Category Archives: Happiness

she wanted to be his passion

Still Alice is haunting me. Other than frequently losing my mind, there is another theme that resonated. I don’t like it. It comes from this passage:

“I wish we’d spend more time together,” she said.

“What do you mean? We just spent the whole summer together.”

“No, not the summer, our whole lives. I’ve been thinking about it, and I wish we’d spent more time together.”

“Ali, we live together, we work at the same place, we’ve spent our whole lives together.”

In the beginning, they did. They lived their lives together, with each other. But over the years, it had changed. They had allowed it to change. She thought about the sabbaticals apart, the division of labor over the kids, the travel, their singular dedication to work. They’d been living next to each other for a long time.

“I think we left each other alone for too long.”

“I don’t feel left alone, Ali. I like our lives, I think it’s been a good balance between an independence to pursue our own passions and a life together.”

She thought about his pursuit of his passion, his research, always more extreme than hers. Even when the experiments failed him, when the data weren’t consistent, when the hypotheses turned out to be wrong, his love for his passion never wavered. However flawed, even when it kept him up all night tearing his hair out, he loved it. The time, care, attention, and energy he gave to it had always inspired her to work harder at her own research. And she did.

“You’re not left alone, Ali. I’m right here with you.”

He looked at his watch, then downed the rest of his coffee.

“I’ve got to run to class.”

He picked up his bag, tossed his cup in the trash, and went over to her. He bent down, held her head of curly black hair in his hands, and kissed her gently. She looked up at him and pressed her lips into a thin smile, holding back her tears just long enough for him to leave her office.

She wished she’d been his passion.

wedding

Oh my, I adore this couple. (and people say I look just the same – ha!) This couple is so young, now changed, but better too. I think so. I hope so.

When I read the Alice passage, my heart beat abnormally fast. I felt a cold flash of fear.

It happens so easily and innocently, doesn’t it? The separating is so slow and natural that it’s hardly even noticeable. “Separate” is a necessary, normal, and healthy part a marriage. But there’s this passion thing I can’t stop thinking about.

Alice’s neurons are literally dying and she knows she’s going to lose even the memory of knowing her husband. It is the end of their life as it was. There’s that word: regret.

Alice’s husband loves her, but he’s not facing THE END. Maybe that’s the difference. Or maybe he likes their life and their space. Maybe his other passions are enough.

When we were first married I went everywhere with Gregor. In the beginning, they did. They lived their lives together, with each other. We always found each other. Everything was so new and exciting – I mean, I was living with A MAN! We taught and coached and then I’d come to his soccer field and we would shoot on the net. Then we would shower and go eat at the dining hall. I pitied those couples who entered and left the dining hall without each other, who were too busy to coordinate dinner together, who sat separately. I felt secure, that our love was strong and impenetrable, that we must like each other more than others. How lucky we were!

When we had our first babies, our love was even stronger. Children made us a family and we loved them more than we loved our own lives. There came a need for a division of labor. I wanted to be home with baby, and I was nursing. So I was the one getting up at night so he could work the next day. I still went to all his basketball games, even the away ones, even when they were in Roxbury Massachusetts and I drove for six hours trying to find that stupid gym.

But over the years, it had changed. They had allowed it to change…Then we had more babies and our older children started school. What a wonderful unit we were! And as was necessary as responsibilities were bigger. The “divide and conquer” method was needed for home, work, church, hobbies, and volunteer work.

They’d been living next to each other for a long time. 

Then came all those lessons of one kind and another: soccer, baseball, swimming, basketball, cross-country, dance, scouts, camp-outs. Our children made friends and went to their houses. And the mall! One of us was (is) always driving in the car, picking someone up and dropping someone off while the other was (is) at home doing bedtime, teeth-brushing, and homework.

And the work became even more important. I sometimes worry about this, all this time spent apart. But we make efforts. It’s been good. It’s been enough. We’re happy.

Aren’t we?

Nothing says passion like the wolverine beard...right?

Nothing says passion like the wolverine beard…right?

But this past fall, our friends: the “perfect couple” with the “perfect family,” with four children the same ages as our own, quietly divorced. It was shocking. Obviously, “the perfect” was not. I cried, got angry, asked really personal questions, and felt a sad soul-sucking hopelessness.

It happens all the time. And it scares me. Couples “drift.” We “grow apart.” Over time, the little things become “irreconcilable differences.” Most couples who divorce probably wouldn’t say it was one big thing. They say, “we were too young,” “I don’t know what happened.” “He just wasn’t there for me.”

Or are those just things we tell ourselves?

So I’ve been thinking. This is what passion looks like to me:

  • find one another when you come through the door after being away
  • say good-bye with a kiss
  • date nights. and often.
  • get-aways. just the two of you.
  • small, considerate acts of kindness. (he scrubbed the carpet this morning. WIN.)
  • “I love you.” every day.
  • pray together. every day.
  • his interests are my interests – not because I like electronic stores, but because I love him.
  • when we speak to one another, it’s always with respect.

Nothing on this list is big. Everything is very small. And critical to a marriage. It’s this couple. It’s Exercising our Kindness Muscles. It’s the small things that keep the passion, not just the grand overtures, diamond rings, and over-the-top birthday parties (I mean, honey, those are nice too!)

