Saturday, April 30, 2011

Laughter and Love

One of my favorite things about my Mom is the way she can completely lose it when she laughs. From the time I was little, one of my favorite sights and sounds has been her laughing. She sometimes gets going so hard that she'll completely lose control and laugh so much, getting tears in her eyes. Watching my Mom laugh like this always brings me joy. To see her be so caught up in whatever it is that tickles her at the moment is a beautiful thing.

When I was young, I remember losing it most with my friends Cheryl and Maureen. Later my friend Carolyn and I would get each other going so we'd be gasping for breath. But of course, in adulthood, my husband and my children are the ones most privy to seeing me laugh with total abandon.

Last August, our nerves were frayed as we prepared to see Sydney off to college. On her last night at home, things got a little silly and before I knew it, my daughter Emma and I were laughing so hard over a couple little plants that we said were going to take Sydney's place. It was surely one of those "You had to be there" moments but we laughed so hard that we cried. We have pictures to prove it.

I'm often the one making a fool out of herself such as when I told Emma on Easter morning that before we changed out of our Easter dresses, we should go outside and "frolic". I told her we had dresses that needed to twirl outside in the spring air. She gave me one of her usual "Mom, you're crazy" looks and I had to practically pull her out of the house with my camera in hand but I'm so glad I did. She got the camera in its paparazzi mode and by the time I turned the camera on her, we were both laughing....again. Sydney, Eric, and Paul all play the clown too at times. There is never a shortage of laughter in this house of ours. For that I am truly grateful. We are blessed.

Tonight we were all being lazy but I wanted to make good on my suggestion to Paul that we could play a board game together. So out came the new game he'd gotten recently that we had not yet played. The game had us strap plastic headbands on our heads with a picture card perched on top. The game was a version of 20 Questions. We all looked ridiculous to begin with but when Eric and the kids saw that I had a picture of a flying bat on my head, knowing my fear of the things, they all started laughing. As I started asking questions, unaware as to what was on my head, they continued to laugh remembering with irony my incidents with bats flying above my head inside the family camp, and before long I was so frustrated in trying to figure out the card that I started laughing so hard I could no longer speak. Another round of the game brought more laughs. What had at first been an obligation to fulfill a promise to Paul became a highlight of our day together.

I fell in love with my husband after I realized that he not only made me laugh but that I had the power to make him laugh too. Our years together have been filled to the brim with laughter. He often says that I laugh more heartily now than I used to. He may be right. I think I've realized more lately that life is too short to keep a chuckle inside. To laugh heartily is definitely more fun!

I am so grateful that I grew up with a Mom who could laugh so freely. She gave me a most treasured gift and showed me its powerful benefits. If I can continue to raise my children and surround them with laughter, I know I will not possibly steer them wrong.

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Beautiful Place to Call Home

After a very long week, I had to travel into the city to run an errand. I enjoy visiting the city but my drive in today was tiresome and I was weary. So it was nice to finally arrive home this afternoon and to have the house to myself for a couple of hours. Stretching out on my bed, I had the window open and that's when I heard it again. Our brook.

The day after my brother Kevin's wedding, just a few weeks after I began my first year of teaching, my parents, my husband, and I took a trip to this town after reading of some new homes being built. I thought the community was a little too far away from where my husband and I had teaching jobs, but it turned out not to be. We toured a model home and were surprised to learn that we just might be able to afford to build a modest home there, now that we were a two income family. The next day my Dad took it upon himself to walk every single lot in the development that was still available. Being nearly six months pregnant with my first child, I did not join him, but by the time he arrived back to my apartment at the end of the day, he had the best lot decided upon. We crunched numbers and my husband and I became the ninth homeowners to build in that development which in the past 19 years has greatly expanded. Still, the neighborhood remains peaceful.

The brook in front of our home has long been a favorite spot. It has been where my children threw in beanie babies to follow the current and where little wooden boats, crafted and painted with their Dad's help, took their maiden voyages. Over the years we have taken numerous family pictures near the brook. The kids enjoyed testing the hardiness of the ice that would form each winter, and come spring I would dry the dog's paws after she'd gone for a drink there. But most of all I have loved how it lulls me to sleep each season when it is running. Its soothing sound never fails to relax me.

It was exciting back then to secure this spot. It is comforting now to be here still. As I enjoy the sound of the running brook outside my bedroom window, I'm grateful for this little area of paradise I have. I am so very thankful that my Dad helped us decide that this town, this development, this very lot of land, would make a beautiful place to call home. Thanks Dad.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A New Pattern

So much loss. The devastation in Japan. Tornadoes down south. Multiple fires set in a neighborhood an hour or so away. Even within the two communities I live in daily there has been great loss. In just the past week a man who has pinch-hit for me in the classroom lost his wife--she died unexpectedly of meningitis. A colleague of mine then unexpectedly lost her mother. Another tragedy befell us next when a 20 year old mother of a fourteen month old baby, a recent graduate of our local high school, disappeared. After a grueling four day search, her body was found in a pond.

Before these losses mentioned above occurred, since last September I personally dealt with four other deaths, each one touching me in different ways. My parish priest died. I lost my 17 year old dog. My Mom's best friend died. Then a former student who was healthy and joyful and just sitting in my classroom last June passed away.

Why so much loss in such a short period of time? I don't understand. I am trying to make sense of it all but I can't. I try not to dwell on sadness and I know that death is a natural part of life but I am hoping it's time for a new pattern. I'm afraid that if I took one of those paper and pen stress tests, the ones that ask you to tally 10 points for various factors in your life that you have experienced in the last 12 months, I'd be told to get myself to an emergency room pronto! My eyes are puffy and bloodshot often. I've gained back some of the weight I had lost last summer. I have spied a few more wrinkles. I'm sleep deprived. I'm clenching my jaw and grinding my teeth. And although I am very blessed, I cannot brush this all aside. It has taken its toll on me, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

But I have to say that despite not understanding any of this loss, it has not crushed my spirituality. In fact, I think my faith has been strengthened in the past 8 months. I'm thinking of poor Job from the Bible now. But I'm daring not to speak out, "What else have you got for me Lord?" as I do not want to know. I am simply agreeing with Mother Theresa who once said, "I know that God won't give me anything I cannot handle. I just wish he didn't trust me so much".

When I lost my baby in a miscarriage back in 1998 I named the baby Joy. There's a fuller story behind that fact which I'll share on another day, but I turn to Joy now for the reminder that from loss comes true joy. I lost Joy and gained my son Paul who was born just 13 months later. So I end tonight's blog post wanting to make emerge a new pattern of hope and joy. I'll continue with prayer but I am also going to physically do something every day to bring about more joy for myself and for others. I challenge each of you reading this to do the same. We can't avoid loss, but we can control what others can gain from our positive love-driven efforts.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Breaking Points

Breaking points. Everyone has one. Or two. Or more. They can occur professionally, personally, mentally, physically, or spiritually. One can quickly follow another, even in a day's time, or they can be spaced out a great extent over a period of years. I have witnessed them often in young children who grow overtired but I have also seen them occur with the most mature and stable of adults.

In the course of my teaching career I have had a few. Both times I felt the solution was to switch schools and teach in my children's district. I am glad that I turned down a job offer the first time a breaking point occurred back in 1997, and I am grateful that a particular job did not materialize the second time a few years ago. I now realize that changing the external was not what I needed. I needed to change the internal.

In my personal life, I've been pretty lucky. Still, I can recall a few times when a significant breaking point occurred. The dates and situations of each breaking point were different but in each, the number one issue was my need to re-prioritize. I am a woman who takes on a lot, too much for my own good at times. Yet I am a smart and reflective person and it does not take me long to recognize I need to regroup. That's when lists help me. That's when a "mental health day" becomes a necessity. That's when I get on my knees and pray the way I should every day. That's when I admit, I sometimes need time to talk and talk and talk...and yes, cry.

