How About Love?

 Green Gables Cottage

Green Gables Cottage

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes,
Five hundred twenty five thousand moments so dear.
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.
How do you measure,
Measure a year?
In daylights?
In sunsets?
In midnights?
In cups of coffee?
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife?
In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes,
How do you measure a year in a life?
— “Seasons of Love” Rent, Jonathan Larson

How do you measure a year? 

On May 12, 2017, we traveled, with cats in tow, from our old hometown to this new place, this new town. We signed stacks of papers and eagerly entered a different phase of our lives. We downsized. We minimalized. We put together furniture, arranged throw pillows, and planted flowers. We hung a white swing on the porch, and quickly settled into our little house with the green gables. This cottage would help tell our next chapter.

A year and a few days have passed since that warm Friday in May. We have acclimated to living in a bigger city, discovering cozy breakfast joints and maneuvering chaotic expressways. I’m not clenching the steering wheel as hard as I did last summer, but traffic still accelerates my heart rate. And no one, except maybe my husband, needs to be subjected the language that spouts from my mouth when I encounter a distracted driver swerving from lane to lane as he texts at 70 miles per hour. Nope. It could make a burly truck driver swoon.

We love all the choices: of restaurants, of grocery stores, of places to walk or hike. There are wineries that snake down 94 we will explore this summer. Seat Geek will get us into Cardinal games. Our weekend galavants will include the Missouri Botanical Gardens, a new museum at the Gateway Arch, bike trips on the Katy Trail, and even a road trip up to Mark Twain’s Hannibal. 

As I rejoice in our not so new abode, I do miss certain things about our hometown. It holds our stories, our families, our histories. I miss running into friends at the store. I miss having the grandchildren over for Sunday night dinners and hosting big holiday meals. I miss long walks at Rock Springs with my sister. I really miss the timed stoplights that run the length of the downtown center.

This past winter I went through a few blue months. At first I attributed it to the cold, dreary weather, but I soon discovered I was grieving, truly grieving for what I missed. My yoga tribe. Our favorite Mexican restaurant. Weekly lunch dates with my mom. The grief was real and palpable.

That grief has lifted with the coming of spring. I sat with my winter sadness of what we left behind, but after a year, I welcome what we now possess: a community, a cozy place to land, a home filled with laughter and music and wine and pie. My friends here are no longer new. My husband and I have another favorite Mexican restaurant. My brother’s family and our new grandchild live close. Our gatherings are more intimate. We welcome visitors. We are surrounded in love. 

This is how we measure a year in the life.

 Our New town

Our New town

 Finn kicking back in the kitchen

Finn kicking back in the kitchen

  cozy office/home yoga space

 cozy office/home yoga space

 tribe

tribe

 family

family

 holiday pies

holiday pies

 birthday sunset

birthday sunset

 morning coffee with zozo. i sure do miss her highness.

morning coffee with zozo. i sure do miss her highness.

 This is us: crazy, complicated, weird, drunk on love

This is us: crazy, complicated, weird, drunk on love

The Winter (and Spring) of Our Discontent (and Joy)

"Now is the winter of our discontent/Made glorious summer by this sun of York.” William Shakespeare, Richard III

The bleak yet resplendent winter bled into cruel spring. Great loss and tremendous riches were callously thrown together.  Our broken hearts were pieced back together, and again tossed asunder. These storms have had us seeking refuge in kind words and gentle souls. Our sense of stability shattered, yet love still blooms even in the darkest of alleys. 

When we said goodbye to one of our cats, we were enveloped in a cloud of disconnect and deep grief. This bitchy feline who had graced our lives for the past eleven years with disdain and adoration caught us mourning her absence in every empty corner of our home. The one left behind snuggled closer, confused with the disappearance of his companion. We ached.

A new grandchild came three weeks early, making his family's “party of five” complete. He had little problems entering this world other than jaundice and the complete surprise of his parents. Schedules had to be readjusted, appointments rescheduled, and more diapers purchased. We rejoiced.

Another grandchild made her dramatic entrance six weeks early, causing worry and distress among all who love her and her mother. After only two weeks in the NICU, this tiny girl is strong and fierce and adored by all. We celebrated and breathed.

A father’s heart stopped beating, leaving his family grieving the loss of this big, loud, loving, complicated man. We are still wrapping our wrecked hearts around the finality of this loss. Gratitude flows for the people who have shown up for us, offering their presence, their words, their sympathy. We grieve.

A daughter-in-law, after three years of intense study, is graduating law school on Saturday. All who love this smart and splendid women will be walking with her as she accepts her diploma. We beam with pride.

This weekend we will gather to honor mothers, family, and that damn circle of life. Each loss chips away at our hearts, but with every birth and joyful occasion the wounds begin to heal. We steady one another, throwing out our arms to the universe and embracing all that is joyful and agonizing and glorious. Summer is still weeks away, yet we feel its warmth and its light. We love.

“It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.” - John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent

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No Advice Here

When I was a new mother I was often besieged with unsolicited advice. “You should breastfeed.” “You should bottle-feed.” “Let him cry.” “Don’t let him cry.” “You should be feeding him cereal by now.” “No solid foods until six months.” “Get him on a schedule.” “Let him decide his schedule.” “He should be sleeping in his own bed by now.” “He should be taking a nap.” “Get him potty-trained by two years old.” “Let him decide when he is ready to use the potty.” Most of this counsel came from other older mothers who truly felt their way of raising children was correct. I listened, nodded, and then went on to do what I felt was right for my boys. I may not have always followed the traditional route, and I’m sure I made colossal mistakes, but I can swear on a pile of child-rearing books that my children were well-fed and clothed and loved with every single neuron coursing throughout my body.

Young parents today are still bombarded with “should’s” and “should not’s” from well-meaning family and friends. Amazon has over 3,000 book suggestions on child rearing. The internet is awash with mommy bloggers who brag about their perfect children eating homemade vegan lunches or how they were able to potty train little Dakota at twelve months old. There are staged and filtered Instagram posts of Johnny sweetly helping Mommy in the garden, Martha stirring cookie dough in her designer dress, and three-week old Harry peacefully sleeping through the night. You may look at these and think, “What the heck? How come my house is a disaster? Every time I let the kids help in the kitchen, all hell breaks loose. My kid eats dirt… and likes it. The only food he will eat now is hot dogs, mac and cheese from the box, and strawberry GoGurt. Vegan? Sure, that would work. Shoot, I’m lucky if he naps for ten minutes in the car.”

I don’t know much about the latest parenting trends. When I Googled it, I found “grit-style parenting,” "the minimalist parent,” and “post-gender parenting.” Wow. Even I, who is twenty-something years out from raising babies, began to hyperventilate when I gazed over these terms. Some appear to be wise; others border on obnoxious. The only truly honest child-rearing advice that I can give you is this: go with your gut. If something feels right, go with it. If something feels wrong, walk away from it. Really really listen to your instinct, because it is usually right. And remember, your gut may be telling you something different from your friend’s or your sister’s or your co-worker’s gut. That is okay. Your gut is yours. Nurture it. Love it. Listen to it.

