One Man's Trash Can

I never wanted to be an actor. I wanted to be the person behind the curtains, moving the set of the play around and altering your reality. I never wanted to be the diner, I wanted to the waiter in the back of the kitchen, watching sauces and meats and vegetables come together to create plated art. I didn't want to own the fancy car; I wanted to work in the garage where they tune the cars up. 

I like knowing how. I like understanding why. I am motivated by motivation. I want to know the story behind the thing, whatever the thing is. I want to know the painter, the foreman, the COO, the scientist. I'm fascinated by the psychology behind creation, the small spark of thought that turns into a movie, a meal, a trash can. 

When I was in my 20's, I lived in an apartment building with a guy who ended up being my kids' godfather, but at the time was just a cute twenty four year old boy in a band who really liked playing XBox with my kids. One day I go to pick the boys' up from Grand Theft Auto Hour and he's got this giant shiny trashcan in his tiny little apartment. He told me how much he paid for it and I was all Trash Can, You are Drunk and he was all Shut Up and I was all WHY ON EARTH WOULD YOU PAY THAT MUCH FOR A TRASH CAN and he was all BECAUSE I NEVER WANT TO BUY ANOTHER TRASH CAN AND THIS IS THE BEST ONE. 

So last summer I'm staying with thirty four year old him and his wife in San Francisco for the summer and sure enough, there's his trash can, looking and working exactly like new. EXACTLY. Like, not a fingerprint, not a dent, not a scratch. 

So I bought a simplehuman trash can, duh. Or two. And a plastic grocery bag holder, too. Because. #accessories

And then simplehuman invited me to come to their offices to learn about why and how they make them and we've already established that I am all sorts of into that so I went and now i'm going to be working with them for like the whole next year which is awesome because they're really interesting people AND I might be giving away some products over the next year and that's called a run-on disclosure statement.

I will buy a trash can because I saw one didn't age a second in over 10 years, but I will love that trash can and write about it and tell my friends about it because I know this guy is walking around California looking at the stuff the rest of us ignore and trying to figure out why we ignore it, and how to get us to stop that, because he loves doing little things better. 

I will love a trash can bag because these guys spend their Thursday afternoon swinging bricks around over their heads in trash bags they engineered, just double dog daring them to break. #osha

I love people who love the crap out of what they do. These people love the crap out of what they do. They don't just make trash cans, they make the little things we all have to use every single day of our lives pretty, elegant, easy, and badass. They are scientists and engineers and font-enthusiasts who are making trash sexy. They are also making drinking wine easier, which wasn't even humanly possible. #superpowers

And that dishrack holds more than my entire dishwasher, not kidding. Which is kind of good, because my children are barred from ever so much as looking at my dishwasher again. 

Which was probably his plan all along. Dammit.

On Clorox, the PTA, and this Life List

So I have this life list that I started keeping after the first BlogHer Pathfinder Day and have been slowly adding to ever since. I've got some fun things on there like owning dyable Payless pumps (thanks to a twitter convo I had with my friend Jessica one day) and I have some very large and serious items on there like speaking to my mother (preferably NOT over her cold, dead body).

I went to Camp Mighty last weekend, which is like a conference for life lists. The beauty of making proactive steps towards that which you most want in life is that once you start that ball rolling, it tends to take itself down the hill quite effectively on its own. 

Case in point: item #8 on my list is "drive west until I run out of gas" which sounds very romantic and slightly tragic and gorgeously angsty until you start driving west to attend the life list conference and run out of gas in the middle of Nothing Whatsoever, Arizona - armed only with some Kashi snack bars, an iced coffee, and a Sephora card. 

So that was fun, but at least no one can say I didn't come to that conference with my best, authentic self. 

None of this has anything to do with this post, by the way. I am just really horrible at getting to the point. Imagine how bad your head would have hurt if I actually made it through NaBloPoMo? Small favours, my friends.

So I have this life list that I started keeping after the first BlogHer Pathfinder Day and have been slowly adding to ever since. Item #29 is "change a child's life for the better." I have gone rounds with myself over this item, because in many ways, I feel like I could already cross that off.

I worked for a company that built the software to help the largest county in the US track their foster children. That alone could justify checking #29 off, but it doesn't feel like enough.  A few nights a week I feed the kid down the street who's parents just seem to have forget he exists and leave him to forage for himself every night, but somehow that doesn't feel like enough, either.

