Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Spectator Sports

The annual Lighted Christmas Parade happened in Redding this past weekend.  I took my little people to enjoy the festivities for the very first time as spectators.  We've been IN the parade almost every year since the kids were little, bitty toddlers.  But this year we got to sit on the sidelines which has the added benefit of arriving 10 minutes prior to showtime and leaving whenever the magic of lighted big rigs loses it's luster.

As we were chatting with friends, collecting candy canes and enjoying hot tea under our fuzzy blankets, a somber parade entry rolled by.  It was a giant banner with a photo of a local missing baby, Ember Graham.  Volunteers adorned with pink lights carried the huge banner with strained smiles. 

The enthusiastic crowd watched, uncertain how to respond.  The happy waves, clapping and shouts of, "Merry Christmas" were silenced as we soaked in the picture of baby Ember and the reminder of this precious child that has gone missing.  My kids immediately noticed the change in mood and began firing questions about the display and what it all meant. 

"Who is that baby?" asked my son.

"What does that sign say?" asked my daughter. 

Deep breath. 

"Her name is Ember" I said.  "She is a baby that is missing." 

My kids wanted to know more.  Why is she missing? Where did she go?  What happened?  Their eyes got wide with concern, confusion and a trace of fear as they came to understand a tiny piece of the evil that lurks in their world.  The idea that a small, helpless baby could somehow disappear, be hurt or stolen simply wasn't on their radar.  Until now. 

I told them I didn't know where the baby was.  And that somebody might have taken the baby away from her parents.  And that those people were showing everyone the picture so if we see baby Ember we can call the police and bring the baby back to her family. 

My response seemed to satisfy them.  We agreed how sad and wrong it was for a baby to be missing.  Our attention was quickly diverted by the next lighted display rolling past. I took a deep breath and tried to shake off the gloom of this sad story in the midst of our happy little parade.  I felt a tiny, uncomfortable twinge as I envisioned the small loss of innocence this quick conversation had brought to my kids. 

At bedtime later that evening, I guided my kids through our normal routine of putting on pajamas, reading books and saying our prayers.  Typically our prayers cover the normal "kid stuff". Thanks for chocolate chip cookies.  Please help grandpa's back to feel better.  Thank you for mud puddles.  That type of thing.  But on this night, as there was a pause in our list of thanksgivings, my seven year old daughter chimed in unexpectedly with, "Please bring that baby back to her family." 

Yes, I echoed.  Please bring that baby home.

As I tucked my children in that night I was more mindful of the privilege.  I said a silent prayer of thanksgiving for the safety of my happy, healthy children. 

There is lots to see at the parade. Lots of lights.  Lots of music, dancing, energy and noise.  But in the middle of our joyful parade, in the middle of our everyday life, there is also suffering.  Sometimes it is quiet and easily overlooked until we sit down as spectators and actively soak in the scenery.  Sometimes that suffering might seem out of place in the middle of a bright and cheery holiday event.  But it is always there.  And those that live closely with the suffering, like the family of baby Ember, do not have the option to look away or focus on the next brightly lit distraction of life. 

I don't know if that simple prayer offered from our home will bring baby Ember home. But I do know that those solemn volunteers carrying Ember's picture down the middle of Sacramento Street struck a chord with my daughter. As a mom, I squirmed a little as I watched this missing child display go by in the middle of the parade.  I worried about Ember's story instilling fear in my children.  Instead it inspired thoughtful consideration and a meaningful response. Our nightly thanksgiving for sweet treats was replaced by heartfelt pleas to ease the suffering of these strangers that had crossed our path. 

Life is messy.  Not everything can be wrapped up neatly and topped with a cheerful red bow.  As spectators, we have the opportunity to bear witness.  We can soak in the uncomfortable, be present for the painful, witness the out-of-place.  Or we can turn away.

Which do you choose?

Find Baby Ember's OFFICIAL FUNDRAISER (Jamie & Ember Graham)

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Advent (noun): The arrival of someone or something that is important or worthy of note.

Advent is upon us and I'm giving up the crazy in favor of the quiet this year.  I'm trying my very hardest to get my shopping done by December 1 so I can spend the weeks leading up to Christmas actually focused on Christmas and not perusing sale ads or fighting traffic at the mall. Something important is coming and I don't want to miss it. 

I've come to the point in my life where I don't want any more peppermint scented candles or Christmas albums.  I don't need the latest electronics or fancy table linens or more kitchen gadgets.  I'm content with my current collection of stuff.  I feel no desire to get my kids involved in making up elaborate gift lists for Santa. I'm tired of counting gifts and tallying receipts to ensure everyone gets a fair allotment of presents.  I guess I'm sort of done with defining Christmas by what goes under the tree.

That's not to say that we won't be having gifts.  Because we will.  My kids will not be deprived.  The stockings will be stuffed.  New toys will arrive.  I'll still try to buy some smiles with whatever latest and greatest goodies Amazon is pushing on Cyber Monday.

But this year I'm making room for the silence.  I'm finishing up my shopping early so I don't have to think about it during the season of Advent.  This year I will focus on the stillness of the season not stressing over the sales.  I'll be waiting and watching for the miracle in a manger and not distracted by the toy promising the elusive miracle of "Hours of entertainment."

I think these actions are bold in this day and age.  I can almost hear the whispers of "Bah Humbug." What is Christmas without long, late-night trips to the mall hunting for the perfect gifts??

Here's what it is.

My Christmas season will be time at home to sit by the fire or read a book or bake some cookies.  It will be accepting invitations to Christmas parties or holiday play dates and enjoying them as gifts of time with friends.  It's saying "Yes" to coordinating the spontaneous Christmas pageant at our church and feeling good about the commitment, not stressed or frazzled.  It's saying "No" to other commitments and feeling fine about setting limits and preserving my sanity.  It's going to a concert with my husband in lieu of buying each other gifts because we know that quality time together is more precious than anything we could wrap and put under the tree.  It's deliberate time focused on the season as God created it, not as the TV commercials would have me define it.

If we're overwhelmed by all the "to do" items that come this time of year, perhaps it's time to take a step back.  Maybe the things we do during Advent really can be enjoyable if we can reorganize our time and our priorities.  We don't have to say "Yes" to everything.  We don't have to spend hundreds of dollars to put a smile on our kids' faces.  Christmas can be merry and bright all by itself.  If only we can be brave enough to open ourselves to the miracle.

Be still.

A little more "Yes" to the things that make you feel peace.

A little more "No" to the things that deplete you.

Give up on buying happiness.  Buy into the promise that THE perfect gift has already been given.

Rejoice.  Receive Him.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Sober in Las Vegas

We just returned from a great trip to Las Vegas visiting with my husband's Army friends and their spouses.  We try to get together with this group once a year to keep the friendships alive and to relax in the company of people who "get it."  Being a Veteran (or being married to one) means your life experience is a little different than the general population.  Just like parents find comfort in socializing with other parents, or college buddies maintain a unique connection way past graduation, so it is with those that have served in the military.  It's a different culture and a unique experience that bonds people together with a pretty strong dose of super glue.

For those that may have read my last post, you may have noticed that this trip came less than 60 days after my husband was released from alcohol rehab.  Probably not part of your typical relapse prevention plan...but we decided to go ahead with the trip anyway.  Mostly because we already paid for the hotel and plane tickets.  And also because we would be traveling with a supportive group of friends that would respect my husband's recovery process.

Turns out that when you're sober in Vegas, the place seems a little ridiculous.  The prevalence of alcohol in every single corner of that town is mind blowing.  I think nobody ever notices or talks about this because nobody else has ever experienced Vegas sober.  At least that's how it feels when you are the one without a drink in your hand.  As soon as you get off the plane there are pubs and walk-up stands selling six different flavors of liquored-up slushies.  When you sit down to gamble, the cocktail waitresses are offering you free drinks.  Souvenir shops sell key chains, snow globes and t-shirts right next to bottles of whiskey and giant, light-up travel cups for your margaritas.  Seemingly everyone on the street is sipping a beer or a yard-long daiquiri.

