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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High School Graduation

Tonight I feel seventeen.

Tomorrow is graduation day. One more project to go: for English, a self-expression slide show of my life—my people, my friends and classmates—set to U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

We’ve been together a long time, but high school isn’t it. We still haven’t found what we’re looking for. It’s here, and it’s out there, our next step.

If I searched high and low in my mom’s house, my old house, I might still find the old slide projector reel filled with images of me and my peers growing from elementary school through junior high and then high school. We took different paths through adolescence, so I had to work harder toward the end to gather pictures of the people with whom we began. Still, I found them. For a time, at least, I had them.

On my final day of high school, I blared my U2 cassette tape through the boom box speakers in synch with my slides, blasting the darkened theater with familiar sound. Even the classmates who knew us only for a stretch of that time appreciated what came before and after. We were. We were little, we were middles, we were grown. We made an impact.

My presentation ended the class period. Lights up, and we were free until we reassembled in graduation gear. For a few hours, we felt oddly untethered to anything and anyone. We knew it wasn’t entirely true, but we felt FREE.

We went home. We weren’t the same. We might even have been a little crazy. Girls did hair and make-up. Boys did…what? I’m not sure.

When we came back together we were uncomfortably not the same, dressed as we’d never been before. We had worn jeans and shorts and T-shirts and skirts and blouses and dresses and collared shirts–even ball gowns and tuxedos–but we had never before worn caps and gowns.

Here we are, about to be, graduates.

Halt.

Tonight, my son is the soon-to-be-graduate. He is eighteen. He has one last final to go, sadly not the feel-good presentation of my last day of high school, but a hard-core final with a graceless teacher who least likes him.

Still, this is his night, his weekend, his now and not yet.

Time is funny. So slow, so fast. How can my little Christmas elf baby be the six-foot-something rugby-tough-guy almost-graduate? The years have been long, and not long enough.

Tonight friends threw a graduation party for their son and his buddies, including our guy. We swapped stories with parents with whom we’ve walked short- and long-lengths of this journey. Oh, how these kids have extended the high school drama! Nothing like giving your parents heart attacks in the last few hours…

I drove home alone, the long way, on purpose. I rolled down the windows, cranked the stereo, punched the gas pedal. I let the wind rush through my hair, felt my skin energized by its chilling flow. I’m no longer seventeen, but I remember. My adult (responsible) Honda Civic is no match for my once-upon-a-time ’67 Mustang, my ultimate cool car. That long-ago night, I knew I had great friends and I also knew, poignantly, that those friendships could not last forever.

I see it. He feels the same, and everything in me aches: for what was, and what is, and what has been lost. And for this boy: for what is, and what will be, and what will be lost.

This is the beginning, and this is the end. And it will come around again.

Overwhelmed

I received a rejection slip! Of course I’m disappointed, but here’s the catch: all creative ventures involve risk. I took a risk. It didn’t pan out the way I’d hoped, but I took it nonetheless. I am creating, and putting my work out there, and it’s a step in the right direction. This post just didn’t meet their needs at this time, which also means I get to post it here instead. Create, and recreate, and all good. What are you creating, and how’s it going?

Bristling like an electrical storm, Teen blustered into the house—door slamming behind him—and tossed his gangly body onto the couch beside his dad. “Hey, did you know the wage gap is a myth? That women get paid less than men for the same work is just not a thing!
 
We stared in response, so he kept spouting facts he’d heard in a video on social media. He thrust his phone in his dad’s face, insisting he watch it, too.
 
Parents want their kids to think critically. At eighteen years old and soon off to college, it is good for him to take account of the world and wrestle with his place in it. But a two-minute video by some guy not much older than he is cannot be his only information source.
 
I left the room, returning armed with a book—Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time, by Brigid Schulte (2014: Sarah Crichton Books, Farrar Straus and Giroux, New York). Earlier that afternoon I had finished the section on Work.
 
Schulte offers solid reporting and not by any definition a feminist manifesto. Yet as I read one story after another, I felt affirmed and discouraged that sexism—in the workplace as one societal microcosm—still runs rampant. My kid may be right, that women and men with comparable education, experience and skills receive comparable pay for comparable work. But nothing is ever that simple.
 
For example, researchers at Cornell University put together four nearly identical resumes: half with male names and half with female; half signaling parenthood through PTA involvement and half indicating childlessness through charitable volunteerism. Nearly 200 college students ranked fathers as “best worker,” more employable and promotable and better management training candidates than men without children, while mothers ranked at bottom, considered significantly less competent, intelligent and committed than women without children (79). To test this “motherhood penalty” and “fatherhood bonus,” they confirmed their research by submitting resumes to entry and mid-level positions and found that fathers were called back at a higher rate than nonfathers, while mothers received half the offers of nonmothers (80).
 
