Forgiveness Doesn’t Come With a Debt

Yes, forgiveness doesn't come with a debt
I take my chances
I take my chances ev'ry chance I get
I've crossed lines of words and wire
And both have cut me deep
I've been frozen out and I've been on fire
And the tears are mine to weep
But I can cry until I laugh 
Or laugh until I cry
So cut the deck right in half
I'll play from either side
I take my chances
“I Take My Chances” artist: Mary Chapin Carpenter  songwriters: Don Schlitz and Mary Chapin Carpenter

We hang on tightly to resentment. We don’t want others to steal it from us. It makes us feel safe and smug. it justifies our anger at the betrayal, the theft, the wrong. We sit with it as it festers.

Bitterness is easy. We cast blame. Unhappiness is not our fault. It lies within the misdeeds of others. They are the reason for our suffering. We wallow in our victimness.

Forgiveness is difficult, because with it comes reflection. If we forgive, we must let go of the grudge we have harbored for so long. If we release resentment, what is left?

Oprah Winfrey tells of a moment she had on her show back in 1990 when a man told her that forgiveness is letting go of the past we thought we wanted. She calls this her “transcendent moment.” She states, “He said forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could be any different.” She then adds, “It took me to the next level of being a better person. I don’t hold grudges for anything or any situation — and neither should you. [Forgiveness] is letting go so that the past does not hold you prisoner.

“So the past does not hold you prisoner.” If we let go, we are free. When we forgive, we release ourselves from the chains of the past. So here’s the truth: we cannot change history. It has been written. Some wrongs were self-inflicted, others possessed malice toward others, and a few unintentional burns still smolder.

I have discovered that offering up forgiveness to others and to myself is a daily practice. When the rage begins to seep into my psyche, I say a simple, silent prayer, “I forgive.” And when I do this, I feel lightness appear. This quiet thought gives me pause. I begin to let go of hurt and pain and remember the line in the song, “forgiveness doesn’t come with a debt.” 

Forgiveness is love. It is loving yourself, embracing all that is flawed. It is loving others, acknowledging we all stumble. I’ll take my chances.

hoffmaninstitute.org

hoffmaninstitute.org

“There is no love without forgiveness, and there is not forgiveness without love.” - Bryant H. McGill

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” - Mahatma Gandhi

“Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.” - Bruce Lee

"Pack Codes and Tribal Laws"

I grew up in an old green house with a pitched roof that was located near the top of a steep tree-lined street. We played games in the road while one of us was on look-out. “Car!” When hearing this alert, we would scramble to the grass, waiting for the driver to pass, and then tumble back to resume whatever ramshackle competition we were playing.

This is just one of hundreds of stories my siblings and I have tucked away from our childhood. Each of us may have a different perspective. My recollections as the oldest are much different from my youngest brother’s, yet we hold a connection, a bond, a book of tales from our youth that is uniquely ours.

These stories wire us together, despite the arguments, the betrayals, the loss, the misunderstandings. Families are complicated. This is why so many novels center on them. From Thomas Wolfe to Pat Conroy, authors continue to write about these fragile units and how our families frame our psyches.

Families, especially our relationships with our siblings, remind me of spider webs, and how they are both delicate and a force of nature. They are spun into complicated designs with intricate details. They are mighty, yet with a flick of the hand be flung away across the yard. But…but the next morning they can reappear, bigger and more dazzling than the day before.

If you grew up in a family with brothers and/or sisters, you get this. We were the troops, with our parents the generals. Even in the worst of fights, we came together with a silent understanding of our loyalty.  We could be vicious to one another, but if someone else said or did something to hurt one of us, damn. Watch out. That tenuous filament became the strongest of steel beams.

What happens to these connections when one of us stumbles, loses our way, or even dies? What happens to the stories? Where do they go? Only our siblings know the real family secrets, the cracks, the nightmares that still keep us awake. Without them, where does the history go? Is it tucked away and stored in a dank closet or thrown out to the wind?

I have friends who have lost sisters and brothers, and when asked about it, they say it is like losing a limb. They still feel the presence, but are still shocked it is gone. Many of us say, “I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose a brother or a sister,” but I think it is better phrased, “I can imagine.” I can imagine the loss, the emptiness, the ache. I can imagine and it breaks me into fragments. I can imagine life without my siblings and it is silent and gray.

Most families are grimy and convoluted and tangled up in our unreasonable expectations of what we want from one another, yet we desperately cling to the frayed rope that leads us to our crazy family tree. When we discover a branch has suddenly snapped, we gaze down with a dizziness we have never known. We teeter on the edge, not knowing whether to turn back or jump.

A good friend of mine just recently lost his brother, and I can imagine his grief. I know he is lost, but what he still possesses are the stories, the family lore that now only he truly understands. These anecdotes will be shared with others, stories most likely told amid raunchy laughter and salty tears. 

This is how our webs remain mighty, despite everything. Despite the silences, the harsh words, the broken promises, and the elusive definitions of family, we tell our stories, no matter how fractured or imperfect or disfigured they may appear. And with each anecdote, we disclose where we came from, what we really are, and who we wish to still become.

"We know one another's faults, virtues, catastrophes, mortifications, triumphs, rivalries, desires, and how long we can each hang by our hands to a bar. We have been banded together under pack codes and tribal laws." - Rose Macaulay

"Our brothers and sisters are there with us from the dawn of our personal stories to the inevitable dusk." - Susan Scarf Merrell

This is a photograph of my maternal grandmother, Jenny Josephine Fisher Warner, and her sister, Edith Fisher Ludwig. I know nothing of their “pack codes and tribal laws,” but I’m sure they were fierce. I see my sons’ faces in these young girls. The power of family...and genetics.

This is a photograph of my maternal grandmother, Jenny Josephine Fisher Warner, and her sister, Edith Fisher Ludwig. I know nothing of their “pack codes and tribal laws,” but I’m sure they were fierce. I see my sons’ faces in these young girls. The power of family...and genetics.

