"We're all just fragile threads, but what a tapestry we make." – Jerry Ellis

Archive for August, 2014

Labor Day: What is America Celebrating?

As a kid, Labor Day meant the end of summer and the beginning of school. Even though the kids start mid-August now, the first Monday in September still feels like the Last Hurrah before we go full speed into school and all their fall activity schedules. Today’s Labor Day doesn’t even dictate fashion choices as it once did. Fashion gurus and etiquette experts (Emily Post’s Etiquette, 17th Edition, published in 2004) now say it’s even acceptable to wear white after Labor Day, but I still don’t. Call me old-fashioned (I prefer traditional) but I like to think some things just belong to summer—like homegrown tomatoes, flip flops and Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy beer.

So why do many of us have the day off for Labor Day? I’ve often wondered what the full history was to this holiday and found out there’s a lot more to it than I realized. This is my attempt to put together a brief summary of what Labor Day is about without boring the average reader silly. The date-specific information I gathered was found on the US Department of Labor’s website (www.dol.gov/opa/aboutdol/laborday.htm) as well as some information from good old Wikipedia. If you want even more in-depth information, I also found some good information on About at http://usgovinfo.about.com/bllabor.htm.

To start, we can thank the early Labor organizers for wanting to rally the American working class back in the late 1800s. The first Labor Day was celebrated in New York City on September 5, 1882, with a parade that apparently looked more like a protest. As far as who masterminded the idea is disputed. Some credit Peter J. McGuire, who was the co-founder of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), while others attribute it to Matthew Maguire, who was part of the Central Labor Union (CLU). I found it ironic that they had similar names—no wonder there was confusion! Some people claim that Matthew Maguire got slighted for the honor because he ran for office for the wrong political party and made people mad.

The holiday started out being recognized at the municipal level, but the first state to sign Labor Day into law was Oregon in 1887. Later that year, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York also signed the holiday into law. It wasn’t until 1894 that President Cleveland and Congress signed it into law in an apparent move to do some damage control to his re-election campaign after the Pullman Strike.

The Pullman Strike was basically a boycott that railroad workers had against running trains pulling Pullman cars in response to the Pullman Palace Car Company cutting worker wages when the company’s bottom line was losing money. George Pullman, the company’s owner, didn’t lower the rents on company housing the workers lived in, so many of the Pullman factory workers joined the American Railway Union. As more workers and strike sympathizers got involved, rail transportation was interrupted, prompting intervention by the federal government, and things got ugly. Federal troops were called in, and you can guess how that ended—in a violent mess.

Six days after the Pullman Strike ended, Cleveland signed the observance of Labor Day into federal law in 1894 to honor the working man. By the way, this attempt to smooth things over with the various Labor parties didn’t work—he didn’t get the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 1896.

Another interesting thing I learned about when researching this holiday was that September was chosen to celebrate Labor Day in an effort to not commemorate the Haymarket Massacre that happened in Chicago on May 4, 1886. The Haymarket Massacre was another situation where what started as a peaceful protest ended in violence and death when someone threw a bomb. President Cleveland and Congress did not want the federal holiday to be associated with that event. As a national holiday that is celebrating the American worker, flags fly proudly at full staff for Labor Day. (So please don’t call your local municipality the day after Labor Day and scold them for not having it at half-staff. I work for the City of O’Fallon, and was told we get phone calls complaining about this every year.)

Even though today’s notion of Labor Day doesn’t have the Labor Movement as a primary focus anymore, I like to think the people who originally wanted to celebrate the achievements of workers in America would be happy that we’re doing exactly that. Having a day off to spend with friends and family seems like a fitting reward for the everyday working person. Happy celebrating!

It’s All About the Wine—Even If It’s Only Tuesday

It may look like an innocent wine bottle--but could Attila the Hun be in there?

It may look like an innocent wine bottle–but could Attila the Hun be in there?

I like wine from a box. That’s a hard thing to admit…certainly doesn’t sound classy, does it? After all, I do put the wine in a glass; I don’t just hold my mouth under and dispense. Personally, I think wine from the box has come a long way since Darrell and I would get the big box of Franzia that took up half a shelf in the refrigerator. We usually opt for the smaller boxes now, so that by the time we’re drinking the last glass it doesn’t taste like vinegar. I love drinking just a glass while I’m cooking dinner in the evening, and the box makes it easy to just drink a small one (or add more to it if it’s been a tough day!) I like red wine, so I tell myself how all those antioxidants are helping me ward off dementia and health issues as I grow older.

