With Nana and Papa

With Nana and Papa
Family Times at Flathead Lake

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

As Time Goes By

To our great surprise and delight, Rob and I find ourselves off work this week. Without schedules and lengthy to-do lists our days blur into one another and we lose track of the date, the grocery shopping and the laundry. The kids sleep in and I set the alarm later, we eat when we are hungry and not when the daily calendar indicates a space for lunch or dinner, and if not for the fact that every family member received a watch for Christmas and all the devices (Ipod, Ipad, Chromebook, smart phones) tell time, we could almost lose track of the hours. In a romantic moment I fantasized that we could live like prairie settlers or indigenous folk, who were more in tune with nature and free of the clock's tyranny. Perhaps, without calendars and without mirrors, we could even live in blissful ignorance of the aging process.

I mention aging because Rob is using his free time to put all of our old photos and videos on the Dravenstott website. Watching videos from our engagement and wedding was surprisingly painful when I barely recognize the two people in the center of the lens. I can hardly appreciate the joy of the moment in all my musings: "look at all the hair I / we had then!" or "where did all of that collagen go?" Even while poring over videos of the children as babies I get distracted by my wrinkle-less face and my glowing skin. Part  of the damage may have been moving from moisture-laden San Francisco to the high-desert Denver, but let's not kid ourselves. Fifteen years of living, particularly a few years of living through extreme stress, will alter a person's exterior landscape.

Rob has been working for days on this project so I have had a lot of time to process my own thoughts. My conclusions are hardly revolutionary:  first, the only alternative to aging is to not be here at all, so I'm grateful for the gift of participation in this life and in the growing of my children. Second, I do treasure the bonds that have grown and developed between my  husband and I since we stepped out on this journey together. We don't wear our blessings on our faces, as we did in our early videos, but we carry countless more in our hearts. I like to think that even if we're not wise, we're a few steps farther on the path, and we're certainly wise enough to treasure the amazing gifts that we have in one another and in our family, which is lucky enough to still be on the journey together.

**************************************************************************

I wish you all a New Year replete with loving relationships, strength to overcome challenges, and gratitude for the good things in life.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Fourth Day of Christmas

The presents are put away, the boxes recycled and the children are fighting again after a blissful two-day detente. We've switched from The Holly channel to The Pulse on Sirius XM and our elf-on-the-shelf has returned to the North Pole. It's a bit sad when the Christmas bliss fades and we start eyeing the tree as prey to be taken down, but also a relief to return to normal life and to escape the pressure to have a Hallmark card experience.  

It's a particular relief to me because Christmas and New Year's two years ago were the lowest points of my illness. My mom and my friends did all of the shopping and wrapping and my husband and children did all of the decorating. It was a miracle that I made it to church in 2012 and a second miracle that we avoided the emergency room on New Year's Eve. Though I try not to remember those events, my body holds the memory of that time and as we approached the holidays I felt a bit like Bilbo approaching the dragon - hidden dangers lurking around every turn.

Fortunately, we made it through the day in high spirits, and my mood was mostly uplifted by texts, photos, videos and phone calls with family members. My heart did sink when I learned that a loved one of one of my loved ones received a terrible diagnosis three weeks ago, and how they struggled through the holiday season, though they had a beautiful time together on Christmas.

The holidays can be cruel timing for those who hurt or mourn or ache with longing. The messiness of normal human lives seems a contradiction to the light and love and laughter of the holidays, but our pastor reminded us on Christmas eve that Jesus was born in a messy situation. He came to an unwed teenage mother and her dirt-poor fiance in a time of war and strife and uncertainty. His birth brought light and hope in a dark time - - and that's the message that we can hold on to no matter what our situation. As we take down decorations and eat the last cookies we can keep that sweet light of hope alive, that time will pass and things will change and in time that light will shine bright for us.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Denver Drav Christmas, 2014

Christmas season 2014 has been delightfully disorganized for the Denver Dravenstotts. Daniel crawled underneath the Christmas tree to retrieve a toy and knocked the grandfather clock into that fine pine, which promptly swooned onto the floor, spilling lights, ornaments and baubles everywhere.We thought the cat would be the culprit, but Rex was merely confused by the melee. I burned two pounds of almonds over the weekend and set off the fire alarm, requiring use of the ceiling fan and open windows on a chilly December day. The following Christmas letter was drafted early in the month, but somehow escaped printing and inclusion with the family card, so with my apologies, I offer you a belated Christmas letter:

We traveled far and wide this summer, doing our best to beat up Rob's new car. From Jules and Ann’s 45th anniversary celebration in Montana to baptisms in Boston, roller coasters in Ohio and water polo tournaments in Albuquerque we roamed, zoomed and feted. We trekked from Little Bighorn to the Grand Canyon, and Rob’s reconstructed knee led us up mountain and down dale until the kids groaned “not another hike!”  We don’t know how many more years we have before they flatly refuse to drive 18+ hours with us in the car . . . .

Our hall closet spills forth swim towels, water polo and basket balls, baseball bats and track shoes. The whirlwind of kid activity pushes us to the brink of sanity while supposedly keeping us young.  (Or we’re just too busy to stop and think about our age!) We thrive on games, tournaments and practices with neighbors and teammates, though an extra hand / driver / personal jet would be appreciated.

To our surprise and delight, Aden and William both enjoy middle school, where William powers through 6th grade and Aden, who is in 8th grade, will register for high school in a few short months. The shock of her pending freshmanhood gives me grey hairs – which I can’t pull out because I need all the follicles I can get.  Aden also enjoys  her youth group, and her leader, Kallie, has taken up temporary residence in our basement. We adore Kallie, and hope that proximity to our craziness doesn’t permanently deter her from family life. Daniel loves third grade, reading (especially Harry Potter), piano and art projects, baking  and playdates with friends. 

Rob enjoys his job with Dish and will work through the holidays on a government – sponsored auction. He’s also busy maintaining our website and learning about the latest technologies. I work part-time at SwimLabs swim school and started a Masters in Grocery Shopping --- oops, I meant Writing, from Regis. I spend more time in the grocery store than in the library and I hear that only gets worse . . . but I’m perfecting a sprint writing technique that will hopefully get me through the teen years.

We send love and gratitude for your presence in our lives, and wish you all the light of the holiday season.

Laura    Rob                  Aden         William                   Daniel

Sunday, December 21, 2014

We are Also God-bearers

We read about the Annunciation in church today, picturing again a startled and fearful young Mary responding to the angel of God, who tells her that she will bear the son of God. Reverend Mark told us that in the Greek Orthodox Church Mary is revered, and called "Theotokos," or God-bearer.  Then he read these amazing words from Meister Eckhart regarding theotokos:

"We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself? And what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I also do not give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time. When the Son of God is begotten in us."

-Meister Eckhart, 14th century German Dominican monk (birthing-god-the-feast-of-the-annunciation, Michael K. Marsh)

 When I found the Eckhart quote on Marsh's website, I also found his commentary: "Eckhart’s questions invite us to see humanity, and not Bethlehem, as the true birthplace of God," and my eyes were opened yet again to the miracle of Christmas. Christ is born in us this day and every day, and we must reveal him in this year of 2014, in our 21st century culture. God chose us, lowly and scarred, faulty and frail, to bring forth and celebrate his essence, to choose joy and hope and love. Blessed was Mary, and blessed are we.   

