Thankful Thursday – Fall Blooms

About this time six years ago, a few weeks into Tween’s second grade year, his teacher found me admiring bulletin boards in the breezeway.

She said, “Hey, can you give me a tip? Tween doesn’t seem to realize he’s in school.”

I immediately replied, “Oh, give him some time. He’ll realize it’s no longer summer by, let’s say, Thanksgiving.”

I wasn’t joking, but let’s all take a quick moment to imagine her dramatic eye roll…

(In my defense, c’mon, this is California! With the amazing weather, he was in the pool weekends and after school until Halloween…!)

After I’d spoken the words aloud, I realized their truth deep in my being: not only does Tween transition slowly, but our whole family stinks at transitions.

You may see us going through the motions. We may be in the right place at (mostly) the right times, getting things done. But that doesn’t mean we’re organized, on top of things, present to the moment. We may–or may not–be any of those things, depending on the hour, day, week, minute…

Six years and so many transitions post-epiphany, you’d think we’d know to anticipate our bad transitions. You’d think wrong, my friend. Oh no, every time, whatever season, we find ourselves once again thigh-deep in the muck, repeating for the umpteenth time: “Oh, yah, transitions…”

And again, and again, and painful as each one of us has to come to our own conclusions about how we individually and as a family are weathering the current storm.

Locally and globally, we have had a weird-weather fall. In NorCal, we’ve had record-breaking heat (115 should not happen here!), followed by mellow days, then more heat with thunder and lightening storms, now wind and my allergies are threatening to do me in. Still, I’ll take it over the storms that hit Houston, the Caribbean and Florida, or the earthquake in Mexico.

Then, this:

These fantastic flowers burst forth in my front yard. The pink one is the size of a face!

My soul stills in wonder at their beauty, and I remember that all things bloom in their time, in their season.

Including me, us, this family.

Due to date miscommunication-confusion, a friend showed up when I wasn’t at home. She left flowers. Cut flowers from plants I’d purchased for her, that she planted, that continue to thrive. The gift keeps on giving, flowers and friendship keep blooming.

Nine days ago I noticed my gratitude journal, forlornly forgotten in this transition-season; I jotted some thanksgivings, and promptly forgot it again. Today I tucked in a print-out of a poem, shared by a friend and meaningful in this time. I will add more personal items tonight. I need gratitude, especially now when transition makes discipline difficult.

Banksy recently posted on Twitter: “The only thing making you unhappy are your own thoughts. Change them.”

And with our dear St. Anne and the communion of saints we pray: Help, Thanks, Wow!

Any one of us might point to demanding circumstances, taxing days and long hard nights, excuses all–many understandably so!–for being unhappy. Thanks changes our thoughts. It keeps us in the now, present to the moment whatever the feels it holds, and gently/forcefully unfolds in time an as-necessary different perspective.

Let’s give thanks for the season, for its unfolding, its blooming, for the unpredictable beauty here and yet-coming.

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Thankful Thursday – Road Trippin’ the American West

The longest road trip I remember from childhood took me to Disneyland, which seemed So Far Away, though now I have to admit that the hour-and-a-half drive from San Diego to Anaheim doesn’t truly count.

Guy’s family did real road trips: six weeks coast-to-coast in a Volkswagen Vanagon, a different route each way, every summer.

Our family has been road trippin’ since Guy and I honeymooned, driving from the Washington-Canada border to California’s central coast. We set a precedent on that trip, and most every vacation since has involved a drive (or many) of some length.

So. The Big Kid needed to get to college. With All the Stuff. And we wanted every member of our family of four to participate. Of course we drove.

We made a quick trip out, two days, because Kid needed to just get there. On the way back, we made it a vacation for Lil Bro. We made at least one fun/view stop each day, arriving home with barely enough time to pick up our farmed-out pets, do laundry, and regroup for the start of school.

The first few hours of our trip were beautiful, familiar NorCal roads. Guy and I talked. Kids wore headphones and stared at screens. Once we pulled out of Tahoe/Truckee, I realized we were in unfamiliar territory.

Before we left home, I’d done some reading. Years ago we visited Donner Memorial State Park so our kids knew that story. Our route east took us through historic landscapes, like the 40 Mile Desert, a portion of the Emigrant Trail which saw heavy traffic from 1848-1869. I read the linked article aloud as we drove, a humbling reality as we looked out our windows to the parched landscape.

