Sunday, December 26, 2010


My sock monkey (center) looks a little overwhelmed, but grateful for the arrival of backup monkeys. Every time one of the kids has had a fever, snotty nose or general misery, they have asked for my monkey. He wants to know why he has to be the "moco" monkey. It sucks to be cute and popular. Simon is reminded of the Utah legislature...
Santa brought Nintendos, with some hesitation. Let the negotiations around screen-time rules begin! Sara already has two written proposals ready to present to us. (Sigh!)

According to Nate, this is an "extra stylist", meaning that he now has "two stylists". Given that, how do you explain his hair?

With Sara around, there is no discussion: it's all reuse, renew, recycle. She will squirrel all of the cardboard away to add to her enormous dollhouse thing, the Mondo Condo. It already has its own section of the basement...

Sara opened this dress from her Nana and pulled a mouth. "WHAT? Are you KIDDING me? You don't like that?!" "Well, it's a little elegant, Mom." "Can I have it?" "Mom, I'm eleven. My clothes don't fit you." "Give it here." It looks cute on me! Of course, on me it is a rather sexy mini dress: with dark stockings and high heels, it will look mah-velous. I'm not afraid of "elegant".

Sara gave Nate this little Lego-guy flashlight. First thing he says is, "Damn! I can't pull his head off."

Brother Charles sent me this, which is the most mysterious gift I have received in some time. A letter my dad wrote to President Nixon in 1973, complaining about the cost of train fares. Hmmm... I will need to call Charles for the back-story on this one. Did Nixon write back? Senator Hatch always responds to my letters, and tells me to get lost.
Sara made me search out a gift via treasure hunt. This one was themed "Mom's Quotable Quotes" The above clue takes us to the pool table...

This takes up to the antique china....

Which takes us back to the Christmas tree.

Uh, is this a quote? "Oh, I got tired of that."
So, what does a good mother do on Christmas? Pick up snippets of ribbon? Call all her loved ones? Finish her Christmas cards (maybe the ones that are still partially done from 2009)? Poke cloves into something? No.

She puts on her long-johns, hangs her pass around her neck and goes skiing. Christmas dinner will get short shrift. Ski Utah.

We're going to experiment with using the insoles from my running shoes in my too-big ski boots. Too-big ski boots are very comfortable...but you can't actually turn your skis, which is a problem.
It worked a trick! Tight enough that I got cramps in my instep, but I just undid my second buckle while we were riding the lifts, to let a little blood to my feet. All the quad-building at the gym paid off. I have also been secretly defying Dr. Perfect and working on my left pec a little. I was getting sick of only being able to pole with my right side. Fine if you just want to go around in a tight little circle...

Here's Nate's action-man pose.
At any rate, a good time was had by all. And when your quads are burning, there's one thing they want. "Feed us ham!"

Just a small-ish ham. We'l trim a little fat off it first.

Vestiges of my call home to Mom. First time I have spoken to her since...August...?

Pulling crackers.

At the Queen's Christmas dinner, she has fabulous crackers, we've heard. Hats with feathers. Diamond tennis bracelets. I would have considered blowing off skiing if I could have joined the Queen and her tennis bracelets for Christmas dinner. Maybe. If she were nice and joined me in eating with gusto. I have heard that she won't eat in front of commoners. That would make things awkward, even if there were diamonds involved. At any rate, here are my crayons, my hat and my riddle.
Christmas dinner. Very simple: ham, corn spoon-bread, green beans with mustard.
And plum pudding. Can you see the flames?
Sara practiced on her skateboard until late. "Mom, come and watch me from the sunporch!"
Diane came over to hang out and play, but we can't figure out FIFA soccer for Wii. Too complicated for grown-ups. Nate has no problem.
Now, Real Salt Lake can take on LA Galaxy even in the dead of winter.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

On Poverty

[Look out, this is a socio-analytical rant. I very seldom indulge, but I think I will today. Hate me all you want. But not before you admire my title, inspired by Keats. The Victorians were expert ranters. At least I didn't call it an ode to anything. That would be too barfy.]