Room for Big Mistakes

Right after I graduated from college back in the early 80’s I was adrift. I had majored in a crazy degree called Speech Communication which was a potpourri of speech, English, theater classes, and education classes. Teaching jobs were difficult to obtain, and at this point I wasn’t even confident it was my calling. I had a friend who was moving down to Louisville, Kentucky, and without much pondering I followed her down there. After five months of failed attempts at sales and waitressing, I ended moving back home where I spent a semester substitute teaching before I was offered my first full-time teaching contract up in Northern Illinois.

For years my dad would often talk of the mistake I made when I moved down to Louisville. He felt this decision of mine was errant and foolish, and I should have stayed home and looked harder for a teaching job. But you see, I never thought of it that way. Louisville was my mistake, yet I had no regrets. This decision was one of the first things I did all on my own. I was able to live for a short time in a beautiful river town, and it also helped me realize teaching was what I wanted to do with my life. I never lamented that move, not for one moment. Yet my father’s words burned. They whispered, “I had failed.” Even now, almost 40 years later, his words still sting. He didn’t mean to hurt me, my kind and practical dad, but he did.

Now that my children are grown and making their ways in the world, I am reminded of this story. I want them to have their own “Louisvilles,” their own big mistakes that will give them insight to their desires, but I don’t want to be the whisper in their ears they hear for years. They may fall, but man, they may also soar. 

This is not an easy endeavor. Allowing my adult children to travel their own roads has been one of the most difficult tasks I have ever tackled, and I have stumbled…shit, have I stumbled. I am covered in bloody bandages from all my falls, yet I keep getting back up and reminding myself they are grown now. No longer are the days when I could nag them about school work and manners and cleaning up their rooms. I am learning that I can’t fix things for them. Their lives…and their decisions…are their stories now, not mine. 

Yes, I still worry. That’s what mothers do. And yes, I have opinions, but I’m trying so fricking hard to keep them to myself. They will learn from each stumble. I know I did. Shit, I’m still stumbling and still learning. If they come to me, I’ll be there, but mostly I want them to find their paths, because these are their journeys, full of glorious messes and brilliant triumphs, wide open spaces and big mistakes.

“Who doesn't know what I'm talking about

Who's never left home, who's never struck out

To find a dream and a life of their own

A place in the clouds, a foundation of stone

Many precede and many will follow

A young girl's dreams no longer hollow

It takes the shape of a place out west

But what it holds for her, she hasn't yet guessed

She needs wide open spaces

Room to make her big mistakes

She needs new faces

She knows the high stakes”

“Wide Open Spaces” lyrics by Susan Gibson, sung by Dixie Chicks

The Tending of Friendships

At the end of the 9th episode of season 3 of Fargo, two police officers meet at a bar to discuss the case they have been working on together. Gloria Burgle, played by Carrie Coon, tells Winnie Lopez, played by Olivia Sandoval, about her frustrations. Her superior officer is condescending and sexist. He doesn’t believe her theories on the case involving the murder of her step-father. She’s exhausted and ready to resign from the force. On top of that, she admits to Winnie that automatic doors don’t open for her. She can’t get the hands free faucets or dryers to work. The sensors don’t recognize her. In a wrenching moment, Gloria confesses to Winnie she often thinks perhaps she doesn’t really exist. Maybe she is invisible. Winnie then tells her to stand up. Gloria rises and Winnie embraces her in a giant hug that lasts for close to a minute. At first Gloria stiffens, but soon melts into Winnie’s inviting arms. When they finish, Winnie suggests Gloria head to the ladies’ to freshen up. In the next scene, Gloria is getting ready to wash her hands in the restroom and the faucet turns on immediately after she waves her hands in front of it. She looks up and smiles when she sees herself in the mirror. Winnie’s mighty hug sparked Gloria’s energy. She is not a ghost, a flimsy specter with no voice. She’s Gloria Burgle, a woman with a fierce sense of honor and justice.

When I watched this scene unfold I felt myself audibly gasp. Gloria was there, but she had lost her confidence. Winnie’s human contact renewed Gloria’s voice. This scene reminded me of the power we women have when we reach out to one another. Our connections solidify our foundations. We keep each other upright on that flimsy tightrope spanning the raging falls. We scream, “Don’t look down! Keep your eyes on me!” We then hold out our hands, and pull each other to the safety of solid ground.

We are there at bedsides, church pews, poolside chaise lounges, and bleachers. We ride shot gun, with the windows down and Bon Jovi blasting from the radio. We cry. We listen. We hold hands. We nod in understanding. We argue. We make up. We can lose through neglect, yet sometimes we find each other again and it is precious.

During this move of ours I was worried about leaving friends behind. I needed their support, encouraging words, and hilariously dirty stories. Would I ever find women who could hold my deepest secrets close to their hearts? Would I be adrift?

I quickly discovered I wasn’t leaving anyone behind. These women are forever with me in texts, Facebook posts, phone calls, and quick trips back to my hometown for coffee or lunch dates. And now, I am slowly tiptoeing into new friendships. I am searching out fierce women who aren’t afraid of the mess, who celebrate their flaws, and who love whole-heartedly. I’m open to expanding my tribe.

Yesterday I invited a dear old friend over for lunch. We once knew each other in high school when we spent our evenings crammed into cars, cruising the streets in search of excitement in our sleepy town. We worked together at the local pizza parlor where she ran the front desk and I assembled the pepperoni and mozzarella cheese. Throughout the years we have sporadically stayed in touch, yet life and children and husbands and grief tugged us in different directions. Now we live within miles of one another. We spent the afternoon sharing stories. I was amazed at the honesty. Nothing was glossed over as we talked about the sharp edges of our lives and how we have travelled parallel paths. I am grateful for this woman and our commitment to nurture our new-found connection.