I've done Vegas at age 22, and it was fun.  Loads of fun. Mostly drunk fun. But this trip at 42 was different.  And sober.  And still quite fun. So, if you are done with the stupid drunk phase of your life and thinking maybe Vegas isn't really for you anymore...or you happen to be traveling with someone that is fresh on the trail of addiction recovery, I'll share my tips for how I enjoyed Vegas, sans alcohol.

1.  Pick a hotel off the Strip.  You can always go to the strip to shop, gamble or get your fill of naked butt cheeks and KISS impersonators.  But if you aren't drinking you probably don't need or want to be in the midst of that madness 24-7.  Lake Las Vegas is a beautiful and quiet option, though far removed from much of the action that is Las Vegas.  

2.  See a show.  The nightlife in Vegas has nearly infinite possibilities.  Every hotel/casino has some sort of entertainment going on at night, in addition to the night club and gambling.  On this trip we saw the Cirque du Soleil show, Ka, and it was spectacular.  If you're wondering if a Cirque du Soleil show is really worth the money, my answer is YES.  The theaters are built specifically for the show.  The staging, props, costumes, sound and energy are amazing.  During the Ka performance, the stage itself moved up and down, tilted and twisted to mimic the motion of the sea, and eventually ended up completely vertical with actors performing death-defying acrobatics along its face.  Stunning.

3.  Go hiking.  Yes.  Hiking.  The Valley of Fire state park is a short, one-hour drive from the heart of Las Vegas.  The scenery is breathtaking.  I'll share a photo with you here, but it just won't do justice to the beauty of this place.  You must see it in person.  This is probably a seasonal suggestion, because I'm guessing this place would be the opposite of fun in the thick of summer when temperatures are well into the triple digits.  But in the fall/winter/spring it's worth the drive.  There is gorgeous scenery that can be enjoyed from your car and at picnic spots along the road.  Or you can try some mini-hikes that will lead you to hidden beauty, history lessons, and ancient petroglyphs on short, 1-2 mile hikes.  

4.  Stroll the Strip.  It is a spectacle that you really can't skip if you're in Vegas.  Yes, there is alcohol everywhere.  Yes, you might come across half naked, bedazzled show girls or cowboys wearing nothing but chaps.  If you can get past the initial feeling of being left out because you aren't wearing a shot-glass necklace, you can actually have fun shopping and soaking up the sunshine.  Not to mention the Olympic-quality people watching.

5.  Bring some friends.  If you have good friends along for entertainment, you can get away with spending less money and being completely content just visiting and being in their company.  I love our Army family because we all have different ideas about what to do, when to do it and how to get there.  Sometimes we can herd ourselves into a cohesive group and make it to an activity all together.  But if we don't, that's OK.  People do their own thing, make plans with one couple or on their own.  Eventually we all come back together and have some quality group time, but nobody's losing sleep about skipping an outing to take a nap or visit the spa.

I will admit that being sober in Vegas was a little uncomfortable at first.  When we sat down to dinner the first night it felt odd not ordering a bottle of wine.  I felt conspicuous walking on Fremont Street, in a circus of Saturday-night activities, without a drop of liquor coursing through my veins.  When I sat down at a slot machine with $20 (My high-roller limit for the night) it felt weird to just play and not be anxious about my money running out before I got my "free" drink. 

Vegas isn't for everyone.  There is certainly all kinds of fun to be had, clean, dirty, sober or drunk.  When we were traveling to Vegas I really thought it wouldn't be a whole lot of fun without getting into the action, so to speak.  But, I was wrong.  It was fun.  Lots of fun actually. I'd even do it again.  And I'm not sure the hungover gal puking on herself during our flight home would say the same.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Rehab. Restoration. Rebirth.

Newsflash!  This is my 100th post!!  After a few years of sporadic writing, I have hit the century mark.  I've been quiet for a while wondering what to write about.  Seems like #100 should be noteworthy in some way.  Interestingly enough, the joy at this moment of my life is focused and intensified in the most surprising way.  

For the past three weeks I've been operating as a solo parent while my husband is hundreds of miles away in an alcohol rehab facility.  Our inner circle is aware of his absence but it isn't something that we have advertised to the masses.  That's not to say that it's a big secret.  I give the straight story to anyone that has noticed his absence and asked about him.  I don't feel shame or loss over his decision to seek inpatient treatment for his illness.  I feel hope and, perhaps ironically, joy.

Watching my husband slip into the pit of alcohol addiction was a slow, painful process.  His martini nightcap habit slowly grew into a two martini habit.  And then more.  And then a few more.  Ever so slowly, a fog descended on his stealthily I didn't even realize how dark and quiet our lives had become.

The recovery process, while difficult in its own unique ways, has a much different feel for me.  It's a season of rebirth on so many different levels I find myself exhausted and at times overwhelmed by the blessings that have been revealed.

When Nick decided to admit himself for treatment, I had to face some pretty uncomfortable conversations.  I had to ask for help.  I had to try to describe the illness of addiction to my young children.  I had to explain it in a much more honest and adult way to my teenage step-daughter.  I had to reveal the elephant in the room to our close friends and extended family, most of whom were completely blindsided.  I had to search my soul a bit to understand my role in this circus we had been performing for years.  And finally I had to learn  the truth of his addiction, the tip of which I saw, and the iceberg that was floating beneath the surface.

Heavy stuff. 

Well, it turns out that people love me, my husband and our children.  Intellectually I knew that, of course.  But during the past few weeks I've been able to witness love come to life.  I've seen small acts of kindness that humble me.  Teachers carefully watch my children and ask how we are doing in a way that tells me they aren't just making conversation, but truly care about the answer.  Friends text me in between soccer games and making dinner to make see if I want to chat or go for a walk or just to let me know they are praying for me.  Family members offer to babysit or pick up the kids at school to give me a break from the grind of being a solo parent.  People have come out of the woodwork to make the long road trips for family visitation manageable. Girlfriends have dropped their busy schedules and made time for dinner, conversation and laughter.  The circle of prayer that surrounds us is like a living, breathing being.  I can feel its presence. 

I must admit it's work for me.  To ask for help is a challenge.  But I keep reminding myself of my own inclination to help or cook or visit when someone I love is having a hard time.  There is joy in giving and relieving someone's heavy load even just for a moment.  And there is joy in receiving.  There is relief in stepping off the treadmill of life temporarily to let others take care of you. During the past few weeks I've had this recurring visualization of myself doing a trust fall into a giant, feather pillow.  I picture myself letting go of all control, falling backwards, and safely landing in the soft comfort of that pillow.  My urge is to turn around, make sure the pillow is properly situated, and remind my friends to spot me so I don't bounce off onto the ground.

But I don't.  I do none of that.

I breathe, I sigh, I pray and I do my best to work through this season of life.  I allow friends and family to pick up some slack for me.  I invite people into my home that hasn't been cleaned properly in over a month.  I've learned to give myself a little bit of grace.  When I'm tired, I don't get busy folding the last load of laundry.  I go to sleep.  When someone says "Let me know if I can help", I do just that.

Perhaps the greatest blessing of this journey is the reminder that God answers prayer.  Sometimes He isn't quick about it.  He may not provide the straight answer or solution we were looking for.  My prayer was for this sickness to be gone from our family.  Just gone.  Done.  Game over.  Something along the lines of, "Please God just make it go away overnight so we don't have to live with it or talk about it ever again.  Thankyouamen."

