Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmastime, 1968.



The huge glass windows were fogging up as I tried to see through them, across the dark to Santa's home.  We had just stood in the line. Me with both of my parents, no other siblings along for the ride. Highly unusual.

It was beautifully cold out there, and there were decorations on the lamp posts and lots of people walking about, laughing and chatting, in downtown Pekin.

We had come inside for a hot chocolate and my parents didn't seem happy. "You asked Santa for a what?"
"A Skip-bo" 
Silence.  "What's a skibob?"
"No. A Skip. Bo. My friend at school has one.  She brought it for show and tell."
Its 1968.  My parents went all out for Christmas.  I was the first girl in the family. They probably had a lovely table and chairs set with a doll and tea set already waiting to place under the tree, but no Skip-bo.

I have moved on.  Santa knows what I want and that was that. 

My parents however now had a few days to find a toy that no one had in stock. It turns out it was very popular and they couldn't find it in town. I learned much later that my mother sent my father far and wide to find this toy.  

And when I just searched for a picture of it I found out it is called a 'footsie'.  So though I described the toy in detail, I clearly had the name wrong.  I found a reference to one brand being a 'skipper', but what I heard in Mrs. King's show-and-tell circle, and was lucky enough to try out for myself on the playground at recess, was a skip-bo.

So here we are, a few days before Christmas, and my parents don't have the internet. And they are looking for a mis-named toy for me.  I delight in this memory now.  One that shows through generations we all just want to please one another.  And the memory continues from that night.

So I saw something so beautiful that I had to have for my mother, while I spun on that soda fountain stool.  It was a bath towel with a huge pink and red flower on the front. Kind of Georgia O'Keefe style.  How to get my mom out of the store so I could buy it?  I remember whispering to my father what I needed to do. I remember wanting to get that towel for my mother more than I wanted anything else.

My dad suggested my mom wait outside the store window where she couldn't see while we did our secret shopping.  I faintly recall my mom not being super excited to wait out in the cold when she was snug with her cup of coffee in the steamy, warm store. But she did it. When I wound my way to the display and showed my dad what I had seen from across the store, he proceeded to show me other things we could get my mom.  Bath soaps and curlers and socks.  Nothing doing. I wanted that gaudy towel.  Nothing else would be wonderful enough for my mother.  My dad tried telling me it was more money than I had to spend.  He tried showing me other towels even.  This was it.  I knew it.  I then remember him giving me some cash, and showing me how to stand in line to pay.  He stood nearby but wanted me to buy it myself.  It was super-exciting.  I kept looking over my shoulder to make sure my (poor, cold) mother wasn't peeking through the window. 

I took the sack they gave me, I unbuttoned my coat and put it inside. It crackled every step I took.

There is a picture somewhere of her opening this present and holding up the towel, and I was so proud at that moment.  It was the highlight moment of my Christmas.  I got my footsie from Santa, I took it to show and tell in January.  Turns out when it is the fifth one someone brought in, it isn't as exciting.  But watching my mother open that towel, that felt like Christmas.

And it still does.  I love picking out gifts, I love wrapping, and I love watching the receiver open them.  It is the childish thrill that never grows old for me.  So far anyway.  And Christmas 1968 is etched in my memory.  I love the Christmas tune "Silver Bells" and it always reminds me of this slice of life.  To me, Pekin was the city. Downtown was glamour. And surprising someone else was a lot more fun than standing in a long line to see Santa.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

My November Blessing



There is something about November that takes me back to childhood.  To the gray skies as I walked to school with a cold wind and raindrops falling sideways, getting under my umbrella.  I think of it feeling gray outside and a bit lonely, and that the bright yellow lights of my classroom seemed welcoming and cozy as I hurried past the crossing guard.

We'd hang our slickers in our pine cubbies and warm our hands over the furnace vent and try to dry off with the rough brown paper towels.  We'd go to our desks and get out our pencils and our already grubby erasers and get ready for reading group (I was in the cardinals). 

The world was a big gray comforter surrounding my school, my teacher knew everything there was to know about everything, I was with  friends. Who knew what exciting thing might happen today in music class?  And it would feel like all was right with the world. 

I'd be wearing my tights and my wool plaid skirt and my cotton button up top, and I'd be reading a story about a little Sioux Indian girl (we didn't call them native Americans yet) and I'd just be frustrated as heck that that word was pronounced 'sue'.  It made no sense!

I'd  smell paste, taste our mid-morning milk break from the waxy cartons (so fancy, my family only got milk in old glass bottles), see the faded construction paper scraps, and  happily listen to my teacher talk about cumulus clouds.  When I walked home at lunch-time my mother was sure to have Campbell's chicken noodle soup with grilled cheese and if I was really lucky, hot cocoa as it finally felt wintry enough outside to make some. 

