Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ode to Whitey's

The line is always long enough to give anyone enough time with Choice because Whitey's is a popular place in the summertime. The July air hangs heavy in the night, a lingering reminder of the day's long journey and an unforgiving darkness offers no comfort from the air's clammy grasp. Sweet relief can be found stepping into the welcoming chill of an air-conditioned ice cream parlor and dozens heed its beckoning call, standing in a sloppy line as it slowly snakes through the store. Children swing impatiently from the red belted dividers as the busy whir of the blender provides a taunting soundtrack to the unbearable wait. An old man rests in one of the white plastic lawn chairs lining the back wall, relinquishing the sticky seat as the line moves forward.

Choice can be an intoxicating friend when I’m standing at the end of the line. She holds my hand tightly as I swing her arm back and forth. “One scoop of Mississip, no, Mint Chocolate Chip in a sugar cone,” I decide, albeit uncertainly. She knows her power holds me precariously as she watches my eyes dance across the menu, the many offerings calling out like a siren's song. “You’ve never had a Dusty Road before,” she reminds me in a sing-song voice. “And remember, Whitey’s is famous for its upside-down shakes and malts.” She excitedly points out a new flavor since last time I visited and the promise of a Key Lime shake sends shivers of delight down my spine. “I really shouldn’t,” I begin, quickly changing my mind again, “I’m on a diet and . . ..” Choice laughs out loud, brushing off my silly excuse and whispers in my ear, “I hear the Very Cherry smoothie is to die for." But I don’t hear her because Mint Chocolate Chip and Mississippi Mud are still waging a double fronted battle with my expectant taste buds. The line is getting shorter and Decision stands with his arms folded across his chest next to a bow-tied soda jerk who is waiting for me to let go of Choice’s hand.

“Welcome to Whitey’s, what can I get you?” the young man in the impossibly clean white shirt asks with a smile. Decision steps closer to me as Choice relaxes her grip. “A two dip chocolate Brownie Under with a cherry on top please.” Decision smiles, he knows me well and isn’t surprised by my betrayal of Choice. Choice shakes her head disappointingly. She turns, walks to the end of the line, and reaches out her hand to a recent arrival. I want to follow her but am stopped by the young man as he hands me a cold waxy cup. I pay the price and Decision’s familiar arm leads me gently to the door. I turn my head and for a second I catch Choice’s eye. “Maybe next time,” I whisper, hoping to restore her faith in our fragile friendship. She ignores my attempt at reconciliation and instead points out the Key Lime shake to her new companion. I look up into Decision’s eyes, searching for acceptance. He leans down and whispers in my ear. I can't help but giggle at the absurdity of his suggestion. My gaze falls on the delicacy in my hand and with a contented sigh I begin the happy search for the brownie at the bottom of the cup. The door opens and I walk willingly into the familiar feeling of an Iowa summer night.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Art Lady

My first class sat before me, most likely wondering why they were there. They knew I was “a PTO mom,” but they'd already had art class that week, so why were they back in the art room? “Who can tell me what pointillism means?” I asked. A very sweet 4th grader sitting in the front row timidly raised her hand. “Yes, sweetie.” I said, as I pointed in her direction. “Um,” she thought and then hesitantly guessed, “It's pointless?” It took everything I had not to laugh out loud. So instead I asked her to give me a high five and praised her for being brave enough to venture a guess. Welcome to being The Art Lady, I thought to myself, this is going to be fun.

I was very excited when the principal of my children's school agreed to let me start the Art Lady program. I had heard of a similar curriculum in an adjacent school district and wanted to bring the same enrichment activity to our own. And while our school has a very dedicated art teacher, I hoped to bring an element of art appreciation and history to the students that she does not have the time or resources to cover. Michigan is home to The Detroit Institute of Arts, a premiere art museum. Its beautiful neoclassical structure houses many treasured masterpieces, most notably the stunning Diego Rivera murals in the grand Rivera Court. My personal favorite is John Singer Sargent's portrait of Madame Paul Poison. Unfortunately field trips to the art museum aren't high on the list of things to do for many Michigan schools or parents hard hit by funding cuts and the economy. So, if the kids can't go to the museum, why not bring the museum to the kids?!

So far this school year we have delved into the lives and styles of George Seurat, Paul Cezanne, and Vincent Van Gogh. Next month I'll build on their new knowledge of Cezanne and introduce Pablo Picasso. But I'm especially excited about juxtaposing the abstract art of Piet Mondrian and Jackson Pollock. We begin with a quick overview of the artist's life, i.e. his name and when and where he was born. Next we talk about his style. I purchase a book about the life of the artist and read it out loud. The book is available for them to check out in the school library. And then there is the unveiling. It's my favorite part. The kids are so quick to appreciate beauty and talent. There has never been a class where the gasps are not audible and the excitement is not palpable.

