Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Year In Review

I started this blog just under a year ago and took a walk down memory lane today, reviewing some of the thoughts and experiences that I decided to share here.  It's been strange to watch which posts become popular or resonate with "you" and which ones seem to fall flat.  The one that started it all, Little Men was a reflection on my son, on parenting, and a chance to feel wise about the hazy grind of raising toddlers.  The picture in this post will always be etched in my brain, my own Tom Sawyer painting the fence post image.

One that didn't actually get noticed much but that I found hilarious was Emergency , a humorous look at my younger son's trip to the ER and the constant struggles to discern when an emergency is actually an emergency and when I'm just being an irresponsible parent.

I dabbled for awhile with a writing prompt on other parents' questions/issues called "Asking the Village".  The one about when to leave our kids home alone was typical of my effort - a mix of what I had actually done and a recognition that there were lots of other approaches that could work too.  The title of the blog, This Will Be On the (Parenting) Test, was always meant as a poke.  None of us get to fully prepare or practice for parenting and yet we frequently assume that we are failing the tests that come every day.

Some of my posts became less and less about parenting and more about living in a very general sense.  A Season for Everything, Secure Your Airmask First, and Found Treasure were moments where I shared out loud some of my own emotional churnings, not specific to being a mom.


As I look back, I realize that some of my posts are time capsules for my sons. Minotaurs and Werebunnies, Dollar Store Wealth, or #!?&*%! Moments are pieces that I want to save for my kids to read when I am no longer a daily presence.  They are little snippets of my voice inserted in specific events of their childhood.  It isn't all cookie dough and kisses but a real life sample of my good and not so good days.

And some of my posts were leaps of faith where I shared some of my political or social perspectives.  These were always harder for me because I didn't want to alienate anyone. I wanted to create a space where the different approaches and perspectives could be honored.  ISAT Testing , Let's Talk Anyway , and If This Is Wrong, I Don't Want To Be Right were attempts at being both honest about my own opinions while still respectful of very different ones.

I'm not sure what 2013 will bring to my writing.  I've toyed with the idea of changing the title since my focus seems to be less focused on parenting, specifically. It's clear that I don't have the amount of time and commitment that's required to become a notable blogger. For that reason, I am grateful for the encouragement that does come.  I can't fully explain it, but just knowing that you are reading, pushes me to stay engaged and the writing definitely helps me to be more present. 

Wishing you abundance and the awareness to see when it is present!

-eltee
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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Yes, Levi there is a Santa Claus - and he's you

English: Santa Claus with a little girl Espera...
English: Santa Claus with a little girl Esperanto: Patro Kristnasko kaj malgranda knabino Suomi: Joulupukki ja pieni tyttö (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In the days leading up to Christmas I have found myself in 4 separate conversations about how to tell children about Santa Claus. One friend shared with a touch of shock that another friend continued to tell her 11yr old that Santa was real.  The woman insisted that her child told her everything and that if he had stopped believing, she would know. "We have a very good relationship.", was the closing remark.

At a neighborhood holiday party, a couple of new parents with a babe in arms struggled with whether or not to start the Santa story with their child. The question came immediately, "How do you stop the lie once you start?

And there it is. Creating a magical, childhood fantasy feels like a parental dream, until the day that the question comes. "Is Santa Claus real?" or "Which one is the real Santa?"  The dream really collapses when the child skips the question and moves straight to the assertion, "I know you're the one who gives the Santa presents." Do you counter?  Do you create an elaborate description about why they are wrong or do you enlist them in the conspiracy to protect the secret from their younger siblings?

These were the stories that I kept hearing this week.  The tales of the big reveal.  Grown adults still clearly remembering the night they saw their mom stuffing the stocking, sans beard and reindeer.  Some of the stories were more about the icky feelings that came from being privy to elaborate charades. Like the time when they heard their neighbors' plans to throw dog poop on the porch roof and chastise "Santa's reindeers" for the indiscretion.

In the same month that our children our hearing about kindergartners being slaughtered, it makes sense that we would want to create some type of figurehead for goodness, generosity, and selflessness.  What has never made sense to me is why we would create that figurehead as a stranger outside of our own homes, cities, and outside of our own selves.  We never wrote "Santa" on a gift tag.  When my 4 or 5 year old hit school and asked about Santa, I told the truth - as I understood it and as I wanted it to be for our family.  Santa was a real person. People call him different things depending on where they live but for us he's based on the man, St. Nicholas.  He gave gifts in secret, without any acknowledgement.  He was kind and wanted to make people feel special.  People liked what he did so much that even after he died they wanted to keep that special feeling alive.  Now, lots of people try to be like St. Nicholas.  They give gifts in secret, not using their real name, so that the attention is not on them and the person doesn't feel like they have to give a gift back.

I wasn't sure how my little speech was going to go over. The next year I got my answer on St. Nicholas day. I saw the traditional chocolate candy, orange and small gift(from my husband) and next to that, another piece of candy -not given by my husband but by "St. Nicholas".  That year good ol' St. Nick came in the form of a very small kindergartner. It felt special indeed, mysterious, and magical.  In the midst of all my concerns about how fragile my son's childhood would be, I had instead created a way for him to hang on to innocence, magic, and wonder.  It isn't outside of him or something that I need to wrap him in like a blanket of protection.  All of that goodness is inside him waiting to be offered up to the world. Yes, Levi, there is a Santa Claus - and he's you.
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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Cookie Day=Sanity


Napoleon Creams, Russian Teacakes, Cherry Blossoms, Nutmeg Logs, Maple Nutty Bars, Cranberry Pistachio Bark, 3 Shortbreads, Lemon Iced, and the still illusive-perfect-spice-cookie, these are the bits of the holidays that surround me today.  I just finished my annual cookie day(s), baking the Christmas treats that will highlight our gatherings and care packages. (The picture here doesn't do them justice.  I clearly don't have a career in food photography.)

My husband and sons, brothers and sisters, various neighbors and kids' classmates are always anxious to see if their favorite sweet treat will make the cut and be included in the lineup for that year's cookie day. Many people have questioned my sanity, my patience, and my commitment to 8-9 different varieties.  What about just making the perfect shortbread and calling it a day?  The answer is that cookie day IS my sanity and helps restore my patience with the small difficulties in my life. You see, cookie day is a labor of love and it is a labor that I share with my best friend.

Cookie day has evolved into an overnight and now this year, two nights and two days of baking mania.  13 pounds of butter and 12 pounds of powdered sugar later and my friend and I divvy up the "fruits" of our labor and return to our normal mom, family, and work demands. We return to a schedule of short phone calls, squeezed in during train commutes or waiting spells in the parking lot during school pick ups. I always think that we will delve into some heartfelt, Hallmark movie type dialogue during our baking intensive.  Maybe it's the effect of inhaling so much butter or tasting so much dough but what we really do, is just hang out with a dash of goofy.  It's such a gift, my favorite holiday gift, to spend time with her and just relax.

