Chip: He’s One of the Good Ones!

trackerMy mom raised some pretty independent kids. We have all had success in our various professions and we’ve all had our share of challenges and heart breaks. We know how to be kind, caring, supportive, and hard-working. One of the things that I didn’t necessarily learn as part of this independence was how to ask for and accept help.

When I was living in Vermont and working at the college I went to as an undergraduate, I had a great group of friends. We were each living a distance from our families of origin and found as a result, that we looked to each other to find the support we needed through tough times. Shoveling out from a couple of feet of snow, taking each other to doctors’ appointments, pick-up’s at the airport, or helping when a car broke down–we did these things for each other.

One very cold day in the winter the little Chevy Spectrum I drove, with over 100,000 miles on it, began to billow clouds of gray smoke from underneath the hood. I may even have seen just a touch of orange flame out the driver’s side in front of me. I was driving down main street and pulled into the only service station for several miles. It is where I always had my oil changed and any other maintenance work done. Don and his wife Velma ran the two-door garage repair shop and everyone in town took their cars there, including the majority of students at the college–they never lacked for business.

The bad news, Don told me, was a cracked engine block. Given the age and miles on the car I was told it would be cheaper to buy a new car. The good news, I could “store” my car for free in their lot until someone interested would buy it and take in away (which I did in return for baking them a milky way cake). I knew nothing about how to sell a car that was in very good condition, if not for needing a new engine. I knew even less about buying a car. But my real problem was the fact that I only made about $20,000 a year and was paying for student loans, rent and living expenses. I had no money to put down on a car.

So, back to those friends of mine. I sat in Chip Steven’s office in tears, having no idea what I was going to do and definitely not there to ask for help. Even though I was living within walking distance to work, and could certainly catch rides to and from places locally, I really didn’t want to be without a car. Chip asked if it would help if he loaned me the down payment and I could pay him back as I was able. This of course fueled (no pun intended) a bit more crying and a huge sense of relief. It also showed me that I can ask for and accept help, without consequence or judgment.

sm_chip_stevens_portraitI don’t remember how much of loan it was, but I do remember paying it back. Chip’s willingness to help me out was such a blessing. As soon as I picked up the new car I brought it over to show him. I drove that car for another 100,000 miles. Thank you, Chip! I’ll never forget it and will do my best to continue to pay it forward.

Boss: Not Me

I never have really enjoyed being called someone’s boss; being introduced as “this is my boss” has always made me just a bit uncomfortable in the moment. I don’t think of myself as a boss. Frankly, most days, I think I can only effectively be the boss of myself, let alone anyone else. I will say this though about being a boss, you’re nothing without the people you work with every day.

There are people I’d give my right arm to work with again. I think about it when I wonder, if I were in charge of the world who would I want on my dream team? Immediately, hands-down: it’s Jennifer and Millie. I’m sure we were not the most well oiled machine when we first started working together, but in fairly short order we ran like clockwork. Jen and Millie made sure that every AmeriCorps member in our program had every opportunity to be successful, whether it was support for a service learning project, to get their timesheet filled out correctly, or to complete their exit paperwork to ensure members would get their education grant.

The attention to detail that each of them paid to all of the activities, and needs, and daily ins and outs of the work, ensured our success. They were incredibly adept at managing all of the administrivia, making it easier for those of us who didn’t enjoy it. I particularly remember when Millie taught me how to do mail merges for myself, so patient with me! I admired, and continue to admire, Millie’s sense of herself, her confidence and ability to overcome challenges in her life.

At the time we were working together I thought I was a pretty good writer. I could write for grant applications, reports for the state and federal grants offices, a letter; I didn’t find it difficult to get my point across in the written word. However, when Jennifer would act as my editor, I think my writing got better. No. I’m sure my writing was better. Like Millie, Jen showed a great deal of patience when she was teaching me something or reviewing her editing notes with me. I feel like the reason I don’t get too many grammar or style suggestions on this blog is thanks to Jen’s willingness to teach me.

Jennifer and Millie always looked for ways to make things better, easier, more streamlined. They consistently under-promised and over-delivered. I always knew they had my back, all the time, every day.

I worked with them for almost seven years and they were tremendous. Thank you Millie and Jen, for making my life a boss a walk in the park! I’d do it all again with the two of you.


Preschool Teachers–I Couldn’t Do It Everyday

Over the past several weeks, but in particular the past four days, you may have seen in the news that many Head Start classrooms across the country have closed as a result of sequestration. Classrooms equal about 18 to 20 kids per room, which for us amounted to 127 kids that will not be able to access a high quality early learning experience. To say that our teachers are sad would be to minimize how they are really feeling, but they remain steadfast in their commitment to the kids and families will have the chance to reap the benefits of Head Start.

