Friday, October 28, 2011

Ring the Bell

Sometimes, you suffer what feels like a soul-crushing defeat.  It feels that every turn of good luck is met with an equally powerful dose of bad luck.

But here's the good news. 

Tomorrow, the sun will rise.  Your kids will smile at you, and you will find yourself smiling back.  Your favorite song will come on the radio, and you'll find yourself humming along.  Maybe you check your winter coat pocket and find a leftover 10 spot.  Or maybe you don't, but the sun's still up and you've still got a chance to turn things around.

And that's when you find out what you truly believe.

I'm sad for our Rangers.  I'm devastated for my long-time, die-hard Ranger faithful friends.  It is little salve to say that it was an incredible match of wills and determination that unfortunately didn't go our way.  But here's what people don't realize: sometimes you are strongest and most dangerous with your back against the wall, and that's when the fighters really step into the ring.

So shake off the bad.  Lace up your gloves.  Wait for the bell.  Come out swinging.

And tomorrow, when you walk out the door, don't forget to check your pockets.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Buyer Beware. It's a $30 Rant.

Take a look.

What might that be?  A clean desk?  No...  A new manicure?  Not so much...

It's a pencil.  That's right.  A pencil.  And before you roll your eyes and click that little red "x" in the corner, understand this... That's a $30.00 pencil.

Oh, you heard me right.  I didn't stutter.  That, my friends, is a $30.00, not-fancy, not-even-mechanical, will-be-devoured-in-5-turns-of-my-jacked-up-pencil-sharpener kind of pencil.

Uh. huh.

Now, I have to confess.  I didn't know that I was buying a $30.00 pencil.  Frankly, I hate pencils.  Detest them.  The writing's faint and reflects the light.  They smudge.  They leave eraser shavings all over my desks and require no less than 23 trips to the pencil sharpener per day.  I abhor pencils.

So, I'm sure that you're positively puzzled as to how I wound up with such an unwanted treasure.  Well, I'll tell you. 

I donated to a charitable cause.  And this was my "thank you".  I found it in an envelope addressed to me.  Without so much as a thank you form letter inside. 

A pencil.  In an envelope.

Now, before I get tens of emails/comments chiding me with phrases like, "It's the thought that counts" or "You should be grateful for even the smallest things" and treat me like some ungrateful wench, understand this:  I love to give.  Love it.  Can't resist it.  I buy cookie dough and gift wrap and coffee from every little kid with a fundraiser pamphlet.  I don't even drink coffee, but I'll buy it.  You're jumping rope for heart?  Tell me how much your mom pledged.  I'll probably double it.  Bowling for Kids?  Knock $50 worth of pins down for me!  You've lost your mind and decided to run 26.2 miles for cancer research?   Better you than me!  Here's my check, Crazy Face!

That's who I am.  A sucker giver.

You are funding educational grants for teachers who never have the funds to do all the things for their students that they can?  I'm in for $30!  And normally, I'd be in for a lot more ,but I bought a crap ton of giftwrap and coffee this year.  For real, you're all getting coffee. for Christmas.  Or Tuesday.  Gift-wrapped coffee.

Understand another thing, however, before you place that trinket in an envelope with a scrap of paper with my name taped to the front (I mean for God's sake, can't you at least take the time to hand write my name?).  I DON'T WANT IT!  In fact, it seems a tad trite and pathetic.  And junky.  It makes me wonder how when our state and district is in an enormous budget crunch, you're still shelling out the bucks to Oriental Trading Company for engraved pencils or coffee mugs. 

Last year, when I donated a bit more, I got a mug.  For the coffee I don't drink.  But at least I can't sharpen away a coffee mug.  For real.

More than just the ridiculous eyeroll that one little pencil brought on, it made me start to think about our entire society, and I became outraged.  That's right.  Pencil = All of Society's Problems.

That's how my Rage Brain works.  Just FYI, I'm like the Incredible Hulk of Illogical Rage. 