This month I introduced expressionism with the artist Vincent Van Gogh. His work Starry Night seemed a worthy example of the style. We talked about line and color and how an artist uses them to show how he or she feels about their subject of choice. Then after a brief discussion about the painting it is their turn to draw their own masterpiece. My friend Alanda was taking pictures for the school yearbook and gave me permission to use some of her photos.

Here's a cute kid. Someone should tell his mother he needs a haircut.

This little guy was drawing an elaborate chemistry lab complete with fiery explosions.

Because I only have 20-30 minutes with each of the 17 classes I give some direction as to what I would like them to draw. For instance, when I introduced Seurat's “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte” I asked each class to think of their favorite thing to do at the park and then recreate that memory using pointillism. By the way, their enthusiasm for the style totally ruined the 2nd grade teacher Ms. Marshall's fine-tipped markers. The direction for this month was to draw how they felt about a food or a subject in school by using colors and lines that indicated their feelings. As you can see there weren't very many students who chose to draw how they felt about school. By their use of color and line, can you tell how these students feel about their food of choice?

This kindergartner and I share a similar enjoyment for chocolate chip cookies.

He told me that the lines show he is “crazy” for strawberries.

Blueberries rock!

Most likely inspired by the movie Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

After I've met with all the classes I choose a few excellent examples and they are hung in the hallway next to the work of the artist of the month. The program has been really well received and I think the teachers enjoy the break, although some have sat in on the class and enjoyed a few moments coloring with the kids. My hope is that our time together will contribute to these children developing a lifelong love of art in all its forms. I know that oftentimes the arts are dismissed as frivolous or unimportant when compared to more objective subjects like math and science but I think with an appreciation for the arts comes humanity. And we can all use a little more of that.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Warm vs. Warm

Oh why can't the English learn to--
Set a good example to people, who's English, is painful to your ears.
The Scotch and the Irish leave you close to tears!
There are even places where English completely disappears,
Why, in America they haven't spoken it for years.

- Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady

Say the word warm out loud. Go ahead. Like in slow motion. Feel the way your lips and tongue deliver each letter. Do you say the word war-m or w-arm? Does your pronunciation rhyme with form or farm? OK, now, show of hands, who says warm the right way? Fascinating word, the word warm. I've been thinking about it all morning, maybe because I haven't been warm since last October. But no, it's probably because I got called out this morning for saying it wrong. And no, not the word it, the word warm.

A friend of mine, who shall remain anonymous, but whose name rhymes with look, as in 'look how Amy says the word warm,' asked me to repeat myself several times, resulting in what I can only describe as hysterics. As I tried to see the humor in the moment, it occurred to me that maybe I do say warm wrong. But then that would be weird because I'm never wrong.

The linguistics of the whole matter intrigues me. Honestly all words, their usage and etymology just make me swoon. (Nerd Alert!) One of my most favorite podcasts to listen to while running is called A Way With Words. Here's the link . You should listen to it too. It's one hour of verbal yumminess. Martha and Grant really know their onions, if you know what I mean. If I dug deep enough into their discussion boards I'm sure I could find a validating opinion but really a quick look in the dictionary is probably all we need. The OED's pronunciation guide says warm is pronounced /wôrm/. A quick look at a pronunciation key and we learn that ô can be, but is not limited to, the following sounds: o rbit (ôr´bit), fa ll (fôl), or saw (sô). That's right folks, the vowel sound in warm is open to interpretation. WE'RE ALL RIGHT! Isn't American English great! You know, I'll bet in Boston warm rhymes with Mom.

Please enjoy the fabulous Rosemary Clooney summing up today's post:

Sunday, January 23, 2011

For Bernice: Passing it Forward (Part 1)

In his poem “This Is Just To Say," William Carlos Williams ate the cold plums in the icebox and then asked forgiveness for doing so. I'm not asking anyone's forgiveness for what I ate, I'm just letting you know they're all gone. They were delicious.

Recently my friend Bernice posted the following in her Facebook status: “I promise to send something homemade to the first 5 people who leave a comment here. They must in turn post this and send something they make to the first 5 people who comment on their status. The rules are that it must be handmade by you and it must be sent to your 5 people sometime in 2011."