What almost feels like enough is the work that I did with my old PTA in Denver, the amazingly incredible one that took a low income, low test score, failing, under-enrolled school in the heart of DPS which was on the chopping block for closure and turned it into a low income, high scoring, defying crushing everyone's expectations, over-enrolled poster school in DPS for how a community can come together and save a school, help every single kid, and give everyone a chance for a incredibly bright future. I wrote a little bit about that school, that PTA, and that experience here, but it would honestly take me pages and pages and pages to tell all the ways those kids and that school saved me more than I could even have hoped to save them. 

Greeblemonkey can tell it better, anyway. She took over for me when I left, and took a little idea we had for a not-sucky fundraiser and turned it into this. Also, did you know she was my neighbor? *insert internet groan here*

We single-handedly changed the lives of every single child in that school, and they single-handedly changed every single one of ours. Everyone gave what they could - in time, in money, in hugs on the playground, or in simply allowing us the privilege of spending real, quality time with their children and finding out what makes them as individuals learn better and achieve more - because sometimes that is all a parent has to give, and it is worth its weight in gold. 

But it still doesn't feel like enough, and I don't know why. Maybe it's because I can't measure it yet. Maybe when those kids grow up and go to college, or work at jobs they love, or are great mothers and fathers, then it will feel like enough. For now, it just feels like breathing. I did it because it was wrong not to. I did it because they deserved it, because every kid deserves it. I got more out of it than they did, for sure, and I would do it again in a heartbeat, because I know what having someone on your side means to a kid and a school, and I know what far-reaching effects an injection of cash can do for them. 

And so I'm working with Clorox on their Power A Bright Future K-12 school grant program (yes, it's compensated) to help schools win grants of up to $50,000. $50,000 buys a lot of marching band plumes, yo. 

A whole bunch of schools have already applied for the Power A Bright Future grant. They could apply for grants to allow them to better explore, play, or create - like a new playground, or a Shakespeare play, or a science lab, or equipment for the marching band because seriously you would not believe how much those plumes cost.

The applications are all in at www.powerabrightfuture.com and now voting is open, up until December 19th. 

There are a ton of ways to vote...on the site, through text message, and through Instagram. My 14 year old just got an iPhone (different story for a different day) so he and I will both be playing along on Instagram using the hashtag #yolopabf with Bella Thorne (She's that girl from the Disney Channel who keeps giving you Tiffany flashbacks. Your teenage son absolutely knows who she is). He's Bren_Eh on instagram, and so totally Canadian. ::proud:: (I'm heymrlady)

Aside, kids over 13 can vote for the #yolopabf grants, which is kind of excellent, seeings how I'm trying to teach him about this voting stuff anyways to prep him for the next election oh my god.

You can scroll through the nominees and vote for the ones you love the most. It's about the easiest way ever to help make a kids' future a little better, and maybe check a thing or two off your life list while you're at it. And if you see a super-cool one you think everyone should vote for (or you ARE a super cool one) totally share it in the comments so we can all go vote!

A Canadian, a former math teacher, a Chinese Harvard grad, and a blond girl walk into a book club...

The first book I ever read alone, front to cover, was the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I was four. I am not kidding.

Around age seven (my daughter's age as of yesterday, GO SAY HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MY BABY) I discovered Erma Bombeck, and life became good. Gooder. The goodest.

When I was in junior high school, I was the official school reader. I read *every* new book that came into the library, and then wrote one 3X5 index card review on the book. The librarian kept those on file - sorted by genre, by me - for popular kids with a life who wanted a book but needed crutches suggestions. I got beat up a lot. 

All of that reading and getting beat up made me a very angsty young person indeed, who over time discovered the likes of Louis Carroll, Douglas Coupland, Chuck Palanuik, and John Irving. And I haven't really needed anything since. 

I tell you all of that to show you my in-case-of-fire book pile. 

There are a few books missing from that pile (my Alice is Wonderland books, to name more-than-one-but-less-than-734) but that is the actual 'separate-17-years-of-marital-pulp-assets' pile, photo taken while he was smoking so he wouldn't yell at me for taking pictures of fucking EVERYTHING, JESUS SHANNON.

(Audre Lorde said everything can be used except what is wasteful,  and she wasn't kidding.)

So I got stuck in a 20-year long book rut. I re-read the exact same books over and over and over again. I always thought it was bizarre that my mother could read you the entire introduction to the Hitchhiker's Guide without needing to be in the same room as the book, and now? Yeah. Ask me any line of any poem in UndersongWe all become our parents. 

It's really hard to get me to read something new. You pretty much have to sell me on really whacked storyline or whackeder presentation, or be the Cactus-Fish family. My books are some of the best friends I have, and I just this second realized that I'm not all that different than I was at 13. Wider, to be certain, but not too different. 