By about 2:30 I'd had enough, and watched the clock-hands refuse to move just like every other kid, for that last 60 minutes of each day.  As I stomped through every puddle on the way home, the sky would seem brighter, and the rain had stopped, but it still felt later than it should feel.  I'd be anxious to get home, not stopping to look for frogs in the creek or any of the other distractions I might find in August or April.

In November, it was important to get home, turn on the tv, and start laughing at Gilligan.  Smell supper cooking (probably pork chops and applesauce), try to avoid any kind of chores, and when Sherry came to the door to ask me to come out to play, I might say 'Not today.'  November made me want to stay inside, and stay close to my humans.

Today as I drive home on a gorgeous sunlit day, with the November sunshine shedding light in a particularly warming way, highlighting every last leaf, it made me appreciate every single leaf still hanging onto those tree branches.  It made me want to pray for each individual leaf.  Yet it made me homesick for those second-grade Novembers.    And it reminds me that each month, even blustery November has its blessings. My November blessing is remembering.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Its not about P O L I T I C S

Politics -- when there are two candidates, you really, really want yours to win, but they don't.  Or they do. Politics is when in 1980, 1984, and in about half the elections since where  'my' candidate lost, I was disappointed.  I was a bit incredulous that the 'other guy' could win.  That is politics.  Politics is kind of like sports but with a lot more to lose and gain than pride.  I felt bad for a while and I probably stewed in the 'loss' but I moved on.

The 2016 election and how disillusioned I feel has nothing to do with politics.  Nothing.

Sure I wanted Hilary to win, and wanted my daughters to see the first woman president.  I was disappointed she lost. That is politics.  And I know there were lots of valid arguments against voting for Hilary.  Valid political arguments. Politics.

Sure I wanted Bernie to win the primary and ANYONE but Donald to win the Republican primary.  Still politics.  Still you can tell me 'Sour grapes, move on.'  I did.

The reason I am heartbroken has nothing to do with Trump now being my president either.  I mean yes, he ran on a Hitler-esque platform and hates women, anyone who isn't white, immigrants besides his wife, makes fun of people with disabilities and our servicemen.  But I believe that any president has limited power and most of his crazy, evil plans will not come to fruition.  I'm sure some of them will, but that is still politics.  That is like all the people who have protested that everyone having health insurance is not good or American.  I think it is a great thing, others don't.  We disagree.  We DO move on.  Still politics. And if the health insurance gets replaced with Trump's carefully designed plan documented currently as  "Something Terrific," ?  Politics.  I will get over it. I will move on.

Building a wall?  Isn't former president Reagan still revered for tearing down a wall?    I guess no one can get to our country without walking or driving?  This was an idea he came up with that is offensive to many but to me just dumb.  Dumb does not equal wrong. I've dealt with plenty of dumb in the past and 'gotten over it'.  Politics

Not Christian enough/at all?  Politics.  My Christian friends may disagree, but the fact he doesn't regularly seek God's will, calls the sacrament of communion having 'his little cracker...as often as possible' is his idea of 'religion' means he unfortunately isn't a a Jesus freak like myself.  Still I would prefer not to, but can and would vote for a president who is not what I call a Christian.  That is politics. That is separation of church and state. Freedom.

And speaking of our new president, no one needs to tell me to treat him with the same respect and dignity that everyone provided to President Barack Obama the last eight years.  I know how to be a good American. (I do hope Presidents are required to read the Constitution)

I will even give you that in listing pros and cons of Donald Trump, there were some pros.  I love the idea of a good shake-up.  I love the idea of challenging the system.  I have no problems with his relationship-building with Russia.  That is politics.

What is not politics?  That people I  know, am friends with, respect, care about, family, co-workers would endorse and vote for such a prejudiced intolerant woman-hating anti-American anti-Veteran disability-bashing bully of a human.  He did all these things.  He said all these things.  No blame of the 'media' can account for the words that poured out of his mouth. Over and over again. Not one mistake.  Not one 'mispoke'.  Like Niagra falls, the values of a person who appears to respect no one but himself, poured out of him.

When he was asked if he had anyone die in the line of service, he said "I think I've made a lot of sacrifices.  I work very, very hard."  at that moment I was confident no reasonable person would vote for him, even if they were dying for a big upset. Big upset=interesting idea.  President who compares running a business to losing his own son, one who died for his country=wrong.

The man insulted our POWs. Wrong. 

The whole hidden recording where he said a bunch of sexist things about grabbing and forcing and pushing, and then women came forward to testify.  I can say 'not surprising'. I'm sure he said something similar thousands of times (unrecorded) and this would indicate this is not a priority for those who voted/endorsed his views.  If you want a president that thinks women are objects to be used you must not have a daughter.  You must not respect the opinions of all of our living former presidents, Republican and Democrat,  who at that moment withdrew all support for this human. Because it is wrong.
 
