Ask Poops, Please

Putting my two cents in.

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Location: Belmont, New Hampshire, United States

Born and bred in a small New England town, I am convinced that I know something about everything, and that my opinion matters. If only to me. Well, you'll see what I mean. And I love to knit, so you'll see what kind of things I'm doing when I should be vacuuming the living room.

Friday, January 14, 2011

It's Been a Good Run, But...

All good things must come to an end.

Though it's not so much an end as a transition, is it? I'm moving my blogginess over to Wordpress. It's nothing personal against Blogger. Blogger is easy to use, but I've outgrown it, I think.

The new blog is up and running and it's still called Ask Poops, Please, so if you follow me here, you will want to pop over there and click the "subscribe" button to continue along with me.

I'm not going to transfer all this stuff over there because I can't import the pictures with it, so I think I'll leave it here for the time being and link to it.

Come on over to the new place and help me get settled in! I just opened a bottle of wine and a can of fancy mixed nuts...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


What's sexier than mittens with a penis motif worked into the cuffs? Nothing, that's what.

I must give credit where credit is due. The penis motif in question is from the delightfully monikered PENISPOOPWAFFLECAKE Sock designed by Wendy Pohlhammer and available as a free Ravelry download here.

The actual penis motif is worked over five stitches, though in the original pattern she alternates the weiners with lace inserts. I cast on 35 sts and worked 7 motifs around the cuff which made ribbing that pulled the cuff in and the bobble scrotums give a nice, almost picot-like edging. From there I did a couple rows of reverse stockinette and then to switch the top to regular stockinette I just added a single column of knit stitches leading from each "head" that gradually "oozed" out into a "puddle" of straight knitting.

From there I worked a regular old thumb gusset and did the rest of the top in plain old mitten fashion.

I call my version of the pattern "Ribbed For Her Pleasure." (Though the poor thing looks kind of sad laying there all limp and unblocked in the snow.)


Wednesday, January 05, 2011


I expected to like being a mother a lot more than I do.

Looking back on it all, I guess I shouldn't be surprised. I don't like kids. I mean, I like my kids, but I don't like yours. I will take your word for it that they're awesome. I'm like Ron White and dogs. "I love dogs. No, that's not true. I love my dog. I don't give a shit about your dog."

But in my own defense, I feel like I was sold a bill of goods. You pick up any book or magazine about child-rearing and they make it seem like having babies is the damn be-all-and-end-all of existence. They do not give you any clue as to what is really in store, though how could they? I have a feeling that child-rearing books are written by people who have a personal affinity for parenting. After all, it stands to reason they're thinking that if you're having a child, you share that passion. Which is why I am of the opinion that at least a few people who don't really like kids should write child-rearing books. Let me explain...

I based my decision to have kids on an over-arching belief that having children was an amazing, fantastic experience. From the day the two pink lines appeared, I girded my loins and prepared to become the Best Mother EVER.

I started with my carefully thought out birth plan. Of course I'd explored all the avenues and logically chose to have a natural birth because it's the way women were meant to have children. (I can't even say that with a straight face anymore. The Internet really needs a sarcasm font.) There would be candles and focusing exercises and it would all turn out great. I expected to come out of it as SuperBirthWoman, fount of all life. It would be magical, and a defining moment in my life as a woman.

Of course the books and classes neglected to mention that there's a reason all other pain in human experience is compared to childbirth. It hurts. I mean, it hurts a lot. I don't think you get's lose-your-fucking-mind painful. And I did. Lose my fucking mind, that is. I couldn't focus. I couldn't breath. I could swear and I did, a lot and very, very loudly. I begged that nurse for my epidural and when the medication hit my system, I realized then and there that I'd been lied to. What I expected was nothing like what I experienced.

I became a druggie the day I realized that powerful painkillers equal bliss. Bliss, I tell you. No pain. No anxiety. I could hear what people in the room were saying. I could form coherent thoughts. I could express myself without the excessive use of profanity. I could sleep through the worst of the contractions. The person who invented the epidural should get a Nobel prize.

They woke me up to push and baby was there. To this day, three kids later, I don't get why women make such a big goddamn deal about that one moment in time. It's one tiny bit of what parenting is, and I think it's grossly overrated. No, no, the birth was the easy part.

