Thursday, December 25, 2008

Tallying it Up


What We Didn't Get for Christmas

  • the gift I ordered for Bubba two weeks ago. FedEx hasn't been able to navigate the icy and snowy roads to get it here yet.
  • extended family
  • pumpkin pie (or any kind of dessert, for that matter)


What We Did Get for Christmas


  • two little girls who woke us up at 6:30 because they couldn't wait a moment longer to find out what Santa had left for them.
  • homemade calendars with examples of the girls' artwork in them - one for each of our home offices.
  • a nap (well, I got one - I don't know about anyone else).
  • squeals of delight as the girls opened their gifts from me and Bubba.
  • four games of Scrabble and a family game of Sorry.
  • not one sibling squabble (no, really. They even asked to have a sleepover with each other tonight).
  • another six inches of the fluffiest, whitest, most beautiful snow I think I've ever seen.
  • phone calls from friends and family wishing us love and peace...

...and so much more. It is difficult to estimate the vast difference between the way this day played out and the way it was planned, over two months ago. Regardless of the fact that we weren't in the city we expected to be in, eating the Christmas dinner we planned on eating, sitting in a room full of cousins and grandparents as the kids tore the wrapping off of piles of gifts, I couldn't envision a better day.

Over the past week we have all found our own way to come to terms with the circumstances that have us here in our house, without extended family. My eldest has had the most difficult time, mourning the loss of time with her cousin and the new babies she's dying to see. She has shed buckets of frustrated tears over and over again as she peers out the window to watch the snow fall. Bubba has had to overcome serious cabin fever and contend with my sanguine attitude about it all. The youngest is just happy to have us all together. She doesn't care what we're doing at all.

This morning, the oldest pulled me aside and thanked me for the gifts she received. As I hugged her she whispered, "I don't even care that we're not in Oregon. It's a perfect Christmas, Mommy."

Who needs pumpkin pie?


Saturday, December 20, 2008

You Win Some, You Lose Some

Bubba's got cabin fever. Once he emerged from his cave (aka, his home office) and realized there was no way we're heading out of town for the holidays, he began plotting. Checking the weather forecast, he felt reasonably sure that we were safe from any additional storms until late this afternoon and began throwing out ideas:
-take the girls to the gym for a swim
-take the girls out to lunch
-take the girls out for a movie
-somehow incorporate all three things

I recognized the panicked look in his eyes and figured I'd better do something quick. We found a movie close by that wouldn't require us to drive up or down any hills and would be over by 2:00pm, pitched the idea to the girls and headed out to see "The Tale of Desperaux."

Despite the fact that 75mph winds and several inches of snow were forecast, I only stepped out of the movie twice. First, I went out to get the girls a snack (and take a peek outside at the parking lot and the sky). Second, a bathroom stop (and a peek outside). Nonetheless, I have to say that the movie was great. Both girls thoroughly enjoyed it and while there were no belly-laughs, it was cute, had adventure and a message that was conveyed while not being rammed down our throats. I haven't read the book (although my eldest has and she swears the two are not radically divergent), but the movie made me want to.

Unfortunately, by the time we made our way home along the thick sheets of ice that used to be major roads, the snow had begun to fall again and the wind was swirling around us, creating mini-tornadoes of the white stuff. Lucky us, there's a Netflix distribution center not too far from us and the Postal Service came through with a movie waiting in our mailbox.

After the girls were safely in bed, assured that we would come find them if the power goes out tonight, we settled in for movie #2, wondering whether we'd manage to make it through the entire flick before losing power. After having seen the movie, I'm not sure whether we should have wished for a downed power line.

Bubba's in charge of the Netflix queue and unless I keep him honest, he often succumbs to his redneck impulses and stacks the list with 'adventure' movies. Not that I don't appreciate a good Indiana Jones or James Bond-type movie from time to time, but "The Mummy 3?" Let me just say I'm proud of Rachel Weisz for choosing not to affiliate herself with this particular sequel. Jet Li showed some poor judgement and I'm sure I won't be likely to look for another Brendan Fraser movie anytime soon. Pathetic.

For now, the winds have died down a bit, but the snow still hasn't stopped. I can only hope there is power enough to watch a pay-per-view movie to erase "The Mummy 3" from my memory. Wish us luck.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Would Someone Please Stop Shaking the Damn Snowglobe, Already?


My girls, as many others, have a fascination with snow globes. We have a collection of sorts that is placed around the base of the Christmas tree and each one has a story. One is from England and reminds us of the girls' closest friends who moved away last year. Another one features a jersey cow wearing a Santa hat in deference to Bubba's upbringing on a cattle ranch. And so on. They are all different shapes and sizes and it is difficult for any of us to pass by the tree without stopping to give one a shake.

Until today. The weather forecasters have been predicting a big snowstorm all week. We fought our way through an incredibly cold weekend, making sure the pipes were wrapped and the outdoor cat was inside, shocked when we saw the low temperature of 17 degrees, but only got a smidge of the white stuff. Not even enough to cover all the little green points of grass in the lawn. Monday - school and record cold. Tuesday - school and record cold. We watched the flag whip in the wind and listened to the radio as we sent the children out onto the playground all bundled up. Only their eyes showed, shiny between the layers of scarves and hoods, arms artificially elongated with too-big mittens that hung down from their heavy winter coats. They lasted only about 15 minutes in the glorious sunshine before they came in, scarves floppy and eyes watering, noses red and shiny. Too cold.

We watched the sky Tuesday night, awaiting the snow that was by now hours late. We awoke Wednesday morning to lawns dusted with snow and streets not even wet. The school district closed the schools to guard against stranded children after the morning news assured us the storm would hit by noon. I ran to the school to talk to parents who were confused and angry - they had to go to work, why couldn't they bring their kids to school? The roads were clear! Ridiculous to close schools "just in case."

By 2:00pm, the storm had stood me up. I bundled up to head for home, not even bothering to stop at the grocery store on the way. I assured my kids that they would have school again on Thursday. No way was the district going to make this mistake again.

I awoke to silence at 4:30am. Not middle-of-the-night silence, absolute silence. That kind of silence that only comes with a thick insulation layer of snow. Lots of snow. I separated the blinds just enough to peer out into the backyard and was smack in the middle of a snowglobe that someone had shaken hard. This wasn't just one of those casual, turn-it-upsidedown-once scenarios. This was an overly excited kid pumping the damn thing up and down so hard you can't even figure out what the scene is inside for the white stuff falling all around.

I woke up for real at 7:00 to a foot of snow covering every horizontal surface and birds I've never seen before clustered around the last remaining suet cake hanging from the feeder. Woodpeckers, blue jays, starlings, robins, all of them pecking frantically at the seeds. We filled plastic bowls with extra seed and set them on the deck. Within an hour each and every one of them was buried under another three inches of snow. It has been snowing so hard all day that I know how that poor cow feels trapped inside the thick glass with glittering white bits raining down on him all the time. We're now closer to two feet of snow and it's still coming down.

It's gorgeous and fun. It's more snow than I've ever seen fall here at one time. It is perfectly dry and squeaky and makes awesome snowballs. But it's enough. Two feet is enough. Would someone please stop shaking this blasted thing?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Heart and Soul


I've been wondering where and how Dad was going to show up this Christmas. I figured it would happen once we made our way down to Oregon to spend the holidays with family, but since the newest additions to our clan are both female, I'm not banking on anything there.

True to form, though, it seems he's surprised me again. Dad's using the girls' favorite teacher. The reason this is surprising is because she would have driven him nuts. 

About three months ago, Bubba and I decided it would be cool to get an electric keyboard and sign Lola up for piano lessons. She has a fantastic piano teacher and has yet to get bored with practicing an hour a week. She is especially excited right now because she's getting to play lots of Christmas songs that she can sing along to and every time we have family or friends over she puts on little concerts for them. The opening song and the encore melody are always the same, though, no matter the season. The first melody I taught her to play on the piano was a simple part of the song "Heart and Soul." Even though I failed to recall how to read music or play anything else on the piano from my three years of lessons, somehow I remembered how to play this little ditty.

One of my most favorite childhood memories is playing this duet with my father. He and I would sit side by side on the piano bench and tickle the ivories together. I don't think Dad knew how to play anything else on the piano, either, but man could he pound out "Heart and Soul." We would smile at each other as we took a deep breath, anticipating hitting the first keys simultaneously, turn our heads forward dramatically, and start playing. I can feel the cool keys beneath my small fingers, see Dad's dry, rough fingertips bouncing across the keyboard, my face splitting into an impossibly big grin.

