Friday, December 21, 2012


Our bank funds are back! They appeared in chunks, half yesterday and half today. I can pay bills! I don't have to ration coffee! I can think about something besides every penny again! Ahhhhh. Bliss.

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Went to a great funeral today. I sat there thinking about how Fr. William Shelley had lived his entire life wanting to be with God forever, and how good and right it is that now he has gotten to do that. I have never known anyone so utterly holy and yet so utterly and fallibly human. He was a good, crotchety, honest man whose presence in my family's life brought only good. The baby I lost five years ago would have been named after him. I'm completely grateful for Fr. Shelley's life, and wishing I were half as faithful as he was.

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The wonderful Magpie sent me three pounds of fine coffee for Christmas. It is delectable, especially when brewed up in the French press gave me when I went out to the estate sale for her mom's home. Sometimes you have no idea what luxury really is.

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I have this book on my Christmas list, and you should, too. 
How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character  

Required reading. Great stuff.

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It's a mixed blessing, but I've become the editor of choice for really bad writers of masters' theses at a certain college. Income, yes. But mind-bending, convoluted sentences with jaw-dropping non-logic comes with the territory.

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School is out! I don't have to force anyone out of bed for the next 10 days!
Ten days! 
Ten days!
Oh, wow.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

I woke up today to find there was only one cup of coffee's worth of beans. I ground them and made coffee for Big Guy, who tends to sleep through first period if he doesn't have a cuppa Joe.

When I turned on my laptop, I got the black screen of death. Andrew later tried all the usual fixes, but no luck.

I got an email (on the kids' clunker) that my uncle fell and fractured four vertebrae.Then I received a phone message that our favorite priest died last night.

When I took the dog out for a walk he started to frolic and pranced away. I was going to prance along, but tripped on a piece of bluestone, skinned a knee, and wrenched my right wrist so badly that I spent the evening in the ER.

The bank still hasn't reimbursed us for the stolen money.

Enough of that. There's also this: someone wrote to me out of the blue to ask me to edit a thesis, Andrew gave me his laptop to use while mine gets fixed, I somehow met a deadline this afternoon typing with only one hand, and Eldest came home. I may succeed in meeting tomorrow's deadline. A very sweet acquaintance sent us a check, just because. And I baked chocolate chocolate-chip-peppermint-stick cookies, which were very, very good.

Bad things happen. Good things happen. Life happens. Extrapolating from the current moment is kind of silly. I haven't quite figured out why we do it.

My wrist isn't broken. We found the missing load of wash. Little Guy has finally used up the package of 260 twist-into-animal balloons, so the sound of screeching plastic will coming to an end before my sanity expires. Origami Santas litter the floor. I located the missing file of medical forms. All the kids are in bed. Alive.

If you had a bad day, it's come to an end. If you had a good day, there's hope for another. Goodnight, friends.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

wonderful people, beautiful things

Last year I got to chatting with a neighborhood mom, and discovered she taught dance at a local middle school. Dancer's ballet school had been looking for a way to do some outreach, so I offered to connect the mom and the school. Unfortunately, by the time I did so the mom had been laid off.

This September the mom started a new job in an elementary school in the South Bronx. It's a tough neighborhood, the poorest in the nation. This time I succeeded in setting up a meeting to see if her school and the dance school could develop a partnership.

In November a group of our ballet students trekked out to the South Bronx to do a lecture-demo for 3rd, 4th and 5th graders. Dancer loved doing it; the kids were fascinated by the demo, and Dancer said they were funny and charming and totally entranced. The ballet mistress who went along said it was a magical experience.

On Monday night, 38 of the kids came into Manhattan to observe a dance class, have pizza, and watch the final dress rehearsal for Nutcracker. Most of them had never been in a theater before; none had seen a ballet. It was fabulous. They cheered and giggled and smiled and smiled.

Sometimes the best gift in the world is to be able to give to someone else. Monday was a gift.