And…now that I have your attention, my young parent friends, I’d like to list a few other things that worked for me and my kids. I am not a parenting expert, just a mom who has been there. Here goes… 

  1. Read. Read. Read. Read out loud. Give them books to read themselves. Take them to the library and let them check out books. Ask for books for birthdays and holidays. Set aside reading time. Let your kids see you read. As my boys got older, they loved audio books. They would spend hours together playing with Legos as they listened to dramatic actors narrate their favorite stories.
  2. Sit down to dinner together. It may be simple, but meal time is sacred. Cherish and honor dinner. Even if you are rushing to activities, go into McDonald’s and sit down. Ask about their day. Talk to each other.
  3. Bedtime routines. After baths and pj’s, we would snuggle in their bedrooms, and I would sing songs and tell stories and then kiss them goodnight. They demanded this routine for years, and I still miss it.
  4. Make sure when you are taking pictures of your children that you are in some of the shots. Your children will appreciate it later, I promise. I love the photos I have of my mom with us. They are moments captured. You don’t have to be Instata perfect, just their mom. 
  5. Be consistent. Don’t threaten something and not follow through. Consistent parenting is your strongest tool.
  6. Let go of guilt. Your way is your way. It may not be everyone’s way, but it is yours. Claim it. Own it. Celebrate it. 
  7. Have fun with your kids. Remember time moves at warp speed. Today you are rocking your first born to sleep, and tomorrow he is living halfway across the country with a career of his own, a cute little dog, and a fabulous wife who adores him. See each moment and be grateful for every bit of chaos. Laugh at their bad jokes. Don’t worry about the mess. Sing loudly in the car. Dance in the living room. Hug them every chance you get.
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That’s all I have, but if you think you need a little extra help with your two-year old, I did see this title on Amazon:

 This is not a book recommendation. I haven’t read it, but I do love the title.

This is not a book recommendation. I haven’t read it, but I do love the title.

Party on, Spring

Yesterday was one of those perfect “oh wow” spring days. After enduring months of frigid temperatures and wet, hazardous conditions, this morning presented me with a 80 degree clear blue sky gift.

I humbly accepted this present with a long walk around a nearby lake. I had only been to this park a few times, and ended up stumbling upon a set of cement stairs that seemed to rise to the sky. Well, of course, I had to climb them to see what was at the the top. They rose up the side of that hill, veering both left and right. When I finally made it to the top, breathing heavily I might add, I discovered a playground and what looked like a pavilion with picnic tables. I took a few cleansing breaths, snapped a photo of the view, and began my descent, which was much easier that the ascent. About halfway down I encountered a tiny garter snake making its way across the steps, one that had probably just rose up from its winter slumber. I said my hellos and continued my walk along the water. During the rest of the hike I saw a small turtle crossing the path, and spied a siege of white herons in one of the ponds ( Yes, I looked up what a group of herons is called: a siege. Don’t you love it?) I noticed a few insects buzzing around my head. Green buds were appearing on the trees and bushes. The wildest animals I saw yesterday, though, were humans. On this gorgeous spring morning I crossed paths with all types: serious bikers, casual dog walkers, chatty pairs of women, dedicated trainers, and gaggles of young mothers herding strollers and scooters. These humans, like the little snake, had ventured out of their own hibernation, blinking up at the bright sun while lacing up their athletic shoes. They took to the pavement with a sense of purpose. All appeared to be saying,” I will delight in the sparkle of this April morning.”

Coming upon this little snake on the steps reminded me of another spring story. When I was a young single mother, my boys and I lived in a duplex on a shady street. On one late April afternoon right as the trees were blooming in the yard, I went to unlock our back door. I glanced down at the patch of dirt next to the concerte steps, and at first I thought one of the boys may have been kicked a ball against the house, but then I noticed the ball was moving. On closer inspection, though, I realized it was a blob of gyrating snakes. I screamed, grabbed the boys as I pushed them in the house, and slammed the door. “What was that little piece of hell I just witnessed?” I asked myself. After a little research, I discovered that this is how garter snakes mate after they emerge from winter hibernation. Yes, they make new babies through snake orgies. You can look it up, but I warn you, the visuals will burn into the deep recesses of your brain. Even now I can see that mass of writhing snakes and shiver. Now, I know snakes, especially garter snakes are good for the environment, eating insects and all. I respect their place. That house and the next one I bought were havens for these little (and sometimes big!) reptiles. Some mornings before I reached for the paper, I would often find one sunbathing on the front porch. Other days I would hear a rustle as I weeded the garden, and know one or more were near. I came to accept their existence, but I never really got used to them.

I believe this is the message of spring. Spring reminds us to breathe in the joy, but watch our step. Spring may be rapturous in its abundance of pale pinks and deep purples, yet we’ve learned over the years to respect its cruel streak. Storms lie in wait. Destruction in the form of tornadoes or fierce storms often cross the dark horizon. Beneath the flowering dogwood may lurk a mass of garter snakes. But what we learn to do is breathe in the fragrance, see the beauty, and just step aside and let those snakes have their fun, or as Robin Williams once said, “Spring is nature’s way of saying ‘Let’s Party!’” Party on, you crazy garter snakes. Party on.

 This little guy was probably on his way to the party.

This little guy was probably on his way to the party.

Friends, Pie, and Facebook

On Easter I baked a new pie which hinted of lemony, salty deliciousness in every bite. The recipe came from a magazine that was sent to me by a dear friend and baked in a yellow pie plate given to me by another. This is a story of friends, pie, and the power of Facebook.

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A few weeks ago I received a thin brown envelope in the mail. When I opened it I pulled out a magazine and a two-page handwritten letter from Sue, a college friend and sorority sister who now lives in North Carolina. When she saw this pie issue she immediately thought of me, went out to purchase another copy, and then took the time to write a note. I was touched by her kind words and the effort she put into this simple gift.

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Last week we traveled down to Alabama to spend a few days along the coast and also see friends of ours. One rainy night we invited them over to our little cottage to share wine, pizza, and many stories. Evelyn gave me a beautiful yellow pie plate, knowing how much I love to bake. My heart was grateful for this sweet present and the thought she put into it.

The remarkable thing about these two women is we would not be friends today if was not for Facebook, this mighty, often invasive, yet connective social media platform. Through Facebook posts I have gotten to know both of them through photos of their vacations, children, and pets. They are both kind, intelligent, and compassionate women, and my life would be emptier without them.

I met Sue at college after I pledged a sorority. We took classes together, yet we each had our own circles of friends that often didn’t intersect. After graduation we both went our separate ways: me to various cities and teaching jobs, she to Kansas City to teach and then work at Hallmark. A few years back we reconnected through Facebook, and then introduced each other to our husbands, children, and menageries of cats and dogs. When I retired early because of a health diagnosis, she messaged me to say she also suffered from it. She has continued to give me sound advice on how to manage it, from diet to vitamins. We both adore Pat Conroy books, the lilting and weighty sound of his words and we both mourned his passing a few years ago. We are intrinsically connected through books, good writing, and mutual admiration for one another.