Dad played the guitar and the banjo, too. As a special treat every couple of months, he would sit on the floor of the living room with us, open up the case and lift his guitar or banjo out as if it were a newborn baby. Underneath were sheafs of papers with his sharp slanty handwriting on them - lyrics to old folk songs like "Froggie Went A'Courtin" and "Greensleeves." We would cluster around him and sing together, our small voices pinging off his deep, honeyed one as we swayed back and forth grinning like fools.

Playing the piano with Dad was better, though. I got to sit with him by myself. I got to play with him. We never got to touch the guitar or the banjo. They were special, sacred objects not for kids to experiment with. When we played "Heart and Soul" our parts were equally important - each needed the other to make the whole sound good. It was just us.

Last night, the girls' favorite teacher came for dinner. My oldest daughter was singing in a Christmas choral concert and she was going to go with us. When she walked in the door, Lola immediately ordered her to sit and listen to a piano concert. She complied. Weeks before, Mrs. H had confided in me that Christmas was a rough time for her. Having lost both her parents and her husband, she was nearly alone during the holidays. Her favorite memories of the holiday were of gathering around the piano with her siblings to sing Christmas carols as her mother accompanied them.

Mrs. H is scattered and brilliant. She has difficulty finishing a conversation and is easily distracted. She loves her students and ignites them with an amazing excitement for learning and life. She is wacky and irreverent, flaky and spontaneous, and incredibly well-read. She has a heart of gold and has lost an awful lot. She was very close to her father and was devastated when he died and has come back to build her life slowly and determinedly to include only authentic people.

She would have made my father crazy. Insane. He would have been worried that she is not only one of my girls' teachers, but their favorite one. The two of them have nothing in common.

But when Mrs. H, a woman who doesn't actually know how to play an instrument or read sheet music, sat down at the piano and played "Heart and Soul" with Lola, I knew. He's back. He's here. He is with us. Just when I least expect it.
Click on the link below to hear the song. I listened to it this morning and it brought me to my knees.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The Eaglets Have Landed!


I'm an auntie again. Bubba's brother and his wife had twin girls last night and I am over the moon. This sweet couple are parents to a lovely son already and are excited about taking on the challenge of bringing home two new babies.

Let me just say that the past two weeks have been a bit of a roller coaster. On bed rest for the past five weeks or so, my sister-in-law was no doubt inundated with phone calls from family and friends inquiring about her health and due date until she couldn't stand it anymore. We spent Thanksgiving with Bubba's family (except for the notably absent couple) and phoned them as a group every day for updates. While she had been to the hospital a few times that week, she was sent home because her labor was not progressing and she chose not to have it accelerated.

This woman is strong in mind and body. When they put her on bed rest, they noted that both babies were in the breech position and brought up the subject of a C-section. Her response was to lie on a 30 degree incline three times a day in order to help the babies "flip." One of them did. A week later, the other one did. Unfortunately, she changed her mind a day or two later and went back.

By the time she was 38 weeks along, the doctors were more and more interested in inducing her, but she remained firm. She was determined to have these babies vaginally if at all possible. I'm happy to report that she got her wish - at least halfway. Yesterday afternoon, at 39 weeks and counting, they broke her water and she delivered baby A vaginally. Unfortunately, they had to go in and get baby B out via emergency C-section, but I talked to my brother-in-law this morning and everyone is doing tremendously.

At least until we all realize that there will be FOUR TEENAGE GIRLS in the family in about 11 years' time. Oh crap. We'd better all start our relaxation techniques now. And I'm thinking that at least once a year, Bubba, his brother and the lone nephew will escape for some testosterone-time.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Hold That Holiday!


For a great many people, the day after Thanksgiving falls like the hammer on a starter's pistol. Game on! Even if you've started shopping for Christmas gifts, the real race to prepare has begun. As I drove home from my sister-in-law's feast of leftovers on Friday evening I quietly noticed how many of the houses lining the streets were already adorned with festive lights. Here and there I was able to catch a glimpse of an evergreen tree through a front window, but I didn't say anything. Shhh. I'm not drawing attention to any of this. Nope, not risking rousing the attentions of the children lolling in their turkey-based comas in the seats behind me.

But it only takes once. One joker in an SUV blowing past us in the fast lane with a seven-footer bound to the roof to destroy the peace.

"AAARGHHH!" comes the bellow from the back seat, "We can't start celebrating Christmas until after my birthday, people!"

And we won't. No tree. No doors on the advent calendar will be pried open to spy the treasures beneath. Not a single box of ornaments or holiday decorations hauled downstairs from the attic. We are not allowed. Not until the day after each and every gift has been unwrapped, the birthday paper recycled, the ribbons hung on the bedposts are we free to think about what happens on December 25th.

For now, we must forget that there are 24 days until the big day. Nope, for our family, the only upcoming holiday that registers on our radar is the one that is racing our way like a runaway train. This weekend we will celebrate the most important day in December - the day our oldest daughter, our first child, our drama queen was born. We are allowed to eat leftover birthday cake as we decorate our tree the day after her birthday. We are allowed to begin counting down to Christmas Day the day after her birthday. Then and only then is Bubba allowed to climb the ladder and hang the lights from our eaves. Until then, just hold your horses, Bub.

Or else.

Friday, November 21, 2008

You Don't Say...


I have one of the strangest children on the planet. No, really.

Most of the time she acts like a normal kid - hating socks, fighting with her sister, wanting to watch TV and play board games all the time. She loves ice cream and breakfast pastries, and hates sleeping. All fairly standard stuff. But sometimes she catches me off guard.

Like the morning she was snuggling in bed with Bubba and me, trying to wake us up and get us out of bed. Wiggling down in between us, she buried her face in the pillow and came up again just as quickly, yelping, "Ick! It smells like felt in here."

Felt? Who knows what felt smells like? And, even if they did - who could imagine that it smelled foul?

Or, take the other day when she was just starting to come down with the stomach flu. She had yet to spike a fever, but was really dragging her tail behind her and she was incredibly grumpy. As we piled into the car with the school bags and lunch boxes and I asked the girls to buckle their seat belts, she turned to her big sister and said, "Grab a paint brush and dip it in me. I feel like a big blob of paint. Green paint."

Little did I know that three hours later she would be spiking a fever and doubled over with stomach pain. Green, indeed.

You know the saying "butterflies in my stomach?" Last week, she was so excited she told us she had "cute, furry animals in her pants."

Yup, never a dull moment around here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Strength, Weakness, It's All in Your Perspective


There is at least one thing in my life I've never aspired to be good at. One thing that, consistently, I've had absolutely no interest in learning about or getting more accomplished at and that is money-management. While math was (and continues to be) a favorite subject of mine, those numbers exist merely as playthings for my mind. Money is as abstract and unreal to me as most of the creatures from Star Trek.

As a child, my allowance always burned a hole in my pocket. I never had anything saved for a rainy day and while there were times when I wished I could be more like my big brother and manage to save a big chunk of it for something truly special, it was never more than a passing desire.

As I got older, that particular issue began to plague me. Living on my own in the dorms as a freshman in college, I jumped at the chance to apply for one of the credit cards offered to new students in the commons. You know, the first month of school the credit card companies all had their tables set up offering water bottles and dinner vouchers and free sweatshirts if you just signed up for their card. You could convince yourself that you'd never have to even use the card after you got the free stuff, right? And the part where they explained the interest rates? I didn't bother with reading it - I had too much studying to do for my classes - who had time for that?

Turns out 21% is not actually a good rate. Turns out the line they fed me about making sure I established my own credit actually wasn't a good thing if I couldn't manage to make my payments on time because the credit I was establishing was not good credit.

When I moved into an apartment with a friend, I decided I needed a bed. The local furniture store was offering "24 MONTHS SAME AS CASH" and I figured that within two years I would be working full time and rolling in cash gifts from graduation so I could pay that bed off in no time. I didn't get the part where they wrote that the interest would be accruing the entire time and that by the time I started to pay the bed off I'd be so far in debt with my 21% interest Visa card that I would be paying for that bed far beyond its usable life.

I was a science geek. What did I know from accounting? Turns out, nothing. Luckily, I found Bubba. A business major. A guy whose parents had taught him about money and how to manage it so that you could help bail your fiancee out and marry her and manage your family finances forever so that you could actually live happily ever after.

