With Nana and Papa

With Nana and Papa
Family Times at Flathead Lake

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Home Again

Late last night as we sat in the dark airplane, anticipating our arrival at 9:30pm MST / 11:30 pm EST I wondered, as I so often do on airplanes, who made the itinerary? Who thought it was a good idea to depart at 7:45 in the evening (which ended up being 8:15)? We treat departures and arrivals with breezy laughter when we make the schedule months in advance, as in, "Oh, that's a bit early, but at least we'll have daylight when we get there" about a 4:15 wake up call for a 7:00 am flight; or "wow, that's a late night for the kids but we don't have school in the morning so I'm sure it will work great." Forgetting, of course that Dad still has work and Mom still has five loads of laundry, two grocery runs and lengthy unpacking to do the next day!

But I cannot complain - we're home again safe after a great trip and the piles of Christmas gifts are making for a fun, quiet day for the kids. I'm on the fourth load of laundry and only one grocery run to go. Thinking this will be an early New Year's for all of us, but everyone is healthy and no one contemplates a run to the ER, as we did last year at the peak of my illness. I look forward to putting this day and this year behind me, behind all of us, as we move forward into the light, into new anniversaries of healing instead of sickness, and new memories of time with family and friends.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Closing Time

So the day has come when dirty laundry gets thrown into suitcases and presents are dismantled and thrown into the spare bag, which had to be packed three times to get under the 50 - pound weight limit. The family skits have been performed and the resulting You Tube video viewed thirty or forty times. Little baby Evie is sick and all the moms suspect an ear infection. Dads are on their phones or computers, taking conference calls or scheduling the rest of this holiday week. The time has come to say good-bye.

As we approach the dawn of 2014, I am reminded of this line from "Closing Time" by Semisonic: "Closing time, every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end."   Goodbyes will be hard but we have thrown out invitations to visit Denver and received invitations to visit Dallas and Toronto. The children have cemented bonds with their cousins and will have stories to tie to the DVD full of family photos that we carry home. Another sedimentary layer has been laid down in the collective family memory and who knows what roots will find a hold in this ground.

We're all off to more adventures; one group heads to the Rose Bowl to watch Stanford win (!) and one group to visit more family in Cincinnati. Others head home to Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Dallas, and the patriarch and matriarch will stay in their hopefully clean and blessedly quiet home. Eternal thanks to Bill and Connie for this week of bonding and best wishes to all for a healthy and family-filled 2014.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Generosity & Giving

Last night our kids had their third round of Christmas - present - opening thanks to generous uncles and aunts who recently arrived. Good books, family photos, barbeque sauce and wool socks joined the piles of packages looming in the two back bedrooms we're using. I wonder if the children know how lucky they are to be surrounded by loving family and showered with gifts. It's even hard for me to fully grasp.

When surrounded by giving people it seems there are two choices, to sit back and passively receive or to respond in kind and find ways to give back. I read an article yesterday in the Shambhala Sun about generosity and giving. The author challenged his readers to devote a day to giving: finding small ways to help whenever possible, and noting how this makes you feel. I'm going to try it today.

I have a great example in my mother-in-law, Connie. She's been shopping, cooking and cleaning for guests for the past week and yesterday cooked a meal for 24 people. Connie is like my mom, Ann, in that she easily puts the needs of others before her own. I admire them so much as this has been a struggle for me, especially in the twelve years since Aden was born.  Kids demand first place in your attentions, and though you have to adapt and take care of them it doesn't mean the job is easy or fun. It's definitely a huge shock after the roaring teens and twenties of "me" - dom.

But I'm slowly getting the hang of it, and practice makes better, if not perfect. A New Year's resolution I can start today.




Thursday, December 26, 2013

Post Christmas Observations

Christmas shows battle with family home videos for space on TV screens. Dieters try to escape the ubiquitous bowls of red-green Hershey kisses and peanut MnM's  on their way to wrap presents or find an empty chair. Multiple travelers eye the bathroom and furtively plan to relieve their indigestion at a quiet moment. Hostesses plan days of menus while grocery lists proliferate on neon paper and fly about the room like snowflakes on the winter wind. Pictures from weddings, baptisms, and reunions cover the walls as if several photo albums exploded their contents and stuck to the wallpaper. Everywhere you look are reminders of family history and traditions and special occasions where people who love each other gathered in fine clothes and smiling faces. I am also reminded of how young I once was, and how the children once were tiny.

