Beyond Bed and Bath

IMG_5121Shopping for bed sheets today at Bed Bath, and Beyond, my arms are full. A helpful employee asks if I need a cart.

“Yes, that would be nice,” I say.

“I’ll get you one,” she tells me.

She’s African American, and immediately I feel the usual, overly self aware, sensation, afraid I’ll do or say something wrong, act phony, or come across as, “Hey, I’m one of the nice white people.” See jenncastro.com/2014/12/07/take-your-seat-white-america/

Lately, I’m very aware of micro aggressions, where white people naively say or do something insensitive to a person of color. I don’t want to commit a micro aggression.

Aware I am definitely over complicating the interaction, I’m certain she is making sure I know, that by helping me, she is just doing her job. Still I’m aware that whenever I’m around an African American person, I feel like I’m seeking to be forgiven.

“Could you tell me where to find the kid’s sheets?” I ask.

“My children’s sheets are behind you to the left,” she responds. A minute later, I’ve forgotten the directions and walk through the store in an endless circle. Cycling back to her department, I have to repeat my question.

She tells me. I don’t find what I want, and seek her help again, “Do you have printed queen size sheets?”

She doesn’t, but offers to special order them.

I hesitate, “Will there be a shipping fee?” I ask.

“That would depend on the cost,” she replies. She looks it up, and there is.

“Well, I’ll just get these,” I say pointing to the drab beige in my cart.

“Maybe shipping could be waived for a one-time deal since we’re out of stock,” she offers. It can. I thank her.

“Would you like to pay here or downstairs?” she asks.

“Here is easier,” I respond. I give her all my information. She suggests I continue my shopping and offers to find me to give me the hard copy of the receipt.

I tell her I’ve finished shopping, so she invites me to follow her to the printer. I do.

We walk through the endlessly full, busy aisles. We don’t talk. I don’t expect to. Arriving at the printer, I’m aware of every move. I extend my hand to hers to receive the receipt, thank her, and head down the escalator to finish my other purchases.

But I want to thank her more. How? I wonder as I wait on line. About to leave, I ask to see a manager. “Was there a problem?” the cash register employee asks.

“Not at all, I just received some very nice help from someone upstairs, and I want to let her manager know,” I offer.

“Do you know her name?” he asks. I don’t.

“She’s an African-American woman in the bedding department,” I respond.

“Yes, I know her, I’ll tell the manager,” he says.

Suddenly I feel connected. Maybe I helped. A little.

Here’s a question.

Any action around the Black Lives Matter movement you can take, today?

Black Lives Matter.

Remembering Jane

I don’t know why I remember, but at church one Sunday I stayed sitting when everyone else got up to sing. Then I looked left, and a woman three seats down was also still sitting. I don’t know why I remember but her hair was scraggily. I don’t know why I remember but she was holding her stomach. I don’t know why I remember but she was wearing a lime green skirt and torn yellow leggings. Her sweatshirt and her arms were wrapped around her middle, and her head was down. She was wrapped up inside her own arms. She was wrapped small, but I think standing she would be taller than me, which isn’t saying much, but it’s saying something. I don’t know why I remember, but after I rose to sing the last stanza if only to drown out the man down the row who always sings off-key, I looked again and the woman was still sitting. The song was over, and I don’t know why I remember, but everyone but me walked away. I stood staring, watching everyone walk away and was about to walk away too, but I didn’t. I don’t know why I remember, but it seemed like I should go talk to her. I don’t know why I remember, but I didn’t know what to say. I ran sentences through my mind. Ask if she’s ok; see if she wants to talk. See if she needs money. See how she found the church. I stood staring. I don’t know why I remember, but I wasn’t self conscious about staring. If she were someone I knew, I wouldn’t have stared but she was so wrapped up inside I didn’t think she noticed me and so I took advantage. I don’t know why I remember but I decided to sit down next to her and ask if she was ok and I don’t know why I remember but I do, she said, “No.” And I sat there and remembered that everything I’ve heard about helping someone is to listen, to simply sit with and be in their presence. And I don’t know why I remember, but it felt good to listen. And I don’t know why I remember, but eventually i talked too, to this complete stranger. I told her she wasn’t alone and that someone was there and she told me, “People are following me.” And I asked her, “Who?” And I don’t know why I remember, but I wanted her to feel believed. I don’t know why I remember but I asked her if it was ok if I put my hand on her shoulder and she said it was and I don’t know why I remember, but she cried. I think she felt as if some sadness could come out because someone was next to her. I introduced myself and she told me her name was Jane. I don’t know why I remember, but Jane told me that she knew people who practice witchcraft and that she was tired of locking up her things, and I told her that it must be hard to have to lock her things and I don’t know why I remember but I asked her if she thought she had a mental illness and she said, “yes,” and I thought that since she answered yes, maybe she wasn’t so far beyond gone, and I don’t know why I remember but I told her that she must have done something to get herself to the church and that maybe she didn’t need to understand everything but that maybe it was important that she came to church today. And I asked her if she was homeless and she said sometimes. And I don’t know why I remember, but she said thank you for sitting with me, and that makes me smile right now while I remember. And then I asked her if she wanted a cup of coffee and if she would like to meet our minister and she said yes then I introduced them to each other, and walked away. I feel bad about that, but I wasn’t sure what else to do, so later I talked to the minister again. And that night I sent notes to all the people I know who work with mentally ill or homeless people and I got some ideas about how to help her and I wrote them down and put them inside my purse for her and she was on my mind all that week and still is from time to time, when I see that piece of paper in my purse. And I still don’t know why I remember, but that was a lot to remember.