I went to junior high and high school with Evelyn, but we were not friends. She ran with a wilder (her words!) crowd, breaking rules and howling at the moon. She and I existed in different universes. I attempted to quietly walk within those restrictive rules, believing I was unnoticed and invisible. When she first requested to be my friend on Facebook, I had to search my mental rolodex to remember who she was, but it did not take long for us to become true friends. Our children were close in age, and we ended up having much in common, despite the miles between us. After the tragic loss of another high school/Facebook friend, we reached out to one another and haven’t let go. Now we meet once a year down on the coast of Alabama. We laugh and cry and hold onto to one another through joys and losses, various medical procedures and health scares, stories of our children, and the precarious state of this country.

I adore these two women and count them among my dearest friends, even though Sue now lives in North Carolina and Evelyn in Alabama. Facebook has made it possible to be virtual pen pals, sharing our lives and our hearts with every message and photo.

Facebook is in some deep disgusting shit these days. It has allowed outside entities to scrape our data without our permission. Mark Zuckerberg has a lot of explaining AND fixing to do in order for us to trust him again, if that is even possible. Many, including me, have felt exposed and vulnerable. I’ve tightened up my privacy settings and removed apps that automatically connect to Facebook. I contemplated severing my ties to this behemoth, yet, here’s the thing. I like being connected. I adore seeing pictures of friends’ kids and grandkids. I love the inspirational sites I follow that often give me ideas for other blog pieces. Following journalists such as Dan Rather and Connie Schultz continue to offer up sane words for this fractured nation of ours. Through Facebook, I am even able to share my own crazy rambling words through this blog. Over the past few years I’ve attempted to purge negativity and ignorance from my page, which is a difficult and ongoing task. I no longer comment or try to debate with those who have different views than mine. If I am terribly offended, I unfollow or unfriend, and I also understand if others have done the same to me. I choose to discover intelligent information and bask in remarkable joy through my feed. It is my prerogative. 

This is what I seek and often find in my social media platforms: hope. Hope in these far-flung friendships. Hope in the work of scholars, scientists, teenage activists, and poets. Hope in every photo of a new grandchild, sunset, and spring flower. And hope in pie. There is always hope in pie.

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 Atlantic Beach Pie was created by Bill Smith, owner of Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, NC. Recipe courtesy of  Our State  Magazine.

Atlantic Beach Pie was created by Bill Smith, owner of Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, NC. Recipe courtesy of Our State Magazine.

My Three Prayers on This First Day of Spring

I do not consider myself religious in the traditional manner. I have attended various churches over the years, often searching for community and clarity, yet none of these institutions have presented me with any sense of peace. Public displays of faith often cause me to wriggle in my seat. Cognitive dissonance pokes at my messy brain. Every time I hear, “Let us pray,” the little stubborn girl in me with scraped knees and crooked bangs stomps her foot and cries, “Make me.” Just the term “organized religion” makes me question everything it represents. Faith, to me, is mysterious unanswered questions that cannot be contained in human-built cathedrals. It is private and personal and non-compulsory.

My quiet pleas in the dark, after the television goes off and the covers are drawn close, seem to give me the most hope. These silent prayers have evolved from begging for a boyfriend to pleading for more money to watching over my children and grandchildren. They are my confidential petitions, asking the universe to gently shower love over all whom I adore and even that which causes me to twitch and squirm. They also contain confessions of my brokenness and failures, requesting directions on how to navigate the sadness. They are exclusively mine and not open for public consumption. 

I recently reread Anne Lamott’s book Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. She defines prayer as, “…talking to something or anything with with we seek union, even if we are bitter or insane or broken. (In fact, these are probably the best possible conditions under which to pray.)  Prayer is taking a chance that against all odds and past history we are loved and chosen, and we do not have to get it together before we show up.” She then suggests three essential prayers we all have in our arsenal: Help, thanks, and wow. They are simple devotions, communicating honestly with whatever deity we feel we have a connection. 

Help. Help me pilot this journey with grace and kindness and truth. Thanks. Thanks for good coffee and true friends and warm, flaky pie. Wow. Show me the wonder of the universe, whether it is experiencing the grandeur of fog coming in over the Golden Gate Bridge or being there for a beloved cat as she takes her last breaths.

I acknowledge I am stumbling through this spiritual odyssey of mine. I find glory in great literature, faith through any song of James Taylor’s, and sacrament in dazzling sunsets. I’m angry at injustice. I do not tolerate blatant lies. I march when I can in the name of love. I make mistakes. I struggle to forgive others and myself. I question everything. I know I am a mess: a beautiful, crazy, complicated wreck, yet I still throw back the covers every morning, put my feet on the cold floor, and figure out how to live this day in love.

I ask for help. I offer thanks. I bask in wow.

“Love falls to the earth, rises from the ground, pools around the afflicted. Love pulls people back to their feet. Bodies and souls are fed. Bones and lives heal. New blades of grass grow from charred soil. The sun also rises.” ~Anne Lamott

 Wow.

Wow.

The Constant of Pi

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Pi Day, according to The Guardian, is “…an annual date of celebration in the mathematical community because March 14, or 3/14, using the US convention of dates, looks like 3.14, which is pi to two decimal points. Pi is a mathematical constant, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. The value is always the same for any circle.

For someone like me, who has a severe math and science disability, there is something oddly comforting in the imagery of pi, even if I don’t totally understand it. Pi is constant. Pi’s value is constant. Pi defines a circle’s circumference, which has no edges. A circle is strong and difficult to break.

We humans tend to gravitate toward circles because they often represent calm, peace, and safety, while sharp, angular shapes can manifest anxiety and fear. Think of all the circles we have embraced throughout history: Stonehenge, King Arthur’s Round Table, labyrinths, fairy rings, prayer circles, wedding rings, sports stadiums, and mysterious crop circles. Even our DNA is a series of interlocked circles, those building blocks that tell us who we are and where we’ve come from. Circles represent infinity, a defense against all the chaos the world throws at us. When someone we love is hurting, we circle the wagons. When we link arms, we are stronger.

When I think of the circles in my own life, I am reminded of how we all are connected. Sometimes our circles intersect, uniting us through marriages, babies, friendships, and even divorces. Every time we enter or create a circle, we forge a connection, which then becomes part of our journeys. Our bonds are our stories, even if they are cracked or fractured. I will forever be connected to my ex-husband and his family’s circle through our sons’ circles. We have a shared history, making our lives one big interwoven patchwork-like Venn diagram: deeply complicated and ultimately beautiful in its uniqueness.

On this particular Pi Day, I baked a lemon chess pie to bring to my book club circle, this group of women who gather every week to discuss love, spirituality, and the deep questions of life. I’d love to send pies to all my circles, warm them with layers of buttery crusts and rich fillings, to remind them of our connections and how they are a constant in my sojourn through this life.

“Life is a full circle, widening until it joins the circle motions of the infinite.” - Anais Nin

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A Well-Needed Sad Day

Yesterday I took a sad day. I didn’t have a fever or a stomach ache. Instead, I was engulfed in heavyheartedness. The day was devoted to Gilmore Girls and other mindless television. I ate chocolate. I made pasta. I pulled out an adult coloring book and filled in fairies’ wings with different shades of Crayola pencils. I took an extra-long nap. I cuddled with Finn, our big furry cat. I sat with my sadness. I wallowed.

