Thursday, August 31, 2006

You never know...

On Monday, I stopped at the supermarket on my way home from getting my tooth pulled. The oral surgeon assured me that although I felt self-conscious, my face wasn't swollen. He said, "You look good, Gail. Actually, you look great." Thanks, Doc. But as I stepped out of the minivan and strolled into the Harris Teeter market, I wasn't so sure. I wondered what I looked like. I wondered whether or not the other shoppers could tell that I couldn't feel the right side of my face. I wondered if they noticed that something traumatic had just happened to me. Hey, you never know.

It wasn't long before I began to look at my fellow shoppers and the store employees with that same thought in mind: you never know. I didn't know if someone walking past me in the frozen food section had just had one of their own teeth pulled. Or perhaps they were trying to figure out how they would pay for a tooth extraction being that they had no dental insurance. No medical insurance. No job. And no prospects. You never know.

Today is Thursday, and usually I write up a "Thursday Thirteen" blog entry. Today is no exception. I opened my journal a couple of hours ago and began to write down thirteen different scenarios or situations that people may be in when I see them at church, in the supermarket, in traffic, or walking their dogs. I came up with more than thirteen. Care to add any of your own?

First of all, you never know whether or not someone has recently lost a loved one. I remember the morning when my father passed away that as we left the hospital, I wanted to grab the hand or face of everyone I encountered and say, "Don't you get it? My father just died. How can you go on with life as usual? He was a great and godly man; how can you not grieve his passing?"

You never know if someone has -
* lost their job
* gone into bankruptcy
* lost their home due to fire, hurricane, flood
* a disastrous marriage or home life to return to
* just learned that their spouse wants a divorce
* to tell their spouse that they want a divorce
* been abused or has a child who is being abused
* a child who has run away from home
* been given a devastating medical diagnosis
* has just received a medical treatment for a terminal disease
* has just taken their child or spouse to receive such a treatment
* been the victim of a crime
* perpetrated a crime
* a loved one in Iraq or Afghanistan
* a mental illness or a loved one who is mentally ill
* a dead or dying pet

You never know if someone is -
* a diabetic amputee
* a cancer survivor
* an alcoholic, a drug addict, or is living with one
* ignoring a serious diagnosis
* in the last days of a "six months to live" pronouncement
* is plagued by fear, worry, and thoughts of suicide
* in desperate need of a listening ear or a strong and supportive shoulder

You never know if someone -
* has just won the lottery
* has just gotten engaged or married
* is pregnant, hoping to get pregnant, or wishing they weren't pregnant
* has been promoted at work
* is new to church, to town, or to the country
* is dying to tell you their good news
* is going to go home and write about you on their blog

You never know if your snarl, sarcastic remark, smirk - or your smile, kind word, or embrace will make all the difference in someone's day. Week. Life.

I know this isn't one of my usual upbeat blogs, but life isn't always happy and easy and pain-free. As I sit here, I feel a dull ache in the space where my tooth used to be. As I make my way through my life, I sometimes feel a dull ache where my father used to be. I miss friends I haven't seen in a long time. I miss relatives I've been separated from. I miss earning a paycheck sometimes. And on Monday, I was reminded of the fact that every one of us feels dull aches, severe cramping, and gut-busting agony some of the time. Some people hurt most of the time. It's just that I can't always see it on the outside.

But hey, you never know.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Permission Slips

I've spent the last half hour or so cruising the 'net, and I was led back to a website I used to check out often. It has been changed around a little, renovated, and has a slightly different name than it used to. Now it's Colorful, fun, intriguing, challenging, and eye-opening website. How to live with gusto, create art, and give yourself permission.

Permission to do what? To dance. To relax. To take a nap. To draw. To read a book in one day. Permission to write a letter to someone you admire. To find a piece of poetry you respond to. Rewrite it and glue it into your journal. To write a letter to yourself in the future. To fill an entire page in your journal with small circles and color them in. To write a list of all the things you do to escape. To do nothing. These came from the list of nearly 100 ideas of things to do on her website.

I'm gonna add a few things that have occurred to me:

Permission to eat cheese cake for lunch (again).

Permission to laugh loud and hard when something is funny.

Permission to cry whenever you want to.

Permission to yell and scream in the car when you are alone. To scream out the stuff you are happy about and the stuff that is driving you crazy - while you are driving. I don't mean that we should yell at other drivers. I am referring to using the car as a personal padded room, as an isolation chamber where we can let it all come out - without apology.

Or at the opposite end of the spectrum, permission to ride in the car in total silence. No radio, no talking, no telephone. Just ride, absorb, observe.

To wear outrageous colors together in the same outfit and watch how people respond.

To wear crazy nail polish colors.

To smile and tell someone how beautiful or handsome she/he is. For example: I love red hair, especially on women, so I will often tell redheads how beautiful their hair is. I never fail to get a huge smile and heartfelt "Thanks" in return.

To tell a stranger that you like their shoes. I think everybody worries about their shoes, so let somebody off the hook.

To thank the cashier for doing what they do.

To be quiet for an hour, say absolutely nothing for an entire hour.

Permission to make mistakes. To apologize when you have done something wrong without offering an excuse or explanation. To allow others to make mistakes, even really big ones, and let it go without making a big deal. To not correct someone who is in the wrong - even just once. Permission to accept someone else's correction or criticism without defending yourself. Permission to allow others to defend themselves without attacking them and trying to break down their defenses.

