The Stories I Tell ~ from The Word Cellar

Stories. Anecdotes. A free round of words for everyone!

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Location: Pennsylvania, United States

I love stories. I'm the one at social functions with a dozen new anecdotes. But I worry about hogging the conversation. Sometimes I tell myself that I'll be quiet and let others do the talking. But no matter how hard I try, my stories insist on bursting out! Here I can let my stories (the classics that I tell again and again, as well as new ones that unfold along the way) run free. I'm a professional writer and editor, and sole proprietor of The Word Cellar. I write for a variety of publications and clients on everything from green buildings and nuclear reactors to entrepreneurship and the arts. If you need words written, edited, or enlivened, I can help. Contact me.


Acts of Love

photo by dusdin (modified)

"I see your dishes are all done!"

It's a little joke my mom and I have when she comes to my house. If there are dirty dishes piled up on the counter and in the sink (as there all too often are) she kindly ignores them. But when the kitchen is free of dirty dishes, she says, "I see your dishes are all done!"

Without context, that phrase makes her sound like one of those harpy mothers who show up in bad chick-lit novels and mediocre sitcoms. But it's not that way at all.

After several years of being a married woman and trying to "keep house," I confessed to my mom that I was embarrassed my the near constant state of disarray in my home. I love a clean, orderly space. I can even create one. I just have trouble maintaining it.

At some point, I stopped trying to pretend that I was a domestic diva--at least in front of my mother. Even though she's always kept a clean, neat, and well-organized house, my mom's never been one of those white-glove-test types or one to cast disapproving looks at the stacks of magazines and mail that regularly commandeer my kitchen island and dining room table. Still, I wanted her to be proud of me, to show her that I'd learned something about domesticity from her. Finally, I had to admit that housekeeping just wasn't my main gig.

I think the joke about the dishes started as her way of giving me a pat on the back, of saying kudos on getting the dishes done--something that she knew wasn't always the easiest or highest priority on my list. In those moments, I'm seven-years-old again and she's praising my picture for the school art contest. I don't care if it's the best. I just care that she sees it.

I admire my mom's ability to stick to a schedule, complete a task, focus on what needs to be done. But I've also seen how it forces her to push herself unnecessarily when she's weary and how it makes her feel guilty if she allows things to fall below her usual standard.

She once told me, "I wish I could be more like you. You seem to be able to just let things go. I can't do that." She was referring, of course, to my ability to let dirty dishes stack up in the kitchen, to let paper pile up everywhere, to forgo vacuuming for much too long. And as weird as that sounds, it really was a compliment on what she admired in me: my ability to put myself first sometimes, to choose fun over chores, and to say "I'll do it tomorrow" if I'm too tired to do it today.

After dinner a few nights ago, I loaded the dishwasher and looked at everything left on the counter that either can't go in the machine or just wouldn't fit this time around. In addition to the usual pots and pans, I still had a bunch of plates, bowls, and silverware left over. I thought about just washing the big stuff, but it seemed silly not to do a few extra things while I was at it.

I rinsed half a dozen pieces of silverware, a little metal bouquet, under running water. The sound of forks, spoons, and butter knives clacking together transported me back to the kitchen of my childhood, where all dishes were washed by hand, all the time. Back to that eat-in kitchen with the ceramic-top stove that was once blown out of the wall when our neighbor's ex-wife came crashing through it in her car. Back to the counter tops that old Aunt Martha insisted were much too poorly lit every Thanksgiving. Back to the mint green vinyl chairs with swivel seats and legs with wheels. Back to dinner being served every weekday at 4:30 when Dad got home from the factory. Back to when Monday nights meant swiss steak and mashed potatoes, and Friday nights often meant a pizza box atop the plastic tablecloth.

I looked at my hand holding that silverware and saw my mother's hand. I felt the hard curve of wet metal that she's felt thousands of times. The moment expanded so that I was my mother and she was me. The moment contracted so that all truth and love and acts of kindness were there in that little handful of metal. I finished the dishes and thought to myself, "I see all your dishes are done."

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add to kirtsy | 1:19 AM | 6 comments


Saturday Sayings: Live aloud

I am here to live aloud.

~Emile Zola

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add to kirtsy | 9:32 PM | 2 comments


Bloggers for Jeni Auction

The Bloggers for Jeni auction is now up and running. (I've posted here and here about Jeni Ballantyne, an Australian blogger and mother of two who has been diagnosed with stage four colon cancer.)

Click here to go straight to the ebay store, which contains more than 130 items including:

  • photography
  • one of kind services and gifts
  • gift certificates to online boutiques
  • Hand Crafted items
  • Yummy Bath Products
  • Toys and clothing for baby and child
  • Jewelry
  • much more!
The auction will be up and running until Thursday, May 1, 2008.

