December 15, 2013

The Measure of My Powers, 2014

This post was contributed by Katy McColl.


I stole that title from an MFK Fisher memoir, in which nearly every chapter is titled, The Measure of My Powers. The best thing about the book, in my opinion, is the epigraph:

“To be happy, you must have taken the measure of your powers, tasted the fruits of your passion, and learned your place in the world.”

Sarah hasn’t come out and said so, but we’ve been feeling unusually powerless this year because our mom is sick.

Our mom’s a farmer’s daughter who grew up riding her bike, reading Nancy Drew novels, and teaching herself to sew upstairs in her bedroom in a 19th century house on an 18th century farm. High times were celebrated with spaghetti and juice glasses of beer (kids included!); low times meant the family survived on the cream-topped milk straight from their cows. College advising? Not so much. I hate to see you waste all your babysitting money applying and end up disappointed… said my grandmother, without acknowledging that insulating yourself from disappointment often staves off greatness, too.

Then in 1967, Procter & Gamble awarded my mother a 4-year scholarship to Smith College—petty cash and book money included! And just like that, she changed her fate. “Did you hear about the farmer’s daughter,” the owner of a feed store 20 miles away asked my grandfather, marveling. Imagine the pride he must have felt in saying she was his.

Imagine the pride I feel now that she’s mine, too. Among other things, she introduced Great Books to our elementary school and raised four children—encouraging us to dream big and mess up as often as necessary. A full year into chemo, my beloved mom can’t walk, but she spends her days running an organization dedicated to ending child poverty.

So the best I can do from my sometimes powerless perch is to invest in the next generation of problem solvers. Women like Shirley Lemus, who grew up in a remote Guatemalan village and was ostracized by relatives for not dropping out of school to support the family. She’s gone on to work with Nobel-Peace-Prize-winner Muhammad Yunus to offer microcredit, healthcare, and other life-changing opportunities for the poor. She won a gifted and talented scholarship from Guatemala’s prestigious UFM university—where everyone studies economics and everyone learns how to be an entrepreneur. The school’s run on a shoestring—they’re quite proud of that—but scholarships are offered to the poorest, smartest, and most motivated students in the country. Including women intent on making the jump from the 3rd world to the 1st world—and dedicating their lives to helping other women make that jump, too.

I’m going to make a donation to the ITA Scholarship (Spanish for gifted and talented).

If you’d like to join me, I’d be very touched. More than that, actually—I’ll double your donation myself. (Just make a note of your gift in the comments section so I can be sure to match it.) Because I want us all to feel the measure of our powers grow exponentially from here on out.


p.s. I vetted this myself, but you can also read more about the scholars here, if you like.

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  • Alexandra: Sarah,

    Thank you for your years of inspiring posts and for the community that you have created in your comment section.

    I have made a donation and will email you with the information.

    All the best for a happy holiday with your family,

    Alexandra4 years ago

  • Katy McColl: Wow, Alexandra! thank you! Before Sarah started POP I never would have believed that such a strong community was possible on the Internet, but Sarah–and the like-minded people she gathers and attracts–are magicians of warmth.
    Katy4 years ago

  • Ewa: I’m reading this from another continent (and have deleted my PayPal account eons ago), but I do support an organisation helping children in Syria gain acccess to decent education – hope that counts. I also hope to start helping or working with another education-oriented charity in 2014.

    Katy, thank you for writing this dfficult post. My best wishes to your Mom, you, Sarah, and your entire family.4 years ago

  • Ewa: …of course, I didn’t want to you to think I wanted you to match my donations. I just wanted to show I’ve been trying to make a ripple, too.

    Greetings from Poland,
    Ewa4 years ago

  • Katie @ cakes, tea and dreams: I’m so sorry to hear your mom is ill. I have missed Sarah’s voice here. Thanks for dropping in, Katy. I hope you all get to celebrate together.4 years ago

  • Katy McColl: Thanks so much for your sweet comments, Ewa and Katie!4 years ago

  • andie: I’m so sorry to hear this.

    Sarah’s blog has always meant so much to me. It really helped me during a student loan crisis. Everyone on here suggested money saving tips and it made me feel so happy. It just felt good. I still cannot afford to send anything, but please know that she was missed, that her voice is unique and special. Most importantly,that this space has made people feel connected.4 years ago

  • Sara Rose: The best thing I did during my time on chemo was invest in others. Volunteer where and when I could and give what I could of myself. Consider a donation made. Happy Christmas to you all You are all brave. You are learning to sail this ship together.4 years ago

  • KD: Sending love and good vibes to you and your family, Sarah and Katy. Your mom is awesome. Best wishes to her, and warm wishes for the holiday season.4 years ago

  • liskev: This is a hard time for your family. Please know that you are all in my prayers. Thank you for the post. While I miss Sarah I wouldn’t want her to be doing anything else except what she is doing right now, being there with and for her family. Such strong women in your family! It’s good that you are supporting each other.4 years ago

  • Laureen: Incredible idea, Katy. What better way to celebrate the season–and your Mom’s work!–than by helping someone less fortunate dream big!!

