Friday, December 2, 2011

Christmas Past

This is our 13th year of wacky Christmas photos. Many thanks to my mom, who has taken most of the pictures (and to my dad for all his moral support), to my brother, Pete, who took the picture in 2000, and to my brother, Dan, who took the photo and ROCKED the Photoshop in 2006. We hope you enjoy this little retrospective. It's so fun to watch the kids grow!!!

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1999: "Dan and Bek receive a special delivery"

The idea to do spoof photo cards was Dan's. Seemed like a good idea to me, and since we'd just had our first child, it was a good time to start. Not everyone appreciates the tradition. Some people who got this card (or saw it displayed in the homes of recipients) wondered, "Why are they putting that child into a mailbox?"

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2000: "It's My Parole Officer"

We were kind of thin on ideas. But Ledon was all about the phone at this age so we took some phone pictures. Dan was concerned about some recipients being offended by the caption so we issued an alternate version with a caption about talking to Santa (I can't even remember what it was, it was so bland.)

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2001: "Mama, what does C.O.D. mean?"

Well, we'd gotten Eiledon via US Mail, so we went for consistency :) The caption refers to the ridiculous expense of having a child. You probably can't see it in this scan, but the receipt Eiledon is holding is actually a Best Buy receipt, which is pretty appropriate for our family :)

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2002: "Housework never used to take this long."

This was before we went digital, so the photo was captured by my mom shooting a whole roll of film as we tossed laundry around. 24+ exposures and only one--ONE--was usable. Luckily, it was also a fantastic picture!

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2003: "Krispy Kreme: Catnip for People"

This was our first card that was topical in nature. Krispy Kreme had just come to Minneapolis amid reports of people waiting in line for HOURS to purchase the airy confection. We had noticed that these donuts had a pronounced effect on our children's behavior, much like catnip to our furry friends, so we went that route for the caption. It was certainly "of its time" as Krispy Kreme has vanished from the Twin Cities market. A fad, indeed.

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2004: "Election '36: Is it us? Or is election season getting a bit too long?"

Another topical comment. We (at least Dan and I) were so exhausted with all the campaign rhetoric, attack ads, lawn signs, etc. that we thought it would be good to make fun of it. We officially launched our kids' campaigns for president in the 2036 elections. Gavin's slogan? "Gavin Alexander Fergus Moir: His name is REALLY long!"

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2005: "We were going to do a normal card this year but God said otherwise."

This was the year our house was struck by lightning so we joked that we'd taken that as a sign NOT to do a normal Christmas picture. We didn't quite get the "electrocuted" effect, though. With the exception of Dan, we looked more like we'd escaped a fire. Gavin was FURIOUS about having to have gel in his hair and wasn't too cooperative. This was the first year we had digital, at least, so we were able to go until we had a decent shot and then, gratefully, stop.

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2006: "Peace. With love, US 4"

I hope we didn't peak too early. Dan thought we should do an album cover and we chose The Joshua Tree. Again, Gavin had a serious issue with the hair gel and Eiledon REFUSED to portray a boy until we bribed her. My brother, Dan Fergus, took the photo on our deck and then worked his photoshop genius to get the proportions correct, put in the Joshua Tree National Park background AND put Edge's hat on Dan (it was the one costume piece we couldn't come up with.) This one is still my all-time favorite.

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2007: "We really, really tried. But in the end, we knew we couldn't top last year's card so we just gave up."

True dat. Still, this was fun to do and if you have the actual card (rather than this scan) you can read some of the facetious alternative ideas we nixed including "Land of the Lost" and "Quest for Fire." Who knows if those will re-surface in future years :)

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2008: "Feb 16, 2009, 11:59pm: "Maybe you were right. Let's just get cable.""

Another topical card, we were making fun of the date all television was supposed to be digital, requiring either a converter box or cable TV/satellite. It was a stretch of the truth: we already had cable and had only purchased the converter in case we dropped it some time in the future. AND, of course, the date of the switch was delayed a while beyond February 16th. In any case, we actually had all these crazy wires and cables lying around the house and it was fun to just randomly dump them all over the room. Gavin holding the 'rabbit ears' literally on his head and Eiledon trying to plug a cable into Gavin's nose just cracked me up :)

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2009: "We wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas. And we would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids!”

Dan has this horrible, ugly, green, V-neck shirt that’s completely falling apart and he STILL insists on wearing it now and then, despite my best efforts to throw it out when he’s not paying attention. One October evening we were chatting at the dinner table while the kids were watching Scooby Doo on TV and Dan suddenly said, “Hey! Shaggy’s wearing my green shirt!” We looked at each other and our jaws dropped: our Christmas card concept had just been determined. Since we had recently gotten our dog, Brubeck, we figured it was a perfect way to introduce him. What amazes me most is how many people told us they didn’t get it at first, even with the caption and the ghost flying out of the window. In most cases, it was one of their kids who said, “Duh, Mom. It’s Scooby Doo!”

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2010: “BRUBECK!!! JACK-JACK!!! If you guys CAN’T get a long, you can just FORGET about that chicken PATE in your Christmas stocking!”

This one was Eiledon’s idea. Brubeck and Jack-Jack STILL don’t get along and any time the poor cat’s feet hit the floor, Brubeck comes running after him until he’s back up on the cabinets. They’ve knocked over a few things in their time together, to be sure! Eiledon imagined they knocked down the Christmas tree and I was yelling at them. What makes this photo is Brubeck breaking the fourth wall with the perfect, “Oh, crap” look on his face. Jack-Jack, in typical cat fashion, looks like he doesn’t give a rip.


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2011: “We wish you a Merry Christmas. The Skywalkers.”

Yes, it's true. We're nerds. All of us. As if you didn't know that already. Anyway, we'd had this one planned for quite some time, but we didn't want to do too many in a row where we were dressing up in costumes. This just seemed the right year for it. We had the Darth Vader voice changer mask and the light sabers and Dan wore his grad school graduation robe as a cape. Everything else was borrowed or made (the Queen Amidala headpiece wasn't easy, but it was pretty fun to try to figure out how to do it with the least possible effort and cost.) Worked out pretty well, I'd say.

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Well, thanks for walking down memory lane with us! Hope you enjoyed our wacky shenanigans. Merry Christmas to all!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Rite of Passage

Dan and I finally broke down and got Eiledon a cell phone. She’d first started asking for one when she was ten and we looked at one on another, incredulous, and laughed out loud. What on earth did a ten-year-old need with a cell phone? Sixteen, we told her. When she started driving, a cell phone would qualify as emergency equipment, like an escape hammer or a spare tire.

“Other kids in my class have cell phones.” Fifth graders? You’ve got to be kidding me. I guess that’s what you get for accidentally moving into a wealthy suburb. The argument didn’t carry any weight with me, of course. When I was a kid it was that everyone else had cable or a VCR or a television that wasn’t a hand-me-down from their grandparents. And I turned out just fine. In fact, I think it gave me a better sense of what’s really important. No dice, I told her.

“But I need one,” she insisted, and I used a tactic I’d heard from another mom. “Give me an example of when you would need to use it,” I said. Of course she couldn’t come up with a single situation where she wouldn’t have access to a landline, and she finally dropped it. For a little while.

It came up continually through fifth grade and sixth grade, the announcements of “I really want a cell phone,” coming more frequently. We blew her off, mostly, sticking to our original statement that she had to be sixteen, but I could tell it was really distressing her, as more and more of her peers acquired this totem of growing up.

I had heard horror stories: sixth graders sitting around a table texting each other rather than having an actual conversation, teachers despairing at their students’ atrocious spelling, pediatricians and other experts warning about increased screen time, higher levels of distraction and decreased intelligence. And there still seemed no real need for the stupid thing!

