Friday

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“It is the end of the day. It is the end of the week. We managed to fill forty hours somehow. That’s not bad, is it?”

Even though I haven’t watched The Office since last season, I still keep a quote-a-day calendar on my desk at work. This one, above, particularly resonated with me this week. We moved offices over the weekend and it’s been an adjustment ever since (my desk got smaller, our group ended up in a hallway with no natural light and worse, no air flow. I’ve been threatening to wear a Breath-Right strip every day). But somehow, the days feel like they’re flying by, and I’m attributing it to the fact that this has been the busiest week of my 2+ years at my job. Seriously. I’ve never been so swamped. If I’ve seemed out of it around here the last few days, or on your blogs, you’ll have to forgive me. I’ve barely had time to do anything but go to work and then come home and go to sleep. I even took work home with me one night this week, a feat that has never before occurred and one that I swore I’d never do; I don’t ever want to be the kind of person who takes work home with them. Mostly because I don’t want to work, but that’s a story for another time.

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend, full of sleep and relaxation. What are you guys up to?

Dan Savage on Relationships

Theresa’s guest post over at Love Creative on “Living With a Boy” reminded me of this fantastic speech Dan Savage gave at a college about relationships, specifically the “price of admission.” With all of the changes that come with being engaged, one of them is the realization that you’re going to (hopefully) spend the rest of your life with this person, and that is (hopefully) a really, really long time. How do you keep from strangling each other? Speaking kindly and gently, as Theresa pointed out, is a good start.

Take is away Mr. Savage:

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What do all these images have in common?

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Besides from being glamour shots of books stacked into gorgeous fireplaces (and potentially posing a fire hazard if your fireplace is anything like the one in my last apartment, where pieces of brick continuously fell in from the chimney on the roof) these all made my heart skip a beat. Oh! To be surrounded with books to the point that you have no where to stash them but your fireplace! It’s like Carrie Bradshaw, sticking sweaters in her oven, except real and more esoteric.

Babes in Toyland

It’s rare that I ever get deeply affected when celebrities die. By definition, celebrities aren’t familiar, they’re totally foreign and unattainable, so their passing, while sad, doesn’t stop me in my tracks. Of course, Lady Di was an exception, and I imagine one day my great heroes will be an exception, too (I won’t name them here, it feels too morbid). Annette Funicello is an exception to the rule for me, too, even though I’ve only ever seen one movie she was in. The 1961 technicolor masterpiece “Babes in Toyland.” Did you ever see it? My mom had it on Betamax (!!) and I watched it until the tape wore down. To a young girl, Annette Funicello as Mary Contrary was magical. She was beautiful, sweet, smart, and had great hair. She passed away yesterday, and while her death doesn’t radiate as deeply to me as other people would, and more to other people than to me, she was a big part of my childhood in a delightful and happy way. And seeing as I’m already on a trip down childhood memory lane after yesterday, I’m grateful for the chance to reminisce about “Babes in Toyland” and more than a little proud that I still know all the words to the songs.

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RIP, Annette.

PS. Because my mom and I can still belt out “THIS IS THE FOREST OF NO RETURN!” at random and crack up, I’m including this clip. And before she outs me, I’ll admit it, this scene used to scare the bejesus out of me.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grLfr_GIeuU

Childhood Books

We went to a friend’s baby’s first birthday over the weekend, and aside from the overwhelming cuteness of a gaggle of one year olds, the most fun for me was shopping on Friday for books. When their son was born a year ago, JAMAL’s friends asked for our favorite childhood books to start his library. I had the hardest time narrowing it down to an acceptable number. I love books. I love that my parents insisted upon flooding me with good books as a kid, and that we read together every night before bed. I had a library card at age 4, and though they limited the number of books kids could check out at one time, the librarian let me have as many as I wanted because I explained in detail the plot of the book I wanted and the author when I couldn’t remember the title (it was “Bill and Pete Go Down the Nile”), standing on my tip-toes to see over the counter. Books were more important than anything in our house. That’s the most important thing I hope to pass on to my own future kid one day.

