Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Pause in Advent #3

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 I'm joining Angela and a gaggle of other fine folks for a Pause in Advent. 
 
By accident I have stumbled on a wonderful book for my Advent reading: C.S. Lewis: A Life by Alister McGrath. I've read one other Lewis biography and have read and re-read Surprised by Joy, so I was excited to discover this relatively new look at Lewis's life. I find him to be a hugely sympathetic figure, in part because he's one of those Christians who stays ever-mindful of his own wretchedness, and I find that comforting.

I'm a wretch; are you? I'm prideful, ambitious, judgmental. I hold a grudge. I am in many ways a thoroughly crappy human being. Those of you who know me in person might think I'm being hard on myself, but I'm not. I have my good moments, and I have good manners, and I do genuinely like and love a lot of people, which probably makes them think more highly of me than they should.

Here's a quote from the book that had me nodding: "One of the major themes of Till We Have Faces (1956)--arguably the most profound piece of fiction written by Lewis--is the difficulty of coming to know ourselves as we really are, and the deep pain that such knowledge ultimately involves."
 
It's a horrible thing to really look at yourself--to look beyond the carefully constructed facade and the blue ribbons and the perfectly organized pantry, the shiny resume, the A+ report card. I try not to do it very often. But something has happened in the last six months. I am finding myself completely unimpressive, and while it's kind of a bummer, I also recognize it as a good thing.

God comes to us in the form of a baby born to a poor woman. God comes to us in the most deeply humble way one can imagine. I think to appreciate such a god, we have to also appreciate our own humble state, our own poverty. If you worship power and status, you're not going to worship a god who seems to have no interest in who has the most toys or guns or money.

But if you understand that your poverty is no different from that of the tax collector or the prostitute or the leper, then you might be happy for the birth of a savior who finds you--wretched, messed up you--worthy of redemption.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Pause in Advent: 2

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 I'm joining Angela and a gaggle of other fine folks for a Pause in Advent.



I'm having trouble coming up with something to write about this week. There are all sorts of things that I could write that would sound good--inspirational sorts of things, spiritual tidbits. But for some reason I don't have it in me.

Do you ever get tired of words? I don't often get tired of reading words, but I get tired of hearing them. Right now I'm very tired of opinions. I'm tired of people telling me how I should feel in in the face of Ferguson and the Eric Garner non-indictment. You know how I feel? Sad. I feel really, really sad. And tired.

We talk, talk, talk. We talk past each other and over each other. I'm tired of talk. Talk doesn't change anything unless the talk is between two or three people who are willing to be generous listeners.

I heard a story on NPR tonight about a group of people, black and white, who have been gathering regularly in Ferguson, MO, ever since August to talk about what they can do to make things better. I like their kind of talk. They seem like they're trying to be truthful and open-minded. They seem like they've learned to trust each other enough to tell the truth about their experiences.

That's the kind of talk we need. We need talk that builds relationships. We need talk that builds trust. If there is no trust, there is no love, and if there is no love, there is no change.

What does this have to do with Advent? I'm not sure. Except that maybe one thing we need to keep talking about is the fact that God is with us, and if God is with us, all things are possible. Even peace. Even love.

Those people who meet in Ferguson to talk about how to make things better? They close their meetings with a prayer. I believe God is with them, and that change will begin with them.

Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.
 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

First Sunday in Advent: My Poverty

I have joined Angela and others in a Pause in Advent. Check out Angela's site for a list of other bloggers participating in this annual event.

"Advent isn’t a holiday party. It doesn’t pressure us to conjure up a hopeful face, ring bells, and dismiss the foulest realities we face. Advent isn’t about our best world, it’s about our worst world."
                      --Christina Cleveland (for her full post on Advent, go here)


Last year, I didn't start writing about my poverty until the third week in Advent. This year I have a cold, so I'm going to write about my poverty right off the bat.

First, I should say that as colds go, this isn't a bad one, just a very congestive one. Still, I'm missing church on the first Sunday in Advent, and that's a bummer. I was looking forward to going to the all-congregation "Let's Get Ready for Advent" meeting at 9:45 and to the service afterward. Instead, I'm sitting on my couch with a box of Kleenex and a cup of peppermint tea, blowing my nose every three minutes.

And I'm sort of laughing at myself, too. A couple of weeks ago I was thinking that maybe this year would be different. I'm more organized this year. I've already baked eight dozen Christmas cookies and popped them in the deep freeze. I've already come up with a satisfying list of presents for the boys and sent it to the Man, who will do the ordering and shopping. So maybe, just maybe, I'd end up enjoying Advent this year, really get into it.

This year, I'd be all about the light.

And then I got this cold--it showed up Thursday night, interrupting my plans for a productive weekend of sewing, cleaning and yardwork--and thought, nope, nothing's changed. I get a cold or some kind of bug every Thanksgiving. I thought this year might be different because I'm much more diligent about washing my hands whenever I come home from the library or shopping, and besides, I had a bug in October. Shouldn't I get a pass until the new year?

Nope. No pass. And I suspect that whatever I do, however organized I am, the next few weeks leading up to Christmas will be a slog. Maybe I'm wrong. But it doesn't pay to get optimistic this time of year, not for me at least.

So you can imagine that I found the quote above helpful. Advent is a time when we watch for the light--but the light isn't here yet. It's a dark time of year. It's easy to lose hope. This has been a dark autumn for a lot of people I know--unexpected, terrible deaths, cancer, broken relationships. The fact is, it's a dark world.

In her post on Advent, Christina Cleveland goes on to write, 

"So, this Advent season, let’s engage and lament darkness as we seek the Light. In doing so, we participate in the ancient longing of the coming Messiah, a longing that began when the earth was still formless and empty, persevered in the hearts of Anna and Simeon, and continues today."

Having a cold isn't a big deal, but it's been a useful reminder that when we put our energy into making a perfect weekend, holiday, Christmas season--a perfect anything--our energy is misdirected. The darkness is too big. Advent is a time to remember just how dark things are and little we can do to change that. We don't have it in us. 

But the Light does.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Little Gift I Gave Myself

The notes I took last year after the Christmas madness was over

I have a Christmas notebook. It looks like this:

It is the best thing I've ever done for myself, other than marry the Man. In it, I write down what we gave our various relatives for Christmas and what they gave us (so we can write our thank you notes). During the year, I keep notes on gift ideas or the boys and the Man. Given that I can forget a great idea in the time it takes me to get from the shower down to my desk, there's no way that in December I'll remember that inspired thought I had in May.

Today I had the brilliant idea to write down where I've hidden the gifts I've already bought. I have spent more than one Christmas eve tearing through the attic and my study closet looking for stuff I know I bought but can't for the life of me find.

As I write this, I'm printing out calendar pages for November and December. This year I will conquer Christmas. I will stay ahead of it. I will create space--mental, emotional--to observe Advent and not give up by the second week of December because I feel overwhelmed by everything I have to do.

Right now my big plans include:

1. Start making Christmas cookies next week. Freeze them, don't eat them.

2. Have gifts for relatives mailed by first week of December at the very latest.

3. Take annual Christmas card photo of Travis over Thanksgiving weekend and off to the printer the following week. Cards out by the week of the 8th.

4. Have all my gifts bought and wrapped by the 15th.

Can I do it? Well, I've got my notebook to remind me what supplies I need and don't need. I've got my calendar pages ready to be filled in with deadlines and chores. I have many years of Christmas misery to spur me on. Stay posted. I'll post my official calendars soon.

Monday, November 3, 2014

I'm Back

The quilt I'm working on--almost finished after two years!

Whew! Did not mean to be gone so long. Hello! How are you?

I'm fine. Sorry to see October go, especially since I feel like I missed most of it. The first two weeks were busy-busy--writing deadlines, school visits, volunteer work, the works. Then, two weeks ago, I got hit by a lovely bug, the sort that lingers and leaves you feeling totally fatigued. I got done what had to be done, and then I napped.

Finally, starting last Friday, I started feeling better. I feel mostly okay now. The idea of writing a blog post, for instance, doesn't leave me sprawled across the couch, hand over my eyes, wailing, "I can't! I just can't!"

So here I am.