A man who doesn't pay his taxes used to be a criminal.  Now he is 'smart'.  What pays for all of our servicemen overseas, our military, our roads, our parks, our veterans and our retired citizens?  Taxes.  He doesn't care about any of those things enough to give one penny towards them?  Wrong. Perhaps for you or me,  cunning.  For the President of the United States of America, it is wrong. 

Let's all stop paying taxes and be like our new president.
Let's all build walls around our towns to keep out anyone who doesn't look or speak exactly like WE do.
Let's cheer for the predators of our daughters--who needs jails? That would require someone to pay taxes.
Let's denigrate the sacrifices of our troops, our fallen heroes, our POW's and veterans. We don't need a defense against enemies.

That is who you voted for.  That is who you voted for.

That is what the people I thought I knew voted for.    There is no other way I can look at it.  This is not about politics to me.  This is right and wrong.  A vote for Trump was a vote for bigotry, hate, division and anti-Americanism. It is not politics.  My father raised me to the tune of two main themes: Integrity and Initiative.  Mr. Trump may have initiative but he is sadly lacking in integrity.

Please stop telling me to get over it.  Move on.   This is not the Cubs losing the world series. It feels like a death.  It feels like the devil winning.

And though I will eventually get over it.  I'll remember the times my people were kind or helpful or loving.  I'll pray for the ability to overlook and forgive their endorsement of wrong that it now feels like they also embody having voted for this candidate.  And eventually I will.

I fully realize I'm being judgmental myself.  I'm judging that wrong is wrong.  And if anything I said in here offended you, I apologize.  It is not my intent to tear-down but to express my own current very strongly-rooted feelings.    I'm working on it. I'm praying about it.  And until I write about something, I can't move on.

And I'm praying we never go this low again and have this kind of election again.  Please Lord, let this be a wake up call and not the 'new normal'. And I pray for strength for all to put aside their differences and work together.  What else can you pray for?






Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Some people love cats--I love Staples

I know I'm not alone in this.  The energy received from breathing in the fumes in the cardstock aisle.  The tingly fingers as you pass by the 114 kinds of ink pens, retractable, gel, cheap, expensive, special comfort grip.  The stars in my eyes as I peruse the calendar aisle imagining just how cleverly my days could fall into place if I select just the right planner.

A 17 cent spiral notebook, college rule, mustard yellow catches my eye, but then the packages of 24 glue sticks draw me in.  Containers from conservative taupe to magenta and white paisley. I spy the display of moleskin notebooks and I'm mesmerized for five minutes, imagining all the uses, which color matches with which purpose best?  Green for a gardening journal?  Red for a Christmas shopping list?

What do I need 24 glue sticks for you ask?  Tsk, well, you don't understand addictions if you ask "Why?".  Why does the cigarette smoker need a fresh box of Marlboros?  Would you ask the heroin addict why?  No.  No relevancy to wondering why when you could instead be comparing shades of ivory envelopes.

Now for the cat thing.  Hey, I have tried.  I continue to try.  I hate to say it and lose any of my precious blog followers, but I'm just not getting the cat thing.  I kinda sorta like my dog.   I grew up with cats and dogs, As an adult I owned a cat for 18 years. I've always said I'm a cat AND a dog person -- this is wishful thinking. I'm finally standing up and admitting "I'm sorry but cats just don't appeal to me."  All these cat memes and cat pictures and posters.  I wish there was a 'hide all cat pictures' button in Facebook.

I'm continuing to try to grow in my ability to tolerate cats, to not be biased against their cold, shedding, uninterested selves. But it really isn't working.  Cats are beginning to fall in that same category I put bats, spiders, mice, snakes.

All the cat lovers are thinking "She'd rather snuggle up next to a good three-ring binder than a soft fluffy living breathing being?"  While not admirable-- true.

I apologize to all those who believed I was perfect before this shameful confession.  I could overcome this character flaw, with time.  Until then, give me p a p e r c l i p s....





Monday, August 22, 2016

Life is Good

Some days aren't difficult, boring, or stressful.
Some days aren't frustrating, tiring, or gloomy.
Today is one of those days.

There is this: I happen to be on the fourth day of a four day weekend.

The weather is so un-Illinois-August-like you wouldn't believe it.  Cool, bright day with skies as blue as the crayon in a fresh new back-to-school pointy box of crayons.  The leaves on all the trees are still green because it is summer, but a hint of fall has everyone smiling.

I walked with my favorite walking partner this morning.  She has been out of commission due to injury.  We got to go at 7 am instead of 6 am allowing for a much more respectable hour of waking.  The sun was blinding but we never got too warm.  It is like God made this temperature for exercise.
(Reminder: I don't like to sweat.)  I saw morning glories and black-eyed Susan and a lovely mist on the lagoon.

When I got home, my husband had coffee ready and had saved me the last piece of the chocolate cake I took to a potluck last night.  Yes, that was my breakfast.