Now dirty dishes proliferate, growing mounds of wrapped packages receive hourly inspections from dirty-fingered gremlins - cousins of all ages, shapes and sizes. Piles of gift cards mix in with boxes of playing cards and holiday photos are taped above the fireplace. Christmas-themed puzzles lay on the folding table, unpieced, for the bustle of holiday prep leaves scant opportunity for piecing together of puzzles, unless it's the puzzle of who gave me this gift? The spectre of many thank you notes loom in the distance.

Behind it all plays holiday music with the special theme of joyful laughter. Someone's laugh is the same frequency as "the clapper" for the Christmas tree lights and the lit strands go on and off with each bout of merriment - setting off fresh rounds. Daniel sits on "Santa's" lap and critiques his shoes, moustache and glasses frames, until poor Santa declares "Enough!" Grown cousins pass around the home grown bootleg whiskey and cough or spit out the fruit soaked with liquor before the curious eyes of children.

After the presents are unwrapped, the excitement drains out like a river basin after the flood. In its peaceful wake Lego's are assembled, quarters are placed in collection folders, and new electronics are studied. Family skits are plotted and laughed over and no one can remember the name of the horse in the "Jingle Bells" song. The perfect Christmas may have happened only once, 2,000 years ago, but this one is pretty darn close.


Monday, December 23, 2013

A Christmas Blessing

We're in Ashland, Ohio, for the holidays, enjoying solitaire games, ping-pong tournaments, hot chocolate on cold afternoons, raindrops on roses, and whiskers on kittens. So far we've had a chance to catch up briefly with Rob's brother John and his wife, Katie, along with their 6-month-old daughter, Evie, our newest cousin and niece. Today brought brother Ron and his wife Kelley, and tomorrow welcomes aunts, uncles and cousins galore. I'll be offline for the next two days, as I'm sure all of my readers will be, as well. In place of updates, please accept this Christmas blessing.

At Christmas

Touch someone you love.
Feel the connection warm
On your skin, the lively
Pulse within.

Register the glow of a waning
Moon as it breaks the ancient
Night. Welcome back the
Tidal light.

Seek joy where it dwells at the
Root of everything. Dig deep
Below daily trials, cast off the
Weight of your miles.

Remember the unwed mother
Who escaped the stones.
Before Herod sent his  minions
Her child was born.

Allow his love to lift
Us together, set us down
In this special place.
Feel his embrace.


- Laura Dravenstott

Thursday, December 19, 2013

From the List of 31 Essential Poems

A poem perfect for this moment in time, by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, Louise Gluck.

Celestial Music
I have a friend who still believes in heaven.
Not a stupid person, yet with all she knows, she literally talks to God.
She thinks someone listens in heaven.
On earth she's unusually competent.
Brave too, able to face unpleasantness.

We found a caterpillar dying in the dirt, greedy ants crawling over it.
I'm always moved by disaster, always eager to oppose vitality
But timid also, quick to shut my eyes.
Whereas my friend was able to watch, to let events play out
According to nature. For my sake she intervened
Brushing a few ants off the torn thing, and set it down
Across the road.

My friend says I shut my eyes to God, that nothing else explains
My aversion to reality. She says I'm like the child who
Buries her head in the pillow
So as not to see, the child who tells herself
That light causes sadness-
My friend is like the mother. Patient, urging me
To wake up an adult like herself, a courageous person-

In my dreams, my friend reproaches me. We're walking
On the same road, except it's winter now;
She's telling me that when you love the world you hear celestial music:
Look up, she says. When I look up, nothing.
Only clouds, snow, a white business in the trees
Like brides leaping to a great height-
Then I'm afraid for her; I see her
Caught in a net deliberately cast over the earth-

In reality, we sit by the side of the road, watching the sun set;
From time to time, the silence pierced by a birdcall.
It's this moment we're trying to explain, the fact
That we're at ease with death, with solitude.
My friend draws a circle in the dirt; inside, the caterpillar doesn't move.
She's always trying to make something whole, something beautiful, an image
Capable of life apart from her.
We're very quiet. It's peaceful sitting here, not speaking, The composition
Fixed, the road turning suddenly dark, the air
Going cool, here and there the rocks shining and glittering-
It's this stillness we both love.
The love of form is a love of endings. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Centered like a bad picture

I re-read my blog post from yesterday, about how the meditation and prayer had helped center me over the past few days, which have been difficult here in Centennial. It's true that the prayer has helped me, but it's not true that I've been centered. Or rather, I am like a picture frame that's not hung quite right; you might push the corner with your index finger and temporarily get a straight line across the top, but a few seconds after you let go the frame slouches to the left and everything gets wonky.