Today I had the chance to work with a group of Head Start Teachers who were getting a classroom ready for kids who will come on September 9th. This year we have a unique opportunity to have one of our classrooms housed in a local, urban, elementary school. The hope is that next year, since the kids will be familiar with the school, their parents will have them continue on to kindergarten in the classroom across the hall. It will be a terrific partnership.

Back to the teachers, there were 3 of them and one teacher assistant in the room today. Among them they have a collective 75+ years in working with 3, 4 and 5 year-olds. They are amazingly smart, good-humored, creative and dedicated. We were frantic; painting, cleaning, sorting, building… it was great! We finished as much as we could at about 5:30, in preparation for our DCYF licensing officer’s visit the next day. Then we had a chance to just take a look at what we’d done and how the room looked now compared to what it did eight hours ago.

As we sat talking about what this classroom means to the kids, the school, the neighborhood; the teachers’ excitement about this new classroom was palpable. I asked about why they like this age group, why they’ve kept doing it for so long? There were many answers in the conversation, and then one of the teachers said how she would be going back to school herself in the spring to get her Master’s Degree. She’s been teaching preschool for thirty years and has, literally, no intention of stopping, ever. She said, “I gotta keep learning, Kel. If I’m not learning, I can’t help the kids.”

I sometimes think that preschool teachers are the unsung heroes of the educational system. In my opinion, for many kids, without them, they would never have finished high school. Today’s thank you is for ALL the preschool teachers I get to work with everyday, the ones I’ve worked with in the past, and the ones who stay committed to their own learning as well as their “kids” for so many years!


A Kick In the “Pans”

I love to bake. I find the process relaxing, it smells good, and the outcome makes people happy. I fancy myself quite a good cookie maker, though pies, cakes and other desserts also make their way out of my oven and into an office or party or some other function. Sometimes though, it smells too good to give away and I keep it for myself and my husband.

Over many years I’ve tried hundreds of recipes for cookies, cakes, biscotti and brownies. I’d look through magazines, cut out recipes, and glue them into a spiral notebook or onto recipe cards. For a while I collected cookbooks, particularly cookie-books or dessert books. There was, however, one thing  I’d never tried to make: cheesecake. The thought of having to sit a pan with uncooked batter into a water bath and wait hours for something to bake was not my idea of a good time. I was more of an immediate gratification kind of gal, not even waiting for cookies to cool before I had to do a taste test.

When I was working in Vermont I brought something to the office about once a week, sometimes more. Coworkers started to put in “orders” for things when I’d made something that needed a repeat performance. One of the women I worked with, Liz, asked me one day why I never make cheesecake. I told her that I didn’t have the right pans for cheesecake, and frankly, I don’t like cheesecake. I didn’t tell her that the thought of such a complicated process kind of scared me.

A few days after the question of pans came up, it was answered by a box wrapped in a bow left on my kitchen table containing 3 cheesecake pans of various sizes. No excuse now, there was, by all accounts, an inherent expectation with that gift. I knew it was from Liz.

Since I got those pans in the early 90’s I’ve made more cheesecakes than I can count. I now have more than a dozen springform pans of various shapes and sizes in my cupboards. I’ve used the same Philadelphia Cream Cheese recipe book, having found one recipe that is my go-to, that I can vary depending on my mood or the occasion for which the cheesecake is being delivered. Thanks to Liz, I even sold my cheesecakes for while!

So, Liz, thanks for the kick in the pans I needed to try a new recipe and the success I’ve experienced as a result!

cheesecake pic


I don’t know about you, but I’ve found it helpful at certain points in my life to get support from counselors or therapists. There have been three distinct times I can recall needing to get some guidance from someone other than a friend or family member. Two of these three times I ended up going to the same person. Darla.

As a college freshman I was facing the fact that I was away from home for the first time, didn’t know anyone, and early on that year learned that my father was an alcoholic. In October I’d gone home for a long weekend and my dad told me that he recently came to the conclusion that he drank too much, and the pitfalls associated with such behavior included the fact that children of alcoholics may likely grow up to be alcoholics.

Well, since I sure as heck was not going to be one of those statistics I sought some help from the college’s counseling office. I met Darla in nice little room in what was the Reed House. A small building on the edge of campus that had, in fact, been someone’s home at one time. I remember her office filled with little statues, purple throw pillows, full bookshelves, and batik wall hangings, as you might expect to find in such an office. The leaded glass windows to the outside were big and allowed for a beautiful view of color in the fall and stark white and gray in the winter. Her manner was warm, welcoming, and surprisingly humorous. I probably spent half a dozen sessions with her in the first semester and another several in the second. Darla always listened and gave me homework between sessions in an effort, I think, to help me deal with life on campus as well as when I would go home. It worked.

