Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Last Lap.......Four Ordinary Women

Patti Dickinson

Wednesday the galley arrived for our soon-to-be-released book, Four Ordinary Women.  It is a softcover, reduced-sized version of the hardback it will become after this final edit.  This time, we edit not from printer-spewed pages, but from this galley that is like a book.  The endorsements are there, the acknowledgements, the dedications, even a photo of us on the back cover.  It is really a humbling moment to hold it in my hands. Many feelings.  This is both a private and a public victory.  Private because I've always known that I had a book in me, and I have come close.  I had a quarter of a book in me.  Four authors total. Public because you can get this book at  That's about as public as you can get without running for office!  

So we edit for the third time, but instead of holding a bunch of dog-eared pages, we hold a book. I am saving this galley, making changes on a sheet of paper.  I want this galley to be a clean copy.  The kids have been funny...picking it up, thumbing through it.  My son, a high school senior, asked to take it to his high school journalism class.  So this little galley will be well-traveled.  It will become part of the family lore....each kid is mentioned several times in the book.  They love reading the parts about themselves.  Seeing themselves through my eyes. Perhaps even seeing me as not just the mom-who-keeps-the-family-on-track but a mom who aches with them when things are going wrong and who is happy to celebrate their accomplishments with the world.  

Okay, maybe not the world --- if the publisher has had this book translated into a number of languages he hasn't told me that yet!)  

Thursday, February 26, 2009

6 a.m. and the Gritty Work of Making Coffee

Patti Dickinson

I am mechanically impaired.  Honestly, I am about to throw my coffee pot out the window. This thing has no conscience.  It is state of the art, and has just a bit more attitude than I can stomach at six in the morning.  It has a built-in bean grinder.  It grinds the beans on the left-hand side of this contraption, and they pour into this cone shaped thing right below the grinder and then the cone shaped thing slams over to the right where the water is, and that is how the coffee happens at my house. 

Not this morning.  Oh, no.  There was NO coffee in the pot.  It was all over the counter, dripped inside the silverware drawer and then all over the floor. Brown water, with crunchy coffee grounds everywhere.  Not exactly starting the day from a position of strength.  In fact, if I didn't have three kids and a husband to get out the door, I would have made the decision to go back to bed and try this all again in a couple of hours.

The cause of the difficulty was that I didn't put the filter in the coffee pot.  It was still in the dishwasher.  So the beans ground and dumped all over the counter.  Ditto the water.  When my husband came out into the kitchen, I was on all fours, mopping up the sludge.  

"Coffee pot not working?"  I mean, really.  I didn't even dignify the question with a response. "What happened, exactly?"  I told him that there was obviously a flaw with this machine, because no self-respecting coffee maker that was touting itself as state of the art, should grind beans onto a COUNTER. It should just not grind the beans at all if the filter isn't even there! It ought to have some sort of sensor --- coffee pot radar, that would prevent this sort of calamity. (Spoken from the all-fours position and let's just say not in a conversational tone.)   I mean, we can text message to another country (I did it once, Kansas City to London, where my husband was on business) and we have coffee pots with no common sense????

My husband would call this a "user error" (but he knew enough not to mention that when I was elbow deep in coffee grounds!).  But how does that explain the toaster jettisoning the toast onto the floor?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Weighing In

by Pat Antonopoulos
Noticed some Academy Awards photos.
Noticed 'thin' almost to skinny.
Know that our culture seems obsessed with weight, size and shape.
Huge amounts of money are spent on trainers and gym time.
Groups flourish for the expressed purpose of regulating our size and shape.
Women diet to loose weight and undergo surgery to add dimension.
The value of our shell trumps the inner core.

Consider the reasons we consume food.
Two of those reasons are precious: sustenance and sharing love and the times of our lives.
Consider all we consume that is harmful to both nutrition and enhancing special moments.

Interesting concepts.

I pay dollars to the gym so I can exercise when the weather is uncomfortable. More of my dollars go to the local high school pool so I can burn calories. Daily walks and weekly ice skating chip away at the imbalance of intake and output. Granted, I love every minute of exercise and it does so much more than sustain the body.

In the distant past, I even became part of a group designed to teach the discipline of eating. Now eating habits are almost lock-step in routine. My grandchildren tease that I eat cheesecake once each year and that is my quota of dessert.