Giggles At Screen Free Week

Mother's Day adviceAsked by Wooden Horse owner Kevin Mukai what can you do without a screen, kids said, “Swing on the swings, dig in the sand box, play a game, eat, read a book,” and “build a robot.” Launching the Wooden Horse’s annual Screen Free Week was Elementary School Teacher Susan Shirley reading stories in her lovely performing way as some 25 kids and parents listened entranced at the Wooden Horse Pajama Party. I also got to read MOM ME and hear familiar giggles from kids and parents on hearing that first line, “My mommy is not a…” What a fun night at the Wooden Horse. If you’re local, visit the shop on Thursday for a game night when a special guest appears.

It’s 10 p.m. Do You Know Where Your Glasses Are?

IMG_8391A friend remarks that some people need to keep a bit of anxiety in their life, “The brain searches for equilibrium to stay comfortable.” How true.

Diagnosed years ago with nearsightedness, it’s taken just as many to learn how to keep track of my glasses. How can that be? Why not put them in the same place each time I remove them?

That’s what I tell my kids to do with their shoes, and they do. That’s what my husband does with his glasses, and he’s worn them only two years.

Following my partner’s advise, I designate a container and spot on a shelf and label it “Jenn’s Keys and Glasses”. The system works — until I stop using it. More honestly I resist using it. Curiously, I convince myself that, when waking up, breakfasting at the kitchen table, leaving my car, walking into the house, If I put my glasses in a new place, I will remember. But I don’t. Next I admit to the four other places I leave them and make a sign listing where to check. IMG_8389

But the resister in me gets more creative. I leave them in new locations (by the cook book, on the shelf at the kitchen window, at the piano, and tell myself, “You’ll remember.” (I don’t). Upping the anti, I scatter them in additional random spots: on the game closet shelf, near the gardening tools in the garage, atop the chicken coop door.

Sometimes I won’t even check the five places labeled on the basket. My refrain becomes, “Anyone know where I left my glasses,” and my sons’ mantra becomes, “Check your list.” The worst is when, they tell me what I tell them, “Think about the last place you put them.” At least some know the system.

Last week I got serious about routine (http://jenncastro.com/2015/03/23/routine-questions/) and made a new commitment to keep track of my glasses. They have one place — In the basket.

But here’s the thing, even though I am ready to allow orderliness into my glasses life, it is not easy. Removing them, I sense a tug to leave them wherever I am. Fighting the tug, and taking my husband’s advice, “Always put them back. Leave the case in the basket and when you’re done store them inside the case.”

The relief I feel when I find them in their place, inside their case, is incredible. And if finding my glasses can calm me, what’s next? My keys? See sign, I solved that years ago, most of the time.

Is it true that committing to a glasses basket is the sign of a sick mind (the clean desk story is next) and that our resistance to order makes us creative?

I think not.

I think it diverts our energy. Scatters it sideways.

