Hobby? Or avoidance strategy?

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It’s extremely difficult for me not to curl up into a ball of utter despair over what’s happening in our nation. I am convinced by careful perusal of many different news outlets and study of government documents, memos, and testimonies, that the American experiment is near its end.

45 has flirted with constitutional crisis for over a year now. The fact that he signed a bill passed overwhelmingly by Congress but is now refusing to enforce the law? Full-blown crisis, friends. What does that law address? An incredibly convoluted scandal involving murder, money laundering, and Russian and U.S oligarchs – a scandal that directly benefits 45 and his billionaire kleptocrat buddies. A tip for those who hadn’t heard: “Russian adoption” – the ostensible topic of the pertinent meeting that took place in 2016 –  is actually code for this scandal, 

This complete dismantling of our constitutional democracy is only one of the many evils being carried out by this poseur of a president. Just a little reminder: The “us” first, anti-immigration, nationalist vitriol spewed by this man and his supporters is exactly what brought about every war across the globe over the last 150 years. 

Tonight is the annual State of the Union Address. I feel compelled to watch, and yet I’m truly afraid it will trigger another crying jag like the one brought on by the November 2016 election. I’m not sure I can do it.

And so, I’m knitting. Handwork has always been a joy for me. Now it’s an escape. A therapeutic, all-absorbing act of pushing down the despair. Before Christmas I turned out 10 scarves that went to guests of my organization’s Christmas Store (in which friends from our urban neighborhood shop for gifts for each member of their family, free of charge). Since Christmas I’ve produced a few more scarves. And as ugly news report piled on top of ugly news report, I craved something more challenging. After several disastrous attempts, I’ve finally mastered a mitten pattern.

When temperatures dip, as they have frequently this winter, we set a box of donated gloves, hats, mittens, and scarves in our waiting room for our neighbors. My goal is to contribute a couple of pairs of mittens to that box each week.

I march. I donate. I write. I post. Yet my influence on the fate of our nation feels negligible.  So I distract myself with tiny efforts on the side of good.

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply,, he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”

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“That Would Be Enough.”

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Summer 2017 was big. “Hurricane” big. “Blow Us All Away” big. HAMILTON IN CHICAGO big!

Yes, the whole fam piled into a car and drove north for a long weekend in Chicago to finally sit in the audience for the musical we’d been listening to and singing along with “Non-Stop” for over a year.

My heart started racing the moment the theater sign came into view. Our seats were nearly as high up in the balcony as it was possible to get, but we we were so excited we didn’t even notice all the stairs.

Aaron Burr stepped onto the stage with the words “How does a bastard, orphan, immigrant, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean, by providence impoverished, in squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?”

And for the next 3 1/2 hours I scarcely breathed. Literally on the edge of my seat, with tears in my eyes at every moment, I took in the movement, the costumes, the  lighting, the rhyme and rhythm, the intensely touching music and instrumentation, the deftness and piercing accuracy of word choice. All this, coupled with the heartbreaking beauty of seeing our U.S. origin story told by people of color; people who have been historically and systematically dis-included from the American dream.

I’m definitely a musical genre buff. But “Hamilton” is much more than a musical. I’m certainly not original in considering it a cultural phenomenon, a perfect expression of the zeitgeist. The line that in every performance makes the audience shout for joy, “Immigrants – we get the job done” are words of defiant healing in the face of dangerous nationalistic sentiment.

It was a life experience that will be forever a touchstone.

The importance of this event was, in part, due to my joy in sharing it with the four people who mean everything to me. Knowing that it meant as much to them as it did to me. Even as my children age and naturally drift further away, this experience underscored that we’re soul mates.

It’s horribly painful to live in these days of the demise of democracy. The genius that is “Hamilton” helps us find the courage to say, “Look around, look around…at how lucky we are to be alive right now.”

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Can’t you smell that smell?

An interesting aspect of my new job is the surroundings I now find myself in.

In fact, that was a detail I was asked about, casually but with poorly-hidden concern, when I interviewed. The staff member who showed me around that day was familiar with the place I was leaving and knew how it compared to this place.

