Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Wondering about a few more things around here...

Last fall, we had a gas crisis here in Charlotte. Two out of three gas stations in this area didn't have any gas. Literally, no gas at the pumps. People's cars ran out of gas on the street and were abandoned. For days, the lead story on the news had something to do with where to find gas. People fought at the tanks. Horns were honked.

And here in Charlotte, that is saying a lot. The people in this town are ridiculously polite most of the time. I sat at a red light once and watched while the turn lane to my left sat still, silently, while the third driver from the head of the line missed the green arrow completely. The light went from red to green and back to red. The first two cars turned. No one else moved. And no one honked their horn.

So when drivers honked horns and got out of their cars to yell at each other and fight, it was front page news. Anyway, the crisis lasted for about three weeks. It was quite unnerving to not be sure where or when I would be able to find gas. Bus and train ridership tripled. Trips to the mall were cut in half. It was a time of conservation and walking and biking and using Vespas.

That gas crisis got me to wondering: what was the problem? where does gas come from? How does it get to each gas station? How much have I taken the delivery of gas for granted in my life?

Here are a few other things I am wondering about these days -

* How many other thousands of items are delivered to stores in the middle of the night, things I assume will be on the shelves or on the racks when I go look for them? Why am I so quickly annoyed when the thing I want isn't there, rather than being more quickly grateful when the thing I want is there?

* Who decides on the length of the cycle of traffic lights? Who decides whether roads have tolls or not? New York and New Jersey have hundreds of tolls, but I haven't seen one here in North Carolina. Not one.

* When will I stop wishing I had other people's friends and be grateful for the ones I already have? I want to travel the way other people travel. I want to make money like other people. I want more kids some days and no kids on other days. I wish I lived in Madrid or Rome or San Francisco sometimes and cannot imagine my life anywhere other than Charlotte on others. Why does the grass still seem greener elsewhere?

* Am I the only person who thinks that most of the commercials on television are absolutely idiotic? Insulting? What's up with all the gruesome side effects that get read to us in voiceovers during every medication commercial? Do we really need to know that certain medications cause "fainting with diarrhea"? Although we shouldn't, we laugh everytime we imagine someone sitting on the can in the john and falling off in a smelly faint... What would it be like to wake up after that type of incident??? In Spain, the commercials end far more humanely: "Please speak to the pharmacist." That's it. No long lists of horrors.

* Am I the only one who really likes the commercial where Roger Federer is playing tennis in that magnificent black suit? Yum.

* Who came up with the idea that we need more than 200 channels on television? Channels set up just to sell products that we don't need "at amazing discounts," and if we call "in the next five minutes (then the stop watch appears at the bottom of the screen)," we will get two gadgets rather than one if we are willing to pay the extra shipping and handling? And who decides what the theme of reality shows should be? And is any of it reality? Any of it?

* When am I gonna stop watching so much television if I am so insulted and annoyed by most of what I see?!?!?

* Why do people not do the right thing: simple stuff like wiping off the machines after they are done at the gym? Putting garbage in trash bins instead of throwing it out of their car windows or dropping it on the street? Stopping at stop signs? Stealing mail from mailboxes in order to steal someone else's identity? Entering schools and shopping plazas with loaded guns and proceeding to kill people they don't know? Who thinks up this stuff?

Not long ago, my son asked me about absentee parents and why some parents don't have contact with their children. He wondered why children and grandchildren have nothing to do with their mother or father or grandmother or grandfather. One day, he asked me why a boy was yelling at his mother at a tennis court next to where we were playing. Everytime he asks me a question like that, I say, "I don't know why, Daniel. But I am so glad that you don't know why, that you can't imagine why someone would treat someone else like that. I'm glad you don't get it."

* If someone knows that a drug can "stop heartburn before it starts" and they know that chili or coffee or some other food will cause heartburn, why not choose to avoid the painful food? Why eat that food because some medication will take the pain away?

* Why do we so often choose to run away from love and relationships and friendships because we are afraid of being vulnerable instead of taking the chance at deep connection? Is it better to be lonely and protected than connected and potentially hurt? Really?

