Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Went to a little party today

Didn't see a bit of the actual parade (a "rolling rally"). But the people watching was terrific. And so was Jose Melendez's loud rendition of Dirty Water.
Be sure to check out the photograph at Looking Into today. We are honored to host Jenn, my friend who was in China on a Fullbright who has returned to the states.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Have you heard Annie yet?

Earlier this month I wanted to download Annie Lennox's new album, Songs of Mass Destruction, as soon as it was available on a certain website that starts with a lowercase "i". However, my little men demanded I buy an actual CD (how 1990's of them) so they could "look at the cover". I promised I would print off the cover from the download. I was informed that wasn't good enough.

So I was caught cutting out of a meeting near City Hall a bit early to run into a music store before another meeting at the State House. I confessed to the fellow I knew (who had also cut out of the same meeting) my dilemma and he immediately understood, even offered sympathy.

Hours later and after the train ride to the car, I finally got to tear open the plastic covering the case (again, how 1990's) and popped it into the van stereo. What surrounded me was delicious, sultry and pained. Bizarrely catchy and angst-ridden. Full of meaning and fun. Oh Annie, I've missed you.

As I picked the boys up at after school care I told them what was waiting for them in the car. "She's in the CD player." Their eyes were wide. They ran to the van.

They demanded to see the case. There was a moment of silence.

"Isn't she beautiful?" One says with breathless reverence.

Yes son, she is.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Farewell to a bee

This past Sunday the guys wanted to go for a bike ride around town. So while little lady napped with her daddy we strapped on our helmets, hopped on our bikes and rode off to a parking lot where we could do lots of silly things.

At one point we took a break from our cycling shenanigans and noticed a bee flying around us.

Eventually the bee landed on the ground next to us and started walking in circles. We were busy talking so none of us noticed when it flipped on its side. I put it back on its feet. I looked down again to see it on its back, barely flailing.

The bee was dying by my right foot.

The boys had watched me right the bee. Now I told them I thought she was dying (not sure why we all started calling her "she" but we did). I thought it would be an interesting discussion - the cycle of life, what happens to a living creature's spirit when it dies. I once had a friend tell me that he envisioned all living beings' spirits go into the cosmos and little pieces come together to be a part of a new spirit (human, animal, plant) being created. I thought that would be a good story to tell the kids.

Instead one of my sons insisted we call a vet. I didn't think a vet would help a dying bee. Then he proposed we bring her home and care for her. I explained I didn't think she had that much time to live plus we didn't have any way to safely carry her home. Next he suggested we had to call dad to come get us in the car.

He started to cry.

I suggested we put the bee on a big leaf and carry her to a patch of woods. She would be in shade and near things she probably flew by when she was well. We brought her over and he couldn't leave her. He took off his bike helmet and put her and the leaf in there. He begged me to figure out a way to save her. He started to cry hysterically, kneeling next to his helmet, desperately trying to figure out how to revive a barely moving bee.

Then I started to cry

Then his brother started to cry. "I wished we never went for a bike ride" he said softly.

The bee stopped moving. I told them that maybe she came near us so she wouldn't be lonely as her life ended. It was an honor to be with her.

As we started to ride away little man became upset again. "What if her mommy is looking for her? We have to find the hive and tell her what happened!" I explained that Queen Bees make a lot baby bees at once and don't have the same relationship as baby humans, wolves, or dolphins have with their mothers. "Well we have to find her daddy."

Eventually we got waters from our local coffee shop and sat on a bench. He settled down and we got back on our bikes to ride home. We noticed a new patch of flowers by the bank. There were bees flying around the petals.

"Look!" announced the brother "Your bee friend's friends are out collecting pollen!"

I held my breath, worried we would face another outpouring of grief for the dearly departed.

But he just nodded, got back on his bike and rode down the street.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sports gal

I wouldn't say I'm a hard core sports gal. I interact with enough (straight) men for my job that I need to have some passing knowledge of the local professional teams. Well baseball, football and basketball. Just so you know our baseball team is playing in the World Series tonight and our football team is undefeated this season. I have a soft spot for basketball so I'm every hopeful that our green team will pull it off.

But I also have two boys who, as Flower Child once put it, "have enough energy to power a small African village." She couldn't be more right. It isn't a behavioral issue or something about disrespect. They have a ton of energy. To their credit they do stay focused in school. They stay on task, help other kids and are clearly enjoy learning.

So sports have been a saving grace for us. I actually don't mind the two sports season, spring time, leading to two nights of baseball and one night of soccer plus a soccer game on Saturdays. This means they are running, being active and collapsing into bed at night. Physical activity is something they need to do.

But it also has gotten me to better understand sports. Sure there is the obscene amount of money involved in professional sports. Money that could be used to better our society. There is the elevation of athleticism over other skills and past times. Our suburb is a pretty tough place for families whose kids aren't interested in sports. And this is intellectual New England. I can't imagine the rural south or southwest.