What I wonder, is what to do with the newfound peacefulness?

How about you? Holding on to a little anxiety that keeps you a bit on the edge? Got any order you need to put into your life? How will you respond to the newfound energy?

 

 

 

 

 

Routine Questions

waiting on wednesdayI have time compartments that dictate what I can do when. “Work,” which means school stuff, is roughly 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday. Weekday evenings are for cooking dinner, a meeting here and there, and a lot of I’m not really sure what.

Brainless play is Friday night. Socializing, the occasional (but strongly needed – more about that soon) intellectual talk, and sometimes dinners out, happen on Saturday night.

Pancake breakfast (from time to time), soccer playing and ref-ing, household shopping, cleaning (sort of) and fixing broken things (a bit) is for Saturday. Church, and a lot more of I’m not sure what, is on Sunday.

That’s my routine. Sound familiar?

Here’s what I wonder — if keep this schedule, when will I finish writing my book?

So I’ve started disassembling that routine. Here’s an example:  Recently, my family made plans on a Saturday night. I could have made plans with a friend, but instead, I stayed home — to write. The next day, they went out again, and I stayed home — to write.

The result of staying home on those days, is that, from the inside of some where, small chunks of time for writing have started falling into my lap (top). The more I risk facing my blank or sloppily organized page(s), the more time I find. The more I stop myself from saying, “yes” to  things I’m used to, and instead answering that small tug that whispers, “Here’s an hour, take it,” the result is a new routine.

Last week, I read a book (well, actually a chapter) about another writer’s routine, the kind I long for, because it’s orderly. She wakes each day to meditate, workout, say mantras, read some soulful pages, eat oatmeal and grapefruit, plan and pencil in this and that, until she’s ready to write — five pages…

For me, for today, it’s “Time appeared, grab it, sit, write,” or “Everyone’s going out Friday, don’t make plans,” And I don’t, so that I do – write.

So here’s a novel, so to speak, question, is there a schedule you need to shake down so you can do what you want to but don’t cause you haven’t asked your self a routine question? Maybe it’s time.

 

Seduced by Paul

After nearly 13 years of holding strong, I gave in to Paul. I still can’t decide if’s wrong.

I rationalize that I’m not so bad, and that at long last, I have joined the 21st century.

After all lots of people do – buy Newman’s Own Ranch Dressing, and a host of other prepackaged this and that.

Still, I struggle with the pre-made. But equally, I tire of researching recipes for homemade, making it, and then hearing my kids still want his ranch dressing.

What is wonderful about store bought? Is it the buttermilk fat solids?

A mom friend once told me her then 5-year-old son requested store bought hot chocolate. He didn’t want real chocolate mixed with sugar and milk. Paraphrasing, he told her, “Mom, I like corn syrup.”

Boxed macaroni and cheese was the favorite in another friend’s family. Researching the secret ingredient, she learned it was whey, bought some, and made her own. She succeeded.

About mac and cheese, my kids like the real thing, but offer homemade rice or chocolate pudding over the stuff in a pint container in the dairy section, and the pint container wins, chicken tenders from the barbecue restaurant star over a home collection of spices to bake it at home.

Is it wrong to buy foods containing soybean oil, buttermilk solids, natural flavor, and xanthium gum? Possibly not. Even so, I struggle. In the end, I buy them once in a while. What foods do you give in to? Any once-in-a-while-foods in your refrigerator or cabinet?

 

Orange Twist

orangesOut of the blue, I bring my friend an orange. Grab it from the fruit bowl on the way out the door. We meet for a chat, and as we part I tell her, “Oh, I have something for you.” She’s just moved, and her new home is in boxes. Life is busy. Her eyes light up when it hand her the piece of fruit, “Just yesterday, I wanted an orange, and I didn’t know how I’d get to the store.” How did I know? Did I?

Continuing my orange jag, one Wednesday, I pack three in my lunch bag; one for me, and one for each kid. But that’s where the story twists. While one kid leaves for class, the other stays in the car to study. Hearing a muffled mutter, I turn to find a man near my door.

Covered in hair, many layers of clothes, and packs, and dirt-crusted nails, he is holding an empty cup. I sense he wants money. My purse is in the trunk, and I’m reluctant to locate it. Trying again to see if I can afford this homeless man any dignity, I ask my question, “How can I help?”

