Friday, August 31, 2007

Grab your tissues...

This morning, one of my brothers sent me a link to a You tube video. Very cool. Made me cry. But then again, I cry pretty easily. Check it out.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Impeccable Timing, Part 2

Thanks to all of you who read my last post and have written or called to ask what I did on my day of "wild abandon." It means a lot to know that there are people out there who wonder about and care where I am and what I'm up to.

One promise I made to myself when I woke up yesterday morning and began to plan my day was that I wouldn't tell anyone all the details of what I did. I felt like I needed to maintain some privacy and secrecy on what I hoped would be a special day. So without going into many details, much of my day consisted of asking myself over and over again: "What do I really want to do right now?"

It's a simple question and a simple idea, but the answer to the question led to some unexpected and enjoyable ramifications at during the day. I found myself saying things like: "I don't feel like doing that right now. I know that I need to, but for today I'm not going to." "I won't allow this to be said to me or done to me today because today is my day to take good care of myself." "I won't give the expected/easy/simple answer today because I’m taking better care of myself today." "Normally I wouldn't have another one of those, but today I will." “On regular days, I wouldn’t put my desires above those of that person, but today is not a regular day.”

I also found myself thinking things like: "Most of these decisions aren't radical in and of themselves. I'm not stealing things from stores or lying about my age or background. I haven't planned a rendezvous with the cute guy from Terminix" - who, by the way, hasn't yet solved my ant problem. (Those persistent little pests are back with their aunts, uncles, and cousins in tow!!!!!) Nothing along those lines.

My decisions had to do with simple things. Small things. Personal things. Fun things. Decadent things. Sacred routines and symbols and thoughts that I hadn't thought of or handled in a while. Ways to treat myself better than I usually do. Ways to step out of the mold I have crammed myself into over the past few years.

One specific activity from yesterday that I am willing to share was my decision that Kristiana and I would take most of the day off from homeschooling. She had to get a vaccination at 9 am. After our brief sojourn at the doctor’s office, we went to a place here in Charlotte called Wing Haven. I know I've written about it before, but I will describe it again briefly: Back in the early 1920's, a newlywed couple moved into a house in the center of Charlotte, a house surrounded by a parcel of land made up of red clay and one tree. Over the next several years, they purchased ten adjacent parcels of land and built a three-and-a-half garden that they called Wing Haven. It became a haven (hence the name) where more than 120 species of birds have been sighted, where more than 75 different herbs grow, and where squirrels, chipmunks, and other critters of all kinds have made their home.

We strolled through Charlotte's secret garden, laughing quietly at the antics of one squirrel that watched us more than we watched it, marveling at the dewy, intricate spider webs, listening to the bubbling fountains, taking photos of the sole inhabitant of the rabbit warren, and being amazed by the variety of trees, bushes, flowers - flora and fauna in abundance.

Unfortunately I was wearing the wrong shoes - open-toed flat slides. They are quite cute shoes and matched my outfit smartly. But in a maze where tree roots, slippery stones, and an incalculable variety of ants in all sizes and various colors are rampant, open-toed shoes are not an optimal footwear choice. I found myself not wanting to stand still to appreciate the flora for long because Kristiana and I were under constant attack by the fauna. We both emerged from the garden with welts and bumps of various sizes and shapes.

As we walked through that display of creation at its finest, I found myself reflecting on the feelings of worthlessness and worry I had experienced the day before. I reflected on the ways in which what I was seeing there at Wing Haven mirrored what I had been feeling. The undergrowth hid the tiny little critters, the creatures that bite and sting, leaving small marks, but remain invisible to everyone except the person under attack. I thought about how uncomfortable I felt with the prospect of sitting on one of the many benches to take in the sights and sounds. I was so nervous about being eaten alive that I couldn't fully enjoy what was around me. At one point, I looked down at my arm and discovered a mosquito in the act of withdrawing my blood into its tiny hypodermic stinger. Reflexively, I slapped it and killed it. Suddenly I thought, "Yikes! That's my own blood, shed that a mosquito might live." For a split second, I felt badly that I had killed it.

At the beginning of the garden path is a small cottage that shows an endless loop of video about the founding of Wing Haven. Toward the end of the film, the narrator speaks eloquently about the foundation that supports Wing Haven and the effect that such places has on the people who visit it. He said: "We need places like this. We must have them. We must protect them."

Indeed. I need places like this to force me to deal with some of my fears of the great outdoors. To allow me to deal with those fears in doable doses of the wild kingdom that this planet truly is.

But I also need days like yesterday, days where I can deal with some of my fears about my great indoors - my soul and its yearnings. I need days when I decide to go barefoot and wear a tank top as I forage into and through the wild kingdom of my own heart's desires. I need to deal with the real possibility that I will get bitten by vermin of every kind. I need to look down at the tiny things beneath my feet without cringing and look up at the huge limbs and nests high above me without looking for cover from falling bird droppings.

The truth is that Wing Haven wasn't very scary at all. And neither was my day. I survived them both; most of the bumps are gone, and none of the bites still itch.