It is a balancing act to make sure that my kids appreciate the hard work and camaraderie that goes with sports but don't succumb to the I'm-better-than-you attitude that comes from being a jock.

Except with the Red Sox. Because we are better than you - any of you.

And I think this is particularly true since ace Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling is calling out to my friend, Jose Melendez of Keys to the Game, to write blog posts that will help the Sox win post season games. How many professional baseball players are out there engaging the blogosphere?

For instance on the Sons of Sam Horn site - the site for Red Sox fans - Curt Schilling (writing under the name Gehrig38) opened a thread with the following:

It's as on as it can possibly be. Jose, you need to do whatever it is rabid psycho Sox fans do to remain calm, post your keys and go P&G like with the Mojo. Go Japanese on someone dude, it's there for the taking.

This was written on October 13th. "Your keys" refers to Jose's site and he always writes three "keys". And this was how Jose went "Japanese".

Start singing The Vapors "Turning Japanese":

I've got a pitcher his name is Dice,
We eat potatoes; he’s fueled by rice
I saw him staring at his locker—Here’s advice.

Oh mix your pitches,
don’t just throw speed.
Don’t over nibble. Here’s what we need.
Five innings and a one run lead

I've got a pitcher, I've got a pitcher
He’s worth a hundred million out on the mound
I want a catcher to call for curveballs
So all the batters will hit balls on the ground.

We’ve got him pitching high and pitching low
and pitching fast and pitching a slow and

Pitching Japanese
DiceK is pitching Japanese
I really think so
Pitching Japanese
DiceK is pitching Japanese
Pitching Japanese
DiceK is pitching Japanese
I really think so
Pitching Japanese
DiceK is pitching Japanese
I really think so

I've got a pitcher, I’ve got a pitcher
He threw a million pitches once in a game
I want Francona to use that pitcher, so he can get himself some U.S. acclaim.

You've got him throwing fastballs throwing curves
And throwing splitters, throwing slurves and

Pitching Japanese
DiceK is pitching Japanese
I really think so
Pitching Japanese
DiceK is pitching Japanese
Pitching Japanese
DiceK is pitching Japanese
I really think so
Pitching Japanese
DiceK is pitching Japanese
I really think so

No hits, no walks, no runs, no bases
No balks, no bags no you, keep it inside the park
Everyone at bat is Mario Mendoza
Then we get to Papelbon the Closah

DiceK’s Pitching Japanese
DiceK is pitching Japanese
I really think so

Pitching Japanese
DiceK is pitching Japanese
Pitching Japanese
DiceK is pitching Japanese
I really think so
Pitching Japanese
DiceK is pitching Japanese
I really think so

(This is the third Key from Sunday, October 21, 2007 - when the Red Sox beat Cleveland for the American League Championship).

Think that is good? Go read Tuesday, October 16, 2007 in which he writes a 200+ line epic poem.

Go Sox! And feel bad for Colorado. It is hard to lose.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

How not to organize

A key part of any campaign is to reach out to various organizations and individuals to seek out their support. The act of reaching out should be done respectfully. Each person and organization approached has power - knowledge (including life experience), resources (money, time to volunteer) and others they can influence (family, neighbors, membership) - no matter how disenfranchised the person or small the organization. We all have power.

What I have spelled out is my vision for organizing. One of my favorite questions to ask prospective entry-level organizers is how would they go about working with people different from them (so if the candidate is white how would she work with Vietnamese immigrants, if the candidate is a man, how would he work with a group of homeless women, etc). What I am looking for is candidates acknowledging that the room full of so-called "disenfranchised" people have knowledge and history that needs to be learned. The organizer isn't the only expert, and certainly can stand to learn from those being organized.

The same is true for approaching an organization. You reach out with deference, seeking time to sit down and learn what they have done. I'm not saying someone needs to crawl on his or her knees but some healthy respect is necessary for someone to buy into a campaign.

I came to this from years of organizing. From watching amazing organizers rally the most marginalized folks. From hearing stories.

I got a call yesterday from a young woman who could stand to hear a few stories.

My colleague asked me if I would take a call from someone at a PAC (political action committee) of a failed presidential candidate. In our town he has minions stationed with "newspapers" and other flyers espousing his rhetoric. However, my colleague told me she wanted to talk about foreclosures and since I'm a sucker for anyone who will talk about it with me I figured it wouldn't hurt to take the call.

It hurt. A lot.

She starts to breathlessly tell me about a bill in our state house that I have never heard of. She tells me statistics about foreclosures that I already know. She never asks me what my organization is doing to address the foreclosure crisis in our state. Which is funny.

Funny because I sat in our state house last week for two days waiting and eventually watching the House pass a comprehensive foreclosure prevention bill that will stop mortgage companies from peddling sham mortgage products among other things. Funny because I sat in our state house this past July and watched the Senate pass a similar bill. Funny because I co-manage a foreclosure prevention coalition that is recognized for addressing parts of the foreclosure crisis.

