Really, I do. But honestly, if it were, I would have WON that competition hands down in the past two years. Gold medals all the way. Like, Michael Phelps before those unfortunate photos surfaced.

In 2007, I made this family history book using Ancestry.com, that left the whole family quietly reading for about 20 minutes on Christmas Day. If you've met my family, you know that we are all so over-opinionated and busy that it's rare for at least one of us not to be talking about something. (Or explaining to someone why they are wrong.)

And, last year, I got Kiva gift certificates for my immediate family, which meant my dad and Sasha were searching for deserving poor people to loan their money to within minutes of opening their presents. I seem to have remembered wrapping them creatively, too. How DID Sasha get that paper out of the wine bottle? Hmm... don't remember.

Anyhoo, I have to warn you, this year will be a disappointment. I got nothin' left. No great purchases or wrapping ideas.

Seriously, I was considering purchasing turducken dog food for the animals in the family, but I think my mini-obsession with turducken likely will dissipate by Christmas. So that probably won't happen. Peabody doesn't strike me as a dog who will reward the bearer of turducken. And Ozzie strikes me as a dog who will reward anyone who looks at him. And, clearly, BlackJack likes secure in his knowledge that he's the most important being in this townhouse and, I suspect, will love me regardless of how many baths I subject him to. So, really, what's the point?

So family, someone else is going to have to step up to the plate. I'll wrap something. There will be bows. Perhaps some recycled gift wrap.

But it won't be amazing. Barely worth a thank-you card, I'm sure.

Sorry, I thought it best to warn you in advance :)
After I went on and on about how I fixed my toilet, the darned thing stopped working again. I hadn't actually fixed it at all.

And I just didn't really know what to do, so I just used the downstairs powder-room and pretended the problem didn't exist.

Until last week. When I meandered through a different big box store, found a part that looked exactly like my (non)flapper, and disassembled my toilet tank. I consulted my dad and sent him a few pictures of a particularly hard-to-unscrew part before pounding the thing with a screwdriver and hammer and breaking it. Which was OK, because the nice, new part just slid right in. And now, my toilet flushes and I don't have to risk my life stumbling down the stairs, half asleep, to find the powder room at 3 a.m.

Luxury, I know.

Moral of this story? Don't be afraid to bribe, cajole, or pout until someone else takes care of these things for you. Because they are a HUGE pain.
I'm sure anyone interested can read his mom's announcement on his Care Page themselves, but to repost:

After a long battle with Stage IV Neruorblastoma cancer, Monday morning at 8:02 AM, Noah Biorkman passed away at his home in South Lyon, Michigan.

Scott and I, along with our families, would like to thank everyone for the continued support over the past few years during Noah’s illness. As most of you know, Noah has received more than one million Christmas cards over the past few weeks. The outpouring of love and compassion has been remarkable and we are extremely grateful. We are now asking for everyone please respect our privacy during this very difficult time. The funeral services will be for family only. We are asking that instead of sending cards and flowers to Scott and me; please make a donation in Noah’s name to either of the organizations below. With your donation, Noah’s legacy will live on for many years to come, if not forever.

Thank you so much for your support and love.

The Biorkman Family

Please send donations to the following:

Department of Pediatrics and Oncology
University of Michigan
1500 East Medical Center Drive
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-5718
Checks payable to: The University of Michigan – Noah’s Pediatric Oncology Fund


Make-A-Wish Foundation of Michigan
230 Huron View Blvd.
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48103
Checks payable to: Make-A-Wish Foundation of Michigan – Memo: Noah Biorkman

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Not too early to think about fundraising for next year? Or -- gasp?!? - are you still struggling to make this year's minimum?

I haven't ever done this, but it's my favorite fundraising idea of all time (which I lifted from a 3-Day newsletter months ago):

Fundraising Tip: My favorite fundraiser is a holiday fundraiser. I send out Santa Claus letters to children or adults for five dollars each. This is an easy fundraiser and usually a big monRemove Formatting from selectioney maker.

Here is what you do: You send out a letter to everyone you know explaining what you are doing. You include a form letter with the information you need from them that will be included in the letter from Santa. Information like child’s name, teacher’s name, gift they would like, best friend’s name, etc. Have them complete a form for each child. They send the forms back to you along with $5.00 per letter.