So, for the person on your list who you can never find the "right" gift, I suggest a day of hang time.  It's amazing to me to be with my friend and not have to watch the clock.  It's a sad commentary on our over scheduled lives but I know I'm not alone.  The more we work so that we can afford stuff, the more we wish we could just be with each other and relax a little.  Let that be your gift.  And if the family or coworkers in your life get frustrated with you being unavailable for a day or two, do what I do.  Feed them cookies.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Dollar Store Wealth

christmas 2007
christmas 2007 (Photo credit: paparutzi)
As I watched the Black Friday mall reports roll in, my mind briefly obsessed about the stupidity and commercialism of the Christmas season (that now apparently starts before Halloween).  I couldn't stay upset for too long though because I love the month of December.  I love cold weather more than hot.  I love baking more than cooking. I love making cards and snail mail.  All of these things make for a month of fun preparation.  One of my favorite traditions is that my family always designs a Christmas card.  My husband and I did this when we first lived together and we have struggled to come to creative consensus each season, for 22 years since.  We also make a lot of our gifts - first as a necessity and now I think, just because we enjoy it.

On our way back from my sister's home for Thanksgiving (over the river and through the woods) we started brainstorming about our card design this year and potential gift ideas.  The whole conversation transported me in time to my teenagers as toddlers. I flashed on the homemade Christmas gifts that they made for aunts and uncles, grandparents and friends - magnets, ornaments, framed art work, and a really fabulous one-of-a-kind handpainted sweatshirt.  Even better were my memories of them taking their allowances and shopping at the Dollar Store.  It was the perfect place for a kindergartner whose life savings came in under $20. $9 = 9 people to find a gift.  I would always foot the taxes, it was too hard to explain to 4 and 6 year olds.

There was inevitably a time in the shopping trip when they would ask me to stay in one specific corner of the store while they shopped for me.  I never second guessed their choices and frequently wished that I was as talented at understanding the interests and quirks of my loved ones when it came to my gifts.  Here is what I noticed early on and what continues to be true today.  No one expected to get a gift from their 4 year old relative but the real gift, pardon the obvious truism, was in the giving.  Taking it one step further, giving meant that they had extra -  bounty - surplus.  That is a powerful feeling for a child.  In the simple act of picking out the perfect coffee mug they were self-directed and in control, not needy or begging from a endless pool of want. Now as teenagers, they have their Christmas wishlist and it includes their own wants and the ways that they want to surprise and splurge on their loved ones. No matter our age, giving always makes us feel good about ourselves.  Let kids feel that wealthy.
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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Humility - Is it Possible Anymore?

020/365 united we stand...
020/365 united we stand... (Photo credit: Joits)
There's been a big pause since my last post.  It's been a busy time for me at my job and quite honestly,  I  wasn't sure what to write about the election. It was the only thing on my mind for awhile but I didn't know how to talk about it here. Now that the ballots are counted though, I do have two thoughts that keep swirling in my head - humility and concern.

Obama and Romney were in a near tie for the popular vote.  Even in the most Republican or most Democrat controlled outposts there was still a respectable contingent voting for the opposing party. (Yes, Virginia, there are Republicans in Chicago.) In theory, whomever wins an election will be making decisions based on the needs of people who voted for and against them. Our leaders may get financed by a specific party but when they arrive in office they are the public servant for everyone. Right?  That's what we say.

Public service to a whole country or state requires genuine concern. True public servants ask questions about what the people need.  The concern, if pursued, demands humility, the deep understanding that none of us knows it all. Is humility possible anymore? Humility requires that we listen to the experiences of others to better inform our limited experiences. 

I've always lived in urban areas and in my circle of friends, growing up, were people who had been injured on their jobs in the Gary steel mills.  Government controls like the Environmental Protection Agency or OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) were just "givens" in my mind.  Everything those agencies did was necessary and important and valued, in my experience.  I was taken aback when I visited rural New York and talked with folks who were small business owners.  They were struggling to absorb the expensive testing and safe disposal fees for their auto body shop.  The same laws that protected one set of my friends were bankrupting others.  I still felt that workplace safety was important but now I better understood the financial impact of those policies and how the issues were so much more complicated.
I hear alot about the need to cut the deficit and have family members who are frustrated about the amount of government supports for the poor. In my own job however, I work with an organization serving the homeless.  I know that ignoring the needs of the poor, regardless of your value system, is expensive to society.  Homeless prevention funding has been reduced dramatically and yet $3,000 in prevention costs, money that keeps a family from ever becoming homeless, can save the community up to $50,000.  Cutting the budget in the area of social services often means more people incurring expensive emergency room care, police costs, and prison expenses for the taxpayers.

The issues are always like this - complex, nuanced, and not served very well by hyperbole and name calling.
The time for sound bites is over for now.  We need to move our conversations to a more productive and less condemning place.  With a little bit of humility and the willingness to listen to another's perspective, we might just have a chance to talk about solutions instead of blame. We might be able to improve our problems a small fraction instead of worrying about being 100% "right".  We need to practice that lost art of conversation and teach the kids in our life about it as well.  If we do, maybe we'll raise a few future public servants that actually know how to think about all of us.
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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Facing Our Fears - Ghouls, Goblins, and the Grim Reaper

 If you're lucky, during the month of October, hayrides, apple picking, or pumpkin carving may help you balance the flow of horror movies and zombie costumes. Halloween brings scary images and lots of twisted notions of death.  Many of the scary creatures that fill our terror reels are those who have refused to die quietly, think Dracula, Frankenstein, zombies, and ghosts. There is one custom that we have in our family that comes on the heels of Halloween that helps put the ghouls and goblins into perspective for me - All Souls Day.  The day after the ghosts and brides of Frankenstein are sufficiently sedated in their sugar crashes, we reflect on the afterlife in a much more happy, appreciative, and tender way and in a way that does not involve any fake blood or fangs.  We incorporate the Day of the Dead rituals, creating a time for personal remembering of our loved ones who have died.  A photo, a representative token, and a candle for each person is laid out on our dinner table. Some flowers from the garden for my mom, a Lutheran hymnal for my husband's mom, a deck of pinochle cards for my grandfather - the backdrop for our stories. 

Day of the Dead Altar
Day of the Dead Altar (Photo credit: JenniferAnn.org)
Neither of our boys ever met our moms but on All Souls Day they'll hear how mine could find a song for any conversation.  We'll eat waffles, a frequent Sunday dinner option that my husband's mom was fond of making. Over time,we've added others to our memory meal and the boys now take more of a part in the storytelling.  They'll remind each other of the great grandmothers that they visited in the nursing homes, fighting over who could push the wheelchair. We'll hear again about cooking meals for all the farm hands and my godmother who wanted to take us to the new Mexican restaurant that she'd heard all about and then drove us into the Taco Bell parking lot.  There will be laughter and sadness and comfort.  Solace, reassurance, peace.  These are the gifts that come to me on All Souls Day.