I then got a facial.  Now don't leave me here, I don't get facials every month.  I've probably had five facials in 20 years. I decided last week that I needed something unusual and appealing to look forward to on Monday.   It is a treat.  It was lovely.  I was not hurrying and arrived on time.  So relaxing, especially the hand massage that came with it.  My poor keyboard-weary fingers were dancing a virtual jig.

Afterwards I floated out to the parking lot and stood by my car, keys in hand, thinking "Its 10:00 am and I can do anything I want."  Priceless.  My day was already complete.  I decided to go earring shopping, of course. I looked through every pair of earrings in the department store in town.  I did not hurry.  I did not judge the gaudy, chunky baubles.  I found some new ones that fit my style -- small pearl buttons ringed in silver.  That will make it easier to go to work tomorrow.  (either you follow that logic or you don't, I can't really explain it)

I then decided to be a good mom and I went to the grocery store.  I bought food for dinner and for snacks and because I am picking my daughter up from high school I couldn't have been more delighted to find "Lemon Meringue Soda" in the craft soda aisle.  I will greet her after-school grumblings with a cold soda based on her favorite dessert.  Who knew that even existed?

I came home and made myself chicken salad from left-over grilled chicken, walnuts, olive oil mayo and celery.  And then, I had the most delicious sundae.  I have homemade hot fudge sauce in the fridge, vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, and salty walnuts.  I savored it while thinking about writing this post.  For dinner we are having cold chicken and scratch potato-egg salad and strawberries.

During the last two hours I've been anticipating writing a blog post about just how well my day is going.  I'm at a peaceful point in my life (today anyway) where I am less conflicted about my writing.  So much of the time, for a very long time,  I've felt guilty. Guilty because if I just tried harder and put in the effort, I could write a novel that would sell, and I could be a published writer.  But I have been writing for 25 years and so far, life has won every time.  Crazy, busy, hectic, chaotic, life.  I've got two unpublished novels, and these blog posts to show for it.  I've decided to stop feeling guilty.  I've given myself permission to wait for retirement to become rich and famous at the writing thing.  I'm going to instead just try to experience writing, do it, enjoy it.  I have that feeling in the pit of my stomach that that is the right thing to do, and that many more days would be "Life is Good" days if I followed that advice about everything in life -- less guilt, more plain old experiencing.

It is only 2 pm.  Next on the docket I'm going to fold some hot towels into perfect rectangles and then take a nap with the window open and the sheer curtain blowing in the breeze.  I'm going to meditate on how much I like writing. And so many things.

Monday, August 01, 2016

It's A God Thing

I'm the kind of relate-able Christian who questions things, asks questions, asks God, and tries to stop thinking long enough to listen.  The kind of Christian who is never as grateful as I should be or as prayerful.  I'm not the kind of Christian who doesn't drink or dance, although I try not to swear, but that is my mom-side mostly. But, I find it all fascinating and I love learning about how God is working in people's lives.

I pray regularly and irregularly, and at different times of day or night.  Sometimes ten seconds, or ten minutes.  Sometimes writing prayers, sometimes thinking them.

This story is about my friend Leslie Masterson and her Chinese daughter Jillian. Leslie found Jillian on an adoption website in late 2010.  Adoption is a long complicated journey much like that game I never liked, "The Game of Life." where things are always sending you back to the beginning and it never ends. Ever.

International adoption has a 43 step game board and she was on about step ten or so when I told her I had a dream.  "I had a dream that you were with your baby on Easter."  Leslie just nodded nicely and said something very reassuring like, "We are still a minimum of 12 months out from actually getting to travel to China.  It is a long process."  She seemed sorry to disappoint me. Now I also had in this dream a vision of her Chinese daughter growing up and she was doing ballet on a stage in a pink tutu and also one of her wearing a red dress and playing violin.  I prayed about it that week and said "Leslie, I keep feeling like you will have your new babe by Easter.  I see an Easter basket and plastic eggs."  and she and Sean just reassured me that couldn't happen.

Well not only did they have Jillian by Easter, but their "Gotcha Day" was on Easter Sunday.  It was Monday morning in China, but it was Easter Sunday in Pekin, IL at the first moment they laid hands on their precious, so precious girl.  Only six months from the time I had the dream.  It was impossible (not) but at least highly unlikely, that a first adoption, from China, could go through like silk.  Every one of those 43 hoops was jumped in record time.  At least this is how I remember it, now, five years later, and on my blog, we get to hear from my fragile memory.

When they were handed her, Jillian was over 2 years old, severely underweight, bruised, with an awful ear infection and sadly neglected.  They knew they were adopting a girl with cleft-palate.  They discovered within a few months she is low-verbal autistic.  On Easter Sunday 2011 she became a member of an amazing family.