Around this time of year, a lot of do-gooders appear at my school (people we only hear from around the holidays), wanting to help The Poor. Don't get me wrong - I don't object to the help. People need the toys / food / money / coats / blankets and I'm grateful for them. But could we please do away with all the judgements and expectations?

I see this on a macro level. If I mentioned the name of one of our funders (which I won't, because today, I like my job ) readers across the country would know whom I'm talking about. They are a conduit for major corporate charitable contributions; and the message they've been getting from these pillars of the community is that they are sick of poverty! Geeze! Poverty is such a hassle. It just never goes away! They don't want to fund agencies that provide for basic needs any more (homeless shelters, food pantries), because those agencies are not "solving the problem". This year and for the next three years, any agency that receives their largess will have to show how they are Solving the Problem, and provide the statistics to prove that, over those three years, poor neighborhoods have become prosperous.

Wow. All that from my little school. Let me add it to my to-do list. "Eliminate poverty".

Sure, Mr. Rich Guy. I'll get right on it; because I know it bugs you, having to just GIVE without some sort of balance sheet.

At both macro and micro levels, it is a pattern I have observed over many years of seeking assistance for low-income people. Are they sufficiently humble? Are they wallowing in their handouts? If they are so poor, why are their houses so clean? That TV screen is WAY too big for a poor family to have.

"My husband and I would like to adopt a family for a Sub for Santa this year. We'd like a married couple with one son and one daughter. The children must still believe in Santa Claus. They have to be REALLY POOR." In other words, this is about us and our need to experience shuffling gratitude.


This was a point of discussion at our last staff meeting. ARE THEY GRATEFUL? Donors want assurances that they are.

Want my honest opinion?

No, they are not. Well some of them are, but most are not. Gratitude, generosity, empathy, gentleness, humility. These are character traits that those if us who are safe gently nurture in our comfortable children. They get jettisoned when life is tough. If people live with chronic shortage, they are not going to be generous or grateful. They will be graspers and hoarders, because that's how they get by. Those are the behaviors that get results. In similar circumstances, how much you wanna bet that we would also grasp and hoard? It's hard to admit, but there you have it. As time goes by, I find myself privately admiring certain behaviors that are not really admirable. I think to myself, "Yep. She just walked off with 40 rolls of toilet paper and she's going to sell them to her neighbors... and that is pretty fucking resourceful."
We have an annual holiday potluck and I watch folks as they go down the line. The people who push to the front will pile their plates with more food than they can eat. Then they rush to their seats, dropping food as they go, sit down and stuff themselves. Then they will fill two plates with as many desserts as they can carry. They don't care how many people are in line behind them. In the real world, shortage doesn't beget sharing. It begets greed. This year, it was worse than usual. Extra shortage? Extra greed. Hard times make people hard. Poverty breaks down kindness.

Judging this behavior from the vantage point of privilege is wrong.

If you need to feel good when you give to others, I'd recommend a paradigm shift. Don't find your gratification in the gratitude of your beneficiary. Hold out your gift, open your hands and let it go. Be gratified that your good fortune allows you the joy of loving your neighbor without a balance sheet.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Letter to Dad

Hi, Dad!
I thought I'd drop a line, 'cause three different things made me think of you this weekend.
1. I was talking to a friend whose mother is in a long-term care facility in another state and has not been doing well. It reminded me of last January: my dread every time the phone rang; the exhaustion in Mom's voice; the guilt; long conversations with my siblings, filled with "if-then" scenarios. Oh, and more guilt.
Then the 3 AM departure for the airport. The long, icy drive down the rural roads. Tater-tot hot dish that Kathy Kohn made just for me. Slipping an Oreo into your sleeve during the visitation (Hey, you would have done the same for me!) (Mom was pissed when she found out! "Katherine Elizabeth! Is it true that you put an Oreo cookie in your father's casket?!?" Snnnrrrk...) Women - a long procession of women who have known me all my life - filling and refilling my coffee cup in the church basement. Packing china, washing walls. "Kids, if someone doesn't take these wool shirts, they're going in the Goodwill." And I was so frazzled that I walked out of the church where I was baptized, confirmed and married; walked out of the house I grew up in; drove my U-Haul down Highway 44 and out of Markesan for good without a backward look. Yeah, I know: where were the tearful good-byes? But there had been a big snowstorm the night before, and the roads were drifted. I was concentrating on drift-busting in my U-Haul. By the time I really had a chance to think, I was in DeMoines and too tired to give a shit.

