Friday, December 10, 2010

Finding Success in Failure

Oh man, did my run this morning suck. I mean, it sucked.

Let me count the ways. I hurt my shoulder running last week (yes, I know you're supposed to hurt your leg or foot or ankle when running, but let's just leave that for now, shall we?). So, I'm already hurting. And when I run with the dog, I keep him on a leash on which he tugs. Which hurts my shoulder.

And it was cold, so my nose was running all over the place. When I attempted a "farmer" blow of my nose, snot smeared all down my face, which I promptly wiped on my sleeves.

And I had to switch to regular running shoes because the vibrams I LOVE don't keep my feet warm. And the running shoes hurt my knee.

And my pace was off because of my knee and the dog and the shoes.

And the gps on my phone got all jacked. It had me going 4 minute miles which would make me either a Kenyan or bionic and I'm neither of those things.

Yesterday one of my runner friends posted that her run was awful, and I fell over myself to encourage her to keep going, and to try again, and to find her success. But then I "failed."

We have a tendency to oversell our failures, don't you think? What I mean is that I had kind of a bad run. Does a bad run equal failure? It equals one bad run in a mass of days and runs.

My friend, Dr. Julie Bell, makes her living teaching people to define their successes in ways that work, to find What's Important Now. (W.I.N). I like this approach for a lot of reasons. First, it allows each person to find the things that are important to them and to pursue them. This may sound basic, but how many of us pursue things or ideas that other people foist on us? Second, it shifts our focus from what went wrong to what went right. Finally, this idea is not exclusive to runners or athletes. It applies to anyone.

Here's what was right on my run today. Let me count the ways.

I got out of bed and put on my running clothes. That right there is success.
I ran.
I figured out that I reallyreallyreallyreallyreally dislike running with the dog.
I realized I need new shoes.
I learned that I want to download some new music.
I liked running in the cold.
I kept going even though everything felt wrong.
I will run again.

The title of this post is misleading because there was no failure today. I wanted to use the word in the title, though, because the word is jarring in its harshness. It has an ugly edge to it and using it brings into relief how silly it is for me to perceive a "bad" run in such dramatic light.

What's going on with you? How are you defining your actions, your successes, your failures. What do you do when you're beating yourself up mentally?

Monday, December 6, 2010

OMG! Are You Your Mother?

Someone handed me a picture of myself. Well, of me standing with one of my delightful offspring. Are you like me? When someone shows you photos, does your laser-gaze hone in on your 2D simulacrum with excruciating perception? "Oh!" You groan. "My eyes are all wonky. And has my nose always been that crooked? What in the world am I looking at? What am I eating?"

(There exists, in my family, a modern day Ansel Adams whose life work seems to be capturing his family eating on film for posterity. If one were to find his cache of photos in 100 years, it will seem to that anthropologist that we are always eating. And...maybe we are....Anyway...)

Someone gave me a picture. And I honed in on that film version of myself. I did not, for once, gasp in horror about my weight or my weird nose. No. This time, I gasped because staring at that camera was not me mother!

Can you hear the Hitchcockian scream emanating from the earth? That's me, recognizing, not for the first time, that I am, slowly and surely, becoming my mother. Hands on hips, feet splayed, eyebrows cocked in coming disapproval or something.

I'm fairly sure every woman has this moment of maternal cloning horror. All the things that drove us crazy about our mothers have somehow seeped into our DNA, turning us from the hip, intellectual young women we once were (because we were, okay?) into the woman who nagged us to clean our rooms, who pondered our outfit choices with, um, let's call it diplomacy, who reprimanded, scolded and chided.


There's always a but.

That's not all my mother was, and I'd make a bet that yours wasn't either. Sure, we had our moments, when my teen self, rife with hormones and the glittering brilliance of youth and she, the wise and thoughtful woman, argued about curfew and boys and phone calls. But, my mom also was my biggest fan. She still is. My mom told me I could do anything I wanted. She said to try everything I get a chance to do. She let me stumble and she let me fall. Hard. She also picked me up and dusted me off. She put the armor of security on my shoulders and locked it tight. My mom has a knack for saying what I need to hear, not just what I want to hear. And? She was right about almost everything. There are days when I hate that still, but mostly it makes me laugh.

When a word my mother used to say slips out of mouth, when I find myself in a familiar posture or using a certain idiom, I no longer grimace. I give thanks.

What kind of life did you have with your mom? Do you rue the days you know you are turning into her or do you welcome them because she was more kick-ass than your teen self realized?

Friday, December 3, 2010

This I Know

You know how you go through your day and think things you wish you could share with someone and then you forget until the next time you're thinking it and you're all alone and you wish you could share it with someone? Well, that's me on my morning runs. This little list is purely for entertainment purposes only. A lighthearted Friday post, just because.

This I Know:
(Or: I know I think this)

It is always hard to get out the door
The minute I put on my headphones dumbdog is ready to go
He will always pee on the bush at the playground
The cars will never stop for me in the crosswalk
The squirrels in the park have a death wish
They are kamikaze squirrels
Every day, the dog awakes with hope that this is the day he will catch one
He will never catch one
I do not like the smell of freshly baking donuts (are they baked?)
They smell like sweetened fat
That does not mean I will not ingest said sweetened fat. Just smells bad when I'm running
I do not know what Latino Tires are, but I know where you can get some
My barefoot shoes do not abide acorns
The older man who runs and walks on my route is kind
I like to pass him
This makes me a bad person with a cruel heart
When I get to the David Bowie part of the mix, I like to sing and bob my head
I know how this makes me look
I tell myself I am amazing when I am running
I laugh when I say this
The dog does not have near my endurance
I do not have his speed.
Then again, I don't run on four legs.
I sometimes say things out loud. To myself. On a run.
I know how this makes me look.

I love my runs. I love these thoughts shaking loose in my brain. I love sharing them with you. I hope they make you smile. Do something nice for yourself today.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Can You Do Hard Things?

When I started working as a doula, 9 years ago, I had a whole duffel bag of goodies I took with me to labors. As I grew in security, ability and confidence, I found I needed less and less. Two weeks ago, I attended a birth and took in nothing with me but a piece of paper and a cup of coffee. All I really needed were my hands and my voice. It helps that I have clients who are educated and confident about their birth choices. But even the most confident, educated, determined women face a moment or two of doubt during labor.

In my work as a doula, I regularly try to convince women that they are capable of hard things. I'm not just talking about unmedicated birth. I believe that if we are serious about women making choices, then it must apply to all aspects of pregnancy and labor. (For that matter, it applies to where and how women choose to work, for those women who have the luxury of choice in the matter). From when and how conceived to where and how delivered. But this is not about how you decide to give birth.

Sometimes, a hard thing is asking the doctor a question that might sound stupid. For others, it's coming to grips with a loss of modesty during labor. For some, it's overcoming a negative birth experience. Some women have to face birth without a partner or an unexpected, unfortunate birth outcome. Most of the time, though, the hard thing is finding that place in themselves to conquer the one hard part of labor that knocks them off the confidence horse.

It's that little voice that says, "I can't." It's just the barest hint of a voice, but it seems like the echo of planets crashing against one another as it bounces through a brain. I've written about the voice of fear before, but I don't mean that one. I mean the voice of discouragement that tries to take your educated choices and slam them to the ground. Sometimes we can swat it away like a fly. Sometimes that fly grows into a swarm.

When my clients say, "I can't" (and they almost all say something like that at one point), here is what I say: "You can do it. I know that because you ARE doing it. And you will continue to do it."

When I hear that voice in my own head, telling me I can't do something, all it does is flick a switch of action. I say right back to it: "Oh, yeah? Watch me."

You can do hard things.