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

As Promised, the Gift Card Rant

As I ponder those “olden days, happy golden days of yore,” I seem to remember Christmas lists that weren’t name brand specific, that did not include dollar amounts or gift cards.  We hunted for particular objects that might excite our loved ones, didn’t settle for dollars at their favorite store.  Gift cards seem like the lazy person’s guide to Christmas, and they erase the element of mystery and surprise that I used to feel around the holidays.  I admit to loving them for their ease and swift satisfaction, especially when I’m shopping for fifteen teachers, four coaches, and all of the garbage/recycling/paper delivery gentlemen. Didn’t our parents have all of the same craziness? And yet they managed without resorting to plastic cash.

I know that many of yester-year’s gifts were misses that had us searching for the gift receipt so we could make a return or exchange. Some were hideous and receipt-less, which led us to the donation bin or the storage area, in hopes that next year’s white elephant party would claim them.  Yet, some risky gifts are the best ever; no risk, no reward, right? My mom once scoured all of southern Michigan looking for Cabbage Patch dolls for her five children, and I still remember that present thirty-five years later.


These elements of thoughtfulness and surprise are missing from the gift card exchange. My son thinks he wants the money, but I know he wants a few surprises under the tree – things that I choose for him that he didn’t even know he wanted. It’s risky, potentially disappointing or even painful (when the whining starts), but the upside makes a little risk bearable. Those golden days of yore had a little something more, at least when it came to gift giving. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Ghosts of Christmas Past

We "wrap" Christmas gifts in cloth bags that my mom constructed out of holiday fabric and drawstrings. They make wrapping simple, don't waste paper, and tend to retain tags from Christmas past. I just grabbed two bags to cover presents for the boys and both had leftover tags from Nana. I had to sit on the bed for a minute, hit by a flash of nostalgia for the Christmases past.  Memories of previous years danced on a pedestal in my mind, replete with family gatherings, perfect turkeys (the birds, not the relatives) and houses full of simple, low-tech toys that came in big, well-wrapped boxes.

Do you remember wildly artistic and flashy Christmas cards that included no personal photo? Folks used to vie for the most original and lovely card, and any notes were handwritten or typed and carefully signed before inclusion in the foil-lined envelope.  Nowadays we send  cards displaying our own beaming faces, or at least the faces of our kids and pets. That one family shot tells the world that the kids are alive and growing and there was at least one instance in the previous year when everyone pretended to get along. (You'll get our card this week).

 I love to receive these cards, especially from old friends I don't see anymore. Amy from 7th grade swimming and Tonia from high school both have gorgeous girls and it's so fun to see the kids take on the features of their moms as they grow. But it's strange that we send such cards to neighbors down the street who just saw us yesterday, and probably don't want our faces on their mantle. There's a niche here for someone to create a holiday greeting for those neighbors who want to be included but don't want to look at your cheerful vacation shots one more time.

Next subject for Christmas present vs. Christmas past:  the ubiquitous gift card. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Hanging with the Home Team

Yep, that's Broncos' defensive star Von Miller you see hanging with the Dravenstott family. Rob had the opportunity to purchase a ticket through the C10 organization to meet 13 Broncos players and get footballs signed for friends and family. All proceeds of the evening went to benefit the Warrior Employment Project on behalf of veterans, so I gave the OK when Rob asked if he should get the ticket. (And I wanted to meet the Broncos players, too . . . .)

So the three kids and I raced through homework and a microwave dinner to be ready for Rob to drive us to the Performing Arts Center, the boys thoroughly hyped up in their Broncos jerseys. Their excitement level escalated as the evening went on and we met Von Miller, commiserated with Emmanuel Sanders on the crushing tackles he received last Sunday, and watched CJ Anderson beam when Daniel said he was his "favorite player." Louis Vasquez and Malik Jackson towered over us while the wide receivers and running backs seemed  much smaller without the cleats and pads.

I felt motherly toward some of them when I draped my arm over their leather jackets for a photo. When we told CJ Anderson to stay healthy and take care of himself he said, "that's the plan, but sometimes those big guys come down on top of you and there's not a lot you can do about it!" They were all gentlemanly and kind and we feel much more bonded to our home-town team.  When Rob's name was pulled for a door prize at the end of the night William said he thought his "heart would beat out of his chest!" Even our 13-year-old non-football fan was beaming by then, and it was worth five times the price of admission to see the kids bond over their mutual excitement and gratitude for a special evening.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Live in the Day

Aden and William have both taken creative writing this year. They've had the pleasure of learning under Mrs. Amy Bainbridge, a gifted and creative teacher. Today she provided Aden's class with a wonderful video prompt for the class' writing warm-up: 250,000 bouncy balls making their way down the streets of San Francisco. See the link here: Bouncy Balls in SF . In response to the prompt Aden wrote a poem and she has generously given me permission to reprint it here. Enjoy.

Live in the Day

Life is a blur
Colors bounce past
Live in the moment,
For this will not last.


Look out the window,
And up to the skies
See the blue and the gray
Bounced back in your eyes.


Touch the green grass,
The cool slimy water
Live in the day,
For it’s like no other.


Think of the colors
Surrounding your life
Think of the days
Of sadness and strife


But be optimistic,
Not happy, not sad
Just have the knowledge
That you’re thinking glad.


Look out the window,
As colors bounce past
Live in the day,
For this life will not last.

- Aden Dravenstott, grade 8

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Purple Streak

I emerged from my haircut this morning with a “natural” plum purple swath through my bangs. When I left my workout this morning to head to the salon I wasn’t planning for purple, but a rebellion erupted when I saw my hairstylist’s funky new space and glowing blond highlights.  I love it, though I can’t anticipate the response of my husband and kids.

If I’m being honest with myself I can identify the birthplace(s) of my rebellion.  I saw my nutritionist and biomeridian practitioner last week and she gently informed me that I should be on the Paleo diet again, really watching my sugar intake. Warnings about my sugar intake always get my back up!  And then we had a few recent mornings when I had cleaned cat throw-up from multiple places, done laundry and made three breakfasts by 7:30 am.  Though I love the cat, I do not enjoy cleaning both the litter box and the vomit prior to my first cup of coffee.

The cat has also made watering the Christmas tree nearly impossible. We wrapped the trunk in a plastic tablecloth and duct taped it together so that Rex couldn’t bathe in the water in the tree stand. Rob also poured a small bag of orange rind into the water on the off chance that the citrus smell would deter the cat. Nope – now we just have a pine-and-citrus-scented Christmas tree.  I wouldn’t mind these efforts except that I have to go through contortions and re-tape the tree each time I need to add more water.


