See new movie reviews coming to this section of Volunteer Mom.
See new movie reviews coming to this section of Volunteer Mom.
Hello, all, and Happy New Year. I do know we’re six days in, but my children don’t return to school until tomorrow, and I feel like my life (my self-directed life, that is) starts when they have another venue than home. I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season and are ready to enjoy more Volunteer Mom posts. I’m happy to say that Lynne and I have finished the final edits of Volunteer Mom and are in the go mode. Cross your fingers! Just to give you a little something to chuckle over, I’m attaching the email below which I wrote in the depths of holiday frustration and emailed to each of my family members – even 12-year-old Joe:
I have completed my annual (bi-annual) silverware count, after looking in rooms and guesthouse, etc. Of our everyday silverware we have the following:
large forks 16
small forks 6
We started 2013 with 16 of each. If you have any silverware rat-holed in cars, etc, please bring back today. I plan to order replacements tomorrow, and have to buy a new set of 5 each as they only come in sets of knife, large fork, small fork, tablespoon and small spoon. At this moment, this means 10 new sets. They are very expensive. They will wipe out our restaurant budget for the next month. So any salvage is welcome.
Can you relate? Comment and let me know you’re still out there! By the way, the calendar in the picture is the “Uncalendar” and has been my favorite paper planner/calendar for several years. If you’re interested it’s available at www.uncalendar.com/. The pages look like this – see below – and the format somehow manages to accommodate both my right and left brain. Stay tuned!
Both literally and figuratively, I’m into housepainting these days. Splashed across my house is an array of cream-hued tones. Who knew there were so many shades of cream? Some trend to mustard, some to yellow and others to brown.
Housepainting is also an apropos metaphor for my life. My metaphorical house is a large structure with many rooms – paying work, a husband, children, pets, homecare, personal care, volunteer work, writing, and extended family. Every day, I seem to wander the structure, taking a few brushstrokes here, and a few brushstrokes there. Sometimes, I leave a partially painted room for weeks, only to return and finish the job in one day of singular purpose. I can only pray that on the day I pass, the house will appear all of a piece.
I’m waiting for the job to proceed on my literal house. No doubt, the efficiency with which fresh paint moves from top to bottom, east to west, walls to trim – with no physical effort on my part – will please and amaze me. Within days, the structure will appear complete. All at one time. Camelot.
Sallee Engstrom lives in Petoskey, Michigan with her husband of fifty-eight years. She is a spry, pretty, square-jawed woman with piercing green eyes and almost snow-white hair. She says, “I can’t believe the birthday I’ve just had.” By discreet calculation, I figure Sallee is in her early eighties.
Sallee vacationed in the summer colony of Bay View, Michigan for many years before purchasing a full-time home in nearby Petosky. Bay View was founded in Victorian times as a religious and cultural community, which is still its emphasis. It is one of those summer enclaves one is born into and leaves horizontally. Sallee taught a writing workshop for many years and is still involved in Bay View’s music conservatory. Google Sallee and you will find her most recent volunteer job is with the Manna Project in Harbor Springs, Michigan, which is about ten miles from Petosky. The Manna Project distributes backpacks and school supplies to needy elementary school students in Northern Michigan. Sallee is pictured in a local newspaper wearing a Manna apron and packing supplies with other volunteers.
Sallee has always had a network of female support. During the early years of her marriage, in Corning, New York, her husband was gone a lot. Her girlfriends, with similar traveling husbands, were her best support system. All the women worked together to raise all the young children. People moved in and out of the community often. The community of moms was elastic enough to absorb both the loss of leaders and the gain of newcomers.
Sallee remembers Flood Agnes in 1972 as a high point of her collaboration with other young mothers. All the men in the neighborhood were gone and the women, cut off from everything, had to make do. By the time the men – stalled by clogged roads, closed airports, and security barriers – were able to get home, the women had figured out how to salvage food from the powerless freezers, haul water from a nearby stream to flush toilets and use for bathing, and distribute drinking water from huge tankers the US Core of Engineers brought into town.
Sallee also spent years in routine volunteer activities such as delivering cupcakes to Cub Scouts and classrooms on short notice and filling in for absent school employees. Though worthwhile, and sometimes appreciated by her children, these activities left Sallee so bored she took up smoking.
Talking to Sallee, I am struck by how small the chapter of a woman’s life active parenting consumes. Sallee had her first child in her mid-twenties, another in quick succession, and another three years later.
A mother in her twenties, she was done with the heavy lifting of motherhood in her early forties. And that was not even the halfway point of her life!
“What does one do with the substantial chunk of time left?” is my question for Sallee.
