Thursday, December 23, 2010

Do-over with Pierre

The husbie is at a meeting with an acquaintance of ours who was shot in the head at a pizza place minutes from our house about a month ago. Eric is expected to make a full recovery, thank God, and as a result, he wants Dick to design some anti-violence posters for an organization called High Impact. I question the efficacy of a poster to stop someone with a gun, but being a supportive wife, and being completely shocked at the rise of violence in our neighborhood the past few years, I helped Dick brainstorm a few ideas, and off he went, designs in tow, to meet Eric at the aforementioned pizza place. Godspeed, Eric. You're a braver man than I.

How does this tie into my wanting a Do-Over you may wonder? Believe it or not, it does.

For over a decade, I volunteered as Youthfriend for Longfellow school, an inner-city school not far from work. Every week, I spent my lunch hour with a kid who made my not-so-perfect childhood look like Disneyland.

I'll never forget my first student, a first grader named Pierre. Pierre's dad was in jail, and his mom was a drug addict who'd left him to be raised by his grandma. Pierre was the sole survivor of a set of twins. His twin brother died at birth. Pierre almost died because he was so sick, and he'd lost all his "electric lights" as he explained to me.

Pierre was a handful. Mind you, I had NO experience with kids. I wasn't even an aunt yet, and I knew nothing about how kids, like dogs, can smell fear. Pierre surmised I had no experience in exercising authority over kids from day one. The me back then would say "Pierre, please don't tip back in your chair, Honey, you might fall and crack your head." The me today would say "Pierre, you know better--all chair legs on the floor NOW before you bust your head wide open." Just one of the things I learned about dealing with kids since then. You have to show them you're the alpha in the relationship.

Pierre was my Youthfriend for four years. He was funny and entertaining, and he could do his school work, if he just had someone to help him concentrate and focus. But students don't have that luxury at Kansas City public schools.

Here's my do-over. One Christmas, Pierre gave me a gift. I unwrapped a box to find a dishtowel and two pot-holders with a basket of little gray kittens on it.

Here's what I did wrong. (Remember, I knew NOTHING about kids at this point.) I let a millisecond too long go by before reacting favorably.

"You don't like it, do you," he said.

"Yes, I do, Pierre. I love it. I really do," I back-pedaled.

But it was too late. The moment had passed. I blew it. Now I realize I should have made a HUGE deal about this gift. I should have gushed immediately and showed more enthusiasm. Pierre and his grandma barely had money for food and clothes for that kid, let alone a gift for his 30-something, white lady friend with a good job.

Geeze. Is there anything worse than disappointment in a little kid's eyes? ESPECIALLY if you're the source.

I think about Pierre quite often. When he was in 5th grade, he used to roll his eyes at his buddies when I came to get him.
I said "Pierre, I can get you a new Youthfriend, if you want. I don't want you to feel like you have to do this." I even talked to the principal.

"Find out if he wants to quit but is afraid to say so because he doesn't want to hurt my feelings. Find out if he'd feel better with a guy, " I asked her.

She called me at work later in the week. "I talked to Pierre's grandma. He likes you, Renée. He talks about you to his Grandma. He even has pictures of you two together thumbtacked to the wall in his room. Stick with him. He needs you. "

And then she went on to say "I'll never forget the first time I read about one of my ex-students getting shot and killed in a crime. I hope Pierre doesn't end up to be one of those boys. He could you know. Hang in there with him. You make a difference."

So I hung in. Did I make a difference? I have no idea. The world is a hard place for a black males, especially when they start out
like Pierre.

I know he made a difference in my life. He taught me to be patient. He taught me what it was like to grow up poor without a mom and dad in a questionable part of town. He taught me what it was like to go to school with a bunch of kids whose teachers spent a lot of time policing their rooms, rather than teaching. And he taught me there are some moments with kids that you can't do over. I just hope the good moments we shared made up for that one where I messed up.

Merry Christmas, Pierre, wherever you are. And I hope it's somewhere good.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

#3 In long-list of Do-Overs

I wish I'd never posted what I did yesterday.

Sometimes I misjudge what I think might be interesting
to other people

Another thing I wish I could do over
was trying a new "healthy" recipe for Roasted Cauliflower
with a Dijon Garlic viniagrette. It was tasty but not filling.
It would have been much more delicious had I not omitted the bacon, thereby
totally undoing the whole "healthy" idea.

Why can't anything healthy taste as good as everything unhealthy?

OK, back to trying to thing of another topic
to write about.

Let me know if you want the Roasted Cauliflower
recipe. (I know, Russ, you absolutely do NOT.).

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

#2 in Long List of Do-Overs

I'm not the only woman I know who's done this, but I really wish none of us had.

The first time I confessed to a friend that I knew I was making a mistake the minute before I walked down the aisle, she looked at me in disbelief. I thought she was surprised by my confession, but she wasn't.

"I felt the same way right before I got married," she said. "I always thought it was just me."

The more divorced women my age that I've talked to, the more I've discovered that I wasn't the only one who knew she was making a mistake.

Last week, I got together for dinner with a some of my closest friends in high school. We hadn't seen each other in nearly ten years. I brought up the issue again because I had to make sure I remembered

"So, did we all know we were making a mistake the first time?"

The answer was pretty much "yes."

But we did it anyway.


I have a theory.

In the late '70's, if you didn't move away to go to college, that's just what we did. In fact, five of my six bridesmaids and I all married within three years of graduating from high-school. Now all of us are divorced from our first husbands, some from their second.

I can't speak for them, but here's my story.

When I came home and told my parents that my boyfriend proposed, I'd figured they'd say "No, you're too young.
You've got to finish school." And I'd pretend to be all mad but really I'd be relieved because I knew deep down I wasn't ready.

Instead, my mom and dad said "Congratulations and start saving because we're not made of money. We're not paying for the whole thing." Or something like that.

So, I put school on hold for awhile, got a full-time job, and got married. After I got married, I started going to school at night, pursuing my B.A. in English of all things (marrying young wasn't the only mistake I made), and I graduated nine years later.