The first crack in my conviction came several weeks ago, when my Girl Scout troop had piled into my friend Rachel’s van for a field trip. Not long after we set out, my daughter’s voice sailed over the chatter from the back seat. “Mom! I’m the only girl in the troop who doesn’t have a cell phone!” Surely not, I thought. At least, not Rachel's daughter, Megan! I was pretty sure Rachel and I shared the same sentiment when it came to cell phones. I looked at her, mouth open. Rachel didn’t take her eyes off the road. She only grimaced slightly and said, “I’m so sorry, Rebekah,” and I laughed out loud. I didn’t argue. I didn’t ask for an explanation. I have profound respect for my friend and co-leader and just accepted her judgment.

Which, of course, caused me to question mine. Not that I’m so easily swayed. It’s just that I’m more willing to listen than I used to be, to consider more than just my own knee-jerk reactions. So I started listening.

And then my father-in-law—my father-in-law!—told Dan that he understood how important it was for kids to feel like they fit in. That if it were Dan who had been asking for a phone, his dad would have gotten him one. Well, color me surprised! I still don’t hold with that logic, but that doesn’t mean I’m right.

In the end, it came down to pure self-interest on my part. Eiledon now goes to school in downtown Minneapolis and we live way out in the southwest suburbs. In the past year, on more than one occasion, she has either taken the bus home when I was supposed to pick her up, or forgotten to take the bus home when I wasn’t going to pick her up as usual. In a few cases, she has been able to borrow a friend’s cell phone on the bus and let me know she’d made a mistake and not to come get her. But once I slogged through the afternoon rush hour, only to find when I got to her school that she was already on her way home. And more recently, she called me saying she hadn't taken the bus because she'd forgotten she was supposed to, and I realized that if she'd had a cell phone, I could have called or texted to remind her. Instead, I had to go get her and we were late to a commitment that evening.

So the realities of a disorganized child and the high price of gasoline tapped the last nail into the coffin of my convictions. I finally had concrete proof that she really did need a cell phone. That I needed her to have one.

It came in the mail yesterday and Eiledon loves it. It’s not a smartphone, but it’s has a touch screen and it can text and take pictures and play music. She walked around the house with it all evening, stopping now and then at the mirror and holding it up to her ear, exclaiming at how it makes her look like a teenager. The teenager she almost is, I thought. And I was genuinely happy for her.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Forty

I am forty, now, and hesitant. Overwhelmed by everything I haven’t read, seen, done. After years of convincing myself I simply didn’t have the time, I have begun reading again, tentatively. Afraid each page will confirm what I already know, that I have nothing to say that hasn’t already been said, and said better than I could ever hope to say it. Knowing that I don’t have the necessary tools—education, experience, enough reading—to express what insights I might actually have to a population beyond those friends and family generous enough to visit my blog.

I finally succumbed to the lure of Harry Potter, having resisted irrationally for a decade. I couldn’t bear the thought of J. K. Rowling, who unwittingly set an unattainable standard for successful writing, whose passion for the written word and gift for story has generated unfathomable wealth and a cultural phenomenon. It wasn’t really her success that intimidated me, though. It was hot, shame-filled jealousy that she got to spend a dozen years enmeshed and immersed in a world of her own making, a world full of humor and wonder and unspeakable evil, where of course purity of heart would win over soulless ambition, where beloved characters might die, but there was meaning in their deaths and proof of something after, and she had control over it all.

I have a world like that, too. Not as fanciful or elaborate, and not for children. I want to spend all my time there, like I did when I first wrote my novel in 1995. But I can’t justify it, because I don’t have the tools I need to be self-supporting through it. Not yet. And I’m not willing to live in an unheated apartment, and on welfare in order to get them. I guess I just don’t believe strongly enough.

And the real world compels me, too. I have learned so much in recovery, given up so much emotional and spiritual baggage, come to believe in life and love in ways I didn’t know how to, before. I acknowledge the messiness and pain in the world and feel called to do what little I can to alleviate it. Kerouac said, “I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion,” and in the microcosm of my family, my church and my other small communities, I sometimes think this is enough. That God can use this to motivate others and create good.

But I am reading Anne Lamott, now, and I’m busy not measuring up. Her faith and her politics astound me. She believes what I believe but has treadmarks on her soul I can’t, and wouldn’t want to match: broken home, drug addiction, loss of loved ones. She marches for peace, is brutally honest about motherhood, has beautifully diverse friends, and a quirky, powerful faith. I judge her sometimes for her self-confessed neurotic narcissism, but that honesty is what makes her work compelling. And my honesty may not be that interesting.

So there’s my neurotic, narcissistic reflection for the day, inspired by my trip, an hour ago, to the library, where I picked up God’s Politics, by Jim Wallis, Crooked Little Heart, by Anne Lamott, and a Turning the Mind Into an Ally, a book on meditation. Here’s to acquiring tools.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Naming Names

I scheduled a massage on short notice and my regular therapist wasn’t available, so I went with this guy named Artum. I’m guessing at the spelling, but I think it’s probably pretty close. On the other hand, nowadays it could be spelled F-R-E-D and still be pronounced Artum. And who am I to judge? I named my daughter Eiledon (eye-LEE-dun).

Apparently, Artum is my massage clinic's deep tissue rock star, but I didn’t care one way or another. I was just there for a run-of-the-mill relaxation massage with firm pressure. But for the life of me, I couldn’t remember the guy's name. When I’d booked the appointment they said, “Artum,” and I immediately forgot it. When I checked in, they said, “Who are you seeing today?” and I said, “I’m not sure.” “Oh! You’re seeing Artum. He’s really good.” “Great,” I said, “Artum.” Even repeating it wasn’t enough. By the time he came and got me from the waiting room, I had no recollection of who would soon be whaling on my aching muscles. He introduced himself, “Nice to meet you. I’m Artum.” Fifteen seconds later, my mind was a blank.

So I’m lying on the massage table and the kid is doing a marvelous job of working out the TMJ-disorder-created knots in my back, neck and shoulders and all I can think is, “Now what’s this guy’s name again?” I keep coming up with “Gunter,” but I know that’s not right, because I’ve heard the name Gunter before and I know this guy’s name is brand new to me. I run through a few more. “Hunter. Gunnar. Arthur.” Nothing. “Spencer? Artax? Wait, wasn’t that the horse in Neverending Story?” It’s no use. Some nameless dude is giving me a massage.

My hour is up and after dressing, I meet… this dude… in the hallway where he hands me a glass of water and asks me how I’m feeling. “Great,” I reply. “Thanks.” He walks me to the lobby door, reminding me to drink plenty of fluids and take it easy. Then he’s gone.

I walk to the front desk, very conscious of the fact that I need to leave this guy a tip and I can’t think of his name. Just as the receptionist smiles up at me, I overhear a member of the staff gushing to a new client, “You’re going to be seeing Artum today. He’s our deep tissue specialist. He’s one of the best therapists we have here.”

Oh, thank you God!

“I’d like to leave a tip for Artum,” I say, and then do so. As I schedule my next appointment, the receptionist asks, “Did you want to see Artum again?” And spend the whole time I’m supposed to be relaxing trying to remember his stupid name?!?!? “No, thanks,” I say. “I’d like to see my regular therapist.”

Her name is Kenisha. But I’ve already memorized that one.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Few of my Favorite Things: Part Five

My Celtic Jewelry

My maiden name was Fergus, solidly Scotch Irish, but the truth is that I’m over half German and the rest is some sort of anglo-mutt. Still, I feel much closer to my Celtic roots than my German, and nowhere is this more evident than in my powerful affinity for the Celtic knot.

While the Celtic knot as we know it didn’t appear in Celtic art until after Christianity reached the British Islands (5th century AD), nor is there any evidence that knotwork or the spiral and geometric patterns that preceded it were assigned a particular meaning, I have developed my own interpretation and the symbol has become an important part of my faith statement.