Latest news: Will turned 12 on Friday. That's rather hard to believe. As 12-year-old boys go, I think he's pretty typical, which is to say, a delightful pain in the butt. He's very funny, but also tries too hard to be funny, so that you finally have to send him out of the room because he's driving you crazy. It's clear that he's about to have a big growth spurt (his feet are already enormous), but he's still shorter than I am. Yet that doesn't stop him from coming up to me and asking, "How's the air down there?" It was funny the first eighty times. He still lets me put my arm around him at church, and he kisses me goodnight every night. Hope that never stops.

Jack is joining the swim team! He texted me on Friday to ask if he could get a physical this weekend because he was starting practice on Monday. The Man and I were a bit concerned, given that Jack really isn't much of a swimmer. He had a couple weeks of lessons when he was 9 or so, but that's it, and he's never been on a team before or shown any interest before last week.

As it turns outs, the swim team at Our Fine Upper School is open to everyone--and apparently that means everyone. One of Jack's friends told me this weekend that last year a kid joined who couldn't swim a stroke. So Jack should be fine. The fact is, he's tall and thin and might make a great swimmer. Me, I'm just happy he's getting more involved at school and getting some exercise.

And as long as we're in the business of doing new things around here ... The Man signed up to help with our new church's Christmas market. Did I tell you we've started to go to a new church? I think we've finally found the place for us, Mr. Southern Baptist and Ms. Cradle Episcopalian. It's a Methodist church with a big-but-not-too-big congregation and a very active youth program. I hadn't planned on switching churches, but the little Lutheran church down the road we'd been going to didn't have much going on for teens and tweens, and as a sixth grader, it was time for Will to get active in youth group.

So I came up with a great idea--Will could go to youth group at another church with his best friend Gavin. Of course, I'd have to check out the church first myself, though I'd heard good things about it from Gav's mom, my good friend Sarah. I hadn't planned on us switching churches as part of the deal, but Reader, I fell in love. Beautiful church, friendly people, big enough so you could slip out after the end of the service without making small talk (important to us introverted types), small enough not to feel like just a face in the crowd.

And most importantly, the pastor rocked. She kept preaching on stuff I'd been thinking about, and she kept making sense. So I got the Man to go, and he liked it, too, so we've been going every week. And last week, when the need for volunteers at the annual Christmas market was announced, the Man leaned over and whispered, "I think I'm going to do that."

Reader, I married him.

Well, I married him twenty years ago, but still. The Man is even more introverted than I am, so I'm very proud of him for getting involved. And for showing up at church every week. That's what we're up to these days: showing up--to swim, to make silly jokes, to help out.

Me, I'm showing up to reclaim my house from a month of total neglect. To plan for the holidays now so I can actually enjoy them when they roll around. To sit with a friend whose going through a hard time.

And I hope I'll be showing up here a little more. Stay tuned!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Here's a Weird Thing That Almost Always Happens to Me (& that I wish I Would Remember)

So Jack's on the debate team again this year, which requires him to spend his Saturdays going to tournaments around the state. These tournaments are in some ways homegrown affairs, in that all events are judged by parents.

There is an online sign-up sheet on Our Fine School's Debate Team website, and all the good and righteous parents promptly sign up at the beginning of the year for the pleasure of leaving home at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning and listening to teenagers discuss the pros and cons of euthanasia, deliver speeches on the importance of protecting the environment, and give dramatic performances of Kiplings' "If--."

I have never signed up. Not once. Not even.

The Man did, once, thus fulfilling our family's burden for the Debate Year 2013-14. He came home from his one tournament drained and pale, having spent the day locked up in a classroom, the flourescent lights flickering, his stomach grumbling, his whole body transported back to 1983, when the hellish road of high school was still his to traverse.

I swore again then I would never, ever sign up to judge.

First of all, there are all sorts of helicopter parents at Our Fine School who eat this stuff up. There is no place they'd rather be than back in high school, reliving past glories and judging other people's children. Why deprive them of their fun?

Secondly, I can't go back to high school. Cannot. Can't face the flickering lights, the stupor that comes over me the second I enter a classroom. And I'm not that good of a listener. I tune out after five minutes. I'd be a horrible judge!

But duty calls. It knocks on the door. In my case, it knocked three times. First, it knocked on Tuesday when the debate coach sent out an email that he needed two more judges for this week's tournament. Then on Wednesday, when he emailed to say he needed one more judge. Please, oh please, I thought, let somebody else sign up!

But nobody did, and this morning, the coach emailed again. His subject line read "A Plea."

Well, I can't stand to see a grown man plead, but it took me two hours to talk myself into emailing him to say, Okay, maybe. I'm not committing just yet, but I might. Will there be pizza?

The coach emailed back within minutes to say thanks for considering it, but someone else had already signed up.

And that's what always happens. Always. I resist when someone asks me to do something I really don't want to do. I say (to myself) No! I will not do it! You can't make me do it! And then, when I finally talk myself into doing it and say, Yes, okay, if you really need me to do this ... Well, I'm almost always let off the hook.

Now why do you think that is? And why do I keep forgetting?

I just don't know. But I do think my Saturday will seem all the sweeter because I said yes and the universe said, You know what? Why don't you sleep in instead? Thanks, universe. I will!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Decluttering Hiatus

 My new treadmill desk! I'm walking as I write this!


My decluttering mission has been on hiatus for the last few days. Okay, maybe for a week. The problem came when it started raining last Wednesday. I didn't want to leave out any freecycling, and I didn't want to go to the recycling center in the rain. So my project came to a standstill.

Then, on Saturday the weather was good, but instead of decluttering I took a field trip. There's a plantation site about twenty minutes from my house, and I've been meaning to go out there forever. When the idea seized me on Saturday afternoon to go take the tour, I decided it was exactly the right thing to do.

Well, it was a fascinating tour, and I'm glad I went, even if it got in the way of my life being perfectly organized. The Stagville Plantation was the largest plantation in North Carolina, with over 30,000 acres and 900 slaves. The state owns the land with the main house and another section with a row of slave cabins. Both the main house and the cabins were lived in by sharecroppers until the 1950s, and the buildings are fairly well-preserved and maintained.





When I go to historical sites, what I really like to see is the domestic stuff--the furniture and the kitchenware and the buttons and combs and shoes (leather, unlike cotton, lasts). To my surprise, there wasn't much of that at Stagville. The furniture was sold off by family members years ago. The buttons? They're still there, somewhere under the dirt. There have only been two archaeological digs on the site, and they were small in scope.

So of course I came home and instead of decluttering emailed an archaeology professor on the Stagville Historic Site board of trustees and asked what gives. Turns out she's trying to get a dig going in the next few years. She said I was welcome to volunteer as a digger. I wrote back and said, Sign me up!

I guess it's for the best that I can't go dig now. I need to do finish my own dig here. More reports soon, I hope!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Decluttering Diary: Day 4

We have plucked all the low-hanging fruit, which means we have reached a dangerous place.

Why is it dangerous? Because now progress slows considerably and the culling will be more difficult and take longer. It's invigorating to think, "I'm gonna go through this box and I'm going to throw most of it out in thirty minutes or less!" You can be energized by that idea.

It's another thing entirely to open up a box of grad school stuff. It's the opposite of energizing. You are (if you're me) confronted by what a waste your twenties were in general, how much bad writing you did, the ways you weren't always a good friend. It's tempting to toss that box and just not deal with it. Except you (if you're me) also did some very fine writing (for your age), and you had great friends and great fun, and you traveled to Berlin and London and have all sorts of neat stuff to look at from those trips. So the box must be dealt with.

Yesterday I linked to an article I liked with a lot of great decluttering tips. One of the tips asserts that going through personal papers takes five times longer than you think it will. True dat.

Things are also starting to get a bit clogged up (don't scold, Jo!). I have more stuff to be recycled than my bin will hold, and if I fill up the trash bin with my decluttering trash, we won't have room for our regular weekly load of junk. Right now I'm looking into filling up the van and taking it to the recycling/waste center on the other side of town.