It's a mistake to let ourselves and certainly our kids believe that death is the Halloween version of the black cloaked Grim Reaper.  It's a mistake to hide from the real feelings of loss and grief and pretend that we can only confront them with a literal mask. Facing our fears about death means that we can do more than mock it one day a year. We can remember and embrace. I encourage everyone to make up your own altar or create a way to honor your loved ones.  Here's a prayer that we share together at the very start of our All Souls Day ritual:

At the rising of the sun and at its going down We remember them.
At the blowing of the wind and the chill of winter We remember them.
At the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring We remember them.
At the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of summer We remember them.
At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of autumn We remember them.
At the beginning of the year and when it ends We remember them.
As long as we live, they too will live; for they are now a part of us, as we remember them.
When we are weary and in need of strength
We remember them.
When we are lost and sick at heart We remember them.
When we have joy we crave to share We remember them.
When we have decisions that are difficult to make We remember them.
When we have achievements that are based on theirs We remember them.
As long as we live, they too will live; for they are now a part of us, as we remember them. 


- Jewish prayer of remembrance

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Minotaurs and Werebunnies

Minotaur
As a child, I always dreamed of having a store bought costume for Halloween.  For some strange reason, the plastic mask with the super thin rubber band wrapped over my ears seemed like the best thing ever. The one time my mom actually brought a box home with the clear plastic top, devil face peering out, the thrill was short lived.  Once on my face and trick-or-treating, I couldn't manage to get the eye holes lined up well enough to see the path in front of me.

Isn't that so typical?  The ideas in our head vs. reality.  The planning and dreaming vs. the execution.  My memories of Halloween as a child are of  pirates with black smudges and an eye patch or of clowns wearing oversized leisure suit apparel . When I asked my son what he wanted to be for his 10th Halloween I was expecting something similar.  Instead, he looked me straight on and said, wait for it...minotaur.  What kid says minotaur?  What parent has to wikipedia her child's costume choice?  What parent goes searching the JoAnn Fabric aisles for minotaur-ish hair/fur material?
I spent so much time that year trying to create some close proximity of minotaur recognition in the mask.  I was proud of my cardboard box, turned head with horns.  I thought myself clever for having him wear the bulls sweatshirt for the body. (I didn't have a full bodied minotaur in me). Proud, clever, mom of the month candidate.

Werebunny (leftover Minotaur fur)
Then reality.  Halloween night, he went to 6 houses and removed the headress/mask.  He'd flip it down once he was at the top of the steps, ready to knock on the doors and as soon as he turned away, off it would come again.  By the tenth house, the cardboard was tearing, the horns were going limp and the "hair" was pulling from the jaw line, exposing the brown paper underneath.  At the party we attended later, the mask didn't get worn at all, just a boy in a Bulls sweatshirt.  Half basketball player/half boy. That's how it was every year.  A warm coat would cover the carefully sewn fur (Werebunny, don't ask) or stuffed muscle bound flannel shirt that was required for Frankenstein.  One trip to bob for apples and all the face paint of the pale and bloody Dracula would smear off.  It was always near impossible to carry the sword (pirate) or wand (wizard) while holding on to a bag of candy.

The great fun of Halloween was only about 10% realized on the night of October 31st.  The weeks of mid October were so much more fun.  The possibilities were endless.  The alter egos swirling. Just like Advent or Lent, the nine months of pregnancy, or Thanksgiving dinner, the preparation and the waiting are so much more interesting and complex than the final event.  Happy Halloween preparation!



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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Serving An Entire Country

My brother-in-law recently celebrated  his retirement from the U.S. Navy after 26 years of military service and we went to honor this milestone with him.  There were bigwigs and decorated folk all around.  There were commendations and certificates and special gifts (see picture) and rituals.  It was a very nice ceremony, pretty much what I expected except more personal.  What I didn't expect was how emotional I would become during the ceremony.  I figured my biggest job that day was going to be handing my sister packs of tissues.  In fact, it was me who half way through, had to lean over two seats and beg a pack off of my niece.  The sleeve of my sweater set was becoming unseemly.

Part of the emotionality came when my brother-in-law and his superior both spoke about the life and career that was coming to a close.  I was reminded of the skinny kid from Indiana who went to basic training and traveled across the globe to Japan and Spain.  I was reminded of the homes in California, Virginia, Georgia, Texas, Washington and Illinois and the months and years spent on a ship while his children grew up at home with their mom, my sister.  I was reminded of orders that made sense to me like his unit being called to help after Hurricane Andrew and ones that didn't, like going to Iraq.  It was intensely moving for me to hear him summarize his life and what all the choices had meant and what all the people in his life meant.

I've never really understood the military life that my brother-in-law chose.  I was terrified when their oldest son enlisted during wartime and was called to serve in Afghanistan. I assume that most of our leaders aren't really thinking of the tremendous sacrifice of our military personnel and  I get angry when money and power seem to matter more than people. I've had the painful moments where my "loving the soldier but not the war" stance left me feeling uncomfortable with my family. The bottom line though, is that I am proud of my brother-in-law.  I'm really glad that I was able to share in the special ceremony.  I think he was happy to have us be a part of the day as well, especially my son playing "Taps" for the closing.

The following morning the two of us, from two very different walks of life - military and human services, had the most amazing conversation.  We talked politics for about an hour.  Usually that is taboo and we did it during an election year!  Both of us are pretty calm people and we were clearly trying to use language that wasn't too intense or accusatory but there was something else.  We discussed health care, education, taxes, the role of government and the future of the U.S.  We talked about budget cuts, gun laws and which Presidents had shown genuine concern for the military (his opinion was based on how they had treated the military personnel stationed at the White House and Camp David).  We didn't reference which candidates we would be voting for (although he can see my bumper sticker for Obama) and we didn't lash out or put anyone down.  We just talked about what was important to us.

It was a great dialogue because we both had the other's respect.  No matter our differences, he knew that we had traveled to come and honor his 26 years of service. I knew that those 26 years were spent serving an entire country, not just the citizens who think like him or vote like him or pray like him.  I don't understand a lot of things about the military but I understand that serving an entire country is what good leaders do.  Our elected leaders need to practice more of that type of service.  

Monday, September 17, 2012

If This Is Wrong, I Don't Want to be Right

Christ Church Lutheran (Minneapolis), designed...
Christ Church Lutheran (Minneapolis), designed by Eliel Saarinen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I had the most fabulous weekend!  We had a family road trip to Minneapolis and attended the wedding of my husband's college roommate.  The rehearsal dinner was in the couple's backyard with amazing food, prepared by friends and fellow farmer's market organizers.  There were funny and touching toasts from the families and friends who had traveled from out of town to celebrate the wedding.  A slide show played, following the couple from their own separate childhoods to their present shared life. Nieces and nephews and the children of dear friends climbed trees, juggled, chased the chickens in the backyard coop, and got piggy back rides from the teenagers.

