This project's goal is to give each family member and myself just 10 minutes of unconditional positive regard every day. All attention is focused on the other person for those 10 minutes and only positive comments or thoughts are allowed. Just 10 minutes often becomes much more. Try it and see. You'll find the Just 10 guidelines on the right side of this blog.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The End: A New Beginning

School starts tomorrow. I start a new job. I've been in mourning for the loss of summer for the last two weeks. Today, reality hits hard. I love my summers. I also have to work. It's time to move forward.

This morning as I was checking in with various web sites I found a synopsis of a new book. (Beyond Blue is a site I check frequently to help me keep on track.) Stephen Fogle has written a book called: My Mind is Not Always My Friend. Since this is a reality I know well, I had to know more.

I have a few reservations about mentioning a self-help book written by a business man. It's hard to accept his message without questioning the motive i.e. is this just another way to get rich? My bigger question is that despite the motive is the message hopelessly tainted? I'm inclined to think not. Why not derive some helpful advice if helpful advice is there?

I'm particularly impressed by the guiding principles he outlines. Fogle supports bringing a mindful awareness to our lives, one that questions why we behave and why we feel the way we do. Since mindfulness has actually made a huge difference in my own life, I'm sharing his guiding principles here.

* The truth is just the truth.
* Feelings are not facts.
* You can't argue with another's perceptions.
* Conflicting feelings can co-exist peacefully until they are coupled with action.
* Every time something new happens, I go back to my old ways--and I need to snap out of it.
* Don't do unto others what you wouldn't have them do unto you.
* Don't stay with familiar pain out of fear of awkwardness or unknown pain.
* We can put our bad feelings into others, just as they can put their into us.
* Life is lived in the little things.

Read more:

Monday, August 30, 2010

It's All About Me

Every now and then I get stuck in an "It's-all-about-me" frame of mind. A burst of rabid housecleaning over the weekend, left me with an angry back. As much as I wanted my Just 10 walk, I knew that for my back's sake, I'd better wait a few days. As a result, I felt really stuck. I was not a happy camper.

To make matters worse, when taking myself and my son for a much needed haircut this morning, the hair dresser made an undiplomatic comment about drawing attention away from my face. I already know I have a wrinkly bowling ball for a head so I tend to be a bit sensitive when my round head is recognized by others. Ever since, my thoughts keep returning to my abnormally, large, scary, head.

There is some divine justice at play here. I used to give my brother, David, a horrible time about his large head. When he was little, my comment about moving his giant head out of the way of the television would usually make him cry. Part of evil little me enjoyed his anguish. He was Mom's favorite.

Later, when we were older, I'd occasionally pull a remark about his large head out of my nasty verbal arsenal. He'd reply with a laugh, "You are just jealous because I have more brains." He was no longer a little boy in tears. I had met my match. He'd often catch me off guard by telling me: "Carol, the doctor called today and they want you to come in for more tests." I'd hear the part about more tests and quickly say, "What?" He'd smile and say, "Yeah, the doctor wants you to come in because you're way dumber than we thought." The fact that I fell for this numerous times supports his theory.

At one point, my brother labeled me, "The smartest dumb person he knew." There has always been a part of me that saw some truth in that label. After all, I could and still make some poor choices. For example, I have allowed my bowling ball-sized head to get even bigger by overeating. There are a few people who can actually wear extra pounds well, I am definitely not one of them. The mistress of self-delusion, I spend days, weeks and even years kidding myself that the reflection I see in the mirror isn't really me. Inside, I still am the thin, 112-lb. girl I was at 20. Today, that came crashing down. Chubby cherubs must have flown down to earth and whispered in the ear of one special hair dresser. Her job: to help me meet the truth head on. . . wrinkly, bowling ball-shaped head on.

Thus, I began indulging in a pity-party for one. Unfortunately, this pity party conjured up some bad mojo and I was grumpy on the outside, taking pot-shots at those who dare to come too near. It's been an all-about-me kind of day. Slowly, as I write this my mood has been changing. My sense of humor is starting to revive. My ego is less sore and tender. It's time to step out of my own head for a few minutes and get a breath of fresh air.

Lately, I've been fascinated by how little rational thought and logic plays a role in people's actions. Around me are countless examples of people making less-than-good choices. Choices often seem to be impulsive reactions. Making good choices with any degree of consistency seems to be a rare occurrence. Remember the junk that found its way into your shopping cart on a recent trip to the grocery store? Remember the last time you drove on the freeway?

As I've crashed through a good part of my day, a crazy driver oblivious to the traffic around me, I have not been alone. Everyone of us is having a good, bad or somewhere-in-the-middle kind of day. When I see things through my own cloudy perceptions, I'm missing the much larger picture. I'm living on this planet at the same moment as billions of other people. We are all tragically flawed, some of us more than others. We can get stuck focusing only on the flaws, our round heads, our impatience, our limited insight. Or we can make better choices, we can question the effectiveness of "dumping on ourselves." How motivated is anyone when harshly criticized? Much of our self-abuse allows us to remain as we are. We focus on the problem but not the solution. We fail to rise above.

My head is still very round but now I can enjoy the fact that I still have cute dimples. I can find humor in the fact that I'm often trapped in the "prison of me." There is a world outside. This world is filled with people with round heads or thin and every variation in between. It's never really just-about-me.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Muse: Lost & Found

Writing yesterday was hard and painful work.  The words just wouldn't flow.   I struggled with paragraphs that led no where.  They were old willy jeeps, painfully, slowly climbing dirt logging roads leading to a wall of timber, a solid dead end.   So this morning, as I left for my Just 10 walk,  I shook my proverbial fist at the heavens, demanding inspiration.

Within moments, I received my first jolt.  I was Elsa Lancaster in Bride of Frankenstein.  Clothed in a shroud-like gown, my face blank, impossibly tall bee-hive hair spotting a lightening-bolt-like streak of gray.  I smiled inside and in that moment found my muse hiding in my amusement.  It hadn't been lost.  It was just on holiday.  Apparently, my muse hides in a sense of humor, in my amusement at the antics of my fellow mortals and myself.  I wanted to indulge this muse.  I wanted to streak down the trail like a cannonball of fun, finding  humor in everything I stumble across on the trail.  Something was standing in my way.

Before I could indulge my muse, I received a second, stronger image. A stronger muse began to take shape.   There is an image that often comes to mind.  I've seen it so often over the years that I don't always give it the attention that it deserves.  For many years, I have often seen a younger, thinner me tightly clutching an armful of jagged broken glass and mirrors.  The more tightly I hold these broken pieces, the more I am harmed.  I've been able to decode this image.  It is my psyche holding on to those things that need to be released, the things that harm me, bitterness, anger, self-doubt.  Sometimes, I imagine myself, letting go all at once.  The jagged pieces fall to earth and shatter into a million points of light.  Today, I could not drop them all at once.   I dropped the pieces one at a time.  I was quickly followed by two teen-age girls who work part-time as pooper scoopers at the fair and local parades.  They were busy sweeping the broken pieces into a dust bin.  Slowly, the broken pieces were falling away.  Inside, I began to heal just like I've healed countless times before.  I know I will be broken again.  Practice makes the mending easier.

I questioned myself about the composition of these broken pieces.  I saw the death of innocence at too young an age.  I saw myself celebrating the gifts left upon its grave.  I saw my soul, beaten and left for dead only to have it rise again, stronger in all its broken places.  I saw the ugly face of poverty and want, only to have it step into the light and find beauty there instead.  I saw myself rejected, abandoned, lost.  I saw myself chosen, light coming to my rescue.  I do not walk alone. 

I,  who had left demanding inspiration, had been rewarded.   As I crossed the intersection, I realized that my desperate search for meaning and purpose in the trials of life, has often lead to unnecessary misery.  Meaning and purpose will find me.  I just have to wait and be open to it.  Trying to be something, to force the process gets in the way.  It is only by being, by stepping out of my own way, by taming the ego, my dropping all comparison to others, that I find my personal truth.  Being is hard work because it requires a stillness, an openness and a vulnerability that is frightening in its novelty.  My muses, back from holiday were leading me again. I headed home forgetting to stop for a Sunday paper.  I was walking with my muses.  It was good to feel them again.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Patient Acceptance

A week had passed and I had not walked.  This morning I was almost desperate for some quality Just 10 time with myself.  My armor of optimism took a beating yesterday.  I spent the day in a funk.  Today, I had to walk.  My life felt like it depended on it.