As I tried to explain ‘my side’ to my ever-argumentative child (oh, the responsibility of speaking on behalf of the women he will encounter in life, begging him to trade grace for an arrogant hard line), he asked, “But Mom, when have women had it better?”
 
To which I replied, “Maybe they haven’t. But, Son, look at me. I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.”
 
Over a post-yoga iced tea with a girlfriend, I relayed this story. She gave up her hard-earned career to be a full-time stay-at-home mom who employs her work skills as PTA president. I have cobbled together full-time motherhood with part-time employment plus freelance writing. We each have made choices that feel sacrificial. Even at our best, we both feel we will never be able to do it all well.
 
Schulte defines overwhelm as “a product of lack of control and unpredictability and the anxiety that both produce” (280). Who can calculate how many factors in a women’s life fall into “lack of control and unpredictability”? On any given day, I can only control so much: what time I get out of bed; how I fuel and move my body; the ways in which I interact with others; the work or home projects I tackle before the interruptions come. Because the interruptions come, hard and fast, predictably unpredictable: sick kids; forgotten lunches, forms, homework; overlooked deadlines, and immediately-required answers; bad news, local and global, or worse, from loved ones.
 
No wonder we feel overwhelmed! So how to squelch the rampant anxiety? Schulte includes pages of suggestions in the “Do One Thing” appendix—working smarter, not harder; time chunking; practicing gratitude; remembering that play, too, can be useful. For those too overwhelmed to read a book on feeling overwhelmed, this appendix alone is worth perusing.
 
Thankfully, my friend and I have found our way to a straight path. Exercise and togetherness. Swapping stories and encouragement. Expressing gratitude that, though we may not do it all as well as if we only did some, we have opportunities that others have not. Cherishing the truly precious moments in the mess of parenting (that an eighteen-year-old wants to spend an evening discussing real-life issues with his parents is not to be taken lightly!).
 
And taking time to read good books.

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Thankful Thursday – Spring Break Through

A friend emailed: “Are you ok? Your ‘miracles’ are sounding like you need a lot of hugs.”

Hmmm… Good feedback, since I hadn’t intended to sound like a downer. I am okay, generally. This has been a month of long work hours unbalanced by enough fun or activity as I’ve recuperated this ankle sprain. Every day has presented new adventures in parenting, especially as Teen moves through his last few weeks of high school. “Unbalanced” might be just the right word–my head, heart, and body have been out of sync, a mishmash of misplaced forms, overlooked details, new questions, full emotions, and injury.

But “unbalanced” is temporary. My ankle feels significantly better after last week’s visit to the chiropractor. I’m not running yet, but last night I did yoga without pain–hooray! Work projects are winding down and the school year is winding down. Summer is within sight.

Spring has arrived, and my roses have exploded.

I’m not much of a gardener but I do enjoy time spent dead-heading roses, inhaling the sweet fragrance of these blooms. Our front entrance has never smelled more delightful, and I get such a kick out of my white roses flaunting their rebellious pink streaks.

Since January I’ve been carting around my gratitude journal, attempting to record at least three unique points of gratitude each day in addition to Bible verses, quotes, etc. Truthfully, I’m not very good at it–I’ve skipped too many days–but I know gratitude is a helpful discipline so I keep plugging along.

I tucked here and there between the pages little cards, some with quotes to encounter and reflect on throughout the year, others with a word/phrase for the month. They cause me to pause, to say thanks, to ponder the holy ground on which I stand.

The word for May is “Break…” to which I added, “Through,” and–like “unbalanced”–that, too, feels right: at the end of the school year, May has the tendency to knock me off my feet; this year, I am choosing to break through.

So what am I grateful for today? 

A friend who asks if I’m really okay.
Healing.
Movement.
Roses.
Another friend who visited from out-of-town and slotted time for me on her full itinerary.
Coffee in the morning, tea before bed.
A neighbor who gave away her zucchini plant “volunteers”–and three new plants for our veggie garden.
New library books.
Easy something-out-of-nothing still-healthy meals from the pantry (I really do need to go grocery shopping…)
Significant life-processing conversations with Teen.
Tween’s new brace face, and the miracles of orthodontia.
Squirrels who make me laugh as they zoom along tree branches, and the quail who visit our bird feeder.

How about you? What are you grateful for, and how are you breaking through?

And by the way, I’ll take those hugs anytime!