    I’m in for $50!4 years ago

  • Julie: Oh, I am so sorry to hear about your mom. I actually think of her often for a funny reason! When our Brooklyn book club was in its early days, Sarah, you were hosting and told us you were talking to your mom about having to clean up the apt. (the obvious worst part of hosting anything). And she said the great thing about her book club was that no one cared if you wiped the bathroom down before people came over. I adore that sentiment, and have been trying to for years to cultivate friendships (and a cleaning philosophy) that embodies it.

    Sending the warmest wishes to your whole (absolutely stunning!) family. XO4 years ago

  • Alyssa S: Thanks for writing Katy! I’m so sorry to hear about your mom’s illness. I’m so glad (as I’m sure you are) that you all have each other.
    Please know that there is a whole community of people around the globe sending healing, warm wishes to your family.
    Hugs!4 years ago

  • Cadi: I think I speak on behalf of many when I say that I’ve been worried about Sarah – her clear, true voice and soulful words have been deeply missed, I am so sorry to hear that your mom is sick. Hold tight to one another; when my dear aunt was so very sick the strength and comfort my family found in one another’s embraces was what kept us all going.

    Sending best wishes and positive energy to your family! XO4 years ago

  • Katy McColl: I like to think that these well-wishes are worth all the more because they come from people who are pure of heart. In fact, I’m putting a whole lot of hope into karma these days.

    Andie, Sara Rose, KD Liskev, Julie, Alyssa: After I had Violet last year, Sarah came and basically kept us alive in this elemental way–bringing over grilled steaks and salads each night, and in this other way–watching trash tv with me as I nursed, exhausted. She is a latter day Florence Nightengale, in a pinup package, She has been similarly amazing with my mom. She’ll be back soon, wiser than ever!

    Love k

    Ps Laureen: life got a whole lot better as soon as you appeared.4 years ago

  • Helen Exley: Katy, thank you for sharing what is happening in your lives. Sending out positive thoughts and prayers for your Mom and your family.4 years ago

  • MaryLeigh: Katy, I actually read your musings for years in the pages of Jane mag and when, years later, I realized your sister was the inimitable and elegant voice of Pink of Perfection,my head imploded. You are both so insanely gifted. Blessings and thoughts and prayers and all that other good stuff to your mom,who obviously raised two awesome women, and to your entire family.4 years ago

  • Kate: Well your mum definitely raised some brave talented women. Sarah you gave me a little Brooklyn nudge in the summer and here I am opening a school in the States. I have passed this scholarship onto our CFO. You have given this community a lot including some great cocktails- don’t be shy about expecting something back from us! Take care of each other.4 years ago

  • Lana: I was so excited when my inbox informed me that Sarah had a new post-how we have missed her! Sadly, this is not what I was expecting to see, and my heart is breaking for all of you. So much love is being sent your way that I hope you can feel it shimmering down on you from every direction. Sarah seems to be s salve for so many souls.
    xo4 years ago

  • Mary Liz: Dear Sarah and Katy,
    I smiled really BIG when I saw a POP post in my inbox. When my own mother was fighting ovarian cancer back in 2006 – 2001, I was a subscriber and enjoyed the posts and how they helped me cherish the here and now, and I used to share some of them with Mom. After she passed away, I still felt a sense of warmth and promise finding a post in my box, and now I know why they became less frequent. I will keep your family in my prayers, and can truly see how this wonderful Mother has passed her awesome qualities along to the current generation! May your Mother enjoy the joys of family closeness as well as healing and comfort in the coming year. Thank you for you both, Sarah and Katy.4 years ago

  • Crystal: Katy, Sarah, Mom and the entire McColl clan,
    There have been so many times that I’ve read Sarah’s insightful, thoughtful, evocative prose and found myself the better for it; my day brightened, my step lightened or just comfort in the reminder that I’m not alone in the struggle. I hope you realize the depth of the community you’ve created here and the strength of the goodwill being directed to you as you battle. I’m sending all the karma points I have racked up your way but I have no doubt that for each reader who has posted, there are probably a dozen more who can’t find the words. Know that we are all out here; wishing, hoping, praying or conjuring the best for you. When my mother was sick I repeated the same invocation every day “Give me the strength to do what I need to do and be who I need to be.” and the strength always came. When the time is right, all of us will be so happy to have you back. For right now, you are right where you need to be, and we are all there with you in spirit.4 years ago

  • Brooke: I’m so sorry to hear your mom is ill. She sounds like an extraordinary woman. I’ve missed reading Sarah’s posts in the last several months. I recently made a microloan through in memory of my baby girl for the same reason you mention–because what is there to be done when we grieve or fear the loss of a beautiful soul but nourish the next generation of extraordinary women?

