Saturday, November 29, 2014

Using the Charity Navigator to Test My Favorite Charities

I know that we should give to charity all year long, but we don't keep up that energy sometimes. So maybe it's good that there is a season. And this is the season.

My husband and One year, my husband donated our old Tahoe. It ran, but barely, and it leaked big time so there was a family of mushrooms growing in the back by the tail gate. He donated it to the Humane Society. Think of all the care and kibbles that went to dogs and cats and even Guinea pigs because of that stupid old truck. Then, he found out that he could have donated it to the Boy Scouts. That's good too, but the new truck pays homage to the Boy Scouts even now. Last week, five Scouts and some dads hoofed it in that Suburban down to Ape caves. Mike said I would have liked these big open caves, but that they were all wondering when they discovered that there were some sulfurous vents when you went deep. I'm not sure I'd want to be deep in a cave with gasses leaking into it. There could be red hot lava right behind. What a way to go, if you have to die anyway.

So we give a lot of time and a fair amount of money to the Boy Scouts. It's nice to actually see what our work does for the boys. Last week, at the planning meeting, five Scouts said they wanted to do another fifty-mile backpacking trip. That's what they did last summer, hiked for five days in the Olympic National Forest. That is so good for a soul, being among those trees. It's a way to become an environmentalist without all the lecturing. Plus, it's so incredibly good for their fitness and ability to cope. Even I'm going to benefit by trying to be ready to go if they need me at the last minute next year.

We also donate to our church who sponsors the Mt. Si Food Bank. It's all very local. Very local. I have heard of some families talk about how it got them through a hard season in their lives. Sometimes I wonder, though, if the increase in homelessness isn't linked to that free food. It's never simple, is it.  Believe that the food pantry does more good than harm. Just believe it. Feed the hungry.

I also like the Heifer International. You can send a gift card to a friend saying that you gave bunnies to a family. You can even order a water buffalo, you know, the ones with horns that look like they're wearing a terrible hairstyle parted in the middle. I think I used to have a grade school picture like that before I went back to cutting my bangs. No, I won't post that picture. You can give goats and chickens and books or just plain money to the places where they are needed most. I like giving bunnies.

One site that I use a lot when someone is hawking a new charity to me over the phone is the Charity Navigator. People call and I tell them that I'll look them up on the Charity Navigator, but that I don't give money when it's solicited over the phone. Some people are really nice, even excited that I'm doing it this way, indirect. I'm more certain that my money is going where they say it's going. Other callers hang up on me before I get a chance to tell them to take me off their list. I know where they'll turn up on the Charity Navigator.

Go ahead. Give it a shot. Do you dare look up your favorite charities on the Charity Navigator? I looked up the Heifer International and it didn't look as good as other charities. Oh, it's that cute catalog with all the pictures of kids holding books and bunnies, or hugging their new goats. It's the photos of water buffalos with their perpetual bad-hair days. I'm still putting them down as a favorite anyway.

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Snooping Through Lyrics

I can't believe how much easier it is with my boy Nick now that I'm not quite the big crabby menopausal bitch that I was. I feel calmer with him, happier, able to let go of order when it is obvious that chaos and teenagers go together like hamburgers and French fries, Diet Coke and York peppermint patties, tomatoes and basil. I wanted to say Simon and Garfunkel, but that would have dated me. So would Seals and Croft. What about Jerry and Elaine? Yup.

Oh, I am getting old. And I'm tired.

Teddy is asking if I'll go to bed so he can trade in that warm spot on the carpet for his own bed at the foot of mine. Sorry, hon. I know I should go, but I can't. Not yet.

I've been listening to music with Nick in the car. Some of it is quite good. I was worried there for a while. I thought Nick would never connect with music. Finally, he's daydreaming to it the way I was sure he needed to in order to survive puberty. We listen in the car together on the way home from karate and on the way to school. Sometimes I ask him, during commercials, whether or not he likes the song he just heard. There are no lectures, thankfully. Yes, even I get sick of my own lectures. Music doesn't need that. It's either a balm, a release, an alignment, or we change the station. Tonight, he wrote down a list of his new favorite songs so he can load them onto his iPod. He says he can't find his charger for his iPod, but it'll turn up. He'll get it set up. People, this is the music that will be playing in elevators in the year 2043. Listen up.