***
(later)

Good news! The Man tells me I can take it the recycling to the recycling/waste center without any special permission or paperwork. So that's number on my list for tomorrow. Number two, put Freecycle offerings online, including my lovingly cultivated of holiday magazines, mostly Martha Stewart Living Christmas issues, but also several very nice Halloween and Easter issues as well.

By giving these away, I'm finally acknowledging that 1) I hate Christmas (the secular side, except for the presents people give me and the cookies), and 2) there's a reason I've never done any of the Christmas crafts or baked any of the Christmas goodies that hum to me from inside these magazines' pages. The fact is, we have our decorations. We have our traditional goodies. We are not deviating, adding, or subtracting. We're fine.

I will say, the magazines are beautiful to look at, and I'm sure I'll buy this year's issue. Who knows, maybe I'll start a new collection to give away ten years from now to some young mother who thinks, quite mistakenly, that her Christmas is going to look like that.

***

Speaking of Christmas, I have started my shopping. I plan to be done by Thanksgiving at the latest.

***

Today, it's 65 degrees and feels like fall. I wore a light jacket, scarf and clogs out to run errands this afternoon. I looked for a long time at knitting magazines, though I'm not allowed to buy any or start any new knitting projects until I finish the sweater I'm working on.

***

I keep forgetting to tell you this interesting thing! I'm taking a free, online class through Missouri State University. It's called Laura Ingalls Wilder: Her Work and Writing Life. There's a new lecture every week, and you take quizzes. I took my first quiz today and got 100%. Aren't I something?

It's not too late to sign up. If you're interested, go here: http://outreach.missouristate.edu/180450.htm

Monday, September 22, 2014

Decluttering Diary: Day 3

It's 11:50 and I have just finished in Will's room. Will's room is not part of the attic, but it seems intertwined with the attic somehow, perhaps because half of the junk in the attic originated in Will's room.

You know what seems like a good idea when you're the parent of a messy kid? To periodically do a sweep of the messy kid's room and shove every little unaffiliated knick knack and doodad into a box, and then throw the box into the attic and pretend it doesn't exist.

Guess what? Bad idea.

Anyway Will has two rooms now, have I mentioned this? His old room (the room I just finished decluttering) shares a wall with the attic, and in the summer it gets super hot. This summer I rearranged my study and pulled Will's bed in there. Slowly, my study has become Will's bedroom and his study as well.

His old bedroom? Now it's sort of like Will's lounge. It has a nice chair and lamp, a table for projects, and Will's bookshelves. Soon it will be home to our fussbol table. Will is angling for a mini-fridge and a flatscreen TV as well, but I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon.

So Will has a suite of rooms now, as every sixth grader should. I spent time decluttering his old room today so that a) it would be easy to move in the fussbol table, and b) to feel like one part of the decluttering process is done. Not that it's totally decluttered, but it's a lot nicer and now that Will has moved across the hall, it actually has a chance of staying decluttered.

Which leads me to today's psychological tidbit:

When undertaking a large decluttering project, it's important to build in one sure success a day. It can be as small as a de-junked junk drawer and as big as an eleven-year-old's room.

Big take-home thought: Don't confuse "success" with "perfection."

By the way, I found an interesting article about decluttering via Pinterest. Here's the link:

http://www.rd.com/slideshows/personal-organizers-secrets-free/?trkid=outbrain-lt#slideshow=slide1

There were several fine pieces of advice, including "Your goal should be to reduce clutter, not create more storage space" and "Have rules about what you're keeping and what you're discarding." I'm good at rules. Do you have any rules for decluttering?

By the way, Jo, over at All the Blue Day, is also decluttering and has lots of good ideas.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Decluttering Diary: Day 2

Notes from today's work:

1. You will be surprised at how much resentment and hostility you feel toward certain items in your attic, items that you yourself purchased and brought into your house.

In my particular case, I have a shoe rack I bought at Target or Bed, Bath & Beyond four or five years ago. It wasn't a great shoe rack (it was wobbly), and I used it for about a year before giving up on it. Later, I purchased an under-the-bed shoe storage case, which I like much better and do use.

So off to the attic went the shoe rack, with the idea that one day I would take it to Good Will. But then I lost one of the rack's rods, thereby making it worthless. But obviously the rod was somewhere in the attic, so the useless rack sat there, taking up space, making me hate it.

Finally, today, I found the missing rod. I plan on taking a special trip to Good Will just to dump off that stupid rack. I hope the Good Will people take one look at it and do what I lacked the courage to do: burn it.

2. You will get very, very tired of stepping on bubble wrap and scaring yourself to death.

3. Pop quiz: Say you find a small box filled with the contents of the junk drawer from your old house. Say you haven't looked in this box in seven years, ever since you packed it up and moved it to your new house.  Do you:

a. Dump the whole box into a trash bag?

b. Keep the box--one day you're going to figure out what those keys unlock?

c. Start going through the box, then halfway through realize the only sane answer is to dump the whole thing into a trash bag?

The Correct answer is (a). I chose (c). Of course.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Decluttering Diary, Day 1

Some rules I'm developing:

1. When you feel yourself getting tired, stop what you're doing and straighten up a little before you totally run out of steam. If there's trash on the floor, sweep it up and throw it away. Make sure at least one two-foot square spot looks orderly, even if it's fake order you've created. You need to be able to walk into the attic (basement, pantry, closet) the next day and not feel completely defeated.

2. Lego is not sacrosanct. It's okay to throw away the occasional piece of Lego. No one's ever putting those kits together again anyway.

3. Remember how many years you have a) recycled; b) carried your own canvas bags to the grocery store; and c) composted. You have earned a small, guilt-free spot in the landfill. There will be items that you simply can't recycle, freecycle or give to Good Will. Toss them into the trash and move on with your life.

And a quote that motivates me in this effort to simplify and clarify my surroundings:

"It is the main earthly business of a human being to make his home, and the immediate surroundings of his home, as symbolic and significant to his own imagination as he can."
                                                                     --G.K. Chesterton

Which is to say, to some degree I'm considering this decluttering campaign an art project.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

In Which We Declutter



My latest quilt top, sideways.
 

I am in the process of decluttering my life, which is to say my house. If you have read this blog for any amount of time, you are probably familiar with my attic and are aware that my attic is a problem. It's a large walk-in attic, and it takes twenty seconds to open the door and chuck something inside, thirty seconds to walk in and pretend you're storing something properly by piling it on top of something else.

My attic is filled with Legos and many, many empty Starwars Lego project boxes, lots of books, lots of archived manuscripts. My wrapping paper is stored in the attic along with the luggage, the board games, the Christmas decorations, the Halloween decorations, the linens that are used once a year, the boys' school papers and old toys. Magazines. Art supplies. Camping equipment. None of it remotely organized with the exception of the Christmas decor and the luggage.

And then there is the flotsam and jetsam. The phrase "flotsam and jetsam," let it be known, was originally defined as the odds and ends that floated up on shore after a shipwreck. This somehow seems appropriate.

It is the flotsam and jetsam that will break your heart.

Every year I make a little progress decluttering my attic, but I can never quite get there. This year, I've decided, will be different.

One thing that's making the process easier: Now that he's in sixth grade and almost twelve, Will has grown out of a lot of his toys, toys he might possibly have played with  a year ago but now don't interest him at all. So out they go. The good stuff goes to Good Will and the Rescue Mission, and the junkier stuff I freecycle with caveats.

There are also piles of books just right for a fourth or fifth grader, but as a sixth grader Will's looking for books about older kids, not younger ones. So I'm taking loads of paperbacks to the library and to the book bins for Our Fine School's spring used book sale.

Another thing I've figured out: Don't do the actual decluttering in the attic. It's way, way too overwhelming to stand in the middle of all the clutter and junk and try to go through it. No, the trick is to throw stuff in boxes and bring the boxes downstairs. When you have several boxes, you sit in front of the TV and stream "Friday Night Lights" or "Larkrise to Candleford" and start making piles. The piles are as follow:

1. Trash
2. Recycling
3. Freecycling
4. Keep

You must be ruthless when it comes to the "Keep" pile. If you keep it, you must have really, really good reason to keep it and a place to put it.