So I tried to get her to stop talking and listen to what we are already doing. At one point she starts talking about the US Congress and I try to explain that we have limited resources and cannot focus on Washington. We trust our national counterparts to do that work so we can focus on our state. She starts to blast me for that. I tell her that this conversation isn't productive and I need to go.

She starts yelling at me, reading aloud from our website accusing me of not representing the "community". I asked her if she was calling from our state. Very defensively she informed me she came from a city 3000 miles away but she's "been paying attention to the issues since" she got here. Three weeks ago. She, clearly, represents the community.

She then demands to know my title and asks if there is someone more reasonable who will talk to her about addressing the issues that are important for "poor people".

"Feel free to find someone here who will talk to you" I tell her. She starts yelling at me again and I actually hung up on her.

I then promptly told everyone in the office about being yelled at the conversation. And no one plans on taking her call.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Sports weekend with some Dirty Water

Soccer Saturday morning. The boys' team lost.

A rugby match Saturday afternoon. The "A" side lost but "B" side won.

And then? And then?

The Nation is one happy place. The Red Sox are in the World Series. And I was there at Fenway Park with my dad to watch them beat Cleveland 11-2. I've only just walked in the door at 1:45 am.

And since this is Music Monday - how can we not mention all the wonderful music played at Fenway Park? The Dropkicks Murphys are practically the house band - they played the national anthem and their classic "Tessie" - complete with Irish stepdancers in the backfield. Later there was The Jam "A Town Called Mallice" and of course the 8th inning rendition of Sweet Caroline. At one point the organist played Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody".

But if the Sox win, the game ends the same way. And Dirty Water was even sweeter this time...

I'm gonna tell you a story
I'm gonna tell you about my town
I'm gonna tell you a big bad story, baby

Aww, it's all about my town

Yeah, down by the river
Down by the banks of the river Charles
(aw, that's what's happenin' baby)

That's where you'll find me
Along with lovers, fuggers, and thieves
(aw, but they're cool people)

Well I love that dirty water
Oh, Boston, you're my home
(oh, you're the Number One place)

Frustrated women (I mean they're frustrated)
Have to be in by twelve o'clock (oh, that's a shame)

But I'm wishin' and a-hopin, oh
That just once those doors weren't locked
(I like to save time for my baby to walk around)

Well I love that dirty water
Oh, Boston, you're my home


There is one last song to sing today. Everyone join me in singing "Happy Birthday" to Amazing Guy.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

SOS - Arsenic, Old Lace and a centerfold

This Sunday Soap Opera involves theater and errr... a certain type of magazine. Please go visit other Soap Operas at Brillig and Walking Kateastrophe's.

I was in many theatrical productions throughout middle and high school. A favorite role was as one of the murderous spinsters in Arsenic and Old Lace. Every year the senior class at my high school put on a production in the fall and that year it was this classic from the 1940's. This particular play was a terrific choice since it allowed the football team to put in a collective cameo during the curtain call as the "victims" from the basement.

In one scene my "nephew" goes to lift up a bench seat to find a "body" inside the bench. The guy in the bench was dumped in there during an earlier scene and had to lay in there until the lights went down because of how the set was constructed. Normally the nephew would open the bench and peer down very closely into the open space then stand by the bench for me to join him. I was also to peer in closely and comment that he wasn't one of the homeless men we had "helped" (by murdering).

During the Saturday night performance, the nephew goes to the bench, lifts up the seat and sticks his head into it. Then he bolted across the stage, completely changing how the scene had been blocked. I tottered over (remember I was playing an old woman and had spent a week of rehearsals walking with marbles in my shoes so I would learn the swollen foot shuffle) and lifted the seat. I stuck my head into the open space expecting to see the kid who was playing a murdered man.

Instead I was staring at the largest set of breasts I had seen in my nearly 18 years. Someone had handed the kid a nudie magazine and he held up the centerfold for both the nephew and me to stick our noses up against.

I, in turn, loudly dropped the seat and tottered (still remembered to totter!) to the nephew on the other side of the stage and we barely got through the rest of the scene in which I explain that wasn't one of the men I had "helped" and I didn't know how he got there.

Meanwhile the kid I was dating at the time (aka homeroom guy), who was also best friends with the actor playing the nephew, was backstage running the light board and laughing his head off.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Some plugs

I want to share with folks three fun blog activities going on right now:

1. The Blog Exchange - I am a huge fan of the Exchange. This gives you a chance to "host" another blogger on your site while she/he hosts you at her/his site. This month's exchange topic is a debate. Suggest parenting topics that have a clear pro/con (e.g. spanking, homeschooling, sugar cereal) and the talented hostess, Kristen, will pair us up. Sign ups end tomorrow, October 19th. Pairs will be announced next week and we all swap blogs on November 1st.

