Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Monday Listicles: 10 Songs That Best Describe My Life

Music has always been a part of my life. As a child, I heard it in every house—my own, my grandparents, my great aunts and uncles.  I spent hours in the kitchen dancing around to records chosen by my mom who listened to music while doing chores.  My dog, Sandy, would jump and chase, trying to catch the end of my nightgown with her teeth.  The song selection included an eclectic mix of artists: Hank Williams, Buddy Holly, Bobby Vinton, Leonard Bernstein, Gershwin, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, soundtracks from Walt Disney Movies, The Doors, Ann-Margaret, Emmy Lou Harris, Etta James. . .the list is endless.  No genre was ignored--classical, jazz, rock n' roll, polka, show tunes, and country.

When I was three years old, I attended my older sister’s dance recital, and instead of sitting in my seat, I danced in the aisle.  My mom enrolled me in dance lessons the next term.  Where there are dance lessons, there is music.  I danced all of my childhood and was eventually involved in Community Theater.  After high school, I wanted to escape to New York City and become a Broadway star.  However, the voices of practicality won, and I went to college.  But I majored in dance.   

I had a brief career as a professional dancer with a regional company.  But like most professionals in the world of the arts, I spent most of my time waiting tables in restaurants and night clubs.  Chicago was my town and live music was at my disposal.  There was one show I had tickets for but skipped because I was tired from working the lunch shift at Giordano’s Pizza and the night shift at Excalibur Night Club.  I had a feeling I would regret it, but thought, “Eh, they will come around again.”  But it wasn’t so.  Nirvana was short lived.

The Dave Matthews Band was an obsession that took me to 25 of their concerts.  It was somewhat similar to the obsession I had with Prince when I was a sophomore in high school.  Although I never saw him live, I listened to nothing but Prince for an entire year.  My mom was worried and tired of hearing her teen daughter listening to such provocative music, so one day she said, “We are going to the mall and you can pick out any record you want, as long as it’s not Prince.”  I chose Sting’s “The Dream of the Blue Turtles.”
After my divorce, I devoured music.  I searched for new bands on MySpace regularly and became interested in roots music, especially bluegrass.  I also went to my first music festival, Bonnaroo.  Pearl Jam headlined and I fought my way to the front with my man, whom I coincidentally met on MySpace while searching for music. 

Today, I continue to listen to an eclectic mix of music and choosing ten songs that best tell the story of my life is a daunting task.  I fear I will leave something out that is of significance.  Even so, music has always been there for me, an escape.  And I can’t resist this tribute, if you will, to something I am immensely grateful for, and without it, I would be someone else entirely.

10 Songs That Best Tell the Story of My Life

  1. Ann-Margaret, Bye-Bye Birdie Reprise  
  2. Soundtrack from Lady and the Tramp, The Siamese Cat Song
  3. Lawrence Welk, Pennsylvania Polka
  4. Linda Ronstadt, Love is a Rose
  5. Johnny Cash, Ring of Fire
  6. West Side Story (movie), Dance at the Gym  
  7. Nirvana, Sliver
  8. Fiona Apple, Extraordinary Machine 
  9. The Avett Brothers, Kick Drum Heart
  10. Pearl Jam, Who You Are

photo credit: GraceOda via photopin cc
photo credit: erokCom via photopin cc

Monday, January 30, 2012

Save It for Later Saturday: Teens on Google+, Early Ed, and Picnik

In Save It for Later Saturday you’re getting a brief run-down of the stand-outs from my week's "Read Later" list.  This week, please replace the word Saturday with Monday.  I took the weekend off and watched movies while lounging on the couch with my dogs.  Don’t you love January?  You’ll love the best of my “Read Later” list from Diigo.

There are plenty of opinions on teens and social media.  In Driving Online Without a License I outlined my own opinion and experience with introducing Facebook to my daughter.  In short, I think that teens should use social media. But, just as parents set guidelines for social behavior when teens leave the house, guidelines must be set for social online behavior.  One way to create boundaries for online behavior is to establish rules for content sharing. Last week, Google announced that Google+ will now be open for teens ages 13-18 and created a different set of safety features for the age group.  I recommend going through the privacy settings on Google+ with your teen as she sets up her account.  Any interaction you have with your teen while she is online enhances her media literacy skills, her knowledge of online etiquette (netiquette), and provides opportunities for discussing what is deemed appropriate to share.  You can explore Google+ Features for teens in the Google+ Safety Center, download A Parent's Guide to Google+ from ConnectSafely.org, or read an in depth article by Larry Magid at Huffington Post.  