I guess I don’t want it to take tragedy or feel a great regret that we could have done it better. I want to say he was the love of my life, because I chose him and he chose me. That we loved each other on purpose. While the neurons are still alive.

She wished she’d been his passion.

The heartbreaking thing here is, too much time had passed and Alice couldn’t do anything about it.

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everything starts messy

Spring was so slow to get here that when it finally came, we clapped and did cartwheels.

Oh, we were happy for days with sunshine and warmer temperatures.

And then my nemesis – the black fly – came out in full force. Tried to wreck spring.

Swatting flies, I caught sight of the yard. Spirits plunged. There was just So Much Work.

I suddenly felt depressed. I couldn’t do it all. I just wanted to hibernate another winter.DSC_0637Every garden bed was covered with winter yuck, dead leaves and sticks. Weeds were threatening to take over the home land.

DSC_0715And though I knew the blueberry bushes wouldn’t always look like sticks, all I could see were weeds and…sticks.

garden And the garden. Why are we supposed to grow food when it’s so hard?

seedsWeeks earlier I was ecstatic about the seed packets received in the mail!

DSC_0720And now weeds dare to grow.

Instantly, I felt guilty. Me, who just weeks earlier was wishing for spring.

plantsInside, plants are bursting, so excited to go outside and put down roots in soil.

DSC_0134I have to take deep breaths often. Everything starts messy.

DSC_0140Actually, it’s messy for awhile.

DSC_0709Everything starts small. Even though, inside, things are happening. Changing.

Babies, families, habits, novels, dreams, exercise goals, eating regimes, household management…everything starts messy. And is really hard.

DSC_0703It just so happens, I started reading a book called, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Pressfield talks Resistance. Resistance is your adversary. It’s all the doubts, fears, you can’t do it, it’s too hard moments.

Resistance is not your friend. It keeps you from doing what God put you on the earth to do.

I may or may not have been put on earth to be a farmer, but it was the next right thing. Because I want vegetables this summer.

So I made myself go outside with a bucket full of seeds. And I planted something.

And it’s still messy.

chickensAnd if you’ve ever had chickens, you know how full of poop life can be.

But did you also know, that chicken poo is such a fantastic fertilizer that they sell it in 25 lb. bags? Mmm hmmm.

Perhaps a little mess is how the best things grow.

DSC_0699When the seeds were finally in, I fainted from exhaustion. Or maybe it was all the black flies sucking my blood. Either way, I was down for the count. Down on the grass. And I saw these small, white flowers. Hundreds and hundreds of beautiful white petals. They only bloom for about a week. And then they are gone. Easy to miss unless you’re knocked over on a field of weeds.

DSC_0647And years ago, I couldn’t get asparagus to grow. Mad, I gave up. But something must have been done right because Gregor told me to go look on the other side of the hill. There, on a neglected patch of grass was hundreds and hundreds of asparagus.

Take that, Resistance! (Want to come over for lunch?)

DSC_0773The darlings don’t know this thing called resistance yet…they think the dandelion weeds are gorgeous flowers. Gifts for their mother.

DSC_0778

I’m going to call them my beautiful bouquet of resistance.

And isn’t it the truth that these children I get the great privilege of raising are also my biggest messers…which makes me ponder why we think that everything in life has to be so perfect, orderly, and tied up with a bow?

I’m going to stop making my bed!

DSC_0398These eggs from the most messy creature on the planet lays a perfect food every single day! Believe me, they don’t come out looking so pristine. I won’t tell you what analogy my son likened that too this morning, but you know…ow. wow.

Everything starts messy.

Especially the things worth anything.

The time is now. Get your hands dirty. Get messy. Make mistakes. Start again. Grow 🙂

 

 

 

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Unplugging and Seeing Signs of Spring

Did your mother ever order you out of the house? To go play outside and enjoy the good earth? It’s been hard to do that in New Hampshire as we’ve been living in the movie Frozen. But hark! On Sunday, spring began to tease….

Mom ordered all minions outside to investigate if it really was true.DSC_0111The boy lugged over the trampoline so he could dunk.

DSC_0113Look who’s been busy…the voles. They are like big mice that burrow little highways underground. Doggie is in heaven, nose to the ground, sniffing them out.

DSC_0117

We hauled out the bikes and began a walk, finding trees that stretched high and dry

DSC_0133New England soil is full of big rocks. So when settlers needed to plow a field and build a home, these stone walls were built by hand. The stone walls go on for miles and are so artfully built that 21st century children can run across without a rock toppling. I’m in awe of the craftsmanship.DSC_0145Two will still smile for the camera

DSC_0150Finding puddles of mud to write messages for water buffalo neighbors

DSC_0153 DSC_0154 In just a few months, these apple trees will be in bloom

DSC_0164 We switch sides of the road and walk on the other stone wallDSC_0165This is the start-up vineyard up the hill; a hard thing to do in New Hampshire with so much cold. Will the trees survive?

DSC_0170And at the top of the hill we turn back around DSC_0177And follow all the melting water that flows down to where our house sits. Well. It came, flooded our basement, forcing us to pull up baseboards and part of Cope’s new bedroom wall. So frustrating. We’ve pumped the water out, but I block out all the work that still needs to be done. Let’s go back to enjoying Spring.DSC_0175This is an old hay machine. You’ll find this a lot out here; abandoned farm equipment no one knows what to do with. These relics around the neighborhood could fill a museum.

