Dec 28, 2011 - Domestic Engineering    No Comments

The gifts that keep giving: Reverb Broads 2011 #24 & 25

Reverb Broads 2011, December 24: Name your top 5 best holiday gifts given or received. Who gave it to you? Who were you giving it to? Why was it memorable? (courtesy of Kassie at and December 25: Silent Sunday–Just post a picture that represents your day.

It’s not that I don’t love getting presents, or that I don’t get awesome ones from the folks who love me. But the most memorable Christmases have been the ones when I really nailed it with a gift for someone else. Those moments are the Holy Grail of gift giving for me, and I’ve drunk from the cup a time or two.

My most triumphant moment as a gift giver was my first Christmas home from college. Lawrence, KS is a great, quirky town with an awesome downtown shopping and eating district on Massachusetts Avenue. And for the first time, since I was living away from home, I didn’t have to worry about hiding presents–I was practically drunk with the freedom. That year, I found the perfect things for absolutely everyone in my family. They weren’t big or extravagant, but they were Exactly Right.

My grandpa used to take us for nature walks in the birch woods on the cliffs along Lake Michigan, so I got him a little birch bark box. I filled it with the kind of jelly beans he used to eat by the pound on all the road trips we took. I got my grandma gorgeous smelling handmade soaps. She liked them so much, she announced to everyone that she “would keep them with her undies” so they smelled nice; they stayed in that drawer for years.

I’d found a picture of Brandon Lee as The Crow at an on-campus art sale earlier that fall, and I picked up a silver frame with cutouts that showed through the black velvet backing board in a cool geometric pattern around the photo. My hardcore little sister practically swooned. I got my mom a special release Enya Christmas CD that she played all vacation. And I’m sure the presents for my brother and my dad were awesome too, but the snot monsters occupying my brain at the moment are blocking my recall.

I just remember smiling nonstop and basking in the glow of everyone’s enjoyment. They were clever, thoughtful gifts that let them know I’d been thinking of them, even while I was away in the exciting whirl of my first college semester, and I knew they would think of me when they saw those things after I’d gone back to school.

I’ve scored a few more precise hits over the years, and I love pulling off the “but how I didn’t I can’t even” surprises. My kids are incredibly gratifying recipients, too–all the manners and graciousness that eludes them in most of their day-to-day life flows freely as they gush and hug and adore every little thing, even the duplicates and the obviously lame. But never since have I managed such a perfect storm of intention and execution. How I love to keep trying, though.

This year's entry for Memorable Gift: Connor and his create-your-own-Sonic Screwdriver kit

Dec 27, 2011 - Game Theory    6 Comments

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner: Reverb Broads 2011 #22

Reverb Broads 2011, December 22: If someone made a board game of your life, what would it look like? What pieces would you need to play? (courtesy of ME)

I’m a gamer, married to a game designer, and this is my prompt–it’s pretty unforgivable that I’m late in responding to it. If it were a game based on my life today, though, it would be Attack of the Alien Snot Invaders, and the object of the game would be to string two coherent thoughts together through the stuffed-up haze I’m in.

But I can do better than that. And while I love Niki’s answer of Calvinball, I can think of a few specific design features that capture some of the skills it takes to navigate my life.

• Every color on the board is assigned a different color word. If you call a space by the wrong color word, all the assigned color words change.

• The board looks like the one for Life, but the college portion takes up half the board, and you get nothing (at least in-game) for making it through.

• Every three minutes, you roll a die. If it comes up odd, you answer an extremely random trivia question. If it comes up even, you have to recall the location of a vital object belonging to another player. If you fail either of these tasks, a ninja sneaks up behind you and blows an air horn in your ear.

• Every five minutes, you have to complete a task of mental or physical dexterity. You can’t move forward until you successfully accomplish it. Once you’ve managed to do it, it’s assumed that you can do it again anytime, so dexterity challenges stack every time you’re assigned a new one.