My favorite wine-in-the-box story comes from my husband’s former co-worker, who also worked a side job as a server at fundraising events. Apparently the crowd at one particular gathering was trying to dazzle the people at their table with their superior wine knowledge, checking the legs (which I’ve learned really doesn’t tell you that much about a wine’s quality) and being a bit snobby about the wine service. They were a demanding group to him, and more than a little condescending. Now the funny thing was that the servers would pour the wine from classy-labeled wine bottles at the tables, but those bottles were filled in the kitchen with wine from a box. I imagine he had a hard time keeping a straight face when one of them declared after tasting, “Well, it’s certainly a lot better than that wine out of a box.”

I have learned a lot about wine over the years and I love going to the wineries and hearing about how they make their wines. Yet I still feel a little self-conscious when I order a bottle of wine at a nice restaurant and they open it at the table, giving me the cork and pouring a tiny amount for me to swirl and take a quick taste. I never quite know how to act besides saying a quick, “Thanks, it’s good.” I’ve wondered how often people spit it out and declare that the wine is horrible and demand the waiter to take it back. I asked a waiter about that one time, and he told me it really doesn’t happen that often when people get bottles—it’s more when they are getting a glass. Fun fact.

Darrell and I have made wine ourselves for several years now. We don’t go out and stomp the grapes or anything, but they have winemaking kits that are actually quite delicious. Our favorite kit to make is a Chardonnay—it always turns out perfect. The labor-intense part of winemaking is the cleaning and sanitizing of all the bottles—a kit makes around 28 bottles. The actual bottling part is fun. I like to think of these kits as idiot-proof. Simply add what the instructions say to add and stir and wait. The beginning of the process resembles what you see in a dirty mop bucket, but as the wine sits in the carboy, the smell of it in the room is wonderful. Similar to how many people feel about coffee, I have never been able to find a wine that tastes as good as the wine smells as it’s fermenting. (Note: The same is not true about brewing beer. Beer smells horrible while it’s brewing!)

This past year my friend Tina has become a consultant for a wine party business called Wine Shop at Home. She comes to your house and walks you through tasting the various wines and food pairings. When you set up the party, you have her order a wine kit (red, white, or mixed) that you want to taste at your party. The company sends you the kit, along with the cards that tell you what kind of food pairings work well with each wine, and voila!—instant party. You pay for the wine kit, but it’s at a discount, so you spend about the same amount you would spend on food and drink if you were having a party anyway. If you have friends that drink wine, it is a great way to try new wines and get together. You can check out her website here for more information about parties or just to learn more interesting facts about wine:  http://www.wineshopathome.com/tflower?customerid=355785&MarketShow=565

Darrell and I ended up signing up for the Wine Shop at Home Wine of the Month Club through our party. We’ve gotten some great, high quality wines, and I love reading the description cards that come with them. They give you recipes and food pairings for each wine and tell a little bit about the grapes used and the vineyards they come from. They also describe the wines’ noses and such in terms that make me laugh. (Did I mention I wasn’t very sophisticated?) My favorite description was for the Mariana Vineyard’s Petite Sirah wine. It described the wine like this: “This wine is powerful and the alcohol, even at around 14%, is fairly noticeable in the finish. The attack in the mouth showcases big tannins. The mouthfeel is fluid, fresh and aggressive, with blackberry flavors coming forward.”* That instantly made me think the wine was a bottled version of Attila the Hun and would jump out of the bottle and knock us upside the head. But that’s just my wine-in-the-box humor again. Sorry. I’m working on it.

Because I like to think I am getting a little more sophisticated, or at least more knowledgeable, with these wines. I’ve learned how to discern the various flavors within the wine once they’ve been pointed out to me. Many of the wines are for collecting, and advise that they taste best after 3 -5 years. We’re trying to save them longer, or at least until a special occasion comes around. We’ve been very impressed with the bottles we’ve tried so far. Since we’ll be waiting for these bottles to age a little, it looks like I won’t be getting rid of my wine in a box any time soon. Let’s just hope I don’t get too spoiled with the good stuff that I can’t go back to box wine. Bottoms up!

 

*Taken from Wine Shop at Home’s description card.

