Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Monday, December 19, 2011

Skiing While Pregnant?

We made it to the mountains yesterday, after hauling the kids out of bed at 6am to don snow pants and grab donuts for the 90-minute drive to Winter Park. Sun shone brilliantly, temps climbed into the 40s, and the kids went to all-day lessons; it was a slice of heaven on earth. Rob and I enjoyed long moments of silence on the uncrowded lifts and on our frequent coffee breaks. Lunch on the porch (sans jackets) was a restful period only broken by some Tebow-jersey-clad Denverites and their Southern friends, who dissected the Broncos' prospects against the Patriots.

I enjoyed seeing holiday wreaths in the lodge and Christmas tree decorations on all the big pines near the village. It was our first ski day before Christmas, and though the snow was poor, the atmosphere was festive. As we sat on the patio waiting for our kids to finish their lessons, I thought about some of my Benet Hill classes this Advent season. Our teacher, Sister Marilyn, emphasized the "pregnant" part of Advent - like Mary who was literally pregnant, we wait for the big event.

Sr. Marilyn said that though we are not actually pregnant (no one in our class, anyway), and though some of us may never be, we can all "give birth" this season. We can birth something creative and new, some offering that we have never before made. The idea evokes memories of being heavy, of moving slowly and often sitting to wait. This sense of waiting, of cherishing the unknown and mysterious, usually goes missing in our culture, and the attempt to cultivate a sense of 'ponderousness' has been helpful to me in the crazy whirlwind of a season. Though grateful I am not actually pregnant (it would be really hard to ski), I have been thinking about what creative and productive thing I can "give birth to" this year.

After a big pasta dinner at home last night, we lit four candles on our Advent wreath. The prayer was an Irish blessing that I would like to share:

The light of the Christmas star to you,
The warmth of home and hearth to you,
The cheer and good will of friends to you,
The hope of a childlike heart to you,
The joy of a thousand angels to you,
The love of the Son and God's peace to you.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

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Slips away
Leaving many happy
Memories of adventures with
Friends & family and of new beginnings
For each of us, including Kindergarten for Daniel,
Third grade, student council and newspaper for William,
Fifth grade, newspaper and last year of elementary school for Aden (!)
Rob began a rewarding new job with Dish Network and ended a memorable time with FDC.
Laura began a course in Spiritual Direction and took on work at the Museum of Nature and Science.
We are thankful for
New opportunities,
Good work, joyful play,
And for each of you.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Panic of the Season

Last week the digital temperature gauge on our kitchen wall dropped so rapidly it would have kept pace with a Vegas roulette machine. An Arctic cold front moved in, along with 4 – 6 inches of snow and ice, and my good mood slid eastward along with the warm weather. Relieved when our morning workout was called off, I dived under the warm, fuzzy blanket on our coach and promised myself a few minutes of extra rest. An hour later, I staggered into the kitchen to make lunches and breakfast, wondering if I could find my way back to the coach at any point during the day. A prolonged period of collapse seemed promising.

The holidays often induce such mood – dives . From the high of opening our newly ordered Christmas photos to the lows of driving through snow and ice to get to numerous appointments, my energies and emotions rise and fall like the notes of “A Little Town of Bethlehem.” On Wednesday I prepared for the storm by organizing the yard and unscrewing the hoses. I restored the lawnchairs to order – one had been flung to the grass, apparently an incidental victim of squirrel-on-squirrel violence – and let the water drain out of the newly freed pipes and hoses. I was mesmerized by the water dripping away and felt my energy float along with it.

The kids feel similar rhythms of excitement and pressure. Between delight in finding our Elf’s new location each morning to the thrill of opening a new link on our Advent chain each night their mood rises and falls depending on their certainty of receiving special presents. I particularly love a story told by a good friend of mine about his grandson, which illustrates the pressures children feel at this time of year.

The child went with his family to an outlet mall for Christmas shopping, where they observed the miraculously short line for Santa’s lap. The parents hustled their son and daughter over to Santa, despite the kids’ protests that they had not prepared their lists yet. The daughter went first and came up with a few desired items, then the young boy took his turn. Santa asked, “What do you want for Christmas this year, sonny?” and the parents’ eyebrows raised when they heard the reply, “Uh . . . bamboo?” Upon walking away together, Mom could not resist asking, “What was that about?” The boy replied, “Don’t ask. I panicked.”

Don’t we all. When the stamps run out with 38 cards left to address, when the sugar cookies burn just as its time to leave for a party, when crazy kid behavior leads parents to threaten to “cancel Christmas,” we all get a bit crazy. It just takes a quick step back (or an extra nap) to see the humor and fun and delight of the season. Wishing you all a cozy blanket and some time to use it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Family Reflections

I had my class in Spiritual Direction last night after a two – week break. My fellow classmates and I delighted in greeting each other, many hugs were exchanged and holiday stories shared, though no one quite remembered what topic we were on or what books we should be reading. Holiday planning – both for Thanksgiving and for the nascent Christmas season – has started to mask other brain functions.

On the drive to and from class, my carpool buddy and I reflected on how important the class has been to us in just three short months. Even if we can’t get to all of the reading, the lectures and exercises have been heart-felt, often starting mini journeys of discovery. Our task for next week is to put together a small but emotionally detailed family tree, so over Thanksgiving I asked my parents about their life experiences, their families, my childhood, anything I could think of to help me assemble the mosaic of my personal and familial history.

I learned new things which shocked me. For example, my mother spent eighteen months living in a Japanese internment camp when she was a toddler in the late forties. I never knew! Apparently there was no housing in Cody, WY, where her father had been transferred, so she and her family were sent to live in one of the vacant units at Heart Mountain. The Japanese were no longer there (though there had been over 10,000 inhabitants at the height of the war), but Mom remembered the beautiful gardens they left.

I learned that my paternal grandmother had suffered a nervous breakdown when my father returned from Vietnam. Dad said grandmother was stoic when he enlisted but had convinced herself that he would die "over there". When he walked off the plane, she collapsed. There are other stories of nervous breakdowns on his side of the family and I wonder what they would be called today? Depression, anxiety, manic outbreaks? Occasionally I feel the inherited anxiety leaping forth; in fact, the holidays often act as a starting gun for nerves and tension.

The pieces lie at random on my mental puzzle table, but I’ve almost finished the frame of my personal history and partially filled certain relevant events. Asking and listening with a purpose have helped me to understand how I was created, and how my family and environment helped me to shape myself. As I start to put the pieces together I save one side of the puzzle for the future and feel a freedom to plan a new direction that builds on what I need of the past but leaves the rest behind.

Friday, November 18, 2011

My Humorist at Work

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The Sound of One (Small) Hand Clapping

“How many pancakes can you fit in a dog house?”
“None, because snakes don't have armpits!”
- Wild laughter.

Kids are hilarious, mostly because they think they are. The wildly creative joke above was derived by my youngest brother when he was of tender age and desperately trying to keep our focus at the dinner table. With four older siblings and two parents at the table, it was a tough go of it, conversationally speaking, and James had to reach (wildly at times) to get everyone to tone down their rhetoric and talk to him.

My sister emailed this joke quite recently to remind us of its humor and longevity. The joke resonated with me because my youngest son performs similar antics to get all of his siblings’ and parents’ senses fixed on him. One of his recent habits (I say recent, though it seems an eternity since he started), is to clap loudly at the dinner table, or in the bathroom – really any small, confined space where the noise shocks me into wide-eyed, upset-stomach, trembling shock. The pint-sized kiddo has hands that fit inside a teacup, but he has perfected his clap until it deafens the unaware. In this respect he takes after my mild-mannered mother, whose loud clapping at basketball games actually provoked my brothers to ask her to “tone it down.” They might not have a genetic link, but she has taught Daniel a thing or two about bringing his palms together.

I should just ignore the noise, I know. But sudden loud noises are detrimental to my mental health and physical well-being, and so I ask him PLEASE to refrain from clapping at the table. He can clap anywhere else (“Except the bathroom, Mom, when you’re there,” he reminds me), and I encourage him to do so. Yet, he unfailing forgets to clap unless I am within a three-foot radius of him, usually carrying something breakable.

Last night he made us laugh so hard that I had to forgive the clapping. While I was reading the last Harry Potter book to Aden and William, Daniel decided enough was enough. Attention needed to turn his way. He rooted around in my swim bag and pulled out my swim caps and two pairs of goggles. He put the black Harvard cap on his head and put the orange triathlon cap on top of that so that he looked like a round-faced rooster. Then he added a pair of super-dark goggles over his eyes and danced a jig around the room. Aden warned me, “Don’t look at him, Mom,” but we all gave in and busted our guts laughing with him.

And lest I forget, my kids have finally solved the riddle: “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there, does it make a sound?” Their answer, “Of course, because monkeys aren’t deaf.” Didn’t you know?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Breathing In

A brilliant full moon tossed on the wave crest of pre-dawn cloud cover. The clouds dimmed the lunar glow and washed over stars just as incoming waves roll and obscure shiny shells, but we still had sufficient light to run on the greenbelt path instead of the street. The 35-degree air was just warm enough to spare us painful inhalations, and as we finished our 3.5 miles the sunrise spread out like a brilliant flag in the east. The morning was off to a glowing start.