Anyhoo, now we turn to the "strengths" part of the story. Bubba has done a stellar job of managing our money and keeping us safe. Indeed, he has managed to ensure that we have never overextended ourselves and that we have made good investments and are able to pay our bills and take care of our children. All throughout the 18 years we've been together, I have never once questioned his decisions for more than a moment or twelve and while I have learned a great deal about how money works and participate in every discussion we have with our financial planner, I still don't really care about money.

So long as we have enough to pay our bills and feed ourselves, I don't care. It's all Monopoly money to me. I realize that's immature and that I'd be nowhere without Bubba. I get that if something should ever happen to him and I had to take over the finances for me and the girls that it would be a difficult job. But it affords me some mental clarity right now.

Recent polls show that 80% of Americans list worries about the current economic climate as their number one stressor these days. Interviews of a cross-section of therapists in the US indicate that their clients are as likely to talk about financial woes as anything else right now. One psychologist noted that the only other time she has seen such cohesiveness in her clients' worries was right after 9/11. Wow!

Lucky me. It's still all Monopoly money. Because I'm fairly indifferent to money, I'm really not stressed. I'm not checking the stock market or my 401K plan daily. I'm still grumbling about packing sack lunches and wiping the dog's muddy feet as he comes in from the backyard. I'm delighting in the sunny days we have had this week because, people, it's November in the Pacific Northwest! Sun. In November. I'm grumping about the stomach flu and ramping up my Christmas plans. But I'm not even really thinking about the economic crisis in the US.

I'm probably being naive. I'm definitely oblivious. I keep up with the news and know that banks are struggling and retail stores are projecting tough times.

I care about the people. I'm donating to the local food bank. I'm letting our family know that Christmas is more about being together than the bounty under the tree. I'm reaching out to those in our community who need our help and offering what I can. It's just that the money doesn't speak to me. Bubba's nervous - having just started his own company, he's waiting for the corporate belt-tightening to trickle down. Turns out that my complete ineptness with money affords us the luxury of at least one of us being able to sleep at night because I'm not stressed about the money. Maybe I should be. But the fact is, I'm not. My blood pressure's normal, for good or for bad. Thanks, Mom and Dad for not teaching me about money. It's proving to be a boon right now.

(For the record, my that humming noise you hear is my father spinning in his urn.)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Quiet Place You Might Want to Visit


I've just come from Gratefulness.org. It's a website dedicated to promoting consciousness of what we have and living in the moment. The first time I visited the site, I must say I wasn't grabbed by the layout or the graphics, but for some reason I stayed a moment. My favorite part of Gratefulness.org is the sidebar, actually. I've traveled the labyrinth and read a few selected writings, and while I don't hit the site daily or even weekly, seeing it on my "Favorites" list reminds me to think of how lucky I am more often than I would have without it.

Because my father was a veteran of the Vietnam war, I've been thinking about him a lot this week. Imagining the holidays without him is too hard at this point, so I've tried to focus my thoughts on letting him know what we're up to these days in our crazy lives. For some reason, I felt the need to go to the Gratefulness site tonight and light a candle for him. I have never accessed this feature before and I found it incredibly calming and empowering. If you're thinking of a loved one or longing for some way to connect spiritually with others, I would encourage you to check it out. Follow this link: http://www.gratefulness.org/candles/enter.cfm?l=eng

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

And It's Not Even a Full Moon


Only my family.

As much as Bubba has traveled in his lifetime, it turns out he's never had a hybrid rental car. Tonight when we called him for our daily check-in, he was on his way to a reception gathering.

"I'm driving this hybrid, but I really don't know how to turn it on."

Huh? Turns out the valet brought it to him already running and he took off for the reception not having had to start the car himself. Hope he doesn't have too many drinks at the gathering this evening or he's likely to have to call a cab to get back to the hotel.

My youngest had set up a fort for herself this afternoon, complete with books, a sleeping bag, her cushiest pillow, and a lamp. When it was time to get ready for bed I asked her to put everything back where it came from. Seconds later she was grabbing her chin and screaming bloody murder. Seems she had accidentally touched her chin to the light bulb as she plugged the lamp back in and burned the bejeesus out of it. After 20 minutes with ice on it, she's got blistering second degree burns. From a light bulb. On her chin. How are we gonna explain that one to her teachers tomorrow?

Before bed, I read the first chapter of my latest writing project (a children's book) to the girls for their feedback. I'm trying to get the voice of the main character - a six year old boy - just right. My oldest daughter raved about the story line and went to bed to write in her journal. Thirty minutes later she was crying and calling for me from her bed. Turns out her journal entry tonight was basically a plagiarism of my entire first chapter except that she changed the name of the main character and she was feeling incredibly guilty. So guilty that she couldn't go to bed without coming clean and apologizing.

Sheesh! Please tell me the dog and cat aren't planning anything out of the ordinary tonight. I'm ready for a glass of wine and some peace and quiet.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Writing in the Blood


It's official. I've spawned a little writer. My oldest daughter is undeniably in love with writing. I should have seen the signs, and now that I put them all together, it is akin to an air raid siren.

In first grade, when the kids were given penmanship books, she finished hers in the first two weeks of school. The teachers gave her a cursive book to work on. It was done by Christmas. In January, she started learning calligraphy. By the end of her first grade year she had completed all three of the penmanship books designed for a three-year curriculum in her multi-age classroom.

She steals pencils and pens. Every time we visit the dentist and they offer her a toy for being so good, she chooses a pencil. She begs her father for the logo-covered notebooks he brings home from conventions. The space under her bed is full of journals, some of which have her feelings and frustrations copied down in them and others are simply copies of letters and books she's read and doodles.

Three weeks ago she had a spectacular meltdown in the car. On I-5 between Salem, Oregon and Centralia, Washington (we're talking hours of driving) she picked a fight with her sister, screamed, threw things, sobbed, wailed, kicked her feet against the seat and the door, and generally had a tantrum. From experience, I know that there is nothing to do but keep the rest of us safe and allow this rage to spend itself. By the time we got home, she was spent and badly in need of some processing.

"While I make dinner, why don't you grab a journal and sit by the fireplace and just write?"

She didn't want to be alone, so she chose to sit in the family room near us and immerse herself in her writing. She hunched herself over a spiral notebook and scratched away for an hour.

After a hot shower and a backrub at bedtime, she fell into an exhausted sleep. As I settled into the couch with my evening cup of tea my eyes fell on the open notebook that lay on the couch next to me. I shouldn't. This is her private stuff. I should really just close it and put it in her bedroom.

Nope, not happening. I had to know what she was writing. How she managed to come down from her day of high emotions. As a fellow writer.

A
B
C
D
E
F
G
...

I saw the row of capital letters along the left margin. The title was "Bad Words I Know."

A ass
B
C
D dumb
E
F
G
H hate
I idiot
...

Well, that's one way to process a bad day.... I guess we all have our own method.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Oh, Man!


Wait a minute. I've just really come to terms with the fact that it is important for me to recognize my own lessons for what they are and work through them. And, by 'lessons' I mean those biggies in my life - learning over and over again to LET GO, stop taking responsibility for the feelings and reactions and disappointments of others, you know, that stuff.

Cue the crowd groaning noise. Yup, here it comes: now I'm finding out that I'm also in charge of helping my girls realize what their lessons are. That means not only seeing them for what they are, but accepting them and working through them. Yeah, you just try explaining the concept of "this is your challenge for right now" to a six-year old and an eight-year old. Uh huh. This, my friends, is work.

My girls, who have been described to me by strangers, their grandparents, and their teachers as "responsible, polite, respectful" and "hardworking" are having trouble. Big trouble. They are forced to be in contact with another child, significantly younger than them, for half an hour at a time, four days a week. She makes them nuts. She turns them into intolerant, ranting, screaming frustrated balls of volcanic heat. Never before have I seen either one of them scream at another child (besides each other) or accuse them of being "so annOYing." I am astonished at the passion ignited inside my two normally kind children.

To be fair, this little girl is three. A good deal of her speech is difficult to understand. She is constantly interrupting them to interject some fantastic story that we all know is not true. She confuses the girls and calls them by each other's names. She is three. She is never grumpy. She greets us each time with a smile and twinkling eyes, ready to go. She asks a million questions. She is wide-eyed and sees everything as a new wonder. When the girls yell at her she tilts her head to the side and looks at them inquisitively. She doesn't get it. She is being three. She is being who she is. When the girls fight with each other she asks, "Why is her yelling? Why is her so mad?" Beats me.