There are a few ways you can continue to help in the efforts to raise funds for Jeni's care.

1. Stop by the auction and bid on items. (If you are new to ebay, you can easily set up a free account to begin bidding.)

2. Let your friends know about the auction.

3. Post on your blogs about the auction and include the link to the ebay store.

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add to kirtsy | 9:28 PM | 0 comments


Saturday Sayings: Most pleasures

"Most pleasures are small pleasures—a hot shower, a sunset, a bowl of good soup or a good book."

~Mary Pipher

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add to kirtsy | 4:40 PM | 0 comments


Sacrificing for My Art

My butt hurts. As do the muscles in the front, back, and inner quadrants of my thighs. My calves? They're okay for the most part. But I may have some sort of hip flexor thing going on, too.

The culprit? Gardening.

This getting down on all fours and playing in the dirt is serious business, people. Serious on my body, anyway. It's as if my body is saying, "Wait, what? What is this pain? I'm used to sitting in a chair all day long, looking at that illuminated box you call a 'computer screen.' Why do I feel this way? Did we go back to that place you call 'the gym' and I missed it? Oh, wait.... I know. You had me pulling plants called 'weeds' out of the ground yesterday. Was that necessary?"

Apparently, it was. Not just for the sake of my garden and new landscaping, but also for the sake of this blog. It's been quiet around here. I haven't had much to say here or in my own private journal. No stories to tell. No amusing anecdotes. No life ponderings. I was beginning to think I'd lost my mojo; lost my ability to weave a tale out of the most mundane activities. But now my butt hurts and I'm back in business!

After playing in the dirt yesterday, I considered waxing poetic about the joys of getting in touch with nature; the earthy smell of fresh soil; the buds peeking out on my pear trees; the experience of being physical when I spend so much time being cerebral; the metaphors of digging deep and not knowing what you have until you really get in there. But garden and nature analogies? A dime a dozen, especially in the spring. So I thought I'd skip it and write this fluff instead. (But don't hold it against me if I wax poetic and add my penny's worth of a nature story some time in the future. I reserve that right.)

Now if you'll excuse me, I think I need to stretch and take a few Advil.

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add to kirtsy | 12:30 AM | 3 comments


Saturday Sayings: Happiness along the way

How did I get it ground into me that happiness is always picked up along the way and must not be sought?

~George Bernard Shaw

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add to kirtsy | 9:21 PM | 3 comments


Great Interview Experiment: Laurel of Sass Attack

You know what? You're somebody.

I'm somebody. We're all somebody. We all matter, even if we're not rich, famous, or in big positions if power. But how often do we feel like we matter? Probably not often enough. Too often we feel small, misunderstood, overlooked. (I wonder if those feelings could even be worse for the aforementioned rich, famous, and powerful?)

Everyone has a story, and Neil Kramer of Citizen of the Month started the Great Interview Experiment so that more people had a chance to tell theirs. As Neil explains: "...I think anyone who decides to write about their life online is interesting, even those who may not do the best job yet of conveying that on paper. We all should be interviewed, at least once."

I was randomly matched up with Laurel of the blog Sass Attack. Laurel lives in NYC with her boyfriend AS (short for "Adult Sleep"), ran the 2006 New York City marathon, is preparing to go to grad school in Chicago, and used to be a synchronized figure skater. You'll read about all of that below.

Other things you won't read about include her favorite TV shows (Lost, Dawson's Creek, and Felicity), her computer preference (Mac), and a few bad habits (keeping her temper when she's upset; refraining from correcting other people’s grammar; and saving money.) I think many of us can relate.

Read on, and then hop over here to get to know Ms. Sass a little better.

When and why did you start blogging?

My first foray into blogging was a short-lived project with my book club in 2005. It was fun, but difficult to keep momentum going with six contributors! I have always kept a personal journal, but became frustrated when my entries became a string of boring event recaps or mushy thoughts about my boyfriend. I read a bunch of personal blogs already and liked the idea of regularly writing something topical. So, I took the plunge and started Sass Attack in August 2006.

What keeps you doing it and do you have a blogging philosophy?

Now I am sustained by (and accountable to) my blog-friends. I have met some "real" friends this way! My blogging philosophy is a combination between Write Something Coherent and Interesting and Don't Take It Too Seriously. I love meeting people and getting comments on my blog, but I'm not in this to become well known. In fact, when signs emerge that new, random people have found my blog, I'm not always thrilled!

You were born in Minneapolis and call yourself "a Midwesterner at heart." But you also say that you "refused to go to college in a five-state area" and moved to Seattle for school. Then you spent a semester in France and finally settled in New York City. Did you have to leave home to appreciate it?