These last few weeks of summer, I have been tried to fill my days with as many things as I can.  I will miss my children when we return to school.   What I really want is to homeschool them but I can't, at least not yet. My son dreads his return to school.  He is getting older and more aware that he isn't like other boys his age.  This last week, when we leave the house, he takes along his favorite stuffed toy.  He can't be convinced that ten-year old boys usually leave such things at home.  The friend, he played with last year will be in a different classroom.  He has told my son, that he will play with his old friends next year but not Andrew.  Of course, Andrew is a fine companion when this young man's family needs a quick babysitter, me.   My daughter surprised me this last week by saying she wants to be homeschooled.  My golden girl, the eternal optimist, the rule-follower, who makes friends easily, says she is bored.

I have to work.    My children are good children.   They need to have their hunger for knowledge awakened or at least renewed.  They need to discover for themselves how fascinatingly interesting the world is. They need to begin to believe how important an education is for them and for the future of the planet.  They need to learn how to think, to reason, to analyze, to question.  They need to learn how to find answers and how to live with the questions that are not easily answered.  But, I have to work.  What I want most, I can not have.  I must find a way to accept that fact, patiently, without bitterness.  I must look for alternatives, for ways to teach them what I feel they need to know in the time we do have together each day.  I need to patient accept that my husband is not committed to the task in the same way I am.  I can not make him into the teacher, I think he could be.  It's out of my control.

Yesterday, acceptance did not come easily.  Today, as I stepped off the miles, I also struggled with what to do about another situation that demands my attention.  I realized that I have an obligation to do what I can to help but that the help may be rejected.  I have to let go of the outcome.  I have to do everything I can but I have to accept what ever happens.  This is a skill which I have yet to master.   I have to learn how to be a diplomatic architect who passes the blueprints to another.

This summer has been as much about parenting myself as it has about parenting my children.  Sometimes the responsibility I feel is overwhelming.  I want to slip away from all the summer chores and be young again.  I want an endless summer.  It is not to be and as summer comes to a close, I grieve the loss. It's time to accept what is.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Saddle Up

Today's Just 10 with the kids had a western theme.  We  left for the library and a handful of errands this morning.   Dad remained at the ranch.  He's tired after the summer roundup and is eager for their return to a more distant pasture, school.  Mostly, I'm going to miss the critters, aka little Mr. A. and Miss S. 

After we saddled up,  I told them we're having a western theme day and that I was going to write about it.  It was brainstorming time, and I needed their ideas.   Little Mr. A talked about what he'd learned last year about the pioneers.  Little Miss S. has some good input as well.  Soon we were discussing the value of a simpler lifestyle and the much more immediate link between work and survival in years past.  Not a bad discussion for a Mama Maverick and her young posse.   We rode high in the saddle, our mode of conveyance rolling across the valley at a fast clip.  Young Miss S. suddenly said,  "I've had a pretty good summer." I thoughtfully add, " I did too."  I asked young Mr. A. how he'd rate his summer.  He replied,  "It was a good one.  I had a good time."

I suddenly share what I think is one of the best things about summer.  "I love riding in a car with the windows down when the weather is hot."  They both add, "I love that too!"  Mr. A. says, "I love the nicer weather"  Miss S. and I both concur.  We forgot about all  about our western theme.  We were enjoying each others company.

Once at the library, we each head different directions.  I've taken the kids along on my library visits since they were babies.  They are comfortable here.  We head out in different directions.  Little Mr. A. is going through a James Bond and supernatural occurrences phase.  Miss S. is eager to find another novel and finish yet another book report entry in the library's summer reading program/contest.  When I try to tell my kids to read, they won't.  If I turn them loose in the library, they'll always find something interesting.   Maybe you can lead a horse to water and the water will look so good, they'll drink without any encouragement.  Looks like the western theme was only hiding behind a few water barrels.

When each of us has their fill of lookin', we find each other easily.  We're ready to saddle up again.  The local general store is our next stop.  It's really Walmart.  It's a sorry thing when your income level forces you to patronize an establishment whose morals offend one's higher sensibilities.  Walmart is a tawdry madam.  She's got the biggest business of its kind in the town.  We know what happens there but we look away.   Once in the House of Big W, me and the younguns split up.  It's so nice that I don't have to watch them every minute anymore.  For the most part,they are well-behaved and polite in public.   They want to try things on their own. They are growing up.  I worry that they'll be too tempted by the allure of the wares here  They'll want things that won't satisfy. Their desire will make them unhappy, cause them to compare themselves to others.   A curse upon the House of Big W. and its evil roll-back prices.

We find each other easily.  We are three magnets, drawn toward our shared DNA.  We are three hungry Vancouverites who find themselves drooling at the deli counter, the very heart of evil in this House of Loose Morals.  We purchase chicken tenders and jojos.  The bargain beef jerky from our stop at Walgrens lays forgotten in our saddle bags.  I suddenly realize that I'm being a bad influence.  I'm not setting a good example.  We're in evil Big W. and we're buying junk to eat.  I'm in need of a good old-fashioned revival meeting.  That and maybe a kick in my trousers or bustle.  I am a lady, after all.  In just a few hours, I've gone from being a good school marm-type mom to sitting down with the devil in the devil's own parlor.  I can almost hear the distant whinny of my horse waiting out front.  Its grown impatient and so have I.

Over head, it is high noon.  We, three riders, head back to the ranch.  Little Mr. A. who minutes earlier was complaining about the work he was afraid would be his upon return, changed his tune.  He's ready to ride.  We load up the groceries, along side the basket of books, and junky lunch fare and head on out.  It's been a good ride.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Today I enjoyed a few hours in the company of good friend, Debbie.  As we scuttled about town foraging for food, I had a few reflective moments.    On a shady, quiet street I sat and watched the trees sway in a gentle summer breeze.  I'd forgotten how much I have always loved trees.  Joyce Kilmer's poem came to mind.  I can't remember why I opened the refrigerator door but I remember a poem by Joyce Kilmer.  Memory is a mysterious thing.

Now, my old friend, Joyce wasn't a poet who wrote complicated poems.  He focused on God and nature and quite frankly compared to some poetic big guns, this guy sounds  like a Hallmark card, an overly sentimental one.  So why, on a beautiful summer day, while watching trees dance with the breeze, do I think of this?

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
Maybe I'm easily pleased by simple poetic rhythms.
So, there, waiting for friend, Debbie, I took my Just 10 time and sat enjoying the trees.  The breeze turned the leaves movement into music.   Filled with appreciation for these stately, green living things, I was amazed by how unique each tree is.  They are like people that way.    Something soon shattered my revelry.  My peaceful moments, remembering sappy poets and getting in touch with some ancient Druid-tree-worshiping tendencies were gone.  The "Interceptor" had arrived.
"Interceptor" is the word that is printed in large letters on the bumper of the meter person's tiny car.  It's a cartoon car.  So it's no surprise when Malibu Barbie pops out.    This young woman, whose resemblance to  Malibu Barbie was quite striking, jumps out of the Interceptor and writes out a ticket.  She tucks in under the wiper blades of an older compact station wagon.  Bouncing back in her tiny car, with a perky wave of her ponytail, she exits stage left.  She narrowly misses the return of the car's driver.  Fortunately for me, I did not miss his return.
At first, I only see his back.  There is much pacing, lots of opening and closing of doors.  I notice something in the back seat of the car.  It's large, stretched out and covered with a blue sheet or tarp.  I note that it's too lumpy for a body.  Trying to guess what else it might be was not easy.  I settled for several folding chairs or a body.  It was so much more exciting that way.   My main character was still opening and closing doors and windows.  There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to my long-haired male's frenzied activity.    At last, he turns to face me.  His shirt hangs open.  His hairy stomach screams a hello.  
Another character arrives on the scene.  An older woman, apparently his mother, strolls into the frame.  He complains about the ticket.  She tells him they only had 20 minutes on the meter.  He gives her the ticket and goes back to his opening and closing of doors.  Finally, he seems to find the thing for which he has searched, the rare and elusive, screwdriver.  He quickly unscrews the license plate  on the back of the car and swaps it out for a new one.
What is he trying to hide, his identity, the body?  Friend, Debbie returns.  I forget about the scene unfolding just across the street.  We are in the car and heading away, when I suddenly remember that I don't know how this story ends.  I look back.  The car with its interesting characters and cargo are gone.  Only the trees remain, moving with the breeze, waiting for the next drama to unfold beneath them. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Go Pick Berries

 "Go pick berries."  This is what the voice in my head told me this morning.  For the first time in a week, I set out for my Just 10 walk.   I was searching for inspiration.  I was desperate to find it.   Two blocks later my leg was  hurting and my stamina was questionable.   This walk wasn't going well.   I labored on until half way down the trail, I suddenly turned and headed back.  I'd been told to go pick berries.  Not just any berries but the fruit of the wild Himalaya berries that populate the old quarry site that sits between home and the trail.     Intrigued by this strange directive,   I hurried home to grab a bucket and a piece of old plywood.  Hurrying out the door, I moved quickly so as not to alert my children.  This was to be a solo quest, my quest.   I forgot about my sore leg, my search for inspiration and was totally absorbed by this odd directive, "Go pick berries."  So pick berries, I did.  Who am I to argue?