* Why are we so blessed to have so much food available to us when billions of people in the world have so very little? Why do we waste so much of the food we buy and cook, just throw it away - mostly because we bought too much and let it spoil before we bother to eat it?

* Why do I take so many pictures of the things I eat and drink? Wait - I know the answer to that question: I am fascinated by food. I love to eat and drink. I am amazed that the earth produces such bounty and deliciousness. And I get to go to the supermarket regularly, pick good food, bring it home, eat it, and enjoy it thoroughly. I don't particularly like to cook, but I love to eat. And I am ridiculously grateful for every bite of food I eat.

* Why am I so blessed to have a husband and two children that I get to live with and love and who happen to love me as well? Yesterday, Steve and I celebrated 18 years of marriage. In addition to the 4 1/2 years of dating before we were married, that adds up to more than half my life with this man. It doesn't seem possible. (Or even reasonable and sane and normal...)

* Why have I been so enormously blessed?
I may not know why, but I am grateful.

As that beautiful gospel song says,
"Grateful, grateful, grateful, grateful.
Grateful, grateful, grateful, grateful.
Gratefulness is flowing from my heart."

Thanks be to God!

Monday, June 22, 2009

"I forget that it counts."

Let me start by saying that Jena Strong is a fantastic writer. She is a mother of two daughters, a life coach, a wife, and a fabulous writer - among many other things. I often read her blog posts and then print them and glue them into my journal. Tonight is going to be another one of those nights I think.

In her last few posts, Jena wrote about an upcoming (and now past) trip from Vermont to San Francisco to spend time under the teaching of another fantastic writer and teacher, Karen Maezen Miller.

In Jena's latest post, this is the section that caught my eye and my heart.

"I feel like every time you sit down to write a poem, you're practicing," she said.

She is right. Writing - poetry particularly, but all writing really - is one of the ways I practice. It's at the very heart of how this blog came into being. And at the same time, I forget. I forget that it counts. I see what I don't do, where I fall short. My brain is dense with self-judgment, criticism, and doubt. I want to say I don't believe a word of it.


I can forget that what I do do counts.
What you do counts, too.
Come to think of it, what we do is all that counts.

So very well said, Jena.
I too forget that it counts. Everything counts.
I forget every single day. Every hour. Every time I turn around, I have forgotten.

Often I allow myself to think that being at home with my children, reading to and with them, and going on short day trips with them doesn't count as much as...
I think that sitting poolside and watching them play in the pool doesn't count as much as ...
I think that cooking for them, even though I hate to cook, doesn't count as much as...
Then again, I think that going out to eat with them doesn't count as much as cooking for them, even though I hate to cook.
I think I don't count as much as... because I'm not earning a salary.
I think that I don't count as a good example of the real women, the strong women, the women who are good role models because those women don't earn master's degrees and then stay home with their kids for the next 15+ years.

I forget that reading and journaling and taking photos and telling our stories and welcoming friends to share our lives and praying and writing all count.
I forget that lighting candles and incense and remembering those that I love in prayer and kind thoughts and moments of simple soul-deep connectedness, even when separated from them by hundreds or thousands of miles - I forget that it counts.
I forget that smiles and waves and "please" and "thank you" count.
I forget that responding to emails and phone calls and text messages counts.

I forget that me being me, failing and falling apart, strong and weak, loving and laughing out loud, weeping, growing, being defiant, being compliant, reaching out, reaching in, being silent, grateful, discontented, writing, not writing, cooking, not cooking, cleaning, not cleaning, teaching and not teaching - I forget that me living my life to the fullest, it counts. Big time.

Letting go of what is not kind or generous or thoughtful counts too.
Choosing not to retaliate, not to criticize, not to engage in needless debate counts.
Apologizing, forgiving, releasing old grudges count.
Breathing, simply inhaling and exhaling, taking many long, slow breaths before responding, sometimes choosing silence, always seeking to foster calmness and welcome gentleness - it all counts.

I forget far too often that it all counts. Every single minute of it.