I want to be what Richard Rohr calls a "Kingdom person." He writes: "They are surrendered and trustful people. You sense that their life is okay at the core. They have given control to Another and are at peace, which paradoxically allows them to calmly be in control. " (Richard Rohr, Adapted from Jesus’ Plan for a New World:The Sermon on the Mount, pp. 110-111)

This is my goal, and I am so far from it. On Sunday night I was out with a few friends and my anxiety over the school shooting, a difficult situation at church, and a friend's illness came to a head and I found myself spewing like Mauna Lea, defending the Common Core State Standards in Math and English, which I know fairly little about. My emotions, which I had tamped down all weekend for the sake of Rob and the children, were finally having their way with me. The round eyes across the table and the haste with which the topic was changed, let me know that I was in over my head.

 I am finding that emotions need to be processed rather than suppressed, in order to come out in productive ways rather than seeping out in random conversations with unsuspecting friends! So a few more crying jags may be in order, a few difficult conversations need to be held, and a little self-forgiveness practiced. I have to believe that even Kingdom People have a rough day now and then.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

St. Teresa of Avila

I have been meditating on a short, simple prayer by St. Teresa of Avila, a beloved Catholic saint. As I was raised Catholic, this feels a tiny bit like coming home, and also like a journey into completely unknown territory. But St. Teresa's prayer has helped me to center myself over the past few days, and over the past six weeks or so that I have used it. I hope it may be helpful to you.

Let Nothing Upset You

Let nothing upset you;
Let nothing frighten you.
Everything is changing;
God alone is changeless.
Patience attains the goal.
Who has God lacks nothing;
God alone fills every need.
- St. Teresa of Avila

http://www.easwaran.org/saint-teresa-of-avila-let-nothing-upset-you.html

Monday, December 16, 2013

One Suffering

"There is only one suffering and we all share in it."
- Lady Julian of Norwich

At this moment what I really want is to write about Christmas plans, gifts purchased, and cards received, but I cannot. My heart is still heavy over the tragedy at Arapahoe High School, and about this mad, crazy world that we all live in. This morning as I prepared to swim, the locker room television flashed scenes from the Harvard University Science Center, which stood right outside my window all of freshman year. Apparently there was a bomb scare, and the Science Center - along with three other buildings - was evacuated. It appears, most fortunately, that no one was injured, but finals were cancelled today and I bet that students were far more stressed than relieved by the turn of events. Boston has suffered much in the past year. In a way, Centennial, CO, and Cambridge/Boston, MA are twin cities.

But as I had that thought while swimming freestyle down the sunlit length of the pool, Lady Julian's quote immediately came to mind. We all share in each other's suffering. When the event hits close to home in a geographical sense, the emotional impact is often greater, but even when events occur on the other side of the world, we can share the pain. We are far more good than bad, more kind and loving than vicious and hurtful, and more desirous of joy than sorrow. I do believe that.

The Buddhists have a practice called tonglen, which is a method for dealing with our own pain and the pain of others tenderly and compassionately. I'll let Pema Chodron explain it for me:

"The tonglen practice is a method for connecting with suffering —ours and that which is all around us— everywhere we go. It is a method for overcoming fear of suffering and for dissolving the tightness of our heart. Primarily it is a method for awakening the compassion that is inherent in all of us, no matter how cruel or cold we might seem to be. 

We begin the practice by taking on the suffering of a person we know to be hurting and who we wish to help. For instance, if you know of a child who is being hurt, you breathe in the wish to take away all the pain and fear of that child. Then, as you breathe out, you send the child happiness, joy or whatever would relieve their pain. This is the core of the practice: breathing in other's pain so they can be well and have more space to relax and open, and breathing out, sending them relaxation or whatever you feel would bring them relief and happiness."
From http://www.shambhala.org/teachers/pema/tonglen1.php, Dec. 16, 2013

So today I'll attempt tonglen for Claire Davis, for the family of the shooter, for students and law enforcement here and at Harvard, and for all of us who want to share relief and happiness instead of fear and suffering.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Prayers for Arapahoe High School

I was getting an IV for chelation today when I got the robo-call from our school district that all schools were on a secure perimeter due to an incident at a neighboring school district. On the drive home I tuned into AM radio and was horror-struck at the news that a shooting had occurred at Arapahoe High School, a facility only a few miles west from us, on the same cross street. As I neared home I saw police cars racing to the scene and heard the sirens.