By the time I returned to the old pit/field, the sun was high in the sky.  Berry bushes growing tall and wild hug the sidewalk on the edge of the field.  Every day lots of people pass by and yet, the berries here were not picked.  Don't the passersby know they are edible?  Compared to today's cultivated berries, these wild ones are less desirable.  I know the difference between Boysenberries, Evergreens, Logan and Marion berries.  I also know that I will not pay $4 for 6 ozs. of these tasty gems.  Berries, wild and free, were meant for me.

Bucket, in hand, I toss down my section of plywood, making it easier to approach the thorny bushes.  I feel like Ruth on the Survival Show, "Man, Woman, Wild."

As I patiently pluck the ripe fruit from its thorny rampart, I remember picking this same variety of wild berries along the road as a child.  I was my daughters age, picking berries to take home and make into jams and cobbler.    I picked the berries. I made the jam.  I made the cobbler. I'd left my own children at home because I didn't want to hear them complain about the thorns or the heat.  They have been more protected than I.   They didn't know you could eat these berries.  How can that be?   Next time, I will need to put on my patient armor and bring them along on this quest.  They'll never find the Holy Grail if I fail to let them seek it.

As my bucket begins to get heavy, I am joined by an older couple with a younger adult son.  The son who may be in his 30's is quite loud.  I hear his "Ouch, Ouch,Ouch," echo across the field.  Within minutes, he announces, "I have don't have the right kind of shoes on.  I've got to go to the store.  I'll be back."  He disappears before any of his party can protest.  The older woman sits on a folding lawn chair under a hat.  This seems to be a big outing for her.  The older man, bucket in hand picks on, quietly.  He does not yell "ouch" every few minutes.  Nor do I.   I judge the escape artist son, rather harshly.  The old woman in me decides he must be allergic to work.  I forget about my own childrens' allergy to the same thing.  They sometimes surprise me and if they don't. . . well, don't I bear some responsibility?  Shouldn't I be introducing them to work such as this? If I pretended we were making our own survival show, I bet I could capture their interest.  The old lady in me with an ancient and raspy voice croaks,  "It shouldn't be necessary.  Did any body do that for you?  You worked because you were afraid of the consequences if you didn't.  Scare them, threaten them.  Make them."

For a while, I think the old lady is right, especially after seeing a grown man make such a speedy exit when actual work began.  Once again, I think negative things about the son who I'm sure lives in the basement of his parent's house surrounded by comic books and a computer.  I'm a nasty, old lady berry picker who thinks the worst about other people.  I decide to toss my attitude on the ground along with the too ripe berries who don't make the cut.  I step on a few of the loser berries just for the childish pleasure of squishing them underneath my tennis shoes.  I, who has just harshly judged these strangers' son, am squishing berries for no good reason.  Negative thoughts spin around me.  I take the tip of them by the tail, whirl it above my head and toss it into the nearby algae-covered pond.  "Let it go," says the voice in my head.  "Go pick berries."  I go back to the work at hand.  Tossing down my trusty board, making my work easier,  I focus on the berries.  I carefully finger the fruit, ever watchful for the sleepy yellow jacket but I find none.

During my hour or so in the field, I discover that I am applying old knowledge in a new world.   I feel pleased with my technique, with the application of what I know of picking berries from thorny, wild bushes.  This task has taken me back in time and yet. . . so much  is different from when I was a child.   Children who don't know you can eat these berries.  Adult children who aren't able to endure long enough to help aging parents.  The complete absence of nature's pollinators.  Is this really the same world, the same planet?  Or have I been abducted by aliens while I slept.  On some distant earth-like planet in a distant galaxy, maybe I'm some giant alien's plaything.  Just like the Twilight Zone episode we saw as children.

 We loved how it frightened us.  Now, so many years later,  I have outgrown my infatuation with fear.  My thoughts return to my task.  Finally, I have enough.  Many berries remain.

Once home, I take a quick shower.  I rinse the berries.  Pieces of wild oats, assorted dried weeds, and windblown dirt rise to the surface.  My children appear, eager to see what I have in the bucket.  They want to taste them.  They are surprised by the berries flavor, their natural sweetness.  Their mother, who has picked many a berry, brought them something new.  Soon, she will take them to the field.  She'll put a new twist on a very ancient task, that of picking wild berries.  They will take a camera and make a mockumentary survival video.  Something old will become new again.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


What would it take for you to feel passionate about your life?  This was the question I hit my husband with last night during a commercial break in Law & Order: Criminal Intent.    My husband sat quietly, intently pondering my question.  His face did not betray an answer.  He sat, lost somewhere inside himself trying to pull an answer out of thin air.   He had none.   We went back to watching TV.  My question, however,  kept creeping back on the center stage of my own awareness.  How would I answer such a question?  Would finding my passion and naming it out loud be just as difficult?  What does it mean to have a passion for something specific, something that makes time fly, something that you love, something that comes as naturally to you as breathing?  

Intrigued by this simple word "passion", I wanted to know more.   A simple dictionary definition wasn't enough.  Turning to the Online Etymology Dictionary, I found this:

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Down the Mountain

I haven't taken the time to walk lately. My days are full of activity. Escapist tendencies have begun to trouble me. I've been writing about escape and denial, because I've been busy cloaking myself in them. I've been on the mountain top, life transfigured by larger concepts and ideas. It's time to return to the valley. Real life awaits. I am not eager to make the descent. Enlightenment can be a fleeting thing. It's easy to fall back into old habits and bad patterns. Wisdom is a great gift. You can sound like Yoda at dinner parties. Living wisely, putting knowledge to it's best use, that remains a challenge.

Leaving the mountaintop is hard. Parenting is hard. Helping my family find a balance is hard. Sprinkle this with my husband's unemployment and the almost certain loss of the house, it's no wonder I'm eager to find another plain to live upon. Yesterday, I wrapped my battered stamina in a huge bowl of cookie dough.

There are days when cookie dough is a salve to my tired soul. I get sidetracked in games of denial and avoidance. I do not want to leave the mountain and return to my challenging life. I want to pitch a tent, sit around with the transfigured and solve the world's problems from a distance. I want all the benefits but none of the heartache. Real life doesn't play like that.

Last night, I enjoyed the movie, Eat, Pray, Love with friends. The movie was a good chick flick but I left with a slight shroud of disappointment draped around my shoulders. There seemed to be an altering of the facts in order to make a neat and marketable commodity. Many of the stores are riding on the movie's release, using it as a marketing ploy to advertise some exotic knickknack or piece of furniture. The publisher has re-released the book with Julia Roberts on the cover. I'm happy for Elizabeth Gilbert's success. I love her writing style, her ability to use the raw material of her life to make art, genuine art. World Market, or Pier 1 ad's I do not love. I can not love the movie. It made her life too large, too neat.

I know that most people would not be eager to see a movie or read a book, that has loose ends, threads of story that seem to lead no where. We don't tolerate prolonged uncertainty or unfinished business especially in a book or movie. We want life to be neat, packaged beautifully and sitting there with a huge bow waiting just for us to open it. We'll deny, ignore, lie to ourselves and others all in a vain attempt to keep our lives manageable and understandable. Some of us fill our lives with unnecessary drama, in order to feel important or alive, but even this drama is given a place and purpose. It's moving our story forward. Each of us wants desperately to remain the author of our lives. Everything we see, everything we experience is passed through this filter. When something unexpected or unpredictable happens, we struggle to come to terms with it, to frame it neatly. We are desperate to make sense out of life, to find and understand our story and them become the central character, the hero or heroine or sometimes the villain. It really doesn't matter as long as it's our story.

