Tuesday, December 18, 2012

26 Acts of Kindness...

In the wake of the tragic deaths of 20 children ages 6-7 and 6 teachers and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14th, 2012, there has been a huge swell of "acts of kindness". I think it's wonderful... and hope that it doesn't only last for the next week or two - this world needs more kindness. We can argue about gun control, mental health, and nature vs. nurture but nobody can argue the point that this world needs more kindness.

I was telling my mother that I can't shake the grief and she suggested helping others. I already do that twice a week during this season by volunteering at the Salvation Army but it wasn't enough. To combat the gloom in my heart, I have joined the "acts of kindness" bandwagon. I just carried out my first act and I'm so happy that I did it. I sent a Christmas basket to an old fella that I talk to 2-3 times per day for work because he's so very lonely. Sometimes he cries. I want to go meet him but I'm not allowed to do that. Earlier today I spent about 20 minutes at my computer trying to decide if I should do it... I could lose my job if someone found out. I walked away without placing the order and went back to my painting project.

As I was brightening the guest room with a coat of "Coastal Mist" blue, I was thinking about him. I'm not working at that job this week... I'm not actually working that job again for a few weeks. I will miss talking to him but I think he will miss talking to me more. There are others that talk to him but he seems to like me because I'm interested in him, his cat, his day etc.

While elbow deep in the paint bucket I realized two things: 1) Who could, with a clear conscience, punish me for an act of kindness toward an old man completely alone in this world? 2) Except for these few personal connections, I don't like that job anyway and if I get fired over this, it will be totally worthwhile.

I washed my hands and came back to the computer, placed the order, wrote a note about 26 anonymous acts of kindness, and that I hope this brings him some holiday joy. Before I could change my mind, I finalized the purchase. It will arrive on Christmas Eve day. I'm happy I did it... even if it comes with consequences.

Several months ago I had another "old guy" that I used to let talk when he was lonely. I would be driving somewhere and I'd let him just prattle on about his wife, his children, his career - I actually found him fascinating when most everyone else considered him to be a grouch. He wanted me to come to his home and meet him in person. I asked permission and was told no. He died a few weeks later and every time I think of him, I heavy-heartedly regret not breaking that rule and meeting him. What true harm could it have done? The man invited me as a guest to his home (and I have a background check on file to boot!)!

Back to the acts of kindness - I don't feel like ALL acts of kindness need to be anonymous. I actually think it's good to look someone in the eye and do something nice for them. Perhaps then they will be more compelled to pay it forward.

My husband and I carry out acts of kindness throughout the year - each year for Christmas we select a boy and a girl from the "Giving Tree" and donate all of their gifts, we buy boxes of food for the food pantry and drop it in the box before we even leave the grocery store, we always tack a few bucks on at PetSmart for "rescued pets", we donate clothing and items to local charities instead of tossing them or selling them... but when I mention these things in passing (my four readers already know we do these things so no recognition-seeking here), I get comments like "You are amazing!" but I'm not. We were taught how to be kind. We were taught when to be kind. We were taught that kindness matters. The world needs to re-learn how to be kind even when the darkness of events like September 11th, 2001, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, or massacres of innocent people isn't in the immediate rear view.

As for 26 acts vs. 27 acts... not to mention 28 acts of kindness with regard to the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims, I am a bit torn. 26 is a no-brainer. I will ABSOLUTELY honor the memory of the children, teachers, and staff.

#27 - the shooter's mother (I refuse to use his name) - is harder. Although she CERTAINLY did not deserve to die in such a brutal, cold way at the hands of her own child, as a fellow gun owner, I hold her responsible to a degree for allowing access to her guns... much less access to a son that she had told friends more than once was "getting out of control" or that she would "need help soon" with him. As gun owners, our guns are not and NEVER will be accessible to anyone that a) Isn't licensed b) Isn't responsible c) Isn't appropriate to handle them.

And as for #28 - the shooter. The obvious objection is acknowledging him at all. However, part of me thinks that an act of kindness in memory of him would add more light to the world to counteract a wink of the darkness that he cast. I haven't decided yet. But I will.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Babies Lost...