Speaking of teens, during last week’s State of the Union Address, President Obama proposed that in order to decrease the high school dropout rate, states should require students to attend high school until they graduate or turn 18 (currently only 21 states have this as a requirement).  Increasing graduation rates is good for the economy and I am for anything that helps kids stay in school.  However, as Henry M. Levin and Cecilia E. Rouse point out in the New York Times, the answer to school completion lies in quality early learning.  Additionally, researchers are discovering that early learning is significant to living a successful life beyond one’s school career.  If you are interested in finding out your state’s policy on early education, you can find information in the NAEYC's State Early Care and Education Public Policy Developments: Fiscal Year 2012.

Another announcement came from Google last week that may have upset more than a few.  The popular photo editing tool, Picnik, will no longer be available.  Fear not.  David Byrne, at Free Technology for Teachers offers a great list of alternatives including, FlauntR, GooEdit, and more.  You can find a complete list of Google product changes here.

See you next Saturday.

photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc
photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc
photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc

Friday, January 27, 2012

Valentine's Day Coupons

In December, I somewhat begrudgingly wrote about the tradition of gift giving during the holidays and shared that I would be going the DIY route and giving my girls coupons.  Not the kind of coupons that provide discounts at retailers, but the kind that can be redeemed for tokens or gestures of love from me.  Of course, they were a hit.

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, and the gift budget yet to be fully recovered, I thought it would be fitting to share these simple, but always well-received, tokens of love that you can give to your kids, spouse, baby sitter, or even a teacher.  Simply come up with something you are willing and able to do for the recipient, grab your computing device and printer, and you’re good to go.  To create the coupons below I used Microsoft PowerPoint Templates and in the past have used Microsoft Word templates.  Very easy. Meaningful. Inexpensive. Priceless.


More DIY gift ideas at Pinterest.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Two Writing Prompts, a Bridge, and the Truth

The Bridge (photo credit)

Every Thursday I look forward to Mama Kat's Pretty Much World Famous Writer's Workshop meme..  She gives great prompts and the list of bloggers that link up is extensive which means a lot of good reading.  I have been contemplating this week’s prompts since Monday when they were posted.   I’ve had a few days to envision, imagine, muse, and choose a prompt to create something for this post.  And yet, I am stuck—not for lack of ideas but for lack of courage.

When I started Sperk* in October, I wasn’t sure if it would be a journal, a mommy blog complete with giveaways and funny stories from the home front, or a creative writing space.  I just started writing.  It began to develop into observations on parenting adolescents with commentary here and there about education and educational technology.  So Sperk* became A parent’s view on adolescent development and education.
My tagline, or niche, sometimes can limit my expression.  It also keeps me safe from sharing things too personal.  This can be a positive, though, because it’s good to stick to one’s niche.  But today I find myself unable to write anything relating to parenting adolescents, education, or even the damn weather.  I blame this on Mama Kat's prompts.  They are getting in my way.  I can’t stop thinking about them.  I need to write in response to them.  Therefore, in order to keep Sperk* going, I am ignoring the voices in my head saying, “No, no don’t write that.  It’s not what you do.” 

Writing prompt 5: Write about one of your childhood heroes.

Grandpap S., my paternal grandfather, is my one and only childhood hero.  He grew up the son of Czechoslovakian immigrants in a tiny Ohio River town in West Virginia.  He never left that tiny town in the Rust Belt.  He worked and retired from Wheeling Pittsburgh Steel which was at the south end of Main Street, situated under the bridge that led to Ohio.  Heading home from the steel mill, walking north on Main, he would pass homes of his cousins, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters.  He would pass the Catholic Church where he was very involved as a volunteer for many years.  He would pass and usually stop in to talk to the dwellers at the TV repair shop, the tiny market, and the neighborhood bar.  Arriving at his home, he would climb the stairs of his front porch and take a look at the marks on the cement support beams that indicated how high the water rose during the Ohio River flood of 1937.

As a child, my family visited his home every Sunday.  We went to Mass together and then had family dinner.  His prayers before meals were the best.  After we reverently recited the traditional Catholic prayers he would add, “Rub-a-dub dub, three men in a tub, hooray God!  Whoever eats the fastest gets the most-est!”  And we would all dig in to chicken, pierogies, and succotash.  Polka music would be streaming from the radio left on in the kitchen by my grandmother, the cook.

