My mom is an angel. Harp included.

mom harp angel

She doesn’t go floating around in a white robe proclaiming that virgins are going to have babies or anything, but she does play the harp.

My mom spends her time making prayer quilts for people who are sick, and baby blankets for practically all of our childhood friends who have had a kid. She volunteers at the library. She’s a nurse. And she’s probably an organ donor. So, she’s pretty close to angel status.

And she had enough love and forgiveness in her heart to write a letter to my friend who is in prison, which somehow gave me permission to finally write my own letter — at least two years after I saw on the news that my old friend had been arrested. Longer than I should have taken to reach out, even if I will never be able to wrap my head around what happened. I’m grateful for my mom’s example of compassion.

I went to see her play harp at her church Sunday for their Christmas service. It is the only kind of church service I can stomach because there is no preaching, only music.

And I was moved by the experience. Hearing all of the voices harmonizing and the orchestra with the Timpani and  the horns and violins all coming together brought a tear to my eye (not actually too difficult a task). I don’t particularly believe in the story they were singing about but it was clear that they did, they were feeling it.

I had a moment where I was able to get outside of myself and acknowledge that it was real for them, and that their belief resulted in them making something beautiful — no matter my opinion of the subject matter. How nice to be able to just accept and appreciate something for a minute, without having to judge it.

How much lighter would I feel if I allowed myself more of those moments of non-judgement? How much looser would my shoulders feel if I could just relax and take stuff in without having to classify it as “right” or “that sh*t ain’t right”, according to me?

You see what happened here, right? I accidentally had a spiritual experience…in CHURCH! Ohhh, the irony. 😉

Thank you, Mom, for being a bad-ass harp-playing angel.

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Random Act of Kindness #2

Random acts of kindness

This week’s RAOK was sponsored by my boyfriend, sweet Dave McKinlay. When I told him about my holiday RAOK intentions for Callie he got really excited and immediately gave me money for the cause.

It turns out that he and his mom already have a long-standing RAOK tradition of their own. He told me that the only gift his mom asks for at Christmas is for him to do something nice for someone else.

So, his doing something nice got multiplied this year since he shared his gift to his mom with me, Callie, and the two migrant families that Callie’s class is buying presents for this year. Each family had 3 kids and we were able to buy a gift for each of them.

And the added, legitimately random, part of the shopping trip occurred when I attempted to use a $10-off coupon. The cashier had a difficult time with it for some reason, took several minutes trying to get it to work, and finally had to switch on the blinking lane light of shame to call the manager over for an override and a small helping of public chastisement.

My face was burning at this point because I felt bad for the people who had the misfortune to get stuck in line behind the lady with the coupon issue. I’m so not a coupon person and this is why, it’s a pain in the ass. But it turned out great because when the cashier finally handed me a ten-dollar bill I just passed it on to the woman behind me in line and said, “Merry Christmas, sorry for your extra wait.”  It was never my ten dollars anyway. 🙂

Thank you to Dave and Dave’s mom for the help with this one!

random act of kindness #2

Random Act of Kindness #1

Random acts of kindness

Random acts of kindnessThis year, for the first time, I’ve decided that my daughter and I are going to do a “Random Act of Kindness” once a week (at least) from Thanksgiving weekend through Christmas. I want her to absorb the idea that Christmas should be more than just getting presents, plus I’ve just always wanted to do something like this.

I discussed it with her this morning and gave the example of putting money in strangers’ parking meters. (Except those seem to all be credit card kiosks now, which kind of takes the magic out of it.) She was immediately on board with the idea.

By the way, I know it would be better if I didn’t broadcast this and just did it anonymously with her, but writing about my life is kind of my thing, and this looks to be a fun endeavor already, so please forgive me. I’m not bragging/showing off/shaming/looking for approval—just sharing my excitement about getting to do this with Callie.

Today we did our first random act of kindness (RAOK). After visiting the Children’s Museum, we walked to lunch downtown at the Taco Bus. On our way there we passed a group of homeless men. She whispered to me, “I just want to give them stuff.”

So, while we ate we decided that we would buy lunch for them and deliver it on the way back to our car. And we did. And the men were polite and thankful and it felt good.

What I hadn’t anticipated was the immediate change in Callie’s perspective. When we left the Kid’s Museum she had been pouting because I wouldn’t let her have gelato before lunch. (I know, I’m a monster. Go ahead and call child services on me.)

But after we bought lunch for those guys she said in the car on the way home, several times, “I had so much fun today. That was fun giving them lunch!”

I felt the same way, it totally made my day.

For our next RAOK, we’re going to make holiday ornaments for our neighbors and anonymously (except for me writing about it here) hang them on their doorknobs.

I’d like to do more of these for people who have less. I don’t have a ton of money to spend though, so we’re brainstorming more ideas that don’t cost a lot. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

It’s Thanksgiving. I’ll bring the pea casserole (that no one likes)

pea casserole

Happy Thanksgiving!

I never get asked to do the turkey for Thanksgiving. I don’t know why…maybe it’s because the one year that I did cook the turkey, I baked it with an unintentional “stuffing” of the plastic bag full of organ meats that comes inserted in the bird. That was a fun surprise at the dinner table!

So, now I usually stick to the simpler items that have less cavities where plastic items could be hiding. The  dish that I’ve been relegated to is the infamous pea casserole.

I think it’s safe to say that this dish, with it’s canned cream of mushroom soup, canned peas, and golden-baked top crust of…Cheez-Its—nope, not a single fresh ingredient—has never graced the front cover of Southern Living.