I personally love keeping cards and letters. Being ruthless, however, I've started asking myself the question, If I threw this away, would I remember that I had it in the first place? Nine times out of ten, the answer is no. Now, I keep letters from family members and dear friends, letters I might love to re-read twenty years from now, but I don't keep birthday cards my parents sent that just have "Love, Mom and Dad" written on the bottom. Greeting card humor or sentiment is rarely good enough to justify keeping a card.

The other benefit of bringing the boxes downstairs is that I can live with a cluttered attic, but I can't live with a cluttered living room. Clutter that's right in front of me is clutter that's got to go.

I'm very serious about tackling the Attic Decluttering Project this fall, so expect to hear more about it. Feel free to share your best decluttering tips. And don't laugh at the idea of me having an organized attic! Really, stop that laughing right now!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Is it Fall Yet?

Given that the high today is going to be 90 degrees, I don't think so.

I feel like I'm just starting to emerge from the bubble of summer, where I was very quiet a lot of the time. The person I saw most, outside of my family members, was my friend, Sarah, who took Will to the pool with her kids approximately 3,000 times. Blessings upon her head. But Sarah and I mostly saw each other picking up or dropping off children, and though our chats were always fun, they were mostly brief.

So I was quiet a lot this summer. I read a book called A Book of Silence by Sara Maitlin, and it took me most of the summer to read it, but I liked it and understood the author's desire for staying away from words. It made me turn off the radio more often and just work in my kitchen in silence. I read another book called The Old Ways by Robert McFarlane, about old roads and pathways, mostly in the UK. It also took a long time to read, mostly because though it was beautiful, it didn't have a lot of people in it to carry you along on the backs of their stories. I am a walker, and The Old Ways is a book about walking, which for me is a quiet activity, as I mostly walk by myself.

Last night I saw my friend Tracy. She is one of my lunch friends. During the school year, I do most  of my socializing at lunch, and Tracy and I have lunch every few months. She works at home, too, and admitted last night that she's having a hard time re-entering the stream of school and practices and games and assemblies. It's like, once you commit to being in the thick of things again, there's no stepping back onto the shore. Well, that's not true, but that's how it feels, and for us introverts the very thought is exhausting.

Anyway, Tracy and I have seen each other several times the last two weeks since school began (Our Fine School starts in mid-August), and each time we say, Let's have lunch! But I don't think either of us have been ready for lunch. Finally, last night, we bit the bullet and settled on a date and time--next Wednesday at one o'clock. I have a speaking engagement next week, too, and my Bible study starts up again, so there you have it. And on Saturday my book group is having a pot luck. I will not be dipping a toe into the stream of life, I will be jumping into the deep pool. Well, it's about time, I guess. A summer of quiet is nice, but it does a body good to make some noise every once in awhile, too.

Monday, August 4, 2014


I am having a Beatrix Potter moment.

It is Monday afternoon. In a few minutes, Will's friend Gavin will be here, and we might go to the pool, or the boys might play here. Their game-playing is eclectic--some Mindcraft until I make my usual "time to get off the screens" announcement, a round of checkers, some soccer outside, then inside for a game of Stratego. Depending on how hot it is, and how buggy, they might go out again, this time to toss around the football.

Whether we go to the pool or stay here, I plan to lounge about reading this absolutely wonderful book I ran across in the library yesterday, Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life, by Marta McDowell. If you have the least bit of Beatrix Potter love, you should read this book. It's filled with art and photographs and Beatrix at Hill Top, her farm in the Lake District.

Did you ever read Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis? In it, he describes a feeling he often had as child called "northerness," feelings of intense joy and longing that he felt when reading Norse myths. He wasn't sure what he was longing for, only that the longing itself was deeply pleasurable. Beatrix Potter's art triggers that sort feeling in me, the same way I feel sometimes when I think about autumn. I can't quite put a finger on the source of the joy or longing, but it's there, and bigger, I think, than Beatrix Potter's gardens and rabbits or red leaves floating down from the tree branches.

So I've just ordered a book of her letters, because I would like to be inside her head a bit. Did I mentioned that I watched "Miss Potter" for the umpteenth time this weekend? And now I'm on a kick.

I have been thinking a lot about dailiness lately. It's one of my favorite things to think about, and I've wanted to write about it here, but I don't know what I want to say about it yet. Only that I'm still trying to pay attention to my day-to-day life, and lately have been practicing what I call "The Liturgy of Making the Beds." One of the definitions of liturgy is a rite or body of rites prescribed for public worship, and although my bed making is done in the privacy of my own home, I do like making a kind of ritual of it. I like making it important. Which seems silly to some, I suppose, but at the end of the day, it is a pleasure to lie down in a well made bed. And it is good to thank God for that particular pleasure, I think, and all pleasures of any given day.

Beatrix Potter's art has a dailiness to it, and a life in the garden is most certainly a daily sort of life, with its chores and concerns and little joys. It's satisfying that way a daily life is, when your chores are done, and the kitchen counters are clean and the laundry folded and put away, and you pick up your book or your knitting or your sketchpad.

Well, one day I'll figure out how to write about dailiness in a complete and satisfying way. For now, I'm back to Beatrix and her farm and flowers. You should come, too.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

In a Pickle

The cucumbers just keep coming. Yesterday I canned pickles for the first time. They look like real pickles! The directions say to wait two weeks to eat them. So for now, I'll just admire them.

Speaking of pickles, some of you asked for Jody's refrigerator pickle recipe. You'll find it here: http://gumbo-lily.blogspot.com/2012/08/refrigerator-pickles-anyone.html. We eat these pickles at every meal (okay, not with breakfast), and then I cut up some more cukes and refill the jars. They are addictive.

***

We have five weeks of summer vacation left. Jack still hasn't found a volunteer job, but he's going to resume his search tomorrow now that driver's ed is over (he has his permit now--yikes!). He seems more motivated since I mentioned to him that if he has a volunteer job this summer, he might be able to get a real job next summer. Employers like kids who have some work experience under their belt.

This is the first summer that I've managed to come up with a chore list for the boys and enforce it. Jack does the trash and recycling, mows the lawn when it needs it (which hasn't been often--we've hardly had any rain all summer), does his own laundry and cleans the boys' bathroom (I can't believe I finally managed to lob that job off on someone else). I suppose exercise isn't typically thought of as a household chore, but it's on Jack's list--he has to exercise at least thirty minutes a day. He's taken to riding his bike for close to an hour every night.

Will's chores include cleaning the downstairs bathroom, doing his own laundry, vacuuming the living room every day, pulling up the trash and recycling bins after pick-up, and baking cookies at least once a week. He gets at least thirty minutes of exercise a day without even trying, so I didn't have to put that on his list.

I am very pleased with myself for finally treating my children like hired help (or more to the point, unpaid labor). And I'm pleased with the boys for doing their work without too much prodding from me. The only thing neither of them seems capable of is remembering to rinse their dishes and put them in the dishwasher. Easiest thing in the world, and it slips their minds every time.

Well, as long as they keep cleaning the bathrooms every week, I'll cut them slack on the dishes.

I am less pleased at how much time I have to spend shooing Will off the screens. Jack has more computer independence, as long as he keeps up with the various things we ask him to do (chores and other things as well), but Will's time is limited. But he has taken to reading ESPN sports news on the computer whenever I have my back turned. "I'm READING, Mom," he'll say. "I thought you wanted me to read." Well, I do, but I want him to read novels and interesting nonfiction books as well as the sports news.

I'll have to ask my mom what she had to nag us about back in the day. Watching TV probably. Screens. It's always the dang screens.

***

A friend posted a list on Facebook a month or so ago called "Zen Things." As you know, I'm not a zen practitioner, but I play one on TV, so I posted the list on my fridge. Right now I'm focusing on the first three items:

1. Do one thing at a time.
2. Do it slowly and deliberately.
3. Do it completely.

I'm not good at this--I get distracted. I start doing one thing and then remember another thing I need to do. But I'm trying, and I feel a bit more centered when I do. I'm working my way up to number ten on the list: Make cleaning and cooking become meditation. Not there yet, but maybe one day.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Garden Report

Gretchen-Joanna, affectionately known in my book as GJ, left a lovely comment on my last post, complimenting me on the neatness of my garden. Now, normally I would just sort of duck my head and paw the ground with the toe of my shoe while mumbling "Ah, shucks," but the fact is, I've worked very hard on my garden this year. I built the beds and the paths, hauled in the mulch (lots and lots of mulch), and have spent the week since returning home from the beach weeding like a madman. So GJ's comment felt like a little valentine.