The week had brought in many blessings, as a fair tide will bring up shells and stones for collecting. Fall conferences at school brought us good news of the kids' progress and a chance to meet their talented and dedicated teachers. I love teachers; My mother, sister, mother-in-law and sister-in-law are all teachers, and I used to be in that position full-time. Teachers watch over and support our children seven hours, five days a week, and they spend countless hours of their personal time on lesson plans and grading and extra-curricular activities. Teachers are heroes.

The week brought challenges also; two friends who currently have too much to handle. We really do get more than we can take, despite the frequently offered platitude that "God does not give us more than we can handle." There are many problems with that statement: God does not "give" us anything, and yes, people in this world can have too much trouble to bear. It's hard to know a friend suffers, especially when you cannot solve their troubles. I can only offer this lovely quote that I found in my reading this week. It speaks to the one-ness of us all, to our bonds on this gorgeous planet:

“Each time we breathe, we take in a quadrillion atoms breathed by the rest of humanity within the last two weeks and more than a million atoms breathed personally by each person on earth.”

- David Toolan, S.J., “At Home in the Cosmos: The Poetics of Matter=Energy,” in America 174, 6 (Feb 23, 1996), 14.

So I offer my breath to those who suffer; let me breathe you in, and feel me when you breathe in. We are all here together, inextricably linked. You are not alone.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Wedding Gifts

Weddings are not dark events by definition but even so, this was an evening of light. From rays of late afternoon sun which angled through three-story windows onto the stunned face of the groom as he first glimpsed his bride to the candlelight that filtered through the conversation and laughter at our “Steamboat Springs” dinner table, the wedding glowed. Sunlight tickled sparkles in the bride’s gown and hairpiece as her voice trembled on the vows and hot pink candles at the ends of our rows lit the welcoming faces of the guests as the newly married couple took their first walk together down the aisle.

The cocktail hour was full of light-hearted laughter and the clink of glasses. We had not met our drinking companions before but felt like old friends after a wide-ranging conversation about our families and experiences which ended up provoking both tears and laughter. This gift of connection was the first of many gifts the evening held for me and Rob. The house lights went down as we descended the steps to dinner and the tall windows reflected rows upon rows of suspended lanterns. Later, as the mountains faded to black and the dance lights blinked on, the wide panes mirrored a million pinpricks that made it seem as though the Milky Way had spilled onto us.

Dancing provided more luminous moments. The lovely mother of the groom managed to combine elegance with a youthful energy to rival her son’s. She was certainly one of the “dancing queens” of the evening, along with the bride, whose hot pink tennis shoes made a perfect accessory to her strapless dress. When the groom emerged after a lengthy period under that dress with the garter in his mouth, his face matched her shoes and the whites of his eyes glowed with a light I won’t even attempt to describe. I was simply thrilled to dance with my husband without children draped over my arms or legs, or cutting in incessantly. Dancing opportunities have been rare for us over the past ten years so our footloose hours were another great gift.

Other people’s children provided two of the sweetest memories on the dance floor, however; the tiny flower girl twirled, bopped and swayed in her hot pink lace dress and black Mary Jane’s, moving effortlessly about the floor from one group to another. Her tirelessness had me in awe; she didn’t collapse until I did, near the end of the evening. Meanwhile, the slightly more sedate ringbearer drifted off to sleep on the bride’s shoulder as she twirled him about the room, his eyelids falling shut as quickly as high heels came off the bridal party.

At one point I caught up with the groom. “We may not agree on much,’ he said (we have a history of healthy debate), “but we can agree that this is an awesome party.” It was. Guys, thank you for the gifts of joyful energy and connection. We pray they return to you again and again.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Two Days Ago it Was 70 Degrees!

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Snow Day

Snow pours on puffy jacket shoulders,
Gives our trees a hang-dog look.
Flakes brush pumpkins with pearly whiskers,
Create a hodge-podge of seasons at our front door.

Friendly neighbors bank snow for slides and
Snowballs somersault through backyard air.
Wet socks squish in snowboots,
Steaming hot chocolate cools as it dribbles down our chins.

-By Aden, William, Daniel and Laura Dravenstott

Monday, October 31, 2011


Aden's fish, John, floats on life support in front of me. He endured an aquarium cleaning yesterday, with its accompanying cold water rinse and chlorine flux, and did not emerge the better for it. I have a feeling that the kids and I will drift in similar floppy unresponsiveness tomorrow. After going back to school today for Halloween parades and parties, and then tricking and treating tonight, the children will certainly have a sugar hangover. I enjoyed snapping photos of all three this morning at the parade, though; our school district usually has Fall Break during Halloween so this is only the second parade I have been to in six years at the elementary school. Kids of all ages dressed up, though the kindergartners won 'most enthusiastic' and one of the fifth grade classes chose not to even participate. Ah, the disenchantment of age.

The house lies ready for groups of children in disguise; our pumpkins leer on the front steps, candy waits on the refrigerator, periodically (and mysteriously) making an early exit out of the bag into someone's waiting mouth. Only last week our backyard snowman masqueraded as a summer baseball player, but today the weather recalls summer, and the kids can go trick or treating without the voluminous layers that always seemed to ruin our costumes as kids in Michigan. Laura from Little House was hard to pull off with winter coat and ski hat ballooning out from under my calico dress.

Halloween is really fun if you don't have to live with (or teach) the children after they consume large amounts of sugar. I ran into one of my favorite teachers at school this morning and she confessed that she had been up since 3:00am trying not to dread the day. She said that she and the kids were just going to "revel in it" because really, do we have any choice? I admit I plan to take large handfuls of the kids' candy to the dentist tomorrow - because I actually and crazily scheduled a cleaning for the day after Halloween - and will probably throw most of the rest away by Friday, but otherwise I plan to enjoy the festivities. Happy Halloween to all!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Fall Break

Up late last night processing the most recent class in Spiritual Direction, up early this morning to run on the treadmill. The girlfriends and I were planning to run outside and take advantage of the later start offered by the children's being on Fall Break, but we were waylaid by an early snowstorm which has dropped four inches so far. The kids were rock stars this morning; they tackled homework, dioramas and crayon drawings as I struggled through the final pages of my latest project, translating the "Learning Physics with Toys" curriculum into Spanish for the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Spiritual direction and physics in Spanish has left me fairly brain-dead, but the kids are watching Pink Panther now so thought I had better update the blog.

I really want to write something light and humorous but find that my brain sticks on the subject of last night's class: Sexuality and Spirituality. My friend and I pulled into the parking lot prepared to squirm in our seats, fight our giggles, and learn to go deeper on the subject (be more 'reverential', as Sister urged us). I've spent many years unwinding the psychological strait jacket prepared by the Catholic Church: don't talk about sex, don't have sex (until you are married, in which case have lots of it, but only for children), don't take pleasure in it, etc. In doing the readings to prepare for class I was pleased to see that the religious writers / leaders have changed their tune to some degree, insisting that all sexuality is a God-given gift and provided to us as a meaningful tool to develop relationships with other people and with God.

Using sexuality as a tool to get closer to God: what an interesting concept. We all had to prepare our sexual histories - to share or not as we desired - but I won't go into that here. Class loomed like a party which you half desired and half dreaded. Unfortunately for me, last night's instructor chose to focus the first two-thirds of the class on childhood heartbreak and trauma, I guess because those situations set the stage for adult intimacy. Her pretext was that we have to really go deep and explore these dark places before we can understand our attitudes about intimacy.

Well, I'm not a fan of the deep dark places, and certainly not in a room full of twenty-three lovely people who are more or less acquaintances. (Some are a lot closer after last night). My heart is a bit out of rhythm today, and I am sure I grew last night, judging by the heartache. The frustrating item for me is that I had a great childhood and great parents. I don't recall any reason for heartbreak, any reason for shame or longing or rejection, yet I felt those emotions when our instructor showed us a series of slides of stick figures getting their hearts broken, thrown down, rejected. The experts assure us that every child sustains trauma, regardless of their upbringing, but that does not really make me feel better. My mind just flashes on to my own children and wonders what childhood traumas affect them. As my dear friend says, "I'll be a successful mother when my kids grow up, get a job, and can pay for their own therapy." At least they're laughing out loud right now; the Pink Panther solves many problems. Think I'll go watch, too.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

October Surprise


Amidst the golden and orange of autumn, my transplanted Easter lily blooms pure white in the backyard. A sign of spring and rebirth amidst the dying leaves; a lovely, subtle surprise.
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Tuesday, October 11, 2011


The crowds lined our curbs and medians, hung over balconies and bridges. In places the cheering, music, and drums were deafening. City sounds blocked the slap of our feet on the pavement and drowned the rhythm of our breathing. For five miles Carol and I were locked in step with the hundreds of runners alongside us, boxed in to an artificially slow rhythm but afraid to deviate from our straight path as we had already seen one man fall hard, stepping just the wrong way on a manhole cover or on someone else’s shoe.

Smells of Chicago’s innards wafted up through the vents, a hot musty smell that curled our stomachs, rapidly followed by the scents of bacon and eggs in a North Side restaurant that would have been enticing at any other time. Sunlight blazed off the tall buildings and caught the mustard yellow and red highlights of the fall foliage along tree-lined streets. As the heat started to mount the cheering became even more important. I had written LAURA in black sharpie marker along my white tank top and the crowd responded: “Go, Laura!” on repeated corners and at water stops. One man with a bullhorn yelled, “I SEE you Laura! Let’s GO!” I smiled, waved, and gave thumbs up.