What surprised me was the beauty. I hear the smack of “boring,” “desolate,” “lonely,” “bleak,” but I appreciated the changes in color and texture. I am so intrigued by the unheard stories of those who live here and there, by circumstance or choice.

Spontaneously, I began taking pictures. Hightailing it down the highway, through my spotty passenger window, click click click. The view, to me, seemed continually remarkable.

The view mesmerized me.

I know, taken via iPhone at speed through a dirty window, that these won’t be great pictures. But they help me remember how much I like road trips, and our country.

The Good Ol’ US of A may be a friggin’ hot mess. But I saw beauty as we drove, and kindness in the smiles and small talk of strangers. Beauty inspires hope. As a people, we are as diverse as our landscape. Others may see us–ahem, we may see each other–as “boring,” “desolate,” “lonely,” “bleak,” [insert your adjective here…]. But we are so much more than labels.

Fallon, NV

Lovelock, NV

Coalville, UT

Fort Bridger, WY

Hannah, WY

Idaho Springs, CO

Rangely, UT – and yes, the “highway” became a dirt road!

Talmadge, UT

Wendover, UT – The Bonneville Salt Flats/Speedway. Snapped as the minivan hit 100mph!

Truckee, CA

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Thankful Thursday – Gentleness

I slapped off my alarm Monday morning, the one I set so I could have coffee before yoga. Eh, maybe the later class.

I missed the later class. Eh, I’ll go to the gym.

I had no energy for the gym. Not even for a run around the neighborhood.

So I used the dog as an excuse and took her for a slow and ambling walk around the block.

Thoughts spinning in no discernible direction, I felt crazy. One week, exactly one week, and I will not have time to slap off the alarm. I’ll hop out of bed, wake the kids, take a quick shower, and rush everyone out the door into a fully loaded out-of-state-college-bound car.

Walking helped. Just some gentle movement and I felt my mind and body reconnecting in synch. As if body and mind had had an argument, followed by a long wrestling match, and an eventual compromising decision—without bothering to tell me—that this week I need to go slow, to be gentle with myself.

This week, I’m rejecting all the shoulds. I’m eating healthy when it also sounds good, and what sounds good even if it’s not the healthiest choice. I’m sleeping when I want to sleep, reading what entertains, saying no as necessary.

I’d like to be more productive than I have been, but bare minimum feels like what I’m capable of for now. I’m sure I have more and other things to do; I can’t for my life think what they are. [I’ve been waking regularly from stress dreams: former employers have left me binders of task lists that I should have memorized (but don’t), scattered over a large and crowded room. I have to find and integrate the lists in some comprehensible form to know how to proceed…]

I turn on the computer and get lost down the social media rabbit holes because I can’t recall why I turned on the computer. Maybe habit. Or that most of my work lives on my computer. Either way.

Teen seems to have settled into acceptance that he is leaving, and soon. He is slowly finishing up his details, slow being better than the complete denial he devoted himself to so far this summer. Mainly, he’s spending every minute with friends. That’s good, too.

Tween must be growing for the number of hours he spends in bed. I could wake him, but considering next week we will drive states away to drop off his brother and return the night before he starts school, why? He should rest, and when he wakes, he should play—the point of summer when you’re thirteen years old.

A college professor once told me that her creative husband could only tackle one creative activity at a time. When he wrote or edited, he couldn’t paint. When he painted, he traded dabbling in words for dabbling in color. His creativity faucet could only handle one temperature at a time. His total being became engaged in one form of creation.

And I think that’s the key: this week is a creative transition in our lives. Teen is on to a new and exciting phase of life. We are so over-the-top excited for him. But it means a transition for all of us. We are recreating the reality of our family: who we are together and separately.

I need to stop fighting, trying to force myself to do something else, and instead gently go with the flow of this new creation. Like transition in childbirth: for now, it is all about this baby…

The rest—productivity in working and writing, yoga, healthy eating, the (for me) ever-illusive organized home, all the things—will be waiting on the other side.

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Thankful Thursday – Neighbors

Our dog has been sleeping on two beds.

A few days ago, our neighbors drove away in their cars and rental moving van, all loaded to the max. They took their funny cat and sweet black lab.

Of course they did.

But over nine years, our neighbors have become our friends. We borrowed onions and bought each other flowers. We enjoyed regular parties with the other neighbors on our court. We celebrated holidays and occasions. We sat on each other’s front porches to shoot the breeze. We shared meals and drank wine around the fire pit. We walked our dogs together.

We actually co-parented our dogs.