I expected that I would breastfeed my new baby daughter, deeply in love with her from the first gaze into her eyes, nourishing her as every mammal on the planet is designed to. (Here is where I would use the font described as "dripping with sarcasm".) I had visions of cradling my newborn lovingly in my arms, nursing him or her in the soft glow of pre-dawn, a beatific smile on my face. What I experienced was a newborn with the suction power of a Kenmore shop vac. The first time I latched Mary on, I'm pretty sure she dislodged my spleen. "She's got a great latch!" they said. "She nurses like a champ!" they assured me. "Are you okay?" they asked, as tears streamed down my face and the hard plastic bed rails took on finger-shaped indentations.

"Is it supposed to hurt this much?" I asked.

"It's uncomfortable at first, but you'll get used to it."

I expected it to be uncomfortable at first. However, this was not uncomfortable. Nay, nay. Having a scratchy tag in your t-shirt is uncomfortable. Having a wedgie is uncomfortable. Panty hose are uncomfortable. What I experienced was not uncomfortable. It was painful. With God as my witness, I'm convinced I could have latched her on and vacuumed the living room.

But I soldiered on, nursing her for at least 20 minutes on each side, and then holding her while she slept because if I put her down she screamed until she got the boob again. As it was, if she went an hour between feedings I counted myself lucky. If she wasn't eating, she was screaming bloody murder. And after the first 12 hours, neither my boobs nor my nerves could take it any more. My nipples were bleeding and I was ready to scream bloody murder as well.

Again, I should have seen it coming. We used to make fun of my dad for putting band-aids on his nipples when he'd go out to work in the cold. Apparently, merely rubbing against the inside of a sweatshirt is enough to cause them to chap and to look and feel like they've been painfully sunburned. Turns out, I have Fortin nipples. Who knew? I didn't. Not then.

I never looked down at her with love and adoration. I prayed silently that she'd stay asleep. I had her on Friday at 5 pm and by Saturday at 11 pm she had been screaming for roughly 23 hours on and off. I am not exaggerating. The expression "She has lungs like a Viking" was coined on the third floor of LRGH. The poor of them I know wanted desperately to give her a bottle, but I had told them that I was nursing and I'm sure they were under orders to not interfere with that process at all. I didn't ask for a bottle because I was terrified that she'd get nipple confusion, or that the formula would make her retarded or something. Again, there was a lot of lying going on.

Anyway, at 11:30 pm, 30 hours into being a mother, I realized that I didn't want this child, I didn't like this child, and I'd have happily checked myself out and gone the hell home without her at that moment. Seriously. I did. not. like. her.

But here's what happened. They discharged us Sunday morning and I rode home in the backseat with my finger in her mouth to trick her into thinking she was eating. I told Larry to drop us at home and then go to the store and pick up some formula: I don't care what kind, I don't care what brand, just make sure it's ready to drink. He did, and when he got home we shoved a bottle into her mouth, she pounded back three ounces, burped lustily and slept for four straight hours.

I loved her then. And she's been kinda growing on me ever since.

Of course when Emma Bo came along, I expected to do things just the way we'd done with Mary, only better because this time I knew. I knew that natural childbirth was not for me and I ordered up that epidural three weeks early. I told the nurse before labor even started that I was ready for the man with the big needle. She laughed and told me to let the contractions pick up before calling in the big guns.

I expected I'd have plenty of time for the good drugs. What I had was a three and a half hour labor from start to finish with no time for the epidural to take effect. I had my natural childbirth after all, with a 9 lb. 2 oz. infant. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy, and I should have slapped that nurse silly.

I expected a baby that would have the appetite of a barracuda and instead got a baby that occasionally flat out refused to eat and had to be coaxed (and even bullied) into it. I expected so many, many things to go just the same way they had the first time, only to have Emma thwart me at every turn. She is her own person, and has been since she got here. She took everything we knew and turned it on its head, but it was in a lot of ways the best thing that could have happened to prepare us for a third child. You remember Dave...the one we did not expect.

Dave is unlike either of his sisters. He's more laid back than either of them were. He's been a good eater and good sleeper right from day one. He wasn't terribly fussy as a baby and isn't a particularly demanding toddler most days. But he came with his own baggage. About the time I thought he was going to be the easiest one of all and began to expect an easy ride, we find out he's quite a bit behind the curve as far as all the stuff babies should be doing.

