Fashionista Flashback: Normal American Girl Edition

Happy Independence Day!

Later today, I’ll be going to a Twins vs. Yankees game, enjoying a dinner of pizza and beer, and watching fireworks. What could be more American than that, you ask?

How about…THIS?

Sugar Beet days

It’s possible that you would like some context.

I am from a small town in southwestern Minnesota, and like all small towns in southwestern Minnesota, mine celebrates its heritage every summer. We have a parade, a street dance, flea markets and games. We used to have a Junior Miss pageant that was exactly like the movie Drop Dead Gorgeous, minus the murdering, but sadly no longer.

In DDG, the theme of the pageant always incorporates America (“Amer-I CAN! Proud to be an American! Buy American!”). In my hometown, the theme of the entire celebration incorporates our town’s key crop: the Sugar Beet.

Look, anything can seem normal when you’re raised with it, including a week of celebrating beets, okay?

The pageant was always my favorite part as a kid.  But my second favorite part was the kiddie parade.

It’s exactly what it sounds like: all the kids in town are woken up early, dressed in costumes made by their aunts or mothers, and encouraged to walk down Main Street carrying signs incorporating puns on the word beet. Then they turn around and walk back up Main Street because it’s only about a block long. The whole thing takes about 15 minutes and is a general confusion of cuteness and tantrums.

Pictured above: the “prize winners” of the Sugar Beet Days kiddie parade in about 1989. My brother and I are on the far right, dressed as Polyester Captain America and a Precious Moments figurine. No, actually, according to our sign, which we must have ditched at the end of the street, we were “Uncle Sam and the Pioneer Spirit.”

It actually just occurred to me this morning that the Pioneer Spirit might not be a real character. Google seems to think the Pioneer Spirit is a bunch of buffaloes, not a four-year-old in an over-sized bonnet and what appear to be tap shoes.  My mom made it up just to give me a reason to walk down the street with my brother.  Again – anything can seem normal when you’re raised with it.

Anyway, I think we came in second that year, between Mr. and Mrs. Sugar Beet (who still haunt my dreams) and the three little pigs (who were the other kids who showed up).

The kiddie parade still goes on when there are enough kids to participate. The Uncle Sam costume (made by my aunt) actually made its third appearance a few years ago on another generation of my family and once again took home a prize.

What I’m trying to say is that my hometown is weird in the way that all small American towns are weird. Nothing ever really changes, and that’s comforting. I biked every street within that one-square mile. I swam in that town pool a thousand times, then walked to the Malt Shoppe or the pharmacy to spend my twenty-five cents on candy. I didn’t worry about politics, or war, or whether or not I’d be allowed back in to school in the fall because I was a girl. And of course my school would still be there, and no one would stop me from going to church every week, and there would always be food in the fridge and I’d always be safe and happy and free.

Anything can seem normal when you’re raised with it.

Happy birthday, America. You are weird and flawed and my home. Thank you for my happy childhood.

Well, mostly happy childhood. I think I was pretty over the parade scene by this point.

I will end you

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A ridiculous amount of birthday love.

Was it ridiculous to turn my birthday into a month-long event/campaign/fundraiser/whatever? Yes. I am, as they say, pushing thirty. Women of This Certain Age are not supposed to wear Burger King crowns as “tiaras” and demand an ungodly amount of attention and/or ice cream. I should be embarrassed.

Does this look like the face/outfit of someone who is easily embarrassed?

Does this look like the face/outfit of someone who is easily embarrassed?

Ahem.

First and foremost, I need to thank everyone who donated to my charity:water campaign and helped me exceed my goal of saving 28 lives. To date, we’ve raised over $600! By far the most successful fundraiser I’ve ever had – even better than the time I offered personalized limericks as an incentive (And what an incentive it was – I rhymed “schadenfreude” with “does it annoy ya?” Poetry.).

I also had a lot of fun and some good response with the social media experiment portion of my birthday project – the 28 for 28 Facebook page. I like sharing things I care about, and I care about my birthday! No, I mean, I care about ways to make the world better. Thanks to those of you who got involved with that, too.