A Celtic knot has no beginning or end, evokes beauty in simplicity, and depicts interconnectedness. That’s a lot of how I see God.

I started collecting Celtic jewelry in 1997, with this ring I purchased at the Scottish Heritage Festival in St. Paul. It’s still my favorite piece—simple, silver and stunning. In 2000, I used it as the pattern for the piece de resistance of my collection: my permanent anklet. The truth is that I lose things. Lots of things. I even worried when Dan proposed that I would lose the engagement ring (I haven’t yet!) So I thought a tattoo would be the perfect thing for me: jewelry I can’t lose!

The necklace came from Irish on Grand in St. Paul, probably around the same time as the tattoo. Just a couple weeks ago, I met a woman at the Scottish Highland Festival grounds at the Renaissance Fair wearing the identical piece. She didn’t know where hers had come from—it had been a gift.

I bought the barrette in St. Michael, MD, when I visited Sue just after her son was born in 2002, and I wear it more than any other hair accessory I own. It’s the perfect thing for pulling my unruly mop out of my face.

I have several other pieces, now, as friends and family have figured out these are gifts I’m sure to be happy with. Dan brought me a beautiful silver knot necklace in 2005 when he was in Scotland. His parents have given me a delicate, hammered gold Celtic cross, a stone-carved knot on a leather thong, and a large medallion engraved with the name of Manawydan, a character from Welsh mythology.

In all honestly, I’m not really that big on jewelry. I don’t own anything remotely expensive, have no desire for gold or diamonds or anything of the sort. I prefer simple, rugged and meaningful. And when I wear these pieces, I am reminded of my connection to God and that, as much as the jewelry itself, makes me feel just a little more beautiful.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Few of my Favorite Things: Part Four

My Tupperware Modular Mates

Yes, I’m serious. I like to joke that my kids got my ADHD from me, and that’s why I’m so geeked out over really good organizational tools. Clutter makes me nuts. I find the sense of overwhelm extremely unpleasant and if I have to move more than one—at most two—items in order to get something I’m after, I get really irritated. I have been systematically downsizing my life over the past few years, predominantly because of a change in values and a genuine desire for a simpler, more spiritual life. But the side benefit has been less clutter. In some places, anyway.

But I was introduced to Tupperware long before I was introduced to Recovery. It was a sort of early marital rite of passage, I suppose. I was living in Grinnell, Iowa at the time and a gal from church had a party. I remember looking at the catalog and saying, “My mom has this.” “My mom has this, too.” “Hey, my mom has this. And she’s had this stuff for as long as I can remember. Maybe there’s something to this Tupperware thing.” What my mom had never had, however, was the Modular Mates system. I was blown away by the before and after pictures of a stuffed food cabinet and the promise of a pristine, symmetrical and easy-to-access organizational system. I HAD to have it!

The price was not right, however. I don’t know if you’ve ever considered Modular Mates, but the cost to put together even a basic set was more than my early-married one-income budget could allow. But I was not to be daunted so easily. When we moved back up to the Twin Cities, I hatched a plan to get my dream cabinets! I would SELL Tupperware, buy everything at 35% off, re-invest all my profits, amass a s---load of Modular Mates, and then promptly quit. Sound Machiavellian? Puh-leeze. The Tupperware company made plenty of money from my
sales efforts. Plus I recruited my sister as a salesperson before jumping ship and she made them even more!

And yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am living the Tupperware dream, I tell you! And it was worth every bit of time, money and effort. Because when I want to make scones or granola, everything I need is right at my fingertips! Ahhh. The simple things in life.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Few of my Favorite Things: Part Three

Text Messaging

I know I’ve already written a blog on my affection for Text Messaging, but I think it’s worth revisiting for this series on my favorite things simply because of a text conversation Dan and I had a couple weeks ago that I’m still laughing about. A couple pieces of information you’ll need for it to make any sense follow. I don’t guarantee the information will make the conversation funny to you. It will just help you understand the context. Just sayin.’

First of all, years ago at St. Olaf, when we were dating on the QT, most of our quality time together was spent late at night and off campus. One of our prime destinations was the local More 4 grocery store, where we would just hang out, talking and laughing, messing around with the toys, reading greeting cards and being generally silly. Indicative of the rather off-beat and random sense of humor that drew us together, Dan would frequently threaten to shout out at the top of his lungs to no one in particular, “EXCUSE ME! DO YOU HAVE MAALOX IN THE GALLON JUG?” He wouldn’t actually shout, just fake-shout under his breath, and then continue his imagined conversation by adding, “OH! BUT DO YOU HAVE IT IN CHERRY? OR JUST THE MINT?” And so forth. Being young, deeply in ‘puppy love,’ and generally weird, we found this hysterical and joked about it for years. It’s probably been a decade since anyone’s referenced it, but it’s still there in the back of our minds, a great memory.

Secondly, I am notorious for frequent short-term memory lapses. I can’t count how many times Dan has asked me to stop off at Jerry’s Foods on our way home from church to pick something up and I’ve said, “Sure, no problem” only to drive right by the store not five minutes later. It’s well known among friends and colleagues that if you don’t see me write something down in my planner, there is almost no chance of it ever getting done. And if it’s not on my computer calendar, I simply will not show up. I’m pretty sure my kids get their AD/HD from me, which is why I’m generally so hyper-organized. But on the fly, I’m a total flake.

So a couple weeks back, I had to run up to Jerry’s Foods to pick up a couple items. As I’m walking out the door, Dan says, “Oh, hey! Can you pick up some aluminum foil? We’re completely out.” I say, “Sure. But I’m not stopping to write it on my list so I hope I remember.” He says, “Don’t worry. I’ll make sure you don’t forget.” At that point, I’m expecting a text message. It’s a frequent strategy he employs to help me.

I hear the text arrive while I’m still in my car. Not great timing, I think. There’s still a really good chance I’ll forget to even check once I’ve parked. But I do remember to check as I’m walking in. The following is the complete conversation as I’m wandering through the store.

6:48pm Dan: Aluminum foil

6:49pm Dan: Aluminum foil

6:50pm Dan: Don’t forget…

6:51pm Dan: Aluminum foil

6:52pm Bek: Dork

6:53pm Dan: Soon to be a dork with aluminum foil

6:54pm Dan: That is, if you don’t forget it. Buy aluminum foil.


A brief break while I actually shopped. And then:


7:02pm Bek: What was I supposed to pick up again?

7:03pm Dan: A giant gallon jug of Maalox

7:03pm Bek: Cherry or mint?

7:04pm Dan: Scotch


I laughed all the way home.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Few of my Favorite Things: Part Two

The Big Blue Chair

Dan and I must have sat on every couch in the Twin Cities metro back in 1998, trying to find one we liked. Some of them were really nice looking, but none of them—none of them!—was comfortable to sit on. They were too firm or too soft or crumbled into a pile of pillows as soon as you sat in them. With some you just couldn’t get comfortable, with others you couldn’t get back up! The backs were too low or too high or too deep, the arms too narrow or too hard. After several days of this we were beginning to be discouraged, wondering if we would just have to settle for something that looked nice and was tolerable to sit on.

I still remember clearly the moment we both sat on “the one.” Our heads whipped around and we gaped at each other with bug eyes. Could it be true? Was it possible? We scootched away from each other and then toward each other. We leaned back and then stood up. Dan lay down on it and then got up to let me try. We sat down again. Nothing sagged. There were no pillows to fall off. The seats were cushy and comfortable, but springy and firm. The arms were overstuffed but not obnoxious. And it was even the color we were looking for. It was, in a word, perfect.