My prior 13 years in church ministry took place in an immaculate building in the upscale suburbs. I’d recently moved into a state-of-the-art, beautifully decorated new office just down the hall from a bright and attractive new cafe area.

Now I drive to a ninety-year-old ex-firehouse every day. The scarred paint on the walls ranges from dirty white to an off-yellow shade to a grubby grey. The upstairs floor (where my new office is) sort of waves up and down so you have to walk carefully if you want to keep your balance. Ten people or more share a one-hole bathroom. (Actually, two holes – a toilet AND a urinal in the same room. The luxury of choice.) Years of accumulated grime on most surfaces.

What my tour guide on that interview day didn’t know, though, was that I was actually thrilled to leave the pristine trappings of privilege and get out into the real world. The gleaming affluence I’d been surrounded by for so long was wearing on my nerves, as well as my conscience.

A couple of weeks after my tour, I moved in and started creating a cozy little nest for myself here in the firehouse. It’s become a gathering place for friends on staff to hang out, have lunch, or just spend a minute visiting.

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Yup, that’s the fire pole.

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An extra desk for the volunteer who comes in one morning a month to enter data. And what looks like a closet door is actually hiding the 20-foot shaft where the firefighters used to hang their hoses to dry.

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Just below the left window: My solution to The Smells.

I love my new digs.

But there are Smells.

Not every day, mind you, but often.  Today, for example, we have a killer melange of stale cigarette smoke, overpoweringly strong men’s cologne, a touch of weed, and poo stench wafting from that communal staff restroom. This disturbing aroma originates from both volunteers and clients. How it manages to hover in the hallway outside my office door and waft into my office, I have no idea.

I’ve battled the worn-out visual enviroment with friendly decorating touches. And I fight The Smells with a plug-in wax melter and scented cubes. Pumpkin pie in the fall. Douglas fir for Christmas. Orange spice, currently.

I’m making the most of my home-away-from home.

 

 

 

 

The question of “deserving.”

Something pretty monumental happened over the weekend: I got a “new” car.

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I know purchasing a 3-year-old SUV is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. But it’s a huge deal in our family. For me, it’s largely a huge deal because now I’m living with GUILT.

Guilt because we doubled our car payment. Guilt because it’s a very luxurious model, with very few miles on it. Guilt because the SUV I was driving was perfectly reliable and met my basic needs. Guilt because we bought the new one from a reputable, big-name seller.

Really, what all that guilt boils down to is the question of “deserving.” It’s not a word I like; not a word I would ever assign to others. In general I think it’s rare that anyone actually gets what they “deserve.” I look at the people we serve here at the urban Community Assistance Center where I work – these folks deserve a good education, safety, health care, adequate food, dignity. But in our society they don’t get much, if any,  of that.

On the other hand, look at what our White House administration and congressional leaders have. Power, wealth, fame, comfort. I can’t honestly say a damn one of those people deserve it.

And then, too, what is wrong with us (largely us in the U.S., I suspect) that so much of our identity and self-esteem is tied up in what kind of vehicle we drive? It’s pretty disgusting, really.

I’ve only ever owned one new-ish car in my life, 30 years ago, post-wedding and pre-kids. Every other car I’ve ever had charge of was a risk to drive every day. I never knew when I might end up at the side of the road needing a tow. Until my last SUV, that is, which was ten years old but ran perfectly. In other words, this is the first time I’ve ever replaced a car that wasn’t a danger to myself and others. The first time I’ve ever bought a car simply because I wanted something nicer. Bottom line, I recognize my own privilege, which I’ve done nothing to deserve.

GUILT.

But…oh, that smooth ride. No symphony of rattles from every interior piece of plastic. The seat warmers. The remote start and power lift gate, the rear view camera and voice- activated bluetooth. Pure hedonism.

So…can I let go of the guilt and just enjoy my new ride? Fingers crossed.

 

 

 

Make it what you want it to be.

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Tomorrow is a new holiday, and you may not have heard of it yet.  It’s “Darryl Appreciation Day.”

