Wednesday, December 28, 2011

that little voice

My New Year's resolution is to not listen to that little voice. You know, the one in the back of your head that tells you all sorts of nasty things. That you weigh too much, you're not cute enough, that you're just not good enough for a million and one silly reasons. Why are we our own worst critics?

That little voice nearly got the best of me on Tuesday when I headed into a heavy snow to run. By the second mile, I was miserable. My shirts were soaked through with snow, it kept getting into my eyes, and I was worried about my phone getting ruined with all the moisture. But the worst part is that I wasn't listing off these reasons in my head. Instead I was thinking, "This is so dumb. I'm not even a real runner. Only real runners should be out in this. I'm just pretending." And so on. It was awful and dumb. I ran past the gas station and people were looking at me like I was nuts, and I thought, "They're totally like, 'that girl is so slow. who is she fooling?'" And yeah, they WERE thinking I was nuts, but I'm sure they weren't thinking it like that.

I finally stopped and ignored the little voice. Partly because I was three miles from home by that point, so I might as well just keep running, but partly because I forced myself to ignore it. Even if I'm not a real runner, even if I really didn't HAVE to go out and run Tuesday morning, I did. I dodged snow plow spray and stuck to sidewalks to avoid fishtailing cars. I had so much snow on me that I had top and brush off my fuel belt every mile or so. My hair was soaking wet by the time I was finished. The tracks I left at mile one were almost filled in by the time I ran back past them at mile six.

Mile seven put me right in front of my house, and I was so glad to get inside and take a hot shower. But more than that, I'm glad I ignored that nasty little voice.

Tell me, what does your little voice tell you? I bet it isn't true.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Light for the Holidays

Hi everyone, meet Lux.
I have a very special Etsy shop to share with you today. My bestie Leah created Vintage Lux a few months ago, in memory of her sweet kitty Lux. 100% of the profits of her store are donated to the Humane Society in her home county, which is desperately in need of a new facility after a fire damaged the shelter. Lux was a rescue kitty herself and probably one of the sweetest cats I've ever met. The last time we visited Leah, Lux was in heaven cleaning up the floor beneath my two very messy boys. She went for everything, even pieces of lettuce! The boys thought this was great and Luke still asks about Leah's black kitty. Unfortunately, this was the last time that we would get to see Luxy while she was still living, but I'll always remember her eating all the little dropped pieces of food.

Leah's shop is pretty cool. I'm personally digging this milk glass cookie jar, but this blue mason jar is pretty neat too. Leah has generously offered to give away a vintage Lux tote bag for the holidays, a perfect, eco-friendly way to carry Christmas presents, library books, or even groceries. All you have to do is visit Leah's shop and tell me which vintage, reclaimed item you like the best. And if anything catches your eye today, Leah has also offered up the code 'peace' to receive 10% off your purchase.

Giveaway will run until Friday, 12/16. Happy holidays!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

this history

I've been thinking a lot about history lately, since Victoria came to speak to my students.

I wonder sometimes what sort of history I'll have to pass on to my children. History, the real, deep parts of history, is becoming more distant. I've never lived through anything that's worthy of a chapter in a history book (not that I'm complaining because the things worthy of a chapter in a history book are usually big and scary). I've become more cognizant of what history there is around me, what things I should ask about and talk about, things that are big but maybe aren't in a history book.
Like how both of my parents had their blood types tattooed on them during the Cold War. Apparently blood type tattoos were done in the case of a nuclear attack from Russia, but--understandably--it was not widely done. They had it done during elementary school, walked down as a class and given tattoos. Can you imagine something like this happening today? My mom jumped, so hers is a blur, but my dad still has a clear, though faded, A+ tattooed on his side.

