Sunday, November 23

The recycling-bin lady

When my grandma moved out of the home she raised her six children in and into an apartment for the 55+ age group, she had a lot of downsizing to do. She donated many of her clothes, years worth of kitchen supplies, and even her beloved sewing machine. Some of her children took old furniture and helped her move in. An organizational fiend, she put labels on everything and categorized all her possessions. It drove my own disorganized mother nuts, but it was certainly an admirable trait for a woman who pretty much single-handedly raised five boys and a girl all in very close age ranges. A needed trait, you might say.

So when my grandma arrived at her new place and set out her (labeled) recycling bin next to her trash can, she was astonished to discover her apartment complex--which had more than 100 units--didn't have recycling. "No recycling!" she exclaimed to my mother over the phone. "We'll see about that!" To a woman who weathered through the Great Depression, who handed out labeled cups at family reunions and instructed all of her grandchildren to use just one cup the whole week, who saved food scraps to pour into soups and stews ... to this woman who reused all of her aluminum foil until it crumbled apart in your hand, who scrimped and saved, who sewed and mended day and night, who made all of her children's clothes by hand--she could not comprehend the idea of not recycling. And she did something about it.

Circulating a petition among all of her new neighbors, my grandma garnered enough signatures to raise management's eyebrows and cave in. In her mid-80s, she still had the power to persuade and the will to act on her values and beliefs. Grandma became known as the recycling-bin lady.

My grandma died Thursday morning at a hospital in Norfolk, Virginia. She was 87 years old. And today, I walked by a full recycling bin in the lobby of her apartment building.

Wednesday, November 12

Put your money where your mouth is

This is my contribution to the APLS Carnival; this month's theme is "Buying Local."

When I was seven years old, I discovered that my friends received weekly allocations of money from their parents—for free—and this money could be traded for candy. They called it an “allowance.” I immediately went home and asked for one.

“Sure,” my dad, who worked in the economic sector, said.

I grinned.

“But first you have to tell me the name of each coin,” he announced, and spread out four different coins.

I frowned, and began studying. Penny, nickel, dime, quarter. Penny, nickel, dime, quarter. I recited their names over and over. Oh candy, you will be mine! I studied them forever (probably about 10 minutes) and declared myself ready for the quiz.

“Penny, nickel, dime, quarter!” I shrieked proudly as my dad produced each coin in turn.

“Great job,” he replied and ruffled my hair. “Now do it again,” he said, and shuffled the coin order. Crap.

I took that quiz a good five times before I had those coins down and an allowance was mine—all 41 cents of it. Penny, nickel, dime, quarter. After doling out the first installment, my dad tried to explain how money worked. “See this nickel? You won’t care if you have two nickels or a dime; they’re both 10 cents,” he explained patiently.

“But Dad, I would care,” I declared stubbornly.

“But they’re both the same amount,” he replied.

“I would still care,” I said, defending my nickel.

Flash forward more than two decades. My dad is an aging Republican who still works in the economic sector and I am his only child that was “accidentally swapped at the hospital.” The black sheep, if you like. My dad buys the cheapest tropical fruit at Wal-Mart without a second thought; I shop organic at my local farmers’ market. My dad picks up a bottle of Pert; I try making my own baking soda concoction in a recycled bottle. My dad laughs in surprise when I refuse to buy something made in China. “What do you have against the Chinese?” he asks.

“Nothing. I’m sure they’re perfectly nice workers,” I reply, thinking here we go again.

“Then why not buy their stuff?” he asks, bewildered. It is, after all, the cheapest choice, and I don’t exactly have cash coming out of my ears.

“Cuz I’d rather use my money to support small businesses around here, that’s why,” I said.

He scratches his head and puts his teacher voice on. “But honey, there’s nothing different between buying from a corporation and buying from a ma-and-pop store. The corporation has more workers to pay,” he explains, “so they need your money just as much.”

“The corporation takes my money and puts in the head honcho’s wallet. The small business uses it around town and it helps them stay in business with all the corporations in town trying to take over,” I explain.

“Why does it matter which town your money goes to?” he asks, still bewildered.

“Because I care,” I reply with a smile, and he ruffles my hair.

I still care … and my dad’s still cheap.

Sunday, November 9

Hope and a fist

I boarded the subway in my usual crazy rush-hour manner: breastpump jet pack on the back, lunch bag and work files in a shoulder bag, and a big ol' baby girl in my front carrier. I hobbled over to the last remaining empty seat and plucked down in it. Only you can't really pluck with this get-up; it's more like you teeter on the edge of the seat and hold on tight to said baby.

Across the row, there was a large man listening to headphones. Well, I don't know if he was actually large--he was one of those men that take up all the room they want regardless of how crowded the train is. The kind of fellow T passenger I despise. With a vengeance. This particular one was lazily taking up three seats in a standing-room only train.

When the train finally started moving, it stops suddenly again and announced there was traffic ahead. I groaned silently. It was Election Day and the polls closed in less than two hours. I'm quite sure many of these civic-minded individuals were hoping to make it to the polls after work, and I was worried they wouldn't now. Thankfully, I cast my vote prior to work--and walked uphill one mile to get there.

As always, the crowd maintained their code of silent so that when anyone does actually take it upon him/herself to speak, everyone listens. Or at least I do. And breaking the silence after several minutes was the lazy seat-taker-upper. He reached out across the two seats he was taking up and handed the young white guy with a nice watch a stick of gum. "Obama," he said, nodding to the guy's pin, and they both grinned. I couldn't help but grin as well--the pride in this black man's voice was too much, even if he did take up a trillion seats and cause other passengers to sway against each other in locomotion. They did a little fist-to-fist handshake and returned inward, while the train finally started moving again. Good thing, too: Bean was getting restless.

At the next stop, a middle-aged white woman with unruly curls popping out of an Obama baseball cap stepped onto the train and took a seat next to the seat-taker-upper. He grinned again, got another stick of gum out from his bag, and repeated, "Obama." She nodded eagerly and clumsily at once, and accepted her token gift. He reached over with his fist, ready to repeat his gesture, and she fumbled around it, acting as if he meant to drop another gum in her hand. She held hers palm-up underneath his fist for an awkward second before he realized she had no idea what he was doing. He reached out and made her hand into a fist, which she interpreted as possibly dangerous in her awkward, submissive sort of way. They clumsily clunked fists and seconds later, he stood up and got off the train. "Obama," he said quietly, full of pride.

Is this the improved race relations I've heard so much about? The world commends us on this symbolic election, and having the first African-American U.S. president is certainly nothing to take lightly. How many more generations will endure awkward cultural exchanges before it becomes commonplace? Before a fist is a recognized gesture of friendship?

Good for this woman; she was scared to try but try she did. And she learned.

Monday, November 3


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