I was determined to spend my actual birthday committing 28 Random And Not So Random Acts Of Kindness. I made lists, I set a budget, I made timetables. But because I was excited, I started two days early. And because the birthday weekend involved several Unscheduled Naps, I finished two days late. That’s me all over.

I got the idea to do this by searching online, so I’m presenting this list in no particular order to maybe inspire another internet stranger one day:

Birthday (Weekend) Acts Of Kindness

1. Bought my boss tulips. They immediately folded in half and looked incredibly pathetic. But luckily I revived them (aka cut the stems) before she saw them

2. Stuck a coffee gift card on the door of a very deserving friend

3. Drew something for a friend who needs a pick-me-up

4. Donated my hair to Locks of Love.  The entire ponytail you see up above is now on its way to Florida. Factoid: the first time I did this, I was 14, and it made the front page of my hometown newspaper. I’m just trying to get to that level of fame again.

5. Tipped the stylist of my new ‘do 28%

6. Helped a stranger move a desk (or helped a stranger rob another stranger – either way, helping!)

7. Bought a friend lunch

8. Bought a different friend a beer

9. Helped yet another friend (I don’t want to brag but I have more than two) set up a blog – check it out, especially if you’re a beer fan! Also, I would like to note I agreed to do this before I knew there was going to be a paragraph of nice things about me in it. That just made me more eager to help.

10. Bought a bunch of children’s books to donate to a program I care about

11. Bought a friend tea (I was going to buy coffee for the person in line behind us, but he turned out to be a very cantankerous man, and my friend is nicer)

12. Bought a thank-you gift for someone who was nice to me recently

13. Helped the same cantankerous old man from #11 exit a “confusing” building at the St. Paul Art Crawl

14. Recycled plastic bags and donated food at a grocery store

15. Left money at a Redbox rental machine, along with a note

16. Left a 110% tip at Caribou Coffee. I did the math so that I, like every pro athlete, can say I “gave 110%”

17. Donated books to a Little Free Library (I love those things!)

18. Left money at Nice Ride MN station. I don’t want to talk about the poorly-worded note I also left there.

19. Dropped about thirty online coupons in a basket at Target

20. Donated clothes to Goodwill

21. Gave my neighbor’s dog a treat

22. Recovered a friend’s lost phone

23. Volunteered for Feed My Starving Children at Summit Brewery  (Worlds colliding!)

24. Picked up Target gift cards for The Bridge For Youth

25. Wrote thank-you notes

26. Left money at a vending machine

27. Bid on silent auction items for local fundraisers at BiddingForGood.com

28. Left quarters in laundry room for my neighbors

*************************************

So there you go. Twenty-eight mostly small, mostly deliberate acts of kindness to celebrate twenty-eight mostly great years. Thank you, everyone, for making them worth celebrating.

28 for 28: A birthday celebration, a social media experiment

Last year, my friend Al gave me a birthday card that said, “I love those people who are like ‘It’s my birthday week’ or ‘It’s my birthday month.’ Even Martin Luther King Jr. only gets a day. Calm down people.

I’ve had it displayed in my apartment for the past year because I enjoy missing the point. And I really enjoy my birthday/week/month.

This one is particularly IMPORTANT, however, as it’s my golden birthday. The one I’ve spent my whole life waiting for. On April 28th, I will be 28.

I think the first time I went to a golden birthday party, I was 8. So was the birthday girl. I remember balloons and a serious amount of envy as I realized I’d have to wait 20 years for my extra-special birthday party. Now that it’s here, what do I want?

Last year I had friends over for mimosas, went out for breakfast, took a bus to the Twins game (which was unfortunately rained out), took a nap, grabbed a beer at my favorite local bar, and celebrated at a bonfire with a bunch of other friends lucky enough to be born at the end of April. I got a crown; I wore a crown. I woke up the next day still wearing said crown. It was pretty great.

That’s not what I want to do this year.