Thinking through the list of amazing women I know, here is a mere sampling of the hard things they have done, just in the past few months:
survived an ugly divorce, raised children alone with very little resources, ended unhealthy relationships, kicked the crap out of cancer, let go of children in an effort to help them, run marathons, confronted depression, put loved ones in nursing care, worked more than two jobs simultaneously, quit jobs to start businesses, started running, Lived with an unemployed spouse, tried IVF, with varied success, been in chemo, or been through chemo with children, watched family members die.

Can you do hard things? Heck yeah. You ARE doing them—right now. What is the hard thing you face? How do you handle the voice of discouragement? What does the voice of reason sound like to you?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

TMI* (*for a good reason)

Recently I joked with a newly menstruating 12 year old girl that she could now be married off and start popping out babies. She was appalled. I thought I was hilarious.

Until I found out through many amazing women in my web of amazing women about The Girl Effect.

It started yesterday with a tweet from @tarasophia who was pulling together (and rather well) a blogging extravaganza about The Girl Effect. Then, my friend @kt_writes tweeted that she thought I might be interested. Thanks to both of them, because while we can joke about marrying off our barely pubescent daughters, that is a very real, very stark reality for millions of girls around the world.

According to the website, over 50 million girls live in poverty. When a girl lives in poverty she is likely to be married at 12, and a mother by 14. FOURTEEN. While this was considered normal in the Dark Ages, the times are achangin'. Those teenage mothers turn to prostitution to support their babies. This makes them susceptible to AIDS and we all know how that goes. See the cycle there? Pretty icky.

I have girls. I am a girl. I know girls. This simultaneously breaks my heart and fills me with indignation. The problem isn't theirs alone, and the solution isn't either. The cool thing about The Girl Effect is that its aim is to harness the power of each of these girls; the website calls them solutions.

Can you be a solution, too? Why, yes. Yes, you can. First, head over to the website. Then, tell everyone you know. Blog about it and post it all over the place. Then, think about how you can make a real contribution. I'm not just talking about dollars, although dollars are always nice. There are plenty of efforts you can participate in to help a girl become a solution. That solution becomes a strong, thoughtful, educated woman, who raises thoughtful, educated girls to be women.

I can't wait for my own daughters (and my son) to get home from school so I can show them the video. I want them to help us decide how we will, as a family, be a part of solving this problem. What will you do?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bows for Babes with Pictures

I've had requests for holiday bows and instead of filling your inbox with photos, I thought this slide show would help. See my contact info for email address. See one you like? These are all $4 with free shipping. I'm ready to send today. Just let me know.

Don't see your favorite color? Just let me know and we'll make one just for you.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

How you Thinking?

Ever feel like you don't belong?

I have.

The day before the Tulsa Run I had to pick up my race packet. I drove to OU Tulsa and entered the "Fitness Fair." The name alone gave me a mild panic attack: "will they let me in? I'm not wearing my fitness clothes, I don't have a cute ponytail or blonde highlights. Someone will know I'm an impostor. But, I have to get that packet if I want my official time." I really want my official time. (Pretty good, by the way.)

If I thought the name of the fair was bad, inside was waiting a veritable gauntlet of gorgeous: someone cloned Denise Austin, dressed the many of her all up in running gear and made a human tunnel for me to run through. I did not belong here. My mouth went dry. My throat closed up. I looked about anxiously, trying to pretend like I was totally supposed to be here and I know what I'm doing, okay? I found the letter where my packet would be and, because my name has many letters that are unpronounced, the helpful fitness guy couldn't find my name. It took him forever. I started to sweat. "Oh, crap. They can't find it. I didn't register right. They know I can't finish the race so they pulled my name. Someone alerted them. Would it be bad if I started crying, right here, right now?" By now, I was so upset I almost didn't want to get in line for my t-shirt.

But I wanted that t-shirt, because, I told myself, if by some act of God I was able to cross the finish line, I planned to wear that t-shirt to every single public event I could get myself invited to. I did get my t-shirt (in a size smaller, thankyouverymuch), I booked it out there to find a glass of water and the privacy of my car.

That's when the "I-don't-belong-heres" kicked into overdrive. I started thinking about the race the next day. If there were Denise Austins all over the "Fitness Fair," what in the world would I find at the starting line? I swallowed hard and tried to calm my racing heart.

And here's what I did. I told myself the facts. I trained for this race. I trained well and hard. I ran that distance and farther and did not die from it. I knew a good pace. I knew how I would find it. And I told myself the biggest truth: I can do this. I needed just a bit more, though, so I talked to my runner friends, who repeated faithfully back to me what I'd already told myself. I called my husband who repeated faithfully, lovingly back to me what I'd already told myself. I looked at the cloud of witnesses: I'm not crazy. People I love and people I trust and people who know things think I can do this. Time to face the truth. I can do this. I will do this. I did do this.

It creeps up on us like a ghost, whispers its ugly lies in our ears and we swallow the whole thing in one gulp, choking it down like bad medicine when it's really poison. "You don't belong here," it hisses. "You might be running, but you're not a real runner." Quietly, the sound winds into our heads and we think, "I'm kind of sucking it up here today. I can't do it. I should stop.It says all the things the wicked witch would tell you.

But guess what? The wicked witch was undone with a bucket of water. Just a little bit of H2O and she melted away. Know what else? The wicked witch is fiction! Doesn't exist. Never did, never will. I've come to think of those lies the same way, because really, that's what they are. Lies are fictions that keep us from trying the challenges we want to face, from stepping up to something new, from embracing the uniqueness we each have.

I shook my head. I refused to listen to the voice that said "But, honey," so sweetly and earestly, "honey, it's nine miles. That's craziness." I spoke back to that lie and told it to bug off. Because yes, nine miles is far, it ain't no big thang. "But," I said, "I've run that distance before and farther. I can do it again.You think I can't run nine miles? Watch me." And I did. I ran the entire race, without music, in a crowd of fat, skinny, ugly, pretty, tall, short, weird, weirder, slightly less weird people who all had to talk themselves into that challenge. Maybe it was easier for some. But we all got our booties out of bed, refused to listen to that lie and ran our race. I changed my thinking. Finishing that race would not be by an act of God (although He did run with me; we had a great time). It would be the result of training.

It's not easy, especially if you're used to obeying the voice, trusting the lie. It can feel as if the world is askew, or even just wrong or arrogant to say, "I can do this one thing, and well." When I first started running, I would say I "run" using air quotes, "I'm not a runner." So people would know I'm not high on my own ability. Some people would say, "I'm impressed" and I would want to shun that, to reject it. Oh, how times have changed. You wanna be impressed with me? You go right ahead, because the truth is, I'm impressed with me. I set my eyes on a challenge and I completed it. I rock.

I no longer choose to believe the lie. In fact, I reject everything that says that I'm not good enough, not smart enough, not thin enough, not whatever enough. I am me. I do what I do. And that is what is required of me. No one is asking me to be anything other than what I am. Any restrictions on me I've either placed there myself, or allowed them to be placed on me.

Know what else? I'm as impressed with myself as I am impressed by the women around me. You all are amazing bunch. You run businesses and homes. You build companies, you build children, you create great art. You run, you walk, you listen, you cheer. You take photos, you write, you climb mountians, you wipe dirty bums and change yet another diaper. You are you and you do what you do. I want you to be as impressed with your self as you are with someone else. Look in that mirror and be your own Jack Handy.

How? At first you may not believe yourself when you say, "Look at me! I'm so awesome." You might even giggle, looking around to see if you were overheard. You may roll your eyes. "This is stupid." Might be stupid, but feels good, doesn't it? There is no rule that says valuing yourself equals arrogance or pride. But, it does equal a lesson for our daughters and sons and a way to live in the world as we were created. Do it. Tell yourself you're awesome. Find one awesome thing about you. Not about what you do, but about you.