We saw ourselves on big TV screens and waved, and laughed at some of the clever or inspirational signs. “GO total stranger!” “Do Epic Sh**” “It’s long and it’s hard, and that’s why I’m standing here.” As we passed through Carol and John’s old neighborhoods she pointed out the location of their first date, their first apartment and church. We dodged blue sponges and walkers and passed our first pace group, on track to recover from our slow start and finish near 4:30 . . .until my knees inexorably tightened and my stomach gave ominous warnings near mile 21. The toilet signs at that aid station were a small miracle, and I waved Carol on, sad to lose her but solid in the knowledge that I could not keep our pace.

The last five miles humbled me. I shuffled, walked, tried to run. The heat mounted and we lost the crowds for a few miles in the ‘less nice’ part of town. I tried to pray, visualize, rationalize, but for a while nothing worked. Then the crowds built back up, I drank a lot of water, and I heard the booming voice of a large man running with his struggling friend, shouting to motivate him and everyone else: “It’s a BEAUTIFUL DAY in Chicago! Just out for a LITTLE jog! You WILL NOT BE DENIED today!” So I followed him as best I could through the emotional last two miles, hanging on his exhortations and willing my burning feet and legs to move. When we hit the straightaway on Michigan Avenue and saw the gorgeous skyline again, I started to cry. I saw my Mom outside Old St. Mary’ school – more emotion – then struggled through the last 1.2 miles, barely dragging my feet over the slight uphill on the bridge to the finish line. The Finish line was red-white-blue: gorgeous, amazing, wonderful. Copying the runners around me, I raised my arms to cross. Humbled, slow, sore, but gloriously happy.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Thoughts on Pink Tape

I have bright pink racing stripes on my ass.

When I dropped trou a cautious few inches to show the kids, their eyes widened impressively. “Wow, Mom, will that help you win?” asked my youngest.

When it comes to a marathon, I won’t be winning anything except a victory over my mental barriers and gut-level fears, but the racing stripes do look cool, I admit. I have to take them off today, as the KT tape unravels at the ends, leaving a sticky, unattractive residue which tends to pull on my jeans. When I told the physical therapist I might have a hard time reapplying the tape on Saturday she asked if I had a friend or relative who might help. The thought of Abby or Carol volunteering to “stripe” me made me choke on my Emergen C, but perhaps my mother might help out. She’s a veteran of taping tushies.

The pink racing stripes serve as a much more entertaining memento from Tuesday’s trip to the PT office than do the bruises and aches where the dry needles prodded and provoked my knotted muscles. The dry needles have helped me a great deal but they are not comfortable. In fact, they put the exclamation point on the masochistic element of my training, which has been a blend of self-indulgent hedonism and crazy self-punishment.

The discipline of the journey did provide rewards, though, far beyond my skinny jeans’ fitting so well. I’ve met talented, knowledgeable people, received wonderful support and this week the assurance of lots of prayers for Sunday’s race. I plan to spend a lot of time praying during the 4 + hours I am treading Chicago’s asphalt; offering prayers not only for finishing safe and whole but for friends, family members, world situations, and thanks for such cool opportunities.

I wish I had permanent pink racing stripes for my contemplative self; they could kick me in the metaphorical ass and bring the same discipline to my spiritual practices that I had in the marathon training. (So weird to have the words “ass” and “spiritual” in the same sentence). But for this weekend, the tape will provide some muscle stimulus for my body and the marathon itself – an emotional climax to this six-month journey – will provide a lengthy and welcome opportunity to ask for help and to give thanks. No matter how I finish, I have definitely won.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Steamboat Springs

Sunrays swim down
Through layers of branches,
Ripple from leaf to leaf.
Woody scents rise
Like mist from the Yampa
In a dawntime chill.

Berries stare, ruddy-eyed,
At latest fall design of
Aspen’s lemony lace,
Invite blue birds who
Shy from our footsteps on
Loamy Fish Creek Trail.

Children’s chipmunk chatter
Drowns in water sound.
Falls hurry over rocky outcrops
To meet boys, half-naked,
Daring and splashing below.
Goosebumps rise in icy snowmelt.

Minerals evanesce in
Harnessed hot springs.
As bubbles sprout on skin,
Salmon-like swimmers
Climb walls, shoot slides.
Water exhales steam into autumn air.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


"Who are you?" I froze in the process of completing my homework - what a deceptively simple question. It stared at me from the page and drove a little needle of irritation and angst right between my eyes. This was undoubtedly my punishment for skipping the chapter I was supposed to read for my spiritual formation class and moving directly to the questions at the back. "Who am I?" I briefly asked myself, before writing a standard version of my cocktail-party self-definition: 'I am a wife and mother, daughter and sister. I am a student and an athlete and a writer.' The second sentence has been standard for twenty or so years (though sometimes I have left off the 'writer' tag due to lack of confidence, and added teacher, consultant, PR exec, etc. as appropriate). The first sentence has obviously been expanded over the past twelve or so years, but feels routine now.

Done, I thought, and realized that I actually had time to go back and do the reading. The assignment for last week was Henri Nouwen's Spiritual Direction, and it contains a treasure trove of new thoughts and directions to pursue. As I read I was stopped short by Nouwen's suggested answer to "Who are you?" He writes, "You are the Beloved." If you are a Christian you could add "... of Christ" or anyone could add "of God," or "of the Universe," but the basic message is that you and I are . . .beloved. That is enough, simply and completely. Nouwen suggests taking that on as a new self -definition.

Sister Mary Colleen echoed that line at our retreat last weekend. She suggested that we all had trouble conceiving of ourselves as 'beloveds' of anything. With a twinkle in her eye, she helped us envision a cocktail party setting where - when inevitably asked, "What do you do? What profession are you in?" we answer "Oh, I am the beloved of God, forgiven and embraced." She wondered what would happen next.

I put this situation to two friends last weekend and we had a good laugh over it.We variously envisioned people backing away in terror, whispering to friends that we are narcissistic and in need of psychiatric help, or calling for our keys as they noted that we had had FAR too much wine. One friend said, "If I ever said that at a cocktail party I WOULD have had way too much wine!" I agree, in part, though I really want to own that statement, and I grin everytime I think of using that as a public response to the inevitable labeling questions.

One more sentence for thought: when I discussed the whole "beloved" idea with my spiritual director last week he noted that while the reading had made a large impact on him, too, the biggest zinger was this thought: "You are the beloved, but so too is everyone else."

Friday, September 16, 2011

Family Flu

Bodies were strewn across the upper hallway, sails of sheets caught wind on the clothesline, and the one healthy member of our family cautiously picked her way around prone figures to find the stairway. A scene from "Contagion"? No, only one memory of the great Dravenstott Flu Pandemic of 2011. Four out of the five of us went down with high fever, chills, and stomach upset on Friday night, and all four were still home recovering on Monday.

I would never recommend being sick at the same time as your husband and children, though in some cases it cannot be controlled. I was still the main caregiver, though Rob did help with drug store runs and laundry, and the chip on my shoulder was so large I could hardly stand up. I had all three kids in my room on Friday night (even the healthy one!) and was up every hour on the hour to escort someone to the bathroom. Saturday was a repeat, as Rob slept in the office again, except that my fever was so bad I awoke to dripping clothes which made the bathroom trip a cold and hazy journey each time I was summoned there by my bad-tempered son.

Daniel hated being sick, and his disgust and anger and frustration equaled mine. Five am on Saturday: he was on the toilet, shouting with anger and pain while I sat on the tub facing him. I stage-whispered something extremely unsympathetic and angry in return. Not a Florence Nightengale moment. Sunday morning was an even lower point for me: I announced to my husband that I would never recover on such little sleep and that I would probably "just die." I kept threatening to go live in the basement or find a hotel, too, though I could not summon the energy to actually make my escape.

A few scenes, though, already make me laugh: the Saturday afternoon where Daniel and I fell asleep in the upper hallway, traumatizing my daughter as she attempted to move down the stairs. Sitting on the porch Saturday afternoon, all four of us staring at the birds in the yard and attempting to choke down more Gatorade or flat soda, when the mailman came to the door with an oversized delivery. Normally, one of the kids runs to get the package but as we all sat and stared dully I explained, "we are all really sick." The mailman's eyes widened, he placed the mail on the ground, and retreated as quickly as he could. "Thanks for letting me know!" he hollered on his way out.

On Sunday night we were partially recovered but still went to bed early. My daughter pleaded with my husband and I to stay up just a while so that she could read and not be the last person standing. "I am lonely!" she told us, tired of being the only functioning individual in the household. "I don't want to be the only one awake!" We couldn't help her much as our exhaustion rendered us useless . . .we left the light burning for five more minutes and then hollered down the hallway, "lights out!" It felt like lights out for the Dravenstotts for about forty-eight hours last weekend, but thanks to the miracle of time - and Ibuprofen - we're back among the living again.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Painful to Watch

It’s painful beyond words to witness your child’s pain. My daughter had some playground trauma in the first few weeks of fifth grade, and her nighttime tears and angst were gut-wrenching to witness. I struggled to listen, not to talk over her with advice and my own experiences. I also wrestled with how to help her, whom to tell and where to get good advice. The situation seems resolved, at least temporarily, through the efforts of my child herself, but the pain of those two weeks wrote indelibly on my psyche as well as the psyche of my ten-year-old girl.