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Dancer has feet that are hard to fit for pointe shoes. Last year one of her teachers, who used to dance with a major ballet compay, noticed that Dancer's feet were similar to her own. Miss Natalia gave Dancer a few pairs left over from the days when her company had them custom made for her. Lo and behold, the shoes fit better than anything else Dancer had ever tried.

Standard pointe shoes cost a good $80. Dancer goes through a pair every few weeks. Miss Natalia had a closet full of the specially-made shoes, some of which she graciously sold to us for $30 a pair. Even that has been brutal on our non-existent budget.  And Natalia is reaching the bottom of her bottomless closet. 

I don't write much about our financial hardships. I'm adept at making-do; I'm good at bartering services; I know how to stick to a budget. Dancer is blessed with scholarships at both her high school and ballet. Over time I have learned to pull my attention away from the things that seem unfixable, and to focus on doing whatever the next thing is that I can do. There's a lot I can contribute to the world even if financial ends don't meet.

Tuesday while I was working backstage -- something I can do -- Miss Natalia came over to me, smiling widely. She showed me an email on her phone from a famous ballerina who happens to use the same custom shoes as she does. Natalia had written to her about our pointe shoe dilemma. The ballerina wrote back, "Of course I'd be glad to donate some of my shoes to your student!"

Sometimes the sheer goodness of people astounds me. Stunningly beautiful things happen when people choose to live generously. Some of those people read this blog, and have done beautiful things in my life. I cannot begin to say how thankful I am. 

Dancer on opening night

Monday, December 10, 2012


At midnight tonight Eldest's two final projects are due. We haven't heard from her in a week; she's pretty much incommunicado in times of stress. I doubt she's had much sleep, and she's a kid person who needs her shut-eye.

A while back I read Dreamland by David Randall, and learned all kinds of tidbits about sleep. There was a whole chapter on insomnia, another on the relationship between sleep and aha! moments, another on apnea and sleep disorders. Apparently the research shows that the number one factor in how many fights a couple has is how much sleep the wife got the night before. And the number one cause of friendly fire in battle is sleep deprivation. Lack of sleep affects our judgment in significant ways. But apparently the professors at Eldest's prestigious institution haven't read up on this particular body of research.

There's not much a mom can do to make life easier for her stressed-out offspring from a distance of several hundred miles. I've been thinking of her for days, knowing... well, knowing that I don't know how she's doing, and praying for the best.

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Not-knowing is a maddening thing. Then again, there's a lot less uncertainty in life these days than there used to be. When people left Europe to immigrate to America, the family they left behind didn't know for months, perhaps years, what became of them. If someone headed west to the prairies, there was no way of knowing how they fared. Goodbyes in those days were truly goodbyes; you didn't know if you'd ever see that person again.

Last week I went somewhere with Snuggler and Little Guy, and forgot my phone. Snuggler wailed, "But what will we do if..." I looked at her kind of oddly, realizing that being a digital and cellular native has its drawbacks. "We'll do what we would have done 15 years ago," I replied, "We'll figure it out. If we need to."

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Dancer called this morning at 7:50; her express bus broke down on the highway, leaving the passengers stranded on the desolate fringe of East Harlem. I told her that as long as she stayed with the other passengers while walking to whatever other bus route was nearby, she'd be safe. It was inconvenient and scary, and she was likely to be late for school, but hey -- she was safe.

Dancer was already walking with other people. In truth, she would have been okay even if she hadn't been able to call me. She's resourceful and sensible, and I think being in this kind of situation is how one becomes resourceful and sensible. Travel is one of the very best tools there is for learning how to come up with a Plan B. Buses and trains break down, get delayed, cause missed connections. It's nice to be able to call Mom, but after you've gone through that kind of thing a few times you stop calling and just figure out how to handle the situation. You realize you can deal with that level of uncertainty.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Odds and Ends

Little Guy and I went down to Lincoln Center this morning to see the dress rehearsal of Babes in Toyland. Getting out the door was a challenge, since I had a project that HAD to go out before I left. So I said to Little Guy, "I need you to be self-running today. Here's your school list. You do your job, so I can do mine."