For me, it isn't even always so much the story as it is the book, which is why I always said you'd have to pay me to use an e-reader. You can't smell an e-reader and if you can, you're reading the wrong kinds of things on it, perv. You can't scribble notes in an e-reader that you hope your friends/kids will read one day, if your highlighter lasts that long. 

Except you can scribble notes in an e-reader that you hope your friends/kids will read one day. Except someone did offer to pay me to use an e-reader. And that leads me to the whole bunch of brand new books I'm reading on The Copia's social e-reader over the next few months with a few of my best friends - Doug, Jim, and Tanis. Because they're way more fun to drink with than Maslow's Principals of Abnormal Psychology, that's why. 

We have this little social group book club thing (see children? reading gets you into clubs with ridiculously hot, smart people, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise) and we've each chosen one book that all four of us have to read in a month's time. We have wildly varied tastes in books, to say the very least. This is going to be so much fun. 

We'll be reading together and leaving each other notes in the margins through the Copia app for iPad, Android, and desktop. Will I love it? Time will tell. Jim says it's like live-tweeting a book! but I hope it's more like having actual conversations with actual people. Which are probably the same thing now, huh? Get off my dewey decimal system. 

You can totally follow along with us. There's the main group of Copia Parents, but we have a sub-group called, of course, "Tanis, Doug, Jim, and Shannon Do Books," because I made the group and I am a 12 year old boy. You probably need a Copia account to join our group and follow along, but that's cool because A) accounts are free and B) each of us are giving away 10 books to our readers to help get you started. You could chose your own book, or you could chose the books we're reading and read with us.  

We're staring our book club with Doug's pick, Telegraph Avenue, because he said we were and we do what he says. I'm thinking about choosing Bastard Out of Carolina, because Lesbian Dad says I have to read it and she has impeccable taste in literature and wingtips. I also kind of want to read Brains, A Zombie Memoir, recommended by my boss' partner, but I also-also want to read Orphans of the Living, recommended to me by Ilina Das Ewan, who is wiser than she is beautiful, which is equally awesome and terrifying. 

This is why you never ask the Pisces to go first. 

What I want to know is what you'd like to read. Leave a comment telling me the book you can't stop reading, and then the title of a book you'd like to read that you never have before, and next week I'll randomly choose 10 winners of those books. My (rapidly growing) Copia library is right here, if you want to cherry-pick book ideas or mock me for being so incredibly lame. 

Fine Lines

Disclaimer: This social eReader program I'll be working with over the next few months is launching this weekend, and they asked me to write about the launch. Instead, I decided to write something niceish about my mom. However, they're having a Mother's Day sale with 50% off all ebooks so if you didn't get your mom/baby momma a gift, A) you suck and B) you can get her a nice, inexpensive book through their social eReader here


When I became a mother 14 years ago, I stopped having the black and red film-grained Robert Rodriguez style dream about murdering my own mother. I stopped dreaming about getting caught in a mudslide engulfing the home I lived in with both of my parents until I was six once I stood in the field where that house once stood

Time gave me the ability to dream my way through most of the after-shocks of our life together. Twenty Mother's Days later, I'm almost not angry anymore. Twenty Mother's Days later, I can think about her and not feel hate or confusion or sadness, and thanks to the wonder of blogging, I can look back just four short years and see how far I have come with this.

Twenty Mother's Days later, I can remember things about her that were beautiful.  

I remember the sweetly salted heady scent of the sides of her breast, the space between where her nightgown ended and her flesh began, where I would tuck myself into her soft, ivory rolls and listen to her read us stories, her voice so beautiful the words on the pages rolled off her lips like a song. 

My mother didn't let us read children's books - she said they insulted our intelligence. She also thought a whole lot of them were demonic and/or homosexual, which in her tragically broken mind were equally dangerous threats. Instead we read the Bible, which isn't the least bit traumatic to children oh no, and - here's the one thing that woman did so very right - she read us her books. 

She would read to us whenever she was sane enough to. Twenty years ago, I couldn't have remembered this. I think I only do now because I still read her books. 

If she'd read me a Golden Books Grover story, I would have long ago forgotten this. Instead, she read me The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and The History of Physics, over and over again until I could read those books myself, alone in my room, from memory. For her, it was just the choice to read us clever, intellectual things, but for me, it was begin gifted the one perfect, unbroken piece of her to keep forever, untarnished and alive on the pages of those books. 

There's a fine line between genius and insanity; my mother is living proof of that. 