Kristiana and I entered that cottage at the end of our walk through the garden. It provided a different perspective to hear the history of that beautiful place told by the couple that started it and maintained it and lived in it until they died at the end of the walk. On his deathbed, the first outside gardener the couple hired asked one of the owners what the property looked like when they moved there. She pulled out old photos which he looked at for a long time. Then he said, "That's the way you want your soul to grow. Get more beautiful every day."

Exactly. I want my soul to grow more beautiful every day. As the lovely Leonie wrote, I long to bloom and blossom like a wildflower every day. I need to set aside time when I put my own pruning shears down and allow God to clip off my dead leaves and shriveled branches.

Sometimes the best thing that can happen to me is a bad day. Sometimes it is an impeccably timed bad day that forces me to step back from the frenzy and fray of my life for a quiet time of rejuvenation and reconnection with myself and with God.

Sometimes it is a pervasive ant invasion that forces me to get down on my knees and look for cracks between the slats of the hardwood floor. Where else can they be coming from? Kinda like the way I have been crawling around on the floorboards of my thoughts, my faith, my marriage, and my motherhood of late. Where on earth are these fears getting in? When I find them, what am I willing to do to chase those frets and frights back down the holes through which they gained entry?

After we sat through the twelve-minute video loop twice, I asked Kristiana if she minded if we walked through the garden again. Backwards. I wanted the chance to do the impossible: to go through the same experience with hindsight as my guide. Having learned lessons from the ants and the spiders and the birds and the creeping vines, I was ready to retrace my steps.

We did. On the return trip, I saw more flowers, noticed large ripe pomegranates hanging low on the branches above the herb garden, and didn’t trip over nearly as many tree roots as I had earlier. I was gnawed on by more ants and mosquitoes, but I didn’t kill any of them. I ended up with newly flung spider silk on my sweaty forehead. And I smiled all the way.

Thank You, Lord, for the bad day on Tuesday.
Thank You, Lord, for the health of my daughter (and my son).
Thank You for medical insurance and a pediatrician that knows my children by name and cares deeply about their well-being.
Thank You for Wing Haven, the lush, green, living place in the middle of this busy, noisy, rushing city.
Thank You for the ants and the mosquitoes, the spiders and the goldfish in the fountains.
Thank You for all the lessons You teach me along life’s pathway.
And thank You, above all, for Your impeccable timing.

Addendum: Another impeccably timed internet discovery made soon after this post.
Check this out. Read the entries for August 29th and 30th.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Timing is Impeccable

Look at the two trees at the top of the hill - near the middle of the photo. I feel like I'm holding on to the one on the left with my left hand - and I have to sneeze. Badly. Have you ever felt that way?


Just three days after a great one-night getaway,
just one day after a lovely morning walk,
just hours after a great meal followed by an interesting discussion with my daughter,
just moments after reading another two chapters of Japanland aloud,
those old feelings come back.

The feeling of being unworthy of friendship and affection
the feeling of wanting to solve everyone else's problems
the feeling of being an imposter rather than a genuine mother, wife, daughter, aunt, friend
the desperate need for attention: immediate and unbroken attention
the certainty that if I walked away from my home, my family, my church, and all my other relationships, it would be days or weeks before anyone would notice.

There is also the feeling of total inadequacy and incompetence in every role in my life
the doubting and questioning today of everything that made perfect sense to me yesterday
the urge, the unshakable longing, to "run away from home," change my name, and start all over again in a far away city
the utter inanity of nearly every decision I have made in the past twenty-five years.

Even though I know there is nothing true or real or possible in any of those statements, there are moments (like the one I'm living right now) when those feelings portray themselves as the only truth of my life.

The timing is impeccable. Just when I think it's safe to reach out to a friend, to offer counsel to a loved one, to spread my own wings and fly a little, those old feelings come back. Just when I think it's safe to ask myself some tough questions AND find answers, when I get back into an exercise routine, when I begin to get comfortable with the idea of my son being in junior high school and my daughter being in senior high, those old feelings come back.

Earlier today, I was reminded of Sue Monk Kidd's book entitled The Mermaid Chair. On the very first page, the narrator says: "So few people know what they're capable of. At forty-two I'd never done anything that took my own breath away, and I suppose now that was part of the problem - my chronic ability to astonish myself."

So tomorrow, I'm going to do something to astonish myself. Something unpredictable. Something risky. Something that is out of character for me. I'm not going to tell anyone what it is, so that I can enjoy it all the more. I'll use the impeccable timing of "those feelings" as motivation to do something shocking enough to get myself back on track. Perhaps I will come up with a new definition of "those feelings."

The next paragraph in Kidd's book declares: "I promise you, no one judges me more harshly than I do myself; I caused a brilliant wreckage. Some say I fell from grace; they're being kind. I didn't fall - I dove."

Hmmmm... Perhaps I'd better dig out my swimsuit and noseclip.