If my mom and dad had plans for going out on a Friday night, my sister and I spent the night at Grandpap S’s house.  I loved those nights.  He was the bingo caller at the church’s weekly bingo night.  He sat up on the stage of the school’s auditorium, called numbers, and told jokes.  He was funny.  All the lady bingo players loved him and he seemed like a celebrity to me. 

If we arrived at his house and he wasn’t there, my grandmother would tell me to walk down to the church.  He always could be found there hanging out with other church members.  I did not know what they were doing.  I wasn’t old enough to know what church goers did besides fast, pray, and feel afraid of God.  I didn’t care, though.  When I would find him there, he would always welcome me with a huge smile and open arms.  I can remember many times running through the church hall to jump in his arms for a hug.

One day at Sunday dinner, I choked on a piece of chicken skin.  He yelled at my grandmother for not cutting my piece of chicken fine enough.  One Friday evening before bingo, he hung a play phone on the side of the kitchen cabinet and my grandmother found it to be in her way.  He yelled at her for being silly and said, “The girls need this.  They need to make calls in here.” 

On another Sunday after dinner, the adults sat around, poured their drinks and got out the cards to start a game of Pinochle.  Instead of leaving my sister and I bored in front of the T.V. he took us up the street to the new putt-putt golf course.  He taught me how to hold the club.  He taught me how to line up my ball and put it through the miniature windmill into the little hole in the ground.

Grandpap S. knew about kids.  He knew that I needed love.  He knew that I was not the pain in the ass that everyone else seemed to think.

He also knew I was afraid to cross the giant bridge that towered over Wheeling Pittsburgh Steel connecting West Virginia to Ohio.  One day, he walked my sister and I south on Main to the foot of the pedestrian steps that led up to the walkway that went across the bridge.  Once we climbed to the top, I looked across and couldn’t move my body.  I was frozen with fear.  He said, “C’mon, we are going to walk to Ohio.  You’re not going to fall in.  I’ll be right by your side.  Your sister is going to do it.”

I didn’t move.

He said, “Okay, we won’t go all the way to Ohio, we’ll just go to the middle of the bridge.”

That didn’t help.  Ohio meant land which was better than standing on the bridge suspended over water.

He said, “Well, you wait right here.  I am taking your sister.”  And off they went.

They walked to the middle of the bridge.  I could see Ohio beyond them and the river below them and I was afraid a great wind would come and knock them both into the water leaving me completely alone and frozen on that giant bridge.  My sister was giddy with excitement and leaned over the side railing to point to the coal barges passing below her.  Grandpap S. was smiling and proud of her.  He yelled back to me, “See!  Your sister is okay. C’mon.  Don’t be a scaredy cat!”

I still couldn’t move.  I wanted to. I wanted him to be proud of me. 

The day Grandpap S. died my neighbor picked me up from school and brought me to her house.  I knew something was wrong because I usually walked home and my mom was usually there to greet me.  Time moved very slowly that afternoon.  I asked many questions about the whereabouts of my mother and father.  My neighbor’s only response was, “Your mom will be here to get you as soon as she can. Go play with the kids.  Everything is okay.”

My mom finally arrived well after my regular bed time.  I remember standing in the entry way of my neighbor’s house, looking up at her, and hearing her say the words, “Grandpap S. has died.”

I was only six years old, but I knew the detriment his death would bring to me.  There would be no more grown-ups that understood kids were not an inconvenient annoyance.  No more walks up and down Main Street, no more faces that lit up with a smile simply from me walking in the room.

Writing prompt 3: You know the stories that are retold a million times at family gatherings?  I call them Life Stories that you just never live down. List your Top 10 Life Stories.  

This prompt contains the words that have made it difficult for me to write this week: family gatherings.  When I read “number three” I became angry and sad.  I thought, “I don’t have to participate in these silly writing memes.  Sperk* doesn’t need to.  Sperk* will focus on parenting and education and this has nothing to do with either.”  But then it became difficult to write anything related to anything.  I forced out some posts, but my heart wasn’t in it.  And today, I came back to Mama Kat's meme, remembered Grandpap S. on the bridge, and decided to walk bravely with him.

