“The Luckiest Woman on the Face of the Earth”

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

It’s true. I dumped a bucket, or rather a bowl, of ice cold water over my head.

It had to be a bowl because I don’t normally keep clean buckets hanging around the house for such a purpose.

In fact, since all of my buckets are either filled with dirt and weeds from the garden or lined with sand from the beach, I used the big, green bowl, the one that holds the pasta salad at cookouts, and has held the Halloween candy for neighborhood trick-or-treaters every year for the past 21 years.

Then I posted pictures of my silliness on Facebook, and I did it all because my nephew asked me to, or rather, threatened me, blackmailed me, extorted money from me.

Well, which is it? Was it a bucket or a bowl? Was it a request or extortion? Do these details matter, as long as it was all in good fun? I think maybe they do, because they speak to how this type of crazy, online, social phenomenon can show us how lucky we all are.

It’s been almost a week since I saw my first ALS Ice Bucket Challenge video on Facebook, and with time, I’ve noticed the game has changed. It’s like the Operator game we played as kids where the message whispered into the first person’s ear differs dramatically from the message called out by the last player at the end. The rules are changing as the days go on, with a bit more money being extorted, I mean requested, from players now than it was at the beginning.

This is the video that started it all, my brother Dan getting doused by his children, Caitlin, Nathan, and Lindsey. Nathan, the kid with the bucket, will soon face his own challenge call me out.
This is the video that started it all for our family – my brother, Dan, getting doused by his children, Caitlin, Nathan, and Lindsey. Nathan, the kid with the bucket, will soon face his own challenge and will call me out.

And the creativity in the videos has exploded, thanks to the one-upmanship we humans exhibit when engaged in any sort of challenge. At first, it was simply people dumping water over their heads. Now, there are bobblehead toys and men in bikini tops getting doused, and dogs, way too smart for such foolishness, running away from the challenge, presumably to get their checkbooks to make a donation to the ALSA.

Also, as the game goes on and the rules change, reactions to it have changed. Comments that were once positive and supportive are now turning a little critical, pointing out that people would rather freeze than donate money to a worthy cause. Others say that the game is too gimmicky now, and why should people feel pressured to give to a charity when they have favorite charities of their own, and didn’t we leave peer pressure behind in middle school?

I say, everyone gets to be right here, and everyone gets to win this game, whether they accept the challenge or not, whether they donate money or not, whether they approve of the collective silliness or not. Because this is the type of phenomenon that reveals our good fortune.

For many of us, this is just one of those goofy things that brings us together, that gives my nephew, whom I don’t see often enough, the chance to reach out to me and say, “My auntie is a good enough sport to go along with this,” and it gives me the chance to say, “I’ll do whatever you ask me to, Nate, because you mean so much to me.”

And it gives the sufferers of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord, a voice, and with it, the chance to say, “We’re here, and we need some help, and thank you for what you’re doing for our awareness and fundraising campaign.”

The Big Chill.
The Big Chill.

And it gives me a chance to use my big green bowl for yet another fun purpose, to add to the memories it holds of backyard cookouts and my annual Halloween sugar coma. But most importantly, it gives me the chance to say, thank God I don’t have ALS, and thank God I do have friends and family who recognize my silly nature and are willing to call me out and share this challenge with me, so that we can all help the ALSA with their mission, to lead the fight:

To treat and cure ALS through global research and nationwide advocacy while also empowering people with Lou Gehrig’s Disease and their families to live fuller lives by providing them with compassionate care and support.

In short, to paraphrase the great Lou Gehrig’s famous speech, the ALS Ice Bucket challenge makes me feel like I am the luckiest woman on the face of the earth.


ALS challenge Ben
My son, Ben, getting in on the fun. Who will be next?

If I Could Talk to 2-Year-Old Me…

A young but wise beyond my years 2-year-old me.
   A young but wise beyond my years 2-year-old me.

This is a picture of a 2-year-old me holding my very best friend, the doll I got for my birthday and named Baby Hat. I know it’s not possible, but if I could talk to 2-year-old me, this is what I would say:

You are not going to grow much taller than you are right now.