I may be more guilty of this than others. My days are alive with potential stories. I often write about them from a mountain top. I filter out the raw and less refined elements. I want things to be tidy, neat. Imposing my understanding over the hodgepodge happenstance of my life, I press down a grid so that I can connect the most distant points with an almost mathematical precision. Writers, artists, help us see purpose and meaning in life. They inspire, scold, caution, entertain. They manipulate the raw materials, trimming away the unnecessary, the pieces that just don't seem to fit.  Our real lives are almost always filled with these odd pieces. We struggle to accept them. I struggle to accept them. I can't live on the mountain top forever. Real life is calling.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Riddle of the Pear Pie

This sounds like the title for a tale of mystery. There may be some mysterious elements. For years, it was the greatest mystery to me. How did the pieces of my life fit together? My life felt like a jig saw puzzle and I couldn't put enough of the pieces together to make a picture. What connected the odd and seemingly disparate episodes? Today, as I enjoyed a much needed Just 10 walk, I knew how to help explain the mystery. The solution can be found in a singular circular dish of summer-flavored perfection, my mom's pear pie.

I can never remember a childhood summer that wasn't punctuated by this pear pie. I often would ask for it instead of cake for my birthday. I'd head off to the orchard on top of the hill, braving the summer heat and the yellowjackets that were busy feasting on the fruit, so I could harvest the best pears. Bartlett pears, a perfect golden yellow, warmed by the sun, so ripe that all I had to do was cup my ready hands beneath them and with a gentle nudge, they would drop like blessings from above. At home, mom would peel the pears, the paring knife gliding through the ripe fruit with such ease and ability. I would stand to watch the performance as she readied the pears to meet their destiny, the pear pie. These pears, this pie possessed a certain magic. Even now, I can not remember this delicious treat without seeing a certain slant of summer light, without smelling the smoke of a distant field burn fire, or without hearing the slam of the back porch screen door.

These golden memories often stand in sharp contrast with memories much less golden, memories that sometimes cut like a knife, awkward, frenzied slashes that left giant holes in the fabric of my life. For years, the many parts of my life were broken pieces. I had no glue, no way to put them back together. I didn't know how they fit and the biggest part of me didn't want to solve the mystery. I wanted to hold on to the jagged, broken pieces. I wasn't ready to let go. I wasn't prepared to see. Being broken felt like all I had. I was afraid to be whole.

During these years, I'd also lost the recipe to the pear pie. It seems that I could not complete the circle without it. Making this pear pie did lie in the future. Time began to reveal what had been so mysterious. I was the fruit of the past. Everything contributed something toward my growth, toward what I had become. Years of blight and drought had been replaced by life nurturing years. They did not cancel out the bad years. They did leave me with an appreciation for the good. I'd called my mom for the recipe again. I was making something whole out of the pieces.

I have learned that everyone I meet carries broken pieces of themselves inside. Sometimes, they are eager to share these pieces. Other times, they do everything they can to hide them. Something whole is forming out of all the elements, despite all our fears. We are broken and whole at the same time. I have come to the table and eaten pear pie again and again. I may make another tomorrow. Pear Pie is one of life's blessings. Enjoy it with me.

Here the address to the page on my cookbook that contains this recipe. (You'll have to cut and paste if you want to get to it. The link function is not working.) It's very easy. The crust can often be too soggy and I sometimes play with the proportions of the ingredients. Yet, it always tastes good despite any flaws.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The River Called Denial

Being a participant in several heavy conversations lately, has left me longing to set sail on the river named, Denial. I haven't had my Just 10 time. It's hard to find the calm center. My children and the dog have spent the last few days following me around the house, talking. Oh, how they can talk. While I am very glad they like to talk to me, today I wish I could appreciate their words. I cannot. I'm suffering from a severe case of chatter overload. I have temporarily lost the ability to listen. I need my thinking time. Just 10, take me away.

Sometimes, shutting out the world is necessary. Especially, when the "world has been too much with us soon and late." I set sail on the Denial river like Huck Finn set sail on the Mississippi. Sooner or later, I'll come back home. I know this river well. I know it's name, it's currents, it's eddies. I recognize all the landmarks as I float by on my raft. Using an old pole to steer, I hug the shore. Young and tan, no concern for appearances, the world is full of potential. I leave care behind. I am free.

There on the raft, I leave the shore and head for the center of the river. This old river gently carries my raft in its currents. I lay down under the summer sky. I watch the clouds drift overhead. Cloud threads trace my path as I float below. I fall into a deep and lazy sleep.

Slowly, I awake to the distant sound of a sternwheeler, churning up the river. I understand that the time of floating free is now over. It's time to head back to safer waters. I dive off the raft and swim toward the closest bank. I saw a town a few miles back. It will be a good place to hitch a ride home.

Return home, I must. Problems await, noise, chatter, other people's needs, my own. These things define me. I am lost without them. As much as I want to run away forever, to sail on this strange, yet familiar river, I know that my days of sailing are numbered. After all, even Huck didn't float forever. He was bound by a story. A beginning, a middle and an end gave him being, substance, if only in the mind of a reader. In my mind, he is as real as my river called Denial. They both have their place. I need them both in my life. Huck to inspire me, to capture truths about human existence in subtle and delightful ways. And my river, Denial? It has its purpose, too. It helps me cope. It suspends reality and the heavy burden of problems, for just a while. They'll be waiting for me when I return to shore. Sometimes, when I least expect it, under a pale blue sky, in that lazy river, solutions fall like rain. I love this old river. It has served me well.

Monday, August 16, 2010

If Wishes Were Horses

When I was still at home, my mother went through a phase that I called the platitude phase. Yes, I was a sassy thing despite outside appearances. When I would start on a rant about what I wished for, my mother would often respond as if she were a cross between Jiminy Cricket and the Buddha, with these words: "Carol, if wishes were horses than beggars would ride."

I pretended that it really annoyed me. After all what's a young adolescent to do? I'd pretend to number my mother's favorite responses and fire back, "That's number 157. You used that last week. How about something new?" I told you I was sassy. I'm not proud of it now and I wasn't then. I actually like the poetic sound of the words, "If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride." It might be the the iambic pentameter rhythms these words possess. It might be their slightly archaic syntax as they spill off the tongue. Or it just might be the wisdom they carry. Magestic, riderless horses, the personification of a wish.

These words, these riderless horses, wild stallions roaming freely on the plains of desire, delight me even more now. I think of them at the oddest moments. They bring an odd comfort, a comfort I don't yet fully comprehend. The implication is and always has been, that I am the beggar. Yet, being the beggar does not offend or make me a lesser person. It is a simple statement of fact. I am the beggar no matter what I wish.

Yesterday, trapped inside the cool house by the intense heat, we watched a marathon of survival shows. They captured our interest for hours. Left alone (if you ignore the fact that a camera crew surely exists)in the wilderness, these "survivors" make do with the little they have. One of the survival stars wore a t-shirt that said simply, "the more you know the less you need." This made me think of the horses that are wishes. Maybe the more you know, the less you wish for is also true. Maybe, you begin to embrace the beggar and enjoy watching the wild wish horses as they run free in a high and distant meadow.

As a child, I'm sure my rabid wishing sometimes drove my mother to distraction. I wanted so much. I wanted to enjoy and taste it all. I didn't want to be confined by lack of money, or talent, or even by a sense of purpose. I, as a child, stood on the threshold of the world's candy store. I wanted in.

Now, that I've eaten my fill of candy. I do not want more. Instead, I want to step away from the candy store, find a nice spot under a shady tree and enjoy the horses from a distance. "If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride." I love the sound of that.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Heaven Pennies

A few mornings ago, my Just 10 walk was haunted by this tune. I'd heard that every time you find a penny on the street, someone in heaven is thinking about you. So when my children were still very small, we started looking for Heaven Pennies. Over the years we've found enough to fill an old sugar jar. While I seriously doubt that a particular coin was placed in our path by a specific person who has gone before us, heaven pennies do seem to appear when they are needed most. One especially dark day was brightened by the discovery of 38 pennies in a Dollar Store parking lot. I've learned not to question the serendipity of such occurrences.

On my recent walk, I was eager to find a Heaven Penny. My eyes searched the trail before me. There were no coins. I did find a pair of mens sunglasses by the side of the road. They were still in good condition. I took them home to my husband. He was happy with my find. While I was looking for pennies, heaven sent something else. This appears to be the anthem of my life.

Right now, a lot of people near to my heart are struggling with dark times. I would love to wave the magic wand of happiness and serenity over them. I cannot. In their pain, I often have to face my own. After years of living and struggling to make peace with the pain within, I have learned many things. Some things are not meant to be taken away easily. Pain and struggle are two of them. They are two things that shape our character and refine our souls. Happiness and success will never do as fine a job. I cannot prove this to you. I certainly can't prove this to the friends and loved ones that are having a hard time right now. Yet, I know this to be the truth. I'll stake my life on it.