Here's what I wish I would have done instead:

I should have told my boyfriend the truth--"I'm too young, and frankly, so are you to make this kind of decision. Neither of us even knows who we are ourselves, much less what we want in a life partner," except I would have talked more like I did in 1979, using words and phrases like "bummer," "no jive" and "catchya later." I would have saved both of us a lot of heartache, and I would have saved myself a lot of guilt that I carry to this day.

As it was, I lived with my parents until I got married. I walked down the aisle, knowing I was making a mistake. And when I got divorced at 31, I had never spent the night alone. I'd never made a mortgage payment or balanced a checkbook in my life. I knew nothing about being an independent adult. NOTHING. It was hard. It was worse than hard. It was horrible. Being alone and not knowing how to do it. And having no one to ask how to do it because, oh, by the way, among other things I wish I could change, I wish my mom hadn't died when I was 24.

OK, I'd better stop or my friend Russ will have to say "Another bummer post."

So, that's a pretty big "do-over"--I wish I hadn't married my first husband.

The only thing that makes me feel slightly better is that I'm sure he wished he hadn't married me either.

Crap. Now I can't find a way to tie this all up neatly.

But that's life. Life is all about making mistakes and not being able to tie things up neatly.

And yet, we go on. We pick ourselves up, and we go on.

If you're lucky, you get a chance to say you're sorry. If you're lucky, you get an apology in return. My ex-husband and I exchanged sincere "I'm sorry's" at his grandmother's funeral about twenty years ago. From me, it was sincere. It felt sincere from him. We were apologizing for different things, but no matter. We were both sorry. We'd made mistakes. We'd moved on.

But I still wish none of that would have happened.

My last do-over post was about standing up for myself. This one is about standing up and admitting that I made a mistake. My ex-husband? He didn't make a mistake. It was me. All me. I made a BIG mistake. Two big mistakes. The result? I ended up hurting a really decent, stand-up good guy who did nothing wrong.

What happened? I let someone else turn my head and make me wonder. I let someone else make me think I could be happier.

I left my marriage for someone else who turned out to be an even bigger mistake.

So, yeah. Big, gigantic, embarrassing, shameful do-over. Those are the worst.

P.S. Sorry, Russ. Bummer, I know. They can't always be someone else's fault. Sometimes, they're my own.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

#1 in a Long List of Do-overs

About twenty years ago, I worked on a staff of thirteen people. Every Christmas, a guy in our department hosted an extravagant holiday party at his house. An extravagant, exclusive holiday party. Most of the people he invited were friends of his who weren't on our staff. A few times, one or another of my glamourous contemporaries made the cut, but I never did.

Here's how the annual gala became a bee in my bonnet.

This man would begin bragging insufferably about the festivities weeks beforehand. He'd describe in painstaking detail to anyone within earshot about who was invited, what catering company he'd chosen, which hors d'oeuvres would be served, how much champagne he was buying, and the name, as well as a detailed physical description, of the handsome bartender he'd selected.

And he did it as though it were perfectly acceptable to tell those of us who weren't invited what a great time we'd be missing.

A week or so after the party, he'd gather us together so that he could dramatically unveil the party pics. And there they all were, everyone who wasn't us, all glammed up in their black-tie finery and fancy holiday dresses, toasting, laughing and smiling the smile of the chosen. It was all so "Gatsby."

The weirdest part, in retrospect, was not his boorish behavior, but that the rest of us "uninvitees" acted as though his boorish behavior were acceptable.

Now that I'm older, what I wouldn't give for a do-over. I'd go back in time, armed with my newfound feistiness, and the first time it dawned on me that he was bragging about a party I wasn't invited to, here's how it would play out:

Him: . . . and my holiday party is going to be December blah, blah, blah, and it's going to be more amazing than ever this year because blah, blah, blah, beluga caviar, blah, blah, blah, crudités, blah, blah, blah, Dom Pérignon and blah blah just-kill-me-now blah.

Me, putting out a Max menthol in my crown-shaped ashtray, because you could smoke at your desk back then: So when did you become such an ass?

(He'd look at me speechless, his expression even more surprised than his eye-lift had already rendered him.)

Me: What I mean is, at some point, you must have been a nice guy. If you'd always been this insensitive, you wouldn't have enough friends to have a party, so what happened?

I don't know what would have happened next because it doesn't matter. All that matters is that I would have stood up for myself, and said the right thing and the right time.

Anyway, I've been thinking lately about the past--about things I should have said that I didn't (and vice-versa), relationships that I've hung onto that I should have let go of, people I thought were one way who turned out to be another, and expectations I've held with a death-grip that I'm reluctantly and finally setting free.

So, that's what I'm going to write about for awhile. I'm a little smarter now that I'm in the third quarter of my life. I'm much more realistic. And I'm working on becoming braver. It reminds me of when Piglet said to Winnie-the-Pooh "It's hard to be brave when you're a Very Small animal."

While I am by no means small in stature, I'm still quite small at the brave thing. Someday I hope to summon bravery in the moment, but I've got to start somewhere. For now, rewriting the past seems like good practice. Neurotic? Of course! Satisfying? Absolutely. Really, you should try it for yourself. It's pretty fun.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

I've been thinking about endings lately

Maybe because tonight is the last night of a two-week vacation. Maybe because it's fall. Maybe because the kids in my life have grown up too fast and don't come around often enough. Maybe because yesterday in gerontology class, our professor asked us "What age do you think you'll be when you die?" and 73 immediately popped into my mind. Then she said she thinks we all know a lot more about ourselves than we think we do.

Scary, huh.

So . . . I'm in the second half of my 50th year. (Russ, I promise to change my blog name soon. It doesn't take Freud to figure out why I haven't done that yet.) If my subconscious was right, I've got roughly 23 more years. I'm not really all that freaked out, or convinced I guessed right. I'm just a little convinced, you know, for insurance's sake. Like when you think "If I think this will happen, then maybe it won't because I thought it was going to happen, and Fate is always screwing with me."

Or am I the only one who does that?

Besides, for all I know, I guessed too far into the future. You just never know.