DSC_0171 Countryside as the sun starts to set

DSC_0180As we headed down the hill we saw a sight we don’t often see…four children playing together?DSC_0189It made me smile to see the older kids with their hands in the mud, dirt, and water. The boy got that devilish look in his eyes as he said, “Do you want to see our DAM?” “Mom, we’re making a DAM. Do you like our DAM?”

DSC_0202Proof! There were four who played. In mismatched pajamas. Perfect.

DSC_0215And then they were off again, headed home, flying fast.

I had to close my eyes and breathe in every oxygen molecule, bottling up the fresh spring air. Because I am a wiser New Englander: who knows when spring will come again?

Good thing I grabbed it. Tonight, the forecast predicts snow!

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A Month Without Television

The first month of The Year of Living Without, I gave up biting my nails.  I’m happy to say, that I rarely bite my nails anymore; that habit is almost gone.  Almost. 

August was the second month of Living Without. I gave up television.

How hard was it?

Actually, I got in the groove and never looked back.

It was rather easy because August was a very very busy month.

I kept a daily log for awhile, then noticed I could go two to three days without feeling at all tempted.
A Month Without Television

But What About All Those Kardashian Reality Re-runs?
·   I didn’t watch any Kardashian television.  I didn’t watch The Bachelor finale. I didn’t miss it.  At all.  I even deleted all the episodes I hadn’t watched, including the finale. 


·   I wrote more.  I tried to crawl into bed at 9 and write down my Living Without thoughts, keeping a daily journal.  This was fun. Do you know how much writing you can get done with an hour?  It ADDS UP.  I have an article due tomorrow and it’s done because I wrote it at night instead of watching any television.


·   I read more books.  YEAH!!!


·   Because I was in bed earlier, I fell asleep earlier.  Big benefits! I was less tired during the day, and was able to run without injury all month.  I truly believe extra sleep strengthens the immune system.


·   I ate less junk because I wasn’t watching T.V.  I am now having a serious Friendly’s Forbidden Chocolate withdrawal; there are some things I will never give up. 

Kicking the Habits We Want to Kick

·      The habit of not watching T.V. became easier over time; not because the it wasn’t tempting but because will power was strengthened.


·   Tip:  Have a replacement habit you enjoy.  Mine are reading, writing, blogging, loading photos, talking to husband, and sleeping.


·   Eliminate temptation:  My husband is my temptation.  We like to sit on the couch after a long day and talk between T.V. scenes.  He was a bit perturbed the first time I reminded him of my goal.  But over the next few weeks he stopped tempting me and our “quality” time didn’t suffer.


·   The one time I felt left out was when he watched a sports event on T.V.
    and I was banished to the study.  I got work done.


·   Start Small.  We often think we can’t do something before we’ve even tried.  Small is easy.  Break it up into little chunks.


·   More Trust in Self.  Keeping promises to ourselves gives us confidence.  We know we will do what we say we’ll do.


·   Be Accountable to something or someone.  This blog is mighty handy for that.

When I Messed Up:

·      I messed up on the very last day.  It was an accident.  My 9-year-old wanted me to find her a movie we taped.  I scrolled through the movies while a cooking show was on.  My mind fixated.  My eyes glazed over.  I watched dough being rolled.  I forgot.  We watched for five minutes before I remembered my goal.  “Ah!” I yelled, “I can’t watch T.V. this month!” 

Will I Continue Going Without Television?

I will do better.  But I won’t give it up completely. Every once in awhile it’s great, but I’m more aware of what I’m watching. I’m more committed to only watching something that is worth my time.  Does The Big Bang Theory count as quality television?  Uh, yeah!  I like watching movies with my husband and kids on the weekends. Balance.

Next Month:  Not Raising My Voice
·    I shall speak kindly and sweetly to all who cross my path


·    I will not yell up or down the stairs to any of my children.  What should I use?   A bell?  A whistle?  This might just kill me.


·    I will not raise my voice in anger while speaking to family members.  I will pause and consider how to respond in a calm manner.  I may grind my teeth down into sawdust or clench my hands into mush.


·    I will be a better example and keep a good feeling in our home by not yelling.


·    Soccer Coaching?  This one will be interesting.

I already have one vote of confidence from my son.  He says, “Don’t worry, mom, you’ll never be able to do it.”

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Please Be Careful of My Feelers

My friend, *Jenny (name change) is a wonderful person.  She’s gentle, quick with a smile, active in the community, a mindful mother.  There are so many reasons to love this woman.

The other day, Jenny and I were talking about some kids at school.  An 8th-grade girl’s name came up and Jenny closed her eyes and shook her head. “I do not like that girl.”

The scene went like this…a few years ago Jenny volunteered to be a parent chaperone at a ski and skate friday at the elementary/middle school.  

As her child skied down the hill, Jenny followed.  But she lost control and fell, sliding down hard on her back and landing at the feet of a group of 8th grade girls.  

Oh moment of horrors.

The 8th grade girl looked down at Jenny, snorted with derision, turned around and giggled uncontrollably with her friends.  Every once in awhile she looked back over at Jenny and giggled again. 

