Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What I'm Thankful For: Day Two

A bridge-builder, 

As the grand jury's decision in the Ferguson case has been handed down, and the world reacts in outrage to the pro-white-man findings, I have a few other irons in the fire.
A teenage girl has been cutting herself. 
A college-age young man is studying abroad and facing his first holidays spent far away from his close-knit family. 
A twenty-something just gave up the career dreams of his youth, and has relented to family pressure that he "grow up and find a real job."  
A little girl cries herself to sleep at night because her hard-working parents don't have time for her.  
A forty-something husband carries a shameful secret - his wife verbally and emotionally abuses him. 
A 25-year-old man wrestles to come to terms his explosive temper, which is driven by the physical abuse and shaming that he suffered through his childhood 
A widow faces her first Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season after the death of her husband.  
A college-age young woman rejects her modest upbringing and experiments with boldly provocative make-up and clothing.  
A forty-something woman who has recently recovered from alcoholism tries to rebuild relationships with her hurt and distrusting family.   
A father struggles to make a connection with his teenage son, whose anger and resentfulness drives a wedge into their relationship.
A young mother has lost custody of her daughter to a physically abusive father, and fears for the child's safety.
These people are all real people in my life. (I've changed a few details to protect their privacy.)

They come from different countries and cultures around the world; some remain settled in their native lands but others are living abroad. For the most part, they are middle class, fairly well-educated, and good-hearted people. If you had a chance to meet them and chat for a while, I'm sure you would enjoy each one's company. I certainly do.


But here is something that many of the racial commentators of the day would point out, with emphasis and significance.

These people have many different colors of skin.

A few of them are white, but most of these people are Arab, black or Asian.


Maybe that matters. Maybe there are some inherent advantages, or white privilege, as the buzzwords go, that make the lives of fairer-skinned folk significantly and unfairly smoother, easier, better. Maybe the pale people on my list - including myself - live their lives with an ease and comfort that we don't even begin to appreciate.Maybe those with darker skin face hardships that I will never understand.

I don't know about that.

But here is what I do know:
Each one of these people is struggling with some kind of pain and suffering that has nothing at all to do with the color of their skin.  
Each one feels hopeless, and fears what tomorrow might bring.  
Each one of them feels isolated and alone. 
And each one of these people matter to me.

and looker-upper. That's the kind of person I try to be. 

So I will leave to others the necessary scholarly conversations and sociological debates as our society works through its need to categorize and stigmatize human beings based on outward appearances. Instead, I choose to walk with the people whose lives intersect with mine and do my best to share with them some much-needed love and compassion. Just as they do for me.

Because I don't care what color you are.

And I don't care what color I am.

We are all here to love one another and that's what I choose to do.

* * * * * 

I'm thankful for each and every person in my life - past, present and future - because they help me understand who I am, and what I stand for.

I grew up listening to music like this. The lyrics fundamentally shaped my ways of thinking about race, and it never, ever occurred to me that the artists' skin was different from mine. 

"I am no better and neither are you
We are the same whatever we do."

* * * * *

Read more about what I'm thankful for:

Monday, November 24, 2014

What I'm Thankful For: Day One

Walking with Ranger as evening fell, I was passing by my secret place yesterday when I glanced up and noticed the cheery glow from one small square window.

* * * * *

Immediately, I thought of bedtime stories. The romantic notion swelled up inside of me that this light shines out from a bedside lamp; nearby, a clean-scrubbed toddler in cozy fresh pajamas with the blanket pulled up to her precious chin is listening to a story read by her father. In my fantasy, the little girl lies still and calm, her golden hair in a soft tangle of curls on the pillow. She gazes at the book, quietly taking in every detail of the illustrations as her father reads the words, softly and clearly, emphasizing the nuances of the narrative but also lulling her with his gentle voice.

Surely, he is reading the ultimate bedtime story, Goodnight Moon. From years of experience, my brain automatically calls up the long-ago memorized verse, and the words ring out clearly in my head as I picture the scene.

Goodnight moon.
Goodnight cow jumping over the moon.
Goodnight light and the red balloon...

Goodnight stars, 
Goodnight air
Goodnight noises, everywhere.

And still within my mind's eye, I see the little girl's eyes flutter shut as her papa closes the book, lays it on her nightstand, and snaps off the light.  By the time he stands up and bends down to kiss her forehead one last time, she is breathing slow and deep, the sure sign of a child who has fallen fast asleep.

* * * * *


As I trudged along through the soggy leaves and lengthening shadows, reality crashed into my misty fantasy and shattered it into a million pieces.

Let's get real.