My mom is a polio survivor. She has this amazing collection of dolls and as a child, I remember learning that she got them when she spent a long time in the hospital as a child herself, with polio. I remember learning about Franklin Roosevelt in school and asking her later why she wasn't in a wheel chair or crippled in any way. She explained that she had the form of polio that attacks the respiratory system and showed me the dimple in her throat from the tracheotomy. When you look back at pictures, those were the kids in iron lungs. My parents both talk about what a scary time this was, because no one knew how polio was spread and Jonas Salk hadn't yet created a vaccine. There were quarantine signs on houses. People were afraid to let their children go public places. Can you imagine? I can't. This isn't my history, and yet, it is.

Back to this powerfully tiny woman...

You're probably tired of me talking about her, but I can't help it. I've been irrevocably changed by the depth of the lessons she taught me and my students. Again, there is the history that you read in books and then there is history. When she came last week, I introduced her to a colleague who teaches history. She said, "You teach history. I AM history." She is. I remember reading Night for the first time at fifteen and putting down the book and bursting into tears at his description of how the SS men threw babies in the air and used them for target practice. It was a moment of knowing but not knowing. I knew the horror of the Holocaust was extreme, but this was a level that I didn't know and then I did and it was almost too much to handle (yet, out of respect for those who LIVED it, I had to read it--I had to know).
It was like this with Victoria. I knew the horrors. In the years that have passed since reading Night, I've read countless books and watched countless documentaries on the Holocaust. I knew.

And yet, I didn't. I didn't know what it was like to watch the eyes of a 90 year old woman cloud with tears as she talked about watching an SS man take a crying baby and throw it into a wall and then, when she fainted at the sheer horror of it, she was beaten. I didn't know what it was like to watch the tears blink away, her voice thick with anger as she explained, "Because I was supposed to CLAP for him, because I was supposed to applaud him because everything they did was right. NO." I knew about the selection process at concentration camps, but to hear her talk with shame at having to take off her clothes while the soldiers stood around and watched and told them Polish people were dirty and still all these years later, she feels she has to explain, "We were not a dirty people, this was not true." To bite my lip against the tears as she tells how the old women and children under seven went one way, while she went another way and they never saw those women again. Just like that. I knew this, but I didn't. Because this is her history. It's written down in books, but it isn't. The words in the books aren't the same as looking into the bright green eyes of someone who lived it, someone who faced these atrocities and is not afraid to stand up and say how they were wrong and how it taught her to channel her anger into good. imagine, learning a lesson from the hurt. We could all use to do this.

Just when I started to think I couldn't be more in awe, Victoria came back to speak to the rest of my students on Thursday and handed me a Christmas present. I didn't understand. I stood there dumbly, because why was SHE giving ME something, when it was me who owed her so much? She said, "Open it, tell me if you like it." I pulled out a beautiful table runner and again, stood there dumbly as her daughter said, "She made that for you." This. She made THIS for ME.

I don't know what I did to deserve it and looking at it makes my heart twist in a million ways, ways that I can't even tell you. We have the perfect table for it, too, but the words are failing me. She gave herself in so many deep, raw ways to myself and to my students and yet, she went home and crocheted me a table runner, like she had to give more. The lump in my throat grows each time I look at it.

I don't have history of my own, but I have this table runner that was made by the hands of a woman who survived the Holocaust and kept with her a spirit that refused to be broken. I have the words to teach my children when they're older, to share her history with as much depth as I can muster. It's not written in a book. Instead it sits on my table, it lives within my heart and mind and my promise to never, ever forget.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

her hands held history

When I was 16, I went to Europe on a school trip. I got my first job at 15 to pay for this trip, so badly I wanted to go. One of the events on our trip was a visit to Dachau--an event that I looked forward to, in a weird sort of way.

I remember this day so vividly. It was a grey, overcast sky with a chill in the air. The perfect weather for something so somber. I remember the way the gravel crunched beneath my feet as we walked around. It wasn't a guided tour, we just walked and looked at everything. The barracks, the piles of shoes, the crematoriums still with soot marks on the bricks, the THOUGHT that those soot marks were once human so hard to comprehend all these decades later. To imagine the atrocities that went on in the very place where we now stood. The mass graves, the barbed wire, the sign that claimed that work was freedom. It was and still is one of the more poignant events of my life.

