With Nana and Papa

With Nana and Papa
Family Times at Flathead Lake

Monday, December 10, 2018

Moving Heavy Furniture

I assembled the Christmas cards this weekend with mingled emotions. Excitement about reaching out to friends and family living far away, sorrow over modifying names and addresses for splits or losses, and bewilderment over addressing and stamping a horde of white envelopes destined for friends living within a square mile of us.  Despite close proximity to neighbors and dear friends of fourteen years, a stamp is required to get the card into their mailbox and the short update note is a must because we haven't seen many of these folks over the last year or two. The crazy busy-ness that plagues our lives - especially in December - means that friends living one street over have no idea where Aden applied to school or that William now drives (cautiously and with a permit).

In early days when kids were play-date and preschool-bound, our mothers' groups, rec league basketball games,drink nights, book clubs, running groups and church studies filled parents' days or evenings and kept us sane. Now that the kids are easier, we somehow interact much less. I still have drink nights, book clubs and neighborhood fellowships on my calendar but can rarely get to them due to carpools and meets, kid concerns and sheer fatigue. (See gratitude over our breakthrough on Thanksgiving, entry from November.)

Another sign of time passing - our use of the app TaskRabbit where before we could have just called on friends. For example, we need our large washer and dryer moved before we re-tile the entryway next week. I asked around, wondering if some friends (or their large teenage sons) might be able to help, and heard the following concerns: "carpal tunnel, recently repaired shoulder, bad back, bad knee."  I completely sympathize since Rob and I have similar physical restraints. We have no wish for anyone to end up in the ER this close to Christmas! And so we rent the job out to a qualified stranger, when two decades ago we would have done it ourselves and one decade ago we would have had a party of friends to help.

But despite the changes, aging and busy-ness, we still share connections and by hook or by crook will still give and get our updates.  I hear that life calms down in the next decade, when perhaps we can get back to drinks and debates, if not moving heavy furniture.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Poking the Bear of Hope, or Lighting the Darkness

"Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it."
- Helen Keller

I swore several blog posts ago to write only about positive things, but realize that might be the reason for my infrequent entries.  Writing has the most value when it comes from an authentic place, and though my mind wants to focus on the positive my heart aches over recent news.  The government's climate report warns of hard times ahead, for us and especially for our children. The treatment of climate and war refugees on our borders strains credulity. And as Hanukkah begins, I think of last month's anti-Semitic actions - rising from no reason but from primitive, propaganda-fed places.

How do we acknowledge our authentic grief and still strive for hope, lighting candles in the dark places and trying to re-imagine a future that holds every potential for our children?  My spiritual guide, Dominie, read me the Helen Keller quote (above), to remind me that more possibilities and perspectives exist than just the grim headlines. For every dire prediction springing from the headlines or from the panicked places in my own mind, I can respond with this: "That's one way to look at it."
Dominie's words poked me, woke the bear of hope from a brief hibernation, and encouraged me to remember that the dark and troubled view is not the only view, and immense capabilities for healing exist.

Hanukkah, Diwali, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, Christmas - all these celebrate illumination. We can acknowledge our struggles while turning toward the light and becoming a light for others.  Our communal hopes will feed us, fuel imaginings of a bright tomorrow, if we can share them authentically along with our grief.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Thanksgiving

Laughter. Shouts, snickers, bellows and hoots of laughter punctuated the Thanksgiving table we shared with our family of friends. Memories from decades ago, weeks ago, from yesterday, reared their pointy little heads and tickled funny bones around the arc of couples and kids with whom we have shared fourteen years of child-raising and growing up.

Before the meal we stood in a circle in the kitchen, revealing one by one the things we felt most grateful for. There were some chuckles as the six-foot-plus boys put food at the top of the list, but the sentiments of "family," "friend," "my Mom," "my chosen family," were so heartfelt I had to blink away sudden tears. 

It's been too long since we sat together and laughed. Though family life is less physically stressful with teenagers, the pace of our calendars has accelerated and left fewer moments for bonding. Sharing a meal and swapping stories, feeling the ache of smiling cheeks and held-back tears - that's a Thanksgiving to be grateful for and to remember always.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

A Kindness to be Thankful For

An old friend posted a heartwarming story on Facebook. She relayed that a girls high school volleyball team from Paradise, CA - the town that burned to the ground in the Camp Fire - received new uniforms and equipment from their opponent in the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) playoffs because their own equipment had been lot to the fire.  Crossing my fingers that the story wasn't fabricated, I visited Snopes.com, and found that it is, in fact, true.

