All I Want For Christmas

My Christmas gifts to others are falling into four categories this year (uh, spoiler alert): free, almost free, events, or charity.

Free or almost free: My family started the “free or almost free” Christmas tradition two years ago, and it’s my favorite thing.  I never have to set foot in a mall in November or December.  Do you understand how freeing that is?  Instead, I spend the year gathering free things, or making things, or buying ridiculous things for a couple of dollars.  This can result in a pile of junk, or it can result in putting more thought and effort into gifts than I’ve ever bothered to in the past.  Last year my mother made me a t-shirt quilt, which is currently wrapped around my shoulders.  Two years ago, I drew a portrait of my grandfather for my dad.  It was a moving experience for me to draw it, and to watch him open it.

These handmade or sentimental things are worth so much more to me than, say, the DVD of North and South that I totally want but can buy myself.  And it makes me love the season, rather than dread it.  I can even listen to Christmas music without wanting to scream.  Except for “Little Drummer Boy,” of course; I’d rather shower with a bear than listen to that thing one more time.

Events: It turns out that in addition to family, I have some friends.  They’re not as big of fans of the “free or almost free” concept, and also it is way harder to make things than buy them for most people.  So I’m trying to give events, if possible.  A night out. A sporting event. A beer festival.  And less imaginative things too: the promise of a visit to friends who are moving far away.  Dinner and drinks some night.  A party at my place (this is only a gift as long as I don’t do the cooking).  It’s the most selfish of all my Christmas-giving, since I get to enjoy the events in the company of good people.

Charity: Look, I volunteer a lot.  I’ll be working with the Salvation Army in the coming weeks (including being on TV), I recently got Lacy to serve dinner with me at a shelter and we’re looking forward to doing it again, and I’m going to count the 45 minutes I spent agonizing over the perfect Barbie for Toys For Tots as “Charity” rather than “A Sad Activity For An Adult Woman.”  But this is not so much about what I’m doing as what I would like you to do.

Yeah, guys.  That’s right.  I’m asking you to be good people again.

If you are the type of person who wants to give me something for Christmas, just give me this: the promise that you will support my volunteer efforts from time to time this coming year.  You can throw money at me, or come to FMSC sometime, or not make fun of me when I show up at a bar with craft supplies stuck to my person.  Let me know you’re interested, so I don’t have to feel like I’m bothering you.  In return, I’m going to try to stop bothering you.

So there.  That’s all I want for Christmas, plus maybe to win the lottery.  I just wanted to tell you that.

And this:

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill

Also, this cannot be watched enough times this season:

Merry Christmas.

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“Liquor and nuns”

I may not eat turkey, but I still like Thanksgiving.  First of all, there are so many other things to eat!  And it’s practically National Napping Day, which is a cause I celebrate.  And finally, I’m thankful for so much.  Here are a few things in no particular order:

  • coffee and lefse for breakfast (okay, perhaps these are in an order: the order in which they are in front of my face right now, and order of deliciousness)
  • my brother for the sheer amount of inside jokes and movie quotes that make me laugh and make everyone else wonder what we’re talking about.  “Bread.”
  • my sister-in-law for working Thanksgiving so we can finally, maybe, all get together for Christmas
  • the friends and family who helped me raise $220 for the Walk to End Hunger yesterday!
  • my mom for walking with me, and then asking “how does my walking help end hunger, exactly?” That kind of blind support is love.
  • Muppets.
  • My mom’s official review of the new Muppet movie: “Jason Segel’s mother should be proud!”
  • The ladies who found out I was without Thanksgiving evening plans and said, “Rachel, you should come over! There will be liquor and nuns. We won’t have room for you at the big table but we can set up a kids’ table for you.”
  • Great friends and their excellent families who take in strays at the last minute.  And feed them too much. More mint cake please.
  • My dad for driving through terrible weather last weekend to attend his first-ever Vikings game with me.
  • The Minnesota Vikings for keeping me humble.
  • Naps.
  • Laughter.
  • Beer.
  • God.
  • I told you these are not in any order.
  • The fact that my iTunes just started playing Protozoa’s “Zoom Zoom Zoom” from “Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century.”  Why do I own that? And how could I forget I own that? Amazing.
  • The fact that I can afford to have iTunes, and coffee and lefse, and access to the internet and clean water and everything so much of the world is without.
  • Hands On Twin Cities for introducing me to some great local causes.
  • Feed My Starving Children – and all the friends and family I’ve made go with me recently
  • Not working in retail on Black Friday.
  • Terrible/amazing action movies, and friends who send emails like this: “Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris are in Expendables 2. Get the f*** in line.”
  • Ten years of friendship with Lacy.  “Weebles Wobble…”
  • Really, just all of my friends who let me be my ridiculous self and seem to like me for it.  I like you, too.
  • And this: “Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart
    and try to love the questions themselves…
    Don’t search for the answers,
    which could not be given to you now,
    because you would not be able to live them.
    And the point is, to live everything.
    Live the questions now.
    Perhaps then, someday far in the future,
    you will gradually, without even noticing it,
    live your way into the answer.”
    Rainer Maria Rilke

Happy everything to you all.