Most often I see myself as a self-fulfilled, highly competent, and respected individual. I am embarrassed to become a stressed out leader, no longer enjoying her job or her personal life. I cannot stand to live in the midst of crisis. I do not thrive on stress. I prefer to be so absorbed by what I am doing that I don't even notice the passage of time – hours feel like minutes. You probably know the feeling...when we are so enthralled in a project or a task, so engaged, that we forget to eat or sleep?

What concerns me most is entering into a cycle of stress which could lead to burnout.
I prefer to be "resilient" to the challenges of my profession and to the pace of raising an active family. Stress hardy people are committed to meaningful work, community, and family responsibilities. They are engaged and involved. They are in control, believing in their abilities and they do not see challenges as threats. I want to be someone who continues to have clarity and discipline so as to successfully "unplug" when needed, to pare down the unnecessary, to focus on energy boosters, not drainers. I have grown wiser in my years. I know how to pick battles worth fighting for and how to walk away from others best suited for a different time or for a different leader. I have developed good thinking, have grown tenacious in pursuing personal growth, and have practiced how to gain the highest returns for myself, my loved ones, and my students and colleagues.

The idea that "we choose our life by how we spend time" reminds me that perhaps this half hour I have taken now to write, to think, and to regroup will speak volumes for how I choose my life today.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

To Be or Not to Be (a Poet)

I love the plays and the poetry of William Shakespeare! I read Macbeth as a junior in high school and I first watched Zefferelli's movie Romeo and Juliet when I was 14 years old. (It would not be until I student taught that I would finally read the actual play!) I enjoy his other plays also, such as Hamlet and The Taming of the Shrew. I thoroughly enjoy teaching Shakespeare's works but once in awhile I challenge my students to try their hand at writing in his style. My Creative Writing students were recently challenged to write a Shakespearean sonnet. It had been quite a while since I had penned my own sonnet, so tonight while taping one reality show, The Biggest Loser and watching another, Dancing with the Stars, I decided it was time to put my sonnet writing skills to the test !

In case it's been awhile since you studied Shakespeare, let me remind you that a Shakespeare sonnet is a 14 line poem that has three stanzas and one couplet. The lines each have 10 syllables with every other syllable being stressed when pronounced. (This is called iambic pentameter). The lines have a prescribed rhyme scheme too: ABABCDCDEFEFGG which means the first and third lines must rhyme, the second and fourth lines must rhyme, the fifth and seventh, the sixth and eighth, the ninth and eleventh, the tenth and twelfth, and finally, the thirteenth and fourteenth! There are additional challenges to incorporate metaphors and to present a problem and later a proposed solution, but it is getting late after all and I don't think even Shakespeare perfected his writings in a single night!!

So with a basic apology to good ol' Will for my chosen topic but without further ado...although I must admit I am wondering which reality show he would be best on if he were still around today...Billy Shakespeare, I dedicate this one to you !!

I should not stay up late like this each night.
The dawn comes quickly and I have to rest.
But it is tough for me to dim the light.
Reality shows put me to the test.

I need to know which dancing pair must leave.
Which survivor must leave the island now?
Which racer 'round the world will surely grieve?
I need to know the what, where, when, who, how.

There is some shame in what I do each night.
I should pick up a book instead I know.
My mind is weary but it knows what's right.
Yet to the old remote is where I go.

To see it all I wish I had nine lives.
I only hope the DVR survives.

Monday, April 25, 2011


I don't know how they did it. There's always the joke that perhaps they were glad to get rid of me, their fifth and final child, but I really don't think it would have been their choice to send me away that summer. But when I talked to my parents about the opportunity I had to spend the summer of 1987 in an out-of-state apartment with my three closest hometown friends and a friend-of-a-friend, they were nothing but supportive.

It was the summer after my first year of college no less. After seeing their baby off to school the previous September, Mom and Dad listened patiently to my excitement of how I had the chance to share the summer with old friends. We had a place to sublet for a few months and before long I'd gotten a job at Filene's Department store. Of course I did not make much money that summer. I spent all of my paychecks, that did not go towards rent or groceries, on clothes bought with my employee discount! But I did make a lifetime of memories. There were endless private jokes created that summer. There were laughs over everything including one scary afternoon when we returned home to find the apartment door open. How incredibly patient those policemen were when they came to our rescue! There were road trips to surprise my then-boyfriend, and there were incredible heart-to-heart talks with the three young women who in just 18 months would serve as my bridesmaids and/or maid of honor. I accepted Eric's upteenth marriage proposal at that apartment that summer. After months of thinking I was too young and saying "No", I was quick to run to my friends and announce my engagement when I changed my mind.

But here I am now 24 years later, anxiously awaiting the return of my 19 year old daughter. After her first year of college she is coming home for the summer in just 10 days. She has secured a summer job and her sister is making room for her old roommate. I suppose I would have been understanding and supportive if she had decided to spend the summer elsewhere. At least I would like to think I'd have been supportive. But in all honesty, I am grateful she is coming home. I've missed my first born these past 8 months. It will be a beautiful thing to have my family all together under the same roof for the summer of 2011.

I returned to live at home the summer of 1988. I babysat my nephew but mostly took time to play. My excuse that summer was that I would save money and plan my November wedding. Yet I know that in my heart I wanted to have one last summer at home with Mom and Dad.

Letting go and cheering on a young adult's new found adventures is a necessary milestone. My parents were ultra cool about it all. I don't know how they did it but when it's my turn, I will channel their courage, patience, and love. In the meantime, I'm going to countdown these next 10 days.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Back at It

Today I practiced the tree pose. I also did some single leg extensions. I practiced deep breathing exercises, did some lunges, then moved on to some step aerobics. I was an expert at heading soccer balls, mastering step aerobics, and using the hula hoop. I adored my time as a boxer and even found my time as a penguin catching fish on an iceberg to be entertaining. Tomorrow I plan to do a run, do a few ski jumps, and some sun salutations. That's right, I've reintroduced myself to Wii Fit. Give me a few more days and I'll meet up with Jillian Michaels again from the Biggest Loser. That game kicked my butt last year. I've got to psych myself up to let Jillian train me again.

As my spring vacation ends I've gotten back in the habit of doing 30 minutes on the Wii each day. I'm trying to get out to do 30 minutes of walking the neighborhood too but there is something about the Wii that pushes me. I hate to think it's the silly little phrases of support I get from my computerized trainers but it could be. Or maybe it's the fact that I get a little "stamp" when I work out each day. I have always been a sucker for stickers on a calendar. Just ask my children!

When I get motivated to do something, there is little that stands in my way. I am tenacious when I have to fight for the underdog and on a lighter note, I have been known to paint a room in a single day in 90 degree weather. I also drove home nonstop from Philadelphia one time despite my husband's constant suggestions that we pull over for the night. Heck, just look at how many days in a row I have kept at this blog!! I can be pretty stubborn. But despite that fact, keeping myself motivated to work out has not been easy. I got on a roll last summer though but once the holidays hit, I floundered. I backtracked on my success. I got lazy. That is frustrating. But here I am, picking things up again. Don't you ever count me out. I won't be the underdog for long.

I admit however, I have no motivation or desire to ever become a runner so you won't see me signing up for any marathons as part of my fitness goals. I'd rather walk, hike, or kayak. I enjoy playing basketball with my son in the driveway. Someday I'd like to take a boxing class. I want to become more flexible and strong through yoga. But more than anything, I just want to feel fit again like I was starting to feel last summer. I have to remind myself that my health is worth fighting for. I am worth fighting for.