I've always made it a point to see my kids for who they are and not compare them to each other, or to other people's kids. It's not fair to do that, I don't think. But lately I've been finding myself having a hard time dealing with Dave's developmental delays. Not so much when it's just the two of us here, but when we are with other toddlers who don't have his setbacks. It's then that I feel bad for my little man. I wonder how "normal" his life is going to be. I never expected to have a kid who was less than supremely gifted and wildly talented, never mind one that was merely average, or--God forbid--below average. Make no mistake, Dave's bright, he's charming, and he's come a long damn way, but at age two he's still pretty uncoordinated and he doesn't speak at all. Will he catch up someday? Honestly, I don't know what to expect anymore.

Now, in the midst of parenting my third toddler, I realize that I've actually given up a lot of my expectations. Once Mary showed me that my expectations could be--and likely were--wildly unrealistic, and that my best plan of attack was going to be to stay flexible, things fell into place. I very quickly dropped all the "I'm never going to..." and "I will always..." statements from my parenting plan, because I found out in the first three days of her life that children don't care what your damn plans are. All three kids are constant reminders to keep moving, keep thinking, and stay alert, because the game could change at any minute.

I'm proud of being a flexible parent, willing to assess situations as they come up and deal with them on a situational basis. I can be confident that I'm making the best decision I can based not one some arbitrarily pre-determined set of criteria but on how things are right in front of me. It's the lesson my kids taught me, and it's part of why I like them more than I like your kids.

I wish someone would write a parenting book and let the uninitiated know that you don't have to make all your parenting decisions before the baby comes. Hell, you don't have to make any of those decisions. Wouldn't it be nice to read that there's nothing wrong with changing your mind about how to proceed when your experience doesn't meet your expectations? I think it would have been a big favor to read not What to Expect When You're Expecting, but something more along the lines of, "Hey, you've never had a baby before so you have no idea what to expect. And that's okay. Trust yourself."

But then I've suspected for a long time that a woman's ability to hear her own internal voice and heed her maternal instinct has been stifled by all the other voices out there. From the crunchy-granola all-natural end of the spectrum to the throw-open-the-pharmacy-doors other end and everything philosophy in between, the advice (all well-meaning) can be deafening.

The other thing I expected before getting on this ride was that I'd enjoy it. Unfortunately, I don't. This job is hard. Too hard, I think. And yet it's too important to let slide. So most of the time I feel like I'm stuck doing a job I don't particularly like with a job description that changes almost daily, gets harder every day, and really has no payoff, except the kids themselves. It's like when you hate your job but stay because you love the people you work with.

I love my kids, but I can't wait for them to stop being kids. If you can't understand that idea, it's okay. You probably love being a parent. You're lucky. Personally, I look forward to the day when I can stop parenting them. I'll always be their mother, I know, but someday they'll make their own decisions and call me selfish but I'm pretty sure that will be a sweet, glorious day.

At least, that's what I expect.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

First Memory

I swear my first memory is of my sister coming home from the hospital. I would have been 2 years and 3 months old, and I'm pretty sure I only remember it because I've seen the video of it and have had the story of how I "kissed the baby and then showed off my new shoes" told to me a hundred and seven times.

One of my first real memories that's all mine is going to Kindergarten with my neighbor Hans. I have always thought that I was four and it was a kind of step-up day where preschoolers could go to kindergarten for the day to see what it's going to be like. Only Hans is two years older than me, so if he was five, I'd have only been three. So now I'm not sure why I was there. I'd ask my mother but she doesn't remember what she had for breakfast most days.

Anyway, the memory of it that I have is playing "In and Out the Windows" out on the front lawn. We stood in a circle and the kid who was "It" would weave in and out of the people in the circle while everyone sang:
"In and out the windows,
In and out the windows,
In and out the windows,
As you have done before."

I looked up the lyrics online and I don't remember all those verses, but at one point you had to "Stand and face your partner" and I remember going in and out the windows and standing in front of Hans. I remember being too shy to pick any other kids. I remember it being sunny and I was wearing a dress. Mrs. Bossey was wearing blue.

I have lots of memories of kindergarten for reasons I cannot fully comprehend. I remember how the hall smelled, how our cups looked lined up in the kitchen ready for snack time, playing "The Farmer in the Dell" and how much I loved the felt board and box of wooden instruments.