Anyway, I have no point. I have nothing funny or wise to share. But if I wait to be funny or wise, you may not hear from me for awhile.

Wish me luck tomorrow. It's going to be a challenging re-entry. Ten days off is a long time to think of where you are, what you're doing and why, and about who really matters.

It's also a long stretch to alternate between two pairs of comfy shorts and big t-shirts, forego make-up and not give a crap about what your hair looks like. And I really hate to see that come to an end.

P. S. Just so I feel like I gave you something of worth, here is a really great poem. Not a real upper, but good nonetheless.

"The Anniversary of My Death"

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveller
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what

- W.S.Merwin
- The Anniversary of My Death

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Being 11 in 2010 vs. being 11 in 1971

My niece Nicole turned 11 on July 23rd. The party kicked off on a Friday evening with seven of her friends singing karaoke (Lady GaGa, of course) at FunHouse Pizza in Raytown. After that, Tiki torches and a fire-pit were lit for the backyard luau/swimming party. It was quite a production.

As I was taking this in, I remembered my own childhood birthday parties. They were usually on Saturday afternoons. My friends came over in their little dresses, we'd line up for a picture, I'd try not to race through the mandatory birthday card reading so I could rip open the presents--probably from TG and Y or Woolworth's--we'd have cake and ice cream, maybe play musical chairs, and then they'd go home. ( Geeze, is that true or am I confusing myself with Judy from "Leave It to Beaver?" Who knows.)

Anyway, that led me to thinking about how different the world is now, and about all the things my niece has that I didn't. On the flip side, I started thinking about all the things I knew as a kid that she never will.

She'll never know what it's like to only have three TV channels to choose from, or the anticipation of waiting until the one Sunday night a year when "The Wizard of Oz" is on. That was a huge deal at our house. Now kids can pretty much watch anything they want, whenever they want, repeatedly, if they want. Kinda takes the magic out.

She'll never know what it's like to wonder whose calling, thanks to caller I.D. I remember that rush of expectation before lifting the receiver--Would it be my friend Cindy? My mom checking to see if I'd done the vacuuming? My piano teacher calling to cancel my lesson? (Always a hope for me.) Fun little mysteries, gone.

She'll also never know what it's like to complete your list of chores on a summer morning, leave the house before noon, walk to the swimming pool, ("Don't forget to put zinc oxide on your nose!") and not be expected back home until 5 o'clock. Or what it's like to go back outside after dinner, roam the neighborhood chasing fireflies and putting them into a Skippy Jar with holes poked in the lid, just goofing off until it's 8 or 9 o'clock, and your Mom opens the front door, calls your name and says,"Time to come home."

Turns out even though she has a lot more than I did in many respects, I had a lot of irreplaceable things that she doesn't. Like growing up in a world that was much safer, a time that was simpler. Nothing matches the bliss of childhood freedom.

Geeze, do I sound old.

Anyway, even though I feel a little sad for what Nicole's missed out on, I know one thing she'll always have--an aunt who's impressed by her confidence and proud of her fearlessness, who's touched by her thoughtfulness, who's proud of her creativity, who thinks she's funny, and who's grateful for every numbered day she's still considered fun to hang out with.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

i went to church last Sunday--but wait--it gets even better!

Two days ago, I went to Macedonia Baptist Church with my friend Keion Jackson. As I remember it, when I asked to go with him a few months ago, I also asked "Will I be the only white person there?" He answered "No, there might be four or five of you."

Last week, when I reminded him of that conversation, he said "Really? Did I say that? There might actually be two." He paused, "Including you."

But I was still up for it because the mystery behind a gospel church has always intrigued me. Now that I've been to Keion's church, I can tell you honestly I have never enjoyed a church service so much in my life.

Anyway, I tried to be inconspicuous which is challenging when you're the only white person. I sat all hunched down, thinking no one would notice me. Then Pastor Brooks asked the visitors to stand. Reading my panic-stricken look, Keion apologized, "I didn't know they were going to do that." After a slow-motiony minute of standing up in all my Caucasianess, the pastor asked the members of the church to share their hospitality with those of us visiting. I can't tell you how many people came up to me, shook my hand, smiled and made me feel as "right at home" as someone like me can feel at a church.

In case you forgot, I was raised Missouri Synod Lutheran. If you've heard Garrison Keillor make fun of Lutherans, you know why we are such an easy target. But sitting in Keion's church, I kept thinking "This is fantastic!" There I was, in the middle of people expressing joy in their relationship with God through testifying, clapping, "amen-ing" and singing like I've never heard. Lutherans just don't do that.

Here, when the congregation sang, they sang with their whole hearts and voices and bodies. Early in the service, the Men's Choir sang a song so moving, tears rolled down my cheeks. Even members of the Men's Choir had their hankies out. As a matter of fact, so many of us were weepy, a woman was handing out Kleenex. The lyrics were something like "When I think of all the things I've done that I should not have done . . . something something . . . I'm so graceful for His mercy." (Sorry for the bad paraphrasing.)

Watching those men sing and sway and sing some more like they really meant every word, and thinking about my own missteps and moments I wished I could undo, well, everything just came together. Or, more accurately, came apart. It was as if my heart broke open.

After the song, Pastor Brooks said "Something just happened in here. Either some of you all have done some things you feel bad about or you just like good music." Everyone laughed. He went on, "I have a feeling, it was a little bit of both, wasn't it." And before long, he had us laughing all through his sermon.

I'll never forget that church service.

I feel like I should have a point, but I'm not sure what it is. Maybe it's this--if you ever want to go to a church service that will stay with you in all the right ways, I'll put you in touch with my friend Keion. And I'll go with you too. I'll even bring Kleenex, just in case.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Guess who's learning how to draw?

I KNOW, can you even believe it? I can't remember the last time I've been so eager about learning something new.

Here's the deal--completely out of character, I signed up for a class called "Visual Essay" at the KCAI Northland Campus which, by the way, smells squeaky brand-new and made me want to paint my living room just so it could smell new too. Anyway, I was so excited to discover this class, I told my friends Pam K. and Keion J. about it, and they signed up too.