After perusing Barnes & Noble on Friday and saying, “Aw! I remember this one!” a million times, I decided it would be great to do a round up of my favorite books from childhood. Only it spiralled wildly out of control quickly. At first I thought I could do a top ten. And then once I started looking for titles, I realized I had to include a lot more than I originally thought. These are all books I love dearly, that I could recite from memory to this day. Most of these I still have in a box in my mom’s basement, on stand-by for when I need them, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t seriously consider buying all of these last night JUST TO BE PREPARED.

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1. “The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush” / 2. “Bill and Pete Go Down the Nile” / 3. “Miss Nelson is Missing” / 4. “Porcellus the Flying Pig” / 5. “Strega Nona” / 6. “Doctor Desoto” / 7. “George and Martha” / 8. “The Amazing Bone” / 9. “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble” / 10. “Hey, Al” / 11. “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” / 12. “Nimby” / 13. “The Berenstain Bears” / 14. “The Garden of Abdul Gasazi” / 15. “The Art Lesson” / 16. “Wacky Wednesday” / 17. “Madeline” / 18. “The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau” / 19. “Amelie Bedelia” / 20.  “Ira Sleeps Over” / 21. “The Lorax” / 22. “Something from Nothing” / 23. “The Return of Freddy Legrand” / 24. “Gorky Rises” / 25. “Babar’s Travels” / 26. “Where the Sidewalk Ends” / 27. “A Light in the Attic”

Wow. And this is just a small sampling of the books that were stacked in my room growing up. These are my absolute favorites, but I’m terrified that tomorrow I’ll realize I forgot about 30 more. It’s not super insane to start a library for a child that isn’t even close to being conceived yet, is it? I’ve done crazier.

Are any of these familiar to you? Either from your own childhood or your kids?

The Lost Boys

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Did any of you happen to watch 60 Minutes on Sunday? If so, you would have seen the incredible follow-up story Bob Simon did on The Lost Boys of Sudan. He first reported on them 12 years ago, after civil war forced thousands of boys out of their villages in southern Sudan, marching on foot thousands of miles over the course of three months before making their way to a refugee camp in Ethiopia. The 12 thousand Lost Boys stayed there for four years, before a civil war in that country forced them out again, this time to Kenya. They arrived in 1992 and spent years in the Kakuma refugee camp, until in 2000, the United States government began one of the largest resettlement efforts in our history: bringing thousands of Lost Boys to America.

Here is the original 60 Minutes segment from 2000:

A non-profit based in Boston, Refuge Point, worked with the Lost Boys before their arrival in America to prepare them for what their new life would be like. These were boys who had never seen running water, a television, or even forks and knives. Snow. Currency. Elevators. They were frozen in time, and deserved a new start, a new life. Several thousand were brought to the states, and relocated to places like Atlanta, Kansas City, Florida. They were given only a few months to find jobs and pay for their new apartments, and also (sickeningly) pay back the US government for their flight out of Kenya.

Heartbreakingly, after the attacks on 9/11, the resettlement planes stopped taking the boys, now men, out of Kakuma, leaving thousands of Lost Boys behind in Kenya. My heart breaks for those left behind.

Twelve years passed and this past Sunday 60 Minutes followed up with the boys they’d first met in the refugee camp all those years ago, to see how their lives had changed since living in the US. One of the Lost Boys, Abraham Yel, had become an Episcopalian bishop, married a Kenyan woman, had a few children, and now splits his time between Atlanta and Kenya. Daw Dekon joined the military after 9/11 and went to Iraq to fight, on three tours. Another, Joseph Taban Rufino, had always dreamed of becoming a doctor, had even worked in Kakuma as a medical assistant, helping his fellow refugees. Instead, he’s been laid off from several menial jobs, had his car and all of his ID paperwork stolen, and even been stabbed.

Here is the segment that aired on Sunday. Please watch to the end:

Bob Simon: Do you feel like you’ve been successful in America?

Joseph Taban Rufino: Not at all. My main aim was to go to the school in order to be what I’ve said, to be a doctor. But things fall apart.