How absolutely silly that types!

When I was 50 years old, I joked that at 70, I would eat dessert first and take up cigarettes. Age 70 is now five months gone and dessert is not on the table. Cigarettes? Never.
Rationally I understand my regulated patterns, but those patterns are terribly annoying. My new resolution is for age 75. Then I will eat nothing but desserts so I have a ton of excuses to walk, skate and swim even more.

Monday, February 23, 2009

"Don't worry, Mom"

Patti Dickinson

I have a high school senior.  This is a great kid.  Good student, on the yearbook staff, varsity soccer and a terminal case of senioritis.  Definition: n.   A fourth year high school student who thinks high school is over and it's only February.  

He was off to a great start.  Took his ACT's in the spring of his junior year. Liked the number he got and decided that he wasn't retaking them.  I was good with that.  The next step required some introspection and "knowing thyself". Big school or small?  Rural?  Urban?  Ocean view? Mountain view?  Once that decision is made, then the research component time has come. Getting online and finding out about the programs, the admission requirements, whether an essay is required.  Then you fill out the application.  Write the essay.  Get your letters of recommendation.  Stop by the counseling office and get your transcripts sent.  This process is sequential and makes a lot of sense.  

He's done.  Finished all the applications and has heard from all but one of the schools.    Now it's time to schedule a visit.  That's where the ball gets dropped.  

Me:  "Did you call the admissions office to arrange a visit?"  
Him:  "Uhh, not yet."  
Me:  Big intake of air, and a loud-enough-to-be-heard exhale.  "Do you think that you can get that done in the next day or two?"  
Him:  "Oh sure.  Yeah.  Don't worry, mom."

I haven't had a boy-applicant in a while, and girls do this college application process very differently.  Girls sit and look at the literature that comes to the house, and file it, by school, in file folders.  Boys, well MY boy puts all the college literature in a plastic Target bag in his room. Somewhere near the foot of his bed underneath a pile of dirty clothes.  So I have been saying stuff that I probably wouldn't want him to repeat to his buddies at his lunch table.  "Fill out that stuff or no weekend, bud."  Stuff like that. Threatening.  Bribing.  

I know that he'll have a college to go to in the fall.  And I know that when we have settled him into his dorm room and driven the quiet drive back home with my husband from whatever city we deposit him in, that I will long for the high school senior who says, "Don't worry, mom."


An Out-of-the-Ordinary Family Meeting

Patti Dickinson

We have a family meeting every Sunday.  It's one of the rare times that we are all home together.  No one heading over to the Journalism room, or dashing out the door for an extra credit talk at Union Station that will turn the whole schedule on its side for three lousy points that will be averaged in, not added on.  (There's a big difference.)  

First we talked about Lent.  How we were going to manage getting ashes on Wednesday with everyone's school schedule.  Decided on 6:30 a.m. at St. Ann's.  No one groaned.  They know better.  

Then we talked about the economy.  Don't be too impressed here at the topics for this particular family meeting.  Most of them are mundane and predictable. Previous topics would include:  who didn't flush, clean out the cat box, pick up their towel from the bathroom floor, who hasn't picked up their laundry in two weeks from the laundry room (and this is a five second inconvenience, because the MOM is the one who washes, dries and folds!!).  Who leaves the garage door open when they go somewhere (that would be the sole kid-driver in the house!).  

So, we talked about ways to save money around the house.  Turning lights off, not taking forty-five minute showers (I keep telling the kids that when I am usually the last person taking a shower at the end of the day,  I am not smiling when the ice cold water hits me and I am gasping to get enough oxygen), not pouring a full glass of milk and drinking half and tossing the rest in the sink.  Lots of good ideas.  (Sorry to report that when I came out into the kitchen this morning, the playroom lights were all on....).  

So I went to the grocery store this morning.  Usually this is a chaotic careen down the aisles and home.  This time I was conscious of every single thing I put in the cart.  Did we need this? Was there a better snack choice for the kids as they eat their way through the pantry at the end of the school day?  I saved some money.  Put some things back and thought, "We don't really need this."  Want, yes.  Need, no.  I think that this is going to be a steep learning curve, as we raise our awareness.  Nothing but good can come from this.

Next week, we'll get back to who's going to bring the trash barrels/recycling bin back from the end of the driveway sometime before the next pickup! 