2. Jen at A2eatwrite - she has come up with a terrific writing challenge.

A. Create a list of things that you'd like to write about (ideas for stories)
B. Create, in a little more depth, three characters
C. Create some sort of conflict(or if you're feeling generous, a couple of conflicts and your victim co-author can choose which one he/she likes)
Send this list to to Jen by this coming Monday, October 22nd and then she will scramble up the lists and send you someone else's. You get to write a story based on that person's ideas. Post it by November 12th.

3. NaBloPoMo - I really just love typing that out. National Blog Posting Month is November. Post every day for the month. That's it. I'm not only going to post every day here for a month but Jenn in Holland and I will post a photo every day for the month at our joint photoblog Looking Into. Which isn't anything new over there since we already do that.

Oh, and by the way, I started a photography group at NaBloPoMo. It is the second most popular group. Although the "American Bloggers" are catching up.

So what fun things are you doing? Anything I should know about?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Book Meme

Don't fall over but I am doing a meme. Want to know why?

Because Jenn in Michigan places a comment on my joint photoblog with Jenn in Holland nearly every day.

Nearly. Every. Day.

That makes her close to one of my favorite people in the world. My telepathy doesn't work very well so unless you leave a nice little note at Looking Into after looking AT our daily photographs, I don't know you've been there. Jenn tells us every day. And both Lady Holland and I really, really appreciate it. So much that I will break my no meme stance to answer her questions.

Oh, and it is about books. I love books. So here we go.

Total number of books

You are kidding right? Between my adult books and the kids literature? Way too many to count. The book aisle at the big box store is a magnet for me. The lovely local independent children's book store a mile from my house? I must support it to ensure our local economy and the arts are thriving.

Last book read

Funny, I'd been planning a post about Gravesend Light by Daniel Payne. I picked this book up during our family vacation over the summer. It was gripping. Set in the early 1980's it was the story of a young man coming to terms with his family and the childhood turmoil he experienced. All of this while falling in love with a woman obstetrician who performed abortions in a religious conservative community. The author went back and forth between the two characters - the man's perspective was told from the third person while the woman's was from the first. The man's story was both current events and flashbacks while her story stayed current. It was fascinating, at times infuriating, and very worth the read.

Last book bought

Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick. I'm up to the King Phillip War. Oh dear, the children of the Pilgrims were horrid, horrid people. Have I admitted publicly that I am a descendent of William Brewster?

Five meaningful books (Only FIVE? This part is really hard.)

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster - This book led to my love of all things Italian (nothing like a gay British man to do that to a girl). After reading it I decided my high school senior thesis would be about female protagonists in Forster's novels. And I spent my junior year of college in Italy. Really just so I could stand in the middle of the Piazza next to the Uffizi and quote Eleanor Lavish (pronounces "La-veeeesh") "A young girl, transfigured by Italy! And why shouldn't she be transfigured? It happened to the Goths!"

Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood - "As the novel opens, the U.S. government has been overthrown several years earlier, and been taken over by Christian fundamentalists who have made it into a theocratic state." Need I say more?

The Princess Bride by William Goldman - long before the movie, I was an 8th grader huddled under my covers reading late into the night. Buttercup is being pulled by the Dread Pirate Roberts along a ledge. She pushes him down and as he rolls farther and farther away he yells "As..... you.... wish."

I HAD NO IDEA HE WAS HIM! How cool is that to have a story completely take an unexpected turn. I cannot wait to read it to my kids. They have no idea it was a movie.

The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds - this is a children's book that I love reading to my children again and again. It is a simple story with lovely illustrations about a girl who thinks she cannot draw and what happens to her and her art when she realizes even her dots are art. Reynolds illustrates the Judy Moody and Stink books.

Dared and Done: The Marriage of Elizabeth Barrent and Robert Browning by Julia Markus - I'm not much of a poetry reader but I love all things Italian (see A Room with a View above) and especially anything set in Florence. So while I've never read her Sonnets from the Portugese or his Men and Women, I knew this was a love story worth knowing. Barrett married Browning after a secret courship in spite of her poor health and a domineering father. They lived in Florence for 15 years until she died. They were political firebrands who madly loved each other. Firebrands in love living in Florence? Yummy.

I am going to put in a special plug for The New Yorker. I just love that magazine. It is a weekly dose of reading I wish I could enjoy more. And I come from a long line of New Yorker lovers. My grandmother was very proud of the fact that she began subscribing to magazine the second year of its publication. Someone in my family has been subscribing since 1927.

I tag two of you - The Ambassador and Flower Child. Go forth and tell us about your literary life!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Got a call from Newsweek magazine

Do you know what phrases or words brings up your blog or actual name in a search?

Now I've written about some of the stranger phrases that brought folks to my site. Seriously some strange things.