The day after World Food Day and #bad2011

Yesterday was both World Food Day and Blog Action Day; probably it would have made more sense for me to write what I’m about to yesterday — but after an especially disturbing Vikings loss it seemed like a better choice to put it off and cheer myself up with Beverly Hills Cop.

Procrastination, football, and Eddie Murphy aside, I actually did make an effort to mark World Food Day: I volunteered at another special food packing session for the horn of Africa at Feed My Starving Children.  I brought along four friends who absolutely made my day by joining me, and the whole group of 103 volunteers packed enough food to feed 55 children for a year – in two hours.  That is completely amazing and I’m so proud to work with that group.

However.

Over 30,000 children have died in the past few months in the Horn of Africa, and over 13 million are in crisis.  I can’t even comprehend that kind of loss and suffering in the “read about it in the history books” kind of way — but this is happening right now.

Sorry if you find this PSA offensive, I know not everyone likes Bono. (cheap shot)

But really. F*** FAMINE.  No matter your religion, politics, or nationality, if you are a human living on this planet, you need to care about this.  And you need to get involved in whatever way you can.

I’m going to keep dragging my (wonderful, amazing) friends to Feed My Starving Children.  I’m going to keep writing about this for all six of my “fans.” And I’m also going to keep volunteering locally — we may not have a famine, but hunger is a problem in every part of the world.

Which is why I just did this.

Walk to End Hunger logo

It was a rash decision to sign up for this, and once again my memorized credit card number has come into play late in the evening, but I think it’s a good thing for once.  Besides, Thanksgiving is usually just the holiday where all of my friends and family make jokes about Tofurkey at my expense.  I’m fighting poverty and hunger on my holiday time; TRY AND TEASE ME NOW, TURKEYS.

Well.  I absolutely can’t end on that note, so let’s pretend I’m not mean to the people who love and support me and am actually more like Mother Teresa, who said:

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”

A Servant’s Heart, A Braggart’s Mouth

A few months ago, my mom gave me a copy of a scrapbook put together for my home church’s 125th Anniversary.  She knows I’m really interested in genealogy, and I have deep roots in my little hometown (and by that I mean we’re all related). I flipped through it with her, enjoying the old photos.

My grandmother is in quite a few of the pictures, but she’s always standing in the back.  “She was never one to draw attention for her good works,” my mom said.  “She had a real servant’s heart.”

That phrase has stuck with me lately.  For the past few months, I have been on the strangest, strongest volunteering kick of my life.  I mean, I never used to seek out volunteer opportunities, and I’ve gone on three so far this week.  The change is radical.  And positive (I mean, obviously), but I don’t really know where it came from.  Maybe spending so many years in the company of social-justice oriented nuns has finally had an effect on me.  Maybe I’m antsy.  Maybe I just like it when three-year-olds pull my hair and slam my head into desks while we color.

I’d like to pretend it has to do with having a servant’s heart, like my grandmother.  But let’s be real here.  The only reason I get in the back row of a picture is because I know what angles work for me (and that would be “mostly hidden”).  I can’t keep my mouth shut about anything I do, good or bad.  Whether it’s lookin’ awkward on TV for The Salvation Army or buying a Funnoodle from the Rainbow Foods in Uptown at 2:30 a.m. (hypothetical example), if I think it’s funny, I’m going to tell everyone and their internet about it.

Some things should be publicized: the famine in the Horn of Africa is one I have no problems harping on about and hyperlinking to in everything I write.  Prepare to be hit with some more Step Out to Fight Diabetes action as I prepare to slow jog a 5K this month.  And if you make it through 2011 without volunteering at Feed My Starving Children with me, we must not know each other in real life.  Tell me, how did you find my blog?

I’m trying to come to terms with wanting a servant’s heart and having a braggart’s mouth.  My compromise of sorts is to ask myself why I’m telling someone a story. Is it because I want them to think highly of me? Or is it because it involves something silly and might make them laugh?  I am going to try to stop myself from telling the first kind, but the second is fair game. All I really want out of life, and I mean this in the most serious way possible, is to live ridiculously for the amusement of others.  Because is there anything better than making someone laugh?