I've tucked many a blonde toddler into bed, and I've read Goodnight Moon at least a thousand times. Oh sure, my daughters were all enraptured with the story of the striped bunny and his going-to-sleep rituals, and they laid still as mice as I read it to them.

But as I whispered the final dreamy verses of the story, never once did my darlings close their sleepy eyes and drift quietly off to the Land of Nod..

At our house, the last words snapped the children out of their story-induced trance and kicked them into high gear. Popping up in their beds, they responded to our story time with energy, enthusiasm, and a million ideas for what should happen next.

"Read it again!"
"Show me the page with the kittens."
"I need to go get some water."
"Where's my bunny?"
"Can we read one more bookie?"

This, I came to accept, is how real children listen to bedtime stories. Like every other part of their lives, they partake in the evening ritual with spunk, stamina and amazing creativity. The rosy-cheeked, pink-flannel-nightgown-wearing sleepy angels of my fantasies do not exist in reality - at least not in my reality.

And once I let that delusion go, I was happier, wiser and much more content to go with the crazy flow.

* * * * *

Do they look sleepy to you?!

I'm thankful for my real-life children, who snapped me out of my dreamy illusions about parenthood, and taught me how to be a real-life mom. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014


In amongst the usual kooky Buzzfeed links, You Know You Were An 80s Kid photos, and gratutious Kim Kardashian booty memes, I've lately run across this sweet sentiment:in my various social network feeds:
There are two types of best friends: 
There's the best friend who shares everyday life with you.. You see each other a couple times per week, and talk almost every day, staying up to date and tuned in to every little thing in each other's lives.  
And there's the best friend who rarely pops up in your life. You don't often get the chance to spend time together, and your conversations are few and far between. But still, you know deep in your heart that that person will always understand you and be there when you need them most. 
Aww. Precious, right? There are times when I would probably find those words to be sloppy sentimentalism, if not estrogen-infused mush.

Today, however, it seems that this wisdom is exactly what I needed to hear.

Of course, just about everyone over the age of twelve has known the joys of the bff. And anyone older than twenty has reunited with a childhood buddy and felt the intervening years miraculously slip away to nothing. At any given time, if we are playing our cards right, we usually have a few close friends in each category to bring balance into our lives.

But lately, I have to say, my friendship scales have been a little bit out of whack.

Over the past few years, each for different reasons, my closest, dearest, most trusted friends - the ones who truly get me - have drifted, one by one, from that first category to the second. Where once they were an integral part of my daily life, we now live our lives mostly apart.

Now I'm not necessarily complaining about that. I mean, sure, sometimes I really miss sharing my life with these people and I treasure the memories of those bygone days. But I also acknowledge that when we do manage to connect, our friendships are every bit as alive and rich and magically bff-y as ever.

Maybe even more so.

Maybe the best friendships deepen and intensify when they are stretched across the distance of time and space.

Maybe absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

And maybe, right now, when I am missing my faraway bffs so sharply, is the perfect time to let them know how much they mean to me.

Yep. Just as soon as I finish this important and scientifically valid quiz, that's exactly what I will do.

No Regrets

In case you weren't convinced that last night's tiny apple crisp tasted as delicious as it looks, let me just say that I ate the leftovers for breakfast. 

With ice cream.

And thus fortified, I tackled my day with considerable enthusiasm and endless good humor. 

Which are just two of the remarkable benefits of eating dessert for breakfast. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Tiny Apple Crisp

Inspiration strikes in strange ways.

My most recent reminder of this inarguable truth began as I was wandering around the thrift store the other day, and my eyes fell upon a gorgeous splash of ceramic red.

The object in question was a petite red baking dish, and I immediately recognized it as the junior member of a set of three baking dishes, of which my mom owns the large yellow and the medium turquoise versions.

Obviously, this precious dollop was my destiny.

Throw in the fact that the label read Crate & Barrel, one of my all-time favorite housewares brands, and without further ado, I marched myself up to the check-out and slapped down my $1.99 before anyone realized what a steal I was making. 

It wasn't till I got home that I grasped the undeniable truth.

Adorable as my new friend may be, his size is desperately small. Not a single recipe in my retinue would be content to bake in such limited quarters, and I had no idea how I would put the rascal to use.

Still, this was clearly a relationship meant to be, so I waited with confidence, and sure enough, the epiphany eventually struck.

If there are no recipes that fit the dish, then I will need to invent some that do.

Here's what happened next:

I sliced up apples till my dish was full. Three mediums did the trick.

I mixed about a half cup of granola with roughly a tablespoon of flour, a teaspoon of cinnamon, and enough canola oil to bind it all together.

I would have used melted butter but I was out. Whatever.