(Photo Credit)
I have some life stories that used to be shared at family gatherings.  Most are from my first six years of life when Grandpap S. was alive. They are amusing and I remember them fondly.  But my family no longer gathers.  Well, they gather, but without me.  I choose not to participate.  And during holidays and birthdays, I can imagine the stories about me that are shared.  In my mind, they are not good.

One could say I am the black sheep of the family.  But I choose to not take on that label.  I am the one in the family that has chosen to not deny truth.  Because of this, I sense my family is uncomfortable in my presence.  For years, I faked my way through gatherings pretending that just being together in the moment was all that mattered.  But, for me, it has become impossible to pretend things did not happen.  The chatter becomes meaningless.  The words “I love you” become empty.  I guess I am the one uncomfortable in their presence.

My father is a child sex offender.  My sister and I were his victims.  I didn’t remember it until I was 21 years old and after my mother and father had been divorced for a few years.  Upon sharing the memory with my mother she questioned, “Are you sure it was your dad?  Are you sure it wasn’t your grandmother or your grandfather?”  What?  Grandpap S.?  The memory had been suppressed, but once it had surfaced the identity of the perpetrator was very clear.

The years that followed were tumultuous for me.  I would describe them in more detail if time allowed.  But I want to get this post linked up with Mama Kat before the clock strikes “link closed”.  In brief, my mother denies knowing it was happening and resents me for my behavior following recovering my memory.  I question her lack of knowledge of what was going on.  Some days I believe her, most days I do not.  I no longer speak to my sister because of an argument we had three years ago.  I no longer remember what the argument was about and it is not what keeps me from reaching out to her.  She still talks to my dad.  It’s her choice, yes.  And when I was younger, in my twenties, I respected that.  But I no longer think it’s healthy.  I’ve seen her struggle and I think if she would face the enemy and tell him to get lost, she would find room in her life to heal.  It's complicated.  More complicated than I can articulate.

I have spent over 20 years healing.  I still have work to do.  Some days are difficult, really difficult.  Some days are not.  Being a survivor of child sexual abuse does something to the brain that at times feels impossible to conquer.  And sometimes being a mother, being in a domestic situation, is like a war veteran being back on the battle field.  Not always.  Just sometimes.  But I never know what will trigger a memory.

I thought I could avoid facing the stuff blocking my ability to write by focusing on Paterno, twice.  I thought I could avoid facing the stuff blocking my ability to get words on a page by expressing my inability to sleep.. And I thought THAT was bordering on too personal. 

This morning I read this comment left by mannahattamamma.com, and it lingered with me until about 2 p.m.:

Ah those voices...Anne Lamott, in Bird by Bird, calls them the "anti-writing voices," but they are the anti-calm voices, the anti-be-yourself voices. She advocates visually those voices as tiny mice, then dropping them one by one into a glass bottle. Seal the bottle, put it on a shelf. Breathe. Kind of a disgusting image but...effective. Breathe, breathe, breathe...

So, readers, what is Sperk*?  Is it a parent’s view on adolescent development and education?  Is it a journal or a creative writing space?  Whatever it is, it will not come into fruition unless I allow my truth to be written.  Thank you, Mama Kat.

Mama’s Losin’ It

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Wednesday's Woman: Preventing Child Sexual Abuse

My Body Belongs to Me, Jill Starishevsky

Today Joe Paterno, the famed Penn State football coach, was laid to rest.  There is controversy surrounding how he should be remembered.  Should his egregious oversight and failure to protect innocent children overshadow the good he has done?  We all have our opinions.  The best that can come from the child sexual abuse scandal at Penn State is awareness and prevention.  As long as we talk Paterno, we talk child sexual abuse.  And the conversation should not end until child sexual abuse ends.

To end childhood sexual abuse, there is work to be done beyond arguing over Paterno’s memory.  There must be discussion and action in order to protect children.  But it’s a scary topic.  As parents, we come to the table unarmed and without tools.  We hope and pray it doesn’t happen to our children.

But, hoping and praying are not enough.  We do not hope our children do not get hit by a car when crossing the street.  We teach them to safely cross the street to prevent them from being hit by a vehicle.  Similarly, child sexual abuse is a serious danger.  We must teach our children to keep their bodies safe to prevent them from becoming victims.
Jill Starishevsky, an Assistant District Attorney in New York City, is familiar with the serious need for child sexual abuse prevention and awareness.  She is featured today not only because of her work to prosecute hundreds of sex offenders and because of her fight for justice for the child victim, but also because of her willingness to give parents vital tools to be able to keep their children safe.  She is the author of a book for children ages 3-8 called, My Body Belongs to Me, which teaches children that their bodies are private.