Necessary backstory--I have never, ever been able to draw. I don't remember a single time my artwork made it to the refrigerator for display. Did parents do that in the 60's? Had refrigerator magnets been invented? Hang on, let me check. Just as I suspected, refrigerator magnets have been around since 1924. So much for that excuse. I just wasn't any good at art. What kid is not good at art, you might wonder?

Well, this kid.

And what made matters worse is that my mom was really good at it. In fact, after she graduated from Paseo High School in the early 50's, she wanted to go to art school. Unfortunately, my German grandmother told her, "You vill not go to zee art school. You vill be a nurse." I wasn't there so I don't know if that's the exact dialog, but I knew Grandma well enough to guess that's probably pretty close. My poor mom. The house she grew up in was like Stalag 13 only without the Hogan's Heroes comedic relief. No wonder she died when she was only 48. Fortunately, I have a lot of her sketchbooks and a few paintings, but it still breaks my heart to think of her spending her life getting thrown up on and giving people enemas when she could have been doing something she really loved. But that's a whole nother story.

Back to my class--so on Wednesday, we met for the first time, and I have to say my teacher is great. I'd say that even if she wasn't a friend. Denise C. brought us all kinds of published journals to look at, and she even shared her very own sketch books with us. She talked about her semester in New York, and what she learned about drawing people and buildings. She talked about different ways we could keep our journals and that we could use "ephemera." (Is that not one of the floatiest words a mouth can say? It sounds like fluttery, fairywings and how can you not love that?)

Anyhoo, I was getting all jazzed about this class, even though at break there was no vending machine and all I could think about was that the only thing this perfect evening was missing was a diet Coke. So there I was, feeling 4-year old happy. It was heavenly. But then, after break, she made us DRAW! Right there, in front of each other! I was so scared, I kept making these little puppy-whimper sounds like I did back when I was in hip-hop class and kept running into the other dancers during my turns. (Ask my friend Meghan C. for details. It was a personal low point, but apparently very funny, if you weren't me.)

Anyway, we did this thing called "contour drawing" where we had to look at someone in the class and then draw them. We were supposed to glance down at our paper only briefly and keep our pencils moving. I drew my friend Pam who is about as pretty as a girl can get even when she isn't smiling beatifically but my drawing made her look like a T-Rex. I was mortified because, guess what? WE HAD TO SHARE OUR DRAWINGS WITH EVERYONE. Fortunately, Pam graciously giggled, and I think she may have even said "I LOVE this." Plus, she didn't strangle me, so yay for that.

Our journals are supposed to be 75% visual and 25% words which makes sense, but of course, freaked me out further so I asked could we just draw one giant thing, like a refrigerator on a page, as long as it took up 75% of the space? And Denise said, "Sure, I'd LOVE it if you drew a refrigerator." Which brings me to my point. (I know, finally, right?) She was so accepting and encouraging that the next day, on the bus, I brought my sketchbook and drew all the way to work. It was about the most fun thing I've done in a long, long time and that includes enjoying my Friday night Flirtinis. Plus now, my art won't have to go on the fridge because it will BE the fridge.

Anyway, sorry about all the rambling. And sorry I haven't renamed my blog. I think it's an unconscious problem admitting my age. Plus, I'm lazy. I hope you guys are still out there since I haven't posted in forev. I just didn't have anything very interesting to say until now. OK,
gotta go. I got me some sketching to do. Wish me luck!

Monday, May 10, 2010

This is how pathetic I've become . . .

. . . I'm looking forward to flying, not because I'm getting away, not because of the adventure that awaits, not because the last two months have tried me to the core, but because I love being the TSA dream come true.

I have reached a truly perverse low when I seek approval and validation from the person checking me in at Gate Whatever.

It is with more than a smidge of shame that I confess one of my proudest moments was shortly after the whole Ziploc rule became the norm for flying. The TSA guy held up my little quart-sized Ziploc with my lip gloss, mascara, eye drops and hand-sanitizer and announced in a loud voice to the line behind me, "See this, People? This is a lady who knows how to follow the rules. No last minute rummaging through her purse. No frantic tossing things out. She's prepared, People." Then in a quieter voice to me, he said "Good for you, Lady."

I'm not sure what's the worst part of that little vignette--the fact that I felt so incredibly validated or that I still, after all this time, feel compelled to follow rules. (Granted, you have to follow the rules at the airport, but you know what I mean. I follow rules even when they're not all that important. I follow them more than the normal person should.)

Anyhoo, that's all I've got this week. I wish it were funnier, more interesting or profound, but try as I might, I can't come up with anything better. I don't want you guys to abandon me because I post so rarely. I don't know how people can write something worth reading every single day. Some days, I delete every word I write.

Hang on. I'll be funny/interesting/informative soon. Scout's honor.

In the meantime, check out my friend Andrea's photography at

And wish me luck tomorrow. I could really use an ego-boost from the TSA person.
Hey, we take it where we can get it, right?

Monday, April 26, 2010

It doesn't really sound like a love poem . . .

. . . but it's supposed to be. Three years ago today, Dick and I stood on a beach in Cabo San Lucas and pledged our undying love before a minister we didn't know, a nutty, but great photographer and two fisherman. It was the best day of my life. And I'm pretty certain it always will be.

Here's a little poem I wrote about what it's like to love someone so much that it's as scary as it is great.

Dress Rehearsal

One night--
years from now, I pray--
one of us will go to bed
without the other.

I remember asking a woman
who lost her husband what the hardest part was.
“Night time” she said.
“Nights are terrible.”

And I wonder,
what if
you leave
before I do?

I can’t help imagining
lying down on my side of the bed,
leaving room for you on your side
as though you could return.

I would stare,
waiting to see if an invisible you would sit down,
make the bed sigh under your familiar weight,
and then, corrugating the sheets, lay down beside me.

I would hold your pillow and inhale,
filling my lungs until it hurts,
then worry that I would use up
all that’s left of you.

I would lie awake and wait
until morning came
to nudge the living from sleep
so they can make coffee, read the paper,
get the kids ready for school.