I have considered the option that my girls are jealous of the attention she commands. I have done my best to include them in everything we do, but honestly that makes things more volatile. My girls have lost privilege after privilege for treating her unkindly. They have endured evening lecture after evening lecture and family meetings where we discuss their behavior around her. They are so distraught that every morning I get the question, "Do we have to take ______________ today?"

I am not willing to terminate this arrangement simply to end the fights. I have decided that this is their lesson. They have to learn to tolerate people they can't stand. They need to find the good in her. They need to approach her differently. I don't know how it will work, but I do know that there is some message here about loving others whether or not they make you nuts. Simply because they are. She projects nothing but light and admiration on to them. Why is it reflected back as frustration and hatred? I don't know, but I'll be damned if I'm letting them get away without finding out.

Cross your fingers that this little girl doesn't get too traumatized in the process.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Whew!


I did it. I finished the first draft of the book.

I printed it out. It's heavy. All that pristine, white paper stacked up, edges aligned, borders straight and even, with my words on it. What an exciting thing to behold.

I don't have any illusions that I won't be revisiting this manuscript over and over again in the editing process, but after four years of interviews and transcripts and research and writing, it's done. Break out the champagne, baby!
Last night Bubba said, "Man, I'll bet it feels strange to think that you don't have to write for a while, huh?
"Um, noooo. Now I'll start on the second one."
Duh.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Glorious


I have just spent the most glorious four days in Oregon. The weather was perfect - sunny and crisp, cool enough to justify wearing my most comfortable sweat pants, but warm enough for a t-shirt on top.

The company was divine - two of the most clever, courageous and talented women I've come across in this lifetime. We came with a purpose; to provide fresh, honest perspectives on each others' writing projects and damn, did we deliver! We wrote and talked, listened and shared, drank coffee and cooked for ourselves and each other. We walked and processed, slept and woke to the sun, shared stories of ancient history and life-altering moments. We laughed and wrote some more and when it was all said and done, we had achieved magic.

Each one of us is writing a magnificent book.

Each one of us is ready for the next book.

Each one of us loves the others deeply and believes in the others completely.

Carrie, thank you for your time and energy. Your honesty and openness. Your house in the mountains and your willingness to share it.

Deb, thank you for your perspective. Your love and compassion. Your easy companionship.

Two better writing companions I could not ask for, nor find. I am blessed.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Im-PROVE-ment


Listen for a moment. If it is a Thursday or a Friday (my two days off of working at the school and parenting during the day), you can just hear the faint strains of the song from the movie "Rocky." Sylvester Stallone is wearing his old baggy sweats, jogging down the street as his trainer trails him closely

Getting stronger

Given a stretch of time to myself, my thoughts always turn to self-improvement. How can I shampoo the stained carpets? What can I do to straighten up the bookshelves? Today's the day to shave my legs and experiment with a new way to do my hair so that it doesn't always look like I just got out of the shower and finger-combed it before rushing out the door. Flip on the TV and find a DIY channel so I can learn to replace the wax ring under my own toilet without calling a plumber or a handyman. Surf the web to get a jump on my holiday shopping. By the time Bubba and the kids get home, the house will be sparkling clean and I'll look like a million bucks. This time, I will have discovered a new way to organize my closet and use my existing makeup to enhance my appearance without adding 30 minutes to my morning routine.

Right.

By noon, I've spent bursts of energy vacuuming, rearranging, sorting, and sweating. I've created a mental inventory of things that I can do to make myself better. And all I've really succeeded in doing is convincing myself that I need to be better. Look better. Stand straighter. Exercise more. Keep a tidier house. Cook healthier meals. I'm exhausted and a little disappointed in myself.

I head up the stairs to shower no longer feeling like Rocky, but determined to get there. Under the warm spray, my brain is in my bathroom drawers, cataloging my makeup and hair gels, wondering how I can use them in a better way this time.

As I finish rinsing the conditioner out of my hair, my gut breaks in. How many days will I waste doing this? How much money will I spend trying to imPROVE myself? How much do I really want to spend the next half hour wrestling with cords and gels and powders?

The breath wins out. Squeeze the water out of my hair, dry off, shimmy into my most comfortably-worn jeans, smear some pit-stick on, pull a shirt on over my head and make my way down the stairs to write. The thing that makes me feel good about myself. The place where my words and thoughts are my own - no apologies.

The soundtrack slows down. Muscles release their hold on each other. The warmth of my laptop soothes my hurt feelings. Ahhh.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Spectrum


"The other side of the story."
"Two sides to every coin."
"Black and white."

Common phrases we have all heard and uttered throughout our lives. What about the shades of grey? What about the space between those two visible sides of the coin?

So often as we travel through our daily adventures we focus on the ends of the spectrum. The best outcome if we're hopeful, the worst if we're fearful. Think about how often either one of those things comes to fruition. More often than not, what actually happens is some combination of the two, something more along the lines of a 5 or 6 on a scale of 1 to 10. Yet, we still continue to hope for the tens and expect or dread the ones.

GW Bush has preyed on our insecurities for the last eight years of his presidency. He has attempted to motivate Americans by scaring the sh*t out of them time and time again. As recently as ten days ago he was warning us that if Congress didn't pass the bailout deal there would be "dire consequences." Now that it has passed and the economy hasn't rebounded the way he had hoped, he is attempting to do something he is not quite so versed at: calming fears.

I spoke with a man the other day who is terribly concerned about the economy. Although he is currently sitting well financially, he is worried that if things don't turn around soon he and his family will run out of cash assets and be forced to "start all over." My response:

The most frightening three years of my life were when Bubba was sick with his mystery illness and I thought I was going to lose him. I am willing to give up my kids' extracurricular activities to save money. I am willing to sell our house and move to a smaller one or rent for a while if we need to hoard some cash. I don't care if we find ourselves living in the minivan or a tent in the park so long as we are together. We have family and friends who love us and whom we love. If we all band together, we can find a way to get through.

His response, "I don't see anything as drastic as that happening!"

Well then, what are you worried about?

He followed up with, "And I'd move in with my mother-in-law before I'd let my family live in a tent."

Perspective. What a beautiful thing. There are other colors in the rainbow besides the ones at either end.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Happy Birthday, Gandhi!



A Pledge for Grateful Living
by Bro. David Steindl-Rast O.S.B.

In thanksgiving for life, I pledgeto overcome the illusion of ENTITLEMENT
by reminding myself that everything is a gift and, thus, to live GRATEFULLY.

In thanksgiving for life, I pledge to overcome my GREED,
that confuses wants with needs,
by trusting that enough for all our needs is given to us
and to share GENEROUSLY what I so generously receive.

In thanksgiving for life, I pledge to overcome APATHY
by waking up to the opportunities that a given moment offers me
and so to respond CREATIVELY to every situation.

In thanksgiving for life, I pledge to overcome VIOLENCE
by observing that fighting violence by violence leads to more violence and death
and, thus, to foster life by acting NON-VIOLENTLY.

In thanksgiving to life, I pledge to overcome FEAR
which is the root of all violence by looking at whatever I fear as an opportunity
and, thus, COURAGEOUSLY to lay the foundation for a peaceful future.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Feedback


The following came as a response to my blog post "Can't Help Smiling." I felt as though it was important to acknowledge these questions.

"does kario have a roof over her head,
a vehicle,
enough food,
enough income,
health insurance,
investments...?
Does she have a partner, a community...
Does she know the brutal facts about planetary warming...a recent report stated that China and the United States headed up the list of global warming contributors---and emissions had gone up last year, not down.
Does she know the rate of species extinction?
Does she know the living conditions for people post-Katrina?
Does she know what it takes to organize "us"? Is she part of organizing "us?"
I ask you because I don't know her. I live in an area in which there is no work, countless mortgage foreclosures, where the Social Service workers are stressed by doubling and tripling numbers of recipients; where people with Master's Degrees wait in line to apply for fast food jobs.
Sleep in their cars
Eat cat food and hold signs asking for work."

My answer is yes. I am painfully aware that I am one of the lucky few who have not suffered financial catastrophe, homelessness, destruction of my habitat or loss of my job or health insurance. However, I am also certain that my comfortable existence does not disqualify me from the ability to be deeply concerned with any and all of these difficulties.