I am giving myself permission to accept the contradictions in myself and in others. Openly. Brazenly. Confidently. Here's a personal example: I hate how wasteful we are as Americans: food, water, electricity, and fuel - just to name a few. But I love to shop. I love going to the supermarket, department stores, Good Will, tag sales. (The main exception to this statement is WalMart; I can't stand WalMart. But that's a-whole-nother blog.) I love all kinds of shopping. Huge contradiction - but I live with it. I accept it. I am willing to honor both of those parts of who I am. I wish we would all give ourselves permission to admit our contradictions, to stop trying to justify them, and just get on with the business of life.

I hear the skeptics in the audience moaning, groaning, and accusing me of excessive tolerance, being over-indulgent, and not forcing people to take responsibility for their actions. Phrases like "politically-correct liberal," "lily-livered pacifist," and the like have all been thrown my way; I can take it.

Other responses to my pontification about contradictions include the following: "If we go around forgiving everybody, who will answer for their mistakes? Do you mean that there shouldn't be prisons? Some things are just wrong, and we cannot let those things go unpunished. What will become of our morals?" To those people, I grant you permission to disagree with me, to accuse me of anything you want, and to make the best decisions for yourselves in this matter.

But to those same skeptics, I ask: what have you done of late that you know you need to be forgiven for? To be released from? To be granted immunity for? Aren't you glad that there are people in your life who give you permission to be forgiven and to move on? People who accept the contradictions in you? People who don't hold you accountable for every mean word, every curse word, every dashed hope, and every broken promise?

I like Keri Smith's idea of giving ourselves permission.
Permission to think, speak, write, create.
Permission to improve, to stagnate, and to regress.
We all do it anyway, so why not give ourselves permission
to stagnate with gusto? To regress with pride?
Every once in a while.

What will you give yourself permission to do?

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Book Baton...

Leonie challenged me to take up the baton and fill out this questionaire on books.

One book that changed your life? Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach. The very simple notion of keeping a gratitude journal changed the way that I experienced my days: always looking for something for which to give thanks. Finding the abundant blessings that life pours out on me. Keeping track of what brings me joy. Eating with gusto. Creating a home that nurtures and nestles us. Good stuff.

One book you have read more than once? Mistress of Spices. A beautifully told love story between two most unlikely lovers. I swooned at her descriptions of her beloved Raven.

One book you would want on a desert island? "How to make gourmet meals out of sand and salt water." Seriously, I'd want my Bible and my journal.

One book that made you laugh? Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott. She tells the story of her pregnancy and the first year of her son Sam's life. She's a great writer, and this book established her as a deeply devoted and disturbed mother.

One book that made you cry? Thomas Merton's Learning to Love. He was a monk who fell in love with a nurse following knee surgery. Their love affair was passionate but short-lived. His love for her was profound and exquisitely described in this volume of his journals.

One book you wish had been written? I don't completely understand this category, so I will interpret it as "One book I wish I had written." My answer: Living by The Word by Alice Walker. It's a fantastic expose of why she writes, what motivates her, the topics and people that move her to put words on paper. One of the essays in this book served as the impetus for me to grow my dreadlocs.

One book you wish had never been written? The DaVinci Code. Too much attention has been given to a book that has a light-weight plot and a few page-turning chases around Paris.

One book you are currently reading? Moving On by Sarah Ban Breathnach. I like her style, the way she makes the daily business of life - homemaking, cooking, even cleaning - sacred somehow. It's more than just taking away the dust; it's treating our homes with tenderness. Treating ourselves with tenderness. And giving those who live with us a safe place to rest and be renewed.

One book you have been meaning to read? Spinning Words into Gold. My own words (in the form of journal entries and blogs) have been included in this book. So what am I waiting for???

One book you loved as a kid? I loved the Pippi Longstocking books. Her red hair, her striped tights, her crazy adventures. I wanted to know her and have her as a friend.

One book you loved in school? As a student at Williams College I was introduced to the writing of Alice Walker. I remember running down Spring Street in Williamstown to the local bookstore to buy every one of her books. It was Horses Make a Landscape More Beautiful that turned my head and heart towards home. I couldn't believe how well she described my thoughts, feelings, dreams, and hopes as a young African-American woman. I had no idea such books existed until one of them appeared on a course reading list. Alice Walker is one of the best writers I've ever fallen in love with.

One book that is your all time favourite? The Way of the Traveler. It is a small book that has challenged me to think of every journey, whether it is to the supermarket or Spain, as a journey towards spiritual and emotional growth. Preparation, packing, the ceremony of stepping out the door, acknowledging that every part of the journey is just as it should be - all of these issues and more are covered in this book. My journaling has changed. My picture taking has changed. The way that I pack and what I pack have changed. The gathering of gifts and momentos has changed --> all as a result of reading this book. I HIGHLY recommend it to anyone who travels. If this book doesn't change the way that you move around in the world, I will give you your money back!

A few additional comments:
- I would be remiss to not mention a few of my favorite authors. Their books didn't fit too neatly into any of these categories, but I wanted to mention them anyway. I have enjoyed everything I've ever read by Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, SARK, Sabrina Ward Harrison, Max Lucado, Kathleen Norris, Marlene Schiwy, Lauren Winner, Isabel Allende, Paolo Coelho, and Leonie Allan.

- A college buddy wrote An Empire of Women and The Bad Boy's Wife. I loved both of those novels.

- Interpreter of Maladies is one of the best books I've ever read. Short stories that blew me away.

- Sap Rising is another great book of short stories.

- I read lots of non-fiction: Codependent No More brought me up and out of one of the worst depressions of my life. I still pull it out when I feel myself sliding into the abyss of self-pity. Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh on how to live a life of peace in a terribly violent world. Expecting Adam on the challenges of pregnancy when you know your child is not going to be "normal." The Dog Listener on how to train your dog before it trains you.