Their dog and our dog have been besties since puppyhood. Neighbors took a board out of our shared fence so the dogs could be together constantly. Jessie (their dog) is an early riser; most mornings she came over to wake Izzy (our dog) and tank up on water, which she seemed to prefer at our house. They had morning play time with Guy before we all went to work and dogs went outside.

Unless someone was working at home–between our houses, that happened often–in which case dogs stayed in. In the evenings, dogs followed Neighbor room to room, begging with anxious eyes, until he took them onto the hill, the open space behind our homes. When he wasn’t home, our boys were enlisted to doggy hill duty, despite the fact that dogs (usually) had already had a walk or two that day.

Most nights dogs slept on their own beds in their own homes. But we had an extra bed for Jessie since she was at our house so often. Our dogs even had regular spontaneous sleepovers, more often than my kids and their friends!

This week has been different. Izzy doesn’t play with toys; she played with Jessie who played with toys. We should probably clean up all the toys scattered around the floor. Tween spilled some dry cereal, and we don’t have Jessie as our doggy vacuum cleaner (Izzy’s picky that way). I thought I heard Jessie chomping on a bone; nope, just Tween making some odd racket in the next room.

Izzy keeps asking to go outside. She looks toward the fence separating our properties, the one that used to have an opening through which her friend appeared. She turns around and flops by my feet. She follows me from room to room. We stacked Jessie’s bed on hers, and so she sleeps on two beds, our princess puppy.

We’re excited for our friends in their new adventures. Change is hard. Change can be good. Change brings new opportunities. In Jessie’s absence, we’re keeping Izzy busy– she’s been out on the hill, on a run, and to the dog park twice. Good for her, and for us.

And today we have new neighbors. They have little kids, which makes for different sounds drifting through the windows. We also have new neighbors on the other side; a mom and three daughters, one of whom turns out to be a school friend of Tween’s, are moving in to the house below us.

Maybe, with time, our new neighbors will also become friends. Now, if only they had a dog…

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Thankful Thursday – Summer Quiet

Kids are at camp this week. I should be tearing it up, cleaning all the nooks and crannies, (re)organizing, school prepping.

But I’m not. I’m working (mostly from home). I’m exercising and reading. I’m procrastinating on the shoulds. I’m enjoying time with my Guy and myself.

I’m thankful for the sunflowers Tween chose at the market last week, still hanging on this week and adding a sunny burst of joy to our kitchen.

I’m thankful for OPI nail polish, and especially my new OPI Red purchased on sale at TJ Maxx. It’s a delicious raspberry red, perfect for summer (the Amazon link makes it look way more orange-red).

I’m thankful for my rose bushes, and the magical appearance they take on covered in morning dew drops.

I’m thankful for new-to-me books feeding my soul:
The Broken Way, by Ann Voskamp, teaching me to be the GIFT (Give It Forward Today)
With, by Skye Jethani, asking me to ponder anew my view of God and how I live my relationship with Him

And Guy, loving our family through service and taking advantage of the hot weather to steam the year out of our sand-colored carpets. Life is good!

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The Struggle is Real

This summer our church has been doing a deep dive into the wisdom of Proverbs. Earlier this week some of us gathered to study this passage from Proverbs 30:

“Two things I ask of you, Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.

When I entered the room, I thought our topic was contentment, or integrity. The more we dialed down, the more uncomfortable I became.

I have a love-hate relationship with money. Mostly hate. I don’t want to be rich. I don’t want a huge house or fancy cars. I just want enough. I want to not want.

I enjoyed a comfortable childhood. We had enough and then some. We had a swimming pool. We attended sleep-away summer camps. We could travel (my dad was a captain with Pan Am). My parents paid for my private college education.

My children don’t experience similar luxury and yet our needs are more than met. We have a comfortable home in a beautiful neighborhood near friends we love. Every time I flip through our photo albums, I feel overwhelming gratitude for God’s good provisions.

Still, money above all is the bugaboo that wakes me in the night, the hardest area of life for me to trust God.

So here’s the story:

The week Teen turned nine years old, our church held its first Mission Market, an opportunity to purchase for your loved ones non-traditional Christmas gifts (for example, socks and underwear for orphans) that benefit our mission partners. Teen wandered in on his own and found a picture of a boy his age who needed support to attend school in the Dominican Republic. Something about this boy’s face stirred Teen’s heart. They both played soccer. He said, “I found my brother.”

At the time, I couldn’t afford to buy a drugstore lipstick. But how could we deny our son a chance to learn the value of giving? He offered to take on extra chores to ‘earn’ the monthly cost of supporting this boy he’d never met. We haven’t missed a month’s support in nine years.