The answer I got is a cracking open of our family imperfections for the whole world to see.  It is financial drain, emotional struggle, and raw, honest, soul-searching.  It is stress and worry and many unanswered questions about what the future holds.  It is a greater understanding of our family and our short comings.  But along with that comes an awakening, a sense of hope and a opportunity to strengthen connections in different areas of our lives. 

By definition, recovery is, "The restoration to a former or better condition.  The regaining of something lost."  So, if you see me out and about and are tempted to say, "I'm so sorry", please don't.  Because I'm not.  Our family is on a journey to better health and regaining something that we lost.

And I'm so glad.

Two years ago I never would have dreamed I'd be writing my 100th post about finding light and joy in the midst of watching my husband go through alcohol rehab.  But perhaps on some level I knew this discipline of finding joy in the small, everyday things would serve me well while riding the wave of emotions that comes in the harder seasons of life. Practice, as they say, makes perfect.  I'm far from perfect, but thankful everyday for the opportunity to practice.

And a star is born:

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Sound of Silence

One of the best days happened today.  In the middle of a stormy season of life, I traveled to the Abbey of New Clairvaux for a "Quiet Day" with the women's group from our church.  I hopped into a car full of women I barely knew to carpool down I-5 to a Trappist monastery.  Our only agenda was to be quiet. 

Turns out that was enough.

I brought a book along in case I wanted to spend some time reading.  Didn't get to it.

I was busy being quiet.  All day.

I also brought a notebook with me and did a little writing.  It wasn't eloquent.  It wasn't really organized or earth-shattering. I just picked up the notebook and wrote down anything I saw, heard or felt sitting under the canopy of my giant tree.  So, if you're wondering what a quiet day looks or feels like, here's a glimpse of my experience.

Ants dropping in.
Bird pooped on my ankle.
Bees busy buzzing.
Weeds not giving up.
Birds soaring.
Dragonflies bobbing on the breeze.
UPS delivery.
Fountain percolating the soundtrack for our day.
Careful tending of juvenile grape vines.
Traffic distant.
Worlds away.
Sun slowly warming.
Women strolling.  Reading.  Resting.  Writing.  Listening.  Looking.
Gentle breezes.
Open mind.  Agenda-less.
Dust moving in.
Thick redwoods.  Lush.
Tree dropping leaves, twigs, bugs.
Inner-circle focus.
In the moment.  Noticing details.
Breathe.  Pray.
Sun peeking through thick, shady branches.
Thankful heart.
Blessings abound.  Challenges abound.
Support.  Concrete.
Relax.  Soak in silence.
Breezes beating back the heat.
Off the hamster wheel.
Clovers in abundance.
No pictures.  Just feelings, senses and words.
Surrender.  THIS is important, not a luxury.
Ambitious branches reaching for the ground.
Running shoes are neglected.
Trains loud and close.
Monks in blue jeans and coveralls. Old and young.
Sacred stones framing vineyards.
Stark chapel.  No-frills. Basic.  Simple.
Walnuts.  Giant ones.
Voices chatting.
Grapes, vines.
Soothe.  Pause.  Quality time.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Shut the Door!

A funny thing happens each morning when my son arrives at school.  We enter the building together.  Sometimes he holds the door for me and practices his good manners saying, "After you!" Sometimes he waits for me to hold the door and storms right on by ready to tackle his day.  But when we get to his classroom door, it must be closed and he MUST be the one to open it.  If the door happens to be open, he asks me to shut it so he can do the honors himself.  If I try to rush him and open the classroom door myself, there is angry protesting. 

I'm not sure when or why this little ritual started, but it's been going on for quite some time.  He loves being in charge of opening that door, usually at a very slow pace, so he can peek his little head in first and survey the classroom before opening the door all the way.  It's a process.  The door is never opened with abandon.  He opens it at a snail's pace, inches at a time, savoring the entry process.  It's quirky.  I don't really get it. But I have learned that trying to rush this child rarely ends well for anyone. So we roll with it.

A few weeks ago at the very beginning of school, his little friend saw my son coming down the hallway.  "Thomas is coming.  Close the door!" he said to the other little friends in the classroom.  It just about made my heart melt.  Typically I wouldn't want kids rushing to slam the door in my kid's face.  But I knew his little friend was acting in love.  He knew my son wouldn't enter the classroom until the door was shut and he could open the door for himself.  He knew Thomas' little quirk and didn't question it or try to cure him of it.  He embraced it.  The beauty of this small gesture struck me.  To be known and accepted....isn't that just the best?  Isn't that the sweet spot of life that we all really crave?  To have people in our life that know us and love us anyway. 

I never really imagined that four-year old boys would have a thing or two to teach me about kindness and grace.  Boys!   Little ones!!  Turns out they know things. They grasp things, important things, that most adults struggle with.  They might not know how to keep sand in the sandbox, or remember to flush the toilet, but little boys know when to close the door to welcome their friend.  Nobody had to tell them how, or explain why, or convince them it was the right thing to do.  They just do it. 

I never imagined a closed door could be such a sweet gesture of an open heart. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Have Fun, Learn Lots!

Summer vacation is quickly winding down around here.  Our oldest has her first day of college (gasp!) today.  The little guy returns to preschool on Tuesday, and our middle one starts first grade on Wednesday.  Phew.  Lots of new beginnings all packed into one crazy, back-to-routines, don't-forget-to-pack-the-lunches kind of week.

I know it's cliche, but it does go so fast, doesn't it?  Back in June, it seemed like the easy, unstructured days of summer stretched out before us into infinity.  But alas, summer does come to an end eventually.  This week, we say farewell to T-ball games, lazy pool afternoons, and late bedtime routines.  Hello lunch boxes, early mornings, wardrobe debates and homework!

Each new season starts with a surge of hope and optimism.  So here are my big hopes for this school year.

For our little man, entering his final year of preschool:
Hang onto that sweet little boy heart and curiosity.  Ask all your questions, even when people start to roll their eyes.  Enjoy being the "big kid" in your class this year.  Be kind and gentle with all those little three-year-olds.  Keep on wearing mismatched socks, rain boots on the wrong feet and backwards pants because it helps me hold on to the little-boy joy of you just a little bit longer.    Oh, and if it's not too much trouble, let go of your aversion to making letters and learn to write your name.  It will come in handy when you get to kindergarten next year. For reals. 

Hey, and how about a little more of this:

And a little less of this:

To our sweet 6-going-on-16 first grader:

May you forever love school and learning as much as you do right now.  Keep on reading with vigor, practicing Mandarin like a pro, and trying new things.  Be a friend to the new kids that will be scared, just like you were last year.  Write your stories even if you don't know how to spell all the words.  Don't be scared that you don't know "first grade math".  That's what first grade is for....learning all that important first grade stuff.  Play hard, work hard and sleep well at the end of each day knowing that you tried your best. No, you won't be getting your own phone this year.  Or next year.  And probably not the year after that.  Hang in there, kiddo.  Life is hard. 

To our big kid, beginning her college career:
For the record, your sister thinks you are the LUCKY one because you get to go back to school before her.  Let go of the anxiety and the doubt, because you GOT this.  Explore your new campus.  Say "Hi" to someone you don't know.  Ask questions.  Take a class that isn't your first choice because you just might stumble into something new that you love.  Savor this opportunity and remember that it is a blessing.  Don't worry about figuring it all out...a major, a career, a all unfolds wonderfully as it should, challenges, successes, hurts, joys and all. 

Above all, have fun and learn lots my favorite little (and not so little) people!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Team Mom. And Other Duties As Assigned.

Summertime is baseball season in our house.  We are entrenched in our second season of Jr. Giants T-ball action which means a lot of hot, late evenings out on the baseball field.  And by entrenched, I mean we're kind of up to our eyeballs.  My daughter has games two nights per week and (in a crazy moment of weakness) I volunteered to be the Team Mom.