Again, I'm not saying talk yourself into running nine miles, or summiting Everest. I'm just saying say no to the lie and believe the truth. You may not know the truth, or you disregarded it for so long you have to dig for it. Then dig for it. You can do hard things. You can do big things, amazing things, astounding things.

When did it become okay for us to demure, to demean, to devalue ourselves? I don't know, but I've decided it's not okay for me and it's not okay for my daughters (or my son). Who's with me?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Banning the Shoulds

Or: In Which I Become a Bossy Shrew

The word "should" should be stricken from our language. I despise that word, and I'll tell you why. Think about it. What are the things you tell yourself you should do, be, think, or say?

I should:

work out
go on a diet
get up earlier
read more
spend more time in prayer
serve my spouse
serve my kids
shop less
rake the leaves
clean the toilet
make a calendar
watch my mouth

Do you hear that? That's the sound of guilt smearing itself all over your good intentions. The guilt implied by the word "should" takes a simple task that probably has merit and makes it ugly and hard. It smears a thick layer of "idon'twanna" right on top of your perfectly normal thought sandwich.

When I hear the word "should" I feel like I'm getting in trouble. Like I've colored outside the lines, again, and now they have to call my parents.

Should says you are not good enough, thin enough, kind enough, tall enough. Should says you're wrong. You'll always be wrong. There is something about you that's Should spits on you and kicks you when you're down. Should causes sighs and lowered heads and discouragement.

I hate should. Should sucks.


I think sometimes should comes from a good place. It comes from a place that desires change. That wants to be better, that wants a challenge, that craves something new. It comes from that place inside us that says, "You know, life is pretty good. I'm clicking along. And, if I (did x) my life would be better because of y." And this is not wrong, per se. It is not wrong to want to grow, or change, or learn something.

Yeah, maybe a diet isn't a bad idea. Maybe showing a servant heart to your family wouldn't kill you. Maybe getting up earlier would make your morning less hectic. See? Those are good things. Should takes that good intention, that good desire and makes it a task rather than a act. A chore rather than a mere action.

Therefore I made the following change.

When I hear "should" in my head, I change it to "need." If it makes sense that way, I consider making the change. The shoulds become less about guilt and more about simple imperatives.

Listen to the difference:

"I should call the doctor and schedule my yearly." Blah. That says I've been remiss in taking care of my health.
"I need to call the doctor and schedule my yearly." Yes. Yes, I do. No judgment. Just fact.

But wait! There's more. The intent matters, too. "I need to serve my spouse so he'll serve me in return and I could really use a servant right now." Vastly different from "I need to serve my spouse so he can see how much I care for him."

I know two young mothers with wee ones at home. Both feel discouraged that they don't have more time to devote to working out. As one who was once a young mother, I get that. I get that having a moment or two alone makes a huge difference in your day. I worry, though, that regretting the time you don't get to yourself shifts focus. Because not only are the wee one days short, but not working out does not equal a bad mom or an unfit mother. Should they run more? Or do they need to run more? Or something else entirely?

We make a habit of telling ourselves that if we don't do what we should, then we are not good enough. Not a good enough mom, wife, woman, boss, employee, student, teacher, person. And our ideas of what we should be doing come from crazy external forces, like other people, who do not live our lives, who do not have our needs, who do not have our schedules. See that? Everyone is different and this is amazing and needs to be embraced, not copied. You do not have to be Suzy Homemaker the tennis playing wunderhousekeeper PhD student whose children are so well behaved people think they're zombies. You need to be you.

Whew. I got worked up there. (stepping off soapbox). See, what I want to say is you found your reason, right? Now get rid of your shoulds. We are not going to do shoulds anymore. They waste our time and energy. We are only going to do needs. If you NEED to do what you have a reason to do, then do it with all your heart. If you find yourself shoulding yourself, gently remind yourself. (Do not berate yourself for being stupidstupidstupidhowcouldiforgetthatagain?) Gently. Gently. We are learning here.

So, you want to run. You have your reason to run. Do you need to run? Is it important to you? Do you have the time, energy and effort to devote to it. Then get out there and do it.

Next time, more on gently correcting ourselves.

The WHYs

I have a friend who trained for and finished a half marathon. Awesome, right? But when I hear her talk about it, she uses terms like "that stupid half marathon," and "I hate long run days."

When I started posting my runs to facebook, friends asked if I was training for something. Nope. (Remember, keeping the dog poo at bay.) I hated it. HATED IT. It hurt. It was hard. It was boring. I couldn't find the right music. It was too early. It took forever. I couldn't see any results (except for less dog poo in the house). I'm very good at complaining and justifying. But the power of the poo was strong, and I had to keep running. I was like my half marathon friend.

Over time, the power of the poo paled in comparison to what I had discovered. I discovered that I loved feeling like a total rock star at how many miles I'd logged. I smiled to hear my kids tell their friends how far their mom can run. I blushed to read so many nice comments from my completely cool friends. Rejoiced that my running clothes were TOO BIG! (Can I get a woot woot?) What I found was that my reason for running had changed.

Don't misunderstand. It was more than the weight, more than impressing my kids, more than getting my ego stroked. My reason had morphed from an external impetus (poo) to an internal one.

That's a long way of asking, "what are your reasons for running (or doing the thing you are doing)?" I asked my half-marathon-hating-friend to define hers. I don't know if she did but it occurred to me that maybe her reasons were like mine, outwardly impressed upon her.

When I act at the prompting of others, I can do the job, but I can't sustain motivation for it. I might lose the desire (if I ever had it) to complete it well. I could not keep running to prevent the poo because there would be a day when picking it up would be more appealing than running in the rain or cold.

When I act for a reason that I can firmly stand behind come rain, cold or fatigue, then I can get my running clothes on and get out the door like I'm headed to a party.

But here's the thing. Your reason will be different from mine. That's okay. You may start like I did, hating every single minute of it. That's okay. You may not really want to define it. That's okay, too. You may start with one and move on to another. Again, it's okay.

What I've learned is that when you have a reason that is strictly and solely yours, you will act with abandon and joy. You will own the track, or the class, or the whatever. You will be a total rock star.

A word of caution: Don't think it has to be a pretty reason, an altruistic reason, a glamorous reason. It just has to be yours and you have to believe it. It can even be as simple as "I want to."

Find your why, and write it down. Somewhere. Anywhere. You can tell it to someone if you want, but you don't have to. Just find it and know it.

Next time I'll tell you why I refuse to say the word, "should."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I'm No Expert, But That Won't Stop Me

If you have been here before, you know I've been a running fool lately. You can read all about the whys and wheretofores if you don't know that running has become something of a favorite hobby for me. Suffice it to say, if you're here and not at all interested in this running nonsense, I run. A lot. And I like to run. A lot.

"Who cares?" you ask, maybe glibly while rolling your eyes, scrolling down quickly to get to the good stuff, assuming, again rather glibly, that there is, in fact, good stuff. And I shall raise my eyebrows at you and tell you just exactly who cares.

You do.

And I know this because some of you have been asking me questions about my training.

You flatter me. I like this also. A lot. I've been emailing a bunch of you lovelies with my thoughts, and some of it seemed to make a rather cohesive whole on running, physical and mental training, and, if I may be so bold, some lessons I've learned along the way.

Now, let this be my legally binding (eye rolling) disclaimer that I am in NO WAY an expert. You saw that in the title. If you even try to suggest the old bait and switch, I will refer you heretofore, forthwith, ergo and nonesuch to the top of this little page, wherein ye shall find, for your reading pleasure, the title of my merry script, in which I declare my utter lack of expertise.

