly lung cancer. Six years ago, Cort’s dad was diagnosed with lung cancer.  Five and a half years ago that lung cancer claimed his life.  I hate cancer.  HATE it.  It was by far the most devastating thing I have ever had to witness.  Not just what it did to my father-in-law (which was ugly and evil), but what it did the family and friends who had to witness it.  If you hate cancer?  Please consider donating.

6. Alzheimer’s Association: A decade ago Alzheimer’s stole my grandmother.  Alzheimer’s may as well be a cancer of the brain.  I forced my beautiful, lively grandma jo to forget the year, what she was doing, how to live on her own, how to care for herself, who her family was, and finally?  how to live.  I can’t bear to think of anyone else having their mind taken this way.  Please consider donating.

5. American Heart Association: Heart disease runs in Cort’s side of the family.  Both his dad and his grandpa were going to cardio-rehab before they died of other things.  OTHER THINGS!  Heart attacks did NOT claim their lives–even though they both lived through them!  This is because of the amazing strides in heart care!  But there is more work to be done!  Did you know heart disease is the leading cause of death in women?  It so is!  Please help!

4. Postpartum Depression (and other postpartum mental illness): This one is extremely important to me.  It’s not a donation thing this time…it’s more of an advocacy thing.  Someone recently said to me that she thinks PPD is over-diagnosed.  After repressing the need to smack her, I calmly told her it’s not OVER-diagnosed, it’s just more common because women are finally speaking up when something isn’t right rather than thinking they can just get through it.  Amen to that.  Want more resources?  Here is my favorite list.

3. Project: Purse and Boots (the American Stroke Association): My lovely friend, Lori, has launched a crusade against strokes.  Yet another evil thing that has affected people we love.  I raised my hand HIGH when she asked for volunteers to host “pursey” and try to raise some money to fight strokes.  If you want to read more about Pursey’s travels all over the country?  Go here.  If you want to donate?  Click this button:

2. Blankets For Hope: My lovely sponsor, Erika, from Bird E Studios has started the most beautiful charity.  After her wee cousin, Cullen, was diagnosed with cancer, she knew she had to use her talents to make him something that would help him feel safe and loved.   So she made him a fleece blanket.  After finding out what a comfort it was to him, she decided to dedicate 15% of all her shops sales to materials to make more blankets for more children with cancer.  Cancer is evil enough attacking adults, but children?  It breaks my heart to think of the little ones having to battle such pain.  Purchasing goods from Bird E Studios is one way to donate to Erika’s cause, but if you would like to donate directly, you can do so here:

1. Heroes for Holden: Anyone who is on twitter knows Jen (@thenextmartha) and her blog The Martha Project. Most of the time her blog is so funny I have to make sure I am not drinking any liquids for fear or spitting them on my computer screen.   But this weekend, Jen posted about Holden, a little boy who had his genitalia mutilated at only 5 weeks old by his drug addicted mother. (you can read the entire story on Jen’s blog). She could not NOT do something, so she started a crusade.  Heroes for Holden was an established cause to donate to, but Jen decided she could advocate and raise money for this sweet little boy who is now two years old and facing years of surgeries, hormone treatments, and psychological sessions.  Please…PLEASE help this little boy.

There you have it.  The Top Ten causes that are important to Sluiter Nation.  We have more (we have been known to help Habitat for Humanity and donate to GoodWill, local food pantries, and missions), but these are the top that hit closest to home for us.

Please consider doing Top Ten Tuesdays this week and link up your causes, and maybe if each of us donated to ONE of someone else’s we could be making a real difference. (plus I have a nifty new button you can grab over on the right side of the blog!  Yay!)
Oh and?  Don’t forget to go out and donate blood.  It will save three lives and it’s easy.

the one where i ramble about love and jesus

Cortney and I were both raised in households that went to church every single Sunday.  No exceptions. In fact, in my house, we went to church twice on Sunday and once on Wednesdays.

As a kid, aside from getting up early, I didn’t mind going to church.