Except… well it might be a bit big for our house. We wanted the sofa and loveseat, but told the salesperson we lived in a townhouse. Did he think it would look too crowded with such big furniture? He asked the dimensions of the room and was optimistic it would work. Of course he was optimistic. He was a salesperson. And did we want to get the single chair and ottoman as well?

I loved the chair. It was huge. Big enough to curl my entire body into and read a book or take a nap. But the thought of our small house nagged. If the enormous couch and loveseat might overwhelm the living room, surely we didn’t have space for this. Dan and I talked about it and almost decided not to get it. But his point was that if it didn’t fit upstairs, we could always put the chair downstairs and that if we changed our minds at some time in the future, there was no guarantee they would still make the same set for us to get the chair. And it was a little cheaper to buy the set than to buy each piece separately, so if we thought there was any chance we might want the chair, the time to get it was now.

I was convinced. We bought the set. And it fit beautifully in our living room.

The chair, the afterthought, is now my favorite piece of furniture. I have probably spent more time in that chair over the past 12 years than on the couch, loveseat and downstairs futon combined. And I’m not the only one. The cats and dog love it. The kids love it. Dan… wait… I’m not sure I’ve ever actually seen Dan sit in it. Probably because you can’t see the TV from there ☺. But ANYWAY, it has become much more than a piece of furniture in our house. It has become a chosen destination, at times a place of warmth and togetherness, and at other times a place of quiet solitude.

Also as you can see in the picture, it makes a good landing spot if you’re going to launch yourself off the hideabed—not a sharp corner in sight!

It is, in a word, perfect.

A Few of my Favorite Things: Part One

The Susie Mug

Not long after the outlet mall at Albertville, Minnesota opened, my mom and I spent a day shopping there. We stopped for lunch in a cute little café and I was charmed by the mugs they used to serve their coffee. Their rounded bases, sturdy handles and simple leaf pattern in periwinkle blue struck me as warm and comfortable, at once practical and pretty. Mine felt good in my hand, and when I cupped my palms around the base, as I often do to keep warm during the long Minnesota winters, it felt as if molded to fit, as if it had been designed with those cold winters in mind. When my coffee was gone, I turned the mug over. Pfaltzgraff. And, lucky me!, there was a Pfaltzgraff outlet not three doors down the way.

In the time it took to finish lunch and make our way down the strip to the dishware outlet, I first convinced myself that I needed a set of four of these mugs and then talked myself out of getting any. This was pretty typical of me. I reasoned that it would just be an impulse buy, after all. The last thing I needed in my house was another coffee cup. I mean, sure, they were pretty, but they didn’t even match the kitchen. And at six bucks a pop, a set of four seemed a little extravagant. By the time I was holding one in my hand again, this one cool and unused, I was resigned to leaving the shop empty-handed.

Some time later, and having absolutely no sense of time, I can’t tell you if it was months or years, I flew to Maryland to visit my best friend, Susan. The first morning I was there, as we were preparing breakfast, Sue reached up into her cabinet and pulled out a mug for me. I nearly squealed when I saw it for, of course, it was one of those Pfaltzgraff mugs I had so admired back in Minnesota! I excitedly told her the story of how I’d seen them and flipped over them and she just sort of grinned and shrugged. “It’s a coffee mug, Bek,” she seemed to say.

We had a fantastic time, road-tripping to Pennsylvania Dutch country and Colonial Williamsburg. We milked cows and spent a day at Busch Gardens. We talked and laughed and just enjoyed being friends. It was so hard to go home, but all good things must come to an end, and we cried at the airport saying goodbye.

I arrived home and slipped into routine. Eiledon was around one at the time, so it was back to being a mom, a wife, an employee, an active church member. My best friend was a thousand miles away with her own husband, job and community. That’s just how life is.

A few weeks after my trip, a package came in the mail—maybe it was my birthday (again with that no-sense-of-time thing). Tucked inside was the mug. I could have cried. Because it wasn’t just a pretty ceramic dish I’d fallen in love with at some random café at an outlet mall anymore. Susan’s generosity had transformed it into a symbol of a lifelong friendship far more beautiful and valuable than the clay and glaze it was made of. And the love and memories it contained were richer and more delicious than the best coffee in the world.

I use it every morning.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Lost Time

It’s mid-September and I’m slowly getting back into the swing of things around here. While I had hoped to continue blogging weekly through the summer, the reality of having my kids home 24/7 simply made it impossible. I’m not complaining—it was a really great summer, well-paced with down time and fun activities and topped off with three weeks in paradise (that would be Indian River, Michigan for those who don’t know ☺). Re-entry is always hard, but we slipped into the new school year with nary a bump and both kids are off to a great start. I think I’m finally done playing “catch-up” and feel ready to dig back in to whatever it is I feel called to do. That’s the hardest part: discerning the call. There are so many things I want to do, so many things that excite me, inspire me, and it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and slip into depression about all the things I simply can’t accomplish. At least not all at once.

What I CAN accomplish is a renewal of my commitment to blogging weekly. And to show my commitment, I am going to write an entry for every week I missed during the summer, simply because I never stopped “writing” in my head while I was offline, and actually have five or six already in mind and it would be nice to unload them! So be prepared for a bit of a barrage over the next week or so while I clean out the cobwebs of my brain so I can jump into what’s next with a clean slate.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Neverending Story

I love watching my kids engage in creative play. This summer, with their limited technology time, it’s what they do more than anything else. Inside, outside, upstairs, downstairs, a constant stream of sound and motion, the enactment of writing out loud.

Thirty-plus years ago, Pete and I did the same thing. For us, it was all Star Wars all the time. We had dozens of action figures and, while elements of the movies were sometimes re-created, generally the plot and characters were a jumping-off place for our (mostly Pete’s) crazy imaginations. The green carpet in the living room (ah, the 70s) was “Green Stuff,” a substance so sticky that once you stepped in, you were forever stuck. Crock, the big stuffed frog with one broken eye, was the only creature who could move through Green Stuff unhindered and our characters often caught rides on the friendly guy’s back.

The red linoleum in the entryway was hot lava, of course, and the blue braided rug in the dining room was water. There was regular daylight, but when every light we could find was turned on, it was “Full Blast Daylight,” creating conditions so blinding even the twin suns of Tatooine couldn’t match them. And you always had to watch out for the “Deadly Colors,” a mass of whirling I-don’t-really-know-what inspired by Pete’s crazy scribbling with those old 10-color pens. The Deadly Colors didn’t hurt you when they engulfed you, but if you stepped out, you were instantly killed.

All of the storm troopers were completely addicted to Fig Newtons, so whenever they had the rebels surrounded someone only had to point and yell, “Fig Newton Man!” and the inept imperial forces would whirl around to find the guy who had their fix. Meanwhile, the sniggering good guys would dash off to safety. Our Star Wars figures climbed trees and jumped out of them with plastic grocery bags tied to their shoulders as parachutes. They bushwhacked through tall grass, excavated the sandbox, and wandered through the giant plants and flowers of Mom’s gardens. Childhood heaven.

With my kids, the characters are different, but the spirit is the same. Now they take on the personas of the heroes and villains of their favorite video games: The Legend of Zelda, Mario Bros., and Pokémon. In a big mash-up of the plots of a dozen different adventures, they explore haunted
mansions, fight epic battles, meet bizarre creatures and drink Lon Lon Milk. There is a great deal of laughter (and also fair amount of arguing, but that’s just kids). The game never ends. It has pauses, when there are places to go, jobs to do or technologies to enjoy, but it always picks up where it left off. The kids are even frequently in character at meals, which, frankly, gets annoying. But the creativity is free flowing and joyfully innocent. How could I discourage that?