Rockin Beats by Chemical Brothers
Centuries by Fall Out Boy 'I could scream forever, we are the poisoned youth'
Happy Idiot by TV on the Radio 'I'm going to bang my head to the wall 'til I feel nothing at all'
Titanium by David Guetta, 'shoot me down but I won't fall, I am titanium'
 Radioactive by Imagine Dragons
Pompeii by Bastille 'and the walls kept tumbling down in the city that we loved'

You know, I love listening to this stuff with Nick, but the lyrics to these songs are pretty intense. Oh forget it. I was young once. Sometimes I forget that. I listened to stuff that would have raised the hairs on the back of my mother's neck if she'd only listened to what the musicians were saying.

Pink Floyd said 'we don't need no thought control, no dark sarcasm in the class room.'
Black Sabbath said 'nobody wants him, he just stares at the world, planning his vengeance that he will soon unfurl.'
The Eagles sang 'you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.'
Elton John said 'think I'm going to kill myself, cause a little suicide.'

I don't know why but that last one was a personal favorite. If my mother had listened to the lyrics of that song, would she have wondered at the volume with which I sang? Would she have called the school counselor, tried to ban it from the radio, forbid me to listen? I don't think my mother had that much time or energy. I was the third child in a complicated life. Maybe that was a good thing. When I became a teenaged girl, I prayed not to get her attention most of the time. It must be hard for Nick, to be an only child. There hasn't been another place for our attention and he endures it.

So in an effort to let him grow unhindered, I'm going to ignore the lyrics to his new favorite songs. He needs me to give advice about managing his time sometimes. He needs a push to do chores and to get started on homework. He does not need me snooping through the lyrics to his favorite music.

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, November 17, 2014

Perspective and Folding Laundry

I have just put my guys to bed and here I am, not quite comfortable with the black in the window in front of me, the abyss. We've talked about the abyss, haven't we? I've told you that my abyss isn't me looking down into a deep crevasse from above. It's being at the bottom, pressed by tons of dirt and rock with no hope of being able to turn over, let alone leave.

Things with my family are good. I remind myself that they really are. We're all relatively healthy. We don't have to worry too much about money or retirement or school. Oh, Nick has some drama, either friends he can't see because they're grounded too long or something with a teacher assigning too much homework. Yet, I have more trouble on these days when I have stayed home and cleaned up a bit instead of taking Teddy for a walk in the open air, instead of going for my daily constitutional. Even a half hour outside revives me as nothing else does. Somehow I convinced myself, while searching for my favorite pair of socks in the rubble we call clean laundry, that I needed to fold clothes until I was done folding. I did need to fold clothes. Nothing screams of tedium like folding clothes. Nothing dulls my brain as easily.

Unfortunately, my shoulder still complains when I fold clothes and I needed to sit down and ice it for a while after I was done. Oh, I figure I'm doing decent things for myself, trying to get my shoulder working instead of babying it. My physical therapist said not to baby it. That includes folding clothes. I would guess it includes vacuuming too. Well, no one else is vacuuming. That's the real reason I need to, because no one else is doing it.

One of Nick's friends came over for the afternoon last Saturday. It was a nice afternoon. They played video games, shot up our pumpkins with Nick's bow and arrows, and played with Teddy in the yard. This boy was supposed to go out to dinner for his aunt's birthday afterward.

And he was covered in dog hair. It was embarrassing.

That's the problem at my house. When I vacuum, it looks like I threw a whole cat into the garbage after I'm done. Teddy is furry. And he lets go of his fur easily.

It wasn't his mom who was looking at all that fur on this boy's clothing as they were leaving. It was the boy himself.

That's what was so embarrassing.

Note to self: when a thirteen year old boy thinks your floor is dirty, it's past time to vacuum, pain or no pain. Actually, I should have had Nick vacuum. It should have been a condition of his being allowed to have his friend over.


This is what happens when I don't take a walk, when I don't get any fresh air, when my brain hasn't engaged properly. I bore you! I bore myself!