- Last but not least, as I read through Leonie's blog ( for the first time, the one that prompted me to do this book blog, I realized that the Bible fit every one of these categories for me. Sometimes it lifts me up. Sometimes it makes me feel inadequate. Sometimes I laugh. At other times I cry. It has changed my life. I have read it often. The way that it is often misread and misused has made me sometimes wish it had never been written. I loved it as a kid. I loved it in school. I'm reading it now. I mean to read it as long as I live.

Thanks for the challenge, Leonie.

Update on the tooth extraction: It took longer for the novacaine to numb the roof of my mouth than it did for the doctor to pull the tooth out. A few head wags to the right and left, a crushing sound, and out it came. I'm on a narcotic painkilling drug caled Lortab, so I won't be driving for the rest of the day - which is fine with me. Truthfully, I'm kinda liking the buzz. I'm looking forward to spending the rest of the day in bed sleeping it off. I hope I don't choke on the gauze that is filling the gaping hole in the back of my mouth.

Please forgive any spelling or grammatical mistakes. This drug is mighty powerful. Blurring my speech and my vision. Call me if you want a hit...

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Sundry thoughts on Sunday

I'm back safe and sound. New York City was enchanting, enthralling, engaging, and expensive.

My three friends are fantastic, as all true friends are. We walked, talked, ate, visited museums, ate some more, talked even more, and tried to solve several of the world's most serious crises. We came up with some great ideas, but I lost my notes on the flight home, so we'll have to get together again soon and rehash our discussions. Seriously, we did try to talk about every topic under the sun, and we managed to cover about 7,416 of them. We'll have to plan another get together soon.

My return flight was delayed on Friday night due to the absence of our flight attendant. It was one of those puddle-jumper planes: two pilots and one attendant. We were supposed to take off at 7 PM, but the flight attendant wasn't due to arrive at LaGuardia until 8:05. Call me crazy, but I think that her 8 PM arrival would have a negative effect on our 7 PM departure. We waited. She arrived at LGA, but then she went home. I guess it had been a long day for her. The next flight attendant was due to arrive at 9 PM. She arrived at LGA, but she refused to take another flight. Something about a baby to get home to. And what about us, babe? Don't our babies count??? Finally, a rotund, but cooperative flight attendant decided to help get us home. We, his sleepy charges, applauded his arrival. Our wheels lifted off the runway at 9:50 PM - I know that because I always record the time when the wheels lift off and when the wheels touch down in my journal. (For those of you keeping score at home, that is yet another one of my obsessive acts.)

By the time we landed, I grabbed my cosmetics satchel off the baggage claim carousel, took the shuttle to the minivan, took the minivan to the quiet cul-de-sac in South Charlotte, and took my tired self to bed, it was nearly 12:30 on Saturday morning. Long day. Long trip. I enjoyed every minute of it.

There were the two Bank of America businessmen who were on their way home from New York. Along with them, I offered my services as stand-in flight attendants on American Flight 4897. The ticket counter people didn't accept our offer. There was the woman all in purple who had been at LGA since 1:30 that afternoon trying to get to Raleigh for a funeral and family reunion. Bumped from one flight to the next, she was hoping to get a seat on the last flight out. We shared sob stories and laughed at how preposterous both of our situations seemed to be.

As I stood in line waiting to board my flight, she came to where I was standing and said good-bye. I wished her well on her journey, and she responded, "You guys gave me quite a few laughs, so I'll be okay either way." One young woman who couldn't have been out of her teens was quite upset about the delays, but she sat nearby and listened to our silly banter about how ridiculous it was that one missing flight attendant could potentially cause an entire flight of passengers to have to find someplace to sleep overnight. She was visibly relieved when Philip, our saintly soda server, signed in for duty.

Today has been another long day for me. Two baseball practices (yes, he's on two teams!), one softball practice, two sermons, one panicked drive from Kristiana's softball practice to Daniel's second baseball practice to rescue Steve and Daniel - somehow Steve's car keys ended up in Kristiana's purse which ended up in our kitchen after I picked her up from Daniel's baseball practice and took her home to get ready for her softball practice (Did that make any sense?) - later, I sit here at home grateful to be home safe and sound.

Some people took off in a plane in Kentucky this morning and won't ever be returning home again. I'm sure their family memebers wish a flight attendant had been missing in action this morning.

On a celebratory note: Today is the first anniversary of Maya's adoption. We picked her up from the breeder on the last Sunday of August last year. No regrets - except for when she pees on the carpet.

Tomorrow morning, I have to have a wisdom tooth pulled; needless to say, I'm not looking forward to that. It's the only molar in my mouth that has never had a cavity, but it's gotta go because it's growing too long and will soon hit the gum below and begin to cause nerve damage. At least that's the explanation my dentist gave me. Truthfully, I think he's in cahoots with the oral surgeon and they all want a piece of the action. Get this: because it's only a single tooth extraction, the insurance company won't cover my anesthesia. I'll have to either pay for the laughing gas out of pocket or suck down a bottle of gin just before he begins his dismal duty. That second option requires a designated driver, so I guess I'll go with the giggly first option.

Assuming that my recovery goes smoothly and is relatively bloodless, we will officially open The Silvermine Academy on Tuesday morning. School will be back in session; homeschooling that is. Perhaps we will make tee shirts as our first art project. Kristiana saw a boy at church today wearing a shirt that said: "Caution: Unsocialized Homeschooler." I love it! It's always the first question: what about socialization? My answer is another question: what positive socialization do kids learn in school? I have yet to recieve an answer compelling enough to make me consider school as a worthwhile social training facility. I know that school has many benefits; I openly admit that I loved school. But having been a student, a teacher, a coach, an advisor, and a college counselor in an earlier life, I can say with certainty that social training isn't one of them.