Having spent over a decade of my life railing against the unfairness of life, fervently wishing my childhood had been less tumultuous and deciding that that ought to be enough to ensure that I was 'owed' something as an adult, I slowly came to realize that there was no such payment forthcoming. I couldn't possibly hope to change the past and expecting a positive future to grow from my anger was like planting a seed and watering it with rat poison.

"Can't Help Smiling" came out of an irrepressible positive feeling I have about the future. I refuse to react to the political climate with fear - I choose instead to talk about my opinions openly and encourage everyone I know to vote. I don't expect any magical panacea to come about regardless who wins the Presidency of the United States. I know that this country is not defined by its politicians. This country is defined by its citizens who can choose to be angry and blame others for the predicaments we find ourselves in or who can choose to look toward the future as rife with possibility.
There is no denying that things are incredibly difficult, in some cases life-threatening right now. Our choices from here on are two: find a community of people who are willing to make positive changes for all of us or continue to seek the perpetrators. We can probably find some of them. We may even be able to make some of them 'pay' for their mistakes. None of that will make us feel better in the end and it certainly won't undo what has been done. Moving forward with energy and hope together helps everyone. The whole is more than the sum of its parts. I am smiling because I have found people with spunk and spirit and heart more than they ought to have. I have discovered that each of us gets discouraged from time to time and in that group of individuals we surround ourselves with, there is always someone willing to lend a hand to stand us back up until our legs are strong enough again.

Making mistakes is how we learn. I grieve for the losses we have sustained and will continue to sustain due to the poor choices of others. Nobody can make me stop believing in the power of a passionate group of human beings who are determined not to be deterred. I'm still smiling.
I have lived with and without money. With and without health insurance. With and without the support of friends. With and without hope. The greatest poverty I have yet endured came at a time when I lived with all the creature comforts I could have ever wanted, but my days began and ended in a deep dark pit from which I could not emerge. Despite the material goods I had, I had lost hope and the understanding that anything could spark a light in this cave where I was existing. I had forgotten about balance. Yin and yang. Faith.
The people who reached out to me, both strangers and friends, reminded me that the horizontal connection between us is not to be dismissed. The most basic core of energy that exists in each of us can only be replenished by reaching out to connect with the energy of others. We sustain each other. We are each other's strength. The power of that darkness was terrifying, but in the end it was no match for the amazing potency of kinship. The ripples we create in this pond by caring for each other and recognizing the good in ourselves and others reverberate farther and wider than we can imagine. This, I believe.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

My Little Workhorse


Don't you love knowing that no matter what else is going on, there is one thing you can count on? Whether the girls have woken up grumpy or smiling, sniffling, feverish, or bounding out of bed, my espresso machine doesn't care. No matter that Bubba's out of town, the cat has yakked up something nasty on the carpet, my little fire-engine red Starbucks Barista baby sits on the counter ready and waiting.

Six and a half years ago I bought this little sweetie for my big sweetie as a birthday gift. Not only did it satisfy his need for a morning latte, but it appealed to the techie in him - something mechanical that he could fiddle with. He loved it so much that he ran out and got his mother one for Christmas. We progressed from using it on the weekends to getting so good at it that we had time to make espresso before we left for work in the mornings every day. When our friends from Europe and South America come, it gets pressed into service five or six times a day - producing the requisite morning coffees as well as the after-midday-meal digestive espresso and late evening espressos these visitors are used to consuming.

Two years ago, she started to sputter. She dripped the espresso excruciatingly slow and we considered tossing her and shopping for her replacement. On a whim, I decided to call the toll free number on her side and reached a coffee expert at Starbucks. She walked me through the descaling process (nope, hadn't done it even once in four+ years - my face was nearly as red as my little friend on the counter), made sure I wasn't packing too much espresso into the machine, taught me the optimal way to produce my morning latte, and voila! A new lease on life!


Since then, I take much better care of this girl. She gets descaled every month and is only filled with cold, clean water. In return, she is my workhorse. My predictable savior in the mornings, sitting in the corner shining her bright red smile at me, ready to make my espresso just the way I like it. Ahhh, technology.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Can't Help Smiling


Don't ask me to explain it.

Don't ask me to justify it.

All I know is, I'm not worried. I know the stock market is down. I know the economy is shaky. I know that if I wanted to sell my house right now, I probably couldn't.

I know that our air quality is diminishing. I know that our atmosphere is warming and our energy reserves are dwindling.

I know that terrorists are determined, wars are being fought, more are being contemplated.

I know that our environment is damaged and our health is being affected.

But I'm feeling great.

I also know that I believe in our willingness to make a difference. I believe that the momentum of those who are determined to find positive solutions is great. I believe that the groundswell of common citizens who are concerned with making our world better has only just begun.

I believe that an honest, forthright politician is not an impossibility. And even if it is, it is not impossible to have a strong country in spite of that.

I believe that the number of people who truly want to live in peace and harmony is greater than the number who don't. I believe that the number of people who have compassion for others and are reaching out to help is growing every day. I believe that bumper stickers and sound bites are not even the tip of the iceberg. I believe that together we are unbeatable. Together, we are human beings. Together, we are connected. Together, we are better.

What comes next will come. Whatever shape it takes, we will find a way to survive and thrive. The collective human spirit is a more powerful force than the United States economy, global warming, and corrupt politicians added together.

Love.

Only love.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Mixed Allegiance


Having finished my latest good read ("The Plague and I by Betty MacDonald of the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books - hilarious memoir of her time in a TB sanatorium), I was forced to turn my attention to what Bubba was watching on TV. Knowing that I was fully engrossed in my book, he felt as though it was safe to tune in to the Fox Soccer Channel. Bless his lucky stars! Turns out the particular match being broadcast was one of England's most vicious rivalries - Manchester United versus Chelsea.

For those of you woefully uneducated as to European soccer, this match-up is akin to the New York Yankees playing the New York Mets. The New York Giants versus the New York Jets. Two teams from the same town vying for bragging rights in their particular sport. This particular sport is one that just happens to inspire drunken brawls and bloodshed from time to time. Indeed, as I slowly turned my attention to the game, I noticed the undercurrent of song. Nearly every fan in the stadium was chanting and swaying, cheering for their team. The game was in the 75th minute of 90, the score was 1-0.

The camera man panned to one of the coaches on the sideline - the leader of Manchester United. A stout 50-something man with white hair and thick forearms, he was pacing and waving his hands. What struck me were the three letters on his jersey; AIG.

Isn't that the company the US government just bailed out to the tune of 85 billion dollars?

"Uh, nice shirt? Shouldn't the coach have chosen another, more promising shirt to wear for this crucial game?" I asked Bubba.

"AIG has been the major sponsor for Man U forever," he noted wryly.

So does that mean I ought to be rooting for Manchester United? Or asking for "our" sponsorship money back.

My tax dollars at work.

The game ended in a tie.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Color Me Concerned


Is the world going to hell in a handbasket? I don't know, but every once in a while something happens that worries me. Some fundamental shift in the status quo that rocks me to my core.

Nope, I'm not talking about the stock market. The trend is downward right now and I suspect that pendulum will swing back the other way fairly soon. I can remain fairly sanguine about that for now.

I'm not referring to the global climate changes and the gradual degradation of our environment. I truly believe that the rising swell of consciousness about the way our consumerism affects the planet is a good thing that will make changes we can be proud of.

I'm concerned about this. "Products such as Whatchamacallit, Milk Duds, Mr. Goodbar and Krackel no longer have milk chocolate coatings, and Hershey’s Kissables are now labeled “chocolate candy” instead of “milk chocolate.”" Something here is wrong. Good thing I was never all that sweet on milk chocolate anyway. But I'll know that the world is coming to an end when they replace the cocoa butter in my Swiss dark chocolate with vegetable oil. I can only hope I'm gone before that happens...

Saturday, September 06, 2008

E-G-O spells trouble


The space that had seemed enormous quickly filled with eager pre-teen bodies clad in leotards, most of the giggling girls with their feet bare except for the tape across the balls of their feet. Ponytails bounced and swayed, clusters of two and three formed on the hardwood floor. I peered through the picture window, jaw tight, eyes locked on my eldest daughter - the shortest by at least 8 inches. Probably the youngest, too. She sat criss-cross-applesauce on the floor, facing the mirrored wall, spine straight, wide eyes following the young-twenty-something instructor in her long shorts and t-shirt.

I made silent plans to praise her for her courage - taking this class full of strangers, following the teacher's directions explicitly, not wavering. I stayed for the first ten minutes and then headed to the grocery store next door to get ingredients for dinner. She was so brave - didn't falter when I waved good-bye - trusting that I'd be back before class ended.