It was a full blown celebration of a life filled with genuine caring and passion.  This couple is loved because they have loved so deeply.  They have been loyal and tenacious in difficult times.  They have encouraged and organized to bring out the best in the people in their lives.  One is an environmental lawyer and the other a social worker.  They've joined causes and campaigns. They've looked up and out, instead of allowing others to define what is possible.  The twinkling lights in the trees and in the little votives on the tables, the laughter, and hugs, and even the apple cake with rum sauce (a recipe from great grandma) were all evidence of their life well lived.  We were all anxious for the next day and the real celebration of their marriage. 

The service at the Lutheran church where they attend was filled with meaning and intention like no other.  Their individual pastors from childhood were present (!) and shared prayers with the congregation during the service.  My husband and one of the nieces played music.  Other friends from school sang Ode to Joy in German in honor of the role that German Language Village played in their college years.  Impossibly cute and squirmy 5 and 7 year old nephews were the ring bearers and the church was awash in sunflowers from the farmer's market.  Their minister's sermon during the service spoke to all of the important pieces of their life and it was clear that she knew them well.  Her sermon was no generic wedding template.

The church was packed with about 300 guests and a reception followed in the courtyard.  Individual food trucks catered the outdoor party.  Our friends wanted to support the farmers and food trucks that also regularly served the farmer's market.  Locally grown food from small farms were well represented the whole weekend.  At every turn, their friends were supporting the wedding, serving as waiters, dish washers, bartenders, and janitors.  At 10pm the happy couple had left the church and friends and family lingered with the church staff to prepare the space for worship the next day.  We were exhausted and overjoyed.  More than anything I just felt so damn lucky.  I left Minneapolis thinking of all the ways I wanted to infuse my own marriage and family with some of their intentionality, commitment and passion.

As you might guess, this long description is not without a punchline.  During this most idyllic weekend, there was one single cloud that hung over the otherwise picture perfect postcard.  Their wedding will not be legally recognized in Minnesota.  It was two grooms who stood at the altar and as a result all of their religious faith, family loyalty, civic engagement, and love for one another is currently deemed "radical", "not the same as" or for some, quite unbelievably to me, "perverse".  My friend had an editorial in the Star Tribune the morning of his wedding day that spoke to the issues and served as the inspiration for my thoughts here.

For anyone who knows our friends, they know that their marriage as a same sex couple will not ruin the state of marriage for heterosexuals.  The only danger that their marriage poses is to raise the bar higher for the state of matrimony. 

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Time is Flying

When I first started writing here, I began by reflecting on this early memory of my son helping his dad.  I talked about how we have to create ways to engage our kids and let them act big and important.  It was such a super cute moment, little boy with his little brush, and one super ugly, blank canvass to attack.  Whatever strokes he laid down on that garage door were going to help and the only thing that could really go wrong could be fixed with soap and water.  I miss those days.

Lately, I realize that I am more and more hesitant to encourage that former two year old's independence.  I'm spending more time thinking about all the messes that might happen if my sons "pick up the brush".  Bullying, random violence, troubled or stressed out friends, and just garden variety school pressure occupy my thoughts.  And more and more, I feel like all I can really do is worry.  I've checked, and I'm not allowed to lock them up until it's safe outside.  More and more, I feel emotionally torn between keeping them from the world and losing them to the world.  Choosing to either stunt their self-confidence and autonomy or release them to the possibility of real dangers.  Have I mentioned that I miss the toddler years?

I want to protect them from the friends that are cutting, desperately wishing that the depths of human pain won't be witnessed quite so soon.  I want to shelter them from the gangbangers looking to fulfill their twisted initiation rite - physical violence to another person, any person, as they wait at the bus stop.  I want to teleport them to a time past high school where their own ideas for themselves can be realized instead of the forced constructs of standardized tests telling them what is possible.  I could shelter them from the world, drive them everywhere, allow visits with friends only in our own home, and provide private tutors instead of public schooling.  They'd be safe(r).  The only problem with that scenario is that with that level of life experience, I envision them still living in our home, with me doing everything for them, well into their thirties.

So, instead I have this reality.  My son is still helping fix the garage except higher up and using power tools.  Just like here, I'm out of the picture but waiting down below, out of sight, picking up pieces of debris. Loving other people is gut wrenching.  Loving children is heartbreak, in all the good and bad ways you can imagine.

Friday, August 31, 2012

It' A New Day

ReBoot
ReBoot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It's the last day of August.  At the close of this weekend, the school year will start and we will be in our more structured routine.  The fall almost feels like the new year. It's my time to make a list of intentions, the things that I know will help me live a happier and more productive life.  September is my reboot month.

New school supplies and clothes means we need to go through the closets and donate all those things that my monster men have grown out of.  We'll sit down and organize our schedules, making sure that homework, dinner and chores all have a slot.  We'll become more mindful about planning for fun stuff to happen.  We'll get the doctor's appointments taken care of and of course the haircuts.  September is our fresh start. 

For me, my fresh start is going to include a renewed focus on some self-care.  With a little more exercise in my life, I'm sure the endorphins will kick in and my writing will come more easily.  If I'm having more structure and intention maybe I'll even pack a lunch and water bottle for work. With all of the focused choices I might even start sending birthday cards and thank you notes again. It's a new day, everything is possible.


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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

To Plan or Not to Plan

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - FEBRUARY 07:  Ro...
The only real, formal plan I had this summer was a one week reunion with my siblings.  Camping trips, a water park or two, barbecues, and house projects were just normal summer things that I assumed we would plug in before school started again.  We all know what happens when we assume. School starts in one week and none of our normal summer highlights have occurred.  I feel like an ass.

I have good excuses for how my summer derailed.  First off and most importantly, it felt cruel to go camping or to a water park when my youngest son would have to sit out with his broken leg.  Then, I had the super hot, killer temps that forced me into a fetal position, whining in front of the air conditioner, instead of painting, for big chunks of June and July. And of course there was the Olympics, that seemingly made it impossible to do anything except watch...and watch...and watch.

Missed weekend trips and lingering house projects are not the end of the world. I know this well. Some of the things that filled our summer could never have been known about even if we had sat around the dining room table intentionally plotting out a vacation adventure.  Since we had no plans (other than the fabulous week with my sibs) we were able to respond in the moment and travel to be with family when there was an unexpected death.  We spent other weekends helping my brother-in-law with a big out of state move.  Not planning -it's not a bad thing necessarily. 