The Midwest is Tremendously Underrated

Table Rock Lake

Table Rock Lake

The Midwest, particularly Missouri, is tremendously underrated. Having lived my entire life as a Midwest gal, I will vouch for that. Sure, we don’t have California’s sunny beaches, Colorado’s beautiful mountain ranges or New York’s shopping and Broadway—we have to go on vacation for that kind of excitement! But we do have beautiful lakes, luscious green, rolling hills and trees and a four distinct seasons of weather.   I for one dislike Winter immensely, but I love how as much as we complain about the cold we complain about the hundred-degree days about six months later.

Missouri, one of the “flyover states”, particularly St. Louis, has a lot to offer that often goes overlooked. No, I’m not talking about the St. Louis Arch, although pretty awesome and unique, I’ve only been up in once when I was in high school, despite the fact I live about 45 minutes from downtown St. Louis. We have the world-renowned St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, the St. Louis Blues hockey team and our beloved St. Louis Cardinals. St. Louis has Forest Park, where the 1904 World’s Fair was held and is now a fabulous place for early morning runs, home of the St. Louis Zoo (free admission!) and history and art museums.

If that’s not your thing, Missouri has Table Rock Lake—our family’s favorite lake, as well as the Lake of the Ozarks and Mark Twain Lake. There are tons of small lakes for fishing and boating. Almost every weekend there are organized races to run, from 5Ks and up. There are tons of great restaurants here—particularly Italian restaurants on the Hill. Yum!

I also really love Rednecks—or hillbillies or hoosiers—whatever your preferred term. Please note that I use it with affection. They are also underrated in our suit and tie society. If you were in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but friends, an ATV and some beer, would you rather be with a redneck or a Wall Street stockbroker? To be sure, a redneck would find a way to make some fun. (If you’re the timid sort you might want to make sure there aren’t any bullets in his gun first.)

All my love of my home state aside, I’m secretly glad Missouri is a little underrated. Despite what you’ve heard from our lovely media lately, Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, is a beautiful area that is not full of thugs that burn down QTs. (My lifelong home church is located there!) And while almost every year St. Louis shows up on a list of Most Murders in the country and that sort of thing, I’d like to point out that most of the crimes that make those awful lists happen in the wee hours of early dawn with people that are up to no good. (I know, I know…it happens in the suburbs, too—I don’t live in a bubble.) After all, if we were perfect, we wouldn’t be Midwesterners.

Confessions of a Mud Runner

Stopping for a glamor shot at the last Mud Pit

Stopping for a glamor shot at the last Mud Pit

 

I run a lot—almost every day—but I am not a competitive runner. I have mentioned this in the past on the blog and after two half marathons I can say I’m still pretty slow. When you’re participating in a half and the full marathoners are starting to come in as you finish your race it can be a little bit…demoralizing. Truth be told, after a setback a little over three years ago with some foot issues that required almost a year off from running, I’m happy to be running at all. Yet, as slow as I am, I like to think of myself as at least looking a little bit awesome as I plod forward. Sporty and cool like the way the gals do on the covers of running magazines. Sadly, in most finish line pics and those my husband, Darrell, takes of me at races I look red-faced and ready to keel over. (That’s why I like to take a few “before” shots!) But I found a way to look pretty fearsome in race pics—the Mud Run.

 

We weren't TOO dirty after the first mud pit.

We weren’t TOO dirty after the first mud pit.

 

This past weekend Erin and I took part in the LoziLu Mud Run with some friends in the pouring rain. As far as Mud Runs go, LoziLu is pretty tame. I know there are a few muddy runs out there like the Tough Mudder that are longer distance runs and much more intense. LoziLu has challenging obstacles (the 15 foot tall nets for someone not fond of heights comes to mind), but they are all optional and really just a lot of fun. You run a bit, you do an obstacle and get dirty and run some more. Oh, and you laugh. A lot.

 

Made it to the top (I didn't look down!)

Made it to the top (I didn’t look down!)

 

I am a 43 year old Mom with a husband, three kids, two dogs, a job and responsibilities. But for one Saturday morning, I was a little kid, getting dirty in the mud with my friends and not caring that there was mud behind my ears and every other crevice in my body. And yes, covered in mud and running in the rain, I felt as glamorous as any tough chick in the movies.