This morning when I sat down to write about Heaven Pennies. I opened a folder on my desk. On the top of the pile of assorted newspaper clippings, magazine articles and notes, there sat this old clipping.

I Asked God

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve.
I was made weak, that I might learn to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy.
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life.
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for--but everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all men, most richly blessed.

This poem by an unknown author was my Heaven Penny today. I share it with you. Do not lose hope. You were born to have a wonderful life. When things feel the darkest, great work is being done. There is great work going on within you. The only way out is through. Hope. Believe. What is on the other side will amaze you.

The credit for the song, Pennies from Heaven goes to:
"Pennies from Heaven" is a 1936 American popular song with music by Arthur Johnston and words by Johnny Burke. It was introduced by Bing Crosby in the 1936 film of the same name.
Thanks to Wikipedia.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Why I Had Children

Yesterday, the kids and I were going to make a quick trip to the grocery store.  I asked my daughter if what I had on looked ok.  She said, "Sure.  You look fine."  Then I asked my son.  He said,  "No offense, Mom but if you wear that you're going to look like the people in Walmart."  I knew he was right.  My daughter scolded him.  "Geez, do you want to hurt her feelings?"  This was the farthest thing from his mind.  He was telling the truth as he saw it.  I can count on him to tell me what he really thinks.

My daughter is sunshine and rainbows.  She is naturally kind and positive.  My son is often the exact opposite.  While my daughter builds me up with gracious and socially correct statements, Little Mr. A. helps me face reality head on.  Sometimes it feels like a head-on collision.  Yet, once I've gotten over the daze of impact, I can usually deal with the wreckage in a timely and efficient manner.  When it comes to my children, I got exactly what I ordered and more.  I wanted a boy and a girl.  Little did I know that their very different temperaments would be such a gift. 

To keep things interesting, they occasionally reverse roles.  The polite child has the tantrum.  The pessimist is hopelessly funny.  There is no resting on one's laurels in parenthood, especially with these two.  I'm convinced that parenting is not for the faint of heart.  Having children is the best thing and the worst thing thing I've ever done.  It forever changed my life.  It has broken me and I couldn't be more delighted about being broken.

When my daughter was just a baby, the one thing that I hated most about being a mom was being interrupted while eating.  I was like a crazed dog at a dish, convinced that this meal was my last supper.  I'd never eat again.  In those hard first few months, when lack of sleep and exhaustion was turning me inside out,  I'd sometimes cry with frustration that my child always needed something from me while I was eating.  Now, it is hard for me to imagine this ever bothered me.  As of August 2010, I've been interrupted while eating so many times, I don't even think about it.    Now, I struggle to get used to not being interrupted.  I sometimes forget that we've entered a new phase.  Today, I need to encourage my children to do as much for themselves as possible so they can learn how to take care of their needs on their own.  It's part of my job as a parent.

Actually, parenting is more than a job for me.  It's really my career.  I hesitate to put that in print, lest I be thought strangely old-fashioned or unenlightened.  It is true.  All the jobs I've held over the years, have just been jobs.   They have never been a work that fueled my passion, my imagination, and challenged my endurance the way that being a mom has.  Being a mom is the work of my heart.  I really think it is the work I've always been destined to do.

I don't mean to imply in any way, that I'm a perfect mom.  I'm content if I can just be good enough.  Still, I consider myself a "professional mom" because in motherhood I have found my passion.   Nothing in my life has ever felt as right as having children.  Labor and delivery was a wonderful miracle and I was a part of it. Even in those hard, first few months of infancy, when I struggled to regain some sense of normalcy again, I never doubted that having children was the right thing to do.    How do I know this?  Well, when I want to give up, I do not.  They count on me.  I am their example.  I must put resilience and perseverance into action.  No matter what I may say or write, none of it will mean a thing in their eyes if I fail to live it.  This is the hardest job I've ever had but it is also the most rewarding.

I returned from my Just 10 walk this morning.  I put a roast in the slow cooker, hung up a load of laundry, slipped a pear pie into the oven, directed Dad to help get the boy  to start a load of his own laundry, checked on every ones progress and sat down to write.  Being a mom is the vocation I was meant to live.  It has been filled with sacrifice, frustration and disappointment.  I has also given me the greatest joy and meaning I have ever known.   My children help me keep it real.  I can't thank them enough.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Love's Labor

The sky started spitting rain on me during my Just 10 walk.  I looked down at my feet to keep the rain off my glasses.  Overhead, a small squadron of geese flew.  They mate for life.  Why is it that at least half the human married couples do not?  Maybe it's because marriage is hard work.  This I know from experience. 

I don't often write about my marriage.  Much of it must remain private.  It is a complicated relationship.  Our marriage, any marriage isn't all hearts and flowers.  Marriage is morning breath.  It's silly arguments and tears.  It's big arguments and more tears.  It's hard work.  Take a marriage.  Add a child or two and you've geometrically increased the odds for trouble.   Compromise, sacrifice, surrender become daily occurrences.  Your significant other looks less like a knight in shining armor and more like a scruffy hobo, a hobo begging for things you don't want to give.  You toss a dirt clog in his cup.

You are in the crucible of marriage.  You want the other to change, to be what you want them to be but the wanting doesn't change a thing.  You must make a decision.  You must do the changing.  It is in this changing that the real growth and beautiful of marriage takes place.  It is a difficult place to reach, even more difficult to endure the changing.  This is probably why so many people give up.  I truly believe there are marriages that should end, a partnership  that does more damage than good.  Ending such a relationship is a positive and healthy thing.  I also believe that many of us give up too easily.  There have been many a time when I was ready to "saddle up and ride off into the sunset alone."  I'd struggle to pull the horse back into the corral and lead her into the barn to "think about things overnight."  In the morning, I'd decide to stay just a little longer.  The years have passed and I remain.  I remain because every day I make the choice to stay.  Every day I say, "I do."

In that choice, I've found many things.  I'm a better person thanks to my husband and the process of continual refinement that takes place inside a marriage.  I'm like an agate, hidden under rock layers, waiting to be tumbled into a beautiful stone.  I still resist this process of refinement.  Occasionally, I find myself entering the land of hate or an extreme dislike.  Fortunately, I know that these emotions are not the opposite of love.  They are love's dark side.  It is indifference that kills a marriage.  If the energy to hate remains, it is because underneath it all, love or at least the memory of love is still hiding.  When a negative firestorm such as this hits, I know to wait it out and then survey what remains when the flames die down.  In the scorched landscape, there are signs of life and growth.  I begin again.  We begin again.

Marriage is more than hard work, rock tumblers or firestorms.  My marriage is often about spending time with a best friend.  It's finding human comfort in a harsh world.  It's about having someone in my corner, watching my back.  It's about being part of a team and uniting to benefit the children with a mutual show of force or of love, depending on the needs of the situation.  It's about sharing a life with someone, someone who is helping you grow and change and become a much better person just for their being in it and sharing their life with you.  Marriage is not all hearts and flowers.  It is so much more.  Thank you, husband, Big Mr. A.  I love you. 

Monday, August 9, 2010

Cherish Life

Morning's cold hand rudely woke me this morning.  I'd that been dreaming that we lived in a huge old farmhouse with a great lawn, a beautiful garden and huge orchard.  We had a party and we were just bidding the last of the guests good bye.  I was so tired.  I lay down on a white wicker summer couch with wonderfully soft cushions and start to doze.  The last of the party goers leans down and gives me a kiss on the cheek.  I wake, only slightly, to mumble a goodbye and air kiss the check next to mine.  Then, real morning slaps me awake.

I stagger out to the kitchen.  Two children and a dog come rushing toward me.  I feel like a bear who has just awakened from a long winter slumber.  I yawn.  I stretch.  Suddenly, I hear the roar of a freight train.  I look down at my hind paws.  I'm standing on railroad tracks.  There is no time to jump out of the way.  The train named Hyperactive Chaos strikes me.  I caution real bears not to try this.  Real bears can be killed by trains.  Metaphorical trains will leave you dazed and painfully alive.  I  growl a quiet "Good morning." I know better than to fight against my fate.  I pass out hugs and pets accordingly.

After breakfast, I don't want to go for a walk.  I push myself out the door.  Soon a random line pops into my head.  "Cherish the life you have been given because the only way out is through."   I'm not sure I like the sound of this but decide to let it become my walking mantra.  It's too awkward sounding.  It doesn't flow into the rhythm my feet desperately need.  I shorten it to: "Cherish life."  My inner bear snorts but knows the rhythm is right.