Last weekend though, I had no plans except for a brief work commitment and an evening barbecue.  We got an invitation to join our friends at a lake house and I was so excited.  I'd have to move some things around but it could work.  Then a last minute update came through Facebook that my son's youth group was going to have an overnight lock-in.  I got frustrated, feeling the tug-of-war between my wants and my kids.  Just as I had my son agreeing that a lake house sounded better than staying up all night with other teenagers, I got a message from a friend who currently lives in England.  She was in town with her family and wanted to get together, you guessed it of course, during the lake house weekend. It's a great unexpected and rare opportunity to see a good friend AND it's backing out on my dearest friend who lives just miles away but who I see only occasionally. Yay! and Ugh! all in the same moment.

Do other people go through this?  Tell me it's not just me.  If I planned better would some type of firm clarity take hold?  Am I jerked around so much because I haven't pinned things down?  Or is my fluid planning allowing me to take advantage of  unexpected opportunities and the needs of people I love?  This weekend I know exactly what I'm doing and it's big.  We'll be hosting my brother-in-law as he helps us put a new roof on our garage, grilling most of our meals, and going school shopping for the boys.  Unless of course it rains...
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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Lesson in Independence

English: Torker Unicycle taken by Andrew Dressel
My youngest son broke his leg this summer.  I quickly dove into a low level panic.  What would he do for three weeks, unable to unicycle, run, do gymnastics or enter his tennis camp?  What would/could I do to keep this very active, wonder boy couch bound?  I flashed on his extreme and sometimes upsetting behavior before I figured out that he just desperately needed physical activity in his life to find emotional balance. It turned out that I worried too much.  The cast came off yesterday and he weathered the sedentary lifestyle for three weeks just fine.  All of us, even his brother, walk away from these past weeks unscathed.  He in fact, did not completely lose it and start hurling verbal and physical bombs nor did he start going negative on himself.

English: Using underarm crutches. Español: Cam...
What he did do was insist that he do everything for himself the entire time he was on crutches.  Thirsty? He grabs a glass of water, sucks it up to his face and "carries" it hands free while he maneuvers the crutches around the dog and floor rug obstacles.  Hungry? He decides to slide his bum across the house and make a sandwich, doing pull ups to the counter and then balancing on one leg, practicing a complex yoga move. He carries it back to the couch in one hand while he hops on one foot to his spot in the living room.  I got so frustrated with him.  "Let me help you!!! Are you trying to break the other leg?"  He of course would just smile and reassure me, "I can do this."

He figured out that what he likes just as much as being physical is a challenge.  He likes to try new things and test himself.  He also likes to be self-reliant.  A unicycle is fun and unique.  But balancing a plate in your mouth while hopping and dodging a darting dog - that's a really noteworthy effort!  His cast is off and he still has to use the crutches for a while longer.  The past three weeks have been a great lesson for me.  My son wants to be strong and independent.  I'll still try to take care of him and help him (especially when he's carrying plates in his mouth) but I never want to be the one crippling him in any way.  He wouldn't let me even if I tried.
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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Dropping Out

Olympics
Olympics (Photo credit: ClaraDon)
In a sad and ironic turn of events, the Olympics have me in a serious couch potato slump.  I'm blaming Michael Phelps and Gabby Douglas for my lethargic, zombie-like state.  Their super powers apparently include mass hypnosis.  Part of the problem is that I stay up way too late watching and then hit the snooze button way too long the next morning, routinely blowing through the "go to the gym" window. The other issue is more psychological and not very fun to admit.

I watch the events slack jawed, staring in disbelief half of the time.  These people are incredible, how inspiring!  There is another part of me that watches the elite athletes and thinks, "who have I been kidding?"  My little attempts at gym membership and activity, even on my best weeks, pales in comparison to these machines.  I am better suited for score keeping than scoring.  It is this voice of self deprecation that keeps me staring at the tv late into the night and boycotting my local YMCA during these games.  Terrible irony but true (at least partially).

In less than a week the real truth will emerge.  The Olympics will end and not come around for another four years, in part because super human acts of strength, agility, balance, and speed can not be sustained endlessly without rest and training.  The rest of us mortals will return to our routines.  I'll leave the viewing stands of my couch and hop on the spinning bike, imagining Michael and Gabby cheering me on.
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Friday, July 27, 2012

Aunt Orpha - Honest Inspiration

I'm one of many family members, gathering for the memorial of my husband's Aunt Orpha.  She was a sister in an extremely large, Norwegian family, a mother to two daughters and four sons, an active church lady, a volunteer for multiple social service/justice organizations, and of course a dear friend.  It will be a good time to remember her and I'm looking forward to hearing more stories and testimonies - people speaking the truth in love about her life.

Speaking the truth in love, for me, means that she will be remembered as a full person.  A woman who was amazing and generous and committed to meeting the basic needs of others whenever she could.  A woman who was raised up in the rural Midwest and traveled the globe as an adult.  A woman who loved a bargain, finding a great set of dishes for a new refugee family at the neighborhood garage sale.  And truth in love,  a woman who would buy that set of dishes (cuz it's such a great bargain) ignoring the fact that her basement and garage held countless other sets of dishes already.  Cleaning out her home was a hard and sometimes frustrating activity.

It's important to remember the whole person so that we don't bestow protected sainthood upon our loved ones.  To see someone as wonderful AND flawed means that we can be wonderful AND flawed too.  Orpha wasn't a perfect anything.  None of us are.  I want to be like Aunt Orpha though, leaving this world and the people I meet with a little more kindness, love and compassion.  She did that with the same over the top results as her garage sale buying. May our own failings be overshadowed by our goodness.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Let's Talk Anyway

Here are two completely separate interactions that happened to me this week that have me churning.  The examples I'm going to give are two moments that took place in one day and smashed up in my mind but they are not unique or unusual. Let me know what you think.

First, a lovely get together with a friend who I haven't seen in a long time (except in Facebook land) and she asks me about writing this blog.  She admits that she saw the title and figured that as a single woman without children it wouldn't hold much interest or might even feel like a little pinch of salt on a sore spot.  I cringed, realizing that the very title of the blog had felt like an exclusionary clause to someone I like quite a lot.

Second, scanning some Facebook updates I see a relative remarking pretty harshly about the President and longing for his days in office to end soon.  I read the remarks and recoiled.  We like each other.  Just last month we were together face-to-face and sharing some important stories and experiences.

So, I'm thinking about how I listen to others. Do I speak honestly or defensively? Do I avoid people who I know will have a different point of view?  Are there ways that I could show myself to be more open to others?  Am I allowing myself opportunities to be challenged or taught by another?

Because here's the thing, I'll just be very blunt.  I can't afford to draw lines in the sand based on who's "with me".  If I decided to only talk with family members who were going to vote for Obama like me, I'd have maybe a handful of family left, including third cousins twice removed.  If I could only find wisdom from people who shared my spiritual beliefs, I might only have my own counsel to turn to - not a great option.