Okay, then, now that we have the legal mumbo jumbo out of the way... *slaps hands together in relief*

Here's what I want to say to everyone who has said or written that my running has been inspiring.

That's great! I love that you are inspired. But. It's not a big butt, because, you know, I've been running. But don't just be inspired in thought. Be inspired in action. I'm not saying go run a marathon tomorrow, you silly. That's crazy talk. I'm saying do something you didn't know you could do and see what happens.

I did not set out to run the Tulsa Run that would be a 15k, I don't mind telling ya. I did not set out to get super sexy calves (but I will show them to you, just ask). When I started, I've said before, running three miles was the most taxing thing in my day. I hated it. I hated that I was the one who had to go with the dog because I'm the one with flexible schedule. I hated it that sometimes it was too hot. Sometimes it was raining. Sometimes too many cosmos on date night...well you get the idea. It took forever it seems. If you cannot hear me whining, just thank your lucky stars, because I so am whining.

And again, I am in no way some kind of freakishly fast, super trim "athlete." When I registered on Dailymile to get cyber credit for every.single. stinkin'. mile, I didn't want to pick a category. They were so binding and scary and none of them applied to me. "Choose one: runner, athlete, cyclist, swimmer" and some other crazy things like tree climber, mountain maker...I don't even know. I sat and stared at that screen, cursor blinking like an annoying little sister, trying to decide. Finally, I clicked "athlete." For months, I ran in fear; I just knew Dailymile staff would track me down for the lying liar that I am. Athlete? Yeah, if eating, knitting and sewing are sports then heck to the yeah.

The point is, I love that some people find my running inspirational. I won't lie: I signed up for Dailymile just so I could brag about my incredibly amateur results. I'm a sucker for kind words so I went reaching for some. You people are putty in my hands. But here's what I'm trying to say, in a longwinded, friendly, conversational tone. If I can do it, you can do it. Promise. And in the coming days and weeks, I'm going to tell you exactly how I know that. Notice I did not say, HOW TO DO THAT.

And because I'm too excited, I'll whet your appetite for my un-expertise. I know. You might want to sit down. Some topics I want to cover: your reason to run (or take that class, or climb a mountain, or join a new church, or leave a bad relationship), mental training, self talk that works, and getting over the bad days.

Is there something you want to hear about that's NOT technical? Let me know. Let me stress just one more time, this is not a fitness plan, a guru lesson, or a technique forum. It's just one woman's thoughts on how to do something you never thought you could do.

Who's with me?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Friends in Good Places

Say what you will about social networking, social media, or wasting time online. Me? I freaking love it. I cannot get enough of it. Through Twitter and Facebook, I have reconnected with dear but long-lost friends. I have grown my business. I have become an avid runner with online encouragement. I have "met" some fine folks all around the world, and even in my own town. I love it. Is love too strong a word?

My brother says he doesn't have time for Facebook. I laugh in the face of his busy-ness. My sister never comments on my blog, so I in turn make mocking statements on her Facebook wall. It's what any good sibling would do. My parents will not go near that social network stuff. Of course, I have to give my mom an ipod syncing tutorial every time I see her. That poor woman only gets to sync her new music twice a year.

Recently, I needed some love from some good peeps. I wrote an email to five of my closest, bestest, most favorite women, explaining in gory detail all the ups and downs and important asides, asking for an extra measure of their goodness. They all replied, and each in her own way. One wrote me, a week later, a super long email with loads of questions, thoughts, potential problems with my reasoning. Very detailed and thorough. Just like her. Another wrote a quick concise email about how this was common among her friends and that she loved me. One wrote that I had included a ton of info and that she'd reply in detail soon. That was a few months ago. She will. Eventually. It's okay.

So I have these awesome women who care for me, but what I didn't expect was to get support from two Facebook friends I didn't have strong relationships with. They both reached out to me when they noticed some cues. And to be honest? I was really hoping for that.

I knew Beth in college. We went to different schools but ran in overlapping circles. We had one mutual friend who really tied us together. I think we were both in her wedding. A surface friendship. I never really knew her. Beth noticed that I'd been absent from Facebook and wrote me an email, tentative and very sweet. She wondered if I was okay. Would if it too forward to ask what was going on? She wondered how she could pray for me, and if I needed to talk. Beth has been the most faithful friend, including my five most faithful friends, to lend me emotional support. She prompts me, responds to me, and challenges me. Beth and I now text, and have a date for coffee next time I'm in her town. At Christmas. I'm too excited.

I have never met Aubrey. We had a few mutual friends who were busting our chops about being strong women (if you have to say you are a strong woman, are you a strong woman?) After speaking through other's Facebook walls for months, we finally friended each other, because we are both intelligent, thoughtful, gorgeous reading women. Her favorite book list is almost identical to mine. She is a runner. She works hard as a mom pursuing a professional life she is proud of and passionate about. Aubrey and I connected on one of those cosmic levels that makes you feel like you're not alone in the world. Aubrey listened to my ranting and replied with logic, reason and care. Because Aubrey doesn't really "know" me, she could have turned on her heels and walked away. She doesn't need my drama. Her life's got enough of its own.

I have come to realize that I like online socializing for the same reason I like "in real life" socializing. I am intrigued by people and I am energized by learning about others. We used to tease my sister about interviewing every one she met. Pot? This is the kettle calling. Making connections with people lights my fire. Finding cool new friends who really care? Bonus.

Running on Full

This is the dog, Cooper, sitting in a puddle in the last mile of our run. He is so hot, the water's rippling. He is the bane of my existence.

I started running in late April, my only goal being to prevent the dog from laying pipe under my sewing machine. Really. That was my only reason. I could have walked but walking is terribly inefficient and mind-numbingly tedious. If I was going to do this, it would be on my terms: fast, easy and relatively painless.

I had no goals. No desire to compete in races. No need for special gear or garments. I just wanted to stop the poop. (It did not, in fact, stop the poop, and we're still working on that. I'm bitter about it, yes, but that's not the point.)

A few tools became available to me that made the runs more fun. Running without my ipod is a big no-no. I must have music, cranked up as loud as my old eardrums can tolerate. Without the music I can not only feel myself sucking wind, but hear it also. One or the other. That's all I can take. Podrunner totally rocks for this. also added a social component to my runs, making my solo runs more communal. As I ran, I'd try out different statements in my head to summarize each day's adventures. And while readers may not have been impressed at my comedic attempts, it entertained me and kept my mind off how many more miles.

At first, I was happy with two miles. A quick, easy route, past the neighborhood school, up to the big stoplight and back to my door. Enough time for dog business, and enough time for me to work up a mild sweat. After a few weeks of this, I was bored. I thought I'd see if I could go three miles. Then it was four, then five. I didn't really have a plan or a regimen, although I do like that word, regimen. Sounds so official. At this point, it was still about the poo. The running got easier and more fun. My podrunner repertoire grew as did my dailymile circle.

I found as I ran that I rather liked the feeling of accomplishment. I felt proud that I could run 3 or 4 or 5 miles. I stopped making jokes about my running ineptitude and started basking in the glow of finishing something I started. And let me tell you, that feeling is unbeatable.

Then the inevitable happened. I wanted to go father than I knew the dog could handle. I *gasp* left the dog at home (in the backyard, again, pooping). Now this was liberating. I was faster, lighter, freer. I was like the wind! Excuse me while I wax hyperbolic. I discovered something I did not know.
I. Enjoy. Running.

In fact, I love it. I look forward to it as I'd look forward to a date with my husband. I crave it like I crave air.

It occurred to me that the reason for this new-found passion was that it was, essentially, all for me. I realize that sounds selfish. Hear me out. My past running attempts were prompted by outward impetus. I would "train" to run a race with a friend or to lose weight or to avoid poop.