The sunshine outside was too bright. As I went through the double doors to the fluorescent produce section, sensory overload set in. Pushing the cart was all I could do as I struggled to gather my thoughts. Which direction should I go? Where to start? I was sure to forget some vital component of tonight's dinner and we'd have to get by. I wanted to put a healthy, tasty dinner on the table for the first day of school. Focus, girl! Maybe if I hit every aisle methodically I would remember everything I needed. Checking the clock on my cell phone, I quickened my pace. Finish before the class ends or she'll be scared.

The ride home began with sobs from her car seat. The teacher had flashed me two thumbs up at the end of class - letting me know that she was terrific - she fit in and did all the steps. She was flexible and agile enough for level 3 jazz class. I was so pleased!

"I don't want to do the class, Mommy!" she sputtered. "It's too hard! I'm so much younger than everyone else and she goes too fast - I can't follow the steps."

NO! Please don't quit! My chest was screaming. You won't play any team sports, anything competitive. You quit gymnastics last year and you were the best at the gym - it kills me! I was so embarrassed. Shameful. What? Why am I ashamed?

"Sweetheart, give yourself a break. It was your first class. Most of these girls have been dancing at this studio for years, now. Being the youngest in the class means that you're even better than they were at your age. The teacher gave me the thumbs-up sign - she thinks you're great and you can handle this class. You'll do great - just give yourself a few weeks to get the routines," my words came out like an auctioneer. She wasn't going to get any time to object.

"It's too late, anyway, Mommy. I'm tired. I hate not getting home until 6:30 after a full day of school. I don't want to do it."

"Now you're just making excuses. I don't want you to quit just because it's hard. I think you'll have fun and when I watched you, you were really getting it. Besides, it's only one night a week that you'll be late."

"Nuh-uh. Choir is Tuesday nights and it goes until 6, too. Mommy, I don't want to be out late two nights in a row."

Now I was angry. She was going to fight me all the way on this one. Find any excuse to give it up. She always quits when something is challenging. How am I ever going to teach her to hang in there and work at something?

"Fine. But don't think you're going to just drop it. Pick something else instead - something that will give your body exercise. Something athletic. But you're running out of options. You quit gymnastics. You've ruled out team sports. You won't do swim team because they have races. What else is there?" My tone was nasty - condescending. I hated myself for it, but justified it by rationalizing that everything I was saying was true.

"I don't know, Mommy. I don't want you to be disappointed. I know you wanted me to do jazz."

That arrow hit the soft spot. Now I really hated the words I'd spat out.

"No, honey. I want you to find something that you enjoy. I don't want you to choose because you think I want you to do it. If you're not having fun, it's not worth it." Worth. It. "But I'm not going to waste our time or money paying for something over and over again if you're just going to quit." Ugh. There I go again.

Her cheeks are glistening with tears. She knows I'm disappointed and angry. I glance at her over and over again in the rearview mirror. God, why do I do this to her? I love her. Why do I feel as though she has to use all of her talents right now? Why do I feel so ashamed and embarrassed when she chooses not to finish something? Why is it that the thought of telling my friends and co-workers that she gave up again slays me? Why do I use the words 'quit' and 'give up.' Why am I sending her this message that she has choices, but there's pressure to choose the thing I want her to choose? What kind of freedom is that? Why can't I believe that she truly doesn't like it instead of instantly thinking that she's being lazy or a wimp? Why can't I separate my ego from hers?

I love this child. The depth of my pride and affection when I look at her is endless. It is my own self-loathing that gets mixed up in this sludge when I see her as a strong, capable eight year old girl - one that I wish I could have been. It is my fearful eight year old that believed she would fail everything that is dying to teach her to survive, not give up. Instead, I'm teaching her that she has to continue on even if she hates it, if only to show some invisible army of judges that she CAN. I am so sorry, my precious girls. Both of you deserve better. I promise to try.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Bubba's Nervous


He came home from a business trip last week to find my two most recent acquisitions from Amazon.com sitting on the kitchen counter:

"Split: A Memoir of Divorce" by Suzanne Finnamore, and

"Couldn't Keep it To Myself" by Wally Lamb and the women of York Correctional Institution

I watched as his step slowed and his eyebrows lifted. He glanced my way once, twice, and I didn't meet his eye. I turned away...

and giggled. He's not in danger. Just two more books in my string of what he calls 'depressing stories.' I kissed him hard and held him for an extra minute just to reassure him.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

LOVE IT!!!!

Too crazy busy to write much substantial stuff today. I just have to pass along a few things I'm absolutely enthralled with these days.

While messing around on Amazon I came across Tristan Prettyman's new album "Hello...X". I'm always looking for new singer-songwriters that I can listen to with my daughters. Not that I don't looove Miley Cyrus, but there are other messages out there I'd like to encourage, you know? Tristan's songs are upbeat, clever and her voice is gorgeous. This CD has earned an honored place in my kitchen CD player which is switched on every time I'm in there (about 15 hours a day some days). If you love smart chick music, check it out!

School starts Wednesday and I'm already dreading packing lunches every. damn. day. I hate plastic bags, both for their damnable convenience and the fact that they will exist on the planet forever. Oh, the guilt when I reach into that drawer and pull out another one! Last year I experimented with small reusable plastic containers, but the girls complained that their lunch bags were stuffed full once I put a thermos of soup in there, a small inflexible container of pretzels or crackers, a small inflexible container of fruit and a small inflexible container of veggies. Forget finding room for a water bottle unless I want to pack lunches in a backpack. This year, I got rid of (read: recycled) all of my tupperware in favor of glass containers that I can wash and put in the microwave without worrying about leaching toxic materials into our food. So, now what? Enter the Wrap 'n Mat. Just goes to show you that necessity is the mother of invention. Especially when the inventor is a mother ;-). I love these things. The patterns are a little strange sometimes, but the girls like the red gingham just fine. Whew! One problem solved. Now, anyone know how to convince my kids to eat pb and j sandwiches five days a week?

Finally, I'm not sure this qualifies as something I love or something I'm loving to hate, but it's a big part of my life right now, so it bears inclusion on this list. I'm busy reading The Omnivore's Dilemma" right now at an uncharacteristically (for me) slow pace. It's a slow go because there are things in there that I am having trouble learning about the way our American food machine works. I have to read ten or so pages at a time and then put it down and reward myself with some brain candy. I had previously thought of myself as a fairly informed consumer with a desire to decrease my impact on the planet. Consider me educated. I'll be changing the way we eat even more after this. I won't reveal the details except to say I was shocked at what farm subsidies have actually accomplished (not in a good way) over the past fifty years and thoroughly disgusted to learn that it takes a barrel of oil to raise a cow from birth to slaughterhouse when it's fed corn on a "cow mill" in the midwest. Ugh.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Push & Pull


My meditations last night came in the form of monotonous physical labor. As I knelt on sodden towels chipping away at the inches-thick ice on the shelves of my freezer with a butter knife, I found myself with plenty of time to ruminate.

Pleased with myself for working at something tangible and useful, my thoughts drifted quite naturally to my father. I was determined to begin and complete this task in one sitting, clearing away the frost, emptying the freezer of outdated items, thoroughly wiping it down inside and out, and restocking it with the fruits of my labors from the past two days - freezer jam made from 18 pounds of blackberries our family picked by hand. Dad would be proud.

The thought of speeding my work up with my hairdryer flitted through my head like a moth toward a lamp. Just as quickly that notion was dismissed. If there was one thing my father had taught me after working for the power company for 35 years, it was how dangerous electricity could be. And I was actually considering sitting in a puddle of water and plugging an appliance in? I don't think so. Actually, the consistent plugging away was satisfying. I managed to chip a substantial chunk of ice off every four or five minutes - just enough to keep me feeling as though my efforts were being rewarded.

Poke, poke, poke. How much am I really like my father today? Poke, poke, poke. I was so desperate to make him proud of me as a child. I emulated him in so many ways. Poke, poke, poke - chips of ice flew around the inside of the freezer, settling like snow. I remember the qualities Dad hated - weakness, indecision, lack of confidence, followers. Poke, poke, poke. I can envision the people who embodied those things and the way I tried to distance myself from them. Poke, poke, crash - an iceberg loosened its grip on the metal shelf and fell to the one below. The desire to NOT be any of those things was so strong.