Isn't there anything more interesting to tell you? This is my life, or part of it. It's boring. It's difficult to train a teenaged boy to help out when he just wants a break after a week of school. Our lives, some days, seem like a string of mundane chores from which we can't escape. For me, it's laundry again. Dishes again. Dinner again. Thousands of minute complaints that, by themselves, don't add up to anything much, but together leaves a soul in the bottom of a cavern under tons of rubble with no way to get out. 

Until I look for the joy, find the beauty, until I stand on my back deck with warm water in a bowl to melt the ice out of the birdbath. The chickadees had followed me to my car on my way to drive Nick to school in the morning. They had asked so sweetly for a drink. I had almost forgotten about the chickadees. And really, with a different attitude, I can see beauty in doing those dishes, the glow of a gleaming kitchen. I find satisfaction in finding the match for that last sock. As Nick was putting away his clothes, I remembered how, when we were shopping for new clothes for school, Nick mentioned how I can hold up a shirt and flick it into a neatly folded pile. Yes, I can do that. It's like making a pretzel, a miracle until you know the trick of the flick. And there is the warmth of giving a healthy meal to a growing teenaged boy and hearing him grunt with pleasure as he chews.

There was a place that Mike and I used to love to visit years ago, The Honey Bear Bakery. It was near Green Lake in Seattle and sometimes Mike would send me there so I could bring the best for him to share at a meeting for work. Sometimes I'd buy a dozen pumpkin muffins. The cashiers always seemed surprised, as though most people should only order a muffin and some coffee then sit to read the newspaper for an hour.

Remember reading the newspaper?

But even landmarks go away and I was sad to find, one day, that The Honey Bear Bakery with it's waving wooden bear at the entrance, was no more. It was closed, condemned, gone.

One of the things I remember seeing at The Honey Bear Bakery, as I read a piece from the newspaper or scribbled in my notebook, was a plaque on the wall near the basin for dirty dishes. It said, "Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water."

That is it, isn't it?

Doing dishes, folding laundry, cooking meals. I'll have to do it anyway. And when I do it well, see my life the way I know I can, I see it as a way to make something clean, accessible, beautiful, even if I know I'll have to wash and fold and cook all over again tomorrow.

It is so hard to stay enlightened, isn't it?

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Humans Can't Understand Basic Communication

When I got home, the cat came running at me the way a dog would. I petted him, glad that someone was happy to see me. He followed me from room to room, meowing in a demanding way. I took some extra time to pet him and tell him that I missed him too, even though I hadn't even been gone longer than three hours.

After a bit of that, I tried to walk away. I was hungry. It was time for lunch. As I walked away, one claw caught in my sweater.

"Wow. You really missed me," I said, pressing is fur back from his face to see the tiny kitty bones in all of his ruff. He didn't quite look pleased about this treatment, but he accepted the massage that I offered.

I read that even stroking a cat can release oxytocin, a hormone that makes you feel all homey and connected and relieves pain. I wondered if it did that for the cat too.

Then, I went into the kitchen to make lunch. The cat tried to grab my hand as I went, but I was too quick for him. In the kitchen, I turned around after getting the microwave packet out of the freezer and there he was, alert and staring at me intently.

"You want a cookie? Is that what you want?" The dog ran into the kitchen at the sound of the word 'cookie.' It was snack time. Everyone performed their tricks, even the cat, though I could see that praying for his treat is not exactly high on his dignity scale.

After that, but before I nuked my lunch, I was distracted by the cat peeling out on the vinyl flooring and racing across the living room carpet.

"You want to play? Ah, you have a lot of energy for an old cat. Sure, I'll play with you," I said. He raced around as I thwapped the carpet with the fake mouse on a string. He liked it best when I tried to hide the thing in the blanket on the floor. He pounced, caught the mouse, and paraded it in his mouth with me still holding on as if I were on a leash.

Still hungry, I put the toy down and went back into the kitchen to look at the frozen block of material I was eventually going to eat. The directions on the cardboard box said five minutes, stir, and three more on high. Our microwave, something that came with us when we moved, before we had the house, before we were even married, the one that had been dinging on our counters for the past twenty-seven years, would require twenty minutes of irradiating microwaves before it could cook my frozen lunch block. I never get warm when I stand close, but I still hope I'm not being microwaved along with my lunch by leaking microwaves. Where is all that power going, anyway?

