Escapism

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Yesterday morning, I was scurrying through the bathroom on the way to do something with some kid to get them ready for school when I heard the radio announcer talking about a show that night, and having tickets to give away. When I realized what the show was, I dove for the phone, because except for Christian, we were uncommitted and this was one of the shows I had intended to try to get tickets for in the first place before, well, the last few weeks happened.

So I got the tickets and I told the kids we were going to an acrobatics show, but I didn’t really know what it was, and truthfully I was kind of nervous, because I was tired and emotionally drained and the last thing I wanted was to have to buck up four whiny attitudes, and I was terrified that I’d remembered wrong and what we were getting ourselves into wasn’t at all what I was expecting.

Well, it wasn’t exactly what I’d been picturing, but it was one of the coolest shows I’ve ever seen. I wince on behalf of my community, which didn’t attend it well, because I can’t imagine the audience that wouldn’t like it:

In a week when sorrow feels numb and outrage feels impotent and discouragement is threatening to feel like despair at the end of a series of weeks that feel like being on the receiving end of a whack-a-mole, I am so, so grateful for an hour of pure delight and wonder and escapism…with no need for violence or villains.

And the fact that all my kids adored it…even the tween who hates EVERYTHING.

And the wonder of watching what the human body is capable of.

And a haircut.

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Look, my laptop takes such poor quality pictures, it almost looks artsy!

And secondhand scarves, because I love scarves.

And a good conversation with a friend.

And the tone of my husband’s voice on the phone in the background.

And the return of anxiety, because it’s teaching me about the relationship among anxiety, scrupulousness, and hampered spiritual growth, and challenging me to move forward.

For a good air-clearing within my marriage about where we stand on a particular point of stress in our world, which may be a baby step, but it’s still the first step forward.

For a weekend of baby love, and the promise of another one coming up.

And for a woman willing to spend a weekend with my crazy kids so we can have aforementioned baby love weekend.

For a massage. Because maybe my back won’t hurt in the middle of the night tonight.

For college students who want to work with the Down syndrome community…because we have so many ideas and zero time and energy to bring them to fruition!

For dipping below 130 on the scales again, however fleetingly.

For being too busy to cook desserts, which makes it slightly more likely that I could pull it off two days running.

For homemade yogurt and kombucha, and the way I feel different…even if it’s totally psychological.

And for homemade sourdough bread.

And a really good walk this morning.

And rain. Because oh, how we need rain, with our crunchy grass in September.

That’s my gratitude list. Are you thinking of yours?

 

Reset

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Photo by Wendy House, via Flickr

We’ve been all drama, all the time lately (read: escalating for months) in our house, and for a couple of weeks, I’ve been telling people I’m ready for 2017 to cease to exist. Like, it should be wiped off the annals altogether. I know it’s not a sound way of looking at things–the hardest times are the ones that teach us most and gift us with the most life lessons, and anyway it’s not like my troubles compare to those faced by many others–but sometimes you’re just done and that’s all there is to it. That’s where I am right now. Just done. I’m at my breaking point. My tolerance is gone.

But, as is often the case, when the universe (AKA God) has a lesson for me to learn, he’s not subtle about it. I was reading a memoir called Hourglass, and the author shared a conversation with an older woman who said, “Yeah, I had a bad time of it for a little while. About twenty-four years.”

Two nights later I grabbed my “January book,” where every New Year’s Day I write down a summary of the past year and my goals for the one to come. I knew the content of the most recent entry, yet one thing, I found, I had forgotten. I wrote, “2016 was a terrible year. I just want to wipe it out of existence.”

Sitting there, staring at those words, I realized if I don’t want to have a twenty-four-year-long “bad time,” I have to do whatever I can to change my own narrative. There are a lot of practical applications for that, but probably the first is that I need to start looking for things to be grateful for again. Years ago I participated in the 1000 Gifts blog hop, and from that experience I know nobody else really cares about my lists, but that isn’t really the point. So I will begin my gratitude list again, and I give everyone carte blanche to stop reading before you get there–as long as you go looking for your own things to be grateful for. Maybe if a whole lot of us make some attitude-change ripples, we can reset not only ourselves, but large things. Things beyond our sphere of influence.

I am grateful for the bike ride I haven’t had time to detail.

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For friends willing to donate time to play with me on a recital this weekend.

For manuscript requests.

For the fact that having 10 tons of drama dumping on my/our head/s every moment prevents me from assigning drama to the novel query process. (That’s a really big deal.)

For what appears (and had darned well better be) the end of a plague in our house.

For the beginning of experimenting with fermented foods.

For expanding horizons inside my heart.

For the grace to interact with people on controversial topics without becoming too anxious to sleep.

For the most unwelcome resurfacing of anxiety, which has sparked all these reflections.

For cheesecake.

And the fact that cheesecake doesn’t last very long in the house.

