The School Fundraiser

I was recently at a fundraiser, even though my kids don’t go to that school. I love school auctions. I love the fancy purses, the summer camps, the cabins in the Poconos, the brocade jackets. I can see myself in all of them.

Me and Ang and the centerpiece made of dried fruitUsually, I find myself bidding on the most obscure items. I have bid on the opera lessons for my children – what was I thinking? I paid $100 for something none of my kids wanted.

It is now a running joke. Before I go to the auction, the kids beg, “No opera lessons, please, Mom! Go for the Knicks tickets.” Of course, we never used the opera lessons and I could never bid high enough for the Knicks game. Talk about Lin-sanity!

I root for the underdog, even if my team is in the lead. I feel sorry for the loser. I bet on the longshot. I bid on opera lessons.

I see a trend in fundraising — away from this auction fundraiser and towards a more simple party. We parents are competitive enough already. Why do we have to outbid one another for a psychotherapist’s session or a math tutor? Really?

Couldn’t we all just share a session with the dad who is the shrink or the mom who is the math whiz?

In our present-day culture of Occupy Wall Street and the shift in our workplaces towards more collaborative work styles, there have to be better, friendlier, more cooperatives ways to raise money for our schools.

At my kids’ school now, there is a showcase of the kids’ creative arts. There is no auction. We schmooze and graze, but don’t sit down, like at a wedding. I like that.

These fundraisers are a lot of work and planning. These extravaganzas usually require more delicate and skillful diplomacy than the General Assembly at the United Nations.

So, let’s all thank these hard-working women who make the fundraising benefits happen, (because, yes, the fundraising committee is usually made up of women, except for the bartenders at the fundraisers — they’re usually men.)

While school fundraisers are becoming friendlier, I’m still worried about the the opera lessons? What if no one bids on them?

No Good Night Sleep

Started walking home last night, on Riverside Drive

For two nights in a row I’ve hardly slept at all. Last night started out well. I fell asleep at 10:30. But C. came into my bed at 11:15, calling, “Mom? Mom?” I blew my lid.

I hate yelling, but there I was, yelling, “Are you kidding me? I need a good night’s sleep! Unbelievable! Get back to bed!”

I believe in the future that yelling at children will be looked in the same way we look at hitting children nowadays — a relic of some misguided child-rearing dysfunction.

C. was just being a kid. She was teary. She was probably worried about returning to school after a couple weeks of Christmas vacay. I don’t know what was going on with her, because I didn’t listen. I had no compassion.

At 3 am, after tossing and turning, I tried to express my unhappiness to my husband but he was not as supportive as I needed.  He was watching the movie, Mean Bosses. The crazy-ness of his staying up all night (due to his Parkinson’s) contributed to my sleeplessness and, I believe, contributes to the family sleep dysfunction.

“I need a retreat at a convent,” I told my husband in the middle of the night.

I haven’t been writing much. I’m unhappy. “Maybe I should get on anti-depressants or go back to therapy,” I said.

“I know I should work out.” I tried to walk home last night, but it was too cold and I hopped on the bus when it pulled up beside me.

Happy New Year.

My Four Directions

Today I took a walk in the North woods.
  • East is the direction of new beginnings, a sunrise or a new friend.
  • South is for the brightest light, the way the Southern sky fills the outside world so completely that the light must tumble into your room and heart too.
  • West is the land of the sunset and of letting go.
  • North is the direction of the North Star, the unchangeable and fixed beam in a velvet black night.

Native Americans value theses four directions and offer prayers and gratitude for Mother Earth and her four directions.

To say good bye to 2011 and hello to 2012, here is my take on my four directions.

My East is my mastery with writing. In 2011 I wrote a lot. I was published in cool places and won a few nice awards. I taught some amazing people and made new friends. My writing and indulgence in creativity made every day new.

My South is, of course, my kids. They brighten every single day. And as my neighbor Ron says, “Not one of them is a shrinking violet.” They bring me so much light and laughter (and yes, tears and frustration and hard work too.) But always, they fill my life with light.

My West is the sadness around the decline in intimacy with Chris due to his Parkinson’s Disease and our differing levels of energy and engagement. This is a place of light and dark for me, and a sunset on certain dreams that we used to share.

My North is my faith in a Higher Power, not always seen but always felt in a tug towards compassion and creative living.

This post was inspired by The Circle of Wholeness: New Year’s Reflections by Joel and Michelle Levey

What are your four directions? Your beginnings? Your light? Your sunset? Your North Star?

Keep Practicing

I love a daily discipline of writing. I loved doing NaNoWriMo in November. Writing is a solitary experience. So a shared blogging platform, like PostADay2011, made writing a communal experience in 2011

work in progress, my book for book of days

Today I signed up for 365 Grateful and Book of Days for 2012. I like a push, a reminder, shared misery, and shared joy.

I respond well to a gentle and encouraging nudge.