This is a lesson I have learned as I’ve aged. I can’t expect friendships to materialize out of nothing. I must make an effort, reach out to forge and maintain relationships. Sometimes it is hard and scary, yet necessary. If someone is important to me, I will send that text, make that phone call, offer an invite to lunch, because my women friends make me stronger, and I hope I offer them the same. Just like Winnie helped Gloria retrieve her mojo, my friends give me innumerable gifts for which there will never ever be enough thank-you cards.

"There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.” — Jane Austen

“Women understand. We may share experiences, make jokes, paint pictures, and describe humiliations that mean nothing to men, but women understand. The odd thing about these deep and personal connections of women is that they often ignore barriers of age, economics, worldly experience, race, culture — all the barriers that, in male or mixed society, had seemed so difficult to cross.” — Gloria Steinem

“I’m so thankful for friendship. It beautifies life so much.” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea

“Remember, ‘No one’s more important than people! In other words, friendship is the most important thing―not career or housework, or one’s fatigue―and it needs to be tended and nurtured.” ― Julia Child, My Life in France

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s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com

 

 

 

 

 

My Gift of Imperfection

In Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection, she begins her chapter on cultivating self-compassion with this quote by Anna Quindlen, “The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” Brown, a research professor, has studied the paralyzing effects of shame and fear, and continues to research how to practice resilience in order to embrace our true selves. Every day we are slammed with doubt, especially on social media. Look at everyone. This friend travels the globe. That one sees her grandchildren every day. Wow, another lost 50 pounds! Her house is immaculate. He runs 10 miles every day. They seem to have the perfect marriage. How can my life compare with these images and posts?

The answer is in the Quindlen quote: “…embrace our true selves.” All of us, in order to learn to take care of ourselves, need to tattoo this on our foreheads. “Embrace our true selves.” Our crooked teeth, lumpy thighs, thinning hair, quick tempers, and dry skin are all integral parts of who we are. When we accept our “flaws” make us unique and fascinating, that is when we begin to love what we see in the mirror.

In my case it is learning to embrace my fibromyalgia. What I have discovered over the years and through major and minor flare-ups is to be compassionate with myself. This doesn’t define me. It is not who I am, but when the aches creep up and every nerve in my body tingles, I know it is time to slow down. I cancel plans. I rest. I read. I watch episodes of Gilmore Girls on Netflix. I acknowledge this is something I can’t control. It is my gremlin, but not my defect. As the Leonard Cohen song says, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” 

Through this crack I have learned much about myself. I am allowing the light to flow through the windows. It is my gift of imperfection.

“Today, I’m going to believe that showing up is enough.” - Brene Brown

Image: www.greenaldercoaching.co.uk

Image: www.greenaldercoaching.co.uk

Patriotism, the Magic of Hope, and the Power of Pie

As a remedy for the overabundance of that which is the celebration of 4th of July, I ponder patriotism, the magic of hope, and the power of pie.

Patriotism - devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country; national loyalty

Hope - the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best

Pie - a baked food having a filling of fruit, meat, pudding, etc., prepared in a pastry-lined pan or dish and often topped with a pastry crust

During this past holiday weekend displays of patriotism were everywhere. There were parades and festivals. Families gathered for cookouts. Copious amounts of beer was consumed. People donned red, white, and blue clothing. Flags hung from porches and balconies. Fireworks filled the skies.

The 4th of July is our nation’s celebration of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, a document written by Thomas Jefferson and subsequently ratified by the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia that announced that the thirteen American colonies were not longer under British rule and were now independent. It was a brash act, changing the course of this new country. These words set our nation on a path of independence. The past 241 years have been rocky, divisive, and fraught with constant struggles, and yet we still optimistically hang onto the simple phrases put to paper in this original document.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Right, that amount these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Our forefathers knew patriotism was not blind loyalty. This was evident in the heated discussions over whether or not to break from England. Our nation continues to disagree on vital issues, yet deep down in our collective psyche we channel John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. Like all of us, these were not perfect men. They had deep flaws, but they chose to put their trust in the promise of this new America. 

Despite the hateful rhetoric, discordant politics, and contentious leadership, there is still hope in this fractious country of ours. It lies in all of us. We want what is best for our families. We believe in honor and truth and an abiding sense of justice. Hope is why we continue to live each day with fire in our hearts. We take care of one another in small ways. We show up. 

Where do we find our power, even when our voices aren’t heard? All of us have unique gifts to give the world. We need to dig deep and use them for good. Perhaps you are a teacher guiding young souls or a father showing his children what is decent and honorable. With each small act we change the direction.

Me? I write rambling words of hope. I ask questions. I read words that both encourage and enrage me. I bake pies for family and friends, hoping the depth of my love is felt with each sweet bite. These are my super powers. What are yours?

“Let us tenderly and kindly cherish therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.”         – John Adams

“It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.” - Benjamin Franklin

“The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.”             - Thomas Jefferson

(Definitions from dictionary.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

Now What?

Since last December our lives have been a series of “We can’t wait for’s.” We can’t wait for the house to sell. We can’t wait to find a new house. We can’t wait for the inspection to be completed. We can’t wait to sell what we don’t need. We can’t wait to pack everything. We can’t wait to close on both houses. We can’t wait to unpack everything. We can’t wait for the wood floors to be installed.

Now, suddenly, the “can’t wait for’s” are no longer. Pictures are on the walls. The new floor is beautiful. Plates are in the cupboards. Glasses are displayed in hutch. This house has become our home.

But…but, now what? My husband has been ensconced in his new job since January. He is comfortably settled into his position and his routine. I, on the other hand, am staring blankly out into the future with no real plans in sight. Yes, I have been retired for two years, but these past 24 months have been bumpy, uncertain, and slightly nauseating, and now that we are settled into our new community, I ask myself, “Now what? What do I do with this life of mine? What does the universe want from me? What do I want from the universe? What is my path? What do I want to be when I grow up?”