Sorry, Dad. I digress. Why couldn't you have died in the summer? No drifting and blowing snow. And I could have lobbied to carry out our plan: launching your corpse into Hills Lake in a flaming canoe, Viking-style. Not the good canoe. One of the old ones.
OK, the other two things that made me thing of you were uprooted from the boxes of "inheritance" still awaiting my attention in the basement.

2. Ah, yes! I was rummaging and found your embroidered Goraly vest from Poland. I cooked Polish last night and thought, "If Dad were here, he would definitely have worn his vest." Like you have to every family celebration since you got it 20 years ago. I would wear it in your memory, but it's way too big.

3. (And this is HUGE, Dad!) I am sick to death of being cold in my house in the winter. In the same box as the Goraly vest I found my new best friend: your favorite Pendelton fisherman's sweater. You wore it constantly for years, until you shrunk it. Mom was throwing out your clothes and tossed it on the "out" pile. "Hey, can I have this?" "It's all shrunken!" "Yeah! It's a perfect fit!" And it IS! I have been toasty all day in your shrunken sweater. And to prevent wool-itch, I have one of your ratty duo-fold undershirts. Nice touch, sewing Velcro to the back bottom edge. I'm not sure, but I guess that somewhere in the world is a pair of long-john bottoms with the other half of the Velcro. As always, I admired your sewing skills. Perfect, regular stitches. Where did you learn to sew like that? Oh, yeah. Medical school.

Check it out! I'm a lucky girl!

I miss you Dad. Even your shop-worn jokes. Even your strange collections. Even the way you mortified me by crying every time you said the blessing. Even your ponderous "bum-bum-de-bum" hum. Even the way I couldn't whistle a tune without you drawing attention to it by joining in. Even the Oreo addiction.

It was pretty fun to call home, even in my middle age, and be greeted with, "It's KATE THE GREAT!" It was good, being great. Thanks for being my loyal fan. And thanks again for this sweater. Its the bomb!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wild Hare? Wild Hair?

Beats me. But which ever one it is, I've been catching it for the last few weeks. The Migration Policy Institute is offering up their recognition of exceptional Immigrant Integration projects; and despite the fact that only four of these are awarded nation-wide, I couldn't resist the lure of fame and fortune. Ah, the sweet taste of futility. Lift the glass to my lips.

So, I've been writing. And writing. And swearing and beating my head against the wall and writing some more. I haven't been to bed before 2:00 AM in a week. But it's done now, and sent in.

Time to bake cookies. Paint my toenails? Look at myself in the mirror and think, "Ya' look like hell! Go to bed!"

Five things that amused me today, now that I have the award monkey off my back:

1. Hearing about a grown-up pinata, filled with condoms instead of candy. I want to have a pinata at my next party.
2. ABBA. They never fail to amuse. They are belting out "Dancing Queen" right now.
3. Myself, arguing with the State Director of Adult Education about whether the state should lay down oppressive regulations on the use of volunteer tutors. I bludgeoned her with language so intense that, when I finished, I dubbed myself Poet Laureate of the Utah State Office of Education.
4. My batch of biscotti I made tonight. They expanded a little more than I expected and when I took them out of the oven, the cookie sheet kind of looked like a doormat.
5. Nathan, as always. I was listening to him squabble with Sara on the way home tonight.

Nate: So, I heard you on the playground today, Sara. I heard you call me a nigh-anderthal.
Sara: Nee-anderthal. And I didn't call you one, I said you laugh like one.