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Nice Matters, No Matter How Many Nickels You Have

Patti Dickinson

I am a lucky woman. I am finally at a point in my life where I have discretionary time. Time when all I do is not carting kids to sixteen zip codes, signing permission slips, doing laundry, helping with science fair projects (worms in a metal trash container and seeing whether coffee grounds improve the quality of the dirt they're slithering around in), laundry, grocery shopping and showing up at one of several schools with two dozen cupcakes in hand. I have been doing PTA stuff for close to two decades and those were some rewarding years. We are down to three kids at home (except when my two college kids come home for the summer and rebound back into the Dickinson nest). My youngest, Margaret, is in middle school. And I will not earn any points being Margaret's mom in the middle school hallways. I get that.

But I wanted something more than wearing a Happy Bear costume to show Kindergarteners good/bad touching (by the way, those costumes get so hot that the last time I wore one, the fan was broken -- yup, they come with fans inside -- and I was seeing spots when I walked into the classroom). I have sold my share of carnival tickets, been a room mom for nearly two decades of kids, and orchestrated a few Talent Shows. Yup, I was ready for something different.

I moved out of my comfort zone. I have always been fascinated with all things medical. So I did the obvious thing --- I volunteered at a local hospital. Within ten minutes of the interview I was sitting at the Information Desk answering/transferring phone calls. You don't want to know how many people I disconnected the first hour. The daily total would scare us both and would have prompted an in-house investigation by the administrators, had they known. I worked with a twenty-something girl who used her computer screen (where we were supposed to be looking up room numbers) to count how many people at the hospital had died in recent months, while I had four people on hold and my hair was standing on end. All while she continued her macabre census. This clearly wasn't what I was looking for. I wanted volunteer work where I could roll up my shirtsleeves and get my hands dirty.

Next stop. A health clinic in Kansas City that offers free health care for the indigent, homeless, unemployed and uninsured. They offer an STD clinic, Pregnancy testing, an HIV clinic, psychological services, TB testing, as well as doctor's appointments. Appointments are made the day before for the next day. No "advance" appointments. Oftentimes, when the phone lines open at 8 a.m., all the appointments are filled for the next day in under ten minutes. The doctor/nurses are all volunteers. I am humbled to be rubbing elbows with these amazing professionals. They want no recognition. These guys are in a league all their own. It's not about a paycheck for them.

I made a lot of mistakes that first day. I told patients to fill out the wrong forms, and after hurriedly telling each patient that they would have to redo the forms, they just smiled, told me it was not a big deal. Wow. Nice, really nice. I have shared some laughs, heard some heart-breaking stories, touched lives and been touched. Touched by the grit, the hopefulness, the gratitude, the sturdiness, that oftentimes seems to be missing in the general population.

I love this job. I walk out of there after putting in my four hours and feel good. Walk out into the fresh air and feel like I have done something important. The lesson isn't so much that I am blessed. No, this message is much broader. The lesson is "There but for the grace of God go any of us." But so many people don't know that. They cling to their prejudices -- that these people just need to get a job, that they're all drinking out of a brown paper bag on a street corner, that they're lazy or to be feared, that they're looking for something for nothing. The patients in that waiting room are some of the nicest strangers I have had the chance to share some time with.


by Pat Antonopoulos
Retirement time slides along with fewer and fewer pegs on which to hang specific happenings. The exact number of years ago slips my mind but sometime prior to retirement (10 years ago), a friend and I did a presentation on the effects of the media message. We had boxes of research, charts of statistics and an unstoppable passion. We spoke to any group that would invite us.

In the presentation, we resorted to a an occasional cliches like 'slippery slope' because the slide was happening and we feared that the bottom of the slope was a place where our children would be grievously harmed. An article in the latest issue of Newsweek is titled: Teens, Nude Photos and the Law. The author writes about children as young as 13 using cell phones to send personal nude photos.

Are we there yet? Have we given the advantages of technology to our children without weighing the degree to which we should also give the advantages and protections of safeguards? Are we approaching the bottom of what we will tolerate for our children? Can we feel outrage that the innocence is compromised to the degree that a child will see nothing harmful in sharing her/his body in a public forum?