Why do I do this to myself?
Why rehearse what will be
the hardest thing I must do
at what will be the loneliest point
I will face?

Because on the nights
I go to bed before you do,
when I draw the shade,
slide underneath the sheets,
pull up the white bedspread,
and run my fingers over its fraying stitches,
it seems wrong
to be alone.
Even though I know,
I’ll hear your footfall
on the stairs before to long.

And sometimes I remember what she said.

“Nights are terrible.”

Then I open a book
and read the same sentence again and again
with intention and still
I don’t know what it said.

So I give up and reach over
to the lamp on the nightstand
and I turn it

In the dark,
I weep
not for what I will lose--

but for what I am lucky enough
to have known.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Teaching: 101

Last week, I had the opportunity to address the Glendale Elementary Writers' Club, thanks to my friend Kathy M. and the founder of the group, Ms. Cindi Jones.

Well, of course, I was a nervous wreck. The only thing I'd ever taught was Sunday School for pre-schoolers when I was in my mid-twenties.

I was terrible at it back then. I used to bribe them to sit down at the beginning of class by giving them Kool-aid and those little gem-colored suckers on string-loops, the ones you could buy by the cellophane yard. The hyperactivity/sugar connection never dawned on me. Plus, they failed to appreciate all the work that went into each class. It took lots of colored felt and valuable Saturday night hours to cut out all those people, commandment tablets, doves, you name it, whatever was necessary to re-enact Bible stories on the magic blue-felt covered lesson board. As a kid, I'd always loved to watch Miss Furniss take out her little felt props--sheep, shepherds, the altar where that one guy was supposed to slay his son until God said, "Nah, not really, Abraham, I kid! I kid because I love."

Anyway, when it was MY turn to use the felt board, I was thrilled to work my magic. Only my kids weren't nearly as impressed. They had no idea how much work went into making my little gray felt tomb for Jesus, complete with the roll-away stone. My strongest memories of those years are mainly little kids jumping up and yelling "Hurry, take me potty, I'm gonna wet my pants!" Once, when the kids were actually listening to the lesson, a little boy raised his hand and I was elated. "Good!" I thought. He's interested, and he has a question. When I called on him, he asked in all seriousness "Does God ever jump?"

But I digress.

Partly because of the holiday weekend and partly because some of the writers chose to go to hiphop club instead (and who can blame them?), there was a small turnout. But I think it went OK. I bribed them with buttons and song cards this time, and they seemed to really enjoy writing their "Six-Word Memoirs." (Thanks for the idea, Mrs. Nixon. Anyone interested in what I'm talking about can go to

Anyway, the above pic shows some future writers of America. And I was happy and proud to meet them.

P.S. Kudos to Ms. Jones for starting a writers group for elementary kids. I wish we'd had one.
I'd have sucked at hiphop.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I'm baacccckkk! With fascinating new discoveries!

I am a lousy blogger.

The quickest way to lose followers is to let too much time go by between posts.
Guilty as charged.

I wish I had a hilarious story, but I don't. I wish I had something edifying, but I don't. What do I have? Three discoveries that led to further quandary.

Discovery: Life is unfair.
Question: I probably learned this truth at a soul-deep level immediately before or during my birth, so why does it continue to surprise me? Is it because, to quote Emily Dickinson, "Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul. . . ?" (Which, in turn, makes me wonder, is it truly possible to sing any Emily Dickinson poem to the tune of "The Yellow Rose of Texas?" Or was that one of those English major myths? You know those nutty English majors.)

Discovery: Eloquence does not necessarily equal intellect. Just because a person has the floor in a public forum, and they LOOK smart and use really big words (I intentionally did not say "polysyllabic"), doesn't mean that they ARE smart. Sure, sometimes they are. But other times, if you listen closely, you'll discover they're no smarter than you are. (Read Dan Roam's Back of the Napkin if you need further convincing. I LOVE this guy's theory.)
Question: Why am I only now discovering this? And am I choosing to believe it simply because personally validating? Or do you guys think it's valid? I'm curious to know.

Discovery: Hot flashes feel like an arsonist has started a four-alarm fire inside your body which, in turn, immediately triggers millions of teensy-tinsey personal sprinkler systems, one per pore. Uncomfortable, unpleasant and embarrassing, they often happen right after you've put on clean clothes and are ready to leave for work in the morning or when your significant other wants to sleep very close to you through the night.
Question: What, besides black cohosh, can alleviate such embarrassing moments? Does Vitamin E help?

That's it for me today. I hope you're still out there. And if so, I thank you.

Friday, March 26, 2010

One minute, everything's fine--the next, everything's changed

I know how unpredictable life is, but if you're like me, sometimes you forget.

One minute, you're griping about some little problem. Maybe the guy in front of you drives too slow. You fume. You swear. You may even give him the finger and hope he's not carrying a gun. You think people are idiots, everything's wrong, and it sucks to be you.

Then, something serious happens. You find out a loved one has cancer. Or the life of one of your best friend's is interrupted by tragedy. Suddenly, getting stuck in traffic behind a slow driver doesn't seem like such a big deal.

I guess if we were always conscious of time's pendulum tick-tocking our happiness, our very lives away, we wouldn't be able to function. Awareness like that would be paralyzing. But every so often, something shakes us awake and reminds us there are worse things than having a waiter get our order wrong or waiting in line behind someone who's counting out exact change or constantly fighting those stubborn five (OK, maybe ten, if you're me) extra pounds.

If I've learned anything from the past three days, it's how valuable friends are, how hopeless you feel when someone you love is hurting, how mysterious healing is, how powerful prayer can be and how important it is to be reminded that life can, and does, change in a heartbeat.

When I reread what I've written, the idea sounds so basic, so pedestrian, like reiterating something everyone knows.

But being shaken awake isn't like that at all. It's humbling. It's frightening. It's a shocking reminder not to take anything, any moment or anyone for granted.

So take care of your kind, caring, funny, smart, thoughtful, entertaining, delightful-to-be with souls, Everybody. The world needs every last one of you.