If I’m creative on a daily basis, then I have a vessel in which I can dump my creativity when something really cool pops into my head.

It’s good to keep practicing. Writing is a practice. I love that Buddhism is considered a practice, not a fixed religion. The practice of a religion or creativity is not idolizing an icon, but living creatively and staying open to the creative spirit.

Somewhere in my brain there’s a quote about the reason that firefighters shine the pole in the firehouse every day. It needs to be smooth for that one day a year when there’s actually a fire. That is why I write daily, for that one day a year. That”s why I practice.

Work with what I have

So I love writing in my journal every day. And I love resolving to be better, love more deeply, have more compassion.

And today’s journaling reminded me that like a lot of people, I believe my answers are outside of me somewhere.

But wait. Happiness is an inside job. I have to find my way with what I’ve got — the people, the work, the home.

No team from The Learning Channel is going to swoop down and give me a make-over (new clothes, new apartment, new YOU!) I have to keep making my life new. And I have to use what I already have to do it. And what I have is good enough. What I have is good.

This journal entry is no big whoop. And I’m kinda goofing around with my new iPhone to see how it works to write with and on my smartphone.


Can Cleaning Be Exercise?

broom by creative commons

I have updated one of my four blogs (about faithcreative writingNew York, or this one, fitness) at least every other day during 2011. When I began in January 2011, I posted every day for 66 days, because I’d heard that’s how long it takes to make a habit.

When I traveled or wrote my NaNoWriMo (November’s National Novel Writing month), I slacked a bit. But mostly I’ve been consistent with my blogging.

I need to retire a couple of my blogs and this one, Running Aground, is the lead candidate for retirement. This has been my least popular and least updated blog. Reading about my attempt to run a 5K may not have mass appeal. And I don’t write on this one because I think that if I haven’t exercised by swimming, running, or going to Pilates class, I haven’t worked out. (Although, yes, I’ve written about sleep and diet, as well.)

But wait — I clean a lot and, living in New York City, I walk a lot! So let’s remember — Cleaning is a good work out. In an hour, you burn:

  • Sweeping: 240
  • Packing/Unpacking: 220
  • Scrubbing floors on hands and knees: 325 (Who does this?)
  • Cleaning, light (dusting, wiping down counters, picking up clothes): 100
  • Cleaning, general (washing dishes, doing laundry): 200

according to a post by Divine Caroline (Brie Cadman).

This post is an attempt to encourage myself to believe in the power of the clean-up work out! Now, Mary Beth, get out there and clean! I have about an hour to unpack from our Chicago trip and pack for our Adirondacks trip, take down the Christmas tree, and generally tidy up this apartment where I’ve hosted four parties in one month!

There’s been a lot of stash and dash over the holidays. Now let’s burn some calories by cleaning. But wait, first, I have to update my Facebook status and check my friends’ news.

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Open to Surprise When Traveling

Storybook Dollhouse at the Thomas Hughes children's library

The best part of travel is always the experience that is unplanned. The thing that you think will be great is never the thing that is most memorable. (Like, it’s not the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but the pizza vendor near the tourist attraction!)

Yesterday, the kids had the most fun of their lives sliding in their winter coats on some long wooden couch/bench at the Hilton Hotel lobby. (I did my usual thing of walking away from them, muttering, “Whose kids are those?”)

The sliding bench in the lobby was almost as fun at the dollhouse tucked into the children’s room at the Harold Washington Library.

We met my mother in the airy atrium on the top floor of the library and she took us on a tour. She could be a professional tour guide for the city of Chicago, unlocking secrets hidden in plain sight. She showed us site-specific

Continue reading “Open to Surprise When Traveling”

Switching from Verizon to Sprint

It took three days hours to switch our phone service at our nearby Radio Shack.

The reason it took so long was that I could not authenticate myself. See, I gave them my license and credit card and passed the credit approval, but then Johary, the clerk at the store, handed me a phone and the operator asked me a series of questions, which seemed easy enough, like, “From which state did you receive your Social Security number?”

Maybe I was too breezy with my answers. The kids were tugging at my sleeve and the store was noisy. We had to get to the airport. And one of the the first of the three multiple choice questions I didn’t really hear.

In one question, the operator asked, “Where have you lived?” And rattled off some cities, to which I replied, “None of the above,” although one of the choices was my sister’s city.

Finally, the verdict. I was not authentic. I asked to speak to the supervisor on the Sprint authentication line. This is when my son began shushing me. Apparently I was becoming ticked off a little loudly. Janet #2233 in Colorao, the supervisor, apologized, but said, “You did not pass the test. You got two out of three questions wrong. Try again in 60 days.”

Janet was kind enough to suggest that before my next attempt, I should get a copy of my public record from my local county court. Presumably, I could bone up on myself.

Really? Really?

Me? I am the one who seeks authenticity in everything. But apparently I do not know myself well enough to get a new fricken’ phone.