See that black-and-white TV on your right? Laugh at it. In 25 years, you’ll understand why.

Keep that silly pink hat on your head. You are going to need it to cover a horrible perm when you’re in the 7th grade.

You will never learn to cook.

Baby Hat is not a bad start, but you are going to get much better at naming babies.

BLOG Kristin jr highThis is what you are going to look like in junior high school, but like all painful things, it, too, shall pass.

You are going to marry the man of your dreams and live happily ever after.

You should take care of your skin.

I already know that you’re not going to, but don’t worry about it. When you start to wrinkle, your eyesight will fade, and it will all be good.

You will travel the world wide, but you will always love home the best.

You will survive childbirth, a car crash, and your first year of teaching, but wisely, you will never submit to having a root canal.

People will think you are weird, and they will be right. It’s okay, because all of your favorite people will be weird, too.

Put your head down and go.

Do the hard thing first.

Chocolate loves you.

You won’t remember anything I’m telling you, because you’re only two and do not have a memory bank yet, so you’re going to have to figure all of this out on your own. But don’t worry, you will.

This is what Baby Hat and I look like today. I am not sure to whom time was kinder, but it doesn't matter as long as we still have each other. We are nothing if not loyal.
This is what Baby Hat and I look like today. I am not sure to whom time has been kinder, but it doesn’t matter as long as we still have each other. We are nothing if not loyal.

Summer Dog Days

The Summer Dog Days are not pretty. We’re talking dirty, matted hair, chipped pedicures, and the tendency to laze around all day eating cookies. And those are just the dogs.

The people are also in their summer plumage: sunburned, sore, and sporting chlorine-damaged split ends.

We’re all a mess. And not surprisingly, so is the house. It’s like the spring cleaning frenzy that hit hard in April and May never happened at all.

It’s no one’s fault, really. It’s just the way of things. Summer is for big projects, and this summer is no different. Joe and I built new garden beds and a fence in the front yard Garden bed and a pergola in the back. Next up is a greenhouse made from vintage windows – we laid the foundation for it last weekend.

Inside the house, Elsie and I repainted and remodeled her room, creating a dramatic change from beige walls with country furnishings to bright red walls and in a French classic style. All that’s left is to install the crown molding.

We’ve also had beach days and zoo days and baseball games Ben hittingand sleepovers with friends from out of town. Beth and Kristin(Hi, Beth!)

We’ve celebrated birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, and the Fourth of July.

We’ve gardened within an inch of our lives, and are now feasting on peas, beans, radishes. Soon, we’ll have tomatoes and peppers.

And some of you may have heard about the potatoes. A potato harvest is excitement like no other.potatoesinbowl

But what happens when you focus on the big projects? The little things, the regular maintenance, the stuff that has to get done or YOU WILL GO CRAZY does not, in fact, get done at all.

This is why I am tripping over overflowing laundry baskets and piles of shoes. This is why every time I reach for a clean, dry towel, I have to go throw a load in the washer so that I will have a clean, dry towel approximately an hour and a half after I need one. This is why the refrigerator, despite undergoing a thorough detail during the frenzied spring cleaning about two months ago, is now piled high with Tupperware and takeout containers. I cannot open the freezer door without risking injury from falling frozen goods. The tragic irony? I can’t close the freezer door either. A purge is badly needed.

So sure, I may have painted a bedroom and a fence, but have I touched up the chipped kitchen cabinets? No. And I have no immediate plans to, either.

And yes, I may have cleaned and purged and neatly organized all the closets in May, but can I fold and put away my linens easily now? Not a chance.

This is what the Summer Dog Days are for: sticky, gritty kitchen floors, fingerprints on the cabinets, dog nose prints on the sliding glass doors, and sitting back and ignoring it all until you can stand it no longer. With any luck, everything be all right once the back-to-school, let’s-get-organized energy surge arrives. That should be in about a month.

Until then, enjoy the fleeting Dog Days of Summer.