Written in memory of Bill Hunt, who passed away yesterday, March 26, 2010. With sympathy and caring to the Hunt family and to Bill's many friends.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

So Jens from Google invites us to a party . . . .

Last Friday, March 12, on the day after my 50th b'day, something completely predictable happened. My friend Melissa W. and I arrived at the Interactive Conference at "South by"
in Austin. As I mentioned earlier, she is an exotic beauty. Me? I have always "relied on the kindness of strangers" who pity my bumbling ways. I don't do it on purpose--bumbling is a natural born talent. Like beauty only not nearly as aesthetically pleasing or valuable.

Anyway, we'd walked through the convention hall less than 30 seconds before a tall, bespectacled man stopped Melissa (big surprise) to ask for directions to Exhibit Hall 3. As she was pointing the way to go, Jens (pronounced "Yens," of course) tells us there's a big Google party Sunday night, and if we would be so kind to give him a business card, he'd e-mail us
the location.

I was excited, not because of the party, but because I'd purchased a very cool business card case
just a week ago in case this very opportunity should occur. I produced my card in less than ten seconds.

Jens could not have cared less.

He was completely oblivious as I proudly waved my card around like a tiny personal flag of independence. And it goes without saying, he didn't see the lovely Asian silk and metal carrying case I was so proud of. (Only $14.99 at World's Window. Suh-weet!) Jens was yearning for something else. His eyes were transfixed on the lovely Melissa who finally found her business card somewhere in her cavernous, but stylish, black bag.

"Thank you, Melissa," Jens said, taking her card. And as an obvious afterthought, he took mine from me. "Oh, and thank you . . . um . . ." he stared at my name tag although I'd introduced myself less than thirty seconds earlier.

"Renée. My name's Renée."

Oh, Insult and Injury, you will always be of my least favorite duos.

In the end, because neither Melissa nor I could access our e-mail during the trip (don't get me started), we missed out on the Google soirée. Poor Jens. He knows not what he missed.

More about "South by" tomorrow. Oh, it just gets better and better. As does being 50, so I hear.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

I was completely wrong about me!

One of the things I learned on my trip to Austin is that, in spite of my claiming to be unimpressed by celebs, that is not true. I'm quite impressed by celeb-spotting. You have no idea how it pains me to admit that.

Here's how it all went down. Melissa W. and I were eating at a Guero's, a great Mexican taco bar in Austin, and who should be less than five feet away from us? Chloe Sevigny. She was seated at a sort of secluded counter with her back to us. Anyway, somewhere in between the arrival of our chips and our much-later served guacamole, I noticed a waiter had walked up to this woman and was addressing her by fanning his chest and rolling his eyes as he exclaimed to "love her work." As any good eavesdropper would, I glanced up to see who he was talking to. Then I looked at Melissa and gasped "OH MY GOD--IT'S CHLOE SEVIGNY," only I hope I said it in lower case letters. After that, I tried really hard to act like I had no idea that Ms. Sevigny (Boy's Don't Cry, Big Love, etc.) was sitting close by. I also tried not to notice that she had ordered several plates of food. I'm NOT kidding. And fyi, for a petite, cellulite-free woman (so, sue me, I checked out the back of her thighs when she stood up), she had, let's just say, several plates around her. And I do believe they were picked clean when the table was cleared. Not that I was staring.

Anyway, I saw later on the local news that she had two films premiering that week at SXSW which, as I learned earlier in the day, is referred to as merely "South by" by all the cool kids.

More on "South by" tomorrow. That is, if you haven't given up on me yet. I know I sucked at posting while I was gone. I'll explain tomorrow. Suffice it to say, me + technology does not equal love forever.

Friday, March 19, 2010


I'm a terrible blogger. I didn't even lead you up to the big bday, record the big bday, nothing. I have a good reason though--I was in Austin attending the SXSW 2010 conference with my colleague Melissa W.

If you ever want to feel old and invisible, I advise walking next to Melissa W. She is an exotic beauty
which I normally hate in a woman, but here's the thing--for someone who is extremely observant,
she is oblivious to her own beauty. Thank God.

Anyhoo, I have all kinds of stuff to update you on. The Interactive part of the conference was like being surrounded by thousands of guys from the "The Big Bang Theory," some of whom could have used a good scrubbing, if you ask me. I don't know when bathing became optional with this particular group.

More later.

Oh, and I guess I have to rename my blog. My friend Russ E. suggests "Used Rainbows" which I actually like. Any other ideas?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

12 more days of being 49

This becomes clearer to me every time I step on the elliptical at the gym and have to enter my weight and age. Both numbers are going up, regardless of attempts at intervention on my part. I guess I could lie and enter numbers I like better, but I was raised Lutheran. We don't do that. "This is most certainly true."

So yeah. Reality. The reality is that I'm not nearly as bothered by getting older as I am by the latest crime by the Waldo rapist. When I saw the crime tape and the detectives in a nearby front yard last Monday, I felt like I was going to throw up. Strange how tragedy becomes more real when it strikes closer to where you live.

I can't stop thinking about that poor woman. Or the one before her. Or the one before her.
Or the two before her.

My friend Suzanne and I were talking about how we wake up in the middle of a nightmare where we hear his footsteps, open our eyes, and he's right there. Even when I wake up knowing I'm OK, I wonder where he is and worry for other women. Everyone is constantly on edge, some to the point irrational fear. He has created a reign of terror.

And I feel for the African-American guy I read about in the paper yesterday who lives on the same block as one of the victims. Though he's nowhere close to fitting the composite sketch--he's been questioned twice. That sickens me too. The lingering looks and unfair judgments innocent men are getting. All because of one man.

So yeah. I'm turning 50. But it's really no big deal. Being afraid to go home, jumping at every car door slam, worrying about your sister, your friends, all the women who live near you? That's a big deal.

Be safe, Everyone. I'm sorry this post isn't funny. Maybe next time.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Only two weeks and four days left . . .