Thanks, Jena, for yet another fantastic blog post.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Is it me, or does it seem like nearly every website and blog is trying to get me to buy something? I know that when I walk into a store, the shopkeeper's goal is to get me to spend my money on something. But on every blog too? Really? I find it most fascinating when those websites are about saving the planet, living greener, being more environmentally aware and conscious --> "Now that you have read my words of wisdom and encouragement, click a few more buttons and buy this sorting basket, this bin, this book, this handmade something or other, this program, this series. Buy something here, now, from me. Save the planet; buy my stuff."

Is it me, or are several of my friends, women I respect, whose writing I really like, making the decision to stop blogging because life is calling them to live rather than just to write?

The truth is that I have been drawn away from my computer lately.
Drawn away from facebook and blogger and email.
Drawn to walking in our neighborhood.
To taking trips with the children - and alone.
Drawn to making phone calls and creating hand-written letters and planning (gasp!) face-to-face conversations.
To playing games and making up games.
To finding "the nut," the core, the root of the thing, the things,
the person, the people who matter most to me.
Seeking. Finding. Resting. Rejoicing.
Aha moments. Tearful moments. Shared moments. Solitary moments.
Beauty, so much beauty. Laughter. Quietness. Grace.
Holding space, making space for all of this. For me.

Hmmm... I'm pondering a few questions over here...
And sitting silently in and with the questions.
Perhaps someday the answers will come.
For now, I wait. wonder.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Things that don't matter...

I just finished reading a book called Barefoot, by Erin Hilderbrand. It was billed as "a great beach read," which I thought would mean "not serious, fun, silly, just a way to jumpstart the summer without being challenged or moved at all." I'm glad this book did not fit into my narrow definition of a beach read. There are life-rattling situations for each of the novel's three main female characters to deal with: Vicki had lung cancer, Melanie was reeling from her husband's infidelity, and Brenda had recently derailed her career as a college professor.

After being diagnosed with cancer, Vicki began to compile a list of things that no longer mattered to her because her illness and chemotherapy and surgery and the very real possibility of dying and leaving her two young sons behind had become the only things that mattered to her. Here are a few of the things she put on her list:

* the smell of a new car
* spinach in her teeth
* Colleen Redd's baby shower
* the baseball standings
* a pretty skirt worn with the wrong shoes
* powder-post beetles in the attic
* uncut toenails
* the traffic on I-95
* collecting pinecones for Christmas wreaths

Naturally, after I read that list, I pulled out my journal to pen my own.
Here are a few things I put on my list of things that don't matter.

* whether the Christmas tree is real or fake
* using the "right" fork
* hair color or style or length
* eating cereal for dinner
* buying clothes at the mall or at Good Will
* the cost, square footage, or style of a home
* Playstation or Wii or X-Box
* reality shows about bounty hunters or surviving in the jungle or people who have too many children
* reading and being able to articulately discuss Tolstoy or Shakespeare or Maya Angelou
* whether the books I like matter to reviewers or other readers
* responding to or forwarding chain emails - or even reading them
* who wins the NBA finals or the NHL or the Super Bowl
* winning at tennis or ping pong with the family - why keep score at all?
* how often I dust or vacuum or mop the floor
* brand name cereal, pasta sauce, coffee, clothes, shoes, furniture, jewelry, colleges
* saying the right words when I pray - or saying anything at all
* being "right" about what matters and what doesn't matter

Here's what matters most to me these days:

* celebrating important accomplishments and occasions with the people I know and love
* that we are together, healthy, happy, thriving.
* that our roof is strong and not leaking at the moment
* that we are loved and fully engaged in loving others
* connections - deep, soulful, mindful, intentional, spirit-stirring connections
* peace, first within, then with those around me, and in all the world
* deepening my faith practice without apology or explanation
* regular times of prayer and sacred reading, lectio divina