Last week we made the difficult decision to let our other cat Zooey go. We both were with her at the end, petting her soft fur and whispering into her ear. It was heartbreaking. The next morning I cleaned with a crazed mania, trying to rid the house of evidence of her illness.  I spent the next week in a daze, traveling to my hometown for a quick overnight to help my mother-in-law, and then a few days later up to Chicago for a visit with my youngest son. I didn’t have time to really acknowledge the loss of this cat, the void she was leaving in our home.

When I walked in the door on Tuesday afternoon, Finn greeted me with pitiful meows. “Where have you been? Where’s that other one? I need you. Pay attention to me. I can’t believe you left me. Don’t ever leave again.” I know. I know. I’m personifying, yet that’s what it sounded like. Poor kitty. Then, suddenly, I was knocked off my ass with the ghost of Zooey, and deep despair finally overtook me. I plopped on the couch, and didn’t leave it for almost a day and a half, except of course for bathroom breaks, snacks, and a quick shower. With my husband away on a business trip, silence echoed throughout the house. I allowed myself grieve.

Today I am stronger because of my sad day. I will welcome joy back into my heart. These furry housemates, as a friend of mine calls them, teach us much, but the hardest lesson is learning how to live with the sorrow of letting go. My heart will probably always have a small fissure in it, left by the black cat with the bitchy meow. Our Zooey.

 The day after we said our goodbyes to Zooey, my husband texted me to ask how I was doing. My reply was, “Sad.” I then asked how he was doing. He replied, “surprisingly affected.” I texted back, “Honey, that’s your heart."

The day after we said our goodbyes to Zooey, my husband texted me to ask how I was doing. My reply was, “Sad.” I then asked how he was doing. He replied, “surprisingly affected.” I texted back, “Honey, that’s your heart."

Clinging to Joy

“For happiness one needs security, but joy can spring like a flower even from the cliffs of despair.” - Anne Morrow Lindbergh

As I sit at my kitchen table, the rain blows against the windows. The wind catches the porch furniture as the metal chairs clatter on the wood. Thunderstorms on a Monday morning can be despairingly gloomy, yet I glimpse spring scratching to appear. The end of February and the beginning of March in the Midwest are fickle times. Snowflakes juxtaposition themselves against 70 degree days. One doesn’t know whether to grab gloves or sunscreen when heading out the door. These days, though, teach me patience, because I know warm days are coming. Nothing will block the bursting of pastel flowering trees that scatter the roads and sidewalks. Spring is a force that will not be stopped. It comes, despite an errant blizzard or a late March ice storm. It will come.

Nature gives us life lessons. It is easy to complain about cold, wet days. We grumble. We growl. But joy perches gracefully within reach. As Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “It’s not what you look at that matters; it’s what you see.” If we choose to see misery, that is what will be dumped in our laps. Even in the deepest of pain, we can choose to see sparks of joy. It may be the cat warming himself on the sunlit floor or a favorite song popping up on the radio or knowing spring will be here soon.

Sparks of joy are everywhere. A pile of to-be-read books on the kitchen table. The scraping sound of the wreath against the front door. A pot of yellow daises. A morning text from my husband. The cooing of doves nesting in our eves. These are what I choose to see this morning.

I acknowledge the world is a dark and dangerous place. Slain children fill my nightmares. Flags at half mast prick my tender heart. A confused and insecure man tweets vile messages as Rome burns. We are precariously teetering on those cliffs of despair. But…but I also hear fierce and articulate teenagers fight the norms. I feel mothers and fathers mobilizing to protect their children. I see hope. I spy joy, even as the mourning continues.

Because joy is not an empty promise made by slick sideshow preachers or slimy politicians. It is here, for deep within our anger and grief lies joy and love.

“Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.” - Joseph Campbell

 We must be warriors. We must be warriors for love. We must be warriors for joy.

We must be warriors. We must be warriors for love. We must be warriors for joy.

My Pens, Our Children, My Grief, Our Grief

Back when I was teaching I graded papers with Paper Mate flair pens. I would buy packages of these thin multicolor markers at Target and stockpile them in my desk. I was drawn to specific colors, especially purple. Purple was regal. It was power. It was respect. Every time I used my purple flair pen, I hoped my almost indecipherable scratchings would be noticed, understood, and remembered. These markings were how I often “spoke” to my students. It was my ancient wisdom delivered through side remarks and proofreading edits. I rarely used red because research stated that red was thought to elicit negative emotions from students. Red is an intense color. It signifies love, fire, and blood. So I tucked the red pens back in the drawers and instead used less impassioned colors to remark on essays, homework, and speech critiques.

After I retired and began journaling, I gave up the flair pens. I didn’t like the way they flowed over the pages and often bled to the other side. After experimenting with various brands, I found Paper Mate Ink Joy gel pens. I am still drawn to purple and pink, and usually leave the red in my desk.

On Wednesday in honor of Valentine’s Day, I decided to pull out the red pen for my daily scratchings. I admit it felt odd to write in red, this pen color I had cast aside for years, but I scribbled three pages of ideas for possible blog posts. Bright red words on crisp white pages. I then tucked my notebook away and got ready for a luncheon I was hosting for a group of women I’ve grown to love.

Later that afternoon a news alert came over my phone. My heart lurched. I turned on the television to images of police surrounding a school, of terrified students running from the building with their hands over their heads, of parents pacing the sidewalks with cell phones in hands, of first responders working on victims. I stopped breathing. News trickled out. Injuries, then fatalities. My mind raced through the familiar halls of this school, imagining the terror. Even though I had never stepped foot in this building, I knew it. I saw bulletin boards, textbooks, and desks. And then my mind went to cowering kids, frantically texting their parents. I caught a glimpse of teachers fiercely protecting their students, yet thinking of their own families. But mostly it saw blood. Bright red blood splashed against artwork and lockers and fallen book bags.

I am sad. I am angry. I am grieving. 

During my last few years of teaching I participated in code red drills, and every single one filled me with anxiety and dread. After one particular drill the assistant principal came to each room informing us of our errors. When he came to mine he told me I was “dead.” I still remember the sick feeling as he said this to me. I was dead. No, I couldn’t be dead. Not in this “safe” classroom of mine where I spent every day teaching Romeo and Juliet or listening to awkward speeches or working on yearbook pages. No. No. No. 

Code red. There’s that color again. Red. Our school colors were red and white. Red and white. My breath is ragged. My heart is cracked. Red and white.

Even though I no longer walk the halls, I am still there. I want to protect those kids from everything that hurts them. I want to swoop in and whisper, “Everything is going to be okay.”

We are the grownups. We need to work together to protect our kids. Yes, it is a gun problem. Yes, it is a mental health issue. Yes, it is a parenting issue. Yes, it is a political issue. Yes, it is a money issue. Yes, it is a societal breakdown issue. Yes, it is an isolationist issue. Yes, it is OUR issue. We need to own it, and come up with realistic, non-partisan ways to solve it. For OUR kids.