It's far too close to home. I've been crying all afternoon and now I have to pull myself together to present a calmer face to the children. Since I had called Rob sobbing, he came home and we'll go get them together - a rare enough event that will have them thinking - but a comforting one, I hope.


Please join me in praying for students and parents at Arapahoe HS. These tragedies have gone on for far too long, and we all want our children safe. No one should have to get the call that Arapahoe parents received, or Newtown parents, or Columbine parents. Let's pray that we can help create a better world for our kids.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

I Come to Him Running

A new and already dear friend told me about the following quote when we met last Tuesday. It's beautiful phrasing tells us that God loves us far more than we can imagine. I repeated this passage to William last night when he was having trouble sleeping and the most beautiful smile spread across his face. I hope that it has the same effect on you:

Says the Almighty:

"I am at My servant’s expectation.  And I am indeed with him when he makes mention of Me.  If he remembers Me secretly in his mind, I will likewise secretly remember him in My mind.  But if he makes mention of Me in an assembly, I will make mention of him in an assembly far better than it.  If he draws nearer to Me the distance of a hand’s span, I draw nearer to him an arm’s length.  And if he draws nearer to Me by an arm’s length, I draw nearer to him by a fathom’s length.  If he comes to Me walking, I will come to him running."

- A Holy Hadith, slightly modified from the translation given by Mahmoud Ayoub in his Islam: Faith and History,  found at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson/2013/10/i-will-come-to-him-running.html

Just think - if we draw closer to God by a hand's width, he will move toward us the length of our arm; if we move toward him the length of our arm he will come a fathom closer, and if we but take a few steps toward God, God will come to us running. I can only imagine the embrace when God reaches each one of us. May this blessing be yours today!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

LYL

Monday morning I received an email that William's basketball practice had been switched from Thursday to Tuesday from 7 - 8 pm, a time when Daniel has hip hop, Aden has Klife, and I had a cross fit session. I thought I forwarded my reply directly to Rob, saying "need help with boys b/t 7 and 8 Tuesday."  I signed it LYL, Laura, as I normally do.

Lo and behold I sent that email to the entire team, a fact I only realized that evening. Several of my amazing neighbors and parental teammates had replied saying they could help me, ignoring the terse tone of my email and lack of proper asking graces. Rob and the kids thought it was hilarious that I had told the entire basketball team I "love you lots."  Daniel, in particular, was in stitches rolling around on the couch telling everyone that I loved William's coach. I don't even know how he understood the situation, but apparently making fun of mom is good sport for everyone.

The thing of it is, I do love you all. This neighborhood and other blog-reading friends brought our family six months of meals in my illness, and took care of our kids' transportation and entertainment needs. This year, our neighbors are contributing to make Christmas happen for three other families in the school district who are on free or reduced lunch and need some help. We planned another three weeks' of meals for dear friends who have a serious surgery next week, and we just generally have each others' backs.  To all of you - LYL. No, seriously, I do.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Mandela

Mandela's memorial service takes place today. The government expects over 90,000 people in the stadium, with up to 200,000 watching from screens around Johannesburg. In honor of a great man, I want to share some of his words that read like prose poems and inspire the human spirit.

I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.
For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.
Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.
As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.
There is no such thing as part freedom.
If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Work from the Floor

"The first product of self-knowledge is humility."  - Flannery O'Connor

William had his first two basketball games on Saturday. In the first half of the double-header they faced a tough team who had just won 42 - 2. Our boys hustled their socks off and pushed that team to a much tougher 20 - 16 game (we lost). They sprinted up and down the floor, hit that same floor hard to fight for a jump ball or a rebound. My second-grader, Daniel, who is just learning the game of basketball, was impressed by how much of the action took place from the floor. "You can pass from there?" he asked William.  "Sure," said big brother, "you can't move from that spot so you have to do something with the ball."

This exchange reminded me viscerally of a letter I read from "Sugar"  (Cheryl Strayed, the author of Wild) to an aspiring writer who was bemoaning her lack of success at a young age, and feeling paralyzed by the gap between her need to be great and her "limitations, insecurities, jealousies and ineptitude."  I've just gotta say - I have SO been there. Sugar shoots back an amazing letter, leading with the quote from O'Connor. She later explains the origins of the word 'humility':

"The word comes from the Latin words humilis and humus. To be down low. To be of the earth. To be on the ground. That's where I went when I wrote the last word of my first book. Straight onto the cool tile floor to weep."  She explains how the book came about:

"I 'd finally been able to give it because I'd let go of all the grandiose ideas I'd once had about myself and my writing - so talented! So young!"  We were most of us there at one time, with high expectations and no idea of how to achieve them, sure of our potential greatness and depressed because greatness sure takes a long time to show up and make a circle around the room. Sugar describes this as being "up too high and down too low. Neither is the place where we get any work done."