Ok, I should say I didn’t mind being part of a church.  Everyone knew my family.  We were warmly greeted each Sunday morning.  My mom taught 2nd grade Sunday School and my dad was on the consistory.

(I should mention here that Cort and I were both raised in the same massively conservative Christian community, and that both of our families were members of the Reformed Church of America).

Church was full of wonder and tradition for me.  Our sanctuary was very old-school with beautiful stained-glass windows depicting different scenes in the life of Christ.  We had a choir loft and a choir that wore robes.  We had a traditional pulpit and old sconce lights on the wall.  I loved it.  I loved that our church was the first building in Zeeland; it was a part of local history.

I don’t know when either Cort or I stopped going to church or why.  I do know it was after both of us had moved out of our parents’ houses and no longer had the rule that we “had” to go.  Because of the new-found freedom?  We both choice a life of sleeping in on Sundays–despite constant comments from our mothers.

Once married, we vowed over and over to start going, but we never did.  Not regularly.

(I should mention that Eddie is baptized in the RCA church; and that we are all members of the church where Cort grew up).

But this post isn’t about going to church. It is just a segue into where my thoughts are going.

It’s more about what is in that church…or better, what is outside the church as well.

I’m talking about that guy, Jesus.

Yes, I am going there on the blog.

The season has gotten me thinking a lot about love.

Not only is Christmas supposed to be the celebration of the birth of Christ, but lately in the news there has been a lot of coverage on the Dream Act (not passed) and the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Act (passed) and all sorts of other talk in between.

And all this Christmas and talk of others different than ourselves and church stuff has gotten me thinking about teaching Eddie about love.

Not just love for his mom and dad, but love for humankind.

No, we don’t go to church that often, and really a big part of that is because I don’t see the kind of love that I want Eddie to learn about being practiced there.  I hear it being taught, but not practiced.

I want badly to find a church that is the mix of the deep traditions that I love (old hymns, big echoe-y sanctuary, etc) and my more liberal views on the world (women’s rights to serve in the church, for example).  I want Eddie to feel the love of a church family and learn about the Bible there.  But we haven’t found that yet.

And honestly?  I struggle with the idea of “blind faith”.  I don’t know if I have it.

I know my parents have it.

I know Cort’s dad had it.

I know Cort’s grandparents have it.

I watched them blindly believe and trust.

I don’t know about me.  I try very hard to trust, but I don’t know if I can believe as literally, for instance, as my dad can in the stories of the Bible. Did a man survive being thrown in a furnace?  For real?   Or is this a legend told?  Is it more literature than fact?  Meant to teach, but not be historical?

But what I do believe hands down from my religious upbringing is this: I do believe in the kind of love that Jesus taught.

So no matter what happens, I fully intend to teach Eddie to love as Jesus did.

What we know of Jesus is that he was a radical who took anyone…anyone…who would have him, and loved.  He loved those no one else would.  He taught that the greatest gift of all was love and that we should “love our neighbors as ourselves.”

Yes, he taught about sin being bad, but over that?  He taught to love.

I want Eddie to learn that sin is bad, but you need to love the snot out of the sinner.

Jesus traveled around with thieves and prostitutes.  Do people really think he would turn away illegal aliens or gay people?

Jesus went and dined with the scum of the town. Do people really think he would snub an adulterer?

Jesus taught love by loving.

I have struggled my whole life with the “reality” of the Christmas story.  With the idea of a crazy guy walking around claiming to be Christ and dying for my sins.  I have wondered if floods and talking burning bushes and parted seas were miracles or otherwise explained.

But this year?  As I watch Eddie interact with Christmas for the first time?  I realize that none of that matters to me.

Because I believe in love.

And that is the gift Jesus gave us.

And that is the gift I want to give my son. I want him to see me loving everyone…especially those society sees fit to not love.

Merry Christmas or Chanukkah or Santa-loving or whatever you choose to do or not do this week.

I wish you all much love.

What She Wants

It seems, in my mind, that it was always cold and slushy and snowy.  My brother and I would pile on our winter coats, hats, scarves, mittens, and boots and let our dad buckle us into his car.