For chenin blanc.

And although I never thought I’d utter these words, for Pit Bull.

That’s probably enough to start.

 

What if Thanksgiving Wasn’t Just One Day?

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I took some heat last spring after I published my rant on the topic of Mothers Day. But in the months since, I’ve come to realize what was bothering me was the question of gratitude, and what precisely that means.

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Image by KateWares, via Flickr

As mothers (and fathers!), we do a lot for our kids. We give and give and give until we’re worn out. And the thing is, we don’t really need to be told “thank you.” Right? Wouldn’t we all rather our kids show us their appreciation every day, rather than getting cards and crafts and/or a fancy dinner one day a year?

If your answer to that question is “no,” this post probably isn’t for you.

But if your heart lit up, going “Yes, yes yes!”, then it’s worth thinking about Thanksgiving as if we were the kids in that equation, rather than the parents.

In other words: Does God (or the great nation of America, if you’re not the believing type) want/need our “I’m grateful for” lists on this on one day, only to have us revert to business as usual the following day? Or would the world–and not coincidentally, we–be better off if we showed our gratitude in our actions on Thanksgiving Day and every other day, too?

(In case you’re wondering, that’s what you call a rhetorical question.)

My point is this:

If I am grateful for the roof over my head and the food on my table, the best way to show it is to do something to ease the suffering of those who don’t have the same benefits.

If I am grateful for my spouse and children, the way to show it is not to focus on what annoys me about him/her/them, but on what makes them such a gift in the first place.

And if I am grateful for the gift of free speech, I should not abuse it by hurling insults, invectives, half-truths, false news stories and outright lies at anyone, no matter how high the stakes.

In other words, the best way to honor Thanksgiving is by living out mercy.

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Image by peregrine blue, via Flickr

 

Cover artIf you use Joy to the World: Advent Activities For Your Family during Advent, I’d like to suggest that the Advent Calendar is a really good way to put this idea into practice. Why? It offers a structure, and structure can make the difference between lasting change and a quick reversion to “business as usual.” Here are a few ideas to stuff your Advent calendar with mercy in motion:

  • Pull a page (or a few!) from the Random Act of Kindness calendar
  • Make dinner and take it to a homeless shelter. (Make it communal by asking for help from friends on Facebook.)
  • Ring the Salvation Army Bell.
  • Go Christmas caroling and collect canned goods for the local food bank.
  • Choose a charity and let the kids donate from their piggy banks, or do chores to earn money to contribute.
  • Make gift bags with cereal packets, water bottles, gloves & scarves for homeless people.
  • Have the kids help pick out Christmas gifts for families in need, via giving trees or Toys for Tots.

What other kid-friendly ways have you found to teach the practice of mercy?

And with this post, and the last week of the Church year, we farewell Mercy on a Monday. Thanks for joining me on this journey.

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Things I’m Thankful For Today

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Photo by Michael Francis McCarthy

1. Baking soda. I don’t know how entire industries have gotten entrenched around cleaning products and deodorants, because as far as I’m concerned baking soda works better on both fronts. (With vinegar, in the case of cleaning.) Seriously, try it.

2. Greek yogurt. I’ve been so-so about this but we had it over Labor Day weekend and now I’m trying to find the right brand to give me the cream without the chalk, and a flavor I like (because I’m not a fan of strawberry, blueberry and banana. Not that I’m picky.) At the moment I’m thinking it may be the Aldi brand. Speaking of which:

3. Aldi. Because I have four kids, and three of them are boys, and anyway, if you haven’t been to Aldi in a while, you should really go see how good the selection and quality is, not to mention price!

Photo by brandon king, via Flickr

4. Steel-cut oats for my oatmeal. Not sure I’m ever going back to rolled.

5. Taking Michael to school on my bike and the Burley. Beautiful mornings, bonus exercise, and less driving. That last half-mile slow rise at the end is a bear with 40 pounds on the back, though!

6. Having a laptop. Because I can write just about anywhere: at piano lessons, at horseback lessons, on the deck, on the couch, in my writing corner…I just have to impose self-discipline.

Flute-laugh7. My flute. I am preparing for a recital on October 11 and so I’ve been practicing regularly, although certainly not at any level worth bragging about, and it feels good to play, even with that annoying, sometimes-debilitating B-flat air leak. (Hope to get that dealt with today!) I can’t believe my flute is almost twenty years old. Side note: I was thinking back on how I paid for that flute when I was an undergrad. I know I paid for it all myself, and I also know I didn’t have the money, so I must have maxed out two credit cards in order to buy it. So there’s another thing to be thankful for: not carrying a balance on a credit card.

8. Music friends. On that recital I’m playing a trio with my undergraduate flute teacher and a really good friend who was also a student of his. And I’m also playing with my kids’ piano teacher, who I also was friends with in college. We’re getting together every week, at this point, and it’s just so lovely to work with really good musicians and friends.