So when I answered the phone at work last week to hear a reporter from Newsweek on the other end of the line, I didn't think anything of it. My organization has been working on issues around foreclosure and I thought he was looking for some information. I started to mentally get the facts in place and was ready to explain the importance of addressing this critical issue before entire neighborhoods start to collapse.

"Are you Allison Staton who writes Soccer Mom in Denial?"

I froze. Then laughed. A loud from the belly laugh.

"You're kidding right?"

He then went on to explain he was writing a piece about sugar cereals being served for school lunch. He Googled sugar cereal for lunch and guess what?

I'll give you a minute to open a new browser and see for yourself.



Suddenly Painted Maypole sticking in various symbols into the name of the opera production she is performing in seems very sensible to me.

I arranged to speak with the reporter after work and we talked about what had happened last year at the parochial school. I then go on to sing the praises of the public school my children attend this year because the kids and I chose the food days before it is served so there is no a la carte temptations for 1st graders. Fifth graders I can deal with. I think 7 years old is too young to ask "do you want carrots or Coco Puffs"?

He then tells me how he contacted the lone person who commented on that particular post, the wonderful Maggie from Ramblings of Maggie. She was one of the first to "find" me. She told him a really funny story but you have to read her blog to see what she said.

But suddenly I went from being irate about schools giving young children sugar for a meal to being defensive that he thought I had only one commenter. I mean I've worked my way up to 9 or 10! Some days I get close to 30! And I have another blog too! I mean I've got a presence here in the cyberworld.

Here I have an opportunity to wax poetic about the importance of childhood eating patterns, healthy food choices, support for school nutrition and health education. And I, a trained media spokesperson, start blabbering about my blog.

Psst - the article is in this week's Newsweek (October 15th).

Monday, October 15, 2007

History lessons by Professor Cash

Several years ago, before the film Walk the Line, I bought at a big box store a three-pack of Johnny Cash CDs. The main reason I got it was for the live concert at Folsom prison. You have not lived until, upon hearing the line "I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die", two two-year-olds whoop and holler with the inmates while riding in the back of the family mini-van. If you've heard the recording, you know what I'm talking about.

The other two Johnny Cash CDs were promptly forgotten until this summer when one former two year old, now seven, discovered one in a pile of CDs still with its wrapper on. He tore off the plastic and asked to play it when we were next in the car. It was the first America album, recorded in 1972 as a tribute to the nation on the eve of her bicentennial celebrations.

What unfolded was that gravely voice singing a history lesson to my kids.

In April of 1775
This great nation started coming alive.
Old King George didn't like it one bit,
So he proceeded to throw him a royal fit...

They now know that in 1814 the US fought the British in "the town of New Orleans".

They can recite the Gettysburg Address.

They know that "Charlie Guiteau done shot down" President James Garfield and his widow was name Lucretia, but he called her "Crit".

They know that Sioux women and children were murdered in South Dakota at Wounded Knee.

They can sing a sweet early 20th century love tune, written sometime around 1904.

Come take a trip in my air ship,
come take a trip 'round the stars
come take a trip around Venus
come take a sail around Mars.

No one to see while we're kissing
No one to watch while we spoon
Come take a trip in my air ship
We'll visit the man in the moon.

And some of those songs made the birthday CD this year.


I'm finding I write a lot about music. I always have stories in my head about songs so I think I'll try to make it a habit to write each Monday about music. We'll see how long Music Monday lasts. Plus, it is a nice alliteration.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

SOS - kids' version

Soap Opera Sunday. Go visit the soap factory at Brillig and Walking Kateastrophe's.

Now, grown-ups, or angst-ridden teens (or tweens) are not the only ones with sudsy tales.

Earlier this summer we were on vacation. The community where we stayed had a pool at the end of the street. At one point during the first week I was hanging in the pool with just my three year old daughter. She of the curly hair a la a Renaissance cherub and blue eyes that make strangers stop to breathlessly comment.

She and I were up against the side of the pool on a few steps. I noticed we were practically on top of a boy about 5 years old. I apologized then moved us over to the other side. In one minute young man was suddenly under us again. I then moved to a less shallow area where she could sit. Young man was once again right by her side. His eyes were the size of saucers and his mouth was open. When little lady smiled at him, he actually blushed. I don't know if I've ever seen a little kid blush.

She then promptly ignored him the rest of the time in the pool.

The following week brought a whole new set of kids to the "neighborhood" pool. Another evening had me alone with my two then 6 1/2 year old boys.

I noticed a girl, probably about 8 or 9, swimming around one of my guys. He was either oblivious or ignoring her. She swam away. Later she returned with another girl and the two of them would swim close to little man, giggle, then swim away. At one point the friend started singing -

Jessica and redhead (really, that's what she called my son)
sitting in a tree
First comes love
then come marriage
then comes baby in a
baby carriage.