In the past, the Man has been, well, a bit of a garden hog. He is a more knowledgeable gardener than I, having spent years helping his granny garden back in the day, and he's of a more scientific mind than I am. He is also a manager by nature, and is good at thinking things through, while I'm more likely to jump in head first and hope the water's deep enough.

But this year, we have His-n-Her gardens, and I got the big one. The Man is very busy at work, and he knew he wouldn't be able to keep up with a big garden this year. He has the small garden by the side of the garage, where he is growing tomatoes, cucumbers and crowder peas. He waters but does not weed. Weeds have not been a huge problem in his garden, in part because it has been a dry summer, discouraging weedy proliferations, and in part because he laid down some serious mulch this spring.

I weed. I tend. I putter and fuss. I am pretty much in love with my garden. I stare at it from the porch the way you would stare at your baby's face while he's napping in the crib.

***

I have discovered the amazing powers of chicken manure. See that corn (above) at the end of the path (the recently weeded, soon to be remulched path)? Last Wednesday, I side-dressed it with chicken manure and it shot up a foot practically overnight. In the plot next to it, my little sugarbaby watermelon vines looked healthy, but lacked vim and vigor in terms of real growth. After a healthy application of chicken manure, the vines grew six inches in twenty-four hours. I kid you not.

Unfortunately, chicken manure stinks for a few days after you apply it. It's also very expensive--in fact, it's probably cheaper just to keep chickens. The Man is iffy about having a flock, and I respect his hesitancy--sometimes even a good idea can feel like just one more thing to deal with, and I believe right now the Man's plate is fairly full--but, boy, could we use that poop.

***
Right now we have a bumper crop of cucumbers. I don't know why our plants are doing so well. Usually we have a good week or two, and then they get a case of some sort of wilt or another, and that's it for the cukes. But they've been producing for several weeks and are still going strong. They're in a different bed this year, so maybe that's a factor, or maybe this dry spell is good for them.

So I've got excessive quantities of cucumbers, and while I can easily eat one or two a day all by myself, I can't keep pace with the vines. Back in 2010, Jody over at Gumbo Lily sent me her refrigerated pickle recipe, the one she received at her bridal shower from her high school chorus teacher many years ago, and yesterday I dug it out and made me some pickles. I haven't tried one yet--I thought I'd give them a day to marinate--but I have three beautiful jars in my fridge and I'll be opening one of them at lunch.

(ETA: The pickles are amazing! Wow!)

One of my favorite things about having a summer vegetable garden is that at dinner I can lay out plates of sliced cucumbers and tomatoes (and now a bowls of pickles) and crunchy green beans, and I just feel rich with good food.

***
I'm re-reading Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek, which I first read about twenty years ago. In one passage she writes, "That it's rough out there and chancy is no surprise. Every thing is a survivor on a kind of extended emergency bivouac. But at the same time we are also created. In the Koran, Allah asks, 'The heaven and the earth and all in between, thinkest thou I made them in jest?' It's a good question."

On my walk this morning, that's the quote I pondered. "Do you think I made them in jest?" No, no I don't.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

And So the Summer Begins ...

The path through the Spring Point Preserve on Ocracoke Island, NC 

I know for a lot of people summer began a few weeks ago when school ended, and for the more literal-minded among us, summer began on June 21st, the summer solstice. But for me, summer begins now. My calendar is clear. I've been on vacation, prepared for my week-long creative writing workshop, taught my workshop, recovered from my workshop ... and for the next five weeks, I ain't doing nothing. 


Okay, so that's not true. I'll be revising a novel, tending a garden, bossing around boys, driving around boys, hopefully making a quilt and putting in some serious housekeeping time. But I'm not going anywhere until the second week of August, when we head to Kentucky for a family reunion, and I don't have much on my calendar except for minor appointments and the like.

It has been a long, long time since I've posted, so let me catch you up on what's been going on or is about to go on:

1. Jack starts behind-the-wheel driver's ed today. He's totally ready. I am totally not.

2. Will has caught World Cup fever. His life currently revolves around the games, especially if the U.S. is playing. I don't understand why the U.S. is still playing. It seems to take a lot to get eliminated from the World Cup. I mean, like you have to lose fifteen times or something. I wonder if everyone gets a trophy at the end, like they do here in Pee Wee soccer?

3. We spent last week on Ocracoke Island, which is part of North Carolina's Outer Banks. Would you like to see some pictures? Of course you would!

The house we rent every year. It's called the Mary Frances, 
and it was built in 1920.

The edge of Springer's Point, the nature preserve on the island. The pirate Black Beard hung out here back in the day and is said to haunt the area, but so far I haven't run into him.

One of the ancient live oaks on the nature preserve. 
I walked here every day of our vacation. 
When I asked the Man if he thought the preserve was enchanted (the trees have a very enchanted feel to them), he said, "No, but it's complex on an astral plane."
 I thought that summed things up quite nicely.

Stacks of netted clam shells on the edge of the Point. I've been reading a wonderful book called The Old Ways by Robert McFarlane, which is in part about walking on old roads and pathways in the UK, and these shells made me think of the cairns that he sometimes found marking trails.

We had a very nice vacation, in fact probably the best family vacation we've had. Usually we're all a little tired of each other by the end of the week, a little surly and rundown, but for some reason that didn't happen this year.

Oh, I wanted to tell you about an author I discovered this vacation! Her name is Alice Taylor, and she's Irish. By chance, I picked up her book The Village, a memoir about village life in the early 1960s, at the library, and I found it absolutely charming. Now I want to read her book about growing up in the country, To School Through the Fields. I'll let you know how it is.

 4. The garden is growing! Get ready for more pictures!

 Butternut squash to the left, black beans to the right.

More beans.

The world's tiniest cornfield.

Echinacea.
We are starting to get tomatoes, and there are peppers on the pepper plants, but it may take awhile for them to turn yellow and red. Lots of cukes, lots of green beans.  The watermelon plants are not growing vigorously, nor are the zucchini. It has been a dry summer so far, and I fear they haven't gotten enough water.

5. Big news: I got my braces off! I will end this post with the before and after pictures:

Before (as in about an hour before the braces came off)

And after ...

 Now I am all grown up.

More soon!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Now I Am 50

Doesn't it look like the tree on the left is hugging the tree on the right?

So I turned 50 on Friday. It wasn't so bad. It was a little strange to wake up and think, "I'm 50." The idea was a little more weighty than I anticipated. But by the end of the day it felt very normal to be 50. Isn't everyone?

On Saturday we had a birthday party with forty of our nearest and dearest, and I enjoyed it very much, much to my amazement. Of course, being the hostess, I spent most of the evening running around making sure everyone had someone to talk to and that the introverts weren't suffering too much. We ate barbecue pork and hush puppies and banana pudding, and my friend Doug the fiddle player and his friend Rick the guitar player played Old Time music out by the garage.

The Man and I have decided we like throwing parties more than we think we do. The introverts among you will understand what we mean.

***

School is out. As usual, we have very little planned. Drivers Ed and some volunteer work for Jack, a few camps for Will, a week at the beach for all of us, a trip to Kentucky to see my parents before school starts again. Other than that, it's the pool for Will and the garden and writing for me and texting his friends for Jack.

***

Will's baseball team has a game on Saturday. If they win, they will be League champions. If they lose, they will play one more game, and the winner of that game will be champions. I have no idea how Will's team got in the position of being one game out from league champs. His team last year was full of stars (including Will, naturally). This year? Will is a standout fielder a good pitcher and a consistent hitter, Luke can hit like a champ, and Leo is a great pitcher if he doesn't get psyched out, and Alec is an inconsistently good pitcher. Sam is growing into first base, and Henry is steady at third. Maybe that's all it takes? A couple good pitchers, a solid infield, and one or two go-to hitters? I guess.