He was pretty good about it. As we got close to departure time and it became clear I would need every possible second, I said, "Can you get me a pair of black socks and my brown shoes?  And find my keys and my cell phone and put them in my purse." He did that. Then I told him to pack his bag with everything he'd need (we were going to do math on the train), and to get himself ready. I sent off the project with no time to spare and we ran to the train. And we made it to the show. I felt like we'd made it somewhere else, too, perhaps to a higher plane of cooperative living. At least for a morning.

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Dancer's Nutcracker opens on Wednesday. Tonight she is going to see a friend who has the lead in a different Nutcracker, and tomorrow night she'll see a teacher dance in a still different version. From there on, she will practically live at the theater through December 16.

We were pleased to see a nice article about Dancer's ballet school the other day. If you are interested in coming to see her dance, tickets are available here.

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Andrew spent most of yesterday at the police precinct filing a report about the bank fraud. He came home with many stories to tell. You can learn a lot about your neighborhood by sitting around the police station for a day, y'know.

The money that was stolen has not been refunded by the bank yet. Our new accounts, however, are functional, and my new credit card arrived today. I can sense that fiscal functionality lies somewhere in our future. The bank says it needs the police report and various affadavits before they can reinstate the money (though they do know it was fraud), and for some reason seem to think seven to ten business days is a reasonable timeframe for approving the refund. 

I remind myself that this is a three-week liquidity issue, not a permanent loss. That means this is not a crisis, just a massive inconvenience. I can make it into a crisis if I allow myself to panic or stress. But stressing too much over a temporary problem is likely to do more long-term damage to my mental and physical health than the actual fraud. 

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It's been a month since the hurricane. Yesterday Little Guy and I walked through our local park. The cleanup is mostly finished. As you can see, a lot of trees had to be removed:

Unfortunately, the trees can't be reinstated in three weeks. The damage is done, and the best we can do is replant. It makes me sad. But it also reminds me that most of the problems I face in life are pretty small compared to a hurricane.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Fraudulent activity

I've spent a good amount of time on bank-related activity this week, since someone managed to add a name to our bank account, transfer our meager savings into our checking, then transfer the whole caboodle to themselves.

As I sat in the bank, waiting while various accounts were cancelled and new accounts were set up, I chatted with the bank officer. I commented that fraud was certainly an odd but effective form of economic stimulus: it keeps lots of people employed, ranging from the bank officer to the bank's entire fraud department, and gives jobs to  people at the Attorney General's office and credit agencies. The ripple effect is impressive.

Earlier that day a friend had emailed me the link to the FTC's page on identity theft. I'd also recalled that a friend who had gone through this last summer said it's necessary to extend the credit protection beyond the free 90-day period, since people who steal information have every incentive to sit on it until no one is paying attention any more. And so, as I sat in the bank chair, I had time to be grateful for that information, since it makes life a bit easier to manage.

Someone who had just given me a check for helping her daughter write college essays, texted me to say, "I'll bring you cash, instead." Several other people immediately offered cash advances, should we need liquidity. Sitting in the bank, I had time to be mindful of how many good, helpful people I know. That helped to keep this event, caused by someone who doesn't know me and certainly doesn't care, in perspective.

Also on the plus side: I will have no trouble staying within a Christmas budget this year.

I told the bank officer that I think the best possible defense against the bad guys is simply to be aware, each and every day, how many good people there are in the world, and to choose to be one of them.

Here's why I think that's true: when I consider the things people said that made a difference in my life, I can pretty much guarantee that not one of those people has any recollection of the conversations I recall so well. That tells me the most important thing I can do is to be the best person I can be in each and every interaction I have each day. Because you never, ever know whose life you're going to change with what you say.