As the holidays get closer you then complete the Santa letters and send them to the children. All the supplies you need are paper, envelopes, stamps, and a computer to type the letters on. I have had great success year after year with this fundraiser. If you know a lot of kids who are around 5-7 years old and losing teeth, you could also write letters from the tooth fairy.

Once upon a time, I read Julie & Julia by Julie Powell.

And couldn't get into it. It was a gift, but I couldn't get past the first 50 pages. Don't get me wrong - I appreciate incremental concepts like cooking a different Julia Child recipe each day just to kick-start your life. I suspect it was a great and popular blog, especially among cooking enthusiasts, but reading it in book form -- boring!

(sorry to everyone who loved it. but it was boring. blah, blah, blah, my life sucks, but I'm writing a whole book about it. blah.)

I blamed the blog-to-book conversion.

Then, I read the first quarter of Doreen Orion's Queen of the Road. I couldn't get into that either. I was blaming this on the fact that the author - a grown woman and psychiatrist - constantly referred to herself as a "Long Island princess" and talked about how her husband did everything for her. And THEN, she made reference to updating her blog. And I blamed that -- I'm sure enough people commented and complimented her on her blog that it didn't seem weird and forced when she first proclaimed utter uselessness in day-to-day survival and then tried to moralize about the Greater Meaning she and her husband found traveling in a converted bus ... but as I said, I couldn't get into the book.

And THEN, my roommate let me borrow Diablo Cody's Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper, which she wrote after chronicling said year in the life of an unlikely stripper on a blog. And let's just pause and consider her name. If you chose a pen name like Diablo Cody, you have to be an awesome writer, right? (Note to self: Be cool enough to one day warrant a pen name.)

And, according to Wikipedia (which, I know is evil but use anyway), she wrote the screenplay to Juno and Jennifer's Body.

So, that information alone should be enough to disprove my blog-to-book blahness curse. (And to prove it, you should read the book, if you can handle 212 pages mostly about stripping.)

BUT, Bri from Girls Guide to Homelessness just got a book deal! Let's recap: She had a job, lost it, became homeless, lived in a truck and camper she inherited after her father committed suicide, fell in love with another homeless blogger (who is originally from Scotland), had some weird impound problem with said camper that cost her $80 a night, landed an internship with Elle... and I'm sure I'm missing stuff. But I suspect her book will be awesome. And it sounds like the advance will get her into stable housing!

(And no, despite my meager attempts at blogging, I have no intention of writing a memoir. Unless something really, really awesome happens in the next 5 years. and then, by no means whatsoever, will the phrase "True Confessions of a ..." be in the title. the phrase overused. and usually, from what I can tell, does not involve anything that can honestly be categorized as a confession.)
So, don't laugh, but I'm pretty sure dieting makes me dumb.

As in, I found myself asking the same person the same question multiple times in the same day. She was nice about it, but that happened a few days after my mind was so numb seven hours into work that I wasn't confident I could spell my own name correctly. (Thankfully, I did. And everyone else's name, too. But that was sheer luck.)

I got better vitamins. I filled out my daily food log (yeah, using a purple marker didn't make THAT any less boring). And you may remember how excited I was when I lost a few pounds.

But the excitement is over. And my stomach churned almost ALL the time. And I felt weird when I worked out. And, you know, working out is my main form of stress relief (I still love 30 minutes on the elliptical trainer listening to a lot of Nickelback and a little country. I'm weird, I know.) Oh, and on a even more disturbing level, I found myself craving eggs scrambled with onion, tofu and portobello mushrooms. Who craves tofu? Someone who is only eating 1,200 calories a day. Or 1,400, when they cheat.

So, yeah, I gave up on NutriSystem.

I'll still probably eat the food intermittently with other food since I paid for it and all, and it's PROBABLY wrong to donate it to a food pantry. I can say I've gotten the point about portion control (which McDonald's and Wendy's and most other fast food chains have missed), but I'm going to have to survive on healthy food from the grocery story.

And a FEW carbs.
So, I totally forgot about this. But when I was in D.C., I found myself in Union Station as they were setting up the "Art of Can" exhibit. And I'm a little embarrassed to admit that it took me a few days before I realized the sculptures are made from Red Bull cans.