• If you want to choose which space you’re going to move to next, you have to make another player guess a movie title. You may either draw something using only one straight line and one circle, or you may say one, and only one, word, as many times or ways as you like.

• At random intervals, a midget runs up and smashes your fingers with a meat tenderizer, just to keep the pain fresh and unpredictable.

• At a different random interval, other midgets run up. They may smother you with affection, or scream dire imprecations. There’s no way to know which it’s going to be until they’re already in your lap.

• Other players earn points by piling crap in your play space.

• The other player you like best has to play from a different room. You may text all you want, but while you text, more crap piles up.

• Every time you ask for a moment of quiet to think about your next move, someone inserts ten spaces into the board between you and the next designated rest space.

• There’s no compensation structure, but every ten minutes, someone compliments 1) your hair color, 2) your grammar, or 3) the least important thing you’re doing at the time.

I’m sure Hasbro will jump all over this, so buy stock in ProfBanks Games now!



Teach Me to Teach You: Reverb Broads 2011 #21 & 23

Reverb Broads 2011, December 21: If you returned (or went, if you’ve never been) to college to study anything you want, what would you major in, and why? (courtesy of Matt at and December 23: If you could have any job, what would it be? (courtesy of Dana at

I am a teacher, simply put. Whatever I learn, I want to share with others–family and friends would probably agree that this happens whether they want it to or not. I wasn’t able to finish my doctorate at the university where I took my comprehensive exams, so if I could go back to college, my first priority would be completion of a degree to get me back into a classroom. I’ve been able to teach without the Ph.D., but adjunct teaching positions are both underpaid and insecure, and with so many Ph.D.s on the market right now, the few colleges hiring these days can choose applicants with doctorates, when previously they would have to offer a professorship to lure them in.

While the Ph.D. would be nice, because I really do prefer to teach at the college level, I’m not opposed to the idea of teaching high school, especially French. I substitute-taught for a few years, and I enjoyed those days in the French classroom far more than I expected to. My only reservation is whether my body could hack the physical demands of a schoolteacher’s schedule, but I’ve considered more than a few times the possibilities of getting certified. Honestly, it’s only the financial investment that’s prevented me from doing so.

I’m trained as a historian, and I love ferreting stories out of disparate records, but it’s all so I can tell those stories to others. Since the sources I’m most interested in are from other times and places, I think of languages as lock picks; the more tools I have, the more stories I can unlock. My B.A. is in French, which I’ve been learning since I was 11, and I’m still reasonably fluent despite the fifteen years since my last stay in a Francophone country. I also studied Latin for several years, a necessary exercise for any medievalist. Between those two and a good dictionary, I’ve got 50-75% comprehension of written or spoken Spanish and Italian, though I don’t have the grammar or vocab to form replies. Additionally, I can decipher texts in other languages I’ve studied: German, Anglo-Saxon, Old French (very different from the modern version), Old Irish, and Modern Welsh.

I could go to school from now until the day I die and not learn all the languages I would like to. I can’t be the only person with two wish lists of languages: the ones I want for study (Modern Irish, Scottish Gaelic, more Welsh, Old Norse, and Japanese), and the ones I want to learn for fun (Hindi, Arabic, more Italian, maybe Norwegian or Swedish).

Finally, every once in a while, I toss around the wild notion that it might be fun to go to seminary and get myself trained and ordained as at Unitarian Universalist minister. It’s not as disconnected from the rest of this as it may seem. World religions are an area of historical expertise for me, especially the connections among them–people tell the same kinds of stories, the world over, to explain the mysteries of life, which is what religion basically is. And UUs believe that there’s no One Right Path to truth, so all the linguistic and historical study I’ve already done gives me perspective on the variations of the human story, as well as its universality. There isn’t a whole lot of difference between lecturing and preaching, when it comes down to it, and I like to take care of people. Again, financial considerations keep me from really pursuing this, at least for the time being, but who knows? Whatever I end up doing, I’ll be the one behind the podium.