Here is the story in greater detail as reported online. May we all be thankful for acts of kindness in this week of Thanksgiving and every week.  And may we all be inspired to act in similar fashion:

As the Grass Valley Union newspaper and other news outlets reported, the Paradise Adventist Academy girls’ volleyball team arrived to compete in a California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) playoff game on 10 November 2018 to find that their opponents at Forest Lake Christian High School had provided them with both material and financial support.
After the game, Forest Lake athletic director LaRon Gordon announced that local parents and students had donated around $16,000 as well as shoes, clothes, and toiletries to their opponents as well as gift cards for each individual player. Gordon’s team also gave Paradise Adventist new jerseys, shorts, and knee pads to use for the contest, which was a semifinal match in the Northern California Division VI regional tournament.
Forest Lake also received permission from the CIF to forego charging admission to the game in favor of donating all tickets sales to help victims of the fire.
“I’ve never been so overwhelmed by so many things I would have never thought possible, and this is one of the most amazing things I could ever have thought would happen,” Paradise Adventist head coach Jason Eyer said following the announcement. “Your community is awesome. We will be forever grateful.”

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Altruistic Swimming

It's no secret that I love the sport of swimming: the camaraderie of teammates, the way a body moves through the water, the envelope of silence that descends when I dive in. It's a joy when swimming converges with altruism and people who work on behalf of others, as with my friend Nicole Vanderpoel and her committee working on Swim Across America - Denver, which raises money for cancer research and trials with Children's Hospital.  Another example springs from my Masters' teammate Liz Herr, who works with a swim team in a poor area of Nicaragua, sponsoring children on the Nica Nadadores, who would otherwise not be able to train and travel.

In her latest email update, Liz writes:
"As you know, the Nica Nadadores swimmers live in one of the most impoverished areas in Nicaragua, the second poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. In communities where most people don’t bother to dream anymore these kids do have dreams and they work very hard in the hope they can make those dreams come true. "

Our CAC Masters team sponsors five Nica swimmers and Liz and her husband sponsor another individual. The support helps pay for pool time, supplies, and travel expenses. The kids have even been able to come to the United States to compete, and their world has opened far beyond Nicaragua. We share a bond with them -- our love of the sport -- and it's a joy to pave the road as they follow their dreams.

I also belong to a Swim Coaches Idea Exchange on Facebook (each time I want to quit Facebook, a group like this pops up and makes me hold on for another week). Yesterday a coach posted to ask if we could help swimmers and coaches in the area affected by the Camp Fire in northern California. A Chico coach responded that they were OK, the fire had not invaded Chico, but the summer team in Paradise was probably affected. No one can get into that area yet to determine the status or need, but he will keep us posted.

My swim community provides vital connections to the world, to swimmers, coaches, and problems / solutions crucial to other teams in other places. I tell Aden and William that community is the reason for swimming, that working hard and getting results are secondary to bonds formed from shared experience and passion for a common effort. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of other ways to connect but this is mine, and the greatest joy of all is that swimming has become theirs, too.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A Representative Democracy

As promised, this blog entry contains good news. Last night, as election results poured in, election watchers detailed a number of epic firsts for our democracy (from NPR):