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Thankful Thursday – My Awesome Doghouse

No matter what you do, how hard you work, how much you invest, how great your love or commitment, you will disappoint people. The junior high and high school popular kids. Certain teachers or college professors. Friends and neighbors. Bosses and authority figures of all stripes and spots. Family members, community members, and church members. Strangers on Facebook. Whoever they may be, critics can crawl through walls like ants.

I said: “I feel like I’m in the doghouse.”
He said: “So make it one awesome doghouse.”

Great advice! I can only do my best and I can’t change the critics. Theirs is not the love I need most (read that with an Obi Wan Kenobi voice: “This is not the droid you’re looking for…” This is NOT the love I’m looking for).

I’m setting myself free to make my doghouse awesome!doghouse

I recently read Shauna Niequist’s new book, Present Over Perfect, in which she wrote:

“This is what I know for sure: along the way you will disappoint someone. You will not meet someone’s needs or expectations. You will not be able to fulfill their request. You will leave something undone or poorly done. Possibly, this person will be angry with you, or sad.

“What you need along the way: a sense of God’s deep, unconditional love, and a strong sense of your own purpose. Without those two, you’ll need from people what is only God’s to give, and you’ll give up on your larger purpose in order to fulfill smaller purposes or other people’s purposes.”

So what am I up to?
* Spending less time on social media and TV, and more time in books. I wandered the library shelves today and found a few to add to my stack.
* Reaching out to friends
* Counting my blessings in my gratitude journal
* Getting outside to walk daily with my sweet Guy or friends, always with dogs
* Drowning out the noise with silence
* Soaking in God’s love through the Bible, prayer, and greater attention to His presence
* Cooking simple, healthy food and drinking lots of water and herbal tea
* Enjoying my work and my play
* Saying yes and taking risks, and learning to say no
* I’ve hit refresh on my wind down ritual and my sleep has improved.

Last night after homework Tween and I played best-out-of-five games of Uno. Despite my strong start, he won. Along the way we laughed and talked. We might do it again tonight, or soon. We’re making what seems frivolous, important. Because it is.

I’m shaking off the dirt and falling in love all over again with my doghouse. Because it’s mine, I’m decorating it with people, activities, and things that fill me up with joy. And I’m grateful!

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Better Together

I’ve been thinking about community…

Recently a friend posted about setting “Better Together” goals with her husband. It got me thinking (thanks, Cara!). I’m not much of a goal setter, too generally scatter-brained. But Guy’s more organized along those lines. What if we set goals together and held each other accountable?

During my Inauguration Day media fast, another friend called and said, “Our church is divided because our country is divided. We need to come together to pray for our country.” Her words rang true in my soul. As we chatted, we realized that we stand on opposite sides of the political divide. And we stand together in prayer.

Last night I scrolled through Facebook and saw pictures of friends all across the country peacefully marching in solidarity with one another. The heaviness in my chest lifted some, replaced by hope. I’m not alone.

I didn’t march. Instead we attended our friends’ son’s bar mitzvah. Despite having taken a few years of Hebrew in seminary, I quickly gave up on the transliteration and instead read and prayed along in English. It was a beautiful service, fascinating and moving and so different and like what we do at church on Sundays.bar-mitzvah-1

Two things especially struck me throughout the day. First, we all ought to speak heartfelt words of blessing, over our children and to one another. How different might our families, our communities, our world be if we noticed and spoke into the best parts, the uniqueness, of the people in our lives? And secondly, I am so grateful for my friends!

As we celebrated the rite of passage that welcomed this boy into Jewish manhood, we talked. We laughed. We danced and ate and drank. But because we also do life together, we asked hard questions. We whispered prayer and rubbed salve on the aches we know our friends carry. We rejoiced together all the more because we have also suffered together.bar-mitzvah-2

Before it started raining this afternoon, Guy and I took the dogs for a quick walk. He remarked, “I really like our neighborhood!” I agree. I like our street, our section of town, this geographic community we call home. And I like our neighbors and friends, the community that fills our hearts. I think we’re better for engaging in life in this place, at this time. I hope others would say the same about us.

So tonight, despite the dumping rain, despite my introverted self running on full-weekend extrovert overload, I will drag myself out of my cozy cocoon to gather with other friends, our church Community Group. We will talk and laugh and discuss and pray. Because I need them in my life. We’re better together.

Come & See
Week 3 – 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

Connect
Which part of your body do you think is most important? Which would be hardest to live without?