I can't say that I've ever been a Team Mom before so I don't have much to compare it to, but I think it's safe to say that it's a little extra work.  When you play in the Jr. Giants league, there's more than snack sign up and team parties to coordinate.  I'm tracking reading, distributing baseball cards, leading mini discussions about the "Word of the Week" and making sure the parents know when and where to bring their kid for the next game.

In a comedic turn of events this week, my Team Mom position suddenly morphed into Assistant Coach when one of our regular coaches left town on a family vacation.  Anyone that knows me well (or maybe even a little bit) knows that I'm no baseball athlete.  I know there is a bat and a ball and some bases involved.  I don't hit very well, I know nothing of baseball strategy, and I can't throw the ball to save my life.  And so me helping on the field in ANY capacity at all just seemed a little....well, out of my league.  Even for T-Ball.

But when you volunteer for something, I believe you should see that commitment through, even when it includes unexpected curve balls.  So I did it.  I was in charge of the dugout for one whole 50-minute, 2-inning T-ball game.

The most tricky part of working the dugout was getting the kids out to the warm-up circle thing on the field where they stand and take a few swings before their turn at bat.  I have no idea what that little space is called.  As I sent the first kid out, I told him, "Go over there and wait your turn to bat."

And then I felt like those instructions weren't really sufficient for my not-yet-pro-league group of 5-7 year olds.  So then I tried, "Go warm up in the circle."

Hmmm.  That didn't sound right either.  Surely that little space has a name?  So I asked one of the moms in the crowd, "What do you call that place where they do their practice swings??"

"On Deck" she said.

OK.  Got it.  So as my next player came up I told her, "OK, you're next!  Get on deck."

She looked and me with a puzzled look and said, "You mean go over there to the circle?"

Well yes.  That's exactly what I mean.

It turns out you can still be helpful as an Assistant Coach even if you don't really know a lick about baseball.  That is the beauty of T-ball.  The players actually don't know much about the game either, so you're in good company.

Nonetheless, I will be happy to return to my place on the bench next week where I can do the stuff I actually know how to do....take pictures, cheer on the team and chat with the other moms.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Tough Conversations

 Image result for pray for charleston

In the wake of the church shooting in South Carolina, I find myself struggling.  I've been reading conversations on the Internet about the history of race relations, injustice, prejudice and hatred that has brewed in this country for far too long.  The mommy blogs are on fire with beautiful ways this incident has been used to teach love and reconciliation to the younger generation.  I sit on the sidelines wondering where my place is in this sea of ugly.  But most of all I struggle with how to raise my children in such a way that they become part of the solution, and not part of the problem.

With children aged six and four, there are some conversations that I'm just not ready or willing to have yet.  We don't watch the news with the kids in the room because I hesitate to expose them to the true colors of the world in which they live.  I want them to feel safe and secure, and I don't know how to do that while including them in conversations about current events.

My husband is a combat Veteran.  While my kids know their dad was in the Army, they really have no clue what that actually means, other than the fact that they make him a card on Veterans day.   They have no understanding of war or what soldiers do. 

Our kids are blissfully unaware that 9 people were murdered while attending a church prayer meeting last week.  I haven't found the courage or the words to share the horror of this event in a way that will not give them nightmares or make them afraid to go to church.

So when I read about parents starting conversations with their kids about civil rights or war I begin to wonder.  Am I doing the right thing?  Is sheltering them from the nightmarish reality of our modern world doing them any favors?  Or am I providing them a false sense of security?  Am I inadvertently raising them to be ignorant, despondent citizens?

I don't know.

I also don't know if those kids having frank, open discussions about racial injustice or the reality of war are growing into informed, pro-active citizens or frightened skeptics. 

I do know that the conversation is important.  I am painfully aware that avoiding the conversation is not an option for those families that lost a loved one or the kids that saw their neighborhood church transformed into a horrific crime scene.  I know these conversations need to be had.  For better or worse.

Our kids will soon be of an age where they will (in spite of my ludicrous censoring efforts) hear about things on the news, at school or on their Facebook page, and begin to ask questions.  They will wonder what the correct answers are, wonder how come we haven't been able to get it right for so many years, and probably be fearful about the evil that lurks in many corners of our world.

When the time comes, and my kids grow curious, I hope I will not pretend that I have all the right answers.  I will have thoughts.  Questions.  Prayers.  I will be open for the discussion, even when it breaks my heart to help them understand the massive hurts that our fellow humans have inflicted and endured.  I will explain our history to the best of my ability.  (Actually, their dad will probably have to field the history questions.  And math.  Ain't my bag.) I will help them think of ways they can be a good neighbor, and ambassador of peace, and a champion for equality. 

It's a noble goal...growing your kids into kind, thoughtful citizens.  But it's not something for which I feel suitably prepared.  Heck, are there any aspects of parenting for which we are really prepared?!  If there really were some magic formula to raising kind, compassionate citizens, I suppose there wouldn't be any need to shelter my kids from the evening news.

But alas.  Our world is broken.

So, in the absence of all the right answers or the magic formula, I will do what I generally do when life gets me to a point where I am clueless, helpless or otherwise completely ineffective and at a loss.


When faced with the hard questions, the most important conversation starts with God.

I pray that our leaders find the stamina to work long, hard hours toward peaceful solutions.

I pray for the strength to trust God during the dark times that surpass my human understanding.

I pray that I can teach my children to be beacons of light, hope and love in their corner of the world. 

I pray that I will know the right time, and have the courage to speak truth, for the hard questions ahead. 


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What's Your Story?

Part of my job is to be an ambassador and promoter of the Little Free Libraries in our community.  Shasta Early Literacy Partnership gets volunteers to build the LFL's, we adopt them out to interested community members and provide used kids books to replenish the library if inventory runs low.

It's an interesting gig. 

I say that because I think the Little Free Library program is a fascinating study of human nature.  The vast majority of people love the idea, support the concept of getting books into the hands of kids, and are fired up about hosting a little box of books on their property.  Our LFL hosts come in all shapes and sizes....laundromat owners, country dwellers, public agencies, local parks, churches and banks.  They all lovingly tend their little box of literature.

And then there are the few skeptics in the crowd.  The naysayers.  The cynical.  These are the ones that don't believe a free library run on the honor system will ever work.  They worry about books being "stolen" or the Little Free Library being vandalized.  They see all the things going wrong in our world and assume the same will happen to anyone or anything that attempts to be a positive force in the community. 

I love trying to talk the cynics down from the cliff.  I convince them to give the public the benefit of the doubt.  Sure, there could be someone that would steal all the books.  But really, if our goal is to get books into every corner of the that such a bad thing?  Personally I would rather have the books be sitting in someone's home getting read than collecting dust in a Little Free Library.

Most days I'm proven right.  The honor system of "take a book, leave a book" is used honorably and Little Free Libraries recycle books at over 50 locations in Shasta County.

Today, it appeared that the cynics would have their day.  We had a Little Free Library that was wiped out completely.  One woman pulled up to the LFL with bags (The staff observed the incident through the window,  assumed she was dropping off some donated books and went about their business) and took every last one.  Adult books, children's board books, teen novels, everything.

Sometimes the system is abused.  But that doesn't mean the system is broken.

The host agency posted a simple message on their Facebook page, announcing their LFL was wiped out and asking friends to donate used books so they could keep their Little Free Library going.  The response was immediate and passionate.  After 8 hours, the simple post had been shared over 100 times.  20+ commenters promised to bring boxes and bags of donated books.  The local TV station picked up the thread and will be running a story on the evening news.

And then there were the cynics.  There was outrage, anger and plain old ugly comments directed at the perpetrator, and the community as a whole.  "Horrible idiot loser jerks." commented one.

"I'm embarrassed to call Redding home." posted another.  

Really?  Really?!

One person made a selfish choice.  One.