At first, Sallee sought out the female camaraderie she’d known as the mother of young children, but found ladies’ luncheons tedious and looked for other avenues of interest. She also continued her job as a support for her husband’s corporate career, which, reading between the lines, involved much showing-up-dressed-appropriately. Sallee confesses she did not find it easy to meet people and chat, but after doing a lot of it she learned.
Sallee found her beat pursuing education, divergent careers and volunteer opportunities, through many moves to different parts of the US. Sallee’s previous volunteer position as children’s choir director led to her first “real” job as children’s music teacher in several elementary schools in Corning. These jobs coincided with courses toward a Masters’ degree in English Literature and a part time job as assistant to an English professor at Elmira College. A move to Washington, DC resulted in a teaching position at a private school, which Sallee loved. With a Master’s Degree in hand, Sallee was able to teach for a few years at a Community College in Western New York. She was subsequently hired in the Communication Arts Department at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
At age fifty-five, Sallee “retired” and spent a year writing and living at Keuka Lake, New York. When her husband retired the next year, the couple moved to Colorado, where Sallee applied for and obtained a teaching fellowship to begin a PhD program at the University of Denver. She spent the next six years (“would have been five years, but a ski accident immobilized her for a time”) earning her doctorate.
Sallee’s doctoral thesis was on the Western New York lecturing of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Sallee’s book (based on her dissertation) is entitled, “The Infinitude of the Private Man.” The book was published in 1997 and is still available on Amazon.com.
Sallee is the quintessential life-long learner. I met Sallee at a writing conference at Walloon Lake in Michigan. Sallee chose the memoir class and picked as a writing topic her own mother’s life. Sallee felt her mother’s life was deeply influenced by the early tragic death of Sallee’s grandmother and maternal aunt in an auto accident when Sallee’s mother was just nineteen. Her mother never spoke of the accident. She confides that “writing is frustrating” and she doesn’t know how to get her most spontaneous and innermost thoughts on paper. One can see in Sallee the signs of a stoic approach to life and a disinclination to overshare.
Most recently, Sallee acquired the excellent musical instrument of her dreams, a Yamaha Conservatory Piano her husband thought she should have. She says she didn’t think her present level of skill gave her the right to own such a thing, but she set out on a daily schedule of practicing to justify the purchase; she remains disappointed that no amount of such practice seems to restore her to her former level of skill when she was a piano major in college.
Like most good mothers, Sallee is quite willing to point out her imperfections. Sallee refers to her unresolved issues with her adult children, issues that seem very like the issues my peers discuss. In other words, nothing all that horrific, but certainly important to the people involved. She seems to ache for closure and intimacy with her children as the last chapter of her efforts as a mother
I close my conversation with Sallee by asking how it is that one stays married for fifty-eight years.
She shakes her head. “I don’t know,” she answers after a few minutes, a twinkle in her eye. She seems delighted with the question. “We are very, very different, and I suppose in some way that helped, but we are very, very devoted in ways that don’t show.”
I am so taken with Sallee because of the creative ways she has used her life to pursue both paying and non-paying work for the benefit of her husband, children, grandchildren and community. She’s made many accommodations of her personal goals, while never losing the thread of independence and ambition that is uniquely her own. I consider Sallee a remarkable volunteer and a role model.
Hello, all. Is there anyone else out there who feels like her life doesn’t launch until the last child is back in school? That would be me and the excuse takes me through the first week in September but no further…no more excuses. My first post of the fall will be up in just a few minutes. Please comment!
The Flex Diet: Design Your Own Weight Loss Plan, by James Beckerman, M.D. (A Touchstone Book, Simon & Schuster) is the latest in my quest to find the perfect diet book. Not the perfect diet – the perfect diet book! (It’s a bit like watching Martha Stewart on TV; you can get your fix without having to actually literally change anything. Of course if you change nothing literal, your weight never changes. Or your house. Hmmmm.) I was especially interested in reading the book because I’d had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Beckerman, the author, at the AHA event described in Lynne’s post yesterday.
Dr. Beckerman is his own best endorsement. Look at him! He is a graduate of Harvard Medical School, completed a cardiology residency, and is several years into his practice. He must be at least 40. Yet, he looks like an undergraduate.
His description of how he came up with the concept for the book is as endearing as his appearance: he credits his wife! According to Dr. Beckerman at the AHA event, the dialogue went something like this:
Dr. B: “How do I give anyone a way to lose a hundred pounds?” He shakes his head, and wrinkles his brow.
Mrs. B: “Give them one hundred ways to lose one pound.” One can imagine a just-as-cute Mrs. Beckerman answering, without missing a beat, as she chases the couple’s two toddlers.
Hence, the message on the cover of the book: “200 ways to lose 20 Pounds!”