 

At the Finish Line

At the Finish Line

 

So while some things about the pics Darrell takes of me in races might not change, I can’t help but think that covered in mud I get a little more street cred. After all, there are some faces you just can’t fake.

 

Cold, muddy water...can it get any better than this?

Cold, muddy water…can it get any better than this?

What Mom Doesn’t Know—the Secret of the Broken Chair

chairFamily history has always interested me. I grew up in a family where my parents and grandparents told us stories about their childhoods. I’ll admit there have been times when I’ve thought, If she tells that one more time…but now that my grandparents have passed away and my parents are getting older, I worry that I’ll forget those stories. I also find that I’m one of those people that tell the same story over and over again to my kids. I know it drives them crazy, like it once did me, but I’m purposely repeating them in the hopes that maybe, just maybe they’ll have insight to their old Mom’s life.

My dad, Paul, wanting to compile some of his stories, wrote out a few from his life, and I typed them for him. I submitted them to a magazine called Storyteller on his behalf a few years back, but as far as I know, nothing ever came from it. In any event, I ran across some of his old stories, and I thought I’d have him be a guest blogger today.

Thanks, Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, for sharing your stories with me!

It was the fall of 1966 when Mom and Dad sold the family home on Natural Bridge Road, in St. Louis, Missouri. Their house was located across the street from the University of Missouri-St. Louis (then known as UMSL), which was expanding and wanted to turn it into a dormitory. The increased traffic had become unbearable during rush hour, and Mom and Dad decided to have their dream home built at Champ Village, near Bridgeton, Missouri.

Mom and Dad’s new home wasn’t finished yet, so they moved in with my grandmother. My younger brother, Richard, who attended UMSL, went to live with my Aunt Evaline and Uncle Arnold, who lived in nearby Bel-Nor. Our younger brother, Russell, went to college in Fulton, Missouri, and came in on the weekends. Though I had recently gotten married and moved out, seeing the house sold felt like the end of an era.

Mom and Dad had put all of their furniture into storage, except for the dining room set, which they’d sold. On the Saturday before the big move, Mom had asked Russell to stay at the house to meet with the people who had bought the dining room set. Richard decided to come over from Aunt Evaline’s house, and I joined him in keeping Russell company.

“So, Mom sold the dining room set.” Richard said.

“Yes,” Russell replied. “I guess it didn’t fit in with the décor on the new house.”

We all broke out into laughter. About a year earlier they had gotten into a wrestling match in, of all places, the dining room. One of the dining room chairs got broken in the process. Instantly, the fighting had stopped so they could ponder their next move. Together Richard and Russell came up with a simple, but brilliant idea. They would glue the chair back together with Elmer’s Glue.

It was early in the morning. They hoped the glue would set by evening and for good reason. Pastor Press and his wife were coming for dinner that night. They got the chair glued together just in time as Mom returned from her appointment at the Beauty Salon.

That evening, Richard and Russell tried to place the chair in such a position that either one of them would sit on it. As luck would have it, somehow Mrs. Press sat on the chair. Fate was on their side—Mrs. Press was a slim, petite lady. They were both on pins and needles until the meal was over and they retired to the living room. If Mom had noticed how little they’d eaten, she didn’t say anything. If the Elmer’s glue company needed a testimonial of how good their glue was, my brothers could have given them one.

At last, a moving van and car pulled up to the side of the house, bringing us back to the present. A young couple got out and came to the door. The wife was eager to show her husband her treasure.

“Darling, don’t you think this set is beautiful?”

“It looks like it’s brand new,” was his comment. We brothers quickly hid our smiles. With that said, two husky men loaded the set into a moving van. With the dining room set gone, a piece of family history went with it.

With the dining room set gone, Russell and asked Richard, “Do you think we should tell Mom about the chair?”

Richard thought for a minute, then said, “What Mom doesn’t know won’t hurt her.”

Back to School Routines

back-to-school

Tomorrow is the first day of school for our three kids. Schedules have been picked up, supplies have been purchased and Erin’s locker has been decked out for Day 1. It seems so early—we’re not even halfway through August! Yet as much as I’m a little sad to see us leave the carefree routine of summer, part of me has been craving the routine that the school year brings. Since they’ve been out of school, my poor house has been neglected and the accumulation of “stuff not put away” has really gotten out of control!