Over 20 others immediately responded with support and generosity in a tangible way by offering books, books and more books to replace those that were taken.  Book donors have come out of the woodwork and this Little Free Library will be stocked for MONTHS.  The overflow will be used to support another LFL in the neighborhood that gets heavy traffic. 

So, as far as I'm concerned there is no tragedy here.  There is no moral outrage to be had.  There is no reason for bashing the system, the government or the community.  Bad things happen.  Fair enough.  But is the story we tell about the ugliness or the beauty?  The bad or the good?  Do we focus on the loss or celebrate the generosity?

When I was interviewed by the news crew this afternoon, they asked me what I thought of the person that cleaned out all the books from this Little Free Library. 

"I'm just hoping she has ten kids at home that are enjoying all those books." I said. 

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

A Letter to Bella on Her Graduation

Dear Bella,

You are graduating this week!  Graduation.  The whole concept is just a little silly, isn't it?  Let's go to school for 13 years and then hold a big, goofy ceremony where everyone buys fancy clothes, covers up the clothes with long robes, wears a cardboard hat and walks across a big stage.  You, more than most, can appreciate the subtle humor in the whole process.  Because you, more than most, are an independent thinker and a girl who does things on her own terms. 

I'm gonna warn you, graduation is a sappy time for parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.  It makes us old people nostalgic for the days when you were little.  It makes us reminisce about years we've spent watching you learn and grow.  It makes us hopeful about the path of your future. At graduation, we forget every argument, every disappointment, every eye roll and every forgotten assignment of your entire academic career.  Instead, we focus on the here, the now, and the good. 

For you, the good we see is in your heart.  You are kind and thoughtful and compassionate.  You like baking for the pleasure of creating sugary treats, but also for the joy of sharing them with your friends.  Homework is not your favorite time of day but you'll gladly take time out to help your younger sister with her assignments. I love watching you open gifts on your birthday because you are so good at expressing sincere appreciation for each giver, and each gift, even when it's a tacky shirt that is three sizes too small. 

The good we see is in your independent thinking.  You aren't one to stress over fashion or designer clothes.  Some might think it's geeky but you're all about Lord of the Rings and anything Sci-fi. Most girls went dress shopping for graduation, you went looking for slacks.  You proudly claim both Black Veil Brides and One Direction on your list of favorite bands even if it doesn't make sense to anyone else.  You embrace your heritage, your family, and your church even if it isn't always cool to do that. 

The good we see is in your strength of character.  You have a strong sense of right and wrong and are easily upset by those that don't. You have had your fair share of challenges and roadblocks but haven't allowed them to consume you.  You have a quiet resolve about your values and you aren't easily swayed.

All of this good will serve you well in college and beyond.  Being a successful human requires all of this stuff.  Although the future might seem unknown, scary, confusing or overwhelming, know that you are equipped with life tools.  You have been busy playing, daydreaming, listening to music and texting your friends for the past 17 years, but you've also been busy collecting knowledge and learning lessons.  Perhaps without even realizing it, you've acquired some useful skills that will ease your transition into the real world. 

I hate to be the one to break this to you, but your learning is far from done. College, work, and the school of life have lots more lessons to give.  When you're about 21 you'll think you know it all.  At 25 you'll be convinced you really know it all.  And then at 40 you'll realize you don't really know a damn thing.  Life is funny that way.  No matter how old you get, there's always more to learn.  I think that is maybe the most magical part of graduation.  This ceremony that frees you from the chains of high school classrooms and textbooks, also opens the door to the school of life experiences.  You have been programmed to have your nose buried in a book or be sitting in a straight row of desks with 30 of your peers to soak up some wisdom.  But now, knowledge comes in all shapes and sizes. And the lessons that are most important will not even be listed as a course requirement for any college degree program.  Trust me on that one. 

No matter where life takes you, know that the learning will continue. Know that the world can be harsh, beautiful, painful, exciting, difficult, and wonderful depending on the day.  Remember that you have a family that loves you.  Trust that God has a beautiful and unique plan for your life, though the road map for that plan won't always seem clear.   Don't let the bad days rob you of your hope and optimism. Don't let the good days make you complacent.  The school of life is beautiful, non-traditional, and raw, kind of like you.

Get out there and get busy learning. 


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Canadian Cultural Experience

I spent most of last week at a training in Calgary, Alberta.  I haven't done extensive travel in Canada so this was a bit of a new experience for me.  My last trip to the north was for a high school music trip over 20 years ago, and we barely tip-toed over the boarder into Victoria, BC. 

As I visited various sites around Calgary and Banff, I came to appreciate the vast diversity of the area, both in geography and culture.  Springtime in this part of the world does not mean green pastures and abundant wildflowers, as it does back home.  Springtime here is quiet, brown and cold.  Winters here are real and the bright sun shining in the window belies the 30-degree spring temperatures outside. 

I don't think Canadians are all that different from Americans.  They drive on the correct side of the road.  They (mostly) speak our language.  There is a Starbucks on every corner (I mean literally.  That mermaid and her overpriced coffee are EVERYWHERE.)  But there are some distinct ironies and humorous observations that I had during my travels. 

Although the Dollar Store exists here, there is some confusion on what that actually means....

You might not know where the trains or buses around town are heading, but you certainly know which hockey team they are supporting.

Fancy Italian pastries, which my husband's family makes every Christmas (and I've NEVER seen for sale on a store shelf anywhere, ever.) are readily available for sale in Canada.  At the Asian market. Go figure. 

Oh Canada.  It's a funny place where pennies don't exist, the dollar coin is called a "Loonie", soda is "pop", and liquor can be bought by children (but not at the grocery store).  It's just similar enough to make travel comfortable and easy for Americans, but just different enough to remind us that it really is a different country with unique customs and local norms. 

By far, the most remarkable part of my trip was the 24 hours I spent in Banff National Park, in the middle of the Canadian Rockies.  I live in a mountain region, so I wasn't expecting to be so completely amazed by the magnitude and beauty of Banff.  The peaks and ridges were like nothing I've seen in California...jagged, stately and covered with ridges and creases that caught the snow in just the right proportions to make the scenery breathtaking. 

I took lots of pictures but none of them really does justice to the scenery.  I found myself torn between aching to have my family with me to experience Banff, and reveling in the quiet isolation to soak it all in on my own.

Thanks for everything, Canada.  The cultural quirkiness, the April snow storms, the natural beauty and the favorable exchange rate....loved it all!  Can't wait to save up my Loonies and go back again someday.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

To Obsess, or Not to Obsess. That is the Question.

Certain members of my family of origin are cursed (blessed?) with the gift of OCD.  Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  Maybe OCD is too strong of a term...but we're organizers.  Planners.  Rule followers.  List makers.  Did I say, "we"?  OK, cat's out of the bag.  I include myself in that group.  I don't want to "out" anyone else without their permission, but let's just say the other Type A is not my mom and his name rhymes with job. 

In many phases of my life, this knack for organization has served me well.  I wasn't pulling all-nighters in college because I carefully planned my work and got things done before the deadline. I managed my money and independently financed a home purchase at the tender age of 29.  I don't have to venture into the grocery store more than once per week because I plan our meals and my shopping pretty well.  So, there is something to be said for a little strategy and organization. 

That's not to say this quirky trait is without some drawbacks.  I drive my husband insane with major purchases or big decisions because I like to discuss and dissect every possible angle to find the absolute best solution.  I struggle to pull myself away from house cleaning or cooking to spend a few minutes with my kids because an incomplete "to do" list can make me develop a nervous twitch. 