Jill Starishevsky on the Oprah Winfrey show in April of 2011:

In the wake of the scandal at Penn State, she shared an interview she gave to ABC News in the past and asked all of her contacts to share it:

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

For me, her most impactful writing is a post at MyWorkButterfly:

Because of her work and action to prevent child sexual abuse,  
is this week's Wednesday’s Woman.

{This is the second article in my new series, Wednesday’s Woman.  Each week I will feature a story of an inspiring woman.  Last week I featured Corrie Ortner, a single mom who is helping an elderly neighbor rebuild her life after years of hoarding.  If you know someone who should be featured, please let me know!} 

Found the Marbles

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Here's a Parenting Tip: Get Some Sleep

I am no stranger to the difficulties of having a new born and toddler.  I very clearly remember the days of pushing my grainy, groggy mind through the prickly fog that enters the sleep deprived mind.  I distinctly remember the day I decided that it was time for my younger daughter to sleep in her crib instead of in my room.  I was standing in the family room attempting to put together a plastic kitchen for my older daughter—the toddler.  She was a toddler whom I expected to be of more help.  Ridiculous what the mind will do when it lacks the capacity for rational thinking due to lack of sleep.

I find myself there again—unable to sleep.  There are no infant cries or coos for food.  There are no creeping toddlers who have escaped from their brand new, low-rise tot bed to startle me from my peaceful slumber.  The night noises are in my head.  My 11 and 13 year old girls run there like crazy all through the night.

Are they happy with themselves?  Do they like what they see in the mirror?  Do kids at school really like them?  I mean, really.  Do they understand what they are being taught?  And why aren’t they practicing their music?  What can I do better? What if I have already messed up enough to make them need therapy two times a week for the rest of their lives? 

Sounds like the one that needs therapy sits at the laptop tapping, tipping, and typing.  She is asking for the anxiety to leave her so that she can finish the dishes, mop the floor, make the beds, and welcome them home once again.  She is hoping that after a lengthy cycle of unrest, tonight will bring her the wisdom that arrives when one lets go and understands that most is beyond her control.

It all will present itself as needing attention when it needs attention.  Without rest she will not pick up the cues.  She will not recognize the teachable moments.  Let it go.  Get some rest. Be well.  And all will be well.

photo credit: Michael Cory via photopin cc

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Joe Paterno: Remember the Paradox

"Even decades of professional achievement should not obscure dreadfully reckless and callous inaction that results in child sex crimes,"  
David Clohessy, director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a support group. Quoted in Reuters.

Life is a paradox.  You win some. You lose some.  Some that you win can actually feel like a loss.  And when you do something great for one, it is actually harmful for another.  And vice versa. Et cetera. 

When one dies, the paradox that is one’s life becomes washed over and represented as a great and successful endeavor.  We must, after all, have respect for the dead.  Paradox dismissed.  Contradictions terminated.

Joe Paterno was the winningest college football coach of all time. He did a lot for Penn State.  In addition to an expanded stadium due to the football team’s success, his family donated millions of dollars to the university to support scholarships and building funds.  Admirably, he had a reputation for making sure his players graduated.  His influence on the young men he coached and on his colleagues and peers was far-reaching.

The story of how Joe Paterno's career ended is also far-reaching.  His oversight of child sex crimes was more than an error, it was a miserable blunder.  Its significance reaches farther than any good deed done.  But there is something good in his wrong doing.

If Joe Paterno would not have been such a celebrated college football coach, the story of a man who knew boys were being raped but failed to call the police may have gone unnoticed.  Now, it cannot be ignored.  Paterno’s story brings to light the oversight of child sexual abuse not only at Penn State, but also in America.

I do not wish to disrespect the dead.  I do not wish to disrespect Joe Paterno, the Paterno family, or any individual he may have helped along the way.  But the controversy surrounding how he should be remembered is one that I welcome.  Yes, we should talk about why he should be remembered for the good he has done.  But Joe Paterno's story will positively impact more people if we talk about why he should be remembered for his moral crimes.  Do not be afraid to face the fact that life is a paradox.

photo credit: seng1011 via photopin cc

Save It for Later Saturday: the Election, Conflict Resolution, and Reassurance

In Save It for Later Saturday you’re getting a brief run-down of the stand-outs from my week's "Read Later" list. 