A few minutes later: Now that I've given it a little more thought, I realize that I have done several things in my life that have astonished me. Giving birth to (without any drugs whatsoever), raising, and homeschooling these two children still shocks me. My many solo jaunts around the US and in Europe are pretty cool also. Being published (in someone else's book, a book for which I receive no monetary benefit whatsoever). Also, no brilliant wreckages of late; there are a few from earlier phases in my life that still cause me to shudder, however.

Having said all that, I still plan to do something astonishing tomorrow.
Shocking. Eye-brow raising...

Monday, August 27, 2007

Knock, knock.

This is an attempt at a self-portrait. The white glow at the bottom is the glare off the bright white comforter on the bed. The other glow is my smile; I had just checked in and unpacked all my loot.
Who's there?
In-room dining.
Room service?
Um... I'm in the tub.
Okay, call when you are done, and I will bring it right up to you.

So I continued soaking in my aromatic bath, alternating my knees and my chest above the water line. (At 5'10" tall and with a 36" inseam, I can count on only one hand the number of times that my knee caps and my collar bone have been underwater at the same time in a bathtub. I've gotten used to the see-saw method of bathing. But I digress...) I continued soaking. Wondering what awaited me from room service. I hadn't ordered anything, but my husband had sent me a bouquet of flowers just an hour or so before, so I figured he was up to something else.

A little while later, I was greeted by a white-gloved attendant with a bottle of red wine and half a dozen strawberries dipped in both dark and white chocolate. Yum, yum. Nope, not sent by my husband; they were a gift from the hotel, part of my overnight spa package, I suppose. Nice touch.

Notice that I ate one of the strawberries before I thought to pull out my camera... Yeah! More to eat and drink. As if I didn't have enough to do...

At 6:30 pm, I sauntered downstairs to the spa.
Oversized, extra heavy, super cozy robe.
Cold, lemon-infused water.
Hot stone massage from the heavy-handed, well-trained massage therapist.
When it was over, she told me to drink lots of water that night.
I disobeyed: I had two exquisitely prepared mojitos at the hotel lobby bar.

Returned to my room where the bed had been turned down,
a robe was laid out on it,
and two tiny squares of chocolate awaited.

What could I do but eat more chocolate?
An hour of reading and journaling.
Watched "What Not to Wear: Wear Are They Now?"
Then drifted off to sleep in a massive, comfortable bed.
I slept in the robe.
Awoke to the sun rising above the golf course that lay just outside my window.

Who doesn't read and journal over breakfast at a beautiful hotel restaurant?

Cinnamon oatmeal with golden raisins and brown sugar: $8
Fresh fruit and berries: $3
Bottomless cup of Starbucks coffee with sugar and soy milk: $3
The waitress, Mary, telling me that, because I had eaten all my breakfast, I was free to go out and play all day: Priceless.
(She really said that! I laughed and said, "Thanks, Mom.")

Oh, what a night.
Not enough time to read all those books and magazines,
or eat all the chocolate I packed.
But oh, what a night nonetheless.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Out of the Mouths of Babes...

Taken at Horizon Eyecare while I was trying to find new glasses frames. I turned around and was greeted by this image. My handsome son was pretending to be Steve Urkel from "Family Matters." We all laughed so loudly that I was afraid we were going to be asked to exit the premises.


On the way to school this morning, Daniel said, "Mom, it has been the wierdest mix of emotions this week: some good, some bad, and some wierd."

Stunned by his eloquence and wisdom, I said nothing. I quickly and quietly pulled a notepad from the pocket on the driver's door, grabbed a pen, and wrote those words down. Words that perfectly describe the emotions I have experienced this week.

Some good: they are growing up. Sprouting wings. Moving on in their lives.

Some bad: they are growing up. Sprouting wings. Moving on in their lives.

Some wierd: they are growing up. Sprouting wings. Moving on in their lives.

I am doing all of the above - and all the opposite things as well.

I have spent a lot of time this week looking back - wishing they would "grow down" --> go back to nursing and diapers and toddling around the house, so that I could hold them in my arms again, rock them to sleep in the middle of the night, and start this mothering journey afresh, knowing everything I know now.

I have spent a lot of time this week wishing I could "grow down" too: go back to the days when I didn't have to wonder or worry about where anyone else was, where I didn't know about war, terrorism, cancer, drought, recalled toys, and lost jobs. Wishing I could go back to the days that my children are living right now: where life's only concerns are centered on homework assignments, which snack to each after school, and whether or not to watch the Disney channel or Little League baseball.

I have spent a lot of time this week wanting to clip their wings, to keep them under my wings, and to convince them that flying is really a rather dangerous proposition. But even as those words have floated through my mind and fluttered on my tongue, I know how wrong they are. I am reminded of a quote I found on Tuesday.

Written by Leonardo DaVinci, it goes like this:

Once you have tasted flight,
you will forever walk the earth
with your eyes turned skyward,
for there you have been,
and there you will always long to return.

