Scattered Thoughts that are Sorta Year in Review

More than once over the past weeks, the writer John Scalzi has noted that what makes 2016 a particular flaming trash heap (or is it just “dumpster fire” there a consensus on the term yet?) is that it all started out very hopeful.


Personally, I’d been feeling a bit stuck for awhile, but hopeful that I was breaking out of it. And 2016 was a lesson about quicksand – the more you struggle, the faster you sink.

That’s an exaggeration. I haven’t been sinking. I’ve been struggling with the idea that I’m Not Doing Enough. And the more I Do, the more I see there Is to Do and I am just not satisfied.  It is a very bad trap and The Election made it worse.

Side Note: If this really is the end of the world as we know it, this past election will be The Election the same way 1986 was The Super Bowl.

Meet more people. Learn (and relearn) the issues. Get out into the community. Do more to earn my paycheck. Support more causes.

It occurred to me at the bar on NYE that “drink more vodka” somehow hadn’t made the cut in 2016.

The most frustrating conversation I had with a Trump voter was while talking about Chicago and Springfield. When I said, “OK, so what is the answer? What do we do?” He said, “There isn’t anything we can do. So I’m taking care of my own family and that’s it.”  I can’t live with that.

Grateful.  Purposeful.  Kind.  Inclusive.  I’m not doing anything particularly well because I’ve spread myself thin.  I am reminded of a conversation I once had where a friend noted that he thinks he wants time alone but is actually happiest when he is busy and I laughed because I think I want to GoGoGo but am really happiest when I am drinking coffee and reading.

The thing is, Election Day was a game changer.  I don’t have the answers but I know I can’t be sitting out the next rounds.  I’m going to have to work on balance.  Scott Smith, who is one of my favorite people to follow on Twitter, had a great thought (the second one..I still can’t make this Embed Twitter thing work properly):

“We’ve got this,” is going to be my 2017 mantra.

Volunteer Gig: Feed My Starving Children

It’s called Feed My Starving Children, which is a bit of a turnoff for me (Note:  Not sure if it is the word “my” or the word “starving”.  Wouldn’t “Feed the Children” have been enough?). But my co-workers like it a lot so when there a group volunteer session was scheduled at the office this week, I signed up.

FMSC organizes volunteers to package meals – specially formulated for maximum nutrition – to partners around the world who distribute them to children who are literally starving. There is a location right near my office and volunteers are organized every day in two hour shifts. Food is scooped into the bags, weighed, sealed, boxed and labeled for shipment. The meals we packaged were rice-based with soy protein and added vegetables and vitamins. It looked like your average pre-packed rice dishes from the grocery store.

It starts with a video of what we were going to do and why. The instructions are simple and clear and there are cheat sheets at the tables. Then we were sent to wash hands before starting.

Everyone sort of gets into a rhythm and it is funny because someone will eventually need to change jobs. For example, my hands cramped with the cups that scoop the soy and rice. Then everyone switches places and the rhythm is all messed up. But there were lots of laughs and music playing and the staff is really efficient, which is great.

We had a group of kids on the shift with us. Many of them had been there before and were excited to contribute, which is always nice to see. When Time is called, there are specific instructions for cleanup, which goes very quickly. Then there is a closing video and optional prayer circle. I don’t go for prayer circles so I went browsing in their gift shop, which is filled with handmade free trade items from the countries FMSC serves.

Best part:FMSC Impacr 7 2015

The session’s impact report.  I’d do it again.

The Least I Can Do

The news broke last night that a Grand Jury determined not to indict the officer that shot Michael Brown to death in Ferguson, Missouri.  At about the same time, Marissa Alexander accepted a plea deal in Florida.  Ms. Alexander was facing decades in prison for firing a warning shot – hurting no one – at her abusive husband.  Her case has been held up in contrast to both George Zimmerman’s in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin a few years ago and this recent case in Ferguson.  As you can imagine, both my Facebook and Twitter feeds are flooded with..conversation.  In a lot of ways, these cases demonstrate the title of this blog.  And with all of my white privilege, I have a sense of despair.  But I am trying to listen more than I talk.

24 hours later, Ferguson is still burning and there have been a lot of suggestions tossed around about What We Can Do.  One that I saw more than once was something like, “Ferguson schools are closed today, but its library is open. Donate to help the community.”  Now you all know I am in favor of voting with my pocketbook, and I think libraries are the cornerstone of civilization.  But somehow, my head keeps going back to Marissa Alexander.

Domestic violence.  Self-defense.  Stand your ground.  Oh, how I hate guns.

Crowdrise, my favorite online giving tool, is having a – very well sponsored – fundraising campaign over the holiday season.   I used it to donate to the WINGS Program.

The WINGS Program is “one of the largest domestic violence service and housing providers in the state of Illinois.  Single women and women with children are able to receive temporary safe shelter through WINGS housing while staff provides one-on-one, individualized assistance that allows women to set personal goals that will enable them to work, continue their education, and care for themselves and their children.

Instead of fighting racism, I am helping women.  Instead of helping Ferguson, I am going local.  But this Thanksgiving week, this is where I can find some meaning in the madness.  I hope you can find some, too.


I’m Calling It

I think it is finally safe to say the Winter is over.   File under “Grateful”.  (Watch it start to snow now.)

The residual trauma for me came out this weekend as I spent every free minute outside:

Yesterday, I woke up early and took a walk to Starbucks.  Then I played in the backyard with my dogs.  Then I ran my errands, making a point to stop at the outdoor mall near my brother’s house.  Then we went to Ainslie’s t-ball game.