Here's the reality, we do like and love a ton of people who we don't completely understand. I had my four siblings with me a couple weeks ago and not one of us shares the same spiritual practices or lifestyle as one of the others.  We are incredibly different.  And yet we talk anyway.  We may get misunderstood and feel hurt sometimes but we aren't writing each other off and we're certainly not calling names or labeling each other as "them" or "those people".  In the big picture, I'm going to try and carry these thoughts with me, even into this crazy election season.  I'm a 46 year old, white, mom, who's voting for Obama.  Let's talk anyway.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Bucket List

Film poster for The Bucket List - Copyright 20...
Film poster for The Bucket List - Copyright 2007, Warner Bros. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I talked with my friend yesterday and she asked if I might like to help her escort her dying aunt to one of the local riverboat casinos.  These are the type of conversation we have lately, ah to mid-life.  "Yes!"  is how I responded immediately. She seemed to not hear my excitement and continued to tell me how other family members weren't all that jazzed to accompany a woman in the final weeks of her life on a field trip to the penny slots. She warned me that we might also bring her aunt's friend who has Alzheimers and who would also need supervision. The riverboat casino was on her aunt's Bucket List and seemed like one of the easier activities to help realize.  I've never been to a casino.  I'm in!

I haven't created a Bucket List. I saw the movie with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman but never took up the obvious project of making my own.  Part of my hesitation is that I'm just not all that creative about travel or adventuresome activities.  I kinda just go along and see what happens.  My friend's attempt to help her aunt transition out of this life is inspiring me a little.  I'm also currently listening to some talks from Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun, and her words are in my mind.  At one point she asks a basic question.  If we know that death is certain and we also know that the time of death is unknown, are we doing the thing that we really need to be doing right now?  If you were to die right now, would you be ok with your life choices? The interesting thing about that question is that your answer could be that you want to eat chocolate cake or that you want to meditate. Both might make you feel more ready to let go of this world. Your answer probably isn't going to be that you want to be mean to someone or to yourself or that you want to watch more tv.  A lot of her comments are about how humans are trained to avoid pain and so seek pleasure or activities that will numb pain.  I'm not a heroin user but my tv habits often feel like anesthesia.

So, at long last I'm thinking about a Bucket List.  So far it includes: a wilderness camping trip, Hawaii, Alaska, a train through Europe, ball room dance lessons, an extended conversation in Spanish, building my own bookshelf (carpentry skills), and playing blackjack in a casino.  Some of these could be considered straight forward pain numbing, pleasure activities but most are ways to live consciously, actively, that is, as an actor in my own life.  Blackjack will get checked off the list in short order.  It's probably the easiest item on my new little list but I'm surprisingly excited to make one.  Numbing pain or living life fully - we can make the choices at any time in our life.
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Thursday, July 12, 2012

You Can't Go Back

I am enjoying a week of sibling reunification and nostalgia.  As part of our time together we took a drive to Gary, IN to visit some of our former homes.  The pictures here are a sampling of our trip and proof of the old adage, "you can't go back".  Two of the three homes that we lived in while in Gary are now abandoned and uninhabitable.  It was such a weird feeling to see the outline of happy, familiar memories and have the "heeby jeeby" tingle going up my spine because I was expecting a drug addict or wild, rabid dog to jump out from the wide-open door, pulled from its hinges.  
today

1977

1982
today
The homes themselves seemed so much smaller.  We all say that when we go back and look at places from our childhood they look so much smaller than we remembered, forgetting that we ourselves were smaller and therefore everything else looked big from our perspective.  Walking around yesterday, it was more than that though.  The homes literally looked like they had shrunk.  To check, I pulled some old photos to compare and they really do look smaller today.  Changed landscaping or just overgrown shrubs and grasses that have swallowed the size of the home, missing awnings and planters have all diminished the appearance.  A part of me wonders if every home shrinks when a family leaves.  I imagine a vacuum pack sealer sucking out the laughter at birthday parties, the late night kisses goodnight, the puppies being born in the backyard, the strawberry patches and graduation open houses.  The day my family moved out of these homes we stepped out and closed the door and moved forward to the next place.  Pulling away, did we hear the slow, steady, slurping sound of all those moments and memories being extracted, leaving only the vacuum packed house address?

This leaves me with the very helpful take away, I can't go back but I can move forward and inhabit the space I'm in.  Every day that I manage to be present and live fully in the moment, I picture myself filling the space of my current home.  Hopefully my boys will look back on their home one day and think to themselves, "I remember it being so much bigger!" 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Same Gene Pool?

I frequently marvel at how different my two sons are.  Extroverted vs. introverted.  Physical vs. verbal.  Structured vs. free flowing.  This weekend one was shoveling mulch into garden beds, for a neighbor, for 7 and 8 hours a day and the other was creating a blog focusing on book reviews. They were born to the same parents, less than two years apart, and have lived in the same environment, and attended the same schools their whole lives. 

Sibling differences are also on my mind because all of my siblings have come to visit me this week.  The variety of twists and turns our lives have taken also provides some serious contrasts in our personalities and life styles.  The age span among us is such that I was sometimes mistaken as a teen mom when my youngest sister was born.  My family moved every 2-3 years for the bulk of my childhood, middle siblings know only three homes instead of my six and younger siblings were raised in multiple homes and with different parental arrangements.  The mystery for us is how it is that we could still be so much alike. It goes beyond the facial features or shared jokes.  There is a sensibility, a common reality that was endured/experienced even though many parts of our childhood were not the same.
View towards Michigan City from Mt. Baldy, Ind...
View towards Michigan City from Mt. Baldy, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We are about to leave and meet up with another brother who currently lives near our old haunts.  We are about to intentionally revisit the old homes that we lived in and some of the "favorite memories".  When we started creating the list of things that we wanted to share together, I was amazed at how unusual the list was.  Broasted chicken from the deli at the local grocery or dinner at the steakhouse chain that we hated and where three of the five of us had high school jobs. It was the only restaurant that we ever went to as a family because on our birthdays you could eat free (if you worked there) and your guests could eat half off.  The perfect meal plan for a family of 7 + 2 foster kids.  A trip to a local park that had a real tank that we would climb on like a jungle gym also made the list.  Our favorite thing and the one that we all mentioned was going on a trip to Mt. Baldy at the Indiana Dunes.