I have tasted flight. Since my first day at college, my first flight overseas, and my first solo journey to Italy, I have longed to return. I have dipped my finger into the sweet nectar of both physical and intellectual travel and touched my children's hungry lips. How can I be surprised that they long to get out and eat life in huge bites? Was that the point of having them, loving them, and homeschooling them all these years, Gail, if not to let them go out and see it all for themselves? Why would I want to deny them the thrill of seeing the world, of making friends everywhere they go, and of doing what Camus described as "living life to the point of tears" - the thrill that I so thoroughly enjoy?

During these past few years, months, and weeks, I have slowly begun to spread my wings to let them go explore this wonder-filled, dangerous, thrilling, disappointing, unimaginably glorious world. They have stumbled, fallen, gotten back up, recovered, and gone on more and more adventures without me. Almost imperceptibly to them, but glaringly to me, they have sprouted wings - even this very week.

As they begin to move on in their lives, I recognize that part of my role as their mother is to stay right here, where they can find me easily and quickly. To be their "home base" as they play "tag" with life. To listen carefully when they speak (and take copious notes). To open my lap and invite them to climb in - even as they grow tall and broad-shouldered. When they wake up every morning, even if my body isn't here at home (as it won't be tomorrow morning - Ballantyne Resort, here I come!), I hope that they will always sense the presence of my love and my support everywhere they turn.

Out of the mouth of my handsome young babe came simple words of wisdom and truth this morning. When I recovered from the initial shock of his statement, I told him that I agreed with him: this has been a week of emotional roller-coaster riding for me as well. And then I said that he should hold onto that thought because all year long and all life long, he will notice these wierd mixes of emotions. Some will be good, some bad, some wierd, but all of them are worthy of contemplation, conversation, and prayers of thanksgiving.

Have a great day at school, my boy. Along with dozens of other moms lined up and looking for their loved ones, I will be waiting for you in the carpool lane in just a little while. I'll be the one with tears rolling down my cheeks.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Thankful Thursday

This photo, taken on our trip to Massachusetts in June, is of a road less traveled. Every time I look at it, I am reminded of many of my life choices: lonely roads, lonely journeys. I can honestly say that I have precious few regrets about my choices. Though none go with me, still I will follow...

1. Daniel likes school better every day. He comes home with more stories of classroom activities and more names of students he is meeting and hanging out with. I am glad that he is happier.

2. Today is my mother's 72nd birthday. She came over for dinner and birthday cake. Kristiana made her a beautiful card, a necklace and matching earrings.

3. Kristiana and I are having an excellent week of homeschooling. It is a true gift to me to be able to spend so many hours with my daughter, reading and writing, talking and laughing. We went to see "Becoming Jane" yesterday, and then we spent a long time talking about the nature of love and relationships. I introduced her to the phrase that I live by: "Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."

4. I am getting into a good routine of exercise, reading, creating art (currently I am working on postcards for a postcard exchange...yeah for mail!), journaling, and keeping on top of the stuff with the kids as well. Although I am staying up until nearly midnight every night, I go to sleep contented with the happenings of the day and wake up ready to do it again.

5. In other words, I feel good. And it feels good to feel good.

6. A loud, flashy thunderstorm rolled through Charlotte last night. Rain!!! Beautiful, wonderful, grass-soaking rain. It's raining again right now. Although the storms don't last long and I know they aren't "drought-busting rains," it is rain. And we need lots of rain.

7. Today Kristiana found an ant in the kitchen. It was the first one any of us has seen in at least five days. I hope it's not the beginning of a second wave...

8. I have been reading some excellent blogs lately. The usual few that I have links to here as well as a few new discoveries. After reading their words, I am encouraged and motivated to think more deeply, to laugh more raucously, and to live more passionately.

9. I have a new friend; her name is Carolyn. Strong, wise, and beautiful, she seeks hard after God. She aches to see young people know and love the Lord. She plays the guitar and sings with abandon. She loves her husband. She is in a car with him and their two cats right now - moving from Charlotte to a small town in Pennsylvania. I am so sad she is leaving. We were only just getting to know each other when she told me they were moving away. I hope our friendship grows over the miles: that's what telephones and the internet are for.

10. I had a chance to speak to an old friend yesterday: my dear Antonio. It is always good to hear his voice, to know that he is well, to find out what is new with him, and to report to him on what is going on in our family. After 12 years serving one community in Spain, he is moving this September to a new city and job. I have spent many hours thinking about and praying for him in this time of transition. To bid farewell to children he has taught, to families he has interacted with, to his Jesuit brothers, and to that beautiful city on the northern coast of the country I love. I cannot wait to get back to Spain and see his new post, to meet his friends, and to explore his environs. He is a loyal friend, a consummate host, and a fabulous tour guide and travel companion.

11. Tomorrow night at this time, I will be at a local resort in a deluxe room with a golf course view, recovering from a hot rocks massage, lying in bed, writing in my journal with a stick of Peace incense burning, reading one of any number of books I plan to take, nibbling on almond bark or almond clusters from a new Trader Joe's market - all thanks to a Mother's Day gift card from my dearly beloved husband. After breakfast on Saturday morning, I will head to my favorite hair salon for more pampering.