Why does our society request expect demand something in return all the time? Why is a simple thank you or a personal note or a phone call not enough? Has real gratitude gone out of fashion entirely?  Or do people just think that if you throw something -- anything, really, no matter how craptastic -- at you, that you will not only continue to give but also somehow be satisfied?  Are they expecting me to whip out my PENCIL at the grocery store to write a check only to have the man behind me inquire in a squeally wondrous voice, "Heavens to Betsy!  Where upon Earth did you find such a marvel of lead and wood?"  And then when I explain that it came from the recipients of a charitable donation, do they expect him to run out and throw some money their way?  No.  He won't.  Mainly because I broke your little thank you gift in the midst of a Hulk-Out.

I fully understand that not every kindness should merit a plaque or medal or t-shirt or even a coffee cup.  It shouldn't.  You shouldn't do something with the expectation of getting a return; feeling good about yourself should be quite sufficient.  But it is nice to be appreciated.  It's really nice.  Just don't patronize me.  Sometimes it's enough just to hear a thank you, receive a hug, or see a picture of what your small kindness created.  Instead of just figuring out a way to spend a little money to say thanks for gathering a ton of money, THINK.  Think about who gave the gift.  Think about who they are as a person.  Know your audience.  Grab someone's heart, and you're sure to get a lifetime of contributions.  Junk up their desk drawers and kitchen cabinets, and all you'll get is an eyeroll and a healthy dose of Rage Brain Hulk-a-Mania.  I guarantee it.

Lest I leave this on a bitter note, I made sure today to not just take pictures of that measly pencil.  I also wanted to share some of the notes and thank-yous that mean the most to me. 

1.  A thank-you note from a co-worker after his adoption shower.  It wasn't just the note; it was the words he chose and they way those words spoke to me.  While we'd worked together for 11 years and become friends, I would never have thought that my presence and support could mean so much.  And when he called me Aunt Deana, I was hooked.  I look at that note, with it's crayon-scrawled 6 year-old signature, every day when I go to work.  I didn't take a picture.  I wish I had now.  It's completely precious.

2.  Home-made certificate.  On plain white paper.  Cheap but clever.  Clever always works.  In case you can't read it, it's a Taco Bell Fire Sauce packet, and it says, "Thanks for all your hard work!  You've really been on FIRE" and "Way to think 'Outside the Bun'".  I'll never throw it away.

For just the cost of a bean burrito, you can make someone's day...

or this one:

3.  I found it in my mailbox at work.  A plain piece of paper with the words "You're doing a great job" penciled in.  No reason.  No signature.  But I found it on a day when I really wasn't believing I was doing a great job.  Even though I recognized the writing right away, it didn't matter.  At all.  Because THAT'S when the thought really counts.

Although in pencil, not in $30 pencil. 

or this:

This picture screams, "My run and your donation are helping to kick Cancer's ass!" 

That's my sort-of sister, Amanda, after finishing her 13.1 mile half-marathon.  It was my pleasure to donate to her cause.  I got a wonderful thank you on my Facebook and even better -- a chance to see her success, in full-on America's Next Top Model jumping fashion.  And her smile.

Or this:

I'll wait while you sop your melted heart up off the floor.
Okay.  Maybe I orchestrated that thank-you photo by making sure I gave a present proclaiming love for me on it.  Or this:

Not really a thank you.  But still.  How cute is that kid?  And how many birthday checks and college fund donations will I make as a result of that video?  That's what I call a preemptive thank you strike.

So go forth.  Be gracious and giving, and when someone gives to you, don't forget to say thanks. 

But not with a pencil.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Reconciling Wrigley for the Rangers

I have always loved baseball. 

Maybe it's the combination of the smells of freshly mown grass and the leather of a glove. Maybe it's the laid-back feel of a warm afternoon game. Maybe it's that the season starts in the spring, a notorious symbol of re-birth and hope. I do love a good notorious symbol, you know. Or maybe it's just the child-like simplicity of having a catch and swinging the bat. Whatever the reason, I loved it.