I don’t remember when this started nor can I remember when it ended.  I can’t ever remember my littlest brother going with us, so by the time there were 3 of us, dad must have decided that taking us individually was a better idea.

Anyway, there was a time when Chris and I always went with dad to choose our Christmas gifts for our mom.

Like I said, it seems that we were always traveling through driving snow and sloshing our boots through the wet slush as we traipsed through the parking lot and sidewalks.

One year in particular I can vividly remember being downtown in our small town with my dad wandering from shop to shop.   We eventually ended up in a tiny store, which isn’t there anymore, that was filled with knickknacks and paddywacks galore.  If you wanted a frame or a sconce or a glass lion to set on your end table?  This was your store.

I can still remember feeling the warmth as we walked in as the bell on the door jangled.  The smell of cinnamon and potpourri filled my small nose and head.

In my memory my brother has already found his gift for our mom.  It was all up to me.  My lack of decision-making abilities was what was between us and home.  But this is where I would find mom’s gift.  It was so lovely in here.

I remember looking everything over, and asking my dad what he thought.

In typical dad-style, he turned the question back on me, “but what do YOU think?”

I would pick up a trinket and he would unconvincingly shrug and say, “If you think that is what she would want…”

It drove me crazy even at that age.  I just wanted an opinion.  He wasn’t trying to be difficult; he wanted me to pick for myself.

Finally I walked up to a small artificial Christmas tree that had lots of ornaments on it.  I looked each over carefully and came up on this:

In my young mind this was the perfect gift for my mom.  She would be delighted as she pulled it from the box on Christmas morning and held it up for all to see by the thin, gold loop.  She would place it high on the tree.

“What do you think, dad? Isn’t this perfect?”

“I don’t know, Kate.  Is there another one?  This one has a broken wheel and the glue is showing all over the place.”

I searched the tree.  Many of the ornaments had twins and triplets scattered about, but not the little bear.  He was one of a kind.

“This is the only one.”

“Why don’t you pick a different one.  One that is a little nicer.”

“No, dad.  This is what I am getting mom.”

I brought the small trinket up to the counter, and my dad said, “well if you think she’ll like it,” as he pulled out the crisp dollar bills from his soft wallet.

After getting it home and wrapped and pushed under my bed, I worried.  What if mom didn’t like it?  What if dad was right?

Christmas morning came.  Mom opened her gifts.  She ooo-ed and ahh-ed at my little choice.  I was so pleased.

My dad announced that I had chosen it all on my own.  Mom was impressed.

At some point my brother stopped coming along to shop for my mom for Christmas.  But I always went with my dad.  Even when I was in college, he and I would climb into his truck and head out to pick the perfect gifts for my mother.

Each item that I would find he would say, “if you think that is what she will like.”  I would assure him it is on the list, and that yes, she will love it.

Each time we would find our way to the register and he would remove his soft wallet from his back pocket and finger the crisp dollar bills he got from the bank being sure not to give the cashier two that were stuck together.

He would gather up the bags and we would head to our next stop.

Last year my dad didn’t ask me to help him shop for my mom.  Admittedly I would put up a stink about it each year and give him some grief for not being able to shop for his wife on his own, but I would always go.

When I asked him last year when he wanted to go, he responded, “I’m done.  I already went.”

“Why didn’t you ask me to come along?”

“You always say I need to do it myself.  Besides, you have your own family now.”

I was taken aback, and sort of sad that our father-daughter tradition had ended.  Just like that.

This past weekend I asked my dad if he had his shopping done yet.  He laughed and said he hadn’t started.

“Well, I have next week off you know, dad.  If you need any help.”

“Really?  I’ll keep that in mind,” he said.

I hope he does.

It’s the Simple Things…

It’s not a secret that I am a teacher.

I teach high school.  I teach in an “urban” school district.

I see issues and problems that i never could have imagined when I was that age.  My students have to deal with things I thought only existed in movies like Dangerous Minds back when I was in high school.

And my students?  They are LUCKY compared to many students who are in inner-city schools.