With women making up only 20 percent of Congress, there are many types of women — especially women of color — who have never been represented on Capitol Hill. The record-breaking wave of female candidates in 2018 comes with a list of firsts among those women. Here's a list of some of those firsts, which we will keep updating as results come in.
Youngest woman: Twenty-nine-year-old Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman elected to Congress, in New York's 14th District. First Muslim women: Democrat Rashida Tlaib, in Michigan's 13th District, and Minnesota Democrat Ilhan Omar, from that state's 5th District, both became the first Muslim women elected to Congress tonight. Tlaib will also be the first Palestinian-American to serve in Congress.First Native American women: Democrat Sharice Davids won the House seat from Kansas' 3rd District, unseating incumbent Republican Kevin Yoder, and Democrat Deb Haaland won the seat in an open race in New Mexico's 1st District. That makes both of them the first Native American women elected to Congress. Republican Yvette Herrell in New Mexico's 2nd District could become the third member of this group, but the Associated Press has not yet called her race.First black woman from Massachusetts: Democrat Ayanna Pressley became the first black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts, in that state's 7th District. She unseated incumbent Democrat Mike Capuano in a surprise upset in SeptemberFirst women House members from Iowa: Democrat Abby Finkenauer in Iowa's 1st District defeated Republican incumbent Rod Blum, and Democrat Cindy Axne in the state's 3rd District defeated Republican incumbent David Young to become the Hawkeye state's first two women elected to the House. Iowa elected its first woman to the Senate in 2014 — Republican Joni Ernst. First Latina Congress members from Texas: Democrat Veronica Escobar, in the state's 16th District, and Democrat Sylvia Garcia, in the state's 29th District, will be the first Latinas to represent the state in Congress, according to the Texas TribuneFirst woman elected governor of Iowa: Republican incumbent Kim Reynolds became the first woman elected governor of Iowa. She served as lieutenant governor of the state from 2011 through 2017, then became governor when then-Gov. Terry Branstad was appointed ambassador to China for the Trump administration in 2017. (https://www.npr.org/2018/11/06/664951794/a-list-of-firsts-for-women-in-this-years-midterm-elections)
Here in Colorado we elected the first openly gay governor in the United States with Jared Polis. Guam elected their first female governor. It's important to note the first lines from the NPR story - that there are many women (and men) who have never been represented by one of their own in Congress. This year's midterm election marked a number of historical firsts in the United States' ongoing experiment in representative democracy. I have great hope that we will see more action for the people, by the people who have been elected to represent us.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

From Scary to Light

I receive an email per day from Writer Unboxed - you guessed it - on the topic of writing. Today's Halloween edition was composed by novelist Brunonia Barry and it deals with scary places. Barry writes that her agent challenged her to write a scary novel, and that she leaped at the challenge, only to find it more difficult than she originally anticipated. Here's her explanation:

"The first draft of my WIP [work in progress] started simply enough. The story was initially about fear of the dark, a universal taken to the extreme in a tale of isolation and disillusionment. But as my own disillusionment with society grew, that once simple idea became far darker. Instead of a universal genre story, it became far more personal. I realized that what I was writing about was the darkness inside myself.

Of course, that was where the narrative was always meant to go. I just didn’t know it when I started. I think our most poignant horror stories express the darkness inside all of us. But, to me, as a writer at this particular moment in history, I was having trouble going there. Everyday life was tough enough. More darkness was not something I craved." (Writing What Scares Us)

Barry's words hit home like one of the Red Sox baserunners in the recently concluded World Series. My blog entries have slowed to a trickle recently, and though I have excused myself to friends and family with the usual, "I'm too busy," and "I can't concentrate," the real reason is that my brain has gone dark. Though I have many tactics to protect my fragile positive outlook - don't watch news (ever), only skim headlines, limit Facebook, listen to NPR only til noon - election season and the proliferation of recent troubling events have moved into my mental space like the darkness creeping out of Sauron.

Sometimes my children are the bearers of the bad news, unwittingly bringing me to tears, such as William's evening announcement that some 60% of animal species are extinct or have moved toward extinction since 1970. I snapped at him to stop talking while trying not to burst into tears and had to wait several hours to explain how that broke my heart, and how I've been an environmental activist for twenty years trying to prevent such things.

Or Daniel asking me about the tragedy in Pittsburgh, or Aden reading the headlines from the IPCC report on climate change. My resolve to be hopeful quavers in these dark places, my bright vision of the kids' future dims. So on this day of All Hallow's Eve, where we typically scare and trick, I resolve to go the other direction. I've had enough of scares and darkness, and although Barry intends to challenge her fears and penetrate her dark spaces (a laudable and worthwhile goal), I plan to hand out candy and search for the light.  For the next few months I will be seeking out good news and hopeful headlines, positive sentiments and good examples. Not living in denial of the challenges we face, but welcoming the light that shines out of dark places like candles from the hollowed cores of orange pumpkins.