Dec 22, 2011 - Psychology    No Comments

Taste the Rainbow: Reverb Broads 2011 #20

Reverb Broads 2011, December 20: Life is a work of art, or so they say. What beauty do you regularly appreciate/revere in your life? (courtesy of Neha at

I experience beauty differently than most people. See, I’m a synesthete. What the hell is that, you say? Never heard of synethesia? The World English Dictionary defines the term as “the subjective sensation of a sense other than the one being stimulated. For example, a sound may evoke sensations of colour.”

I haven’t thought of myself as a synesthete until recently, when a discussion with another one ended with her saying, “Oh, no, you totally are.” And as I went into Research Mode, I discovered that synesthesia isn’t uncommon among neurodiverse people, especially those with Autism Spectrum Disorders, because their sensory perceptions are already slightly bent. 

As I explore the interactions among my senses more consciously than ever before, I’m discovering that my favorite things are my favorites because they register on more than one sense. For example, I love Pantone color 2757. It’s the deep rich blue of the sky just before full dark, or a Marc Chagall painting. But it’s also the color that fills my mind when the Bass IIs of a choir dip down below the staff, like in Franz Biebl’s Ave Maria. Those notes unfurl over me like a bolt of midnight velvet; I could just roll around in them, and an unbearably rich, creamy taste like foie gras fills my mouth.

And the air right now, that keen winter smell that portends snow (but doesn’t yet freeze your boogers, if you know what I mean), blows up banks of fluffy cumulus clouds in my mind, airier than the leaden walls of vapor that hug so close to the northern sky these days. It’s a bright, fluffy smell, just a fraction bluer than powdered sugar, with a clean minty smell. I want to eat that smell like marshmallows.

These associations dazzle me sometimes, and I know the distracted, mile-long stare that captures me when I fall into a whirl of sensations. I just wish you all could taste what I hear.

Lucky Girl, Part 2: Reverb Broads 2011 #19

Reverb Broads 2011, December 19: Self-Portrait: Post a picture of you that you like, write about yourself, post a video — what do you want your self-portrait to say about you? (courtesy of Kristen at

I’ve reserved my right to remain on the other side of cameras ever since high school, but every once in a while, someone sneaks a picture of me. Most of them are generally appalling. But some make me happy because they reveal something about myself that I hope is true.

Like that I’m a good mom who’ll make a fool of herself to make her kids happy.

Me jousting with Connor at the Minnesota Children's Museum

 Or that I really do have magic in my hands.

Me crocheting, apparently faster than shutter speed

I’d like to think pictures can prove that I’m not crazy when I say that my children are Not Normal.

This is what happens when Griffin and Connor get their hands on my sunglasses. I swear to the gods that this was their idea.

And sometimes, pictures help me believe that I really do have a happy soul, deep down.

A beautiful day for AIDS Walk Wisconsin, along the shores of Lake Michigan, 2008

But mostly, they just remind me how incredibly lucky I am.


Dec 19, 2011 - Ancient History, Fine Arts    4 Comments

Lucky Girl, Part 1: Reverb Broads 2011 #18

Reverb Broads 2011, December 18: Who would you most like to meet and why? (courtesy of Dana at

I hope this doesn’t come off as completely obnoxious, but I’m going to bow to the fates/superstition on this one, and leave it wide open. I’ve had some of the most amazing luck in meeting people I admire, and I don’t want to jinx whatever the universe has in store for me. Sure, there are the obvious ones, like wishing for a kiss from Alexander Skarsgard, but really, I’ve already met several lifetime”s worth of awesome, amazing famous (and sometimes “niche-famous”) people.

Whom I’ve met says a lot about me, too. They tend to fall into a few distinct categories. The first is musicians. I’ve attended a LOT of concerts, many of which at small venues where the rules are different than at big arena shows. I hung out with Robby Gray and the rest of Modern English after a show, and I met Angelo from Fishbone as he came out of a phone booth. My dad shamelessly exploited his own credentials as a musician to get us backstage in Atlanta to meet Itzhak Perlman and Frederica von Stade.