Well, I'd better turn in. I've got a tough day ahead. Good thing I don't have to record these missives. I won't be doing much talking twelve hours from now. I'm sure my husband and children won't be as upset by that prospect as I am.

Again, it's good to be back.
Thank you, Judy, Susie, and Pamela for
a most excellent NYC adventure.
Let's do it again soon.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

I'll be back...

to writing over the weekend at some point.

Very, very early tomorrow morning I will leave home for CLT, otherwise known as Charlotte-Douglass International Airport for my flight to LGA, otherwise known as LaGuardia Airport. It's a 7:15 am flight out of my beloved Queen City. I will return home at or about 10 pm on Friday night. Short trip. A lot jammed into those few days.

I'll be reunited with three of my dearest friends from Connecticut: my writing group. We wrote our way through more than four years of monthly gatherings to read pieces we'd written, to discuss the ups and downs of our maddening government, to encourage each other in the maddening ups and downs of marriage, divorce, motherhood, and womanhood, and to eat lots of good food. I can't wait to Susie, Pamela, and Judy again. I'm sure we will walk many miles of Manhattan's landscape, eat out at least three times, visit one museum or other, do some shopping, read something we've written, show photos of places we've been, and otherwise try to jam an entire year into 50-some-odd hours together.

And, oh, what a year it has been. It's been a challenging year for all of us, a busy year, and we have far too many stories to tell and far too little time in which to tell them. We have traveled to nearly half a dozen countries between us, sold homes, sublet apartments, taught classes, taken classes, sent children off to college, and still managed to stay relatively sane and to stay in touch. I'm sure I will fill many journal pages during and following our time together.

In the meantime, I must pack my clothes into one bag, shrink-wrap my various and sundry lotions, potions, perfumes, and other unguents in a separate bag and check it in at the airport. So much for never having to check luggage. I know that some passengers are simply choosing to leave their cosmetics behind --> not me. Not hardly. My hair and skin would never forgive me.

Start spreading the news...
I want to be a part of it...

Monday, August 21, 2006

Over the river and through the woods...

Along with seven Spanish-speaking friends, I went on a hike on Saturday in the woods of Crowders Mountain State Park here in North Carolina. Between us, we carried a few water bottles, two or three cameras, high spirits, and great expectations.

As we walked along, we stopped to take notice of the serene beauty of the woods around us. We sang. We laughed. We talked. We told bad jokes. We made fun of each other's efforts. We tried to scare each other with warnings about bears, snakes, and wolves. Of the eight of us, six reached the pinnacle peak. Two rested together for a while and then made their way back to the park office on their own.

At one point, one of the women sat down on a large rock and said she thought she was going to faint. I stood with her for a few moments, insisted that she drink some water, and encouraged her to rest. She urged me to go on without her and promised that she'd catch up with us. Reluctantly, I pressed on, wondering to myself, "What if she passes out? What if she falls off the rock and hits her head? What if???"

As we ascended, we came upon a father and his two young children. He carried them alternately on his shoulders. He encouraged and urged them to walk carefully but to press on. I was impressed with his patience and obvious love for them.

After more than an hour of hiking, we reached the top. We could see far into the distance, mountain peaks all around, lush, green valleys, treetops, low buildings, a highway in the distance. One of the people in the group commented that seeing a view like that is a good reminder of how small we are, that looking down from the mountaintop, individual people were impossible to spot. The view from our vantage point was far wider and deeper than could be imagined on the ground below. Why is it that we take ourselves and our small lives so seriously? Good question, my dear, good question.

As we took photos from the pinnacle of the mountain, the woman who had almost fainted arrived. She had needed to rest, allow her heart and lungs to catch up with her body, and then she was able to continue to climb, on her own, in her own time, at her own pace. In the end, she made it. The young father and his two children also arrived at the peak. We congratulated them on their successful efforts.

Not far from where we stood sat a group of young men in camouflage. They listened intently to the three older gentlemen who were obviously in charge of their little regimen and whose words they didn't want to miss. Rudely, I interrupted their pow-wow and asked if one of them would take a photo of our group. One of the teenagers agreed to take the picture, and I asked him if they were an ROTC program. "No, maam. We are members of the Civil Air Patrol." Hmmm... Sounded a little like militia terminology to me, but I didn't ask for details. I heard the Brooklyn-born girl whisper to my wary spirit: "Yes, this is rural North Carolina, G, and don't you forget it."

Within minutes, we began our descent. With quivering quads and shaky calves, we stumbled over the loose rocks and struggled to find secure footholds as we made our way back to the lodge and civilization. A few of us agreed that climbing down was harder than climbing up. I've heard that more people are injured and killed on their way down from the top of Mount Everest than on their way up. Not that I'm comparing our outing to scaling Mt. Everest...

Into the woods. Into our lives. We sometimes travel in groups, walking, talking, laughing, telling stories, and even scaring each other with tales of woe. We stand alongside each other when challenges arise, when heart palpitations threaten to end our journey. We share water, wisdom, and wonder. We encourage, entreat, and endure each other. Sometimes the best thing and the only thing to do is simply to keep walking, in silence, in prayer, in awe, with gratitude, with perseverance, with grace. Don't stop because starting over is more challenging than remaining in motion.

Sometimes we travel life's journey alone. There are times when we must find our way without the help of others. We wander off the path, fall, injure ourselves, but then we get up, keep walking, and make every effort to finish the race that is set before us.