And little did we know then, but now we do, that Leslie and Sean would go on to adopt two more Chinese babies.  And perhaps my dream covered all three.  One of them might play the violin on stage one day.  And I did get to see Jillian dance a ballet at Gull Lake one year.  She was off to the side shadowing the movements of a beautiful young lady who was doing ballet for the talent show.  And Jillian was entrancing, dancing in her silent land.

This dream is one of my God Things and I love it.

Here is Jillian's picture from her pre-adoption days and a picture of her today-- Miss Joy!
  
               

The Chinese government said she would never walk.  This girl climbs mountains!

My memory fails me more and more and I don't have any recall of some pretty wonderful experiences that I did, darn it, experience.  I am going to record them here occasionally.

p.s. If you want to read about Leslie's adoption adventures in more detail, here is a link to her blog. 



Monday, June 13, 2016

Ready to come home


Vacation is over. Over 2000 miles under our belts in 10 days.  We hiked a mountain and biked a beach and ate so much food, I should be in eating time-out.  Am I glad I went? Without a doubt.  Did I learn anything? Life-long learner-- that is me.

I learned that sunsets are different every night.  Even from the same spot plopped in the wet sand just where the tide can reach me.  Some sunsets turn fiery orange and some remain a spotlight on a stage. They all make the trees on the horizon feel like I'm on the Lion King set. 

I learned everyone sees things differently.  Where I see a charming arch of shady live oaks, others might see a claustrophobic endless tunnel.  Where they see delicious salt-water taffy, I see dental bills.

Luckily, I am easily entertained anywhere I go.  I like watching the fudge-makers on the strip in Gatlinburg and I like watching the body surfers try and try again on the edge of the Atlantic through my half-closed-to-the-sun eyes. The glinting ocean water mesmerizes me and finding pink daylilies is worthy of a photograph even if they are at a rest area on the interstate.  I'm curious with my eyes.

I learned that Charleston is full of streets named for their function.  The church is on Church Street and the bay is on Water street.  Early townsfolk had twenty pounds of petticoats in one hundred degree temps leading to a need for privacy before entering their homes -- to undress.

I learned that I am capable of forgetting.  Forgetting about the crises and tribulations of my workplace.  In fact, within hours of getting out of Dodge my mind had moved on to mile markers and the comparative quality of bathrooms at various gas stations. 

I learned that while it is good to go somewhere I've never been, it feeds my soul, it is also good to get to know a new land enough that it becomes the new familiar. When I pass the Angel Oak Road or the roundabout I am almost to my temporary home. 

And like every trip, whether it be overnight in Chicago or two weeks in China, or like this one, a mammoth road trip with four people traveling east, I learned it is ok for vacation to end.  Coming home has its reward, and one of those is gratitude.  Gratitude that I was able to learn all that.  Gratitude that I fulfilled my wanderlust, and am ready, yes I am, to sleep in my own bed and make coffee with my own pot.  Even if I'm not ready to go back to work tomorrow, since we did not win the lottery in any of the five states we played it in, I will go back.

But also like every trip I've taken, I spent the last 500 miles thinking about where we might go next.  What adventure should we try?  What part of the country is calling my name?  Oh I'm not going to make reservations yet, but planning the trip is where I zen out.  It will likely be more than a year until we can afford another vacation, but it will come and I will be ready.  To leave and to come home.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Starry Night

I was thinking about how no one single church can please all people, and how many, many times I’ve considered trying other churches over the last twenty years.  The first time I’d only been attending my church six months, and someone was so negative about the future of the church and the lack of commitment of the staff, that I was completely turned off.  I thought ‘If they say this much to a new person, I wonder just how bad it really is? Maybe I should leave now?’

Over the years, more and more reasons came and went where I thought we/they made the wrong decision, or people behaved very-un-Christ-like and I could barely stand it. I was physically ill over it.  Times where I tried to start programs and when they didn’t take off…times where I felt I wasn’t getting what I needed spiritually to grow.  Hardest have been the times when I realize people are so very human.  People I had on a pedestal fell off and it has taken much prayer and hard work, to move on and yet stay.
Yesterday, during the sermon I had this vision of a shooting star arcing through the darkened room back to Cathy.   Cathy is moving away and I was feeling sad about that.   I tried to remember how we stitched our lives together originally and thought of our trip to Guatemala.  And our trip to Las Vegas.  And all the times we served a meal together.  Then I looked around the darkened room and realized I had a similar fine thread of light linking me to many people in the room.  To Kate, and how she makes me laugh today and as a teenager she attended our ‘ladies’ circle’ because she just liked to.  To Danny and how I used to volunteer at Pioneer club and he attended as a boy.  I started thinking about each person on the stage, and on the floor, and how if I tried not so very hard, I had a history I could recall.  My star reaches out to theirs, and we have this connection.  And how, if I were to move to a new church, I would be a single light, and I would have to start all over filling up my sky.  This is not an inconsequential thing, this connecting glimmer.  It is a serious thing to give up on all the stars in heaven and to go shine alone again.  And even when people break your heart, or behave badly, or make you lose your temper, they are your church family.  They are human.  And if it takes ten years to forgive, maybe it is worth that ten years, if it matures you as a Christian.  Being tested forces you to try to retain your own ethics and values, to really get to the root of what you do and do not believe.  Maybe the trials and tribulations of human-ness are part of what God wants to happen in a church.  Like the lost sheep, he wants those who stray brought back in his fold. 
I recently learned of Vincent Van Gogh’s attempt to be a minister, and how his famous “Starry Night” painting has a possible hidden message in it.  He paints the town with twinkling lights but the church is dark, perhaps to reflect his bitterness at not being accepted to seminary.  But I prefer to think of God’s church as his people, not a building.  The church is dark when all the people are at home.  Because the people are the church, not the building.  And they are lighting Van Gogh’s town from their homes, because it doesn’t happen to be a night where the church has anything going on.  But the people, they still have life to live, shining out from their homes.
Is there anything more beautiful than a navy sky filled with stars?  I don’t think so.  And God gave us this beauty. 
 