Routines and habits, the basis for my sanity, are so easily disrupted in the summer. The only routine that I’ve been sticking with is getting up early to go run at 5:30. This, of course, is before the kids are up, so I don’t get distracted with fun things to do with them instead. Still, I will miss coming home from work and having the kids around, whether it’s to have lunch together or just watch old “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” episodes. I think it’s really cool that those sweet little babies grew into people that I enjoy spending time with.

Along with the new school year and those routines comes a fresh start. BK (Before Kids), I always bought calendars/planners that ran January through December. Now I always get them with the kids’ back to school stuff, because our life truly does revolve around that August – May schedule now. I love opening up my new calendar and seeing all those blank spaces. They get filled up so fast with all the activities that start up in the fall, but for a brief moment I see those months ahead, filled with the promise of what the future will hold. As much as I love Spring, with the Fall comes a type of renewal all its own.

Here’s to a new school year and the return to routines!

The Best Advice—A Dragonfly Top Ten

Advice

As part of the college application process, Tyler is writing essays on various topics. The application he’s working on now gave him the option to write on either his opinion of a current international event or the best advice he’s been given. He decided that he wasn’t so sure about voicing a strong opinion on something that could be political, and took the softer option of good advice. What’s fun for me is that it got us talking about advice in general and we had more than a three sentence discussion on it. We both agreed it was hard to think of a single sliver of advice we’ve been given that was really earth shattering, but it got me thinking. What are the little tidbits of advice that have re-surfaced in useful ways in my life? So I came up with a top ten.

10.  Never pass up the opportunity to use the bathroom. I tell this to the kids all the time, but they still don’t believe me. Maybe it’s because I’m older and this body has given birth to three babies, but there’s nothing worse than wishing you’d used the restroom when you’d had the chance. Real life examples include being stuck in traffic and going out on a long run on a nature trail.

9.  Eat your vegetables. Oh, how I hated that one as a kid. It wasn’t told to me as advice exactly—more like a directive, but, having grown up eating them all of my life, I’ve learned to enjoy them. Besides, you cannot take part in any healthy lifestyle or diet that does not tout the health benefits of vegetables. I’m not ashamed to say that I still wish they tasted like chocolate, though.

8.  Don’t bite off more than you can chew. In food, finances and commitments. No matter how much I think I can pull it together at the time, I eventually choke when I overextend myself.

7.  Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. I can’t say that I wake up on Monday morning overcome with excitement about my job as an Administrative Assistant. But there are many other jobs out there I’d be miserable doing. I’ve had a few of those in my past—the kind you drive to work with a knot in your stomach dreading. I would be a lousy telemarketer or collections person.

6.  Never say something about somebody that you wouldn’t say to their face. It’s so hard to abide by this advice when the gossip is so juicy. But the older I get, the more I know that it’s the best policy. If in doubt that the words you say will be held in confidence or aren’t sure if what you’re saying is the whole truth, keep your mouth shut.

5.  Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today. Disclaimer: While this is great advice to live by, I find I still can be a chronic procrastinator. I am so much happier when I keep on top of things.

4.  No one can ever tell you how much you’ll fall in love with your baby. I read this in the doctor’s office in a parenting magazine when I was pregnant with Tyler. Up until I’d had my own children, I hadn’t been around babies very much. But even though I knew I loved my baby before I had him, I never dreamed how deep that bond would be. From the first time I laid eyes on my babies, I knew I loved them with an all-encompassing, unique love that is mind blowing in its simplicity and depth.

3.  Forgive others. Because if you don’t, it only hurts you. Bitterness is an acid that eats your soul if you let it. I’ve watched it happen to people in my life because they don’t understand that forgiving someone doesn’t mean having to condone a wrong; it only lifts the burden from the forgiver’s heart.

2.  You can tell a lot about a person by how they treat their waiter, tangled Christmas lights and lost luggage. Honestly I think the last two might cause a person to come to the conclusion that patience isn’t my personal best virtue. But being rude or degrading to the wait staff is a pretty good indicator of a person’s character.

1.  Be kind to everyone, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Even the most seemingly “together” person has something in their life that they’re dealing with at the moment. Maybe the kind word or the smile you give them will be the one thing that day that was positive. Sometimes being kind to someone doesn’t necessarily get you ahead. I struggle with the “nice person” syndrome. But I do feel like there’s a need for more compassion in this world. I like to think it starts with me.

So what about you? Got any advice you live by? I’d love to hear about it!

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