11. I am thankful today to be alive. To set up my laptop computer on the bed next to my husband and write while we watch Little League baseball together, Maya at our feet, and Kristiana hovering nearby, reminding me that she wants me to read her a chapter of a book we are plowing through together. Yup, that's my 13 1/2 year-old asking me to read aloud to her. To snuggle with my son when he's ready for bed. To be healthy and strong enough to appreciate the great blessings that I have in this life. To know that if I have a rough day tomorrow or Saturday or next week, I have had this day, this glorious day.

Tis better to have loved - and lost
Tis better to have laughed - and cried
Tis better to have traveled - and come home
Tis better to have given thanks - and (is there an opposite to giving thanks?)
Than never to have lived or laughed or traveled at all.
And for all of it, I give thanks.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Big Doings Around Here Today...

The boy child is in 6th grade science class at "real school" as I write this.
The girl child is watching "High School Musical 2" - psyching herself up for ninth grade as I write this. The breadwinner is out slaughtering the pig and preparing to bring home the bacon - as it were. The breadbaker (that's me) is not preparing to bake bread, but she did bake butterscotch squares to celebrate the boy child's first day at school.

And now I will stop using this ridiculous 3rd person voice... Also, by way of clarification: Not being a typical frontier/pioneer/make my family's clothes/grow all our own food-type of homeschooler, I have never baked bread - unless banana bread counts. Pepperidge Farm Hearty Slices 12-Grain bread is just fine for us.

Was Daniel nervous about his first day of school? Let me put it this way... He set his clock for 5:45 this morning and leaped out of bed as soon as it sounded. By the time I got up at 6 am, he was dressed; his bed was made; and he was wondering what to do for the next hour and twenty minutes before we had to leave.

Was Mom nervous about his first day of school? As Steve put his arms around all of us and prayed before we headed out the door (as a whole family!) to take Daniel to school, I cried silent tears of sadness and joy for Daniel and for all of us.

It felt like in that moment, in the kitchen, with my arm clinging to the strong shoulders of my son, I remembered: I have given the last 14+ years of my life (if I include the months of pregnancy - and I DEFINITELY include those months), all my blood, sweat, and buckets of tears to these two amazing children that I adore. I have worn Dry Erase markers, mechanical pencils, and Sharpie pens to the nib, worked through textbooks and workbooks with them, read aloud and discussed hundreds of books with them, and spoken to them in English, Spanish and some broken Italian. We have spent countless hours reading the Bible together, praying for ourselves, our sponsor children, and our friends and family members near and far. We have journaled, taken pictures, drawn pictures, discussed the Civil War, the Iraq War, and the tennis war between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. We have traveled the streets of Charlotte, London, Madrid, and San Francisco together. We have sung, danced, laughed, cried, written letters, emails, postcards, and five-paragraph essays. We have played ping-pong, tennis, basketball, baseball, softball, Uno, Hit the Deck, Scrabble, Scattergories, and hide-and-seek. The crazy thing is that, as I stood there this morning, all I wished for was 14 more years as a fearsome threesome to do more of the same. Then I opened my eyes and managed to release my selfishness in the instant that I saw the excitement on his face: He was ready to go.

Less than half an hour later, I watched my son plow into a gaggle of giggling 6th graders, open his locker, load his stuff into his backpack, wave the three of us away with that "I will kill you with my bare hands if you kiss me in public" look on his face, and sprint down the hallway to homeroom. He didn't look back - not even once. Clearly he was ready for "real school" in so many ways. I know he's thought of me a few times today, as I've thought of, prayed for, and missed him desperately. He is gonna do great, I know it.

So will Kristiana - as a ninth-grader here at home with me.

And someday I will be able to write about today, about Daniel's transition into junior high school and Kristiana's transition into high school without tears. Someday... I hope so anyway.

Yup, big doings around here today.
And all is well.
All is well.
All manner of things shall be well.

PS> I promise to add a photo of him in his first-day outfit and brand new backpack very soon.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

It's All About Me

I was reading Shelly's blog (see yesterday's blog for a link) and saw a list of "memes" she responded to. Quite frankly, I don't even know what "meme" means, but I like writing lists of things, so this is the perfect lazy day kinda blog. So here goes...

Five likes:
1. packing for travel
2. new bars of soap
3. food hot off the grill
4. mojitos with sugar around the top of the glass
5. elephant statues

Five things I was doing ten years ago:
1. still nursing Daniel (who was 11 months old at the time)
2. soaking his cloth diapers in the washer overnight and washing them myself
3. packing and preparing to move from Stamford, CT to Norwalk, CT
4. eating ice cream sundaes with chocolate and peanut butter ice cream, chocolate syrup, and walnuts - almost every night
5. wondering how I was going to lose "those last pregnancy pounds"???!!!