When you are in a town with lots of street lights and neon signs and stadium lights, you can’t see the stars.  The world’s brash light distracts us from any possibility of noticing the starlight.  The trees in my neighborhood are over a hundred years old and obscure the night sky, but imagine what that 100 year old tree seems like from the star's perspective.  If you can get around all the things blocking your view.  The things right in front of your face, that insist on attention.  If you get out in a nice open field, on a clear night, the sight is so lovely.  And so each light in my night sky is a person, and that light is why I keep them in my life.  Why I try, try, and try again.    We are relational beings and relationships are more important, while we’re here on earth, than almost anything else.   Some nights, the heavy clouds disguise the stars, but the stars, they still shine. 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

How We've Stayed Married 31 years, 8 months, 18 days (so far)

1982 (I think)
I remember when I got married my brother had already celebrated his 10th anniversary and I thought, “Oh my God, they are soooo old.”  And here I am heading towards a 32nd anniversary in May.  Married much longer than I lived at home.  I hope someday to look back at year 32 and think “We were only half-way there.  Such innocents!”

With Valentine’s Day tomorrow, my blog brain has been wanting to touch on ‘Secret to a happy marriage’.  Except happy is such a namby pamby word.  Secret to a long marriage?  Secret to a lasting marriage? 

First, the individuals are what make the difference.   Obviously they have to be strong, caring and respect one another.  

Second, is expectations. If we both had super high expectations, all the time, expecting perfect meals, no gray hairs, constant fun, constant loving attitudes, constant agreement, we would have given up long ago.  The two individuals have to recognize imperfections as valuable, and just, not mind.  Get over it.  In my younger years I minded a lot more that my life wasn't like the pictures in my Goodhousekeeping magazine.  Let it go.  

Third, agree to disagree. If we had to have constant agreement we wouldn’t have gotten married.  We are as different as two people can be in politics, activity level, television show selection, hobbies, you name it.  We rarely agree  and when we do we both pull our heads back and look at each other in amazement.  But we figured out long ago that it is OK to not agree on stuff.  It is ok.  My kids would tell you we argue about everything.  I’m sure life would be easier if we didn’t.  But we have learned over the years, how to not agree. 

This post could be ten times as long if I was to mention everything that makes our marriage work.  We’ve been in counseling,  done the requisite date nights, certainly have weathered ups and downs and don’t expect those to end. And though we do have fun, love each other, and I do cover my grays lol, these things aren’t the key element.

When I narrow my thinking down to the one thing I would say has kept us rolling merrily along, it is very simple: Doing something nice for your spouse when they aren’t expecting it.  Yes there are beard hairs in the sink that gross me out, yes he ate the last piece of fried chicken, yes he just made a crack about my reading too much.  But then he brings me a cup of coffee (after making it, with whole beans) without making a big deal of it, or he insists on a hug when I'm mad, or he scrapes the snow off my car in the parking lot at work and warms it up without telling me.  Maybe I take the dog out when it is his turn, or my willingness to offer to rub his shoulders, because I know they hurt, even though I still feel grumpy.   It isn’t big stuff that is the glue.  It is the simple things that make you feel worthy.  Makes you feel like this person, unlike most of the cold hard world, is looking out for you. They are looking out for you even though they don't have to.  And when they surprise you with kindness, all the crap that is in your craw evaporates, and you move on for another few days, feeling pretty good.  Those days turn into years.  Perhaps that isn’t the romantic ending you were expecting, but if you need this information, it is what I have to offer.  In my marriage, it is being surprised by kindnesses that give our relationship life.

2014
  

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Love Letter to The Library

The library is like that life-long friend, who no matter how many years it has been since you've seen them, you feel right at home the minute you walk in.