This week during one of our dinner conversations, my daughters fired off questions about the presidential election.  The questions were not difficult to answer.  I understand the electoral process.  But the questions were difficult for me to clearly answer in a way that was meaningful to them.  There’s a lot to the electoral process and they were not aware of much beyond voting, counting, and winning.  How much do your kids really know about the electoral process and how much of the electoral process can you accurately explain? 

photo credit
Scholastic News recently launched Election 2012 which provides answers to all election related questions.  The content is accurate, easy to read, and will capture the interest of school aged kids and adolescents.  The site combines information from Scholastic News with reporting by the Scholastic News Kid Reporters.  You’ll also find election-related games, polls, videos, and an interactive map that tracks the primary voting across the country.  Next time your kids are online, tell them you’d like to explore Scholastic News Election 2012 with them.  Get them involved and excited about this important time for our country.

If you have more than one child, it is certain there will be conflicts between them.  Siblings argue.  It’s normal.  It is wise to let kids figure out how to solve conflicts on their own.  But if they do not have tools in conflict resolution, you can't expect them to effectively settle disputes. 

In the current issue of the NAEYC's Teaching Young Children, Sharma Whitchurch and Jackie Sprague provide a great strategy for conflict resolution within the early learning environment.  The strategy, the daily designation of a student "Problem Solver", can be easily implemented into the home.  And the plan doesn’t need to be reserved for young children.  Older children, adolescents, and even adult members of the family will benefit from it.  I encourage you to look over The Problem Solver Job: Peer-Mediated Conflict Resolution and give it a try at home.

photo credit
Once you have your kids up to date on the electoral process and well-trained at conflict resolution, you will feel reassured that you are one great parent, right?  But then one of your kids asks, “Is Barack Obama running for president?” and the other kid smacks him on the head and calls him “stupid.”  You may feel as if all the time you spent was pointless.  So you turn to your blog to vent, check the stats and see your views are down for the day by 50%.  You think, “Oh well, at least I’ve been sticking to my resolution to run every day.”  You go to your scale, jump on and find you’ve gained one pound.  Where is the proof that you are doing something right?

My advice?  Read Seth Godin's post, The problem with reassurance.  After, give your kids a hug, write your next blog post, and go for a run.

See you next Saturday.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

My Morning on a Web 2.0 Interactive Timeline

I have been wanting to try a Web 2.0 interactive timeline app, so when I saw that one of the prompts for Mama Kat's weekly writing meme was "Describe the Scene at Breakfast" I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to turn the timeline in my October post, A Morning in the Life, interactive.  I was looking forward to trying Dipity because of its ability to add audio, video, and photos, but the site was down.  I began creating one on timetoast but it did not look as flashy.  Instead I created a timeline of our morning routine using Tiki-Toki.  It has a lot of the same features as Dipity, is easy to use, and looks great. The only difference in the two is that Dipity allows you to embed your timeline into your website for free and Tiki-Toki requires a fee.  I paid up because I wanted to share it with you.

Interactive timelines are popular in educational technology applications. But they can also be used for creating family event timelines for your personal blog.  And your kids would enjoy making timelines of their own based on their interests.  Maybe your child would like to create an historical timeline of fashion or one depicting stand-out moments in her school career.  On Tiki-Toki you can add editors to your timeline. So for your cousin's next birthday have the entire extended family add photos and videos to a timeline celebrating his life! If you don't have a website or blog to embed the timeline, don't worry, you can simply view it on the site and share the link.

In my haste to complete my A Morning in the Life timeline, I see I would have liked the final outcome more if I had added more media and more details to the stories.  I will continue to edit and add as time permits.  So check back to see progress.  And be sure to click on the Mama Kat widget below to read some amazing blogs.

Mama’s Losin’ It

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wednesday's Woman: Help for the Hoarder Next Door

{This is the first article in my new series, Wednesday’s Woman.  Each week I will feature a story of an inspiring woman.  If you know someone who should be featured, please let me know!} 

Corrie Ortner
  Anyone can give up, it's the easiest thing to do. But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that's true strength.