My mind wanders.  Apparently, I want to be grumpy this morning.  The words "cherish life" make that difficult.  I reel my mind back in and get it back on track.  It's soon off hiding in the bushes.  "Cherish life, cherish life."  I start to ponder the timing of this phrases appearance.  My daughter and I had just decided  to experiment with vegetarianism.  For phase one, we eat no red meat.  We both object to the horrible way that so many animals are treated in the massive stockyards.  A few large corporations supply most of the nations grocery stores.  The animals are not treated humanely.  So different from the livestock, I'd seen as a child.  Our milk cow was just as much beloved pet as she was a source of milk.  Cattle owned by relatives enjoyed lives in sunny pastures.  They took shelter in roomy barns.  The same was true of hogs, goats and chickens.  They had rather interestingly lives, wandering about pastures or barnyards.  I never saw any one treat them with cruelty or indifference.  "Cherish life" begins to take on new levels of meaning.

It wasn't long and I was hit with a meaning that was very close to the center of my heart.  I remembered dark times in my life when I did not cherish the life I was given.  I remembered moments when I struggled with fatal choices.  In those darkest hours,  I was always stopped by a voice that roared so loudly I was sure that the world heard it.  "Your life is a gift.  It is not yours to end.  Live it."  Often irreverant and rebellious, I knew when I had to obey.  I  cherished my life by not making a fatal choice.  It took time before my heart felt like I'd done the right thing.  My soul was trapped in the dark.  I was chained to a proclamation that I sometimes hated, "Cherish your life.  It is a gift."  Yet, it was these words that saved me.

They save a part of me on a grumpy summer morning.  I've been busy cursing myself out for walking so fast and hard that I made my back hurt.  It telegraphs messages of pain down my legs.  I slow slightly and begin to repeat the tired line that I can not escape, "Cherish life, cherish life, cherish life."  Finally, the walking gets easier.  I forget about my sore back and aching legs.  The dark cloud that hovered round my heart suddenly lifts slightly.  I feel happiness peak out from behind a bush ahead on the trail.  I hear the song of a bird, the rustle of the leaves when touched by the breeze.   I meet two moms pushing strollers.  We all smile and say, hello.  I walk on and finally greet my morning, " Hello life. Today, I'm going to cherish you, whether I like it or not.  Life and everything in it is a gift.  I may not like the wrapping.  I may not always like the present but I need to be respectful to the giver of these gifts.  It's the right thing to do.  The only way out is through. Today I will cherish my life." 

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Cautionary Tale

Once upon a time, three people go for a morning walk.  Four, if you count one walker's alter ego, the Evil Queen.  But back to our story.  One is a 12-year-old girl.  The second is a 10-year-old boy and the third is their mother who will soon be 52.  (This was not an ordinary Just 10 walk and you'll soon discover why.)  The 12-year old girl wants to ride her bike.  She soon discovers that the bike seat keeps turning to the right.  She pedals ahead, standing up.  When she is about a football field away, she stops and waits for the two walkers to reach her.  The mother can live with this.  It is the boy that makes the walk unpleasant.

Before leaving the house for their walk, the boy decides to outfit himself in full character regalia.  The mother guesses that in his mind he is Anakin Skywalker but she is not sure.  The light saber is a clue that his mind is hosting a Star Wars adventure this morning but he may not be Anakin.  He will soon display some very non-heroic behavior. Mom is confused.   The die had been cast when the boy had insisted on wearing a polar fleece-lined vest, long sleeve shirt and long pants.  Outside the morning temperature was in the mid-70's.  Humidity was high. 

The mother tells her son to take off the vest.  He whines and insists.  She assumes the role of Evil Queen.  She sees what will soon occur without need of a crystal ball or evil tell-all mirror.  No poison apple or devious spell is needed to teach this child a lesson.  Reality will do that on its own.  The Evil Queen, voice smooth as silk, purrs a reply,  "Ok, wear the vest."  She smiles a sinister smile.  The walk begins.

Within a very short time, the boy starts to lag behind.  Mother is walking at a fast pace.  The girl pedals ahead.  Behind the boy wilts.  At first, he tries running to catch up.  He fatigues very quickly.  The evil Queen enjoys the irony.  A 10-year-old boy can't keep up with his clinically obese, almost 52-year-old, mother.  Something seems so wrong with this that the Evil Queen is especially pleased.

She tells the boy to take off his vest.  This time, he quickly obeys.  He whines,  "What am I going to do with it?  She proclaims, "You get to carry it.  You insisted on wearing it.  It is your responsibility."  This is the beginning of the end.  His spirit is broken and the energy to continue is gone.  All three reverse course. The Evil Queen is beginning to get annoyed.  The boy has ruined a perfectly good walk.  He has also made a Just 10 walk impossible.  She had held a flicker of hope that quality time could be found this morning despite the polar-fleece vest and a stubborn boy.  Neither, he nor the Evil Queen is in the right mental space to give each other positive attention.  The Evil Queen clings to the idea of the lesson.   She quizzes the boy, "What would you do differently the next time?"  He pants a quick reply laden with pathos, "I'd stay home", he says while sitting on the sidewalk.

The Evil Queen disappears.  A sad mom has taken her place.  This wasn't really what she wanted.  She wanted the boy to say that he wouldn't wear a vest next time.  It seems that the Evil Queen was too busy seeking vindication.  Maybe if the mom had been in charge and exercised a bit more compassion while still guiding the boy to learn from his choices, well maybe, he would have said, "I'd leave the vest at home."  The mother ponders this.  The ten-year old boy may not be much of a walker.  He is, however, a master at generating a feeling of guilt in those around him.  It's a defensive posture.  He finds it very difficult to bear the burden of responsibility for his own choices.  This is not ideal but it is a part of who he is.  It is all part of his Ground Zero.  It is the place where the feet hit the trail, the rubber meets the road and the proverbial waste hits the fan.  It must be accepted before going on.  He is stuck sitting on the trail in a heap of self-pity and disgust.  The Evil Queen has been victorious.  The mother has learned from the error of the Evil Queen's ways.  Mother wants to harness the power of the Evil Queen for the forces of goodness.

Mother knows that tomorrow is another day.  Just 10 requires that the Evil Queen be banished from the land. A search party looks for her.  She seems to have disappeared, at least for now.  Upon returning home, mother tells the boy to take a shower.  She says, "It will make you feel better."  The tiny guardian of the castle,  the wee little dog, greets the three with much affection.  The Guardian has spent 30 minutes without their collective presence.  It seems like an eternity.  The lights of her life have returned.   They take turns showering, washing the residue of unpleasantness off each of them in turn.  The Evil Queen and the faithful Guardian have taught the mother a lesson.  All is not lost.  The three walkers, travelers on the trail, have come home.  They will try again tomorrow.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Just 10 with My Son

Lately, many a day has gone by and I've missed giving my children their Just 10.  The side effect of this neglect has been apparent in their behavior, especially visible in my son.  He's been a royal pain in the gluts.

So yesterday, while driving over to a nearby town to drop off a job application, I took him along.  Just 10 time was long over due.  The child who has been the master of non-compliance was a perfect gentleman.  No sulking or misbehaving.  When he talked, he sounded much older than his ten-years of age.  We were two people having a good time together, talking, listening.  I wasn't mom and he wasn't troublesome child.  We just were.  It was almost  magical.  So hard to believe than I've spent the last two weeks, trying to mentally escape his whining and temper tantrums by crawling inside my own head and shutting the door.

When my children were much younger and I felt like I was getting dangerously close to becoming an abusive parent, I would load up the double stroller, pop them in their car seats and head off for somewhere really public.  I knew that I would be a better parent under the watchful eye of strangers.  They, in turn, were usually model children probably for a lot of the same reasons I was pretending to be a model mom.  The eyes of the world were watching.

Being in the public view is a bit of a slippery  slope.  Big A. and I just watched this bizzarre documentary about this internet mogul-genius, crazy guy, who created a weird bunker in NYC with cameras everywhere streaming the goings-on to the internet public.  That turned into a total disaster.  Then he goes on to stream his life with girlfriend.  He even put cameras in the toilet.  As you might guess, that relationship didn't last long.  I'm still trying to shake a few of the images out of my head.  No body needs to share everything with everyone.

I still think some sharing can be healthy or at least helpful.  Bloggers often are criticized for their "airing it all."  Some of that criticism is deserved.  Yet, today during my Just 10 walk, I realized that this blog is helping me be a better person.  I have often kept a journal but the writing was very different from what I share here.  It was for my eyes only.  As such, it often degenerated into a pity-party or diatribe.   I was the perpetually confused Don Quixote jousting at windmills.  My journals weren't all bad.  I did learn a lot about myself but the writing wasn't anything special.  When I reread them I was a bit bored.   I'm much more emotionally invested in this blog because it is read by others.  I'm also much more invested in living up to what I write about here.  I've set the bar and I'd better reach for it.