But I have to say, I'm ready for the season to be over. I get too nervous watching the games. I don't even know why. Will always plays well, and he doesn't fall apart if they lose. He doesn't take it too hard. And I don't take it too hard if they lose, either. But in the heat of the game, I'm absolutely miserable from nerves. I try to be zen about it; I knit, I practice mindful breathing. I remind myself that in the scheme of things, this game matters very little. None of it helps.

***

Here's what we have planted in the garden: Lots of flowers and a wide variety of tomatoes, French breakfast radishes, yellow squash, zucchini squash, sugar-baby watermelons, eggplant, red peppers, yellow peppers, pimento peppers, corn, green beans, french filet green beans, lima beans, black beans, Mother Stallard pole beans, Jacob's Cattle beans, butternut squash, cucumbers, lettuce (in its last days), okra, and one sweet potato plant.

I bought six sweet potato slips through the mail, but only one is doing anything. I don't know if I didn't get them in the ground quickly enough, or if I didn't get good slips. Next year I'm buying plants from the garden store.

Anyway, the weather has been cool and dry, which is lovely for living, but my plants want warm dirt and lots of rain. So the garden is pretty, but it's behind. Which is okay. We'll be here when it catches up.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Stewardship and Accountability


Me & Will after the 5th grade poetry reading. Aren't my teeth straight? Isn't Will a goofball?

I feel like I haven't been a good steward of this blog lately, stewardship being a theme of this household right now, for reasons I may or may not go into today, but probably will later. Now, the fact is, everything has its season, and it simply may not be the season for blogging. I have taught quite a bit this spring, and maybe this is a teaching season, not a blogging season.

This blog is a repository for almost seven years of my domestic life, and I want to continue with it. The other day I was feeling sort of sad because I hadn't spent enough time documenting Jack and Will's lives, and then suddenly occurred to me: I had documented them here! I read over some entries from back in the day and discovered things I'd completely forgotten about, like the time Will asked what Travis was going to be when he grew up. I'm so glad I wrote that down.

I keep a journal, intensively at times, other times (like now) more sporadically, but unless one of the boys is in some sort of crisis, mostly the journal is about me and my feelings. I use the journal to vent and obsess and release anxiety. So it's here, on this blog, that I document. I'm not much of a photographer--I lack talent and don't have much desire to take pictures, which I realize is odd in this age of the phone camera--but writing here has forced me to take pictures for illustration purposes, and I'm glad for that. It's been lovely especially, to see how our backyard garden has developed and changed over the years.

Does this mean I'll be blogging more? I don't know. Maybe. Maybe later. I think if I remember that years from now I'll want to remember, I'll do a better job. We shall see.

***

A quilting friend of mine and I are currently holding each other accountable for tracking our calories and steps every day. We've been doing this for over a week, and I've lost three pounds (she's lost four, but she's taller, which I think matters somehow). We each have goals we share in our daily emails; yesterday, Kristin added she wanted to quilt for fifteen minutes a day, and I added that to my goal list, too. I'm going to add one more goal, which is spot clean for fifteen minutes a day. In a few weeks, we're having a big party for my 50th birthday, and every day I've focused on a very small area of the house to clean. It keeps me from feeling overwhelmed.

I find the psychology here interesting. If I fail to record what I eat, then not only do I let myself down, I sort of let Kristin down, too. I feel responsible for doing what I said I'll do, because I think it will help her do what she said she'll do. 

Do you have an accountability pact with someone? What do you want to be held accountable for in your life?

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Today's List



1. Baseball season has started. My life belongs to Little League.

2. It is 3:35 on a Saturday afternoon. I have spent all day working in the garden and in the garage.

3. I turn 50 at the end of the month.

4. It is possible I'm too old to spend all day working in the garden and the garage.

5. I am very tired.

6. I mean deeply, down to the marrow of my bones tired.

7. Once again I ask: Where are my children?

8. Will and I found an old horseshoe set in the garage. With real horseshoes.

9. I am pretty dang good at horseshoes, in case you were wondering.

10. Every year I repeat the profound truth that Danielle pronounced several years ago: May is the new December.

11. Have you noticed that a lot of people have been putting pink or blue or magenta streaks in their hair? I mean, everyone--little kids, teenagers, grandmothers.

12. I have been putting tiny little gray streaks into my hair. It's very chic.

13. We have tomatoes on some of our tomato plants. You know what that means.

14. Tomato sandwiches!

15. In July.

16. I plan on sitting around a lot in July.

17. July is the new July.

18. It's also the old July.

19. Now I'm just being silly.

20. Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A List

What could it be? Why, fabric of course!


1. My house needs a good, deep and thorough cleaning.

2. I wish I had enough money to pay someone to give my house a good, deep and thorough cleaning.

3. I would be so happy if my house were clean.

4. Why won't my children clean my house for me?

5. Last night I worked in my garden until dark. I love working in my garden. But it has taken me three weeks of fairly good weather to get motivated to work in my garden.

6. I have been very lazy lately.

7. I am of the opinion that a bowl of cereal makes an excellent supper.

8. I wish other people in my family liked a good tofu-broccoli-barley stir-fried curry. Or anything with feta cheese mixed in. Tabouli. I'm pretty sure I could live on Mideastern, Mediterranean and Indian food.

9. Unfortunately, everyone else my family would starve if we ate only what I wanted to eat.

10. Time to make another meatloaf.

11. Do you ever get tired of doing the grocery shopping? I shop every Friday afternoon, and every Friday afternoon, I think, 'Really? I have to do this again?'

12. Time to do an online grocery order! Let the grocery do the shopping for me!

13. If you want to read a really good history book about, say, the Civil Rights Movement or Thomas Jefferson, may I recommend you look for your book in the children's section of your library? You get all the interesting stuff without having to wade through whose grandmother was born on what day.

14. I have yet to step into Target in the year 2014.

15. I'm embarrassed by how much this has lessened my monthly spending as compared to 2013.

16. I could write this list forever, but I need to go not clean my house.

17. Hope all is well with you! What's on your list?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Another Very Late & Very, Very Short Pause in Lent (#6)


It is Holy Week. Last night I walked Travis and came across this license plate. I think it is the perfect license plate to contemplate as we round the bend to Easter Sunday.






Wednesday, April 9, 2014

(A Very Late)(and Very Short) Pause in Lent #5

I have been traveling, traveling, traveling. Last week I was smack dab in the middle of Missouri. Yesterday I was in the eastern part of North Carolina. Today I am on my couch, where I plan to stay.

In my travels, I have been talking to children about stories and writing. I talk about how we humans seem to need our daily dose of storytelling or else we get a little cranky. We are creatures hungry for meaning.

And I sign a lot of books. When I sign books, I ask kids to tell me something about themselves--one thing they like to do, or an interesting fact about them. When I hand their book back to them, I say, "Thank you. It's wonderful to meet you."

If I am a Christian, I am the least of all. I do what I should not do, and do not do what I should. But one thing I can do, and sometimes remember to do, is love the ones who are put in my path. And fortunately for me, many of these are children, whom I find easy to love. Even the ones who are smart-alecky or half asleep when they sit in the audience stand before me vulnerable and shy and sweet, asking so politely if I'll sign their book (or a piece of paper or their hand).

It is my hope and my dream that for some of these children it matters that the visiting author talked to them and listened to them and said, "Oh, I like your name!" or "My sons play World of Warcraft and Minecraft, too!" It's not much, but it's what I can do. What I hope they hear: You are loved. Your story is important.

I do it because it has been done unto me.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Pause in Lent #4

To begin with, a quote about what happened on the cross from one of my favorite theologians, N.T. Wright:

It is all too possible to take elements from the biblical witness and present them within a controlling narrative gleaned from somewhere else, like a child doing a follow-the-dots puzzle without paying attention to the numbers and producing a dog instead of a rabbit.

This is what happens when people present over-simple stories with an angry God and a loving Jesus, with a God who demands blood and doesn’t much mind whose it is as long as it’s innocent. You’d have thought people would notice that this flies in the face of John’s and Paul’s deep-rooted theology of the love of the triune God: not ‘God was so angry with the world that he gave us his son’ but ‘God so loved the world that he gave us his son’. That’s why, when I sing that interesting recent song ‘In Christ alone my hope is found’, and we come to the line, ‘And on the cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied’, I believe it’s more deeply true to sing ‘the love of God was satisfied’. 