Oh, dear.  Does it matter why I’ve fallen in love with volunteering?  No, I guess not.  Let me put this argument with myself to rest.

There are things to be done.  And there are stories to be told.  For now, I’ll just keep trying to do both.

Best Things of the Past 2 Weeks and 2 Days

Here’s what I’ve been up to in roughly the last 16 days, Ma!

1. Volunteering and forcing my family to volunteer, too

Along with some alumnae of my college, I painted a fence and house in North St. Paul with Hearts and Hammers last week.  It was pretty fun — I mean, I don’t want to come paint your house, or anything — but getting to know different people and wearing my sweatpants in public without fear of judgment is always a good thing.  Until the next day when I could barely move my legs or neck.  I really, really won’t be coming to paint your house.

The next day I (somehow) went to Feed My Starving Children again, to another special session for the Horn of Africa!  This time I brought my mother and sister-in-law for some girl bonding.  There are no photos of this girl-bonding because no one looks good in hairnets.  Except, of course, my gorgeous sister-in-law.  I look even more ridiculous standing next to her, so really: no pictures.

2. Brewery Tour-ery

As alluded to in this post, I somehow managed to schedule myself for two brewery tours on Saturday: the Summit Brewery (again) and Flat Earth Brewery.  Did I have a great time? Of course I had a great time.  Was it a ridiculous decision? Of course it was a ridiculous decision!  Is there any other kind?

3. SKOL VIKINGS. SIGH VIKINGS.

Well, Lacy and I went to the game.  That much is true.  And our seats were not really that bad — we could see every blown opportunity just perfectly!

Jared Allen

We could also see Jared Allen's butt perfectly, so that's something.

Actually, that’s not nice.  They played thirty minutes of great football!  And then whatever happens to them at halftime every week happened again, and it was like the second they came out of the locker room — with a 20-0 lead — everyone in the place felt it.  It was no longer a winning football game.

I still managed to have some fun.  Being there with Lacy, for instance, was great.

Rachel and Lacy at football

This picture was taken during the first half; notice the absence of tears.

The, shall we say, tight ends are always appreciated.  Seeing my name on the back of about half the people in the stadium is a weird kind of thrill, too.  Chris Kluwe’s ricochet-style tackle was about as cute as a tackle can be.  And Jared Allen showed up, even if some of the rest of the team (or coaching staff) didn’t.

My throat hurts from 3.5 hours of screaming; my soul hurts from a lifetime of caring.  I’m not a sports analyst (or a movie critic, clearly); I just love the Vikings a little too much.  I don’t know what’s going on with them right now, but I will continue to cheer them on, lose or lose worse, season after season, because that’s just the kind of idiot I am.

Who wants to go to the next game with me???

Best Things of the…uh…

Oh.  Um.  Hi there, internet.  It’s been a while, huh?  Yeah, I guess we both got busy.  Me with my volunteering and nuns and friends and you with your…cats

Look, we can go back and forth all day about who forgot to write in her blog for two weeks, or we can just get to the point.  Which is, I’ve done some stuff that needs to be documented for posterity/my mother.  I can’t remember exactly when things happened and I’m too lazy to figure it out right now, so here are the highlights by category, in the order I think of them.

1. Movies

First, I got free advanced screening passes to Warrior.  Still not sure why I get these, but just in case someone out there thinks my opinion matters: I actually really enjoyed this movie.  Okay, it was a bit messy — far too many plot lines, and just seeing the preview once gives away too much, and the usual amount of sports movie cliches — but also: Tom Hardy’s ridiculous body.

Warrior Poster

Also I really enjoy sports movie cliches.

Second, I tried to get other people excited about going to a late-night showing of one of my favorite movies, Die Hard, but was thwarted by a total lack of interest.  Girls, right?  Instead, Manolo took me to fill in a gap in my Bill Murray knowledge: we watched What About Bob? at Minnehaha Falls for the final Minneapolis Music & Movies in the Park of the season. This was my favorite part:

Manolo was surprised I’d never seen this movie before, but frankly, I just watch Die Hard over and over.

2. Good Deeds

I’ve already expressed my love for Feed My Starving Children, which is a super easy volunteer activity and makes me feel helpful (the famine, however, is worsening).  Last week, Lacy and I found a completely different and even easier volunteer opportunity — handing out money at a Bingo game!  It could not have been easier or more fun, especially when one of my new friends told me, “we may be the soldiers but you ladies are really the bosses.”  He then tried to give me half his winnings, but I told him I was being paid in cookies.