And it will be a fight. Each day brings new distractions that take me away from my fitness goals. There's so much for me to do at work and to keep my family going, and in my downtime, I'd much prefer to take a comfortable seat on the deck and read the afternoon away. But the holidays are long over and there are only 8 weeks until my summer vacation begins. I am determined to begin the summer feeling good so I can continue to hike new trails with my family and start walking each day with my new puppy. I then want to relax on the deck with a good book without any guilt.

Tomorrow I've made plans to go walking with my daughter when I get home from school. And I have set my alarm in hopes I can pull myself out of bed to go on the Wii before my work day begins. That'll be a challenge. Wish me luck if you'd like. Or maybe, just send me a sticker.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Reclining with Boo

The next-to-the-last-day of a school vacation is always an interesting one. Sometimes there is a push to do all those things I wanted to do but did not get to earlier in the week. Other times, there's a race to get out and see one last movie or go out for one more dinner. But with today's rain, it was a day to be lazy and to catch up with an old friend at the same time.

I was motivated enough when I first got up. I worked out and then made Belgian waffles for my son's breakfast. I made some deviled eggs too. But then I crawled into my favorite recliner to watch a little television and before I knew it, my friend arrived. Boo, my 11 year old kitty, jumped onto of my fleece blanket and nestled in for a cozy nap. It was enough to make me stay put. Little did I realize how long we'd be there in that chair together.

When my daughter called needing a ride home from her play rehearsal, my husband looked over to me and asked if I would please go get her. I knew that was the right thing to do, since he'd taken her earlier in the morning but I looked down at that comfy kitty of mine and knew I had to ask for a reprieve. "Oh look. He's so comfortable right here. I don't want to disturb him". My husband was not impressed but off he went to go pick up our daughter. He's a good guy.

When I tired of watching tv, I picked up a magazine. My furry friend shifted his position but did not leave my side. I rather enjoyed the excuse to stay put. My mind wandered to different chores I could be doing but it'd been years since I'd had a newborn in my lap excusing me from doing anything but rocking, so I took advantage of the situation and relaxed with Boo. It was not how I had planned to spend a good portion of my next-to-the-last-day of vacation, but it was wonderful.

It had been awhile since I'd been that relaxed as to stay seated for so long. It has been a challenging past five months and Boo and I hadn't had much time together. I had given a great deal of attention to Charlie in her final weeks and the stress of other family and professional obligations had been overwhelming. When I did sit down, it seemed I was jumping up to tend to something or someone quite frequently. This vacation was different. It was my time to catch up--on sleep, with family, and yes, with Boo.

Later in the day I would get out of that chair and I'd do a little schoolwork and some cooking. In my usual form I tried to get a jump start on what would need some attention the next day. Boo moved on too, visiting Emma in her bedroom and getting comfy in her bed. But in the evening my kitty came to find me again. With vacation ending and a busy spring approaching, we seemed to both know it'd be some time before we could spend hours cuddling together in the recliner, but in the meantime, we'd continue steal a few minutes here and there.

I'm glad it rained today. I'm happy Boo restrained me in the recliner. I cannot imagine there being a better way to have spent the day than catching up and reclining with Boo.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Seeing Things

When I was a little girl I used to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. For example, I'd visit the little "door" on the baseboard heaters to pick up my little mouse friend. My mother who was afraid of mice, a fear I inherited myself as an adult, did not like this particular imaginary game of mine very much at all. But I would put out my hand, have the little friend hop on my palm, and I'd return him to the baseboard heater door after a while. To this day I still spy the little "doors" and when I go to clean the metal, I think of that imaginary mouse.

My brother, being 10 years older than I, was often irritated by his kid sister's imaginary games. I remember ducking down in the backseat of the car at night to hide from the "monsters" I could see within the "faces" of the cars or trucks following us on the road. "Mom. Make her stop!" he'd plead. I undoubtedly would annoy him with my backseat horror film re-enactments. "Let her be. She's playing", my Mom would reply. I could so easily see things that were not there, even an imaginary friend of mine named "Bernadette" would appear to keep me company. It's safe to say that I had a very rich childhood with such a vivid imagination.

But even in my adult life I sometimes see things that perhaps another might not readily visualize. Beyond finding shapes in the clouds above, I never pass an open field without imagining someone running through it. It's become a regular joke between my husband, children, and I. "Mom! There's a field. Shouldn't there be someone running through it?!" they tease me.

So, it only stands to reason that when I went downstairs this morning and spotted a tall silver screw and a couple little pieces of metal standing starkly, forming the shape of a cross, on top of my kitchen island, on GOOD FRIDAY no less, I saw something beautiful and incredibly meaningful. I immediately grabbed my camera. The camera wouldn't work at first and I was about to yell up to my daughter to ask if I could please borrow hers, when suddenly it took the shot. I brought up the view window and saw the picture I had just taken. There was a shadow perfectly formed in the shape of another cross. Hearing my son enter the room I said, "Paul! Look at this! It's a cross! On Good Friday!" I wanted someone else to witness what I was seeing. He must have taken in my wide eyes and my excited smile for just a second and then he said, "Yeah Mom, I did that".

Sometimes I see things that no one else sees. Other times I see things that another person places in front of me to see. The truth is, it doesn't usually matter how it comes to be. It's more important that it is witnessed, that it is simply seen in the first place.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Missed Mass

I had marked it on the calendar. Holy Thursday Mass. 8pm. I made sure that Paul knew he was to be home from his neighborhood friend's house by 6pm. We all got ready and were out the door by 6:45pm so we could arrive early to rehearse with the choir. So imagine our surprise when we drove into the parking lot and saw it full at 7:20pm. We slowly drove by the glass doors and spotted the priest on the altar. Oh no! I must have had the wrong time! Sure enough, when I got home and looked online I saw that the Mass had begun at 7:00pm, not 8:00pm as I had thought. Oh dear.

Driving home the half hour it took, the four of us spoke of the mishap. Eric chuckled and Paul laughed. They found my mistake amusing. Emma joined in by cracking a few jokes too but she was quick to whisper, "Sorry God". I was embarrassed and confused as to how I had gotten the wrong time. I kept trying to see the bulletin's listing of Holy Week Mass times in my head but of course I could not. I was feeling sad and hoped God would understand that I'd at least tried to get my family to Holy Thursday services.

For me at least, it's a weird feeling to miss Mass. I have always felt that way since I was a child. Sure, there have been days of illness, days of travel, and occasional days of playing hooky, but going to Mass on Sundays and on Holy Days is what is right for me. Missing Mass doesn't feel right, even when it's an accident. On the way to church tonight my husband, my children, and I discussed what Holy Thursday Mass would consist of. The one thing we commented upon was the washing of the feet ritual which symbolizes Jesus Christ's washing the feet of his Apostles, the first priests. The evening service marks also Jesus' last supper with the disciples, Christ's farewell to His assembled disciples, some of whom would betray, desert or deny Him before the sun rose again.

Upon arriving home from the missed Mass I reminded myself of other features of the Holy Thursday liturgy. I also read up on how for many centuries, the Last Supper of Our Lord has inspired great works of art and literature.

Tonight's missed Mass was unfortunate and I will surely be more careful next time to record the time correctly. Still, I have worked tonight to put my heart and my mind inside the church so as to hear the gospel I missed at Mass. Feeling humbled in realization that I may have let Him down tonight, I share that gospel now, in hopes that if there is someone else who may have wished to have been there at Mass tonight, these words will work their power on you. I truly believe that God works in mysterious ways. I'm hoping that my missing Mass tonight was a part of His overall, bigger-than-me, plan.

The Gospel according to John 13: 1-15.

Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come
to pass from this world to the Father.
He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.
The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over.
So, during supper,
fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power
and that he had come from God and was returning to God,
he rose from supper and took off his outer garments.
He took a towel and tied it around his waist.
Then he poured water into a basin
and began to wash the disciples’ feet
and dry them with the towel around his waist.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him,
“Master, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus answered and said to him,
“What I am doing, you do not understand now,
but you will understand later.”
Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered him,
“Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.”
Simon Peter said to him,
“Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.”
Jesus said to him,
“Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed,
for he is clean all over;
so you are clean, but not all.”
For he knew who would betray him;
for this reason, he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

So when he had washed their feet
and put his garments back on and reclined at table again,
he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you?
You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am.
If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet,
you ought to wash one another’s feet.
I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Puttering and PJs

It was the day I had most looked forward to this vacation, the day I would have no scheduled expectations put upon me. Mother Nature cooperated too by giving me a dark and dreary rainy morning, perfect for sleeping in. There was even an early morning thunderstorm that helped me pull the covers up over my head. I did get up out of bed by mid-morning, but I opted to stay in my pjs for the day.

The day took me different places. First I was at the kitchen island cleaning up piles of envelopes and notices, sorting through mail and throwing away scraps of paper no longer needed. I then packaged up a few presents to get into the mail for the holiday weekend, and before I knew it, I was down cellar scouting for the Easter decorations box. I took time to make chicken orzo salad and then with two more cups of chicken left, I prepared a chicken broccoli braid. Thinking of dessert but knowing Emma had given up sweets for Lent, I made some cinnamon apple muffins. (They were delicious!) Then I sat down and enjoyed some lunch and watched a little television.

Watching television in the middle of the day feels indulgent. I took it a step further and read a few magazines too, enjoying the recliner. By then my daughter had taken on her own project for the day. She organized the shelves, a few baskets, and the blue table in the mudroom. Then she settled in for an afternoon of watching Harry Potter movies. My son followed her lead and after cleaning his bureau, decided to enjoy a few games on the computer.

My husband tackled the kitchen cupboards, organizing and cleaning them. I did dishes and by mid-afternoon I had pulled folks into the family room to enjoy a movie all together. The cat jumped up on the couch to cuddle with me and all was right with the world.

As I tidied up a few more areas--my closet and the top of my jewelry chest--I was grateful for a day that allowed me to slow down and work at my own pace. There was nothing that had to be done and I took the day to move from one project to the next without any kind of plan in mind.

The night is young. My son is now at lacrosse practice and I am feeling grateful for a husband who not only took him to practice but who made several trips out of the house today--to run to the post office, to buy milk, and to run to the hardware store. His willingness to run errands allowed me to enjoy a full day here at home. Later we'll all gather together again to watch a favorite show on tv. With a couple of dentist appointments scheduled over the next couple of days and with a few other obligations, there may not be another full day at home like this. It was a day of puttering and pjs. There's nothing like it. Having a day when I can move at my own pace and tackle projects big or small, projects or activities that make me happy, all the while remaining in my pjs of course, is exactly my kind of day.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Pretty Close to Perfect

Spending the day with three teenage girls may not be every grown woman's idea of the perfect vacation day, and I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive about the idea of spending the day prom dress shopping. I wondered if I'd just be in the way or only needed at the cash register, however I knew my daughter and her two girlfriends were very excited and I could not help but smile remembering my own prom dress shopping days with my Mom 25 years ago. There was nothing like trying on a dress and looking over to see my Mom smiling from ear to ear as she said, "You look beautiful, honey". Did I really want to miss out on this day, the day my daughter would shop for her first prom dress? Surely not. So off we went, the three girls and I !

At the first store the girls loaded their arms with colorful fabric in no time and I was surprised that none had exceeded the "six dresses to a dressing room" limit. I took my seat prepared to do the obligatory zipper-in-the-back pulling and waited for them each to emerge. Amidst giggling and oohs and ahs, each one found a favorite, but being the first store, the dresses were put on hold for the afternoon and we moved on.

We took time for lunch, stopping at a favorite Italian restaurant and the girls suddenly took to drawing on the paper tablecloths with crayons. More giggles and picture taking... and after a yummy meal we had the energy to continue on our hunt for everyone's perfect prom dress.

At the next store, the girls' eyes widened seeing the vast selection. I let them go through the aisles of beautiful gowns and after a little while, I helped them secure dressing rooms. Again I stood waiting for the fashion show. My daughter's friends each stepped out of their dressing rooms and I could tell that "the dress" had been found by each of them. In different shades of the same color, each of the gowns they wore were elegant and seemed fittingly perfect on the girls. And then my daughter opened up the door to her dressing room...I stood looking at my almost sixteen year old daughter and she took my breath away. Her gown was "the one", or so I hoped. I did not dare say as much until she expressed her own opinion. She loved it and quickly sought the opinion of her two girlfriends who also agreed. My daughter looked over at me to ask my opinion and I said, "Yes. It looks really beautiful on you. It's my favorite. It's you". She looked back at her girlfriends and they all started jumping up and down in excitement. Their silliness made me laugh as they screeched, "It's the one! It's the one!"

As my daughter pulled her hair on top of her head and turned around to see every angle of the dress in the mirror, I thought to myself, "Who would have wanted to miss this day? The day she found her first prom dress?!" Surely, not I.

Spending the day with three teenage girls may not be every grown woman's idea of the perfect vacation day, but today was pretty close to perfect for me.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Making a House a Home

Years ago when my husband and I were away for our first weekend as man and wife, my sister and her husband stopped at our apartment to drop off wedding gifts. We lived in "the bowling alley", a reference to the long narrow shape of our apartment. I had moved in three months earlier and had taken great care to set up the old apartment attractively, as best I could given a tight budget. At a yard sale my husband and I had purchased a living room set--an eight foot long couch, two matching chairs, a lamp, and an end table--all for $100. Family loaned me some crisp white curtains for the windows and I was so proud of the one quality piece of furniture I owned, a mahogany hope chest that had been my Mom's. I did my best to set up the apartment as nicely as I could. So I was quite pleased with myself when my sister wrote me a note saying that her husband had remarked that our apartment was very "homey".

When my husband and I built a house three and a half years later, I again took great care to decorate our home nicely but we were still on a limited budget. With our daughter born just one week after we moved into our new home, the decorator brands it appeared I most used were Playskool and Fisher-Price. This continued for years. A high chair, playpen, baby swing, and multiple toys filled the downstairs, and baskets of laundry needing folding took up space upstairs. I knew that someday I would take time to paint the house's white walls, but in the moment I did not worry too much about having a decorator's model home. I enjoyed browsing through magazines however and thinking of how I would design the house when I had more time. I thought through the colors for each room and the style of furniture I would purchase. But I also knew that in truth, that as long as my house felt "homey", I'd be happy. After all, there is something most pleasing about seeing the couch cushions being propped up against the kitchen island with Igloo coolers to make a fort.

When a vacation hits and I have more time at home I see many unfinished projects and the extent of spring cleaning that needs to be done. I see dust on every bookshelf and a sandy mudroom closet. I see cupboards in need of straightening and floors in need of a good washing. But I also observe the house that my husband, my children, and I have made into a home. There are board games on the top shelf of the closet that need to be taken down this vacation week and played at the dining room table, the same table that has stacks of photographs peeled from albums a few weeks ago when my daughter completed her school project. There are piles of school papers on the kitchen island, and on the end table near the crumb filled couch needing vacuuming there are ripped magazine pages filled with recipes I want to try.