. . . . until I'm fifty. How did that happen? I had all these lofty plans, OK, well, one achievable goal I wanted to reach before the big day. Back when I made it in January, March 11 seemed a lot farther (or is it further?) away. That will now be my goal--to relearn the difference between those two words. I can accomplish that without getting up at 5:15 to go to Spin class, without dieting, without committing to anything long-term, heck, without even getting up out of this chair, I can become reacquainted with something I used to know.

But I don't want to. Why?

I'm lazy. And I've reached a new low if opening another window on the screen seems like too much work.

There, I said it. Albeit shamefully, I admitted it--I'm lazy. In a world that values a body in motion, staying in motion, creating, producing, achieving, making "x's" on check-lists, I'm lazy
which is unacceptable for someone of German heritage. Auch der lieber!

But am I lazy or am I simply tired? Whichever it is, will I be more of "it" the older I get? Or is it just a phase, like adolescent acne and worrying about whether the person you like in 5th hour Spanish class "LIKES you" likes you or just "likes you?"

I don't know. Help me out.

P.S. *FARTHER denotes physical advancement in distance. FURTHER denotes advancement to greater degree, as in time. But I'm too lazy to go back and fix that.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

How to begin a luxurious Saturday Morning.

First of all, quit waking up to nightmares that your colleague Allyson C. starts yelling at you in a meeting for wearing acid washed jeans. Unsettling. Especially, when you wake up, relieved it's just a dream, and then go back to sleep to the very same disturbing dream. You don't even own any acid washed jeans, how could this be happening?

Wake up for real and decide to stay up rather than return to the humiliating yell-y dream. After that, realize that even though you woke up in time, you don't HAVE to go to the 7:30 spin class. So what if the teacher's good. She saves all the yelling she should be aiming at her kids for your class. "Come on, push yourself. Work hard. That's what you're here for. Don't coast through. I should see each of you struggling to get through class. There should be pain on all of your faces."

Screw dat. I get enough of that at work.

Anyway, back to you and your lovely Saturday morning. Relish the idea that you're probably the only one awake in the 'hood. Feel superior about it.

While you're at it, have another cup of Einstein Brothers' Vanilla Nut coffee.

Then, make a batch of Duncan Hines Family Style Brownies. All you need is one egg, 1/4 vegetable oil and two tablespoons of water. Who doesn't have that lying around?

While the brownies bake, read the article about bereavement in the New Yorker. Then laugh at the Barsotti cartoon about the Jack-in-the-Box to kind of balance things out.

Take the brownies out of the oven. Let them cool just long enough. Cut one out, and then think "Who am I kidding?" so cut another one. (Who eats just one brownie? We hate them.) Then do this unbelievably fattening trick I learned from Daddio--put a pat of butter on top. Eat as much as you can until you're just shy of making yourself nauseous.

Realize no matter what happens, that this day started out pretty damn good.

Even if you had to read a blog entry written in second person and you find that contrivance annoying.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Four Weeks from Today, I'll be 50

And that's enough about that.

But here's something exciting--tonight, Dick and I are going to our first "PechaKucha" in Kansas City. I KNOW! How fun will that be? Who knows, but I have high hopes. How can something with such a catchy name be anything but fun.

Here's what I do know about PechaKucha--it means chit-chat in Japanese. It was invented in Tokyo in 2003 as a way for young designers to meet, network and show their work to others
by showing twenty images in twenty seconds. The format is a way to keep presentations concise and interesting.

Concise and interesting presentations . . . hmmm. Ahhh, a girl can dream, can't she?

Anyhoo, you can read more about PechaKucha here at this website. You'll have to copy and put it in your browser window because I still don't know how to make it "clickable." I'm old. So sue me. This is the best I can do.

And you'd know how to pronounce it correctly, if I could have imported this video but, you can guess how well that went. Screw dat. So go to the following site where Sesame Street characters will show you how to pronounce "PechaKucha."

If you're interested, it starts at 7:30 at 1522 McGee and includes a presentation by a roller derby girl. I KNOW! And it's FREE! So come on, join the fun. Show up and look for us--we'll be the old, befuddled couple trying to look like we're never in our p.j.'s by 7:30 and we do cool stuff all the time.

P.S. If anyone can tell me how to shove a video in here, I will buy you a cup of coffee.
Maria, this means you.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The "bad guy" in Waldo is really pissing me off!

For those of you who don't live near K.C., the latest news in my 'hood is the serial rapist. I'm really mad about it. And so are all my girlfriends who live around here. Last fall, he raped two women in their homes. I never saw anything about it in the news. I only knew from my friend, Suzanne B., because the attacks took place within blocks of her home.

Now, he's at it again. Most recently, he forced his way into the home of a woman who was letting her dogs outside. A few hours later, he was waiting inside a 53 year old woman's home when she returned from work. Can you even imagine? The police have released a composite sketch. The women attacked agree that he is over 6 feet tall, weighs about 250, has acne scars on his cheeks, has bad breath (no, I'm not kidding), and smells like exhaust. Come on, KCPD. Shouldn't the "smelling like exhaust" part be a huge clue?

The Waldo library offered a free self-defense class today at noon. Various classes will be held throughout the week. The KCMO Police Department is holding two public meetings

at Broadway United Methodist Church ~ 406 West 74th next week to inform people about safety following the recent assaults in the Waldo area. The Keystone Coffeehouse on Monday, Feb 1 at 6:30 pm AND The Keystone or Fellowship Hall on Thursday, Feb 4 at 6:30 pm.

In the meantime, I'm so mad at this guy, I could spit nails. I don't worry about myself as much as I do my friends who live closer to the neighborhoods he's been striking. It's infuriating to me that these women have started carrying mace with them inside their houses, sleeping (or trying to) with all their lights on, and are afraid to enter their own homes. It's infuriating to me that this guy watches his victims, becomes familiar with their routines and attacks them.

And it will continue to infuriate me until they catch him.

Until then, keep your eyes and ears open, be aware of your surroundings, look out for your single female neighbors and pray they catch this guy soon.

Sorry there's nothing funny in my post this time, but all I can think about lately is all the ugliness this man has caused. Keep your fingers crossed--I want him off the streets soon.
We all do.

Friday, January 22, 2010

It almost doesn't hurt at all!!!