Thursday, July 7, 2011

Five Minutes Flat

Turn on the water, almost all hot, which guarantees about two-and-a-half minutes of good temperature. Start mentally playing out the day’s schedule. Twist the knob to switch from bath to shower, gritting teeth against the ear-splitting metal shriek. I’ll probably need to make more coffee since Dan had a cup this morning. Step into the uneven stream, mostly dense and pelting, but with halfway decent pressure. Kids have occupational therapy this afternoon so no time for a nap. Oh, we’re almost out of shampoo again. Start lathering. I need to call the office about that grant budget. I can’t submit the darn thing if I don’t get approval on those numbers I tweaked. Rinse. I have got to put that doctor’s appointment in the computer calendar before I completely space on it—as soon as I’m done here. Lather number two. Ooh! Scones! I think I have time to make those today. Do I have sour cream? Yeah, a whole container at the back of the fridge. Rinse and turn down the cold water a bit. Why does the shower get cooler when I turn down the cold? Turn it further. That’s better. Conditioner. We really need to get a plumber out here. Pick through with conditioner in to form the curl. I love Dan’s hairdresser for that perm tip! Rinse. Wonder when he’s going to need another cut. I think there’s money in the budget for that. Turn the cold down again--really far this time so the water doesn’t do that cooling-off thing. Grab the soap. OW, Dammit! Step out and turn the cold back up. Just slightly. I still need to talk to Dan about doing special music this Sunday at church. Soap from head to toe. He’s at the Twins stadium tonight. I’d better talk to him about it right away. Turn the cold water off completely now. Rinse. Shave? Who am I kidding? Face cleanser. Need to wake the kids up early. They’ve been staying up way too late at night. Rinse. Still, need to get some grant work done and it’s much easier when they’re sleeping. Water off. Once again reminded that the faucet and handles are loose. Grab a towel. Launch.

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Bend in the Creek

I sit on a metal bench, a folded up picnic blanket cushioning my almost-forty tailbone. I’m facing our favorite bend in Nine Mile Creek. Not that we’ve explored all nine miles of the creek, but there’s something magical about this little spot where the laughing water meanders almost 180 degrees around a child-sized beach. The jutting sandbar shelters a kidney-shaped pool, maybe a foot or so deep, with a slow current, sandy bottom and crystal clear water. It’s the perfect place to wade, or in my daughter’s case, completely submerge. My little water sprite.

The kids are playing there now. Their splashing and talking are absorbed by the sounds around us, blending in as if just as natural, as one with the creek, rolling and gurgling over the stones and rushing around the outer bank of the bend, as one with the birds and the gentle breeze. A train whistle, surprisingly close, reminds me we are still in the city. But even that seems right, a haunting contribution to nature’s symphony.

The sun is bright, but kind at this hour, and the bench and little pool are generously shaded by trees and shrubs. Hundreds of tiny puffs of cotton drift through the air like delicate snow. I watch as they slowly, gently land in the water and then are instantly whisked away by the current.

Dozens of black-winged dragonflies congregate in the vegetation across the stream, flitting and darting in the breeze. They make forays, individually, to my side of the water, landing in the grass and opening their quadruple wings, momentarily basking in the warm sun before zipping back into the welcoming shade.

Occasionally a mosquito or other pesky insect buzzes by my ear—the only imperfection in this idyllic scene, and this only a minor one.

For a long moment, everything is beautiful. I don’t even have the desire to write or read. My phone seems badly out of place. Nothing I brought to pass the time can compete with this.

I breathe it in. Drink it. Absorb it.

And I am grateful.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Transition

School’s been out for a week now and I’m grateful to say “So far, so good.” (I probably just jinxed it, didn’t I?) I really was looking forward to school ending, to the slower pace of life, to the fun activities with the kids. I have great plans for some academic-type activities each day: times tables practice through silly games on multiplication.com, learning how to type, using a great website called typing web, and lots of reading. We’re also learning the song “Wakko Warner’s Fifty States and Capitals,” which is hilarious and makes geography lots of fun. I’ve also got “Adventure Day” planned for a number of the Fridays during the summer. Today we went to Moir Park in Bloomington, a favorite destination of ours and not just because of the name.

But transition is transition is transition. And if it’s not my kids’ strong suit, that’s probably because they inherited it from me. While these first few days have been great and, honestly, I feel more present with my kids this summer so far than I have for the past three, I AM TIRED! It takes a lot to get used to an entirely new rhythm and flow. Even though I’m driving less and doing less outside the home, I have to be “on” all the time. And I’m realizing I might not have taken into enough consideration my bona fide need for alone time/creative time. Because… well… I’m not alone. Ever.

I was gratified to have another mom relate a similar state of affairs in her world. Of course I’m not the only mom who does this to herself! I was encouraged again to take my own mental state seriously and incorporate activities that will recharge me. This will be especially crucial next week when I’ll be surrounded by hoards of kids at Vacation Bible School every morning. An introvert’s dream, I tell you!

So this isn’t much of a blog entry, really. I’m almost sheepish posting it. But it’s a commitment to myself. That for even just these few moments on a Friday evening I can put fingers to keyboard and pound something out. Creative? That’s debatable. Self-nurturing? That’s essential.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Alternate Realities


This is what could have happened last night
:

Eiledon has a band concert. My in-laws have come into town and the plan is to drop Gavin at a friend’s house (he can’t do band concerts), pile everyone into my car, and head downtown. After pizza, I run Gavin to Ethan’s and circle back to pick up the other four passengers.

Traffic is horrible—a real drawback to having a child in school downtown with a concert scheduled for right after the evening rush hour. Can’t be helped. We sit and then crawl, sit and then crawl, sit and then crawl. I start to get nervous that Eiledon will be late and wonder if I shouldn’t sneak off and take back roads. Dan discourages it. It won’t be any faster. I know he’s right, so I stay the course.

We finally make it to 394 where inbound traffic is much looser. Then somewhere past Highway 100, thick, white steam begins pouring from the hood of my car and the distinct odor of coolant fills the cabin. My temperature gauge starts heading north and the car is now vibrating in an uncomfortable fashion.

I swear out loud. Right in front of my eleven-year-old and my in-laws. Eyes darting frantically from mirrors to dashboard, I duck over three lanes of traffic and pray silently that I’ll make Penn Avenue before a total meltdown. Dan and his parents are firing off questions. Eiledon escalates to hysteria, babbling about the car and the freeway and her concert and—I snarl at her to shut up.

Easing the car onto the shoulder at the top of the exit, I throw it into park and kill the engine. It’s now 6:10 and Eiledon is due at school at 6:15. Pulling out my Triple A card, I’m pretty certain that the concert isn’t going to happen.

Wes suggests calling a cab, which arrives before the tow truck and I send the four of them off, hoping they’ll make it in time. I get to ride the tow truck back to Bloomington and miss my daughter’s final performance of the year. The garage says they’ll call when they know what’s wrong and gives me a courtesy lift home.

Ethan’s mom is nice enough to drive Gavin home and the other four show up around 9:15pm having made it to the concert, which, apparently, was wonderful. Frustrated, disappointed and worried sick about money, I make my apologies and take my sorry self to bed.

The next morning after getting everyone out the door, I see that the mechanic has left a message on my cell phone. The car radiator has gone kablooey and it’s going to be $400 to repair it. I dread having to call Dan and have the conversation we’ve had half a dozen times before when our 14- and 16-year-old cars have had an inevitable mechanical issue. Do we fork over? Or try to find some way to fit a car payment into our budget (HAH!)

MAN, life SUCKS sometimes!

---

This is what actually happened last night:

Eiledon had a band concert. My in-laws had come into town and the plan was to drop Gavin at a friend’s house, pile everyone into my car, and head downtown.

Dan came barreling into the house at 5:30 and I realized the impracticality of the plan. Instead, I decided to take Eiledon in myself, since she had to be there early, and let Dan drop Gavin off and follow later with his parents, since they didn’t need to be there until 7:00pm.