I would not rob my children of all difficulties and painful experiences, but I am sorely tempted to sandpaper the rough edges. Standing by and loving them while they suffer, while not leaping in to save the day, may be the hardest thing I have ever done. Give me a problem to solve, a mountain to climb, miles to run, and I will tackle it gladly, but ask me to stand witness to pain, offer mute comfort, live patiently with an unresolved situation, and you ask me to walk through one of Dante’s infamous infernos. As I prayed over my daughter’s issue last week I thought of all that is to come, all that my parents had to witness: broken hearts, unrequited love, cliques and exclusion, rejection, failure. I remember my Dad’s stark words when I agonized over my infant daughter’s four months of bad colic: “it only gets harder from here.”

Despite those harsh (and true) words, I am blessed by the example of love and support that my parents offered to me and my four siblings. They did not solve our problems for us (with five kids there was no time for that!) but they always asked, listened, and cared. They hurt over our troubles even now. Though they have seven grandkids, we are still their babies. Even though I have entered my fifth decade, I continue to feel this love and support. In fact, one of my most vivid memories of Dad’s pain at my pain happened in the last ten years, at the birth of my now fifth-grade daughter.

I was lying in a hospital bed, wrung out and exhausted by the labor of giving birth to my daughter. My parents hovered in the doorway of the hospital room, torn between respecting my privacy and wanting to witness the miracle of the birth of their first grandchild. After my daughter was born, my nurse/midwife had trouble getting my bleeding to stop. Nurse Jan saw the blood and yelled for medication; there was none in the room. My father turned pale as Nurse Jan’s voice rose in repeated demands, and he dashed down the hall looking for someone to help. He did not know what medication to request, or even how to describe the situation. Someone asked him, “Is the baby OK?” and he said “No.” When he told me the story later (I was oblivious to it all at the time) he admitted that when the nurses asked about the baby he thought only of me – his baby. My baby was fine, but his was not.

I heard that story and wept. I wept from the hormones, from exhaustion, from the blessing of his great love for me, and from the new fount of love that erupted in my heart when my daughter was born. I wept also for the new possibilities of pain, the incipient terror at any danger or loss affecting my child. My life became doubly precious because she needed me, and her life was already a treasure beyond measure. We are all tangled up in the glorious mess of loving each other, and learning to accept life’s painful lessons for ourselves and our kiddos seems like a small price to pay.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Marathon Angst

"You will not want to watch that movie tomorrow night," said my husband with narrowed eyes. "I've been here for the past few months, remember?" It was Saturday night, our down night for the weekend, and Rob was trying to convince me to watch "Firewall" with him while I bargained for an early bedtime and the promise of a viewing on Sunday night. I had my weekend run Sunday morning and had to wake up at 5:15 to fit in 11 miles before church. Rob knew that my fatigue on run days would overcome my ability to watch a movie - suspect on the best of days.

We failed in the movie-watching department though I got my 11 miles done. The run seemed ridiculously short compared to the 18 miles of a week ago and to the 20 miles that await next Saturday. I have moved into a strange sort of marathon-training Twilight Zone where 10 miles is a short run, bright pink KT tape wraps permanently around my feet, and the study of electrolyte replacement occupies my free time. When Rob comes to bed (an hour or so after me) he finds me with my feet pre-taped for the next morning, covered in my running socks so the tape does not unravel, and ready to jump out of bed at first light to start gathering miles. Not attractive, but far more comfortable than sleeping in a jog bra and running clothes, as I did when we were camping. There is just no way to discretely get run-ready in a tent at 6:30am!

Fashion issues aside, I've been feeling selfish about the marathon. Training occupies a lot of energy, time and mental focus. Nightly I ice my feet and my knees and reflect that I've passed the point of balance. But we only have three and a half weeks of hard training left, and as a friend observed, "This is obviously important to you." It is. I have been blessed with health and good luck so far in the training process, and I want to prove to myself that I can do this. When I tell people about the marathon they often say, "Oh, I could never do that," and I recognize the words and the tone from the times I responded this way. I shut the door, not wanting to acknowledge the possibility....because then I might have to do it. So now that I have opened the door I deeply desire to walk through it. If I can finish this marathon, what else could I accomplish? And how many more folks might realize that they can do it, too?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

My Kindergartner


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First Day of Kindergarten

In the end, the day was exceptional by virtue of its normalcy. Daniel embraced kindergarten and his new school and proudly took his place alongside his classmates in line. As he trooped through the crowd of parents, peering through blazing sunlight and camera lenses to get a last look at mom and dad, friends of ours called out to him, "Have a good day, Daniel!" He grinned, waved, and disappeared into the school building.

I did not cry, though I came prepared to do so, with waterproof mascara and tissues close at hand. Daniel was happy about kindergarten and not overwrought, and I wanted to echo his emotions and not add my own mixture of joy and nerves. I pray that he is ready, and that he can absorb all the new knowledge and experiences. The teachers are fantastic, the classmates and parents kind, the school exceptional. That portion of the deck is stacked in his favor, but he does have unique challenges to meet and overcome.

When Daniel walked away from us, smiling,into the cool enclave of the school, it vividly recalled a day three and a half years ago when we took him away from another stone building. There were people calling his name them, too, but all were sad, and Daniel himself was full of grief. When Rob carried him out of the orphanage in Guatemala City, his little friends - more siblings than classmates - ran to the barred windows and called "Adios, Danielito!" He was exhausted by tears, his tiny body collapsed on Rob's chest. He knew only five words of Spanish, having been ill and hearing-impaired for most of his twenty-three months.

When I hold the that image in my mind's eye and contrast it with the photo of my tall, happy kindergartner I could bring myself to tears, but I find my emotions tilting to the side of gratitude and amazement. It's a miracle that Daniel has grown so much, learned so much, become so outgoing, and often I feel it is in spite of my fumbling efforts rather than because of them. As Daniel's caregiver wrote in a letter to us, "Daniel is a child of God." I pray that God continues to watch over him - and all the children - and helps them surmount all the challenges in their way.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Camping Gratitude

Marry an outdoors woman. Then if you throw her out into the yard on a cold night, she can still survive.
-W. C. Fields

I paused in my run last weekend, exhaling steam in the cool, moonlit morning. Two deer stopped and stared, no doubt wondering at this ungainly, dirty, and ill-dressed creature who dared to run down their road. After short analysis, they turned and bounded in opposite directions into the woods. I just grinned like a fool, having run by two mountain lakes and greeted the morning at a heightened elevation of 8,300 feet. Though sleep had been elusive I felt invigorated and optimistic. I knew the campfire would be lit and the hot water ready for coffee when I returned, and no greater joys could exist that morning, except possibly to share the day with loved ones.

The full moon was just disappearing when I returned to camp. My husband brandished the last two bags of oatmeal like a man possessed. "You're lucky you got any," he claimed as he handed them over, "the kids were HUNGRY this morning." I examined our happy, grubby children as they sat, full-bellied, amidst their friends. The oatmeal was gone but remains of toasted marshmallow outlined their lips and coated the tips of their noses. My late-night wet wiping skills had obviously been inadequate. They bragged to me that they had slept in until 7:30 (!) and then raced off into the woods to defend their fort against the 'stray teenagers' that were imaginary foe and fort-destroyers for the weekend.

The greatest gift of camping, besides the close-up view of moon and stars, mountain sunrise and sunsets, campfire singing, and shared meals, remains the wild play of the children. Disappearing in one grand troop or in two or three smaller pods, they happily moved logs, brandished sticks, invented obstacles (and wild animals) and - most importantly - rarely returned to the adult hangout all day. Their freedom was broken only by meal times, a hike around the lake, and a few bouts of kayaking. These activities were hardly limiting, as the older children ran ahead exuberantly on the hike and could man or partner their own kayaks. The younger children were a different story (especially on the hike) but still amazingly functional and certainly happy to be in the mountains with their peeps.

I keep a gratitude journal beside my bed at home and really missed having it in the tent this weekend as I had so much to add each night. When I got home - tired, dirty, and bent on unpacking - some of the finer details escaped me but I did write down 'camping,' and 'friends.' I scanned the entries for the past few weeks and noted that "friends' enter into my gratitude practice quite frequently, supporting everything I have done this summer. For example, I have "health and good triathlon - support of friends," "great trip to Cape Cod, visit with friends," "Rob's safe trip to Ohio, help of friends with the kids." As summer winds down I will be sad to say good bye to camping, to swimming outdoors, to children's freedom, but I continue to be grateful for the presence of friends in our lives and for their participation in the fun fall adventures to come.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Campers at Monarch Lake

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Chaos or Complexity?

“If you liked Chaos you’ll love Complexity.”
- Washington Post review on jacket cover of Complexity, by M. Mitchell Waldrop

I actually snorted when I read this line on Rob’s book. It sits on his nightstand, where I glanced at it on my way to bed, worn to a frazzle by the all-kids, all-day reality of summer. We are now in the chaotic stage of the summer holiday, when carefully constructed summer routines and patterns give way to a free-for-all of visits, last-minute outings, camping trips and desperate attempts to keep siblings from attacking each other (or at least from attacking with deadly weapons).