I know Bernice. She is my friend - and not just of the Facebook variety. And I know she is a very talented chocolatier. So knowing she is skilled in the art of all things chocolate, I accepted the challenge in the hope my gift from Bernice would be hand dipped, er, uh, I mean handmade. Not being willing to leave it up to chance my comment read, “Chocolate dipped strawberries with the white chocolate drizzled on top please." Probably presumptuous but I make no apologies and Bernice completely understands. It's no secret her talents are in high demand. I merely stepped to the front of the line.

She sent her husband to deliver them this week. A knock on the door after the kids were in bed made me a bit apprehensive. We weren't expecting anyone and it was dark. Our fears were calmed when upon opening the door we discovered Rich holding a tray of chocolate scrumptious. Here, I'll show you:

All adjectives are inadequate to express my delight. But I'd like to point out the plums in Williams' icebox weren't even dipped in chocolate so I don't know why he was apologizing.

Part 2 of this post will someday address what I did to pass it forward. I'm currently searching for the perfect gift to hand make for 5 dear friends.

Thank you Bernice,

Love Amy

P.S. I do love Williams' poem and for those who find pleasure in the magic of well chosen words, here it is in its entirety.

This Is Just To Say
by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Brace yourself

A couple of hours after my run yesterday the pain in my knee made it increasingly difficult to completely extend my leg. My knee was broken in college and at the time I had surgery to remove a portion of my kneecap, repair a torn ligament and remove some cartilage. It hasn't given me much grief since then, except for the occasional ache on a rainy day, but as I contemplated the purchase of a knee brace I hesitated, fearing what I am inevitably becoming - old.

I've been in races where some runners look like they are recovering from very bad car accidents, with braces securing all body hinges. One has to wonder if their doctor gave them clearance to exert themselves in that way. What's really depressing is they probably beat me.

Today at basketball I found it amusing the lengths at which we go to run and jump and play a game usually reserved for high school and college students or well paid professional athletes.

Ankle injuries are devastating, not just for the person injured, but for the whole group. We need all the players we can get and injury is just not allowed. Three of us have had severe ankle injuries because of basketball. Here Emily, I, and Sarah are modeling our Active Ankle braces.

Here is the all too common jammed finger injury, unless of course it's a broken finger injury which this one might have been. But kudos to Brook for the fortitude to keep playing.

I don't play tennis but I have a serious case of tennis elbow. Wearing this brace evens out the pain and allows me to shoot the ball. It also allows me to put away the dishes and other seemingly easy tasks that aren't so easy when one's arm doesn't work.

Emily wears not just one but two knee braces. Who's old now?!

How badly do you want to play the game? Are you willing to spend a half hour reinforcing weakened joints to run a half hour race or play a 20 minute pick up game? I believe dedication to your sport of choice should not be measured by races run, games played or even trophies earned but rather by how many braces you wear in order to play.

Love your game, no matter what.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Speaking of germs . . .

I guess there are quite a few things I could point out about my journal entry from 1983. One being my handwriting hasn't improved much. And yes, that is pen over pencil. When I was 15 I traced over all my penciled entries to ensure my 8 year old memory and angst wasn't lost to history. Phew. Perhaps you noticed how diligent I was in my memory keeping. I can explain the 4 month lapse of time though - 3rd grade was hard, what with all the spelling tests. And recesses. Hopefully, my adventure in blogging doesn't echo past experience where every other entry begins with the line “I'm going to write in my journal every day." Which all seems rather admirable and ambitious until the next entry 9 months later that starts, “I haven't written in my journal in a long time."

But this is not why we're here, we're here to talk about germs.

The lunch lady waved me over during my visit to the school this week. She is a fastidious person, a woman many of the other moms at school have always been slightly scared of. Her school kitchen is impeccable and I can only imagine the level of clean her own kitchen has attained. We have always had a good rapport and I greeted her kindly when she yoo-hooed me across the cafeteria. “I just want you to know about Eli," she began. “When he takes his sandwich out of the bag, he lays it right down on the table." She seemed pretty grossed out by this, although seeing as how she works in an elementary school cafeteria, I can only imagine the countless other atrocities that would better merit flagging down a parent. She informed me the tables were disinfected every day and since he was the first group that ate lunch it was most likely clean, however, would I please teach him to lay his sandwich on a napkin - and that she likes Eli and thinks he is a really good kid, aside from the not laying his sandwich on the napkin part. I assured her I would but privately wondered how long it had been since the bottom of those tables had been disinfected and if she knew where kids would wipe their hands if their napkin was being used as a plate.