Here’s how this fledgling celebration day came about:

See, in my new place of work there’s some pretty ugly politics coupled with some severely bad leadership. Some of the crap that’s been pulled even in the short time I’ve been there created a strong bond between one colleague and myself, after an incident in which we stood up to the perpetrator of said evils. Kelly and I (she of my previous post, Like Chalk Drawings in a Rainstorm) in particular came out on the other side of that incident good friends. Afterward, we agreed that the best way to stick it out until that person retires later this year was to do everything we could to make the organization into the kind of place what we want it to be.

One of our co-workers, whom I especially appreciate, receives no respect from our organization’s “leader.” Darryl works in our warehouse, keeping the food pantry stocked, getting incoming shipments and donations stored properly, helping our senior clients out with their monthly commodity boxes. Darryl is also the guy I turn to several days out of every week to help me get large, heavy items in and out of the back of my SUV; donations I’ve picked up to save the donors a trip downtown, bins of sack lunches that groups have made for us to give away to neighbors; more bins of sack lunches we’re able to share with other local organizations for their own hungry neighbors. Darryl has saved me a lot of back pain over the last six months, and his sense of humor brightens my day every time I see him.

I mentioned to Kelly today that I wanted to do a little something for Darryl. I was thinking of baking him some cookies. But Kelly doesn’t do anything by halves. In no time, “Darryl Appreciation Day” was born.

Kelly’s an artist. She created a gorgeous invitation for Darryl to his special celebration: lunch in my office, cooked by the two of us. She’s making a banner to honor him, and my dear husband got into the act by supplying the the gifts: items from his stash of brand new tools he has on hand simply because they were too good a deal to turn down, and some of his own favorite snack foods. We’re calling it “Darryl’s commodity box.”

Kelly and I were texting about the event this evening, and we concocted a plan to create an “Appreciation Day” holiday for each of our coworkers over time.

In our current world, there’s nothing in the news besides jaw-dropping acts of cruelty and greed. The events of the last year have taken a toll on my emotional state, as I know they have to some of yours.

It’s good therapy to create love and healing where we can.

 

Like a chalk drawing in a rain storm.

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Today a colleague and good friend got into the office a bit late. Kelly came straight to my office, sat on my little sofa, buried her head in her hands, and started sobbing.

Had she been in a wreck? Had an argument at home? Gotten some bad news?

I joined her on the sofa and patted her back, and quickly her story came out.

This morning the temperature here in Kansas City was below zero F, with a wind chill of -18. As my friend had come into the building, she brushed past a woman who was just leaving; she’d come in to ask for one of the sack lunches we give out to folks who need them to get through the day. This woman had nothing over her clothing but a thin bed sheet wrapped around her shoulders. No coat. No gloves. No hat.

Turned out, she didn’t speak English. Kelly managed to get the message across that she should stay put for a moment. She dashed to our warehouse, where we have a few coats left from our charity Christmas shop in December, at which low income families come to pick out gifts for everyone living in their household, free of charge. All she could find was a men’s coat, but she hurried back to the waiting room with it. The woman accepted the coat, with tears and many repetitions of “Gracias!”

It seems like a happy ending. So why was my friend so distraught? I knew without asking, but she said it anyway.

“What we do is just chalk drawings in a rain storm.”

She’s right.

Kelly and I have had this conversation before. One day in December she and I made Christmas gift deliveries to seven of our agency’s homebound clients. It was an afternoon of driving through neighborhoods we’d never dare visit after dark. So much need. So little hope. Poor schools. No grocery stores. Few jobs. Very effectively segregated, 60 years after the civil rights movement.

We wished we could feel good that afternoon, making Christmas a little brighter for seven individuals/families. Instead we finished the day emotionally exhausted and incredibly discouraged. How many hundreds of crumbling homes did we pass by that day, where that same help – and more – is needed?

The church-backed nonprofit organization Kelly and I are employed by does excellent work. It’s a well-respected force for good in our city. Even though there are significant down sides to my new job, I’m thankful to be there, doing work that I know is meaningful to the people we’re able to touch. And yet, no matter how much good we do, it’s only a tiny drop in a distressingly enormous bucket.