In my opinion, this is an issue squarely placed in the hands of families. We cannot look to the technology people to make the protection decisions. Nor can we hand one more safety issue to any government agency. Open the window blinds. Invite friends and neighbors. Communicate and solve. In the meantime, gather our children into the safety of the family and walk with them through to a place where they are truly protected.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Jigsaw Puzzles and Two Kinds of Checkers

Patti Dickinson

I bought a terrific jigsaw puzzle right before Christmas. It's a fat snowman, with a banner reading, "Believe" underneath it. It has 500 pieces. It sat on our slanted, distressed antique desk in the living room throughout the holidays. I put exactly FIVE pieces together. A whopping one percent! Not that I gave it a lot of time. I would stop when a kid would be working on it, and make a few attempts, in hopes of finding two pieces that fit together. To be honest, I never really cared much for doing puzzles, and that is because doing puzzles is not a match with my skill set. I am not much good at even making an educated guess about which piece goes where (unless it's an edge piece, because those would have one flat side and that increases the odds of finding a match! And I am absolutely GIFTED at finding the four corner pieces!!!) I have to be VERY careful how I approach taking a stab at joining two pieces. I learned that one the hard way. My kids now know that I am pretty awful at puzzles. So when I try and put two pieces together they stop what they are doing and look to see what I am doing. If I am making an outrageous assumption about how these two pieces could possibly go together, you can feel the eyeball exchange between the two kids who are standing there. All without even looking either kid in the face.

Similarly, I have the same difficulty with checkers. Not a game of chance. Oh, no. Checkers, both the red and black variety and the Chinese kind, require that you visualize the big picture. That you anticipate the predictable moves of your partner. Chinese checkers are pure chaos. Little marbles laid out across the board, with, ideally, one space separating them so you can do the jumping thing and move one little marble very quickly across the board. Likewise the red/black checkers. Confession: I can start with twelve checkers and my kids can start with eight and STILL beat me. And they are NOT gracious winners, either. Oh, no. Howling with laughter as I lose King after King and wind up being backed into a corner with nowhere to go where I won't get double jumped!!

Games I do like? Backgammon. I win and I gloat. Crazy Eights. Old Maid because I am good at the stone face bluffing. (Okay I can hear you thinking that this is a game for four-year-olds....) I am not a competitive game player....I would gladly sell all four railroads in Monopoly to a struggling opponent. Playing games brings people together. Impossible to gather the family around the kitchen table with a bowl of popcorn and not share some laughs and some good conversation. And still be laughing about it all the next morning.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Wii Wondering

Pat Antonopoulos

A mother of a five year old boy believes in trikes and Big Wheels and I shout 'Bravo'. She follows that with the belief that Wii promotes exercise and I revisit my memory of two young nephews playing with a Christmas gift Wii. Following that experience, I saw two older relatives using the same activities. Both experiences took me right to that place where I store all my rationalizations from my children's growing years.

My relatives used the game for baseball, tennis, bowling and more play after I left the room. Their arms got a nice waving workout and they moved a bit from the waist. The activities lacked the impact of muscle with racket, bat, whatever.

Contrast Wii activities with the fresh air, sunshine and actual running on a tennis court. Consider hitting a baseball and all-out focus on rounding the bases, being part of a team. Feel the power of pounding a serve across the volleyball net. The bend and stretch of bowling coupled with handling the weight of the ball just does not balance with holding the Wii control and watching a TV screen.

Granted, it was fun to watch the kids enjoy yet another electronic toy. And each of these relatives is very active in age appropriate sports plus enjoying the trikes and bikes for the sheer exhilaration of challenging their own abilities. The sport exercise came long before the electronic board game called Wii.

My doubts extend to the belief that playing a game on Wii will carry a child into the actual sport by creating interest through the TV game. Wii is couch potato compared to smacking a ball across the net or racing to make that third out catch.

There is a place for Wii and the laughter and fun associated with it is good for family and friends. But the benefits of real exercise are so much more than laughter and fun. Perhaps every hour spent on Wii should be matched with an hour of true physical exercise and at least one hour with a book. That would approach balance.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Huh? Cut and Paste?????

Patti Dickinson

I've been at this blog for six days. But I have CHECKED the blog six hundred times. You should see me when I get on the blog and find out I have a new "follower"!!! And when someone leaves a comment? There aren't words.....