I’m actually giving myself the best birthday present ever – I’m taking my mom to Ireland for 10 days in April. That’s all the gift I need. But I still want to do something more.  To quote Wayne Campbell, “What I’d really like to do is something extraordinary. Something big. Something mega. Something copious. Something capacious. Something cajunga!”

I want to do something GOOD. And I want you to do something good, too.

So taking inspiration from the Birthday Project, the #26Acts of Kindness movement, GOOD.is and the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, I’m starting something. Something fun, short-term, and (hopefully) Good.

28logo

My main undertaking this month will be trying to raise enough money to save 28 lives through Charity:Water. But even if you can’t donate, I hope you’ll join me in the 28 For 28 project.

I’m aiming to do 28 Good Things in April. All I’d really like you to do – is pick one.

Join with me as I celebrate 28 good years over 28 days.

Deliberately Random Kindness

I haven’t forgotten my pledge to complete 26 Acts of Kindness.  I did kind of take a break to have the flu/never-ending cough, but after working my way through several thousand naps and most of my DVD collection I’m more or less back in action. Aside from continually trying to buy my coworker a coffee or lunch (she keeps insisting on paying me back to the point where I now owe her a sandwich), here’s what I’ve been up to since the last time:

12: Volunteered with kids (on a day other than my usual day)

I hang out with some small people on a weekly basis, and I love it. After a long winter break, I jumped at the chance to pick up an extra “shift” of baby-holding, toddler-talking, kindergartner-laughing goodness (obviously, not while I was sick. That would not be great).

13: Donated cards to St. Jude’s Ranch

While fighting The Sickness, and also The Boredom, I cleaned out my desk and came to terms with one of my personal shames: I’m a craft supply pack rat. I keep every magazine, bit of ribbon, pretty old greeting card and sticker in case I might “need them.”

I don’t need them. So I finally went through the cards, kept only the most sentimental (like the Christmas card my pops signed “Peter (Dad)” because he forgot what he was doing), and popped the rest in the mail for the recycled card program at St. Jude’s Ranch. A few weeks later, they announced they have enough cards to keep them busy through June – coincidence?

14 – 16: Cleaned the closet for good

Continuing with my housebound cleaning theme, I established an “outbox” and divided my donations into three categories: Winter gear for Joseph’s Coat of St. Paul, old glasses to the Lion’s Club, and all other mostly useful things/ridiculous high heels I’ll never wear to Goodwill. (Full disclosure: the Joseph’s Coat bag is still sitting in my car due to the limited donation hours, but I swear it’s going to get there.)

17: Shared some Valentine’s Day love

I made a donation to the Jeremiah Program, which then sent a Valentine’s e-card to my mama and this bit of cuteness to me (CDC = Child Development Center):

jeremiahcard

18: Donated to ChiveCharities

Step one, read this horrible story. Step two, made a tiny donation. Step three, applauded as the entire project was funded in record time. I love it when the internet is used for good rather than evil.

‘Til next time, here is a nice song covered by one of my favorite YouTube musicians. I’m going to go try to do something nice for my coworker again and this time she’s just going to have to deal with it.

#26Acts of Kindness: It’s a Start

Two weeks ago, I was wondering what I could do to help. Most of the world was. There are still so many more questions than answers (although I can think of many things that are certainly not the answer), but one positive movement has come about: Ann Curry started the idea of doing 20 (now 26) acts of kindness in honor of the victims, no matter where you are. It’s gone viral and I’m so happy – relieved, even – to be taking part.

Let’s spread the word: We are better than this. This is a good world after all.

Here’s what I’ve done so far:

1: Sponsored a package through Project Night Night, which will provide a book, stuffed animal and security blanket to a homeless child. I actually heard about this through The Bloggess a while ago; this provided the extra push I needed to make the donation.

2. Donated canned goods to a food drive (hosted at my friend’s Cookie Swap Party, so really a win-win for everyone).

3. Bought coffee for all of my coworkers. This was not an act of kindness for the poor trainee behind the counter at Caribou, however. “I need one medium northern lite hazelnut latte, one large white berry sugar free raspberry mocha with no whip, one regular latte with an extra shot…” She did great.