We cannot allow ourselves to be overwhelmed or undermined by the efforts of others. I saw one young man running up the mountain. Running. A group of three young men passed us on their way to the top and appeared to be walking without much strain or effort. I had to stop several times, put my hand on a tree, take a few deep breaths, and then proceed. I couldn't and didn't compare my experience to theirs.

One of the two women who didn't make it to the top was among the proudest in the group. She told us that she never exercises at all and she was thrilled by how much she had walked. She expected that the day's events had motivated her to begin to take better care of herself. Yeah for Estela!

Milton, the lone gentleman in our party told us that we shouldn't look up towards the top of the mountain, not lift our eyes to the goal, but rather concentrate on making our way there step by step. Sometimes raising our eyes to spot the peak in the distance is more discouraging than just keeping her eyes on the step in front of us and placing our foot carefully on the path before us. Wise words, amigo mio, wise words.

Lately, I've felt some serious quivering in my thighs. My calves feel tight and tentative. My heart races and my mind wanders when I sit down to prepare for homeschooling: what if I'm not teaching them enough? What if I'm doing them more harm than good? What if I'm supposed to be doing something entirely different with my life?

When I think about my health, I wonder: What if I'm harboring some dreaded disease that the doctors haven't found yet? What if I have a high threshhold for pain and I should get this sore foot checked out because it's bone cancer?

When I open the Bible and read it, when I am driving along in the car and thinking about the faith I claim to have, I wonder: What if I have no idea about what faith really is and how it's supposed to affect my life? What if this is all a hoax and I've been duped in some really big way?

When I think about the many people in my life who mean the world to me, I wonder: What if I die in a plane crash or car accident or sudden and incurable illness and never get to see certain friends and family members again before I die? What if I die without telling my loved ones that I love them? There are some people I know only through the internet; what if I never get to meet them in person? How will I find out if any of them pass away? Is there any provision made to inform their internet friends that something has happened to them? What if something serious happened to me? How would anybody let my blog readers know? What if??? Yaaahhhh!!!???

When those questions threaten to overwhelm me and give me heart palpitations, I know that I need to sit down in a quiet place, take a few deep breaths, drink a cup of tea, journal, read, pray, give thanks for my blessed life, and nourish my famished soul. I have nothing to fear. I have been careful to tell my loved ones how much they mean to me. I write letters, postcards, emails regularly, and I call my near and dear ones often. I am surrounded by many who hold me up in thought, in prayer, and in hand when I feel weak.

After I catch my breath, rehydrate my dehydrated spirits, and assure myself that I have not lost my way, I step back onto the path into the woods.
I sing a few songs. Tell a few stories.
Write a blog. Make a card and send it to someone special.
Have some tea. Eat some chocolate peanut butter ice cream.
Seek and find the joy of my life's journey.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Wednesday Wonders

There is so much pain. So much sorrow. So much fear. Violence. Sadness.
An arrest was made tonight in the case of JonBenet Ramsey,
whose mother died a couple of months ago.
The tears flow in remembrance of the senseless loss of
another child's life at the hands of a maniac.

Cancer scares. Awaiting test results.
Painful divorce. Aren't they all painful?
New air travel restrictions because lunatics want to kill innocent travelers.
A newlywed husband who cannot find a job to support his new family.
A husband and father of three is sent back to Costa Rica, leaving behind a newly purchased house, a car, and a wife who has does not work outside their home.
Layer upon layer of grief. Loss. Agony.

So today I focused my mind on wallowing in the small stuff.
The minor wonders that make each day wonderful.

Breaking a good, running-down-my-nose sweat while working out this morning.

Waffles with sliced bananas, warm syrup, and coffee for breakfast.

Washing our sheets. I'm looking forward to diving into bed tonight.

Watching Maya carry her favorite sheepskin teddy bear to her sheepskin bed in the homeschool room and lie down. She watched us read together for a while, but when the chapter bored her, she nodded off to sleep. Evidently, she's not a fan of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Watching the sun set in the distance as Daniel played sandlot baseball. Nine boys and one girl hitting as hard as they could, throwing as fast as the could, and sliding as valiantly as they could. (I am not looking forward to trying to get the Carolina red clay out of his pants.)

Preparing to teach a workshop on journaling as spiritual practice. In Spanish. I love journaling, so the prospect of sharing a few tips with others is joyous to me.

Sitting at this desk and looking over at our homeschooling materials, all clean and dust-free, ready for service in a few days' time.

Listening to Steve and the kids talk and laugh downstairs.

Spinach salad with seedless red grapes, home-grown basil, and homemade salad dressing - it's the Good Seasons garlic and herb envelope that I doctor up with fancy vinegar, and more water than oil.

Eating key lime pie for dessert. The children made it yesterday. Yum.
The freshly made whipped cream didn't hurt.

Making plans to meet my three favorite writing buddies in NYC next week for a three-day writing/reading/museum-hopping/walk our feet off/late night gab-session/eat, drink, and be merry marathon.

As I sit here compiling this list, I realize yet again how blessed I am.
More than enough to eat, drink, share, write about, give thanks for, and enjoy.

The Psalmist wrote:
"You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing to you and not be silent,
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever."

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Water, water everywhere... This is a long one.

Back to my irrigation system story... five sprinkler heads went awry on Friday morning, spraying water non-stop. Yesterday afternoon, one rabid water conservationist (me) descended quickly into what was nearly full-blown panic about how to make it stop. The choices were few: let it flow so that we could also have full water pressure in the house OR reduce the water pressure enough to make the sprinkler heads drop, but the water would still flow ceaselessly out of one of them OR turn the water off completely at the street but we'd have no water in the house.