As one of four authors of the soon-to-be released book, Four Ordinary Women the blog is a way to "extend the experience" to our readership. The blog address will be on the book jacket. The book will be at the UCLA Book Expo in late April, and at the NYC Book Expo in late May/early June. It is a new way to market yourself.

My computer skills are minimal (okay, they're non-existent). My brain just doesn't see the logic of how computers work. Take the cut and paste function. It usually takes me three tries. The first time, I have the cursor in the wrong place, so that what I am trying to paste winds up in the address line. Ooops. The second time, I have to figure out whether you highlight before you click on "cut" or after. My brain can't hold on to this information. It's easier for me to retype than cut and paste.

I am proficient at forwarding, emailing and deleting. I can put stuff in the trash can. And I know how to empty the trash can. I still lack consistency in making folders. My husband is a computer whiz kid. He does his best not to be exasperated when he has to talk me through all kinds of computer difficulties when I am at home and he is at work. He thinks I know where the browser is. He thinks I know how to "refresh". I know neither of those things. Refresh? Isn't that a squirt of perfume and a quick swipe with the lip gloss? He doesn't believe me when I say, "I didn't touch can I mess the settings up when I don't even know HOW to change the settings?"

Passwords. That's a whole 'nother issue. I have fifteen different passwords. NONE of them are my social security number. At least I know enough not to do that. My husband considers it an intellectual challenge to figure it out by trying different numbers. Not me. I try one number and if it's not right I am ready to throw the computer under a moving train. (And it's NEVER right on the first try!!)

We have this on-line banking thing where we can see a list of our accounts after typing in two different sets of passwords. If you type even ONE wrong letter/number, it then puts you through a series of questions. My mother's mother's aunt's maiden name. Or the first car I ever drove. Do they mean the first car I ever drove, or the first car of the person who set up the default questions. So I have to call my husband, and get him out of a meeting to ask him what the first car he ever drove was.....

No wonder he puts his phone on silent.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Waldo Pizza and the Teachable Moments

Patti Dickinson

Waldo Pizza --- a destination place for a family dinner. The best raspberry iced tea in town, and the pizza is good as well. We all ordered, and played Kansas City Trivia with the cards on the booth table. "What does KCAI stand for?" Kansas City Art Institute. "What restaurant was at One Ward Parkway?" Sydney's Diner. And so it went. The pizza came, and as it turned out the waitress made a mistake and put in our order for 2 - 12" pizzas instead of 2 10" pizzas. She charged us for the smaller pizzas, but left us with two boxes of leftover pizza. As we walked to the car, I said, "Hey, let's drive down to the Plaza and give our leftovers to the homeless guys who are down there." A way to help someone who needed a warm meal in their stomach, and save me the inevitable pangs of guilt when I threw out the leftovers two days from now.

So we drove to the Plaza. The homeless man was on my side of the car, and my 15 year old daughter, Meghan, sitting behind me said, "I'll give it to him." Totally unlike her.....usually a quiet, reluctant kid. As she handed it out the window, with "Here's a cheese pizza!" he yelled, "Thank you....thanks....and God bless." We circled the block and found another homeless man on the median down the center of a busy street. My seventeen year old son, Andrew, said, "I'll get out." He bailed out of the back seat and ran across the street....handed the pizza to the man, had another brief exchange of words and bolted back toward our car before the light changed.

Quiet in the car. Meghan says, "Boy, that felt good." Agreement all around. Made me teary with the power of the person can make a difference. One person at a time. We stepped outside our comfort zone. I didn't want this to be a cliche moment. How blessed we are....blah blah blah. We talk about that all the time. No, this time I wanted the kids to know that the homeless are often mentally ill, and what it must be like to feel the humiliation of standing on a street corner, with all your belongings on your back, wondering if you were going to get a meal that night. How the paradigm of the homeless is the here and now. Where I can sleep tonight, and where the next meal is coming from. No plans for a week from now. Their lives are measured in the next few hours.

Lessons Learned from the Volleyball Court

Patti Dickinson

No blog yesterday. That's because I left the house at 6:20 a.m. with my husband, my daughter Meghan, and her friend and teammate, Laine. It is our turn to drive. Still dark. Two kids, slumped in the backseat, fleece blankets up to their chins. Both with zip lock bags full of Trix cereal for a sugar boost when they arrive in Leavenworth, a forty-five minute drive from Kansas City where we live. They settle in for part two of their night's sleep. Two adults in the front, both with enough liquid caffeine to see them through the morning. Completely quiet in the backseat. 