~Maya Angelou

When I came up with the idea for Wednesday’s Woman, the first person I thought of was my friend Corrie Ortner.  I met Corrie on a Dave Matthew’s Band message board about seven years ago.  We connected instantly online, met up for a few DMB shows, and visited each other a few times before I left California in 2006.  We haven’t seen each other since a brief Spring Break meeting in Las Vegas in 2007 because she is in Oregon and I am in Ohio.  But we keep a close watch over each other on Facebook.
December 27, 2011, Corrie posted her first update about her elderly neighbor, who I will call Sandra (name changed for anonymity).  What started out as an update about a quick trip to Sandra's home to help her find her lost phone, has turned into a series of updates about an elderly woman who is a domestic violence survivor, scholar, aromatherapist, world traveler, and hoarder.  Corrie and her 10 year old daughter are cleaning out Sandra's home.  Corrie doesn’t have to do this.  Sandra didn’t ask for help.  

Facebook Update, December 27, 2011:

OK, friends. I need help. I just went over to my neighbor's to help her find her phone. . .She’s elderly and lives on SSI. Her place is in horrid condition. It looks like an episode of hoarders but all garbage-mostly paper stacked higher than the bed with a few paths going through. It's a small place-probably 450-500 sq feet-like a studio apt. . . She lives there with her dog-it doesn't look like she's washed her bedding or clothes in months. She also has bad pain (hip and knee) problems as well as depression issues. I want to find a way to get her help-or get a group of people together to go in and help her clean up. It seems like she wants to get it cleaned up... Ideas, suggestions anyone? 
Corrie received supportive comments on her December 27th update and promises from locals to help. Friends from far away promised to send donations to put towards cleaning supplies.

Facebook Update, January 6, 2012:
Operation clean up the neighbor's house commences this weekend! DHS got involved and will check in again in a week and a half. I'd like to get it cleaned up and give her the chance to keep it that way through the next visit. Any help is greatly appreciated-we'll probably work Saturday and Sunday and into Monday and Tuesday if necessary. This won't be an easy task and will involve long sleeves, grubby clothes, gloves, and a dust mask if you're sensitive to dust, dander, etc. If you can't help with cleaning, any donation of cleaning products, boxes, garbage bags, etc would be appreciated. LMK if you can help out!

She's a very nice lady-this is a great opportunity to help someone in our community in need.


Subsequent updates included the fact that she and her 10 year-old daughter had begun the clean-up and it was worse than what they imagined.

But there is progress being made.

And Corrie will continue until the job is done.

Corrie in her respirator


I contacted Corrie via Facebook last week asking her if it would be OK to feature her story here.  Following are excerpts from her replies:

Sure! Any awareness of the ordeals seniors go through in our society is very welcome! More updates later-I'm off to clean again right now. I'll take some progress pictures!


Wanted to send a quick update with more info than I share on my posts. I'm overwhelmed by the amount of support. Sandra told me today that she really can't believe that all of these people who don't even know her are so generous. I told her that she had earned it.
My sister sent me $75 to help with supplies and my respirator. Someone I haven't seen in over 25 years has offered to pay to have her carpet cleaned or replaced. Another friend (in Oklahoma) is sending some money, underwear, socks, and toiletries. My aunt is sending a check on Monday to help with everything. I'm so touched-I can't even begin to explain how amazing all of this is. I wish I had more help from the local community, but I don't know a lot of people here so it's tough to get out there and find people to help.

I spent over an hour on the phone on Friday being referred from agency to agency, being given numbers to call for this, getting promises to call back, reaching agencies that are there to help seniors only to have to listen to a quickly spoken message with a lot of press 1 now, etc. After this, I'm not surprised that there are so many seniors in this country who don't receive help. Many are afraid that they'll be carted off to a home (the last resort), but I can't imagine how anyone with any type of cognitive or hearing impairment (many seniors) can navigate this system when I had a difficult time .

. . . Friday I found a water damaged purse in the closet where her water heater had flooded. It was a really cool hand tooled "hippie" purse-among the mushed molded papers, I found a menu from a pizza place in Queens, a flyer from a flea market at Picadilly Circus in London, two crystals, baggage claim tags from JFK, and a notebook. In the notebook, there was an entry from 1990 that went something like this: "Here I am in Sisters. I am safe and I am OK. I will be positive and do everything I can to save money until I can afford to move continue on with my life." Yet she's still here. She has two PhDs. Went to Stanford. Grew up in Pasadena and New York. Has lived in Atlanta, England (where she was an aromatherapist), NY, CA, and retired to Bend to train dogs. She left an abusive relationship to move to Sisters and left everything behind in the process. In sorting through her stuff, I've found half of her dishes are Waterford.