Often, as I go through my day, I'm looking for fodder for my blog.  I try to elevate the commonplace, the simple conversation or every day experience to a higher plain.  On this plain, I begin to get a better focus.  I catch a glimpse of how important the simple things are, like having a good conversation and a pleasant afternoon with my son.  I understand how important it is to acknowledge one's love for another with concrete action.  From this vantage point,  I can see how important it is for me to share this with others so that I am motivated to behave.

Does that mean that I never felt like smacking my children or running away to Canada to begin life as a spinster librarian?  No, it does not.  I have and I will again.  The difference is that when I force myself to acknowledge my fatal flaws, I begin to see that I am not alone and that there is something much bigger at stake.  Through the eyes of others, I find parts of myself, some of the best parts.  After all, I'm not an island.  Neither am I Jerry-Springer-guest material.  I've still got some pride and dignity left.  I'm determined to behave myself.  People are watching.  The two most important observers are my children.  I've got to be a good example, especially when I feel most like perusing that Canadian librarian fantasy.

I blog on because it helps me behave myself.  Dear readers, thank you for helping me be a better person. My quality of life depends upon it.  I hope that once in a while, you see a piece of yourself in my ramblings.  We are not islands unto ourselves.  We are all in this together.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

My Sacred Ground

Today, as I left from my Just 10 walk, I decided it was time to pray and ask for something specific like, "God send money, ASAP."  Part of me is embarrassed to admit that I pray all the time, often on my walks. Although, I bet some of you have already figured this out.  I've always been very protective of my relationship with the Big G. for two reasons.

1.) Developing a close relationship with God was my way of surviving, the relationship with God that was being forced on me from outside. Confused?  I was.  My poor mother was blessed and cursed with me as her first child.  I was spirited and full of scathingly brilliant ideas which I often tried in real time and space.  She tried to control my behavior by telling me how bad I was and how God and His angels were keeping tabs on me.  They had a giant book filled with bright white pages and every time I did something bad, they'd make an ugly black mark.  My book was said to be covered with marks. This was the stuff of nightmares to an imaginative child.  I soon coped with the fear by finding the child, Jesus out in the cow pasture.  He was the best imaginary friend a girl ever had.  We often played for hours. 

Little J. assured me that my mom had it all wrong.  She didn't mean to be so scary.  She was scary because she was scared.  He told me that a lot of people misunderstand God.  God isn't about fear and doing things because one is afraid not to.  God is about love.  I thought Little J. was really smart.  Part of me believed him but it took a long time before I was able to believe him with all my heart.  I spent years motivated by fear.  The memory of these early conversations with God have never left me.  When I no longer saw my imaginary friend, he remained only a thought away.  I protected my relationship with God by not telling anyone.  I didn't want anyone to take Him away.  Please note, I use the masculine pronoun because it's easy for me.  Personally, I know that God is He, She and It but it just doesn't sound as nice to the good Catholic girl in me.

2.)  My relationship with God has always seemed a bit abnormal.  My God has a sense of humor, remarkably like mine.  It is often irreverent, counter cultural and probably more than a little odd.  I've believed that everyone carries a piece of God deep in their hearts.  When in the first grade, Sister Some One said that, "If you're not Catholic, you'll go to Hell."  I talked it over with God and we concluded that she was sadly mistaken.  I told God I was worried about those Hindus in India who we were told were worshiping cows.  God laughed and said that they have just as good a chance of getting into heaven as the next guy.  That worked for me.  Over the years, I've met agnostics who are better Christians than most Christians I know.  I don't know if I've ever met an atheist.  Maybe, I need to expand my circle.  Oh, and as far as Sister Someone was concerned, by second grade Vatican II had us switch to coloring pictures of saints and talking about peace and love.  No more memorization of black and white answers.  God was now found in a box of crayolas.

So this morning, I pray and I ask for something specific, "Help, please send MONEY."  I read recently that you will never get anything from God if you don't ask, so ask I did.  I heard God laugh.  Over the years, I've learned not to ask God for much.  He usually says, "No, I've got something better in mind."  Occasionally, I've spent years pouting over that answer, trying to give God the silent treatment.  God is patient if He is anything.  He always waits out my hissy fits.  This morning God asks, "What happened to "My will be done? You know I'm not Santa Claus."  God is referring to my Santa Claus theory.  Long ago, I observed that some people treat God like He's some Heavenly Santa, just waiting to pull their request out of His big red bag.  It was always too simple a theory for a complicated me.  I was sure God was even more complicated and that my approaching God and sitting on his lap asking for things wasn't going to fly.  He's got me.

"Okay", I say and switch the channel.  I hear Paul McCartney sing the chorus from "Let It Be."  "Very funny, God. It plays over and over while I keep walking.  I spot a t-shirt on the side of the trail.  It looks like an XLG.  I'm hoping it might fit my significant other.  It's torn almost in two but it will make a good rag.  The image of a temple curtain torn in two on Good Friday pops into my head.  "Geez!"  I sigh, "always with these scriptural allusions."  I smile inside at my Yiddish inflection.  Soon, I meet my well-groomed dog walker.  The dogs remember me and strain against their leases to come say hi.  I take pity on the man who is trying to gently get them to keep walking.  I don't stop even though I just want to play with the puppies.  "Let It Be, Let It Be."

From behind me I hear the whirl of bike sprockets.  My Mormon missionaries with neckties are here to greet me again.  I don't stop but say,  "Hi, you two stop me almost every morning."  They reply, "How are you today?"  I say, "Great" and keep walking.  I tell them, "Keep up the good work.  I'm sure there is some one out there who needs to talk to you."  They get the message and pedal on.  Inside, I feel a little sorry for them.  They don't have an easy job.   They've gotten to be such a familiar sight on the trail that if I don't see them, I feel that I'm missing something.  I remember that I've got to get back to begging for God's help but  familiar faces keep meeting me.  The couple who walk together.  I swear that he must have been a farmer who sold his farm and retired on the money.  He's got a small, neat house in the suburbs.  He likes to go fishing.  Then there is the man with his elderly but spry mother.  They walk every day and look so much alike.  There is the woman with the short hair cut.  She always wears the same work out clothes.  They look expensive.  There are a couple of familiar runners, ear buds pumping sound into their heads.  They don't smile or even acknowledge the presence of other humans on the trail.   For a moment, I envy their concentration, then realize they are missing out on connecting with their fellow travelers.  I feel sorry for them instead.

God interrupts.  I forgot He was still on the line.  "Did you see Me in their faces?" He asks.  I pause, "Yes, yes, I did."  I give up controlling my thoughts and trying to focus on praying. I'm not doing a good job.  I decide to spend some time just listening.  There are few words in this space that I've carved in my soul but I know that God is there.  I feel happy despite all the uncertainty in my life.  Whether or not, God sends money isn't important.  I decide that I need to write about this despite my own hesitancy to put so much of my prayer life on the line for all to see.  I'd rather have my big bloomers flapping on a clothes line out in the front yard.  God tries to tell me,  "It's no big deal."  I really don't to talk about my "sacred ground.

My sacred ground isn't very pretty.  It's an abandoned field in a bad part of the city.  It's covered with dirt and gravel.  Patches of weeds are everywhere.  There is a lot of broken glass. Street people use parts of it for a restroom.  Off to the side, lies the rusty pieces of an old bike.   The sprocket has spokes bent in strangely elegant angles.  This is the place where my God intersects with my world.  It's not pretty.  It seems to lack potential.  I'm more than a bit embarrassed by how it all looks and yet, I don't want anyone to take it away.  There is a beauty here, when I remember how to find it.  In the very back of this abandoned, empty lot there is a small corner with a view, a view into something beautiful beyond description.  The only way to catch a glimpse of it is to make my way through the weeds and broken glass, past the bike sprocket and beyond.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Peace Treaty

On my Just 10 walk, a bug flew into my ear.  Inside, my head the klaxon sounded, "Intruder Alert."  I didn't need any intruders this morning.   I was earnestly working on a peace treaty between my inner witch and the resident, I-want-to-taste-it-all hedonist.  They seemed to have started fighting in deadly earnest before I woke up this morning. 