As a child, my earliest memories are of going to see my mom's league softball team play. I think she played 2nd base and maybe a little shortstop. My dad was their coach. I barely ever paid attention (I couldn't have been more than 5 or 6), but I will never forget the clang of the ball on the bat, the moths hovering around the stadium lights or the taste of a purple sno-cone on my tongue.

As I got older, I would bring home my softball league form and stare at it obsessively until my mom filled out the form. Then she, or my dad, or my brother, and I would go out to the yard to start warming up my arm. Games out on our dusty old field. My coach, Ricci, with a cigarette tucked behind her ear and good ol' Martha Harris strutting up to the plate to knock me in. And Lord, could that girl ever swing the bat.

And when I couldn't play ball, I was watching it on TV. When I was young, my hick-town television got four channels:  ABC, NBC, CBS... and WGN. The Chicago station. Because that makes perfect sense for Clarendon, America. Every summer day, I'd catch a Cubs game and watch Andre Dawson and Shawon Dunston and Greg Maddux and Mark Grace and Ryne Sandberg... oh, Ryne Sandberg, how I loved you. I learned everything I know about 2nd basemen from you.  Turning a double play without getting taken out by the runner. Taking care of your shortstop.  Applying the tag on a steal. I probably should have mentioned you in my 1988 little league MVP speech. Well, if I'd had one. Or if I'd been the MVP. 


Every fall, however, I'd be disappointed. But a Cub fan wears her disappointment like a badge of honor, so I never gave up hope. It's the thing that everyone who is not a Cubs fan detests about Cubs fans. Someday, my team would be in that World Series. Someday.

Even when I moved to a city where there's an actual major league team, I couldn't let the good ol' days go. Sure, I took my first trip to a major league game at the Ballpark, and I even got to see my Cubs up close and personal during inter-league play once. It was wonderful but not nearly so incredible as it was to be 10 years old, cross-legged and too close to the t.v. with my fingers crossed and a prayer for a win upon my lips. And no seventh inning stretch touches a Harry Caray rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame". I loved Harry Caray. There was a hopefulness in the start of each broadcast that you just couldn't shake.

Somewhere along the way, I lost that love for the sport. I didn't hate it necessarily. I went to games. I tuned in when I had time. The postseason just always seemed to take a backseat to my need to finish a 7th grade volleyball season with my spirit intact. Also, the thought of squeezing my eyes shut and whispering a prayer for 9 innings, all the way to Chicago (as an adult because I totally did it as a kid) just felt a little silly. Then, in the summer of 2010, the Rangers started picking up steam and stirring up trouble. And just like that, I fell back in love with baseball.  Lord, I fell hard. It wasn't just that they were winning, and it wasn't simply that they were making such dear friends of mine so incredibly happy. It was that they made it fun again. Every time they made Bullwinkle-style antler hands or put up the claw or hugged each other in the dug-out, it felt real. And genuine. And hopeful.

My Lord, it felt hopeful.  And I do love hopeful.

I tried not to fall for them because I'm supposed to be a Cubs fan.  It felt like cheating. Was I cheating? Or worse? Was I on the... bandwagon?  *shudder*

Every game I went to or run that I cheered, I wondered if ol' Harry was up in Heaven, shaking his great big, beer-soaked noggin at me and wondering how it is that I couldn't name a single Cubs player on the roster but I could name every Ranger. The disapproval staring me down from behind those big black frames was almost too much to bear. I couldn't help it though. They got to me. They lured me in with their enthusiasm, as boundless as their bats and baserunning, and their work ethic. I can't help but wonder how much Harry Caray would love these guys. I think he'd love them quite a bit.