But now, I was unfettered. I was running to challenge myself, and only myself. I ran to shake loose the crumbs of half-decent thought in my brain, or to clear out the cobwebs of doubt or frustration or anger or whatever. I ran to push myself, mind and body. And in the running, I found that I love the running.

So I am going to do some races, but now because I want to, and because I am no longer crippled by fear of the length of those races. I can do anything for three miles, or five miles, or ten. I'm stronger than I thought I was, deeper than I realized and more capable than I imagined.

And I keep plastic poop bags in the studio now.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

More Webby Goodness

In college I heard a speaker talk about the differences in how males and females communicate. While I tend to shy away from generalizations, this one struck me so deeply as gospel truth that it's stuck with me all these post college years.

The speaker said that men tend to think linearly. That B follows A and C comes after that. Their points line up in a logical succession. If a man is explaining how to fix a bike tire, he will tell you, from beginning to end, how to fix that tire.

She then said that women tend to think and communicate in a way that resembles a spider web. A spider web takes time to construct and follows a pattern that is decidedly not linear. A rough outline forms and then the web gets structure from supporting strands. In other words, if a woman were to explain how to fix a bike tire, she might start with the bike tire, but may branch off to tell you about her first bike, what color it was. You might hear why the bike was that color and how that color was her favorite from the ages six to twelve but not after that. You will, in the end, hear about how to fix the tire, but you might learn more than that.

Which is why I love running with my friend Ellen. (See what I did there? A spider web moment). We run together once a week; a highlight of the week for me. It's not about the run. It's about the talking. Our conversations have a flow to them that resembles the spider web pattern above. An issue we discussed last week weaves itself into this week's talk. There's no need for explanation. I can say, "And you know what else?" And Ellen will know exactly where it's coming from and often where it's going.

Sometimes, we might not even finish the discussion about how fifth grade math is going for our kids when we've moved on to the new restaurant or car repairs or why we like shoes that have white laces. It's okay. We'll get back to it. Eventually.

I find this true at Thursday coffees, though I haven't been in a while. A group of super cool, hip moms gathers at a local cafe every Thursday. The group is fluid, open and friendly. Depending on when I arrive, there might be three or fifteen women huddled around three or four tables, bubbling over with coffee and food and sometimes projects. If I sit still and watch, I see the same thing happening here. Smaller groups discuss a topic, someone from across the table jumps in to add a relevant bit and soon the entire table is discussing exchange students. Then a side issue arises and the smaller groups huddle off again. It tumbles along like a girl in a long dress rolling down a hillside. Pure joy.

Our minds and voices cause a stir in the air, create an aura of intellectual activity. We are seeking the right words to explain our feelings, ideas, thoughts, and giving the space to think out loud, challenge assumptions, arrive at new conclusions. Sometimes I don't know I'm worried or angry about something until it comes up in a free-flowing, thought-and-speech -for-all.

Working from home as I do, I tend to isolate myself. I get comfortable writing and sewing in my little spaces. But when I do venture out for these visits, I find myself renewed, excited, full. I don't know if all women are like this, and I don't know if all women need this kind of interaction.

But I need my spider web moments.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ode to Late Summer

Walked down to the dock through a gauntlet of spider webs. After the kids stop running the path between water and house, when the sun blinks closed the day, and the motors stop their incessant churning — then the spiders get to work.

A duck breaks my still reverie, calling to his mate. I pause from the delicate, frustrating task of removing fine silver homes from my shirt.

From where I sit I can see across one tiny portion of the great expanse of Grand Lake. Two peninsulas frame our inlet and, rather symmetrically, one egret sits on each, facing each other. One I can see in perfect silhouette, he's in the shade of the rising sun. The other, his white feathered body catches the full glinty glory of the sunrise. I wonder if they are siblings—the Mary and Martha of the avian world. Two disparate souls connected by a body. Or is that carrying things too far?

The one in shadow appears to be lengthening; maybe he's aware of my gaze.

Fish flip up, breaking the surface, taunting the anglers who've jut left the inlet in disappointment. This always make me giggle, if if I'm in on the joke.

It's always quiet at Grand on Sunday mornings, but this morning there seems to be a late summer melancholy kicking about. The promise of summer boat rides, the plans with friends, the ease of days spent in swimsuits, eating the fat, juicy fruit of summer - it's all gone. It happened, for sure. And it was good. So good.

Now homework awaits our return home. Piles of paper demand attention. Kids have needs in so many different areas I feel I can't summon enough of the right responses at the right times to meet all their inner unspoken but totally obvious needs.

Push it back. Scrape off the worry like so many webs clinging to me. I'm here. I'm at the lake. I'm on the dock. Alone. I can breathe, and sit, and think. This is where I can see these children, my children, for who they really are. When they don't know I'm studying them as they play.

I woke with a pall of melancholy myself. So strong I felt I could have burst into tears. I still have a sense of the ending. That's inevitable, normal even. Walking a line between pleasant memories and the bitterness of walking away from them.

And there's today. All of it. I see a spiderweb I managed not to destroy. A giant fish jumps next to me, reminding me to smile. My daughter's feet slap on the wood of the dock, then she settles into the hammock, quiet for a short time. I'm alone. I'm not alone.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Just Take a Bath

I drove home from soccer practice last night listening to the shrieks and cries and horrid moans of an unhappy little boy. Yes, my sweet precious angel hollered the whole way home (a thankfully short commute) because I decided he would bathe instead of shower.

While not normally cause for such alarm, precious angel was tired. And hungry. And hot. And doggone it that boy wanted a shower. In my best stern mommy voice I also asked him to bring in his shoes from the car. The horror. Waterworks all up in here.

One daughter covered her ears. One daughter made funny faces hoping to cheer him up. Both actions caused equal and utterly opposite reactions in their brother. That's the trouble with physics.

We made it home with him wailing to his heart's content. I stopped trying to reason with him when his words became unintelligible. The line between reason and hysteria had been crossed miles ago. Finally home, the girls scattered, probably thankful they could escape to the relative quiet of their rooms and their homework. He went to his room, covered himself with blankets and continued that post-cry whimpering, short-breathing things kids do when they know they're not going to get their way, not fully committed to trying anymore but still kind of aggravated. In lighter moments, it's kind of funny.

I started a bath, thinking of my mother. I dropped in gobs and gobs of bubble bath, another unusual event at our house. We're usually cycling through too many bodies to luxuriate in bubbles of aromatic ambiance. My mother's prescription for everything when we were growing up was a bath. I'd say, "I have a headache." She'd say, "Take a bath." My sister would be stressed over tests: "Take a bath." Even our brother was advised to take a bath when under duress or illness.

My son had the same reaction we did. Dude was pissed. Our mother's one-stop, cure-all works-every-time solution seemed to mock our displeasure. "Just take a bath," we teased her, had become her code for: "Tell someone who gives a crap." She wasn't really belittling our emotions, reducing our stress to a simple action, confining our unhappiness to the bathroom (Freud would for sure have something to say about that.)

In our angst, we overlooked her genuine care. We wanted her to wallow in our drama. We wanted her to stomp her feet with us. We wanted tears, balled fists, reaction. Anything that indicated she was on our side.

The way she did that, though, was to offer a quiet space where no body could pour salt in our emotional gashes. Where we could be alone to sift out the thoughts, shake loose the dross and soak away the metaphoric and physical dirt. She's a smart one, my mom.

I plopped the sobbing boy in the tub, tears streaking down his dirty soccer field face. I wish I could say instantly his troubles were over. No. It wasn't as fast as that. But, he did sit for a while. Then he began to play with his action heroes. He finally tried the new shampoo I'd bought for him. In the end, he climbed out of the tub quieter, calmer, happier, and ready for bed.