Charity is not enough. It will never, ever be enough in this greedy capitalist nation. It will never, ever be enough as long as our government officials follow the cruel philosophy of Ayn Rand (I’m looking at you, Paul Ryan) and Confederate heroes (I’m looking at you, Jefferson Beauregard  Sessions III). Nothing will be righted until every single child in many successive generations receives a top-notch education. Until every single person of every color, religion, sexual orientation, and gender expression has the same economic rights, the same voting rights, the same dignity.

Until that day comes, we watch the chalk drawings we hastily scribble on the sidewalk wash away with every rainstorm.

 

 

 

 

Still Mom.

When I first chose a title for this blog, it struck me that “Mom Goes On” worked in more than one way. At the time, I was trying to figure out what to do with myself as two of my three flew the nest. Then, too, I was discovering that the “mom life” does’t end just because the kids are turning into adults.

Here we are more than four years later, and I’m still finding it true: My “mom life” is still a bit part of what I do and who I am.

A bit of a family update (or news flash, if you’re a new reader finding your way here):

Oldest is nearing the completion of her doctorate. By the end of this year she’ll be taking her next step, probably post-doc work – we just don’t know where yet. But it’s looking more and more likely she’ll try to settle in the Chicago area, with her boyfriend (and soon to be fiance, we expect.) Happy, healthy, and successful. No small accomplishment for a young woman in science research, which is notoriously unfriendly to females. I’m thrilled to report that she and I still text daily. Sometimes because she actually needs her mama, and more often because we have something funny to share. There’s nothing like truly liking your own children.

The middle sister still lives at home, and I hope she never leaves. She’s an awesome housemate, and great fun to hang out with. After teaching in an urban middle school for over a year, she realized quite unexpectedly that she’d made a serious mistake in her career choice. And made the very brave decision to stop teaching. It’s no easy thing to work your ass off for a goal (she graduated summa cum laude with a double major of education and English), only to discover it’s entirely wrong for you. It was a traumatic time in our household when all that came down, I can tell you. Every mom skill I ever possessed came into play in order to talk her down from that metaphorical ledge and help her move on.

Youngest is at home, too, for his first year of teaching. Choral music conducting jobs were in short supply last spring, so he settled for another of his loves and is teaching high school physics for now. Bigger news: He became engaged over Christmas break, and is starting an apartment search – he and his fiancee will live together for a year or so before the wedding. It’s lovely, though a huge surprise that the youngest is the first to take that leap It’s funny how this kid operates. He’s a closed book most of the time, but then he’ll suddenly pose a serious question whose answer has major consequences, and want my opinion and advice. I’ve loved having him back with us for a short time before he leaves the nest entirely for a new life with his love. And that brings another one into the fold, a young woman who, IMHO, could use some supportive parenting.

I’ll never stop missing the days when they were all at home and we were one cohesive unit. But there are many joys to this stage of life; not the least of which is knowing that we all still care about and take care of each other.

The mom life is still good.

 

 

Cold+Snow+Ice=Binge Watching.

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It’s the first winter in quite a while that we’ve had seriously cold weather for any length of time here in the Midwest of the U.S. There are a lot of negatives to this type of winter; dead car batteries, icy sidewalks, the extra time and inconvenience of rounding up gloves, hats, and scarves and then trying to arrange them all properly so you don’t look like the abominable snowman.

But there’s one huge advantage to this arctic weather, especially for rabid introverts like me. It’s the perfect excuse to stay inside with a cup of tea, a blanket, a book, and some binge-watching.

Here’s what’s been on my screens in the last couple of months:

The Great British Bake-off  Multiple people had been urging me to watch, but it wasn’t until our oldest got hooked that I gave it a try. She had occasion to be home from the east coast for three separate visits in the space of a month, and with the younger sister we O.D’d on all four seasons that are available on Netflix. Mocking and disdaining Paul’s tool-y-ness. Enjoying Mary’s calm, coolness while abhorring every dessert challenge she sets the bakers. Seriously, those Genoise sponges and marangues are way too much work for a “treat” that appears, at the least, boring, and more likely quite nasty. Best of all, the camaraderie and kindness of the bakers. It’s pure escapism, something quite needed and healing in our current times.