For the past few months, I've been keeping a close eye on the boys. And as the season's intensified, so has my angst. Not just in the last remaining guilt that I hold on to, but also... how do I handle the fact that the team I'm supporting is not only in the World Series but is leading the Series' standing?  I've never been on the winning side of a baseball series in late October. Yet as the games go by, and I catch myself changing, mid-game, into my "lucky shirt" from the hamper, screaming obscenities at Tony LaRussa and Albert Pujols (who cannot hear me in St. Louis, but no matter), whispering a prayer with each at-bat, and running the bases with Elvis and Ian and Wash, I find that I'm closer to that 10 year-old Cubs fan than I've been in a long, long time. She just happens to be in a (possibly dirty) Rangers shirt. And it feels good. And genuine. And right. 

So, now I'm a Rangers fan who still really loves the Cubs. And Ryne Sandberg. Guilt-free.

But that's okay with me because A) They are a team who seems to genuinely like one another and have a hell of a good time playing baseball together.  I adore that.  2) I take comfort in the idea of not only rooting for the Rangers but also against the Cards (a longtime Cubbie rival).  Finally) On Sunday night, Derek Holland even introduced the ghost of Harry Caray to a whole new generation.  I'm sure that Harry did shake his big ol' noggin at that one just before he started laughing.   Then he cracked open a Budweiser.

And this... tell me there's not just a little resemblance.

Or is it just me?  I'm taking it as a blessing.

Go Rangers.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

It's the Small Things

I... Am... Alive. 

I swear.  For the tens of you keeping up with me via the interwebs, take your fingers off the 9.

I'm here.  I am just mother effin' tired.  In 3 days, I'm almost at 40 hours of work.  That makes 2 days left to go.  I left this evening around 6:45 PM just to make sure I saw the sun this week.  It's been a series of work tirelessly for 4 or 5 days straight and then go comatose on the weekends.  It's a go, go, go, go... CRASH/BURN cycle.  And I'm so not the only one in this, so I try to keep my bitching to a minimum.  The fact that people are keeping this pace and then going home to do things like cook dinner for their kids or iron their husbands' shirts flipping astounds me.  I can barely change the cats' water dish.  And I can rationalize them drinking from the toilet. 

Every day, I feel like the pressure intensifies even more.  New kids.  New schedule.  New responsibilities.  Same ol' challenges.  Oh.  Annnddd... a NEW TEST.  When we're still on the hot seat with the last one.  The journey into the Great Unknown has begun.  And, everywhere, there are constant reminders that if we aren't successful, it'll be time to re-apply for... your... own... job.  I was the first teacher in yesterday at 6:45 AM and the last teacher out at 8:45 PM.  Now that's not the norm, but it's also not a rarity.  When I got in my car, I sat in the parking lot and sobbed for 2-3 minutes straight just to have some sort of release. 

Then I pondered taking up drinking full-time.  I bought dinner on the fly and then wound up putting it in the fridge because I was too tired to eat.  I was asleep within an hour.  I am unsure how to keep up this pace.

It's hard to have fun at work in the midst of all the tension.  But, by God, we're trying.  It's important to still find ways to have fun.  That's what I like about my co-workers.  The teachers in "A" Lunch are somehow under the impression that they are better than "B" Lunch, my lunchtime crowd.  As we're all fairly competitive and unwilling to give anyone else any sort of edge, much jaw-jacking (see "talking smack") has ensued.  Yesterday, when they stole all the chocolate from the Half-Price Books gift basket during A-Lunch, I put them all ON NOTICE. 

(This really doesn't mean anything since, unlike Stephen Colbert, I don't even have a NOTICE board, but still... a warning should strike some fear.)

Today, when I went to buy an afternoon snack from the lounge vending machine, I noticed these signs under the glass on the lunch table.  Subtle, yet hilarious.  I took some photos before those heathens see them and surely deface them somehow. 

Hunger Strikes, be damned.

Pseudo Political Testimonials

Straight shootin'

Historical perspective

Psychotic, former Heavyweight boxing champion testimonial

And my personal favorite...
I laughed until I cried.  Such a better batch of tears than yesterday, so I'm thankful for that.  It's the small things you have to treasure, people.  It's the small things.