9. Cooking over an open fire. We have a lot of untreated wood in the back yard, remnants of tearing down a playhouse for the kids that went afoul of the neighborhood covenant police. So we’re trying to burn it all up in the fire pit. I’m experimenting with cooking more than just burgers and hot dogs, and I’m really finding it empowering to have another way to cook outside, both when it’s too hot to cook inside and when it’s beautiful outside.

10. Novel writing. It’s so enlivening.

What are you thankful for today?

Unrecognized Blessings

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Julianna’s Sure Steps inserts, which cost way more than you’d think. Step aside, Prada.

It was fifteen minutes until Mass started, and we couldn’t find Julianna’s shoes.

Or more accurately, one of her shoes.

Now, to understand the full significance of this, you have to realize, first, that Alex was serving and he was supposed to be at church fifteen minutes ahead of time—and second, that Julianna only owns one pair of shoes.

So when Julianna is missing a shoe, it is a big deal. With the boys, I’d just say, “Whatever! It’s 80 degrees outside, go barefoot!” (Although probably not to church.) But Julianna walks on the inside of her feet. Barefoot is not a good idea.

I get very stressed when I get pressured. If I leave myself plenty of time, I can get the kids out of the house by myself without raising my voice at all. But put me in a last-minute situation, and I completely lose my head. With one shoe and insert perched at the top of the staircase, and the other one MIA, I tried to trace backwards and remember when and where it was that I saw her limping around the house with one shoe on and one foot bare—but my brain froze. And I kind of panicked.

Christian, disgusted, ordered me to the car to take Alex ahead while he looked for the missing shoe.

Alex was too late to serve, which would have crushed him except that we ended up getting to sit next to his BFF. Christian arrived in the middle of the opening song and managed to find us, tucked into the middle of the crowded church where we never ordinarily sit. But there wasn’t room in our pew, so he and the younger three sat behind me, while Alex and his bestie sat a row ahead of me.

And I had no one to supervise during Mass.

I took advantage of the rare mental space to try to focus on the prayers in a way I normally am not able to. I noticed the undercurrent of children’s voices undulating beneath the liturgical action—so many, many children. I knew we had lots of families, but I’d never appreciated before how just how many—how young our parish is, when so many parishes are aging out.

And thus sensitized, I realized anew how rich my life is. The fact that all the chaos around me is a result of that richness, that it flows from the outpouring of blessings I almost never take time to appreciate. If I hadn’t been given so much, I wouldn’t have so much to do.

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It was a beautiful moment that made the rest of the day look a little more placid and colorful than usual.

And in case you’re wondering about the mysterious hiding place of the shoe?

It was in her closet.

Hitting Pause to say…thank you

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Photo by honor the gift, via Flickr

I feel a need to pause today and say thank you. On two separate subjects, actually.

From the moment we first realized we might have to take Michael early, people have been extending themselves for us. At first, we kept a list so we could send thank you notes, like, y’know, people are supposed to do. Like we’ve always done before. But before long, the stream of generosity outstripped our ability to keep track of it. In prayers, in child care, in child transport, in meals, in house cleaning, in hospital visits and meals brought there, in gifts and cards and help planning the baptism party, and simply in avid interest in our family’s story (my blog hits have been crazy high lately)–in all these ways, you people have blessed us. We owe one heck of a debt of karma on the universe, and I’m so excited to start paying it forward…because I know I can never pay it back.

And speaking of the blog, that brings me to the second topic: comments.

There are bloggers who respond to every single comment people leave, often simply saying “thanks for visiting!”  I’ve never wanted to do that. As much verbiage as I spew, I like it to be meaningful. I’d rather have horizontal conversation with people. In other words, if I play arbiter to each and every response, it feels like I’m the great almighty Blogger before whom you all lay your burnt offerings of comments.

Not my style. I’ve got an ego, but I’m aiming myself at humility.

But if I don’t respond individually to a comment, that doesn’t mean it’s unimportant to me. I’ve always wished I had a way to personalize my comment box the way people on other platforms can. If I could, it would say something like this: Every comment you leave is like a piece of candy thrown to a child at a parade: a cause for delight and warm fuzzies in my chest. Affirmations lift me up; disagreements (respectfully phrased) promote understanding–and I love, love, LOVE to read your stories, when you share them. I can’t tell you how many times I wish I had a simple “like” button, because your words stand on their own and I would like to affirm them without drawing attention back to myself. Someday, when I graduate to a more sophisticated blogging platform than .com, I will make sure I have a way to do that.

In any case, as insufficient as this medium is, I would just like to say thank you to you all, from the bottom of my heart. Every day I understand better what Luke said in the infancy narrative: Mary kept all these things and treasured them in her heart. Sometimes that’s all you can do, because words are woefully insufficient.