* adult sleepovers: sipping wine, reading to each other, complaining about our lives, laughing at ourselves, telling stories, sharing secrets, and celebrating long friendships against all kinds of odds
* honesty, speaking the truth in love, to myself and to others
* keeping the Sabbath wholly, at rest and afloat in joyful celebration
* reading and writing every day
* laughter and tears
* dinner with the family, lunch with friends, and tea alone
* intimacy and solitude
* "aha" moments, especially the ones that coincide with the "aha" moments of others

* a growing and active son, skinned knees, hairy legs and all
* an active, beautiful, strong daughter, who is heading off for a week of camp on Monday morning (Please pray that she is safe and has a good time while she is there; she matters a whole lot to me - more than ever these days!)
* playing with my children's hair and earlobes and fingers while listening to the stories they tell of their time with friends
* lying in bed until 1 am reading and copying pithy quotes into my journal
* waking up, making strong coffee or tea, and smiling to myself about my new late night reading addiction
* asking and then living my way into the answers to the larger life questions that seem to be heavy on my heart and mind of late, even heavier than usual
* being aware and mindful of the many blessings I have received and continue to enjoy in my lifetime
* being grateful for all of the above

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

School's Out For Summer... tomorrow

Tomorrow is supposed to be the last day of our homeschool year.
Yeah for the kids. Yeah for me.
It's been a tough year. Lots of ups and lots of downs.
Many laughs. Many tears.
Parenting is the hardest job I have ever had.
Homeschooling makes parenting into a two-job career - and neither job is paid.
Well, certainly not financially remunerated.

Tomorrow is their last day at their desks, listening to me yammer, assigning assignments I later forget to check, reading stories I neglect to ask them to write about, planning field trips we never report on. We look at trees and flowers everywhere, but can't name many of them. We listen to bird calls, but don't bother to find out what kinds of birds they are. We are deeply impressed with people who can identify trees and birds and flowers.

We don't have an organic garden where we grow all our vegetables. We don't compost our store-bought fruit or vegetable skin or repurpose our used milk containers. (If the milk and veggies are organic, does that count for something?) We don't bake our own bread, sew our own clothing, or grow yogurt cultures. We don't run a home-based business out of our home or have entire chapters of dense books committed to memory. We sometimes stop at Starbucks on our morning walks and add more calories to our diets instead of only burning them.

But we do read and discuss all kinds of books. We quiz each other on the state capitals and also a few international capitals. We travel near and far to see people, places, art, architecture and shopping plazas. We take photos, keep journals, and stop to watch turtles and fish float in nearby ponds. We make our own lunch and dinner from scratch most of the time and do chores and walk the dog and play tennis and go for walks and learn a few verbs in Spanish every once in a while.

We watch videos of poets performing on you-tube. We go to plays, concerts, church activities, tennis matches, horseback riding, the library, local museums, bead shops, markets, and local parks. We invite people over for dinner and ask them questions about their lives and tell lots of stories about our life together. We listen to stories on NPR every now and then and yell at the people on the radio.

We pray together every day and read the Bible and try to find ways to apply our faith to everyday situations. We want to make a difference in the lives of people we know and even a few that we don't know. We give money and clothes and toys and bikes and time and smiles and hugs and food to people in need. We try to forgive those who hurt us, do as little as possible to hurt each other, and give thanks that we cannot understand how or why so many people seem to go out their way to harm others.

It's not always fun and laughter and happy times here at The Silvermine Academy. Sometimes the kids roll their eyes when I tell them to pull out their journals or to get ready for a spelling quiz. Sometimes I roll my eyes when I remember that, in fact, it's time to start homeschooling - especially when I am planning or producing a blog post or a cool design of some kind in my journal.

I dread this time of the year when I remember that I have to write a summary of the year in descriptive, eloquent, glowing terms. After all, Kristiana is a sophmore in high school, and I've gotta produce a portfolio of some kind to present to colleges on her behalf. What she did. How hard she worked. How creative she was. All that jazz.

Confession time: I still haven't written the summary from last year, her fresh-woman year in high school. At the end of last year, the year that she and I had alone together because Daniel went to "traditional" school (that little traitor - but he came home after one year - that little genius), I was so happy about all we had done together, all the things we had read and seen and enjoyed, that I forgot to write any of it down in a school year summary document. I thank God that she and I kept daily journals and took a fair number of photos. I'd better get on top of that soon. Real soon.