Five years after I’d graduated from college I went back to work there. Oddly enough, in a job as an alcohol and drug educator; a new kind of position on many campuses at a time when “binge drinking” was getting an enormous amount of press. During my second stint at the college I found myself, again, facing the challenges of “what is my life about?” and [still] coming to grips with how my relationship with my father had changed since learning he was an alcoholic. And on top of all that I would soon be hitting the milestone birthday of 30 years old. I was, what in today’s terms might be called, “a hot mess”. Again, Darla was there for me.

I’d asked around to find out if anyone knew if she was still in the area and seeing clients. She was! I recall her being pregnant at the time I was seeing her. After several months of visits she was set to go out on maternity leave so we needed to get to a point in our work where she could, if I was interested, turn me over to another counselor. What I remember most about this time working with her was her direct approach to cutting through the bull. Answers like “I don’t know” were not well tolerated by her…she pushed me to get beyond the crap that was keeping me stuck. It worked, again.

Recently, I’ve been seeing another therapist, maybe because the grandchildren left and I was dealing with grief and loss; or, maybe because I was facing another milestone birthday (5-0), or maybe a combination of the two. She’s terrific and has been inordinately helpful. The other day though I got to thinking about Darla, wondered if she was still helping people. So I Googled her and found out that she is. Whoever she’s working with–they’re lucky to have her. Thanks, Darla!

Darla pic

The Great Flood of 2010

The floods of March 2010 effected the entire state of Rhode Island regardless of where anyone lived. In our neighborhood basements that had never flooded were filled. Our house was built in 1925 and nary a drop of water entered the foundation walls in all those years. But this time, it was water, water, everywhere.

Our elderly neighbor, too, had water in her basement. I watched as two fire trucks stopped in front of her house. We hadn’t really gotten to know Lucille in the year since we moved into our house. But when I saw the fire trucks I went running over in the rain. I went in the back door, greeted by multiple firefighters trying to get Lucille to leave her house. The basement had over 3 feet of water and required them to turn off the electricity to the house.

A frantic 81 year-old woman was on the phone with two of her nieces asking if there was a couch or space for her to stay until the water could be pumped and the lights turned back on. The niece next door to her was a smoker as was her husband. Having just recovered from pneumonia there was no way she could stay there; and the other niece on the other east bay simply said “no”–I overheard the conversation and was shocked! I simply couldn’t understand how she could have said such a thing.

I looked at the firefighters who were desperate for an answer and readying to leave for another call. I said, “She’ll stay with us, next door.” Of course Lucille said she couldn’t put us out, which I assured her was not the case. I’d just started a new job and Steve was out of the house all day, so she she’d have the place to herself. We set up a cot in the dining room and blocked off the doors for her privacy.

Lucille stayed with us for an entire week. It was fantastic! We had the chance to get to know our neighbor in such a different way. She gave us some history lessons about the neighborhood. Steve developed a particularly lovely bond with her, I think he reminds her of the long estranged son she hasn’t seen in years.

Last week Lucille celebrated her 86th birthday! We are sure to visit with her at least once a week. I don’t think we’d have had the pleasure of developing this lasting relationship with our neighbor if she had gone to stay with her niece. So today’s thank you is for the Great Flood of 2010, we couldn’t have done it without you!


Audrey Reed

There may be a few more posts about college. There are some more thank you’s to take care of during that time of my life.

How many of would have been able to finish college without financial aid? I relied on it, it was the only way I was going to be the first in my family to graduate with a four-year degree. Every year I’d complete my Financial Aid form, send it home for my parents to sign and then make sure the Financial Aid office had what it needed for documentation. Of course everything is now done electronically, but then, it was all about the paper!

While my mother was my constant cheerleader, saying “one more semester, Kelly”, I often remember the Assistant Director of Financial as the woman who got me through college. Her name was Audrey Reed, and by the time she’d retired she had served as the Director of Financial Aid as well. Audrey’s office was in the lower level of Woodruff Hall. You were supposed to have an appointment to get in, but I always seemed to get to her when I needed to most, and she was incredibly patient with parents of students. Audrey kept students calm. She always seemed to find just the right balance between loans and grants and work-study. Audrey knew every student and their particular situation.

Audrey passed away in 2011. At basketball games, in the dining hall, or walking across campus, Audrey was supportive, knowledgeable and kind.  Thank you Audrey, for helping me to realize my dream of being a college graduate.

Audrey Reed