This is club volleyball. This is an add-on to the regular high school season. A chance for kids to sharpen their skills in the off-season. But it is so much more than that. A chance for the kids to rub elbows with kids who don't go to their high school. A chance for them to practice getting up at 5:30 on a Saturday morning. They don't see the benefit of that right now. The better question is --- Is there one??? A chance to depend on one another, a chance for them to make mistakes and get a pat on the back from several teammates anyway. A chance for them to forgive another's screw-up. A chance for them to realize that this is just a game. It's supposed to be fun. It's a chance for them to learn to screen out out-of-control parents who are screaming and red-faced, throwing up their hands every time a mistake is made, a ball is missed or a serve doesn't make it across the net. It's a way for them to keep a stiff upper lip when they are being singled out by the coach for some sloppy playing on the court. That maybe they need to just bite their lip and not burst into tears, but instead look around at their teammates and derive strength from their empathic looks. To learn that coaches, too, are human.

The ride back home wasn't too much different from the one going. Some hindsight insights from the kids in the backseat. Once that was done, they got quiet, ate some bagel chips, and snoozed.

Good day, all around. I love the bleacher time. I love watching Meghan play. It's a way for my 5'10" daughter to "sing" on the court. Polite, gentle Meghan finds a way to compete. This is the same kid who in elementary school played basketball and would steal the ball from the opponent and stop and APOLOGIZE!!! Really.


Pat Antonopoulos

Whenever there is a personal milestone of celebration, the family sits in the first several rows of our church. During the service, the pastor will recognize and bless the occasion. Our congregation is small and such a celebration gathering is obvious throughout the church.
On Valentine Day the front pews filled as the extended family continued to arrive, beautifully dressed with smiles to match. The service began and the pastor came forward touching the shoulders of the oldest couple in the family group. He stood quietly for a minute or two as if he were awed by the occasion.
Facing the congregation, Pastor Frank announced that today was the 60th Wedding Anniversary for this couple. Applause, sustained and sincere, filled the church.
Their life together began in Europe 60 years ago. They immigrated to the United States, raised a family, struggled with the problems of learning a new culture, cherishing the former culture, finding work, educating their children, blending while staying separate.
This celebration was a tribute to the bedrock meaning of love.

An Ordinary Greeting

Pat Antonopoulos

Good Morning,
An ordinary greeting from an ordinary woman who is part of an extraordinary experience. Four of us, all ordinary women, will become published authors in late April presenting the world of books with Four Ordinary Women, Seven Locks Press.
Being part of the experience of writing, submitting and acceptance is a gift that this 70 year old ordinary woman is relishing with both joy and trepidation. We welcome you to enjoy the journey with us.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Teacher Conferences

Patti Dickinson

The long tables are set up in the gym around the perimeter of the room. Chairs are in the center, facing the tables, for parents to sit while they wait for their turn to talk with the teacher. Funny, but you can tell by the body language of the parent(s) how it's going....good news or bad, adversarial or easy-going banter. Some parents ignore the seven minute limit. Parents bent over teacher-generated progress reports, palm to forehead, is usually a good indication that all's not well in academic paradise. Teachers circling grades....parents taking lots of notes. You know THOSE parents are going directly home to demand to see the planner where the kids are supposed to write assignments/dates of tests/field trips. These parents are on a mission, not stopping to chat with other parents, or even stop at the cookie table for a quick sugar pick-me-up. Nope. Important business to conduct back home at the kitchen table.

Back at home, the inevitable, "Ummm how were conferences?" Translation: The teachers surely wouldn't have put you in atrial fibrillation and told you EVERYTHING. This is the kind of news that is more safely handed out in small, small doses. But this is middle school. Seven different teachers. So each teacher, independent of the others, just delivers HER/HIS information, as seen from HER/HIS perspective. If things are not going well in four of the seven classes, ohhh boy. You're in for a long morning!

