Saturday, June 30, 2012


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. (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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Friday, June 8, 2012

Turning Point - Trail Blazer Camps

Appalachian Mountains
Appalachian Mountains (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I've written about a couple of the turning point moments in my boys' lives in the posts Give Me Twenty and Uno. As summer approaches and the temperatures spike I tend to daydream about the five summers that I spent as a camp counselor at Trail Blazer Camps.  The camp's current mission: "Through outdoor experiential environmental education, we strive to facilitate the development of values and life skills essential for productive citizenship in young people."  They take kids from New York City and invite them to live in the woods, in teepees, hogans, and Conestoga wagons. There were no log cabin dorms, air conditioning or in ground pool. The dining hall was the only building with a an actual roof that campers used.  Canvass was the norm and if your lodging was a little swankier, you had a wood platform floor.

In 1985 I traveled to Montague, NJ, near the Delaware Water Gap, inside the Appalachian Mountains, to work at Trail Blazers Camp (TBC).  Flying into New York City and then finding my way to the Port Authority bus terminal, and at last meeting my ride for the final bit of travel to the camp entrance was a true journey.  We arrived late at night and the rolling hills were dark, barely populated with homes set back in the forest.  As I laid down to sleep in the small cot of my temporary home I knew that I was changing.  I could actually feel it happening.  In a 12 hour period I had taken my first plane ride, navigated NYC (I am a directionally challenged person), and plopped myself into a job commitment that was going to require my terribly introverted self (like too scared to order pizza over the phone type shy) to lead groups of children through life in the woods for 30 days at a time!

There's so much that I learned at the camp, about nature and about myself. There is one moment though that shifted my perspective permanently.  I was participating in the two week training program with the other counselors.  Essentially, older wiser counselors, former camp directors, and seasoned trainers used their summer vacation to play in the woods and teach young and very green people like me how to feel confident in the woods, leading decentralized programming, under formidable and primitive living conditions, while singing songs and playing games.  There was a lot to learn. Red efts, lashing our shelters together, cooking outdoors, tool safety, group motivation, and pyscho social needs of our at risk youth, who would be in our care for a month, all needed to be absorbed in 10 days.  One evening after dinner every single counselor came for a talent show of sorts.  The talents were fun games or sing-a-longs that would be good to use when the campers came.  Everyone was supposed to get up and share something, in front of 30 other staff members. I had been a part of some great one-on-one conversations but the whole group? Heart racing. Gulp. Sweat. Yikes!

When it was my turn to share something, I dug deep.  Somewhere in my past Girl Scouting history I'd seen a kooky dance/song that was an excuse for absurdity and silliness.  It was so far out of my comfort zone but it was the only thing I could think of to do.  I stood up, beet red, nervous,and without any introduction or explanation and shouted in a military cadence type chant:

(shout back to me, "What's that you say?")
(What's that you say?")
"I SAID LET ME SEE YOU SHOOT THE MOON!  OOH AH AH  (pointing gun fingers up at the moon)AH OOH AH AH (more gun fingers and quick spins like I'm in a gun fight) AH OOH AH AH AH OOH!"

Resume normal posture and begin again, "LET ME SEE YOU COCK A ROACH!" What's that you say?
Drop to ground laying on my back, hands and feet in the air, like a large roach turned over on it's back side and wiggling. "OOH AH AH AH OOH AH AH AH OOH AH AH AH OOH!"  There were about three other verses but you get the idea.

teepee & kerosene lanterns
I wish I could find a You Tube video of this chant because it doesn't get  it's just presentation here in print.  I wish I could also have a picture of the group of counselors and trainers that were staring back at me that night.  They were smiling and laughing but also stunned.  Where was the quiet, unassuming, responsible, and probably too serious newbie?  Where indeed.  I learned a lot that summer but mostly I learned that I was very capable, good at motivating others, and a leader.  I was pushed to do stuff that I wouldn't have done or even thought to do on my own.  The pushing allowed me to learn about myself and my capacity.  There was something about being so vulnerable, physically outside, that pulled out this courage and confidence in me. Lake Mashipacong, The Lodge, Awanasa and Fernhill Farm campsites, the Dining Hall lawn overlooking the garden and the mountains, these are the places where my hardest and best summers took place. These are the places where I started to discover my current self.

Happy Summer!

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Monday, June 4, 2012

Let Them Carry the Milk

English: Royal Mail rubber band, discarded in ...
English: Royal Mail rubber band, discarded in Alnmouth, Northumberland. (c) Tagishsimon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When our kids were two or three the temper tantrums came because they wanted to do things for themselves.  As parents, we wanted to do it for them because it was quicker, neater, better. How long should we be expected to wait for one little person to put on a pair of socks?!  Of course we needed to help.  There are more things to do in a day than dress one toddler, for Pete's sake!