And then all the talk about germs reminded me of my aforementioned journal entry:

We had traveled to Chicago that day in November 1983 to visit The Brookfield Zoo. We saw the new rain forest exhibit and a dolphin show at the aquarium. My only disappointment was my parents wouldn't pay for a mold-a-rama animal. Oh the humanity! I know. Our final stop was The Reptile House. Putting it that way seems rather foreboding but I assure you of its appropriateness. The humid, dank air of the building was more than just off putting for me, and I began to feel sick almost immediately. By the time we had wandered the building sufficiently for everyone's interest and enjoyment, I was violently ill. My dad carried me back to the car as I had lost all strength to stand and was overcome with fever, chills and ache. We joked about it for years afterward, finding it funny that I had been surrounded by numerous feared and poisonous reptiles but was “bitten" by a bug instead.

I wish I could protect my kids from all of life's germs. Hide them away from danger. Keep them safe. But eventually they'll press their face up against the glass at the reptile house, look at something dangerous, get bit, get sick, and then, I pray, get stronger. I hope the lunch lady wasn't too taken aback I didn't find Eli's behavior more disconcerting. Given the brewing petri dish environment of most schools, it's a wonder he hasn't been sick all year. But I'll talk to Eli about his sandwich placement, there's no need to further worry the lunch lady.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

10 Cents

I don't drink Mountain Dew. Well, there was that one time, back in 7th grade and I only recently came down from that high. No, I don't drink Mountain Dew, these are cans I found on the side of the road.

Picking up cans was how a kid growing up in Iowa made money. Each can or bottle yielded a cool 5 cents, so an afternoon at the creek could make you 50 cents - especially if you came after the teenagers left. Teenagers. And mind you, this wasn't saving money, this was spending money. This was spend it all on food guaranteed to rot your teeth money. 7-11 was my store of choice when I was 10 years old. Never mind that it was the only store I could safely ride to on my bike, I just knew it as the only place to get an icy cold slurpee on a hot and humid day. On other days it would take a while to decide which flavor of Hubba Bubba to choose, oh the many possibilities. Grape. I always chose grape.

The allure of free money has never diminished for me, I'm the lady with the coupons you grumble about when standing in line at the grocery store. Moving to Michigan only made it easier. Because get this, they pay 10 cents here for cans and bottles. 10 cents. I know. And so I continued to pick up cans. It was never very often. And I only pulled over in heavy traffic once. OK, I've done that more than once. I knew I'd gone too far when I started doing the math. If I picked up ten cans a day, every day for a year that would be 365 dollars!

But then I saw him. And I stopped. He rode his bike unsteadily down the sidewalk as if the bags that hung from the handle bars were unevenly weighted. His shoulders were stooped and he looked at the ground as he rode. He pulled over into the car wash were I was vacuuming the car and began to go through the trash, pulling out cans I had contemplated collecting only moments before. He added the bottles to his already heavily laden bike and slowly rode away. There was a man that needed 10 cents more than I did.

Jim Sawicki was a reminder to our suburban town that homelessness exists. There aren't very many reminders between lunch at Panera and dropping the kids off at soccer practice. I met him once. We were both headed into the store to return bottles. I asked if he would like mine also. He reached a dirty gloved hand over and took the bag I had extended to him. He didn't say a word, didn't look me in the face, just turned and continued into the store. I noticed him a lot more after that. I hoped he was warm in the winter and noticed he still wore a coat in the summer. I didn't pick up the cans on the side of the road anymore. When I saw that cans had been picked up, I hoped it was because he had found them.

I know his name because he was killed last month. A 20 year old driver with a history of traffic and alcohol related violations, didn't see him as she reached for her phone. The local news showed a picture of his bike, the bags of bottles still hanging from the handlebars. It was oddly startling to read the newspaper and discover he had a name. Homelessness had a face, but never a name.

Picking up cans is how a homeless man in Michigan made his money. There is a certain sadness now when I see an empty can, they are a reminder that a familiar hometown character is gone. His family set up a fund at a local bank to pay for his funeral. 10 cents a bottle still adds up. Ten bottles a day, every day for a year equals 365 dollars. Here's to Jim Sawicki.

Monday, January 10, 2011


When I was in junior high my dad promised me that if I could get straight A's he would buy me a car when I turned 16. Well, he didn't have much to worry about. He could have thrown in an all expenses paid trip to Disneyland for me and 10 of my closest friends and it still wouldn't have helped me get an A in Algebra.

Nate brought his progress report home last week.