The matter of the new phones finally got resolved when I called my husband who, apparently, was able to authenticate himself. (I had to head out of the store for the last couple of hours to get to my creative writing class.)

We did get new phones, but were not able to switch all the phone numbers and the data. The sales guy who was helping us, his daughter was in the hospital, which made us all feel bad for taking so much time.

our new phones

And any way, we did have a plane to catch. And as you can see, it was fun to play with the new phones as we waited in the airport lounge.

Married but Living Single

Christmas lights at Columbus Circle

There is a buoyancy when I have the kids to myself. I know I am not the only married person to feel this way. Lots of married friends tell me they love when their spouse travels for work. They can parent their own way — lay down the law or lighten the load.

But there’s even more relief when the chronically ill spouse is away for a few days. Around 11 pm, when I was unplugging our Christmas tree, my son asked, “Where’s Dad?” (He’d been gone since 7:30 in the morning.) “He’s playing Scrooge at a reading in a theater upstate. Will be back Monday.”

I felt guilty for feeling so happy to have my kids to myself. Mea culpa for not sugarcoating my situation and telling you that I love helping my husband pull on his shirt or tie his shoelaces.

Surely I could be more loving and patient. I am often in a rush, especially in the morning. Being married to someone with Parkinson’s Disease slows the caregiver down too. I need to shower. I need to launch myself and the kids into our day. I need to get to my desk at work with a focused mind. I would rather not remind someone to take their pills.

Last night the kids joined me at a Christmas party where we sang carols. We ate lasagna; they drank hot cider and I drank mulled wine. My burden was lightened — we were singing and sipping and chatting. And I chatted about deep things. My kids got bored. (I love when they get bored! I love giving them memories of hanging out at an adult’s party, eavesdropping and playing board games.)

My December goal — to throw and go to beaucoup des holiday parties is working out well.

To My 16-Year-Old Self

Dear Mary Beth,

I wish I could tell you to hang in there. I see you throw your body on the bed and weep into your pillow. Your boyfriend’s kind of a jerk. I know. He won’t be the last.

Stella Adler Drama School, photo by Lou Stellato

Have faith. There are rescue boats on the way. Do not live in despair. Some life preservers will be — affection for children, intelligence, desire (and ability) to lead, wanderlust, art, honesty, a 12-step program, and education — These are not dilly dallies or detours.

You are not a dilettante. You are a lover of the arts and a lover of creativity! Now get up.

I know people say this ALL the time, my dear younger self, but the journey really is the destination. There are going to be some tough times ahead, with family members confused, hurt, struggling and ultimately there will be grace and recovery. There are also going to be very tough times in your 40s with your second husband’s Parkinson’s Disease. There will be boats to help you stay afloat just when you think you are sinking. So hang in there and do not give up.

You have to guard against your penchant for falling in love with unavailable guys. You probably should ditch B.S. You will fail in relationships (like your first marriage). Okay, so you are not too lucky in love. Though eventually you will discover the sexiness of nice guys. With the not-so-nice guys, you will need too much or your needs will be ignored and this will be repeated. Find strength from friends, family, especially your sister, 12-step meetings, and oddly enough, the whole movement that came out of a book, Women Who Love Too Much. Do not be ashamed that you love too much. It is a good thing. You have passion and enthusiasm. You work hard.

Among the things that will save you, one of them is New York City with all its vibrancy, beauty and diversity. You will feel at home on a bustling sidewalk. Enjoy those Oak and Elm suburban trees for now (although they are prompting many allergies), because you will never live in suburbia again.

You will travel the world — China, Brazil, Chile, Italy, Ireland. You will go many places and learn to smile in many languages. Your love of learning will be one of those boats that take you to a different shore. When you return home, you will ask big questions and find new ways.

You will do good work. And that will be a source of pride and income for you.

Sadly, you will not make it as an actress, but you will have medium-sized success in comedy, local television and writing. And you will enjoy it. Though you likely will never land a part in a major motion picture, you will have a joyful life in and around the theater.

You will teach drama and creative writing. When you teach, you will learn how much you know and know how much you still have to learn.

But best of all, there will be an amazing gift when you hit your mid-30s — I don’t want to give away the surprise. Okay, here it is. (As you know, I’ve never been good at surprises.)

You will have three children. Unbelievable, right? They will root you to life in a way that you never felt rooted to life before. They will make you pause and yell and hug and cry and laugh, almost every single day. So that will be good and meaningful, although not easy.

To my self, I want to write more, but two of those three children are needing attention right now. And because you become a really good parent, you are going to be there for them. So, get out of bed and be there for yourself. Learn to be a friend to yourself. Adventures await.

This post was inspired by the blog of Adam Bird. We are part of a Facebook community, Post A Day (Week) Challenge, an open group of people who encourage one another to post in their blogs  daily (or weekly).