As I ponder these questions, I realize the answers aren’t clear. Everything is slightly foggy. But you know what? This is okay. At the moment I am comfortable in the mist of unknowing. It is as though I have a deck of possibilities laid out on the table in front of me, yet there is no rush to pick up the cards. I gaze upon each one with careful consideration. Do I continue writing? Should I attempt to monetize my blog? How about freelance writing? When do I continue writing that young adult novel I began last fall? What about a side business proofreading and editing? How do I market myself? Should I look into volunteer work? If so, what is a good fit for me? What about my love of baking pies? Could I turn that into a part-time business? Or do I just write about pie? 

All of these cards beckon to me. I breathe. Now is the time to meditate, to contemplate, to examine. Where do I land? With each moment comes new promise. Stay tuned.

“The beginning is always today.” - Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

“Every moment is a fresh beginning.” - T.S. Eliot

“Isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” -L.M. Montgomery

Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most. 

Buddha

 

 

The Intention of Softness

At the beginning of most yoga classes, the teacher asks the students to set an intention. This is supposed to be a short-term positive goal for the practice, such as “I intend to bring peace to myself” or “I will clear my mind during the next hour” or even “I hope to not fall on my face when moving into warrior 3.” A good intention doesn’t require dramatic change; it just calls for authenticity.

Today as I flowed through a yoga class in a new studio surrounded by strange faces, I pondered intention. What if instead of just one yoga class, I set a weekly intention for my life? Something simple to follow, yet challenging for my normal thought processes. As the yoga instructor told the class to soften our faces as we held warrior 2, I knew what my intention would be. Warrior 2 looks simple. You line up your legs and stretch your arms to the opposite sides of the room. As you bend one knee you look to the hand in front of you. Every muscle is in use, but when she said, “Soften your face,” I felt worry and strain leave me, even though I was in a strong pose.

What if I soften this week? What would the world look like with a soft gauzy filter, like the ones used in old movies or Instagram? What if the harsh lines blurred a little? What would happen if I judged less? Whenever things get hard could I soften my face and let go of my shitty self?

The world can be a crude place. Bitterness creeps in with every bit of news and each piece of malicious gossip. We all are judged and we then kick back with a vengeance. Everything has hard, brittle edges that leave scars. No wonder many of us struggle with anxiety and depression. It is as though we can’t catch our breath.

This intention of softness does not mean ignoring our desires or letting weakness overcome us. Softness is a conscious effort, just like the class did today while in warrior 2. We are strong, yet we forgive, we embrace, we try to understand, we love.

So my challenge this week is this: soften. When I feel myself clenching or condemning or looking at things with a sense of damnation, I will soften. When the politics of the day hurt my soul, I will soften. When worry consumes me, I will soften. It is a quiet yet powerful intention, a softening of the heart and mind. I will let you know how it goes, especially when that inevitable distracted driver swerves in front of me on the highway as she carelessly texts, sips a hot coffee, and attempts to light a cigarette at the same time. Soften.

“Softness is not weakness. It takes courage to stay delicate in a world this cruel.” - Beau Taplin

photo: http://img11.deviantart.net/5446/i/2013/123/7/1/windows_8_wallpaper_by_dtafalonso-d5y1jaf.jpg

photo: http://img11.deviantart.net/5446/i/2013/123/7/1/windows_8_wallpaper_by_dtafalonso-d5y1jaf.jpg

Swimming Away From the Shore: Practicing Courage

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue.” - Maya Angelou

In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown discusses what it takes to be courageous. She states everyone wants to be brave, but that most of us believe heroics are only in the superhero stories, individuals with great strength and capes and magical powers who save the day as they zip across the sky, but true everyday courage, “is about putting our vulnerability on the line. In today’s world, that’s pretty extraordinary.” Brown writes, “The root of the word courage is cor- the Latin word for heart.” Isn’t that sublime? Our courage lies in our hearts. This reminds me of the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. He didn’t think he had courage, but as he defended his new friends against the Wicked Witch, his spirit took charge. All three of Dorothy’s new friends believed they didn’t have brains or heart or courage, but during their trek down the yellow brick road, they discovered their intellect and love and bravery was always there in their hearts. It is in all of us. We just need to dig deep and pay attention.

As I navigate my new town I am practicing courage. No, I haven’t saved any lives or rescued puppies from wells, but I do believe it is a small act of bravery to reach out to strangers, to show vulnerability, to desire connections. Courage does comes from the heart. I am trying not to hide away, but to walk into scary situations and for this introvert, that is indeed an act of bravery.

“You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.” - William Faulkner

A job offer has presented us with a new opportunity for adventure. We have moved our stuff from our hometown to a bigger city filled with rivers, arches, and Cardinals. It is both exciting and terrifying, but we welcome the journey. I hope to chronicle this odyssey as we stumble toward the future, and every day I will be practicing courage as I learn to swim away from the shore.

The Key to Our Lime Hearts

Over the weekend I finally made my first pie in our new home. It didn’t require an all-butter crust or sliced apples or even piles of sweet fruit. This easy recipe is sweet and creamy and full of zest. 

Key Lime pie is special to us because Key West was where we had our “wedding moon” over eleven years ago. Along with crazy chickens, fine cigars, and Coronas with shots of tequila, our adventures down there also included tasting the local delicacy - Key Lime pie. Every piece was a slice of lovely lime-induced heaven. 

The crazy thing about Key Lime pie is it is not difficult to make. The filling only requires four ingredients: egg yolks, lime juice, lime zest, and sweetened condensed milk. Some recipes call for a traditional butter crust, but I prefer a graham cracker crust. You can purchase pre-made, but homemade is easy and you also have control over the ingredients. Fresh whipped cream is a must. No fake stuff for this concoction!