Often, it feels like we are floating along without much of a plan, keeping precious few records of the little that we are doing, but having a great time together, getting to know each other deeply, and most of all, learning the importance of not taking one day, not one hour, not one moment together for granted. This year, more than any other in our lives, has taught us that truth. In one moment, in a split second, life can change completely.

Tomorrow, next week, next year, high school graduation - none of that is promised. So, ultimately, who cares if there aren't a lot of book reports or lab reports or randomly assigned dioramas to produce and show to other people? This isn't for anybody but us. This is about opening our eyes, ears, and hearts to each other and to the world and taking in as much as we can.

Isn't that what school is supposed to be about?

Tomorrow is supposed to be the last day of our homeschool year. But knowing us, we may change our minds at the last minute and vote to watch one more segment of Planet Earth, listen to a few more birds outside, and move a turtle out of the road - and count that as a science lesson. One never knows, do one?

PS. Maybe I'll use this blog post as part of K's high school portfolio packet...

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Thanks again...

Since last I posted, I went on a journey to Connecticut and New Jersey. (I apologize to all I didn't get to see; it was an absolute whirlwind. I spent less than 24 hours in each place - or so it seemed.) My amazing niece, Liz, graduated from high school. She and her sister, Clare, take my breath away every time I see them or listen to them speak or spend any time whatsoever in their company.

In the light of all that has happened in the world since then, with the crash of that flight from Rio to Paris, with countless unreported deaths and illnesses, job losses and company closures, I find myself once again giving thanks.

Life is fragile and beautiful and wonder-filled and frightening
and so outrageously marvelous. Every single day.

I am thankful for safe travel, not only by airplane, but also by car, by foot,
by scooter, by bicycle, by minivan, and by bus. Every safe journey is a gift
that is far too often taken for granted.

I'm thankful for art, the kind that we create and the kind that God creates.

I'm thankful for cousins who dazzle and friends who open their homes to us and neighbors who dog sit and children that hug, kiss, smile, and tell jokes freely.

I'm thankful for food and drinks and flowers and tablecloths.

I'm thankful for this computer and the electricity that flows through it. I'm grateful for paper and pens and the simple wonder of handwritten letters. I am grateful for the buzzes of text messages and the anticipation that surges before answering the phone.

I'm thankful for my husband's miscalculations on how much salmon and fruit to purchase at the market - and the bounty we have enjoyed over the past three days. I'm thankful that my children love salad and fruit and skim milk and 15 grain bread and ice water as much as they do. I'm glad they like ice cream and chocolate and smoothies too; who else would I indulge my sweet tooth with???

I'm thankful for a healthy body: my senses of sight, smell, taste, hearing,
and most of all, touch. I am grateful that I am immune to Hepatitis A and B. (How I came to know that fact is a long story that isn't worth telling here. But I'm grateful nonetheless.) I am thankful that I can go on walks with my children in the morning, do push-ups (which is my latest passion), eat fresh spring/summer fruit, wash dishes, play with my children's hair, and enjoy the new oils I recently purchased from Itiel.*

I'm grateful to be alive.

Robert Benson's* small breviary has quickly become
one of my favorite books of all time.
I will end this post with a quote from its Evening Prayer:

"We Your servants give You humble thanks, Almighty God,
for all Your gifts and graces to us this day:
For the splendor of the whole creation and the beauty of this world;
for the wonder of life and the mystery of love;
for the blessings of family and friends,
and the loving care that surrounds us on every side.
And for this day's work, for the things that demanded our best,
for the things that delighted us; and for the disappointments and failures
that lead us to depend on You truly.
We thank You, O Lord.

Stay with us, we pray,
for evening is at hand and the day is done.
Be our light in the darkness, and in your great mercy,
defend us from all perils and dangers of this night.
Hear us, O Lord."


* Please click on their links and check them out.
Good stuff. Great people.
See sidebar.