Here’s the text conversation I had about it with my sister this week.

pea casserole
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Fun new toys and family time at the lake house

Poppi hard at work on another project

Paddleboating on the lakeThe lake house is one of my favorite places on earth. My parents bought it many, many years ago. I remember the day when we went to check it out back in the early 80’s. We were all loaded up in mom’s wood-paneled conversion fan with the awesome couch that folded down into a bed and a refrigerator! Man, if vans didn’t have such a child-molestery, gas guzzley vibe these days I could really go for one of those. But I digress (as usual).

We pulled up to the lake house on our recon mission and there was a big fence with a sign that said “Beware of Dog”. The gate was locked so my dad hopped the fence to go check out the property while we watched from the van. I waited in abject fear for my dad to be viciously mauled by a large, rabid dog. Much to my great relief, there was no actual dog, just a warning sign. I probably shouldn’t have watched Cujo at such an impressionable age. Continue reading

Round 2 ear piercing attempt a roaring success!

Freshly pierced ears!

I took Callie for our 2nd try at getting her ears pierced last weekend. I wrote about the first try here. That attempt ended with her tearfully accusing me of lying to her about how much it might hurt and refusing to go through with it, while I went home with a brand new cartilage piercing that I got to show her how easy and pain free it would be. Backfire.

I wasn’t about to bring up the ear piercing subject again any time soon. But last week, with some encouragement from her grandmother, she decided she was ready to try it again. She psyched herself up all week and put her game face on and I prepared myself to somehow be blamed for whatever happened. Not complaining, I’m just discovering that is often the mom role. I can handle it.

One last look at Callie's unpierced ear.

One last look at Callie’s unpierced ear.

Callie and her Granny picked out her starter earrings, Sapphires, her birthstone. She was giddy with nervous excitement. I was cautiously optimistic that some piercing was actually going to go down this time. The piercer (piercist?) gave her a teddy bear to squeeze and Callie kept a brave smile on her face and only squinted her eyes at the pain as both ears were quickly pierced.

It's a well-known fact that holding a teddy bear boosts bravery.

It’s a well-known fact that holding a teddy bear boosts bravery by at least 75%.

When she realized it was already over, tears started streaming out of her eyes and she said, with just the slightest tinge of hysteria, “These are tears of joy!”

Freshly pierced ears!

Freshly pierced ears!

I have to admit, a few “tears of joy” slipped out of my eyes, too. I was so proud of her. Not for getting her ears pierced, I didn’t really care whether she did that or not. But because I was caught off guard by the glimpse of her strength of character. She faced her fear and did it with a smile. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

The last of our generation of West spawn has been born!

Max and a proud Aunt Fifi (that's my aunt name, it was easier to say than Stephanie)

My new nephew’s name is Maxwell Matthew Bray. Right now he kind of looks like a puffy, red, smooshed-up burrito and I haven’t seen his eyes open yet but I can still tell that he’s going to be a cute one! If his brother and sister are any indication, he’s going to be doing just fine in the looks department.

Maxwell Matthew Bray Born April 30, 2013

Maxwell Matthew Bray
Born April 30, 2013

The last week-and-a-half have been fun family time as we’ve all been chipping in a little to help out with the other two kids in anticipation of his birth. My sister had one false-alarm trip to the hospital last week in which we excitedly gathered and babysat and then Susie and Matt got sent home after a couple of hours. I can’t imagine how disappointing that was!

By the end of my pregnancy I was so ready to have Callie that I was downright ornery. The night I went into labor I yelled at my brother for some offense that I can’t even remember now and cursed my sister-in-law’s name because she had dared to offer her opinion that I wouldn’t have the baby for two more weeks. So I would have pitied the unlucky nurse who tried to turn me away at the hospital.

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Documentary Monday–”Happy”

Happy Documentary cover

It’s Documentary Monday . . . because I have to balance out my reality television viewing with something worthwhile.

For the very first week of Documentary Day on my blog I watched Happy. As the title would seem to imply, it was about the human pursuit of being happy, specifically what makes people happy, and what doesn’t.

Happy begins with the quote, “The Constitution only guarantees the American People the right to pursue happiness. YOU HAVE TO CATCH IT YOURSELF.” –Benjamin Franklin

The movie opens in the slums of Kolkata, India and details the life of a man who is a rickshaw operator and who lives with his family in a hut with a tarp for walls. This guy is extraordinarily happy despite what appears to be dire circumstances. About his home’s wall-lessness he says that they “get a nice breeze” and “have some trouble with the monsoons, but except for that we live well.” That is some serious making-lemonade-out-of-lemons stuff going on right there.

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Family Beach Week

Family at Madeira Beach 2012

The whole crew, Madeira Beach 2012

My family just returned from our annual beach week. Its a time-share that my parents have owned for more than 30 years, we go the same week in August annually and we see the same families there every year, too.

It’s not the ritziest place in the world (but it’s not bad either). The pool does always seems to have an oily quality to it that makes me cringe, but the kids don’t seem to mind. I didn’t when I was a kid either.

Rainbow over Madeira Beach

We have been going there for so many years and have all watched each other grow up, grow old, and a new generation born and toted to the beach. It’s like a family reunion. In fact, many years ago, my mom sat with a woman from Chicago while watching us kids play in the pool and, in talking, they figured out that we were related. Not that distantly either. I love our found-by-a-chance Chicago “cousins”. Seeing them is a highlight of the trip every year. Continue reading

My Big Brother, Tales of Younger Sibling Survival

snap n pop photo

My older brother sparked (no pun intended) a memory the other day when he forwarded me this image.

Ahhhh…good old snap n’ pops. One time he made me eat one. I’m not kidding.

He is three years older than me and as a kid I always wanted to hang out with him. He, understandably, was not as thrilled to have his little sister always trying to tag along with him and his friends. He was passably nice to me most of the time but he was prone to bouts of big brother bullying. He was a boy, that’s what they do.

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