Key Lime pie is just like our marriage: tart, sassy, simple, yet perfectly complete. Our new house is even Key West inspired, so this recipe was an excellent pick for a Saturday evening dessert. Enjoy!

Ignore the dead tree. We are hoping it is cut down soon.

Ignore the dead tree. We are hoping it is cut down soon.

Christie & Rock’s Key Lime Pie

Graham cracker crust:

10-14 pieces of graham crackers 

4 tablespoons melted butter

Break the graham crackers into manageable pieces and place in food processor. Pulse until ground. Drizzle in melted butter and pulse until it begins to stick together. Pour into pie plate and press the mixture evenly on the bottom and up the sides. Place in 350 degree oven for ten minutes. Let cool a bit.

Filling:

1 can sweetened condensed milk

4 egg yolks

1/2 cup key lime juice (Nellie & Joe’s Famous Key West Lime Juice is the best! You can juice those tiny key limes, but, goodness, why?)

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zest and juice from one lime

Mix the egg yolks with stand or electric mixer until thick and creamy. Add lime juice and zest. Mix. Then add sweetened condensed milk and mix until smooth and creamy.

Pour into crust and bake for 15 minutes. Let cool. Refrigerate for two hours or even overnight. Slice and serve with a dollop of fresh whipped cream.

Whipped cream:

1 small container heavy whipping cream

1-2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar

Whip cream until it begins to thicken. Add sugar and continue to whip until it peaks. Extra cream can be stored in the frig for a few days. Perfect for leftover pie or fresh fruit!

A job offer has presented us with a new opportunity for adventure. We have moved our stuff from our hometown to a bigger city filled with rivers, arches, and Cardinals. It is both exciting and terrifying, but we welcome the journey. I hope to chronicle this odyssey as we stumble toward the future.

Our Front Porch

For years now I have wanted a big front porch. Not a puny one with just a few steps and barely room for a potted plant. A porch with comfy furniture, big pots of herbs and flowers, and, of course, a swing. A place to gather, to contemplate the day, to nod at neighbors, to just be quiet. That has been my dream, and now, finally, it has come to fruition. 

American architecture of homes has evolved over the years. Once upon a time the front porch was a staple in most houses. Before air conditioning, families gathered on the porch after dinner to catch a cool breeze and visit. Even after WWII when suburbia creeped outward, children played games in the streets as their parents gossiped together over coolers of cold beer. Eventually, though, houses became fortresses where families locked themselves in against the world. Two car garages now faced the streets while large decks were built behind fences, and high tech security systems protected the ones inside against the evils lurking beyond the front stoop.

In all the homes I have inhabited the porches have been small, nondescript cement blocks I attempted to beautify with pink begonias and tinkling wind chimes. These spaces welcomed visitors, yet did not invite people to stop, sit, and share stories. When we knew we would be moving to a new town, I had a wish list and a spacious front porch was among the important items. I looked at dozens of places, yet nothing spoke to me. I knew it was out there, this new smaller home where we would live and love. I would feel it as I walked in the door. And then I wandered into this community where almost every house has a front porch, some even two. I saw stately Adirondack chairs facing quiet ponds and wicker plumped up with colorful pillows. But most importantly, I noticed the porch swings. Somehow, this was where we were intended to live.

This past weekend my husband and I assembled four vintage looking metal chairs, two small tables, and, of course, a swing. Last night we sat on the porch, sipping drinks, and relaxing in the beauty that is our cottage. Even this morning I spent time on the swing with my journal and a cup of coffee. Later this week I will make a pilgrimage to the local garden store for flowers and herbs, but for now this porch fills me with gratitude and simple joy.

“I return to my front porch to find a place where the air smells sweeter and the sun feels warmer than at any other bend in life’s long road.” - John Sarris

A job offer has presented us with a new opportunity for adventure. We have moved our stuff from our hometown to a bigger city filled with rivers, arches, and Cardinals. It is both exciting and terrifying, but we welcome the journey. I hope to chronicle this odyssey as we stumble toward the future. Stay tuned.

 

Goodbye, Farewell and Amen

I am a Midwestern girl, and my husband is a Midwestern boy. We were born in the center of this country. We spent our childhoods and college years living within driving distance of soybeans, corn fields, and giant tractors.  When I completed my degree I lit out, promising never to return. But four years in Texas and seven in the Chicago area sent me running back to the town that nurtured me. My husband stayed close to home as he raised his two girls. Our lives collided seventeen years ago at a backyard party, and now after five years of dating and almost twelve married we are about to embark on a new adventure.

After a layoff and temporary employment that left him empty, my husband found his dream job down in the St. Louis area. The boxes are now packed and loaded into the POD. Our cars are filled with random items. Calls have been made. Services have been cut off. Tomorrow we place the cats in their carriers, wave goodbye to our brown house, sign papers, and then head to our new home in a neighboring state. 

Before we head south on I55, though, I need to reflect on what this town has given us. We are leaving fabulous friends who listen and laugh and love. Our family members who still reside within the 217 area code are torn. They know this move is a great opportunity for both of us, but their hearts are a little sad with all the change. We understand. Ours are too. We will miss our breakfast place, our butcher, and our Mexican restaurant. Rock’s best golfing buddies will be lost without his inconsistent long game and his sarcastic patter on the course. I will have tears for my yoga friends, kindred spirits who have guided my body and heart and soul.

The past few weeks have been littered with goodbyes: lunches with old friends and family, last golf games, long hugs, heartfelt gifts. We keep saying we’ll be back for visits, but we all know it won’t be the same. Our relationships will evolve, and the ones that are enduring and true will stand strong despite the miles we are apart.

Our hometown has a reputation that isn't always glowing, but this place is quirky and funky and full of tenacious determination. It will always be our home, even as we settle in a new place. Now is the time to discover how we will adapt to the novel, the strange, the unfamiliar. We can’t wait! And to all we love, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.”