Traffic was horrible—that part was true. So I ducked off on Highway 7 and wound my way to 394 at Louisiana. I can’t prove it was any faster. We got downtown at exactly 6:14 and as I crossed 10th Street on Hennepin Avenue, thick, white steam began pouring from the hood of my car and the distinct odor of coolant… you get the idea.

Honestly? I wasn’t even ruffled. I just ducked into the alley behind the FAIR school and sent Eiledon running in, then zipped back out to round the block to the parking garage under the building. As I went, the temperature gauge started heading toward the red and I just hoped I could make it into the lot.

Once safely parked, I called Triple A. They would be there within 45 minutes. I might miss the first part of the show, but Eiledon’s band performed last, so no worries. Dan and his folks arrived just as I got the call that the tow truck was there. They grabbed the seats I’d been saving and I dashed outside to meet the very nice guy from Bobby & Steve’s Auto World. Within five minutes the car was gone. I didn’t even have to pay for parking.

The concert was wonderful. I got to see Eiledon sing two pieces with a choir, sit with her during the Beginning Band portion, and then hear her excellent 5th and 6th Grade Band play some pretty complex and exciting music. Car? What car?

Dan’s Volvo fit the five of us nicely and we made it home by 8:45, at which point Dan and his dad went off to pick up Gavin. I made coffee and cut brownies, chatting easily with the ladies. When the men arrived home, we sat and talked and laughed and ate and drank and really enjoyed each other’s company.

Bobby & Steve’s called my cell phone at about 9:30 with the news about the radiator and the $400 estimate. Even then I wasn’t really upset. We’d find some way to work it out. I slipped back into the dining room looking a little chagrined and Dan asked, “What did they say?” So I told him.

Dan’s Dad said, “We can take care of that.” Dan immediately declined, not wanting to put his folks on the spot. “Yes we can,” his Dad insisted. “Nate (Dan’s brother) is flying out to Washington, D.C. for a conference and we just bought him a plane ticket for $400. We were going to cut you a check for that amount anyway, to keep it equal.”

Um.

MAN, life is AMAZING sometimes!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

This One's for the Schools

Often when I hear about parents’ experiences navigating the special education maze on behalf of their children there is a distinct ‘us vs. them’ sentiment. It seems, in these accounts, that the schools are either too quick to label a child or too slow to initiate the complicated process of accommodating special needs. In either case, the relationship created is adversarial, rather than mutually supportive. While I have had one frustrating experience along these lines, I am grateful that, in general, this hasn’t been the norm for me.

In fact, this past Monday I left a meeting with the special ed team at my daughter’s school wanting to sing. Honestly! We spent more than half an hour discussing her evaluation results and planning her IEP and several things were abundantly clear. One, these people were professionals. They knew what they were talking about not just from a theoretical standpoint, but from direct experience with children. Two, these people cared. My daughter was not a series of labels or diagnoses to them, but a complete person with great potential. Three, these people had taken the time to really get to know my daughter. They all had anecdotes about her, observations of her humor and her intelligence. They like her. They truly want her to be successful.

The one thing that struck me as odd was the reaction when I said that reading the evaluation had been “hard.” I mean, there were no surprises whatsoever in the testing results, but it’s still a little sad to read in black and white that your child is having difficulties; is not, in fact “neurotypical.” The school psychologist looked… could it have been… worried? He rushed to ask me whether there had been enough positive information in the report. Had I felt my daughter had been accurately represented? Did I see indications of where they had pointed to her strengths?

“Oh, of course!” I quickly reassured him. “The report was full of positives! It wasn’t that at all. I was just having a ‘mom moment.’”

There was palpable relief in the room. “Of course,” someone said. “You’re allowed to have those.” Nervous laughter.

I thought: these poor people! Could it be they were so used to being confronted by parents, criticized for the system’s inefficiencies, even blamed for children’s poor outcomes, that they felt they had to treat me with such kid gloves? What a pain in the butt for them! Who has time for that crap?

That’s when I decided to write this blog entry. Yes, my job is to advocate for my children’s best interests and I will go to any length to do so. But this is a team effort, and these professionals, whose expertise and services are being offered to me at no cost, by the way, are critical parts of my kids’ long-term educational success! Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but at both FAIR Downtown, where my daughter is a student, and Eden Lake Elementary, where my son is a student, I have felt supported and affirmed by the special ed department, teachers and administrators. And I firmly believe that they have my kids’ backs every bit as much as I do.

So for those public school professionals who so completely rock: I salute you!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

That Mom

I know what it feels like to be that mom
The one with the bad kids
enduring glances, always sidelong, fleeting
from acquaintances and strangers

To be told—never directly—
it's all my fault
that I don’t discipline
that I should have stayed home

To have tried everything
weary
of sticker charts and point systems and coupons
that work for a while and then don’t

To be criticized for overdiagnosing
a string of acronyms
conditions
disorders
as if I want to give my children drugs
and spend hours at appointments
as if it gives me justification
Exoneration

And still to have a sixth grade girl
punch me repeatedly
in a crowded, well-lit room
and have to pull her out of an event
that three-year-olds
are successfully enjoying

To have a fourth grader run
away from teachers
paraprofessionals
principals
out of the building
or into the bathroom, feet up, angry

I’m not looking for special privileges
or pity
or even understanding
A little acceptance, maybe—
I guess I'm human, after all.


I know what it feels like to be that mom
The one who laughs until sides ache and tears roll
hugs away disappointments and fears
hears time and again “I love you”

To be awed by a daughter’s wild creativity
exuberance
vivid expression

To be humbled by a son’s enormous heart
compassion
compelling earnestness


I know what it feels like to be that mom
The one who is doing her best
whose best is not perfect
whose best is enough

Friday, May 13, 2011

Mercurial Me


mercurial, adj (muhr-KYUHR-ee-uhl): characterized by rapid and unpredictable changeableness of mood

On Sunday morning I was full of positive energy, unflappable even in the face of spring-fever-crazed Sunday School kids. Monday morning saw me sobbing for a good bit. By Tuesday afternoon, I felt even-keeled and motivated. Wednesday I was joyful to near manic. Then on Thursday I was dogged by anxiety and directionlessness, resentful at my own inaction. I don’t even know what to plan for today. Kind of like the weather this week.

Maybe it’s my own spring fever. The school year is winding down at a pace I can only describe as frantic, with IEP meetings and picnics and final projects and band concerts, trying to figure out summer plans and even fall ones, and all this on top of the usual slate of appointments and obligations that thickly populate my iCalendar. I’m probably not alone in the mad dash mentality.

But it’s possible my up-and-down nature is just part of living life on life’s terms. When I’m fully engaged in life, rather than trying to stay numb through compulsive eating and similar behaviors, there’s no artificial buffer between me and my feelings. Being suddenly confronted by a challenge over which I have no control brings me face to face with naked reality. Whatever my immediate reaction, be it calm decorum (appropriate) or wounded rage (not so much), I still have to feel what I feel.

Often my own, imperfect response to a situation exacerbates the feelings. On Sunday afternoon when my daughter’s hypoglycemic meltdown in the middle of Orchestra Hall infuriated me, my response was to make sure she knew just how angry I was and just how awful a human being she was. The incident itself was unpleasant, to be certain. No one wants to have her pre-adolescent daughter dissolve into a temper tantrum in a public place. But upon reflection, I could see there were a whole lot of things I could have done better as a parent before, during and after the debacle, which would have minimized or even prevented the problem. So now I had to deal not only with the feelings that come from the challenges of raising high-needs children, but also with my own sense of failure for the way I handled it. Hence Monday morning’s sobbing.