The backs of Cam's and my younger, long-haired selves, as we met Itzhak Perlman in 1996

I also had the incredible good fortune to sing under Simon Carrington, one of the founding members of the King’s Singers, during his first directing gig, at the University of Kansas. I’d had him for a year when I went away to France to study, and he invited me to his family’s summer home in Cahors after our school years were over. He spoiled me for every other choir director.

Me with Simon and Hilary Carrington after a lovely dinner in France, 1996

I’ve also met a lot of famous chefs. Part of this is because I love food and cooking; part is because State College, PA, where I lived for a decade, has an awesome public radio/TV station that hosts a fundraiser called the Connoisseur’s Dinner every year. When my favorite TV chef, Nick Stellino (then, of PBS’ Cucina Amore), was announced as the host in 2002, I called the event organizer and asked if I could do anything at all to cook with him. She gave me the best answer in the world when asking for something outrageous:  “Well, now that you mention it…” I ended up doing prep for a special VIP in-studio demonstration the day of the dinner. He said I chopped my garlic personally; I glowed for months.

Me and Nick Stellino, at an in-studio event at WPSX, 2002

I had the same good fortune three years later, when the incomparable Jacques Pepin was the guest.

Me and Jacques Pepin, at an in-studio event at WPSX, 2005

And I met Graham Kerr (“the Galloping Gourmet”) at a signing at the Barnes & Noble where my husband worked.

Me and Graham Kerr at the State College B&N, 1999

I’ve also met a lot of people under geeky or completely random circumstances. I have a picture of Warwick Davis holding Connor when he was just six weeks old, and one of Jamie Bamber holding Griffin when he was three months old. Mary McDonnell signed my notebook for free because I talked with her about the cult of Saint Brigit. I’ve met all of the cast members of Mystery Science Theater 3000 except Kevin Murphy and Mike Nelson. I shook hands with John Hodgman. I met Lauren Graham outside a bathroom at LAX on a trip to New Zealand (that picture is in a box in storage, or I would totally have posted it). My husband works for Margaret Weis, and we know Tracy Hickman as well. And Jason Marsden walked me back to the hotel after the White Wolf party at Gen Con.

And I know a bunch of people who are very famous, as long as you’re in the right population. A lot of those are writers and game designers who are friends from the ancient days of AmberMUSH. Jim Butcher introduced me to my husband, and I’ve known his family since his son was 3 (he’s in college now). And now his beautiful wife Shannon is a famous writer too.

Our longtime gaming group: the Valentines, the Butchers, and the Bankses (2003)

I made C.E. Murphy cry with laughter at horrifically embarrassing stories . And I’ve danced at the weddings of the three founders of Evil Hat.

Fred Hicks, with Seth and two monster party favors, at his wedding reception in 2002.

So while I wouldn’t say no to this:

I think I’ll leave my options open.

UPDATE: Did I mention I forget things? ‘Cause I do. I forgot to mention that I saw Jerry Falwell in the Memphis airport once. I didn’t punch him; I consider that a personal triumph.

I got to meet Bob Costas when he spoke at Penn State. I asked him if I could do research for him at the Olympics, because I love the bizarre geographical and historical facts he shares on air. He said no, but he’d take a picture with me:

And this summer, I got to meet two romance authors I really admire, Connie Brockway and Eloisa James. They were awesome.

Romance superstars Eloisa James (left) and Connie Brockway (right) at a 2011 signing in MN.

I’d seen an elderly man as I took my seat, and noted that he seemed both out of place at a romance signing, and strangely familiar. Then Eloisa happened to mention that her dad was there that night. And that her dad had won a National Book Award. In one of those slo-mo moments in life, I turned and realized exactly who her dad was, and why he was familiar to me. Her dad is Robert Bly. I asked him to sign a book for my husband, and he offered to take a picture. So when I say the universe is good to me, if in completely random ways, I totally mean it.