4. Bought a coffee for the man behind me in line. He was…startled. But agreed that karma is a good thing.

5 – 8. This one is my favorite so far. I went to my favorite children’s bookstore in all the world, the Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul, and picked out four of my favorite children’s books in all the world: “Miss Rumphius” by Barbara Cooney (for obvious reasons), “Walk Two Moons” by Sharon Creech (who I also met at the Red Balloon once), “Anne of Green Gables” by L.M. Montgomery, and “Matilda” by Roald Dahl.

Four children's books

I immediately donated them to the Red Balloon’s book-donation program. It felt awesome. I could have spent all of my time and money in this store (er, which is why at least the next few of my Acts of Kindness will be on the free side).

9. Gave out candy canes and cards to everyone in my building. Well, almost everyone. I was shy one candy cane, so…

Have a VERY merry Christmas.

Special moments made…specialer.

10. Helped serve ice cream at the nursing home with my mom. And did not eat all of the ice cream myself. That’s not exactly a good deed, but I still feel like I deserve some sort of medal. I really like ice cream.

11. Made lunch for my family one day over Christmas weekend – nacho bar! At one point I had to stir some sort of meat in a pan and two (2) of my four (4) immediate family members were compelled to take pictures. Yeah, yeah. Laugh at the vegetarian. See if I offer to be nice to you ever again.

The rest of the weekend/early week was spent hanging out with my family, and it’s hard to count any time spent together as an “act of kindness” when I enjoy it as much as they do (probably more, because I only cooked that one (1) meal in four days. Thanks for feeding me, mom).

Back to looking for random acts and random recipients. Any suggestions?

Love your neighbor.

I dislike politics. I dislike most politicians, I dislike the political game, and I really, really dislike arguing about politics. But I’m going to talk about this because I have to, before it’s too late.

I’m talking about the Minnesota Marriage Amendment. If you’re in Minnesota – hell, if you’re in the United States – you know the one. Come Tuesday, this is what will be on Minnesotans’ ballots:

Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota?

Yes…..
No …..

I hope it comes as no surprise that I’m voting No. I haven’t been as involved in the Minnesotans United for All Families campaign as many of my friends (no one has been as involved as my friends, I swear), partly because I’m busy and partly because I don’t really think me bursting into tears is what they want to happen at their phone banks, but I definitely want to see this amendment defeated.

I want to see this amendment defeated because it hurts people I love. It tells children I know who are being raised by gay parents that their family is not as good as another. It tells young people who are gay that they aren’t as good as their peers. And committed gay couples do not have access to the same rights and benefits as straight married couples.

Look, I know this is a complicated issue for many people. It isn’t for me, not anymore, but I’m trying to see it from all sides. I’ve read articles like this. And I’ve also seen ads like this. If you have too, I encourage you to watch videos like this and fact checks like this. I encourage you to find alternate viewpoints and see what resonates with you; have respectful dialogue, if you can. We’re all going to be the same friends, family, and neighbors on November 7th.

If this is still too murky for you, then abstain from voting on this issue. That’s okay. Just don’t vote yes unless you are damn sure that denying civil rights to a group of citizens is the right thing to do. Same-sex marriage is already illegal in Minnesota. So are “separate but equal” civil unions. Defeating this amendment actually changes nothing, but it lets the conversation continue, and it lets the world know that Minnesotans love their neighbors.

And that is really what it all comes down to for me.

I know I have friends and family who are voting yes. I still love you; I believe you still love me. I just needed you to know.

PS: if you haven’t seen or heard this yet and don’t hate everything I’ve said here, this will likely make you cry. Then hit replay.

Truly Scary.

I’d like to take a break from posting about spooky things to write about something that genuinely scares me.

I am flat-out terrified of conflict.

And I’m talking about conflict in conversation. Political discussions, for instance. One hint of conflict, and I immediately start crying. I don’t know why. I don’t want to start crying. I want to respond like Aaron Sorkin is writing my dialogue, drop the mic like Eminem and dance like Victor Cruz.