And don't get me started on travel planning.  I don't know if Travel-induced-OCD is an official "thing" but I'm pretty sure I have it.  Traveling brings out the best and worst of my organization and research skills.  I sit at the computer for HOURS scrolling through hotel reviews, referencing maps, and triple-checking prices to find the absolute best place to stay.  I'm going to Calgary next week and I must have spent three hours researching rental cars to make sure I got one from a company that was inside the airport terminal, didn't have a cancellation penalty, offered GPS as an add-on, and wouldn't charge me for an extra day if I was an hour or two late turning in the car.  (Mission accomplished, BTW.  Thankyouverymuch, Alamo)

Fast forward a few days, and we're in the market for a new laptop.  My dinosaur machine joined the family in 2009 and is starting to show its age.  Here's what I did.  I did an online search at Best Buy for a basic HP laptop.  I did the side-by-side comparison on four different models.  I picked the one that fit my needs, checked the price on Newegg, and then....I bought it!  Over and done.  I'm guessing the whole process took less than an hour. 

Believe me, nobody was more shocked than I was.

I don't know what possessed me to click the "Buy" button so quickly on that computer. Maybe it was because I'm basically just purchasing a newer version of the computer that has performed so faithfully for almost six years.   Perhaps it was understanding my very basic computing needs and knowing that I don't need to have the very best machine on the market.  I'm not quite sure.  It was odd though.  I kind of wanted to strut around the house saying, "I have made a quick decision!!! Hear me ROAR!!".  But I refrained. 

I think the lesson for me is somewhere in between these two extremes.   It probably wouldn't have hurt to double-check the specs on my new computer or review them with someone who knows something (anything) about computers.  I suppose it wouldn't have killed me to pick ONE website to compare prices on the rental car.  But alas, that's not really the way I'm wired. 

So the moral of the story is, I can make a quick decision, it just doesn't happen very often.  If you want to purchase a computer, I have nothing to offer you.  If you need a hotel in a specific neighborhood with 4-star reviews, non-smoking rooms, free wi-fi, king sized beds, breakfast served each morning, and walking distance to a restaurant for under $180/night....I'm your gal. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

10k or Bust!

What are you doing on May 17?  I'm scheduled to run a 10k race with five of my high school girlfriends.  Part of it (the hanging out and drinking wine in the Napa valley part) I'm super excited about.  Part of it (the running 10 kilometers  part)....not so much. 

I like to call myself a runner, mostly because I've been doing it on and off for the past 12 years, so I feel like I've earned that privilege.  But I'm not really a medal-worthy runner.  Or a long-distance runner.  Or an elite athlete of any kind.  I'm more of a recreational, fair-weather runner. I love to run when it's 70 degrees and sunny.  Or maybe 60 degrees with a little cloud cover.  Two or three miles is my typical work out.  If I hit 8 miles in a week, it's an accomplishment.  A 10k is my own personal marathon. 

My running this winter wasn't super consistent.  I would run once or twice a week and labor through the entire thing.  Heavy breathing, sore hip, tired feet, unmotivated brain.  I was stopping for walk breaks far too often and working way to hard to catch my breath.  Running had never come easy for me, but lately it was feeling even more difficult than normal. 

I started to get frustrated.  I Googled "runners hip pain" and started doing strengthening exercises.  I threw in some hill work (up and down and up and down and up and down) into my routine.  (Not good for sore hips, by the way.) I incorporated short sprints into my runs and varied my tempo.  Still my time and my attitude were nowhere near where I wanted them to be. 

Last week I looked at the calendar and realized the race is two short months away.  It was time to start increasing my distance and get (sort of ) serious if I wanted to make it across the finish line.  I committed myself to running three times per week.

And what do you know?  Things got easier pretty fast. 

Turns out that if you want to get better at something there's really no shortcut.  You just have to practice and put in the time.  It's not rocket science.  I can't count how many times I've preached this sermon to my kids. And then promptly failed to apply the theory in my own life.  You would think by this point in my life I would get it. Actually, there are lots of lessons I try to teach my kids that I sometimes ignore.  Picking healthy choices for snacks.  Using kind words with our friends.  Don't waste all your time staring at a screen.  Pick up your stuff and put it where it belongs. 

So, just a little reminder friends....there are no quick fixes or easy ways to the top.  You have to decide what you want and go for it.  Put in the time, the sweat equity, the practice or the study.

And if that all fails, book a trip to the Napa valley.  Because even a rookie can drink fine wine like a champion. 

Class of 1991 drinking running team. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Facebook Lenten Lessons

Lent has come to symbolize a time of sacrifice.  At church on Sundays, the conversation these days tends to center around what we are giving up or taking on for Lent.  You can eliminate fried food from your diet, give up chocolate, promise to exercise 3x per week, or make a vow to read the Bible every day.  Whatever your flavor of Lenten sacrifice, bravo to you. 

My sacrifice this year is the same one that I tried (and failed) last year.  I deleted the Facebook App on my phone.  Perhaps that's not the most earth-shattering sacrifice on the planet, but it has brought some surprising lessons.

Last year, the struggle was REAL.  I was addicted.  I was on Facebook an obnoxious number of times each day browsing photos of my friends' kids or clicking through to dumb buzzfeed articles about nothing.  Truly.  It was ridiculous.  Those two minutes waiting for my kids to get out of school, or the five minutes in line at the grocery store became the perfect time to lose myself in the frivolous world of Facebook nothingness.  It only took about a week before I was using a clever "work around"...accessing Facebook not through the App, but via the web browser on my phone. 

Hey!  My only commitment was to delete the App!!  I never promised to give up Facebook entirely. I woke up on Easter morning and re-loaded that app before breakfast. 

Fast forward one year, and things have changed.  My attitude toward Facebook and social media in general has changed.  Trying to give up Facebook on my phone last year (and realizing how much of a struggle it was) opened my eyes a bit to the ugly truth about how much time I was spending wasting staring at that little screen, gleaning bits of trivia about random people in my life, most of whom I hadn't spoken to in YEARS.

Lesson #1
Not everyone in your life needs to be your Facebook friend.   There is a thrill that comes from gathering up as many friends as possible when you first get onto Facebook. That random guy from high school that sat behind me in Geometry.  Friend!  That mom I met once at a play date with a mutual friend.  Friend!  Lady that goes to our church but I've never spoken to.  Friend!  Co-workers, casual acquaintances, former classmates, old boyfriends....Friend, Friend, Friend!  I had hundreds of Facebook friends.  But soon the excitement wore off and I realized that I didn't really need everyone I've ever met in the history of my life to be showing up on my newsfeed.  It was sensory overload.  Garbage overload.  Set some parameters and friend accordingly.  My rule is, if I wouldn't invite them over for dinner at my house, they don't need to be my Facebook friend. I've cut out about half my friend list and the de-cluttering feels good. 

Lesson #2
You can use Facebook without allowing it to own you.  Have it on your computer, check it out once a day to see what your friends are up to.  Read a frivolous article or LOL at a stupid photo once in a while.  It can be a fun, recreational tool.  Just be careful that it doesn't become all-consuming.  If you find yourself hiding in the kitchen hoping your kids don't catch you trolling Facebook....that's a good sign that your priorities are getting a little jumbled.

Lesson #3
The most important people in your life aren't on your phone.  They're in your house.  They're your family, your friends, your neighbors.  The important people are the REAL people that you have human interaction with on a daily basis.  Not that Facebook people aren't real.  They are.  But if you're like me, those Facebook 'friends' are mostly not really friends at all.  If we could spend half as much time talking to our neighbors as we do ogling Facebook stories, I believe the world would be a happier place. 

Lesson #4
Even stupid, seemingly insignificant Lenten sacrifices can yield true lessons.  When we take time to alter our "norm" it gives us a different perspective on the world.  We see our life through a slightly different lens.  It clears the dust and clutter from our brain (Even perhaps just a very small corner of our brain) so we can process our experiences in a new way. 

So, carry on with your Lenten practice, whatever that may be.  Look for the lessons.  Power through the pain, the withdraws, the sore muscles or aching sweet tooth.  Revel in your small, human, inconvenience and be humbled by the struggle as you prepare to marvel at the true sacrifice of the Easter story. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

I Am Only One.