I am a retired teacher. I am a mother. I am a grandmother. I am the mother of a Navy veteran and a police officer. I am the step-mother of a teacher. I am the sister of a principal of an elementary school. I am friends with teachers. I am a liberal who loves this country. I am friends with conservatives who love this country. I am a non-gun owner. I am friends with gun owners. I am a writer of love, of heartache, of peace, of struggle, of simple joys and complicated pain. 

Part of me wants to use a red pen every day until we can come together to work on what is breaking us apart, yet I will leave it in the drawer. I can’t bring myself to put the red pen to the crisp white paper. It’s too painful, for I’m still grieving. 

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But first a little about February

I don’t know about you, but I welcome February. January is sad and dark and loaded with slimy germs. I coughed and hacked my way through every depressing day while the cold medicine made me dizzyingly disoriented. Now that I have convalesced, today right before I opened my eyes, I said a quiet, grateful prayer for this new month.

February. A month of cinnamon red hearts and wild Mardi Gras celebrations and the solemn first days of Lent. We honor past presidents. Football gets its own special Sunday. We await what the groundhog will see. Every four years an extra day is tacked onto the month. But why? What is the history of the shortest month of the year? It involves Romans, superstitions, and some math, so bear with me here.

Our modern calendar dates back to the ancient Romans. Romulus, the first king of Rome, devised a ten month lunar calendar which began in March on the new moon before the spring equinox, and ended in December. But what about those winter months, you ask? Since it was mostly an agrarian society, the harvest was over and most Romans were just trying to stay alive during those cold days. 

The second king Numa Pompilius decided the calendar needed some tweaking, so he added two months and synced it with the actual lunar year, which is approximately 354 days. The new months of January and February had 28 days each, but even numbers were considered bad luck to the Romans. Numa added one day to January, but no one really knows why he left February with 28. Some say it was because February was host to many festivals that honored and purified the dead, so why not just leave it unlucky. Sounds like a good story.

This 355 day calendar did not stay in sync with the seasons, so every couple of years an extra day was added to February, but it was placed after the 23rd instead of the 28th. Go figure. Politicians added or deleted these days according to their whims, so many Romans still didn’t know what day it was. Confusing.

In 45 BC, Julius Caesar revamped the calendar and aligned it with the sun instead of the moon. Ten days were added, with an extra day to February every four years. Now the calendar was closer to cycle of the sun and was 365.25 days. 

That’s it. The calendar has been revised over the years to accommodate Christian holidays and seasons, but it still closely resembles the Roman model. February, that short month of purification, gives us pause. We send Valentines. We cuddle. We drunkenly stagger throughout raucous Mardi Gras parades. We spread ashes. 

We anxiously await spring.

“The February sunshine steeps your boughs and tints the buds and swells the leaves within.” - William Cullen Bryant

(And because I am always an English teacher...)

Hogelback. Jonathan. “Why Are There Only 28 Days in February?” britannica.com. 2018.

McAfee, Melonyce. “28 Days?” slate.com. 27 Feb. 2007.

Reilly, Lucas. “Why Are There Only 28 Days in February?” mentalfloss.com 1 Feb. 2017.

“Why Does February Only Have 28 Days?” PBS Digital Studios. https://youtu.be/AgKaHTh-_Gs  23 Feb. 2015.

 

 

 

 grammerly.com

grammerly.com

Releasing Expectations: Letting Go

 Calvin and Hobbes, Bill Watterson

Calvin and Hobbes, Bill Watterson

Is it possible to let go of expectations that bring us pain and disappointment? How do we navigate the world when we release these barriers and trust in what is? Can we stop ourselves from believing in preconceived fantasies such as the “perfect” life? What are the steps we can take that give us peace instead of heartache?

Wayne Dyer said, “Peace is retraining your mind to process life as it is, rather than as you think it should be.” We can make all kinds of elaborate plans, write pages of lists, and set lofty goals, yet life inevitably gets in the way. Accidents. Divorce. Job loss. Illness. Death. All are roadblocks that force us to scream, “Hey, this isn’t what I expected out of my life, damnit!” So we recalibrate, yet, if we continue to believe in false expectations, depression will follow.

I know my own life has been a series of reboots. I never expected to divorce, move back to my hometown, remarry, lose my father to Alzheimer’s, retire early, or move to another state in my late 50’s, but I am learning to detach from what I thought my life would be like. It’s not easy. In fact, it’s damn hard. I’ve had to let go of the fairytales, and to be perfectly honest, it sometimes just pisses me off. I get angry. I’m sad. I find myself crying, “I want what they have,” but then I take a breath. No one’s life is perfect. Everyone I know fights battles. So…I am on a daily quest to let go of my own unrealistic expectations. How do I go about it?

  1. Be honest. What is my truth? What is my motivation? Do I want something from others or do I just want love?
  2. Don’t take things too personally. Laugh. Let others just be.
  3. Accept frailty in others. No one, and I mean, no one is perfect. Thank God. Embrace the imperfection in others and in myself.
  4. Come to every situation with an empty cup. An empty cup releases expectations.
  5. Look at the world through a child’s eye. If it is new, there are no expectations.
  6. Be realistic and let go of comparisons. What I have is mine, so therefore it is unique. If struggling, remember # 3.
  7. Detach. Detach from fear. Detach from ego. Detach from disappointment.
  8. Work on relinquishing control over others. I can’t control how others think or behave. I have enough trouble with my own issues. If struggling, remember #2.
  9. Practice daily gratitude. Always.
  10. Know that plans will change. Lists will get torn up. Goals will be broken. This is life. Let go and move on. Sometimes the unexpected is painful, yet beauty can be found. Continue to look for joy.

When I focus on the wonder of “what is” instead of “what I expect,” I choose to live this life. I am present. I am me. I am living in love.

“Love is the ability and willingness to allow those that you care for to be what they choose for themselves without any insistence that they satisfy you.” - Wayne Dyer

“I let go of all expectation. People, places, and things are free to be themselves, and I am free to be me.” - Louise Hay

 

Promises Made, Broken, and Forgotten: A New Year of “I Wills"

I love to set goals, especially at the beginning of weeks or months or years. I lay out all my promises to myself with innocent glee. For the first few days I’m a maniac working diligently on the list, but quickly I lose focus. A day goes by and then another. The energy wanes. The intentions soon fade, and then I’m back to wondering, “What the hell? Why can’t I concentrate? Damn.” Then I am back to a new week or month or year. The different (or same) list is made. Affirmations are written down with the best of intentions. I tell myself this time I will accomplish my goals. And the cycle repeats itself.

So, why do I continue this behavior? According to vocabulary.com, a resolution is, “a decision to do something or to behave in a certain manner.” Making resolutions or goals gives us direction, even if we swerve off course. When I taught high school, I would make daily lists in the morning and cross off as I accomplished each task. They kept me focused, and frankly, if I didn’t write it down I would forget. It is the same with resolutions. When we write them down or make them public, they become real. Psychology Today states the best predictor to success is “self-efficacy - the belief in one’s ability to get the job done.” Set realistic goals, believe in yourself, and then plan out how to accomplish them. Don’t give up after a slip. Just set a new goal and move forward. 