I’m not a religious person. I’ve never attended church or synagogue services. But the stories of these men did something to me on Sunday night that I’ve never experienced before, and I’m equating it to the closest I’ll get to a feeling of divine intervention. That Joseph doesn’t consider himself successful because he hasn’t become a doctor was one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever heard. I’m embarrassed and ashamed that it took me 26 years to fully realize the plight of African refugees, or that it took a television program to open my eyes. My parents took me every Christmas to shop for toys to give to the Red Cross for children who didn’t have Christmas presents, I’m on my company’s philanthropy committee, I support animal rescue groups, I’ve donated to end dolphin slaughter in Japan. But this, these Lost Boys, it felt bigger, like a calling. All I knew is that I needed to help.

The piece ended with Joseph Taban being “reunited” via Skype with his mother, Perina, whom he had believed to be dead since they fled their village in southern Sudan in the late 80s. Joseph went to his mentor’s house, donned his best suit, and video chatted with the mother he hadn’t seen or talked to since he was a boy. The minute the segment was over, I sent an email to a CBS Producer, asking for any information on how to help Joseph. I cried a lot that night, over the idea that someone could go through as much as these Lost Boys have gone through while simultaneously I’ve never had to struggle for anything.

I received an email back from a 60 Minutes producer with the contact information for Joseph’s mentor in Kansas City, a business man name Joey McLiney (he’s seen in the second segment teaching Joseph how to drive a car…one of the few lighthearted moments of the whole piece). I instantly got in touch with both Joey McLiney and Refuge Point, and in the interim a donation collection had been set up to help Joseph travel to Uganda, where his mother took refuge, to see her in person again. A goal of $10,000 was set, and over $6,000 was raised in a single day. The goal was re-set to $20,000, and as of this post, 109 strangers (myself included) have donated over $10,185 to help Joseph. I donated. I’m encouraging you to consider donating, too.

I’ve been in almost daily contact with Joey McLiney, Joseph’s mentor, about how to help. The problem, he said, isn’t just a financial one: when Joseph’s car was stolen, so were all of his ID documents, “and he has not had time to fill out the appropriate documents to get all of his documentation. That process is painfully time consuming and onerous.” Because he has no ID, Joseph also can’t cash checks right now, so strictly financial donations are stuck in limbo. Joey McLiney gave me his address, so I could send Joseph gift cards, books, clothing, a laptop, anything I can to help. If I could pay for him to go to medical school, I would. I’m hoping a doctor in the Kansas City area saw the program and gives Joseph a chance at fulfilling his dreams. Mr. McLiney said that if you’re at all skeptical about donating to the GoFundMe site, that we can send donations directly to him. If you want to help, too, get in touch with me and I’ll be more than happy to send you his mentor’s address.

I’ve also been in touch with two women, Cheryl and Victoria, at Refuge Point and will hopefully be able to meet with them in New York soon to see what opportunities there are to help in that respect. My company’s philanthropy committee would be taking on our biggest effort yet, but I know it would also be the most rewarding. They help not just lost boys, but lost girls and women of wartorn Africa. They offer shelter, resettlement, food, safety, and have worked with those in need in Botswana, Burundi, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Sudan, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. Here’s how to donate to Refuge Point.

Here is a video they sent me, to raise awareness of the oft-forgotten Lost Girls of Sudan. Aluel’s story should be shared as much as possible:

Fundamentally, something has changed inside of me. I’m not saying I’m never going to post a round-up of new things I want to buy, but already my materialistic leanings have been curbed with the simple realization that someone needs this money more than me. I was completely moved by their stories, and I want to do whatever I can to help. It’s as simple as that. I’d love to harness the power of social media and get all of you who read this on board with sending Joseph a small gift, or making a donation to Refuge Point, or simply spreading the word in the hopes that we can make the life of someone in need better. If you could watch either of those segments without tearing up, then you’re a stronger soul than me. I couldn’t. I need to help.