All the while, Steve was in Orlando merrily watching Daniel play basketball. So I've gotta make this decision on my own. Or do I?

No, I was not alone. Alexandra and Marlon were with me. And Steve was merely a phone call away. So I called him. He gave me the phone number of the people who installed the system. I called them and left a message. A kind gentleman called back within half an hour and walked me through the steps of finding the irrigation system shut off valve. It was buried under the lawn just a few inches away from the household shut off valve. Marlon dug up the cover, turned the valve, and the water ceased flowing. Finally. I looked up into the cloudy afternoon sky and thanked God in English and Spanish.

So, Lord, what's the lesson in this? I always want to see and learn the lesson quickly in the hopes of not having to go through the course again.

1- I have no control over the rain, the water, or the irrigation system. I can pray for rain. I can plead with my husband not to overuse the watering system. I can keep my showers as short as possible. But ultimately the control over the water is not mine.

2- I am never truly alone in facing the crises of my life. Steve is never more than a phone call away. Friends far and near always welcome my calls and emails and pleas for help, for advice, and for their presence. Even when none of us can do anything, we can join hands and face the problem together.

3- When all else fails, call the manufacturer and get help from the one who created and installed the system. None of us knew about that other control box. As he explained to me where it was, I looked held the telephone to my ear and looked down at the grass. No box was visible. He said that's as it should be; it was installed in such a way that the grass would grow over it. The only reason to dig it up would be if there were a true emergency - and we were in a true emergency.

It wasn't long before the deeper lessons came to mind.

I have no control over the flow of love, kindness, grace, mercy, or peace in my life. Sometimes all of these attributes overwhelm me, flow through me, and cascade out onto the people in my life. Sometimes I feel as dry as a shallow Orlando creekbed in the August heat. Desperate. Ravenous. Parched.

At those moments - and at so many other moments of life - I feel alone. Abandoned. Empty. Solicitous of attention. I am glad to say that I have been mistaken in my perception of loneliness almost every time. Dozens, if not hundreds, of people I know and love stand with me in the flesh, in spirit, in prayer, in thought, and on the busy lanes of the virtual superhighway --> you stand with me with support, encouragement, admonishment, and love. You sit with me over glasses of wine, sweet tea, coffee, and ice water. You write to me, call me, come see me, and show your love in so many ways. For your friendship, I am always grateful.

But far greater than all of that is the eternal, unchanging love of God. The love that catches my eye with the full moon, the smile of a child at a basketball game, the beauty of the sky, a beautiful woman, a handsome man, or a great skirt on sale at Eddie Bauer.

The love that constantly brings me up short with glimpses of divine providence that are clearly ordained by Someone watching over me: coming back into the house to get my journal only to discover that I'd left the coffee maker on.

Last week, as I was getting dressed after my morning shower, I decided to call my brother, Darryl, as soon as I was ready. The phone rang two minutes later; it was him.

Sitting in church this morning thinking of a woman I hadn't seen in at least nine months. Claudina is the mother of my friend, Daniel, a young man condemned to 27 years in prison. I wondered how she was doing. As soon as the service ended, she came running over to me and gave me a huge hug.

Kathleen McNamara began teaching the same year I did - 1989. We met at a new teachers' conference and became fast friends. I stopped teaching four years later when Kristiana was born; Kathleen is now the upper school head at a private school in California. One of my great sorrows in moving here to Charlotte was having to say farewell to her; at that time, she was working at a school just under an hour from our home in Connecticut. Unfortunately we have fallen out of touch, except for Christmas cards and the occasional phone call. I thought about her while I was in Florida last week, wondering how she and her family are doing. Her husband is from Lebanon, so these must be difficult days for them. I came home yesterday to discover that she had emailed me while I was in Florida.

Mere coincidence? I don't think so. What I do think is that God has a fantastic sense of humor and an inexhaustible Creative Flair. How is it possible to believe that kiwi, watermelons, Great Dane dogs, guppies, roses, daylilies, fingernails, earlobes, the four seasons, the ferocity of Niagra Falls, and the gentle dew of the morning are all the result of random accidents of nature? I find it much easier, comforting, and downright sensible to believe in an All-mighty, All-knowing, gracious God who created the earth, the stars, the animals, and all of us.

Why, then, do wars, famine, events like September 11th, the murder of women by the men they love, hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes still happen? On the one hand, I do not know. On the other hand, a lot of the terrible things that happen in the world are things we human beings do to ourselves: war, September 11th, uncontrolled consumption of oil, coal, and water, obesity, global warming, murder, and abuse. On the third hand, what do we expect when we as humans insist that our personal desires and needs are all that matters: "my country, my land, my oil, my water, my house, my family, my needs, my way or the highway, my lifestyle... No one else, no other nation, no other way of thought matters." We do whatever it takes to get what we want on our own terms. On the fourth hand (think of me as a sea star for a few minutes) God is not going to impose His will on us. If we choose not to believe what He says about Himself in the Bible (not the word of wacky preachers or graceless, loveless nutcases who pick up bullhorns and assault our senses in the street), if we choose to reject all possibility of His love, His grace, and His mercy, if we tell God to leave us alone, He will leave us alone. Fifth and finally, refer back to #1.

When worse came to worse yesterday, I called the company that installed the system.