Something funny happened when I was at the park with my son the other day.  It wasn't "Ha Ha" funny, more like funny business.  OK, drug business.  Which isn't really funny at all. 

It was a sunny afternoon, and we had just killed about 45 minutes while waiting for big sister to finish her ukulele class.  I was feeling happy that we had found a new little neighborhood park close to her school. 

Until I noticed an anxious-looking young man pull up behind my car, talking on his cell phone and eyeing the park like he was looking for someone or something.  About 30 seconds later, another car full of 20-something guys pulled up across the street.  One guy hopped out.  They all looked around anxiously now, clearly trying to play it cool (some more successfully than others).  Money changed hands.  A petite package changed hands, and the guy hopped back into the car with his group of friends. 

I watched most of this happen out of my rear view mirror as I was pulling out, and then turning around to go in the direction of my daughter's school.  I drove slowly trying to understand what was happening...trying to find some alternate explanation for what I had just witnessed.  I didn't want it to be a drug deal.  I wanted it to be a group of guys meeting at the park to play basketball.  I wanted it to be some young men exchanging recipes for BBQ hot wings.  I agonized trying to find some reasonable, sensible, plausible explanation for this type of exchange other than drugs.  And I came up short. 

I called the police to report the activity.  Not that I expected the police to come in hot pursuit and arrest these guys.  They were probably long gone by the time I picked up my phone.  But I needed somebody to know.  I needed to funnel my anger and fear into something productive.  And making that simple call was about all I felt I could do. 

And maybe that's enough. 

I don't think this community needs another vigilante-justice-minded citizen trying to solve problems with their own rule book. I don't think it would be wise or productive for me to try to tackle a 20-year old guy and flush his drugs down the toilet.  It might have ended badly if I tried to snap photos of their license plates and inform them I was calling the cops. 

What I can do is be a witness.  I can speak up.  I can cry foul when I see it and leave the hard work to the trained professionals.  I can keep taking my kids to the park so it's a busy place that is less appealing for shady transactions. 

Are there drugs in this community?  Yes.  Is it a problem?  Yes.  Is it everywhere?  Is it hopeless?  Should we all lock our kids up and never let them outside?  No, no and no. 

When the good people go into hiding, evil wins.  Anger wins.  Fear wins. 

I, for one, will keep showing up. I will support the positive efforts in this community with my time, my attention, and my dollars.  I will not lock up my children.  I will not throw up my hands and blame every politician, police officer or civic leader for the ills of this community. I am this community. And so are you. 

I am only one, but...

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Four Years Old.

My little man, the baby of our family, turns four today.  Four years ago today I was big and pregnant with sore hips and a voracious appetite.  I felt old, tired, and READY for this baby inside of me to make his grand entrance.

And grand it was.

My little baby boy was not a typical hospital birth.  We flew into the ER in the middle of the snowy night and I literally popped out a baby sitting in the wheelchair at the nurses station, waiting for my room.  Honestly, if you have to birth a baby, this is the method I recommend.  It certainly beat the hours and hours of natural childbirth and fruitless pushing that I endured when my daughter was born.  The hospital probably frowns on this (due to the fact that the wheelchair is likely out of commission permanently....) but I still say fast and furious is way better than slow and laborious when it comes to childbirth.

OK, enough about birthing.  Back to the birthday.

So our little guy is four.  Here's what I will remember about four....

He loves all things bulldozer.  Actually anything excavator, dump truck or race car is also at the top of his list. 

When I sing along with the radio as we drive around town, he often says, "Mommy, I like your singing."  

Piggie and Gerald are his favorite literary characters and he can listen to those books over and over and over.

He still calls his big sister "Ra-Ra", even though he's perfectly capable of pronouncing "Clara." 

We have to store toothpaste out of reach, because he is completely incapable of controlling the urge to squeeze out a half cup of toothpaste on his toothbrush. 

He refers to the dentist office as the "tooth hospital" because we had to rush him there one evening when he fell and smacked his face on the coffee table.

He does not sleep in.  Ever.

He still naps 1-2 hours every day, which must be our consolation prize for his habit of rising early.

He begs me to paint his toenails.  And I do.

His favorite game to play with his sister is "Mom and Dad" which I think is basically what we used to call "Playing house" in my day.

The sandbox is his happy place.

On the weekends when he's the first one out of bed, he comes to my bedside and puts his face right in front of mine until I wake up and pull back the covers for him to climb in with me.   He snuggles for 10-30 seconds before asking about breakfast and moving on to other more interesting activities. 

His curiosity does not quit.  He wants to know the how and why of everything.

He likes going to the doctor and has never shed a tear when getting a shot.  

He loves being a helper.  That is my go-to solution for times when he is pestering his sister or just not able to find a productive outlet for his energy.  I ask him to help me with something and it usually works.

As a result of  previous statement, we spend a lot of time together in the kitchen cooking dinner.

This little man challenges me every day.  He pushes the limits, challenges the rules and tests the meaning of "No" and "Stop" on a daily basis. He has occasionally brought me to my knees as a mother and made me recite desperate prayers for "Just one easy day."  Or, "Just one morning without a power struggle." Or, "Please Lord, just one nice toy that we don't have to donate to the thrift store because he used it to hit his sister."

He has also taught me about love.  And strength.  And growth.  I have learned (Many times over) that I am far from being a perfect mom.  His challenges have forced me to give up the facade of perfection and ask others for help.  He has given me the courage to be vulnerable in new ways.  Do you know how hard it is to admit you don't quite know the correct way to parent your very own biological offspring?  It's almost as if you're admitting failure at being human.  Isn't being a mom supposed to be natural?  Easy?  Intuitive? 

Sometimes, not so much.

But here's what I do know.  Admitting you don't know it all is the first step toward getting it right.  Or at least better. Loving through the struggle makes me stronger and teaches me lessons about love and grace that I didn't even know I needed to learn. Being a mom to an active, envelope-pushing, mischief-stirring boy has made me reevaluate, learn, stretch and grow in whole new ways.

When my kids complain about things being hard, I don't try to convince them that it's easy.  I convince them that they can do hard things.  Because truly, nothing less than hard work has ever birthed anything worthwhile.

And so, my little man, happy birthday.  Growing up is not always easy when you are four.  (Or 41, for that matter.) You'll try out some new tricks.  I'll learn new ones too.  I'm sure we both have a few more mistakes to make before we get it all right.  But we'll be fine.  Because we can do hard things. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Home Office

The view from my work desk has change dramatically.  Last month I quit one of my part-time jobs (The "real" job that had an actual office with a desk and my own phone line) and opted to make a go of it with just one-part time job.  (Well, really still two jobs because I'm still a mom.  Or maybe three because I'm also a wife. But that's another post...)  This decision did not come lightly as I did have to give up some income and a few benefits and perks that came with the real job.  Adios, dental and vision insurance.  Goodbye, employer contribution to my retirement account.  So long, little office with big windows where I could watch the wild turkeys stroll by.

I am now officially a "Work at Home Professional"!  My job now is actually a contractor gig, which means I work for myself.  I provide my own office.  I make my own coffee.  And I go to work in my pajamas.  Well, not really.  My son is still in preschool, which means I actually have to get out of the car when I drop him off at school.  So most days, I actually do get dressed.  It might be yoga pants and flip flops, but it is not the clothing I slept in.  Therefore I call it dressed. 

I have to say, for the most part I really love working at home.  I have my own little office (aka the guest room, the storage room, or the treadmill/work out room, depending on the time of day), I make my own hours and have the flexibility to pick up my kids from school every day and/or take a quick trip to Macy's when the mood hits.  The dress code is relaxed.  The commute is a breeze.  And, I must say, my boss is awesome.