Five favorite snacks:
1. mesquite bbq wavy Lays potato chips
2. fruity popsicles
3. a handful of Kashi Heart to Heart cereal
4. roasted peanuts in the shell
5. roasted, unsalted almonds

Five songs I know all the words to
1. To God Be the Glory
2. L'Abitudine (by Bocelli)
3. Waiting for Love to Be Born (Rob Mathes)
4. The Hour That The Morning Comes (James Taylor)
5. I Want To Go Home (Ian Cron)

Five things I will never wear again
1. anything in a size 6 or below
2. plaid pants
3. a wedding dress
4. maternity clothes
5. leggings (except when I exercise)

Five things I would do if I were a millionaire
1. pay off our mortgage
2. hire someone to cook for us
3. sponsor more needy children around the world
4. support more good causes
5. buy an apartment in Madrid

Five things I hate
1. the word "hate"
2. war
3. all natural disasters: earthquake, drought, floods, tsunamis, et al.
4. divorce
5. abuse of every kind: of people, drugs, alcohol, power, etc...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Shopping Around For...

* new blog friends, I found Shelby Dupree and Tired Mummy. Music suggestions. Honest stories about depression and children with special needs. Beautiful photographs. And reasons both to smile and to cry. Their stories sound a lot like the stories of so many other people I know, but they both write with strength, candor, and resolve. I find encouragement on both websites. Take a look if you get a chance.

* new pens, I found the perfect pen for me: a ball point pen with a metal tip. I have trouble using pens for long because I press so hard when I write. Usually within a few days, felt tips and even plastic nibs are demolished in my heavy hand. Made by Zig/EK Success and simply called, "Ball", these new, .5 mm, archival, hard-headed beauties come in single packs of black, four-color packs, and eight-color packs. I ordered several of the 8-color packs from They arrived a few days ago. I'm still drooling over how beautiful the packs are. Because there are a few pre-owned plastic-tipped pens that I haven't completely destroyed yet, I haven't opened the new ones yet. But I plan to do so within the next few days.

(I'm a lot like my father in this area of my life. When he passed away in March of 2001 and we went through his closet, we discovered that my father had left behind many, many packages of things that he hadn't opened yet: handkerchiefs, mints, pajamas, cosmetic things, and more. If I died today, there would be enough soap, perfume, deodorant, body cream, Mary Kay skincare, pens, journals, and nail polish for any normal woman to not need to replace them for six to nine months. Kind of a hoarding sickness I think, honestly inherited from my dearly loved father.)

* groceries earlier today, I carried the following list into Lowe's supermarket:

- salad (we eat salad nearly everyday. We all prefer romaine lettuce.)
- tofu (Kristiana and I are partial to extra firm cubed tofu on our salad.)
- celery
- fruit (watermelon, nectarines, apples, bananas, cherries, and seedless grapes are family favorites around here)
- cold cuts (honey ham and provolone cheese)
- sausage (chicken sausage and cajun andouille for a cook-out tomorrow)
- pancake syrup
- pancake mix
- hard pretzels
- Paul Newman hint-o-mint cookies (beat Oreos by a million miles!)
- coffee beans flavored with Viennese Cinnamon (does Vienna have any real connection to cinnamon or is that just to make me feel more sophisticated as a coffee consumer?)
- cans of garbanzo beans (also for the salad)
- olive oil (a month in Spain led to an addiction to oil and vinegar on aforementioned salads. Rarely do we use anything else. Sometimes flavored vinegar is all we reach for)
- pasta sauce (who needs six boxes of whole wheat pasta with nothing to put on top?)
- smart balance oil (mostly for use in brownie recipes)
- soy milk (fat free vanilla for me and the girl child. I am moderately lactose intolerant, and she is more than moderately concerned about eating as healthfully as possible. No cow's milk for her if she can help it.)
- orange juice (with calcium, of course, since so little cow's milk is consumed around here.)
- jelly beans (for me! Red apple, mango, peach, and juicy pear are my favorite Jelly Belly flavors)

Off-list acquisitions included - Breyer's ice cream (because it was on a "buy one, get one free" sale), yogurt-covered raisins, and cold drinks for the kids to enjoy on the way home. There was no complaining on the ride home, none whatsoever.)

I am one of those rare people who actually likes to go to the supermarket. Produce, bread, meat, soup, pickles, wine, beer, cookies, pasta, sauce, cereal, nuts, sauces and spices of all kinds, crackers, bread, soda, chips, detergent, butter, eggs - all in copious quantities - it literally moves me to tears sometimes, right there inside "my Harris Teeter." I am amazed every week by the blessings that literally and figuratively fall off the shelves at the market and in our home.

In this country, most of us are overwhelmed with food choice in a state, in a nation, and in a world where billions of people go to bed hungry every night. I do not take our wealth and privilege for granted. My mantra as I walk through the market, put all the loot into the car, drive home, and put it all away is this: "Thanks be to God for these indescribable gifts."

When the cashier begins to ring up my goodies, he or she routinely asks, "Did you find everything you needed?" I almost always say, "Yes, and plenty of stuff I didn't need."