Sometimes, I want to throw the same kind of fit my son did. I want to shout and scream and tell people they're all stupid. Of course, as an adult, that's just not done. However, the prescription remains the same at our house. Just take a bath.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Almost Ready for the Shop

I need to finish the edges of the bows, but many of you have been asking for these so I wanted to whet your appetite. Let me know what you think. And as always, thanks.

Here's how I think I'll list them. WITH a band, in color of choice, and three bows with alligator clips. Clips can attach to the band or into the hair. Three bows and one band for $21.00.

For one bow, all with clippies attached, no band, $7. Three bows, no band, $20. These are light, so I'm doing shipping free.

Still waiting for my white, brown and black grosgrain. It's coming, people.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Ripping Seams

Of Weddings and Dresses

I have a friend who is planning her second wedding (and marriage). This is all very exciting and fun and we are all atwitter with plans and ideas. She asked me, to my great honor, to make a dress for her daughter, who is in second grade. Now, if you know me, this type of project sits firmly in my wheelhouse (which is a phrase people are throwing about like pennies these days but we can talk about that some other time). In fact, it might BE my wheelhouse.

Since the friend lives far away, we designed the dress through text and IM. I sent images of fabric, dress patterns, sashes... and she replied yay or nay. We recognize this kind of seat-of-the-pants decision making may not pay dividends; the color may be all wrong (it's not), the size may be ghastly (it won't be. I know how to measure). But it's kinda too late, because that picture up there is the dress.

It's not completely finished. I need to handstitch the lining to the zipper, which I'll probably rip out and resew, possibly using a T-square so I can get the edges perfect. The hem can't be done until I'm in the presence of the wearer of the gown and she'll most likely, as kids are wont to do, grow in the intervening weeks. But, you can see it's rather a lovely gown, perfectly respectable for any 8 year old attending a wedding.

I took every single instruction to heart when constructing this dress. I took no shortcuts. I ironed the fabric before I cut. Made every pattern mark I could see, double checked the dart placement, even ironed every seam. If the pattern asked me to trim to 3/8" then by golly that's what I did. I wanted the dress to be spectacular. I ripped out the seams attaching the bodice to the skirt three separate times, each time growing more frustrated that the gathers were hanging wonkily. I cursed myself. I cursed the dress. But darnit, in the end, that skirt hangs like liquid silk flowing from a...oh, it's just perfect, okay? Take my word for it.

In Which I Attempt the Ill Advised

On Sunday, I decided to make myself a sweet little knit tunic top before church. I'm not sure exactly what spirit possessed me on that fateful day, but I guess I was feeling adventurous. Or dumb. I threw the fabric out on the floor, didn't iron the pattern, let alone bother pinning it in place. I didn't check measurements, didn't even fold the fabric as suggested because I wanted that dress and I wanted it now. I figured, three seams, unfinished edges and I'm out the door. What could be easier?

Ha. Using a hastily cut mess of fabric and unmatched thread, I sewed that sucker together in under an hour. It's fine, passable. But it's ENORMOUS. I like roomy clothes but my husband asked with fear and trembling: "Is it a moo moo?" There I go taking things too far again. I would not wear it like that to bed. Essentially, I had to take it apart, cut it down and sew it back together again. Not only that but the thrill is gone. I knew I was taking short cuts, and I knew I would pay for it. I didn't care as long as I got that dress.

But now, when I look at it, I ask myself a remarkable question. Why is this friend and her little girl worth so much trouble when I'm not willing to give myself the same effort?

Oof. Are we worth the effort we give to others? I'd like to reply resoundingly, "YES!" But this anecdote reveals that what I want to believe and how I behave are utterly opposed. Sure, I wanted to make a beautiful gift for my friend, and I was confident in my sewing skills. It still leaves me wondering. Should others get more from us than we get from ourselves? Do we bend over backwards to please others to our own detriment? I'm not suggesting I'm a used up rag with no value. I'm just kicking around some ideas about worth, time and effort.

What do you think?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

For Those Without Walls

I started a summer running challenge on Memorial Day. A twitter friend suggested running 150 miles from the beginning of summer to Labor Day. At the time, I was looking for a little motivation to run with the dog who lives at my house. (If you know me, you know he poops under my sewing machine when I don't take him. Jerk.) I don't accept any running challenge without assessing the feasibility. I figured even if I only ran a mile or two a day, I could easily squeeze in 150 miles, as staggering as the number seemed on May 30.

As I ran my regular short path near my neighborhood, I grew stronger and more capable of running longer distances, so I started exploring the trail to see where it would lead and how long it extended. I ran over a bridge one day, looked underneath as I did so, and noticed two figures in repose under a light blanket. A bucket and a box lined up against the concrete abutment of the bridge. In a flash, I made my decision to run in the opposite direction.

I ran in the opposite direction from the homeless people all summer. Never ventured under or beyond the bridge. Each day in passing, thoughts flooded through me; conflicting ideas, emotions and questions. Should I help? What would I do? Why are they there? How awful! How infuriating! How gross! (I should say here that it never ceases to amaze me the vast expanse and complexity of human emotions that so much can run through me so quickly.)

Finally, my running endurance was such that I needed to run under that bridge, and I'm embarrassed to say that I felt nervous. I didn't want to disturb them or, worse, interact with them. I didn't want my dog rummaging around in their business. I just wanted to run by and get on with it. Running above them on the bridge was entirely different from running past them. My awareness of them as humans came into disturbing relief.

It seemed like I invaded their space, that I had just trampled through their bedroom. That thought made me angry on two levels, and they are not pretty. To be perfectly honest, my first thought was an incredibly selfish, "This is NOT your living room. It is a running trail." My second was to kick myself for my ignorance. "How can I possibly run by these people every day and not act?"

All summer, I tried to think of what I would do about it, but I never did anything. Two days ago, I ran under the bridge on my way home and I beheld the most grim vision that has spurred me. The woman crouched over an old bucket to relieve herself. As gross as that might seem, the reality is there is no dignity for a person without walls. I don't know her story, I don't know why she's there but I do know that every person deserves food, clothing and shelter.

I've been thinking about walls on my runs this summer and I've written about them before. Here is another kind of wall. Or to be more precise, a lack of walls that builds a distinct barrier. I know, with absolute clarity, that I need to do something about this. I still don't know what it is. I'm thinking, I'm praying, and now I'm asking you, my friends. I want to help. I want to say that I acknowledge them as humans. I want to show compassion to my brothers and sisters. Will anything I do make a real difference? Will it house the multitudes? I don't know but I have to stop running by and start doing. What should I do?

I made my goal and then some, by the way. When I accepted the challenge to run 150 miles, I didn't know that it would potentially take me, and my community even farther than that.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

And the Walls Came Down

Been thinking about walls lately. Not just structural walls like the ones around me right now as I type, although I'm glad they're here. No. I've been thinking about the ones we humans make to navigate the world, to hide the darkest parts of ourselves, to keep out the darkest parts of others.

Just like house walls, they serve a purpose. I want walls in my house. They tell me when the kitchen becomes the family room. They separate my room from my children's rooms. They let me use the bathroom in peace. (My kids don't but that's not their job, right?) They keep the hot summer "air" out, the cold winter wind knocks at the door but can't get through. Walls are good.

Walls also shut people out. And while I don't want my house crowded full of people all the time, there's a time and a place for hospitality. Right?

I had a few emotional hiccoughs this summer, which spun me into a mild summer funk. A sort of sadness turned me inward. I locked up my personal doors and windows. I put extra insulation around my virtual interior windows, drew the blinds and shut off for a while. I was hurt. I was confused. I didn't want to write because writing would make me feel and I didn't want to feel. I wanted to float. To simply exist without thought or notion.

