With Nana and Papa

With Nana and Papa
Family Times at Flathead Lake

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.