 

A job offer has presented us with a new opportunity for adventure. We will soon move our stuff from our hometown to a bigger city filled with rivers, arches, and Cardinals. It is both exciting and terrifying, but we welcome the journey. I hope to chronicle this odyssey as we stumble toward the future. Stay tuned.

A job offer has presented us with a new opportunity for adventure. We will soon move our stuff from our hometown to a bigger city filled with rivers, arches, and Cardinals. It is both exciting and terrifying, but we welcome the journey. I hope to chronicle this odyssey as we stumble toward the future. Stay tuned.

The Homes We Make for Ourselves

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” - A.A. Milne

Almost twelve years ago after looking at dozens and dozens of houses, I stumbled upon this one. It had been standing empty for awhile with its dull kitchen linoleum, the rickety backyard fence, and an old shake roof. On the surface it wasn’t any different from all the others, but once I stepped in the door I knew. I recognized this would be the place where we would begin our married life. I felt its presence in whispers. Love will preside here.

Throughout the years spent in this house almost every room has been repainted, my husband and sons took down the fence, new wood floors were installed in the family room and kitchen, a red and brown roof replaced the shake, and gray carpet ousted the green, blue, and sickly yellow in all the upstairs rooms. 

These walls have given us song and hugs and celebrations, yet heartache and sadness have also gathered. No home knows only happiness; this one held us up as we wallowed in our grief and struggles. It was our sanctuary through hard times, our safe port.

I believe houses have souls and are passed onto new owners. But really, the souls leave with us, holding onto our memories of where we have rested our heads. I have resided in many places, each havens in their own special ways. The memories follow me, and I keep them close to my heart.

Now walls stand bare. Boxes are stacked. Rooms echo. A new home awaits. This was the house where we began. Our next one will be where we will continue our journey together. It won’t be easy to say goodbye, but the hello will be a sweet new tune.

“In life, a person will come and go from many homes. We may leave a house, a town, a room, but that doesn't not mean those places leave us. Once entered, we never entirely depart the homes we makes for ourselves in the world. They follow us, like shadows, until we come upon them again, waiting for us in the mist.” - Ari Berk

A job offer has presented us with a new opportunity for adventure. We will soon move our stuff from our hometown to a bigger city filled with rivers, arches, and Cardinals. It is both exciting and terrifying, but we welcome the journey. I hope to chronicle this odyssey as we stumble toward the future. Stay tuned.

A job offer has presented us with a new opportunity for adventure. We will soon move our stuff from our hometown to a bigger city filled with rivers, arches, and Cardinals. It is both exciting and terrifying, but we welcome the journey. I hope to chronicle this odyssey as we stumble toward the future. Stay tuned.

cold and broken hallelujahs

Easter used to be new dresses and chocolate bunnies and baskets loaded with candy. Patent leather shoes pinched toes. Children searched under bushes for hidden colored eggs. Hymns celebrated an empty tomb. The warm smell of glazed ham and cheesy potatoes wafted throughout the house.

Now children are grown and on their own. No visits from the Easter bunny. No hidden stashes of chocolate. Home is silent except for snores of cats and tumbling clothes in the dryer. 

This quiet gives me pause, and even though years ago I consciously stepped away from sitting in balcony pews on Sunday mornings, I acknowledge Easter as the story of redemption, of forgiveness, of hope.

Our messy, torn lives often invite judgement and accusations. We feel the scorn. We look in the mirror and hate what we see. How did everything get so hard? Where is the joy? Why is my story so wretched and tired and sad?

But then we take small, ragged breaths. We learn from the cracks which shine with gold, guiding us toward grace. Our scars are maps, no matter how fresh. We trace where we have been while knowing we’ll again get lost. New scabs appear. Our failures teach us patience. We slowly begin to forgive ourselves. This is our hallelujah. 

None of this is easy. I hold grudges. I loathe imperfection in others as mine slithers across the road. My finger points. My tongue clucks. I’m damn awful. I’ve hurt others. I’ve betrayed confidences. I’ve stolen trust. I’ve hidden away from the truth. I’m human.

This is who we humans are: defective, troubled, flawed. Full of shit. Full of unfulfilled promises, even as we wash the wounds, slap on a new bandaid, and hope for healing. But we are also glorious in our brokenness and this is our hallelujah. 

So on this Easter Sunday I am making a small vow to let go of at least one old hurt, to work on forgiving my own shitty transgressions, and to hold out a shaky hand to another who needs help up after a fall. This is my hallelujah.

Love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.
— Leonard Cohen

"Over and over, in spite of our awfulness and having squandered our funds, the ticket-taker at the venue waves us on through. Forgiven and included, when we experience this, that we are in this with one another, flailing and starting over in the awful beauty of being humans together, we are saved.” Anne Lamott, Hallelujah, Anyway

Saying Goodbye to the Wicker

Moving from 2100 square feet to just a little over 1200 requires lots of purging. Most of what has been unloaded through either donations or selling online have been items that needed to find new homes: old dressers, dented pots and pans, outdoor furniture, flowered Corning ware, and appliances that have gathered dust over the years. The buyers have been all types, from young couples setting up their first homes to people buying furniture for a visiting aunt or a pregnant daughter. Everyone has a story.

I am grateful I’m able to help them out, so I just pocket the cash and assist as they load their car or truck. I have had no emotional attachment to most of the items that have left our house. I know we will not have room for such things in our new home. I’ve been brutal and almost cold as I extricate things we will no longer need.

Except the wicker. Ah, the wicker. Thirty years ago when I was living the single life down in Dallas, Texas, I purchased a wicker love seat and chair at Pier 1. These two pieces have traveled with me to three Chicago apartments, a rental home in Palatine, the duplex down the street from my parents, the first home I bought on my own, and this house we purchased as a married couple. They have graced living spaces, master bedrooms, and sunrooms. Samantha, one of my first kitties, often snuggled in this wicker furniture as my boys played around her. My old tortoise shell cat Molly snoozed every night on the love seat at the top of the stairs, watching over all who slept near her. Lately, the chair has been in a corner of my office, and as I pounded out words, either Finn or Zooey settled in to keep me company.