The scene played in my head:  There is a mom on the ground, possibly hurt, definitely wounded.  There is a teenager who sees her fall, but refuses to help. Instead, she turns away and laughs.  

This girl set the tone for the rest of her friends, too.  Too embarrassed or self-conscious or unaware, they too, did nothing.  They kept their backs turned.  And laughed at a mother laying in the snow.  

Jenny crawled off with all the dignity she could muster.

“My feelings were so hurt,” Jenny said.  “I was mortified.”  I could tell, by the look on her face and her red cheeks that it was still a humiliating and terribly low moment.

Can you just feel her pain?  It’s like being in eighth grade all over again with girls talking about you in the locker room.

I suggested that perhaps she could have thrown a snowball at the back of her head.  Nooooo…..

A somewhat similar situation happened to me a few weeks ago.  At church (of all places) we brought in different colored shoes to represent different values we are trying to emulate.

I brought my favorite green shoes.  They’re cool.

Right?

Actually, you can hate them. I still love them.

As I put my shoes out to display, we asked a girl if she would wear them or stand by them and represent that value.  She looked at my green shoes and made a face.  Then said, “No.  Those are so ugly.”

And all the girls, aged 12-13 burst out laughing.  And honestly, the way the girl said it, it was kind of funny.

I even laughed a little at the way she just blurted it out.  

It didn’t change my opinion of my green shoes, but I was rather shocked that a 15-year-old girl could be either so tactless or so insensitive.

And hello, didn’t she know my green shoes were killer?

But I also have to admit, a teeny part of my feelings were tinged with hurt.  It was as if she said, You are so ugly.

And perhaps the worst part was that all the other girls laughed.  And it felt like they were laughing at me.  

I was amazed at how my feelings could be hurt by a comment flung out by a 15-year-old girl.  A comment that I neither agreed with or cared much about.
Do you remember when you were 5?  Do you remember what it felt like to be 10? 15?  18?  26?  We have changed so much and yet we still feel things the exact same way we’ve always felt like.

I imagine that even when I’m 75, I will still be able to have my feelings hurt by a 15-year-old girl.  I bet even a 5-year-old could hurt my feelings when I’m that old.

The other leader in the classroom apologized to me afterwards and we talked about what our response should have been rather than open-mouthed shock.  That kind of thing usually doesn’t happen at church.  Usually we’re better behaved than in real life.

I couldn’t help thinking that there used to be a time where adults were respected and more revered, at least publicly.  And even if you had contempt for an “elder” you held your tongue and showed respect.

Wasn’t there such a time?
Remember that Anne of Green Gables scene, when Marilla scolds Anne:  “She is MY guest and YOUR elder. What you should have done was hold your tongue!”  Oh, we love Anne’s spunk, but imagine what a hellion she’d be without Marilla.  Imagine the person she would not have become.

The Chinese take care of their parents, they revere them and have strict obedience.  Perhaps that culture is changing too, but books like THE GOOD EARTH and authors like Amy Tan show a completely different way of treating their elders simply because they are older and they’ve earned respect.

I realize that kids probably do not read this blog.

Maybe they don’t know that we have feelings.

And, kids learn and emulate the behavior of their parents and their elders.  And there’s the paradox.  WE have not taught our children to be respectful, because WE either we are not respectful or don’t expect it from our wee ones.  They do not revere or respect adults because our culture teaches kids to be rude, opinionated and self-centered.

Of course, not all children are rude and insensitive.  But in my experience, polite children are an anomaly.  When I come across a polite child I’m rather amazed and give kudos to the parent. Because manners are no accident. And if a teenager asks me how I’m doing?  I might just fall off my seat.

The New York Times wrote about children roller skating around restaurants, disrupting patrons while their “helpless” parents looked on.

Parents.com also wrote about the terrible rudeness in public.  

Interesting don’t you think, that our kids have more than any other kids in the world?  Interesting that they are the least sensitive to others?  I would also venture to say that we just might have the most unhappy children of any generation.

And if kids are that rude in public, can you even imagine what it’s like at home.  It sounds like my kind of hell.  I’m not kidding.  

Isn’t it just about the golden rule?  

Do unto others as you would have others do to you.

Do you want children roller skating around your table while you’re trying to have a romantic meal with your mate?

Isn’t it more simple than we make it?  We respect others.  We don’t tolerate the disrespect of other adults in the presence of children (even if they’re idiots 🙂  We say please and we say thank you.  We don’t yell out the car window when someone cuts us off in traffic. 

Or…do we?

Sometimes I think that adults forget that adults have feelings.

My mother used to tell me a story about the man who hit the dog, then the dog bit the boy, then the boy chased the cat…I can’t remember the exact story, but the point was:  Our actions create a domino effect to everyone else around us.  For good or ill.

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”  -Gandhi

Or, as this quote has slowly evolved into:  Be the change you wish to see in the world.

What kind of world do we want to live in?  

I guess I want to say that even though I’m an adult, I’m also a person.  

I have feelings.  Or as we stay in this house, “You hurt my feelers.”
We should teach our children that basic fact.  Adults are people.  They have feelings.  Often, tender feelers.