I missed seeing it once it was fully set up, but you can see more things from the exhibit (and much better pics) here.
... when I got an e-mail that there was an "Urgent Update" on Noah's Care Page.

Whew, it was good news. The family has gotten so many Christmas cards that Noah's mom doesn't have any more room, so she's redirecting mail to Noah's dad's house. 80,000 pieces of mail Monday alone.

Don't you just kind of love people, sometimes? It's so easy to be rude to random strangers you see on a daily basis, but people will rally around a sick kid with an easy wish without a second thought. :)

I'm guilty on both counts, though.

In the spirit of spreading awareness, here's a little bit of info about Neuroblastoma, which is a cancer that develops from nerve tissue in children and infants. The cause is unknown. About 1 in 100,000 children get it, and it's slightly more common in boys.
How do you sugar-coat crappy?

Not like, “Oh, that dress/haircut/pound-o-make-up looks great on you” when it actually doesn’t. But those times when someone looks you dead in the eye and announces: “This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.”

And you holy-hope it is, because it looks and sounds horrendous. And you’re kinda glad it didn’t happen to you.

I thought about that recently reading this blog, The Hungry Little Caterpillar (which I love, and am still reading through). The author (a 3-Dayer) remembers being annoyed when people trotted out the ole “if there’s anything I can do...” when they learned her mother had been recently diagnosed with breast cancer.

I’ll admit, I’m guilty of that. Because who know? Maybe the receiver has some deep need that isn’t obvious to me.

Seriously, if someone told me they needed me to pick up dinner/toiletries/random-movies-to-keep-the-kids-occupied because the only way they could deal with bad news was to stare at the wall, comatose, I would. And I wouldn’t urge them to stop staring at the wall until Day Three or so.

But it never seems to come to that.

Sometimes I mutter the obvious: “This must be a hard time for you,” or “That’s really sad.”

A few times, I’ve replied to “This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me,” with “Well, I’d hope so. This is pretty bad. But it looks like you have a lot of good people supporting you.”

Who knows if they hated me afterward? I deal with most unpleasant topics with (sometimes ill-advised) humor and hope it doesn’t shock the socks off the receiver. In reality, I am probably the least of their problems.

I never really seem to verbal-vomit my take on the truth, though.

I usually hope those in deep pain/fear/uncertainty realize that it’s not going to go away in a few weeks; it will be more like several months or a year. I hope they realize the goal of any coping mechanisms shouldn’t be to make the pain/fear/uncertainty go away, but to make living with the it more bearable. So that one day, they’ll wake up and not recognize the pain, but a new, scarred reality.

But I just keep that to myself.

Because who wants to hear that?

(You can find tips on responding to someone who has received bad health news here.)
So, out from the clatter of Facebook status updates about jogging, getting kids dressed, hating to go to work, I learned about Noah Scott Biorkman.

He’s five, and he’s dying of Neuroblastoma. The Little Man was diagnosed in February 2007, and it went into remission about six months later, only to relapse in September 2008. Apparently, the cancer continued to spread, and the doctors told his family that he won’t be with them much longer.

A Google search pointed me to a “Care Page” that Noah’s mom seems to be updating.

She said Noah was eating a corndog with his dad recently, and Noah commented that he was sad that he wouldn’t get to do that anymore when he dies. Dad understandably panicked when he heard this and told Noah that he needed to hang on until Christmas. He promised to buy the little guy every Transformer he doesn’t have if he made it until Christmas.

Then, the family rethought this promise, and the pressure it might put on their little guy, according to the Care Page. So they decided to bring Noah Christmas early. As in, this weekend.

They started asking friends, and those friends asked friends, and then radio stations and Facebook got a hold of it - and Noah is being flooded with Christmas cards.

Yesterday, the mailman brought them 64 cards and a package. And people have offered Christmas Carolers, Santas, and snow. (Apparently, they turned down the snow delivery.)

On Friday, Santa is going to bring Noah the rest of the cards from the post office not -- in a sleigh, but in a firetruck with a police escort. And on Sunday, his whole family will come over for a special celebration.