Top O' the Hill Kindergarten was at the rectory, the same rectory that's still two doors up from my house. When I was five, my Grammie's house was a very short walk across the driveway from my school, which was both convenient and reassuring. I remember liking kindergarten a lot. I also realize in retrospect that I was ahead of the kindergarten learning curve. I remember vividly Mrs. Bossey showing us big cardboard flashcards with colored shapes on them, and underneath the shape was the name of the color written out. I could read the names of the colors, which is unsurprising when The Legend of Poops holds that I could read when I was four.

Anyway, it brings me to my first memory of ennui. You know that feeling of bleccccch you get when you're utterly disinterested in the status quo? It's more than boredom. It's being bored to the point of needing to lie down for awhile. I had that for the first time when I was all of five years old.

I was sitting at one of the low tables in the hall and I had a piece of yellow-lined, wide-ruled paper in front of me. Mrs. Bossey used to rip it in half length-wise so it was long and narrow--perfect for practicing writing lists of words. And for conserving paper, I imagine.

It was free time, and we were told we could do what we wanted, and I don't know if the felt board or the building blocks weren't doing it for me that day, or if there were already too many kids playing with those specific things or what, but I wound up with a piece of paper and a pencil at my desk. I couldn't think of anything to write, or perhaps my muse was feeling stifled on such a warm sunny day. I don't know. I started to doodle on the paper, making gray tornadoes and dark snakelike swirls. I leaned my head on my hand until it got too heavy to hold up, so I put it down and rested it on my arm. (I'd like to say that I was drawing pictures of dead birds or skulls and crossbones or something, but while it would be a good story, I didn't have the wherewithal to do it. I was too bored for that.)

Mrs. Bossey saw that I was rather listless and asked if I felt okay, or if I felt sick. I said I didn't feel good--which was true, I didn't--so she told me to go across the driveway to Grammie's house.

I did. Apparently the fresh air gave me new will to live and the lightly salted granny smith apple Gram gave me filled me anew with the joie de vivre of Being Five. And I bet it boosted my blood sugar too, which I'm sure didn't hurt either. Feeling remarkably better, I asked if I could go out and ride my bike and she said I could.

In full view of the kindergarten class I just left because I didn't feel well.

Dad had just taken my training wheels off and I remember the bike I was riding was still too big for me, but I was determined I was going to learn to ride without them. I was practicing and hot-damn-and-hallelujah I had figured it out! Proudly, I pedaled up and down High Street, turning carefully and steering into the hill when I needed to stop.

I remember the sight of my mother coming around the corner in the car and waving wildly and proudly at her from my bike. She didn't look thrilled that I wasn't in school.

I told her, when she asked me if "I only felt sick until I got to go out to play," that YES, that was exactly it. She was unsympathetic, but I don't recall getting into trouble. She wasn't impressed that I could ride my two-wheeler with no training wheels though. I want to think that under different circumstances I'd have received praise, but somehow I doubt it.

I wonder if Gram caught hell. Somehow I doubt that, too. After all, her cure for ennui worked, didn't it?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Grace Period

Sears has a new commercial out. "Are you a procrasti-Santa?" There's still time to do your holiday shopping!

First of all, there's no time left for your holiday shopping. There's still time for your Christmas shopping.

Don't get me wrong. If you want to wish me a Happy Holidays, Seasons Greetings, Happy Yule, Blessed Solstice, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Hanukkah, or Festivus for the Rest of Us, I'm happy to receive it. I'm inclusive. I don't even object to Xmas. (For the uninitiated, "chi" is the first letter of Christ in Greek, represented by a Greek letter that looks an awful lot like an "X". Christians have been using it as written shorthand for as long as Christianity has been around. It's freaking ancient.) And I hold that while it is most certainly a religious celebration, it's also a secular one too. You don't have to love Jesus to put up a tree, exchange gifts, have a nice meal with the family, sing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and hang up stockings for Santa to fill. If you prefer to take the Christ out of your Christmas, go ahead.

Dude, it's all GOOD. Rock your celebrations, my friends.

But let's face it: if you celebrate Hanukkah or Solstice with gift-giving, you're late. You're out of time. Your particular holidays are over, and I hope they were lovely. What you do have is a few days left until Christmas arrives, so let's just say it already. Don't be scared. Just because "not everyone celebrates Christmas" is no reason to not mention it. It's getting to be like the elephant in the room. We all know it's there, but no one dares to speak it's name. Come to that, maybe it's like Voldemort. The Holiday that Shall Not Be Named. The Holiday Formerly Known as Christmas. Maybe the religious and secular holidays need two different names so no one gets offended. (Like that would every happen! Ha!)