Maybe then our kids would be more apt to reach down and offer a hand to the mother on the ground.  Or sit quietly instead of hurting the feelings of my dear and adorable green shoes.

Love and kisses.


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Did You Know What You Wanted?

This is me being indecisive….waaaah!


My therapy sessions are pretty cheap.

I howl and husband listens.  I am Speaker.  He is Listener.

Once, when I was howling he said, “Do you want me to chime in here or just listen?”

“Just listen!”

He then says, “I hear you.  I see you.”  If you’ve ever seen Parenthood, you can thank Zeke for teaching my husband that line.  It’s used often.  Thanks, Zeke.  

My howling is due to a personal trait I find intensely annoying.  I’m the second-guesser, the decision-making agonizer, the hemming-and-hawing wringing-your-hands kind of gal.  I attribute this fact to my personality, which is sometimes bossypants, but most times easy-going.  Overall, this easy-going personality has served me well.  I was never prone to many tantrums. I liked hand-me-downs. I wore jeans to soccer practice.  I’ve never been diagnosed with manic-depressive disorder.  

Even-keel can be a blessed state to live in.

Growing up, my twin had the stubborn streak; I was the peacemaker.  I was an obedient child and cried if you looked at me cross-eyed.  I only snuck out of the house a handful of times and that was because I wanted cousin Clin to be happy toilet-papering.  (Alright, perhaps I wasn’t so innocent.)

I still like everyone to be happy.  I really don’t care which restaurant husband chooses, as long as he smiles through dinner. 

But sometimes, it’s time for gumption, no?  Sometimes I think my even state is laziness.  Perhaps I just don’t like to make decisions.  

I want to be more like the rock and less like the kite, less like the pebble you watch skittering down the street.

Because when it comes to making decisions, I can be terribly indecisive.

Should I sign up for that class or not?
Should I learn photography?
Am I a good mother?
Am I supposed to be scrap booking instead of writing?
Should I guest post or not?
Should I write that article or work on the novel?
Cookies or brownies?
Is my blog header perfect?
Should I potty train now or is later better?  (okay, hallelujah, we are hopefully past that stage…)

Perhaps this is very common.  Perhaps this is “weighing the options.”  But I’m tired of agonizing.  Rock, I say! Be the rock.

I also have to talk out loud, going around in circles like a corralled horse. I stew and fret until I finally just GO.  But it takes me soooo long to get there.

Do you think this is more of a female trait?

For days I’ve been mulling my “life plan.”  Am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing?  Am I destined for something that I haven’t found yet?

My Paige is leaving me for this lame thing called, school.  The end of days is coming, I can feel it.  I’ve tried rolling over and playing dead, but whatever. It’s not really working. We are now on Plan B.

I am on the verge of something.  I can feel it.  But I’m not sure which path to take.  I’m standing in front of many paths.  Maybe I’m just on the verge of craziness, which is entirely plausible.  I’m thinking Frost, two roads diverged in a yellow wood...except there’s about four paths.  Could Frost have written a poem with four paths?   

So I said to Dear Husband, aka Mr. Darcy, aka The Professor who uses big words,

“I wish I was one of those people who just knew what they were supposed to do!”

He looked at me as I became more and more animated.  I continued.  Speaker.  Listener.

“You know, like those kids who know their junior year of high school exactly what they want to be in life and then they just go do it!”

The professor opened mouth.  And his arms folded (He’s a brilliant non-verbal communicator.)  He cocked his head to the side with his stern, furrowed brow.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” he began.

“No, really,” I said, charging forward.  “I was never one of those people!  I always wanted to DO so many things and was always changing my mind about what I wanted to be!”  

And I think about all those agonizing days and weeks and deciding and the classes and prerequisites and I’m still that same person…over-thinking and discussing and second-guessing and balancing.

He opened mouth again and I kept talking.  Listener, just listen.

“Like in college I never knew what I wanted to be and was always changing my major and then I just had to pick…”

Listener interrupted.  Bad Listener.

“Ame,” he said.  Arms still folded, brow furrowed deeper.  “What did you want to be?”

“I wanted so many different things.”

“What did you want?”  Arms still folded tightly, stern-voiced questions.

“I was going to be an actress!” I said, throwing up my hands.  “I mean, seriously.”

“That’s not what I’m asking.”

“And after that it was English and after that I…”

“No.  You’re not listening (wasn’t he supposed to be the listener?)  What did you want to be?”

“What did I want?” I repeated.  

And then it suddenly occurred to me that he wasn’t asking about my major or my indecisions or how I wanted to be an actress or an english major or a doctor or a coach or a runner or any of those things we DO.

He was talking about our family.  

I always knew what I wanted to be.

Of all the things I was going to do, there was one thing that was clear as day:  Come hell or high water – I was going to be a mother.

Oh….

Lisa talks about “catchlights” when taking a picture; the reflection of light in the eyes which is really just a reflection of your light source.  The catchlight must have been in my eyes because The Professor started nodding.

This is me again.  Catchlight moment….Ohhhhhh.

He was right.  I always knew what I wanted to be.


Therapy was successful this time.  Subject was smiling and nodding, too.

I held up my hand.  “High Five!”  And he rolled his eyes because The Professor hates to high five.  It reminds him of our first date when I awkwardly held up my hand at the doorstep for a high five.  I mean, what was he expecting???