Please, World, Take Care of my Daredevil

The middle one is 18 and headed to college next month. I’m not sure I can let him go. Not because I’m feeling all mothery and clingy (though, that’s an issue, too) but because of stories like this one, about David Legeno, the Harry Potter star who died while hiking in the desert.

Nick off the beaten path
He’s near the beaten path, but not on it. It’s always the road less travelled for Nick.

Why do people feel so drawn to explore dangerous places? Can’t you just watch a documentary about the desert from the comfort of your own living room? Nick certainly doesn’t think so. There is nothing he loves more than a spontaneous jaunt off the beaten path.

Nick is my daredevil. He wants to climb mountains and descend into caves and swim the ocean and then, maybe, sit down and have lunch before he sets out for an afternoon of skydiving and bull fighting. I’m forever saying things to him like, “Will there be a lifeguard on duty?” and, “No getting lost allowed,” and my personal favorite, “Try to keep from getting into a situation where you have to chew your own arm off.”

Once, on a trip to Vermont, Nick was patient while I took some notes for a travel story I had planned to write on the ECHO Lake and Aquarium Center in Burlington. I liked the place, not only because it showcased some unusual aquatic species, but also because it had a roof and four walls. It would have been tough going, indeed, to get lost or hurt in there.

The reward for Nick’s forbearance while I worked was a kayak trip out onto Lake Champlain. Once in his boat, he immediately headed for a small island out in the middle of the lake. To me, the island seemed a million miles away.

Nick paddled so fast, I couldn’t keep up. Soon, he was completely out of sight. He was 13, and I thought I’d never see him again. I had to call him on his cell phone to tell him to head back to shore. Digging my cell phone out of my bag while keeping my own kayak afloat was no fun, let me tell you.

So you’d think I’d have been prepared for a stop at Quechee Gorge on our way home. “Perhaps you boys would like to dip your feet in the water?” I asked Nick and his brother, but before I got all the words out, Nick had jumped in cannonball style and Ben was close behind.

Nick wants to throw himself into Quechee Gorge.
Nick prefers to swim in Quechee Gorge.


Nick and Ben in pool
But what is so wrong with swimming in your own backyard pool?

Now, Nick is headed off into the real world, and I may not always be there to call him on his cell phone and to tell him to: a. wear sunscreen, b. check for ticks, or c. avoid getting into a situation where he has to chew his own arm off.

Please World, take care of him, and send him home to me in one piece.

Ferocious Competition: A Fourth of July Tradition

Once a year, we rise early in the morning, head to the center of town, cover our faces with war paint, and engage in ferocious combat with our neighbors. If all goes well, we’ll finish the day soaking wet and reasonably successful at blowing the blueberries out of our noses.

Welcome to Scituate’s annual Fourth of July Old Home Days, an old fashioned holiday celebration that features games, a teddy bear decorating contest, hug-a-bunny, pony rides, face painting, crafts, pie eating contests, fire trucks and more.

Attending this celebration has been a tradition in our family since we moved to Scituate, RI in 2001. The first year, we didn’t know about the teddy bear decorating contest, but by the next year, we were ready. Our bears were outfitted in the best red, white, and blue doll-sized costumes that Wal-Mart had to offer. All three of my kids earned blue ribbons in their bear’s category. We would accept nothing less.

Bear contest

One year, I almost won the adult musical chairs competition, and I proudly sported the resulting bruises on my arms and legs. These were war wounds, and I was a warrior. I am fully aware that the term “almost won” means “lost,” but as my hyper competitive personality will not allow me to admit defeat, I’m just going to have to stick with “almost won.”

Adult musical chairs

My kids have entered (and even won a few) water balloon tosses, hula hoop contests, checkers tournaments, and limbo lines, but victory in the pie eating contest eludes us all. It’s possible that I may have influenced my children with my hyper competitive nature, because there was one year when I think Nick nearly choked on his blueberry pie rather than accept second place, but he did not perish in combat, and so that yellow ribbon is just as much a thing to celebrate as a blue ribbon would have been.

Ben pie eating contest

At the end of the festivities, the hot and sweaty combatants, I mean, community members, are usually free to frolic about in their bathing suits under a cool shower at the end of a fire hose, thanks to the North Scituate Fire Department, although tomorrow it may be Hurricane Arthur that cools everyone down.