The strength of a magnet is equal in both directions. When two similar poles are put together, the force that pushes them apart is no stronger than the force that pulls two opposite poles together.

Admiration for certain qualities in others often causes me to strive to attain similar qualities. This desire, however, is nowhere near as strong as the aversion I feel for other qualities. As a teenager, I was determined NOT to be like my mother. As a young pregnant woman, I was certain I would NOT have a baby who sucked on a pacifier or screamed in public. In my twenties, I swore I would not start coloring my hair simply to cover any grey ones that might show up when the time came. Regardless of my ability to control any of these outcomes, my distaste for these scenarios was strong and visceral. I found it much easier and, indeed, more desirable, to push away from certain things than I have ever found it to pull toward other things.

I spent much of my youth trying NOT to be certain things and not enough time asking who I might end up being as a result. Pushing away from something does not necessarily mean that you will end up nearer the opposite (and therefore good) object. Perhaps my time would be much better spent identifying where I want to go and exercising my muscles by pulling.

I can't say that I came to any earth-shattering conclusions, but the questions were interesting. And my freezer is gorgeous inside and out.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Lost in Space

Well, not exactly. Actually, I've been spending my time working full time at the girls' school helping the teachers order and unpack all of their new supplies for the upcoming school year. School starts in less than two weeks and we spent the summer doubling the number of classrooms we have, so we are all scrambling to get ready in time. I'm a half-time employee, but all bets are off right now - all hands on deck!

Every night I come home exhausted and overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff I have yet to do, making dinner, laundry, giving the poor neglected dog some attention, and squeezing in some quality time with Bubba and the girls. We spend our weekends running around getting the rest of the errands done that we didn't manage to get to during the week. I can't wait for the first day of school so I can stop working and get back to my own life.

Because I'm too tired to blog anything more substantial, I thought I would post the titles of some of my summer reading.

A friend gave me "Garden Spells" by Sarah Addison Allen. It's a terrific fictional account of the history of a family who tends a garden full of special powers. A quick and thoroughly enjoyable read!

I stumbled on a book by Diana Abu-Jaber called "Origin" and found myself completely sucked in by the mystery and intrigue despite the slightly sci-fi tendencies. By the end I was determined to find more books written by this woman who has a wonderful way with language.

The next book I read was her memoir entitled "The Language of Baklava" which had me rolling on the floor with laughter and cringing with embarrassment for the things she endured as a teenager at the hands of her obnoxious, well-meaning father.

I went back to fiction with "The Friday Night Knitting Club" by Kate Jacobs and sailed through this fun tale of a group of women and their emerging relationships with each other. It really made me wish I knitted.

I'm in the middle of "Reviving Ophelia" by Mary Pipher right now. It's a great book for anyone who is raising a daughter. Ms. Pipher has an amazing perspective on the way our media-saturated culture affects and labels girls and first-hand accounts of their experiences during adolescence. Scary!

Please don't give up on me. I'll be back with more regularity as soon as school starts.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Men are Just Women with Testicles

And women are just men with breasts. Essentially. I know there are other differences, but honestly, we are so much more alike than we are different. Unconsciously, though, I often find myself putting men in to a not-so-flattering box.

As I watched these newlyweds (see previous post) strolling down the beach hand in hand, holding hands over breakfast, swimming together in the pool, certain thoughts pushed their way through the crowds to the forefront of my brain, popping out center stage:

"I wonder if that guy knows how desperately she loves him."
"I wonder if he's checking out some of these other hot women in bikinis on the beach."
"I wonder if these two know how hard it is to sustain a marriage."

Not exactly warm-and-fuzzy honeymoon thoughts, huh? In fact, they are pretty awful thoughts. I was shocked, myself, to hear them proclaim themselves in my brain as I sat next to Bubba. Bubba, who has stood beside me offering his helping hand every single time I needed it. Bubba, who loves our children without bounds and never fails to tell them. Bubba, who loves me, too.

But, wait! Some ancient segment of my brain screams. Men leave! They never love us as much as we love them. They don't need us. They always leave. It's just a matter of when, not if.

She's the one I need to convince. She isn't sure that Bubba will stay forever. She has sat by and had her heart and spirit broken as her father left, her stepfather left, her brother checked out. She fell in love for the first time and kept some parts of herself sacred, not sharing so that she couldn't get burned again. Just as she began to trust this relationship tentatively and spun out a silky fine string of need, she missed. He turned and left and the end of that tether fell softly to the ground. No matter that it didn't make any noise - she felt it as though it were the collapse of a two-ton bridge. A steel door slamming shut. Men leave.

All evidence to the contrary pings off that steel door like balls of rubber cement thrown by first graders. She's not opening up.

Turning away from that door, I began watching these couples play together, talk to each other, look at each other with humor and tenderness. My heart relaxed, the corners of my mouth turned up and I was able to see them with an appreciation of this perfect moment - they love each other now. Maybe, just possibly, he loves her as much as she loves him. Maybe he needs her a little bit. Maybe he thinks of her as the best thing in his life. Maybe being with her makes him want to be the kind of person she thinks he is. Maybe men don't always leave. Maybe they are just like us, only with testicles.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Vacationing in Honeymoonland


All in the name of 'feathering my nest,' and reconnecting with my family, I was lucky enough to spend the last two weeks with Bubba and the girls in Hawaii. Lounging by the pool and the ocean, I had a lot of time to people-watch (one of my favorite guilty pleasures). What I noticed was a lot of newlyweds. About half of the population of the resort were newlyweds. Honeymooners.

I will admit, my thoughts ran to the gutter. Every morning as the four of us strolled down the hall toward the pool, towels slung over our shoulders, Bubba's espresso-radar on full alert, my eyes strayed to the doorknobs of our neighbors' doors. The DO NOT DISTURB signs hung on every second or third handle, proclaiming their need to sleep in or at least have some privacy. When I watched these couples lying next to each other on their lounges, holding hands, applying each others' sunscreen I reached far back into the nether regions of my memory trying to recall my own honeymoon.

Yes, we did manage to make it out of the hotel room from time to time to enjoy the beach and the scenery. We did explore the town and go for walks and have normal conversations. We weren't all over each other 24/7. So why was I surprised that these couples acted like normal human beings versus testosterone-driven animals in heat? Jealousy, I think.

I love Bubba and I know he loves me. We have inside jokes, share our thoughts mostly uncensored with each other. We make a good parenting team and have similar short and long-term goals. We have a terrific marriage and I honestly wouldn't change it. Except that we've been married for fifteen years and were together for three before that. History and longevity are important. Time marches on. Can't stop it, right? But as I observed new couple after new couple gazing into each others' eyes, oblivious to the others around them, just beginning their lives together - this was not 'playing house,' I felt a sadness that Bubba and I have passed the spark stage. We have a committed, comfortable, honest relationship but that newness, that shiny, we-are-invincible-and-the-center-of-the-universe-ness is gone.

I wouldn't trade my life for the world. Nope, not anything. I am blessed with a wonderful family and amazing friends. I am not complaining or whining. I just wish I would have fully appreciated that relationship newness more when I had it.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Ahh, Family Time


I am only just beginning to process all of the wonderful gems that came out of spending an entire week with my extended family last week. Here are just a few of the things I learned from the kids (five in all: ages 6, two 8 year olds, 10, 13):

My youngest came to me the day after the interment of my Dad's ashes. She'd had a particularly rough night the night before, waking several times in the middle of the night and getting belligerent and mean about ridiculously trivial things. She asked me to go around the corner with her so we could have some privacy and as we sat down together she put her hands underneath her thighs, lowered her eyes and said, "I just don't feel like myself, Mommy. There is something missing....You know when you're doing a puzzle and you get it all done but there is one piece you can't find and you're really upset? That's me. I have a puzzle piece missing." Whoa! This is my six-year-old.

One night when we were sitting around talking about the virtues of popsicles on a hot day my nephew, who for all intents and purposes appeared to be ignoring the adults as he put together a puzzle (!) on the floor, began humming the theme song to "Kim Possible." My ears perked up because this happens to be a cartoon my girls love. Right as he reached the end he blurted out, "KIM POP-SICLE. Wanna lick?" I laughed so hard (in front of my in-laws and my 13 year old niece who was blushing scarlet) that I literally fell off the couch. Oops.

The one night you pitch a tent in the backyard to have a sleepover with your cousins will be the night we have a thunderstorm and it pours rain. This won't matter because you and your cousins, worn out from swimming and fishing and bouncing on the trampoline and riding the ATV, will sleep right through it and accuse the adults of lying when they tell you about it the next day.