I'm up for some spring cleaning and this house truly needs it. I'll work on it this week but it can wait until tomorrow. In the meantime I think I'll curl up on the old eight foot couch that I took a leisurely nap upon this afternoon and watch a movie tonight with one of my children--all of whom have outgrown Fisher-Price and Playskool. I'll overlook opened cases of Wii games that need putting away and little black ankle socks that did not quite make it into the laundry basket. Yes, there are several reasons why this house never gets perfectly clean and we're still on that limited budget when it comes to home decorating, but it truly doesn't matter much to me, for I learned long ago what truly makes a house a home.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Loving the Feel of This House

From the time I was eight years old I would spend a week or two each summer with my big sister. Sixteen years younger, I was always so excited to pack my bags for vacations of regular adventures. During those few weeks we would do a variety of things and travel to an array of different places. One day we might simply see a movie and visit a toy store; another day we might go to an amusement park. Other days, we would stay close to home and make a picnic lunch to enjoy on the deck or at a local beach.

So when our family's vacation plans fell through this past weekend, we decided we would still travel to our first original destination, my sister's house. We arrived mid-afternoon and upon entering her house my daughter whispered to me, "I love the smell and the feel of this house. I always have". I smiled, knowing exactly what she meant. We settled in for the evening knowing that a heavy rain storm was on its way. My sister prepared us dinner and we caught up, shared photos, and got in the first laughs of our time together.

Today we took a trip to a nearby town to check out some bargains. On our way back we decided to visit a carhop that over 30 years ago my sister and I had frequented. We launched into the tale of how the old A&W root beer car hop used to deliver to my car window the best root beer floats, ice cream floats so big that I could barely lift the heavy glass mugs unless I got on my knees. Today with my husband and my daughter in the front seat, my sister and I took the back seat, the perfect location to share a root beer float for old times' sake. Although it was delivered in a regular paper Pepsi cup, the memories of being back at the carhop returned and before long, my sister and I were laughing, just as always.

The afternoon brought us to another adventure, taking my children to a local gym with a rock climbing wall. Harnessed in, we watched my son and daughter take their turns scaling the wall and again I laughed listening to my sister encourage each child as she sat on the floor to take pictures of their feat. Returning home we settled in for an easy evening and a yummy dinner.

Like my daughter I'd return to my sister's home tonight thinking, "I love the smell and the feel of this place. I always have". But we all know it's not merely the house that gives us this feeling. The adventures we find ourselves on are fun but having a big sister who knows how to make right a family's otherwise "failed" set of vacation plans is the adventure that lasts a lifetime.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

My Best Friends

I woke up this morning thinking of how my daughter Sydney stayed up last night sacrificing sleep to do the Relay of Life American Cancer fundraiser at her college campus. I rested in bed and heard my daughter Emma singing in her bedroom playing on her keyboard. I was touched on my shoulder by my son who asked me if he could please go on my computer for awhile. I woke up thinking of how incredibly lucky I am to spend time with the amazing three people who became my children, of how God has graced me with three individuals who could not make me feel more proud.

Have you met my daughter Sydney? If you were to meet her you would quickly take in her beautiful blue eyes and her pretty smile. You'd notice she also has gorgeous long blonde hair and a dancer's body. After talking with her for just five minutes you'd note how intelligent and yet how refreshingly down-to-earth she is and you would find her attentive and naturally nurturing. If you took time to spend more time with her you would find her relaxing with you and that's when you'd hear her big laugh. You'd quickly see her mischievous playful side and the way in which she mixes fun with pure affection. If you had the opportunity to see her on stage you'd note her confidence as a dancer and actress; her stage presence would make you sit a little straighter in your seat and you'd be taken in by the natural way her voice commands your attention. Hearing her sing would move you and suddenly you'd look at this young woman of 19 and say, "What a beautiful young woman she is". You'd be both challenged by her talents and put at ease with her humility and graciousness. If you were ever in need, you would find a woman who would fight tooth and nail to help you in any way she could. Her feisty and passionate side would amaze you. If you took time to get to know my daughter, truly took time to see her the way I do, you'd want her as your best friend.

Have you met my daughter Emma? If you were to meet her you would say, "Oh what a pretty girl"! You'd quickly hear her infectious giggle and the words "adorable" and "sweet" would come to mind. Her speaking voice would entice you to want to sit and talk with her and when you did, you'd say, "Wow. She's so much more than a pretty face". You would realize what a smart young woman she is, observant and quick witted, and you would be captivated by the way in which she holds a self-confident yet humble heart. If you had the chance to spend an afternoon with her you would see her ease at making conversation, her acceptance and resiliency when things do not go her way, and her overall amiable personality. In talking further you'd discover her ability to appreciate people for who they are, her patience and ability to forgive, and her concern for others' well being. Her faith would strike you as uncommon for a teenage girl and when you had a chance to see her give a presentation or perform as a singer, actress, or dancer you would say, "This young woman is going to change the world for the better". Despite her young age, you'd want her by your side when things are bleak. If you took the time, truly took the time to befriend my daughter, you would never want to say goodbye to her.

Have you met my son Paul? If you were to meet him you would find an 11 year old boy who is most comfortable in jeans and a tee shirt, preferably one that reads "Paul Likes Tacos". This simple observation would show you that this seemingly quiet boy already has the ability to laugh at himself and his greatest enjoyment is in making others laugh. You would see a boy trying his best to "play it cool", a boy who loves his family and his friends, who enjoys games whether they are computerized or played in sports. In talking with him briefly you would see his sharp focus, his intelligence and creativity, and before long you would also take note of his own quick wit. Once you won him over, you would be treated to a boy who is appropriately serious or a clown depending upon the situation. You would find him imaginative, a boy with big ideas yet with the patience and the common sense that is needed in this world. It'd be easy to see his athleticism yet in taking additional time you would note his wide-open awareness of people around him; you'd be surprised by how attentive and thoughtful he is for his age, and of how affectionate and playful. If you took the time, truly took the time to see him as I do, you'd want him in your corner always.

It's a pretty cool thing when your children are the kinds of people you would have most wanted to have be your best friends when you were their age. It's even more special to realize that in addition to being most blessed to be their Mom, I have friendships with each, and in addition to having my husband as my best friend, these are the friendships I treasure the most.

Friday, April 15, 2011

At the Top of the World

When I was little, like many little girls, one of my favorite outdoor spaces was at my swing set in my backyard. One of my earliest memories is of swinging high and singing "I'm on the top of the world looking down on creation and the only explanation I can find is the love that I've found ever since you've been around..Your love's put me at the top of the world". That was my song, a most appropriate one to sing when swinging!

It was such a beautiful spring day today and when I arrived home this afternoon I was itching to get outside. So before I could find something inside that needed to be done--laundry or dishes--I went to find my ipod and grabbed my hat. Heading down the driveway is always a good way to start a walk. The brook is so pretty to see and relaxing to listen to. Out to the cul de sac I took note of where the sun was at in the sky and headed down my road. At the bottom of my street I opted to go right which would push me up a big hill to reach the top of my development. There I pushed myself to do another road which I knew would give me the reward of seeing the lake from a distance.

Coming back down the hills I headed home but I reached my house sooner than I wanted. I wasn't ready to go back inside so I walked around the yard and seeing the sun streaming through the trees, I took a seat on the swing. I thought back to how we built the swing set a good decade and a half ago. It has seen years and years of use. The kids, their friends, and neighborhood children have climbed the tower and enjoyed the slide and the swings. They have invented games played at the swing set and have pushed dolls and one another to go higher and higher in the air. Sitting at the swing this afternoon I thought of how quickly the years have flown by. Not only the years with my children but the years since I used to swing and sing.

There was only one thing to do today. The walk past the babbling brook and to the top of the neighborhood where I could see the lake was a good way to enjoy this beautiful spring day but it wasn't until I kicked up my feet and found a song coming back to me that I was truly feeling at the top of the world.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Finding Neverland

"So come with me, where dreams are born, and time is never planned. Just think of happy things, and your heart will fly on wings, forever, in Never Never Land!"
— J.M. Barrie (Peter Pan)

With spring vacation arriving for my teen students and I, our unit on poetry in creative writing class was coming to a close. Knowing the direction we'd be taking after vacation in starting a fresh new project, I found it to be an appropriate time to show the movie Finding Neverland, a 2004 semi-biographical film about playwright J. M. Barrie. The movie creatively portrays Barrie's inspiration for his writing, weaving in scenes representing the author's imagination with the story of his friendship with the author's muse and her children.