Sometimes worse comes to worse in my life as well.
Every now and then, the system goes awry.
My mother-in-law goes into a mental and emotional tailspin.
My (birth) family starts spinning in the opposite direction.
My love for my husband runs cold.
My children rebel.
Homeschooling drives home the benefits of traditional schooling.
Maya poops on the carpet.
The car tire goes flat.
Demands for my time grow, but the hours in the day do not.
I get tired of doing the right thing;
I long to run away and be bad, very bad.
I get pissed. Impatient. And make plans to bolt.
Instead of being grateful for the ceaseless flow of activity in my life,
I feel overwhelmed by the deluge.
My arms, legs, and soul become exhausted by the treading of life's waters,
and I begin to sink. I can't turn off the system.

At those times, I call upon the One who made me, who installed my emotional circuitry, my desires, my joys, my strengths, the One who always stands beside me, and lives within me. He walks me through the process of finding the buried controls to turn off the spray of bitterness, lack of forgiveness, and overflowing criticism of others. He knows that in the course of my life, I allow weeds and other things to grow over the door of the control panel of my heart. But He never forgets where the door is. He is always nearby to pick me up when I fall, to hold me up when I sink, and to show me His glory whenever I ask.

The first part of Isaiah 43 says this:
"When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze...
Do not be afraid, for I am with you."

May I not soon forget the lessons of these past three days:
I have control of almost nothing in this life.
I have good friends who are willing to help me when I am in need.
When in doubt, call The Manufacturer.
He knows the system because He created it.

The sprinkler system is silent. The repairman is due tomorrow.
Daniel's 3-on-3 Hoop-it-Up team came in 2nd in the nation, second out of 580 teams.
He and Steve are at the Orlando airport awaiting their flight home.
All is well.
For the moment.

Wait... is that a leaky faucet I hear dripping?

Saturday, August 12, 2006

I'm Back...

Kristiana and I returned from Orlando earlier today.
Steve and Daniel will return tomorrow.
No problems with the return flight - except that I felt naked without my hand cream, lip gloss, and anti-bacterial gel.

I have so many stories to tell and life-lessons to report on.

Let me drop a hint with this tid-bit: after all my ranting about waste and excessiveness, I received a phone call from a neighbor last night (while we were still in Florida) saying that our sprinkler system had gone haywire and that five sprinkler heads were spraying water NON-STOP and had been for hours and hours.

What, Lord? Why me? You know that nobody on the planet (well, at least in my neighborhood!) wastes less water than I do. Why would our system go nuts when we are not there to fix it?

Fortunately, the fantastic people who have done a fantastic job on our front yard came to our house late last night, groped around in the dark, and managed to turn off the water from the street. There was no running water in the house overnight. It's a good thing we didn't need to wash our hands or flush the toilet in the meantime. I'll write more about the water issue, its resolution, and a great lesson I learned as a result very soon.

I've gotta go walk Maya now... who did great while we were gone. The daughter of the neighbor who called me last night is the one who took care of her for us. There has been one small regression on Maya's part: she has taken to peeing in her crate again. Gotta break her of that habit - and fast.

Plus one of our car tires went flat while we were gone; fortunately, the car was in the garage at the time. The couple that works on our lawn came back this morning to "put a band-aid" on the hemorrhaging sprinkler system wound until the folks who installed the system can get here on Monday, and while Marlon and Alexandra were here, their car battery went dead. What have I done to deserve all this flak in one day?

Who am I kidding? These problems are all due to an abundance of blessings - and dare I say it? "excessiveness" - on our part: a family vacation (although I could write reams on the excessiveness, the tackiness, and the ridiculous costliness of Orlando, Florida, especially Disney)... having more than one car... the two very kind and respectful young men who came to replace the flat tire... not having to pay for that service due to the service agreement that came with the car... a lawn to water... an irrigation system...a front yard that is being pampered... neighbors who cared enough to call us... friends who cared enough to come to our house in our absence to look after this problem. All in all, I have no real reason to complain at all. Life is good. God is good. We are all healthy. We are happy. Our travels went well, without any significant difficulties whatsoever.

A few more highlights: The convertible Mustang rental car combined with the too-soft bed and pillows to give me a few backaches early in the week. My wonderful husband rubbed my back several times and then voluntarily made the ultimate sacrifice: He drove us back to the airport on Wednesday night to trade the Mustang in for a Sienna minivan. I never even thought of asking him to trade the car; it was all his idea. Now that's a man to hold on to.

My decision to go off caffeine for a week resulted in some serious headaches. I missed my coffee and my yerba mate tea a lot! It was a rough start to our vacation.

I'm not a pill-popper - mostly because I am almost never sick, nor do I suffer with headaches, PMS, heartburn, or anything else I can think of. Apart from the annual mammogram panic, I'm a very healthy person - for which I give many thanks to God. What was my point? Oh yeah... I take my proverbial hat off to Rapid Release Tylenol caplets. They got me back in working order in two days. Six pills over a 24-hour period, and I was good to go.

Having said all that, I am back to my morning coffee ritual - I enjoyed a dark, sweet and strong cortadito - it's a Cuban coffee concoction- at the Orlando airport this morning; yum!

In any case, I'm back.
Maya needs a walk.
Her crate pads need to go into the dryer - after a thorough washing!

It's good to be home.
Very good.

Did anybody else see that unbelieveably gorgeous full moon this week?

Friday, August 04, 2006

Random Thoughts

1. Hilton Head was fantastic. My friend, Maria, has a wonderfully spacious, welcoming, sunny home on a quiet street in Sea Pines. Her mother is building a huge, colorful, detailed, delightful mansion on the beach. Truly spectacular. Maria's friend - whose name just escaped me - is also building a multi-million dollar edifice in Wexford. Huge, twelve-foot ceilings, pool, jacuzzi, steam room, three-head shower stall, offices, the works. Too much for me, but breath-taking nonetheless.