Rex also tipped over a vase and broke a special set of coasters from India yesterday; his stock was way down by the evening. Despite his transgressions, I think he’ll make the Christmas card, and possibly even the holiday letter. His Dr. Hyde moments more than make up for his Jekyll moments; I just hope the family feels the same way about me after they catch my new purple streak.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Gifts We Have

"We would give anything for what we have."
- Tony Hoagland

A friend forwarded this quote last Thursday, and it became an anchor during the frantic busy-ness of our holiday weekend. When we scrambled to finish yard work in the record-setting warmth of Saturday afternoon, I thought how much I would give for the yard if I didn't have it.  When the cat gnawed through the Christmas lights and pulled the ribbon off the Christmas tree on Sunday afternoon, I thought how much I would give for a cat that made me laugh and a tree that made me smile if I didn't have them. When the kids fought over the Advent wreath and we had tears over whose gingerbread house was the best . . . well, you get the picture. 

The December holiday season contains some of the most peaceful and most stressful moments of the year. In trying to appreciate the gifts that we have instead of focusing on the gifts to give and get, and in trying to laugh at the crazy, imperfect pageant of a family holiday, I hope to get through it unscathed.  We didn't do a great job of cultivating the peace over this past weekend, when I had to write down "REST" on my sticky note schedule for Sunday to ensure some degree of readiness for the coming week. Yet I can appreciate the decorated house, cat-damaged tree, and clean basement now that the work is done, and perhaps our early efforts will allow for moments of rest and peace when we need them more.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

We love you all so much and will miss everyone this year. We hope to make it to the mountains for a first ski day, and then home to Trader Joe's and Costco's finest ;-). We are so thankful for wonderful friends and family. Here is a poem I wrote to share:

Thanksgiving Gifts
I climb a winding stair with a heavy load
My breath falls short, my arms ache  
The contents spill over the edge of my basket
As I wobble on the brink of every step
I pant and sweat, try to reach out and grab what falls
Though I can’t afford to let go even for a minute.

Ahead on the staircase I see people with bigger baskets
And an emptiness opens in my chest
I look down at my feet and then I see behind me multitudes
Thronging the stairway, some with baskets half-full and some with empty,
Some, in fact, with no basket at all – only bare hands.
My vision clears and I recognize the fruits I carry:
Friendship, family, love, health, food and shelter.
All is gift.

Now I let the contents spill freely
 I hope that my fallen fruits will land in their empty arms
The absence of a few blessings cannot dent my abundance
In fact, the load is lighter now, easier to bear.
Then I see you beside me, your basket empty on the ground
Your arms full of gifts to share.
You remind me that to be rich does not require abundance,
Only  enough, and my burden is no burden at all, 
But gift beyond measure.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How to Say Sorry in Chinese

The blue-uniformed Chinese girl haunts me.  She came to my ESL class at the detention center and sat at the table, studying her hands, as the other women entered.  When I began my introduction to the class in both English and Spanish she stopped me with a gesture. “No Spanish,” she said.

I asked if she spoke English and she said “only little, most Chinese.”  Stumped, I surveyed the class as they looked at me, waiting: six women from Spanish-speaking countries, three from African countries in head coverings and shawls of bedsheets, and the young Chinese woman. As the African women had fairly good English I could reach all in the room, except for one. 

Hands extended in apology I said “I don’t have any Chinese, I’m sorry. Only xie-xie (Mandarin for thank you).” Most of the class chuckled at my poor attempt, but the girl looked confused. Did she wonder if she was the butt of the joke?  As the class went on, we shared more laughter at my pathetic attempts to illustrate our text on the whiteboard. My students offered their own drawings, and encouraged each other to read aloud so they could get the chocolate bar reward. The young Chinese girl was left out of the laughter, the drawing, and the chocolate.


What is her story? I wonder how she ended up here, unable to communicate. I’m not supposed to ask, and I don’t dare break the rules. I don’t know if my one hour per week offers the detainees anything other than laughter at my expense, but it’s life-changing for me, and I can’t risk losing my volunteer’s badge. But I can’t forget the young Chinese woman, because I know that I failed her.  I hope I get a second chance to offer my sympathy and perhaps a chocolate bar.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Promises

We walked into church this morning to the sound of trumpets, which signaled two things: that we were late, and that I would soon be in tears.  The ringing tones of church trumpets nearly always make me cry, and I was so thankful that the choir wasn't present to add their soaring sopranos to "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee," or I would have been a sodden mess. As a rule, Rob and the kids send me sidelong glances the minute music begins, and surreptitiously funnel me tissues while edging away.

Today's service welcomed new confirmands and new members, including good friends of ours from water polo, so we left with a positive and hopeful feeling. Nestled in among the good feelings was the uncomfortable prick of our pastor's message about making promises and following through. I guess that's what church is supposed to be, a combination of happy community and uncomfortable soul-searching.

Pastor Mark spoke about the difficulty of  keeping promises; he mentioned how good it feels to say "yes" -  to get the gym membership, to say we belong to a church - and then how difficult it is to actually go workout, make it to services, or follow through on other promises. He referred to this quote from Soren Kierkegaard:

'It is easy to think that by making a promise you have at least done part of what you promised to do, as if the promise itself were something of value. Not at all! In fact, when you do not do what you promise it is a long way back to the truth."

That stung. Back in September my graduate school adviser had emailed me with an opportunity to volunteer as a tutor for students in Africa who are pursuing degrees online. This idea appealed to me on many levels, and I enthusiastically accepted (it felt so good to say 'yes'). Unfortunately, I started school, work and children's activities at the same time and let the program coordinator's emails languish in my inbox for months. When I read a preview of Pastor Mark's message earlier in the week I finally contacted Jody and let her know that realistically I could only give one hour per week, but that I was finally ready to start. Though I had patted myself on the back for my original yes, I felt uncomfortable for many weeks as my promise remained unfulfilled. I feel better now - like I had kale and carrots with dinner - and I plan to hold on to that Kierkegaard quote.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Too Crowding, Too Confusing

Carpe Diem

Age saw two quiet children 
Go loving by at twilight, 
He knew not whether homeward, 
Or outward from the village, 
Or (chimes were ringing) churchward, 
He waited, (they were strangers) 
Till they were out of hearing 
To bid them both be happy. 
'Be happy, happy, happy, 
And seize the day of pleasure.' 
The age-long theme is Age's. 
'Twas Age imposed on poems 
Their gather-roses burden 
To warn against the danger 
That overtaken lovers 
From being overflooded 
With happiness should have it. 
And yet not know they have it. 
But bid life seize the present? 
It lives less in the present 
Than in the future always, 
And less in both together 
Than in the past. The present 
Is too much for the senses, 
Too crowding, too confusing- 
Too present to imagine. 
 - Robert Frost

Today the children have a day off of school. The day has warmed up to a balmy 40 degrees and we have collected our mail for the first time this frigid week. I swam this morning, attended William's conference, took the children out to brunch and commenced a house-cleaning project - we are having a group of water polo players and parents at the house tomorrow. This afternoon the children will help me practice my videographer and graphic designer skills as I analyze their swim strokes on SwimLabs' cool software, and then we may finally sit down for a movie. I have a spare ten minutes now so I'm writing here as Daniel shouts at me from the family room to help him clean up Monopoly money.  Amidst the work, home, study, school and activity avalanche of this week I have fallen far behind in my writing.