The details about her life are just what she's told me-I don't know if it's exaggerated or not, but by that age, I think that we all should be able to live out the rest of our life believing whatever we need to believe to keep us going. I keep finding more and more tidbits that confirm her facts. It's really amazing.


Being unemployed, Corrie faces many challenges in helping Sandra.  She doesn’t have the resources  that would make helping Sandra a little easier.  What Corrie does have is a genuine compassion for those who have suffered and struggle to live.  She puts her feelings of compassion into action.  This is something so many of us fail to do.  We spread the word, we send money, we write.  How many of us respond to someone in need with action?  We know of at least one. Her name is Corrie Ortner.

Corrie Ortner is Wednesday’s Woman.

To follow Corrie’s updates on the clean-up at Sandra's send her a friend request at Facebook.

Found the Marbles

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Relationships, Weekends and My Blended Family

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Weekends are a bittersweet time for me.  On one hand they are a welcome respite to the weekday schedule.  I can tackle larger projects around the home, catch up on reading, and take time to assess scheduling and family management strategies that are in place during the week.  On the other hand, because we are a two household family and my daughters go to their dads on the weekends, I feel an underlying sadness due to missing my girls.  If I let it, the feeling can deplete my enthusiasm for all the things I like to accomplish during my two day hiatus from parenting.  

But typically, my motivation to have a house with groceries stocked in the kitchen, clean sheets on the beds, and promised tasks completed by Sunday night pushes uncomfortable feelings aside.  In my haste to create a welcoming environment for my daughters' Monday, I have overlooked an opportunity provided by the weekends without them—reconnecting with my significant other, M. 

This weekend, like any weekend, I had numerous personal and familial related tasks to complete.  M and I began painting the kitchen two weeks ago and I wanted to finish it.  There were shelves for the girls’ room to be painted and hung, groceries, meal planning, scheduling of activities, laundry and vacuuming.  In my obsessive quest for the home to seem “normal” and welcoming on Mondays, I wanted everything crossed off the to-do list. 

It’s 6:00 p.m. on Sunday evening and the shelves are not hung and the groceries are not purchased.  The house is not vacuumed and kitchen cabinet doors we removed for painting are still on the floor. But unlike my customary worry about how the girls will perceive their home upon Monday’s reentry, this evening I feel refreshed and calm.  You see, instead of tending to the typical, M and I tended to our relationship.   

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We reconnected through a marathon conversation that lasted over 24 hours beginning on Friday night and ending in the wee small hours of Sunday.  We talked about the things that we have been hiding away for months:  blended family parenting issues, adolescent parenting issues, personal issues, worries, hopes, dreams, and goals.  We cried, laughed, argued, and agreed.  We also talked news, friends, dogs, technology, exercise, music, food, places we’d like to visit, and whether or not we’ll ever make it official and marry.  I feel as if I reconnected with an old friend.  I feel less alone.  I feel loved.  There is no other bliss like knowing one is loved and if I wasn't so tired from staying up, I'd probably be singing.  Why the need for the all-nighter?

My main goal in life is to be a great parent.  This was not an ambition of mine when I was a child or even when I was a young adult.  This became my mission upon the birth of my first daughter--good timing.  And due to my guilt over my divorce, I have made it my sole purpose in life.  But I have failed to acknowledge that my relationship with M has a significant impact on my success as a parent. 

Newly remarried couples without children usually use their first months together to build on their relationship. Couples with children, on the other hand, are often more consumed with their own kids than with each other.

M and I are not married.  Maybe this is why I allowed parenting to be more important than our relationship.  And maybe I’m not married because I am afraid it will distract me from parenting.  Maybe M and I fail to take the plunge because we are unsure if the girls will like the idea.  But, the "maybes" do not matter.  He’s here.  It’s our house. We are a family.

You will no doubt focus a lot of energy on your children and their adjustment, but you also need to focus on building a strong marital bond. This will ultimately benefit everyone, including the children. If the children see love, respect, and open communication between you and your spouse, they will feel more secure and may even learn to model those qualities.

I do not recommend staying awake for more than a normal amount of time in order to reconnect.  I truly am a bit stressed about the groceries that are not purchased.  But for couples in blended families, whether your relationship status is married or living together, I strongly recommend you and your partner stay connected.  How the girls see M and I in our relationship is much more impactful to their development than if the refrigerator is fully stocked.  Peanut butter and jelly for dinner is always an option.