But in as much as I'm inclusive and love holiday traditions in a very ecumenical way, I object strenuously to the event I'm beginning to think of as Consumas. This wretched event started weeks before Halloween and right now is in full-frenzied mode. Buy, buy, BUY! Spend, spend, SPEND! Countdown to Christmas! Get it now! Get her what she really wants this year! Don't be a Scrooge--go SHOPPING!

If you celebrate Consumas, and I feel bad for you if you do, your time is short. You don't get a grace period, either. If you don't have your cookies baked, your tree up, your house decorated, your gifts bought and wrapped, and your cards already in the mail, you are royally screwed. It won't be Christmas without...well, whatever it is, if you forgot it, you SUCK. And you better start early next year, Mister, to avoid that kind of disaster.

Good Lord.

There are three days left until the 25th. That's when Christmas is, or if you are Catholic like me, it's when Christmas begins. It doesn't start until sundown on the 24th. It doesn't start before Halloween when the decorations hit the store. It doesn't start the day after Thanksgiving. That's the Holiday Shopping Season. That's Consumas comin' for ya, bearing down on you earlier and earlier, breathing down your neck like a crazed wildebeest.

Shopping closer to Christmas rather than early like the commercials commanded me to doesn't make me a procrastinator. I'm not a Grinch because my house doesn't look like the Christmas section at Walmart threw up. And don't label me as a Scrooge because it only takes me about three hours to pick up all the presents I'm going to put under the tree.

Am I lacking in Christmas Spirit? Certainly. I have the Advent Spirit. And not the advent that's marked with a wee bite of chocolate hiding behind a perforated cardboard door as a mere taste of the bacchanalian orgy to come on the 25th. Advent is actually a quiet time. A dark, cold time. It's a time of watching and waiting and being aware of what Christmas really means. A savior. A redeemer. It's a time for faith, and for hope.

On December 24th, after the children are nestled all snug in their beds and "Santa" fills their stockings and puts their wrapped gifts under the tree, I'll put on a clean shirt, warm up my voice, and at 11:30 p.m. I'll be in my seat in the choir area behind the altar. The lights will be on low, the evergreens lit with thousands of white lights, and red and white poinsettias will engulf the altar. Candles flicker and dance as people come in from the cold and the dark to the warm glow of Christmas. They smile, they greet each other with hugs and handshakes and come together to celebrate the Light that has come into the world.

And from the first notes of "Infant Holy, Infant Lowly" to the last strains of "Joy to the World" Christmas will fill every inch of me. Yes, it's late at night. Yes, it's a long Mass. And yes, my kids get up too freaking early on Christmas morning. But that glow will fill and sustain me through the eight days of Christmas and the rest of the Christmas season. Our tree will be up and lit until January 9th when Christmas ends. When everyone else is saying they're sick of looking at the tree because it's been up for weeks already, it will be fresh and new to us. Where others have been singing Christmas carols for weeks, we've just been getting warmed up! Because we waited and didn't let the retail industry tell us what to celebrate and when, Christmas has changed in a profound way.

So I'm not full of the Christmas Spirit. I'm still waiting. I'm still preparing. And I have a couple of days left pick up the last three gifts on my list.

I like to think of it as a Grace period.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Holiday Bonus

This isn't original, but I thought it was pretty funny...

Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral, celebration of the summer solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all.

I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling, and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great (not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country), and without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith, or sexual preference of the wishee.

By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms: This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her/himself or others, and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher.

This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year, or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.

Sunday, December 05, 2010


This post has been hanging out in my unfinished posts piles because as I was writing it, I just felt like I was blowing it. Have you ever had something happen to you that just affected you in a way that defied description? The Fox Trot was one of those things.

On September 11th, a group of us held a fundraisin
g road race, pig roast, and auction to help some very special people. Sarah is fighting cancer with everything she's got, and as anyone who's ever had a major medical event knows, there are lots of expenses to treatment that insurance just doesn't cover. She's a firefighter and her brothers at the Portsmouth Firefighters Charitable Association have been amazing...I mean, beyond words amazing. The work that they've done to make Sarah and her family more comfortable is humbling and inspiring, and on days that I feel like I'm losing my faith in humanity, I just click on the link to their home page and know that there is hope in this world.