While my students have many hardships, they are not that far from beaches and parks and places they can go to get away from the “urban” area that might be bringing them down.  Many of them get to go on a summer vacation.

This is why, when Sara from The Fresh Air Fund (FAF) contacted me, I jumped on the chance to promote it.

What the FAF does is raise money to help inner-city kids in New York City experience places outside the city…to get some fresh air and some fun. To actually have a summer vacation that they otherwise wouldn’t have.

They do all sorts of things.  There are FAF host families, swimming lessons, farm visits, career awareness classes, and FAF camp.  All of these things help build confidence, self-esteem, and experiences that show inner-city youth that the ways of the street are not the only way.  That they CAN move out of that life.

The camps and retreats prepare kids to be leaders in their communities.

As an educator (and a mom), I know that what we experience is what shapes us.

If we are never read to, never taken anywhere, just dumped in a sub-par school with no funding?  We probably won’t be busting through any barriers to become great.

But if someone out there gives us opportunities and chances, there is no end to the greatness we can do.

This holiday season, won’t you join me in helping give opportunity and chances to a child who might not otherwise get it?

According to FAF’s site…

  • Just $10 will send one child on a bus ride to his or her Friendly Town host family.

  • $24 provides a child with a week of swimming lessons.

  • $42 provides a day of Career Awareness classes.

  • A gift of $50 can fund a camp counselor for a day.

  • If you can give as much as $91, you provide a child at camp with meals for a week.

We are a not-for-profit agency and depend on tax-deductible donations from people like you to keep our vital programs flourishing.

I know it’s cliche to say, but honestly?  Every little bit helps.

I look at Eddie and see that he has already had more opportunity than many of inner-city children have and he is only a year and a half!

Please help give the simple things in life to those for whom it is not so simple.

Please consider giving to the Fresh Air Fund.

For more information, you can visit the Fresh Air Fun site here, “like” them on facebook, and follow them on twitter.

Muchas Gracias

I had a bad week last week.  You all know this.  I told you about it, because that is what I do, yo.

Then things started to look up a bit.  I got a day off to get used to the idea.  So I told you about it.

I accepted what I figured would be crappy for awhile, but would then end.  And I accepted it with a heavy sigh.

You all were wonderful. No.  You were MORE than wonderful.  You all spewed words of encouragement and grace all over me.  And I felt your love.

But then?  Then something BIG happened.

Thursday morning, while I was teaching my first hour class, I got a package in the main office.  My principal called my room to ask me if I knew the person.  It was from Jennifer, a wonderful, beautiful, might-just-be-my-twin reader who lives in the area,but whom I have never met in person.

During third hour, I went down to the office, and found a HUGE bag full of art and school supplies that I had listed on my Teacher Wish List.  I sat down in the chair in the principal’s office and wept.

Huge tears of gratefulness and joy streamed down my face as I tried to explain to the office staff that it was from someone who reads my blog who I didn’t know, but that I totally knew.  I know I sounded completely weird.  But I also didn’t care.

And then I brought the treasures back to my classroom.

My students couldn’t believe that someone who didn’t know us would do something so kind.  One student said, “Why did she buy stuff for us?  If she is not from Wyoming?”

I unloaded the goods and we decided we needed to put them to use right away.  Jennifer?  She needed a thanks!

As I set things out, one boy’s eyes got huge and he gasped, “WOW!  they are all brand name stuff!  My MOM doesn’t even buy Crayola!”

Another girl said, “And Elmer’s glue!  And Fiskers scissors…I don’t know if that is a good brand, but look, they were more than a dollar!”

Everyone dived right in to the supplies!  And they took such good care of them!  Way better than the stuff they know I bought!

They all had fun writing Muchas Gracias cards to Jennifer.  And?  They may have just had fun doing arts and crafts, because it meant chatty time with the friends.

My students and I are beyond grateful for such a gift!  I even handed out one of the Kleenex packs that was in there to a student with a cold.

I honestly don’t know how to say thank you for such a wonderful gift.  I wish there was more I could do…but for now?  I will just say….