Wednesday, December 21, 2011


I volunteered as a “Toy Shop Elf” at the Salvation Army’s Minneapolis Toy Shop yesterday, and it was a very rewarding and eye-opening experience — just in time for Christmas. My job was to escort adults while they “shopped” for gifts for their kids (up to age 12). There were stations set up for 0-2 years, 3-5 years, 6-9 years, and 10 and up, with boy and girl gifts in each station. Each person was allowed to choose two small toys (puzzles, games, dolls, etc.) or one large toy (ice skates, table-top air hockey game, boom box, remote-controlled car, etc.) per child, so basically I was there to help them decide, get them in and out as efficiently as possible, and make sure they didn’t try to take advantage of the system (I like to think that everyone would be honest if they were given the opportunity to shop alone, but there are always a few who feel entitled to more than their share).
Some observations
• Just because people are down on their luck doesn’t mean they don’t have an Xbox or Nintendo DS or CD or DVD players — I didn’t see a single video game on the tables of “goods,” and I only saw two CDs and two movies (and one was The Breakup!). I think a video game, movie, or CD would be a great gift for the right kid.
• I don’t know how many times a mom asked me if we had anything princess for her princess-obsessed daughter (a few books, that was it), and I didn’t see any Thomas the Train toys for boys. In the 3.5 hours I was there, I saw a total of two Barbies, which kind of surprised me. Do you think people shop differently than they would for a friend or relative when they’re donating to Toys for Tots or some other gift donation program? It seemed that way to me, but maybe the selection was just heavily game-focused the night I volunteered. (Not that there’s anything wrong with Candyland or Chutes or Ladders, but what kid doesn’t love a good toy on Christmas Day?!)
• I helped one frail young woman who grabbed my hand in her pale, bony hand, looked me in the eye, then said “Thank you SO much for doing this. Bless you. This means so much to me.” She then proceeded to tell me that her 7-year-old son, Kayden, was getting only one gift this year — and this was it. “If not for this program, he wouldn’t be getting anything,” she said through her tears. “And he’s such a good boy—he never asks for anything.” I almost started crying! She wound up choosing Battleship for him, so they could play the game together. I was tempted to tell her to grab another gift, just because she was so thankful, but I think she was the kind of person who would have refused.
• “Heaven” spelled backwards “Nevaeh” (Nev-ay-ah) was a popular name a few years ago, although I have yet to meet a Nevaeh in person. Last night I helped two women with a daughter named Nevaeh, my friend Alex also helped two women with daughters named Nevaeh. I also helped a woman who had a son named “Jamin.” I looked at the name, then asked her “Jammin’?” She shook her head no and said “No, his full name is Benjamin. We call him Jah-men for short.” (Ok then. That’s a new nickname for Benjamin!)
• Good parents are good parents, regardless of their income level. I know people who make over six figures who have greedy, spoiled kids, and I know people who are living in poverty who have respectful, polite, appreciative kids. Sometimes I think the kids who grow up without much of anything become the most giving adults.