 Before my feet touched the floor, my inner witch was firing at me.  She lives inside a dark, inner turret of terror and has been there for as long as I can remember.   She spends her time firing critical volleys at my self-confidence, my chubby hedonist, my maternal instincts and anyone or anything.  Nothing is safe.  This morning, she is vicious.  "What's wrong with you? Getting up at 9:20.  You've got lots of things to do.  You are so lazy."  I quickly dive into a fox hole.  There in the trench is my chubby hedonist.  "Hi, there,"  she purrs.  "Let's talk breakfast.  You've got that wonderful artisan bread you just baked and don't forget the oatmeal cookies you defrosted.  Just think of how that bread will taste, toasted, spread with butter so that it melts in all the nooks and crannies.  You must top it with homemade strawberry jam."  I jump out of the trench, braving the hail of the witches' taunts and race to the kitchen. 

Two cookies and toast with jam later, the witch is firing like a crazy woman.  Taking off  for my walk, I duck out the door hoping to leave her behind.  She's flying right behind me.  The  chubby hedonist jumps on my back so she doesn't have to exert herself.  The two of them are driving me crazy.  At first the witch is quite persuasive.  She often speaks truth or at least pieces of it.  She tell me that I lack discipline.  I know she is right.  I'm a kooky butterfly catcher always chasing after some new idea, book, laugh or taste sensation.  I often flitter through my days, easily distracted, quick to forget my earnest resolutions.  The taste-it-all hedonist loves that about me.  I'm fed up with both of them. 

I walk faster, a small rivulet of perspiration dampens my brow.  The noise of battle eases.  I sit on a hill far away from witch and hedonist who are still fighting.  Out of ammo, they are locked in physical combat, rolling about a sunny meadow.  I start to enjoy the show.  The witch, complete with warts and black hat has her bony arms locked around the chubby little hedonist who has a face covered in strawberry jam.  They make me smile.  These two are a couple of feisty idiots.  In time, I start to feel sorry for them.  It's time to step in and break it up.  The witch needs to take a time-out in her turret of terror and strawberry-jam-coated, hedonist needs to take a nap in her foxhole.  (I bet she has her own kitchen there or at least a wet bar and hot plate.)

A wise inner mom emerges from hiding and separates the combatants, each to their own corner.  They have to learn to get along with each other.  They are both stuck here.  They can even help each other.  Enough of the fighting.   Maybe in time, they can enjoy each others' company and even have fun on occasion.  They aren't quite ready to believe that yet but I know it's true.  The witch is often right.  She can really help with the focus issues and self disciple.  The hedonist knows how to enjoy what the world has to offer.  She can ease the frown lines on the witches' face and share some of her tasty treats.  (The witch could really stand to gain a few pounds.)

About this point, the bug enters my ear.  I am vaguely aware of it.  I naturally try to remove said bug and I seemed to have achieved that objective.  I don't know if I can take much credit for it's extraction.  It probably took one look at the battle raging inside my head and flew in the opposite direction as fast as its' little bug wings could carry it.  If it had stayed just a wee bit longer, he might have witnesses the detente achieved over a kitchen table.  There the witch and hedonist enjoyed chocolate chip oatmeal cookies and a glass of milk. If you look really closely, you can see the beginning of a smile on the witches' face.  The hedonist passes her another cookie.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Soul Dance

When I left for my Just 10 walk this morning, I was pursued by frustration.  Number One Son rarely gets up in a good mood.  This morning he was particularly unpleasant.  He is an expert on "crapping on the happy."  I coined this phrase some time ago to try and snap him out of his cesspool of morning sadness.  It worked for a while.  Then, the novelty of mom saying "crapping" wore off.  I didn't want to bring it up a notch by resorting to more colorful expressions so I'm back at the drawing board.  This morning,  I wanted nothing to do with dreaming up new strategies.  I wanted to escape.  Racing out the door, I started my walk moving like the proverbial bat from hell.

Maybe I was more Incredible Hulk than proverbial bat.  My pace seemed very halting and awkward.  I felt like more a lumbering giant with poor motor skills.  I didn't belong in this body.  My soul is a graceful little dancer.  Outside I was Hulk all the way.  I was out of rhythm, an alien inside my own shell.  Behind me were all the cares of my world, the lingering miasma of morning madness.  I struggled to deal with it all.    A huge green wall of negative self talk started to appear.  The Hulk was unhappy. 

Finally, I came to a full mental stop.  Outside, the Hulk was still lumbering onward so as not to draw too much attention from passersby.  Inside I knew that I had to practice acceptance.   I had to say, "Yes" to my life, the good, the bad and the ugly.  Of course the selfish part of me wasn't exactly happy with this turn of events and started to protest.  Inside, I whine,  "I'm just not feeling the love."  Almost instantly, I hear a reply in my head.  "LOVE IS NOT ALWAYS A FEELING."  The stubborn idiot that lives inside me wanted to protest.  I told her to keep quiet.  It was time to listen but the universe/God had fallen silent again.  There were no further instructions, no further comments or directives.  I was alone, thoughts randomly streaming, waiting for more.  Nothing else came.  I still wasn't feeling the love but I was going to accept it.

There on the trail, somewhere between the high school baseball fields and the old highway intersection, I got to "Yes."  The Hulk had gone.  I'd been touched by love without feeling it.  Instead, I knew it.  Outside, I was not yet the graceful dancer but I was closer to it.  My movements through time and space felt like my own.   Now, I moved more fluidly like rushing water and like water I was a cleanser, washing out the dark corners of regret, cleaning away the residue of defeat, letting go of the morning madness that had chased me out the door.  These unwanted pieces were still there, buoyed upon the water as driftwood floats on the tide.  They were not the water.  I was.  These unwanted pieces will always be with me in one shape or another but I can let them float upon the surface.  I don't have to swallow them whole but simply let them be. 

Then, ahead on the trail, was a neatly dressed man, walking two dogs.  He slowed and moved to the side to let me pass.  I paused and looked at the dogs.  One exuded youth.  I asked the man, "Puppy?".  He said, "Yes, 12 weeks."  The dog loving the attention, placed paws on my kneecaps.  Without thinking, I petted her soft head.  Somewhere deep inside me came these words,  "Ah, you're going to be beautiful someday?"  I spoke them aloud to the dog.  Later, as I walked away, I realized I was also speaking to myself.  The outside will continue to age,  I will have my Incredible Hulk days and through it all the inside is becoming just a bit more beautiful.    "Yes," I said.  "Yes, life make me beautiful."  My soul was dancing.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

God is my Witness

Earlier this week, we took a mini-vacation up to Seattle.  It's time to get back to my Just 10 time.  I'm sort of lost without it.   Our trip was a swan song of sorts, that last fling before the final curtain falls.  We've come back to deal with the reality of being unemployed, eminent foreclosure, and the lovely middle-life crisis' search for purpose and meaning.  Exactly what can I contribute to this world?  I'm a financial quadraplegic without a wheelchair.

In the background of all this worry,  this little clip from Gone with the Wind has been playing in my head.  Yes, I know it's overly dramatic and that Scarlett, herself, sometimes casts morality aside.  Yet, few characters embody determination and downright spunkiness better than Scarlett O'Hara.   I admire her.  I want to be her NOW.  Several days ago, when the starter went out on the van, I felt numb with the shock of yet another problem, a problem that needed money to solve.  Depending on the kindness of family, strangers and the state is not a position, I've ever wanted to find myself, yet, here I am.    I owe them something.  I can't ever really repay the many kindnesses that have been shown to me over the years.  I'm humbled before them.  The least I can do is to continue moving forward, to live as good and as full a life as possible.

While I'm a little numb around the edges and may remain so for some time to come,  I find myself latching on to the hem of Scarlett's skirt.  Like Scarlett, I raise my fist of dirt to the heavens and proclaim, "as God is my witness, I'm not going to let them lick me."  I'll hold off on adding the "cheating, stealing and killing" part.  That might come later.

Right now, I'm determined to find a way to live as cheaply and as happily as possible.  It's time a few of us said,   "Enough."  Human's greed is poisoning the planet.  Our mad consumerism is robbing people of compassion and a sense of satisfaction.  We are not educating our children to be analytical and critical thinkers.  We are raising an ignorant nation.   We race through life alone always in a hurry to get nowhere.  We've lost a sense of responsibility toward others and for ourselves.    We lay waste our power.   We drown our sorrows in a thousand different things but the pain is still there.  We miss the beauty around us. We forget how to have fun.   "Enough.  Enough."

As God is my witness, they aren't going to lick me.  I am determined to make the best of this situation.  I choose to see this as an opportunity.  My life needs a makeover and now is the time.  I'll be damned if I'm going to let all the bad things that have happened defeat me.  "As God is my witness. . ."