We are proud of his achievements and hard work, and more than a little relieved we don't need to promise him a car as a motivator to do his best in school. Although I wonder what it would motivate him to do.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Family History

Dear Nicholas McDonald,

You are driving me crazy, and here's why. I know you were born in Montgomery County New York in 1820. You came to Michigan sometime before 1853 and you were short. But that's it Nicholas, that's all I know. And I know this only because it says so in your enlistment papers. And seriously Nicholas, about enlisting in the Army, what the what? You were 44, with a pregnant wife and 5 kids! Really?

You arrive in this world and leave no record of who your parents are, if you had brothers or sisters, where in Montgomery County New York you were born, or even when you moved to Michigan. It all conjecture and guessing now. Maybe you would fit in this family, or that family, maybe this is your brother or that was your hometown. Montgomery Country, NY in 1820 is a rather large area, couldn't you have narrowed it down some? Maybe you were hatched. What ever the case, it seems so odd that a man whose final 5 months of life was so well recorded could have so little information written about his previous 43 years.

The Civil War was raging in 1864. On that August day in Pontiac, MI it must have felt good to make your mark on the enlistment papers. That's what it says next to the X you made, His Mark, right above the perfect penmanship of the man filling out the form. Your name is pretty in cursive. But hey, congratulations on becoming an official private of the 30th Regiment of the Michigan Volunteer Infantry Company G. It says you enlisted for 3 years. You were off to fight for the Union Army, right? Off to gallantly defeat the Confederates. Please don't say you were just in it for the 100.00 dollars they paid you for joining. Your papers also say your hair was brown, your eyes were brown, your complexion was light and you were 5'3.

Your company was stationed in Nashville, TN before moving to Decatur, AL. Did you enjoy the train ride? I hope they didn't make you walk. I've never been to AL, was it nice? It wasn't long before your company returned to Tennessee, but this time they returned to Murfreesboro.

You died a horrible death. The records are clear on that. They say on January 9th, 1865 in Murfreesboro, TN, Private Nicholas McDonald died of chronic diarrhea. Terribly ironic isn't it, enlisting in an army to die in battle heroically fighting the foe, only to die of a disease that could have easily killed you back in Michigan. I'm sorry you died alone, far from your family. I hope you weren't cold and that maybe you had made a friend or two who were there by your side. You are buried in TN on site 4982 in the Union Cemetery. The U.S. Veteran Cemetery lists it as your last known address. Funny huh?

I'm still looking for you. Grandad and I hired a researcher from the Montgomery County Department of History and Archives to look for you too. We paid her 100 dollars for her to find nothing and write a letter regretting to inform us that she was unable to find any reference to you, your birth, or your parents. Can you believe that? Nothing. But her name was Mildred, and I'm not sure if I can trust a Mildred.

Today is the 146th anniversary of your death. I promise not to eat any cake. Help me out if you can, open some doors, let people know I'm looking for you. It sure would be nice to reunite you with your parents, if you have any.


Your great, great, great, great grandaughter,


Friday, January 7, 2011

Pretty Pictures

We were in Utah in November and while there we visited my cousin Jenny who lives in Daybreak. She showed us around the downtown area and was kind enough to take a few pictures of us. Here are some of our favorites:

We didn't take very many pictures without our coats on, it was sooo cold and windy.

Our future album cover.

Our favorite-est.

This was my favorite background, a blue and silver cinderblock wall with SO DA written on it.

A quick shout out for Jenny. If you are ever in Daybreak and would like her to take your picture, here's a link to her website Love you Jenny!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Half a Birthday

In our family we like to celebrate. Really any occasion will do. If we can celebrate with cake or ice cream or even leftover Christmas candy, we will party. This week we celebrated Audrey's half birthday. And nothing says Happy Half Birthday like half a cake, especially a chocolate one.

When cutting the cake, we played a fun game called “achter de kast" which translated into Dutch means “behind the cupboard." Jon learned the game from a family in Holland while he was serving a mission for our church. Someone, in this case the half a birthday girl, hides behind the cupboard.

Then when each slice of cake is cut, she called out who would receive that piece. It makes it fair, and fun - and who knew slicing cake could be so much fun.

Call us next time you have a birthday, we'll have cake.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


This is for Megan who four years ago told me I should start a blog. This is for Jon who two years ago helped me figure out how to do that. This is for Katherine who showed me people have visited my blog and maybe I should give them something to read. This is for my mom who wants to know more about her grandkids. This is for me to further encourage the baring of my soul and the telling of my most appalling secrets.