The good news is that allowing myself to truly experience my feelings means that just as quickly as I can slump into a funk, I can also bounce back. When I’m wallowing in self-pity, it honestly feels as if there is absolutely nothing right in the world; that I’ll never recover from whatever is painful at the moment. Yet, as I frequently tell my daughter, when it comes to this kind of thing, the quickest way out is through. It’s not easy and it’s not comfortable, but it’s not permanent either. And once I’m on the other side of it, it really is gone. The resentment seldom lingers and I’m free to skip back into life with my preferred buoyancy.

I guess instead of trying to plan for what today might bring, I’ll just accept things as they are in the moment and go with it. No matter what might smack me upside the head, I can call a friend, write in my journal, and pray, and I know it’ll be fine, even though I might feel otherwise for a while. I’d rather be fully alive, even when it hurts, than spend my time and energy wishing the world would just go away.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Two Choices

Every morning I have two options. I can choose to live the day in fear or in hope.

My practical nature pulls me toward fear. This world is a messed up place, filled with unimaginable suffering, rampant human evil, natural disasters and meaningless death. I can’t pretend these things aren’t so, because they are. If I am honest with myself, I have to accept that in the incomprehensible scope of time and space that surrounds me, I am utterly insignificant.

So why get out of bed? (Other than to pee, of course.)

Because I won’t choose fear.

The very act of pushing back the covers and swinging my legs over the side of my bed is the embodiment of hope: a great big Bronx cheer to all the nay-sayers, the “realists,” the pessimists and every force in existence that tries unceasingly to crush the spirit. In the heart of the mundane; eating breakfast, greeting my husband, waking my children and preparing them for school, even walking the stupid dog!, there is a spark of hope infinitesimal yet capable of generating more energy than a collapsing star.

This is not blissful ignorance, but a call to action. I don’t pretend there aren’t parents who fatally neglect or brutalize innocent children, oil companies who post record profits while collecting billions in government subsidies, or fundamentalists—of ALL religions—who aren’t using their so-called faith as justification for oppression and atrocities of every sort (these are just a few random headlines from the past three days.) I cannot change these things myself, but I will not let them immobilize or enrage me—neither is productive.

Instead I will choose hope.

I will do what I can, when I can. I will try to teach my children that the meaning of life is to love and serve others regardless of differences. I will do my best to put this belief into action at every level—in my home, my community, my church, my government, my world. When I fail, as I will often do, I will pick myself up and try again. I will know that I am not alone. I will stand at the edge of the universe, smile quietly and say: I hope, therefore I am.

----

(with gratitude to Douglas Adams)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Following the Plow

Not long ago I turned to enter onto the freeway and found myself behind a snowplow. I was glad, at first, as a light snow had fallen and I suspected the roads were slippery. As we headed down the ramp I had to slow down a bit to keep a safe distance, and smiled as I drove through the still-bouncing salt crystals he was scattering behind him. Briefly, I thought, “When we hit the freeway, he’ll be going too slow for me,” and then wished I’d been ahead of him. But I mustered the necessary patience and steadily kept my distance as we eased into traffic.

I thought about the advantages of following the plow. Certainly the road directly behind it is safer than any other place on the freeway. I couldn’t drive as fast as the other cars, but shouldn’t we all slow down a bit in our lives? Do I really need to go everywhere at 60-plus miles an hour? What is so important that it requires that kind of speed? So at first I took my position behind the plow as a sort of admonishment, a message to slow down and enjoy the ride.

When the plow turned off at the next exit and I passed it on my way elsewhere, I had a very different thought. Sure, the safest place on a wintry freeway is a few hundred feet behind the snowplow. And maybe it’s okay that it moves along at a slow and steady pace. But what happens when it turns? Do I just follow it in order to stay safe even when it’s not going the direction I need to go?

Then I realized: “I’ve been following the plow.” The path of least resistance. The easiest, safest way. I applied to one college, was accepted and went. I majored in Biology because it was straightforward and made sense to me, whereas pursuing writing was scary and full of gray area. I took jobs that were easy for me and quit when they got boring. None were in the field for which I claim such passion. I wrote all the time—and continue to write—for safe audiences: church, friends, children, fellows in recovery, myself: none prone to be critics.

If I were to pull over and get out of my car would I have any idea where I am? Would I be anywhere near where I was hoping to go?

It’s not as if I immediately skidded all over the road the moment I drove past the plow that morning. The road became more dangerous, certainly, but they're always dangerous. And even plows wind up in the ditch if the weather’s bad enough. I can’t keep following the plow if it’s not on the same path I am. I need to pull out and go my own way, follow my vision, even if the road doesn’t seem as well-groomed.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Confessions of a Martha

Now as they went on their way, [Jesus] entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’ --Luke 10: 38-42 NRSV

My mental illness is most pronounced first thing in the morning. When I roll out of bed, my brain takes flight like a startled covey of pheasants. While turning on the shower a single thought; a song lyric, movie line or newly created piece of narrative, for example, loops crazily until I realize it’s stuck on repeat and then deliberately shove it aside. My morning routine is a practiced ritual from the order in which I cleanse my body to the sequence in which I assemble my breakfast. If I get distracted in the slightest, it’s almost guaranteed that I will forget something and, upon sitting down to eat, will realize I am without a fork or a napkin or—the horror!—my coffee.

Once the food and caffeine begin coursing through my veins, my thought processes become more linear. I wish I could say that the mental mania subsides completely, but I can’t. Sometime after the coffee, I create a list of all the things I’d like to accomplish in those generous hours my kids are in school. I am aware as I write this list that it’s going to be impossible, but I tell myself that as long as the highest priorities are covered, I can let the rest go. I seldom do. Because inevitably, the things I most want to do wind up at the bottom of the list. And as the weeks pass, the list of “want to do’s” grows rapidly without the “have to do’s” proportionally scaling back. So I am left each day feeling like Martha—standing in the kitchen at 9:00pm wondering where my day has gone, irritated with everyone around me, and feeling the pain and sadness of once again having missed out on “the good stuff.”

I want to be Mary. I honestly do. I believe that writing creatively is what God wants for me. After years of fear that I loved writing too much, that I would never be allowed to do it seriously because it was selfish and wrong, I have finally reached a place of trust that God would not have given me this passion if I wasn’t intended to use it.

So why am I standing in the kitchen still trying to complete my “to do” list before I’m allowed to go and experience the joy of sitting at Jesus’ feet? Why am I unable to reconcile my need to create with the full basket of laundry on the couch, the grant deadlines and the sound of the school bus dropping off my kids at the end of their day? I mean, even if Martha had joined her sister, eventually someone would have had to clean up the dinner dishes. I don’t suppose Jesus would have offered to do them for her.

But maybe that’s where I’m wrong. Maybe if I’m just willing to set aside my own agenda for a while and stop to listen to God’s call, I’ll find that there is time for everything. Everything in God’s plan, anyway. I believe my creativity is a part of that plan. So I will stop and listen and have faith that all those little tasks will still get done. Nothing is impossible for God.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Otherworldly Origins

For many years now scientists, historians, science fiction writers and the general public have marveled at the advanced scientific achievements of some very early human civilizations, raising the possibility that such impossible wonders indicated an otherworldly origin for human life. But the debate has raged on with compelling arguments on both sides of the issue and no real evidence. Until now.

I have suddenly realized that there exists proof positive that life on our planet came from elsewhere in the universe. It’s so simple and it’s been staring us in the face for at least… well… a few years certainly.

I offer you as evidence the written Hebrew language. A beautifully crafted, poetic and vibrant communication tool used for thousands of years by one of the earliest cultural groups in recorded history. How is this proof of alien origins, you ask? Hebrew has no vowels. Clearly, this is an irrefutable example of ancient text messaging.