I found this helpful in my thinking about the cross.

***

I just finished Patrix by Nadia Bolz-Webb, which I enjoyed a great deal. Bolz-Webb is a Lutheran minister who is unorthodox in how she presents herself in the world (lots of tattoos, lots of piercings), and in many ways orthodox in her faith (though not entirely, which is why some people have problems with her). One of my favorite chapters in the book was about her stint as a hospital chaplain, which she had to do in order to be ordained. Her first day on the job she was called into an E.R. trauma room, where the doctors were trying to save a man's life. "What am I supposed to do?" she asked one of the nurses. The nurse looked at her and said, "Your job is to be aware of God's presence in the room while the rest of us do our jobs."

Your job is to be aware of God's presence in the room.

What a great job! What a difficult job in these times of one distraction after another!

More than once I've sat in a hospital room feeling like I had to make small talk or comforting talk ("everything will turn out for the best, I'm sure," that sort of thing), either of which, in the face of the patient's prognosis, seemed at best clueless and at worst vaguely cruel. But in spite of the monitors and the carts rolling by and the TV noises leaking in from other rooms, there's so much silence to fill up on these visits, and you end up filling it with a lot of nonsense that's neither comforting or meaningful.

What if instead of talking, I made it my  job to be aware of the presence of God in the room? What if being aware of the presence of God means holding someone's hand and being present for her the way God is present for both us at that moment?

I know that from time to time when I'm in a stressful situation, if I can remember to ask God if he's in the room, and if so, could he give me a little help, He makes himself known. This happened last year at Easter, when my children were being terrible at church--bored by the service, clearly ready to go--and I asked God for peace, right there, right now, before I did something that would get Social Services involved in our lives. And the peace came.

And then last summer at the beach, when we were at a restaurant, when Jack was being awful to Will, and Will was starting to cry, and I was like, "Jesus, feel free to intervene at any time, buddy." And suddenly, I knew we should leave. No doubt in my mind about it. We canceled our orders and went to another restaurant. We started over, and we had a lovely dinner.

The problem is, I keep forgetting to do this. I forget that this help is available to me whenever I need it. I forget that my job is to be aware of God's presence in the room. Always, always, always.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Catch-up

Well, it's been a quiet month in Lake Woebegone, my hometown ...

In some ways this has been a very strange month. Simultaneously crazy-busy and very, very quiet. I have taken up teaching again--to be precise, doing Saturday morning writing workshops with kids--which takes a tremendous amount of upfront planning, followed by a lot of revising after I see which of my lesson plans worked and which flopped.

I've also been preparing for a big trip to Missouri next week and realized halfway through planning my presentation that it wasn't going to work. Back to the drawing board.

Planning, executing and revising, planning, executing and revising. That's my life in a nutshell. Emphasis on the revising.

***

In case you're wondering, I'm still being frugal, except when it comes to grocery shopping. I gave up on being a frugal grocery shopper. I'm not being a profligate grocery shopper, just one that acknowledges she lives in a house with three males (four, if you count the dog), and all of them like to eat.

BUT I have yet to step foot in my local Target this year, and that, my friends, has made all the difference, even if I pay a bit more for cereal and toilet paper at my grocery store. It is a truism of contemporary life: for every twenty-five dollars you plan to spend at Target, you will actually spend fifty. I've never known this not to be the case.

Two other things that are helping me: interlibrary loans and not enough time to quilt (which means a lot less money spent on fabric). I'm having such fun with the interlibrary loans! I'm working my way through my Amazon wishlist and shopping list via the ILL. I figure I'm saving five bucks for every book I borrow instead of buy used. AND I have also discovered that if you request that your library buy a new book, they will! I recently put in a request that they buy two newly published books I've had my eye on, and almost immediately the books were on order.

***

One of the reasons I'm not getting much quilting done is that right now I'm having to be a very proactive parent. Will, it turns out, has not really mastered the whole time management thing, and now that he's playing baseball again, the kid really needs help.

I'm fairly hands-off when it comes to my children and homework. They need to learn to sink or swim on their own. Will's not exactly sinking, but lately he's been floundering a bit--forgetting that he needs our signature on a project proposal sheet or putting off projects and papers until the last minute. He's a bright kid but has the organizing skills of a tree sloth. So now we have a meeting every afternoon after school to go over his homework assignments, upcoming projects, and make a schedule for the day.

Is it helping? Sort of. Right now Will doesn't have computer or TV privileges during the week, so that frees up a lot of time. But even when homework is the only thing on Will's agenda, he can still find a lot of ways to do--well, nothing. Pat the dog, play nerf basketball in his room, hang out in the room where I'm working or reading and look pitiful.

As someone who spent most of her school years doing her homework on the bus in the morning, I understand Will all too well. Sometimes I think I cut my kids too much slack because I was such a worthless child myself. All I wanted to do after school was play with my friends, read and eat chocolate covered peanuts. That's it.

But--and, I think, as a result--I also spent too much time as a young adult flopping around like a fish thrown on a dock. I had no clear direction of where I was going, and it took me a long time to figure it out. I was twenty-nine when I figured out what I wanted to do when I grew up. The Man had similar issues, and one of the reasons why we are sending ourselves to the poorhouse to educate our children at Our Fine School is because we hope they will enter young adulthood more focused (and quite frankly, better educated) than we were.

So less quilting, more hand-holding, for now at least.

***

I feel like some of you have been praying for me since my last post, A Pause in Lent #3. Am I right? If you are, I can tell, and I thank you.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Pause in Lent #3

When I was thirteen, my recently born again brother sat me down and told me he was worried about my mother. Yes, she was a very nice person and yes, she'd gone to church her entire life, but she wasn't saved. You see, Episcopalians think all you have to do is be baptized as an infant and you're good. And that's why Episcopalians, including my mother, were going to hell.

I'd been going to youth group with my brother, and he must have assumed I was saved and heaven-bound, a perfect compatriot in the battle for my mother's soul. It's true, I'd tried to get saved. I'd said the right words, but I didn't feel any different. I'd expected to feel kind of glowy and special, but I just felt like me.

So I wasn't saved, and my mother wasn't saved, and all the sudden it seemed to me that any God who would send my Jesus-loving but un-born again mother to hell was not a god I cared to do business with.

I didn't voluntarily set foot in church again for another twenty years.

Today I was at church, listening to a very good sermon when the minister said something about Jesus dying for my sins, and you know what? My knee still jerked. I had the thought: we need a new vocabulary for talking about the cross, because I know I'm not the only person who has had dealings with toxic Christianity and can't hear certain words and phrases without wanting to flee. In fact, I know a whole boatload of folks who experienced toxic Christianity--judgmental, wounding,"You're a child of God, but something is very wrong with you" Christianity--as children and young adults and never came back. I don't blame them.

I'll be honest with you: I'm still working out what happened on the cross. I have never understood the economics of the sacrificial lamb. Why would God need to torture one human being (and his son, at that!) to save another? This is not to say I don't think Christ's death on the cross isn't significant; I'm just still working out its meaning, which I suspect I may find located in the resurrection.

(My born again brother is now, by the way, an Episcopalian.)

The opposite of toxic Christianity is healing Christianity. Healing Christianity doesn't say, let's find the sinners and make sure they're saved. It says, let's go be love in this world. Let's go be the hands of Christ. It feeds people and gives them water and lets them know we are all broken and God will make us whole in time. Which is very good news indeed.

You know what words and phrases don't me cringe when I hear them in church? Reconciliation. Restoration. Love. Justice. Mercy. The kingdom of God. The peace of Christ. May it be with you. And also with you.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Pause in Lent #2

To begin, two quotes:

"I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better." --Maya Angelou

"It is the things I have left undone which haunt me far more than the things that I have done."
                                                                                                                    --Madeleine L'Engle


I keep thinking I should go to jail. I could be a literacy tutor or participate in a Bible study or just visit someone who doesn't get visitors. It's one of those things we're told to do if we're interested in doing unto Jesus, and I could do it. I worked in a public defender's office in Tennessee back in the day, so I've spend time in jails, and I've spent time around prisoners. It's not like the idea makes me uncomfortable, though between you and me, I hated the way the jails smelled, and the prisoners themselves, after a few months in, always had pasty white skin because they almost never saw the sun. They called it a prison tan.