I kept living my life, of course. I mean there are these people at my house who rely on me, things to do, people to see and all that. So while I tuned out emotionally for a bit, I kept running. Usually when I run my brain works on overdrive on creative ideas I can use either in my studio or in my writing. Running opens part of my brain that helps me see the shadow of possibility, a glinty piece of silver on the path. During this emotional wall building thing, I concentrated on step after step. That was it. That was all I had. I had nary a decent idea or thought. My train of thought went something like: "step, breathe, step, breathe...."

If there are routines in your life you depend on for some semblance of regularity and those systems go on the fritz, it can feel like trying to catch a speck out of a glass of water. You see it. You know the solution but you can't make it happen. I felt frustrated. Stupid, even. Creatively dry.

Until two days ago. I put new music on the old ipod, music that had no emotional connotations for me. Music I had never before heard, music that drummed into my head and feet a rhythm that breathed and stepped for me and suddenly, the cobwebs of doubt and confusion disintegrated. In my head, I composed a sentence. Not just any sentence. One that was more than two complete thoughts, related to each other, with interesting word choice and a funny point (if I do say so myself).

In my attempt to keep myself from feeling the hurt, I also closed my eyes to the re-creative potential of the hurt. I'm not saying running is a magic potion. I'm not saying that feeling hurt is amazing because it leads to great art. I'm not saying music is the great salve to the weary soul. Far from it. Maybe it was time, or perspective or simply being tired from the effort of suppressing it. I don't know. But the wall started to crumble, and I'm thankful.

In feeling it, in pulling it out of myself and writing about it, I could polish the stone and reflect on it from different angles. I found that the hurt held good truth in it that I needed to see. We don't always see the good that comes out of pain. Sometimes it just hurts. This time, this one time, the truth is flooding into my head and heart and I'm thankful for that.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Put the Play Dough Down

It rained on my run this morning which made my normally full hands slippery. I had the dog leash in one hand and my phone and ipod in the other. Normally I clip my ipod to my shorts but not today. Today, because SOMEONE had left my ipod in SOMEONE'S car, I had to use SOMEONE else's ipod which doesn't clip to anything Before you give me a thousand different ways I could have solved this problem, of the holding of gear, know that it's a story for another day, personal preference being what it is and all that.

The point is, my hands were full and slippery. Every few paces, I'd notice my hands were clutching the life out of my technology. It reminded me of something a very wise and gentle friend told me this summer. (Not my husband). He told me that I need to let go of the idea that I'm in control.

If you know me, you know I hate when people (my husband) tell me to "relax." My instant and strong reaction is rather the opposite of relaxation. My hackles raise up like a thousand little poisonous snakes ready to strike. I guess that makes me the middle(ish) aged version of a rebellious teenager. I'll relax when I'm darn good and ready to relax, thankyouverymuch. I like control. I enjoy control. When I know what to expect and who's going to be where and exactly when, I feel calm and reasonable. I feel, well, I feel in control.

Trouble is, life is uncontainable. It is largely ungovernable, especially by one as meek and lowly as I. When my friend told me I needed to let go, he was asking me to rethink how I viewed the world, asking me to see that my constant control-seeking kept me from relishing the peace of letting go.

So I'm running along this morning, cursing the dog as usual, and I get this image in my head: a brand new lump of play-dough, right out of the jar. It's all smooth and clean. It smells like salt and kindergarten. But, you notice...see, right there? There's a spot on the top that isn't quite blended in with the rest; it's sort of clumpy. So you reach out to smooth it, and in so doing, you make an impression with your thumb. Now you have to fix that, but you'll have to pick it up to do so, and before you know it, the cylindrical goodness that dumped out of the little tub is now a blob. With fingerprints on it. And some of it is on the floor and the table and under your fingernails. So you roll it up into an inexact spherical representation and put it down. Moments later, you're back to smoothing the edges, ready to get out the compass so you can verify it's symmetry.

That's how I approach life. And that's how approached the first week of school. I worry about my kids. What that tells you is that I'm a good mom. I worry and I pack lunches. Right there's your evidence. So, my eldest gets most of my social anxiety, because she prefers her own company, and her three best friends have all moved away. First week of school, I didn't care about classes, or homework or teachers. I wanted to know who was talking to her, to whom she was talking. Were there new kids who seemed nice? I made myself a tiny, annoying fly of repetition. She tolerated my anxiety. For a while.

Finally, kiddo told me to step off. "Mom. It's fine. I'm happy. Please stop bugging me about it." I knew it was coming. The increase in visible and verbal eye rolling? Off the charts.

But there's that lump of play-dough. I want to grab it and shape it and coax it and make it perfect. Or close. Or closer. And I'm running along, and I realize my shoulders have hunched a bit higher, my hands strangling the ipod. I hear my gentle friend's voice. "Let go."

I suspect this will be a lifelong journey of small steps. I hope the steps get farther and farther apart before I need reminding. I'm thankful for people who tell me the truth and help me to uncover it on my own. I suspect that image will stick in my head and help me to remember there is only One in control. And I'm not it.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Honeymoon Wonderland

Our first "home," (using the term in its loosest possible way) was an old, delapidated, nearly discarded double wide on a hill in the glory of the Ozarks. And it was beautiful.

We married on a Saturday, the mister graduated college on Sunday, we left for our honeymoon on Monday. A week in a tropical paradise, and then the move: the smallest Uhaul laden with our decorator style; we called it "early college." We drove from Pittsburgh to Tulsa, stopping on the way at a lavishly maintained Knight's Inn (yes), blinded by the purple wall paper and carpeting.

We stored our worldly possessions into a corner of my newly minted in-laws' garage and drove to Branson to work for the summer at a camp in the mountains. We were married staff, so we proudly assumed the entitlement of "married staff housing." This is a huge step up from regular staff housing, in that we had windows AND air conditioning. Living the dream.

I cop to a certain amount of "gross out" when I rested my gaze upon the brown and white, off kilter little gem that was to be our home for three months. The gag reflex promptly gave way to the beautiful haze that is newly married life. I had gifts to be thankful for, and pictures to sort. I had a new home in Tulsa to find. I had my life partner, the apple of my eye with me. And we were blessed.

And then it rained. Oh, how it can rain in those mountains. Turns out, the windows acted more like large, transparent colanders. We used our brand new towels to staunch the flow pouring into our cozy little love nest.

Then there was the matter of living quarters. The double wide belonged to resident staff who were at another camp for the summer. All of their worldly possessions occupied every bedroom. We had access to the living room/kitchen/dining room. And the bathroom. We stored our clothes in the kitchen cabinets. We kept coffee in the space where the dishwasher was to go. Socks went in the top drawers. Shorts and tees in the upper cabinets.

When I think about it now, 15 years later, I have to laugh. We laughed then, too, but for different reasons. We were young. We were happy. We were on an adventure, just beginning our journey together. I laugh now because that was simply crazy. We loved every minute of it. But, man, what a summer.

I took that photo up there in the fall when our home needed some ghastly repairs. This reminds me that along with our changing lives, we have changing perspectives, changing needs, changing attitudes. Sometimes we get to live like wild bohemians, in the eye of chaos. And sometimes we get to move out of that and live in peace.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tweenage Word Police

image via
One of the problems stemming from my stern grammatical upbringing is friendly chats are rendered neigh impossible. My parents both spoke, and speak, with a precision and depth few can match. They choose their words carefully and for maximum effect. Mom and Dad could rip steel to shreds with their words or plant flowers of prose.