It has been almost three weeks since we returned from Cape Cod, and they have been full. Wonderful moments of mutual entertainment and mom-free-time at Museum camp, a delightful visit from Grandma Connie and Grandpa Bill, who not only brought two suitcases full of games and art and books, but spent days sitting down with the children to play, and now preparations for a weekend camping trip at Lake Granby. My five-year-old, who has an obsession with what happens next, has almost given up trying to figure out a schedule. I barely know what the next activity will be on any given day, let alone all of what might happen between breakfast and dinner.

For example, my daughter turned ten yesterday (a decade passed since we brought her home from the hospital? Impossible). We started the day with candles in a donut, went scootering at the park, had karate (all three kids), quick lunch, took the birthday girl and two friends to jump rope camp, prepped bbq chicken dinner, and celebrated end of Tball season for our five-year-old with a family T ball game and picnic. Oops, I left out the pogo stick that came via UPS and the helter-skelter pogo stick practice that followed. A full day, to be sure.

My mother-in-law assured me that I will miss the children desperately when they go to school in less than two weeks. She said I would find the house empty and long for their footsteps and young voices. I assured her that would not be the case, and she just smiled and said she would wait for my call. Yesterday I read the following quote (between getting hit by baseballs as the boys practiced catching):

“As soon as we are alone, without people to talk with, books to read, TV to watch, or phone calls to make, an inner chaos opens up in us. This chaos can be so disturbing and so confusing that we can hardly wait to get busy again.” - Making All Things New, Henri Nouwen

So we’ll see what happens. When chaos gives way to the complexity of school – year schedules, lunches, and homework will I love it? Will my external chaos be replaced by a quiet house and a crazily disorganized interior life? I’m not sure, but I am ready to find out!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Atlantic Reflections

Taffy air carries scent of salt tinged with sulfur as
Running feet add footprint impressions to shell-laced shore.

Swooping gulls rend humid gusts into shards of wind
That tear at timid kites, whose string burns through little fingers.

Sandy cherries loll near towel-wrapped bodies
While stronger siblings dive into cool blue waves.

Hermit crabs scuttle for shelter as red buckets approach
In tidal waters that creep in and out over fecund reeds.

A baby sleeps on dad’s sunburned chest as women chatter,
Their hat brims communing as they bury their feet.

Surf relentlessly approaches moats and castles, forever
Teaching that the act of building precedes the art of letting go.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Kids and Friends on Martha's Vineyard

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Screen Selection

On my shady walk down to the coffee shop this morning I passed a squirrel with a cookie. The cookie was too large for the beady-eyed fellow but he was undaunted and half-rolled, half-toothed his cookie across the yard and under a tree, where he wisely stood guard. (He must have heard about my sugar addiction.) I felt like a lucky little rodent myself, huddled away in the basement of a funky coffee shop – Hooked on Colfax if anyone local is reading – with free time and space to type out some thoughts on my computer. The kids are safe and busy in morning camp at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science where they are hopefully engaged in studies of weather, pirates and chemical reactions.

It’s a shock to return to daily life after a fun- and family-filled vacation, and I am overwhelmed by the task of keeping the kids occupied and away from the screens that fill our house. On vacation their TV time was severely limited, both by their preference (more fun to play with cousins) and by our busy schedule. I was so impressed when we met up with family friends on Martha’s Vineyard; they have had their beach house in the family since 1981 and it has never had a TV. My dream summer home! The Museum camp is helping our trio stay busy this week, but when we get home, though I limit their official ‘screen time’ (TV shows and video games), they find ways to amuse themselves with our funky streaming photo frame, their Flip videos, their kid camera, my phone, etc.

Rob ordered a new phone for me while we were on vacation, and it’s a funky, touchy thing. It’s pretty and cool-looking and I have no idea how to use it. My five-year-old son already has his eyes on it, though, especially one app. Last night when Rob was showing me the new functions and games he installed on the phone he mentioned “Angry Birds” and a little head suddenly popped up – two black eyes sparkling over the back of the couch. “Angry Birds?” yelled my son. “Who has Angry Birds? Can I see it? Can I play it?” Rob laughed and I shuddered – I’ve never played that game but my sons and their cousin played it on the car rides and during airport waits on our trip, emerging quite addicted. I put Daniel off by leaving (with my phone) and this morning by saying that mommy did not know how to use the game, but I can tell from his hourly requests that I am doomed.

The first game I plan on learning is ‘Words with Friends,’ that super-cool Scrabble-like game that has hooked Rob, my sister, and my Dad. I definitely need the practice against my husband as our current record at word games (primarily Scrabble) is approximately: Rob 58, Laura 1. I kid you not . . .my English degree falls to his Engineering degrees every time. My siblings and significant others became painfully aware of Rob’s Scrabble prowess on vacation, when he decimated the field by 100 points and made himself quite unpopular around the game table.

So through the course of this posting I have become aware that we are all under the sway of screens. I’m hooked on my writing and email and now “Words with Friends” no less than the kids are under the power of their cameras and ‘Angry Birds’ games. I’m not sure what this promises for our collective future, but I promise to give up my phone games – as soon as I’ve beaten Rob at Scrabble.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Father Son-bathing

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Music and Dance on Cape Cod

"Oh no, she didn't!"
"And she's up, she's down, it's the robot, it's the twist . . . score is 28.9!"

My daughter danced off the 'stage' beaming from ear to ear as if the Olympic judges had just awarded her the gold medal. My younger brothers, James and Michael, sat on the couch in our rental house watching all of the cousins dance their way through our Ipod mix, awarding ever-increasing scores and commentating on the wild and crazy variety of dance moves. James was somewhat abashed at the end of the contest when I questioned his judging capabilities; he started judging on a scale of 1 to 10 and wound up at a 29.5. "I just couldn't bear to give anyone a lower score," he said.

That was the tone of our family reunion week on Cape Cod, uncritical music and dancing and childlike exuberance. By the numbers: eighteen of us shared two rental houses, which covered seven grandchildren from the ages of 15 months to almost 10, two grandparents, five siblings and four significant others (spouses and fiancee included). We ate over 100 hamburgers, drank several hundred cans and bottles of beer (but who's counting?), swam and built sandcastles at four cool beaches, flew six kites which promptly broke, celebrated one birthday and one engagement.

Of course, numbers utterly fail to tell the story. With all of the shared memories and highlights it's hard to focus one on thread of the week, though music does it best for me. Other than the dance contests, we all had the same CD playing at various times in our rental cars - a mix made by my parents and sister which was loaded with family favorites, many played at three previous family weddings and some undoubtedly on the playlist for the fourth wedding planned for next summer. The children now know classics like "On the Road Again" (Willie Nelson) and "Wild Montana Skies" (John Denver and Emmylou Harris) by heart. We sang a raucous grace each night before dinner, holding hands in an unwieldy looping circle and raising the rafters with "The Lord is Good to Me," or "Amen." One night, someone got caught in the circle of grace and decided to dance wildly inside as accompaniment. I'm sure God appreciated our thanksgiving.

On our final night we held a third dance party, but my most touching musical memory was of my fifteen-month-old nephew singing "Happy Birthday" to his uncle, my husband. Little Mac was great at the last line "to youuuuu" and with clapping vigorously at the end of the song. His smile of joy and lit-up blue eyes were a present unto themselves. (He also sings a mean version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," cheering for the Red Sox, of course). I believe we confused Mac a bit when we switched up and sang "Happy Engagement" to the same tune, but he handled it well. If I had to judge, I would give it a 29.5.

Love to all, and God Bless. Thank you for so many amazing memories. I miss you already.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


"Competition is a contest between individuals, groups, animals, etc. for territory, a niche, or a location of resources. It arises whenever two or more parties strive for a goal which cannot be shared. Competition occurs naturally between living organisms which co-exist in the same environment." - From , July 12, 2011

I was sick to my stomach so frequently yesterday that I could barely eat breakfast or lunch. My heart rate hovered at 140 and peaked much higher, although all I did physically was stand on the shady grass and watch . . .watch as my eight-year-old competed in his big season-ending swim meet. I cheered heartily for William at the start of each race, but could only bite my lip and clench my fists as he swam, straining as he reached, kicked and breathed for the opposite end of the pool. Both of us looked to the timers with equal intensity as he asked "what was my time?" and celebrated with joy when he got a best time by two seconds, and commiserated briefly when he was off in one event.

It's a strange position to be in - a competitive parent watching her child race in a sport that she loves. My friend and I decided that it is much harder to watch your child compete in a sport that you know; it's a lot easier for me to watch as they pick up jump rope, karate, baseball virtually anything other than swimming, which has been a beloved outlet for 27 years. I try so hard to tamp down my intensity and my passion, because I recognize that my enthusiasm for the sport is personal and may not extend to my children. It may even turn them away. So I take on the position of volunteer coordinator instead of stroke judge, try to stay away from practice as much as possible, and confine my comments to "do your best" and "I love you."

Well, I don't really confine my comments to those two statements - let's get real. But I do try to limit my constructive criticism and emphasize best times and good sportsmanship above all else. The kids do a great job of socializing at meets, shaking hands with their competitors, and really trying to improve week after week. That's all I can ask. I've spent a lifetime battling my competitive nature (a circular battle, at best), and I don't want to impose my struggle on the kids, who seem either to have not inherited my competitive streak or to have a late-blooming strain.