My first thought - WHAT?!?!?!?! He's SIX!

But then I saw his chest puff up. If a kid could strut while swimming, he was strutting.

He then promptly ignored her the rest of the time in the pool.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Speak out for real

The alternate title for this post was "Pointless Petitions". But this is more than about on-line petitions.

Earlier this month Alex Elliot was engaging folks - like she always does - about something important. It led one commenter to suggest that maybe a petition should be started.

I nearly blew up at the computer.

Spit. Scream. Lose-my-mind-yell at the screen.

The best way to describe my job is I am a social change activist. However, I believe that it makes sense to work within our elected government to make that change happen. I've coordinated campaigns that created state-wide health coverage for all children, successfully secured funding for government programs that support small businesses in urban and rural areas and ensured that laws passed were actually implemented to help the people they are suppose to help. Just because a law is passed doesn't mean it is going to be implemented.

However, the most successful campaigns involve a grassroots "army". Folks willing to take time to let elected officials know that an issue is important for them.

Paper petitions are not the way to do it. Electronic petitions? What a waste of cyberspace.

Seriously. The best way to reach out to an elected official is with a letter. An old-fashioned paper in envelop with a stamp letter. The next best is a phone call. In my state (please note I wrote state not Washington DC) you get a representative or senator's attention when five different people call on an issue. Most states are like that (obviously not large mini-countries states like California).

A petition is useful in certain instances. As an organizing tool to get people engaged to make calls or write letters. As a high-profile way to show famous people support an issue. When 30 business leaders, celebrities or politicians sign a petition and it is published in the New York Times or Washington Post then it gets attention.

But that is all it does is get attention. It doesn't make a policy solution become a piece of legislation or budget amendment. A petition alone doesn't get legislators to vote a particular way on an issue.

So what can you do? Pick one issue you really, really care about. Find an organization that promotes your view and has a viable set of solutions in your state. Then figure out who your state representative and state senator are. And call them about the issue you care about. Tell them why it matters to you and why this policy solution will fix the problem.

Then mark your calendar to call back in 2-3 months. Ask what is going on with the legislation or budget earmark. If they can't answer you then ask them to call back with the answers. If they don't call, call again. Remember your tax dollars pay the legislators' and aides' salaries. You are their bosses. You are not being a pain. It is their job to make government accountable to their constituents. And you are their constituent.

Then call again in 2-3 months. One of my mentors says "a watched government behaves differently". Petitions don't mean you are watching. A phone call does.

Now, for a humorous take on my rant I give you Stephen Colbert.

As it says on the Comedy Central web site, "Make Stephen proud, young people - wage protests from the polite distance of your home computers."

Now make me proud. Let me know of any past phone calls you placed or letters you sent about an issue you cared about. If you do something after reading this post I will sing your praises in a subsequent post. Just do something. Be engaged. Watch our government.

Our government is based on the premise of an engaged population. So please, be engaged.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Fortune cookie

I went out for Chinese food last month and this was my fortune -

Your loyalty is a virtue, but when it's wedded to blind stubbornness.....


I mean really. When did fortune cookies become so vague?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A tough trip

I have some bizarre kids. For flights both down (to Baltimore) and back home they were all very well behaved. I was even complimented by random strangers for how wonderful they were. It was a nice "practice run" for the trip to the West Coast next month to visit my brother, his wife and their new son. Meaning my nephew. Did I tell you I'm an aunt?

The two solid days with my dear, dear friend - who is also one of my sons' godmothers - was a test in patience, love and compassion. By her. I was just mortified. To be fair there were some parts of the days that conspired against them. We thought it would be fun to ride a boat in the harbor. It took us from the Aquarium to the Science Museum. We were assured it ran every 15 minutes. After we visited the Science Museum we got ice cream and waited in the 90 degree heat for nearly an hour for the liars who stole our money the boat that never came. The kids melted in every sense of the world.

She also doesn't have children which means her new condo is a real grown up place. A grown up place for a grown up with expensive tastes. So while I enjoyed the luxury for 32 seconds, we were both in a collective panic that the kids would smear chocolate on the suede couch or track dirt onto custom made rugs.

Then there was the whiny belligerence that just seemed louder, more obnoxious and more persistent then at home. Maybe because I had a witness for over 48 hours.

One bright note was our visit to the Aquarium. At the very top floor is a tropical forest. While climbing stairs we noticed a blue headed parrot fly toward us and land on a ledge near my head. I was able to adjust my camera to compensate for the light behind it. The little guy seemed to be posing for us. I handed my camera to my son and he got even closer to the parrot. His photos didn't turn out as well but it was amazing how close he was getting to the parrot.

"Oh my goodness!" declared a volunteer in a blue shirt behind me. "In all my years here I have never seen him get so close to any person!" She went on to say she hadn't seen him interact with other visitors like he seemed to be. Especially not children.