Me and one of my heroes, poet Robert Bly, in 2011

Dec 18, 2011 - Psychology    1 Comment

The Opposite of Raindrops on Roses: Reverb Broads 2011 #17

Reverb Broads 2011, December 17: Instead of a list of your favorite things, write a list of your least favorite things, e.g. Worst book you ever finished, the color you hate, bad songs, bad romances, bad recipes. (courtesy of Amy at

I almost didn’t do this one because, between this list and the pet peeves, I don’t want to seem only whiny and/or insane. So this’ll be a combination of the light and dark. And they’re just the ones I can think of right now — I know I’m going to think of better answers the minute I post this, so it might be worth looking back here in a day or two for updates.

Least favorite movie: The Elephant Man. Saw it when I was about 8, and it scared the bejeezus out of me.

Least favorite food: Either blue cheese or bananas

Least favorite song: “I’ve Got A Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas (though I’m none too fond of “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells” at the moment either)

Least favorite TV: Anything with Kardashians or Housewives of any kind

Least favorite surprise: Getting a mouthful of diet soda when it’s supposed to be regular, or plain carbonated water when it’s supposed to be Sprite

Least favorite chore: Scrubbing out the bathtub

Least favorite sound: Off-key singers or instruments

Least favorite book: The Catcher in the Rye. Holden Caulfield is a whiny, ingrateful, misanthropic little shit.

Least favorite pet: Ugly, yappy little dogs

Least favorite discussion: Anything that starts with the premise that Ayn Rand had it right

Least favorite sight: Myself in the mirror at the gym

Least favorite activity: Trying to get to sleep on a night when the temperature doesn’t get below 75

Least favorite sensation: Nausea

Least favorite form of humor: Rape jokes

Least favorite “fun” thing: Pretty much any video game that involves timing. I get anxiety attacks and muscle spasms with anything from Tetris to Mario Bros. to the LEGO games. About all I can handle are Spelltower and Hexic, but only when they’re not on timer mode.

Least favorite place: Wal-Mart

Least favorite people: Those who undermine the hard work of others, so the good folks have to take the damage and pick up the slack. I’m not fond of people who want all their rights and privileges, but are fine with restricting everyone else’s freedom, either.

Least favorite thing about myself: My temper, and my utterly inexplicable weight gain over the last year

Least favorite thing in my life right now: My youngest not being able to get through a week at school without multiple disciplinary problems (he’s not what you’d call “school-ready,” despite our best efforts)

Least favorite thing this holiday season: Not being able to find a Christmas tree, and knowing that our little one and all the ornaments are in a storage unit 6 hours away


The Pettiest of Peeves: Reverb Broads #16

Reverb Broads 2011, December 16: What are your biggest pet peeves? (courtesy of Emily at

I can only come up with three pet peeves right now, and they’re all so trivial, I’m pretty embarrassed to put them out there. Feel free to mock them. But once you know about them, beware: they might start to annoy you, too!

My first pet peeve is repetitive noises. It’s a Big Red Button that is constantly pushed by my sons, because if there’s one thing kids love, it’s making the same noises or saying the same things over and over and over and over. Both of them engage in what I like to call “echolocation barking,” when they say “Mom!” or “Dad!” over and over until someone responds to them, even if they don’t really have anything else to say. They also seem incapable of singing more than one riff of a song, though they’re happy to sing that riff on endless loop. I refuse to buy The Toys That Make The Noise. And don’t get me started on video game music…

And it’s caused by a big snarly bundle of factors. I have perfect relative pitch, extremely sensitive hearing, and a tendency toward hypervigilance — in short, I really can’t stop listening. This contributes to my general insomnia; I can’t sleep without some sort of patternless white noise, like a fan. My husband once bought me one of those soundscape machines, but I had to return it after two nights, because all of the environmental sounds had a loop, and I would lie there waiting for the same pattern of notes to come back again. Pure torture.