The definition at the top of this entry reassures me in that competition occurs "naturally," though I cringe a bit at "the goal which cannot be shared." Life frequently requires that we work as a team and share our goals, and it's wonderful to be able to share in your friends' achievements. William's two good friends had wonderful days yesterday, swimming great best times and reaching the Finals with him. Cheering for them was the best part of our day, I think, inspiring as well as a restful break from our own self-imposed pressure. Relays are such fun, too, and the overall swim team experience has been great. Now I just have to remember these less competitive desires and goals as I head into his big sister's meet tomorrow . . . keep your fingers crossed for both of us!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

In a Robin's Eye

A fine mist filtered down through our shade awnings as I sat in my lawnchair reading my book. I could see the gray particles of rain falling on my arms and on the pages, a cooling haze whose gentleness was offset by the rumbles of thunder in the distance and the shouts and screams of the children as they protested and fought against an invisible enemy. United for once against a common (though imaginary) foe, their cries had a different timbre than the normal bickering whine or arguing crow. This made it easier for me to sit silently by, as I was completely unnecessary in their play.

My son yelled "8.3 earthquake . . .run!" and they thundered past on their scooters, rumbling across the deck and then across the newly mown yard to the sandbox. That move caught my attention, and the awareness of our robin family. The parents flew madly - one from the nest in our window down to the pine tree to observe our chaos - and one from the fencepost to the nest to feed the growing brood. I paused in my reading to watch the little birdie necks and beaks crane toward their mom or dad. Their chirping reached me even through the thunder and the roars of the children. I felt sympathy for the busy parents.

We've had a great deal of fun watching the robin family over the past few weeks. Now that the babies are hatched and eating well, the parents are forever flying into the nest with food. Every night as we go to read bedtime stories in our room, the kids and I stop by the window to see if the mom or dad is still there. The dad (we think) is the bigger bird, whose puffed-up feathers and aggressive stance warn us to stay away. The gleam in his eye gives definition to the word 'baleful.' We are often glad that the flimsy screen protects us from his wrath; I have seen him chase and attack a squirrel all the way around the yard when the squirrel came too close to the nest.

It was a perfect fifteen minutes in a summer's day. Soon after my blissful moments of peace followed a round of fighting and arguments over a bucket of spilled golf balls, which apparently impeded play beyond all remedy. Moments of perfection are few, but I hold them in my memory against all comers. I have high hopes that the robin parents will triumph along with Rob and myself as we celebrate the crazy - rarely lazy - days of summer.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Man on the Corner

"See the lonely man there on the corner,
What he's waiting for, I don't know,
But he waits everyday now.
He's just waiting for something to show."
- Genesis, Man on the Corner, Phil Collins, songwriter

"The blind man sleeps in the doorway, his home
If only I had an enemy bigger than my apathy I could have won."
- Mumford & Sons, I Gave You All, Marcus Mumford, songwriter

He held a sign that read "Vietnam Vet needs a miracle." My kids saw him as we approached the turn to I 25 and yelled excitedly, "Mom, there's a signwaver! Stop, Mom, stop!" I checked my rearview mirror as I slowed, then checked to make sure the turn signal stayed on red. Window rolled down, I beckoned to the man, and held out the paper bag with socks, tuna fish and crackers, as well as a bottle of water. He hustled over to the car and said, "Thank you, ma'am. God bless." Then he surveyed the colorful drawings on the paper bag and chuckled, "I like the artwork, too."

After returning his "God bless" we moved ahead with the rest of the traffic, flowing smoothly on to whatever comfortable destination awaited that day. I was amazed at the delight of my children in giving out our "Just Care" bag, and full of my own pleasure and relief at being able to do something to help the people who wait on the freeway ramps and offramps. Before our church started preparing these Just Care bags for congregants to keep in their cars I had nothing to offer the people on the corner, and would just roll by in my hermetically sealed vehicle fielding questions from the kids as to why anyone would stand there all day. My good friend came up with the idea to coordinate the assembly and donation of these bags at our church, and it has revolutionized our approach to I 25, the freeway which runs fairly close to our house.

There is a light rail station at our exit from I25, and I remember how people complained and worried about the light rail because they feared the visitation of homeless folk from "the city" (Denver, in our case) to our restful and removed suburb. I don't know how the men on the corners get down here, they could be from our suburb for all I know, but in this economy their incidence has certainly increased. Their presence did make me feel uncomfortable when I had nothing to offer, but I feel prepared now, and being able to offer something, no matter how small, and interact with the toothless, dirty, and charming man on the corner has made him feel more like a neighbor and less like an intruder.

Call me naive, call me simplistic. I know I am not solving any big problems by handing out the bags, but I am solving two problems: his and mine. And we are teaching the children something valuable: that if we have a purpose bigger than our apathy we can triumph over small evils and injustices. We can turn invaders into neighbors, we can nurture our own compassion and understanding, and we can make someone's life just a little bit easier. We can show up - and that is not a small thing.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Live Strong

"Where did you get those?" piped my five-year-old to a Cub Scout mama waiting with us to pick up her boys. She looked down at the two Live Strong bracelets on her left wrist, where his little index finger was directed. "I got them at the Children's Hospital," she replied, "when my little boy had cancer. That was six years ago and I have never taken them off. I never will, until maybe he gets his cure card in two years."

I immediately caught my breath, though Daniel was unfazed. "Oh," he said. "I been to that hospital," and he turned away to dance back and forth between the hot sun and the shade under the registration awning. I turned to the woman and mentioned that we knew Children's Hospital a little bit from Daniel's surgeries, agreeing with her that it was a wonderful place. As the sun set behind the mountains, we continued to wait for a Scout leader to retrieve our boys from their stations, and she told me her story.

Six years ago her little boy was exactly two years old (his birthday was the day we met), and he had a brain tumor. He was very sick, and the small town where they lived at the time had no resources to deal with the cancer. On his birthday, doctors estimated he had eight hours to live, and they prepared a life flight to get him to The Children's Hospital in Denver. Unfortunately, she was nine months pregnant with their second child, and the pilot would not take off with someone in her advanced stages of pregnancy. The woman said to me, "She took one look at me and said no."

So they took an ambulance all the way to the Hospital, a five-hour drive when they thought he had only eight hours to live. She said, "we thought he was going to die." But they made it to their destination, where doctors recognized the situation and acted immediately to save the boy. On that warm Friday evening he and his little brother were playing at camp with my son; it was a miracle, she said. I was so grateful that my sunglasses hid my weepy eyes; I could only nod in agreement.

I can't imagine living through that ambulance ride, or the time immediately thereafter. Can't imagine waiting eight years for a cure card, with the slim possibility of recurrence in the back of my mind the entire time. I can imagine - and am so grateful for - miracles. I am so grateful for health, for the kids, and for people who share their stories of love and triumph.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


A mentally challenged robin built its nest in the open window of my bedroom several weeks ago. Needless to say, we cannot bear to shut the window and consign the nest to bitter ruin, so the window has remained open - day and night - for the duration of the eggs' incubation and hatching. Last night the temperature dropped to 45 degrees and our room was a bit blustery, yet the nest stayed intact. My husband reassured me that the incubation-to-flight period would last only 14 or so days, and then we could have our window (and our room temperature) back. Amused that he had gone to the trouble to research the robin's nesting habits, I started to ponder the different emotions and reasons that motivate our behavior.

The robin, who may be a few eggs short of a carton (both figuratively and literally) was motivated by biology, as well as our window's height, apparent steadiness, and shelter under the roof. My husband and I are motivated by our concern for the baby robins and for the regard of our children, who would undoubtedly be shocked and dismayed if we let the nest come to any harm. The children themselves are motivated by a sense of caring for small, helpless animals like the birds and the tiny bunnies that overrun our lawn, cutely devouring every item in our garden. This sense of caring does not extend, of course, to a sibling who might happen to be smaller or helpless at any given moment.

Other motivations are harder to pin down. What motivates my daughter to sign up for Ninja Camp and to agree to carpool with kind people that she does not really know in order to get to the final Ninja session in the mountains? Her desire to go up one belt in karate is pulling her two brothers and several friends into Sensei's orbit this summer. I don't quite understand her motivation, but I do know that it is intrinsic, completely unrelated to anything that I would have picked for her. And that makes it good, because it is her choice and her passion. I don't need to understand it, only support it.

My boys' passions change and swirl like the Icee machine at Target, everchanging, uncertain, out of order from time to time. I hope that their passions begin to gel as they grow, as their sister's interests seem to be solidifying. Just as I (sometimes impatiently) stand guard over the nest in my window, so I feel protective and cautious of my kids' motivations and passions. Summer is a great time to branch out, try new things, and practice uncertain skills. Rob and I may have a lot longer than two weeks before our babies fly away, but someday, somehow they will.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Never Say Never

"Never Say Never" by Justin Bieber plays on a never-ending loop at our house. Our five-year-old adores the song and the singer (whom he never fails to call Justin 'Biever') and knows that Jaden Smith sings with JB as well as the fact that Bieber's girlfriend is Selena Gomez. He asks for my finished copies of People Magazine so he can look for photos of the Bieb. (I have not given into this latest request yet, as it seems over the top even for our house). Daniel even taught our babysitter all of the words to the song, and watched scenes from the movie on his computer. So it comes as no surprise that the summer craze at my house is for karate - since a love for all things Bieber led us to view "The Karate Kid II" on netflix.