* reasons to be angry at myself for buying things we don't need, for spoiling the children with too much ice cream and too many hours in front of the television, for feeling sorry for myself because it's too hot to play tennis, I once again stop those self-pitying thoughts and remind myself that gratitude ought to be the only attitude I have at the moment. We have a home that keeps us cool in the summer and warm in the winter. We have money to buy the things we need to eat and so many of the things we want. We have books to read, televisions to watch, art supplies to make use of, and life, health, and a reasonable portion of sanity with which to enjoy it all.

* What on earth do I need to go shopping around for?
I already have all that I need for this life and the life to come.

My Life at the Moment, Part 2

My life at the moment consists of a blur of activity tossed together with an eerie lull before the storm of the new school year.

The day of his departure is nearly upon us: Daniel starts school next Monday. My tears will probably start to flow on Sunday sometime in the mid-afternoon and continue until just after Thanksgiving. (who am I kidding? I am crying even as I type this?) I am going to miss my boy so very much. Nearly eleven years of living, laughing, and learning with him - it's not that our life together is coming to an end. Life as we know it, as a homeschooling mother-son team, as tea drinkers and cookie dunkers during morning break time, as ping-pong and tennis buddies, is coming to an end. Having him come find me in my study early in the morning, plop his sleepy body down onto my lap for a few morning hugs, for a report on his dreams from the night before, for a quick summary of the day ahead - those sleepy, slow beginnings to our day, those moments will be harder to find in the days and weeks to come.

My life at the moment includes buying him long-sleeved collared shirts and ties for Chapel Days at school, making sure he has jeans and khakis that fit, a rainbow of short-sleeved collared shirts, belts, and erasable blue, black, and red pens. I am telling him everything I think he will need to know about classroom etiquette, dining room expectations, and what to do when he has to go to the bathroom but the teacher is in the middle of explaining something in front of the class. I am writing checks for field trips, school lunch (how is it that a school that costs over $10,000 per year doesn't include lunch in the deal?) I am hoping I haven't forgotten anything crucially important.

My life at the moment also includes preparing myself and my daughter for the continuation of our homeschool. She is entering the ninth grade, high school: all this stuff counts now! The temptation is to turn our home into a high voltage HIGH SCHOOL with organic chemistry labs going on in one corner, PhD research in ancient Mesopotamian history in another, and the devouring of GREAT BOOKS in the attic. But I refuse to give in to that temptation.

Kristiana and I will continue with a kinder and gentler way of learning. The goal is to continue to cultivate her already healthy love of reading, writing, and learning in general. We will take field trips to many museums, gardens, and animal rescue centers, go to movies, watch Shakespeare videos together while munching on popcorn, spend lots of time walking and talking, and bask in the wonder of life and learning. Our home-grown high school program is not going to become a high pressure daily grind for her; she's got the rest of her life to worry about what the rest of the world is doing and what everyone "out there" thinks she needs to be doing and worrying about as a 13-year-old. These are, indeed, her wonder years - I want her to wander and wonder and grow up with delight and awe for creation, for people, and for all there is to this amazing universe we live in.

In between numerous trips to Target, Belk, and Payless Shoes, we have been reading Treasure Island together and eating watermelon, walking and bathing the dog, playing card games, trying to stay cool in this record-breaking heat, and sometimes even complaining of boredom. Bored? With all the stuff there is to do, like watching the ant trails dwindle (thanks be to God!), vacuuming and dusting after getting the ceiling hole fixed (glory be!), and preparing for someone to come to our home and do some much needed repair and updating of our computers (is it possible for the internet to boot up in less that 20 seconds?), it doesn't seem possible that we could be bored.

On the other hand, a healthy dose of unscheduled time is good for all of us. In just a few days, we will enter into a schedule that we have never known. We will have deadlines and expectations and projects and papers due and more forms to fill out and parent-teacher meetings and new student dinners and parent breakfasts and back-to-school gatherings without ceasing. These quiet days leading up to those days of frenzy are the days that we ought to be most grateful for.

My life at the moment is full of joy and excitement and apprehension and concern.
My life at the moment is sad because our family dynamics will change so drastically.
I am in a constant state of prayer for safety, alertness and discernment for us all.
I am enormously grateful for all these years I have had to homeschool my children.
I am grateful that Daniel has this chance to spread his wings and fly. But I miss him already.
I am glad that Kristiana has chosen to give herself one more year to make sure her foundation is firm before she decides if it's time for her to head out.

My life at the moment is one of looking back with gratitude and joy.
It is also one of looking ahead with the same gratitude and joy.

I dedicate Ephesians 3:14-21 to my children.

For this reason, I kneel before the Father, from whom His whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of His glorious riches of His glory, He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all that we ask or imagine, according to the power that is at work within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations for ever and ever.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

This Is My Life At the Moment...

At one point earlier this afternoon, I was standing in my daughter's bathroom staring at a trail of ants crawling across the back wall, trying to figure out where they had come from and where they were going. My daughter was discussing with me whether or not she would take a Red Cross babysitting course this Saturday; the problem is that the neighbor girl wants Kristiana to go with her to take the class, but Kristiana's best friend wants to come here for a sleepover on Friday night - which would make an early wake-up call on Saturday a great inconvenience.