But I did speak with my Regis advisor this week and I registered for the next two courses in my MA program. I'm so excited: they are both creative nonfiction courses and I hear great things about the teacher. I'm hoping to collate some of my most-visited and most-resonant blog entries in a book for friends and family, and this class could be a perfect venue to fulfill that hope. In the meantime, please enjoy this wonderful poem by Robert Frost which I think of most days - especially  the lines "The present/ is too much for the senses,/Too crowding, too confusing-/Too present to imagine.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Total Responsibility and No Control

A large bag of tiny rubber bands just exploded in my washing machine. You know those small, multi-colored rubber bands that belong to rainbow looms? Apparently my children have been storing thousands of them in unsealed cloth bags, one of which got thrown in the laundry. I just spent twenty minutes pulling, rolling and popping them out of my new washing machine, and wondering, can I put this on a resume?  "Does fine motor work, has endless patience?"  (The patience is a lie. I just kept my sanity by thinking about how funny the situation would be in a blog).

After I stuck my head in the machine to throw all the rubber bands on the floor behind me, I withdrew  to realize - in horror - that the cat was going through my brightly colored pile. I quickly tossed them in the trash, praying that Rex hadn't eaten any. He seems OK now, but I might find brightly colored poop later. Ah, the joys of motherhood. Total responsibility and no control.

To further illustrate my point: yesterday it was 74 degrees and shorts seemed like a good idea, so I didn't bat an eye when William went to school in shorts and a sweatshirt. Lo and behold, the temperature has fallen by 51 degrees and I had better go pick up the kids at the bus stop before they freeze to death.  We were at the pool for a water polo tournament all weekend and now it seems like we should have been training for the Iditarod.

At the tournament I watched approximately twenty hours of water polo, and nearly tore my jewelry into pieces with the angst of spectating and scoring. I don't really remember how to play the game, and my shoulder ain't what it used to be, but I'll put money on being able to score a few shots from the 5 M out of sheer frustration and pent-up energy. Things are so much easier when you can just jump in and do it yourself! Or at least if you can hire someone to pull your rubber bands out of the laundry - and the litter box.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Travel Diary: Boston

It's a beautiful day, though Monday's serious frost and the sight of sprinklers being blown out on the main roads remind me that winter is just a whisper away. When I was talking with friends today at the middle school's student store (we were volunteering - not shopping), I started to describe my day with William in Boston as similarly beautiful, until I remembered that it was actually rainy and cold. We had so much fun on the Duck Boat tour, roaming the city on foot, and re-visiting my favorite Harvard haunts that I forgot we needed two jackets, gloves and a last-minute umbrella purchase. Strange how joy can make a rainy day beautiful and sorrow can make a sunny day feel like a slap in the face.

Boston signifies freedom to me, and not because of it's Revolutionary War history. Twenty-five years ago in Boston / Cambridge,  I was on my own for the first time, enjoying a little spending money and my own mobility. I felt free again on our trip due to the ease of traveling with just one child and the complete lack of agenda for our special day. I was also buoyed by the joy of seeing my college roommates again after several years. We shouted with laughter and rehashed memories of travel and the swim team, caught up on the divorces, marriages and kids of former teammates and classmates, and remembered some crazy things about our time together.

There was some craziness our freshman year, especially. Our coach weighed us publicly at least twice per week, and stuck marshmallow candy on body parts that seemed offensively large. One of Laura A's roommates tried to electrocute another by sticking a running hairdryer in her shower. One of my roommates locked herself in on a stressful evening and proceeded to shatter every glass object against the wall of our room.  And I, in a fit of desperation, apparently threw away Laura's care package from her parents because I couldn't trust myself to stay away from the chocolate chip cookies! I did not remember doing this and was so horrified that I sent Laura, her husband, and their two boys a make-up care package as soon as I got home. It did not reassure me that upon hearing this story, Rob said "that sounds like you."  I guess the craziness of freshman year doesn't lurk far beneath the surface . . . the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Trail of Chocolate

Sorry for the long gap between posts; I've been traveling for the past nine days between Denver, Boston, Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. William and I jaunted to Boston for my nephew's baptism and made it a series of reunions with family and friends. We had two wonderful dinners in the city with my college roommates and their families and two great days with family out in Marshfield. More to come on the Boston trip . . . but sufficient to say that we wined and dined on sea food (try scallops wrapped in bacon at Quincy Market!) coffee and chocolate. My roommate Tara shares a love of coffee and chocolate and her husband professed alarm that all three kids and his wife have had some chocolate before 8am on a typical Saturday morning.  That certainly didn't shock me - or William - as we relied on dark chocolate M 'n Ms and Dunkin Donuts coffee (the coffee just for me) to keep up our torrid pace.

A love for chocolate guided the whole family through the second half of our Fall Break travel. MnM's World in Las Vegas was one of the highlights of our trip, a "must see" on the first day. The kids have all but forgotten the spectacular flowers and artwork of the Wynn hotel/casino and the mock gondoliers at the Venetian; their memories are full of the candy wall and the free candy corn / white chocolate MnMs that were tossed like confetti in our direction. We did get some exercise walking the malls and bodysurfing at the magnificent wave pool at the Mandalay Bay, before dining at the Convention Center food court and returning to take in the lights of the Strip  from our 39th floor hotel room. The Luxor sent a beam of light into space while the Ferris wheel turned and the screens at MGM Grand played all night long. We sat and stared out the window for a long time, then crashed back to reality - and ate more candy.

The Grand Canyon was magnificent and deserves its own post (or two or three) but suffice it to say the candy theme continued. Ranger Lance, who gave two ranger talks that we attended, used a peanut MnM as a metaphor for earth's geologic structure. He said the peanut was the "hot, soft solid" and the chocolate was the middle earth and the thin candy crust is what we live on. The metaphor worked perfectly for our family and will undoubtedly surface in all future geography lessons. Despite missing Halloween, I think we had enough candy to make up for lost trick-or-treats, and Rob already made sure that our new MnM dispenser will be full for a long time by stocking up at CostCo, where the MnMs are a lot cheaper, but not quite so exciting, as in Vegas.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Struggles and Sitcoms

Last week was rough. Daniel and I could not get our groove on, and though I should wake him up  now, I'll let him sleep so we have fewer minutes in which to struggle over breakfast cereal, backpacks and teeth-brushing. Morning battles are rough, but at least they are time-limited, whereas our evening battles can last an eternity. In one of last week's evening tussles, Daniel threw a book on the ground, and it happened to be The Day Mom Quit, by Nancy Seghetti. One of D's former teachers gave him this paperback, which he doesn't like because it's "scary."

Of course the idea of Mom quitting scares young children, and I made the situation ten times worse by saying that I did want to quit, that if he could not listen to me that I was going to head for the hills. That spurred his tears, which made me angrier (at myself), and it took us an hour to rewind and get him to bed  As I staggered downstairs, figuratively beating my head against a wall, I wondered why God saw fit to make me a parent. He must know what's right, but at times I doubt His judgment.