I warned my sibs that Mt. Baldy is in the midst of serious erosion problems.  The dune is literally swallowing up the forest at it's base and changing it's own form.  I'm sure that when we arrive there later today it will be like meeting and spending time with each other.  Different and yet so very familiar.
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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Queer Eye for Sanity and a Dash of Hope

Queer Eye
Queer Eye (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
How ironic it is that I am watching Queer Eye for the Straight Guy these days.  Thanks to the wonders of Netflix, I can watch the archived episodes of many cancelled cable shows that I never got to see in their prime.  If you never saw this "reality" makeover show it's basically five design gurus helping clueless heterosexual men become more stylish.  They makeover their wardrobe, home decor, grooming, culinary, and entertainment choices and leave the straight men in a cloud of fabulous fairy dust.  From the perch of their Manhattan loft, the Fab Five watch as cameras reveal how the men incorporate their new skills, appearance, wardrobe, and gorgeous home into their normal life with their friends and loved ones. 

As a child I was a tomboy and a mess most of the time.  In adulthood not much has changed.  There is one bottle of shampoo and one bottle of conditioner in our shower, family photographs is my only design theme, and though I enjoy baking, meals are pretty uninspired.  After every episode, I say out loud, "I want the Fab Five to come to our house!"  Mostly, I want them to come because they really do have an "eye".  Every single time they manage to take a dump of  house and transform it into a vision of awesomeness.  The guys that they makeover, almost always say,"I didn't know how to make this place (or myself) look good but if I did, it would have looked like this."  They are overwhelmed at how much their own preferences and lifestyle and personality are actually reflected in the space.  That's all I want.  Five, funny, creative guys with a seemingly unlimited spending account, to "get me" and show me what my style really is.  Is that too much to ask?

Evidently so.  In the real world, as I'm dreaming about chic, New York, style gods, my kitchen ceiling is spraying water all over the floor.  Over my morning coffee, I heard the clear sound of a shower.  Why would I hear the shower?  My husband never showers with the door open.  I get up and go to the kitchen.  Oh, of course, I hear a shower of water because I now mysteriously have one in my kitchen.  Too bad I don't have my soap and shampoo with me.  Eating breakfast while showering could shave so much time off my morning routine. What would the Fab Five from Queer Eye do in this situation?  Cry? Run screaming? No.  They would probably crack jokes about taking a group shower and then pop a bottle of champagne.

That is why I am completely hooked on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. In the midst of a very real life, watching someone's impossibly picture perfect transformation brings me some hope.  As I look up at the gaping hole in my ceiling I decide that one more episode is just what I need.
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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Summertime

We didn't have air conditioning when I was growing up - at least not in our own home.  It had been invented (in case my kids are reading).  We lived in the basement.  Slightly damp but cool we watched Hogan's Heroes, Petticoat Junction, Beverly Hillbillies and any other sitcom reruns that played between noon and 3pm, the hottest part of the day.

July's Tomato Haul
July's Tomato Haul (Photo credit: statelyenglishmanor)
We visited my grandpa on his residential farm.  He had farmed most his life and couldn't seem to give it up.  He bought a couple of acres next to his ranch split level and planted rows and rows of corn and tomatoes, peppers and squash.  My grandfather would bring us kids in to the house and set us up with small juice glasses of Coke over ice.  It was the only time I really drank soda as a kid and I wished during every visit that his hand would move over just a little to the left and bring down the tall tumblers for our drinks.  We never left his home with less than two bushels of whatever was ripe.  Later at home my mom would can the tomatoes and cut the corn from the cob to freeze.  We'd eat as much as we could fresh but there was always too much.  She'd work furiously to get the veggies "put up" before they started to turn.

goodncrazy.com
goodncrazy.com (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I remember sitting on the steps waiting for a breeze, playing in sprinklers, and drinking from the hose.  We had an above ground pool at two of our homes.  They were small but perfect for 10 year olds and great for keeping cool. Our vacations were always car trips to visit family, usually in New York or weekends camping.  We didn't have many organized camps or activities.  Our summers were a long, slow parade of tv shows, juice popsicles, and car rides, which by the way, also had no air conditioning.  It was windows rolled down, wind whipping our hair and deafening the space inside the car.

Sometimes summer was about bike ramps, races, being pushed off my bike and into the rosebushes, or having our bikes stolen.  It was about going to my friends house who had air conditioning and a turntable with 45's and listening to Eleanor Rigby.  Or it was about babysitting for the neighbor next door and wishing I could leave when the boyfriend came over and they started fighting.  It was witnessing the boys on the block slowly turn into tough guys, with their own little "chop shop" for stolen bikes (see above).

Summer is relaxed, the routines, the schedule, the demands are all a little loose.  The parental reins go slack.  Maybe it's just dozing at the beach while the kids bury each other in the sand.  Or maybe it's a few more hours of home alone time.  Or maybe it's the permission to go on their bike by themselves, around the block, or to the library, or across town.  Summer is adventure and exploration and sometimes a little danger. 

My boys joke that you can tell if you had a good summer by the number of scrapes and cuts on your knees.  Good or bad I'm not sure, but summer does seem to be a mix of juice pops and scrapes of one kind or another.
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Friday, June 29, 2012

Liebster ???

About a week ago this little bumper sticker arrived as an alert in my email.  There was a comment from my blog from someone I've never met. Steph at The Healthy Mom had bumped into one of my posts and wanted to share a virtual "thumbs up" with me. The Liebster Award is given to new blogs with 200 or fewer followers (I was a safe bet with 19).  It's meant to bring attention to undiscovered blogs and encourage folks to check 'em out.  Perhaps another intention is to force new bloggers to explore others as well and enter the deeper end of the blogging community.
 I'm grateful that Steph at The Healthy Mom found me somehow and took the time to give me this public pat on the back.  I really do feel so ignorant about the blogging world.  I struggle to make time for the writing and have not read many other blogs, I'm a little embarrassed to admit.  Steph's recognition and the requirement to suggest 5 others gave me the nudge to go exploring.  It was a wonderful way to hear from a wildly diverse group of people who I will likely never meet but can probably learn from and/or have fun as a voyeur in their life. Being nominated for a Liebster comes with a few guidelines, of course, including the following:
1. You must thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog, with a link back to their blog.

2. You must include the blog award, along with its purpose and guidelines, on your own blog.
3. You must pass the Liebster Blog Award on to 5 blogs (with fewer than 200 followers) you think deserve some recognition, and let them know of your nomination via comment on their blog, twitter, Facebook post, etc.

My Liebster nominees are:

The Healthy Mom  Thanks again to Steph for giving the shout out. Mom is in the title of her blog but she writes about a much wider range of topics than parenting or health.  I think she is funny and smart and honest, all qualities that make for interesting conversation.


1Voice 4 Peace  Jennifer was the first person I ever knew to write a blog.  Her writing is always a little calmer and thoughtful than I'm feeling and I love how reading her stuff can slow me down enough to pay attention.


Random Reflectionz  Christie is my bestest cheerleader.  I'm not sure about the rules of these fellow blogger awards.  Can I give Christie one of these if she's already received one?  I will plead naivete or plain blogging ignorance if anyone cares.  She's writing about everything and whether it's her relationships or current events, she's always smart and clear in her writing.