I opened this unfinished post today out of sheer curiosity and was pleasantly su
rprised to find that perhaps I'd done it more justice than I thought. In any event, here's what happened on a sunny day this past September...

Do you all know the story of William Wordsworth's poem "Daffodils"? William and his sister Dorothy were out taking a walk one day in the woods beyond Gowbarrow Park when they stumbled upon a swath of daffodils that Dorothy later described as stretching along the shore as wide as a country lane. For his part, William (who it is believed suffered from crippling bouts of depression) was so tickled by the sight of the cheerful yellow flowers that he penned what would become one of his most famous poems--maybe one of the most popular poems ever.

Me, I'm not one for the poetry-writing. I've tried my hand at it and I've written some really lousy stuff..."crapola" is what Mr. Loomer would call it, and I'd be hard-pressed to disagree with him. Prose is generally my milieu, though sadly, just when I've got thoughts that I want to share with the world, I'm finding words inadequate. Isn't that always the way, though?

Just describing the events of the day isn't enough, but it's a jumping off point and I'll use it.

To say that the event started at 10:00 on Saturday is a lie. The event started sometime in the early spring when an idea was hatched. It was only a spark of an idea--but yes, I'd go so far as to call it a Divine spark. Traci had a thought come into her head: we should hold a road race to help raise money for Sarah and the Fox family. We could call it the Fox Trot. She told two friends and they told two friends and ideas were pitched and bandied about. As summer drew near, we sat on the Ennis' deck and honed the ideas into a workable plan. Jobs were assigned and help was recruited. Even at that first meeting, there was a sense of excitement and a feeling that we could really do this. It could really happen.

The summer came, kids were out of school, and plans continued. We had developed a firm event plan. The Fox Family Fund was officially established and the Inaugural Fox Trot had become a three-part event: a 6K road race, a pig roast, and a fund raising auction. We obtained corporate sponsors and sought donations from anyone we thought might be inclined to give, we signed up volunteers for everything from manning water stations, cooking and serving the meal, and setting up tents. And we sold tickets. Lots and lots of tickets.

Last Sunday, the weekend before the event, we had one last group meeting to see where we were and tie up those last minute loose ends. We had 70 runners pre-registered, which was 10 more than our original goal. We had at that point sold 170 tickets to the barbecue with money still rolling in and creeping closer to our goal of 200 tickets. And we crossed our fingers and hoped for good weather.

We all woke pretty early on Saturday, I'm guessing. I had assigned myself to the food portion since running isn't my thing, nor is calling people and asking for stuff. But I do have 7 years of restaurant experience and my secret desire is to be a school lunch lady, and I figured my presence at the coleslaw station couldn't hurt matters. You know what they say, "Never trust a skinny cook."

I got there at 10 and hit the ground running. Not literally, but the runners actually did. I've never been to a road race before, and it was cool to see the runners milling around and talking, pinning their bibs on and loosening up with some stretches. I would have loved to mingle, but food service for 200 doesn't set itself up.

We set up the tables and decorated them with a random assortment of tablecloths. One of our friends came in with two big vases of flowers that he and his wife had cut from his garden the night before, just to dress things up, and I gave them a place of honor on the buffet. I look at them and don't think "Hm, pretty flowers." I look at them and see a simple gift, but a profound one. It says, "I looked at the flowers in my garden and I thought of you." Can flowers do that? Wordsworth sure thought so.

I took a short break in the setting up to watch the runners take their marks and head off up the gravel road. Like I said, I don't run unless something is chasing me, and even then I'm inclined to take my chances or play dead if I have to. But so many of the runners that came back across the finish line remarked how great it was to run past the Caswell's and have them standing in their driveway cheering them on, and getting support and water from the Belmont Middle School Junior Honor Society kids along the route.

Robin reported that she knew she was getting close to the finish when she turned the last corner because she could smell the smokehouse before she could see it, and by the time the last walkers crossed the finish line all you could smell was roast pig and barbecued chicken. I'm quite sure that by noontime the smell had permeated all of Canterbury.

The race went off without a hitch, and by 1:30 the meat was done and we were ready to serve. The line stretched all the way down the driveway and despite having a cooler full of food, we were still a little worried that supplies wouldn't hold out. But hold they did. The only thing we ran short of was cornbread, and that's really only because we had put a pan in the oven to warm it and forgot it for a bit. We found it right at the end, so the people that worked the food line got to have cornbread after all. Did I mention the apple crisp? Steve and I shoveled it out while Robin and Rachel hit them with whipped cream, spraying two-fisted at times. When all was said and done, we think we fed over 200 people and possibly close to 25o with last minute sales.