Tomorrow’s festivities will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the grounds of the First Church and Community House. I hope to see you there, though maybe you shouldn’t challenge me to a game of checkers. Someone may get hurt.


Top 10 Reasons Why Longtime Friends Rock

I took a happy trip down Memory Lane today with my treasured, lifelong friends, Sheri and Karen. When I got home from our lunch, I raided my Memory Box and found the collection of supportive and encouraging notes that they sent to me through the years. I also found pictures, some flattering, some not so much. After all, our friendship predates junior high, and some of those years were not pretty. After poring over the artifacts of our friendship, I came up with the following:

Top 10 Reasons Why Longtime Friends Rock

1. Longtime friends have pictures of you before braces straightened your teeth and they do not post them online.

2. Longtime friends have pictures of you when you were a size 6 and still only had one chin, and occasionally they do post these online. (Sometimes TBT is a good thing.)

3. Longtime friends know that “longtime” is a euphemism for “old,” but somehow, being with them makes you feel younger.

4. Longtime friends listen to you vent about all of your first world problems and don’t judge (in fact, they love you even more!) when you admit that sometimes life in general, and mothering in particular, can be hard going.

5. Longtime friends find a good balance between encouraging you to “go for it” and telling you like it is.

6. Longtime friends thought you looked pretty good in your turtleneck with the tiny hearts, the Sweats bi Ebe, the Barracuda jacket, and the Nike sneakers with the rainbow shoelaces. They also thought you looked beautiful in your wedding gown with the puffy sleeves, and they think you still look pretty good today. Of course, that’s because they all need new glasses.

7. Longtime friends have parents and siblings who are like your own parents and siblings, and over the years, you get to share in the trials and triumphs of one beautiful, extended family.

8. Longtime friends know why some things, like weird sayings that no one else understands (Wanna buy a duck?), are funny, and why other things (that shall remain nameless) are NOT FUNNY AT ALL.

9. Longtime friends make the effort to know you and to love you for all of your life, even when you have the flu, can’t get away from work, have a sick child, or – insert-your-own-personal-emergency-here – and can’t get together. They don’t worry. They will make sure you see them again soon. That’s how they roll. And that’s why you love them.

10. Like Bridget Jones’s friends, longtime friends know you can’t cook, but they like you anyway, just the way you are.

Sheri and Karen card frontSheri and Karen inside card

The “SSO” Story: An Annual Retelling

June 2014 067This is a story about my mom and the day she first became a grandmother.

I was in the hospital having my first child and apparently my own mom was very nervous about this, so she called the hospital to check on me.

One of the things that happens when you’re very nervous, I guess, is that you forget things, like your daughter’s married name, so my mom was delighted with herself that she remembered to ask for me by my correct last name.

(Don’t be too impressed, apparently she had called in a few times already and gotten nowhere because she asked for me by my maiden name.)

Okay, first obstacle overcome. Here’s where it got tricky. The nurse was NOT going to give out information that easily. No, my mom was going to have to work for it.

“Are you SSO?” the nurse asked.

My mom started to sweat. What is an SSO? She was quite willing to lie and identify herself as an SSO if that meant she could have information about me. But what if being an SSO was a bad thing and got her kicked off the phone with no information at all?

Oh, she agonized about the right thing to do.

Finally, she decided honesty is the best policy, and she admitted, “I don’t know what an SSO is.”

The nurse on the other end of the phone was probably very pleasant, but she sounds more and more like Lily Tomlin as the nasal telephone operator every time I tell this story.

“I am spelling your daughter’s name, Ma’am,” she said.

Relieved, my mom confirmed, R-U-S-S-O is, indeed, the correct way to spell my last name.


Kristin and Elsie June 1993

The baby is now a college graduate. She’s spending her birthday in Italy this year, touring art galleries and eating gelato and doing all the things I had hoped for her on the day she and I first met.




My mom is now grandmother to fourteen Mom and Elsiegrandchildren, and she knows how to spell all of their last names.