The whole experience made me appreciate my family, my friends, my job, Aaron’s job (and good benefits), our little house (some would consider it a luxury), our car (even with a broken timing belt) so-so-so much.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Nothin' but love

Taking a cue from my dear friend Amanda, I thought I would write about the things I love—the things that make me who I am, the things that made me who I was before I was married and had kids. It’s a given that my family (my side and Aaron's!) makes me insanely happy, and my friends … so this list doesn’t include things like “I love that Aaron is the most stand-up guy I know, not only as a husband but as a dad, son, brother, and friend. I love that he's open-minded and sensitive and smart and funny and firm in his beliefs and stylish and handsome (my heart still skips a beat) and a great cook and a willing masseuse and that he's so modest he won't even tell me when he hits a home run (I have to hear it through the grapevine) and a hard worker and that he makes me feel like the luckiest girl in the world to have married him and, and, and ...” or “I love Adam’s curious personality and love of reading books and his beautiful big green eyes and mop of blond hair and the way he’ll spring out of bed and run downstairs just to give me another hug and kiss before I leave and, and, and ...” or “I love the fact that Ben will wear hats and wigs and buckets on his head just to get us to laugh and his big expressive brown eyes and his playful, fearless personality and the way he will grab my face and give me a sloppy kiss and, and, and ...” No, this list isn’t about my family and friends and why I love them, it’s about me. (As selfish as that sounds.) So, here goes:

I love chocolate chip cookies (no walnuts, please). I love a trashy People or US Weekly magazine every now and then. I love turtlenecks, jeans, and boots, although I do not always love the weather that accompanies that attire. I love bracelets. I love how clean the earth smells after a hard spring rain. I love Heath bars, my sister Mary’s homemade caramels, cheesecake ice cream, banana cream pie, Werther’s Originals, and chocolate covered potato chips (sooo good!). I love Scattergories, Cranium, Pictionary, Sequence, Password, Dominoes, Quelf, and Scrabble. I love crossword puzzles. I can talk to just about anyone and love meeting new people (I take after my dad). I love watching reality TV shows— American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, The Bachelor. I love British accents. I love being surrounded by women—friends, family, and coworkers—who are the epitome of smart is sexy. I love my Tacori wedding ring. I love a glass of white wine, but prefer a glass of good beer (Alaskan Amber, Leinie’s Honeyweiss with a slice of lemon, Summit EPA). I love snowboarding. I love the smell of Downy fabric softener. I love the diversity of the East Side (but could do without the crime). I love learning about the Victorian era—the homes, the fashions, the politics, the traditions. It seems like such a romantic time in history. I love the uncensored conversations, sense of camaraderie, and free-flowing laughter at baby showers, bachelorette parties, and girls’ nights out. I love tailgating before a Saints or Twins game. I love foreign and independent films (Amelie!). I love the loyalty, dedication, and enthusiasm of Packers fans. I love cats, and once told my mom I would have cats—not kids—when I “grew up.” I love when the muscles in my legs itch at the start of a long run—a reminder that I’m actually moving my body instead of sitting on the couch. I love that I was taught early on to respect and take care of the earth. I love clean-smelling candles. I love camping. I love watching track and field, gymnastics, figure skating, and snowboarding during the Olympics. I love that I helped elect our first black president. I love 80s music. I love lawn games. I love experimenting with new hair colors and styles. I love the annual ice fishing contest. I love pineapple. I love my brothers' hilarious impersonations. I love shopping and digging for a deal. I love Jack Black. I love Twilight Woods lotion from Bath & Body Works, it reminds me of college and sandalwood incense. I love watching Ellen (if I'm home on a weekday) and Chelsea Lately (if I'm up late). I love the humor of Mitch Hedberg. I love that I got to see Ellen's stand-up comedy in Portland and one of Mitch's shows in Seattle a year before he died. I love funky knee-high socks. I love Italian food. I love when I have time to actually wrap a gift rather than sticking it in a gift bag. I love everything about Halloween. I love that my Christmas card list includes friends in California, Colorado, DC, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Washington, and Wisconsin. I love scarves, but only in the fall or winter. (I know it’s a fashion statement, but wearing a scarf on a hot summer day seems ridiculous to me.) I love Meryl Streep, Tina Fey, Natalie Portman, Susan Sarandon, Salma