I definitely did! Although, my transformation from rebellious Minnesota refugee to sentimental Midwest devotee was pretty much instantaneous. I was singing Minnesota's prizes by my second week in college. Minnesotans have a lot of pride! At the same time, my choices to go to college in Seattle, study abroad in Paris and then work in New York City have exposed me to a lot of really interesting people and experiences. I'm not sure that my experience would be this broad if I had stayed in the Midwest. Of course, living away from Minnesota also makes me miss my hometown's advantages: reasonable real estate prices and cost of living, a great arts and cultural scene, wonderful running opportunities and, of course, proximity to my family.

What's the most important or interesting thing you've learned from living in different places?

I didn't realize until I had lived in New York for a while how unappealing I found it as a place to ultimately settle. Unfortunately, if you want to live in the suburbs, you're looking at exorbitantly expensive real estate, high taxes and a long commute. I still don't understand what happens when both parents work in the city, their kids are in school an hour away on Long Island, and a kid gets sick at school. On the other hand, if you stay in the City, you're looking at OBSCENELY expensive real estate, private school tuition and/or insane competition for the "good" public high schools, high taxes, and no back yard. I didn't realize that any of that was important to me! My boyfriend AS and I hope to spend the married / kid-raising period of our lives in a more manageable place.

It looks like you're headed back to the Midwest for graduate school in Chicago. Are you excited?

I am thrilled. I think the school I will be attending is the perfect fit for me--in no small part because it is in the Midwest. My degree is known to be intense and competitive, and I really think the more relaxed, down-to-earth Midwestern attitude helps defray that a bit for me. The downside is that AS, my boyfriend of almost three years, is tied to his work in NYC, so we will be in a long distance relationship for at least part of my time there. As excited as I am to move to Chicago, there is a part of me that is very sad and anxious to leave New York. Living in NYC makes me feel like I'm living at the center of the world! So, I think an upside to the long-distance relationship is that it will help ease the transition out of the New York stage of my life.

Your childhood sounds interesting. You were a synchronized figure skater and also went to Norwegian language immersion camp. Tell us more!

I only participated in such strange childhood activities because I wasn't any good at "normal" stuff like soccer. My family is deeply Scandinavian (Norwegian on my dad's side; Swedish on my mom's). I attended language immersion camp in Northern Minnesota from age 8 to 15. It was just like regular summer camp--sports, crafts, pre-teen romance--except conducted in Norwegian and focused on Norwegian culture. I think that experience instilled in me a lifetime interest in other languages and cultures.

Figure skating will always be my first love. I am quite the klutz on the ground, but I manage to be somewhat graceful when I strap blades to my feet. Go figure. Synchronized figure skating (where teams of 12-24 skaters skate in unison and form shapes--similar to synchronized swimming) was a wonderful experience for me. I thrived as a member of a team and met lifelong friends. We also traveled independently to competitions all over the US, which, as you can imagine was very glamorous for a 16-17 year old!

What do you do when you're not blogging?

Lately, I have been neglecting my blog a bit, so this question should be easy! I run--sometimes I run a lot. I read about a book a week, the New Yorker and listen to NPR (the geek trifecta!). I cook for my boyfriend and the occasional roommate or friend. I watch a fair amount of bad television! These days I spend a lot of time getting things organized for my impending move to Chicago.

I read in your "100 things" that you're a "fourth generation, dyed in the wool Democrat." You call your 85-year-old, religious, retired farmer grandfather in rural Minnesota the biggest liberal you know and say his Democratic roots come from a very Christian place. Do you get frustrated that the media portrays Republicans as having cornered the market on all of the country's religious or spiritual people?

It really, really does. I think that the traditional "liberal" view in the rural area that my grandfather and father grew up comes from some of deeply Christian values. The difference, I think (and probably why the conservative view is more visible), is that the center of their beliefs is humility. They believe in policies that work towards peace, equal opportunity and economic fairness because they think it is unjust and immoral to accumulate huge wealth when others in this country and in the world are struggling. There are a lot of Democrats making great arguments for progressive economic / anti-poverty / health care policy and ending the war, but I think the Christian argument in support of those ideas is not often brought into the conversation. And, to me, the message of peace and equality is the best part of Christianity! Why would you leave that out?

Back to blogging: Do you read a lot of other blogs? Care to recommend any?

I read so many blogs. I am addicted. This question reminds me that I have to update my blogroll; it is woefully outdated! Outside of my personal blog friends, I love the Fast Company blogs for business news and ideas; The Superficial; and Apartment Therapy for design inspiration.

Your blog is called "Sass Attack." Do people call you sassy?

I've been called "sassy" a time or two! I am definitely a girl who likes to be funny and can keep up with the guys when the BS starts flowing. I think sassiness is an excellent attribute.

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add to kirtsy | 9:56 PM | 6 comments