I say nothing; but I wonder, as you do, how a Neanderthal laughs...

Nate: Well, I wasn't sure whether to tell on you to the teacher or not. Mom, what is a nigh-anerthal?
Sare: Nee-anderthal.

I explain Neanderthal.

Nate: Right. OK, Sara, now I know what it is. And turns out, I AM offended. I'm telling the teacher tomorrow.

And it MUST be wild hare. How crazy can a hair be and why would anyone chase it?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Exhausted, and Sick of it All

I am slightly blue, today. Pale blue. I am tired. My eyes are burning. Usually, I have a reservoir of energy in here somewhere. Hold on, while I look for that [imagine me rummaging in Hermione Granger's bottomless handbag: clank, clatter...]. Nope.

I hate to say that it's my job. But, it's my job. Sorry, job.

I LOVE my job. When it isn't trying to kill me. I should count myself lucky! Eighteen years I have popped out of bed eager to go to my job; I have lavished affection on my job; I have bragged about my job. But it has always been semi-feral, like a pet lion. So cool; and you tell all your friends and neighbors how cuddly and affectionate it is. Until it eats you.

Suddenly, there are other things I would rather do! Can you BELIEVE it?!? Here we go: ten things I would rather do than go to work tomorrow.

1. Lie in a sunbeam with my feet up and read a book.
2. Bake cookies.
3. Go skiing. Let's make it a powder day and take a bunch of girlfriends along.
4. Work out for more than 40 minutes. Maybe a nice long run...
5. Fly to Mexico and lie in a hammock with my feet up and read a book.
6. Shoot pool, eat four slices of pizza and drink two beers.
7. Hide in the periodical room at Main Library and look at old "Life" magazines.
8. Call Mom, Aunt Marian and my friend Robin (who will bullshit me in three languages and tell me that I have to get my rock-star ass back to work).
9. Get in my truck; move to a cabin in Ten Sleep, Wyoming and get a job in the little mom & pop diner there that I like so much. As a side note, the diner has a big, shiny foil star rigged to the ceiling so that every time the door opens, the star drops toward the floor; and when the door closes again, it goes back up. I was charmed by this. When people say, "reach for the stars", I don't think this is what they have in mind. Yet, there you have it - just now, I aspire only to the foil star in the diner in Ten Sleep.
10. Go rent a cottage on the Oregon coast, build a fire in the wood stove watch whales from the window while toasting my toes and (of course) reading a book.

Instead, I shall now spend another hour sorting paperwork; then drag my sorry self to bed, and work on adjusting my attitude. Hot shower. Cozy flannel sheets. Snuggly husband. Five to six hours of precious sleep. A new day starting bright and early at 7:30 AM - that's my first meeting of the day. But it's about immigration policy, so it will be interesting. (OK, this pep talk is getting a little out of hand...) And it's at Frida's Bistro. Maybe there will be food! There will be laughs in the office - as always. There will be my lovely students - as always. And I will look at them and strap on my metaphorical crampons and climb Mount Paperwork one...more...time.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Chapter One

I have started reading the latest selection for our book club: "The Daily Coyote". Maybe I'll enjoy it; or maybe not, 'cause I am already pissed off with this author for stealing my fantasy life from me.
So far (and I'm only at chapter one!), she has bagged her previous life (something I used to do regularly - not anymore) and decided to move to Wyoming. As she writes about this decision in her book, she describes her initial journey through the state and as she begins to rhapsodize about the Bighorns, I found myself thinking, "What if it's Ten Sleep she's going to fall in love with? Ten Sleep is MY secret love!" Sure enough, she decides to settle down in Ten Sleep.
AND she's living in my cabin! With MY woodpile! Sorry my cabin is so blurry. I was photographing the book with my cell phone. I know, I could do better.

Oh! And she's just fallen for a sexy blue-eyed cowboy who fills out his Wranglers like this. Man, that was MY cowboy! Is this what the whole goddamn book is going to be like?