This photo was taken 12/15/12 by a friend of mine in front
of the Sandy Hook Elementary School - I can't help but  reel from
the words at the bottom of the sign - "Visitors Welcome" .
It's just over 36 hours since the tragic, murderous acts at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT and I can't seem to get myself together. I have avoided the news and the images. I do not need to hear the grisly details. My imagination has filled in the blanks about how terrified those people must have been and that is plenty.

I have not seen any photos of the children lost in this senseless act against the truly innocent but my mind has automatically super-imposed the face of every child that I have ever loved into those empty seats and I, like so many, cannot get ahead of the grief. It takes me by surprise when I'm least expecting it.

Last night I had to walk away from a woman at my husband's Christmas party. She was encouraging a newly-wed woman to get pregnant as soon as possible because being a mom is so awesome and (here's the part that made me walk away) women who aren't moms just never really "get it".

I haven't given birth to any children - I wasn't granted that privilege - but I have raised many children and have loved them like my own. I get it.

Tonight we attended the dance recital of my husband's cousin's daughter (a 12 year old that I love). Watching those children aged ~5 to ~17 dance with wide, sincere smiles on their faces aroused conflicting feelings in me with one wave after another. The first wave held the infectious joy of their youthful exuberance and the pleasure they were clearly getting from showing off months of hard work. The second wave was littered with the debris of reality that 26 families, just 45 minutes from my hometown, will never experience this joy with their beloved child/parent/sibling/grand-child.

A thought that keeps echoing in my head. These children, these people, these newly-anointed angels, probably have Christmas gifts waiting for them under a tree or in a closet waiting to be wrapped. How does a person deal with that? A child's gift they will never receive...

I may not have given birth but I get it. My heart aches for these families.

And yet, as my husband the police officer very gently pointed out today, as the country grieves for these lost children and the people that tried to protect them, someone, somewhere, is planning another assault.........

Moving forward every day with that last piece of knowledge crashing around in my soul colliding with my grief is almost overwhelming. But it is not the time for anger alone, it's the time for preparation. It will happen again but we can learn from this ultimate act of betrayal. To be prepared, vigilant, ready to act, and to trust your instincts is the lesson. Don't stop listening.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Wise Spendthrift Advice...

I'm naturally frugal. I always have been. When I'm shopping I will spend extra time agonizing over larger purchases. Sometimes changing my mind multiple times before I walk out of the store comfortable with my decision.

Last year during a girl's weekend my friend and I went into a store where I found some boots that I REALLY liked. When I saw that they were $100 I slipped quietly into my inner struggle of whether to buy them. Once my very wise friend realized what I was doing, she asked me, "How often will you wear them?" She then went on to help me see the wisdom in projecting how often you might use something and then dividing the purchase price by that number thereby figuring a "cost per use" rather than getting hung up on the sticker price. She's so smart! So... I bought the boots, wore them out of the store and have worn them at least 100 times since then - that's less than a dollar per use!

Using that wisdom I've purchased a few other items that I use all the time and appreciate how much they have improved my life. Here are a few examples.

Our counter top surface is pretty limited and I was constantly reorganizing it to accommodate the wood block holding all of our knives. We also often ended up with multiple knives jammed in each slot because we had more knives than the block would hold. I decided that a magnetic knife holder would do the job and solve multiple issues. I found the one I wanted but it was $40... But we use it every day and it does knock out two of our space problems in one shot! It also keeps the knives where guest chefs can find them easily.

Another issue is around the wood stove. The biggest issue is that when wood is brought in from the wood house, inevitably the scraps of wood, leaves etc ended up dumping all across the rug from the door to the hearth and I had to vacuum every day. When I spotted the heavy duty cordura wood tote with ends in the Duluth catalog I bought it almost immediately. It was exactly what I wanted and more! It also is large enough to fill the wood box in two trips instead of the three or four trips that the old flat canvas sling required.