Just today, I was at conferences at my kid's middle school. A few bumps, a little struggle. Nothing that will keep her out of higher education options, and nothing, probably that will even keep her off the honor roll if she steps it up a notch. And as I shared with one teacher her struggles, and I teared up in the telling, I looked up, and saw there were tears in the teacher's eyes. In three heartbeats, we had accomplished something that paragraphs of words couldn't. A poignant moment that went unacknowledged by either of us. She shared some of her son's struggles. She touched something deep down in me....a compassionate moment where she became a part of the village. Ready to shed the I'm-the-teacher-you're-the-parent and collaborate with me, step outside that role and roll up her shirtsleeves to be part of the solution. Thank you, JS. You lightened the load. I will sleep better, knowing that my kid will have a safe place to land at least one time during the school day. I have a quote on my says, "You have not lived a perfect day unless you have done something for someone who will never be able to repay you." Congratulations and thank you.

Kid Lessons 101

Patti Dickinson

Here's what I have learned from my kids ---

How to do a perfectly executed time-out,

That scoring the "middle" piece of the gooey butter cake is considered a personal victory in a big family,

That they are a fascinating mix of smart, practical, artistic, athletic, independent, gentle, spunky, hilarious and sensitive (you know who you are),

That they led me through a series of skinned knees, dented fenders, lost retainers, carpools, speeding tickets, broken collarbones, detentions, the throwing up kind of flu and a few squirming-in-my-seat teacher conferences,

That the menagerie of pets that came through the front door -- the cats, Griggsby and Grumbles, the bunnies, Dot and Thumper, the turtle, Squirt and the hermit crabs, in quick succession, Sheldon, Hermanopolis, Shelly and Hermie, added to the chaos but taught us about "all creatures great and small",

That they have had some poignant questions --" Why does God like burglars?" and some downright smart aleck answers,

That they will never know what those quiet moments on the couch, in the middle of the night, feeding a sleepy baby, meant to me.

That they have humbled me (and you DO know who you are) and made my hair stand on end when I braved going upstairs to see the train wreck that you all call your room,

THat we have searched for a litany of stuffed animals and dolls -- Snuffles, Cricket, Delver, Skippy, Oatmeal, Baby Owlie, Marshmello and Abby, that comforted you while you slept, and some that we went through heroic measures to find when they inadvertenly got left in airports, grocery carts, stores (back up three levels on the escalator), playgrounds, and baseball stadiums,

That I have sat on the bleachers or stood on the sidelines for eight high school sports (soccer, basketball, cross country, track, tennis, volleyball, wrestling and swimming) in the rain, sleet, snow, frigid temperatures, and in the blistering heat, smeared with sunscreen

That we stick together, we do. That when one of us hurts, we all hurt. That when we are hurting, when we've disappointed ourselves or each other, we stay the course.

That we have endured, and we are stronger than the sum of our parts.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Dioramas and soggy snowmen

Patti Dickinson

Hilarious essay in the newpaper this morning. The gist of the article was that as your kids grow, you ought to be holding back pictures of them at all ages and stages for when you hit those elementary school years where they have to do a time-line of their lives, with a picture to go with every event. This woman says that it will save you lots of tearing-your-hair-out time in the years to come -- ransacking through attic boxes, calling grandma to see if you can borrow-back all the pictures on her refrigerator that you gave her over the years. Good common sense, spoken like a mom who has been around the block a few times.

But I would take that pre-planning thing a step further. Never, EVER throw away a shoebox. These are used with regularity in the elementary classroom. No self-respecting elementary teacher lets a kid out of their classroom without assigning a diorama.

Dioramas. I can feel a migraine coming on at just the near mention. Always entails a trip to Hobby Lobby to purchase Indians, horses, fake dirt or grass. Popsicle sticks. Trees that you construct yourself. And aluminum foil to make a lake in the middle. And lots of glue. A special kind of glue that won't make the box soggy.

Reminds me of a party craft that the room moms came up with one year for the Christmas party in a second grade classroom. The idea was to make snowmen. Felt snowmen. I took the pattern (sight unseen) and said that I would cut the stuff out. Little did I know that there were no fewer than 10 pieces (I am counting each button as it's own individual piece!!) The head, the body, the legs. The scarf, the black buttons for the front, mittens and the hat. It took me twelve hours to get the cutouts done. And three different pairs of scissors, because the felt starts to just shred when the scissors aren't sharp enough.