But he’s too far gone and cannot articulate, so I assist, “Would you like a piece of fruit?”

He cannot say. Choosing for him, I hand him my orange.

Later I tell my son a wish. “What if I could bring him a sandwich every day, and leave it at the edge of the parking lot. He could come to trust that lunch would await him. Maybe that could change his life somehow.”

“That would be cool mom, but you better be careful he doesn’t tell his friends about it,” he cautions. I smile thinking about a line of homeless folks gathering to capture my row of sidewalk sandwiches.

But what if each of us who can brings an orange, or a box of crackers, or an extra sandwich to share? When I hand that piece of fruit to that man, I wonder if it shines a very small light in his life. I know that his crusted dirty hand looked a bit brighter holding that sweet piece of orange fruit.

Like the orange I gave my friend, I don’t know why I carried them with me that day. Not sure it matters, more important is that I had something to give away and I did.

Anything you need to bring along today? Anything you need to share?

 

 

Catch Me

IMG_8370A coach once asked, “Describe games you enjoy.” Playing catch topped the list. Why?

It’s the smack in the glove;

The successful clasp of the disc between the fingers;

The rush of the fast push of the playground ball into both hands;

The happy, he chose me to throw to;

The connection of one to another across an arch of gravity;

The smile when your partner leaps and catches the near miss.

“I’m sorry,” you casually mumble when the Frisbee veers up and back in an embarrassingly unintentional curve.

“Oops, he confesses when the thrown ball meant to move one direction and landed in the weeds instead.

But catch is not all fun and games.

I have noticed it takes courage to play. At the beginning the game is orderly. The first throws to the right. Then that receiver tosses to her right and so on around the circle.

Then in one unplanned moment, there comes a curve. The player with the ball, switches the pattern and throws across the circle. Standing seemingly alone in my small group of family or friends, there’s a game change. Perched there, half wanting to make eye contact to say, “Yes, I’m free to catch,” the other eye says, “Don’t seem too eager to receive.” Holding back I look away aloofly so I don’t convey, “I’m waiting,” or “I hope you’ll throw one this way.” or worse to not care too much when left out two times around the circle.

Growing up, every year some in my family made a pilgrimage to the vacation home. Leaving the city house, my dad packed a Frisbee and ball in the car. Once we’d moved into our new place, dad got the toys and we’d play catch in the driveway or street.

I loved the tricks. My dad staring me down while throwing to my sister. Thinking the ball was for me, I’d reach to receive while my sister was thrown for a surprise. Fast balls, quick ones, high tosses, over the head, under the legs to me, to me to me.

In those moments, I am caught and nothing beats being part of the game. Included. Participating. When someone throws a ball or a Frisbee, all is good. And when the ball smacks into your hand or lands firmly in your fist, all is right.

Here’s a few questions: What do you enjoy? If it’s catch, are you throwing or receiving? Chosen? Participating? When in the game, all is good.

 

 

 

 

 

Saving the World

shower-curtain-world-map-4Before throwing away the world last week, I almost saved it. Thinking I could make things from it, I considered cutting up the continents and boxing them for a future project. I contemplated snipping those seven islands into sections and using them right away. How about pasting them onto cardboard for a geography lesson? Heck it almost became a drop cloth for a painting project.

For a second, I considered donating it to Goodwill. Thankfully in light of the battered plastic and missing grommet holes, better sense moved in.

Yup, a shower curtain almost got stored in a crate surrounded by a lot of pressure to make something new from it.

Instead I took that old plastic sheet and, not as my kids might quote from a currently famous YouTube spot, “I took it and I threw it on the ground,” I took it and I threw it in the trash barrel. The should-guilt lasted for a tiny New York City apartment minute. “Keep it, reuse it, recycle it,” my packrat self counseled. But like the bits of food left in my refrigerator that mold, decay, and eventually need to be composted or chucked, the shower curtain left my house the first time.

I still believe I can act each day to help our planet stay clean and clear, but I, unfortunately won’t be able to save this old world by saving and storing my old shower curtain. Thus, I let it go.

Here’s a; question:  Anything you’re saving these days that it’s time to let go of? Is it better to toss it now rather than letting it rot in the fridge or collect dust in a box?