Because of her genius, I've always read my kids my favorite books, from the time they were babes in arms: Alice in Wonderland, The Phantom Tollbooth, World War Z, and of course, The Hitchhiker's Guide. Because of her insanity, I got to discover Shel Silverstein with my kids, and Robert Munsch and Maurice Sendack and everything in between. So that worked out okay.

My kids have never, and will never, meet my mother. I will never see her again, so long as we both shall live. The only way I can ever give them a piece of her is to share this gift she gave me with them, and so when we can, we snuggle up on the couch, me just soft and round enough for them to sink into, them still just small enough to fit under the fold of my arm, and we read together. 

And somehow, oddly, she's there with us. And I'm okay with that. 

Safe Kids, Unicorns and Other Mythical Creatures

In honor of Safe Kids Week, and in support of the upcoming Safe Kids Facebook webcast on sports injury prevention, I agreed to write a post about preventing injuries in children. Because I am the World's Leading Authority on Sports Related Injury Prevention.

My husband is an athlete and aspires to have little athlete minions running around our home so I do the best that I can to keep our kids active and and athletic even though I am incapable of standing upright for more than five minutes without falling over sideways because I have all the balance of an egg and as much coordination as cooked pasta. But I write a mean line of code. Shut up.

However, in my now thirteen ohmygodkillmenow years of raising children, I have learned that there is one universal, undeniable truth...everything will break your children. Everything. There is nothing safe. All you can do is bubble wrap your kids and hope for the best.

Bubble Wrap


*Bubble wrap the outside, people. OUTSIDE.

Don't believe me? Let's walk through a few different types of sports and see what we find:

Swimming: I started the children in swimming at a young age because my husband was a swimmer, so naturally, he wants his kids to be swimmers but naturally, he doesn't want them to know that he wants it because men are confusing and I give up.

So we gave our kids the gift of water and this what water gave us back.
Yes, my son cracked his head open on water.
Yes, my child cracked his head open on water. It's a gift. We also got a hematoma on the frontal lobe of a skull and a toe with a disconcerting amount of skin that just refuses to ever grow back for our effort. Pool: 3 Us: 0

Gymnastics: They call it Tumbling to lure you into some false sense of security, like it's sweet and polka dotted and made of unicorns and Jujubes when really it is lurking in a dark alley waiting to jump you with a crow bar and rubber cement.


*You're welcome for not showing you the pre-stitches picture with the brain matter hanging out of the side of his head.

And if the gym doesn't succeed at poking holes in their heads, it'll just attempt to rip those cute little heads clean off. Gym: 2 Us: 0

Playgrounds: Get your kids outside! Go to the park! Slide down the slide! Break an EYESOCKET.


And if that doesn't do it for you, you could just walk around the slide, smack your foot against the side of it and break that, instead. The playground gods giveth; the playground gods taketh away.

Broken Foot


Or you could just let gravity take care of everything for you and spend several hours catching vomit after they fall from the 'mom, look how HIGH I climbed' part of the jungle gym. Because that's good family fun for everyone. Playgrounds: 3 Us: 0

Gravity in General: With every step you take you are snubbing your nose at 9.80665 m/s2 of gravitational pressure. That's, like, a lot. And eventually, gravity is going to snub you back. It'll probably be when your neighbor decides to play that 'toss your kid in the air and catch' him game, except he's only really good at one part. Or maybe when you take your kid out to play and he rips half his face off because his Buzz Lightyear costume broke after he jumped off a giant embankment, so even though he pushed the ba-woo button, he no fa-wy. Nature: ∞ Us: 0

Playing with balls:

US SEPT


And that's all I'm going to say about that. Balls: 3 Us: Depends greatly on whom you ask.

So I guess my point is this: If you can't keep them safe, learn to use a camera. If you can't use a camera, learn to keep them safe. If you want to learn to keep them safe, you can visit Safe Kids or join in their sports injury webcast on May 2nd, on Facebook. It'll be hosted by:

  • Dr. Angela Mickalide, CHES, Director of Research and Programs, Safe Kids Worldwide

  • Dr. Douglas Casa, Director of Athletic Training Education, University of Connecticut

  • Dr. Gerard Gioia, Chief, Division of Pediatric Neuropsychology and Safe Concussion Outcome, Recovery & Education (SCORE) Program at Children's National Medical Center

  • Steve Young, former NFL Star Quarterback and On-air Talent ESPN


They'll be talking about preparation through pre-participation exams, the importance of hydration, concussion awareness (possession-style vomit is your first clue) and acute and overuse injury prevention (which, sadly, I learned about the hard way.)