Wait, The Professor was dating his student?

Anyway, I guess he decided he’s been a pretty good Listener after all because Speaker was smiling and offering a high five.  He humored Speaker and gave his hand up.  

“Thanks!” I said. “You’re so good at this.” (insert valley girl inflection)  And I clapped my hands, reminding him that I really have not grown up in the slightest. 

***

I’m still on a catchlight high.

I knew what I wanted to be.

Heaven knows I am not a perfect mother, but most days I am trying awfully hard.  Remember that one time I swept the floor?  I’m trying not to be Speaker all the time, to be the Listener.  I hug and kiss.  I say “I love you” everyday.  I’m fond of chore charts.  I’m not even trying to be perfect, just good. Enough.  Strong enough.  

I know you’re trying, too.  Maybe there are days we are less deliberate than other days, but a part of us has to recognize that without us “keeping the family,” we lose that thing we knew we always wanted.

The realization that I’m livin’ a piece of the dream?   

Man, that makes me so happy.

Sometimes I feel apologetic for being happy, like I shouldn’t ever talk about it, as if being happy will make someone else feel badly.  So I keep it carefully hidden, shhhh!  we’re happy, but don’t tell anyone!  Because I know very well, that there are unhappy families.  There are terribly unhappy mothers, who through no fault of their own, wanted to be exactly what I wanted to be.  And I love those mamas.  

But today I’m going to be happy about what I am and what I have.

I’m on the catchlight high, remember?  The light source is present. The evidence of what I wanted to be is sitting in my lap.  Sometimes licking my neck and biting my ears. Not everyone gets that lucky.

What I do is so secondary, so inconsequential to what I am.  It’s completely second-rate to what God so generously placed in my lap.  And I can almost hear him saying…they are yours to keep for just a little while…take good care of them…remember what you are here to be…






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Gifts

I’ve been thinking a lot about gifts.
Maybe it’s all the cookies. 
Or the baklava.
Ann’s Baklava.  Oh my goodness, it’s killing me.

Here’s my thoughts on making and delivering Christmas goodies:  If you want to do it, do it.  If you don’t, don’t.

There was once a group of women who got together to make Christmas treats and gifts for their neighbors, but it turned into a sour session…they spoke of all the effort they went to, to make creative, beautiful and useful presents for all their neighbors and guess what?  Sometimes they got nothing back. How rude, how insensitive, they said, that their gifts and efforts weren’t reciprocated. 

And I thought…oh, please let me not be like that…ever.  

Those women were truly wonderful, caring, creative, talented, and giving…but I felt sorry for them.  Giving gifts wasn’t fun.

Now.  For the record.  I looove gifts.  There are certain calendar events where I better get something.  There have been times when….well, let’s not revisit those dark days.

However.  This Christmas felt a little different to me.  Maybe it’s the tumult of the world.  Maybe it’s the sadness we have all recently experienced, the feeling that life is fragile, short.  Maybe it’s knowing that next Christmas, there will be empty chairs at tables.  Or different people in those chairs.  This whole month felt like a gift I unwrapped and held tight to.  
This is a precious gift made with all she had, and there is nothing better than that.

One of Brynne’s gifts are her cards.  She loves to create, draw, and loop-de-loop notes with words and colors.  I have stacks of love letters.  Made with all she had.

Still-chubby-growing-out-of-toddler fingers make me cookies no one else would want to eat but me 🙂
Learning to write in oh-so-precious new handwriting is a gift I had to capture.

Our 62-year-old Grandma went to New York City to clean up after the hurricane.  She was gone for two weeks, waking up at 4a.m. to load and unload trucks all day long.  And she had whooping cough.  Oh man, we were so proud of our Florence Nightengale and so excited for her to come home to us.  Gifts.

There are gifts that surprise and delight us (Thanks, Syl and Dennis!)

When Paige was sick, Brynne made her a felt flower to keep close to her and surely make her feel better.  Gift.

One of my husband’s gifts is working with these boys on the basketball court.  That boy in the white t-shirt and jeans is now the coach of the other team.  It’s a gift to see him come back and give back to new boys.

Sinful, decadent, yummy gifts

Secret Santa gifts

Healthy, fun-for-me-to-make gifts.
Husband went to serve the people of Spain for two years when he was 19.  He brought back more cooking gifts. On Christmas Eve he made a giant paella for us to enjoy. Our company sure does love his gifts.  (As does his wife!)

Covered with newspaper to cook.  Interesting, no?

Oh, thank you.
Spanish tortilla.

Paige thought she was getting a bedroom fan for her Christmas gift.  But Grandma was just tricking.  Don’t you love tricky-make-you-laugh gifts?

What she really got was a tea set.  The girls made Nelson play.

Nelson plays along.  My girls, my boy…gifts.  

Gregor gave me a camera bag. “It’s what the journalists use,” he told me.  And then he quotes Zeke from Parenthood:  “I see you.  I hear you.”  This is a gift that tells me he believes in me.

Gifts to motivate. “I see you.  I hear you.”  I believe in you, too 🙂
I believe in you, baby!  Just couldn’t help myself.  Yes, that is a broom.  And he wanted it!