Sounds simple? No, in fact, resolutions are damn hard. This is why the majority of them fail in the first few weeks. But why do we keep making them? Human nature, that’s why. We humans are on a constant quest to improve our lives. Very few of us wish for bad health or messy houses or terrible relationships. We desire more, and so we continue New Year’s resolutions year after year.

As I teeter on the cusp of a new year, I ponder how our lives shifted dramatically in the last twelve months. My husband got a new job in a new state. We sold stuff, donated stuff, and moved stuff to our new home. I left old friends in my old town, but am slowly making new ones in my new town. Most of my New Year’s resolutions from last year faltered, sputtered, and tanked, yet I am determined to come up with a fresh list to welcome 2018. What are my chances of actualization? Well, I’ll never know unless I try, so this year I have five “I wills.” 

  1. I will write. My writing suffered with the move. I seemed to have lost something, whether it was inspiration or determination, but I have decided I am lost without it. I am a writer, so I will write. I won’t be afraid to put my words out there, even if they face rejection or are ignored. I’m looking at signing up for writing conferences, writing groups, and even submitting works to online publications. Writing is a vital part of who I am, and I need to nurture it.
  2. I will eat healthy. I discovered back in November that my bad cholesterol is too high. If ignored, I risk clogged arteries and heart disease. This new year will include healthy choices, including backing off from alcohol, at least for “Sober January.” After that, everything in moderation. More vegetables. Less sugar. More beans and nuts. Less white rice and pasta. More water. Less wine. More fruit. Less crap. More oatmeal. Less carb-filled breakfasts. If I want to run around with the grandchildren, this is how I will eat and live. 
  3. I will step away from my phone more. For a few days each monthI will not check social media or read the news, especially anything to do with that crazy loon “in charge.” I will not drown in all the negativity; instead I will attack my “to be read” list with verve, which includes Tolstoy’s War and Peace, a few new young adult authors and titles, and some nonfiction.
  4. I will buy less stuff. I do not need more clothes or tchotchkes for the house. Embracing a minimalist lifestyle will help the budget and clear the mind of needless mess.
  5. I will practice yoga and meditation daily. Both will help with the other goals. Mindfulness creates calm, creativity, and energy from within. It is all about embracing the zen.

The key to success is believing it is possible. Faith. Hope. Vision. Looking to the new year with fresh eyes and an open heart. These are my “I wills.” I acknowledge I will stumble, but with each fall I will learn to accept my faults, my gifts, and my determination to really live this life.

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself. Changing yourself. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something. - Neil Gaiman

 “The writer has to force himself to work. He has to make his own hours and if he doesn’t go to his desk at all there is nobody to scold him.” - Roald Dahl

“The writer has to force himself to work. He has to make his own hours and if he doesn’t go to his desk at all there is nobody to scold him.” - Roald Dahl

A Christmas State of Mind

When I was a young mother of two small boys, Christmas was crazily chaotic. December flew by in a mad jumble of holiday concerts (both choir AND band), classroom parties, quick trips to the mall, and cold nights spent watching hockey at the ice rink. I often plied them with pizza or McDonald’s because I barely had time to breathe, let alone cook a healthy meal. Sometimes I felt as though I was failing at the whole Christmas tradition game. Riddled with guilt I would try to squeeze in an afternoon of cookie baking, thinking this would be the holiday memory they would carry into adulthood, but usually the little traitors disappeared to the basement after five minutes of attempting to decorate, licking green and red icing off their fingers as they escaped the mess.

When I look back at those days now, though, I know I was doing the best I could. My boys have their own backpacks of holiday memories from visiting Santa and Mrs. Claus in Central Park to jumping with unbridled glee when they saw their presents under the tree. One Christmas we flew out to California to visit my brother’s family and they got to throw a football around on the beach while everyone back at home was shoveling out from a huge snowstorm.

Now when I look around at other young mothers rushing around, trying to make everything Pinterest perfect, I want to whisper, “Slow down, my loves. These precious days with your children will be over in an instantaneous flicker. Cherish the small, unimportant moments, not the grandiose and glittery ones. Put down your phones. Look at their faces. Listen to their sweet voices. Know your time with them is short and exquisite and magical. You do not have to create the “perfect” holiday. Just giggle with them and have fun. Always, always remember to have fun.”

“Christmas, children, is not a date. It is a state of mind.” – Mary Ellen Chase

 We always had music, games, and laughter in our little house on christmas. Oh, and brotherly love, of course! 

We always had music, games, and laughter in our little house on christmas. Oh, and brotherly love, of course! 

My Grown-up Christmas List

The Christmas season always makes me a little weepy. Sometimes all the frivolity is just too much. Tears often flow at the end of Hallmark movies, in the middle of crowded stores, or when a especially poignant song comes on the radio. Usually it is “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” because no matter who sings it, that song is heartbreaking, but the other morning another Christmas song took me by surprise. I was driving around, doing some last minute shopping, when “Grown-up Christmas List” popped up on Holly, a holiday station on satellite radio. I found myself gulping down sobs as I listened to the lyrics. When I pulled over in a mall parking lot, I wiped messy tears from my old face. 

What was it about this song that dredged up such emotions? I looked up the lyrics while I ate my Panera soup and sandwich. This song encapsulates this messy, broken world we live in today, even though it was written in 1990. Every generation has its demons and its heroes. At the beginning of the last decade of the twentieth century, Saddam Hussein rattled his swords throughout the Middle East, Lech Walesa became president of Poland, and the Berlin Wall was demolished. The United States was on the verge of a major recession. Nelson Mandela was freed from a South African prison. President Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachov signed an agreement to end chemical weapons production. Evil was present, yet good marched forward.

Many of us believe the tribulations we face today are unscalable, but for every bullying, sexist tweet or vicious attempt at oppression there are hundreds of examples of truth. Our beliefs may often seem shattered, yet hope reigns. The devils are everywhere: in our churches, our schools, our movies, and in our government. They prey on the vulnerable. They steal from the poor. They rob of us our innocence. Often it seems as if they are suffocating us, pilfering our dreams, but there are also angels among us that outnumber these demons. They fight for truth. They help the downtrodden. They hold out their hands to help. Decency triumphs because history isn’t kind to dictators, oligarchs, and purveyors of hate.

Before I sat down to write this, I listened to different interpretations of “Grown-up Christmas List.” From Amy Grant to Kelly Clarkson to Michael Buble, each summoned up childhood lists, my wishes for books or dolls or board games. I scanned the night sky on Christmas Eve, hoping to spot Santa’s sleigh. Now I’m older, I still believe in Santa but my lists have changed. I no longer want toys. I pray for peace. I hope for justice. I propose love, because love is stronger that hate. This is my grownup Christmas list.

“So here’s my lifelong wish,

My grown-up Christmas list,

Not for myself, but for a world in need:

No more lives torn apart,

Then wars would never starts,

And time would heal all hearts.

And every one would have a friend,

And right would always win,

And love would never end

This is my grown-up Christmas list.”