I began reading Dr. Beckerman’s book Memorial Day weekend. The book contains two hundred numbered suggestions for how to lose a few or many pounds. I read just a few each day, and I must say it keeps me thinking. Here are some of the practical yet creative ways he recommends to lose a few pounds: “Be someone else’s coach,” “Weigh yourself daily,” “Walk your dog daily,” “Ask questions in restaurants,” and “Don’t eat your children’s food.” His “use automated reminders,” and “commit yourself by taking a photo” have had some funny implications for me. My phone rings a few times a day and a text message pops up: Have you written down your food in your food journal? My kids think that’s absolutely hysterical. And, for some reason my computer screen saver latched on to the back view of me. I’ll have to get one of my kids to fix that, when I can face the teasing. For now, I’m just switching screens quickly.
If you’re looking for a great book that allows you to pick up just a few pointers each day this summer, I would recommend Dr. Beckerman’s Flex Diet. I’m hoping that those pesky last ten are gone by Labor Day!
This is a piece about a book, where I am right now, volunteer work, and my children.
The book, Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everyone Else, by Geoff Colvin (Portfolio Group), is an in-depth look at what made the truly great performers of our time – Bill Gates, Tiger Woods, Jack Welch, Warren Buffet, and Jerry Rice – great. While talent is certainly a factor, Colvin asserts that desire and work ethic are more important. He also uses the phrase “deliberate practice” over and over again, to describe individuals who thoughtfully search out lacking aspects of their performance, then hone in and work those areas relentlessly. For example, Jerry Rice used specific non-conventional workouts that emphasized control, endurance, and explosive acceleration. He worked harder and more consistently than his peers, but also way smarter than his peers. I highly recommend this book.
This is also a piece about where I am right now. See pictures below – no, I have not joined a convent.
I am at the Bear River Writers’ Conference in Northern Michigan. I love to write, yet I haven’t seemed to progress much this year. Why not? Not allocating enough time, not focusing when I do have time, not setting measurable goals, getting discouraged about my late start and lack of talent…many reasons. But, a book like Colvin’s gives me hope. If I can just persist.
Volunteer work. It is so easy to get lost down in the weeds. To tie a hundred bows or cut a thousand circles without ever looking up. Harder to answer the question, “why?” Is it a cause I believe in? Is the particular task bringing me closer to my children or spouse? Am I using my skill set, maybe the one I used to get paid for, effectively? Am I accomplishing something I will be proud of as I look back? Where is the nobility in my non-paying work? And, perhaps most importantly, what or who is it crowding out?
Here’s a practical trick for those who struggle with saying ‘no.’ Make a list right now, and certainly before the new school year kicks in somewhere around August 1, preferably on an iPhone or device you carry with you. My list last year was called “Volunteer Commitments.” I had a deal with myself – I’d try hard to only put things on the list about which I was truly passionate, and would put each and every thing to which I said “yes” on the list immediately, just so I could track the sheer bulk. I also had to be realistic; some items generate work throughout the year, while some take a big chunk of time for a short period – like the All Saints Episcopal Day School (ASEDS) talent show, which takes nearly every available minute during January, but only January.
Here’s what was on it by the end of the year:
ASEDS Board of Trustees
ALAS (Professional Organization) Book Club Leader
Boys’ Team Charities
Chair of Alternative Dispute Resolution of State Bar
ASEDS Talent Show
ASEDS Diversity Committee
Arizona’s Finest Lawyers’ Mentor Program
ASEDS Athletic Committee
ASEDS Enrollment Management Committee
American Heart Association Heart Ball Committee
That’s ten items, some of which play to my strengths and some not so much, and all of which take a lot of time, at least for some portion of the year. The list started small, and, by the time the school year ended, had exploded. (It probably would have been twenty had I not kept the list!) I wasn’t always great at sorting the things I needed to do from those that others could do better. And I wonder why I didn’t write more? Ha. As Colvin wrote, it’s all about focus.
As to my children, the Colvin book made me less apologetic about insisting on high goals and standards, whether the standards relate to academics, athletics, music or any other passion. Excellence looks like a child exceeding his accelerated reading goal, shooting free throw after free throw like Kobe, or practicing a piano piece until it’s perfect – the hard part, not the one he’s already mastered.
The takeaway from the Colvin book is that life is a process, with the constant need to tweak where and how we are investing our days, hours and minutes. Make it count. And leave some time for your singular passions.
Everyone detoxes from the school year – with a teaching job and five children under my roof, I still measure life in semesters – a little differently. (Don’t get me wrong – like Lynne, I appreciate a good spa. My mother and I spent a lovely morning recently at the Bliss Spa in Scottsdale. Highly recommend.) However, in the past few days, I’ve had the chance for two summer rituals I treasure.