Gifts to tell my son, “Yes, you do want to be an eagle scout!”  Right?  Sure, mom.

One of my favorite parts of Christmas is seeing the kids open the gifts they got for each other.  Meet Cherry Blossom.  Yes, we needed another stuffed animal.

Nelson lost a game so he had to play Barbies with the girls.  He crashed their cars after this picture was taken. Were still trying to find the gift in that.

Perhaps the most coveted child gift this year?  The gumball machine.

Technology.  Great gift.  Hi mom and dad, we miss you!

A truly precious gift.  This bracelet is from my dear mother-in-law.  When her parents passed away this past year she asked for all the spare coins and tokens.  She found New Hampshire brass toll tokens that she silver-plated and made into bracelets for her daughters-in-law.

Extra special as they are antique, from loved ones, but you see “the man of the mountain” face?  That part of the mountain collapsed and fell off the New Hampshire Franconia notch mountain a few years ago. I adore this gift.

The gift of words.  So grateful for the gift of books and reading my parents gave to me and continue to give our children.  Both sets of grandparents highly value education.

I hope this “gift of music” inspires my darlings.

While Cope was mad she didn’t get the gumball machine (really!), this teenager only wants the gift of clothing right now.  Remember being that age?

We just received the great gift of snow

Of course, all gifts are better with pink sweatpants on.

Santa gifts.

The gift of the nativity.

But it was hard to focus on this gift when Tenny kept stealing baby Jesus.  We understand, Tenny.  He was a pretty great baby.

“And she pondered all these things in her heart.” Luke 2.  The true Christmas gift.  Brynne wanted to be Mary until I said she could be the donkey.  Yes!

This is Harry.  We had him with us last year.

But he can’t remember our names anymore.

Harry’s wife is Anna, is on the right.  These two women, Anna and Syl are my special friends from church.  They visit me every few months and I love them so much. Anna is 87.  She visits Harry at the veterans home. He used to ask Anna, “When are you taking me home?”  And now he asks, “Who are you?”  Anna brings me gifts often; gifts I cannot say no to.  They are pieces of her life, home, and family.  

We do not have an elf on the shelf.  We have “Ferdy,” the German gnome.  He watches us and reports back to mama.  This gnome was a gift to Anna from her mother.  Anna was born in Germany, in 1927, and one of the first war brides to come to America.  Harry was her everything.  There’s a story there.

I keep finding pieces of their love story, tucked here and there.  Last Christmas he was with Anna.

This Christmas my heart felt full of gifts, for the people I love who will be forever with me, one way or the other.
Gifts.
It doesn’t have to be cookies or sugared deliveries.  Unless you’re making me baklava…

It can be more simple than that.
  “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” -C.S. Lewis
I love the drummer boy, who had nothing to give but his drumming.  And so that is what he gave.

Little Baby, pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum
That’s fit to give the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum,
On my drum?

…I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum.

May you give what you can, when you can.  

And may we all receive the best gifts coming our way, in a new year…

Happy New Year, dear friends!

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These Happy Golden Years

We always go get our tree the Saturday after Thanksgiving because daddy is so busy between now and Christmas.  I wish we could say we chopped it down like we did a few years ago and everyone ended up cold and crying.  We uh, got it somewhere else.  

No matter where the tree is procured, the night of decorating has become one of our most favorite nights.

When ornaments are dug out, squealed over, and hung with care

And memories of Christmas’ past are remembered

When an ornament was carefully made for mom and dad. 

When not everyone could color in the lines.  I hold these ornaments as my favorites; a gift made with love for their mother.

Red, the color of love

All the ornaments are hung until the whole tree says, enough!

But wait, we must have a star!  Nelson, what’s that you’re putting up there?

Oh, it’s a duct tape star.  Of course it’s a duct tape star.

Daddy was such a sport and got wrapped

And mama can’t figure out the iso and aperture on the camera, but never mind, we’re just amazed no one has dropped our first ornament, from 15 years ago, when it all began with a true Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

But really began with the baby.

We watched a beautiful Christmas devotional tonight.  We heard songs and felt that great feeling of peace.  And this I tell myself, at the beginning of another busy work week, this is the feeling of Christmas.  Simple. Family.  Love.  Giving.  Receiving.  That is the power of Jesus Christ.  And the title of that Laura Ingalls book kept coming to my mind when I looked around the room…these happy golden years.  Truly.

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Competition

Miles run:  4.  
Huffing and puffing.  Walking up hills.  I hide my head in shame.  I completely blame it on the Olympics.  These late nights are killing me.  On the other hand, I wouldn’t take back seeing Michael Phelps win his 22nd Gold Medal or Gabby win the all-around or McKayla’s “devastating” silver vault.  Oh no.  Fatigue is worth watching the great.  I love the competition.
My morning run almost didn’t happen at all since we lost power due to a terrifically-needed rainstorm.  I woke up to the sound of a text and the clock flashing.  The text was from my running buddy who was pulling out of my driveway at 5:15.  I ran after her to no avail (in my pajamas and wild-haired glory).  Feeling very guilty, I tried to go back to bed, but guilt is not a resting state. So I got back up and went by myself.  And later dropped off my guilty conscience in the form of homegrown green beans on her porch.  Feeling like a loser.
My whole family is, shall we say, a tad bit competitive.  I mean this in a wonderful way since I’m a tad bit  itsy bit a lot bit competitive.  I like to beat people.  Just gettin’ it out there.
I don’t often feel competitive when it comes to mothering (because my mother is in my head saying, because that would be stupid.  She really has a way of telling you how she feels.)  I usually don’t feel competitive when it comes to appearances like purses, cars, clothes or tans (Cue mother:  because that would be stupid) although I have my moments (read: hair).
No, the competition is always the physical type.  And it started early:  I was fighting in the womb.  Born 10 minutes earlier than my twin brother, I came out bruised and battered.  At this early age, I recognized the physical fight as my one true talent.  Math?  Forget it.  Running and monkey bars?  Oh yes.  I only stopped wrestling the boys to the ground after I was tattled on and had my shirt torn off.  Not that that bothered me.  That boy was pinned!  