My second pet peeve is simple: apostrophes. Sure, there are lots of other nitpicky little grammar things that make me nuts, but I could learn to live with all sorts of things if folks would just get their apostrophes under control. They’re not even hard, people! Here, I’ll let Bob the Flower handle this one:

And my last one isn’t even that bad, but it makes the holiday season maddening for me. In the song “Deck the Hall,” there is only ONE HALL, but MANY BOUGHS. “Deck the Halls” is not the correct original lyric, though it is ubiquitous these days. I got this pet peeve from a good friend with whom I sang in church and school choir for years, and now, like her, I go around at carol sings yelling, “ONE HALL, MANY BOUGHS!” and generally annoying everyone.

You don’t believe me, do you? Well, here, look!

This is original sheet music, from the Victorian era when the carol became popular

Dec 16, 2011 - Physical Ed    4 Comments

How Sweet It Is: Reverb Broads 2011 #15

Dol sot bi bim bop. It tastes like it looks, not like it sounds.

Reverb Broads 2011, December 15: Did you taste any new flavors this year? Did you love or hate them or something in between? Will you incorporate these new flavors into your life? (courtesy of Bethany at

I’m a slightly weird eater. I adore ethnic food and exotic spices, but I hate a lot of the foods that most kids subsist on: graham crackers, peanut butter & jelly, chocolate ice cream, bananas, applesauce. I’ve also got sensory issues with some foods; for instance, I hate the dry-mouth feeling cranberries give me. And I’m convinced some tastes are genetically keyed, too — it’s the only possible explanation for my utter inability to tolerate blue cheese.

But I love new things, and I found two new favorites this year. I also discovered the best way to taste one of Minnesota’s great food treasures.

I have this strange ordering habit which crops up from time to time; it usually happens when I’m equally torn between two choices. When it’s actually time to order, I’ll suddenly blurt out whatever my gaze snags on as I look up at the server. This has been mostly disastrous. I once ended up with some Southwest egg dish, at a breakfast with brand-new friends, from which I extracted at least a full cup of fresh jalapeño slices after I reached the point where I could take no more heat.

But for once, it worked out, when I visited Sebastian Joe’s for the first time with my good friend Karin. As always, there was a long line, which gave me plenty of time to ponder the offerings. I had pretty much settled on the raspberry chip, but at the last moment, I asked for a sample of the salted caramel. Yeah, I know salted caramel is Old News to foodies, but I’d just never had occasion to try it. The tiny spoon went in my mouth, and as they say, that was all she wrote. My heart even sank a little, as I tasted something so good that I knew it would drive me to eat too much of delicious, unhealthy treats well into the future.

The second new taste I got hooked on this year has one of the funniest names of anything I can think of: dol sot bi bim bop. It’s Korean food: a rice, veggie, pork and egg dish, served in a hot stone bowl (the dol sot) that sizzles and browns the rice it touches, making a gorgeous, slightly crunchy crust that’s a little reward for patience and finishing your supper. My dear friend Lana, who has a Korean sister-in-law and therefore knew all the secrets of Korean restaurant ordering, has promised me a return to the fabulous Sole Café soon, and I can’t wait to go.

Finally, I went to the Minnesota State Fair for the first time this year, and that’s a place that’s all about food. We didn’t bother waiting in line for Sweet Martha’s cookies — it was a quarter of a mile long, I swear. And my experience of deep fried foods at the fair began and ended with the fried pickles (surprisingly good, actually). No deep fried butter or candy bars; this isn’t fricking Iowa.

But what made the trip truly sweet was how I spent that day. My friend Heidi is a nurse at a facility for disabled adults, and her clients look forward to their trip to the State Fair all year long. They pretty much need a one-to-one volunteer/client ratio for that trip, so she asked if I wanted to come help during the day, and get my hand stamped so we could go back that night for a girls’ night out. I couldn’t think of a better way to experience the fair (what, like I was going to take my family?! Just kidding; we went together later that weekend).