I know how I’m voting. I know what I believe. And I’m not ashamed of my beliefs. I’m a bright, educated, employed woman who has put a lot of thought into how best to serve the world. But breaking down in tears at the first sign of a raised voice is not really getting that message across.

Then there’s this; I’m an American. I’m free to do and say a lot of things that people around the world cannot. Hey other Americans, can you imagine living in a world where a girl gets shot in the head, in public, because she wants an education? We do live in that world. We just don’t live in that country.

I’m not brave, like Malala. I know I would not have spoken out as she has done, without any of the liberties and protections I enjoy here. Especially when I watch things like this, and see the reality of the risks she took on a daily basis. (Warning: disturbing images)

So it turns out conflict isn’t the only thing that makes me cry.

In the face of this, how laughable is it that I fear getting into arguments with my friends.

I still think that actions speak louder than words, but I also know that I have to start speaking up.

Thank you, Malala Yousafzai.

Support for Malala Yousafzai can be sent here.

To learn about supporting girls and women around the world, start with The Girl Effect and Half the Sky.

In response to everything.

I wish I didn’t understand hate, but I do. I hate things a lot. Waking up before I’m ready. The sound of gum-chewing. Little Drummer Boy. Hangovers. Pants.

Sometimes I even think I hate people. Sometimes the idea of going out and facing the loud world makes me quote Liz Lemon – “people are the worst” – and listen to Get Set Go on repeat. But that’s not really hate, that’s annoyance, often brought upon myself by gum chewing, pants, hangovers, etc. On days like that I’m so unpleasant I think other people have more of a right to hate me than the other way around. But the perfect strangers who are the victims of my mean stares, eye rolls, and silently composed insults move on, and I forget about them, and we don’t bother one another anymore. Maybe that’s not really hate, but it’s not really nice, either.

I thought I hated a person or two in high school, and maybe I did. Maybe I wasn’t very nice, because they weren’t very nice to me. Nothing unique about that story. It doesn’t bring up any darkness to think about them anymore; doesn’t make me imagine insults I wish I’d been brave enough to say out loud. Doesn’t make me wish ill things upon them.  Doesn’t make me want to go out for cocktails together, either, but if I saw them in a bar I wouldn’t throw the same cocktail in their faces. So if it was hate, it too has passed with time.

I know hate does me no good. I know it hurts everyone it touches. And I believe fighting hate with hate is the most dangerous concept out there. And yet I’m still so, so much better at understanding hate than forgiveness.

When I hear about a drunk driver taking an innocent’s life, I do not feel forgiving. When another act of senseless violence is on the news, I do not feel forgiving. When I hear unkind words, even if they are not directed at me, even if they are said without malicious intent, I do not feel forgiving. Sometimes I’ll feel it later, but never immediately; I’m in awe of anyone who can do that. What to do, then, in the moment when the wounds are fresh?

It seems like everywhere I look these days, I’m seeing hate responding to hate. I could be good at that. I could get in an argument and hurl insults with the best of them. I can be snarky on purpose and cruel by accident. But why? what good does that do me, and more importantly, what good does it do the world?

So this is what I’m trying to do: shut up. For a little while, anyway – long enough to remember that no matter what side of an issue I’m on, I want to stand for love, not hate. Long enough to think, does this argument need my negative words, or does it need my positive actions? Long enough to find out if I need to forgive, and how to do it.

I’m not saying I don’t want to stand up for what I believe in. If I need to add my voice to something, I will, but I want to do it in a way that does not hurt myself or others. No matter what I believe, I have no right to attack someone who sees things differently. No matter what they believe, I have no right to wish them any ill. To put it simply: I want to do more good, say less bad.

I have a fondness for Saint Francis of Assisi, even though he is often shown surrounded by birds and rabbits (two other things I come close to hating, but that’s for another therapy session). I like this quote, most often attributed to him: “Preach the Gospel always. If necessary, use words.” Whether or not you’re Catholic, it’s a good mantra, if you believe (as I do) that “Preaching the Gospel” means love.

There are a lot of good mantras that remind me to close my mouth and move my feet.  Like this one, from the only rabbit I kind of tolerate: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”