I’ve never wanted to be on a reality show until last night when I saw “Stars and Stripes,” a new realty show where “stars” have to compete like navy seals.  Green with jealousy.  Am I not star quality?  And I was not asked.  How rude.
I chose no docile lamb for a mate.  I married an uber-competitive boy.  It sometimes strikes me as a terrible tragedy that we still, after almost 15 years of marriage cannot go for a run together.  Can you see the scene?  His foot gets an inch of front of mine.  My stride goes a little further than his.  And pretty soon we are at an all-out sprint.  Playing soccer is, shall I amicably say, a push and shove event (this picture does not capture what he did to me.)

While on vacation, I began to ponder my love of competition.  And that of my family’s:
Nelson is going for the knock out punch against his dad.

Cousins look on as Uncle Eric beats up my little boy, who is still in his church clothes.  (This description is competitive in that it will force Eric to actually comment on my blog and defend himself.)
That’s my boy!
Now.  Let us move on to sisters-in-laws.  You wouldn’t look at Allison and say, “Oh yeah.  That girl will kill your kid to win a kickball game.”  But you don’t know Allison.  She dragged us out of bed at 5:30am to play kickball.  The next morning when she wanted to go hiking, Eric said, “I get up once at 5:30 for you.  Not twice.”  Ally…you know I love you and your love of the kickball game!!!
My mother pressures us into having more kids by appealing to my husband’s competitive streak.  He’s not budging.  Not even while holding Sydnie.  And that’s not easy to do.  sniff sniff.  

Nelson is starting to compete with Uncle Eric’s “Funniest Man” title.  Here he does the hula for many laughs.

But then Eric wears the purple scarf for the family picture.  After an animated and lengthy discussion that began with the pros of heated shaving cream, we had a secret paper vote on who was the most “metro” in the family.  I think this picture says it all.  There was an overwhelming majority vote.  Eric turned to me in outrage, declaring me a traitorous sister.
The brothers compete physically, with wit and with argument.  And then there’s the cool factor.  Patrick likes to sigh and say, “Yep, still got it!”

While swimming in the pool with my siblings and acquired siblings, we began to have races – who can swim the fastest?  (Depends on who’s cheating)  Who can hold their breath the longest?  (Andrea)  Who can do the best hand stand?  (Cassie)  Who looks hottest in their bikini?  (Patrick of course!)  While the adults compete in the pool, the kids sword fight in the pool.  Until someone is bawling.  (Eric)
You know the expression…if someone dared you to jump off a cliff, would you do it?  Duh!  Of course!
This past family reunion was the first time a sister-in-law challenged me to a push-up contest.  Who won?  I wouldn’t want to embarrass anyone on this blog so we’ll just say, hahaha, I won, I won!!!  Oh.  Except that’s what she’s saying to me.  But only by 5.  I better get back to boot camp.
She also wanted a chicken fight.  I was stricken with indecision.  I only fight with my brothers.  I hate girl fights.  But geez, I was challenged.  What’s a girl to do?  I was actually down in the water when Gregor suddenly whipped me back into the air like a slingshot.  Oh no, he wasn’t going to get beat by a girl.

When I told the family I wanted to have a 5k back in the winter my brother actually started training.  “I don’t care if I win, but Amy is not going to beat me.”  Have you ever tried to run 3 miles in the middle of the morning, in the summer, in Arizona?  I seriously thought I was going to have a heart attack.  He beat me.  Whatever.  I like to help people feel good about themselves.

The kids compete in the game of Life.  
A highlight of my life was watching my dad go one-on-one against Cope in the big bouncy house this spring.  He suffered a bloody nose and broken glasses but was a jolly good sport.

My mother pressures Cope to touch and hold snakes.  Again, the use of the word “chicken,”and “weeny” and – If I can do it, you can do it!  
Every year we have a family talent show.  Paige’s talent was blowing up a balloon.  The highlight though is to see what Eric will do. (I do have two other brothers.  Eric is just emerging as the most competitive.)  This year he did a Gregor roast.  It was quite hilarious and I filmed it, but sideways.  Maybe I’ll post it anyway.  Honey will surely appreciate it.
But at the end of the day, we are still good friends.  They can even shake on it.
Is your family competitive?  Do you like it, love it or hate it? 
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lilacs in the window

“It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, or so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere through which we look – to affect the quality of the day. That is the highest of the arts.” –Henry David Thoreau

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