Project Postal

Last month, I was delighted to participate in a little snail-mail initiative organized by Theresa of Inspiration Cooperative and Joy of Frock Files. Many of you joined in as well, so you’ll have to forgive me if this seems redundant, but the purpose of the project was to send someone an inspirational quote in the mail, something that spoke to you, and something that you dolled up with a little creativity. Theresa and Joy assigned secret recipients to everyone involved (and there were a lot of us!), and that’s when the fun began. Once I got over the debilitating paralysis of trying to pick a meaningful quote out of the thousands out there, that is. I eventually settled on a quote from “The Phantom Tollbooth” and then it was off to Paper Source for stamps and paper and lots of other wonderful goodies. I had a whale of time painting again after years of not using my tiny watercolor set, and I was thrilled beyond belief that Christie of Bedsigdesign liked the finished product!

Part of the joy of this little assignment was the anticipation of receiving one in the mail, trying to guess who your mystery Project Postal buddy would be and, of course, having something beautiful handmade specifically for you. Imagine my delight (and piercing squeals) when I opened my mailbox over the weekend and discovered an envelope addressed to “Mademoiselle Erin.” My Project Postal came all the way from France, by way of the incredibly talented Mills of Heron + Hibou. There were three quotes tucked away inside of some of the most gorgeous and thoughtful packaging, and while this may come as a shock to some of you, I am a humongous Francophile (YOU DON’T SAY!) so this was like Christmas had come early.

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“To be Parisian, it is not to have been born in Paris, it is to be reborn there.”

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“But Paris is a veritable ocean. Throw in a probe, you will never know the depth.”

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“It is towards the sea that the river remains faithful to its source.”

IT’S LIKE SHE KNOWS ME. I just can’t get over how beautiful all these quotes were, and how thoughtfully Mills arranged them. And can we just for a moment talk about her handwriting? I feel horrible in hindsight sending Christie my chicken-scratched note that I included with the piece. I can’t wait to frame all of these and hang them above my desk. Mills, thank you thank you thank you. And to Theresa and Joy: a big round of applause for coming up with this idea and for organizing it so stealthily! We should do this every year.

On Giving

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Next Wednesday, author Anne Lamott is doing a reading at the Free Library here in the city, and I waited too long to get tickets so now it’s sold out. You might remember I read “Bird by Bird” a while ago when I first started the journey of writing a book. Aside from being the paper equivalent of a warm hug, it was chock full of wisdom and laughter from a veteran of the draining war writing can sometimes be. But one anecdote in particular really stood out to me, in a chapter near the end about writing in the spirit of giving, giving more than you thought possible. That you have to approach your writing selflessly but consistently, and give give give.

“An eight-year-old boy had a younger sister who was dying of leukemia, and he was told that without a blood transfusion she would die. His parents explained to him that his blood was probably compatible with hers, and if so, he could be the blood donor. They asked him if they could test his blood. He said sure. So they did and it was a good match. Then they asked if he would give his sister a pint of blood, that it could be her only chance of living. He said he would have to think about it overnight.

The next day he went to his parents and said he was willing to donate the blood. So they took him to the hospital where he was put on a gurney beside his six-year-old sister. Both of them were hooked up to IVs. A nurse withdrew a pint of blood from the boy, which was then put in the girl’s IV. The boy lay on his gurney in silence while the blood dripped into his sister; until the doctor came over to see how he was doing. Then the boy opened his eyes and asked, ‘How soon until I start to die?’”

I don’t think writing is perhaps as noble as saving a sibling’s life. Though I defy you to read that and not well up even slightly. If you haven’t read “Bird by Bird,” this should change your mind.

Eleven Years Later, pt. 2

Remember this picture, from Friday’s post about our mini high school reunion?

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We thought it would be hilarious to try to recreate it. But maybe someone should have told us to attempt it before we went to a happy hour with $4 margaritas, then out for sushi where we split a bottle of wine (where we ran into yet another Masterman grad on the street after dinner. For such a small school we sure are everywhere), and then back to Vanessa’s apartment where we raided her liquor cabinet.

But no one did, so this happened:

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This is the best we came up with. We realized after the fact that we were only able to successfully lift a Moldovan the first time around because she’d started on the bed, we hadn’t made her trust-fall onto us and lift her from the ground. Masterman may be the number one school in the state, but we sure as hell lack common sense skills. Also I am still a giantess and my friends are all midgets, what gives.

Diana left yesterday morning and we all miss her like crazy already. My liver and wallet are recuperating nicely, however.