Thanks little parrot for giving me some bright blue during a hair-graying weekend. And thanks for recognizing my kids are inherently good. Especially since I forget sometimes.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

I needed votes the other day

I attended my first PTO meeting last month and was determined to find a way to get involved in my children's school. I listened to the options intently some of which were:

  • help sort cans for the weekly can collection - laudable but no

  • volunteer to be a recess monitor - I work during the day

  • plan extra art activities - again, very important but it required being at the school during the day.
    • Then, an option appeared. Being a parent representative on the school council which meets during the evening. This legislatively mandated body is required in every school in our state to work with the principal and three teachers to adopt educational goals, identify education needs, and create a school improvement plan. According to folks "in the know" usually the parent seats are hard to fill. So, after explaining that I didn't want to participate in a "popularity contest" I signed up for one of the three seats on the School Council.

      Along with 5 other parents. I found myself in an election. An election one parent said to me "pits you against the usual 5 people. The same, five, people."

      Now I know how to run an election. I've coordinated a legislative campaign to increase taxes statewide (think about that for a minute) and countless state budget initiatives. I know how to message, create materials and focus efforts on those most likely to vote. But I don't have the energy or inclination to run a "campaign" for the school council at my kids' elementary school.

      Then the PTO co-President asked that all the candidates email her a paragraph about why we wanted to be on the Council. So this is what I wrote:

      I am excited to have my family join the ----- School community. My twin sons are both first graders at the school. I attended public schools from K-12. Immediately after college I spent a summer teaching in Los Angeles then taught for a year in a New Orleans elementary school. I know how important it is to have parents who are engaged and care about the quality of education their children receive. Having (briefly) been a public school teacher I understand that parents need to be allies with the faculty and that everyone who works in the school, regardless of their job title, is creating a positive and stimulating environment for our children. Thank you for considering me for the School Council.

      The election was last Thursday. The vote count was Friday. I got a call from a friend that it was a close vote but I didn't win.

      So while I would have been a very good member of the School Council, I hope my kids learned it is o.k. to stick your neck out every once in a while. You may lose, but you may also win.


      So we're hitting the road again - just me and the kids. We're packing our weekend bags and getting on a plane to visit a dear, dear friend. I'll be back in blog-land next week.

      The kids are looking forward to singing this as they land in the airport:

      Give me a chance
      'Cause when I start to dance
      I'm a movie star
      Oh, oh, oh
      Something inside of me makes me move
      When I hear that groove...

      Where are we going?

      Wednesday, October 03, 2007


      Over the weekend my two sons and I went to the mall to hang out with someone in an orange dog suit. It was a promotion for one of their favorite shows.

      We are incredibly lucky to live where we do. Among the reasons is our local PBS station produces a large number of children's shows including Arthur, Postcards from Buster, Curious George, Timewarp Trio (even though that airs on Discovery Kids it is made by WGBH), Design Squad and others. It also means that there are opportunities to interact with the cast members of these shows. When those cast members are people.

      The premise of FETCH! With Ruff Ruffman is fun. Six kids compete for points over the course of the season. A cartoon dog, Ruff Ruffman, hosts the show in "Studio G" (he is sensitive about calling it the garage). He sends them on various outings (e.g. creating clothes for dogs, making gumbo in New Orleans, solving a crime with members of the Boston Police Department, creating derby cars) that involve math and/or science. What makes it even funnier for the grown-up watching (or overhearing) is the running commentary by the "dog" who is also the voice for the "shark" in Kenny the Shark.

      Which is how we came to spend part of a very sunny Saturday afternoon in the middle of the kids' clothes section of a suburban department store. Bridget, Willie, Mike, Rosario, Nina and Maddie were all there. My guys couldn't believe they were meeting the real kids that they watch on their television nearly every day. And those six "big kids" were just the nicest, most pleasant people to be around. Nothing star-like or pretentious about them.

      Which was good since the point of the day was to do science experiments with the "Fetchers" as they are called on the show. Here Willie and Mike are creating self-inflating balloons. Notice there are no grown-ups helping (they were floating around but not helping). These 11-14 year olds were genuinely kind to this group of young kids.

      But someone had to mention to my guys that 9 year olds can audition for the show. But when they heard they wouldn't be nine until 2009 they were very disappointed.

      So I'll have to send them on math outing. We'll start with the backyard.

      Tuesday, October 02, 2007

      Need some (fun) help from you....

      Really, I do. I'm working from home this morning. Believe it or not, while doing all my other projects I need to compile a list of songs from the last 25 years.

      Done laughing yet?

      It is the 25th anniversary of the organization I work for and we have two events coming up that in part celebrate this milestone. The folks coming to our annual meeting next Friday work in urban and rural communities trying to either revitalize their neighborhoods or hold on to the gains they have made. I was talking to someone yesterday and he told me that in only the last few months he has gotten over 100 phone calls from homeowners on the verge of foreclosure.