You know if you are in a strange town you can go to the library and feel at home.  There are only a handful of things to figure out and clearly marked signs to help you. Where are the newspapers? Where are the new releases?  In five minutes you have the lay of the land.  You can pick a seat and observe humanity and think 'I bet Charlotte Bronte is right over there in the Bo-Ce aisle'.

You can wander through the children's section and probably see bright colors, a fish tank, and shorter book shelves.  And if you look for Boxcar children, they will be there.  Some places, like some friends, are safe places.
If you were a small-minded person like me, you could quickly judge the town you are in. Magazines: Do they have 'Writer's Digest'?  If not, backwater.

Class-neutral.  I was recently at the Oak Park, IL library for a length of time and I saw such liveliness. Hipster families of three in their matching Northface coats, skinny jeans and black frame glasses. Sweat-shirted group of possible gin-rummy players with badly died hair, 20-something Asian girl in a tailored red wool coat. A young mother, her five-year-old daughter in twenty-year-old Little Mermaid boots.  Coughing older gentleman in parking deck attendant uniform. Vogue Model look-alikes who were speaking a Russian-ish language. Three young boys with a curly-red-haired grandma, all of them frowning but rushing purposefully to hit the elevator button first.   

None of them looked frazzled, confused, or lost.  

My therapist (used to have one, currently I just imagine what she would say) would say I love the library because it was the one place my father told me from about the age of six that if I asked him to take me there, he'd never say 'No'.  He probably regretted that promise more than once, after a long day at work, coming home in our only vehicle, and being greeted by 'Can you take me to the library, Daddy?'  This original Carnegie library is so old I could only find a sketch of it online:
 

My sixth grade self would tell you my stack of books that never ran out, that one summer of Pringles and pale legs in our silent living room, it cemented our friendship.  This newer building was built around the time I was ten... (the 70's)

The Milner library in my college years -- I wasn't much for studying there, I preferred to be in my uncomfortable dorm bed for that, but I liked to go there, smell the books, listen to the murmurs, write my boyfriend long letters, and generally experience a bit of safety. Staidness. 
                

There was the day in the Winfield Public Library when I was still pregnant with my first that I discovered the non-fiction section on 'How to be a Writer' and the universe aligned.  Within a few days of reading everything their meager selection offered in this section of the Dewey decimal system,  I realized at the old age of 24 I had missed my calling, already gainfully employed in the computer industry. 
                    

There was the St. Charles Public library where I was a storytime mommy and me virgin.  And then the reunion when I moved back to my home town and renewed my relationship with that building, mostly taking preschoolers to storytime and occasionally sneaking over to the adult side, new releases only because they were within hearing distance of the kids section, to find something to read. Four sweet words. This is also the era (90's?) when I discovered the library could keep me regular.  Gastro-intestinally speaking. A mystery for a smarter person than me to solve. 

Generally people think the library is old school.  It is not. It is the original solution to short attention spans.  If someone invented the concept today they'd be billionaires.

I go there to write. 
And listen.
And get audio books for long trips, watch violin quartets, visit the book sale room, visit old (books I have known) friends, find out about local events on the community bulletin board.  Shots taken at my hometown library recently...
 



I view artwork exhibits, listen to community speakers, attend reading groups. I've seen my niece's American Girl Collection on display. I've figured out who lived in my current house in 1898, 1908...  I've searched paper college catalogs when I was thinking about where to go to college.  I've met people who became good friends (Leslie).  Have I mentioned its free?
F R E E
I strongly believe the library has a place in our futures just like in our pasts. And as long as I live, I will feel at home there, no matter what city, no matter what age.  Libraries are a good familiar.  As much as I love change, I also love a good familiar

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Writer on Saturday. A Still Life.

The last good day of writing I had was when I was out of town in December--at a writing workshop.  In an effort to recreate that day of  end-to-end productivity I copied it: 1) I walked to the library.     2) There is no '2'.  I walked to the library.

Walking means I have no car, so no easy escape.  No, 'I have a headache I think I'll go to Hobby Lobby and roam the Valentines aisle'.  No 'let me just get a Big Mac and come back and write.'

Walking also meant no laptop today.  I had to use pen and paper, just like in December. This is an interesting exercise and I'm trying to decide if I like it or not.  Since I'm an IT person by day I spend 8-10 hours on a computer Monday through Friday.  I think using a different medium might be a good trick for me.

"...to the library" means I'm surrounded by quiet, books, clean, and calm, I have one of those four things at home (and you know I have books).  Plus, I have distractions in the house I live in.  I'm so proud of my writing room at home, but I rarely get there.  I get sidetracked by things in the hallway upstairs, or by the timer on the dryer, the dog needing to play fetch or by the comfy recliner up there in our extra TV room, and a rerun of...anything.  I'm easily distracted.  The library had very few distractions.  My hometown library has been recently redesigned, and is beautiful now, although I've always been partial to it.  I was able to snag a shiny new private cubbie, with a table and a door that shuts.