    Thinking of you and your family.4 years ago

  • Brittany C: What an excellent post! I worked at UFM in Summer 2012, and spread the news about them in New York this year. It’s truly an incredible university, and ITA is an outstanding scholarship program! Thank you so much for writing and especially for matching gifts. I just gave $30 and would love if you matched it 🙂4 years ago

  • Katy McColl: Some of these comments made me cry. Grief!

    Helen, Lana, thank you, sincerely.
    Kate, Attagirl! I love it!

    Mary Liz, you conjured up such a vivid portrait in your little post. Thank you.

    Crystal, here I go tearing up again. How utterly moving–thank you!

    Brooke, I don’t have the words to properly respond here, but let me say that I think my heart just split wide open and then changed a little bit for the better for having read your post.

    Sending lots of love right back at all of you! xxk4 years ago

  • Ellen Baker: Katy-Thank you for the post. I had not seen any recent posts from Sarah. I understand why now and am sorry to hear about your mother. I really like this blog-sending love and prayers to all the family.4 years ago

  • Nancy Cantwell: Katy and Sarah,
    Came across Sarah through yahoo shine last night and saw that Allison is ill on your blog today. I am so sorry to her that she has cancer. When I think of Allison, I remember her huge smile, wonderful red, wild hair, and rowdy, loud laughter. What a smart ,funny and accomplished woman she is. You know that my husband, Conan, built your house on Drexel with Ed Cary. I also laugh when I think of Bliss and how he would not keep his clothes on as a young child …. driving your Mom nuts. Has he improved in this area?
    Conan has had tongue cancer and has had a stroke. He has a daily caregiver. Getting old is not for sissies. Please send our love and fond memories to your Mom. Is she in MA or VT, I cannot remember. Best love and hugs, Nancy and Conan Cantwell4 years ago

  • Michelle: I check back here regularly, hoping to see a post from Sarah, telling us that your mother is better or, at the very least, that she’s going to spend more time at PoP again. I miss your voice terribly, Sarah, and I especially miss the community that you and us readers built together. I hope that your family is well and that you will be back again someday–even if only to tell us goodbye. xo4 years ago

  • Ewa: Same here. I’ve just popped up to read some of your “delight” posts, with a sick, sleeping child breathing heavily in my lap and a vision of unexpectedly tiring spring and summer ahead of me. I understand that this place might feel like something belonging to a past phase in life for you, but still I’d like you to know that even across continents your thoughts, warmth, sense of aesthetics and the desire for order and systems and simplification give people solace. Love, Ewa4 years ago

  • Alyssa S: Missing you, Sarah and sending warm thoughts and hugs your way.
    Alyssa4 years ago

  • Amy C: Hey Sarah!
    You just popped into my mind. I hope you are doing well, that you are finding your way through life. I miss your writing and your insight and your lovely spirit. I sometimes pray for you and your Mom and your family.

    I don’t know if you remember, but I was reaaaaally sick for a long time. Turns out, I had celiac’s disease! I am so much healthier now, thank God.

    Pretty much the day I got better, we enrolled in a foster/adoption program, and now we now have FOUR girls (all sisters) in our house! It is such a joy. Nowadays, I always try to see the joy. Even among the very deep pain (oh the pain) that these girls bring with them – stories of starvation of abuse and no hope – I strive to find those moments of joy, for them and myself. I think that is something you helped me see, over your many years of beautiful words.

    Anyway, thinking of you.4 years ago

  • Donna: Sarah and Katy,
    I am so very sorry for your loss. My heart aches for you. Today would have been my mother’s 82nd birthday. She died when she was 59 and I had just turned 22. Today, though I miss her terribly and wish I could ask her advice on a daily basis, I can look back at my short time with her and smile and laugh. The pain so vivid and encroaching has mellowed into something golden and warm. Something I can touch if I want and leave alone if I want. I wish you peace and love and no guilt, never guilt, during your days and years of healing and living. What a testament to your mother are you women. My thoughts are with you.
    Donna4 years ago

  • Michelle: I’m so very sorry about the passing of your mother, Sarah. Your lovely words and inspiring posts have given me much comfort over the years. I hope that You find whatever comfort you need right now.4 years ago

  • Alyssa S: I’m so very sorry for your loss. I wish you peace and healing. From how you’ve written of her, I can only imagine your mother to be a wonderful, wise woman with an amazing heart.
    Your tribe is here for you. Anytime.
    Peace and blessings4 years ago

  • Summer Rae: I miss you. 🙁3 years ago

  • Heather Grilliot: still hopefully your words will come back. Sarah, you are missed. Happy New Year!3 years ago

  • Ewa: Same here. Your voice on Twitter is different from your PoP voice. The world needs your writing, Sarah McColl!3 years ago

  • KD: I check here often, and hope you’ll come back when you’re ready. We miss you here. Wishing you all the best, and days filled with light, laughter, and love.3 years ago

  • Ashley: We miss you.3 years ago

  • Emma Byrne: Oh I really wish you were writing here! I’m hopeful all is well in your life.3 years ago

  • Alyssa: Missing you and hoping you’re doing well. Have a wonderful holiday season 🙂2 years ago

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