The cat stood in his cookie spot, just staring at me intensely.

"You want another cookie? I'm sorry honey. If I give you too many, you'll throw up." He stared, only momentarily indicating a level of stupidity on my part. I wasn't getting something. Finally, as if trying to make a point to one who is very slow, he walked deliberately toward his water dish.

The bowl had only a bit of water in the bottom. It wasn't quite dry, but to the cat, that's like leaving a person in Death Valley for a week without shoes.

"Oh!" I said, finally getting it. "You needed water. Oh you poor baby."

'Oh you thick-headed servant,' he seemed to say after taking two delicate sips of fresh water, flicking his tail, and walking away with it high in the air. I haven't seen hide nor hair of him since.

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, November 10, 2014

Subtext Guilt

I was telling Mike today that I felt like what I was doing is always inadequate. I'm barely keeping up with all the stuff on my todo list.

I'm not keeping up with Boy Scout stuff either. I spent four meetings with a group of boys to work on a merit badge and only two of the ten boys came to me with the little blue cards to sign even though I've reminded them at subsequent meetings at least four times. Even Nick hasn't asked me to sign his little blue card. Mike says they might have to do the work all over again if they lose their worksheets or I forget who did what or both before they arrive with those little blue cards. Not once during the four meetings were the same group of boys there except for Nick. Mike keeps telling me not to push the boys, that they'll realize their mistake at some point and come running to me to finish the merit badge. Yet it's all so demoralizing, this inability to get it finished with any of them.
Over the weekend, I had to sterilize a whole crate of pots and pans from the last campout in September. Everything in it had mildewed. It was so moldy it was hard to breathe, plus, bleach hurts my lungs ever since an unfortunate experience in my chemistry lab in college when the teacher's assistant assumed that everyone in the class understood the definition of 'waft.' It wasn't my job to unload this crate of moldy gear, but I'm the default sterilizer and the one who manages filthy stuff in general. I also haven't managed to run around to get signatures the way Mike asked me to do when he left for camp. It's someone else's job to get these signatures, but that volunteer is out of the country on a business trip, so it has become my job. Default volunteer

Yesterday, I didn't remind Nick to do his chores. I didn't push him to do the extra stuff he could do to earn cash for Christmas either, and I didn't, in fact, get him to do anything away from the television at all. I didn't walk Teddy either. Teddy's due for a walk today, overdue, in fact.

There are appointments I'm procrastinating. I'm over two years late for my mammogram. Who wants to have a mammogram anyway and until recently, I wouldn't have been able to raise my arm high enough to do it because of my shoulder injury. That doesn't account for all two years of being delayed, but I'm using it. It's a good all-around excuse and I'm using it. I'm using it for my delayed colonoscopy too, not to mention that summer was extraordinarily busy and who knows what was going on before that.

I also agreed to write a blurb for the local newspapers about a Boy Scout tree recycling event that will happen after New Year's Day. It's due in two days and I'll have to pass it back and forth in email to get it approved. Who can think that far in advance? Christmas? New Years? I haven't even caught up with birthdays from August! I'm telling you that I'm behind

I haven't called the roofers to get the garage fixed yet. I can't even remember what else I haven't done. See, I have a pile on the dining room table, which is actually in the living room, where all the stuff is put that we don't feel like putting away, or we don't know where away is for that particular item. Okay, I'll admit that I have three piles on the table at this point, most of which is a pet project of mine that I haven't even looked at in over a month. Yes, I need to go through my piles to figure out what I've forgotten to do and what I still have a chance to get done before deadlines pass.

This morning, I was texting Mike that Nick was nervous about doing the flag ceremony in the school assembly today.

"So you stayed for the ceremony? Good," he responded.

"No. I hadn't showered yet. I just met with Jack's wife to get the paperwork he needed to get signed and her son hadn't remembered his uniform." Why do I feel responsible for this kid forgetting his uniform? Why?