Poldark   A few months ago I subscribed to our local PBS station and received a “Passport” membership, meaning we now have access to back episodes of many excellent series. You. Must. Do. This. Soooooo worth it. To be honest, we only tuned in to Poldark in order to salivate over Aiden Turner’s brooding and smoldering. For the first two series, that was almost all the show had going for it. Oddly, though, season 3 was immeasurably improved in writing and plotting. Still, eye candy is the main draw; not just Turner’s gorgeous eyes, but also the beauty of the windswept Cornish coast.

Turn  We’re only two episodes into the final season, and looking forward to seeing how the American Revolution turns out. This one is a masterpiece in every way; acting, writing, casting, music, and cinematography. I’m an early American history buff, and have read “Washington’s Spies,” from which the series is drawn. Oldest has a good friend who hales from Setawket, where much of the action of the spy ring took place, and she visited there last summer.

Once “Turn” is finished, we’ll be looking for our next binge – it looks like we’re in for plenty more winter. Suggestions welcome – what are you watching recently?

 

Glimmer of hope.

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I had a working coffee date yesterday afternoon that unexpectedly reminded me of one of the reasons I stepped away from blogging.

That sounds like a negative comment, but the meeting was anything but negative. Quick summary: The organization I work for offers financial education classes a couple of times a year to clients who are making real strides in moving toward stability. The kids belonging to these folks need a safe place to be for the two Saturdays their parents are in class, and one of my duties as Volunteer Coordinator is to find groups that will provide a day for the kids that includes supervision, activities, and lunch.

Finding volunteers to take on this type of task is where my 13 years in local ministry comes in handy. (DISCLAIMER for any new readers out there: my background is in leftist, progressive theology. For my own peace of mind I always make that fact clear.) I have a lot of relationships I can leverage, and I have enough street cred that I’m able to build a lot of new partnerships. In this instance I reached out to the youth director of a church I’ve worked with in the past.

Chris is…awesome. To look at him, you’d think he’s the stereotypical super-hip fundamentalist pastor-type. (If you have much background in church work, you’ll know what I mean. If you don’t, watch this hilarious but all-to-realistic parody.) In fact, that’s Chris’s history. But he had an epiphany somewhere in young adulthood, and is now among the most “woke” guys I know.

So Chris and I were discussing the plans for his group’s day of supervising 14 kids from rough neighborhoods and traumatic backgrounds. One concern I had was that he was bringing teens and adults from a super-affluent suburban church to manage this event, and these well-meaning folks might be a little…ummm…shocked by the challenges of hanging out for a day with the urban kids they were charged with.

Chris reminded me, though, of where he’s at and where his ministry is at. He’s heavy-duty involved with issues of racial justice, and he’s brought his youth group along with him on the journey. The work they do together involves examining their privilege and learning to respond with love and grace to injustice. It’s an uphill battle, as these teens’ parents are largely coming from the extremely opposite ideological stance.

Our talk about the day of the financial education class quickly moved on to how we’re coping with the brutal ugliness of the current U.S. president and the ass-kissers in the White House and Congress who let him get away with sickeningly unacceptable words and actions (it was the day after the “s**t-hole countries” comment). Chris described to me the night of November 8, 2016, when his kindergarten daughter went to bed thrilled that she’d helped her mama vote for “the girl,” and how proud she was going to be when she woke up to the first woman president. Choking back tears (yes, over a year later it still makes me cry) I shared my own traumatic memories of that night.

It was an emotional way to end the week. I made a conscious effort to take away with me, though, the glimmer of hope that comes from the work my friend Chris does with his teens to change attitudes; the work he’s doing to change the world.

To come full circle, how did all this remind me of one of the reasons I quit blogging? The problem is, I can’t not write about the despicable and deliberate damage being done to our nation by those in charge. By voters who could sweep race-baiting, sexual assault, and lying under the rug and still vote for the person who is now our 45th president.

It’s on my mind every moment of every day. I continue to go about the everyday life tasks of managing a full-time job, a house, and a family. But looming constantly in the background is a deep and abiding disgust and fear that can’t help but come out in my writing. And I figure readers probably don’t want to hear that in every post.

But here I am, at it again. The more things change, the more they stay the same.