Ainslie is five years old and if she understood the concept would probably self-identify as a dancer.  But her best friend was going to be the only girl on the t-ball team, so Ainslie said she would play.  The poetry there is there was a mix up when the teams were formed and the girls are not on the same team.  But a little boy from Ainslie’s class is there, so she is fine.  According to my mother, she had a rough go in her first game but yesterday was her third and I thought she looked great.  She always knew where the ball was and showed great hustle.  In fact, her father/my brother noted that for someone with such tiny legs, she was really fast.


Heading for 1st


After the game, they headed to five o’clock mass, so I headed home.  It should be noted that my sister-in-law, Becky, was doing a 5K this morning and then the kids had more baseball games.   When I got to the house, I looked at my watch and decided I’d better go take another walk because it was going to rain today.  So I did.

Then this morning, the sky looked clear so I took the dogs to the park.  Because the rain was coming.  Then I went to yoga and ran some errands and then came home.  I looked at my watch and looked at the sky and decided I’d better take another walk before the rain came.  I went by my elementary school and saw this:


Buddy Bench


I’ve heard of these things at the playground – where a kid can go if he or she feels lonely to buddy up with another kid.  A lovely idea.  I do not think for a second that it would have worked when I went to that school.  Here’s hoping a new generation does a better job taking care of each other.

When I got home, it was time to let the birds out for their play time so my mother took the dogs upstairs.  I thought, “I’m just going to sit outside with a book until it starts raining.”  For two hours.  God knows what Kiwi was getting into while I was sitting outside, but I was not wasting a single minute.  It finally started raining.  For ten minutes.

I could almost do this every weekend.

The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin

Book 36

I have a lot of other books to log, but there was a passage from this one that I don’t want to forget.  So:

I have been sort of meditating on the concept of happiness for awhile.  Personal fulfillment and the meaning of life or whatever.  One of the perils of not having children is that the answer to the question, “What is the purpose of my life?” is not a no-brainer.

I don’t have the world’s best life, but it has been ridiculously privileged so I have come to the conclusion that it would be an insult to the Whatever High Atop the Thing to fritter it away being cranky about my utterly first world problems.

Gretchen Rubin started The Happiness Project with a similar line of thinking.  Married with two kids, in Manhattan, professional writer, functional relationships with the families and solid friendships.  But she too often felt irritable or guilty or insecure – and that she didn’t spend enough time focusing on the great things in her life.

Yeah, Hello!

Rubin spent a year reading books and trying different things and coming to lots of conclusions.  Common themes involved Act the way you want to feel and Making others happy will make you happy.

True and True.

She was very systematic about the whole thing and made a whole lot of resolutions with varying degrees of success.  There were several times in the book where I just wanted to slap her, but really?  I can’t judge.  I totally get the being irritable over nonsense.  You should see me on Palatine Road about 4pm.  Every damn day.

So good on her for recognizing and trying to change this thing she didn’t like about herself.  And Holy Good for putting it out there where the judgy people are going to judge.   Anyway, this was the passage:

“…We nonjoyous types suck energy and cheer from the joyous ones; we rely on them to buoy us with their good spirit and to cushion our agitation and anxiety.  At the same time, because of a dark element in human nature, we’re sometimes provoked to try to shake the enthusiastic, cheery folk out of their fog of illusion – to make them see that the play was stupid, the money was wasted, the meeting was pointless.  Instead of shielding their joy, we blast it.  Why is this?  I have no idea.  But that impulse is there.”

I don’t know that I am ever going to be a Joyous Person, but damned if I am going to be the one to suck the energy and cheer from those that are.


Part of my short term treatment is self-administered shots.  Not pleasant.  They are the same shots, actually, that I gave my mother a couple of years ago after she had surgery.  To prevent the condition that I have now, incidentally.  I remember having a hard time believing that she couldn’t manage to give them to herself.  She reminded me that I was squeamish about giving Vitamin B shots to the dog.  Point.

Tangent – I did a whole bunch of anecdotal research on this phenomenon and found that everyone has a different combination of self/other people/pets where they they thought they could or could not manage to give injections of medication.  I felt much better.  Anyway.

I remember whining on Facebook about having to give these shots to my mother.  And demanding sympathy.  My Facebook friends came through with all kinds of sympathy.  In fact, the first two responders were:

B, whose mother had recently been diagnosed with early onset dementia.  And whose father had been diagnosed with lung cancer.  And:

A, who is a cancer survivor and has been giving himself injections ever since.


So tonight, as I was breaking out the syringe and alcohol wipes, I told myself that this is temporary.  And I am grateful.

A Tiny Sparkle of Hope

I have mentioned this several times to my Facebook friends – I very much appreciate the people that work on holidays.  New Year’s in particular is one in which most of the world is closed for business, but I was pretty sure that Five Guys would be open so I headed over for a burger.  I found myself walking in behind two college-age young men. One was swearing at someone on his cell phone because someplace he had tried to visit earlier was closed.  The other hacked a big loogie and spit right in front of me as he held the door open.


Then, after they placed their orders, one of them said to the guy at the register, “Hey, man.  I really appreciate that you are open today.”

And my cold heart was warmed.

I added my thanks when it was my turn to order.  And seriously.  My hat is off to anyone on duty today.

P.S.  I was the only customer in the restaurant not in a pack of hungover kids.