The first was a trip to the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. (Also highly recommend, but this is not a piece about museums.) I forced 4 boys into the car at 10am on Sunday morning, before a basketball tournament game at 1. We spent an hour racing through the museum, all trying to learn “three new things.” They humored me on this. (Not sure if it was the instruction to “race,” the specific chore of 3 items, or the forced deadline of 1 hour before game time!)
I love taking charge, at least a little bit, of my children’s education. They all attend demanding schools, and their regular work takes all their time and effort during the school year. Only in summer can I force-feed places I want them to see, things I want them to do, and books I want them to read. I love the moment when I realize summer has kicked in; we can start doing things like spontaneous museum trips.
The second was garden planting. My boys and I go to Michigan in the summers, usually for the month of July. I often squeeze a trip in during May/June, and sometimes early September too. We stay with my mother on her farm, which my Irish ancestors homesteaded in about 1850. Here is a picture of the house and back yard:
I know my ancestors arrived poor and hungry, and I often feel we arrive poor and hungry too. Not needing literal possessions or food, but needing time and space and quiet.
Yesterday morning, I made the trip to the nursery with my mother to purchase plants: lettuce, spinach, radishes, squash (three kinds), strawberries, dill, basil, garlic, pumpkins, peas, and more. For less than the cost of a nice dinner in Phoenix, the garden was stocked. By noon, it looked like this:
Why is this job so restorative for me? Well, it’s what they call a non-verbal task in the language of standardized test developers. This means it can be completed from beginning to end without talking. So little in my life is like that.
Also, it’s a job that can be completed, from beginning to end, in a few hours. Sometimes I feel like my Phoenix life should be titled “Housepainting 101.” Metaphorically, I live in a very large house, comprised of many rooms and shades, and I go from room to room, painting just a little at a time. Unless one particular room calls out for a thorough and focused job – like a day when one kid gets her braces on or Thanksgiving dinner. Otherwise, I’m just taking a few swipes here and there, moving from exercise to paying work to cooking to laundry to homework to even more obscure chores delegated to people like arborists or once-a-year nightmares like basement cleaning. Either the metaphorical house will someday be fully painted or I will die first. Hard to say. This little garden is a job that is done in a few hours, and will reap benefits with minimal maintenance all summer long.
When Matt and I got married back in 1984, musicians sang the Pete Seeger’s “The Garden Song,” “Inch by inch, row by row…,” at our wedding. They were close friends of his, and remain close. Since then, layer by layer, our lives have become richer and more productive, but also more complicated. It’s nice to begin summer with a ritual that makes the garden metaphor real and even edible.
What are your summer rituals? The things that you do that you’ve almost forgotten, it’s been so long since last June 1, but once you do them…CLICK…it all comes back like you’ve captured the perfect picture on the camera of your mind’s eye?
There’s something I’ve been feeling a little guilty about since 1990. At the end of the year party for Maureen’s three year-old preschool class, I received the … drum roll … BEST COOKIE AWARD. I marched right up front and accepted the certificate with a smile.
I didn’t make the cookies. In fact, though I’d volunteered to bring the cookies several times that year, and hundreds of times since, Faye has always made the cookies. I’ve plagiarized the cookies for almost a quarter century, but should be forgiven. They are the very best cookies anyone has ever tasted. They are sugar cookies with cream cheese frosting always meticulously decorated for the event: any holiday you want, birthdays, even more obscure events, like when I asked for treble and bass clefs for a music concert. Many children and adults call them “Feeney Cookies,” and I have not one single time, not in 22 years, corrected anyone and advised they should properly be called “Faye cookies.”
I wish I had a picture of a cookie, but only have pictures of Faye cakes to show you here. I can vouch for the fact they taste as good as they look.
You can see the quality of Faye’s work. I’ll bet you can almost taste those cookies by now. Should a sugar cookie cross your path today, it had better watch out!
I met Faye when we worked at the same law firm back in the mid-eighties. She bakes on the side, obviously for the pure love of baking. It’s been almost 20 years since we’ve worked together, but I always know where she is, and drive as far as Gilbert, Arizona to pick up those baked goods. My GPS can always find my way to Faye.
Did I mention that I am baking-challenged? My theory is that one is either a cook or a baker but not both! I can cook a all-4-food-groups dinner for 10 in 30 minutes, but can’t make an edible cookie. The precision demanded to create beautiful baked goods is nowhere to be found in my tool kit. Back in 1990, I accepted that, even given infinite time, resources and effort, my cookies would never be as good as Faye’s. This acceptance-of-limitations stuff was a big deal for a Type A like me.
So the serious side of this little piece is, have you said thank you lately? Is there someone out there who’s made you look really good, whether as a mom or a volunteer? Or both? Or even better, are you willing to share a trick or two?
And no, I will not give anyone Faye’s email address or phone number. At least not without her specific permission.