So I'm sitting on the couch arguing with God and wallowing in guilt when the older kids turn on "Modern Family."  In that particular episode, Claire and her husband and three kids are trapped in a hotel room together (5th level of hell). Claire yells, curses, and finally purchases a secret room as her own private get-away, abandoning the kids and hubby to noise and squalor. She's discovered, of course, and endless jokes and laughs ensue. I caught myself comparing my yells and runaway attempt with Claire's, wondering if they would be funny and not dreadful in the context of a sitcom. How can we let the characters on TV get away with so much in the name of laughs, but find our smallest actions weigh us down with unbearable guilt?  In my next life I'm coming back as a sitcom character . . .

Monday, October 13, 2014

Richard Rohr, Roberto and Karma

"Some Eastern religions have called the correspondence between who you are and what you can make happen or what will happen karma. And Jesus said it this way:
Do not judge, and you will not be judged,
Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned,
Grant pardon, and you will be pardoned,
Give, and there will be gifts for you….
The amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back. "
                                                              –Luke 6:36-38 
-From Richard Rohr's Daily Meditation 10/13/14: Your Response is Your Reality, Adapted from The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See, pp. 160-162
I was at the detention center today, teaching the middle class of my three-week course. The story for today's lesson was "The Sparrow and the Hare," or, "El Gorrion y la liebra." In the story, the normally alert and speedy hare falls asleep in the sun and is caught by an eagle. The mean sparrow, whom no one likes, flies around the hare as he dangles in the eagle's claws and mocks him, laughing at his misfortune. Suddenly a hawk swoops out of the sky and gobbles the sparrow up in one mouthful.  When we discussed the lesson of the story, one of my students (we'll call him Roberto, though it's not his real name) said: "You shouldn't look down on someone who has a bad time. Like some people look down on us in here."  I felt my gut twist at the double punishment; they are locked up and swept aside, and they know that the rest of the country has little sympathy for their situation.  
He added, "You say we should practice the English, but when I try, sometimes the people laugh at me. It's true, it happened." It's so difficult to learn another language - especially as an adult - and I experience that every time I teach at the detention center. I get a few sentences out in Spanish and start to feel confident, then suddenly the well goes dry and I can't come up with the next word - or any word like it. I can always turn to the students for help and they rush to supply the word or phrase. They never laugh. Wish we could keep this in mind for folks learning English.

Karma. The detainees I see come to class when they could be watching movies or playing handball outside. They take pages of notes and volunteer to read despite their fear of mockery. They are shaping their reality the best they can. How do we think of them? Do we condemn or pardon? When we see them outside the walls what do we give?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Mary Oliver's "Wild Geese"

Asbolutely wonderful.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
- Mary Oliver


Here is a link to Oliver reading her poem on You Tube:  Mary Oliver reading Wild Geese

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Difficult Conversations

"Writing a poem is not so different - it is a kind of possible love affair between something like the heart (that courageous but also shy factory of emotion) and the learned skills of the conscious mind."
 - Mary Oliver in A Poetry Handbook, p7

Mary Oliver's handbook on poetry reads like a poem, and her words about the courageous yet shy heart hold a universal truth that brings clarity to a period of difficult conversations in my life. I am 43 now, and my friends' ages are similar, which means that we have experienced some of the tragedies of life. We have walked or crawled through dark valleys and emerged with scars.

When we talk about the difficult times -when we cry or laugh hysterically through our tears - we get scared. Afterward we may have an "emotional hangover" when we regret sharing our innermost hurts, hopes and fears. When rational thought kicks back in, that courageous but shy heart turns back on itself to hide and heal.

This seems natural to me, especially after reading Oliver's beautiful line, but I so appreciate courageous sharing.  I would never wish any of my dear ones to travel through a vale of tears, just as I did not ask for, or enjoy, my own dark time. But now we can share heart-to-heart in a rich tapestry from great joy to deep sorrow. It's a blessed communion, and though rare, it connects us in ways that are holy and lasting.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Highlights and the High Life

I've read that the music of our teen years packs the greatest emotional wallop. The soundtrack for my junior and senior years leans heavily on the music of Steve Winwood and includes tracks from his Arc of a Diver, Back in the High Life,  and Roll With It albums. I was thrilled from my hooded head to my wool socked toes when Winwood played at Red Rocks last Wednesday. Despite the 45-degree temperature and a steady drizzle, my eyes were glued to the petite British musician as he rewarded my decades of fan-dom by playing "Back in the High Life" and "Higher Love."  I never thought I would hear Winwood play live, let alone at my favorite venue in the known universe. It was a bucket-list experience.

Winwood opened for Tom Petty, who always puts on a great show, but the drizzle turned into a downpour which was highlighted by the gigantic spotlights panning out from the stage. We would not have noticed the cold rain had it not been for the lights, because we were breathing in ginormous clouds of second-hand pot (gives new meaning to the phrase 'high life'). I was a bit shocked to see my own exhalations floating on the breeze, forgetting that the night was cold enough to crystallize a even a pot-free outbreath.

Last week also brought the gift of a frosty morning mountain hike with friends. Our feet slipped on heavy frost and fallen leaves as we tried to step lightly over the mud. Lost in conversation, we almost passed elk without seeing them, but were lucky enough to catch the bushy red tail of a fleeing fox, his black feet and white-tipped tail bright against a great grey rock. The week ended with Rob's annual epicurean adventure at Beer Fest and then a wonderful family day at home, beginning with church in the morning and ending with a long cuddle session on the couch. Such are the highlights of a busy autumn week.


Friday, October 3, 2014

Jeffco Protest Update

For those whose news source is the Missoulian or the Ashland Times-Gazette and may not have read the recent updates on Jeffco civil disobedience:

"Hundreds of Jefferson County Schools students, teachers, and parents demonstrated before Thursday's board meeting in Golden."

"Two students from Standley Lake High presented the board with boxes filled with 40,000 signatures gathered online from people opposed to the curriculum committee concept."

"While the controversial section about patriotism and civil disorder had been stripped out of the proposal that went before the board Thursday, it didn't stop dozens of people from blasting the board for the idea..." (see Jesse Paul, Denver Post, www.denverpost.com, 10.3.14).

"Michelle Patterson, head of the Jefferson County PTA, told the board that 'civil protest is one of the highest forms of patriotism.' She said she has heard from many PTA members over the last few weeks objecting to the curriculum committee idea. 'If the teachers and students don't move you, do 13,000 angry parents get your attention?' she said."

The upshot was that the controversial proposal to sanitize AP US History was stripped from the board's discussion, and the board voted to include more teacher, student and community voices in the curriculum review process.  A slight victory, certainly. I wonder what Colorado parents, teachers and students could accomplish if they set their teeth into the 11 days lost to testing this year?



Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Civil Disobedience at School

Jefferson County has been civil disobedience central for the last few weeks. The school district, just northwest of here, has seen teachers walk out (or "sick out") and high school students skip school to protest actions of the conservative school board majority. The high number of teachers out sick on Monday resulted in two high schools closing for the day, and yesterday several dozen students from a middle school walked out of their classes to join the protests (Denver Post, 9/29/14 - 10/1/14, www.denverpost.com). Teachers have been protesting a new evaluation system and curriculum changes for months, but a recent board decision to alter the AP US History curriculum galvanized students to their side.

The conservative majority of the Jeffco board proposed a committee to revise the AP US History materials. 'As initially proposed by board member Julie Williams, instructional material should promote "positive aspects" of U.S. history and avoid encouraging "civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law."' (Jesse Paul, Denver Post, http://www.denverpost.com/News, 10/1/14). Students, parents and teachers hit the streets with signs saying "don't censor history!" and "we will learn the truth". One student said "if they don't want to teach us civil disobedience then we will teach it to ourselves." (Denver Post, 9/25/14 www.denverpost.com).

Editorials in the Post have called for teachers to return to work and students to return to class. The editorial board exhorts students to learn more about the proposed changes and realize that any history curriculum leaves material out by default. I don't know a lot, but it looks like the students got the right memo. Who thinks that US History should be all about the "positive", without referencing worker's rights, women's suffrage, or the civil rights movement?

The protests get more interesting today, the official "count day" when the schools report attendance to the state, which then determines how much funding each school will get based on the number of students present. We received a letter from our elementary school strongly encouraging our students to attend on this day; I wonder what will happen if the protests continue in Jeffco through the count? The board says Colorado will look 5 days before and 5 days after the count to get a true picture of attendance but these protests have been going on for three weeks; who's calling who's bluff? The Jeffco board has really done a wonderful job in teaching civil disobedience and I commend them for getting students from ages 11 to 18 to join their teachers in a new rights' movement.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Viva Water Polo

Hola from Albuquerque, where mariachi music filters through the chlorinated air and the cement bleachers make chiropractors smile.  Aden and William have a break between water polo games and so rested in our hotel room to watch “Rush Hour” with Jackie Chan.  Just a normal family vacation, complete with putt – putting and in-fighting. The older kids each have their own hotel room with teammates, but Mom and Dad are still home away from home.

This tournament fascinates the kids because there are nine Masters’ teams here from all over the west, as well as a team from southern California and a full complement of teams from Juarez, Mexico. The Juarez head coach looks like he played water polo for an Eastern bloc country (if that were not so outdated) and his players are super tough, and not above a dirty trick or two in the water. The kids have been angry and frustrated by turns but they have learned a great deal.


It’s fun to experience the Spanish flavor with the language floating around the pool deck, music playing on cell phones and laptops, and the cheers of “Afuera!” and “Juarez” penetrating the close air. In the hotel I was greeted more with “Buenos dias” than “hello.” Just chalk it up to another learning experience for all of us, more miles on the road and in the pool, another Monday looming ahead with all of us back on our heels, but with good new memories.  

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Laser Pointers and Politics

In previous blogs I have indicated the joys of using a laser pointer with a cat. Not ON the cat, as we remind our youngest, but on the floor in front of Rex, inviting him to scrabble his paws and wrinkle his face in perpetual confusion. He never actually catches the red dot, and eventually we feel guilty and give up the laser for a tennis ball in a sock.  It's fun while it lasts, though.

Last week Daniel forgot to keep the laser on the floor and it flashed on the glass TV cupboard and rebounded onto the cat's flank. For a moment it looked like a sharpshooter had Rex in his sights, and one of the kids pointed this out. "Someone's after Rex!" they called, which panicked Daniel. We finally reassured him that no snipers were hiding in the kitchen. 

His concern about guns lingered into dinner that night. After his nightly rehearsal of Schoolhouse Rock's "Great American Melting Pot," which the third grade is prepping for a performance, he put a hand on his heart and said, "If I was running for president, I would abolish guns and have everyone build homes for the poor people." The speech was doubly impressive because Rob had actually worked on a Habitat for Humanity site that day and Daniel was wearing a white hard hat with "Dravenstott" written across the front. 

The moment was not to be left on such a sweet and conclusive note. Aden pointed out that the right to bear arms is safeguarded by the constitution and Daniel's presidential platform would generate a great deal of flak from the NRA and other parties. Since he didn't understand the word "flak" and I served dessert in a timely fashion, we avoided a congressional-style shouting match, and preserved the familial peace for at least one more night. It's amazing where things can go from a laser pointer!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Cat Sagas, continued

The cat has ringworm. Rather, the vet suspects he has ringworm but has to culture the hair follicles for 7 – 14 days before she can tell us definitively. In the meantime we have to wash his face twice daily with antibacterial / antifungal wipes and repeatedly wash our hands, although “if we haven’t caught it by now it’s likely we won’t .”  Cue repeated checking for itchy red circles on the children’s skin.

Aden and I were more traumatized by the scolding we received for the cat’s behavior than by his diagnosis. The cat had quite an attitude at the vet, baring his teeth, hissing and trying to bite when his face was inspected and his nails cut. Dr. Y raised her eyebrows at the length of Rex’s nails and lectured us on the need to trim them every two weeks. I decided to be an attentive, studious pet owner rather than stomping my foot and responding defensively that we weren’t told about the nail-trimming routine. While the vet showed us how to ease into the four-paw process, Aden edged closer to me and looked up at me for reassurance. I couldn’t tell if she were worried about the vet or the thought that I would go Rambo on being lectured and storm out with pet and daughter in tow.


On the drive home, while Rex miaowed piteously from his carrier until his voice went hoarse, Aden confessed her relief that at least we didn’t do “everything” wrong. My confidence returned as I reflected on the fact that I’ve kept three kids alive and well for thirteen years so surely I can master a cat. After he was sprung from his cage in the safety of the living room, he sat staring at us with his mouth open, an amazement so profound that all we could do was laugh. The laughter alone makes him worth it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

You Are About Life

"Before a unitive encounter with God or creation, almost all people will substitute the part for the whole and take their little part far too seriously—both in its greatness and in its badness. But after any true God experience, you know that you are a part of a much bigger whole. Life is not about you; you are about life. You are an instance of a universal and even eternal pattern. Life is living itself in you. It is an earthquake in the brain, a hurricane in the heart, a Copernican revolution of the mind, and a monumental shift in consciousness. "
- Richard Rohr, Adapted from Adam’s Return: The Five Promises of Male Initiation, pp. 60-61;

Providence dropped this email in my box yesterday morning, and it lifted a weight off my shoulders. As Rohr says, I tend to 'take my little part far too seriously,' and in most cases this leads to guilt and feelings of unworthiness. I feel a 'lightness of being' when I stop and feel life move through me rather than dive inside my head to think about all the ways in which I measure up or fail to do so. Life moves through me when the kids and I fall down laughing over the cat chasing a laser pointer, or when one of my new swimmers comes up to me at church to introduce me to her father ("this is my swim coach, dad"). The same spirit flows when a detainee hands me a poem for his homework assignment, describing a lone wolf howling in the time of the full moon. It's joyous to participate in the intricate dance of all things, to feel a part of life and to reach out for the whole instead of circling around and focusing on, my one small piece.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Poop on the Floor

Regarding the exodus and re-entry of dorm B-1 which disrupted my class at the detention center; I discovered after class that the team was pulled out and reprimanded for the high incidence of pooping on the shower floors. The news was delivered sotto voce despite the fact that we were the only two people in the cavernous locked room, as if volume would lend momentum to the scatological crisis. The agent of the news took my silence for shock, and assured me that "it happened more than you would think."

