Friday, November 25, 2011

Advent calendars

In Denmark I saw Advent calendars for adults (with lotto scratch tickets behind each door), kids (with chocolate), and cats (with 24 cat treats behind paper windows). My favorite was just envelopes strung on a ribbon, which you could fill and hang on a wall.

I make these every year. You could just paper-clip mailing envelopes to ribbon, or make smaller envelopes. They're not hard to do, and people like them (especially college students who are away from home).

Ideas for filling the envelopes:
  • origami cranes or other shapes
  • chocolate coins
  • paper snowflakes
  • excerpts from poems or stories
  • hearts cut from red cloth (in Denmark, hearts are considered Christmasy for some reason.)
  • jokes
  • bags of flavored tea
  • real or paper holly leaves
  • notes marking days of the month: full moon, winter solstice, St. Lucia's day (Dec. 13), St. Nicholas's day (Dec 6), first day of Chanukah (for those of us in mixed families)
  • recipes
Here are ideas from some other calendars, some pretty ambitious.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Parlor games

It's almost Thanksgiving, which means awkward time with family. To avoid the slumped-watching-TV scenario, or at least too much of it, here are some games that are popular at our house. If you can't be hokey with your family . . . gosh. Better start now.

In the manner of the adverb:
One person leaves the room, and the others pick an adverb (all-time favorites at our house were "manfully" and "unhygenically.") The guesser comes back and instructs the others to do things, which they must do in the manner of the adverb.
"Jeff and Michael, play patty-cake in the manner of the adverb."
"Gillian, hit on Nathaniel in the manner of the adverb."

Continue until the guesser can figure out what the word is.

The Writey-Drawey Game, or Spanking Yoda, or Telephone Pictionary
Everyone gets a sheet of paper. Everyone writes a sentence on the paper, then passes it to the next person. The next person draws a picture of the sentence, then folds the paper down to hide the original sentence. The next person writes a sentence to describe the picture, and so on until the paper is full. (Some deliberate misinterpretation adds to the game.) Then unfold the papers and read them aloud.

"Noah got off his ark only to find, instead of two of each animal, rows of strange spotted zebra giraffes, zeraffes, or girebras, if you will."

Names on foreheads:
Someone writes out names of famous people on sticky notes. Everyone gets one on their forehead, visible to others but not them. You wander around asking people yes-or-no questions to guess who you are.

Charlie doesn't know he's James Bond.

Monday, November 21, 2011


There's a lot of grim humor in the nurses' station at a psych hospital. You have to joke, or it would be unbearable. So when a patient comes in and the nurses or social workers say, "Oh, I love him. I hope they assign him to our team," for a while I thought they were being sarcastic.

I eventually realized it wasn't a joke. When the staff say, "I just love him," or "She's such a sweetheart," they mean it. Some patients aren't easy to work with, like the woman who stands at the door of the nurses' station bawling "I wanna get ouuuuutta here! What's wroooong with you people?" As her social worker gets up to go talk to her, there's affection on her face mixed with the exasperation.

If you're a people person, a psych ward is a strangely satisfying place to work. You see a different part of people, rawer and deeper.

A typical episode: One of the older women is having a rough day. She's been sitting at the table in the milieu muttering and shouting all morning. The most veteran counselor there, a burly American Indian man the patients call "Chief", walks to the middle of the room and stands before her. He plants his feet, spreads his arms, and begins to sing.

"You must have been a beautiful baby,
You must have been a wonderful child,"

Activity in the milieu stops. The patients turn to look.

"When you were only starting to go to kindergarten
I bet you drove the little boys wild.

(This is true. She showed us a picture of herself as a young woman, and she was gorgeous.)

"You must've been a beautiful baby,
'Cause baby, look at you now!"

He finishes up, arms flung wide. It works: she cracks a smile.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Showing off, growing up

When I was a teenager, my family went to a folk dance week once a year. The young people there danced harder, stayed up later, and were generally way cooler than me. I desperately wanted to be a hotshot like them. Unfortunately, I was stuck in a town without much of that. I was the only young Morris dancer within seventy miles. Our contra dances were infrequent and slow-paced. It was frustrating.

When I was sixteen, I had an email exchange with a young dancer in the Boston area. She complained about how the youth rapper sword team she danced with wasn't really her favorite, and she would prefer to be on one of the other youth rapper teams. My jaw dropped. There wasn't a sword team in my entire state, let alone one with anyone under 30, and she was complaining? I vowed to move north as soon as I could.

At age twenty-two, my dreams were coming true. Everyone wanted to dance with me, I was engaged to a hot young folk dancer and musician from Boston, and we were working on the crew that summer at Pinewoods dance camp, folk mecca of the United States. Of course, I was also terrified because the other workers at Pinewoods were people who had grown up doing all this. These were kids who had been hot dancers for a lot longer than I had.

The crew worked all day together, and at night we danced. We formed a crew rapper team, and I was sure I wouldn't be good enough. My boss, the one I wanted most to impress, was the best rapper dancer of us. I was sure she would lead the set. Instead, she asked me to take the leading position.

I couldn't understand. She knew the most, by far - why wouldn't she want to take the lead? Eventually, I figured it out. She had passed through her hotshot stage. She knew she was a better dancer than the rest of us, and wasn't interested in showing off. She was moving on to the teaching stage.

Last summer, Jeff and I went to a contra dance together. It was pretty tame, as Boston dances go - not many dancers, not many young people. Jeff was calling, so I couldn't even dance with him. But there were a few beginners there, and I made it my mission to be sure they had a good time. In the process, I had a good time too. If I had only been at the dance for my own enjoyment or to show off, it would have been miserable.

There are dancers who stay obsessed with The Best forever. They don't want to dance with beginners. They want to dance the fastest and coolest they can, all the time. But the more mature ones move on, and start bringing out the best in others.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

New blog!

Charitable giving is one of the most important things in my life. If you read this blog, you know that.

I have enough to say on the topic that I'm giving it a space of its own. Introducing:

Giving Gladly

A blog on why well-planned giving is the most important thing you can do -- and more fun than you thought!