And here's the best part. "We get the work done on the ground level. And the kindest thing I can do for you is to tell you to get your ass on the floor. I know it's hard to write, darling. But it's harder not to. The only way you'll find out if you 'have it in you' is to get to work and see if you do." Hallelujah, amen.  When you're down on the floor you can't move so you had better get to work and do something with that ball. In basketball, in writing, in relationships, in all things, get on the ground, open your mind, and get to work.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Madness

"I have finally seen the light
And I have finally realised what you mean
And now I need to know is this real love
Or is it just madness keeping us afloat?
MA MA MA MA MA MA MA MA Mad Mad Mad
MA MA MA MA MA MA MA MA Mad Mad Mad"

From "Madness" by Muse, lyrics by Matthew Bellamy

It's madness to send your child off to school at -8 degrees Fahrenheit....
Madness to casually time the skid of your minivan as you take a left turn out of your driveway...
Madness to lift your head to survey the echoing cavern of pod C at the detention center, temporarily filled with forty men in orange and red jumpsuits, listening to you teach basic Spanish and English . . .
Madness to make it to tutoring, Spanish class, basketball practice, Scouts and a band concert in one day  . . . 
(and sheer relief that two of those were cancelled due to Arctic chill),
Sheer glorious madness to order Christmas cards and spend three hours updating the Christmas card address list  . . . 
Because last year, I couldn't do any of it, not at all.

Thank you, God, for the sheer glorious madness of participating in this life!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Poems Every Woman Should Read

My poetry teacher forwarded a link to Anne Barngrover's List of 25 Poems Everyone Should read (http://www.missourireview.com/tmr-blog/author/anne/) which she had posted in response to Oprah's list of "Six Poems Everyone Should Read." (http://www.oprah.com/spirit/Mark-Nepo-Poems--Reduced-to-Joy-Book)  Barngrover's list is a great resource, and she compiled it with the help of other writers and critical readers. The divine Miss Emily Dickinson has four poems on that list, and I've included one below. I'll periodically visit this list when the mood strikes or when my daily life is devoid of inspiration. The poem I've chosen today fits my mood as I transition from certain groups or activities that occupied my time in the past few years to others that can help me explore new directions.

The Soul Selects Her Own Society

The Soul selects her own Society --
Then -- shuts the Door --
To her divine Majority --
Present no more --

Unmoved -- she notes the Chariots -- pausing --
At her low Gate --
Unmoved -- an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat --

I've known her -- from an ample nation --
Choose One --
Then -- close the Valves of her attention --
Like Stone -- 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Garth on Parenting

Last week I caught an interview with Garth Brooks that Ellen DeGeneres aired on her show. Garth gave up making music for a long stretch between the 90's and 2009 - no tours, no records, no nothing - in order to raise his three children. Ellen commented on how amazing that was, and he quickly responded "Oh no, that was a gift from God that I was able to do that, and I am convinced that 99% of parents would do the same thing if they could." He added, "I thought if I could stay home and be with them, the time wouldn't go so fast, but it still just flew right by."  Wow. I know intellectually that I am super lucky to stay at home with my kiddos but I haven't always felt that way. In fact, if I had family members around to watch my three I would have wanted to work more - so I'm not sure how right he is in his estimate of 99% - but I have to say the interview made me appreciate my position.

Now is all the time we have with our loved ones, and if they're our children, the time is even more limited, because they are definitely going to leave (or probably, almost, keep our-fingers-crossed definitely). How precious is the commotion around the dinner table, the daily homework tutorial and snack time in the afternoons, the holiday decorating tradition. In his interview, Garth went on to say how much he loved holidays like Thanksgiving, because "For three minutes you get 'em back at the same table and get to love on 'em a little bit." I can't imagine a time when we won't have that on a regular basis, but it's coming as sure as the after-Christmas bills.

So to all of us, working outside or inside the home or doing both, let's raise a glass to where we are now and to the time that we have with our loved ones. It's life's little guarantee that everything will change, so here's to messy, loud, infuriating and amazing kids, and the time we get to share with them.