Thanks to everyone who stuck with me through my root-canal whininess. Good thing I never tried to have a baby. I would've sunk my teeth into my coach's hand faster than you can say "epidural." That probably doesn't make sense. What do I know? I've never been pregnant, nor have I been in a labor room very long. They kicked my teary-eyed self out of my sister's delivery five minutes into her screaming "Get it OUT!!!!! GET IT OUT NOW!!!!!" which, I'm guessing, was pretty much a blessing. God, does it hurt to watch someone you love in pain.
Anyhoo . . . .

. . . regarding the root canal--'tis finished. Ta-Da!!! And it only hurts when I chew. Or say certain sentences like "I need more wine to wash these pain meds down."

Now, for the exciting, albeit somewhat pathetic, part. Here's what's keeping me going--Dick and I are going to watch my favorite KC Curling team (currently, but not permanently, known as) the Old Yellers, tomorrow night at Pepsi MidWest at 7:15. What could be more fun?! Go Jeff D., Ed W., Carl M., Mike A., and . . . am I missing anybody? To you, Gentlemen, I respectfully say "Wicky, Wacky, Woo." (Guess who's been studying her Curling glossary? Maybe that's what you should call yourselves.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

50 Days until I'm 50

Seems like something should happen today, what with the juxtaposition of 50 and 50. I'll let you know.

Something interesting DID happen last night, something that could have easily been avoided had I not sent a flurry of confusing e-mails about what night I was hosting Book Club. As a result, half the group showed up, and I wasn't even home.

Consequently, while my friend Pam and I were enjoying a poetry reading by two fine writers, Jo McDougal and Steve Paul, my friends Lois and Dee showed up at Chez Daniels, books in hand. Dick invited them in to check their calendars and try to figure out what happened. Our always-cluttered place, even more cluttered than usual, of course. My poor mother, Our Lady of Immaculate Housekeeping was, I'm sure, looking down on me and shaking her head with disapproval. (Sorry, Mom, but if you think my place is bad, you should see Jacquie's.)

Oh, and it gets even better. When Lois got up to leave, Dick saw something in her chair and went to retrieve it, thinking it was her cell-phone. "You forgot something," he said, before realizing it was one of my wayward black socks, you know the kind-- always shimmying out of the load of laundry you carry upstairs. What a graceful note to end on.

So book club is next Tuesday. I've got a lot of cooking, cleaning, wine-buying and kissing up to do. Wish me luck.

P.S. This just in--Thursday at 3, possible tooth extraction, likely root canal. The fun is just beginning . . . . .

Thursday, January 14, 2010

49 Days Until I'm 50 but that's not really what this is about

Here's something that makes me feel old--I bought my very first I-thing--an I-Touch. Last night my husband Dick and tried to download I-Tunes which is ALLEGEDLY the first thing you have to do.

No such luck. We both suck at technical stuff. (And mechanical stuff. And math stuff. And lawn stuff. And reading maps. But we're really good at finding quality wine on sale, helping each other out and cracking each other up, so it all works out.)

Seriously, can you believe that there is no other I-thing in Chez Daniels? Or that my husband is the last remaining person besides my 78 year-old dad who doesn't have a cell phone? Truthfully, I love that about Dick. He is who he is, and he neither apologizes for or worries about what he doesn't know. He doesn't care that every time he borrows my phone, he has to ask how to use it.

Maybe HE should be my role model on aging gracefully or whatever you call it when men age without freaking out about it.

49 days. And counting

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Two things about getting older

While reading the Kansas City Star (which I still love, I don't care what anyone says), I ran across two things about aging. One was Robert Butler's review of David Lindsay-Abaire's "Kimberly Akimbo," now playing at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre. Kimberly suffers from progeria, "a disease that accelerates the aging process, leaving kids with the bodies of senior citizens." Think Benjamin Button but backwards. Butler writes that Kimberly is "acutely aware that she's approaching the end of her life. Most kids with progeria never make it out of their teens."

I, who very rarely go to plays, may have to go see this. The elasticity of time is curious to me. I've had days when five minutes felt like five hours, and vice versa. You probably have too. The play may help remind me that my clock is ticking faster. That fact , as people who get on my nerves say about various ideas, "is neither good nor bad, it just is." They're usually right but that saying bugs me, especially if the one proselytizing to project Zen-like serenity has been known to shake the vending machine violently when their Fritos are hung up in A8. (That is dangerous by the way. And noisy. So don't do it, OK? I can't afford to lose any of my five followers. Plus I know who you are and I like you.)

The second, and cheerier piece, I saw in the Star is that Stephen Walker's documentary "Young at Heart" is on PBS tonight at 9 CST. It's about a group of people deep into their Second Act of life--I don't like the terms "senior citizens" or "elderly. Anyway, they form a chorus and perform songs by Coldplay and the Clash. I saw it a couple of years ago and absolutely loved it. Especially the African-American woman who works so hard to memorize the Pointer Sisters' "I know we can make it. I know darn well we can work it out. Oh yes we can, I know we can can. Yes we can can, why can't we?" My friend Pam K. loved it too. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it. Very tender and inspiring.

So, about getting older, here's what I think--"I know we can make it. I know darn well we can work it out. Oh, yes we can. I know we can can. Yes we can can, why can't we?"

P.S. Thanks for reading. Also, sorry about the error in my use of the word "effected" yesterday. I'm usually so much better about that. Thanks to the reader who brought it to my attention.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

65 days until I'm 50

Turning 50 sounds like a big deal, like some milestone one should love or hate, but I don't feel one way or the other. What's wrong with me?  Am I in denial, or has it simply not hit me yet? 

I have no idea what to expect.

I've seen other people turn 50, and it's like watching people dance. Some look great doing it. You can tell they're having fun. They've got some moves and, to be honest,  you're a little envious.  Others try too hard. Some are graceful and quietly beautiful and, again, you're a little envious.  And some, God love them, are having the time of their lives, clueless and carefree about how they appear to the rest of us. After all, it's their 50th birthday--they've earned the right to do whatever they want. 

So tell me, what's in store?