I got to see the face of every person there that day because they all had to come past me for coleslaw. With my apron and plastic gloves I was greeted with smile after smile. I didn't realize the effect that would have on my soul. Two hundred people smiled at me and with me. I could see the joy in their heart and later I realized that it was reflected back on me, magnified and concentrated and coursing through me.

I can't really describe the feeling, but everyone I've talked to that was there knows exactly what I'm talking about. Joy seems like such a small word for a big emotion. If I could fill up a giant mixing kettle with joy, and then add in heaping scoops of fellowship and community, that gets closer. Love was added by the bucketful, but the great thing about love is that you can add all you like and it never overflows the container. The poignancy of Sarah sitting in her chair in a shady spot watching the runners come in, unable to even walk the course because of pain added the salt to the mix. But anyone who cooks knows that adding salt adds flavor to whatever you're making. You even put it in baked goods because it complements the sweetness, so acknowledging the fragility of our existence sweetened the day because it served as a reminder that to serve one another is our greatest duty, even as it's our greatest gift.

After lunch was served and folks settled in for the auction, my own little napless boy decided that he'd hit the wall and could not be consoled, so I packed him in the car and took him for a ride in the hope that he'd conk out, grab a few winks, and awake refreshed and ready to play some more.

As I drove up the winding country roads, I was struck again at the perfection of the day. The sky was a brilliant blue with not a cloud in sight and the air was crisp and just a bit cool, especially in the shade. I drove and drove with my sleeping baby in the back and let the feeling that had been growing and developing at the Fox Trot really take root and percolate around.

I knew that what I'd been a part of back at the smokehouse was making everything about a ride through town--a ride I've taken thousands of times in my life--come into sharp relief. From the sight of a couple walking hand in hand down Shaker Road taking in the fresh air and afternoon sunshine to a flock of teenage turkeys crossing the road in no particular hurry right in the middle of Baptist Hill Road, I was noticing things that I might have just gone by without much of a second thought on any other day.

I drove back into the field and parked the car, and as Dave and I walked hand in hand through the sweet grass of the freshly mown field, the sound of a crowd sharing a laugh came from the auction tent and it added another layer to the feelings of the day. I took another all too brief minute to look around and really notice the people. These were the people I went to school with and their spouses and kids and siblings and parents. They were folks from around town and around the area who thought that a pig roast sounded like good fun for a good cause.

Not to get off on a tangent or anything, but a couple of weeks ago I was bothered by some comments made on an online forum where I like to hang out. People who had hated school and couldn't wait to get away from their hometowns made some comments about the folks they left behind.

"You are so much cooler than those losers who still hang on to their junior high best friends - was that when they peaked?"

"The way I see it is that all of these people are still living in the same city that we all grew up in. The farthest they left was to go to University in the same state. They lead lives that are just like their parents, and many of them even still live in the same neighborhood."

"When I think of all the a-holes I knew in school: I revel in knowing that I grew up, left town, have a real life, and am not still in a small town, trying desperately to pretend high-school never-ended. My horizons got bigger, their lives got smaller."

"Moving on means moving."

"High school is awful, isn't it? Decades later, and it's still awful. Ugh."

I feel bad for them. Honestly. There were friends there that I made back when were were still in diapers, and even more that I've collected along the way. If you don't know how good it feels to describe someone with the words, "We've been friends for 35 years," I feel bad for you too.

I have roots here, and they are deep and wide. (That's Sistah and Shake. Friends for 39 years and counting...)

That's as far as I got with my original post before abandoning it for awhile. Maybe I found it now because I needed to see it. Maybe during the dark, cold days of Advent I needed to be reminded of the Christmas miracle. Not trees and lights, not presents and parties, but being awake and ready, "for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of man will come."

Of course we're not supposed to stay awake 24 hours a day. That would be stupid. We're supposed to have an inner alertness and an inner light that allows us to see what we have and count our blessings. It keeps us open to God's presence and lets us get really good at seeing the light in every situation, rather than always standing and shaking a fist at the darkness. It's why we light Advent candles, after all: to dispel the darkness. And it's why Wordsworth, in a funk, would lie on his couch and think about spring flowers. They gave him hope.

          I WANDERED lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

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