One scene in the movie shows the author sitting at a prim dinner party and realizing that the children are bored. He instinctively places a spoon on his nose and the children begin giggling. Another scene portrays Barrie shocking the childrens' grandmother by walking into the room wearing a big Indian headdress. Throughout the movie, it's easy to see how Barrie may have been inspired to craft the particular features of his most famous work, Peter Pan.

We watched the first hour of the movie and I began thinking of my own childhood and how I loved to play and use my imagination. I have not abandoned my love of play or my imagination in adulthood. I may have less time for play and need to take great time to handle mature responsibilities but I have never given up making time to be silly or to indulge in day dreams.

I try to incorporate my imagination and daydreams into my writing. I share with my students that I love to recall my childhood days as they inspire many of my memoir pieces. I tell them that I do not often work on my fictional pieces, but I do have a project in the works and I am often thinking through the next chapter of my novel. I have never felt confident that I am writing anything new or appealing for an audience but I still enjoy playing with scenarios and having them come to life on the page.

Watching the movie featuring the writer J.M. Barrie reminded me today of the importance of play and make-believe. Whether we are students or teachers, writers, adults, or children, it is vital that we hang onto the world where we can make anything come true by simply closing our eyes and believing. As Barrie said, "That is...Neverland".

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

George the Frog

I used to love listening to my Mom tell stories about my early childhood. Some days I am not sure if I actually remember some of these adventures first hand or if I created the memories after hearing the tales repeated over the years. I don't think it really matters one way or the other; in either case, they belong to me.

One favorite story my Mom would tell was of George the frog. Each evening when I was young, my father got home from work and we would often drive up to our family camp at the lake. It was just 10 minutes away from our house in town. I think about that now, of how nice it must have been for my Dad to enjoy that family time each evening. He'd get out of working in the mill at the end of a long day and put aside the stresses of the day. He was far enough away from the telephone and the television but close enough to make it home early enough to prepare for another work day.

My Mom would pack us the fixings for supper and we'd eat our meal together either in the camp or on the deck. Then for a little while my Dad would either work around the camp or he'd enjoy his boat. Some days, when it was warm enough, we'd go for a quick swim together. But no matter what we did, my Mom said I used to go down to the beach each evening and start calling for George, my "pet frog".

"You would go down to the beach each time and yell "GEORGE. GEORGE" like you were calling for the dog. And wouldn't you know it? You'd always find a frog who would appear for you. You would greet him, pick him up, and carry him up to the camp to show him off. Oh how your grandmother used to complain that you were handling that frog, but you never thought anything of it. George would come inside for a little while and after you were finished playing with him, you'd bring him back down to the beach. The next time you'd come up to camp, you'd call him again and sure enough, a frog would appear, every time".

I was reminded of this story last summer when my son Paul found George. He picked him up and carried him up to the camp to show us all. Paul particularly enjoyed having George ride on his bicycle seat. It had been years and years since I'd seen my friend and I smiled thinking back on the tales of our adventures together.

Today I heard my friend Michelle lost her Mom. She and I had just been talking about our parents who are close in age and when I heard the news I immediately thought of my own Mom and I suddenly missed her greatly. God willing, I'll be seeing her again very soon when we travel up to camp next month. There is nothing more I want than to sit and listen to some of her stories. They need not be about George the frog or anything specific. Any tale will do. It seems when your Mom tells you a story, the best part isn't the tale itself, it's simply that she is there to tell it to you.

I love you Mom. See you soon.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

On Hiatus

Since 1997 I have been involved with shows with LRCT, a local community theater group. Several productions have taken place in one of my favorite spots, an old historic theater named Deertrees. I will not do a show there this summer and the realization of that is bittersweet.

This year I will visit the theater to sit in the seats of the audience but I will not walk the stage. My decision to not audition for this summer's show was made over a year ago and yet I have revisited the idea several times since. I love to perform. I love to sing and to act and the group of people I meet through community theater bring me great joy. However, I ultimately made the call not to go out for this year's musical knowing that I needed to put my focus and my energy in other areas of my life. I am excited to have new adventures in front of me this season but it certainly is strange to realize that I have chosen not to be on stage this June.

This spring instead of learning lines, music, and choreography I will instead take time to attend my son's lacrosse games and to help my daughter redecorate her bedroom. I will do more to get outside and exercise. I will take more time to read for pleasure. I will finish the work of the school year with a little more room to breathe and I will have time to visit with my college girl who will be home for the summer. I envision talks over meals enjoyed out on the deck at dusk and walks to the lake to see the first boats gracing the water.

I have a few more ideas that I'll keep to myself but I write of these plans with a contented smile on my face. It will be a refreshing break for me, one that I truly deserve after what has been a long trying school year.

Perhaps the most beautiful part of my decision not to perform with LRCT this June will be that I will have a chance to fully take in this year's actress in a starring role. As enchanting as my upcoming season offstage feels, nothing will be more magical than watching my daughter Emma grace the Deertrees Theater as "Cinderella" in June's musical by the same name. As I listen to her excitement as she reviews her lines, her music, and her dancing, I know I made the right decision. Loving the stage as much as I do, I hope to be back soon but for now, there is no role better for me than the role of being Cinderella's real Mom. Look for me this June. I'll be the one proudly smiling from ear to ear each night in the audience of Deertrees theater.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Defying Gravity

Several years ago I was at an audition for the musical "The Wizard of Oz". I desperately wanted the role of the Wicked Witch. A few things stood in my way however. One was that the role did not require any singing and at the audition this was pointed out by the musical director who knew I could sing. I remember her asking me, "Don't you want to try out for Glinda?" "No", I answered. I then pulled out my secret weapon, my cackle, and I knew then by looking at their faces that I'd won the non-singing role. But then came the question, "Are you afraid of heights?" I did my best to lie through my teeth and answered, "No". I knew the role of the Wicked Witch would require me to "fly" on stage. I was so frightened of the idea of being hoisted up high to sail across the stage above the other actors, but I told myself I'd go into the zone and in my character, I'd be fine. I was. Flying was an incredibly freeing experience. I loved it and could not quite get enough of it!

But that was perhaps a once in a lifetime experience. After all, you don't have a company like Flying by Foye show up on your doorstep every day inviting you to fly.

The experience of flying however came back to me a bit last summer, when I returned to my joy of climbing rocks. When I was younger, I could not go a day in the summertime without scaling several large boulders in back of my family camp. Before leaving camp I had to make sure I got to the top of each one just one more time.

There is something powerful about climbing a big ol' rock. When you reach the top, you throw your arms up and declare yourself accomplished, successful, amazing! No matter my age, reaching the top of a rock gives me the same feeling I felt when I flew across the stage as the Wicked Witch. It is a natural high.

Flying with the help of wires and climbing rocks, whether a big boulder in my backyard or an actual mountain, allows me to defy gravity. And when I do that, I am reminded that I can do just about anything, strings or no strings attached!

So if you care to find me
Look to the western sky!
As someone told me lately:
"Ev'ryone deserves the chance to fly!"
And if I'm flying solo
At least I'm flying free
To those who'd ground me
Take a message back from me
Tell them how I am
Defying gravity
I'm flying high
Defying gravity

--Defying Gravity, Wicked (The Musical)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Young Love

I met David when I was in the fourth grade. That was a traumatic year for me or so I thought at the time. Due to a move across town and the town's rule that certain neighborhoods were to attend certain schools, I had to switch elementary schools and leave my close friends behind. I'd had a nice group of friends that I had grown up with and I did not know anyone at my new school. Who knew that moving one mile would make such an impact on one's life?!