As a family, we were, and are, vigilant about grammatical and pronunciation mistakes. We pounce on every misspoken word, every improperly used pronoun. No one is immune. Nothing passes our ears. We hear every little thing. And we will correct you. Yes. We will mock you unceasingly. It gives us great pleasure. In fact, many of our mistakes have entered the family lexicon; newcomers to our little grammar party may indeed not understand a word we say.

This admittedly annoying familial habit has made its way into my own family, our children being proud, card-carrying members of the word police. If you think your kids aren't listening to you, try making a mistake in speaking. I personally guarantee you will be corrected. By them. In an unfriendly tone. Children correcting their parents makes for uncomfortable family dinners.

I confess to the deadly sin of pride about my childrens' vocabulary. Except. For the past year, we've had a recurring language debate with our eldest, who can, in fact, word us under the table. (She once told me she would explain something to me using small words. She's 12).When we ask her to do something, or to NOT do something, or have a conversation and want some signal from our angsty tween, we expect, and rightly so, some kind of acknowledgment. We get this, "Okay." Or "Okay!" Or "OKAY." Parents, I know you hear the difference.

When one is used to precise language, "okay," as a reply means very little. Does she mean she understands, or that she's walking away, or that she hates our parental guts? IDK. (She is constantly surprised that I am hip to text lingo.) So then we say, "No. It's not okay." To which she replies, "You know what I mean." And then we say, "No. We don't know what you mean." Then she rolls her eyes and stalks, storms or saunters away and we throw up our flummoxed hands with heavy sighs.

We find ourselves walking this line like drunken sailors; as parents we are unsure of ourselves with this nearly teen-aged girl, but we know her and love her and want the best for her. As a nearly teen-aged girl, I'm sure she's feeling many things of which she is not sure. She is aware at least of her verbal double standard that allows her the luxury of correcting mistakes but not being called on her own.

We wonder how much do we push back, how much slack do we let out, how long do we let the eye rolling make our skin itch? We wonder if she can smell our fear: our fear of her growing up and walking her path and becoming who more of who she is every day. It's not an unreasonable fear, tempered as it is with confidence in her ability to make good choices, good friends, and certainly good sentences.

What does "okay" mean? No idea.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Regrets and Reconciliation

Once upon a time, I had two friends. Well, once upon a time, I had more than two friends, still do, in fact, have slightly more than 2 friends, but that's neither here nor there, as this little story concerns just these two aforementioned friends I had, once upon a time, and my grandmother, which is weird, considering the three have never met.

So I had these two friends. And they were funny and silly and I enjoyed their company. And they were my friends. And then we had a very dramatic, sad, ugly falling out.

I'll spare you the drama of our sad and ugly falling out. Suffice it to say, as is usually the case in these matters, all three of us can hoist some of the blame onto our humanly puny shoulders, burdened as we are already with pride, anger and selfishness.

In thinking about my role in this little tragedy, the Greek chorus in my head reminds me of a recent revelation, a reconciliation of sorts with my paternal grandmother, who has been dead for over a decade. Crazy Greek chorus, just like them to bring up some long ago turmoil, buried securely in my mind, to teach me a lesson.

Of Grandmas and Grace

Grandma and I had a monumental tiff during her later years. The kind that overshadowed family holidays and jubilant occasions, like my wedding. That lady was a spitfire on her best days. She was a mountain-mover, a hell-raiser, and woe be to thee if you raised her ire.

We had a minor miscommunication that grew and festered. I can blame my dad for this, because he invited Grandma to something I did not want her to attend. When she called for details, instead of being gracious and insisting she come, I blurted out that she was, in reality, not invited. I know. I'm embarrassed. This classy move led to the Thanksgiving Tumult of 1991. Neighbors still talk about it.

For the rest of her life, we were at odds, which pains me to this day. Tradition says that this is where I remind readers to cherish their loved ones, to seize every opportunity to express their devotion. Not gonna happen.

Here is where I tell you that if I'm at all like my hell-raising granny, I share her sense of justice, her stubborn pride, and her ability to hold a grudge like a precious gem.

Freedom through Tea Sets?

Standing at the tiny stainless sink at the decrepit family cottage, my mother and I shared the job of washing and drying the dishes. Offhand, she tossed out a bomb that shifted my perspective of my grandmother, veritably shattering the angry image and reminding me of her gentle thoughtfulness. My mother said that Grandma had packed a box with an antique tea service. She labeled the box: FOR JEN AND ABBY. Abby, my daughter, was 18 months old when my grandmother died. Moreover, my grandmother was suffering at the hands of a cruel enemy, Alzheimer's, that stole much of who she was and confused her memories.

I stood at that sink totally bewildered. My grandmother remembered my daughter? She cared enough about me—or her descendants—to leave a special gift just for us. In her darkness, in her deterioration, she remembered me with love.

What's with the Greek Tragedy, Again?

So, back to my fractured friendship. A solid decade after her death, my cranky, unforgiving, hardened grandmother, my kind, giving, talented grandmother taught me a lesson in humility, grace and forgiveness.

Platitudes don't work for me, they're too easy. But. If I don't look at this situation in a spirit of growth, I will continue to cherish regret, fatigue and bitterness. Maybe life's not too short for regrets. Maybe in the poor choices we make, in our betrayals, our deceptions and our minor infractions, there is a future wrapped up just for us, specially marked and ready to be opened. Maybe a future of redemption and reconciliation comes with regret as its cost.

For reconciliation, I can handle a little regret.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Anticipation and Melancholy

See that? Right there? Those are two of my favorite people relaxing in one of my most favorite places in the whole wide world. My family has owned this little slice of happy for 110 years. Yes, one hundred ten years. It may not be easy on the eyes, but I assure you, it's easy on the spirit.

Living 1000 miles away from this little beauty we call "the cottage," definitely puts a limit on how often we get there. Once a year to be exact. Being there means shutting down literally and figuratively. No TV, no internet, spotty cell service. Until a few years ago, there was no shower and no phone. The lack of current technology means a turning to others, creating a space where conversations ebb and flow with the shadows cast by the sun on the ferns. It means using your head to make sure there's enough water to do dishes and get the kids' grimy feet clean. It means not dumping food in the sink because there's no disposal. It means a calmer life, for a few days. Rising with the birds and sun, resting our heads in the heat of the afternoon, hitting the hay with the moon.

We all, my siblings and I, try yearly to make the trek to the cottage for the fourth of July, it being our mother's birthday. Knowing I get to see my brother and sister and all of our nieces and nephews fills me with tangible anticipation. In my mind, I play out our visit, the arrivals, the stories, the swimming, the food. I'm like a kid on Christmas Eve, completely wound up waiting for the presents to arrive. When everyone has finally assembled, it is largely as I had envisioned. We laugh, and cook, swim and canoe, drink cold beer, sit on the porch, tell stories, remember, catch up, look ahead. This trip is one big gift just for me to savor my family.

And then it's over, just as Christmas Eve passes to Christmas Day which passes to the ho hum day after Christmas of bloat of indulgence and crankiness from all that togetherness. I found myself in that doldrum yesterday as we drove out of the gravel drive, casting one last furtive glance at Sugar Lake, the place that defines my past as much as the house where I grew up. Leaving it, leaving the family, brought my anticipation to a screeching halt and left a gaping hole of sad.

I know I'll be back. I know I'll see my family again. There is something reassuring about having something to look forward to. It makes the minutiae seem to click by faster, to make it more meaningful or worthwhile. And there is also something about a return to "real" life that resonates, too. I wouldn't want to stay with my siblings at the cottage forever. Going home, my home, with my children, and our daily responsibilities, creates the possibility of something new to anticipate. What I'm trying to say is that we need the flow of time; we need to look forward, and we need to grasp our present with joy and purpose.

But, I still miss my brother, my sister and my nieces and nephews. Can't wait til next year.