Hayek, Charlize Theron. I love Macy's, Target, Marshall's. I love the old SNL cast, when the show was actually funny. I love that I am able to be present—in the moment—instead of always worrying about the past or fretting about the future. I love a good book. I love bonfires on chilly autumn nights. I love the color orange. I love documentaries. I love my mom’s chowmein hot dish. I love glitter, sparkles, sequins. I love community festivals. I love hugs that are actual hugs and not just polite pats on the back or awkward half-squeezes. I love boot-leg and flare-leg pants. I love it when someone positively defies a stereotype. I love Olay Total Effects UV Moisturizer + SPF 15 and wear it every single day. I love bowling (high score = 160.) I love the love and support in a room during a wedding. I love cheering for dedicated distance runners during marathons, and have traveled to Duluth for Grandma’s Marathon (3 times), Chicago (once) and down the street to the TC Marathon (3 times) to be “moral support” to friends who were running. I love the Beastie Boys, David Gray, Mumford and Sons, the Dixie Chicks, Dave Matthews Band, Pink, the Jayhawks, Michael Jackson, Bjork, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Soul Coughing, Bon Jovi, the Rolling Stones. I love my tattoo and what it stands for. I love sassy short hair. I love people who don't take themselves too seriously. I love top shelf margaritas with lots of salt on the rim. I love all dogs, but prefer medium-sized pooches over tiny ankle-biting yip-yips. I love having friends over, but would love it even more if we had the space to entertain. I love being exposed to new music when a friend makes me a mixed CD. I love Lancome Juicy Tubes lip gloss. I love Marie Clare. I love my long fingers, and still wish I had learned to play the piano. I love my comfortable yoga pants with the stretchy waistband. I love receiving homemade gifts. I love a clean-cut GQ man (never have been a fan of long hair on guys). I love delicate little tear drop earrings vs. giant dangly hoops. I love that I’m friends with so many talented artists and writers— creative types. I love Christmas (and every single one of our nine Christmas parties!). I love being a mix of French, German, Norwegian, and Swedish. I love taking photos. I love people who are modest about their beauty, their talent, their success. I love fast, easy recipes. I love Aveda products. I love hiking. I love celebrating birthdays with friends and family. I love Bradley Cooper, Paul Walker, Mark Ruffalo, John Krasinski, Dane Cook, David Spade, Anderson Cooper. I love going on long road trips. I love parties with a theme. I love the classic style of Ralph Lauren. I love going on double dates with my parents. I love being part of a family that truly enjoys one another's company. I love zipping down a hill on an inner tube in the dead of winter — makes me feel like a kid again. I love pretty, lacy underwear. I love creating and watching slideshows. I love the mountains, the ocean, the friendly people, the microbrews, the weather in Oregon. I love The Notebook. I love, love, love the music of Prince. I love learning. I love when a plane comes to a gently rolling stop, signaling that we have safely landed. I love people who aren't too materialistic. I love the twinkle of Christmas lights against a snowy background, the smell of real Christmas trees, having unique holiday traditions (in my family it's the annual drawing contest). I love how a man can put on just the right amount of cologne and instantly become more sexy. I love “going to the lake.” I love that I work in Minneapolis and have so many options for lunch. I love listening to KS95, Cities 97, the Current, and even 102.9. I love The Office, Modern Family, 30 Rock, Mad Men, How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory, and Parks and Rec. I love our goose down comforter. I love women who aren’t afraid to speak their minds, even if I don’t always agree with what they’re saying. I love that I get paid to write. I love Asian, arts and crafts, Moroccan, Mediterranean, French, and traditional decorating styles. I love the Minnesota State Fair. I love Ryan Gosling’s body in Crazy, Stupid, Love. I love hats of all shapes and colors. I love Starbuck’s salted caramel hot chocolate. I love libraries and bookstores. I love that I can grow old without growing boring. I love asking questions and finding out what makes people tick. I love planning get-togethers. I love getting a “real” letter or card in the mail. I love maroon or purple nail polish (only on special occasions). I love men who lean to the left. I love Chipotle burrito bowls with lime squeezed on top of everything. I love going to the theater. I love Greek salads. I love the sound of kids laughing. I love the beauty of the North Shore. I love watching my friends become parents. I love Ansel Adams, pop art, and anything stained glass. I love my warm (yet clunky) winter boots. I love garlic mashed potatoes. I love dancing. I love happy endings.