Yesterday afternoon a cute young couple pulled in our driveway to haul away my wicker. My heart lurched a bit as they loaded it in the back of their red SUV. I said, “I hope you’re not allergic to cats,” and they replied, “Oh no! We have four!” I knew then my old wicker would be in loving hands.

This morning the corner is empty, with only a carpet indentation left as a reminder. Both cats seem lost. The black one keeps disappearing upstairs while the big furry one snores underneath my writing chair. Their little world is in an upheaval, and all I can do is try to comfort them.

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“I know, baby kittens. Your things keep disappearing and I know you’re confused, but we’ll be okay. I promise. Our new place has big windows that let in lots of light for sunbathing and fresh perches for you to enjoy. You will help make this house a home.”

“I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul.” - Jean Cocteau

A job offer has presented us with a new opportunity for adventure. We will soon move our stuff from our hometown to a bigger city filled with rivers, arches, and Cardinals. It is both exciting and terrifying, but we welcome the journey. I hope to chronicle this odyssey as we stumble toward the future. Stay tuned.

 

A Little Place for Our Stuff

“That's all you need in life, a little place for your stuff. That's all your house is- a place to keep your stuff.” - George Carlin

Moving and downsizing is an exhausting exercise in figuring out what stuff is indispensable and what stuff is superfluous. Every item is a debate in my head. “Will this fit in our new house? What if I miss it when it’s gone? Does it give me joy? Will it give someone else joy?” I hyperventilate over random batteries and spare change stuck in the back of drawers. 

So I take breaths and calm my mind. No, it won’t fit. Sell it! Donate it! Throw that crap away. No one wants that shit.

Old furniture has sold to new owners. Boxes of dishes, linens, clothes, and other goods donated to a local charity. Books dropped off for the library sale. Our garbage bin continues to fill with broken things no one can fix.

But there are still items pulling at my heart. Pieces that will travel with us to fill our new, smaller space. My mom’s old music hutch covered in her hand-painted lilacs. A Hummel of my Aunt Bug’s. My grandmother’s quilts. A stone heart I found on a California beach. A wicker basket holding all my journals. A fall landscape painting once belonging to Rock’s grandmother. The rocker my mother gave me right after my first son was born. And, of course, all the pictures. Albums, frames, and boxes of photographs, each one telling a story of who we once were.

As I pack up, sell, donate, and throw away our stuff, I find myself pondering the past. Often it is shimmering in preciousness. Photos whisper memories. Objects tell of journeys. Drawers tumble out used and torn remembrances. A move forces a look back while envisioning the future. The present is a dusty reminder of the love these walls still hold as boxes begin to gather what we will bring to our new home. We let go. We breathe. We walk toward a future that isn’t quite in focus yet. Our stuff will soon find its place, corners will quickly fill with new and old, and joy will dance in each room.

“Actually, this is just a place for my stuff, ya know? That's all; a little place for my stuff. That's all I want, that's all you need in life, is a little place for your stuff, ya know?” - George Carlin

A job offer has presented us with a new opportunity for adventure. We will soon move our stuff from our hometown to a bigger city filled with rivers, arches, and Cardinals. It is both exciting and terrifying, but we welcome the journey. I hope to chronicle this odyssey as we stumble toward the future. Stay tuned.

The Beautiful Cruelness of Spring

Spring is about new beginnings. Fresh pinks and yellows and greens sprinkle the landscape. 

But oftentimes spring is cruel. Storms fly in with screeching warnings from the sky. We scramble to basements, praying for safety.

Along with daffodils and blooming magnolias, spring also delivers ends. Disasters still happen. Tragedy still strikes. People still die. Hearts still break.

Spring is prom, Easter, bunnies, flowering trees, and new clothes. We clean our houses with a renewed energy. The windows fly open, inviting breezes to gently kiss the curtains.

But spring has also brought Columbine, Oklahoma City, Waco, and other tragedies. Our hearts have cried with pain for the fear and hatred lurking in the darkness of souls.

Spring is a reminder. While there is expectation and promise, endings lie in wait. Flowers peek through while a freak spring storm cancels out the remaining buds. We celebrate the joys of spring, knowing life is breathing its way back to us after a long winter, yet finales creep up and tap up on the shoulder to remind us of what it is to be human, to experience joy and loss in the same ragged breath.

Spring rains encourage growth. We smell the future in each drop. And even though we know a tempest could be brewing, we still hope. We still know love. We still dance in the rain. We still celebrate life.

This is spring.

I am Chris’s mom. I am Jack’s mom.

The other day my husband and I went to our favorite breakfast joint. It is a small establishment with only eleven tables, so if it is busy, there is always a wait. Sunday was no exception. The dreadlocked, tattooed young waiter approached me as I held up two fingers. He then asked, “Is it okay if I just write down “Jack’s mom” on the list?” The thought made me grin. The boy had played travel soccer for a few years with my youngest son, and both were talented terrors on and off the field. “Sure,” I replied. Jack’s mom.

I have had many aliases throughout the years: my maiden name, my first married name, back to my maiden name, and my current last name. As a teacher, I was called Shu and later, Mrs. Mac, but my favorite names were always “Jack’s mom” and “Chris’s mom.”

The boys’s friends always called me that. “Chris’s mom, can Chris come out and play?” “Jack’s mom, can I have a snack?” “Chris’s mom, can I speak with Chris?” I will never forget coming home from one of Jack’s birthday parties at McDonald’s when the boy in the back seat said, “Mrs. Jack’s mom, I feel sick,” and then proceeded to projectile vomit all over my little white car. Mrs. Jack’s mom then spent the next few hours scouring the floor and seats of said car and using an entire bottle of Febreez to eliminate the smell of upchucked cheeseburger and fries.