My daughter takes karate at her school, and this week she's attending a Ninja Camp run by the Sensei who teaches her class. She loves karate and Ninja camp and it's been great for her confidence. When I asked why she wanted to start taking karate she told me it was to "fight the ghosts in her closet." Now that the ghosts have been vanquished she seems to sleep better - and she has an undying drive to attain the next level and the next color belt. Currently she has an orange belt with one stripe, and she wants to move up to green before the end of summer.

Her enthusiasm, in combination with unending repetitions of Never Say Never, have inspired both my sons to want to try karate. It looks like all three of my kiddos will be in the gym this summer, learning some moves and hopefully some discipline. One of the things I (and the other karate moms) like best about the class is the respect Sensei demands from his students, the quiet and the focus that the children can demonstrate when necessary, and the attention that is required. Having been a mom for ten years, I don't automatically assume that these traits will translate to home behavior, but a girl can hope. After all, Jaden Smith certainly learned how to hang up his jacket in KK II! I need every edge I can get to carry us safely through the crazy long summer days. Never say never, people.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Inspiration and Mettle

I opened the note, which had a picture of three kittens on the cover, and read the following, "My mother lost her fight with breast cancer on January 8, 2011 - these (medals) were hers." Instantly blinded and choked by tears I just handed the note to my son, who was helping me unwrap medals from countless boxes. We sat on the porch for an hour yesterday, awash in admiration and gratitude for the countless donors across western states - New Mexico, Portland, Washington, Idaho, Colorado - who donated their marathon, half-marathon, and triathlon medals to the organization Medals 4 Mettle ( I have the privilege of being a volunteer coordinator for M4M in Denver, and I am amazed at the opportunities I have to both receive and to give medals.

Motivated to fill the time now that we are on summer vacation, I tackled my bedroom corner where all the medals are stored. I needed to open and polish the medals, take off the old ribbons, put on the new M4M ribbon (which costs $4.00, and requires donations, see and package the ribbon with a card in order to take it to The Children's Hospital next week. The medals are re-gifted to anyone who is struggling with illness, or who has recently completed a milestone like finishing chemotherapy.

The process usually inspires me, but yesterday was overwhelming. I received a note from a gentleman suffering from Addison's disease. He writes, "I have Addison's disease and was told not to expect to accomplish much and that my life would not get much better. I have proved the 'experts' wrong and accomplished so many things in my life. I am thankful for all that I have been able to do. I hope these medals will transfer hope, smiles and laughs to those that receive them!" With the note he enclosed multiple marathon and 50-mile race medals. I had to hand the note to my son and daughter to read because once again I was too choked up to read it out loud.

I have been struggling with knee pain recently in my own marathon training and wondering how on earth I am going to get past the 13-mile barrier which has always stopped me before. In one of the boxes yesterday I received a medal from the Chicago Marathon of 2007. I take it as a sign, as this is the marathon I intend to complete. I hope the owner does not mind if I borrow it just through October, before passing it on to a much more deserving candidate. Inspired by the efforts and generosity of countless runners I know I will find a way to win my own Chicago marathon medal - and then feel great pleasure in passing it along.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Last Day of School

"I'm a little sad about school ending," said my daughter yesterday. "It's been such a good year, and I love my teachers. I am excited for summer, too, so I guess I am just a little mixed up. I realize that it's just going to happen, though, whether I like it or not. It's just going to happen." Wise words from a graduating fourth-grader who tends toward emotion and drama when facing life changes - not unlike her mama. I did not have much to add to her comments, other than to assure her that summer would be lots of fun and would undoubtedly go fast.

I am grateful that the children have mixed feelings about the end of school, because I know they have learned so much from their teachers and friends this year. They have felt safe and encouraged and had fun - even has they struggled with normal ups and downs of social intrigue, difficult tests, focus (that would be my son), and the constant pace of life.

I feel much the same; grateful that old tasks and lessons are over to make way for swim team and baseball / Tball, karate camp and playdates at the park. Also slightly panicked at the loss of my workout routines, free time, and tendency of the children to fight like javelinas over the breakfast table, which always gets the day off to a rousing start. But it's coming, regardless of my emotions. In fact, the last day is upon us.

I thank my children's teachers for a great year, and I thank all teachers everywhere for the hard work and emotional energy they put into their calling. I'll say a prayer of gratitude for the completion of this year and a prayer for help in the transitional weeks ahead. Welcome to summer!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Exercise - selfish obsession or healthy habit?

“ I also don’t understand the attitude that who you are on the inside is all that matters. Obviously our interior landscape is profoundly important, but we are integrated beings; we don’t have to make a choice between interior and exterior. One has a lot to do with the other.” Patti Davis in More Magazine, May 30, 2011.

Matthew 6:25 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?"

My life has been always a bit defined by physical achievement but recently even more so as the pendulum swings from habit to obsession with training for our October marathon. My conscience was pricked when I randomly heard Matthew 6:25 twice in two days and the line 'do not worry about your body' leapt out at me. I had not heard the word 'body' emphasized that way before. I think the author means that we should not worry about our clothing, but the literal warning made me ponder a bit. Do I concern myself with conditioning and fitness beyond what is necessary for good health, thereby robbing my children or my other pursuits of attention and energy?

Oddly, also, there was an article in the Denver Post that same morning about an ultramarathoner who had been crazily pursuing goals and records across the country. He still trains and runs but says he has calmed down a bit, and that he would warn folks to watch their exercising if they feel that they HAVE TO work out, or are obsessing. Balance in everything, of couse. Which led me to think again about my pursuit of athletic fitness and achievement – is it too much?

Have I gone too far? With the running, swimming, triathlon (only one this summer, but still) and strength training? I actually think it is possible, yes. I think I need to relax about it – stay away from the gym this summer – and enjoy myself more while prioritizing the absence of injury. On the other hand, bringing some intensity and risk to my workouts reminds me how much I can achieve – should achieve – in other areas of my life. Prayer, meditation, Spanish, volunteering, WRITING. If I could pursue these things with the dedication with which I pursue running, stretching, swimming, then I could get much farther than I have done.

I was telling my friend during our long run on Saturday (lots of time to talk on a ten-mile run) that I finally feel it would be possible to keep the athletics AND bring intensity to other areas of my life . . .something I have not been able to do in ten years, since Aden was born. I have worked out (with or without intensity, depending on the stage, number of children, health, etc.) but I have never had enough energy to do childrearing / parenting, training, AND . . . I am REALLY looking forward to continuing this training, but to maintaining / bringing about greater balance in my life by focusing that same intensity in other areas. Athletics are now, as they have always been, more a metaphor for real life than actual real life . . . they have teaching power as metaphor and value for shaping our exterior landscape. As long as I maintain the interior with equal dedication, I can face my training routine without too much guilt.

Monday, May 23, 2011

How Much Do I Love U2 . . .

. . .let me count the ways. I love the anthemic songs that rock floorboards in Invesco Field, the open spirituality, requests for prayers and volunteers sandwiched between songs, the flagrant showmanship and amazing voice of Bono, and the legendary, chiming guitar chords of the Edge. If you ascertained from these first gushing sentences that I recently attended a U2 concert you would be correct. My younger sister and husband and good friend had great seats on Saturday night and the night could have gone on forever as far as I was concerned.

Before running on with more loving anti-criticism about U2, let me say that the opening band, The Fray, was excellent. Their sound definitely held up in the stadium, and they looked good even playing in the sunlit late afternoon. We actually had a clear evening after four days or so of rain, and neither Karen nor I needed the warm coats we had brought with us - we were dancing too hard to feel cold, anyway.

The energy was terrific and most of the people around us stood for the whole two hour show. We didn't stand so much as jump, fist-pump, scream and hug . . .hopefully not obscuring the view of folks behind us. It was truly awesome to experience U2 with my sister for the first time. I have seen the band in the past with my brother John and SIL Carol at Soldier's Field and with my brother James here in Denver, but never before with Karen, who is also a die-hard fan. We're only four years apart so have memories tied to their songs going back to the 80's - a scarily long time ago now. Our favorite joint U2 memory is associated with the song, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," as we sang it to ourselves one afternoon in Ireland as I got us lost on an extremely long hike. I had taken Karen to Ireland for her graduation from college at Villanova, and we hiked almost every day (which she still holds against me.) Anyway, we did struggle on in the mud for several hours that day, but the memory of singing U2 in Ireland was well worth the price of comfort and a few hours of free time.

We texted all three of our brothers during the show and got enthusiastic and jealous responses from all. (Two of them have already been to a show on this tour). John asked, "have you found what you're looking for?" to which my husband replied, "say, he's sitting right next to you." Upon which John wittily retorted (via text): "on the street with no name?" So it was a family affair with fun had by all. I referred to this in an earlier post - how music can truly bring people together. We all resonate to different chords, songs, or performances and all have unique memories attached to the music, but the shared emotion and energy raise everyone up to a new level. Thanks to the boys from Ireland for a fabulous time!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Rise Up

I had the great good fortune to visit my brother and his family in Chicago this past weekend. Though the Windy City lived up to its name, and temperatures dropped forty degrees on my arrival, our extended family had a delightful time. We gathered to celebrate the First Communion of my niece and god-daughter, who handled the excitement and attention beautifully. It was a gift to deepen my relationships with my two nephews and two nieces, though I missed my own kiddos and knew that they would want to spend time with their cousins, as well. Something about family ties . . .they pull on even the youngest children. My brother and his wife, Carol, do a great job of showing pictures of relatives and of telling stories about us (for good or evil) so the kids feel they know us well.