At the new school I was teased for having platinum blonde hair and for being advanced in reading and math which meant I needed to attend fifth grade groups. There were some fifth grade girls who threatened me and boys who called me names. I lacked any confidence to make things right for myself at the time. I hated the school and I hated my new house and I yearned to go back to my old school.

To make things worse, the teachers began teaching square dancing to our fourth grade class. I remember thinking, "Oh God. Why this?! Why now?!" The girls lined up against a wall in the gymnasium and the boys chose their partners. I remember hoping against all hope that a boy named Aaron would pick me. But before it was Aaron's chance to pick, a boy named David called out my name. I was pretty disappointed and a little embarrassed too because I wasn't sure whether this kid David was going to make things better or worse for me socially. All I knew was that the following week the boys were going to pick their partners again, so I had another chance to have Aaron call out my name.

The following week arrived and wouldn't you know it?! David picked me again! I was starting to get annoyed. Week after week I was paired with this David kid. My dreams of dancing with Aaron, the cute blonde boy who I thought would relieve me from my torturous fourth grade year, were crushed.

Life has a funny way of working out though. Fifth grade gave me greater confidence and before I knew it, I was in Middle School, back with my old schoolmates and folks from my new school who I'd befriended. When eighth grade rolled around that David kid came back into my life. Seems he liked me and I actually started to like him too. He was funny and I loved talking to him. We talked on the phone every night and before long, we were a couple. We even had our own special song. I fell in love...for the first time. I dreamed of us having a future together. Sure I was only 14 years old but it seemed really serious and special at the time. Yet, incredibly innocent, shy and new to this whole "boyfriend-girlfriend" thing, I was more comfortable with him on the phone than I was in person. Still, I grew to care for him an awful lot. We spent much of our eighth grade year together and the first four months of our freshman year of high school together before we broke up. What had seemed serious and special went out the window, I am afraid, when I met this older guy, a senior named Eric.

I sometimes think about the purpose of my first boyfriend David. We were young and that innocent sweet time of love in our eighth and ninth grade years could easily be dismissed as Puppy Love, a phrase that I do recall David detesting. But David has a special spot reserved in my heart. He was the boy who chose me as his fourth grade square dancing partner, saving me from potential embarrassment of being chosen last, and the boy who first said, "I love you" to me. He was the first to hold my hand, giving me butterflies in my tummy, and the first to make me feel beautiful when I'd always felt like the ugly duckling. He also was the first boy to show me that I had better be careful with those I choose to let go, with whose hearts I might break.

After I'd been dating Eric for awhile, I broke up with him. We went our separate ways for a little while, but we found our way back to one another before too long. I almost let him go several times actually. But something always made me stop to get him back. I realized that despite the fact that I had had only a few boyfriends in my teen years, I had something incredibly real in my relationship with Eric. Nothing could be worth putting that at risk. It's pretty easy to say that Eric was incredibly patient with me, a girl three years younger than he, a girl who was still pretty young and who needed time to grow up. Eric was never mean to me, never called me names or said bitter things to me when we broke up. He was forever a gentleman and he always treated me right. He showed me that being in love with someone means you can set them free and as the old cliched saying goes, "If it is meant to be, it will come back to you".

I hear David's doing very well, happily married with a family of his own now. That makes me smile. Letting David go was a heartbreak for us both at the time, but I believe having him as my very first boyfriend was meant to be. Letting go of Eric a few times years and years ago, only to realize that he was someone I could never let go was also meant to be. It's funny how life just has a way of working out for us all in the end.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Nonsense and Sensibility

Mom?! What is with you today?! Are you listening to yourself?! You're not making any sense!

I don't know what gets into me some days. I don't wake up thinking I am going to cause my children to ask such things; I really don't. But this morning I found myself tempted to throw some water on Paul while he was playing wii. That resulted in a small wrestling match. Later I started acting up with Eric and Sydney. The best part of family is knowing that you can just sink into whatever persona you feel like pulling on at any particular moment. And today, I was feeling antagonistic and silly.

However, I'm not alone in acting weird in this family. I married a fellow goofball and today the two of us found ourselves cracking up for some odd reason that doesn't even make sense so I won't write about it here. But I will say that it first happened while we were trying to get a few nice pictures of the two of us. Sydney snapped a few shots out on the deck and before you knew it, we were laughing. Again. That happens a lot. Thank God.

We went to see Emma's play this afternoon then decided we'd go out to dinner, just the two of us. A rare occurrence. The meal was delicious and our conversation was a mix of reflection, planning, and recounting. But a few minutes after getting into the car for the ride home, it happened again. We were laughing. I was once again acting up and Eric added to my routine and before I knew it I was ordering him to stop laughing (as if that's possible) because I'd almost choked on a piece of hard candy that I'd foolishly put in my mouth. It's not quite the equivalent of having milk come out of your nose but you get the idea.

If our children had been with us, they would have surely scoffed at us. "Mom. Dad. Stop. You're not even making sense". I know we embarrass them at times. However, I hope they each remember how going through life with someone who still makes you laugh that much, after spending 28 years together, is a truly beautiful thing. It's the most sensible thing there is in this life.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Fighting Fire with Fire

This year, reading with my students, Ray Bradbury's dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451, has had me thinking a lot lately about several topics--books and literacy, happiness and sacrifice. The story revolves around a firefighter who begins to question his role as a man who starts fires more often than he puts them out. The images and the discussions around Montag's discovery of his place in the world are rich, however the book connects with me in several different ways. Those who know me very well know that I have been afraid of fire since I was a little girl. When I was just a few years old, the house across the street from ours went up in flames. The home owners came into our house while the fire department worked to extinguish the fire. My memory revolves around the homeowners' panic and grief. I remember them crying and my parents trying to comfort them. It was terrifying to me, a small child eavesdropping and spying from the stairwell. In my mind I have even created the memory of seeing the house in flames but I am not sure I actually did.

After the fire, I remember planning my escape from my bedroom if I should ever wake up to find my own house on fire. I made sure I knew how to open the tricky screen windows and I realized I could easily walk along the roof line to the backyard where the roof dropped down low enough for me to jump from. Later when I moved across town to a different house, I again planned my escape route and felt better when I saw that a fire box was right at the end of my driveway.

When I first moved to college I dreaded middle of the night fire drills. In fact, I was incredibly frightened of them. I lived on campus for two years and was subjected to only a couple instances when either an alarm was pulled or when smoke indeed set one off during the evening hours, but it was a rare night that I'd go to bed without thinking of the possibility of being awoken to the fire alarm. I remember making sure my sneakers were within reach and more importantly, that my glasses could be found quickly should the disorientation of a rude awakening occur.

As an adult in my own home, I am cautious but I have relaxed in terms of my fear. I do not live in fear however my family would probably quickly report that I do indeed have a fire ladder under my bed in case I ever needed to drop it out the window, and I make doubly sure that any fire in the fireplace or in the outside fire pit is completely extinguished before I go to bed. But I have calmed myself over the years. I think the biggest thing is that I realized a basic truth about myself close to 20 years ago. I realized that no matter what happened during the night, I was only going to be able to focus on one thing, getting my children to safety. I no longer think of my own safety when danger is near. Instead my thoughts immediately go to my children, and I know that I would risk anything to keep them safe. It's that simple.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that should I ever, God forbid, awaken to a fire in my home I would save my children or I'd die trying. It's not even up for debate and most parents will know what I am saying. Suddenly when you are responsible for another life or lives, especially of loved ones, you lose the fear for yourself and you realize that there's a job to do and you cannot let fear interfere in any way.