I was not shocked at the news. I had a number of things run through my mind in rapid succession: the story of an 11-year-old boy who pooped in his pants every day when a difficult transition happened. The boy had never been potty-trained due to a difficult first four years in which he was shuttled between his birth mother (who relinquished her rights) and adoptive family. The adoptive family was naturally at their wit's end, but the boy's response came from fear and trauma, not from manipulation (from the book From Fear to Love by B. Bryan Post).

I thought of children who withhold bowel movements and became chronically constipated. It's one of the few aspects of their lives where they have power. And I thought of pets who get angry at their owners- for vacations, long work hours, etc. My college roommate recently told us about her former cat, who got so angry at the long working hours of the family that she peed all over the house, even on the car keys!

So what came to my mind when I heard the news was control, as in, the detainees don't have any. These are grown men who largely came to the US for work to support their families, and they are stuck in a situation where they have no voice, and no affect on their future. Our immigration system has made it so they're reduced to the act of small children to make their anger known. Their humiliation has to take a backseat to their natural anger and fear at being completely out of control. I hate nothing more than being out of control; it scares me and the fear makes me angry. If I had no other outlet I might poop on the shower floor, too.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Threads in the Chaos

Exhausted, exhilarated, full of sugar. I'm not at a post-race celebration, but experiencing the aftermath of my trip to CostCo. The trip through the frozen foods section was particularly hazardous today as young mommies in workout tights shouldered against retirees making sudden leaps toward the kale. When people ask me what I'm training for these days my reply, "for CostCo" is deadly serious. Loading, unloading and putting away outrageous amounts of food is not a task for the fainthearted.

I do enjoy making some sense of the chaos and I'm basking now in the flow of a semi-cleared kitchen. Shining threads of order and meaning are hard to find in the chaos of this early week. For example, I returned to volunteer teaching of ESL at the Aurora Detention Center yesterday, and 60 men attended my first lesson. My eyes widened as I watched them file in, looking at the floor, the ceiling, and the tables - anywhere but my face. They are usually more nervous than I, though yesterday was a close contest.

Our class was interrupted by a town hall meeting in one of the dorms. B - 1 had to file out shortly after I distributed the stories, "The Thief and the Dog" or "El ladron y el perro." Discussion was stalled while twenty men left and our reading disturbed as they returned. A boisterous game of handball in the courtyard outside made it difficult for anyone to hear and the large number of students made personal instruction nearly impossible. At the end, as I shrugged my shoulders at the recreation specialist, she smiled and told me about a young man in B - 1. He had left to attend the meeting with his story in hand, and had studiously underlined all the unknown English words. He then made a list on his note paper and when he returned to class, he cornered her and asked to know the definition of each word.  A shining thread in the chaos.

It happened again last night after a hectic two-hour coaching stint with my new team. Many of the kids were new - like me - and we splashed, kicked, bubbled and silly-dove our way through the hours of introduction. I hardly knew which end was up on the drive home, and relied on Aden to keep me awake. When I said good-night shortly thereafter, she whispered in the dark, "you're the best Mom ever."  Confused, I asked why. "Because you're my swim coach."

A shining thread in the chaos. Sometimes it's all we need.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Sedaris on Family

I tore myself away from the kitten and the laser pointer to come do my homework, but find myself here in the blogosphere - via the kitchen table - instead. Despite the chocolate in my hand and cat on my lap, I'm not procrastinating, but planning to delve further into my assignment. For our unit on creative non-fiction I was tasked with reading David Sedaris' essay, "Repeat After Me," and not only does his writing turn my head but particular passages on family dynamics resonate in my post-lunch gut.

The essay is set at the home of Sedaris' oldest sister, Lisa, who has enjoyed a series of careers after surprisingly dropping out of college. He writes:

"As children, we'd been assigned certain roles - leader, bum, troublemaker, slut - titles that effectively told us who we were. Since Lisa was the oldest, smartest and bossiest, it was assumed that she would shoot to the top of her field, earning a master's degree in manipulation and eventually taking over a medium-sized country. We'd always known her as an authority figure, and while we took a certain joy in watching her fall, it was disorienting to see her with so little confidence."  ("Repeat After Me," David Sedaris, reprinted in Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction)

Ouch. As the oldest, not - so - smartest but definitely bossiest member of my family, and one who recently had a huge crash in the health / status / prestige department, this passage rang my bell.  I'm pretty sure that the roles in my family don't include bum or slut, and I don't know if my four siblings took any joy in my downfall, but I did see their dis-orientation when I was around, and Sedaris' insight helps explain a certain level of discomfort (both on my part and theirs) that extends to the present day. Here's another sentence that echoes our subconscious worry on the subject, "If the oldest wasn't who she was supposed to be, then what did it mean for the rest of us?"

I don't think I am who I was "supposed to be," and I haven't taken a poll but I doubt that either my high school classmates or my siblings projected my current position as stay-at-home mom of three and swim instructor / writing student. It doesn't matter as long as each of us feels content with our situation, but any attempt to rework the powerful settings of childhood creates discomfort for all concerned. As Sedaris said "having him (me) around forces her to think about things she'd rather not, which is essentially what family members do, at least the family members my sister and I know." Genius. He ends with a poignant tribute to his sister and how much he loves her, so I'll do the same. I love all of you bums, trouble-makers and smart-alecs, and even if we're uneasily wrestling with identity for the rest of our lives I'm glad we're on the same squad.



Friday, August 29, 2014

Cat as Cat Can

I'll take a break from TED - inspired musings to catch you up on Rex, the cat, who lies curled up beside me just now in one of his many cozy beds, this one primed to catch the mid-day sun. So far this week he has trapped himself in the pantry and in the narrow space between our front screen and wooden doors (really only wide enough to fit a large wreath). Both times his piteous meows and scratching claws alerted us to his plight within minutes. We removed his bell due to sleep deprivation but never have to look far to find him as he gallops to the door when we return after an absence and never plays or rests out of sight.  He's adopted us as his family and like a small child will come to my feet and meow when he wants to be held.

I've read that holding a cat or dog can lower blood pressure and I'll attest that holding a sleepy, purring cat can restore my faith in the world, or at least in a family gone crazy with back-to-school scheduling. The children vie over who gets to hold or play with him, so their blood pressure tends to go up - at least until Rex picks a lap to fall asleep on and then the lucky lap-ee soaks up the love like a movie star in Cannes.