Study
Read aloud 1 Corinthians 12:12-27.
Notice who has responsibility for assembling the body parts (vv. 13, 18, 24, 27). How does that knowledge reorient our perspective?
Rephrase the statements in vv. 15-16 as someone might actually say them. How would you respond?
Sadly, how do we communicate “I don’t need you!” to certain members of the body? How can we change our attitudes and actions?
How would you explain to someone who hadn’t read this passage why we need each other?

Live
What are some of the Church’s favorite body parts? How do we demonstrate that?
How would you describe your place in the body? Have you ever wanted to be a different body part? What and why?
There should be no division in the body, but we can all point to examples. How should we address division when we see it?
How do we practically suffer and rejoice with one another?
How can we strengthen our connection to the body?
What does this passage communicate about what it means to be Jesus’ disciple?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray for stronger connections with other members of the body.

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2016 Create Challenge & (Re)Discovering My POV

Just about a year ago, my brother-in-law and I discussed creativity as we washed Christmas china. We hatched a plan to invite people to post on my blog about creativity. As a result, this year 39 people have guest-posted, one friend 2x, and I have been moved, inspired, blessed.

Throughout this year, I have heard two phrases repeatedly: “I didn’t /don’t think of myself as creative…” and “Thank you! Committing to guest post helped me in such-and-such a way…”

To which I say two things. First: STOP it, friends! As human beings, we are created to create, and thus we are all creative. Own it, already, figure it out, create!

Secondly… You’re welcome! I am so grateful that the opportunity to post on this little blog has proven significant in some way.

Your posts have been significant in my life. Of that I am certain.

Each week, February through November, I had the opportunity to reflect on a friend near or far. Few of those who have guest-posted reside in our immediate community. Some I have known since childhood. Some I haven’t seen since high school graduation—mine, perhaps theirs. Some I have only rubbed elbows with, “elbows” perhaps meaning “social media accounts.” The age range has been considerable, a 40+ year gap. The creativity also has been vast, from “traditional” arts—writing, painting, singing, composing—to those necessary for daily life—parenting, friendship, encouragement, forgiveness. As I have prepared to post, I have belly-laughed and I have wept tears of grief and gratitude. Your posts have grounded me, uplifted me, and leveled me.

I feel honored to have created this platform, this community, for people to share their stories. I feel honored to have such a wide web of connections among honest, vulnerable, creative friends.

I have learned a few things:
I love to encourage—oh, how I have looked forward to my weekly guest post intros.
I love to share stories—to encourage others through posting stories that resonate with me and with you.
Creativity begets creativity—I created a platform, you created posts, which further inspired you, and me, and others…

On the day I posted 2016’s last guest post, I also indulged another creative project: I attached prints of recent photos I’ve taken to cards. For sale. Just a little thing for a little moms’ Christmas boutique. Not a money-maker, just enough to pay for supplies really.16photocards

Still, it’s something I haven’t done for a while. I picked up the prints and, as I laid them out, I remarked out loud: “Huh. I have a style…?!” Of course I knew what drew my eye, what had me reaching for my camera, but here it was, the recent best of, and it surprised me.

My pictures tend to be flowers, close up. They are quiet moments, some with riotous color. Most so close you don’t see the whole flower/bouquet. I don’t do landscapes, wide-scapes, the Big Picture. I stop, bend down, notice the details, the small, too-often overlooked beauty.

You wouldn’t know it to look at them, but each image tells me a story: of the rose bushes Guy gave me one Valentine’s Day; of the bulbs we planted in our yard; of the end-of-summer Farmer’s Market we visited; of Nephew’s 18th birthday celebration in Guy’s hometown; of a friend’s wedding.

Much like those who have posted on my blog, I will say: “I don’t think of myself as observant…” I guess it depends on what draws one’s attention. My guys see things as we hike—lizards, snakes, berries in trees. They are more naturally observant than I am. They have better distance eyesight.

I see flowers here, there, and everywhere. They stop me, make me notice them, help me see what makes each special.

During Thanksgiving week Tween and I walked the dogs through my childhood neighborhood. An African daisy caught my eye, orange-yellow-black, petals as intricate as butterfly wings. We stooped to look closely, to barely touch so as not to disturb. Neither of us had phone or camera, so we couldn’t snap for later. The next day I took my phone running with me. The flower was shut tight, the sun not in the right position for it to open. It reminded me to appreciate beauty while it may be found.

Which is really and truly The Whole Point of this blog: Miracles in the Mudane! My life may be small, but it contains glorious, beautiful details pointing to the Divine. Your life may be small, but you contain stories that speak to so much more.

One of my favorite things is to help people share their stories, and this year the blog, the Create Challenge, has done just that. Because most of us live small lives, but all of us have something important to share. And I am so grateful!