The girl who was frightened years ago by the sight of a family struck by tragedy has grown into a fierce protector of her children. When you have a job to do, there's little time for the indulgence of fear. You simply need to extinguish the threats and assess the situation. Fire drill or no fire drill, I am forever prepared to face fear...even my fear of fire. I have learned to fight fire with fire.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Enough is Enough

Last summer, my children, husband and I climbed South Turner Mountain at Mount Katahdin. It was a long hike for the five of us who have not hiked much in the past, but we were all very proud for having done it. Earlier in the summer we'd done a few hikes lasting an hour or so but getting up the mountain that day was an accomplishment, especially for someone who has been a bit lax in exercising much in recent years.

I'm often in denial about my age. It's not that I am ashamed to be 43, not at all. I am proud of every year I have lived and every little wrinkle I spot on my face is proof I have lived happily. I am pleased that I proved Mrs. Martin right all those years ago. (My high school English teacher told me years ago that I was bound to get wrinkles around my eyes and around my mouth because my face is so expressive and I use my eyes to communicate. She said that my constant habit of smiling was going to give me wrinkles and I remember thinking, "Okay. I suppose so. How else would I choose to live if not expressively?") But I suppose I say I am in denial because I never think of myself as being all that old. But then I see those 20 years younger than me and I remember, "Oh yeah. I'm not in my 20s anymore. Maybe I shouldn't eat this. Maybe I should build up my strength. Use it or lose it".

I was doing quite well last summer and fall; my energy level was up and I felt good. But then the holidays came and from Thanksgiving on, I put some seemingly selfish things on the back burner. I neglected to take care of myself physically. Oh, I had my reasons for doing that and they may even be justifiable and noble, but there has been a gnawing within alerting me that I have been ignoring something important. Something has been eating at my happiness and my health. I know the warning signs. I've been there before in years past. I suppose I should have recognized it sooner, but I let distractions get in the way.

I feel it in my bones. I see it in the mirror. There is no denying it. I am tired. I am well aware of my limits, but lately I have been pushing past them and it's not a good thing. It's time for me to get back to doing what I know I need to do to preserve my health and my well being. More sleep. Daily exercise. Less junk. Time outside. Deeper breaths. Tonight I am taking time to get my head on straight. Enough is enough. I owe this to me and to those I love.

It's time to reintroduce myself to the hills of my development and to the little box named Wii. It's time to plan some hikes and to finally purchase that new bike so I can go riding with Paul. If I can take an hour a day to write a blog post, surely I can find another 30 minutes at least to exercise.

I have plenty of motivation. Summer is coming, not to mention my 25th high school class reunion! But perhaps more importantly, I remember how I was feeling last summer and fall. I felt on top of the world, happy and fit. So it's time. Goodbye harsh winter. Hello spring. I've got a lot to do to catch up. It's going to be tough at first but I am equally stubborn. I'll cast aside my shame for the way I extended the holidays. Sedentary life is nice but there are going to be changes in store for my lazy butt.

I'm returning to the mountain this summer. I am determined to feel good again. The hardest part will be the trip there as I get up and move again. But I am going to remember the elation I felt when we reached the summit. I am going to remember telling myself to stay healthy for as long as possible. I'm going to use it so I won't lose it. Today (well actually tomorrow), I start anew. For now, I'm going to bed.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

100 Days

On the Today show, Willard Scott always highlighted a few folks celebrating their 100th birthday across the country. The idea of a person living long enough to go into three digits of age is pretty worthy of recognition after all. To reach the century mark means a whole lot of livin' has gone on in an individual's life. Yet, when I read of a person dying at the age of 99 or 98, I think the same. However, 100 is a rather magical number, but to be honest, the number 100 never meant much to me until I became the parent of a child in kindergarten.

In the young elementary grades, the 100th school day is a big deal. The students, who are learning their numbers and learning of place value, mark which day of the year it is, seeing the number increase with each morning's meeting. As the 100th day of school approaches, the children are asked to mark the day by bringing in 100 items of some kind. I remember Emma putting together a poster of 100 stickers thanks to an old collection of mine that I'd had around since I was a child myself. I remember thinking, "Finally these stickers can be put to use in some way". A few years earlier when Sydney was celebrating her 100th day of school, she went all out. I remember her coming home all excited about the project and asking me what she might be able to bring to school. We took a look around and quickly discovered a particular item that had easily multiplied in our home over the last several years: McDonald's Happy Meal Toys!! Somehow we got thinking of the idea of a Happy Meal Hotel and before you knew it, she and I were assembling and decorating boxes together to house the 100 toy figurines. She made decisions as to which toys needed to be grouped together and the whole time I kept thinking of how ingenious an idea this was for one simple reason: we would be able to discard all these cheap little toys by sending this project off to school! (Little did I know that the teacher would indeed send it back home with us). When I asked my son what he had done for his 100th day of school, thinking I was a terrible Mom who had simply forgotten the third child's project, he told me he did not think his class had done such a thing. "We got a special pencil that day, that's all", Paul said.

Still, the idea of the 100th day of school marked an anticipated recognition, a passage of accomplishment. And here I sit today writing the 100th blog post in as many days. When I think of how excited I was to begin a blog 100 days ago on December 28, 2010, I cannot help but think of what these 100 posts have documented. My first blog post explored the title of my blog. I had taken time to consider possible options and had settled in on Views from the Dock, a title I am most content with, 100 days later. I've written many posts about family--the character of individual loved ones and of our time spent together. I've turned to my blog to grieve, to celebrate, to counsel, and to vent. I have taken time to look at the past, to savor the present, and to dream of the future. I have been silly and I have been serious.

Some posts I have been nervous about sharing. Others I was excited to highlight. Some writings garnered great feedback; others seemed to go unnoticed. Some days I took hours to assemble an idea; other days I wrote the blog posts so quickly being under the gun in trying to meet my self-imposed midnight deadline. I wrote a few posts at hotels or at my parents' house while traveling. One post was uploaded in the parking lot of the local Rite Aid store when our internet service was down.

I wrote of my faith; I wrote of food. I wrote inspired by pictures; I wrote inspired by words. I wrote of pain; I wrote of joy. The thing is, I wrote for 100 days straight!! I know that these posts are roughly assembled each day. But I am writing. I have taken time each day for 100 days in a row, and I have proven to myself that I am a writer. I care enough about this passion of mine to do it every day. I care enough to keep practicing, to keep finding inspiration, to keep my voice going. I have found others who care about my passion for writing, who are encouraging me to continue, who have been touched by my words. I've even inspired a few people to begin their own blogs, to find their own way through writing. That has meant so very much to me.

So, I'm only at a loss as to what to do now. It's the 100th blog post. Do I acknowledge the day publicly or personally? Well, as I was bringing this post to an end, I thought of something I am very curious about, so there is a question I now ask you who might be reading this today. Which of my 100 blog posts has been your favorite? If you are able to tell me by title and/or supply me with a brief explanation of your choice, please do, as I would appreciate knowing what my audience is thinking. You are also welcome to give me feedback on what you like, suggestions you have, etc. I'd just like to know you are out there. Thank you.

It hasn't always been easy to write on this blog every day. I have thought about taking a break but I'm also very curious as to how long I can keep going. I considered stopping after today's 100th post. I thought, "100 is a clean number. Stop now before you face the challenge of getting to 200 or 365". But I don't want to stop. If I stop now, I'll miss it. It's my excuse to make a little time each day for just "me". Oh sure, life will have to interfere at some point and stop me, but why halt this voluntarily? Let's let this ride itself out. Let's let fate decide when I will miss a day or stop altogether. If only Willard Scott would highlight my accomplishment on the Today show or at least send me a special pencil.