You know how in TV shows like Alias, characters realize they’ve been raised specifically to be awesome at being, say, a spy? It’s like that with me.  Except that instead of spying, I was raised to be a goof for the amusement of the elderly.  Thanks, ma.  So I’ll be back to visit my new friends, and not just for the cookies.  I just cannot deny my calling anymore.

The second good deed was just today, and might explain why this post is slightly goofy: I donated blood to the Red Cross today!  I like to donate because I can, and quite a few of my friends are not able, and the need is constant (although I admit I was inspired to sign up this time after warnings of the east coast hurricane).  This was just my third visit, and my veins get slower each time — it took a solid seventeen minutes to donate 1 pint of blood today.

Seriously, the things I will do for a cookie.

3. Food and Beverage

But the cookies weren’t the least healthy thing I ate this week!  Oh no!  I went to the Minnesota State Fair last weekend.  If you can deep fry it and put it on a stick, I probably ate it.  Twice.  I’m thinking of you, Macaroni and Cheese on a Stick.  I’m always thinking of you.

State Fair

The view from the Sky Glider. Food was not allowed up there, so I got bored and took a picture.

Earlier in the weekend, I went on a tour of Summit Brewery in St. Paul.  I do enjoy a good beer — my favorite is “whatever’s dark on tap” — and one is usually enough to get me a little bit silly.  Good thing Summit gave me, er, three!

summit beer and me being giddy

Those aren’t all my…hands. Those are all my beers though.

I might try to volunteer there some day.  I’m always looking for a worthy cause!

4.  Football

I’m still thinking about it more than a little constantly; I’m even wearing a Vikings shirt in the picture above.  While it looks like a building season for the Vikings, I’m excited just to see how everything plays out.  I’m way more excited about Christian Ponder than Donavan McNabb, but maybe that’s because I’ve had my fill of, um, “veteran” quarterbacks.  Speaking of, don’t be surprised if I actually buy a number 4 jersey this year, because of this:

Kluwe will be taking number 4 along with his ice cream cone (and my heart).  Every negotiation I make in the future will include an ice cream demand.  I shall call it the Kluwe Clause.

Best Things of the Week: Packed summer weekend edition

1. Old friends, interesting decisions

On Monday, one of my oldest friends popped into the Cities for a surprise visit.  I hadn’t seen him in three years, putting him in the “long-lost” category, plus he was the victim of my first crush (he came to my fifth birthday party and gave me a My Little Pony, how could I resist?).  So when he and another friend showed up on my doorstep, good sense went out the window.  A bar was visited.

Gypsy dog

And that's all Gypsy has to say about that.

I also played a round of Star Trek Scene-It with the guys because I am a patient and understanding lady.

2. “When I was your age, television was called books.”

The Princess Bride is my favorite book in the world, and I’ve read it at least twenty times.  I once wrote a ten-page essay about the movie adaptation (for a class, not just for fun, but don’t tempt me).  So when I heard it would be playing for free at Lake Harriet, I planned to go.  Then when Vita.mn had a contest on Facebook calling for the best line from the movie, I went with my favorite (above) as delivered by the wonderful Peter Falk.  And surprise! I won a DVD and a poster. Obviously I already owned the DVD (my love for all things Princess Bride cannot be overstated), but it came in handy when the outdoor showing was rained out and my friends and I needed to finish the movie somewhere else.  And the poster (by Landland) is really cool and makes me feel far hipper than I actually am.

This is such a silly joke, but it makes me legit snort-laugh every time (and there went all my hipness):

3. I ain’t never had a friend like Manolo

There were so many awesome activities this past weekend, and Manolo was there with me for just about all of them, so here’s the condensed version of How We Roll:

– 1/2 movie in the park, 1/2 movie in an apartment (Friday)
–  Teaching Manolo About the Vikings lesson two: It’s more fun when we win!  And it’s even better when we’re with friends at a bar and later a dance party and scroll up for the dog-of-censorship again! (Saturday)
–  Volunteering at Feed My Starving Children – special session for the Horn of Africa (Sunday)
– Discovering we know all the words to “Friend Like Me” from Aladdin while in my let’s-pretend-it’s-soundproof car (Sunday)
–  Obon: Japanese lantern lighting festival at Como Park.  Manolo won a girly pink purse for betting on what I can only describe as chicken-fighting ninjas.  Way to step up your game, universe.  I truly did not see that one coming. (Sunday)
– Laughing obnoxiously (Every day)

Football and Famine

There are really only two things on my mind this week.  The first, and I hope it’s on yours too, is famine.  I urge you to look into it yourself and decide if you can help in some way.  The link to the World Food Programme is still in the right sidebar of this page if you need a place to start, or you can sign up to pack food at a special session through Feed My Starving Children.  I went yesterday (and here’s proof that I look goofy in a hairnet) and will be going twice more in the next month.