1b. I met a handful of remarkably interesting people on this trip. Franco and Diedre Accornero, the Italian painter married to the African-American woman who is a former model and actress. I look forward to checking out his website: He and I spoke for quite a while about the Island of Capri and its blue grotto, Roma, Firenze, how much I love to travel in Italy, and he told me that whenever I plan to return, to contact him. His two brothers in Roma would be glad to take care of me.

Hamesh (Brit) and Mary (American) Banks and their children live in Malaysia, their 4th Asian country in fifteen years. Their vivid descriptions of life overseas made me laugh, gasp, and long for more overseas travel.

Mike Peak is someone I knew of back in Connecticut but had never met personally. He is a man obsessed with easing the pain and improving the lives of people in Rwanda. He alone has built schools and hospitals, has sponsored Olympic athletes from Rwanda, and is nowhere near done with his philanthropic work. It was a great joy to meet a man with countless millions of dollars who gives his money freely for the salvation of others. Plus he too is disturbed by the way that we Americans use/waste water, food, and our resources. It was refreshing to hear him speak passionately not only about his concern for the plight of the human race, but also what he is doing to make a difference.

I will not soon forget these past few days.

2. Kristiana and I travel well together. We read together, journal, tell each other stories - well, mostly I tell stories about my life, and she asks awesome questions. Over ten hours in the car - just the two of us. We stopped for gas and bathroom breaks; otherwise, it was us trying to make headway on the long black ribbon of highway. During one half-hour period of our return trip, the temperature plummeted from 100 degrees to 74 degrees and soared back up to 98 degrees - all thanks to a rainstorm on 85 North. It was quite a display of sound, fury, and water.

3. Daniel had a great time at camp. Steve and I drove to Look Up Lodge in Travelers Rest, South Caroline, hiked up a couple of hills there at the camp and entered the chapel where all the children were gathered for their last session. We peered around in the darkness trying to locate our son. Is that him? Yep, in this 90+ degree heat, he's wearing a navy blue wool skull cap, his bathing suit, sneakers without socks, and a look of sheer exhaustion on his face. He was nearly voiceless and attributed that to all the booing he did when "Toolander and His Pretties" attacked "Eddie Bauer." Something to do with the ongoing dramas that kept the kids enthralled all week. It was great to see him again and know that all my prayers for fun and safety were answered in the affirmative.

4. From Daniel's camp we went to Panthers' Training Camp. Sitting in the 100 degree heat (Notice all the references to heat? It's HOT here - and everywhere apparently...) for an hour waiting for a handful of professional football players to jog past us. A few stopped to sign autographs, but mostly they ignored us. A couple of sarcastic comments from a couple of players were all that it took to deepen my disdain for professional sports in general. Five, ten, fifteen million dollars per year for them to play games, be rude to each other as well as their fans, take drugs, abuse their spouses, and then hold out for more money? All this while ambulance attendants are paid minimum wage, millions of people are without access to decent drinking water, a safe place to live, or decent health care. But that's a whole-nother blog.

5. I've been deeply disturbed lately with how much energy and water that is wasted.
Lights and computers left blazing at offices, stores, and even in our homes long after quitting time.

Broken sprinkler heads that squirt water straight up in to the air for more than 24 hours straight. Whenever I hear someone say, "It's only water," I want to scream.

Bath and Body Works routinely leaves their front doors open onto the sidewalk. Frigid air pours out onto the street.

Refrigerated and frozen food units are constructed with open fronts in supermarkets; why not put doors on them and reduce the electricity needed to keep those items cold? Because shoppers shouldn't have to open a door and take out the desired items? Because we are more likely to purchase items that are exposed and not those behind closed doors? Things we wouldn't otherwise choose to buy? Things we don't need and will most likely not like and therefore throw away??? We don't leave our front doors open at home, nor do we leave our freezers and fridges open, so why do we need to be so spoiled at the market? What's up with that?

I'm planning to write a few letters or emails to a few companies and share my thoughts on the topic.

6. Life is expensive. Mortgage. Lawn care. Food. Car care. Gas. Water bill. Electric bill. Scrapbooking classes and supplies. Trips. Someone to take care of Maya while we are away. I'm not complaining as we have a great life. But it's an expensive life. I thank God daily for Steve's job and our ability to live within our means.

7. Check out yet another beautiful blog written by another beautiful, thoughtful, enormously talented woman: Someday I'm going to learn how to attach real links and photographs to this blog. Until then, please bear with my very low-tech blog.

8. Last night as we walked around a local shopping plaza waiting for photos to be developed (no shopping, just walking!), there was the most amazing yellow and orange light emanating from the sky. There was a glow that I simply cannot describe. It changed the way everything appeared. Even my skin tone was altered by the effect of it. I watched several people exit stores there at the plaza and immediately look up into the heavens.

As we approached the photo shop, one of the employees was standing outside with his lens pointed heavenward. When I commented on how eerie, rich, and strange the light seemed to me, he agreed. He told us that he'd taken several photographs of the sky and that they had turned out quite well. I will have to ask him to show them to me the next time I'm in there.

One word that occurred to me as a looked up was: glory.
The sky reflected the glory of the Lord.
His creativity. The beauty of creation.
"The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of His hands."
{Psalm 19:1}

I've gotta go have some breakfast.
Coffee and a bran muffin: one of my favorite meals.
Plus Kristiana is changing the water in her guppy tank; I've gotta go scoop them from one bowl into the next. Pray for safe travels for the fish.
And for us: we leave for Orlando tomorrow afternoon.