It’s not too late to mail cards to Michigan for Friday’s special delivery, right? If you want to get in on the fun, you can mail cards to:

(I assume the family hopes to one day regain their privacy after the outpouring of compassion and Christmas cards, so I removed the address Saturday - after Santa was scheduled to deliver ton of cards. Leave a message on the Care Page if you want to contact the family.)

Are you skeptical that this is one of those Internet scams? Don’t feel like a bad person; I asked the same thing - supposedly Noah’s mom is a friend of a coworker of a friend of a girl I went to high school with ... if I followed Facebook chatter correctly.

But never fear, Snopes is on it. And you can read the Care Page here. You’ll have to sign up for a log-in, but it’s pretty painless.
I really used to like Jon and Kate Plus Eight. I’d watch and make little mental notes of things to do when I become a mom: ice cream for lunch once a summer, making pots and pots of homemade soup in a single day and freezing it, special alone time for each kid with each parent, avid couponing.

OK, yeah, the avid couponing probably never would have happened...

:: TLC sigh ::

Kate’s interview by NBC on TLC was a downer. How quickly her blessings became cursed. And altogether typical.

We all know the mother who takes charge and sometimes berates her husband. We all know the father who somehow feels justified partying while his wife works hard. In a world that places such an emphasis on feminine form and appearance, it’s frustrating to see a mother in the spotlight be criticized for obviously caring how she looks.

Blah. Perhaps the show was more realistic than anyone planned.
Last Sunday, I was sitting at a table at a random craft fair trying to peddle my mom's cute purses-made-from-hardcover-books in an effort to cover some of my 3-Day travel costs. I had some other random crafts available, too, and a jar for donations to pass onto some of my 3-Day teammates who hadn't reached their minimums yet.

It was a crappy craft show. Few customers. I was chatting with the cranky old lady at the booth next to me. (Before you think I'm mean, please know she called herself a cranky old lady as she recounted a long conversation she had with someone at the telephone company about ways to reduce her bill. That was after she listed all her family members who had died in the last five years and discussed how her doctor wanted to put her on anti-depressants but she thought it wasn't worth the bother.)

Anyway, out of the blue, a TRUE cranky old lady looked at my 3-Day materials and told me breast cancer awareness makes her MAD.

Not mad like "It's horrible people are suffering." But mad like "Why is everyone rallying around pink things when there are plenty of other horrible cancers out there? Like lung cancer. And colon cancer." She told me she though breast cancer awareness was insulting to those battling other types of cancer.

I briefly considered offering her a pink ribbon temporary tattoo.

But I just smiled. And she went away, leaving a dozen retorts bubbling inside my head. Such as "You're RIGHT. Raising money for cancer research also insults the homeless, the socially marginalized, and abused animals. Best not do any charity work whatsoever than to try to help a few people." Or "Look, lady. Breast cancer slogans are cute and perky. Like, save second base. What kind of lung cancer slogan or prostate cancer slogan do you realistically think can go on a button?"

And then I wondered if cancers are similar enough that research for one type of cancer also can be applied to another type. I did a little googling, but didn't really find an answer. Does anyone know?

I did stumble across a cancer statistics report from the American Cancer Society. It has a nice little chart estimating the types of cancers that will be diagnosed and cause death this year, divided by gender.

New cases in men: Prostate (25%), lung and bronchial (15%), colon and rectum (10%), urinary bladder (7%), melanoma of the skin (5%), non-Hodgkin lymphoma (5%), kidney and renal pelvis (5%), Leukemia (3%), oral cavity (3%), pancreas (3%).

New cases in women: Breast cancer (27%), lung and bronchial (14%), colon and rectum (10%), uterine corpus (6%), non-Hodgkin lymphoma (4%), melanoma of the skin (4%), thyroid ($4), kidney and renal pelvis (3%), ovary (3%), pancreas (3%).

Interestingly enough, the report estimated that 192,370 new cases of breast cancer would be diagnosed in woman and 192,280 new cases of prostate cancer would be diagnosed in men this year. Pretty close to the same amount.

The American Cancer Society has several Web pages dedicated to prostate cancer here. And, it suggests men with an average risk of that type of cancer discuss having annual screenings with their doctor at age 50. Those with higher risk factors, such as prostate cancer running in their family, should start having those discussions at age 40.
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