I’m not going to spout off any more numbers or link to any more pictures today, I’m just going to share this, which I first heard at A’s Naturalization Ceremony:

Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as you ever can.

attributed to John Wesley (probably incorrectly, but what you can do?)

I said I had two things on my mind this week, and you can probably guess the other from the title.  Yes, when I’m not thinking about famine, I am thinking about football.

I once theorized that my relationship with the Minnesota Vikings is not unlike my relationship with men (why yes, this theory was developed in a bar!):  1) I care very strongly for them; they are basically unaware I exist.  2) I am always looking for a good tight end; they are always looking for a horny blonde.

Vikings Fan

Like that.

3) Eventually I’m going to have to stop pinning all my hopes and dreams on men who wear purple and tight pants and chase each other.  4) And finally, it’s all my father’s fault.

From age 2-6, Bonding With Pops meant watching whatever action movie was on television while falling asleep on the couch.  They have fused in my memory into one long action movie I like to call Crocodile Die Hard Jones and the Hunt for the Lethal Weapons Under Siege 2. From ages 7-12, Bonding With Pops meant getting outdoorsy and going camping and fishing.  Sadly, this camping tradition ended about when my dad woke up to me burning an entire deck of cards, one at a time.  I wish I was kidding; that is super creepy.  Ever since, Bonding With Pops has simply involved sports, and it started with the Vikings.

Together, we watched the 1998-1999 season with as much pride (and then overwhelming despair) as the rest of the state, and despite that famous miss, I was hooked.  In 2000, Pops took me to the Vikings training camp to watch a scrimmage.  The facts say that I was fifteen at the time, but the memories suggest I was closer to seven.  I was giddy to be there, with Pops, watching Cris Carter! Robert Smith! JOHN RANDLE! And we were in the front row, somehow; probably because Pops is early for everything (I did not inherit this trait), but at the time I was pretty sure it was because my dad was magic and/or secretly important.  I thought this might be the case when he perked up at some announcement and said, “I think that’s my cousin Rod doing the announcing.”

Before I could say, “You have a cousin Rod and why aren’t we using this relationship to get VIP treatment?” The announcer said, “and here comes the quarterback, Cunningham.  Uh, I mean Culpepper…”  To which the crowd gave a little boo and Pops said, “Yep. That’s Rod alright.”  I decided not to follow this lead for VIP treatment.

Despite needing to be the first person in his seat that day, Pops couldn’t stay in it for long.  He got us a bag of popcorn that (again, in my memory) was as big as me, and I was not a small kid.  He also ran off and bought me a Cris Carter jersey.  Again, I was not a small kid, but Pops overshot it a bit — to this day, we call that my “Cris Carter dress.”  I loved it immediately.

After the scrimmage, we went to the autograph line.  Pops plopped me next to the gate with my camera and my notebook and disappeared while I gawked, star-struck, as all the pros walked past me and the rookies stopped to sign autographs.

If you’re wondering what kind of father would leave his teenage daughter alone in a crowd like that, so was I.  I finally brought this part of the memory up to my dad last week.  “Where did you go?” I asked, thinking he ran away from the crowd to smoke.  He stared at me.  “I was right behind you,” he said.  “I had a hand on each of your shoulders!  Don’t you remember?  You were the same height as Denny Green!”  What kind of father would leave his teenage daughter alone in that crowd?  Not mine.  You’d think I’d remember being held in place by a large man, but no.  There is no large man in my memory other than John Randle.  I may be a terrible daughter with a foggy memory of one of the best days of my young life but eh! John Randle!

John Randle

Actual picture that I actually took of the actual John Randle. I am that bad of a photographer, and I was that excited. I'm still proud of this.

That was the last time my dad and I went to a scrimmage; as far as I know, he does not even own any Vikings apparel (but he could probably fit into the Cris Carter dress, too), whereas I’ve upped the ante with a “cousin” Adrian Peterson jersey, a Vikings sweatshirt, two or three t-shirts, and one of those sweet blonde-with-horns hats (I will fool you yet, men).  I was banned from The Boys’ apartment after Favre threw the last interception of 2010 and I let out a guttural scream that scared the cats.   And I once picked a fight in New Orleans, with a Priest, because he was wearing a Drew Brees jersey.  Pops and I haven’t watched a game together in years, and we’ve never been to a game together.  I’ve never been to a game at all.  But I’m still a huge Vikings fan, and it’s definitely all my father’s fault.

Love you, Pops.

SKOL VIKINGS!