A Little Lucidity  irreverent and funny, Lucy lays it all out there and takes nothing too seriously. This blog has a PG-13, sometimes R rating for language and content if that bothers you be warned.  I think she's funny as @#$!.

Stratford-Deford  This is a blog I found just by punching the "next blog" button at the top of the Blogger page.  Sally's photography drew me in immediately.  I would love to fill my home with the images that she captures.  City scapes or landscapes, it's all beauty.


So there you have it.  Thank you mysterious Liebster Award creator for helping create an avenue for encouragement and exposure and pushing me to check out other voices.  My favorite thing about writing this piece is that I really am not that well connected and have just begun to write let alone follow other blogs.  As I went in search of other blogs that spoke to me, I was hooked by a Mormon, some lawyer types, and a self-proclaimed potty mouth.  All of us are raising kids and navigating relationships.  Thanks to all of you for the support, humor, and perspective that your blogs offer me!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Happy Sad 70th birthday

At one o'clock yesterday I looked down at the time stamp on my pc and saw 6/25/12.  A moment of happy recognition separated a millisecond later by sadness.  The anniversary of my mom's birthday. There was happiness that she was born and a flash at birthday celebrations of the past and then the immediate realization that the celebration would be limited to my internal thoughts. There was also a moment of appreciation that the loss of her physical and regular presence in my life does not overwhelm me on a daily basis anymore.  But neither does it go away. 

Later on I saw Facebook updates from my siblings and they reminded me that she would have been 70 years old.  I tried to imagine her at 70.  Wise and gentle for sure. Amazing grandmother and my own personal advice columnist. I was taken by the wistful longing that each of my sibs shared for our mom.  Their quiet grief hit me harder than her absence.  So much depth of feeling.  We do such a great job of being strong and confident and getting on with our lives.  Each of the five of us have important things going on and are productively walking forward each day.  The brief lifting of the veil was crushing.  It hit me so hard.  The "what ifs" washed over me in a wholly unhelpful way. The great celebration of her life is that thinking of her I'm not able to despair or stay depressed for long.  Her hokey/pithy statements gently scream,

"If life gives you lemons make lemonade."
"God doesn't make junk."
"When a door closes, God opens a window."

I love you.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Mid-Life Crisis Handles

"I can't seem to get a handle on my mid-life crisis."

These were the words of my longest and dearest friend, trying to sum up a string of difficult days and challenges.  In truth, the two of us have been sharing our various travails for a year or more.  Work struggles, relationships, body changes, health issues, parenting teenagers, and aging family members are the frequent topics of our conversations.  At some point my friend wisely reminded me that we were women of a certain age. She intimated that our malaise had a little bit to do with our denial that we were in our mid forties. We needed to talk with some older women and be reminded how very normal we were. Our struggles stemmed from working so hard to keep our feelings, bodies, and activity resembling our 30 year old selves.

Just Between Friends
Just Between Friends (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Our brilliant, nursery rhyme singing toddlers are now know-it-all, social media dependent teens. Hugs and snuggles are traded out for new clothes and rides to other people's homes. Enduring the advice and judgement of older family members, we now assist with retirement home decisions and funeral arrangements. Birth control choices and pap smears are old hat. The new ailments du jour seem to never have definitive prognosis but rather involve changing our normal routines and diet to accommodate our aging bodies and then getting used to the new set of limitations.  Every order of fries, drunken party, and dropped yoga class seems to all have converged on us over night.  There is the quiet lingering questions, for me at least, "Will I have enough money when I retire? for the kid's college? What should I be doing with my life? Am I in the midst of doing it already?  Will I ever have a grown up bed with headboard?"

"I can't seem to get a handle on my mid-life crisis."

It sounds depressing when I read it on the screen but in the moment I burst out laughing. I don't have a handle on all of "it".  But my friend has a handle on me and hopefully I have a bit of a handle on her. There are so many things out of my control and so many places in my life where I lose perspective. Be real with enough people and if you're lucky they can keep hold of you. 
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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Getting and Staying Inspired

Today was one of those full on jumble of LIFE days.  I was at a conference which turned out to be very useful (always a bit of crap shoot). While there I ran into an acquaintance from a very turbulent time in my life, turbulence not from him but from shared connections that we had.  We talked quite a bit and when we parted I was grateful for the visit, even though it picked a little of the protective scab that I'd created for that time, right off.  During the day I was receiving multiple texts and voice mails from my children who were out of school and another set from family far away who were updating me on the shocking and difficult final hours of a very dear and special aunt.  Letting go of past hurts, approving unicycling trips for my son, hearing almost hourly details of the heart wrenching decision to remove artificial life support, and of course taking notes on how to "Develop A Communication Plan", all left me feeling pretty connected to life and what is important to me and also frazzled.

When I finally got home and checked my email, the day was refreshingly and beautifully capped with a note from a friend and fellow blogger which was quite unexpected.  Jennifer's blog, 1voice4peace was truly my first inkling that expressing myself honestly and being vulnerable, might be good for me to pursue.  She pushed me to look beyond the first impression or easy, popular opinion and look instead with a more quieted mind.  She inspired me to live out my personal values and convinced me that caring about peace and the earth and conscious living was what "all the cool kids were doing".  The note from her was a link to her blog where she announced that she was passing the "Inspiring Blog Award" on to me.

She described that as recipient of the award I would need to thank the one (her) who gave it to me, with a link back to her blog; list some things about myself that people wouldn’t know from reading my blog; and   nominate at least one other blog for the Inspiring Blog Award.
So, wow, huh.       
In true Jennifer fashion she managed to slow me down and redirect the course of my day.  Our days frequently get filled up with past hurts, minutiae, obligations, and other people's needs.  We can forget that finding sources of inspiration, cultivating them, and staying engaged with those people and things that inspire us, is our salvation.  I need to do a much better job of cultivating and finding sources of inspiration, especially in this blogging community.  The one person that I do follow religiously and who is a constant source of support is Christine at Random Reflectionz.  The interesting thing about reading her blog is that she rarely writes about anything that I would have thought about that day.  I've read about politics, philosophy, spirituality, and infertility but also about, Korea and chimps.(!?) I never know what her topic will be but she's always smart and thoughtful and connects me to other resources that she's reading.  She also literally inspires me to write more by her kind words of encouragement, sharing my blog with friends, and giving me that blue thumbs up on Facebook on a regular basis.  I've also learned a lot about blogging stuff from her, so thanks Christine!  The Inspiring Blog Award is officially placed upon your laptop with much gratitude.

In terms of things you wouldn't have known about me from reading my blog... I kinda put it all out there.  Favorite color is green.  I wear Birkenstocks almost exclusively since having foot surgery.  I eat Nutella with a spoon.  Feel inspired yet?
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