"Ah, okay," he replied. I wondered if there was a subtext in that message, the one that said I should have stayed to watch my boy in action. Mike doesn't usually talk in subtext, but I'm well trained, having been raised by a woman who could compliment me with words and make me feel inadequate with her tone of voice at the same time.

"Just my usual bumblings. Not the good mom, if ever. If Nick had asked me to stay, I would have." That's my excuse and I'm sticking with it.

"Oh, okay. Don't sweat it."

"Just feeling inadequate," I said, still feeling pressure about all this huge list of stuff I haven't done.

"That's the normal state of parenting, in case you didn't know. If there were a Hallmark card that said you were doing an adequate job, I'd buy you that card."

I laughed. There is always so much to do and never enough time or other volunteers to do it. I sent back one more note to Mike. I could see him finding a card for me like that. I would either burst into tears upon opening it, or, in the right spirit of things, I'd laugh until I cried and my sides hurt. I'd like to think I would laugh, getting a card like that from Mike, who isn't good at delivering subtext guilt.

"Thank you. I could use a card like that."

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Moon Shadow

I watched Peter Pan tonight. If I hadn't turned out the TV and the lights, I would never have seen the moon's shadow. 

The wind is gone and branches hang, quiet in a dim glow. My eyes adjust until the night looks bright and headlights along the highway beacon yellow beams. 

The roof line is marked on the lawn. Shadows of trees and bushes are drawn there too. 

I can almost imagine my shadow, perched on an edge, legs hidden, hanging from gutters, arms stretching out across reflected sky, as if I might manage to fly. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, November 3, 2014

Love, Rinse, Repeat

I read on the computer more than I used to. Oh sure, I look at my fair share of funny cat pictures and cars sliding on ice. Did you see this one, where the cars on the hill were sliding down the lane like a bowling ball chasing after ten pins? There are some pretty good parallel parking ones videos too. I would have put the link up for one of the funny parallel parking videos, but I was offended that so many of them were titled them 'Women Can't Park' when it isn't always obvious just who's driving that car. I tell you that I can parallel park my car better than most men. I can even parallel park on the left side, which is an accomplishment for those of us who drive on the right side most of the time.

YouTube videos are good, but I actually read content on my computer too. Today, I procrastinated my work and my walk by reading my favorite bloggers. I've told you about The Bloggess, haven't I? A lot of hers are comic classics even when she just wrote them last week.

But I've noticed something. Some of my favorite writers have issues with anxiety and depression. There's The Bloggess, HeyNatalieJean, and Jane Kenyan. I love Kenyan's book 'Otherwise.' It's just beautiful, despite its melancholy.

So, the thing that made a difference today was a post by Natalie. She wrote about an anxiety attack. Especially when I read through to the end. It made a difference for me.

Oh, I don't suffer from depression. I wouldn't trivialize the pain, numbness, or fear that people with depression or anxiety have by calling my blue day a depression. I'll admit that I have insomnia and there's always more anxiety at 3am than in daylight. But it wouldn't be fair to call it depression when I have one of those days that's just off.

Today was a blue Monday for me though. The only excuse I had was that I didn't get out for a walk in the rain the way I should have. Every time I walk, even when I don't feel like it, I come home nearly elated by the freshness and the beauty of the green around me. Today, I dragged my feet, procrastinated my work, and my poor Teddy is pacing now that it's too dark out to go. It's also the beginning of the dark days. I forgot about the challenge of walking my dog early throughout the dark days.

So, the cool thing about Natalie's post. Remember Natalie's post? She wrote about what gets her through an anxiety attack. As I read, I figured that she'd write something about breathing or focusing or music on her iPhone or something like that. I thought to myself that everyone has different methods to get through stuff and it's never the same for any one person. I was ready to read what she wrote and let it go like a half a million ideas that I've read in blogs and books and magazines in my lifetime.

But her method is good. She said she thinks about love. She looks at someone, pictures them as an infant in her arms, and she imagines the love flowing from her to them. Not from them toward her, but the other way around. The love comes from inside her and flows out and that makes her feel better.

Now, that's good. That's something that could work for any of us. It could work for me. Any time. Over and over, like the repetition of washing dishes. Love, rinse, repeat.

Love, rinse, repeat.

Thank you for listening, jb