Rex strips the leaves off my house-plants and finger-paints with the water from his bowl. He disrupts the kids at 4:00am with a desire to play and tracks litter through the office. Do we regret adopting this little snow-leopard kitty? Not at all. He does need to stop climbing the sliding screen door and wandering around the kitchen table, but aside from that he's a keeper. I finally understand what the cat video sensation is about - but I promise to spare you ours.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Temporary Nature of Things

Remember Phil Hansen's portrait in frozen wine, which melts slowly and inexorably, blurring and then erasing the outlines of a woman's face? (Look here:  http://philinthecircle.com/speaking.html ). Hansen spent time on temporary projects, art that either burned, melted, dissolved or rotted after he finished it. He says, "I spent a whole year making art and have nothing physical to show for it." How hard would it be to erase the product of your many hours of hard work? Granted, our gadget culture enables video and digital records of everything that was created, but the work itself? Our chance for fame and fortune? Gone.

Letting go is tough. We all want to leave claw marks on the scratching post of life. I don't understand why human beings are created with a drive to stamp their name, face, and genes on this world that's too overcrowded, too ancient, to care. Our lives don't even register against the geologic time scale. I'm reminded of this every time I open the refrigerator door, on which I have a sticky note quote from some self-help book saying "remember the temporary nature of things." This reassures me in times of crisis and scares the hell out of me the rest of the time.  

But I can see how Hansen freed his mind by letting go of the need to stamp his name and his art on the world. Releasing the need to make an impact, to score, to win frees my hands and my mind to focus on smaller things right in front of me, or blur in creative bliss. When I'm not afraid of impermanence, I can 'be in the flow' and trust my senses and mind to recall what's real and necessary. No need to throw it up on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter in a desperate attempt to make my mark or freeze a moment in time. The moments, messages, photos and tweets keep coming and the flood will eventually drown us out - not even to be found in a Google search - but if we can be free of the fear, who knows what we can create with the time we are given?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Embracing Limitations

Aden called to me from the office last night. "Come look at this, mom," she urged. "My art teacher showed it to us." It was after 7pm, I had a dishtowel in one hand and a greasy pork chop pan in the other, and I frankly did not want to look at anything other than my novel. But Aden can be a source of inspiration, and the TED talk she showed me was worth not just one viewing, but two. I've been thinking ever since about the surprising art and worldview of Phil Hansen, as explained in this talk http://philinthecircle.com/speaking.html.

A quick summary for those of you too busy to watch the ten-minute video right now; Hansen developed nerve damage in his hands after too many hours of working on pointilism, his favored art technique. His shaky hands soon made it impossible to do the type of art he loved, or any familiar style of art, so he quit art school and had a dark night of the soul - for three years. When Hansen finally decide to return to art he first saw a neurologist to see if his shaky hands could be fixed. The neurologist told him no, that the damage was permanent, and advised him to "embrace the shake."

The rest of the talk unfolds quickly as Hansen features many of his amazing new works, drawn, painted, blowtorched or etched on various mediums. He talks about how embracing our limitations can enhance our creativity, and how in a world where we are frequently paralyzed by a multitude of choices, getting "back in the box" can help us create freely. Hansen's words reminded me forcibly of a therapy session I had over the phone perhaps 18 months ago, when I was starting to heal but still wildly unsure of what I had left to contribute to the world. The bracing voice on the phone aked me: "what do you love to do?" and I said "write. . . . but I can't sit still for long and I can't even look at a computer screen for too long because it makes my head worse, so I don't see how I can be a writer."  She took me to task, and insisted that my preference for writing in short bursts could work to my advantage. "Write poetry," she said, "or pursue your blog entries and compile them into a book one day. No one said you have to sit down for eight hours a day to be a writer."

So, embracing my limitations became a source of my creativity. I'm still writing this blog and you're still reading it. Perhaps one day it will be a part of something larger . . . or perhaps not. The rest of Hansen's talk covers "letting go,"  but I'll leave that for next time.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Rex

My husband is out of town so I attempted a one-night stand with a new man. His name is Rex, the cat, and I use the word "attempted" because there was no sleeping with a cat draped over my neck and face, purring like a miniature Harley. Granted, Rex tried to be amorous, nibbling on my ear and fake biting at my silver stud earring, but I've always preferred a little space when I sleep and the cat just did not get my memo. After a half-hour of failed relocation attempts I got up and walked him down the hall to Daniel's room, where he presumably slept the night away.

Rex fits our family like a golden glove; he loves playing with toys, sleeping in our laps, and stalking the guinea pig. Also, he's sick. We brought him home from the Dumb Friends League with a virus and he's already been to the vet to get medicine, an Rx for baby food, and instructions to steam every day in a hot bathroom. Nothing like a sick cat to blow the water bill.

Between Rob's handoff of the stomach flu to me, Aden's diagnosis of walking pneumonia, William's sniffles and the cat sneezing snot everywhere, our home is a veritable treasure trove of germs. We've never had a first week of school kick off with quite so many illnesses floating around the house and I can only hope it gets better from here. At least we have a loving little kitty to help us survive.

Post script - We are so thrilled to welcome our new nephew, Thomas Julius Clavadetscher! Congratulations to Mike and Pam, Mac and Joey on their new addition. We can't wait to meet him . . .

Friday, August 15, 2014

Advice on a Thirteenth Birthday

Aden returned from Los Angeles late Wednesday evening. She traveled solo via Southwest and came into view at baggage claim to Rob's shout of recognition and my teary hug. I couldn't let her go for several long minutes and we both cried - for my relief that she was safe and for her relief to have managed the trip by herself, combined with sorrow at leaving her aunt and cousin. Aunt Karen showed Julia and Aden a marvelous time, visiting Medieval Times, the Long Beach Aquarium, and the beach for a picnic and boogie boarding. Aden celebrated her 13th birthday there with a cake and special dinner, while I worked desperately at finishing her birthday scrapbook of wishes and notes from many friends and relatives.

The outpouring of love, support and advice from Aden's aunts, uncles and grandparents made me cry repeatedly, as I cut and pasted their words and pictures in her bright pink book. Aden could only take in a few pages on her first night home, and has read the rest a few at a time over the next few days. All of the letters are special, but as we prepare to go back to school I wanted to share this excellent advice from Aden's great-aunt Kathy, who taught high school for over thirty years. I intend to follow these tenets myself:

·      -  The teens that have the most fun are those willing to look the most foolish.  They are not characterized as foolish by their peers, but rather as brave and wholeheartedly participating.

·       - Teens think that everyone else is watching them.  It’s not only false; it’s impossible.

·        -Those who ask questions at school will not “look stupid” (unless the teacher answered the very same question five seconds ago).  Rather, their classmates will be silently grateful that their question was answered.

·        -The key to being a good conversationalist is to be a good listener.  What you learn from others will give clues for questions to ask, reactive comments, and other topics of discussion.

·        -The sweetest sound to a person is their name, so use it often when talking to them.

·        -People like to associate with those who are happy with their lives and show it on their faces.


·        -Just because everyone else does something, doesn’t mean you also need to do it.  First, everyone may NOT be doing it.  Second, be an independent thinker; stay true to your beliefs; treat yourself well and expect the same treatment from others, because you deserve it.