So --- party day dawns. We are set. Snowman pieces, Elmer's and enough enthusiasm to carry us through. Thirty kids in groups of four, and a parent with each group to facilitate the gluing process. So we glued the head to the body and the body to the legs. Then we glued the scarf to the neck, the buttons to the front and the hat to the head. But's not sticking. So we do what any desperate room mom would do, to the sounds of 30 whiny voices saying, "Mine isn't working right." She tries to use MORE glue. And then maybe just a little bit more (Elmer's used to work!!!) Finally these snowmen are weighing in at about five pounds each. Four and seven-eighths pounds for the glue. We now have 30 sopping wet snowmen, nothing is sticking to anything and a bunch of moms with sweat beads on their upper lips and expressions of complete frustration. Moral of the story: Felt will not stick to anything with Elmer's. This is a project for a glue gun.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Trying to find my rhythm without music

Patti Dickinson

Confession: I am trying to find a blogging rhythm. Right now I know three people who have read this blog. Thank you Wood, Jill and Mary. That is a 300% jump since I began. Yesterday. If this continues exponentially, by the end of the week I could be in the low double digits!!!

Maybe I am over-thinking this blog. Maybe I just need to relax into this. Let it happen. Listen to the internal voice. But wait....the internal voice is saying, "Fold the laundry" and "It's 4:20, what's for dinner...and there is nothing defrosted and it looks like if you don't think of something fast, dinner is going to arrive in a cardboard box and what's inside is shaped like a bunch of triangles." And not that it matters, but it will also taste like cardboard. So you can see that the relaxing-thing isn't working too well. Not my style. With all my years of chaotic living, ten of us under the same roof made that statistically impossible.

Still don't know what to do with myself when the house is empty. A huge expanse of time ought to have a substantial project attached to it. But I do love our front porch. We had that put on the house in the Spring of 2005. A place to just "be". I am getting better at just being.


Patti Dickinson

There has been a lot written about the effectiveness of multi-tasking. The experts tell us that men don't do it, and are more efficient/accurate from a production standpoint. Women have that ability from birth, and it is a cellular thing. I realize that I am playing fast and loose with the science of this....

I get up in the morning and have a routine I follow. On weekdays, the path I follow through the kitchen/laundry room is the same every single day. Never varies. I get up, put my glasses on so I can find the bathroom. Then it's out to the kitchen, with an armful of laundry I turn off the front porch light, (if it's a Tuesday or a Friday the laundry bag with my husband's shirts gets heaved outside for time the Salvation Army took it by mistake, and you cannot imagine what kind of multi-tasking efforts that took....simultaneously screaming at the woman that answers the phone while I was driving carpool, and calculating how many hundreds of dollars worth of shirts were in that bag that I had no idea of the location of....) Then I come around the corner into the kitchen and push the coffee pot button. To the hum of grinding beans, I throw that armload of laundry in the washer and start it up. Then I crank the heat up (my husband tells me I keep the house cold enough to hang meat!) and make the kids' lunches. Then out to get the newpaper, and if it's a Monday/Tuesday or Thursday, I cut the "World Watch" summary out and put it on Meghan's backpack, so she can turn that in for extra credit (I know that there are more than a few of you that think that I am over-functioning by doing that for her.....but I was always the mom that would run forgotten lunches up to school..

And so it goes. Not multi-tasking might have some benefits....maybe more focused attention is paid so there are less "errors". But when time is of the essence, multi-tasking is the way to get it done -- quick!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Blog Intimidation

Patti Dickinson

There is nothing quite as intimidating as a big, blank blog square to a first-time blogger. I am going to give this my best effort, knowing that this first one is going to be like the first throw it in the sink.

I am the mom of eight, grandmother to three, soon to be four, a wife of one (haha) and an author. I am a knitter, a hugger, and an avid reader. I am NEVER without a book. I wrote, with three other women, a book called Four Ordinary Women. It will be published in April 2009.

I live an ordinary life. I drive carpools, sit on the bleachers and watch my kid play volleyball, I do my share for the PTA, have kids that keep me humble, need to lose a little weight and am awfully proud of the fact that my photo album is caught up. Some of the other parts of my life are in shambles, but boy, you need to see Christmas 2008 pictures, I can take you right to them. The kids' rooms, with one exception, are absolute train wrecks. That just means that I have normal kids, and that my expectations are completely unrealistic. I have been on the losing end of that stick for years.

Stay tuned....