But I don't go over to the county jail to tutor or study the Bible or just hang out, and the reason why is because I fear the day there's a knock on my door and my newly released prison friend is standing at the doorway. Would I really let him into my house? What if that newly released prisoner is Jesus? Aren't we supposed to assume he is?

Most days it's just easier if Jesus doesn't knock on my door.

See, when you get right down to it, I think real Christianity is really hard, and some days I don't think I'm quite up to it. I'm pretty good with the honoring your mother and father thing, and the not lying thing, and the not stealing thing. I wasn't always so good, but I was working some stuff out when I was younger. Like Ms. Angelou, I know better now and I do better now. But that's only half of the equation.

There's a lot I leave undone. That concerns me so much more than the things I did. Sometimes I imagine Desmond Tutu (in his starring role as God) looking at me with big, sad eyes. He's shaking his head and sighing. I've read the instruction manual, right? Am familiar with the Sermon on the Mount? And what about feeding the hungry and visiting the prisoner do I not understand?

I don't have any great answers here, no great summary--you know, I've decided I WILL go visit the prisoner! I WILL trust God! One of the  purposes of observing Lent is to ponder our sinful ways. And that is what I'm doing. I pray that God will show me how I can serve Him in this world and that He will give me a big push in the right direction so I won't be haunted by what I've left undone.

Okay, I halfway pray that. On my good days. Maybe a halfway prayer is a mustard seed. What do you think?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

I meant to post something Wednesday ...

... but Will and I ended up watching "The Wizard of Oz" instead. If you're around my age and grew up in the States, you'll recall what a big deal "The Wizard of Oz" was back in the day, how it was shown on TV once a year and constituted a major cultural event. It was grand and totally scary. Some of my earliest nightmares were about the Wicked Witch of the West, and those flying monkeys still creep me out.

Ah, witches. When I was a kid, I loved reading about them. What was the attraction, I wonder? The picture book witches were almost always comical, but the witches in novels were more problematic--darker and more threatening. Bruno Bettelheim, who wrote extensively about fairy tales and child development in his book The Uses of Enchantment, thought that reading about witches (and evil stepmothers) helped children deal safely with their negative feelings about their mothers.

Watching "The Wizard of Oz" last night made me think about how we still don't have much use for unattractive, unfeminine women in our culture. Ugly (the Wicked Witch of the West)=bad and pretty (Glenda the Good Witch)=good. None of this is profound or new, I know; in fact, you barely have to scratch the surface of things to reach that conclusion.

Still, clearly one reason women fear aging--at least in western cultures--is that they fear losing their looks and becoming less feminine. But if watching the Oscars two weeks ago taught me nothing else, it's that women who let themselves age naturally are so much more beautiful than those that fight nature. There were at least two cases of plastic surgery gone wrong that made me want to weep.

In her comment on my last post, Pom Pom wrote, "We have a substantial fleet of fifty year olds at school this year [Pom Pom is a teacher] and we keep talking about having an after-school gathering for them because we'd like to affirm them, tell them what we love about them, and assure them that the fifties really are fabulous."

Pom Pom, I am all for this idea! You should do it!  As I approach fifty, I find myself looking to older women, particularly in books, to show me the way. Lately I've been reading Madeleine L'Engle's nonfiction and books by Margaret Guenther, an Anglican priest (right now I'm reading Toward Holy Ground: Spiritual Direction for the Second Half of Life and Walking Home: From Eden to Emmaus). These writers have lived so much and experienced so much, and they seem awfully wise to me in what they say about life and how to live it.

When I was younger, a lot of my friends were guys. Partly this was because I was passionately into music (listening to it and seeing bands) and most of my friends who shared my passion were males. But it was also because as a girl I was hurt very badly by other girls, and for a long time I didn't have much use for female friendship. When I was in my twenties I told an older woman friend of mine that I found men more interesting than women, and I remember her shaking her head, like she couldn't believe how wrong I was.

I joined the company of women when I had children, and since that time I have found great joy in the friendships I've made over diaper-changing tables and at little league games. And guess what? In general I find women more interesting, complex and, yes, wiser than men. And funny! I know so many funny women who can deliver punchlines and roll with the punches like nobody's business.

I don't think I'm afraid of growing old--like a lot of people these days, the main thing I fear about old age is dying badly (years in a nursing home slowly losing my faculties, that sort of thing). But I do like the idea of having spirit guides take me through my paces--senior girl scouts marking the trail for me (preferably with chocolate) and showing me the way. So Pom Pom, start that group and get a movement going! I'll be happy to join in.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Pause in Lent #1

I'm joining in with Floss and the girls [Edit: It's not all girls! My apologies to the men involved in this project!] for a Pause in Lent. For lots of thoughtful Lenten meditations, head over to Floss's site and enjoy.

I've started out this season of Lent thinking about so many things, I don't quite know where to begin. As I've mentioned, I'm turning fifty this year, and so one of the things I've been contemplating is what I want the next twenty-five years or so (if I'm given that) to look like. What do I want to be when I'm seventy-five and all grown up?

I want to be wiser than I am, and deeply spiritual. I think I've mentioned before that instead of saying, "I'm spiritual, not religious," I want to say, "I'm spiritual and religious." I like religion. I like saying prayers with my fellow saints and sinners (we're one and the same) and going through rituals. I like being part of the motley crew.

Now, I go through periods where I'd much rather read the Sunday papers than go to church, thank you very much. But not too long ago, I took to heart the adage "Eighty percent of success is showing up." I think this is true of church and religion and faith (and pretty much everything else). There will be days you don't believe in God or days the very idea of church bores you to tears (just ask Will), but it's still important you go.

First of all, it's heartening for the other saints and sinners, many of whom also woke up that morning not believing in God or bored to tears at the thought of church. One more ragamuffin dragging her rear end to the pew in spite of everything does everybody good.

(Really, I'm always moved by seeing people at church. Some days I think we all must be crazy, and other days I think we're the only sane ones around.)

Secondly, if you only show up sporadically, you don't get the good stuff--the community, the changing seasons, the being part of something bigger than you are. You don't get to be part of the Church, that good body working out God's plan for reconcilation and restoration. Don't you want to be in that number?

But I digress. Spiritual and religious. I want to be both. Have I mentioned I've been meditating? I'm terrible at it--I can go for about five seconds before my mind starts wandering--but it's so good for me to sit down in the middle of the day and breathe. When my mind wanders, I bring it back. I say, "here, now" like my thoughts are little puppies who are getting too close to the road.

Sometimes I meditate and try to see God. Doesn't that sound profound? I'm not really trying to see God. I'm really trying to see Archbishop Desmond Tutu, since I'm not sure what God looks like, but it wouldn't surprise me if He and Bishop Tutu share a strong resemblance.

The reason I'm envisioning Bishop Tutu in the role of God is because I've been thinking about  God's unconditional love. I know God loves me unconditionally, but I don't know what unconditional love actually feels like.

Do you? It's fun to try to imagine it. Imagine Bishop Tutu in the role of God seeing you and sheer joy bursting out from him. If you do it right, you'll cry. Honest.

I hope this doesn't sound too heretical or sacrilegious (I don't believe that Bishop Tutu is God, honest, though I do find him lovely). I just think the more I practice feeling loved unconditionally, the more loving I'll be, the less judgmental and icky. 

Here's the thing. Sometimes when you're almost fifty, you look at yourself in the mirror, and joy does not burst out of you. You forget to love yourself even though on an intellectual level you know God loves you and you are loveable. So you have to practice being loved for all your wrinkles and sagginess and the bad thing that's happening with your elbows. You have to imagine Bishop Tutu (in the role of God) telling you how beautiful your elbows are because they are His.

And that's what I'm thinking about. Being seventy-five with even more wrinkles and sagginess and feeling fully beloved. That is really my goal: To believe myself beloved by God and blessing everyone else because of it.

Selah.