Of course I wanted to scoop my son up and carry him like a baby when he was collecting ALL of the discarded rubber bands from the mailman's deliveries.  It was his latest collection but I just wanted to get some milk at the store.  Thirty minutes later we arrived at the store, one block away.  On the way home I wised up.  I gave him the gallon of milk to carry home (one block).  His hands were full, his muscles straining, he was too busy to collect rubber bands, or talk to neighborhood dogs.  He was too focused on his heavy load to walk the balance beams/sidewalk ledges along our neighbor's homes.  He didn't complain or feel punished.  He felt big.  Important.  Needed.

The danger with doing things for our wee ones when we want to go faster or be neater, is that we get stuck in that pattern of interaction, way past the time that it makes any sense.  I have seen 13 year olds have their food cut for them, their juice poured in the glass for them, their hair brushed, and clothes picked out.  This was not because of some household butler service.  It was because of a deep fear of spills and mishaps.  It was because of the involved adults' need for control or perhaps their own discomfort of seeing their "baby" growing up and not needing them anymore.

English: Gallon milk jugs – This photo is dedi...
English: Gallon milk jugs – This photo is dedicated to a great wikipedian and an innovator in milk juggery. You know who you are. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I have heard of college students who have no idea how to live within a budget because every bill is paid for by mom and/or dad.  A credit card for one set of expenses (bill going to the parents), a mortgage or rent check sent every month on their behalf, family cell phone plan with unlimited use, and of course a vehicle that comes mysteriously without any car or insurance payments. If you are doing these types of things, STOP.   Treating our young adults like children will leave them feeling hollow and unproductive.  If our high school or college or even adult children are gaming into the wee hours of the morning but unable to focus their abilities on keeping a paying job, it's time we hand them the metaphorical gallon of milk. 

Big changes can't happen overnight.  Some sort of change can happen immediately though. Find some thing to hand back over, to let go of, to make the "child" figure out.  Stop giving spending money.  Announce that the car will need to be retired and replaced by a fleet of public transit buses and trains. Give a time frame when bills and responsibilities are going to be handed back over for them to control.  Help develop a budget. There will be frustration and confusion at first.  It may be hard to watch the choices that get made initially.  Messing up or failing is not a crime. Let them try so that they can test their own abilities.  Let them fail so that they can learn how strong they truly are.
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Friday, June 1, 2012

Struggling with irrelevance

"Your job is done.  What you can do has already happened."  A coworker was commenting on how once we have teenagers, we have to trust in the foundation that was laid in the previous decade plus.  We have little if any big influence over choices that they will make, how they will think about themselves, or values that they will embrace.  We must simply trust that what has already been done is good enough.  At a time when all of the big boogie men type teen problems are lurking in the shadows, her comment left me in a state of quiet contemplation, laced with anxiety.  Had we done enough?  Do my sons have what it takes to resist the pressures, temptations, and innocent stupidity of their peers?  Is their own character developed enough to push back against cynicism, anger, depression, and general angst?  Will they retain their specialness or just blend in with the lowest common denominator?

Dr. Garland prepares to fall
Dr. Garland prepares to fall (Photo credit: genvessel)
The bigger questions: have I communicated clearly, how special they are?  Have I lived out my values in a visible and compelling way?  Have I given sufficient tools for problem solving and judgement?  It's like a trust fall.  I'm up on the log at summer camp, dropping down into the outstretched arms of 10 campers.  It would probably only take one or two people in that chain to break ranks and land my tush on the ground.  The big difference in this metaphor is that my children are the ones falling away from me and it is their childhood that stretches out to catch them.  Children Learn What They Live, the poem by Dorothy Law Nolte, that hung in my home as a kid, keeps playing in my mind.

"If a child lives with approval,
He learns to like himself.
If a child lives with acceptance and friendship,
He learns to find love in the world."

That's all I want.  I don't have to complicate it.  I want my sons to like themselves and find love in the world. I want them to know that we accept and approve of them.  It's actually so much more than that though. We marvel at all that they are bringing to the world.  My biggest fear about the teenage years ahead is that the unique and marvelous in them will be silenced.  Ultimately, that is why I will never be irrelevant.  All of us parents will always have a job and a purpose.  Sometimes it will be to help sort out poor choices or full on catastrophe.  Sometimes it will be to set boundaries and encourage personal responsibility.  Our constant role though, no matter what happens in their life, no matter whether friends or future partners have their daily attention, is to remind them that they are loved and that they are marvelous. It is our life long job and always relevant.

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