Today a Holocaust survivor came to speak to my students. I've been trying to arrange this for years, because my students struggle with understanding that these were real people, people just like them with hopes and dreams. She is so tiny. 90 years old with wispy white hair. I asked if she wanted to sit, she said, "No. I MARCH, so they listen to me." And listen they did. She told of the Germans coming silently, like thiefs in the night. How they took the religious men first, then they took the teachers. She told them that history always attacks the teachers first, because the teachers make you think and make you aware. She told of how all the teachers had to dig a hole and then one by one, the Germans shot them and buried them in the very grave they dug. She told of how she was arrested. A German soldier lifted up her skirt with a bayonet, and she smacked it away. She was beaten for that. How her brother was killed in a concentration camp. How her mother died from the operations done on her in a concentration camp. Of being placed in closed trucks and starved and afraid for her life and of working in a German military hospital because she could speak German. She talked of the Americans liberating and how all the German soldiers, the ones who weren't wounded, disappeared again like thieves in the night. How when she learned of liberation, she ran up and down the hall shouting and banging on things and celebrating and you could see it, this 90 year old woman, you could see it in her eyes how it must have been.

She spoke of so much that I can't even really put into words, not quite, how deeply moved I am, how my eyes clouded with tears at the pain and somehow, beauty of it. She told my students, "You might say, this couldn't happen to me. I said that once, too."
My students didn't want to leave the room even when I told them it was okay to go. This never happened. They lingered, some staying behind to hug her and say thank you. She asked each one their full name and delighted at the Polish last names.

We hugged tightly before she left. I gave her the cookies I made and said, "I know this isn't much of a thank you, but I hope you like them." She clasped my hands in her and told me she would enjoy them so much, that she loves cookies. My hands smell like her soft, powdery perfume as I type this. I can't quite tell you the strength and power held within that moment, sixty years between us--her surviving untold atrocities, me this morning, worrying about how my students would behave for her--yet somehow connecting in that single handheld moment over a plate of chocolate chip cookies.

linking up with Just Write

Monday, December 5, 2011

It's Beginning To Feel...

A teeny, tiny bit like Christmas. A very tiny bit. Actually, scratch that. I keep forgetting it's December. Saturday, I ran past a sign advertising a pancake breakfast for December 4 and I thought, "That's weird. Why would they have that up so soon?" Then I ran about a half mile and interspersed with my usual thoughts of wondering why the hell I punish myself by running, I thought, "Wait! December 4 is TOMORROW."
I'm really feeling very challenged by the calendar lately. Part of my confusion has to do with the lack of snow and fairly mild temperatures. THIS IS NOT A COMPLAINT. I do not need snow, no, I don't. But at the end of October, I bought a ton of cold weather running gear to prepare for running right now and so far, I'm just wearing tights and a long-sleeved shirt. And by the end of the first mile, I've pushed up my sleeves.

We don't yet have our tree. We get a real tree and usually wait until mid-December to cut it. I hate when the needles dry out and fall on the floor. We'll get our tree Saturday and I'm pretty excited. We have lights up outside the house and have since December 1st. I love how they brighten everything.
Yesterday, I put up the Fisher Price nativity set. I hate the Willow Tree nativity set and spent years building up to the full set. We used to place it on a table in our living room, but Tommy is very much at the age where he likes to smash things, so this year, we put the plastic nativity set in the living room. This morning, he went barreling at it full speed and knocked over the camels and the shepherds. I said, "Watch out, Bethlehem. Here comes the Tommy tornado."

We do, however, have our Willow Tree set up downstairs. Actually, it stays up all year long. Someone (who is related to me by marriage, but that's all I'll say) made fun of us for having it up in June, implying that we were lazy and hadn't yet taken down our Christmas decorations.

Not so. Regardless of what you believe or don't believe, isn't it simply a message of hope? Even if you think the Christmas story is just that--a story--thematically, it's a story of hope and don't we need hope year round? Not just for a few weeks in December?