I popped my creation into a 350 degree oven and baked until the apples were soft, about 20 minutes.

Then I divided the spoils among my party of four, and topped each serving with vanilla ice cream.

* * * * * 

And here is what this little adventure has taught me:

Necessity really is the mother of invention.
Fruit crisps are ridiculously easy to fake.
I'm on a roll. Ain't no telling where my tiny red baking dish will take me next.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Scent-sational News

I've been having a devil of a time styling my linen closet.

I know. That's a ridiculous statement.

A linen closet is a place to store clean sheets, blankets and towels. The items are to be folded neatly, stacked logically, and left to their own devices until called into use.

The very existence of such a specialized storage spot is a Western luxury, and the notion that I should put time and effort into the handsome good looks of this little repository is arguably over-the-top silly.

But here is something I know about myself. The more effort and creativity I put into making a corner, cupboard or closet look especially nice, the more likely I am to keep the spot organized and tidy.

And if my linen closet is just a ho-hum collection of stacked laundry, trust me, it will go from apple-pie-order to hell-in-a-handbag in the snap of a finger. Trust me, it's happened before.

So that's my conundrum. I need a visual wow factor to motivate the maintenance of my new-found order and so far, I'm coming up short.

However, this afternoon, I had a bit of a break-through. Instead of fussing over how my linen closet should look, I came round to thinking about how it should smell.

Like lavender.

That's a total no-brainer.

So I marched myself off to Target and bought three no-nonsense bars of old-school lavender hand soap.

If you could smell this soap as well as you can see it, you would swear you were standing knee-deep in the blooming lavender fields of Provence. Not even kidding.

I unwrapped them, popped them into my linen closet, here and there among the sleeping stacks of folded things, and breathed deep.


I'm still not satisfied with the way this dang linen closet looks.

But now, by golly, when I open the door, the sweet fragrance of heaven pours forth and my spirits soar. And that is a lovely improvement indeed.

Ranger supervised the photo shoot and gives this fragrant product a big thumbs-up. 
Whew, that's a relief. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What's In A Name

Bob Marley isn't my name. I don't even know my name yet. - Bob Marley

If I'm gonna tell a real story, I'm gonna start with my name. - Kendrick Lamar

What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet
- William Shakespeare

The past few days, I've been working on a birthday greeting for a little girl I know. As with many of the cards and banners I make, the design features her name, prominently displayed in bold shapes and bright colors. I've also left plenty of white space so she can add some color too, if she likes.

During this creative process, I've done a bit of musing about names. Here is a random sampling of the thoughts that have been whirling around my brain.

It's strange that our names are chosen for us without our consent at the very beginning of our lives. Think of it. The single word that will describe us and be associated with us for literally every day of our life is chosen when we are a mere day or two old. When you think about it, our names really say more about our parents, and their hopes and dreams for our life, than they do about our own selves. But we carry them with us as a fundamental part of our identity from cradle to grave, and that is truly remarkable.

Most people are ambivalently okay with their names, though others may love or actively dislike them. I personally have mixed feelings about my name. Weirdly, I like that it has five letters, three of them vowels, and I like that it starts with D. D is a good strong letter, and fun to write in cursive. Also, I like that my name is reasonably familiar and easy enough to pronounce. But I've always felt that the name doesn't suit me quite right and I've fantasized many times about shortening it to Ann.

It's good to know the story of how and why your name was chosen. I'm fascinated to hear how names are chosen, and I've made a point to tell my daughters their stories over and over.

My first-born was named for a famous Irish Setter,
my second named after a character in a storybook that my first-born adored,
my third was named after one of my childhood friends, and
my fourth-born's name literally means, "fourth-born."

As for my name, here's how it came to be. My father had always loved the name, Diane, but my mother preferred Carolyn, the name of her college roommate. After much debate, my mother let my father have his way, and Carolyn became my middle name. I wish my mother had stuck to her guns.

It always feels good to be called by name. During my many years of working with kids of all ages, I've tested this theory over and again and found it always to be true. Preschoolers beam, elementary kids come running, even the most disengaged, unemotive, trying-to-be-cool teenager will bust out a genuine smile when you call them by name. And I'll be honest - I light up when someone calls me by name. There's something about hearing another person speak my name that makes me feel known. And loved.

Little-known fact: the name of my blog refers to my feelings about my own name. After years of being a full-time parent, I was so used to hearing my daughters call me Mama, Mommy, or Mom, that I began to think of myself only by those names. As they grew up and flew from the nest, I realized that it was time for me to reclaim myself as a person who was more than simply a mother. It was time for me to be Diane again.

And writing these posts to you has been an essential and perfectly lovely part of my journey.