      "I could only help one of them" he said shaking his head. "I'm now a grief counselor. I'm trying to get people to understand they have lost their homes and helping them to move on."

      These folks need some fun next Friday. We're putting together a list of songs from the last 25 years to play over the sound system while they are registering and during lunch.

      However, you'll notice I'm coming up empty after 2000. In my defense I gave birth to premature twins in 2000 (who are healthy now) so I've been a bit busy for the last 7 years.

      This is where you come in. Help me fill in the years and make suggestions even for the years I already have some. Keep in mind the listeners will cross all incomes, races, languages and ages. This will be played starting at 8 in the morning and again as background during lunch.

      This is what I've got:

      1982 Prince - 1999
      1983 Big Country - In a Big Country
      1984 Depeche Mode - People are People
      1985 Miami Sound Machine - Hot Summer Nights
      Tears for Fears - Everybody Wants to Rule the World
      1986 Bangles - Walk like an Egyptian
      1987 Peter Gabriel - In Your Eyes
      1988 Phil Collins - Groovy kind of Love
      Tracy Chapman - Fast Car
      1989 B-52’s - Love Shack
      Milli Vanilli - Girl You know its true
      1990 Janet Jackson - Love will never do without you
      The Soup Dragons - I’m Free
      1992 Whitney Houston - I will always love you
      Annie Lennox - Walking on Broken Glass
      1993 Boys II Men - End of the Road
      1995 Mariah Carey - Fantasy
      1996 Celine Dion - Because you loved Me
      1998 Brandy and Monica - The Boy is Mine
      1999 Jennifer Lopez - If you had my love
      2000 U2 - Beautiful Day

      Now, don't go teasing about Milli Vanilli. One of my colleagues specifically requested it. And I adore her so don't even think of poking fun about that one.

      The neat thing about The Soup Dragons? That was a cover of the Rolling Stones' hit so it will make those folks in their 50's and 60's feel some love.

      You can make your suggestion as a comment or if you don't want the world to know your musical tastes, you can email me at amitchells AT yahoo DOT com.

      Oh, and if you are feeling particularly daring, please share why that song came to mind. Or why you think hundreds of community activists should dance on down to your choice.

      And there is no give-away or prize if I chose your song. Just the satisfaction of knowing you probably made some hard-working folks smile.

      Monday, October 01, 2007


      Vacation is usually less-than relaxing when you have young kids. This time, however, I turned my vacation into work and invited my parents to vacation with us, with the ulterior motive of having babysitters at the ready.

      My parents were willing participants in my conspiracy since the sun rises and falls with their grandchildren. Lucky for me they enjoy being with my kids and have much more patience for the normal cantankerous attitudes of five- and three-year-olds.

      Also, lucky for me, the writer’s block that had been plaguing me lately seems to have lifted and I have been pounding out sentence after glorious sentence into the wee hours of the morning. I’ve spent the last two years writing about people I have come to think of friends but never has their story flowed from my fingertips as swiftly as the current has this week.

      Perhaps it is the lapping of the lake at the shoreline. Perhaps it is the peacefulness of my children sleeping off their exhaustion after spending twelve hours outside swimming and fishing. Perhaps it was just time to find out what happens to my friends.

      I wander to the kitchen and find the bottle of Riesling that I had placed in the refrigerator last night to chill. The crystal flute chings pleasantly as I remove it from the cupboard. I locate the corkscrew with some difficulty and turn it in the cork.

      Glancing out the window as I pour the wine, I see my kids and my parents gathered around the campfire. They are all laughing at some secret joke and I feel a twinge of sadness that I am missing it.

      Flute in hand, I leave the kitchen and return to the den. My computer screen is beckoning to me brightly. I circle the table like a tom stalking his conquest. Finally, I swoop in, setting my glass beside the keyboard. With a deep breath, I plunge forward.

      “THE END.”

      The words sit on the screen innocently, but they are full of meaning. Taking a deep breath, I reach for my flute and toast the screen before taking a long swallow.

      I feel taller as I walk toward my family. I feel powerful and free.

      My kids run to greet me and we fall into a lounge chair together. Their hair smells woodsy and smoky and wonderful.

      The fire flickers before me like a finicky feline tongue, tentatively tasting its dinner. I smile as the sun sinks below the horizon, vanishing into amber and scarlet and orange.


      Heather is visiting my blog today. She is a mom to 2 children, 5-year-old M , and 3-year-old K. Heather’s mind contains random thoughts and she feels compelled to share them with strangers via her blog. She’s trying to write a novel, but is finding it difficult to get the words from her fingertips. It has been an honor to host Heather.

      This post is part of the October Blog Exchange. This month we're using the writing prompts “Black” or “Orange”. You can find me at Heather's site today, and the full list of participants can be found by clicking here.