My two favorite events from the weekend were running a 5k race with my niece and her mom, my lovely sister-in-law and partner in training for the Chicago marathon, and visiting the charter school where Carol works, Polaris. We ran the cold and blustery race early on Saturday morning, right on Lake Michigan, with a group of parents and students from Julia's elementary school, Old St. Mary's. The students had been training with two of their teachers, who organized the school's participation in the race. What a fabulous idea; to not only recruit kids and parents to run the race, but to actually train them at school so they feel united as a team as well as prepared physically. My niece did a fabulous job, running the whole thing and only stopping at water stations (she is 8 years old). Despite our frozen fingers and windblown hats we had a great time.

The Polaris event took place on Friday afternoon, when the whole school (K - 5) gathered for an assembly called Community Circle. They apparently meet each Monday to discuss goals for the week, and then reconvene Friday afternoon to discuss progress. The youthful and energetic cofounder who led the meeting talked to the kids about both their strengths and some need for improvement, and then he turned it over to the best part of the assembly - annointing new "Light Leaders." A Light Leader is a person who exemplifies the traits that Polaris founders want to see in their school; leadership, integrity, hard work, compassion, optimism. Apparently they had not had a new Light Leader in several weeks so the excitement in the gym was palpable. The first Light Leader to be called out was a teacher's assistant in the kindergarten, and when her name was announced the cheers were deafening. The students stood and she ran two laps around the gym giving high fives to all, while there was no let up in the noise. Carol, my parents and I immediately teared up as the victory laps continued, and I really almost lost it when the young woman mounted a victory podium on the stage and chanted, "Po - lar - is!" to which the kids responded at the top of their lungs, "RISE UP! RISE UP!"

I was so undone that I could hardly compose myself to watch my younger brother (6'3" and not a dancer) attempting to get down with the students as they celebrated the past week's birthdays. My struggle to regain composure was further sabotaged by the announcement of a second Light Leader, a young girl who looked to be in third grade. Her mother was in front of us, wiping her own eyes with pride. We were nearly the only white faces in the crowd, as Polaris draws from a neighborhood in transition, predominantly African-American, which shut down the underperforming public school formerly in the building in favor of this new charter. When the school started, very few of the children could do math or read at grade level, and now both assessments are well over 50%. It was inspiring and tear-jerking to watch the sea of brown faces radiating energy and taking full advantage of this opportunity to shine.

I'm even choked up writing about that assembly. It was an awesome thing to behold a gym full of students so excited and passionate about their school, their teachers, themselves. I wish every student in this country could have a chance to feel that passion for their education and their community. I'd like to send everyone at Polaris a thank you for letting us attend their assembly and best wishes for a great end to the school year. Thanks also to John and Carol and their family for a terrific weekend. Rise up, everyone!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Starting School

"All one can really leave one's children is what's inside their heads." - Wernher von Braun

My fingers have almost recovered from the death grip put on them by my five-year-old at his kindergarten orientation last night. Alternately clinging to my hand and clamping down on my leg, he peered out at the multitude of children, parents, and teachers gathered to contemplate the requirements and upcoming rewards of kindergarten. I was so proud when he managed to say hello to his teachers with good eye contact and a firm handshake, but that was all the energy he could muster. His worries and excitement must have run him ragged because he slept 12 hours last night and I still had to drag him out of bed in the morning.

In the peaceful lull before the children woke up today, I read through letters from our two sponsored students in Guatemala. We sponsor a lovely young lady who is the same age as our oldest daughter, and a little boy the same age as our middle child. I paused at this sentence from Wendy, who was responding to a long-ago letter of ours explaining Daniel's surgery for tubes in his ears: "I'm sorry about Danny. I hope he can get well soon. With my family, my father had a toothache, and was also one of those trapped when a bus was held up. Thank God nothing really bad happened except for fearing for his life."

My coffee mug hit the table with a thud. I had just barely registered the pain of a toothache in a village without dentistry when I had to imagine being held up on a bus at gunpoint. No wonder Wendy has compassion and faith beyond her years. Her daily routine contains far more than school attendance and homework. Our other student, Henry, mentioned how he has to get up really early because his school is thirty minutes away. He also mentions his disbelief and gratitude for attending this school. The letter, however, was written by his aunt as Henry cannot yet write. I hope this is the year when he receives that gift.

Hard to contrast the full gymnasium and resource-filled classrooms that we visited last night with the realities for many young children around the globe, whose gifts and intelligence are not used or developed. Strange to think that my eight-year-old begged a ride home from school yesterday with a friend because the temperature had dropped a bit and he didn't feel like walking, while Henry walks 30 minutes each way while giving thanks. I am so grateful for the opportunity to send my children to a good school, so grateful for the gift of our resources and for the opportunity to send other children to school, as well. May God bless Henry and Wendy as they put their abilities to work, and may he keep their families safe.

**If you are interested in sponsoring children in Guatemala, please visit

Friday, April 29, 2011


As I peeled super glue off my fingertips yesterday, I reflected on the humor and irony of family life. I had been trying to mend a broken flower pot,using super glue and a small paint brush. The pot resisted my every attempt, and in my frustration I got a liberal amount of glue on my hands and fingers, across the countertop, even on the faucet handle. Everything I touched became sticky and begrimed. A metaphor for the day? I could only hope not.

After dousing my hands in nail polish remover and paint thinner - undoubtedly taking several years off my life - I at least coated the glue with a shiny shellac of chemicals, which reduced the stickiness. Though I could not feel much through the coating, I could at least write a check, go grocery shopping, and throw the pot away without getting stuck to anything. Despite my frustration, I had to laugh at my idiocy and this reminded me of another laugh-out-loud moment, from our Easter church service, of all places.

There were two such moments during the 10:30 service, one generated by our own 5-year-old comedian, and one by another child. The pastor was telling a story in which the lead character asked of his audience, "It's for you girl, can you hear me?" Not recognizing the rhetorical nature of the question, a young girl near the front answered our pastor, "I can hear you fine!" The 1200 people in the service all chuckled, either because they heard the joke or because everyone else was giggling.

My little guy fussed and squirmed and led his father a merry chase. He put on Rob's sunglasses, ate snacks, stabbed the paper with pencil (too overwrought to draw anything), and sang. His favorite tune was the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's "Messiah," which I had been playing in the car for a few days. The choir did a great job with the Chorus, and we were all listening and singing raptly . . .until the brief pause before the very last notes of the song, when Daniel shouted out his version of the word 'hallelujah' - "adibooyah!" He started softly and crescendoed, so that most people around us just caught the word "Booyah!" I turned to glare at him but just dissolved into laughter. He had on his dad's shades and had two thumbs up with a huge grin on his face.

Sometimes you just have to say, "booyah," especially when your hands are glued together in prayer.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


I’ve felt physically vulnerable lately, as my stomach went on strike and decided it could not "stomach" corn, chocolate, coffee, nuts, and multiple other substances that I usually prefer. It’s not unusual for a person with celiac disease to have stomach problems, but I am careful about what I eat and so the freefall that I recently experienced is not a common event. It’s happened one or two times before, usually a stomach virus lingers for far longer than normal, then a stressful event or events compounds the problem, and physical activity can either make things worse or provide sanity – or both.

In this most recent episode of about six weeks, I had all of the above factors, and my weight and energy dropped crazily – eight pounds (in six weeks) that I did not intend to let go. Part of the problem this time was a series of intense workout sessions at the gym that I signed up for and enjoyed, but that seemed to take a huge toll. I vaguely remembered, about six weeks in, that one of my doctors had told me not to work out with any intensity for longer than forty or so minutes . . .which I was regularly exceeding. I blocked out a lot of memories from the time of my diagnosis; though it was a huge relief to know what I had (after three years of getting steadily sicker with no answers) I heard a lot of news that was unpleasant. No wheat, gluten, dairy, limited alcohol and sugar, reduce your exercise and oh, by the way, don’t have any more children.

I also recall visiting an internal medicine doctor for a regular physical – just before I got my diagnosis from another doctor’s office. The IM put me on the scale and whistled at the number. He said, “I have so many patients who would just love to have this weight.” I was aghast. I felt so sick and my clothes were falling off of me. For my height and activity level I was underweight – and he was complimenting me! That felt sick and distorted to me, and I never went back.

We all have vulnerabilities and weaknesses, though they may not show. I guess if I look strong and can perform certain acts of strength, I must be strong? To some at the gym perhaps this appears to be the case. But I feel fragile, and occasionally hurt that my expression of vulnerability (and fear and worry) are not taken seriously. It was a good reminder to me to really listen to people around me, to hear their fears and concerns. It is easy to look good on the surface – but we all have wounds underneath. It also needled me into remembering this quote by John Wooden: "Never make excuses. Your friends don't need them and your foes won't believe them."