Songwriters: Linda Thompson/David Foster

 In every photo I took of this angel, the dove she’s carrying appeared fuzzy. I’d like to think it’s a sign that hope is here, taking flight from our hearts to heal the universe.

In every photo I took of this angel, the dove she’s carrying appeared fuzzy. I’d like to think it’s a sign that hope is here, taking flight from our hearts to heal the universe.

Blue Christmas

Christmas. To many it is a time of bright lights and colorful presents and joyful noise unto the world. To others it can be a difficult, and even blue time of the year. One is bombarded with jolly messages and flocks of red and green, but these things can be reminders of things lost or broken. Often, the heart can’t take all this forced Christmas cheer.

What is to blame for this “holiday syndrome”? Was it created by psychiatrists and psychologists in order to increase their patient loads? Is it because so many are overwhelmed with all of the family obligations, school concerts, office parties, and the overabundance of food and liquor at every gathering? Could it be the Hallmark and Lifetime movies that are shown around the clock that depict the “perfect” small town Christmas, complete with caroling townspeople and a magical Santa? Or is it perhaps the onslaught of heart-wrenching songs such as “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” or “Please Come Home for Christmas” that focus on missing loved ones who are far away during the holiday season? Or could it be the popularity of the holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life that has contributed to the mythology that the suicide rates spike around Christmas?

Whatever the reason, this season does bring out the blues in many of us. Instead of cheerful, we feel melancholy. Our expectations are often way out of whack with reality. We are gloomy, even when surrounded by holiday festivities. There is so much going on this time of the year that we sometimes want to hide from it all. Crawling in a dark closet and staying there until February sounds surprisingly appealing.

How do we combat the holiday blues? There's tons of advice out there. Exercise. Eat well. Drink more water than alcohol. Stay away from the news (especially good advice this year!). Simplify. Learn to say no. Have gratitude for what you have instead of focusing on what is missing.

Me? In our old house, I had a blue Christmas tree. We'd tramp out to the tree farm for a real one that goes in the family room, and the artificial tree was set up in what was the living room and eventually became my writing office. This was the tree I decorated with all the blue and silver bulbs and ornaments I  collected over the years. It sparkled and glittered and reminded me that even when I was glum during this crazy season, I had only to look at this shimmering tree to experience joy. This year in our new, smaller home I decided to put a few of the blue and silver ornaments on a tiny tree out by our front porch. It resembles Charlie Brown’s little tree, but it still reminds me to keep hope in my heart, even in the darkest of times. 

I do find “comfort and joy” in this blue tree of mine, whether it is inside or out.  It reminds me to breathe, to slow down, and to acknowledge the blues are part of the human condition.

    “And when those blue snowflakes start falling

    That's when those blue memories start calling

    You'll be doin' all right, with your Christmas of white

    But I'll have a blue, blue blue blue Christmas.” 

    -Blue Christmas Songwriters: Billy Hayes and Jay W. Johnson

 Perhaps next year I’ll put up a blue tree in my office, because I have realized I’ve missed looking at it while I write.

Perhaps next year I’ll put up a blue tree in my office, because I have realized I’ve missed looking at it while I write.

A New Christmas

“Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” - Charlie Brown

The tree is up. Lights are hung. A collection of Santa Clauses grace a front table. Twinkling fairy lights glow from the bookcase. Christmas has come with all its greenery and delight, except…except everything is different this year. Since our move we have had to adjust to all types of changes, including our images of Christmas.

As I was packing up Christmas last year I knew we would be moving, so I carefully went through all my decorations and packed a box to be donated to a local charity. I hoped someone else would grow to love my old nativity or the large metal reindeer that used to stand guard at the front door. My precious Mary Englebreit Santa flag was gifted to my step-daughter and the little lighted tree to my son. A former student came one Sunday afternoon to load our artificial tree in the back of her boyfriend’s red truck. I whittled down Christmas to just a few plastic bins.

I unpacked a few decorations before Thanksgiving, pondering placement in our new, smaller home. Where would I put everything? In our old house I arranged things in a certain way every year: Santas on the mantel, blue ornaments on the tree in the living room, a string of silver bells on the hallway mirror, glass ornaments in crystal bowls. This year I would have to rethink everything. Slowly, I began to pull out familiar items, not really knowing where they would go. For a moment, a sense of melancholy swept over me. So much had changed in the past year, and now Christmas. Instead of my usual excitement, I felt sad, as if I was drifting through a foggy night. I took a breath. I would tackle this just as I had tackled everything else in this move. I then spied new places to tuck my angels, snowmen, and Santas. My blue ornaments found their way to a humble little evergreen out by the front porch. The vintage red and gold balls still fill the Tiffany glass bowl given to me by my dear friend Nancy. Last weekend we found a tree farm out in the country, and that afternoon while I watched a hokey Hallmark movie and arranged my ornaments, my husband figured the placement of the outside lights. Christmas did arrive, despite the locale shift. 

Webster defines tradition as, “an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (such as a religious practice or a social custom). A belief or story or a body of beliefs or stories relating to the past that are commonly accepted as historical though not verifiable.” Sometimes we are forced to rethink our traditions. Often the old ones don’t fit as we grow and move. The past doesn’t work any longer, so we look to fresh stories. This year I am reimagining the old and the new. My customary patterns have been rearranged, and I am learning to accept this passage as an important challenge as I settle into this community. It is as if I’m a child again, seeing Christmas with fresh, almost innocent eyes. Every light sparkles and each carol sings. I’m embracing it all.

“Christmas waves a magic wand over the world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.” - Norman Vincent Peale

“We are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmastime.” - Laura Ingalls Wilder

 all our hopes, loves, and dreams surrounded by new christmas lights.

all our hopes, loves, and dreams surrounded by new christmas lights.

My Reading Prayers

My friend Marcia often texts me book recommendations. Titles and photos of dust jackets pop up on my phone like surprise Christmas gifts. Some of them I’ve already read, a few are placed on my ever growing TBR list, and others are devoured as soon as the “ting” comes through my screen. Her latest, My Reading Life by Pat Conroy, had been sitting on my shelf for almost two years. I had revisited both Prince of Tides and Beach Music after Conroy’s death in 2016, and the dark family stories he covered made me step away from him for my mental health, so this little book sat unread.

My Reading Life is a series of essays on Conroy’s love of books and how they led him to his writing life. He wrote about the power of the written word and how books gave him the world, thanks to his well-read mother and a series of teachers who recognized the fire in this broken, scarred young man. He praised Gone With the Wind, War and Peace, The Lord of the Rings, the works of Thomas Wolfe, and hundreds of other novels that showed him glory and grace, beauty and destruction, retribution and forgiveness. Conroy haunted book stores, collecting works of Tolstoy, Hemingway, Shakespeare, and O’Connor. This southern writer acknowledged the poetry and prose of other authors inspired and saved him every day of his life.