Perhaps the trickiest part of working from home is my new coworker.  My husband also happens to be a tele-commuter, so we share this home/office arrangement.  Every.  Day.  He has actually been working at home for quite some time, so he's well entrenched in the pajama dress code and other home office norms.  He likes working from home because he can focus, get more work done, and not get sucked into 30-minute political discussions at the water cooler.

Here is the irony.  My husband spends a LOT of time trying to suck me into 30-minute discussions about anything.  He'll grab a cup of coffee, stroll into my office and ask me what I'm doing....and then SIT DOWN as if to listen to my long, detailed explanation about what type of work I am performing at that very moment.  He'll send me text messages from the other room about a funny article he read online.  He'll come into my office/guest room/gym and lie down on the bed to watch me work or just "hang out".

It drives.  Me.  Nuts.

Truth is, working at home doesn't mean I have more time to sit around and shoot the breeze.  It means I have to prioritize and get stuff done.  If I want to volunteer in my daughter's classroom every Friday, I have to get work done on Thursday.  If I want to have time to shuttle kids to doctors appointments on Wednesday afternoon, I have to get work done on Wednesday morning. You get the picture. I think the problem is my husband doesn't really mind staying up until midnight to get his work done.  He has a more flexible attitude about when he works.  I, on the other hand, prefer to clock out in the mid-afternoon and not return to my office/guest/gym for more work in the evening hours.  So, my work time is WORK TIME.  Leave me alone.  Thankyouverymuch.

Like any new job, it takes a while to get adjusted to your new coworkers and office politics.  In spite of his loitering and occasional harassment, I do enjoy being home with my husband.  I'm confident we will be good coworkers and develop a happy working relationship.  At least I hope so.  Because I haven't yet found the HR department around here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

California Winter: A Storm Story.

Our neck of the woods has finally been getting a small dose of winter.  It's not three feet of snow or hurricane force winds....nothing crazy like that.  (We ARE still California, after all.) But we did get some serious rain this weekend.  Some places got hail or lightening, and most of us got some pretty strong wind. 

I woke up on Saturday morning and went to flip on the light switch in the bathroom and all I got was a "click" with no light.  Tried it again, just to be sure, and still no light.  Our power had gone out in the middle of the night. 

I stumbled through the dark hallway and made my way to the kitchen where I again flipped the light switch, you know, just to check, and because I apparently have the short-term memory of a gnat.  Note to self: When the power goes out, none of the lights work.  NONE of them.  STOP CHECKING. 

It was still pretty dark, but I quickly remembered that we had a candle in the middle of the dining room table and a lighter in the junk drawer in the kitchen.  I was able to connect Candle A with Lighter B to create light!  I then stopped to pat myself on the back for being so remarkably well-prepared for the apocalypse by having an alternate source of light for my home.  Yay me!

My next order of business was visiting the PG&E website to see what the deal was with this power outage.  Always a bummer when you pull up your address and get a message like this:

We were already eight hours in to our little power hiccup and they had no idea on the cause and no guess as to how long power would be out.  Ugh.

When my kids woke up, they were delighted with the candlelight cereal spread that was on the table for breakfast.  They thought it was fun and fancy.  Lucky them, they didn't notice the very real absence of COFFEE. Turns out I couldn't even pull out our gas camping stove to make coffee because all we had in the house were whole beans, nothing ground.  In the absence of a Indian coffee grinding rock we were forced to make an emergency trip to Starbucks.  Perhaps my apocalypse planning had a few holes in it....

As the day wore on, we embraced the frontier lifestyle, sans electricity.  We lit a fire in the fireplace to keep warm (with outside temps hovering in the 50's, we couldn't risk frostbite...).  The kids did some coloring by candlelight and ran around outside for over an hour.  I actually sat down to read a book.  The last time that happened on a Saturday morning was, um, never. We also answered question after question after question from the kids about what does and does not require electricity.  TV?  Yes.  Computer?  Yes.  Refrigerator?  Yes.  Fireplace?  No.  Yes.  Lights?  Yes.  Water?  No.   And on and on and on.

Lunch and snacks were gleaned from whatever was in the cupboards because I was trying very hard to conserve every ounce of cool air inside the refrigerator.  When the afternoon wore on and it appeared that we might be forced to create dinner without electricity, I started debating about Burrito Bandito or pizza.  But then I became determined to survive in this primitive state and actually COOK my own dinner on the BBQ.  And then I remembered our propane tank was empty.  So again, the disaster prep in our house could perhaps use a little fine-tuning.

A little after 2pm the lights came back on, we all breathed a sigh of relief and the kids got to celebrate by watching a movie.  The vacuum cleaner doesn't work without electricity, so all in all it wasn't a bad way to spend a Saturday. Bring it on, California winter. We got this. 

The Apocalypse?  Maybe not so much. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Sassy 70!

My mom turns 70 today.  I'm pretty sure she's past the self-conscious phase of life and won't mind me plastering that number all over the internet.  I used to think 70 was old.  Maybe it is.  But one of the mantras my mom repeated to me over and over as I bemoaned turning 30, and then 40, is "Age is just a number." 

And as much as I hate to admit it, she's right.  It IS just a number.  We are not defined or confined by this number.  Our only limits are the ones that we impose upon ourselves.  Who says you can't be active and have fun at 70?  Certainly not this lady.

We celebrated her birthday a little early with a surprise trip to the ocean last weekend.  After months of secret reservations, covert menu planning, and careful conversations out of earshot of little people who can't keep a secret, our whole family converged at an awesome vacation home in Dillon Beach.

My mom and dad arrived on Thursday night for a one-week stay.  I'm hoping she wasn't expecting a quiet, romantic week at the beach because that certainly isn't what she got.  A day later, her kids and grandkids all arrived with screams of , "SURPRISE!" and took over the place with toys, iPads, sandy shoes, bunk bed sleeping debates, and runny noses. A day after we left, four of their wonderful, longtime friends arrived with more shouts of, "SURPRISE!" bringing a fine crab dinner, more wine (I'm assuming) and many hearty belly-laughs. 

We celebrated 70 years at her favorite place, with her favorite people, doing her favorite things.  Did we spend the day knitting?  Heck no.  We sipped coffee together, talked, and watched the sun rise over the ocean each morning.  We walked on the beach, played games and competed in ping pong tournaments with elaborate bracket structures and questionable homemade rules.  We drank wine at night and ate dinner together (all 11 of us) at a cozy table better suited for 8.  And we visited Point Reyes Seashore, where every member of our group (ages 3-70) descended over 300 steps (The equivalent of 25 flights of stairs, if you must know.) to a lighthouse perched on the very edge of the earth, high above the Pacific ocean.

I hope when I'm 70 I am surrounded by people I love.  I hope I can still be competitive in a game of ping pong and show 300 stairs that they are not the boss of me.   I hope my kids will marvel that I'm 70 and be reminded that age is just a number.  Because when I grow up, I want to be just like my mom.

Friday, January 2, 2015

I Never...

I'll never select bathroom decor to please the children in the house.  It is a public room, shared by all.  It doesn't need to look like Toys R Us threw up in there.

The Duckie Bathroom.

I'll never be a runner.  It hurts.  It's boring.  It's only for crazy people.

My proud display of race bibs and medals.

I'll never marry a military guy.  To risky.  Too dangerous.  And most of them are republicans.

Me and my raging republican Army husband.

I'll never let my children throw tantrums in public.  They will be well behaved at all times and we will immediately exit any public venue if there are any signs of unrest.

This one.  Loves to scream.  Loudly.

I'll never live in the same town as my parents.  I'm an adult!  Don't need to be that close to my parents.

12.48 miles.  Seems like a good buffer zone.

I'll never have a fake Christmas tree.  They don't smell right and you miss out on the fun of selecting the perfect tree each year.

Our far-from-real, tree from a box.

Looking forward to more surprises and breaking the rules in 2015.  Happy New Year!