When Kody asked if I minded being called Jack’s mom on the waiting list, I couldn’t argue, because that is what I am. Yes, I’m a wife, a sister, a daughter, an aunt, a grandmother, a friend, but I will always be a mother in my heart, despite the miles and the messes and the growing pains and the misunderstandings. These boys are my first thoughts when I wake and my wishes before I sleep. My love for them is undefinable, deep, precious, and unyielding.

I am Chris’s mom. I am Jack’s mom.

Happy Winds-day: A Pie Experiment

Winnie-the-Pooh: Happy "Winds-day", Piglet.

 Piglet: [being blown away] Well... it isn't... very happy... f-for me.

 Winnie-the-Pooh: Where are you going, Piglet?

  Piglet: That’s what I'm asking myself, where?

[he is lifted into the air by a gust of wind]

 Piglet: W-Whoops! P-P-P-Pooh!

Winnie-the-Pooh: [grabbing Piglet's scarf] And what do you think you will answer yourself?

- Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day

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After a stormy night here in the Central States, the wind descended upon us. It danced on the windows and swooshed against the doors. The roof rattled. The remaining leaves fluttered and wafted and ruffled. 

What is a girl to do on such a blustery day?

Baking a pie is always the answer, but this pie lady has made a commitment to cut down on sugar. Can you bake a decent pie without sugar, you ask? After much perusing of the internet, many suggestions were discovered, yet, this baker didn’t want to use any artificial sweetener. Ah ha! Here was a recipe that called for apple juice concentrate and maple syrup. Now, before gasping commences, there wasn’t any mention of low calorie, just no sugar.

The pastry maker had to make a quick dash to the store to pick up sweet apples (Fuji and Braeburn), butter, and milk. 

If one spent the time to create a sweet filling, a healthier crust alternative was crucial. One using less butter and white whole wheat flour looked feasible. The ingredients were mixed together with a pastry cutter instead of the standard food processor, wrapped in plastic wrap, and placed in the refrigerator to set for a few hours.

The apples were peeled and sliced, and placed in a pan with thawed apple juice concentrate. While they simmered, the pie dough was rolled out to fit the pan. Using wheat flour and half the butter made the dough less pliable and dry. The bottom crust was brought together with the magic of plastic wrap and a strong hand on the rolling pin. The heated apples were spooned into the unbaked crust.

Now trouble arose. The alleged top crust was stubborn. It crumbled at first roll, but this pie lady did some trouble-shooting. What if maple syrup was added to the mixture and made into a streusel topping instead? This might work. Brilliant!

The wind did not subside all day, yet the cinnamon apple scent wafted throughout the house. A cat stood watch over the window, protecting the house against vicious bird invaders. The other feline hid under the table, anxious and fretful at the strange noises the gales brewed.

After 45 minutes the bubbling concoction came out of the oven. Could this pie lady wait until it cooled? A baker must taste test her creations. It is required in order to see if the recipe was a success or a complete failure.

Patience has never been one of this girl’s attributes, so a warm slice was quickly cut and enjoyed along with a cold glass of milk. Crunchy topping. Yum. Silky apples. Lovely. Juice everywhere. Bottom crust…well, definitely not on par with the usual flour, butter, and sugar recipe. It was a little soggy. Looking at the two recipes, this baker discovered the oven temperature should have been higher for the first fifteen minutes of baking time, and then lowered for the remaining 30 minutes. The pie tasted more like a crumble, but it was an apple-ly delight on this oh-so-blustery day. The wheat crust recipe may need a little tweaking, but that is for another day, because this glass of milk requires a little bit more pie.

Apple Filling: (from allrecipes.com)

6 large sweet apples

1 (12 oz) can unsweetened apple juice concentrate (no sugar added), thawed

1 tablespoon cinnamon

3 tablespoons cornstarch

Preheat oven 425 degrees

  1. Mix together the cornstarch, cinnamon, and one third of the apple juice concentrate. Set aside.
  2. Put sliced apples in a large saucepan with raining apple juice concentrate. Simmer until apples are tender. Stir in the cornstarch mixture and continue to simmer until thickened. Remove from heat.
  3. Spoon apple mixed into pastry-lined pie plate. Cover with top crust or streusel. 
  4. Bake for 45 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbly.

Wheat pie crust: (from amyshealthybaking.com)

2 cups white whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 stick unsalted cold butter, cubed

4 teaspoons milk

2 teaspoons pure maple syrup

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

ice cold water

  1. Whisk together the flour and salt in a medium bowl. Cut in the butter using a pastry cutter.
  2. Whisk together the milk and maple syrup, and drizzle over the flour mixture. Whisk together the vinegar and 1 tablespoon of water at a time. Mix until all ingredients have been incorporated. Continue to add water 1 tablespoon at a time and mixing until completely incorporated into a dough. (Next time I will add a few more tablespoons of butter and water, so the dough isn’t so dry.)
  3. Transfer the dough to the center of a large sheet of plastic wrap, and shape into two four inch wide circles. Cover the tops with another large sheet of plastic wrap. Chill for at least an hour.
  4. Leaving the dough between the sheets of plastic, roll it out to an eleven inch circle. Peel off the top layer of plastic wrap, and turn it out into the prepared pie plate. Gently press the dough into the pie plate, and trim the overhang. Spoon the apple pie filling into the center.
  5. For a streusel topping, crumble the other dough into a bowl. Add more cinnamon and maple syrup. Use clean hands to make into a streusel. Place on top of pie filling.
  6. Bake the pie at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Without opening the oven door, reduce the temperature to 375 degrees and bake for an additional 30 minutes. Cool completely. (Ha, that’s funny.) Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, if desired.