Fishing for the first time with your beloved uncle is so much fun you won't even care if you ever get a bite. Standing on the riverbank in a kid-size fishing vest learning to cast over and over again is enough.

You CAN eat sugar snap peas happily every day for a week if your mother picks them from Grandma's garden each morning.

Cousins are the best invention ever.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Feathering My Nest


Yup, I'm nesting. I finally figured that out. I knew I'd been here before - literally incapable of doing anything that didn't center around my husband and children. Knowing that there were some commitments and plans I'd made that I should follow up on, but not having even the slightest inclination to explore anything outside the realm of my own backyard.

No, I'm not pregnant. Trust me - there would be some serious 'splaining to do (both on the part of Mother Nature and myself). For some reason, my father's death has thrown me in to this particular orbit and here I sit, if somewhat uncomfortably.

We spent the last week at my in-laws' farm, eating three enormous home-cooked meals a day, reading on the back porch, floating the river, riding the ATV, and teaching the kids to fish. Despite the fact that I've been visiting this farm in some capacity for the last sixteen years, I am generally somewhat reserved - quick to offer my help and make sure the girls are well-behaved, not offering my opinions on anything more controversial than the weather report, and waking early to start the coffee pot.

This time, I got out of bed around 8:00 on most days, let the girls squabble with each other and ask for seconds of dessert every single night. I managed to read three books in four days and felt more relaxed than I ever have there. Talking to my newly-married and newly-pregnant sister-in-law, I found myself filling up my own skin and liking it. Walking around in my minivan-driving, stretch-mark-having, perimenopausal, fifteen-year-married body felt good. Watching the girls splash each other on hot days and toss a football with their uncle, making a latte for Bubba as I hear him step out of the shower upstairs, and not planning to do anything more rigorous than walking to the river came without admonition or guilt.

Thursday we interred my father's ashes in a sunny room overlooking a pond at the cemetery. My stepmother, two of my stepsisters and my brother came and we added photos and some special items to the urn inside the box. I wasn't feeling it. I wanted to be there for my stepmother, but for me, that isn't where Dad is. I had found him earlier on my own - at a local garden shop he used to frequent. As I wandered among the trellises and fountains I realized why I'm nesting. My father's favorite place was his backyard. From the koi pond he dug by hand to the gazebo and blueberry bushes, the greenhouse and multitude of bird houses and shaded benches, he loved nothing more than planting and weeding and mowing on the weekends and then sitting down in a cool spot visiting with a neighbor in the afternoon.

Last night I tossed and turned, haunted by dreams where I followed my stepmother around as she searched for places to "put" my father. I couldn't fully explain why, but everywhere she suggested was just wrong. Each time I encouraged her to keep looking, Dad would appear to me as a ghost and thank me.

"You're right," he'd say. "That's not the right place." But before I could ask him where, he would go away again.

Yesterday I went back to his house for the first time since he died there in my arms. I couldn't look at the spot where his hospital bed had been. I spent most of my time in the backyard, visiting with neighbors and family members who had gathered for a barbecue. When it was time to go I knew I couldn't leave without sitting in Dad's office for a little while. I told him I'd find the right place. He told me he knows that I've already found the right place.

I'm feathering this nest. This one I've already got. This one that is rich with love and respect, grace and humor and possibility. This one that I share with my girls and Bubba. This is where we will hold Dad. Once I am done reveling in my good fortune, I'll be ready to expand my horizons again. For now, this is where I belong.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Long Time No See

Amazing how quickly I can get out of the habit of writing. I would have thought that after posting nearly four times a week for the past two and a half years that it would be harder to ignore my computer. Apparently not.

Of course, given that the past month has brought with it significant change to my life, I suppose I shouldn't be so hard on myself. My father died, I was forced to move out of my house for four days with the dog and the kids so that our hardwood floors could be stripped, sanded and refinished, my youngest turned six and graduated from Kindergarten, and my oldest finished her second grade year. Whew!

I've also managed to print out my entire manuscript (no, I haven't counted the number of pages) and begun the task of putting the disparate pieces into order and scribbling notes in all the margins so that I won't forget important ideas I have every morning between 2:30 and 4:00am.

But I miss my blog. Although the days are getting longer and the weather is getting better and I'm spending my days gardening and playing in the yard with the girls, finishing projects that have been sitting on the shelves in the garage for months, what I really want to do is sit on the back porch with a glass of wine and my laptop and write blog posts. I don't want to polish my book. I don't want to mow the lawn. I don't want to talk to the insurance company or the doctor's office or find a handyman to fix my ceiling fan.

Maybe that will be my goal for tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

On the Bright Side...

REUTERS - "Newly diagnosed cases of post-traumatic stress disorder among U.S. troops sent to Iraq and Afghanistan surged 46.4 percent in 2007, bringing the
five-year total to more than 38,000, according to U.S. military data released on
Tuesday.
The statistics, released by the Army, showed the number of new PTSD
cases formally diagnosed at U.S. military facilities climbed to 13,981 last year
from 9,549 in 2006."

Chilling.

Sobering.

This news item settled down around my head like a helmet today. These individuals who are spending months at a time away from their families, their friends, their homes, every comfort they possess, are returning home with physical injuries and limitations as well as mental and emotional scars. They will populate our communities in incredible numbers, scarred in ways most of us cannot imagine.

Somehow, though, despite the weight of this notion, my brain sought a light pathway through the dense grey. What if these soldiers coming home wounded in ways we can see and those we cannot are met by love and compassion? What if our culture, our society, was forced by the sheer numbers to learn how to make our neighborhoods a better place for them to live? What if, out of necessity, we adapted to the needs of those who require gentleness and kindness, accomodation and understanding? What if, as a collective, connected community we reached out and proactively created ways for these courageous individuals to feel safe? Maybe the stigma attached to mental trauma and illness diminished. Perhaps our first instincts shift from fighting to talking.

What if?

What if, regardless of who is "to blame," we all realize that it is in our best interest to come up with new methods of helping those around us feel as though they are part of the bigger whole? Instead of criticizing the military actions that led to these injuries and leaving the treatment to the government, what would happen if we started a dialogue that included the idea that we are all responsible for each other's well-being? Can we imagine what our lives would be like if we simply accepted the fact that these individuals have been deeply scarred by events beyond their own control and we all took one small step toward easing their return to their homes?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

May I Be Excused?


I'm full.


This intense mourning thing has brought me to a very strange place. I'm not sobbing uncontrollably or wailing or ripping at my clothes. That's not my style. In fact, since coming home from the memorial service, I'm not much of anything.


I'm still the mom - making lunches, driving kids from point A to point Z and all points in-between, squirting antiseptic on bloody knees and cooking healthy meals. I'm still taking care of the house and the pets and the yard. Still listening to Bubba bounce his business ideas off of me and phoning the insurance company to refill prescriptions.


But beyond that, I am simply full. In a normal week, there is more than enough capacity in the Super Big Gulp that is me to contain difficult stories of friends and family. Tell me about the fight you had with your partner, the sticky issue at work. I'll listen to you talk about your fears and hopes and offer tissues and a soft shoulder to lean on. Let me bring you flowers or an encouraging card or dinner for your family tonight. I've got enough time and I want to show you I care. You are not alone.


This week, someone has snuck that enormous orange paper cup out to the 7-11 while I wasn't looking and filled it to overflowing with my own stuff. I have no room for anything else. I just want to put the lid on this bad boy and carry it home without anything slopping over the side, leaving sticky residue on my pants or my shoes. Once I get there, I'm not sure what to do. I don't particularly want to stick a straw in it. In fact, just taking the top off and gazing into the cup is honestly all I can manage at this point.


I know that there were other people who felt strong ties with my father. I know that there are others who are grieving intensely for him. I just don't want to talk to them. I don't want to hear anyone else's story of their relationship with Dad. I don't want to know how they're coping and I don't want them to ask how I am. I just want to hold this container and look into its depths. I've never seen it full and I can't imagine how it can ever be less than full again.


I'm resentful that the world is continuing on around me. The trees are blooming, commuters head to work and home again day after day, baseball season is underway. Everything looks the same outside but nothing is the same. How is that possible? How can this world look the same without my father in it?


In the meantime, I am deeply grateful for the words of support and love that come my way each and every day. I am using them to insulate my big orange cup. My big, full, orange cup.
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