I was assigned to a young man in his 20s who had cerebral palsy. We hit it off right away; he has a hilarious sense of humor, and we totally cracked each other up. He had his eye on barbeque for lunch, so I helped him get his fill of Famous Dave’s baby back ribs. I had sauce all over my fingers (not all over him!) by the time I was done, and when I licked them clean, I had to agree that it was outstanding. Later, when we were getting really annoyed with the crowds that kept cutting him off — seriously, if you see a wheelchair, get the eff out of the way, please — we consoled ourselves with freshly made fudge that tasted like the best hot cocoa you can imagine.

I loved being with a veteran, and I loved being with a person who really wanted to be there. The whole experience made everything taste better.

Dec 15, 2011 - Political Science    1 Comment

Superior Volunteerior: Reverb Broads 2011 #14

Snuggled up with my boys on the capitol steps for the Read-In For Civility, in support of Neil Gaiman and libraries, May 2011

Reverb Broads 2011, December 14: Is volunteering something you do regularly? If yes, where do you volunteer? If not, why not? (courtesy of Kassie at

I am a total philanthropy geek — so much so that, last fall when I helped admin an event called Speak Out With Your Geek Out, I wrote about loving philanthropy like some people love video games and stuff. I love helping, and I love geeking out about new ideas and systems for getting that help to the people and places that need it most.

And volunteering is something I was brought up to do. As I’ve mentioned before, my grandma taught Red Cross first aid and swimming classes, and led Girl Scout troops for ages. My mom ran a dozen things at our church, not least of which the Sunday School program for a while, and did a stint as PTO president, too. And they were both the kind of people who wrote little cards to sick friends, or drove old people to doctors’ appointments — in fact, by the time she stopped doing that, my grandma was regularly driving people a decade or two younger than her, who would tell her how horrible it was to get old!

So it should come as no surprise that I volunteer in lots of places, all the time. This year, my sons’ school is the main focus of my volunteerism, so much so that it’s actually made me cut back on my level of involvement other places. I had to give up my shifts at the library when I picked up more work hours, and when I got elected president of the PTO, something had to give, so I dropped out of church choir for the time being.

As I’ve said before, we are incredibly blessed with an awesome neighborhood school, and I absolutely love volunteering there. This is going to sound horrible, but I like my own kids better when I’m spending time with other kids. I read aloud in their classes, I chaperone field trips, I advise the Student Council, and I do a whole host of things for the PTO. The kids all know me by name, and they wave and grin and stop me to tell me new (horrible) jokes and Important Things about their lives. I get paid in spontaneous hugs and flattering adoration. It’s a pretty awesome deal.

At the March for Women's Rights in Washington D.C., April 25, 2004. My sign says "Pro-Choice, Pro-Child"

I’m also very active politically. There are few things I like more than puttin’ on my protest boots and pounding the pavement for a cause I believe in. I dragged my family down to the capitol steps on a bright spring afternoon for a Read-In for Civility, after a stupid state legislator insulted awesome author Neil Gaiman for taking public money for a library program. I helped a friend with his city council campaign. I marched with supportive signs in front of Planned Parenthood on Good Friday. I attended activist training with Minnesotans United for All Families to help fight the proposed “marriage amendment” next year. When I believe in something, I think it’s worth acting on.

All of this is to compensate for the fact that we have almost no money at all to spare for charitable causes. I struggle constantly with wanting to support every worthy cause I encounter, especially this time of year, when the appeals are coming in hard and fast. I’ve reconciled the fact that time and talent are just as valuable to many organizations as treasure, but my heart still hasn’t relinquished all of the guilt that comes from having to turn down so many appeals. It’s hard to esteem your gifts when you don’t always esteem yourself.

Kid hugs go a long way, though.