In the same picture with the wood tote is a steam pot for the top of the wood stove. We had an old one that looked like a kettle and it would often boil over which caused our brand new wood stove to rust (which makes me unhappy in many ways...). When we saw this one at LL Bean during a Christmas shopping trip, we put off buying it because it was pricey and we are both frugal. After my friend's advice... and more boiling over and rusting... I bought it. (I was actually kind of happy we didn't buy it that day in the LL Bean store because it's heavy we'd have had to schlep it around Freeport for hours since we had parked so far away.)

So... Every time we have a big purchase to make now we use the "cost per use" method to decide if it's worth it and have never been unhappy with our decision either way. It works for us!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Good Help is Hard to Find...

After the flea bonanza with the diatomaceous earth etc over the past month or so (yes, it takes that long to get rid of fleas without harsh chemicals), despite vigilant dusting of common areas, our house is covered in a fine dust. It's everywhere. I just pulled the crock pot out of the cabinet and it even had dust on it in the cabinet! It's everywhere. Did I mention that it's absolutely everywhere? My hair is finally starting to relax - I was looking like a scarecrow there for a while as it dried my hair out so much! Anyway...

A week or so ago I looked at my husband, while wiping dust off of the baking goods I was packing to take with me for Thanksgiving, and hesitantly said "It's going to take us a year to clean up all of this dust. I'm thinking about hiring someone." He responded by saying simply, "I was thinking the EXACT same thing!" So I embarked on an enlightening hiring experience...

Having asked my neighbors for a referral and getting nowhere, I decided to put an ad on Craigslist.org. Never again.

The first person that responded (and sounded good in writing) was someone whose name my husband recognized immediately... as someone he has "met professionally" more than once. (I guess this is a benefit I didn't mention in my recent post about being married to a police officer.)

The second person to reply played the "military background" card. I'm a HUGE supporter of helping veterans get back on their feet so I, of course, put him on my short list of people to check up on. It turns out that he is a Level 3 sex offender and his most recent arrest was for larceny over $250 in a nearby town -  (He's also homeless in Hyannis and it makes me wonder if I've seen him at the Salvation Army when I volunteer there...) Thank you, Google. You were very helpful in turning up this information.

The third person sounded good in writing, her one reference that I could reach gave her a glowing recommendation (perhaps it was her mother...), and when I spoke to her on the phone, she sounded professional, ambitious, and ready to work. I invited her to the house for an interview and then sat there for two hours waiting for her to arrive or call. Nada.

There were others that didn't make the short list for in-depth checking on because I looked them up quickly on Facebook or Google and quickly found things that didn't sit right - one couple said that they were "professional cleaners" and then when I found them on Facebook, there were things that indicated that they were more likely professional take-me-to-the-cleaners.

Frustrated by the process (and happy that some idiot had flagged my Craigslist ad as "inappropriate" for some unimaginable reason thereby removing it before I got more than a handful of applicants) I called A at work and asked him if he knew anyone that might clean for us.

Right now, as I write, she's here. She's a hard-working Brazilian woman that dates one of A's co-workers. (We had initially stayed away from this arrangement as we were nervous about having to potentially fire a co-worker's spouse. After the Craigslist debacle, I'd rather just deal with that if it comes up than potentially have a sex offender or heroine addict in our house. A made a good point that he'd rather "keep the money in the [police department] family anyway. He's so smart.) She came by this morning to look at the job... and came back two hours later to start! I forgot to tell her that I only use eco-friendly products so the smell coming from the bathroom is quite strong... but I'll tell her before she comes back next time and I suppose the place could use a good scrubbing now and then.
Maybe I'll get her this as a Christmas bonus. :-)

She will be back. I can tell already. We initially said that it's a one-time gig preparing for visitors over the holidays but her price was really reasonable for what she's going to do... and I will organize all day and clean as I do it but the drudgery of regularly washing the windows, baseboards, behind the furniture etc just ain't my thing.

She had the job when her eyes lit up when she said, "I LOVE to clean!" Perfect!