At the same time, the very same moment, my son was calling up from the kitchen asking me to take him and a friend to the tennis courts so they could play tennis. And, by the way, could the kid up the block borrow my brand new tennis racket?

At the time, I had a towel wrapped around my wet dreadlocs because I had only stepped out of my own shower - where I had also seen ants crawling. Wishing I could communicate with the ants, I stood there practicing my speech: "What is up with all you ants coming into our house? What do you want in our bathrooms? There's no food up here, guys. Please leave us alone. Please go back outside where you belong." In an effort to mask my imminent insanity, I didn't say any of that out loud.

Instead, I stood up, turned and looked at my beautiful daughter, listened to my handsome son bellowing from below, and I asked: "Will someone please give me a break? Or split me into two women who can deal with all these issues at the same time?" I didn't use those exact words, but I did say something similar - out loud.

So here it is, a summary of my life at the moment:

Not only...

- An ant invasion

- A hole in the ceiling of our family room (The plumbers came to fix a leak from the tub in our bathroom - a tub that sits directly above the family room couch. Apparently, plumbers make holes, but they don't patch them. Interestingly enough, not a single ant has entered or exited that hole.)

- Fielding telephone calls from the financial aid and admissions offices of Williams College and from my sister-in-law (who is actually divorced from my brother) trying to get my niece's financial aid package finalized

- Filling out forms for my son's school, piles and piles of forms

- Filling out forms and signing papers to move my mother-in-law from one assisted living facility to another. The reason why I was signing the forms and not my husband is next...

- Since Sunday night, my husband has been staying in a hotel less than ten minutes away, attending a leadership conference related to his job, meeting new people, eating meals he doesn't have to plan, prepare, or clean up after, sleeping soundly in a bed he doesn't have to make, and I bet he hasn't seen a single ant the whole time. He comes home tomorrow night.

- While I was standing in the shower, shampoo running down my forehead, I felt something hard and sharp underfoot. I wiped off my eyes and looked down - where I discovered one of my diamond studs just inches away from the drain cover. Fortunately the earring back was only a few inches away from the earring.

- My children want to be shuttled back and forth to their friend's houses, to the pool, to the tennis courts, and even to the beach - which is at the very least 3 1/2 hours from where I am sitting at the moment!

- A heat wave in Charlotte

- Drought all over the southeast

But also...

- Food in the cupboards, on the shelves in the laundry room, and in both refrigerators

- Air conditioning that works against the humidity and high temperatures

- Water that is safe to drink, bathe, and swim in

- Planning a trip to NYC in early November to be reunited with my CT writing group. A women's weekend away...

- Hoping to add on an extra day for some solo strolling on the streets, in the shops, and through the musuems of that intoxicating city

- Friends whose art work is on display in Ohio and on Nantucket (I am sorry I can't see either display!)

- Two healthy children and a husband that is working hard to keep this roof above us, healthy and delicious food inside of us, and well-made clothes all over us

- Health, auto, home, and life insurance in case any of the aforementioned issues should change unexpectedly

- The knowledge that, even if insurance doesn't pay for it all, we have had a fantastic life together: ants, arguments, holes in ceilings, fender benders, transmission problems, extended family crises notwithstanding.

- This is my life.
All is well.
I am thankful.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Thankful, thoughtful Thursday

An iced skim "mint condition" coffee drink at Caribou Coffee: $4.21 (gulp)
A whole grain bagel, toasted with butter: $.96 (nice)
Sitting alone at a corner table, reading a book entitled Sanctuary, journaling, giving thanks to God for His infinite love for every person I see in this cafe, on the street, on bicycles, on foot, in the office buildings across the way: Priceless.

My gratitude moves me to pray.

On my husband and children, each in a different place at the moment.
On my family members near and far: in Qatar, in Peru, in Florida, in New York - and beyond.
On the friends I miss and love.
On my neighbor whose mother died last weekend.
On the woman who toasted my bagel and the man who mixed my drink.
On the boy I saw on his bike outside.
On everyone I have ever seen, spoken to, smiled at, hugged and loved.
On the people who survived the Minneapolis bridge collapse.
On the loved ones of those who did not.
On the farmers whose fields are cracked and singed by drought.
On the homeowners whose floors and walls are warped by flood waters.
On the families torn apart by abuse, addiction, bankruptcy, and despair.
On the families torn apart by wealth, greed, discontent, and the constant hunger for more things that never satisfy.
On the politically, socially, racially, religiously, ethnically oppressed people the world around.
On the rich and famous.
On the poor and obscure.
On the obese and the anorexic.
On the joyful and the sorrowful.

On these and all the rest of us who fall between the cracks on this list
and the cracks in this life,
On all of these, O Lord God of All Comfort, Love, Light, Grace, and Peace,
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy on us all.

(Photo is of a church in Cadiz, Spain.)