Six years ago we were asked to participate in a Thanksgiving trip to the DR where we could meet this boy. I thought money would be the deal breaker but, through the generosity of others, all four of us participated in a trip that forever changed our family.

This week Guy is leading a group of 20 (mostly teens) on another trip to the DR. I asked him if he’d considered inviting Teen. Both he and ‘his brother’ have now graduated high school; Teen is off to college while his brother has gone to work to support his family. This might be their last opportunity to connect. Guy responded that we didn’t have the money: end of conversation.

Of course we don’t have the money. We will soon take on a lose-my-mind loan to cover out-of-state college tuition. But something in me couldn’t let go of the idea that our kiddo needed to go on this trip. I brought it up again: “Money makes me bananas, so I shouldn’t be the one pushing this, except I can’t not… If we’re already trusting God for this massive college loan, how can we not trust God for the funds for this potentially life-changing experience?”

We asked, and Teen jumped: YES he wanted to go! Some of his best friends are on the trip. He wants to see his brother. And he wants to meet the little guy our family will support now that Teen’s brother has graduated.

We wrote a letter, inviting people to support Teen in prayer and finances. The money came in, in some cases from people we didn’t expect. And before that, in fact, the very week we made the decision in faith to register Teen for the trip, he received a small college scholarship—which felt exactly like confirmation from God that we had listened well.

Who is the Lord? The God who provides.
Lord, help me to trust…

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Do a Good Turn Daily

My friend Tracy works for an in-town start-up company-charity called Sydney Paige. Founder Courtney Brockmeyer left the corporate world to spend more time with her darling daughters, Sydney and Paige, to indulge her passion for education, and to model for her daughters how one person can make a difference.

Sydney Paige is like TOMS shoes: buy one-give one. I buy a pair of TOMS shoes for me, they donate a pair to someone in need. You buy a Sydney Paige backpack for your child, and they donate an identical backpack to a child in need. All good!

Tracy emailed that they needed volunteers to pack backpacks for homeless children in San Francisco. Kids in our area are always adding to their volunteer hours, and parents appreciate opportunities to teach our children solid hands-on lessons about using our time and actions to do good, be better, and love others.

I mentioned it to Tween; he replied, “Yah, maybe…” (he is loving long summer days of video games and bike riding and swimming with friends…). His Scout patrol leader made it a requirement, so we both signed up.

We arrived at Courtney’s garage to walls of boxes and volunteers hiding behind each corner. Our first task: to write notes of encouragement that would be stuffed along with age-appropriate school supplies in each backpack. Tracy explained: “Some of these kids aren’t told they are loved. Some have parents who think school is a waste of time. We get to tell them they can do it, that school is important and so are they.” Tears!

On index cards in brightly colored markers, we wrote encouragement like:
Shoot for the stars
Reach for your dreams
You can do hard things
Keep going!
(Tween wrote our fav): My love for you is bigger than the ocean and stronger than the waves

We opened boxes of backpacks, took them out of the plastic, and unzipped the main pocket. We assembled color-coordinated stacks of school supplies, and then we stuffed. For an hour and a half, we worked diligently until additional volunteers arrived to take our place.

My initially-reluctant Tween hugged Tracy and said, “This was SO great! Call my mom anytime you need help. Seriously. I’ll help anytime.”

In the car he said, “I kinda feel bad about leaving.” I almost turned the car around. Instead we had a heart-moving conversation about volunteering and new opportunities he might pursue this school year.

Two days later we received another plea: 12,000 backpacks were arriving at the warehouse ten days early. Could we help?

We spread the word: Tween had one available friend and Teen had three. Eight of us showed up at the warehouse to rearrange boxes to create space, unpack supplies, and write more notes. We would have given more time, but three of our eight were leaving that afternoon for nine days of work at a Kids Alive International orphanage in the Dominican Republic; their travel schedule made for a narrow window of opportunity.

We volunteered because helping others is the right thing to do. Because we want to teach our kids that a little effort goes a long way in the world. Because our kids brought other kids and the good multiplies. Because our kids are Scouts and, as the Scout slogan says: “Do a good turn daily!” It wasn’t hard, though it wasn’t necessarily convenient, either. Still, it was important.

We helped Sydney Paige and, in turn, Sydney Paige donated 24 backpacks to Kids Alive. This isn’t always the way the world works, but it should be. Good comes from good. Invest your time wisely. Do a good turn daily.

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