I also brought my notes from December along with some amazing inspirational quotes my teacher shared that day, and it was an auspicious start to three hours of writing.  Another chapter done, an outline begun, some backstory figured out.  And, if I hadn't seen an Ivan Doig book there in the resale room it would have been free.  And did I mention the silence??

Silence.  Heavy, encompassing, thick, lovely silence.  It isn't easy to find.  I couldn't hear anyone on their phone, I couldn't hear doors slam or jewelry commercials or dogs barking.  I couldn't even hear computer mice clicking away, which they were doing fifty feet from me, but silently.

And writing got done.

I'll end with one of the quotes from my stockpile of encouragement:

              I want to live other lives.  I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get.  Writing is my          way of making other chances.  
                                                       --Anne Tyler




Thursday, January 28, 2016

And the Eleven goes to...



In 2015 I achieved a personal best--I posted to this blog 11 months out of twelve.  I'm happy about this and have decided I like receiving awards and may do so on a regular basis. Give YOURself an award for something you are proud of.  Nearly perfect is high praise for you too.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Too much of a good thing

On Christmas day, it’s a cliché, but one of my dreams came true.  I woke up, had a decadent breakfast in my pajamas with all four of my kids at the same dining room table with Chuck and I, and then stayed in those pajamas, all day.  I fantasize of days like this.  Christmas day I read, I puzzled, I conversed, I played a board game, I noshed on Maurie's turtles and cold ham and brioche rolls.  Candles were burned, new soft throws were involved.  So stress free.  So obligation free. So free.  I had a warmth in my chest that could only be described as deep contentment.  And very pointed gratitude.

Fast forward to New Years day, when I somewhat recreated this scenario.  Well, not exactly.  First of all not surrounded by my kids.  Second, no good leftovers.  But it was another glorious day with no plans or obligations, and I stayed in my pajamas….until about 3pm when I broke out of jail.  Where was the contentment?  Where was the warm feeling?  Instead I was plagued with the need to do. Be productive.  Put away Christmas or work on my novel or establish some goals or buy new pillows.

My first thought is the old 'too much of a good thing is not a good thing'.  Even though I covet free time and would happily quit my job and fill my days with projects and trips and reading and writing and ‘rithmatic, the pajama fantasy is limited.  I was cracking good at one solid day of it. 

I am not good at doing the same thing twice in a row and have written about this before.  That is why I have chosen to work in a workplace where in the same forty-five minutes I might help the volunteer in the gift shop reboot her credit card machine, notify the Peds providers they are missing Meaningful Use due to measure 17, and jot out an implementation plan for transitioning our 50 or so live interfaces from eGate to Intersystems interface engine. In most IT shops this would be three different people if not three entirely distinct teams. 
This is why I have three separate Pinterest boards for houses: new construction, flipping, and remodeling ours.  If I just focused on the one I would die of monotony. 

This is why I have unread books on my bedside table, in my kindle, on my upstairs bookshelf, on my phone, in my car and on my to-be-read shelf in Goodreads, Pinterest, and Amazon.  Reading is a classic ADD soother. You can be in Witchita, KS as a sous chef and the same day be a 60-something private detective in Nova Scotia. Variety is built in.  Who would settle for less? Heck, maybe reading incessantly since 5th grade is the cause of my self-diagnosed ADD. 

This is why yesterday I watched four episodes of a video series on writing well, I colored in my adult coloring book, I surfed vacations for June and real estate for retirement.  I perused my high school yearbook reading some of the tributes. I also did take down the tree, shop for a calendar and fill it out, invite people for lunch tomorrow and put an old pillowcase on a new pillow. 

OK, I’m getting that quite familiar sensation that I have what others call 'issues'.  It isn’t medically-diagnosed ADD because I’m able to focus.  It is probably a more superficial inability to be bored.  Boredom intolerance.  Variety junkie.  I would say ‘spoiled brat syndrome’ but immediately my internal defender can point to hours, weeks, and years I do perform tedious repetitive tasks, I just don’t chose to write about them.  I mean I make my stupid bed every week at least.  

The thing is, today, just 24 hours later I don’t feel that way.  I feel like sitting here staring at my blinking cursor, angst-free, is a reasonable and appropriate activity.  I might do the dishes. Or not. I guess since I invited people to lunch for tomorrow I will. I 'suffer from' some watered-down variation of bi-polarity, which my theory is everyone has to some degree.  We’re all on that ‘spectrum’ as they say. 

I should end this with a nice resolution for the new year, but that could be a dangerous path for a variety junkie.  I might overdose and suddenly it will be 5pm, my fingers sore and color-stained.  Instead I’m going to breathe. That’s my resolution for 2016.  Breathe and accept. Breath and accept.
Who am I kidding?  I'm going to go make a color-coded chart of my goals for 2016.  The dishes will wait.