No, think about it! Now that we’ve evolved to the point of having developed both space travel and text messaging we can certainly expect expeditions in the not-too-distant future to populate far flung planets ourselves. Planets so primitive and remote that basic survival will supercede all attempts to preserve records of these pioneers’ former home. Here and there, as civilizations develop, someone will find a record of his advanced origins and convince everyone to build something completely out of whack with the rest of their capabilities. But any other connections to the original settlers will be lost.

Can it be long before someone discovers the Dead Sea Phone in some desolate cave along the shore—unrecognizable in its specific form, perhaps, but deciphered as an advanced alien technology from long ago? I’ve no doubt that when the years of grime are stripped away, there on the bottom of the device will be an inscription in Hebrew translated as: iPhn.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Talk

A few weeks ago, Eiledon and I had “the talk.” Not THAT talk! We’ve had an open dialog on THAT subject for over a year now. No, I’m talking about the Santa Claus talk. I had long been dreading it, that time in her life when she realized her parents, along with most of the adult world, had perpetrated the ultimate hoax on her for years.

I had no idea how she would take it, because my own experience had been so different. I can’t remember ever believing in Santa Claus, most likely because I had an older brother, precocious in the extreme, who caught my parents red-handed one December and passed the revelation along to the rest of us. But my parents never really played into the Santa mystique. We never had pictures on Santa’s lap, and when we did sit on Santa’s lap after the Sunday School Christmas Program, we all knew it was really Mr. Vanstrom in a fake beard. Under the tree each year there might be a gift or two “from Santa” but we all just sort of laughed and knew it was from Mom and Dad.

My husband’s family, on the other hand, cultivated a rich and detailed Santa mythology. They always saw Santa before Christmas each year to make their wishes. They opened their gifts to one another on Christmas Eve, and then Santa came that night and brought a few more gifts to be opened in the morning. Santa filled the stockings, Santa put the candy canes on the tree, and Santa left the Whitman’s Sampler for the family to enjoy. Santa’s presents were always wrapped in plain, brown paper and he always left an empty milk glass and the last little bite of the cookies left out for him. And, of course, Santa always left a note, written in big, black, shaky handwriting, congratulating Dan and Nate on having been such good boys that year, and politely thanking them for the cookies.

When Dan and I had our own children he made it plain that he wanted to continue his family’s Santa traditions. At first I argued because I’m lazy and it just sounded like too much work. Then I argued because I deeply believed—and still do, somewhat—that Santa Claus represents nothing but the crass commercialization of what ought to be a rather humble religious observance. A little later, I got all Doris Walker on his ass, refusing to perpetrate such nonsense on my impressionable children and deliberately LIE to them until they got smart enough to do the math and physics themselves.

I lost.

We have truly wonderful pictures of the kids on Santa’s lap which, looked at together, are a hilarious record of our kids’ development over the years. Our annual dinner at Ruby Tuesday’s on a slow-paced weeknight, which precedes the visit to the Big Man himself, has become a cherished family tradition. There’s something simple and charming about gifts wrapped in brown paper, plain candy canes that magically appear on the tree, and a piece of fruit in the toe of each stocking, even if it is buried under enough sugary crap to choke a horse. We have heartwarming notes the kids have left on the table with cookies each year. And I have many sweet memories of the kids’ reactions on Christmas morning when the one thing they most wanted for Christmas was there under the tree, when it clearly hadn’t been the night before.

But now Eiledon is eleven, and while I pray that she hangs on to her wide-eyed, wild, creative spirit, I know she lives in the real world with a lot of other almost-teens struggling to figure out what’s truth and what’s bull. She started asking last Christmas, but only half-heartedly, not really wanting an answer. Then this year the angst became unbearable. Every time Dan answered her question, “Well, what do you think, Eiledon?” I could see the painful struggle in her eyes, between wanting an answer and not wanting an answer, all the while suspecting the answer but hoping upon hope that so long as no one confirmed it, anything was possible.

I sat silently and uncomfortably by. I hated her confusion and I hated my complicity in creating it. And while it’s one thing for Dan (43) and his mom (70) to speak earnestly to one another about Santa, almost making him real by sheer force of will, it was more than I could bear to see a conflicted pre-adolescent trying to keep one foot on each side of the great divide.

Finally one night, as I sat with her at bedtime, she said again—asking, but not asking directly—“I just wish I knew for sure one way or the other.” I couldn’t stand it any longer.

“Do you really want to know?”

“Yes!” she cried.

I sighed and smiled sadly and she knew before I said a word. “There is no fat man in a red suit who flies around the world in a sleigh drawn by flying reindeer delivering toys to millions of children in one night.”

The relief was palpable. I’m not sure which of us was more relieved. Possibly it was a draw. She said: “I didn’t think so,” and smiled a real, easy smile. “It’s sort of ridiculous to think it’s even possible.”

I smiled back, glad to be on equal footing with my wonderful daughter, grateful to have been so easily forgiven for my years of elaborate dishonesty. She seemed instinctively to understand that it was never malicious. That she ought not to feel stupid for not having figured it out sooner, nor betrayed by her most trusted source of information.

We talked a little about the “spirit” of Santa—the idea of selfless, even anonymous giving that expects nothing in return, except maybe good behavior and a couple cookies. I told her that, to this day, her father and grandmother will not say that Santa isn’t real. For them, the mythology is deeply entwined with family history and that, in and of itself, makes it true, gives it substance, imbues it with life.

Believe it or not, my eleven-year-old got it. Maybe it’s the Watson genes. In any case, we ended our conversation feeling closer, both relieved of our burdens and grateful to be moving forward. But just before I got ready to leave the room, I turned back to her and said, “Don’t tell Gavin. He may not be ready yet.” She assured me she wouldn’t breathe a word.

The “bad mom” in me secretly hopes she does.

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year’s Ultimatum

I wanted to post to my blog on New Year’s Day. I woke up excited, faintly buzzing with a sense of purpose and meaning. As I puttered in the kitchen early that morning in a dim and silent house—well, except for the cats pouncing on each other and hissing and growling to wake the dead—I thought, “How wonderfully symbolic! I can start the year with a blog entry and renew my commitment to writing regularly.”

Then it was nine thirty p.m. and I was struggling to get my kids to bed, feeling crabby and exhausted and I hadn’t written a darn thing.

At several points throughout my day, most notably as I combed through three months of bank statements trying to find a mysteriously missing seven dollars, my mind lit on the idea that I ought to be writing. And each time, following the initial excitement about the idea of writing, there came a crushing resignation that there just wouldn’t be time. This was followed by a nagging voice at the back of my mind telling me that if I didn’t write something on New Year’s Day, then there was no point in bothering to continue.

What?!?

Whose voice was that?!?

Whose idea was it that January First should have a deeper significance to the human condition than just the arbitrary point at which some cultures start counting the next 365.2564-day trip around the sun? What exercise-club magnates got together and hatched a scheme to explode their January revenue each year by promising success if only you start trying to lose weight right now? When did I decide that “resolution” was synonymous with “ultimatum?”

I stopped making “resolutions” about six years ago when I actually took action to get recovery from my food addiction (in November, by the way). But this year some things are shifting emotionally and spiritually again. I think I was excited on New Year’s Day not because “this time I’m gonna make it stick!” but because I’ve recently been gifted with a broader sense of vision. I don’t “have a plan” for employing my creativity. Instead I’m trying to be quiet, to listen, so that I don’t miss those sometimes elusive invitations to the sacred act of creating.

Not surprisingly, as soon as I called it out, that voice disappeared. Like most bogeymen, it was entirely insubstantial and only had power so long as I supplied it. Call it what you want, but I think of it as one voice in the broad repertoire of Evil, the ingenious way it twists something so benign as a New Year’s resolution into a monster with the power to kill creativity and any vestige of joy that creativity might generate.

A dear friend said to me yesterday, “I need to surrender the life I’ve planned to be open to the life that’s waiting.” This January third, I resolve to be open.