My own reading life began as a young girl, curled up on the corner of our couch with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories of the West or Nancy Drew mysteries. My mother let me check out books without censor, never questioning the age appropriateness, and for that, I am grateful. Books were my window to the world beyond my little town. I danced with Russian aristocrats, farmed with Native Americans, and road steam engines across this country. I loved both steamy romance paperbacks and classic novels such as The Secret Garden and Little Women

Books continue to give me comfort. They are my refuge, my sanctuary, my dreams. Conroy wrote, “Reading and prayer are both acts of worship to me.” Books have been my own personal church. I have found the divine in lines that still make me gasp in delight and recognition. Romeo's pre-dawn whisper to Juliet, “And I’ll still stay, to have thee still forget, Forgetting any other home but this,”or Huck’s struggle with his conscience when he spurts, “Alright then, I’ll go to hell,” or especially Dumbledore’s question to Snape, “After all this time?” and Snape replies, “Always.” These words are holy, filled with longing, love, regret, and pain. They are my warmth when the world gets too unhinged. Conroy wrote, “Some of us read to ratify our despair about the world; other chase to read because it offers one of the only safety nets where love and hope can find comfort.” I believe I find both in all the books I have read and the ones I have yet to open.

When we moved last spring I gave away hundreds of books, knowing we wouldn’t have room for them in our tiny new home. Some were donated to the library for their used book sale, a few were placed in Beth's Free Little Library, but most were given away to friends. I wanted to share these books, not hoard them away, with hope the readers would find their own little prayers tucked away in them. I have since purchased a few more books to place on my shelves. I will continue to lend out my favorites, not worrying about their return. Perhaps they’ll be passed on to another. Maybe someone else will embrace the words and find their own peace, their own magic. That, I hope, will be my legacy.

“Maybe this is why we read, and why in moments of darkness we return to books: to find words for what we already know.” - Alberto Manguel

“A book lying idle on a shelf is wasted ammunition. Like money, books must be kept in constant circulation…A book is not only a friend, it makes friend for you. When you have possessed a book with mind and spirit, you are enriched. But when you pass it on you are enriched threefold.” - Henry Miller, The Books in My Life

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Inviting Grace to the Table

What is grace? The word has been swirling in my head these days because it appears as if the world has lost its sense of grace. We are divided, spiteful, bitter, and full of venom.  Has grace disappeared or is the glory of grace is that it always there, patiently waiting? As I delve deeper into the meaning of grace, I realize I have witnessed it in all its brilliant simplicity.

The word grace, used as a noun, has multiple manifestations. Grace can be elegance or beauty, an attractive quality, a favor, a pardon, or a delay in debt. The word is derived from middle English, middle French, and Latin meaning such things as kindness, mercy, and honor. 

In Christianity, grace is believed to be given by God through Jesus. Those who accept Christ will receive salvation. Faith is confirmed through baptism, communion, and discipleship within the church. 

In the Jewish religion according to the Talmud, God combined both mercy and justice, thus creating divine grace. Both mercy and justice counterbalance sin and man’s existence here on earth.

Muslims believe God is the only one who grants grace. Faith and good deeds do not guarantee Salvation, although both are encouraged; is only granted through God’s grace.

In Buddhism, grace comes from within. Looking inward is the only way to acquire grace, which is often referred to as spiritual awakening. Lama Surya Das, an author and Buddhist teacher, states, “Grace is the “isness’ of life. It’s the recognition that everything is connected and sacred. The more in touch we are with this natural abundance of life, the less we need.”

The writer Anne Lamott says,“I do not understand the mystery of grace -- only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”

Pastor, writer, and public speaker Joseph Prince once said, “The law condemns the best of us; but grace saves the worst of us.” 

Writer and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel stated this about grace: “For me, every hour is about grace. And I feel gratitude in my heart each time I can meet someone and look at his or her smile.”

I asked my friend Glenda, a yoga instructor, freelance writer, and seeker of truth to give her personal definition of grace. She wrote:

 “Grace is invisible; it cannot be seen with the naked eye. It is more about a feeling, an experience rather than a tangible. It is extreme benevolence, a second chance (or 3rd or 4th) because the essence of grace does not keep track of how or when it arrives on the scene. But it's there, always, for the taking or the giving. It is an inherent quality bestowed upon all and the measure with which you apply or extend it is in direct proportion to your receipt and continuance of it.”

Where is grace in my life? It is when my sons call their grandmother to just catch up her, with no prompting from me. It is the gentle sound of my husband’s voice when he talks to his girls. It is the text I receive from an old friend, just to let me know she’s thinking about me. It is the courage of my friends out in Northern California, going about their daily lives, despite the fire destruction in their towns. It is opening a door for a stranger, a anonymous donation, a smile across a crowded room. It is showing up at a relative’s funeral.

Grace is acknowledging our stories. It is knowing we all come from different places in life. Our language, our neighborhood, our food, our customs, our beliefs may be not be familiar to others, yet grace is looking into one another’s eyes and catching a glimpse of a person, not a stereotype or a caricature. Grace is recognizing love, even when it is difficult and strange and unconventional.

Grace is accepting our privilege, our gifts, our abundances. To gratefully recognize all we possess, yet reaching out to give to others without expecting thanks or something in return. Grace is knowing all our stories have substance, even the downtrodden, the oppressed, the unlovable, and seeing each other for the magnificent creatures we are. This is grace.

As we gather next week for Thanksgiving, let us invite grace to the table. Let grace teach us forgiveness and joy and gratefulness. Allow grace to whisper, “All are loved.”

Love is the crowning grace of humanity, the holiest right of the soul, the redeeming principle that chiefly reconciles the heart to life, and is prophetic of eternal good.
— Petrarch
 photo from antwuanmalone.com

photo from antwuanmalone.com

Six Months and One Day

Six months and one day. It has been six months and one day since we packed the remainder of our stuff in cars, put the cats in their carriers, and signed reams of papers in two different states. Six months and one day of being bombarded with new. Our new house is coming together. My husband likes his new job. We had to get new license plates and new drivers licenses. I am learning to meet new friends. We have tried dozens and dozens of new restaurants. We’ve had to find new doctors, dentists, and optometrists. All of this new has at times been jarring, kind of like a drive on a narrow, curvy two lane country road. You never know what is around the next bend. We are discovering how to navigate the route, but, I must admit, some of it has not been easy. When I moved around in my younger years, I crammed all my belongings in my car and took off, never looking back. This move, though, has been exhausting and complicated. Our lives were uprooted from the known to the unknown, and every blind turn gives us something to either learn or unlearn.

We are discovering how to live new lives while holding onto old attachments. We miss our families, our breakfast joint, and our slew of friends. My husband misses his golf buddies. I miss hanging out with my sister on the weekends and practicing yoga with my tribe. We both miss Sunday dinners with the grandchildren, crayons scattered all over the family room floor, and playing piggy back and stacking towers of blocks only to watch them fall.

Instead we have Sunday FaceTime visits with the kids and occasional trips back home to check up on things. We are quickly learning, especially with the holidays approaching, that everything is different. Our house was the gathering place, but no longer. We will improvise and create fresh memories. Everyone will be okay, because traditions are not meant to be dictated with a permanent Sharpie. Instead, they can be erased and rewritten, fitting the new flow of our lives.

Six months and one day of new. Most of it positive. Some of it frustrating. All of it a unique adventure in this New Town of ours.

We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.
— Walt Disney
 Our New Town

Our New Town